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The first time they meet, they don’t speak.

Hermann is just starting a new research venture at Cambridge, and has been shacked up in the library for most of the day when a rain-soaked, scruffy man drops himself into a seat at the end of the desk, throwing several textbooks onto the table with a thud. His hair is mussed, as if he just got out of bed even though it was gone-five, and a pair of too-big glasses sit square on his face. Hermann eyes him with annoyance.

While he is sat, he seems to emanate pure manic energy, and when he rolls his sleeves up, he exposes the intricate art that covers them. Student, Hermann internally remarks, even though he’s not much younger than Hermann, if at all. He scans the books beside him – physiology, neurology, cybernetics. Biology student, he internally sneers.

And as Hermann finds himself noting the man’s Pearl Jam t-shirt under his button up, and the open box of some confectionery he’s barely heard of next to the books, and the fact he is now plugging in earphones to his phone and playing some frankly atrocious music too loudly with no consideration to others in the room, he casts another judgement. American.

It’s safe to say Hermann dislikes Newt from the start.

*

The next time, they do, although Hermann plays no part in its instigation.

They bump into each other, quite literally, on the steps of the university library. Hermann’s just leaving, and the other man is just arriving, and Hermann is carrying too many books and the other man is far too clumsy for it to end any other way than it did – with Hermann’s papers all over the floor and the man scrabbling to pick them up.

“Shit, dude, sorry!” he exclaims with an American accent, and Hermann feels oddly self-satisfied at pinning his nationality correctly.

Hermann begins to crouch next to him, but his hip crunches painfully, and he knows the other man hears it too as he gestures for him to get back up before following suit. He’s shorter than Hermann, although that’s at least in part due to him being on a step lower, and he hands back the books.

“Newt,” he introduces (at least Hermann thinks that’s what he’s doing, rather than throwing out names of semi-aquatic amphibians), “I’d offer you my hand, but…” he trails off, and glances at Hermann’s hands, both occupied with either the books or his cane. “Look, sorry about that. Didn’t see you there.”

“No problem,” Hermann says, trying to convey that it is very much a problem but he can’t be bothered to get into it in his tone of voice. He doesn’t think that he’s very successful, because Newt has a grin on his face that makes him look like he’s just stepped out of a toothpaste advert.

Newt points at him, and screws up his face for a moment in recognition. “I’ve seen you around,” he says.

“Yes, in the library, yesterday,” he says, patience beginning to wear thin.

He huffs. “No dude, I mean like, around,” he repeats, as if it means something. “What do you do?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like study or teach or research or whatever.”

Hermann sighs. “Research and teach, sometimes.”

“Oh, cool! You published?” he asks, like he’s taking genuine interest, which Hermann finds suspect.

“Some,” he confirms, and it’s only the fact his arm is full of books that prevents him from pointedly checking his watch.

Newt stares at him, expecting more. He doesn’t get any. “Come on, man, who are you? Maybe I’ve read something.”

I doubt it, Hermann barely catches himself from saying. “Gottlieb. Hermann Gottlieb.”

And Newt looks like he’s struck oil. “Oh my god,” he says, and something flickers behind his eyes, like there’s more than just recognition there, and before he can wonder any more about what it is, Newt blurts, “Oh my god!” and Hermann flinches and makes a face like a disgruntled frog. Newt seems to compose himself. “I’ve read your stuff on uh, wave mechanics and quantum cohomology. You’re like, a genius, dude!”

Hermann immediately feels annoyance at himself for the flutter of warmth that he feels at the compliment.

“What are you working on at the moment?”

“Dimensionality in a pseudo-Riemannian manifold,” he says, and some part of him hopes it’ll put Newt off conversing any further.

“Space-time?” and verdammt, Hermann was wrong. “Man, that’s awesome.”

And fine, maybe Hermann is a little interested about who this guy is, because Newt is hardly an answer, and maybe if he wasn’t interrupted he would’ve ask.

Newt shoves his hands into his pockets, fidgety. “Look, I’ve gotta go, I’m really behind schedule on some stuff,” he says, “I’ll see you around, yeah?”

He doesn’t even wait for a response before he disappears into the building, leaving Hermann stood staring after him on the steps, his slightly dirtied papers in hand.

*

The first time they meet, they don’t speak.

Newt has never been known for his punctuality, and it’s a wonder he’s managed to get any of his six doctorates, or manage to get to Cambridge to work on his seventh – developmental neuroscience – with any level of accuracy to when he was supposed to start it. So it makes sense for him to be late to his own self-scheduled research session in the library.

He’s hardly in a good mood when he arrives – he’s drenched (fucking England) and the man he throws himself into a chair opposite glares at him. He puts his books down in front of him, places his box of Reese’s pieces next to it, and quickly plugs in his earphones to drown out the stress.

Newt knows the other man is glaring again, but from his brief glancing up from his own notes and the extortionately long textbook he has open, Newt can discern that he thinks that he knows him, from around the city, from inside one of the labs, something.

Newt can also discern that the guy is freaking stuffy. He dresses like he’s from the 70s (and not in a cool way), has a face like it’s his birthday and someone pissed out the candles on his cake, and he keeps shooting Newt passive aggressive glances. Newt turns up his music, much to the complaint of his ears. Fuck you, guy.

It’s safe to say Newt dislikes him on sight.

*

Newt has always thought he’s a pretty good judge of character. He’s read that first impressions are often wrong, but he’s always thought that wasn’t the case for him. He is wrong, he realises as soon as he walks away from Hermann fucking Gottlieb, and into the library, if only to escape the risk of himself babbling incessantly to Hermann.

He’s wrong, because Newton Geiszler absolutely does not dislike Hermann Gottlieb.

Hermann Gottlieb, whose work Newt has admired for years, even when he was first working on his Masters. Hermann Gottlieb, who is the closest thing to real genius Newt has ever met. Hermann Gottlieb, whom Newt had a writing correspondence and kinship and maybe something more with for almost a decade, before it dissipated during Newt’s rather eventful twenty-sixth year of life, leaving him with an empty fountain pen and a broken heart.

Five years later, and he had found him, exactly where he thought he’d be.

Five years later, and they had bumped into each other in a chance meeting in a city halfway across the world from Newton’s home.

Five years later, and Hermann didn’t recognise him.

Newt knows full well that he should have no expectations of Hermann even knowing what he looked like, especially with Hermann apparently having no social media presence whatsoever, and of course, Newt barely recognised him himself (although Newt figures that it is to be expected seeing as the only photo he's seen of Hermann is ten years old at least). Newt knows full well that five years on, there could be no reason for Hermann to remember him. He feels that, in hindsight, he should have said. But he couldn’t bear it if Hermann really didn’t remember.

But come on, how many people could there be called Newt who know what a fucking pseudo-Riemannian manifold is for it to not even spark the slightest bit of recognition or rememberance? It leaves him feeling a little empty.

*

The library is enormous – about the size of a moderately sized European nation – and Hermann knows that better than most. He’s spent enough time in it over the years, after all. He likes it there – it’s not far from his flat, it’s got practically every book he could ever need, and most of all, it’s quiet.

Or at least, it has been quiet, up until the past few weeks wherein Newt has successfully intercepted his path at least twice a week, probably because he has picked the same seat at the same desk every time he’s been, and Hermann’s usual seat also happens to be at that same table and he’s too stubborn to move. He sits, and works, and occasionally gives Hermann little looks when he stares.

Newt is a loud guy. Even when he’s not talking or listening to that godawful music, he’s loud. He’s all bright colours and messy hair and unkempt dress. He seems to radiate a silent cacophony, and Hermann finds himself increasingly distracted whenever he works in the presence of him.

On this particular occasion however, Newt is loud because his earphones are apparently incapable of doing their job. He’s listening to what sounds more like noise than music, and Hermann doesn’t know what it is because Hermann doesn’t listen to noise.

Newt apparently though, does. And he’s listening to this noise while somehow still working, scribbling away on his notes with an inordinate number of books around him, and Hermann finds this somewhere between mildly impressive and passably annoying.

He must be staring (again), he realises, because Newt does that funny half-smile he does (again) and somehow manages to wave sarcastically.

For a moment, Hermann drops his eye contact. Then the song changes over, and it’s somehow worse, and Hermann gives in. He stands and walks around the table to Newt’s side, and uses his cane to knock one of Newt’s earphones out. Newt looks at him, bemused.

“Are you deaf?” he whispers angrily.

“Pardon?” Newt replies.

“Are you-” Hermann starts, before he is interrupted by Newt waving him off.

“I’m kidding, Hermann,” he says. “I heard you.”

“Dr. Gottlieb,” he corrects automatically, and ignores the flash of hurt on Newt’s face. “Could you turn it down?” he asks, then quickly adds a half-hearted, “Please.”

Newt, thankfully, does so, and Hermann nods his thanks before returning to his seat, casting a glance over Newt’s work as he leaves. The handwriting is almost familiar, and he finds it surprisingly easy to read, although the page is mostly made up of frantically scribbled diagrams of brain scans.

Hermann sits and returns to his reading. A few seconds pass, and the noise starts again.

*

Café Westworth is an old-school bakery and café serving traditional pastries with artisan coffee and East Anglian fare. At least that’s what it says on Google Maps.

As Hermann sits at a table by the window, he occasionally looks up from his chicken scratch handwritten papers to stare out at the people walking by and the golden sunlight on the sandstone buildings. He’s on his fourth tea and the sun is beginning to dwindle in the sky when the ring of the bell as the door swings open interrupts his thoughts.

Hermann has never been one to be particularly inclined to fatalism. He read some Nietzsche for a brief time during his schooling, and found the whole idea of the subjugation of everything to destiny to be trite, unscientific. But even he has to admit, the rate at which he and Newt seem to run into each other is an unbelievable series of coincidences, as is the odd sense of recognition Hermann can’t place.

Despite barely speaking much more than they did on the steps of the library that day, or the attempt Hermann made to quieten Newt’s music, it is beginning to seem that Newt is possibly the person Hermann has seen the most frequently in the past few months. Unfortunate, Hermann thinks.

So inevitably, the man who has just swung the door open a little too vigorously is, of course, Newt. Hermann peers over the top of his glasses and watches him head to the counter and place an order.

Hermann has grown up a little particular, an influence of both his father and his private schooling, and his immediate thought upon seeing Newt is that he is, as usual, dishevelled. He thinks there’s probably something chic about it, and Hermann can see why – the messy hair, the rolled up sleeves and distinct lack of a tie or blazer – does have a certain air of je ne sais quoi about it, even if (as far as he can tell) Newt is a scientist, not a rock star.

He realises he’s gazing when Newt catches his eye and offers a wave, and he very quickly breaks said eye contact and returns his stare to his notes, suddenly unable to focus on his writing but pretending very hard that he was reading. He hopes absentmindedly that he didn’t look like a deer in headlights when their eyes met, and makes a mental note to stop bloody doing that.

Some part of him hopes Newt is in a rush and has no time to chat. Another part of him wants to find out why the hell a biology student knows so much about mathematical physics. His underlying dislike of Newt seems to be tapering away into morbid curiosity, he internally curses.

Suddenly, Newt is next to him, coffee and some pastry Hermann can’t identify in hand. He gestures to the seat opposite him.

“Hey, can I sit? There aren’t any others,” he asks and gestures to the chair opposite him, and sits before Hermann actually answers.

Hermann silently moves his papers towards him, not trusting Newt’s ability to keep his coffee in his cup, given the hint of a stain on his shirt.

Newt peers over his work. “Hard at work, then?”

“Yes,” he answers curtly.

The peculiar thing about Newt, Hermann thinks, is that while his own shortness is indeed rude, as has it been the other times they’ve spoken, his impoliteness has been met with only amusement on Newt’s behalf.

“Euclidean space?” Newt comments correctly, somehow deciphering Hermann’s scribbles immediately, even upside-down. His own handwriting is admittedly poor, despite the years of calligraphy lessons and criticisms from his father and teachers alike, which Hermann likes to think of as his single act of rebellion, and even he himself occasionally struggles to decipher it. Hence, Newt’s automatic understanding is akin to him deciphering hieroglyphics.

Hermann’s morbid curiosity gets the better of him. He puts his pen down and meets Newt’s eyes. “What are you doing?”

Newt frowns. “Now? Engaging with you.”

He shakes his head. “No, no. I mean, what are you doing here?”

“In this coffee shop? Drinking coffee and trying a Danish pastry,” he says. “In Cambridge? Studying.”

“What?” he asks, before he winces. “What are you studying?” he rephrases, a little less aggressively this time.

“I’m doing a PhD in developmental neuroscience,” Newt replies.

He stares. “How do you know so much about physics?”

Newt shrugs. “A friend,” he says, and doesn’t elaborate.

Hermann is hardly an expert in facial expressions, and has always rather struggled to truly understand people, but he thinks he can say with little doubt that the expression that crosses over Newt’s face can only be categorised as ‘strange’.

Newt meets his eyes again and gives him a look that is equal parts nostalgic and something else, something else which Hermann can’t identify, melancholic and bitter and easy all at once, and the feeling like he’s missing something settles in once again.

And he looks again, and Newt’s eyes are golden in the setting sun, and his expression is soft, freckles like complex constellations over his face. He feels like he’s staring at the Poincaré conjecture. Because Newt is smart, so smart that Hermann can feel it radiate from him, and because Newt seems to know him, and because Newt is looking at him like he should know why but he doesn’t want to say. Because Newt seems like a Millennium Prize Problem all in himself, and Hermann feels like if he wasn’t so stilted and could just think of what to ask him, he’d work out the proof.

Newt looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t, and he’s finished his coffee and all that remains of the pastry are crumbs, so what happens next is inevitable. He stands to leave.

“I’ll see you around,” he says again, like the first time they spoke, and Hermann can’t hear a question in his voice.

“Yes,” Hermann replies a little hoarsely, much to his ire, as Newt exits.

*

When your only contact with someone is through a series of chance meetings, it is relatively easy to not notice when they’re suspiciously absent. It takes Hermann a shameful twelve days to notice that he hasn’t seen Newt at all at any of his favourite spots (which Hermann only knew because they seemed to be his own as well).

Hermann wouldn’t label his feelings as worry, exactly; he is not so sentimental to garner any emotion further than disquieting curiosity as to the whereabouts of an almost-stranger.

Of course, the email he sends to the head of Biological Sciences at midnight the day he notices enquiring after a certain PhD student is nothing more than an investigation of a personal interest. Neither is his constant refreshing of his inbox for the next few hours before he turns in for a sleepless night.

The email comes in within minutes of his waking in the morning, and if Hermann had been more persuaded by Nietzsche, maybe he would have called it fate. He opens it as his morning cup of tea brews on his counter, and reads its contents.

Dr Geiszler is currently unwell, it reads. We expect him back after a short leave of absence.

He reads it again.

Dr Geiszler.

Newt Geiszler. Newton Geiszler.

“Dear God,” he murmurs.

 

Chapter Text

When Hermann was growing up, he wanted to be a detective. His great aunt had gradually bought him the entire collection of Arthur Conan Doyle for Hanukkah over several consecutive years, and he ploughed through them all. Of course, mathematics was and is his one true love, but it had always been there. It could perhaps be forgiven then, he thinks, that he has just called in sick for no other reason than to play detective.

It’s uncomfortably early, but Hermann’s never been particularly big on sleep. The fact of the matter is; Hermann predicts that he easily has enough hours to track down Newton Geiszler before lunch. He’d be a bit of a rubbish Sherlock Holmes though, he thinks, as his first step is just to type Newton Geiszler into Google.

Most of it is Newt’s published pieces, his PhD works that Hermann has read plenty of times already. He finds twelve LinkedIn pages, thirty-six different Facebook profiles (for which he regrettably made an account to find), and forty-five different Twitter accounts, as well as the details of a banker, a solicitor and a Czech palm-reader, psychic and corporate lawyer.

There’s also a picture of Newt, probably at about 24, in a band. Hermann is sure Newt told him the name of it, but he can’t remember. Knowing what Newt listens to does not bode well for Hermann liking his music, unless Newt is a walking oxymoron.

He finds himself smiling at the picture of Newt clearly having a good time, before he remembers himself. “Ugh,” he expresses and wipes the smile off his face. Feelings he barely even remembers having – it being so long since he’s felt them – hit him, and he feels like Voyager 1 resonating in the magnetism of a solar flare, the plasma his feelings, and the sun Newt himself.

It occurs to Hermann about two hours into his search (he has already worked out that Newt must live somewhere in Cambridge, which is useless), that most of what he can find on Newt, he already knows. While their writing had started out purely academic and theoretical, it soon became so much more. It was almost romantic, he muses, writing pages upon pages on handwritten letters to each other in an age of email and text. Hermann imagines that they both appreciated conversing with someone at a similar frequency.

The more he thinks about their correspondence, the more Hermann recognises an increasing unease in his gut.

The last letter Hermann had sent had been nothing short of flirtatious, at least for him. He is no social butterfly, barely even a conversational moth at the best of times, and sending it had been a risk, but he had been sure it would be distinct enough to Newt himself to warrant a response, even if it would probably seem more like friendly conversation with some awkward, unfunny jokes dotted throughout to anyone else who wasn’t Newt. And yet, naught in reply. Not a thing. Sweet Fanny Adams.

Hermann remembers the first few months – he had been hoping for something, whether it be another letter, an email, a telegram, smoke signals. In the end, he had just wanted closure. And yet, Newt remained silent and Hermann was left to worry that the worst had happened, and that wasn’t fair on him.

It wasn’t fair, he thinks, and the unease metamorphoses into something akin to anger. Newt knew who he was, and he didn’t mention it. Newt never told him his name, as if he was trying to keep the whole thing a secret. Newt let him worry, didn’t even have the courtesy to send a response to a friend of nearly a decade. Newt’s had the upper hand this whole time, he thinks, and it acts like bellows to a fire to his anger.  

He realises he’s more upset than angry, opening up old wounds, but anger is a better fuel so he hydrolyses the former into the latter to power his last stretch of trawling through university articles and social media, which he does, as always, with a grimace, and with an imaginary conversation writing itself in his head where he can finally give Newton a good telling-off for doing what he did.

*

Newt’s brain is a little like an on-fire garbage can – it is rich and warm and intense, but in the end, it’s still a garbage can. He supposes it’s just the luck of the draw, when it comes down to it – he gets to be smart and innovative, if occasionally his brain tries to kill him by taking him on an emotional bungee jump.

A few hours after the sun rises, he pulls himself out of bed to his bathroom. He opens the medicine cabinet to retrieve his meds, and when he closes it again, he is abruptly confronted with his own pale, tired and unshaven face in the mirror, blurred without his glasses, but still very much discernible.

“Fuck off,” he tells himself, and forces the last two pills down.

He’s a little unsure whether the pills will do much now seeing as he’s forgotten to take them for the past two weeks. He thinks he’s doing better today anyway, seeing as he actually did take them. Newt’s crap with meds, his memory being on par with that of a pig-tailed macaque.

He tried therapy for a short time, before promptly giving up when his horribly humanistic therapist kept stressing the whole self-esteem aspect and rattling on about something called ‘self-actualisation’. When he’s up, he could do anything, but when he’s down, he has the self-esteem of a pubescent Eeyore. The idea of self-actualisation did seem borderline more plausible, if only because he hadn’t a clue what it meant.

Empty bottle of pills in hand, he heads promptly to the freezer to retrieve a tub of ice cream, placing the bottle on the table with three others, and proceeds to seat himself in front of the TV. He turns it on, and leaves the first program to greet him on as he stares vacantly, like his mind is off on a carousel in a darkened fairground while his body is forced to endure existence on its own.

The knock at his door cuts through the haze of his gloom, splitting the air like an arrow. Newt is brought back to reality like a drunk is brought back from a bar by a reluctant friend. The knocking continues, and he gets up, rubbing his eyes as he does.

“Newton, if you don’t open this door in two minutes, I’ll break it down,” the voice behind the door says, and Newt’s eyes widen. “Or I’ll get a porter to do it,” more knocking, this time the sound of wood on wood.

Newt scrambles with his lock to open the door, forgetting momentarily that he was only in a battered t-shirt and boxers.

Hermann stands there, looking distinctly winded with his weight shifted off his bad hip, but the look on his face tells Newt that it’s probably fuelling his anger more than he’s thinking about it right now.

“When, pray tell, did you plan on telling me it was you?” he asks, pushing his way into Newt’s apartment.

Hermann hasn’t said anything specific, but Newt knows what’s happening and he suddenly feels very self-conscious. He hasn’t tidied up in weeks, and the curtains are closed, and there’s an unpleasant stuffiness to the air. Not to mention he hasn’t showered in about a week, and he’s pretty sure the greasiness he feels on himself is probably visible by now.

“Did you? At all?” Hermann is undeterred by the disarray of the room. “I mean, mein Gott, Newton! Five years!” he exclaims, “Five years, nothing. I don’t hear a single thing from you.”

Newt bites his cheek.

“And now you just turn up out of the blue?” he continues, “After everything? And you don’t even tell me!”

Newt stares blankly, and Hermann just shakes his head.

“Ich glaub das einfach nicht,” he mutters.

“Hermann-” Newt tries, and he’s getting angry now because this whole thing isn’t his fault, but he’s too tired and he’s got too much of a headache to argue.

Hermann paces as best as he can in the small opening of the apartment, which is to say, not very well at all. “You let me believe-” Hermann takes a breath, “I thought something awful had happened.”

“I-”

“Scheiße, Newton,” Hermann says, and Newt knows he’s upset, but he can’t get any words out to try and fix this right now. “Did you read my last letter?” he asks, and he doesn’t sound angry anymore.

Yes, Newt wants to tell him. Yes, because it’s true, and because he’s read it hundreds of times, reading into the small jokes and compliments and charm and trying to work out whether he’d imagined the possibility that Hermann could ever return his feelings seeing as he’d never replied again. Yes, because that fucking letter is in his suitcase under his bed right now.

He opens his mouth to say it all, but because his body is the anatomical equivalent of Judas, nothing comes out. So he just nods, and Hermann just looks at him like he’s made it worse, but he’s not angry, just sad, and somehow that is so much worse.

“Find a different place to study, Dr. Geiszler,” Hermann simply says, and brushes past Newt’s shoulder and out the door.

It slams, and the suddenly the room is simultaneously overwhelmingly empty and overwhelmingly stuffy. Newt makes a beeline for the toilet and throws up.

*

Newt leaves his apartment for the first time in a week and a half late afternoon. He half expects the sun to burn his skin when he steps out, as if he was goddamn Nosferatu or something. It doesn’t, and he hurries to where he thinks Hermann lives (because Hermann, the technological Neanderthal he is, is apparently incapable of correctly operating a website and shared his location on his public Facebook page eight times in a row).

It’s funny, he thinks as he strides through the city streets, that he finally manages to pick himself up a couple of hours too late. It’s not funny at all, if he’s honest, with all the humour of an eight-year-old leper or Amy Schumer’s latest Netflix special.

Hermann’s (probable) building is old, a little bit pretentious, and very beautiful, with vines climbing up its walls, facing onto a small courtyard. He hurries upstairs to one of the rooms, and stands in the corridor, taking a deep breath. He lets it out, and begins knocking incessantly. He knows he’s doing the physical equivalent of calling somebody with And another thing! the day after losing an argument, but at this point he can’t be bothered to care.

The person that greets him is distinctly not Hermann. They’re blonde, and blue-eyed, and crucially, have breasts.

He apologises, and moves onto the next door.

*

Sitting at his kitchen table and staring at the intricacies of the wood as if he could solve them for x, Hermann massages his leg and wonders why he feels as if he’s just attacked a philanthropic pensioner. Newt got what was coming to him, he tells himself, but finds himself markedly guilty despite it.

He can hear a series of incessant knocks getting increasingly closer to his door, like a frantic Jehovah’s Witness facing redundancy is coming down the hall, and he’s already at the door by the time it reaches his door.

Hermann swings the door open, blocking the doorway with a hand on the door frame, and it’s him, all craze and entropy and washed-out band t-shirts right in front of him. Hermann schools his expression, and looks at him with a blankly, but he feels as if there’s something simmering underneath, like a pot about to boil over.

“I wasn’t the one who stopped writing back!” Newt blurts, and Herman can tell that he immediately feels like it’s the wrong thing to say because of this awful look Hermann must give him, unable to holster the confusion and upset and anger.

“What?”

He can practically see Newt’s brain go fuck it. “Fine, it was a couple of months after you sent your last letter, but I wasn’t able- I couldn’t-” he tries, and fails to tell Hermann what happened, and the break is enough for Hermann to butt in.

“Have you lost your mind, Newton?”

Newt laughs with no humour, and Hermann stalls.

“What?”

He shakes his head. “I sent you another letter, Hermann, you were the one who didn’t reply.”

Hermann is silent, and suddenly he just feels so tired, because he knows what must have happened. “I didn’t get another letter.”

Newt pauses. “What?” he says quietly, desperately, echoing Hermann’s previous thought.

“I didn’t get another letter, Newt,” he says softly, his voice grave. Newt, not Newton, he says, and he can see that somehow impact Newt more than anything else he’s said, because his face just drops.

He knows what Newt must be thinking.

Years of companionship, of friendship, of whatever those burgeoning feelings were, lost because of the fucking postal service.

He knows because he’s thinking the exact same thing.

“Fuck,” Newt articulates.

Hermann just stands there, arm dropped from the frame, and Newt suddenly looks like he can’t do this, like he needs to leave. But Hermann just stands there, frozen, all stoicism discarded and his shoulders dropped and sad eyes, his whole person just screaming burned-out, and Newt drops eye contact with him.

“Fuck!” Newt yells, and he looks like he’s going to cry because of the sheer injustice of it all like he’s been cheated out of something but he’s not sure what, or even if what he’s been cheated out of was ever rightfully his. He turns away and rubs his hands over his eyes, and begins to back away, and Hermann just knows he’s about to leave.

So then Hermann’s hand is on his shoulder, and Newt’s gently pulled inside his apartment and sat on a chair at the table. He doesn’t look up as he does it, and Hermann hovers for a moment before turning the kettle back on. It doesn’t take long, seeing as he’s tried and failed to remember to make himself some tea in a repeating cycle for about an hour now, and shortly after he places a mug in front of Newt and sits down opposite him.

Newt looks up, red-rimmed eyes meeting Hermann’s.

Hermann doesn’t speak, and he just watches Newt patiently and Newt looks like he’s going to cry all over again, and Hermann feels less like he attacked an old person, and more like he’s just annexed Poland.

Because this is the Newt he had written to, had become friends with, had fallen maybe-in-love with, with his brilliance and insecurity and passion and fear. And he is right there, sitting at Hermann’s kitchen table, holding Hermann’s mug, and letting Hermann’s tea go cold.

“I was in hospital,” Newt says suddenly. “That’s why I didn’t reply right away.”

Hermann’s gaze sharpens and he watches Newt drop his gaze to his fingers as they tighten around his mug. “Yeah?” he says, not wanted to push him.

“I didn’t- I didn’t mean to, right?” he starts, and even without telling the story Hermann feels himself jumping to conclusions and the cogs whirring in his brain and he feels a bit sick. “I- it was just a lab accident. Ended up with a shard of a beaker jammed in my arm.”

Hermann doesn’t reply, and simply listens, not wanting to scare Newt out of talking.

“Anyway, I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder like, three weeks before,” he says. “So you can imagine what they thought.”

He stays quiet, and he thinks it’s the right thing to do even if he’s never been the best at reading a social atmosphere, because Newt just gives him this look that’s so soft and apologetic and somehow grateful, and he just melts. His spleen – definitely not his heart, Hermann’s heart is not inclined to such frivolity – leaps at it.

“I was in there for a while, then when I left things just happened like, a lot, and I just didn’t get a chance to reply then and maybe if I had sent something sooner it would have got to you and we could have- who knows what would’ve happened, dude?” he stands abruptly, like he suddenly has too much energy in his feet to stay sat. “Like, if I had just sent it sooner, or had tried again, or put more work into finding you then maybe-”

“Newton,” Hermann interrupts and stands too. “This wasn’t your fault.”

Newt gives him a funny look, like he’s just said something completely absurd. “Herms, if I had-”

“Stop it,” he says, and approaches Newt so he is stood in front of him. “Either both of us are guilty, or neither of us are.”

Newt looks at him again, and Hermann’s spleen (again, absolutely not his heart) sings and he knows that he never stopped being maybe-in-love with him. He wants to kiss him, wants to apologise and start a new with him, but he doesn’t think that’s what Newt needs right now, because Newt looks like he’s on the verge of a breakdown and maybe just full on snogging him is not the way to go about dealing with it.

So Hermann just puts his arms around him and pulls him close, breaking most of his rules on physical contact, and he feels Newt just completely relax into him, head buried into his shoulder and arms tight around his back with more strength than Newt had any right to have. And this is the right choice, he thinks, because this has been thirteen years in the making, and both of them need it more than they’d admit, and more than anything, it’s nice.

Chapter Text

Hermann offers Newt his shower and his dressing gown as well as some spare clothes, and he takes them, retreating into the bathroom as Hermann sits back down at the table. He takes one sip of his now-cold tea, before he grimaces and gets up to pour it into the sink. He thinks of what he usually does in times of stress, and immediately puts the kettle back on.

By the time Newt returns from the shower, hair slicked back with water, Hermann has sat back down, and he jumps when the bathroom door opens. Newt’s wearing his clothes – slightly too big on him, but they’re too casual for Hermann to ever wear out and he’s probably not worn them more than once anyway. He looks good, fresher than he did before, and he looks happier and softer.

“Do you want to go out for dinner?” Hermann blurts, and almost recoils at his own abruptness.

Hermann is the antonym of spontaneous. He plans everything meticulously, he is calculated, deliberate. Not spontaneous, of all things, he thinks with derision.

“When?” Newt asks.

He stares. “Now,” he says quickly after remembering that it was his turn to speak.

Newt looks unsure. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Hermann, but no,” Hermann’s heart begins to sink before Newt interrupts that train of thought. “Not never!” he adds quickly, “It’s just I haven’t been out of my apartment in over a week and I don’t really feel up to it.”

Hermann nods, slightly baffled at the relief he feels. “Oh,” he says, and tries to sound nonchalant. He must fail, because the way Newt looks at him suggests he sounds like he was just presented with a polished turd as a birthday present.

“What about take-out?” Newt suggests.

“Take-out?” he repeats.

“Yeah, it’s when you order food and someone brings it to where you are,” he says. “Come on, Hermann, you must have heard of it.”

Hermann stares in bemusement. “I know what a takeaway is, Newton. I’m not the complete embodiment of every Pommy English stereotype.”

Newt laughs, and it’s like the sun has just come out after a particularly vicious winter, and Hermann feels like he could part seas.

“Could have fooled me,” he says jovially. “You got a computer?”

He nods and gestures to where it sits at a desk in corner of the room. Newt doesn’t ask to use it and heads right over, pushing the chair out and just standing leant over the keyboard as he taps on the keyboard to wake it up.

“You should put a password on your computer,” he tells him as it opens immediately.

Hermann sighs. “And why should I do that?”

“Someone might try to steal your theories or whatever,” Newt says as he types away.

“I don’t think anyone who could get into my flat undetected is particularly interested in abstract mathematics,” he says. “Who, anyway?”

“I don’t know, dude. Your competitors?” he suggests as he browses. “You ever hear about Louis Le Prince?”

“No,” Hermann replies.

“Exactly,” he says, with a meaningful look as if that explains the whole thing, and immediately moves on. Hermann makes a mental note to look that up later, because Newt’s mind is like an out of control driver understeering around Spaghetti Junction. He looks up at Hermann pointedly to get him to look at the screen, showing a menu from a local Chinese place. “Here.”

He feels like he’s heard of it, in conversations overheard walking through crowds of students, and he’s pretty sure it’s been investigated for healthcare violations, but Newt seems to know what he’s doing enough to have not got food poisoning from there yet. Live a little, he tries to tell himself.

Hermann scans the page, and without his glasses it’s all a blur. “You pick for me,” he tells Newton, giving up almost immediately. Besides, he’d rarely venture outside of sweet and sour chicken if it was left to him. He sees a small smile ghost over Newt’s lips, like he’s just been entrusted with something very important.

Newt proceeds to stand up straight, immediately pulling out his phone and calling the place, reeling off a bunch of numbers Hermann is sure he must have memorised, because he’s not looking at the screen. He pulls the phone away from his mouth for a moment.

“Dude, what apartment are we in?”

“You’re in it,” Hermann says with a frown. “You came to my door.”

He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I knew your building then I knocked on every door until I found you. I didn’t pay attention to which one it was.”

“Number twelve,” he replies and Newt repeats it down the phone along with the rest of his address. Hermann muses that it’s odd Newt can remember his full address but didn’t bother to check the door number on his way in.  

“They said they should be here in about twenty-five minutes,” he says, “which means they’ll be here in forty.”

Hermann’s about to ask just how many times Newt has ordered from this specific Chinese, but Newt immediately changes the subject.

“You got any DVDs, dude?” he says, and points at Hermann, as if there was anyone else in the room he could be speaking to. “I do, but I don’t fancy walking home.” With good reason, Hermann thinks, rain falling harshly against his window, reflecting the streetlights in the dusk.

Hermann walks to his TV, and taps one of the draws on the table it sits on with his cane. “A few, in here.”

The truth is, Hermann rarely watches movies, and when he does, it’s usually because he’s had a couple of glasses of wine and just winds up on some Film 4 choice. The DVDs he does own are an amalgamation of gifts, things left over at his flat from his few and far between guests, and the couple he’s bought when he’s gone into HMV to kill some time and felt bad just browsing several times a month and not buying anything.

Newt drops to his knees and pulls the draw out, browsing through the grand total of nineteen films in Hermann’s possession.

A Beautiful Mind? Good Will Hunting?” he questions with a laugh. “You’re so predictable,” he says, but it’s kind and fond. Hermann doesn’t even know what he’s on about, because he hasn’t actually seen either of them, both being gifts from one of his students.

“There’s no Godzilla, if that’s what you’re looking for,” Hermann tells him.

“Man, your DVD collection is lacking,” he says, before he frowns. “You remembered my favourite movie?” Newt asks and glances up to him with a look Hermann can’t distinguish in his eyes.

He feels himself blushing suddenly and curses his adrenal glands. “Yes, well, you never stopped going on about it.”

The subject is quickly dropped, as Newt leans back from his rummaging and shows the cover of Interstellar to Hermann. “Have you seen this?”

“No,” he replies.

Newt immediately stands back up. “Then that’s what we’re watching. You’re gonna love it dude. It’s all about physics and shit.”

“And shit?” Hermann questions.

“And shit,” Newt confirms, before setting his sights to wrangling Hermann’s outdated DVD player into use.

By the time he successfully does so and gets it to turn on and stay on, Hermann has already made and drank another cup of tea, offered Newt three, and the delivery guy has just delivered the food. Hermann sits down on his leather couch, trying to push the tetchiness he feels at eating on the sofa and not at the table to a distant corner of his mind, and Newt joins him, practically throwing one of the boxes of food at him. Hermann’s put a couple of plates on his coffee table, but it fast becomes apparent that Newt does not intend to use it.

Hermann’s stilted social skills prevent him from doing so as well. Barbaric, his father would say. He knows what Newt would say – fuck his father – and he tries to think the same, but his heart’s not quite in it and while he puts up with it, he stares longingly at the plate.

They’re silent for a while as they eat most of the food, and Hermann finds himself rather enjoying both the food and the movie, both of which come as a surprise to him. Of course, the company leaves little to be desired too.

“It’s not perfect,” Newt starts, staring at the screen and stuffing a spring roll into his mouth, “but man, the physics in this are really good. Like obviously the issues will be a lot more noticeable for you, but from what I’ve read about general relativity-”

Hermann’s kind of listening, and he’s kind of watching the film, but he’s more occupied with staring at Newt – how animated he is, how passionate about this one thing he need not care about he is, how much he seems to want Hermann to like it – and even with his mouth stuffed and him spluttering food in the most impolite manner, Hermann finds him entrancing. They’re an oxymoron – Newt is everything Hermann hates, and he is everything Newt hates, but somehow he’s inexplicably drawn to him. Opposites do attract, that’s simple physics. Hermann is neat, formal; Newt is messy but beautiful, like merging galaxies, all the gas dissipation and dynamical friction culminating in a spectacular collision.

“Have I got something on my face?” Newt asks suddenly, pulling Hermann out of his thoughts abruptly and he scrambles to make eye contact.

“Hm?” he expresses in surprise.

“You’re staring.”

Hermann doesn’t have a chance to say anything, or explain it away, because some very primal part of his brain has already launched him forward, and his mouth his on Newt’s. It’s clumsy, and it’s barely a kiss anyway, all pressure and inaccuracy, and he pulls back almost immediately. Newt stares at him in surprise, face slack and not giving anything away. Hermann looks away and tries to formulate an explanation or an excuse.

An awkward silent falls between them and Hermann feels sick.

“You should’ve said, ‘me’,” Newt tells him.

Hermann can feel his heart in his throat. “What?”

“I asked, ‘Have I got something on my face?’” he explains. “You should have, said ‘yeah, me’.” Newt looks at him like he’s finished an exceptionally bad stand-up set, but still expects a laugh.

He gets one, albeit there’s not really much humour in it and Hermann feels a little like he’s losing it. He’s running through every scenario he can, any outcome to this that ends at all well, and he’s coming up short. He’s always been a pessimist, so he barely even considers-

Newt’s hand is gentle on his jaw and turns his head so he faces him, and he tilts his head slowly and presses their lips together. It’s slow, and soft, and Hermann can feel the world falling away. Because this is the man he has loved for at least eight years, who he never got the chance to do anything with, and if he’s being honest, there was never any maybe about it. Newt’s thumb moves gently against the curve of his cheek, and his lips are easy and warm, and it somehow offers the comfort he has been seeking but has never found.

And it’s not fireworks, nor is it a supernova, more like a warm fire on a cold evening or the smouldering remains of a comet across the sky.

When they part, Newt doesn’t say anything, and neither does Hermann, as though nothing needed to be. Newt just loops one arm around Hermann’s, pulls himself closer and leans his head against his shoulder.

They just keep watching the movie, and the remainder of the food goes cold on the table, pressed against each other on a timeworn leather couch, and that’s enough for the both of them.