Actions

Work Header

watch the stars that tremble with love

Work Text:

It’s a funny state of affairs – except it’s not, it’s really not – Hermann has spent more time with Newt in the past two months than he has in ten years, and the whole time, Newt’s consciousness has been wholly absent. He lies silently in a bed in the Shatterdome medical bay, and Hermann sits silently next to him during all free time he has.

He’s been there since the precursors left him, after Jake burned that godforsaken kaiju brain in front of him. Hermann can remember Newt’s – the precursors, he wants to correct, but no, it was Newt’s voice and Newt’s body and Newt’s mind – begging to drift with the brain again, for them to stop once the fire was lit, his screams as it burnt while that awful stench filled the room.

The precursors were gone, forced out by the interrogations and detachment from the kaiju brain and, Hermann likes to believe, Newt’s will, leaving a neurological warzone in their path. The doctors say that if – when, Hermann mentally corrects every time, because Newt will – he wakes up, they have no way of knowing whether there’ll be anything left.

Hermann can’t think like that. The idea that Newt could be gone, a casualty of a war that ended ten years before, is one he does not want to entertain. The idea that the last time he spoke to Newt – the real Newt, anyway – besides the tearful apology in the Shao Industries lab, was a curt goodbye before Newt left to go to the private sector.

Their ten years of minimal contact- Hermann should have realised. He should have realised that Newt would never have stopped writing him, would never have left all his belongings in the lab, including his keyboard, would never have worn that fucking waistcoat.

He knows the doctors all think he’s there out of guilt. In part, he is, but he’s sure if Newt had been in the hospital for so long even before what happened, Hermann would have been at his side every step of the way.

“You should try talking to him,” a voice says from the doorway. Liwen stands there, leant against the frame. She is gorgeous, as always, and looks at him sympathetically.

“I don’t think I have anything to say,” he replies distractedly, and it’s not true. It’s not true, not really, because what he has to say could fill all the libraries in the world, if he could only find the right words.

Shao takes a few steps into the room. “When my father had a stroke,” she tells him, “I used to read him Biān Chéng. It was his favourite novel.” She isn’t looking at him, Hermann notes, she’s looking at Newt. “When he woke up, he was much better than we ever expected him to be.”

She is quiet for a few moments, like she need not say any more, before she turning to leave and patting Hermann’s shoulder as she does so.  

He places his hand on Newt’s, still yet reassuringly warm.

Hermann is a bit of a hoarder. He always has been, a little anxious to keep everything tidy, a little anxious to throw anything out in case he needed it, culminating in his expenditure into a number of storage lockers in various cities. Everything from his and Newt’s old lab, including a large number of Newt’s records and books, were in one a block away from his current apartment.

There’s another thing that should have alerted him that something was wrong, Hermann muses masochistically. Newt would never have left his music.

“You’re going to be the death of me, Newton,” he murmurs, and takes time to appreciate what he imagines to be the last time he doesn’t have a headache for quite a while.

*

He gets a hold of a record player, and somehow manages to haul a few boxes of records into Newt’s room – albeit with Jake’s unenthusiastic help – as well as a number of books (the ones that weren’t graphic novels or textbooks anyway, which leaves him with very few).

There’s a lot he doesn’t like, of course – but as he flips through the selection of albums, he finds himself slightly bemused, because there’s a fair bit he does like, at least a little, which means that the majority of the blaring music Newt used to play in the lab was specifically selected to annoy him. A lot of it is exactly what his eldest brother, the wannabe punk he was, used to listen to – Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Blondie – and he barely heard any of it.

Of course, Hermann’s preference in music is limited mostly to classical pieces, therefore he is biased in the first record he picks to play. It’s Lakmé, and Hermann very much figures that it was Newt’s mother’s. He can’t recall Newt playing it ever while he was working, although he figures that was partially due to the fact that opera would be unlikely to annoy his lab partner.

Newt doesn’t have many memories of his mother, Hermann recalls from their drift, the major being her performing La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was beautiful, but the memory was tainted by Newt’s sadness, and later resentment, at the lack of time his mother cared to spend with him.

And as their voices soar into the claustrophobic hospital room, Hermann rests his head against the back of the wall and finds himself praying to a God he doesn’t believe in that maybe the emotion tied to it will bring something back.

*

He plays a record every night after he finishes his work in his lab, following up on Jake’s suggestion to follow the kaiju to their world before they came back again. Much to his disdain, he finds himself beginning to enjoy some of it, which he accounts to a sort of musical Stockholm Syndrome. Thankfully his integrity prevents him from liking at least most of it, which Hermann can describe as simply, ‘a racket’.

So far, he’s worked out that he is not repulsed by Joy Division, The Jam, or Buzzcocks, but would rather not endure another Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys or The Damned album. Which is unfortunate, really, because Newt’s idols of Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten are both members of the Sex Pistols, which means that when – not if – he wakes up, Hermann’s sure he’ll be forced into listening to more of it.

*

Newt has a surprising number of pretentious books, the sort that Hermann was forced into reading by his father’s obsession with giving Hermann a ‘well-rounded education’, and he struggles to believe that Newt had even read them.

Still, Kafka makes a nice change to Costello, he thinks as he reads it aloud to the room, reminded somewhat of his elocution lessons.

*

He thought he liked Patti Smith, but it turns out he doesn’t.

*

“What the hell is this?” Jake says as he walks into the room to Sonic Youth.

“Music, apparently,” Hermann almost sneers, sparing a glance to Newt’s woefully motionless form.

He leans against the wall opposite Hermann. “Presumably not your taste,” he comments.

Hermann grimaces. “No. I don’t listen to…noise,” he says, trying to convey his scorn of Newt’s music.

Jake laughs, and Hermann’s a little lost as to why. “Some people like noise, Doc.” He sobers up a beat later. “How’s he doing?”

“The same,” Hermann tells him.

The same is Newt lying unresponsive in the hospital bed, vitals steady but nothing that could particularly suggest that there was still anything behind his closed eyes.

Hermann knows Jake is there out of sympathy for him, or as a formality, because he never knew Newt, not even during the war. Because Hermann’s good, he knows he is, and he’s doing Jake’s bidding at current so he imagines Jake perceives a duty to be there. Likewise, every breakthrough they had with the precursors were a direct consequence of Hermann’s presence, and Hermann can remember the pitying looks everyone shot him whenever he left the chamber.

He can’t really begrudge them, because Hermann would pity himself too – going in there to talk to his friend, to bring him back by bringing up old arguments or joking with him or loving unconditionally (because he’s not going to lie to himself, that’s what it is) and Newt would emerge beneath it all, like a drowner bursting through the surface of the sea in a storm, only to submerge moments later. He tried as hard as he could to give them information, but mostly his fleeting moments of control served only to show Hermann that he was still in there, even if it broke his heart, because it was never quiet and it was never easy and there were always tears, from one or both of them, although Hermann usually managed to hold his until he was alone.

It was in one of those moments that Newt let slip about the kaiju brain, and Hermann came up with the plan to destroy it, as the only link they knew of between the worlds. And it worked, but Hermann can’t imagine what that must have been like for Newt.

But he’ll take their pity, particularly Jake’s, because it means that no one has yet complained about the outrageous noise emanating from Newton’s room.

“If you ever need a drink,” Jake says, “just let me know, yeah?”

Hermann nods, and then he is alone with Newt once more.

*

The graphic novels are surprisingly not bad, Hermann finds. He wouldn’t say good, per se, but they weren’t bad.

One of the things Hermann didn’t know before the drift was that Newt was a pretty capable artist. He had designed his tattoos on the back of the first draft of his third PhD paper. It makes sense really; Newt is a reactor of creativity and manic energy.

Hermann’s art is his numbers, but he does play a mean piano.

*

“If I have an aneurysm, you’re to blame,” Hermann tells him as he puts on a second Sex Pistols album. It’s terrible.

*

As Hermann often is, he is proved right – that Newt isn’t gone – on a rainy day in September. He’s reading Proust, and has reverted to opera – Turandot, this time – and he’s sat by Newt’s bed, when there’s a murmur to his left. He slams the book shut immediately, placing it on the floor as he turns his attention to Newt.

Newt frowns, eyes closed, and his vocal chords creak from disuse as he wakes.

“Newton?” he says, “Newt?”

Then his eyelids flutter and fly open, and his eyes are wild, fearful, and Hermann is hit suddenly with the biggest rush of emotion that wasn’t his since the drift, like their connection is reforming, and it’s overwhelming. It’s a sickening cocktail of distress and sadness and confusion and guilt and Hermann feels light-headed from the rush. He sits himself on the bed and places his hands on Newton’s shoulders. Newt looks at him, dazed and panicked, and Hermann is immediately relieved when he sees recognition in his eyes.

“Hermann?” Newt says hoarsely, gratingly, and it’s the most beautiful sound Hermann has ever heard, because he’s alive and he’s awake and it’s him.

Newt pushes himself up clumsily so that he’s sitting, and Hermann considers pushing him back down and getting a doctor, but he’s trying to catch his breath like he’s just woken from a nightmare. It is rather like he has, Hermann thinks briefly before he loses all inability to formulate cohesive thought as he his pulled into a tight hug by Newt.

One of Newt’s hands grips Hermann’s shirt and the other is on the back of his neck, and Hermann pulls himself out of his daze to wrap his own arms around Newt’s back, and Newt buries his head in his shoulder. Hermann wonders if this would’ve been what it was like that day he hugged Newt after getting out of the elevator.

It wouldn’t be exactly like this, he thinks, because if Newt had never had the precursors in his brain, Hermann finds it distinctly unlikely that they would ever have lost contact. It wouldn’t be exactly like this, he thinks, because Newt is crying onto his shoulder and uttering what sounds like apologies into his shirt.

Hermann hushes him, feeling outstandingly awkward, because he’s not a hugger, and he’s not sat in a good position for this, but there isn’t a version of this where Hermann doesn’t hug back.

They sit like that for a while, until Newt’s calmed down and until the record finishes and the tinny speakers on the turntable just crackle. Even when they pull apart, both of Newt’s hands are still gripped into the fabric on Hermann’s arms, and God, Hermann realises properly for the first time that Newt’s been the backseat driver in his own brain for a decade, that he’s watched himself destroy lives without being able to do anything about it. He knew, of course, but he didn’t quite realise what it meant until he stares into Newt’s eyes.

There’s sadness and relief and unfocus, and Hermann suddenly realises that Newt can’t see. He moves from Newt’s side quickly, trying to ignore the way his hands trailed after him, as he gets up to retrieve an old pair of Newt’s glasses from one of the boxes. He knows exactly where they are – he’s memorised it for this moment – and he returns to the bed within seconds, gingerly placing the glasses on Newt’s face.

Newt seems to calm down immediately once he can see, and Hermann ruefully realises that he probably hasn’t seen properly in a decade.

Still, he suspects that they don’t really work, not after so long, but Newt looks at him like he’s the Sistine bloody Chapel. He’s not sure if it’s his exhaustion or his relief or something else, but Newt suddenly leans forward and presses a chaste kiss to his mouth.

It’s short and sweet, the sort of kiss that could mean nothing if they didn’t want it to. Hermann rather suspects that is not the case, especially with the look Newt is giving him. He places a hand to his cheek and strokes it softly with his thumb. He wants to discuss things, everything, with Newt, but now is really not the time.

“I have to go find a doctor,” he tells him quietly, and Newt nods.

Newt’s done more wordless communication in the past few minutes than he did throughout the time Hermann has knew him, and he begins to realise that it isn’t over. Or, that it is over, but the repercussions are yet to be felt. And Hermann is not inclined to outbursts of emotion, but if he doesn’t just want to shout out right now.

*

Newton realised something over the years of what felt like dissociation on cocaine – he is in love with Hermann Gottlieb. Being forced to take a step back really helps with the whole retrospection thing. So he kissed him. Big deal.

It is a big deal. Because when he looks at Hermann, he feels this heedless flutter in his chest, and he wants to touch him and hold him and thank him, and when Hermann looks at him with this stupid look of adoration that he doesn’t think he deserves – this has been there since the drift, he realises, and feels like a prize idiot for not realising sooner – he could almost forget what happened.

Except he can’t, because he can still feel his fingers around Hermann’s neck and he can still feel pain that wasn’t his as the precursors were forced out and he knows that there may be hundreds dead due to his inability to push back strong enough. When he looks at his arms and the tattoos that lie there, his skin crawls, and instead of embracing the way his brain runs at a million miles a minute, he just wants it to shut up and take the psychological equivalent of a sit down.

Newt is stuck in a weird sort of limbo over the following days with where he stands with Hermann. On the one hand, they haven’t spoken about the kiss, and Newt finds himself both relieved and disappointed. On the other, he knows (as one generally does when one's been in someone else’s head) that his love is not unrequited.

When Newt is discharged a few days later, Hermann finally cashes in some of the vacation time he’s saved up over the years. Hermann’s changed a fair bit since the last time he saw him, softer and calmer and more open, but he highly doubts his workaholic and obsessive nature could ever leave him. He’s stayed with him since he woke up the first time, seeing as he hasn’t slept without a nightmare. Hermann knows precisely what it’s like to wake up from those alone, Newt thinks guiltily.

So when he is finally released from medical, Hermann suggests to Newt the obvious. He agrees with as much enthusiasm as he can muster, because he really wants to, but his emotions have been buried deep for so long he’s struggling to present them.

He’s struggling to present anything at the moment. It’s like his energy and his drive is beneath several feet of soil, like a seed planted too deep trying to reach the sun.

I’ve just not been feeling like myself lately.

Ain’t that the truth, possessed-Newt? He’s never been quiet, or lost for words, and yet he can barely formulate a cohesive sentence. He thinks the word he’s said the most times since he’s woken isn’t even a word – it’s a name.

Hermann, he says when he can’t think of what to say, because Hermann will know what he means anyway.

Hermann, he warns when he’s about to be sick, and Hermann hands him a trashcan.

Hermann, he calls out at night as he surges up at night out of that awful blue.

They share a bed in Hermann’s quarters. It’s not sexy, and it’s not passionate, and it’s not even because they love each other (except it kind of is) – it’s mostly practicality.

And it only serves to make Newt feel guiltier, because Hermann shouldn’t be doing this for him, or feel like he has to, or waste his time dedicating himself to being there when Newt is a grown man.

He tells him this, in Hermann’s arms after he’s talked out of a panic attack, and Hermann asks him simply,

“Would you do the same for me?”

Yes, he replies. Yes, because that’s the truth, unequivocally, because he’d do anything for Hermann if he asked it, or even if he didn’t.

“Then you can understand,” Hermann tells him.

But Newt struggles to. He can in theory, but in practice there’s this huge block. Hermann’s never been unforgivably malicious to Newt. Sure, on both their parts, their old arguments had sometimes gotten out of hand, but even then nothing had crossed the imaginary line in their dynamics. Newt nearly ended the fucking world, and tried to kill Hermann with his own two hands.

The same hands that grip Hermann’s late at night as he presses against Newt’s back, the same hands that rest on his chest just to feel him breathe, the same hands that trace over the curves of Hermann’s body as a way of a distraction or an affirmation or something else he can’t define.

They haven’t really defined their relationship. Newt doesn’t really want to, not yet – a relationship cannot be built on guilt and dependency – but he knows that he loves and is loved, no matter how misplaced he believes that to be, and he knows that they aren’t really friends anymore. Well, they are, but that’s not all it is.

The second time they kiss, it’s past three in the morning and it’s been weeks since their first, and Debussy is playing quietly from the speaker in the corner of their room.

Newt hates the silence. He never particularly enjoyed it, hence the loud music at all hours of the day, but now – silence is inescapable. It’s suffocating and it reminds him too much of how he felt before. He needs something above the noise of just his brain, he needs to know that he’s present, and he can’t do that without clear, unstifled noise. And seeing as Hermann seems to have exhausted his record collection and has little will to revisit it, they settled on Hermann’s choice on an old MP3 player.

Debussy is playing, and it’s late and they’re tired and they’re face to face and suddenly Hermann presses a gentle kiss to his lips. Hermann presses a gentle kiss to his lips, and it provides comfort neither of them could ever put into words.

It’s the first time Newt’s felt properly human in weeks.

*

Newt’s old keyboard sits in Hermann’s kitchen space, leant up sideways between a table and the wall. It’s either too late or too early for Newt to find any point in going to sleep, so he slips out of bed quietly without disturbing Hermann and pulls it onto the table, taking a seat on one of Hermann’s stools.

He fumbles with the keys, and manages to play some level of the tune of something he wrote in high school, but his hands are shaking and the chords are disjointed and rough. He gets stuck on the bridge, playing it over and over again and he just can’t get the hang of it. He plays an ugly, loud chord in frustration.

The idea of not being able to play is terrifying. His hands won’t stop their tremors, and as he thinks more about it they get increasingly worse until every key stutters repeatedly under his fingers. Eventually he just slams his hands on the table.

Hermann’s behind him then, sleep in his eyes and a dressing gown draped loosely over his shoulders, and he just silently pulls a stool up behind him as he stares blankly at the keyboard, and Newt can feel Hermann’s front against his back, and his legs to the sides of his legs, and Hermann’s head over his shoulder.

Hermann gently picks Newt’s hands up and places them on the keys, before placing his own hands on top of them. It stills the tremor, and Newt presses his hands lightly upwards to follow Hermann’s movements as he begins to play an easy and indulgent tune. It feels subtly familiar, though he can’t quite place it.

The melody hangs in the air like incense burnt on an autumn night.

*

Newt’s never really knew what irony was – his entire understanding of it coming from Alanis Morissette – but he’s pretty sure this is it. His first major breakdown, and it is the first time Hermann isn’t readily available to him.

So he sits in the corner of the room, a couple of shards of glass in his hands from his dropped glass of water, because of course his hands are too fucking shaky to do even that, watching the blood eek its way down past his tattoos, tinting them red. It’s a stark contrast from the sickening blue he’s used to, and it crosses his mind that he should probably take himself to medical to get stitches, but all he seems able to do is stare and think of goddamn it’s like rain on your wedding day, and he just laughs because it’s all too much. It’s too funny, and it’s too much. His laughs soon turn to sobs, and he sits there and loses track of time.

By the time Hermann comes back a few hours later, the blood has dried on his arms and he’s delirious from crying himself to exhaustion. He barely even notices Hermann talking to him and hauling him to his feet, or being lead to medical.

He comes to his senses as he’s sat on one of the beds in the hospital wing, staring at the stark white bandaging on his hand, and he just feels lost. Hermann sits next to him.

“I hate this,” Newt tells him.

“I know,” Hermann replies, and it’s all he can say.

*

Jake Pentecost visits Newt in Hermann’s lab when Hermann’s grabbing lunch. Newt suspects he timed it so Hermann was gone, just as his father had done before him, although that was to avoid their constant bickering getting in the way of reports.

They haven’t met. Jake’s met the precursors, and Newt’s seen that meeting through his own eyes with no control – but they haven’t actually met.

“Dr Geiszler,” he greets as he enters. “Newt,” he says after a moment and pauses, as if waiting for some confirmation.

Newt nods his consent.

“Gottlieb says you’ve been doing better,” he says. It’s somewhat true. He’s at least functional now. “I just wanted to warn you,” he’s treading carefully, Newt can tell, “that not everyone can see the wider picture with what happened in Tokyo.” He stares, trying to judge whether Newt has anything to say. “Be careful.”

It’s probably subconscious, but his view seems to drift over Newt’s arms.

Newt doesn’t know how to feel about his tattoos anymore. The Newt of the past would have said to continue to wear them with pride, because that’s what he’s overcome. But he isn’t sure if he can quite see it like that. He knows them too closely now, and he rarely rolls his sleeves up anymore.

That’s another piece of irony. One of the reasons he got them was to cover up scars so he could have his arms on show without feeling embarrassed, and now the exact same thing has happened to that cover-up itself. Life’s a bitch.

“What are you doing?” Hermann’s there, suddenly, and Jake turns to face him.

Life’s a bitch.

“It’s important,” Jake says. “A lot of people have his back, but we’re not always gonna be there.”

Hermann takes a few steps into the room. “This isn’t the right time.”

“When is, Doctor?” he asks confrontationally. “He’s got it hard enough as it is-”

“Exactly,” Hermann interrupts sharply.

Jake puts his hands up in surrender. “Only trying to help, man.” He leaves.

Newt tries his best not to look like a child who’s just walked in on his parents fighting as Hermann spares him a commiserative glance. Jake’s right, Hermann knows it, and Newt knows Hermann knows it. He may not be the most social of creatures, but he’s smart enough to know that it’s probably the majority of people on base who would rather Newt had a bullet in his brain for what happened.

“He’s right,” Newt says in the end, tiring of the way Hermann staggers through the room the way he does when he’s annoyed.

He watches Hermann clench his jaw and breathe deeply. “What happened wasn’t your fault, Newton.”

“Whether it is or isn’t is irrelevant if everyone else thinks it is,” he replies harshly. “Not everyone is as forgiving or understanding as you, Hermann,” it comes out bitter, though he doesn’t really mean it to.

“You mustn’t think like that,” he says, in a way that sounds like he’s trying not to get angry or have an argument, and somewhere at the back of Newt’s broken mind he is grateful for his patience.

“I can’t help it!” he shouts, and stands from where he’s sat at the desk.

“I know-”

“You know what, Hermann?” Newt says, and he feels like if he stops shouting he’ll cry. “You have no idea what this is like! It’s like every single connection in my brain has been rewired, and I can’t do anything, and- and it’s crap!”

It’s the most he’s spoken since he woken, and he’s backed Hermann into a wall, his hands bunched in the front of his shirt, when he catches a split-second glimpse of something in Hermann’s eyes. Fear.

I’m sorry Hermann. They’re in my head.

He jumps back as if he’s been burnt, staring at his hands as they tremor.

“I’m sorry,” Hermann says, as if it’s his fault.

“No,” Newt replies, and he can feel tears in his eyes. Don’t apologise, Hermann, he thinks, because Hermann has nothing to apologise and Newt has everything to apologise for. “Please, Hermann. Don’t.”

He heads to the door, watching Hermann watch him, frozen.

“I’d appreciate it if you don’t follow me.”

*

He finds an unoccupied room with a bed, locks the door and lies down, curled up on one side. It’s so quiet, he thinks, and he can’t breathe. Newt quickly pulls out his phone and puts its limited music library on shuffle, turning it up as loud as he can so that he can cry himself to sleep in discord.

*

Newt goes outside of the Shatterdome for the first time since his arrival the next day. He’s torn – the fresh air is a welcome change and it clears his head, but the sheer size of the city and the feeling that everyone’s looking at him makes him anxious, nauseous.

He’s not out there for long, anyway. He goes to get sushi. Hermann always used to love sushi, which came as a surprise to him when he first found out, because Hermann seems a little bit like the type of guy to turn his nose up at raw fish. Newt hopes he still does.

He brings the plastic bag filled with two trays of fresh sushi back to Hermann’s quarters. He stops just outside of the door, and he can hear the distinctive riff of The Passenger, Iggy Pop’s vocals smothered slightly by the door. He’d recognise it anywhere – he listened to that album on repeat for a whole month in high school after his uncle first introduced him to his record collection. Newt quietly pokes his head around the door, trying not to disturb anything.

Hermann sits at his desk, back turned to the door, the record player to his side. He’s tapping his foot, and his head is down as he works. Newt can’t help but grin.

“Hey,” Newt says as he enters and places the bag on the table noisily.

He turns, looking alarmed, and immediately fumbles to grab his cane and knock the needle off the record with it.

“I thought you thought my music was a,” he pauses, pretending to take time to think, “a ‘racket’.”

Hermann looks a little lost for words before he realises himself. “Yes, well. I suppose it’s not all completely terrible.”

Newt gives a sly smile. “I bought sushi,” he says, and sits.

“Really?” Hermann asks as he stands, joining Newt at the table.

He looks happy, Newt thinks, and it’s like before it all went to hell except there’s a feeling between them both that’s a lot warmer than it ever was. They eat together in silence, just like old times when they ended up raiding the kitchens at two in the morning having both been insomniacs and easily absorbed in their work.

It’s silent, and Newt doesn’t have a problem with it at all.

*

Newt gets back to work the Tuesday after that. Hermann can tell he feels a little off about the whole thing, about his specialisation and the idea of working with kaiju again, but he puts on a brave face as long as Hermann’s with him. And Hermann is with him, the whole time, back to sharing a lab space again.

They work around each other like the moons of Saturn, and Hermann wonders if this was what it was like before and how he never realised that they were drift compatible.

Newt zones out a lot more than he did before. He did a lot anyway, but sometimes Hermann catches him staring at his papers for hours on end, like his mind has taken a short vacation and left his body just sat there, and he notices him keeping a small notepad to note down things he has to remember. Newt hasn’t spoken to him about that yet, but he doesn’t want to push him. He’s a little more subdued too, and Hermann curses the time he would have longed for that, because it’s awful.

But he’s getting better, Hermann truly believes. He smiles and laughs more, and he seems determined to work through it now. Newt always was a stubborn bastard.

*

Jake was right.

He’s pushed into the wall by some jumped-up J-Tech, an arm against his chest holding him against the wall. The guy’s saying something, but Newt can’t really hear him over the high-pitched ringing in his ears.

The fist to his face shatters it, and Newt tunes back into the correct wavelength of the present to hear his final sentence.

“They should have just shot you,” the J-Tech says, and while he can feel his breath on his face, Newt knows he’s not going to remember what he looks like. His memory isn’t awful, but it’s not the most cooperative thing.

He’s dropped to the floor then, and a few kicks lands in his gut. Newt knows it hurts, but it feels too distant. The tiling is cold beneath his hands, and he can feel it loud and clear.

“Hey,” he hears as Hermann – he’d recognise that voice anywhere, and it breaks through the haze of his disconnect – approaches, “hey!”

The J-Tech turns, catching a glance of Hermann before moving on, and then he’s gone, obviously not considering Hermann worth the trouble. Newt tries to scramble to sit up against the wall he was pushed against. He doesn’t look up, keeping his eyes scrunched closed as he tries to get a hold of his shuddering breath, the pain in his chest ripping through him so that he struggles to do so.

His hand is under his nose, and he’s vaguely aware that it’s slick with blood, and he flinches at the hand that cups his jaw, no matter how gentle it is. He forces his eyes open and comes face to face with Hermann and his big concerned eyes, dropped down in front of him with his cane strewn to the side.

“Newton?” he says, “Newt?”

Newt nods, but he’s not sure what he’s nodding at, and it shoots pain through the back of his skull.

“I need to get you to medical,” Hermann tells him, and Newt really doesn’t want to go back there, but he simply nods again.

“Hermann,” he tries to say, but it comes out strained and scrambled, like there’s lousy reception between his brain and his mouth.

Hermann hushes him, and pulls his arm around his shoulder, struggling to pull them both up. Newt lets out an involuntary noise of pain.

“I’m sorry,” Hermann says quietly as he hauls Newt down the corridor. “I really am.”

*

Newt’s memory may be shot, but Hermann’s certainly isn’t. Once Newt is asleep in the hospital following a mild tranquilliser, and the doctor tells him he’ll be knocked out for two hours at least, he makes his way to see Jake Pentecost with the J-Tech’s face and ID number ingrained in his brain.

He watches the swine get fired before he heads back to Newt’s room and takes up his seat in the room, and gets an unwelcome feeling of déjà vu. He’s angry and he’s stressed, and he passes his cane from one hand to another repeatedly as the time passes.

“Will you stop that?” Newt murmurs to his right.

Hermann immediately does, and redirects his attention to the other man. “How are you feeling?”

“You know, dude, I’ve been better,” he replies, but he’s smiling.

He’s smiling, so Hermann smiles back.

*

He’s doing better. It’s not perfect, but he’s getting there, and he is nothing if not in debt to Hermann, because Hermann loves him for who he is and who he was and who he will be, and Newt begins to stop resenting the man he is for not being the man he was.

They still haven’t defined their relationship, but Newt is fine with that because he can’t ever picture the two of them being apart again.

He walks a lot, the fresh air breaking through the smog of his corrupted brain, and when Hermann’s with him the oppressive feeling of the scope of the city is alleviated. He talks less, but when he’s with Hermann, he’s beginning to build up to where he used to be. And if his memory doesn’t work and if he breaks down sometimes, that’s just what he’s got to put up with.

He can put up with it because when the night draws in, he goes to bed with the man he loves at his side.

Newt tells Hermann he loves him 243 days after he woke up, 2085 days since he first realised, and 4018 days since they drifted. They’re lying in bed, and Newt lays his head on Hermann’s chest while Hermann draws patterns on his back. They listen to Chopin again.

“I love you,” he says, not looking at him.

“I know,” Hermann replies, not stopping the movement of his fingers.

Newt frowns and looks up at him. “Hey, don’t Han Solo me.”

Hermann raises an eyebrow. “Who?”

“Are you kidding me?” he says, and nearly launches up in outrage, before Hermann places a hand on his shoulder firmly to stop him.

“Yes,” he replies with a smirk.

Newt huffs, falling quiet again.

“I love you too.”

The nocturne draws to a close and the speaker falls into static as the playlist ends.

He’s always loved music, and he still does, there offering a lifeline. The precursors could never take that away from him. Neither could they take Hermann.