A man is making eyes at Hermann across the room.
It takes a little while for Hermann to realize that the person the man is looking at is him. Hermann is not accustomed to being on the receiving end of public attention, romantic or sexual or otherwise, and especially not from a man who—though a bit shorter, and a bit more disheveled than Hermann’s usual type—is reasonably good-looking. Hermann, at first, assumes the man is looking at someone behind him, so he stands from his stool and steps to the side so he is no longer blocking the way. He has no interest in being third party to drunken flirtations.
But the man’s eyes follow Hermann.
Hermann quickly revises his mental assessment of the situation. Fact one: a man is making eyes at Hermann across the room. Fact two: the man is good-looking, enough to pique Hermann’s interest in return. Fact three: Hermann has absolutely no idea how to proceed accordingly. Does he stare back? Send a drink? Simply go over and talk to him?
The man makes up his mind before Hermann has to make up his, and starts walking over to him. The pub is fairly uncrowded for a Saturday night, so he does not have to push through too many people before he’s standing directly in front of Hermann. “Hi,” he says—in English—with a coy little smile. His voice is high, scratchy. An American, which is mildly surprising. Most likely some sort of tourist. His hair looks as though he’s been running his fingers through it all night. He’s wearing a large, thick pair of glasses and a shirt with periodic symbols that Hermann can’t quite make out in the poor lighting. “Are you here with anyone?” He does not appear drunk, or even moderately tipsy, so the situation evolves from resigning himself to the man not being in his right mind to immediately becoming tongue-tied and flustered.
“Ah,” Hermann says, “no.” He does not elaborate; he does not particularly wish to disclose to a perfect stranger that he sought out the nearest establishment to his family’s home that sells alcohol the moment dealing with them became too much.
The man seems very pleased with his response. “Sweet,” he says, and sidles into Hermann’s personal space. He’s still smiling, leaning a bit too close. “Can I buy you a drink, then?”
Heaven help him, Hermann has no idea how to flirt. “If you’d like,” he says, aiming for cool, aloof. He does not want to appear too eager and scare the man off. It’s the wrong move: the man visibly deflates. “I mean—I’d love for you to,” Hermann corrects quickly. “Please.”
The man’s bouncing on his feet. “Cool, cool, cool,” he says, and points out a small booth in the back corner, isolated from the rest. There’s a jean jacket lying in a heap on one of the seats and a glass of ice in pinkish liquid on the table. “If you want to sit down I can—?”
Hermann nods. “Yes.”
The man hurries off to the counter, nearly tripping over himself—with excitement, Hermann thinks with a pleasant rush, excitement over Hermann—and Hermann settles in at the empty booth, resting his cane carefully up against the wall. He inspects the jean jacket the man left behind, partially out of curiosity for the sheer volume of patches sewn into and pins tacked onto it (a Starfleet insignia, an alien head, a few monsters, a quote he thinks is from The X-Files) but mostly out of nerves.
Newton is always texting him about being hungover from outings to clubs. It isn’t too much of a stretch to assume that Newton probably flirts with strangers during those outings too—Newton just seems so charming and likable—so it isn’t too much more a stretch to assume that he might have some advice for Hermann in his situation. With that sound line of logic, Hermann pulls his cell phone from his blazer pocket and sends Newton a text.
Almost an instant reply. ???????
a man is hitting on me
like in a creepy way. do u need me come over and beat him up for you
no, but thank you. I wouldn’t mind tips, however
for how to beat him up
for how to flirt back
There’s a long lull in the conversation. Maybe this was a bad idea. Hermann knows for a fact Newton is on some research excursion this week, also somewhere in Germany, and he told Hermann ahead of time he’ll be busy and his replies will be spotty. He feels guilty—he doesn’t want to use up Newton’s free time. He feels guilty for an entirely different reason, too, as if he’s—cheating on Newton, somehow, which is a completely ridiculous notion. He and Newton are not in a relationship. Newton is just a good friend, and friends are allowed to ask each other for advice. His phone buzzes. omg hermann u stud. is he cute???
Hermann feels oddly disappointed. Why should it matter to Newton if the man is cute or not? Or that Newton isn’t—well, not that Hermann wants Newton to be jealous, not in the slightest, of course not. That would be quite petty, and Hermann is not petty. Very, he replies.
tell him he’s got a nice smile and nice hair or something and sit like super close to him. and laugh at all his jokes even if they’re dumb. especially if they’re dumb. compliment him a bunch too. usually works for me ;)
im actually with a super hot guy rn too so heres to both of us getting laid tonite
The last text is followed by several eggplant, fire, and water droplet emojis. Hermann quickly locks and pockets his phone. He tries not to speculate too wildly on Newton’s aforementioned hot guy. Probably some tall, suave, muscular type, with abs and biceps and perfect teeth, who wouldn’t respect Newton at all and only use him for sex and break Newton’s heart, the bastard, Newton deserves so much more—
“Hi again!” The man is back, and he’s slamming two large beers down on the tabletop. Foam slops over the sides of each glass and onto the wood. Hermann wrinkles his nose but doesn’t say anything, because the man is far too busy scooting into the booth, sliding along until he’s settled up right alongside Hermann and their shoulders are pressed together.
“Hi,” Hermann says. He can cross sit close to him off the list, at least; the man is currently crossing an ankle over Hermann’s, inching his hand across the tabletop to brush against Hermann’s. Hermann flushes at the contact, but he does not pull away. He feels, suddenly and irrationally, self-conscious about how he’s dressed, especially compared to how casual the other man is. Hermann didn’t bother changing before he stormed out of dinner, so he’s still in his neat sweater, tweed blazer, and oxfords.
“I can’t believe you’re not here with anyone,” the man says, and bats his eyelashes, flashes a crooked grin that makes Hermann’s heart skip a beat. “You’re so cute.”
A smile tugs at Hermann’s lips. “Oh,” he says, “you, uh—you too.” Compliment him, Newton said. “You—”
The man is leaning in closer. “You have a nice smile,” the man continues, beating Hermann to the punch at the compliment, “and very beautiful eyes. Has anyone ever told you that?”
Hermann shakes his head.
“You’re kidding,” the man says, with exaggerated outrage. “I like your hair, too. It’s cool.” Hermann, to his own surprise, does not flinch away when the man brings a hand up to the back of Hermann’s head and runs it across the fuzzy hair that’s there. “I could never rock an undercut. I tried it once in college and I just looked like an asshole. I mean, I also, like, cut it myself, so maybe if I’d got it done professionally—but I also had it dyed pink at the time—”
“I like your hair how it is,” Hermann cuts in. He reaches out—surprised at his own audacity—and smooths down a few of the spiky, messy strands. They spring back up immediately, but it has the desired effect; the man shuts up, blinks at Hermann. It’s then that Hermann finally realizes what his t-shirt says, before the chemical symbols. “‘If you get with me,’” Hermann reads aloud, “‘you’ll be—’” Hermann’s strong suit is astrophysics and the like, of course, but he does have a fairly comprehensive understanding of chemistry. Enough to recognize the compound and get the joke. He snorts. “Cummingtonite?”
The man glances down at his shirt, momentarily surprised. “You got that?” he says. “Usually I wait until someone asks me what it means, and then I—I have, like, a whole routine.” He’s stopped rubbing Hermann’s hair but rests his hand on the nape of his neck, and he’s giving Hermann a blatant, raw look of interest that makes Hermann feel warm.
“Potassium,” Hermann says, and very nearly cringes at what he’s about to say, because even Newton would make fun of him for it.
“‘K’,” Hermann says. “As in okay. To—the proposition.”
The man is silent, and then his face splits into another wide grin. “Ha!” he laughs, far too loudly, and Hermann jumps. “God, I was hoping you’d be a nerd. I mean, dressed like that—” Hermann stiffens, and the man winces. “—not what I meant! Not what I meant,” he says quickly. “I mean—it really works for you. It makes you even hotter.”
“Hm.” Hermann has never been called hot before. Never to his face, anyway. The man is curling his fingers around Hermann’s neck and his eyes have dropped to Hermann’s lips. He’s very close, close enough that Hermann can now see the light dusting of freckles across his cheeks.
A small, traitorous, nagging part of Hermann’s brain wonders how Newton’s date is going. Definitely not as well as his; Newton’s date, Hermann has already decided, is most definitely a crass brute that Newton will have made excuses to and parted from by now. Tomorrow Hermann will offer his consolation.
On the other hand, if Newton’s date is going well, then he’ll have to hear about that tomorrow instead (something tightens in Hermann’s chest and it’s not jealousy, most definitely not jealousy) and Newton will probably want to hear about Hermann’s as well. Hermann would not feel any shame if he backed down now, thanked his companion for the drink (which he’s yet to touch) but declined to follow up on their swapped innuendo, and he would not feel any shame in admitting that to Newton.
Hermann can feel the man’s breath on him. It has been a while since Hermann’s—well. (Men typically don’t notice Hermann.) And he is quite nice to look at.
Hermann is only human.
“I need,” Hermann declares, “a cigarette.” He gives the man a long, pointed look. “Would you care to join me?”
There’s no one in the back alley—how cliche, Hermann thinks, how disgusting, how exciting—so he doesn’t even have to pretend to light up a cigarette or two before his companion is on him in a heartbeat, gripping his blazer and licking into his mouth. It’s not the most amorous of settings, or even a remotely arousing one. It smells like garbage and smoke and cheap booze, and no matter what interesting things the other man is doing with his tongue it’s not enough to drive away the knowledge that the more Hermann’s blazer rubs against the brick wall, the more grime it’s picking up. (But, oh, how it would anger his father, how jealous he likes to think Newton would be.)
The other man is overeager, easily excited. When Hermann tugs on his hair, his eyelids flutter behind his thick glasses; when Hermann pulls up the hem of his t-shirt, revealing what looks like a chestful of ink (Newton mentioned wanting tattoos once, Hermann recalls, full-body ones, of kaiju), he pushes Hermann’s hand up to press against his exposed skin; when Hermann bites on his lip, he moans and shoves a knee between Hermann’s legs. The sensation is nice for all of three seconds, especially with Hermann’s hand up the man’s shirt and a warm expanse of skin to explore, but then he—to borrow the phrase—attempts to climb Hermann like a tree. Pain shoots violently through Hermann’s leg and he swears. “Sorry!” the man squeaks. “Sorry, sorry—” He scrambles to get down, nearly knocking into Hermann’s bad leg again.
“It’s fine,” Hermann says, wincing as he rubs his knee. He, foolishly, left his cane in the pub alongside his companion’s jacket, too caught up in the moment and in the thrill of being desired. The man kisses him again in apology, softer and less urgent, and then he casts a long look at the entrance to the alleyway.
“If anyone walks by,” the man says, with a look that could be called devious, “just pull on my hair.”
“Pull on—?” Hermann begins, and then the man drops to his knees on the disgusting cobblestone and Hermann gapes down at him.
“My hair,” he repeats, and waggles his eyebrows, and then he starts fumbling with Hermann’s belt and doesn’t say anything for a long while.
Their beers are lukewarm by the time they make it back inside the pub. It’s also quite late. Hermann does not, frankly, give a damn as to whether or not his family is worried about where he went, but he does give a damn about whether or not he’s locked out of the family home for the night as an act of revenge, so he decides to wrap things up quickly with his companion and head off.
“Thank you,” he says, as the man pulls his jean jacket on. “For—you know.”
He just grins smugly back at Hermann. “No problem, dude.”
“Do we,” Hermann says, “that is—would you like to exchange phone numbers?” It’s polite autopilot, and he regrets it the second it’s out of his mouth: the man was nice, but to be quite honest, Hermann has no real desire to pursue anything there, and if he’s really a tourist (as Hermann assumes) it’s not like they’ll have much of an opportunity to. Hermann doesn’t even know his name.
“Oh,” the man says, clearly surprised. “Um. If you want?”
“If you’d like to,” Hermann says, hoping desperately he'll decline. “There’s no pressure, of course.”
They share a tense moment of eye contact, and then the man picks up a napkin from the table and tears it in half. He pulls a pen from his pocket, scrawls what is, presumably, his phone number down on one half, and then hands all three over to Hermann. “Your turn,” he says.
With a guilty conscience, Hermann writes down a number that is most definitely not his own (he thinks, vaguely, it might be for a local pizza takeaway place) and hands the torn napkin piece to the man. He doesn’t look at it before he pockets it. Neither does Hermann.
“Great,” the man says. “Uh, see you around?”
Hermann wakes up late the next morning, nearly noon, tangled in the bedsheets of his parents’ guest bed with a stale taste in his mouth and his phone buzzing. With texts from Newton, he learns.
how’d it go??
Hermann had almost forgotten about the previous night entirely. His assumption about Newton wanting to talk about his date (and, likely, brag about his in return) turned out to be correct. Fine, Hermann types, but before he can send it, Newton’s typing bubble appears and he's sent another.
mine was awesoooome
Followed by several heart-eyes, winks, and (more) eggplant emojis. Hermann pictures Newton’s faceless mystery man, tall and muscular and handsome. He narrows his eyes, highlights and deletes fine.
mine was incredible, he sends instead, with a relish that is most definitely petty this time. we made a real connection
There’s another lapse in time between texts, as with the night before. really?
cool, same here
Hermann thinks of the pizza takeaway number he gave the man at the pub, the number the man gave him that—when Hermann looked it up online, out of curiosity—turned out to be nonexistent.
in fact i’m going to see him again
Newton’s reply is instantaneous. yeah i have another date with my guy tonight
it must’ve gone very well, then. you must tell me all the details
so first we went for a walk
They’ve chosen a fairly public spot in the convention center to meet up, right in front of the large windows in the entrance hall. Hermann is pacing excitedly. He still has no idea what Newton looks like, and Newton has no idea what he looks like either, but he has a feeling they’ll be able to recognize each other instantly anyway. They just have such a deep bond, such an intimate relationship; Newton makes Hermann believe in soulmates, that—
The man walking towards him is so familiar that Hermann’s first thought is that it simply must be Newton, and he’s recognizing him just as he knew he would, but then he sees the thick glasses and colorful ink that’s now spread down far enough to be sleeves and he remembers a German pub and a cringe-worthy t-shirt and a filthy alleyway. What is he doing here? he wonders, and then everything falls into place with horrible, technicolor clarity.
The man stops a few feet in front of him. They lock eyes. “...Hermann?” he says, slowly.
“Oh,” Hermann says, weakly. “Newton.”
Fury flashes across Newton’s face. “You gave me a fake number, you asshole!”
“So did you!”