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(Several Months Earlier)

“My guest today is Dr. Geiszler-” Richards, host of one of the more popular talk shows in America, starts with a wide smile.

Newt’s heart is pounding so hard it feels like there is a hummingbird trapped beneath his ribcage, his palms are sweating like mad, and he’s sitting across from an actual, genuine, real life celebrity, a person that has talked to actors and singers and fucking Gandalf, but he interrupts with a breezy, “Call me Newt!” and, with a wink, “Only my mother calls me doctor.” His agent had pleaded with him to stop making that stupid fucking joke, for god’s sake, you little shit, do not make that lame joke on national television; but Richards snickers and there is an appreciative ripple of laughter from the audience, and Newt grins and feels like he’s walking on air.

“All right, I’ve got it this time. My guest today is Newt Geiszler, bestselling author of The Reality of Kaiju: The Scientific Truth of Japan’s Godzilla and Beyond.” The book is sitting on the small table in between them. Every time Newt looks at the cover, which depicts a stunning CGI mockup of a kaiju of his own invention, he smiles so hard it hurts. And bestselling, Christ, he was never fucking expecting that. “This book draws on your fairly extensive knowledge of genetics and some of the more peculiar animals of the world in order to hypothesize how creatures like Godzilla would actually scientifically work, right? Tell us, what drew you to that topic?”

He’s told this story quite a few times now. He’s got it down pat. The key is to not wiggle or get too high-pitched from excitement. “Well, you see, when I was a kid, whenever my uncle would babysit me we wound up watching campy sci fi and monster movies, including the old Godzilla and Mothra movies and so on, and those were totally my favorite. I’ve been fascinated with kaiju ever since. Then when I went to college, I studied things like the weird shit that lives in the ocean and komodo dragons and all those sorts of strange, awesome animals, and it always made me think about kaiju and how they would work if they were real, until one day I found myself writing down some of my thoughts, and eventually I realized I had a book!”

“And here we are now!” Richards concludes for him. “Now, about that college education...It’s pretty unique, isn’t it?”

Newt tries to not look smug. “I guess you could say that.”

“You graduated from MIT, from what I hear, one of the youngest ever admitted. And now you are, how old?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“And you’ve got how many degrees?”

Newt shrugs with false modesty. “Six.”

“Six! I don’t even have one!” Richards exclaims, then leans forward and says in a confidential whisper, “But don’t tell my producers, they don’t know that that college degree in my office is fake.” There’s another ripple of laughter from the audience. This is possibly the greatest moment of Newt’s life. Richards sits back again. “So tell me, Newt, what exactly is the possibility of one of the monsters from your books showing up on our planet to eat us all?”

“Anything is possible,” Newt says brightly.

Richards laughs. “You sound so hopeful when you say that!”

“Hey, I’m a pretty big fan of the kaiju, I would love to see one live and up close one day!”

“And that reminds me...those tattoos of yours, those are kaiju, aren’t they? Let’s get a look at those.”

Newt obligingly holds out his arms, tugging his already rolled up sleeves even higher, twisting his wrists slowly so the camera zooming in on him can get a full view. He can’t help but admire them himself, starkly colorful on his skin in the harsh light of the studio. He loves his tattoos, possibly more than he loves...anything, really.

“Those are impressive,” Richards says. “Just goes to prove all those parents wrong that tattoos won’t get you employed! ‘Course, not everyone can rely on being a genius like you...So, what kaiju are these, are they from some obscure Japanese film?”

“My own invention, actually,” Newt says quickly, eager to brag. “I’ve spent so much time thinking about these guys, I’ve made up some of my own.”

“Oh, yeah,” Richards says, nodding, and points at one of the tattoos. “This is the one on the book cover, isn’t it?”

“Yup, that’s my Yamarashi! Twenty five hundred tons of awesome.”

“That’s a lot,” Richards says. “Well, that’s all the time we have for now! Thank you for a fascinating interview! Everyone, check the book out, it’s a fascinating read that’ll suddenly make those Godzilla movies look a lot less ridiculous! Doctor Newton Geiszler, everyone!”

Then everyone claps. Newt hears that clapping in his dreams for weeks.

 

 

There’s a book tour. He goes around to university book stores and signs books and gets alternately stared at worshipfully and told that his book is a load of pseudo-science bullshit and he should be ashamed of himself. That’s all kinda fun at first.

Except it turns out to not be fun when you do it every fucking day and are expected to just off-handedly talk about your book and yourself, and Newt doesn’t have a problem with talking. Newt talks a lot. Way too much. Newt has a problem with not stopping talking. Chau, his agent, takes to tallying up all the dumb shit he says and telling him the count at the end of the day with a smirk. “You said fifteen stupid things today, Geiszler, we were only in that book store for like two hours. I think that’s a new record,” he says at the third university they go to.

But Newt gets a lot of practice over the weeks of the tour.

At the last one, Chau says, with a sigh, “You only said one dumb thing today, Geiszler. Congrats and all, but it’s making this whole process way more boring.”

He’s wanted to do a tour ever since he was seventeen and trying really really hard to start a band, but now he’s twenty-eight and he wants it to be over so that he can sleep in his own bed and cook his own meals and not practice his newfound and unwanted ability to watch his mouth.

 

 

He can’t cook his own fucking meals because when he finally gets home and goes grocery shopping he gets fucking accosted by some girl who won’t shut up about his book and how it changed her life, and she has a strange gleam in her eyes and it’s kinda disturbing and so he makes a hasty excuse to escape and buys KFC for dinner instead.

The next day he goes for a walk, and is approached by a scruffy young man who tells him about how he’s also always loved kaiju, and now, based on Newt’s book, is looking forward to the day they arrive on Earth to wash away all the scum in an acidic-

“Wow, what the fuck!” Newt squeaks, and power walks away in a randomly chosen direction, anything to get away. He doesn’t look over his shoulder to see if the dude is following but that’s mostly because he’s scared to provoke him.

 

 

It’s not like he’s super famous or anything, but it’s still freaking him out that he can’t go out in public without people looking at his tattoos and then recognizing him. It’s fun once or twice, but...every time it happens, he feels like he has to play act this part, the part of Doctor Newton Geiszler the Author, and he doesn’t want to do that every time he goes out in public. And that is just for the ones that aren’t completely fucking fanatic; for those he has to be Doctor Newton Geiszler the Author that Doesn’t Want to Provoke This Total Freak and Wants to Go Home. And you know, somehow, he’d rather just be himself and be able to say dumb shit. The day that he realizes that he has worn long-sleeved shirts with the sleeves not rolled up every day for the past week in order to avoid being approached by weird strangers is the day that he decides that, you know what, Boston is overrated. Cities in general are overrated. Cities are full of really weird people.

It’s an idle thought at first. He fantasizes about living in the countryside somewhere, buying a cute little cottage and spending his days roaming the wild. He’d grocery shop in some local small town where most people wouldn’t recognize him, and, even if they did, would probably be too polite and wholesome to talk to him about it or ask him what they think a kaiju dong would be like because they’d very much like to custom make a kaiju dildo (that question haunts his dreams). Nah, people in small towns would be normal and nice. Plus, there’s this idea, in the back of his head- He hasn’t shared it yet. It’s a little bit embarrassing. He probably should share it with Chau though. Anyway, he hasn’t been able to work on it at all, and maybe if he moved out somewhere a little quieter and more, you know, pretty and inspirational like nature is supposed to be, according to Emerson or Thoreau or whoever, maybe he’d have more luck.

It’s an idle thought, but then he tries casually googling prices of the sort of cute cottage he is fantasizing about, and, um, wow, he could actually completely afford that now.

But he can’t move out of Boston! Right? So, okay, MIT still hasn’t fucking given him tenure and is just not showing much sign of ever doing that, and hints have been dropped that even though his book was fucking awesome and fucking successful, there are those that don’t consider it proper for a tenured professor of MIT. And, okay, Newt is pissed about that. Pissed enough that he had already been considering saying fuck it to MIT and seeking employment elsewhere, or not seeking it at all because he doesn’t need to right now.

So he wouldn’t stay for his job. But what about people? People are important! Only, it’s not like he’s seeing anyone. He hasn’t gotten anywhere near serious with anyone since before his book hit the bestseller list. Actually, his last romantic partner dumped him because they thought the book was eccentric and stupid and “consuming him” or whatever. They weren’t really working out with Newt anyway. He was sort of relieved it was over. Since then, he’s gone on a handful of dates, went out with a girl for about a month, but it wasn’t anything. In terms of friends...Newt has friends. Lots of friends. But when he sits and thinks about it, there’s literally not one that he couldn’t cheerfully say goodbye to tomorrow and thereafter be contented to only stay in contact via facebook and email and awkward holiday cards that peter out in a few years.

Fuck that’s a bummer.

Plus, it’s not like he likes Boston in and of itself that much anyway. He only moved here originally for MIT, he’d never meant to stay here this long. It’s a nice city, he supposes, but definitely not the sort of place that is like “I could never see myself living somewhere else!” He could totally see himself living somewhere else. Actually, he would like to live in a much more rural locale. As a kid he lived out in the countryside, and he’d loved that. They went camping and fishing and for long walks in the woods. It was great. Sitting alone in his apartment, laptop on his knees as he looks at scenic cottages, Newt has a sudden desperate desire to be outside, in nature. He loves nature, he’s a fucking biologist, course he does. And it is a serious consideration that having to worry about fans and people obsessed with kaiju and play acting every time he goes outside goes hand in hand with Boston - and maybe any big city - these days.

So...yeah. Actually. Why doesn’t he move? Get a fresh start. Fresh people, fresh location, fresh air. Why stay in a city where no one wants you other than weirdos anyway? If you’re gonna be lonely as hell, might as well be lonely in a pretty little house on...hm. Lake Michigan. This one is on Lake Michigan, close to the beach, near but not too near to a small town, apparently. Yeah. He could do that.

 

 

The next weekend, he impulsively flies out to the house on Lake Michigan and meets up there with the realtor in charge of the sale. They meet first in the small nearby town - Shatter Stone Villlage - which is the sort of place that you have to call “cute.” It’s totally a tourist trap, but cute as hell. It even has an actual Main Street, lined with businesses and a tiny school and city hall and a place that has a library sign in front of it but looks like an elegant old house. Newt makes a note to visit that if he gets the chance. It seems to be closed today, though, so that will have to wait on whether or not he comes back.

The cottage is also “cute,” even more so than it was in the picture. It’s a picturesque, little, blue bungalow with a kitchen that the realtor calls “a bit small” but which is considerably larger than his Boston apartment’s kitchen; an airy front room with wide windows looking out onto a small garden and a driveway that winds through an outcropping of woods that serves to block out most of the road; a small guest bedroom and bathroom; and a room that could be made into an office or study. The smaller second floor is almost entirely a sprawling bedroom, the only other components being a large bathroom - Newt promptly has inappropriate thoughts about the size of the bathtub - and walk-in closet. There are large windows in nearly all of the walls, looking out into the woods, which are getting beautifully green. “The lakefront is only about a half hour walk away, or an even shorter drive,” the realtor tells him. “There are several beautiful public beaches in the area.”

“This is really cool - Holy shit, that’s a deer!” Just standing there. In his backyard. He can see it out the back-facing window in the kitchen.

“A common sight around here,” the realtor says with an amused smile.

“That’s awesome,” Newt says. His only exposure in Boston to wildlife is cockroaches and pigeons and rats, and one time he thinks he might have seen a cockamouse. “Wow. So, uh...how much was this place again?”

 

 

Chau is kinda pissed that he’s just cavalierly moving out to Michigan, until he explains the idea stuck in the back of his head.

“You’re a little asshole, you know, but you’re a genius, so go the fuck ahead.”

“Love you too.”

 

 

He spends a week or two packing up all his belongings and saying his farewells to his friends in Boston. He is again struck by how few people that is. He passes his last evening being mopey in his nearly stripped apartment with a bottle of Jager, wondering how it is that he has lived in this city for a major part of his life and yet has hardly anyone here to anchor him down. Is that just him? Is he the sort of person that doesn’t get attached to others? He’s had that complaint before, and shrugged it off with the reasoning that he hadn’t met anyone that made him want to commit. He wants to have a committed, gooey, romantic relationship, really he does, but he always thought of it as being something he would do later, when he was older. But...isn’t he older now? What if he missed his chance?

The saddest part of the evening is that he doesn’t even drink enough to get properly smashed, because he doesn’t want to be hungover tomorrow for the final stage of moving. God, when did he become an adult?

Most of his belongings go in a moving truck, but he wakes up the next morning - not hungover - and packs up the random assemblage of things left over, shoves it in the trunk of his car, and starts driving to Michigan. It’s a long drive, and lonely with just him in his car, but at least that means that he can turn his music up and sing along as loudly as he wants and can buy a shit load of junk food and snacks without being judged. It’s about a fifteen hour drive, so he stops after seven or so hours and spends the night in a shitty little motel. He decides he’s making the right decision about moving when he gets dinner at the small but fairly crowded diner next to the hotel, and no one approaches him. There is a teenaged girl staring at him with holy-shit eyes from the corner, but he’s not entirely sure that’s due to his book or interview - most of his intense fans are in university, and this girl looks more like a high schooler - and she leaves him alone. It feels really nice to eat dinner in peace, he thinks, then spends the rest of the meal mentally mocking himself. Jesus, that makes him sound like he’s being mobbed by crazy fans, which is not at ALL the case. In the last three or four months he has been approached at restaurants like, twice. It’s more the feeling that he could be approached that bothers him, he supposes. He looks down and realizes he pulled his sleeves down without even realizing. Dammit. He hates that he’s gotten into the habit of doing that. Although...it might be a good idea, the first month or so of this new town, to do that.

 

 

There’s something different about driving up to the house on his own, with his car. He parks in the driveway and then sits without moving, staring up at the house. His house. There was a “Sold” sign pushed into the dirt at the edge of the road when he pulled up.

Holy fucking shit he bought a house in entire different state and moved there and he just lives here now, this is his house, what the fuck?

His hands are only shaking a teeny tiny bit when he gets out of the car, marches up to the front door, and unlocks it with his shiny, new key.

 

 

The next few days are a whirl of unpacking again, setting up the bed frame in the bedroom - which takes three days, and he is getting too old to sleep on the floor - figuring out how to make the lights and the water go, badly assembling IKEA furniture, then having to pull it apart and put it back together again because he’s pretty sure it shouldn’t wobble like that. He goes for walks in the woods and scares the crap out of a deer and himself. He stands on the beach of Lake Michigan with his mouth open.

He can’t even see the other side. It’s a lake. It’s a lake but he can’t see the other side, and there are even very small waves, and he takes off his shoes and socks and rolls up his pants and strolls in, then jumps back out with a shriek that might be described as girly if he didn’t object to the sexism inherent in that sort of phraseology. The water, as one might have guessed, is cold. But geez, he’d thought he might miss the ocean, but here he is on a decent beach, looking out a vast expanse of blue water that he cannot see the other side of. No wonder it’s called a Great Lake. He stays until the evening, and witnesses a glorious sunset as the sun sinks down below the horizon and shades the thin cloud layer in the sky with purple and peach and scarlet.

 

 

The day after that, he decides to explore the small town nearby. He’s been there once since he moved, for a quick basics-only grocery shopping run, in the middle of a weekday so that the place was pretty abandoned. He hadn’t spent much time in the town, other than rolling slowly down Main Street and again being intrigued by the library. That’s definitely going to be his first destination today.

The place is so tiny that it doesn't even have a parking lot, so he parks in the City Hall lot. It’s the middle of the day during the week, once again, so there aren’t many people in sight. He strolls leisurely down Main. It’s so quiet. He isn’t used to walking in a moderately civilized location without there being streams of busy people jostling him, a sense of urgency in his bones even when he isn’t in a rush, the smell of garbage in his nose. Here, the streets are near abandoned. He has all the time in the world. The air smells fresh and green and spring-like, with maybe just a hint of clean, brisk lake. The weather is really starting to get nice. It’s sunny, but not hot, just warm. He almost regrets it when he reaches the sign that says “Shatter Stone Public Library.” He could have walked much longer. Maybe later. He’s curious about this library.

He still doesn’t see how this place is a library. It distinctly looks like a house, a tall, narrow, Victorian style house, painted dark blue. There is a wide veranda with some comfortable looking porch chairs, a wooden front door with a gold doorknob, huge windows on every floor, and a hundred other things that make him suspect that at some point this place really was a house. The only things that really make it look like a library are a sign next to the door that he can’t read from where he is standing on the sidewalk but which he suspects has the library hours, another sign on the door that says “OPEN,” and the sight of bookshelves through all the windows.

On the third floor, he can also see something else through the window: the narrow silhouette of a person. The light isn’t right for him to make out any details, and the person doesn’t seem to have noticed him at all, but at least it makes him sure the place must be open. So, after a moment more of hesitation, he walks up the sidewalk to the house, up the porch stairs, and across the creaky wood porch. He stops a moment more to peer in the door. He can see a desk with a computer and the sign “Circulation” which reassures him again that this place is a library. The sign next to the door does indeed have the hours - 10 to 8 - and a note at the bottom which reads, “Library closed for all major holidays,” and then, handwritten beneath that in jagged but perfectly legible handwriting, “and on Sundays.”

Then he pushes open the front door.

 

 

So. The librarian is. Interesting. Newt strolls out of the library, sucking on his lower lip thoughtfully, and starts down the street toward his car. Proof of residence, huh...He supposes he ought to have looked up what he was going to need before he tried to get the card, but it hadn’t occurred to him, and the guy didn’t need to look so offended that Newt hadn’t brought anything. Although it was sort of funny.

Honestly, Newt can’t imagine a person more like a librarian than that guy. If a spy were to go undercover as a librarian, they would not dress up like that guy, because it would be way too obvious. Newt can’t decide whether his favorite part was the dark gray cardigan or the round, ugly reading glasses hanging from a chain around his neck. Or maybe the way he glared at Newt like he was expecting him to start throwing book on the ground at any second. Or how he acted like a grumpy sixty year old but looked like he was maybe thirty years old.

And, well, he was sorta cute. His mouth was a bit frog-like, but it weirdly worked for him. His cardigan was a little too big on him and kept slipping off of one bony shoulder, and Newt had really wanted to adjust it. Plus, he’d thought that possibly the guy was checking him out. It was hard to say for sure. He’d caught the librarian looking him up and down once or twice, but when he’d pulled out his flirtatious smile in the hopes of persuading the guy to let Newt get his card without proof of residence, he’d been noticeably unimpressed. Still totally bitchy about Newt not having the proof of residence. He’s definitely going to find a piece of mail tonight - he should have an addressed envelope or two even though he hasn’t been here long; at the very least is the embarrassing card his father sent him - and bring it tomorrow and shove it in that uptight librarian’s froggy face and then probably try to flirt with him a lot.

Hermann. His name was Hermann. Newt’s going to remember that.

 

 

Operation: Flirt with the Kinda Cute Librarian is, for the most part, a roaring success, so much so that by the end of his next library visit, as he walks out, book in hand, he is mentally renaming it to Operation: Flirt with the Super Cute Librarian. The way he kinda blushed when Newt accidentally on purpose dropped the word “naked” was hilarious, and every time Newt complimented the library the corners of his eyes sort of crinkled up like he was hiding a smile.

Hermann was definitely flirting back this time. Yesterday he hadn’t said much, but today he was a lot more forthcoming. Newt had noticed Hermann glancing at him several times as he perused the books. So then of course Newt had to check out only one book, a book he had read before and knew he could read quickly, so that he had a good excuse to return soon.

In fact, instead of walking back to his car, he wanders around until he finds a small, uninhabited park, and sits down on a bench, ostensibly to read, mostly to think over that intriguing encounter. Newt has always been a flirt, but not in a way that normally works out all that well for him, and not normally with someone like Hermann. He seems uptight - that library is scarily well organized, and yet he said yesterday that he was the only librarian? - and Newt’s type is usually people that are out there, like him. But he’s having loads of fun flirting with this guy, so far at least. It’s definitely worth further investigation.

The only thing that had been weird had been the bit at the end, when that other guy had shown up. Newt already can’t remember his name. It had seemed like he was also maybe sort of flirting with Hermann (he’d called him "Herms", would Herms be the nickname for Hermann? Wouldn’t it just be Herm? But Herms sounds better…). He couldn’t tell if Hermann was flirting back. Maybe Hermann was just the sort of guy that flirted with people...except, ha, no, that just seemed really unlikely when he was also the sort of dude that wore cardigans two days in a row. Today’s cardigan was blue. Newt wonders if he’ll wear one tomorrow too. Guess he’ll have to finish this book quick if he wants to find out.

He manages to get through about ten pages of the book before he starts wondering if it would be weird of him to show up tomorrow too. Two days in a row and some awkward flirting is one thing, he had to do that to get a card and something to read, but a third day and some further awkward flirting, that’s probably...a little weird, right? He doesn’t wanna seem like he’s fixated on this guy or something. He isn’t fixated. He just thinks he’s cute and, yeah, okay, the whole moving thing had made him think a lot about how single he is and how tired he is getting of that, so now he is in the sort of mental state that makes him want to flirt with the first mildly (really) cute guy he meets that he has any sort of spark with. That isn’t reason to be creepy. So maybe he’ll wait a day. No, two days. That’s better than the stupid three day rule, but also not totally insane.

He closes his book again with a sigh, folding down his page, and stands up, brushing some dirt off of his ass. His brand-new couch is supposed to be delivered today, in an hour or two, so he ought to get home and wait for that.

Only then. When he’s at home. Eating ramen on his new couch and reading, in his new house, his quiet new house, his really quiet new house. All he wants is to talk to someone, anyone, and considering there’s a cute librarian that was willing to flirt with him, and, now that he thinks about it, kept reminding him of when this book was due back, which could totally be an invitation to come back soon; considering that, it seems dumb to wait two whole days to talk to him. He can wait one day, that’s okay, but two is a little too much.

He finishes half of his book that night alone, and plows through the rest the next day, sitting alone in his fucking quiet new house. He has more furniture to badly construct, and even after finishing and setting it all out he is puzzled by how little of his house it seems to fill up, but other than that there isn’t much to occupy him or stop him from feeling lonely. Okay, there is, but the piles of boxes of his belongings are really intimidating, and he’d rather get out of the house and romp through the woods than work on unpacking those. The woods has mushrooms, tiny, adorable little mushrooms that makes Newt think he should get some sort of field guide so he can try identifying the little guys, and there are squirrels, and he thinks maybe he sees a fox go running off into the distance. At one point he comes upon a stretch of forest that is made up of unnaturally straight rows of birches, stretching serenely and a little creepily into the distance. He doesn’t know what the hell is up with that. There’s no way that just happens. He’ll have to ask someone about it. Maybe, oh, he doesn’t know, maybe the one person he knows that actually lives here, yeah, maybe he’ll ask him.

Although Hermann was definitely not a native, not with that posh British accent of his. Plus, a limp and a cane are not exactly conducive to wandering through the woods, what with the gently sloping hills and the undergrowth and the vague possibility that you might come across a bear or a moose - “a moose bit my sister once,” his mind automatically chants - and be required to take off running really fast. Plus, he thinks he heard coyotes last night. He should maybe bring out a walking stick or something with him next time he goes out, he could make a delicious meal for a coyote if he isn’t careful. So, anyway, to get back to the first topic, Hermann might have no idea what Newt was talking about if he were to ask him. Still, he might as well try anyway, and Hermann seems like the sort of person that probably knows all sorts of random shit, so maybe he would know.

Plus there isn’t much to do in the evening here, as he doesn’t have a TV set up yet, so he really actually could use some more books to read, and maybe he could find a field guide there.

 

 

“So, I think it’d be rad if you gave me a tour of this place,” Newt says once Hermann has finished demonstrating how returns work with a level of excruciating, sarcastic detail that had Newt giggling madly. “Show me all the ins and outs.”

“It’s not a very large place,” Hermann says briskly, picking up some of the books that were in the Return bin and bringing them over to his circulation desk. He can only carry about three or four, seeing as he only has one hand free, but as there are only seven books in the bin, that’s a fair portion of them. Newt grabs the rest and trails after him. “Oh, thank you. You’ve probably seen about all of it already.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure you, as the librarian, know all the little nit-picky details. And, c’mon, dude, I can tell you wanna show the place off.” Hermann’s mouth twitches in a way that Newt suspects is him trying to hold back a smile, so he cajolingly adds, “It’s an awesome old place, it deserves to be shown off.”

Hermann half turns his face away but can’t properly conceal the tiny smile that that provoked. Christ. The guy clearly loves this place. It’s frigging precious. Newt is gonna compliment this place every five seconds if it means he keeps making that cute crinkly-eyed face. “Oh, well, if you insist.”

“I do,” Newt says firmly.

Hermann looks across the library, slowly scanning the whole of the first floor. “I’ve never actually given a tour of his place before,” he remarks. “You’re the first person to have been totally new here in all the time I’ve worked here.”

“In three years, no one has moved here?”

“Maybe into one of the homes out in the countryside, but not the town proper.”

Newt clicks his tongue. “Dang. Small town indeed.”

“It’s nice, I think,” Hermann says, a little defensive. “Peaceful.”

“No, dude, I’m totally not disagreeing with you. I was out in Boston before here, this is really nice in comparison,” Newt explains. “Little quiet, but, yeah, peaceful.”

“Yes, it is a bit of a shock after a more urban locale,” Hermann says with a nod. Newt smothers a snicker. What kind of a person says “locale” in casual conversation? “Anyway, to move on with the tour...This is the first floor, obviously. The basement mostly holds archives and so on, it isn’t open to the public. Up here we have the children’s area-” He gestures toward a room that is carpeted with a colorful rug and has much lower book shelves than elsewhere in the library. There are beanbags and pillows scattered across the floor. Newt tries to imagine Hermann doing a reading for little kids and has to hold back another giggle. “New arrivals are displayed beyond that.”

Oh shit. New arrivals. Newt tries to subtly inch closer so as to be able to see the covers of all of those. He isn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved when his own isn’t among them. It’s probably stuck up of him to even think that it might have been. Although. It was a bestseller. And his tattoos went kinda viral on the internet. So maybe not totally stuck up of him.

Hermann hasn’t noticed his momentary lack of attention. He described the rest of the first floor in Newt’s moment of inattention, and now he’s walking to the stairs. Newt follows after. Hermann is wearing worn but neat jeans today, instead of the awful baggy pants of the previous two days, and they cling beautifully to his ass as he climbs up the stairs. Newt guiltily directs his eyes higher and instead finds himself admiring the way that his cardigan - blue with gray stripes today - drapes over his narrow back. Dang. Skinny really works on his guy.

“The second floor holds the majority of the fiction and non-fiction,” Hermann tells him once they reach the second story landing. “Each of the smaller rooms is dedicated to a particular genre.”

“Ooh, yeah, like the one from Wednesday was sci-fi and fantasy,” Newt says eagerly, proud of himself.

“Precisely,” Hermann says with an approving nod. Newt grins and then realizes he is probably smiling way more than that really deserved. But he keeps smiling anyway, because Hermann has gone a little pink-cheeked in response. That is so promising. “U-um. Some of the, uh, other rooms are history, romance, that sort of thing.”

“Oh, yeah, that reminds me- Since I already finished that other book, you know, I’m gonna need a new one. Maybe you could recommend me one?”

Hermann’s eyebrows go up at that, but he says, “Of course. Any particular genre?”

Newt wants to say romance so badly, but he doesn’t actually like romance novels and he’s not sure how it would go over as a joke, so instead he says, “Sci fi is pretty much my favorite...although if you’d rather recommend something else, that’s cool too.”

“I can do science fiction,” Hermann asserts, and heads in that direction, weaving through the aisles of books that take up the main room on the floor. Newt walks behind him, feeling like he’s a little duckling with the way he’s been following this guy around today. He enjoys it.

Once in the science fiction room, Hermann puts on the glasses that are again hanging from his neck. Newt snorts with laughter and Hermann ignores him with a sort of stiff dignity that makes Newt suspect that he’s been mocked about those before. That makes Newt want to laugh even more. What a nerd.

Even with the reading glasses on, Hermann leans up close to the books lining the walls, trailing a long, slim finger across the spines as he moves slowly around the room. He has surprisingly big hands and long fingers, as bony and angular as the rest of him. Every now and then he lets out a soft, considering, “Hm” sound. Newt has to bite the inside of his cheek to hold back giggles. Hermann pulls out a book, looks at the cover, shakes his head disapprovingly, and shoves it back in at a different place. Newt notices that he carefully lines it up with the edge of the shelf. In fact, all of the books in the room are lined up precisely with the edge of the shelf. What a fucking nerd. At last, Hermann pulls out a thick paperback novel with a worn cover that shows a sad-looking woman staring into a mirror that shows a good-looking man instead of her reflection, and hands it over to Newt. “I’ve read this one before, I’m rather fond of it,” he says diffidently, watching Newt sharply.

The Mirror of Her Dreams,” Newt reads out loud. He’s never heard of it before. “Huh. Looks cool. Thanks, dude, I’ll read this.”

“Are you planning to only check out one book today?” he asks.

“Nah, actually, I was wandering out in the woods near my house and there were all sorts of awesome mushrooms and bugs and birds and stuff and I wanted to be able to put names to the ones I didn’t know, so I was hoping to maybe get a field guide to the area from here, if there is one?”

Hermann nods. “Yes, I think we have that upstairs. That’s where all the reference materials and so on are...Are you interested in nature?”

“Professionally,” Newt says with a grin, and when Hermann raises politely puzzled eyebrows, he explains, “I’m a biologist.”

“Oh, I see!” Hermann says, startled. “Are you working at a university nearby? I hadn’t thought there were any that were particularly close to here…”

“I’m, uh, sorta, working on my own project right now, actually,” Newt says vaguely. Hermann frowns, but Newt doesn’t offer up more information. He wants to. He should keep it a secret, but fuck, he wants to tell everyone. He’s awful at secrets. That was partially why he’d told Chau, because he just couldn’t hold it in anymore. But Chau threatened to stab him in the nose if he told anyone else, and Chau scares Newt a tiny bit, so he’s gonna keep it to himself, at least for now.

“All right then,” Hermann says when Newt doesn’t say more. “A field guide appropriate to a biologist. I think I can do that.” He heads back to the stairs.

Newt has been to the third floor before, the first time he visited, but he’s still struck by it. There’s a wide aisle leading between the bookshelves to the far wall so that one can immediately see the windows that look out over the street. The tall arched windows on the third floor are beautiful, and the wide sill before it begs to be sat on. It’s even covered in thick cushions. The weather is nice today, so sunlight comes pouring in, and the town spreads out picturesquely down a gentle slope. “Can you see the lake from here?” Newt asks Hermann, who stopped at the top of the stairs next to him to admire the view.

“Yes, isn’t it lovely?” Hermann says fondly. The crow’s feet are back at the corner of his eyes, and the corner of his mouth is tugging up. He’s got a weird sort of mouth, a little too big for his face, but now Newt catches himself wondering what it would feel like to kiss those lips.

Don’t get ahead of yourself, he instructs himself sternly.

“The field guides are over here,” Hermann says, heading into the maze of shelves. “You might know better than me which one suits your interest.”

“No ill reflection on your librarian skills, of course,” Newt says.

“Of course not,” Hermann says firmly, and Newt giggles.

The library doesn’t have the most extensive collection of field guides ever, as you would expect due to it’s size, but after a little bit of inspection - Hermann hovering over his shoulder the whole time - Newt finds one that will suit his needs nicely. “Ooh, wolf spiders,” he murmurs, flipping through the book. “Hella.”

“I hate those,” Hermann says darkly. “Terrifying.”

“Aw, c’mon, it’s just a spider,” Newt protests, shutting the book.

“If it was just a spider that would be fine!” Hermann says vehemently. “But spiders - large spiders! - hunting in packs, that’s simply-”

“Oh my god, what?” Newt interrupts, an incredulous grin spreading across his face. “Packs? What the hell are you talking about?”

Hermann draws back, a sudden uncertainty flickering across his face. “Don’t they- Don’t they hunt in packs- I was told that was why they were called wolf spiders!”

Newt puts a hand over his mouth to try and smother the laughter, but it’s not really enough. “Oh my god! No! They- Packs- No. Not at all. But, dude, that totally would be terrifying, I can see why that would scare you- Oh man! Packs! That’s incredible!”

Hermann has gone an impressive shade of red. “I’m going to kill Tendo,” he mutters.

Newt now has the image of a pack of spiders standing on a hill top and baying at the moon and is bent forward, laughing uncontrollably. “S-sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, that’s just- too funny-”

Hermann folds the arm not holding a cane in front of him and says, “Hmph,” in what is probably meant to be a dignified tone and Newt giggles even harder.

“If you’re quite done-”

“Yeah, okay, I’m done, sorry,” Newt snickers, straightening up. He presses the field guide and the novel to his chest as he tries to take deep breaths to get himself to stop laughing. The thought that if he laughs much more he might piss off Hermann and ruin any flirtation chances helps him calm down. He half wants to use Hermann’s embarrassed face as motivation for that, because it was adorable, and half thinks it’s best to not remember that expression, because it makes him want to laugh more. “Heh. Okay. So, um, what next?”

Hermann hesitates at this. “Well, that’s pretty much all of the library…” he says slowly. Reluctant, perhaps.

“Oh. Yeah, but...” Newt says, and scrabbles for a reason to not have to leave yet. “You know, I wanted to, uh, learn all about the library. So, maybe you should tell me about your, uh, schedule, how you run the place, all of that. What would you normally do next, at this time of day, after helping a very charming patron and learning fun facts about nature?”

Hermann raises an eyebrow at the last part. Newt grins hopefully back and thinks I’m flirting with you, please pick up on that and respond, c’mon cute librarian, pleaseeeee. Maybe Hermann hears him, because he goes pink again - or, rather, the red that still hadn’t entirely faded from the wolf spider mistake gets darker again - and he says cautiously, “Normally, at this time of day, I would, ah, take a quick tea or coffee break...if you would, perhaps...care to join me?”

Newt goes pink too, and his heart skips a beat. “Yeah, dude, that would be awesome.”

“If you can’t stay, I’d understand that,” Hermann says hastily.

“Nah, the only thing I have to do today is grocery shopping, I can do that whenever, so long as I buy something other than ramen. And, yeah, coffee would be great. You can tell me all about the area, as a fellow non-native.”

“Of course,” Hermann agrees, eyes brightening. “How is the moving-in process going anyway?”

“Eh, I’m totally half-assing it,” Newt admits as they go down the stairs. “I hate unpacking. I’m always a huge mess...unlike you, I’m guessing from the state of your library.”

“I like things organized,” Hermann says. “It’s not my library, anyway, it’s a public library.”

“Yeah,” Newt says, “But it’s totally yours. The whole place feels like you.”

Hermann pauses at the bottom of the stairs. “What do you mean?”

Newt stops too, a step or two above him. “Uh- Like, it’s really neat, and...I dunno, the sort of place that you want to, uh, explore? Get to know more about? It’s interesting. A, um, cool place.” He rubs the back of his neck and tries not to blush more. He hopes that wasn’t coming on too strong. There’s no way that couldn’t seem like flirting, right?

Hermann’s lips part, but he doesn’t say anything for several seconds. He licks his lips. “Oh. Ah. I. Um. See. That’s, ah, very nice of you to say,” he says vaguely, then hastily turns away. “The, er, coffee machine is back here,” he mumbles, and hurries quickly to a door behind the circulation desk.

Newt remains on the stairs a moment longer. Fuck. He’s so. Goddamn. Cute. Crap. This is advancing wildly beyond flirting and straying into crush territory. Oh dear. He’s too old for this shit.

Yeah, he’s definitely too old for this shit, but he drinks coffee with Hermann - actually, Newt drinks coffee, Hermann drinks tea - and chats about the town and about Michigan and about the way that the locals for some reason call this area “Up North” and why do they do that, are they aware that North is not Up and that in fact there is lots of north beyond here; and about the woods, and no, Hermann does not know why there are rows of birches, he doesn’t even know what birches are until Newt describes them, and then he says that he has seen those but doesn’t know why they are here, but he could ask one of the people that has been living here for a while; and then that turns them to talking about how people are kind of weird around here and he tells Newt about his landlords who look like they belong to the Russian Mob and Newt can’t stop laughing, particularly when Hermann earnestly insists that they are very nice people; and Newt tells Hermann about his, er, work colleague who looks like he’s maybe a drug kingpin or video game bad guy and casually carries around a switchblade, and Hermann gets this appalled expression that makes Newt laugh again; and they talk about work and how Newt never really liked his last job anyway, and how Hermann really does like his job, and he becomes really animated and starts using all these pretentious phrases and-

And the whole time, Newt can’t keep his eyes off of him and finds himself periodically thinking about kissing him and yeah. Crush. Definitely a crush. A huge ridiculous crush, goddamn.

The coffee break stretches out for at least an hour, until Hermann looks at the clock and exclaims, “Oh god, is that the time?”

Newt follows his gaze, and is alarmed to realize he has already been here at least two hours. A little longer. How did that happen?

“I have some work I still need to do,” Hermann says anxiously, “And more people will probably be coming in soon…”

“Yeah, dude, that’s cool, I really do need to go grocery shopping,” Newt says, standing up. “But, um, this was...Thanks for the coffee. And the tour.”

This time Hermann doesn’t try to hide the smile that blooms across his face. Smiles really suit his peculiar facial features. “Any time,” he says. “Good luck with your grocery shopping and field guide.”

Newt wonders exactly how stupid looking his answering smile is. “Yeah, thanks. Um. Bye, for now.”

“Good bye, Newton.”

Normally he hates being called Newton. But he can’t help but think he sort of likes the way it sounds in Hermann’s voice. He’s still grinning as he walks out of the library into a warm, sunny day with a lovely breeze frisking at his hair. He’d like to just walk to the grocery store, but he needs to actually properly shop and is probably going to have a big haul of groceries, so instead he drives over there, consoling himself with the thought that he can go for a walk in the woods when he gets home and use the field guide he checked out. He finds himself planning to tell Hermann how it went, like “oh yeah, thanks to your cool guide I was able to identify these mushrooms!” or “I saw some wolf spiders, Herms,” - he wonders if it would be okay for him to call Hermann that - “but don’t worry, they weren’t in a pack.” Or something like that.

As he walks through the doors of the small grocery store, he thinks, You’ve got it bad, and...would it be too forward to ask him out yet? Or should he flirt more, maybe make super sure that Hermann really is flirting with him? He still isn’t one hundred percent confident on the “not straight” thing. For someone that is queer as hell, Newt’s “gaydar” - he hates that term, as a fair amount of the people he dates, and he himself, are queer without being gay, but still, it is the idiomatic term - is weak as fuck.

His anxious musing is interrupted when he looks up from the produce section and notices a woman staring at him. Not subtle glances, but outright staring. It’s pretty intimidating, actually. She’s significantly taller than him - lots of people are, even amongst women, but still, at least women aren’t usually this much taller than him - and has bleached blonde hair drawn back into a professional ponytail, and is just wearing a really indecent amount of rings. And, again, is staring at him. Please not a crazy fan, Newt prays, and carefully ventures, “Hello?”

“Hello,” she says. “You are new resident?” She has a strong Russian accent, and Newt gapes, then grins. Russian mobsters indeed. He can totally see that now.

“Yup, that’s me,” he says. “Newton Geiszler. Nice to meet you.” He sticks out a hand.

She narrows her eyes at him, then takes the hand and it gives it a firm pump. “Welcome to town,” she says in the same sort of way you would say, “I’ll be watching you.” Then she turns her cart away and carries on down the aisle.

Small towns are kind of weird, aren’t they.

 

 

He starts reading the novel that night after it gets dark and he can’t muck around in his yard anymore. He’s thinking he should start a garden, maybe grow some vegetables and flowers and so on. There’s something in the backyard that looks like it might be strawberries, and he would be totally into that. He could make strawberry shortcake, or, actually, he could buy shortcake from the grocery store and coat it in whipped cream and strawberries.

But. Anyway. The book. He likes the book. It’s a fairly conventional portal fantasy, but Newt likes that sorta stuff, and the main character is interesting, unique-ish. It’s weird to read it, though, because he can’t stop wondering what exactly it is that attracted Hermann to this book, what made him like it enough to recommend it. It’s not that he thinks there was any sort of ulterior motive, he just wants to know why Hermann likes the book.

Newt remembers again the image of Hermann puttering around the sci fi room, solemnly considering all the books as if the task of recommending one was a sacred trust. It’s obvious he takes his job serious as fuck. Newt likes the image of it, Hermann wandering around the place and shelving books and glaring at rude patrons and sitting on those bay seats on the third floor, reading a book, maybe this book, back against the wall and knees bent - or maybe just his left knee, as the cause of his limp seems to be that the right one doesn’t bend right - and book propped against his legs, as fat snowflakes drift past the window. It’s winter in the book, so winter feels right for this image. Hermann’d be wearing his ridiculous reading glasses, of course, and a cardigan, green, because he can’t only wear gray and blue. He’d squint at the words even with his glasses, and delicately turn the pages with his long fingers, and probably he’d have a cup of tea balanced on the cushions next to him that he would occasionally take a sip from, steam curling around his angular cheekbones. If you walked up to him at that moment. He would look up with that soft smile of his that made him look both dorky and utterly adorable, and you could sit down next to him and pluck the glasses off his face and gently shut the book, and cup his face in your hand, and lean forward and gently kiss him, and he would shut his clear, brown eyes and move into the kiss and wrap his arms around you…

Newt shakes himself out of it. Jesus. He’s getting a little creepy with this crush now. Dammit. He really just has to ask this guy out, next time he sees him...which, fuck, at the very soonest will be Monday, because tomorrow Newt has to drive about three hours to the Traverse City airport - which has the incredibly cheery name of Cherry Capitol Airport - to meet Chau and hash out some of the details of his new project and some stuff to do with his last book, and between driving there, meeting with Chau, and driving back, that’s going to take up his whole day. That’s Saturday. Sunday the library is closed. So there’s no way he can go back until Monday, and of course he didn’t do anything smooth like ask Hermann for his number, so he can’t talk to him until Monday. Goddammit. Newt just knows he’s going to spend the whole weekend obsessing over the thought of asking Hermann out.

 

 

What if he says no? What if he says, “Lets just be friends”? Newt will say yes to that, of course, but it’ll still be a let down...and what if he says no without saying that, then Newt will have also ruined a potential new friendship. Or what if he says no and is really freaked out by Newt having asked him? What if he’s homophobic as hell and after that every time Newt has to check out a book from the library, he gets glared at by the cute, bigoted librarian?

What if Newt asks him out and he doesn’t even realize he’s being asked out? That’s happened before. Newt has even gone on dates with people where they didn’t realize it was a date, and he didn’t realize that they didn’t know that. He’d leaned in for a kiss at the end and the guy had freaked out. Turned out he was straight. It had been awful.

How is he even supposed to go about asking him out? Newt has always been awful at that part. A fair portion of his relationships were started with kisses or just going straight for sex, and thus the initial stage of “Do you wanna go out sometime?” was totally avoided. Yes, he sees how those relationships often imploded horrifically, or were only sex, but still, at least he didn’t have to ask someone out. Can you really just say “Do you wanna go out sometime?” Is that clear enough? Or should he admit to liking him, or should he ask him to dinner, is that clearer, or should he just ask for his number, or should he do something cute and romantic like “Hey, I hear sunsets around here are beautiful, wanna watch one together?” Would Hermann even be okay to go on a beach with his cane? Or maybe Newt should do something smooth, like ask him for a restaurant recommendation and then wink and say, “Maybe we should check it out together?”

Goddamn, how is Newt twenty-eight years old and this awful at asking people out? And fuck, why is this making him so nervous? It’s just some weird librarian dude, one of the very first people he met here, what’s it matter if he fucks it up? There’s bound to be other people around. He’s only met Hermann, what, three times now. But...it feels like more than three. That coffee break was awesome. He really likes him. He really wants to at least try this.

Fuck, what if Hermann says no?

 

 

By Monday he has finished the book Hermann gave him, has discovered it is the first in a two book series, and has worked himself into such a state over how to ask Hermann out that he has gone back to being calm about it and has fatalistically decided to simply roll with whatever happens. Maybe the conversation will naturally turn itself to that direction.

He can do this. He’s a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. Okay, no, he’s not, but he is a genius, and he wrote a bestselling book, and he can ask out a cute librarian, gosh darn it.

As before, the library seems empty when he arrives. The first floor is abandoned, and a pervasive stillness fills the place. It could be creepy, but instead it’s just peaceful. Newt pauses in a sunbeam and looks around fondly at the bright room, at Hermann’s perfectly neat desk, at the colorful children’s area, at the shining wood of the staircase. Hermann must clean a lot. He probably enjoys it, the nerd.

He climbs the stairs slowly, trying to not disturb the quiet of the library with his footsteps, but the plastic of his sneakers won’t stop squeaking. He pauses at the second floor, calling out “Hermann?” when he doesn’t immediately see or hear him. He’s kind of hoping to hear the sound of him dropping a book, like on Friday. That had been gratifying. His mere presence made Hermann drop books. Hell yeah. But today, instead, he gets “Up here,” drifting down the stairs from the third level.

So Newt goes up more. He can see Hermann as soon as he reaches the third floor, sitting on a windowsill, just like Newt kept imagining, his book cart near him. He has his left knee folded but not his right, that is is stretched out, Newt notices. There’s a book in his hand, open, so that Newt can’t see the cover. Hermann’s entirely in the gold light pouring in through the window, catching in his dark hair and glinting off his glasses - which he is wearing - and making his light gray cardigan look almost white. Newt can see the little blue triangle of the bay beyond his head.

“Hi,” Newt says, a little breathlessly, which is totally from the stairs and not because Hermann looks sort of totally pretty right there.

“Hello,” Hermann says, and then tilts his eyebrows up at him, and, pointing at him with his index finger, says, “You’ve been keeping secrets.”

Newt resists the urge to take a step back. He’s at the top of the stairs, he’d probably go tumbling down them. “Have I?” he says, trying to sound innocent and instead sounding squeaky. His mind is thinking fuck and wondering endlessly if Hermann figured out his ridiculous crush and is annoyed.

Instead of speaking, Hermann folds shut the book in his hands and holds it up so Newt can see the cover, which shows a huge monster leering at him...A really familiar monster.

Newt clicks his mouth shut, then says, “Ah. That.”

Doctor Newton Geiszler?” Hermann says. “You certainly failed to mention that.”

“I really hate being called doctor,” Newt offers up weakly.

Hermann huffs at this and clicks his tongue and looks down, and there is silence for a moment. Newt doesn’t understand why he seems irritated. Before he can say anything, Hermann sighs. His face smoothes out, and he looks at Newt again, seemingly back to normal. “I understand not mentioning that, but really, it’s positively unfair of you to leave the rest out.”

“Unfair?” Newt echoes.

Hermann rolls his eyes. “How could you not mention you’ve written a book to someone whose job is books?”

“Riiiight,” Newt says, nodding. “Okay, that seems super obvious now, but I didn’t even think about that. Sorry. I was focused on something else.”

“I knew I recognized you, but I just couldn’t figure it out, but now I know it’s because I saw your interview on that show. You hid your tattoos, that would have- Wait, what were you focused on instead?”

“Well.” Newt shrugs his shoulders diffidently and then just sort of says it. “You know. Flirting with you.”

Hermann goes totally still, looking at him with wide eyes and his mouth a little parted, and then suddenly turns red all over. “O-oh.”

“Do you, um, wanna get dinner sometime? Like, you know, as a date?” Newt asks, voice skipping up several octaves with nervousness. Smooth, Geiszler, smooth.

Hermann manages to go redder. Fuck he’s so fucking cute. He swallows hard, then says, his own voice a little pitchy, “I’d like that.”