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The library doesn’t get much traffic at this time of day, in the middle of an afternoon on a Tuesday, particularly as the school year isn’t quite over yet. There will sometimes be a handful of people coming through during the lunch hour, but it is past two now, and everyone is at work or school. Hermann is the only one in the library.

He likes it here at this time of day. The sunlight comes in through the windows and lies across the shelves and floors in long yellow stripes, dust motes dancing away in the light breeze that comes in through the windows that it is now warm enough to keep open. Other than the intricate choreography of the dust, and his own movements, everything is still and quiet. He can catalogue every sound: the faint rush of cars passing outside, the whisper of the breeze, the humming of the computer, the squeaking of the book cart as he wheels it around, his own footsteps. Sometimes when he is in a certain kind of mood he fancies that there comes a faint murmuring sound from the books. But this is nonsense, of course.

He wheels his book cart into the rickety elevator - so old that it does not have a proper door but instead a wrought iron gate - and rides it up to the third floor so that he can work his way down as he restores the returned books to their proper places. The third floor is his favorite. Occasionally he feels as if it ought not to be. He loves every inch of the tiny, old library with all of his heart, and it feels wrong to prefer any part of it; but up here it is even quieter and more peaceful, and there are arched windows with sills wide enough that they can be sat upon, and if one looks carefully between the two buildings across the street one can see the bay glittering blue in the distance. Sometimes, when he has finished all his tasks for the moment, he likes to curl up in that window seat and read, or, more often, stare at that triangle of blue and let his mind go peacefully, blissfully, rarely blank, enveloped by silence and sunshine.

It also doesn’t hurt that the third floor has all the reference manuals and textbooks and academic texts. The library is just a small town public library, so it does not have a particularly extensive collection, but he still finds it soothing to be surrounded by all that knowledge.

He gazes out the window a moment now, catching sight of the lake, then returns his focus to the task at hand. He’s restoring a particularly weighty tome to its rightful place on a shelf, lining it and it’s neighbors up, when he hears, muffled by the distance of two stories but nonetheless distinctive, the sound of the front door opening and closing.

How unusual. He checks the watch on his wrist. It’s still only two-fifteen, too early for anyone to be out of work or school. There are, of course, those who don’t work - there is a fair population in the surrounding countryside of elderly people who have retired, and there is also the inevitable scattering of stay-at-home parents, as well as others who have their reasons to have leisure time at this time of day, but it is still very rare for anyone to come into the library in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. Hermann frowns softly - he has never been able to shake a dislike of interruptions to how things normally are - but continues working. If anyone needs him, they’ll come find him.

But still, he finds himself straining, searching amongst the familiar sounds of his library for the noise of someone out of place. After about five minutes, there comes the light, rhythmic tapping of feet on the stairs, going up first to the second, pausing there - he imagines someone peering around - then continuing on up and stopping a moment later, obviously at the top of the stairs.

Hermann, in the middle of an aisle and thus out of sight, wonders if he ought to move into view. But most likely it is just someone looking for...something, with no need of him, and it’ll be uncomfortable if he steps out to them. He himself always hates when he is in a situation like this, such as out shopping, and a worker accosts him and asks if he needs help. If he needed help, he would ask, there’s no need for them to interrupt his peaceful shopping to ask him questions. So he always attempts to refrain from doing the same, and in this circumstance too he continues straightening the edges of the books so that they line up with the edge of the shelves, and listens tensely to the sound of shoes - squeaking, probably sneakers - crossing the room. To the windows, he would guess, admiring the view. Then weaving amongst the aisles, and then at last the person comes into sight, entering the aisle so that he and Hermann are facing each other.

Hermann is taken aback to realize he doesn’t recognize the man. It is not, of course, so small a town that he knows every person in it, particularly considering that this is the nearest library for a fair distance, so that it serves not only the townspeople but a lot of others living out in the countryside. But it is a small town, and the population that visits the library regularly enough to have a card is even smaller, so that three years in - god, how has it been three years? - he at least knows the face of just about everyone in that group, and yet he does not remember this man. And he feels, looking him over once, that if he had been here before, Hermann would have remembered him. He’s a little unique looking, rather short with golden brown hair and what would probably be described as a “hipster” fashion style.

So, a tourist perhaps, although it’s a little early in the season for tourists. They don’t start pouring in until around June, usually, and it is still the tail end of May. But perhaps he wanted an early start on the season, perhaps the rental houses are cheaper if you come sooner, Hermann really has no idea, beyond feeling an automatic vague dislike of tourists. They may keep the town alive, as the Kaidanovskys keep telling him, but that doesn’t mean Hermann has to like them.

“Hi,” the stranger says, stopping at the head of the aisle. He has a peculiarly high voice. Certainly a memorable voice. Hermann has the sudden conviction he’s heard that voice before - and perhaps he has seen this man before - but not here. He doesn’t think he’s ever met him before. “You the librarian?”

Hermann looks at his cart, at his hand currently stilled in the act of pulling out a misshelved book, then back at the stranger, and says drily, “Obviously.”

The man lifts his eyebrows a bit at this, and his friendly smile curls a ironically, and this is why Hermann hates strangers. At least his patrons know by now that he is chronically unfriendly and grumpy. “It kind of grows on you,” he’d heard Chuck Hansen telling his step-sister (which was rich from him, really).

“Right, course,” the man agrees. “Well, um, I’m new ‘round here, was looking to get a library card, wondering how I go about that?”

Not a tourist then. A new resident. That would certainly explain it. How...interesting. Hermann finally won’t be the most recent person to have moved here on a permanent basis. He looks the man up and down once more - he’s wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt despite the sunny day outside, not that Hermann in his button-up shirt and gray cardigan is one to judge - and wonders why he would have moved here. Too young to be of the batch that longs to move out into the countryside once retired. There’s something about him that seems to strongly suggest that he isn’t in the tourism business. Hermann supposes he could have gotten a job at one of the small offices and other businesses that operate around here, although there is also something about him that suggests that would be far too conventional for him - perhaps the slightly messy hair or the hipster glasses - and Hermann is fairly sure most of those aren’t hiring, and anyway he would probably be there working if that was the case. But he does look rather...artistic, perhaps, particularly with those extraordinarily tight jeans. And his clothes look nice, high quality, certainly nicer than Hermann’s. So perhaps one of those somewhat well-off creative types that moves into the deceptively expensive cottages scattered on the edge of the lake in order to gain inspiration from the local beauty. Hermann has been assured that those exist, even though he has yet to meet one himself. “They act like they are ‘real’ residents just because they bought a home, when they are even worse than tourists, never working a real day in their life,” sneered Sasha. Then she’d looked at him speculatively and said, “Thought you were one of those, first few days, but you are real man, hard worker, you belong here,” and he’d actually been very pleased indeed. He’s not sure when he became part of this community. He’d never meant for it to happen. But it’s nice, now that it has. People around here are nice. Extraordinarily odd, but very nice.

All this has passed through his mind in a few seconds, and then he nods and says briskly, “Yes, of course, follow me.” He unhooks his cane from where he’s taken to hanging it on his cart - he doesn’t need it when he’s using the cart, as he can simply lean on that - and pretends not to notice the man pretending not to notice his cane. He is fairly used to that polite little charade. So long as people offer him the courtesy of pretending they don’t notice his cane or limp, he returns the favor. He brushes past the man as he exits the aisle - he has to, the aisles are very narrow and there is not proper space for two people to pass abreast - and heads toward the stairs, not looking to see if the man follows. He can hear his sneakers squeaking on the wood floors a moment later, so he must. They make their way down the stairs together, the man having the grace to walk slowly enough to stay beside him. On the other hand, he ruins any goodwill that Hermann might have built up from that by attempting to make small talk.

“So, this is really a beautiful, old place,” he chirps in his unique voice. At least he’s talking about the library and complimenting it, which is perhaps the only small talk topic that doesn’t make Hermann want to scream.

“Yes,” he says, and has no idea what else to say.

“Is this a converted house?”

“Oh, yes,” he agrees. He can work with that. “The original owner was one of the founders of the town, very wealthy. She was bothered deeply by there not being a local library, and she died without any heirs, so she donated her home and wealth towards turning this into a library.”

“That’s super cool.”

“Mm.”

“I’d ask if you’d been working here since the start, but I’m uh, guessing you’re not from around here.”

Damn his accent. “The library was founded in the early nineteen-hundreds,“ he says, which is not really answering the man, but he certainly isn’t going to share his complicated backstory with this artsy stranger.

The artsy stranger in question says, “Oh-” and then they reach the first floor and Hermann can say, “This way,” gesturing towards the front desk, and not have to deal with any more questions. He slips in behind the counter, instantly feeling more balanced. This he can handle. One might think that a job in the service industry like being a librarian would be impossible for someone that hates and is made anxious by talking to strangers, but that aspect really doesn’t bother Hermann so much. He hasn’t the least trouble interacting with people when there is a formal structure around it. Small talk destroys him. Telling someone where to find the fantasy section is the easiest thing in the world.

The artsy stranger - as Hermann now can’t stop referring to him in his mind - hovers on the other side of the counter, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. He looks almost childish like that, despite seeming to be around the same age as Hermann. Perhaps it’s how small he is. He’s really very short, several inches shorter than Hermann, who is only average height.

“You are a resident, correct?” Hermann asks.

He both nods and says, “Yup, just moved here.”

“Right. So, to get a card, you’ll need to fill out this form-” He pulls one from the pile seating neatly on a shelf under the desk and slides it across to the man along with a pen, and ignores the man’s glance at the small star tattoo on his wrist, “-show me an ID, and show proof of residence.”

The man grimaces at that. “Oh. Um.” Of course. That’s always the problem. No one ever has proof of residence. It’s really not hard, Hermann always wants to say. And it says to have one on the website. The website that Hermann entirely made himself, and no one ever seems to use it. Not that he cares. But why does no one ever have proof of residence? “Uh, what would that be?”

“It can be a variety of things,” Hermann says with a shrug and internal sigh. “Piece of mail addressed to you, land deed, that sort of thing...Most people just bring the mail.”

“Mail,” the guy repeats. “Okay. I can do that. Mail.” He hesitates and says, “So I can’t get the card until then?” He smiles a little when he says that, tilting his head to the side, widening his eyes. It’s probably meant to be charming. He does have rather nice eyes, a sort of grayish-blue shade like the bay in winter, only warmer.

“No,” Hermann says firmly. “You’ll have to return with that. But feel free to stay and browse as long as you like.”

Disappointment flashes across his face a second, his bottom lip pouting out a little bit, and Hermann catches himself thinking he also has rather nice lips, pink and full and Christ what is he thinking. Stop that.

It’s been too long. Maybe he should let Tendo Choi set him up on a date, the way he is always begging to.

“Yeah…” the guy sighs. “Okay. Guess I’ll have to come back tomorrow.” He takes the form off the table and folds it up, shoving it into his back pockets. Hermann is a little impressed that he can manage that. Those jeans are ridiculously tight, clinging to his slim legs. Not that Hermann is noticing that. Stop noticing that.

He nods at Hermann, who nods back, and starts to turn away - Hermann very determinedly keeps his eyes on his head and no lower - then stops and turns back. “Will you be on duty tomorrow too?”

“I’m the only librarian,” Hermann says. It’s a very small library. There’d been another librarian when he first came, but she retired as soon as she determined that he could take care of things, and he’s been running things all on his own for slightly more than two years now. Well, not entirely on his own, as there are some kids from the local high school who volunteer sometimes even though he doesn’t really need the help. But Chuck and Mako are nice kids - “You are the only one that would say that about Chuck,” his father said once with a laugh - and it’s probably good for their college apps, so he doesn’t mind them.

“Cool,” the stranger says, with a little smile that Hermann can’t really interpret. “Can I ask your name, then?”

“Hermann Gottlieb.” He wishes it wasn’t unreasonable to demand that people call him by his last name.

“Nice to meetcha. I’m Newt,” he says, and thrusts out a hand. As Hermann shakes it briefly, he notices that he has his own tattoos, a colorful pattern snaking out from the under the sleeves, curling around the edges of his hand, and that, combined with the peculiar name; he almost has it, why this man seems ever so slightly familiar. But it slips away immediately, like trying to remember a dream the next day. “See you tomorrow,” he adds as he drops his hand.

Hermann inclines his head in a nod again, and, with one last sunny smile, the man - Newt - leaves, for real this time. Hermann can’t help one small brief peek and oh dammit. The tight jeans suit him. HIs legs really are slim and adorable. His ass is better.

It’s really been too long. Hermann leans his elbows on the counter and sighs. Then he goes back up to the third floor and sits on the windowsill a little while so as to regain some inner equilibrium.

 

 

He has mostly put the encounter with the stranger out of his mind by the time he goes home. He doesn’t live very far from the library, only a ten minute walk to the tiny apartment above the Kaidanovoskys’s store, easy even by his standards. As always, Aleksis catches sight of him as he fiddles with his key at the door right next to the shop, which opens to the staircase leading up to his apartment. (He keeps thinking he ought to look for a place on the first floor, or with an elevator. But he never does.)

“Hermann!” he booms, emerging from the shop. “Returning from work? Ah, you work too hard!”

The town is full of unique characters. Aleksis is one of them. He is very large - extraordinarily large, at least seven feet, and strongly built - and violently Russian, and looks, with his bleached hair and non-bleached facial hair and multiple rings, as if he ought to be in the Russian mob. Instead he and his wife run a shop renting out beach equipment to tourists and also run classes on how to use that equipment and also run some “Extreme Experiences” (as they call it, and Hermann has very little idea of what these entail, and very little desire to know). He is a shockingly nice person. Every day he tells Hermann he works too hard, and he is always slipping Hermann food and inviting him to dinner and booming - he does not speak, he booms - “You are too thin!” He checks out long historical fiction novels from the library that he has to renew repeatedly as his reading skills in English are not very fast. Technically one is only supposed to be allowed to renew a book so many times, but Hermann never has the heart to turn Aleksis down, and lets him renew as often as he likes.

“Not at all,” Hermann returns. “It’s really not a difficult job.”

“He is tough!” Sasha exclaims, appearing suddenly behind her husband. “He can work full day, not get tired, not like you, you lazy lump!”

Sasha is certainly the far more intimidating of the two. Hermann has seen her quiet a complaining customer with simply a cutting look. Her husband obeys her unquestioningly. The two are, at times, almost painfully in love with each other, the sort of unspoken, undoubted love that makes one feels lonely simply from looking at it. She can be kind too, in a far more roundabout way. She likes to check out raunchy erotica novels that Hermann blushes just to touch - at times he suspects she checks them out solely for that reason - and also rousing and bloody stories about pirates and fighter pilots and so on.

“Ah, you see what she is like!” Aleksis booms, placing a hand over his heart. “Always nagging.”

“That is because you are useless without me.”

“This is true,” he booms, and smiles at his wife, and she smiles back, and Hermann looks politely away. “Anyway,” Aleksis continues, turning his attention back to Hermann, “Here, for you,” and hands over a tupperware container of something undoubtedly Russian and delicious. “I make far too many, you take extras.”

“Oh, I couldn’t-”

Sasha waves a hand. “Of course you can,” she says imperiously, and Hermann falls silent and reluctantly takes the dish being thrust at him. He’s not sure what it is about him that makes the Russians want to take care of him so much. Even now, Sasha is glaring at him as if daring him to complain anymore.

“Thank you,” he says instead, and they flash him matching grins, and disappear at last into their shop. Hermann sighs and climbs the stairs, being careful not to trip when Ris inevitably appears at the top of the stairs, meowing commandingly and winding around his legs and altogether doing her level best to trip him.

The Russian leftovers end up being a good thing, as there is less food in his kitchen than he had thought. He needs to go grocery shopping. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Thinking of tomorrow makes him remember the artsy stranger - Newt. What a unique name. Where has he heard that before? He seemed interesting - or, well, Hermann can’t decide if he seemed actually interesting, or like one of those people that really wants to be thought of as interesting but is usually boring. Not that Hermann has much right to judge when it comes to be boring. He’s a single librarian fast approaching thirty. With a cat. That is surely the dictionary definition of boring. And, god, this was never where he meant to be in his life at this point; not that he isn’t happy with it.

Anyway, he supposes he’ll have further chance tomorrow to figure out why he recognizes the man, and to see if he is interesting or not - not that he cares. Or that it matters to him. So there is a new resident who is a little - cute, admit it, he was cute - what does it matter what he’s like? At most, Hermann’ll see him once a month when he comes to the library.

It’s just, he admits, that it really has been a while. Not only since he’s dated anyone or slept with anyone, but even since he’s found anyone attractive or interesting. And he’s sitting in his extraordinarily small apartment - it’s only a tiny bedroom, a tiny kitchen, a tiny bathroom, and a tiny sitting area - alone other than the cat now on his lap trying to steal food, in the evening, eating leftovers, by himself, and yes, all right, his life is boring and therefore a cute stranger is worthy of note and curiosity and consideration. Particularly when he had asked if Hermann would be working tomorrow in that way - that way as if he wanted the answer to be yes. And he had smiled when it was yes. That is interesting and new, and makes Hermann curious to see him tomorrow too. It’s been a long time since anything new has happened here.

But boring is good, he reminds himself. Boring is safe.

 

 

It’s back to the regular schedule the next day, opening the library, checking in the books that were returned after hours, serving the few old women who for some reason always come in on Wednesday morning - why Wednesday? - manning the counter during the lunch rush, which is not a rush at all but a handful of rather tired office workers. One of Hermann’s greatest joys in his job is watching the way that a worn-down worker’s face will lighten up and come alive as they walk to the counter with a fantasy novel to escape into (sometimes, when he is very awake in the middle of the night and wondering how he ended up here and how this is his life and thinking of how very off track he is from The Plan, then he remembers the way he feels when he can tell that he is lending a book to someone excited about it, and it helps), and then it all goes quiet for the afternoon.

Even as he is loading the returns onto his cart, and riding the rickety elevator up to the third floor and idly wondering if today will be the day it sends him crashing to his death, even as he stops a moment at the windows and notes that the sky is so gray as to melt into the bay and make the division between sky and lake near impossible to see, and then turns to putting away the books; he is listening, not to all the little noises that make up the quiet of his library, but instead for the sound of the front door opening and sneakers squeaking on the wood floor.

He’s made his way down to the second floor before that comes. The second floor is much larger than the third, which consists solely of one room. The second floor has one large central room, and then a few other small side rooms - separated by arches lacking doors - with books lining the walls and tables and chairs in the middle for people to sit and read or study. He is in the room dedicated to science fiction and fantasy when he hears the squeaky shoes coming up the second floor and hesitating at the landing. It occurs to him that Newt might assume again he is on the third floor again and head up there, and as soon as he thinks this he calls out, “Hello, I’m back here!” and then flushes and wonders what the hell has gotten into him. Who cares if Newt has to look hard for him? Calling out, and in his own quiet library, when he values the silence so much! Really, how unlike him.

Luckily, it takes Newt long enough to cross the main room and find the proper back room that the flush has faded from his face before Newt appears in the doorway. He smiles as soon as he sees Hermann. It’s a more charming smile than Hermann had recalled. He’s wearing a long sleeved shirt again, but more unbuttoned this time, so that Hermann can see curls of blue and red and yellow ink licking at his collar bones.

“Hey, s’me again,” Newt says, looking around the room. “Didn’t even realize this stuff was back here yesterday! This place is bigger than I thought. Cool set up.”

Hermann likes when people compliment his library. Not that it’s actually his, of course, so compliments reflect nothing on him. But he does love it so, and takes such care of it, that compliments please him. “It’s not bad for such a small town,” he says modestly.

“It’s beautiful,” Newt says, looking at Hermann again.

Hermann feels a tiny, pleased smile coming on, and hastily tries to squash it. “Thank you,” he says, trying to sound stiff and dour, and, well, like himself. He’s not sure he succeeds. “Do you, ah, have the things you need?”

“Oh, yeah!” He tugs two pieces of paper out of his pocket - the form from yesterday, now filled in, and an envelope addressed to Newton Geiszler, 32 Blueworm Place, Shatter Stone Village, MI, 49723. “Will this work?”

“Yes, that’s perfect,” Hermann agrees, thinking, Newton Geiszler, I know that I know that name.

“Great! I was feeling positively naked without a library card in my wallet!” Newt says brightly, dragging out the first syllable in “naked” and Hermann’s attempts to identify that name are derailed by loudly not thinking about that word or what it means or what those tattoos would look like uncovered.

“Ah, um, well, yes, let’s go get that done then,” Hermann says, hating himself when he stammers a little and praying that the heat he can feel starting on his cheeks again isn’t showing. He wonders if there is a little bit of mischief in Newt’s smile. Surely not. He frowns a little, simply because that makes him feel more in control, and takes his cane from the cart. Newt is still standing in the doorway to the room, leaning on the door frame, and only shifts a tiny bit to let Hermann out, so that once again he brushes up against him. Normally Hermann doesn’t like touching people, but...he doesn’t mind this so terribly much. He can feel the warmth emanating from him.

“So, how long have you been working here?” Newt asks on the stairs.

“Three years now,” Hermann answers.

“Not from around here, then?”

Ordinarily Hermann’s answer to this would just be “no.” Yesterday he neglected to answer at all. But today, the words out of his mouth is a dry, “What let you know?”

“Gosh, it’s hard to say, there’s just something subtle,” Newt answers seriously, but with laughter bubbling under the words. “Maybe something about your accent?”

“Not convincingly Midwest?”

“More like...British, I think.”

“I’ve no idea where you’re getting that from,” Hermann insists as they reach the front desk. “Completely off base.”

Newt “hmm”s with a look of great concentration, and lays down the crumpled form and envelope. “ID too, right?” he asks, pulling a wallet from a pocket that surely isn’t large enough to hold it. He hands a driving license over. It’s from Massachusetts, Hermann notes.

He gives it a quick once over, then turns his attention to the form. “Everything seems to be good,” he says, and looks under the desk, feeling around for the library cards. It’s been awhile since anyone’s filed for a new one. Someone needed a replacement about two months ago, he thinks. Ah, there they are, pushed behind some forms. He puts one on the counter. “Sign here, and you’ll be good.”

Newt signs quickly with the pen Hermann provides, then smiles happily at his library card, admiring it a moment before slipping it into his wallet. Another tiny smile tugs at Hermann’s mouth. He does like to see someone be so enthusiastic about library cards and books and so on.

“Gotta go pick a book so I can test this baby out,” he says.

“Do let me know when you’re ready,” Hermann says.

“Aw, you’re not just gonna wait here for me?”

“No,” he says. “I have shelving to do.” He slips out from behind the counter. “Take your time,” he adds lightly, and wonders what he is doing. (Is he flir- No. Of course not.)

Newt sighs, and then, without a word, follows Hermann as he heads back up the stairs. Hermann lifts his eyebrows, which of course Newt can’t see, but he doesn’t say anything either. He gets off at the second floor. So does Newt. Well, this floor does hold the bulk of the books. Storing and offices and so on take up some of the first, and the third is a smaller floor.

Hermann heads back to the room where he left his cart and...Newt follows. Hermann turns and looks at him, eyes narrowed, hand on his hip. “Can I help you?”

Newt’s eyes are open very wide and innocent. Hermann thinks he was wrong yesterday, to think they were blue - they’re green. “I want a science fiction book,” he pauses, then adds, as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, “This is where they are, right?”

“They are,” Hermann has to admit.

“I’ll just look around then,” he says.

“Mm-hmm…” Hermann narrows his eyes a degree more and pointedly turns back to his shelving, the corner of his mouth twitching again once he is facing away from Newt. Oh dear. What is he doing.

Newt edges slowly around the room - Hermann doesn’t fail to note that he is moving around the room in a direction that brings him closer to Hermann - humming as he looks at the books. Hermann glances at him every now and then, watching as he runs a finger over the spines of the books, pulling one out once in a while to look at the cover. After a while, he seems to get genuinely focused on looking at the books and not on - teasing Hermann? Is that what he is doing?

At last, just as Hermann is about to leave the room, he pulls one out and announces, “Right, this one!”

“Only one book?” Hermann asks.

“Mmhmm,” Newt says, and then adds, perhaps meaningfully, “For now.”

“Hm, well, if you say so,” Hermann says, and turns toward the stairs. Once again, Newt follows behind. Hermann catches himself thinking I could get used to this, and then sternly tells himself, shut up

“So I’m really fascinated to see how this book checking out process works,” Newt says behind him.

“How it normally goes, I think.”

“Do you have one of those date stamp things?”

“No one uses those anymore,” Hermann asserts, which is doubly untrue, because he is sure people still use those, and he does actually have one. He doesn’t use it. But he has it.

“Bummer,” Newt remarks. Then, when they actually get to checking the book out, he is totally blown away amazed by the scanner pad - it scans the book’s barcode, and the information pops up on the computer screen - which is amusing. He actually hops up and down a bit. “Dude, that is fucking awesome!” he says, voice going as squeaky as his shoes.

“It’s really not that impressive,” Hermann says, struggling not to laugh. (Him! Laughing! What has gotten into him today!)

“It totally is.”

Hermann rolls his eyes. “It’s due back in three weeks, think you can manage that?”

Newt looks at the medium sized volume and squints. “Yeah, I read real good, reckon I can manage it in three weeks if I try real hard.”

“Don’t strain yourself.”

He tilts his head and pulls the same expression as yesterday when he was attempting to persuade Hermann into giving him the card without proof of residence. It is, perhaps, a little charming. “Worrying about me, Hermann?”

It’s the first time he’s actually said Hermann’s name.

“Not in the least,” Hermann says. Newt frowns and then laughs.

“Guess I’ll have to take care of myself.”

“Please do.”

It is at this point that the door - which Hermann can see over Newt’s shoulder - opens, the familiar figure of Tendo Choi strolling in. Newt turns to look automatically, and the figure stops, presumably realizing he doesn’t recognize Newt, then comes up to the counter.

“Hey, Hermann,” he says with a casual nod, and before Hermann has the chance to respond, turns to look at Newt. “You’re new, aren’t you?” he says, an overly friendly smile spreading on his face. Hermann attempts to repress a sigh. It is almost certain that Tendo is going to do or say something odd/awful.

“Yeah, I just moved here,” Newt says, sounding puzzled, but as friendly as he was to Hermann yesterday.

“Wow, great!” Tendo says far too brightly. Oh dear. He does seem to like - perhaps hazing is the word - hazing new residents. Hermann had quite hated him when he first moved here. At some point that turned into friendship. He’s still not sure how. “I’m Tendo Choi,” he says, holding out a hand.

“Newton Geizler.”

“Welcome to the area,” Tendo says with an oil slick smile. Then he looks at Hermann again. “Checking out the library first, you must be pleased.”

“Obviously the library is of principle importance,” Hermann says with dignity.

“You’re so full of it.”

“That’s rich, from you.”

Tendo clicks his tongue. Before he can say more, Hermann says to Newt, “Tendo does IT and tech repair and so on for local companies. Which is, obviously, less important than a library.”

“Your library would be nothing without me, Herms. That nifty scanner? Broken in a month.”

“I’d be able to run this place perfectly fine without technology!” he says, in tones of offense. “Besides, I expect I could fix it on my own!” Tendo rolls his eyes. Newt lets out the sort of uncomfortable laugh of someone in a conversation that they aren’t really part of, and Hermann promptly feels guilty.

“I should probably head out,” Newt says, hefting his book. “I’ll, uh, see you Hermann. Nice to meet you…” He trails off and Hermann suspects he can’t remember Tendo’s name. That makes him feel a little smug. He remembered Hermann’s name from hearing it once.

“See you,” Hermann says, and then can’t resist adding, “Now, it’s three weeks, remember, I hope you can manage it.” He regrets saying it immediately, because Tendo’s eyebrows shoot up to his slicked back hair, and he gives Hermann this terribly meaningful look that certainly promises that Hermann is going to be interrogated and teased in five seconds.

“Three is the one that comes after two, right?” Newt asks, wide-eyed. “I’ll try to remember. Bye, for now.”

As soon as Newt has exited the premises, Tendo turns on Hermann. “You look pleased with yourself.”

“What? No, I don’t.”

“He was kinda cute,” Tendo says, wiggling his eyebrows.

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“C’mon, you were totally flirting with him. Dang, if I realized tiny, artsy hipster was your thing, I’d have gone about things all differently.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” Hermann says, very firmly, even though he can feel himself flushing again.

“You’re adorable. I didn’t even think you could flirt. Should have realized that throwing books in would make you able to do it.”

“Go to hell. Why are you even here?”

Tendo tries and fails to look injured. “I had some free time between work, thought I’d come get some books.”

“Harass me, you mean.”

“It’s often the same thing.”

Hermann sighs. “Well, look, you’re free to look around of course, but I do still have work to do, so I wish you’d refrain from harassing me.”

“Oh, so when I visit you have to work, but when the cute, new stranger shows up you’re free?”

“I was working!” Hermann says defensively, and perhaps a little loudly. “He was checking out a book!”

“You were flirting,” Tendo says again, and Hermann throws a hand up in the air in defeat. He decides the best idea is simply to ignore Tendo and sets about resolutely doing so despite Tendo following him around and interrogating him about Newt.

 

 

Tendo must get around or something, because when Hermann gets home, Aleksis comes to see him, as always, and says, “Home at last?” and then, inspecting him carefully, “You look as if you had good day.”

“It was a very normal day!” Hermann says firmly, and Aleksis gets a knowing smile.

Tendo is a bastard.

 

 

The next morning, Sheriff Herc Hansen, of all people, comes in to return a book - Hermann will never tell a soul that Herc likes space operas and Westerns - or that his son also, entirely independently, likes the same kind of books - and, while checking out, says casually, “So, Gottlieb, I hear you met our newest resident.”

Hermann grits his teeth, thinks angry thoughts at Tendo, and nods.

“He, uh, seem nice?”

Hermann decides to alter all of Tendo’s return dates in the computer so that he racks up huge late fees.

“He seemed very normal.”

 

 

During the lunch “rush,” he is asked about Newton by a very stern and perfectly polite Stacker Pentecost. He gives an answer that matches up to Pentecost’s politeness, and it absolutely does not make him blush to do so to the dignified mayor, who has always been very kind to him and whom Hermann has never had a crush on, whatever Tendo might say.

Newton does not come to the library that day. This is, of course, perfectly reasonable. He needs time to read his book. Hermann is not in the least disappointed.

 

 

By the afternoon of the day after that, he is so tired of being asked about the mysterious newcomer that when, as he is shelving books on the second floor, he hears the quiet of the library being interrupted by a door opening, he is positively incensed. If people are so curious, why don’t they go looking for Newton themselves; it’s a small town, it can’t be too hard to find him. Honestly.

Feet come up the stairs quietly, and Hermann scowls and thinks go to the third floor, come on, leave me alone, and then a familiar voice calls out, “Hermann?”

He drops the book he is holding. Then stares at it, entirely appalled at himself. Really. How embarrassing. He bends down to pick it up, belatedly remembers to answer, and says loudly, “Um, yes, over here!”

Newt appears a moment later. He isn’t wearing the converse he was wearing the last two times. That would explain the lack of squeaking. “Did I startle you?” he says, eyes crinkling. “Sorry.”

“No, it was just- Had been very quiet in here,” Hermann answers. Don’t blush, dammit. You are thirty years old, do not blush! Well. Almost thirty. Almost twenty nine. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here today.”

Newt holds up the book he had yesterday. “Turns out I underestimated my reading skills yesterday,” he says. “Three weeks was easily enough. Finished it in a day and a half, actually.”

“Really?” Hermann says, politely skeptical.

“Of course!” Newt says, laying a hand across his heart. “I can summarize it, if you like. This convict gets out of prison only to find out his wife has died, and on the way home the norse god Odin-”

Hermann holds up both hands to stem the flow and tries not to smile. “Okay, I believe you, my apologies.”

Newt doesn’t bother trying to hold back a smile. “Good, I wouldn’t want you to think I’m a liar.”

“Of course not.”

“So now, I need you to teach me how returns work.”

Hermann looks at him expressionlessly. “Did you see the bin on the first floor labelled ‘Returns’?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s where you return books.”

Newt opens up his mouth a ridiculous amount and lets out an exaggerated, “Ooooooh! Really! I’d never have guessed!”

“It’s very tricky, I know. I’m sure it’d be challenging to anyone with less than average intelligence.”

“Wow. Dude. Wow. That’s harsh.”

Hermann looks away but this time simply can’t help the smile. “If you still need help, I am of course willing to provide it.”

“That’s probably necessary, I’m really stupid,” Newt says. Hermann glances at him again and sees that he is looking intently at Hermann, beaming so hard it’s like sun is pouring out of him, all of it focused on Hermann. He really is very cute, Hermann decides, and smiles back before he can stop himself.

“Let’s go see to it then.”

 

 

When he gets home that night, both Aleksis and Sasha are waiting for him.

“He looks as if he have very good day today,” Sasha says slyly.

“It was an ordinary day,” Hermann insists. So Newt had ended up sticking around for at least two or three hours, trailing after Hermann and demanding explanations of how everything worked and was arranged - which Hermann was only too happy to provide, as he had organized every inch of that library and was rarely given the chance to show it off - and drinking coffee with him and smiling like that the whole time. That didn’t make it “very good day.” Just an ordinary day.

Sasha ignores him and nudges Aleksis. “Hey, husband, did I tell you who I see today at grocery store?”

“Who?”

“That new young man who move here.”

“Oh?”

Sasha glances at Hermann with a little smirk. “He is very cute,” she confides to Aleksis. “He also look like he have very good day today.”

“I see,” Aleksis booms meaningfully. “But is he good enough for our Hermann?”

“I am not sure yet. Will have to find out, hm.”

Hermann doesn’t have much response to this other than to go red, mutter, “Really!” and huffily storm upstairs. At least his cat doesn’t ask him questions about Newton.

 

 

Newt doesn’t come to the library the next day. But what does come is the delivery Hermann has been expecting of new books, including amongst them a book that he had ordered partially, he must admit, because he’d been wanting to read it himself. He’d seen an interview with the author on a talk show one night when he couldn’t sleep, and even though it sounded like the most ridiculous pseudo-science, it also sounded very interesting.

He picks it up now, from amongst the pile of other books. There is a picture of the author on the back, flashing a cocky grin at the reader. Hermann isn’t even surprised. It seems obvious now. He knew he recognized Newt.

“The nerve of him!”

Chapter Text

(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.”