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All You Need Is Love

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              “Love is a farce.” Hermann stabbed at the leafy greens of his salad as he spoke. It wasn’t a new sentiment, far from it, he had decided that love was fictious and an ideal fabricated in an attempt to give some deeper meaning to the basic need of other’s company a long time ago. It was a way to explain why two people, such as his parents, would tolerate each other for the majority of their lives to reap the benefits of having a stable environment.

              “One bad breakup doesn’t mean that love is a farce, Hermann.” Karla clearly didn’t share this sentiment as she gave him a narrow-eyed stare from over her own salad. She had come over when he’d call to tell her he’d broken up with his most recent reminder that love was nothing but lies. Hermann could admit that he would be happy to find his theory proven wrong. His short string of relationships over the last couple of years had done little to do so. Certainly, he’d found infatuation with individuals. A sort of happiness and elation that would come with a new fling.

              It was enjoyable to have someone around, for a while, but things always seemed to sour. Feelings waned or who they each truly were would end up being incompatible. Things would end and Hermann would have another data point to prove that love was make believe. His parents had had the right idea, marrying to help further their lot in the world rather than aiming for some illusive feeling.

              “It wasn’t a bad breakup. We both agreed to go our separate ways. I just sincerely wish that it had happened before he moved in. Having to vacate the premises of my own home so that he feels comfortable taking his belongings is inconvenient. I have work to do.” Hermann stabbed a tomato this time perhaps feeling a small stab of anger in turn. It was somewhat of a lie. Jeremy hadn’t taken it well when Hermann had told him they needed to talk. They hadn’t been enjoying each other’s company much lately. He had tried to hold onto whatever that illusive initial spark had been but it waned quickly now that they were around each other so often.

              Hermann had found himself feeling indifferent as he always did. Whatever chemical reaction had been triggered by Jeremy’s attentions originally had died off. It he was honest with himself it had died off even before they’d moved in together. He had never taken such a large step with someone before and part of him truly had hoped….

              Clearly, it had been pointless to hope.

              “Hermann, the fact that you have to leave the house for him to gather his things means it wasn’t that simple.” Karla sighed. She was a romantic despite her own series of ill-fated relationships. Still, his sister was the first person Hermann had wanted to call on when he realized that he’d need to be out of the apartment. She had come quickly and had offered to buy him lunch while they waited. His apartment was just down the street, it’d be easy enough to see when Jeremy was gone even if he didn’t notify Hermann like he was supposed to. “Do you want to talk about it?”

              “Not really.” He pushed his bowl aside, done with his salad now as he looked out the window. The street outside was busy despite the cold temperature that had him wearing sweaters. “How have things been going at the museum?”

              “Good. We’re getting an exhibit on Van Gogh on loan in the next couple of weeks so we’re having to rearrange and ensure everything is in place for that. It’s been a bit hectic.”

 

              They ate their lunches as they talked about work and life. Eventually, they both determined it had to have been long enough that Jeremy had to have finished up with his things. He hadn’t brought that much when he’d moved in with Hermann. The majority of his things were still in storage.

              Karla walked with Hermann down the street, their breaths billowing in front of them as they huddled in their coats. He noted that he needed to find one that was warmer. The compact fleece jacket he’d bought earlier in the year hardly did the job of keeping him warm despite the salesperson’s lofty claims of it being the best on market. Hermann had the suspicion it was simply more the fashionable option as he’d noted several others this year attempting to cling to warmth in similar cuts.

              “I don’t see the truck anymore. Think we’re safe to head up?” Karla paused outside his building and scanned the street just in case. There was a café next door they could grab coffee in if it appeared that Jeremy hadn’t vacated just yet but the truck he’d arrived in was gone.

              “I believe so. If he’s not done yet then perhaps this will get him moving at an appropriate speed,” Hermann huffed as he pulled the main door open. Karla followed in after him and they both headed straight to the lift. “Thank you for coming to keep me company. Sitting on my own just waiting would have been far more difficult to deal with.”

              “Of course, Hermann. I know it can be hard being on your own when you’re dealing with something like this.” Hermann gave his sister an annoyed look as they stepped into the lift and pushed the button for his floor. “I’m just saying, things of this nature can be tricky.”

              “I am fine, Karla, perhaps a bit disappointed and inconvenienced but fine. Jeremy was a lovely man but, as I said before, I do not feel we were beneficial for each other.”

              “You get that from father, you know.” Hermann looked at Karla with offense; their father was not someone he enjoyed being compared to and she knew that well enough. There might be some inkling of truth to the statement that didn’t make it any less irritating to have it pointed out to him at a time like this. “People have to be beneficial to you. They can’t just be someone you enjoy spending time with and it can’t possibly be based solely on your love for them.”

              “I didn’t love Jeremy.”

              “You love me.” Karla spoke pointedly as if daring him to contest that comment. The doors to the lift opened and she stepped off while keeping that expectant look at him.

              “Romantic love is different than familiar or platonic love. Romantic love is built on promises and poetry; promises and poetry are built on lies. Loving your obnoxious older sister is built on mutual fondness and acceptance of who we each truly are.” Hermann pursed his lips to keep his smile from slipping through as she rolled her eyes. Karla didn’t bother with that formality as she gave a soft contagious laugh and grinned at him as she took a few steps backwards so she could keep her eyes on him.

              “I love you too, Gör.” Karla turned on her heel to face his door and as Hermann stepped up beside her, she had a perfect look of surprise on her face. Hermann sighed as he looked at the note written in sharpie on the outside of his door. His landlord would likely charge him for painting over that. Perhaps he’d be able to find the paint that matched himself and fix it before the man noticed. “It looks like Jeremy thought that those promises were true.”

              “Yes, well, that was his mistake, I suppose.”

 

Herzloser Bastard

 

              Hermann pulled his key out to unlock the door only to find it pushed open easily. Jeremy hadn’t even bother to secure his things though, as the door swung open, he saw his things weren’t in much of a state to be secured. Karla gave a soft gasp as she saw the papers scattered all around the room and the computer smashed on the floor.

              Jeremy was apparently a passionate person, at least when it came to break ups. Hermann wondered if the man had bothered to show that level of passion in other areas of his life if it would have changed his point of view on things. He stepped into his loft and shrugged off his jacket as he tried to survey what the actual damage was in the end. The computer casing would need to be replaced though he had hopes by the appearance of it that the hard drive itself hadn’t been compromised. The papers were scattered but appeared to be intact. It would…be manageable.

              “I’ll help you get everything cleaned up. I didn’t think Jeremy would have had this in him.” Karla stepped carefully inside as some of her shock seemed to wear off. Hermann helped her out of her jacket after closing the door behind them. The note on the door would have to wait until he could ensure things weren’t too terrible with the rest of it.

              “This is an unexpected reaction, truth be told. He had always been rather bland the rest of the time. Clearly, we didn’t truly know each other.” Karla shook her head at him but moved to start gathering up the papers. Research and lecture notes for the classes he taught. Some assignments from his student’s that had no business getting wrapped up in this personal vendetta. At least Jeremy had left his copy of the key sitting on the bookshelf by the door as Hermann had asked. There would be no concern of him returning.

              “What exactly did you tell Jeremy when you two talked?” Karla knelt down in a relatively bare spot on the floor and started to collect the sheets into a pile. Hermann leaned his cane against the bookshelf so he could do the same, Karla offering her hand to him to help him down before they settled into their work.

              “I told him the truth.”

              “Hermann.” He raised an eyebrow at Karla as he debated whether hashing it all over would help the uncomfortable feeling that had settled in the pit of his stomach. He’d be alone again. Being alone didn’t necessarily bother him, most of the time, but having some companionship had been agreeable. He didn’t have many friends and those he did were often just as busy as he was with work. It made it difficult to always rely on them for company and several of them had their own significant other they desired their own time with.

              He wasn’t willing to settle for that companionship though. Jeremy had doted on him at the beginning. Hermann understood that would wane the further along they got in their relationship but once they’d moved in together, he’d realized how unsatisfying it all was.

              “I told him that I wasn’t content with the situation. That I was bored, which likely wasn’t the appropriate descriptor, but is the truth.” Hermann shifted carefully to stretch his left leg out in front of him as he sat fully on the floor. He picked up a few more papers as he thought it over, contemplated how their dynamic had shifted once they’d been living with each other. “Before he moved in things seemed somewhat balanced between us. Once Jeremy was living here though that balance became skewed.”

              “How so?” Karla paused in her work, set her stack of papers up on the coffee table as she pushed a strand of hair out of her face to look at him.

              “I was expected to do most of the chores. Asking him to do something would lead to feigned incompetency or pouting. I thought at first it was simply an adjustment period with him having moved into my space rather than a new shared environment. It continued, however, and got more pronounced. He also stopped putting much effort into our other relations. If he was a satisfied that was enough in his mind.” Hermann flushed a little at the comment but he was trying to get Karla to understand the scope of it. It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried to find some balance between them before deciding to end things. “I suppose we had reached that ‘settled’ point but I didn’t feel content with that.”

              “That’s…less settled and more it sounds like he wanted you to be his caretaker, Hermann. You hadn’t said anything about this last time we met?” Karla looked concerned now and Hermann shrugged in an attempt to dissuade that worry.

              “I didn’t feel it was anything of note.” Hermann set back to their task at hand though he could tell Karla was watching him for a while longer before she joined back in. They worked in silence until the papers scattered around the main section of the apartment were set in messy stacks on the coffee table for him to sort through later.

              Karla was in the kitchen getting some tea going for them both as Hermann finally dared to step into the spare room. His chalkboards that had his theoretical equations on them had large sections smeared away. Written in big block letters over what little remained was another declaration of Jeremy’s feelings.

 

Ich habe dich geliebt, aber alles, was dich interessiert hat, war deine verdammte Mathematik, Arschloch.

 

              “Oh, Hermann…” He felt Karla’s hand rest on his back as she stepped up behind him, a tea cup in her hand that she offered to him as she took in the damage. “This isn’t what love is.”

              “Of course, it isn’t. Because love is a farce. I’ll have to see what I can salvage off the laptop. I had photos of my most recent progress on there.” Hermann turned his back to it, walked back out to his kitchen that was his alone once more as Karla lingered. He did his best to ignore the pain in his chest, the sense of sadness that tried to settle over him and the disappointment. Hermann had wished he might be proven wrong but once more he’d only gotten more confirmation that his theory was correct.

              Love was nothing but promises. And promises were most often nothing more than lies.

Chapter Text

              Newton Geiszler did believe in love. Rather adamantly, it seemed, if his reaction to Hermann’s offhanded comment about it being Valentine’s Day was anything to go off of. Hermann was sitting inside his loft, wrapped in a blanket and drinking some tea as he watched the snow fall outside. They had been talking for over a year now in a correspondence that had started off with letters after the first kaiju attack occurred in San Francisco. They had continued through email and messengers after the second attack happened and it became clear that something bigger was going on.

              It had become routine for them to speak each evening when Hermann would get home from work while Newton wrapped up his day. It had started as strictly an exchange of ideas and theories on the attack but had crossed a line at some point into the personal. A line Hermann was somewhat wishing hadn’t been toed now as he read Newton’s responses. 

Newton Geiszler

I’m sorry, you don’t believe in love?!!!!!

 

              Newton loved using an abundance of punctuation. 

Newton Geiszler

Dude, love is like…a vital part of what makes the world good!

You can’t just…not believe in love.

I would have thought as a biologist that you would understand the feeling that love is just manufactured chemical reactions.

Love is a fairy tale people tell themselves to help them believe that they’re relationship will be for forever.

Statistically that’s proven false.

OMG

No! Dude…

Like, yeah, love is a burst of chemicals and hormones but love that lasts is so much more than that!

I take it you have found your ‘love that lasts’ then.

               Hermann sighed as he picked his tea back up to look out at the streets below. The snow had started falling earlier that afternoon and would continue through the night. He’d spent the day dealing with students who were exchanging chocolates and small cards while he attempted to give his lecture. It was likely going to be his last. The UN had formed a new council that would head a defense project against the Kaiju. His father was one of the members of that council and Hermann had signed on to be a part of the project itself. It was both something he was eager to start and dreading at the same time. Working, in essence, for his father was not his ideal. It would mean helping work towards a way to stop the attacks on their planet, however. 

Newton Geiszler

I mean, no, not yet.

Still working on that one but I’m open to anyone who will take me.

But I know it’s out there.

               The chime of the messages coming through pulled Hermann’s focus back to his computer and he read them as they popped up in quick succession. His focus stayed on Newton’s words for a long moment. Anyone who would take him? That seemed rather…broad. He took a sip of his tea and waited to see if any more would follow. He’d started to pick up on the fact that Newton couldn’t let a message window stand still for long. He suspected it would be similar being in an actual room with him. Silence wasn’t something that Newton would let linger.

  Newton Geiszler

I’ve had some shit relationships, don’t get me wrong.

And marriage is an institutional sham used to pick and choose who can have specific rights and allowances within the eyes of the law

But love can exist

Let me guess. You know that’s true because your parents are still together and wildly in love?

Well, no actually…

Dad got Monica pregnant when she was already married to someone else. No falling in love at all, just a fling and an oops.

Dad got me and Monica went back to her thing.

               Hermann felt the blush creep up his neck as he read Newton’s answer. He had expected the grand story of ‘my parent’s fell in love and are still together to this day’ that so many of his other friends had boasted over time. Instead, it appeared he’d stepped into a sensitive subject and for once the message window fell quiet for a long period of time as he tried to process this.

  Newton Geiszler

I apologize. I made an assumption…

Most people I have met who vehemently believe in the existence of true romantic love come from that sort of situation.

I simply don’t buy into the fact that ‘love’ is anything more than propaganda. Something unattainable to aim for that you could find someone who ‘completes’ you, per say.

And Valentine’s Day, most of all, is a ridiculous excuse to make people feel they must spend money on extravagant gifts to prove these fleeting feelings.

Consumerism at its worst.

              Hermann seemed to be the one unable to let the continued metaphorical silence to stretch between them now. He finally stopped himself from typing out more explanations and excuses for his faux pas. It troubled him, the thought that he might have truly upset Newton, more than he would have expected given their distance. He was a colleague, someone who was also working towards figuring out how to protect themselves from the kaiju. Nothing more.

  Newton Geiszler

Nah, dude, it’s cool

And, like, okay you’re totally right about the Consumerism thing because V-day has totally been turned into one big shopping spree

But the love thing…all you need is love, Hermann

I’ve done just fine without it so far

But I hope you’re able to find what you seek someday

Thanks. I hope someday you meet someone who proves you wrong.

I’ve gotta go for the night. Got a student who actually showed up for office hours.

Talk to you tomorrow?

Of course. Have a good night, Dr. Geiszler.

Night Hermann.

               Hermann watched Newton’s icon switch from ‘online’ to ‘busy’. It was completely plausible that he’d had a student show up but Hermann suspected it was his fault. He’d stepped into a sensitive topic and hadn’t managed to recover the situation appropriately. It left him feeling uneasy in his chest with that ache of anxiety that felt familiar and foreign all at once. He’d grown accustom to talking with Newton far later into the evening than this most nights and he found himself at a loss for what to do. He looked around his loft feeling more alone than he had in a while before moving to go over some of the materials sent to him in regards to his new position within the PPDC.

 

*

 

Newton Geiszler

How goes your giant robot?

Truth be told there are still far too many uncertainties.

We’ve had success at getting the built arm mobilized with one of our test pilots but it places a great amount of stress on them even for that.

You’ll figure it out! I know you will.

You and Katie are brilliant. You’ll get it done.

 

              Hermann sighed as he stared out the window at the large robotic arm that was within the bay of the Kodiak Shatterdome. It was the first of what would someday be many. They were already underway on building more in strategic positions around the world. They would house the cornerstones of their defense against the kaiju one day. That was if they could perfect the technology, they were attempting to design to get the jaeger program off the ground.

  Newton Geiszler

Have you had any more luck with your latest kaiju samples?

The ones from Sydney?

Useless, dude. It took too long and we still haven’t perfected the preservation process. The channels I’m having to jump through seem to get more and more complicated too.

All I want is a good decent specimen that I can actually preform genetic analysis on. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, it is.

The attack on Sydney was a bad one too.

Yes, they are discussing establishing one of the shatterdomes there now.

The attack made it clear how vulnerable a position they are in given their proximity to the breach.

Hong Kong will also house one. But we need to get the jaeger program functional before they will do much more than be reinforced decorations on their shores.

Fortune favors the brave, dude.

‘The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.’  

              Hermann gave a soft snort of amusement at this. They had been exchanging quotes recently. Seeming to be trying to one up each other in their ability to produce the most profound. What they were doing truly did feel like the impossible at this point. Jasper Schoenfeld had produced an impressive suggestion for the defense of their world but the follow through had landed on the rest of them. They needed to bridge that gap from the impossible to the possible. Caitlin, him and their handful of coders, technicians and volunteers. He thought for a few moments before leaning forward to type out a counter quote.

Newton Geiszler

‘Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’

That’s you, Hermann, doing the impossible.

You as well, Dr. Geiszler.

You and your formality. ; )

               “Is that Newton? Tell him hello if it is.” Caitlin’s voice came from behind him and Hermann felt himself flush. Newton had become one of his closest confidants over the previous year. Caitlin was a more recent addition to that category but she had quickly proven herself to be trustworthy and astute. Too astute if the knowing look she gave him now was anything to go off of.

              “Feel free to tell him yourself if you’d like. He was inquiring on how our work was going.” Hermann scooted the keyboard towards her as he accepted the tea that she offered him. He felt a moment of possessiveness as she skimmed the previous messages before writing her own in response to Newton. They had been talking too, Hermann had introduced them when Caitlin had noticed him having his frequent conversations with Newton during the quieter hours. They’d been exchanging information in regards to the kaiju as well in an attempt to better design and prepare the jaegers for their eventual task.

Newton Geiszler

Hey Newton! It’s Katie!

Katie!!!

Hey! Tell Hermann that he needs to come to the conference next month!

               Hermann stole the keyboard back at seeing this suggestion. Caitlin raised an eyebrow at him in a questioning manner as he typed out his response. He fought the warmth that continued to spread up into his face betraying his embarrassment.

Newton Geiszler

I’ve already told you I’m not going to be able to attend.

               Newton had been attempting to work it out for them to meet up for months now. Hermann had found himself unexpectedly resistant to the idea and had avoided several of the proposed conferences. He didn’t know why he was so nervous about meeting Newton but the idea sent an uneasy spike through his center each time he thought of it. In the end he knew it was because he was certain he’d prove to be a disappointment. Talking online was an entirely different beast than speaking in person. There were layers to that he wasn’t ready to unpack and it seemed easier to just keep the distance between them.

Newton Geiszler

Boo!

Lame, Hermann, lame. Katie and I will just have to have fun without you!

Seriously…one of these days I’d like to put a face to that brain of yours.

               “I don’t remember there being anything planned that would prevent you from being able to attend that conference, Hermann.” Caitlin spoke pointedly as she leaned a hip against the desk.

              “It’s a personal thing that I need to attend to.” Hermann spoke stuffily and he knew his tone and manner would give him away. Caitlin gave him a steady and knowing look for a few moments before just shaking her head lightly.

              “You should just meet him. You two would hit it off. There’s something there, Hermann.” He didn’t argue with her though internally he thought a biting comment about the fleeting nature of her own relationship with Jasper. How there being ‘something there’ wasn’t always a positive and that, either way, relationships were short-lived things. He bit his tongue though because she didn’t deserve that. She had discovered on her own what love often really meant when Jasper had attempted to take credit for her work and burned bridges in a glorious blaze.

              Hermann glanced at the screen for a moment more. Felt that twist in his gut at the thought of meeting Newton and the possibilities it could present. It left him feeling fearful because a part of him knew his own feelings had already become complicated.

 

*

 

Newton Geiszler

Guess who just got accepted into the PPDC?

Formally.

Like, this person will be starting next month which means you’ll be officially working together rather than just sharing in information.

Okay, fine, I’ll tell you!

It’s me!!!!!

               Hermann had just gotten back to his quarters within the shatterdome. They were working hard on getting the first of the Jaegers finalized. After the failure of the Adam Casey’s death they’d had a turn around when Caitlin had realized that sharing the load would make piloting the jaegers possible. Brawler Yukon needed to be ready to launch in the case of a new attack which had meant long hours for him working on ensuring the coding was perfect.

              He stared at Newton’s messages that had come earlier when he’d been working. He stared at them for a long time feeling a conflicting mix of emotions. They still hadn’t met despite all their time spent talking. Hermann had dodged every single attempt made by Newton to get them into the same room. If he was truly joining the PPDC it would be inevitable now and Hermann felt some small thrill over the thought.

              It was followed by a sense of relief that combined with a heavy disappointment. They wouldn’t really be working together. Not if Hermann truly did apply for the academy that the council was discussing opening up later in the year. Training and testing would happen first to narrow down their pool of prospective jaeger pilots and then the accepted participants would be pulled to the Kodiak Shatterdome for their training and to determine who they would be best compatible with. Hermann wouldn’t be in the lab with Newton if he was accepted into the program.

Newton Geiszler

That is wonderful news! You be working within the new biologics division, I assume?

To start but I think I’m gonna see if I can also throw my hat in to be a Ranger.

Like, it’d give me the perfect opportunity to get up and close and personal with the Kaiju. See their behavior first hand to try and get a good feel for what makes them tick.

               Hermann bag slumped off his shoulder to the floor in the center of his room as he stared distractedly at the response that had come quickly despite the lapsed time from Newton’s original contact.

              Would he be paired with Newton? Would they pilot a jaeger together at some point in the future; minds entwined in a new and exciting way that hadn’t been possible before now? What would Newton see if they did drift with each other? Would they even be compatible? Hermann sat down because he felt rather odd in that moment. He checked his pulse, counted the beats and confirmed it was elevated in a jumble of nerves and excitement.

              What if they weren’t compatible? Would it matter if they were? Why did it seem to matter so much to him that they might not be?

  Newton Geiszler

Oh really?

I was considering that course as well. A chance to pilot one of the jaegers after working on them for so long and all that.

Not to mention the chance to actively do something to help.

Dude! No way!!!

What if we end up being each other partners?!

We’d be scary amazing in a giant robot together!!!

               Hermann gave a soft laugh as a strange warmth spread through him. It would make sense, after all, that they would be compatible and paired together. It would still be a few months before the program would open up and begin its testing. It would be even longer after that before the participants were pulled together and finalized. But someday soon they would meet and Hermann couldn’t fathom they wouldn’t end up matching given how similar they seemed to be.

  Newton Geiszler

It would only be logical that we would prove compatible.

Hell yeah, dude!

We’d get matching jackets and everything!

               Hermann felt the familiar blush in his cheeks of happiness as he set his phone aside for the moment. He’d finally be meeting Dr. Newton Geiszler. And, if things worked out the way he was calculating in his head, they’d find themselves defending the world side by side. Perhaps they would even be the ones to save it.

Chapter Text

              “I don’t know what you expected to happen, Hermann.”

              Lars’ voice had become background noise as Hermann tried to keep his hands from shaking. Today was supposed to be a good day. It was supposed to be the first day of training as all the first wave of cadets in the Jaeger Academy arrived to the shatterdome. Hermann was supposed to be one of those cadets. He had passed all the tests created to determine the ability to handle the weight of the drift on one’s mind. Had proven to have a high compatibility ranking, something that they were still developing but showed high promise to be the continued determining factor in pairing pilots together.

              “Really, to think someone with your physical limitations would be allowed into the program was ridiculous. They shouldn’t have even allowed you to go through the initial phase.”

              Hermann pursed his lips to try and keep the tears from rising up in his eyes. He was supposed to be meeting Newton for the first time today. They were supposed to be paired together. They were supposed to be partners. Promises. Promises. Promises.

              “Just what were you thinking? Are you even listening to me, Hermann?” He finally lifted his head to meet his father’s eyes through the video screen. He’d reported that morning to sign in for the first day and to get his uniform. He’d been met with awkward apologizes and details on how inadequate he was from the officers assigned the sign-in duties. They knew him, of course, knew who he was and how much he’d poured into the Jaeger Program. He didn’t blame them, they hadn’t made the decision. Someone had and Hermann suspected that he was looking that someone in the eyes right then.

              “I was thinking, given the apparatus for piloting the jaegers already contains heavy modifications to accommodating and adjusting to allow the rangers to control them, that it wouldn’t be far fetched to design a suit that also accommodated and adjusted for my ‘limitations’. I thought that given my working knowledge of the program, as well as my high compatibility scores, that there would be no honest reason to reject me at that stage.”

              Lars sighed, got that put upon expression he’d worn so many times when he felt he was being forced to explain something simple to someone. Hermann gritted his teeth as he waited for the condescension. Glanced at the time to check that he wasn’t going to miss the arrival of the recruits; of Newton. 

              “I’m afraid you thought wrong then. We need to focus on producing the jaegers to work with the widest range of compatible pilots. We cannot focus on making specialized extensions to accommodate someone when there are numerous excellent and compatible options that will require no extra attention or care. It’s simply too much trouble.” Hermann bit down on his own tongue, bit down hard enough he tasted blood to keep himself from saying anything.  “I expected you to realize that, Hermann. I didn’t say anything when you first applied because you were just enjoying one of your whims and that higher wisdom would prevail.”

              “Yes, well, another disappointment for both of us then, father. I have to go, we’ve got work to do in anticipation of the arrival of the cadets.”

              “Hermann-“ He reached forward and disconnected from the call before his father could continue any further.  He’d hear about it later but it would save him further dismissal and condescension. It was also entirely too close to when Newton was supposed to be arriving and he needed to collect himself. He had promised he’d meet him when he got here but that had been before he’d known that he’d been discounted from the program. He didn’t want to not show. He didn’t want to leave Newton wondering why he hadn’t met him.

              He took a deep breath as he tried to steady himself. Compartmentalize it as he’d done before. He picked himself up after a few seconds and straightened himself out before heading out the door.

*

              Hermann stood just inside the door to the helipad as the arrivals started to filter in. He was nervous; the kind of nervous that was a mixture of excitement and impending doom. He'd already been discounted by the jaeger program, what if he was discounted by Newton as well? What if he didn't measure up to what he had in mind? 

              The potential rangers filed in past him; laughter and camaraderie. Every single one of them walked with confidence and swagger and only a few spared him any glancing look. Hermann knew he needed to accept the decision and move on. Knew it served him no purpose to feel that wounded pride, that disappointment that people had taken a look at him once more and determined he was incapable before giving him a chance to prove otherwise. It didn't lessen the sting of it; didn't sooth those raw edges to his emotions. 

              Hermann knew Newton the moment he stepped inside. Knew him without a single doubt in his mind as he saw the leather jacket draped over his shoulder and the tattoos on display. He walked with a slightly different sort of swagger, not the macho wide shouldered swing of the others, but an easy confidence in his steps as he looked around. 

              He could tell that Newton knew him as well when his eyes finally landed on him. A smile came to Newton’s face and Hermann felt almost sick now. They would have never been drift compatible. He would never have matched with that self-assured nature and brilliant ease that was walking towards him. He felt his heartbeat quicken and the hold on his cane tightened as he tried to return that smile that was focused so solidly on him. 

              "Hermann!" Newton moved as if he was going to hug him and Hermann felt a panic rise up as his posture stiffened and he felt his nerves bristle. He wanted to reverse that reaction, wanted to try and ease that uncertainty that had come into Newton's eyes the instance he saw it as he pulled himself back like Hermann had thrown up a wall between them. “Okay, so not a hugger.”

              "If you could, please, call me Dr. Gottlieb when we are in the company of other's, Dr. Geiszler." Hermann spoke with a huff that was full irritation. He was irritated at himself and maybe a little irritated at Newton as he glanced towards the other Rangers who had gathered around the elevator doors. A few of them were looking in their direction, judging no doubt, wondering why Newton was bothering with him. 

              "Didn't realize we were going to revert back to formal names and titles. Guess it makes sense though. Gotta get used to being called nothing but your last name in this place from the way they were all acting.” Hermann frowned as he focused back on Newton feeling that bristle once more. "Look at them all peacocking over there. Honestly, hearing them all talk on the way here I think it's going to be hard to find someone to match in that group." 

              "You know then?" Hermann asked the question cautiously. Newton was already attempting to figure out who he’d be paired with which meant that he knew. How had Newton known Hermann hadn’t been accepted into the program? Newton's smile tightened a little but he gave a laugh. He was laughing at him and Hermann felt like the floor was dropping out from beneath him in that moment. 

              "Yeah, obviously. Would have been nice if you'd felt the need to give me a heads up, you know? As a friend and all. Sorry, we're colleagues here, I forgot.” Newton's tone had shifted, gotten a little more aggressive and a lot louder. Some of the rangers still waiting on the next elevator gave a bit of a laugh that seemed aimed at them and they both turned to give them a glare. 

              "I assure you, Dr. Geiszler, I only just found-" 

              "I'm sure you did, Hermann-"

              "I told you to please call me by my title. I don’t understand why you are so upset by the fact-"

              "Oh yes, Doctor, certainly. Sorry, gotta make sure they all know your A DOCTOR so that they can know how superior of a mind you have. So superior, you can’t even fathom why someone would actually be upset by this. But you know what? It's cool, ya know, cause you'll have your whole thing to keep you busy and I'll have mine and we won’t even have to put up with us lesser beings. Not a big deal, right?" " 

              "I do not believe that the expectation that I be shown the respect that I have earned is an unreasonable request.”

              “Oh, I’m sure you’ll take every opportunity to let everyone know how important you are to the program.”

              “At least my interest in the program expands beyond the desire to coddle the kaiju you so clearly love-"

              "I don't love them." Their voices had been raising in volume as they argued but Newton shouted this last bit at him causing the entire room to fall silent. Hermann felt a sense of doubt enter the back of his mind as he saw tears in Newton's eyes. They both were highly aware that everyone was staring at them now. 

              "Newton?" 

              "Have fun with the fucking meatheads, Dr. Gottlieb, I think I'm going to take the stairs." Newton pushed past him, kept his head down as he stomped to the stairway door and pushed through. Hermann kept his back straight as he stood staring at where Newton had been confused at what had just happened. He had expected Newton to be disappointed that Hermann wouldn't be joining him in the jaeger program. Disappointed that all their hopes to be partnered together were out the window and he'd have to see who else he matched with now that Hermann had been cut. 

              He hadn't expected Newton to be brash and laugh in his face about it. Hadn't expected anger as if Hermann had made the choice and had definitely not expected their harsh words to turn into tears. 

Hermann startled as he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. One of the rangers had stepped over to him, a young woman who gave him a kind look. 

              "Are you alright, Doctor...Gottlieb, was it?" He swallowed and nodded his head because he wasn't certain words would work for him just yet. Pushed his emotions back down where they should have remained and took a deep breath. 

              "Yes, everything is just fine Ranger..."

              "Pentecost. Luna Pentecost. Come on, why don't you catch this one down with us?" Hermann glanced and realized a young man who bared a resemblance to Luna was standing holding the door of the elevator open. A few of the other rangers inside looked disgruntled at being held up and Hermann gave a soft shake of his head in response. He didn't want pity; didn't think he could handle getting into that confined space after they'd all witness the argument that had spiraled out of control. 

              "I appreciate the offer, Ranger Pentecost, but I…have some other things I need to check have arrived before I head down. Thank you though." 

              "Alright." She gave a small look of doubt but just patted his arm to go join her brother and the others in the elevator. The door slid closed and Hermann gave a shaky breath as he found himself alone. The cool air seeping in through the large bay doors of the helipad and he could see the blue skies outside. The helicopters that had brought the recruits in sat still out on the pad with their crew doing their checks before they’d head in as well. 

              Once Hermann felt steady enough to walk, he turned and headed to the elevator to push the call button. He blinked rapidly, tried to shake the last of his tears from his lashes before caving and brushed them away hastily as the elevator door pinged opened. He stepped inside, took a deep breath and headed down to get to work. 

*

              “Wait, so he laughed at you?” Hermann gave a huff of frustration as he stared at the code on his screen. It had been taking him far longer than was necessary to get through it that afternoon and with the day wrapping up he felt no further along than he had been that morning. Sergio sat down next to Caitlin, who had her feet up on her desk as she took the cup of tea he’d made her.

              “That is what I said, yes.” Hermann responded tersely and then felt a bit guilty as Sergio handed him a cup of tea as well. Caitlin had been busy most of the day but she’d come back down a short while ago to check on him. It seems that everyone had heard of his clash with Newton that morning. It was the talk of all the rangers and Hermann could only imagine how Newton had added onto the story throughout the day. How he had likely embellished it.

              He was being a bit unfair given the fact that, aside from them arguing publicly, Sergio and Caitlin didn’t appear to know much about what had happened. Newton must have been silent on the subject or was wise enough not to discuss it within ear shot of them.

              “What, exactly, did he say, Hermann?” Caitlin asked in a cautious tone and Hermann pursed his lips. He used the chance to blow on the surface of his tea to cool it as an excuse not to answer right away.

              He hadn’t exactly been on his best behavior when he’d met Newton either. He’d been quick to anger and hurt by Newton’s reaction to knowing that he’d been cut from the program. He had expected Newton to be upset on his behalf. Hadn’t even expected him to know given Hermann having just found out himself shortly before his arrival. And, most of all, Hermann hadn’t been expecting Newton to act more upset by the fact that Hermann hadn’t given him a ‘head’s up’ beforehand.

              “That I should have told him I was cut before he’d arrived. Said I was attempting to rectify the fact that I wouldn’t be a part of the jaeger program by attempting to ‘fit in’ by asking he address me by my title in front of others. He was unreasonable and rude. And, yes, he laughed at my disappointment.” Sergio and Caitlin shared a look between them and Hermann gave a sigh as he turned in his chair to face them. “You both clearly have something to say, so?”

              “It just seems like it might have been a miscommunication, Hermann. That, perhaps, you were both upset and didn’t take the time to actually discuss things so it got out of hand.” Caitlin pulled her feet down off the desk so she could lean in closer to him.

              “Hardly.” Hermann rolled his eyes as he turned back around towards his computer where the incomplete code sat taunting him still. It wasn’t that he disagreed, not entirely, but he was hardly the one that needed to apologize. He was being stubborn and digging in his heels on this one. He would reevaluate in the morning but for tonight he had wanted to nurse his wounded pride.

              “Just seems kind of weird that he’d laugh at you for getting cut when he got cut himself.”

              “I’m sure he felt some strange sense of superior…ity…” Hermann had waved his hand in dismissal of Sergio’s comment before it had really set in. The words hadn’t come together at first when he heard them but as his mind digested what had been said he felt a cold lump of dread settle in his chest. He turned to face them again with a frown as he started to wonder if he had heard correctly or not. Sergio gave a shrug as he drank some of his own tea and Caitlin raised her eyebrows at him. “He was cut?”

              “Yeah, we gave the recommendation that he be introduced into the program but someone higher up made the last-minute decision to cut him due to ‘concerns regarding his medical history’. We were told in the meeting this morning at the same time we were informed you’d been cut.” There was an anger in Caitlin’s voice that he hadn’t heard since Jasper had left. Sergio patted her knee gently, their hands twining together with careful ease.

              “Seems the council doesn’t feel like individuals with a history of mental illness are fit for the jaeger program all of the sudden. We tried to make a case based on the fact that Katie’s history hasn’t raised any issues with us drifting but they weren’t really open for argument at that point. Probably because Katie had already handed them their asses in regards to cutting you.”

              “Also, because they’re just a bunch of stubborn douche nuggets who don’t have an ounce of sense between them. Full offense to your dad, Hermann.” Caitlin gave him a flash of a smile but Hermann was too distracted to fully appreciate her insults thrown at his father.

              Newton had been talking about the fact that he’d been cut. He hadn’t been laughing at Hermann; he likely had had no idea that both of them had been dismissed for insulting reasons. And, in that sense, Hermann could see how his behavior had likely made Newton upset as he would have believed Hermann was brushing him aside for the rangers.

              “Oh dear.” Hermann muttered the words as he closed his eyes in abject terror. He’d ruined what was probably the closest friendship he’d ever had within the first few moments of meeting in person. “I was an ass.”

              “I’m sure if you go talk with him. Explain what happened.” Sergio tried to sound encouraging as Hermann leaned back in his chair and felt a panic build in his chest as he went over the conversation. Hermann shook his head; realized the fact that when they’d parted ways Newton had been in tears made much more sense now.

              “It should have been obvious that he was talking about himself being cut.” Hermann had to set his tea down onto the desk to avoid spilling it. Leaned forward and pressed his face into his hands.

              Hermann’s chest hurt, ached to a startling degree as he wondered if he was having palpitations driven by stress. No wonder Newton had been in tears when he’d finally stormed away. He would have thought Hermann was flouting the fact that he’d gotten into the Jaeger Academy; would likely have assumed Hermann would have known he’d been cut.

              Hermann hadn’t known though, he’d separated himself from the process the moment he’d put in his own application to avoid swaying the results.

              “All the more reason to go talk with him, Hermann. Explain that you didn’t know. My guess is that he didn’t realize you’d been cut either. You two can laugh about this later.” Caitlin’s hands found his and he could hear movement that must have been Sergio rummaging through Caitlin’s desk to his right.

              “Here. Take this down to the main lab. Last I heard he was in there still working on getting set up.” Hermann lifted his head a little as Sergio spoke and looked at the bag of coffee he was holding out to him.

              “Coffee?” Hermann said weakly as he reached to take it. It was a fresh bag of coffee Caitlin had gotten them to stash in their office so that they wouldn’t have to suffer through the free coffee provided in the shatterdome cafeteria.

              “It will be like a peace offering. Something to welcome him in and maybe you two can sort this whole thing out.”

              Hermann winced a little at the suggestion, felt anxious at the thought of seeking Newton out but Caitlin and Sergio both were looking at him encouragingly. 

              “I suppose…I can try.”

*

              The actual lab space was the floor down from their offices. It felt like a much further journey as he stood in the elevator to head down to try and find Newton. He hefted the bag of coffee gently in his hand, uncertain if it was going to be any use to him, and sighed.

              He hoped that Newton would be receptive to his apology for the misunderstanding. He, at least, knew that Newton would be on his own given the biology team wasn’t fully in house just yet. The plan, even before he’d been cut, had been for Newton to be the biology department’s head given his relatively extensive knowledge in regards to the kaiju.   

              Hermann internally cringed as his comment to Newton echoed in the back of his mind. It had been a low blow given the fact they’d discussed how people generally misunderstood Newton's passion for the kaiju to be approval or love of them in their emails. He had tried to rationalize over the last few hours that he'd intended it as a badly timed joke when he'd accused Newton of it up on the helipad. 

              Hermann couldn't fully allow himself to explain it away though. Because he knew it had been said with direct intent. He'd been hurt by Newton's reaction and so he'd gone in for something that would set him off. A cutting remark that had been too well placed, a bad habit he'd picked up from his father over the years. 

              Hermann steeled himself as he stepped into the lab, taking a look of the open space with cabinets lining the walls. A drying rack with some glassware and several dissection tables set out. The team would be small at first but there were hopes to grow it over the years as they were able to focus on just what the kaiju were in order to determine how to beat them. Music was blaring on one of the computers nearby and Hermann frowned as he moved to hit the space bar to turn it off. 

              He had expected silence when the music cut out as he could see no one actually in the lab at that moment but instead the song had continued as someone across the room sang the next few words. Newton’s voice cut out suddenly with a curse followed by a loud clatter as one of the sets of tables with an instrument setting on top of it shuddered a bit with a loud thud. 

              "You know, most people ask before they just go turning off someone else's mus-oh, it's you." Newton had appeared from behind the table looking irritated and rubbing at the back of his head. Hermann cringed a little as he heard the clear tone of anger in Newton’s tone as he spoke. "What? Did you come down here to remind me that we are professionals again and how that means you don't care to fraternize with me anymore?”

              “No, I came to give you this.” Hermann felt his nerves bristle at Newton’s abrasiveness and he shoved the bag of coffee in his direction. Newton awkwardly caught it, juggling it for a moment before managing to get a good hold of it with a frown of disapproval.

              “What the hell’s this? This supposed to be an apology?” Newton flipped the bag over to read the small blip on the back as Hermann made an attempt to pull himself together. To ease his own eagerness to jump to frustration when he was the one who knew. He understood what the problem had been that morning that had caused the entire argument.

              “Of a sort, yes. I…When we talked this morning, I believe there was a miscommunication based on some information I’ve been made aware of.” Newton tossed the bag of coffee onto the desk before moving to a small fridge under one of the counter tops that was clearly marked as No Food or Drink and pulled out a bottle of soda. “Aren’t you supposed to avoid consuming food and drink in the laboratory?”

              “Rich, coming from the guy who just brought me a bag of coffee randomly. There’s nothing inside there right now. I’ll move it before anything dangerous gets put in there.” Newton moved to twist the cap open but then stopped to look up at him expectantly. “So, you were apologizing? Did you realize that you were going to be dealing with a bunch of jerks and decide to come crying back to the more sensible section of this shit show?”

              “The rangers were actually rather polite to me this morning. And that was precisely what I was attempting to get at is that this is the only section of this ‘shit show’ that I am a part of.” Hermann forced himself to say it even though he felt the flush of embarrassment in his face. 

              “Oh, I’m sure they all sipped tea with you and discussed the theory of relativity all day during orienta-wait. What do you mean this is the only section you’re a part of?” Newton froze as he looked up at him with wide eyes.

              Hermann probably shouldn’t have felt vindicated in that moment but he did. He wasn’t the only one who had put his foot in his mouth that morning. It piled onto the feelings of the day; the disappointment and hurt and now this vindictive stab of satisfaction. “They fucking cut you?!”

              The anger was unexpected. Hermann frowned as Newton set the soda down on the desk a little too hard; lucky that the cap was still stubbornly sealed.  Hermann wasn’t entirely certain whether Newton was mad at him or made about the fact that he’d been cut. Or; perhaps it was a combination of the two as he paced up to Hermann to jab a finger at his chest.

              “Why the fuck would they cut you?”

              Hermann’s spine stiffened at the question; tried to read whether Newton was making fun or not. He knew that most people would think it was clear why he had been cut.  

              “If you believe that it is humorous-“ He spoke carefully as he tried to keep up with the direction the conversation was going but Newton cut him short.

              “No, it’s not! It’s infuriating! Who the hell made that call? Like, me, you know, it’s a bullshit reason but, really, like the whole fighting thing isn’t my deal and just that helicopter ride alone confirmed for me that I would not be able to deal with that military machismo bullshit and I was a bit low on the scale of compatibility but you…I thought you were like top percentile! Not to mention you practically are the fucking program. You helped design the damn jaegers!” Hermann frowned as Newton paced back and forth in front of him gesturing wildly. “Why did they cut you?”

              “Isn’t it obvious?” Hermann huffed a little as he stood there awkwardly. Tried not to draw attention to his cane while failing to do so as he shifted it nervously between his hands in front of him. Placed his weight on it to stop himself from continuing to do so.

              “No, it’s not which is why I’m asking, Hermann.” Newton stopped to give him an annoyed look and Hermann set his jaw sternly as he motioned down to his leg. Newton frowned, glanced down and gave him a confused look as if he still didn’t get it. Hermann could tell when it slid into place though; saw Newton’s eyes widen a little and his faced shifted into an ‘O’ expression before it collapsed into anger again. “Bullshit.”

              “Can’t possibly expect them to make any accommodations for someone when making large, mobile robots driven by our minds, now can we?” Hermann said a little sardonically and Newton stared at him for a moment before turning on his heel to stomp back over to the fridge.

              “Yeah, exactly, bullshit. You wanna know why they cut me? ‘Mentally Incompatible’. More like, the moment they saw the words ‘bipolar disorder’ and ‘anxiety’ on my records they had already decided they were going to get rid of me. I’m surprised they didn’t cut more before they even started the tests.” He bent down to open the fridge as he talked, pulling out a large bottle from inside that was clearly alcohol of some sort. Hermann shook his head in exasperation as Newton carried it over to the desk. 

              “You’re not going to drink in here, are you?”

              “Yeah, yeah I am. And so are you. And don’t tell me you can’t because you’re on the clock or something like that. It’s after five and technically we’re all on the clock all the time right now so we gotta choose out chances.” Newton now was clearly struggling to open the bottle and Hermann was starting to wonder how he ever managed to drink anything. “I’ve got a couple of glasses in that top drawer there, grab them for me?”

              Hermann hesitated for a moment but moved to open the desk drawer. Inside all he could find were a couple of beakers with handles on them and he shook his head.

              “There’s nothing-“

              “They’re not actual beakers; just made to look that way. Don’t worry, they’re clean.” Newton grunted the words out as he fought to open the bottle. Hermann pulled the two glasses out feeling greatly skeptical of the true cleanliness of them but set them down on the desk anyway. He watched Newton struggle with the bottle a while longer before holding his hand out towards him. “I got it.” Newton waved him away and Hermann gave a huff of frustration.

              “For god sakes, give me that.” He snatched the bottle away from him when he almost dropped it.

              “Fine, see if you can get it. The thing is practically glued-“ Hermann carefully leveraged the bottle in one hand and twisted. The lid came off on the first try and he held it out towards Newton with a smug feeling. “I loosened it.”

              “Oh, undoubtedly.” Hermann said with a roll of his eyes as he moved to pour them both a small amount.

              “I can’t believe they cut us both. You know, it’s all just a load-“

              “Of bullshit, yes, so you’ve said.” Hermann interjected as he offered Newton one of the glasses. He gave him a soft smile and Newton stared at him for a long moment over the top of his glasses which had slipped down his nose.

              Hermann noted the freckles that were peppered along his cheeks and that his green eyes had a ring of gold around his pupils. Felt another flush of heat creeping up his neck and a panic. He shook the glass in his direction; drew Newton’s attention to it and they both parted the second he took it.

              Hermann took a drink from his own glass. The rum was smooth with a bite of spice to it. He was suddenly glad for it and recognized it as the same brand Caitlin tended to keep stock. Wondered if it had been a gift from her.

              “That’s because it is. Complete bullshit. But it doesn’t matter anyway cause, really, you didn’t want to be a part of all that, did you? All that ‘yes sir’ and ‘aye-aye captain’ shit. Dealing with those knuckleheads.” Hermann set the glass aside feeling his heart heavy in his chest. He felt it try to twist into anger and pushed it down the best he could. Soothe it into that icy cold feeling that was easier to handle. Easier to swallow back down the best he could.

              “Newton, I do not expect you to understand but I rather sincerely did want to be a part of it all. I have helped create this program and now I have been deemed unworthy to be a part of it.” Hermann leaned against the desk besides Newton; stared down at his glass as some of those feelings of worthlessness, anger and hurt swirled in his gut. “I wanted to truly be doing something to help.”  

              “Well, then it’s a good thing we’re here. You and I? We’re gonna save the fucking world from right here in this lab.” Newton held his glass out towards him and Hermann sighed. He might not be able to fight but there were still ways he could help. Improve on the jaegers; further research into the breach and how to close it. Hermann lifted his glass and clinked it against the side of Newton’s.

              “Cheers to that.” 

Chapter Text

              “What on earth are you wearing?”

              Hermann frowned as he heard Caitlin’s question combined with a laugh. Looked down at himself suddenly afraid that he had somehow made some err in judgement that morning when he’d gotten dressed. Forgotten something or grabbed a shirt that wasn’t work appropriate.

              “I’m sharing the love, Katie! It’s only the second-best day of the year, after all!” Newton’s voice came from behind him and Hermann turned to look at him as he walked into their office. He stared in horror when he saw the pink and white monstrosity that was Dr. Newton Geiszler that day. His t-shirt was white with pink hearts all over it while his pants, overly tight in Hermann’s flustered opinion, were also pink. In his arms he carried a large bouquet of flowers and what looked like a spattering of gifts.

              It had been over a year of them working under the same roof and the amount of ridiculous stunts Newton had performed during that time was innumerable. Almost as frequent were times where Hermann felt himself ridiculously attracted to the man despite his better judgement. Things hadn’t changed that much since they’d been distant companions writing letters back and forth. Only now, Newton was able to badger him much more affectively.

              “Please tell me you’re joking.” Hermann met Newton’s eyes with a heavy sigh of distaste. He got a wide grin in return as the deluge of items Newton had been carried got dumped onto the end of Caitlin’s desk.

              “You know, I forgot you hated love, Hermann. Maybe I shouldn’t give you your gift then. Might offend your better senses.” Newton leaned a hip against the desk casually as he gave Hermann a disappointed look. He had bought him gifts before even while they had just been penpals but never a Valentine’s Day gift. Hermann knew he’d be remiss in not accepting it; even more so if it happened to be chocolate. Hermann narrowed his eyes to look at him suspiciously before giving them a dramatic roll.

              “Fine, whatever it is, it may as well not go to waste.” Newton’s face blossomed into one of those smug smiles that always made him look part muppet as he dug through the pile beside him. He produced a small box wrapped in red paper that had golden, mechanical hearts on it and one of those heart shaped boxes of chocolate. He set the obvious gift aside for later, his sweet tooth already longing to find the best pieces, as he carefully unwrapped the smaller box.

              “This one’s for you, Katie, and the flowers. I have seen Serg around but I got him a box of chocolate as well if you can get them to him.” Newton’s focused turned onto Caitlin as he started divvying out the remaining items to her. There were a few left that were likely for his team members, still a smaller group than it should have been, but they were recruiting new scientists every day.

              Hermann managed to get the wrapping paper off in one piece, found himself looking at it with a bit of fondness, before he opened the box. Inside, resting carefully in a small plastic bag, was a chain of some sort. Hermann pulled it out and frowned at it in confusion before digging through the crepe paper that was in the bottom to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.

              “It’s a glasses chain! You were always complaining about how you’d set your glasses down and lose track of them so I thought this would make it easier.” Newton sounded nervous as he explained the gift to him. Hermann looked up at him for a few seconds with narrowed eyes, tried to determine if this was supposed to be some sort of joke. Newton was fidgeting with a flower petal that must have fallen off of Caitlin’s bouquet and gave him an earnest smile. “I know it’s a little grandpa-core but I figured that would kind of go with your style in a sort of hipster-ish way? I can take it back if you hate it.”

              Newton offered a hand out for the small bag and Hermann instinctively pulled it close to his chest as if he’d been about to snatch it away. He didn’t quite know what he felt about his style being described as either ‘grandpa-core’ or ‘hipster’ but there seemed to have been some actual honest thought behind the gift. And, it would help to keep him from losing track of his glasses which he found himself needing to wear more and more now as work progressed.

              “No, I don’t hate it. It’s just…not a typical Valentine’s gift, is all.” Hermann turned to look for his glasses now; frowned as he couldn’t find them and gave a frustrated huff.

              “Well, you’re not a typical Valentine, are you, Hermann?” Newton tapped him on the shoulder and Hermann turned to give him an irritated look. Newton was far closer than he had been previously, was leaning in close as he reached a hand towards his face. Hermann felt his cheeks grow warm as Newton’s fingertips brushed his hair for just a breath of a second. When he pulled away, he was holding Hermann’s glasses with a grin.

              “We’ve discussed before that I find Valentine’s day to be a holiday that idealizes something that doesn’t truly exist. Not in the way they want you to believe it does.” Hermann snatched his glasses back as he used them as an excuse not to look into Newton’s bright green eyes. He carefully slid the chain out of the bag, finding the ends so he could slide them over the earpieces.

              “And, I think I told you that I was going to change your mind on that. ‘Sides, Valentines doesn’t have to be all romantic love, Hermann. It’s just as important to let your friends know you love them.” Newton gave a sweeping gesture of his hands that enveloped him in this ‘friends’ category which, for reason Hermann preferred not to dwell on, made him feel a deep disappointment.

              “Well, we love you too, Newt. Thank you for the gifts, it’s a shame you didn’t get Serg any chocolate,” Caitlin said and Hermann felt a bit ashamed he’d forgotten she was there entirely for a few moments.

              “Now, Katie, I gave you those with confidence that you’d pass them on,” Newton said with a teasingly chastising tone in his voice as his attention pulled away from Hermann. That was a bit of a relief as he carefully slid the chain over his head so that it rested gently on the back of his neck. He gave his glasses a careful pat where they rested and gave a small smile.

              “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Newt, you’ve clearly only given me chocolates for myself. If you forgot Serg, well, that’s on you.”

              “I’m texting him right now to tell him you have them,” Newton said defiantly as he pulled his phone out. Caitlin gave a laugh as he dramatically texted while stating out loud his exact words for them. “Serg, I gave your dishonest partner your Valentine’s day chocolates. Do not let her tell you I forgot to buy you anything. She is a liar and a cheat. Send.”

              “You know that just makes you seem guiltier, right?” Hermann said pointedly as he contained his mirth. Newton gave him a betrayed look as he turned in his chair to get back to work.

              “Well, I never! Dr. Gottlieb, Dr. Lightcap, good day to you both!” Newton gathered the remaining presents up as Caitlin laughed and got up to help before he managed to drop them all. Hermann turned just enough to watch them both with a small smile.

              “Before you go, I do appreciate the gift-” He spoke once Newt had everything under control.

              “I said Good Day, Sir!” Newton said dramatically though he gave Hermann a wink that brought that warmth up into his cheeks all over again. He turned to storm out of the room though he paused at the door to give them a quick smile. Hermann shook his head with a breathy laugh as he turned back towards the computer.

              “Can’t help but notice you’re the only one that seems to have gotten more than just chocolates,” Caitlin chimed in after a few moments and Hermann gave her a look over his newly leashed frames.

              “That is inherently false, you have an entire bouquet of flowers there.” Hermann tried to focus back on his work as a signal he didn’t want any undesired extrapolation of other’s actions. Caitlin just gave a soft hum that clearly stated her thoughts on that before she turned back to her own computer screen.

              Hermann felt aware of the chain resting against the back of his neck each time he slipped his glasses off for the rest of the day.

*

              It was late. Caitlin’s flowers still sat on her desk but she’d disappeared a long time ago after making him promise to not work too late into the night. They had multiple jaegers ready to launch that they needed to ensure were functioning perfectly though which meant he wanted to do one last run down of their testing protocols. The rangers had been sent out to the other shatterdomes that were established to continue their training. The rest would be following suit as the other domes were completed.

              They needed to get ahead of the kaiju before they attacked again. Needed to be ready to fight no matter where the next one managed to appear or what course it set itself on. The alert system had just gone live as well and a team brought in to start monitoring to send out alerts. A local command center was being established that would help trigger deployment when required. So much happening all at once and all of it was of immediate importance.

              The knock on the door broke Hermann’s concentration as he shifted from his seat feeling a bit dazed as if he’d been drifting off. He turned to see who it was and found Newton hovering in the doorway with a tray in his hands. Hermann glanced at the time in confusion and realized it was far later than he had realized.

              “You didn’t show up for dinner and then I hadn’t seen you make your way back to your room yet so I figured, well, where would Dr. Gottlieb be this late on Valentine’s Day of all days? It seems I guessed right.” Newton gave a soft shrug as he moved to set the tray down on the desk. There were two servings of the cafeteria lasagna, a cup of tea and slices of cake with pink and white frosting. “I thought you might be getting hungry.”

              “Have you not eaten yet?” Hermann frowned as he motioned for Newton to pull Caitlin’s chair over to sit.

              “Ha, well, I ended up working late too. I let the team go early so they could all get ready for their plans and so I stayed behind to wrap things up. We’re getting some really interesting results from our genotyping. It’s going to be great when we get fresh samples, well, not great but you know what I’m saying. We need data.” Newton talked rapidly as he maneuvered to get the extra chair pulled up and sat down next to Hermann to give him a smile.

              “Didn’t you have plan of your own? A date, surely, given your enjoyment of the holiday.”

              Newt gave a small shrug, his eyes down on the desk rather than looking at Hermann, and he got the sense that he’d perhaps stepped in it with the question. There was a little bit of sadness that lingered in the silence between them before Newton just shrugged and gave him a smile that felt entirely fake.

              “Well, there was someone I thought about asking out but I chickened out at the last minute. I don’t think he would have gone for it anyway but, you know what? Now, I’m here and I get to hang out with you for a while. Maybe see if I can make a dent in your cynicism some. Here, I think I remembered how to make it right.”

              Newton slid the tea over towards him before he shifted the other plates off the tray so it’d be easier to eat. Hermann took a sip, found it a little bitter but could tell Newton had remembered the two packs of sugar and hint of cream he preferred in his tea.

              “It’s perfect, thank you. And, whoever it was you had hoped to be out with tonight, they would have been a fool to say no if you’d decided to ask.” Hermann spoke carefully, was afraid if he didn’t meter his tone that his own feelings would be too apparent. Because, though he wouldn’t describe it as love, he was immensely fond of Newton. Perhaps a little infatuated and attracted. Whoever managed to draw Newton’s attention would be fortunate to do so.

              “Aw, thanks. See, you are just a big softie no matter what you say. But, nah, honestly this is good. I hardly feel like I get to really see you because we’re both so busy. I kind of miss us writing back and forth. It felt like we talked more back then, you know?” Newton picked up one of the forks and started in on his lasagna.

              “Yes, I have noticed that myself. It was easier to sneak some time to speak with you in our chat than it seems to be to find the time in person.” Hermann picked up his own utensils and started to eat. Realized just how hungry he was now that the smell of the food was hitting him. He’d had a small lunch earlier but it had been quick and more of a snack than anything else.

              “I mean…there’s no saying we can’t still do that. For when we’re busy and can’t manage to find the time to actually meet up. Just chat back and forth?”

              “I suppose that’s true.” Hermann nodded his head thoughtfully. It was an obvious suggestion and they had messaged each other a few times to try and coordinate times to meet for lunches or dinners together. But he’d not really thought about the fact they could still have conversations that way as well. It should have been an obvious thing.

              “Why don’t we give that a try?”

              “Yeah, like old times!”

              Newton’s enthusiasm was a bit contagious as he gave Hermann a wide smile. It seemed a little more genuine than the previous one, a little less of that sadness around the edges that made Hermann wonder if Newton had really chickened out or if he’d simply been turned down.

              “Now, about the love thing.”

              Hermann gave a groan as Newton pointed at him with a piece of lasagna stuck to his fork. It was clearly too much to ask for them to simply enjoy dinner without discussing relationships and love. Would have thought that Newton’s disappointment over his lack of a date would have been enough to sway him away from the topic.

              “Must we?”

              “We must. Or, at least, I must. So, I know you don’t believe in love and that it’s all just a fairy tale and all of that. But, I mean, you love your family, don’t you?“

              “Debatable some days,” Hermann said with a light huff. Newton gave him an exasperated look and he shook his head lightly as he realized he was going to need to play along with this if the conversation was going to be put to an end. “Yes, my siblings, I love. I would say my parents are debatable most days.” 

              “Fair enough. Your dad’s a douche. Okay, and you love your friends, right? You’re not saying you can’t platonically love someone?” Newton was leading him somewhere and Hermann gave him a suspicious look. Felt an odd panic in his chest as they circled around the subject.

              “Also, debatable some days but yes. It’s not that I don’t believe someone is capable of having feelings for a person, Dr. Geiszler. It’s the lie that you will find someone who you will feel that way about for life. The infatuation fades eventually, you argue and you grow apart. Best case you tolerate each other. Worst case you go through the mess of breaking apart and having to repair the fractured pieces that are left behind. Inevitably, however, it will fall apart.”

              Newton sat silent for a while pushing the food around his tray. Hermann felt he’d said something wrong, realized that perhaps this wasn’t what Newton needed to hear after the disappointment of his own romantic desires for the day. He reached a hand out tentatively and placed it on Newton’s wrist. Met his eyes when he looked up even as he felt that panic in his chest once more; a fluttering of his heart at the sadness in Newton’s eyes.

              “I do think you can care dearly for someone throughout life. And I do love my friends…you included, Newton.” It was meant to be a simple sentiment but it felt more like the confession of a deep dark secret. Like he was bearing something in that moment that was frightening and tender. The smile that blossomed on Newt’s face was worth it though, the soft laugh that sounded like relief.

              “See, I’m making progress already. Do you still have those chocolates? I could go for something sweet!” Newton shifted and craned his neck as if he was looking for the box. It didn’t escape Hermann’s notice that he took a quick moment to rub at his eyes, that his voice had broken slightly.

              “Those were a gift to me. You expect me to share them?” Hermann said with a haughty tone though he was already reaching to open the drawer he’d tucked the box away in early.

              “Well, you got me nothing so, yeah, I sort of expect you to share with me now. Come on.” Newton made a ‘gimme’ motion with his hands as Hermann produced the box that he’d opened earlier when he’d found himself incapable of containing his sweet tooth for long. “I’ll only take the bad ones, how about that? Like the toffee things.”

              “I beg your pardon; the toffee ones are the best. Have the coconut one instead.” Hermann knocked Newton’s hand away from the chocolate he’d been about to grab with a scoff. It earned him a wide-eyed look of offense but Newton reached once more and took the only remaining coconut-filled chocolate with obvious delight.

              “You have terrible taste if you think coconut is one of the bad ones, dude.” Newton spoke around the chocolate he popped into his mouth and Hermann gave a soft hum as he watched him out of the corner of his eyes. Hermann picked up one of the chocolate-covered toffees and took a bite despite knowing he’d regret it later when he would still be finding toffee stuck in his teeth.

              “Yes, I suppose I do.”

Chapter Text

              Hermann frowned as he approached the k-science labs. The volume of the music that typically came from the lab could be described as ‘inappropriate’ on the best days but this morning it was practically deafening. He knew something was amiss when one of the techs had come to him to ask if he’d speak with Dr. Geiszler. There hadn’t been many details included in the request aside from the insistence that it was important.

              Hermann paused just outside the door for a moment to steady himself against the volume of it; watched a different tech scurry out looking shell shocked and tired. The discordant sounds of “Love Stinks” were almost unbearable even out in the hall. He could only assume it would be near nauseating being inside the lab itself as the song played.

              He had a suspicion that he knew what this was about. Newton had gone on a date with his current partner of a few months last night. Hermann honestly detested the man, a local bartender, who he felt was only interest in Newton due to the ‘prestige’ of dating one of the head K-scientists.

              He also had shown a potentially worrisome level of interest in the kaiju themselves the last time he’d come by the lab. Newton could be described as a groupie at times with his fascination and excitement over the beasts. Samual, however, had made some rather grand comments the last time he’d come by the lab about how they could be described as gods.

              Hermann pursed his lips, hated to admit that it was a relief to think this apparent musical tantrum may have meant an end to that relationship. The sounds of J. Geiles band faded and a song that extolled that the singer ‘hated everything about you’ quickly took its place as he started into the lab. There was one poor tech still attempting to get work done while cringing in the far corner who shot him a pleading look when he entered.

              And then there was Newton, for once not singing along with the song and instead just working through it as if he didn’t even notice the earth-shattering levels of angst filling the space. Hermann stepped over towards the desk, turned the volume down a few clicks on the blue-tooth speaker it was blasting through.

              There was a relieved sigh from the far corner as the music came to a more tolerable level. Hermann gave the tech a small scowl despite his understanding. If they would have just asked Newton to turn the music down, made him consciously aware that they were bothered by the level of it, he would have likely turned it down himself in the first place.

              Newton didn’t even question who had actually lowered the volume as he turned in his chair to give Hermann a pointed look. Physically pointed at him as he opened his mouth to say something, seemed to have the rare occurrence of thinking better before he actually did, and turned right about around to his work with a shake of his head.

              Something had definitely happened last night.

              “Would you like to do go coffee, Dr. Geiszler? Or a drink?”

              Newton paused for a moment at the suggestion. Glanced at his watch for a second before giving him a quick look like he thought Hermann had gone crazy before continuing with is work.

              “A drink? At this time of day? How uncouth of you, Dr. Gottlieb. Don’t you know there’s work to be done?”

              Well, at least Newton wasn’t beyond poking a bit of fun at him though there was something in his tone of voice that made Hermann’s heart ache.

              “Yes, well, I feel as if overall productivity may be increased if you took a break. At least for a while?”

              This seemed to get through to Newton as he looked up with a frown and seemed to realize for the first time that the lab was practically empty aside from them. There was a flicker of guilt on his face before Hermann watched him shut down that outward display of honest contemplation. Newton stared down for a second at whatever piece of alien anatomy he’d been working on.

              Hermann let him have those moments to think. And to rein in his emotions.

              “Nami, I’ll be back later to clean up so don’t worry about my area. Tell the others too, yeah?”

              Newton gave a short nod as he stood, lifted the specimen up to return it to its jar full of preservative. The tech who had stuck it out the longest gave a small confirmation as Newt stripped off his gloves and apron before starting towards the door at a determined pace.              

              “Come on, Hermann, you owe me a drink.”

*

              “I mean, last week we’re going out and having fun and then this week he’s telling me I’m ‘too demanding’ while also saying I’m not truly devoted? Like, he used those specific words. I demanded too much of his attention but I wasn’t devoted to him solely? Like, dude, that’s not how this whole relationship thing is supposed to work but he didn’t want to hear that. I ended up leaving cause we were both just…super pissed.”

              Hermann was angry. His jaw ached with it and he was gripping his glass a bit too tightly as Newton ranted over the ‘blossomed fried onion’ that was sitting between them. It had taken a bit of prying to get him to talk, another unusual thing for Newton, but now the details were pouring out in a concerning deluge.

              “Newton, you don’t have any intentions of seeing him again, do you?”

              Hermann saw the indecision in Newton’s face as he seemed to take a few moments to think on it. He picked a few bits of fried vegetable free and dipped them into the sauce. Newton’s anger seemed to burn off into sadness again in those few seconds as he seemed to be considering it and that only fueled Hermann’s protective rage.

              “I don’t know. No, I mean, I guess he didn’t technically break up with me. I sort of maybe broke up with him. He was in to it though, you know, was one of the few people I felt like I could talk to about all this shit and have him get it rather than act like I was an ass for having any scientific interest. And, okay, maybe he didn’t always fully get the science of it but he was eager to listen. And, yeah, he had some weird philosophies on why the kaiju were here but…I don’t know. He liked me; you know. Or, I thought he liked me. Maybe I am too much.”

              “Absolutely not.” Hermann spoke before he even really thought of it. Even if he’d taken his time to think about how to respond to the ridiculous notion that Newton was ‘too much’, the response would have honestly been the same.

              Newton gave a breathy laugh as he slid his glasses off for a second to clean them on his shirt. Herman could see the tears in his eyes and felt that stabbing ache in his chest once more. The anger and sadness at seeing him upset like this.

              “I’m pretty sure you’ve said it yourself that I’m too much before, Hermms. But thanks.”   

              Hermann cringed a bit at this. He had likely said something along those lines before but he had never intended it to be any indication that he wished Newton would tone himself down. Wouldn’t have been able to shake the guilt of it if he’d ever done so for his sake.

              Hermann reached impulsively to take Newton’s hand, thought better of it as he diverted to grabbing some of the fried food instead. Newton put his glasses back on with a rather heavy sigh. Seemed to have fortunately missed Hermann’s deflected action in those moments he’d not been able to see well.

              “I hope you know that I would never intend for you to lessen yourself around me. I admire the fact that you know who you are and it would trouble me to know you ever reduced that for someone else. The right person will be someone who appreciates you at your full volume.”

              “That sounded damn close to being romantic, Hermann.” Newton laughed despite the fact that tears were still clinging to his lashes. Hermann rather wished he could brush them away; get rid of that lingering sadness that he was familiar with himself.

              “I simply meant that you shouldn’t allow someone’s flirtations make you feel as if you have to alter who you are.”

              Hermann hoped they wouldn’t stray down that path of discussion even as he marveled at the fact Newt appeared more than ready to bring up the topic of love again. He hadn’t really intended to stray into some romantic flight of fancy; had just wanted to give Newton some sense of comfort and reassurance of his self-worth.

              “Yeah, yeah…I know. Just gotta find the person who’s willing to take me.” Newton gave another soft chuckle that melted into a sigh. Hermann frowned, regretted that he had immediately resorted to being defensive as he lifted his glass to take a drink.

              They sat for a few moments in the relative silence of the bar. Hermann was biting his own tongue to keep himself from chastising Newt for the indication that he had needed someone to ‘take him’.  Like he was some adoptable pet that needed someone to see the charm in him and take him home. Anyone would be more than fortunate enough to win Newton’s affections even for a brief period of time. In Hermann’s mind, Newton need to find those who were able to prove themselves worth of him, not the other way around.

              “Thanks for getting me out for a bit.”

              Hermann blinked as he felt a soft touch on his wrist; glanced down to find Newton’s fingers idly tracing along the cuff of his sleeve. He looked up and met his eyes, felt a warmth pool low in his stomach at the smile Newt gave him as he seemed to look Hermann over from over the frames of his glasses.

              “Think we should get back? Maybe you can come hang out at my bunk for a bit?”

              There was little mistaking what Newton was suggesting. Hermann found it alluring on a visceral level and he had to swallowed past the impulsive yes that had tried to climb up out of his throat. He shook his head softly; died at the sight of the disappointment that crossed Newton’s face.

              “The…offer is generous, Newton, but I don’t require some show of appreciation. I would hate to damage our friendship by muddying the waters.”

              Newton’s hand pulled away and Hermann curled his into a fist to keep himself from reach out towards him. To stop himself from reaching out and pulling him back; pulling him closer. Felt relieved and disappointed and a bit like he could be sick from the lonely ache in his heart alone.

              “Yeah, no, sorry. The drinks talking. We probably should wall it. I’ll get the bill.” Newton stammered as he shifted off his chair and Hermann could only nod as he was left alone at the table while Newton tracked down their waiter.

              He stared down at his wrist where he could still feel the ghost of Newton’s touch and felt a wave of panic as he tried to shift through what had happened. What his own thoughts had been in those seconds.

              Hermann may have gone back with him. May have helped comfort a friend by being close and present and a distraction for them both. Could have and would have if it hadn’t been for one thing. One thought that had cut through everything else, even his lust for Newton that still pooled in the pit of his stomach.

              For a single moment, all Hermann could think was I love him.

*

              “And this is a bad thing, why?”

              Karla’s voice came over the phone a bit tinny and distant. The shatterdome had that effect on cellular calls. Hermann was sitting and braving the cold for the sake of having a cigarette and some privacy.

              He hadn’t trusted that he wouldn’t talk himself into going and knocking on Newton’s door. Telling him he had rethought the previous offer.

              “It is a bad thing because we are colleagues. Because we are friends and I do not want to risk ruining that for a fling.”

              Hermann sighed as he took a long drag off the cigarette and pulled his jacket closer around him. The sun was setting and with it would come the cool air made all the more bitter by the humidity. They would have snow soon, there was little doubt. The days had already been growing shorter.         

              “But it doesn’t have to be a fling, Hermann. You love him, tell him that. Honestly, you two have been making metaphorical heart eyes at each other since those first letters. I knew this was going to happen.”

              He could hear the excitement in Karla’s voice. It was excitement for him but Hermann could hardly share in the sentiment. He felt more like someone had died and that someone was his rational self.

              Of course, he’d been aware of his own feelings during the years they’d spend writing to each other. The intellectual crush, his own attraction towards Newton. Hermann had thought he’d managed to separate that all out since then; to recognize that he’d rather have Newton as a friend and that there was no desire to ruin it all with the complications a brief but no doubt enjoyable romantic entanglement would cause.

              “If I tell him that nonsense he will do as all the others have. We will have fun for a while but when it falls apart, I will have lost not just a romantic tryst but a friend I am extremely fond of.”

              “A friend you’re in love with.” Hermann gave a sigh as Karla corrected him. “It might not fall apart, Hermann. Not everything does.”

              “That is a falsity. The universe prefers chaos.”

              “Then you two together are a perfect fit. The combination of you and Newton is the epitome of chaos, Hermann. Why wouldn’t it work out? Why couldn’t it be a good thing?”

              Hermann gave a soft huff of laughter as he tilted his head back to look up at the first hint of stars between the clouds that moved quickly across the darkening sky. It was a nice daydream, to think that his relationship with Newton could stray into more serious territory. That it could be a natural shift from their friendship and working relationship into a romance.

              It wouldn’t though. And rather than good natured debate and bickering over their theories and work it would transform into honest arguments about petty things. Newton would grow tired of him at some point. Hermann would pull back or his own interest would wane. Honestly, Hermann was already terrified that same thing might happen even in their friendship.

              That they’d just drift apart.

              “What are you thinking?” Karla’s voice prompted him out of his own thoughts and Hermann brought his gaze back down to earth; looked out at the horizon where the sun was disappearing over the pacific.

              “That you somehow got all the optimism in our family.”

              Karla sighed, the sound carrying over the phone with sudden and startling clarity. It carried the sound of the metro she was likely riding home from her late shift at the bar. Half a world away and picking up extra work to make ends meet since she’d declined to stay under their father’s thumb. The strongest of them all for doing so.

              “That I could be as fearless as you.” Hermann breathed the words out on a sigh. Felt disappointed in himself. Too afraid to lose this time to even give it a try. He’d been burned too many times before.

              “Hermann, you are just as fearless as I am. You just have a harder time seeing it.”

Chapter Text

              Now that he was aware of his feelings, Hermann was finding it difficult to ignore it. That following morning Newton had approached him to apologize for the day before. To explain that it had been the emotions and the drinks talking and that he hoped he hadn’t managed to upset Hermann with the unexpected propositions.

              Hermann assured him that it was just fine as he felt like dying on the inside. It hurt despite the fact that he knew everything that Newton was saying already. There hadn’t been any indication that it was more than Newton looking for comfort after a rough break up. That part of him that knew of his…infatuation had a hard time hearing that with no room for uncertainty.

              Even now, several weeks later and Newton back to acting more like himself, Hermann felt his heart stop for a second each time he saw him. It was like a mild shock, a sudden nudge by his own being that those feelings were there.

              He rested easy in the knowledge that they would fade with time. They always had before and now would be no different.

              Newton, for his part, hadn’t seemed to have noticed any change in Hermann’s behavior at least. Granted, Hermann knew he had other things on his mind. There had been an official break up with Samual followed by a short bought of the man calling to try and convince Newton to reconsider. Hermann had been worried he’d actually give it some thought; had hovered nearby more than once through a tense phone call where he feared Newton’s resolve would fade. 

              It hadn’t, however, and after a bit more time even that had been resolved. Granted, there was a chance that it had been resolved in part by Hermann answering one of these calls when Newton had left his phone behind in the physics department. Perhaps it had been put to an end when he’d made it clear what the repercussions might be if one continued to harass one of the lead scientists of the PPDC. He felt some guilt at having done so but it seemed to be a relief to Newton that the phone calls had ended.

              With everything seemingly settling back into the regular routine, Hermann was sitting at his desk looking over the first batch of information that had come in from the new sensors around the breach. He’d been there for several hours now as he tried to pour through it all. It would fall under his umbrella to start using the data to try and map out the breach itself in hopes of finding a weakness.

              “How do you not have worse eyesight staring at this shit all day?”

              Hermann felt a small twist of nerves in the pit of his stomach as Newton’s voice came from close behind him. He felt his arms drape over his shoulder and Newton’s chin rested on the top of his head.

              “Is this still just the raw data?” Newton stayed perched behind him, the vibration of his voice against Hermann’s scalp as he felt that familiar flutter of nerves. He tried to resist the instinct to lean back into his hold like a flower seeking out the sun.

              “Yes, it’s been coming in batches. I’m going to have to compile it and get it formatted so that it makes some sort of sense. For now, I’m just trying to get a feel for whether the reading appear to be staying stable over time or if there’s some sort of constant shift.”

              Newton made a quiet noise of understanding as silence fell between them only punctuated by Hermann tapping a few of the keys to scroll through the information.

              It was true that there had been a consistent sense of familiarity between them since their first meeting. It wasn’t exactly unusual for Newton to lean against him or grab his arm for attention. This new lever of contact seemed different, however, and Hermann wasn’t entire certain if that was due to his own feelings coloring the interactions or not.

              “Well, I’d hate to ruin how much fun that seems to be but…Katie and Serg were thinking of going out for food. I’m going with and since eating is one of the only small treats left to us in these bleak times, I thought you might want to come too? Save me from being the third wheel by making it a double date instead?”

              Newton finally pulled away and Hermann found himself missing immediately missing that closeness; felt the cold across his shoulders now that the warmth had retreated. Hermann cursed himself for the thoughts of suggesting this could truly be a double date with all that it would entail. He slipped his reading glasses off so he could pretend to clean them for a moment before letting them hang from their chain.

              “Of course. Some food would likely do me good and I won’t really be able to defer much until I get further data sets in. Just give me a few moments to close up.”

              Newton gave him a brilliant, bright smile at his agreement as he leaned back against Caitlin’s desk. Hermann cleared his throat as he dropped his eyes and shifted to make certain the data was backed up before powering down his station.

              He needed to work through this; get past this stage where the new burst of emotions would linger beneath the surface simply to rise time and again. He took his time to close up to help ensure that he could look at Newt without that traitorous thrill shooting through him. The entire point of denying himself the chance to indulge in the temporary pleasure of Newton’s company was to avoid ruining one of the few solid friendships he’d managed to build. If he ended up damaging that by pulling away it would defeat the entire purpose.

              “So, hey, I’ve meaning to say thank you for a while now, you know.” Newton sounded a little nervous as he spoke and Hermann glanced up at him for a second before refocusing on the screen of his computer.

              “Whatever for?” The lights on the front of his computer went dark as he took a breath before finally standing. He moved to grab his coat and cane as he waited for Newton’s response, glanced towards him when the silence continued for a few moments. Newt had a hip leaning against the side of Caitlin’s desk with an embarrassed flush in his cheeks as he fiddled with a pen.

              “For being there. For not thinking I’m something to just be tolerated.”

              “I…” Hermann had to pause for a moment as he gave Newton a scrutinizing look. He wasn’t entirely certain what had prompted the sudden return to what had happened weeks ago now. Newton wouldn’t meet his eyes though and instead continued to stare down at the pen as if it was some fascinating new thing. “You do not need to thank me for that, Newton. It is simply the truth and I do hope you realize that.”

              “I mean, I do…most of the time but, like, it’s nice to hear someone say it and actually mean it. Someone who isn’t my dad or uncle Ilia, at least.” Newt gave a soft laugh that did little to disguise the fact that his voice was a bit shaky. Hermann felt a stab of concern as he stepped a little closer to Newton in an attempt to catch his eye. He was worried something else had happened since then with how close to the surface that hurt was in Newt’s voice.

              Newton stilled for a second as he appeared to notice that Hermann had stepped closer and then laughed again, the sound of it filled with nerves as he set the pen down a little too quickly.

              “Anyway, thank you. We probably should get going so Katie and Serg don’t leave without us.”

              Newton turned into a flurry of movement all of a sudden as he pushed away from the desk. Hermann thought he had lost his balance at first and reached to try and steady him only for Newt to plant a quick kiss on his cheek before immediately shifting away.

              Hermann was positive that the floor was going to drop out from beneath him. He gripped his cane a bit tighter as he fought to steady himself and stared after Newton with shock as he made his way towards the door at a speed that suggested he’d just set the timer on an explosive.

              “You coming?”

              “Yes…yes, of course. Right behind you.”

              Hermann managed to snap out of his daze as Newton paused at the door to look back at him expectantly. He dropped his eyes to the floor in hopes that it wouldn’t be obvious that he’d been staring after him like a love sick fool as he moved to turn off the lights. Newton waited for him but neither of them seemed willing to meet the other’s eyes as they finally started down the hall to get their dinner.

*

              It had been far from the last time where Hermann ended up feeling confused and conflicted by Newton’s small shows of affection though it was the only time, he appeared to have garnered himself a kiss, no matter how chaste and quick it had been.

              Over the last six months it had become routine for Newton to be within his personal space, however, with soft casual touches or leaning in against him. It was making it more and more difficult for Hermann to chase those feelings away but he was like an addict. He couldn’t even dream of asking Newton to limit his physical presence after that more tactile level of friendship had been initiated. The fact that it never seemed to be with done with a suggestive intention was both a relief and disappointment for Hermann.

              Feelings of affection aside, Hermann found the small bit of contact comforting as things seemed to be growing more and more bleak. Small bits of contact with another human being despite the long days he spent locked away reviewing, compiling and analyzing the data that continued to pour in from the breach. He needed more of that data to really be able to form a clearer picture; another opening of the breach despite how little he desired such an occurrence.

              Hermann knew that the information gained from how the breach dilation affected the local surroundings would be key.

              He sighed as he leaned back in his chair after starting the process of transferring the most recent data point from the night before. Hermann glanced at the time as he tried his best to stifle a yawn. He wasn’t really interested in food but some coffee to help carry him over would be welcomed. The cafeteria wasn’t open yet, however, and the coffee pot had managed to end up broken last week after an unfortunate issue relating to a clumsy biologist.

              He knew that sleeping would be the best choice but he’d tried that earlier. He’d laid down for a couple of hours and despite his fatigue he’d laid in his bunk staring up at the ceiling, unable to call sleep to him. He’d given up and come back down here to work and though his hidden drawer of baby carrots and jolly ranchers had helped, he’d need some coffee if he was to make it through the day with such little rest.

              The power flickered and Hermann gave a frustrated sigh as he eyed his computer screen. They’d been dealing with issues with the electricity during the past month with the incoming winter which was proving to be even worse than previous years. They had a back up supply but even it had struggled to make things work.

              Hermann dragged himself up out of his chair, determined to go get some coffee even if he had to wander clear up to LOCCENT to get it. He could use to be on his feet for a bit and it would help stir him awake and get the blood circulating again. The cold seeped into him too easily here.

              He took one more look at his computer with pursed lips feeling concerned. If the power was going to disrupt the transfer, however, there was little he could technically do for it. He knew he was slipping into what his father used to call his “great moments of focus” where little else matter but the work. When he was younger, he’d lock himself in his room to focus on whatever task had caught his attention. Now, it was the office though he longed for something more tangible to do his work on than the computer keyboard.

              The clack of the keys was appealing but hardly as satisfying as the old scrape of chalk he’d used during his graduate days.

              Another yawn attempted to pull itself out of him as his nostalgic thoughts were derailed by the reminder that he wouldn’t be getting much of anything done if he didn’t get a stimulant in his system. Hermann pulled himself up from his chair and tried to stretch to get the kinks out of his back. He wasn’t keeping up on his exercises as well as he should have been; another thing he was allowing to slip in the name of work and discovery. It was hard to find an appropriate time for such things with everything that was going on.

              He leaned down to check on the progress bar for the transfer, noted that he’d have about twenty minutes before it completed, which would be enough time to run upstairs, get coffee and check in with LOCCENT on the recent updated to the jaegers.

              He locked the office behind him as the lights flickered once more and he made his way to the elevator. This would be good as well in the fact that when Caitlin asked if he’d been down there all night, Hermann would be able to say no with honesty. It was getting easier to fudge the truth and forgo the essentials. Would be easier still in a few weeks now that Caitlin and Sergio were being uprooted to move down to the dome in Lima. He’d have the office to himself and Hermann idly wondered if they’d be able to find some chalkboards for him to work on as he stepped into the elevator.

              The elevator doors closed and started on its way up as Hermann let himself slump against the back of it. He knew it wasn’t best to skip out on things but when he got wrapped up in his work it seemed more hassle to stop and then try to find his stream of thought once more.

              There was a jolt and a flicker of lights once more. He was plunged into darkness for longer than the previous two times and Hermann held his breath for a moment until the lights came back on. They were dimmer than before and he realized it was only the emergency lights that had come on. The elevator continued to sit idle and he reached forward to push the button for his floor in an attempt to get it moving once more.

              There was a small shudder and he felt the elevator start to move only for another flicker of lights and a sudden halt. He felt a moment of panic, the irrational fear that the elevator was about to plunge but it seemed things had settled at last. It mixed with the worry about his computer downstairs, that the transfer really had been interrupted despite it being connected to an uninterrupted power source in the case of this very event. Even that wasn’t foolproof though.

              He took a few deep breaths before he pushed the emergency button in the elevator to call and let the technicians know he was stuck.

              “Hello? Is everything alright?” The voice crackled over the speaker of the elevator and Hermann gave a sigh of relief despite the jittery nerves beneath the surface.

              “Yes, however, the elevator appears to be stuck. I don’t know for certain if I am between floors or not but the doors are not opening and it doesn’t appear to be moving.” There was a moment of silence that followed and Hermann wondered if they had heard him or not. Feared that the speaker wasn’t allowing the information through though they’d know he was there either way.

              “We’ve pulled up the system and it looks like you are between levels. We’re getting alerts from all around the dome right now from the power surge. It might be a little bit but we’ll get working on trying to get you out of there if you can hold tight for a short while as long as there’s no medical concerns?”

              “No, no medical concerns.” Hermann felt a sinking sense as he felt rather closed in. He was fine with confined spaces but he wasn’t a fan of feeling trapped with no sense of when he’d be freed. Still, he certain he could manage…as long as it wasn’t for too long that he was stuck inside.

              “Alright, press the button if something comes up. It might be a while but we’ll get you out of there as soon as possible.”             

              “Yes, thank you…”

*

              A while had turned into a couple of hours despite the lights flickering and power back on part way through that time. Hermann had eventually sat as his leg ached and felt more and more fidgety in the closed off space with nothing to so much as jot his thoughts down on. He should have had paper and a pen on him, should have had something where he could have brought his thoughts down into the focus of the physical form.              

              He had resorted to pulling his cell phone out but even it failed him as he found he had no connection within the elevator, notorious dead spots for signal within the dome. Eventually, the elevator shifted, rose up a few feet and the doors popped open to a small group of technicians who looked equally tired but relieved to find him waiting for them. 

              Without even his typical snacks, Hermann felt famished by the time he was able to step out onto the top floor where LOCCENT was located but he stayed on course. He wanted any details on what had occurred during the power surge and if any of their systems had been damaged. And then he would be taking his coffee he’d originally set out for and head down to check on his computer and if the transfer had been interrupted or not.

              As he made his way down the hall, Hermann’s phone started dinging multiple times showing messages missed as service rolled back in. He seemed to have missed a rather large amount during the course of his confinement.

 

Newton

Hey you in your office

This storm sounds crazy. We’re on backup

You’re not in your bunk either

You’re not out in the storm are you?

Ha, someone’s stuck in the elevator. Sucker

Dude, I think you’re data might have gotten fucked up. Katie’s getting the system reset but it had errored and blue screens

Katie thinks you’re the one stuck in the elevator

Dude, you are aren’t you

 

Caitlin

Hey, I’m already down checking on the equipment. Your system failed. Gonna try and get everything reset and powered back on.

It looked like you had been running something?

Newt’s looking for you.

Hello?

You’re the one stuck in the elevator, aren’t you?

We’re going to take Newt across the street to the diner to pick up some bfast. He’s pretty agitated. Hope you get out of the elevator soon.

We’ll bring you something.

 

              Hermann gave a soft sigh as he approached the LOCCENT offices where he could hear the sound of general chaos. If his system had crashed downstairs it meant there had been a disruption to their backup system. Likely, the LOCCENT techs were scrambling to get their systems back to function fully as well. He could only hope that there wasn’t any corruption of his data from the sudden interruption.

              He also hoped that Caitlin and them would be careful wandering out into the storm. The diner was close but across the street didn’t exactly give an accurate description. They would still be braving the cold to make the trip over whether on foot or by car. He wished he knew what time they’d gone given the texts hadn’t reached him in real time. He assumed they weren’t back yet since neither of them had indicated they were.

              It was Hermann’s turn to feel a bit concerned for his friends as he waited for them to come back. He took a few seconds to type out a response to Caitlin and Newton both so that they knew he was fine and freed from the elevator with the hope it would prompt some response. Once he’d hit send, he stepped into LOCCENT which looked far more controlled than it had sounded from the hallway.

              “I see they got you free at last, Dr. Gottlieb!” The head LOCCENT technician welcomed him as he came into the small command center. Hermann had interacted quite a bit with Tendo Choi over the last several months in tandem with getting the sensors around the breach up and running. He’d been placed into a leadership role recently and appeared to be proving himself extremely well. He was personable and welcoming to just about anyone and also had earned himself the reputation of being a notorious flirt.

              “Yes, they did. I was hoping you’d be able to provide me a few details on what systems were affected by the surge, Officer Choi.”

              “Well, how could I say no to those cheekbones. Pull up a seat, my man.” Hermann felt a bit of heat rise to his face as Tendo gave him a teasing look while pulling out a chair for him. “We’ve been in contact with the local electric company. The storm has taken down a lot of power in the area and they’re working on trying to get it all up and running. We’re back up on main power but that was the original root of the problem. The real issue though came when our backup power overloaded when the initial switch over occurred.”

              “We’ll have to have the crews determine what cause that. We can’t find ourselves without power if an attack was to occur. Did it affect any of the external monitors?”

              “Nope, it didn’t. They kept recording so you can rest easy in knowing your data should be safe. That was one of the first things I checked. There may have been an interruption in any relay between the monitors and our systems but the internal records all continued functioning appropriately and should have kept the information stored.”

              Hermann gave a soft hum of relief as he felt his phone buzz in his pocket once more. No doubt it was either Caitlin or Newton responding about his rescue from the elevator and he shifted to pull his phone from his pocket to check.

 

Newton

We’ll be back with food shortly. The diner has power back up but things are taking a bit still. It’s really blowing around out here.

I’m glad you’ve escaped your elevator prison.

 

              “Is that Katie and your boyfriend? I asked them to bring me back some stroganoff since they were going to be braving the cold and I’m not likely to be getting away from here anytime soon.”

              “Hmm? Yes, they should be back in a short while.”

              Hermann was only paying half attention to what Tendo was saying as he typed a quick response not to hurry. There was no reason for them to rush with the storm still going strong.

              “Wait…boyfriend?” Hermann finally processed what exactly Tendo had said and looked up at him with a light frown.

              “Yeah, Dr. Geiszler. You two are fairly obvious if you’re trying to keep it quiet.” Tendo gave him a bemused look as he leaned back in his chair. He seemed to have the sense to drop his voice a bit as if he was trying to help keep Hermann’s ‘secret’.

              “Dr. Geiszler and I are simply friends and colleagues. We are not dating.” Hermann gave a shake of his head and felt a sense of panic rise in his chest. He didn’t want Newton thinking he was spreading such false rumors about them. Tendo was giving him a skeptical look now as if he didn’t quite believe Hermann and he gave him an indignant look in return. He had thought he’d at least been managing to keep his feelings under wraps even if he hadn’t been able to eradicate them.

              “Sorry, my man, I had assumed based on how you two are usually together. That’s good to know though because now I’ll know I can ask you on a date sometime.”

              “I bed your pardon? You want to ask me on a date?” Hermann spluttered a little as Tendo gave a soft shrug and seemed for a moment to be a little abashed at his reaction.

              “Like I said, how could I say no to those cheekbones. Doesn’t have to be anything serious.”

              Hermann pursed his lips as he contemplated the suggestion. Time had done little to ease his feelings for Newton but perhaps some company would help him move past it. Tendo was attractive, if not perhaps his usual tastes, and had proved so far to be an amiable and intelligent person to be around. He didn’t necessarily find himself opposed to the idea and it didn’t need to be anything more than a single date.

              “I think I would like that, a date. Perhaps we could do dinner this next Saturday?” There was an unfounded stab of guilt as he said it. It felt a bit like he was betraying Newton’s trust despite the fact that there was nothing to betray in this sense.

              “I’ll mark it down in my calendar.” Tendo gave him a smile and a quick wink that stirred a nervous flutter in his gut. He hadn’t actually dated since the war had started. Hadn’t made a connection with someone that had seemed worth the distraction. Well, that wasn’t entirely true but the one person he’d found was the same one he was actively trying to tamper his feelings for.

              His phone gave another buzz that made him startle and fumble as he reached for it. He caught the flicker of a grin on Tendo’s face as he turned his attention back to the computer to let him read the messages in private.

 

Newton

Hey! We’re back and got the food!

Where are you?

 

Caitlin

Hey, come down to the office, I’ve got your food here. I sent Newt and Serg up to LOCCENT to drop off the food we picked up for a few of the techs there but they should be back down shortly.

 

              Hermann felt another soft stab of guilt and did his best to push it down deep as he replied to them both that he’d head down shortly.

              “If you’ll excuse me, I’m needed downstairs though it sounds like your food will be delivered soon. Thank you for your time and if the cause of the overload is found, please let me know.”

              “Of course. I’ll give you a heads up if I hear anything. I’ll see you Saturday, Dr. Gottlieb.”

              “What’s Saturday?” Newton’s voice came from behind him as Hermann stood and he had to do his best to keep his expression neutral. He had been hoping to head down before they’d arrived but he hadn’t gotten the messages soon enough to avoid it, it seemed. There should be no reason for him to feel bad about being found in LOCCENT but it felt wrong.

              “Dr. Gottlieb and I just made plans, is all.” Tendo said with a glance between the two of them. It felt like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t have done. It wasn’t rational but that sense was hard to shake especially with the confused look on Newton’s face.

              “Oh…that’s cool…” Newton handed Tendo one of the To-Go boxes he was carrying with a tight smile before turning to hand another of the boxes to another tech. “So…like…a date?”

              “Yes, though I’d rather not discuss private affairs while at work.” It was in part the truth but he also hoped that they could move past the current topic of discussion.

              “You must have discussed it at work to have set up the date…” Newton handed his last box to another tech before setting his hands on his hips as he looked at him expectantly. It was a stance typically saved for direct confrontation of theories and not their personal lives. “I mean…we’re pretty much always at work, Hermann.”

              “He’s got a point,” Tendo said with a small amused smile and Hermann rolled his eyes. Just what he needed, the two of them teaming up on him.

              “Pretty sure you’ve been discussing personal things at work for the last several years, Hermann,” Sergio chimed in and Hermann gave a huff of frustration as he heard Newton snicker.

              “I do believe our food is getting cold so, you three are welcome to stay here and continue this conversation, but I’m heading downstairs to the lab to get eat and get back to work.”

*

              “A real-life date then?” Caitlin gave a soft whistle as she looked at him over the desk. Newton and Sergio had followed him down once he’d made it clear he was truly leaving LOCCENT and the conversation had come along with them despite Hermann’s best efforts.

              “I didn’t realize that a simple dinner would be such a point of fascination for you all,” Hermann said with a sigh as he picked at the steamed broccoli in his to-go box. The interest in his date with Tendo was almost driving him to the point of desiring to cancel it rather than to go through with it. There seemed far more hanging on it than a single date that would hopefully allow him to rectify some of his ill-placed affections.

              “That will be good. Tendo’s a nice gut and I have to say; I think this is the first time you’ve actually given someone the time of day.” Sergio filled in the silence as he pointed at Hermann with his plastic fork before eating the fried potato off the end of it.

              “Yeah, who knows? Maybe Tendo will be the one that finally breaks you of your cynical streak. He’ll help me convince you that love…lifts us up where we belong.” There was a quiet edge to Newton’s voice despite the joke. Hermann wasn’t certain where it would stem from but he’d known Newton long enough to pick up on it.

              “All you need is love, Hermann.” Caitlin chimed in on his heels with a mischievous look as Hermann rolled his eyes. He should have known that this would be the eventual culmination of this sort of conversation. He examined Newt for a moment who had given a laugh but there was still that hint of bitterness buried in the sound that Hermann didn’t understand.

              “You two could be heroes even if it’s just for one day.” Sergio got a smack of approval to his arm by Caitlin for picking up their reference and Hermann feared that they would actually start singing. Luckily, his life was not a ridiculous musical though Newton looked like he was debating on making it one as he took a bite of a French fry.

              “Really though…I’m glad you’re going to get out with someone. It’s not good to just be on your own all the time.” Newton’s tone seemed to soften a little as he gave Hermann an encouraging smile that caused a small rise of heat up the back of his neck. He chided himself in the back of his mind for reading too much in Newton’s teasing.

              “I’m hardly ‘on my own’ given I’ve the three of you always hovering about. The elevator was the longest moment of peace I’ve had in years now.”

              “Well, you’re going to be happy then once Serg and I get moved down to Lima. You’ll have some blessed peace at last,” Caitlin said with a light roll of her eyes and an offended scoff. There was a sad sort of smile on her face and they collectively had a few moments of silence pass between them.

              “I will miss you both dearly. It won’t be the same.”

              “Yeah.” Newton sighed as he echoed the sentiment. There was a hint of that edge once more and Hermann realized that he was likely dreading having Sergio and Caitlin leave. Despite how boisterous and outgoing Newton was, Hermann had noticed he rarely branched out from the three of them much as far as friends went.

              “Hey now. We’ll be keeping in contact a lot. And, more than likely, we’ll be visiting from time to time for project collaborations.” Caitlin chided them both gently and stretched a leg out to nudge Newton’s knee with her foot.

              “I know, just won’t be the same. And since Hermann’s gonna be spending all his time making out with Elvis’ reincarnation it’s going to get kind of boring without you both.”

              Caitlin gave a snort of amusement at the comment as Sergio lost himself in laughter. Hermann gave a shake of his head as he turned his chair to face his computer more to hide the conflict of emotions on his face rather than the dark blush he knew had taken hold.

*

              Tendo had taken him to a sushi place not too far from the dome for their date. They never could stray too far given the potential that an attack may happen. It was a reminder of yet another task Hermann hoped to approach in the future; working out if there was a pattern to the frequency the kaiju were appearing. He was certain there was one but they’d been so spread out in the beginning and had seemed erratic.

              They were heading back now with the light buzz of alcohol in their systems and leaning close together in the back of the cab. It had been a lovely evening so far and a welcome break but Hermann still found it hard to keep his mind from wandering back to his work.

              “Penny for your thoughts?”

              Hermann blinked, pulling his gaze from the window where the lights of the city streets passed them by coated in frost and snow. Tendo nudged his knee with his own as he broke the amiable silence between them and Hermann gave him a soft smile.

              “Work, mostly. I have a difficult time managing to turn it off sometimes given the sense of urgency behind it.” Hermann gave a light shrug as he patted his hand gently. It was only half true given he’d frequently gotten just as wrapped up in his work even before the war to where he’d have a hard time disconnecting from it for any length of time.

              “I can understand that though it’s good to take some time away from it. Maybe when we get back I can help distract you for a little while?” Tendo gave him a smile and Hermann felt that press of his knee once more. He glanced towards the cab driver who fortunately seemed to not be paying them any mind as they neared the dome.

              “A bit of a distraction would be welcomed. Perhaps a nightcap in my bunk?”

              “Sounds lovely.”

*

              They had stumbled their way down towards his bunk after paying for the cab. It was late and the hallways were mercifully empty; Hermann struggled a little to get his door unlocked with the distraction of Tendo peppering kisses along his neck. He was leaning against the door as Hermann finally managed to get his key in place with a small feeling of triumph.

              “Hey! Hermann, how’s the date go-oh…”

              That sense of triumph sunk into the pit of his stomach at the sound of Newton’s voice down the hall. Tendo pulled away some, seemed to sense the sudden tension as that stir of guilt resurfaced.

              “Hey Newt.” Tendo leaned around Hermann after a moment to say something to break the silence between them. He tried to shake off that lingering dread as he turned to look at Newton as well who stood uncomfortably down the hall near his own bunk.

              “Hey, sorry, didn’t realize…well, it looks like the date’s going well then. I won’t keep you two! Have fun! I’ll, uh, see you tomorrow.” Newton took a few steps back despite the fact it took him further away from his room. Hermann watched as he turned on his heel and started back down the hall in the opposite direction as they both gave confused frowns after him.

              There was a long moment as they stood there and Hermann tried to collect his feelings. He felt a bit more sober; was trying to remind himself that there was nothing between him and Newton aside from his own affections. That he was allowed to be keeping company with someone.

              “I can go if you’d rather?” Tendo spoke quietly though he still lingered close by. Hermann cleared his throat as he looked at him and gave a shake of his head. Complicated emotions aside, he didn’t want Tendo to leave.

              “No, you are very much welcome to stay if you’d like.” Tendo seemed to give him a scrutinizing look but nodded his head after a few seconds. Reached to turn Hermann’s key in the lock so that the door to his bunk opened and they could slip inside.

*

              “Can I ask what the deal is between you and Dr. Geiszler?” Hermann gave a sigh as he stared up at the ceiling. Tendo’s head was resting on his shoulder as they lay in the dark with only the quiet hum of the shatterdome’s heating system as it clunked to life. They’d been lying in that tired blissed-out, half asleep state before Tendo spoke up bringing up the one subject Hermann wished not to dwell on just then.

              “We are simply friends.” Hermann hoped he could side step around this conversation and the confusion and turmoil it would stir up inside him. He felt Tendo shift and knew this wasn’t going to be the end of the discussion.

              “You always look guilty when your friends find you going into your room with someone after a date?” Hermann turned his head to look over at Tendo who prompted his chin up on his hand so they could meet each other’s eyes. “I just want to know if I’m stepping in the middle of something?”

              “No…no you’re not. Newton is a friend and nothing more but…”

              “But?” Tendo gave him an expectant look and Hermann felt a small swell of desire to simply tell him. The only person he’d discussed any of his feeling for Newton with had been Karla and there was a part of him that wanted to confess it here in the darkness. “I’m not going to be upset if there is. I told you, this doesn’t have to be anything serious.”

              “Are you always this relaxed with things?” Hermann made an attempt at a smile though it felt a little flat. Tendo gave a little tilt of his head before shifting to lie down beside him so they were both looking up at the ceiling together. “I have feelings for him. Feelings I’ve been doing my best to move past.”

              “Has he said he’s not interested?” Hermann shook his head as he tried to shift onto his side to look back at Tendo.

              “No, though I know that he isn’t interested in that way. I simply don’t want to complicate things with him. He’s possibly the best friend I’ve had over the years and I would hate to lose that friendship for a brief romantic affair.”

              “Is that what we are?” Tendo’s tone of voice was teasing but that didn’t stop that sense of being punched to the gut. The guilt of it must have shown on his face because Tendo gave a soft laugh before leaning forward to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “I told you, don’t feel bad. To be honest, I’m pretty open to having casually defined relationships if you are. Just have a fun time.”

              “It would be nice…to have some distractions from time to time.” Hermann leaned to chase after Tendo’s lips as he heard his soft chuckle.

              “I’m pretty sure if you wanted that Newt would be willing to be a distraction for you as well. I’ve seen how he looks at you. There’s a reason I thought you two were dating originally; maybe you two would have something good.”

              “I fear, given my current feelings, that I would complicate it. I’d rather not stir the pot and keep his friendship for as long as it can last rather than disrupt things and lose it entirely. He’s far too important to me and I know better than to believe he shares my affections.” He rolled back onto his back with a sense of disappointment though he wasn’t entirely certain if it was due to the continued conversation or the knowledge that he could never have this with Newton even if he didn’t think it would cause things to fall apart between them.

              “How do you know if you never ask?”

              Hermann gave a thoughtful hum as he felt Tendo shift to curl up against his side once more. There was a fearful twist that sent some of that adrenaline shooting through him at the thought. He had little doubt that Newton wasn’t in love with him given the course their friendship had taken so far.

              Hermann knew it was far easier to stomach the realization that he was truly in love with Newton; that despite his best attempts he wasn’t managing to tamper them down until they faded into the background once more. He didn’t know how he would handle having those fears confirmed by Newton choosing to reject him.

              Maybe, despite his doubts of its existence, that’s what last love really was. Not some burst of romance that managed to remain sparked throughout your shared lives. But a longing for something more but knowing that to do so would only unravel the entire connection. Perhaps love was just the painful reminder that if you were to act upon it that it would end up never transcending your own flaws.

              “I think we should get some rest. It is awfully late and I will need to be up early to work some more on the data that’s been coming in.” Hermann spoked quietly into the darkness and though he closed his eyes, he could tell that Tendo was looking at him for a long moment. Likely was reading the very coding of his being in those seconds but whatever he may have unraveled in those moments passed without further comment.

              “Goodnight Hermann.”

              “Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

              Hermann sat in the silence of his office staring absently at the desk that had been occupied by Caitlin until recently. The time had finally come when Sergio and her had been sent off and it had left the space feeling both too large and far too small at the same time. He sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose, tried to focus back on his work as he slid his glasses back into place.

              A lot of things had changed over the course of the last few months aside from Caitlin’s departure from the space they’d shared for near seven years now. A lot had changed after they’d made their first attempt on the breach only for it to fail in spectacular fashion. That was something Hermann took the blame for squarely on his shoulders and his alone. He’d been certain the force of the blast would force the breach closed but instead it had simply deflected away. He had yet to figure out where his miscalculation or what piece of information was missing but he’d root it out one way or another.

               It was now more important than ever for him to figure out the key to stopping this all. The jaegers were falling faster than they could be rebuilt. And what would be the first wave of budget cuts had been announced that morning during a meeting with the general council. It was why, rather than joining the others for a brief brunch, he’d come down to tackle the work ahead of him.

              Hermann knew he wasn’t the only one working on the problem of the breach but he was the lead. And with team members being pulled across the globe to start working on the necessary specs for the proposed “Wall of Life” project, he’d have less and less collaboration.

              “These budget cuts are gonna kill me, dude.” Newton’s voice carried before he ever entered the room with Tendo in tow. That was an unexpected but not entirely unwelcome development over the past few months. Tendo had gotten sucked into their group of friends with ease and Newton had appeared to take a liking to him almost immediately.

              “I talked with the Marshal afterwards and honestly the whole things seems like a terrible clusterfuck, my man. He’s trying to come up with some ways to mitigate though.”

              Newton sat dramatically in one of the vacant chairs with a groan, dangerously close to spilling the box of food he had in hand. Tendo gave Hermann a smile and set a closed box in front of him from the cafeteria before he pulled up his own seat. Hermann hardly felt like he could eat though he was aware he needed something. He’d not eaten before the meeting and it was steadily moving into lunch time now. He was surprised the two of them hadn’t already eaten upstairs as they dug into what looked like the last few scrapings of food left over from the cafeteria breakfast.

              “They’re telling me the cost of neutralizing the samples to bring them in is too big. But if we don’t’ have samples, we don’t have a need for my entire department. I know they’re trying to get me to start cutting staff but…I mean, we could start working with non-neutralized samples. I could take on the work for any fresh samples while the techs handle the older stuff.”

              “Absolutely not.” Hermann felt a small panicked twist in his gut. Newton had suggested and followed through with some cut corners but nothing as dangerous as working with non-neutralized samples before.

              “Some extra safety measures-“

              “No, you’re not doing that, brother. Marshal Pentecost is going to try and secure some privatized funding. We’re not having extra exposure risks in the dome.”

              Tendo gave Newt a pointed look as he peeked up at them from behind his box of food. Hermann could tell he was debating on whether to argue with them on that point but, for once, tact seemed to win out as he gave a heavy sigh.

              They were, at this point, both aware of how Tendo had lost his grandfather and Hermann was glad that Newton had been able to pick up on the anxiety in Tendo’s words despite his genial tone.

              “I guess we could try and do another fundraiser despite how much I hate those things. All those rich capitalists wanting us to suck up to them for money. We’ll have to suck up even more so they specifically direct the funds to us and not just the PPDC in general since we know what project the council will put it towards.”

              Newton scowled softly as he stabbed at a piece of scrambled egg. Hermann could feel that drop in his stomach at the thought of another fundraising banquet. He had managed to avoid attending them the last few years but it would be necessary now. The bite of hash browns he’d taken tasted a bit like ash in his mouth at the thought of it all (though it was entirely possible the hash browns simply tasted that way).

              Most of the banquets were filled with people like his father. Some of them were quite potentially even worse than him though they were more than happy to toss their pocket change to them if they applied enough flattery.

              “You boys haven’t seen me work a room yet. And, with the two of you on my arms, I’ll be sure to get us that funding. I bet you both look pretty good in suits.” Tendo gave Hermann a playful wink with the comment, tilting his head slightly towards Newton with a suggestive lift of his eyebrows. That was something Hermann hadn’t adjusted to; Tendo’s insistence on trying to get him to make a move on Newton even with their own casual entanglement still very much active.

              Hermann gave a roll of his eyes though he glanced in Newton’s direction to find him looking between the two of them with an expression Hermann couldn’t quite read. Newt narrowed his eyes as he pointed at Tendo with his fork, a smile coming to his face that seemed a little less friendly than before.

              “How about we make it interesting? A little wager to see who can get more donations?” Hermann frowned as he recognized the confrontational tone in Newton’s voice even as he tried to play the suggestion off as a joke. Hermann knew he could be competitive and that may have been all this was.

              “I’m game, my man, but what exactly are we wagering?” Tendo seemed to catch Newton a little off guard as he gave a thoughtful frown, clearly having not planned that far ahead before speaking. His eyes wandered to Hermann for a bit as if hoping he’d offer up some suggestions on what could be the stakes of this little competition.

              “Loser has to take winner out for an evening away from this place. Winner chooses the place; loser pays.”

              “Don’t you mean losers?” Hermann spoke up as he raised his eyebrow at Newton. He hadn’t intended to get involved but there was something in the way Newton had looked at him. Something that had made Hermann feel a stir of…jealousy, perhaps? As if Newton was doing this in an attempt to get some time alone with Tendo.

              “Are you throwing your hat into the ring then, Dr. Gottlieb?” Tendo gave him a small smirk that Hermann rather wished he could wipe off in that moment. His instinct was to rescind the challenge as he felt that first creeping hint of nerves. He had that choice; could easily decide not to be involved in whatever this sudden competitive attitude was between the other two.

              “Yes, I think I am. It’s only fair that we all participate given I will likely be winning us the most donations as it is.” 

              “Alright. Fine. It’s a wager then. Losers have to take the winner out.” Newton sounded a little less certain now but he seemed to be sticking with the wager for the time being. Perhaps having two of them to compete against made him feel at a disadvantage but then he shouldn’t have suggested the bet in the first place.  

              “Yep. Losers take winner out on a date. It’s a bet.” Tendo spoke cheerfully and Hermann almost choked on his next bite of hash browns. He coughed as Tendo gave a laugh, reaching to pat him on the back as Hermann scowled at him for the phrasing. Newton stayed uncharacteristically quiet across from them, picking at his food until the topic of conversation wandered back towards work. 

*

              “This was a mistake.” Newton muttered the words as they stood in a corner of the large ballroom that had been secured for the fundraiser. Pentecost had pulled it together for them far quicker than Hermann had expected but it seemed that time was of the essence recently. They would be doing their best to secure funds for their individual departments throughout the night. Funds that would help carry them over the next few months without taking crippling staffing cuts.

              “You can always forfeit now, Dr. Geiszler,” Tendo said with a teasing tone as he sipped at his champagne. Hermann was, quite honestly, mirroring Newton’s sentiments in the back of his mind as he saw his father skim around the far edge of the room. He hadn’t even been invited, technically, but if there was one thing Lars excelled at it was butting in where he wasn’t needed.

              “Like hell. You two are going to be taking me out even if I have to blow someone for it to happen.” Newton huffed before he downed his entire glass and Hermann wanted to caution him to drink slower. They had a long night ahead of them if they were going to make any progress and he worried if Newton got too far ahead of himself it wouldn’t be favorable for him.

              “I appreciate the dedication, brother, but maybe save that as a last resort.” Tendo gave Newton an encouraging pat on the back. “Let the games begin”

              “Yeah, yeah…great.” Newton muttered as Tendo gave them a wink before heading out into the crowd on his own. Hermann lingered at his side as he gave him a concerned look. When Newton reached for another glass of champagne from a passing tray, Hermann carefully snatched it away from him.  

              “Are you going to be alright? You know that our wager is just for a bit of fun, correct?” Hermann gave Newton another reprimanding look when he tried once more to steal the glass back from him. He held it a little higher, using his height to his advantage as he waited for an answer.

              “I know that. But this whole fundraising thing isn’t. We need the money but…I forgot how much I really truly actually hate these things. Smooching up to all these big wig corporate people who just want a chance to flash their money around even when they know our lives hang in the balance. But, no, they still want us to flash a smile and impress them and caress their sensitive egos before they’ll actually part with a dime.”

              Hermann sighed as he leaned to place the glass aside well out of Newton’s immediately reach on a nearby table. He could hear the sense of panic and despair in Newton’s voice and it killed him a little as he had little to offer in ways of reassurances. He, instead, tucked his cane under his arm so he could place his hands on Newt’s shoulders to turn him around back towards the hallway. The last thing they needed was for him to go on a small tirade about how the rich were just hoping to box off the poor like sacrificial lambs, no matter how accurate it might be.

              And the last thing Newton needed was to have an anxiety attack in the middle of this crowd which would, no doubt, see it as some sign of weakness to be judged.

              Hermann kept a gentle hold on Newton as he carefully lead him along the hall until they could break away from the noise of the room. Newt gave a weak sort of protest but let himself be directed until they were far enough away that the din from the room faded to mere background noise.

              “Look, I know. I know I need to just…calm down and breathe and smile pretty for these fuckers. I just…this is our lives, like literally, and it was easy when we were joking about it before but if we mess this up…if I fuck this up we might all be out of a job. And worse than that, we’ll be out of chances to stop all of this.”  

              Hermann pursed his lips as he glanced down the hall to ensure they were alone as Newton slumped against the wall. No one else was within eyesight, fortunately, and Hermann reached to carefully straighten Newt’s collar. He smoothed it down over his tie that, honestly, looked a bit a mess. He never did knot them right and tonight was clearly no exception.

              “You need to not focus on that, Dr. Geiszler. We have so far always managed to get a little bit of money out of these things and the Marshal is determined to keep the jaeger program, including the K-sciences, going as long as possible. Caitlin and Sergio are also working on securing more funding and this is far from our last chance. We are not at dire straits just yet.”

              Hermann frowned as he tugged at Newton’s tie, tried to get it presentable in its current state before giving up and undoing it so that he could retie it properly. It was only fair to help make certain he was presentable if they were all to have an equal shot at garnering favor.

              “Yeah…I know…I just-you ever feel like you missed your chance at something?” Hermann looked up at Newton as he stumbled over his words and tried to make eye contact with him for a moment as he tried to gauge what he was speaking of. Newton looked away though, tilted his head back so he could stare over Hermann’s shoulder with the same stressed expression he had since they’d left the main ballroom.

              “At times, yes, I suppose I have.” Hermann spoke carefully, could empathize with the feeling in a number of ways. He looked back down to finish getting Newton’s tie secured back in place. It looked far more presentable now and he smoothed it down, back under Newton’s suit jacket, before getting his collar lying flat over it once more. He was increasingly aware of the intimacy of it, worried that it would show that Newton was one of those very things he’d missed out with, but found some bravery in how familiar and close Newt frequently was with him in return.

              “Yeah…” Newton sounded defeated as he trailed off for a second. “Hey, uh…so I’ve been meaning to ask you. Do you think he’s it for you? Has someone finally convinced you that love is a thing?”

              Newton was still not looking at him, continued to stare back towards the party they’d need to return to soon. Hermann felt that old stir of emotion that he fought to tamper down once more; tuck it away to where it had dwelled just beneath the surface. It had frequently tried to swell back up at a moment’s notice and Hermann tried to swallow it down once more at the realization of how close they were seemed to suddenly settle in. He could practically count Newton’s freckles and see the subtle color shift in his eyes; green to an amber brown around the edges.

              “Are you talking about Mr. Choi?” Hermann cleared his throat as he pulled away from Newton a little for his own sake. He retrieved his cane from where he’d kept it tucked under his arm so that he could lean on it to take some of the weight off his bad leg.

              “Who else would I be talking about?” Newton scoffed lightly as he gave a confused glanced towards him. Hermann had the impulse to kiss him and gripped the handle of his cane tighter to keep himself rooted to the spot; grounded in reality so he wouldn’t get caught up in that flight of fancy.

              “Well, though I do love Tendo dearly as a friend, he has had no sway on my beliefs that requited and lasting love is nothing more than a pleasant fairy tale.” Longing for that sense of belonging, on the other hand, was something Hermann had become old friends with by now.

              “Friends?” Newton stood up a little straighter and frowned at him. Hermann wasn’t certain if Newt was offended on Tendo’s behalf or was simply thrown off by the revelation. He hadn’t thought it was so ambiguous that Tendo and him were nothing more than friends but clearly not all parties had been aware.

              “Yes, friends. We agreed on it shortly after our first date.”

              “Oh…I thought…” Newton trailed off once more as he shook his head and seemed to decide it wasn’t worth the debate just then. He finally pulled himself away from the wall as he straightened the sleeves of his jacket. “We should get back. We’re giving Tendo an unfair advantage and I really don’t think he needs it.”

              “Yes, I suppose we should make an attempt to make this an actual competition.” Hermann’s lips twitched with a soft smile as Newton offered him his arm; took a moment to steady himself before he took it and tucked Newton’s elbow close to his side so he could escort him back out into the main hall.

*

              “Well, the final totals are in, boys.” Tendo entered the lab, taking a moment to wave at one of the remaining technicians, before moving over to where Hermann was sitting. He’d moved into some of the excess space on a temporary basis now that he’d managed to procure some donated chalkboards from his old university. They hadn’t fit in his office and that lab had been the only place with enough space to house them in a secure fashion as he worked on his theorems and finalized the breach model calculations.

              He had expected the move to prove to be a source of distraction, and it was, but it had also been a pleasant change from being in the office on his own for hours of the day. The fact that Newton was his company played no small part in this as they found themselves falling into small debates on a daily basis

              His current distraction was Tendo walking to a blank portion on his chalkboard with clear intent and Hermann had to bite back his protest. Newton was already stripping off his gloves excitedly as he jumped up to join them.

              “Finally! I was starting to think all that brown nosing was in vain.” Tendo gave a soft laugh as he started writing down the totals they’d managed to raise during the banquet with the allotted amounts given per department.

              “Apparently there was some push back that the money should be routed to the Wall but Pentecost managed to put his foot down on that. Wouldn’t look good for the donors who specified where they wanted their money to go to find out it had been redirected, would it?”

              Tendo gave a soft chuckle as he finished writing down the details of the donated funds on the board. Hermann pursed his lips as he took in the differences. They’d all been close but, in the end, it was Newton who had managed to secure the most. His competitive side wanted to be disappointed but it was overridden by a small jolt of joy and pride that he’d pulled it off even with the nerves that night.

              It seemed to take a few moments for the information to really set in with Newton as he stared at the totals with a frown on his face. Tendo looked amused, gave Hermann a small smirk as he leaned back against his desk beside him as they waited.

              “Dude…I won? Ha, I mean, of course I won! You two suckers have to take me out to do whatever I want!” Hermann gave a roll of his eyes as Newton punched the air in excitement. Out of all the departments, the K-science biologics department had taken the biggest blow in the budget cuts. It was only fitting that Newton would manage to get the most to help make up the deficit.

              Hermann had, perhaps, not made as much of an effort to really beat the other two in their game as he could have. He’d spent most of his night dodging his father, truth be told, and making a point of refuting his opinion on the wall every chance he got.

              “I guess you’re just better at kissing rich asses than we are, Dr. Geislzer.” Tendo spoke with a sardonic tone as he gave a light shrug.

              “Damn right, I am!” Newton crowed but then seemed to actually think about the suggestion and his nose crinkled with a look of distaste as he flipped Tendo off. He quickly changed tracks as he gave them both expectant looks. “So, are you two ready for what I’ve in store for this weekend?”

              “Oof, no can do on this weekend, my man. I’ve got a date. But, you and Hermann could go and I’ll grab you another night. Besides, if you were debating between a few things this will give you a chance to get out to do a bit more. One date per loser.” Hermann turned to give Tendo a soft glare at the phrasing which he knew was anything but unintentional. Tendo gave him a wide grin in return, cheeky and proud of it.

              “You have a date?” Newton gave Hermann a concerned look for just a second before frowning at Tendo.

              “I take it the woman from the fundraiser actually agreed then?” Hermann spoke up, prodding Tendo to explain; worried that Newton still didn’t understand that there was no jealousy when it came to him and Tendo’s situation.

              Tendo had mentioned that he’d met someone name Allison whom he seemed rather enamored with that evening. He’d been intending to ask her on a date but had waited to discuss what the implications would be with him first. It had been an expected part of things, that eventually one or the other would find someone they had a romantic interest in, so Hermann had been more than fine with it. That didn’t keep the small tug of loneliness from settling at the mention of it however.

              “She did. Which, by the way, is the only reason you won was that I got distracted by her. Doesn’t matter though cause I feel a bit like I won in the end either way. Or, at least, I will if this goes well. You’re alright having us take you out at different times, right Newt? If not we can plan for next weekend but…I just thought this way you’d get two for the price of one.”

              "No, no go on your date, dude. I'm not going to turn away the chance to double my winnings besides Hermann and I will have more fun without you." Newton responded with a slight roll of his eyes before giving Hermann a grin. There was that nervous flutter in his gut reminding him that, no matter how much he liked to think he was moving past this ridiculous crush, he was still absolutely taken by Newton. 

              "I'm sure you two will," Tendo said, voice full of innuendo as Hermann narrowed his eyes to give him a critical look. He wouldn't be surprised if it hadn't been planned that Tendo would have an excuse not to go. To make it so that Hermann and Newton would end up going out on their own. It would have almost been a subtle hint if it wasn't for the meaningful look Tendo shot him in that moment. "Well, unfortunately I've got to head back up. I'll catch you both later." 

              Tendo dismissed himself as quickly as he'd made his entrance; gave Hermann a consolatory pat on the arm as he passed which made him suddenly self-conscious about whether he'd showed his emotions too clearly on his face. 

              "I hope you're ready for what I have in store for you this weekend, Hermms." Newton had started to turn back towards work though he spoke over his shoulder with a teasing tone in his voice. Hermann sighed as he made some attempt to focus back on the chalkboard, eyed the totals of their department donations critically before wiping them carefully away. 

              "Do I even get to know what sort of activity I'm floating the bill for beforehand or are you going to leave me in the dark?" 

              "Oh, it's gonna be a surprise. Just come prepared for anything." Newton's tone shifted a bit further into taunting, enjoying the fact that Hermann would have to go with whatever he had planned. He doubted Newton would subject him to anything completely loathsome but that didn't mean it wouldn't be something ridiculous all the same. 

Chapter Text

              Newton had continued to be secretive about what he had planned for their afternoon out despite Hermann's best attempts to get him to spill something. He'd even refused when Tendo had asked what sort of activities he had planned for them. It did little to ease the unexpected bout of nerves Hermann was feeling leading up to that evening. He had been reminding himself that, despite Tendo’s continued hints, this wasn’t a date.

            To distract himself from it, he’d woken early that morning to try and get some work done before the time Newton had told him to be ready to leave. He had expected to see him at some point during the day but Newton had been completely absent from the lab for the first time in recent memory. Hermann knew he shouldn’t have been surprised by this given they’d gotten clearance to be away for the day from Marshal Pentecost but Newton had always seemed just as incapable of disconnecting from his work as Hermann was.   

            Hermann wasn’t managing to get as much work done as he should have been as he found himself staring at his chalkboards once more. His thoughts had strayed back into worries about what they would be doing and whether his choice of outfit was fitting or not. All he’d managed to get as far as details from Newton was that he should dress comfortably and to layer for warmth. This likely meant they’d be doing something outside for at least part of the time but that did little to inform him.

            "I went to check if you were getting ready for your date. I should have known you'd be done here trying to get work done instead." Tendo strolled into the lab looking sharply dressed himself. It seemed his date with Allison hadn’t been a false report after all though Hermann had little doubt in that area. It was rare for Tendo to get turned down.

            "It's not a date and don't think I'm unaware of what you're doing." Hermann frowned at a section of equation, could feel there was something wrong there but he wasn't able to see it immediately. He went over it a few more times in his head before he realized the error. A positive exponent where it should have been negative. He added the short dash before turning to find Tendo smiling at him. 

            "I wasn't really trying to keep you unaware, brother. And, it is a date if you want it to be. You could ask, bring it up and see how he reacts. He seems excited; he's spent a lot more time trying to get things set up for today than you'd think." Tendo leaned against his makeshift desk and gave him a pointed look. Hermann couldn’t fathom that Newton’s interest in setting up the plans for the day extended past his own desire to squeeze as much into the day as possible.

            “Don’t be ridiculous, Newton’s excited because he gets to flaunt the fact that he won our bet. And you know precisely why I will not be suggesting this to be a date.” Hermann set his chalk down and dusted his hand off on his pant leg.

            This was the last thing he needed. It wasn’t as if his nerves weren’t already shot and he’d been retreating to the familiarity of his work to distract himself. It wasn’t as if he had been nervously fraying the edges of this shirt sleeve the day. Hermann knew he was going to be hyperaware of himself all day and hoped that, at the very least, the day’s activities would keep him distracted from that complicated twist of emotions that was settled in his gut.

            “You going to be alright there, brother?” Tendo’s expression softened and Hermann wondered if he looked as distraught as he felt. This was supposed to have been over with already, this mess with his brain deciding Newton sparked a specific release of chemicals. He had expected it to do what it had done every other time before where it simply faded over time. Where the things that might have once been endearing faded or proved to be falsities within the person’s personality in the first place.

            The longer this whole mess went on the more exasperated he was at the fact that there had been lessening of the spark. In fact, much like the frequency that the kaiju were emerging from the breach, that triggered response in him seemed to be growing in frequency and intensity. He’d been caught just the evening before staring at Newton without realizing it. It had been difficult not to with the way he’d been singing along with his music but rather than sheer annoyance Hermann had felt a swell of adoration so strong he could have nearly cried with it.

            Instead, he had picked an argument and made Newton turn his music down. Best to nip the situation in the bud rather than allow it to expand. Even their arguments felt more like intimate exchanges though.

            “I will be just fine. I just wish you would stop insisting this is anything more than a momentary amusement.” Hermann huffed as he glanced at the time to see just how much he had left before he truly did have to go and get ready. Not nearly enough in his estimation.

            “This whole thing is really getting to you, isn’t it?”

            “Yes.” Hermann answered without a second of hesitation or thought. It was getting to him and he didn’t entirely know how to handle it. It wasn’t the first time they’d gone out to do something just the two of them but it had typically always entailed a quick dinner or simply running errands. Once, Hermann had gone along with Newton when he was getting the last touches of a tattoo done. That time he had simply sat speechlessly trying not to notice that Newt sat talking to the artist while shirtless in the chair.

            “Listen, go and try to have fun. I’ll drop the date thing though I still don’t think it’s that bad of an idea-“

            “You’re doing a remarkable job at dropping it-“

            “At the end of the day though, this is a break for the two of you to go out and enjoy yourselves. Get away from this place and the doom and gloom of every day for a bit. You could use the break, both of you, and though I’m sure Newton’s going to push your definition of ‘fun’ today, he also won’t drag you anywhere that you won’t actually enjoy.”

            Tendo rested a hand on his shoulder as Hermann leaned against the neck besides him. He wished there was an equation for this. Granted, there were formulas for this phenomenon. Chemical formulas but they had the familiar scrawl of order that he longed for. They did little to solve his problems, however.

            “You do still need to change though.” Hermann turned to look at Tendo and found him frowning critically at his suit. He was well aware that it was ill-fitting and often filled with chalk dust but he still took offense to this clear scrutiny.

            “Well, not all of us can have the closet of a finely tailor prince, Mr. Choi.” Hermann shrugged him off though without any real injury to his pride as he set his chalk down. Tendo gave a soft scoff of laughter as Hermann tried to analyze whether he’d missed anything else in his equation before he moved on for the day. He would be unlikely to find it if he walked away and returned in the morning after their time off.

            “I was aiming for Prince Charming, so I’m happy that I’ve apparently succeeded.”

            “Well, you could work on the charm part but otherwise, yes, you’ve managed impeccably.” Hermann gave up as he realized he wasn’t truly seeing the numbers and letters on the boards; not in the way he typically could where things spoke to him and leaped out in obvious appeal of his better senses. It was getting close to time to leave and Hermann knew well enough that he’d need the time to change his mind and fidget with his outfit before he really felt certain he was ready to go out.

            “Note taken. You sure you’re gonna manage? Not going to bail at the last minute, are you? I’m supposed to be heading out here soon myself to pick Allie up but if you think you might need a hype man, I’m here for you.”

            “When did you become so exasperating?”

            “I’ve always been this way, my man, but I think most people tend to call it charisma. I’ll admit, I might be falling a bit short today which doesn’t bode well for me.” Hermann eyed Tendo as he started towards the door, the two of them falling into step beside each other. He looked his typical cool and styled self but there was a bit of an edge beneath Tendo’s exterior. He had seemed rather taken with this Allison and perhaps he wasn’t the only one attempting to reassure himself of the natural chemical reactions of the brain.

            “Do you need a ‘hype man’, Mr. Choi?” Hermann laid the sugar on thick as he spoke, raising an eyebrow at Tendo as if questioning whether he was truly capable. There was no honest doubt in Hermann’s mind that Tendo would do anything but wow the young lady he was taking out.

            “Never though that’s not to say I’d turn down a little bit of friendly reassurance.”

            “I think you will just fine, Tendo.” He got a look that clearly said this was hardly of the caliber of friendly reassurance Tendo had been looking for.

*

            “Good, you listened and actually dressed accordingly. I didn’t even think you had a comfortable pair of shoes.” Hermann gave an exasperated sigh as he stepped out of his room after getting ready and finding Newton standing and waiting for him. The plan had been for them to meet up in the Visitor’s Bay so they could head out but apparently Newton had decided to pick him up from his quarters instead.

            “The shoes I wear on a daily basis are quite comfortable, thank you, but I do still have a pair of hiking boots for when I’m forced to go traipsing about in what I’m sure will be muddy conditions given the current weather.” Hermann closed and locked his door and tried to shake off the last bit of nerves that clung to him. Tendo had managed to get under his skin with his insistence he could make this a date if he wished.

            Because in the end, Hermann did wish that it could be a date. In the end he wanted nothing more than that but his fragile heart wouldn’t have been able to handle it if Newton had said no. He wouldn’t have been able to deal with that loss when the rest of the world was still being torn apart on a more and more frequent basis.

            Newton gave him a grin before starting down the hall to lead the way still without giving him any more indication of just what they were planning on doing for the afternoon. Hermann followed after him feeling weary but determined to put up with whatever it was if only to make him happy. They fell in step together, Newton dropping his pace imperceptibly as he always did so that Hermann could keep up.

            “You’re acting all sour grapes about this but I think you’re gonna actually enjoy it, Hermms. It will be the best bet you’ve ever lost. And don’t worry about the mud since it’s been rainy. I managed to commandeer a couple of pairs of rubber boots if we run into that situation.”

            Newton hefted at the backpack he had on his back to indicate just where these boots were being kept. He would have complained but it was all part of the deal. Not to mention that Hermann could tell how excited Newton was at the prospect of this outing. It was true that there was rarely a chance for them to escape the interior of the shatterdomes they all jumped between. It would be an even rarer treat as time went forward, staffing got tighter all while the attacks seemed to show every sign of increasing.

            “Do I get any clue as far as what we’re doing or am I to remain completely in the dark until we’re in the midst of it?” Newton seemed to debate about this, bobbing his head back and forth for a few seconds as though trying to decide if Hermann deserved to know or not.

            “We’re just going to a beach. Gonna watch the sunset.” Newton gave him a small smirk that said that this was anything but just a simple trip to the beach. Hermann gave him a deep frown which seemed to just ignite Newton’s amusement even more as he gave a laugh. “Just wait and see, Hermann. I told you I wouldn’t drag you out to do anything too wild and crazy.”

*

            They had been driving for a while. Newton had rented a motorcycle given neither of them owned their own vehicle on the island. Hermann had thrown at fit at first, been terrified at the thought of being on the back of a bike with Newton behind the wheel. Those nerves had burned off after the first thirty minutes or so when Newt had proven himself to be a competent and assured rider. It didn’t hurt that the situation allowed him to sit with his arms around Newton’s waist, cheek resting against the back of his shoulder.

            They had left the Shatterdome and the town behind and were driving through the countryside which still provide to be rather beautiful. He hadn’t gone out to explore Kodiak Island beyond the Shatterdome and the confines of the city within the area. They were farther out than he’d been and Hermann still wondered just where Newton was aiming to take him. The backpack was now strapped to him while they drove in silence. Newton had somehow produced a large parka from inside that he’d had Hermann bundle himself in before they’d started on their way. Its fur collar tickled along his neck as he watched the scenery pass them by.

            In the peace of it, Hermann could almost imagine that this was something more than fulfilling the circumstances of a bet. More than two friends taking advantage of the freedom granted to them during a time of war where every second counted. He turned his head a little so he could see a hint of Newton’s face as he focused on the road ahead of them, slowing to take a turn. Hermann could almost bring himself to bury his nose against Newton’s neck, to press a kiss against his skin to make his feelings clear.

            Instead, Hermann sighed and rested his cheek back in place on Newton’s shoulder. Watched curiously as they started past the old Pacific Space Port Complex, the launch pad somewhere back behind the large gate. It had been silent for years now, the war had brought their focus back firmly on solid ground and Hermann longed somewhat for the days when they’d expected to find life on other planets rather than having it roil up out of their oceans. He turned to watch the sign move past as they continued their way down a winding road towards the coast. The leather of Newt’s jacket was cold against his cheek as he closed his eyes for just a moment.

            He had spotted that there was a sign for a public beach listed below the signs marking the old complex and at least knew the name of the place they were heading now. Fossil Beach. Hermann had no idea whether it was named such because it truly contained fossils or if it had earned it some other way. It seemed fitting that Newton would want to spend the day at a beach that held hints of the past. He had mentioned several times how the kaiju could have some similarities with the dinosaurs as well as how distinctly different they were. He’d given up on the theory that the kaiju were the same as the dinosaurs but did still believe that perhaps the kaiju had copied traits from them similarly to how it seemed they pulled traits from other animals on their planet.

            After a few more minutes the bike started to slow and Hermann opened his eyes to look around. The landscape around them was a bike sparser, cliffs off in the distance and below the small parking lot they had pulled into was the beach. It must have been low tide as the water was receded far leaving a long stretch of sand exposed. There were signs post, warning of the current contamination risk level. Levels were considered low at the moment or, at least, Hermann hoped that the reading of low contaminate levels was accurate. It didn’t appear anyone had been out here for a long while.

            “Here we are. Looks like we will want to pull on the rubber boots.” Newton spoke once he’d pulled into a parking spot and turned the engine off. Hermann let him go, slid his arms away from his waist with a bit of reluctance that he tried to play off as being stiff from the long ride out there. The beach did indeed look rather wet, the two long stretches of water that created lakes on either side of the parking lot reaching up like arms. Where it met the beach, the water trickled down like small rivers through the sand until it crashed and churned in with the ocean water.

            “Is this place even still open to the public?” Hermann sat back, waited as Newton got off the motorcycle first. Newton held the bike even with its kickstand down so that it stayed steady for him, offered him his shoulder to hold on to as Hermann carefully slid off himself. His folding cane was in the side bag and he retrieved it once Newton had taken the backpack to pull the rubber boots out of.

            “Yeah, I mean…it may not be as popular anymore but it’s still open. The contamination hasn’t gotten quite as bad here yet though with the wall, who the fuck knows what will happen.” Newton huffed as he dug the boots out of the bag, set a pair next to Hermann for him to slip into. They’d have to wear them back unless Newton truly didn’t mind the backpack being made a mess.

            They geared up, Newton sticking close to him to make certain Hermann could use him for support as he got the boots on. Hermann once more let himself relish the closeness, the small points of contact between them and the comfortable silence that so rarely seemed to exist in their day to day lives. He wasn’t entirely certain what to expect on the beach but as they headed down and stepped out onto the sand, he found it wet and compact. It didn’t give nearly as much as he thought beneath him and he was able to give a soft sigh of relief at that fact.

            “So, this beach is like a little treasure. I’ve been wanting to come out here for a while because there’s all these fossils out here. We’ll have to go out into the tidal pool areas but it shouldn’t be too rocky out there from the looks. It seems like the sand kind of stretches out pretty far but stick close to me just in case so if you need to you can grab on.”

            Newton led the way down, talking excitedly as they went. Hermann trailed behind him, glanced out at the ocean and hoped that it would contain to remain silent for them. He heard Newt’s exclamation of joy when he found his first fossil imprinted on some of the rocky shoreline that peeked out from between the dark sand. As Hermann moved along with him, enjoyed the scent of the salty air and his incessant babbling, he let himself believe that this could be more. That they could be more and found himself laughing easier than he had in a long time.

*

            “Newton, I seriously don’t think we should be doing this.” Hermann stood a little way back from the large chain-linked fence where Newton as tugging at a section that had clearly been cut through some point in the past. Weeds had grown up in the links of the fence, the metal of the fence peeled back to show where others had used it to go in and out of the complex.

            “Dude, the place is long abandoned and we’ve been the only ones out here all day. Some of the J-techs have come out here and say that the view from the top of the launch tower is amazing and that everything is still sturdy. Trust me, will ya?” 

            Hermann gave Newton a dubious look as he glanced back towards the bike. Newton had retrieved a small pack from the storage under the seat and had it slung over his shoulder as he tugged to get the opening a bit wider. The sun was getting low in the sky, most of the day spent exploring and relaxing on the beach together. They had even rolled up their pants and waded into the cold water some at one point though Hermann hadn’t lasted long with the sting of the bitter ocean. 

            “If we get arrested, I am going to tell the Marshal that you forced me into this,” Hermann said stubbornly as Newton gave a cheer of success in getting the fence bent back enough, they’d be able to make it through with a little work. He knew this wasn’t the best plan, no one would likely know where to find them if they ended up hurt. Well, he was certain Tendo knew where they were so he’d at least come looking if nothing else. 

            Still, he was curious. They had shut down almost all of the old launch pads with only a few remaining down south in Florida around Kennedy Space Center and a rogue few scattered throughout Europe. Most of the world’s focus had turned to building jaegers though rather than rockets. Hermann still felt that old longing of his youth of being an astronaut, something that was even further from a possibility now. The chance to climb to the top of an old launch tower even if it was just to watch the sunset for the brief period of dark they were graced with at this time of year felt like too much to pass up. 

            “Come on, Hermms, I can’t hold this thing for forever. You keep standing there and we’ll definitely get caught.” Newton whined at him, motioning for him to hurry up and go through as he held the fence open. Hermann shook his head and stepped forward against every ounce of better judgement that he possessed. The world was ending, why not live a little?

            It took him a bit of negotiating to get through the hole in the chain-link but at last he was able to stand up on the other side and hold the two sections apart for Newton to clamber through as well. He graced Hermann with one of those gleeful smiles as he stood and dusted off the knees of his pants, hefting the sack on his shoulder before marching forward. 

            “It’s too bad it’s not a little earlier in the year when we still had more dark hours left. I can’t imagine how the Northern Lights would look from up there but hopefully we’ll at least get to see some stars. Do you think we’d be able to see the light pollution from Anchorage?” Hermann glanced back towards the parking lot in the distance once more before turning to follow along with Newton towards the looming structure in the distance. The tower looked like a nondescript building, the only sign of what its use had been was the platform at the top that would have extended out to a docked rocket and the large circular pad it sat upon with a channel where the water would flood in to form a buffer for the ignition of the engines during take-off. 

            It took a while to hike across the large empty area to the base of the tower that seemed to grow in height as they got near it. Hermann was starting to wonder about climbing all those stairs but at the same time he felt that rebellious excitement growing. 

            “Maybe if we’re still here and haven’t been shipped off to different shatterdomes again by winter we can come out here again. Bundle up, see the lights.” Newton slowed his step enough that they were walking side by side as he talked excitedly. He must have been feeding off of that sense that they were doing something rebellious as well. Hermann could pick up on his nervous bouncing energy even as the light dimmed and the sky started to paint itself in red hues. 

            “I imagine that will depend a great deal on the weather. I refuse to get on a motorcycle with you if the roads are covered in snow drifts. However, as long as this thing doesn’t collapse beneath us the moment we step foot inside, it would be nice to get a clear view of the aurora borealis.” 

            “I knew you had a bit of a criminal in you, Hermms.” Newton said it jokingly as they finally reached the base of the launch tower. The door was ajar, clearly Newton had been telling the truth about others having been out here already. Given the long drive and the relative seclusion, it was impressive that any of the J-techs had found time to sneak this far abroad. Hermann also had no doubt that something like this would normally be seen as an ideal place to bring someone special. He glanced at Newton who was chewing nervously at his bottom lip as he stared up towards the top of the building as if suddenly second guessing himself. 

            “Are you certain you’re up for the climb?” Hermann asked a bit jokingly before he started towards the door. They had come this far and though he was fully expecting to regret this decision come the next morning, or even in just a few minutes, he didn’t want to turn back now. 

            “Um, please, I’m more than ready for this climb.” Newton scoffed at the mere thought that he wasn’t a hundred percent on board for climbing the staircase inside no matter what condition they found it in. Hermann smirked softly, let Newt take the lead as they reached the door to duck into the dark space. “Hold on, I’ve got a light for this. Just give me...one...second.” 

            Hermann stood in the doorway, watched the sun as it sunk lower in the sky as Newton rustled about in the pack. After a moment the stairwell flooded with light and Hermann was momentarily blinded as the headlamp Newton had situated on his head aimed itself straight at his face. 

            “Newton, please, for the love of god-” 

            “Sorry, sorry! Okay, look, I’m not looking at you. Just stay behind me and watch your step. We should get moving or we’re going to miss the entire show.” 

            Hermann scowled at Newton’s back once he was finally able to see again though the burned imprint of the headlamp still danced in his vision as he blinked. They started up the stairs, Newton taking care not to move too quickly as he seemed to understand that Hermann’s knee wouldn’t be able to take a fast pace. It took them longer than it would have taken Newton on his own and Hermann hoped that his slower pace wasn’t going to cost them ‘the main event’. 

            By the time they reached the final landing, Hermann’s knee felt almost numb from the long hike after a day of walking along the beach. Still, Newton shouldered the door open so that they could step out onto the platform that would have led to the bridge between the tower and the rocket. From up here, Hermann could tell that the retractable bridge must have either been damaged to left out in inclement weather and failed part way. The main platform was still sturdy and complete though, a large flat expanse that showed the large dredges of the sunset on one side and the rising moon on the other. 

            “Holy shit, this is better than I thought it’d be.” Newton spoke in a quiet voice of awe as he dropped the pack on the floor near the door. He moved to walk out to the railing along the edge where the sun was sinking below the skyline. It reflected off the water that was painted in deep reds that were darkening into purple hues. 

            Hermann moved with a bit more caution, not entirely certain he trusted the old concrete and steel to be secure. He stepped up beside Newton at the railing, found himself looking at him more than at the lingering sunset as the smile lit up Newton’s face. 

            “Isn’t it perfect?” Newton turned to him to ask and Hermann quickly looked out at the horizon. He hoped it hadn’t been too apparent he’d been staring, felt a little bit of heat rise up in his cheeks. 

            “Ye-”

            “Wait! I know what will make it actually perfect.” 

            Newton interrupted him as if he suddenly remembered something. He pushed off from the rail to rush back towards the door. Hermann frowned, felt a bit unnerved at the groan the rail had given but nothing else seemed to shift or complain at Newton’s sudden movement. He turned to watch as Newt dug through the pack once more, headlamp sending the beam about sporadically as he moved. He could see beyond the railing on the other side where the sky was darkest the first few hints of stars peeking out with the crescent moon’s pale light. 

            “Okay, so I had to pick things that weren’t going to go bad in the bike all day but…” 

            Newton spoke as he set several items off to the side and then unfurled what looked like the regulation blanket from his bunk out on the surface of the platform. Hermann watched him with a slight hint of amusement, felt another soft stir of hope that this could have been more. Perhaps Tendo had been right but now it felt too late to ask. Too much like he’d be spoiling whatever Newt had planned if he was off in his estimations. 

            “I’ve got some of those little cakes you like from the mess hall, a thermos of water for us to use and some of the better tasting MRE’s to ‘cook’. How does that sound? A little picnic at the top of the world? It’s nothing too fancy but given what I had to work with...” 

            “You’ve put an awful lot of thought into this, I see.” Hermann shifted, moved to join Newton as he smoothed out the blanket and tried to tether it down with various items so it didn’t get caught up in the wind. Hermann tugged the parka a bit closer, the fur-lined hood billowing up over his head as a small gust hit him from behind. It was cool but fortunately not freezing. The jacket would be enough to keep him safely warm. 

            “Well, not often that we get to come out and spend a day, right?” Newton seemed a little flustered as he offered Hermann a hand to help him sink down and sit on the blanket. He switched off the headlamp, dousing them in the soft light of the fading sun. He laid out the packaged food, carefully squinting at the directions for the MREs so he could work on getting them prepared in the dark. 

            “No, I suppose that’s true. To be honest, Newton, I expected today to be rather different than this. I would have thought you’d drag me to a club or to get a tattoo.” Hermann sighed, laid back on the blanket so he could stare up at the sky as the stars came out more and more. The color faded to that deep unknowable black. 

            “Ah, well, I mean. That could have been fun but I don’t think there’s really any clubs out here and I’ve not...I’m not as big on clubs anymore, I guess. The tattoo though...Tendo’s coming with me for that one.” Newton spoke in a distracted tone and Hermann turned his head to watch him. The barrier of fur encircling the hood helped him feel less obvious in his staring as Newton mixed one of the packets up and then set it aside to allow it to self-heat as he started on the second one. 

            “Well, as long as you have enjoyed the day. You did, after all, win the bet.” 

            “Yeah, yeah I did. I completely smoked both you guys at that which, honestly, baffles me a bit. Most the time the feedback I get from those things is ‘too loud’ and ‘argued too much’.” Newton gave a soft defeated sort of laugh as he finished getting the second MRE set to self-heat. Hermann frowned as he watched him before patting the blanket beside him to signal to Newton to lie down. 

            “The people who say that are fools.” 

            “Ha, yeah...you’ve said that before…” 

            Newton trailed off, shifted to lie down beside him as they waited for the MRE’s to finish. They wouldn’t take more than a few minutes at the activated heater agent would heat them through. It was still time though, still minutes to let tick past where they could relax. 

            "Can I ask you something?" Hermann pursed his lips as he tried to catch a glance at Newton but now that they were both lying down the hood came between them. 

            "You don't typically bother to ask first so I'm assuming it's something personal?" Hermann heard Newton shift beside him, lifted his hand so that he could push some of that fur lining out of the way so he could get a proper look at him. "What would you like to ask, Newton?" 

            "Remember when I was dating that guy? The one who went off the rails a little?" Hermann hesitated at the direction of the conversation but he nodded lightly. 

            "Yes, I do." 

            "And you know how I...kind of suggested that night after we had broken up that you and I could..." 

            Hermann’s breath caught in his throat at the mention. Newton wouldn’t look at him but felt he could see a light blush in Newt’s face as he stared up at the night sky that had gone completely dark. The last of the sun had left them and now it was just the moon and stars giving them illumination. 

            Hermann’s jaw muscles tensed as he followed Newton’s lead, looking up at the night sky rather than at him. He wasn't entirely certain if he would be able to say no if Newton was about to suggest the same thing now. Wasn’t certain he’d want to say no now or if following Tendo’s suggestion to simply give this a chance would be best. 

            "Well, it's just that, at the time I had assumed that it was because you weren't really down with the friends with benefits sort of thing or something like that. But then you started that thing up with Tendo and until recently I thought you two were, like, a thing. Which, you know that, so I don't really need to say it but I was confused then why when you told me you two were just friends. And, and I was just sort of wondering why you were cool with that with him but not with me. Like, I get it if I'm not really your type or something or if you thought maybe I'd make more-”

            Hermann gave a sigh at Newton’s sudden deluge of words. It was enough to bring that flood of honesty to a stop and Newt fell silent beside him once more. Hermann tried to find his words, tried to figure out how best to approach this. It was hard to calculate the correct trajectory when it came to something as unpredictable as emotions. 

            “It is not that you are not my type, Newton. It is that I am...entirely too fond of you to keep it simply as friends if we extended into a...benefits sort of situation.” Hermann winced at his own words, hated the way they came out and at the silence that seemed to stretch between them once more. A satellite slowly blinked across the sky, an orbit that it had been following likely for decades now. It would continue along that track for decades more before slowly being pulled down, crashing through the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up into nothing. 

            “Are you saying you have a crush on me?” Newton finally spoke, broke that quiet between them as he propped himself up on his elbow. Hermann rolled his eyes now that he could see him, could see the small smirk on his face. He was already guarding himself, preparing himself for Newton to laugh or say how ridiculous that was. Hermann swallowed roughly as he fought every impulse inside of him as he prepared to say the words that could very possibly shatter this entire thing apart. 

            “I’m in love with you, Newton.” 

            He saw the smile on Newton’s face falter and fade. Hermann dragged his eyes back up to the sky, wondering if it hurt terribly to fall from orbit. 

            Hermann blinked as Newton filled his view once more, expression serious and vulnerable. Before he could say anything, Newton’s lips pressed against his and Hermann felt gravity disengage. He knew that this was probably temporary, that this was likely a consolation from Newton for soothing his ego. 

            He parted his lips into the kiss despite it all. Let his hand move to press against the back of Newton’s neck, fingers tangling into the strands of hair he found there. Newton leaned further into the kiss at the sign of permission, at the open admittance that Hermann wanted this. It felt like a lifetime but it still was too soon when Newton pulled back, gave Hermann a smile that seemed almost drunk. 

            “For the record, I’m in love with you too.” Newton grinned at him before falling back and out of Hermann’s view once more. It was Hermann’s turn to sit up so he could see Newton’s face more clearly; to make sure that he wasn’t making some cruel sort of joke. Instead, he was met with a relieved smile that was so full of adoration that it made his mind go blank. “And here you said you didn’t believe in love.”

            “Lasting love.” Hermann correctly, feeling a bit numb even as he leaned down and caught Newton up in another kiss. He felt his nose knock Newton’s glasses a little askew but neither of them particularly cared. It was another eternity, another moment gone too fast as he pulled back but stayed carefully leaning over Newt. 

            “Right, lasting love. Well...I mean, the world’s ending. Who knows how long we have? Might not need to last forever. Might be nice to just see how this goes on a day by day?” Newton gave a little shrug as he straightened his glasses back into place. Hermann had no doubt that he would love Newton for however long they had left and yet that sentiment made it feel less intimidating. That they could simply go day by day and see how long they managed to have. 

            “I believe I could manage that. Day by day.” 

            “No promises cause I know you think promises are a bunch of bullshit. Just...let’s be honest and who knows? Maybe we’ll be together when the world ends.” Newton gave him a dramatic flutter of his eyelashes and Hermann rolled his eyes as he let himself lie back once more. He could feel the smile on his lips though, could feel a certain lightness in his heart that hadn’t been there for a long while. 

            “Whether we are still a couple or not, we will undoubtedly be together when the world ends with the rate things are going right now.” Hermann laid his hand between them, palm up in invitation and he felt Newton’s fingers interlace with his own. 

            “Ha, you’re probably right. Guess there’s no reason to give this a try then, huh?” There was a sense of overwhelming emotion in Newton’s voice that was mixed with a sense of relief. Hermann gave his hand a squeeze, focused on the stars for a short while longer. “Man, I’m glad Tendo suggested I talk with you.” 

            “He did, did he?” Hermann said with a bit of amusement. He was going to have to give Tendo his gratitude and perhaps a bit of a hard time over this. He had known something after all and decided to push them both to say something themselves. 

            They stayed there far longer than was likely advisable as they took the time to eat their makeshift meal and continue to enjoy a quiet evening out in the open with the sound of the tide coming in below. The climb back down the launch tower was mildly nerve-wracking as Newton led the way, headlamp back in place as Hermann stabilized himself on his shoulder. 

            He had held on a little tighter on the ride back but not because he was afraid of the long ride in the dark. He held on tighter because he knew he could, that Newton wasn’t going to read anything secret out of it now that they’d come clean. The night air was cool and Newton was warm as they made their way back across the island to the Kodiak Shatterdome. There was so much uncertainty ahead of them; the war, the wall and the world. 

            But perhaps that’s where Hermann had made his mistake before. Maybe it had been his insistence that he had to know something would last for forever rather than just until the end. He rather hoped that Newton would be the one to last until they finally found their end. For now, he would relish this beginning.