It wasn’t supposed to hurt. Hermann thought he had prepared himself for all the pain that would come with saving the world. In his most vivid daydreams, he had accounted for the bitter feeling of losing his life’s most important work. As soon as he decided to drift with Newton, he had known that his head would ache for days. When Marshal Pentecost walked out in the pilot suit, he’d accepted the pain coming when he didn’t, and maybe none of them, made it back.
But leaving Newton shouldn’t have hurt. It should have been a release but instead as he packed his loose-leaf notes into a binder there was a tightness in his chest he couldn’t shake. Newton had been offered his position at MIT back and was packing his side of the lab with the radio playing quietly. Hermann was headed back to Cambridge and soon they’d be on opposite sides of the globe with no reason to talk to each other. Their friendship had been prefect for years when they were separate but now that Hermann knew the balance of frustration and joy that come with being in close quarters with Newton, he feared he was going to miss it with all he was.
“More coffee?” Newton asked from the small counter they’d used as a kitchenette.
“No, thank you,” Hermann said, not even turning to look.
A few seconds later Newton flopped down on the couch and pulled out his guitar. He strummed it a few times before starting to pluck out a song.
It wasn’t any that Hermann recognized from the endless hours Newton had played his music, but it felt as familiar as his favorite sweater. There weren’t any lyrics, just notes washing over him. It was soft and sad and made the tightness in his chest twist and before he knew it there were tears running down his cheeks. He wiped at them and willed himself to stop but they kept coming. The movement must have caught Newton’s eye because the music stopped, and he was staring at Hermann.
“Dude, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, right. I forgot about your habit of crying for no reason.” Newton set the guitar down against the couch carefully before going to stand in front of Hermann and lightly wrapping a hand around Hermann’s wrist, his thumb stroking his pulse point.
The crying got worse. Gott, he wished he could stop.
“It just reminded me of something. Nothing to worry yourself about.” His voice sounded shaky even to his own ears.
“You couldn’t have known.”
“No, it’s from the drift. I wrote this song. You’ve probably never even heard it.” Newt’s face was starting to flush, and he took his hand away from Hermann’s arm to scratch the back of his neck. “You’re probably just getting stuff from when I wrote it.”
“Oh. When did you write it?” Hermann asked. The drift hadn’t exactly been clear, and his curiosity got the better of him.
Newt’s eyes went wide, and his face got more red. “I didn’t.
Hermann arched an eyebrow.
“I mean, I did. But,” Newt started but cut himself off. His voice was harder when he said, “why do you care when I wrote it?”
“I suppose I’m just curious,” Hermann said. He shouldn’t have pushed; it had obviously been a bad time for his friend, and they weren’t really that close anyway. He turned back to his notes.
Newt sighed behind him. “I wrote it after we met, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since the breach closed.”
“Oh. You were…After we met were you…when we met…”
“Yes!” Newt shouted, saving Hermann from stuttering on any longer. “I lost my best friend that day, I was sad about it.”
“So, did I and now it’s happing again so forgive me for wanting to know something about you,” Hermann snapped.
Newt was quiet for a long time. “So, we should like stay in touch, right? Or you could come to MIT.” Newt laughed.
“Well your university doesn’t seem to appreciate the work I did any more than you did so that’s not much an option. We will have to call each other.”
“On the phone. Seriously, Newton, do keep up.”
“No, about MIT.”
“Oh.” Hermann could feel his face heating up. “I may have reached out to the mathematics department head to see if they had any openings.”
“What? You want to teach at MIT?”
“There was some uncertainty of whether or not Cambridge would have my position available, so I thought it prudent to consider different employment.”
“They’re stupid.” Newton started to wrestle his phone out of his jeans. “Fucking assholes.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to call them. There’s no way you aren’t qualified to teach there,” Newton said as he tried to find the number. “It’s bullshit.”
“Newton, I already took the job in Cambridge. I couldn’t go even if they changed their mind.”
Newton’s expression fell from irritation to something resigned. “Right.” He swallowed and then broke into a wide grin. “It’ll be like old times.”
Hermann certainly hoped he was right.
Moving day was not something Newt was interested in. He hated packing to start with. Now he was leaving his whole life, and his best friend/drift partner behind. They had promised to keep in touch. Well, Newt had promised, and Hermann had nodded awkwardly over their last dinner together.
There were at least shuttles to take them to the airport since most of the Shatterdome was moving the same day and Herc had no intention of listening to two hundred people fighting to get in cabs with their luggage that contained their whole lives. Newt just had two large suitcases next to him while he waited at the loading dock since everything else he’d managed to keep from the higher ups was being shipped back to Boston separate.
Hermann came out and stood next to Newt, one small rolling bag with him.
“Just missed it. Next one’s in like 20 minutes.”
Hermann nodded but continued to stare straight down the road.
“This is worse than freshman move-in day.”
“I doubt that. With any luck in 48 hours each of us will be in our own beds again, not trying to ignore our roommate’s snoring,” Hermann said.
“A real bed,” Newt said like it was a dream.
They lapsed into silence, it seemed that his poking couldn’t get things back to normal. A few minutes later Hermann shifted awkwardly, playing with his cane. “Will you text me when you land in Los Angeles for your layover?”
“Dude, of course. And when I finally get home. You’ll text me when you land?”
“Yes. That seems fair.”
“Awesome!” Newt had expected he’d have to be the one to ask for the text, so he went to the next item on his wish list. “Will you finally let me take a selfie of us?”
“But Dad wants a picture of you.”
“Just your father?”
“And my uncle.”
Hermann’s frown deepened.
“Fine. Me! Is that a crime?”
“Yes. Now take your picture.”
Newt tried not to jump for joy as he pulled his phone from his pocket. He leaned in close and Hermann actually smiled at the camera. “Say cheese.”
Hermann was captured mid eye-roll and Newt smiling as wide as he could.
“Are you satisfied?”
“Yeah, totally.” Newt didn’t look up; he was too busy uploading the picture to the cloud, so it was safe from Newt’s clumsiness. He’d also memorized Hermann’s phone number in case he lost his phone. No chances. “Um, there was one other thing.”
“A hug. Not like a bro hug but like a real two arm hug.”
Hermann looked around at the almost empty waiting area. There were two techs talking a few feet away, but they weren’t paying any attention. “Very well.”
Newt didn’t bother to say anything more. He wrapped his arms around Hermann’s waist and rested his head against his shoulder. After a second Hermann wrapped his arms around Newt’s shoulders, cane in one hand. “I’m going to miss you dude,” Newt whispered.
He didn’t know if Hermann heard him because he just gave a tighter squeeze and then released him. Newt took a step back but couldn’t stop smiling.
Three hours later and they were each on planes headed in opposite directions.
Hermann spent the first two days in his new flat unpacking everything he owned, including what had been in storage since the beginning of the war. It was a long process and the aching in his chest was still prevalent, even though it was broken up with text messages from Newton every few minutes. On the second day they ended up arguing on a call about how to organize books. Hermann, of course, subscribed to the dewy decimal system for non-fiction and alphabetical by author’s last name for fiction. Newton, unsurprisingly, thought by color and size was the best way to organize them.
On day three, Hermann had lunch with his siblings that came from all over England to see him. They were at lunch when Hermann got the text you’re such a stick in the mud (dewy decimal for personal collection WTF). it’s good I’m still around to tell you.
“Who’s that?” Dieterich asked.
“My former lab partner.”
“Ooh, Newton Geiszler,” Karla said from across the table.
“The one you used to write to? Thought you hated him,” Bastien said.
“I do but we’ve worked together for so long that we have grown accustomed to contact.” Hermann put the phone in his pocket to protect it from his siblings that might make a move for it.
“That’s why your face lit up?” Dieterich asked.
“My face did no such thing.”
“What are you implying?”
“Nothing,” Karla said in a sing-song voice. “Just tell him we said hi.”
“When’s he coming to visit?” Bastien asked.
“Why not?” Dieterich asked.
“We could have a family dinner just for him. I’m sure he’d love to see father.”
“Megan’s family invited everyone to their house on the Isle for New Year’s Eve,” Bastien cut in with clear glee.
“That’s not for six months,” Hermann said.
“I know. But he’s coming a long way, so planning has to happen.”
“He’s not coming for New Year’s Eve.”
All three of Hermann’s siblings laughed at him. “You could at least invite him,” Karla said into her drink making the two other men laugh harder.
“Nah dude, I think the people here got dumber while I was gone.” Newt had just gotten home from his classes for the day and was on the phone with Hermann when he flopped on his bed.
“I’m sure. No longer being regularly exposed to your brilliance has certainly lowered the IQ of the incoming MIT students.” Hermann’s dry humor was so much better when Newt could actually hear him. It always made him smile, not to mention his voice helped to soothe the ghost drift that was fading but still ached sometimes.
He checked the clock on the wall that was set to Cambridge time. It was pushing half past nine and pretty soon Hermann would bail out of the conversation to go to sleep. It was Friday night, maybe he could convince Hermann to stay up past his bedtime.
“Not the students. They were always like this. It’s the other teachers. When I want to do some actual experiments and to, you know, expand human understanding, they need me to explain it like six times.” Newt kicked off his boots and loosened his tie while he continued to stare at the ceiling.
“You’ve always skipped things in your reports.”
“Because they’re obvious.”
“Not everyone has shared a lab with you for a decade, Newton. They can’t figure out what steps you’ve forgotten about.”
“I don’t forget steps, dude. And you never needed me to explain all the step to you.”
“That’s because I didn’t care. You’re mistaking my indifference for intuition again.” Hermann laughed a little and there was a sight shuffling sound in the background.
“Who would have guessed all I had to do was move thousands of miles away and you would start admitting that you didn’t know stuff.” Newt kicked off his pants too and crawled under the covers. He was tired and wanted to be comfy and had zero intentions of going anywhere else for the night.
“I believe I admitted plenty of times that I wasn’t listening to your constant blathering.”
“Sure, Herms. How’s it going over there?”
Hermann gave a heavy sigh. “The graduate students are still trying to work up the nerve to ask me to be their thesis advisors.”
“Do you want them to?”
“There are two that I’m hoping will find the nerve eventually. They both have quite interesting theories though as they stand now have some fatal flaws in them.”
“It’s killing you not to just fix them for them isn’t it?”
“Of course not. I respect the process that they need to go through to see the issues”
“Where did you pick up that godawful nickname?”
“Aw, you don’t like it?”
“I thought it was better than Hermy.”
“The nicknames being terrible is not mutually exclusive.”
Newt laughed quietly into the phone. They lulled into a silence that didn’t feel like it needed to be filled. But Newt did anyway because that’s what he did.
“Dude. I walked through one of the older buildings on campus and apparently they still have chalkboards because someone was in one of the lecture halls working on one and I had wicked déjà vu.”
“At least someone over there appreciates the finer things.”
“Yeah breathing in all that chalk. I’m gonna go to the doctor and they’re going to be able to make a whole stick from what I breathed in in our lab.”
“Better chalk than kaiju fumes.”
“That reminds me, though, Newton. A student today come up to me and asked me to sign a copy of the first book you published at the beginning of the war about kaiju anatomy.”
“What? Please tell me you said no. Do people just hear to German last names and get confused?”
Hermann laughed. “He could tell the difference between the two of us. You’d already signed it. As you’re so fond of reminding me we are both rockstars.”
“We should totally write a book together. That’d be tight.”
“Dude. You wrote the first programing for the jaegers, mapped the breach, created a predictive model for interdimensional attacks, figured out how to destroy the breach, and then drifted with a kaiju to find out why your calculations were wrong, even when they weren’t, saving the whole world. And I was figuring out where to attack on kaiju and how to use their own make up against them to save humanity. Not to mention all the office gossip about us. People would eat it up,” Newt said. For a second, he was in a vivid day dream where he had a laptop on his lap sitting on his couch next to Hermann, pressed shoulder to shoulder as they wrote a book together. Arguing over commas and who said what in an argument. Hermann in his day dream smelled like tea and chalk.
“Maybe someday,” Hermann said sounding just as wistful. Or maybe tired.
“We can work on it after you come to MIT.”
“Newton,” Hermann warned.
“I haven’t said anything but seriously dude. I might be smarter than you, but it’d be so cool to watch you school these assholes over here. Plus, we have at least one room with chalkboards in it.”
“I will consider my options when my contract with Cambridge is up at the end of the academic year. I’ve told you that. I don’t want you harassing the Dean about it either.”
Newt sighed and tried not to punch his pillow too aggressively because he felt like a child with too many emotions to fit in his body. “I know. I just think we’re better as a duo.”
Hermann was quiet for a long time, like he didn’t know what to say. “It has difficult to find a replacement for your accidental stumblings into intelligence.”
“That was almost a compliment.”
They drifted into silence again. Newt’s eyes drifted shut and just listening to Hermann’s breathing was calming. It was like they were in the lab and he as napping on the couch, not thousands of miles away.
“I need to sleep, Newton.”
“Fine. Go to sleep.”
“I’m going to hang up now. Goodnight, Newton.”
“Goodnight, Hermann. Sweet dreams.”
The line went silent.
Newt woke up at ten that night still in his shirt and with his phone two inches from his hand.
There was no more air. Somehow all of the air that Hermann used to breath was gone and he was still running. He had to keep running. He couldn’t remember what it was that was chasing him. Bullies? Kaiju? His brother? The next-door neighbor he never had? All he knew was that he had to keep going or he was good as dead.
The road he was running down was deserted and straight and flat. There were no buildings around, but no fields or orchards either. He was just running down a straight road in the middle of nowhere.
Familiarity hit him in the face like a smack. It wasn’t a road. It was a platform. And it wasn’t nowhere. It was the Anteverse.
The platform shook and the thought was knocked lose by the next wave of fear. He wasn’t going to make it. Wherever he was going he wasn’t going to make it. The shaking ground got worse, he fell and began to crawl, anything to keep moving forward.
His gasp as he woke was loud enough that his cat turned to look at him from her corner of his bed. “Oh, be quiet.” Brawler turned away from him.
He caught his breath and wiped sweat from his brow, trying not to look at his phone plugged in on the night stand. Newton had called him after his own nightmares before, surely Hermann was afforded that same curtesy. He checked the time and did that math of what time it was in Boston and what time Newton was likely to awake on a Saturday night. It had been a week since they had last spoken on the phone and Hermann hated himself for missing the sound of Newton’s voice. They had missed their standing Friday appointment to talk because Newt had had a late meeting with his department.
He dialed the number before he could talk himself out of it.
“Hey, are you the reason I’m about to have a panic attack?” Newton asked before the phone had even finished ringing once. He sounded out of breath too.
“I’m afraid I might be. Are you all right?”
Newton took a deep breath that sounded to be shaking. “Knowing it’s the drift and not just my brain being an asshole is helping. What were you doing?”
“I was attempting to sleep, however my mind decided to take a trip to the Anteverse instead of any reasonable place to dream.”
“Ah shit dude. Those are the worst. What it all red?”
Hermann’s throat clicked as he swallowed. “Yes.”
“That sucks. I hate the blue ones more. Cuz like the drift was in blue so our memories were in blue so it’s like here take these things you like and be afraid because we’re going to send some big cool monsters to get you and take it all from you.” Newton laughed nervously. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’d rather not.”
Hermann waited for him to ask why he had called then but the judgment never came.
“I can tell you about the Harry Potter marathon I’m in the middle of.”
Hermann adjusted his pillows, so he was sitting more comfortably. “Which one are you on?”
“The sixth one.”
“Not the worst of them,” Hermann said.
“Big Harry Potter fan?”
Hermann hummed in the affirmative.
“You probably totally know what house you’d be in,” Newton said with a grin in his voice.
“Do you not?”
Newt laughed brightly over the line. “Ravenclaw through and through. Probably you too, huh?”
“Actually, I’m a Hufflepuff.”
“I believe the test ferreted out that I wasn’t likely to hook my brain up to a kaiju brain without motivation beyond just the pursuit of knowledge.”
“Dude, I am so getting you a Hufflepuff sweater for your birthday.”
“I already have one and you told me that yellow wasn’t my color.” Hermann’s nightmare was a distant memory.
“That mustard colored thing?” Disgust was clear in his tone.
“Yes,” Hermann shot back just as sharp.
“I stand by what I said. That thing is ugly. You do know you don’t have to dress like a 90-year-old just to be a Hufflepuff. Cedric was hot as hell.”
“Robert Pattinson is much more attractive than a fair few of us. I’m sorry to disappoint.”
“There are a lot of places between how you dress and being Robert Pattinson hot. You could be anywhere on that scale.”
“I dress like a professional for a professional job,” Hermann snapped at him.
“But would it have killed you to relax for even one day? There was that day in Lima where it was like 90 and you were still wearing a sweater vest.”
“That is an exaggeration.”
“It’s totally not. You were totally wearing a sweater vest and those stupid kakis while I was sweating in my t-shirt and shorts.”
“As I remember those shorts had the word “Propaganda” on the bottom.”
“They did, and I looked hot as hell.”
“I am not having this discussion with you again at almost midnight,” Hermann said.
“Yeah, yeah. Go to sleep. Try not to have that dream again. I don’t need to run a marathon on my couch in the middle of the night.”
“I will endeavor not to. Enjoy your film.”
Hermann hung up and slept soundly through the night with his cat sleeping on his chest. When he awoke the next morning there was a text from Newt.
I’d rather have you for a lab partner. All I’d want to do if Cedric were my partner is jump his bones.
Newt and Hermann continued their arguing over the phone and in text format for months. Texts throughout the whole week and then a chat on Friday nights. It was an easy balance and helped to fight off the isolation that was threatening them both.
It was Christmas time and Newt took the break to go see his dad and uncle a few hours outside the city. He had lit the candles of the menorah by himself with a text to Hermann, but his dad was the Christian side, so he went to light the tree on Christmas eve and be there for Christmas morning.
He slung his backpack over his shoulder as he got out of the car in the small driveway and entered the house without knocking. “I’m home!” he shouted.
His uncle’s head ducked out of the kitchen to see him. “You’re early.”
“Nuh uh,” Newt said, checking the time on his phone.
“I told him the wrong time. Some of us know him.” His father came down the stairs with a smile on his face and wrapped Newt in a hug strong enough to pop his back.
“Some of us have faith in him.”
“Sorry, Uncle Illia, not even drifting with Hermann could make me punctual. It’s a lost cause at this point. I’m taking my stuff to my room.”
They each made noises in acknowledgement and he started up the stairs.
“Less than a minute,” Illia said, obviously to his brother.
“Some days I think you two are conspiring,” Jacob grumbled.
Newt wondered what it was they had bet on. He tossed his bag into the middle of his bed which had long before been converted into a respectable guest room painted grey and blue.
Not much in the house had changed from the few months before when he had been home while signing his lease in the city. As he walked down the stairs his eye did catch on one thing. There was a new picture added to the gallery on the stairs. Most of the pictures were of Newt with a few of Illia and Jacob but there was one now smack dab in the middle of the rest; Newt with his arm around Hermann and smiling. It was the selfie they had taken the day they had both moved home in a hideous frame, even by Newt’s standards.
In an effort to fight off the warmth in his chest at the sight of Hermann’s picture on the family wall he pulled out his phone and took a picture of the framed photo and sent it to Hermann. Told you my dad wanted the pic
“When did you put up the picture of me and Herms?” he asked as he went straight to the fridge.
“How about a hug for your favorite uncle?” Illia asked.
Newt gave him a hug and ended up with cookie dough in his hair for his trouble. “Thanks.”
“About a week ago. Your father had to finish building the frame.”
“Since when do we build frames for pictures?”
“Since now. Doctor said it’d be good to pick up a new hobby. Woodworking sounded like it would annoy Illia the most.”
“It’s still better than that time when we were kids and you tried to learn the accordion.”
Newt ignored his phone when it buzzed once. “Is it getting worse?”
“No, stop worrying. The doctor said to keep working out the brain to keep me sharp.”
I’m flattered. It’s a very nice frame. Liar.
“Hermann likes the frame.”
Jacob’s eyes lit up. “You showed Hermann! I can make him one. Does he celebrate Christmas?”
“Nope. And his birthday isn’t until June.”
He made it. He’s very proud. He wants to send you one.
“Then we have time to get a nice picture of you to put in the frame before June.”
Newt poured himself a glass of eggnog, homemade by Illia because the man was a culinary genius. “I’m not sending him a picture of myself for his birthday, dad.”
“It’s what he’d want,” Jacob grumbled.
“How’s school going, kiddo?” Illia said, distracting Newt from finding out what his father meant.
“Not as exciting as saving the world.” Newt sat at the barstool at the island that Illia was working at and Jacob sat next to him.
I would be honored to get such a frame from him. Though you never sent me a copy of that photo so I’d have to find something else to put in it.
Newt felt himself blush. Hermann was asking for the picture of them together in his most Hermanny way.
I’ll tell him. He sent the picture of them together with the text.
“Hermann says he’d like a frame but he’s already got a picture in mind.”
“Why are you blushing?” Jacob asked, elbowing his son.
“Yes, you are.”
Newt was quiet for a long time before burying his face in his arms with his head on the counter. “He’s going to put the same picture of us in it.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Illia asked slowly.
“Yeah, don’t you want your boyfriend to have a picture of you two together? In a very well-made frame, I might add.”
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Newt threw his arms up in a flash of emotion, which emotion he wasn’t sure. Neither Jacob nor Illia were phased, they just waited for him to continue.
“Do you wish he was?” Illia asked after Newt didn’t say anything more.
“I…don’t know. We were friends before and now we talk all the time and I make jokes about him coming to MIT all the time but what if our friendship only works when we can hang up the phone. And like I totally had a thing for him when we were working together but things wouldn’t be the same and if I ask him he could totally shoot me down and then I’d be all alone again and I don’t want to be but I don’t want anyone else but we may never live in the same country again and even after facing an interdimensional alien invasion we still have to deal with visas and immigration and stuff and what if he doesn’t want to do that for me or doesn’t want me in England with him?”
“Deep breath,” Jacob cut in. He was running his hand up and down Newton’s back as soothingly as he could and smiling sadly at his son.
Newt took a few breaths in time with his father’s exaggerated breaths just like he had whenever his father had pulled him back from his mess of emotions so they could walk through them calmly and not just start lighting fires and making things worse. The same way Newt’s oma had calmed down Jacob when his own emotions got the best of him.
“So, prefect world what do we want?”
“To be with Hermann but it’s more complicated-“
“I didn’t ask what was practical or most likely. So, Hermann is the goal.”
Newt nodded and felt stupid for being so predictable.
“So how do we try to get into a romantic relationship with Hermann?”
“We have to live near each-“
“No. Lots of long-distance relationships exist so try again. What is the simplest thing you have to do?”
“Ask him out. But if I break it down more I have to tell him how I feel.”
“Exactly. So, if telling him how you feel is the action you have to take to even get close to the goal what are the drawbacks?”
Newt was starting to calm down and he could think clearly again. He ignored the buzz of his phone on the counter. It was face down so no one else could look at it either. “I could lose him if he doesn’t feel the same way.”
“And what’s the likelihood of that?”
“High. I don’t think he thinks of me that way and it would embarrass us both if I told him.”
“So, what’s more important? A definitive answer from him and the chance? Or what you have now?”
Newt wanted with all he was to have Hermann to himself. As a partner. To someday be able to live together and kiss and tell him he loved him. But what he had now was almost enough. It was almost just as good and losing it would devastate him. “What I have now.”
“Okay. And you can always change your mind and tell him some other time,” Jacob said. He pulled his son into a one arm hug.
“Yeah. I should try to get over this crush anyway. Probably just happened because of close and repeated contact,” Newt said, trying to brighten up.
“Yeah I heard a rumor that single people still exist in Boston,” Illia said with a smile.
Newt laughed and finally checked his phone.
Thank you. It is a good picture of us. This one is of my family a few nights ago.
The picture featured Hermann, his siblings, his niece and nephew and Lars all smiling in varying degrees at the camera.
“Can we take a picture?”
“To send to Hermann?”
“Maybe. He sent me one of his family.”
“You just said…”
“It’s from a few nights ago.”
Illia rinsed off his hands with a smile and shook his head at Jacob. “You might want to brush the cookie dough out of your hair.”
“Nah. He’s used to it.”
Illia and Jacob crowded next to Newton on either side and the three of them smiled wide.
Newt was too busy typing a message to Hermann to notice the worried look between Jacob and Illia. They had no faith that he’d be giving up on Hermann any time soon.
It was Thursday night, late in January and Hermann was getting ready for bed. The next day he’d stay up late for his call with Newton, but he’d need to get rest before that. He’d fallen asleep on enough on their calls to accept that it was difficult to stay up for as long as their conversations lasted.
His phone rang just as he was plugging it in on the bedside table. It was Newton.
“Uh, hey, Herms.”
“Don’t call me that. Is something the matter?”
“Oh, uh.” Newt cut himself off again and Hermann started to worry. Their connection wasn’t usually strong unless one of them was sleeping so there was little to be gained from probing at the small part of his mind that still belonged to Newton. “I thought we could catch up today because I’m busy tomorrow.”
“Oh. What are you doing tomorrow?”
Newton hesitated for a long time on the other end of the call. “I have a date.”
“Oh.” Hermann felt like the world had been pulled out from under him. He felt a million miles away from his room and his phone, locked in space where the fact that Newton had a date just reverberated around him endlessly. “Can I ask with whom?” he heard someone that sounded like him ask. There was no way that he could have asked because he couldn’t breathe.
“A guy who works in the library. Preserving old documents and stuff. He’s pretty cool.”
“I hope you have a nice time. I can’t talk tonight. I need to get to bed. I have class in the morning.”
“Oh. Yeah. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Yes. Let me know how the date goes.” Hermann hung up before he could hear Newton say anything in response.
He felt so stupid. Somewhere along the line he had known that his feelings were shifting from purely platonic. He was even getting comfortable with the idea of wanting Newton in such a way that made him day dream of lazy Sunday mornings where Newton made him pancakes and they bickered over the proper toppings for such breakfast. Now the blinders of delusion and arrogance were gone.
Of course, Newton was out looking for additional companionship. What did Hermann really have to offer when they were thousands of miles apart? What did he have to offer when they were together? Nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing is what Hermann was to Newton.
He tried not to cry himself to sleep that night.
The next day Hermann got out of bed and reminded himself not to be excited that it was Friday. Newton wouldn’t be calling him that night.
He made it through the whole day, texting back Newton at appropriate and reasonable intervals, even if it was slightly slower than the pace he had kept over the last few months. He needed to remember to create and maintain distance between them, for Newton’s sake if not for the safety of Hermann’s heart.
If he went to be early it was no one’s business, including Brawler’s, who looked very confused at Hermann’s almost immediate retirement to bed upon returning home.
He woke the next morning and resisted the urge to check his phone for a full minute.
Did you know that kaiju cults are still recruiting?
No. Though, I’m not exactly a prime target.
It was still early in Boston, so Hermann went about his morning routine. Worst case scenario the text was completely unrelated to the date and Hermann was still important enough to Newton to justify texting when even the most innocuous things that happened. Best case scenario, Newton’s date had been part of a kaiju cult and trying to recruit Newton.
Hermann only felt a little guilty for the ranking.
A few hours later Newton texted him back while Hermann was grading papers. Yeah. Library boy wanted to know if I was ready for the return of the kaiju and that was why I didn’t cover the tatts.
I’m going to start having to ask if they’re in a cult before I agree to dinner.
Hermann couldn’t help his smile. That would be prudent.
The phone rang in his hand as soon as he had sent the text but instead of the usual voice call it was a video call. Newton’s face had a red line going down the side from a pillow and his hair was mussed. He was also shirtless and surrounded by pillows in his bed.
“Tell me you’re not still at his house.”
Newton scoffed. “Give me some credit, dude. I didn’t sleep with him.”
“You can understand my suspicion.”
“That was one time and I didn’t know she was in a cult before I slept with her.”
“No, she just waited for you to fall asleep before she tried to break into our lab and steal one of your specimens.”
“It’s a good thing you practically lived in the lab then, so you could save us.”
Hermann rolled his eyes and tried not to feel too fond.
“Were you busy yesterday?” Newton asked.
“Not more than usual,” Hermann said.
“Oh.” Newton shrugged and went a little more red.
Newton shrugged again. “No reason.”
Maybe he was suspicious that the announcement of his date had affected Hermann. “I might have been tired. I went to bed quiet early yesterday.”
“That makes sense. Are you feeling better today?”
Newton smiled at him brightly and started to stretch. “What about you?”
“You will have to be more specific.”
Newton shrugged and looked to the side past the phone. “Are you dating someone? Or going on dates? You never talk about it, but you’ve gone on dates before. I’ve seen it.”
Hermann resisted the urge to squirm in his seat under the scrutiny of Newton’s question. It wasn’t as if Newton would put together how he’d been feeling the past few weeks unless Hermann said something very direct. “I don’t exactly attract many offers.”
“You might if you’d stop glaring at everyone you meet.”
“I’m also not looking,” Hermann said. “After so much time in such tight quarters with so many people it’s been nice to have my space back.”
Newton nodded but still didn’t look at the screen in front of him. “I should get up and take a shower. I’ll text you later.”
“That is probably for the best.”
Newton hung up before Hermann could get all the way through the sentence.
Newt continued to go on dates. He downloaded two apps and everything. Some dates went well but there wasn’t a spark of anything he wanted to pursue. Not that it stopped him from continuing to go on the follow up dates that were suggested by the other people.
He wasn’t enough of a snob to say that the other people just couldn’t keep up because he was so smart but some days he felt stuck in that rut of conversation with someone, explaining all the steps from points A to B.
So, nothing was lasting long but Newt also couldn’t talk to Hermann about it because every time Newt even brought up his lack of dating grace he’d scoff if they were on the phone and try to change the subject or just take a really long to reply if they were texting. He tried not to read into it, Hermann himself hated dating and more than once pointed out that he didn’t exactly have a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Vanessa had been his first serious relationship and that had ended dramatically. He probably just didn’t want to talk about it at all.
It didn’t mean that he was jealous like the stupid and hopeful part of Newt wished.
None of that stopped his heart from skipping a beat when he got an email from the head of the math department saying they would be interviewing to fill a position and if Newt’s friend was still interested, he could apply.
He forwarded it off to Hermann in an instant. If there was a position, there was no way that Hermann wouldn’t get it. MIT might not have liked the newest version of Newt, but they’d love every version of Hermann.
That night he called Hermann as soon as he closed his office door even though it was Wednesday and not their night.
“Newton,” Hermann said in greeting.
“Did you see my email?”
“Are you going to apply?”
“I’m updating my CV.”
“Yes! You’re totally going to get it! Don’t even worry about a hotel if they interview in person. You can stay at my place. You’re going to love it here.”
“Newton, calm down. It’s hardly a sure thing. I haven’t programed anything substantial in a long while and they are looking for someone with a specialty in mathematics and programing.”
“Whatever. They’re totally going to love you. You’ve got the stuffy professor thing that they love down.”
Hermann scoffed but it sounded like he was laughing and that made Newt smile as he started his car and the conversation moved to his headphones. “We will certainly find out.”
As he had promised to Newton Hermann did submit his CV to the university. He did his best to keep his expectations and hopes controlled. After all, he had been denied by the university less than a year before and while he considered himself qualified, they might have also been looking to have him go back to his programing days, which he had no interest in. It was time to move on from that. Even if he couldn’t move on from Newton.
A week after submitting his application to MIT he got a call to schedule a video interview. He set up a time, balancing the two time differences easily since he thought about them almost constantly.
My first interview with the Dean of Mathematics is on Thursday Hermann texted to Newt on Monday evening.
Hell yeah! Phone or skype?
The bubble showing that Newt was writing popped up but no immediate message followed. A few minutes later it came through. Can I talk you into not wearing a sweatervest?
The writing bubble popped up and disappeared a few more times over three minutes that Hermann watched it. then wear the dark blue one. It’s the least dumb.
Hermann rolled his eyes but made a note to pick up the vest that Newton was talking about and take it to the cleaners. He did like that one anyway and Newton wouldn’t try to sabotage an interview he’d been trying to set up for months.
When have I ever taken fashion advise from you?
Once. You couldn’t pick which tie to wear to the conference at the UN.
Hermann did remember that. It had been when the Wall was first being proposed and Newt and Hermann had been sent to explain why it was such a spectacularly bad idea. They had been forced to share a hotel room as usual and he hadn’t been able to decide between the patterned and the solid colored ties. Newton had said the solid color was one he wore all the time and it would make him more comfortable. They had won that battle against the wall even if it was the first of many that would follow.
I had forgotten about that. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago.
Nah. Feels like just yesterday I was yelling at you about the importance of the 90s grunge scene.
That was yesterday, Newton.
We totally had that argument in the lab too.
Yes. Due to the fact that you won’t accept that it’s not the most important movement in music history.
Pretty important. You just don’t like it because you’re actually 90 years old.
Anyway, dude. I gotta go. Class is starting.
I’m only a year older than you.
He did end up wearing the dark blue vest that Newton had suggested under his blazer on his interview and when he hung up, he felt that it hadn’t been a total waste. He might have to start considering if living near Newton was really for the best given his unreasonable crush. Maybe he’d get a place far enough away that walking would be a drag so that they could see each other but it wouldn’t be easy to run into one another when Newt was on a date. Hermann didn’t know if he could take that sight.
Another week later he was invited to tour the campus and do a second interview in Boston. He accepted, of course, but held back the news from Newt until their Friday call.
“Hey, dude. What’s new?” Newton started the call like he did almost every time. Hermann was sitting with his back against the headboard of his bed with his legs stretched out in front of him, a smile coming to his face as soon as he heard Newton’s voice.
“I was wondering if you had any plans for two weeks from now?”
“Why? Did they call you? I knew it. Why do you even doubt me anymore?”
“I doubt you because you’ve been wrong a good many times,” Hermann shot back.
“Me being right saved the world.”
“I distinctly remember there being a few more people involved.”
“Yeah, yeah. You said two weeks?”
“Shit. I think dad and Illia are out of town that week visiting Oma. I’ll double check.”
“Why would it matter if your father and uncle are out of town during my interview?”
“They totally want to meet you. Who cares? They can meet you after you get the job and move here.” Newt’s voice sounded a little distracted but then Hermann heard something in the background. “I’m going to eat while you tell me the details.”
Newt’s mouth was definitely full when he said, “What day? Who are you interviewing with? Stuff like that.”
Hermann sighed but didn’t want to listen to Newt talk with his mouth full, so he started to list the details to him. It didn’t help to keep Hermann from having to listen to him talk with food in his mouth, though, because the man was incapable of not making comments every few minutes. By the time they were off the phone three hours later, Hermann had a flight booked and Newt had put a reminder in his phone to pick up Hermann at the airport.
“Dude, what are you doing?” Newt asked, coming out of the bathroom to stare at Hermann sitting in his pajamas on the made-up couch.
“I was going to sleep.”
“I’m not letting you sleep on the couch. I know you’ve slept on worse but come on, I’m not that much of a dick.” Newt had every intention of sleeping on his couch since he had forgotten to get an air mattress. “You have an interview tomorrow. You don’t need to fuck up your back.”
“I am perfectly capable of knowing my limits as far as my body is concerned, thank you, Newton.” Hermann swung his legs up onto the couch and pulled the blanket over himself.
“You are vastly underestimating how cheap I am. That couch wouldn’t be fit for a cat to sleep on let alone a full-grown man. Get in my bed.”
Hermann’s cheeks went red. “If the couch is so terrible you shouldn’t sleep on it either.”
“But I don’t have to make a good impression tomorrow.”
Hermann pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. “This is your home, Newton. I’m not kicking you out of bed.”
“Then we can share.” The words were out of Newt’s mouth before he could stop them. But it was fine. Because they were friends. It was fine.
“Very well.” Hermann finally got out of bed and followed Newt into the room.
“I usually sleep in the middle so just pick a side.”
Hermann went to the right. He arranged himself so that his leg was supported with pillows and he was facing the middle. Newt counted his breaths before he went to his side. He flipped the switch on his way over, plunging them into darkness, or at least as close as his room could get with the curtains cracked and lights outside.
It was still way too early for Newt to fall asleep. He considered playing on his phone until he felt the urge to close his eyes but didn’t want the light to disturb Hermann. The pounding of his chest wasn’t helping either. He really needed to get over this crush.
“Could you please breath quieter,” Hermann grumbled.
“Sorry. Can’t sleep.”
“I assumed. Nightmares?”
“Nah, just ‘mares,” Newt said, still staring at the ceiling.
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. Regretting inviting me to apply because now you might have to live near me?” It sounded almost like a joke.
“Nah. Just wondering if I’m going to die alone because I’m unlovable.” He tried to pass it off as a joke but didn’t quite manage it from the way Hermann’s own breathing stopped.
“You’re not unlovable, Newton. Quite the opposite.”
“Yeah? Look where I am. I’m sharing my bed with someone who can barely stand me because he’s the closest thing I have to a friend and I keep badgering him into moving here so I won’t be so alone. I can’t get laid to save my life because no one seems to understand that there is a difference between awe and worship. And even before the tattoos I didn’t exactly–“ He was cut off by Hermann’s hand cupping his cheek as he leaned over him.
“Don’t make me repeat myself, Newton. You know how I hate that.” Then, before Newt could figure out what it was that Hermann didn’t want to repeat, dry lips were brushing against his own. Newt surged up to meet the pressure. To kiss back before Hermann came to his senses.
He buried his fingers in the soft strands of Hermann’s hair and tried to deepen the kiss. Hermann was half draped over him when his lips left Newt’s entirely to kiss down his neck. He couldn’t help the little desperate moan that came out of him.
Shut it, Geiszler. He’s doing this because you’re sad and he can pretend it someone else. Keep your mouth shut. Newt slid his hands under Hermann’s shirt and earned a shiver for his troubles. A full body one that Newt felt against him. It was like all of his dreams coming true. Most of his dreams.
“Shirt. Off,” Hermann said, tugging on the fabric of Newt’s t-shirt and Newt sat up to pull it off. Which gave him a lap full of Hermann who also tore of his shirt. The pale skin practically glowed in the dim light and Newt attached himself to Hermann’s neck, careful not to mark. Even without the interview tomorrow he still wouldn’t want souvenirs of the time he let Newt touch him.
Hermann’s hand drifted lower to brush against Newt’s cock through the thin fabric of his sweats and Newt bit his own lip so hard he thought he might start bleeding. “If you want to keep going you need to say something,” Hermann whispered.
“Please. Hermann. Fuck me. Please.” Newt let all the words out in one breath, his forehead resting on Hermann’s chest for just a second while he tried to put his brain in order.
Hermann didn’t let him, though. He grabbed this sides of Newt’s face and pressed them back into bruising kisses that made Newt’s whole body feel like it was floating. Or not attached at all. Like he began and ended anywhere Hermann was touching him.
“Do you have?”
Newt grabbed blindly at his bedside table and pulled out lube and a strip of condoms. Hermann could deal with that while Newt got himself ready. Hermann rolled off of him long enough for them each to get their pants off and for Newt to roll onto his front. He slicked up three fingers and slid one after another into himself in quick succession. There was a little burn, but he had done this to himself a million times and he knew just how to get himself ready for Hermann. Maybe a little tighter than he would go with one of his toys, but he wanted to really feel it and he didn’t expect there would be much complaining from Hermann’s end.
“Now,” Newt said, getting up on his knees and wiping his hand on his shirt that was still on the bed.
Hermann knelt behind him. “You’re sure?”
“Don’t make me beg again,” Newt snapped.
Hermann slid in and Newt couldn’t remember the last time he had felt that good. He had always loved getting fucked, these days it was mostly left to the toys and there was something so thrilling about not knowing how the angle would change. Something amazing about knowing that Newt wasn’t alone in the pleasure that was filling him. Something beautiful about knowing it was Hermann inside him.
He wanted to let out a loud moan and beg for more but reminded himself that Hermann would want quiet. He had wanted quiet in the lab so he could pretend Newt wasn’t there and he was going to want quiet in bed so he could pretend it was someone prettier whose back wasn’t covered in kaiju.
Neither of them lasted long and when the thrusts into him started to become less steady and shorter he put a hand around himself and started to jerk himself off so Hermann could focus on himself. The man deserved a little peace and pleasure.
Newt came with a chocked off gasp.
Hermann came with the whisper of “darling.”
Newt totally didn’t cry when he went into the bathroom to get them a towel to clean them up.
When the first alarm rang out Hermann knew it wasn’t his own. He had kept the standard and what was playing was the start of a song that Hermann recognized from the years in the lab. Newt always skipped it “I thought of angels choking on their halos,” the singer started before Newt stopped it.
Hermann had never thought of Newton as a morning person but as soon as the alarm was off, he was shuffling off to the shower. He supposed he could have been wrong all those years. Newton had certainly shown himself to be full of surprises. More likely it had to do with what Hermann had done the night before.
He had expected cuddling after their first time together. Or he had hoped for and dreamed of cuddling, of Newton wanting to be close. Hermann had thought Newton had wanted it as bad as he had but he must have been wrong. As soon as they were cleaned up Newton turned with his back to Hermann and slept on the very edge of the bed, making it very clear that it had been a lapse. It wasn’t something to discuss or repeat.
Newt had prepared himself like it was a job to be done quickly, to be gotten over with. He had turned so that he didn’t have to face Hermann. He hadn’t said anything if Hermann didn’t prompt him, the better to make sure that Hermann didn’t talk too much either. What a fool he had been to think that it might have led to more. That he could have had a relationship blossom out of a late-night fuck while Hermann waited for an interview with MIT. He hadn’t wanted Hermann. He had wanted anyone.
Newt came out of the bathroom and back into the room fully dressed and frowning, looking two feet to the left of Hermann. “I’m going to head in early. You have a key so you can let yourself in after the interview. Good luck.”
He didn’t wait for Hermann to respond before he was out the front door.
Hermann’s interview went about as well as could be expected. He was more than qualified. Like Newton liked to remind him, Hermann had helped saved the world. As he walked off campus, he didn’t think that was enough.
A part of him doubted that there was even a real position available. It was probably a scheme to get Newton off their backs, because as much as Newton liked to deny that he had been pestering anyone about Hermann he didn’t believe him. When he had mentioned his work with the PPDC and Newton the smile that had crossed the head of the mathematics department had been a little too knowing.
Hermann wondered if he should have never come in the first place. He went to get a late lunch so that he didn’t have to go back to Newton’s apartment. Even if Newt wasn’t there he’d come home eventually and waiting for him seemed worse than staying out later than usual to avoid him. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid to mess up his first real friendship in years.
How could he mention the opening at Cambridge now that Newt couldn’t look him in the eye? It was a shame too. The astrobiology department was expanding quickly and working tightly with the astrophysics department. They hadn’t even made the position public yet. The head of the department had pulled Hermann aside after a meeting and asked if Hermann was still in contact with Newton and if he was to mention the position. Now Hermann had ruined it for them both, he certainly couldn’t ask Newton to leave his home to work with Hermann again.
After his lunch Hermann went to an art museum until they closed and then got dinner by himself. He returned to Newton’s apartment around 11 to find it empty. He slept on the couch and only woke when Newton opened the door some time later and said “Of course. Idiot,” under his breath. Hermann pretended to still be asleep. At least they didn’t have to fight about sleeping arrangements.
Newt’s alarm went off Saturday morning after Hermann’s interview and he just stared at the ceiling for a long time after he turned it off. Hermann was set to leave today, and they hadn’t spoken about what happened. Not that Newt had given him the opportunity, but he at least wanted to ask about the interview. Maybe staying until the bar closed hadn’t been the smartest idea. But it wasn’t like he slept once he got home anyway.
In the living room Hermann was already up and had folded the sheets to one end of the couch and was reading on his tablet. He looked up and the smile he gave Newt looked painful.
“Morning,” Newt said. He went to the kitchen to make his coffee, found a fresh pot waiting even though he hadn’t set the timer the night before and he knew that Hermann didn’t drink coffee.
“How’d the interview go?”
Hermann was quiet for a long time. “I will be surprised if they call me for any follow up.”
“You’re such a pessimist.”
“I suspect they were just trying to placate you.”
Newt took a long drink of his coffee and let himself pretend his heart wasn’t breaking. That this wasn’t the end for them. That Hermann wouldn’t head back to England and Newt’s next text wouldn’t go unanswered. “Doubt it. They don’t know what they’re missing. We’re the dynamic duo.”
Hermann seemed to hesitate, his nail running across the button on the side of his tablet the way he did when he was regretting something before he did it. “Before I left there was mention of a position at Cambridge. For biology. A specialist in astrobiology and xenobiology specifically.”
“Really?” Maybe things were fine. Maybe they would be okay.
Hermann’s face loosened a little, he almost smiled. “Yes. They asked for you by name. I suspect that they knew where I was headed this week.”
Newt laughed just to break the awkward silence. “Will it be this awkward between us all the time if I take it? Cuz that would be cool.”
Hermann’s back went ridged and he looked down at the ground. If Newt didn’t know better, he would have said that Hermann looked ashamed. “One should hope not. We’ve certainly overcome deeper rifts.”
“Yeah. We’re besties. When’s your flight leaving again?”
“Cool. I’m taking a shower. We can stop for brunch and still get you there with plenty of time.”
Newt escaped with his half-drunk mug of coffee to the bedroom and then the bathroom. Things weren’t completely ruined. He just needed to clear his head before he decided what to do about the Cambridge job.
He drained the coffee as he started the shower and considered what Hermann had said. He was right. They had hated each other when they had first been crammed into a lab together and they had ended up linking their minds together to save the world. Surely, they could make their way through the post one-night stand awkwardness. Newt just needed to get a hold of himself and remember that Hermann had been trying to do him a favor and to make him feel guilty about it was shitty. It wasn’t Hermann’s fault Newt wanted more than what was on offer.
Maybe in Cambridge there’d be a new batch of people to pick from that didn’t remember him from before the PPDC. That’d help his dating prospects. Hopefully.
He got out of the shower with a clear head and forced a smile on his face.
Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans Newt left the bathroom. Hermann didn’t spare a glance when he did. Things could go back to normal.
Over brunch they argued over whether or not kaiju biology was a specialization within astrobiology and at the airport they shook hands before the security check. Normal.
Two months later, at the beginning of June when contract negotiations were starting Newt handed over his resignation.
“Is this about Dr. Gottlieb?” Dean McBride asked.
“No. This place just wants to make robots. You don’t care about natural biology. Not really.”
“Newton, that’s not true. You’ve been here a long time. This is your home. This is where you got all six of those PhDs. If it’s a budget thing we can work on that.”
“Can’t stay too long in one place, too used to moving around from the Corps.”
She hummed quietly and nodded. “Where are you going? If you don’t mind me asking.”
Her smile was knowing and indulgent. “I did what I could. We just don’t have the space for a theoretical astrophysicist who doesn’t want to teach about his own previous accomplishments. He can’t just pretend he didn’t program those jaegers. Or that we don’t want to know about it.”
“He wants to move forward. Is that so bad?”
“Why does he have to drag you away from your own path so that he can run from his past?”
Newt shrugged. “I’m not going for him. And he’s not running.”
“You don’t have to lie to me. I’m just wondering aloud.”
“We saved the world together. We work best together.”
She smiled and shook her head. “I’ll keep that in mind. At least you’re not going to Harvard.”
“I’m not a traitor,” he said with a laugh and stood to shake her hand. “I’ll empty my office after finals.”
“We’ll miss you. And I hope you’re right.”
“When aren’t I?”
“About thirty percent of the time.”
When Newton got the job at Cambridge it was almost instantaneous. By the time Hermann walked onto the campus the following Monday he had an email thanking him for mentioning it to Newton and a text from Newton saying he had a video interview set up. Three days later Newton was signing his contract and Hermann was quickly coming to terms with the fact that he would be living quite near Newton now.
Newton and Hermann spent an entire Friday night searching for flats online. Hermann, trying to fulfil his roll of friend, agreed to go on the tours for him since Newton wouldn’t be coming over until the move.
Hermann had also managed to rope Karla into it because she had a deep love of real estate and was always happy to pry into Hermann’s personal life. Especially if it involved Newton. “I’m not saying you’re meant to be like a fairy tale, but you like him, and he is moving across the world to be closer to you.”
“He is moving across the world because he was sick of MIT and Cambridge has an excellent program in his field,” Hermann said. He continued to stab at his salad. They had seen three flats that morning, Karla had them ranked in her phone by which one she liked best so far. They had two more to go and then they could be done for the day and Hermann could get away from his sister’s inquisition.
“Okay. Fine. Then what is your plan when he gets here? Are you just going to pine from slightly closer than you are now?”
“I do not pine.”
“Sure. And I don’t sing in the shower.” She took a deep breath and put down her fork. “Hermann, Herm, darling brother of mine. I just think you should have a plan for this. Things change when people get closer and you don’t do well without a plan.”
“I know,” he snapped at her. She only blinked at him, conveying all of her exasperation with his nonsense at him at once. “But there are no guides or formulas for this. Movies and literature would have me believe that things would get clearer after we slept together but that only made things worse.”
Karla made a high-pitched surprised noise in the back of her throat. “When did that happen?”
“When I was in Boston for the interview.”
“Hermann.” She sounded absolutely scandalized. “What happened?”
Hermann took a deep breath through his nose. “I have known Newton a long time and nothing I have ever seen would suggest that he would be quiet during… the act or reserved in his physical contact after the fact; but he was both of those things.”
“In the morning he spoke three sentences to me and then left and didn’t return to his own house until after two in the morning.”
Hermann hadn’t spoken to anyone about it since it happened, and it felt good to get it off his chest. “My best hypothesis is that he was feeling sad and I was close and convenient given that I didn’t misunderstand the things he had said and was not taking advantage at the time. Which after some thought I am confident I didn’t misunderstand on that particular front.”
Karla and Hermann were both quiet for a long time. Even as they sat Hermann knew that Karla would offer him some advice that only had a fifty-fifty chance of being useful. She wasn’t the most emotionally in tune of the Gottlieb siblings. Maybe he could talk to Bastien once things settled down.
Hermann’s phone buzzed on the table. It was a selfie of Newt surrounded by boxes. Just a few more weeks.
Hermann nodded. I’m aware. Karla is touring the flats with me today.
Sweet. Tell her hi and thanks. I trust you so go ahead and just have them send me the lease once you decide.
“He says hello and thank you.”
“I bet. We should get going.” She waved down the waitress for the bill. “Well I think you should go for it. Just lay it all on the table. And if he says you were a one-night stand and he was putting your whole friendship on the line so he could get off without discussing that those were the boundaries first I’ll beat the shit out of him.”
He had no intention of telling Newton how he felt but he also couldn’t have Karla threatening to beat Newton up over a miscommunication. “Karla.”
“He’s short. I can take him.”
Newt moved to Cambridge in July. Moving for the second time was easier than it had been from the Shatterdomes but he was still stuck unpacking. He was standing in front of three stacks of boxes and tried to think of what he had put in each one so that he could decide which to unpack first. Music played in the background, a full shuffle of all of his music. The playlists he had created over the years working with Hermann were named fun things, but while he was alone he didn’t need to worry about making sure none of the Black Velvet Rabbits or any of his guilty pleasures were in the mix (his love of Taylor Swift ran deep but it didn’t exactly work with the punk image he went for.)
There was a knock on the door. He hadn’t ordered food yet. That’s what he should unpack first. His router.
He opened the door to see Hermann standing with three reusable grocery bags in one hand. Newt moved out of his way and took the bags.
“You always forget food, so I thought I’d bring some. House warming. Just basics.” Newt looked in the bags and sure enough it was just basics. Milk. Bread. Jelly. Peanut butter. Cheese. Pop-Tarts.
“Thanks, dude. Come to watch me try to put together some IKEA furniture? Or did you want to tackle that light?” Newt made finger guns at a box on the couch. “I brought it from Boston. Liked it in the store. Couldn’t get the stupid thing together.”
Hermann sat on the edge of the couch that Newt had managed to put together. He had priorities. “You put together of PONs from rubbish and you can’t manage to put together a light with drawn instructions?”
Newt shrugged. “If you’re so smart, you do it.”
Hermann glared at him but took the box and started.
Newt dug through the bags and started to put away the food before he went to find the router and set up Wi-Fi. It was probably an hour of working with the music playing in the background and Hermann cursing under his breath at the plastic and tiny screws before anything changed.
It was 100% Hermann’s fault that things changed at all. It didn’t matter that Newt had been the one to forget to change his playlist over.
Newt was sorting through his notebooks, trying to put them in some reasonable order, and didn’t even register the first notes of the song. He didn’t notice that it was the song he had written for Hermann after their first meeting. He didn’t notice it was the one Hermann had cried to in the Hong Kong lab. He didn’t notice that Hermann had gone completely still.
He just didn’t notice anything until there was a clatter of the plastic being set down carefully and he heard his own voice singing. Shit.
“I should have known. Too stupid to remember not to hope. I should have known you wouldn’t care. That you wouldn’t try. That I wasn’t good enough. I should have known.”
Newt lunged at where his phone was sitting on the counter, connected by Bluetooth to the speaker that way playing. Hermann was faster and held it away from him.
“Give it back, Hermann.” Newt tried to make his voice sound ominous and demanding but it cracked.
“Shush, I’m listening to the song.”
Luckily it was a repetitive song because Newt had never been a very good poet and loved guitar solos because music was more powerful than any lyrics. But he knew how the song ended. The end was different.
“I should have known better than to hope you loved me. I should have known better than to love you.”
The song ended followed quickly by a blink-182 song that faded to the background as blood rushed to his face. “Don’t be mad.”
“Mad? Why would I be mad?”
“Uh…because I wrote a love song about you and you’ve never experienced an emotion besides contempt in your life?” Newt offered, snatching his phone back.
For a split-second Hermann looked genuinely wounded. “If you held me in such low esteem why did you pester me to make that ludicrous trip to Boston to interview for a job no one but you seemed to want me to have!”
“Fine! Maybe you loved someone but it’s not like you’d ever feel that for me, so I figured you’d be all embarrassed and British and Hermann about it.” It felt like an accusation even as he said it.
“What does being Hermann mean?”
“It means fucking my brains out while thinking about someone else and then being awkward about it for days after.”
Hermann’s eyes went wide.
Shit. “I didn’t mean it like that. I know you did it as a favor and I should be grateful but…”
Something twisted in Hermann’s face like he couldn’t catch his breath and from the way his whole face was transitioning from red to purple and blinking quickly Newt could believe it.
“Hermann? This isn’t how we argue. You have to yell back.”
For a long time Hermann’s jaw moved but no sound came out. When he did speak it sounded shattered. “Grateful? What…It …I do not sleep with people that I do not care for…”
“I don’t think you don’t care…”
“Shut up! I do not think of other people while I am being intimate with someone. I have more courtesy for my bed partners than that,” Hermann spat at him. There he was. He was angry. Newt knew how to deal with angry Hermann. “I was awkward because I didn’t know what you wanted. I had thought you wanted me and then suddenly you were cold and removed and nothing like the man I had known for over a decade. And I realized that I was just something to pass the time and I was hurt, Newton.”
Herman took a step back and took three deep breaths that Newt could tell he was counting out the rhythm of them.
Newt took shuffling steps towards Hermann and grabbed his hand gently, just enough to hold them together. “Hermann. I did want you. I still want you. I don’t know that I ever stopped. That stupid song is certainly proof enough. I was like that because I didn’t want you to stop. I figured if you were sleeping with me of all people it must have just been convenient. Two birds one stone. You get off, I get to feel better about my status as an unlovable fuck.” Newt tried to smile but Hermann’s grip on his hand became crushing for a split second.
“Stop calling yourself unlovable or I’ll have to sleep with you again and start this whole confusing situation over again.”
Newt threw his head back and laughed. “So, can we skip all of that and maybe just go on an actual date?”
Hermann’s smile lit up his whole face and he nodded. “Yes.”
Newt leaned forward and Hermann met him in the middle for a kiss.
The kisses in Boston had been hot, but kiss that Hermann was laying on him now was careful and thorough and made him feel wanted. Like they were on the same page for once.
Three months after Newton moved to Cambridge, they were working on whether or not humans or any other carbon-based life forms could survive a trip through a similar breach to what the kaiju had used. It would certainly change space travel forever if they could harness the power for themselves. They went to work and lectured students and worked through the problems for each of end of the question with their departments and once a week they got together to share progress. Newt and Hermann almost always ended up yelling at each other during the process, but once one of their former research assistants interrupted their yelling the rest of the group didn’t have any hesitance doing the same.
It was not one of those days, but Newton was staying late to observe a dissection of some of the cloned kaiju kidney. “It’s going to be so cool. You sure you don’t want to come watch?” Newton asked. He was on the phone while Hermann started his walk to his car.
“I’m quite sure.”
“Fine. But we might have found a way to filter pollution, specifically Blue, out of the ocean. Don’t you want to be there when I save the world for the second time?”
Hermann smiled even if Newt couldn’t see him. “You can tell me all about it later. Will you be coming to my flat when you’re finished or your own?”
“I was thinking yours. I brought enough clothes from my place for a couple of days yesterday if that’s cool with you.”
“I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t ‘cool with it.’ I’ll set aside a plate of pasta for when you get home.”
“You’re the best. I’ll see you later.”
“I will. Love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He didn’t know which one of them hung up just that he had spoken last and was now staring at his phone. The first time he tells Newton that he loves him and it’s over the phone while discussing dinner. It had sounded automatic on Newton’s end. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue. Maybe Hermann would get a do over in a few days and he could say it at the end of a date night the way he had been planning. A way to make sure he could show and tell Newton at the same time.
His phone buzzed in his hand and he opened the text notification from Newton.
I meant that. Just in case you were wondering.
So did I. I’ll see you at home.