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First a Darling, Then a Marvel

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Newt pushes away from the scope, strips his gloves off, and shoves his hands up under his glasses. His eyes hurt, because microscopy with glasses is a chore. His left eye still isn't so great at focusing on things, and it's blurring the blue glow from the epifluorescent scope into a hard smear.

One of these days, Newt is going to teach a graduate student how to take publication quality pictures, not paste haphazardly into a lab notebook quality pictures, and he won't have to do all this bench work himself.

One of these days, Newt is going to have a graduate student that stays on for longer than a ten week departmentally mandated rotation. When he'd first picked up this position the list of eager first year students asking to join his lab had been extensive, gratifying, and ego-boosting, befitting the kind of rock star scientist he definitely is. Now he has a different kind of reputation. The reviews on RateMyPI.com are not kind. Does not write letters of recommendation on time, expects 90+ hours per week in the lab, never in his office, projects are impossible and come with little to no guidance, travels constantly, refuses to hire sufficient support staff. The reviews at graduate student happy hours are less kind, Newt's smart enough to guess. He's made a bad habit of dressing students down, loudly, when their experiments do not work, when they fail to perform proper controls, when he's feeling the need to pick a fight, any kind of fight, and the problem with graduate students is that they don't fight back, they just stare at him and say "Yes Dr. Geiszler," and "I'm sorry I didn't think of that, Dr. Geiszler."

The takeaway is that Newt's doing his own image acquisition tonight.

He needs a break. He needs a coffee, and he can't have one because his espresso machine is perpetually broken and it's, oh god, two in the morning already. He'd fix his espresso machine himself, but the postdocs one lab down have a revenge-fueled vendetta against his coffee maker and he's done giving them more chances to comically destroy it. So, yeah, one time some synthetic kaiju blue got out of the containment hood and onto some equipment that wasn't his, which had led to chemical safety locking down the entire floor for a week and a half. You didn't mess with coffee. It was unprofessional. It was inhumane. Even Hermann had never threatened to interrupt Newt's coffee supply, and Newt had once gotten non-synthetic kaiju blue on Hermann's actual clothing that he was actually wearing at the time.

That's fine. Newt will walk over to the mathematics building on the engineering quad and he will use Hermann's non-sabotaged coffee machine.

Newt doesn't like that Hermann is so far away. He isn't used to the fifteen minute walk across campus even two and a half years later, but he can't fathom a reason defensible enough to bring it up to Hermann in a way that doesn't sound completely crazy. "Hi Hermann, Herms, Dr. Gotts, dude, this different buildings thing hasn't started working for me in the past two years. I can't function without you within hollering distance at all times and I scream at my graduate students to compensate," doesn't really sound good.

He plays the conversation in his head as he walks along the brick paths that criss-cross the grassy campus. Newt would say, "Hermann I hate you and I miss you all the time," and Hermann would say…nope.

Newt would say, "Research demands it, Hermann. Your computational skills are needed, desperately, every day, in the biology department." Nope.

Newt would throw open the door to Herman's office and say, "The engineering buildings are over-designed and not accessible; my building doesn't have weird half-flights of stairs in the middle of every hallway, please…" Nope.

Newt would throw open the door and Hermann wouldn't be there and Newt would have to drink coffee alone.

Newt would throw open the door and demand that Hermann make him coffee, and Hermann would whip off his glasses and glare like he was having some massive epiphany at two o'clock in the morning that couldn't hang on for fifteen minutes while they have coffee, and he'd say, "Newton, is it so difficult to apologize to your peers and secure the unmolested future of your espresso machine, if only for my sake?"

Which, yes. Yes on principle to never apologizing, especially after cruel and excessive retaliation against his coffee supply. However. It's also possible that Newt likes having an excuse to drop in on Hermann at odd hours.

He's still chewing on the distance problem when he gets to Hermann's office. The door is cracked and inside Newt can hear the irregular tap and scratch of someone writing furiously in chalk. Newt stands quietly in the doorway and watches Hermann. He's awkwardly holding both a pencil and his cane in his left hand, like he was writing something down and couldn't be bothered to put anything down when an idea struck him. Somehow, there's no chalk dust on his sleeves, despite the fact that the blue carpet at his feet is whitened by a half-moon of dust that almost reaches the desk. He needs a haircut. His hair is starting to brush the tops of his ears and that's just not Hermann's style at all.

"You know, they've invented this thing called a whiteboard. I could purchase a whiteboard for you," Newt says.

Hermann, startled, drops his chalk and scowls at it when it bounces to the floor.

Newt steps fully into the office. "No," he says, waving a hand. "Don't get it, it's my fault, plus it hurts me to watch you bend over."

"I am perfectly capable of retrieving items from the floor," Hermann snaps, but he lets Newt get the chalk.

Hermann makes coffee for both of them, and lets Newt put his feet on his desk, ("No boots on my papers! Do not take your boots off! Do not--fine, do as you wish, I have given up on teaching you basic decorum.") and Newt immediately feels better.

"What are you doing in your laboratory that is so important you must be here at half past two in the morning?" Hermann asks.

"Right back atcha, pal."

Newt can practically see Hermann swallowing the words, "I asked you first," and Newt gives in.

"Yvonne quit. This morning. There are still some experiments that need to happen before I can send her paper off for submission," Newt says. "There isn't anyone I trust to do them but me, and they're time sensitive, so here I am." He ends the last sentence with a dramatic flourish of his coffee mug, gesturing at the entire late-night vista. He doesn't have to say that Yvonne was the last person he'd had in his lab. Hermann knows.

"Oh, Newton," Hermann says, like he also knows exactly how much trouble Newt is having, has been having, with this whole responsible Principal Investigator schtick and pities him for it. It’s simply intolerable and it makes Newt want to egg Hermann's car or smash some expensive glassware or get something aggressively rude tattooed somewhere really prominent.

"Don't 'Oh, Newton' me," Newt says. "I don't need to be 'Oh Newton'-ed I need…" and here he breaks off, because he'd almost said "for things to go back to normal," and nobody thinks things like that about horrible impending-doom positions on the screaming edge of the kaiju-mediated apocalypse.

"I need additional coffee," Newt says instead.

This is the worst, he is so unforgivably bad at this.

He would ask why he has to be so bad at this, but that's a well-traveled road with no interesting conclusions at the end. Some people don't handle the aftermath of trauma gracefully. Some people don't know how to form intimate bonds without the unsubtle crush of certain unavoidable death. Some people, here meaning one Newton Geiszler, are never going to talk about their vulnerabilities again.

And that’s fine.

Hermann does not get up to retrieve more coffee for Newt, likely because he’s a keen judge of liquid volume and knows that Newt’s got at least half a cup still in his 23rd annual CBMS Conference on Dynamical Systems mug. That’s also fine, Newt can get his own coffee when he needs it. Instead, Hermann does the unthinkable and reaches out across the desk to pat Newt’s foot awkwardly, who does that, in wordless sympathy. Any amount of unprompted physical contact from Hermann is weird; Newt wonders just how haggard he must look for Hermann to believe he needs foot-patting.

“If there’s any help I can give,” Hermann says, and trails off when Newton makes a disgusted expression with his entire face.

“What, no, not doing this right now. I’ve got cells halfway through an acid fixation back at the lab; there’s a timer on my phone that could go off at honestly any moment. Let’s talk about science, how’s yours?” Newt says in a high-pitched rush, steering them back into comfortable territory. He’s got a bit of an idea he’d like to run by Hermann anyway and he’s not going to get to it if they take a stroll down touchy-feely lane.

Hermann gives him a pained look and Newt agrees, that wasn’t the most elegant transition Newt’s ever made. In his defense, he wasn’t prepared for Hermann to ambush him with sympathy and foot-pats and treating him like a human.

“My science is satisfactory,” Hermann says primly.

“Good,” Newt chirps, vocal cords still not entirely under control. “Yeah, satisfactory, that’s pretty accurate, I’ll mark myself down as same. Science is mediocre.

Hermann’s pained look persists, but Newt has a point and he’s getting to it. His point is, Hermann’s blackboards lack some of the frenetic energy they had at the PPDC. They’re neater, and Hermann doesn’t climb a ladder to write at the very top of them. Newt misses the ladder, misses the instant drama of wrapping his fists around the sides of it, Hermann standing above him, shouting insults up and down the rungs, screaming about the smell of ethanol and the shriek of overclocked chalk and the kaiju entrails seeping across the floor. Newt hasn’t seen kaiju entrails in a year and a half.

Northwestern University is a premiere scientific institution post kaiju-non-apocalypse, particularly since the American midwest became the hip place to be. The California-based academia picked itself up and moved inland into the waiting arms of heartland universities with a century-old chip on their shoulders about never being Ivy League. Cornfield chic: the new marker of non-costal upper class, delightful. Newt likes it fine, likes the scientific rigor and the nearby state fairs. Except: the lake is nothing like the sea, and--

“It’s boring,” Newt says.

Hermann straightens up, eyes narrowing. “My work is not boring--”

Newt interrupts, “It is so boring, come on, everything is boring after the PPDC, admit it--”

“No, you intellectually wanton clod, it is not, simply because you have no patience--”

“Me! Me? I know when academia’s settled into a comfortable circle-jerk, you elitist dick--”

“--overstimulated child--”

“--pedantic--”

“--inconsiderate--”

Hermann leans over his desk, fists pressed into the wood, and Newt’s not laughing, but he’s fighting back a grin with every word, giddy with having someone who will yell back at him, as if shouting matches are an acceptable way for colleagues to perform intellectual discourse.

Newt lets Hermann get through the part where he calls Newt a “freeloader riding the swell of his fame to inconsequence,” and then makes a time-out gesture, hampered only slightly by the fact that he’s still holding a coffee mug in one hand. Hermann gets it and quiets with a huff of exasperated breath.

“Okay, you win, your work is fascinating,” Newt says. “I’m projecting. I’ve been thinking, though, about the applications of induced pluripotency in kaiju somatic cells. A little tweak to the developmental pathways, a little nuclear transplant; nobody’s exploring these things.”

Hermann has gone very pale and his lips are very thin.

“I was thinking it’d be possible, probably, to generate--”

“Do not say the word ‘clone,’ ” Hermann hisses.

Newt shrugs. “That’s definitely the layperson’s term, I’ll give you that. I would go for ‘kaiju embryoid,’ personally.”

This is not, apparently, what Hermann was driving at. “You are not allowed to clone a kaiju,” he says harshly, rising and brandishing his cane at Newt.

“Not a full-size one,” Newt says. “Just a little one. In a dish! You’d need a microscope to see it, at least until I could rig up an artificial womb, and that sounds really tricky.”

Newt finds his personal space suddenly invaded. Hermann grips Newt’s shirtfront in one bony fist and hauls him out of the chair. The man is strong, unfairly strong, and Newt has to go with it, stumbling to his feet, face suddenly inches from Hermann’s shirt collar. He smells coffee and chalk. “Get out of my office,” Hermann says directly into Newt’s ear, as if he thinks that putting his mouth closer to Newt’s brain will make his words stick better, “and do not ever bring this up again.”

Out in the hallway, Newt stares at his white socks on the soft blue carpet. Hermann tosses Newt’s boots out the door and shuts himself inside his office with a hard click.

Newt bends to pick up his shoes and thinks about extracellular scaffolds and tissue reprogramming.

#

A few weeks later, Newt calls Hermann at six in the morning to ask for a favor. “Hey, Hermann, you’ve got that conference in Sydney next week, right?”

Hermann sighs -- evidence that he’s awake, which gives Newt the green light to keep talking.

“I’ve got some samples that I need and it’s a little bit impossible to ship them. There’s an immortalized hematopoetic stem cell line from Mutavore that some real clever cats at Sydney Uni put together and I really want it. I have to have it, dude. Except it’s technically illegal to ship kaiju samples, even scientific ones, across international borders, which is unfair, I have more permits than you could fit on a truck. But, anyway, get this, it's not illegal provided you carry them on your person and aren't traveling by train. Because trains are extra regulated for some reason? Whatever, I was thinking--”

“No,” Hermann says.

“I didn’t even ask you for anything yet,” Newt whines.

No,” Hermann repeats.

“I just need you to carry a canister the size of a mason jar, it'll fit right in between ugly sweater number one and ugly presentation blazer number two in your carry-on, why is that so hard?”

There’s a hiss across the line which sounds like Hermann is blowing his breath through his teeth. “I will not be part of a kaiju smuggling scheme," he says.

Newt rolls his eyes. "It's not smuggling if it's not illegal."

"And still, no," Hermann snaps, and hangs up.

In retrospect, Newt may have had better luck if he had waited until after Hermann had his morning shower to beg favors. His judgement had been clouded by the flurry of phone calls with the Australian scientists where he'd demanded, wheedled, and bribed them into agreeing to part with some of their unpublished kaiju culture protocols and samples.

Newt runs a hand through his hair, ignores the greasy slide near his scalp (he'll shower later) and picks up his phone again to get in touch with the organizers of the International Topology Meeting. It's not exactly his field, but Newt is famous now, and he gives a hell of a keynote talk.

Six hours later he has tickets to Sydney and conference registration in the bag.

Newt drags together a powerpoint on the plane. He sulks through customs and signs four sheets of paper promising that he's not tracking chicken crap or kudzu seeds into the country.

Nobody recognizes him. There were other scientists on the same flight from Chicago to Sydney, identifiable by their button-downs over jeans (the uniform of those successful enough for comfort to supersede suits), but they're mathematicians, and Newt's not a player in their little professional world. Plus, he's covered up his tattoos. TSA agents tend to get jumpy around Newt's body art, which leads to extra screenings, which leads to pat-downs, which leads to unpleasantness for everyone in the area. Newt's not wild about getting touched by strangers these days.

The conference is boring. Newt’s aware that he’s only got two modes: talking, and waiting for someone to be finished so he may resume talking. The conference is almost entirely the latter, which is borderline intolerable. By evening, Newt has attended four of seven platform sessions, frightened a graduate student away from her poster before he could get to any of the particularly good questions he had, acquired his desired kaiju samples, purchased a fifth of expensive vodka, and ferreted out where Hermann's hotel room was located.

"Hermann!" Newt shouts at what he hopes is Hermann's hotel room door. The event coordinator had been pretty harried and this hotel was much nicer than he'd expected. Newt imagines the alarming possibility that the irritated individual who answers the door may not be Hermann. "Hermann!" he shouts again.

The door rattles, and Hermann appears, dressed only in formal slacks and an undershirt. Newt gets caught up in the shape of Hermann's torso under thin fabric for a moment, and licks his lips. "Um," Newt says.

Hermann's face is a picture of pure annoyance. "What are you doing here?"

Newt realizes that Hermann, maybe, hasn't yet done a close read of the revised conference program, and did not know that Newt was going to be here. He deflects. "You've got a mini fridge in there, right?"

"Yes," Hermann says slowly, like he's not following Newt's motivations. That's fine, all will become clear to him in time.

"Great!" Newt says. He slides past Hermann, tossing the vodka he's brought at Hermann's bed. At the only bed. Hermann has sprung for a single king room, which puts a small kink in Newt's plan. He’d missed the deadline to get a hotel room in the conference block and had assumed that Hermann would be amenable to an impromptu roommate assignment.

It's still fine. Newt will handle this. The vodka will help.

"I'm just going to put this into your fridge," Newt continues, brandishing his styrofoam-padded canister of cell samples. "It's on dry ice, but I'd still prefer to keep it colder rather than warmer."

The door clicks closed behind Hermann and Newt starts up a defensive patter to distract Hermann from some obvious questions he could be asking.

"Did you make it to the concurrent session on hypersurfaces as related to the drift state? I'm worried it's got practical applications, do you think that's possible?"

Newt locates the mini fridge and removes some overpriced orange juice to make room for his samples. He tosses the orange juice onto the bed with the vodka, for later. Hermann starts making protesting noises, but Newt bulldozes over him. "What was her name, from the Turnshek lab, she was asking really aggressively insightful questions that made me think those Department of Defense logos on her acknowledgments slide were more than -- "

Hermann manhandles Newt onto the desk chair and peers at him. "Are you currently abusing illicit substances?" he hisses.

Newt has an unpleasant flashback to when the jaeger pilots had been experimenting with drift-enhancing drugs and he'd tried them in the spirit of scientific enquiry, and also in the spirit of wanting really badly to get high. Romeo Blue had just been torn apart on the coast of Seattle and Newt had been handling it fine. Probably. There had been altercations with Hermann on that front. Newt remembers swaying in the bathroom with Hermann's hand clamped around his bicep as Newt flushed his carefully synthesized powders and hand-filled pill-caps down the toilet. Hermann held the fact that he hadn’t reported the incident over Newt's head for three years.

"Nothing I'm not prescribed, dude," Newt snaps.

Hermann sighs. "Are you in emotional distress?"

"No! Hermann, cool it with the intrusive questions. Take your curiosity and dunk it in some ice water. Lower its enthalpic value swiftly and dramatically. I'm invited to the meeting and I don't have a hotel room."

"You were invited to the International Topology Meeting."

Newt is a little bit offended that Hermann doesn't believe that he can hold his own at a mathematics meeting. He's interdisciplinary, man. He relays this sentiment to Hermann, but Hermann looks unconvinced.

They bicker comfortably about topology, biostatistics, cult sci-fi thrillers of the nineties, and Newt thinks, hopeful, that they have sidestepped the hotel room issue for the time being.

As planned, Newt gets drunk. As a defensive mechanism, he also gets Hermann drunk. He remembers, accurately, that Hermann drinks his liquor straight by preference and commandeers the orange juice for his own devices, making a satisfactory 1:1 dilution of juice to vodka that smells like a sterilized lab bench.

Almost without meaning to, he finds himself emptying his worries into Hermann's reluctant ear.

"First," Newt slurs, "when we started out we didn't have a single element of the molecular toolbox we needed to interrogate kaiju biology. Why do you think it took me five years to figure out they were clones? If they were, were, were -- frogs, or crayfish or something -- we would have known they were clones like that! Just sequence the DNA and line it up: boom, clones." Newt makes an explosion motion with both hands which jostles Hermann's drink. Hermann steadies him with a hand, flat and warm, on his back, and Newt continues.

"But with kaiju, none of our kits even recognized the DNA as alive. It's alien on a fundamental molecular level. Might as well have tried to sequence a rock. It was, was a wasteland! We were reduced to cutting up tissue like cavemen making mammoth-sandwich. Sandwiches. Like the Stone Age. We've got a basic toolkit now -- I engineered the polymerases myself and they are sweet, but it has been a decade of re-inventing the wheel. From scratch. Reprogramming the kaiju DNA in order to clone one would be hell.

"Second, simple problem: even if I reprogram a kaiju nucleus, that nucleus needs to be put into an egg! Do you see any viable kaiju eggs around here? Nope, no oocytes. No can do champ, kaiju don't have sex organs and even if they did, I need an egg that's alive."

Newt grabs his spiked orange juice off the nightstand and takes a long drink. "Third, and this is confidential but you saw it too so I'm really just reminding you, the kaiju don't have normal development. They're built, designed, they've got like, freaky tissue looms. What if they don't gastrulate? What if there's no patterning programs built into their DNA? You want to clone a mouse, you take a nucleus and remind it where it came from. That cell knows who it was before all that differentiation turned it into a skin cell. It's all there, the whole organism planned out in a couple billion bases. What if kaiju don't have that? What if I reprogram a nucleus and find a viable egg and convince the egg it's been fertilized and nothing happens?"

Hermann leans back, stares at the ceiling instead of looking at Newt. "Then we are saved a danger," he says, and Newt bristles.

"Then we're robbed of an entire field, you mean," Newt says.

"A dangerous field," Hermann says.

"Why can't you let me be a rock star," Newt whines. "I would let you be a rock star."

Hermann straightens up with a snap and pins Newt's wrist to the duvet. Newt watches him throw his head back and finish the last of his drink in a single long gulp. "Newton," he says, "you must not say things like that."

"Like what?" Newt asks, tugging experimentally at his trapped wrist. Hermann doesn’t budge.

Hermann rolls his eyes like Newt is being deliberately thick. Newt is slightly past the line of intoxication where he can skip two lines of dialogue ahead and work out where Hermann is going with this. He flaps his free hand in surrender, a shared signal between them for when an assumed leap isn't being made on one side of the conversation or another. Hermann sighs and clarifies. "Given my specialties, if I were to aspire to be a rock star, Newton, what would I do?"

Newt thinks about this a moment. "Open a breach," he says, slowly. "A controlled one, for science."

Again, Hermann sighs. "Precisely."

"That'd be--" Newt searches around for an appropriate adjective while Hermann sits patiently "--extremely dangerous. But also badass?"

"No," Hermann says. Newt waits for Hermann to elaborate but he just stares at the wall in defeated silence.

"I'd make sure you were careful," Newt says quietly.

"Often I worry that we are the most dangerous men on the planet," Hermann says.

Newt laughs into his drink. "Wow, god-complex much? Mako Mori is at least a hundred times more dangerous than us."

"The drift--"

"The aftereffects are fading, dude," Newt says, firmly. It's true; he has to think hard to remember what it's like to be Hermann, what the chronic pain and easy knowledge of social exactitudes feels like. He gets flashes of Hermann when he listens to the crescendos of classical music or breathes in the small of chalk, but it's fleeting, like deja vu of being a different person.

He does not remember what it is like to be Kaiju. He attributes this to lack of relatable stimuli. There is nothing in this world to recall vividly the anteverse, so his brain has lost its most alien memories to disuse.

"Did you honestly forget to book a hotel room?" Hermann asks, in a moment of perfect drunken clarity. It shakes Newt from blue-tinged musing.

"Yep," Newt says.

"You're insufferable," Hermann says, and finally releases Newt's wrist. The climate-controlled air of the hotel room hits the warm skin of Newt's wrist like a shock, and he leans into Hermann, instinctual and embarrassing. Hermann stiffens when Newt's shoulder hits his chest, then relaxes and rearranges his knees so that Newt can slump slightly farther into his lap. "You're drunk," Hermann says.

"Mmmmm, yep," Newt says, chewing on his lips and finding them slightly numb. Hermann's chest is warm and his thin undershirt is soft. Newt kind of wants to burrow all the way into it. He lets his head loll back and his skull fits perfectly, just perfectly, into the hollow between Hermann's bony shoulder and his bony jaw. Newt could…kiss his jaw, right now, in the soft place where Hermann always remembers to shave and Newt is always forgetting. That's an odd thing to think about one's professional scientific nemesis.

Newt's glasses lose the battle between the friction holding them on Newton's face and the force vector Hermann's neck is exerting on their frames and slide askew across his nose. In the fuzzy spaces around his lenses Newt watches Hermann set his empty glass down and reach out to push Newt's collar slightly farther open. Newt thinks Hermann is also drunk, definitely drunk, because he traces the tattoos there with gentle incredulity.

"I forget you do not only have the sleeves," Hermann says.

Hermann's fingernail scrapes, delicately, along the arch of a kaiju spine inked over Newt's collarbone and Newt shivers and almost whines. He catches the noise before it can vibrate to of his throat and condemn him to utter mortification. Newt is a tactile person and he's been a little starved for touch lately. It's a human thing, skin hunger. Skin to skin contact is practically a developmental necessity. Newt would honestly be reacting this way to anyone he trusted getting this close to him when he was this drunk, but it’s perhaps best if he puts the brakes on. Hermann's fingernail scrapes back across Newt's collarbone and his skin thrills at the sensation. Yeah, brakes on now.

Newt straightens and Hermann's fingers fall away. He pushes his glasses back into place and squints around the smudges they've picked up from Hermann's skin. "I put too much vodka in this," Newt admits, picking up his drink and passing it over to Hermann. "You finish it." Newt thinks he might be blushing and tries furiously to not be doing that anymore.

"There is a plenary session at eight thirty tomorrow," Hermann reminds him, not blushing, the bastard. "It would be unwise to overindulge and miss it."

Newt groans. "Not enough coffee in the world, Hermann. Take pity on the man with jet lag."

"We should go to bed," Hermann says. Newt protests weakly, but there's little he can do against Hermann's iron will, and the room is tilting on a fulcrum rooted right behind his eyes.

He collapses onto his half of Hermann's king-size bed and falls asleep with all the lights on.

Newt wakes in the dark from queasy drunken dreams, mouth dry and skull threatening headache. Next to him in the bed Hermann is sitting upright, still in his undershirt. He's got his laptop open, but the screen is dimmed like he hasn't touched it in a while. His posture screams tension, and he's staring at Newt. "S'morning already?" Newt asks, unable to gauge the position of the sun through the hotel's blackout curtains.

"No," Hermann says, looking away. "Go back to sleep."

"Nah," Newt says. "Thirsty, gonna hydrate."

He rolls gingerly out of bed and pats around the nightstand shelf for a complimentary paper cup. It's trapped in a fortress of loud crackly plastic, and Newt struggles with it as he winds towards the bathroom. After much fumbling, Newt drops the crinkly plastic wrapper on the carpet in the general vicinity of the waste bin, then successfully navigates the unfamiliar hotel sink without turning on a light.

When Newt comes back Hermann is actively looking at his laptop, but the set of his shoulders still looks strained. Newt squints through the darkness, trying to get a better read without his glasses. "What's eating you?" he asks.

Hermann shuts his laptop, cutting off the last faint light source. "Nothing."

"No, man, it's something, you look like you're gonna snap," Newt says, stumbling back into the bed. His foot hits Hermann's calf and Hermann shifts away, giving Newt more space than he needs on the bed.

Hermann takes his time answering, and Newt does his best to be patient and not fall asleep. When Hermann does speak it's slow and careful, like he doesn't want to jar the tenuous calm of the dark hotel room. "What are you going to do with the kaiju cell line?" Hermann whispers.

Oh, Newt thinks, that's not what I expected. He doesn't know why he feels disappointed. "Microarrays," he says, yawning. If he can see which genes are active, he’ll know which pathways to reprogram. Microarrays will light them up like a switchboard. Custom kaiju microarrays. Yeah.

Cloning a kaiju, step one. To create something, first understand it. Newt has a purpose again.

Newt feels the bed shift as Hermann slides down the headboard and unfolds his good leg under the duvet. "Just microarrays? That's fine then," Hermann says, strain fading from his voice for some reason Newt can't quite fathom.

#

Newt builds an electroporation rig from garbage.

Newt builds a needle-puller from garbage.

Newt builds a micromanipulator for nuclear transplantation from garbage.

Newt writes four grants in two months and his fingers shake constantly from the combination of caffeine and indignant fury at his funding officer.

Newt crashes Hermann's departmental barbecues, brings too-cheap wine and twelve-taco packs from Taco Bell. He mingles with the fiancees and husbands and harasses Hermann about his research. Newt doesn't talk about this own research much, which is normal; Hermann doesn't want to hear about a series of failures and frustrations any more than Newt wants to hear Hermann go on about set theory. They stand in the department head's kitchen and talk about vintage scientific scandals, instead.

"Hey you remember way back in 2011 when that paper came out saying you could turn fibroblasts into functioning neurons if you just electrically stimulated them?" Newt says.

Hermann scoffs. "What a disaster. Published in Nature no less, what a rag."

"Hey, don't slam Nature, I've got stuff published there," Newt protests.

"Yes," Hermann says dryly.

Newt laughs and steals Hermann's beer. "Fuck you," he says, and tips his head back to drink from the stolen bottle. Hermann does not, in theory, share food or drink. In practice, he shares a lot of food and drink with Newt. Newt grins around the neck of the beer bottle. Hermann hits him in the ankle with his cane, increasing the force behind the blows with a linear trend until Newt yelps and hands the beer back.

"There's a retraction that ruined about five careers," Newt says, sobering.

Hermann reaches up and fixes Newt's collar, his thumb skipping across the side of Newt's throat, and Newt freezes mid-swallow. "This is why we have survived as a community. Peer review, ethics committees, and self-policing," Hermann says, brisk. Only the subtlest softening in his diction reveals that he's at a party and not giving a responsible conduct of research seminar.

"Seems a bit overzealous to me," Newt says, trying very hard not to sound strangled. "Wouldn't say no to some second chances."

"Hm," Hermann says, and steps crisply away to intervene in an escalating math squabble across the room. Newt spares a moment to be bitterly jealous of whoever's snatching Hermann's attention away from him, realizes that's incredibly childish, and stomps on the impulse to trail along after Hermann.

Newt pulls his collar askew again and sulks off onto the relatively deserted porch. He stares at the fireflies and lets his mind chew on the latest snag in his kaiju stem cell cocktail. Newt lets the bioluminescent flashes in the soft blue dark stand in as nodes and builds a mental model pathway, a fragile network of protein switches: on, off, amplify, dampen, kinase, phosphatase, clone a kaiju, don't clone a kaiju.

#

Newt's grants get funded by half a percentile and a miracle of bureaucratic support. Newt has good days and bad days. He tries to fight less with the postdocs next door. He makes up for it by fighting with the environmental health and radiation safety officials. (Work for years in the back room of a building where they run robots night and day off of nuclear reactors and one little northern blot shouldn't be a big deal anymore.)

Newt's trying to align two fields of cells so he can screen them for positive markers of transgenesis, and it's difficult, stupid work. It's his own fault for taking images in a stupid way. He misses his blind spots widening, and dismisses the sparkles around his vision as just too much time staring at a screen.

Even the pain builds slowly, until he leans back in his chair and realizes oh god, his head hurts.

Newt pokes his head out of his office, and the deafening hiss and whirr of laboratory equipment hits him like a baseball bat full of nails. "Oh, mistake, mistake," he says aloud. In the distance a freezer alarm goes off. Newt shuts his office door and curls into a ball of misery contained only by his ergonomically friendly office chair. This migraine snuck up on him and now it's too late to take any of the heavy-hitting pharmaceuticals he's got stashed in this desk to ward it off.

If he is very careful he will not vomit.

Pathetically, he wants Hermann. Hermann is the ideal ear to complain into because he doesn't take any of it seriously, doesn't let Newt off the hook just because his brain is swelling and his vision is a patchwork hemmed with nauseating flickers. "Don't you have something to be doing?" Hermann would ask, and Newt would moan, "No, man, can't you see I'm in agony here?" and Hermann would turn all the lights on just to watch Newt flinch.

What really gets to him is that if the world were still ending, he could have worked through this. He'd still gotten migraines in the shatterdome, but it hadn't mattered. People were dying so he'd swallow down painkillers and throw up the same painkillers, staring at the grated laboratory floor until Hermann hauled him from his knees and directed him back towards his bench.

He'd done the same for Hermann, slamming a socket wrench down on the desk next to his head when he'd fallen asleep at the keyboard, stealing his cane and replacing it with crutches when Hermann's pride could not stand weakness and his leg could not stand standing.

Post-apocalypse, Newt's weaksauce.

This pain in his head is not fun pain. Newt presses the back of his head against his chair, hoping futilely that additional pressure will somehow balance out the pound and throb of the migraine. Nope.

Newt does a quick experiment in getting up out of his chair and regrets it immediately. He is not going to be able to drive himself home. He could curl up in the corner of his office and sleep this off, but he realizes, with dread sinking like a stone in his stomach, that he needs to take care of his kaiju cell lines today or they’ll die and he'll be forced to fly to Australia again for more.

That's slightly hyperbolic -- Newt has frozen stocks preserved in his coldest freezer -- but it had taken months to get these cell cultures happy and healthy and properly genetically modified, and Newt isn't thrilled at the prospect of repeating the process of coddling the stupid things back to their current thriving state.

Maybe if he just turns off all the lights in his office and stares at the wall for an hour or three the headache will get bored and leave him alone.

Wishful thinking, Dr. Geiszler.

He's only half an hour into his brilliant waiting plan when there's a rapid knock on his office door. "Nope," he whispers. Not answering that.

"Newton," comes Hermann's voice from the other side of the door. "Newton."

Hermann opens the door without being invited. Newt's nice quiet darkness is violently disrupted. "Ah, shit, warn me before you barge in, will you?" Newt says, clapping both hands over his eyes.

The room darkens again and Newt peels his hands away from his face. Hermann is carrying this week's copy of Science in one hand, sack lunch in the other, and is wearing a contrite expression.

"Here for impromptu journal club?" Newt asks, feeling fond through the bulldozer headache. "I'm afraid I won't be good intellectual company today." Newt is, in fact, worse than useless today and is about to say something he's going to regret.

"Can you help me?" Newt asks. And yep, there it is, the regret. Newt could have gotten himself out of this on his own. He could have suffered through re-plating his cell cultures. He could have walked the five miles to his apartment. He's an independent, interdisciplinary, badass researcher who doesn't need help just because of a little headache.

He bumps his mouse by accident and his computer monitor blazes to agonizing brightness. Oh god.

Hermann drops the magazine and his lunch, pulls off his jacket, and throws it over the offending light source in a series of quick, efficient motions.

"Thanks," Newt whispers.

"Do you have a migraine?" Hermann asks.

"Hell yeah I have a migraine," Newt answers. "I have a migraine and I can't drive and I have to passage these cells tonight or they'll die. Unfortunately, if I open my eyes out there, I think I will die."

"I can drive you home," Hermann says stiffly.

Newt almost groans because Hermann is going to make him ask outright. This is not fair. "Could you also, maybe, help me, with the lab work? Just this once? I promise there's no entrails just, ah, dammit, liquids in bright colors."

"I am not trained in biology," Hermann says, stating the incredibly obvious for reasons Newt cannot quite fathom.

"I don't need you to be trained in biology, man, I just need you to dump and pour in a moderately sterile way."

Hermann is hovering over Newt looking incredibly uncomfortable. Newt has the unfortunately belated realization that he's never asked Hermann to help him with actual benchwork before. They've argued about the theory behind their respective fields into the wee hours of the night, but while that encompasses a large portion of Hermann's entire scientific undertaking, Newt's got this whole messy, dirty side of his expertise that he hasn't bothered to let Hermann in on.

Granted, Hermann made a particularly convincing show of not wanting in on the fumes and slick viscera of Newt's more applied methods.

"Please?" Newt asks.

Newt keeps his eyes shut, his hands providing secondary light containment, but he's got a good idea of how many steps are between each bay, and keeps up a constant verbal patter to direct Hermann through the maze of freezers, coolers, incubators and centrifuges.
He sets Hermann up in the sterile cell culture hood, complete with gleaming chrome surfaces (agony) and UV light for sterilizing (agony) and the raised sash alarm wailing (agony).

"Don't pass your wrist over the open containers," Newt says without removing his hands from across his eyes.

Hermann shifts something from one side of the sterile hood to another and hums assent.

"Are you being careful? You should be able to see the cells, kinda smeary. Are they there? Did you count them? You didn't count them, I should have had you count them. Shit--"

Hermann sacrifices the sterility of one of his hands to clap a gloved palm over Newt's mouth. Newt's nose floods with the smell of ethanol and nitrile. His head retaliates against the new stimulus with new jabs of pain. "Are you finished? If you talk any faster, your migraine will get worse, and, more pressingly, I will become disinclined to assist you," Hermann says waspishly.

Newt nods gingerly, and his mouth is freed.

Hermann doesn't ask what the cells are, even after he has finished and is carefully closing the incubator on them.

What Newt is aching to tell Hermann and can't seem to get out is that these are feeder cells for Newt's collection of stem-like kaiju cells. They're carefully engineered to produce all the hormones and signals that maintain pluripotency in kaiju cells. It's like a sweet biochemical nursery for his precious bouncing baby kaiju, which technically exists only in an extremely primitive and theoretical way.

They also work. Thank you, microarrays.

Newt can feel the publication at the tips of his fingers. It's going to be big. He's going to get articles in popular science news for it -- he can almost taste the interviews. Dr. Newton Geizler reprograms kaiju somatic cell. Dr. Newton Geizler, on the road to cloning a kaiju.

It's only three o'clock in the afternoon when they finish but Hermann finds Newt's car (and Newt's keys) and bundles him into the passenger seat to drive him home.

Newt's place is on the ground floor, a subconscious allowance for Hermann's leg. It's small and cluttered but it's Newt's. There's a piano in the corner and concert posters on the walls and a small but expensive collection of vinyl kaiju figurines on the bookshelf and very little open floorspace. If Newt gets a little agoraphobic about open floor plans after the cramped bunks and cavernous hangers at the shatterdome, well, nobody's lining up to make insensitive comments about it.

Sadly for Newt, falling face-first into his bed and wrapping yesterday's sweatshirt around his face doesn't magically make his headache recede into nothingness. The migraine persists, stubborn, and Newt realizes he's going to have to sleep it off. Newt expects Hermann to leave him alone with his misery now that he's not a danger to innocent civilians on public roads, but he feels the bed sink in a way indicative of someone gingerly sitting down on it and a little exploratory shifting leads to Newt's thigh running into Hermann's hip. Crabby mathematician location locked down, plus one point to team Geiszler.

"I thought I could stay," Hermann says. With each word he sounds like he's testing the load-bearing capacity of a step down a staircase of dubious age and structural integrity. "I planned to read several papers this afternoon and your apartment is no less satisfactory for the task than my office."

"Sure, please, stay," Newt says, and he feels Hermann vacate the bed, followed by the creak of Newt's shitty desk chair accepting a one Hermann-unit of mass. "I'm thinking that my personal schedule is going to include a hardcore nap, so, have at it."

Hermann murmurs assent and Newt falls asleep to the slow rustle of turning pages.

Newt wakes up, head tender and Hermann still there, hunched over a stack of papers, frowning at them in light of the dim desk lamp. Seeing Hermann fills Newt with weird warmth, but he doesn't have it in him to critically examine the happiness as it swims around in his chest.

It's nice that Hermann stayed, Newt decides. It's just a nice thing that Newt gets to have, uncritically.

Newt uses the fact that Hermann hasn't noticed he's awake yet to do some clandestine staring. Hermann is actually something of a fox, for all he tries to hide it under sweater vests and terrible haircuts. He's got bright, kind eyes and high, sharp cheekbones. He talks a crisp, professional game, but his face is an open book, so expressive it's almost a caricature of whatever emotion Hermann is feeling most strongly. Newt has memorized the taxonomy of Gottliebian facial expressions -- disdaining, frustrated, annoyed, triumphant, exhausted, placating. Hermann is quicksilver over iron.

Newt himself is playdough from nose to toe, soft in places and sagging in others, given structure only by the modifications he's imposed on himself.

At the desk, Hermann notices that Newt is awake and still staring at him. His face softens into an expression of fondness, subgroup: unguarded.

"Are you feeling better?" Hermann asks.

Newt moves to get up. "Yeah," he says. "Loads. Lets go get dinner, you workaholic, you've murdered a whole stack of academic bullshit and it's gotta be late."

They go for burgers and Newt eats an entire plate of loaded fries, drowning the protests of his stomach in processed cheese. To his surprise, they don't fight at all. Hermann lets Newt finish all of his sentences, and Newt doesn't mock Hermann for refusing to eat pickles. Tentatively, Newt decides that this is also a nice thing.

Maybe this relationship with Hermann can be a nice thing for Newt. Maybe they can fight when he needs to and be kind to each other when he doesn't.

Maybe he doesn't have to self-destruct in this one sector of his disaster life.

#

Hermann comes to find Newt exactly at five o'clock, the Wednesday after Newt's migraine.

"I would like to go for a walk, if you're finished for the day," Hermann says. There's something in his posture that says tension, something that says "attack incoming." Newt springs from his chair, hands reaching for jacket and shoulder bag before Hermann can change his mind and vanish.

Hermann says walk, but what he means is that they will take the elevator down, exit the building, wander around the block to the parking lot, and then stand by Newt's car and talk until they're driven away by biting bugs, or rain, or the judgmental eyes of graduate students filtering out of lab and wandering home.

They make it almost to Newt's car in companionable silence, which is almost a warning sign in and of itself before Hermann says casually, "I haven't seen you give a Wednesday chalk talk in a long time."

"Nah," Newt says. "I don't want to get scooped, I'm playing things close to the chest."

"Who's going to want to scoop you," Hermann says, all familiar scorn. Newt tips his head back, laughs.

"Screw you Hermann, loads of people want to scoop me. I am scoopable. I am an ice cream cone of biology right now! I am 32 flavors of statistically significant breakthrough and I am not letting anyone but me in on this k-science sundae."

Hermann scowls and makes an abortive motion with his cane. Newt flinches, unsure what he's said wrong. He leans on the driver's side door of his car, waiting for Hermann to explain, not quite able to apologize without knowing what he's done.

When he replies, Hermann's tone is measured to nano-accuracy. "I am saddened that you no longer trust me to discuss your research interests in a confidential manner."

"What?" Newt says, blindsided by the frigid distance in Hermann's voice.

"You haven't spoken to me seriously about your research since Sydney," Hermann clarifies, still chilly, still scowling.

Newt rolls his eyes. This is what Hermann had wanted to talk about, and it's petty and annoying. "I didn't think you wanted to talk seriously about my research. You've been pretty adamantly distant on the subject of my preferred research topic."

"Which is?" Hermann says, voice low and dangerous.

"Cloning a kaiju," Newt says, daring Hermann to make a derogatory remark, ready to spit hellfire at him when the does.

"Why?" Hermann hisses. "For the love of God, Newton, why." He looks so disappointed, it almost hurts Newt to look at him, but instead of feeling sorry Newt just feels annoyed.

"I have always wanted, and will always want, to clone a kaiju, Hermann!" Newt says, voice rising to a shout. The parking lot is empty, and Newt is glad for it because it means neither of them has to modulate their volume.

"You reckless idiot!" Hermann shouts over him. Hermann sounds irritated but he also sounds afraid, and that's weird -- Newt can't put his finger on why, but it's strange. "Have delusions of fame clouded your feeble excuse for a mind? Have you thought through none of the consequences?"

"Hey, give it up! Of course I’ve thought through the consequences, dude, let me list them. Consequence one: massive scientific advancement. Consequence two: irrelevant safety concerns brought by the popular press who can't tell the difference between a microscopic clutch of dividing cells in a dish and a full-scale alien invasion. Consequence three: complete, utter and brilliant defeat of their factually unsupportable worries!"

Hermann stomps his foot and declares, "It is not worth it."

The desire to clone a kaiju, to have already cloned a kaiju, rises in Newt's chest, blue and choking.

"Of course it's worth it," Newt yells. "If you're jealous why don't you just open a breach, then we can have equal share in the fame and fortune, just like old times!" This isn't fair, that Hermann is fighting him on this. Making progress on cloning a kaiju is the only thing that makes him feel okay. He can't sink back into the mundane stress of academia without something grand on the horizon. He wants Hermann to burn up with him, together blazing in glory like a magnesium flare and a discharging capacitor, flash-bang-brilliant. Newt wants Hermann to do this with him, instead of playing the role of professional ball and chain, dragging on Newt's ankle.

Hermann is livid with fury. He's pressing his slight height advantage, one hand braced against the roof of Newt's car and bearing down with quivering force. "That is exactly what I am trying not to do!"

"Why?" Newt asks, "Because you'd be brilliant?"

"No!" Hermann snaps. "Because it'd be catastrophic! Because we are not safe people, Newton. We are dangerous, and you appear to be unwilling or, worse, unable, to contain yourself. You are selfish, self-destructive, and stupidly unwilling to let go of the high of our species-wide near-death experience and return to a normal baseline of risk taking."

Newt hadn't known Hermann had his number that precisely, and it knocks the wind out of him. It twists into Newt's soft spots, and he has to pause. He smears one hand up under his glasses and takes a deep breath, shaking a little on the exhale.

It's still hitting him hard. Hermann knows what civilian academia is doing to Newt, and still he can't -- he won't --

Newt opens his mouth, closes it.

Lifts his left hand in the air, makes half a grandiose gesture, drops it.

It becomes more and more apparent that Newt isn't getting back up with a riposte for this one, and Hermann lets out a long breath and falls silent.

"I am not--" Newt says, and then pauses, rubs his hand over his face again-- "I'm still not…okay. Not okay with post near-death experience. Maybe not adjusting so well to species-wide survival."

Hermann looks at the ground. "I'm aware."

This is somewhat unbearable to hear, even though Newt is rationally certain that he has been doing a bang-up bad job of hiding his difficulty adjusting. Hearing Hermann sound borderline contrite, like he's been tiptoeing around Newt's disaster life for months and now regrets stomping on it, is several orders of magnitude more unbearable. Newt turns away to look up at the darkening sky. No bats this time of year, just a few swallows darting in shallow v's between the treetops. He lets his eyes prickle and opens his mouth without a plan for the words that are going to come next.

"I can't hold down graduate students, I can't get my funding in on time, I can't…all I can do is try to do this one thing. To be useful again. Whatever, it's not important, I guess. It's all failing, it's never going to work, I'm just running these grants dry and then I'll…find something else." Newt drags his gaze down and catches Hermann's glance, holds it, remembers empathy and feels like a jerk. "Are you, um, adjusting?"

Hermann huffs a sigh. "No," he says. "No, I am not adjusting. There are too many good friends…"

"Too many good friends dead," Newt finishes for him.

Hermann's mouth twists in a brief, painful smile. "It's been almost three years; by this time we should have healed more. Made new friends."

"Yeah, big surprise, that hasn't happened. Healing on hold, there is science to do. We're a train wreck," Newt admits, and laughs, a short hysterical wheeze of mirth. "Oh god."

They're both adrift, leaning against the driver's side of Newt's sensible two-door automobile, standing on earth that is not razed to rubble by an implacable army of invading aliens. It seems so unlikely that this should be the ultimate end scenario. A few key sacrifices and here they are, after the war.

It shouldn't be devastating when the reward is so great. They're alive, and the universe is amazing. Fair trade, right? Better than fair -- the anteverse got the raw end of the deal this time around.

Newt sniffles, mucous membranes betraying him under acute emotional pressure.

With careful, awkward movements, like a heron stepping through reeds, Hermann makes a quarter turn and opens his arms wide enough for Newt to fold into his chest. Newt insinuates himself in the liminal space between jacket and sweater and stays there, while Hermann pats his back stiffly. Being hugged by Hermann is not a usual experience for Newt, and he savors it as his body relaxes for the first time in weeks with his face buried in Hermann's neck. Hermann tucks him closer, one hand drifting up to card through the messy hair at the base of Newt's skull.

Has he realized that I love him? Because if not, this is very damning, Newt wonders, and freezes. Newt didn't know he was harboring feelings like that for Hermann until he gracelessly arranged it into mental words. But now, oh shit.

"We are a catastrophic train wreck," Hermann says gently into the curve of Newt's ear, and Newt laughs again into his collar. There's only the slightest edge of hysteria around it this time.

Hi Hermann, Newt thinks, still letting Hermann stroke his hair, still leeching warmth from Hermann's sweater-clad chest, I have analyzed the data and come to an obvious conclusion: I love you, never leave me.

Please don't freak out.

#

It's not a coincidence that Newt falls immediately into a hole of overwork and can't get out, but it's not not a coincidence either.

Newt isn't a total cliche -- he's not suffering some sexuality-related crisis. While he's all about personal taxonomy, it's not in a compulsory heterosexuality way. Hermann's not forbidden relationship fruit because he's in an apple-crate labeled "male." Hermann is out of bounds because he's sitting basically alone in Newt's box labeled "friend," and Newt's not going to perturb that system if he can help it.

Perturbing the system is very frightening. Say, hypothetically, if Newton Geiszler declares his undying love for Hermann Gottlieb. Further posit that Hermann’s not gonna board that disaster train (see evidence as follows: point a, Newt wants to clone a kaiju; point b, Hermann does not want Newt to clone a kaiju; point c, Newt is going to clone a kaiju anyway). Run that simulation to steady state and what comes out? Total Newtonian emotional devastation. Every time.

Newt is not testing this hypothesis in vivo. Absolutely not.

Plus, in the real world and entirely separate from Newt's personal neurosis, a group in Boston has generated an artificial mouse oocyte from skin cells and a lot of mechanical tweaking, and Newt has their protocol.

The protocol is awful. It's the kind of artless procedure that screams brute force. Maybe the Boston lab had tried every possible more elegant solution and they just hadn't worked, or, more likely, some harried graduate student had simply grabbed the first thought that fell into her head, taken the bit in her teeth, and made it work by sheer persistence.

Newt swears in a constant annoyed stream as he tries, again, to affix an eyelash to a tiny glass rod. The smell of the nail polish he's using as glue makes his heart race. Newt's hands shake, the eyelash drops to the floor and vanishes, and Newt snarls.

He uses the eyelash to tease individual cells together until they fuse. Newt winces as he thinks about how ugly this entire thing is. Newt's ability to focus keeps wanting to dial in and out, but he lashes it to the dissection scope with a rope braided from self-flagellation and promises of small rewards.

Seven hours later, Newt has four artificial kaiju eggs.

"That has to be good enough," Newt whispers. He allows himself five minutes of staring at the wall through only one set of lenses. When he lifts his hand to adjust his glasses he is almost surprised that it doesn't move in mirror and reverse. Microscope optics are horrifying.

Optics in general are horrifying. Hermann probably likes optics, probably enjoys the twisting dart of photons through glass. Photons always take the fastest route to their destination. It would be like Hermann, to appreciate that kind of perfect optimization.

Evolution doesn't take the fastest route. It surveys the available options, takes the one that is just broken enough to work, and kills the rest. Evolution is a brutal compromiser, and Newt likes that. Evolution doesn't care how it gets where it's going as long as it can still reproduce at the end of the road. Evolution doesn't care who or what it destroys along the way.

Five minutes up, Newt cracks his knuckles, grabs a dish of genetically pliable kaiju stem cells, and settles down to do four nuclear transplants.

Three of his artificial oocytes lyse. Three fragile membranes tear open and spill viscous cell-guts all over his dish.

The fourth trembles, and accepts the new nucleus.

Newt takes a picture to commemorate the event.

After a few minutes consideration, Newt takes another picture, grits his teeth, and adds what he hopes is a reasonable concentration of kaiju growth hormone.

"Fly, my pretties," he says to the little pink dish. He sets the camera to take a picture every fifteen minutes and leaves to go find a sandwich.

Newt hits up Jimmy Johns, and is halfway through ordering for himself (Gourmet Veggie Club) and Hermann (Turkey Tom, light mayo) when he realizes that maybe it is presumptuous to assume that Hermann hasn't had dinner and will want a sandwich. Maybe Hermann doesn't want a turkey sandwich. Maybe Hermann doesn't want to eat dinner with Newt. Maybe Newt would rather not know for sure.

"Hey, scratch the second sandwich, I'll just get the veggie," Newt says.

Newt is bad at this.

The cashier sighs. Newt drops a tip in the jar on the counter in apology. He eats alone, knees tucked up in a corner booth, and lingers over the last few chips and scraps of lettuce that dropped from his sandwich.

When Newt returns to the lab his kaiju egg is dead.

Upon review, the Boston lab's protocol boasts a success rate of 0.5%. Newt considers a future of two hundred artificial kaiju oocytes for one successful embryoid. The future is daunting. However, when he checks the time-lapse pictures, he sees the egg straining with a tentative cleavage furrow, trying to divide.

One attempt down. One hundred and ninety-nine tries left to go.

#

Newt sings at the microscope. He sings Ke$ha, and Ludo, and all the new-glam pop he can scrape from the top-40 hits. The scope room is a communal space and someone begins passive-aggressively turning on NPR in the mornings, presumably to drown Newt out. Newt purchases headphones and keeps singing.

He gets better at the artificial oocyte protocol.

Everything still dies.

Newt washes down four ibuprofen with a gulp of black coffee on the threshold of the lab, staring balefully at the "no food or drink" sign posted on the open door. He puts his thermos carefully down in the corner between doorjamb and cinder-block wall, where it will not get kicked over, and pats it sadly goodbye.

When Newt rises, he is confronted abruptly with Hermann's torso. Newt jerks backwards out of his personal space, knocks over his coffee, yelps, kneels to right it before too much of the precious liquid drains onto the linoleum, and rises again at a respectable distance.

Hermann looks concerned.

Newt moves his shoe out of the spreading puddle of coffee and winces.

"Dude, were you like, waiting in the gloom to ambush me? Because that's not cool, and would have given a lesser man heart palpitations," Newt whines.

"You have been avoiding me," Hermann says.

Yes.

"No," Newt says, "I'm busy, and our interactions have suffered collateral damage due to my biological studies fire-bombing the living daylights out of the metaphorical city called Free Time."

"You have been avoiding me," Hermann says at higher volume, then reins himself in. Newt can see the barriers snapping up over his face, and wonders, abruptly, if this particular ambushing falls within the normal bounds of Hermannesque behavior.

It's Saturday. Outside the sky is the directionless slate-grey of morning that hasn't yet committed to dawn.

So, that's a no to normal bounds. This is odd. Something is out of equilibrium here.

Newt is a little bit too tired to figure it out. He's feeling the drag of sleep deprivation in his headache and in his upset stomach and in the gnawing irritability winding up and down his back that makes him want to punch a wall or take a nap or both in quick succession.

In the doorway, Hermann stands a little too close and stares at Newt like he's aching. Newt aches back at him, a closed amplification loop of weird hurt-y chest feelings.

"I was--" Hermann begins, then thinks better of it. Newton bites a curse back between his teeth, immensely frustrated with whatever social convention is buttoning Hermann up. It is probably the same social convention that's keeping Newt buttoned up, if he is being honest. Social conventions exist for a reason -- they lay down the guidelines so that risk-aware genius biologists never have to shoot first. It's possible they're playing a truly disastrous game of emotional chicken. Nobody's flinching.

Or, possibly, Hermann still really hates him, but wants to make sure Newt is still eating and sleeping out of a bizarre sense of duty and leftover wartime companionship.

An awkward silence draws out as Newt tries to align the available data with the Hermann as duty-bound martyr model. The fit's acceptable. The R-squared value sits at a solid 0.6. Good enough for sociological work, which is appropriate, because Newt knows what field social interactions fit into and it's definitely not neurology.

The first model, the “who shoots first” model, the model that hinges on coffee breaks at two in the morning and the complete lack of other significant relationships in their respective lives and Newt's unfortunate realization in the parking lot, is a little frightening.

The second model is a little agonizing.

In either case, Newt needs to do some placating. "I'm flattered you're checking up on me, really, but I am fine, and once I get over this one awful hill of work we can go back to normal. I will make myself available to be yelled at daily. Seriously, I'm great. I ate two whole meals yesterday and everything."

Hermann does not look placated. Newt flounders.

Why did he have to fall for someone so intense?

"That's good," Hermann says slowly.

Newt runs a hand distractedly through his hair. "Yeah."

He can feel the conversation sliding inevitably towards something safe and routine. They're all set to shrug their vulnerabilities off (Newt's unfortunate lovestruck condition, whatever's bothering Hermann enough that he needs to ambush Newt in the Saturday predawn) and bicker about departmental politics for fifteen minutes before avoiding each other for another week.

It's so tempting. So extremely tempting, but Newt doesn't think it's wise. He digs a fingernail under the lid on his emotions, pries it off, and fishes around for some true words to say. "I'm sorry," is what comes out first. "I'm kind of a disaster right now, dude, but I swear it's temporary."

Hermann grimaces. "I have worried," he admits.

This makes Newt feel like a spectacular example of a jerk, but also, Hermann cares enough about him to worry, that's something. "If something was, um, bad, I would tell you. You know that, right? I'd tell you."

"I like to believe that," Hermann says. "But I was more worried that things have become, ah, strained, between us."

Newt doesn't know how to react to this, and his verbal centers panic. "I almost bought you a sandwich the other day," Newt says in a rush. "But I thought you might not want -- I mean, it's so presumptuous -- but I thought, just, I should ask -- do you, hypothetically, want me to buy you sandwiches in the future?" Oh yeah, Newt's smooth.

"Yes," Hermann says, as if Newt's scramble of words made sense. "Yes, that would be…I would like that."

"Neat," Newt says, voice cracking on the single syllable because his vocal cords are filthy traitors.

Hermann gives him a significant look, but Newt has spent his entire month's budget of emotional honesty on this exchange. He'll process this later. Newt looks down at the ground (still sticky with drying coffee spill) because if he keeps looking at Hermann he's going to crack and indulge in some vivid fantasies of pressing Hermann up against the ultracentrifuge and, wait, no, scratch that, the linoleum is interesting this morning.

"I have grants to review," Hermann says gently, when Newt has let the silence stand too long, and extricates himself from the doorway.

"Good talk," Newt breathes.

Hermann gone, Newt collapses into the warm embrace of white noise inside the lab, and struggles through another round of kaiju cloning step one. It's horrible, but it keeps his mind off of Hermann, stupid sandwich-wanting Hermann, stupid frustrating worried Hermann who, apparently, cares about Newt enough to wake up early on a Saturday and ambush him. Newt desperately needs something to take his mind off Hermann or else he will think about him all day, which is both self-indulgent and self-destructive.

Newt is terrible at not wanting things he can't have, but he tries, and that's supposed to be worth something. Under the scope, the little kaiju zygote trembles and its membrane ruffles with distress.

As Newt watches, the pronuclei fuse and split again. Alien chromosomes arrange themselves along strange elliptical spindles and, against all odds, form two new nuclei. Newt hovers, anxious, as the tiny artificial cell rearranges itself into two identical halves. This time, it successfully splits into two. Newt punches the air, triple-checks his digital data backups, and watches as the twinned cells spin silently in the culture media.

Four hours later, the kaiju cells divide once more then shrivel and die, but Newt has already emailed the department head and asking for the soonest open seminar slot she can give him.

#

When Newt pulls the dish holding kaiju clone attempts #241-253 out from under the time-lapse camera and sees visible masses, the first thing he thinks is contamination.

The second thing he thinks is a fuzzy and indignant list of every antibiotic he'd added to the media the night before. Mold, he thinks darkly. Mold respects no chemical deterrent.

Before his brain can catch up and make any more conclusions Newt shoves the dish of culture media and kaiju cells under the scope. He bears down on the focus and out of the blur resolves a tiny comma of an embryo. Newt sees a tiny spine, then a tiny beating heart and then he has to stand up and walk away from the scope for a little while because he's not crying, he's just tired and his eyes are watering. Or, no, update: he is crying.

Dr. Newton Geiszler spends the fifteen minutes post- one of the more significant k-science discoveries of the decade crying in the men's bathroom.

He sits in a stall, leaking from the face, and mentally sketches out the tattoo he'll get of the kaiju embryo. Maybe he'll shave some of his head and get it under the hairline. That's kind of dramatic, and while it's theoretically nicely clandestine, he'd have to walk around either in a hat or with a bald patch until the hair grew back in. Maybe he'll break onto the currently unmarked skin on his hands -- that'll hurt, but he could make it small.

Newt splashes water on his face and swipes his keycard to get back into the lab. (Stupid that they put a layer of security between the lab and the bathroom, the security guards deserve all the times that Newt's called them at unlikely hours of the night). He has to decide if he wants to preserve the kaiju embryo as it is now or keep watching it grow.

There's an old lightsheet microscope in the microscopy core across the street, which could take a nice three dimensional image of the entire embryo. Kaiju tissues are intensely autofluorescent, which is usually very irritating, but the natural glow will make for a striking image in his upcoming presentation.

When Newt comes back to the dish, he discovers that he has not one but five kaiju embryos. Enough to fix some now and watch some continue developing for later.

The rest of the day is a whirlwind between microscope and powerpoint as Newt re-structures his seminar to encompass his new findings. He's going to blow their minds. If he could bottle this kind of thrill he'd get in trouble with the FBI -- it's heady and addictive and he lives for it.

By evening he's got a beautiful 360˚ image of the first ever kaiju embryo in slick iridescent green, and the two he'd let keep developing are safely covered in their dish, camera tracking their every move. Newt doesn't think he can keep them alive for much longer than 48 hours, tops, without introducing a more sophisticated nutrient delivery system than diffusion, but there's tons he can learn from the first two days of development, and there's nigh-infinite room for improvement.

Oh, he wants to grow a kaiju until it can walk around; he wants it down to the marrow in his bones.

It's Friday evening, and only six pm, a normal time for normal people to go out to dinner and drinks, so Newt calls Hermann. "Drinks! Now!" he shouts into the receiver. Hermann groans. "Great, I'm extracting you from of your office in five minutes," Newt warns, and hangs up.

Newt knows the perfect place.

"Newton, there are students here," Hermann hisses as they linger by the bar, trying to scope out a table.

Newt shrugs. "Yeah, but they're graduate students, they practically consider themselves our peers, it's fine."

Hermann points imperiously to a table in the back corner. In the middle of the table is the largest margarita Newt has ever seen, violently green and served in a fishbowl. "Those are not graduate students," Hermann says.

"Point taken," Newt says, and drags him over to a marginally quieter booth.

Newt is touching Hermann more than he should, hand on his elbow, then his shoulder, then the small of his back as they weave through the restaurant. He's happy, okay, and he's taking a few liberties. Hermann, for his part, isn't recoiling or stiffening into a creature made entirely of elbows. Newt can't quite overcome the temptation to keep touching, knocking knees under the awkward corner booth and tapping, staccato, at Hermann's forearm to alert him of Friday Drink Specials.

"Dude, dude, they have paired shots here, check this out." Hermann leans over, and Newt points to Work hard/Party hard on the menu. "It's us!"

"It's not us."

"We have to get it."

"It's seventeen dollars," Hermann notes dryly.

"That's normal, this close to campus," Newt says. "Beer here is outrageous, they want eight bucks for domestic on tap. During happy hour! It's blatant theft, but people put up with it for the walkable location."

They get the paired shots, but Hermann won't drink the bright yellow Party hard shot, even after Newt play-tested it once and ordered a second round.

"How come there are always sports on in these places," Newt asks after the umpteenth time the flickering screen caught his attention, distracted him, and caused him to lose the thread of the conversation. "Why can't it be world economy news or, I don't know, nature documentaries? This is nerd central and I, as a nerd, feel that my needs are not being catered to."

"I like sports," Hermann counters mildly.

"You do not like sports," Newt says. Hermann smirks like he's been saving it up. Newt rolls his eyes and makes an expansive gesture. "Explain, please, how you like sports."

"They are predictable, and that makes them comforting."

Newt laughs. "I think you've missed the entire point of sports. That's amazing."

"No," Hermann says primly. "I have not missed the entire point of sports. Games are statistical in nature, and can be very accurately modeled."

"That is not the point of sports, man," Newt groans. "Even I know that, and I hate sports."

"You bought a Chilean flag during the 2022 World Cup," Hermann says. This accusation is true -- Newt had hung it proudly in the middle of the lab and refused to remove it even when the Germans swept the entire competition -- but it wasn't about liking sports.

"That was about, I don't know, appreciating the human spirit. Not about sports. Chile, with its neck out on the ring of fire, brazenly caring more about eleven dudes and a synthetic leather ball on a field than about the giant city-razing monsters rising out of the ocean. That was badass, that was commendable, I was totally right in supporting them. You'll notice, however, that I did not watch any games."

That's not precisely true, in fact. Newt had watched one game, with Hermann, in a crowded break room in Seattle. They had truly hated each other then, and were laying down the tinder for a spectacular fight a few months down the line that would lead to Hermann secretly pulling the plug on one of Newt's biological sample freezers and Newt, in retaliation, lighting Hermann's lab notebook on fire.

They had both lost about three months of progress and gotten the dressing-down of their lives.

The world cup game had been some mostly-inconsequential second round match, but there'd been a successful test on the muscle threads for the mach four jaegers earlier that day and everyone needed a party. Newt followed the promise of beer into the break room, and Hermann, who had been already installed in the common area, crabbily reading a mathematics review, had refused to leave despite the social event forming around him. On principle, Newt had assumed, but he now thinks that maybe Hermann had wanted to watch the game, and had stayed for that reason.

In the manner of happy, exhausted people with limited seating, social norms regarding personal space had been abandoned and Hermann and Newt found themselves trapped on the same couch, pressed together ankle to shoulder, for two hours. Newt was impossibly bored with the nil-nil score, and watched Hermann instead. Hermann had been absorbed in the game, steadfastly ignoring Newt crushed, too warm, into his side, his dark eyes focused on the television and blind to the rest of the room.

Right now, in the restaurant, Newt realizes that Hermann is watching him the way he'd watched that years-ago soccer game, with all his razor-intellect focused on absorbing information from a single source. Newt feels his face heat up and flips the bar's food menu from horizontal to vertical, breaking Hermann's gaze and hiding his reddening cheeks.

Hermann reaches out and gently pulls the menu down so that it is once more flush with the table. "I will take you, sometime, to a baseball game," he says softly. "We can score the game, the proper way, with pencil and paper, and I will buy you one of those disgusting vegan corn dogs you like so much."

There's a lot of eye contact happening. Significant eye contact, Hermann to Newt, Newt to Hermann, bidirectional, intense, the whole shebang.

Over sports. Newt's life is a farce. They couldn't be talking about particle colliders or induced pluripotent stem cells, no, it has to be sports.

"Can we please stop talking about sports?" Newt asks.

"Certainly," Hermann says dryly. "What do you want to talk about?"

Newt wants to talk about the weather. He wants to talk about interdepartmental battles over who pays for printer paper. He would even talk about math -- math is always a safe topic. "I think," Newt says slowly, "I think you just asked me out on a date."

"That's a very interesting hypothesis you have," Hermann says.

"A baseball date. Which, I mean, we don't even like each other, Hermann, what's this with baseball dates all of a sudden, huh? You unplugged my freezer once, you ass, and you never apologized."

"I'm sorry for unplugging your freezer," Hermann says, and then stops talking, like a jerk, instead opting to stare placidly across the table at Newt. It occurs to Newt that Hermann is enjoying himself immensely, while Newt feels ready to shake out of his skin with nerves. Hermann knows how this interaction is going to end, which means Hermann knows more than Newt. Hermann knows how Newt feels and is dragging this out solely for his own amusement.

"Hey," Newt says, pointing an accusatory finger. Hermann doesn't look contrite at all. "That's not fair!"

Hermann grins, and he is definitely enjoying this; he only smiles this obviously when he's watched Newt paint himself into a corner and is waiting for Newt to realize he's trapped. "For a self-proclaimed super-genius, you are deeply oblivious sometimes. It's endearing."

"I was being covert," Newt groans. "I didn't want you to freak out!"

"There has been a blatant interdepartmental betting pool on when we will get together among the students and technicians for months," Hermann says.

Newt glares across the table. "That is not funny."

"It's true," Hermann says, still smiling.

This is a lot all at once. Newt needs some air, right now. He gasps, "be right back," and slips through the crowd until he's outside and can lean against the low stone wall around the bar's patio. On reflex, he wants a smoke, but he hasn't had a cigarette since the Alaskan shatterdome. He pats around his pockets anyway, just in case, and doesn't turn up so much as a lighter. Newt's a biologist, he knows about lung cancer. He's since picked up less carcinogenic vices, but right now he misses the ritual.

He hears Hermann coming before he can see him. The man's cane makes a distinctive soft click as it presses into the concrete, in time with his gait. Newt doesn't even have to turn when Hermann settles next to him.

"You like me," Newt says without preamble. It comes out more tortured sounding than Newt would like.

"A great deal," Hermann replies.

"Why?" Newt asks, because Newt knows he's a wreck, and he needs some sort of logical bearing on this relationship before he can go any farther.

Hermann looks out over the downtown street and pats absurdly at Newt's hand until Newt works out what he wants and cooperates to tangle their fingers together. "Many reasons. You are the most exhausting man I have ever met. I can no longer imagine my life without you. You are a good person, Newt. I still hate your nickname. I like your tattoos."

"You don't have to call me Newt," Newt says. "It's okay. I had no idea you liked the tattoos."

"Oblivious," Hermann says, with feeling.

Newt feels warm all over, and Hermann is holding his hand, and back in the lab he has honest to god kaiju clones of his very own. It's time for some calculated risk taking. He takes a sneaky glance at Hermann, who is regarding him with patient fondness, and prepares a trajectory.

Without dropping Hermann's hand or knocking over his cane where it's leaning up against the wall, Newt swings around so he's facing Hermann and plants his free hand squarely on the top of Hermann's thigh. As predicted, this set of new angles brings their faces close together, plus it makes Newt feel tall, which is a bonus.

Hermann's pupils are wide in the dark. He's wearing a really heinous sweater-vest, but Newt doesn't care.

"Maybe you're an emotional cipher, and I'm not oblivious, just tortured by your stoic nature," Newt says, while staring unapologetically at Hermann's mouth. It's a lie. Hermann is an open book, it's Newt who has been misinterpreting all the data. Everything feels dangerous and fresh, and Newt is bold enough to knock Hermann's knees a bit farther apart and insinuate a thigh between Hermann's legs. Hermann lets out half a breath and his fingers tighten on Newt's hand. Something deep in Newt's chest thrills with victory.

Hermann lifts his free hand and prods Newt firmly in the ribs. "Stop stalling," he whispers, which is unfair, Newt was enjoying taking in all the details of Hermann in half-light, not stalling, thank you. He would like to do this correctly, is all.

"Come here," Newt says, and skims his hand up Hermann's chest to grab the heinous sweater-vest, pulling Hermann a crucial couple inches forward and, there it is, kissing.

Hermann kisses hot and wet and kind of filthy, honestly, they are outside, in public; Newt can hear a small knot of people walking by. Newt turns his head to see if they're students, students he might know, but Hermann growls "do not get distracted," and pulls Newt back to him by the back of his neck.

That's okay. Now Hermann has his fingers in Newt's hair and that feels amazing. Newt's got serious plans to get under the sweater vest, just a little, just to feel what the skin over Hermann's stomach feels like, to test if it's as warm and electric as his fingers and mouth.

"Come to my seminar on Monday," Newt says, breathless. Hermann tips his head back to look at Newt suspiciously, so Newt bends and kisses his neck, under his ear, until Hermann shudders. "I want you to be there."

"Yes, of course, fine," Hermann says. Newt grins, delighted with every facet of this moment. He's impossibly, brilliantly happy, and he wants it to last forever.

#

On Monday morning, Newt looks at the first slide of his powerpoint ("Cloning and characterization of kaiju embryoids by somatic nuclear cell transfer process"), and then twists to look at the growing crowd in the auditorium. They've had to add chairs at the back, which is extremely gratifying for Newt's ego. He spies Hermann in the front row and his heart speeds up. Newt drains his coffee and hopes his hands are steady enough to use a laser pointer.

At the podium, the department head wraps up after listing Newt's career history and various awards. "Finally, if you listen to Dr. Geiszler tell it, he saved the world on time. I'm pleased to invite him to tell us about what he's doing here at our very own institution! Now, Dr. Geiszler--" she finishes, waving him up in front of the projector screen.

"Please, call me Newt," Newt says, and launches into the presentation.

He knocks it out of the park.

Newt steps down from the podium and spreads his arms, daring the audience to come at him with questions. He's got a kaiju blastula, he's got kaiju gastrulation, he's got kaiju tissue folding itself into kaiju tissue layers. It's completely new, completely alien -- it's the new Dolly, the new restriction enzyme, the new semi-conservative DNA replication. He's a rock star.

In the front row Hermann sits, hand clenched around his bad leg, and stares at Newt like it's cutting him open. Newt has a sudden flashback to kissing him in the street, pressing a knee between Hermann's thighs, thrumming with the thrill of twinned success and discovery: Newt can control monsters and Hermann loves him.

Looking down at the front row, at Hermann's pale face, Newt realizes that Hermann hadn't known how far he'd come, that he'd never summarized his results in so many words until now. He'd meant to say, back at the restaurant, what he'd accomplished. He'd forgotten, and now Hermann looks so upset.

Newt stumbles over the first question, and the moderator has to remind him twice to please repeat the question into the microphone.

As the talk lets out, Hermann catches Newt with a vise-grip around his wrist.

"You cannot do this, Newton," Hermann says, knuckles white against Newt's tattoos. Around them the crowd exiting the lecture hall swirls towards the table of free coffee and snacks. A few echoes of "Nice talk, Geiszler" reach Newt's ears.

"Why not!" Newt says, too loudly. "Why the hell not, Hermann, I don't know if you noticed back there but I am doing it, it is happening in the present tense." Hermann is dumping cold water all over his day of triumph, and he doesn't appreciate it.

"We can continue this discussion, anywhere not here," Hermann says, tone strained but conversational. This is wrong. Hermann and Newt don't do conversational. Newt wants to fight this out right now, because he feels guilty and upset and he doesn't know why.

"Yes here," Newt demands, petulant. "What have you even got to say to me? Is it more private than kissing? You're certainly up for that in public." Newt punctuates his question with a showy leer.

Hermann drops Newt's wrist like it's burning him. His mouth twists up into something ugly.

That last dig was cruel and Newt knows it immediately. He feels sorry but he also feels betrayed, because Hermann should be happy for him: Newt is a rock star, Newt is pioneering a whole new field, but Hermann looks like he's swallowing dry ice.

"You did not want to clone a kaiju before the drift." Hermann says, gasping on some of the vowels like the words are cutting him as they leave his mouth. His shoulders are squared but his hand on his cane is shaking. Hermann looks horribly vulnerable and Newt is frozen with the urge to comfort him. Newt's not quite processing the words. Newt can't remember a time when he didn't want to clone a kaiju. Cloning a kaiju is necessary. It's the reference frame of his entire career; it's irrefutable. Cloning a kaiju is the entire point of Newton Giezsler.

Hermann shakes his head once, sharply, and presses onward. "Dr. Tilda Stemple made an attempt to generate kaiju clones and you immediately set about to ruin her research. You wrote a cutting, career-destroying review and you leveraged all of your contacts in the field to ostracize her. Cloning a kaiju was anathema to you. But, as far as I might observe, you no longer remember this. I want to open a breach, Newton. I want it, terribly, fiercely, but that is not my desire and I cannot ever, ever give in to it, do you understand?"

"What?" Newt says, shocked-stupid. "That's impossible. That's simply not true."

"Fine. Believe what you wish," Hermann snaps, vulnerability vanishing beneath waspish ire. He spins on his heel and stomps away, leaving Newt to stand alone among the congratulations of his peers.

Newt breathes through his nose and forces his face to behave. Comical distress is unbecoming post extremely-successful seminar and people might ask questions.

He wants to clone a kaiju. He wants it, he wants it, he needs it. Needs it to fill the horrible gnawing hole in him that opened up the day he'd left the shatterdome, its halls echoing and empty and inevitably consigned to become some faux-solemn tourist trap of a memorial. He can't stop the wanting -- it would destroy him. Or, on the flip side, it is destroying him and he's just throwing things frantically into the void, trying to fill it up before it sucks him in. He feels like something's punched straight through his torso.

Newt presses a hand to his chest to make sure everything's still there. He feels tie and shirt, the warmth of hidden tattooed skin, the slight give of fat and muscle, the hard barrier of sternum. Under that lies his pleural cavity, full of organs cradled in slick sacks of membrane; all viscera accounted for. He's breathing. He's intact.

"Goddamnit," Newt sighs, loudly enough that a passing undergraduate turns, eyebrows raised in gentle concern. Newt flashes his teeth at her, not quite a smile, and she flinches politely away.

#

When Newt arrives on Hermann's floor the next afternoon, apology sandwich in hand, he's stopped short by two graduate students in the hallway. They're carrying half a deconstructed computer between them, but they put it down and pass anxious glances between each other when they notice Newt.

"Heeeeey, Dr. Geiszler, you looking for Dr. Gottlieb?" the bolder graduate student asks. Her male companion shoots her a glare, like he was hoping she'd play her cards a bit closer to the chest.

"He's not in yet," the other grad student says, too quickly, trying to compensate but dropping all his metaphorical cards on the floor instead.

Newt makes a show of looking at his watch and raising his eyebrows. It's past three. Hermann is either in his office, or he's lying cold and dead in his apartment. That's an unpleasant image for Newt, okay, he's not going to use that particular hyperbolic phrase ever again. Hermann is very punctual, is his point. Newt has been on some receiving end of more than a few lectures on the subject. Three is not punctual.

Newt grins. "What I'm getting from this fun exchange is that, at a guess, Dr. Gottlieb had some choice words about me last night. That right? It's okay, you don't have to answer that -- blink once for yes, twice for no," Newt says, trying for soothing and possibly landing in incomprehensible.

The female student nods, and her friend winces in recollection. "I didn't know Dr. Gottlieb knew that much English profanity," he says softly.

"Trust me, this is normal for us," Newt assures them, and steps over the hunks of computer they've left in the middle of the hallway. His statement is true, certainly, of Newt and Hermann six or seven years ago. For Newt and Hermann now, this situation feels slightly foreboding, but Newt can handle it. Apology sandwich, man. That's practically the definition of handling it.

Hermann's firmly closed door is moderately intimidating, so Newt knocks instead of confidently pushing inside and interrupting whatever train of thought Hermann is conducting.

"Come in," Hermann says. Newt opens the door takes half a step into the office, and freezes as Hermann looks up from the computer. Hermann's eyes narrow for a split second and then he spins back to his monitor, refusing to look at Newt.

Newt stands in the doorway holding Hermann's sandwich, and waits.

"Get out," Hermann says, quiet like the strike of a match in a hay loft.

"I brought you a sandwich," Newton says.

Hermann takes a deep breath; Newt watches his back rise and fall under his ugly knit sweater. "I do not want it," he says. "Get out of my office."

"Hey, no, excuse me, Hermann, I know you're pissed at me, but you said I could bring you sandwiches. And I'm sorry I used our…romantic…thing as leverage in an argument, that was crappy of--"

Hermann grabs his cane and slams it against the metal filing cabinet. It's loud and violent and it stuns Newt into silence. "I said you could bring -- I can't believe you, you said," Hermann snarls, turning on Newt, half-rising and getting stuck with his fists pressed, trembling, into the flat top of his desk, "you said you would tell me if things were bad! You said you were doing microarrays. You said it was never going to work!"

"Honestly, I didn't think it was going to work at the time," Newt snarls back, but Hermann continues over him.

"I have advised against this course of action at every juncture, and you didn't even deign to tell me you were ignoring me."

"You also left out some key pre-drift information," Newt says, because he did; Hermann doesn't have an undisputed claim on the high road here. Not wanting to clone a kaiju before the drift, that's strange, that's uncomfortable, Newt's not thinking about that right now.

"I thought it would distress you, I thought it was not relevant, and I thought you knew," Hermann snaps back.

"Well I didn't know," Newt says, "and I put all my eggs in this admittedly awesome basket, so what do I do now? Quit the project?"

"Yes!" Hermann yells.

"Then what?" Newt shouts, "What am I good for, if I quit?" His fury turns inward, sketching out an opening and begging Hermann to flay him through it.

Hermann doesn't disappoint. "Nothing, Dr. Geiszler! Your relevance closed up with the breach. K-science is over. The only thing driving you is the ghost of a monster inside of your brain, and if you'd stop for a moment to think, logically, you'd see it's a phantom. If you had listened to me--"

"If I listened to you I'd be sitting in lab studying PCP pathway mutations, like all the other hacks in the department! I'm changing paradigms, and you're too scared to do anything. Brave new world, dude! Get on board or get out."

"I will never be on board for resurrecting a new world that looks like the old world. Our friends died to close the breach, and you're undoing it. How could you, how could you?" Hermann shouts.

Newt has had it with this, he decides. He's had it with being a burden on Hermann, and he's had it with Hermann dampening his successes. Newt sets Hermann's sandwich down on his desk, and doesn't shout back. Hermann slumps back down into his chair and spares a guilty look toward the open door. Newt thinks miserably about eavesdropping graduate students. Newt thinks miserably about kissing Hermann in the street.

The universe is stacked against Newton Gieszler having nice things. He'll just end this before dragging it out causes undue wreckage. Confirm relationship destruction by cervical dislocation. One sharp pull, until the vertebrae crack.

"I think we're fundamentally incompatible," Newt says calmly. "And that's fine, that's okay. Some people don't work together. Oil and water, organic and aqueous layers, you know. Maybe it's best if we stayed out of each other's business."

"Newton--" Hermann says, sounding wrecked.

"No, no," Newt says, stopping him. "Dr. Gottlieb, it's been a pleasure collaborating with you, and I hope we can correspond professionally in the future."

Newt strides out of Hermann's tidy office and closes the door behind him, so that he cannot look back.

Fifteen minutes after leaving Hermann's office Newt gets an email from Hermann with no subject line. It contains a single link. It's to Newt's review of Dr. Stemple's work on the first steps toward kaiju cloning.

Newt deletes the email with a snarl, then spends half an hour with his head in his hands, thinking about nothing.

#

Newt spends four days in a spectacular sulk. Hermann doesn't come by. Newt sees him twice: once walking around the quad and once standing in line at the cafe in the basement of the nursing school. It hurts, in an involuntary lurching way, both times.

By the end of the week, it's getting ridiculous. Newt allocates himself thirty minutes of no-science time and spends it at his desk making a grand plan to get off his ass and stop moping. He will go to the store and get the ingredients for fancy tofu-burgers (about the maximum extent of Newt's cooking ability). He will take off his pants, put on loud music, and get himself back on track.

He leaves the lab with shopping list in hand, grand plan firm in his head. Grocery store, home, cooking, taking care of himself and his environment. Yeah.

Halfway to his car, Newt takes an abrupt left turn and heads for the lake.

He stops by his favorite food truck and buys sadness tacos.

It's been a hard week. Newt deserves sadness tacos.

He peels the foil back and chows down on his bean tacos as he walks, wondering idly about the social acceptability of eating and walking at the same time. Anything eaten with a fork falls definitely on the unacceptable side. Granola bar, acceptable. Roasted nuts in a paper cone, eat your heart out on the go. Hot dogs he thinks depend on where they're bought from, with street carts giving one a free pass to eat however one wants. Tacos fall into the same category, Newt's pretty sure.

By the time he hits the lakeshore trail Newt's made an itemized list of foods arranged by difficulty of ambulatory consumption. He finds a bench, and taco-eating becomes significantly easier.

Newt's been punishing himself by reading about particle physics. He's skipped the friendly popular science texts with their metaphors and their cute man-on-train-made-of-gunpowder thought experiments in favor of heavy books crammed with awful math. It doesn't make him feel better, but he hates it in a familiar way. It's better than, say, staring out the window of his office in the vague direction of the engineering quad.

He means to sit by the lake and read some more physics, maybe derive something in a symbolic, masochistic gesture. Instead he stares out over the water and thinks about kaiju.

Newt doesn't feel like there's aliens whispering into the back of his brain.

The lake laps quietly at the shore, hushed and blue-grey in the twilight. It's not the sea, for all that he can't see the opposite shore. At the bottom of the lake there's only mud. It isn't anything like the sea.

He doesn't suppose aliens whispering into his brain would necessarily feel like anything. Newt licks taco grease off his fingers and makes another list.

Possibility 1: The kaiju knew, during one or both of Newt's drifts, that the breach could be annihilated. Newt's been slated to play the role of evil sleeper agent for almost three years and it's finally starting to surface. T-minus several months before Newt peaks as the title character in Kaiju Apocalypse: Plan B.

Possibility 2: Less menacing, but still creepy; Newt's ectopic desires are more accidental. Maybe there's some sort of evolutionary mandate intrinsic to the hivemind and Newt's caught a side dish of survive and multiply a la alien species survival instinct. He's infected with someone else's Darwinian compulsions.

Possibility 3: Newt didn't pick up his fresh cloning obsession from the kaiju at all. It's simply one of those weird synergistic drift side effects, like how Mako and Raleigh both surfaced post-badass-breach-destruction with a strong preference for post-modernist art that neither of them could explain.

The fact that Hermann has a parallel desire to open a breach is worrying.

Newt vacates his bench, dodges a cyclist, and meanders down to the lakeshore, picking around large rocks and weeds. He picks up a rock and throws it as far as he can out into the water. It lands with a satisfying thunk-glug. Newt throws a rock for every way his kaiju-cloning experiments could lead to the end of the world, part deux.

He could accidentally flush a live kaiju embryo down the sink, and it could grow to gigantic size down in the sewers.

Hannibal Chau's crew of black-market entrepreneurs could come to Newt's lab, kidnap him, and force him to re-open their line of supply from a human-cloned source, or, worse, monetize the kaiju clones Jurassic Park-style, leading to inevitable civilian death and public disgrace.

Newt could lose control of his own mind, flee to a lake-side cave, and grow an army of cloned kaiju in secret, outside the purview of academic oversight committees until he re-emerged, Geiszler victorious, nerd horseman of the apocalypse astride a monstrous steed.

Years could pass as the world survived a handful tightly regulated kaiju embryoids, but Hermann would never talk to Newt again and Newt's inevitable fame, glory, and fortune would ring empty in his hollow heart.

Newt runs out of rocks in a satisfying size. He throws a handful of gravel and it lands with a cacophony of plips. Newt doesn't want Hermann to be right. He worked so hard.

Life's not fair, Dr. Geiszler.

When he gets home Newt opens up the review he doesn't quite remember writing, and reads why Dr. Tilda Stemple was wrong to attempt to clone a kaiju in his own unfamiliar words.

#

Newt walks to Hermann's place without an umbrella, in the rain.

It's good, the rain. The rain is cold and singleminded in its mission to get under his jacket, which is distracting. He can be indulgently self-pitying about the rain instead of obsessively scripting the possible events after he knocks on Hermann's door.

The rain also isn't sleet, which is a plus. Five years in subtropical Hong Kong weakened Newt's resolve in the face of wintry mix. This rain feels a lot like the spring deluges of the apocalypse, heavy and driving, making the night glisten. Residential Evanston looks nothing like downtown Hong Kong, but heavy rain is heavy rain. Newt misses the massive golf umbrellas they'd supplied at the shatterdome. They'd been bulky and dramatic but they kept everything in a five-foot radius bone-dry.

Newt tucks the papers he's carrying farther under his jacket. Their edges are softening with damp.

By the time he makes it up Hermann's driveway Newt is wet to his skin. There's water dripping from his eyebrows and catching in his eyelashes, cold and glistening in his peripheral vision. His glasses have crossed some sort of wetness threshold. All the impenetrable light-refracting droplets have merged into a single sheet of water that he can almost see through.

Newt knocks on the door. Maybe Hermann is working late and he's not home. On a Sunday. With his car in the drive and all the lights on in the living room. Definitely not outside the realm of possibility, nope, that's a fair and unbiased prediction.

Hermann opens the door, a vision of warmth and comfort in soft flannel and a worn out university bookstore hoodie. Newt doesn't know what to say, so he stands and blinks wetly. Hermann's face undertakes a complex journey from surprised to infuriated to concerned and settles on perfect neutrality.

Newt pulls the soggy stack of papers out from under his jacket and waves them at Hermann. "Here," he says, and then doesn't know what to say. A fat drop of water slides off the end of his nose.

"What's this?" Hermann asks as he reaches out and takes the papers, fishing his funny round spectacles out from under his hoodie to examine what Newt's handed him. Newt chews the inside of his cheek and does his own examination of the doormat.

"Newton," Hermann says, right when Newt calculates he'll get to the critical bits, the bits where the formal letter, signed by Newt and several collaborators, declares the kaiju embryoid project impossible to replicate, empirically suspect, and reeking of fraud. Underneath the letter are copies of a long string of email correspondence where Newt even more thoroughly trashes his project's chances of getting published.

Newt looks up sheepishly. "So, I'm never getting grant funding again."

"Did you imply that you dyed the embryos of Xenopus laevis and passed them off as kaiju? That's ridiculous, that's--"

"You were right," Newt says quietly, because if he lets Hermann continue he'll fight back and he'll never get this apology out. Destroying the project had been the only thing he could think of; the only way to permanently undo the damage he'd done and somehow get Hermann back. His career is circling the drain and all he wants is for Hermann to stop looking at him like he's a bomb Hermann doesn't know how to defuse. "I looked up all the things I said about Dr. Stemple and you've been right since the beginning."

Hermann steps out onto the drenched stoop, blithely uncaring for his instantly soaked socks, and whacks Newt in the chest with the evidence of his career's recent destruction. "You impulsive, feckless, horrifying, impossible man," he says softly, hitting Newt with the papers on every word for emphasis.

Hermann is close enough for Newt to drip on him. "I'm getting you wet," Newt says miserably.

"I do not care," Hermann says, and kisses him like he's been poisoned and Newt's the antidote.

It is not as good as their first kiss, because Newt is very surprised and very wet and very firmly entrenched in self-pity, which is a poor starting point for kissing. However, Newt's made a lifetime habit of recovering quickly.

Hermann gets a grip on Newt and does some surprisingly coordinated yanking him up over the threshold and out of the rain, barely breaking the kiss. Once inside, he whips the wet paper in his hand towards the coffee table, slams the door, and Newt's back hits the wall before he really knows what's happening. "I feel like I'm not in charge here," Newt gasps.

Hermann backs off to arm's length and narrows his eyes at Newt, considering. "Would you like to be in charge?" he asks.

"No, no, nope, definitely continue," Newt says, making an inarticulate gesture with both hands.

Hermann hums deep in his chest and crowds back into Newt's space. Newt's breath catches in anticipation, but Hermann doesn't kiss him again, and instead goes for the fastening of his jacket. Newt reaches up to help but Hermann swats his hands away, and, fine, this is a thing that Hermann would like to do for Newt. That's okay. Hermann holds Newt against the wall with one hand firmly pressed against his collarbone and unzips Newt's jacket with the other in one long hiss of unlocking zipper-teeth. Oh god, more than okay, Newt thinks as his head thunks back against the wall and his eyes flutter shut.

Newt holds as still as he can as Hermann relieves him of jacket, tie, and glasses. They hit the floor with a waterlogged smack and a clatter, one after the other, and Newt shudders all over.

There's a pause, and Newt opens his eyes. Hermann's staring at him, chest heaving like he's run around the block, and Newt realizes that he's wearing a white dress shirt and it's utterly soaked. His tattoos are clearly visible through the fabric everywhere it clings.

"I was thinking we should get adjoining offices," Newt blurts.

Hermann nods incisively, like talking about lab space is completely appropriate at this juncture, but his pupils are blown wide behind his glasses. "You can move to the engineering building," he says, breathless.

"What, no!" Newt says, "you should move to biomedical, I have an entire lab that I would have to move, and I need equipment--"

He's silenced by Hermann's hand on his mouth. "Engineering," Hermann says firmly, "is my preference." Newt objects strenuously to this underhanded tactic, and retaliates by opening his mouth and sucking on the tips of Hermann's fingers. Hermann makes a noise like Newt has punched him and presses his fingers deeper in an involuntary forward push. Newt stares shamelessly into Hermann's blurry face at close range, trying to memorize the shape and contour of Hermann Gottlieb, undone.

Hermann drags his fingers free, then shifts and winces. Newt does a quick re-assessment of the situation, sees no cane, thinks of Hermann's hip, and takes a spin around you're an insensitive dick lane. "Is this going to be a bedroom-requiring encounter?" Newt asks, super-tactfully.

This earns him an incredibly pained eye roll, even though Newt is being direct and considerate and fully aware of his partner's leg-related comfort levels. "C'mon," Newt says, and sneaks his hands up under Hermann's hoodie, hooking his thumbs under the waistband of Hermann's pants. He steps sideways, pulling Hermann with him, and makes a slow backwards journey down the short hallway to Hermann's bedroom, glad that Hermann's place is as familiar to him as his own. Newt helped carry the furniture in when Hermann moved; he remembers the acute pain he'd felt, setting Hermann up in a place of his own, afraid that the distance would destroy something he couldn't define except for the fear of losing it.

They kiss in the doorway, then fall in a tangle on the bed. Newt gets over-eager trying to shuck Hermann out of both his sweatshirt and undershirt at once, and Hermann gets stuck with one elbow trapped, tsking in annoyance and twisting awkwardly. Newt laughs, open and amused, making Hermann scowl, but he relents with a dry chuckle as Newt helps him extract himself. Then Newt's presented with a lot of bare chest and his mouth goes completely dry.

"Bet you twenty bucks I'm better at sex than you," Newt says, trying for comedy and landing in strangled. Hermann hits him in the face with a pillow.

"It's not a competition, you moron," Hermann says, and sets to stripping Newt of first his wet shirt, then his wet pants, fingers working deftly at the soaked corduroy, voice a constant low grumble, insulting Newt's taste in pants fabric, umbrella habits, and underwear choices. Newt slides a hand through Hermann's hair and tries not to shake apart with loving him.

"I would like…" Hermann says, fingers hovering over the tented front of Newt's underwear.

"Fuck, yes, please, anything," Newt says, giving him blanket permission.

Hermann pulls Newt's cock free and Newt groans, one hand clutching at the bedsheets and one hand rasping through the short hair at the back of Hermann's neck. "No tattoos," Hermann says dryly, and Newt groans again.

"Shut up," he says, trying not to buck into Hermann's fingers in a desperate search for friction. Hermann smiles wickedly and takes Newt into his mouth like it's no big thing. Newt gasps and jerks upward, earning himself a firm hand bearing down on his hipbone and a glare, but Hermann doesn't pull away. It's simply too hot, Newt cannot handle this, his brain is going to drip out his nose and he's never going to have an original thought ever again, goodbye intellectual career, hello manual labor forever.

Hermann is surprisingly, blindingly good at this, and when Newt comes the dam breaks on his verbal barriers. He arches his back, and babbles, "fuck, Hermann, I can't, please, I love you, I love you, you're so good and I love you," then falls back, gasping, while Hermann strokes his thigh.

When it's Newt's turn to pull Hermann's fly open and fumble his way through what Hermann did effortlessly, he's afraid he can't measure up, but Hermann moans underneath him, pulls his hair, and whispers "don't stop." Hermann comes with a wordless cry and a sharp scrape of fingernails across Newt’s shoulders.

Afterwards, Newt crawls up so he's flush with Hermann's chest again and presses a soft kiss against the corner of his mouth, happy and drowsy. Hermann reaches up and strokes his cheekbone with his thumb, smiling faintly. "This apology went much better than the last one," Newt observes.

"Yes, it did," Hermann says.

Newt tucks his head into the crook of Hermann's neck and smiles into Hermann's skin. He falls asleep draped across Hermann's chest to the feeling of Hermann's fingers tracing the lines of the tattoos on his back, over and over again.

#

"No, stop, no, where are you, no," Newt yelps when he wakes to his phone alarm buzzing frantically in the distance. This startles Hermann into full wakefulness, and for a moment they're simultaneously extremely confused.

Newt figures it out first -- his phone is in his pants pocket, and his pants are on the floor. On Hermann's floor, because Newt is in Hermann's bedroom, with Hermann's blankets tangled around his hips, with Hermann grumpily blinking the sleep out of his eyes beside him. It's Monday morning. Newt has no plan for this.

With some awkward clambering, Newt gets to his phone and drags on pants.

"Uh," Newt says, wondering if he can look at his email without being unimaginably rude. Instead he looks at Hermann.

Hermann is bright red and literally clutching the sheets up around his neck. Newt's willing to bet he's counting powers of two in his head. "Thirty two thousand, seven hundred forty eight," Newt says, deliberately scrambling a digit just to watch Hermann flinch.

Hermann's wince is exaggerated and very satisfying. "Sixty eight," he hisses.

"Nerd," Newt says, and tosses Hermann his pants.

"What was that for?" Hermann snaps.

"I know exactly what your self-soothing methods are, dude," Newt says. "Let's eat breakfast, c'mon."

It's awkward, because Newt has no idea if he's allowed to touch Hermann while it's light out and they're shuffling around Hermann's kitchen on a quest for coffee. Hermann hasn't put a shirt on, and Newt can't find his shirt; a plus for the casual intimacy of the situation and a minus for Newt's general comfort level, because Hermann keeps his house cold, like a frugal jerk who isn't making a big-shot professor's salary at a prestigious academic institution. Newt wants to wrap his arms around Hermann from behind and snuffle into his sleep-ruffled hair, but would it be weird? Newt thinks it might be weird.

Hermann's cupboards contain only raisin bran for breakfast, which is appalling but not out of character. Hermann, still operating on morning autopilot, non-verbally nudges Newt out of the way and collects his breakfast before arranging himself matter-of-factly in the chair by the kitchen table.

"So," Newt says, leaning casually against the counter and alternating between mouthfuls of soggy cereal and under-sugared coffee, "are we putting a label on this…thing?" He indicates their sweep of shared history and recent bedroom doings with a twiddly motion of his spoon.

Without an ounce of social grace, Hermann scowls and rubs a hand over his face. "Now?" he says, like it's paining him to even think about having this particular talk.

"Yes, now!" Newt says, because he doesn't know what the next five years are going to look like without his kaiju cloning project, or what his research interests are supposed to be if xenobiology is off the table, or, honestly, if he even has a job anymore. Every foothold in his life has turned quite abruptly into quicksand, and he needs just this one thing to be certain. This Newt and Hermann thing needs to have a label so he can file it away and think of it as solid, because he can't do uncertainty right now. They must have this conversation because without it Newt is going to peel apart at the seams.

Hermann gives Newt a long, considering look, and seems to work out some of Newt's inner turmoil. "Fine," he says grudgingly. "We are friends, colleagues, and we have recently shared intimate relations. Is that sufficient?"

"No," Newt whines. "You're terrible, that is not sufficient. I was thinking boyfriends is too juvenile, but partner sounds like we're secretly married and being cagey about it. Dating doesn't make sense because we're not dating, are we? Please tell me I don't have to take you to the movies and buy you popcorn and awkwardly touch your leg in the dark, that sounds completely awful. Can we just say we did that part already, sometime during the month-long Hong Kong science all-nighters where I bought you bad coffee and you threw chalk at my head for singing? I think--"

"Newton," Hermann says, interrupting Newt's spiraling train of thought, "are you worried that if you cannot find the perfect semantic tag for our decade-long relationship, it will dissolve?"

"Um, maybe?" Newt looks at Hermann's countertop, trying to count the shimmering flecks in the granite.

Hermann sighs, levers himself up out of his chair, and touches Newt's bare shoulder blade, tentative and warm. Newt leans back into his hand, suddenly content and anchored. "It will not dissolve," Hermann says, "and I believe the phrase you are looking for is in a relationship. We are in a relationship."

"Does that mean I can call you pet names?" Newt says, twisting around to look Hermann in the face.

"Absolutely not," Hermann says.

Newt puts on his best wounded expression. "Oh come on, please--" He stops as his phone vibrates furiously in his pocket with a flurry of incoming emails. "Oh god," Newt says weakly.

He falls into Hermann's chair and opens up his email, braced for the worst. Hermann leans over him, reading over his shoulder. Newt's inbox offers up two seminar reminders, a confirmation for a microscope slot he's booked, one email from the department head titled curtly "Research Misconduct Hearing: Dr. Newton Geiszler" and something with no subject line from an encrypted email service that Newt surmises is from what remains of the PPDC.

Newt opens the email from the department first and skims the long message as quickly as he can. It's like ripping off a bandaid, he thinks. Yep. He's on sabbatical until a hearing has been organized and investigation conducted. That's nice, actually; it sounds like they might not fire him. He's retroactively glad he doesn't have any graduate students to drag into this -- less collateral damage.

The email from the PPDC is shorter, less forthright, and more alarming.

"Guess they're still keeping tabs on us, huh?" Newt says, setting his phone gingerly on the table and pushing it away like it might bite.

Hermann puts both his hands over Newt's bare shoulders, and Newt leans his head back against Hermann's chest. "I told you not to clone a kaiju," he says, but his voice is tired and gentle, and Newt can't bring himself to bristle in response. They stay like that, silent and still, as the coffee cools and Hermann's phone chimes at him: time for work, time for your 9:00 meeting, time to complete grant reviews due today at noon.

"Everything will be fine," Hermann says eventually.

Newt reaches up to hold his hand, too tightly, and believes him.

#

Newt is not fired.

He does, however, change departments to bioengineering, and moves into the office next door to Hermann's.

Newt sends emails to Mako, to Tendo, to Caitlin Lightcap. He tells them little details about his life, about how he wants a dog and doesn't know if he can take care of it (he misses Max more than he misses Chuck sometimes, and yeah, he knows that makes him a terrible human being), about the weather, about Hermann.

Mako emails back with a picture of herself on the Today Show. Tendo doesn't email, but Newt gets a phone call the next evening and talks for fifteen minutes while Tendo walks to work, halfway around the world. Caitlin's autoresponder tells him she's out of the office for the next two weeks.

Newt hires a technician, and then attracts a pair of postdoctoral fellows, and is eventually joined by a single hard-headed graduate student. Hermann sets up joint Geiszler/Gottlieb lab meetings, and they bicker in front of their amused lab members. Newt stops shouting at graduate students.

Newt does not clone a kaiju, and Hermann does not open a breach.

The PPDC does not call.

In his free moments Newt starts writing a book for the popular press. Hermann reads the first draft aloud at night with Newt's head pillowed in his lap and mocks Newt's metaphors. Newt figures it will be a year, maybe two, before the benefits of cohabitation outweigh their mutual reluctance to give up their personal spaces and they move into a shared place.

They get drunk together at the National Genome Meeting and Newt kisses Hermann during the poster session. A picture gets snapped and circulated around the internet geek forums and the graduate student listservs. Hermann is mortified; Newt puts it up on his lab webpage.

On the drive into lab, sharing Newt's car because Hermann stayed the night again, Hermann's hand warm over Newt's on the gear shift, Newt brings up the leftovers of the drift one last time.

"Do you you think we'll ever want to do it any less?" Newt says, meaning to clone a kaiju, meaning to open a breach. The wanting is so fierce in him sometimes that he cannot see what's in front of him as the phosphorescent glow of kaiju embryos fills his entire field of vision. He suspects it is the same for Hermann, although he cannot know for sure.

Newt turns into the faculty lot while Hermann considers, and pulls up in the handicap spot, daring the parking police to come out and fight him so that he can sic Hermann's wrath upon them. "No," Hermann says eventually. "I believe we will carry this particular desire our entire lives."

"I don't know if my willpower's gonna hold another half-century," Newt admits. It's almost a joke, but the truth behind it sits sourly in Newt's mouth. He's not about self-control; the evidence is written in technicolor across his skin.

"Mine will hold for both of us," Hermann says archly.

Newt kicks Hermann in the ankle, says, "You're being a smug bastard, Hermann, nobody likes a smug bastard," but there's no venom behind it, because Newt is absorbed in the implications of Hermann's statement.

Hermann's not leaving. He will stay, to keep Newt safe, for the next fifty years, if he has to.

That's perfect. That's enough.

#