orphan.dat

All Hugo Award-winning fanfic, all the time.

WIP Amnesty Week: “Night Out”

The lost installment from my Pacific Rim series, “Frankenstein and the Newt”.

This was basically just a PWP: an anniversary outing for the titular characters that was going to degenerate into kinky porn. I got sidetracked for two reasons. The first is that I wrote most of it while I was actually in Hong Kong. One of the things that’s noticeable about a lot of Pacific Rim fic is that people have, er, obviously never actually been to the city. Weather aside, I really like Hong Kong, so tried to put a bit of that in here.

The second part is I have this nervous tic that gets triggered by people trying to write “fancy restaurant” scenes in fanfic. You know the ones where the waiters are “snooty” and the food is “small” and someone always feels out-of-place for wearing jeans and not knowing what fork to use. Well, as a Pretentious Wanker who routinely eats in Actual Fancy Restaurants I can categorically say they–with some, mostly US-east-coast *cough cough*, exceptions–aren’t like that. (There is a certain class of mid-range restaurant that is, but ironically one of the reasons they aren’t in the Michelin class is that they’re assholish and unwelcoming. In an actual Michelin restaurant, where you’re paying $500+ for a meal, the staff are always unfailingly polite. Also, the food is “small” because you’re supposed to have eight courses of it. Just… while we’re on the subject.)

Anyway. I kind of petered out on this fic when I came back home, so… here it is, in all its unfinished glory.


People think they have no secrets. Because of the bond, because of the Drift, because of assumptions made about both. The assumptions aren’t true but, honestly, Hermann never feels moved to correct them. The reality is that Newt’s mind is a chaotic maelstrom; Hermann has no more desire to navigate to its deepest chasms that Newt has to traverse Hermann’s own cold, hard-edged void. Their thoughts touch and they have a place where they come together, a fulcrum in the centre, a line of tape between two halves, shared and separate, all at once. It’s an arrangement that’s served them over the years within the confines of their lab. Taking the metaphor and applying it to their minds was so instinctive that it took months for them to realize things could be any other way.

And, yes. They have secrets. Shameful memories tucked hidden behind metal shelves, unasked after tedium left in jumbles upon benches. Things they don’t want to share and things they haven’t thought to. Not much of either, after all this time, but… enough.

Still. Memories are one thing. Sneaking about behind each others’ backs during waking hours? Quite another.

Which is why, for his current project, Hermann waits until Newt is asleep. Newt dozes most days around noon, and that gives Hermann a good few hours over lunch to call up plans and schematics and orders, to test alloys and synthetics, to call contractors and suppliers. Then to pack it all away, bundled and hidden, and calculate equations long enough and loud enough that Newt won’t look too closely when he wakes.

The project takes about seven months all up, from conception to fabrication. This is three months longer than Hermann scheduled for; he’s not used to working in such short, constrained bursts, for starters, and had some problems sourcing parts, for seconds. So he overshoots his initial go-live date by a month—he scheduled slack, but not enough—and has to scramble with a temporary cover come January. He’s pretty sure Newt is well and truly suspicious but by the time February is rolling to a close Hermann is sitting on the couch in their room staring at the inside of a small brown shipping container thinking:

They’re perfect.

#

The funny thing—funny in retrospect, if not at the time—was that Newt had been twenty-four when he’d lost his virginity. The curse of going from child prodigy to MIT lecturer meant that, by the time he’d been old enough to have sex, his age peer group had suddenly become his students, and no way in hell Newt was going to be one of those professors. He had standards, dude. Not high ones, mind. Just… ethical ones.

His first time had been a disastrously awkward fling with a doctoral candidate from Aeronautics. They’d dated for two months, fucked twice, and then Newt had found himself naked one morning on a balcony, all of his belonging lined up neatly outside Mel’s door. “I’m sorry, Newt,” she’d said, not sounding very sorry at all. “I’m looking for a man, not a child who collects PhDs like Magic: the Gathering cards.”

That one still hurt a bit, a decade and a half later.

Hermann had been Newt’s second, which the man hadn’t known until recently. They’d had one mediocre fuck in Newt’s hotel room, and then Hermann had walked out and the next time they’d seen each other, three years later, Hermann had been married and Newt’s heart had shattered into a million tiny little shards.

He’d had another boyfriend in the interim, while they’d been going through the Academy. The last Newt had heard, Kam had up and joined the BuenaKai. He’d also been the one to dump Newt, not the other way around.

Newt’s final attempt at a relationship had been one of the Shatterdome’s nurses, back in about 2022, when he’d been going through one of his regular Hermann-Gottlieb-can-die-for-all-I-care angst phases. Lin had been geeky and sweet and in the end she’d sat him down with tears in her eyes and told him, “I love you, but you don’t love me.” Newt hadn’t been able to deny it, and she’d requested a transfer to Sydney the next day.

Point being, Newt’s had five sexual partners in his entire life, and two of them have been Gottliebs. (He doesn’t count whatever happened at MIT after Karloff went down, given the memory blackout.) And it’s funny, in the way that isn’t, because Newt knows that information would surprise people. People used to assume—because of the tattoos, because of his superficial extroversion, because he’d (very briefly) been in a band—that Newt had been the drunk-orgies-at-the-frat-party kind of guy. It’s something Newt had never bothered to correct them on.

Just like Hermann never bothers to correct people on their assumptions that he’s an antisocial asexual prig who wouldn’t be able to find his dick with a GPS and a tour guide. But Newt knew Hermann before the Academy, knows what he was like at university. Knows Hermann’s the kind of guy who’s spent most of his life hooking up for casual sex via smartphone apps, the kind of guy who has a long-term open relationship with a supermodel. He’s the guy who introduced Newt to casual fucking and to threesomes, not the other way around. Hermann’s terrible at relationships, but he’s a walking encyclopedia of sex.

(One with some pretty hilarious stories, which he can occasionally be prompted to tell. Like the one about Shit Girl, back in 2011. “She would ask me about ‘shit porn’ and ‘being into shit’,” Hermann had told Newt once. “I kept thinking she was being vague, or vulgar. It took me nearly a month to work out she was speaking literally. In the end, she got quite incensed when I refused to defecate on her breasts while she masturbated. Apparently I was obliged to do so because I was a ‘bloody kraut’ and ‘everyone knows what your type likes’. I told her that I wished her well with finding a partner more generous with his bowel movements, but that our own liaison would have to end.” Only Hermann, Newt knows, could possibly dump a pushy coprophiliac in such a prissy, straight-laced way.)

Point being, Newt’s sexual experience is next to nothing and Hermann’s is over nine thousand, and no one ever guesses as much. Still, Hermann hasn’t been with anyone else (except Vans, who’s a given) since they got together for reals after the world didn’t end. “I’m getting too old for Grindr,” Hermann had said. “Besides. It’s not… unpleasant. Having some consistency in a relationship.”

Six months after he’d said as much, Newt had turned into a monster. So much for consistency.

Or so Newt had thought. He’d buried himself in a deep funk for weeks. Not just over Hermann, but that’d been right up there on the reasons list. Because finally, finally, Newt had been getting the sort of relationship he’d always wanted, with the guy he’d always wanted, and having that taken from him? Kind of a low blow, life.

Except not. Because Hermann had crawled eagerly—if slightly stiffly, given his leg—back into Newt’s bed and they’d spent many awkward, amazing, heart-racing hours re-learning how to please each other with the reality of Newt’s new body. And Hermann might not be into shit, but he sure is into tentacles, at least when said tentacles are Newt’s.

Newt’s body is… different now. Identifiable, but different. And Newt’s always been a dude both by biology and by presentation, except now he’s really got neither. Just convention and preference and a giant glowing hectocotylus and a hungry, grasping ovipore.

And Hermann; who became an overnight expert in how to operate both, how to work Newt up into a writhing, howling mess. Newt does his best to reciprocate in turn, and Hermann doesn’t complain, just cuddles up lazy and sated in the nest formed by Newt’s limbs.

So it works, because they make it work, despite all history and expectation. They are both nothing if not incredibly stubborn. Point being, when Hermann starts acting all weird and secretive and doesn’t let up for months, Newt doesn’t allow himself jump to any… conclusions. Certainly not ones involving Hermann straying into someone else’s bed. It’s not that the thought doesn’t occur. After all, Newt’s a scientist; considering hypotheses is his job. It’s just that, as far as hypotheses go, Newt considers the Sudden Infidelity Model about on par with speculation that kaiju are reptiles. (They’re aliens, for godssake! They’re their own clade by definition.)

Still. The fact remains that Hermann has been acting… shifty. Like he’s hiding something. For months. It’s really, really testing Newt’s dedication to adult patience and relationship trust, that’s for sure. Months of not digging through Hermann’s mind or his internet history, months of not nagging or dropping unsubtle hints. Months of playing you-know-that-I-know-that-you-know-I-don’t-know. It’s infuriating. Newt’s proud of his restraint, even as he knows he wouldn’t have been able to tough it out fifteen or ten or even five years ago. He’s so fucking adult.

It helps, of course, that Newt is absolutely certain that whatever Hermann is keeping from him falls into the “nice surprise” rather than “nasty surprise” bucket. Newt can feel Hermann trying to not think about it, every now and then, and his emotions when he does are… anticipatory. In the sexy way.

So Newt waits. And waits. And waits. And is still waiting when, sometime at the tail end of February, Hermann comes to find him in the office.

(An office is a thing they have, now that the lab is filled with other people.)

Newt is scowling at reports on his laptop when he hears the thump of Hermann’s cane against the floor. He doesn’t turn, just feels his mouth open in a smile as fingers ghost along the scales of his shoulder. He leans into the touch, loosing a growl he knows sounds frightening to everyone except Hermann.

Hermann, whose presence draws closer and whose breath ghosts across Newt’s brow ridges. Whose lips trace kisses, whose fingers dip down to tease gently across the gill slits in Newt’s neck. Closed tight out of the water, but still sensitive, and Newt shuts his eyes and growls again, leaning back into the touch.

This, apparently, is going to be one of those visits.

Reports forgotten, Newt twists until Hermann is pressed against his chest, slender and strong beneath Newt’s hands. All four of them, cupping Hermann’s ass and shoulders and caressing his cheeks. Hermann hums his enjoyment, arching up to press kisses along Newt’s mouth. Newt’s all-too-happy to oblige the request, opening his mouth just enough to let his tongue stroke along Hermann’s lips.

It’s a little thing, but it makes Hermann’s breath hitch in that most perfect of ways. He sucks Newt’s tongue into his mouth, his own tongue stroking the surface and pressing into the opening at the tip in the way that makes Newt shudder.

Hermann is a ball of sex hidden under ugly sweaters and Newt thanks all the forces of reality that he’s allowed to have this. That Hermann arches into his kiss and his caress, breath coming fast, cock swelling beneath badly fitted trousers. It’s been a while since they’ve fucked in the lab. Not since they’ve had staff to supervise, in fact, and Newt misses it. So does Hermann, judging by the way he ruts eagerly against Newt’s extended tentacles, spreading his thighs to allow them better access and—

“So I’ve been going over these reports andohmygod Doctor Gottlieb I’m so sorry, I—!”

There are a lot of assumptions people make about Hermann, Newt knows. One is that he’d be the kind of guy to jump away and stutter in red-faced humiliation when caught in the middle of getting busy with his monster boyfriend. And, yeah. Maybe, once upon a time, he was that guy.

Now? Now Hermann just steps back slowly, gives one last, brief kiss to Newt’s snout as he does. He looks rumpled and flushed, lips swollen and eyes shadowed, and utterly, utterly shameless.

“Don’t mind me, Doctor Wan,” he tells the guy currently frozen in the doorway, tablet clutched against his chest like he wants to hide his eyes behind it and can’t quite bring himself to do so. “I was just leaving.” Newt does not bother to mask his disappointment, which earns him anillegally wicked smirk from Hermann. Not fair. So totally, totally not fair.

Hermann steps away, giving one last kiss to a rogue tentacle that reaches eagerly for him. The sensation jars Newt out of his sex-addled daze, and he whips the tentacles back up into his abdomen. He’s still not super-comfortable with people seeing them, and Wan is just right there, even if he’s trying his absolute best not to look at anything more incriminating than the wall.

“T-thank you, sir,” Wan stammers. “Sorry for… Ah, for interrupting.”

“No trouble,” Hermann says, still smirking his razor smirk. “I leave Doctor Geiszler in your capable hands. One request, however?”

“S-sir?”

“Make sure he leaves the lab at a reasonable hour tonight. No later than half-five. We’re going out to dinner, and I’d hate to be late.”

Newt’s brows hike. They’re going out? This is the first he’s heard of it. “Herms?”

“I shall see you this evening, Newton,” Hermann says. He’s using his we’re done talking voice. Not cruelly. Just… apparently they’re done taking. Newt watches as he strides out of the office, cane tapping an eager staccato against the concrete.

“Um…” says Wan. “I can come back later?”

Newt spends one more moment looking longingly down the corridor, before sighing in defeat. “Nah,” he signs to Wan. “It’s cool. What, er. What were you after again?”

And then it’s back to reports, and science, and outbreaks, and the evening can’t come fast enough.

#

Hermann doesn’t appear in the lab for the rest of the afternoon, which is awful, as far as Newt’s concerned. He is in their room when Newt barrels in at ten past five, but won’t give Newt any further details no matter how much Newt pleads for them.

Instead, he simply rubs himself against Newt’s big arm, planting more kisses against Newt’s cheeks and saying, “I’m going to wash and change. I suggest you do the same.”

He’s being very, very affectionate. Not that Newt’s complaining, exactly. Just… suspicious.

What do you have planned, dude?”

Hermann grins around a kiss. “You’ll see.”

Unhelpful. Super, super unhelpful. Also super unhelpful? Disappearing into the bathroom, leaving Newt kiss-flushed and eager in the middle of the den.

He sighs, wanders into the bedroom, and spends a good ten minutes staring blankly at himself in the mirror while listening to the shower run next door. He looks… like a twelve-foot kaiju, same as he’s looked since the k-virus started. Wash and change, Hermann had said, but into what? It’s not like Newt can wear clothes or style his hair or… or that’s not entirely true, is it? asks a traitorous little voice inside his head. Because there’s a whole pile of things shoved in a box beside the closet. Things from Giotto Singh, things designed especially for Newt; lotions and scents and scrubs and jewelry. Gi is so chubby and bubbly and earnest, particularly in his desire to make Newt the most glamorous kaiju on the planet. But that’s the whole problem, isn’t it? At the end of the day he’s still a kaiju. A pig in lipstick is still a pig and a kaiju with bracelets is still a monster. Newt can go to all the effort in the world over his appearance and who does he think will even notice, let alone be impressed?

Who’s he kidding? He knows the answer to that. Wash and change, Hermann had said. So Newt does. A moisturizing scrub for his face and his arms, rubbed on and soaked in and buffed off according to the instructions. Newt peers at the effect when he’s done. Does he look… glossier? Maybe. Maybe it’s just the light.

There’s cologne. It smells a little strange but it’s designed to (allegedly, somehow) compliment his own acid-and-ammonia reek, not to try and mask it. Newt has no idea whether the effect works, but can imagine Gi’s voice in his ear: Trust me, darling. I’m a glamorologist!

Next is the jewellery. There’s quite a lot of it, most of it designed to fit over his limbs and haunches and tail. Newt leaves the most extravagant pieces, instead assembles a collection of rings and bracelets across all six limbs. The style of the pieces is heavy, masculine. A lot of metal and leather, similar to what Newt used to wear back when he was human. More expensive, though. Handcrafted and better quality. Now that he’s actually looking, there are so many pieces he likes—a big heavy ring in the style of Yamarashi’s skull, thick cords of braided leather fastened by steel clasps—he’s busy trying to decide how much is too much when the bathroom door opens and Hermann emerges.

Newt startles, like a teen caught jacking off. He drops a wrist cuff with a heavy clank, spinning around just as Hermann walks into the room.

Newt’s breath catches.

See, thing is? Newt knows Hermann is hot as fuck. A lot of people don’t get it, Hermann included, but Newt knows. He knows exactly what bad fashion sense and a terrible haircut and chronic pain can hide. But Newt’s seen Hermann naked and blissful enough to know the way his brows lift and his lips soften, hair swept into a messy tangle, cheekbones high and sharp and flushed with color. Hermann has laugh lines when he smiles, eyes rich and dark and gleaming, body long and lean and surprisingly muscular, sheathed in softly pale skin.

(Also: Huge dick. Huge. Not that Newt’s that superficial but… Holy shit. Huge.)

So yeah. Hermann Gottlieb, secret sex god. Except, that’s naked. And, yeah. Newt won’t lie: Hermann hides it well when he’s wearing clothes. A real Clark Kent disguise.

Except tonight, apparently, Clark Kent is playing Superman.

“I… Newton, is something wrong?” Hermann scowls, shifts his stance, fingernails running along the head of his cane. A nervous tic because, yeah. Newt is staring.

Then he’s crossing the bedroom floor, hands outstretched and hovering just above fine wool. He wants to grab Hermann and drag him to the bed and, oh god, he can’t do any of it because Hermann is wearing a three-piece suit as straight and sharp as a ruler and if Newt so much as breathes on it he’s going to leave creases. Instead he settles for a kiss—eagerly returned—and says, “Holy fuck dude you look amazing.”

Hermann does. The suit gives him shape, slim across the waist and broad across the shoulders. The wool is a charcoal that matches Newt’s scales, the tie patterned silk that flashes the blue-green of his eyes. Even Hermann’s hair has been salvaged; styled up and a little bit forward. This is what Hermann’s hairstyle is really, actually supposed to look like. The fact that Newt’s only seen it, like, three times has more to do with the fact they’ve been fighting a war than any failing on Hermann’s hairdresser’s part.

Hermann is smiling when he pulls away from the kiss, thin and wicked. He nuzzles into the underside of Newt’s jaw, inhaling deeply. “You smell incredible,” he says. “Giotto’s cologne?”

Yeah,” says Newt, feeling the luminescence of his skin flicker. “You think it smells okay?”

“Don’t you?”

I dunno, man,” says Newt. “My sense of smell is kinda… different to a human’s.” For one thing: to him, glass smells like food.

“Hm. Then you are missing out.” He’s still inhaling deeply against Newt’s neck, arousal curling hot and heavy in his gut. So, thank you Giotto Singh. Newt will have to write him a card. “These are Giotto’s as well, I assume?” Hermann runs his fingers over bracelets and rings.

Um, yeah.”

“They’re very you.”

Newt snorts, a spike of amusement lancing through the fog in his brains. It’s hard to think with Hermann’s tongue doing The Thing, but: “Geeze, dude. Damn them with faint praise why don’t you?” Hermann always did hate Newt’s fashion sense.

“Nonsense,” Hermann says. “I hated that I found it appealing.” A pause, another string of kisses ghosted across sensitive gills. “I hated that I could never look so…” More hesitation, and Newt can feel Hermann’s mind whirring, looking for the right word. “At ease in my own skin,” he eventually settles on.

Are you freakin’ kidding me, dude? Just look at you!”

Hermann says nothing, but Newt feels the flush of pleasure and relief at the words.

As much as they’d both like to make a mess—right here, right now—the fact remains that Hermann has something planned. And that something involves them leaving the Shatterdome.

Newt won’t say the notion doesn’t make him uneasy. He’s been into the city a few times since his “outing”, of course. But they’ve been over-managed, PR-conscious affairs. Meetings with local officials, surrounded by media and senior PPDC staff. In theory, he’s allowed out on his own—is a legal, permanent resident of Hong Kong—but he’s never actually tested the allowance before now. He keeps thinking he’s going to be challenged, to be faced down by anxious officers mumbling, “Please, Doctor Geiszler, sir, I can’t…”

He expects it, but it doesn’t happen. Hermann walks him out the front door, completely unchallenged by the half-asleep guards on duty. They leave the Shatterdome on foot. It’s a twenty minute walk to the nearest MTR station, and they spend most of it in a companionable, if mildly anxious (on Newt’s part) silence. The ‘Dome is out in the middle of nowhere, or as much as anything in Hong Kong ever is, which means they don’t see anyone until they’re nearly at the station.

The BuenaKai have stopped picketing,” Newt says at one point. The protests have happened, on and off, for as long as the ‘Dome’s been here. They’ve been background noise for so long, it takes Newt a good ten minutes to notice their absence.

Hermann makes a noncommittal noise. “I believe the mainland finally intervened.” China’s tolerance for the kaiju cult is about on par with its tolerance for Falun Gong. Which is to say, nonexistent.

Ouch.”

“Indeed.”

They say nothing else until they get to the station. A few people are milling around the entrance, and Newt tries to ignore the gasps and wide-eyed stares. It’s not that people don’t know he exists; he’s been on the news and shaken hands with the Chief Executive. It’s just that this is the first time he’s been out without a full escort and media wagon train.

Getting into the MTR is easier said than done. Newt ends up running down the middle of the escalators, much to the consternation of a young couple coming up the other way.

The ticket gates are the next obstacle. Newt has a satchel sort of thing, another creation of Giotto’s, that steps around his thigh. Inside, he has his wallet, his phone, and his PPDC ID. It feels strange, both familiar and entirely new, to fish his wallet out and slap it down on the turnstile’s card reader.

He’s much, much too big to fit through the turnstile itself, so he vaults over the top, tail dragging through the gap. Hermann is already waiting for him on the far side, lips curled into a thin smile, crows’ feet creases around the corners of his eyes. He is so, so beautiful, standing bright and crisp and polished amidst the drab industrial tiles of the station.

The trip itself is… interesting. The carriage is empty when they get on, Hermann settled in a chair, Newt chilling in the wheelchair space. They don’t talk, because there isn’t anything to say. Just quiet comfort and the soft joy of being alone together.

It’s three stops before the first other passenger gets on. A middle-aged man in a suit too busy looking at his phone to notice Newt. At least, not until the doors slide shut. After that, he spends the entire trip pressed against the far door, and practically falls out at the next station. Newt just plays games on his phone and pretends not to notice.

Things get busier from there. Their carriage remains empty for much longer than the others, but eventually the inevitable happens and they get their first crush of passengers. Gasps and the click of phone cameras fill the train, to the point where Hermann mutters, “Perhaps we should have taken a car.”

Newt sighs, nudging Hermann gently with the side of his head (he hears at least three muffled shrieks as he does). “Nah, dude,” he says. “People gotta get used to my pretty face sooner or later.”

“It is a very pretty face.” Hermann has his eyes closed, but he’s smiling.

They get their first fan two stops later; a girl of no more than fifteen, who approaches them and blurts, “E-excuse me? Doctors? May— mayitakeaselfie?” in soft, accented English. From the other side of the train, her friends stand in an anxious huddle.

Newt feels a spike of irritation from Hermann, and that absolutely won’t do. So he grins, signs, “Sure!” with his small hands while giving thumbs up with his big ones. It’s unlikely that the girl knows HKSL, of course, but Newt thinks it’s the principle of the thing. People recognize the hand movements as speech, even if they can’t understand them. And if Newt’s speaking, then he’s not a monster.

Hermann doesn’t quite sigh, which is very restrained of him, in Newt’s opinion. “Very well,” he says.

Which is how they both end up with arms around a stranger’s shoulders, Hermann doing his best pissed-off frog impression, Newt throwing peace signs with two hands. The girl thanks them profusely when they’re done, and Newt gets the impression it’s not just for posing with her in one crappy photo.

That was nice,” Newt says when she and her friends get off at the next stop, waving and giggling.

“You are, indeed, a rock star,” Hermann agrees.

#

They get off in Central, which is a packed mass of people everywhere except for a five foot radius around wherever Newt is walking. “I could get used to this,” Hermann says. He never did like the Hong Kong crowds, the way they swarm and rush and jostle his cane. Newt, who always quite liked the whole alone-in-a-throng thing, is less enthused. He tries not to feel fifteen again, sitting too-young in lecture halls, feeling the stares and whispers follow him through corridors and classrooms.

He hears their names, whispered and exclaimed as they pass, sees the sea of phones raised to record the moment. And it’s stupid, it really is. Because isn’t this what he wanted? He’s famous, now, a rock star. He has a YouTube channel and everything, mostly of him playing bad covers of songs from the 90s, guitar in his small hands, two keyboards on either side. Of course people know who he is.

Except… Except he really hasn’t been outside very much since the war. He’d forgotten how many people there were, how many strangers, looking at him from every angle, every angle he can now see, in a way he never could before. Sure, his rear vision isn’t as sharp but it’s sharp enough to see someone raise a hand to whisper behind, to raise a phone to take a photo, to—

“Newton.”

Hermann’s voice is cool and calming, his hand steady where it rests on Newt’s shoulder. Shit, they’re not even out of Central yet, and Newt is… Newt is very close to having a panic attack. Or something like it. His new silicon brains don’t quite work like his old meat one used to, and it’s not like kaiju neuropsychology is a well-developed field or—

“We can go home, if it’s too much. I’ll call a car.”

Of course Hermann can feel him freaking out. Of course he can.

Newt takes a big gulp of musty, human-stinking subway air. It’s the only thing that clues him in to just how fast his breath was coming.

I’m fine,” he lies. It earns him a quirked eyebrow from Hermann. “I’ll be fine,” he amends. “It’s just… It’s been a while.” It hasn’t, not technically, but Hermann knows what he means.

“Well, it’s not too much further,” Hermann says. There’s an anxious edge in his voice, and Newt knows he’s regretting taking them here on foot. Wherever “here” is turning out to be.

Don’t worry ‘bout it, dude,” Newt says. “I’ll be fine. I want to be fine.” He’s been effectively locked in a bunker for the last decade. Of course he wants to get out. Of course there are going to be a few… hiccups along the way.

Thankfully, they exit to the street via stairs, not escalators. Newt still displaces a few startled commuters on the way, but he tries to ignore the gasps and the shouts.

Outside, it’s started raining. Nothing serious, just a low-cloud drizzle, the physical manifestation of the color grey. It’s cool out, but not cold, and this always was Newt’s favorite kind of weather.

It isn’t Hermann’s. The humidity makes his bones ache and the cold cramps his muscles. Not to mention that, right now, the rain is doing nothing for his hair. He scurries as quickly as he can between eaves and overhangs, Newt snorting softly as he follows along behind, hide glistening in the damp.

The city is more-or-less like Newt remembers it. There’s construction everywhere, but there always was. Construction and people. A generation of war with the Anteverse and still humanity goes shopping and eats out and falls in love and lives, and the thought of it clenches something in Newt’s hearts. This is what he’s spent his life fighting for. Just this, the simple minutia of the everyday. Nothing more or less. If Newt could cry, he’d be doing it right now. As it is, his mouth splits into a grin that glimmers in blue-green reflection against the damp street.

Hermann must feel his joy, because his hand is on Newt’s shoulder again. They can’t quite hold hands while walking anymore, at least not when Newt’s walking on four limbs. They kind of can when he walks on two, but people tend to find it extra frightening when he’s rearing twice their size, so for now he stays down. Besides, he doesn’t want to accidentally take out a bunch of shop signs with his thick skull.

Hermann walks them to a hotel. Newt doesn’t recognize the name, but he does recognize the style: faux 18th century Western European, all polished brass and marble. At the very least, it means there’s plenty of room for him to walk through the doors, both held open by uniformed men who bow and say, “Welcome, sirs,” as they enter.

The foyer is just as luxurious, and goes cowboy-bar-quiet when Newt enters. A lot of the rich and the elderly watch him with a mixture of shock and disdain and it’s this that finally, finally causes something to flip over inside of him. Fuck these people and their staring, basically. They’d all be dead if it weren’t for him.

“That’s the spirit,” Hermann says, a tiny curl at the corner of his lip.

There’s a restaurant on the mezzanine, and it’s where they’re headed. The spiral stairs are too small and too shallow under Newt’s feet, but the carpet is rich and plush and squishy and he tries to resist the urge to dig his claws into the pile.

A woman greets them at the top of the stairs. She’s tiny and young and has a face made of approximately seventy percent smile.

“Doctors,” she says. “Welcome to Ginseng. Please come with me.”

Newt can identify their table as soon as he sees it. It’s in cleared space proportioned differently to the rest of the restaurant; proportioned to allow Newt through. The table itself has one chair—a big, plush armchair sort of thing—and one pile of carefully arranged pillows on the floor. Newt doesn’t need to be a genius to work on who’s supposed to sit where.

They get settled, get asked whether they’d prefer sparkling or still. Newt watches as the waiter pours their water, into a tumbler for Hermann, and into a deep, stoneware bowl for Newt. Newt holds it up, peers suspiciously over the rim at Hermann. “Okay. What did you do?”

Hermann says nothing, just radiates smugness.

The thing is, Newt really doesn’t eat, not anymore. Most of his energy he gets from chemosynthesising in sea water, the more polluted the better. He can digest most silicon-based compounds, and heavy metals smell and taste appealing, but he doesn’t need to eat. Cooking never was one of Newt’s core skills as a human, and it’s something he hasn’t pursued much since he wasn’t, either.

There are no menus, but the chef comes out to greet them. The chef, Fiona Zee. Newt has seen her on TV and now, today, she’s shaking his hand and telling him it’s an honor to prepare a meal for someone so influential.

Uh, did you tell her I don’t eat?”

Except Zee is already describing his degustation. “Doctor Gottlieb has provided a list of acceptable ingredients,” Zee says. “Obviously, however, as I am unable to sample the dishes myself, I would appreciate any feedback you may have.”

“Ms. Zee was an industrial chemist,” Hermann says. “Before becoming a Michelin-starred chef. She assisted the PPDC in the early days of the Jaeger program. We would never have developed the HT-5 lubricant if not for her input.”

“You’re too kind.” Zee waves a hand. “I may no longer make Jaeger, but I hope I can at least make a good meal for the men who saved the world.”

“I’m sure it will be lovely,” is Hermann’s reply.

#

The thing is, it is a pretty damn good meal. For both of them. Hermann gets the usual mix of east-west fusion and enjoys it immensely. And Newt…

Newt’s kind of amazed, to be honest. He gets lead crystal shards in mercury broth. Sandstone textures served with lead merengue.