This is basically the flip-side piece to “Newt Inherits a Bar”, except while that was the Charlie Day character crossover ‘verse, this is the Burn Gorman character crossover ‘verse.
The actual Torchwood content of this ended up being pretty low, which makes this an excellent study in “if you lose the pacing, you lose the fic”.
Doctor Newton Geiszler first fucks Doctor Owen Harper on the worn, dirty carpet of the latter’s flat. The place is small and dingy but to Newt, who’s spent the last decade-plus in various Shatterdomes, it’s a palace. In the background, BioShock plays the sounds of Rapture through Harper’s half-decent speakers.
Actually, it’s BioShock’s fault they’re here, sort of. Harper had been playing it when Newt had stumbled out of the bathroom, wearing boxers and Harper’s robe. Newt had exclaimed, “Woah, dude! This shit’s a vintage classic. I haven’t played it since I was a kid!” Which, of course, had lead to an argument had lead to a fight and now, to this. Something that’s still an argument and still a fight, but is mostly Harper’s hand on Newt’s dick and tongue in his mouth and it’s okay. It really is.
Harper is wrong and right in equal measures; too thin and too sharp, too old before his years, too much anger and bitterness wound up in a brain that’s far too smart. Even his voice sounds the same, more or less.
It’s everything else that’s the problem. Because Harper’s legs don’t hobble and his spine doesn’t hunch. He drinks and swears and plays videogames at work and wears honest-to-God jeans. Not to mention he’s a doctor, a medical doctor and applied xenobiologist, which… hah! Newt is going to have a field century with, as soon as he gets home.
Assuming he gets home.
But Newt doesn’t want to think about that. Not tonight, with would you kindly ringing in his ears and the feel of thin lips against his neck.
And if Newt calls out the wrong name when he comes? Well. Harper’s drunk enough to pretend he doesn’t notice.
The funny thing was, they’d all thought they’d be out of a job the second the Breach closed. Not fired, of course, nothing as vicious as that. Just… disbanded. Hung with medals and fattened with pensions and shipped off to some new life, one with comfortable chairs and easy tenure. It’d certainly been an option. The War was long and the Breach was closed and if they’d wanted out they could’ve taken it, no questions asked.
“And behind Door Number Two?” Newt had asked, staring down the new Marshal with an eye still ringed red from the Drift.
“We won a battle,” Hansen had told him, “not the war. If these aliens could open one Breach they can open another. Next time, Earth will be ready.”
That afternoon, Newt had studiously not packed up his things. He’d been entirely unsurprised to see Hermann do the same.
“So what’s he like, your me then?”
After. Newt’s limbs are heavy with sex and THC, Harper’s shitty sofa rough against his naked back.
“A surprisingly good source of dope,” he says after a while. He passes the joint back to Harper before adding, “He’s got a fucked up… hip? Leg? I don’t know exactly; he gets pissy if anyone asks. But he’s on prescription for the pain. Sometimes, he’ll share.” Usually if they need to barter for spare parts or the like, but sometimes just socially, too. Sometimes. Like “the time the world didn’t end” sometimes.
“Hm.” Harper takes his own drag, then: “Illness, injury?”
“Congenital plus botched surgery I think,” Newt says. “He walks with a cane, can’t stand up straight, that sort of thing. Think he’s got some gnarly fucking scarring, though I’ve never seen it.”
“Not for lacking of trying, ey?”
Newt huffs, closes his eyes and lolls his head back against the sofa. “He’s such a miserable son of a bitch about everything. I thought he might chill out after we closed the Breach, but…” No such luck. They’d had maybe two good days, at a stretch, before the status quo had reared its ugly head.
“You love ‘im?”
Like sunflowers love the sun, Newt thinks. But what he does is shrug and say, “What does it matter? He hates my guts and always has.”
“But you said you were, whatsit?” Harper scowls, waves his arms vaguely. “Float thingie.”
“Drift Compatible,” Newt supplies. “Yeah. But that’s just the problem. It’s never been our minds that didn’t click.”
There’d been surprisingly a lot to do, for a xenobiologist at the end of the war. Meshing up what he knew about the kaiju against the few environmental readings they’d gotten from Gypsy in those last few moments. Making better Conn-Pods and Jaeger suits, ones suited to working in alien atmospheres. They’d brought him in on the next-gen Pons project, too, because apparently building his own out of garbage—one capable of Drifting with aliens—made him the new world expert.
Hermann, of course, was still on the Breach. Opening it, closing it, moving it. Any kind of manipulation they could manage, all written out in towering chalk-dust scrawl.
They still shared a lab, even though new funding and staff numbers meant they didn’t have to. But Newt had never asked for a separate space and, apparently, neither had Hermann. It’d given Newt hope, for all of a week or two, before that’d been dashed by one too many vicious arguments and Hermann’s unwaveringly hostile demeanor.
So much for the Drift being romantic. Mostly, it’d just given them both nightmares.
Truth be told, Newt doesn’t remember much about the events leading up to accident. He’s pretty sure there’d been an argument, pretty sure he’d stormed over to Hermann’s side of the lab in a rage. Gotten all up under the man’s beautiful, froggy little face, close enough that a bit of Newt’s spit had landed on Hermann’s chin.
They’d been standing near one of Hermann’s machines, and Newt thinks he’d made some kind of gesture. Throwing his arms wide in frustration, something like that. Then one clear memory of Hermann screeching, “Watch out you imbecile!” Then…
Then he’d woken up, flat on his back on a cold lab floor, aching worse than after his first Drift. As with that time, the first thing Newt’s conscious mind had managed to process has been Hermann’s horrified face, looking over his.
“‘Erms?” Newt had slurred. “Wh’app’n’d?”
Then “Hermann” had opened his mouth and barked, “The fuck are you?” and Newt had realized how far down the rabbit hole he had fallen.
So it’s still aliens, foreign cities, secret bases, and holes in space and time. But Cardiff isn’t Hong Kong and Torchwood isn’t the PPDC, for a whole bunch of reasons, some good and most not. Still, a xenobiologist is a xenobiologist and—as soon as everyone is convinced Newt’s harmless, more-or-less—he gets put to work.
It takes Newt a long time to get used to Harper, even sharing the man’s lab. He looks so much like Hermann except for all the ways he doesn’t, and they’re both miserable bastards with too much pain hidden behind razor-slash lips.
But Harper is a deft hand with a scalpel and likes his (pretty decent, if oldskool) music just as loud as Newt does. They’re never friendly but they’re definitely friends, elbow-deep in whatever corpse the field team has dragged through.
“It’s weird,” Newt says, at one such time. He’s holding open what is probably a rib cage while Harper slices into what might be a heart. “You’re so different and so alike. It weirds me out, dude.”
Harper makes a noncommittal grunt, freeing the maybe-heart and dumping it onto a scales. He announces the weight to the room, then: “Like watching an actor in a film when you know them from the telly.”
The metaphor fits scarily well. “Yeah, dude, how—?”
“Actor Theory,” Harper says, voice bored and flat like he discusses this stuff every day. Which, honestly, he probably does. “Related to alternate realities and all that. Always thought it was a bit rubbish myself.”
Newt never expected to meet people more blasé about aliens and the end of the world than he’s used to back at the ‘Dome, yet, here they are.
They’re also trying to get him home, of course. Torchwood’s Hermann is a chick called Tosh who’s more shy than angry but nonetheless has the mad science skills where it counts. When Newt’s not busy slicing dead aliens—which is not often, because Torchwood has a lot of dead aliens to slice—he helps Tosh build a Pons and tries to tell her everything he knows about Hermann’s Breach.
Torchwood’s Breach is called the Rift and it’s more a spewer of random space junk than an alien invasion point. Nonetheless, it’s similar in structure, at least as far as Newt can tell. He suspects Hermann would have a different opinion, were he here, and would berate Newt about its finer points at length.
Hermann is not here, however, and Tosh has a lot more softness around her edges. She also has a raging girlboner for Harper.
“He’s… very attractive,” she whispers one evening, eyes darting around like she expects the man in question to jump out of the fountain at any moment.
Newt groans in sympathy. “Tell me about it, dude,” he says. “Hermann makes this face. With his tongue, like—”
Tosh makes The Face, then instantly bursts into giggles as Newt exclaims, “Yes! That!”
“When he’s concentrating,” Tosh says, cheeks burning.
“It makes him look like a frog!”
“A sexy frog,” Tosh corrects.
“A sexy, angry frog.” Then Newt is giggling, and Tosh is giggling, and they’ve only just calmed down when Harper walks through the room and sets them off again.
Newt likes Tosh, and Tosh likes Harper. Newt thinks about this while his mouth is around the latter’s dick but, honestly, not that much. One you’re with, and all that.
So the aliens are one thing. The dinosaur is another.
“Well, I mean. Technically pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs, but… y’know. Thanks, pop culture.”
“Mm,” is the only response. Ianto Jones, whom Newt has pegged as The Tendo, i.e. overdressed, knows everything that goes on, supplies coffee. Less approachable, but warmed up a little when Newt expressed interest in helping him with Myfanwy. (Even if Newt had spelt it “Mifanway” in his email. Fucking Welsh. Newt still doesn’t know how he’s supposed to pronounce “Cymru”.)
“But, I mean,” Newt babbles, “think of the discoveries in paleobiology that could occur if people had a chance to study a living specimen! I mean, seriously, dude, the advancements from observational behavior alone—”
“I’m not sure she’s the best subject for studying natural behaviors,” Jones says, a faint smirk threatening at the corner of his lip. “She’s quite… domesticated.” He throws the tattered, deflated basketball to demonstrate. Myfanwy shrieks in joy and goes obediently to chase it.
“Du-uu-uu-ude,” Newt drawls, eyes wide. “Pet. Motherfucking. Dinosaur.”
“Mm.” This time, Jones doesn’t bother to hide his grin.
Cooper and Harkness are the ones Newt can’t really work out, and it’s not just because they’re who spend Newt’s whole first day interrogating the shit out everything he’s ever done.
Cooper, Newt thinks, is The Chuck; the one who wears her emotions on her sleeve and pursues whatever they tell her relentlessly, whatever the cost. Harkness seems to vacillate between The Pentecost—stern, distant—and The Hansen—easygoing, approachable—and it’s the vacillation that throws Newt off. Like Harkness is constantly projecting something he isn’t, a Russian doll shaped like a chameleon and viewed through a kaleidoscope. Newt would rather deal with a million Hermanns—vicious and angry and honest—than a single man like Harkness, so he tries to keep out of the dude’s way.
He also smells weird. Like, good-weird. But… weird. A decade and change working with kaiju parts means Newt knows a dangerous smell when he finds one, particularly when it’s something pleasant.
There’s also the part where Harkness makes Newt spend his first twenty-nine hours with Torchwood in a cell. Twenty-nine is the magic number where lights start to flash and panic starts to happen, and Newt bangs on the cell door shouting, “Hey! Hey, let me help! I have six doctorates!” until Harper appears with a set of keys and a gun.
The emergency turns out to be some kind of alien virus, and Newt and Harper scramble frantically for the next two days trying to find a cure. By the end, the city is safe and the dead decontaminated. Harper has also put his gun away, and he and Newt sit together in the square—sorry, the Plass—and look out over the destruction. Neither of them says anything stupid, like is it always like this? or so you’ve done this before, then?, and they don’t try and insult each other with compliments, either.
Instead, Harper says, “You need a place to stay tonight? You can crash at mine if you like.”
Newt doesn’t think, just nods. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “Thanks, man.”
So this is how Newton Geiszler ends up working for Torchwood and sleeping with—or, in the local parlance, shagging—Owen Harper.
It’s not a relationship, and neither of them think it is. They’re friends of a sort but there’s no question Newt is staying, no question it’s not Harper’s face he’s seeing when they writhe against each other. Harper doesn’t seem to mind; he had someone once, Newt thinks, and now he doesn’t. They don’t talk about it but they do talk about Hermann, quite a lot, actually, and Newt gets used to wrenching open his heart in front of a man who has Hermann’s face and little else.
So, in a lot of respects, nothing changes. The names are different and so are the aliens but Newt’s still doing more-or-less the job he’s always done. So it’s all good.
It’s all good for just a little over six months, in fact, which is about the time Tosh announces she’s found a way to send Newt home.
“We’ve been getting… pings, I suppose,” she says. “Fluctuations in the Rift that don’t match its usual patterns.”
“What do they match?” asks Harkness. They’re all gathered in the conference room for the debriefing, looking at a screen full of numbers that seem to make sense to Tosh if no one else.
“That’s what I was wondering, too,” she says. What follows is a long jumble of technobabble that starts with “seemed more purposeful than the usual readings” and includes at least one instance of “used to initiate a connection at the frame layer” and ends with Harkness saying, “Once more, with English,” at the same time as Newton blurts, “It’s Hermann!”
It has to be; only Hermann would broadcast something so ridiculously and indecipherably nerdy.
The others are less certain but Newt knows he’s right, knows down in his soul, down in the part of his mind that reached out in the Drift and snagged on wool and chalk-dust and thoughts as bright and sharp as stars. He’s grinning so hard his jaw might dislocate, gut a sudden twist of anxiety and Hermann and home and Harper takes one look at him and snorts.
“You got it bad, mate,” he says.
“Yeah,” says Newt, because there seems no reason not to. “Yeah, I do.”
Tosh sends the second half of the connection request back through the Rift that afternoon. There’s more gobbledegook technobabble Newt doesn’t bother listening to until Harkness mentions the pattern of fluctuations they’re seeing looks a lot like Morse code. Just six letters, repeated over and over: N E W T O N
It takes Tosh half an hour to whip up a little chat client that sends Morse out through the Rift. The first message she sends through is:
THIS IS TOSHIKO SATO OF TORCHWOOD CARDIFF IDENTIFY YOURSELF STOP
And the reply:
DOCTOR HERMANN GOTTLIEB PAN PACIFIC DEFENSE CORPS HONG HONG STOP
“Of course it’s him,” Newt says. “Only Herms would omit grammar but still write out his title when sending messages through the inter-dimensional vortex.”
“Prat,” snorts Harper, and Newt sticks his tongue out in response.
More words appear on the screen:
I AM SEARCHING FOR MY COLLEAGUE DOCTOR NEWTON GEISZLER CAUCASIAN MALE MID THIRTIES DARK HAIR GLASSES EXCRUCIATING TATTOOS STOP
“That’s me!” Newt announces, arguably unnecessarily. But he can’t help it. He’s excited. Really excited. Hermann! Hermann with his stupid prissy titles and his undying hatred of Newt’s tattoos and Hermann, speaking to them through the Rift. Looking for Newt.
“Gimme the keyboard.” Newt makes grabby hands, heart racing and belly warm. “Gimme gimme gimme!”
Tosh grins, handing over the hardware in question. As soon as he has it, Newt types:
WE HAVE GEISZLER SEND US 1M HKD BY MIDNIGHT TONIGHT OR WE SEND YOU HIS PINKIE IN A BOX TOMORROW IT WILL BE THE RING FINGER IF YOU GET MY DRIFT STOP
Around him, Newt hears a chorus of groans, as well as a, “Perhaps that’s not the best message…” from Cooper and another muttered, “Prat” from Harper.
There’s a pause, long and heart-pounding, while they wait for the reply. Newt watches the cursor on the screen, blinking green-on-black like an old fashioned command line, and thinks that maybe, just maybe, he should’ve typed something else.
FOR GODS SAKE NEWTON BE SERIOUS DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH ITS COSTING TO KEEP THIS CHANNEL OPEN STOP
And Newt grins, big and broad and blinding. He sends:
LOVE U 2 HERMS
And means every letter.
Doctor Hermann Gottlieb first falls in love with Doctor Newton Geiszler shivering on a bench in central London. It’s 7:32am on a Tuesday in January, and the only warmth comes from Hermann’s laptop, sitting open on his aching knees.
Newton’s latest email is on the screen, and Hermann is re-reading it for the fifth time. He’s composing his own reply, fingers sweaty despite the frozen air, stomach hot and roiling with a strange and pleasant anxiety. They’ve been corresponding less than a month and Hermann knows almost nothing personal about Newton bar his age and the fact that, like Hermann, he was born in Germany before studying overseas. Nonetheless, Hermann is is love.
In writing, Newton is eloquent and educated, but with an obvious innate intellect that shows in his use of straightforward language rather than the academic gobbledygook Hermann too-often encounters when dull men attempt airs of authority. Newton knows what he does and has confidence in how he does it. He makes no attempt to hide his ignorance when it comes to theoretical physics and abstract mathematics, and yet absorbs and synthesizes Hermann’s explanations with compelling ease.
Hermann has never met another genius before, not like this. To do so now, to make such a deep intellectual connection after so little time…
Hermann knows his physical assets are underwhelming at best. He is unattractive and asocial, the latter mostly from neglect than active malice. He doesn’t dislike people per se so much as he simply isn’t interested in the minutia of social engagements. He knows this makes him appear churlish and unapproachable, makes friendships a struggle and romance next to impossible. Coupled with his physical deformity, he has long since resigned himself to having little else to devote himself to than his work, especially now, as the life expectancy of Earth itself drops lower and lower.
And yet, still, with Newton…
Hermann knows it’s foolish. It’s foolish when he searches Newton’s faculty photo at MIT and finds a stocky, grinning man with thick glasses and disastrous hair. Hermann can excuse the haircut—Lord knows his own is hardly noteworthy—and instead spends a tumultuous evening imagining neat white teeth nipping at his throat and the feel of a soft, solid body fitting against his. Foolish, utterly foolish, but foolish is a warm feeling in his belly and a soft buzz that drowns out the ever-present aching in his limbs.
As January becomes February and 2017 marches on, Newton’s emails cease neither in frequency nor intensity. More and more he speaks of personal matters, things Hermann cannot help think of as… hints. Flirting, perhaps. No one has ever flirted with Hermann before but Hermann thinks that, if someone had, this would, perhaps, be how they would go about it.
And so, when Newton suggests they meet at the conference in Korea, Hermann agrees with a speed and vigor matched only by the incessant pounding of his eager heart.
Hermann has an image of Newton in his mind; of an intense and thoughtful scholar, quiet and kind in equal measures. Someone who can see past Hermann’s… externalities. Someone who can truly see Hermann.
Someone who can love him.
Of course, the Newton Geiszler Hermann meets in the foyer of the Grand Hilton in Seoul is a loud, thoughtless disaster of a man. One who laughs at Hermann’s clothes and his hair and his accent before Hermann can even stand to greet him. Newton wears too-tight jeans and a wrist cuff studded with silver spikes. His leather jacket is weighed down by buttons for bands Hermann’s never heard of and his hair is an utterly garish shade of half-faded green.
He is nothing like the man in Hermann’s fantasies and, it seems, the feeling is mutual.
Hermann remembers very little of the conference bar slinking around, knowing no one and feeling miserable. He leaves early, heart broken, and spends the flight home deleting every email Geiszler ever sent. They don’t speak again until Hong Kong.
Newt vanishes from their shared lab at 15:44 on a Thursday in a flash of light and the smell of ozone. The weeks that follow are some of the worst of Hermann’s life, particularly once the police arrive.
Because, yes, the police do arrive. Hermann is scrupulous in his report to the Marshal and there’s surveillance footage of the lab to show the accident. Still, the fact remains Newt is gone (Hermann refuses to think the other word, the four-letter one stating with “d”) and his animosity with Hermann is stuff of legend. Literally, surviving time and war and Drifting. They are, to Hermann’s knowledge, the first and only observed set of Drift partners to be seamlessly compatible while still retaining a deeply hostile interpersonal relationship.
Stuff for the history books and also for the Hong Kong police, who scour the lab and interrogate Hermann for the better part of a day. His attempts to answer dispassionately and factually break down at 17:11 when, in a fit of frustration, Hermann screams that Newton is gone, damnit, lost into the Breach and the longer you imbeciles keep me from searching for him the less chance he has of being found alive!
His distress is real and, it seems, the thing that finally sway the detectives into believing his innocence. Hermann is released back into the lab and spends the next three months in a futile, miserable search.
“You need to sleep,” Marshal Hansen tells him, at least once a week or once a day. Hermann isn’t sure; time has stopped meaning much. Once upon a time his life was governed by a clock that slowly counted down to zero. Now, it’s governed by the one on his desk that broke when Newton vanished, hands permanently fixed at sixteen minutes to four.
Marshal Hansen means well but Marshal Hansen hasn’t seen the Anteverse. Not like Hermann has; not the stink and the pain and the screaming. Becket and Mori know more and after the first week (month?) they establish a roster, appearing at intervals in the lab with plates of food. They don’t tell him to sleep because they know sleep is dreams of Newton in That Place, pinned beneath the cold dead eyes of the monsters the PPDC calls Precursors. Because “Demons” was taken, Hermann supposes, even if it’s just as fitting.
Hermann’s God is the God of Einstein, the personification of universal laws. Hermann has never believed in intervention or miracles or prayer but he prays now, prays with chalk and blackboard and equation, searching for one man, adrift in endless space.
By the end of the first month, Hermann is nearly certain whatever Breach stole Newton did not dump him in the Anteverse. This is both good, because the Anteverse is hostile and awful, and terrible, because almost everywhere else is worse. Hermann does not want to think of a Newton dumped into deep space or a dead planet or the heart of a star, even though he knows these things are possible.
There is a trail, of sorts; breadcrumbs scattered across the multiverse, ripples in the Breach that get shallower and less frequent the longer Hermann takes to look. But he won’t lose them, he can’t. He loved Newton once and loves him still and Hermann will find him if he has to pull apart the very stars themselves to do it.
As it turns out, Hermann does not have to pull apart the stars. Just black out half of Hong Kong, watching the tiny pinhole Breach he’s opened in the lab pulse in a very human, very recognizable way.
Newton is alive.
Hermann knows this as soon as he gets the ransom note. He tries not to read into it—ring finger, Drift—and fails utterly. He whoops, and cries, and is immensely glad no one is there to see.
Newton is alive, on some alternate Earth, in some alternate past. More than that, he’s safe. With some sort of… Hermann supposes they’re like a sort of Welsh PPDC, this Torchwood lot. He exchanges messages across the Breach to a woman named Sato, Torchwood’s technologist. She’s brilliantly sharp and drily funny, and Hermann likes her a great deal, even if she does send him concerning messages like:
NEWTS TOLD ME SO MUCH ABOUT YOU STOP
I HOPE HES NOT GIVING YOU TOO MUCH TROUBLE STOP
Then isn’t sure whether the reply should concern him or not:
HE FITS RIGHT IN HE AND OWEN BOND OVER ALIEN AUTOPSIES AND TERRIBLE MUSIC AND GETTING PLASTERED PLAYING VIDEO GAMES STOP
That sounds like Newton, and Hermann supposes he should be happy his long-time lab partner has found a productive use of his talents.
Sato calls the Breach the “Rift”, and it’s easier to keep it opened and stable with her manning the far end. The plan is to widen it in a controlled way, send Newton home, and clean up after. It’s thrilling, working with someone else. Hermann has spent the better part of his adult life being the world’s foremost expert on Breach physics. It’s not that he’s unused to working with intelligent people so much as he’s unused to working with intelligent people whose understanding of the Breach does not rest on Hermann’s own fundamental theories. Sato has her own knowledge and her own foundations and Hermann thinks he learns more—or learns the potential to learn more—in those short weeks they communicate than he has for years.
Because, yes. That’s the other thing: as it turns out, finding Newton in the first place is the hardest part. Once that’s done, it’s all over bar the shouting.
“Hermann! Oh my god Hermann can you hear me!”
The shouting starts at 11:45 am on a Sunday, care of Newton.
And it is Newton, too; all five-foot-nothing of him, a garish bright ball of energy standing at the far end of the lab. The end that has been replaced or… perhaps overlaid is a better term. Overlaid by a different lab in a different world. It occurs to Hermann, perhaps belatedly, that he sound have attempted some form of quarantine.
“Dude. Have you slept, like, at all?”
No, is the answer. How could he have, with Newton gone? Hermann does not say this, however. Instead, what comes out is, “For god’s sake, Newton, keep your voice down.”
Newton laughs, big an joyous. “Hermann, dude, I’ve missed you!”
Newton, Hermann thinks, perhaps unkindly, does not look like a man who’s missed much of anything. He looks well-rested and well-fed, standing in his strange laboratory (is it a laboratory? Hermann can’t see enough of it to tell) surrounded by strange people.
There’s a woman standing by a console Hermann assumes, by process of elimination, to be Sato. He nods at her briefly. “Nice to finally meet you, Miss Sato.”
This does not have the reaction he expected. Sato’s eyes go extremely round, her hand flying up to cover her mouth even as she stammers out her own greeting. Newton notices her shock and leans over to nudge her with a mock-whispered, “See? Told you so.”
On Newton’s other side, another woman starts giggling. She tugs on the sleeve of the man next to her and hisses, “Ianto—!”
“Already recording,” the man says, smirking and holding up a camera.
“Be good, children,” admonishes someone else. A someone else who turns to Hermann. “Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood Three,” he announces. His smile is blinding, accent American and holding enough authority to project across space and time. “I would offer to shake your hand but, well, we’re not entirely sure it’s safe to cross yet.” Then, before Hermann can stammer out his own greeting, “Owen! Where are you? We don’t have all century.”
And a voice, coming from just outside where Hermann can see, mutters, “Bollocks you don’t…”
There’s something about the voice that niggles. Something… not quite right. Later, Hermann will realize the fact he so rarely has the experience of listening to his own voice outside his own head means he has trouble recognizing it. Right now, Hermann is pulling himself up as straight as he can manage (not very, but it’s the thought that counts), fingers white-knuckled on his cane. People are giggling at him, even Newton. Hermann feels a hot red flush of shame, running up the back of his neck, and suddenly he’s fifteen again, ugly and crippled and alone, surrounded by beautiful peers who’ve long since learnt staring, whispers, and quiet laughter are just as effective—and much less likely to get them in trouble—as fists and feet.
The moment is hideous and awful and drags on until a new man, lanky and thin and juggling an armful of items, elbows his way in front of the open Breach. He says, “Oi, you lot. You wanna give us a hand or—”
And that’s when he looks up. And freezes.
So does Hermann. Like his mind just… shuts off. Just refuses to process what he’s seeing.
He’s seeing himself. He might not recognize his own voice, but he does know his own face. Especially when it’s twisting into a sneer.
“Oh, fuck off,” says not-Hermann, even as everyone around him bursts out laughing.
Everyone including Newton. “I told you,” he says. “Dude, I totally told you.”
Not-Hermann snarls something unintelligible, and Hermann has a sudden, pressing interest in examining the Breach console. His hands shake where they brush across keys, neck and cheeks burning. He feels small and helpless, twisted and judged and found wanting beneath the hostile gazes of the—
“Oi, Poindexter. Catch.”
Hermann, of course, does not catch. Hermann does look up just in time to see an orange blur hurtling his way. It hits him in the chest, then falls into the console with a familiar rattling. Hermann fumbles, but manages to catch the object before it can roll off the table and become (for him) functionally unretrievable.
The object is a bottle of pills.
“For your, y’know,” comes his own voice. Hermann looks up to see his doppelgänger glaring and gesturing vaguely at his own leg. “New human make, we think. Not a cure, but better than the swill you’ll be on now. Keep a few spare and get Geiszler to make you more when you run out.”
Hermann feels a cold white tide of outrage, an actual physical shiver that starts in his fingers and races inwards. “How… how dare you!”
“Relax, I’m a doctor.”
“I’m a doctor!” snaps the small and frightened part of Hermann’s brain, before he can stop it.
“I’m six doctors!” Newton announces, holding up the requisite number of fingers.
“As long as you’re not the Sixth Doctor,” Captain Harkness offers. His tone is light, but he’s eyeing the false Hermann strangely. “Owen, can we get on with it?”
Owen—Owen Harper, Hermann remembers, from some tangential conversation with Sato—just flips the Captain off. Hermann is starting to see why he and Newton get along. “Keep your knickers on. Test one, success. We can send inanimate objects through the Rift. Test two, commencing.”
Harper is holding what looks like an XBox controller, balanced on top of a small plastic box. He hands the box to Newton, who takes it an begins to immediately coo and make ridiculous kissy faces to whatever’s inside. Harper, meanwhile, does something with the controller, which elicits outraged shrieks from the people with the camera.
“Oi, watch it!” snaps the man.
“Outta the way, teaboy,” Harper says, not even looking up as he guides a black RCV through the crowd. It looks well-worn, melted and scratched, tracking mud from one half-deflated tyre, and comes up to about the height of Harper’s knee. There’s a platform on the top, and Newton places the box onto it with a level of fuss that has Harper rolling his eyes. “C’mon, it’s not gonna fall off.”
“It might, with the way you drive!” Newton protests. “Let me do it.” He lunges for the controller.
“Oi, shove off!” There’s a brief skirmish, Harper and Newton wrestling for control of the remote, which ends when Harper simply holds it up out of Newton’s reach.
“No fair!” proclaims Newton, jumping and swatting. Harper has already started inching the RCV forward, and Newton’s interference is jolting the little vehicle with every jump. At one particularly bad jostle, the cage on top slips and Sato gasps and Hermann’s had enough.
“Doctor Geiszler would you please control yourself before I am forced to lodge a complaint with the Marshal!”
This has the desired effect in the sense that Newton takes a step backwards, hands held up in surrender, though Owen’s sneery, “Yeah. Doctor Geiszler. Behave, or your nerd boyfriend will tattle” is, perhaps, unwarranted.
Hermann gets that feeling again, hot and cold all at once, but before he can say anything the woman with the camera has said, “Owen…” in a warning tone. She turns to Hermann. “Just ignore him, love. We all do.” She gives a gap-toothed smile, soft and pitying, and Hermann is struck with a sudden, violent urge to lung he through the Breach and strangle her.
He does not do this. Instead, he watches Harper maneuver the RCV across the floor. It makes it across with nothing more than a slight crackle of static, rolling to a gentle stop next to Hermann.
“Bit of visual inspection for us over there, mate,” says Harper.
The RCV looks fine, and Hermann must stare at it in confusion for too long, because Newton adds, “The rat, Herms. Check she’s okay.”
“That’s Doctor Gottlieb,” Hermann snaps, feeling glad he has something to do that isn’t watching all the beautiful people on the far side of the Breach titter and roll their eyes.
The rat is, of course, sitting in the little cage. She peers up at Hermann with bright eyes and twitches her whiskers, little pink fingers slotting through the holes on the clear lid of her box.
“Pick her up,” Harper says, “she’s clean.” Then, obviously not for Hermann to hear, “Looks like the sort who’d be prissy about rats.”
Hermann hears Newton give a snorting sort of laugh. “Naw. Hermann’s good with animals. Animals and robots.”
This is true. It’s only people Hermann finds cruel and confusing. A rat doesn’t care if he can’t run, a robot won’t mock him for not making small talk.
The rat Newton’s sent him through the breach is warm and sleek and docile in Hermann’s hands. He examines her, and she seems entirely unremarkable; functionally identical to every other lab rat Newton’s ever had.
“Well?” comes Newt’s call. “How is she?” If he sounds a little more anxious than usual, Hermann doesn’t mention it.
“She’s a rat, Doctor Geiszler.” Hermann holds her out. He’s as close to the Breach as he dares, and so is Newton, judging by the way he squints and leans forward. “Alive and un-distressed.”
“No organs on the outside?” Harper says. “Sudden telepathy? Tentacles?”
Hermann ignores him—an easy task, given Harper is difficult for him to even look at, let alone engage—and instead addresses Newton. “I assume this is where I send her back, and you slice her open.” This earns a series of disappointed gasps from both women and their Captain, and another sneer from Harper.
As it turns out, Harper does not dissect the rat. Instead, he scans her with something Hermann is very careful not to think of as a tricorder, before pronouncing her healthy.
“Looks like you’re good to go,” he tells Newton.
“Yeah.” Newton is clutching the rat to his chest and biting his lip as he meets Harper’s eyes. Hermann looks away, feeling like he might throw up. Literally; his stomach is a queasy, roiling mass and Hermann tries not to feel the chill Shatterdome air through the wool of his vest.
“Oi. I got you a going away present.”
When Hermann dares look, Newt is still standing in front of Harper, something stiff and awkward in both their postures. Harper produces something long and thin from a back pocket and holds it up. Newton reacts by clasping his hands next to his cheek and squealing like a schoolgirl who’s just sighted a puppy. “Aw, sweetheart!” he says, taking the proffered object. “My favorite scalpel! And to think I didn’t get you anything in return.”
“Don’t make it weird, Geiszler,” Harper warns. Which is, of course, when Newton kisses him. Just a peck, but on the lips. Hermann looks away, even as he hears his own voice splutter in outrage, cursing drowned out by Newton’s laughter.
Hermann has never, ever been kissed by Newt. Not even in jest. He tells himself the tightness in his chest is from the thought of how much power they’re wasting by holding the Breach open for this long.
Newton says his goodbyes to the rest of the beautiful people. There’s a lot more kissing and hugging than Hermann feels is entirely appropriate for a professional setting. And then Newton is stepping towards the Breach, and Hermann’s eyes meet Harper’s.
It’s strange, seeing that expression on his own face. Angry and vulnerable, all at once.
“Oh, bollocks,” Harper says. Then he’s lunging forward, grabbing Newton by the jacket and pulling him into a kiss that is absolutely, unquestionably, inappropriate for the workplace.
Hermann doesn’t want to watch. Doesn’t want to, yet can’t not. Newton does not push Harper away, instead laughs against his lips and returns the embrace with Newt-like enthusiasm, rat and scalpel and all. Hermann thinks, This is it. This is as close as you’ll ever get, watching him kiss a stranger with your face.
Harper’s coworkers, much to Hermann’s dismay, whoop and cheer. Hermann tries to make himself very small and very invisible, and tells himself the fact no one looks his way means he’s succeeded. Nice to succeed at something, he supposes.
“Now sod off, you,” Harper says, when he’s no longer too preoccupied to speak. There’s a sound, like a playful slap on a soft, round behind, then Newton is laughing again.
Five minutes later, the Breach is closed, and Newt is back.
“Hi honey, I’m home!” he announces, bounding over to where Hermann is scowling furiously at his console. “Didja miss me?” He leans in close, cheek proffered as if for a kiss.
Hermann’s fists clench around his cane. “Not even slightly,” he snaps, and storms from the lab.
He doesn’t talk to Newton for a week.
Harper had been staring at him, at the end, right before the Breach closed. Lips kiss-swollen and cheeks flushed. He’d had a strange expression on his face; smirking and defiant. As if he’d known. As if he’d taken the one thing Hermann coveted most—Newton’s affection, his easy laughter and passionate kisses—and known he was doing it.
Hermann hates him. Every time he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees Owen bloody Harper, and he hates him.
Newton calls the rat Myfanwy.
“After the pterodactyl,” he explains. “No lie, Herms, they had a pterodactyl. A real, live pterodactyl! Every day it was like that, just non-stop crazy shit. I mean, here we’ve got kaiju but over there? Oh, man. We were slicing up like a different alien every day of the week. Owen had this massive backlog in cryo, so we’d just drag one out whenever things got dull. It was amazing, dude! Like, holy shit. There’s this one species, right, I forget what they’re called, but they’ve got this, like, organ and Owen could never figure out what it did. But he had a bunch of bodies so I was like, okay, we gotta do this methodical, right? So we pull a bunch of all-nighters and—”
And on, and on, and on. Until the chalk snaps between Hermann’s fingers and the words snap between his teeth.
“Why did I even bother looking for you?”
Newton freezes, hand still inside Myfanwy’s cage. “W-what?” He blinks up at Hermann, wide-eyed and startled.
“Six months!” Hermann hears himself say. “Six bloody months I spent looking for you. I thought you’d been sent to the Anteverse. I thought the Precursors— God only knows. Six months. And then finally I find you and… and all you can talk about is how much better things were, off in Cardiff with Torchwood and your Owen bloody Harper and— and if I’d know you were so bloody happy I would never have bothered looking in the first place!” As soon as the words are out, Hermann regrets them. But, there they are.
Newton blinks, big and owlish. “Herms, what—?”
“How many times must I tell you to stop calling me that!”
This prompts a scowl, rolling in like the tsunami before a Cat IV. Newton’s mouth has dropped open and he’s staring at Hermann like they’ve never seen each other before. Like suddenly Hermann’s face has peeled back to reveal a kaiju’s underneath. “Are… are you jealous?” he says.
“W-what?” Hermann suddenly understands what people mean when they say they feel slapped by words.
“You are,” Newton says, and his voice gets that edge Hermann knows means he’s made up his mind. “You totally are. You’re fucking jealous.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! What could I possibly—”
Newton stalks out from behind his desk, crossing to the tape line. “Fuck you, Hermann, you miserable asshole. You’re jealous that I fell into an alternate dimension. One where I actually got to be useful, and make friends, and—” His eyes go suddenly very wide, breath sucking in sharply. Hermann knows what he’s about to say before he says it, the words crashing in like a jaeger’s fist. “No, wait. This is about Owen. This is because I fucked Owen, isn’t it?”
Hermann can’t stop the horrified little sound that escapes his throat. So. There it is, then. Not just goodbye gifts and farewell kisses; Newton and Harper had been… intimate. Hermann has known Newton over a decade and they’ve barely so much as touched. And yet, six months with a stranger who wears Hermann’s face and Newt is bedding the man.
Hermann’s face, a dark part of him thinks, but not his body.
“I— You—” Hermann splutters. He feels lightheaded, angry and distraught and like a single gust of wind could send him sprawling. “You… you fornicated!” he finally manages. “With… with Harper! For God’s sake, why?”
“Because he’s hot and he fucking asked, asshole!” Newton is shrieking, face a furious, blotchy red. “I don’t need your fucking permission; of course I fucked him! Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because he looks like me!”
And there it is. Newton stares, open-mouthed, breathing heavily, seemingly at a loss for words. One awful second. Two. Three. Newton’s mouth opens, then closes. Then he looks away.
“Fu-fuck you, Hermann,” he says. Quieter, this time. Voice rough and hitching.
“Yes, well,” says Hermann, as cold as he can manage. “I’d say that’s rather the problem, wouldn’t you?”
The next few weeks are hell.
Hermann hurts, everywhere, both inside and out. The last few months have finally caught up with him, leaving his body a shrieking, twisted knot of pain that nothing seems to cut through. He barely sleeps, spends most of the time he isn’t in the lab sobbing into his sheets, cursing his withered limbs.
No wonder Newt doesn’t want you, the dark and awful part of him thinks. How could anyone?
Hermann thinks of Harper, body lean and perfect; long, mobile limbs contorted around Newt, sweat-slicked and panting, making love against counters and walls and every place Hermann never could. Hermann hates them, both of them, with every inch of loathing he doesn’t covert for himself.
To say things in the lab are tense is an understatement. They fall into a sort of unspoken rhythm—Hermann coming in very early, Newton very late—that means their hours don’t overlap as much as usual. It’s still awful; Newton’s shoulders slump and he won’t meet Hermann’s gaze. Barely meets anyone’s gaze, in fact, which Hermann learns when Tendo bails him up in the hallway.
“Yo, brother. You know what’s up with Newt?”
Hermann scowls. “How do you mean?”
“Dude’s barely spoken two words to anyone for weeks. It’s not like him at all.”
Hermann can’t meet Tendo’s eyes when he says, “He has just returned from his… trip. Perhaps he misses things.”
There’s an odd pause as Tendo studies him. “I don’t think it’s that,” he says, finally. His voice is slow, gentle. As if Hermann’s the one who’s upset. “He was so happy when he got back, y’know?”
“He seems to think very highly of where he was,” Hermann says, which earns him a nod.
“Yeah, sure. He had fun. But he was glad to come back. He kept telling us, ‘I knew Hermann would find me, I knew he’d figure it out.’”
Hermann swallows, voice suddenly thick and choked. “I…” he starts. “I didn’t…”
There’s a warmth on his shoulder at Tendo hand comes to rest there. “He’s glad you found him, trust me. Whatever’s wrong, it’s not about that.”
Hermann nods. “I… Yes. Yes, all right.” It’s really all he can think of to say.
The next morning, there’s a message waiting from the Breach. Hermann stares at it for a long time, heart in his throat, fingers white around his cane.
The message reads:
OI POINDEXTER U SHAGGING NEWT YET CUZ U SHOULD BE POOR SODS GOT IT BAD FOR U MATE HED PUT ON A COLLAR AND BEG LIKE A PUPPY IF U ASKED LIFES TOO SHORT AND SHIT TO LET THAT GO BUT IF UR NOT INTO IT LET HIM DOWN EZ OK ELSE ILL SEND SOMETHING NASTY AFTER YOU I STG PS DONT TELL HIM I TATTLED HELL KILL ME STOP
Hermann reads it, then reads it again. And again, and again. Until the words are nothing but a green-on-black blur.
It’s a trick, a prank. It has to be; Harper having one final laugh, inflicting one final humiliation, from beyond space and time. Hermann deletes the message without attempting to respond, knows it’s the right thing to do. Knows, but…
He’s hot, Newton had said, about the man with Hermann’s face. And he asked. Is that the only difference? That Harper had expressed an overt interest?
Newton slinks in sometime after lunch, and Hermann studies him; really, truly studies him. He looks miserable, eyes red-ringed and sunken, skin sallow and blotchy. Even his hair looks… disheveled, as opposed to its usual state of artful disarray.
You caused this, Hermann thinks. You need to fix it. If nothing else, he is—he wants to be—Newton’s friend. Hermann is very well aware that he not, by any objective measure, a good friend, but…
Newton flinches at the click of the cane against polished concrete as Hermann approaches. Not too close, not across the line. Just… there. Hermann takes a deep breath, steels himself, and says, “Doctor Geiszler? If… if I may have a moment of your time?”
Newton’s eyes flick up, then back down again just as quickly. “I’m kinda busy…” he mutters.
“It won’t take long,” Hermann says. “I… Please?”
Newt sighs, straightening from whatever he’s been hunched over. “Okay, whatever dude. Go nuts.”
He truly does look miserable, the sight of it makes Hermann’s heart ache in a literal way. He straightens himself up as best he can and says, “I wish to apologize for my behavior the other day. It was unprofessional and… and cruel. And, perhaps you were right; perhaps I am… jealous. That you had an experience I could not.” There. Honest, but hopefully not too incriminating. “But that doesn’t excuse my behavior. And… I’m glad you’re home.”
When he dares look, Newton is smiling. It’s small and it’s fragile but it’s there. “Thanks, dude,” says Newt. “That… Thanks. I’m glad to be home too.”
And that’s that.
Three days later, and Newton is back to his usual, explosively exuberant self. He still babbles incessantly about his time with Torchwood although, Hermann notices, he tends to elide Harper’s name from stories under generic terms like “we” and “us”. Hermann tries to ignore the bitter stab in his heart and the… inappropriate thoughts in his head.
He tries, but it’s difficult. He still isn’t sleeping, body wracked with agony that won’t shift no matter what drugs Hermann takes or what exercises he tries. He knows other people notice; he gets a lot more people dropping by with “extra” coffees and bagels to “give away” than usual, more offers to fetch him things or carry objects. He knows people mean well but the attention is infuriating—he’s disabled, not an invalid—and he’s tired so he snaps.
After one particular vicious bout at Tendo the man in question just sighs and shakes his head and says, “If it’s not one of you, it’s the other. Drift partners are supposed to be in sync, you know.”
Before Hermann can snarl a response he feels the warm pressure of Newton’s arm, slung over his shoulders. “Dude, you kidding me? Can you imagine both of us in a huff at the same time? It’d make Slattern look like a gentle puppy.” He pats Hermann on the chest as he says it. Hermann hopes Newton can’t feel how fast his heart races at the contact.
When Tendo leaves, laughing and mollified, Newt takes a step back and eyes Hermann critically. “Dude,” he says, “I know you’re gonna bite my head off for saying it, but Tendo’s right: you’re cranky and you look like shit. Are you even sleeping?”
Hermann tries not to feel a pang at the jab at his appearance, and opens his mouth for a retort. Which is why he’s just as surprised as Newt when what comes out is, “The pain is worse than usual. It will pass, but managing the interim will be… difficult.”
Newt’s eyebrows are very high but his voice is gentle when he says, “You can take some time off, you know dude. It’s not like the world is ending any more.”
Hermann wants to snap. He wants to snap, and snarl, and protest that he doesn’t need Newton’s pity or his concern and—
And Newt’s expression is soft and Hermann’s shoulders are still warm from where one obscenely tattooed arm had been slung across them. He’s tired and he hurts and it’s been over a decade and maybe it’s time just to say:
“I know. But working… helps. I’m not sure what I’d do, otherwise.”
This earns him a laugh, big and bright, and a playful punch on the arm. “I hear ya, man. Holy shit we’ve been doing this too long. I wouldn’t even know how to live a normal life, hold down a normal job, any more, y’know?”
Hermann feels the corner of his lip turn up into a smirk. “Indeed,” he says. “The way I hear it, you even took a holiday to an alternate dimension and still managed to find gainful employment.”
“Unpaid ‘employment’,” Newt corrects. Then sighs. “It’d be kinda nice, though, wouldn’t it? To have a real holiday, I mean.”
“I suppose so.” Hermann thinks for a moment, then adds: “I know it’s silly, but I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas.”
Newt gives a bark of surprised laughter, short and sharp. “Vegas?” he says. “No way, seriously?” Then, at Hermann’s nod: “That’s amazing, dude. I never would’ve picked that. Vegas is fucking awesome. Everyone likes to give it shit or whatever but, nah man. It’s like… you eat, you drink, you relax in the jacuzzi, you go to shows with half-naked sexy people doing acrobatics, then you eat and drink some more. It’s fucking rad.”
“You forgot gambling,” Hermann points out, which earns him another blinding grin.
“Gonna go card counting in Vegas, dude? Y’know they ban you for that shit.”
This time, Hermann can’t help his own little grin. “If they catch you.”
Newt mock gasps. “My lab partner is a con artist!” he says. Then: “Dude, that settles it. I am totally taking you to Vegas. We are gonna get so wasted and eat till we puke then get you banned from every casino in the country. It’ll be fucking awesome.”
“I… I’d like that,” Hermann says, and hopes his voice doesn’t belay the eagerness he feels. They won’t go to Vegas, of course. Newton will forget all about this conversation by the end of the day, but… but it was nice he made the offer, even in jest.
The day goes well, after that. Newton is loud and disastrous, as is his fashion, and—as has happened more and more as the years have progressed—Hermann is comforted by it, rather than repelled. It certainly makes the night easier, as Hermann tosses and turns in bed, pain lancing through his hip and thigh, nerves in his foot throbbing and tingling in sympathy.
It’s the nerve damage that really keeps him up. The painkillers dull the pain but the throbbing is distracting. Getting, as Newt would put it, “entirely baked” helps his mind let go but unfortunately he’s out of prescription and disinclined to procure what he needs by other means. Stretches help, but only while he’s doing them, which is not conducive to sleep.
At the moment, Hermann is alternating between pacing, stretching, and attempting to sleep. It’s 4:49 a.m. and Hermann is exhausted and in agony. If he hasn’t crashed by five, he will dress and return the lab until he does. Hopefully not somewhere Newton will have to drag him from bodily, though of course the notion of being manhandled by Newton is not as unpleasant as it would be from any other person.
Thoughts like this, of course, are how Hermann knows he’s exhausted.
Thoughts like those and thoughts like the ones he gets at the sight of the little orange pill bottle sitting on his dresser. The one Harper had thrown at him through the Breach. The one Harper—Doctor Harper, MD—had suggested would help Hermann’s leg.
Hermann stares at the bottle for a long time. There’s nothing informative on the label, bar a dosage (as needed, no more than two every six hours). The label looks to have been printed by a desktop inkjet and applied hastily by someone with damp hands. The pills inside are small and white and unassuming. Hermann holds one up, says, “If I die, Newton, it’s on you,” then swallows it dry.
Five minutes later, he’s out like a light.
Harper was right; the pills aren’t a cure. They don’t fix Hermann’s twisted bones or fused joints or withered muscles. They don’t even dull the pain, per se. What they do, as it turns out, is soften titanium-hard muscles and relax bowstring tendons, and when Hermann finally wakes, he feels limber enough to touch his toes; a feat he hasn’t been capable of since he was a child.
As it turns out, he still isn’t capable of it now—too much scar tissue and fused bone—but he does get a whole hand below the knees. He moves through his exercises with a sort of fluidity he hasn’t felt since before the War; as if he’d been doing them rigorously and daily rather than his actual, entirely ad hoc, regime.
Once he’s stretched, he showers. The water is warm and the pressure is good and for the first time in a long time, Hermann allows himself to simply enjoy it. Stands beneath the spray, face tilted up, feeling the looseness in his limbs, pain still present but… distant.
His fingers run over the mass of scarring at his hip, feels the warped bone underneath. He imagines it smooth, unmarred. Imagines the fingers that stroke across his skin are thick and calloused, attached to brightly painted arms that wind around his waist, hold him against a broad chest. The warm wet on his neck is the caressing of lips and tongue, the gentle stroking of his prick is the eager touch of a lover.
It’s been a while since Hermann’s been touched—by any hand—and tender stroking soon gives way to something rougher, something faster. He feels the heat coil inside him, feels his heart stutter and his balls tighten and sighs and lets the orgasm come, hot shuddering bursts of pleasure beneath the warm embrace of his own desire.
“You’re looking chipper this evening.”
The assessment of time is correct; it wasn’t until he was halfway to the lab that Hermann had seen a clock and realized he’d slept the entire day. He’d felt immensely guilty until Newton had dissuaded him otherwise. Now, they’re sharing supper in the mess hall, Newton fixing Hermann with his bright and brilliant smile.
“I slept well,” Hermann says. And wanked off in the shower thinking of you, he does not.
“I noticed.” Newt’s grin vanishes behind a pork bun, before reappearing a moment later. “You looked pretty wrecked yesterday, figured you’d crashed. Was about to go looking when you walked in. Just in case.” Newton chews and speaks at the same time, blissfully unconcerned. Hermann should find the behavior disgusting, and he does, but it’s also… endearing. Because it’s Newton.
Which is probably why he says:
“I confess I have Doctor Harper to blame for my tardiness.”
It takes Newt a while to get it but, when he does, his eyes go round and bright. “Oh! The pills, yeah? That’s awesome, dude. They helped, then?”
Hermann nods. “Yes, very much so. They… I’m unsure how to describe them. A muscle relaxant, perhaps?”
Newt nods. “Owen told me they’re a prohibited substance for gymnasts in, like, the Galactic Olympics.” A pause, then: “He might’ve been making that up. It was hard to tell, sometimes.”