Hermann keeps to his side of the office almost religiously; a part of him, the part that's an idiot and a feckless fool—the part of him that is Newton-that-was—wants to cross the invisible line, touch his shoulder and—
Do what? he questions himself angrily. Don't be a moron. Newt is happy—Hermann, no matter his own feelings towards the man, isn't about to ruin that. He's too important to Hermann. Hermann would rather he be happy with someone else than miserable with him—because, he realizes, looking back on it, that's what Newt was when they were together: miserable.
And the idiot he was, Hermann didn't even notice it, which is even more painful a realisation. That those hours spent off god-knows-where weren't because, as he claimed, he needed to oversee a biding on a piece of kaiju, but rather because Hermann was holding him back, making him feel trapped.
As much as it hurts, it's the only possible explanation for Newt's silences, his vacant gazes; the way he flinched away from Hermann's touch.
Hermann could cry at the realisation, but it feels pathetic to do so. What's done is done, and it's all worked out—Newt's happy, and that's all that matters. So he drags his gaze away from the hunched-over form of the other at his desk—prestigious job of no, his posture's still atrocious—and forces it back to the test results for a few of the early Jaeger program participants.
Drift withdrawal is the title of the essay, and it details various changes in brain scans of Jaeger pilots experiencing "Drift withdrawals"—most due to the death of their partner, and some due to isolation from their partner.
(The irony of reading this report at this point in time does not escape him.)
Listed as some of the common effects are things like depression and increased paranoia. Nothing he wasn't expecting, to be honest, but then, General Mori isn't asking for him—for them to shake up the scientific world with a brand new set of findings; she simply wants a comprehensive report on the effects of the Drift on Jaeger program participants that will be made available to the public.
From his desk, Newt makes a humming sound. "Have you got anything new?" he asks aloud, and Hermann shakes his head before realising the other can't see the motion.
"No, I'm afraid not, Doctor Geiszler," he sighs. "Nothing that we weren't already aware of. I might go check the archives, but I'm uncertain as to how beneficial that would truly be."
"Hmm," Newt hums again, then says, "hey, you never did give me an answer about dinner and meeting Alice."
Hermann freezes. "...no. No, I didn't."
Newt finally draws himself up in the chair to stare at him searchingly, "So?" he asks. "You gonna come over to my place and meet her, or...?"
Hermann's mouth is cottony, and, in a panic, he croaks, "Perhaps this Saturday?" and then curses himself, because what he truly wanted to say was Absolutely not. And then, because Newt's foot-in-mouth syndrome has rubbed off on him, instead of saying Sorry, ignore that, I'm afraid the answer's no, he adds, "I've got a bottle of nice '26 champagne that I can bring, if...if Alice likes that sort of thing."
Something passes over Newt's expression for a moment, like a dark cloud, before it disappears, and he says, with his usual enthusiasm, "Yeah, no she loves it." Newt grins at him slyly, and adds, as if an afterthought, "Dress nice—I know you clean up well, so if you try some bullshit excuse and turn up in grandpa clothes I will be pissed. Saturday, six thirty sound good? I'll email you the address."
"Of course," Hermann replies, ducking his head and staring vacantly at the word on the screen. Newt hums and returns to his own work, but Hermann's still scatterbrained half an hour later.
Newt leaves the office first, citing something Hermann can't be bothered to remember. The glow of the kaiju blood seems to have doubled since he last checked them, and he frowns, trying to ignore the shiver of fear that races up his spine.
Still, though, the glow is distracting him, and he searches the office for something to throw over the cooler. His gaze lands on the parka hung on the back of the door, and, with quick, measured steps, he makes his way over to it and grabs it off the hook, tossing it over the cooler.
The glow disappears beneath the heavy fabric, and he breathes a sigh of relief, sagging against his cane. Without the cooler distracting him, he finally manages to focus on the words on the screen.
Another hour passes, and he digs the heel of his hands against his stinging eyes, and cracks a yawn. If he can just set his head down on the desk for a moment or two, he's sure he'll be able to get up and return to his room...
— rip kill tear destroy they chant in his mind, and he scurries away from them like a frightened mouse from a cat. Kill them, kill them all, kill him, do it, sink the knife between his ribs, it'll only take a moment, and then you can feel as his life ebbs away out over your fingers...
No! he shouts, trying to get away but blue tentacles are searching for him, reaching for him, and they're so, so close— Not Hermann! Please, I'll do anything, just don't hurt Hermann!
They pause for a second, and laugh. Kill him, they hiss, you must kill him, kill him now, do it, rip tear kill destroy you are powerless kill him—
The tentacles wrap around him, their menacing, electric-blue glow blinding him, and he's choking, lungs burning as he gasps. The tentacles tighten and tighten and tighten, and he's going to die he's going to die he's going to die and he's never apologised, but at least this way Hermann will be safe—
The tentacles drop him, and they laugh. You thought you could get away that easily? they taunt him. No, no, we're going to use you and break you and make you suffer—
There's a hand on his shoulder, and he jerks upright, flailing and gasping, a line of drool dried on his parted lips, mind panicked. "No—no, no—" he half-shouts, disoriented, and then realizes the hand belongs to Newt, who's stepped to the side in an attempt to avoid his flailing limbs.
"Oh," he says, scrubbing his face, awkward. "Doctor Geiszler. I do apologise. It appears that I may have over-exhausted myself." He rises, then pitches forward as his leg gives out under him.
With a yelp, his eyes snap shut, bracing for the impact, but nothing happens. He cracks his eyes open hesitant to find himself pressed chest-to-chest with Newt. He's slightly breathless from having dove forward to make sure Hermann doesn't hit the ground, his slicked-back hair unruffled despite it, and Hermann wants to reach out and run his hands through it—
With a great deal of effort, he drags himself out of the other's grip, picks up his cane from where it's clattered to the floor, backing away as far as he can, only to realise that, as Newt's blocking the only exit, he's backing himself against a wall in the most literal sense. "Are you alright?" Newt asks, moving towards him, and Hermann practically trips over himself again as he scrambles back.
"Yes, of—of course I am. I'm fine," he says voice higher than usual, hoping fervently that Newt won't notice.
Newt narrows his eyes. "Nope, I'm not buying it," he says, advancing further, and there's only a foot or so left before he hits the wall. "You've been acting off, dude."
Hermann barks an unintentionally bitter laugh. " I've been acting oddly, Doctor Geiszler? How could you possibly know—you haven't spoken to me in six years! " The last part is scathing, and a flash of something is in Newt's expression again, something uncomfortably like pain, but Hermann ignores it and shoves past him. "Have a good night, Doctor Geiszler," he hisses, banging the door behind him.
It's not until he's halfway to his quarters that it hits him, what he's said; the bitterness, the anger of his tone. Newt doesn't deserve any of that. Hermann's wound tighter than a toy soldier, and he's taking it out on Newt, who's been nothing but a good colleague so far—hell, he's even invited Hermann over for dinner! And Hermann's done nothing but be unspeakably rude to him.
His grip on his cane tightens, and he blinks rapidly against the tears threatening to spill over. All of this time he's been the one unable to let go, hasn't he? No wonder Newt felt he was holding him back. No wonder he wanted to break up.
He sets his jaw. It's late now, but tomorrow, he'll go and apologize to Newt for his discourteousness, and then the day after that, he'll go have dinner, meet Alice. He'll see Newt is happy, and he'll finally be able to let go and move on.
With that thought in mind, he enters his quarters and crawls into bed, barely having the energy to toe off his shoes, and falls into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, he drags himself out of bed later than usual; his clothes are rumpled and his leg is ten times worse than usual. With a grimace, he throws back a few painkillers and debates whether it's worth momentarily aggravating his leg in order to change into a new, non-wrinkled pair of pants.
The consensus is that it is not worth it, as a shock of pain radiates through his leg when he bends it, making him bite his tongue. He does, however, change his shirt and sweater, opting to forgo the blazer, and drags his hands through his hair, desperately hoping that he looks, if not presentable, then at least not like someone who's spent hours curled under bedsheets, bawling their eyes out after a breakup.
When he finally gets down to the office, Newt's not at his desk, so Hermann settles into his chair, starting to take notes on the remaining Drift tests. The names are ones that are burnt into his mind; these are the brain scans and doctor's notes for the Mark I Jaeger pilots—these are the men and women who piloted the Jaegers programmed with his code.
Casey, D'Onofrio. Lightcap; the Gages. Pentecost.
More than half of them are dead now—the Gages to a kaiju attack, Casey to radiation poisoning, and Pentecost to the closing of the Breach. There's something about seeing their health reports, brain scans, and various Drift-related tests all these years later that makes him feel like he's thirty again, burning the wick at both ends.
He breathes, and the scent of the Hong Kong laboratory, of chalk and formaldehyde, fills his lungs; he can almost see Newt across the room from him again, mutely belting out lyrics as he hacks away at yet another piece of kaiju tissue.
Caught up in his mind, his leg begins to jitter, a nervous tic he'd thought he'd gotten rid of, and bumps the desk, sending a pile of papers tumbling off. "No!" he hisses, crashing back to reality, and carefully but quickly slides off of the chair and onto the ground, grabbing as many of the fallen papers as possible.
A few of them have landed on top of his coat, and, when he reaches to grab them, he notices that the coat's only half-covering the cooler; odd—he could've sworn that it was covering it fully.
He pulls the coat all the way off and pops the door open, and—
There's only two test-tubes of kaiju blood. The third test-tube holder, at the back of the cooler, hidden behind the other two, is empty.
His eyes widen. No one knew that those were there, other than the Marshal, General Mori, and himself—so who could've taken it?
The office door opens, and, panicked, Hermann slams the cooler shut and throws the coat over it, scrambling to get back into his chair.
It's Newt. "Are you alright?" he asks, standing awkwardly with the door half-open.
Hermann breathes a sigh of relief. "Yes, Doctor Geiszler, I'm fine." He settles himself back into his chair properly, fiddling with the cuffs of his sleeves under the other's intense gaze, before Newt shrugs.
"Whatever you say, man," he says, finally stepping fully into the office, and closes the door behind him. "Hey, do you by any chance happen to know where Raleigh Beckett's rest results are?"
Hermann frowns. "I think they're down in the archives, but I'm not sure. Why?"
Newt makes a handwavy gesture. "Just wanna see if Drifting with multiple different partners gives different brain scan images," he replies. "Nothing nefarious, I promise."
Hermann nods. "Of course—whatever you need, Doctor Geiszler. If I may, though—you might benefit from checking Stacker Pentecost's medical records as well, given that he, too, Drifted with multiple partners."
For a second, Newt looks pale, before he says, "Yeah—yeah, actually, you're right. Dunno why I didn't think of that before." He laughs lightly. "Man, Alice is right, I'm getting more forgetful with old age."
Hermann's throat tightens, but he remembers his convictions from the night before. "Doctor Geiszler, I'd—I'd lie to extend my most sincere apologies," he says quietly, gaze fixed on the floor. "My words last night were rude and unprofessional and I hope you can find it within you to forgive me."
Newt blinks. "What—hah, no, it's fine. I was being too, uh, pushy, sorry 'bout that. Old habits and all that."
"Yes," Hermann agrees. "Still, though, I feel at fault."
"All's forgiven, dude," Newt waves his hand magnanimously. "Just bring an extra bottle of champagne to dinner and we're good."
Hermann smiles, relieved. "Of course. And tell Alice I look forward to finally meeting her." It's a lie, but he's grown adept at those by now.
Newt smiles back, but it's painful; they don't quite understand how to make the expression properly, and Newt isn't exactly cooperative, which leads to them punishing him. This, all of this, feels like a twisted tragedy—they're taking the words he's thinking and twisting them, dangling Hermann in front of him before they rip him away,
He wants to tell Hermann It's okay, please don't apologise and he really, really wants Hermann to just call him Newton again, like he used to, but the rift between them—the one he created in an attempt to protect Hermann from them—is too large.
Above all, he wants to yell Run, Hermann, please, don't come to dinner, please. Because he knows what they're going to do to him; they're going to use Newt's body as a puppet and force him to attack Hermann, force him to link the other up to Alice, and then—
And then we will destroy your world, they snarl. He may be broken, but his mind is more powerful than any other we've tasted.
Newt jerks back, stumbling slightly, and grabs the door handle. Hermann's expression turns to one of alarm. "Doctor Geiszler, are you—?"
"I'm fine," Newt rasps, "just—just a moment of dizziness. I haven't been sleeping well." His fingers are white-knuckled where he's grasping the handle for support. "I'm—I'm fine. I'll see you at six thirty, yeah?"
Hermann nods, biting his lip, but doesn't comment. "Of course," he says. "I look forward to meeting Alice."
Newt smiles again, against his will. "Great. See you then."
We will destroy him slowly, they hiss as he walks down the hall. We will break his mind and you will watch and then we will —
"Shut up," Newt says, desperately, "shut up shut up shut up— "
They laugh. We will win in the end, they promise, we always do.
End note: there is a more angsty ending written up that is canon-compliant with Uprising; it's the fourth chapter of the fic.