Rating: high T/low M
Pairing: Newton Geiszler/Hermann Gottlieb
"He reaches up, hesitating for only a second. "Can I do something?" he asks, and Hermann nods. Newt's fingers, quick and dexterous, unclasp the chain from around his neck, lifting it away so, so carefully, and slips the ring off the chain, cradling it like it's the most precious thing in the world.

Newt tugs at his lip with his teeth for a moment, and then pulls at Hermann's arm, tugging it down so he can reach his hand, and slips the ring onto Hermann's finger. "I love you," he says, like it's a universal truth. "I love you, Hermann, and I—I want to be with you, okay?"

His voice is wet near the end, and so are Hermann's eyes. "I—" he swallows. "Newton, are you sure—?"

"Absolutely," Newt replies fiercely. "For—for years, Hermann, and I'm just as sure now as I was then, okay?"

Note: This is a sequel to could roses bloom again?; I suggest you read it first, or you may be confused.

The cottage is small, secluded; around it, rolling hills disappear over the horizon, occasionally dotted by shrubs and the rare tree, a crisp breeze tugging at their branches. Newt's head is pillowed on Hermann's shoulder, expression solemn in sleep. The years have stolen away his carefree expression—replaced the spark of joy in his eyes with one of fear and apprehension, and it makes Hermann ache.

The sun is low, casting a golden-bronze sheen over everything. Newt is light—frighteningly so, Hermann realizes; hopefully, retirement will allow Hermann to care for him, be there for him the way that he should've in the years before their reunion. Unthinkingly, his hand creeps to Newt's, laying on his leg, half-clenched, uncurls the fingers; twines them together with his own.

Marshal Hansen had been less than pleased upon receiving Hermann's resignation, but Hermann isn't about to budge; what he told Newt is true: his life's work was rendered functionally obsolete years ago, and the only reason the PPDC kept him around was because it was good for PR.

He reaches to tug at the chain around his neck, fingers closing around air, and remembers that it no longer rests there as it has for years; instead, the simple band is at its rightful place on his ring finger; one of Newt's first actions after they found the cottage.

The light of the computer is bright against the darkness of his quarters, dimly-lit through the curtains by the rising sun; by his side, Newt is asleep, tucked under the covers, hair tousled. Hermann's lips twitch up into a soft smile before returning to the screen.

Newt shifts, eyes fluttering open; for a second, confusion and panic flash across his face, and Hermann bites his lip before he says, quietly, "Newton—Newton, you're okay. It's just you and I, darling, alright?"

The expression slowly fades away, and the other untenses, dragging in a breath. "...thanks," he murmurs. "Sorry, I—"

"Don't apologize, Newton," Hermann says firmly. "It's hardly something you have control over—I would never blame you."

"Yeah, I—yeah, I know," Newt says, swallows. "I just—I keep thinking thinking I'm gonna wake up one day and this'll all—all be gone. I—" he ducks his head. "Sorry, sorry, it's silly, I'm just being stupid again, stupid stupid Newt —"

"Newton, don't say that," Hermann cuts him off, voice cracking with emotion; his eyes are stinging, and he drags a hand over them roughly. "Please, Newton, don't say such things."

Newton falls silent, but it's not like before; Hermann knows he wants to say something, but for some reason, he's—he's not . "Newton, darling," he tries, voice softer, "what is it? Please tell me?"

There's a sniffle, and Newt finally meets his eyes. "I don't—I don't want to hurt you," he says, quietly. "All of this—it seems too good to be true, and I—I feel like it's... unfair to you." There's a lump in Hermann's throat, and he swallows.

"Newton, I promise, you're not forcing me into anything I do not want," he says thickly, "alright? I love you, Newton—you're not being unfair to me, liebling, I promise." After a second, Newt nods, almost imperceptibly, and shifts closer to Hermann, tentatively placing his arm across Hermann's torso.

When Hermann doesn't move it away, he sighs, rests his head on the other's shoulder. "Thanks," he murmurs, and Hermann knows he doesn't need an answer, content to lay and listen to his even breaths, the steady beat of his heart.

"What do you think about this one?" he asks, instead, tipping his head to the screen.

Newt squints at it for a moment—how reassuring it is, Hermann thinks, to know that, of all the things that the Precursors took from him, his glasses were not one of them—and hums. "Looks nice," he comments, "has it got a garden, Herms?"

Hermann smiles fondly, unconsciously tugging at the chain around his neck. "Yes, Newton, it does have a garden," he replies. "You can finally fulfil your dreams of being a dirt-splattered gardener."

"I'm gonna grow all the vegetables and cook you gourmet meals," Newt declares, "feed you up a bit, Herms, dude, you're like, rail-thin." But there's a smile on his lips as well, and the fear and panic from earlier, the pain that makes Hermann's heart clench painfully, has evaporated like dew in the morning sun.

He reaches up, hesitating for only a second. "Can I do something?" he asks, and Hermann nods. Newt's fingers, quick and dexterous, unclasp the chain from around his neck, lifting it away so, so carefully, and slips the ring off the chain, cradling it like it's the most precious thing in the world.

Newt tugs at his lip with his teeth for a moment, and then pulls at Hermann's arm, tugging it down so he can reach his hand, and slips the ring onto Hermann's finger. "I love you," he says, like it's a universal truth. "I love you, Hermann, and I—I want to be with you, okay?"

His voice is wet near the end, and so are Hermann's eyes. "I—" he swallows. "Newton, are you sure—?"

"Absolutely," Newt replies fiercely. "For—for years, Hermann, and I'm just as sure now as I was then, okay?"

Hermann nods, sure that if he speaks his voice will shake so much as to be unintelligible. Newt smiles at him. "It's gonna be great, dude," he promises. "We're gonna go live in a cottage in the countryside, together ."

He watches the other for a bit longer, admires the freckles dotting the bridge of his nose, before he rises, careful to not stir the other, reaching for his cane. There are still things to be done—boxes to unpack, food to prepare; he's already indulged more than he should have.

Their belongings are in large packing boxes, stacked against the wall. There's only four of them—Hermann has always been minimalistic bordering on spartan with his personal belongings, and Newt...well, Newt couldn't look at most of the items in his apartment without spiraling into the beginnings of an anxiety attack.

He opens the first box, slicing through the tape with the house-key; it's clothing, mostly, and a few knicknacks—Newt's kaiju action-figures, Hermann's stress ball. It's packed neatly, thankfully, but there's a decent amount of stuff, so Hermann pulls up a chair and settles into it, hooks the cane over the back of the chair, ready to sort the items into piles.

Eventually, it becomes almost automatic—pull an item out, give it a quick once-over, and place it in the appropriate pile. Then, three-quarters of the way through the box, he freezes.

Because there, looking slightly dusty, but none-too-worse for the years, is a grey parka, folded with care. Hermann reaches for it with trembling hands, pulls it from the box, and sits there, clinging to it.

That's how Newt finds him, some time later; sat on a chair in the middle of the still-bare cottage, clinging to a decades-old parka, tear-tracks on his cheeks. "...Hermann?" he asks, quietly, hovering at a distance, gnawing on his lip uncertain. "Hermann, are you...are you okay?"

Hermann can't reply but to sniffle, trying to even his breathing, and draws the parka tighter against his chest, eyes fluttering shut as he draws in a steadying breath. "You—you kept it," he says, weakly. "All these years—"

There's the sound of a sharp intake, and Newt's footsteps, cautious, draw closer, until he's near enough that Hermann can feel his presence. "Yeah," he says, half-choked, "yeah, I—I did. Of course I did—you gave it to me."

The words make tears stream anew down his cheeks. It seems— silly , but Hermann gifted the parka to the biologist, who had, after the Drift, expressed an immense fondness for the article of clothing. "How?" he croaks.

There's a silence. "They—they didn't care about it," Newt confesses. "I—I think they forgot about it, actually, or couldn't be bothered to get rid of it. I put it in a nice box and hid it at the back of the closet and they...they didn't care, I don't think, not enough to toss it out."

"Oh," Hermann says, quietly. "I thought—I thought you had tossed it out. Gotten rid of—of any reminder of me, for years, and—" He's cut off by his own sobs, overcome suddenly, and he clutches the parka closer, closer.

There's a silent second, and then a hand on his shoulder, and Newt's moving closer, close enough that Hermann can feel the heat of his skin, and wraps him in a warm embrace. "Hermann," he murmurs, "Hermann, hey, hey, hey. It's okay, yeah? It's okay, just...just let it all out, Herms."

Eventually, Hermann's breaths even out, tears no longer coursing down his face, and he slumps against the other, letting the embrace ground him. "Thank you," he says, face pressed into the crook of the other's neck, unsure what exactly he's thanking him for—the comfort, the fact that he kept the parka, however unintentionally; that he's simply there for Hermann, or all three.

"Yeah," Newt says, softly, "yeah, dude, that's what I'm for, yeah? To be there for you when you need it, even if I did kind of a shit job of it for years. 'm gonna be here for you now though, okay?"

Hermann hums, eyes fluttering closed, suddenly so, so exhausted. "...yeah," he mumbles.

Newt shifts, repositioning so that he's kneeling by the side of the chair instead of leaning over awkwardly, and says, "Herms, how about you take a break from this and go lie down? It's almost nine already—c'mon, let's get you to bed."

"What about dinner?" Hermann protests, half-heartedly, and Newt shakes his head.

"I'll take care of it," he says firmly, "come on, Herms, you look dead on your feet—you can take a nap and I'll make us dinner and we can eat it in bed and..." he trails off, as if uncertain how to continue. "I mean—it doesn't have to be us ," he backtracks, "if you wanna be alone, that's totally cool too—"

"Lay with me?" Hermann asks, tentatively, "please? I—I can't sleep well without you. And I—I miss you," he confesses, and Newt immediately softens.

"Yeah, dude," he replies, "yeah, okay. I'll make dinner and we can eat it in bed and cuddle, yeah?" He helps Hermann up, passes him his cane, leads him towards the bedroom, a hand on his lower back, steadying him, and pulls back the duvet on the bed. Hermann sits on the edge, feeling suddenly small and frail.

"Herms, you gotta lay down," Newt reminds, fussing with the duvet cover, and places a hand on Hermann's chest, pushing him back gently. Hermann complies, eyes heavy, and sets his head on the pillows. "Rest," Newt orders, but his expression is soft, and he tucks the covers up to Hermann's chin just the way he likes, brushes a stray piece of hair from his forehead.

Hermann sighs, barely conscious, and Newt leans over, pressing a chaste kiss to his forehead. "I love you," he murmurs, half-slurring the words, and drifts off to sleep before he can hear Newt's reply.

Newt watches Hermann for a moment, cataloguing the soft rise and fall of the covers as he breathes, the way his expression smoothes out in sleep, the pain and aching and stress all erased, making him look...content. It's beautiful.

A shock of doubt hits him—what if Hermann's throwing away his retirement on Newt? He could be doing so much better than—than this , staying with a broken man, he deserves more than Newt; how he can still stand to be near him is a mystery to Newt. He tried to kill the man, for fuck's sake, and Hermann still shares a bed with him , lets him see him at his most vulnerable.

Trusts him.

He chews on his lip, wonders, Is it Hermann? Is it latent ghost-Drift effects . It hurts, the thought that Hermann's only here with him because his mind was messed up over a decade ago in a three-way Drift with Newt and an alien hivemind, so he shoves it to the back of his mind and focuses on the task at hand: dinner.

A quick jaunt into the kitchen to look through the refrigerator reveals what Newt suspected; there's a few sad-looking carrots, a block of cheese, and not much else, and the cupboards are bare.

Anxiety creeps into his mind like weeds growing up through cracks in the pavement. He can—he can do it, he repeats, breaths in shakily for counts of three. It's just a twenty-minute drive; he can handle that, he's—he's functional , goddamnit, he can handle going into town to buy groceries.

He can do this, no matter what the sense of the world pressing against him claustrophobically says. He hunts around for something to write on, scrawls a quick note in case Hermann wakes up before he gets back, and grabs the car-keys from where they're hung on the coat-hook by the door.

The air is crisp, a bite of winter to it, but Newt can't bring himself to care that it chills his skin, numbs his fingers. The countryside zips by in a blur, Newt's eyes fixed on the road, hands gripping the steering-wheel tightly.

It feels both like hours and mere seconds before the car's turning onto the main road, the street-lamps casting pale, oil-like light on the dark buildings. Most are closed—it is nine at night, after all, and it's a small town—but Newt eventually spots a grocery store that's still open, and pulls into the parking-lot.

The bell jingles loudly in the almost-empty store, and Newt swallows, trying to tamp down his nerves. This is easy , he thinks, you know what you want, there's no one around to talk to, you can just grab the things and leave. Easy.

He wanders around a bit, trying to figure out where everything is, but he does finally find everything; the noodles are easy, as are the carrots, onions, and garlic, but he almost gives up on finding plain yogurt, though he does eventually locate that as well.

On the way to the checkout, he passes by a display case of doughnuts, and thinks, screw it, and buys a maple bar for Hermann and a bright green, rainbow-sprinkle-covered jelly doughnut for himself.

"Nice weather, isn't it?" the cashier asks, and Newt hums noncommittally, pulls out his card from the scanner. "Hey, do I recognize you?" Newt freezes. "That, uh, kaiju dude, right?" the cashier continues, snapping his fingers, "yeah that's it—"

"Um—n—no," Newt stutters, "you—you must be confusing me with someone else."

"No, no, I'm sure of it," the cashier insists, and Newt panics, grabs the bag and bolts, shoving the bag into the passenger seat, and slams the door behind him, burying his face in his hands, heart jack-rabbiting in his chest.

How did he ever think he could do this? He's a wreck—he can't even deal with one person .

Useless , sneers the tiny voice in the back of his mind. Failure .

He doesn't even realise how hard he's biting the inside of his cheek until he tastes the coppery tang of blood. Shakily, he draws in a breath, presses back against the seat and digs the heel of his hands into his eyes. Get is together , his mind snarls, you can't be like this—you can't do this to Hermann. He deserves better than this . Than you .

He swallows, teeth grit, and starts the car engine. The night sky expands out above the horizon, infinitely, and he muses, darkly, that it's a good metaphor for him—too dark, too much . Hah.

Hermann's still asleep when he gets back, so Newt sets a pot of water on to boil and begins preparing the sauce for the goulash in a saucepan, lets the repetitive motion drag him under, momentarily frees his mind from the creeping thoughts, the anxiety, the panic.

Soon, the barren house is filled with the tantalizing scent of spices, and Newt serves them each a bowl-full before grabbing one in each hand and returning to the bedroom to set them on the bedside table and returns back to the kitchen to grab utensils before flicking off the lights behind him.

He fights the instinctive fear as the darkness engulfs him—it's ridiculous, he knows, something he'd thought he'd gotten over years ago, but with—with—with them , darkness became a fear again; darkness meant that they shoved him deep, deep within his mind, blocked him out completely, and he never knew what he'd done during the period of darkness.

Newt stretches out an arm, presses his palm against the wall, and reminds himself that he's here . Still, he trails his fingers against the slightly-bumpy wall all the way to the bedroom, clicks on the bedside lamp.

Hermann's curled on his side, eyes flicking rapidly beneath closed eyelids, and Newt hesitates before reaching out to shake him. "Hermann," he calls, softly, "Herms, c'mon, wake up. You gotta eat."

The other shifts under his touch and lets out an unintelligible murmur. " Hermann ," he repeats, a bit louder, "dude, you have to eat, okay, you haven't had anything since breakfast."

"...Newton?" the other questions, voice rough from sleep, then, "oh. I—would you mind helping me up?"

"Of course," Newt replies, moving closer, and pulls back the duvet pinning Hermann down, and helps him shift into a sitting position, stacking pillows up behind him so he doesn't have to rest against the hard wall. "Here," he says, passing one of the bowls to Hermann, along with a fork.

"Thank you," Hermann murmurs. "Join me?"

"Yeah," Newt says, immediately, but the way that Hermann says it, like a statement based on a solid foundation of fact—a foundation that says I trust you —is...frightening, like it's too good to be true, slipping through his fingers like smoke and dissipating.

So he clings to it, knowing it'll soon be gone— of course it'll be gone , that's what he's realised, and as much as it hurts, it's the only logical conclusion—, because he doesn't deserve it, slips into bed with Hermann, and cuddles with him while they eat dinner, and then doughnuts, at ten-thirty at night.