They've gotten everything unpacked within a week, and the cottage is finally starting to feel like home . Newt's cooking is superb, and Hermann is more than happy to take the trip into town to fetch him whatever he might need.

It's the middle of the day, the sun beating down hotly despite it being later into autumn, and Hermann's reclining in a chair on the patio, filling out a sudoku puzzle-book and occasionally raising his head to check on Newton, eyes shaded from the glare of the sunlight by a wide-brimmed sun hat.

Currently, he's putting together plant-boxes for the spring, eager to have a proper garden. Hermann suspects that it will either be obsessively maintained or left to run wild, because that's simply the other's nature.

"Ow! " Newt hisses, and glances up to find the biologist glaring angrily at a plank of wood, thumb between his teeth, before he pulls it out and flaps his hand in the air. "Ow," he says, again, "fucking splinters , dude."

"You should've sanded it like I suggested," Hermann replies, and Newt—

—goes silent.

"Yeah," he says, voice pitched oddly, "you're—you're right. I should've." After that, he doesn't say— anything , and Hermann feels strangely ill-at-ease without his commentary. He tries to focus on his sudoku, convince himself that Newt is just busy , but there's— nothing . Newt will usually hum under his breath, murmur the lyrics to whatever earworm is currently stuck in his head or simply talk aloud to himself, but he's silent .

Hermann tries to push it to the back of his mind; Newt's probably just very focused on what he's doing, that's all.

They eat a lunch of sandwiches, and he watches as Newt picks at his own, pulling off increasingly smaller pieces; by the time he's finished three, Newt is still only halfway through his first one, staring at it listlessly. "Newton," he says, reaching out to place a hand on the other's arm, "Newton, you have to eat something, darling, you're just skin and bones."

Newt shakes his head, swallowing. "'s fine, I'm just not really hungry," he replies.

Hermann frowns. "Alright," he says, grudgingly, "but please, at least eat the rest of that one, alright."

There's a moment of silence, and then Newt sighs. "Okay," he says, and Hermann gives him a relieved smile.

Once they finish, Hermann rises from his seat. "I'm going in to town to get some more milk," he says, "is there anything you want?"

Newt shakes his head. "No," he says, quietly. Hermann nods, pressing a hand to Newt's shoulder. The other leans away, ducking down, and exclaims, "Oh—I dropped my napkin."

Hermann tries not to feel hurt; Newt did drop his napkin, after all, but he can't help but feel like the other is avoiding him. "I'll see you in a bit, darling," he says reluctantly, moving his hand to the head of his cane.

The car ride gives him time to ruminate; obviously, Newt's no longer as tactile as he once was—he's been avoiding Hermann's touch, ducking to pick things up when Hermann leans in to press a kiss to his cheek. Hermann gnaws on his lip. What if he's making the other uncomfortable? Surely, Newton would tell him—or would he? Pre-Drift Newt would, but perhaps Newt is no longer like that; perhaps the trauma he's endured has changed that, as well.

What if he's simply tolerating it because he doesn't feel comfortable asking you to stop? nags the voice at the back of his mind. What if you're forcing him into something he doesn't want?

Oh.

"Oh," he murmurs aloud, the soft exhale of a word somehow as momentous as a wrecking ball. "Of course."

The grocer's is full, relatively speaking, the chatter of a few dozen people in the air, but it all fades into a white noise, and Hermann mechanically makes his way to the dairy produce aisle. The weight of the milk jug is heavy in his hand, weighing down his steps back to the car.

When he gets back, Newt is back out in the garden, working on putting together the plant boxes, and Hermann resists the urge to brush past him, pat his cheek and press a kiss to his forehead even as it makes something in him crack.

"I'm going to bake something," he says instead, "is there anything you'd prefer?"

"No—no, whatever's good," Newt replies, not meeting his gaze.

"Oh," Hermann says softly, "a—alright then." His voice cracks embarrassingly, and he turns before he can see Newt's reaction, fleeing into the kitchen. He sets the jug of milk down on the counter-top, leans against the counter, the support of his cane not enough, and pushes back the tears that threaten to leak down his cheeks, dragging in a rattling breath.

"Get yourself together, Gottlieb," he hisses at himself. "You're fine. You're fine ."

The words taste of lies and sorrow, and his lip trembles. Weak , bites the voice in his head, you said you wanted to help him, be there for him, but you didn't even bother to consider what he wants .

He doesn't even realise that he's slid to the floor until he feels the cold tile against his palm. With a shake of his head, he tries to banish the thoughts, but they buzz in his head like locust. You're too much, they jeer , of course he doesn't want you ; he just hasn't recognized it yet.

"No," he mutters, "no, no, no, stop , please."

His nails are biting into his skin, and he tries to ground himself with the pain; by the time he's calmed, blood's dried beneath his fingernails, crusted around crescent-like indentations. He stares at them duly, drags himself to his feet and fumbles with the knob on the sink, lets the icy water wash away the rusty red.

The motions come easy to him, measuring the flour and sugar and butter, works it into a dough. His hands are shaking, but he ignores it, forms the dough into balls, rolls them in cinnamon. The oven beeps, letting him know it's up to temperature, and he mechanically puts the tray in the oven and sets the timer.

Exhaustion crashes on him, suddenly, like a tidal wave; he's just...so hollow , and the thought that there's still over a third of the day left is daunting. Newt's still in the garden, and, as much as Hermann wants to ask if the other minds coming inside and allowing Hermann to take a nap, head rested in his lap, he stops himself.

He's busy , he reminds himself, and I doubt he truly wants to waste time on your whims.

He—he wants Newt , and that is incompatible with what Newt wants. Hermann swallows. The longing is like an anchor, weighing him down, and, unable to stand it, he retreats to the bedroom, strips out of his own shirt and snatches one of the biologist's—admittedly few—hoodies out of the closet, pulling it on.

The fabric is worn soft, and it has the lingering scent of Newt's shampoo in the hood; a bit large for him, since Newt has always preferred to buy extra-large hoodies, but the garment is comforting, and he clings to it tightly.

What if he leaves? he wonders, and then scolds himself for the thought. If Newt wishes to leave, Hermann will respect the decision, as much as it may break his heart.

He tugs the sleeves down so they cover his palms, and drags in a deep breath, clutching the head of his cane tightly. One step at a time.

The timer beeps suddenly, shattering the silence, and there's a call of, "Hermann? Is that yours?" from the living room.

Hermann swallows. "Just a moment!" he calls back, hurriedly pulling off the hoodie, shoving it into one of the dresser drawers and struggling to get his own shirt back on. "I'll—I'll get it in a second!" Damn it, why is he so slow?

His fingers are shaking as he shoves the buttons into the buttonholes, and he desperately hopes that Newt doesn't come into the bedroom. The last thing he needs is for the other to see how pathetic he is.

Thankfully, Newt doesn't, and Hermann buttons the last button and makes his way out. The scent of cinnamon hangs in the air, and Newt shoots him a questioning look. "Cinnamon rolls?" he asks, and Hermann shakes his head.

"Snickerdoodles," he replies, pulling the tray out, hot even through the oven mits, "you, ah, once mentioned they were your favourite."

Newt looks at him strangely. "Yeah—eight years ago."

"O—oh," Hermann stammers. "Well, I can—I can always make something else," he says desperately. Is it odd that he remembers such a fact? It must be—what sort of person remembers an off-hand comment made almost a decade ago? Newt is probably slightly disturbed by it—and he probably doesn't even like snickerdoodles anymore.

"No, it's—it's fine," Newt placates, but his expression is strange, and it makes Hermann's stomach knot up, and he grips the head of his cane tightly.

"I see," he says tightly. "Well, I'll—I'll put them away." Newt looks about to say something, but, for once, he remains silent. Hermann unsticks the cookies from the pan, placing them in a large box, and sets it on top of the fridge. "If—if you want one, you know where they are."

"Hermann—"

Hermann holds up a hand. "Don't say anything," he says, hollowly, "please, just—don't say anything."

Newt frowns at him, moving closer. "Hermann, is there anything—?"

"Just—leave me alone, please," Hermann cuts off, hoping that his voice isn't shaking. "I—just don't follow me, please." He strides past Newt, careful not to touch him, and pulls the door open, slipping on his shoes and making his way out to the car.

He's got no destination in mind, simply driving where the road leads, and within minutes, the cottage is out of view, the rolling hills blurring into a smear of green. The sun's lower, now, starting its descent, and the moon is already out. He turns down a dirt road, the car jumping slightly as it makes its way over the uneven ground.

Finally, he stops. His fingers are white-knuckled on the steering-wheel, and his breathing is laboured. He lets out a shaky exhale and rubs his eyes. Damn it, why can't he get a grip? Why can't he just enjoy what he has now instead of worrying over the inevitable end to this—well, not bliss , exactly, but at the very least, domesticity .

Against his will, he crumples back against the seat, strength fleeing from his limbs. He's just so—so exhausted, damn it; he's only just got Newt back, and now he's faced with the possibility of losing the other again, and—how is he supposed to cope with that? What is he meant to say, to feel? He's always prided himself on his logical, analytical approach to the world, but now those things are useless.

Hermann lets exhaustion drag him down, down, into dark nothingness.

When he awakens, the sun's set, and there's a buzzing sound; his phone, he realizes, and fumbles to pull it out of his pocket. The sound cuts off, and when he finally managed to get it out, the screen shows one missed call from Newton.

He bites his lip; Newt must be worried—he's been gone at least an hour, and guilt crashes down on him. Just because he feels pathetic and can't deal with the situation at hand doesn't mean that he has a right to ignore Newt, leave him to wonder what's happened, but he has, and that's cruel of him.

He hesitates for the barest second before hitting call back , listens apprehensively as the phone rings.

Once, twice.

Thrice.

"Hi, you've reached Doctor Newton Geiszler. I'm currently unable to reply, so, uh, leave a message with your number and— shit , Hermann, don't throw that at me—" The voicemail ends, and there's a beep. Hermann clears his throat.

"Newton," he says, hoarsely, unsure of his own voice. "I, ah, I was just calling to let you know that I'm—fine. I apologize for not calling you earlier to inform you that I would be out late...I'll—" he swallows. "I'll be back shortly."


Newt stares at the phone in his hand blankly. The screen still remains the same—no missed calls, no text messages. Really, he's not sure what he was expecting—Hermann's probably busy with...with something else.

He rubs his fingers along the side of the phone case, nervous energy with nowhere to go. The taste of sugar and cinnamon has soured in his mouth—and how did Hermann remember that? It was an offhand comment he'd made after a three-day stretch in the lab, frantically working before the next kaiju attack, and Hermann—remembered?

And all Newt managed to do, instead of thanking him, is make him run off—

Oh , he thinks miserably, why is it that I always manage to fuck things up? The letters, the Drift, Alice , and now, he's gone and driven Hermann away yet again—and maybe, this time, Hermann will finally realise how fundamentally fucked up Newt is, like everyone else did, eventually, and leave.

It would be better for him, anyway.

Newt closes his eyes and sighs. Who knows when Hermann will be back—he might as well sleep some, since it's getting late. The bed feels empty without the lanky physicist, but there's nothing Newt can do about that.

It hits him, then, the full extent of— this . If before, he ached for Hermann, now his heart is an open, bleeding wound. He laughs bitterly at the metaphor. Shoulda been a poet—at least then I wouldn't've tried to kill Hermann.

The memory of his fingers pressing against Hermann's throat, the other gasping and clawing weakly at the vice-like grip rise up, and he freezes. "No," he mutters frantically, rubs his fingers against the legs of his jeans in an attempt to be rid of the sensation of something vile crawling on them.

He catches sight of the tattoos on his arms, and recoils. "No, no, no no! " he cries, scrapping at his arms. "Get off of me, get off! "

There are tears in his eyes, blurring his surroundings, and he squeezes them tightly, shaking his head from side to side, whimpers and incoherent words tumbling from his lips as he shakes.

His nails dig into his skin, dragging along to form white-hot lines of pain, but he can't—he can't

The ring of his phone pierces through his panicked haze, and his eyes snap open, electric blue swimming in the air in front of him as he scrambles to grab the phone, but it's too late.

He falls back onto the bed limply, breath shuddering.

The darkness threatens to drag him under, but there's still blue strands woven into the very fabric of reality, all interconnected, and they threaten to pull, pull, pull , unhinge everything—

Hermann , he thinks desperately, fear creeping up his spine at the thought of enduring this without him, without Hermann to turn to when he wakes with a scream on his lips, memories of forced Drifts with Alice, or gasps awake with the bright, frightening blue of the Anteverse permeating his senses.

He's falling apart—he knows this, knows it in the very marrow of his bones, that he cannot survive separated from Hermann, from his Drift parter, from the only person who understands him.

Is this what I've become? he wonders bitterly. Unable to function at the mere idea of losing Hermann?

It's selfish, horridly so, but Newt has never claimed to have aspirations of altruism.

The darkness presses in further, dragging him closer and closer to the frightening cacophony that is sleep and memories mixed into one, and he desperately thinks, Hermann, I need you.