Geiszler waves her concerns away. "I survived the first time, and I will the second, as well," she says, resolutely, and walks, slowly, to the door. Gottlieb watches her leave, biting her lip—what if it doesn't work? What if Geiszler does die this time?
The thought wraps around her heart, clenching it in a vice-like grip; the weight of it near-unbearable.
The door closes behind Geiszler, leaving Gottlieb alone in the laboratory with naught but her boards, the shattered pieces of the glass jar still on the floor, and the sinking sense of dread in her gut.
Gottlieb doesn't let on the hours she's spent pacing, mind too agitated to concentrate on anything else but the naturalist's wellbeing; papers torn to shreds in an attempt to force herself to focus; to pay attention; all in vain.
Geiszler is mud-spattered; her coat is ripped, and there are bloodstains on it. She wears a haunted look, and her eyes are steely with determination; she marches into the lab and places a box on the desk; a second later, Gottlieb notices the red that's seeped through from the inside, staining the cardboard red—
Bloody red; a wholly accurate assessment, it turns out, as, a moment later, Geiszler pulls a crudely severed head from the box.
"Did you kill him?" Gottlieb asks, eying the head, still dripping blood, now, as Geiszler holds it up, with a hint of disdain.
"Nope," Geiszler says, aiming for cheerful and falling squarely into vaguely nauseous. "Chau killed him, like...three seconds before a piece of wall fell and killed Chau."
Gottlieb hums. "That's...lucky," she comments.
Geiszler laughs; high-pitched and slightly hysterical. "You don't know the half of it," she mutters, and sets the head down with a sigh. "I told him," she says, no longer speaking to Gottlieb; not really. "I told him that's not how luck charms work..."
She trails off, glancing back to the head. "I should probably get to work," she says, "the set-up's going to take some time—those markings are tricky as hell to apply to yourself..."
"I'll go with you," Gottlieb blurts out, without thinking.
The other freezes. "You—what?" she questions, voice strained, and Gottlieb continues, before she can stop herself.
"Like the pilots do," she says, "your mind is fragile already; you've drifted once before with a dead brain—but I haven't; I can help split the load." You won't survive otherwise, she doesn't say; pushes the thought aside, waits on Geiszler to reply.
"You'd—you'd do that for me? Or—with me," Geiszler amends.
"Well," Gottlieb says, aiming for humour, "with the end of the world as the alternative...do I really have a choice?"
It works; brings the barest hint of a smile to Geiszler's face. "Alright," she says, "alright. Alright! Gottlieb—"
Gottlieb interrupts her. "We're about to get more intimate than most people ever will in their lifetimes," she says, lets the words spill forth rapidly so she doesn't stumble over them as she overthinks. "I think you can call me Hermann."
"Hermann." Geiszler grins, and offers her hand. "Say it with me, my good fellow—we're going to own this bad boy!"
Hermann grips her hand tightly; breathes, almost like a prayer, grinning widely, "By Jove, we're going to own this—thing—for sure!"
The drift is trust; Geiszler—Newt, Newton—holding the blade to her skin; hand steady; Hermann lets it slip under her skin, bite deep; barely even hisses at the pain; her gaze remains locked with Newton's. The blood from her wound mixes with that from the other's, and then, finally, with that of the severed head's.
The drift is certainty; absolutes; truth, lie; up, down; nothing is hidden in the drift.
Nothing is separate.
They are one.
The minds of hundreds—thousands—of kaiju burst forth, crystal-clear; memories, thoughts, desires; they remain undistracted; they have one mission, and one alone: find out the location the ceremony will be taking place.
They home onto it like bloodhounds; the scent thick and heady; Newton-and-Hermann, twined; two becomes one becomes many becomes a single—
They burst out of the drift.
Newton's hand in hers is clenched tight; bruisingly so; the blood has dried on their skin, and Hermann's hand itches. She clears her throat; tries to remember how to speak; gags, instead, runs over to the sink and retches.
Newton follows after her; offers, silently, what Hermann is fairly sure is a stolen handkerchief, but truly, she doesn't care at this point. "We have to warn them—" she chokes on the end of her sentence, the words dying in her throat.
The other speaks for her. "It's not going to work," she says.
She can see the questions in the other's eyes—Newton's endless curiosity—but the naturalist, for once, remains silent; there is too much at stake, now, to ask—later, perhaps, if this works; if they survive. Right now, the drift hums at the back of their minds, and the memory of what they've found out is at the forefront.
They move as one; Newton leaning against her, arm over her shoulders; Hermann clutching, in one hand, her cane; the other, the naturalist's coat. Whatever tension there's been between them for the past years has melted away—Hermann trusts the other, and she knows that it's mutual.
She catches sight of the tattoos on Newton's arm and is hit, suddenly, with a flash of recognition. "Precursor," she murmurs, mind filling with images of tall, insect-like beings, beady eyes boring into hers.
"Precursors," Newton corrects, and then gives a slightly hysterical laugh, and Hermann can feel the other's fear in her bones. "Fuck. Hermann, we're—"
"Fae," Hermann says, grimly. "I know."
The other laughs, again; edged with lunacy and hopelessness. "When did this become our lives?" she breathes.
When you started experimenting on dead bodies? she doesn't say. "The cult we're attempting to stop from bringing about Armageddon might have something to do with it," she says, drily.
The other's lips pull slightly into a smile. "I'd forgotten how funny you can be," she says, "it used to come out in your letters."
"I'd forgotten, too," Hermann admits.
They lapse into silence, focused only on reaching the LOCCENT.
"Doctors?" Choi asks, alarmed, as soon as he catches sight of them. "Is that blood—?"
"No time to explain," Newton cuts in, speaking quickly. "Get us the Marshal—quick, before Hermann collapses."
"I'm fine," Hermann snaps, and sways, even though she's gripping her cane tightly and Newton is supporting her. The naturalist gives her a flat look.
Choi's already gone; racing off to get the Marshal. Hermann closes her eyes for a moment, trying to stave off the blackness spotting her vision. "I'm sorry," she says, at Newton, once she's steadied herself enough that she can speak.
Newton gives her a startled look. "What for?" she asks.
"Our...our first meeting," Hermann says, "I...my words were thoughtless, and I know they hurt you, despite that not being my intent. I was—surprised, but I still owe you an apology."
Newton doesn't say anything for a moment, and then, softly, she says, "You had thought I was a man, hadn't you?"
"Yes, well," Hermann shrugs. "Prior to our face-to-face meeting, the only method of communication we had was written, and you signed your first letter as Doctor Newton Geiszler. Yes, I presumed wrongly, but one must admit, there are not that many female doctors in the world—of any field of study."
"I know," Newton says, and there's a touch of smugness when she adds, "I'm the first female naturalist in the States."
"Congratulations," Hermann says, and means it. "I applaud you, truly—that you managed to do so without disguising your sex...well, that is more than can be said for myself."
"Well, I am a genius," Newton replies. "And I...I forgive you, Hermann. I mean, it hurt like hell to think you saw me as less, and it still hurts that our friendship was irreparably damaged for a while after that, but I...I understand. And I forgive you."
Hermann breathes a sigh of relief; tension she hadn't even realised draining from her. "Thank you. I don't deserve it, likely, but—"
It's the Marshal. Hermann snaps to attention.
"Sir," she says, with a nod. "We know the location of the base of operations—"
"619 Breach Road," Newton cuts in, "you need to get there—now. They've already abducted the next three victims, and you don't have much time."
The Marshal nods grimly. "Mister Choi," he says, turning to the other man, "get me Chuck Hansen."
"Sir, your mind—" Choi protests; they all know the strain of drifting again will kill the Marshal—his drift partner is already dead from the ritual they used at first; far cruder and more damaging to pilots than the drift ritual they use now.
"This is my call, Mister Choi," the Marshal snaps. "Get me Chuck Hansen, and tell pilots Beckett and Mori that they need to get down to LOCCENT and initiate drift."
"Understood, sir," Choi says, lips pursed thin, and takes off.
The Marshal gives them a nod. "Goodbye, Doctors," he says, "thank you for your efforts."
"Godspeed," Hermann says, heart heavy. Newton, at her side, doesn't say anything, but she gives the Marshal a salute.
Then, he's gone.
When Beckett and Mori get back, they're covered in soot and ash; their clothes and hair singed. "The Marshal is...the Marshal is dead," Mori says, voice heavy; her eyes are glimmering slightly with tears.
"The kaiju are, too," Beckett adds, "the Marshal and Hansen held them off for long enough that we could free the victims, and then we set fire to the building."
Hermann locks eyes with Newton; simultaneously, they probe the drift. "They're gone," Newton confirms.
There's a moment of silence; then, joyously, Choi calls, "It's done! It's done—it's finally done!"
LOCCENT breaks into cheers.
Newton disappears from her side, then, into the crowd; leaves Hermann feeling cold from the loss with the naturalist no longer pressed against her. She'd thought—
Well, nevermind what she'd thought; Newton's gone to go celebrate—join in the partying and festivities that have erupted around them. Hermann can't blame her; she's hardly the most pleasant person in the room, not by a long shot. Perhaps, when it's over—
There's a tap on her shoulder, and she turns around, ready to face one of the many people—
"I found wine," Newton says, showing off a bottle. "Kosher—took me a bit, it's why I was gone so long."
"Oh," Hermann says, and blinks at her. "You remembered."
Newton scoffs. "Of course I did, dude," she says, and there's something gentle about her voice, "I've only reread your letters a few thousand times."
Hermann blushes. "I'm surprised you kept them," she says, quietly, "they were hardly well-worded." She doesn't dwell on the way the knowledge leaves her feeling warm—that Newton, too, valued their connection.
"Bullshit," Newton says, adamantly, and then, "hey, it's getting kind of loud in here, and you look like you need to sit down, too. Do you want to...?" She gestures down the hallway, then offers her arm.
"Yes, please," Hermann says, relieved, and they set off towards the laboratory.
When they get there, Newton pulls her chair over to Hermann's side, by her own; the two chairs fitting awkwardly behind a desk made only for one, and it's a challenge to sit down in them, but they manage it, anyway, somehow.
Newton hunts around for cups for the wine; manages to find two clean mugs in a cupboard, shoved behind a jar with a pair of ears floating in a yellow-green solution. "Not mine," she says, "they were here when I started working in the laboratory."
She pours them both half a cup; Hermann feels a tad ridiculous drinking wine from the thick-rimmed mug, but needs must, and it is an occasion for celebration. She swallows and sets the mug down on the desk; sighs, and closes her eyes. "I can't believe we've managed it, really," she confesses. "Five years...it feels like it's a dream—like I shall wake up in a moment and find that—"
"That people are still dying?" Newton finishes for her; Hermann nods. "I know what you mean," she says. "It's—surreal, almost."
"Exactly," Hermann agrees. Then, because she's been meaning to ask for ages, but she's never felt they were close enough for it, "If...if I can ask...why, exactly, did you get the Precursors' mark tattooed on so many times?"
Newton closes her eyes for a minute with a hum. "I wanted to honour the victims, I suppose," she says, eventually, "no one...no one knew who most of them were, so whoever their families where couldn't honour them. I...the worst thing that can happen to you is to be forgotten.
"The, ah, the Egyptians—they believed that if you were forgotten, your soul, um, it would...stop existing. And that thought's always stuck with me. And then, somewhere along the line, I realised no one would remember the victims. So I...I thought, in my own little way, I'd...I'd remember them."
Hermann swallows; the naturalist's words, so honest, carry a heaviness to them; a weight—an importance. "That's very honourable of you," she says, quietly.
They lapse into silence for a bit longer, and then, Newton says, "I never would have guessed." She tips her head to Hermann.
Hermann gives a wan smile. "I know," she says, "I made sure of that. I've been disguising my sex since I was...oh, eleven? Twelve? I'm very good at it—and no one is looking for a woman disguised as a man. They don't expect to see that, so they don't see it."
Newton shrugs. "Beats me how you lived with it, though," she says, "I mean—there must have been men you were attracted to...and of course, you couldn't act on that, and even if they had been interested in you as well, it would be because they didn't realise you were the fairer sex, and if they had found out, it would have jeopardised your career."
"Fairer sex," Hermann scoffs, "that is such—a ridiculous term, honestly. One look at any of the women in society would tell you we are only the 'fairer sex' because we've been forced into that by law and by society. And even then, there are still those of us who cannot be constrained..." she trails off. "Well, regardless. No, that was never an issue for me—I've not often had interest in a partner, and..." she hesitates. She's never said this aloud—not to a single soul.
"My attraction does not lay with the opposite sex," she admits.
"Oh," Newt says, and sets her own mug down. "Oh."
"Quite," Hermann agrees.
"That's..." Newton hums; she's taking it remarkably well, Hermann thinks—could be the exhaustion, or the fact that they'd drifted only a short time prior.
Newton's next words surprise her. "Good," she says. "I mean—me, too. Well—both, I mean. Men and women."
"Oh." This time, it's Hermann's turn to fall silent.
There's a sort of a warmth that's growing between them; it blossoms like a sunflower in the light where Newt's knee is pressed against her own; where Hermann's tucked against the naturalist. It's...nothing like she's ever felt before.
"Not to be too forward," Newton starts, and Hermann laughs.
"Oh, you? Forward? Never."
Newt ignores her interruption. "But now that you've...said what you've said, suddenly a lot seems far clearer," she says, and Hermann's breath stutters in her throat. Of course—they did just drift; Newton will know, now—that's the side-effect of sharing your mind with someone.
The other catches her look. "Not—no, no, I'm not—" she stops, looking at her hands, and Hermann waits for her to collect herself. "It's not like that," Newton says, finally. "Unrequited, I mean. I rather thought you a decently handsome man, Hermann, even though you were a bit of an ass at first, and now I'm certain you're a very handsome woman."
"Oh," Hermann breathes, and drops her gaze to her lap, a blush rising hotly on her cheeks. "I—thank you. You're...very good-looking as well, Geiszler. Newton," she corrects herself, earning a beaming smile from the naturalist.
Tentatively, she reaches out; hand hovering, for a moment, over Newton's own.
The other turns her hand over, palm up, and twines their fingers together.
It's almost six months to get everything at the Shatterdome squared away. Hermann and Newton fall into an easy coexistence—that is not to say they do not quarrel, but it's more banter now, truly; a way to stimulate their minds.
The question, after that, is 'what is next?'. Hermann no longer has a place at the university—it has, after all, been five years since they saw hide or hair of her—, and certainly cannot afford to rent the flat she'd lived in when she was working at the university again.
"Come to America," Newton proposes. "I'm sure that universities there will be more than willing to hire you, and we can afford a small flat together."
"And what of you?" Hermann asks, "it hardly seems fair that I continue my work when you likely will be laughed out of town if you even suggest they hire you, no matter how qualified you are in your many fields."
"Well..." Newt pauses, and gives her a sly look. "I'm sure they wouldn't be half as opposed if I had explicit written and verbal permission from my esteemed professor husband..."
"Your...? Oh—!" Hermann catches on; blushes scarlet at that. Newton laughs at her, softly. "Well—I—" she has half a mind to complain that Newton shouldn't need that—that she should be able to secure the position on her own merit alone, but the other, more reasonable part, realises what Newt's doing; that is the only way it could work—no matter how infuriating that fact is.
She's also gone and disguised a proposal in it, the trickster. "You're horribly romantic," she sniffs, trying to regain her composure. "Really, Newton, darling, you could have just asked..."
"Yes, but then I wouldn't get to see you blush so beautifully," the other teases. "So, what do you say?"
Hermann sighs. "Oh, alright," she says, and then, more enthusiastically, "yes, yes, of course, Newton."
The naturalist grins widely at her; a moment later, she sends Hermann tumbling, with a laugh, against the pillows. "Yes," she cries, "oh, Hermann..." she trails off, the smile still on her face, and Hermann gives her a matching one.
Somehow, they've done it—two misfits though they may be, they've really, truly done it; they've found trust—in themselves, and each other.
The thought leaves Hermann feeling warm, like she's sitting in front of a pleasantly crackling fire.
A little more than a week later, they're in the cabin of a boat—large, enough so that Hermann isn't in danger of retching at every movement the boat makes when hit by a swell of the waves. Newton is tucked into her side in the bed, the two of them fitting, just barely; her arm is splayed across Hermann's chest, her hand, fingers locked with Hermann's own, rising slightly as the mathematician breathes.
The faint light that filters in catches, for a moment, on the simple, matching bands on their fingers.