you may blame aphrodite/soft as she is

Pairing: Female Newton Geiszler/Female Hermann Gottlieb
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
"After the war, Hermann and Newt move to the Bavarian farm Hermann inherited from her grandparents. Pining and unspoken love as expressed through the six love languages ensues."

"Hermann," Newton says, clinging to her tightly, still, hours after the Drift. They're both half falling over with exhaustion, and Newton's eyes are alight with a manic spark, one eye ringed a vivid red. It's gotten starker, Hermann notices, since the Drift. She probably has a matching one.

"Hermann," Newton says, again, a bit more insistently, and Hermann shakes herself out of it; tips her head to look at the biologist.


"Hermann," Newton says, for a third time, and now it's not really funny anymore and Hermann is just about to begin worrying—no, scratch that, she's been worrying about Newton ever moment she's known her—when Newton says, finally, "we did it. We won."

Hermann huffs a half-laugh; the awe in Newton's voice is heartening, a hope in her voice Hermann hasn't heard in—well, far too long. "Yes, we did," she says, words only slightly heavy and hard to get out. "Yes, we...we did."

It dawns on her, then, fully; not that she hadn't realised it before, of course, but—well, it was more of an intellectual realisation. This time, it seems to crash on her with the force of an avalanche, leaving her half-gasping; joy and loss and—and—

"What are we going to do now ?" Newton asks, dragging her from that particular abyss.

Work , Hermann starts to say, and then stops, realising the issue in it in the same way she suspects Newton already has . "Yeah," says Newton, confirming her suspicions, "uh, the Jaeger Program was, like, necessary, but, um, I'm 110% sure that the PPDC will try and take everything we discovered and use it unethically, or—or force us to do unethical shit."

"That's," Hermann starts, and then stops, because; well; Newton probably isn't wrong , and—Hermann does not want to become a part of—of anything like that. She only ever joined the PPDC because she felt she had a duty to, if not save the world on her own, then at least try and help .

"Yeah," Newton agrees, and gives her a wan smile. "Yeah."

"Well," Hermann says, and gives the door a half-hearted shove with her shoulder; the two of them watching together as it opens, the hinges screeching in the suddenly loud silence, and then they cross, in synchrony—more out of the necessity of it, given how tightly they're clinging to each other than any real coordination on either of their parts—the threshold and move to Newton's side of the room.

It's because she has chairs , Hermann tries to convince herself and utterly fails. She does have chairs, though, which is good because Hermann really does need to sit down, now, so she detangles herself from Newton and does that.

Newton does similar; fingers tapping an uneven beat against her leg. "We should probably get rid of our stuff," she says, "I'll need to burn my specimens, probably, and put all my research and shit on my own USBs and wipe everything off of PPDC-issue devices."

"Probably for the best," Hermann says; and then, in an attempt to lighten the mood: "I'm glad to hear you've finally seen sense and decided to burn those awful things."

"Hah," Newton says, drily, "shut up."

They sit in silence for a few moments, save for the tapping of Newton's fingers against her leg, the skin against the denim somehow loud, very loud, and then Newton says, "Uh, if—if you want, you can. Burn them with me. I know you hated them."

I didn't, really , Hermann bites back, because it might be the truth, yes, but there are other truths, too, especially here in the low-light, Newton's hair tousled and her cheeks still flushed with the exertion of the day, that are better left alone, and she fears that if she tells one truth she'll tell them all , so instead she says, "Yes, I'd like that."

"Sweet," Newton says, "okay, like, not to repeat myself again , but what are we going to do. Living-wise, I mean, because I doubt you suddenly became rich in the span of the last five or six hours."

"Unfortunately, no," Hermann says. "But..."

"'But'?" Newton parrots.

"Well, I do own a property—an old farm, actually, inherited it when my grandparents died a few years ago. We could, ah, move there—I own it fully, so it's essentially free, except for the utilities bills."

Newton tilts her head at her. "Hermann," she says, slowly, "are you inviting me to go live the pastoral fantasy I've had for like, the last decade ? In Bavaria? "

"What, you think I'm going to willingly move to— Berlin? " Hermann says, only half-humourous in the way she sniffs and curls her lip at the name. Newton laughs at that, and Hermann ignores the way that makes her relax, just the most minute amount.

"You're asking me to move to Bavaria and run a farm with you," Newton says.

Yes , shouts the part of Hermann that's braver than she will ever be, yes, yes, you are my partner, you are my Drift partner, I couldn't imagine living without you, breathing without you, existing without you. She doesn't say it, though; that'd be foolish .

Newton's gaze is locked on Hermann's, something about it... "Well, when you put it like that ," Hermann says, in an attempt to distract herself from whatever that is, "it sounds odd . You—er, obviously, you aren't obligated to," she backtracks, "just thought I would—offer—"

Newton laughs again. "God," she says, "you're so fucking stupid. I like the idea. Let's buy tickets." She rises, suddenly, from her seat and pulls open a drawer, digging through it, and tosses a few flashdrives onto the counter. "Here—put your research on one of these. They should be wiped, but if not, go ahead and wipe it."

"Oh—," says Hermann, blinking at her, "oh—er, now? "

" Yes , now," Newton says, with a roll of her eyes, as if this is obvious , "c'mon, dude."

"Er—alright, then," says Hermann, trying not to be horridly awkward, though she feels it, and takes one at random. It's bright red, and says rockstar on it in what Hermann's fairly certain is hand-pasted tiny rhine-stones. She wrinkles her nose. "You are awful ."

"Hey, shush," Newton says, "I saved the goddamn world ."

Hermann rolls her eyes, but doesn't push it any further; crosses back to the other side of the room— her side, she supposes, and the thought seems ludicrous, now—and begins to transfer the files to the flashdrive.

As the files load, she glances up; pushes her glasses up from where they've slipped down the bridge of her nose; gaze slipping over the room and landing, with a sort of finality, on the scuffed yellow hazmat tape separating the lab.

It irks her, suddenly; she can't quite place why, but still, she rises and stares at it; walks over and kneels, carefully, peeling it up off of the ground with a satisfying shhhhhhnk . She pulls it further; stands and peels it off, walking farther and farther, the tape coming up as she moves, until, finally, it's all gone.

It's nothing much, really, but she feels, suddenly—not so alone .

"Hey, Herms?" calls Newton, oblivious to the mathematician's recent actions, "you almost done there? I need your help getting rid of my specimens."

"Er—give me a moment!" Hermann calls back, and gathers the tape into a wad, squeezing it between her fingers, and tosses it into the rubbish-bin back by her desk. The files have finished copying, so she ejects the flashdrive and does a factory-reset of the computer, and then goes to attend to Newton.

When she gets to her side, the biologist is holding gripping one of the rolling carts with the giant tank of Mutavor's brain in it, and she says, "Let's get this to the incinerator, huh?"

"Let's," says Hermann, emphatically, and puts a hand on the bar and helps Newton push it towards the door.

In the end, it takes them a full two days to get everything in the lab all taken care of, and then another day of feverish packing, but finally, they're standing in the airport, waiting for their plane to arrive after having wished the few people they know who were still at the Shatterdome when they left goodybe, which was, by that point, just Mako, Ranger Beckett, and Tendo Choi.

"Love airports," Newton says, with a gusty sigh, and walks over to one of the seats, dragging her beat up suitcase behind her, and sits.

They've got another hour until they need to be in the terminal, but Hermann wanted to get here early, just in case, just—well, in case , whatever that means, now.

Around them, the chatter of people is quite, almost; it's only five in the morning. Hermann sits down beside her.

The air smells cold and quiet; it's January in a city that doesn't know the meaning of winter any time but the wee hours, and the early morning. It makes her think of Newton, suddenly—this uncertainty.

"Did you remember to take your meds?" Newton murmurs, half-slurring the words.

No is the truth, here, but Hermann wishes it weren't; the time went by so fast she barely woke up let alone followed her morning routine. Newton sighs again and leans forward to dig through the front pocket of her suitcase. "Here," she says, and pulls out a water bottle too, a moment issue, "I figured you probably forgot."

She's half a mind to snap—would have, just two days ago, but this time, she doesn't; the ache in her leg is dull but there, and she's very glad Newton remembered this, because it always gets stiff and sore after sitting for hours.

Awkwardly, she accepts the two, downing the caplets with one sip of water, and then taking a few more greedy drags when she realises just how thirsty she is.

Newton watches her silently, and Hermann would flinch under the perceived scrutiny, but—that's not necessary, anymore, is it? She licks her lips and ducks her head; hopes her cheeks aren't heated as much as she feels they are, and passes the bottle back. "Thank you," she says, her throat dry despite the water.

The other hums. "D'you wanna get something to eat?" she offers.

"Er—no, thank you," Hermann replies, "I don't think I could stomach it, but you go ahead."

Newton gives her an indecipherable look. "Alright," she says, "I'm gonna get a sandwich—I'll be back in a bit. Watch my stuff?"

Hermann huffs. "I doubt anyone would want to take it," she says, "but I will."

There's a moment of silence, again, and then Newton rises and strides off. Hermann watches after her and then, after a moment, cracks a yawn, tilting her head to hide it in her shoulder, and shivers at the cold the movement exposes her neck to.

Newton gets back with her sandwich fifteen or so minutes later, and it takes Hermann a few moments to realise anyone's sitting down next to her, given she's been drifting off with tiredness.

There's an amused huff from Newton, and Hermann raises her head, scowling at her.

"Shut up," she says, and Newton raises her hands in a motion of surrender, smiling all the while, and then lets them drop, taking a bite out of her sandwich. "We ought to get to the terminal," Hermann says, "I know there's still half an hour, but it's best to be prepared."

The other hums. "Alright," she says, standing, "I can eat as I walk, anyway."

It's a good thing they do , in the end, because there's an issue partway along that, if not for the head-start, would more than likely have left them sprinting to try and not miss the flight. As it is, they can walk at a more reasonable pace, and board without any incidence.

The painkillers have taken by the time they sit down, and Hermann reminds herself to take the next dose when they stop for the layover, because Hong Kong to Munich is fifteen hours and the thought of having to stop and dig her fingers into the flesh to try and relax her muscles enough to walk without pain is not a pleasant one.

Newton dozes off for the first two hours, and then wakes up when the flight attendant comes by offering refreshments, and gets a cup of cherry juice and peruses the movie selection, yammering away at Hermann, which she can't find in herself to mind.

"Dude," Newton says, "I bet there's the new Jurassic World movie—" she stops, suddenly, excited tone disappearing and expression shuttering.

"Newton?" Hermann asks, cautiously, "are you alright?"

"Yeah, I—fine," Newton bites out, but it's shaky, and if not for the way that her expression yells at Hermann to leave it, don't ask , Hermann would push. "I'm fine. It's fine ."

Hermann worries her lip. "Alright," she says, finally, "if you—"

"I'm fine ," Newton snaps again. "Look, I just—I'm going to try and listen to some music, okay? Don't mind me."

"...alright," Hermann says, reluctantly, and tries to.

Unsurprisingly, that doesn't work very well; though the initial clarity of the Drift has faded, there's still snatches , here and there, impressions of feelings, and Hermann knows Newton is unsettled—though about what, she can't say. The fact leaves her on edge herself, though, and she finds herself unconsciously using Newton's nervous tics as her own.

The two-hour layover is awful; Newton barely talks, leg jittering as she sits; Hermann wants to say— something , but she doesn't even know what the problem is , let alone how to approach it. She has to bite back the frustration a good few times to stop herself from snapping at the people around her.

"Would you, ah, like to get something to eat?" Hermann offers, awkwardly, "I think there's a—er, cafe or something in here somewhere I think—"

"No, thanks," Newton says, cutting her off mid-sentence, not meeting her gaze. "I—no. Thanks," she says, again, and gets up abruptly, heading off towards the restrooms. Hermann frowns.

She goes and gets Newton an ice-cream anyway, just in case—chocolate, one of the few things they agree on—, but Newton is either ignoring her or is too lost in her thoughts to care, because she barely reacts to Hermann's words, and doesn't take the cone.

It—well, it worries Hermann, really; she doesn't know what could have happened to turn Newton's mood like this, and even more puzzlingly, she's not complaining about it. Usually, Newton complains about everything that annoys her, even in the slightest.

"Well, then, I'll just eat it myself, I suppose," Hermann sighs, and takes an experimental bite, wincing at the cold. It's not bad, though, and she hasn't eaten since the pretzels on the last flight, and they've packed snacks, yes, but sue her—she hasn't eaten ice cream since before the War began.

Newton's mood doesn't change, and eventually, they have to board their connecting flight, and Hermann's seat, this time, is two rows away, so she can't even offer her presence .

She drifts off, eventually, into a fitful sleep.

The overhead speaker wakes her; the pilot is announcing their descent, and reminding the passengers to keep their safety-belts fastened. Newton is nowhere to be seen, and for a moment, Hermann's breath quickens before she remembers that they're seated apart on this flight.

"Right," she murmurs to herself, "no need to worry."

Still, she can't quite seem to relax, and she can't figure out why .

It becomes immediately apparent as soon as she spots Newton as they're getting off.

Her grip on the handle of her suitcase is white-knuckled, and her eyes are wide behind her glasses. " Newton ," Hermann says, sharply, covering the distance between them and putting a hand on her arm, "you—"

"I'm fine ," Newton says, but her voice is cracked and thin and she's not meeting Hermann's gaze and Hermann can feel it, feel the distress—for what, she doesn't know, but it's there .

"Newton," Hermann says, again, more softly, gently maneuvering her out of the way of the others getting off, "we need to talk about this. You need to tell me what's wrong."

"I—" Newton protests, and Hermann gives her a stern look. "Fine," she manages, finally, "just not—not now, not in public, not—please . Please ."

Hermann swallows thickly. "Alright," she says, with a sigh, "let's get to the house."

Newton sits in one of the chairs while Hermann arranges a rental from the agency in the airport. It's nothing fancy, and they'll probably only rent it for a few days before they get a used car—her grandparents also left a none-too-shabby sum of money along with the farm, which she appreciates—, but it's large enough for the two of them and their luggage.

Newton doesn't say anything on the drive there, doesn't even try and turn on the radio, and Hermann tries not to worry even more than she already is. The other drifts off at some point, though, so Hermann doesn't say anything; it's probably for the best that she naps—Hermann somehow doubts she's slept on the flight.

Newton wakes up as she's driving up the driveway; it's almost two in the morning, and she makes a quiet sound of confusion, followed by, "Hermann?"

"I'm here," Hermann says, softly, "just getting the car parked. We can—"

"Thank fuck ," Newt cuts in, and she's not looking at Hermann, "I am so, so, so ready to get into bed ." She barely waits until Hermann's turned the engine off to open the door and hop out to go grab the bags.

Hermann gets out at a slower pace and makes her way around to Newton, silently taking the bag that Newton offers her; fingers gripping the handle, and with her good leg, she gives it a shove to tilt it so that it'll roll along. Newton reaches up and closes the trunk, leaving Hermann to walk towards the house.

It's not very large; the outside was probably a light, pretty blue at some point, but in the night and from years of weathering, it looks like a dull grey. The key to the door is a heavy, brassy, intricate thing, sitting in Hermann's pocket, and it takes a few tries to get it slotted properly into the lock.

The door opens with a creak of hinges, and Hermann peers inside, taking in the room. It's dusty, and quite obviously in need of repairs in some places, but it's...actually really nice; nicer than anywhere she's lived in almost a decade.

She moves inside to let Newton come in as well, crossing over the threshold in a single, simple moment.

"'S... old ," Newton comments, looking around.

"Yes," Hermann agrees, honestly too tired for anything further.

"Let's get to bed," Newton says, and begins to move past her. Hermann reaches out, placing a hand on her shoulder. " What? "

"We were going to talk," Hermann says, firmly, "I know that it's late, but..."

" Talk? " Newton repeats, and then—"God. Fuck. Dude, it's—it's stupid, can we just not—?"

"No," Hermann shakes her head. "It doesn't matter. It upset you, and I want to know what it was so I can help."

Newton sucks in a dry laugh. "Fine, Hermann. I saw a movie about kaiju when we were on the plane, and it freaked me out, because I'm weak , and I let it get to me, stupidly, and—"


"—and that wasn't great, but now we're here , and this place is going to need—it's going to need a lot of work, Hermann, okay, and I'm just a little stressed and, and, terrified , okay? Happy!?"

Newton's practically panting by the time she's done speaking and she raises her chin, as if daring Hermann to contradict her; as if expecting it. "Newton," Hermann sighs, closing her eyes for a moment. "No. No, I'm not, because you're not . You're obviously still suffering the effects of seeing something that triggered traumatic memories, and now you've had more stress added after walking in this door..." she trails off, letting her hand fall.

After a few moments of silence, she says, "Newton, I know it's hard, and it might seem— impossible , even, but need to rest ."

"I—" Newton starts, and then stops. "I can't," she says, finally, like it pains her.

"Oh, Newton," Hermann says; softly, now. "You don't have the weight of the world on you. You can rest."

"But what if I'm not enough?" Newton asks, and her eyes are wide, staring into Hermann's for the first time in hours. "What if...what if I don't remember how?"

"You're yourself, Newton," Hermann says, softly. "That's all you ever have to be—that's more than enough. And if you can't remember...then let me help you. Let me remind you, Newton."

"...okay," Newton whispers. "Thank you."

"Of course," Hermann says. "Now, let's get you to bed."

It takes longer than she'd like, unfortunately; there are two bedrooms but one needs to have quite a bit of maintenance done and doesn't have a bed, and the other bedroom only has one.

"I can take the sofa," Newton offers.

Hermann rolls her eyes. "Oh, don't be ridiculous, Newton," she says, "the bed's more than big enough for the both of us."

For a moment, Newton looks about to protest, but then she says, grudgingly, "Fine. Probably not a bad idea anyway, with the Drift. I'm going to go put on some pyjamas."

Hermann gives a noncommittal grunt and begins to dig through the luggage for sheets.

She finds a set by the time Newton gets back, and together, they make the bed adequately enough. They'll want to get pillows soon, but tonight, they can do without.

They get into bed without any fanfare; both tired out of their minds. Still, Hermann shifts so that she can look Newton in the eyes when she says, "Thank you, Newton."

"...for what?" mumbles the other. In the pre-dawn, her face is thrown into shadow; calm, nearly. She's not moving anymore, and the jerkiness, the tension, isn't gone, but it's faded quite a bit.

"Being willing to talk to me," she says, quietly, unable to bring herself to say it any other way. "I...that's very good, Newton. Thank you for trusting me with that."

She hopes the other understands; that she can feel the sincerity of it, burning itself on Hermann's tongue, into the air; the weight behind this truth.

There's a moment of silence, and then Newton says, "'course," and then, quieter, almost inaudible, "goodnight, Hermann."

"Goodnight," Hermann murmurs, and lets her eyes drift shut, exhaustion creeping in. Still, she opens them, just a crack, to catch one last glance at Newton's face, calm; the lines of stress smoothed out by unconsciousness, and then Hermann lets her eyes close again, savouring the image.

The next morning, Newton wakes her with a shout—literally.

"Newton?" Hermann manages, still half-asleep but trying her hardest not to be, because Newton is in distress and she can hear it and that's—she doesn't want that, not now, not ever .

"I'm fine!" Newton calls back, from somewhere beyond her line of sight, laying here on the bed, "just—fell out of bed. Ow, " she adds, "these floors are hard ."

Fell out of bed—? Hermann mouths, silently, and then, "Sorry, did I misshear you, or—?"

There's a sigh, and then Newton's head appears over the side of the bed, one hand digging into the mattress to lever herself up. "I had a nightmare," she explains, "woke up, thought I had to keep getting away , and wham! Hello, floor."

"Oh," Hermann says, going over the words—Newton's speech is normally rappid-fire, and this early in the morning, it takes a few moments for her words to sink in. Then: " Nightmare? " Hermann asks, sharply.

The smile Newton gives her is thin but not unkind. "Otachi," she says, simply. "I guess I'm not quite over it yet."

Oh , Hermann thinks, and then, quietly, "I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

The other shrugs. "Nah, it's fine, I'm awake now."

And that's that, for a few hours, anyway; it's later in the morning—nearly noon, so the sun is shining through the windows with plenty strength to light the rooms, and they decide to take a proper look around.

"We really are going to need to get some work done on this place," Newton sighs, tapping a section of the wall, and then nearly jumping back when it turns out to have been too close to the hole and crumbles a bit.

"Indeed," Hermann agrees, "though it could be in worse shape, given no one has lived here in over half a decade."

"Yeah," Newt says. "It's going to need some work, but...we can do it. And there's a garden! Did I ever tell you I did a minor in horticulture?"

"Never," Hermann says, feigning ignorance, and lets Newton ramble at her about that for a bit.

After that, they polish off the last of the food they packed, and Hermann says, "I ought to get going."

Newton hums inquiringly, jaw working on the tart she's eating.

"Grocery shopping," Hermann explains, "we're going to need to eat something for dinner, after all."

"...fair point," Newton concedes, and then: "I'll go with you."

"Oh—you don't have to," Hermann reassures, "I'm sure it'll be rather boring. Mundane."

"Yeah," Newton shrugs, "that's sort of the point. We need...we need something to do besides unpacking and packing and worrying about the work we'll have to put into this. And it'd be..." she hesitates, something unreadable flicking across her face. " Nice, " she says, finally, "to just...just be two people in a grocery store together, you know. everyone else." She gives a half-smile. "You don't have to let me, though, if you don't want."

Hermann draws a soft breath. Oh . "Yes, well," she says, "I suppose I do need a hand with it."

It's not an invitation, not outright ; neither of them could do that, she doesn't think, not now, not like this, but it' offer . One with plausible deniability, yes, but an offer nonetheless.

Newton licks her lips; the motion quick, almost unnoticeable. "Sweet," she says, "we're getting brownie mix, too—I deserve it one-hundred-percent."

"You do not ," Hermann protests, "you know how awful those things are."

"Mmyeah, nope, don't care," Newton says.

Hermann scowls at her, but there's no heat in it. "You're awful," she says, "go put on something decent ."

"Hey!" Newton says, "my fuzzy pjs are perfectly decent, you bastard, you just have no taste . But fine, I'll go put on something else." She huffs. " Spoilsport ."

Newton winds up stealing one of her sweaters, because given that it's January, the weather is rather nippy, and Newton, the idiot , only owns button-downs and a single jacket that's not nearly thick enough. Hermann does her the courtesy of not commenting, though.

This time, Newton drives—Hermann's leg is stiffer than usual, and she doesn't particularly fancy making it worse, and anyway, Newton likes driving.

"Turn right or left?" Newton asks, when they get to the end of the drive.

"Er," Hermann says, and realises she doesn't know . "Hmm. Let me look that up."

That startles a laugh from the other, and Hermann ignores it, waiting for the page on her phone to load. Finally, it does, the route lighting up in bright blue, the round icon representing their location pulsing intermittently, and she says, "Left, and then right."

"Right," Newton says.

" Left ," Hermann says.

"No, I mean—oh, nevermind," Newton shakes her head. "Left it is."

They get lost.

Of course they do.

Thankfully, though, they're both in decent spirits, and Newton's company is rather lovely, and after an hour or so, they manage to get to the nearby town. Newton's accent is awful , but she hasn't forgotten her mother tongue, and that gets them some odd looks, but they make do—mostly because Hermann shoots apologetic looks to those they encounter.

"We should buy some paint, too," Newton says, after they get the essentials, "spruce up the place a bit."

"Hmm," says Hermann, but not contradictorily; "that might be a good idea, even if only for the master bedroom. Any colour preference?"

"Lavender," Newton says, immediately, "and—pink. Or pink, I mean, either or."

Hermann raises a brow; smiles softly. "We can do both," she says, "alternate the colours, or just paint one half of the room each colour."

"...that'd be nice," Newton says, after a moment, gaze flicking up from where she's been staring resolutely at the floor, and smiles tentatively. "So. Um. Anything else?"

"Not that I can think of, no," Hermann shakes her head, "and if there is anything, now we know how to get to the store, so..."

Newton laughs. "Fair enough. Okay, then, let's get going."

They don't , actually, get going properly for a good fifteen more minutes, in the end; Newton gets sidetracked when they pass the frozen-goods isle, and gives Hermann an imploring expression when she spots the ice-creams, and Hermann, damnedly fond of the other, gives in. It doesn't hurt anyone, she reasons, and it's good to see Newton happy.

She pointedly doesn't pursue the why of that; that's not something that needs to be thought about right now , with Newton so happy, chattering into her ear.

When they get back, the sun is low on the horizon, and Hermann has to squint to see properly. "Here," says Newton, appearing by her side, a hand on her back, "the glare's not too bad for me—let me help."

She considers refusing, for a moment; if it were anyone else, she would , but it's... Newton . "Alright," she says, after a moment, "pass me a bag and we can go."

Newton does; hands pressing against hers for a moment, and then her hand is back on Hermann's back, and she's leading her, gently, steadily, back into the house.

"Thanks," Hermann croaks, once they're inside, out of the glare, suddenly, inexplicably, breathless, and Newton grins at her.

"'Course," she says, "gimme a sec—I'll go grab the rest and we can get started on dinner."

It winds up being a pasta dish; neither of them are very good at cooking, but together, they manage to make a half-decent meal; the noodles may be slightly overcooked, but they've had worse, and it's heavenly in comparison to some of the meals in the shatterdome due to rationing.

They sit on the single couch; the chairs, right now, seem horribly uncomfortable.

"We should get jobs," Hermann says, eyes half-lidded, the empty bowl discarded onto the floor; Newton pressing against her, shoulder to thigh.

"Yeah," Newton says, quietly, "but not yet."

"No. Not yet."

It's good; sitting here, together; Newton's attention is on her, and she knows it, but it's not uncomfortable—rather, it's... reassuring . Grounding. Warms something in her, and before she realises it, she's tearing up.

"Hey, hey," Newton says, reaching out to settle a comforting hand on her arm, "Hermann, what's wrong?"

Hermann shakes her head; blinking quickly. "Nothing," she manages, thickly, "I'm very happy ."

Fleetingly, she thinks, I'm very happy to be here with you.

"Oh," Newton sighs, and smiles at her; relief. "That's okay, then."

They lay awake in the bed for much longer this time; the jetlag means that, though it's already ten, it feels like it's the morning. Thankfully, at least, they have pillows.

"We should start a garden," Newton murmurs, quietly, the distance between them both too small and too large, and Hermann can feel the warmth of her skin. "And get chickens, too, maybe."

"Maybe," Hermann says, quietly; rolls over the we in the other's sentence in her mind; savours it. We . "We'll have to build a coop, though, or get the barn in working order for the chickens. They can't just run free."

"Hah, imagine that," Newton huffs, quietly, and shifts a bit. "Fifteen chickens running around the Bavarian countryside as we chase after them..." she trails off.

Hermann cracks a smile. "It would be rather amusing," she agrees. "And we can..." build a home, she realises she was about to say, and the words die, heavy, on her tongue. She doesn't want to ruin this with that; with assumptions. This is good enough; what Newton is giving her—her attention, if only just for now—is enough.

"Hermann?" Newton asks.

"Nothing," Hermann says, with a shake of her head. "Just. Tired. Goodnight, Newton."

"...g'night, Herms," Newton replies, after a moment.

In the silence that follows, Hermann stares at the ceiling; trying to force her breathing to even in the way Newton's is. This, here—the two of them in this house together, in this room, in this bed—how much is genuine and how much is artificial? What is theirs and what is Drift-born?

And if it is Drift-born—will it fade? Will Newton decide to leave? If she does—

If she does, Hermann will let her. Her happiness is too important to let Hermann's emotions interfere with.

She shifts slightly; just enough that she can see the outline of the other in the darkened room; eyes adjusting to the lack of light, and in that moment, she both rejoices and curses her weak prescription—she can see some of Newton's freckles, sprayed across her face like stars in the night sky; too many to count.

Her shallow breathing is loud in the silence, and Hermann listens to it, her own finally falling even, and her eyes grow heavier, until, finally, she drifts off to sleep as well.

The next morning, after a decent breakfast—Newton, apparently, has some skill in that, at least, and fries up the leftover noodles with eggs and spices—, Newton suggests they paint the bedroom and fix up what they can.

"Here," she says, offering up a paintbrush. "Pink or lavender?"

"Either's fine," Hermann replies, and then; "do you have a plan for how you want to paint it?"

"Nah, just paint wherever whatever colour you want," Newton shrugs.

Hermann raises a dubious brow but doesn't comment—if it goes to hell, they can always just repaint. And—it sounds... enjoyable , honestly, to take the time to do something so... domestic is the only word she can think of to describe it.

She shakes her head lightly to try and dislodge the thoughts. "Alright," she says, "well, then—let's get to it, then."

After two hours, half of the bedroom is done; the windows are open, letting in a chill—they need to be, though, to make sure they don't poison themselves on the fumes, and anyway, the work has gotten Hermann more sweaty than she's been in years, and she raises a hand to brush sweat-slicked hair out of her line of sight.

Newton, too, is similarly disheveled, though she seems to not notice it. Then again, Hermann supposes, paint and sweat is hardly noticeable if one's used to kaiju viscera and chemicals. Still—she's grinning, and she looks a sight. God . She looks beautiful .

"Something on your mind?" Newton asks, pausing in her task to meet Hermann's gaze; inquisitive.

"No—no, nothing," Hermann says hastily. "I'm going to go wash my hands—the walls are filthy ."

The other doesn't question it, thankfully; just says, fondly, "God, you neat-freak. Go and wash your hands, man, and then we can take a break and have some lunch, yeah?"

Hermann nods, balancing the brush on top of the can, and makes off to the bathroom.

The tile is cold, even through her socks, and the room is dimly lit by a single window. Hermann flicks the light switch on and watches as two of the four bulbs flicker. She turns on the faucet; splashes water on her face—instinct, purely; she's under no impression it will actually work, but the mechanical motion of it is comforting, in a way. She sticks her hands back under the tap until they're numb, but no longer shaking.

The mirror is dusty, but she checks her reflection anyway; thankful when the face she finds staring back isn't one with red-rimmed eyes.

"Just got done with this half of the room," Newton tells her when she gets back, "wanna take a break and eat some lunch?"

"I'd be amenable," Hermann says, evenly.

Newton huffs and shakes her head, mouthing amenable to herself with a little smile; then: "PB&J okay for you?"

Hermann shrugs. "I'll survive," she says, deadpan.

"Well, I mean, the alternative is plain leftover sauce, so, like," Newton waves her hands, "pick your poison, I guess."

"A sandwich will be just fine," Hermann decides. "But you're not going anywhere near the kitchen like that . Go take a shower, you filthy kaiju groupie."

Newton grins delightedly, setting her own brush down. "Aww, Herms," she says, fluttering her lashes, "you say such sweet things."

"Shower. Now."

The other laughs. "Alright, alright, I'm going."

After lunch, they get back to work painting the room; Hermann takes one of the chairs from the living room with them, glad she painted the higher areas earlier and that what remains can be reached sitting down.

Newton gets done first, and gets the last of Hermann's sections. When it's done, they both stand back, looking on silently, and then she says, "Dude, it looks awful."

Hermann cracks a smile; thin and tired. "A bit," she agrees, "but I...I like it."

"Yeah," Newton murmurs, "so do I."

"Now all we need is plants," Hermann says, "well—no, that's a bit much to ask, but, well; you know what I mean."

The look Newton gives her is unreadable, and after a moment, she says, "I guess we didn't do such a shitty job after all, then, huh? It kinda...feels comfy."

Comfortable ; that's the word exactly .

"Well," Newton says, breaking through her thoughts, "I'm going to take a nap . See you in a bit dude." And with that, she takes off her glasses, sets them on the night-stand, and collapses face-first with a muffled unf onto the mattress.

Hermann shakes her head. Honestly, she doesn't understand the biologist sometimes.

She takes the time to take a shower herself; the hot water soothing some of the aches of her muscles, and it gets off the paint, and she scrubs shampoo through her hair, the feel of the short hairs at the base of her neck a pleasant, grounding feeling.

It's— nice .

They're getting a bit long, though; she'll have to give herself a haircut soon, or hair's going to start getting into her eyes, and that's never pleasant.

When she steps out of the bathroom, hair still damp, Newton's fast-asleep on the bed, and Hermann smiles fondly at the sight. It's a bit early yet to join her in sleep, so she resolves to get as much unpacked as she can.

The luggage—carry-ons excluded—is downstairs, so Hermann descends the staircase and pulls one of the suitcases over to the couch, sitting as comfortably as she can, and unzips it, beginning to pull items out.

It's halfway through that she stops; frozen by the sight.

Some of Newton's scalpels are in this one, and one of the boxes must have gotten jostled wrong while getting handled, because it's open, the scalpels in it strewn about, and a few of them have ripped into the fabric of her parka.

Hermann pulls it out, hoping beyond hope that it's only minor damage—but no; there are long, deep rips in various places; it's beyond repair.

"Oh," she murmurs, and blinks quickly; the parka falling from her hands and pooling on the floor around her feet.

There's the sound of footsteps at some point; she realises she must have sat here, unmoving for—God, who knows how long.

"Hermann?" Newton's voice comes, tentative, from across the room; approaching, by the sound of her footfalls, "are you okay?"

"I—" Hermann swallows thickly; realises her eyes are brimming with tears, some of which have already fallen onto her cheeks; raises a hand to shakily scrub harshly at her face. "Nothing," she manages, "just—"

"Is that your parka?" Newton asks, and she comes into Hermann's field of vision, bending over to pick it up, and then; a quiet gasp. "Oh, Hermann..."

"It's fine," Hermann says, as steadily as she can. "I just—it's ridiculous. I'm fine."


"It's fine ," Hermann snaps.

Newton frowns at her. "...alright," she says, after a beat, "um. I'll make dinner, then—it's getting late."

Hermann stands slowly; picks the parka off the floor and nods. "Alright," she says, the words sounding hollow to her own ears, and brushes past her, shoulders squared, stuffing the parka into the trash-bin.

"Newton," Hermann calls, a few days later, standing at the door, "there's a package here for you."

"Oh—? Oh!" the other exclaims, from the living-room, and then she's by Hermann's side within moments. "Here, I'll just take that —" She darts forward, snatching the large package up from the front step.

"If it's anything kaiju-related, I swear to God, " Hermann huffs.

"You can't mail kaiju," Newton says, matter-of-factly, "trust me, I've tried."

Hermann groans. "You," she says, closing the door and turning around, "are a menace. "

But the biologist's already taken off, disappearing up the stairs, and Hermann sighs fondly at her enthusiasm. It must be those ewok-replica throw pillows she was looking at the other day on the laptop; pity, given that's what Hermann had planned to get her for her birthday, but ah well.

She returns to her book, letting the world around her fall away.

A tap on her shoulder draws her out of it; she blinks, trying to reorient, and glances up to find Newton standing awkwardly, arms behind her back. "...Newton?" she asks, slowly, standing, and sets her book down, "what've you got planned?"

"Nothing!" Newton says, too fast, and then wavers. "Okay, alright, alright," she says, "here."

From behind her back, she pulls a gift-wrapped parcel, holding it out to Hermann. "Um, here," she says, "this is...this is for you."

"What...?" The words fall from her lips as she opens it, catching sight of the military-green fabric, and; oh; oh .

" Newton ," she murmurs.

"Hopefully it's similar enough," she says, quickly, fingers locking and unlocking, and laughs, high and awkward. "I did my best to find the exact same one."

Hermann sits; eyes filling quickly with tears, and then, before she knows it, they're streaming down her face as she clutches the parka to her chest.

"Hermann?" Newton asks, her expression worried, "is it okay? Did I do something wrong?"

Hermann swallows, thickly, and gazes at the other through the veil of tears. "No," she manages, shakily, "no, nothing . You've done nothing wrong, Newton—you've done everything r—right. Thank you."

"...oh," Newton says, softly, and moves to sit by her side; hand coming up to rub comforting circles on her back. "It's okay," she says, awkwardly, "let it...let it out, Herms, it's okay."

Hermann hiccoughs again, and leans against the other, head resting on her shoulder, and grips the fabric of the parka tightly, letting her eyes fall shut, basking, trembling, in it; in the weight of the emotional onslaught, and the comforting feel of Newton against her.

The weather's warming up by late March; the sun no longer sets by half-past five, and the inside of the house, at least, has been repaired slowly but surely; really, the only things left are the office on the ground floor and the other bedroom upstairs, where they've tacked a tarp over the hole in the wall.

"We ought to get started if we want to have a garden," Hermann says, absently, one day over breakfast; the soft scent of mint from the potted plant sitting in the middle of the table a pleasant addition to the atmosphere.

Newton pauses mid-bite, the fork hanging in the air. "What?"

"Well, most seeds ought to be planted in the spring," Hermann explains. "If we want to have any semblance of a farm any time soon, we ought to get started now ."

The other draws a sharp breath, setting her fork down on the plate harshly. "I need a minute," she says, face frozen, and Hermann can practically feel the tension rolling off of her in thick, choking waves.

"Newton," she says, cautiously, "are you alright?"

"Yeah just—it seemed further away," Newton grits out, closing her eyes and breathing quickly, an edge of panic to it. "Sorry, uh—" she stands, picking her plate up.

"Is that enough for you?" Hermann asks.

Newton nods jerkily. "Yeah, I'm not—not very hungry," she mutters.

Hermann frows. "Are you sure? You seem—" she stops herself; the look on Newton's face is frigid and warning; danger, don't touch . She swallows. "Alright, then," she says.

Newton disappears up the stairs within moments, leaving Hermann alone in the room, her breakfast cooling before her.

She doesn't see the other much the rest of the day, either—the morning is spent reading, and checking the news, and then she gets caught up in a new article in a physics journal she's subscribed to and that leads to falling down a rabbit-hole, and it's past seven by the time she realises she hasn't seen Newton all day.

She stops; cocks her head, listening for any sound of the other moving around upstairs—she often likes to work on projects in the bedroom—, but there's nothing.

That draws a frown to her face; she rises, making her way up the stairs with sure, deliberate steps, one hand on the rail, and calls, "Newton?"

There's no reply; she reaches the top of the landing. It's silent.

Heart in her throat, she cautiously opens the door to the bedroom, and—

Sighs; relief. Newton's passed out, fully-dressed, on the bed. Still, it's not normal, not for Newton, who usually spends the day nearly vibrating with barely-contained energy, bored out of her mind if there's nothing for her to do.

The sight, though initially relieving, becomes unsettling within moments; Newton only gets like this when she crashes after multiple sleepless nights (a common occurrence during the War), or when something particularly stressful happens—and, given that Hermann watches her fall asleep nearly every night, it's probably not the former.

Now, the latter...

Newton's words echo in her head: it seemed further away.

Oh; oh .

Newton's only just had it come crashing down on her, the full of it; the fact that there will be a lot of effort required, and she's— overwhelmed . Understandably, really—but it pains Hermann to see her like this, exhausted and energyless.

And—she cannot fix it; not in the way she wishes she could; that's not how life works, after all, no matter how much she wishes otherwise.

But— but she can work to reduce the stress, just a little bit; plan it all out onto paper so that the tasks ahead don't feel so momentous; show Newton that they can be taken one step at a time, that they can be done; that she needn't be afraid.

Decided, she fetches the laptop from the bedroom as quietly as she can, and descends the stairs.

Newton comes down for dinner, looking listless still, and, after a few minutes, says, "What'cha up to, Herms?" Her voice is quiet and flat; missing its usual vitality, and Hermann aches with it; wants to say something, but doesn't know how .

"Nothing much," she says, instead, "just working on a, ah, project."

"Hmm," Newton mumbles, eyes downcast, and moves, slowly, to sit; stirs the soup with her spoon in halting, thoughtless motions. "'Kay."

Hermann swallows thickly, throat suddenly tight, and closes the laptop, setting it aside and joining Newton at the table after serving herself. "Did you, ah, sleep alright?" she asks, in an attempt to break the silence, but it just sounds stilted.

Newton blinks at her. "Wh...oh," she says, after a moment, and shrugs. "I slept."

They eat in silence, after that—Newton seems unaware of her surroundings, and Hermann isn't sure what to say, nor how to say it.

After dinner, Newton retires back to the bedroom, leaving Hermann in the silence, yet again alone, the only company she has the blinking line of her cursor.

She squares her jaw. She might not be able to solve this, but by God, she's going to do something . She types faster.

By the time she's done, it's past two; she scrubs her eyes and shuts the laptop, making her way over to the staircase as quietly as she can.

When she gets to the bedroom, she moves as quietly as she can; takes her nightclothes to the bathroom to change; closes the door behind her before she flicks on the lights and leans her cane against the wall.

The lightbulbs are fixed now; none of them flicker, and they're behind a cover, so they no longer burn into her retinas.

She takes off her sweater, unbuttons her shirt and pulls it off; puts on the thinner night-shirt, and then changes her slacks out for more comfortable sweatpants—Newton's influence; they really are rather comfortable.

Quietly, she makes her way back into the bedroom; hooks her cane on the bar they installed a few months ago; slips under the covers, adjusting her pillow, and turns at the sound of soft murmuring; freezing.

Newton says something, still asleep, muffled, and then shifts; settles back, the lines around her mouth disappearing, and Hermann breathes a soft sigh of relief; reaches out, almost, to brush away the hair that's fallen into her face.

"Goodnight, Newton," she murmurs, "I hope this'll help."

It takes a bit of planning to get it all out—they don't have a printer, after all—, but Hermann puts the file on a thumbdrive and takes it with her when she goes shopping the next time and makes a stop at a stationary-store, which thankfully has a printer for use, and not for an exorbitant price, either.

She also buys a few folder, for organisation purposes, and files the papers into them as she sits in the car, the sunlight streaming in; then, in a fit of nervousness, re-files them in a slightly different order, then does it again.

It's then that she realises that if she doesn't get going now , she's never going to have the courage to do this, and that—that is unthinkable, so she starts the car up, sets the files in the passenger seat, and grips the steering wheel as steadily as she can.

When she gets back, Newton's laying in the bed again, eyes shut but not asleep.

Hermann knocks lightly on the open door. "Newton? May I come in?"

"Sure," the other says, without opening her eyes, and Hermann swallows; holds the files close to her chest; makes her way over and sits on the side of the bed.

"I, ah, wanted to give you these," she murmurs, quietly.

Newton opens an eye; squints at Hermann. "What...?"

"I noticed you were stressed," Hermann says; licks her lips and continues. "I realised I had...thrown you off the deep end, as it were; and you were stressed in the face of your sudden realisation, and I—well, I thought...perhaps I could help. Here."

Newton takes the offered files after a moment, looking at Hermann, brow furrowed.

"They're, ah, schedules," Hermann explains, nervously. "I thought I could—break down the larger tasks into smaller ones, so you didn't feel so overwhelmed by them."

"...oh..." Newton murmurs, softly, and pushes herself so she's sitting up; opens the files and flips through them; meets her gaze, eyes glassy. " took all the time to do this?"

"Well, it was hardly that much," Hermann protests.

" Hermann. "

"Yes," she says, "alright, yes. I—I did, because I couldn't bear to see you suffering without trying to do anything about it."

Newton gives a choked gasp. " Hermann ," she says, again, and closes the files; sets them down; throws her arms around Hermann, suddenly, burying her face in her shoulder. "Thank you," she croaks. " Thank you. "

"Of course," Hermann murmurs, and wraps her own arms around the other, cradling her in her embrace; lets her babble into the fabric of her shirt, the words unintelligible, until she calms; stilling in Hermann's arms.

"Thank you," she says, again. "You don't—you don't know what it means to me, that you...that you would do that."

"No," Hermann whispers, the words barely above a breath. "No, I didn't know, but I...I suspected . And I'm glad I did."

Newton laughs wetly. "I'm glad you did, too, dude. Thank you. Thank you so, so much."

"I'm just glad I could help," Hermann replies, and relishes in the way Newton tightens her embrace.

When she pulls away, her eyes are red-rimmed and still glassy with tears, which have run down onto her cheeks; and Hermann, instinctively, reaches out to wipe them away. "You're alright," she murmurs, the words tumbling out before she can think better of them. "I'm here."

Newton's eyes flicker closed for a moment, lashes casting shadows against her cheeks, and she lets out a soft, whispery breath.

Hermann snatches her hand back as if burnt; her own cheeks burning. "You don't have a fever," she says, as if that's what this is about; as if she were afraid that Newton were sick.

Newton huffs; eyes opening and meeting hers. "I mean, nothing curable, no," she jokes. "Seriously, though, dude, thanks."

"Of course," Hermann says, again, and nearly flees the room, ears burning, and prays that Newton doesn't notice it; can't imagine if she did , because—God; it's embarrassing, is what it is; this— infatuation ; because she's carried it, burning, beneath her skin for years; because it's mortifying , especially at times like this where she's overcome and forgets herself.

She leans against the wall heavily; imagines, again, for a moment, the warmth of Newton's skin beneath her fingertips, and then shakes her head sharply in an attempt to dislodge the sensation; presses a palm to the cold wall and breathes, steadily; recites formulas and lists off the digits of pi until her heart is no longer racing in her chest.

Thank God Newton's oblivious; otherwise, Hermann would have long-since been caught, metaphorically speaking; and while, theoretically, there's a chance that she might reciprocate , it's small enough as to functionally be zero.

Hermann never has liked the number zero, but it's a fact of life, and one she's gotten used to over the years, especially in regards to Newton.

It does help, though, it turns out; with it all laid out, Newton becomes much more animated and cheerful; goes with Hermann on grocery runs, picking up fertiliser and packets of seeds along the way.

By the time July comes around, they've gotten the garden going; tomatoes and squash and mint and oregano and, in their own beds, strawberries, their fruits already beginning to tinge pink.

"We should get chickens ," Newton says, grinning widely at her as they sit in the truck on another run to town; her skin darkened by the hours spent outside getting the garden set up.

Hermann hums. "Where would we keep them, though?"

"Dude, I—" Newton says, and swerves sharply to avoid a pothole. "Sorry. Anyway. Like I was saying: I took shop for years in high-school, and there's plenty of youtube tutorials on how to make chicken coops. We can get some power tools from shop in town—I'm sure I'll figure it out."

"Power tools sounds like a terrible idea," Hermann says, "given that it's you ."

Newton scowls at her. "Well, we're going to need them eventually to fix up the barn, anyway, so like. Two birds, one stone or whatever."

Hermann raises a brow but says, "Alright, then, if that's what you want."

" Yes! " Newton crows, "sweet! Dude, we're going to have the best chickens!"

"Or the most spoilt," Hermann mutters.

The other reaches out to shove her shoulder lightly. "Shush," she says, "our chickens will be angels , Hermann, you'll see."

They buy a handsaw, a circular saw, the groceries, some wooden boards, and chicken-wire; Newton tries to lobby for paint, but Hermann gives her a flat stare and says, "Newton, they're chickens ."

"Hermannnnnn," Newton whines.


"You're awful ," Newton huffs, but doesn't push it any further; just hefts the remainder of the beams into the truck-bed, and then moves to the side, pulling the to the driver's side open and getting in, waiting for Hermann to do the same.

After a moment, she follows; sticks the bag of groceries in the space behind the seats, alongside the toolbox and circular saw they purchased. "I hope you don't try and get started on that tonight ," she says.

Newton laughs, turning the key, and the engine rumbles to life. "Nah, man, gonna wait until the day," she says, "'s too cold right now."

"That, I'll grant you," Hermann says; because even in July, the temperature hovers on the cooler end of the spectrum—she's not sure it's gotten above fifteen degrees, even. The good thing is that there isn't much wind-chill, though, so as long as one remains in the sun, it's rather pleasant.

The other huffs again; rolls her eyes at Hermann. "You're such a pretentious bastard," she says, but there's a fondness there; the bite in it for show rather than for hurt, and Hermann turns her head away to stare out the window at the fields and trees passing by in an attempt to hide the smile spreading across her face from Newton.

The next morning Hermann wakes up to find the bed empty; unusual, given the early hour—it's barely eight, and it's a weekend; they both like to sleep in, but Newton moreso than Hermann; usually, Hermann will wake up around nine, and Newton will still be fast asleep for at least an hour more.

Still; there's no reason to worry; perhaps Newton's merely downstairs, reading a book or something.

Hermann takes a warm shower, basking in the scent of the shower-products Newton procured—cucumber scented, like she prefers—, and then gets dressed at a leisurely pace, putting on a thin button-down and a pair of more casual trousers, and ambles downstairs, putting on the kettle and pulling out a cup and a teabag; lets it steep for a bit and then downs the tea, still near-scalding.

Newton hasn't made an appearance yet, and Hermann frowns at that—usually, the biologist makes enough noise to be instantly located.

It's just as she passes the front-door that she spots it; the outline of Newton's figure outside.

Ah; she must be working on the garden. Hermann sets her cup down and opens the door, slipping on her shoes and making her way over, intending to offer her help—

And freezes in her tracks.

"Hey, Hermann!" Newton waves cheerfully, turning to grin at her, "I'm like, halfway done with the framing for the chicken-coop!"

"That's— nice ," Hermann says, faintly, and sits down on the grass.

Newton hums, unawares, and returns to her work, hammering away at a nail.

In the sunlight, her skin glistens slightly with sweat; she must have started an hour ago, and her hair's sweat-slicked, and, most importantly—probably due to the unusual warmness of the day already—, she's taken off her shirt, leaving only a sports bra and her shorts.

Her skin is sun-tanned, and her back, turned to Hermnan, is sprayed with freckles; darker than ever, they cover her skin, and stretch down her back, disappearing beneath the waistband of her shorts.

Hermann swallows thickly; gaze tracing the shape of the other's muscles, made distinct as she labours away; the tattoos covering her skin vibrant and, Hermann thinks, faintly, horribly attractive on her.

God damn; she looks—God; stunning .

"C'mere," Newton calls, breaking her train of thought, and Hermann does, albeit on shaky legs. "Here, hold this for me, will you?"

Hermann does; and then, when Newton's done screwing the pieces together, she grins. "Dude, this is going to be so cool, " she says, gleefully, and knocks her shoulder against Hermann's; their legs brushing, too. "We're gonna have chickens ."

And Hermann feels like fainting, a bit, and she feels like she can't really be blamed for that; but Newton's excitement is infectious, and she said we so casually, and Hermann finds herself grinning back, heart beating jackrabbit-fast against her ribcage.

"I, ah, ought to go tend to the garden," she manages finally, extricating herself from Newton's grips, "the—the strawberries are ready, I think..."

"Yeah, yeah, go deal with that, dude," Newton nods, and she's grinning still. "I should be done with this by the time you get back."

"Yes," Hermann says, faintly, and tries to go to the garden at a reasonable pace that doesn't cause her to trip over her feet.

Newton doesn't put her shirt back on, either, though, so the attempt is ruined to some degree; Hermann can't help but glance over every so often, gaze lingering on the other's form, and thinks about running her fingers across the soft skin, of Newton's laugh, rich and bubbling, against her lips; of pressing kisses, open-mouthed, to each and every one of those freckles—and, God, how far do they go? They seem to be on every inch of her...

Hermann shakes her head sharply, forcing her focus back to the strawberries, and hopes her ears aren't burning as red as they feel like.

Newton finishes the coop before noon, and they go inside for lunch—fruit smoothies and sandwiches—, and Newton grins at her the entire time. "Dude," she says, gulping back the last of her smoothie, and wipes her mouth on the back of her hand, ignoring Hermann's noise of distaste, "we can go get chickens!"

"Or we could wait ," Hermann suggests.

" Or we could go to town now and get chickens ," Newton counters. "C'mon, Herms, please? "

"...oh, fine," Hermann grumbles, making a show of it; mock-distaste at the way Newton crows with happiness, the smile already creeping through the facade of the grimace. "We can go today."

Newton takes off towards the door, keys in hand.

"How about these ones?" Hermann asks.

Newton frowns; shakes her head. "No, too... skinny ," she says.

"Hmm," Hermann says. "Alright, then, what about—"

"Hermann!" Newton practically shrieks, and grabs her hand, dragging her down the aisle. "Look!"

Her hand is clutching Hermann's, but the other is pointing excitedly at the chickens in this coop; iridescent black feathers are ringed with rusty red, and Newton's looking at them like they're the best things she's ever seen. "Let's get some of these," she says, turning to gaze at Hermann imploringly. "They're so pretty! I like them."

Well; when she puts it like that , it's hard to say no .

"Fine," Hermann says, softer than she intends, "any others?"

"Yeah!" Newton says, grin widening, and drags her along to another pen of chickens. "Now, these ones are Easter Eggers—they lay different coloured eggs! They're cool as fuck, I've always wanted to have some..."

Hermann listens attentively, but half of what the other's saying doesn't even register; she's far more focused on the feel of her hand in Hermann's, the thick calluses rubbing against Hermann's softer hands, the sensation sending sparks up her arm, like an electrified cable.

They get a few different types; Newton is chattering about the specifics to her at the cash register, but she's also still holding Hermann's hand, so it's understandable that she can't really focus.

Getting the chickens out to the truck means Newton has to use both hands, though, and that breaks whatever daze Hermann's been under, and she shoves her hand into her pocket, coughing and muttering, and then pulls it back out and helps the other get the carrier into the back of the truck.

"Today's been good," Newton says, quietly, as they drive back, the sun beginning to set.

"Hmm?" Hermann hums. "Oh—oh, yes, it's been...rather nice." Flashes of freckled, inked skin flit across her mind, and she banishes them as quickly as she can.

Newton, unawares, hums happily and reaches over to turn on the radio-dial; flipping through a few dozen stations before she comes to something they can both agree on.

When they get back, they move the chicken-coop into the barn—though not usable by itself, it provides enough shelter for this—, and then set up a bowl of food and water, and then move the chickens into the coop.

Once that's done, they're both covered in dirt and dust, and they're exhausted, too; it's not too late, but the day's been tiring.

Hermann washes her hands off inside, and then moves so Newton can as well; nearly yelps in surprise as the other begins to strip off her clothes.

"I need a shower ," Newton says, "I feel filthy ."

"O—oh," Hermann squeaks, and backs out, pulling the door shut behind her; leans against the wall, dazedly, for a moment, before she goes downstairs and makes a cup of tea, sitting on one of the stools, listening to the shower run as she sips the tea.

Newton comes down after about ten minutes, and they get dinner together without speaking much, moving in synchrony; the Drift lingers, still, after it all; lends some smoothness to their motions when they move around each other, like a rock worn soft by the roaring torrent of the river, smoothed almost to a glassiness.

After that, they move upstairs; Hermann sits up for a bit, propped up by pillows, doing sudoku; Newton lays by her side, quietly, and when she sets the sudoku book down, rolls over and says, "C'mere."

"Mm," Hermann says, and doesn't protest; too sleepy to do so; and then, a moment later, wrapped, suddenly, in Newton's embrace, the warmth seeping into her skin making her feel like she's a plant drinking in the sun, too comfortable to want to. She struggles for a moment to find something to say, tongue heavy, but not in an unpleasant way, and then murmurs, "You did well."

That wrenches a short, quiet laugh from the other. "You say such sweet things, Herms," Newton teases, and draws her closer; breath tickling the back of Hermann's neck.

"Goodnight," Hermann breathes, after a moment, the word catching in her throat, and she barely dares to breathe at all, really; half-asleep but intimately aware of everything; curses and thanks, in the same thought, Newton for being so damn tactile ; and then: "goodnight, Newton ."

"G'night, Herms," Newton murmurs, and shifts; presses her face into the crook of Hermann's neck, her breaths billowing, warm, across Hermann's skin, growing shallower as she drifts off to sleep; and Hermann, too, follows her, moments later.

A few days later, Hermann gets back from a run into town to find Newton curled up on the couch and wheezing.

"Are you sick? " she asks, and gets a hacking cough in return; sighs, pressing her palm to Newton's forehead and finds it feverish.

"'M fine," Newton grumbles, and pulls the blanket tighter around herself. "Jus' under th' weather." Her words are thick, and her voice nasally; she gives another cough, wheezing after it to try and catch her breath, and Hermann gives her a flat look.

" Newton ," she says, "you're running a fever."

"I'm fine ," Newton says, again.

Hermann purses her lips. "I'm going back to town to get you some cough medicine."

Newton opens her mouth to protest, but all that comes out is another cough, long and sharp, trailing off into a gasping wheeze at the end, her brow furrowed as she struggles to regain her breath. Hermann gives her a pointed look.

She scowls. "Fine," she grumbles, and shifts further beneath the blanket.

Hermann does; goes to the pharmacy and gets the strongest non-prescription medication she can, and some cough drops as well; cherry-flavoured, because she knows Newton loathes the medicinal taste of the herbal ones.

When she gets back, Newton's managed to curl herself up even smaller, wedged into the corner of the sofa, and Hermann sighs; fetches a glass of water and returns to her side. "Here," she says, measuring out the medicine with the cup provided in the box, "this should help."

Newton pushes herself; takes it; gulps it back, and then grimaces. Hermann offers her the glass of water. "That's disgusting ," she says, and Hermann gives a sympathetic hum; measures out another dose.

"It should help, though," she repeats when Newton groans, eying the cup with trepidation.

"Fine," she grumbles, and takes the second dose, mouth pulling into a tight line as she swallows, nose wrinkling, and then snatches the cup of water again.

After that, and a cough drop, though, she settles back down; the coughing has tired her out, Hermann thinks, because she's blinking drowsily and drifting off before half an hour passes. Hermann sits by her side on the couch for almost an hour, trying to read her book, before she gives up and decides to go do something constructive.

In the end, she lands on cooking; she's not terribly good at it, but there are some things that she can make quite well, and chicken soup is one of them—and it's not something that's likely to upset Newton's stomach if it's sensitive, and the ginger will be good for her.

Mind made up, Hermann pulls out the frozen chicken; puts it on to defrost in the microwave oven, and begins cutting the vegetables.

By the time she's done with it, it's been long enough that she doesn't feel too bad about waking Newton, tray in hand, bowl and glass of water and spoon all laid out on it.

Newton blinks groggily at her, and mumbles, "Wha'?"

"Soup," Hermann says, patiently, "chicken-noodle; good for sickness."

Newton pushes herself up; takes the tray, and huffs softly. "Thanks, man," she says, and dips the spoon into the soup, taking a bit from the edge of the bowl and sips at it; makes a slightly surprised expression. Hermann expects her to complain—to begin teasing her, or something, but instead, all she says is, "That's...a lot of garlic."

"Shut up," Hermann grumbles, "you can hardly blame me—I thought you were going to die coughing like that."

The other huffs a laugh, trailing off into a cough. "You're funny," she says, and returns to the soup with a quiet hum.

Hermann returns to her book; finally able to concentrate on the words; the knowledge that Newton's not horribly sick, and that she's eating, makes some of the tension drain out of Hermann.

"Thank you," Newton says, after a bit, and when Hermann looks over at her, the bowl is empty, and she's leaning back against the arm of the sofa, eyes half-lidded; the bottle of cough-medicine is sitting on the floor, and the little cup is on the tray; she must have taken the second dose. Good.

"Of course," Hermann replies, "I—" she stops herself; starts again. "You're my closest friend," she says, instead; "I want to make sure you're alright."

"Mmm," Newton mumbles, "'m'na go to sleep now, Herms."

Hermann smiles. "You do that," she says, "I'll"

Newton doesn't appear to have heard her; eyes already having slipped shut, her chest rises slowly, and Hermann's fairly certain she's fallen asleep.

When she wakes up again, Hermann's finished her book and started on the sudoku in the paper she picked up in town. She sets it down to look at Newton. "Are you alright?"

"...mmyeah," Newton says, quietly, after a pause, eyes closing; and then she says, "thank you, Herms. For...being here."

"Of course," Hermann replies, "that's what friends do."

Newton huffs softly; strands of hair falling into her face, and Hermann leans over to brush them away. "You're a really good friend, Hermann," she says, "I love you a lot. I hope you find someone who makes you happy."

Hermann freezes; does Newton—God; she must ; else, why would she say that? Suddenly, Hermann feels awful; like someone's doused her with ice water; of course Newton must know—Hermann's hardly subtle at times; this must be her way of politely rejecting Hermann.

God—it hurts, but she understands it; she does .

She swallows thickly. Rises, takes the tray from where it's balanced on Newton's lap, as carefully and quietly as she can, and takes it into the kitchen; sets the bowl and spoon and cup into the sink and puts the tray away.

The bowl could get washed in the dishwasher, of course, but there's something almost comforting about washing it by hand, scalding water pouring over her fingers, so hot that they're numb until she turns it off and they begin to burn again.

Newton gets better over the next few days, and shows no sign of remembering the conversation; for that, Hermann is incredibly glad; it's not exactly a conversation she wants to have.

By the third day, Newton's well enough to more or less be her old self, and she practically begs Hermann to let her into town.

"C'mon, Herms, please?" she asks, eyes wide, "there's this new bakery that makes the best strudel—I know you love strudel, Hermann, don't lie, come on . I'll pay!"

"...fine," Hermann says, after a moment; grudgingly. "But only because of the strudel."

"Hah!" Newton crows, pumping a fist in the air. "Dude, you are not going to regret it," she promises, a sparkle in her eyes; and, despite herself, Hermann finds herself smiling; the expression breaking across her face against her will.

She turns her head and hums. "Whatever you say, Newton."

They make a stop by the feed-store before going to the bakery; they're running towards the lower end on chicken-feed, and need more; fifteen chickens go through a surprising amount of food a month despite each weighing no more than five pounds.

"We should get them toys," Newton says, "they might get bored."

"Newton," Hermann says, as calmly as she can, "they're chickens ."

Newton pouts at her. "Fine," she says, "be a grumpypants. If our chickens die of boredom, though, it's on you ."

Hermann rolls her eyes. "Somehow, that's something I'm willing to risk," she says, drily, "now let's get this into the car and get going."

Thankfully, Newton doesn't grumble; just gives Hermann an unimpressed look and hefts the bag of feed up, carrying it out to the car. "Alright," she says, after coming back, "bakery time!"

The enthusiasm in her voice makes a burst of warmth in Hermann's chest, and she quickly douses it out. "Lead the way, then," she says, as steadily as she can, and falls into step by Newton's side.

The strudels do look rather good, actually, as it turns out; and they smell even better, and so do the danishes, and Hermann dithers between the two before Newton laughs and says, "I'll get you one of each."

" Newton! " Hermann protests, "you really oughtn't ."

"Mmmmnah," Newton says, and grabs one of each.

"Good choice," the cashier nods, when they go to pay, "your girlfriend has good taste, ma'am."

Hermann freezes. "Oh, no, we're not—"

"Have a good day!" Newton cuts in, taking the pastries, and presses a hand to Hermann's shoulder, steering her out of the bakery.

Hermann purses her lips tightly, but doesn't protest, and takes the pastries from her without a word when they're offered; bites into the danish mechanically. It tastes fine—good, even, but it feels like she's eating ash, and she remains silent, letting Newton do the talking for the rest of their time in town, and on the way back to the house.

That night, she says, "Don't stay up for me, I've got something I need to work on, so I'll be downstairs."

Newton frowns at her. "If it's something on the laptop, you could just do it upstairs," she says, "I don't mind the light."

" No ," Hermann snaps, and then reigns her tone in. "No. Thank you, Newton, I appreciate the offer, but I'd rather not."

"...alright," Newton says, after a moment, but her brow's furrowed, and the frown's still on her face; thankfully, though, she doesn't push any further. "Goodnight," she says, finally, "don't stay up too late."

"Mmmm," is all Hermann says in reply, and doesn't watch the other ascend the stairs, gaze fixed on the notebook she's been pretending to write in.

Eventually, she falls asleep on the couch, alone and curled tightly onto herself; uncomfortable, because she's used to drifting off in Newton's presence and, sometimes, in her embrace; but it's better than having to face Newton.

It happens over breakfast.

The weather's nice, so Newton had proposed that they eat outside; packed the food into a basket and took it out, spreading the tablecloth—a red and white checked pattern that Hermann thinks is horribly quaint but Newton loves nonetheless—over the grass so that they have somewhere to put the food.

"So, um," says Newton, "I wanted this to be kind of an...apology." She spreads her hands awkwardly, and laughs, a little, high and unsure; takes a bite of bread.

Hermann gives her a puzzled look. "Pardon?" she says, "I don't follow."

"For—in town," Newton clarifies, not meeting her gaze. "I don't know what I did, exactly, but—I must have done something, because you got really weird, so I...I wanted to apologise."

Hermann's heart seizes; stutters to a quaking halt, and she says, "No, Newton, don't—there's no need—"

"No, no, obviously I did something ," Newton says, shaking her head, "please, let me—let me apologise, Hermann."

"It wasn't you ," Hermann blurts out; and she doesn't want to talk about this, but Newton looks so lost and Hermann can't bear it. "I swear it wasn't—not in the way you think, at least. Do you—do you remember the cashier? When we were in town, yesterday?"

"Wh—the one who thought we were together?" Newton's expression twists; confusion, then, after a moment, it smoothes out. "Oh," she says, quietly, "so it isn't something I did—it's just that the thought of us being together something that makes you uncomfortable." She swallows thickly, turning her head; gaze fixed on the ground. "Okay, I get it, I—I'll make sure that doesn't happen again. You don't—you don't have anything to fear from me, Hermann, I promise."

Her tone—so uncharacteristically soft and apologetic, and pained , makes something break; the thought that Newton thinks that Hermann would be—disgusted by the idea is something Hermann can't bear .

"Newton, no," she says, "it's—it's not . I swear it's not, I—I was—" she takes a deep, almost gasping breath; braces herself. "I was worried her words would make you uncomfortable."

And there it is; out in the open, and Newton's head snaps up, gaze meeting hers, and she gapes. "I know we haven't—haven't always gotten along the best," Hermann continues, dropping her own gaze, and worries the cuff of her shirt, "I was—I was afraid , I suppose, of you wondering...wondering why exactly anyone would think that we were together, and that that would make you—would make you look at me and realise ."

There's a moment of silence, and then Newton breathes, "Realise what? "

This is it; then; the moment of truth; and Hermann hopes to God that the aftermath won't leave her a broken wreck. "That there's nothing platonic about the way I feel for you," she says, quietly.

And then—

There's a bark of laughter from Newton. Hermann's shoulders snap back; God; Newton's laughing at her; of course she is, why wouldn't she—?

"No, Hermann, I—" Newton says, noticing her expression, "I'm not laughing at you , I'm laughing at myself because I'm a fucking idiot and I never realised, and that's—that's fucking hilarious because you're the most important person in my life, and I—I love you."

Hermann freezes. " Me? " she croaks. "Of all people— me? "

Newton blinks at her. "God, Hermann, who the fuck else could it ever be?" she asks. "For me, it'll always be you."

And—God, Hermann doesn't know if she ought to laugh, or cry, and realises she's doing both; tears streaming down her cheeks as she laughs hoarsely. "Newton," she says, once she can breathe again, "it could only be you for me as well."

Newton lets out a sharp breath. " Hermann ," she says, and shifts; and then she's kissing Hermann like the world's ending around them, but it's not, it's not , and Hermann has years of this ahead, years of time with Newton , and God; if that isn't the most wonderful thought, so Hermann presses back eagerly, one hand on Newton's waist and the other finding purchase on the back of her neck, and she smiles against Newton's lips.