The layover from the Anchorage ‘dome is equal parts exhausting and frigid, made particularly painful by the gradual soak of snow through the soggy canvas layer of Newt’s Chuck Taylors as he waits for the helicopter to arrive.
He has had far too much experience with Hermann’s cold shoulder to find the chill any worse than usual.
It’s while Newt is peeling off the soaked layer of his jacket that he realizes spending forty-five minutes in a blizzard is only half as stupid as expecting a helicopter to be flying in that sort of weather. Or any sort of plane, really.
He wonders if Hermann will enjoy the isolation afforded by their remote location as much as he seemed to while they’re stranded in a partly-evacuated Shatterdome for at least a few more days. That reminds him: the extra time might let him work on finally making a pun involving “Hermann” and “hermit” that doesn’t sound embarrassingly clunky.
Nobody can tell Newt Geiszler that he doesn’t put his PhDs to goddamn work when it comes to exciting wordplay opportunities.
“Don’t bullshit me, dude,” Newt says, holding out his hands in the universal clap-game position, “don’t tell me nobody ever taught you how to play patty cake.”
The withering glance Hermann gives almost shuts him up. Just nearly. Newt thinks he must be building up an immunity to it.
So, he shrugs, shoots a stray smile in Gottlieb’s direction, “Alright, man! Excuse me for trying to lighten the mood a little.”
He doesn’t really blame him. It’s been about fifteen minutes- they’ve relocated back to the lab, backup generator humming gently as the storm has gotten worse. It took the power out for a few minutes- now that was exciting.
Gottlieb has looked consistently bedraggled and miserable since coming back inside, Newt could wager a guess that he’s still a little pissed that Newt insisted on coaxing him out to wait in the snow despite his protestations. Sitting at his desk with a tartan blanket tugged around his shoulders, his hair plastered to his forehead, Newt is struck with a distinct image of what he imagines a ferret would look like after bathing.
Hermann sniffs. “I hope you’ll forgive me, Newton, but I’m not feeling particularly up for your antics at the moment.”
Newt- blinks. “It’s just snow, dude. You’ve gotten wet before.”
There’s a special sort of science in predicting when Hermann will sulk or snap or otherwise be upset, one that Newt considers himself a sort of expert in. He’s carefully cultivated the ability over the course of the year that they’ve worked together.
It does him no favors when Hermann stands up in a huff, walks over to the other side of the lab with the blanket still swaddled around him like a cape. He’s not even looking at Newt now. It would be a ridiculous sight if he weren’t so distressed.
“I- what ?” Newt shouts after him, “Come on, was it that bad?”
Hermann doesn’t turn around to face him, and continues to turtle himself deeper into his blanket burrito, this time located on the lab couch, but he does give a signature exasperated sigh that Newt finds both dramatically loud and reassuring.
“No, Geiszler, it was not that bad. Obviously, I have gotten wet before, I don’t understand why you would even-” Hermann pauses mid-sentence to ruffle, like an indignant bird. It’s almost- cute. Newt doubts he will ever fully grasp what’s going on in Hermann’s big head, but before he can delve into that particular train of thought it’s cut clean off by the man himself, “I appreciate your optimism, but I should think I would be allowed to be upset about all this.”
Over his shoulder, all beleaguered, Hermann looks at him. “The ‘dome is being shut down. We’re being relocated. You think that- that silly coastal wall is going to work? You’ve- we’ve seen the kaiju, I mean- I mean, please.”
Newt blinks again.
This being one of the few moments of his life he’s struck by the fact that he is, against all odds, a little stupid.
“Shit, Hermann-” He says, and the words come out just a fraction softer than they were meant to. He decides to ignore the way Hermann melts into it, just a little, before turning away again. “No, it- it definitely sucks. It’s real sucky.”
Hermann scoffs privately to himself in the way that he does whenever a particularly dumb question is asked and Newt can practically see him adding to his mental list of Why Hermann Gottlieb’s Coworkers Are Stupid, An Essay. Newt suspects this scoff is a large part of why he grew up with no friends. Newt also suspects his bullshit attempt at reassurance is why he can relate. He really can’t blame Hermann- it’s real sucky isn’t something he’d like to hear, either.
The tension in the room is something flickering and unfamiliar, the two of them and fluorescent lights. The two of them, and all this space. He wishes, for one instant, for a drift connection. For whatever the pilots have that lets them communicate without words, in the little languages they’ve invented, of private glances and gentle touches.
He has never in his life met someone more frustrating to get a read on, more impossible to understand- looking at the slope of Hermann’s back angled away from him, he’s struck suddenly with just how easy it was to dissect the feeling behind the penned words of his letters. Compare that to whatever’s obscured from him behind the thin line of Hermann’s lips pressed together while he’s thinking- God, he figures this is why academics build friendships over writing. He’ll take analysis over reading people any day.
Newt leans back in his chair, hears the squeak of its wheels against linoleum, spreads his arms. “Fuck the government, man. What can I say?”
Hermann snorts into his arm. He turns, smiles genuine with his teeth, not all tight and nervous like Newt’s seen a thousand times before.
“Fuck the government,” Hermann says, sagely, “Cheers to that.”
It’s Newt’s turn to smile back.
“I nearly got a tattoo myself, once.” Hermann sighs into his palm, staring wistfully somewhere over Newt’s shoulder, out into the snowfall. “I still seriously consider it, time to time.”
At some point over the next day they’ve relocated to the upper levels of the dome, there’s a certain comfort to the hustle-and-bustle still going on despite the limited staffing. With all the time Newt’s spent squirreled away in the lab, it feels unfamiliar without the omnipresent noise just outside his doors. There’s another type of comfort to be found in watching the snow pile up outside.
He snaps up, “You what ? Hermann. Hermann, oh my god. Hermann? Of what? Herm-”
“ Dr. Gottlieb, ” Hermann hisses, but he’s smiling through it. He leans back all prim, preening, taking a truly inappropriate amount of satisfaction from Newt’s shock. On his part, Newt was certain he wouldn’t make it through the layover without a reminder of just how smug Hermann could be, but he wasn’t expecting the quick jolt of affection directly following it.
“Are you-” Newt’s sure he’s still gaping, “Are you not going to like, elaborate? That’s so unfair. Can I see the design? Can I come with you? Like, I’m bent out of shape about the relocation thing, but hey! Bright side: Hong Kong tattoo parlors! Now, if that’s not the perfect place to- I had some designs I wanted to get done too, you could tag along and-”
The little laugh, snuffled into his hand, that Hermann gives immediately cuts him off. Gottlieb quickly straightens back up, but his eyes are still glittering and there’s still that tiny smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He’s having fun.
A list of things that make Newt feel like he’s about to die: The playfulness of Hermann’s little quips, the gentle ruffle of Hermann’s hair, not yet combed into place, the slight lean into Newt’s personal space. The way Hermann looks at him as he prattles on.
His mouth is dry.
Hermann leans back, “Points for nothing if not enthusiasm, Geiszler. I will be taking you up on a grand sum of zero of those offers.”
Newt Geiszler is grateful for the eventual helicopter in more way than one. Being cooped up never did him any favors- he was shaking out of his skin to leave by the third day, and rightfully so.
But, and more surprisingly, it’s the way the wind from the incoming landing blows Hermann’s hair into a mess that makes him most thankful. He really doesn’t trust the way he’s looking at his poor coworker. He thinks he might visit the therapist at the new ‘dome first thing in the morning, or at least some HR rep with their work cut out for them.
“You ever think about wearing your hair like that, Hermann?” He shouts over his shoulder.
Have you ever considered shutting up, Newton? is the response.