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In Love and War

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You didn’t catch my eye right away, I won’t deny this. But once you did, I swear I couldn’t look away. –Anonymous

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| In Love and War |

 

 

France, August 1918

 

People are worse than beasts.

Beasts are purported to be mindless, violent creatures, and yet they are quite straight forward, their intentions clear and apparent, their reactions explainable and observable. He would even go so far as to say they can be easily predictable, given time and if you know what you’re looking for (which he does). But people. No, people are the least predictable species Newt has ever encountered. Every interaction is shaded with some underlying intent, some selfish agenda, and he has never seen a beast wage war the way a human can.

Humans, it’s safe to say, invented war.

“Hold steady!” He hears someone yell over the roar of spitting flames. They’ve been here in France at the front line for months, contributing what they can in the way of fire power, but it doesn’t seem to be helping as much as they would like. Sweat drips into his eyes, but he blinks it away, ignoring the sting of ash and salt as he tightens his grip on the magic imbued chain keeping the Catalonian Fireball in place as she shoots lava hot bursts of flame wherever they direct her large, scaled head.

His hands are numb. They’re lucky they haven’t run out of healing potions for all the burns and blisters they get in a single day alone.

“Merlin’s beard, I’m trying!” Came the frustrated response from one of the other handlers. Around them, the world is a muffled rumble of muggle bombs and gun fire, protective charms and barrier spells keeping the dragon and handlers both secure while allowing them to send bombs of their own to the enemy side. He wonders, idly in the part of his mind dedicated to the nuances of spell work, what the muggles see beyond the veiled network of spells surrounding their small company, if they are just simple muggle gunmen and their dragon some form of “tank,” or something worse. The Fireball suddenly wrenches forward and several of the handlers shout. Newt breathes through the burn of his muscles and the pain of ripped blisters to help bring her back into place.

Why in the hell did he follow his brother here to the Western Front? He should have gone East as he’d originally intended, where he would have been further from the fighting, dealing with Ukrainian Ironbellies instead of being in the thick of things like this.

“I’m so sorry,” he mutters to the dragon, not for the first time, but promises to do his best to free the poor thing the second she has served her purpose, to make sure she makes it out of here safely. If anyone deserves to be here the least, it’s her.

It’s not like she’s the one that started all this.

A bomb lands only a few meters out from them, and the barrier shudders under the force of the blast wave before stabilizing again.

“Watch it!” The handler next to him glares at the closest spell caster maintaining the shields, her face pale and damp.

“Piss off! If you think you can do any better—”

Another one, much closer, too close it would seem as the spell wavers before splintering with the sound of shattering glass. Noise floods in, horrific and deafening, screaming and explosions and the pat pat of something called a “machine gun.” (They’re lucky the people organizing their involvement required mandatory attendance of a muggle warfare course, a one week affair, before anyone could join in the effort. That way, they know what they’re up against, or rather, what they’ll be killed by.) In the chaos, Newt can hear the distinct crack of people disapparating away even as others cry at them to stay. The Fireball rears back violently when a shell tears by to impact somewhere behind them, ripping the chains out of people’s hands. Newt stumbles forward and immediately pulls out his wand from the catch concealed in his leather armor, casting hasty protection and invisibility spells over the dragon as she took her chance for freedom and pushed into the air, quickly disappearing into the low, angry cloud cover.

Someone wrenches his arm back, and he whips his head around.

“What in Merlin’s name are you doing?!” one of the lead handlers screams at him, but before he can respond or before the man can throttle him as his thunderous expression implies, another shell crashes nearby. The force sends the two of them flying. Newt lays stunned on the ground for a moment, clutching onto his wand. His ears are ringing, the wind knocked out of him. He tries to pace his breathing, to regulate it back into something useful, but it’s difficult to find a steady rhythm with everything happening around him, the air slipping in and out of his lungs like water, and he can feel the panic slipping in as he rolls to his hands and knees, gasping.

“Hey, I got you, buddy.” He hears and suddenly he’s being yanked up under the arms by a man in uniform and bodily hauled back, away from the artillery fire. Behind him, he can see the corpses of some of the other handlers scattered on the ground, some missing limbs, most with blood seeping or shooting violently out of wounds, and his stomach churns. Are they even dead? Or will their death be slow and agonizing and lonely? There are many in the wizarding world who are terrified to meet their end by the Killing Curse, but Newt thinks this fate is much worse, brutally so. He clenches his eyes shut and turns his face away, finally getting a better handle on his breathing and trying to help his savior by getting his feet under control. He manages to slip his wand away as they stumble along because he’s not a complete idiot. Hopefully, the man didn’t notice it in all of the chaos. He’d hate to have to Obliviate him in the middle of combat like this.

They end up tripping into a deep, steaming hole from one of the shells, and the man immediately plasters himself against the inside of it, dragging Newt along with him.

“You okay?” The man asks. For a second, all Newt can do is stare in shock, because this man is a muggle (obviously), but not just any kind of muggle, an American one. His round face is scruffy with stubble and dirt and flecks of blood under a weird helmet, and Newt absentmindedly goes to touch the blood before he remembers himself with a shake of his head.

“I—I think so.”

“Well, I think you might be in shock.” The muggle grimaces when there’s an explosion somewhere off to their left. Luckily, their meager cover holds save for a spray of dirt over their heads. “You a civilian, English Guy?”

“A what?”

“A civilian?”

It takes him a second, but “Oh—no, no I’m helping with the war effort.”

And the fellow has the audacity to give Newt an incredulous once over before raising an eye brow as if to ask “are you sure?” And yes, Newt is certainly not dressed like the man before him in olive drab and some ridiculous pocketed contraption, but he’s wearing his own kind of protection, magical spells woven into the fabric of his button up and trousers, into the thick leather guards he has on his arms and chest. Not that that seemed to help any of the others. His mouth thins.

“And you are?”

“Names Kowalski, Jacob Kowalski.” He offers a hand in the cramped space between them.

“Newton Scamander," he says, accepting the handshake after a few breaths. His hand is warm and calloused and engulfs Newt’s own. There's dirt under his fingernails and a burn on the side of his wrist. He wonders where the man, this Jacob, got it.

“Well, Mr. Scamander. I’m going to try and get you out of here, okay?”

He wants to argue. He can get himself out of here just fine, he can take care of himself, thank you, he doesn’t need any help, but he curbs his tongue. Jacob just saved his life, technically, so the least he can do right now is make sure the man doesn’t go and get himself blown up. He’ll help him get back to safety, and then covertly disapparate away. Quick and easy.

“Okay.”

“Stay here,” Jacob says with a firm hand on his arm. He tenses, but the man has already moved away, levering himself up closer to the lip of their empty pit to peer over the side. He jerks down, nearly elbowing Newt in the face in his haste.

“Sorry! Sorry.” Jacob rubs at his own cheek. A thin line of blood drips from a cut. Newt’s brows shoot up in surprise, and he immediately pushes slightly closer to examine the wound.

“The hell?”

Jacob shrugs and gives Newt a sardonic smile like he isn’t concerned that he’s suddenly bleeding when he wasn’t just seconds before. “Stray shrapnel. Gotta be careful about that when we finally leave here. We’ll want to wait a bit before we do that though.”

This may be harder than Newt thought.

 

****

 

And so they wait. At first, it’s a fairly quiet affair, the both of them waiting tensely for one of the constant explosions to land too close or on top of them (though luckily, about an hour in, it seems to be diverted elsewhere. Whatever is happening over there must be more important than smoking out, or outright killing, any potential stragglers this side of the Front). They quickly exhaust any small talk early on into their hiding, and it’s not like there’s much small talk to be had in this situation anyway. This is war. Every answer is a loaded one, every question a gun, unless they were to pretend that they weren’t in the middle of a war zone, but Newt doesn’t think either of them can do that.

(What do you think of the weather? Oh, you know, could do without the constant bombing and killing and bloodshed, but otherwise, I quite enjoy the breeze that’s bringing the smell of ash and smoke and death our way. What about you?

Fuck.)

It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Jacob is one of those people that cannot keep silent for hours at a time (unlike Newt, who has perfected such a talent), and so he begins asking Newt questions about England.

“The only experience I’ve had of it was when we were being shipped over here. It was just a quick stop over though, so I didn’t get to see much except a dock and a lot of rain!” He shouts to be heard over the most recent barrage of explosions.

“So you’d never been out of America before?”

“No.” And here he huffs an almost deprecating, almost amused sound that immediately gets lost in all the noise. “This is my first time!”

“And how long have you been out here?”

“I was technically deployed last year, but that was for training. I didn’t get to see all that much then either, except for the patch of French countryside we were confined to. Then, next thing I know, we’re marching off to combat, and here I am…” He trails off.

“I’ve been here since April,” Newt offers. Then, it hits him. Merlin, he’s been out here for almost four months, if the charmed pocket watch he was equipped with is to be believed. It feels like longer, so much longer, but it hasn’t been.

Newt runs his hand through his hair, wincing when his fingers catch on a stray knot, eyes flicking to meet Jacob’s before moving on to another clump of dirt in their dilapidated hovel. He wonders what that must feel like. To leave home, but not because you want to leave, or because you’re going to be exploring and expanding your view on the world. What must it be like, to instead be thrown into chaos and violence and be expected to bear it, hopefully with dignity? Newt chose to come here, following after his brother, Theseus, to the Western Front, thinking he, as an individual with magic and a desire to help, can do something to make this all end a little bit quicker, with a little less death. There may have been some pressure from his parents, but the decision was ultimately Newt’s own. How foolish. He’s not even supposed to be here. Maybe he should have just heeded the Minister of Magic’s creed and just not involved himself in this muggle dispute. It certainly would have saved him a lot of grief, in the end.

(But even as he thinks that, he knows he wouldn’t have changed his decision. These people needed him. How could he turn his back on them, knowing that?)

He must get lost in his thoughts because Jacob gently jostles him with an elbow.

“You okay?”

“Hmm?” Newt blinks, then shrugs awkwardly, tapping his fingers on his knee. He’s feeling restless. “Um, so England?”

And Jacob, a man that is already proving to be quite the peculiar individual, smiles in encouragement. So, he tells him about living in England, and a little about his home, leaving out all the magical bits (difficult at times, and even more so to find muggle equivalents for things like house elves and self-knitting needles, etc., but he makes due. He’s been told he’s got quite the imagination). He’s hesitant to say too much. Jacob is an avid listener though, and he asks questions at the right times when Newt needs to elaborate or needs to be encouraged to continue, lest he fall back into his thoughts.

Maybe he is in shock.

When he runs out of the more general things about England, he asks Jacob about America, having only been there once as part of Ministry business. Jacob turns out to be a pretty good storyteller himself, and he doesn’t have any qualms about holding himself back, doesn’t seem too worried about making a fool of himself the way Newt does.

“Is that even physically possible?” Newt asks skeptically.

“Apparently it is,” Jacob says, his smile pulling at the raw edges of the cut on his cheek. Newt itches to heal it, but he keeps his wand safely tucked away. It’s just a cut. Surely infection isn’t something he needs to worry about, right?

They sit in that blasted hole into the evening until the constant bombardment of artillery and bullets have almost completely stopped. Like an unspoken rule that both sides follow, like some strange consideration, Newt has noticed that when night falls, little happens in the way of combat.

They split a ration of jerky and dry biscuits that Jacob has in his pack, at the muggle’s insistence and despite Newt’s protests (because he doesn’t want to just take this man’s food, not when Newt’s got more than enough safely stored away back at the station the organizers erected and keep operational for the war volunteers. It’s just a matter of him getting to it, but that shouldn’t be a problem once the muggle’s back with his allies tomorrow). They watch the sun finally dip below the horizon and out of sight through an opening in the thick cloud cover. It starts to get a little chilly. He’s found that summer in France isn’t much different from that in England, just a lot less rain. He’s glad his clothes have a warming charm sewn into the stiches, but he still can’t suppress a shiver. He jumps when a wool coat thumps onto his lap, and he looks at Jacob, curious and uncertain.

“It’s just my winter gear.” He shrugs. Newt glances away and pulls it on, relishing the heavy warmth in places that even the warming charm can’t reach.

“You know,” Jacob says suddenly, tugging at one of the straps on his pack as the last rays of light fade away, “nature is a wonderful thing.”

There’s a pause, and Newt lets the silence stretch for a minute, unsure of what to say. He opens his mouth to say, what? To agree? Of course it’s wonderful, yet so many people disregard it, take it for granted. But Jacob has already turned and started clambering up to the opening to check their way, and the moment is gone.

“Looks like we’re in the clear.”

“Okay.”

Jacob readjusts his pack, swinging his gun, some kind of “rifle,” over his shoulder (he wonders if the man has ever used it), and then holds out a hand, presumably to help Newt up to the lip of the hole. “Come on, pal.”

Newt stares at it. What ulterior motives does this man have for helping him, he suddenly thinks. No one could be this selfless, not to someone they hardly know. People take. People destroy. They use each other to get what they want and then cast them away when their use has met an end. Just like her. Just like so many others Newt knows.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Ah. Yes.” Newt shakes his head and takes the offered hand. “Thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jacob says and pulls out what he calls a “flashlight” from one of his many pockets (and upon seeing the limitations of such an invention, Newt has never been more grateful for Lumos existing. Not that he can use it now and keep the Statute of Secrecy, but it’s the thought that counts).

They keep low to the ground and quiet as they trek along the scarred terrain, narrowly falling into other shell holes and tripping over debris and human… debris as they go, even with the small light to guide their way (made worse by the fact that Jacob keeps his hand cupped around it, to lessen its visibility). The chaos and noise of before is gone, a reigning, deathly silence hanging in the air instead. Whenever something crunches underfoot, Newt forces himself to keep looking ahead into the pitch darkness, to not think about what or who it is he’s stepping on, stepping in. All he knows is he’s going to burn his boots the second he no longer has need of them.

It doesn’t take Newt long to notice that they’re not exactly heading in the right direction. In fact, he’s pretty sure they’re heading in a direction parallel to Jacob’s allies. Maybe he doesn’t know?

He clears his throat, barely avoids tripping over a large, overturned rock (it’s so dark, bloody fucking flashlight), and says, “We’re going the wrong way.”

“I know.”

“…Why?”

“Because if we headed straight back to the trenches from this far out, the temporary ceasefire probably wouldn’t hold. We’d be shot down by either side faster than we could blink ‘cause it’s so dark. They wouldn’t be able to tell whose side we’re on.” Jacob stumbles with a small squeak, righting himself before he continues, “Night may seem like a safer time to be moving about the no man’s land, but only for those hoping to reclaim the dead closest to their side, and it’s obvious we’re not doing that.”

So, he is aware of the strange nightly rituals then. “So, we’re going round the long way, then?”

“Something like that.”

Something like that. What does that even mean? But Newt just looks away. They walk quietly for fifteen minutes or so before Jacob turns and starts going left. It’s not long before Newt notices a steady roaring noise, some stream or river nearby perhaps. At least that’s closer to the direction where his allies are. Maybe this will be all over tonight after all, and he’ll be back at the magical volunteer station come morning, ready to accept his next assignment after a day’s rest. He could ask to be transferred to the Eastern division if he fancies. Or maybe he’ll just go home, wash his hands of this war. He’ll return to his dull job as supervisor of the Ministry’s Beast Division, weathering his father’s disappointed looks like he always has. It’ll be like nothing ever happened. It’ll be like he’d never met this muggle man at all.

But things are never that easy.

“There seems to be some sort of drop off over here, so we have to be careful, yeah?” Jacob says, the wavering light of his muggle device flickering between his fingers as he tries to conceal its beam as much as use it. Seems a bit counterproductive, but Newt isn’t going to tell him how to use something he couldn’t turn on or off himself.

“Woah!” Newt watches as the shorter man starts to flail over the side of what at first appears to be another shell hole, but upon closer inspection is actually a steep precipice, a river running along its edge at the bottom. Thinking fast, he tries to grab hold of Jacob’s swinging arm and misses. He spits a curse, is about to do something, anything, only the ground crumbles out from under his feet. His stomach drops with the rest of him. They go plummeting down with twin shouts of surprise. They don’t have too far to fall, there’s not enough time to think this through. He’s too far away from Jacob to try disapparating, and there’s no way in hell he’s just going to leave and let the man die. He draws his wand and casts a levitation charm. It catches them just enough to cushion their fall, but as he crashes through the seal of icy cold waters, Newt’s not sure they’ll make it through this.

Shit. He’s supposed to be keeping this muggle safe and yet he’s already gone and cocked that up, gotten the poor man killed. He’s bad at this, practically useless. His father was right. All those people were right…

And then everything goes black.

 

****

 

“Hey, Mr. Scamander? Hello? You okay?” When he manages to pry his eyes open, Jacob’s face swims in front of him, barely visible in the night. He blinks, or he thinks he does, and then there’s a hand suddenly shaking his shoulder. Everything slams into him. He had been helping with the war effort. Something went wrong, and people died, and he was saved by this American muggle, who is both strange and sincere. And then, they’d fallen off a cliff.

Oh, Merlin. They fell off a cliff.

He’s soaked through and cold and his entire body feels sore, like it’s just one massive bruise. He groans and opens his eyes, his vision clearer this time. Jacob, dripping and pale, hovers over him, one hand on his shoulder, the other a solid weight on his chest like he was checking to see if he was still alive. He tenses, and the man immediately pulls his hands away with a muttered apology.

“How do you feel?” He asks.

“Like I’ve just been trampled by an offended hippogriff.” He snorts somewhat deliriously, his brain slow to catch up to what he’s said. At the muggle’s raised eyebrows, Newt just shakes his head, then hisses as a spike of pain radiates from the back of his skull. He paws a hand to the back of his head, but everything is wet and he can’t see enough to determine if any of it is blood. “Merlin’s beard.”

“Is that some kind of English saying?” Jacob asks distractedly as he digs around in his sopping pack.

“What?”

“Merlin’s beard,” he intones in a hopelessly awful imitation of Newt’s accent. “You’ve said that before. It’s just kind of funny, is s’all.”

Is he mocking him? Is this what the world’s come to? You fall off a cliff, you get mocked? His tone isn’t quite right, but perhaps he’s better at hiding his hostility than other people. It’s not like his accent is any better. Newt carefully rolls over onto his side, away from this ridiculous man. He should have just let him fall to his death. He wouldn’t be here in this situation if he had.

Except, of course not.

He sighs and cautiously sits up, one hand cupping the back of his head where an incessant throbbing has developed.

“Here, let me—”

“No, that’s okay. I think you’ve done enough,” he says shortly.

Newt doesn’t need to see his face to know he’s probably hurt the man. There’s movement behind him. Maybe Jacob is finally just leaving him here. He wouldn’t blame him. There are few that can seem to stand to be around Newt for extended periods of time that aren’t the creatures he works with at the Ministry, and his family is just barely included in that and only because they’re bound by blood.

There’s a noise, like tape being unspooled, and then: “Could you hold this, please?”

Jacob passes the flashlight over to Newt. Newt glances at Jacob before examining the strange muggle contraption in his hands. He turns it over and over, the material cold in his hands. Interesting structure. He pushes what appears to be a button and it clicks off after a small delay, pushes it again and it turns on. He’s surprised it survived the fall, so it must be durable. But still not quite as efficient as a Lumos. He looks back at him, at the materials he’s lining up on the ground, notes bandages and some sort of jar. What is with this muggle? Why hasn’t he left? And why did he give him this? He must have made some sort of inquisitive noise, because Jacob looks up and catches his eye. Jacob smiles.

Newt looks away again, an uncomfortable feeling settling behind his sternum. He fiddles with the flashlight. Who does this muggle think he is?

“If you could point it at the back of your head so I can see what I’m doing, that would be very helpful,” Jacob says.

“And what is it exactly that you’re doing?” Newt asks.

“I’m checking out the little gash you have and getting it all bandaged up.”

“Oh, so I am bleeding, then.”

“I’m afraid so.”

With a soft sigh, he does as he’s told. “Just, please, be careful.”

“Yes. Of course.”

Yes, of course, he says. Like it’s really that easy. This muggle, this man, is going against a lot of what Newt has come to expect from people, particularly those he’s just met. That they don’t believe they owe you anything, not even respect or some level of common decency. That they feel they have every right to be awful to you, to any creature, just because they can. But then, here is Jacob, who has every right to be hurt or cross (he did just fall off a cliff too, and he’s here in the middle of a war), and instead, he’s helping Newt with little hesitation, once again.

His touch, when it comes, is gentle and apologetic as he dabs at the wound with some of the bandages. It’s gentle as he applies the salve and gentle when he wraps the clean leftovers around his head, rolling it under the mess of his hair, before taping it down to itself.

“Do you think I’ll live?” Newt turns to him and asks, his voice dry. He carefully palms the back of his head to test it, but it already feels much better. He hopes his attempt at humor is obvious, because he’s trying to joke to ease some of the tension building in his chest, and he’s trying to show that everything is alright, and thank you.

Jacob must have heard it loud and clear, because he snorts as he cleans up the dirty linens and rinses his hands in the river. “I’m afraid so.”

“Pity.” And they both share a tentative, small smile.

“You know,” Jacob says, looking up at the steep incline where they had fallen with a whistle, “we probably should have died, a fall like that. But all I have are bruises.”

His heart skips a beat. He clears his throat, staring at the river intently. “I guess we’re lucky.”

Jacob glances at him. “Hmm, yeah maybe.”

Newt’s going to need to be more careful. This muggle seems particularly perceptive, and he would hate to have to Obliviate him when he’s only just starting to get to know this strange man.

 

****

 

They end up spending the night near the riverbank, a couple meters inside the tree line that grows parallel to the shore, both of them too tired to look for a better spot but neither denying the importance of some sort of cover. This is war after all. Newt clears away a little patch of grass at Jacob’s direction, and the muggle unearths some sort of oversized trowel from his pack and digs a small hole. Jacob starts a fire with some of the dry brush and sticks from around their little clearing and, upon noticing Newt’s looks of bewilderment, shows Newt how to coax small flames to life with only a knife and some mineral called flint. Once again, not as efficient as, say, an Incendio, but he’s finding that muggles, for all their differences to witches and wizards alike, are fairly innovative when it comes to going beyond their worldly limitations.

“We should probably try and get some of this dry," Jacob says, already unbuttoning his coat and stepping out of his sodden boots. Newt doesn’t realize he’s starring until Jacob gives him a curious look. “Is something wrong?”

Newt’s face flushes hot. He shakes his head and turns away to shrug out of the borrowed winter jacket. They strip down to their trousers and hang the waterlogged clothes on the low hanging branches of a tree, and while Jacob is fussing with the clothes placements, Newt carefully slides his wand up the inside of his pant leg. They prop their shoes near the fire, and Newt sits against a nearby tree, close enough to feel the warmth of the flames though it can’t completely starve off the evening chill. Newt avoids looking at the other man, awkward and uncomfortable with their state of dress (Jacob seems none the worse for it, swanning about their makeshift camp like it’s any other night. Though for him, perhaps it is), and after accidently catching a glimpse of a barrel chest and muscular arms, he buries his face into the crook of his propped up arms.

For some time, there’s just the noise of the river and Jacob. It’s too quiet. Newt can’t hear much in the way of animals, magical or otherwise. He hasn’t for the months he’s been out here. And isn’t that just entirely indicative of the state of things. There’s a closer rustling and the sound of plastic tearing, and when he chances to look up, Jacob drops a dry blanket over his shoulders.

“Good thing I haven’t had to use that yet, otherwise, we’d be shit out of luck.” All around their little camp, things are either set up to dry by the fire, hanging from trees, or cast aside into a pile of ruined rubbish. The unsalvageable, Newt thinks.

He feels like he should do something, return the sentiment, this man has saved his life twice now (there’s only one way he could have made it ashore without drowning, and it isn’t difficult to discern that he would be dead had Jacob not been there and conscious), and the blanket is fairly large, so he silently offers for Jacob to join him, lifting the one side and allowing himself to meet and hold his gaze. A minute passes, and he thinks the muggle might decline, the silence stretching for a moment too long for him to be comfortable with. His resolve wavers. Maybe he shouldn’t have offered? Is it too much? He’s not particularly comfortable with human contact (or maybe it’s that he craves it too much), and perhaps, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, all the small points of contact since they’ve met were only happenstance, unintentional. But Jacob does accept, finally, collapsing close enough that Newt can feel the heat emanating off of his body without actually making any sort of contact. The man’s like a furnace or something, a fire glowing hot and burning under his skin.

(He wishes he had one too.)

They share another bit of Jacob’s jerky ration, kept dry with the biscuits in a sealed tin, and pass the almost empty canteen back and forth. He'll need to make some minor adjustments to it when Jacob won’t notice, give it a small undetectable extension charm so he won’t have to use too much magic to get them drinkable water should they end up too far from a proper water source for the excuse. He could probably get away with duplicating the food too, if he’s careful. Who knows how long it’ll take them to get Jacob back to his allies now? He tugs a hand through the tangled mess of his hair, careful of the bandage, and stares into the flames, trying and failing miserably to ignore Jacob’s presence beside him. It’s a bit sad to think, but he hasn’t really been this close to someone since, well. Not intentionally, at least.

The back of his head still hurts, and he could very much go for a hot cup of tea, but at least he’s alive. The salve, at least, seems to have numbed the area somewhat.

“Hey.” And it’s soft and sleep tinged, the vowels slurring slightly, but Newt still jumps. He takes a deep breath. Calm down.

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

He doesn’t know how to respond, because what has he done, really, that deserves any sort of gratitude? His part with the dragon was lackluster at best, mostly spent fuming over her cruel treatment and being terrified out of his mind but determined to stay, and so far, the only thing he’s done that Jacob could feel gratitude for was Newt’s quick wand work earlier, easing their fall just enough that it didn’t feel like they were smashing through concrete when they hit the water. But Jacob couldn’t know Newt’s part in that.

Then what?

He can’t ask though. Not now. So, for the time being, he says, “And I thank you.”

Because even he knows that he owes this man his life, this peculiar muggle man, who, without a lick of magic in his veins and without knowing neither who Newt is nor the kind of power and influence his family has in the magical world, saved Newt. He doesn’t give muggles enough credit.

“Of course.”

And when the shorter man has finally drifted off, Newt carefully eases out from under the warmth of the blanket. After walking a few paces away from their makeshift camp, he draws his wand and quietly casts a series of barrier and protection spells, just in case, the cool air causing goose flesh to prickle on his bare arms and chest.

Upon his return, it quickly becomes apparent that sleep will not come easily for him. He slumps harder against the tree trunk they’re propped up against, pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders, and he forces his eyes closed, the fire flickering behind his eyelids.

Eventually, he must drift off, the night still and quiet around them.

Come morning, he desperately wishes he hadn't bothered. Surely staying up all night wouldn’t have left him feeling like this? His head is pounding, and there's cotton between his ears. His wound, at least, only hurts if he touches it. Small mercies. Jacob is still dead to the world, a solid line of heat along Newt’s side, all relaxed and even breaths, so he takes the opportunity to go back to the river to clean up, the light of the dawning sun revealing the crusted stains of blood and dirt all over his hands and arms. He grabs the soap dish Jacob had taken out of his pack with a flourish and permission to use at his leisure the night before on his way out.

He jams his wand into his back pocket and rolls up the legs of his trousers, stumbling far enough into the cold water that he can wash the gritty feeling of soot and dirt off his face without too much difficulty. He scrubs and scrubs at his hands and arms, lathering them over and over. Even after all the blood is visibly gone, he scrubs some more, mouth pinched. By the time he leaves the river, his skin feels raw and chilled and the thick cut bar of soap has diminished noticeably. He feels guilty for it, because how long will Jacob need to use this? Will he ever get his supplies replenished, or is he supposed to stick it out until the end with only the one bar of soap? But it was like he was a man possessed, stripping his skin over and over; he hadn’t been able to help it.

He duplicates the bar and seals the slabs together with a flick of his wand. There.

When he returns to their camp, he takes the opportunity to fix the canteen to his new specifications, filling it with a muttered Aguamenti because there’s no way he’s going back to that bloody river right now, and then replaces it back near Jacob’s pack. He’s curled up near the remains of the fire, fiddling with the leftover embers with a random stick he’s found when Jacob finally starts to awaken with a deep sigh and some incoherent grumbling.

Through the mess of his fringe, he watches the muggle stumble off to the river with the soap bar and congratulates himself when the man doesn’t seem to notice its modified, uneven shape. It’s not long before he returns, looking much more refreshed and clean and not at all conflicted like Newt had been.

“How does your head feel?” Jacob asks as he pulls out the jar of salve and the ration tin.

“Better?”

Jacob chuckles, sitting down beside him. The cut on his cheek has scabbed over in the night. He gives Newt the tin and raises an eyebrow. “Somehow I doubt that.”

Newt’s ears heat up and he picks at the lining of the tin, caught out.

“Well, we should probably look at your wound and get some food in you. Should help some?” he asks, and Newt knows he’s asking something else, that he’ll leave Newt alone if he gives any sort of indication, let Newt take care of his own wound if he wants, and that’s a nice thought.

“Okay.”

Jacob eases off the bandages, touch as easy as it had been before, while Newt nibbles at a biscuit, his stomach rolling slightly in discomfort. He’s not used to having someone touch him so much. He’s not sure what to do with the swelling feeling in his chest, so he does nothing. Something to contemplate another time.

“Doesn’t look too bad,” Jacob says, as if they’re talking about the weather and not a gaping wound on Newt’s head. He hums and applies a layer of salve and fresh bandages, and the stinging pain lessens somewhat.

“We’re not in a hurry, right?” Jacob asks, rinsing his hands off with the soap bar and water from the canteen.

“Not necessarily.” At Newt’s shrug, he digs a zippered bag out of the supply pile. “It shouldn’t take too long, it’s just I haven’t done it in so long. Haven’t had the time, for obvious reasons.”

He pulls out a tube, leather strip, and a blade.

Newt’s brows shoot up, a confused noise slipping from his throat.

“Oh, do they not have straight razors in England?” Jacob asks as he runs the sharp edge along the strap.

“You shave with it?” Newt fires back instead, wishing to move closer to get a better look, but unsure of his welcome.

And Jacob laughs. "I’d offer to let you use it, but it looks like you don't really need it," he says it cautiously and with a tone similar to the one he used the night before when he mocked Newt’s accent, only now, Newt is beginning to understand that the tone isn’t so much hostile mocking, rather, it is in fact…friendly teasing? Newt can’t remember the last time someone felt comfortable enough to tease him like that. Perhaps that one secretary he had for a couple months before she transferred to a different division?

Newt rubs somewhat self-consciously at the peach fuzz on his face, but a small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. It’s not his fault he can’t grow facial hair to save his life. None of the Scamander men seem able to, much to his father’s annoyance. That doesn’t stop Newt from watching interestedly as Jacob lathers his face with a thick cream from the tube and draws the blade along his cheek with the guidance of a small mirror he props against a tree. Each stroke is practiced, something well learnt, and after every one, he wipes the blade off on a cloth from the bag. He doesn’t even hesitate to drag the blade over where the cut on his cheek is. It's repetitive and soothing, almost, in a strange way, and Newt finds himself relaxing as he watches. When Jacob’s done, he rinses the blade with water and flicks it closed with a gesture that causes Newt’s heart to speed up, in fear or something else, he's not entirely sure. Who knows. He rinses his face and pats it dry with the sleeve of his shirt as he tugs it on, and it’s like he’s a whole different man from the stubbled, dirt covered warrior from yesterday.

It’s almost unbelievable what a little water, soap, and a shave can do for a person.

“Seems dry enough I suppose,” Jacob says as he checks over their other clothes, and it’s only then that Newt is finally able to tear his gaze away. The temperature is already getting warmer, and Newt wonders how Jacob can afford to wear so many thick layers the way he does. Newt prefers layers, they’re a nice physical barrier between him and everyone else, so the more the better, but he’s always been careful to accommodate the weather, choosing lighter things on hotter days and heavier things on colder ones. He’s beginning to see, as he buttons up his top and straps himself into his leather guards, the protective magic humming to life around him when everything’s properly sealed, with the time he’s spent out here and the people he’s seen, that sometimes that’s not even an option. You work with what you have and make the best of it. The layers probably provide some amount of protection themselves, too. Suddenly, he wants nothing more than to be similarly bundled, to force Jacob into a few more layers himself, to layer clothes and layer spells until neither of them could be physically hurt. They could use all the protection they can honestly get. He restrains the urge and slides his wand back into place in his sleeve.

A loud crack echoes around their little camp, a gunshot piercing the air, the loud roar of artillery quickly following at its heels.

They both jump.

“Bloody hell.”

“I’d have to agree with you there, pal.” They share similar looks of distaste, and Newt looks away with a gentle shake of his head. He hears Jacob sigh.

“We should probably try and get back up there.”

“Probably.”

They pack up their make shift camp, stamp out the left over embers of their fire, and begin the trek along the cliff face, keeping within the tree line for cover, but still close enough to just barely hear the river running beside them over the sounds of combat and gunfire. They walk for hours in relative silence only broken when Jacob can’t seem to contain himself anymore, asking after details for the stories Newt had given about England the day before and sharing memories of his own in return before falling silent once more. Jacob manages to wheedle out more than Newt had thought he wanted to share, about his old house, about his childhood, about his interest in animals and schooling (with the magical bits carefully cut out, of course), but Jacob seems to have that kind of presence, of acceptance and genuine interest that makes you want to talk about it. He learns a lot about Jacob through it too, like how he fell out of a tree when he was five, that his Polish grandmother (“My babcia,” Jacob says fondly) brought him up, that he attended an all-boys academy for several years, how he misses sweets and properly brewed coffee. Newt doesn’t understand how this man can be so free with such information about himself and yet still be such a bright and calm individual. How has someone not broken him yet?

But so they pick their way through the trees like this, fumbling through the French overgrowth as they attempt to find some sort of access back up the cliff. It has to drop down at some point, right? Or there needs to be a more muggle accessible place to climb it. Every couple hours or so, they take a much needed break for their throbbing feet or to help ease the grumbling of their stomachs, lounging against some stray boulder or tree. Occasionally, Newt takes the opportunity to "fill" the canteen to keep up appearances. Which is to say that Newt goes towards the river, out of Jacob’s sight, and makes sure the extension spell is still holding. They can be finicky things, extension charms, and don't always stick depending on the material it's being used on.

Sometimes, during their breaks, they lie prone on the ground.

The first time Jacob does this, dropping his pack on the ground before falling back himself with a groan, Newt is somewhat concerned. Has he collapsed? Does he need to revive him? Merlin’s beard, has he just dropped dead? And he’s stooping over to, what, check his pulse maybe, but then Jacob opens his eyes and pats the ground beside him. After a startled silence, Newt just goes with it. He's learning that it's easier to do that as far as Jacob is concerned, just as the man surely is learning to do the same with him and his eccentricities. They just lie there for a bit, listening to the rumble of the earth under the military assault, then they get up and keep walking.

The second time is a little different.

"That cloud looks like a rabbit," Jacob says out of the blue.

Newt glances at the muggle, threading his hands together on his stomach. Okay then. "That one looks like a mouse.” It actually looks more like a murtlap, but.

“That one’s a cat snarling at something, maybe the mouse?”

“The big one over there could be a nund—um, I mean, leopard?”

“There’s three, just by that tree branch, see? They look like a herd of elephants.”

Ah, what the hell. “Well, that one is a Cornish pixie."

"A Cornish pixie?"

"Yes."

After a short silence, Jacob asks, “And what is a Cornish pixie?"

And he loves creatures, beasts of all manner of origin and looks and walks of life, could talk all day about them given the chance, and he does so with great gesticulations and hand motions because how else will he get his points across? But he's found that when he does, when he lets himself just talk and explain without some sort of self-monitoring to keep himself reined in, his once rapt audience often goes glassy eyed and bored. Not everyone wants to know everything there is to know about the regional variances of plumage in griffins (because it’s not just color; it’s the very structure of the feathers, how many rows, how often they molt, etc.) or the differences in diet among mating gnomes.

Despite knowing this, or maybe in spite of it, Newt just can't help it.

"Well, in general, pixies are obnoxious little buggers who cause chaos wherever they go with their mischief. Not to be confused with fairies, which people often do— they may share an evolutionary ancestor, but they are by no means even in the same category of classification these days. Fairies are much more vain and humanoid, the pixie more insect like. Now, depending on what species of pixie, because there's the Cornish, the most common, and about six others known across the world, the level of damage expected to be wrecked changes by a statically significant amount as some species are more docile while others are more violent—" He abruptly bites back the rest of his explanation, his brain finally catching up with his mouth. His jaw clenches, and he taps his fingers tensely against his stomach, waiting for the inevitable let down, for Jacob to tell him that, yes, while that’s all very interesting and such, is it really necessary for you to ramble on like that? “Sorry.”

"Woah, buddy, you talk as if they're real." There’s a kind of awe in his voice as if he’s impressed. "What else do you know about them?"

And he's surprised, so much so he's almost speechless. There are few who would be interested to hear Newt’s extensive knowledge of magical beasts and such, let alone about pixies, and there are less that can fake the interest. Only one other person he’s met showed the same kind of interest, and hers ended up lying somewhat… perpendicular to his where creatures are concerned. But Jacob, Newt can tell, is genuinely interested. And he just, he doesn't know what to do with it except to just keep talking. 

"Oh. Um—" So, he tells him, listing the different species of pixie, the color variations, diets, and other differences, with the disclaimer that this is all based on "folklore," of course. And Jacob seems riveted, watching him intently, his mouth quirked. He even asks questions, to which Newt does his best to answer. Newt may know a lot about a lot of things, but so much of it is theoretical book knowledge he’s picked up or only supported by a few experiences he’s had, and so cannot be held as a fact applied to an entire species. It’s reminiscent of the day before (has it really only been a day?) when they were talking about their home countries. They easily waste the afternoon away, the chaos of the war happening right above them lost to Newt’s excited rambling and Jacob’s curious musings.

“I think that’s the most I’ve heard you talk.” Jacob grins, hefting his pack and gun back onto his shoulders.

Newt ducks his head, his face heating up. “Yes, well.”

They end up making camp around the same time the sounds of combat fade away for the evening. Newt clears a space for the shorter man to dig them out another pit, casting up another barrier for their evening out of sight under the excuse of gathering kindle for their fire. This time, Newt gets to try his hand at starting a fire by hand. It takes him a couple tries, a few muttered curses on his part, and more than a few entertained snorts from Jacob, but he eventually figures it out.

“Aha!” Newt says, holding the flint and knife aloft in triumph before he can restrain himself. But Jacob just laughs, his eyes crinkling into little half-moons as he claps, and Newt quirks a small smile of his own before looking away, letting himself have this moment without overthinking it too much.

A tree is decided upon by virtue of the fact that it’s close to their fire. The night air is leaning more towards the muggy heat side of the spectrum, so they forego the blanket this time. Newt’s not entirely sure if he’s relieved about this or not. They still end up side by side though, with just enough space between them for Newt to feel comfortable, but still able to allow himself to enjoy the company of someone who has, thus far, proven to be very kind and generous.

For Newt, rest comes easier that night.

 

****

 

They don’t notice it at first, but when Newt does, he stops walking and looks up at the cliff side. His brows furrow. He hears Jacob meander forward some ways through the brush before he seems to notice that Newt is no longer beside him and comes scurrying back towards him.

“Something wrong?” Jacob asks.

“I just—” He trails off, listening. “Is it just me, or has it been… quieter?”

“Quieter?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm.” Jacob tilts his head. “I think you’re right.”

The thunder of artillery and crack of gunshots are still very much present, but it’s softened, faded. It’s not as jarring. In fact, it’s the bird songs that are echoing through the trees that startles Newt more. It’s a reassuring noise, because for a little bit there, Newt was afraid all of the animals had been scared off from the area. But then he realizes this probably means they’re getting further away from where they’re supposed to be.

Bollocks.

Newt clambers through the tree line towards the river, Jacob sputtering behind him. He almost walks straight off a ledge into the river but manages to stop in time, the shoreline having disappeared somewhere over the course of their travels in favor of a small, crumbling drop off.

Jacob barrels right into him with a startled shout, and they’re going to fall in, again, and no, absolutely not—not this time. Newt throws his arms around Jacob’s middle and twists until they’re crashing back into a row of bushes instead of the river.

Newt moans, clenching his eyes closed against the dull throbbing of his head wound. Underneath him, he can feel Jacob’s chest rumble with a similarly pained groan. He squints his eyes open, takes in the sprawled position they’ve fallen into with some kind of stunned numbness, and immediately shoots up, feeling hot everywhere, his palms sweaty. Merlin, what is with this weather? He paws at the back of his head and looks up at the line of the cliff. It’s higher than it’s ever been, easily almost twice as high as where they fell into the river. The river itself has expanded several meters out, and Newt allows himself a moment to be impressed with nature, how a flooding river can carve land to its whims given time. Then irritation floods in. They’ve traveled for days, for miles with no end to this cliff in sight and no discernable incline to climb up. There’s no way in hell he’s walking back the way they came, and there’s no way they can keep going beside the river like this.

They’re going to end up in Luxembourg at this rate.

“Well, what should we do now?” Jacob asks.

So, they just pick a direction and go, Jacob seemingly calm as ever, rolling with the punches without too much fuss (and how in the world has he been able to keep so calm? Newt feels like he’s constantly unraveling at the seams—), away from the river and cliff and the noise of battle. Good riddance.

They make it maybe a couple hours out, and already Newt has seen more animal life, mostly of the non-magical variety, like birds and squirrels and on one occasion a badger, but he has seen a few magical creatures too. He almost stepped on the fleshy head of a bundimun. If it hadn’t been for the eyes, he would have thought it was just a colony of fungus (which, he understands, is sort of the evolutionary point of its looks). There’s an itch to stop, to study, but he suppresses it. They need to keep moving, need to get Jacob to safety. He also catches a glimpse of a Red Cap through the foliage, the small creature’s mouth pulled back in a pointy-toothed smile as it trudges in the direction they came from. Newt eases closer to Jacob, his hand on his wand, watching the splash of red disappear through the brush. They’ll need to be careful with things like that lurking here.

Blood and violence always calls to the darker beasts.

At some point, in the middle of trying to hack through a particularly thick curtain of branches, Jacob says offhandedly, "You know, I have no idea where we're going."

This surprises a laugh out of Newt, genuine and loud and utterly ridiculous, he hates his laugh so much, but he could have sworn Jacob knew what he was doing, where he was going this whole time, and he doesn’t after all, and this entire situation, from their first meeting to the cliff to roaming the French forests is just so utterly ludicrous, and it just hits Newt all at once. He covers his mouth with his hand in an attempt to contain himself, but Jacob at least looks pleased, like he’s happy that Newt laughed rather than get annoyed.

So, Newt digs through Jacob’s pack at his instruction and takes out a “compass” (which turns out to be quite handy. Why do they not use them in the wizarding world? Why have they not been using it this entire time?), and they wing it, apparently, heading southwest in the hopes they won’t run into anyone except their allies pushing ever forward.

They take a break some time later, one of those sitting and resting deals as the clouds are murky waves above their heads, not at all fluffy and full of possibilities.

"How old are you anyway?" Jacob asks around a mouthful of biscuit.

"Why?"

Jacob shrugs. Newt rolls his eyes.

"I'm twenty-one."

Jacob’s eyebrows shoot up, and he chokes a little, a strange slant to his mouth. He brushes the crumbs off his chest, takes a drink of water.

"What, Mr. Kowalski?" He asks, humoring him.

There’s a pause, then: "Well, Mr. Scamander, I had thought you were older than that, like thirty maybe."

Newt snorts and shakes his head. "And pray tell. How old are you?"

"Oh, now that's a secret."

A disbelieving laugh bursts from Newt’s chest. He seems to be doing that a lot recently, laughing. When he glances at Jacob the man looks almost troubled though, except it’s quickly concealed under a veneer of amusement. A weight drops heavy into his stomach. Is something wrong? He tries to thinks back to see if it was something he did, but he’s not sure. He hasn’t done anything really outside of his normal parameters, and Jacob has seemed fine with that thus far. But who knows. That sort of blindside has happened before, with people he thought were his friends at Hogwarts. Maybe that’s it? Maybe Jacob has finally realized that Newt is too strange to be friends with anymore? Are they even friends?

But that doesn’t seem like the Jacob he knows at all. Should he give him the benefit of the doubt?

Newt looks away, puts a thoughtful hand on his chin, tries to wave away the worry in his gut. "Well, I'd have put you close to nineteen."

Jacob’s laugh sounds slightly strangled. “Ah, not even close, I’m afraid.”

Newt frowns under the tangle of his fringe and stands up. “Well, we better be off then.” So, they begin their trek anew.

And for the rest of the day, Jacob seems to tread delicately, a little awkward, a little distant, more caught up in his thoughts than usual. In a change of roles, it’s Newt trying to gently coax him back out of his shell, an effort he finds taxing and would normally not even bother with (because if someone can’t be bothered with him, then why should he bother with them? But Jacob has bothered with him, has been doing so since the moment they met), but he considers it well worth the effort. Later that evening, after Newt has returned from “refilling” the canteen, Jacob says randomly, conciliatory and apologetic, “I'm twenty-seven, actually."

Newt tilts a half smile, thrusts the container into Jacob’s hands, and keeps walking forward.

They’ll be okay.

 

****

 

That night, when they’ve finally decided to stop and make camp, he decides it’s high time he tested his knowledge of the surrounding plant life.

It’s becoming readily apparent that the jerky and biscuits just aren’t going to cut it much longer. They've already eaten their way through about half the rations in the week they’ve been walking about, and it's not like it was keeping them full anyways, just enough to keep them from starving or keeling over from the hunger pangs. There’s only so long he’ll get away with a duplication charm on them, and he’s pretty sure that Jacob’s becoming suspicious if the long, wary looks he gives the ration tin are any indication, so.

(And that’s something he wonders about, the fact that Jacob has a gun and could easily shoot them something to eat, and yet he doesn’t. Sure, when there weren’t any animals around, when they were closer to the fighting, there really wasn’t much to catch in the way of food, but now that they’re far enough away, there are animals practically everywhere. Newt feels a little nauseated at the thought of using a gun to get them food, but he’d understand it. It’s not like witches and wizards don’t kill all manner of beasts and creatures for food and potions and medical cures besides.

It’s just another reason this muggle man is peculiar.)

"I'm going to go in search of food," he says, tugging at one of his leather straps. Jacob looks up hastily.

“You don’t have to do that.”

"Yes, I do.”

“Then let me come with you.”

“No, you stay here and finish setting up the camp. I'll be back soon,” he steels his voice, puts on a determined face.

"But Mr. Scamander—"

"Please, just let me do this," he says. Let me do this for you. You've done so much, let me do something I know I can do, let me return the favor.

He's quiet, holding Newt’s gaze. For once, he's the one to look away first. "Okay. Stay safe."

"I will." And once he reaches a certain point, far enough away from camp and Jacob’s muggle eyes, he does the protection and shield spells as is his habit before going in search of food.

That’s something he’s noticed he’s already struggling with, not using his magic, at least, not using it often. He keeps to the things he can get away with, the temporary barriers when they rest each night and filling the canteen. But he keeps catching himself reaching for his sleeve, for his wand, to do such menial tasks like cutting through foliage so they can keep moving forward or starting the fire for their camp (the flint and knife method is quite charming, at least). And sure, he could always just erase the man’s memories, but he’s beginning to greatly dislike the very idea of it. The longer he spends with Jacob, the more he gets to know him, the more he discovers that he actually just genuinely likes the man, to the point where just the idea of Obliviating him makes his stomach twist rebelliously.

And he's never been particularly close to a muggle before, he never really knew how to interact around the ones he’s met so far, what with such a huge secret, a huge part of himself, hidden away like that, but now he doesn’t think he could imagine his life without a muggle, without a Jacob, in it, in some capacity, even if it were just letters he received in the post every couple months.

But if he were to get caught, then that would be it. That’d be the end. He’d have to erase everything about himself from Jacob’s mind, because leaving even the vaguest hints of memories just leaves frayed holes for those memories to return. And if he didn’t, then he’d get hell from the Ministry and the MACUSA both and Jacob’d be Obliviated anyway. England may seem to be more progressive as far as muggles are concerned since witches and wizards can befriend and marry them, but the Ministry only gives permission for muggles to know if they’re spouses or immediate blood relatives. Otherwise, the secret must be kept at all costs.

He just—no, he’s not going to risk it.

It takes him a bit, his knowledge rusty with how long it’s been since he’s studied herbology or botany. For a few moments, he worries he may return with nothing at all. But what then? How is that in any way useful? He can’t return with nothing, but he also can’t be out here much longer. It’s already been almost an hour, and he doesn’t want to worry Jacob more than he likely already has. He also doesn’t want the man to come searching after him, likely getting lost in the process, and that just wouldn’t do. The sooner he gets back the better.

Luckily, he eventually catches a break and finds berries and plants he knows are edible and safe to eat; he also discovers a few that might be edible… or highly poisonous, though obviously, he won’t be taking any chances on those, can't risk accidentally killing his charge. Or himself.

He brings it all back in the folds of his shirt, proudly brandishing his catch for Jacob to look at.

"Ah, the great hero returns." Jacob sounds just as calm and carefree as normal, but Newt can see in the sag of his shoulders and the relief evident in his face that he was worried about Newt. Something pulls minutely in his chest. He quite dislikes worrying Jacob. He’ll want to try avoiding it as much as possible in the future, though of course, he also understands that it’s a perfectly natural consequence considering the environment they’re in.

"See? Nothing to worry about." And they eat their feast of berries and stems, saving the portions of jerky and biscuits for another time.

The next few weeks fall into a pretty predictable routine, the days blurring together until the only way Newt can be sure that time is even passing is because his charmed pocket watch tells him so.

Mornings tend to go a little something like this:

Newt gets up sometime after dawn breaks when the birds have started their lyrical calls. He’s content to stay against the tree for a little bit, listening to the songs and savoring the warmth and the company of the man still slumbering away beside him.

When he’s had his fill, or rather, forced himself to get moving because he feels, sometimes, like he can stay there like that forever, suspended in time, he carefully gets up so as not to disturb his companion and checks over their food provisions. He duplicates what he thinks he can get away with (which isn’t as much as he hopes. Jacob’s too damn perceptive for his own good), and keeps track of how much they have left of what he doesn’t. He fills the canteen if needed, careful to keep his back turned to shield his magic use. He only needs to refill it maybe once a day, twice if they decide to clean up a little bit, if they haven’t happened upon a stream or pond big enough to rinse off in recently. Once he’s done with that, he wakes Jacob up with a hand on his shoulder, easing away to start breaking down the camp when Jacob grumbles, “Yes, yes, I’m awake.”

Sometimes, if he’s feeling up to it or it’s a particularly chilly fall morning (because it is fall now, where has the time gone?), he’ll scavenge Jacob’s mess kit out from his pack and make up a sort of soup like substance using this and that from their rations, from the stash of berries and plants and roots he’s started gathering, the spices Jacob has in his pack, and a little water, heating it all up over the renewed fire. The first one he makes isn’t all that great. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. The first one is absolute shite, honestly, and he probably should have given up when the both of them had spent the morning choking it down so as not to waste anything. But he kind of likes the small, grateful smile Jacob gives him when he wakes up to Newt cooking, his chest feeling tight with… Anyway. He has days to perfect it, and he does get better, thanks to Jacob’s gentle guidance and Newt’s own experimental nature.

On the mornings he doesn’t bother, they make due with whatever they’ve got, eating as they pack up camp and stamp out the fire.

“Should be a nice day,” Jacob says, voice husky with sleep as he shaves the stubble off his face, the straight blade a beautiful instrument in his hands.

Shivers rush up Newt’s spine. “Yeah.”

Their afternoons hardly deviate from this:

They walk. They walk and they walk, and then they keep walking, and if sometimes Newt wishes for a broom or, Merlin, a dragon, or something so they don’t have to walk, it’s no one’s business but his own. From Jacob’s murmurings of cars and coaches, Newt thinks he feels the same way. Either way, he’s sure both of their blistered, burning feet would thank them for some reprieve. Unfortunately for their feet, they quickly agree that they should keep moving, hopefully towards help.

While they walk, they generally keep silent, save for the occasional sigh or grumbling or to warn the other to watch out for a branch or spider web. They leave the talking for their breaks.

And Newt finds himself talking more freely, more openly, as the days go by, now that he knows he won’t be so easily cast aside, and he gets to know this strange, endearing man that Jacob is turning out to be.

“So, what does this mean?” He asks, wiggling his fingers in the direction of the light blue trim on the shorter man’s coat.

“Oh, that? Means I’m in infantry, the 165th regiment specifically,” Jacob says.

“The 165th?”

“Yes. Along with everyone else from New York and the New England states.”

“But, so does that mean there’s one-hundred sixty-five regiments in the American military?”

“Um, no? I don’t think so?” His tone is amused.

“Really? Well, that’s misleading.” He thinks for a second. “Though, I suppose that could be to their advantage, if the enemy thinks it has at least one-hundred and sixty-five regiments to face in combat.”

“I guess.”

“Hmm. Do you like it in New York City?”

Jacob hums, thoughtful and uncaring of the sudden subject change. He’s pretty good at that. Considering Newt’s propensity to do it, because his brain works a bit faster, jumps ahead in bigger leaps than some people can follow, it works out. “Ultimately, yes.”

“Ultimately?”

“Well, there’s pros and cons of living anywhere, in my opinion. No where’s perfect. New York has its fair share of crime, of horrible, awful people. The weather can be absolute shit, and we get floods on occasion.” His mouth twists fondly. “But it’s the only place I’ve ever known, and it’s so full of life, but then again, I live right in the city, so. There’s just so many people, to meet, to get to know. And they’re almost all from different backgrounds from mine. Some came all the way from California to live there, others have just emigrated from a whole other country. It’s nice.”

Just the idea of all those people causes a small pool of anxiety in the pit of his stomach, but he likes the idea of it, the way Jacob sounds as he describes it all. The hustle and bustle, the duality of anonymity and individuality. Central Park sounds lovely. He thinks, seeing it through Jacob’s eyes, he could grow to like New York City too, if given the chance.

Jacob jostles his shoulder.

He must have asked a question. “Yes?”

“Do you like living in London?”

“Not really.”

Jacob looks surprised. “Why not?”

He idly pokes at one of the lingering bruises on his wrist. “The only thing I really find worthwhile about London are all the creatur—er animals I get to work with for my job. Though sadly, I don’t really get to work with them too often.”

Jacob’s quiet for a moment. “But isn’t your family in London?”

Newt shrugs.

If they pass by any fruit or plants that look edible, then they might grab some to munch on as they go, storing away the rest for later when they break for lunch or supper. On the warmer, humid days, those strange, last gasps of summer, they stop for a cooling dip if they happen upon a stream or lake. It’s a good time to give their clothes a good wash too, the sun drying them out in no time at all. And on the cooler days, they bundle up a bit more, Newt laying claim to that winter jacket Jacob had lent him that first night, pleasantly surprised every time when Jacob hands it to him without question or concern. As time passes, the temperatures start to stay more consistent, the cooler days happening more and more frequently, the forests starting to change around them, to turn color and go dormant, but that’s okay.

Newt’s gotten pretty good at covertly casting a warming charm.

Their evenings follow a pretty consistent pattern:

Once the sun has set, they set up camp, having fallen into their roles fairly easily and without complaint. Newt clears a small area for Jacob to dig them out a fire pit, and while he’s distracted with this, he secures the area with a handful of spells. By the time he returns, it’s usually just in time for him to gleefully light the fire. (He’s gotten the process to just under a minute, given he doesn’t mess something up, like light the surrounding grass on fire instead of the sticks. It’s a bit more difficult to aim with flint than a wand) They eat some conglomeration of their rations, which comes to include chestnuts, Jacob having tripped over a tree root of them earlier. It’s also the time to patch up their clothes, sewing closed the worn out holes in their socks, the tears where branches have caught their shirts and trousers with a handy little kit from Jacob’s pack.

If the clouds allow it, they do some stargazing, the moon hanging in varying states of thinness and heavy fullness in the sky, lying out on the ground like they do when they cloud watch, feet at opposite ends, their heads close together.

Turns out, Jacob is quite the expert on constellations, picking them out of the sky like there aren’t thousands of other stars to cause confusion or to mislead him. Newt, having been expelled before he had taken the required astrology course at Hogwarts, tilts his head closer to Jacob’s to try and see through his line of sight (too close sometimes, close enough to feel the strange skin prickling sensation when contact is just about to be made, heat flushing clear to the roots of his hair every time he takes notice of it. But he doesn’t move, and Newt finds himself caring less and less). Every night offers a whole new gambit of constellations to be found, new things to learn. It’s moments like these that Newt enjoys the most.

“And that one is Draco, see? Near Vega. Those four there are his head, also called the Lozenge,” he traces them with his fingers, “and you follow these three out and around, then these ones around again for his tail.”

“Do you know the mythology of it?”

Jacob chuckles wryly. “No, but I do know a thing or two about dragons. Like how they like to hoard treasure and steal beautiful princesses to guard in towers.”

Newt huffs, shaking his head. It never ceases to amaze him, the things muggles do and don’t get right when it comes to the magical creatures they somehow know exist, even if that existence is confined to fairytales and legends. “Well, you’ve got the hoarding characteristic right. Most dragons do hoard something, though what it hoards depends on the type. But I don’t know of too many dragons that steal princesses away.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me about them.” So he does, tracing the thread of the dragon’s classification through from the Common Welsh Green to the Antipodean Opaleye to the Peruvian Vipertooth. And it’s nice, that someone seems just as eager to teach and be taught as he is.

“And these are all just stories, of course,” he hastily tacks on at the end, biting the inside of his cheek.

“Haha, of course.”

If the clouds are not so agreeable and a chill hangs in the air, they sit quietly near the fire, Jacob’s heavy blanket wrapped around the both of them, listening to nature’s evening symphony.

"What are you going to do when the war is over?" Jacob asks one night as they’re getting ready for bed.

Newt pauses in stripping off his guards. "I suppose I should return to the job I temporarily vacated to do my part."

Jacob hums, but it doesn’t necessarily sound positive. More confused and disbelieving.

"What?" Newt asks, voice flat.

"I don't know. It just doesn't sound like you're looking forward to it, to going back to that job."

Newt blinks and tugs off the rest of his armor, pulling the winter coat back on when he’s finished. "What are you going to do, then?"

Jacob leans against their chosen tree for the evening, the blanket draped over his shoulders. "I'm gonna try and start a bakery."

"A bakery? Really?"

“Yeah. I love to bake, and it’s something my babcia had wanted to do, but didn’t have the chance,” he says and rubs fondly at the wrinkled scar on his wrist, the one that Newt noticed the day they met so long ago. “My babcia taught me everything I know.”

Newt takes his seat against the tree and under the blanket and studies him for a second, then he offers a small smile. “Your grandmother sounds like a brilliant woman.”

“Oh, she was.” Jacob laughs, his eyes going squint-y at the corners. “My babcia could make a pączki—that’s basically a donut?—like no one’s business. Best damn babka too.” And here he turns to Newt, his face bright. “And you know, she didn’t take any shit from anyone. She was this little old, Polish lady, but she was fierce as hell.”

The excited look on his face sort of collapses in on itself, folding into something more drawn and tired and quiet, and Newt knows Jacob’s grandmother had died some time ago, had known from the first time he mentioned her that they had been close, that she had been the only one Jacob really had growing up (which is hard for Newt to believe, because how could anyone not like Jacob?), the one he could confide in, his friend and his parent and his inspiration, that Jacob still misses her a great deal.

He can’t imagine having that sort of relationship with someone in his family. Not his perfect, can-do-no-wrong brother, Theseus, nor his distant father. Perhaps his mother? The only thing really holding them together is their similar looks and their mutual appreciation of hippogriffs, but her affection doesn’t really extend far beyond them while his never seems to end, even the darker creatures and beasts drawing his interest. As for his other relatives, he doesn’t really know them beyond the fact that they’re typical pureblood society, stuffy and concerned with status and certain kinds of standards (ones he doesn’t really fit, that he has to try very hard to meet) because they are either dead or because they’ve always been particularly distant, only really making contact if they want something or because they have to show up to some event or function his family is hosting or risk social suicide.

But even so, he understands what it’s like to have such a close connection severed so suddenly, however different his experience. So he does the only thing he can think to do and tentatively rests his hand over Jacob’s, his hot face turned away because he can only do so much to quell the nervous buzzing in his chest and looking at the man now won’t do him any favors. He doesn’t offer empty platitudes or false assurances, and they sit quietly for some time, the crackling of the fire and nature coming alive for the evening being the only thing they hear.

Jacob sighs. A tension Newt didn’t notice was there dissipates.

Eventually, he pats Jacob on the hand and pulls away, curling up under the blanket. “Good night.”

“Night.”

And he could have, should have left by now, it’s been weeks and there’s still no sign that they’re getting any closer and what’s one muggle lost in the wilderness? But he doesn't want to leave him behind, doesn’t want to jeopardize Jacob’s life even for a second. Jacob, who has been so kind to him, without reservation or expecting anything in return, who has taken his grandmother’s dream and made it his own because she was never able to fulfill it herself, who shares his rations and lets Newt play with the flint to make fire and listens to him ramble on and on about the magical creatures he loves. Jacob, who’s just so unapologetically himself, so open and easy to read (like he never learned to shield himself), no holding back— and Newt, who does hold himself back for good reason, for fear or pain of rejection, having felt its sting time and time again growing up, even at Hogwarts in a House that is known for its loyalty and kindness (just goes to show the whole House stereotyping is absolute bollocks), even after Hogwarts in his job at the Ministry, can’t help but feel drawn in by it.

(And how a man like Jacob was able to reach his age without becoming cynical and closed off is an amazing feat in and of itself).

He's just so calm and steady and solid, his hands always still and unshaking (even when they were in that hellish shell hole, in that chaotic and violent environment), it makes Newt want to grab him and hold on, to absorb some of that calmness because he’s so naturally restless, all movement and fidgeting, and with the stress of the war it's worse, his mind racing everywhere at once.

“You know,” Jacob mumbles, just on the verge of sleep, “this isn’t where I saw myself when I thought about my future.”

“I’m not sure many people would. I certainly didn’t,” Newt rasps back, suddenly overwhelmed.

There’s a pause, and Jacob’s quiet for a moment, almost timid in a way he hasn’t been since they met. Then, he hears him shake his head and breathe a soft something that could have been a laugh or a sigh. “This isn’t where I saw myself, but I’m sure glad you’re here.”

His heart swells in his chest—Merlin, what has happened to him—but he waits until Jacob has dropped off to say, “I’m glad you’re here too.”

 

****

 

And then, one day, everything changes.

 

****

 

The day starts off the same as the rest, though admittedly, they do get off to a bit of a late start. It’s not like they’re on any sort of schedule beyond “let’s try and get back to our allies before the end of the year,” but they definitely don’t have camp broken down until about mid-morning, having gotten caught up in discussing the differences between griffins, hippogriffs, and hippocampi. Maybe if they hadn’t, if they’d left closer to dawn as was their routine, they wouldn’t be in this situation now.

“But if hippocampi and hippogriffs are hybrid animals, why are they not classified under the same category as the griffin? I mean, at least in the hippogriffs case, what with it being half-bird like the griffin, wouldn’t it make more sense?”

Newt shrugs. “I don’t know, honestly. That’s just how it’s always been.”

“Ah, but how things have always been doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.”

“Well, you’re not wrong.” Newt snorts, pushing a particularly large branch out of his way.

The thing is, in all this time they’ve been traveling, they haven’t run into anyone. Not their allies. Not their enemies. Not even random people getting caught up in the fray, magical or otherwise. They’ve gone by a few small villages, but there never seemed to be anyone about, and they’ve mostly steered clear of going near them anyways, unsure of their welcome, unsure of whether they might hold hostile enemies or not. They didn’t want to take any chances. The closest they’ve come to anything even virtually human was the Red Cap Newt saw long ago. And so they’ve become complacent, less guarded, stuck in their own little world like there’s no one else, nothing else, to be worried about, like they’re on some sort of exotic vacation or something. They haven’t been looking out for themselves the way they should considering they’re currently in the middle of a war.

A war.

How could they forget?

Which is why, when Newt feels a tearing pain across his jaw, all he can do is gasp and freeze as a loud crack echoes through the trees.

With dawning horror, he brings a shaking hand up to where he can already feel blood dribbling down his throat. Distantly, he can tell he’s started hyperventilating, that his heart feels like it’s about to give out. The world’s tilting sideways. Jacob grabs him by the arm, and he thinks that he says something, but he can’t understand what’s being said, can only let himself be yanked along. Another shot resounds, followed by another and another, but they don’t stay to see where they hit.

Newt shakes his head violently, and everything comes rushing in. They run like hell, stumbling back from where they came, zig zagging through the trees where they can. Behind them, he can hear the foreign shouts of their pursuers as bullets whiz by them, ricocheting off trunks and into bushes. Newt dares to glance behind them and nearly face plants for his efforts, kept upright and steady only by the grace of Merlin and Jacob’s tight grip on his arm. But he had caught enough to see that they are beginning to lose them, their pursuers beginning to fallback further and further into the thicket. Except Newt can tell they’re slowing down too, Newt’s breath still difficult to keep in his lungs, Jacob weighed down by all of the gear he’s been outfitted with. The bullets are still coming, and he can hear Jacob grunt in pain, and Merlin’s fucking pants Jacob’s been hit, but he can’t look, they can’t afford to stop.

They both seem to notice the ditch running parallel beside them at the same time, overgrown grasses and weeds making it look as if it’s the same height as the rest of the land, with little red flowers that they had commented on as they’d walked past it earlier. They share a glance and grim looks before veering off the path and dropping down into the thick of it.

They land awkwardly in the tangle of grasses with twin cries of pain they’re both quick to cut off, Jacob a heavy weight over his side that smells of sweat and dirt. And at first, he thinks this might be an accident, that it was chance they had fallen like this, but one look at Jacob’s grimacing, determined face says it’s not, that the bloody fucking bastard’s trying to protect him, again—and it’s just. Fuck. No. He wiggles around, manhandling Jacob as best he can considering his position, until he can press their faces close and glares into Jacob’s eyes, grabbing his hand tightly in his own and clenching his burning jaw. Because fuck him if he’s going to try and be a martyr here. Newt’s not about to let him. He’ll sooner disapparate them out of there and deal with the consequences later than let this man die for him.

Absolutely not.

They tense rigid, their breath stopping, when the shouts and gun shots and rustling gets closer, closer, closer. Newt can already feel the tingle of his magic at the edges of his senses, agitated and waiting to be used. And despite everything, the imminent danger and possibility of death, Newt feels more safe than suffocated under the weight of this man, this man who is undoubtedly his friend, in the dark cover of the grass in a ditch. What has the world come to?

There’s a crashing by their heads, and Newt pulse is heavy in his throat, but the men keep going, charging past their hiding spot like a herd of stampeding graphorns, chasing after ghosts.

They lie there, frozen in disbelief for several moments. But the men don’t return, the noise of them fading off into the distance. They stay there a few minutes more, before tentatively easing out of the spot. Newt winces, blood returning into the arm that had been crushed under the shorter man.

Jacob draws a sharp intake of breath. It’s then that he remembers.

“Shit! You’re injured.” Newt starts trying to pat Jacob down, trying to find the wound so he knows how bad it is, so he knows if they have time to move or will he need to heal it or— but he’s hindered by the man himself, who is starring at him with wide eyes.

“What?” He asks irritably, because damn it if this man isn’t going to be the death of him.

“Your face.” Jacob winces, reaching up as if to touch his cheek but suddenly his leg gives out, and Newt is quick to grab him up, pulling the muggle’s arm around his shoulder and securing his own around the man’s waist.

“We need to get out of here. They could come back any minute,” he says, urgent.

Jacob nods, his face a gray mask of determination, but Newt can see the flicker of pain underneath it. Bollocks.

It’s a bit awkward, their heights being what they are, but they make it work. They hobble along as quickly as they can away from where the men had been and where they’d gone, Jacob limping alongside him.

“You should just leave me here— if they come back—”

“If they come back, I’ll hex them to hell,” Newt bites out harshly. “Leave you? Honestly, Jacob.”

He feels Jacob jerk in his grip, his surprise evident. He’s quiet, then: “That’s the first time you’ve said my name.”

And he blinks because, yes, it was. He’s been calling the man by his last name this whole time, for the past month, through so much, like somehow it would keep the man at a distance or something equally idiotic. What utter rubbish. How have they gone this long without rectifying this?

“Well, Jacob,” he says, hefting the man up better in his grip, “I think we’ve reached the point where it’s perfectly okay for you to call me by my first name, what with how many times you’ve saved my life. So, if it’s all the same for you?”

“Ah, of course!” Jacob heaves a strained laugh. “Newton.”

“Hm?”

“Oh, I was just trying it out.”

And Newt can’t help but snort and shake his head even though his jaw is starting to throb now that there isn’t any adrenaline in his system to keep the pain at bay. Bloody hell it hurts. “Just call me Newt.”

“Newt,” Jacob says like he’s tasting it, rolling it around in his mouth. Newt looks away, his own dried out. Must be another side effect from their harrowing experience. Jacob makes an appreciative sound and nods, a smile tugging at his mouth.

He huffs, but something warm glows in his chest. “Glad it has your seal of approval.”

They trudge along for a couple hours, until Newt can no longer ignore the pain in his face or the way Jacob’s gone white as a sheet.

“Here, sit here.” He directs him to a nearby rock outcrop, helping him sit down. Jacob winces but doesn’t seem too bad off. “It’s the left one right?”

Jacob nods, hissing through his teeth and slamming his fist against the rock as Newt kneels in front of him and begins the process of carefully peeling the line of his trousers away from his calf, the fabric sticking tacky and dry against the wound.

“I’m sorry,” Newt mutters, dragging a mindless, comforting hand along his other leg. It takes some time and a bit of water, but he eventually uncovers the faintly bleeding wound.

“How bad does it look?” Jacob asks through a clenched jaw.

“Well, it looks like you’re going to live.” Newt says as he looks at it, an echo from that night by the river, his blood shining on Jacob’s hands. It looks like something a little deeper than a graze, but it’s not life threatening. It may need stitches though.

Jacob must remember too because he bites out a laugh. “Pity.”

And for some reason this spurs them on, the both of them laughing until Newt’s sides are aching with it, his forehead pressed hard against Jacob’s knee. He feels like he’s seconds away from collapsing in on himself, like he’s going to burst or implode or both unless he does something.

“Ow, ow, fuck—” Jacob groans, probably straining his wound, and it’s just, Newt can’t—

He hauls himself up and throws his arms around this ridiculous, fucking man, and buries his face in his shoulder because who the hell does he think he is, going and getting injured like that? God damn it.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Jacob murmurs, petting him on the back.

It’s only then that Newt realizes he’s seconds away from crying, that his chest is heaving with it, but he’s quick to suppress it, to stamp it down. Now’s not the time. He breathes through it, focuses on the musky smell of the soap they use and the tang of sweat, until his chest doesn’t feel so tight, and then pulls away, rubbing a hand over his face and wincing when he accidently rubs over the wound along his jaw.

“You finish getting me fixed up,” Jacob says, his eyes suspiciously shiny, a half-smile on his face. He strokes a few fingers along Newt’s chin. “And then we’ll have a look at you, yeah?”

All Newt can do is sniff gamely and nod, moving to dig out the sewing kit Jacob has in his pack.

After that, they decide to be much more careful. They have to slow their pace down to accommodate Jacob’s leg, and they have to take a few more breaks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t tense and hyper aware of everything and anything that can possibly happen. They take what precautions they can, not talking nearly as much during the day, and when they do, they keep it low and quiet, all the while keeping their ears and eyes open for anything that could possibly be a danger to them. They made the mistake to not keep track of their surroundings once, they won’t be making it again. Not if Newt has any say.

Newt manages to sneak some magic in where he can, covertly casting a warning spell along with the shield he conjures each night so he’ll always know if someone is coming. He uses a modified version on himself that he has to recast every couple hours, the magic enabling him to sense if someone approaches them from about fifteen meters, give or take. Not even a couple days later, he feels it buzzing, and it allows Newt to steer them safely away in a different direction. He can't believe he hadn't thought to do it before. The only problem is that he won’t ever be sure if the people they’re walking away from is friend or foe, the spell only allowing him to know whether there is malicious intent in general or not (and honestly, in war, there’s a lot of malicious intent on both sides). But Newt refuses to take any chances for anything less than “friendly.”

He feels constantly on edge now. The only time he doesn’t is when they’ve made camp for the night, the barriers up and thrumming around them. They fall into a bit of a new routine to account for the care of their wounds, taking turns patching the other one up by the light of the fire or flashlight, depending on how safe they’re feeling that night.

“Ow!”

“You big baby.” Newt teases, voice low and quiet. He pours a little more water over the wound amid Jacob’s cursing and leans close to inspect it, keeping one hand on Jacob’s ankle to brace it, his thumb rubbing comforting circles in the skin there. The wound is raw and red, and the skin is pulling at the sutures he had so painstakingly sewn in, but it’s only a couple inches long and not very deep, and it stopped bleeding a week ago, a sort of scab forming over top. He applies some of the medical salve anyway, just in case. “No infection so far. Might be able to take the stitches out sooner than we thought.”

“Well, that’s good. Now, finish wrapping it so I can get a look at yours,” the shorter man says impatiently.

He looks up. “Mine is hardly that bad.”

And it isn’t. His is barely even a graze, the bullet only scratching a thin line along his jaw, taking a small chunk off below his ear. It didn’t even need stitches. It’s the bruise around it that Newt’s more concerned about, and that’s only because it hurts like fuck whenever he talks or smiles. That and the blood he can’t seem to scrub out of the collar of his shirt.

Jacob waves a flippant hand.

“Looks okay,” Jacob says when he finally does get his hands on him, one hand cradling Newt’s face still, the other lightly poking and prodding around the scratch. Merlin help him, the bruise hurts. “You’ll probably still get a scar though.”

“That’s okay.” His lips twitch, and he glances away. “Makes me look more rugged, yeah?”

Jacob laughs, short and soft. “Yeah, sure. That’s one word for it.”

(And on the days he’s feeling particularly tired, the strain of being constantly on high alert a tiring endeavor, he lets himself lean into the hand on his cheek, his eyes closed, trusting Jacob to keep him up, to keep him safe.

It’s nice.)

“Alright then, time for bed,” Jacob says with a pat on Newt’s shoulder.

It hadn’t taken him long to notice that he sleeps easiest when he’s pressed against Jacob’s side, their arms a comforting line of heat that works as an accessible point to ground himself should he wake up disoriented in the night. The first morning he’d awoken to the disappearance of that sliver of space between them, he’d stumbled up and away before his mind could catch up and had spent the next couple nights tense. But it kept happening anyway, Newt unconsciously drifting closer to the older man in his sleep, and the benefits of such proximity, Newt decides, outweighs any lingering discomfort Newt originally had with it.

These days, he doesn’t even wait until Jacob is asleep before he slides in close, sliding down whatever tree they’ve chosen for the night enough that he can rest his head against the man’s shoulder with a sigh and crinkled brow, a tiny part of him still waiting to be rejected, to be told to cut it out, that it’s not something a man his age should be doing, that a man should be doing at all. But Jacob doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. If anything, Jacob does his own rearranging to accommodate Newt, tilting his head against Newt’s and humming a “good night,” easy as that.

 

****

 

Considering Newt’s personal interest in science and discovery, though mostly in relation to creatures and beasts the world around, you’d think he’d have connected the dots together sooner. The evidence is all there, after all.

Though, to be fair, he’s always been simultaneously hyper aware and utterly oblivious where his own emotional welfare is concerned.

They're heading west now because it's been well over a month with little to show in the way of their allies since that first day (and more than enough to show of their enemies), and they're getting desperate. West is where everything started, where the Front is, and presumably where their allies will be. The forest has started thinning out as they’ve traveled, making way for hills and the occasional plain; they’ve run across a few barren, muddy roads too, though they try to avoid open space when they can.

And they're murmuring heatedly to each other, arguing whether pastries go best with tea or coffee, of which they both have vehement opinions. Apparently.

Neither of them can completely stifle their grins.

"Coffee is the bane of all existence."

"In sorry, you mispronounced tea."

"But with tea, you have so much more variety. You can choose the perfect tea to compliment your pastry."

"You're only saying that 'cause your English," Jacob says. "Will you spontaneously combust if you say anything bad about tea?"

"Yes," Newt responds flatly, his face blank. At Jacob's snort, he has to bite hard at the inside of his cheek to suppress the smile that wants to pull across his mouth. "And what about you?"

"What about me?"

"Are you only saying you prefer that abomination because you’re American?"

"Oh, well now, I can't have you insulting my favorite drink like that." Newt can hear the sarcasm in his tone, but that doesn't stop the muggle from bouncing his shoulder against Newt's hard enough to put him off balance but not enough to send him careening down the hill they're walking atop.

"Careful now, Mr. Kowalski. Do you know who you're dealing with?" And he jostles the man back, careful not to push him too hard so as not to strain his still healing wound.

His efforts go to waste when suddenly he trips, over a rock, over air, only Merlin knows, but he grabs Jacobs arm to try and steady himself, except all it does is bring Jacob down with him. The both of them slide and tumble down the hill with a mix of surprised shouts and discomforted expletives.

They eventually slide to a halt at the bottom near a crop of trees. There's a stunned pause, then:

"We really must stop meeting like this," Newt groans. Jacob responds with a wheezing chuckle, and just the sound of it causes a bolt of warmth to spread through his chest, makes him feel giddy, like he could run for kilometers without ever tiring. It reminds him of how he felt when he first started attending Hogwarts, the endless possibilities and magic, before people took notice of his introversion and eccentricities and decided he was only worth the effort when Quidditch season was heating up. It reminds him of how he feels whenever he's spending time with the creatures he works with in the Beast Division. There’s an easiness and simplicity there that he rarely finds within his own species.

It must mean something then, that he feels it now, here with Jacob. 

He can't help it, he starts laughing too.

The laughter fades, slow and gradual. He turns his head to look at Jacob, to say something appropriately witty that might send them laughing again (he quite likes making Jacob laugh, likes the way his eyes turn into little half-moons, how it’s full body and never fake), and it’s then that he notices how close their faces are.

And Jacob’s eyes are an undiscernible shade of brown, reminding him of the iridescent scales of a Norwegian Ridgeback or the speckled plumage of the English griffin, multifaceted and complex. There are flecks of gold, molten and warm. He peers in closer, until they’re almost nose to nose. There’s a sharp intake of breath, but it hardly registers. Further scrutiny reveals traces of something darker around the pupil, inky and bright. There’s just something about it…

Additional observation may be necessary.

And when he focuses back out, sees the surprised, flustered look on Jacob’s face, he knows. His heart flutters, his hands clammy with sweat. He can feel his cheeks getting redder by the second, burning as if he might spontaneously combust.

He cares about him.

But of course he cares about him, after everything they've been through, he'd be more surprised if he didn't. It's not like he's made of stone, despite what people at the office say, but it's the sheer depth and quality of the feeling that startles him. It’s some strange mix of happiness and possessiveness and protectiveness and an undercurrent of affection that he hasn’t really felt for another person in years, not since her, not since Leta years ago, but he feels it, all of it, strong and unyielding, for this man, this American muggle. It leaves him breathless—

But also completely and utterly terrified.

And immediately, he wants to put distance between them, for safety, to protect himself. He feels exposed, as if his insides have been laid bare, and he hates that because he has no control over it, running wild and rampant without any concern for his wellbeing, whether he even wants to care like this. He wouldn’t willingly choose to feel this. All the times he's found himself in this position in the past, though there are few, are times he's come to regret. Had he caught it before it could settle in and take root, perhaps he could have avoided all of the heartache and disappointment. But he’s never caught it before, and it seems he’s too late now.

He shoots up, clearing his throat and dusting off the lingering grass strands from his clothes. “Well. We better get going. Still have a long way to go.”

After that, he tries to back off. Newt keeps his attention directed elsewhere: the ground, the trees, anything that isn’t Jacob. He tamps down any urges to start conversations, and the few times Jacob tries to initiate, he only gives short, blunt responses until Jacob gets the hint and stops. He suppresses his natural inclination to ramble, and he doesn’t let his interest show when Jacob asks, “Did I tell you about the time my babcia got revenge against a girl that tried to get her kicked out of school?”

“I think you did,” Newt says, even though he’s very sure that Jacob has not.

“Oh.” He falls silent.

He won’t touch Jacob anymore either. And when they make camp for the night, he’ll go out of his way to pick another tree to sleep against, maybe try his hand at sleeping horizontal on the ground as far as he can get away with. That’s the plan, anyway, and for a little bit there, it works. Except he fails long before that first day is even finished. It’s more difficult than he expected, to rein himself back in when Jacob is someone he’s grown to trust. He never noticed before how much he talked to Jacob, how much he touched him without really noticing: gentle taps on the arm in silent askance that they stop for a break, fingers around the man’s wrist to get his attention and hold it, their shoulders brushing as they walk.

Just trying to restrain himself makes him utterly miserable. Even worse, he can tell Jacob is confused and hurt by the turn of events, and he hates that with an absolute passion. And he just can’t help himself out here, like this, just the two of them. They’ve been depending on each other to keep sane, to stay alive, for so long. Maybe if they weren’t in the French wilds… But they are.

It's useless to fight against it.

So, he gives up and doesn’t.

 

****

 

The thing is, even with magic warning Newt ahead of time that potentially dangerous people are in the area, even with all the precautions they take, not even they can account for everything. The weather, for one thing, can be wildly unpredictable. And so they find themselves in an old, dilapidated building they stumble across, soaked with the rain falling in sheets through the French countryside, a marked difference from the last few weeks of weakening sunlight and clouds. One of the walls is gone, and the roof is a sagging mess that threatens to collapse over their heads at any moment, but it’s the closest thing to shelter they’ve come across for hours that isn’t the ineffective cover of trees. There's the heavy smell of rotting wood and sour hay, made worse by the rain.

"I think it might have been a barn, once…?" Jacob says skeptically.

"In a past life maybe."

They make themselves at home, shrugging out of gear and packs and hanging them up on a few of the more secure looking struts to try and get them dry. Everything potentially flammable in the vicinity is old and wet, so there’s no real chance for a fire, but thankfully, the rain is more cool and refreshing rather than frigid. Definitely preferable to the permanent chill of London rain, Newt thinks as he settles against one of the remaining walls.

“This is a lot nicer than that time we fell a hundred feet into a river.”

“Yeah,” Newt says distractedly.

How much longer do they have out here? How are they going to get out of this? They've had so many close calls already, and their luck is bound to run out sometime. Even with magic at his disposal.

Shit.

There’s a restlessness running rampant in his veins, an agitation, he wants to pace, to find an outlet to get it all out, and he hasn't even noticed he’s been picking at the skin around his nails until they've already started to bleed. He bites his lip, thinks he should probably at least sop it up on his sleeve (the shirt’s already beyond saving, what’s a little more blood, a little more grime?), when Jacob grabs his hand, laces their fingers together, firm and solid, heedless of the blood. And Newt takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and just stops, for a little bit.

"Tell me again of your grandmother’s brilliant revenge plot?" He asks later, an apology and olive branch in one.

"Sure," Jacob says, cheerful but for the odd tenseness in his face. He's worried about Newt. It’s like he’s already forgotten the half-arsed stint Newt had attempted the day before. But it can’t be that easy, can it? People hold onto things, onto their prejudices, onto their grudges and the wrongs done against them as if they have a personal vendetta against forgiveness. Jacob has proven to be different in so many ways than Newt’s expectations. Surely, he fits the mold somewhat? The other shoe has to drop sometime.

And when it finally does, it's when Newt least expects it.

How it drops is even more startling.

They're back in the rough of it after a couple nights rest and escape from the rain in the ramshackle barn, back to camping out under the stars. They've started hearing the faint sounds of heavy artillery, heavy thumping noises looming off somewhere in the distance, and the wild life has already begun to dwindle save for the occasional red squirrel. Newt saw another Red Cap, this time heading in the same direction as them. Hopefully, this means they're finally on the right track. 

It only took them almost two months to do so, Newt thinks exasperatedly.

And they're sitting by the fire, the both of them stripped down to loose shirts and trousers and coats, relaxed and laughing at some story Jacob was telling about a neighbor and her dumb, freakishly happy dog. Except how Jacob’s laughter suddenly gives out. Newt looks at him, at the wistful, determined look on his face, and raises an eyebrow.

"Ah, hell," Jacob mutters before wrapping a hand around his neck and dragging him down for a kiss, gentle and completely at odds with the war still happening nearby, the war they’re steadily but surely returning to. 

Something in Newt’s brain must short circuit, all thought ceasing, wiped blank save for a strange, incessant buzzing, because he sits there frozen stiff for a moment. And right when he finally wrestles back control of his limbs and moves to—to do something, reciprocate maybe, Jacob is already pulling back, red faced and stuttering, “Oh, God. I’m so sorry—”

“No!” Newt grabs at the man’s coat to keep him in place, to keep him close, flustered. Something pulls in his chest. His pulse in thrumming in his veins. “Did you mean it?”

“I—what?”

“Did you mean it?” He asks again, makes sure to enunciate the words clearly and everything, because if he didn’t mean it, it could ruin him, because if he didn’t, why would he have bothered in the first place? Would it be some kind of trick? Has Jacob been some sort of weird, muggle spy this whole time? And if he did mean it—Merlin, he never thought in a million years that he could actually have this. Surely, he isn’t this lucky? He’s been so fortunate already between not dying from bombs and cliff falls and the enemy shooting directly at them. To have met Jacob to begin with. Something awful has to happen. The natural balance of things needs to be restored.

But not yet. Merlin, not now.

“I—” And he sighs, his shoulders sagging as he looks away, a twist to his mouth. “Of course I did.”

Newt stares at him for an endless second, because this is really happening, this is actually really happening, and he just can’t fucking believe it, before muttering, “Oh, fuck it.” And he pulls him back in with the hands in his coat, sealing their mouths together again with only a little awkward fumbling.

This time it’s sweet and soft, definitely better than that first attempt, their mouths slanting together, easy like puzzle pieces. The both of them are quick to melt into it, into each other, pressing in close as if they’ve been waiting years for this moment. And maybe, in some ways, they sort of have been. Waiting that is. Newt’s been waiting an eternity for someone like Jacob, someone so genuinely kind and generous and accepting, to appear in his life.

He’d almost given up hope.

One of them sighs, though he’s unsure who. It’s easy to tell that neither of them have much in the way of experience, with kissing in general or with men in particular, Newt’s not sure, but they make due, their eagerness more than making up for any split second hesitations as mouths part and lips drag slowly. Newt somehow manages to unclench his hands from Jacob’s jacket, settling instead for wrapping his arms tight around the man’s neck, enjoying the pressure of Jacob’s hands stroking along his hips. It can be difficult to kiss someone when you’re both grinning though, so Newt pulls away and nuzzles his face into the crook of Jacob’s neck, his cheeks hurting from how hard he’s smiling.

If this is how he feels after only a short kiss, how can Newt be sure he won’t spontaneously combust should they kiss again, should they take it further? He’s absolutely, painfully lost for this man.

He’s fucked.

But, he’s never been happier, honestly. For now. Hopefully for longer.

“Is this really happening?” Jacob mumbles.

“Merlin, I hope so,” Newt says, voice low.

He feels Jacob shift around, and then there’s a hand cupping the back of his skull, fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of his neck, tugging lightly. “Hey, hey, you should come back here.”

So, he does.

 

****

 

They adjust to the change in their relationship fairly easily, their routine shifting to accommodate all the ways they want to touch and talk and lose themselves in each other now that they’re allowed to, a fact of which Newt is concerned about. Nothing in his life has ever been easy, except for maybe during those initial years where the only thing he really had to worry about was whether mummy found out he was dissecting dead horklumps in his room again. But this… thing with Jacob is easy.

He wonders how long it’ll last. He tries not to let himself think about it too hard or look at it all too closely.

Now, their mornings go a little like this: 

Newt jerks awake when the artillery starts echoing through the countryside sometime after dawn. Underneath his head, he feels it when Jacob jolts awake, the way the man instinctively tightens his grip around his shoulders for a second before he must realize what's going on. He loosens it again with a sigh. When another thump of artillery goes off a few minutes later, Newt smushes his face into Jacob’s chest with a groan, pulling the blanket tighter around himself. He doesn’t want to move.

"I feel you there, buddy." Jacob rubs his arm.

He has to muster the motivation to get up and untangle himself from Jacob and the warmth of their little blanket cocoon, the temperatures having cooled down significantly since when they first started their journey, but when he does, he does so quickly, because otherwise he won't move for a good long while.

Their mornings have lost that edge of urgency they originally felt, that need to keep moving, and tend to be a little more on the lazy and slow side. They haven't stopped moving forward exactly, and the further west they get, the louder the noise of combat gets, and this should all be a good sign, but part of Newt doesn't want this to end. He almost doesn't want them to actually make it back to the Front where things will change. Of this, he has no doubt.

Eventually, they get around and eat from their rations, talking in quiet mumbles about this or that, their shoulders brushing. Newt has since expanded his camp cooking repertoire to include something Jacob calls a “free for all,” which is mostly just him heating up whatever they want to eat in the pan. The only times he messes that up and burns something is when Jacob is being particularly… distracting.

On the mornings Jacob decides to shave, Newt finally lets his curiosity get the better of him, lets himself crowd in close to Jacob’s space and watch him intently.

"Make a man nervous looking at him like that." Jacob laughs somewhat shakily, but his hand is steady as he drags the blade across his cheek.

"Do you want me to stop?" Because he will if Jacob tells him too. Jacob's already given him so much.

"Of course not." Jacob flushes, but he looks fond. "I like it when you look at me."

Newt ducks his head, hiding his smile.

And when he’s all done, wiped the blade down and patted his face dry, Newt can hold his face in his hands, turn his head this way and that to look his fill, run his fingers over the smooth cut of his jaw. Jacob doesn’t seem to mind the manhandling, his body relaxed, his hands stroking along Newt’s sides. It tickles, a little.

“Missed a spot,” Newt mutters, his thumb rubbing over it, the prickle an odd sensation compared to the rest of his skin.

“I’m not surprised. I have to skip a lot of steps out here.”

He tilts his head to the side, forehead wrinkling. “There’s more to it than all this?”

"When we finally get out of here, I'll show you how to do it sometime. The right way." Jacob says, running his fingers along the scar on his jaw. He does that a lot, talk about “after.” It makes something expand in his chest, affection and hope and fear clashing uneasily in his stomach. He’ll believe it when he sees it, but he can’t help but think it might actually happen, this after.

Their afternoons don’t really change too much from the norm:

They still take their occasional breaks, keeping them fairly short and succinct for the most part now that Jacob has healed up enough. They do allow for a long one around high noon, laying out like how they did at the start, watching the clouds and relaxing when the weather permits it. Newt does let himself ask more intimate things now though, things he’s wondered about for weeks, things he worried would be too weird to ask before. He does try to limit it to one question per break though, so as not to overwhelm the man.

Which is why he takes the opportunity to finally ask Jacob about why he never uses his gun. It’s just been this heavy weight Jacob has been lugging around this whole time, never once fired, even when they were in danger. He’s seen the wary looks Jacob has given the weapon, and from what he knows of the logistics of such a thing, Newt can certainly understand the sentiment. But he’s still curious. He wants to know Jacob’s reasoning, if he has any reasoning at all. Maybe he’s a pacifist. Maybe he doesn’t actually know how to use it.

Newt can feel Jacob tense slightly from where Jacob's head is pillowed on Newt's stomach, and for a second he regrets even bringing it up. But then Jacob relaxes again, almost forcefully.

"I knew some guys in the army, the kind of people who used their guns all the time, for little to no reason, without any thought or consideration. That's just not who I am." His lips thin and his brow furrows. "I figure if I really need to use it, I will. And I have, a few times. But until that moment comes again, I won't."

Newt considers this, the implications of such a statement. That there are people out there who don’t take war as seriously as some, that would misuse their weapons because they can with little reason otherwise. That Jacob might not have come out here of his own volition, or maybe he had, but he didn’t realize what it would actually entail. Or maybe he did, and like Newt, he just came out here to help people. It all reminds him a great deal of the wizarding world. Whatever magical beings say of the muggles, the condemnation for this war, the fear and anger at them for dragging so many people into it, Newt thinks the magical world can be just as guilty, be held just as accountable for the wars they’ve had that bled over into the muggle realm in the past. It’s only happened a couple times, but it’s happened all the same. And there are certainly witches and wizards that would misuse their magic for darker purposes, to hurt, to shame, to bully, to kill. Newt’s met a few of them.

"That's quite noble of you,” he finally says softly.

Jacob shrugs.

Sometimes, he can’t help himself though.

“Why were you acting so strange, ages ago?”

“Strange?”

“Yes. It was when you asked me about my age.” Newt shifts slightly, uncomfortable. He has no problem confronting people when necessary, with hexes if needed, but this feels less like a confrontation and more like making himself vulnerable.

“Oh, that.” Jacob cringes, his face turning red.

Newt, because he can’t leave anything well enough alone, because he can be reckless and curious and that can be a very dangerous combination, has gotten him into trouble on countless occasions, has almost gotten him killed (see him joining in the war effort), strokes his fingers over the man’s cheek. “Are you embarrassed?”

Jacob’s laugh is a little choked, and he moves his head away from Newt’s hand, sitting up. Newt sits up too. Merlin, maybe this is worse than he thought.

Jacob’s quiet for a second, long enough that Newt is considering back tracking. He could just laugh it off? Or change the subject? But this sort of bothers him.

“It’s just—” Jacob cuts himself off and huffs a frustrated laugh, scrubbing a hand over his face. But he turns to look at him, placing a steadying hand on his knee. “Okay, so. I was maybe a little worried about your age.”

“My age?” Newt asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah.” Jacob clears his throat, pulls at his collar. Newt’s never seen him blush like that. It makes his hands itch, to touch, to explore and observe, but he clenches them into fists, staves off the urge. “I just—I had just figured out that I, well, like you,” and here he rolls his eyes like he’s exasperated at himself, “and when I found out that you were so young, I was worried I might come off as… creepy,” he finishes lamely.

Newt snorts, and then he laughs, relieved, because Merlin’s pants, was this really what he was worried about this whole time? What a silly, ridiculous man!

“What? It’s a very real concern! You haven’t exactly experienced the world if you’re twenty-one.”

“Oh, Jacob.” He grabs the man by his face, his thumbs fitting into the natural holds at his jaw, and gently shakes his head a little bit. “My age is the least of your concerns.”

Jacob pauses, stares at Newt incredulously like he can’t believe this is happening. Frankly, Newt can’t either, but it’s better to air these things out before they have time to fester into something awful. “What?”

“We’re at war, and I’ve already seen more of the world than you have. Remember?” He jostles Jacob’s head again to emphasize his point, releasing it with a roll of his eyes. “Besides, it’s very likely that I’ll live longer than you. So, if anything, it should be me worrying about your age.”

“What makes you say that?” Jacob asks, curious.

Newt waves his hand dismissively. Better not get into the physiological differences between muggles and magical beings. And then he catches on to what else Jacob had said. “Wait, you mean to say you’ve known since then that you—” It’s his turn to blush. Agh. He waves his hand again, hoping it will encompass “feelings” and everything contained therein. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Jacob shrugs. “I wasn’t even sure if you were that way inclined, or if you’d run off in disgust if I even mentioned anything.”

Oh yes, that’s right. Homosexuality isn’t exactly celebrated in the muggle world. Not to say it is in the wizarding world either, but it certainly isn’t as badly stigmatized. His great aunt on his mum’s side was formally bonded to another woman for years before her death, and they were both pureblood. They weren’t the heirs to their family names or anything though, and the marriage was arranged in order to tie two powerfully influential families, so that probably had a hand in its acceptance. But still. “For how long did you know?”

“Oh man, I knew when I first saw you that you’d be trouble.” Jacob shakes his head, but his smile is fond.

What?

“Since the beginning?” He asks, disbelief in his tone.

“Sure.” Jacob pauses, takes in the skepticism on his face. “You do know what you look like, right?”

“Freckles? I mean, I guess my hair’s alright.” He runs a self-conscious hand through his curls.

“Your freckles are pretty great.” Jacob runs an idle finger along the bridge of Newt’s nose. “They’re like stars, almost. Could pick out constellations if I tried, if you’d let me.”

“What—”

“And your hair is messy and wonderful, though it would probably be better if we had proper bathing supplies,” he teases, tugging lightly on his fringe. “But I’d have to say, you’ve got a pretty nice mouth—” and here he presses a short kiss.

“Oh, well—”

“And God, your cheekbones, man.” Jacob continues over him, brushing his palms over them, cupping his face. “I don’t know, but they’re pretty intense. Your eyes are amazing too.”

“I—”

“But, you know, it’s not just your looks that I like,” Jacob says.

Newt stares wordlessly at him, his eyes wide. His breath catches, something lodges in his throat. He just. What does this man think he’s doing?

“I really like how passionate you are about folklore, about all those magical creatures and beasts you’ve told me about. I like how you ramble on about things you know of, but will listen like your life depends on it if it’s something you’ve never heard of before. I like how curious you are, how you seem to want to know how things work and fit together. How kind and protective and smart you are.” Jacob’s face softens immeasurably, a wry half smile on his face. “You’re really kind of amazing, you know that, right? I have no idea why someone like you would even give a fella like me a second look.”

And Newt just— he can’t. He’s overwhelmed. His ears are ringing, his face feels like it’s on fire, like it’ll never be pale again, and his heart is bursting in his chest like an erumpent setting off explosions, like the artillery of muggle warfare. He wants to scream and hit something and hug Jacob close, hold onto him forever. He wants to return the favor, to tell Jacob everything he likes about him, but something in him flinches away a little, tender and nervous and not quite ready yet, but soon. He will. But not now, not when he feels like this. So he does the only things he can and buries his face into his palms and tries to breathe through it all.

“Too much?” Jacob asks quietly, moving to pull away, to give him space, maybe, but no—no—

“No—no, I just—” He looks back up, feeling wounded and dug out and full all at once. “Jacob—come here, damn it.” And Jacob does.

It’s some time before they surface.

("So when did you realize?" Jacob asks later, picking up the thread of their conversation from a couple days ago as they make their way through a particularly stubborn patch of foliage.

"Oh, um." He looks away, bites at the frayed edge of his thumb. "It was around the same time you got shot in the leg."

"Huh." A pause, then a playful, tentative: "So, that's why you got all weird."

Newt nods and only startles a little when Jacob suddenly grasps his hand in his own, guiding the both of them through the brush.

"Well, I guess the moral of the story is both of us are overthinking idiots."

Newt flushes, but he can’t help but snort. "Speak for yourself, you tosser.")

Their nights are probably the thing that changes the most: 

Kissing Jacob is like being crushed under a wave and breathing at the same time, terrifying and easy, or maybe terrifyingly easy?

All he knows is he's happy to drown.

Newt pushes in closer, sprawling half way in to Jacob's lap, his body sinking forward into the heat of him. The cool night air causes goose flesh to pimple on the skin of his bare back. He melts into the hands running up and down his ribs, making appreciative noises when fingers dig in and grasp at him, like he's the only thing keeping Jacob tethered, keeping him from drifting away. He clenches one of his own in Jacob’s open shirt, the cloth becoming twisted and wrinkled under his grip. The other is holding Jacob’s face still as he licks into his mouth, an exploring endeavor he could easily spend hours on, mapping out the shape of tooth, the ridge of his pallet. It's a bit difficult, because he keeps getting distracted by the feeling of Jacob’s tongue doing weirdly erotic things in his own mouth, but this is probably the one time he doesn't mind, welcomes it even. Means he can start his exploration all over again, and again.

The mustache and stubble thing is a little different and something he's had to get used to, the way it tickles his upper lip when he tentatively pulls the bottom of Jacob’s between his teeth and tugs lightly, doing it again just to feel the rumbling moan in his chest. The way it leaves raw marks on his skin when Jacob presses dragging, open mouth kisses to his neck, to his chest (he likes to press down on the marks when he's feeling particularly edgy, and that restless feeling eases away, for a little bit). And he's more used to soft, to curvy (though not by much, all things considered) but he finds he quite likes this too, the hard angles and solid planes of Jacob’s chest giving easily under Newt’s touch when he lets himself explore a little, yanking cloth away to get at warm skin. 

Jacob moves to cup his face in one hand, his thumb caressing over the scar there (he does that a lot, Newt has noticed, and it makes him want to preen a bit, under that affectionate gaze), before tangling in his hair at the base of his skull and pulling gently. It makes him gasp, the pain and the pleasure an overwhelming mixture, and he tilts his head back into that hand to entice Jacob into moving to his neck. And he does, biting at the line of his throat, nipping at the edge of his jaw. Newt moans when he gets to that one spot he didn’t even know was an erogenous zone, which seems to please Jacob to no end, considering the smile he can feel pressed against his skin.

Everywhere Jacob touches him is on fire, he’s burning with it, with the contact, with the want he can see on the man’s face, that he knows is on his own, and where Jacob doesn’t is cold. And Newt does so loath the cold.

Days turn into weeks, blurring together until the only clear thing besides their general survival is Jacob, Jacob, Jacob.

It’s just—Newt wants to take up residence in his body, the feeling all-consuming and all-encompassing, to move in behind his ribs, crawl into his veins and nerves and just never leave. And he’s never felt this before, at least not this strongly, not this strange almost obsessive need, to touch, to taste, to keep for himself.

"I know what I want," Jacob says quietly, fingers pausing at the line of Newt’s trousers. "Do you?"

“Merlin,” Newt breathes. “Of course I do.”

He doesn’t think he’s had to deal with so many buttons and belts before in his life and he grew up in a pureblood household where the dress robes he’s been forced into have more buttons and straps and bindings than stitches sometimes. And they’re both still horrendously inexperienced in all the ways that should matter here, now, but between the two of them, they make it work. They figure things out with hands and tongues and mouths and teeth, laughing when one of them stumble and pressing kisses of encouragement into whatever skin they can reach, the both of them eager and frantic, curses muffled into skin, fingers chasing the flickering light of their camp fire over naked skin, until they finally find a rhythm that drives the both of them mad.

All he knows, as he settles heavy into Jacob’s side, the both of them sweaty and heaving but smiling as if they’re the only two people in the world, more than warm enough even in the fall evening chill, is that the only times Jacob’s hands shake are when they do things like this. Newt likes experimenting with that, with what he can do to make that unshakable force tremble beneath his hands. It’s a powerful, delightful feeling. His whole body thrums with it. 

It’s addicting.

He can’t get enough.

He doesn't want it to end.

 

****

 

But it does.

 

****

 

“We’re almost there!” Jacob says, his voice barely heard over the sound of artillery and explosions and gunshots and screaming, so much screaming. Newt nods grimly and grips Jacob’s hand tighter in his own, trying to ignore the pungent stink of death and blood and rot. He gets a reassuring squeeze and a thin smile in return, but it doesn’t do much to ease the ache of anxiety strung tight in his chest.

They’d finally found their allies. It’s been over two months, and they’ve finally done it, the increasing sounds of warfare their guide out of the French countryside and right into the thick of things. They’d luckily managed to come out behind them rather than between the two opposing sides, ducking through the lines of trenches and diving into old shell holes for cover. They’ve passed most of the supply trucks and medical tents, but Jacob seems to be looking for something or someone specific, leading the both of them further into the fray of dirty, bleeding soldiers with drawn eyes and hollow faces. They stumble a couple times, tripping over dead bodies and body parts and rats and frantic, moving soldiers, slipping in mud and blood and all manner of filth. A particularly over shot shell lands close by enough that they nearly get knocked over from the blast wave, barely able to stay upright and moving.

And Newt’s got no idea what to do now. He’d never really let himself think about what he was going to do once Jacob had been returned to his people beyond that time months ago, back before… well, before. He can’t just find a safe place and disapparate away, alone. Not now. Not after everything. Just thinking about it feels inherently wrong and awful, an attack against himself. No, he can’t do that. But he can’t stand the idea of both of them staying here much longer, in harm’s way. They’ve given so much already for this war, this war that they hadn’t started. Why should they have to give more?

Maybe he could convince Jacob to turn around now? Return to the French wilds, disappear off the map. Avoid all of this before it’s too late?

“I see it!”

But Newt doesn’t get the chance to ask what he sees, what he’s been after. Another shell tears through the walls of the trench they’re running through, lodging itself right beside them in an explosion of dirt. The force of the wave throws them clear off their feet. It’s like when they first met, Newt thinks blearily, his ears ringing. There’s the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. His arm hurts like fuck. He glances down at it, notes the weird angle it’s twisted into in some distant part of his brain that isn’t in shock, and let’s his head fall back to the ground. At least he can’t really feel anything. A familiar groan of pain stops him from letting himself be pulled into the darkness edging in around his vision.

With effort and more than a little nausea, he pushes himself up with one arm, the other braced against his side so as not to jostle it more than he has to, the rational side of his brain screaming at him to get up, get up now, damn it, you have to get to him! A quick look around shows more than a few fresh corpses and crying, injured men. But where is—

Jacob’s landed in a crumpled heap several meters away. He crawls uneasily toward him, heedless of everything, the dead, the severed body parts, the blood and vermin scattering about. At first glance, he appears uninjured save for some cuts on his pained face, but then Newt sees it and his heart stutters painfully.

There’s a large shard of shrapnel lodged deep in his shoulder. Blood is already gushing out around the metal, soaking his once drab uniform through into a murky red and pooling on the ground, little rushing rivers.

Fuck.

Fuck fuck fuck.

No, not Jacob.

Not him.

Bloody fucking hell.

“Jacob—” Newt tries to say, but his voice breaks and cuts out. There’s a fist closed tight around his lungs. He tries again and again, palming the man’s cheek with his good hand until he finally opens his eyes. Thank fucking Merlin. “Jacob—”

Jacob’s eyes are having trouble focusing, his breathing’s gone short and frantic. Newt makes a wounded noise when his eyes fall closed again and grasps him more firmly on the face, shaking him, slapping him. That’s it, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what the consequences will be. He’s getting them the fuck out of there.

With a pained hissing, Jacob finally opens his eyes again. “Oh, fuck me.”

"Do you trust me?" Newt demands, frantic. He starts trying to pull Jacob into a better position. Cross continental apparition is highly discouraged, but Newt's found it's more about the distance traveled that increases the statistical likelihood of splinching, not the crossing of borders. So wherever the hell they are in France to London? No problem. The only issue he can foresee is that side-along apparition isn’t his strong suit, but he’ll make it fucking work. There’s no way in hell he’s going to try and lug Jacob to some dingy, dirty tent for medical care, not with this broken arm. Not when he’s got magic. Not while he’s got breath in his body.

"Of course," Jacob says thinly, his face pale, his hands shaking.

He disapparates them the hell out of there, doesn’t care that he’s being reckless, the pull behind his bellybutton hardly noticed under the heavy weight of concern in his chest.

They crash to the floor of his room, the one he had before he was expelled from Hogwarts, the one he returned to after he took the job at the Ministry (a room he’s “lucky to have,” according to his father). Jacob’s stiff as a board in Newt’s arms, but he doesn’t appear to be splinched or harmed further. Newt ignores his slurred curse and the thump in a nearby room, just draws his wand from its protective sheath, which had thankfully escaped unscathed. With a few flicks and muttered words, the bed is prepped. He binds up his broken arm into something a little more functional, carefully gets Jacob situated and stripped to the waist, and casts a clinical field and a few monitoring charms. He may not be a trained Healer, but he’s taken care of enough of his own wounds, enough injuries on all sorts of creatures and beasts from all over the world, to have some idea of how to treat Jacob. It’s a flesh wound.

How hard can it be?

“Master Newton?” Comes a tiny voice from his doorway. He doesn’t glance away from where he’s started arranging the few potion vials, a small cauldron, and potion ingredients he’s kept in the bedside cupboard. Some people keep books and personal items in their bedside tables, and Newt keeps potion supplies. He’s a strange person, what can he say.

“I’m a bit busy, Minny.” He unstoppers a numbing potion and dumps a portion of it directly onto the wound. Jacob cringes, but almost immediately his face eases.

“What did you just do?” he asks groggily.

“Is that a muggle, Master Newton?” Minny asks anxiously, appearing by his side. Her fingers clench uneasily in her woolen sack.

“What is that?” Jacob asks, straining to look at the house elf. Newt pushes him back down flat, and starts the arduous process of pulling the shrapnel from his shoulder. The man doesn’t even flinch. Good. Blood starts oozing out around it faster. Not good.

“Yes, it is. Now kindly move, please. I’m trying to save this man’s life.”

She scoots over some, but she doesn’t leave as he’d hoped. “But Master Newton—you know muggles aren’t to be brought into the house.”

“I know, but this is an emergency. I’m sure father will be okay with this once I’ve explained the situation to him. Just—I’ll do it after—”

“Newton?” From the corner of his eye, he sees his mother stride into the room in a flurry of purple, glittering robes. She’s always been dramatic. Probably why she and Hippogriffs get along so well.

“Hello, mother,” he says, voice strained.

“Wow,” Jacob says. His mouth has dropped open. He pulls limply on Newt’s sleeve, weak as a newborn kneazle. “Newt, that woman is beautiful,” he whispers. In any other situation, Newt might have been vaguely amused, especially considering it’s his mother he gets much of his looks from, but not now, not under these circumstances.

“Newton, what is the meaning of this?” His mother asks, her green eyes narrowed on Jacob. Newt grits his teeth, throws the removed shrapnel somewhere on the floor behind him. It pings on the ground, and he can tell when his mother understands because they are the same in this too, in connecting the dots from whatever evidence is available to them, their minds jumping from point to point easy as rain. The shrapnel, the bleeding muggle, his own obvious distress and injures. They’re very good at that. For the most part anyway. “Is this really acceptable?”

And Newt nods. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything.”

The bleeding isn’t stopping, and he really needs to get the essence of Dittany extracted now or it won’t have time to sit. He rips a part of his sheet off and presses the crumpled mass onto the wound to try and stem the flow, applying pressure like Jacob showed him how to do until the flow starts to slow visibly. He casts a small fire under the cauldron, and starts prepping the Dittany sprigs.

He doesn’t even need to turn around to see her purse her lips, her silence a good indication as any. But she does finally sigh delicately and say, “Minny. Be a dear and get Newton some warm water and old rags to help his… friend.”

Minny squeaks and nods, disapparating away with a crack.

“Thank you,” he says, not taking his eyes off the task of grinding up a few sprigs of Dittany with a mortar and pestle, adding a little water until it turned into a paste.

“Don’t thank me yet, Newton. Your father will be home soon.” He hears his mother leave with a flourish, the door clicking closed behind her.

His shoulders sag a bit at that, but one look at Jacob’s confused face gets him back on track. “How are you feeling?”

“Fuzzy.”

“Yes. That’s a known side effect of the numbing agent,” Newt says, scraping the Dittany into the cauldron with a splash of oil. He stirs it the required turns, then lets it sit. Now, all they can do is wait.

“How did we get here?” Jacob asks, his eyes fluttering closed.

“Don’t you worry about that right now, Mr. Kowalski.” Newt sits down beside him, reapplying pressure to the wound. The monitoring charms change color as he passes out, but Newt knows it’s more shock induced rather than because he’s dying of blood loss.

And he waits.

 

****

 

Once the Dittany essence is ready, he’s able to get Jacob stable and healed up nicely, not even a scar present to remind either of them of what happened. Of what almost happened. (The physical evidence may be gone, but Newt will never forget.) Muggles have overcome many of their limitations by leaps and bounds, but they can’t always beat old fashioned magic.

He dispels the field and charms save for one to keep track of Jacob’s status and gets Jacob cleaned up, takes his time sponging up the dried blood on his skin with the rags and warm water Minny had brought in some time ago. He runs his thumb over a bruise one of his fingers had left on Jacob’s hip just yesterday (can it have only been yesterday?). So much has happened in such a short amount of time. Good things, bad things. Newt hopes this was all worth it. He shakes his head. Of course it will be. He quickly changes Jacob into an old jumper and linen trousers he enlarged a bit to better fit his frame, keeping it clinical and not lingering anywhere, no matter how much his fingers itch to touch, to reassure himself that he’s actually okay and not dead in a trench somewhere.

Newt takes care of himself next, carefully mending the bones in his arm in a well-choreographed swish and swing of his wand. He’s broken so many bones over the years, it’s almost sad how easy and quick he’s gotten at it, most of them caused by some of the more rambunctious beasts he’s worked with. Most of them. He takes a quick shower in the loo connected to his room, scrubbing off months of dirt and blood and sweat, and dresses in something a little more appropriate of his status, retiring his leather guards and patchwork shirt for a button up and vest. He feels almost naked without them after wearing them for months on end. The leather armor is Scourgify-ed until it’s clean and proper again (it takes three times to get out all the grime and blood), but the shirt he cannot bear to save. There’s too much of Jacob’s blood soaked into it, rust brown and metallic.

Instead of trying, he burns it in the claw-footed bathtub with his boots and watches the ashes circle down the drain.

Minny knocks on his door, pokes her small head in. “The Master wishes to speak with you.”

Newt nods grimly, and with one last look at Jacob, healed and slumbering, he steels himself and makes his way to his father’s study.

The talk with his father goes about as well as he expected. He stares at the rust still caked under his fingernails and explains everything that happened, omitting some of the recent developments between Jacob and him. His parents might not be strictly traditional in all the pureblood ways, his mother’s love and upkeep of hippogriffs being the most glaring example (the care of magical creatures is generally assigned to those of lesser status, after all. But his mother treads that line very finely, having others come in for the majority of their maintenance while she handles most of the breeding side of things. This way, she can “demurely” talk about how beautiful and exotic her hippogriffs are without worrying about seeming lesser to her peers), but they wouldn’t take kindly to him taking up with a muggle, let alone an American one.

“So, this… muggle is important to you?” He asks, his fingers clasped tightly on his desk. His back is almost ramrod straight, the epitome of posture, something Newt has never been able to accurately replicate.

“He did save my life. Many times, in fact,” Newt points out flatly, but his father waves his hand dismissively.

“And where’s your brother?”

“He’s still out there, last I heard.”

His father’s mouth thins, the wrinkles deepening in his freckled forehead, and though he doesn’t say anything, his disapproval is clear. He should have stayed out there on the Front like his do-good brother instead of helping some muggle, even if that muggle had saved his life on multiple occasions. The older man clears his throat and returns to the papers littering his desk. “Well, I’m glad you’re safe.”

An empty statement. He wonders if the man really feels that way. He’s never sure. Newt stands, nods his head in a small bow of respect, as is expected of him, and makes to leave. His father’s voice stops him, right as he’s easing the door open.

“Once your muggle has healed sufficiently, be sure to Oblivate him and send him on his way. Is that clear, Newton?”

He stares blindly through the open crack of the door for a moment, past the pristine shine and curling grooves into the dark, empty hallway, the Scamander family portraits peering interestedly at him from off the walls.

“Yes, father,” he says, closing the door quietly behind him, and returns to his room. Returns to Jacob.

And he takes a seat beside him on the bed and clutches his hand in both of his. It's such a strange practice, Newt thinks, but he lets himself be soothed and reassured by his companion’s breathing and the heartbeat he can feel pulsing under his fingers.

 

****

 

Jacob ends up sleeping for several days. At first, Newt is concerned about this, despite what the monitoring charms are saying, because what if Jacob’s physiology has actually rejected the treatment? What if, in trying to help him, to save him, he’s subjected Jacob to a slow death wherein his insides slowly melt away or something? Muggle physiology is slightly different than wizarding physiology, after all, although he isn’t sure by how much. As far as basic structure, they seem the same, and he knows this first hand, after the weeks of exploring Jacob’s body to his heart’s content. Maybe it’s in the blood?

A little asking around helps ease his worry somewhat though. According to one of the Healers he owled, muggles heal slower than magical beings by a statically significant amount, a noticeable amount, and sleep helps to accelerate the process. Even with this assurance, he paces a lot, in those first few days.

He talks a lot too.

He tells Jacob all about growing up, how he dismembered horklumps. How, for all their differences, it was his mother that inspired him to work with beasts and creatures. He tells him about Hogwarts, how he played on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team as a Chaser, going into long, rambling explanations of the history of Quidditch and how the game works in the process. He tells him about Leta, about his expulsion, how he felt like his world was ending and he was losing the love of his life all at the same time. How his father narrowly disowned him over the whole debacle, his hand stayed only because of the kindness and sway that Professor Dumbledore exerted so he could at least take his N.E.W.T. exams and “graduate” properly. How he wrote Leta letters after he joined the Ministry, that he only ever got responses if she wanted something from him, how he noticed this, connected the dots easily after the first couple correspondences, and yet, he turned a blind eye to it because he was in love and he thought she was different, that she understood him best. But he was wrong, about her, about wanting to work at the Ministry, about so many things.

But he’s not wrong about Jacob, and he tells him this too.

"I never told you—I should have, and I will again when you wake up—but there's a lot of things to like about you too. And even if you wake up and don’t—don’t want me anymore, I think you should know it," he says, almost urgently, as if he can’t get it all out fast enough, making his way from one end of his room to another, picking at his rolled up sleeves, running his hands through his hair until it stands on end. No matter where he walks, his eyes never leave his sleeping charge.

"You're handsome. Your eyes have been of particular interest to me since I noticed there's more to them than I thought. I still can’t quite pick out all of the different colors, and I’m told I’m somewhat colorblind, so I’m probably missing some too. I like the way your skin flushes so evenly. It’s endearing, compared to the way I do, all patchy and the like.” He makes a useless gesture towards his face as if his audience is actually awake. But when all he’s met with is silence, he can’t help but pace over to the bed, taking up his place at the bedside as he’s been doing since they got here. He grabs Jacob’s hand in his own, threading their fingers together before continuing.

“I like how calm and steady you are, but that I can ruin it just by kissing you in the right places. You’re so sweet and smart and gentle, and you just give and give..." He chokes a little, clears his throat to try and ease the lump therein. "So many people think I’m just the annoying, useless younger brother, the second son of an influential family, not as important. A failure. You’re one of the few people who seem to like me for me. It makes little sense to me, how someone like you would fancy a man like me."

He curls his hands tighter around the one in his, presses his mouth to the knuckles and then his forehead. His eyes sting. Jacob is so unlike every other person he's met thus far in life, and there are reasons why he prefers his beasts, very good reasons, like how predictable beasts are and how they didn’t invent war and all the pain associated with it, how they’re open with their hostility, how they’re not manipulative in the same way, but Jacob makes him think that people might not be so bad if a man like Jacob can exist among them.

"Please don't leave me,” he whispers.

 

****

 

At one point into his vigil, he receives an owl through the post.

“It’s a letter from a man by the name of Augustus Worme. He works for Obscurus Books, a sort of up and coming publisher. He wishes to commission me to write a book about magical creatures the world over.” Newt’s hands shake a bit. “I’m thinking about taking him up on it, on getting the hell out of that Ministry job. I’m sure my parents won’t approve, but…” he drifts off. Then, he leans in and whispers, hushed and conspiratory, “I don’t care. This is something I want a great deal, and I’ll be paid so much more for it. Just to do what I love. I just—I just want to know, before I agree, where you’ll fit into all of this.”

He cups Jacob’s cheek, takes refuge in the warmth there, the stubble growing in already. Maybe Jacob will finally show him how to “shave properly.” Maybe Jacob will still want him. He tilts his head to the side. “So wake up soon, okay?”

 

****

 

Newt wakes to the sound of groaning and the bed shifting beneath his head, and it’s a moment before he realizes he had fallen asleep sometime in the night, exhausted even though he hasn’t done much beside walk and talk and worry. It takes him another to realize that Jacob is moving, that it’s been six days and he’s finally waking up. He sits up straight and waits with bated breath as Jacob hums and sighs before opening his eyes.

"Hey," he croaks out.

"Hello," Newt says back helplessly, his hands twisting in the fabric of his trousers to avoid touching Jacob like he wants to. Happiness and relief bubble in his stomach, anything else temporarily outshined.

"I had the weirdest dream about you and some kind of magic stick and a weird looking elf creature."

Newt laughs, slightly strangled. His worry and apprehension rush back full throttle. And this is where he decides, isn’t it. Does he tell him everything? Does he pass it off as the dream Jacob thinks he had? Either way, he refuses to erase the man’s memories despite his father’s orders, the expectations on him as a law-abiding citizen under the Ministry.

All he has to do is take one look at the fond smile on Jacob’s tired face though, and he tells him. It’s slightly harder to talk to the older man, now that he’s awake, but he’s able to get it all out, about magic, how it fits into the world, the rules that users must live by, how magic is an inherent part of Newt, something that will never go away, can never be taken away. And with everything said, he watches as Jacob’s eyes grow wider and wider, his mouth falling open in surprise.

“I’m sorry, it’s just—I couldn’t tell you, for obvious reasons. I don’t even know if you believe me…” Newt trails off.

Jacob looks a bit dazed, but he shakes his head. “So, wait a second. Magic is real?”

“Yes.”

“Does that mean all of those, those beasts and creatures—they’re all real too?”

“Yes.”

Jacob blows out a heavy breath and looks at the roof of the canopy. Then, he whistles, long and slightly awed. “Damn. So, that means dragons are real?”

Newt nods.

“And hippogriffs?”

“And so are Cornish pixies and unicorns and fairies and griffins—everything I’ve told you about, I know because they’re real, and I’ve probably worked with them. And if I haven’t worked with them, I’ve definitely read something about them.” He looks at Jacob helplessly, raising his hands up. “That’s what I did for a living. What I’m hoping to continue doing. I’m a magizoologist. I work with magical creatures.”

Jacob blinks. Then, like a spark catching, he grins, snapping his fingers. “That explains the rations!”

“What?” Newt asks faintly, unsure of the jump in logic.

“Yeah! I had thought I was going crazy because I only had enough jerky and biscuits to last us, maybe, two weeks if we didn’t eat too much, but they lasted all that time we were out there!”

“Oh.”

“And the water—?” But here Jacob looks less confident.

“An undetectable expansion charm.”

“…Ah, I see.”

“Yes.”

Jacob quiets down to look at Newt intently.

Newt sits tensely, his gaze averted, waiting for some kind of blow back. There has to be some line, and surely Newt has crossed it? But Jacob just nods, like he’s finally finished a hard puzzle, and says, “You’re pretty amazing, Newt.”

The tension in Newt eases at this, his shoulders sagging at the lack of anger or feelings of betrayal from Jacob, and he can feel himself flush as he always does under Jacob’s compliments. He ducks his head. But there’s still something bothering Newt, still something he wants to address. But should he wait until later, another time? Would it be too much to bring this up now?

He decides that it is, and instead turns the conversation in another direction. “The war has ended, you know.”

Jacob freezes. “What?”

“You were out for six days. The armistice was signed just two days ago, November 11th. The Allies won.” He smiles, rueful and pinched. “My brother brought home the good news yesterday evening.”

“Huh.” This appears, if possible, to have surprised Jacob even more than the magic did. He moves, this stuttering gesture, as if he’s going to reach out to Newt, but instead he folds his hands together tightly on his stomach. Something in Newt wilts, a little. “The war is over? And we won?” He asks, careful and drawn out.

“Yes.”

“Huh.” He slumps further into the bed, as if his strings have been cut, like a weight has been taken off his shoulders. “Good.”

It’s only until that evening that Newt finally brings it up, when he can no longer bear not knowing, the ball of anxiety in his chest strumming tighter and tighter the more he thinks about it.

He’s just brought Jacob some supper and is picking at the skin of his nail beds, sitting in the chair by Jacob’s bedside as he’d done for almost a week, watching as Jacob tries a little bit of everything Newt had wheeled in for him. He declines when Jacob offers him some.

“British food is weird,” Jacob says eventually, eating a spoonful of Yorkshire pudding. “But it’s very delicious.”

“I’ll send your compliments to Minny.”

“Minny is your house elf?”

“Yes.”

“And house elves are sort of like servants?”

“Sort of.” The politics of house elves aren’t something he particularly wants to hash out today.

“Thank you,” He says after a small pause. Then, he pushes the food tray away with a sigh before he looks at Newt. “Now, tell me what’s wrong.”

Newt pauses, caught out. A droplet of blood wells up in the crease of his nail. “What do you mean?”

“I’d like to think I know you pretty well, Newt. After everything.” His smile is timid and vaguely sad, a shadow of smiles past. “I can tell something’s worrying at you.”

And Newt just, he has to move, so he stands up and begins to pace around the edges of the bed, all restless, chaotic energy. "Your recovery is going well. Essentially complete, now that you’re awake." He knows he's been growing distant since Jacob woke up, more withdrawn, after the whole magic reveal. Of course, he’s noticed. It’s Jacob. He notices everything, it seems. He can feel his natural tendency to guard against people resurfacing, even after all those months of feeling like he doesn’t have to be so protected, not around Jacob. But they were at war, and people change. What was true out there won't necessarily be so back home. What was wanted then may not always be welcome now. And he wants to be selfish, wants to clutch Jacob firmly by the arm and tell him, “You’re coming with me,” because he doesn’t know if he wants to know what it’s like, now, to live a life without Jacob there in it. He’d take letters by owl post if necessary. But he can’t. That’s not who he is. He daren’t hold too hard. He’s been disappointed so many times throughout his life, been let down by so many people.

Jacob could break him, if he let him.

Suddenly, Jacob grabs hold of his hand, that steadying, solid force he’s always been. He hadn't even noticed he was shaking. He catches Jacob’s eye, examines the familiar nuances that make up the face of someone dear to him, that he cares about so much, enough to put things like his heart, like his life on the line for, and only finds hesitation and a resigned acceptance, and that, that's just.

No, absolutely not.

Throwing sanity and caution to the wind, and not really caring that he's done so, he tangles their fingers together properly before crawling into the bed beside him, pressing close and arranging himself to fit snug against this ridiculous man like he’s wanted to since his wounds had healed that first day back. Already, he can feel himself relaxing, and when he chances to look up, Jacob is grinning up at the canopy, bashful and pleased. He buries his face into the side of Jacob’s arm, face hot, a helpless smile of his own pulling at his lips. Jacob runs his fingers over the starburst on his jawline, a perfect twin to the one on Jacob’s calf.

"I don't really have anyone waiting for me back home," Jacob whispers later, arching into Newt’s hands running carefully over his chest, returning over and over to that smooth patch of skin where the shrapnel had been. Newt watches the muscle underneath the skin flex under his touch. When he digs his thumb in, hard enough to bruise, he can feel the way the tendon twitches. Jacob hisses between his teeth, tightening his grip on Newt’s sides and grinding up. Newt’s breath stutters in his lungs, and he moans softly. He’s glad he put up a silencing charm around the room earlier.

“I’ve been offered a commission to write a book about all of the fantastic beasts that roam the world,” Newt stutters out, somewhat distracted by the miles of skin, the feel of Jacob underneath him, hard and hot and still wanting to be with him even after everything.

Jacob goes still, then he rolls them over, pinning Newt beneath him. He’s beaming. “That’s amazing, Newt.” And he kisses him. Newt gets lost in it a little bit, in the heat, in their rolling hips, for just a moment, really, but he re-picks up his train of thought shortly after Jacob moves on to his neck.

“Yes, yes, it is. But the reason why I bring it up is—stop that.” He sighs, pushing Jacob away enough to look him in the eye and to get him to stop mouthing at that spot on his neck. Damn him. Merlin, he’s distracting. Makes it difficult for him to concentrate. “Come with me.”

Jacob blinks sluggishly and pulls back a little more. Newt makes a noise of protest, tightening the grip his knees have on Jacob’s sides, both of which go mostly unheeded. “Where?”

“Everywhere. I could teach you all sorts of things, and we could discover even more. It’s mostly for the summers, but I’m sure we can find somewhere exotic and hospitable to hole up while I write. You could charm the locals inhabitants with your baked goods.”

Jacob looks away. “You’re asking me to travel with you?”

“Yes.” A small part of him panics, because what if Jacob says no? He squashes it. Jacob may be steady, seem sunny and calm and naïve, but he has his own insecurities, his own demons. Newt has been learning more and more about them every day that Jacob trusts him enough to talk about them, brief mentions since even before they had moved beyond the realm of friendship. “I know you wanted to start a bakery upon your return, but I thought you might like to join me before you do.”

“You won’t—you know, get tired of me?” Jacob asks, a painful half smile on his face.

Newt sucks in a deep breath. Suddenly, he wants nothing more than to go out and find whoever made Jacob feel like this and break them. As soon as this is settled, he’s going to spread Jacob out and tell him about how amazing he is, just like he’d promised. But for now, he cups Jacob’s face in his hands, unshaking and firm, makes sure to meet his gaze head on. “Jacob. I think I can say, without a shred of doubt, that it’s unlikely I will ever grow tired of you.”

Jacob frowns. “You’re really that sure? It was only two months, and you’re, well, magical.”

“Of course, I’m sure.” Newt presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “You’re pretty magical yourself. Are you sure?”

“What?”

“Are you sure you won’t get tired of me. I’ve been told I can be quite… annoying.”

“Of course, I am.”

“Well, I’m glad we’re in agreement then. We should just go on then, not getting tired of each other.”

This draws something a little more sincere from Jacob, small but still there. And yet, “You’re not just asking because we’re—what we are?”

“No. I’m asking because I genuinely want you to be there. I would have asked you even if you didn’t want me anymore.”

A smile spreads slow and bright across Jacob’s face, and he nuzzles back into the hollow of Newt’s neck with a laugh. Newt’s heart skips a beat. He wraps his arms around him, breathes in the spicy scent of cinnamon and cloves that lingers on Jacob’s skin, clean and whole and with him.

Merlin’s beard, he’s so gone for this man.

How wonderful.

“So, you’ll travel with me?” He asks, just to be clear, but his mind is already thinking up plans, like how he’s going to sneak Jacob out of this house without meeting his family, to get them on the road. They should probably make a stopover in America too, get whatever Jacob needs, settle any business he has there in New York City. He thinks about getting Jacob special permission from the Ministry so no one in England, at least, can lawfully Obliviate him without prior consent, barring he commit a crime or something. There has to be a way he can twist the permission requirements since he’s not Newt’s immediate blood relative or spouse. He’ll have to think on it more.

America will be a whole different beast though. Maybe if they avoid all magical beings over there until Newt figures out a better plan? Either way, he’ll need to owl Mr. Worme back as soon as possible, after they’re done here, get his writing contract written up and arranged, start the process of packing up. He’ll need all sorts of supplies. He’s had ideas for a special kind of suitcase, one with an undetectable extension charm and subsections for different biomes. He’s sure there will be creatures in need on their travels, and he’ll need somewhere safe and proper to put them.

"If you'll have me?" Jacob asks, pulling back, his eyes dancing.

Something tugs behind Newt’s sternum, brings him firmly back into the moment of here and now, and he can't help but drag Jacob back down to meet him, to kiss him and kiss him until their mouths taste the same and they’re both smiling too much to continue. "Oh, Jacob, you romantic fool, I wouldn't have you any other way."

 

 

 

EPILOGUE

New York City, December 1926

 

Newt’s standing at the front of the ship, the wind blowing in his face as he stares out at the lapping waves and the Statue of Liberty splitting up into the sky, tall and proud in the harbor. He twists his ring up and down the necklace chain he keeps it on, lost in thought about the logistics of returning a giant thunderbird (Merlin, a thunderbird) back to Arizona. Sneaking Frank into America will probably be the hard part, even more difficult than liberating him from the traffickers in Egypt. They’re certainly a suspicious bunch, the Americans. The Magical Congress of the United States even more so. He remembers them being particularly so when he and Jacob first arrived here seven years ago at the start of their brilliant adventure together.

It had been a close call, and he’d almost lost Jacob then and there. And wouldn’t that have been utter shite, especially after all those months of crippling anxiety during their time in France, after the years he’d probably shed off his life when Jacob had that shrapnel in his shoulder. But luckily, the Scamander name seems to hold some sway even here. That, combined with Newt’s quick thinking and Jacob’s cool head, had saved them a whole lot of grief. This time, though, they have a few things up their sleeves should they try to Obliviate Jacob again.

He smirks, feels the thrum of amusement coming off Jacob along the magical tether that binds them together.

Muggle marriage is a bit complicated and not exactly an option for them (“I’m getting you a ring anyway,” Jacob had muttered stubbornly into the scar on his jaw. “It’s the symbolism of the thing”). But a magical binding. Well, that’s another thing entirely. A bit on the archaic side, not many remember they exist, and even fewer are established these days. It took some convincing and time (time which left Newt only a little nervous, having found himself more comfortable in their relationship after the five years they’d had together up to that point), but Jacob eventually agreed to it once he understood the mechanics of it, the process, how things would change, how they would stay the same. Newt can understand that, the want to know everything before jumping in, because a bond of this scale takes a lot of trust and can come off as intrusive if not handled correctly.

After all, Newt had made sure he was appropriately informed himself before he had even entertained the idea of suggesting it.

It’s certainly more effective though, makes a bigger statement, and it’s incredibly difficult to break unless the partners are entirely willing (there’s a reason why it’s considered the sister spell to the Unbreakable Vow). Never let it be said that Newt isn’t the marrying type. He’s only too lucky that Jacob was perfectly happy to be kept.

“And what are you smirking at,” Jacob asks as he walks up to Newt, carrying the suitcase housing their lives together in one hand and Newt’s old Hufflepuff scarf in the other. Pickett curiously pokes his leafy head out from Jacob’s lapel pocket and chirps quietly until Newt scratches the sides of his face the way he likes.

“Thank you, darling,” Newt finally says, his smirk shifting into a small smile as he accepts the scarf and pulls it round his neck. Jacob rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Affection swells across the bond, warm and worn in and always, always welcome. “I was just thinking about our last time here.”

Jacob grimaces. Apprehension not his own drops like lead in his stomach, and Newt sends some gentle reassurance back. It’s unfortunate that the city Jacob once called home, that he spoke so fondly of, is now associated with the time they both got arrested and Newt almost forcibly erased from Jacob’s mind. He really does wish things had turned out differently, that first time. But hopefully, things will be better from here on out. Even the MACUSA should know better than to mess with a bond like this.

And if they don’t get the hint, they’ll get the Ministry involved and rain hell down upon them.

(Jacob is still the steadier one between them, rolling with the punches and hurling a few of his own if the situation calls for it, situations that usually end with Newt snogging him into a flushed, giggling mess in his arms because thank Merlin they made it out alive and also that’s hot as hell. Fuck. But Newt’s happy to say he’s learnt how to be a little more calm himself in the past seven years, that he’s found some ways of his own to get Jacob all hot under the collar by being the steady one, the one who knows what to do in dire situations, wielding magic like Jacob does his fists, the incident where he had to beat a Kelpie off with their teakettle notwithstanding.

He’s had an amazing teacher after all.)

“Hopefully, it won’t be as big a deal this time, us coming back here,” Jacob says, his expression eased as he watches people begin to disembark the docked ship, a hand coming up to gently pet at his pocket as Pickett squirms back into hiding, shy as ever in the face of other people even if he is particularly sassy with them.

“Oh, Jacob, what happened to your sense of adventure?”

“It’s back in Equatorial Guinea, where I left it.”

Newt chuckles, dipping his face into his scarf and peering playfully up at his Jacob through the fringe of his hair, eyebrows raised. Jacob reaches out and gently tugs at the collar of his blue coat as if to straighten it out, but Newt knows better, takes the opportunity to lean into the lingering touch, into the fingers stroking down the hem before drifting away. Newt doesn’t let him go too far though, swaying in until he can feel the heat radiating off of Jacob’s body, standing closer than is probably socially acceptable, but fuck that.

People may still be utterly unpredictable, and Newt still thinks that they can be worse than beasts, maybe even more so now that he’s seen, in person, some of the awful things people will do to creatures and other people alike for money, for power, for some reason or another. But even so, in spite of this, he’s happy and doing the things he loves, working with and discovering all manners of beasts and creatures and writing about his and Jacob’s experiences and observations along the way. He’s in love with this wonderful, beautiful, steady man who, for some reason that still escapes him even now, loves him back.

He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

He wouldn’t give it up for the world.

 

END