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Spiral Down, Come Together

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.1.

In the end, the news itself was not a surprise. An eye exam that yielded the necessity of an MRI that in turn demanded a lumbar puncture did not usually end in a clean bill of health. Hermann had read the writing on the wall before he had sat on the crisp paper of the medical bed, dressed in little more than a thin scrap of cloth that did nothing to make him feel less exposed.

"Multiple sclerosis isn't the same disease it was even ten years ago," his doctor said. Dr. Schwartz was an expert; of course his father had gotten him the expert.

Hermann tried to listen, he did. His medical history was, in retrospect, littered with tiny signs and symptoms that had been accumulating for almost two years: fatigue, the back spasms, tingling he had ascribed to long hours standing or long hours sitting, the slight decline of vision from perfect to less than perfect, until suddenly he could barely see his hand in front of his face, the dizziness, and then before he'd even caught himself against his bench the blurriness was gone.

It was not bad - he still had the function of all of his extremities, all of his internal muscles, even his eyes were back to a near-perfect after the initial wave had passed, but it was there, waiting. His family knew, of course, it was not as though he could have kept it from them, but he told no one he worked with. He had just turned twenty-four, and although he knew it was not the end of his life, he spent the few days after his diagnosis in a deep, pervasive malaise that nothing, not even his sister Karla, could shake him from.

In those first days, nothing seemed to matter. He took his injections as prescribed, and his pills as prescribed - he was not some fool who stewed in denial to the detriment of his long term health - but he was a man who took some time to come to terms with personal difficulties. Professional difficulties he had learned to handle since he was twelve, the first time his theories had been brutalized in front of an audience of noted mathematicians and he had cried in a corner after. Professionally, one could be right, or one could be wrong, and the mathematics and the proofs behind it would be enough to bear that out.

Personally, there was too much latitude.

He sat on the patio of their home, looking out over the mountains, Newton's Principia on his legs as they sat propped up, reading glasses perched on his nose.

"Found your unified reasoning for everything, yet?" Karla asked, depositing a lemonade by his elbow on the adjacent table. She perched on the patio wall, looking back at him with her too-wise eyes.

She had just finished her undergraduate, and would be heading to Stanford in the fall, and all Hermann could think was that he would miss her, so far away, flung to the other side of the world.

"Not yet," he answered, even though the question was purely rhetorical.

"Found any other reason?" She asked, this time sliding over to a small space his legs had left on the chair.

"Also not yet."

Karla reached out and plucked his glasses from his nose, folding them carefully and setting them atop his book. "You cannot theorize forever, Hermann. There is a whole world out there, waiting to be touched by your numbers, by your theories, and you cannot sit here while you stew."

Hermann knew she was right, and yet he couldn't push himself forward, not yet. He was stagnant, stuck, his mind refused to take in the information that he had been given. There was no predictive model where he became healthier, where he got better, where his body - or worse his mind - didn't slowly deteriorate; there was no bright future. All he could hope was that his mind remained unclouded as time, and his disease, progressed.

"These are likely my best years," he admitted to her.

"Exactly!"

"No... I mean to say..." He looked down at his glasses, and his own hands, and for a moment he panicked when his vision went blurry again, pulse pounding until the first wet drop landed on the pages. Crying, he was crying, his vision hadn't gone blurry again, and he laughed, at himself, at the whole damn situation, at his life, at the days he'd spent moping.

Karla laughed with him, although Hermann was sure she didn't understand why he was laughing, it didn't matter, she could laugh with him, could make him feel better, and he'd dragged her into a tight hug, arms around her waist and hers around his neck and they clung to each other. When the laughs turned to sobs, she pulled him even tighter, when he had finally cried himself out she ran her fingers over the back of his head, and then kissed him on the forehead.

"I meant that this is... it is a disease that will slowly rob me of my faculties, and if I am very lucky it will content itself to the physical." He looked up at her, sitting above him as she was, soft brown hair, cheerful smile, her doctoral work ahead of her. "I do not wish to be defined by it, but it seems clear I will never be more healthy than I am now. My mind, my work, my ability to concentrate, maybe even comprehend, may slowly be taken from me."

"Hermann..." Karla's mouth set, reminding him of Father - the way she stubbornly set herself harshened the pretty features she had inherited from mother. "I say this with all love, and all respect for your profession: fuck the numbers. With treatment you may never have another relapse. Maybe you will need to scale back, stress yourself less, keep to different climates, but you will change the world with your mind. Papa knows it, even if he does not say."

He smiled at her. "You are lucky Mother did not hear that."

Mother had, but she seemed inclined to let the vulgarity pass in the name of his improved mood.

A monster, which later came to be called 'Trespasser' and 'Axehead', and then even later named among the 'Kaiju', made landfall in San Francisco, not three days later. Needless to say, Karla did not attend Stanford that fall instead she attended Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh, nowhere near a coast.

In Trespasser, Hermann found randomness that begged to be defined, described, and predicted. He found a puzzle to be solved, a reason to return to his laboratory - and a reason to continue to move forward.

.2.

Hermann's legs had already become the slightest bit unsteady by the time of the Seoul Conference, a little over a year later. He did not yet require a cane, but he could not take long distances as he had once been able to, even in his more recent years. His mouth, which had never been particularly charming, now had a certain downward cast to it that people would have sometimes mistaken for the sign of a stroke had he been far older. As it stood, people mistook him for constantly sullen, and with a true threat in the Kaijus, Hermann saw no reason to correct the impression.

He was one of three Gottliebs at the conference: Lars Gottlieb (his father, PhD, a physicist, and the sort of scientific heavy that was invited to these things regardless), Hermann (PhD, theoretical mathematics, invited largely due to his predictive model that would hopefully isolate the nexus from which the Kaijus originated shortly), and Karla (his sister, Masters in search of PhD, a roboticist, and currently attached to Professor Jasper Schoenfeld at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute).

"Dr. Schoenfeld this is my brother, Dr. Hermann Gottlieb. He's been a valuable resource during my work." Karla set a hand on his shoulder, but did not push him forward, as father sometimes did.

The two of them shook hands. "Dr. Gottlieb. How many doctors do you have in your family?"

"Karla will be number four," Hermann answered. "My older brother is a medical doctor, however, a cardiologist, so you could see why we would be disappointed."

"I'm surprised he's not a neurologist," Schoenfeld answered. "The work Karla's doing with neural impulses is fascinating. Before we left, she already had a well-articulated hand working."

Hermann tried to force down the hope and pain and just the knowledge of how much of her life Karla had wrapped around him.

"Legs are more difficult," Karla answered, as though it was a simple academic problem. Hermann always admired that about her; that as much as she felt underneath it never seemed to surface.

Dr. Schoenfeld and the two younger Gottliebs made themselves comfortable against one of the walls, and the three of them ended up discussing Karla's work more extensively.

"MIT prefers the leg problem," Schoenfeld said, finally. "Hands are fascinating, of course, and I'm not sure anyone at MIT has done the level of work you have into potential sensory feedback."

"Maybe for post-graduate work," Karla said, scanning the crowd. "I'm certain there are a few engineers at least from MIT."

Schoenfeld shook his head. "Biologists: Drs. Hess and Geiszler. Geiszler--"

Hermann glanced up, surprised, he knew that name. In his free time - which meant when he was flaring and having difficulty concentrating on his own work - he'd read up on the other papers that had come out to study other elements of the Kaijus. Dr. Geiszler was the expert in their biology. "Premiere astrobiologist, and some biophysics, if I recall."

There was no reason to have so many fields of expertise, but if the man was going to pioneer silicate based life protein folding, and no one else was, Hermann supposed he might as well publish.

"The two of them consulted with the Center for Disease Control after the Trespasser landfall," Schoenfeld said, filling in where Hermann had left off. "Their understanding of the mechanisms behind Kaiju Blue have been instrumental in keeping post-attack fatalities down in every attack since Manila."

If there was some way to attack the Kaijus, biologically, Hermann had no doubt it would be pioneered by a mind like Geiszler's. He was anxious to meet the man; his prose style didn't rely on typical academic obtuseness, yet didn't pander to the masses the way some scientists did.

His first introduction was not an introduction at all, so much as getting to listen to Geiszler's presentation on the known biology of the Kaijus so far: silicate, with additional ammonia foundations, toxic excretions as well as non-toxic phosphorous ones. Geiszler had a few words on potential Kaiju speciation, but that remained in the purely speculative for the moment. He ended his presentation by vowing additional research into examining the genetics of future specimens. Hermann was, not even in spite of himself, impressed.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Karla asked from between him and Father.

Father made an undignified, dismissive noise.

Hermann thought he was brilliant, probably one of the smartest men in the room, and not unattractive. "It was fine."

His second introduction to Newton Geiszler did not go so well. Schoenfeld had become the hero of the hour, potentially, as he had put forth the idea of gigantic combat robots to fight the Kaijus; there were easily two dozen ideas that were being given minimal funding, including some funding towards Dr. Geiszler's biological agent theory. When he found Dr. Geiszler deep in conversation with both Schoenfeld and his sister, he naturally assumed it was some sort of scientific phallus comparing, but when he actually ended up by Karla's side, it was somehow worse.

"Dr. Geiszler, my brother Hermann."

"Hermann," Dr. Geiszler said, and Hermann felt the urge to glower at his sister, because of course she would do that, introduce him as 'Hermann' rather than his title to someone that Hermann actually might have been able to respect, and he wanted that respect in turn. "And, please, call me Newt. I liked your presentation, man. Think we'll have the Kaiju locked down after your work gets put into practice, we'll have an early warning systems at least!"

Hermann was unsure what, exactly to say to that. He had hoped to get his system online in the next few months, but he was unsure what to say. He had always been bad at this sort of thing, especially when he wanted to indicate a flirtation.

Dr. Geiszler waited, but when no response was forthcoming, he turned back towards Karla. Perhaps he could pick the man’s brain for further information in the use of his tracking algorithm, but that could wait, he supposed.

"Really, you want to get in touch with Dr. Warner," Geiszler said, and he started to rifle through his own pockets. He had on a well-fitted jacket, but a thin strip of a tie that barely seemed to earn the title; up close, it was clear the man was wearing neat black jeans, rather than slacks. It was not the outfit of a man who should be taken seriously, and Hermann did not know whether to find it attractive or distressing.

Geiszler continued, heedless of Hermann’s inner conflict: "He's a pioneer in the balance side of bipedal motion, but I think you and Schoenfeld have the right idea to stay away from legs until you have that problem locked. I'll warn you, he's..." Geiszler made some sort of gesture, waving his hand a little bit in a way that Hermann could not at all interpret, fingers splayed, and then flailed slightly, as though that communicated anything at all. "Just tell Viv - Dr. Hess - right?"

Whatever subtle information Geiszler had tried to communicate through that seemed to have been received by Karla, and her smile brightened. "Thanks for the heads up. Our first prototype isn't going to be able to incorporate bipedal balance, but since we're already prototyped out on the arm, and I have a few colleagues who have some solid all-terrain tread, that should be our first move... if we even get that far."

"You'll do the programming?" Geiszler asked, before he began another ramble that seemed a trademark of his unrehearsed conversational style. "I have to admit, I've always been enamored with the idea of a giant damn robot, so the whole concept is just cool."

Karla looked down her hair falling to the sides of her face and she smiled, which lit up her whole damn face, and Hermann realized she was flirting, and Geiszler seemed either oblivious or to reciprocate completely. "No, I... I'm good, and if I had all the time in the world, I could do it right, but I was hoping Hermann would handle that." She glanced over at him, hopeful, and Hermann, of course, would have done anything for her. He was certain there were dozens of students at CMU who could program a giant robot, but Hermann knew her hardware inside and out.

His response was a curt nod, and hers was a bright grin up at him.

"You've gotta come up with a cool name, an acronym or something really badass," Geiszler informed them both.

Karla bit her lip, before smiling around it. "I was thinking Jaeger."

The three of them ended up having dinner and drinks, and it was... incredible; Hermann could imagine this, the three of them being colleagues, working together, their specializations discrete yet complimentary, until Dr. Geiszler suddenly completely ruined it by leaning into Karla slightly - still enough to be polite, but a definite lean - and asked. "I have some really amazing feedback simulations based on some of your work, if you'd like to see."

Hermann thought his eyes would roll out of his head, but, of course, Karla smiled up at him and, of course, accepted.

He didn't begrudge either of them, but Geiszler could have at least had the tact to not do that in front of her brother, and Karla would have had no way of knowing that Hermann was nursing a mild crush that well and truly died then and there. Nothing like a man flirting with your sister to bring the point home.

Hermann spent his early post-dinner looking over the code that Karla had already worked up for her arm, and began to extrapolate how to bring that to something that would be hundreds of times larger, with entirely different tensile properties, before he drifted off to sleep.

At the next day of the conference, Karla's eyes held the bags of no sleep, and yet the buzz of... well. Hermann did not want to think about it. They were only two years apart, but there were some things that you didn't want to think about your baby sister, so Hermann pointedly did not think about it.

"Did you at least get his number?" He asked, feeling far too snappish over a connection lost to him. Karla was always easier with these things.

"Email." She didn't seem overly concerned about it. "Don't think he's going to be much help on the Jaeger project, or my thesis, but... he's smart, and if he digs up any information on potential Kaiju defenses, he'll be sure to let us know. He also knows some biochemists, pharmaceutical types, so..."

"You did not tell him," Hermann said, voice hard. It was one thing to find himself disappointed by Geiszler's preference, it was another entirely for him to know that Hermann was ill. He did not like that, he did not like the idea of some stranger knowing he was ill, of sharing that with anyone but his family.

"Of course not." Karla gave him the 'I think you're an idiot' look, but then continued. "He knows I'm interested in prosthetic and assisted movement work, eventually, so... maybe a job in a lab somewhere after the post-doc."

Hermann took a slow breath, and then another, taking in what his sister had said about Dr. Geiszler and the lengths he was willing to go for a woman he’d just met.

"That's... very kind of him. And remarkably open, given that his own funding is reliant on producing his own results." As a show of interest, and good faith, Hermann was almost impressed.

He was far less impressed when, later in the day, when the two of them ran into each other at one of the Kaiju detection subcommittees, and Dr. Geiszler took it upon himself to join Hermann at his own seat, and said: "Your sister's fucking incredible."

And thus any potential for mutually amicable interaction was well and truly destroyed.

.3.

Hermann hated to see it in such black and white, but the strain of six months straight of millions of lines of Jaeger code may very well have cost him the full use of his legs for the rest of his life. The work passed between only a handful of programmers that he also was responsible for code auditing, and then making sure that all of the pieces worked together, and it was a multi-tonne mecha, to be controlled by Dr. Lightcap's Pons, with Dr. Schoenfeld guiding the four teams of roboticists to bring together disparate projects from a pan-national team of engineers - one of which was from Tokyo and thus always 9-12 hours ahead of them in the States, which kept Hermann's hours even more irregular.

As a result, he was in a constant state of illness in spite of his efforts to keep his food bland, his stress low, and his medication up to date and timely. Hermann was supposed to be in the hospital, or at least at home, on bed rest, maybe somewhere in the mountains with someone who would bring him drinks. Instead, he shouted at lab assistants to bring food and hobbled his way to the bathroom or to bed for a few hours of sleep when the need was pressing. More likely, he would curl up on the couch in his office while he awaited calculations or compiler errors.

Overhauling D.A.R.P.A.'s battle armor protocols completely to avoid the worst pilot fatigue, and essentially revolutionizing combat armor and robotics control interfaces was also his role, whilst Dr. Lightcap revolutionized neural interfaces and sensory feedback, Karla worked the physical feedback and articulation, and Schoenfeld continued the integration work and additional feedback. They were making years of progress every month. Every day there were new discoveries that were needed, and necessary, to even make a Jaeger work.

"This pace is killing you," Karla said, as they picked at their plate overloaded with rubbery chicken and limp vegetables between them, late into another Alaska night.

"To not work this hard would doom us all. There will be another attack, and no one is working on my predictive models while I work on this." Hermann threw an arm in the air, pointing sharply to the side, not at her, never at her, but his irritation could not be contained by politeness. "We need the Jaegers, but I am apparently one of the few coders with the facility to bring all of this together; anyone else would have taken weeks, if not months, to get up to date with the interfaces and..."

His vision swam, and he pushed down the bile in his throat. Not now! He could not afford this now. He dug the heel of his palms into his eyes as he tried to push away the fuzzy focus, to will it to go away.

"Hermann?"

Slow seconds ticked by as he rubbed, wishing that could fix it, and he sighed, finally letting himself see the damage - he pulled away the hand that was rubbing his left eye, and let it open... Nothing in the room was in focus. After another moment he moved his right hand. When his right eye fluttered open and he glanced around the room, it did little to help.

"Hermann?" Karla asked again, voice more worried.

"You-- you're right," he said. "I-- I need to rest." His hands fumbled over to where he knew the plate was, and missed, fingers ending up covered in green bean juice. The defeated sigh drew Karla to stand, and her hands went to his cheeks a moment later, her face close enough that it was blurry, but obviously her.

"Your eyes?"

"The left is worse," he said.

"Which when you say it means the right is also bad." Karla's thumbs brushed his cheeks. "Hermann, how can you...? Eyes are even harder than legs."

"It does not matter if I don't finish my work." He closed his eyes. "We're close. This isn't about me. I will go to medical tomorrow, get glasses for the prescription, it will either be permanent, or be back to normal in a few months."

"How can you talk like that!?"

"It is my choice, Karla!" He snapped back at her. "I am here because this is where I am needed." Even angry, he would not point out that she had asked him here, that it was her idea that he code the Jaegers. He would never blame her, ever, it was his own choice. "Others can pick up where I leave off, in a few more weeks, after the demonstration is successful."

Hermann was in the clinic, a compress over his eyes, a needle in his arm and medication slowly trickling into him, when they brought in Captain Casey from the first Jaeger pilot test. He listened, unable to do something to help, as they tried to stabilize his condition before finally declaring him brain dead.

Lt. D'Onofrio nearly suffered the same fate, a few weeks later, and would have were it not for Dr. Lightcap. Hermann was there, back on his feet, strong prescription glasses perched on his face, Karla by his side. She helped him back to his room after.

"Don't you think it's romantic?" Karla asked, as she helped Hermann out of his shoes and he collapsed backwards onto the bed.

"What? Yanking a spare cap off a shelf and jamming it onto her head because D'Onofrio was seizing? No, God no. She is one of the foremost minds in the field, she could have been rendered brain dead just as much as Capt. Casey, it was a waste." Hermann closed his eyes. He tried to focus on the positive: the field test was a success, and the idea of needing to share the neural load of such a large body made sense in retrospect. The Jaegers integrated neural feedback into the body - increased reaction time - but the mental strain to handle that would be... well, someone should have reasoned it out before. "The field test was a success."

"Will you rest now?" She asked. "Recuperate, get better treatment that you can't have if you're around the lab all of the time?"

"I can hand off the project," Hermann said.

Karla pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "And I think it's romantic."

He didn't argue.

He returned home, sat on the patio with Principia on his lap, print too small for him to read at first, as his eyes slowly came back and his legs slowly grew stronger. Old gymnasts bars, from Karla's younger days, helped him through physical therapy.

The eyes eventually returned to their old normal level; the legs... The legs required more time, and never really were the same again.

When Brawler Yukon defeated the Kaiju Karloff in Vancouver, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps entered into full swing. Hermann enlisted in the Academy immediately, but Karla returned to finish her thesis at CMU, renewing the focus on her research to biomedical applications. When they last saw each other in Pittsburgh, when Hermann was on his way to the newly commissioned Hong Kong Shatterdome, Karla hugged him, and kissed him on the cheek.

"You go save the world," she said. "I'll save you."

.4.

He didn't see Dr. Geiszler again for almost a year, the two of them reassigned to Los Angeles after the Breach was located so close to Hong Kong. Apparently the PPDC decided that their science staff - even the ones studying the Breach - should be as far away from the thing as possible. It was also not so much jingoistic as a legitimate language barrier - Chinese or Japanese was the lingua franca on the West Pacific coast, English and Spanish on the East Pacific coast.

Hermann was not directly aware that he and Dr. Geiszler were in the same Shatterdome until a few weeks into his tour, when the happy shout of 'Hermann!' came across the commissary and then Geiszler was all but barreling over to him. For a brief moment, he braced himself, but some show of physical affection wasn't forthcoming, thank God.

"Karla said you were here." He came to stand a pace or so back from Hermann and joined him in the line to pick up food, completely ignoring Hermann's silent attempts to ignore him. "I was going to hunt you down, but figured I'd wait it out. And, you know, new Kaiju specimens, so that was important."

There was no getting out of this, it seemed. "I haven't spoken to Karla in a few weeks," he admitted. He had been busy, and there was something about a blood relation that made it less important to keep those constant innocuous contacts the way other relations might feel the need.

"Oh, man, you should call. She's tense, thesis drama, you know the drill." Geiszler picked himself up a disgusting quantity of pasta, some sort of meat, and then a fruit cup, and pudding, while Hermann tried to maintain something that seemed more balanced and well-rounded.

He had been doing well, he hadn't needed his cane in over three months, he was on a good dose of medication, and neurologically things were not progressing. It was all good news, but Hermann knew that it could change at a moment, which was why he was cautious with both hands on the tray, and exceptionally careful when the tight grip caused the tray to have a slight rattle, which he settled a moment later.

"Nice work on the Breach," Geiszler said, when the two of them found a seat. "Love a good predictive model."

Hermann gave a grunt of acknowledgement.

"So, we're thinking wormhole?

They actually managed a cordial conversation, or as much of one as could be had between a man who had a sister, and the man who had slept with - and now was friends with and advising that sister - could be. Karla had certainly never said as much, but then she never did, but there were a few days when 'Newt said this' and 'Newt suggested that' had nearly spurred Hermann to ask if he needed to have a talk with the reptile, though he never had.

When it was time to head back to the lab, Hermann found himself trying to lever himself up, only to find his left leg would absolutely not cooperate. After a moment of trying in vain to get his left moving again, he gave it up, and stared down at his tray.

"You coming?" Geiszler asked.

"No," Hermann answered. "I had a thought I wanted to jot down." And to prove it, he pulled out a notepad and started to jot, even though there had been no such idea.

"Man, old school." But Geiszler let him have that moment.

He would have liked to blame the setback on Geiszler, but these things rarely worked that way; instead he sat there, massaging the limb until he could feel it well enough again, and when he tried his weight on it, it held.

It was the first of a thousand meetings between them, and no matter how they seemed to rub each other the wrong way, professionally, Hermann could not deny that they got results.

Hermann enlisted Geiszler's expertise on the chemical composition of the Kaijus in order to help refine and perfect the tracking signature, given that their cool surface temperature made them difficult to track away from preset buoys. Geiszler enlisted his help on a few genetics problems where the more programmatical approach was necessary.

Somewhere along the way, Geiszler just started to... grate. He liked to think he was the bigger man, but as much as he tried to tell himself that Geiszler was an idiot, was reckless, was a man-child, and was involved with his sister in some way, he still found himself attracted. He was then upset that he found the man attractive, because it was inappropriate at best, but Geiszler was disgustingly charismatic.

It was only too easy to find fault with the man's methods - over-eager, but not sloppy - his demeanor - over-familiar - and the fact that he rose to the head of the soft science side of K-Science in only a few months. There was enough there to let the animosity stew, but even as they bickered, even as they escalated to their first full-blown yelling match over the weapons armaments on the Mark II (they had both, in the end, been wrong) they still worked.

There would have been so much less problem if they weren't professionally compatible. The professional was supposed to be filled with true or false, correct or incorrect, not... not whatever it was that lurked in his own heart when it came to Dr. Newton Geiszler.

It didn't help that Geiszler always called him 'Hermann' with a sort of warm familiarity that Hermann never invited.

Geiszler made him a better scientist, that was the most galling part; Hermann knew the same could be said of him, that he forced Geiszler to think harder and work harder, but the truth was that they... connected, and sometimes, on very rare occasions, he thought Geiszler might have been flirting with him. Nothing blatant, but enough to sour him for days. It was just charisma, the man probably could have slept with half his students if he put his mind to it.

"Dunno man," Geiszler said, doodling on his tablet as it was reflected on the 3D display a few feet away - where Geiszler had his feet propped up. "Breach physics. Why are you asking me?"

"Because you actually have taken some high end physics, and I cannot stand Rabic," Hermann answered, matter of fact. "Don't pretend you don't know the maths well enough to follow."

Interestingly, Geiszler didn't even recommend his father, which likely spoke to his connection to Hermann's sister, but was still a nice absence.

"Alright, fine." Geiszler leaned in, stretching his legs and then tucking them under himself in a way that Hermann could only envy. "Question 1, really the only question that matters: wormhole goes in, wormhole doesn't go out. Marshal Pentecost has hit that thing with everything from nukes to submersibles, and we don't get a damn thing, it just... bounces off."

"Every observation of the Breach says the same thing: there is a Breach, we should be able to penetrate it, and yet here we are, denied access." Hermann glowered at the readings, which said that the wormhole they were looking at should be two way. It was not monodirectional, and yet they didn't have the data to prove it. "Thousands of tons of Kaiju comes through it every time!"

"Maybe we should buy it dinner first." Geiszler stared at the diagram, and then when Hermann didn't respond he turned and looked at him. "What?"

"Must you be so crass?"

"Oh come on! That was a joke." Geiszler waited, and when he received no positive reply he gave Hermann a disappointed huff. "Look, maybe there's something the Kaiju are doing on the other side that triggers the opening. Maybe if we... could chase a Kaiju back to the Breach we could see it leave."

Hermann gave it a moment's serious thought. "They're so animalistic, though. Do we even have a concept of whether or not they are aware they have entered an entirely different plane of existence?"

"Of course not!" Geiszler said in response, hands flailing. "They seem to maybe be hunting and gathering, but they're omnivorous, and it's not like there's big game for them to hunt... but they always seem to go for populated city centers."

"Statistically anomalous given the coastlines," Hermann answered. "You've hypothesized noise pollution."

"I pulled that out of my ass and you know it."

"Well as long as you admit it wasn't scientifically rigorous."

The two of them sat, staring at the model, considering. Geiszler really had nothing, and neither did Hermann, but there wasn't anything wrong with trying to bounce ideas back and forth. The Kaijus had been coming from the Breach for years now, and one never knew when inspiration might strike.

"Doctor Gottlieb!"

Hermann's head shot up, and he frowned. He didn't think Geiszler had ever called him by his title, not even the day they had met, and it was odd to hear the name from him.

"Newt!" He glanced to the door only to find Karla standing there, leaning against the door frame. Her hair had grown out since he'd seen her last, long enough to fall down past her shoulders and then some. "I expected to have to track you down. And it was supposed to be a surprise."

"Can't keep anything from me," Geiszler answered. A glance over to Hermann, and then he stood. "I'll let you and Hermann catch up. We'll... kick some ideas around later, right?" Geiszler asked him.

Hermann nodded, mute, surprised to even see Karla at all, much less here, her and Geiszler together. Geiszler took the few steps it took to reach her, and then spun her gently, while Karla threw her arms around his shoulder and planted a firm kiss on his cheek.

They were mismatched: Karla had his family's height, and Geiszler would never be anything but short, but he beamed up at her anyway, and didn't seem to mind the disparity at all, just grinning at her.

"Later." Hermann thought he heard promise in his sister's voice, but he tried not to think about that.

When the two of them were alone, she collapsed onto the couch beside him and flung her arms around him, a gesture he reciprocated immediately. "Doctor?"

"Newt ruined the surprise," Karla said. "But that's just typical of him, isn't it? Yes, Doctor. Papa and Mother know, of course, but I wanted to surprise you as the fourth Doctor Gottlieb."

"I'm still surprised." He knew she'd been defending, but that wasn't that much of a surprise. "Really, I knew you would. So, where now?"

"MIT," she answered, no hesitation. "Newt and Dr. Schoenfeld both recommended me to Dr. Warner, and I'll be working with him on ambulatory prosthetics, and... well there might be Jaeger applications in the long run, but that's not why I'm going for it."

"Is it really proper for Dr. Geiszler to be recommending you?" Hermann asked, because that was a concern. Schoenfeld at least was an expert in the field, and his recommendation would carry weight as her advisor, but Geiszler was just a ridiculously overqualified alumnus. He didn't want his sister's academic career tainted by obtaining any piece of it because of a romantic engagement.

Karla shrugged off the concern. "It's done, I'm accepted. How are you? I feel like it's been forever." At that, she put her hands on the sides of his cheeks and brought him in for another kiss, this time square on the forehead.

"Seven months?" That was about as long as he'd thought it had been. He and Karla would skype, from time to time, but it wasn't the same, and Hermann's time was valuable and Karla's was frequently spoken for. "I've been busy."

The urge to walk, to move, was strong, and Hermann had long ago learned to heed it, because he needed to keep his legs in good order. So he stood, and Karla allowed him the dignity of doing it himself, before she offered him her arm - on his left - and he did accept that, threading his arm through hers as though it was perfectly natural.

"I've been following your progress," Karla said. "Papers, mostly, you know it's hard to get real news from the front."

So they talked. Karla might not have a true clearance anymore, but it wasn't as though he and Father weren't involved in the day to day. They talked maths, they talked physics, they talked science and Jaegers and their last failed assault on the Breach.

"And what does your maths say?" She asked, the two of them sorting out one large tray of food in the commissary.

"It says it is going to get worse." The answer was not the one she wanted to hear, so Hermann let it settle before he continued. "It's been a good year, so far, only one attack, but... on the television they talk about how we are winning, we are pushing them back, and that is true but we are no closer to a solution, an answer than we were five years ago."

"You know the Breach now, you found it. You will figure out how to close it."

Hermann wished he had his sister's optimism. The two of them went to the Shatterdome proper, the Jaeger bays where they watched the Mark IIIs being pulled apart, worked on for maintenance. They were beautiful. "The Mark IVs will be launching soon."

"And that's not reason enough for optimism?" Karla asked, pulling a piece of bread apart and making a little sandwich on the roll, stuffed full of potatoes and sliced apples.

"How can you eat that?"

Karla shoved his shoulder.

"No." Hermann watched the hanger. "We need Mark IVs because the Mark IIIs are having a hard time, the Is and IIs are being retrofit twice a year. Every Kaiju that comes through the Breach is tougher, smarter... Dr. Geiszler has a few thoughts on speciation, but he's so far had no luck with the Kaiju's genetic code, and until he does we have no vector to develop a biological weapon either."

The real reason for his distress was worse.

"The Breach is opening wider, fractions every time, but... enough. We will start seeing bigger Kaijus, more deadly..." It was going to get much, much worse.

"What have I always told you?" Karla said, leaning her head against his shoulder as she continued to chew on her sandwich monstrosity.

"Fuck the numbers. It does not make the problem go away," Hermann said. Denial had solved none of his problems, not his relationship with his father, not his illness, not his ridiculous infatuation on his colleague, none of that had gone away because he did not wish to see it. The Kaijus were no different.

They talked of Karla's studies, about her research and her future, they talked about Jaegers and Kaiju, about America, about home... there was no such thing as a nice restaurant in Los Angeles, not since the rich had relocated farther inland, but they went to a passable one. When they returned to base, Karla went with him as far as his room before she looked over at him, awkward.

"Do you mind if I go... pick Newt's brain?" She asked, softly. "We'll spend more time tomorrow."

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said, for an answer, because the answer of 'yes, I very much mind' wouldn't be kind at all.

.5.

It was a hard thing to admit, but the cane had become a necessity. Part of it was his own fault, not the MS, and he knew that, he was not engaging in physical therapy as frequently as he ought. There was too much to do, and Hermann's work as the head of the technologically oriented side of K-Science meant that he didn't have the luxury of relaxing, and sometimes sleep, much less the hours of dedication it would take to keep up with a true therapy regimen.

He walked, that was his therapy. It kept his balance sharp, and he shifted from leg to leg throughout the day, used his chalkboards to plan out his code and his maths before he took to a computer for true calculations and coding.

The Kaijus were coming through more frequently. The difference between three a year and four a year might not seem like much, even to the Jaeger pilots, but Hermann could see the movement of the Breach, the slow expansion that meant whatever was on the other side of that wormhole could birth larger and larger Kaijus. There was no time for his own health, no time to 'take it easy'.

Hermann was unsure why no one had noticed, his balance was hardly keen on a bad day, but it was the physical addition of the cane that somehow turned a room full of geniuses into utter morons. He'd had offers to fetch his coffee, a thousand check ins as to his health, four people who had actually had the nerve to ask 'what was wrong with him', and by eleven in the morning he had found himself at wit's end.

"Alright, I will say this only once: the very next person who offers to help me with something I do not ask for, who asks me what is wrong, or who so much as breathes about my leg, will... be the very next person I sacrifice to the biological sciences side when Dr. Geiszler gets it into his head that he requires more modeling." Hermann glanced over at the assembled scientists, met each of their eyes, and did not draw his gaze away until each one had nodded in turn.

They finally got some work done, and around 1pm, to a few stares of concern, Hermann headed out of the cluster to get some food.

"Yo!" Dr. Geiszler's voice carried, it always carried through the long, high corridors of the Shatterdomes, but there was something particularly appalling about the LA Shatterdome. "Hermann!"

He did not bother to slow, Dr. Geiszler would not take it amiss, he would run to catch up to Hermann, and indeed after only a minute or so, the man was caught up.

"Food?" Geiszler asked. "Good idea."

Geiszler was on his right, far enough away to leave room for Hermann to use his cane, but there was no way the man wouldn't notice the addition. When Hermann glanced up, Geiszler was giving it an appraising look, before his eyes snapped up to Hermann's and gave him a smile.

"I need your help."

"You need my help?" The admission was rare enough as it was, with Geiszler loath to admit his own inadequacies. It was one of the few things that kept them from being a more effective, and cohesive K-Science unit, to be honest.

"Some processor hours. Our Kaiju@Home program finally got a hit, and we've got to do some more folding and simulating, but we could be on the verge of cracking the Kaiju genetic code!" Geiszler was babbling now, almost dancing around Hermann, which was even more annoying because Hermann kept worrying that the man was going to trip himself on the cane, but he somehow managed to keep away from it without even trying. "Well 'crack', we might be able to actually see it, at all, the idea of actually sequencing it, figuring out what the pieces mean, that will be decades! We might be able to sequence the skin parasites more quickly, figure out the toxins that allow them to abrade the skin enough to latch on... think of the possibilities, it's going to be amazing."

Geiszler, as always, barely stopped for breath.

"So I need like... two computery guys, and some time on the big guns." Geiszler was, of course, referring to the actual computing cluster housed deep in the Shatterdome, carefully maintained by IT, rather than the cluster of computers that Hermann had just left.

"Dr. Geiszler, you know as well as I do that scheduling time on 'the big guns' is a Herculean task, and not one that will be dictated by the whims of another department entirely." Hermann did not bother to sigh, it would be lost on Geiszler, but he did look up to where the man was back to walking abreast of him. "Did Karla tell you?"

"Did Karla tell me what?"

Hermann took the chance, and flicked the cane up so he could hold it around the middle, rather than atop the head. It was a prime position for smacking Geiszler upside the head if he so chose.

"Caning fetish?" Geiszler asked, all jokes, before he held his hand up. "No, no. I mean... I asked, like... six, seven months ago? You had that dizzy spell and were in the infirmary all day. I just asked her if... if you had some sort of diagnosis, which she said you did, and I left it alone."

"You left it alone?" Hermann asked, voice entirely skeptical.

"Well... I wasn't gonna if you didn't, but you did, so I did." Geiszler took a few more steps, and when Hermann didn't continue, he waited. "I mean from a scientific curiosity standpoint, you're killing me, here, but I let it go because... you know, as long as you're aware... I mean people don't always notice neurological symptoms in themselves so..."

Geiszler trailed off, and looked down at his feet, and Hermann finally took another step forward, cane back on the ground, and soon Geiszler was apace with him again. "So you have known there was something wrong with me for months?"

"Dude, I've known there was 'something wrong with you' from the day we met, but... yaknow, the good sort of wrong." Geiszler shoved his hands in his pockets, which caused his shoulders to hike up, and him to look even more boyish than usual. "Come on, you can't tell me we're not even a little bit 'two wrongs make a right'."

Yes, Hermann supposed they were. "Well... thank you, Newton."

"You called me Newton!" Geiszler grinned at him, all teeth. "We're, like, halfway to Newt, we'll get there someday."

"And I will do your maths," Hermann said. "And... get you some time on the cluster, but I cannot promise it will be right away."

"Really?" Geiszler's eyes went wide. "Did I forget my birthday?" The man then actually checked his phone, and Hermann fought down the urge to rub his forehead at the sheer inanity of the man. "Well, thanks."

"Don't mention it." A few steps later he added: "Please."

The two of them got in line and got their food, and when the two of them reached the end of the line, Hermann eyed his tray with skepticism, taking it in hand only to find it might have been overloaded, at least for his wrists at just that moment. It did not rattle so much as sag, just enough to pose a hazard.

He glowered at it.

Geiszler waited.

Hermann did not develop telekinesis in the last two seconds, so it continued to sit, unmoved, as Hermann glowered at it.

As much as he had hated the way his labmates had offered and offered and offered, he now found he was not prepared to ask. When he glanced over to Geiszler, the man had transferred his own tray over to one hand, and was looking at Hermann, expectant. After the brief internal war, Hermann gave a nod.

Geiszler scooped up Hermann's tray and cut a course through the mess, and settled the two of their trays down at the end of one of the longer tables. Hermann took a seat across from Geiszler, gave a little nod, and started to pick at his food.

They were almost two minutes into their silence - not awkward, just silent - when Hermann cleared his throat. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it."

"I have--" One deep breath followed another.

"Dude, you don't have to say," Geiszler said, not looking him in the eye.

"Multiple sclerosis." Hermann wasn't even certain he'd said the words completely, more a slur of syllables all mashed together. "For the last eight years."

Geiszler glanced up at him, and there was something, not quite pity, but some hurt, something... but it was gone a moment after that. "If you need anything..."

"You would certainly be the last person I would go to."

Hermann could see the man take it seriously for a moment, and then brighten. "Whatever, Dude, no help for you. See if I loan you some biologist ever again."

"Why on Earth would I want one? You do nothing but trail a disgusting amount of entrails in your wake."

Geiszler didn't mention that it was the bio section that had gotten them the readings they needed for the tracking algorithms, and the two of them fell into silence, and then Geiszler started up about his new theory that Kaiju might actually be born live, rather than from eggs as they'd originally hypothesized, and the two of them went back and forth about it long past when they were finished eating.

Hermann set their two trays atop each other, the leftover mess on top of just one tray, and without having to ask, Geiszler picked up the stack and brought them back to the dish station, the two of them heading back to K-Science at Hermann's pace.

They didn't talk about it, so much as it was knowledge that the two of them shared. When they took lunch or dinner together - once or twice a week, usually - Geiszler would wait until Hermann either grabbed his own tray, or gave Geiszler a silent, requesting, look, and they never talked about if he was having a bad day, or if his legs were not cooperating, and the one day, almost two months after Hermann had revealed his diagnosis, when he couldn't get himself up after lunch, Geiszler had sat with him, talking about nothing: music, home, his work in the lab, for almost two hours while Hermann massaged his leg and waited for his muscles to be ready to cooperate again.

After that, Hermann found it impossible not to think of Geiszler as 'Newton', even in the safety of his own head, and that made his own mind an even less safe place to inhabit than it had before.

.6.

K-Science had been scaled back. Kaiju were coming through the Breach at an again elevated rate, the first Jaegers were beginning to fall in battle, and now was not the time to scale back.

They were relocated to Sydney, all of them.

No one wanted to say anything, but the loss of Gipsy in Anchorage was the first of a dozen dominoes that was slowly destroying the PPDC from the inside. It was hard to find anything to feel warm about, but his infrequent skype conversations with Karla were one thing he could count on, for all there was the inevitable mention of 'Newton' and how much Karla enjoyed his work.

"I met someone!" Karla said, face bright and cheerful even across an ocean and a continent.

Hermann looked at her, surprised. "I thought--" But he pushed down the surprise, she had just been talking about the hours she'd spent on skype with Newton, with her usual scientific... glow. "Ah-- tell me about him?"

"His name is Henry," she answered, oblivious to his introspection. "He is finishing his doctorate in biomedical engineering, he is brilliant, and handsome, and very kind. We've only been on a few dates, but I think it might be serious. He's very focused on his studies, but I think that's an attractive quality to him."

All he could do was nod. He supposed Karla was at an age where that sort of commitment made sense to an intellectual. Hermann was 32, Karla now 30, and she must have been considering a family. He'd thought that perhaps Newton would have become his brother-in-law, the two of them were thick as thieves, and the flirtation had always been there, flagrant. As much as he was happy for Karla, he found himself concerned for Newton. The two of them had been... whatever it was they had been for almost eight years now, since Seoul, and now they were...

Perhaps Karla had given Newton an ultimatum which he had failed to respond to correctly. "Congratulations."

Karla frowned at him, lips downturned. "Are you alright, Hermann? You seem a bit off."

"No... I mean yes, I've been well. The weather is good, I ache a little less, and my eyes have been stable for ages." All of that was true, Sydney had been a good place for him.

"That's good, but I meant... you, Hermann, not your disease."

He looked down at his hands. "Things are stressful," he admitted. "Father and I are not speaking. They have downsized our labs to almost nothing." He was forced to see Newton every day now. The rooms were partitioned, but the staff was sufficiently small that space was taken over, rented out as storage to make up the extra money shortfalls from the budget. It would only get worse.

There was nothing he wanted less than to complain about work. "Have you told Newton?"

"I assume you mean about Henry?" She shrugged. "Tomorrow or the next day. It's so new, it seems like bad luck to say anything just yet."

"You are a scientist, not a fortune teller!" Hermann snapped back, surprised at the ire, and he realized it was because he could see his sister breaking Newton's heart with this. Hermann did not make a study, but he had occasionally checked for signs that Newton was being unfaithful to his sister, and always found none. The man was married to his work.

Hermann had never thought it would be his sister who would hurt Newton.

When he found the man, drunk off his ass, three days later in their private 'department head' office, Hermann mentally cursed his sister, and sat down beside the man. "You smell like a brewery."

"Join me?" Newton asked, tilting the bottle towards him and wiggling it, inviting.

"I abstain."

The little grunt in response had the bottle retreating and Newton took another swig from it. "It's all just so..." Newton waved his hands, almost sloshing the liquor everywhere, and Hermann took the initiative to take Newton by the wrist and take the bottle from him, moving it far away from harm's way. "Life!" Newton finished, having dropped words, maybe even sentences, in the interim. "You think you have someone... you don't even think... and then... gone!"

"It must be hard for you," Hermann said, willing to place his emotions aside, and allow Newton his grief if it was appropriate. Hermann almost felt at fault.

"It's... forever, though... I don't even remember a time when..." Newton sobbed, just one curt, broken sound, and then he scrubbed his hands over his face, and shook his head. "Keep it together. No time. I have no time for this, there could be another attack tomorrow. There's no time for this."

"Newton, it's... alright to be upset." His only experience at this sort of thing was from Karla herself, in the wake of his own grief, but while Hermann's had been silent, and brooding, Newton's was there, streaming down his cheeks as tears and pain.

"I know that!" Newton shouted.

Hermann would have usually gone back at him, just as hard, but he allowed the outburst where he usually would have fought it.

"Don't you think I know that?!" Newton was on his feet after that, pacing, frantic, and Hermann wasn't sure if that was better or worse, but he knew he could no less stop it than he could have the crying. "I don't have time to... I can't let this sit. I have so much work to do, we have so much work to do."

"No timing is ideal," Hermann said, and wanted to kick himself as soon as the words were out.

"Well, duh!" Even in the throes of sadness, somehow Newton managed to be inarticulate. "But it's not like you get to pick. It's death. And you'd think after millions of lives lost it would feel like just one more person, but for me it wasn't... for me..."

Hermann goggled, mouth wide for an instant before he blurted: "Who died?"

"My uncle, Gunter, it..." Newton frowned. "What did you think I was talking about?"

"Nothing, I... nothing." Karla hadn't even told him yet... God, that was even worse. He would have to let her know, as soon as he could. "I just saw you were upset."

Newton cried himself out, and Hermann let himself be cried on, an indignity he would have suffered for no one else, and the fit eventually ended with Newton, head resting on Hermann's thigh, as he finally purged enough emotion to rest.

The man was not himself for a month, sloppier work than usual, no passion, and everyone around them noticed as Hermann tried to keep them from upsetting the gentle balance that was Newton as he dealt with the loss of his uncle.

He snapped out of it, the worst of it, about seven weeks later when he caught Hermann in the hall, grinning at him. "Why didn't you tell me Karla was seeing someone?"

"I... thought you would be ill-equipped to handle it at the time," Hermann answered.

"Dude, that would have been this one huge bright spot. Your sister's fucking incredible, she deserves the best, and this Henry guy sounds like a catch." Newton began to babble, hands flailing. "And he's a biomedical engineer, how cool is that? I can't believe you thought I wouldn't want to know! I better get an invite to that wedding."

Hermann tried to follow the swing that was Newton's emotions, and found it was impossible. Perhaps he'd been mistaken in how much Newton cared for his sister romantically, but... to have him so excited, after only a few months since her last visit seemed odd. "I thought it would be more awkward for you."

"Awkward?"

"Due to your relationship," Hermann clarified.

"Our... I advised her, and not even in that 'advisor' sense, in the 'hey, here's some advice' sense. There may have been some cheerleading and what the hell did you think our relationship was?!" Newton staring at him now, confused.

Hermann... Hermann was mortified. "I thought you two..." He thanked God he wasn't a twitchy person, and that his cane took up one hand, otherwise he might have made a hand gesture. "In Seoul."

"Yeah, in Seoul I showed her..." Newton stopped, eyes wide, mouth even wider. "Hermann Gottlieb you have a filthy mind!"

"Oh, pardon me, 'show her some simulations', as though that wasn't a flagrant and transparent attempt to bring her to your room."

"Yes, to show her some simulations!" Newton was shouting now. "You've known me for how long?"

"Eight years."

"And how often have you known me to stay up all night with simulations or math or energy calculations or a dissection?"

If he weren't a mathematician dedicated to academic rigor over hyperbole, Hermann might have said the number was uncountably infinite. Hermann often found the man exactly as he'd left him the night before in the morning.

"And for eight years you thought I'd... with Karla?!" Newton was now on his way, there was no stopping him. "I wrote her a recommendation. I advised her. She'd only just gotten a masters degree! The level of academic power I could have held over her is... wow... just... You really thought I'd do that?"

Hermann was through feeling foolish about this. "It was not an unreasonable assumption! You two speak constantly, she's been very affectionate with you, she speaks highly of you to me, and she spent an entire evening with you in your hotel room."

"It's not the 1890s!" Newton slumped. "Wow... just wow."

"Your ability to sum up complicated problems so succinctly truly does precede you."

Newton's unimpressed look continued several paces down the hall. "Okay, since clearly I should have said this ages ago: hey, I've never slept with your sister. I'm sure she's a peach, and she's cute as a button and has nice eyes, but I was never going to sleep with her, because she was using me as an academic resource, and it would be unethical."

Unlike the last few outbursts, Hermann actually took a moment or two of reflection, trying to place this new piece of information in the puzzle that he knew of Newton. Newton played fast and loose with many rules and regulations, and as much as he tried not to think about Newton having a sex life (with his sister) there was the fact that he had always assumed Newton to be... active. Hermann never would have given a second glance to Newton's integrity if he had struck up a relationship with Karla, no matter what Newton's perspective, he was not her advisor in any real sense, and they had never even been at the same school during the same time period. Ethically, Newton would have been completely above board.

"I... suppose I'm surprised to know you are so vehement about it."

Newton's entire face darkened, and Hermann was suddenly very, very sure that there was a story behind that look, which he then turned on Hermann. "Well, I am. Look... can we not talk about Karla? I'm happy for her, and... I hate to think you thought that of me."

"Newton, I have nothing but the utmost disrespect for you, your methods, your background, your showmanship, and your music."

"See, that, that's good fun. We have dozens of papers together, we've been running K-Science together for years, that I'm not worried about." Newton fell in on Hermann's left side, and the two of them finally made it to the cafeteria, and then seated in one of their many corners.

"You don't date," Hermann said.

Newton glanced up from where he was buttering a roll. "I date," he said, but then seemed to reassess. "Alright, I never really got the hang of dating, my precociousness did not extend to the realm of dating. I have sex, and I have friends."

"And no sex with friends?" Hermann asked, in spite himself.

"I--" Newton looked confused for a moment, and then shrugged. "I guess I figured that would be the logical next step, but execution has always escaped me on these things. You were dating that girl in Los Angeles for a year or two, until we moved to Sydney. Why are we talking about dating?"

Because Hermann had apparently unearthed some masochistic tendencies that he was previously not aware of. He shook his head. "Nothing, I don't know."

Newton chewed his bread slowly, mulling something over, and then he prodded the slab that passed for meat on his plate. "Karla sent me a picture of Henry, he's cute."

Hermann fought down the urge to bang his head against the table.

When the two of them finally finished with dinner, he could see that Newton's mood was not so much 'much improved' as that he seemed to be hiding his own mourning better, and the two of them headed out, presumably for the evening and back to their quarters. Hermann was still chewing over problems, of course, his head was always filled with problems, but he also understood the need of rest. The two of them stood outside their respective rooms; Newton's was two down from Hermann's and across the hall, and when he glanced back over his shoulder he saw that Newton's head was pressed to the cool metal of the door before he squared his shoulders.

Hermann was back to fumbling with his own door by the time Newton turned around.

"You wanna listen to some music?" Newton asked.

Hermann could think of nothing he would like less than to listen to some of what Newton - politely - termed 'music', but there was the fact that the man rarely reached out, and he had been in great need of companionship lately, and the two of them were the closest thing to friends the other had.

"It's my uncle's work."

He was careful with his turn, and then took the steps back down, before he made his way over to where Newton was fumbling open his own door.

"Dude, you're not going to regret this!" Newton glanced back at Hermann. "Alright, no, you probably will, but I promise I'll throw in some stuff you'll like.

Newton's room was surprisingly neat, the bed made at least passably, and at Newton's gesture, Hermann made himself at home on the foot of the bed, legs stretched out in front of him, and he leaned forward far enough to make sure he stretched out the various muscles now that he assumed he would be seated for a while.

He watched Newton buzz around the room, pulling down headphones - a pair which he passed to Hermann, and Hermann slid around his neck to wait for Newton to finish - followed by the man tossing a tablet, and then himself closer to the head of the bed, and then glancing over at Hermann.

"So the thing you've got to understand about Gunter, is that he was like... so... avant garde, avant-avant garde." Newt took his own headphones and pulled them up. "Ideally they'd be noise canceling, but nothing like a Kaiju attack to remind you why you shouldn't be unaware of your surroundings." When their headphones came up, Newton continued to ramble. "I'll keep it light to spare your eardrums."

Hermann, as much as he might project that air, was not unaware of the popular music, especially of Germany, since the early 00s. He had been at university in Berlin, he knew what people listened to even if he did not always enjoy it.

Newton's idea of keeping it 'light' was not quite as light as Hermann would have liked, but he did admit that the choice could have been worse. Had Hermann been forced to categorize the fast-paced playlist that Newton seemed to be assembling on the fly, he would say it was largely electronica, with trance, and even some industrial dance and metal - lyrics toned down, samples and riffs from the background brought more to the fore - as Hermann felt as though he was on a tour of music from Germany - and much of Europe - for the last two decades.

He was ashamed, or maybe even disappointed, to admit that he did not recognize much of the music. There were none of the singles that had ripped through the airwaves at his college (when he was trying to study) there was nothing that he had heard out in clubs when he was trying to unwind, and he almost wished he could say that he had appreciated Newton's uncle's music, but there was nothing to say, these were technically excellent, although apparently unpopular.

Until something he heard hit some part of his mind - he wasn't an auditory man, he knew that, far more visual, not like Newton - and it made him squint and strain, trying to place it. "Was this... ah... sampled?" He asked Newton.

"You recognized it?" Newton's entire face brightened. "Yeah, Gunter was always... always getting sampled, you listen to enough music, you're gonna hear his work, just... not..."

Newton looked at the tablet, and Hermann's gaze followed his fingers, and he realized that Newton had been tweaking the instrumental mix to the music they had been listening to for the last half hour, maybe hour, keeping it as something that Hermann might be able to palate, until he abruptly stopped, the music fell silent.

"He pioneered dozens of sounds, he just never..." Newton hung his head, the pain of that lack of recognition. Hermann actually understood it well. For him it was his father, when Hermann's achievements were never enough, but in Newton it was obvious the lack of recognition for his uncle was something that hit Newton hard. "You like it?"

"It..." The truth was he did not dislike it, certainly not the way Newton had tweaked the mix. "There is artistry there, soul. Many of the progressions seemed to have mathematical--"

"And you ruined it," Newton said, but he was smiling. He knew a compliment - one of Hermann's, at least - when he heard it. "Last one."

Unlike the rest of the music they had listened to, Newton seemed content to press play and leave this one be. He just scooted back on the bed, pressed his head against the cool wall of his room, and closed his eyes. Hermann gave into the temptation to watch Newton's face, relaxed, still, and slowly the music rose up.

It was... soft, the instrumental clearly electronic, not orchestral, but it was evocative of the latter, long notes that might be pulled out of strings or woodwinds done from a synthesizer of some sort.

And then the vocals came in, a woman's voice, clear, with an incredibly powerful voice.

Italian, it took him a moment to realize it was in Italian, not German, and his mind took a moment to switch, to change his frame of reference, and then he was listening to pain, and love, reaching out and not touching, begin pulled away and pushed towards someone, the ache in your chest that wasn't filled even when someone was near, and he had to look away from Newton, because that was too much, that wasn't what he had expected, and then he realized he was missing things, that he should be listening...

He closed his own eyes, breathed in, felt the music, and even the synthetic underpinnings to the melody couldn't detract, they only added, they only made the harsh reality of her voice seem more isolated, more alone even as it accompanied her and followed her and comforted her as she breathed...

Hermann must have been holding his breath, because when the song finally ended his mind told him he needed air, and he opened his mouth and the only sound that came out was a gasping exhalation, followed by a slow, ragged breath in.

Newton was silent.

They were both silent, maybe for minutes.

If he did not say anything, if Newton prompted him, Hermann would have said it was incredible and perhaps Newton wouldn't have believed him, and would have instead thought he was being humored. "I've never heard anything like that," he said, and the rawness in his voice told the rest of the story.

Newton's eyes were still closed, his mouth still at rest, but he tilted his head just enough for Hermann know that he had heard.

"It's coming out in two weeks," Newton said, minutes later.

"The instrumental work was incredible." Hermann could not quite keep the 'but' from his tone, it would have been nothing without the vocals, without the raw power and emotion that had Hermann's hands close to trembling.

"The vocals sell it, yeah." Newton did not sound bitter by this, if anything he sounded proud. "Monica Schwartz?"

"The Mezzo?" Hermann asked, although it was obvious after listening, and thinking about it for a moment. The Italian should have been a give away that the artist was from an opera background.

"You know her?" Newton asked, shocked.

"I saw her in Carmen when I was a boy. I don't think I've ever heard it better."

The grin on Newton's voice was infectious. "I'll let her know you said that."

"You know Monica Schwartz?"

Newton gave him a funny sort of look, amused, bemused, sly, all the looks that Hermann had learned to love and hate on Newton's face. "Dude, Monica Schwartz is my mom!"

"Your mother is a classically trained opera singer."

"Who was working on this song with my uncle when he died, yes."

There were days, now eight years into his acquaintance with Dr. Newton Geiszler, where Hermann thought there was nothing more to learn about the man who he had been forced to share his life, and his space with for a half decade, and then there were days like today, where Hermann wasn't entirely sure he could stand to learn that the man could be more incredible.

Hermann watched the side of Newton's face as he seemed caught in his own thoughts, introspection and quiet that was so rare from him, and the urge to reach out, to take one chance, just one huge chance in his entire life started to settle into his chest. He could do it, reach out, touch Newton's hand, or is face, and...

"God I miss him."

The urge died, immediately. Newton was in pain, hurting, and that was the last thing they needed to add. He did touch Newton's hand, just a warm touch of fingers around the man's wrist, holding tight. Hermann was not a tactile man, while Newton was, but the level of connection seemed to be enough. "You will get through this," Hermann promised him. "You are, without a doubt, the most stubborn man I know."

"Dude, look in a mirror." But the look on Newton's face was soft.

The disks - actual, proper, CDs - of Monica Schwartz's cast recording of Carmen arrived in the mail about two months later.

Hermann--

Newt said you were a fan. I would have emailed, but my son told me you are 'old school', so I thought you might enjoy this more. I'm afraid it will never see LP.

-Monica

Although he did not usually listen to music while working, he made an exception that day, the light weight of a proper CD player at his hip as he worked the chalkboard. He caught Newton watching him, sometime later in the day, with a happy curl to his lip, and he couldn't quite help but smile back.

.7.

The Kaiju attacks came more frequently, five, sometimes six a year, not exactly, but with enough regularity that Hermann's confidence intervals kept them prepared at the right times. Newton traveled regularly to whichever Shatterdome was closest, in order to harvest more and more bits, but it never seemed to make any difference. His efforts to unravel the genome were at a dead end, and they were hemorrhaging staff.

Funding dried up.

Hermann's salary, a frankly offensive sum for someone with his background and experience, was his father's only concession to familial harmony. Hermann wasn't entirely certain Newton still received a salary.

He stayed for the Kaiju; Hermann had always known that, but there was something about seeing him here, spending his life on these monsters that were killing them, immortalizing them on his skin, scrambling to understand what was driving them to the brink.

Hermann felt the strain of the next two failed attempts on the Breach, he had stood in the back of the room while Sydney launched a bomb run while Crimson Typhoon defended Hong Kong port.

Hermann had given his own latest... guess, it was a guess. They had tried to hit the Breach, several times, and this time Hermann had hypothesized that a temporary stabilization would occur during the first half hour of Breach to get a weapon through into the Throat. The launch from Sydney, behind the back of the Kaiju currently attacking Hong Kong, was within seconds of the Kaiju leaving the Breach, and their Jaeger, Horizon Brave, was dropped practically on top of it.

As the Jaeger got closer, Hermann stepped forward, and then took another step, the various techs, all standing waiting, parted for him, as he settled in beside Mr. Choi, watching over his shoulder. The Breach was dilated, 36 meters, from the readings it appeared to be open, and stable, there should be...

"We're at the Breach now," the voice of Lt. Shen came over the line.

Hermann waited, hand clenched tight around his cane, watching the readings.

"It appears intact."

He wanted to snap at them. They were not scientists, they were not there to take observations. Hermann was reading the thousands of little data points that were being broadcast both by the Breach observatory and the Jaeger systems.

"Arming warhead now."

Around the LOCCENT, everyone waited with baited breath. Hermann looked down to see that his fingers had turned white from how hard he was gripping. Hermann thought one might be able to hear a pin drop.

"Deploying now."

Nothing came over the line for several seconds.

"That's a negative," Shen said, voice tight. "Negative on Breach penetration."

Hermann felt bile rise in his throat, and he clapped a hand over his mouth. He was unsure if his vision was swimming from nerves, fear, or illness, but it didn't matter.

"Bring it home," Pentecost said, somewhere just behind Hermann.

"Sir, we still..."

"Negative," Pentecost said, more firmly. "Come on home."

Tendo interrupted the the back and forth with a startled: "Sir, the Kaiju has disengaged from Crimson, returning Breachward."

The Kaiju - Meathead - was a Category III, Brave was a Mark I, and had been selected for the mission because of its... lack of combat usefulness. It was one of the only Mark Is still in service, behind Cherno and a handful of others. Hermann knew a bad match up when he saw one.

"Brave needs to disengage now," Hermann said, turning to Pentecost, as though he didn't already know that.

But the dawning horror of Meathead returning to the Breach, Lts. Shen making the logical assessment - they had a nuclear warhead, in an antiquated tin can, they were near the Breach. Hermann watched, he watched to the very end, he watched as Meathead came into range, and then grabbed at Brave... he watched as the exploding cloud boomed on the display.

He listened to Mr. Choi's wavering: "Kaiju signature, destroyed. Horizon Brave, lost."

Hermann didn't ask about the Breach, he could see it well enough on the display, and Mr. Choi had his left hand, and the Rosary there, pressed to his lips. He would not disturb a man at prayer. He straightened his back, turned, and began to leave LOCCENT.

Pentecost came up to him as he left. "Analysis, as soon as you are able, Dr. Gottlieb."

Psychosomatic, the ache, the weakness in his leg, he knew it must be psychosomatic, but it didn't matter, he limped his way back to his office. Newton was scrambling around, hands all over everything, muttering to himself. "Killed out at sea? Really?! How did it know to turn around? How did it know we were making a play for the Breach? Some sort of gland? Have we ever hit the Breach with a Kaiju out? Damn, I won’t be able to get samples."

"Newton! Have some Goddamned respect!" Hermann snapped, taking the few steps it took to get to where Newton was standing and grabbing him around his damn skinny tie. "Two men are dead!"

Newton stepped back, scrambled away. "Shit." He brushed his hand over his face. "Sorry, just... stuck in my own head."

"Those men..." Hermann took a slow breath, and he looked over to where Newton had allowed the gravity of the moment to sink in, and realized the impact it was having on Hermann. "Those men went to the Breach on my recommendation, on my numbers and calculations and models. The Breach was dilated, there is no reason... my models predicted..."

"Then your model is incomplete."

Hermann knew that. He knew he was guessing, he knew he was making allowances, he knew the longer that this went on the more he was forced to work around the fringe and make assumptions that couldn't be backed by data, but hearing that from Newton was too much in that moment.

Those men had died because of Hermann. He had failed them. His numbers had failed them, his analysis, his work, no matter what he did, it was there and his numbers had killed two men, and Hermann could not let himself feel that or his mind would spiral away from him and he wouldn't be able to look at those numbers again, not for far too long.

"At least I have a model. All you have is the fetishistic preservation of corpses! I have data," Hermann was surprised at his own vicious tone. He could sometimes be nasty with Newton, but the level was more than even he had expected.

Newton's eyes grew wide and Hermann could not bring himself to take it back, so he set his mouth and glowered at the man, standing by his words.

"And you'll never have enough!" Newton came back at him, arguing back as they were more and more inclined to do as time wore on and the Breach was no closer to closing. "Hermann, you will never have enough data. You will never know everything. You might never even know enough. Your models will always be incomplete, you can't... you can't predict everything."

Under other circumstances, and other tones, it might have been a comfort, but it wasn't. It spoke deeply to the fact that they were years into this war, no end in sight, and the only chance that Hermann had given to Pentecost had literally blown up in their faces.

"I'm going to Hong Kong," Newton said, when Hermann didn't respond. "Crimson sawed off a chunk of arm."

Newton stayed there for three months, even though they barely had room for a lab there, no equipment, and he hated Hong Kong. Hermann continued his own work, distracted, and he studied the assault on the Breach, pouring over every ounce of data from the last failed assault, trying to see what had gone wrong the last time so that they would not fail like that again.

.8.

Newton returned to Sydney when the next Kaiju attack came almost five weeks before it was expected. The Coastal Wall, spearheaded by his father, was in full swing. They were going to cower, and hide, crawl under a rock and die.

Hermann was in his lab, still meticulously divided, Newton's specimens still as he had left them, still pouring over his data, still finding nothing. He heard a throat clear, and he glanced up. His vision was currently in a muddied state, between prescriptions, and he couldn't afford the time - and PPDC couldn't afford to carve him out another prescription - so he had to do with one that was close enough, but he recognized Newton, the black blur of his leather jacket and the messy mop of brown atop his head.

Perhaps he had expected an apology, perhaps he should have made one, but instead he turned back to his simulator. It was too fuzzy for him to do any work, so he shut his eyes, working the problem through in his head.

Newton took the few steps over to where Hermann was seated. "Cracked their genetic code. The Mark III through V plasma cannons can be tweaked to better disrupt their neural pathways, but it's not in their current output parameters."

Hermann glanced over at the papers Newton had set beside him, the man's sloppy scrawl was hard to read on a good day. "You want me to rewrite the plasma cannon energy matrix?"

"Yeah, it'll be way more effective."

"Why didn't you just say so, you idiot?" Hermann pulled down his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Newton didn't fire back, just waited.

"I-- I'm sorry, Newton, I can't see well enough to work a computer for long hours right now." He opened his mouth, ready to ask 'is there someone else?', as though there was ever anyone else. It was always just the two of them anymore.

Hermann couldn't see the look on Newton's face, but he could tell he was making one from the way his breathing changed, going just a little faster. "I'll take you to the Infirmary."

"I AM NOT AN INVALID!" Hermann shot back. He did not need to be tucked away in some hospital suite where he could do nothing, where he couldn't--

"Dude," Newt answered. "I'll bring a laptop, you dictate, I type, you can actually get your infusions and stay on your ass for a few hours."

Hermann flushed, looked away. He forgot how abrasive Newton could be, but also how much he... how much they molded around each other when they were in the same rooms. "It will be thousands of lines of code."

"Yeah, like you aren't jealous of my words per minute." Newton left, headed over to his side of the lab and started to rifle through his possessions. Hermann shut down his own work, groped for his cane, and then the two of them made their way through the Shatterdome halls, acting as though it had not been months since they had last spoken.

Hermann dictated. Newton typed.

Lima. Seattle. Vladivostok. The un-upgraded Jaegers, the old Mark Is and IIs were all destroyed, the IIIs did not fare much better.

Newton kept traveling, Hermann tried to keep the Jaeger weapons upgraded. They didn't see each other anymore. In some ways that was better, but when word came from Vladivostok that Brawler Yukon - Lt. D'Onofrio and Dr. Lightcap's Jaeger - had fallen in battle, both of them killed, Hermann didn't keep himself from abstaining. He drank himself so sick he thought he'd gone blind.

When he woke up, he was in the Infirmary, hooked up to a fluid drip, which was probably far better than he deserved after getting so drunk in his own lab.

"How did I get here?"

One of the stray medics glanced down at him as Hermann tried to sit up in bed, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and wishing whatever had crawled into his mouth and died would disappear. "Dr. Geiszler."

"Dr. Geiszler is in Vladivostok." Newton would be there, picking apart the remains of the Kaiju, ignoring the fact that D'Onofrio and Lightcap, two more pilots, and one of the greatest minds of their generation, was dead.

That earned him no answer.

They were defunded completely after that.

The Shatterdomes closed, Hermann did his math over and over again, Newton bounced from attack site to attack site, with barely a breath to come back to Sydney and unwind. He got fewer and fewer specimens, but he worked longer with them, and he seemed to be working on some sort of theory with no support, baseless and ridiculous, as always.

Hermann worked the numbers.

2025 began with the decommissioning of the Sydney Shatterdome. Hermann and Newton were packing away the last of their possessions when the latest attack hit, tearing through the Wall in under an hour. He and Newton watched the fight against Stryker Eureka from the roof of the Shatterdome.

"We're not gonna last much longer," Newton said. "We've gotta... go big, rock star big. We're in a box and we're not looking out of it. We've gotta..."

"Newton." Hermann sighed, tired, tired and aching and wishing that he could reach out to the other man and find comfort instead of the pervasive weight. They hadn't spoken, really spoken, in months, just been in each other’s orbits. He wasn't sure they had had downtime since that time in Newton's room, years ago now. He wished he had the guts to do something about it, but that had always been Newton's specialty. "Stick to the plan. We need to load up, we're expected in Hong Kong."

"I have a theory," Newton said. "I need a lung."

They waited the twelve hours it took Newton to extract a lung - and leave instructions for a few more parts - and head to Hong Kong.

To their last stand.

.9.

'I really wouldn't want to go in there with that limited amount of information.'

Newton's words rang in Hermann's ears as he laid in his bed, eyes boring into the ceiling, not sleeping. They had gone for the Breach six times, four times based on Hermann's intelligence, twice based on Newton's. Only one crew had been lost to those efforts so far.

He couldn't sleep.

His numbers were no different from the last time they had lost a crew. The Breach might stabilize. It hadn't before.

Newton was right that they didn't know enough. Newton was right that he didn't have enough data, and never would. Hermann didn't know how to deal with that gnawing hole that was missing data, incomplete predictions, and... hope.

Hope was in short supply in his life.

He swung himself out of bed and pulled up his laptop, opened it, and stared at the screen before booting up skype and trying to call his sister. She might be up... he waited, the call ringing for what felt like hours before his sister's face came on screen.

"Hermann?"

Hermann opened his mouth, found he had nothing to say, and closed it again. Karla said nothing beyond that. He was so tired. He wasn't sure he had ever felt so tired, not even when his MS was at its worst and he could feel it in every movement of his body. So he just looked at his sister, and Karla allowed it, waiting, silent, although with each passing minute her face grew more grave, but she did not prompt him again.

"Thank you," he said. "Thank you for everything you have ever tried to do for humanity... and me."

Karla bit her lip, and even over the bad connection he could see her blinking away a tear. She gave him a little nod.

"I..." I love you. I'll miss you. I wish I could live in a world where our family hadn't been torn apart by the politics of the apocalypse. "I..."

He bowed his head and blinked back his own tears.

"How long?" She whispered.

"A week?" He said. He had no idea. He didn't know. His maths said a week. He had never wanted his maths to be wrong more in his life.

"Stay strong," Karla said, voice still soft. "I... you are the strongest of us."

Hermann shook his head, denying the words. He was not strong, if he'd been stronger, or better, or smarter, this would have been done ages ago. He and Newton would have somehow... it would have worked. They wouldn't be standing on the edge of the brink, looking into the dark abyss, hoping this time something would be different.

He did sleep, finally, having said the only goodbye he would have regretted not making. Breakfast didn't sit well - it never did - and Hermann could feel the effects of too long with too little sleep. At least he could still sleep, when Newton got like this he was unable to crash for days.

Hermann expected to find him, three days from now, collapsed face-first in...

Newton was leaning against a machine, seizing, twitching, cradling some switch, Pons cap askew on his head... God he had done it. "Newton! Newton! What have you done?!"

He scrambled over, cane clattering to the floor as he fell to his knees. Hermann groped for Newton's neck, his pulse was racing so fast Hermann barely needed to check, and he righted the Pons cap on Newton's head before disengaging it, pulling the man towards him and clinging for dear life.

Hermann was so, so wrong... there was one goodbye he had never expected to need to make, one that he knew he would regret forever. "Newton?"

Captain Casey had been brain dead after his first Drift, seizing until he flatlined on the table. Hermann had been in the Infirmary as they worked on him, he had seized for almost twenty-one minutes... his mind fried by then. He had no idea how long Newton had been in the Pons.

Calm. Stay calm. He pushed Newton until he was on his side, putting a hand on the man's shoulder, holding him without holding him down.

"Newton... God... Why?!" Hermann hissed, mad at the man now.

"Hansen told you this would kill you." Hermann swallowed again. "I told you it would kill you. It's basic maths, Pons basics, it's Biology 101. You have a PhD for God's sake!" He yelled, yelled as though Newton could hear him, as though Hermann's words could unmake what his partner had wrought.

Why his incessant need to...?! But Hermann knew, he knew, he knew because Newton needed to push himself harder, just as Hermann did, but God he couldn't look at Newton like this. He closed his eyes against it, not ready to see this. The harm, the disregard, the... risk.

Newton's shakes quieted, quicker than Hermann would have hoped, and Hermann forced his eyes open, rolled the man onto his back, and checked his eyes. The left was shot, bloodied through, Neural Surge... Hermann swallowed down the bile. His right was clear, scanning.

"Am I dead?" The croaking whisper came from below him.

"No," Hermann answered. "But I may bloody well kill you. And only you--" Hermann pulled away, levered himself up to find a chair-- "would think that you would be greeted into the afterlife with me looming over you."

Newton said something, but Hermann missed it over the drag of the chair he pulled over towards the Pons machine. Newton was also no help as Hermann used every muscle at his disposal to drag the man upright and into the chair.

"Wh-wh-where?"

Hermann pulled Newton's glasses from the ground and tucked them neatly into his pocket. "Hong Kong."

Newton mouth trembled. "Wh--?" His whole head tracked Hermann, looking expectant, as though he'd communicated anything.

"You're in our lab." Hermann headed over to one of the sinks, a clean one, although he knew Newton didn't always distinguish, and he pulled down a glass. Mechanical, he needed to take care of Newton, needed to save the damn genius from himself, apparently.

Glass filled, Hermann returned to Newton's side and took the man's hands, brought them up so they could hold it in two hands.

"You Drifted with a Kaiju," Hermann said.

Newton's hands shook, shook as he looked down at the water, eyes unfocused, looking and not seeing, but he looked back up at Hermann again.

"You are safe."

It wasn't going in. Hermann could see that, could see the lack, the emptiness, the lack of processing and comprehension. He needed to get Pentecost, the man had experience with partnerless Drift and...

"Please don't be gone." That was all Hermann asked.

There were no words for the sheer relief when he returned with Pentecost, and Newton babbled and rambled, words not nearly scientific, not observational, not intelligent, until they finally resolved into this stream of...

Newton.

He was still in there, that idiotic mind of his still worked, still functioned, still was all there, and here he was, at the end of the world, and he was relieved for one man, relieved and yet Newton was prepared to do it again to learn even more.

.10.

Years ago, ten, maybe twelve years ago, his sister had said it was romantic that Dr. Lightcap patched herself into Lt. D'Onofrio's Pons when he was seizing as he tried to control Brawler Yukon.

A decade later, Hermann had another word for it: necessity. Not the clinical necessity of 'these Jaegers must work' but the human necessity of 'if this man dies in front of me, it would kill me'.

Newton had Drifted with a small piece of a Kaiju's brain, now he was eying an entire one as though that wouldn't be a thousand times worse.

He didn't really have a choice.

The Drift was something he knew, inside and out, at least in a technical sense. They would handshake first, and then... go in. A first Drift was always rough, two minds feeling each other out, learning everything, owning every inch of that individual. It was intimacy.

The two of them were strapped into the caps; each of them with one tight against their heads, connected and ready to make their neural link. Newton and Hermann stood abreast, and Hermann listened to Newton count down from five. Hermann waited, eyes open, unsure what to expect, and yet he braced himself. He needed to be prepared for anything in order to make this work.

Pastoral crowded cities and yet alone because Mom and Dad loved to take him out to the opera. Playing in the mud if filthy and disgusting with bugs and roughhousing alone with Karla, Dietrich, and Bastien.

Uni was incredible with so many people to compete with him and collaborate and make him feel useless and not good enough.

And born into the Hive, being stitched together, passing through to the other side, hunting, exterminating, pressing on because of her imperative.

.............

Hermann felt his mind die, the slow shutdown as one piece failed, and then the next, the cascade of neural death that marked the inability to move, the inability to see, the inability to breathe, the inability for his own heart to beat, he felt himself slip away even as his mind clung to the link to the dying Kaiju...

He slipped, fell, felt arms around him, and then he was in his own body again, shaking, every muscle spasming and screaming 'yes I am alive!' and twisting in his skin.

His body celebrated its life by vomiting into a discarded toilet in the middle of a Hong Kong Boneslum.

"You saw it, right?"

They had seen everything - two lifetimes, a Hive's worth of lifetimes - and their heads were so full the they thought they might cleave in two. The important part, however, was simple: "It's not going to work."

They scrambled over their own four feet, his arm under his for support, cane in hand, helicopter not far, they were still stuck somewhere, together, get to the Shatterdome together.

"Fly!" "Now!"

Hermann. Hermann. He was Hermann. He had a skull, he had a mind, it was his own, he was not a Hive, he was not Newton, he was not a Kaiju. His head was in his hands as he thumped his right leg against the floor of the helicopter, Newton's nervous tick, and he grabbed his own knee with his hand only to find Newton's hand there as well.

"Are we dead?" Hermann asked. His mind still wasn’t certain.

"Not if we have anything to say about it."

He finally felt he was himself when they arrived in LOCCENT, as the last of the post-surge had fled and all that remained was his own mind in his own skull. Necessity pushed them through, necessity pushed them apart, but the two of them stood inches from each other as Stryker Eureka fell, as Gipsy Danger made her way to the Breach, through the Breach, as Becket ejected Mori from Gipsy, as he pushed the Jaeger through the self-destruct sequence and made his way to his own escape pod, as his vital signs were lost, as Hermann listened to Mako on the other end of the line, sobbing for Raleigh to please not go...

Hermann could not imagine that, coming that close to Newton and then losing him, Hermann did not want to think about that at all.

The celebration in LOCCENT after was infectious, and as much as he might wish otherwise, the overwhelming need to be near Newton was not something he cared to resist. Newton had an arm wrapped around Hermann's shoulder, and they stayed like that, unable to move apart.

Tendo was the first one to put voice to it: "You two Drifted."

Hermann gave a grunt of acknowledgement, and he could feel Newton's smile, as though it tugged at his own lips.

"You two were compatible?"

Newton answered with a dismissive 'pshh!' before continuing: "Like there was ever any doubt."

"You doubted quite a lot," Hermann answered, unsure where that knowledge had come from, but it was there.

"Oh, come on, like you can't let me - us - us, let us have the moment. We're rock stars, Dude." Newton's hand was on the back of Hermann's neck now, and it should have been annoying, abrasive, and unwelcome, instead it was proof that they weren't truly apart.

Newton fed off of the surrounding adulation, and Hermann did not, but the buzz of it was still there, Newton's joy, Newton's pleasure that none of this had been in vain, and yet Hermann could not shake his own discomfort. He wanted to be alone - not alone, but alone with Newton, alone with their thoughts, alone so he had a moment to think - but he did not want to be alone without Newton, and Newton... Newton was a rock star.

It made him all the more surprised, then, that less than a half-hour later, Newton was maneuvering them through the LOCCENT crowd, just a step ahead of Hermann cutting them a path wide enough for Hermann to push through. The hallway was no better than LOCCENT proper, the party had spilled out there, and back slaps and shoulder squeezes came fast enough that Hermann could not shy away from them, but still Newton pushed through the crowd for them, never losing Hermann behind him.

That Newton's room - the closest to LOCCENT - became a refuge of silence was an irony not lost on him, and after a quick twitch of Newton's hand, to strip his bed of the quilt the man's grandmother had made, Newton collapsed face first into the bed, leaving more than enough room for Hermann to join him.

"You smell like a sewer," Hermann complained, although he knew he could not be much better.

"Hermann, I've been up for three days straight, I was nearly eaten by a Kaiju three times, I Drifted with two Kaiju, and you, and all I want right now is to sleep." Newton's usual nasal, and slightly whining tone was subdued, and when he finally wriggled enough to turn towards Hermann where he stood, his voice was far softer. "Please stay."

Hermann sat on the bed, tugging his feet up so he could untie the laces there, and then set the shoes down on the floor. After a brief reflection, he pulled off his sweater as well. Newton's leather jacket - ripped and torn in places - flew beside him and landed somewhere on the floor. "I thought you were in my head," Hermann said, softly.

"I was," Newton answered, but his voice was confused.

"Then you should know... I was not going to leave."

Hermann felt as though Newton's introspection was his own, thoughts tumbled through Newton's mind and Hermann could feel them but not latch onto them. "Dude... you...?" Newton's hand came to rest against Hermann's side, and then he slipped it closer, around his waist, and tugged. "Really? Me?!"

He let himself be tugged, brought so that Newton had Hermann hugged to his chest. "For some reason."

"I..." Newton's hand splayed, fingers spread across Hermann's stomach, holding him. "I don't..."

Hermann shut his eyes. Wished he could shut his ears. The last thing he needed was for Newton to tell him that twelve years of fascination, attraction, and occasional lust was not reciprocated.

"I'm bad at this," Newton said, but he was still holding onto Hermann at the waist. "Stay."

'Stay' was not no, but it was not 'yes' either, and if Hermann thought his mind would endure being away from Newton he might have ignored the man's request, regardless, but he did not. He laid himself on his side, he let himself be held, Newton's arms around him, their bodies pressed front to back, and Hermann did not think he'd ever been so close to Newton, not in all of their years together.

"Is this alright?"

More than. "Yes. As long as you are comfortable waking up with your arm numb."

Newton answered by pulling Hermann even tighter, and then rubbing his nose against the back of Hermann's neck. "I'm not going anywhere either."

The closeness of the Drift was not something that was required to be sexual, or even sensual, it wasn't something that demanded a physical release in that manner, but there was no denying that in unrelated pairs it usually ended up there, and that it was impossible to share something so deep with another human being without something to hold that tether together when the minds pulled apart and the bodies did not want to be.

"In Seoul I wanted to invite you up to my room," Newton said, breaking the silence between them.

"To see your models?"

"For sex."

Hermann spun, not as agile as he might have wished, but enough to have Newton on his back, Hermann over him, arms holding him up as he looked for any sign of sarcasm in the man's face, but there was none, absolutely none. "Why didn't you?"

"I guess..." Newton reached up, careful, tentative, his thumb brushing against Hermann's jaw. "I guess even then I wanted..."

Someone who respected him, someone who cared about him, not some casual fuck he walked away from in the morning, someone who could hurt him, could look inside and know how to hurt him and then wouldn't, wouldn't leave him sad and broken and hurting from how much faith he put in another human being again...

The feelings came from somewhere inside Newton's mind, but Hermann could tell, and could feel them as well.

Hermann leaned in, their mouths only inches apart, giving Newton one last chance to break away, but instead Newton wrapped his fingers to hold the back of Hermann's neck and pulled him the rest of the way in.

Their mouths met, open and sloppy from the first, tongues immediately acquainted and long familiar and surprisingly unhurried. It was their thousandth kiss, the kiss of two people who had shared enough that they could be lazy and slow, and could say 'I love you, I'm tired, but I need to have you here with me'. Their kiss left something warm in Hermann's chest, not a huge fire, just... warmth, something flickering and comfortable, like it had always been there just waiting for Hermann to notice.

"I have so many plans for you," Newton said, looking up at him, mismatched eyes just a touch wet.

"Item one is still sleep, I'm afraid."

Newton nodded in immediate agreement.

"Item two is a shower, and a change of clothes."

"Collaborative, I like it. We work better together."

Hermann wanted to tangle every one of their limbs together, legs twined, arms wrapped around each other, but even he could concede he was not prepared to wake up to the numb pins and needles the position would cause, so they returned to their last, with Newton against his back.

He fell asleep to the soft breathing of his partner against his neck, and when they were both asleep, he found himself again in Newton's arms, with warm blue memories that passed between them, the good things, first: playing, loving family, happy times that came before the sad.

Hermann sang with Newton's mother, her guiding them along the sheet music that befit her mezzo and Newton's young voice; Newton built model airplanes with Karla, the two of them spinning around the room chasing each other in dog fights; they fell in love through twelve years of glances that the other hadn't noticed, through longing, through lust, through respect and admiration, through the tears and the laughter, the failures - so many failures - and their greatest success, hand in hand, together, forever.

.epilogue.

They eventually got a shower... and six press conferences. Newton found a clean shirt - somewhere - and he mourned his leather jacket; Hermann found one of his nicer sweaters.

The Hong Kong Government gave the PPDC Jaeger Program the Shatterdome.

And that was just the first twenty-four hours.

He and Hermann ended up in their lab, looking over the mess of the last few days. Newton's Neural Bridge machine had somehow been returned in one piece, presumably on a later helicopter.

"We always wanted to run a think tank," Newton said.

"Yes," Hermann agreed. "I don't think our desire was usually to run it together, however."

"Oversight," Newton said, taking a few more steps in, glancing at the lung he'd dissected a few days ago, the brain segement he'd Drifted with and killed from the Surge. "We work better together. Just imagine the potential biomedical applications of... everything. I mean we can actually save the world now!"

"Only you, Newton." Hermann came up to stand beside him. "Only you would call what we did a prelude to saving the world."

"That's the problem with being a rock star," Newton said, completely and totally straight faced. "You have to top yourself with your next act! You have no idea how excited I am to go on tour! I don't think I've eaten a decent meal in years! I could actually go to Berlin!"

Hermann didn't resist the urge to go up and wrap his arms around Newton's waist and hold onto him, to keep him from frantically scrambling around the room. He had discovered the secret off button to Newton Geiszler, because he just stopped, and let Hermann put his chin on his shoulder, and pin him there against Hermann's chest.

"We should get an astrophysicist," Hermann said.

"We should get married."

There was a long moment of silence, wherein Hermann tried to figure out what on Earth was going through Newton's mind to cause him to say that. Not that Hermann didn’t understand the emotion, and they had the history, but did not think they were there yet.

Newton, of course, continued to ramble: "I mean, if we're going to get an astrophysicist, that would have to be someone who wasn't already an astrophysicist when the Breach was open, because I don't want one who doesn't have an appropriate level of scientific curiosity to forego pay, also sleep, in the name of science. That means recent graduates, means young, means..."

"You just proposed to me so that I wouldn't date a hypothetically attractive astrophysicist?"

"Yes?"

"Newton, we are not getting married until we've at least been on a date!"

"Oh." Newton fell silent. "We should go on a date." And because even though they now knew more about each other than any other person on the planet, Newton couldn't help but argue. "Really, we've been on at least two dates."

"You cannot retroactively decide that those are dates!" Hermann argued. "If you would like a date, you would need to make your intentions known beforehand." And, truth to tell, he did like the idea of a proper date.

Dinner for their first date was blue jello, penne pasta bake, a piece of meatloaf split between them with tomato sauce they used to make the bake more palatable. After dinner entertainment was standing on the roof of the Shatterdome, looking out to sea, fingers twined together on one of the railings. Dessert was a squirreled away bar of chocolate from Hermann's room. Their first night together that wasn't just collapsing into each other's arms was spent naked, lazy, and slow, and Hermann decided that if Newton asked him again, he'd say yes to the marriage.

He didn't ask, not for the three months it took to get a few funding sources and personnel lined up and neither of them had more than a minute to themselves. Suddenly everyone was excited about Jaegers and Science.

"I liked Jaegers before it was cool," Newton complained as they slid into their too-small bed in Hermann's room ('their' room was awaiting refurbishment from its previous life as a storage room).

"You liked Kaijus before it was in any way appropriate."

Newton groaned, and rolled onto his face. "I want you to know, I put up with a lot for you, and the fact that you keep saying Kaijus is a major relationship hurdle."

He snorted into Newton's back.

"Oh, I got you a roboticist." Newton said, wriggling onto his side and propping his head up on his arm.

"I thought we agreed that I had all hiring authority over anyone who did not deal with squishy innards," He was sure the roboticist was acceptable, and intelligent. Newton did not, actually, go hiring people willy-nilly, but it was annoying.

"Sure, but I had to hire her to get the biomedical engineer I wanted. Package deal, benefits, family quarters... real pain in the ass." Newton waited, eyebrow arched, as though waiting for Hermann to get pick up on something.

A tiny spark of an idea, came, and Hermann pulled back, not quite daring to hope. "What is this 'roboticist's background?"

"PhD Carnegie Mellon, trained under Jasper Schoenfeld, post-doc MIT... I advised her a bit... like sleeping with her brother..."

Hermann leaned in, and gave him a little peck on the lips. "How did you get her?"

"I... may or may not have a personal project that I've, you know, dedicated some funds to that she's pretty passionate about... also Jaegers." Newton looked up at him. "Chicks dig giant robots."

Newton, as always, managed to turn what could have been a moment with a great deal of emotion - and perhaps too much, given that Hermann did not dare to hope about some things - into something light, and humorous, and allowed his mind to latch on to something else.

"Family quarters are only for couples with children. Karla and Henry don't have children."

"Oh..." Newt frowned up at him. "Well, you know... we're gonna be uncles and stuff."

He was going to be an uncle... that meant... well... that meant... "You know, I think you've managed to tell me almost every major milestone of my sister's before she has been able to. Also, you do not get to claim her child as a niece or nephew, you are not her brother."

"I will be if you finally agree to marry me."

"You have not asked me to marry you since the day you proposed even though we had not even been on a date!" Hermann snapped, because that was how they talked, it seemed, because that was how it worked for them and even with a Drift and sex and romance and love between them there were some things a man couldn't change.

"I figured it was a standing invitation." Newton's hands were now in the air, pantomiming God knew what, but it seemed to be sex, or physical combat. "Save world, ask you to marry me, you say yes whenever I've convinced you to stay with me forever."

"God help me, Newton, I think you did years ago."