Hermann had been rather worried about shopping with Monica. She’d seemed nice enough, but as fun as it sounds he’s not sure how much retail he can take.
“Now,” she has Hermann firmly by the arm, pulling him down the narrow Paris streets. “We’re here for a few days, so while I do want to set you up with a new wardrobe, we can take our time. See the sights. Will you be joining us, Doctor?”
“Nope.” Newt grins. “Don’t worry Hermann, I’ll just be there-” pointing to a small coffeeshop across the street. “I’ll come when it’s over, but I don’t want to give her a chance to get me into anything.”
“Pfa,” Monica shakes her head, “You’re no son of mine.”
Hermann starts, feeling sick to his stomach, but Newt is- smiling? He sticks his tongue out. “Call yourself a mother?”
“Quite right,” Monica flicks him away, “I’m far too young.”
Hermann watches them banter, his knuckles white on Echo’s harness, she turns and gently licks his fingers. Hermann closes his eyes and breathes. Somehow- this isn’t horrible. It should be, he can never hear those words- you’re no son of mine without nausea, but this is- a joke to them?
“Heathen,” Monica flaps her hands at Newt, he laughs and waves at Hermann. Hermann manages a smile.
“See you later, babe, don’t keep him out too late Mom.” Newt crosses the street to the coffee shop.
“Philistine.” Monica takes his arm again. “Come on Hermann, let us enjoy the finer things in life.”
No one says anything about Echo, which is a relief. In fact, it’s reasonably non-taxing. Hermann sits in a chair with Echo at his feet as Monica flits around the shop, pulling out shirts and neat suits and dashing back to burden Hermann with them.
“There we go.” He nods in satisfaction. “Well? Come on, try them on.”
Hermann glances out of the window, sees Newt sitting outside the coffeeshop. He waves at him, feeling rather like some moral support.
He is ushered into a changing room. Hermann pats Echo, she lies down on the floor, then looks up into the wall-mirror.
He can’t imagine what Monica saw in him that made her want to dress him up. He’s not quite as thin as he had been, but he’s lost all his old muscle tone, and as he strips off his protective layers of coat and jacket he can see how stark his bones still are.
He sighs, and turns away, picking out the least outrageous of Monica’s offerings- a simple black shirt and matching trousers , with a black turtleneck.
He doesn’t turn around at once, once he’s put them on. They feel good, hold tight to his arms and across his check, tuck close around his waist.
“Hermann? You decent?” Newt’s voice come from outside.
Hermann takes a breath, “Yes,” and turns around.
He looks into the mirror and-
He looks- bohemian, is the only word he can think of. He looks like an artist, a writer, a composer. All the things he isn’t, but all the things he could still be.
He looks down at the wreckage of his old clothes. The army coat, the jacket. Then back up at himself.
He doesn’t look broken. He doesn’t look crippled. He looks- suave, calm, collected. Even the cane fits the look.
“Oh,” Newt pulls back the curtain, then dashes away for a moment, and comes back with a beret. “There.” he puts it on Hermann’s head. “Wanna be starving Parisian artists together, babe?”
He could be. They could be. It’s idiotic but Hermann pulls at the pullover and stares at the soft, fine knit. This is a person he could be.
He looks at the pile of Monica’s clothes, different looks. Different people. He will never be in the army again, will never be an astronaut. It still hurts, but for the first time, he can feel the possibilities still there, and they feel real.