Author: Amber (anemptymargin)
Pairing(s): Daniel Cain/Herbert West
Posted to: yuletide, anemptymargin, rareslash
Summary: After the massacre, they cope with their lives intertwined.
Notes: Written for Yuletide 2011. A little bit of a tone shift for me, but I think it works well. Post first film canon, possible tidbits garnered from other 'verse canon.
Word Count: 1,743
Disclaimer: This is a work of fictional parody in no way intended to infringe upon the rights of any individual or corporate entity. Any and all characters or celebrity personae belong to their rightful owners. Absolutely no money has or will be gained from this work. Please do not publicly link, repost or redistribute without letting me know first.
The water was boiling, sauce bubbling up and the timer was set for what he'd hoped would be just enough time for the pasta to cook thoroughly before West finished with his work for the evening. Things had been… well, amicable would certainly be a stretch since the 'Miskatonic Massacre' as the journalists had taken to calling it. Dan liked to think that they were both in mourning, if not for Meg then for all that had been lost in the chaos… but he knew that for his inevitable companion the true loss was in countless hours of research and experimentation. Not to mention the equal parts success and failure. Dr. Hill had been a success… in the most technical manner… and that fact wore heavily on both of them. Somewhat reluctantly, Dan had stayed with Herbert after the massacre; understanding all too well that a sane man would have run while it was still possible – but in the last long months Dan had come to understand that his sanity was compromised the very moment his fate became intertwined with Dr. West.
He wasn't a bad man, West. Were it not for his all-consuming research, he would have the capacity to be a good man… a great physician. As it were, his descent into madness was only slowed by the ongoing investigation. They had continued on at the University, taking summer courses to maintain their connection to vital resources and what little work they were able to get with their medical licensure in limbo until the investigation was over. The keeping of odd hours didn't help matters, as it had become common place for them to sleep through the late morning and work well past dawn – Dan had gotten used to the rhythm of simple things like making dinner at six in the morning when he should reasonably be sleeping or preparing to make rounds at the hospital.
Soon enough, he would hear the steady thump of Herbert's steps on the stairs – coming to insipidly consume his meal and detail the progress made while Dan had been busy maintaining the impression of a normal life whilst working third shift. Dan slumped forward in his chair at their small table and rested his head in his hands – letting himself drift off, considering the path his mind was taking yet again. They'd become even closer since the incident, and not entirely of either of their choosing, he assumed. Dan had been the first to break – lying awake in bed well into the morning hours the day after the incident, clean but still reeking of the memory blood and gore after hours of police interrogation as to how they alone survived the slaughter. The grief piled on top of one lie after another… protecting himself, protecting their work and perhaps most of all protecting West… all of which made it much too easy to awkwardly slip into Herbert's bed and cling desperately to his indifferent form until sleep finally came.
It became a habit, as routine as taking out the trash or deciding where to order dinner and if Dan would cook today since Herbert's idea of meals mostly consisted of sandwiches and black coffee. At first, Dan was convinced that he was clinging to something that wasn't there – someone that wasn't there – and then during a coffee break on a late Sunday evening, Herbert had casually looked up from his meticulous notes and said; "Thank you."
The words had hung there for a long moment, an unexpected curiosity after nearly a day of total silence from him. "What?" Dan asked, drawn out of his own thoughts.
Herbert only offered a crooked half-smile and replied; "you cooked, yesterday. My mind was elsewhere and I forgot the say 'thank you' for doing it."
From anyone else it would have been seen as somewhat tacky, postdated manners – but from him, it was downright thoughtful. It had made Dan understand that he was not the only one that understood that at that time and in that place, their fates were unquestionably linked and there would be no reprieve from the outside world for the life they had committed themselves to. He was bound to West, without a doubt, but it had only then occurred to him that his companion was equally fated.
Dan was pulled out of his quiet thoughts by the timer's buzzing; rubbing his tired eyes, he forced himself back up to the stove to drain the pasta. As he did, Dan did indeed hear the familiar footfalls of Herbert's wingtips on the basement's worn stairs. Quick to drain off the water and have everything clear of the sink, he shifted seamlessly to serving their dinner in time for the scientist to press past him with gore splattered across the front of his shirt and running down his hands – streaking down the inside of the empty sink even before Dan could lean over him to turn on the hot water.
"Anything?" Dan asked quietly, leaning against the countertop beside him – searching the man's drawn, sour expression for more information. He'd been experimenting again, not even a full body this time – but Dan had reluctantly begun to help him locate… parts. It seemed to be the lesser evil in comparison, but he'd made himself scarce in the laboratory all the same after one too many eyes that would roll in a puddle of the solution and soon after explode. Judging from the fairly substantial amount of gore and bone matter on West's shirt, he'd worked his way up to a head. The thought almost made Dan shudder, the memory of Hill's disembodied head still fresh.
Herbert grunted and forced up his long sleeves, scrubbing to the elbow until his arms were clean and pink. "Unstable." He muttered, letting out a defeated sigh as he stripped off his shirt and hung it over the side of the sink, bits of sticky blood having seeped through and stained his pale chest. "I'll be in the shower."
"I made spaghetti." Dan offered, nodding toward the table where plates had already been set out. "If you're hungry."
Silent for a long moment, the other man turned and looked incredulously at the heaps of pasta and sauce – as though confused by the concept of a meal that didn't come out of takeout container. "I didn't know you'd been back that long."
"Maybe an hour." Dan shook his head and picked up the once white shirt, tossing it in the sink before retrieving an almost empty bottle of bleach to try and salvage it. "It didn't take long."
"I see," He nodded, the puzzled expression softening to a more neutral look while he lingered a moment longer, stripped down to his trousers. Without further word, he left Dan to work on the shirt and wait another ten minutes at the table before he returned in a clean undershirt and striped shorts – freshly showered. "You waited?"
"Sure. I'm not quite ready for bed yet." Dan smiled when his friend sat across from him and began twirling the long noodles around his fork despite the fact that it had gone mostly cold. Stripped down, still slightly damp from his shower, and remarkably tranquil – it was easy to see the man's humanity underneath the extreme circumstances. He supposed moments like that, when Herbert seemed as helpless and aggrieved as Dan felt, which made it almost natural that they had sought comfort from each other. Without discussion or questioning it, several days after the first time Dan had come to him; distressed and seeking anything familiar, the contented sleep had come with the addition of the awkward rustling of sheets and grinding of flesh against flesh – seeking out even deeper release. They didn't talk about it, and likely never would, but from that daytime's sleep and the subsequent days after, something had shifted between them. The calm rhythm of the laboratory work began to carry over into all aspects until they seemed to operate as a unit – anticipating each other as Dan had one day hoped he would anticipate the movements of his wife. Shaking his head to dismiss the intruding thoughts, Dan took to his meal with much greater gusto – starved from a long shift.
After a long silence, Herbert attempted to make small talk – as per usual in the form of a simple statement. "I need another head. Preferably removed with an intact spinal cord."
"I'll keep watch on my shift and inform you of a suitable candidate."
"You want me to remove a head and a full spinal column? I can't do it."
"Of course you can."
"Not without getting caught. People are going to look sideways at a heart attack victim coming in without a head." Dan sighed, taking another large bite, wondering not for the first time if he'd ever have normal dinner conversation again.
Herbert frowned and looked back down to his nearly empty plate, "I'll do it, then."
"No. It's too soon, Herbert. They're watching us – you know they're watching us, especially you. It was hard enough to get the first one."
"It wasn't fresh enough. There weren't enough nerve endings to work with." He explained with a shrug, as though it were a simple matter.
"Which is why it exploded, right?" Dan spat, frustrated with the accusing tone, "you're pushing the new formula too fast – it's too strong."
"I need more specimens to work with." He growled, gritting his teeth.
Dan was silent again for several slow bites, pushing aside his plate when he'd finished. "I'll see what I can do," he folded, knowing that eventually he would find a way to get anything he asked for – as usual. "Are you going back downstairs?"
"No." Herbert answered quietly. When it became clear Dan was seeking a more thorough answer, he added; "I'm on shift in eight hours. Will you be coming to bed?"
It was the first time either of them had dared to approach the topic, as subtle as it was, and Dan watched him as though there would be some answer or explanation in the cold eyes behind his glasses. There was none. He nodded slowly, the exhaustion wearing thin on his ability to refuse the silent suggestion. "Sure, Herbert… sure."
The smaller man nodded in return, the response was acceptable, and pushed away from the table. Without preamble he collected their dishes and let his cold hand rest on top of Dan's; "I've got this."