DISCLAIMER: All characters in this story are the property of their original creators. No disrespect is intended by this story. It is not a reflection of reality, merely a story, a flight of fantasy.

- Can Dan really leave Herbert?

Setting: sometime after the events in 'Bride of Re-Animator (2)'

'A Matter of Time'

Daniel Cain opened the door to the solitary house. It was late and he'd only just finished off in the ER, where he'd had to call upon every ounce of medical skill he possessed. At least the young man had lived; the motorcycle accident had left him in very poor condition. Flipping on the light, he went to the kitchen. He needed something more nourishing than coffee. Opening the fridge, he saw that they were running low on basic foodstuffs again. Why was it always up to him to remember to get groceries? Shaking his head, he grabbed what little there was and made the most of it. He saw the last Budweiser and took that, too.

The last thing he felt like doing was going downstairs to where Herbert was undoubtedly poring over his notes, if he had come home himself yet. But he was tired of having to do all the running around. This was supposed to be an equal partnership. He took his dinner into the living room and then went down to their makeshift lab.

Herbert wasn't in the basement. Dan was rather relieved. He went back up to the living room and sat down in front of the television. He felt numb inside; he wanted to feel that way on the outside as well. He was nearing the bottom of the beer can when Herbert returned home. He came into the living room. "Dan, you're back." Herbert seemed almost delighted to see him.

Dan didn't bother looking up. "Not really. Just pretend I'm not here."

"Oh. Hard day? Well," and he held up a book, "I've found something that might lighten your mood. I found it at the library. It's a very old journal of one of the previous occupants of this house. Apparently, a doctor lived here once, for a while." He stopped. He frowned, slightly. Dan was in one of his switched-off states. He was like that more often these days. Sighing to himself, he gave up and left him sitting there; he went to his room before going down to the basement.

Dan wanted to speak to Herbert about this arrangement they had but was too tired. He couldn't see the usefulness in continuing on the way they were. They were going nowhere fast. In fact, ever since their last dreadful experience involving the... *female* that they had made, both of them had been lacking their usual zeal, even Herbert. Which was a change. Herbert West - Re- Animator, floundering for new ground? It seemed uncharacteristic, even to Dan who had never really shared the depth of Herbert's enthusiasm for their work. Herbert seemed to work purely out of habit recently, still as driven as before but lacking direction. He got up and followed him down to the lab.

He found Herbert sitting at the table; sure enough, he was already absently mixing a beaker while scribbling something down. Dan stopped some ways behind him and folded his arms. "We've run out of food. Again."

Herbert didn't turn, but said, "Oh? We should pick some up tomorrow."

"We? I want to talk to you about that. I've had to go to the store every time for the past five weeks."

"Fine, I'll do it, okay?" Herbert sounded like he was trying being patient; he didn't look up from his notes.

Dan found this irritating. "No, you won't; not if I forget to remind you. It's easier if I do it myself. Look, I'm getting tired of this."

Herbert sighed with forebearance and turned to face him. "Dan," he replied, placatingly, "I'll go tomorrow, alright? You won't have to remind me."

"No, I mean of all of this." He made a sweeping gesture, taking in all of their lab and equipment. "I'm tired of working on corpses and dead tissue. When are we going to go past this, onto some higher turn of the cycle? Why does of all our research always have to involve dead bodies? I'm sick of it. I see enough death every day at the hospital without having to breathe it in all night as well."

"Dan," Herbert said, tiredly, "Do you have any idea how many times you've voiced that particular complaint? How many times do I have to explain that there is no way to understand death without studying it?"

"I want to study *life*; I'm sick of death! The reagent doesn't prolong life, it just creates a semblance of it. Everytime I try to talk about studying consciousness, you want to keep going over the same experiments, over and over again. You're wasting your time down here. Come on, admit it, Herbert; you've lost it. You keep creating zombies, capitalizing on the deaths of other people. And it makes me sick."

"How can you say that?!" Herbert demanded, defensively. "If it weren't for these experiments, we'd never have come this far. If it weren't for me, you'd never have seen death revert to life, let alone the creation of new life, itself. Isn't that worth it? You'd have finished medical school at Miskatonic to be a sympathetic but mediocre doctor. You were there when we took our first pioneering steps in the re-animation of dead subjects. If it weren't for your natural, scientific curiosity, you never would have been able to get that far. And if it weren't for me, you wouldn't have bothered."

"Yeah, well, you know something?" exclaimed Dan. "If it weren't for you, none of that would have happened. Meg would still be alive; my *cat* would still alive."

Herbert stopped at this, taken aback. "That's hardly fair, Dan. You know as well as I- "

"Oh, come on," Dan interrupted him, caustically, "Don't insult me by still pretending you didn't kill Rufus. I know you too well."

".. you know as well as I," continued Herbert, raising his voice as loudly, "you were just as involved as I was. You can't keep resenting me for her death. That's what this is about, isn't it?"

"No, it's not," Dan bit out, forcefully. "I want to get past that, get over it. But it's impossible here. Maybe I'd like to spend some time with some friends. Maybe I'd like to find a friend I can KEEP! Maybe I'd like to not have to always hide what I do in my spare time. You know, there's a word for what we do, for what we are: gravediggers. It's not only disgusting, it's criminal." That was Dan's lost innocence and morality speaking again, and they both knew it.

But Herbert had gone quiet. Finally, he said in a softer voice, "That hurts, Dan. After all we've been through together. I thought *we* were friends."

Dan gave a bark of laughter. "You? Hurt? That's a good one," he scoffed, enough disbelief in his voice to lend extra sincerity to it. "Nothing reaches you - there isn't any kind of bizarre or shocking situation that bothers you. You just take it all in your stride, the - the blood, the bodies, the death. Endless death! Well, it bothers me. It's unnatural; we're playing with cadavers, nothing more. Where's the compassion? Nothing in what we're doing reflects any respect for life."

Herbert went into one of his characteristic sulks, turning back to the table to sit with his back to him. Dan threw up his hands in frustration. "Maybe we've been here too long. Maybe we should try spending some time apart. I need - I need human company. God knows it's impossible to try to bring women back here. Just look at what's happened every time I've tried. It always ends in disaster. Like Francesca," he muttered. He looked over at him, not really expecting a response.

But Herbert turned his head once more, halfway, his face set and his voice cold. "I thought you believed in this, in our work. But I guess I was only believing what I wanted to. You do this so often, and much more frequently of late."

"What? Do what?" Dan demanded.

"Threaten to leave." Herbert threw him a meaningful look that conveyed how much he was aware that Dan blamed him for his inability to keep a girlfriend; they both knew Dan was still nettled about it, and deeply uncomfortable about the dilemma of having to live a double-life that had no place for romantic affairs. "You know how difficult it would be for me to carry on here, if you left," Herbert continued. "What would I do without your assistance? We work together, I can't do it without you. I'm dependent on your help."

"Well, get independent," Dan said, exasperated. "Learn to do it without me. Because I'm not threatening, this time; I mean it. I am going."

"Dan, what do you WANT?" Herbert exclaimed.

"I want a normal life! I want to save lives. I want a girlfriend, a home. Kids, even. Things I can never have because of this - this perverse and morbid hobby!"

"...And a pension and a secure niche in society, recognized by other leading figures in the medical profession, I suppose. Here we are, expanding the limits of human knowledge, of life and death, and it's not enough."

"No, it's not enough," Dan said, angrily. "God, Herbert! Where are your priorities? You spend all your time with dead bodies. And pieces of dead bodies. Is this really all you care about? I know you get a real kick out of putting them back together in all the wrong ways, but don't you ever want anything else?!"

"Like you, you mean? The wife, the children, the family dog? Safe in a self-enclosed world, pretending that all that we have achieved means nothing?! I have dedicated myself to pursuing the secrets of physical existence itself, and beyond. We can't give up now."

"Fine, fine," Dan answered, irritably. "But I don't want to wake up to find one of your latest monstrosities trying to strangle me. You keep dabbling with it like they're your toys. Like a demented child. We can never publish our findings. Always hiding in the dark, under the house, living on the edge of a criminal investigation. There're too many corpses. I have nightmares about them, not to mention of being implicated and charged with murder. Honestly, Herbert, I don't know how you sleep at night. In fact, I don't even know that you sleep at all." He stared at him, shaking his head, bemused. "Don't you ever find all this just a little unsatisfying? Living like this? Don't you value human contact at all?"

Herbert lifted his chin, defiantly. "I value our friendship," he said quietly, with a pained expression. "A great deal more than you do, apparently."

"Friendship?! How am I supposed to believe that? You don't like women, you don't like other people. You don't even like animals. The only thing that upsets you is that the pieces you animate turn on you, every time," Dan accused. "I've seen you with patients on numerous occasions. All you see is potential parts."

"I resent that, Dan," Herbert said with anger, "I hate losing them just as much as you do."

"No, you hate failure. Not the fact that they've died. You don't care about anyone or anything but your precious reagent. Well, I'm glad you're happy with it because it's all you've got." Dan turned and opened the door, pausing as he held the handle. He didn't see how his words had struck Herbert, who sat unmoving. He added, "Don't wait up." A sarcastic thing to say, as both of them knew very well that Herbert never did.

But something about the way Dan said it made Herbert turn and look back at him in growing dismay. "Where are you going?"

"Out. Out of here. Maybe find someone to talk to. Unlike you, I want to get a life." Dan went out and pulled the door firmly behind him. Shaking his head, he went to his room, changed into more casual clothing and pulled on a jacket. He left the house, climbed into the car and headed into town to find a bar, fully intending to get drunk. He almost laughed. What exactly were those statistics again, of the number of good doctors who became alcoholics?

Herbert sat, still at the table, but no longer seeing the tissue samples or the beaker before him. Why did something like this always have to happen just as he was on the verge of discovering some new breakthrough? His latest research involved the extension of the potency and effect of the reagent itself, as well as the concurrent discovery of a new chemical substance that would alter the way the reagent interacted with specific tissue types, depending on the cell structure... But his excitement had been deflated by this fight with Dan. He was well-aware of Dan's preoccupation with the past, his trauma over Meg's death. Which he knew Dan blamed himself for, even though he tried to blame Herbert.

But he knew that Dan meant to go, this time. Herbert sighed, knowing that the only way he'd have any chance of convincing him not to was to pull yet another rabbit out of a hat. Just to keep Dan's interest from being distracted by his hormonal reactions to female pheromonal attractions. Dan's words had wounded Herbert far deeper this time, far more than ever before. They kept repeating themselves in his head. He kept hearing him say, 'you don't care about anyone or anything, except your precious reagent...' And friends? But Dan was right - they weren't exactly friends. They were... partners. A team. Indeed, what would he do without him? Herbert put his head in his hands. For the first time, Herbert felt despair and a sense of loss, of abandonment. He was alone, to be sure. It had never bothered him before. Of course he had priorities. What he was doing was important, very important, and Dan knew it, too. He knew that, however much Dan might complain or get squeamish, he valued it just as much as he did. So they had broken rules, so what? Rules upheld by a stunted, backward establishment run by men more concerned with grant funding, politics and self-recognition than the discovery of miracles in pushing back the envelopes of science and medicine. He wondered how the A.M.A. had the nerve to punish some doctors' methods on ethical grounds - sheer hypocrisy, as everyone knew that it was politics, not ethics, that motivated that organization. But then, he'd always had strong feelings about such groups, being a loner who's discoveries would never be taken seriously anyway.

How could he tell Dan how much he needed his help? Dan had once accused him of using him, that he was just his student-assistant, that it made him feel good to have someone around to tell him he was a genius. That it was an ego-trip, seeing as no one else would ever recognize the importance of his work. It wasn't like that at all. He honestly LIKED Dan, and it hurt to finally have to realize that Dan did not like him.

He'd always put up with Dan's penchant for getting cold feet - he'd practically had to do it all himself anyway; needing him for companionship and help more than anything else. Always having to force Dan to face the fact that he was as fascinated with it all as Herbert was, albeit for different reasons. But he'd never bothered to examine the differences, not thinking it was important. Dan had accused him, too, of being obsessive, so many times. So he was driven, so what? Complacency would hardly produce results; especially if he'd allowed himself to wallow in moral guilt, or unnecessary self-pity.

This time, it was different, though. He felt superfluous. He sighed, deeply. The thought that Dan was going out again to pursue another pointless, futile affair with an empty-headed girl in a bar didn't help. Why couldn't he at least go for someone with a brain? A woman who might understand, appreciate or even sympathize with what they were doing? Perhaps it's some sort of in-built, self- prophetic failure syndrome, he mused. Dan went for the mindless girls because he somehow wanted to punish himself for not having the right lifestyle and habits to be able to keep them from leaving him. Or developing a real relationship, perhaps? The fear of losing someone again, like he'd lost Meg? Afraid of commitment? Herbert's usually fertile imagination was failing him and he couldn't account for the panic that set in. He couldn't think straight. It was impossible to regain Dan's interest now and he found himself staring at his notes with unseeing eyes. It had gone on too long. It was time to face facts - Dan couldn't keep it up. He could no longer suppress his desire to find a 'normal' life, something Herbert had long since reconciled himself to. Normalcy was synonymous with mediocrity. He couldn't turn back. But Dan had always tried to pretend that the safety and security of a normal life would provide 'sanity'.

Herbert closed his eyes. In the end, the wife, the kids, and the dog would die. Of old age, if not sooner. No one can escape mortality. It was harder if they refused to acknowledge it. Herbert was proud of the fact that he'd overcome this barrier - why should he not be? But what was the use if no one else ever knew? He had the sudden misgiving that there was something he'd been ignoring, keeping buried in the deepest recesses of his mind. Something he'd never allowed himself to dwell on. He was tired of having to compete. Pitting his ideas and his genius against Dan's girlfriends and dreams of normalcy. It was hardly a fair contest - to lose Dan finally to his hormonal urges over the brilliance of their work seemed so tragically absurd. It had been a very long time since he felt this depressed and he remained there, unmoving, for a long time.

* * * * *

It helped to sit in the bar and clear his head of the swirling anger and frustration that had been raging about inside. By the time Dan had finished one drink, surrounded by the comforting but banal voices and atmosphere of the bar and ordinary people, he realized he didn't really relish suffering a hangover the next morning. He was too tired as it was. It had been a long day. Besides, the place was dead - there weren't any prospects around.

When he got back, he went inside, unprepared for the sight of Herbert sitting in the living room on the couch. He looked different, somehow. Dan checked his watch, confused. It was after midnight. Strange to see Herbert there at all. "What are you doing?" Dan asked him, shutting the door behind him.

Herbert looked up, his expression unreadable. "You were right. You should go; you have an excellent career in medicine. You're a very good doctor. You'll be better off doing that than continuing on here. After all, I know you think I'm crazy. Most of the time you're just humoring me, anyway." But his words were spoken quietly; without any trace of hostility. He sounded as if he meant it.

Dan really didn't have time for this. He just wanted to go to bed. He'd been working hard all day; that was why he'd snapped at him earlier. He was abruptly sorry he'd taken it out on Herbert. Rubbing his face, wearily, he said, "Don't take this personally. I'm just tired of it, that's all. I'm not denying that what we've done is way beyond ordinary expectations. We've done great things, too. It's not all been gruesome and bloody." He went over to the armchair and flopped into it.

"A fine concession," Herbert started, but he stopped with a shake of his head. "Remember... Her?"

Dan looked down. It was far too easy to recall. "She was magical - and horrible, at the same time," he said, softly. He looked up at him. "I know how much it meant to you, too. And I know it hasn't been easy for you, trying to find a project that goes beyond the scope of what she represented. It's hard to top that."

Herbert didn't reply. He swallowed, suddenly having to suppress the urge to beg Dan not to go. He had nothing left to offer him - Dan would never stay for him, let alone the continuance of their research. But he wished he could feel resigned to it rather than desperate.

"Hey," Dan said, "I'm sorry about what I said, earlier. I didn't mean to -"

"Yes, you did, but that's alright. I understand," Herbert cut in. "You were right; if I hadn't come here in the first place, you never would have got involved. You'd have your plain, ordinary life you want so badly."

"Look, I'm not saying I regret all of it," Dan said, more strongly. "I just need a break, that's all."

Herbert looked up sharply, despite himself. The thought that Dan might mean that, that he just needed a brief hiatus - but no, that wasn't a realistic hope. Once he had the wife, the kids and the house, the respect of other doctors and colleagues, new friends, he'd never want to do anything that would jeopardize it. Instead, he said, "So, when will you leave?"

Dan rubbed his face again. "I don't know. I'll have to find another place. It shouldn't be that hard." He looked over at Herbert and was startled to notice for the first time how sad he seemed. "You'll find it easier without me - I won't always be arguing with you, telling you why things won't work or why we shouldn't do them. Forcing you to justify your reasons for continuing. You can proceed at your own pace."

"Whatever." Herbert was unresponsive.

"If you can give me one good reason to stay on, I'll think about it," Dan pressed. When Herbert didn't say anything, he said, "I'm tired. I'm going to bed." He stood up, waiting for Herbert to say something. When he didn't, he left the room. He needed a shower, not to nurse Herbert through this initial sulk - he'd get over it. He had his dedication to sustain him, something Dan had never shared. Once he got into bed and lay down, however, he found he couldn't sleep. He tossed and turned for a while. There was something nagging him.

He'd always seen Herbert as the 'mad scientist'. In fact, the 'brain' who was disconnected from the rest of existence while he'd always been the one with the heart and body. He'd assumed Herbert was motivated purely by cerebral activities, while Dan needed more emotionally and physically active pursuits. But the shrunken sadness he'd seen on his face earlier remained with him. Had he been wrong?

Dan really regretted what'd he'd said before, now. He hadn't meant to hurt his feelings. But damn it, he couldn't keep living like an outcast in self-imposed exile for the sake of performing mutilations in the name of science. If he was ever to get over the pain of losing Meg, that whole traumatic episode, he'd need to start a new life He could not be Herbert, finding thrills only in stimulating dead tissue. He knew this was the fundamental difference between them - Herbert was obsessed with death, while Dan sought ways of preserving life. He knew it was his compassion and empathy that made him a good doctor, while it was Herbert's ambitious persistence that made him a good scientist.

A sudden thought struck him. For the first time, he found himself actually curious: he'd never once asked Herbert what it was about life itself that made it worth living. He'd always assumed he understood. He saw a procession of images in his mind's eye, of the memories of all the times he'd expressed an interest in anything other than Herbert's ideas and work. And Herbert's usual reaction of disdain and impatience. He'd thought Herbert barely human at all, especially at those times. But now he had a slightly different perspective. He could also remember that Herbert had always been solicitous and supportive whenever Dan's own welfare was concerned. If he was ever injured or in real trouble, Herbert had stood by him. He'd always assumed it was because it was because he needed his assistance but the sudden incongruity of this was made more clear when Dan compared this to the level of suffering that Herbert seemed to be experiencing over this evening's discussion. Over his departure. And his accusations that Herbert didn't care about anyone. Herbert could be convincing enough when he gave reasons why Dan should stay, before; this time he hadn't even tried.

Could it be that, unknown even to Herbert, he actually cared about Dan more than he showed? And how much? What was the full extent of... Dan's eyes went wide in the dark of the room. He could almost hear the penny dropping in his head. It was all adding up: Herbert's lack of interest in women, his outright hostility towards them, or other people in general. His open resentment of anything else that held Dan's attention or interest. His dependency on Dan's presence. He was jealous of the women Dan had brought back, and not just because it kept Dan from working. Because it kept him from being with Herbert! He'd probably been subconsciously jealous of Meg, come to think of it. And besides, Dan was undeniably the only other person who had ever helped Herbert or taken him seriously. It was only natural that they would share a bond of some description, given the strange nature of their circumstances. But Dan was beginning to suspect it ran into some pretty psychological areas, ones that Herbert no doubt ignored, himself.

This was the most sensible explanation, he thought. Herbert was emotionally attached to him. Did Dan care, though? Why should he? He already considered their relationship with death and their research methods as unhealthy and that Herbert was unhinged, for all his passion for his work. In all honesty, he did care. There was something appealing about Herbert that made him likeable although the way he was so brutally matter-of-fact when dealing with difficult situations. The guy had a sense of humor, though it was a black one. Dan had always found himself able to forgive him for a multitude of mad or warped decisions Herbert had made in the past, for the simple reason that he seemed to do this innocently devoid of uncertainty or doubt in the rightness of them.

He almost chuckled to himself; he seriously doubted that Herbert was even aware of the nature of his 'dependency' on him. Being even more ruthlessly honest with himself, he acknowledged that he cared about Herbert a lot. It wasn't that they were friends; it went somewhat beyond that. He considered him someone who needed his support and he knew very well that Herbert would not really be able take care of himself if Dan left him here alone. He was far too absent-minded, for one thing; the lack of food in the fridge downstairs was a case in point. So smart, yet so out of touch with reality. He sighed.

Yeah, he cared about him. He just never thought it mattered, seeing as Herbert seemed so devoid of recognizing it. He debated the wisdom of getting up and confronting Herbert about this. At least they'd get it out into the open and could talk it through. But more likely than not, Herbert would deny it completely and accuse him of doing it to grasp at some kind of justification for leaving. That Dan simply didn't have a strong enough stomach to continue on here. It made his head hurt and he groaned, wondering why he was bothering to think about it. Was he just trying to make up excuses not to leave? He knew even now he'd never be able to take current modern medicine seriously, given the knowledge and experience he had from all the work he and Herbert had done.


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