The thought of confronting Herbert with all of this was overwhelming and he found himself getting up and pulling on his trousers. He knew it was late, but they might as well have it out, he thought as he pulled on a shirt. God knew, he was tired of worrying about it.
He automatically went down to the lab but to his surprise Herbert wasn't there. The house was dark and a quick check of the living room and the kitchen revealed he wasn't there, either. Oh, well; he must've gone to bed, he thought.
He went back upstairs and then stood for a moment outside Herbert's bedroom, deliberating. He knocked on the door. There was no answer, but he repeated the knock, more insistently. "Herbert, are you in there? Herbert!"
There was a muffled reply. So he opened the door.
"What? What is it?" Herbert switched on the bedside lamp and blinked owlishly without his glasses, sitting up in his t-shirt. He looked rather tousled. It made him look younger than he was.
"We need to talk," Dan said, coming in and shutting the door.
"Now? It's the middle of the night."
"Since when is that a problem? You often work late."
"I thought you were tired," he pointed out, grumpily.
"I couldn't sleep. We need to talk."
Herbert sighed. "I fail to see what good it will do. How is another argument going to benefit either of us?"
"Just tell me one thing. Why do you want me to stay?" Dan asked.
Herbert's face hardened. "Let me guess: you've convinced yourself yet again that you need me to tell you whether or not you should leave. Why do you want me to talk you out of it?"
"That's not what I'm asking you to do. I really want to know why it's so important to YOU. You see, I have this theory."
Herbert raised a brow. "You mean 'hypothesis', don't you?"
"Damn it, will you just answer me? Without playing any games?"
His eyes narrowed. "I would have thought it would be clear, Dan."
"Humor me." He sat down on the edge of the bed, regarding him implacably. Waiting.
Herbert almost gulped. Talk about being put on the spot. What did Dan want from him? What did he expect him to come up with beyond the obvious facts? "I really don't know what you're getting at."
"Yeah, you probably don't. I think you're emotionally dependent on my presence, and you're terrified that I really will leave this time." Dan continued to stare at him, watching his reaction.
Herbert blinked. "I would've thought that was perfectly obvious. You've been talking about doing it for some time. And as I've already explained, I do need you here."
"Well. You see, I think you need me for reasons that have nothing to do with our work."
Herbert was bemused. "What are you saying?"
Dan raised his brows. "Come on, Herbert, face it: you've got a heart, just like anyone else. If I go, you've got no one. Except your reagent, as I said. And we both know that can only do so much for you. It's effect is still limited when used on living tissue."
Herbert stared. "What are you implying?"
Dan made a noise. "Oh, come off it, Herbert. I know you've been taking it for a while now. You practically live off the stuff. I think that's half your problem; you're addicted to it."
Swallowing, Herbert looked caught. Defensively, he said, "I knew you wouldn't understand. You're really quite conservative, Dan. You should try it - it's not like you think."
"But I don't need it. Whereas you do."
Herbert sighed. "Look, if you have something to say, then say it. What do you want?"
Dan looked down, regarding the carpet. He said slowly, "I want to know what you really feel for me. I want to know if my hunch is correct. I've got a feeling that you've been hiding it from yourself, even." He looked back up at him.
"And what difference will that make?" Herbert asked, sharply. "To you, I'm the one thing that stands in the way of your 'normal life'."
Dan shrugged. "Yeah, well. Before I go, I'd like to know, that's all. If all this time we've just been playing with death or if we really were friends. I think maybe my definition of friendship is different from yours."
But Herbert visibly flinched. In a hollow voice, he said, "That's probably true. But I still consider you my friend, anyway. That hasn't changed. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry that you're so unhappy. I thought once things calmed down here that you'd get over it and see some sense."
Dan couldn't suppress a laugh at this, incredulous. He looked up towards the ceiling. "I can always count on you to take that kind of angle, Herbert. To me, you're the one lacking sense. But I don't always keep trying to change you. I accept you as you are."
"Crazy," Herbert nodded. "I know; you've always made that clear, yourself, what you think of me. Well, what's keeping you? Go on, leave. Why keep prolonging the inevitable? As you say, we can't see eye-to-eye and we never will."
Dan's face hardened with resolve. "Not until you tell me what I really mean to you. I want that cleared up, at least. I want to know why you're jealous of any girl I bring back here. Why you're so cut up at the thought of me going. And why you can't stand it whenever I show signs of being even slightly interested in anything other than your research."
"- OUR research," Herbert cut in. "You can't keep distancing yourself so conveniently from it. You've done your fair share."
Dan looked him right in the eye. "Herbert, when was the last time you - well, had..." He paused, not sure how to say it right. Certainly Herbert had never been involved with anyone as far as he was aware. "...had sex? You know? Enjoyed yourself. And I'm not talking about your little habit."
In disbelief, Herbert asked, "Is that what this is all about? You think I'm suffering from a lack of female company? That I'm jealous of *you* and your little attempts to fool around? I must say, Dan, that sounds an awful lot like subjective projection, if I ever heard."
Dan shook his head. "Not at all. I think you're suffering from a repressed, unrequited attraction - to me." It was momentarily gratifying for Dan to see Herbert completely floored at this. He was stunned speechless. He looked momentarily paralyzed. When it became clear that Herbert was unable to formulate any kind of coherent response, Dan added, "It's alright; I'm not upset about it. I think you're barely aware it yourself. But it explains a lot. It sure helps me understand why you never liked Meg and why you've always been so impatient and frustrated with me. It explains everything."
Herbert was still staring, having lost the ability to think of an appropriate answer, for once. He looked a little trapped and confused. Finally, he lifted his chin. "That's ridiculous. I haven't -"
"Is it?" Dan interrupted. "I'd love to hear a good story for this one. You're so quick to make up plausible stories on demand, when the pressure's up. Give me a better explanation."
"I will! I think you're projecting onto me. And that you're not a little resentful of me and our work here. You just can't help blaming everything but yourself for the fact that you've never got over Meg's death."
"Then why do you look so scared?" Dan was calm, quite calm. "I'm not angry about it. I can handle it. But can you? Maybe you're more conservative than you thought."
Herbert swallowed, looking away. Damned if he wasn't as nervous as Dan was accusing him. And Dan was acting so unlike himself. But then, trust Dan to harp on about the psychological aspects, as usual. He always did have a tendency to get hung up on them and lose his focus while working. Herbert felt himself at a distinct disadvantage; he tended to avoid emotional scenes, and the messy situations that could follow. With a dry mouth, he said, "What exactly are you trying to achieve here? Is there a point to all this?"
Dan made an exasperated gesture. "Haven't you been paying attention? I'm saying that I think you're in love with me. And that you've been hiding it from yourself, as well."
Herbert couldn't help sniggering at this, slightly. "That's... absurd. I'm not..." he trailed off.
Dan shrugged. "Fine. That's that, then. I'll just go pack my bags. I'll be off in the morning. And I'm taking the car. It is in my name."
"Wait, wait! Just - wait a minute." Herbert was obviously uncomfortable with their current situation; he was sitting there in bed, without his glasses, in his t-shirt. Dan was still sitting on the edge of his bed. He was feeling more than a little vulnerable. "Are you saying you don't... that you don't feel anything for me? Anything at all? Why should it matter to you if I do or not, in that case? And besides, you said earlier I didn't care about anyone. Now you're accusing me of caring about you to the exclusion of all others. What am I supposed to make of that?"
Dan sighed, tiredly. He ran a hand through his hair, agitatedly. "You're right. I'm just grasping at straws, here. I'm willing to admit I was wrong, though. That's my point. I've changed my mind - you do care... about me. But I never said I didn't care about you. I only said that I didn't think we were friends. And now, at the risk of repeating myself, I'm saying that I think we're considerably more than that, at least to you."
Herbert replied in a small voice, in a tone that conveyed that he believed he had little to lose, at this point. "Daniel? If I admitted that I do... care - for you, a great deal... would that change anything? Like your decision to go?"
Dan looked up at him in surprise. Herbert sounded so serious, so emotional. So worried. He'd never seen him display such strong feelings for anything but his work, before. He nodded slowly. "It might. It would make you seem a little more human to me."
Herbert stopped. "Is that really what you've thought of me? That I'm barely human?" That wounded, haunted expression had returned. It just confirmed what Dan had suspected, especially now.
Dan exhaled, loudly. "Herbert, stop it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. I care about you, I fully recognize that you're brilliant and you have a very unique and original mind. I can't say I agree with a lot of your ideas but I guess maybe you're right - I have been projecting a lot of my own expectations and moral ideals onto you. Hell, I can't live up to them, myself. But knowing that you feel more for me than I thought you did... changes things. I can see more clearly now. Things just make more sense, that's all."
"Well, that's a relief," Herbert smiled, nervously. "I told you, I do think of us as friends. I thought for a second there that you were expecting me to plead with you not to leave."
Dan turned back to him. "Oh, I'm still waiting for that."
Herbert stared. "You're kidding."
Dan shook his head. "I'm not. Plead away."
"That's not fair," he protested. "You can't expect me to -"
"You haven't convinced me yet, Herbert. Things are different, but how does this change the way we relate with each other?"
Herbert threw him a look. "That depends on you, doesn't it?" When Dan didn't answer, merely sat there, looking at him, he made an anxious gesture. "Fine. I don't want you to leave. I really don't. Dan, don't go. Please." But the act of saying it made it difficult to follow up. He found himself trembling somewhat and silently cursed, wishing he could stop. But Dan still sat there, waiting. Licking his lips, he continued, "Please, Dan - don't leave me." This would never do; he was choking up. If he didn't get a hold of himself, he was going to break down completely. He took a halting breath. "I - I n-need you," he said, hoarsely.
"Why? To be your sidekick, your unwilling assistant?"
"No! As - as a friend! My friend."
Dan shrugged. "I'm way past that one. Two friends, researching death. I get the feeling you don't really know all there is yet to know about life, Herbert. In fact, I suspect that you're never really going to understand death fully until you get to know life a little better. And what it has to offer. Really, what's the point of living if all you do is think about death?"
"That's not entirely true. I think about consciousness, and the whole point of my work is to extend the barrier of the life-death threshold. Which I've done, successfully! As you well know -"
"I'm not talking about the life-death threshold, Herbert! I'm talking about existence and the experience of being alive at all! Doesn't this," he reached out and grasped his left hand in his own, firmly, "mean anything to you?! This simple, human contact? To touch someone? Simple touch? Or are you always denying yourself that kind of experience because it intrudes on your convenient notion of the superiority of your research over anything else?"
But Herbert was beginning to panic, now. Dan wasn't letting go of his hand. He realized with a shock how warm his hands were, and that he didn't *want* him to let go. He tried to pull away, more forcefully. "Dan, I - I -"
"Herbert." Dan shook his hand, momentarily, meaningfully, "I think you'd make a lot of progress if you were to stop pretending that it doesn't mean anything to you."
"Look, what do you want me to say?" Herbert exclaimed, vehemently. "I can hardly go up to you at the end of a hard day and say, 'Dan, I need a hug'. Or go around holding hands!" He tugged harder; to his concern, Dan just gripped him more firmly.
"And what's wrong with that? Asking for a hug?" demanded Dan. He held Herbert's hand between both of his, now.
Herbert was shaking, his hand sweating. As well as the rest of him. He was scared, now. At how far Dan might take this. He tried to swallow in a throat that was so dry, he wondered if his words would even make it out. "I didn't think I could ever ask you. I mean, it's hardly normal behavior."
"Herbert," Dan replied with a measure of exasperation, "It's very normal, indeed. There's nothing wrong with it."
"Not if I ask YOU!" Herbert exclaimed. "I didn't think you would. Would want to, I mean."
A look of surprised understanding crossed Dan's face. "Oh, right. I see. Well, I hate to tell you this, Herbert, but that's usually what crosses my mind when I meet a woman I find really attractive. That's the classic sort of response you have to someone you've fallen for."
Herbert sort of sank in at this, seeming to give up. He appeared frozen.
"God, why'd you have to make this so difficult?" murmured Dan. Without letting go of his hand, Dan moved closer to him on the edge of the bed, and continued, "All you had to do was say something. You could have told me."
Herbert closed his eyes. He took a shuddering little breath. "No, I couldn't. You would never have wanted to hear it. We're not complete strangers, I do know you a little. You were always far too busy worrying about various women in your life. You would have been angry or - or disgusted. You wouldn't have understood."
"Maybe you're right. But I'm not. I'm still here, and I'll stay if you want me to. But it's going to have to be on my terms."
Herbert avoided his eyes. "Oh? And what might those be?"
Dan sniffed. "Well, let's see. You have to do your share of the shopping, for a start. And keep the place tidy. This place is a dump, at the moment. And you'll have to sleep with me in my room, occasionally. That's not too much to ask. Oh, and no more re-animation of body parts. Stick to the real work. Stop making monsters. You know how much that bugs me."
Herbert winced. "Of course. You always had a problem about that."
"You're the one with the problem," Dan returned, more strongly. "I mean it, Herbert. Just one more time, and I'm gone."
"Okay, okay. Can I have my hand back, now?" He looked up at Dan, his vulnerability clearly written all over his face. He wasn't handling this, Dan could tell. In fact, Herbert looked rather cute at the moment. Dan couldn't resist bringing his hand up to touch Herbert on the side of the face, just barely. Herbert wasn't expecting this and he couldn't suppress a gasp. He blushed, and tried to shrink back, but he was already sitting with his back against his pillow, against the wall.
Dan leaned over and, tilting Herbert's face up slightly, pressed his mouth to his. The feeling of Herbert's trembling, closed lips beneath his was remarkably nice; he hadn't expected it to be so *good*. He'd imagined it would be a lot less pleasant than kissing a woman. But then, maybe caring a lot for someone had something to do with it, he mused. Certainly, the feeling of kissing someone at all was great, but the thought that he was actually kissing Herbert was exciting, he found with surprise. When he pulled back, he opened his eyes. Herbert was unmoving, he looked like he was in shock.
Dan chuckled slightly. He released Herbert and moved away, to reach over to the lamp and turn it off. He also pulled off his shirt.
"W-what are you doing?" Herbert stammered, fearfully in the dim light coming from the window at the side of the room.
Dan lifted the sheet. "Move over. I'm going to stay over, tonight." A hand on Herbert's shoulder galvanized him to do as Dan ordered. But the bed was not that big. They were going to be pretty close together.
Dan lay back, settling himself down beside him. He cleared his throat. "You know, this is practical, actually. We'll save on heating in the winter."
"For someone so smart, you're not in very good form tonight, Herbert," Dan teased. "We can keep each other warm." He reached over and pulled Herbert close, putting his arm around him. He noticed Herbert was still shaking. He felt a pang go through himself at this. "I'm not leaving you. Don't worry," he murmured, hoarsely.
He felt Herbert tentatively close his own arm about him more tightly. "Dan, I - " Herbert started, in a whisper, but stopped.
"I know. I feel it, too. Don't worry." He moved his face down a little, to press his cheek to Herbert's. It felt so close and warm, so cozy, to do this. To be here, like this. Just the two of them. And in the silence of his own thoughts and self-honesty, he realized he'd also wanted this for a long time. He was just as guilty of suppressing himself as Herbert was. He'd just never imagined it was something worth following up or even identifying. They held each other for a long time, just being there. Together.
A suspicion formed in Dan's mind. "Tell me something," Dan whispered. "When you're alone, you know, when you touch yourself... do you think of me?"
Herbert swallowed, Dan could feel him under him. "Of course. I don't think I've thought of anyone else since we met."
Herbert was wearing a pair of briefs; Dan could feel not only his legs against his own, but the hardness that told him Herbert was as aroused as he was. He could feel Herbert's shallow breathing against him, and the pounding of his heart. Herbert's face was heated, under his. There was no way they were going to be able to get to sleep, like this. The hell with it, Dan thought, and he pressed a kiss once more onto Herbert's cheek, then another. He found himself kissing him hungrily, urgently, demanding. Herbert finally opened his mouth beneath his and Dan found he couldn't help darting his tongue inside to taste him, to claim him. Herbert returned the kiss at last at this point, fervently. Desperately, passionately. Clinging to him. When they broke apart for air, Dan was gasping for breath and Herbert said, in a strained, high-pitched voice, "Dan, Dan - please. Please!"
It seemed his body was moving of it's own volition, now. He pushed Herbert onto his back, moving to sit astride him, even as he possessed his mouth once more. His hands went to the bottom of Herbert's t-shirt and under it, to touch his waist and move upwards, bringing his shirt with them. When he got to the arms, he sat up and tugged, pulling them up and over his elbows, and finally over his head. He threw the shirt over the side to the floor and grabbed Herbert's wrists, pushing them up and back into the bed. He stayed like that then, holding his arms back, leaning over him, holding him down. He relished it. "I want you," Dan said, the urgency and sincerity in his voice made the breath catch in Herbert's throat.
"I- I never thought you would," he whispered.
In answer, Dan bent down to kiss him again. When he released him, he still didn't let him up, keeping him held down. "You're not going to freak out, are you? I wouldn't want to have to hold you down to do this."
Herbert gulped. "What do you mean? What are you going to do?"
"Well, if we're going to be lovers - and you don't want me having a girlfriend, you're going to have to double for one. I want... to - to have you. Just like I would a girlfriend."
Herbert went very still and didn't say anything.
Dan waited. "Look, what did you expect?"
"I just... I didn't think..."
"Come on, it'll be good," Dan said, leaning down again and kissing him roughly, making him move under him, even arching his back slightly.
When he let him go, Herbert said, shakily, "Alright. But don't - don't hurt me. Please!"
"Believe me, I don't want to hurt you. I want to make love to you." He let go one wrist to run a hand over Herbert's shoulder, along his arm, down to his chest, lightly, warmly. He sat up, moving back to to remove his trousers. He dropped them to the floor. Returning to his side, Dan said, "Come on, your turn. Take them off." He moved to assist him, pulling Herbert's shorts down to reveal his erection, the tip of his cock glistening considerably. Having a great deal more experience than Herbert in these circumstances, Dan knew that if he touched him at this point, he'd probably come in his hand immediately. And that the amount of pre-cum that he had himself was more than enough for what he wanted to do. He ran his hands up along Herbert's legs, moving them apart slightly and bringing up his knees. He moved to position himself over him, leaning on his arms as he knelt between his legs. Herbert's hands were running all over his chest and arms with feather-light strokes, appreciatively. Dan was finally ready now. "Herbert, try to relax, okay? It'll make it easier." He took his own cock in hand and moved against Herbert's pert buttocks, sliding in an agonizingly sweet sensation along his crack, to rest at the tight puckered hole.
"Don't - don't hurt me," Herbert pleaded with a slight whimpering tone. Dan was not small.
"Don't worry. I'll be careful. And it won't last." He pressed against him, the head of his cock entering him surprisingly easily, due to the amount of pre-cum, as Dan had gambled.
Herbert's response was to suck in his breath and say, "Wait, wait a minute!"
"If I don't do this now, you'll chicken out, I know you will," Dan said, moving up to hold Herbert's arms down once more and moving into him slowly but firmly. He moved patiently, but inexorably. Once he had penetrated him fully, however, he stopped altogether. "There. Are you alright?"
"In - in a minute. Give me a minute, will you?! It feels - strange..."
Dan contented himself with leaning down to kiss him once more, finding the act of doing so while being completely inside him simultaneously sent a surge of heated desire all over him, particularly in his groin. He had never felt like this with anyone before. Ever! He never would have thought that Herbert, of all people, would be in love with him, or could feel so good - or smell so good... Why was it like this with...
Herbert moved under him, snapping him back to the present moment with a start, obviously having acclimatized somewhat by now to the length and breadth of Dan's organ stretching his virgin ass. He was hot, and so soft around Dan's cock; Dan was very gratified to find that Herbert was so much tighter than any girl he'd ever had.
Herbert, for his part, was rather taken aback at how helpless he was. Not only was any capability of rational thought quite absent, but he couldn't muster any intention other than to do exactly what Dan wanted. Particularly since it felt so wonderful for Dan to be inside him like this. His muscles clenched around him, involuntarily, sending a shudder over Dan as he did so. "THAT... is good," Dan said. "Are you ready, now, do you think?"
"Ready?" managed Herbert.
"To be fucked," Dan said, with feeling; with absolutely no intention of stopping, whatever Herbert might say, at this point.
But Herbert couldn't answer that, he just gave a little moan. So Dan began to pull back out a little, only to push forward once more, quickly. It felt so good that he did it again. Panting, he said, "That doesn't hurt, does it?"
In a sort of strangled reply, Herbert said, "Not - not really."
"Good," Dan said, in relief. For now he could let go a little. He repeated the movement, faster and harder.
This had the effect of making Herbert writhe under him. "Oh, god!"
Dan began moving in earnest, fucking him, unable to stop himself from crying out, over and over, each time he plunged forward into him. To take Herbert like this, to have him... After all this time, after all these lonely times... Herbert brought his legs up even farther, his knees and his heels pressed tightly against Dan, keeping him close. Dan thought he might explode too soon as he realized that Herbert had never done this before, ever. At all, with anyone. Dan was his first. It seemed to make all the difference, to Dan.
Herbert was groaning under Dan, the pleasure racking him; he couldn't believe the sensation of completeness, while at the same time his blood was burning inside and he could feel his pulse pounding wildly. This pleasure was so unexpected, so satisfying. He'd thought he'd known what sex was, what the experience was. It seemed solo ejaculation had its limitations. His own cock was being rubbed in time with each of Dan's thrusts, the tip of it rubbing against Dan's chest every time he pushed into him. He was incoherent, now, and couldn't stop from calling out, "Daniel! God, Daniel, please fuck me! Harder! Oh, Dan, please!"
Driven past the point of no return, Dan thrust into him over and over, hard. He could feel a huge wave of hot desire building up inside of him. He also felt a deep tenderness and affection for the smaller man who lay beneath him; he wanted to possess him like this, forever. He was HIS. Shouting, Dan came inside him, intensely, flooding his insides. Herbert didn't last much longer, either. He shot, his cream flying up to spatter in lots of little directions. With a deep groan, Dan sank down upon him, his legs moving down somewhat, to lay upon him full-length. With a contented sigh, he gave in to the feeling of utter fulfillment.
A few minutes later, he felt little tremors from Herbert under him. He brought his head up and saw the faint wetness on his face, near his eyes. "Oh, god, I'm sorry. Did I hurt you after all?!" He moved up a little, to give him room to breathe.
But Herbert shook his head slightly. "I just - love you, Dan. That's all. Please don't ever leave me!"
With a little moan, Dan leaned against him to kiss him, tenderly, lovingly. "I won't. Not now. Believe me, you mean too much to me to let you go. So stop worrying."
Herbert held him in response, bringing his arms around him tighter. "I love you," he whispered.
Dan brought his face down, and answered close to his ear, "And I love you. That's something worth living for, isn't it?"
"It's all there ever was, for me." Herbert stated this matter-of-factly, relaxing completely.
They fell asleep in each other's arms. It had only really been a matter of time.