Dan had to relent and buy a fake Christmas tree. He had originally bought a real, pre-cut one from a store, but with their schedules and Herbert's complete lack of interest, it had soon died from neglect.
"It's a good thing we don't keep pets," Dan said, sweeping up needles.
Herbert hummed thoughtfully as he snapped off a dry twig. He removed the tree from the stand and dragged it down to the cellar, leaving a trail of more needles for Dan to clean up.
The same busy schedule filled with colds, flu, and winter weather related injuries that kept Dan from keeping a tree alive also prevented him and Herbert from exploring their relationship further. At the moment, things weren't all that earth-shattering different. The Halloween incident had already dampened the nursing staff's ardor. There weren't many people at the hospital who hadn't already assumed Dan and Herbert were more than housemates. That they were a month ahead of the couple themselves was just an extra slice of irony.
Herbert, having no concept of what it even meant to be in a romantic relationship, also complicated matters. Dan was used to going out on dates, cuddling, sex. So far, none of that had gone on. Sometimes though, Dan also enjoyed Herbert's inexperience. Like the way he made a small sound of surprise whenever Dan kissed him, then adjust his glasses afterward. For all its unorthodoxy, Dan just liked being part of a couple, having that special person in his life.
A week before Christmas he came out of his study to find Herbert in the living room, reading a medical journal. "Here, sign these." Dan handed him two cards as he sat on the sofa next to him.
Herbert frowned at them. "What are they?"
"Christmas cards, Herbert. One for your sister, the other goes with Crawford's gift."
Herbert opened each card and read the inside greeting. "I'm not signing my name to this drivel." He tried handing them back. "Besides, I never send them anything. They'll know you just forced me."
Dan pushed them back at Herbert. "One of the many perks you have yet to realize of being in a relationship is joint gift-giving. It saves effort and money. Speaking of, do you have ten bucks to go toward Crawford's present?"
"I bet you do, Scrooge." Dan reached around Herbert and tried getting a hand in his back pocket for his wallet.
"Hey! What are you-" Herbert tried to squirm away, dropping the cards on the floor.
Dan had height and weight advantage, and their little tussle ended with Herbert pinned under Dan who had both hands in Herbert's back pockets. He wasn't grabbing for the wallet any more. "Hello." Dan grinned, touching their noses together.
"You're an oaf."
Dan hummed in agreement, tilted his head to one side and dove in for a kiss. Herbert had been a fast study. And when he felt like it, he was able to give as well as he got. After a quick squeeze, Dan slid his hands out of Herbert's pockets and up the smaller man's back, greedy for the warmth of the body beneath him.
Herbert pulled back a moment, took his glasses off, and buried his fingers in Dan's hair. Greedy, too.
Dan liked kissing Herbert, almost obsessed with his soft lips, even if they were always a little dry. A swipe of Dan's tongue fixed that. Herbert's mouth opened with a small gasp. Dan took the opportunity to slip his tongue inside. He shifted to deepen the kiss further. In doing so, he could clearly feel the evidence that Herbert wasn't entirely the ice princess he made himself out to be.
Dan moaned. He broke away from Herbert's mouth to trail wet kisses under his jaw, down his neck. Herbert was wide-eyed, face flush, lips darkened and parted in panting breaths. Dan couldn't recall ever seeing anything so fuckable.
Dan twisted a hand in Herbert's tie and said against the pulse point in his neck, "We should- We should- Bed." Very intelligent and seductive, Dr. Cain, Dan chided himself even in his haze of lust.
"Dan..." Herbert started to answer, but the phone rang.
"Fuuuuuck!" Dan groaned, dropping his forehead to Herbert's chest. "We're just going to ignore that, right?"
"Yes," Herbert agreed.
The phone kept ringing. "Could be work..."
"You always think that," Herbert hissed. "And you're always wrong. Even if it is the hospital, it's our day off. And the only other calls we get are from one other annoying person." Dan started to get up. "Dan! If you answer that phone and it's my stupid brother, I cannot be responsible for my actions."
Dan paused, weighing his options. The ringing continued. "What were you going to say?"
"When I suggested taking this upstairs. You. Me. Bed. Sex. What's your answer?"
"Don't agree if you don't really want to just to get out of dealing with maybe your brother."
"Awkward, sexual fumblings or spending a nanosecond talking to the Crawfish?"
"It could be an emergency!" Dan vaulted off Herbert and answered the phone. "Daniel Cain." He flinched. "Oh, hi Crawford."
Glowering, Herbert jumped up and grabbed the receiver from Dan's hand. "Nobody likes you and I hope you die in a fire!"
Dan snatched it back. "Sorry. We were just in the middle of something." Herbert adjusted his clothes and started leaving. "Hang on." Dan covered the mouthpiece. "Where are you going?"
"Lab. Please, don't let me interrupt." He sneered and went downstairs.
"No, nothing important," Dan sighed back into the phone. "What did you want, Crawford?"
A few minutes later, Dan followed Herbert down to the cellar. Herbert was mixing chemicals. "So..." Dan tried leering at him.
"No," Herbert said, not looking away from what he was doing.
Herbert set the test tubes down. "I assure you, any amorous inclinations you may have excited have been thoroughly dampened by the mere thought of my brother."
"I could always try and excite you again..."
"No. Working now." He picked the tubes back up.
"On what? That isn't re-agent."
"No, it's a particularly corrosive acid."
"What do you need that for?"
"To throw in Crawford's face the next time I see him."
"So, now probably isn't a good time to tell you he's coming over Christmas Eve."
"I'll make sure to wrap a ribbon around the beaker before giving it to him."
"Herbert." Dan gently took the glass tubes from his hands, then wrapped his fingers around Herbert's thin wrists. "We talked about this. No maiming during the holidays."
Herbert let out a dramatic sigh. "I know."
Dan had been watching the clock all day. Having to work on Christmas Eve sucked. As young, new hires without families nor religious tendencies, they were easy choices to schedule. But a holiday was a holiday, and Dan had plans.
He hadn't seen Herbert most of the day. He was then strangely quiet when he met up with him by the hospital exit to drive home. The car ride was quiet, too. Dan was about to ask what was bothering him.
"We should have sex tonight," Herbert said.
Dan's grip on the wheel faltered. Dangerous on the icy road. He regained control of the car quickly. "What!?"
"I've been thinking about it, and I've made my decision."
"Herbert, wait. Back up one step."
"What's the matter? It's what you want isn't it? Our relationship to be more sexual in nature."
"Well, yes. But there are things we need to talk about."
"Talk, talk, talk, Daniel."
"It's just..." No skirting the issue. Better to be direct with Herbert. "When I first kissed you, you said you never had been consensually, before. No one's done anything more to you than kiss, have they? Consensual or not."
Herbert's expression became pinched and annoyed. "No, I have not ever been further molested once my disinterest was apparent. And to your other question: Yes, I am a virgin. But it's okay, I've done some reading."
"Reading?" Dan's laugh was uncomfortable and nervous. "Herbert, reading-up isn't really enough to prepare yourself. And why now? Why tonight? You know Crawford's coming over tonight."
"Is that so? Oh, well, suppose you ought to call him and tell him you have more pressing things to attend to."
"That's what this is about, isn't it? You just want to get out of seeing your brother on Christmas. You're unbelievable!"
"What does my motivation have to do with anything? I'm offering myself to you!"
Dan pulled into the drive and killed the engine. "We'll talk about this later."
Later, to Herbert, meant once they were inside the house. Hebert latched onto Dan, grabbing his head and dragging him down to his height. It was the first time Herbert initiated any kind of intimate contact. He always had been so damned persuasive with his words and voice, but this new weapon in his arsenal nearly shut Dan's brain down entirely.
Dan pulled back, gasping for breath. "I know what you're doing."
"I hope so." Herbert moved in again.
Dan grabbed his hands and held them against his chest. "Crawford's coming over in a bit. This can wait."
"This can wait? Since when have you ever had that attitude towards sex?"
"Since dating a manipulative bastard who's rushing things."
"I am not."
"Come on, Herbert. Tomorrow. I promise. Wouldn't you like that? Doing something so utterly sinful on a major religious festival?"
He could see Herbert thinking it over. "He stays only an hour."
"Fine." Herbert huffed and walked away.
Well, that was definitely a sign of progress and maturity for both of them. Dan wasn't thinking solely with his dick, and Herbert managed a compromise. "It's a Christmas miracle," Dan said, plugging in the tree lights. Was it his imagination or did something move in there? Dan looked closer, but not seeing anything untoward, shrugged it off.
Dan brought out cookies, candy, and a pitcher of eggnog to the coffee table. They had received a box of expensive chocolates from Jeanine which Dan was digging into when Crawford arrived. Bundled in his winter coat, nose pink from the cold, snowflakes in his hair; Dan was struck again by just how cute Crawford could be.
He had a couple presents in his hands. "Merry Christmas, Dan!"
"You too, Crawford! Come on in. You can put the presents under the tree. Help yourself to some goodies."
Crawford lit up when he saw the spread of treats.
Dan went downstairs. "Herbert? Crawford's here." He saw the way Herbert turned and eyed a beaker of yellow liquid. Dan slid it further out of his reach as he came up to Herbert's side. "Come on. Come see your brother. Otherwise, I'll sing Christmas songs at you for the rest of the night."
"All right. Just give me a minute."
Dan went back to living room. Crawford was gazing into the Christmas tree, swaying back and forth a little as chewed on a gingerbread man. "Something wrong?"
"There's an ornament that looks like an eye. I think it's following me."
Dan bent and followed Crawford's gaze. "Because that is an eye." A cow eye to be exact, hanging from a branch by its optic nerves. It rocked back and forth, tracking Crawford's movement.
Herbert's idea of helping with the decorating. He had a whole set of re-animated ornaments. Dan said no, but clearly Herbert sneaked one in. At least it wasn't the star burst tree topper made of wriggling fingers.
"Ignore it," Dan suggested.
Herbert emerged. "I just want to say that I'm only here under threat of psychological torture."
"Merry Christmas, Herbert!" To Dan's shock and Herbert's dismay, Crawford actually went up and hugged his brother.
Herbert's body went rigid, and his eyes huge. "Get off me! This is not allowed." Crawford let go, victorious. Herbert continued glaring at him. "That's the ugliest sweater I've seen you wearing, yet."
Dan, usually not as critical of Crawford's wardrobe, had to agree, but kept it to himself. It was bright red with a swath of white across the chest, serving as the background for a trio of caroling teddy bears.
Crawford chose not to rise to the bait and picked up one of the packages. He handed it to Herbert. "By the way, Cousin Andrew sends his regards."
"Oh, no. He's not back in town is he?"
"No, but he sent me a postcard from his latest expedition."
"Hopefully the ass end nowhere."
"Who's Cousin Andrew?" Dan asked.
"Archaeologist," Crawford explained. "He went to Miskatonic, too."
"And incredibly, more of a whore that you are, Dan."
"Gee, thanks. At least you could have said 'were.'"
"You're right. I retract my statement."
"So, how have you two been?" Crawford asked, handing Dan his gift.
Dan grinned. "We're good."
"Could have been even better if you didn't show up tonight." Herbert started tearing open the Santa-laden wrapping paper. Inside were four composition notebooks, a pack of pens, and a pack of pencils. Clearly, someone had coached him on how to buy practical presents. "Thanks," Herbert said begrudgingly, but not insincere.
Dan opened his. "Oh hey, cool!" It was a Walkman. "I think I lost my last one in Peru. Thanks, buddy." He hugged Crawford.
Herbert cleared his throat and glared. Dan rolled his eyes and let Crawford go. "Here." Dan picked up the card and present for Crawford. He eventually managed to get Herbert to sign the card and fork over some cash.
"Ooh, nice! The latest Ultima game! Hope I have enough time to play it."
"Great, gifts exchanged. Merriest Christmas ever. Good bye!"
"Herbert!" Dan chided.
"Well, what else is there?"
"I don't know... Watch It's a Wonderful Life?"
Herbert made gagging noises.
Dan really hadn't thought it through. For some reason he still managed to forget that these weren't people versed in the ways of just hanging-out. There wasn't much more on Dan's mind other than drinking 'nog and stuffing himself with cookies and candy. He thought quickly. "Well, at Christmas reunions my family would play cards."
"Herbert, you're playing games or you're not getting any candy."
"I know where you hide it."
"Who said I'd hide it? Anything I don't eat I'll let Crawford take home."
"What kind of card games? I don't know many," Crawford said.
"You know poker, don't you?" Crawford shook his head. "Well, now's good as time as any. Herbert, how about you?"
"I don't waste my time with card games."
"Except solitaire." Dan dug around an end table drawer and pulled out a deck.
They sat around the coffee table, sliding the food and drink aside. He dealt out and explained Five Card Stud. They picked it up easily and played for Hersey's Kisses. Dan tried to ignore how easy Crawford was to read. Herbert, of course, had perfected a poker face well before he ever heard of the game. Dan was also pretty sure the way Herbert was sucking on a candy cane was purposefully distracting.
By the end of the two hours all the gingerbread men were gone (Crawford scarfed them down like he was afraid of them running away), and the box of Jeanine's chocolates was completely destroyed. Dan was the only one who made a decent go at the alcohol. Crawford, having to drive himself home, abstained. Herbert never took anything that impaired his cognitive faculties, especially depressants. So, Dan felt obligated to make up the difference. Even after losing all his Kisses to Herbert, he was feeling pretty damn good at the end of the night.
He gave Crawford another big holiday hug before sending him off in the snowy night. He turned around and grinned at the scowling Herbert. "You're cute when you're jealous."
Herbert crossed his arms and scoffed. "And you're stupid when you're drunk."
"Just a little."
"What? Drunk or stupid?"
"Both. Come here, you." He swept Herbert up in a crushing hug. Herbert tried to squirm away, but Dan did his best to hang on.
"Dan, please," Herbert spluttered.
Dan let him go only to grab his arm and drag him upstairs. "Let's go to bed."
Herbert resisted. "I can assure you I am very not 'in the mood' right now."
"Nah." Dan opened his bedroom door. "I don't mean that. Let's just... Let's just be together."
Herbert hesitated. "You mean... Snuggling?"
"Yeah, it'll save on heating."
"I'm not even tired," he protested.
"Oh, fine." Dan let Herbert go and flopped face-down on the bed.
Dan woke up, mouth dry and with a minor headache. Definitely one of the better hangovers of his life. He rolled over. He started, discovering he was not alone. Herbert, still fully clothed, was lying next to him, staring.
"Uhm," Dan said.
Herbert sat up, reached over to the nightstand and presented Dan with a glass of water and two white pills. Dan sat up, too and took them. "So, change your mind about the snuggling?"
"I didn't touch you all night."
"You know how to make a guy feel wanted."
"It's Christmas Day."
"So it is."
"Yesterday, you said-"
"Good." Herbert undid his tie and started on his shirt buttons.
Dan laughed. "What, we're just going to start? Follow the little diagrams in the books you've been reading?"
"That seems efficient."
"Efficient?" Dan rolled over and trapped Herbert beneath him. He kissed him long and deep, trying to prove that books had nothing on being in the moment.
Herbert broke away. "We need to think this through."
"Just give me a moment, you'll forget all about thinking." Dan's hand wandered down to Herbert's fly.
"There's things we need, Dan. And methods to determine."
"I feel safe in assuming you prefer to retain the more 'dominate' role when it comes to intercourse."
Ah that. Dan realized he had made that assumption, too. If unconsciously, that was the only way he pictured the scenario. For now at least. "If you don't mind. And as for 'things we need' I picked up lube the same time I got the cookies. Should have seen the look the cashier gave me."
"I don't suppose 'It's okay, I'm a doctor' would have helped."
"Probably not." Dan kissed him again before starting to remove Herbert's clothes. Most fun he had unwrapping a Christmas present in a while. But Herbert wouldn't stop talking and questioning, and making suggestions based off whatever damned books he had gotten his hands on. Dan tried to ignore it and just concentrate on pale skin quickly turning pink.
But he couldn't take it any more. "Fuck the book! Do you trust me?"
Herbert's eyes widened a little as they stared at each other. "More so than any other living person."
"Then stop over-analyzing. Let me take care of you."
After a couple seconds Herbert forced himself to relax. Dan could feel his muscles lose tension right under his hands. Herbert nodded once and got his determined face on. "Right. Let's do this."
Sitting up, Dan tore off his own shirt then undid his jeans. He slid them past his hips.
Dan was about to make a smug comment, assuming Herbert's exclamation was due his now exposed, considerable erection, but Herbert's eyes were fixed on a point a little too far to left to be reacting to that. "What?" Dan asked, disappointed.
Herbert reached out and brushed his thumb over a spot near Dan's hip bone. "It's some kind of blackbird."
The tattoo. Of course. Herbert had obsessed over it since Thanksgiving. It was the mascot of his high school football team. "You like it?"
"Yes." Herbert's hand moved. Dan shivered as Herbert's fingers lightly, experimentally, even nervously trailed down and around Dan's hard cock. It had been so long since he felt the touch of a hand that was not his own, Dan had to swat it away. He took a moment to collect himself and finish taking off his pants.
Herbert, Dan was pleased to see, was hard, but seemed not to notice. Dan lay back down on top of him, completely skin to skin. Herbert made a small whimpering sound that impossibly turned Dan on further. "It's okay. I'll make it good. I promise."
"I suppose I ought to- ah- turn over?" Herbert wriggled.
"If that's what you want."
"I think that may be best." Falling back on the research again.
Dan lifted himself off, allowing Herbert to roll over, exposing his smooth backside. Dan swallowed and reached for the lube. He squeezed a dollop onto his fingers. Dan took a deep breath. "Okay, just remember to relax and tell me if it hurts."
"Yes, yes." Herbert displaying such typical impatience almost made Dan hysterical.
Dan started slow, inserting just an index finger. Other than a couple shifts of his hips, Herbert didn't really respond. Two fingers and a loosening twist released an "Unh!"
"You should try and stimulate my protest, Dan."
"I'm getting to it, Herbert," Dan said through gritted teeth. With that incentive, Dan put aside gentleness and pushed his fingers in in one stroke. Herbert jolted and yelped. Bull's eye. Dan tried very hard not laugh. "You still okay?"
Reducing Herbert West to incoherency was one of the biggest thrills of Dan's life. Herbert jerked again when Dan pulled his fingers out. With his un-slicked hand he grabbed Herbert's hip and pulled him up. Herbert slid his knees under himself. Dan grabbed the lube again and slathered his aching cock. He let out a long breath. "Here we go," Dan said and pushed in.
Oh. Tight. Slick. Hot. Too much. Dan paused and tried to catch his breath, focus. "You okay?"
Dan thrust again and once more till he was all the way in, their bodies flush together. Dan bit his lip, stopping himself from asking yet again if Herbert was doing all right, that he didn't hurt him. Instead, Dan slid a hand over his hip and circled his fingers around Herbert's cock. His erection had flagged a little, but not entirely. It was encouraging enough for Dan to start pulling out, then pressing in again, developing a steady rhythm with his hips and hand, stroking Herbert's pleasure back to life.
It wasn't destined to last long. Dan hadn't had any for months. Herbert didn't have the experience to develop some control. Herbert, unsurprisingly, wasn't very vocal. The only indication of his impending orgasm was the quickening of his short, wet gasps. Dan cried out as Herbert's release pulsed over his hand, and his body tightened around Dan from inside, triggering his own orgasm.
Dan pulled out. "Ow," said Herbert.
"Sorry." Dan collapsed next to him. He reached over and ran a hand down Herbert's sweaty back. "Are you-"
"Right. So, you think you understand what all the fuss is about now?"
Herbert turned over and winched. A twinge of guilt pricked at Dan. "Maybe. Somewhat. Prefer science, still.
"Of course you do." Dan grabbed Herbert's arm and pulled him closer.
"Oh. So, we're cuddling now?"
"Definitely." Dan sighed, looping one arm around Herbert's waist and running the other hand through his hair.