Dan and Herbert didn't always sleep together. Even on nights Dan did seduce him to bed, Herbert was always gone by the morning. For Dan to wake-up and find Herbert still curled-up next to him was cause for some alarm. Dan reached over and shook his shoulder. "Herbert? Hey, what's up? You okay?"
Herbert moaned and shrugged Dan's hand off. Dan sat up just as the bed began to shake from Herbert's coughing. "Are you sick?"
"Amazing diagnosis, Dr. Cain." Herbert's voice was scratchy, his nose obviously stuffy.
"That's what you get for hanging out in a morgue freezer then a damp basement half the night."
"You were there, too."
"I must have a better immune system."
"I never got sick when I was injecting myself."
Dan squeezed his eyes shut. There was no correlation between not catching a cold and being on that stuff. For all they knew it was thanks to his special solution that his immune system was now shot to hell. Not eating and sleeping for long periods had a tendency of doing that. But Dan was in no mood to start that argument.
Dan rubbed his eyes and glanced at the clock. "Well, I'll call the hospital, tell them you're not coming in today. They'll probably ask me to fill in."
"What, and leave you all alone?"
"It's just a cold. I don't need taking care of."
"I'm calling the hospital, then I'm making you chamomile tea with lemon."
"I don't like tea! Give me pills and coffee."
Dan climbed out of bed and moved the box of tissue to Herbert's side. Of the other man, Dan only saw a hand reach out and take the box, then quickly move back under the covers. Dan smirked and left the room to make his call and breakfast.
He came back upstairs, tray in hand. He set it down on the night stand. "Here you go: Tea, orange juice, scrambled eggs and toast."
"M'not hungry," said the pile of blankets.
"Are you nauseous?"
"No, just not hungry."
"You got to keep your strength up. You know, feed a cold, starve a fever."
"Glad to see those years in medical school didn't go to waste."
"You get off on this, don't you? 'Taking care.' Makes you feel useful, protective."
"It's because I do care. And yeah, I guess I like caring. I care about you." Dan knelt at the bedside. He tried to pull the blankets down and away from Herbert's face.
"Caring's stupid." Herbert glared once he couldn't keep is own grip and Dan got the covers passed his eyes.
"You care. About your work. About me."
"Come on, you can say that at least. The 'C' word isn't as bad as the 'L' word."
"I have a 'C' word I can say to you."
Dan stood back up. "Whatever. I'm going in to cover for you for a few hours. While I'm gone don't do anything stupid like overexert yourself. No going downstairs."
"But the experiment!"
"I'll look in on it before I go."
Herbert grumbled something and turned away. Dan stood and picked up the ignored breakfast. He knew he couldn't trust Herbert to be responsible for his own well-being. So, he decided to make another phone call.
"Hey, that smells good," Dan said, holding the door open for Crawford.
"Thanks. How is he?"
"Grump...ier than normal."
Crawford hefted the covered ceramic bowl in his hands. "I hope he likes this."
"If he's an ungrateful brat, we'll tie him up and force-feed him. Go on up. I've got to go to work in a few minutes and I've got heads to look in on."
"It's best you don't ask."
Crawford nodded and tried to push aside the unbidden speculations his mind created anyway. He went upstairs and peered into Dan's bedroom where he found a lump on the bed he assumed to be his brother. "Herbert?" Crawford whispered.
The lump stirred. "If Dan wants me to rest, why does he persist on irritating me?"
Crawford set the bowl down and pulled a chair over to the bed to sit.
"I don't need a babysitter," Herbert continued. "What is that?" He asked, red eyes peering out from under the blankets.
"It's chicken soup."
"I don't want it." Herbert recovered his head and turned away.
"Bubba made it just for you."
"Ugh, save me from mothering boyfriends, brothers and brother's boyfriends."
"It's good. His mother's recipe. 'Cures the body and the soul.'"
"Even if such a thing existed, I am certain I do not possess one anyway."
"Dan said if you refused to eat it, he'd tie you up and let me spoon-feed you."
"So much for his celebrated bedside manner."
"Doctors make the worst patient."
"And physicists make for poor nurses."
"Hey, Crawford, come out here for a minute," Dan said, poking his head into the room.
Crawford joined him in the hall where Dan was holding up a notebook. "I'm putting this in the study, top bookshelf. It's has my observations on experiment from this morning. Retrieve for him only if he eats the soup, okay?"
"Okay...Only, how am I suppose to reach the top shelf?"
"Ah. Right. Sorry. There's chairs. Just be careful." Dan looked at his watch. "Got to get going. Good luck, I'll see you in a few hours. I'm sure he's too week to try and kill you, so I'll try not to worry."
Crawford gave a small, uneasy laugh and waved good-bye as Dan headed down the stairs.
"Conspiring, are we?" Herbert was sitting up now. He held a tissue to his face so he could blow his nose again.
"So I figured." Herbert sniffed and coughed. "So, what's the big secret?"
Crawford considered what to say. Dan did pull him out of the room, but how could someone chase the carrot if he didn't know the thing even existed? "Dan said if you eat well, you can go over the notes he took on the...heads?"
Herbert crossed his arm. "I'm not a child who needs the promise of dessert so I'll eat my vegetables."
"Oh, fine!" He pulled the bowl on to his lap. "I don't have a spoon."
"Sorry, stupid of me! I'll go get you one."
Crawford bounded the stairs. As he did so, he wondered why they all felt the need to live in such big houses. While in the kitchen, Crawford took a moment to start a pot of coffee for himself. He had a feeling he just might need it. Back in the bedroom Herbert snatched the spoon from his hand. "What took you so long? Are you making coffee?"
"Maybe. How do you like the soup?"
Herbert just gave an unenthusiastic shrug and kept eating. Crawford rubbed his temples. Suddenly, Herbert's apathy for the feelings of others was bothering Crawford more than usual. Maybe he just needed the coffee.
"Bring me some," Herbert demanded, pushing bits of celery around the broth.
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Whose the medical doctor here?"
"But coffee is dehydrating. You need proper fluids. Even I know that." He grabbed the empty glass from the night stand and went back downstairs. Crawford poured a mug for himself and refilled the glass with water. Crawford dug around the cabinets for aspirin. He was getting the beginning of a headache. Damn Herbert if he made him sick already! Hopefully, the pills and the caffeine would take the edge off. He topped himself off before heading back up to his particularly foul-mood brother.
Herbert had scooted back under the blankets. "Finished your stupid soup. Where's the notes?"
Crawford checked the bowl. "You didn't eat all of it."
"I hate celery. Notes."
"Okay, okay." Damn, another trip all the way down to the first floor again, and his head was throbbing. Back down the stairs he went, found the notebook, and flung it at Herbert, almost hitting him in the head.
"What's gotten you so pissy?"
"I don't know, maybe it has something to do with having to be around you!"
That made Herbert laugh. "Look at you. Perhaps you really are a West after all and not some genetic experiment involving a lemur and an alpaca."
"Can you just stop, at all, for one moment?"
"Why are you shouting? My head hurts enough from this cold as it is!"
"You're shouting, too! Agh!" Crawford's head was hurting something awful. It almost made him nauseous. "I'm going to go lie down. Clearly your cold and mood are contagious," Crawford said, managing to control his tone.
He staggered off down the hall to the bedroom he used before. He shoved a pillow over his head and hoped the aspirin would start working soon.
Dan came home and went immediately to his room. Herbert was looking better; he was sitting up, poring over his notebook. The soup bowl was sitting empty on the nightstand next to an equally empty mug. Well, no wonder he was looking so pleased with himself. "I guess I should have given Crawford more specific instructions. Where is he? Is that why you look like the proverbial cat with the canary?"
"I'll have you know I haven't even touched him today. The coffee was left after he ran off in a snit. It seemed a shame to waste."
"What did you do to make him have 'snit'?"
"Nothing. Ever seen Crawford mad, really mad? It was pretty funny actually."
"Where is he now?"
Herbert shrugged. "Said he was going to lie down. Said he had a headache. Like he has the room to whine. I have a headache, too, as well as the stuffed sinuses and the mucus I keep coughing up."
"My heart's breaking for you. I'm going to go find Crawford."
"I don't know what everyone else is going on about. Your bedside manner is terrible!" Herbert called after him as Dan left the room. The outburst triggered another coughing fit.
Crawford was in a guest room, lying on his side with a pillow held tightly over his head. Dan leaned over and gently shook his shoulder. "Hey. How're you doing, buddy?"
"Head hurt," came the muffled reply.
"So I've heard. Anything else hurt?"
"Think maybe you caught Herbert's cold? Got any other symptoms?"
A pause. "No. And pills didn't help."
"Any history of migraines in the family?"
"No! Stop asking questions or go away. I'm not one of your patients!"
Dan's eyebrows raised. In a snit indeed. "You can stay here tonight if you want." The reply wasn't a word, but it was clearly a negative. "I don't think you should drive if you're feeling this poorly. I can give you a ride."
Crawford rolled over and squinted up at Dan in a way that was far too reminiscent of how Herbert had looked at him that morning. Crawford sighed and sat-up, rubbing his brow with one hand. "How's Herbert?"
"Doing better than you look."
"I should go." Crawford stood carefully like he was trying not to fall over.
"Whoa, hang on." Dan placed his hands on Crawford's shoulders to keep him from trying to move too fast. "I know now for certain you shouldn't be driving. I'll go get Bubba's dish from my room and tell Herbert I'm taking you home."
Crawford sat in the front seat of Dan's car, head against the rest, his eyes shut against the rays of the still-setting sun. They didn't talk, and Dan tried to be mindful of bumps and potholes. In silence Dan thought about the last time Crawford had been over. He had mentioned having a headache then, too. Not as bad as this, though. But that same night Herbert had used a headache as one of his excuses for avoiding company. Dan chewed on his lower lip.
It could have been coincidence. It could just be Herbert's being ill stressing everyone else out.
They were about two miles out from the house by the cemetery when Crawford stirred and opened his eyes. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"How are you feeling?" Dan asked.
"Better. Much better, actually. Pain's fading."
Then again, the headaches could have been something else entirely.
Crawford's mood continued to improve as they went across town. In fact, he was quite himself when Dan pulled up to the gates of the Pretorious foundation. "You'll tell Herbert I'm sorry for snapping at him earlier, won't you?"
"Do I have to? I think you actually earned some respect from him today by showing your bitchy side."
Crawford flinched. "All the same... Thanks for the ride, Dan. I'll probably call Bubba later, he can bring me over to pick up my car."
"Sure thing. Stay well."
Crawford smiled and waved him off. The drive back was unsettled by Dan's growing worry and suspicions. His suspicions only increased when he got home and Herbert reported that while his nose was still blocked, his headache had completely disappeared.
Dan groaned and sat on the bed. "Fuck."
"I'm hardly well enough for that."
"Anyway, we need to talk about the experiment."
"Herbert, we have something more important to talk about right now."
"Dan, how many times must I remind you? There is nothing more important than the work. Now, it's become clear that our superficial observations are not enough. I've been wondering if we could somehow sneak the heads into MRI."
Dan was distracted by that thought. He tried to imagine it: Him and Herbert in the middle of the night, setting a single head on the massive machine. Its mouth would be gaping and closing like a fish, just as it had when Dan last looked in on "Larry," "Moe," and "Curly." How exactly would they explain if they were caught? He shook his head, clearing the reverie. "It's you and your brother I rather get brain scans of."
"What are you talking about?"
"I've been thinking about today and a couple weeks ago when Crawford was over with Bubba. You both had headaches then, didn't you?"
"And just as Crawford had behaved a bit unusual today, you did something somewhat out of character that other night, right?"
"No, I didn't."
"You did something nice for Crawford. Gave him some books?"
"Oh, that." Herbert frowned, brow creasing. "Seemed like the thing to do at the time. Look, if you have a point, Dan, please get to it."
"I have a theory that you two may be still experiencing some sort of side-effect from your experience with that whatsit machine, Pretorius' resonator."
"I'd rather forget that whole unpleasant business."
"But we can't! Not when there's obviously still something wrong with your brains. Clearly, proximity to each other is causing something to happen between you."
"Sounds like a perfect excuse for us to never see each other again," Herbert huffed. He pulled the covers over his head, ending the conversation.
Dan laid down next to him, knowing he was going to have to call Dr. Pretorius as soon as possible, whether Herbert liked it or not.