Work Header

A Question of Perception

Work Text:

It was a dark and stormy night, and it had been a long and tiring day at the hospital. Herbert didn't even have the energy to work on his personal research. Instead of heading straight to the cellar, he shuffled into the living room and flopped face down on the sofa.

"Don't lie on your glasses," Dan chided, dropping heavily into a worn chair.

Herbert muttered a sarcastic "Yes mother," removed his glasses, and dropped them on the floor.

Dan tried to get comfortable in his chair, but the springs were pretty much gone, the upholstery torn, stuffing leaking out. They had just kept the furniture that came with the house. Dan was certain it was probably unhealthy: rat-chewed and mildew-infested. At the same time, bothering to go furniture shopping would smack of permanence and domesticity. Picking out new furnishings was something one did with a fiancé, not something one did with Herbert West.

The rain started pounding against the windows, lightning flashed closer and constantly. Thunder cracked and shook the old house's frame. Dan looked over at the radio, but didn't feel like moving to turn it on. If they did die in some sort of severe weather event, it probably would have been some kind of divine justice anyway.

He shifted again. Nope, no good. He stretched out a leg and nudged Herbert's backside with his toes. "You're hogging the pillows."


"Give me one."


Dan gave him one more hearty nudge and dropped his foot. Yep, might as well accept it, moving was not on the agenda for either of them.

That was until there was a knock on the door. Herbert pulled one of the pillows from his surplus and shoved it over his head, perfectly happy to ignore the world. Dan, for all his exhaustion, could not. He couldn't help imagining someone in trouble, caught in the storm.

With a groan, he hauled himself from the back-murdering chair and made for the front door. When he opened it, a flash of lightning illuminated the man on the porch. "Crawford?"

A bit damp and hunched over against the wind, stood Crawford Tillinghast with an old backpack over one shoulder and what looked like a plastic suitcase in one hand. "What are you doing here?"

With an annoyed grunt, Herbert rolled off the sofa at the sound of his brother's name.

"The power's out on my side of town," Crawford explained, "I was hoping I could pass the night here."

"Afraid of the dark, Crawfish?" Herbert jeered. "Don't you own a flashlight?"

"I was in the middle of some very important research. Can't I come in?" He had to shout over another roar of thunder.

"Of course!" Dan said.

"No!" Herbert said at the same time.

Dan took Herbert's arm and pulled him away from the door to let Crawford step inside.

"Thanks." Crawford toed off his shoes and set down the plastic case with a sigh of relief.

"Do you want anything?" Dan offered. "Coffee, tea, I think we got a couple beers."

"Coffee would be great."

"No, it wouldn't. He's not staying."



"Excuse us." Dan smiled weakly at Crawford. "Herbert, kitchen. Crawford, make yourself at home."

"Noooooo," Herbert whined like a toddler as Dan pushed him out of the room.

Dan busied himself in the kitchen with the coffee maker as Herbert leaned against a counter, arms crossed. "I don't want him here, especially not overnight."

"What is your problem with him?"

"I don't like his face."

"Hate to be the one to break it to you-"

"Don't start." Herbert moved to the doorway, glaring out to the living room. "Just look at him! Always going about like a wet noodle in an ugly sweater, or a puppy who's constantly being kicked. Can you imagine being so closely related to someone so...soggy?"

"A by-product of your separate upbringing? You two would be a dream case-study for a psychologist."

Herbert made a non-committal "Hmm" as he watched his brother heft the plastic case and set it on the coffee table. He unlatched part of the casing and removed a thick chord. With a couple more flicks at its front, he detached a keyboard. Herbert gaped. How the hell did he manage to get a portable computer?

"You can pretend to be nice to him for one evening, surely? Besides, you could always hole yourself up downstairs, Crawford can stay in the one of the spare rooms. You can easily avoid him."

"And leave the two of you alone together?" Herbert scoffed. "I don't think so."

Then there was that. Herbert's jealousy for Dan's attention was well-established. That he was significantly more paranoid about Dan's interest in his twin was ridiculous. Even if Dan was attracted to Crawford on a more than friendly level, that would have too many implications about other subconscious desires Dan felt better leaving unacknowledged. He poured out a cup of coffee and as he passed Herbert on his way out of the kitchen he said, "Play nice for one night or else I'll write to Jeanine about your behavior, and see if she doesn’t make cuts to your allowance."

"You wouldn't dare! You need her money as much as I do." His voice dripped with the distaste he had in being dependent on his older sibling.

From what Dan understood of it, it was an odd relationship. Jeanine West, eight years Herbert and Crawford's senior, had a conscience that Herbert could exploit to make sure he was never left destitute. At the same time, she in no way ever wanted personal contact with him. Dan suspected his allowance was mostly on condition he never stepped within 500 miles of her.

The way Crawford talked about her though, it sounded like she indulged her long-lost brother out of genuine fondness.

"Then be good for both our sakes."

Crawford looked up from his typing and took the coffee from Dan. "Thanks."

"How are things in the field of inter-dimensional travel?" Herbert asked with a smile that read "See, this is me being nice," but his tone was all sarcasm.

Crawford sighed and pinched his nose. "I've explained this before. Alternate dimensions don't exist as something parallel that you can travel to like an episode of Star Trek. It's more liked layered dimensions. Things existing in the same space. It's not about physically moving from one place to another, it's a question of perception."

"And that's where you think the pineal gland comes in." Herbert rolled his eyes.

"It's been a long-held theory that is connected to metaphysical-"

"By philosophers! Not biologists!" Herbert grabbed one of the many medical books strewn about the room and dropped it in Crawford's lap. "It moderates chronobiology and controls sexual development. That is all."

Crawford's lips pressed together in a tight, annoyed, line. At no other time did the two brothers look so alike than when they were angry. "And I can show you medical books that claimed that disease was caused by 'bad humors' and that a woman's uterus could detach and wander about her body causing insanity."

Not to mention, Dan thought to himself, that the very same medical books Herbert was referencing claimed what they had accomplished with corpses and body parts was also impossible.

It was an old and tired argument between the two, both belittling each others works. It lasted until Herbert finally stormed out of the room in disgust to sulk in his lab. His earlier exhaustion creeping back on him, Dan said good night while Crawford went back to his typing, and reminded him which of the rooms upstairs he could use.

The storm faded overnight and gave-way to a cool, but sunny Saturday morning. Dan sat at the kitchen table with his coffee, cereal, and newspaper, enjoying the quiet.

Quiet until the creaking stairs announced others were finally awake. "Morning," Crawford half-yawned as he padded into the kitchen, drawn to the coffee maker.

Dan returned the greeting, glancing up quickly. He did a double-take and nearly choked on his corn flakes. "You're wearing glasses!"

"I try not to sleep in my contacts." Crawford rubbed at his eyes, bumping his frames. Looking away from the disconcertingly familiar gesture, Dan couldn't help then to but notice Crawford's sleepwear: a pair of ordinary flannel pants and an old Misk U t-shirt that fitted snugly around his chest and stomach in an extremely flattering way.

Shocked by his own train of thought, Dan tore his eyes completely away from his house guest and tried to be interested in what passed for Arkham's society column instead. Herbert's mocking accusations and warnings rung in his mind. The notion that he may have been right all long about Dan's potential lascivious designs on his brother made Dan's heart beat a little faster.

Crawford sat at the table across from Dan, oblivious to his host's internal panic. Crawford kept scratching at his arm, and as hard as Dan tried to ignore him, it was a whole new kind of distracting. At least being irritatingly-so was something he could deal with easier than the... Other kind of distracting.

"Something wrong?"

"Hmmm? Oh, a spider bite, I think. Didn't you guys get this place fumigated before you moved in?"

Dan frowned. "Let me see." He got up and sat down again on the table's edge by Crawford's chair and took his arm. The skin on the inner arms was streaked with pink from Crawford's fingernails. But there was also a small, darker red dot over the cephalic vein. It definitely wasn't a spider bite.

Herbert chose that moment to wander in. "Well, aren't we cozy?"

"Herbert, did you inject Crawford with something in his sleep?"

Herbert widened his eyes in exaggerated innocence. "No."

"Then, what's this?"

Herbert inspected the mark and shrugged. "Spider bite?"

"What did you do to him?"

"Nothing! Well, maybe a little something."

"Am I going to be okay?" Crawford asked, looking at Dan.

"How do you feel?"

"Fine. Normal. I think."

"See? He's fine." Herbert grabbed Crawford's coffee mug and took a drink. "He can go home now."

"Not until you tell me what you've done to him."

"Uhm, actually, I am starting to feel a little dizzy...."

"Ah, slow-acting. Though, it could be a metabolism factor. Didn't do anything in your sleep, only when you've had a stimulant." Herbert took another drink of Crawford's coffee.

"What did you do!?" Dan demanded again, hopping off the table and trying to steady Crawford before he could fall out his chair.

Crawford shoved Dan away, tore his glasses off and rammed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Too bright!" He hissed.

Herbert bent over his brother, pulling Crawford's hands away from his eyes, and grabbed his face. "Pupil dilation, dizziness, yes?" Herbert snapped his fingers at Dan. "Write this down."

"You can't go experimenting on your own brother!"

Herbert ignored him. "Allergic reaction at the injection point. Hmmm.... Anything else you can tell me about what you're feeling?"

Crawford's breathing quickened to short, sharp gasps. "I think I'm going to throw-up." He tore himself away from Herbert and made it to the sink just in time. After a full three minutes of puking and heaving, Crawford slid to the floor, passed-out.

"Wasn't expecting that," Herbert said.

"I am so sorry."

Crawford shoved yesterday's socks into his backpack. "It's not your fault."

"I know, but since he's not going to apologize..."

"No lasting effects; he clearly collected some data. Everything's turned out pretty well for everyone, then."

"That's not the point. He experimented on you without your consent!"

"Are you really that surprised? You've known him long enough to know his ethics are skewed to bordering on non-existence. I've accepted that part of him. I'm not the one who romanticizes what he does."

Romanticize? That was an odd choice of word. "I don't-"

"I also think there's some things you have to consider and accept about yourself." Dan's breathing stopped at that. "If he's crazy, and I'm crazy, what does it say about you and your desire for our company?"

Dan let out his breath. Good, not going there. "That I'm crazy, too."

"Yup. So stop judging."

He followed Crawford downstairs where Herbert was waiting by the front door. "Bye, Crawford, please don't come again."

"See you around, Herbert. Dan." Crawford left.

Herbert went to the window and watched him walk down the driveway. Herbert even smiled and waved when Crawford took a moment to turn back to the house.

"What's gotten into you?" Dan asked.

Herbert put his hand down, still grinning. "I broke his computer."