SUMMARY: People are fond of saying that things will look better in the morning. This is not necessarily true.
CHARACTERS: Wilson, House, OCs
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: Third chapter of the Cierros arc. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
House makes a little tent of his hands and presses his nose to the dusty glass. The Free Trader's shop is dark inside, the aisles empty, the proprietor nowhere in sight.
"No," House mumbles, and moves to the door again, twisting and rattling the knob. "Fuck. Come on, you can't be gone. You can't."
"Need some help here, sir?"
House turns around -- the new voice belongs to a young man in a short-sleeved khaki uniform. The uniform and silver badge on his chest identify him as one of the few hundred Public Safety Officers who roam the station, and he's eying House with some concern.
"No," House says. He dry-washes the dust from his hands and indicates the darkened shopfront with a quick jerk of the head. "It's just that I'd heard ... from a friend ... this guy has a ... a book I want. I've been looking for it for years." He's acutely aware of the Tee-Dee resting in his jacket pocket.
The PSO smiles. "Then a few more hours shouldn't matter, sir," he says. "Market's closed until noon today."
"Noon. Noon?" House knows he's repeating himself, but this is the earliest he's been up in ... a long time, if you count not really ever sleeping as being up early, and in any case he hasn't had breakfast or coffee. Luckily for him, the PSO doesn't seem to notice. He's so cheerful, in fact, that if House would like to kick him.
"Yessir," the PSO says. "It's to give everybody who wants to go a chance to watch the start of the execution."
"The execution." The word makes his head and stomach lurch in opposing directions. How is he standing here repeating things like a moron? It's not as if he didn't know they were going to kill Wilson today.
"You didn't hear? They caught a feeder. Execution's this morning -- the first day, anyway." The PSO looks around the empty station corridors. "Sorry for your inconvenience, sir. If it was me, I'd have left the market open. Not like Traders are big on seeing justice done."
"Yeah," House says. His nervous energy, his anticipation of talking to the Trader about the TeeDee, is draining away, and he's suddenly exhausted. "Yeah, I'll just ... come back later."
The PSO beams at him. "You do that, sir. And have a nice day now."
Wilson can hear them coming. In the between-times when they haven't been beating him or fixing the cosmetic damage or jabbing him with a goddamn cattle prod, he's been able to deduce that his is the only cell occupied in a long corridor of cells. In the between-times when they've left him alone, there've been no other noises, no other sounds beyond his own labored breathing. No cautious shadows, even though they never turn out the damn lights. Isolated, like a plague bug, although the bastards don't seem to mind laying their hands on him.
The door at the end of the corridor clangs open; boots scuff along the hallway, and as much as Wilson tries to keep quiet, he can't stop a soft whimper from escaping. He hurts, and these men are going to make him hurt more. Unless they're coming to kill him, which would solve a lot of problems for everybody. Need some ... memorable last words, he thinks, and tries to come up with a few.
He raises his head a little off the cold floor when the boots stop outside his cell. He'd had some double vision after one of the bastards clipped him in his right temple, but that has cleared up. And yet there are too fucking many of them, five. Four goons and ... a different Chief Bastard in Charge. Just how many Chief Bastards these people have is a mystery, but it's got to be a lot. There's more than enough here to pound him into a bloody pulp, but the men just stand there, and after a moment Wilson understands they're here to kill him.
This is it! Say something!
Wilson levers himself up, very slowly, until he's in a sitting position, back braced against the wall.
"Don't s'pose ... you've got ... a lawyer with you?" he says.
Corporal Peter Gaston isn't sure what he expected, but he's sure it wasn't this. Captain Rockwell had told them not to be surprised at whatever the feeder might do or say, but he hadn't mentioned that all the bastard would be wearing would be a ratty old blanket and looking like three-day-old roadkill. The feeder says something Gaston can't quite catch -- the Captain ignores it and turns to him.
"He's all yours, Corporal," the Captain says. "Get him cleaned up and ready for the dance." He glances at the prisoner, then looks back at Peter. "Shouldn't give you any trouble," he says. "He had a chat with Westerberg last night."
"I won't let you down, sir," Peter says, and the Captain nods. After he's gone, striding off down the hall, Peter keys open the cell door, shoving it aside on its tracks.
"Get up," Peter says, putting all the command in his voice he can muster, but the feeder just sits there. "Lousy fuck," Peter mumbles. "Whillups, Seiber, get this piece of shit on his feet."
The feeder offers no resistance as he's hauled upright, nor when his wrists are cuffed behind him. The blanket falls to the floor, and Peter makes a mental note to have the thing burned. After all, the prisoner won't need it again.
Wilson hisses as the hot water sluices over his aching body. It sets off a multitude of alarms, every cut and welt objecting. The boots, fists and truncheons have left their marks, deep bruises, some of them to the bone. The seared brands from the shock-device and the rope burns on his wrists and ankles throb in time to his heartbeat, and for a long moment Wilson simply hugs himself under the rush of water, telling himself that as long as he can feel these hurts, he's still alive.
Nice sentiment, he can almost hear House sneer in his head. Why don't you have it engraved on a card?
He works the brown bar of soap they've given him into a thin lather and washes himself, wincing as his fingers encounter heretofore unknown contusions. He raises one hand and gingerly touches his forehead, and grudgingly admits to himself that Doctor Scar-Oak did a good job. The same soap goes in his hair, along with more winces and soft gasps of pain at the few swellings on his scalp.
There's been no explanation for why his captors are doing this. Maybe they just want their prisoners to be squeaky-clean before they execute them. Whatever the reason, Wilson's okay with it.
He dries off and wraps the towel around his waist. One of the guards approaches; he'd watched carefully as Wilson had showered, perhaps anticipating some kind of slippery escape attempt. He's got something in his hand, and Wilson freezes, suddenly afraid it's another shock-device. But the guard tosses it to him, underhand, and Wilson instinctively catches it. It's just a shaver, its power-pak indicator glowing green. "Use it," the guard rumbles, and Wilson does.
Wilson stares at the bundle. It takes him a moment to realize what it is.
It's his clothes, obviously cleaned and pressed and sorted into a neat parcel, just as if he were at a conference and he'd ordered a last-minute dress-out the night before. Even his socks are there, and his boots, the scuffs in the soft brown leather brushed out. He looks around, bewildered. The youngest guard, the kid with the pale blue eyes and the nametag that reads WHILLUPS, stares back.
"Put them on," he growls. He's got a different accent from the other Cierrosians, and his command comes out something like Put dem arn to Wilson's ears.
Wilson looks at the clothes again. He knows they're his, but they seem foreign to him now. They belong to someone else, and he's not sure how they'd feel on his skin.
"Put them on," the kid growls again, and this time his hand drops toward his truncheon as his companion, a guy with close-cropped blond hair, nails Wilson with a malevolent stare.
Wilson wants to refuse, but something's been burnt out of him and he's tired of these stupid power-games. He's going to die, he might as well do it with clothes on. Fuck it, he thinks, and lets the towel fall to the floor.
On some level he's aware of the kid's eyes on his body, and he's not surprised when he finally speaks up. The question's a mystery, though.
"What happen'd to yer cockatrice?"
Wilson freezes in the act of pulling his underwear up past his knees. "My what?" he says at last.
Blondie spits on the floor, then grabs roughly at his own crotch. "This," he says. "Your cock. What happened to it?" He squints at Wilson's groin, his mouth pinching close in an unmistakable expression of disgust. "It's like part of it's been cut off."
Wilson stands still for a moment, underwear in hand. "Oh," he says, and pulls his briefs the rest of the way up. "The vampire ate it."
The resulting horrified silence is small reward, but for right now it's enough.
The sun's coming up, which surprises Wilson. He'd lost track of time in the cell -- it seems as if it should be full night, but it's not, and the low-angled sunlight sends lances of pain stabbing through his head. He wants to raise his hands, block it out, but he can't because these evil fucks cuffed them behind his back again after he'd finished getting dressed. It takes him a minute to blink away the black dots swimming in his vision, and all the while there's a dull roar, a sound like the sea at Cape Haapao on Tuuvi. But the air is cool here, crisp with the first chill of autumn, and when his vision finally clears, he sees that the noise of the surf is actually the baying of hundreds of Cierrosians, held back by a line of guards. He blinks again, twists as much as he can in his guards' grasp to stare at the building he's just come out of. That gabled roof, the red and black flag of the Republic of Cierros rippling in the wind. He's been here before -- he walked past this building on his way to the Old Market. He's in Clocktower Square.
"Your carriage awaits, shitwad," a guard says, and there it is, pulling up in front of him -- a cage, as if for some overgrown canary, set on a wheeled platform and drawn by a put-putting little zheep. The guards push from behind; Wilson stumbles and almost falls, barely managing to right himself before the cage door clangs shut behind him. The zheep starts to move, but slowly, at a parade-march pace. Wilson's guards follow along behind.
The Square has been transformed, from the quiet, dull, uniformly grey town center House had trudged across only a couple of days ago, to a seething, heaving carnival. A platform has been erected in front of Old Parliament Hall, its bulk obscuring the bright neo-Jubilee facade beloved by architectural tourists young and old alike. At least, that's what the plaque out front had said. The perimeter of the Square is a hive of activity -- workmen installing and adjusting spotlights on tall, spindly metal frameworks, other workers setting up cameras with the lights, and across one quarter of the Square, a long, rectangular screen that House believes is the biggest vidset he's ever seen. The next moment the screen pops and sizzles to life with a burst of electronic noise that makes the crowd gasp, and then he's looking at Wilson, a giant, disorienting vision of a man in a cage, coming to a stop at the far end of the platform. Or, more accurately, the stage. Wilson's guards stare up at the vidscreen. House takes another sip of coffee. It makes his stomach churn, but he needs it. A politician in a suit is making a speech as Wilson is guided up the stage steps -- the words feeder, leech, parasite float through the air and bounce off hard surfaces, but House is watching Wilson, and he leans forward in his seat, eyes fixed on the Bijou's screen.
Wilson looks tired, and a little dazed, but otherwise unhurt. They're removing his handcuffs; he's dressed in the same clothes he'd been wearing when he went missing, but they appear clean and freshly pressed. It's a picture that doesn't square with what House knows of the Karosian mentality, and House forces himself to listen to the speaker, who continues to drone on about Wilson -- some version of Wilson that House has never met -- as the embodiment of evil and deception.
The politician in the black suit -- the mayor, or headcouncil, or whatever they call it here -- keeps talking about sustainers, turncoats, vermin, and every so often he points at Wilson with one quivering, accusing finger as the mob shouts and boos. His rants are periodically interrupted by action on the towering vidscreen -- breathless, live interviews with what House supposes are ordinary moms and dads, talking about how the Vampire Wars affected their families' lives. Some of them weep, and the mob falls silent. The screen goes black, and the politician talks some more, this time about the plot to enslave Cierros, and then another giant head is speaking, labeled, incongruously enough, as a greengrocer.
"How was I to know?" the man says, looking appropriately mystified. "He looked so ... ordinary!"
More interviews follow -- a butcher, a beekeeper, a Customs officer who'd apparently been the bastard to pull Wilson out of line. Everyone says the same thing -- "He acted so normal!" -- except for the Customs officer, who says "I knew there was something wrong about him the minute I laid eyes on him!"
"And that's the danger," the black-suited man says, as House drinks more coffee. "These traitors -- these monsters could be anyone. A schoolteacher, your corner shopkeeper. Your next-door neighbor." He lowers his voice. "Your doctor. The secret is what lies beneath." He points at Wilson again, and House sets the coffee cup down as one of Wilson's guards aims an electron rifle at the back of Wilson's head. The mob holds its breath as two more men, armed with sonic blades, cut Wilson's clothes from his body. Feral 1.0 House re-emerges for a moment as the welts and bruises are revealed.
Now these are the Karosians House knows.
The mob roars, a thunderous sound that rolls over the stage; Wilson's on the vidscreen again, with the guards shining a UV torch across his skin. The bruises darken and the evidence appears: a living map of haemovore scars.
"See for yourself," the Lord Mayor pronounces. "Traitor."
The mob roars again, throws the word back at the stage.
"Traitor," the politician says again, his voice rising. "Traitor to the human race, willingly in thrall to the vampires who would make our children slaves!"
"Oh, aren't you the wordsmith," House murmurs, "but you're not getting my vote." The coffee hasn't helped one bit, so he gimps his way to the back of the theater, to the bar where he stashed the bourbon. It's early, but it's called for. He can lean up against the counter here, stretch his leg, drink right from the bottle until he's calm enough to sit still again.
Wilson's trying to say something, but he doesn't have a mic, and no one hears him. The crowd is in a frenzy, screaming and waving their arms. A woman faints in the front row.
"Our children, and our childrens' children!" The politician's voice drops again, forcing the mob to quiet in order to hear him. "Sentence ... has been passed."
The crowd cheers; Wilson stumbles as his arms are abruptly pinioned behind his back.
"Showtime," House murmurs.
The troopers propel Wilson forward, to the very front of the stage. There's a wooden post there, only a few feet high. House had it pegged for a vidcamera mount, but now that it's in close-up he sees the crossbar nailed to it. Wilson's struggling now, trying to use his heels to brake his momentum. He shouts something, and is immediately silenced by a punch to the gut. They shove him to his knees, pull his arms away from his body and strap his wrists to the crossbar. Ropes follow, the troopers stretching them taut and tying him securely in place. Wilson, typically enough, is still trying to talk his way out of this.
"Shut up," House mutters. "For once in your life, shut up."
But Wilson doesn't, and House winces as Wilson's head is forced back and an ugly leather gag is buckled tight over his mouth. Behind him, the Lord Mayor drones on, urging all Cierrosians to join the hunt for this bloodslave's master, to memorize the artist's sketch appearing on the vidscreen.
House isn't listening. Instead, he watches as yet another man comes forward with a tall glass container and a length of thin, clear tubing. The camera zooms in, showing one end of the tube with its long needle that gleams like a silver fang. The trooper sets the container down, then bends over Wilson's left arm and pounds at the crook to bring up the median cubital vein. House's own favorite. Wilson's back arches and his face clenches in pain as the large-bore needle is pushed into place, in the very inner crook of his elbow. The flex-tube leads from his arm to the tall glass vessel; the executioner secures the needle with a few turns of surgical tape and makes a small adjustment, and after only a moment the blood begins to drip into the glass.
Wilson's head tilts back; he struggles to free himself, to lift himself from his knees. Muffled noises are coming from behind the leather gag. Finally he slumps back, exhausted.
The blood flows very slowly, barely covering the bottom of the container, and at last House's sleep-deprived, alcohol-addled brain makes the obvious connection.
They mean to bleed Wilson to death, and from the number of measuring marks on that vessel, it's going to take a long, long time.
Wilson's head is still back, and he appears to be looking up at the sky.
The mob is cheering.
House turns away from the viewscreen. His gut convulses, and he throws up all over the pristine floor of the Bijou theatre.