SUMMARY: Free at last.
CHARACTERS: Wilson, House
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
NOTES: Picking up where we left off after their escape from Cierros with the assistance of that fellow who said he was an Alchemist, and who insisted upon the return of the device House used to rescue Wilson. Here's the Big Post of all chapter links so far. This story is totally unrelated to Aftershocks.
House stands in the California's control room, watching Bradbury Station grow larger in the viewscreen. The galactic waypoint turns gracefully, circling in a great, ceaseless rotation as it generates cycle after cycle of artificial gravity. If he squints, he can almost imagine the thin, wavering bands of the station's van Horn belts rippling outward like heat mirages.
It no longer smells like Wilson.
It's been almost two weeks, and Wilson is healing at an accelerated rate. All but the deepest bruises are gone, the rope burns and abraded skin have disappeared. Even the broken bones in his left hand are rapidly knitting together. Wilson will be fine.
He keeps seeing Wilson tilting his head back, offering his throat. Wilson closing his eyes, Wilson's hand drawing him closer, Wilson lying still when it was done, blinking slowly, smiling, his eyes shining with the starlight that was still half-flooding the control deck.
House hasn't taken blood from Wilson's throat again. He's fed from the wrist, the crook of the right arm, the left ankle. He's begun playing mind games with Wilson, stalking him through the decks of the California, pouncing on him unawares. House bites into the trapezius, or into the muscles of the upper arm, or even into the neck, but that's only to sedate him. The man goes down and then House takes, right there on the hard floor, and never from a jugular vein.
He has no idea why he's doing this, when it is not what he wants. Maybe that's why, because he shouldn't want anything from Wilson at all, but he does.
His thoughts are chasing themselves in circles like Samesien tail-fighting fish. This is not a good sign. He doesn't want to think about it anymore, just like he hasn't been thinking about it for the past week, so instead he pulls the Alchemist's card from his trouser pocket and looks at it again.
The card is old-fashioned, folded in half to allow space for writing within, and made of thick paper stock instead of plastilast or bonded ceramic. On the front there's a pen-and-ink illustration, a cartoon. An old man, bald as a new-laid egg and sporting a large, fluffy moustache, is flying free from what looks like a cage of some kind. Wings sprout from his back, and he's wearing a formal black suit and holding precariously onto a cane as if it might slip from his hand at any moment.
GET OUT OF JAIL, FREE, the printing proclaims in blocky black letters. House unfolds the card and reads the hand-written inscription inside. Again.
This card has been punched, Dr. House, and cannot be renewed. The lines of script are thin, spidery weblines traced by the golden nib of the Alchemist's pen. If you wish to avail yourself of our services again, return what you have to the address below.
The card is signed Sid Ferrari.
The address is on Trismegistus.
House stands in the NovEx shipping office on Deck Nine, Level Thirteen, of Bradbury Station. It's autumn here -- Bradbury is one of the few Stations that keeps to Old Earth seasons -- and the automatic sweepers have trouble keeping up. Damp yellow leaves cling to his shoes and slip under his cane. Wilson hadn't wanted him to come. The cane, the height, the limp, all too conspicuous, he'd argued.
"Let me go," he'd argued, and that was when House knew that the course of psych drugs had been effective. Without them, Wilson would almost certainly have been terrified to leave the California. "This isn't Cierros; I'm not going to get pulled out of a Customs line."
"Exactly," House had snapped. "It isn't Cierros, therefore I'm going. After I've sent this off I promise I'll come straight home, Dad!"
"Anybody ever tell you what a jerk you are?"
"Lots, especially right before I got escorted onto the Medusa. I didn't listen then either."
He'd left before Wilson could continue the lecture, because while Wilson was probably right, it was worth risking capture just to get the hell away for a while. Now he sets the flat, rectangular package down on the counter, watching the NovEx guy's eyes widen just a bit when he sees the address.
"Some kind of problem?" House rumbles. The employee snaps back to what he should be doing, which is inspecting the intergalactic waybill House has filled out.
"No sir," the NovEx guy replies quickly. "It's just that ... we don't get many shipments for Trismegistus." He stamps the waybill and slaps it onto the package, sealing it tight with a quick squirt of Kleer-Vu. He glances back up at House with a faintly sheepish expression. "Sometimes I just like to wonder ... what's in the packages going there. You know -- to the Alchemists' planet." The employee's voice has an almost reverent tone, and House realizes this guy ("Ali," his nametag says) probably once dreamed of being a starship captain, bravely exploring the universe for some great Corporation. And now here he is, having made it only as far as a Station that resembles boring Old Earth, sending other peoples' packages to the exotic places he'll never see.
"There's no such thing as Alchemists, kid," House says. "Take my word for it."
Back on the ship, nothing has changed.
It's not that he truly expected the Alchemist to show up, in a puff of fragrant smoke, the moment NovEx entered the package into their datalogs. It's just that he wouldn't have been surprised if that had happened, and it was faintly disappointing when what happened, instead, was: nothing. No messages from anyone, no strange reports from Callie, nothing.
Fancy inscribed cards and promises of future assistance -- how could he have imagined it meant anything other than, "Give me back my rightfully stolen stuff"? And House had done it, like an idiot, when the truth is he will never see that shyster, the Alchemist, again.
He'd take out his irritation on Wilson, if Wilson were on board, but according to Callie he left just minutes after House did. When he'll return? No telling. House stumps down toward the hold where his doe sorel still lingers, alone in its pen.
House walks in and the sorel bleats to him, desperate for company, pushing against the enclosure fence as he comes near. He reaches through the bars to stroke and scratch its shoulders. He's got a cushy chair in here, swiped from the console room, so he settles into that, right beside the fence, and starts a game of Bonesticks on his ethertab.
The sorel pokes its long nose through the bars as far as it can, trying to sniff the thing in House's hands. The puffs of warm air make him pause and smile, petting the soft nose until it pulls away. It's a decent enough animal, really, and if everything goes as House plans, it'll soon be his source. And Wilson ... won't.
The supplies, all of them -- the breeding hobbles, the drugs, the grav-ease bedcover, the weapons-grade sedatives and the bulk box of dialysis loop filters -- are in a haphazard stack along the wall in this hold. House will use them when he's ready, and that will be ... not yet. They're still too close to Cierros; if anything happens, they'll both need to be on their feet. They can't afford to have one of them delirious and strapped to a bed while the other is preoccupied with keeping him alive.
The sorel bleats again, quietly, right in House's ear. Its head is lowered to his eye level, and it regards him with some kind of hazy, animal curiosity. It wants something, but he has no idea what.
That's a feeling he's used to, though. A whole life spent around other people, and vulgaris, and animals, and half the time he still doesn't know what any of them need.
The last time he'd thought it might be simple, he was five years old.