Characters: House, Wilson
Summary: It's a game to House. Or is it? This is a very alternate universe; link to all chapters is here.
the first time
They were a couple days out from Bradbury Station when it started.
Wilson began to come around, hazily realizing he was on the hard floor of the control room. Parts of him hurt and other parts were numb, so he'd probably been there a while. He spent a few bleary moments thinking he must have fainted: there'd been the rush of dizziness, the swift blackness that overtook him, the sensation of falling --
And then, as his eyes focused, the rest of the memory returned. He'd heard a sound, felt a sting on the back of his neck.
Which meant it had to be House. Crept up. Struck with his fangs before Wilson even saw him. Worthless, fucking son of a bitch. Wilson was still feeling the pangs in his joints from what he endured on Cierros, and now this.
It took no time at all to find the fresh incision in the crook of his elbow, where House fed once his prey was down. Wilson pressed his thumb across the mark and acid rose up in his throat. What the fuck.
He was sitting up, waiting out the nausea and the last of the voracin haze, when House arrived.
"Wilson," he said, and the first thing Wilson noticed was that House wasn't asking what happened.
He was in the kitchen, mid-morning, his thoughts jumping ahead to Bradbury Station. He'd never been there, of course, but he hoped it would provide them some shelter while they worked out some kind of plan. Because so far they had no good ideas about where they'd go and what they'd do next.
If nothing else, it would let him and House get away from each other for a while each day. And shop for groceries, which House downed at an alarming rate.
No sooner did Wilson think this than House appeared, as if summoned.
"Anything good?" House wanted to know. Wilson's hand closed on the serving spoon like he could use it as a sword.
House's nose wrinkled and his tongue stuck out. "Think I'll pass," he said, and the next instant he'd grabbed Wilson's shoulders and buried his fangs in Wilson's throat, ignoring Wilson's curses, guiding him downward while the room turned gray, grayer, black.
When Wilson awoke, the spoon was lying beside him and House was nowhere to be found. He was in the cargo hold, Callie said. With the sorel.
Wilson found him there, unconscious in a heap of straw beside the makeshift pen, with the animal standing as near to him as it could get. A spent syringe lay on the floor beside the straw. He'd drugged himself; there was no point trying to rouse him.
If Wilson could do it and live, he thought, he'd walk away the moment they got to Bradbury, and House would never see him again.
He does walk away, to the other end of the station. There are things to do at Bradbury and so Wilson does them. A curiosity shop has treepaper books; a maxiscope cinema shows him the fifth installment in what was once the Killcrystal Trilogy; he finds the upper-decks day spa and flirts shamelessly with the woman who cuts his hair.
By the time he returns to the docking ring, he's refreshed, confident, his steps full of purpose. There'll be no more putting up with House's shit.
House tackles him as he steps through the hatch, wrapping arms and legs so tight there's no possible escape, hooking his head over Wilson's shoulder and his teeth into the trapezius, and what the hell happened to Callie and her refusal to let one of them hurt the other? What the hell, what the hell, why is it so warm --
He's just thinking it's hard to remember why he's angry when House moves his head, there's a pinch at Wilson's neck, and all his thoughts stop at once.
He'd noticed the weapons shop the day before, between the theater and the haircut. And he'd thought about it.
Today, he goes inside.
Today, he's set up the remote link on his ethertab so that he can talk to Callie and she can alert him when House leaves the ship, and when he returns.
He's left her safety settings alone; Callie will continue not to stun House for attacking Wilson. Because he's a big boy and he doesn't need mommy to fight his battles. These are all the decisions he's made as he walks through the door of the "personal security boutique." He'd expected to find it manned by some kind of hard-faced, wanna-be military type, but the person who greets him is a slender young woman whose long fingers are decked out in sparkling rings.
"Welcome to Defensive Strategies," she says. "Can I help you be safer today?"
Wilson smiles back at her. He's about to make what would be, on Delphus, an extremely illegal purchase. "Yes," he answers, "I believe you can."
When he leaves, his dangerous little acquisition is a satisfying weight in his hand, and he doesn't go back to the California. Callie says House is there, and House is the very last person Wilson wants to see.
He pulls out his microcomm and makes a call. Rebeana, who cut his hair yesterday, is clearly happy that he kept her code.
A dozen dark birds turn circles in the dry air above the platform, gliding, biding their time.
The Hangman makes a second fumbling assay at the knot, turning the loop over in his fleshy pink hands, scowling with a reddening brow as it comes apart again.
"You idiot," snaps House. "Give me that."
On the cuffs of House's black sleeves, the brass buttons spark in the sunlight. His fingers move almost of their own accord, tying a perfect noose. House tests it, feeling the rough slide of hemp against hemp. It'll hold. Good.
"That's how you do it," House says. The old wooden chair wobbles, squeaking at the joints as he steps up onto its seat. My leg doesn't hurt, he thinks, but it's only a fleeting thought, gone as soon as he pokes his head through the loop.
He hears the hard contact of boot-heel and sole as someone kicks the chair from beneath him. His body convulses.
House wakes up in the lounge, with the long muscles of his legs still twitching. He's been here a while, if the stiffness in his neck is any indication. The show on the monitor is one he's never seen before.
"Zero three-seventeen local."
Yeah. Middle of Bradbury's night. "Where's Wilson?"
"Captain Wilson is not on board."
Fuck, thinks House, but what he says is, "Call him."
Callie tries, but Wilson doesn't answer.
He's beginning to think he should have taken some of Wilson's psych meds for himself. If he had, he might be a hell of a lot calmer about finding Wilson missing, once again, on a strange station in a strange quadrant and with no indication of when or whether he'd return.
This pacing around the ship? Accomplishes nothing, and meanwhile, House's stray vulgaris is surely in some all-night tavern, licking his wounds and sulking into his ale. Or in the arms of some pretty, sympathetic stranger who fell for those sad brown eyes. Or he's alone in one of Bradbury's better inns, paying a small fortune for one night of dead-end escape.
Or he's been caught by someone with a stunner and an organic scanner. Or scented out and taken down by some other bloodsucking bastard. Or identified as That Guy from Cierros by someone who wants a bounty. All of it might be happening now, all over again, all House's valor on Cierros wasted, and all because he couldn't or wouldn't stop the hunt. That's just House's paranoid imagination, of course. Unless it isn't.
The dream is over, but House keeps rubbing his neck where he'd imagined the rope.
He needs a drink.
He shoves that bottle aside, knowing it will only remind him of last time, drinking in the theater while the barbaric spectacle played out on the screen. What he'll do is stay here in the warmly-lit kitchen, the first spot Wilson is likely to go when he gets back, and he'll drink ... jhanya. Potent, minty, good over ice. Something he can sip while he looks up recipes on the ethernet, and cooks what will be breakfast, because Wilson will take it as an apology or at least an appeasement instead of what it really is: a means of distraction.
He'll cook until he loses the memory of Wilson as a spectacle on the Cierrosian news. He'll drink while he cooks, until he forgets the coil around his neck and the shadows of carrion-birds. What the hell is wrong with him, that in his dreams he'd be tying his own noose?
He's afraid he already knows the answer, so he decides to keep drinking until he forgets that, too.
The voice hurts his eyes. No, wait; that's the light hurting his hair. Except, oh, fuck. Everything hurts.
"House. Are you -- "
He says something he thinks is "Fuck off," but which emerges as, "Ffffnnnnnnffff."
Since when are ... are what's-his-name's footsteps that damn loud? Wilson. That's it, Wilson. The idiot sighs, somewhere above him (floor's kinda comfy; no need to get up, is there?) like he thinks he's God. Something slides on the table top, then thunks, a hollow glassy thunk like an empty bottle. Empty?
"You ... drank it all. How are you not dead?"
"Aaaammmmm. Dead." His own voice courses through his cranium like a mudslide, so he drops it into what he hopes is a whisper. "G'way. 'M'sleep."
"I'm not cleaning this up. You are," Wilson huffs, but -- and this is the important thing -- he goes away.
When House wakes again, he remembers that he was cooking something, but the kitchen doesn't smell good. It reeks of -- oh. Oh, yeah. The sink. He'd managed to reach the sink before the jhanya had evicted the entire contents of his stomach, which fortunately hadn't been much.
Wilson has left the mess intact. All the ingredients sitting out, things chopped and half-chopped and a cold congealed skillet full of something House can't identify. Drinking and cooking was maybe not the best idea he ever had.
"Callie," House croaks out, somewhat surprised that his voice works at all, "what time is it?"
"Seven seventeen p.m.," the ship responds, and of course that's something else Wilson would do, change the damn chronometer to this archaic a.m.p.m. crap. House would roll his eyes if he weren't half-afraid they'd pop out of his head and go skittering across the floor. Still, it would explain why his leg is on fire. Wilson has let him lie on the kitchen floor all damn day. Hazily House recalls that he may in fact have told Wilson to do exactly that, but the man's a doctor, for the love of --
"Location undisclosed. Commander Wilson does not wish to be disturbed."
"Commander? Since when?" growls House. "Gimme the intercom."
"You know where the pills are," says the disembodied voice of Wilson. "Obviously you aren't afraid to cook for yourself. I'm positive you know how to clean up vomit." There's a long pause, during which House imagines he can hear the turning pages of a book. "You don't need me for anything."
"I do until I can get a better sorel. One that talks less."
"You already have one."
Damn. Yes, he does, and he's slept all day and not --
"I fed the poor thing, and made sure it had water. It shouldn't have to suffer. I didn't clean its enclosure, though," Wilson continues, "because you should have to suffer." There are a few more soft, unidentifiable noises. Not pages turning; things clicking. "Did you know this ship has an extensive collection of Old Planet music? Probably worth a fortune."
"Willlsooonnn -- "
The intercom clicks off, but the silence lasts only a moment before being replaced by a plaintive, loud cacophony. It's all ancient instruments and Proto-Standard, a language House hasn't studied since fifth bell at university; the only words he immediately recognizes are I, night, hotel, a string of numbers -- nineteen, sixty, nine.
Nothing House does will make the fucking thing stop. It loops, and loops again. The bizarre structure begins to sound familiar. The notes scrape against his ears, now torturous, now almost divine.
By the time he finds Wilson an hour later, House knows every line by heart.
He might or might not be hunting again. House isn't sure, even as he follows the scent-trail on the air. All the way around the oval corridor of the upper passenger deck, past the viewports, to a long-disused cabin door that smells of fresh handling by a source animal.
It isn't locked. House smiles, imagining his prey's surprise, if indeed Wilson is prey. He still isn't sure about that. The door slides open easily, and House is stopped in his path by Wilson, standing right there, firm as a beacon guidestone. Abruptly House is aware that he's in that hunting stance, that his shoulders are down and his lips already parted, and that Wilson sees it.
"You son of a bitch," Wilson growls, and punches him right in the face. And because House is mesmerized -- distracted -- by the incandescent rage in Wilson's eyes, he goes down like a ton of bilder-bricks. He lies on the floor and looks up at the still-furious Wilson. His jaw hurts a little where his teeth clanged together, and his earlier jhanya-fueled headache is back in all its pulsating glory.
"You bastard," Wilson spits out. "You're no better than the goddamn Cierrosians!"
House blinks at him, the headache forgotten. This is really getting interesting.
"This game is over, House. You try it once more and I will make you stop."
Wilson blathers on, but all House can think about is that Wilson swung with his right, and is holding something in his left. A weapon, probably; it's hard to see in the shadows of this cabin and with Wilson pacing and pontificating like that. If it is a weapon, it's interesting both that Wilson has the thing and that he hasn't used it. House could find out. He could take Wilson down with a simple leg sweep, pin him before he could scramble away. Part of House wants very much to do just that.
Part of him is simply impressed that Wilson hit him. Maybe that's what House has wanted, all along, to push until he found the man's limits. Or maybe he just likes the thrill of this, and yeah, he could continue. He could have Wilson pinned, and then bitten into warm oblivion, and then what? Does he really want to go back to life ante Cierros?
Above him, Wilson is finally, finally winding down. "And I want you to stop," he says. "House, do you hear me? You have to stop."
"Okay," House says. "Okay."
But Wilson is already gone.
He doesn't see Wilson again that night, or the next morning. Callie confirms that Wilson is out, and will not speak to House until he returns.
That will happen soon enough. Forty-eight hours have passed, and the chemical tether is about to snap taut and drag him inexorably back, like a beaten animal that submits because its master is the only source of food. This is not an analogy House likes, but it's accurate enough, right now.
Right around noon by the station clock, House throws on a coat against the chill of the station's ersatz autumn. "If he wants to know," he says, "you can tell Wilson I'm out for a while."
In a couple minutes, House is in the lift, heading for the grubby lowdecks, where he'll go looking for a game of pikaro, noise, and lunch -- in whichever order he finds them.