TITLE: Silver Bay 1.6: Source Animal
SUMMARY: The line between man and beast has never been as firm as we might wish.
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: The beginning of the second part of the Distress Call Universe. Links to all chapters of this wild AU are here.
"I swear I didn't do it," Royston almost pleads, and Jerome draws a very deep breath as the doctor continues, spewing forth a breathless list of disclaimers and symptoms, symptoms and disclaimers.
" -- not my fault, the guy just went nuts! He might be dangerous, his blood pressure's through the roof, sweating, exhibiting paranoid -- "
Jerome stops in his tracks.
"You blind fool," he whispers to himself, and Royston squawks indignantly in his ear. Jerome doesn't bother to correct the misapprehension.
This whole time, he's been thinking there were no animals on the Hotel California, but he's been wrong: there were two, and one of them was named Wilson. The words of an Ancient Earth writer drift back to him, someone Jerome had read as a young man when he was studying hard, gaining knowledge so that he could compete against those better-educated than himself.
"The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!" the writer had proclaimed, but even then Jerome knew it wasn't true.
What do the Briella call their human neighbors? Two-legged running stock.
Jerome had thought that House might have had to take a little blood, but it seems he actually went so far as to turn another man into nothing more than a damn feeding tank.
We're all animals, he thinks with bitter memory. The Briella are just more honest about it.
"Put him in the cell with House," Jerome commands, glad that Royston can't see his mouth twist when he says it.
"What?! What's that got to do with --"
"It's a simple panic attack," he lies. "Delayed stress reaction in stranding victims, they ... panic. Can't be left alone. Just do it, Royston."
"Fine. Sir." The com goes blessedly silent again.
Doctor Royston doesn't recognize the problem, but Jerome does, all too well. He has the advantage -- if advantage is the right word -- of experience.
Jerome doesn't recall the missing man's name now, or the name of the station where it happened. He'd been on ship duty the whole time, and he doesn't remember much of that either. One stop blended into another, after a while, and besides, it was a long time ago.
He was just a kid, starting out in the sailing trade like a lot of other kids -- leaving home at sixteen, leaving behind wherever they came from because they couldn't stop the restless shuffle of their feet, the ceaseless questions in their minds. What's out there? What's it like?
In Jerome's case it had been like nothing he'd ever seen -- places and people so different from the wide-open ranchlands and the high-arching skies his parents and all their neighbors called home. He'd known immediately, in a searing burst of clarity like a bolt of prairie lightning, that he never, ever wanted to go back. He had thrown himself into his new life, often so exhausted at the end of a watch that he'd simply fall into his bunk fully clothed, and if he dreamed of anything it was always gone by morning.
What he does remember is that the vanished man had a few personal animals, the way all the blood-race freightmen did. And on the third or fourth day after the man disappeared, one of those animals, a glossy brown sorel, went completely mad. Jerome had never seen a sorel before this trip; his family had run cattle and crossed alpackeys on the ranch, driving them up to Recipe Creek for the buyers from the big solar concerns.
It was a beautiful animal, long-necked and sweet-tempered, looking for all the stars like some tall, domesticated deer, tame enough to eat out of your hand. He'd noticed it had been off its feed the night before, but hadn't thought anything of it until the next day, when that same calm, sweet sorel began tearing apart its stall. Jerome had tried to soothe it and it had tried to take his fingers off.
Jerome had been alone on watch that day, and he'd called for Norian. Norian would know what to do.
Norian shook his head, a sadness in his eyes that Jerome had never seen there before.
"I should've done this yesterday," said the big man. "You know where the vet kit is, Jerome?"
"I already got a sedation tube, sir." Jerome pulled the slender injector from his pocket.
"Won't need that, son." Norian approached the animal's enclosure and it began to throw itself against the fence, frantically trying to break through and reach him. "This poor old girl won't hurt me." Sure enough, the moment Norian entered the pen, the crazed sorel pressed into his side, nuzzling him, forcing its delicate nose under his arm, making low and desperate sounds.
"Get me thirty milligrams of thanobarbitol," said Norian, his somber tone so different from his usual good cheer. He stood there stroking the sorel's neck, cradling its head against his chest. "I don't like this, so let's just get it done."
Jerome had nodded, turned to fetch the kit with the deadly drug, but then turned back -- he was never quite sure why, afterwards, why that exact moment and not any other. Had he heard something? Sensed something? All he knew was that by turning back he'd been able to see Norian hook his massive dark-haired head beneath the sorel's jaw, biting into its neck and then easing the animal slowly to the ground as it wobbled, relaxed, and lay still.
Two years working the stock decks, with blood-race men all around him, and Jerome still had no idea what he had just seen. He swallowed hard, and forced his legs to carry him to the freight office, where he unlocked the med cabinet with trembling fingers.
By the time he got back with the vet kit in hand, Alton Jerome felt cold, as if all the blood had drained out of him.
"You watched me," Norian said, taking the euthanasia tube between two of his blunt, callused fingers. "And now you're scared." It was a simple statement of fact, and Jerome kept silent. The man was a great, dark mountain, deep brown skin, black-coffee colored eyes; a new shiver ran through Jerome's body. Even on his knees, the dry yellow straw clinging to his dark work pants, Norian was a hell of an imposing presence.
"Don't guess I blame you," the haemovore continued. "We've learned not to talk much, my people." He found a vein on the sleeping animal's neck and quickly administered the lethal injection, and if his powerful hand shook just a little, Jerome pretended not to notice. "But since I don't want you getting any dangerous, ignorant ideas, I think I'd better tell you what you saw. First, though, you're going to get a grav-slab and help me remove this carcass."
He thinks of it now, watching Doctor Wilson being led down the corridor like a terrified animal in a loading chute. That afternoon, so long ago, Reginald Norian had sat young Jerome down, bought him a cup of the concentrated sludge the crew called coffee, and given him a terse education on the basic biology of haemovores.
Norian had told him the bare minimum, the broadest outline of what Jerome needed to know. Among the things Norian hadn't said was just how long his kind could go without their animals. Ever since he'd seen House's fangs on the scan, Jerome had wondered; the Silver Bay had taken no livestock on this run, and sooner or later, House's survival was bound to pose a problem.
Turns out, House has already solved that problem in a breathtakingly simple, horrific fashion.
I knew better, Jerome thinks now. Should've realized what it meant when House said, "Because I'm not dead."
Not dead, because James Wilson had made a choice, and who's to say Alton Jerome would have chosen any differently? Except that Jerome would have known what House was really doing, and wouldn't have allowed him to use the damn haemovore drug. It's not Wilson's fault; House wouldn't have told him, any more than he told about the prison ship.
Jerome reaches House's door first, and holds up his hand to halt poor Wilson's entourage. Wilson makes a low, needful, awful sound as Jerome steps into the haemovore's cell.
It's the first time Jerome's been glad that House is crippled. The man is pale now, the sweat beading on his forehead, the stats on his monitors (and isn't it interesting that Royston hasn't mentioned this) falling into dangerous territory. House is obviously feeling the effects of too many days without the blood that he needs, but Jerome wouldn't care to underestimate him. The hatred on his face is powerful, Jerome is unarmed this time, and House does have fangs. He knows De Santos has come to stand beside him, and he guesses her hand is poised over her stunner.
"I lied to you," Jerome admits, preempting whatever House might have to say. "I wanted to know if you gave a damn about another man's life."
"You ... lied."
"I didn't hurt Doctor Wilson. But it seems that you did."
"I don't know what you're talking about, so spare me the lecture. I want to see him."
"He's here," says Jerome, the words sour in his mouth as he opens the door. Gregory House may not have been born on Brielle, he thinks, but it sounds like it was just the place for him.
House has no idea what to expect. He's actually surprised when Wilson walks through the door, rather than being dragged on a grav-slab.
"House!" The name scrapes out of Wilson's throat, a sound like dry stones pushing against one another. He darts forward and is abruptly restrained by De Santos's hands on his shoulders.
Wilson looks about as good as the wreck of the Medusa. There's no visible blood, no bruising, no immediate evidence of torture, but he's in ruins just the same. Sodden hair and clothing (doused himself with water, no doubt; that would be the hyperthermia), a shirt torn at the collar (itching; panic episodes), his face flushed and respirations rapid (hypertension; tachycardia; panic again).
He sees De Santos' eyes intent on her bedraggled prisoner; she looks from Wilson, to House, and then to Jerome, her restless gaze obviously asking: is this safe? Jerome nods, and House watches her trust him, shifting smoothly from uncertainty to confidence.
"Steady now," she murmurs to Wilson. "Let's get these off." He stands obedient and still, his wide eyes riveted on House while De Santos unlocks the handcuffs.
"House." The instant he's freed, Wilson's across the room in three long strides, standing in front of House, stretching out a badly trembling paw. Hand. "House?" he pleads, his whole body rigid and shaking, tears streaming down his pink cheeks. He grimaces, lowering his hand, obviously forcing himself to hold onto the last shattered bits of his dignity.
"Am I crazy?" Wilson rasps, inching closer, enveloping House in an overwhelming cloud of smell. The stink of a terrified, sweating vulgaris mixes with the siren-song chemical cocktail of an animal in desperate need.
Not just any animal, either. House's. The scent marker is distinctive, compelling. Wilson stands so close that House is looking at his stomach, at the damp white shirt fabric that gives off odorous steam in House's face.
Yes, House wants to say, you're crazy, and you're an animal, and I made you this way and I'm sick because now I'm responsible for you.
"Yes. You're nuts. Lie down," House says. "Understand?" He doesn't trust himself to say much more.
"I'm crazy," Wilson's voice is so strained, so tense with his fight against the urge to be bitten. "Not stupid. I ..." he pants, climbing onto the bed, "can't help this. Can't." He chokes, curling onto his side, closer than he needs to be, closer than House wants him. Damn, the stink. He'd insist that Wilson get a shower first, if the situation weren't so severe.
Carefully, his leg throbbing with every motion, House stretches out on his back beside his half-mad human bloodstock. A sticky, shaking arm clamps itself across House's ribs, and all at once he feels too weak to protest. Wilson, the smelly mess, is warm and alive; House can feel the man's pulse, a frantic promise of nourishment. House's body tenses, and his mouth fills with the phantom flavor of good, rich blood.
The vulgaris isn't the only one in need.
Reflexively House swallows, bites his lip. Glancing sideways, he sees that Jerome and his goon-girl have left, and the tiny window in the door has been rendered opaque. They may or may not be under surveillance in here, so House may be dead if he drinks, but he'll certainly be dead if he doesn't. He's pretty sure Jerome has figured it out anyway -- probably because Wilson told him.
Wilson's low voice is whispering, half-sobbing, "Please, House. Please. Please." His fingers are digging into House's skin. His feverish head rocks softly against House's shoulder. "God, House. Please."
He grabs Wilson's too-hot wrist and plunges his teeth deep into the vein.