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.
2.1: Source Animal, Part Two
This time, when he calls, Norian is there -- sitting in a room just as shadowy and warm as Jerome's own quarters. Untold numbers of Euclid convergences between them and they may as well be side by side; the wonder of it has never been lost on him, not even now.
"Eight calls in two days, Jerome?" Norian's chuckling, his good nature as intact as ever. "Are you just that lonely?"
"Where were you? Rustling up water-oxen on Minatha Minor?"
"Spring festival at D'ijjr. You want to buy calves, the feasting and drinking are mandatory." It's true, Jerome knows; the Jiri people don't trust a man until they've seen him drink himself stupid three nights in a row, and he can just imagine the stories Norian could tell about that. He'd love to hear it all, but it will have to wait.
"Look, Nori, this is ... hard." Jerome walks around his quarters, picking things up and putting them down again, finding it hard to look his old friend in the eye. "I need to know how to ... how to get a human being out of symbiosis."
Norian's grin vanishes. He almost looks pale, quite a feat for someone so dark-skinned. "You're serious."
Jerome stops pacing. "Extremely."
"Care to tell me what the hell is going on?"
"Sure," Jerome replies, sagging into his chair in front of the monitor. "As much of it as I know. You've got some time?"
"I do now."
"All right," Norian says, when the whole sordid tale is told. "The thing you have to know is that this Doctor House couldn't have prevented it even if he wanted to, which he probably did. I hope you haven't subjected him to your personal brand of justice."
"I hadn't planned to do that unless I could do it without killing Doctor Wilson." The frustration feels like a rope twisting around his legs, keeping him from making a move in any direction. He knows Norian's not lying; Norian never does, but there must have been a better way. "I still don't understand," Jerome insists, "how the bite can be both voluntary and reflexive."
"Blink. Perfectly controllable action, but try to make yourself not do it. It's voluntary, until it's not."
"So ... I'm not sure I --"
"We have a lot of control with our teeth, kid, until we don't." Norian looks as young as he did when Jerome met him, but he'll always have the advantage of age and wisdom. "Feeding will trigger the bite," he continues, "whether we like it or not. Only way around it is to relieve the serum pressure by biting something else first. Another animal."
"And if they'd had another animal ..."
"Exactly. I doubt the man you rescued is a monster. Victim of his own biology, stuck with an 'animal' he never wanted. You said your guy's not from Brielle. Where, then?"
"Place I never heard of. Ursoria?"
"Damn." Norian winces. "Civilized bunch, the Ursori. They don't take human blood. As a rule, they'd rather die."
"He almost did. You never answered my question. Can it be undone?"
"The short answer," says Norian, sighing, "is maybe, but not by you."
The memory rises again in Jerome's mind -- a freighthold full of shadows, a crumpled animal dead in the straw. "You euthanized that sorel," Jerome reminds him. "Is it that hopeless?"
"It's not the same. We ... we don't take other men's source animals, and if you're running freight, there's just not enough time to care for more than one. There's sure as hell no time to bring it out of symbiosis." Norian falls silent a moment. "That's a long, hard process, and I doubt you have the drugs you'd need. Leave it alone, kid. There's nothing you can do. They'll deal with it themselves, one way or another."
House wakes at an unknown, too-early hour, not because he didn't take enough blood (well, all right, maybe he didn't) but because he's in pain. More pain than usual, he corrects himself. Always pain now; the only difference is the degree. They've been giving him pentaxanol, because Royston doesn't care that it's weak and doesn't know that it's toxic. Of course he doesn't know. It's only toxic if you're a haemovore.
House would have demanded merstellin, but such a demand would likely have raised more questions among these vulgaris than was strictly necessary or desirable.
Because it's better than nothing, he's been taking what they give him. It helps a little, and the poison takes time to build up; he'd figured he'd be dead of other causes so soon that it wouldn't matter. Now his death is not so certain, and his leg hurts like hell. He lies there tossing around the notion of waking Wilson from his voracin-induced sleep. Lucky bastard, unconscious and comfy, unaware of the smell rising off his own oily hide.
The trouble is that a conscious Wilson would start talking. It is far, far too late at night, or early in the morning or whatever the hell it is, for that. Exactly the wrong hour to contend with a garrulous vulgaris.
Above their heads, the solatiles are just beginning to change from pitch black to slate gray. Still dark, and his leg hurts, and Wilson's odorous, warm shape is pressed against House's shoulder, against his hip.
The man's breathing changes now and again as he dreams. It had never occurred to House to wonder what a vulgaris dreams of, until Wilson had woken up screaming that one time while they were adrift.
He'll have a whole new reason for nightmares now that he knows what it is to fall into symbiotic crisis. Idiot.
House shifts around -- he is in pain, after all -- until Wilson shifts in response, drawing in the deep breath that signals wakefulness. Let him jabber on if he wants to. If House is going to be miserable and sleepless, he's sure as hell not doing it alone.
By the sound and rhythm of the breathing beside him, Wilson can tell that House is not asleep. A couple weeks adrift with House as a patient; ten days or so of lying down and waking up alongside his strange bedfellow -- Wilson is startled to realize that he's learned how to tell the difference.
How long, he wonders, will this continue? He feels the room spin one way and the bed spin another. He's a tiny ant on a bit of flotsam, being drawn down an endless drain. Addiction used to be a clinical word, a concept that applied to other people, weaker people, less educated people than himself.
Now the word has sprung to life, become a monster wielding talons and teeth, barbed things hooked down deep, all the way into his bones. Where it pulls, he knows now, he will go -- willingly or not.
"What the hell," says Wilson, softly, "do we do now?" He lies there watching the sola-tiled ceiling turn a gradual gray-blue, mimicking the pre-dawn hours.
"Stop wasting time with rhetorical questions." House's growl is quiet, but not soft at all. "I'm already working out how to get rid of you, provided we live that long."
"Get rid of --?"
"I'm not going to kill you, you idiot. Just break your nasty little habit. Go back to sleep. No, wait." House looks at him, his eyes catching the spectral blue light from the tiles above. "Don't sleep. Get showered. You stink."
"I ... don't have clean clothes."
"Not my problem."
"You think I should summon the servants? Have my personal tailor deliver something?"
"Hey!" House shouts at the empty air, "Hey, assholes! Need some help in here! I know you're listening."
Sighing, Wilson scrubs his hands over his face -- the skin does itch, and he's greasy and House is right. "There's a towel," he says, "isn't there? Something I could ... wrap around myself, at least?"
"You gave me a damn sponge bath. Modesty is hypocrisy, where you're concerned. And you stink." House shoves at his shoulder until Wilson finally gives up fighting and makes his way in the dim light to the much darker hole of the shower stall.
There is, indeed, a towel -- the only object lying on a smooth bench beside the shower. Wilson's surprised to find it clean, soft, and of considerable size.
The water -- and an overhead light -- turns on automatically as he steps into the shower, leaving his ruined clothes outside like the shed carapace of an insect. Once, as a kid, he read a very ancient tale in which a man woke up one morning to find that he'd become an enormous bug, with all the appetites and instincts inherent to the species.
Wilson, meanwhile, is -- according to House -- a variety of domesticated livestock. Not a bug; he supposes it could be worse.
Insanity flows over him with the water, and he taps his foot on the plastene shower floor, listening for the sound of a cloven hoof. There's only the soft thump of toes, and the craziness washes away just as swiftly as it descended.
He'd laugh, if House weren't around to hear it.
When he steps out of the shower again, at last, Wilson notices three things.
It's 'daylight,' to begin with, the ceiling tiles bright like the morning sky of a yellow-sun planet.
Second, House was right again, and someone was paying at least enough attention to hear the yelling. A short stack of neatly folded clothing awaits him, sitting on the bench beside the towel.
Third, House is asleep.
Wilson picks up whatever's on top of the stack and shakes it out. It turns out to be a long, soft tunic that stretches to his knees -- a nightshirt, he realizes. Wilson sighs as he pulls it on, hoping he'll get something more dignified later; still, the tunic is comfortable and that's all he really wants for now. He feels bent and broken inside, a trauma victim whose injuries are all internal, and he remembers only disjointed bits and pieces of his dramatic introduction to the horrors of voracin withdrawal. He's not sure he wants to remember any more, ever.
The warm water has drained away the protests of his mind, leaving only a sore, spent body.
House seems to have allowed the same person who'd left fresh clothing to change the bed sheets. Standing at the bedside, Wilson is startled to realize that he can still smell the same barely-there chemical signal that had drawn him, calmed him, made him plead like a helpless child. The pleasant, cool linen-scent twines together with that other, warmer fragrance. House. Wilson should step away, if he's that exhausted, and lie down on the floor instead, but beneath his bare feet, the floor is slick, cold, unbearably hard.
The solatiles dim again obligingly, and Wilson looks up. Someone's giving him -- them -- a chance for more sleep, more time to recover.
How much do they know? a little voice asks in the back of his mind. Are they watching even now?
Wilson wishes he were awake enough to care, but there's nothing he can do about it now. He eases his clean body between the fresh sheets, and is asleep a moment later.