SUMMARY: There's speed, and then there's speed.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, OC.
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: This segment co-written by a fifth member of our motley crew. We are the Collective; resistance is futile; etc. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
Only a moron would light two gallons of gasoline on fire and straddle it, Wilson thinks as he wraps his arms around House’s waist. And only a bigger moron would get on the back of this rocket with House at the controls, but the threat of walking all night through this hostile place is enough to make him do it.
He’s glad that House is lean; he can lock his hands together and hold himself and the cane in place as firmly as the laws of physics will allow. House hunches low over the handlebars, forcing Wilson to lean forward too as the machine picks up speed. Over House’s shoulder, Wilson sees the yellow tail lights of a lumbering tanker, and his eyes burn with the grit kicked up by the massive vehicle.
He squints against the dust and the wind, and the strange lights of Exeter turn star-pointed. He can’t wipe his streaming eyes without letting go of House, and he doesn’t trust his own balance on this hurtling death trap enough to try it.
Wilson tucks his head down to block some of the wind. He knows they've got a long way to go, stuck behind that behemoth oil truck, so he thinks he'd better make the best of it. He’s started to relax just one iota when House guns the engine and whips around the tanker, overtakes it and slips the bike back into the outbound lane with a lateral swoop that makes Wilson’s stomach flip.
Light speed, hyperdrive -- he's done all that, but he's never gone this fast. The great soundless reaches of space numb away the sensation of movement, but here -- here he can feel his own fragile skin and bones, the hard ground, hot metal, sheer velocity. There’s a danger in this that’s like nothing he’s experienced, and he hears House let out a muffled whoop behind his face shield.
There’s another curve coming up – he's learning to predict them by the minute shifts of House’s body – and Wilson grips the sliver of a saddle with his legs as tightly as he can. He’s clinging for his very life with all four extremities, and he knows that House knows this, can feel it in the rigid arms wrapped around him.
And House decides to have some fun, with him and the bike and his own fatalistic deathwish.
A fresh burst of acceleration makes Wilson's gut wrap itself backward around his spine. The road ahead of them is wide and empty, with no need to do anything except maintain the lane, but House leans into a wide turn like a gyrfalcon careening on the wind. He practically lays the damned bike down on its side, and there’s a sickening slip as the rear wheel seems to lose traction for a second and Wilson gulps back a yelp.
It feels like the bike is going to slide out of House’s control and scrape them both across the rough-paved road, but he pulls it back upright, and then Wilson can feel House laughing, his ribs rising and falling under his shirt.
This is not fun, not fun, not even remotely fun, not with the grit and the cold and this maniac trying to kill him, but House is laughing. The only other time that happened, the taste on Wilson's lips had been Redpile bourbon, sweet and smoky -- not dirt and dust and the oily fumes of petroleum fuel. They'd been drunk and high, trying not to care that they'd probably die out there in space.
It's different now. This road between the pub and Eggie’s may be all the freedom they'll ever have, but they're alive. They’re a moving target on this world, but those are always harder to hit, and he’s ready the next time when House telegraphs his intentions with a shift to the right and whips across the roadway in a slanted half-loop.
Wilson presses his cheek into the rough cloth across House’s back and shuts his eyes against the filthy air. His pulse feels like something unfurling in his chest, something he once knew until it died and he forgot.
As they pull out of the turn he opens his eyes again, picking out a fresh line of lights in the distance, letting the wind and the night and this wild flight break open that frozen space inside him.
It's the same old half-crumpled sign House remembers: FAUCET, it reads. It doesn't say Welcome. It's not that kind of place. They don't make any promises.
Faucet's been leaking, he thinks. The town has puddled outward to fill the gap that once stretched between the sign and the first creaky buildings. Like a growing tumor, it's sprouted a tangle of capillaries all along this main artery that used to be the only road. Machine shops rub roofs with casinos and grocery importers. A lot full of grubby secondhand zheeps is guarded by spotlights and laser wire. Girls in twinkling microskirts pose outside their brothel, a couple of sparkly living billboards for germ-ridden sex.
Briefly, House wonders how he'll find Eggie's place in all this glare, after all this time. It turns out, though, that there's no cause for concern.
The whole damn mud-brick building glows in the dark.
It's not at all the way he last saw it; if Eggie's grinning ponytailed likeness weren't gracing one of the gigantic fabrilight banners, House would've ridden right past. For once, he thinks, Eggie's ego is useful.
Rolling the bike to a halt out front, he revs the engine to alert Eggie that his latest batch of victims has arrived. Sure enough, out hustles Eggie. It looks a little comical, him moving that fast; he's fatter than he used to be. His hair, once weaselly brown, gleams white in the Brittanic's headlight. House saw it on the vidscreen when they talked, but he's not used to it yet. Vulgaris get old so damn fast.
"Shed's open, around back," Eggie yells over the idling motor. "Park it in there. Your friend can come with me."
Behind him, House feels Wilson's body unlocking, the fingers releasing their hold on his shirt.
"No he can't!" House turns to Wilson and barks, "Sit!" before shooting off around the side of the shop -- which is huge, way bigger than it dreamed of being last time House was here. Forty-some years ago.
The shed is a compact, armored garage, empty and waiting. Inside, House cuts the engine and drops the kickstand in one easy motion. As the echoes die, House hears himself murmur, "Come into my parlor."
"Said the spider to the fly," Wilson answers, just as softly. He climbs off, clumsy with stiffness and the weight of the pack on his back. He seems oblivious to the cane that's melded into his right hand.
"I'm gonna need that." House reaches out. The bike's vibrations had numbed his leg while they were moving, but he's really not healed enough to ride that long, and now that they've stopped it's a hundred times worse.
"Oh. Yeah." Wilson hands the cane over, listing from side to side as if testing his balance on solid ground. "Why didn't you leave me at the front?"
"Because," House says, "Edgar Poland asked me to."
The inside of the place is even more garish and headache-inducing than the outside. No surprise; Eggie's got enough money now to realize his tawdry delusions of grandeur.
He's got stacked shelves of everything from grain to hydraulic cylinders; he's got a row of chiming gamestands inviting patrons to try their luck; he's got a thick pale hand reaching for Wilson's shoulder, resting there with enough pressure to test the muscle tone and the reaction, which is ... neutral.
Because Wilson is too tired to protest, and he doesn't know Eggie yet. And if House has his way, he never will.