SUMMARY: Eggie knows some of House's secrets, but not all of them -- and House plans to keep it that way.
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: Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
Wilson has travelled from Delphus to Tuuvi and then Capinari, but he's never seen anything like Honest Eggie's Outpost -- or anything like Eggie.
Some of the old Tuuvi shoremen had that same long, wavy white hair, drawn back from faces weathered by a lifetime of sun. But that's where the resemblance ends. Beneath the faded tan of sun damage, Eggie's skin is pale, and the sparkle in his eyes isn't the reflection of waves and navigation-stars; it's something else, less lyrical.
That's as far as Wilson thinks of him, walking with Eggie and House through the head-pounding brightness of the shop, into a compact warren of hallways, through a metal door marked ENTER ON PAIN OF DEATH. He doesn't want to know whether Eggie might be serious about that.
"Got an animal for me, Egghead?" House asks, as he and Wilson shuffle into a tiny apartment at the back of Eggie's offices. "I couldn't bring mine on the shuttle."
Wilson looks cautiously at House, then shrugs their bag off onto the bed. Heavy stuff: it's more medical devices than clothing in there. Wilson had insisted on being prepared, so House had insisted that Wilson carry everything. He'd have protested more if House weren't crippled.
"Your new buddy knows you're a bloodkite?" Eggie's big round shoulders fall. "I'm wounded, kid. I had to find out the hard way, but him you trust?"
"I've met vipers I'd trust more than you. You didn't answer my question."
Wilson decides he has nothing to add. Better just to watch and learn what he can.
"Little cart-pony," Eggie says, "in a pen around the side. Best I could do on short notice."
"Cheapest you could do, you mean. Bring it in here."
"You wanna ... do that in here. In my nice clean shop. Fuckin' unbelievable."
"I wanna not get seen. I'm tired, my leg hurts, and I need what I need." He hobbles over to the bed and sits down. "What I don't need is to risk being shot by some superstitious moron. Bring the runt-horse inside."
House waits until the door closes and stays closed. "Do not," he says to Wilson, "go anywhere alone with Eggie. Stay where I can see you."
"He's ... that bad?" Wilson doesn't seem to understand, but then he wouldn't. He sees a greedy, ambitious trader in a loud blue-striped shirt: annoying, but relatively harmless. And that's the truth, for most people. Just not for himself and therefore, not for Wilson either.
"People don't change, except when they get worse. I haven't seen Eggie in over forty years."
"You're scaring me."
"What do you think he might do?"
"Who knows. Try to hump you, most likely."
Wilson sits down on the bed opposite House's. "Will he, uh ... take no for an answer?"
"Maybe. He used to. But I don't need you freaking out because he grabbed your ass. My life's crappy enough already."
"Oh. For a moment I thought you might ... care. Stupid of me, really." He rubs the back of his neck, and for the first time House notes the dust in his hair, the grit on his face. "Do I dare," Wilson says, "ask why you think he'll --"
"Male, female, Eggie doesn't care as long as it's young and pretty. You look like you're twelve. Now shut up and get in the shower."
"There's a ... " Wilson looks up, seeing the tall metal box in the corner. "Good. Oh, that's good." There's no separate place to undress, so he turns his back and strips right where he stands. He's dropping his undies when the door grates open and there stands Eggie and a stumpy equine that looks like it's more fur than flesh. Both animals' eyes are about to pop out, the pony's from fear and Eggie's from surprise and delight.
Wilson scrambles forward as hard as the pony scrambles back. He can't hide, because he's an idiot who made an idiot's tactical error: he undressed before figuring out how to open the shower door.
House manages a lopsided saunter, a few strides and then he's bending around Wilson's shoulder, into the corner, knocking his fumbling hand aside. House knows this kind of latch. An uplift and a sideways push; the door slides open and the naked human animal darts in.
Eggie's standing there drooling all over himself.
"Dream on," House says. "He's mine."
If Wilson weren't already in the shower, House thinks he might try coaxing the pony in there.
There's not a clean spot on the entire beast. Its heavy head reaches only up to House's hip, and it smells of stale hay and latent sickness. Poor nutrition, probably leading to a whole herd of other problems. It's rigid with fear, eyes so wide the white sclera shows. Its nostrils flare as it starts to cough.
Another couple minutes and its rattled nerves will cause it to crap all over the floor.
House drags the room's one chair beside the pony and sits, soothing the animal toward him, rubbing its shoulders and allowing its hot runny nose to snuffle him until it relaxes. After a while, it presses its head to his chest, calmed by the massage and the scent. The response is coded into its genes; it's a marsh pony, an ancient breed developed by the haemovores at Qaba. It doesn't belong in this dessicated land any more than House does.
Gently he bites a vein at the base of its ear, the least-shaggy place he can find. When the pony sinks to the floor, House doesn't follow. The taste of dust and dried, sickly sweat is bad enough. The blood would be much worse.
"Sorry, Eggie," says House to the room, because he knows the room is listening. "You don't get to watch this."
The decoy bug is right where Eggie used to pay House to put them -- jammed into the wall near the top of the noisy shower unit. Anybody with half a brain would know better than to put it there, and that's where many of Eggie's 'associates' make their mistake -- in assuming Eggie's got just one bug and only half a brain.
The second, real receptor isn't in the music unit or the vidscreen on the bed-board. It's in the place Eggie has always preferred to put them -- in the keypad at the door. House drags the chair up to it and settles down to his task. By the time the shower unit stops screeching, he has the thing pried off the wall and all its innards exposed.
"Please tell me it's safe to --" Wilson starts, poking his head out until he spots the pony on the floor. "Oh. I take it Eggie's gone?"
House ignores the stupid question. Not like there's any place in here a guy Eggie's size could hide. The pad hangs from its master fibers while House hunts in his pockets for the thing he needs.
"Mind telling me what you're --"
"Keypad's rigged. Optics built right into the --"
"If you break it we'll be trapped in here."
"Which is why I'm not going to break it. I'm going to use this handy little item to loop-lock the vid circuit."
The handy little item is a na-socket. Fits right into the receptor and binds it to a static image. They're hard to find not just because they're illegal, but because demand is so high. Any old idiot can make a qui- or a rea-socket, but if you've got a rea-, you're going to need a qui-. Got a qui-, you'll need a rea-, or an erd-, or maybe an uyu-; it's the law of nature. The na-socket's truly universal, a thing that was thought impossible until some guys at Torbilus figured it out.
Wilson, wrapped in a cheap bathrobe Eggie must've left on the shower-cube shelf, makes a suspicious approach. "Where the hell'd you get that?"
"Present from Captain Jerome."
"You ... didn't steal it, did you?"
"Won it in a chess game. Does it matter?"
"You stole it. The guy saved our lives, and you --"
"I was being escorted by De Santos at the time." House can't help smiling at the memory. "She never even saw me. Now shut up while I --"
"There's an easier way."
Wilson leans over him and inspects the keypad, fingering the ruined soundstrip. "I see you already killed the audio. But if you use a vidlock you have to leave it there. When the hall chief figures it out, she'll confiscate it and you won't have a socket anymore." Hall chief? House stares at him until Wilson continues, "What, you never lived in university housing?"
"So you're a sneaky bastard as well as a tasty snack," House says. "Impressive. Took you five seconds to go from moralizing parent to weaselly student. So let's see your dormer-house solution."
Wilson walks to the old chest of drawers, takes down the mirror that hangs above it, and wriggles the hanging-nail free from its hole. Grabbing one of his shoes from the floor, he uses the heel to pound the nail into the wall above the keypad.
"I hope you can fix that thing," Wilson says. "I don't want to be stuck in here." He keeps a wary eye on the door while he trades the robe for his long night-tunic. House, meanwhile, jams the keypad back into its casing.
The door, as he knew it would, works fine.
They hang Wilson's robe on the nail, blocking the keypad as well as anything could. Low-tech and effective, it's classic vulgaris thinking. "Now," says House, "we wait for Eggie. Before I killed the sound I told him I didn't want an audience while I ... " House nods at the unfortunate pony still stretched across the floor. "So instead of getting a shower right now, I get to sit here long enough to convince him I used that sickly beast."
"Which ... you didn't?"
"Look at it. Would you?"
"I ... not if I could help it." Wilson looks relieved. Probably was afraid he wouldn't get his own fix tonight.
"Little horse'll be dead in six months," says House. "He deserves better."
"Don't we all."
At that, House laughs. Ever since he first thought of biting Wilson, he's been wishing he had something with four hooves instead of ten toes. Now he's got exactly that, and he's still about to use his damn vulgaris.
Eggie, trying to hide his disappointment, came in with a grav slab and hauled the sleeping pony back outside. Not a word was said about the surveillance, but Eggie's unsmiling face was enough to tell them the sabotage worked.
House had watched him go and then stepped into the shower. He came out clean and still they waited, watching the local newsvid until House was sure that Eggie had gone to bed.
Not saying a word, House turns out the light, leaving the vidscreen on with no sound. Wilson stretches out on his back, makes himself breathe, trying his best not to think about tomorrow, or the day after that.
"On your stomach," House commands, plopping himself down near Wilson's head. "Unless you'd rather risk being caught."
"We're on a foreign world where ... if we get into any trouble, a fresh cut on your arm could raise questions. Roll over. And scoot over."
"Shut up and do it." House is shoving him toward the wall, while arranging himself on the bed with his head toward Wilson's feet, which must mean ...
The bastard's biting the back of Wilson's knee, and it -- isn't that bad, really. It's just a shock. Should be a good vein, Wilson thinks. Kind of a smart ... smart ... oh. Okay. It's ... okay.
He drifts away.
House keeps a tight grip on Wilson's ankle until he's sure the vulgaris is unconscious. The natural tendency of an animal -- any animal -- is to kick. That's a special hazard of leg-bites, and House doesn't want any painful surprises. Never in his life has he taken from anywhere except the shoulder, the neck, the throat, behind the ears -- or in Wilson's case, the wrist or the soft crook of the arms. Anyplace he can feel the warm breath on his face, the living trust of his sorel, his source. But because he doesn't know who's out there, or what Eggie might have become in the last forty years, he's reduced to this.
Taking blood like a renegade samael, a thief in the fucking night.
It's bad enough that he's in this position to begin with, opening a vein he doesn't want. Feeling the coarse leg-hair against his lips, which twitch at the unfamiliar texture. Trying to take without blocking his ability to breathe, or letting any evidence run down onto the sheets. It's none of Eggie's business what goes on here.
In his big bed on the Callie this wouldn't be so damn uncomfortable. Here, he has to twist his shoulders and Wilson's leg; there'll be no falling into the near-trance he usually enjoys. The fact that he has to actually be this paranoid is ... it's insane.
Hell, maybe he is just a little bit insane now.
Just a little bit?
The gently mocking voice in his mind is familiar, and despite himself, House's lips curve up in a half-smile.
"Shut up," he murmurs to the sleeping Wilson, even as he presses his thumb over the incision, waiting for the wound to close. He rearranges himself on the bunk so that he's not staring at his animal's bare feet.
Wilson sleeps on, his breathing slow and even. House throws an arm across the vulgaris' shoulders.
For a minute, he thinks. Just a minute, as his eyes close. Act the part. If Eggie looks in, he'll just think they've been screwing. One more vital deception.
When he sleeps at last, his arm is still draped across Wilson's back.