SUMMARY: Desperate measures are taken.
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.
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong; he'd gotten it wrong again. Made friends with the common race, like that ever fucking ended well. Not when he was seven years old, not now, and sure as hell not ever again.
Greg stood in the shower at home in the dark and knew that he should have seen this coming. Hell, he wasn't blind, deaf or stupid. He'd picked up on it early; there were customers who'd look at him and smirk like they were privy to an inside joke. One guy would make cracks about Eggie not sharing his toys. Others said things about lube jobs, tune-ups, all kinds of mechanical shit that would've been innocent except for the tone they used. Eggie might as well have had PERVERT tattooed on his forehead in lumen ink.
He shouldn't have been surprised, should've controlled himself. He knew better than to show his fucking fangs and put himself -- and his family -- at the mercy of Edgar H. Poland. Greg had long ago figured out how to break into his dad's outgoing infocrypts, so he knew what the bounty hunters in this quadrant got for vampires. He knew how much Eggie'd get paid for selling him out.
And it would be when, not if.
He leaned his head against the stall wall and let the warm water trickle down the back of his neck, washing away the cold and the grit that had stuck to his damp skin on his panicked ride home. He wanted to vomit, wished he could. Puke or pass out or something, anything to get rid of the vision of Eggie's terrified face. Not the first time he'd seen that expression on a so-called friend. The last time was his own fault, too, and they'd almost been killed before they got off Arkhedia.
There'd be no immediate need to run this time. Eggie, once he got over his shock, would be patient. He'd find a way to use his new knowledge for the greatest possible profit, and that would take a while. It might be possible to use that lull to figure something out, maybe. Greg had plenty of goods on Eggie; he'd done enough of that bastard's dirty work the last two years.
He paced their small house all night, his heart pounding too fast to let him sleep or think.
"I'm entering the tournament," he said, the moment his dad walked into the stable the next morning. Greg didn't look up from the feed buckets he was filling; didn't have to. It wasn't like the man would be smiling or anything. No reason to make a fuss over his son simply meeting his expectations for once.
"You done making excuses, then?" Greg glanced up and saw his father standing ram-rod straight, as always. Best posture for life with a stick up your ass, he thought.
"Wasn't an excuse. I told you it would be rigged, and it will be. Because everybody on this nasty little dirtball planet bets on everything, and there's nothing people crave more than violence. Promise them blood, and the bets just fly."
"Did you pick that up working for Mr. Poland?"
He knew exactly what his dad thought about Eggie, but he hadn't yet ordered him to quit his job. Money talked with everybody, even John House.
"Didn't have to learn it from my job," Greg said as he poured out grain for his dad's buck sorel. "I've seen you doing yours."
Greg watched the animals eat until he heard the shed door close behind him. He was the Oil Slicks' best player, and the only haemovore. The other guys didn't know. They knew he was faster than them, stronger, jumped a little higher -- and that was all. They'd kick Pete Nevil off the tourney roster to make room for him, and Pete would be glad because he hated jumpball anyway.
Half an hour later he was at the arena, at practice. It was a done deal. He was in.
It had felt good to play, but the feeling was long gone by nightfall. After his parents went to sleep, he lay in his narrow bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering just how much of an idiot he really was. He'd be playing Norrange, a bunch of young thugs whose backers were known to put older thugs, ringers, onto the field. The gaming payoff was substantial, mostly off transient oilmen who weren't wise to the scam. The game was always rough, but this would be damn near suicide.
Rolling over, he could hear his heartbeat in the ear pressed against the thin pillow. He looked at the dim blue glow of the clock on the night table. It was a long time until dawn, when he'd get a fresh dose of "What you have to do, Greg."
Except that his dad didn't know what he had to. Nobody did, and playing for a doomed team wouldn't solve or change a damn thing. He was going to play anyway, and he didn't even know why.
Eggie saw it happen.
He'd been bored that night, restless, trying to forget the fucking fool thing he'd done. Greg hadn't come back to work, and Eggie was trying not to think about that, either. He'd gone to the arena to make a couple half-credit bets, have a pint or two, watch the boys beat the shit out of each other in the name of sport.
Then he saw Greggo's name on the roster, and didn't know whether to stop drinking or to go ahead and get hammered. The one thing he wasn't about to do was look away. So there he was, on his feet in the stands while Norrange, crooked as a screwdrill, blocked and toyed and generally fucked around with the Slicks. The Slicks, knowing death when they looked it in the eye, put up with it. That is, all the rest of 'em, the ones with brains in their heads, put up with it. Gregory fucking House, though? It'd be too much to ask.
The kid was furious. You'd have to be blind not to see it, the way he lunged against the Norrange guards like a rabid animal attacking its cage. Eggie could picture the obstinate rage that hid under that helmet; it was an expression he'd seen on the kid a couple of times. Greg flung himself into the thicket of bodies and cast-sticks, played dirty and hard, provoking those goons at every turn. For every one goal he made, he got taken to the ground twice, got up again, and again, and again.
Until the Norrange headman and his two strongarms cornered him in the ringzone. Greg was already hurt by then, moving slower than he should be, so fixed on the goal that he missed the guy on his right until it was too damn late to duck out. The thugs leapt up, faking an attempt to block the ball, but their real intent was clear enough. They slammed him into the ringposts, breaking bones against steel on "accident." Their cast-sticks just happened to connect with flesh. Even up in the cheap seats, Eggie heard the helmet crack on the poles. The helmet didn't crumple, but Greggo did, disappearing beneath a mountain of enemy combatants.
This time, he stayed down.
He remembered seeing helmets and sticks and shoulders. Everything was a blur after that.
The lights were too dim, then too bright, and then he couldn't breathe and they went out altogether, which sucked because really, he didn't want to die. He hadn't realized they would actually kill him.
That he woke up at all was a surprise to him. He didn't expect he would, and he really didn't expect to see his father sitting by his bedside playing xikemin. He took off the lenscreen and tapping glove as soon as he saw Greg was awake.
"Gave your mother a scare, son," John growled, leaning back in his visitor's chair.
Greg didn't apologize. He wasn't sorry -- not about the game -- and it wouldn't help to lie and say he was.
His mother bustled in and settled herself beside the bed. "Oh, I'm glad to see you're awake," she said, and fussed with Greg's pillow and blanket before holding his hand. "I'll let the doctor tell you all the details, but for now I will say that I'm looking forward to having you at home with me for a while."
"Boy's lucky we still got a home," his father snarled, and Blythe shot him a warning look.
"John, not here."
"The only reason we aren't on the market right now is because I took care of it in time," John hissed, and then he turned his full attention to Greg. "You're going to be spending a few months in an autochair, and I suggest you take some time to think about how lucky you are."
It was weird, but the intense pain in his body made him numb in other ways. He watched John House march out of the room and realized he did not, at that moment, give a damn what his father thought.
Eggie had been certain the injuries would have exposed Greg and his family, but there was no news of bloodkites or murders on the vidfeeds the next day. Or the day after that, and neither did Greg's name appear in the death notices. The kid's family could've taken him and run, but that didn't seem likely, what with the shape he was in. If he was alive and on the planet, there was only one place he could be.
This, Eggie decided, he had to see for himself.
It wasn't difficult to find Greg's hospital room, and as usual, Greg was alone. Eggie showed up late at night, hoping the kid would be asleep as well as unattended. If he were oblivious, Eggie could have gone in, had a good look, and gotten out.
No such luck. Those sharp eyes caught Eggie as soon as he peeked around the door.
"Greggo!" he exclaimed heartily. "You look like shit." He stepped up to the foot of the bed and took a long look at what few parts of the kid the bandages didn't cover. Greg was reading his own meditab, probably checking out all the stuff the docs had done to him. "So, what, you counting all the fractures?"
"I'm bored. Hacked the hospital's subether access codes. Learning some medicine so I can keep these imbeciles from killing me by accident." His voice was raspy, like someone on the court had damn near choked him. Greg llifted his chin as if to show off his broken nose. As if to say look what you made me do. "And you look like shit too, but that's nothing new. At least I have an excuse."
"Damn, kid, where was that will to live a couple days ago? What'd you think, you had to fuckin' kill yourself before I did it for you?"
"I don't know who you sold me out to, but I'm damaged goods now," Greg said. "They won't be happy. May as well call 'em off."
"Can't do that, Greggo."
"How much are they paying?"
"Nothing, you moron. I can't call anyone off because I never called anyone in the first damn place. Look, I made a mistake about you. I don't fuck around across species lines, okay? But I'm not a murdering cocksucker either. Thought you knew that by now."
"All I know for sure -- and 'sure' is a relative term, with you -- is that you didn't sell us out yet," Greg said, bald-faced and brass-tacked.
Eggie gripped the footboard and leaned over the bed. "Now listen here--"
"You're either waiting for the right price or you're going to use it as leverage against my dad." Greg smiled then, or attempted to, and Eggie suppressed a shiver, remembering the last time he'd seen those teeth. "You'll do whatever pays the best," the kid said. "Or maybe ... whatever prevents the worst loss."
"You think you're gonna fuckin' blackmail me?" Eggie couldn't believe it. If the kid wanted to play this game--
"There's not a lot of things worth forty-five thousand that also fit on a standard crystal." Greg used his one good hand to raise the head of the bed, just a little. Eggie straightened up. "Or should I say, in a standard crystal. You're either spying, running neuroflash drugs, or both. So this is the deal: You keep my secret, I'll keep yours."
All right, now this was a role Eggie knew how to play, and all his flustergation evaporated like baccy-smoke. This, he could work with, as long as he kept Greggo close at hand. "How long before you can get back to work?"
"Lying to make me feel better? Not really your style. Anyway, I quit." Greg ostentatiously clicked his med-drip and closed his eyes.
"The hell you quit. They broke your legs, not your hands. I want you doing small parts inventory as soon as you're not so drugged you sleep half the damn day. I also got some devices I need built, and some real-time surveillance on this new associate of mine. That ... other stuff, we can pretend it never fucking happened. Just a mistake."
"You're assuming I'm actually willing to come back."
"I'm assuming you're some bastard's captive audience until you're walking again. Of the two available bastards, I'm assuming you'd rather be my captive than your dad's. Job's open if you want it. But I can't wait forever, so get your ass in gear, kid."
Greg struggled just a little to open his eyes, but the look he fixed on Eggie was clear and cold. "All right, then," he said, "I come back to work. And you give me one of the guest rooms."
"And that," says Eggie, "was that. Kid moved a couple animals into a run I built out back, turned my old utility closet into his bedroom." Riki sits up and cocks his head, his black eyes bright as beads in the lamplight. The little weasel suddenly leaps into the air, lands on a low shelf on the wall and pounces on a sand roach. He makes what Eggie thinks of as his victory call, a sound like the ticking of an old gear-clock running at quadruple time, and neatly rips off the insect's nasty head.
In a flash, he's off the shelf and away, his lithe form melting like an ink smudge into the shadows of the shop.
"I just wish you coulda seen how he was, back when," Eggie says again. The last sight he'd had of Greggo all those years ago had been the kid loping out of the shop. He'd had months in the auto-chair, then weeks of limping around while the last of his injuries healed. He'd come out of his convalescence thinner than ever, with the bones sharp in his face, his eyes ever watchful, suspicious.
Something had happened to him that went beyond the broken bones and internal injuries inflicted by those goons on the court that night. He'd left the last of his boyhood in that hospital bed, and started spending money scrounging medical texts instead of Nymph parts. It was as if the mechanics of his own body had offered a puzzle no machine could match, and one look beneath the skin was all it took to rivet his attention. Lots of things riveted Greg's attention, but none for very long. Eggie'd never believed the kid would really do it, go be a doctor instead of using his shiprat wits to make a black-market fortune.
Despite the fact that he'd damned near died, Greggo back then looked like the picture of health compared to the man who'd ridden into town a couple hours ago. Bloodkites don't age like humans so he shouldn't look so drawn and beaten down, not even after forty years.
The universe has not been kind to him, even if he did somehow wind up with that pretty, pretty boy for a consolation prize.
Eggie still has a soft spot for his favorite inhuman bastard, but it isn't interfering with his common sense. He can see situations clearly -- hell, he's built a fucking career on it -- and he knows the kid still has the grit to handle whatever Krater the Arms Dealer might dish out.
The other one, Wilson the Overly Civilized, well, Eggie isn't sure if he'll make it, but those are the breaks. Eggie's got to be paid for services rendered, and there's nothing wrong with selling medical help to a guy who'll die without it. If Greggo and his friend want to live out here, this is how it's gonna be anyway. Toughen up or die. He just can't wait to see Greg's face when he finds out who his new patient is.
Eggie smiles, leans forward, and shuts off the light.