SUMMARY: The first day on a job is rarely easy. Working for Evo Krater is no exception.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, various 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: This is the first chapter of Part Five. We left off at the end of Part Four, at Rendezvous. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
Len watches as Mister Krater's prisoners are escorted in. Guests, he absently corrects himself. Consultants. Disgraced doctors. At that last thought, he permits himself a slight smile. How does anyone imagine that these two refugees will save Evo Krater? They couldn't even save themselves.
The older one -- that'd be House -- must have had to run before he could treat his own fucking leg. That failure doesn't look like it has humbled him, though. Len cocks his head as he studies Krater's two desperate mistakes.
The younger one looks around, taking in the sparsely-furnished entry hold. His grip's tightened on the strap of the medpack slung over his shoulder, but otherwise he's calm. His comrade ... Len's eyes narrow.
The cripple gave this place one sweeping glance and dismissed it. Since then his attention's been focused on Len.
Maybe he couldn't save his own ass, but this House does not look stupid. He could even be half as smart as that shithead Eggie claimed. You, Len thinks. I'll take you. He moves forward, into House's space.
"Tusko," he says. "Take Doctor House's cane." The doctor's lips draw into in a thin line, and he pulls the cane away from Tusko's reaching hand.
"I need this," he says.
"It's a weapon," Len says, "and I don't allow weapons in Mister Krater's presence."
Doctor House glares at him; he holds onto his cane until Tusko slowly rolls up his sleeves, flexing his hands in preparation for what will come next. The doctor sees reason and concedes, his shoulders stiffening against the insult.
"Excellent," Len murmurs. "Now. You gentlemen will turn around and face the wall, placing your hands above your heads ... "
"Look," House snaps, "your goons have already stunned us, dragged us off Exeter, run us through the arms scanner and -- "
Len nods an order to Dobie and Joris; the two men grab Doctor Wilson's biceps and spin him around, pinning him face-first against the wall.
"Hey!" Wilson gasps out. "Hey, what -- "
"Shut up," Dobie rumbles, and Wilson swallows down his words.
Len turns to Doctor House; the man is still watching him, his jaw clenched.
"Now," Len says quietly. "I want you to turn around and face the goddamn wall."
"Or what?" House doesn't look so much afraid as angry. "You're getting off on this little power -- "
His accusation is cut off as Tusko grabs his arm and pushes him hard into the paneling.
So these, Krater muses, watching the doctors board his ship, are the men I have paid for. They don't look like much, but people rarely do when they're running for their lives. Or when they were blasted with a magnosonic cannon four hours ago. He's going to have a word with his transport pilot about that.
Len is clearly unimpressed, and orders an unnecessary search. He makes Joris and Dobie handle young Wilson while he and Tusko target House, shoving and pushing; Len jabs his knee into the doctor's injured leg. House does not cry out, but the set of his jaw lets Krater know that his silence requires some effort.
When Len confiscates the doctor's pain pills, the scalp above Krater's left ear begins to prickle. Too far, too far. These men need to be able to work.
"Len," he calls softly over the com, "do you think that you will carry Doctor House around this vessel?"
Len's body jerks a little. "Sir?"
"I have only this one autochair. Therefore, he requires his cane. And his medication." Krater prefers to correct his people in private, but Len has left him little choice. Reluctantly, Len releases Doctor House. Taking the cue, Dobie and Joris let go of Doctor Wilson, who straightens his coat as he straightens his spine. "Doctor House," Krater continues, "is an educated man; he knows that he must be careful, and not stumble. Is that not so, Doctor?"
"Evo Krater, I presume?" House looks up, as if searching for a monitor. "You could've called off your hounds a little sooner."
"House," Wilson says, stepping closer to his friend. "You're going to get us --"
"No, he is quite right," Evo says. "I could have. But then how would I have known if you were merely little rabbits?"
Though the video's angle is awkward, he sees what might be a small smile on House's weary face. How interesting.
"Len," Krater says, "you have done well. Now would you kindly show our guests to the infirmary?"
"Well met, gentlemen," says the long-limbed man in the autochair, and Wilson stops in his tracks. The name Evo Krater had made him imagine some fantastic, exotic character. He's been half expecting a monster from the Killcrystal Trilogy, bald and musclebound, or with some hideous scar across his face, or ... something.
If he'd thought about it, he'd have known it was silly. But there's been scant time for thinking, what with getting stunned, and the goons, and the weapons search. He's on the ship of an arms dealer, he aches from head to toe from what House said was a "mag pulse" -- and so Krater surprises him. Just a man, clean-shaven and too thin, wearing tailored clothes that hang too loosely.
Len the Thug has left them alone, with Evo Krater and a lean blond-haired guy who looks like Krater's kid brother. He has an ethertab in one hand and an electron pistol in the other. The pistol is aimed at the floor, but the sight of it makes Wilson's hands sweat. He knows a stunner when he sees one, and this is not a stunner. This is the real thing.
"Medicine at gunpoint," House says. "Not happening. You want treatment, tell your minion to put it away."
"My friend's name is Natan," Krater replies, in a mild tone that makes Wilson's stomach twist, just the same. A gesture from Krater, and his friend holsters the weapon and hands Wilson the 'tab.
"Recent medical history," says Natan. The words echo inside Wilson's throbbing skull. He looks from the patient to the records, with their long list of symptoms and longer list of negative tests. Toxins, parasites, variable-period rheath fever, genetic abnormalities -- none, none, none, and none.
"This ... is odd," Wilson says. "You've looked for everything I would think to look for, and --"
House shoves into Wilson's space. "Give me that."
"Intermittent failures of the nervous or muscular system, " House declares. "Or both. The kind of slippery thing scanners just love to miss. First things first: you need an actual exam."
"Meaning?" Krater raises an eyebrow. The previously stone-faced Natan breaks into a grin.
"I think he wants to see you naked, Krater."
Wilson has no idea what to say about that.
"Not only see," says House, "but prod, poke, and generally humiliate in the name of science. You might wanna kick your friend out first, unless --"
"What I know, he knows," says Krater. "He stays."
"If you're that close," House growls, "it's his turn next."
Krater doesn't respond to that. His momentary smile -- a frequent smile, to judge from the lines on his angular face -- hardly touches his eyes. Interesting eyes, a green-gray color that's rare on Delphus; Wilson wonders whether it's common for Krater's world. Krater glances up at his young ... friend, brother, lover, whatever Natan really is, and that's when Wilson sees it.
Whatever these two men are, they are that close.
They file wearily out of the infirmary, falling without question into Natan's custody as Krater wheels off for points unknown. Even House is quiet, for once, and Wilson's in too poor shape to even care whether that's a good sign.
Krater, whatever else he might be, is a very sick man. His body is covered with bizarre bruises, crash-victim bruises, on his palms and soles and everywhere. Moderate pressure causes contusions -- sometimes. Sometimes he can walk; sometimes he can't. Sometimes he can eat; sometimes not. Sometimes he can sleep; sometimes he can breathe properly. Sometimes his heart rate is normal. All these sometimes things swarm around, worsening Wilson's headache while Natan leads him and House to their cell, which ... turns out not to be a cell.
Wilson blinks -- and damn it, even his eyeballs hurt -- because this looks more like a nice, clean cruiser cabin. Their couple of measly bags have already been brought in, lined up against one wall. Beside those, a night-table holds a com unit and what appears to be the hard-print file of the medical records they've just seen.
Along the opposite wall is a rolling cart with covered dishes leaking aromatic steam into the air.
Compared to dinner at the Third Shift and lodging at Eggie's, this is a palace.
House touches a pad near the door before he shoulders rudely past Wilson. The lights dim, the air shushes coolly through the ceiling vent, and a low platform bed rolls out of the wall, stopping within easy reach of the food.
House falls with an ostentatious grunt on the bed, then proceeds to stretch himself out like a leo-cat staking out nap territory.
"What are you doing?" Wilson asks, although by now he really should know better. "We're supposed to be working."
House reaches up for the nearest dish, pulling it down to rest on his stomach and tossing the cover onto the floor. "Then the food is for those other slave-labor doctors in this room? I know it's a lot to ask, but I'd like you to consider not being an idiot."
"You look like you're going to eat yourself to sleep," Wilson grumbles.
House uses the serving spoon that's resting alongside the dish to scoop out a giant ball of...the bluest khee Wilson's ever seen. "I need energy, ergo food and sleep. It's a genius thing. You, on the other hand, don't have to funnel so many resources into mediocrity, so sure. Work away."
"Oh, well, in that case, your Eminence..." Wilson bows elaborately, then lifts the lids off all the dishes until he finds a small roll-shaped thing that he can snatch and take with him, away from House. Weary and aching though he is, Wilson doesn't care to be bitten, and he wouldn't count on House not to do it just for kicks. He backs away. "Toss me your pills. My head's about to explode."
House groans loudly, fishing the vial from his pocket. "Just one," he gripes. "You're a wuss with no tolerance."
"One's fine. I can't work when I'm stoned anyway." He misses the catch as the vial arcs across the room, so he finishes his exotic horsd'ouevre and goes to retrieve it.
That simple bend-and-straighten movement fills his head with swirls of grey smoke, sends him sideways until he catches himself against the wall.
"You can't work at all, Doctor Dimlight. My pills aren't enough. Eat."
Right now, House thinks, it's Wilson who looks like stale piss in a cracked cup. One effect of magnosonic pulses is to disrupt electrolyte balance in the body, and it disrupts some bodies more than others.
Dinner helped a little, but Wilson needs more than that. He wouldn't have, before he stupidly chose to save the life of a bloodsucker, but save that life he did, so here they are. Still determined to work, Wilson sits there staring mutely at the hardprint files he's already stared at for an hour.
House hates him.
"Get in the shower," he says. "Not only are you useless, but you stink."
The shower cube, being of the nice, modern variety, makes practically no sound. Well-insulated, House thinks, and he turns on the ether feed because it's much too quiet in this place, and he's sick of hearing the static in his own head. He hasn't told Wilson that the mag pulse affected him too. Not relevant; he'll be fine once he gets some rest. And some blood, his brain helpfully reminds him, and therein lies the challenge.
This ship is owned by gun-running maniacs. That means there is one, and only one, safe bet: assume that everything is being watched and recorded, everywhere, at all times. Assume that whatever you do in the dark will be on someones sono-cam. And, as always, assume that vulgaris will behave like vulgaris.
The predicament is, in some respects, House's own fault: way back when, he'd answered as few of Eggie's questions as he could, and one of the answers was a sneering, Hell, no. I can go a week without it if I want. Technically, that was true. Technically, eleven days was the average before coma set in. The word "symbiosis" never crossed House's lips, nor did he mention the likely condition of a haemovore who hasn't taken blood for seven days.
Move forward forty years and Eggie, if he thought about this at all, would have consigned it to a gigantic mental dustbin labeled Not My Problem.
So now it's House's problem, shuffling its way out of the shower with loose pajamas and damp hair. The steam that wafts into the room smells of soap and clean vulgaris and scent-marked hide.
House stands up, moves into Wilson's space, catches him by the arm when he tries to back away. "There's something I need, remember?"
"Here?" Wilson's eyes are wide like an animal's. "But --"
"We're being observed. Yeah. What worked in Eggie's lair isn't going to work here, so wave to the audience and get under the covers. You think a guy like Krater cares what we do in bed?" The realization dawns on Wilson's face. His expression would be hilarious if only this were someone else's life.
"C'mon," House says. "I want you."
This is the last damn thing House wants. What House wanted was to go out in a flaming ball of glory, standing tall on the deck of the Medusa and watching right until the moment of impact. Quick, clean, and spectacular; it would've been over so fast it wouldn't even have hurt. Instead, he's ended up limping along in a smoldering cloud of painful accidents. All because of this self-sacrificing animal with whom, right now, he has to share a bed.
"Roll over," he commands. "On your stomach."
His animal hesitates and them complies, his back stiff as steel. Not for long, House thinks, biting into the nape of the neck. Just enough voracin to relax him, to make this look like it feels good -- at least for a couple of minutes. After that will come the real bite, and it'll be convincing when Wilson falls asleep with his lover still on top of him, nuzzling against his body.
House fakes a thrust, grunting when it makes his thigh feel like someone's tying tight knots in the remaining muscle. Good thing, he thinks, pain and pleasure sound so much alike.
His animal wriggles beneath him, grunts, pretends the same thing House is pretending. It's stuffy beneath the covers, and House's scent mark is intense, and he has to find an incision site in a place nobody's likely to see. And the fake humping and bumping is making his leg hurt like hell. Fucking ridiculous charades.
Briefly he thinks of rolling Wilson over again and using a branch of the femoral artery, near the groin. Wilson's clean enough, for a vulgaris, and he's just showered, and beneath the covers it would look like House was sucking something else, and ... that's exactly why he isn't going to do it. There's only so much of his dignity he's willing to destroy.
He feels with his mouth along the hairline at the base of the skull, until a warm pulse-spot gives away the location of a suitable vein, where the hair will hide the small cut he has to make. He tries not to think too much about the scent of that hair, inviting and clean, marked as his property.
Temporarily, he tells himself, and sinks his fangs deep into their target.
link to next chapter