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Bad Company

Distress Call Part Five: Natan



Distress Call Part Five: Natan

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TITLE: Natan
SUMMARY: Sometimes you find yourself adrift on a different sea.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, 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 fifth chapter of Part Five. Earlier chapters are New Hires, Scavenger HuntKrater, and Rock and A Hard Place. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.

"Anyone awake in there?" House's voice on the com startles Natan out of a dream. He'd been on the boat again, the bed slowly rocking beneath him.

"Awake now. I thought you were --"

"Finding an answer. Seems someone locked me in while I was working, though. Can I come save my patient's life all by myself, or do I need a gun-toting chaperone?"

"Get in here," Natan says. He's past suspicions now, past caring, keying in the code to unlock the doctors' quarters. "Now. Your door is open."

When he turns around, he sees Krater's eyes open, watching him.

The doctor is barefoot, wearing nothing but a thin ship-issue night tunic. He limps in with his left arm wrapped around himself, and then pulls something -- a black cylinder the size of a Myriad warhead -- out from between the robe and his chest. Natan sucks in a breath -- stupid, he rages at himself, stupid, all it takes is one time --

"It's not a weapon, you idiot," House snaps. "You think I'd go to war in a bathrobe? It's my portable spec. I slipped an extra sample of blood into my pocket tonight."

"In case you needed a snack?" Krater says.

House's eyes go very wide, only for a second. Krater smiles at his own joke, and that seems to be all the reassurance House needs. "You want to know what's killing you," he demands, "or would you rather laugh all the way to the grave? You need to get him out of here first." He nods at Natan. "Doctor's orders, Golden Boy. Shoo."

"Go on," Krater agrees, softly. "Just this once. Doctor House is not going to hurt me."

Natan goes, though every bone in his body tells him not to. He will wait in the hall with his ear to the door, and while he knows he'll hear none of the conversation, he should at least hear it if Krater cries out.

It is awful, to be out here trying to listen through the door, instead of in there, where he belongs. Natan wants to know that no more things are going wrong, to hear the monitors hold steady and to be certain, from one moment to the next, that his friend will not die. Cannot die.

Friend might not be the right word. On one station, many years ago, Natan struck up an acquaintance with some stockmen who said ori-hem. When Natan asked, they said there was no Standard translation. It meant guard-spirit, someone bound beyond friendship or blood, and who did whatever must be done for you. "That is what you have," they said to him, pouring him another ale. "Be careful of it."

Those herders had it right. They couldn't have known, but Evo had been father and brother, playmate and teacher, partner, guardian. Confidant in all things because there was hardly anyone else, and never anyone who understood so well.

Natan's parents are blurred outlines at the far Verge of his mind, ghosts drained of color and fading into heavy clouds of smoke. He isn't sure if he really remembers Evo finding him that day, weeping in the ruins of the village, or if he's just imagined it because Evo told him the story. It was that long ago; Evo was just sixteen and Natan, perhaps four. His real age, his birth date -- burned away by the firebombs. What family name he once had, he has never been able to recall.

It wouldn't matter anyway.

Sometimes -- like tonight -- he dreams they're on the boat again, bedded down in the old cabin with its warm air reeking of oil, fish, fuel and brine. A storm breaks on the water; the hull pitches, slants, throws him out of bed as the boat rolls upside down and he knows they're both going to die, knows it right up until the moment he gulps in a breath of clean air and is awake again in the stillness of space.

He'd been fifteen when it happened, strong and bright enough to get himself out of the rapidly flooding trap. But he hadn't been quite conscious. Falling from his bunk, he'd struck the back of his head, coming up dazed, slow, in and out of awareness. What he remembers is thick tumbling blackness, Evo's voice, the rush of cold water, an arm around his ribs. Nothing more until he was looking up at two moons, coughing out saltwater.

Evo had gathered a string of net-floats around them, and at first when Natan looked down, he thought the moon-bleached shapes were skulls. He'd been concussed; he could be forgiven for believing that he and Evo were somehow alive because a congregation of the dead bore them aloft.

Clinging together, the two living bodies and the dead white floats, they had no choice but to go where the storm would choose. It chose, right about sunrise, to ease its wrath and land them on a sandbar, where the mollusk-pickers would later find them, half-dead of hypothermia.

It was the last time they'd ever go fishing. Evo Krater was done with the sea.

The very next day, he took all the money he'd saved for ten years, and signed the lease of a crappy old lightrunner. The most laughable thing in the sky, but the best he could afford back then. In the space of three weeks, Evo the fisherman became Krater the merchant, and Natan went from navigating the bays to piloting the Leafhopper. He'd never even been into space before that; how he didn't get them both killed, he'll never know.

What he knows is that Evo has saved his life twice, and put his own life in Natan's hands more times than either of them could count. And now that life is in the hands of a stranger, a refugee, not even quite human -- and Natan has only an ear to the door, hearing nothing but the tide of his own blood flowing. He doesn't trust House, or hate him; he only wants back in.

If Evo drowns in this new storm, that old white string of skulls will pull Natan down too.

The five minutes this door has been closed feels like an eternity.

"He'll live," House says, as the door at last slides open. "It's a polymicronis virus. Hazard of those crappy Verge stations where you guys do business. Initial treatment is ... humiliating. You didn't need to see that."

The flush of relief makes Natan's legs wobble as he goes to Krater's side. Krater is awake, captive to his oxygen mask and, now, a dialysis loop strapped to his left arm. One tube taking blood into the cylinder, another feeding it out again, back into Krater's vein. Fleetingly Natan thinks that to House, this might be tainted food.

"How did we not find it?"

"This joint is too high-class. Good medical equipment comes from nice, clean Focus worlds where polymicronis doesn't exist. My portable spec is a knockoff job from a dirtier corner of space, so it knew what to look for. Give me your arm."

"Need blood?" Natan grins, giddy with knowing that it is over, that Evo will be all right. He ought not taunt the haemovore, but he can't quite resist.

"That or a stool sample," House answers. "Your choice. I prefer blood."

"Blood will be fine," Natan says. "Just ... not from the throat."

"Weird," House answers. "That's exactly what Wilson said."

"You're clean," House announces. "And I'm tired. I'm going to bed. See you at breakfast. And by 'see you at breakfast,' I mean I'd like you to be there, just to make sure nobody kills me."

House limps out, and Natan enters the highest security code as the door closes again. He's not sure why; it's not like another virus is going to walk in here and shoot someone. Maybe it was what House said. Make sure nobody kills me -- as if he thought someone still would, now that Krater will live. Natan lies down on the spare clinic bed, there beside his friend, and takes Krater's hand in his own, warming it.

"You should sleep, little bird," Evo murmurs. "You look almost as tired as me."

Natan will, but he's going to leave the lights on and a gun at the ready. Just in case.

"A fucking virus." Natan takes a deep breath, trying to accept that the danger is really past. "Can it really be that simple?"

Krater doesn't answer right away.
  • I love you guys. You add a simple sentence to a paragraph "The doctor is barefoot, wearing nothing but a thin ship-issue night tunic". It's the little things. The little extras you give us.

    I enjoyed learning about the relationship between Natan and Krater. I love those guys. I'm glad House was able to find out what was wrong. I especially liked the way he learned about Krater's virus. It wasn't from the expensive equipment that wasn't programmed to find old dirtier viruses but from his portable spec...such a typical House moment. LOL

    Favorite lines:

    "Initial treatment is ... humiliating. You didn't need to see that."
    "Weird," House answers. "That's exactly what Wilson said."

    Thanks! :D
    • We were somewhat concerned about our digression into the past of a couple OCs. Would anyone care? I mean, we did, but that didn't necessarily mean much.

      So it's great to hear that we didn't lose you there.

      Having noticed that people don't seem to read over the weekends, we'll be continuing this arc on Monday. But do feel free to chat with us in the interim. This has been so long in the making that we're just happy to talk to someone other than each other about it, finally!
  • Great update!

    Love the back story on Natan and Krater. I truly love how much detail you have put into each character. That's what make you story so great.

    That was a cool way for House to solve the mystery. I still don't trust Len though. I think he may cause some serious trouble for our boys.

    Looking forward to you next update on Monday.

    • Hi there!

      Thanks so much for talking to us. We're looking forward to Monday's post, too.

      As we said above, it felt risky to write so much about a couple OCs, so it's a relief to hear it worked for someone who wasn't us. It's interesting to us to create OCs and then put them in the same room with Wilson and House, and see what happens. For example, House is clearly less afraid of Krater than Wilson is, but is that because House is less inclined to believe Krater will kill them, or is it because House is simply less afraid of death?
      • With House I would imagine it is probably both. House has always been better at reading other people than most, but he also seems to be not afraid of dying.
  • (Anonymous)
    Still loving this. I like the bit of backstory for the OCs ... I think it's great that you put so much thought into them, making them true characters rather than just plot devices.

    Also, I felt like there was some parallel to the House/Wilson relationship. Obviously, H/W don't have the long history, but they are now intimately connected through circumstance. And this:

    "Clinging together, the two living bodies and the dead white floats, they had no choice but to go where the storm would choose."

    Sounds like what's happened to the boys.

    So, loved the update -- though I won't lie ... I miss H/W interactions when they're not there. : )
    • Those parallels you've noticed? You are right on.

      We feel we have to develop the OCs who are important to the plot, and take some occasional detours into who they are, how they think, and why. It gives depth to their interactions with House and Wilson, and gives the story -- which could otherwise get a bit claustrophobic -- some extra breathing room.

      By "breathing room" I mean: we get a chance to miss House and Wilson a little, and to be happy when we come back to them.
  • Hi!

    I've spent the last three days avidly reading Bad Company, Aftershocks and now Distress Call and I must say you are all geniuses.
    I usually don't care much for science-fiction and I don't like many OCs, and yet I love Distress Call like you wouldn't believe. I think you've found the perfect equilibrium between giving enough information for us to really "get" the characters, including the OCs, and not being so descriptive that we might get bored. The world you've created is a marvel of imagination and creativity and I LOVE progressively finding out more about it - the teasing hints of intergalactic wars, the Old Planet or different species of humans are a delight to read.

    The meeting and subsequent relationship between Wilson and House are both fascinating and delightful to read - the slowly building codependance (and really, is it so different than the show? :p) alternatively makes me grin like a loon or tears my heart apart (in the best way).
    Several moments that I particularly revere: House's reaction to Captain Jerome's lie about harming Wilson, the description House makes of day thirteen and his sort-of-happiness then (the way you described him biting the inside of Wilson's elbow and snuggling into him will probably with me forever), their little "deception" on Krater's ship (I can't deny it made my little slasher's heart sing with glee) and so many more...

    This comment is sort of disjointed, I'm sorry, but really I can't be expected to string coherent thoughts after such brilliance!!
    Thank you so much for all your hard work, I sincerely believe my life has been made better by reading this wonderful fanfiction and I'm sure I'll reread and rereread the first parts while religiously checking every day that you haven't posted a new one :D
    Thanks again,

    • Oh, my. We will take as many of these "disjointed" comments as we can get.


      the slowly building codependance (and really, is it so different than the show?

      We were hoping it wasn't all that different ... but hearing it from a reader is wonderful.

      don't care much for science-fiction and I don't like many OCs, and yet I love Distress Call

      Not sure how to thank you enough for this, but thank you. In a ficverse this large, it's unavoidable that we'll have a lot of OCs moving in and out of the story, and we just hope for the best -- that we can write them well enough so that readers won't walk away.

      We suggest you put this journal on your alerts so you'll know when we post new stuff. It is going to be a while before the next arc goes up; we have written a lot of it, but we put things through a pretty rigorous final-drafting and polishing-up process (and usually end up writing a lot of new story parts while we are at it). Between that and Real Life kicking a couple of our Collective butts, it can take longer than we'd like, but be assured that we are working on it even when there's radio silence.

      Thank you again, and we hope you'll keep talking to us. It's one of the best parts about doing this.

      Editing to add that in my pre-morning-coffee daze I missed this part:

      my life has been made better by reading this wonderful fanfiction

      ... and I don't know what to say except thank you again, and our lives have certainly been made better by writing together like this, so it's amazing to know we can share that with people who aren't us. Um. If that makes any sense.

      Edited at 2010-10-20 02:49 pm (UTC)
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