SUMMARY: It's over at last, right?
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 sixth chapter of Part Five. Earlier chapters are New Hires, Scavenger Hunt, Krater, and Rock and A Hard Place. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
The Hotel California is out of control, falling into the gravity of some unnamed star a thousand light years from nowhere. Wilson can't remember how it happened; there must have been an asteroid, a piece of space junk maybe, something; there was an impact, and now there's smoke, and he can barely see, and the hull is melting down. Nobody's answering his frantic SOS.
At least House isn't here.
He can't breathe. The air is orange, then yellow, then bright blue-white. The flames blot out his vision, engulf his clothes, and --
Darkness. Silence. His heart's still pounding so he's alive; the air is cool across his face. It takes a few seconds, drawing in a long, slow breath, but finally he remembers, and he's glad he didn't call out and draw the attention of whoever might be listening. Just a nightmare, his cruel brain deciding that reality isn't bad enough.
There is only one intersection between dream world and real one, and that is: House isn't here. Whether this is cause for mild alarm or acute panic is anyone's guess, and Wilson's still guessing when the door opens and a familiar limping silhouette appears. The door slides shut again, leaving them in blackness, but presently House is there, clambering onto the bed.
"What happened?" Wilson has the distinct sense of having slept through something important.
"Saved the patient's life while you were napping." House's weight on the bed changes it, and the shifting, the evidence of solid bulk, relieves the last sensations of falling helpless through space.
"You ... solved it? What was it?"
"Polymicronis bug, doubtless from Eastleg Round's purveyors of fine interplanetary foods. Now shut up and go to sleep."
"Is Exeter Station in a different armpit of the galaxy. Our boys did business there." For a guy who just saved his patient's life and therefore his own, House doesn't sound very happy.
"Are you okay?"
"Might be, if you would a. shut up and b. go to sleep." House's callused hand curves itself around Wilson's throat, and it feels strangely not-alarming. "Your pulse is pounding," House says, and sighs. "Do I have to do everything?"
The next thing Wilson feels is a swift, sharp bite to his bicep.
He wakes up because House is gripping his shoulder, shaking him. "Get up," House says. "I worked graveyard; you get the morning shift. If you're a very good boy I'll even bring you some bread crusts for breakfast."
Good morning to you, too, Wilson thinks. He's not awake enough yet to bitch ... and House does have a point. Wilson got more sleep last night than House did.
House is already sailing out the door, but Krater, if he's awake, will tell Wilson anything he needs to know. What treatment House prescribed, where he left his notes, any other pertinent facts. If Wilson asks politely, maybe Krater will even explain how he knew about Brielle and why he wasn't afraid to bring a haemovore onto his ship.
Wilson rolls out of bed wondering what it says about him that the thought of talking to Krater makes him feel better rather than worse.
"Good morning, Doctor." Krater's voice is flat, his face without any hint of a smile, and that seems very wrong. His usual expression is one of mild amusement at a joke Wilson doesn't understand.
He's propped up in bed, his ethertab standing upright on the cart beside him, where his breakfast ought to be. Instead, he'd using the 'tab as a monitor, and is watching the crew assemble for their meal. Surveillance seems to be a normal part of life on the Zelushka, but this is the first time Wilson's seen Krater himself doing it.
"Is ... is something wrong?"
Krater keeps his eyes on his crew. "With me? No. I am getting better."
Some kind of criminal politics, maybe; Wilson decides to let it go. He's got to change out the dialysis filter, re-test for viral load levels and calibrate treatment according to body mass and severity of infection. Trouble is, the readings don't make sense. It's been a long time since he used a d-loop, but the display modes are pretty standard, and this one ... isn't set for a viral scrub. "Did House ... mention anything about a toxin?"
"Not to you, apparently." That odd half-smile flickers across Krater's face. He nods toward the nearest counter. "My actual treatment notes are on that sheet of paper. He did not enter them into any of our systems, either. Your bloodthirsty friend has been trying to protect you."
"From my bloodthirsty friend." Krater's smile is gone. "I only need to know which one of them it is. Do your job, Doctor Wilson, and then kindly have a seat."
Wilson's job isn't difficult: a few chelating agents, a fresh filter pack for the d-loop, and a hefty injection of neurogenic drugs, to start undoing the damage from the poison. House had been right all along.
Breakfast, on the monitor, is full of happy chatter; the crew are all talking about what they'll do next, once their captain is back on his feet. A job at Yersha Moon, maybe a trap for the Fourtwenty crew, maybe this or that. Nobody speculates on the fate of Krater's doctors.
Joris shoves a tall, narrow bottle toward House's plate. "Here, Doctor," he says, grinning. "Put some moliska on it!"
House picks it up, squinting at the label. "The hell is this? It's always on the table, but nobody eats it."
"Only Krater is that insane," says Natan.
"No," says Dobie, "just tastes like it dribbled out the wrong end of a sea-squawker."
"Is there a right end?" House uncaps the bottle, blinking when he takes a sniff. "Fermented ... shellfish and mushrooms? And plenty of sea salt. How bad could it be?"
The men snort and make squinting, wrinkle-nosed faces. "Worse than bad," Len insists. "It's fucking vile."
"Oh, go on, try it," Tusko says. "Krater puts it on his toast."
"And his meat," says Joris.
"And his eggs," Dobie adds. Everyone but Len is grinning.
"Really," Len says, when House tips the bottle over his plate. "Don't. You're an asshole, but even you don't deserve that."
"Interesting." House is being generous with the thin brown sauce. "If it were me," he continues, "I'd be vidding this for the laughs. And you're even more of a bastard than I am. So ..." House pauses to take a bite, scrunching up his face at the flavor. "Either you magically became a nice guy, or there's a reason you don't want me to eat this. Maybe you think it'll make me sick." House takes another bite, and another, sopping up the excess liquid with a piece of bread. Poisoning himself, Wilson thinks. He's poisoning himself. The whole table has gone quiet and still, but House is only looking at Len.
"Cool," House says. "You are having a serious stress response. Pulse, breathing, muscle tension. Pupil dilation. You're the only one, so you know something nobody else knows. Well, except me, and I didn't know until just now."
"You're a fucking charlatan," Len growls. "I should --"
"No, you should shut up," says Natan, quietly. Wilson's been watching House and Len; he'd forgotten about Natan -- who has now got a small but vicious-looking electron pistol aimed at Len's head. "If he's wrong, it's his loss. Go on, House."
"Krater lied in his announcement this morning. He never had polymicronis. What I actually found last night was a phosphate-group poison." House scoots his chair back from the table, looking around with a calmness he can't possibly feel. "We didn't find it sooner because someone deleted its pathogen profile from your spec array. And your organic scanners, which should have caught it when Dobie and I did the sweep."
"Does that ..." Joris stammers, "... m-mean he's still --"
"Krater's going to live," House assures him, "but someone else on this boat is going to die."
Dobie's response is to pull a pistol of his own, aiming it not at Len but at House. "We can settle this," he says. "We took a brand new crate of dogs -- scanners -- in trade last month. Never even opened 'em up. Joris?"
"Yes, sir," Joris answers, and takes off running, presumably for the hold.
"Keep that thing pointing at me if it makes you happy," House says to Dobie, "but I'm about to make myself throw up. Take me to a sink or I'll do it right here. Your choice."
Dobie groans, but points the pistol at the door into the kitchen, and follows House inside.
"Hellen," Krater says, without looking away from the 'tab. His voice is flat, and his soft native accent has come out of hiding. "Hellen Dubrissa."
"I ... Hellen?" Wilson's head is spinning; Krater touches the monitor and the screen divides in half. On one side is House, retching into the kitchen sink beneath Dobie's watchful eye; on the other, Natan holds Len at bay. It's like some cheesy crime-vid, come to life -- guns, the big reveal, more guns ...
Who the hell, Wilson wonders, brings pistols to the table? His mouth is drier than the Exeter desert. He steals a glance at Krater, but the man's attention is riveted on the drama playing out in front of him.
"If your mother named you Hellen, you would change it. He has stood between me and the grave, doctor. So many times. If this is true ..." he trails off, pulling the ethertab closer and turning up the volume. Wilson's watching for reasons of his own; if they kill House --
"There'll be residue," House says, wiping his mouth as he comes back from the kitchen, still hostage to Dobie. "Whoever handled the poison will have absorbed trace amounts, so --"
"Trust me," Dobie says, "we who deal in weapons know all about that shit. And anyone on this boat is smart enough to hack a couple machines. So we're not accusing my friend, the head of fucking security, of anything until we have some fucking evidence. Pass me the khaffe, will you? Mine's getting cold." Dobie and his gun are scaring the shit out of Wilson. Shooting someone ought to be a big damn deal, not something you may or may not do over breakfast.
He's been hanging like this between life and death, he realizes, since the moment he woke up alone on the California. He's sick, sick, sick of it, and even if nobody shoots House, he's just fucking poisoned himself. And he's a haemovore, so who the hell knows if that stuff will kill him in an hour, or just put him off his food, or do nothing at all, but the first thing is for them both to live long enough to find out.
"You don't suppose," Wilson says, "that kid could hurry it up?"