SUMMARY: They play cards, drink too much, and watch new alliances form.
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 eighth chapter of Part Five. Previous chapter is Natural Consequences. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
They end up at Dobie's by default. It's not that nobody else likes them; it's not even that they're not the heroes of the day. They are, but they are also walking, talking reminders that Len Dubrissa poisoned Evo Krater. These guys loved Len, and he betrayed every one of them, and that's one of those things that isn't easy -- even if you're a heartless merchant of death. Wilson doesn't take it personally that they just want him and House to go away.
Of the seventeen men on this ship, only Krater, Natan, and Dobie will talk to the doctors now.
Krater's recovery is a slow process, which he's already endangered by being up and around too much today. Executions, Wilson thinks, must really take it out of a guy. He tries to imagine it, living with someone for years, the way Krater did with Len, and then discovering ... and having to end it. Because there's no court, no cops, no trial; only the law of the gun, out here.
Wilson had pulled himself together, earlier. Went to talk to Krater on his own, saw the grief up close, with clear eyes. This evening after dinner, he let House get a nap, and went to the infirmary to tend their patient. It was nothing complicated, anyway, just a few quiet minutes of tests, some doses of neurogenic agents, a fresh IV. Krater has to spend one more night this way, with monitors and a chelation drip.
Natan, Wilson hardly feels he knows at all. He'd wondered if Natan was still talking to him and House because Natan was the only guy on the crew who didn't care that Len was dead. Then Natan showed up at the clinic, looking every bit as much out to sea as he'd ever been. Wilson's had no chance to figure out why. When Natan's not at Krater's side, he's up at the helm, wherever that is.
So Wilson's back in their quarters, again. House is scrolling relentlessly through the same roster of vid feeds, refusing to just watch something, driving Wilson insane. Until there's a sound at the door.
"You get it," House says. "Cripple here."
Wilson's not sure what he's expecting, but it isn't this: Dobie, the human hew-oak tree, with a social invitation.
"Yes," Wilson says, before Dobie has even finished asking the question. "Yes, of course!"
He's had quite enough time alone in small rooms with House.
House cuts the cards, shuffles, then cuts them again.
"So what's the cult?" he says.
Dobie blinks at him. "Huh?"
"You, Natan, and Krater all have those. In the corner." House nods in that direction, at the small painting tucked back on a shelf. Faded colors on soft, weatherbeaten wood, a cloaked woman with long, pale hair holds out her hand. A starfish, a shell, it's hard to distinguish in the half-light. A gift from the sea.
"Oh." Dobie takes another long pull of ale. "No, not a cult. Krater gave it to me -- it's some kind of good-luck charm. From that place he and Natan grew up, the fishing village. Hrohn, I think it's called." He looks contemplatively at the two cards House has given him. "Can't pronounce her name the way they can," he says, "so Natan calls her Lady of the Waves, Krater calls her The Grey Lady."
"And what do you call her?"
"Decoration. Luck won't stop a slug from an electron pistol." He lifts up the corner of one card, puts it back down and taps the table for another, but his gaze has turned inward. "Len had one too, but now you mention it, it wasn't in his cabin. Wonder what happened to it." He looks at the new card and shakes his head.
"Hit me again," he says.
Dobie refills his mug of ale and leans back in his chair. "Last time I played cards like this was in a bar at Eastleg Round. Wouldn't have bet so much if I knew one of those guys was a damn Alchemist."
They've been playing for hours; House thinks it's at least two and half, maybe three, but the chronometer's not in his line of sight.
"Alchemist?" Wilson raises his eyebrows.
"And the other players," House says, "were a werecat and a unicorn."
"Well, the unicorn didn't last long," Dobie allows, "on account of hooves aren't so good for holding onto cards. But when he folded, we dealt a vampire in."
"Seriously." Wilson seems determined to ruin the joke. "What's an Alchemist?"
House and Dobie both stare at him.
Dobie takes another long sip of ale as if to brace himself. "You never heard Alchemist stories. Tell me again what hothouse Focus planet you come from?"
"Delphus. Delphus Corporation."
Dobie nods like that explains everything, and House feels his own lips twitch in a smile.
"You know your history," Dobie says. "Big Bang, planets cooling, one-celled organisms, the whole nine yards. They did show Origin of Worlds on Delpuss on Saturday mornings, didn't they?"
"Delphus," Wilson says firmly. "And yes, they did, and do we really have to go that far back?"
"We do if you want to understand what an Alchemist is."
"Let's cut to the chase," House interrupts. "Mythical First Race, untold archaeological riches, lots of impossibly cool tech stuff. The planet Trismegistus is their heirs, or maybe just wants to be. They send out guys called Alchemists to steal the artifacts, won't let anyone else in on the action." He turns to Dobie. "So what did this will-o-the-wisp look like?"
"He called 'em First Sojourners," Dobie observes. "The 'First Race' people."
"I don't care if he called them his grandmother's chamber pot. Come on, spill."
"So you're saying ... " Wilson's still trying to catch up.
"He was tall," Dobie says, the cards on the table forgotten. "Like you," he says, nodding at House, "just a little heavier. Dark hair, long, tied in a braid down his back." He thinks for a moment. "Had a smile like a Feruvian muskcat."
"I've ... never heard of those, either," Wilson says. "But I think I saw that expression on Eggie. So do Alchemists really exist, or not?"
House shrugs. "The Trismegi exist," he says. "Secretive bastards, by all accounts; supposedly excellent at spying. Probably how they got whatever nifty tech they actually have. I can't imagine how all these absurd stories would spring up about 'em." In fact, he can imagine. He thinks the Trismegi are probably haemovores, and learned the hard way that it was best to keep a very low profile, and a very sharp eye on their neighbors.
"So you're saying ... "
"What I'm saying -- "
"He's trying to say that as a logical, coldblooded GMD, Alchemists don't exist." Dobie drains the last of his ale and thumps the bottle down on the table. "But as a logical, coldblooded gun runner, I say they do." He swipes at his mouth with the back of one large hand and burps. "C'mon. New game."
An hour or two later, one hefty jug of ale is gone and House has lost two out of three rounds. They're only wagering for stories, though -- lose and you have to tell whatever tale you threw into the pot. House is just getting started on the one about Eggie's short-lived exotic animal trade when Dobie gets a ping on the com.
"Natan," he says. He sounds surprised. "Krater all right?"
"Yeah, fine. Sleeping. I ... you have the doctors, with you?"
Wilson's already getting up, ready at a moment's notice to charge to the rescue.
"Card game, yeah. You need 'em? Or you just wanna join us?"
Natan, who had been every bit the confident, cocksure Pilot, has gone all cautious and uncertain now that the crisis is past. He walks in slowly, like he thinks he might not belong here, and he's brought an expensive-looking offering. Something clear as water in a tall, crystal bottle. A bold blue and white label shows off a ... brown lumpy shape.
Upheaval in the power structure, House thinks. They have to find their places all over again. It's a regular musical chairs.
Dobie looks, and then looks again, at that bottle in Natan's hand. "Potato vodka," he says, awe-stricken. "Where the hell did you get potato vodka?"
Natan grins. "Next time we're there," he says, "I'll show you."
They're still talking, telling stories, playing games well past midnight. Dobie and Natan are building something between themselves, out of childhood stories and glasses of liquor and the knowledge that neither one of them would be sleeping tonight anyway.
Even Wilson's no longer talking like he's got a boot up his butt. He gives the potato vodka a try, blinks rapidly and declares he'll stick to the ale, so House snatches up the tiny vodka-glass to try it for himself. He quickly decides Wilson is right, and ... kind of fun when he's like this. House reminds himself to get the guy drunk more often. Then reminds himself that there won't be a 'more often.' Wilson's a vulgaris, not a pet. They'll cut the biological leash and he'll be gone, back to getting drunk -- or staying sober and boring -- with his own kind.
But right now Wilson, because he's drunk, loses another game and explains how he learned about sex way before he ever had that class in rearing school. He was six and she, the predator who trapped him in the craft supply cupboard, was eight. House laughs until he almost falls out of his chair. "But what the hell," he says, "is rearing school?"
"Tell me again," Wilson says, slurring a bit, "what savage Verge planet you come from?"
Wilson hasn't asked what time it is. One thing he'd learned in med school is that if all you're going to get is three hours' sleep, or two, you're better off not knowing.
He wobbles into the hall beside House, squinting in the brightness. Dobie's place was nice and shadowy, and Wilson's eyes don't appreciate the shift. "Ugh," he says.
"So hurry up," House replies. "You remember the way we came?"
"Um. No." He ... thinks he might remember, but he's only good with directions when he's sober. Yet another thing he learned in med school.
"Good thing I'm a genius," says House. He belches a belch Dobie would be proud of and pulls Wilson into a listing left turn. "Come along, nightcap."
Wilson snorts and falls into step with him as best he can manage. The floor feels like one of Tuuvi's suspended piers, a platform held aloft by ropes, swaying softly beneath his weight. It's ... kind of nice, really. He's just drunk enough, no more and no less, although he probably won't turn down that nightcap House mentioned.
They bob happily down the hall a few more yards before it dawns on him. I'm the nightcap.
"Yes, you are." House smirks at him, so Wilson guesses he said that last thing out loud. "And you have a high alcohol content."
"Not as high as last time, though." He remembers it well, the last time the two of them made their inebriated way down a hall and into bed. "Spider Wars an' redpile bourbon. That ..."
"Was fun," House supplies, and it was, and damn if Wilson doesn't want something more than being drunk, even perfectly drunk the way he is now. It's not the same thing, the way it feels in his bones when he's been bitten and he's falling into that deep, soft voracin-sleep.
"Fun," Wilson agrees, but then grabs House's sleeve and stops him. "Fun, until it wasn't, an' you know damn well why not. Now, we can do it again, I don't mind." He raises his other hand, pointing a finger at House's chest and then missing and prodding him by mistake. "I don't mind, House, but this time?"
"This time, in the morning, no shoving me out of bed."
House bends forward until his breath is warm against Wilson's ear. "Fine," he agrees, in a low, low voice. "Amnesty. But just this once."