The Price of Friendship
by Jane Carnall
Buying a new body slave direct from Commerce could be a lengthy process. This time, James Wilson was opting for all the shortcuts. His new body slave was standing only a few yards away, wearing a light blue shirt, dark blue trousers, black shoes, wide grey Commerce collar. He was cleanshaven, and his hair was neatly trimmed and shaped round his face. Wilson had already declined to examine his purchase in a private room, or to witness a formal examination by a Commerce Agent.
"Do you wish to examine the site of the scar?"
Wilson looked over. His purchase was standing with his legs slightly apart, one foot crooked: it was an odd, almost graceful pose. Wilson had seen him stand like that before, without a cane.
The teratophiliac market was small and the body slaves available on it were expensive. No one can tell, Wilson told himself: no one has to know. He made his voice calm and indifferent, as if it were a matter of no consequence. "No."
The Agent who was dealing with his paperwork made another neat tick in a check box. "You accept your purchase on the warranty of the Commerce medical examination?"
"Yes." Many buyers of expensive body slaves would pay for an independent health check: Wilson's resources were not unlimited, and he'd opted to trust the file provided. From memory, it looked reasonably accurate.
"Do you wish to collar your purchase here?"
That should be the last question. Wilson heard it with a mix of relief and cold confusion: he had forgotten to buy a collar. "No," he said.
"Is this a temporary purchase?"
Wilson had no idea what that meant. His confusion must have showed.
"Do you intend to return the slave within two weeks of purchase?"
That might be a standard provision of the teratophiliac market, for all Wilson knew: all previous body slaves had been bought jointly with his first or his second wife, and they had never bought from any of the specialist markets.
"No," he said.
"You are legally obliged to purchase a validated collar from a Commerce-approved provider within two weeks of this date, and to return the slave's Commerce collar to us, which you may do at the outlet where you buy the validated collar, or via any Commerce agency. You may not return it by post."
"Yes," Wilson said. "I know." He must have sounded impatient, because the Commerce Agent dropped her eyes politely and apologised.
"Please sign here and here, sir," the Agent said, turning the form round and handing Wilson a pen. One signature confirmed his purchase of the slave "Greg", identity number such and such, the second agreed that Commerce could reclaim the slave with a 10% penalty should the purchaser fail to abide by the terms of the sales contract.
Wilson signed, twice.
"The slave's clothing is complimentary, sir," the Agent said.
"Thank you," Wilson said, absently, though a minute later he got a chill: he hadn't brought clothing for the man, either. "Could you call a taxi for me?"
He could now walk over to the man he had just bought. The Commerce guards wouldn't stop him. No one would.
"Let's go," he said.
The man looked up. His eyes were wide and pale blue in a pale face: he said nothing and made no sound. But he stepped forward - a halting gait, his right hand braced against his right thigh, moving his right foot with muscles that had been trained against nature to the task. Wilson gestured with his hand and the man went past him - slow but with a grace that made the awkward shuffling step look almost like a dance. Wilson stood still and watched, his heart stammering in his chest, till he realised what he must look like: a new owner gawping after his purchase, the slave he could now take home and fuck.
"Congratulations on your purchase, sir," the Agent said. Wilson nodded again. He went after House at a sober pace, and caught up with him well before the exit doors. He was hopeful that he had avoided appearing like a man who had just found and rescued his best friend.
The taxi had space enough for one person to kneel in front of the back seat. Wilson remembered to get in first, and sat down at one side: he expected House to sit down next to him.
He saw House bend and lean forward, as if - picking something up off the floor, Wilson thought, momentarily not processing what he saw - House on hands and knees, crawling into the taxi, head down. He jerked his right foot inside, turned, pivoting on his left knee, and closed the taxi door behind him. The driver moved off as soon as the door locked, and House's whole body jerked, not yet braced for the movement of the vehicle. He didn't make a sound. He shuffled himself round until his head was more or less aimed at Wilson's knees, and then went face down on the floor of the cab, bent at the waist, his hands flat on the floor, a huddled, humble position that looked like a slave expecting some extreme punishment at his owner's displeasure.
The taxi had reached the exit gates. "Where to, sir?"
The driver had to repeat the question twice before Wilson realised he was supposed to answer it. "Grosvenor Hilton," he said. He looked at House again, and his eyes jerked away. What if House didn't know him? What had Commerce done to him? What if Wilson had spent a small fortune, and separated from his second wife, and moved halfway across the country, and had got for his pains a shell of a man who didn't know him, who couldn't be his friend?
He stared out of the window at the passing streets, his stomach churning. He had just made the most expensive single purchase of his life, and if House wasn't House...
Wilson liked to think of himself as a calm, compassionate kind of man. He didn't like to think he would take out ill-temper or frustration on his slaves. He never had. At least, not except for some pretty extreme provocation.
He couldn't hand House back to Commerce. No matter what. Whatever state of mind House was in - even if House wasn't House, even there was nothing left of his friend -
What had they done? What had he done?
Wilson paid the taxi driver, overtipping lavishly - he always overtipped when he was upset - and leaned down to put a hand on House's shoulder. "We're here," he was going to say, when House lifted himself - the humble, flattened hands had been braced so he could push himself up and back out of the taxi, left foot first: within a minute he was standing, head bowed, on the sidewalk outside the hotel, holding the door open for Wilson to get out, just like any trained body slave would have, and following at Wilson's side, half a pace behind.
Wilson thought of stopping in the bar. He could use a shot of whisky. Or three. He could get drunk and put off for another hour, or another three hours, or forever, the moment when he and not-House were going to be alone in the same room together and Wilson was going to have to find out how far off being House this man was.
An elderly couple - late sixties, white hair, wife walked with a cane - are waiting for the elevator. They had a body slave, of course - the Hilton was the kind of hotel where Wilson had to formally explain at the desk that he would be buying a body slave within 48 hours before they would allow him to check in - and a very pretty, well-trained one: in public she always stood exactly between her two owners, hands clasped in front of her, head slightly bowed. When the doors open, both House and the blonde body slave entered, standing at the back of the elevator with their faces to the mirrored wall.
She was lovely: she would be lovely even without the comparison of House standing next to her. The elderly couple looked at him, and glanced away politely: they said something to Wilson about the weather, and he was sure afterwards he must have responded appropriately, sanely, though he couldn't think what he'd said.
Wilson shut the door and locked it. "Go on in," he said. "Are you hungry? Thirsty?"
House turned to face him. The same position, balanced with his right foot turned out, that he had taken in the Commerce centre. He put his hands behind his back. It all looked automatic. He said, as if by reflex, "If it pleases you, sir..."
His voice trailed off. He was looking at Wilson intently. His face didn't change expression. "Sir," he said. It sounded almost as if he were tasting the word. "Master."
"House," Wilson said. "Talk to me. Are you - " he broke off. He swallowed. "House. You - do you remember? I - you call me - " He put his hand on the back of his neck, trying to rub out the tension. "It's Wilson. I'm Wilson."
House's face didn't change. He nodded. After a minute, he said "I kept telling myself... you'd find me." There was a split second hesitation. His head dropped, and he was looking at Wilson's feet. "Sir."
"You don't call me sir," Wilson said.
House lifted his head again. There was an interested look in his eyes. "How long - did you plan to keep me for?"
"Forever," Wilson said.
Silence broke in the room. Wilson rubbed the back of his neck again. Their friendship had never been one for open declarations of commitment. "Yes," he said, of nothing in particular. "House, are you hungry? Tired? Thirsty? Can I get you anything?"
"I'm supposed to ask you that," House said. There was the ghost of sarcasm in his voice. He dropped his gaze again, and said to Wilson's feet, "Can I sit down?"
The hotel room had a pair of armchairs facing each other across a glass table: Wilson sat down in one and looked up at House, who had followed him across the room. He realised a moment too late to be comfortable that he needed to say "Sit down there" and point for House to take the other chair.
The room service menu was lying on the table. Wilson picked it up. He wasn't particularly hungry, but buying House food and making sure he ate it had always been part of their friendship: it would feel more normal if they could talk over food.
After he'd ordered - sandwiches, fries, chocolate brownies and coffee for two - he saw House looking at him oddly, but the other man said nothing at first: he stared at Wilson, his eyes huge in his lined face. He turned his head away, and looked out of the window: Wilson sat still, staring. House was thinner, and though his face had achieved a masklike lack of expression, the stress in the way he sat and moved made it seem like he was in permanent pain. He had read the specs in the slave's information file: he knew House's weight, knew Commerce had him on Tylenol for the pain (the file noted that the slave had been addicted to narcotics and alcohol when free), could see for himself that somehow House had been taught how to walk distances without a cane and without holding on to furniture or walls. House was a trained body slave now, which meant he could at minimum function as personal secretary... and sex toy.
"I don't want to have sex with you," Wilson said baldly, into the waiting silence. He was embarrassed.
House's eyes came back from the window to fasten on Wilson's face. His face did not change, but his voice held amusement. "You just realised this now?" He looked down. "We're in Chicago?"
"You didn't know?"
House shook his head. He braced his hands on the arms of his chair. "Knew I'd been moved. Didn't know where. Bonnie's not here?" House paused. "She's gonna be pissed," he added, almost clinically. "She doesn't want to have sex with me either."
House looked up. "What, already?" For the first time, Wilson saw a small frown crease his forehead. "How long was I... how long has it been?"
"October thirteenth," Wilson said. "You got taken by Commerce June tenth. I told Bonnie I was going to buy you, and she didn't object - " Well, not much, compared with her later fury " - but then I got news you were - you were going to be trained as a body slave, for the teratophiliac market - " And Bonnie had said -
"Your wife didn't mind you spending a few dollars on a broken-down charity case you could keep in the slave quarters and she could slap around any time she got pissed," House said, on a monotone, his eyes fixed on Wilson's face, "but when it turned out that would mean dropping a serious chunk of change on an expensive sex toy for a specific kind of fetish, she wanted a divorce."
"That's about it," Wilson said, trying to sound amused.
"They call it the gimp market, inside," House said. "How much did I..?"
"It doesn't matter," Wilson said.
House shook his head. He used his hands to lever himself to his feet.
"What are you doing?" Wilson was startled.
House went down. It was a controlled collapse, not a fall, but it didn't end with House on his knees: he flattened out on the floor, his knees wedged under him, face against the carpet next to one of Wilson's shoes, his hands spread, palm down.
"What are you doing? Get up!"
House jerked, lifting his head: he used his hands to push himself up, on to his hands and knees, and looked at Wilson, his face gone blank and pale again. "Do you want me to kneel?"
"No - Where were you going? Do you want something?"
"You ordered from room service," House said. "I can't get to the door very fast."
If this were any other body slave, Wilson realised, he would expect that reaction: body slaves get up to fetch and serve their owner. No body slave would sit in a chair waiting for food and drink to be delivered to them.
He had spoken sharply, and House had reacted as Wilson would have expected any slave to react to that tone - down on his knees, except House couldn't kneel, down on his face, ready for punishment, trying by submission to avert his owner's anger.
"You can't kneel," Wilson said.
"Not for very long," House said. He hadn't moved. He was still on all fours. His head dropped, so Wilson was looking at the back of his neck and thinning hair. "I can stay like this, for quite a while, if you want." He sounded... almost timid.
Commerce training instilled reflexes. Wilson swallowed. Real, unstoppable reflexes. Even though House knew Wilson, he was going to react, reflexively, like a slave, to an angry tone of voice or any other indication Wilson wasn't pleased with him.
The hotel's house rule was no guests without body slaves. The hotel staff would expect Wilson's body slave to behave like a body slave. If not, Wilson could find himself invited to leave - and he started his new job tomorrow and couldn't afford to arrive at work with all his luggage and a brand new body slave he hadn't even bought a collar for yet, let alone any clothing but complimentary pants and shirt from Commerce -
"I get it," Wilson said. "House. Get up, lie down on the bed, face down. Spread your arms and legs."
House looked at him. But he was obeying. Not quickly, but without delay, with that awkward kind of grace. He lay down on the bed, across it, putting his hands out so his wrists folded over the edge of the bed: he was tall enough that his feet were off the bed on the near side. Wilson got up and tugged the black Commerce shoes off, throwing them into the corner. There was a knock on the door. Wilson heard House let out a choking breath, and saw him spread his legs: his left went smoothly, his right dragged a few inches. Wilson called "Come in!" and picked up House's right leg in his hands, carefully moving it to the right, creating symmetry.
The door rattled. Wilson said loudly "Damn, I locked it," and went to the door, unlocking it and jerking it open. He went back to the chair he had been sitting in before, and the waiter came in, hesitating only momentarily when she saw the man on the bed.
"Your meal, sir," the waiter said. She set the tray down on the table. "Do you need further service?"
"I'll want more towels and lube," Wilson said. "Just have them left outside the door. I don't want to be interrupted again."
"Of course, sir," the waiter said, and backed out of the room. Wilson locked the door again.
"Can you get up?"
House rolled on to his left side and pushed himself up. He looked at Wilson. He was trembling.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Eat something?" Wilson said. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Are you okay?"
"For what?" House asked. He sat up on the edge of the bed, pushed himself to his feet, and began to walk, halting, to the chair. He was still trembling.
"How long is it since you had a painkiller?"
"I don't know." House went on walking in a straight line, focussed, till he reached the chair: he was shaking as he lowered himself into it, put his hands on his legs, and looked at Wilson. "I'm not hungry."
"Are you nauseous?"
House swallowed. He kept his head up. "I'll be okay if I don't eat anything," he said.
Wilson opened the minibar and got out a can of ginger ale. "Drink this," he said. He'd laid in Tylenol, but he hadn't thought about anti-nausea meds. He gave House a pill: he was startled to see House take it with a mouthful of ginger ale without even being told. Each sandwich was plated with chips and a minature green salad. "Try to eat something," Wilson said again, pushing the plate at House. "Don't force yourself. Maybe I can order some soup, later."
House looked at the bed. He went on drinking from the can, eating a few of the chips. Wilson ate one of the sandwiches, stole the pickles from House's sandwich, and a few of the fries: he'd expected House to take the larger share of those. House said finally, "When do you go back to New Jersey?"
Wilson had been lost in thinking all the things they needed to get done before House could leave the hotel room - buy clothes, shoes, figure out pain meds, anti-nausea meds, oh God a collar, and he said abruptly, "I don't. We don't. I have a job at Chicago Memorial Hospital, in their oncology department, starting tomorrow. I'll need to leave you alone here all day, but - " He had had all the alcohol cleared out of the room's minibar. "Will you be okay?"
"Are you going to tie me up?" House asked. His voice was perfectly level. "Chain me to the bed? Hood me and gag me and leave me naked face down on the floor and beat me if I move?"
Wilson froze in the act of reaching for one of the chocolate brownies. He stared at House, who stared back at him. "No!"
"Then I'll be okay," House said. He looked at the sandwich on his plate.
Wilson had lost his appetite. He looked at House, who wasn't looking at him: he was staring at the sandwich as if it was the most interesting thing in the universe.
"You couldn't possibly afford to buy me," House said, after a while. He still didn't look at Wilson. "Commerce reckons medical costs in Escrow into the price of gimp market slaves. I don't know exactly what I cost, but it was more than you could afford at your old job, and you just changed jobs. If you take me back in the same condition you got me in, within two weeks, you get at least half your money back." He looked at Wilson: his eyes were wide and pale. "You don't have children. You could end up at Commerce if you get too far in debt. You can't afford me."
Wilson shrugged. "I didn't go into debt to buy you. I still have enough in savings to cover emergencies. Bonnie agreed to take the house in lieu of alimony. Don't eat me out of pocket on room service."
House shook his head. He wrapped up the sandwich in the napkin. His hands moved neatly. He looked at Wilson again. "You're not lying," he said, with an echo of House's old curiosity. "But you couldn't afford me."
"Well." Wilson rubbed the back of his neck. "The main reason Bonnie wanted a divorce? We'd had her three years. Her resale value was pretty high. I had enough to pay the difference between your price and hers. Only it turned out Bonnie wasn't tired of her yet." House's eyes were widening, his mouth changing shape: it looked as if he was going to cry, and Wilson had no idea how he was going to deal with that, or what had triggered it. "I sold Alison."
Afterword: This story was written as a one-part section called "The Cripple" for my long story, "The Games" (in which Greg re-appears eventually as a secondary character). But I think it also works as a short story in its own right, even if you have no familiarity with the background of this universe.
Please post a comment on this story.
Legal Disclaimer: The authors published here make no claims on the ownership of Dr. Gregory House and the other fictional residents of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Like the television show House (and quite possibly Dr. Wilson's pocket protector), they are the property of NBC/Universal, David Shore and undoubtedly other individuals of whom I am only peripherally aware. The fan fiction authors published here receive no monetary benefit from their work and intend no copyright infringement nor slight to the actual owners. We love the characters and we love the show, otherwise we wouldn't be here.