A/N: This story is a companion to "Stray" and you really should read it first, or it won't make much sense. I know I said I wouldn't write the sequel and that I certainly wouldn't explain how exactly Wilson got turned into a cat. Mostly because I had no idea myself. Well, like the Doctor says, never say never ever. It's going to be more serious than "Stray", but there should be some funny moments later on.
This story is a crossover with Neil Gaiman's "Sandman", which you certainly should read, because it's brilliant, but you don't have to be familiar with that verse to follow it. In addition to the standard disclaimer (see my profile) – everyone and everything you recognize from the comic, including the quote for this story, belongs to Neil Gaiman and/or the artists who worked with him on "Sandman".
Anyway, here goes. With special dedication to everyone who demanded a sequel, especially Eryaforsthye, who promised me e-cookies of love,and Ritulia, who translated "Stray" into Russian (that still blows me away).
"Dream casts a human shadow, when it occurs to him to do so."
Wilson noticed the man right after he had ordered his drink. It would be hard not to. He was not the kind of a person one usually meets in posh hotel bars. Thin, dressed in long, flowing coat, wild black hair falling over his face, skin impossibly pale – he certainly stood out.
Probably some kind of a rock star, decided Wilson. He glanced couple more times at the stranger and tried to figure out if he was anyone he'd heard about.
The man looked over his shoulder, scanning the dimly lit room, searching for someone. There was something not quite right about the way the shadows played on his face, the way the darkness hid his eyes more deeply than it should. His gaze swept over Wilson and lingered there for a second. Wilson looked down immediately, turning his glass in his hands and feeling ridiculously embarrassed, like a little kid caught doing something he shouldn't.
"...there! See, there he is! My brother, that's him, over there, and I think I'm late, but I don't know, there was something..."
There was a girl standing in the entrance. The hotel security guard was holding her arm and she was pointing at the pale stranger at the bar. Wilson stared. So did most of the patrons and the bartender. It would be hard not to. Her hair was hanging in limp, multi-colored strands over one side of her head, and cropped short on the other. She was wearing torn fishnet stockings, an equally torn black t-shirt, almost long enough to cover her knees, and a leather jacket, several sizes too big for her small frame.
"I was supposed to remember. I'm better at remembering now. But then I saw this girl and I gave her a smile and she gave me one, so we both have a smile now, but it's not the same smile, you know. Isn't that nice? Did you know that the street outside smelled like color blue?" the girl finished her bizarre tirade and looked up at the confused guard with a wide smile.
The man at the bar walked towards her and she took a small step back.
"I'm sorry I forgeted, don't be mad, Dream!" she exclaimed in a high, trembling voice.
The stranger spoke briefly with the guard and the girl, but Wilson couldn't catch even a single word of their conversation. He felt slightly guilty about eavesdropping like that, but there was something about the two that didn't allow him to turn around and mind his own business. Something familiar, something he should remember...
"I could teach you how to smell colors," said the girl to the guard. "But I don't think you'd like that, not for long."
The man, her brother, who was halfway back to the bar, spoke over his shoulder. "Go to our room, Del."
The girl waved at him and half-walked, half-staggered out.
The chair the stranger had occupied earlier had been taken by a middle-aged blonde woman, who Wilson recognized as one of the guests at the convention. The strange man looked around and finally walked up to Wilson.
"Is this seat taken?" he asked, pointing to a chair next to him.
"No, go ahead," said Wilson.
The stranger nodded and sat down, without looking up once. They sat in silence for a few minutes and Wilson felt more and more uncomfortable with every passing second.
Finally he stunned himself by blurting out, "Is your sister all right?" and immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry, I don't know what's gotten into me," he apologized. "It's none of my business."
The man looked at him for the first time. For a second Wilson thought he saw just blackness where his eyes should be, two pools of darkness, with a distant spark of electric blue in the center But then he blinked and the illusion was gone. Of course it was gone, that would be completely absurd...
"She's as fine as she can be, these days," answered the man after a long pause.
"I'm sorry," said Wilson. "I know how hard that can be."
"Do you," said the man, his voice barely above the whisper.
"My brother... He's been sick since he was a teenager and I couldn't help him. I tried, but... I still hope he's out there somewhere. That maybe I can find him again."
Why did I say that? thought Wilson, puzzled. He never spoke about his brother, not even with House, not even with his wives. Why would he tell a complete stranger?
"What would you do if you found him?" asked the stranger, looking intently at Wilson.
"I'd get him help. The best facility, the best doctors there are. I'm a doctor myself, I know people who'd be able to help him get better." He took a sip of his drink. "Or... If he can't get better, at least he'd be somewhere safe, warm. He wouldn't be cold and hungry and alone, out on the streets."
He glanced at the other man, hesitated for a moment. "I could... give you some names, some phone numbers?" he said in the end.
"Of doctors... Del? That's your sister's name, isn't it? Maybe someone could help..."
"No," said the stranger.
"No," the man repeated. "But I thank you for your kind offer."
Wilson searched for something else to say, but nothing came to him. He spent next five minutes in growing discomfort, thinking miserable thoughts about his lost brother and his best friend, well on his way to becoming just as lost. He downed his drink and looked up, not sure if he wanted another one, or if the feeling of helplessness smothering him should rather be ignored than drowned.
"What's your brother's name?" asked the stranger, startling Wilson.
"Danny," he said. "Daniel Wilson."
"I could ask my sister about him."
Wilson laughed. "What makes you think she'd know him? I don't even know which state..."
"She knows him," said the man, his voice calm and certain. "She knows all of them."
That was a strange answer. Maybe Del wasn't the only one in the family with problems...
"I seriously doubt that," said Wilson. "And even if she did, the interrogation is the last thing she needs."
The man nodded. "As you wish," he said.
In the far corner of the room the piano players started the evening's performance. The slow, flowing jazz improvisation washed over Wilson, making him think about House.
"I'll have another," he gestured to the bartender, who replaced his empty glass with a full one.
Wilson took a sip and slumped in his chair, his mood darkening even further.
"I'd probably not be able to help him even if I could find him," he sighed. "My best friend is about to self-destruct and I can't find a way to help him either. And he's right here, I see him every day at work, I talk to him every day, and I still don't know what to do."
In the back of his mind he was wondering what made him talk about his past failures and his fear of history repeating itself, but for some reason the thought seemed like a distant echo, not important at all.
"I don't understand why he's doing it, why he can't accept that there are people who want to help him. He can't even admit that he needs it."
He looked at the stranger. "Your sister... you have a connection, I could see that when you spoke with her. I... I used to have that too, me and Danny, we were really close when we were growing up. And now... I lost him. If I met him tonight, we'd be strangers. And House is... I don't know. I don't understand him any more. I don't know how to reach him."
Wilson shook his head, suddenly feeling as if he was waking up, his distant discomfort and awkwardness of the situation jumping straight to the front of his mind. He put down his glass, splashing some whiskey on the bar and on his hand.
"I'm sorry. I think I should turn in now," he said, feeling the overwhelming urge to escape.
The stranger offered him a thin smile. "Yes," he said, "a good night's sleep will probably make you feel better."
Wilson paid for his drinks and hurried to the elevator, suddenly very, very sleepy.
The strange man sitting alone at the bar looked at his retreating figure, highlighted against the bright rectangle of the door. For a fraction of a second a blue spark lit in his impossibly dark eyes.
"Sweet dreams," he said and smiled.