Title: Head, Heart, Soul
Notes: Is it too late to hop on the post "Wilson's Heart" bandwagon? I hope not! Either way, big thank you to the infallible enigma731 for being a great beta and a great friend.
Disclaimer: None of it belongs to me! I do not intend any copyright infringement on anybody's part and I am making no profit.
Summary: After Amber's death, things go from bad to worse: House's kidneys are failing and he and Wilson aren't speaking. But at his lowest point, House is reunited with someone who should be gone. House must decide if what he is seeing is just a figment of his mind - or if he is truly seeing ghosts.
A week before Amber Volakis begins to die, she is pretending that the floor is her bed and that her boyfriend is a pillow, although the latter illusion is infinitely more pleasant than the former. The rug leaves obnoxious lint balls on her shirt which are made even more loathsome by the fact that Wilson calls them “fuzzies,” and because Wilson has just come off a fifteen hour shift and was too exhausted to shower, he smells a little. But his arm is around her and he snores quietly and the lingering smell of antiseptic and pharmacy and chemotherapy bags is not that bad because it’s him – Wilson is not perfect, she is not perfect… but they make everything better for each other.
Five days before Amber Volakis begins to die, a man with the flu sneezes. Amber breathes.
Two hours before Amber Volakis begins to die, House ambles into a bar and orders a drink. The
alcohol slides bitterly down his throat, gets pumped through his liver, and into his blood. He takes another sip and lets his day fade away.
One minute before Amber Volakis begins to die, a garbage truck driver checks her watch. Her weekend with the kids starts in half an hour – but she started her route forty minutes late.
She only gets eight days a month with them and the streets aren’t too busy at this hour anyway. She presses her foot on the gas pedal and hopes that there aren’t any police officers patrolling the streets.
Ten seconds before Amber Volakis begins to die, she sniffles and thinks about what House will have to do to make this up to her. It takes her five seconds to open up her prescription bottle and swallow another pill, one to turn to House, and three to smile at him as she imagines lying that he drunkenly spilled his soul.
One second and then everything breaks-
(But not entirely.)
One Month Later
Just outside the window of Chase and Cameron’s apartment, the weather was somewhere in between pouring and drizzling. House listened to the irritating pings that the rain made against the window and clenched his fist. It wasn’t fair that three and a half weeks earlier, he had woken up vomiting with yellowed skin and white nails – all symptoms of kidney failure due to long term drug use. House wouldn’t quit Vicodin, he and Wilson hadn’t spoken in four weeks, and House didn’t think he could stand the vapid comforts of Cuddy’s home. Cuddy wouldn’t let him go back to his own place, alone, on the precipice of end stage kidney disease and Foreman would lecture him, so he was sleeping on Chase and Cameron’s couch by default.
So far, they had done all that he wanted: Left him the hell alone.
As per Cuddy’s instructions, they also made sure he didn’t die or take more than four thousand milligrams of Vicodin a day.
House hated this – this weakness, this being someone’s chore. Weren’t there ways around it?
“Go to rehab,” Cuddy had said. “Call your best friend.”
“Rehab can’t regenerate muscles. My best friend hates me,” House had responded flatly.
Cuddy had, of course, given him a sympathetic look and squeezed his shoulder; House had practically flinched away from her touch. Every sensation was fire, but every restraint – every time Wilson saw him in the hospital corridors and turned around, every time he looked the other way and pretended not to see – was a freezing wave that encrusted House, crushing everything and everyone near him until he was absolutely and utterly alone.
“Wilson doesn’t hate you,” Cuddy had whispered.
But House knew that he did.
Sitting up, House reached into his pocket and pulled out his bottle of Vicodin. He dry swallowed the two remaining pills; Chase and Cameron were very strict about adhering to Cuddy’s rules, House had no car, and he didn’t plan on setting foot in any public transportation vehicle for a long time. Tomorrow there would be more pills, although the stretch between now and then seemed to be forever.
House closed his eyes, sighed, and opened them-
There was a bright flash of blonde hair.
House’s breath came in quick gasps –inandoutandinandoutandinandoutandinandou
Just as suddenly as it began, it ended. Starting to breathe steadily now, House tried to rationalize – he’d practically memorized all of his excuses anyway: Chase and Cameron were both blondes. Either one of them could have invited a blonde friend over. And didn’t Cameron have a brother? House may have even seen a reflection of some TV show in the mirror. He had been having scares like this for three weeks, and was simply constructing his own horror film inside his mind. That was it, unequivocally.
Who House thought he saw was dead, what he thought had happened was impossible, she couldn’t be real: It could have been anything.
Cuddy visited him the next day, soaking wet and carrying three files, each as thick as her arms. “New patients?” House asked appraisingly as Cuddy surveyed him; he remained very conscious of the fact that he was looking worse each day. Small white crystals dusted his skin, which House knew were uremic frost. There were other symptoms that he still had the ability and dignity to hide – he hadn’t mentioned it to anybody, but his stools had become bloody, and under his long sleeves and dark pants that hung on him like clothes on a skeleton, he was bruised all over. None of it bothered him, though; in fact, staying in Chase and Cameron’s apartment was like taking a vacation from the world. This kidney problem was irrelevant, somehow – remnants of a life he no longer lived. Even as he continued to harm his body and experience the painful consequences of this, he felt an overwhelming disconnect with the wellbeing of his own physiology. House didn’t care what it took to stop the pain as long as it was, in fact, stopped. Everything else was just an abstract – more so than it had ever been before.
“No, no new patients,” Cuddy said, her eyes still glancing up and down House’s body as she pushed the files into his arms. There was a loud crash of thunder and the lights flickered. “Lots of old ones. I don’t expect you to come to work like this, but I thought that since you have so much time on your hands, you could take the opportunity to catch up on years of paperwork.”
House gave the files back to her and yawned. He had become increasingly lethargic in the past weeks. “Don’t think so.”
There was another crack of thunder and the lights went out completely this time.
Cuddy didn’t resist. “You look awful,” she announced to him, glancing around the darkened room. “I’m taking you down to 35 milligrams a day.”
“Great,” House said in a low, growling voice, his calm demeanor evaporating as he felt pain suddenly slice through his leg. “Now instead of dying of kidney failure, I can enjoy the peaceful and dignified death of choking on my own vomit during withdrawal. I guess the last few days of 4,000 milligrams of Vicodin have just been a pleasant and exciting taste of what’s to come – pardon the pun.” House paused. “I need more drugs, not less.”
There was a flash of lightning and Cuddy was briefly illuminated by it – the light seemed to be attracted to the facts House didn’t want to see on her face: bags under her eyes, shadows where they shouldn’t be under her cheekbones. She and House were both falling apart.
“Well, what do you expect me to do, House?” Cuddy said to him in a low, level voice, whispering even though they were all alone. “You’re killing yourself.” She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.
Angry as he was, House felt something in his chest give a little as there was another angry crack of thunder outside. But Cuddy took a step away without looking up to see him step closer. He felt the nerve cells in his leg coil into themselves, stinging and slashing each other, like a chain reaction of razors beneath his skin.
“You’ll be fine,” Cuddy stated in a calmer, steadier voice although she still sounded upset. “You’ll barely be home alone anymore and even then, that’s when I’ll schedule your dialysis treatments. I’ll give Chase and Cameron less hours, and I’ll make sure that their shifts never overlap so that you don’t even get the chance to die.” She practically spit the last few words out, as though House didn’t have the right to be angry or miserable or self-pitying or even the slightest bit realistic.
“Oh, come on!” House was speaking loudly now, and towering over Cuddy even as the pain swelled. “Kidney disease isn’t untreatable. You did go to a couple classes occasionally when you were in medical school, right, or were you too busy fu-”
“That is enough, House!” Cuddy hissed. “I’m leaving. I’m done with playing these ridiculous games day after day with you. The dialysis hasn’t made a damn difference, you know that. And in case you’ve forgotten, kidney disease is incurable and without a transplant, death is imminent when the patient refuses to help himself even a little bit and cut back on the stuff that’s making him ineligible for the only truly successful cure.”
She turned on her heel and House was almost content to listen to the sound of her shoe scuffing the floor, almost content to hear the door slamming, almost content to never see her again, but it was only almost, but –
-But Cuddy was already gone.
House was alone. And yet: he was not.
There was a rattling sound coming from the kitchen. House froze where he was standing and almost swayed on his feet; his cane was all the way across the room. Another noise came from the kitchen, the room becoming impossibly darker, the thunder roaring outside, the unbridled pain building and building to a peak and a crash that wouldn’t seem to come – resigned, House slid against the door and waited for it all to leave him behind.
An hour later, there were still noises coming from the kitchen. House was certain someone was in there, opening and closing drawers, going through the fridge, and he was in agony. His leg seemed to protest at every breath, phantom muscles writhing and twisting without relief: 40 milligrams was not enough.
House gripped the doorknob and attempted to pull himself up. He didn’t know how he would walk a step without his cane but he couldn’t imagine waiting another minute. Chase and Cameron had to have something he could take in their medicine cabinet – even if it was only a bottle of Cameron’s Midol, House could take enough to at least knock him out so he could sleep off his misery.
One hand against the wall at all times, House took a few slow steps, – if he fell, he didn’t think he would ever get up. Chase and Cameron’s place was small, but it took fifteen minutes for House to get from the door to their living room. From there, the couch would be in sight. Just a few more… He could almost see it…
“Looking for this?”
And standing in front of him, holding his cane between them, and looking as alive as ever – was Amber Volakis.
For the thinnest slice of a second, House was totally eclipsed by sheer and utter relief. Amber was there, she was ok, of course Wilson should forgive him now and everything would go back to the way it was, everything was the way it was…
And then – after that utter elation – the feeling faded.
The thing was, Amber was dead.
And dead people stay dead.
Amber’s cheeks were pink, her eyes were bright and sparkling, she was simply vivid, even in the dark – and she couldn’t possibly be dead when she looked that healthy. But at the same time, House knew that Amber couldn’t possibly be alive.
Every muscle in his body was still, every nerve was dulled, it seemed that even his blood had ceased to flow as House quickly came to the disappointing realization.
“I’m hallucinating,” he said. “I know that I’m hallucinating.”
“For a month, you’ve been hallucinating?” Amber asked slowly, almost teasingly – she knew the answer, he did not.
“It’s not unheard of,” House responded quickly. His breaths were shallow, but his mind was as clear as ever. “I’ve been depressed, I haven’t been sleeping, my body has been in withdrawal -”
Amber suddenly poked him in the chest with his cane, and House took a few steps back. “I don’t think you’re hallucinating,” she said.
House grabbed the cane and leaned on it heavily. Every one of his cells had suddenly roared back to life, and a cold sweat broke out all over his body. “Fine then,” House said. “Fine. What are you doing here, with me? You had a family, you had a boyfriend…”
“And yet you’re keeping from them,” Amber said coolly, pulling at the shimmering white hospital gown she was wearing. “Again. There are a lot of people I could visit post-mortemly, you know. Death hasn’t made me omniscient.”
House rolled his eyes. “My own hallucination is guilting me,” he muttered. “You know – I know – that this conversation isn’t real. I’m dreaming. I’ve passed out by the door.”
House paused carefully for a moment, wincing and regarding Amber at the same time.
“And you’re dead,” he finished.
“No, no you’re not. And yes, I am.”
House had a sarcastic response on his tongue but just then, both he and Amber heard the lock in the door turn. He turned to Amber, both startled and satisfied at the same time.
“Whoever is there is about to find me unconscious,” House said, leaning in. “And they’ll take me to the hospital and give me my Vicodin eventually, and you will be gone.”
The door opened, and approaching footsteps became audible. “That doesn’t seem to be the case,” Amber whispered to him, also leaning in. “I’m real, House - and I’m here for a reason.”
“House!” Chase’s voice rang throughout the apartment. “Where are you?”
With Chase’s footsteps becoming louder, House turned back to Amber quickly. “For what reason could you possibly--”
“There you are!” Chase said, pulling off his soaked jacket. “How long ago did the power go off?” he asked absentmindedly as he bent down and began rifling through a set of drawers for a flashlight.
House looked at Amber, looked at Chase, and froze. “Don’t you see her?” he asked quietly, urgently.
“What?” Chase looked up. “See who?”
“See--” House turned back to Amber – but she was gone.
House nearly lost his breath again. “I meant, didn’t you see her? Cameron. She said she was looking for you because she wanted to pick up dinner and didn’t know what you would want.”
“She would know what I would want,” Chase replied cautiously as he pulled out a flashlight and flicked it on. “Who did you see?”
House didn’t know how to respond. Chase was all right, but House couldn’t trust him with this – he would wind up in a psychiatric hospital before he could say “wombat.” Agitated, House said, “you heard me. She wants to try some new place.” His voice was cold and harsh, even to his own ears. “I’ll be in my room!” he called sarcastically as he hobbled to the couch, squinting.
Resigned, Chase rolled his eyes and wandered into the kitchen – no doubt about to report House to Cuddy.
Seated on the couch, House sighed and clutched his cane. His leg had begun throbbing again, and it wouldn’t be long now before the pain became too much for him to handle while conscious.
He closed his eyes and tried to nod off to sleep.
“I’m real,” Amber had said. “I’m real.”
The words buzzed in his mind until House fell asleep, wondering if he would think of anything else ever again.
Smoke and mirrors and nothing, nothing at all. House had rolled over on the couch to find he had been transported, somehow, to a blank world where nothing seemed to exist. How he had gotten there was not important, he could question it later, but even now as he looked around, that desperate curiosity, that insatiable need to discover the truth had evaporated. Here, it was not what mattered.
“Hello,” said Amber: She was in this place too. And once again, House instinctively knew that her presence was not to be wondered about or asked about – it simply was.
House opened his mouth to reply but found that he had no mouth – he didn’t even have a body.
Amber smiled at him. She looked exactly the same as she had in the apartment, right down to the drawstring of her hospital gown. “I need to tell you something,” she told him. “Without interruptions. You will be able to speak when you need to.”
House stared at her, as best he could.
“Isn’t it ironic,” Amber said in a cool, controlled voice. “That when you tried to kill yourself, I was the one you paged. And now that I’m actually dead – well, here you are.”
She leaned in to the place where House was, somehow. All at once, House felt omniscient and eternally trapped.
“Did you ever wonder if things got messed up somehow?” Amber asked him coldly. “Did you ever consider the idea that maybe you really did die all those months ago and what has happened since is your punishment? That just like how you couldn’t rescue me four weeks ago, I couldn’t rescue you six months ago? Is that what really happened?”
She looked directly at him and smiled. “Do you think it’s possible that this is your afterlife? That you’re going to be stuck here forever? That you’ll never escape, that ‘life’ will never change?”
Her smile quirked. “Maybe this is what it’s going to like from now on.” She laughed. “Ok. You can talk now.”
But House found that he had nothing, absolutely nothing, to say to her.
A volt of electricity woke House up: that was the only way to describe it. He gasped as he tried to breathe, but he couldn’t force his lungs to inhale; they seemed to be only contracting endlessly inside him. His whole body was gripped in a panic. Hot and cold sensations flashed through him, and he alternately shivered and sweated. House tried to breathe, but it was like all the air was trapped in his throat, caught by some sinister filter. “Help,” he tried to say, but the words weren’t there: they had been swallowed up along the way. There was only a sick choking noise – he sounded like a dying man – before he lost control completely and fell off the couch.
Chase and Cameron came rushing into the room. “House!” Cameron yelled, a hint of fear in her voice. She was in front of him in an instant, kneeling and looking straight at him.
“House,” she said. “House. Look at me. Breathe. Look at me. Calm down.”
Chase was next to him, rubbing his back in quick, firm circles. “The only way you’re going to get through this is to fight it off, House,” he said in a sure voice. “Come on.”
Cameron tilted House’s chin up. “Look at me. Look at me. Breathe.”
But House’s vision was narrowing, and soon Cameron was gone and Chase was gone and then he was alone in Amber’s blank world – but just when it seemed like the end, his body shuddered
painfully, and he somehow managed to inhale.
He was rasping, but he knew that for the moment, he would be ok. House glanced up to see Chase and Cameron exchange worried looks. “Oh, come on,” he said, his voice withered and pathetic to his own ears. “You were expecting this.”
Chase and Cameron sighed simultaneously. “I work in an ICU, she works in an ER – of course we were somewhat prepared,” Chase said.
“And panic attacks aren’t a sign of weakness, House,” Cameron added in a more comforting voice. “Given the way things are going in your life right now, it would practically be unusual if you didn’t have them. Plus, given that panic is a symptom of Vicodin withdraw--”
“Oh, come off it,” House interrupted harshly; Cameron looked stricken. “That wasn’t a panic attack. Fluid is collecting around my lungs; they’re inflamed. Of course,” he hiccupped, but began speaking again. “Of course I’m having trouble breathing.”
Chase looked grimly at House. “Your breath smells like ammonia,” he said.
Cameron nodded. “I noticed that too. And House, if you’re right – which I don’t think you are, by the way, because kidney failure really isn’t associated with breathing problems like the ones you just experienced, it’s mostly wheezing – then it still means that you’re getting worse.”
Although House was crouched on the floor of his former employees’ apartment, and more or less at their mercy, he was far enough removed from what his life used to be like and far enough removed from the episode he had just had to relax a little. But even as his shoulders began to sag, House was once again seized by sickness – without warning, he leaned forward and threw up on Cameron.
Chase immedietly began patting House’s back again to prevent yet another problem, but it was superfluous; House knew that he was done. “Good thing you’re wearing pajamas,” House said.
But Cameron and Chase weren’t laughing.
“That’s blood,” Cameron said, looking only at Chase.
“I know,” he responded quietly.
For a brief moment, it was though House wasn’t there – he wasn’t at all included in the silent conversation between Chase and Cameron and even though they were only looking at each other, House couldn’t ignore the strong feeling that he was intruding on something very private and very tender between the two of them. At times, it was difficult for House to remember that they were together, that they were a couple, and had been for over a year.
“We’re going to the hospital,” Chase said firmly, standing and pulling House up with him. “Come on.”
“I’m just going to change really quickly,” Cameron told them, hurrying into the bedroom.
House glanced at Chase, who had been watching Cameron go. “The hospital can’t do anything but monitor me better than you can. The dialysis isn’t working. I’m not going to get a transplant,” House said.
“I know,” Chase murmured, keeping his eyes trained to the closed door. “I know that.”