I really like this chapter. It ends with a bang, which is cool - I never get to write cliffhangers in one shots. And Wilson is in it! As a matter of fact, the whole cast is in this chapter - minus the Newbies, LOL. They get mentioned in the next chapter though, so its ok. :)
Enjoy, everybody! And thanks again to enigma731 for beta-ing!
-C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, The Space Odyssey, Book Three
House didn’t know exactly how it had happened, but the only people in the Emergency Room that night were him and Amber. He hadn’t been surprised to see her; he had almost been expecting her. If he really was hallucinating, then she would be around whenever he wanted to speak to her. If she was truly haunting him, as ludicrous as that idea was, then she only had a short amount of time left in which to do so – the clock was ticking, absolutely nobody would believe him in this state, so how could she not seize this opportunity by its hairs?
Their chat was idle, made up of tired pleasantries. “Why should I ask you how you’re doing?” House had asked Amber. “You’re dead. You should feel great.”
Amber laughed almost callously. “You should ask me because how I’m feeling is how you’re going to be feeling soon enough. It would be preliminary research.”
Now, House turned to her with a worried feeling in his gut. “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier. About how the past few months have been some sort of punishment.”
“And it’s not like you were some angel of virtue either. I called you Cutthroat Bitch for a reason: You were horrible, you sabotaged a whole number of people’s chances at getting the job, and you impersonated a dead man to mess with Thirteen. And all that was just in the few months I knew you.”
In front of his eyes, Amber’s clothes pigmented from the ridiculously pristine white garment she had been wearing to the normal clothes she typically wore – dark, professional pants, a clean shirt, maybe a blazer to look smart, maybe some jewelry to look fun. She smirked at him. “That’s right,” she whispered, leaning in. “And I was much, much nastier before we met.”
And then, a voice that was so wonderfully familiar it was cruel: “Amber, what?”
It was Wilson, emerging out of the saturated white haze that the rest of the Emergency Room had blended into. Seeing and hearing him was almost more of a shock than seeing and hearing Amber, but the relief that Wilson was speaking to him completely overwhelmed any feeling he might have had with a dead woman. For a second, it didn’t matter that all wasn’t forgiven, that Wilson still hated him. Wilson was standing there, acknowledging him. Feeling guilty at the thought, House realized immediately that this reality was infinitely more precious than the illusion of Amber.
“House?” Wilson asked quietly. “Were you saying something about Amber? House?”
Beside him, Amber froze – she seemed only able to look at Wilson.
If Amber was a hallucination, she could be controlled. House could take medicine; he could do something about her. If Amber was a ghost, then he was powerless. But there were no doubts about Wilson. House knew with utmost certainty that Wilson was hurt and angry. And those feelings were well deserved. House had taken so much from his friend – at that moment, he knew he had to do right by him, as he had been trying to do for a month.
Something unrecognizable flickered in Wilson’s eyes, but he didn’t move. Instead, he said, “I’m sorry, I guess I misheard you.”
“Yeah.” House leaned forward but felt pulled back. He realized that he was attached to an I.V. pole, even though he had no recollection of that happening.
Wilson noticed House’s confusion. “Chase said you were really out of it when the nurse hooked you up.”
House rolled his eyes angrily. “Chase said that? Did he ask you to come? Is that why you’re here?”
Wilson recoiled immediately; his infinite capacity to be hurt continued to amaze House. “Chase told me that as I was walking into the Emergency Room to find you – he didn’t tell me you where you were, I heard it from a nurse. House, I’m here because you’re my best friend and because last month you nearly died… and not even for me, but for my girlfriend. I mean--”
“Can’t you take a hint?” House sneered at him. “I haven’t called you back. I didn’t do that sitting shiva thing with you. Are you so desperate that you want to be friends with someone who hates you?”
Wilson looked stung, but resolute. “Cut it out, House. We both know that you don’t hate me.”
House opened his mouth to respond, but Chase and an older, somewhat curvy nurse walked in suddenly, ending the conversation. “Sorry to interrupt,” Chase said, looking surprised at his audience. “House, you’re being admitted and we have to run a few tests.” Chase walked over to the head of the bed and began to roll House out. The nurse took the foot of the bed.
“By the way, Mildred,” Chase said, addressing the nurse, “we’re going to the G2 Unit, Room 209.”
When they were almost out of the room, Wilson winked at Chase gratefully – an easy battle in a terrible war.
House knew he was in trouble by the way Cuddy walked into his hospital room. Her steps were slow and deliberate, her cheeks were flushed, and although her hair was tied back, frizzy curls framed her face. Judging by their earlier fight, House was surprised that she was even there.
“Your doctors lied to me,” House said immediately as Cuddy sat at the foot of his bed and stared at the floor, looking thoroughly exhausted.
“They probably did,” Cuddy responded flatly.
“Chase said it would just be a few tests, but they took four hours.”
Cuddy turned to face him and sighed. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” she said and then, inexplicably, she began to tear up.
“Well, it’s not that big a deal--”
House did not recoil – this was old news to him. “Oh stop whining, if my kidneys are really so bad I’ll switch up my medication or get a masseuse or something.”
“Why can’t this be one of those things that you just understand immediately? You’re dying, House. You have congestive heart failure.”
House was still… unperturbed. “That’s not an uncommon side effect of kidney failure,” he said.
Cuddy looked suddenly infuriated. “Oh, so because it’s happened before, it’s okay?! Is that how it works in your world? Let me tell you how it works in the real world, House – most of the time, there’s no magical diagnosis that gets made at the last second. People just get cancer or they have high cholesterol or--”
“Or a bus flips over and lands on them?”
“Yes! And then they die, House! And you’re going to be just like them. And believe me, dying in a boring and usual way doesn’t make it any less tragic. Just look at Wilson. You’ve been gone for the month he needs you the most and now, you’ve probably lost any chance you had to even begin to make it up to him. Not because what you did is so irredeemable – nothing is irredeemable with Wilson – but because you were too selfish to deal with his grief!”
Cuddy lowered her voice but continued to speak. "Knowing what's wrong with you doesn't mean there's a cure. House, I don't know if it was the ketamine or trauma from the car crash or what, but kidney failure is kidney failure and congestive heart failure is congestive heart failure. I don't know how the latter advanced so quickly, but there's nothing anyone can do anymore."
Neither of them said anything after that. The only noises in the room was the quiet, intermediate beeps of the machines House was hooked up to and Cuddy sniffling.
“Are you done now?” House asked quietly.
“Yes. I’m sorry.” Cuddy wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she repeated. “You shouldn’t have found out this way.”
House’s eyes flickered to the window, effectively forgiving Cuddy. The two sat in silence, House staring into the dark night and Cuddy still unable to control her crying. When Cuddy finally left, the sun was already rising – House watched as the bright colors bled into the sky. He wondered how many more days he would get the opportunity to see this. He wondered how long it would be before he could get back on the bus.
News of his impending death was followed by a seemingly endless flow of paperwork. House had had to plan his treatment for a possible pneumonia, what he wanted to be done if his heart stopped or if he needed artificial nutrition or intravenous hydration. He signed his Do Not Resuscitate order.
“There are so many ways someone can die,” Cameron said to him as she made sure that he actually completed his forms. “But there’s only one way for someone's life to start.”
“It’s not exactly an argument for Darwin,” House agreed. He handed some papers in a blue folder to her.
Cameron nodded and tucked the folder under her arm but instead of leaving, she lingered at his bedside.
“Anything else?” House asked, feeling somewhat annoyed.
Cameron sighed and, probably subconsciously, placed her hand on her hip. “Aren’t you ever going to let Wilson see you?”
House rolled his eyes at her. “No. Bye.”
Cameron didn’t leave. “Even if you don’t want to see him,” she said quietly, not looking him in the eye. “He’s the one that’s going to live the rest of his life without his best friend. What would be so terrible about seeing him just a few times? When my husband died-”
“Oh, come on!”
“—When my husband died,” Cameron continued. “Well, when he was dying, he didn’t let me or his best friend get too close to him for those last days. He had been sick for so long, but it got worse so suddenly. There was just… an endless amount of things that we wanted to say – and now he’s gone and he’s at peace but knowing that he never got to hear those things will never, ever be okay. Don’t do that to Wilson, House. He deserves better.”
She left the room quietly, and House was left seething in the silence she left behind. Nobody, absolutely nobody, seemed to understand that Wilson deserved better – and by staying out of his life, House was ensuring that Wilson actually recieved better. Wilson was functional with Amber; he had catered so little to other people’s unnecessary needs when they had been together. Without her, House was sure that Wilson would “relapse” and lean on his most reliable enabler – unless House made sure that such a situation was impossible. He couldn’t not be needy... but he could be gone.
On the bus, Amber had spoken the truth when she said that House deserved to be hated by Wilson. Of course Wilson deserved better, but if House was around, the same cycle would be repeated over and over again. House hadn’t planned this, and it would have triggered a horrified response but he knew it in his head and in his heart: Dying was the single most effective, irreversible way to be cut out of someone’s life.
“You’re wrong,” House told Amber one day. She had become his most frequent visitor during the two weeks he had been in the hospital, despite the barrage of doctors and nurses that disrupted him every hour. House had actually become appreciative of her company – it was refreshing to have a companion who didn’t offer advice on his deathbed.
“Am I?” Amber asked indifferently, studying her nails. “How so?”
“I’m not dead. This isn’t my afterlife. I’m still dying.”
“But maybe you deserve to be ‘dying’ forever. That would be a fitting punishment – you’re always waiting for something terrible to happen, but you don’t know when or how awful it’s going to be.”
“As a matter of fact, I do know how ‘awful’ it’s going to be,” House reminded her. “I’ve been there are couple times before.”
Amber put her hands in her lap and looked at House in a pitying sort of way. “I’m not going to save you this time, House,” she said in a low voice. She pushed her chair back, stood up, and left the room.
It was the first time she had done such a thing.
House closed his eyes and beneath his skin, beneath his ribs, beneath the organized tangle of blood vessels, his heart began to slow.
He woke up on the bus.