Is it ok or not, guys?!?!?
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell."
The first year is the hardest.
That’s what everyone says when a loved one dies. “Once you’ve been through all the landmarks,” they promise. “Once you’ve experienced the first Thanksgiving without them and the first birthday without them and the first Memorial Day and the first day it snows and all the other firsts… after a year without them, the worst of the punches will be over.”
This wasn’t Wilson’s first Tuesday without them – without her – but every day felt like the first anyway. His life had been divvied up into three parts – before Amber, when he was with Amber, and after Amber. Everything had changed now, every atom was devastating, but at the same time, it felt like everything was indifferent – a bored spectator to at truly tragic event. Even the office looked the same, and sitting behind his desk, Wilson realized that sometimes, monotony could be a comfort instead of a cause of frustration.
He thought of House’s office and his blood on the carpet.
There are no adages when a best friend ignores you.
Wilson rapped his fingers on the glass cover of his desk and imagined the thousands of different things that Amber’s death could have led to – none of them involved House lying in a hospital bed, running out of breaths. It was a testament to the fact that things had spiraled so far out of control after Amber’s death that Wilson also mourned the alternate course his grief had taken. It was clichéd, but it was true: None of this was fair.
As if on cue, somebody knocked on his door. “Come in!” Wilson called, feeling very tired all of the sudden.
The door swung open and Cuddy walked in. “It’s me,” she said, unnecessarily. She looked worse than Wilson had ever seen her. There were dark circles under her eyes, her hair was knotty, and she was crying.
Wilson understood what had happened in an instant.
“Wilson, I’m so--” Cuddy seemed to be choking on something. “I’m so sorry,” she managed as Wilson shot of his chair, rushing out the door.
“He slipped into a coma,” Cuddy explained as she and Wilson hurried down the hallway. He was unable to look at her, unable to think straight. His heart seemed to be racing and slowing down at the same time, and he was sure that someone had poked holes through his lungs. It felt like someone had set his shoes on fire and dropped ice cubes down his shirt. Everything was wrong – everything was broken…
Cuddy and Wilson raced up the stairs, forgoing the slow G-wing elevators, but when they reached the second floor, Cuddy stopped halfway down the hallway.
Wilson paused and turned around to look at her questioningly.
“He… he doesn’t have much time left,” Cuddy whispered.
The unit was a rushing whir around them, but that didn’t matter – Wilson was a rock in a waterfall. Nothing mattered except House; all he could think about, all he could hear or see or sense was House. Cuddy should have been inaudible but she wasn’t. She was talking about House and she might as well have been shouting into a microphone.
Wilson nodded at her and leaving Cuddy behind, headed into House’s room.
House was… present. That was the best that could be said about him. He was lying still and lifeless on his hospital bed, IV lines and fat tubes and gas masks snaked on his body like some deceiving restraint. His face was even more sallow than it had been two weeks earlier and because he was wearing a short-sleeved hospital dress, the dark bruises that House had so diligently worked to hide were visible. His skin clung to his bones but it seemed as though everything – his very vitality - was sliding away from him.
Wilson looked at House’s head and wondered if there was anything left there.
“Hi,” Wilson said quietly. “I’m with you now.”
A warm breeze flitted through the room. The windows were closed.
Their lights were on, a few of the windows were cracked open, and despite it being past midnight, it seemed to Foreman that Chase and Cameron were, in fact, still awake. He breathed a sigh of relief. The new team was still new and Foreman knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that none of them were as ballsy as the old team proved to be when it was needed. Taub, Kutner, and Thirteen were smart and they were all good doctors and they did make brave medical decisions – but what it came down to was, they simply did not care as much about House as he, Chase, and Cameron did.
Without a trace of guilt, Foreman knocked on the door.
“Come in!” Chase called out clearly. “Door’s unlocked!”
Foreman stepped inside and was not surprised to find Chase and Cameron curled up together – practically curled into each other – on the sofa. “We knew it would be you,” Cameron told Foreman.
“Yeah,” Foreman said and sat on the edge of a straight backed chair. He was alert and focused, filled with calm confidence – so unlike the self assurance that seemed impossible to contain or control, that bubbled up at every opportunity. “I think I know why House is sick.”
“So do we,” Cameron said grimly. “And so does House’s doctor - Cuddy knows as well as we do that the kidney failure caused the congestive heart failure. What else could possibly be wrong with him?”
“What I’m thinking is, what if the congestive heart failure isn’t congestive heart failure?”
Chase frowned at him. “What do you mean?”
“Less than two months ago, House overdosed on physostigmine. He went into cardiac arrest.”
“And then he was given atropine to treat the cardiac arrest. Atropine and physostigmine are incompatible with each other and when atropine doesn’t work right, atrial fibrillation can occur, and it can last. Cameron, you remember how House was that night in the E.R., he didn’t cooperate and he only allowed a few basic tests.”
Cameron got up, walked across the room to the kitchen, and poured out a cup of coffee. “So you’re saying that the congestive heart failure was an incorrect diagnosis?” she asked as she handed the mug to Foreman.
Foreman accepted the drink gratefully. “What I’m saying is that Cuddy has had limited experience practicing medicine for a while now and that she based her diagnosis off a small set of data. Any one of us could have made that mistake given so little information.”
“You know, you could be right,” Chase said after considering it for a moment. “I looked at some of House’s test results and they do somewhat support what you’ve said. But either way,” Chase paused for a minute. “Either way,” he said quietly, “House is already in a coma. He’s so far gone.”
Cameron, still standing, crossed her arms. “I think we should give Foreman’s idea a shot,” she said firmly. “If Cuddy’s original diagnosis was right, then House is exactly where he was before – nobody has lost a thing. If you’re right, Foreman, then House still has to contend with kidney failure, and Wilson will get one more chance to talk to his best friend.” She looked at Chase. “What do you say?”
Chase’s gaze flickered from Cameron to Foreman, and then back to Cameron. “Ok,” he decided. “If it was any other patient, House would do the same thing.” He stood up, and so did Foreman. “I guess we’re giving him one more shot,” he said, and they stepped out the door together.
The slow, awkward notes of ‘Silent Night’ greeted Chase, Cameron, and Foreman as they walked to House’s room at the end of the long hallway. Finding Cuddy hadn’t been difficult – she was sitting on one of the dark wooden benches outside the hospital. In the glowing orange light from the sunrise, she had listened to Foreman’s idea with tired ears and watched them leave to start her approved treatment with tired eyes. Convincing her hadn’t been difficult at all, and it actually left the team feeling disturbed – as though they were walking armed into a battlefield that had already been cleared of its debris.
Now they walked quietly, listening only to the out-of-season song that was clearly being played by hands unfamiliar to a piano. “I think one of the nurses is trying to exact revenge on House,” Foreman muttered.
But when they stepped into House’s room they saw the melody was not courtesy of some scheming hospital worker. Instead, it was Wilson sitting at the foot of House’s bed, his dark head bowed over a brightly colored keyboard that wore a ‘Fisher Price’ label and only had a few keys. He looked up as he heard the three enter the room.
“I got one of the nurses to bring it up from Pediatrics for me,” he explained in lieu of a greeting. “House… likes piano. I wanted him to hear some.” He noticed the I.V. bag that Cameron was holding in her arms like a baby. “What’s that for?” he asked, too tired and too sad to bother with any other emotion.
“It’s warfarin,” Chase told him.
Wilson frowned, crows’ feet sinking deeper into his face. “Why are you giving him an anticoagulant?”
“We think that House has been experiencing atrial fibrillation,” Foreman said as Cameron hooked up the I.V. bag.
“Why would you think that?”
“House’s test results were inconclusive,” Chase said, watching as the I.V. began to drip into House’s body. “This could explain things.”
Wilson nodded, not really looking up. “Do you think…” he began, but then he sighed and shook his head. “Do you think this is what he wants? To continue like this?”
Foreman, Chase, and Cameron exchanged glances. “Wilson,” Cameron said gently.
“I mean, he’s been here before,” Wilson cut in loudly. “How many times in the past five years has he had a near death experience – and come back exactly the same as he was before? House doesn’t have… revelations about life. He doesn’t come back and try and make things better or change himself or help himself. He’s just – himself again.”
Chase sat down on the bed next to Wilson. “Do you want House to be someone different?” he asked, looking directly at Wilson but not in an intimidating or angry way – there was only understanding.
“No,” Wilson said. “Not at all. But he’s not happy– and I think that I’ve just had a taste of that since Amber… I don’t want to be happy at his cost.” He buried his face in his hands and looked utterly feeble – a grown man reduced to something so little and so helpless.
Cameron sat on the other side of Wilson and rubbed his back. “It’s ok, it’s ok,” she soothed quietly as Foreman took a seat next to Cameron, carefully moving the toy out of the way. They were unsure, they were not okay, but enveloped by grief for what was and was not, none of those feelings seemed to matter anyway.
A volt of electricity woke House up: that was the only way to describe it. He was remained still, waiting for the panic to wrap his body in a relentless grip, but it never happened. House was calm, endlessly, unremittingly, calm – for the first time in years.
“So,” Amber said to him, her arms crossed over her chest. “You look good.”
House glanced down at himself. Even though he was still wearing a hospital gown, he could clearly see that his skin had a healthy color, his bruises had faded away, and it looked like he had muscle and meat to him… not just old bones. “I agree,” House replied, pleased. He paused for thought. “So… I’m dead then?”
“No,” Amber said, and shrugged. “You’re still very much alive.”
House frowned at her but couldn’t muster up enough for any other response. He felt great. “But I’m… Amber, we both know that I’m dead.”
Amber rolled her eyes at him and laughed. “Nope! I don’t get it either,” she confessed.
House wasn’t moved by that. “It’s not uncommon for a patient to show small signs of improvement right before they kick it.”
“I’m not going to try and convince you of this. But I’m telling the truth.” Amber glanced up and down his body appraisingly, as if searching for something. “You’ve been dying for over a month now.”
House nodded, still relaxed, and waited for Amber to continue.
“And you’ve barely been in contact with him.”
There was no need to identify to ‘him’ was, because he was the topic of every conversation. Every thought centered around him, every action was a reaction to him, and every emotion traced back to his emotions. Even out of his life, Wilson was inextricably in his life.
Amber looked at House levelly. “Why?”
House pressed his lips together, but it was though someone had suddenly drawn all the air from his lungs and the speech from his mouth. “He deserves it,” House said, panting, unable to stop himself. “He deserves to be… not friends with me. Wilson doesn’t know what’s good for him, he still wants to be my friend. It – he would have been okay if you were okay, but you’re not, you’re dead.” House bent over, his hands on his knees, trying desperately to breathe. But the more he talked, the more air he lost – and yet he couldn’t stop.
“He deserves it,” House gasped as his vision grew dimmer. “He deserves better.”
Amber coldly strode over to him and tilted his chin up so that she was looking House right in the eye. “You’re right. Wilson deserves better and if I was still alive, whatever damage you did wouldn’t matter because of me – because I taught Wilson to be stronger. But nothing canonizes a lesson like death.”
Amber sighed and her anger visibly fell away – and so, it seemed, did everything else. Amber’s face was losing its color, her eyes their spark, her body its solidness.
“House,” Amber whispered. “Wilson is fighting for what he wants because of me. He deserves what he wants. But what he wants… it’s still you.”
Amber was becoming less and less real – House couldn’t tell if it was because he was passing out or if it was because she was passing out. Amber was fading away and he was fading away – everything was gone – he was so lost, he was so alone – but there it was again – that volt of electricity that seemed to kill every cell inside him –
But without warning, he breathed, and then he was back.
One week later
The glass of water seemed very far away.
House braced himself and lifted up his right arm, which ached in response. The bedside table was off to the side instead of right in front of him, and for a minute, House contemplated rolling over to reach it. He shifted in bed but immediately regretted it as pain shot through his body. He moved back a little bit and groaned.
“Almost dying will do that to you,” Wilson said from the doorway. He walked in and handed the cup to House. It was rare to find House alone, without the company of Cameron, Foreman, and Chase... and most frequently, Cuddy.
“Thanks,” House said, and took a sip.
They sat in comfortable silence for a while, House still struggling to finish his drink. “All of this because of atropine,” he finally said.
Wilson leaned back in his chair. “An overdose doesn’t reverse renal failure,” he reminded House.
“Yeah,” House agreed. “I don’t know what did it.”
Wilson smiled at him. “You’ve got the rest of your life to figure it out.”
But House was still slightly uneasy. “Remind me of the atropine side effects again,” he said. He had heard the laundry list dozens of times in the past week, but he was still sure he was missing something.
Wilson rolled his eyes but even though he knew that repeating what he had listed so many times would be pointless in the long run, he also knew that in the face of a medical impossibility, hearing cold facts would provide some strange comfort to House.
“Ok,” Wilson said. “Even though you’ve probably memorized it already. You’ve got your palpitations, your dilated pupils, your difficulty in swallowing--”
“I think those are all just symptoms of someone who’s been dating me.”
Wilson smirked at him. “Very funny. Ok, there’s hot, dry skin, thirst, dizziness, restlessness, tremor, fatigue and ataxia. In toxic doses, there’s also circulatory collapse and depression; blood pressure goes down and then there may be paralysis and coma. Not to mention standard dry mouth, blurred vision, photophobia and tachycardia. Are you happy now?”
House frowned. “No. You forgot constipation and problems with micturition.”
“Have you experienced those?”
House shook his head. “Whether I experienced it or not, everything’s relevant. What else?”
“Nothing. I mean, there’s also the really toxic doses that result in marked palpitation, restlessness and excitement, hallucinations, and delirium, but you weren’t given that much.” Wilson paused. “House, you have to give it up. You woke up from your coma before we had the chance to even start the treatment. Nothing I have said explains your recovery and nothing anyone can ever say can ever explain the recovery. I know it’s not exactly in your nature but at least try and realize that you’ll just never know why it happened.”
House was very still. It felt like lightning had struck the core of his body. Hallucinations, delirium – Amber hadn’t been real. She had been the figment of a desperate, drug-addled mind, and that was that. He knew it wasn’t his fault but he still felt a deep, consuming sense of humiliation – one that no one would ever know of.
“House? You still with me?”
House glanced back at Wilson. He thought of his functioning kidneys and his brilliant mind and his beating heart, and his shame faded a little bit. Wilson was right: there was no medical reason that could explain a recovery. But he was, in fact, recovering.
House let it happen.
“Yeah,” he assured Wilson. “I’m right here.”