Chapter 17: Dear God
House didn’t know whether he was waking up or falling asleep. It was probably the morphine. He heard his heart rate pick up upon opening his eyes, as if the monitor knew he was awake, and sent out little messages to his shoulder and leg, telling them they should wake up, too.
He winced as a surge of pain ran up his right side, gripping the sheets with his left hand and hoping nobody could see him.
The hospital room was dark, which, House thought, could’ve been good or bad. It meant that either he was at White Haven’s hospital, in a room that yearned to save electricity and therefore money, or that he was back in Princeton, and that the people who put him there knew him well enough to know he didn’t enjoy being a spectacle. He enjoyed the darkness, nonetheless.
He tried to remember something, anything that would give him a clue as to his current location. The morphine not only made his head too fuzzy to think back that far, it made him too stoned to care.
I must be on a fucking lot of morphine.
He tilted his head, trying to see the dosage, but he was halted by a bolt of pain that seem to spread upwards through his arm and into his neck. He winced, sobering up.
The itch at the top of his ass was the only thing that seemed to offer useful information. This was because the itch was from a tag he’d partially cut off his boxers. This meant he was wearing boxers. This meant that whoever put him in this stupid gown also had some respect for the privacy of…important things.
So an itchy ass was how House discovered he was in Princeton.
He began to look himself over, a rather difficult feat considering that every move of his head sent shockwaves down his arm.
His arm was an arm, but currently he wasn’t sure if he considered it his. The skin along his collarbone was raised up a few inches beneath a 5-inch V of stitches, as if the surgeon had started out in a straight line, then changed his mind a few times. He could practically smell the titanium rod clinging to his clavicle, couldn’t wait to set off metal detectors.
He pulled up the sheet until his toes peeked out from the edge of the bed. He breathed an unnecessary sigh of relief at seeing two feet, but ever since—he always had to check and make sure.
His thigh stung as he pulled the sheet down again, but it wasn’t the throbbing, deep ache, or even the sharp stabs of pain that seemed familiar. It felt superficial, like a bad cut or a bee sting. He whipped the sheet off once more and pulled up his hospital gown.
About four inches up and to the side of his knee cap was another collection of stitches. This one was shorter and less ugly, but significantly more mysterious.
Cuddy walked in as he was prodding his leg. She smiled in awe of how objectively he could view his own body, as if it were really just meat that happened to be attached to him.
House looked up at the sound of her entrance, though could not make out who the intruder was.
“Who’s there?” he said, his voice presenting a physical strength he didn’t possess.
“The light fairy.”
Cuddy proceeded to flip the light switch. Overly jovial light rained down from its fluorescent source, prompting House to blink repeatedly until his eyes caught up with the change in scenery.
House smiled wryly. “Thanks for the boxers.”
Cuddy returned it, arms behind her back. “Well, hospital gowns don’t leave much to the imagination, and I didn’t want your little secret getting out.”
“The same can’t be said for that top. Looks like you have two big secrets.”
She feigned annoyance, but couldn’t deny how close to laughter she was.
“Speaking of secrets,” said House, eyes squinting in concentration, “what’s behind your back?”
“Oh, and you not moving your hands to prove it leaves me…utterly convinced.”
“I have my hands behind my back, House.”
“Kinky. I still need proof.” His tone was fiendish and playful. Cuddy couldn’t tell whether it was from the meds or if House was more or less back to normal.
A nurse entered the room once the silence between them had reached a reasonably awkward level. She walked over to the side of House’s bed, checking and rechecking wires and machines for Cuddy’s viewing pleasure. She must’ve been looking for a raise.
House watched her out of his peripheral vision until the eye strain made his head hurt. “How much morphine have you got me on?”
Cuddy answered. “It’s not morphine. It’s dilaudid.”
“I take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about you and your wardrobe.“ The smile that’d very recently engulfed his face dissipated a bit. ”Not really. And if I’m on dilaudid, why does my head feel like, uh, some clever and lengthy metaphor for weird?”
“Because you have some clever and lengthy metaphor for concussion.”
“Come on, we all have concussions.”
“Probably, but you’re the only one acting like a baby about it.”
The nurse walked back towards the door again, her lips curled upward in an unappealing faux smile. “How’s your wrist, Dr. Cuddy?”
Cuddy returned a smile that looked more like a grimace. “Much better now. Thank you.”
She brought her hands forward to subtly shoo the nurse out, revealing the white cast that ran up to her elbow.
House kept his mouth closed until the door had slid closed behind the overzealous nurse, then:
“I KNEW IT!”
“I told you that sucker was broken! And while I’m pleasantly surprised you don’t have a brain tumor…” He eagerly reached out his left hand and made the “gimme” gesture, “pay up.”
“I haven’t been home yet.”
“Obviously, but the makeup you bought to cover up for that fact cost money…money you got from the ATM with the intent on being here for as long as you waited for Wilson or me to wake up.”
She sighed, reached into her right pocket and grabbed two fifty dollar bills. She slapped them on his outstretched hand with as much chagrin as amusement.
House closed his hand around the bills and smiled as if he had a place to put them. He just held on to them for now. “How’s Wilson?” he asked.
“Stable. They had to do surgery. Turns out whatever caused the laceration went into his stomach, too. He’d been bleeding internally since the crash.”
“How’d he survive then?”
Cuddy gave a disbelieving chuckle. “Don’t ask me,” she said. “They gave him a transfusion, sutured him up. He hasn’t woken up yet, but I expect he’ll be conscious within the half-hour.”
House let go of a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. They allowed a thoughtful silence to fall between them as each pretended they weren’t utterly perplexed and amazed by Wilson’s survival.
House shut his eyes as his shoulder gave him some more Hell, his leg egging it on like a gangbanger’s lackey.
“You want me to up your meds?”
House opened his eyes to find Cuddy’s concerned frown that for once didn’t feel like a pitiful one.
“No.” House surprised himself with his answer. “I feel loopy enough as it is. Last time I checked, incoherency wasn’t ‘sexy.’”
She smiled, and he returned it as genuinely as possible. “So Doc,” he said, eyeing his shoulder, “will I ever be able to pitch again?”
“Uh, might have to settle with shortstop. Or maybe pinch runner.” She paused, easing her way out of the joke. “It was pretty bad. Your clavicle was in 5 pieces. Shoulder wasn’t too bad, though, and Benedict was able to fix the fractures quickly, so permanent damage isn’t likely if you do your PT.”
House gave her an exaggerated sigh. “You let Eggs operate? He’s like a thousand years old!”
“He was the only one available. And he’s good,” said Cuddy with a scowl.
“Well, his ‘good’ hand must’ve slipped and given me a V for ‘very bad stitch job!’”
“House, you get to keep your arm, be happy. Speaking of which, you might want to learn how to use your cane on the correct side. I mean, if you don’t want severe arthritis before you’re fifty.”
“Who did Wilson’s surgery? Was it Mother? I bet it was Mother.”
“If by Mother you mean Dr. Hubbard, then yes, that’s who performed Wilson’s surgery.”
“Great,” said House, feigning irritation, “Wilson gets Mother, who can stitch someone up without leaving a scar—I’ve seen it! And I get Eggs, the guy who treats shoulders like a pair of pants with a rip.”
“What’s with all the nicknames? This isn’t the Navy, House.”
“Wilson and I compiled them for the other departments. Yours is Big Ass, but I can’t remember why.”
He absently rubbed his thigh, his left hand naturally taking over the duty, which previously belonged to his right. He was then reminded of the stitches in his leg.
“Did you implant me with a microchip so I don’t get lost again?”
“What?” said Cuddy, genuinely not comprehending.
House rolled the sheet off his leg and pulled up his gown, revealing the stitches. “What’s this about?”
“Oh, well, we had you on morphine…” She paused, letting House know that there’s was more explanation to this than he’d expected. “You were…in agony. You slept fitfully, if at all, talking in your sleep…wanting to know where Wilson was. So we did an MRI on your leg and found that you’d ruptured a muscle. Dr. Benedick went in and repaired that, too. We switched you over to hydromorphine.” She gave him a look. “I’m sorry we didn’t check out your leg sooner, we just attributed it to overworking it out there, didn’t even think to—“
“It’s okay,” said House. He gave an inauthentic chuckle. “Knowing you, I’m surprised you didn’t remove the muscle completely.”
The words stung more than he’d intended them to. What he said wasn’t fair, and he knew it. The statement was true, but he wasn’t angry.
He looked at Cuddy, the easy way tears darted under her currently calm expression. She couldn’t shake free the events of the last three days, just as House couldn’t shake free the events of eight years ago. Cuddy wondered if this was how it would always be from now on. And people thought she was a crybaby before…
“I’m sorry,” said House, a rare streak of honesty soaking his words. “I guess I’m still scared.” He made no attempt to break her gaze, allowing Cuddy to take in the fine lines around his eyes that’d made an appearance very recently.
“You’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.”
House gave her a nod and proceeded the remove the cluster of wires that’d found itself on his body. An alarm sounded.
“What are you doing?!” asked Cuddy, before being pushed aside by several jogging nurses.
“Help!” House yelled at the nurses, “I think I’m dead!”
They stopped short of his bed with disapproving frowns, then turned around and stomped out again.
“House, if you think you can walk—“
‘That reminds me,” he said, pushing himself up with his left arm and looking rather miserable doing so, “could you go get me a wheelchair? Steal Chase’s if necessary. How is Chase by the way?” His interest overshadowed his concern. Cuddy could tell.
“He’s at home—resting. What you should be doing.”
“Oh he’s not resting, he’s practicing up for the bitchin’ wheelchair races we’re gonna have. I’d hold off on buffing the floors if I were you.”
“House, are you going to see Wilson? I told you he’s asleep!”
“Ah, but nothing wakes him up like a little morning molestation.”
“House, it’s three in the afternoon.”
“Cuddy, there’s no time like party time…and by party I mean borderline rape. Get me a wheelchair.”
The wheels squeaked and whined as he made his way down the hallway. Cuddy had offered to push him. Of course she had.
But he declined, vying instead to inch his way along with his left hand, his left foot keeping the wheelchair straight. He was thankful Wilson’s room was nearby.
He slid the door open a few inches and crept a wheel in. Then he got a better hold on the door and shoved. He had plenty of time to roll in after that. He inched over to the side of Wilson’s bed, sliding the Pity Chair into the corner and putting on his brakes where it once was.
Wilson looked…peaceful. Which, to House, was a nice way of saying ‘dead.’ His face was relaxed, one of the rare times House saw it like that. His mouth hung open slightly, and his thick, brown hair covered up his thick, brown eyebrows, springing messily in all directions. He still looked pale, and his respiration was still slightly shallow. His left hand hung limply off the bed near House, and his right sat up on his chest, a metal splint over his fingers that looked kind of like a mousetrap.
House wanted to wake Wilson up, if only to ease away the knots that seemed to work their way up his throat since seeing Wilson in such a similar position. House wanted to wake him up, and make sure he wasn’t dead.
But on the other hand, House wanted to keep things the way they were. He didn’t know what to say to Wilson, didn’t know if Wilson would be mad or emotionally scarred or just…Wilson. Unconscious, House could tell him whatever he liked. But unconscious, House would just be talking to himself again.
“Hey,” House said quietly, still unsure of whether he wanted to be heard.
Wilson didn’t stir.
House sighed audibly, and then said (louder), “Hey.” He shook Wilson’s wrist as it hung in the space between himself and the bed.
Wilson opened his eyes blearily. His lips shivered as the last of the anesthesia wore off. He looked around, a little confused, but mostly tired.
“Wilson.” House ignored a shot of dizziness while he stood up on his left leg, his left hand gripping the bedpost as a means of both balance and distraction.
After some searching, Wilson’s eyes lazily met House’s as he coughed, “Hey.”
“Hey,” said House, getting tired of the word.
“We got out?” asked Wilson, his voice hoarse, almost as gravelly as House’s.
House squinted. “Yeah, you—you don’t remember—“
“I remember getting out. Wasn’t sure about you though. But now…” He gave House a cheesy, drug-induced smile. “We’re out.”
House shook his head, amused at Wilson’s regression into teenage girldom. “You know, there’s a lot of people wondering how you’re still alive.”
“I know,” said Wilson, his voice growing stronger as he became more alert. “Cuddy came by before the surgery.”
“She…talked to you?”
“Well, I wasn’t really coherent, but she said a couple of things.”
“Like what?” asked House too hastily.
Wilson grinned, suddenly understanding House’s nervousness. “She said I had internal bleeding, that I was one lucky bastard, and that you cried when faced with the prospect of my death.”
“Ah, see, the thing is: I cried when faced with the prospect of your survival. I mean, here I’d already thought about inheriting your Star Wars box set, and then I find out you’re alive. Believe me, you’d be upset, too.”
“I have been, several times,” laughed Wilson. “But then, you nearly kill yourself so frequently that I’ve learned not to get my hopes up.”
House smiled, as did Wilson.
“So…you’re not mad?”
Wilson rolled his eyes. “Yes House, I’m mad that we all survived what was a seemingly unsurvivable ordeal. Just thinking about my beating heart pisses me off.”
“Are you mad that I left you alone?”
“No, I’m not mad. I mean, you were trying to get help. I don’t know the full story, but from what I’ve heard you went through Hell to save me. God, why would I be mad? I was half-dead.”
More than half, thought House.
Outwardly, House chuckled. “Yeah, I went through Hell, says the man who disemboweled a dead body with a rusty license plate to write ‘help’ on a car window.”
“Piece of cake,” Wilson wheezed. But House could see thinking about it still pained Wilson.
Wilson sat up a little, wincing.
“I can’t imagine why.”
House pressed the UP button on Wilson’s morphine. Twice.
“So, how’d you do it?” said House.
“How’d I do what?” asked Wilson in an obvious attempt to avoid the question.
“How’d you survive for two and a half hours after I left while bleeding into your stomach, in shock, and without like half of your blood volume?”
“I only lost 35 percent. Almost.”
“Yeah, and the Titanic was unsinkable. Almost.” He gave an interested smile. “I have to know, Wilson.”
Wilson took a deep breath, which still hurt, and looked at the grains in acoustic tiles of the ceiling. “I…don’t remember much after I passed out. I mean, I could hear stuff, you calling my name, but I couldn’t open my eyes. I heard you apologize for stuff you didn’t need to apologize for. I heard your footsteps as you left. Then I slept for awhile.” Wilson chuckled darkly. “I’m not sure you could call it sleeping, though. I thought I might’ve already been dead. I couldn’t really think or see or—it was weird, like realizing you’re in a dream but not being able to wake up.”
House nodded briskly. ‘Yeah yeah yeah, we get it. Near death experience, etc.”
“Then I just sort’ve, woke up. I knew I wasn’t better. I knew I still need to get help, but I felt…strong. I knew I could do stuff I’d previously known I couldn’t. That make sense?”
“I got worried that something happened to you. That’s when the survivalist in me thought I could use Dave’s blood as a sign. Dunno, maybe I read Hatchet too many times.”
“After that the strength left me. I felt spent, was spent. I could’ve died there and been totally content, but that’s when the helicopter found me.”
House thought back to lying in the snow after falling, to what he’d said, what he’d resorted to. He wasn’t as angry with himself as he would’ve guessed. In some ways, he was downright thankful he’d done it.
Wilson’s voice caught him by surprised. He looked up and nodded. “Yeah. You?”
House sat by the bed for a while, and both of them talked sparingly about nothing. Some day, they’d have to deal with this. What it meant to each of them. But they didn’t have to do it today. They didn’t even have to do it together, but something made it seem that way. After an hour, House needed another shot of dilaudid. He turned to make his way out the door.
Wilson called after him, chuckling. “Hey House, next time Cuddy’s wants us to go somewhere…let’s not.”
“Will do.” House smiled, exhibiting a new level of dorkiness. His smile faded when he reached the door. He peeked his head around at Wilson, ignoring the groans from his shoulder. “Hey Wilson?”
He didn’t exactly look at Wilson, but he definitely didn’t look away as he started, “You’re my…” he stopped, something about the finality of the statement not letting him continue. “I’m glad you’re not dead.”
“I know, House. Me too.”
And House rolled out the door.
A few nurses were scattered around at the end of the hall as he scooted himself back towards his room. After a minute they disappeared around the corner and he was by himself again. He stopped in the middle of the hallway, taking in the silence that accompanied nobody being there, and he too admired the cracks in the ceiling tiles.
Wilson had survived not by snow in his mouth or by long-winded apologies but by…
House shook his head thoughtfully, still not convinced that he was going to do what he was going to do:
“Dear God,” he said, “I believe in you.”
He quickly added:
“But I won’t tell if you don’t tell.”
Author's Note: Well, before I recede back into my realm of obscurity, I gotta say thank you to anyone who read this or took the time to comment. I tend to doubt myself a lot, and your positive comments totally kept me going. Specifically, I would like to thank dreamsofspike, octoberspirit, menolly_au, yukinakid, and srsly_yes for their too-kind words and support throughout this whole shebang. I would especially like to thank diysheep, without whom this story would not be finished, as well as poeia for her support, awesome ideas, and just making me laugh, and bmax67 for giving me huuuuge boosts in confidence and giving me "writing lessons" via her two fabulous fics. Thank you all, I mean it.