He was swimming.
No. He hadn’t been in the water in…
years. Ages. Lifetimes.
But he was floating.
His body felt light.
There was something wrong with this.
Something felt… unbalanced. Wrong. What was it? He tried to ignore it, drift away on a warm current, but it nagged at
“Dr. House? Are you awake?”
He realized his eyes were open. Had been open forever, it seemed,
he just hadn’t noticed. Vision filled with soft bright light. Time creaked to a start.
Focus. A silhouette resolved
into a shape, the shape into head and shoulders, a face – eyes, nose, mouth. Concerned expression. A smile when she
realized he was registering something.
Nurse. She was a nurse.
That meant… What did that mean? Why was
thinking such hard work? Bright light in his eyes. Something missing?
Nurse. This was a hospital bed. Sound? His brain
identified what he’d been hearing for the past little bit of forever – the beep of a heart monitor. His? He heard
it change, speed up slightly. Now, what did that mean…?
Shit. Something was wrong. He tried to tell himself something
was very wrong, but the rest of him wasn’t listening, just wanted to relax, drift away. Like the song. Gimme the beat,
But a beat wouldn’t do *him* any good any more, would it?
He tried to hold that thought –
there was something important attached to it – but it drifted away too.
Eventually, after a little more forever,
so did he.
When awareness crept back the second time, clarity came with it. Pressure on left index
finger – the pulse oximeter beeped quietly, steadily. A thick metal taste in his mouth meant anesthesia was still wearing
off, but wouldn’t take much longer. A difference in sounds told him he was out of recovery and in a room. He took a
deep breath and heard his heart slow down momentarily.
There was an IV in his left hand. Moving his head was an effort.
Not worth the effort – he couldn’t make out the printing on the bag – it was facing the wrong way, and he
wasn’t focusing very well. Probably sugar water, plus something else…?
C’mon, brain, work.
memories – his office, sudden searing pain, nausea. Standing up… bad idea – sudden change in blood pressure.
Impact. A short but detailed study of the office carpet. Then nothing.
Damn. That meant someone had seen it…
or had found him. Cameron. Cameron had been there? Chase? What had happened…?
Ah. The brain clicked on. He’d
had several days of indigestion that he’d blamed on a steady diet of the hospital cafeteria liberally mixed with Vicodin.
There had been no interesting cases this week, and he knew his consumption was up. And the upset stomach had been bad enough
overnight that he’d given up trying to sleep, and had come into the office early.
He generally ignored the side
effects of the drug for the relief it brought from the constant pain in his leg. But there were risks associated with that.
He was good at doing the math. Apparently his number had come up.
He saw movement out of
the corner of his eye, and slowly turned his head from the IV bag to the door. Wilson leaned against the doorframe, dapper,
arms crossed, looking amused. Smug sonofabitch wasn’t the one lying in the damn hospital bed.
Iron filings in his vocal chords.
“Shit.” Still rusty.
stood up straight and stepped in, smile edging toward a smirk. “You have an admirer.” He nodded toward the effects
closet and the shelves opposite the bed. “Is your eighty-two-year-old girlfriend back?”
it outta here. Now.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I think he’s kinda cute.” Wilson picked up the
chocolate brown teddy bear from the shelf where it sat, held it out, admiring it. There was a cheerful red bow tied around
“No note, huh? Whoever she is, she’s got good taste.”
He paused to consider the
words that had just come out of his mouth. “In toys, if not in choice of invalid.”
“Throw it away.
Burn it. Give it to your wife.” He tensed, tried to push off against the bed. Got absolutely nowhere – muscles
like overcooked spaghetti. Fuck. “I will drag myself across the floor and shred it with my bare hands.” Wilson
set the bear back down on the shelf and turned to House.
“On top of the ruptured appendix and peritonitis, you
also had a nasty reaction to the anesthesia. You’re going nowhere fast, pal.” He took a look at the chart hanging
on the end of the bed, and checked the IV – not necessary, but it helped his peace of mind. Then he grabbed the TV remote
from the shelf, hit the power button, and put the remote on the tray table beside the bed.
“We don’t want
you back on the Vicodin just yet, so there’s a morphine drip along with the antibiotics.” He pulled a cable from
the maze of tubing, thumbed the button, and settled it next to House’s left hand. “Press the button as needed.
I’ll check back in a bit.”
“Bring a shotgun with you.”
Somewhere in the middle of thinking
about how to get the damn fuzzy thing out of his room, he drifted away again.
Cameron caught him
in the hall outside House’s room. “How is he?”
“Awake, for now. And cranky.” Hmm…
“Is the teddy bear from you?”
Her eyes went wide, incredulous. “Teddy bear??? Someone gave *House*
a teddy bear???”
Was she *that* good an actress? He wasn’t sure.
“Yep. And he can’t
get out of bed yet to mutilate it.” He grinned at her. “This might be too good an opportunity to pass up.”
you’re willing to suffer the consequences later,” she said wryly. “No thanks.”
She took a long
look through the glass, through the half-turned blinds, then turned back to Wilson.
They shared a wordless moment of
sympathy, both knowing they cared far more than was healthy for a man who was far less than healthy. It was a lot easier being
a doctor, when you could do something to help and heal, than it was being a friend, when you could do nothing but be there.
He was still off-balance when he woke the next time. He drifted in and out for awhile, lulled by
the sound of his heart beating and the murmur of the TV. There was part of him that was fighting, raging, because he should
have been fighting harder, but he couldn’t get himself to listen, to muster energy to do anything except breathe and
Pain finally registered. He’d felt off-balance since he’d woken up… because he *didn’t*
feel pain in his leg. Novel sensation. Seductive. And he didn’t have relief from clinic hours riding on whether he took
a hit or not. God, relief was so rare… so…
It was the awakening after that when he made
the connection. He was doped on the pain meds for the leg and the surgery, but there was something else mixed with it too
– sedative…? Had to be. Push a button, fall asleep. *Bastard.* Didn’t trust him not to do something stupid.
(It’s a fair cop, whispered a traitor voice in his head.)
He’d have to ride out the pain after all. And
he didn’t even have a bet to win this time, dammit.
He shifted in the bed to set the happy button aside, and
felt something soft tickle his neck and shoulder. What…?
Bright red out of the corner of his eye. He reached
up with his right hand and lifted it to where he could focus on it.
Someone was going to die for this.
For chrissake, Elmo???
With great effort, he propped himself up on one elbow, aimed as best he could, and threw Elmo
at the teddy bear. The bear went sprawling backwards on the shelf, and Elmo fell to the floor. House flopped back against
the bed, breathing hard, suddenly weak all over. Cold sweat popped out. Something in his abdomen screamed at him.
elevated heart rate triggered the arrival of a nurse a few seconds later – she checked his vitals, fussed with tubing
and pillows and blankets and was he comfortable and did he need anything else? He snarled something.
It dawned on him
as he drifted away that she’d somehow managed to shoot him up again while he was swearing at her…
time it was the Energizer bunny. The bloody-be-damned-to-hell-and-back-again Energizer fucking bunny.
He knew his staff
wouldn’t dare pull something like this – would they? – he’d put them through every single circle of
Dante’s hell. Twice. Three times. And he’d thought his reputation throughout the hospital was heavy enough that
the nurses wouldn’t dare anything either.
Had he seen an Elmo or a rabbit in someone’s office or cube
somewhere? Was someone scrounging? Or were they available in the gift shop? The bear was likely from there, but the other
two? Cameron was probably soft on Elmo, but would she dare?
She probably would.
Word had gotten out awfully
fast that he was laid up.
Wilson was already high on the payback list for the tranq in the IV… would he figure
things couldn’t get any worse anyway…? Cuddy wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type, although she might convert
just to piss him off.
He seethed, and raged, and slept, exhausted from seething and raging. Woke to curse the incredible
miraculous human machine that was failing him. Again. He boosted the TV’s volume and tried to distract himself before
he sank into black and bitter self-loathing.
The afternoon soaps were good for awhile. Suzy had another guy tripping
over his tongue for her. Tracy wasn’t sure about the father. Becker fell off the wagon again.
Dr. Phil. Geraldo. Whoever. Morons. Idiots. Bozos.
The soaps ran into the talk which morphed into the evening news
– somehow he lost several hours.
He was almost too tired to look, in case it meant he’d have to get pissed
off again. He knew he couldn’t afford the energy drain.
Damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn.
started a goddamn menagerie. Elmo and the bear and the bunny were sitting together on the shelf, one big happy family, and
had now joined company with, of all things, a yellow rubber duck.
*Ten* times through the fires of the Inferno. Flayed
and skinned alive in inch-wide strips with scalpels. Air bubbles injected subcutaneously. Splinters made from tongue depressors
driven under finger- and toenails. Catheters and enemas.
He flopped his head back and stared at the ceiling. No good
– he could still feel them watching him.
He grabbed the nurse call button, pressed it, held it down.
want those out of here,” he said hoarsely, when someone appeared.
She smiled in response, said “Certainly,
Dr. House – I’ll be right back,” and disappeared.
When he was certain they were ignoring the call
button, he took the pulse ox off his left hand and tossed it over the side of the bed.
The nurse who showed up this
time took one look at him, nodded to herself, and walked away.
He held the call button down for a
solid five minutes.
House’s eyes were closed when Wilson stopped in the doorway
late that evening.
“House?” No response. He studied his friend. House’s face in sleep was relaxed
– thank you, Prince Valium – but the lines etched there by long-term pain were obvious.
again, again, again, why he bothered.
Because he knew no one else would? Because he was a sucker for a hard-luck case
or a lost cause?
Because he couldn’t do anything else.
He wondered if House would ever solve the puzzle
He glanced over to see if the zoo had added any more exhibits. Doubtful. There weren’t many who’d
brave the revenge, although he was indebted to the person who’d started it – it was almost worth the payback for
the expression on House’s face when his friend had seen the teddy bear.
He had to walk closer to figure out what
he was looking at.
Then he dove back toward the door, covering his mouth to smother the burst of laughter that might’ve
awakened his patient.
The bear was lying flat on its stomach, and the bright pink Energizer bunny, sans drum and sticks,
was lying face-down on top of it, hips aligned.
Elmo was sitting on the drum, legs spread, and the rubber duckie was
sitting between Elmo’s legs, with its bill deep in Elmo’s crotch.
The animals were gone the next morning.
Wilson didn’t ask, and House said nothing.
He was making his rounds on Friday of the following
week, stopping in all the usual places. It was impossible *not* to have favorites, though he tried hard to spread equal attention
She was five and a half years old. Was supposed to start kindergarden this
year, had landed in the hospital instead, on aggressive chemo. A strawberry-blonde angel, she’d stolen his heart the
first day she’d come in, sick, weak, drained, but willing to trust him. Even when he’d told her that her medicine
would make her feel even more sick for awhile, but would eventually cure her.
He rarely felt worthy of their trust.
Wilson! Come see my teddy bear! The nurses said Santa Claus made a special trip early to bring us some presents! Isn’t
The little girl was practically bouncing out of her bed.
“He *is* cute – I like
the bow. Have you given him a name yet?”
“Yeah! His name’s Buster!”
She hugged the
critter tightly, a big smile on her face, a gap in the smile where she’d lost a front tooth her second week in the hospital.
smiled back at her. “That’s a great name, Emily.”
His step was lighter as he wandered through the