Morning found them on opposite sides of
the bed. Sometime between 3:00 a.m. and dawn, Wilson had disentangled himself
and hurried to the bathroom. He relieved himself without turning on the light,
and so missed the clouded appearance of his urine in the bowl. Back in the bedroom,
he moved to a spot where his nocturnal movements could not hurt Gregg. All the
sheets and blankets were kicked into a heap too far down to do either of them any good.
He was catching a real snoot-full. He hurt all over.
House was canted slightly onto his left
side, a position he was usually unable to maintain for any length of time. His
scarred, bare right leg was bent a little at the knee and positioned on the pillow just a tad in front of his left one. His arms were folded upward, hands relaxed near his Adam’s apple. The tiny circle of pure-white hairs near the point of his chin stuck out like a beacon in the dark forest
of stubble. His hair was a brown, shot-thru-with-silver haystack, his head burrowed in his other pillow, face peaceful and
unlined in deep sleep. The noticeable lack of pain took at least ten years off
Across from him, Wilson lay on his
right side like a smaller mirror image of his friend. He was sprawled awkwardly,
pillow-poor, since Gregg was hogging both of them. His left hand was curled beneath
his chin in the same manner House’s was, but the right one lay with fingers outstretched across the bed’s surface,
protectively as always, come hell or high water, in Gregg’s direction. The
puke-green tee-shirt he’d borrowed was hitched up almost to his armpits and twisted around his body as though trying
to wring itself out while Wilson still wore it. It was a little uncomfortable,
but he was sleeping too deeply to be more than peripherally aware. Thick auburn hair haloed James’ face and lay in static-electric
strands on the sheet. He too, was out like a light.
Except that all the lights in the condo
were still on … and it was almost 7:00 a.m. The alarm would go off shortly.
Wilson’s breathing was becoming increasingly
labored as he slept, almost like one more self-fulfilling prophecy of Gregg House’s.
He was indeed catching a severe cold, and his consciousness was beginning to surface.
Internal clocks could sometimes be a pain in the ass. A steady job usually
did that to a man.
The wind had died, finally, after
having dried up the rest of yesterday’s rain. It was better than waking
up to a world coated with early morning ice. Cars were moving on the street,
some of them with god-awful loud mufflers, some with double-accented bass that threatened to drop the bottom out of one’s
stomach. When the alarm clock went off at 7:00, both men were already in the
shadow world of grey wakefulness, just as Princeton was waking up around them.
Gregg unfolded slowly and reached over
to hit the clock’s shut-off button, grimacing a bit as his leg woke up also and left him know it was ready for ‘breakfast’. He lifted the Vicodin bottle and shook a pill into the palm of his hand. He popped it and tilted his head back just as Wilson’s eyes opened to look across at him. As Wilson’s
lips parted to speak, House lifted a finger to his own lips, his nose wrinkled in warning.
“Shhh!!! Whatever you were going to say, I don’t want to hear it.”
“I was going to say ‘Good Morning’!” Suddenly Wilson sneezed
with a violence he had not seen coming. He felt a painful twinge in the area
of his kidneys, and another in his stomach, but dismissed both. “Oh my
God! You were right! I have a snotty
nose, my head feels like a clenched fist, and my back is actually beginning to hurt.”
“Dammit, I told you so!” House reached across the bed and pulled gently on the index finger of the hand still
stretched out in his direction. “Now you’ve gone and got yourself
sick … on top of your ‘bad back’. What a hell of a way to start
the workday!” But the words, for once, were not filled with sarcasm;
only a silly, quiet, exasperated indulgence that caused Wilson’s eyes to burn a little.
“I forgot about the ‘back’
thing. Oh hell!” He
sniffled noisily. Sneezed again. “Ow! Maybe I won’t be acting …”
He coughed, the deep, cutting kind. Choked it off.
House was grinning, grimacing, both at
the same time. “I told you I’d help you if your ‘back’
hurts too much …”
Wilson frowned. “Shut. Up!”
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, stiffly, disentangling himself from the wrinkled tee-shirt and
pulling it off over his head. His silky hair rose into the air full of static
electricity, making him look like a startled porcupine. House chortled gleefully.
Wilson sneezed again, three times in a
row, explosively. He hugged both arms to his stomach when the pain hit
again. “Oh, for crying out loud!
Damn you, House! I hate it
when you’re right!” He turned on his heel and headed for the bathroom.
Behind him, Gregg sat up slowly, grasped
his bad leg with both hands and lifted it carefully off the edge of the bed, then quickly followed through with the other
one. Feet flat on the floor, he pushed up with both arms until he was wavering
on his feet, finding an edgy balance as he grasped his cane and set it against his side.
His leg hurt, but it didn’t seem quite as angry this morning. It
might have had something to do with Wilson’s gentle manipulations in the middle of the night. God! He had to find a way to keep that boy around!
They walked off East Side Drive’s
elevator into the underground garage at 8:30 a.m. They were both dressed for
work, but their “look” would give their constituents cause to giggle, and they both knew it. It couldn’t be helped.
Gregg House was dressed like …
well, Gregg House.
And James Wilson, Boy Wonder Oncologist,
was also dressed like … well, Gregg House in French loafers!
Wilson’s expensive suit was stuffed
into a plastic grocery bag to be dropped off at the cleaners, and since he had no work clothing stashed at Gregg’s place,
he was once again an Olsen Twin. He hoped his lab coat would cover most of it. He was uncomfortable, but what could he do?
It was too far to run all the way out to Ridge Road for another work suit when they were already perilously close to
arriving late for work, and already in Princeton. He would tough it out in “gentlemanly
fashion.” Even the thought entered his consciousness a little tongue-in-cheek! He would smile patiently at the snickers and guffaws that greeted him during
the day … plus … put up with the sarcastic comments of the sartorially
challenged pundit limping along at his side.
“Don’t forget to pass me your
brief case when we get out of the car,” House grunted as they walked toward the beautiful new Pacifica. “You certainly can’t carry it while your back is hurting you so …”
“House, I’m going to grab your
damn cane and hit you over the head with it if you don’t shut up about that!”
House was grinning and in a very good mood
this morning. “Nothing you haven’t done before …” he
mumbled. His blue back-pack was hanging from his right shoulder and looked
to be weighing him down. Wilson wasn’t too sure if he could let himself
go through with this damned farce. Visualizing House with any extra burden to
carry almost made him wince in empathic pain, and so he had remedied the situation by the only method he could think of. He was not confident at all that House would not put on some kind of show and end
up hurting himself by being a smartass. He had done it before. So Wilson took a few sneaky moves to bamboozle him and hoped it would work.
Still, a part of James took a perverse
delight in the deception they would perpetuate together. He supposed he could
transpose in his mind the misery of the cold he could feel coming on, and its accompanying aches, using that discomfort to
act out the part of “nagging pain” in his back. In reality he did
feel a measure of tightness around his kidneys, so his actual dramatic debut might not be so far-fetched after all. He smiled to himself. He had a wad of Kleenex stuffed in the
pocket of House’s tan jacket, a tin-foil packet of Sudafed in a jeans pocket, and a very real stuffy head and aching
body that was becoming more and more inconvenient as the minutes passed by.
None of this did he mention to House.
House, meanwhile, stood and stared
at the brand new Chrysler Pacifica, taking in its clean lines and state-of-the-art configuration.
“WHOA!” His only comment.
Wilson figured he approved.
All the way to PPTH, House fiddled with
the CD player, the radio, the electric seat, the seat’s heater, the dome light, the cigarette lighter, the ash tray,
the glove compartment, the center console, the skylight, the digital direction finder and outside thermometer, the window
button, the door locks, and finally, he caressed the ivory leather interior lovingly with the palms of his hands.
“This Mother really is almost like
a cruise ship, isn’t it? Wow! It’s
like a ‘home-away-from-home,’ huh Wilson? You could live in
the damned thing! Bet you plunked down a couple of pesos for this baby, didn’t
you?” The wide blue eyes rolled in Wilson’s direction in obvious
delight. He wasn’t really requesting answers to any of his questions and
it was a pleasant departure from his usual need-for-information attitude.
Wilson grinned at his friend’s frivolity,
feeling himself clearly overwhelmed in knowing he was the only person in the world privileged to ever witness it. He was being treated to a rare glimpse of Gregory House as he had been before the tragedy to his leg and
the life of pain he’d subsequently been forced to endure. It made Wilson
want to cry. So many times these days he missed that aspect of Gregg, and he
knew he was being a sentimental fool even as his eyes misted up and his resistance melted down. He would gladly have given everything he owned to have the happy-go-lucky, clown-faced, steel-trap-mind,
sarcastic, juvenile, brilliantly beautiful person he had known for so many years … back!
He drove through the “Drive-Thru”
arch at the dry cleaner’s drop-off window, grabbed a ticket, shoved the plastic grocery bag through the opening and
kept going. The suit would be ready that evening.
Wilson pulled the Pacifica smoothly into
the nearest HANDICAP space in the hospital’s parking garage and shoved the
“Handicap” placard he kept for Gregg’s benefit against the car’s windshield. They were only a few steps from the double doors to the ground floor’s main corridor. It was the position from which House would have the least amount of walking to do if they were to pull
off this “bad back” bullshit … at least far enough to get past Cuddy’s office and into the nearest
elevator. The lady was not easy to fool.
House already had his seat rolled
back, passenger door open, and was gingerly lowering his foot onto the concrete in preparation to getting out. Wilson sat and watched his stubborn friend closely as Gregg planted his cane squarely at his hip. He then reached back in to retrieve his knapsack to sling it once again over his shoulder. He paused to cast a comical conspirator’s glance in Wilson’s direction,
and when Wilson hesitated momentarily, the glance became a glare which shouted:
Wilson rolled his eyes and sighed. Resigned to the situation, he pushed his brief case onto the passenger seat where
House could pick it up easily, which he did, then glowered angrily at its lack of weight.
Wilson had emptied everything out of it surreptitiously just before they’d left the condo. He suppressed a smile at the snarky expression of friendly betrayal he saw on the pissed-off face. He almost laughed out loud, but a sudden stitch in his side caused him to clamp his
teeth onto his lower lip just in time.
Wilson exited his car laboriously,
not quite feigning discomfort, but looking a little surprised at its actual presence, and stood for a few moments with a hand
leaning against the roof. He arched his back to the point of painful stiffness,
and the area of tenderness around his kidneys protested faintly. If he was going
to play this silly game, by God, then he intended to give an Oscar-worthy performance.
He was experiencing more than a little pain now, but he figured he could work with it.
tract infection? Kidney infection? What
His urine hadn’t looked off-color this morning. Had it? He sneezed explosively. Twice.
Coughed hard. It hurt. A
lot. He covered his nose and mouth with a Kleenex.
Across from him, Gregory House was staring
at him with an eyebrow elegantly elevated. Gregg hadn’t expected this. He
would probably have called it “method acting”! Wilson suppressed a spurt of laughter with a deeply pained look and glared at House in return across the
roof of the car.
Their labored passage along the main corridor
that led past Cuddy’s office, and which they could not avoid if House was to remain on his feet the entire distance,
turned into a perverted art form no more than twelve steps in. It was exactly
9:00 a.m. and they had arrived at work at the exact time Wilson had promised Cuddy the day before.
Murphy’s Law and The Law of
Averages seemed to be moving arm-in-arm this morning. As they drew abreast of Cuddy’s office and attempted to steal
past it unseen, the door opened outward and disgorged not only Lisa Cuddy, but the jabbering forms of Robert Chase, Eric Foreman
and Allison Cameron. The four of them were in the midst of some heated speculations
concerning a case file that Foreman held in his hand and waved in front of the group as they talked.
House saw the office door begin to
swing outward and made an attempt to duck into a side alcove. He was unsuccessful,
however, as he felt a hard tug at the end of his jacket. He glanced back and
frowned indignantly at Wilson, who had a firm hold on the hem. “You started
this charade, House! At least have the balls to go through with it!” Wilson hissed.
Reluctantly, House swung back into cadence,
looking burdened with his back pack and the added “weight” of Wilson’s brief case. He wrinkled his nose at Wilson who had no more strength to argue.
James was walking a little too stiffly to make the charade totally convincing, and he held his body canted slightly
to the left, which was turning it into a parody. House was ready to give him
a shot in the ribs with his elbow until he saw the deepening crease appear between Wilson’s eyes and the left one begin
to squint closed painfully. He was coughing again, holding his sides.
He knew Wilson too well, and Wilson was
no longer faking!
Chase looked puzzled at first.
Wilson wearing blue jeans and a Motley Crue tee shirt? Old tan jacket with
no tie? What the hell …?*
Robert Chase’s mouth dropped. He simply stared.
Cameron and Cuddy both glanced up
at the same moment; Cameron at House with his double burden of two heavy pieces of work baggage. She frowned, troubled.
… his poor leg!*
Cuddy’s eyes went from one man to
the other, taking in the hilarious similarity of apparel and letting herself smile at that thought, knowing Wilson had probably
stayed at House’s place the night before.
Stewart and Walter Brennan!*
The second thing that drew her attention
as they approached was the difficulty in their movements. Both men were in pain. House was carrying Wilson’s brief case in deference to Wilson’s back injury. It was a big concession for House. Normally
he was barely able … or willing … to carry even his own materials,
and now he had added Wilson’s? And Wilson looked awful. His face was flushed. He was hurting more than he was letting
on. They both were!
Directly to Cuddy’s left, Eric
Foreman’s dark eyes clouded; half concerned, half curious. Of the Ducklings,
this man was the most like House in manner. He looked for the puzzles, the coincidences
and the contradictions. Foreman frowned.
Something was cockeyed here. The case file in his hand was important,
urgent, but the scene confronting him now, at this moment, took priority. It
touched the part of his analytical mind that said:
here is way off base, man … find it!*
Wilson and House halted in front of the
small group in the middle of the corridor. Flummoxed! Both men were ready to confess their charade, come clean and take the consequences. But the faces confronting them were not the faces of disapproval or exasperation at having been duped. They were faces of concern, worry, and in one instance, pity. House and Wilson exchanged glances, and at that moment, James Wilson exploded into a coughing fit that
wracked his body and doubled him over. He covered his mouth with the wad of Kleenex
and groaned with the pain that flared in his middle. Dark blotches began to appear in his field of vision. Curious! His world turned fuzzy and with a half-strangled
cry, he began to sink to the floor.
Gaping and frightened, House dumped
his back pack and Wilson’s brief case from his shoulder, dropped his cane and crumpled downward with his own grunt of
agony at Wilson’s side. The pain in his leg flared, but he ignored it in
the face of another, more urgent pain. He’d only just begun to suspect
that Wilson was hurting for real, but his friend had never opened his mouth.
pain! Damn heroics! Damn Wilson!*
Foreman and Chase moved quickly,
caught both men beneath their arms as they sank toward the smooth surface of the corridor.
Medical personnel and on-lookers who were passing nearby, rushed in to offer help.
Cuddy held up her hand to warn them off. “We have this covered,
Some, with stolen backward glances, some
with no more than casual shrugs, drifted away again. You didn’t mess with
Wilson realized he was more ill than he’d
first thought in the same moment the world began to drop from under him. His
surroundings tilted to the point that he could no longer stay on his feet. To
his immediate right, House was dropping at his side, and he was afraid Gregg’s leg had given out. Then he felt Chase ease him into a sitting position on the floor and kneel at his side with a gentle hand
on his back and the other at his shoulder. He nodded his thanks, but the hospital
walls were reeling and his head was spinning. He could not speak. His head rang like a gong and his stomach lurched. He flinched. It occurred to him that he might throw up.
Foreman pulled House away from Wilson’s
side with a firm and insistent pressure beneath his boss’s right arm. “Don’t
do it, House!” He growled. “Chase
has him and we’ll take care of him. Be still before you do damage to yourself!”
The look on House’s face as he swung
around to glare at Foreman, was homicidal. “Let me go!”
The burly neurologist’s only
answer was to heft House to his feet before he could protest further. Foreman
picked up his cane from where he’d dropped it, nudged his upper arm with it and handed it across.
House grabbed the necessary prop and leaned
hard on it, but said nothing further. Foreman released him, but stood his ground. Cuddy was already on her knees at Wilson’s side and ordering Cameron in a stiff,
formal tone, to grab a wheelchair from the clinic.
Cameron turned and ran in the opposite
direction, dark hair and lab coat floating in her wake. Cuddy and Chase remained
on the floor with Wilson. House lingered impotently, watching and glowering at
Foreman with murderous intent, an attitude to which Foreman paid no attention whatsoever.
Instead, he stood like a wrought-iron pillar with both arms folded over his chest, watching his colleagues do their
work and daring House to cross the line. If his leg were a bit more stable, it
would have been no contest. Gregg, however, knew better than to do “bull
in a China shop” now. His thigh hurt mightily and his knee was as weak
as it had been in a long time. He knew he could not begin to press the issue. He needed to be near Wilson, but if he made a scene, it would not go well for anyone. Neither Cuddy nor the kids needed another body sprawled in pain on the floor in the
middle of the corridor. Instead, he dug in his jacket pocket for the Vicodin
bottle in the same manner in which a toddler reaches for a pacifier. Get rid
of the “mad” by medicating it. Comfort in small packages!
They helped Wilson into the wheelchair
and headed toward exam room one. House brushed past Foreman and started after
them, but paused angrily when Foreman called his name. “House!”
“What now?” He swung around too quickly and staggered, barely regaining his balance as his knee began to weaken further.
Foreman caught him swiftly with a smooth
move beneath his elbow and restored his balance in an unobtrusive maneuver. “Wait
up, House … I’ll walk along with you.” There was no condescension
in his voice, and House searched the dark face for signs of patronizing. There
was none. House paused until Foreman’s long stride brought their bodies
even. Foreman’s eyes were glittering and there was no trace of mirth in
his voice. “As I’ve heard you say on more than one occasion: ‘yield to the logic of the situation!’” It was as close as he dared come to “I told you so!”
House rolled his eyes. Oh fine! The Ducklings were learning to quote his old “Trekkie”
euphemisms back at him very effectively. “Point taken,” he mumbled. “Thanks.”
Foreman allowed himself to grin. “No sweat!”
Wilson was already out of the wheelchair,
out of House’s tan jacket, out of his French loafers, and stretched out on the examination table when they entered. Cuddy had an IV in her hand, preparing to swab Wilson’s arm. At the head of the bed, materials necessary to start an IV lay ready.
Cuddy connected the tubing to the bag and set the drip flow to the proper amount.
Chase was readying a blood-pressure cuff, checking vitals and double-checking each procedure. Cameron was preparing to draw a blood sample, and it looked like Wilson was in good hands. Foreman rolled a wheeled stool in House’s direction with a discreet nod and an insistent glare. House sank down onto it and rolled himself toward Wilson’s head. “Hey … Wonder Boy Oncologist … they’re gonna make you pee in a Dixie cup!”
“Hey, miserable diagnostician …” They were preparing him to be rolled out of there for further testing. “They’re gonna make you pee
up a rope …” He winced as another needle punctured his arm. Pain meds.
Cuddy suppressed a smile and taped a square
of gauze to Wilson’s arm. She shoved his forearm against his upper arm
and held it there as she made a disgusted sound deep in her throat. “I
feel like I’m standing in the middle of a mouth battle between two twelve-year-olds!”
House hid a smirk also and ignored
the barb, saying instead: “We need to admit him overnight for observation.” He looked down at Wilson, but his friend’s eyes were closed and he’d gone
all relaxed and out of it. “His back pain was worse than I thought, dammit!” House regretted deeply that his foolish fabrication the day before had suddenly become
blown way out of proportion, although he would never admit it unless pressed, and maybe not even then. A tired old phrase nagged at the edge of his mind:
careful what you wish for … you may get it!” *Thanks, Uhura!*
“He didn’t tell me he was feeling
that bad. Just kept griping that he was catching cold … and I kept telling
him to keep his snotty nose to himself.”
“He’s been around you too long!” Foreman quipped.
“Dr. House.” Cuddy’s voice was pitched low. “Don’t beat
yourself up about this. Foreman’s right.
In many ways, he’s as stubborn as you are. He has a urinary tract
infection … possibly kidney involvement. I’m going to order an IVP
to be sure. His pain probably came on suddenly and you couldn’t have known. He did get caught in the rain yesterday, and that wasn’t fun. I did too. Wrenching his back didn’t help. We’ll
start him on antibiotics … ampicillin probably … and admit him overnight as you suggest.” She looked across at him and glared. “You could benefit
this hospital greatly if you and your people did a few turns in the clinic … or if your leg is bothering you, go to
your office and get caught up with your paperwork. Either way, Dr. Wilson will
be well taken care of.
“Another thing …” She turned to look at both men as though she’d forgotten something. “A patient came into the emergency room after collapsing in the middle of the
street downtown. He almost got hit by a pickup truck. He’s in sad shape; dirty, ragged, skin and bones. He’s
probably homeless. The attending says his symptoms present a lot like Polio …
and that’s practically unheard of these days. She turned her
attention pointedly to House. You and Foreman might want to go check that out
House blinked. “Polio?”
“That’s what I said. The E. R. nurse started a chart on him. Foreman has a copy
… don’t you?” Her eyes sought Foreman’s, and he nodded.
“I put it on the counter over there
when I came in here.” He turned to House and stared at him intently. “Want to check it out with me?”
House wheeled himself across to the counter,
picked up the sheet of paper and scanned it quickly. He sighed, rolled himself
back and looked down into Wilson’s peaceful face. His friend was in good
hands. The prospect of clinic duty and spending the afternoon on his feet, or
sitting in his office while his leg thumped counterpoint with his heartbeat, did not sound appealing at all. He gathered himself, grasped his cane and pushed himself laboriously off the stool. He turned to Foreman. “Let’s go.” Then to Cuddy: “You’ll keep me in the loop, right?”
She nodded understanding. “As soon as I get him settled, I’ll page you.”
“Okay.” House rolled the stool into the nearest corner and made for the exam room’s door. Minimizing his lameness, he stepped back into the corridor with Foreman at his heels.
Chase and Cameron walked out behind them. Clinic duty called.
House snickered and quickened his pace.
Foreman rolled his eyes and hurried to
Cuddy smoothed Wilson’s damp hair
off his forehead and lifted the phone from its cradle. It was time to move the
youthful doctor to X-Ray for an IVP, and then to a room for the night.