Thanks for the reviews. I appreciate them. This chapter goes well with Johnny Cash's rendition of Nine Inch Nails' song "Hurt."
Chapter 34: Hurt
An hour later, House opened his eyes to the same bright overhead hospital lights he'd seen over and over again in the past four days—the past eternity, may as well be, as slowly as four days passed in a hospital bed. A mix of phlegm and more than a day's build-up of normal oral bacteria made him swish his tongue against his teeth with disgust. Some mouthwash, was that so much to ask?
His body radiated heat. The heat in his legs was an after-effect of working his muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments earlier. As for his torso and head—probably a low-grade fever: a response to the pain caused by physical therapy, to physical therapy itself, to all the coughing he'd done and the pain it had produced, to his body adjusting to aspirin's action after days of meperidine and ibuprofen's actions, or a sign that his immune system was still working hard. A combination of all of those causes, probably; he was no less uncomfortable if it were one cause rather than another.
Wilson breathed somewhere to his right. Still there. They were still watching him. They being Cuddy. And Wilson. Sort of.
His throat hurt. Sore. Dry. Scratchy. Nothing serious. Just a side effect of sleeping. Which he didn't remember doing, but he assumed that it must have happened, because more time had passed than he had experienced. He didn't recall anyone—okay, Wilson, not anyone—giving him something for pain after PT. Nothing oral, anyway. So either the dose of new aspirin-infused Vicodin he'd taken before PT had quelled the grating in his knee sufficiently to let him sleep or Wilson was really, really awesome. The former, probably, since he didn't feel buzzed and hadn't slept that well. Still, having hyrdocodone back in his system rather than being forced to endure PT on nothing but Cuddy-brand snake oil and an anti-inflammatory—he'd let Wilson off this time for not providing a post-PT booster.
Maybe not that low a fever, he considered, realizing his thoughts were bouncing around like a poorly-played game of Pong.
A dark pink plastic cup waited on the patient tray on front of him. Wilson's doing of course. Who else? Water, he wanted. The heat in both of his legs to go away, he wanted. The fluid in his lungs, the cracks in his ribs, the lingering soreness around his eyes, nose, and jaw, the too-familiar overhead lights—these he wanted to go away as well.
Knowing it would upset his wet lungs, he resisted the impulse to sigh out of self-pity. Four days on his back. A lifetime. The constant tingling twinges crisscrossing his right quad—only irritating right now, not unbearable as they had been yesterday—fired with the same persistence as always.
Only one other time had he woken up under the same hospital room lights for four days straight.
The humming in his leg didn't change at that thought; it no longer responded to memories of the infarction. Maybe that meant he no longer responded to those memories. And maybe he was more than just the humming in his leg.
And maybe he was just really thirsty.
He picked the cup up and drained it in two swallows. A glance to the right at his personal waterboy revealed that he (the waterboy) was engrossed in something. House slammed the cup down on the tray and smiled mildly when Wilson jumped.
Wilson glared; House's smile widened. He waved the cup.
"Dying of thirst here," he said in that weak, froggy hospital voice he hated.
"Dying of paperwork here," Wilson returned, setting the papers aside and stretching. "Trade ya."
"Nope," House answered, tracking Wilson's movement through the room as he refilled the cup. "There's a cure for thirst, but the cure for paperwork…" He trailed off intentionally, then shrugged. "You're better off betting on someone finding the cure for cancer first." He took the cup from Wilson and drank half of it quickly. "Would put you out of a job, though, so maybe you shouldn't bet on that." He finished the cup of water and gave it back to Wilson for another refill.
Wilson gave him the bemused stare, half-chuckle, and rock-back-and-forth-on-the-heels move that signaled he was reassessing House's sanity yet again. He said nothing; just poured more water into cup, placed the pitcher on the tray where House could reach it himself, and returned to his chair.
House glowered at Wilson for not responding—he realized he sounded mildly delirious, but that was nothing new—then stretched cautiously, testing the degree of movement he could make without triggering the internal knives and ice picks. A constant dull ache he could handle—for more than five years he'd felt a constant pain of some kind—but the acute stabs in his ribs wore him down. He concluded that he was still limited to slow, careful motions if he wanted to minimize the knivings. Same as yesterday. Same as the day before yesterday.
Wilson had returned his papers. Agh. Not even a little help with what was obviously a severe case of boredom. Hadn't even turned on the TV. Some friend.
"I'm becoming bored with my medical problems," House said. He screwed up his face, reconsidering. "No, I've been bored." House eyed Wilson. "So you must be…" He waited for Wilson to fill in the blank.
Wilson exhaled in that restless, half-annoyed, definitely skittish manner he had, bounced a little in his chair, opened his mouth to answer, and hesitated. House had a theory that he only pretended to be reconsidering his words when he fidgeted like that.
"It's refreshing, you being concerned about my well-being," Wilson said, "but since there's no cure for paperwork other than doing it, as you pointed out…" He spread a hand to indicate the stack of papers next to him.
House's scrutiny intensified. Not only was Wilson not helping him become un-bored, he wasn't even… House shook his head. He was tired of Wilson's complete lack of company. If Wilson was going to babysit him, he could at least provide some entertainment. If not… Well…
House concluded that a complete stranger was better than a non-entertaining Wilson, with his attempt to do work while House was very bored. It was a slap in the face.
"Pleasurable as I know you find paperwork," House began, "you do have little bald-headed cancer kids scampering around here somewhere, dying, puking, breaking their poor parents' hearts…you see where I'm going."
"You wanna get rid of me, House, just say so," Wilson said absently, intent on the form in front of him. "There's no need for subtlety."
House drank the rest of the water in the cup but didn't bother refilling it. Couldn't, really. The more time he spent sleeping, losing weight and energy, the heavier the cast on his right wrist became. No sense in spilling water on himself.
Wilson wasn't doing anything to draw him out of a sulk, so he gave in. Because really, he had become an object of pure pathos. Absolutely pathetic. It had only taken about four days for him to reach the same state during the leg infarct too. Wilson may be a better hanger-on than Stacy—less drama overall even though Wilson had had his moments in the past few days—but that didn't diminish House's sense of being utterly useless. Now as then he wanted to be useless and pathetic at home, or at least in private if he had to stay here. Four days into in-patient confinement portion of the infarction, he'd trained Stacy to limit her visits to a few minutes every few hours so he could have plenty of private time to assess and reassess his situation.
Privacy wasn't such a huge request. He frowned: hadn't they cleared up the whole 'you're suicidal' issue days ago? Now Cuddy was doing nothing more than irritating him with petty inconveniences. Which wasn't much of a change from her usual behavior, but he was ill and incapacitated, and perfectly capable of being ill and incapacitated alone.
He fixed his best soul-piercing stare on the part in Wilson's hair, as Wilson insisted on paying attention to his papers.
"I've lost track of the restrictions Cuddy's placed on me," he said. "I get my privacy back—what, when pigs become kosher?"
Wilson rolled his eyes.
House shrugged. "Just trying to plan my day."
Wilson shifted in the chair but didn't answer immediately. House, becoming truly bored now, decided to make him answer.
"Or maybe the better question is," he began with a sly grin, "have you piled the remains of your self-esteem in my living room yet?"
Wilson's mouth formed a hard line. "Well, the last time we talked seriously about you, your brain was cooking itself," Wilson said. "I don't know if you remember…"
House took the pause Wilson gave him. "I must've said something really soulful and honest," he said in his overly sincere tone, "because I haven't seen the shrink around lately."
Wilson shrugged. "You know what the shrink thinks already—that you're depressed and that you'd benefit from an anti-depressant."
"A tricyclic anti-depressant," House amended, "rumored to be somewhat effective for chronic pain, known to be contraindicated for patients whose livers' well-being outweighs their generalized feelings of sadness at not being happy all the time." He paused, swallowing against the dryness in his throat. "Or did Cuddy take me off acetaminophen this morning for some other reason."
"Not contraindicated," Wilson countered, "to be used with caution. And only on patients with impaired liver function. Your liver is—"
"No longer metabolizing massive amounts of acetaminophen because…?"
Wilson sighed. "Trying it won't hurt you."
"Probably won't hurt me," House corrected. His eyes begged Wilson to contradict him.
Wilson rolled his eyes. "So pick another compound that acts on serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake systems. Or on dopamine reuptake. In fact, I'm surprised you're not interested in upping your dopamine level."
"My neurochemistry is fine the way it is," House grumbled, sensing that Wilson was evading his original question only now. He realized he must have a fever if he was noticing things this slowly.
"Right," Wilson sniffed, "the rest of us need an adjustment."
"I don't think I need it," House said, a little too forcefully, stirring a wet, heavy cough from his lungs. He breathed shallowly until the urge to keep coughing subsided.
"In my medical opinion," he continued, "I don't need it. Any of it. I wouldn't prescribe it to myself."
Wilson sniffed again. "What you would prescribe to yourself—"
"Because my damn leg hurts," House seethed, aware that he was going to make himself cough again but too annoyed at having this discussion again when what the really wanted to know was when he'd get his privacy back, and when he'd get to go home and be miserable in more palatable surroundings to really care.
"If it didn't hurt, I wouldn't need anything."
There was no avoiding the reflex: he'd gotten too upset, spoken too loudly, and breathed too deeply, so of course he began coughing. He cursed and coughed, cursed and coughed, starting to get really pissed off at everything. He applied pressure to his ribs, even more pissed off when Wilson got up to hold a basin under his chin, and even more pissed off that if Wilson hadn't been there, he'd be hacking green goo all over his lap right now.
House snatched the basin from Wilson, giving him the best dirty look he could manage.
Wilson returned House's anger with an impassive expression and poured more water for him, then returned to his seat. He crossed his arms and waited for House to get his wind back.
Once House was no longer a light shade of puce, Wilson continued the conversation.
"I don't have to point out the entirely hypothetical nature of what you just said."
"But you did anyway," House said hoarsely, angrily swallowing the water Wilson had given him. That Wilson had had to give him because his damn arm was too heavy to lift and— He ground his teeth, snarling at the crap he'd coughed up. If Wilson wanted to make this difficult, he had no problem playing along. He was so tired of being sick and in pain.
"Wife number 3 jumps ship and you don't feel like self-medicating with a drink or a fight?" House sneered.
"I know the difference between self-medicating and overdosing, and I know you know the difference, too," Wilson pointed out.
"I can't screw up?" House growled, wanting to so badly to yell, hating that he had to restrain himself to keep his lungs in one piece. "You're the one who's always telling me I'm not God. Here's your proof."
"You can screw up," Wilson said, "but in the same way, twice—that's suspect."
"By that logic, you never should have been allowed to marry Mrs. Wilson number 3." House realized he was starting to shake. He hadn't been aware he was so angry. But he felt good.
"Big difference," Wilson retorted, feeling himself growing as angry as House.
"Yeah," House said. "My mistake screws up my week. Yours screws up a few years at least, and another person's life."
He grinned wildly, his head spinning, as blood crept up Wilson's neck and into his face.
Wilson set his jaw. "We're not making this comparison."
"Don't want to think you're just as screwed up as I am, huh?" House sneered, well aware that he was pushing an already-fragile Wilson. He'd been manipulated too much this week; he was allowed to manipulate someone else, to feel normal again. "Really ruins that image you have of yourself, doesn't it?"
Wilson was fully red-faced now. "Yeah, it does," he grudgingly admitted. "But we're not talking about the same thing."
"No," House said dangerously. "The damage I do to my body can be undone."
As angry as he was because he knew House was right, Wilson forced himself to stay seated. He wouldn't get up and leave. He wouldn't avoid this conversation just because House was making him angry enough to do something he'd regret.
House had begun to pant. He swallowed against the spasms in his lungs and made himself calm down. Furious as it made him, he knew he couldn't do anything else. He'd made his point. Now he had other business to tend to.
He unhooked the wires and tubes that tied him to the bed, swept the covers aside, and began the difficult process of moving his sore legs.
Wilson had begun to settle down too, having made himself stare at the floor and count to twenty a few times. When he looked up, House was—
"Whoa—wait—where are you going?"
Wilson started to stand but House's condescending expression pushed him back.
"To take a dump," House answered nastily, not wanting help, knowing he needed it, feeling so frustrated, but unable to do anything about it. "Wanna hold my hand?"
Wilson glowered at him, annoyed, but found himself rising from the chair and approaching House anyway. What else could he do?
They both knew House needed help to cross the room, but again House's expression stopped Wilson in his tracks a few strides from House's side.
"You know I really want to hit you right now," House said menacingly. He didn't want or need any of this. Not any of it. But dammit, he had to get up and he needed help. Dammit.
Wilson tensed, anger flooding back. "Not as much as I want to hit you," he answered.
"You wouldn't hit a cripple," House taunted, still balancing precariously on the edge of the bed. "You wouldn't hit a non-cripple."
Wilson's face flushed and before either of them knew what was happening, Wilson slammed his fist into the drywall next to the bathroom door.
House sat still, somewhat amazed, watching as Wilson alternately shook his left wrist and gripped it tightly with his right hand. He had doubled over and was holding his left arm close to his body and snorting like an angry bull.
House waited for the initial shock to pass—ten, fifteen seconds.
"Tell me that's healthy," he said.
Wilson, still snorting and red-faced, looked up at him. "Better than keeping it inside."
A grim smile crept onto House's face. Wilson had just pointed out the reason he'd done what he'd done last week. How convenient.
"So you think intentionally causing yourself physical pain in order to relieve a strong emotion is healthy," House said.
Wilson kept clutching his hand, but his breathing had slowed. He didn't miss House's point.
"It's not the same thing."
"No," House said, "I didn't punch a wall. That's just stupid."
"What happens to most people when they take a handful of pills with liquor?" House asked.
Wilson stared at him, knowing the question was rhetorical as well as he knew the answer. He waited, clenching and unclenching his hand.
House waited too.
Realizing House wasn't going to lecture, Wilson straightened up some. "You could've aspirated," he said. "Plenty of people do."
House rolled his eyes. "I'm smart enough to pass out on my side."
Wilson ground his teeth, realizing what House meant. "Or pick a fight with someone twice your size," he said to himself. Suddenly his hand didn't hurt as much.
House tilted his head slightly. "You had to smash your hand to figure that out?" He chuckled carefully. "I wonder what Cuddy'll have to do."
House planted his left foot on the floor, held on to the bed rail to maintain his balance, and stood up. "Still gotta poop."
Wilson glowered again but stood to his full height and ducked under House's right arm. He stiffened as his forearm made contact with House's left side.
House chuckled again, wheezing and swallowing a cough. "That was really stupid."
Wilson grunted with annoyance as they took a step.
"Yeah, well, you stink," Wilson replied lamely. "I'll tell the nurses you need a bath."
He tightened his hold as House began to slump, already trembling with effort. Just a few steps, but four days lying a bed made those few steps nearly impossible.
"After…you tell Cuddy…why you need an x-ray," House countered breathlessly.
Wilson hissed and grunted as he helped House sit on the toilet.
"Baby," House accused, holding his rib cage loosely with his left arm, breathing as heavily as Wilson had been earlier, doing his best not to cough. "You want any of my new stash to ease that anger you can't keep under control—so not happening."
Wilson clutched his wrist again. "You're not going to be happy until I do hit you," he said.
House merely narrowed his eyes and farted. "You're not going to be happy if you're still here in thirty seconds."
Wilson affected repulsion and backed out of the bathroom. "Keep the door cracked," he instructed. "The nurses'll change the linens."
"And keep an eye on me," House grumbled, nudging the door closed.
Wilson nudged the door open to a crack. "You'd probably manage to flush yourself down the toilet if they didn't."
"Go tell Cuddy what you did," House called from behind the door.
House was too busy arranging his gown to close the door again. He heard Wilson leave. He knew he should feel some satisfaction now that Wilson had a more intimate understanding of his situation, but after so much burning anger and frustration, he felt nothing but emptiness.
Footsteps and shuffling alerted him to the presence of people changing his sheets. Fabulous. He stared at a spot on the tile floor to avoid looking at his body. They would want to know all about this little bodily function. They would have to help him back to bed, where he'd languish forever if Cuddy had her way.
This was misery. And in a minute or two, he'd have company. He closed his eyes. Just a little time to himself to feel like he had some autonomy, that was all he wanted. With a shallow sigh, he opened his eyes to stare at the floor again, knowing he wasn't going to get it.