Notes: A slightly different version of this piece appeared on a LiveJournal community last month. I like this one better. Standard disclaimers apply.
Metaphysics is defined as the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including such abstract concepts as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time and space.
"I should bring you a shirt from Hawaii."
"I'll take 'Thanks, But No Thanks' for 200, Alex," House said. "The Don Ho look… not really my thing."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "You could get your own shirt if you were coming with me."
"Why go all that way to play doctor when I can do it right here without the pesky jet lag?"
"Suit yourself, I'll bring you a grass skirt."
"Only if you're ready to watch me do the hula." House jumped out of his chair, thrust his hips out, waved his arms in the air and started to bend backwards.
"That's the limbo, House." Wilson grinned.
Stacy emerged from her study, interrupting their byplay as she walked through to the kitchen.
"Hey, what's for dinner?" House asked her.
"I'm not cooking for you losers. Got work." House picked up a napkin from the coffee table and tossed it in her direction. "So, kung pao chicken for two?" he said to Wilson.
"My flight is early, and I still have to pack." Wilson got up to leave. Friendly goodbyes wound all around them: a quick hug from Stacy, a mocking dismissal from House, who was already looking for takeout menus. "I guess that's kung pao chicken for one."
House waved from the window as Wilson got into his car.
Wilson couldn't choose between the mango and the pineapple, so he didn't. Why not have both? He crammed spears of fruit into his mouth with his fingers, crushing the sweet flesh with his teeth. In the privacy of his balcony, he let the juices dribble down his chin onto his neck, soaking the collar of his undershirt.
Room service was a beautiful thing. Its decadence was so unlike him.
He looked out over the beach at the wet sand flecked with white birds and dark strands of kelp. The tide was going out. Tourists would throng the place before too long. He considered going for a walk, but instead he took out his cell phone and let his finger rest over the number three, House was on speed dial right after voice mail and his service. He circled the shiny key several times.
Gloating was one thing that House richly deserved for bailing on the trip in the first place, but House would hear his tales of luscious fruit and that anesthesiologist from New Zealand from the perspective of a gray New Jersey October. It might be construed as torture, and that was going to be much more fun in person.
Next time the medical profession dumped a trip to Hawaii in the guise of a conference in their laps, he'd twist House's arm a little harder to make sure he took advantage. He should be here. If he thought about it, which he didn't often, the truth was that Wilson did not enjoy his own company as much as he probably should.
He told himself to stop thinking so much, ate the last bit of pineapple, and wiped his fingers on his shirt.
His day was filled with people doing the things that would prove he'd been there. He played nine holes of golf with a fat, jovial cardiologist from Tulsa who spent the whole time talking about his four kids. He sat through a panel on the on the potential impact of the Human Genome Project on the future of medicine, which was not as interesting as it should have been because the chair was an ancient geneticist whose stammer and skepticism rendered the topic nearly incomprehensible.
In the evening he schmoozed just enough that his name would come up in conversation after they all went back to their jobs. He lost himself in a whirl of names and faces that he would never actively remember, unless one of them popped up again at a future conference.
Midnight found him back on his balcony. He considered calling the anesthesiologist's room, but his fear of entanglement won out over the memory of a wide smile and a warm body. The one night was transgression enough, even if nobody else knew about it.
The ocean was out there, beyond the light. The sounds of water crashing against water made him think of gravity. Did the people who lived here all the time notice pull of the water to the shore any more than he noticed the pull of his feet to the ground?
Numbers glowed on the nightstand: 12:23. As the day caught up with him, bed was the only thing that made sense. He relished the feel of the cool, clean sheets against his skin as he worked his legs under the covers and sank into a pillow. He rolled away from the numbers and watched the moon before he shut his eyes to its light and allowed sleep to take him.
The peace did not last. A gasp startled him from his rest, then nothing. He jolted up in bed. His eyes strained to focus. He wanted nothing; but there was something, and he needed to know.
The room was still and calm, only the numbers changed. The sheets fell away from his body. He struggled against his own breath; was it a dream? Was he, in fact, dreaming now? He touched a hand to an arm and felt cold.
Dread seeped into him from the darkness.
He felt his blood in his veins, as if each cell were gaining on the next. Go home. Don't wait. Go now.
He looked down at his hand and his arm; felt them drop and strike his legs, fast and heavy, all for naught. Something was on fire, something at home; some nameless thing that suddenly meant everything to him.
The prudent voice telling him to wait, that there are tools he can use to dispel this irrational fear, an arsenal he uses every day of his life, was too quiet.
He heard one word, one word only: go.
He saw the sunrise from a 767 en route from Honolulu to Dallas and the sunset as he sped home from Philadelphia by car. It all looked exactly as it had when he left: same lights on the highway, same screaming billboards, same ivy-covered walls. It was all the same.
His people, his family, were all well as far as he could tell by telephone. His mother's clucking and his girlfriend's dismissive laughter did little to reassure him. He could not shake the blank unrest. Even the feel of familiar road under his tires was not helping, not yet.
House was out of reach, but that was normal. Wilson knew that if he had spoken to his friend, House would have joined in the women's derision. House's lack of response comforted him because it was so ordinary. It felt oddly like a touchstone.
As his memory trampled over the past day, Wilson was not sure he knew what a touchstone was. He drove slowly past his apartment building, where the darkness gave him a sense of calm. Work was the last thing on his short mental list, and he was beginning to think that he would find nothing out of line at the hospital.
It was possible, after all, that only he was wrong; that his panic was a bump in the night. He pulled into his regular parking spot, as if he had been called in late on any ordinary day. His breath came easier. He was almost home.
He reached for his pager out of habit. Leaving it dark was out of the question. In a few seconds, it glowed. He looked at it and jumped a bit as it made a noise.
His legs and his lungs ached by the time he reached the second floor.
Dr. Cuddy leaned over the central desk of the intensive care unit interrogating a nurse. She turned toward the rustle of Wilson's approach. His face asked a thousand questions at once.
Her expression made her out to be guilty of something. She plucked a chart from the rack and held it out to him.
The gasp from the night before pounded in his ears as the patient's name registered: House, Gregory.
Cuddy moved to explain. The words she spoke were familiar to him, but they weren't connecting. Necrosis. Bypass. Coma. Arrest. Lost him.
All the fragments assembled, formed a weapon that hit him, hard.
House was his friend. He was family, not by birth, but by choice. They chose each other. The simple fact of remainder bound them together, their story half told.
Wilson's whole body felt spongy. He wanted to pass out. He saw Cuddy looking at him, taking in the full picture. He still wore the t-shirt he had slept in the night before, and shorts with large pockets. They were too big for him. His bright floral shirt looked out of place in the stillness of the ICU. His hair moved in twenty directions at once.
Wilson walked toward a sliding glass door. It was just like the one that led out to the balcony. Was that today or yesterday?
The room was dark but for the glow from several monitors that crowded House's head. He lay on a narrow, complicated bed, trapped in a web of tubes and wires. He looked disconnected, as if he were part of another world.
"Greg," he whispered.
"He's under heavy sedation," Cuddy said. "He's been in bad shape for a couple of days, things went south after the first surgery and we had to go back in about six this morning. The situation is complicated."
Wilson shook his head. She didn't know the half.
"How did you get here, Dr. Wilson? Did somebody call you?"
As a matter of fact, somebody did.
He nudged the door and slipped through. His long journey home was complete.