Well, here it is. After a hiatus of positively Housian proportions, this fic is finally being updated! My apologies for making you all wait so long and my thanks to those who rightfully – and righteously - bugged me to get writing again!
Once again, please do review and let me have your thoughts – good and bad – about this chapter. The more reviews I get, the more likely I am to get the next update done quicker:)
Okay then… bring on the angst…
In Self Defence – Chapter 11
House awoke suddenly from a fitful sleep, consciousness flooding back with a sharpness that snapped his eyes open. For a moment he was disoriented and he stared uncomprehendingly at the bland green ceiling, a vague feeling of disquiet settling like a cold weight in his chest.
Memory filtered back in stages, sensory perception coalescing into comprehension; green ceiling - 2nd floor ICU at PPTH; beeping of monitors – hospital room, a vague memory of nausea and a blurry Cuddy standing over him looking worried. He shifted uncomfortably in the hospital bed and the stiff, medicated numbness in his torso and limbs brought jumbled recollections of pain, of the claustrophobia of a CT machine, his ribs aching as he laughed with Wilson, fumbling drowsily through neuro checks, Wilson's hands on his shoulders as he retched helplessly and then.. then nothing. White noise. An awareness of time having passed... but nothing there to fill the gap. A hole in his memory.
He grimaced in frustration. The information was just there, tantalisingly out of reach, and he couldn't help feeling that if he just concentrated he could find a way to access the memories... but the doctor in him knew better. His memory would return in its own time – if at all. The only thing to be achieved from trying to force the matter was a pounding headache. Speaking of which.. he raised a hand, slowly and carefully, to his head and pressed his fingers lightly to his temple where he could already feel the heavy, tight beginnings of pressure. His fingers brushed against the tight, hot flesh of the swelling near his hairline and he flinched, his hand jerking away. He let his arm drop back to the bed with a sigh.
The interview with the detectives had been exhausting. Frustrating and pointless and exhausting. They'd gone around and around in circles, asking questions he had no answers to. Did he remember what happened in the clinic? Did he know his attacker? Roughly what time had the attack taken place? Was he aware of anyone who would want to hurt him?
He'd almost laughed aloud at that question. Under different circumstances he would have told the idiots exactly what he thought of them and their pointless questions but the struggle to and from the CT machine had sapped his strength and he'd felt ridiculously weak and tired, unable to summon up the enthusiasm to indulge in sarcasm. So he'd lain helplessly in the prison of his hospital bed, unable to do anything for himself, listlessly responding to a litany of idiotic questions.
By the time they'd given up and left him in peace his head had been pounding and a rising nausea had left him feeling as green as the endless ceiling above him. He had decided that, in his professional medical opinion, concussion sucked.
Left alone, confined to a hospital bed with only the ceiling for entertainment, House had realised that the police had at least been good for one thing: distraction. Distraction from the discomfort, from the queasiness, from thinking. For the first time since awakening in this mess he was awake and alert – and alone. Without the cotton wool confusion of strong drugs, and without anything to do, House's mind went into overdrive. He detested inactivity at the best of times, always needing some kind of stimulation, something to occupy his mind – his work, his TV, his music, his Gameboy, the everyday puzzles presented by the people around him. His mind was restless and relentless, requiring constant input. Boredom was anathema to him.
And now, with no-one to talk to and nothing to occupy his mind, he couldn't help dwelling on his situation. Like the temptation to keep probing at a tender tooth, just to see if its still painful, he couldn't resist poking at the edges of the hole in his memory. It was the oddest sensation. A void where there should be consciousness. The knowledge that he had done things, said things, existed, interacted, and yet had absolutely no recall, no record of that time. He had found out quickly that frustration only increased the tightening band of pressure around his temples; and that the headache did nothing to help his nausea.
He had felt lost and out of control, his own body and mind betraying him. He was trapped, physically and mentally, with nothing but his own unwelcome thoughts to occupy him and it was with a feeling of almost desperation that he had fumbled for the call button. Unaccustomed anxiety had made him snappy and he had seen the nurse's face tighten with resentment at his caustic remarks, his demands for pain relief and anti-emetics met with the resigned lack of sympathy reserved for particularly difficult patients. He had felt a momentary comfort in the familiarity of the scene, Dr House upsetting the nurses once again, but his illusion of control was ripped rudely away when the growing nausea surged dizzyingly and the nurse he had so recently chastised was rolling him efficiently to one side, her firm hand on his shoulders affirming her authority over him as she had held the basin to his chin, her face carefully expressionless as he retched helplessly. Concussion really sucked.
He'd been sweating and pale by the time his meds were drawn and administered. The necessity of sharp movement had reawoken the fire in his ribs, tendrils of pain licking across his torso, stealing his breath and adding to his nausea. He'd been ridiculously, pathetically grateful for the slow push of drugs into the IV port and he knew from the nurse's eyes that she'd seen it. He could see her visibly reconsidering her difficult patient assessment as she'd fussed around the bed, disposing of the spent syringe, rearranging the sheets where they'd pulled loose as he'd vomited pathetically into a cardboard bowl.
He'd felt a sort of apathetic despair creep over him. This was everything he hated about being an invalid: people changing their perceptions based on a physical condition, acting differently because of guilt or pity, modulating their reactions, making allowances. He didn't want allowances, he didn't want to be treated differently. It wasn't his damn leg that made him a cripple, it was other people who made him a cripple. He was rude and abrasive and they let him be. Because of his leg. Because he was damaged. He was rude and abrasive because they let him be.
He'd closed his eyes against the unwanted sympathy.
He'd ignored her when she had asked if he needed anything else. He'd ignored the uncomfortable silence as she had debated whether to push for a response. He'd ignored the soft hush of the door sliding open and closed. He'd kept his eyes shut against the world and waited for the drugs to kick in, to smother nausea and pain with longed-for nothingness and let sleep claim him.
He had no idea had long he'd slept. There were no windows in the ICU rooms, no movement of sunlight and shadow by which to gauge the passing of time. A glance up at the IV pole told him that his saline drip was fuller than it had been. He'd been out long enough for someone to hang a new bag then. He felt a vague disquiet at the thought of people being here while he slept, standing over him, hooking him up to drugs and fluids whilst he was unaware. His thoughts strayed unbidden to that vacant space in his memory.. the white noise that represented hours of his existence, gone in an instant. He grimaced and shifted uncomfortably. He hated this.
He was seized with a sudden restlessness, a desire to be anywhere but here doing anything but this; lying here immobile in a hospital bed with nothing to do but think. Even clinic duty was preferable to… he caught himself before that thought could go any further. Last time he was in the clinic… Well, he didn't even remember last time he was in the clinic. Yesterday. 24 hours ago and he had absolutely no recall. He groaned in frustration, hands fisting uselessly at his sides. He was going around in circles here. He had to get out of here before he went insane.
When Wilson slid open the door to House's room in the ICU at 1:17pm he was not at all surprised to find his friend in a foul mood. He was mildly surprised not to find him in restraints – if the ICU nurses were to be believed, nothing short of that was going to placate them and they claimed to have Cuddy's full approval. After spending an enlightening few minutes hearing his friend's many faults listed in great detail, Wilson was about one step away from signing off on the idea himself. He pushed the door closed and met House's sullen gaze with a look of resigned exasperation. He didn't say a word – didn't need to – as House regarded his hands-on-hips posture with a look of disdain before making a noise of disgust and turning his head away.
"You've been taking to nurses."
Wilson sighed heavily.
"Talking? No, not really.." His words were heavy with sarcasm, "Talking does not adequately describe the tirade I've just had to listen to."
He raised his eyes in mock consideration, "Ambushed would possibly be a more accurate word for it?..."
"Whatever." House's voice was muffled, his face still turned away from Wilson.
James frowned, taking a moment to study his friend. The bed had been raised slightly since his last visit and House lay in a half-upright position, the sheets twisted around his waist. The change in posture had caused the ubiquitous front-fastening PPTH hospital gown to gape slightly where it wrapped around House's thin frame and Wilson swallowed around a suddenly dry tongue as he caught a glimpse of the purpling colour beginning to develop across House's chest. That old, familiar feeling of sick fear churned once again in his stomach as he took note of the shallow respirations, the sallow tinge to House's skin.
"House?" He moved cautiously to the bed, his exasperation all but forgotten. "How are you doing?"
"I want out of here."
The usually gruff voice was subdued and Wilson had to make a conscious effort not to make a sarcastic retort to such a patently ridiculous request. He took a moment to just breathe, his hand pulling unconsciously at the back of his neck as he turned his gaze to the ceiling, gathering his thoughts, before choosing his words carefully.
"House... it's been less than a day.."
His attempt at rationality trailed off as House suddenly turned his head and regarded him with a piercing gaze, the blue of his eyes seeming feverishly bright against the pallor of his skin.
"I'm going crazy in here."
Wilson couldn't help the hint of a wry smile that crept onto his face. "Well, you're certainly driving the nurses crazy, I'll give you that..."
House didn't even crack a smile and that's when Wilson knew this was serious. His heart sank. When his innocent enquiry into House's condition had been met with a barrage of complaints from the nursing staff, Wilson hadn't been too worried. God only knew that House often seemed to take some kind of perverse pleasure in aggravating people and he had taken the nurses' irritation with their latest patient as a sign that House was feeling more like his old self, having to hide a smile as he'd recalled Cuddy joking just that morning that House wouldn't be truly happy until he'd made at least one nurse cry.
However, it was becoming pretty clear that House wasn't having any kind of fun here. If he wasn't grinning at the effect his exploits had had on the nursing staff then he wasn't acting out just for the sake of it. And if he wasn't behaving badly just to get a reaction then that meant…
For a moment Wilson was too stunned to react.
"House! You can't be serious!"
He ran a hand distractedly through his hair, trying to find the words to convey his disbelief, his exasperation, his utter conviction that this was the dumbest idea ever.
"You've got a concussion and three broken ribs! You can't even get out of bed on your own – though not for lack of trying from what I hear! – never mind actually walk anywhere… You're in no fit state to be discharged!"
Expecting a snide comeback or some form of biting insult, if anything it worried Wilson even more that House didn't even try to argue with him. House simply let him talk himself out and then that cold blue gaze was shut off as he closed his eyes, with every indication of genuine fatigue, and rolled his head loosely to the other side, effectively turning his back.
Wilson was at a loss. Despite all they'd been through together over the years, he'd never seen House react like this.
His voice was so quiet that, standing helplessly beside the bed, Wilson almost didn't hear it.
"I'm going round in circles."
"What?" For a moment he wasn't sure he'd heard right. "House…"
He didn't move, didn't look back at Wilson, just kept talking in that oddly quiet voice, "Nothing to do but think… can't think about anything else…. I can't remember… but I can't stop thinking…"
Wilson was frozen. For a brief moment he had no idea what to say. House didn't talk about things. They didn't talk about things. The joked and snarked and teased and said all the important things without ever needing to actually say them. House being honest floored him. It… scared him.
The pillow rustled as House turned to meet his gaze and Wilson knew he'd hesitated too long. He'd blown it. The moment was gone.
There was an edge of House's usual acidity in his voice as he neatly side-stepped the issue, his eyes carefully neutral as he turned his gaze to the pale green ceiling. "At the very least get me my Gameboy or something, Wilson." he griped. "If I have to stare at this ceiling much longer I won't be held responsible when I snap and really give the nurses something to complain about."
For a brief second Wilson thought about pushing it. Thought about saying something; forcing the issue; trying to get back that brief, missed moment in time. But he knew House; knew him better than anyone. So he let himself follow House's lead, a smile on his lips as he argued the trouble he'd be in if Cuddy caught him smuggling in contraband, taking a kind of melancholy comfort from the ease with which they slipped, with barely a stumble, back into their old familiar roles.
He'd planned to stay for a while, keep House company, but he could see fatigue written in his friend's washed out complexion, in the fine tremors in the hand fiddling restlessly with the starched hospital sheets. House's gaze was fixed on the ceiling again when he stated simply, "I'm tired."
He kept the tone light, stopping in the doorway with a parting offer to risk life and limb by sneaking in some form of distraction later that day. House merely lifted a hand in response, his eyes already closed. When Wilson stopped at the nurses' desk for a quick update he figured something must have shown on his face because this time the complaints were held in check and the staff were unfailingly polite and concerned. He wondered briefly if this was how House felt; everyone around you reacting not to who you were but to what you were. The thought did nothing for his sombre mood. As he left the ICU he couldn't help looking back at the glass-walled room. House lay unmoving in his hospital bed, surrounded by the paraphernalia of modern medicine, his face turned to the ceiling. His eyes were open.
House lay thinking for a long time after Wilson left. He was thinking about circles. He felt inexpressibly weary but sleep seemed to elude him. He couldn't seem to stop pushing at it, probing the edges of his memory, searching for clues to fill in the gaps that felt like raw wounds in his consciousness. Round and round and round until he felt dizzy. He wasn't aware of sleep creeping up on him, wasn't aware of his eyes slowly sliding shut as he slipped into darkness. He wasn't aware of dreaming – not until he awoke suddenly with a pounding heart, a cry escaping him as his involuntary jerk into wakefulness pulled tender skin taught over cracked bone. For a moment he thought someone else was in the room and he felt an involuntary panic rise like bile in his throat until he realised that the harsh, heavy breathing was his own, every gasping inhalation a stab of fire across his rib cage. He tried to relax, to slow his breathing, suddenly aware of the thundering of his pulse in his ears.
The dream was gone, swallowed into blackness with the rest of his goddamn fallible memory, leaving behind only a sick feeling of fear and a vague image of something dark moving at him with terrible speed. He raised a hand unconsciously to his temple, startling himself when his fingertips brushed against the tight swelling there, the ragged gash half hidden in his hairline. He jerked his hand away angrily, his breath hitching in his chest. He hated this. Hated feeling incomplete. Out of control.
House fixed his eyes on the endless green ceiling and concentrated on breathing, just breathing, waiting for the pain receptors to stop firing and the blood to stop pounding in his head. He felt trapped; imprisoned as much by the fragility of his scattered thought processes as by the physical frailty of his damaged body. He ached all over; his body crying out for rest and healing even as his mind spun in useless circles, achieving nothing but exhaustion.
Sleep was a long time coming.