A/N: This is the sequel to the fic I posted last month, "The Devil, You Say." I've tried to arrange it so that this is a stand-alone, but it is a sequel, so… we'll see, I s'pose! mjf
Disclaimer: Imagination and mistakes--mine. House M.D. et al--Fox, Shore et al
BATTLING THE DEMONS
CHAPTER ONE: Home
As Wilson unlocks the door to the apartment, he doesn't look at House; he knows better. He'd thought that House would sleep in the car on the way from the hospital; he should have slept. But he'd just sat quietly in the passenger seat gazing out the window—the same haunted stare he'd had in the parking lot at PPTH. When Wilson had turned on the radio, House had simply reached out, wordlessly, and flicked the dial off. He hadn't said a word; he still hasn't.
It's been a long weekend, Wilson thinks. And twenty-four hours of IV morphine, hasn't cleared his system yet—he's still sedated. That's all it is. Gotta be weird for him; first time in a long time that thigh's not clenching on him. Hasn't even had time to really process knowing that the breakthrough pain's over. Just need to give him time.
And now, they're home. And House has made it up the small concrete staircase by sheer force of will. The procedure to end the breakthrough cycles has taken more out of him than any of them had expected, and he's weak—even more unstable on his feet than usual, and no stamina left at all; his hand trembles on the grip of the cane so fiercely that the cane itself is shaking. God, Wilson, get the door open already, he thinks.
They enter the apartment and House heads straight for the couch, collapses into it. He grabs the remote, turns on the television, carefully props his legs on the coffee table, and stares at the TV screen. Quit eyeing me like a doctor; just go the hell away, okay?
Wilson reaches into the bag Cuddy had thrown together, removes the tools of his trade—stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter, penlight. "House, set of vitals, all right?" He sits next to House on the couch.
"Do what you gotta do." House's affect is flat, and he doesn't look away from the television. No, it's not 'all right,' does that make a difference?
"Sorry, but you and Cuddy railroaded me into bringing you home; just gotta keep a real close eye on the vitals for a couple of hours." He wraps the cuff around House's upper arm; B/P's a bit low, nothing too bad. House wordlessly holds his wrist out for the pulse, silently sits forward without being asked and breathes deeply for the breath sounds, leans back quietly for the cardiac assessment. He grabs the portable pulse ox, puts it on his finger himself, turns his hand so that Wilson can read the number—95—removes it and sets it on the table. He never speaks, never looks at Wilson.
"Let's do the neuro, and then we'll be done for a while." Now what are you gonna do, House? You have to look at me for this. Wilson picks up the penlight, reflexively lifts a hand to steer House's head towards him, thinks better of it and lowers his hand. "House," he says, raising the penlight and turning it on.
Like a blind man, House turns his head toward the penlight, but looks neither at Wilson nor at the beam. When Wilson gently holds an eyelid open, his fingers feel House flinch away from the touch.
"That's finished; can you get to the bedroom by yourself?" Just get some sleep; things'll seem better in a few hours.
"If I'd wanted to go to the bedroom, I'd already be there." I don't want to go to sleep—leave it alone.
Wilson decides to give him a few minutes, goes into the kitchen. He takes his time scooping some pudding into a bowl, pouring a glass of milk. He thinks about calling Cuddy. And what'll I tell her? House won't talk to me, won't look at me? House is acting… weird? It'll sound like I'm running to mommy. Finally, he rejects the idea, puts the food on a tray and goes back to the living room with it.
"Here, I brought you your first real food in two days!" He tries to put enthusiasm into his voice, but House ignores him. He holds back a sigh and sets the tray on the table.
House, never removing his eyes from the screen, moves his left leg the few inches to the tray, and slowly, deliberately sweeps it from the coffee table. For the first time since they stood in the parking lot, he turns his head and meets Wilson's eyes. "Oops." Both his voice and his eyes are tinged with something resentful.
Yell at me—get angry. Treat me like I'm just a normal person who did a mean, stupid thing. Throw the sponge at me and tell me to clean it up myself! House sighs and returns to the show when Wilson just shakes his head and walks to the kitchen.
Wilson's giving himself a pep talk in the kitchen, but it isn't helping much. "This is great, just terrific," he says to the empty room. "At the hospital, House gets into trouble because I act like family. At home, I get into trouble for acting like a doctor. He's lucky—if I were acting like family, that stunt with the pudding wouldn't have ended quietly. That was idiotic, even for House."
But House, Wilson reflects, is entitled to express a little over-the-top anger. Wilson remembers how he'd felt the moment he'd realized what they'd all been doing to House for so long. He was curled up on the floor in agony. That might've been bad enough; maybe I'd have believed him then. But when I saw his team there, I knew. I just knew.
It was that collapse in front of his fellows—it had cost House his privacy, his dignity—which had convinced Wilson that the last few months had been nothing short of a miscarriage of humanity. House had been the victim. And I was the one leading the attack. That bet with Cuddy I tricked him into, and telling him it was all psychosomatic, riding him about the frequency of his scrips. All that, and still….
He closes his eyes, visualizing House gripping his wrist, hearing the wonder in House's voice when he'd said, "I'm trusting you." And Wilson is, finally, doing his best to earn that undeserved trust.
Wilson remembers the pain control procedure, a continuous morphine drip designed to disrupt the breakthrough pain cycle which had been making House's life hell for so many months. They'd found out the hard way that the drip had worked; despite a dream so horrifying that House had paid an enormous toll, both physically and emotionally, there'd been no sign of breakthrough pain since the procedure.
Wilson will remember all his life the stark terror on House's face when the nightmare had been going on. But even that hadn't compared to House's utter panic when Wilson had managed to awaken him. The dream had been so real that House had awakened convinced his leg had been amputated.
It wasn't until Wilson had positioned him so that his arm was lying across the leg that House had calmed. And then the most remarkable thing had happened. Because the awful dream had taken away the last dregs of strength House had, because House, incredibly, was still aware enough to become agitated when his hand had slipped off the leg, Wilson had given him a bolus of morphine. Then Wilson himself had sunk into the bedside chair, intending to rest his head for only a moment. The memory of what occurred next is so vivid it transports Wilson back; he's there again, in his mind, and he relives the event which will stay with him forever.
House somehow, with an effort nothing short of superhuman, had managed to lift his hand and move it to Wilson's bowed head, had attempted a weak, awkward patting motion. And then, incredibly, he'd spoken. In a voice so soft that Wilson wondered for a moment if it was just a thought inside his own mind, House had said, "S'okay, Jimmy. We're safe… s'okay… I'm… here…"
And Wilson had realized that House was trying to comfort him. Through many layers of sedation, through House's own reticence about feelings, through unutterable physical weakness, House had met his eyes and tried to soothe him.
The hope inherent in this memory makes Wilson smile. "Makes up for a lot," he says aloud. "Almost makes me think he forgives me, a little. Almost makes me think everything he had to go through this weekend is worth it to him. That makes it worth it to me, too. And if he can forgive me… well, someday I may even forgive myself."
But several of the untoward incidents House had suffered during the weekend of treatment were, in Wilson's opinion, made worse by Wilson's difficulty in remaining objective. It had been difficult for Wilson to overcome his own insane desire to try to make it up to House for those months of unnecessary agony, the months of distrust. Wilson believes that his own reluctance to allow his dearest friend, his brother, to suffer any more, had on several occasions only added to the problem. As a result, he's determined that during House's recovery he will concentrate on the patient, and not on the friend.
House's conversation with himself isn't going so well. He can hear Wilson mumbling in the kitchen, and House comforts himself with the knowledge that at least he's not giving a monologue aloud to an empty room like Wilson is. Okay, so I went too far with the tray. Not like him to take it so calmly, though—he must really be pissed! Didn't mean to upset him that bad; just want things back to normal.
The weekend of treatment had been the culmination of months of intractable pain, pain no one else, including Wilson, had believed was physiological. And the added pain had cost House more than just a sharp decrease in physical health; his already-compromised ability to trust had gone through the shredder and come out virtually destroyed.
Wilson had come through for him in the end, though. When House had collapsed in front of his team, his friend had handled everything. Wilson had even administered that first dose of morphine without recriminations, without questioning the need. And House had felt the first stirrings of trust being rebuilt.
Jimmy just knew. When he had to come through, he did. Always does. Wish he'd quit beating himself up about it, though. I do enough of that for him; that's my job. He smiles at the fuzzy but definite memory of Wilson at his bedside, talking to an apparently unconscious House about their friendship:
"Okay, House," Wilson had said. "It's you and me. Just had a revelation—you might be interested. Like it or not—and sometimes I really don't like it at all—we're family, you and I. Brothers. And best friends on top of that. That means we're stuck with each other for the long haul. And for what it's worth, buddy, you need to remember that even when we don't like our family, we never stop caring about them…and worrying—ever. So deal, okay?"
House decides now that he'll get the sponge, clean up the mess himself. He hopes Wilson will take the gesture as an apology.
It takes twice the usual effort to stand. He's managed three steps when the cane tip lands in the spilled pudding and the cane slides away. His body's so weak that it makes no instinctive effort to protect itself, so he goes down harmlessly, a rag doll—even the thud is soft. But not soft enough—he hears a chair scrape across the floor in the kitchen. Laugh at me; make some snide comment about my athletic inability, just don't—
"House, are you all right? Don't move, I'm coming, stay put!" Wilson's already there, eyes worried, hands on House's shoulders, eyes assessing, hands on the right leg, eyes apologizing, ready to take responsibility for the fall—
"Leave me the hell alone!" He pushes Wilson's hands away roughly.
"Let me check you out. I should've cleaned this up; I'm sor--"
"Don't say it!" House interrupts angrily. "I was a jerk, okay? I deser-"
"But if I'd clea--"
"Shut up! Just shut up and get the hell away from me!"
That's it. Wilson stands abruptly, walks to the couch and sits as he repeats to himself his resolve to be the doctor. He leans back, folds his arms behind his head, and watches House impassively. He watches as House reaches for his cane with a trembling hand, watches as he grabs the edge of the table with the other hand, watches as he levers himself to a shaky stand.
House makes it back, barely, to the couch. He grabs the remote and increases the volume to "blare." Wilson yanks the remote out of his hand, turns off the television, tosses the remote to the floor several feet away. He turns to House. "Talk time."