TITLE: His Coy Mistress
WARNINGS: Spoiler for No Reason
SUMMARY:. Pain is a strange bedfellow, and it had been his bedfellow and mistress for nearly eight years.
House swallowed the last of his beer and leaned against the balcony wall, watching the color drain from the sky and enjoying the extra wallop the beer packed. He'd been out of the hospital for only a week, and in his still-weakened state, everything he did, or ate, or drank, felt more intense, more concentrated. A few bites of food satisfied his hunger. A single beer provided the same buzz as three usually did. And as for Vicodin…
He fished the bottle from his pocket and shook it. It was an old bottle. It had been in a pocket for ten days, part of which time he had lain in a PPTH hospital bed, immobilized by high doses of Ketamine while he recovered from two bullet wounds. And, incidentally, went cold turkey on Vicodin. He popped off the lid. Six pills remained.
Since his release from the hospital he hadn't swallowed a single Vicodin. The Ketamine had worked, beyond his highest hopes. The escalating breakthrough pain that had driven him to the brink of self-destruction had stopped, and Cuddy had put him on Neurontin, a drug that she hoped would be easier on his liver, to manage the residual pain. Vicodin was a thing of the past.
House looked again at the vial, the amber vial glowing in the amber light of dusk, and poured the pills onto the balcony wall. He could almost feel them on his tongue, almost taste the familiar bitterness that was a constant reminder that what he was about to swallow had a price. How many of them had he swallowed? He did some quick mental math, and the result staggered him a bit. Like a smoker who's forced to add up the dollar cost of his habit, or to imagine the cigarettes laid out in a line that would reach to the moon, he had a vision of thousands of bottles of Vicodin, a small mountain of pills, each one mildly toxic, each one part pain-killer, part give-a-damn killer, and he was amazed.
And yet…and yet there was something so comforting in the shape of the bottle in his pocket, the curve of it in his palm. The lid he could snap off with a practiced move of one thumb. The feel of the thick pill at the back of his mouth, or rolling lazily on his tongue. The predictable, numbing, easy flow of hydrocodone to the brain. The remission of pain. The forgiveness of sins.
Pain is a strange bedfellow, and it had been his bedfellow and mistress for nearly eight years. Like any chronic pain sufferer, he had developed an intimate relationship with his pain. He had learned to read her moods, to anticipate her needs and demands as one would a lover's. It sometimes seemed to him that, like some jealous lover keeping tabs, she exacted from him a price for every moment of pleasure he experienced. For each moment of pleasure, an equal and opposite moment of pain: an exhilarating ride on his bike; making love; getting absorbed in a long medical procedure that required him to stand without his cane; climbing to the roof for a cigar or a few moments' peace. All these he paid for. All these left him, at the end of the day, or more often in the middle of the night, in the grip of intractable pain. The intricate three-way dance between pleasure, pain, and Vicodin was one that had ruled his life.
People thought he loved the pills, loved getting high. They had no idea.
Finished with the beer, House put the empty can, upside down, on the outer balcony wall, and returned the vial to his pocket. Facing the section of wall that divided his balcony from Wilson's, he tossed his cane onto the brick surface, and planted his palms on it.
"What's House doing?" asked Chase, gazing out the conference room window. The others were putting on their coats to go home, but the alarm in his voice stopped them. Next door, Wilson bolted from his desk. He reached the door just as House boosted himself onto the wall—the dividing wall—and crouched there, on his hands and one foot, with his right leg stuck out straight behind him. House then grabbed his cane and as Wilson dashed onto the balcony, slowly pushed himself upright until he was balanced precariously on the narrow bricks. Both his legs and cane arm were shaking with the effort.
"House! Are you crazy?" They could hear Wilson all the way through the thick glass. House smiled and turned his back on Wilson, edging toward the intersection of the divider and the outer wall.
"Should we rush him?" asked Chase.
Cameron looked terrified as she made for the door. "He could be having a hallucination. Ketamine causes all sorts of crazy—"
Foreman raised a restraining hand and shook his head slowly, riveted by the scene outside the window. "Let Wilson handle this. Whatever it is, we'll just make it worse."
"Get down!" shouted Wilson. "Are you trying to kill yourself?" And he sounded truly scared, for now House was only inches, or one little stumble, away from a fall that would kill him. House looked none too stable, either. He held the cane in a vice grip as he sidestepped closer to the edge. Wilson vaulted over the wall, in order to face House. He put a gentle hand on his pant leg, as if to hold onto him.
"Oh, God," breathed Cameron.
"Watch out, Jimmy," said House, and then, as Wilson clutched onto the fabric of his jeans, he pulled the pill bottle from his pocket, bent double, his left leg taking all the weight, his right acting as a counter-balance, and carefully placed the vial of Vicodin on top of the overturned beer can on the ledge.
"Stand back," he commanded. Wilson hesitated. "Stand back, because I'd hate to hurt you."
"What are you doing?" asked Wilson, somehow managing to control his voice as he stepped away.
"Playing golf. Isn't it obvious?"
In one swift, terrifying movement, he tipped his cane upside down, grasped it in both hands by the shaft, raised it high behind him, and swung. As golf swings go, it was an awkward swing, because of House's inability to shift weight from leg to leg properly. But what it lacked in form it made up for in ferocity. The curved cane head connected with the perfectly teed-up Vicodin bottle, lofting it far out into the sunset. As he followed through, his back leg buckled briefly, and Wilson's heart leapt into his throat. But House recovered quickly with a small hop. He watched the pill bottle soar through the air and come to rest in a nearby treetop. Later—a long time later, it seemed--there was a faint noise of the beer can hitting the pavement below them. Then and only then did he allow Wilson to hand him down from the wall.
They stood there a moment, hand in hand, both breathing heavily, till Wilson remembered to release his hand. The younger doctor opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it. He turned away, and then turned back. He made a gesture of futility, his hands scissoring in front of him. At last he found speech.
"Couldn't you have used a seven iron?" he snapped.
"Nah," said House with a grin. "Not with my handicap."