An Auspicious Adversary


Summary: A No Reason speculation fic. Occurs during and post No Reason. House and Co. struggle to find meaning and heal wounds. Sorry this comes late. I started this right after No Reason aired and it turned into a monster. Good news is that it is FINISHED and not a WIP. If you're looking for straight up action sequences, fluff, or romance, this is not the place. Character study contained within.

HUGE thanks to Armchair Elvis for wreaking havoc on every creative cell in my thick head. This would've been half a story otherwise…

Oh- and Author accepts all constructive critiques/reviews/and shameless admiration (ha!).

People stand in line
A premonition of the killers angel eyes
An Armageddon sky tell it like it is
It's like the old man says
We're dead in the water now

-David Gray

Dead in the Water

Chapter 1: A Glancing Blow

He never expected that Death would look like this: the half inch barrel of a solid black handgun, framed by the blurry image of its wielder. House had always thought death would either look like black asphalt, or maybe the side of a car. Or perhaps it looked like the last drink he'd had the night before, pale amber and burning on the way down. But it looked like a man with a gun. And it smelt like gunpowder. "Who would want to hurt you?" The question hung in the air, thick, sarcastic, and House had no good answer, even if he could think or speak. Instead, he stared, uncomprehendingly, down the muzzle of the black pistol held pointed at his head.

The man's stance, his sudden swing of the gun towards them, had forced Foreman, Chase, and Cameron into immobility as House lay on the floor, motionless and silent. Time slowed, stretching like a rubber band between two fingers. Moments passed and all each could hear were their own heartbeats, their own breaths.

Medical training, even in the emergency room, didn't equip anyone with the ability to look down the barrel of a loaded gun. Chase could honestly say he'd never seen a handgun up close. Cameron had fired one when she was ten. But Foreman had almost bought one from his brother's best friend.

Time stretched further until the thin veneer of continuum developed fissures. It wouldn't last much longer. The tension was insurmountable.

As the gun went back to House and the shooter took aim, Foreman, unable to stand by anymore, perhaps still brain damaged and beyond rationality, or perhaps acting on the instinct he had gained at fifteen, decided to do something.

All it took was half a second and Foreman was dragging the shooter to the ground as the gun exploded the second time. Foreman threw himself on top, the man underneath struggling to maintain his hold on the gun. Time moved forward again. Their colleague's actions igniting them, Cameron and Chase began moving as well. Cameron moved, instinctively, to her boss, accessing, theorizing.

House was unconscious and unmoving. The second bullet had clipped his neck and blood flowed from the wound, hinting at the damage done by the projectile.

Ninety five percent of penetrating wounds to the neck are caused by guns or knives. Cameron wasn't sure why the phrase, seemingly out of a textbook, had so easily come to her. She thought she'd read it years ago, as an intern but now it came to her as a string of phrases rotating behind her eyes. The neck is a hard target, compared to the rest of the body, its surface area limited and moreover, shaded by the jaw. Most of the gunshot wounds to the neck (some would guess that it's close to 100) are by accident. A shooter aims for the head, a tricky, movable extension, and accidentally hits the neck. Or perhaps crossfire results in a lucky (or unlucky) wound. Between three and six percent of penetrating neck wounds are fatal and most of the victims die before they ever reach emergency care. Exsanguination and respiratory failure often result if prompt action is not taken to stop the bleeding and re-establish the airway. A zone 2 injury, the zone between mandible and clavicle, is not the most fatal of zones, but is still susceptible to extraordinary damage. The intricacies of the structures carrying blood to and from the face and brain require precision to correct, but skill to miss should the shot actually hit the unintended target. The internal jugular vein, carrying blood from the brain and face lies just centimeters below the surface of the skin. The carotid artery, carrying urgent life to the brain, lies close by. Hitting either of these results in significant blood loss, with carotid damage being deadliest. The blood loss or the body's resulting attempts at clots can easily result in stroke or ischemia. And if the bullet hits the vertebrae and underlying spinal column, paralysis is inevitable.

House appeared lucky by Cameron's first estimation. The wound was to the right side of his neck, apparently external to the larynx, esophagus, and the vertebrae. There was no way to tell exactly the extent of the damage, but House was breathing. Check: Airway, Breathing. But the rapid flow of blood and expanding bruise underneath told Cameron that it was a serious injury. House's breathing, steady for the moment, would deteriorate due to the blood flowing into the surrounding structures, compacting the space intended for expansion.

Cameron was on her knees, pressing her hand to the neck, gently, but firmly, to avoid exacerbating the wound. Her medical training was kicking into gear and the patient's identity shouldn't have mattered, but she accidentally let her gaze slide to House's face- his droopy eyes closed to her- unable to convey the emotion they so often easily portrayed. At the thought, his eyes popped open suddenly, before fluttering closed again. "get… hands off…" he muttered, his lips almost sneering.

Cameron's training was misplaced by his words and she blanched, letting her hand fall slack for a moment, feeling the stickiness run between her fingers.

Medical treatment, by its very nature, is an intensely personal activity, which is completed in an intensely impersonal way. This intensity often falls into a false sense of security, belonging, and even undue attachment by the recipient. Someone who knows the inside of you can presumably see right through your lies and anticipate your desires.

Sex has a similar effect. Cameron thought of the single handshake that House had given her, how it had sent a shiver up her back. The only other time he'd actually touched her was to pull her arms around him when on the back of his bike. He'd threatened, stood in her personal space, touched her mouth with a cue-tip, but he'd never touched her otherwise. Most people touched each other in some way- a touch on the back, a pat on the shoulder. House never touched anyone and least of all, Cameron.

Doctors are taught to be scientific, impersonal. The more impersonal, the less the doctor will feel attached, the less the patient will need their attachment. But this was someone she knew. Someone she cared about. She was already attached and her focus was momentarily lost. Her free hand errantly, hesitantly, touched his forehead, feeling the clamminess there. "Oh god…"

She looked to her colleagues, seeing Chase running towards the desk. Foreman was sitting on top of the shooter, his knuckles shining and wet, his breath coming in gasps. The man appeared unconscious and Cameron couldn't see where the gun had landed. Seeing Chase and Foreman acting, Dr. Cameron's hands once again took it upon themselves to follow their example, and she found them putting more pressure on the neck wound, but also taking note of the abdomen. The hand on House's forehead moved to the wound at the abdomen, pressuring again.

Chase, his face crinkled into disgust, took the gun by its barrel from the floor. The gun had dropped from the attacker's hand once Foreman's fist had impacted with his nose. Chase picked it up and half ran, half walked to the desk. The gun was warm to the touch and its appearance betrayed its heaviness. Chase, having had no experience except second hand glimpses through the eyes of a movie camera, was afraid of going anywhere near the trigger. He knew there was a safety, but was too hurried to look for it. Instead, he gripped the barrel and carried it, pointed to the ceiling, arm outstretched, to the desk. The metal hit the glass desk with a resounding thunk, despite his gentle placement. His call to security was quick and terse. "Dr. House has been shot. We need security and a gurney." Chase was nearly shouting. "Stat," he added automatically. "GSW to the abdomen and neck. Get the ER ready." He hung up before a response was emitted.

His next movements took him to the cabinets above the sink, pulling every available material from its shelter. Forks, utensils, mugs, the miniature first aid kit all fell to the sink, clattering against the metal there. Chase grabbed the towels first. The gloves were secondary, as well as the scissors. He ran the three steps back to House and Cameron.

He threw two of the towels next to House's head and tossed one to Cameron, kneeling by House's waist, opposite of his colleague. His knees ached with the force that he had dropped to them, but adrenaline hid the pain away for later. He threw a pair of gloves at Cameron and watched as she struggled with them. She'd gotten some of the blood off with the towel, but the stickiness hadn't left. "They're coming," he said, putting his gloves on with practiced ease and pressed his hands to House's neck, staunching the rapid flow while Cameron worked on her gloves.

As soon as Cameron had gotten her gloves on and resumed her position at his neck, now using both hands, Chase released.

"They better get here fast, he's going to bleed out," Cameron muttered. "Check his stomach." Chase was already at it, pulling apart House's shirt, buttons flying, revealing the wound in his abdomen, seeping blood. Red on white. His hands went there immediately, pressing down.

House's eyes fluttered open with a groan and he lifted his head from Cameron's grasp. "No, House… you're…"

"...stitches…" he muttered and was unconscious again. Cameron had a finger at the pulse at his neck.

Cameron spoke. "He's already getting thready. Where's that gurney?" Pinched, afraid, nervous.

Chase watched as Cameron wiped the blood from House's neck, examining. There was one clear wound that appeared before the blood covered it again- a deep gouge extending for over an inch. The bullet appeared to have embedded itself in the carpet. By Chase's estimation, it had more than likely impacted the internal jugular. The blood flowed, it didn't pulse. The wounds were far enough away from the vertebrae that Chase knew a spinal injury was almost out of the question. But the damage to ligaments, peripheral nerves, and veins would be questionable until they got him into an OR. Chase shook his head, choosing to focus on the abdomen. An injury to the abdomen was equally serious. If the liver was punctured, if kidneys were lacerated, if the bowel spilled into the peritoneum, complications would ensue. And if the bullet had lodged somewhere, if it had bounced around… "I need to check for an exit wound."

Cameron nodded and held fast as Chase put his hands on House's bony hip and shoulder, rolling him onto his side and cutting the dark suit jacket up the back. He silently thanked House for snatching the scissors from the clinic for their office. Focused only the medical, Chase noted the lack of the blood on House's back. It made things easier for the moment, but more complicated in the end. No telling how much the bullet had bounced around- where it was lodged, where it had hit.

Chase grasped House's shoulder and hip to roll him back, his fingers inadvertently straying south to House's thigh. Feeling the wasted leg and the hard scarring underneath the denim, Chase's fingers immediately pulled back, repulsed, curling towards House's hip again. The front of House's jeans were soaked and the smell of urine seeped into the air and entwined itself with the lingering smell of gunpowder and blood. Cameron and Chase looked at each other, and then to Foreman, as two security guards and an EMT came through the glass doors. Security took over Foreman's position, and he joined his co-workers at House's side. Joined by the EMT, they worked on moving House to the gurney. As they lifted him, he began murmuring incoherently. The EMT dropped his prepped bag of saline between House's legs, forgoing fluids for speed, and the doctors helped him lift the gurney to it's standing position. As it was lifted, House flailed, his hand connecting with the EMT's stomach, who was already working to fasten the belts to keep him secure.

The ride from the diagnostics office to the elevator was hurried, but seemed interminable for those intimately involved. Cameron held tight to the pressure on her boss's neck while Chase kept the pressure on his stomach. Foreman pushed. The EMT pulled the gurney along, forcing a run from the three doctors following him. Time of the essence. Patient bleeding out. House seemed oblivious to everything, occasionally mumbling, eyes fluttering, occasionally blinking open, and the painful gasps made everyone cringe.

The blue cushion cradled House's pale face, enhanced by the red-coated towel and gloves pressed urgently to his neck. They'd forgone immobilization after seeing that the wound on his neck was just a gouge. Clear of the vertebrae. Blood seemed to smear everything- from Cameron's white coat, to Chase's gloves, Foreman's knuckles. Little smears here and there on House's jeans, the cushions, the bag of saline dropped to House's legs. Everything was contaminated.

Apart from his eyes, and an occasional twitch of his extremities, House didn't move. Normally, Gregory House was too immense for most of the staff to comprehend. Despite the limp, the inadvertent grimaces when he stepped just a little too hard, his reputation, mental acuity, and over-the-top methods made him seem larger than life. His physical height only served to exaggerate his immensity. Hearing of his reputation, they inexplicably expected him to be big; forced to meet him, he became even more intimidating. His bony physique complimented the harshness of his interactions. And everyone was forced to look up to him- both in stature and in knowledge.

But lying on a gurney, covered in blood and urine, he appeared as a limp marionette. His arms and legs, strapped down and lying motionless, barely fit and seemed too long for his narrow body. His jeans, soaked to mid thigh, clung to the bony details of him and caved ever so slightly over his right thigh. Normally, no one could see the difference. Stiff jeans normally concealed the indentation. But now they were damp and there was a noticeable difference in the size of his thighs. His shirt, now ripped apart and bloodied, displayed his ribs too prominently and Cameron couldn't help but notice that he had lost weight since she'd seen him stoned in the locker room six months prior.

Gregory House was no longer larger than life. He had suddenly and inexplicably become as small as the diabetic homeless woman waiting in a wheelchair outside the ER. Hardly anyone looked at her, but everyone was looking at him as he was rushed past. The staff members that had an occasion to look down at him were caught off guard and immediately a feeling of uneasiness settled upon them. If they'd hated Dr. House, looking down into the face of an unconscious and bleeding colleague made them feel unquestionably guilty. If they'd liked him (or at least respected him), their shock would be interminable.

Somehow, House's sharp shoulders had seemed to shrink and soften. The hair that normally stood on end, giving the appearance of the mad scientist, was slicked with sweat and plastered to his head. While they stared, his normally piercing eyes were closed and no witticism emanated from his tight and caustic mouth. Without them, he was just a man- a bleeding, unconscious, direly injured patient. The blood was shocking, but not near as shocking as looking down at Dr. Gregory House.

Foreman nearly pushed the gurney through the other side of the elevator, the EMT pushing back just enough, jarring the cargo, as Chase pressed the button that would lead to the ER. As the doors closed, the echoing hospital sounds ceased and there was only the quiet "bing" as the elevator reached the subsequently lower floors. Heavy breathing mingled in between the doctors and the EMT.

Cameron's hands held tight to House's neck, watching him grow paler, sweatier, cooler, and felt the pulses that were proving his life, but killing him all the same. Chase's hands pressed into House's stomach, watching the movement underneath them. Ever shallower breaths, occasional hitches. And Foreman watched the lights on each of the floors as they flipped from one to the next. Cameron looked up for a moment and caught Chase's eyes, breathing hard, shocked. Why was this taking so long? Chase pursed his lips, shook his head slightly, and pressed harder on House's stomach.

The woman in the back corner, the daughter of a cancer patient, clutched her purse and the bag of books that her mother had already read, her mouth in a silent 'o.' She pressed further into the corner, her eyes frozen to the face on the gurney as it sweated, breathed, and gasped. And the blood, staunched by the doctors (three of them), which poured out anyway. Three doctors, an EMT, and going down instead of up. She wondered if the patient's attacker wasn't in the hospital somewhere. She would stay on the elevator afterwards and go to her mother's room, seeking comfort in her frail arms and ravaged breast. Wilson would pass them, hardly seeing them, as he walked from the oncology ward on the way to the diagnostics office to grab House for lunch.