A/N: Thanks to everyone for reading, reviewing and sticking with the story. I hope you all enjoyed the show!
Disclaimers: House belongs to David Shore and Fox. "Old Friends" was written by Paul Simon and two lines were used here to embellish the story.
Beta Thanks: Thank you, NaiveEve. You've gone above and beyond to help strengthen this tale. I appreciate all your hard work.
This is what you know:
1) Beckman Hospital Center is your current place of residence.
2) Located in Princeton, New Jersey, it is a mere hop, skip and bounding leap from Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital and the Gregory House Palace of Fun and Ill Repute...
Mamie, the pretty, nice smelling aide, who seems to be his and his alone (judging by the amount of time she spends by his side), escorts him down the now familiar corridor which leads from his room to the elevator. Some nights he dreams about these walks, about Mamie's coffee colored hair that is fashioned in an expertly braided coif around her head. Her hairstyle reminds him of chocolate covered pretzels, a delicious garland of salty-choco goodness. He likes this. He also likes the way her brown skin shines under the fluorescents. In Greg's dreamland the light is brilliant against her cheeks, bursting apart into miniscule stars and planets to join each other in a circle dance around her smiling face. Pretzels, stars and planets. Wow. In his dreams he keeps busy, always doing, always thinking. It's funny. But when he wakes he doesn't laugh. He doesn't have the energy for laughter these days. He guesses he needs to save his strength for his dreams.
The drugs, old man. The dru-ugs.
But Mamie has lots of energy. She is good at setting her pace 'just right', moving along with his halting, lopsided gait without mimicking it. She always walks on his left, never interfering with his progress or his cane. He realizes, even in the state he is in, that she is damn good at what she does and respects and admires her skill. Of course he doesn't tell her this. No sense giving anyone an inflated ego. She is, after all, just doing her damn job.
...3) Dr. Schiller has diagnosed you with (drum roll please) Schizoaffective Disorder. With its lively blend of hallucinations, delusions and manic episodes it is so obviously...you. Stress put you here. See? You need to relax more, old man. Chill, baby.
After every few steps Mamie leaves a light touch on his elbow, more to assure him of her presence than to steady him. He is already steady, steadier than he has ever been.
Steady there, steady as you roll
smoothly along the flatlands without encountering a hitch or an obstacle. His meds, the bitchin' combo of Risperdal and Lithium, are really good for making everything just...so. The world is smoooooth, like the road beneath his cycle, like the dough his mother used to roll out for sugar cookies. He used to love watching her use the rolling pin to press the dough thin, flat and even. Thin, flat and even. A new comedy troupe? No, it's the new improved shape of the Housian mind.
His mind is a wandering minstrel of late, regaling him with stories and songs of long ago. Dr. Schiller tells him it is a good thing to think and remember but to always make sure to separate the real from the imagined.
He is learning.
There are times the Zone invites him in to set a spell. And the invite doesn't always make him feel like shouting out a hip-hip hooray. The Zone has some mad powers over the passage of time, which reminds him of the other place-the one he is not supposed to think about anymore. Sooo, House is pretty loath to take the Zone up on its kind invite (although sometimes the tag team of Risperdal-Lithium snake their arms through his and accompany him inside). Once in there he loses track of time. Some days he thinks he has been sitting in his chair for five minutes and it turns out four hours have gone by. The Zone gives him the creeps. It feels like death's little 'time out' corner.
His thoughts are still jumbled, although not as badly as they were. At least now he can think, reason...and remember.
He doesn't enjoy not knowing stuff-stuff like how long he has been in Beckman's House of Loons, which is what he has secretly christened this place.
Ssssh, no one needs to know that particular personal, private thought.
Straight answers must be at a premium here since nobody is inclined to offer one. The staff prefers to answer almost every question with a question ("Now why do you want to trouble yourself about such things?" or "Why don't you ask Dr. Schiller?") So when he feels up to it, when he is between doses of the lovely ladies R & L, he does a bit of sneaking around. Schmoozing with Nurse Cammy while checking out the paperwork on her desk is loads of fun. He is a master of the quick scan, even when the forms, letters or open file folders are upside down. In this way he has discovered interesting facts about others who share his space (as part of the captive audience) but unfortunately, nothing about himself. His window of opportunity is limited, since once the next dose of his meds takes hold, he is gone, gone to lala land.
...4) Wilson has visited and called you once or twice, as has Cuddy. You don't quite remember the conversations since you were well under the influence at the time...
With some regret, House suspects he has told Dr. Schiller everything about death dude, Sera, the seven, the rabble. Everything. He never planned to allow all that stuff to come spilling out of his mouth but Schiller's office has lavender walls. Those walls are soothing. They make him feel all loose and okie dokie.
Or was it those firm yet gentle hands of Madames R & L taking hold of him and loosening his tongue?
Everything in Dr. Schiller's office is smooth including the man himself. The psychiatrist's voice is deep and hypnotic. It lulls House, sometimes pulling him into sleep during their sessions. House still hasn't figured out if this is supposed to happen or if it is the drugs showing off their handiwork. Asking Schiller just gets him a sigh and a tolerant smile.
No sharp edges. Everything is soft and light and easy. Even the corners of the shiny mahogany desk are rounded. The office kind of bugs him. There is too much space in there. Those lavender walls seem to go back, back a mile, the ceiling seems
far, far away...
So what better way to fill up the unused space than with words?
...5) You really, really want to go home to your piano and your PSP and your Tivo and that once a week visit from your call girl of choice. Wow. Returning to work sounds like fun too. You never thought you'd miss the everyday things but now that they're no longer yours...
Mamie regales him with that joke again as they stop at the elevator bank, the one about the bears and the puddles and the bucket of mud. She knows lots of jokes but this one is his favorite. Again his energy flags and he can't find his laughter. But he gives her a quirk of a smile and she returns it, which seems enough for both of them.
He is not fond of the elevator and Mamie knows it. She already has his free hand in her own smaller, warmer one as they enter the car. He no longer feels like smiling, even though Mamie is in the middle of doing her spot on imitation of Dr. Schiller. The way she pushes her glasses down the bridge of her nose and tugs at her left ear is usually good for eliciting a small grin from him. But his preoccupation with the elevator makes him a less than attentive audience. Dr. Schiller says this is something they will just have to work on. Over time, Dr. Schiller says, this irrational fear and others like it will fade.
The problem is, these fears are not irrational. There is a very good reason for them. But House doesn't want to talk about this anymore. The meds are already soaking up his spirit. He doesn't want that essence totally obliterated, which is what will happen if he keeps ranting on.
No, you're not stupid, just out of your friggin' mind...
Mamie presses the Lobby button and House squeezes her hand and shuts his eyes as they descend.
The expansive rear lawn of the Facility descends down a grassy slope, cut off from a lake and a boathouse by a chain link fence. The fence is embellished with a garnish of barbed wire at the top, designed to dissuade even the craftiest of patients from attempting to bop over for a swim. Wilson sits beside House on a bench overlooking this scenic view.
"You'd think they'd take us for an outing over there," House says. "It's the only way I'd ever get to see Mamie in a bathing suit." House stretches his feet out, twirls one of his hospital issued slippers on his forefinger and flexes his toes in all that cool newly mown grass.
"You've got a crush on her," Wilson says.
House responds by closing his eyes, leaning his head back and soaking in the late spring sunshine.
Wilson smiles a little smile and thinks of the old friends Paul Simon sang about way back when.
Sat on a park bench like bookends...
His sentimentality feels wrong somehow.
...how terribly strange to be seventy.
After all, he and House are not nearly as old as those guys in the song. But their situation is terribly strange, nonetheless.
Mamie sits reading her book on a bench a few feet away. When she escorted House outside for this visit, she introduced herself to Wilson as the nurse's aide assigned to House's case. She has only two other patients in her care, both of whom are due to be discharged within a week. This makes it easy for her to devote a good deal of time to 'Greg'. Before leaving them to their conversation, she leaned over, whispering in Wilson's ear that her charge is very sweet, no trouble at all.
That's a switch.
Drugs can work some pretty potent magic sometimes.
Every few minutes House will slowly turn his head to look for Mamie, throwing her a small grin before returning his attention to his toe flexing and Wilson. Today marks their first real visit since House's meltdown, three weeks earlier. The last time Wilson came a-calling, House had just been given his meds and was settled comfortably in the Zone. Over the course of Wilson's half hour stay, House managed a few monosyllabic grunts and some heavy snores before being carted back to bed.
"I think I scared her." House's voice is low, as if he is imparting a great secret.
"When I screamed. When I came ba-" House inhales sharply, then eases out a long breath. "When I woke up in the hospital."
"You didn't scare anyone."
"Yes, I did. I scared Cuddy. I heard her tell Schiller how spooked she was. She thought I was sleeping but I heard every word." He smirks to himself and nods. "Tell her I'm sorry."
"No need. You just had a bad dream."
Birdsong and cicada chatter accompany House's twirling, flexing and glances at Mamie. "They don't tell me anything here," he says after a moment.
"Well, what do you want to know?" Immediately Wilson is sorry he asked, fearful he has wrenched open a door that should have remained shut.
"So, you're on my side? You'll be my mole? Dig deep while others sleep?" House raises his brows and bends his slipper down the middle with two hands. "I knew I could count on you."
"I think you've seen too many espionage films." Wilson struggles to keep a straight face but fails miserably.
"Go ahead. It's okay to laugh. Laughter is good for the soul, they tell me. Mamie said it just this morning. " House beams. "She's pretty."
"She is," Wilson says.
"I can't manage to laugh much these days, takes too much energy. Can't cry either." He tilts his head and shrugs.
"That will change," Wilson says. "You're in better shape than the last time I saw you."
"They don't tell me anything here," House grumps.
"You...already said that."
House flicks the toe of his slipper with his thumb. "So I did." He winks. "Just seeing if you were paying attention."
"So?" Wilson drums his fingers against his thigh.
"How long have I been here?"
Wilson sighs. "Haven't you asked Schiller?"
House gives him a look, acid and direct, and Wilson feels a small spark of elation. Now there's the House he knows.
"Yes, you have." Wilson waves a hand at him.
"You have to tell me. They won't."
"Why is it so important?" Wilson silently curses the tremor in his voice. "There must be a reason they don't want you to-"
"It's important-" House folds his hands and steeples his forefingers beneath his chin. "to me."
The sky is picture postcard perfect today. Wilson stares at the cumulous clouds. They are interesting, their abstract shapes pulling together to forms... a sculpture...a castle...a tower. He throws the thought down a deep virtual well and wishes he were in a jet on his way to somewhere pleasant, warm and trouble free. Could House come along? Sure, House could come along. Get him a Mai Tai with a little umbrella sticking out of the maraschino cherry, an iPod loaded with the complete works of Robert Johnson, The Who and The Stones, a pair of Bose headphones, and he would be all set.
"It's important," House says again, leaning toward him, putting the pressure on. "But I guess you don't care."
"Three weeks," Wilson hisses. He rubs his eyes to the sound of Mamie turning a page in her book.
Rubbing his stubble with the flat of his palm, House lets out another long breath, sits back and places his slipper beside him on the bench. "They must have reduced my meds. I can kind of think again. It's...like coming up from some dark underwater cave and breathing fresh air. You don't think you could ever miss something so simple and basic."
"I'm more clearheaded than I've been in...three weeks."
"That's good too."
"I want to understand."
No surprise there.
Wilson lowers his voice to a whisper and shifts closer to House. "What don't you understand?"
House meets his gaze. "Nobody is straight with me here. If you lie to me too, where does that leave me?"
House is a supreme manipulator. Nobody is more of an expert at getting what they want through the power of words and guilt. Wilson is well aware of this. But he asks the question anyway. "What do you want, House?"
"An honest answer to one question."
Folding his arms, Wilson sits back and clears his throat. "Shoot."
House licks his lips, places the slipper on his lap and rubs his thumb down its soft cotton top . "I need to know," he says. Closing his eyes, he mouths those words over and over like a silent prayer.
"I need to know if...you remember."
A cool eel like thing dips and dives inside Wilson's gut. "And what is it I'm supposed to be remembering?"
House turns his head slowly and looks at him hard. Those red rimmed eyes project a mix of fear and...resignation. "Why are you playing this game with me now?"
"I honestly don't know what-"
"I thought." House presses his lips together, his gaze never leaving Wilson's. "I thought..." His voice cracks. "I guess I thought wrong."
Clasping his hands tightly around his thighs, Wilson rocks slightly up and back as the eel like thing splishes and splashes, over and under the waves. "I really don't know what-"
"Mamie!" House cries.
Wilson whips his head toward the aide, who slaps her book shut and hurries toward them. "Everything alright here, Greg?"
"Mamie, give us a few minutes," Wilson says.
"I said," House clenches his fists and stares straight ahead. "I am tired."
Mamie smiles but her dark eyes flash her concern. "I think he might have had enough for today."
House throws his slipper to the grass and, with a grunt, thrusts his foot inside it.
"This is the first time we've tried this." Mamie retrieves the cane that was biding its time, leaning against the rear of the bench. Her smile widens as she hands it to House. "You did well, Greg."
"Tired," he mumbles, taking her hand and rising to his feet. He leans hard against his cane and tosses Wilson a glare.
"Thanks for visiting, Dr. Wilson," she says, walking alongside House as he lurches, shoulders hunched, toward the building.
The lump in Wilson's throat has grown to the size of an orange. He swallows against it, his eyes tearing as his gaze is wrenched toward the sky. The clouds are impossibly white, thick, bright and beautiful. For his viewing pleasure they have massed together to form a grand floating tower. Bits of it drift off into the ozone, like chimney smoke wafting off into the blue. He stares at it a moment longer, eyes growing wider as he takes it all in. Then he's off. A tear slips down his cheek as he runs...
...and catches up with House just as Mamie pulls open the door.
"Go...away," House grumbles.
"House." Wilson is breathless. He doesn't quite know what to do with his hands. They light on his chest, the door handle, House's shoulder. "I...do."
"Go..." The hard light in House's eyes softens as his mouth falls open, as he tilts his head.
Wilson smiles, triumphant, catching his breath. "I remember."
It feels good to be back.
After six weeks in the Facility he had been declared fit to go. Armed with a small suitcase of clothing, a supply of meds, a card denoting his next appointment with Schiller, and the paperback copy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Nurse Myrna gave him, he was now officially an outpatient.
Wilson arrived at the appointed hour to chauffer him home but House insisted on driving. He was, after all, a free man.
That was yesterday and yesterday's gone.
Today, Monday, was the beginning of the work week, which made him happy.
Cool, man, cool.
Sauntering into the diagnostics room like Mr. Cool, like Mr. Nothing-In-The-World-Can-Get-Me-Down was an empowering experience. His team seemed ready for the worst, each of them wearing that look of anxious anticipation. But they needn't have worried. He was fine.
He is fine.
People treat you differently when you've just survived a stint in the loony bin. Nurses who formerly spurned him now offered him little smiles, their eyes sparkling with compassion. That will change, once I really get rolling, he mused, signing out for the day.
Yeah, it feels really good to be back.
Wilson joined him for dinner. After a short discussion, they decided on Italian takeout, Chicken Parm grinders and Budweiser in bottles. Their conversation never veered toward what transpired the afternoon Wilson visited the Facility. It was over, done, kaput. Ancient history. Time to move on.
House's Tivo was overflowing with Monster Truck Rallies, episodes of The L Word, WWF wrestling, Clint Eastwood films, travelogues. So much to choose from, so much to catch up on. House couldn't help sampling a little of this, a little of that, which drove Wilson to snatch the remote away in mid flick. But House had good upper body strength and long arms and it wasn't too much of a challenge for him to snag it back. "Nooo touch," he sang, waggling a finger at Wilson, while continuing to click, click, click away.
Wilson took off after they watched half of a documentary on the Cayman Islands (interspersed with the most provocative scenes from three L Word episodes). A strange combination, House admitted to himself, but he was digging it, which okay because
You. Are. Free.
He is alone now because he can be. No one is here to hand him his pills in a little cup, there is no plastic band around his wrist giving him identity. He knows who he is. Settling back on the sofa, he continues to flick through the channels, placing the mouth of the bottle to his lips to drain the last of his beer. He likes his apartment, enjoys the sense of comfort he feels here. His eyes drink in the wood floors, the piano, the desk, his PC, everything he missed.
His gaze travels to the bookcase, then rises higher and higher, traveling above the texts, the journals, the biographies and novels, to where he keeps his emergency stash.
And there, coiled around itself atop the green box is something black and shiny and
It has green eyes.
House stares at it, mesmerized as the bottle falls from his fingers and clatters and clinks against the hardwood floor.
He swallows hard. The beer's sour aftertaste makes him cringe as those familiar little gold flecks begin to dance amid the green.
The eyes blink. They blink again.
Freedom's a funny thing, old man. First you think you have it and the next thing you know...it's gone.
The thing shifts, seeming to make itself a smidge more comfortable.
It has settled in, here for the long haul.