Wilson drove onto the university campus with a sigh. The short vacation to Maine to visit his parents had been pleasant, but the strain of putting on a happy face for his folks had taken its toll. His shoulders ached terribly and a headache wasn't far behind. The drive had been long, and he was tired.
Flashing blue lights distracted him for a moment. It looked like the police had set up some sort of checkpoint, maybe looking for drunk drivers? It was the weekend, and the college kids did sometimes get wild. Wilson slowed his car and reached for his wallet.
"Let him in," a gruff voice called to the uniformed officer standing at the barricade.
Wilson thought he saw a flash of white hair and heard the snap of nicotine gum. But the other man was already driving away in a police cruiser.
"Detective Tritter?" Wilson mumbled to himself, watching the other car speed away. Why would that man ever let him off easy for anything? "I'm probably just tired from all the driving," he assured himself. He shrugged and thanked the policeman who waved him through.
He rubbed at his eyes. For such a late afternoon, the parking lot sure was full. Finding a spot was difficult. But he'd driven straight to the hospital from the highway because he wanted to see House. They needed to talk.
He hadn't even spoken to him since leaving two weeks ago. Wilson had tried calling but…
He sighed and flipped his cell open to check the battery again.
…all of House's phones (cell, office, and home) just rang and rang.
"Is he avoiding me?" Wilson whispered to himself. He shook his head. No sense in sitting in the car alone.
Wilson pulled himself out of his car and approached the glass doors of the clinic. As he neared the entrance, his eyes narrowed and his head cocked to the side. It looked dark inside. Where were all the nurses? The clinic shouldn't be closed for another half hour.
Maybe it was a holiday he'd forgotten about. Arbor Day or President's Day or…
Wilson pushed open the glass doors and stepped into the unusually quiet clinic. Beyond the nurses' station, he could see Cuddy's office. The double doors were half open, but it looked like no one was in there.
"Hello?" Wilson called out, tugging at his tie. It seemed very warm in the hospital. Strange. The temperature was usually kept at a constant chill because of all the machinery. "Anyone still around?"
Wilson was about to open his cell and try House again, but his loafer slipped suddenly on the slick floor. He looked down, lifting his shoe to examine the offending substance. There was a dark red smear on the tile.
"Blood?" Wilson frowned, putting his phone back in his coat pocket. "No one bothered to clean it up?"
He glanced around the empty corridors. What was going on?
A moan emanated from exam room three. It was deep and guttural, the sound of someone in immense pain.
"I swear, if House just left someone in there and went home…" Wilson muttered to himself. Because of the heat, he shed his coat and left it on a waiting room chair before he walked over to the exam room. He was already formulating an elaborate apology in his mind when he opened the door.
The moan turned into a horrible screech, and a dark shape lunged towards the doorway. Wilson yelped and tumbled backwards to fall on the floor, hard. He winced as pain shot through his ankle. In the back of his mind, he diagnosed a bad sprain.
In the front of his mind, he was busy staring at the creature lurching towards him.
It was human, or had been. Now its flesh was mottled and hanging in bits, its bones poking through the skin at the elbows and knees. It was a male, late twenties, matted black hair and bloodstained teeth. A stained hospital gown, torn in places, was draped around its emaciated form.
It dropped a severed arm it had been chewing on and dragged itself towards Wilson in halting, pained steps. It cried out, reaching towards him, and the noise rang through the halls.
Wilson scrambled backwards until his back hit the wood paneling of the nurses' station. The thing was right on top of him. He squeezed his eyes shut, fighting a wave of nausea as the scent overpowered him.
He was going to throw up. And then he was going to die.
He almost missed Maine.
"Hey, buddy, pick on someone with your own rate of decay!" Wilson's eyes snapped open to see House, standing there with his cane raised like a baseball bat. No, not his cane, but a—
Wilson watched in silence as the decapitated head rolled away, coming to rest against a potted fichus. The body crumpled to the ground like a puppet. There was no blood, just a dark ooze that smelled like rotting fruit.
"Wilson, are you trying to get yourself killed?" House hissed, his voice dropping to a low, whispery sound. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I was…in Maine. Vacation." Wilson swallowed and blinked once, his eyes still on the severed head. "I just got back."
"And the first item on your agenda was to come to the hospital on your last day off?" House chuckled and set the shovel on the counter of the nurses' station. "You goody two-shoe moron."
Wilson ran his eyes over his friend's form. House was dressed in his usual T-shirt and jeans with a blue button-up, except one of his shirtsleeves had been torn off, leaving his right arm mostly bare. His clothes were stained with sweat, like he hadn't changed in days. His eyes were bright and alert, but he was panting with exertion, and there was a small gash above his left eyebrow, scabbed over.
His blue backpack was secured over his shoulders, and out of this, House pulled his cane and leaned on it.
"Need a hand?" he finally asked, looking down at Wilson sitting on the floor.
"Tell me what that goddamned thing was," Wilson whispered, glancing back to the fallen body.
"Jimmy, come on." House grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him to his feet. "What's black, blue, and loves to eat brains? It's a zombie, you idiot."
While Wilson gaped like a fish out of water, House stuffed the shovel into his knapsack, metal end first. The stick stuck out of the zippered pouch, and the older doctor seemed pleased with this.
"How…when…did this…?" Wilson fumbled for words. "There's no such thing as zombies."
"You can tell them that when they start gnawing on your face," House said, surveying the darkened hallways with his quick eyes. "The others will have heard that blow. They'll be coming soon." He grabbed Wilson's wrist again with his free hand and pulled him along, limping down the hall at a breakneck pace. Out of the corner of his eye, Wilson saw a slow-moving swarm collect around the front door. No way out, then.
"Where are we going?" Wilson cried.
"The cafeteria. The walls are solid. That's where everyone's barricaded themselves." House paused for a moment, glancing at the handful of zombies behind them. The noise they made was deafening, a long, low whine of pain. House cursed under his breath and tugged harder at Wilson's wrist. "We need to move. Now."
Wilson gasped as they rounded a corner. Broken glass was scattered all over the floor, crunching under their shoes. They passed overturned gurneys, empty wheelchairs coated in blood, and IV stands tangled on the ground. "My foot…"
"Just little farther, I promise," House said, practically hauling Wilson down the pitch-black corridor. "Just get to the elevator."
Wilson had to grit his teeth to keep from shouting every time his left foot hit the ground. Sharp pain lanced up his leg, making him wonder how House, a man with only one working leg, could be moving so fast. Then he heard the low, collective moaning of the zombies. It seemed to be coming from all sides, echoing through the hallways like the groaning of ghosts.
"Tell me what the hell is going on," he demanded.
House stopped at a corner and peered around it cautiously before continuing. "Funny thing happened while you were gone, Wilson," he said. "The dead started walking."
"I was only out of town for two weeks!"
"The virus spread quickly. At least, I think it's a virus. Infection doesn't fit; we ruled out a few other things." House stopped short, pulled them both behind a vending machine, and motioned for Wilson to stay still. He switched his cane out for the shovel once again and hefted it in his hands. The moans of the zombies rose and fell suddenly, and the hospital halls were plunged into silence.
Wilson strained his ears until he heard the shuffling footsteps. A long shadow fell across the floor; something was coming from the left. Wilson stared as, slowly, the form of a woman came into view, her dress in tatters, her broken leg dragging behind her.
"Batter up," House said, swinging at her head as soon as she was in range. Wilson looked away just as the blow connected with a sickening crack. "You have to go for the head," House told him. "Otherwise they just keep coming at you."
Wilson choked back the bile in his throat; the smell was truly awful. "What virus?" he asked as House reached for the cane in his backpack again.
"Remember before you left for Maine, I was working on that woman with the weird auto-immune problem?"
"Yeah. Cuddy said you couldn't operate because of the risk of…"
"Cuddy's dead," House snapped, shoving his makeshift weapon into the bag over his shoulder.
Wilson blinked, leaning against the wall for support. "She's…what?"
"Dead." House yanked the zipper on his bag shut. "She locked herself in the neo-natal wing, trying to protect the kids. But the walls were all glass. They busted in, got to her."
"Is she one of them now?" Wilson asked, gazing at the decaying body at their feet.
"No. She would have been," House whispered with his eyes on the ground. "She asked me to finish the job." He looked up, his blue eyes blazing in the growing dark. "So I did."
"House…" Wilson reached out, grasping the worn fabric of House's shirt in his weak hand.
"Anyway," House sighed, letting Wilson cling to him, "patient zero died ten days ago. Turns out, not so much with the staying dead."
A long, low moan interrupted him. House's head swiveled towards the sound. "Let's go." They darted into the cargo elevator, usually reserved for the cleaning crews, and House produced a maintenance key from his pocket. "Found this on one of the bodies. Thank god, because I couldn't move between floors without it. The other elevators don't have power." He twisted it into the control panel, and the doors slammed shut. House pressed the button marked 9 and the elevator jolted into motion.
Wilson propped himself up in the corner and put a hand over his still-shocked mouth. "I tried calling you. Is the power...?"
"The building switched to emergency power a week ago. When the mob woke up in the morgue and ran out of tasty medical examiner flesh, they must've chewed through the building's wiring," House said, readying his shovel weapon once more in preparation for the hallway. "The phone lines went down too. I wanted to try you on my cell, but it's in my office, along with Cameron."
"Is she okay?"
House looked at him like he was dense. "She's peachy. And a zombie." He turned back around to face the front of the elevator. "Cameron refused to give up on the infected patients. Got herself bitten about a dozen times. When she turned, she was still at the white board. Now she won't leave the diagnostics department. Not even to get coffee."
Wilson lifted his leg to examine his swollen ankle. "You said the cafeteria's safe?"
"Yep." House frowned. "Except for Chase."
Wilson looked up. "What about Chase?"
"He's been bitten too," House said. "He might have another day before he turns. We're still working on a cure. If that doesn't pan out, he gets to ride down the elevator shaft without the elevator."
"My god," Wilson whispered.
"Try not to stare when you see him," House suggested. "He isn't looking his best."
Wilson gave a slightly hysterical laugh. "Not his best? Look at you, though. I've never seen you so invigorated. How much Vicodin did you manage to swipe from the pharmacy when things started going to hell in a hand basket?"
House leaned heavily on his cane. "Haven't had a pill in eight days, Jimmy." He turned to stare at his friend. "Fighting for survival seems to take my mind off things."
"No pills at all?" Wilson asked, his eyebrows high on his forehead.
House broke his gaze and looked up at the illuminated floor numbers. "We used most of them for the people with bites," he said. "Chase is down to half a tablet. If the organ failure doesn't kill him, the pain might."
"What about Foreman?" Wilson asked as the elevator doors dinged open.
"Oh, he's fine. Though I wouldn't count on him forever. You know how it goes. Black guy, horror movie." House made a face and stepped out into the hallway, unsteady on his bad leg. "He'll never make it."
Wilson had a million other questions, but before he could open his mouth, House was beating a zombie that had once been a small boy. The small, naked creature was screeching with every blow, not even raising an arm to defend itself. It just kept shuffling towards them.
"Don't let the little ones fool you," House shouted over the ringing noise the shovel made as it connected with the skull. "They'll bite your ankles like tiny dogs."
House managed to knock the zombie to the ground, where it drooled and moaned, reaching for him still. With cold efficiency, House placed the sharp end of the shovel on the creature's neck and leaned forward with all his weight, neatly separating the head from the neck with a crunch.
"How did you get so good at that?" Wilson asked, passing a hand over his sweat-covered brow.
House panted, his body shaking with adrenaline. "Are you kidding?" He smiled. "I've been waiting my whole life for this." He turned away from the body and pulled his cane out of his bag, twirling it between his fingers. He kept the shovel in his free hand and hurried down the dim hallway. "Follow close. Eyes open."
Wilson did as he was told, and they reached the shut double doors of the cafeteria without any more attacks, though the sound and the smell of zombies seemed to be everywhere. House tapped quietly against the doors. "Foreman, open up."
The young doctor must have been waiting right inside the doorway, because Wilson could hear the sound of furniture being moved and chains rattling. Finally, the door swung open.
"You get it?" Foreman asked, letting House inside.
"Yeah." House tossed his backpack to the man. "Morphine's in the front pocket, syringes are in the bottom, and Wilson's right behind me." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Got some antibiotics for that girl, too. Make them last."
"Dr. Wilson?" Foreman's eyes went wide as the oncologist entered at a more sedate pace. "What are you doing here?"
Wilson opened his mouth, but House cut him off. "How about we have story time after we inject Chase?"
Foreman rolled his eyes, but took the supplies wordlessly and hurried away. Wilson took in the new, improved cafeteria/battle station.
House was busying himself with shoving the displaced café tables back against the locked door. The rest of the large room was a haphazard mess of overturned chairs, piles of blankets, and blood-soaked bandages. The salad bar was bare; the survivors must have eaten the fresh food first to save the canned for later, Wilson thought.
There were about a dozen more people in the old eating area. Some were sleeping, curled up on the floor in blankets they had taken from patients' rooms. Wilson recognized a nurse from pediatrics, a surgeon he'd never really spoken to, and a few others who must have been patients before the disease hit. A little girl was sleeping, connected to an IV drip that someone had hung on a coat stand.
It made sense to stay here, Wilson could see. They had a good supply of food and water. The walls were solid brick. There were bathrooms off to the right, and the doors were easily secured. The downside, of course, was that they were cornered. There were no windows in here, and no way to get to the roof. And even with the doors bolted shut, the faint noise of eerie moans could still be heard from the hallway.
Wilson wandered to the far back corner, where Chase was laid out on the seat of a booth. The table had been pulled out, creating a makeshift sickbay. Foreman was mainlining the morphine directly into Chase's spine. The Australian let loose a shout of pain, curling tightly into the fetal position.
"House couldn't find any local anesthetic while he was down there?" he cried bitterly.
Wilson stood there with his arms at his sides, his mouth open. Chase was trembling, his sweaty skin had taken a sickly green hue, and there were huge bruises all over his arms and neck. Wilson had seen corpses with a healthier glow.
Seeing Chase like this made the pain in his ankle feel more like a dull, guilty ache.
Foreman caught sight of him over his shoulder. "Help me hold him down, will you? He can't stop shaking." He turned back to Chase, his hands steady on the needle. "You won't feel a thing in a few seconds. Just breathe."
"Won't feel anything at all soon," Chase gasped. "I'll be dead. But not. Just like Cameron."
Wilson stepped forward and held the other man's head and side down on the hard seat.
Glazed blue eyes swiveled upwards to find Wilson's face. "Wilson? You're supposed to be gone. Am I…?"
"He's really here, Chase. Not a hallucination," Foreman soothed. He turned his gaze back to Wilson, quirking an eyebrow. "Guess you wanted to play hero. How the hell did you get in here, anyway?"
"I'd be interested in hearing that too," House's voice rumbled behind him. "We told the nice 911 lady to stop sending paramedics and policemen to feed the hungry masses. They were supposed to set up a perimeter and then get us out of here." He slammed his cane against a nearby tabletop, the loud sound making some of the sleepers jolt awake. "If they didn't fucking believe us, then Chase is going to die for nothing!"
Wilson looked down at the young doctor, who was nearly asleep with the morphine. "I made a run for my cell phone in the locker room," he explained, his voice a weak thread. "Dropped it when they bit my arm. But I got the call out."
"Yeah, and look where it got you," House seethed.
Wilson shook his head. "I think…there is a perimeter. But they let me in. I don't know why; I wasn't paying very much attention. I thought they were just pulling over drunk drivers." He ran a hand through his hair. "But I've been listening to the news on the radio all day. No talk of a mysterious disease crippling a hospital. And the guys outside were Princeton PD, not FBI or CDC."
"If you were the police, would you tell everyone about a zombie attack?" Foreman pointed out. "They're probably just waiting for everything to die down."
House limped over to the cafeteria wall, where several words were scrawled in his all-caps handwriting:
BRUISING BLEEDING FROM?
BACTERIAL? (This was crossed out.)
TOTAL ORGAN FAILURE
BRAIN CANCER? (This was also crossed out.)
NO FUCKING WAY
"They aren't waiting for things to die down," House said quietly. "They're waiting for things to die." He turned, his eyes shining in the dim light. "They aren't coming for us."