At every occasion I'll be waiting for the funeral.
The Funeral – Band Of Horses
The first time, he is at the beach. It is three weeks before the end of Wilson's fellowship at Bellevue.
His friend Michael, an oncologist and diagnostician seven years older than James, has a house on the coast, a present from his father, who sells beans across four Midwestern states and has made a small fortune. He has invited James and two other doctors from Oncology to spend a week there, along with some guy he did his diagnostic fellowship with several years ago. This guy is called Greg House, and James doesn't speak to him at all until they have been at the beachside villa for almost two hours.
The other guys are lounging at the end of the garden path in their swim shorts, waiting to walk down the hill to the beach. The only person remaining in the villa is Mike's friend Greg House, who is sitting at the kitchen table in the white shirt and red swim shorts, investigating the contents of the fruit bowl.
James stands awkwardly in the doorway, keys dangling from his hand.
"Coming, Jamie?" Mike calls from the gate.
"Sure. Just waiting to lock up," James replies.
Greg House has apparently ignored his not-so-subtle hint. He squints at a misshapen, pale green item lying amongst the fruit and holds it up for James to see.
"What the hell is that?"
James takes a step towards the table. "A pawpaw," he says finally.
"No, it's not. Pawpaws are rounder and greener."
"No," James corrects House's correction. "You're thinking of papaya."
"I thought they were the same thing," House says, with an bizarre touch of melancholy. He taps the fruit meditatively on the table-top a few times, then tosses it back into the bowl.
"Let's go," he says. "What was your name again?"
"No," House cocks his head and smiles knowingly. "Not 'what do guys call you when they snap towels at your ass in the showers?'. What do you call yourself?"
"Jimmy," James says (it feels good to say it again because he's almost forgotten that that is his name). House rolls his eyes.
"That's just...What was your last name again?"
"That'll do. Come on, Wilson."
The group make their way over the hot flags of the sidewalk and pitch their camp on the glowing yellow sands. James walks over the hot sand until his toes touch the lapping water, then stops and breathes in the heavy, warm air. The sun shudders across the water as James stands on the shore, a dollop of sun cream in his palm. He looks out across the water. Edgar and Patrick are already up to their waists, tossing an inflatable ball to each other, laughing like kids and calling for Mike, who is still trying to set up a windbreaker, to come in and join them. House is out much deeper than the other two, swimming back and forth alone, his arms strong and sinewy. James watches him go further out, until he is an indistinct shape ploughing through the gentle waves.
As James smears the sun lotion over himself, the smell catches in his nostrils and brings back the memories of every summer he's ever lived through. Sun cream being rubbed onto his nose and cheeks by his mother, sun cream being knocked onto the kitchen floor by his brother and squirting across the linoleum, sun cream being kneaded into his back by a college girlfriend. He sighs deeply. He grew up in Brooklyn, learnt to swim at the public baths. He had never even swum in the sea until he was fifteen, and it still holds an air of mystique and danger for him. He opens his eyes.
House is gone.
His stomach clenches as he watches the waves for a few moments, just in case House has dived under and is about to surface. Nothing. He runs into the water, shouting:
"Ed! Pat! House's gone under!"
They catch on immediately. Edgar swims out, arms thrashing furiously, to the spot where House had been.
"Watch out!" Patrick shouts after him. "The currents are strong over there!"
James stops wading when he reaches Patrick, and the two of them watch as Edgar dives - then resurfaces, panting. He does this four times without success, rising only to catch his breath before plunging downwards again. James' heart seems to stop as he realises that he might well be witnessing a man die. He can't think of a worse way to go than drowning. Come on, come on, he urges as Ed disappears beneath the surface once more, nausea sweeping through him. He imagines what it would be like to be trapped under the water, his mouth full, his throat forced open by the pressure of the water. His lungs slowly filling. The last desperate, soundless shrieks as everything begins to turn black and patchy...
Edgar bursts back into sight, a head tucked under his arm. It is House. His hair is plastered across his forehead, his eyes are closed. James lets out a long breath which he hadn't realised he'd been holding. Patrick does the same, and they both swim out to meet the pair. Together, the three men drag House to the shore, where they lie him on the sand. Patrick inspects him.
"He's coming to. Pulse is good, breathing strong," he mutters. "He'll be fine. Just a nasty shock."
Ed and Patrick walk on up the beach towards Mike, who is on his feet anxiously. James sits still by House's head until the man's eyes open and he squints up at James.
"You nearly drowned. Edgar saved your life."
House slowly raises himself up onto an elbow and looks around.
"I would have been all right," he mutters finally, getting slowly to his feet. He frowns at the steadying hand Wilson has wrapped around his elbow but doesn't shake it off. "It was just a little cramp."
James stares incredulously at the man's ungraciousness.
"Oh, of course you would have been fine," he says, brimming with false sincerity. "I can't recall a swimmer ever drowning because of cramp. Asshole."
The insult surprises even James. He hadn't meant to swear, hadn't meant to offend someone he'd barely known ten minutes. But he is still shaking and his stomach still felt liquid and sick. He is still panicking, even though there is no longer any danger, and the word had just slipped out. He immediately opens his mouth to apologise, but shuts it when he sees that House is grinning.
"Come on, Wilson. Let's get something to eat."
The second time, he is out hunting. He's done some weird things with House in the three years he's known him, but this latest one is definitely the most unlikely. House had walked into his office the previous week and announced that they were going hunting, then simply walked back out. Some persistent probing had revealed that John House was in town for a Marine reunion, and that Blythe thought that perhaps he and Greg could do something together. Wilson had understood immediately that House needed someone to act as a barrier between himself and his father, and realised that this was House's way of letting him know he was needed.
So here he is now, in some forest in upstate New York, wearing a tartan hunting jacket and sheepskin hat, tramping through ankle deep snow. The sun is going down, making the snow shine first orange, then a pale purple. He is in the middle, with House at his left and John at his right. House's eyes are fixed upon the ground, his rifle dangling loosely between his hands with the casual ease of a person who has spent much of their life among weapons. Wilson is gripping his rifle tightly in his gloved hands, checking the safety catch is on every other minute seeing as he doesn't intend to shoot at anything anyway. He has never even touched a weapon before today. His dad used to keep a rickety old Beretta pistol in a locked drawer in the apartment, but he was never allowed to touch it. Not that he wanted to – he was born a pacifist.
It was extremely cold now, and the freezing snow had long ago soaked through his khaki trousers and numbed his ankles. They had been traipsing around the woods for four hours now without success. John is chewing tobacco ferociously to keep warm, the bulge in his cheek swelling and fading, swelling and fading. His thick grey jacket is turned up at the corners, and his rifle is held tightly at high port, the barrel pointing up towards the uncertain swirling slate grey sky. He glances across at his son every now and again, almost as if he is afraid of him, so cold and silent.
They are supposed to be hunting deer, but they have yet to get on one's trail long enough to take a shot. Wilson is relieved, because he really, really doesn't care for killing things. It seems like a large portion of his professional life is taken up with death, and he would much rather be using his recreation time for something less lethal. John, however, is obviously becoming more and more frustrated. His cheeks are red, and Wilson is so tired himself that he knows John must be exhausted, but his face is determined. Wilson catches House's eye briefly, and gets a hard stare.
Wilson watches his cold white breath hang in front of him as he dodges some trees. It is the middle of February, and leaves are returning to the branches. He trips on a root and John seizes his shoulder and steadies him.
"Watch out, Jim," he says in an indulgently long-suffering voice, and Wilson can feel House's hot gaze burning into him. He is angry, angry that his father is showing more affection for a guy he had only met that morning than his own son. Wilson smiles sheepishly at John, then casts his gaze down before House can catch his eye. John seems a nice enough guy, but House doesn't make any effort whatsoever to connect with him, Wilson thinks, then stops himself. He doesn't know anything about their relationship; he shouldn't be judging it. He knows House hates his father from House's own words; and he knows that John didn't treat Greg right from various veiled references Stacy occasionally makes but refuses to elaborate on.
Suddenly, a dark shape trots across the ground twenty yards ahead of them, rustling through the trees.
"Get it, Greg!" John mutters, as Wilson squints and sees it is a small elk, bounding gently away.
House holds the rifle loosely at his hip and fires high, far too high. The crack rings out and the elk disappears into the woodland in a flash. John halts in the snow and turns towards House.
"Didn't I teach you never to fire from the waist?"
House ignores him, continuing to walk forward.
"You never did listen to a word I said!" John shouts after him. House freezes, and Wilson's heart seems to skip a beat.
"It's not your words I remember," he says without turning around. He turns right abruptly and disappears into the woodland. "I'll meet you at the car."
John stands staring awkwardly at the place House had merged into the thick trees. Wilson fiddles with his rifle, checking that safety catch just once more.
"Come on, Jim," John says after a moment. "Let's make this trip worth a damn."
They continue forward, further into the forest. John is walking quickly, his boots a dull thud on the compact snow. Wilson is now both cold and anxious, wondering if he should have acted differently. He could have said something, he could have gone with House instead of aligning himself with his father. But it would have been tremendously rude to abandon John completely, and besides, House wanted to be alone.
John has flicked off his safety catch.
"Perhaps," Wilson suggests, his teeth chattering. "Perhaps we ought to go back."
"What? Empty handed?" John chuckles. "Where's your pride?"
The wind is starting up now, making his damp face burn. The woodland they are in now is very thick and very dark. Wilson is beginning to fear that John will keep them trekking around until it is pitchy dark and finding the car again is impossible. Although, it might be impossible anyway, seeing as House has probably taken it and is halfway home by now.
"It's getting dark, and – "
A crackle in the trees at their right, John's arms swing up and the rest of Wilson's sentence is cut off, punctuated by a gunshot and a yelp which he knows is House and the sound of a body hitting the snowy ground.
At first Wilson thinks he is going to be sick. John has just killed his own son. Just killed House. He thinks he is going to fall over, but instead he finds himself running forward, towards the sound. John overtakes him, and as he passes Wilson can see on his face the marks of terror which show how deep his paternal feelings run.
They burst almost neck and neck into the little clearing. House is lying back, propped up on his elbows, trembling with shock. There is a tear in the shoulder of his jacket through which red shows, but Wilson can see at once that it is only a scratch. Relief engulfs him, and he allows himself a weak smile. House, however, is not in a thankful state of mind.
"You shot me!" he yells, springing up to his feet, wincing and holding his shoulder.
John's pale face relaxes as he sees that his son is not seriously harmed.
"I'm sorry, but it was just an accident. Now, come on, let's -" he begins, but House cuts him off.
"Were you trying to fucking kill me?"
The relief that had been so clear on John's face fades to a stern, distant expression.
"You weren't brought up to use that kind of language, Gregory."
House laughs manically, a laugh that chills Wilson. He lets go of his shoulder and glances at the blood-smeared palm.
"Unbelievable. You are fucking –" he places special emphasis on the word, "unbelievable."
He stalks past both of them, heading back the way they had come.
"At least he's all right," Wilson says quietly, starting after him. John shakes his head in confusion as he follows.
"He's all wrong."
The third time, he is at the airport. His wife is buying them coffee and he is staring up at the departures board, with occasional anxious glances at the snow falling lightly past the floor-to-ceiling airport windows. It's a little chilly inside, and he is still wrapped up in a thick black overcoat. He looks over to where his wife stands at the counter. She smiles at him. He smiles back.
This trip had been a good idea. Taking a house in Vermont for two weeks at such short notice might have given Cuddy a paperwork headache, but getting his marriage back on track was worth it. Two weeks in the northern hills in the middle of fall, cut off completely from the world. Their cabin had had no TV, no radio and no phone. Every morning, James had gone down to the village store and picked up a newspaper, and every few days he had made a brief check-up call to the hospital on the store's payphone. Aside from that, he hadn't had any contact with normal life, and he had enjoyed it.
The snow is falling a little thicker now, and the tannoy announcement that all flights are temporarily grounded does not come as a surprise. His wife appears at his side and presses a cardboard cup into his hand.
"Thanks. Did you hear that announcement?"
"Mmm," she affirms, taking a sip. "I wish I hadn't finished my book – we could be here for hours. I think I'll go pick up a magazine. Do you want anything, honey?"
"Yeah, could you –" his phone starts ringing. "- could you pick me up a candy bar or something? I'm starved. Thanks."
He pulls out the cell as she heads away again. The caller ID flashes 'Stacy'. He presses the green button and lifts the phone to his ear.
"Hey, it's James."
She doesn't reply for a while. She just suppresses sobs, and James knows that this is serious because Stacy never cries. He was friends with her when, right back when they first knew each other, her fiancée Paul broke up with her. He was friends with her when her mom was dying of stomach cancer and when her step-sister was killed in a motorcycle accident. And through all those times, he had never seen her shed so much a single tear in front of him. Obviously, she must have been close to breaking point, because he knew what a long, ugly death her mother had had, but she had always kept herself under control.
Yet now, all he could make out were sobs and deep, catching breaths. House is the first person he thinks of.
"Stacy?" he says softly. "What's going on?"
A deep, trembling breath.
"Oh God, James – I'm so," she breaks off as her voice shakes, then swallows hard and continues. "I'm so sorry to – I didn't mean to call you while I was in such a mess."
"Hey, it's fine, don't be silly," James says. "What's going on?"
"I just thought you'd want to know. I've been trying to get you since last night."
"Yeah, I wasn't getting any reception."
She takes another breath. She's not really crying anymore, but James knows she won't even let her voice waver if she can help it.
James puts out a hand and feels the row of hard plastic chairs behind him. He slowly sinks down into one and tries to steel himself for the news he is about to hear (House is dead, and I wasn't even there). Guilt hits him in the stomach, hard. He stands an elbow on his knee and leans his forehead on his hand.
"What's happened?" he asks, so quietly that it's almost a whisper (how did it happen, more like).
"Well – uh - thr-three days ago, he got this pain in his leg. And the doctors sent him home, said it just needed bed rest."
"Right," James nods to himself. His hand shakes as he tries to take a sip of coffee and he spills it down his shirt. It burns through the cloth and he twitches, throwing more of it over himself in the process. "Damn it!" he shakily curses. He seems to have no control over his movements. The people on the chairs around him are shooting curious glances his way.
"And even I could tell it was something more serious. I mean, he was in agony. But you know Greg, he tried so hard not to let anyone see it."
"Yeah, of course," James mutters (Clot. Stroke? Heart attack?)
"Well, he finally couldn't take it any more and he went back up to the hospital. And when he finally got them to pay some attention to him, they found it was an infarction in his thigh."
"But he'd...he'd been home three days, you said," James says. "There'd be a severe blockage. Oh God," he suddenly continues, a mixture of dread and relief fighting for top spot in his emotions, "he must have lost the leg. Oh Christ, oh Christ, I –"
"He didn't lose the leg," she interrupts. "He wanted to have them remove the blockage and ride it out."
"Oh, for God's sake. Trust him. What's happening now?"
"Well," Stacy laughed unsteadily, "there was a third option, but I knew he wouldn't be interested."
"Remove part of the thigh," James says immediately.
"Yeah. And when they put him out, I signed the papers. They're doing it now."
"But he didn't want it done?" James asks, slowly, wanting clarification. He tries not to sound accusing but knows he probably does anyway.
"What would you have done in my place?" she demands, her voice rising.
"Look, I'm not trying to...it's an impossible situation. I'm sure you did what you thought was best for him."
"I did," she says. "He'll hate me afterwards," she adds, with a kind of desperate resignation.
"He'll take some time to adjust," James says neutrally (Yes, he will hate you). "Listen, we'll be down there in a few hours. Our flight's been delayed. I'll see you then, okay? He'll be all right. Bye."
"Sure he will. Bye."
The distance is already in her voice, and he foresees it in House's voice soon too. He gives the relationship, which he had seen form and flourish with such happiness for his friends, a year at most. He knows House, he knows Stacy, and he knows it can't last. He hangs up the phone, and it is like the end of an era.
The fourth time, he is at House's place. After the infarction, Wilson gets into the habit of dropping by the apartment every evening, bringing with him books, periodicals and snippets of hospital gossip that House pretends to ignore. For a couple of hours he just sits with House, then returns home to his increasingly impatient wife.
"I know he needs you, James," she would say, and Wilson would turn away and mouth the next words with her. "But so do I."
"He's in a bad pl-"
"He has Stacy. Who do I have?" she would demand, thrusting her chin out severely. He would just shut up and go away someplace else, grab a magazine and turn the pages too fast to be reading them while she pretended that having the last word had made her happy.
When Stacy leaves, three months after Greg comes home, Wilson's visits decrease to one every two or three nights. This change is not one of his own initiation. House insists on being alone and makes himself unbearably disagreeable whenever Wilson visits. Wilson persists, dutifully telephoning every second or third lunchtime to announce his intention of calling in, ignoring the various obscenities hurled down the phone line.
He knows House desperately wants to be back at work, but Cuddy wants his opinion and his conscience prevents him from lying. He confides that he thinks House is too unstable to come back right now, that he was drinking too much and sometimes even appears suicidal. Telling her this makes Wilson feel lousy, like the worst traitor in the world, but he knows that lives can be saved or lost depending on the readiness of doctors.
Therefore, it is pang of guilt which makes him abruptly turn the car around that evening on his way home and head for House's. Seeing as it is his fault that House can't get back to work, he could at least make some effort to keep him company. The last time he had been at the apartment, three nights ago, House had thrown a glass at his head. It had clipped his shoulder and smashed against the wall behind. Wilson had smelt the alcohol in the room when he arrived, so he wasn't sure whether House was too drunk to aim straight or whether he had only meant to scare him. His wife had noticed the speck of blood on the shoulder of his white shirt when he got home, where a speck of the glass had chipped and lodged into his skin, but when she asked about it he just snapped at her to forget it.
Now there is a feeling of trepidation in Wilson's stomach as he enters the building. A middle-aged woman in slacks is using the hall telephone. When she sees Wilson she makes excuses and rings off, hurrying to catch up with him.
"Hello?" Wilson says, blinking at her questioningly, glancing down at her flabby hand on his arm.
"Muriel Stein. I live across the hall."
"Pleased to meet you," he says hesitantly, gathering from her expectant silence that he is supposed to pick up the dialogue. "James Wilson."
"You're going to see Doctor House, aren't you?"
"Yes," he replies. She's wearing too much lipstick, he thinks, and it's too bright. It reminds him of the red plastic handbag his grandmother had carried when he was a child.
"Can you tell him from me to stop whatever he's been doing all day?"
"All day," she sighs, touching her forehead. "There's been a god-awful banging and crashing coming from his place. It stopped about twenty minutes ago. It's been silent since then. Not a sound. I thought about calling the cops, maybe. But now you're here...Say, are you a doctor, too?"
"Uh...yes," he says slowly, wondering if she is going to ask him to examine some malfunctioning body part.
"That's all right, then. You'll know what to do, if something has happened."
The contingency is one which Wilson has not yet considered. The conversation had taken him by surprise and he had not had time to worry, but the woman's words kick-start his anxiety into overdrive.
"Right," he says absently, hurrying for House's door.
He knocks four times, eliciting no response. That isn't particularly unusual, but tonight it makes Wilson deeply uneasy.
"House. House!" he calls. "Don't be an ass. Let me in."
There is a silence, a short one because Wilson is afraid to let in hang in the air.
"If you don't want to see me, that's okay. But will you please just answer me, so I know you're all right?"
He tried the door and to his surprise it is unlocked. He twists the handle, feeling slightly embarrassed about not trying it before, and pushes the door inwards.
The first thing that catches his eyes is the coffee table, which has been upturned and now lies upside-down in the centre of the room. As he steps in, more becomes visible. The wooden floor is scattered with pieces of broken glass. Fourteen antique porcelain saké cups are missing from the shelf by the mantelpiece, and the pile of jagged jade shards on the floor beneath give Wilson some clue as to their fate. Every picture in the place has been torn from the walls and smashed against the floor. The door to the kitchen is open and through it Wilson can see drawers lying on the tiles, cutlery spilled out around them. The only things it seems House had not attempted to obliterate are his books and his records, which remain in their usual places.
Silence. He edges further into the room, staring around. He spots House, slumped in the hall. His eyes are shut, and he is very, very still. Wilson's heart drops in his chest and he bolts across the living room, almost tripping over an empty whiskey bottle. Please don't let him be dead.
He presses his fingers to House's throat and hears a heartbeat, slow and steady perhaps, but there. He finally stops to look at House. His clothes are covered in vomit and whiskey stains, and there is an ugly gash on his lower arm made by glass or broken china. It has stopped bleeding, but dried blood crusts the arm. At first, Wilson feels a warm, tingling rush of anger, but just looking at the pathetic figure in front of him drains it away. He sighs, then slaps House's jaw until he gets a low groan of response.
"House? I'm gonna get you cleaned up, okay? I just need to know – have you taken anything?"
House shakes his head. More precisely, he lolls it to one side, but Wilson takes that as an answer. He grips House under the arms and drags him backwards into the bathroom. There, he pulls off House's vomit-stained shirt and pants and props him up in a corner of the shower. As he is about to step back and switch the water on, House grips his arm tightly and his eyes flick open, staring more intently than Wilson could have thought possible in his state.
"Don't tell Cuddy," he says emphatically, although the words slur a little.
"I won't," Wilson says quietly, and House lets his arm fall back to his side and his eyes are half-closed, staring without focus. He is shivering all over, his leg curled instinctively to cover the ugly scar on his thigh. He looks truly broken. Wilson swallows the lump in his throat and pulls down the showerhead.
The fifth time, he is in bed. He is dreaming that he is performing surgery on a naked woman.
Every time he makes an incision, blood shoots into the air and he claps his hand over the spurting cut feeling it bubbling below his palm. He shouts for help, but the other surgeons stand like statues, deaf to his cries. Something wet touches the skin of his foot and he looks down to see that the patient's blood is seeping through his slippers (he always seems to be wearing slippers in his dreams). He kicks madly, trying to get the soaked shoe off his foot; and the patient suddenly slips off her anaesthetic mask and sits up, staring at him.
"Jimmy, Jimmy!" she calls, stretching out a bare pale arm to him.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, as blood pours down her body and patters onto the tiles below. He is crying, tears tumbling over his face uncontrollably as she slumps forward and splatters into the pool of blood on the floor.
"I'm so sorry..."
He jolts and opens his eyes. He is face to face with his wife. She is smiling sleepily at him and her arms steal up around his neck.
"You were kicking me," she whispers. "You all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he replies softly, leaning forward to kiss her. She runs a hand through his hair, gently pushing it back.
"I'm going to make myself something to eat," she says, getting out of the bed and slinging a dressing gown on. "I'm starving. You want anything?"
Wilson glances down at his watch (what kind of man wears a watch to bed, he thinks). It is five past two.
"Thanks, but I think I'll just go back to sleep. Got things to do tomorrow."
She nods and slips out of the room. He stretches out, rubs a hand over his face and closes his eyes again.
He is back in the operating room. The woman is lying at his feet, still bleeding everywhere. He gets down on his knees in the blood and turns her over to face him. Blood is running from her nose and mouth now too, and her blonde hair is tangled with it. A deep voice rings out.
"What have you done, James?"
He looks up as soon as he hears the voice, but the surgeons are already silent and stony once more.
"I'm trying. I'm trying as hard as I can," he whispers frantically.
"You killed her."
He is watching this time, but none of the surgeons' mouths seem to move. He looks at the stats monitor.
"No, no. She's alive, she's..."
The blaring bleep of the monitor suddenly fills the room, much louder than in real life. He lets go of the patient to cover his ears and she slides down his knees and onto the floor.
"No," the deep voice says. "She's going to die. You killed her."
"No, no!" Wilson shouts over the din. "I did everything I could. I jus– "
His eyes fly open again. The phone is ringing next to his ear. He is breathing heavily and he can feel the sweat on his back. He reaches out a hand. The digital clock next to the phone reads ten minutes past three. He lifts the receiver from its stand and answers quietly, with a glance at his wife, who is fast asleep.
"Wilson? It's House..."
House's voice is as quiet as his own, and he sounds short of breath.
"What's going on?" Wilson asks, a knot of anxiety knitting itself inside him. Not even House calls at this hour. There is a pause, during which Wilson can hear House's heavy breathing and the sound of cars trundling past, which tells him that House is outside somewhere.
"I..." House breaks off and coughs, an ugly, wet cough. "I've been stabbed. In the s-stomach"
Wilson swings his legs over the side of the bed and jams his feet into his slippers, his heart pounding in his ears.
"Have you called 911?"
"No cops," House mutters. "No ambulances. Just come down here, will you?"
"House, I've got to call an ambulance," Wilson says. His own voice is oddly calm, he is using it to steady himself. "You-"
"No," House says emphatically, then breaks off coughing again. "No. You'll understand when – when you get...here," he lets out a long, pained sigh. "I'm in an alleyway next to Denzel's on 24th."
"You got stabbed in a bar fight?" Wilson asks.
"Not exactly. I-I've lost a lot of blood, Wilson, and I..."
There is no reply. Wilson grabs his keys up from the bureau and takes a thin canvas jacket from the back of the bedroom door on his way out. He pulls it on over his bare chest and it hangs almost to the knees of the jogging pants he always wears to bed.
The drive is not a long one, but it seems to take hours. At every red light, he sees in his mind House writhing on the filthy sidewalk, blood spilling out of him and he even runs the lights he passes, something which he had never done in his life. A stab wound to the stomach could be fatal. And House had just stopped talking. He had probably passed out. Wilson feels so sick he can barely keep to his side of the road. He hates the fact that bad things always seem to happen around him, and that he is always the one who has to deal with the fallout. Why does this have to be him? Why couldn't someone else handle this for a while, this sense of dread and nauseous fear that always seems to fall to him.
He realises suddenly that this focussing on his own problems and malcontent was simply a mental tactic to distract him from the more terrifying knowledge that his best friend was somewhere out there, bleeding to death on the street.
He turns sharply onto 24th. He has to wrestle with the steering wheel to keep steady, which reminds him that he is going far too fast. He pulls up with a jolt at Denzel's, a seedy little joint with electric blues seeping out of the windows and the ajar entrance door. The roars of appreciation he can hear from inside tell Wilson that the place is very much still awake. He looks around frantically. Then, a whistle.
Sitting by the fire door at one side of the building, smoking a cigar stub, spinning his cane over his knuckles, the very picture of robust health, is House. He pushes himself to his feet while Wilson leans a steadying hand against the top of his car and takes a few deep breaths.
"Hey, Wilson. Sorry to get you up," House says cheerily, his gait as he approaches Wilson betraying an advanced state of intoxication. "But I really needed a ride."
"You what?" Wilson asks, feeling his heart begin to slow down just a little.
"I haven't got money left for a cab, and it's way too far to walk."
Wilson grits his teeth and the hand on the car roof clenches into a tight fist. "Then why didn't you just ask for a ride?"
"I didn't know if you'd come," House explains, tapping his cane on the damp ground. "Trust me, it's always better to go with the stabbing thing."
"Has it perhaps occurred to you," Wilson says, so angry he barely trusts himself to open his mouth, "that I am even less likely to give you a ride now I've found out that that was a lie?"
"Getting you here was the problem," House assures him, taking a hip flask from the pocket of his overcoat and swigging from it. "There's no way you'll leave me now. Ground's wet, bad guys around, I'm drunk, crippled and don't know how to keep my mouth shut. Sure, you're angry now; but you'll be angrier if you leave me now and I'm dead tomorrow."
"Do you have any idea what that kind of lie does to people?" Wilson hisses, this being the only tone of voice that won't burst into an explosion of rage. "I thought you were dying."
"And now you know I'm not it seems a little silly to be upset," House answers brightly, but he can't quite meet Wilson's eye.
Wilson just chuckles bitterly and gets into the car. As House reaches for the passenger door, Wilson presses a button and the locks click into place. House pulls irritably at the outside handle.
"I can't walk all the way back from here, you know that. I've got no money, a brain full of liquor and a leg that has a more than passing acquaintance with the ground," he protests.
Wilson shrugs. House lets go of the handle and sighs.
"Look, I probably shouldn't have gone for the theatrics, but now you're here there's no point in just abandoning me. I," he rubs the back of his neck and averts his eyes awkwardly, "I need you."
Wilson groans loudly, annoyed with his own inability to hold a grudge, bashes his forehead reproachfully against the steering wheel and unlocks the passenger door. House slides in and before he can say anything Wilson has ignited the engine. They are silent for the entire journey. When House sticks his cane out and attempts to switch the radio on with the tip, Wilson knocks his arm away.
Wilson drops House outside his apartment building.
"I owe you one," he says, a little sheepishly, as he climbs out.
"Yeah. You owe me quite a few altogether now, don't you?" Wilson points out in a flat, weary voice. "How do I know I'll get them all one day?"
"Start an account book?"
This time, they are at the cinema.
"I had pizza with the Brady Bunch earlier," House announces as he tucks his arm around the huge bag of popcorn that has just been placed on the counter in front of him and puts a twenty dollar bill down in its place.
"Seriously?" Wilson asks, raising his eyebrows.
"Well, in a sense. They were having pizza and I stopped in for like, five, ten minutes. They didn't offer me a slice," he pouts, collecting his change.
"Why does that not surprise me?" Wilson smiles, and fumbles for their tickets (he always takes both because he knows House's arms will be full). "And now you're going to see a movie with me. What, are you trying to follow all my suggestions in one day?"
"Sure I am," House answers nonchalantly. "I'll be able to get back to being a self-absorbed bastard that much faster."
House chooses seats at the very back, which Wilson hates. All the kids sit near the back, giggling together and hurling fistfuls of popcorn at each other, but House will not be shaken. He then proceeds to bug the hell out of Wilson and all surrounding audience members by talking loudly throughout the trailers, although he quietens down a little when the actual feature starts.
Wilson likes the movie, but he's not really paying attention. He's just enjoying the moment, concentrating on being out and trying not to think about returning to his hotel room afterwards. He and House haven't done something together like this for at least six months.
They have been watching the film for an hour when House suddenly turns to Wilson.
"You told me this film was about Christina Ricci being chained to a radiator in minimal clothing," he hisses. "You didn't tell me it was so she could learn a lesson."
"Shhh. Trying to watch," Wilson whispers back, helping himself to a handful of House's popcorn and drawing from him a disapproving glare.
House bitches under his breath for a few more minutes, but when Samuel L. Jackson picks up his guitar and starts to sing he shuts up. Wilson smiles as he watches House's fixed expression. He leans back in his seat and lets his eyes look lazily upon the screen.
On the screen now a storm rages in the night. Wind howls, beating against the wooden walls of the cabin. The music and the storm build until they are overwhelming. Wilson is sucked in, his heart starting to thud. Christina Ricci is crawling across the dark, shadow-strewn floor. Samuel L. Jackson smashes out a chord, and howls a line of blues. Wilson leans forward a little as the noise fills the theatre, his breathing shallow. The ethereal howl of tortured blues crashes into a crescendo, fighting the screaming gale. Wilson feels shivers run over his entire body. And then...then it fades away, the final jangling chord buzzing into nothing. Wilson lets out a long, low breath and leans slowly back against his seat.
He once heard House play the same song, muttering the words under his breath as he strummed an acoustic guitar on his couch. Wilson smiles at the memory and turns to see if maybe House is remembering it too.
He is dead. Wilson knows at once. His face is bone-white, his lips a faint blue. His head is cocked to one side limply, his eyes staring emptily ahead.
Wilson feels a sudden rush of heat run through him. It blurs his brain and burns in his blood, the image in front of him swimming before his eyes. This is so much like a nightmare that he wants to close his eyes and scream until it stops. Instead, he just stares at the body in the quiet of the near-empty theatre, and feels bile in his throat. If he was going to shout, he would have done it when he first saw. So now he doesn't know what he should do, and he looks behind him, his eyes raking desperately over the placid faces of the other viewers gawping obliviously at the screen. He is completely alone and this can't, can't be real. He clutches at his throat as nausea sweeps over him, his hands shaking uncontrollably.
Then the panic fades away like the final notes of a symphony and he feels calm, disembodied, as if this isn't happening. Next to him, the movie throws different shades over House's bloodless, lifeless face, and Wilson just can't bring himself to move or speak, to let someone know what has happened and make it all real.
He turns back to the screen, blinking back his tears.