A/N: This was written for the Fox Forum's Very Merry Housemas Challenge In which we were to take a traditional Christmas story and rework it House-style. What I did was sort of twist The Polar Express to fit into the PPTH universe. There's no ships. And no Season 4 characters, because I actually wrote this months before the start of Season 4.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
"We have a problem," Foreman announced as he, Chase and Cameron filed into House's office.
"You're all adults, well except Chase, I'm sure you can work it out," House replied without looking up from the catalog he was browsing through.
"With our patient," Foreman clarified.
"Are you …. Christmas shopping?" Cameron asked, squinting at House's catalog. "Now? You do know Christmas is today."
"Mail order brides," House quipped. "What's the problem with the patient?"
"I'm not convinced it's a problem," Cameron said.
"How can you not think it's a problem?" Foreman asked incredulously.
"He's sick and scared and …" Cameron began.
"And so are all of our patients," Foreman cut her off. "Chase, please tell me you don't agree with her."
"I'm not sure," Chase answered.
"Hey!" House barked. "Could any one of you stop bickering and tell me what's going on?" He tossed the catalog on the desk, reached into his pocket and took out a quarter. "Heads, Foreman. Cameron, nice tail." He winked at her suggestively and she rolled her eyes in disgust.
"Why Foreman and Cameron?" Chase asked, wounded.
"I don't like you," House said. He flipped the coin and caught it, then slapped it on the desktop. He peeked underneath and announced "Heads!"
"He's having hallucinations," Foreman said immediately.
"Not necessarily," Cameron interjected.
"You lost fair and square. Nobody likes a spoilsport," House chastised her. She made a frustrated gesture, but held her tongue.
"Garrett, how are you feeling this morning?" Cameron asked as she, Foreman and Chase entered their patient's room.
The eight year old boy blinked up at Cameron sadly.
"I lost it," he said quietly.
"Lost what?" Cameron asked kindly as she checked his vital signs.
"The bell," he whispered. The three doctors exchanged confused glances.
"What bell?" Foreman asked. Garrett looked at them uncertainly.
"Garrett, what bell?"
"Could we maybe skip ahead to the important part?" House asked.
"Unless there is no important part," Cameron muttered.
"Cameron," Foreman said in his best 'let's be reasonable' tone.
"Your objection is noted counselor. Now zip it," House said. He waved at Foreman to keep going.
"Garrett?" Foreman pressed.
"Last night, after Nurse Katie came in to check on me, I heard a noise. I pressed the call button, but nobody came. So I took my IV bag down and went into the hall," Garrett said.
"You shouldn't be wandering around the hospital, what if something happened?" Chase said.
"Chase," Foreman said sharply. Garrett clearly hadn't wanted to talk about this in the first place, scolding him wouldn't help. He turned back to Garrett and smiled. "Don't worry about him. Go on."
"There was nobody in the hall. So I took the elevator downstairs to find someone. But downstairs was empty too. I heard the noise again, only louder this time. It sounded like a train."
"Any chance we could speed this up a bit?" House prodded Foreman.
"You're the one who wanted him to tell the story," Cameron sniped.
"Yeah, well, I figured Foreman could probably get through it without crying over the poor, sad dying boy. What I didn't plan on, was how long it was going to take," House looked pointedly at Foreman.
"And if I leave something out, you'll only come back at me later and twist it around so that my omission almost cost this kid his life," Foreman argued, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly.
"I'm sorry," House said, clearly not. "You're right. How insensitive of me not to think of your feelings, when little Gary's life could be slipping away while you wax poetic."
"Garrett," Cameron interjected, despite her knowing it was useless.
"Can we get back to the kid?" Chase reminded them all.
"Did you actually see the train?" Foreman asked. Diagnostically speaking, hearing a phantom noise and seeing a phantom train were worlds apart. He needed to know exactly what happened to determine what might have caused it.
Garrett shifted uncomfortably on the bed, casting his eyes away from Foreman. Cameron frowned. Foreman's question had obviously upset him somehow. Foreman turned and looked at her, and she made a face. He nodded in Garrett's direction and stood from the edge of the bed. Cameron took his place and shot warning glares at both he and Chase.
"Garrett, if we promise not to interrupt, will you finish telling us about it?" Cameron asked gently.
Garrett stared down at his hands, plucking imaginary lint from the bed sheets, but he began to speak again. "I went outside, and there was a train in the ambulance bay." He looked up quickly, expecting to see some sort of a reaction. Nobody laughed at him, so he continued.
"The conductor came down from the front and told me to get aboard. He said it was The Polar Express, and this year Santa had wanted kids who were going to miss Christmas to come and see him. I got on and there were lots of other kids with IV bags and those breathing mask things too. We rode for awhile, past some mountains and over a really long bridge.
We got to Santa's village, and all the elves were gathered in the main square. The train stopped and we all got out. The conductor had told us that Santa would pick one of us kids to give the first gift of Christmas. I never thought he'd pick me.
But he did. And I climbed into his lap, and he asked me what I wanted for Christmas."
Here Garrett paused, and Cameron reached out and placed her hand over both of his, stilling their restless movements.
"What I really want is to not be sick. But I don't think even Santa could do that if all the doctors I've seen can't make me better. So I asked him for one of the reindeer's bells. That way when I got home, I could show people and they'd know I was telling the truth."
Garrett looked up at Cameron with tears running down his cheeks. "But when I got off the train and came back to my room, I reached in my pocket and it was gone. There's a hole. In my pocket, there's a hole. The bell must have fallen out. And now you all think I'm a liar!"
Garrett wrenched his hands from Cameron's and rolled over so his back was to them. He cried quietly, and despite their efforts he refused to speak anymore.
"When do we get to the part that's medically relevant?" House asked.
Foreman stared incredulously. "Did you miss the part where the kid thinks he took a ride on a magical train to the North Pole and met Santa?"
"No, I heard it," House replied casually.
"He's having hallucinations. Pretty vivid ones, too," Foreman insisted.
"Or, he had a really nice dream and he's clinging to the possibility of it being real because if meeting Santa is real then getting better could be real too," Cameron pointed out.
"Right, no chance there's a neurological component to whatever's killing him," Foreman snapped at her.
House took a deep breath and looked to the ceiling. "Chase?"
"The kid needs a psych consult. It's Christmas, he's got no family and he's dying. He's depressed. Depression caused the hallucinations," Chase offered.
House lowered his head and gave Chase a condescending smirk. "Trust Chase to go for the simplest explanation." He paused. "Fine, get the kid a psych evaluation and Foreman, just for fun stick his head in an MRI."
"And me?" Cameron asked.
"You're good at clinging to impossible dreams. Go hold his hand, you two can bond," House said. He stood from behind his desk and limped past Cameron, ignoring the icy glares she sent in his direction.
The following morning Cameron, Chase and Foreman entered Garrett's room to check on his progress. After the MRI and psych consult had revealed nothing, the team had gone back to the whiteboard and come up with a new diagnosis. The treatment had been started and they were anxious to see how he was responding.
Nothing could have prepared them for the sight that awaited them. Garrett was sitting up and eating a stack of pancakes House could have been proud of. He had a grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear and a brightness in his eyes that you'd expect from a kid on Christmas morning.
"Feeling better I see," Chase said. Cameron and Foreman both rolled their eyes a little at Chase's utter inability to not state the obvious.
"I feel great," Garrett said. "But that's not important. Look what I got." He brandished a box at them frantically.
"What is it?" Cameron asked, smiling widely in return.
"My bell!" Garrett shouted. "Nurse Katie brought it in for me when breakfast came. She said somebody left it at the nurse's station during the night. It's from him!"
Cameron took the box and opened it. Inside was indeed a small brass bell, and underneath it was a note.
Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket.
Cameron frowned for the first time since entering the room. She didn't recognize the handwriting, but the only ones who knew about Garrett's dream were the three of them, House and the psychiatrist. She doubted that any psychiatrist worth his salt would drop off this gift after being called in for a consult and Cameron could tell from the handwriting that it wasn't anyone on their team. She shook her head. It didn't matter. Maybe one of the nurses had overheard and felt badly for him. Whoever had left it, obviously the little gift had made his Christmas memorable.
"That's wonderful Garrett," Cameron said and handed back the box. She looked at Foreman and Chase who both seemed to have decided not to comment, at least for the time being.
Garrett lifted the bell out of the box and waved it around excitedly. "Isn't it the prettiest bell you ever heard?"
Now the three looked at each other with concern again. The bell hadn't made any noise.
"Can't you hear it?" Garrett asked, seeing the confusion on their faces.
Foreman and Chase both shook their heads. Cameron hated to disillusion the boy, but she couldn't lie to him either. "I really wish I could, Garrett."
"That's okay," Garrett said. "Santa said that only kids could hear the bell, because only people who really believe in him can hear it. I just thought maybe …."
"Well, don't worry about it. All that matters is that the medicine we're giving you now is making you feel better," Cameron said.
"One of us will come back and check on you later," Chase said as the three doctors filed out of the room.
Once outside the door, the three paused and looked at each other.
All three shook their heads no.
"You don't think House…" Chase said.
"It wasn't his handwriting," Cameron negated him.
"You really think House would go out of his way to buy a Christmas present for a kid he's never even seen?" Foreman asked Chase.
"No, I guess not," Chase agreed. "Should we be worried that he hears it ringing?"
"We can schedule a hearing test tomorrow," Foreman said.
Foreman and Chase walked off down the hall, but Cameron stayed behind to watch Garrett through the glass as he happily rung his broken bell.
Later that afternoon, Cameron was walking as casually as possible down the hall toward Garrett's room. Maybe Foreman was right and they should be worrying about his sudden apparent hearing issues. Or maybe years of working for House had just heightened her curiosity. Whatever the reason, Cameron really needed to find out who left that bell for Garrett. She would start at the nurse's station and work her way down to the security office.
When Cameron rounded the corner and Garrett's room came into view she saw him sitting on the bed and playing with the bell. His door was open, and Cameron decided she would just check on him quickly.
Before Cameron could get into the room, she heard a familiar thumping gait as House limped down the hall and into Garrett's room.
"Look kid, I'm real happy you got your bell back, but do you have to ring it every two minutes? There are other people in the hospital, myself included, who need to sleep," House snapped at the boy.
Cameron froze in her tracks. Did he just tell Garrett to keep the bell quiet?
"Sorry," Garrett muttered ashamedly. From her place in the hall, Cameron could see him blushing with embarrassment. But suddenly Garrett seemed to realize the implication of House's outburst. "You heard the bell?"
"Of course I heard it; you've been ringing the damn thing all day. I bet the stiffs in the morgue heard it," House shot at him. He looked at the boy for a minute, trying to decide if he'd been frightening enough to ensure silence.
Satisfied he could finally get the nap he'd been longing for all afternoon, House turned on his heel and limped quickly from the room. He ignored Cameron in the hall and was three steps past her when his brain registered her slack-jawed expression. He stopped and turned on her.
"Catching flies? I know they say you catch more with honey …certainly you're sickeningly sweet, but don't you think your approach is a tad impractical?" House quipped.
Cameron seemed incapable of speech. House frowned at her, curious as to what could have dumbfounded her so fully. It's not as though she'd never heard him speak rudely to a patient before.
"Cat got your tongue? Can't blame him, I bet it's tasty," House tried again, expecting the innuendo to annoy her out of her awed state.
"You heard the bell?" Cameron managed to whisper.
"Crippled leg, not a deaf ear. I thought the cane was a dead giveaway," House replied. He angled his head in her direction slightly, trying to figure out why his hearing the bell was so shocking. "Did you expect me not to hear it?"
Cameron shook her head, not trusting herself to say anything more without looking impossibly foolish. House narrowed his eyes at her, but he could see clearly she wasn't going to divulge further information. He turned and limped back down the hall.
"Merry Christmas House," he heard Cameron say faintly from behind him. He flapped a hand dismissively in her direction.
"Bah, humbug," he shot back at her.
Cameron smiled and shook her head. Gregory House heard Santa's bell. If that didn't qualify as a Christmas miracle …. Heartless bastard my ass, she thought.