The newest fellow approached the glass window with a combination of interest, dread, apprehension, curiosity, and terror. Another man stood there already, his hand on the glass and his eyes trained on the person in the room.
The fellow – the duckling, that is – took a moment to observe this man. Lab coat, which meant he was a doctor. Pocket protector, suit, tie, properly ironed shirt, brown eyes that looked full of unidentifiable emotion, brown hair that was going gray at the temples, and lines around his mouth and face. His clothing was slightly rumpled, as though he had thought about ironing them and had even started, but had decided against it last minute.
The duckling walked up to the window and looked into the room too. He wasn't quite sure what he should say or do. He had meant to go in there, but it wasn't an option while this doctor stood here staring.
A man lay on the flat bed, a sheet up to his neck. His eyes were closed. The duckling tried hard to remember what color they had been. Gray, perhaps? Green? Brown? It wasn't coming to him. He remembered the piercing look they had given him (black? Black went well with piercing stares), but not the color. His hair was thin and a grey-brown, and there were heavy lines on his face.
Finally, he turned and looked at the duckling. A pensive look crossed his face. "Dr. Tim Phillips, if memory serves?"
"James Wilson," the man offered, and stuck his hand out. Tim dutifully shook it.
"I don't suppose you knew him very well," Wilson said, turning his gaze back to the room.
Tim really, really hated the morgue. Being around mourning friends and family was too much for him. Although, this was another doctor. Doctors knew professional distances. This doctor didn't seem like he would start crying suddenly because his colleague was dead. Tim relaxed a bit.
"Not really. I met him once, when I was applying."
Wilson nodded. "You were hired a couple weeks ago, I take it? It's about when the last fellow finished his fellowship."
"Why are you here?" Wilson asked. "You didn't know him, so you can't be mourning him. Unless you're Dr. Cameron, who mourns everyone. Few doctors are like her, though."
Tim was starting to think Wilson was like her.
"And you're not here because he was a colleague or because you knew of him."
"No. He's our case."
"He's dead," Wilson said bluntly.
"We know that. We don't have any cases right now, so Dr. Foreman told us to figure out why Dr. House died."
"You are not doing an autopsy. You're not him: you actually really do need consent first, and you won't get it."
"It hasn't come up yet. We're looking through his medical files and everything."
Wilson snorted. "He would've loved that. He was a private person. He hated people knowing his weaknesses. Especially after his infarction." His voice turned sharp suddenly. "So you needed to see the legend for yourself?"
"No, I thought maybe there was some discoloration or something that could give a clue… I mean, I really don't want to disappoint Dr. Foreman. He seems very curious about this. I wonder why he doesn't figure it out himself…"
"Because Foreman knows already."
"Oh. Infarction?" Tim asked, remembering Wilson's earlier statement.
"Clot in his thigh. Killed his muscle. Removed it, but he was in pain after that. If you have access to his medical files, you should know that already."
Wilson seemed unwilling to say too much, just saying enough to answer the questions and yet Tim was still interested. Dr. House had been a legend. A diagnostic genius. People talked about him. "Absolutely knows what he's doing… found out what was wrong with poor Betty… no one else figured that out… strange presentation, he said, which was why no one caught it… unwilling to think outside the box, which is why no one caught it, he said… Oh, but House himself? Barely saw him… absolute jerk… bully… misanthropic son of a bitch."
"Was he really as… er… well…" Tim looked for a tactful way to say 'cranky, bullying son of a bitch.'
"An absolute jerk," Wilson confirmed, sensing what Tim wanted to ask. "And extremely fond of being provocative. Half of the staff was terrified of him. Still, a genius. He solved cases no one else could."
Wilson sighed and turned away from the glass. "What are your theories so far?"
"Well, we're thinking cancer of some sort. Maybe lupus."
"It's never lupus," Wilson said with a half-chuckle, half-sob. "One of his favorite lines. It's never lupus."
Tim got defensive immediately.
"You're not about to start arguing with me about a dead man's favorite diagnostic line, are you?" Wilson sighed heavily. "Stop thinking cancer."
"Do you know what killed him?"
Wilson snorted. "Of course I do. Half the hospital knows."
"Then why are we…"
"Because Foreman has a strange sense of humor. What do I know?" Wilson shrugged. "It's a puzzle for you to solve until he finds a case worth pursuing. Greg trained him well. Mini-House running around now." Wilson saddened again. "Not like the original though… no one comes close to Greg."
Tim couldn't find any words. They had lessons on how to tell someone they were dying, how to ease the pain, but lessons on comforting relatives and friends… Tim tried to figure out what connection Wilson had to House.
"What killed him?"
Wilson chuckled humorlessly. "None of you has picked up on it yet? I know that neither of us charted very well – Greg not at all, I rarely when it came to Greg, he hated having written evidence – but honestly. There are enough mentions of it in his chart. And if you would listen to what people say…"
"Foreman says to be wary about that."
Wilson turned back to the window. "Greg was an addict. Vicodin mainly, but he did other drugs too. Alcohol as well. Mostly after the infarction. He was in a lot of pain in the past fifteen years. The vicodin helped him a bit. It was mainly the vicodin that killed him, too. Killed his liver."
"He had to have known what it was doing to his liver…"
"Of course he knew! But he couldn't handle the pain any other way. And he wanted to be relatively pain-free and live shorter than to spend thirty or forty years in pain. After a while, I stopped fighting him on it and just… let myself have whatever time his liver gave us. He wouldn't give it up for anything. He couldn't… the pain, it was too much for him."
"Were you his best friend?"
"His friend, period. The best, the worst, the first, the last… Greg was not exactly a social person." Wilson smiled slightly. "But he was the best when it came to friends. Nasty, yes, and bullying and could never let something go… but there was no one more loyal. If you could put up with him pushing you away, put up with the insults…"
Tim was again left with the dilemma of not knowing what to say. "But, everyone says that…"
"No one knew him. They saw the sarcasm, the rudeness, the wit, and that's it. Greg wasn't caring or tender, but he was loving."
Realization was slowly dawning on Tim. "You were his… his…" he looked for something innocuous, "boyfriend."
"Nope, husband," Wilson answered. "Next week would have made six years. Kind of a record for both of us. He had the most beautiful blue eyes, you know. Absolutely piercing blue eyes that could penetrate every defense and read your mind. They were breathtaking."
Tim remembered suddenly House's eyes had been blue. Funny that he had forgotten that. Although he had remembered the piercing gaze.
"He learned how to move around with a cane with such grace, it looked like he had been doing it his entire life, like he was born with the cane in his hand. He was a strong man. He could handle a lot more than people thought."
Tim bit his lip. He was really bad at this comforting thing. At listening. It was an odd trait for a doctor, but it seemed to be a criterion for joining the Diagnostics.
Wilson looked at him and sighed. "You've no reason to be here, and I don't need comforting. I need time to myself with Greg."
Tim left, glancing back once more. Wilson stood, one hand to the window, staring at the body on the bed. Tim told himself firmly that he did not see a tear slip out of Wilson's eye.