Jamie accepted the bottle of liquor and shook her head at the amber pill bottle. "That makes my head all fuzzy," she said by way of explanation. Both lids came off simultaneously with a harmonic pop. House tipped a couple of the pills into his cupped hand as Jamie took a small drink from the bottle. She shook her head again, pushing his hand away when he held out his open palm offering two white pills.
"Don't worry, it's not a truth serum," he said, settling slowly onto the bed before trying to hand her the pills again. Her fingers wrapped over his and closed his hand pushing the pills away before she took another drink. He watched her grimace as she swallowed a large amount of the whiskey. He pulled at the blankets in an attempt to cover most of his body, and couldn't help smiling when she moved closer. "Damn, if I'd have known you were going to be that easy."
"Body heat," she answered dismissively, taking yet another long pull. This time she closed her eyes and House had the impression she was trying to gather courage from the liquid spirits. He gently pulled the bottle from her grasp and downed the two pills he held, knowing there was more than enough Vicodin already circulating through his system. He was hoping for a few hours of unconsciousness, if nothing else to escape the nagging pain and ever present cold. On the other hand, the part of him that shared her warmth was sending a different type of pleasant sensation through his body.
"You must think I'm pathetic."
House gave a snort, enjoying the fact the Vicodin dulled the ache in his ribs when his stomach muscles contracted. "Yeah, really pathetic – rescuing me out of a below-freezing snow storm and then fighting off a cougar with your bare hands. Feel like taking on a new job as my scrub nurse?" House quipped, absconding the whiskey bottle from her once more.
Jamie burst out laughing, her entire body bouncing with mirth and an elbow catching his tender side.
"Ow, watch the ribs," he snapped, rubbing the sore spot and instantly sorry when the sound of her laughter ended abruptly. She sat up to give him some additional room. As the distance between their bodies increased the temperature dropped a few more degrees.
Becoming more serious Jamie continued. "I was thinking more the helpless woman trapped in a cabin," she said, shaking her head as House gave one last effort to push the Vicodin on her. "I told you, they make my head fuzzy." This time she turned her body slightly and House looked down at the amber pill bottle between his fingers. The typed words on the label fuzzy in the dim lighting, although he could recite them verbatim.
"Maybe a bit of fuzzy wouldn't be a bad thing." He tended to live on the edge of fuzzy. Not necessarily by choice, but the constant need to keep the life encompassing pain at bay forced him to skirt the fine line between reality and misery.
"It would be when I wound up drunk and naked," she said, swiping the bottle. "You'd like that."
"Damn right I'd like it, but you're never really naked, are you?"
Jamie rubbed the thick padding of gauze encircling her forearm. "Well aside from a few bandages—"
"Hmm, no, I was thinking more the mental armor than the ace bandages."
"And here I thought doctors were happy to stitch their patients up and let them go home, but you'd rather dig under the old scars." Anyone else would have flinched, but House was never one to sidestep the obvious.
"Do you always think you can fix everything?" she asked with a glance sideways.
House leaned closer, already missing her warmth. "Not everything," he mused, "one can't always fix everything." He shook his head, setting the pill bottle down onto the nightstand.
"I thought I could," she said and then paused. The next words came out so quietly, House had to strain to catch them. "A long time ago, that is." She was picking at the coverlet, one knee pulled up to her chest.
House scooted closer, wrapping her in a hug from behind and dropped his own voice to just above a whisper. "Tell me more."
Jamie picked up the bottle sitting between them and eyed the contents left in the bottom. The amber liquid swirled against the sides of the container as she rolled her wrist. She took a deep breath. "You really don't want to hear my pitiable tale. After all," she said with a hint of dare, "you don't care, remember?"
"You're right, I'd much rather watch Desperate Housewives, but our entertainment options are limited here, so you're it. In the words of the philosopher Cobain – here am I now entertain me."
Jamie put the bottle to her lips and slowly tipped it upwards. House felt the world slow as he watched the dark liquid slide through the neck and touch her lips. She sipped a small portion before giving the bottle up and then ran her tongue over her lips and grew pensive. House fought the urge to turn her head towards him and run his own tongue over her wetted lips.
"I loved him." The hushed statement came as more of a confession than the beginning of a story, and House kept his eyes forward, not daring to move and break the stillness that seemed to surround them as she finished with, "and then I hated him." Her voice held both bitterness and sorrow, and the emotions battled together turning it huskier. When she didn't expound further, House prompted her.
"Who, your brother, Theo?" Jamie responded with a shake of her head and House frowned, thinking back through the news articles he'd read and almost dreading she would say her father. The answer surprised and confused him even further.
"No, not Theo. Heath. I forgave Theo a long time ago for abandoning me, although I really believe he thought he was freeing me from my Father's grasp. I figure you'd understand that better than most."
"Me?" How was he suppose to understand?
Jamie nodded and sent a cold shiver through him with her next statement. "An abusive father who demanded his own specific ideals of perfection." House cast his mind back, unsure of his ramblings when he'd been feverish and opted to plead the fifth if she asked about his past. "After our Mother's death, Theo threatened to kill him." She pulled her knees up and hugged them to her chest, dropping her chin onto his arms. "After the funeral, we were eating dinner and the neighbor had stepped into the kitchen. Theo pointed at Father and said 'I'll make you pay for Mother.' Father just laughed, like he'd heard the punch line to a funny joke." House imagined the scene as he thought about the confrontations with his dad, wishing him dead more than a few times but never saying it aloud.
Her voice broke back into his reverie. "That evening when I was asleep, Father put him in the hospital. Theo was in a coma for two weeks. And the police believed the story my Father told them, that Theo was so overcome with grief over Mother's death he had tried to take his own life. I knew better. But no one asked me, no one listened." Her body tensed at the recollection, a small girl alone in and adult world. She wiped tears away with the back of her writs. "Who's going to believe a child?" she whispered, rocking back and forth with small movements.
House waited a moment, letting her gather her thoughts. "What happened then?"
"Sir Edward Langdon stepped in and changed the course of my life. He convinced my Father to allow me to attend the Royal Academy of Music along with Theo. I think Father was happy to be rid of me."
"You were a child prodigy?"
"No," she chuckled, thinking about it. "Theo was the prodigy; he could play anything just by listening to it once. We used to play a game where I'd make up a tune and hum it, and then he'd play it back to me. It was like an entire orchestra resided in his mind and music just tumbled out of him." Her body relaxed against him as she talked about her brother. "I was more of the Wooster to his Jeeves."
It was House's turn to chuckle. "Comic relief?"
She nodded, smiling at the memories. "Pretty much." She paused, tilting her head to look back at him with knitted brows.
"I can't believe you quoted Nirvana."
Deflection he thought, and answered without missing a beat. "Even harder to believe an Eagles' fan has heard of them."
Then she grew somber. "When Theo graduated, he made good on his promise." A small sob escaped and Jamie held her breath then let it out slowly, attempting to keep her feelings reined in. House pulled her closer, offering what little comfort he could against the painful memories she relived.
Life sucked he would have told most folks, but he kept his thoughts to himself in this instance. He couldn't begin to imagine what he would have done in her shoes at that age. First, losing her mother, and then a few short years later her brother killing their father and then committing suicide. One couldn't help but be scarred mentally from such a tragedy.
Again the silence lengthened between them and House gently prodded. "Then what?" he asked, hoping she'd continue the story, and willing her to accept his small bit of offered comfort. It was one thing he lacked, a natural ability for Wilson, and tried to imagine what his friend would do in this circumstance. He fought exhaustion and his eyelids grew heavy as the Vicodin worked its spell on his body.
"Then I should have become a ward of the court, an orphan, just another kid lost in the system. Instead I learned that money has its privileges and went to live with Sir Edward's family, as more of a companion to their son, Heath, yet they never treated me as anything less than a daughter."
"You've mentioned him before."
Jamie frowned. "Heath?"
House shook his head. "Mmhm, Sir Edward."
"He sponsored both Theo and I at the academy. We couldn't afford the outrageous tution, even though Father lived beyond his means. Theo was granted a full scholarship and I supplemented mine by helping in the kitchen. Sir Edward sat on the board and was influential in how scholarships were awarded. His son Heath loved music and he and Theo were good friends, practically inseperable, until Heath was diagnosed with leukemia. He never returned to school and shortly thereafter Theo graduated." Jamie grew silent and House mulled over what she'd told him thus far.
He started with a jerk realizing he'd nearly dozed off. Stifling a yawn he mumbled an apology.
"And here I thought it was only my humming that would put you to sleep," she said, fighting off her own yawn in response to his. "At least you're not snoring."
"Give me a few minutes, but finish first. Otherwise I'll be making up my own conclusions." The days exertions, fueled with the Vicodin and alchohol were combining to pull him into the inviting embrass of sleep. He heard Indy's labored breathing and gave a moments thought to checking on the dog, then mentally shrugged. He didn't want to leave the warmth and comfort of the bed and Jamie. Let nature take her course, he'd done what he could and reiterated to himself the words he'd spoken earlier to Jamie. One can't always fix everything.
"Not much left to tell. A diagnosis of Lukemia usually doesn't come with a long term warranty." House felt Jamie shudder in his arms. "I'm sorry," he said, nuzzling her neck and meaning the words. Standing on the sidelines and watching a disease like that take the life of a loved one was a tough break for anyone to go through and not come out unscathed he knew.
Jamie shrugged as if she could push away the past in a quick movement. "Heath introduced me to computer design and how to integrate music with them. I was designing a program that would allow him to enjoy the freedom he didn't have lying there in bed waiting for a disease to take him." She swiped at the fresh tears running down her cheeks. "It's just so god-damned unfair," she said through gritted teeth.
"Yep," he agreed and squeezed harder, nuzzling her neck and wanting somehow to erase all the hurt.
Lowering her knees, she squirmed against him until she was comfortable and leaned her head back against his shoulder. Her gaze roaming the dark corners of the room and finally settling on the inert figure of the dog. "I'm tired."
"Me too," House admitted, although he wasn't sure if they were speaking metaphorically, physically or both. "Why?" The question spoken aloud startled him as much as it did her. She turned with a questioning look, their breath touching eath others faces.
"Why what?" Her voice was now a small whisper as he watched her lips move.
There was more than one question he wanted to know the why to. Why was she hiding out in the frozen north? Why was she still trying to run from her past? Why had she given up her dreams? Why had she rescued him? All of these questions ran through his mind as she turned back.
"Can we finish this in the morning," she asked her words tumbling together, "I'm wiped." She closed her eyes, whether from exhaustion, physically and now emotionally drained or wanting to stop him from prying further.
He settled on exhaustion as he lacked the energy to add anything more. His mind hurriedly following the lethargy that was stealing through his limbs. He understood the reasons why she felt compelled to save the world and for now he was content with the knowledge she'd rescued him, but wondered how he would save her. Then sleep stole over him and he failed to notice that Jamie was already snoring softly.
+++house md+++house md+++
Wilson had grown tired of snow. Watching nothing but white streaks continually bombard them through the front windshield as the SUV covered mile after mile through blankets of white landscape was enough to drive anyone crazy. If he watched the snow too long he felt himself becoming hypnotized by the steady onslaught. Luckily for him, Allen was anything but boring providing Wilson with a brief but thorough history of the area they passed through. Wilson figured most of it was lost on him as continued to worry about his friend.
Allen had managed to track House's route back from the small convenience store in Libby, Montana to California and his premature exit at the medical symposium over two weeks earlier, by following a trail of credit card receipts. He had discovered that House was traveling with a truck driver, according to numerous clerks in different locations. Unfortunately his inquiries into the trucks whereabouts after Libby had proven futile, as no one had any records of the vehicle stopping for gas or having been involved in any accidents since. The last purchase being a coffee, danish and candy bar at the Flying J Truck Stop just on the outskirts of Libby over a week ago.
Wilson still held out a strong hope that House was surviving the storm someplace warm and sheltered and tried not to dwell on the idea of him being stranded somewhere and slowly freezing to death. The further they traveled the less Wilson remained optimistic. There seemed no end to the snow and even the mountains appeared as sinister shadows rising and falling as dark shapes in the distance.
Bozeman had reminded him of his college ski trips, with what he saw of the population roaming about in thick brightly-colored polar jackets with stocking caps and goggles. The majority of vehicles they had passed were either orange snow plows the size of large construction dump trucks or four by fours touting smaller plows on the front. Not that there had been many vehicles on the road. It seemed so desolate and did nothing to lighten his spirits.
After another hour, when it seemed they were meandering pointlessly across a flattened area, he began to notice plowed turnoffs and the frequency of dark blue vans became apparent. Noting his passenger's attention, Allen relayed that the unmarked vans were the Air Force shuttling crew members back and forth between the missile silos and base. Wilson wondered how practical it was to have the vehicles unmarked since they were pretty obvious to begin with. Allen laughed heartily at the observation and replied no one was able to make much sense of why the government did what they did. Then he went on to explain they were nearing Great Falls, and would soon have to decide whether to continue on or spend the night in town and do some more scouting.
Wilson was saved from any decision making at the moment when Allen's cell phone rang. After a brief conversation he hung up and asked Wilson to pull out the travel map. Wilson laid it across his lap and turned on the overhead light to give them a better view. Allen glanced over, pointed to a small town just outside a heavy concentration of green, representing National Forest. Wilson squinted at the name, and sounded it aloud. "Kalispell?"
Allen nodded. "Looks like Doctor House is riding with one John Wilson, from Minneapolis." Wilson shook his head to let Allen know that the name was unfamiliar to him and as far as he knew there was no relation to anyone in his immediate family. "He's got a wife with a bun in the oven waiting for him, and she'd last spoken to him the night your friend made his purchase in Libby. She reported him missing last week when he failed to check in with her again." Wilson felt like he'd been kicked in the gut as he stared silently at the large amount of space between Kalispell and Great Falls. "Looks as if he tried his luck at staying ahead of the storm along highway 2." Allen's voice trailed off, not voicing what both men were thinking.
How much of a chance did two men in a semi stand against the wrath of Mother Nature out in the middle of nowhere? "There are quite a few places they could have turned in on either side of the forest. It's possible they're holed up with no electricity or phone lines, wouldn't surprise me at all in those parts."
Wilson appreciated Allen's vote of confidence in keeping his hopes alive but voiced his own worries. "But how likely is it?" Wilson asked and Allen could only give a small shrug and stare out the window once more. Wilson slowly folded the map into a square, boxing in his destination and noting that though the map had grown smaller in his hands the area he stared at only seemed to grow larger.
"Snows letting up," Allen said and Wilson looked up, unable to discern any difference in the white barrage on the windshield. He sighed, leaned his head back and let his eyes close and tried to imagine his life without House.
+++house md+++house md+++
Cuddy looked up at the light tap tap on her office door. It was only mid-afternoon according to the clock on her desk phone, but it felt more like late night and she stifled a yawn as she waved Stacy in. She could read her own worry mirrored in Stacy's face.
"Any word about Greg?" Stacy asked as she took a seat across from Cuddy, setting her briefcase down beside her.
"Nothing yet. Wilson called a couple of hours ago and said he'd check back in this evening." She glanced at the phone again as if expecting it to ring. "He never makes things easy," Cuddy snapped, opening a file folder and pretending she was busy.
Stacy laughed and leaned forward, closing the file. "He never does. But we can only worry so much. I know a great little Italian place around the corner." Cuddy's eyes drifted back towards the phone. "James has your cell. C'mon Lisa, let's get out of here for awhile," she said, standing and waiting for Cuddy to do the same. Reluctantly Cuddy stood and shoved her cell phone into her purse before grabbing her own jacket. "I'll even fill you in on all the gossip from this morning," Stacy added, knowing her friend would be interested in the meeting notes about her top employee.
"You're buying," Cuddy retorted. "He's cost me enough already." Stacy readily agreed and the two women left the office turning a few heads as their laughter followed them out the front doors.
+++house md+++house md+++
"You know I could have sworn I parked the snowmobile closer to the door," Mike said, wiping a trickle of sweat off his cheek. Kieran grunted a response and threw a half shovelful of snow towards the top of the ledge, only to watch half of it tumble back down towards his boots. Between the two of them they had only managed to clear away a six foot swatch in front of the station's front door.
"Doubt anybody's going to come knocking soon," Kieran said, heaving another bunch of snow upwards. He leaned an arm on the end of his shovel and eyed Mike. "Explain to me again why we don't have a snow blower? And don't say 'it wasn't in the budget'."
Both men were panting from the exertion and Mike took the opportunity to lean on his own shovel. "Okay," Mike said with a grin, "you were cheaper than a snow blower." He had just wiped his face again when a snowball hit him square in the chest and exploded. He dropped his shovel and bent over to scoop up a handful of snow as another snowball shattered against his shoulder. They laughed hard and shouted nonsense while volleying snowballs at each other; they didn't hear the sound of the engine at first.
Kieran was the first to look up at their wall and say something as Mike pelted him with the last snowball. "What's that noise?" he said, holding a hand up to signal his surrender. Mike pushed up off his knees and pulled his stocking cap off tilting his own head towards the sound.
'Plow's coming," Mike said turning toward the station and disappearing inside. Kieran grabbed both shovels and propped them beside the door taking a couple of the orange and white poles Mike handed him. While Kieran unwrapped the bright orange triangular flag at the end, Mike twisted a couple of the poles together, standing the entire contraption up against the eave. The small flag cleared their mountain of snow by two feet and Mike chuckled as he bent to retrieve two more poles. "I'd say roughly eight and a half feet of snow," he stated, placing the other flag on the opposite side of the door.
"Will that be tall enough?" Kieran asked, having to raise his voice to a shout in order to be heard over the engine noise growing even louder. "And what about the snowmobile?"
The diesel rumble slowed and several smaller engines took up the slack. Mike smiled at Kieran's confusion. They could hear voices shouting and several plumes of snow arced near them, one voice seemed to be coordinating the group and suddenly the wall of snow in front of the two men tumbled outward as a tunnel opened. There were hearty hand-shakes and slaps on the back as Mike greeted the group of rescuers. "Kieran has never seen you boys in action," Mike commented, offering hot coffee and cocoa.
"Aye, we got our own methods of adapting to the environment," offered one of the men. "Long as the wind keeps low, we'll have the entire area traversable come morning."
"Everyone accounted for, Ranger?" interjected another and the talk immediately died down as they waited for his answer. Mike looked to Kieran who glanced quickly at the clipboard.
"Ranger Kendrick checked in a few days ago," he began slowly and heard a few sharp intakes. He knew Jamie was a favorite among the locals and tried not to convey his own fears when he spoke. "It seems she took in a stranger that was stranded, and," here he paused, aware that he had everyone's undivided attention. "And we haven't heard anything since." He turned his head catching Kieran's eye and hoping his subordinate wouldn't add anything.
Mike steeled himself when Kieran opened his mouth. "We've continued monitoring, and from the bad reception it's possible she has a bad connection or maybe lost the antennae," he added lamely. There followed a few muttered responses and Mike hastily assured them that Bill would be checking in on Jamie as soon as was humanely possible. That small bit of information seemed to ease their minds.
"How soon before you're able to get to the lodge?"
"I give it about three or four more hours, long as the weather holds and we don't have another snowfall or the winds kick up." Several heads nodded in agreement.
Mike considered for a moment. "If you would, when you clear out Doc Chamber's place let him know Gloria says there is an injured man that needs his attention."
"Will do, Ranger. We best be off." The men shuffled towards the door pulling on their hats and gloves once more. The self-appointed leader turned back at the door. "Let us know if you hear from Jamie?" Mike nodded his assurance as the man turned and closed the door behind him.
Kieran busied himself cleaning up the extra mugs and mopping up the melted snow puddling on the floor. Mike dropped into the chair and stared at the radio, the euphoria abating as he thought once more of Jamie.
Questions crowded his mind. Each one more fantastical then the next. Was the Blazer she had gone to take a closer look at the same one as the FBI searched for? And what about the man she had taken in? Was that the fugitive or merely a stranded hiker? She'd also mentioned sighting the cougar, and if Robby had hit the animal, how injured was it? Injured enough to claim a carport as its den? He shook himself out of his reverie when Kieran tapped him on the shoulder. A man's voice was coming over the radio. He glanced up at the clock, check-in time. He stood and relinquished the chair to Kieran.
Mike watched the clipboard fill with check marks as folks called in. Their voices sounded eager and hopeful when Kieran relayed the plow was out and making good progress. He wanted to end their short conversations quicker, his impatience rising as the hands of the clock ticked onward. Forty minutes later all but one person had been accounted for. Even the adamant insistence that Bill would make an attempt to reach Jamie on the morrow couldn't raise his spirits or his hopes. Mike could only hope that morning came sooner than it would.