Spoilers through season 4's finale. So many folks are writing post-Wilson's Heart fics, thought I'd give it a shot too. I liked the first version of this story up until a certain point and I don't care for the ending, so I thought I'd give it another go (I have a bad habit of rewriting the endings I guess). The story is the same as the first "Missing" up until a certain point, but this version has an alternate ending.
"Missing" Alternate Ending
"Where's House?" Cuddy asked, walking into the conference room.
Foreman shook his head, "I thought you picked him up this morning."
"I stopped by, but he didn't answer. I thought he caught a ride in with you. Did you call him?" Cuddy asked.
"And what? Ask him to tap the phone in Morse code?"
Cuddy stared at Foreman, closing her eyes briefly as she realized the weight of his words. House hadn't uttered a single word since he came out of his coma and tried to whisper whatever it was he tried to whisper that fateful day.
"If he'd answered, we'd know if he was alive or not."
She walked with set determination over to House's desk, thumbing through piles of paperwork, hoping to find something, anything that might lead to his whereabouts. House had been back to work less than three days and now Cuddy began to wonder if it was too soon. Against Foreman's strong advice, she had allowed House to return under strict rules; several breaks a day, he was not to be left alone for long periods, he was not allowed to stand at the whiteboard and he was not to drive anywhere. By law, his seizure forced the temporary suspension of his license anyway. Cuddy had stayed at his place up until a few days before his return, when he finally kicked her out. House could only take so much mothering and despite his not quite healed skull, Cuddy left with strict orders for him to text her for absolutely anything. She and Foreman acted as his chauffeur, and she alone was his cook, his maid and if he could have talked, she would have been his confidant. And yet, House had not yet said a single word since his feeble attempt shortly after waking up from his coma, nor did he write anything about it to express himself. His written words were generally short and most often work related.
House had remained in hospital for nearly two and half weeks following his seizure, the last several days really weren't necessary, but Cuddy insisted and he didn't resist. He didn't resist anything. He ate whatever food was brought to him, he never once made a face or complained when the therapists came in to work with him. He was up and walking around within a week, refusing to be confined to the bed all day, but that was the extent of his stubbornness. Cuddy would sit and watch him, wondering where his will had gone, wondering where that spark could be, wondering why he permitted her to hold his hand every day without pulling back or flinching away. She wondered if he'd ever recover his personality or if he would remain this quiet ghost of a man, a man who once resisted absolutely everything and now, resisted nothing. He allowed doctors and nurses to fuss over him with nothing more than a distant look on his face. Visitors came and went and though he rarely acknowledged their presence, he didn't fight visits either. His former fellows visited once in a while, Chase the least often, guilt ridden. Wilson of course, hadn't stepped foot anywhere near House, since that fateful day. And House never asked for him, or for anyone else. She made it a point to visit him every day, to let him know he was not alone, but she strongly felt the effort went unnoticed. It was then that Cuddy decided she needed to get House back to work as soon as possible, back to exercising his mind, his wit, his intelligence, his need to solve puzzles. So, once he was home, she talked him into returning to work. Again, he didn't fight it, he just agreed passively.
Cuddy sat in his desk chair, and held up the mini whiteboard House now used as his mouthpiece. It was wiped clean, nothing on it to indicate where he had gone. For all she knew, he could be at home, he could be in the restroom down the hall, he could be…well, she didn't want to think about where he could be.
"Maybe he's in the clinic?" Foreman suggested not looking away from the symptoms listed on the whiteboard, marker in hand.
She stood and turned to leave, nodding, "Maybe."
"I told you it was too soon. He has a cracked skull that hasn't fully healed."
"Would you rather he sit at home contemplating suicide?" She asked, daring Foreman to turn and face her.
Foreman shot her a sharp look, "Yeah Cuddy, because I want him to commit suicide." He said sarcastically.
"If you see him, tell him I want a word with him."
Cuddy approached Taub in the clinic, "Is House here with you?"
"No, haven't seen him."
"Where are Kutner and Hadley?"
She could see from outside the lab that House was not there either, but she entered anyway, hoping the two youngest fellows would know where he might be.
"House isn't here." Hadley said, not looking up from her work.
Cuddy placed one heel inside the room, pivoted and headed back the way she came when Kutner called out, "I'm nearly finished here, I could run over to his place if you want."
"Thank you." She said, not turning back.
The click clack of her heels echoed down the hall as she retreated from the clinic, heading towards the stairwell. Cuddy ran through all the possibilities once again. He's not in his office, the lab, the clinic, Kutner's checking his apartment. Where else could House be? And then a distinct possibility occurred to her, food.
Cuddy made her way to the cafeteria and looked around hopefully. She glanced at the food stations, the cashier stand, the salad bar and as she peered out over the various tables, a pang of sorrow coursed through her veins. There, in the far corner sat Wilson. Head down, a hardly touched salad pushed to the side, gaze intent on a nearly full glass of iced tea. Long gone were the days she would walk in to find the two former friends seated together mid laugh, House smirking while snatching food from Wilson's plate, or the look of mocked annoyance coming from Wilson at House's act of thievery. They no longer so much as glanced at one another, much less conversed, waved, nodded, cared.
She quickly poured herself a cup of coffee, paid and headed towards Wilson's table; the coffee a simple excuse to sit near him, talk with him, hope for him. She approached his table with a carefully constructed half smile gracing her face; it was neither patronizing, nor false, though it lacked true happiness and was laced with a dash of caution. She forced herself to appear content, calm, normal, or at least as normal as normal could be in this new altered realm of loss.
Wilson looked up from his seemingly interesting tea, nodded briefly and waited for Cuddy to sit down.
"Hey." She said.
Knowing she dare not mention House, nor his absence, Cuddy tried to keep the conversation simple, "Board meeting tomorrow at nine."
"I'll be there."
"You should eat." She said, motioning towards the salad.
"You've lost weight." So much for keeping the conversation simple. It was a statement she could not deny, Wilson had lost close to twenty pounds in the month since it happened. Cuddy closed her eyes, finally realizing what day it was. One month. One month, exactly.
She looked at him, willing him to meet her gaze. With a sigh, he looked her in the eye, nodding almost imperceptibly.
"You should take some time off."
Wilson shook his head, "Can't."
"We could get someone to cover yo…"
He cut her off, "No, I mean I can't just sit in that hotel room all day. I need to be here. I need to work."
Cuddy wanted so much to tell him to talk with House, to forgive. She had tried twice before; the last only a week prior, with the yelling match leaving her in tears, a wall in the clinic dented from his fist and Wilson beet red and in need of a sedative. She opened her mouth trying to find a way to ask without asking about House but couldn't bring herself to do it. When it came to mentioning his name, she just didn't dare utter a word on the subject, not even when it came to wondering his whereabouts, wondering if he was okay, wondering if he was alive.
Wilson watched her internal struggle, knowing whatever words rested on the tip of her tongue had to have been about him. And without so much as a word, Wilson stood and headed back towards his office.
"Hello?" She answered.
"Dr. Cuddy? It's Kutner. He's not here but his bike and car are."
"Okay, thanks." She said before hanging up.
Cuddy stared at the paper perched on her office desk, picked up the phone and dialed the first number in a long list of local and not so local ER's.
"Where could House be?" Hadley asked, taking a seat nearest the whiteboard.
"No idea. Let's focus on the patient. Lab results?" Foreman said.
"All negative." She replied, "Kutner called me a few minutes ago. House isn't at his place, but both his bike and car are there."
"We need to work up our patient since he's not here. Let Cuddy worry about him." Foreman said, annoyed.
Taub looked up at Foreman, somewhat in disgust, "Do you have any idea what today is?"
"Uh, Tuesday?" Foreman replied, somewhat sarcastically.
"It happened one month ago today."
Foreman closed his eyes guiltily, having not remembered the anniversary. With a sigh, he said, "Okay, let's figure this patient out and then we'll look for him. Deal?"
Hadley and Taub both nodded in agreement.
He placed the cane on the first step and looked up, half expecting to see a familiar face, but it was a new driver, just as it had been the day before and the day before that, and the day before that. Always at a different time, usually late in the evening, he would find himself climbing those stairs, so familiar yet so foreign, just as he had that horrific night. He slowly climbed up, deposited the money into the receptacle and walked back to his seat. The same seat. The same smells. The same metal bars above running from front to back and occasionally from floor to ceiling. The same route, though in reverse this time.
He rode mindlessly, hoping, wishing, pleading, wanting a garbage truck, or a semi, or a slick banana peel, anything, to cause the bus to crash. But no matter how much he wished he could relive that moment, back to the instant in which he should have died, wished he had died, it never happened. It wouldn't happen. Fate dealt him the winning cards in a game of solitaire; there he sat alone on that bus, no one sitting to his right, not her. Not anymore.
And then there it was. He watched as the intersection that divided his life, passed him by, refusing to open its jaws once more, refusing to consume the bus and all on board as it had exactly one month before. And then it was gone, a memory, a moment, an instant. Just like her. And though he was not on the bus, he too was gone. She took his heart, leaving only a skeletal shell behind. And House was left alone.
"There." Hadley said, pointing at he scan.
Kutner stood, "I'll get Wilson."
Moments later, Wilson walked in warily, unwilling to face him. Glancing around the room he noted he was no where to be found and he relaxed. Wilson walked over to the light board and immediately saw the cancer Hadley had pointed to only moments earlier.
"I've got it." He said, snatching the scan from the light board and reviewing the file as he walked away.
"Okay," Taub said, turning towards his co-workers, "I'll check out the bars near his place."
"I'll stay here and check out his usual hiding places." Hadley said, removing her lab coat.
The team headed towards the stairwell, and from the rear of the pack, Kutner said, "I'll check with the OTB parlor and the local liquor stores."
"We'll find him," Foreman said, facing the team, "I'll check in with Cameron and Chase, see if they've seen him and then I'll check the park. Cuddy's still checking with other local hospitals." The team turned the corner and descended the stairs.
Wilson stood outside his office, chart still in hand, silently watching them disappear.
"Thank you, yes, I'd appreciate it if you could let us know if he's brought in." Cuddy said shortly before hanging up the phone.
Wilson stood in her doorway, indifferent to her business, knowing it was about him. Knowing he was off somewhere causing yet someone else to worry about him, to look for him, to venture out because of him.
Cuddy looked up from her desk, her tired eyes not quite meeting his, "Hi Wilson."
"I've decided to take a half day."
She nodded, "You should. Get some rest."
"Were you going to tell me?"
She eyed him, "He'll turn up. Always does."
"I'm not looking for him. He's not my responsibility anymore."
House limped the three blocks down and one block across slowly, methodically. Soon, the grass greeted his cane and he found himself passing row after row after row. Rows of what once was. Rows of former mothers, fathers, children, friends, lovers. Rows of life now extinguished.
He knew full well what day it was. He counted down the days one by one, keeping the tally locked within the vast expanse of his muted mind. And there, beneath the fresh green shoots not quite covering the length of the grave, he found her. He wasn't sure what he was doing there. They weren't friends, they weren't lovers. They weren't even co-workers. Just two people whose lives crossed paths briefly, unfortunately. Star crossed likely-would-have-been-best-friend-in-laws who now shared certain truths in common, a violent crash which left him mute, her dead and Wilson distant.
He removed his backpack, and carefully withdrew a single white rose; white, signifying remembrance. Feeling somewhat awkward, he placed the rose on top of her headstone, stood, closed his eyes and tried to apologize, but no words came. He leaned heavily on his cane, centered in front of him, unable to speak, unable to bring himself to access the speech center of his brain, unable to verbalize any of it. And when he opened his eyes, he didn't bother to swipe at the fresh tears now gracing his cheeks.
House popped two vicodin, turned back towards the road and limped heavily towards the pavement, not noticing the man leaning against the car, watching, waiting. As he neared the road, he looked up and saw Wilson there, completely unaware he'd had an audience. He placed his hands up defensively, shook his head, tucked his chin and moved towards the opposite side, avoiding both Wilson's gaze and path. And House continued on towards the road, over one block and down three, leaving Wilson to grieve at Amber's grave.
Wilson sat on his knees for more than an hour, staring at the rose while talking to her, whispering to her, wishing their lives had not taken such a turn. He tried to imagine what she would have said, what they might have done that day, what restaurant they would have frequented that evening. When his toes were numb and his knees weak, he sighed, pulled out his cell phone and sent Cuddy a brief text message.
"Call off search. Found alive."
Wilson stood, his heart perhaps slightly softer than it had been just over an hour ago, though no less lonely. He got into his car and drove aimlessly while nearly convincing himself that he was not actually looking for him. Wondering where he may have limped off to, wondering where his bike or his car might be.
A short while later, he found himself pulling his car into the small parking lot behind the bar. The bar he got drunk at. The bar she had to visit. The bar that would be her downfall. And he sat, watching the main road from the side mirror, watching as a bus stopped across the street, delivering passengers and boarding new victims.
He snatched the keys and ran towards the bus, hoping to see her, wishing he could have been on that bus, wishing he had been home to intercept that fated phone call, wishing for what could never be.
He waved at the bus driver to wait and he poked his head in, looking towards the rear of the bus, but she was not there. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He shook his head, not comprehending what he himself could have possibly been thinking. Wilson wondered if he was beginning to lose his mind.
Walking back towards the stairs, he stepped down and watched as the bus doors closed and the bus continued on towards its next stop. Wilson crossed the road and entered the bar. The same bar. He slapped a twenty on the counter and said, "Scotch."
Turning on the bar stool to look around the bar, he searched their faces hoping to find hers. And upon not finding what he so wanted, he turned his attention to the windows, to the bus stop off in the distance. He downed the drink, placed the glass down on the bar and again headed towards the bus stop. Wilson sat on the bench and waited for the next one to arrive. When it did, he boarded, handed over the fare and chin down, walked back towards the seat he knew she had occupied that night. He looked up, hoping to find it empty and when he did, his eyes fell upon him, seated opposite her seat, his lips drawn tight, eyes seemingly sunken in, gaze not quite meeting his, not daring to make that connection.
Wilson silently sat in her seat, eyes facing forward, sitting opposite him and he too stared straight ahead. Wilson watched him from the corner of his eye, daring him to look, daring him to stand and walk away, daring him to throw something, daring him to raise his cane threateningly, daring him to be just as angry as he was, daring him to be infuriated with Wilson as he should be for abandoning him when he needed him most, daring him to yell about insisting on that damned deep brain stimulation, daring him to speak, daring him to revert to his old self, daring him to demand Wilson's friendship, daring him to be House.
Turning to look at him, Wilson wondered what House was thinking. He wondered if the House he knew still existed, wondered if that damned surgery he had insisted upon had lost him his best friend forever. House turned his head to look at Wilson and they stared into one another's eyes, each willing the other to speak. And so in silence, they sat with the aisle dividing them, bus barreling down the long and winding road, not knowing what stop they would get off on.
House suddenly stood, placing both feet into the fissure of the aisle between them, and now towered above Wilson. Wilson silently hoped that House wouldn't walk away, and to his surprise, House raised his hand, the back of it facing Wilson, and he motioned a small, succinct sweeping wave, asking Wilson to scoot over. And he obliged. And again, the two men sat wordlessly, facing forward on the bus for a handful of stops. After a short while, House stood, exited the bus, and headed towards his apartment. And as the bus pulled away, Wilson peered out the window and watched as House became a distant figure left behind.
After paying the cab driver, Wilson got into his car and drove back to his hotel room, grabbed several mini bottles of liquid therapy from the mini fridge and tried not to think of what the hell had happened to his life over the course of one short month. He tried not to scold himself for not following House off the bus and he tried not to think about her.
House placed the key into the door. No need to rush, no where to go, no one to talk with. It was as if everything he did was in slow motion now, no urgency to anything. No need to make actions sharp, purposeful, flamboyant. He had no desire make his presence known, no need to shock or cajole, no need to elicit gasps of disbelief. There was no point, especially not now.
He tried to make the effort. He took that first step. He sat next Wilson but Wilson remained on the bus. He put his pride, his heart and his everything on the line when he stood and made the effort to close the gap between them, but Wilson did not return the effort. What was the point?
As he turned the key, House froze. His door was unlocked. He closed his eyes and sighed, knowing who waited for him inside. She was there. She was always there. She was there when he woke up from his coma. She was there when Wilson walked away. She drove him home from the hospital and stayed with him day and night until he shattered a glass bowl in anger, after silently screaming on his portable whiteboard. Somehow writing, "LEAVE ME ALONE" in large caps on a mini whiteboard didn't have the same oomph as an all out shouting fest would have. And through it all, she took it in stride and held his hand. Her hand was in his when he awoke in the ICU, when Wilson left, when she drove him home, when she sat with him on the couch, when he was finished throwing things in anger.
House closed the door behind him and walked over to Cuddy, who sat on the couch, and he joined her, sitting immediately next to her. There was no shame, no embarrassment in hiding his desire for her to hold his hand. He had lost that notion some time during his second day in the ICU. By the fifth day, after waking for the ninth, or tenth time always from the same nightmare, he found her there holding his hand, and he finally squeezed back.
Before he took her hand again, he reached for the whiteboard and marker, and scribbled hastily, Door unlocked. He turned to her with brows furrowed, clearly angry and he held the whiteboard up for her to see.
"I knew you'd be back."
He used an old sock to erase his first message and then House pounded out a second message. His anger surprised Cuddy, as he rarely showed any emotion at all as of late.
Not safe, don't leave it unlocked again or I'll take back your key.
"Okay," she said, reaching for his hand. She held his thumb sideways, from the first joint down, wrapping her fingers around part of his palm, but he pulled away. It was the first time he had pulled out of her grasp and she turned her head away to hide her disappointment. Cuddy had hoped his willingness to allow her to hold him was doing House some good; she thought he enjoyed it as much as she had grown to enjoy it.
This time he wrote his words slowly, Not okay. House paused, brow again furrowed, clearly deep in thought. He placed the marker to the board several times and then pulled away, struggling to write his next words. Though he wanted to say more, he settled on Need you.
Cuddy sighed, her shoulders dropped and her head tipped slightly to the side in understanding, "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. Nothing will happen to me." Cuddy removed the whiteboard and marker from his hands, placed them on the coffee table and then took his hands in hers. She knew his nightmares kept him awake most nights. She knew he feared being alone. Not alone at night, but alone, alone. Alone as in no Wilson. Alone as in no one to talk to. Alone as in having no reason to attempt words.
As he stared at his hands enveloped in hers, she looked at his eyes, "I wish you would talk to me." House turned and gave her a smirk. It nearly reminded her of the old House, wishing a sarcastic remark would follow.
"You know what I mean, you have the whiteboard or your computer." She watched as he shook his head. "What happened today? Where were you? We had half the hospital looking for you, I called…" she paused, trying to catch the quiver in her voice from escaping, "I called local ER's looking for you."
House turned his head sharply at her admission and he closed his eyes apologetically, shaking his head.
"Look at me," she said, lifting his chin so that she could look him in the eye, "Don't you dare do that to me again."
House puffed out his cheeks and released the air in a sigh, nodding. He pulled free of her hands and picked up the whiteboard once more. Cemetary, paid my respects.
"That's where Wilson saw you?" House nodded.
"How did you get there?"
House pursed his lips guiltily and wrote, Bus. He conveniently left out the bit about the silent bus ride they shared.
"I would have taken you if you'd called." He shrugged his shoulders.
"There's salad and spaghetti in the fridge."
"You should eat."
House pointed at his words again and underlined them.
"You look exhausted, how's your head?"
"Fine. Can I get you anything? Water?"
He shook his head and placed the whiteboard down, allowing her to once again hold his hand. He looked at her and could see how tired she was. He was acutely aware of how much the past month had taken out of her. She had been by his side without fail, a better friend to him than he had ever been to her. He knew she had lost not one friend, but two that day. He knew Wilson wasn't his usual self with her or anyone else either. And House also knew that he was no longer challenging her, keeping her on her toes, aggravating her, exciting her. He knew she wasn't sleeping any better than he was and he felt an immense sense of guilt because of it. Using his other hand to lean on his cane, he stood, and pulled her up off the couch with his other hand.
"House? What it is?"
He looked her in the eye and pulled her by the hand towards his bedroom.
Somewhat frightened, she resisted, "House, no."
He frowned, released her hand and picked up the whiteboard, Can't sleep.
"I don't think…" she began.
He furiously wrote again. Just until I fall asleep. He looked at her, and held up his hand and hers, asking her to hold his hand.
He led her towards his bedroom, not noticing the sadness in her eyes. She wondered if the House she once knew still existed. He somehow managed to do his job, continuing to find cures and answers, but he was now simply a shadow of the man he once was. An outline, an impression.
He took his shoes off and crawled into bed and Cuddy sat on the edge. She reached for his hand and he wrapped his hand around hers, and pulled her down onto the bed.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to get into my pants Dr. House." She said, trying to sound upbeat, playful; hoping he would take the bait and find some of his old spark and play along.
House reached over to the nightstand and grabbed the pad of paper and pen and wrote, In your dreams Cuddy.
She laughed, "No, in yours." And for the first time since before the bus crash, he smiled. It was fleeting but it had been there, and it was genuine. She reached for his hand and watched as he fell asleep. Cuddy didn't see his second smile since the crash, the one that touched the corners of his mouth as he watched her crawl out of bed the following morning. She too had fallen asleep, hand in hand, shortly after he had drifted off.