Author's Notes: This fic contains spoilers for all of season four and picks up where "Wilson's Heart" left off. Although this particular chapter is a flash forward, the rest of the fic will occur in chronological order. Each chapter, like the overall fic itself, is titled and built around a particular scientific theory/law/concept.
A humungous thanks to my beta, Olly, for working extremely hard to make this as good as it could possibly be. I really appreciate it.
Please read and review.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show, so don't sue me.
Edge of Chaos
Chapter One: Theia Arrives
By Duckie Nicks
"The giant impact hypothesis for the Moon's origin still holds center stage. This idea suggests that the Moon formed as the result of a colossal impact on the accumulating Earth, heating it and flinging the raw ingredients for the Moon into orbit around the Earth… It leads to a dynamic and somewhat terrifying picture of the first few hundred million years for both bodies." - NASA
The rain pinged loudly against the glass, amplifying the pounding in his head and the ringing in his ears. Droplet after droplet lazily cascading down the windowpane, the storm was likely to continue on through the night. Which would mean there was no end in sight for his pain, the one no amount of Vicodin could rid him of.
Gazing at his twisted reflection in the glass, House understood that sleep would be out of the question. These days he needed almost complete silence to fall into slumber, and the chances of that happening were always slim to none. His eyes heavy, bones tired, and muscles sore, House couldn't afford another night without sleep; thanks to the constant pain in his ear, there had been too few of those already.
Resting his forehead on the cool windowpane, House tried to will the rain and ringing away. Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop – each word reverberated in his still healing skull, punctuated by the sound of water slamming into the glass. It was futile, he knew. No amount of will could make the dark clouds sprawling out against the summer dusk disappear. And there was definitely no way he could wish his wounds away.
But… accepting this pain was not in his DNA. So he continued to plea with whatever or whoever could be listening to make it stop.
Perhaps if he were a better-adjusted person, he could accept his current reality. Then again, if he were one of those people, none of this would have happened; because, if he'd been able to let Wilson have a social life, or if he'd been able to… not cling to things as they were, then maybe all of this could have been avoided.
But the reality was: he was a stubborn ass and had always been so. And the tinnitus was unlikely to go away; Wilson wasn't going to come back, and Cuddy could tend to all of their wounds, but they wouldn't all heal.
He wouldn't heal.
And he'd be alone in that; after all was said and done, Cuddy would be fine and so would Wilson. Of course nobody would believe House now, but the truth was Wilson would turn out okay. Because thinking about Amber would probably always hurt, but, a year from now, he'd find another take charge, deluded Hillary Clinton supporter. And she wouldn't be Amber, but she'd be a cutthroat bitch, and Wilson would settle for her.
Which in some ways was a misnomer, because he'd probably be happier with the mystery lady than he could have ever been with CB the Original. Because… now House wouldn't be around to interfere.
It was a truth that hurt more than the painful ringing in his ear: Wilson would be happier without House constantly around.
And Cuddy could mend his skull, but she couldn't fix that.
Pulling himself away from the window, House repeated to himself: she couldn't fix it.
And what really struck him was not that Wilson wasn't coming back. Because… cells divided, and Theia split the Earth and Moon, and even light fractured. Things fell apart, and people grew distant, and… If he could couch it in scientific terms, then he could say it was just a law of nature and no more personal than a bird chirping loudly at three in the morning.
It wasn't an entirely convincing argument, but maybe if he told himself that enough times, Wilson's absence wouldn't hurt anymore.
No, House thought, returning to the safer topic at hand, what surprised him more and more each day were his increasing expectations of Cuddy.
Setting down on the couch, he couldn't help but think the view she had of herself was rubbing off on him. Again no, he didn't believe she could make everything okay; he had holed himself in his apartment for a while now, but he hadn't completely severed ties with his sanity.
And maybe that was the difference between him and her. He understood she wasn't perfect, but for whatever reason, she did believe she could make everything okay. Which normally would have driven him crazy, but now… House found it hard to take offense at it. Perhaps he was just desperate to believe she was right, but nevertheless, part of him really was hoping she had those abilities.
Carefully lifting his right leg onto the couch with his hands, he knew she really wasn't that good. Instinctively his fingers found their way to his right thigh… what was left of it anyway. Though he was wearing jeans, House could still feel the uneven skin underneath the worn denim. Here it was, he thought, the pads of his fingers meandering about the raised tissue; this was the proof that Cuddy wasn't capable of miracles.
It was evidence that they had both failed as doctors.
And now, ever since the bus accident, his life seemed to be a retest for them both. They'd had eight years to learn something and several quizzes (like when he electrocuted himself) along the way. This, he supposed, was the big chance for them to figure out what he needed. This was the final to a ninety-six month semester.
But so far, only of them seemed to have any clue as to what that was. And though he should have been the one to know what was good for him, House couldn't help but realize it wasn't.
So maybe it was okay to believe in Cuddy's abilities (at least secretly), because she had at least learned something.
She'd been right, after all, about the deep brain stimulation. They had both known that the procedure would be dangerous, could be fatal, but out of the two, he'd been the one to still want it. And in the end, House wished he hadn't had the surgery.
The effects it had had on his body aside, the stimulation had been futile in saving Amber's life. In fact the only thing the procedure had seemed to accomplish was make him more miserable, because now he had all of the memories from that night.
The added voltage to his brain had brought it all hurling back at him in the lushest detail a memory could possibly possess. The words he'd said when he'd tried to call Wilson, how he'd stubbornly refused to wait for Amber at the bar… how he'd watched her take the Amantadine before the bus crashed – it was all permanently seared into his mind, thanks to Chase.
And House wished he hadn't remembered any of it.
Pushing the thought aside, he tried to steer himself back to safer ideas. From the beginning, Cuddy had been right. About that and the feeding tube and the antidepressants and every other aspect of the medicine. She'd been able to make the correct call so many times in the last several weeks that House was beginning to wonder if there was something else wrong with his mind.
The idea alone terrified him, made worse by the fact that he could see himself… trusting Cuddy's judgment more than his own. That he should lose his genius, his ability, was one thing; that Cuddy, the second-rate doctor without a backbone, should be smarter than he was… was another. That was the real rub, if not the sole reason for his dissatisfaction.
The rational part of himself had to admit that she'd been right about almost everything so far. And so, it was oddly that same piece of him that believed her when she'd told him she would get Wilson to House's apartment. The House that believed in patterns and scientific fact could only trust Cuddy to do what she said, because there'd been a precedent.
Of course, House realized, that maybe he'd never really believed her.
Contemplating it some more, he thought that perhaps part of him had just wanted to believe what she'd said. Because if Cuddy could get Wilson here, then there was still hope. Then there would still be a chance of keeping his best friend in his orbit.
But now, the sun was beginning to set, and both Wilson and Cuddy should have been here hours ago if this was going to happen at all. Which filled him with a sick pleasure, in a way, because it meant Cuddy had been wrong, and he'd been right; he'd told her that Wilson wouldn't agree to the meeting. And though part of him had wanted to be wrong, another part had desperately needed to see that he could evaluate a situation correctly.
Glancing around his apartment then, House wished he'd been wrong. Because Wilson and Cuddy's noticeable absence made his heart race and his lungs feel as though all the oxygen had left the room.
And unable to breathe, he was forced to see it now – the stark loneliness surrounding his life, the emptiness within his existence.
There really was no hope.
Things weren't going to get better, he realized.
The air getting caught in his tightening throat, House let out a rough exhale. As he tried to take another deep breath, he swore the room was getting smaller. The walls practically on top of him, he felt as though he were being strangled by the collapsing space around him.
Wilson wasn't coming.
The pounding in his head ratcheted up another notch. Louder and more oppressive than ever before, House could not think. His brain unable to process anything else, all he could focus on was the high-pitched squeal radiating through him. Words dying inside of him, only a deep groan, matching the duration of the loud sound within, escaped.
House closed his eyes involuntarily at the cacophony of noise. Alone in his dark but hardly silent world, he had no way of escaping, no one to pull him out of the raging tide. His mouth opened instinctively to take another ragged breath, but the noise inside refused to release its hold on his lungs.
He was drowning, the sound of waves crashing suffocating him. The torrential rain outside seemed to surround him, the noise getting louder and louder till he couldn't distinguish one drop from another. His hand reached out to pull himself out of the ocean, reached out for someone – Cuddy – but all his fingers grasped was the soft chenille blanket messily splayed out next to him. He was completely alone, and there was no one to help him.
And there was no hope for him to cling onto.
Not since he'd been in the hospital had he felt his desolation so keenly. There had been moments along the way, but thanks to the haze of anti-depressants, it hadn't been this bad for a while. But this was worse than ever before, because he'd had Cuddy and drugs in the hospital to stave off the feeling as best he could. Now he had nothing, and with no protective layer, House couldn't keep out the despair, the pain.
And just as it threatened to take hold of him permanently, there was a sound – two loud knocks. The staccato noise pierced through the haze of his inner symphony, forcing House to breathe harshly once more.
On shaky legs, he stood up, his muscles clenching and unclenching at odd intervals. His palms were sweaty, and he could already feel several beads of moisture dotting his brow.
Two more knocks abruptly burst into the air, nearly making House see stars. His eyelids fluttered shut, as he once more tried to will the sound away. When that didn't work, he sighed, giving up. And dazed he answered the door, his blue eyes unfocused on what was in front of him.
But he didn't need clear vision, the sight of Wilson so familiar despite the fact that they hadn't seen each other in a long time.
They looked one another over, House particularly careful in doing so. His friend had lost weight, his eyes… sunken somehow. And the irises had darkened and dulled, and they weren't filled with the oppressive caring typical of Wilson. House had expected as much, and once again, he was filled with the double-edged sword of being right.
"Are you high?" Wilson asked in amazement, the words interrupting House's thoughts.
The question wasn't exactly how he would have wanted this conversation to start. Questions like that practically begged for a sarcastic comment, which wouldn't help at all. But he couldn't resist, never had been able to. "Nurse Ratched keeps the drugs with her," he replied somewhat bitterly.
Truth be told, it wasn't absurd of Cuddy to do it – even House could see that. But sometimes, like now, when he really needed something, it was impractical for her to be his walking pharmacy.
Shaking his head as much as the ringing would allow, he thought that was the one of the only times he'd be able to use the phrase, walking pharmacy, negatively. He hoped that would be the case, anyway.
"Right," Wilson said loudly, in a way that made House think his friend was testing him. "Withdrawal then?"
Part of him thought that he should protest, as the pain he felt was very real. But he couldn't find it in him to do it. For one, the ringing in his ear really was his own fault, just as much as withdrawal would have been. And… either way Wilson was going to believe what he wanted, so House merely shrugged.
"Right. Well, I can't stay long. Cuddy told me to stop by," Wilson explained. His wording was awkward, just like the tension between them.
This wouldn't have happened before the accident; even in their worst of moments, there was still a comfortableness between them. But now, it was obvious that that had changed, that the camaraderie they once shared was missing.
They… were no longer friends, House realized.
Of course, he'd suspected it before now – that things between them were permanently altered, if not severed altogether. The doubt had begun at the hospital, as he lay in that uncomfortable bed with Cuddy by his side. He'd woken up and shortly after seen Wilson's face. His eyes had been unfocused, but there had been no missing the look of frustration, of sadness, of patience being worn out. And rather than yelling or lecturing, Wilson had been silent and brooding, and House had suspected that the reason for it was simple: Wilson had given up the fight to save their friendship.
But this was confirmation of what he'd feared.
The one thing he'd never wanted to have happen… was here, lying at his feet.
And it almost made House wonder why they had wasted so much energy on one another over the years. They'd – well, probably mainly Wilson – had tried so hard to cocoon their bond from everything and everyone else. But in the end, that effort didn't pay off in results, because here it was stripped bare and broken anyway.
They'd tried so hard to avoid this, but none of their hard work seemed to yield much, he thought grimly. And part of him couldn't help but wonder why he was doing this at all. What was the point of trying to repair something that was broken and was destined to break again?
Nevertheless, pushing the thought aside, House waved Wilson inside. Lamely he told himself that, if for nothing else, this could make their break up official.
As they both took seats on the couch, Wilson asked, "So Cuddy's living with you?"
God this was awkward, House thought, swallowing hard. He nodded his head in response as gingerly as he could. "It's temporary," he justified, to whom he didn't really know. And though it was pretty obvious that Wilson was just trying to make small talk, this particular topic was one House didn't want to dwell on. So he joked sarcastically, "Soon as Foreman gets a cap busted in his ass or Cameron has an accident with the peroxide, Cuddy'll move onto them."
His words earned a laugh from Wilson, but it was a humorless chuckle, the kind the oncologist gave when he was preparing to give a lecture. And there was no smile on his face when he asked, "You think she's treating you just like she would anyone else in your position?"
"No," House replied, bitterness creeping into his voice. "I think she's doing this to satisfy her guilt complex." Once more, Wilson let out that laugh, which only made the ringing in House's head clang even harder. "What? It's true."
"You're unbelievable, House," Wilson said in disbelief. Holding his hands up, palms facing House, Wilson continued, "Just this once, I was hoping… that things would change for you."
Sarcastically, he nearly snapped, "Right. See, I was thinking spending every waking moment with Cuddy in my drug-free, porn-free, fun-free apartment was a change. And a crappy one at that. But you're right. Nothing's changed. That jumbo box of super tampons in my bathroom has always been there."
"All right, certain things have changed, but you… haven't, and I –"
Shifting on the couch, House rolled his eyes. "You've been here two minutes. You don't know –"
"Come on, House!" His voice was not a yell, but there were enough decibels in it to make House wince in pain.
Wilson's hands bunching into fists, he argued, "After everything you've done, someone still has the patience to stand by you, and you resent it. Cuddy has bent over backwards to keep you happy, and you feel trapped!"
The oncologist's tone was borderline hysterical, making House feel guilty. Maybe even… ashamed, because there was more truth in the words than House would have liked to admit. Because… in all honesty, he resented Cuddy just as much as he didn't. Particularly in the beginning, her presence had made him feel as though she thought he was helpless. And, granted, after waking in the hospital, House probably did need the constant care she offered.
But it had been hard to appreciate, because it involved such a violation of his sovereignty. She'd taken his Vicodin, his porn stash – even his right to sleep and bathe without her watching.
It had been – was – a pain. That didn't mean, however, that Wilson was right entirely. House could… in some ways appreciate what she was doing, as much as he could appreciate anything.
But really what it came down to was simple: the need to keep her close by, to have at least one person who wouldn't leave, outweighed the fear of letting her get too close.
Of course, putting that into words for Wilson to hear was impossible; it risked displaying a side House would have preferred to keep hidden. So… he said nothing, because it was the only way to keep his feelings about Cuddy a secret.
And it was immediately apparent what the price for his secret was: the last shred of hope Wilson had in him.
"You have a beautiful, smart, successful woman willing to do anything to help you," Wilson said.
"What – you want her?" House asked sarcastically.
"This isn't a game," he snapped. "You can't just… play swapsies!" Wilson raised his hands to his temples, rubbing the area with his fingers for a moment. Then he said, more quietly, thankfully, "Cuddy chose you. Over her job, over her other –"
"You mean she chose me over you," House spoke, reading between the lines. To confirm, his blue eyes focused on Wilson, looking for some sign. And in the man's weary brown irises, there was no hint of denial.
"You know she didn't even come to Amber's funeral?" Though the words weren't said, House could hear the accusation in his voice.
"Probably on account of the fact that she didn't like her," House offered.
Really, it was an asshole thing to say, and he knew it the moment the words had been uttered. And even though he was aware that he should apologize, he couldn't. The great divide between them had widened infinitely, and no amount of sorry's could fill the gap.
So he didn't try.
"You're an ass," Wilson said viciously. "You've been sitting here for weeks, no doubt feeling bad. And I believed Cuddy when she said it was because of me and –"
"Yeah. I can't stop thinking about you, Wilson. Wanna see the shrine I built?"
"But she was wrong. You don't feel bad about what you did." Wilson shook his head in disgust at the thought. "All you've been thinking about is yourself, what you don't have." His face turning red, the other man stood up. "I lost the woman I wanted to spend my life with. Who I honestly could have done that with. And you didn't lose anything."
Wilson's humorless laugh returned. "You gained from all this. A lot. You got someone who's voluntarily putting up with your insanity. And you can't even appreciate that." He angled his body away then, so House couldn't see his eyes.
But it didn't matter, because House could see other things, including the way the other man swallow hard.
More quietly, Wilson finished, "You can't appreciate our friendship enough to stop joking about it."
At that point, House stood as well, needing to move around and escape the guilt trip his… ex-friend was laying on him. But before he could say anything, Wilson told him, "Just… don't," throwing a hand in the air to ward him off.
The front door opened as the word, "Wilson," filled the air.
But House knew it was pointless.
Silence descended onto the room, breaking only when the same door slammed shut.