Title: The Whitney Street Mystery
Warning: Crossover with Doctor Who
Summary: A mysterious patient arrives in PPTH's emergency room, and his dual cardiovascular system is by far not the most intriguing thing about him.
Disclaimer: Neither House nor Doctor Who are mine.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
So far, it had been an extremely ordinary day. Wilson had gotten up at seven thirty, as always, had gone through his usual morning routine, had gotten stuck in the usual early morning traffic jam, had arrived at his office at 9.45 sharp, as always, and had spent the next three hours handing out good news and death sentences to fairly equal amounts. The cafeteria lunch had been as taste bud-numbingly bland as usual, and right now, he was sitting behind his desk and scheming a four week torture plan for Mr. Sanderson, who was in for another round of chemo. Wilson didn't expect the rest of the day to offer him anything out of the ordinary.
That conviction stayed strong even when House barged into his office around four o'clock, announcing that he was holding an alien life form captive in the isolation room. Wilson didn't even look up from his papers, just indicated the couch with a hand-wave and asked House to tell him all about it.
Wilson had to admit, though, that an X-ray that showed no lungs, but very distinctly the shape of two hearts occupying the chest cavity, was something even an oncologist didn't see every day.
He slipped his hands into his pockets and squinted at the light board. "How did you do this?" he asked House, who was sprawling on the couch and looking rather smug. "It looks perfectly real."
"Well, duh." House twirled his cane between his fingers. "Of course it does. It is real."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "It is not." He gestured at the X-ray. "There are no lungs!"
House shrugged and pulled his PSP from his pocket. "Call Lucy in Radiology if you don't believe me. She took it."
Wilson stared at him for another moment, then sighed and went over to his desk. The sooner he made the call, the quicker he'd get this over with and get back to work.
"Hi, this is Dr. Wilson," he said when the phone was picked up at the other end. "Dr. House just showed me an X-ray that can't possibly exist. Could you -"
"Don't even talk to me about that," said Lucy. "And don't you dare tell me I made a mistake when I took the image, because I didn't."
"You... " Wilson frowned and looked over at House, who was absorbed in his game. "You're telling me you really did take this image?"
"I sure did, and I didn't make a mistake. Hell, I've been doing this for almost twenty years; I know how to take a damn chest X-ray! If anything, the machine's wonky."
Wilson opened his mouth and closed it again. "You... you're in on the joke. Aren't you?"
"I'm in on no fucking joke!" At the volume of her voice, Wilson flinched. "I took that X-ray, and I saw what was on it! I even took a second shot, because I couldn't believe it, either. We've tested the machine, and it's working perfectly fine. So either we're all seeing things, or that guy really has no lungs and two working hearts." Wilson heard her take a deep breath, and when she continued, she sounded a bit calmer. "What did you expect from a guy who doesn't even have a damn pulse?"
Wilson blinked. "Uh... okay. Thank you, Lucy. Er. Bye."
He hung up and looked up at House, who had put away his PSP and was grinning. "So," Wilson said and walked over to the X-ray again. "This is no joke, huh?"
"No joke," House said, and he still sounded way too damn smug for Wilson's tastes. Wilson squinted and inspected the X-ray more closely, took in the two aortic arches and symmetric bulges of the twin hearts. He blinked. Looking at this for too long made his head spin.
"Patient X, huh," he said. "Tell me about him."
"Well," House said, getting comfortable. "This afternoon at 2 p.m., Huey and Louie from dispatch received an anonymous report of a body in a side alley off Tedmore Street. They sent Dewey and Donald out in a unit, and when they got there, they found a man, white, mid-thirties, wearing a suit and a brown coat. Initially, Dewey and Donald assumed he was dead, because they didn't find a pulse. But then, they realized that he was breathing."
"Breathing. Guy with no pulse, breathing. Come to think of it; guy with no lungs, breathing."
"Admittedly only very shallowly."
Wilson chuckled and shook his head. "This has got to be a joke," he said. "I mean, come on."
"Dewey and his uncle didn't really understand it, either, but since they're aware that they're only two dumb ducks from Duckburg, they figured they'd take him in and let the smart people figure out what was going on."
Wilson crossed the room to sit on the edge of his desk. "Okay, and so what did the smart people do?"
"First of all, an ECG." House pulled a paper from his pocket and handed it to Wilson. Wilson unfolded it and looked at the graphs.
"Wow." He raised his eyebrows. "His resting heart rate is 10?"
House rolled his eyes. "Leave it to you to pay attention to the smallest detail first." He gestured in direction of the paper. "Look at the sinus rhythm! Or should I say rhythms."
"He's got two," Wilson nodded and looked up. "Well, he would, since he's got two hearts."
House nodded. "I guess it's less impressive when you've already seen the X-ray. This is what we did next, by the way."
Wilson attention was still on the ECG print-out. "The rhythms are out of phase," he said. "That would explain the no-pulse thing."
"Yup. While one heart's contracting and pumping out blood, the other one is sucking it in. That way he gets a steady pressure in his vessels, instead of systole and diastole."
"That's pretty amazing." Wilson nodded. "Did you do any other tests?"
House shook his head. "Not yet. Cuddy got cold feet when she saw the X-ray and made us lock him up in the isolation room."
"Right." Wilson put aside the ECG paper and crossed his arms. "This is a pretty elaborate joke you've set up there, and I have to say, the explanation for the lack of pulse really is very original. What is it, my birthday?"
House looked up and smirked. "Skepticism. All great scientists had to fight the skepticism of their narrow-minded colleagues. Please don't make me say that geocentrism is the only true religion."
Wilson held up his hands, but he couldn't fight off a smile. "C'mon, House, I mean, this is all very well thought out, but do you really think you could get me with an overlay of two ECGs and a fake chest X-ray?"
"Actually," House said and reached for his cane, "no. I didn't. And that's why I stole this." He pulled something from his pocket and held it up.
Wilson squinted. "What is it?"
"They found it in his coat pocket." House turned the object in his fingers. "I took it to find out what it does."
Wilson held out his hand, and House placed the object in it.
It was a silvery pen-shaped thing with a blue tip and several buttons. It looked like an oversized LED light. Wilson weighed it in his hand. It was surprisingly heavy. He looked up. "So, what does it do?"
House grinned. "Try it."
Wilson raised an eyebrow, then looked down and pressed one of the buttons. The blue tip started to glow, but aside from that, nothing happened.
"You have to point it at something."
Feeling a little ridiculous, Wilson turned around and pointed the object at his computer screen. He pressed the button - and jumped back when there was a sudden whining noise, a flash, and then splinters from the shattered screen flying in every direction.
He dropped the device and spun around. "You knew it would do this?"
House was looking at the shattered screen with raised eyebrows. "Actually, no," he said. "When I tried it, all it did was put me on top of the Tetris high score."
"Oh, great." Wilson began to brush plastic splinters off his shirt. "Good thing I don't have one of those big old CRTs, isn't it?" he said, his voice a bit testy.
"Who knows, maybe it wouldn't have exploded that one," House said. "Hand me that thing, will you?"
Wilson reached down and carefully picked the pen-shaped thing from between the ruins of his monitor. "Kindly don't break anything else, okay?" he said as he gave it to House.
"This is fascinating," House said, and Wilson recognized House's on-to-something tone. And that was the moment when it began to sink in that House might not be joking. House definitely enjoyed a good prank, but he was also the laziest person Wilson knew. Setting up a ruse like this one would take much more work than he knew House would ever invest in something that was supposed to be a simple distraction from every-day routine. Also, House was smart, but Wilson didn't think he was quite capable of building a device that exploded computer monitors. And there was this tone he had used just now, the tone he only used when he had found something new, something unexplained, something he would be able to focus his attention on for a while without getting bored.
Something like a patient with no lungs and two hearts who carried technology of unheard-of design with him in his coat pocket, maybe.
"So..." Wilson stopped brushing down his shirt and turned back to House. "The patient's in the isolation room, you say?"
"Yeah. That's where Cuddy made us lock him up." With visible effort, House tore his eyes away from the screen-shattering device and looked up at Wilson. "Wanna go see him?"
Wilson nodded, and tried to ignore the way his stomach was clenching nervously. "Yes, definitely."
- - -
They were just walking away from the elevators towards the isolation units when House's pager went off. House fumbled for the small device and squinted at the display. Wilson saw his eyes light up.
"He's awake!" House pocketed the pager and stepped up his pace. Wilson had to actually take a couple of jog steps to keep up. They rounded a corner and came up to a couple of nurses who were standing in front of the glass wall of one of the isolation rooms. They were both staring at the occupant of the room. Wilson came to a stop next to one of them - nurse Jenny from the ER - and raised his head to see for himself.
The patient looked almost disappointingly normal. He was tall, with a narrow face and rather unruly brown hair. He was also very skinny, although not in an unhealthy way, and was wearing a green hospital standard issue patient gown. Most of all, though, he looked agitated.
"I can explain everything," the man's voice sounded over the intercom. "But you have to let me out of here."
Wilson turned his head and raised an eyebrow at House. "This is your alien?" he asked in a low voice. "He's English!"
House tilted his head to one side and tried to look contemplative. "Could be Scottish."
Wilson rolled his eyes, but before he could say anything, House had stepped up next to the intercom speaker. "Hello there, my friend," he said, and as the man in the isolation room turned his head to look at him, he waved. "I'm Dr. House. I will make you tell me all your secrets."
The man frowned at House, and Wilson thought he looked wary. "What secrets?" he asked.
"Oh, don't tell me you don't know what I mean. Even if you've never had an X-ray before, I think at some point anyone would notice if they didn't have a pulse. Wouldn't they?"
The man stared at House, eyes wide. Then he shook his head. "No," he said in a low voice. "No, no, no. This is bad. This is very, very bad."
Wilson looked around at the two nurses. Jenny had stepped back and was leaning against the corridor wall, watching the patient's every move with a hawk's eye. The other nurse - a member of the cardiologic staff, but Wilson couldn't remember her name - had slipped away towards the elevators, presumably to summon Cuddy.
"And why's that?" House's voice returned Wilson's attention to the ongoing conversation. "You don't want people to know that you're a freak of nature?"
The man leaned back his head and squeezed his eyes shut in a gesture of despair. "No, no, you don't understand. I can explain, but first you have to let me out of this hospital. This is a hospital, right?"
"I sometimes have my doubts, but I think it's still listed as a hospital in the yellow pages."
The man ran a hand through his hair, dishevelling it even more. "Blimey," he muttered, "this is- right, listen." He turned his head and fixed House with an intense stare. "I know I look human, but I am not. I'm the Doctor. And you cannot keep me here, because if you do, not only will it put a friend of mine in great danger, but there is also a high probability that your time line will be disturbed. And believe me, you don't want that."
So far, Wilson had been watching House throughout the conversation, but this made him look around and stare at the guy in the isolation room. The man looked perfectly sincere, imploring, even, and Wilson felt a small stab of pity.
House laughed. "I knew this was going to be good. So, you're the Doctor, huh?"
The man nodded, and House leaned forward on his cane. He was quite obviously having a great time. "A doctor of medicine?" he asked.
The man blinked. "Of everything."
"Right!" House nodded knowingly as if someone had just pointed out a perfectly obvious answer. "A doctor of everything. So what's your name, Doctor of everything?"
"The Doctor. Just the Doctor."
"Wow. And here they say that names get longer the more degrees you have."
The man in the isolation room - the Doctor - let his shoulders sag. "Look, I know you don't believe me, but it really is of utmost importance that I get out of here. Will you let me out?"
House shook his head. "No. Not until we know what's going on with you."
The man stared, and then he nodded. "Right. Right. How could I have expected anything else from you? Humans." He paced a few steps up and down the room, and House looked around to exchange a glance with Wilson. Wilson saw his eyes sparkling with amusement and fascination.
"One thing." The man's voice drew their attention back to him. "One thing. Will you do one thing for me?"
House raised his eyebrows. "What would that be?"
"You still have my things, right? My clothes and everything?" The man looked worried all of a sudden. "Please don't tell me you lost my coat."
"We still have your stuff," House said. "What's so important about the coat?"
"Nothing in particular. I just happen to like it a lot." The man sounded almost testy, but returned to his urgent tone as he continued. "Never mind the coat. In one of my suit pockets, there should be a key on a string. A normal key, on a long piece of string. Take it, and go to -" He broke off and frowned. "What was the name of the street again? Broker? Brewer? Something starting with a B..."
"Baker Street, maybe?"
"Yes!" the man exclaimed. "Baker Street! That was it." He tilted his head, curious. "You know it?"
House smirked. "Oh, just in passing."
"Right." The man nodded. "So, the key. You take it, you go to Baker Street, and at the street corner, you'll find a blue box."
"A blue box," House repeated. "What, like a tool box?"
"No, no, bigger. More like a phone box. It has Police Box written on it."
"Right." House nodded, and if Wilson hadn't known him so well, he'd assumed he was taking the man in the isolation room completely seriously. "On the corner of Baker Street, I'll find a blue box. And I take it I'm supposed to unlock it with the key from your suit?"
"Yes," the man nodded, seeming relieved that House was on the same page with him. "Unlock it, take a look inside, and then come talk to me again."
"You're not gonna tell me what's in it."
The man shook his head. "Go see for yourself, and then come talk to me again."
"Gotcha." House winked, and then he actually gave the poor guy the thumbs-up sign. "I'll talk to you later, then."
- - -
"Can you believe this guy?" They were in the elevator that was taking them up to House's office, and Wilson couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his friend this excited. "He seriously believes he's an alien! With time lines and secret quests and everything. How awesome is that?"
Wilson pulled one corner of his mouth up in a half-smile. "Well, but there still is the fact of the unexplained X-ray and ECG," he said.
House stared at him. "You don't actually believe him."
The honest answer would have been no. No way that man was an alien. He had a British accent, for God's sake. But no would also have been the boring answer that would have forestalled any discussion from the start, and so Wilson only turned his head and looked at House. "Do you think that alien life exists?" he asked.
House looked at him for a moment. "It doesn't matter whether it exists or not," he said, and stepped out of the elevator doors that had just rattled open. "The galaxy is a big place, and faster-than-light travel is impossible for anything that's bigger than a strange quark."
Wilson followed House down the corridor, slipping his hands in his pockets as they went. "What about travel in another dimension? Like, you know, the Enterprise. Warp travel happens in subspace."
They had arrived at House's office, and House came to a stop outside the glass door. He rested his hand on the handle and looked sideways at Wilson, an amused glint in his eyes. "You don't know how to program your alarm clock, but you can talk Trek tech. Wilson, you're one sad nerdy geek."
Wilson grinned - he'd long ago learned to decipher Housian, and he recognized a compliment when he heard one - and followed House into the office, settling into one of the visitor chairs and stretching his legs. "So, what's the plan?" he asked. "You gonna do an MRI? Is he even your patient?"
"He will be as soon as I get my hands on his file," House said. He had rounded the desk and seemed to be looking for something underneath it. "For now, he's public property. A-ha!"
House straightened up, and in his hand he was holding a plastic bag. Wilson recognized it as one of the patient belongings bags PPTH used in the ER.
"You stole his personal things?" he asked, trying to sound shocked rather than curious.
"Let's say I borrowed them." House turned the bag over, and several items of clothing fell out onto his desk. "It's not like there's much to see."
Wilson moved his chair closer to the desk. "What if he has some highly contagious disease?" he asked as he carefully picked up a bluish tie with a red pattern and inspected it.
"Why would he have a disease? He doesn't seem sick to me," House said as he sorted through the clothes. "In fact, I don't think there's anything wrong with him. Aside from the obvious, that is."
"The obvious being that he's a lunatic who is breathing without having lungs and is operating on what seems to be a dual cardiovascular system."
House looked up, a big grin on his face. "Dual cardiovascular system! That's great. I like that. It's going to be the headline of my paper: The Man With The Dual Cardiovascular System - Who Said That Aliens Were Just Science Fiction?"
Wilson smiled. "Make sure to cite me," he said. He picked up a brown pin-striped pair of suit trousers and shook them a little. There was a metallic rattling sound. "Seems like he really does have something in his pockets," he said.
"Gimme that." House tried to snatch the pants from him, but Wilson quickly moved them out of reach. He reached into the right pocket and turned it inside out. With a clatter, the contents fell onto the desk.
"What have we here," Wilson muttered and frowned at the small pile of items. There was a piece of string, a cell phone, a toothbrush, a set of horn-rimmed glasses, a wallet and something that looked like a squashed rose petal. No key, though.
"Didn't they check his wallet for ID?" Wilson asked, looking up at House, who was frowning down at the small heap of pocket contents.
"Believe it or not, but these things weren't in his pocket last time I checked," he said. "When I went through his stuff the first time, all I found was the pen thing." He pulled it from his pocket and placed it with the other items.
"That's weird." Wilson didn't quite know what to make of this - it was entirely possible that House was just leading him on, but what with all the other strange, unexplained things, Wilson wasn't sure that was it. He picked up the wallet and opened it.
It turned out to be not a wallet after all. As he pulled the two layers of old, worn leather apart, Wilson was presented with an extremely official looking ID card. There was the NASA logo in the right upper corner, and it had the sleek, shiny look only the really fancy ID cards had to them. Wilson squinted and read what was on it.
"John Smith, Lieutenant Colonel. Air Force." Then something else caught his eye, and he couldn't suppress a small gulp. "House, this is an Area 51 access card."
"What?" House looked up from the suit jacket that he'd been inspecting. "Let me see."
Wilson handed over the ID card, suddenly feeling more wary than amused about the whole thing. House took it from him, took a look at it and frowned at Wilson. "Haha, very funny," he said.
House held the card up so Wilson could see it, and the expression on his face communicated mild annoyance. Wilson stared at the ID card, then looked back at House. "Yes?" he inquired.
"It's blank," House said. "And if you're going to make a lame joke like that, go with a more inventive name than John Smith next time."
"House, what are you talking about?"
House looked at him, and a short flicker of doubt crossed his disapproving features. "You can drop it now, Wilson."
"Seriously, House, I'm not joking. That's an Area 51 access card. Can't you see it?" Wilson didn't quite believe he'd just said that, but the statement did fit in very well with the bizarre rest of what had happened today.
"This," House said and for emphasis waved the ID card in the air, "is a blank piece of paper."
They stared at each other for a few moments, both searching the other's face for any indication that he was joking. After a moment, House narrowed his eyes, frowned down at the paper once again and then slipped it into the inside coat of his jacket, presumably for later scrutiny. "Whatever." He began rummaging through the jacket's pockets. "A key on a string, he said, right?"
"Uh, right." Wilson nodded and resumed his search.
After a few moments, House grunted. "I think I've got it." He pulled something from the jacket's pocket and let it dangle from his index finger.
It was, indeed, a key. A normal enough looking key, too, not much different than Wilson's office key, tied to a long piece of normal enough looking string.
Wilson frowned. "Shouldn't the key to an alien device be a bit more special? Shouldn't it, oh, I don't know, maybe glow in the dark or something?"
"Maybe it does. It's not dark, is it?" House looked down at the key, his expression contemplative. "What time is it?"
Wilson checked his watch. "Ten to five, why?"
"I'm off at five. And I was ten minutes early, so I can leave now."
"You were not early this morning," Wilson said. "I saw you come in half an hour late, in fact."
"I was early Wednesday last week, though." House closed his hand around the key and after a short moment's hesitation slipped it into his pocket. "Does it matter? We're supposed to be going on a secret mission given to us from the first alien ever to come to Earth!"
"He's not the first alien ever to come to Earth," Wilson said. "What do you think they're keeping there in Hangar 18 of Area 51? Certainly not Lincoln's grandmother's secret apple pie recipe."
House, who was in the process of shoving the mysterious patient's clothes back into the bag, snorted. "As I said, Wilson. Sad, sad nerdy geek." He dumped the tie on top of the rest and then shoved the bag under his desk. "So, are you coming?"
Wilson raised an eyebrow. "Do I get a choice?"
"No." House picked up his cane. "We're taking your car. Cuddy will find it suspicious if she sees me leaving while we've got an alien in the lock-up."
Wilson got to his feet as well. "Just let me get my stuff and I'll meet you in the parking lot."
- - -
They managed to get off the major roads just before the evening rush hour and made it to House's neighbourhood in an acceptable twenty minutes' time. As they turned into Baker Street, Wilson slowed the Volvo down to a crawl, and the two of them squinted through the dusky late-September darkness on the look-out for the blue box the man had mentioned.
"What if it isn't here?" Wilson asked, beginning to feel more than slightly ridiculous for having agreed to come on this "quest".
"Then we'll go to my place, have some beer and pizza and watch E.T.," House said while gazing intently out of the passenger window. Suddenly, he sat up a little straighter. "I don't think we'll have to, though."
Wilson followed the direction House was pointing in with his eyes and felt a surge of excitement when his gaze fell on a big, blue, wooden phone box that had Police Box written above the door.
Wilson pulled up on the side of the road and got out. He walked around the car and stood a few meters away from the box, waiting for House to follow him while he inspected the subject of their quest more closely.
Something about it was decidedly strange. With its bulky design and the way it was positioned, blocking half the sidewalk, it should definitely have gotten noticed. As soon as you looked straight at it, you realized that it didn't belong here.
But that was just it. Nobody was looking straight at it. Even Wilson himself, who knew it was there, who had come here to find it, found it hard not to overlook it.
It was a decidedly creepy feeling.
House had come up beside him. There was the usual arrogance and scorn in his expression, but beneath it Wilson could see that House had noticed the strangeness, too, and that it was making him wary. This discovery didn't exactly ease Wilson's mind.
"Right," he said, a little too loudly. "Should we open it?"
"It's what we came for." House pulled the key from his pocket and limped the last couple of steps to the box. Before he inserted the key, House gripped the door handle and rattled on it. From the rather unstable looks of the door, Wilson half-expected it to just break down under House's fingers, but it didn't. Actually, it barely moved.
House shrugged his shoulders, and with a quick movement, he unlocked the box and stepped inside.
"Well?" Wilson called after a moment. "What's in it?"
It took another moment before House's muffled voice answered, "I think you'd better come in here, Wilson."
"Into that tiny thing? Can't you just bring outside whatever's in there?" Wilson wouldn't want to admit it, but he actually wasn't too keen on going into that box.
"Just get in here, will you?"
House's voice allowed no protest, so Wilson swallowed once; then he pushed the wooden door open and stepped inside as well.
The second he was over the threshold, he stopped short. He took a quick step backwards and bumped into the door, pressing his back against it. His eyes flitted across the inside of the box.
"This is impossible," he said, breathlessly.
He quickly reached out and felt for the door handle behind his back. The second his fingers brushed over metal, he grabbed and pulled, spinning around and quickly slipping back outside.
Back on the sidewalk, Wilson had to take a couple of deep breaths to slow down his racing heartbeat. He slowly turned around and stared at the box that stood there on the sidewalk, looking innocent in its weird, inconspicuous way.
He took a careful step forward and put his hands against the rough, weathered wood. He ran his fingers over it, feeling the edges and corners, seeking for some hidden mechanism that would explain what he'd seen on the inside.
He didn't find anything. Even when he walked around the box, inspecting every side of it, it still continued to look like a blue, wooden, old-fashioned phone booth. Finally, Wilson came to a stop in front of the door again, and slipped his hands into his pockets, taking a deep breath.
Okay, he thought. He could handle this.
"House?" he called. "House, are you still in there?"
"Where else would I be?" The answer came immediately, and even though it shouldn't, it startled Wilson. He swallowed.
"Are you seeing what I saw in there?"
"I have no idea what you saw. What I see is rather interesting. So will you get over your freak-out and come back in so we don't have to yell like that?"
Wilson took a deep breath and licked his lips before he clenched his teeth and took the brave few steps that brought him back inside the box.
He came to stand just behind the door and looked around in wary amazement. "House, how is this possible?"
The inside was huge. Instead of a small, cramped space that held a telephone and maybe a few old and ragged phone directories, Wilson was facing a more or less circular, hall-like room that was at least a hundred feet in diameter and of indiscernible height. The lighting was of a darkish, brownish orange that created shadows behind every edge and corner and made the room look even deeper and more mysterious. In the middle of the room, there was a structure, circular as well and reaching up into the darkness that obscured the ceiling of the room. The floor was made up of metal grating, and beneath it Wilson could catch glimpses of cables and machinery.
"I have no idea," House said. He was standing beside the object in the middle of the room and was frowning down at something that looked like a control panel. "It's pretty awesome, though, don't you think?"
Wilson wasn't so sure about that. He liked foreign concepts like aliens and faster-than-light travel as long as they stayed within the boundaries of the pages of a book or the TV screen. He wasn't sure if he was ready to welcome them into his every day life just like that.
"What is this place?" he asked and took a few tentative steps up the ramp that led up to where House was.
House began to limp around the central object, running the tips of his fingers lightly over the controls that were positioned seemingly randomly all over the panels. "Assuming the man in the hospital - the Doctor - assuming he really is an alien, then I suppose this must be his spaceship." House looked up and grinned. "You might have been right, Wilson. Maybe this has really something to do with different dimensions. It's the only explanation for this place that would make only marginal sense to me. But then, maybe it's something else entirely that our Earth science has never heard of."
"Earth science." Wilson blinked and shook his head a little. "Right." He took a deep breath and walked up to where House was, taking a closer look at the colourful controls of the spaceship. If it was a space ship. "This looks complicated," he stated.
"Not much more complicated than the MRI controls," House said, and before Wilson could stop him, he'd reached out and had pulled one of the levers.
"House, are you insane?" Wilson grabbed House's hand before he could do anything else.
House laughed. "Jumpy much?" he asked. "Don't worry, I'm pretty sure it's safe."
Wilson wasn't really listening, though. He was too busy looking around and waiting for the imminent catastrophe that House had most certainly caused to manifest itself. When he caught a movement in the corner of his eye, Wilson almost jumped out of his skin.
"This is security protocol 703," a voice from somewhere above announced, and as Wilson turned his head, he could make out the flickering projection of a man that looked one hell of a lot like their mysterious patient, right down to the pin-striped suit, standing about six feet above the floor on a broad ledge that circled the whole room and staring straight ahead at the opposite wall. "This time capsule has detected the presence of two authorised visitors. Welcome to the TARDIS, gentlemen."
"Oh, this is fantastic," House said. He stepped forward. "Who are you?"
"This is security protocol 703," the hologram answered. "I am a projection in the shape of the current regeneration of this TARDIS' owner."
"Wow," House said. "Coolest thing ever." He leaned forward, balancing on his cane. "What's a tardis?"
"TARDIS is an acronym of Time And Relative Dimension In Space and functions as a designation for this time capsule," the projection answered.
House turned around and looked at Wilson. "Hah, see? Told you. This is all about different dimensions."
Wilson opened his mouth to answer, but his ability to speak seemed to have deserted him temporarily. All he managed was a weak nod.
House had already turned back to the frizzling hologram, though. "Can you explain to me how to work these controls?" he asked.
"You are not authorized to operate the TARDIS. Frankly, you wouldn't begin to understand it if you tried."
Wilson looked up at the projection, surprised, then back at House, who was looking at the hologram with an amused glint in his eyes. "Oh, wouldn't I."
"House," Wilson said warningly. He knew that this remark had been the perfect bait for House to go and try his luck. "Maybe we should get out of here. Speak to the guy in the hospital again."
House looked over at him from the corner of his eyes, seemingly contemplating the suggestion, before he returned his attention to the projection. "The man whose shape you've taken," he said, "what's his name?"
"He's the Doctor."
"Just the Doctor."
Wilson could see the corner of House's mouth twitch in frustration, and his nervousness grew. House, however, had apparently for once decided not to insist. "Okay, he's the Doctor. What species is the Doctor?"
"The Doctor is a Time Lord."
"A Time Lord," House repeated. "Those are the guys with no lungs and two hearts?"
"Gallifreyan physiology differs in many ways from that of humans," the projection stated. Wilson thought it was beginning to sound rather bored. House, on the other hand, seemed more interested by the second.
"Gallifreyan physiology? I thought the Doctor was a Time Lord."
"He is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey."
"And his physiology is different from ours how?"
"This security protocol is not authorized to reveal that information." Wilson knew he was probably imagining this, but he couldn't help the impression that the projection - or the machinery generating it - was getting impatient. He stepped forward and put his hand on House's arm.
"House, let's get out of here."
"Shut up, Wilson. I'm not done here." House didn't even look around.
Wilson licked his lips. "House," he said, trying for his most imploring tone, "let's get back to the hospital. Please? You can ask the - the Doctor all the stuff you want to know. He's the real thing, after all, while this is just a - computer program or something."
"Which means it's more likely that I'll be able to outwit it than a real person," House said. "You leave if you want. I still have a few questions."
"You won't get the answers from me," said the hologram, and as Wilson looked back up, he started. With its last statement, the projection had stopped staring vacantly into space and had turned its head to look right at them.
House had seen it, too, and Wilson could feel his muscles tense under his fingers.
"This security protocol is part of the TARDIS mainframe," the projection continued, and as Wilson was watching, it grew more solid and the flickering stopped. After a few moments, it seemed as if it were a real person standing up there on the ledge. "When I want to interact with biological beings, I choose the retro hologram skin. It goes well with the whole ancient technology thing this desktop theme has got going. Don't let it fool you, though. I'm pretty sure your chances of outwitting the Doctor are higher than your chances of making me give up information I don't want to give."
With that, the hologram - if it had really been a hologram - disappeared. Wilson only stared at the spot where it vanished, trying to grasp what it had said. It had almost seemed as if they had been talking to an actual intelligence, but that would mean that this box - this ship - was more than just a ship, and that was not something Wilson's mind was willing to accept right now on top of everything else.
His attention was diverted, though, when House disappeared from his side. Wilson turned around and saw that House had walked back to the central controls and was frowning down at them again. He quickly took a few steps and came up beside him.
"Come on, House," he said. "Let's go."
"House, come on." Wilson was determined not to back down. "If this is really an alien space ship, I don't think you'll have any chance figuring out how to work it. Not without the - the Doctor's help."
House wasn't listening, though. He had found something that looked a lot like a monitor - it even had a couple of post-its sticking to it, Wilson noticed with wonder - and was randomly pushing buttons on its frame.
"House, stop it," Wilson said. "You have no idea what this does."
"Neither do you," said House, but he pulled his hand back and only frowned at the monitor-thing. Just as Wilson had decided to try again and coax him outside, House suddenly reached out and pulled the biggest lever he could reach.
It was too late, though. The big glass tube towering over the controls lit up, and a humming started to sound from the very depths of the space ship.
For a brief moment, they both stared at the fluorescent light flickering in the glass tube.
"Whoops," House said.
Wilson broke free from his paralysis. "House, you idiot," he hissed and grabbed him by the sleeve, beginning to pull him towards the door as quickly as possible. "Come on!"
This time, House didn't protest but followed Wilson to the door and out of the blue box. Wilson stumbled a few steps further away and then turned around.
They were still on the corner of Baker Street, and so was the box. House had closed the door behind him, and it almost looked as if there had been no change - except that while Wilson was watching, the box suddenly started to fade out, bit by bit revealing the grey wall behind it, only to grow solid again a second later.
Wilson ran a hand over his mouth and swallowed. "Oh boy," he muttered. House raised an eyebrow at him, and Wilson gestured at the disappearing and reappearing box. "This is going to get noticed."
House took a long look at the box before he shrugged. "So let them notice it." He stepped forward and used the key to lock the door of the box. As soon as the key was in the lock, it started fading in and out as well. Wilson blinked and shook his head, but House didn't seem to find it disconcerting at all. He simply locked the door and pocketed the key. "No one will get in without the key."
"They could simply break down the door," Wilson said, and House turned his head.
"It's a space ship, Wilson," he said. "It has to be able to resist atmospheric entrance and collisions with space debris. I don't think a crowbar would quite do the job."
"What if they, I don't know, tow it?" Wilson was still watching the disappearing and reappearing box. Simply leaving it here felt like the worst idea ever, as far as he was concerned.
"Let them. We'll find a way to get it back." House sounded very confident, and Wilson resigned himself to the fact that any objections on his part would be dismissed without a second thought and that he might as well save himself the trouble.
He did, however, silently resolve to refuse to pay any potential towing fees.
They left the mysterious box to its own devices and got back into the car in order to go and talk to that man again - the alien who called himself the Doctor.
Wilson was pretty sure it would turn out to be a highly interesting conversation.
- - -
When House and Wilson rounded the corner in the hospital's corridor and came into view of the isolation room, the Doctor was already waiting for them. He had been pacing up and down the glass wall like a caged animal, but as he saw them, he turned around immediately and activated the intercom.
"Did you find it?"
Wilson let House step forward and do the talking. He himself put his hands on his hips and watched the man in the isolation room. If he really was an alien, then Wilson was sure that there had to be something that gave it away. Aliens that looked completely human - that was too easy, as far as Wilson was concerned.
House leaned forward on his cane. "We found it. You can't begin to imagine how many 'bigger on the inside' jokes I'm trying not to make right now."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Believe me, I've heard them all." His expression changed back to intense worry immediately, though, and he began to bounce on his toes. "Would you let me out now, please?"
"Not yet," House said. "I like being in a position of power when I'm trying to make you give up information." He picked up his cane and began to spin it. "It's an interrogation technique. I've learned it in a movie."
The Doctor stared at House; then he turned to Wilson. "Is he always like this?" he asked.
Wilson pursed his lips and nodded. "Pretty much, yeah. He's actually being nice at the moment."
"Charming." The Doctor turned back to House, and with a sudden movement, he planted his hand against the glass wall and moved in closer. House didn't flinch, but Wilson could see his shoulder muscles tense. "Listen," the Doctor said in a low, dangerous sounding tone. "There's an entity on the loose in this town, a very dangerous one. It has to be stopped. The only one who knows about it is me, and I'm also the only one who can stop it. The longer you keep me locked in here, the higher the risk that it'll start hurting people. I can't let that happen. So let me out of here now, or I swear, I will make you."
For a brief moment, nobody said anything, House and the Doctor staring at each other with only a couple of inches and a glass wall dividing them. Wilson watched, holding his breath.
"How will you make me?" House asked, his tone far too calm to be anything but a challenge.
The Doctor didn't move, but his eyes became even more intense, and Wilson felt himself beginning to grow rather nervous. "Let. Me. Out. Now."
"House, maybe you should let him out," Wilson said. "You'll have to do that eventually, anyway. Remember what you did to the box."
The words had a much stronger effect than Wilson had expected. The Doctor broke eye-contact with House and spun around, directing his frantic gaze at Wilson. "He did something to the TARDIS?" He sounded positively panicked. "Please tell me nothing happened to the TARDIS."
Wilson exchanged a look with House before he faced the Doctor again, feeling slightly sheepish. "Ah, well. It was - kind of an accident."
"What did you do?"
"House accidentally pushed some of the buttons," Wilson said and shot House a brief glare to communicate him to keep his mouth shut for once. "And then the box, well, it sort of started fading in and out."
"Oh, no." The Doctor put a hand over his eyes, and Wilson couldn't help feeling a little sorry for him. "So many things about this are so very much not good."
The Doctor dropped his hand, and his livid eyes went to House and then flickered over to Wilson. "You two are the most disastrous humans I've ever met," he said vehemently and then hesitated. "Well, not quite. There were more disastrous ones. But you two definitely make the top ten. Okay, twenty. But-"
"Alright, we get it," House said and walked over to the door of the isolation room. "What's it going to be now, do you want out or not?"
"Ah, yes, out. Very good." The fierceness disappeared completely from the Doctor's features, and once again his eyes lit up with busy excitement. He hurried over to the door, all but bouncing on his toes impatiently until House had unlocked the door.
"I need my things," he said as he brushed past Wilson. "And then I need to get to the TARDIS as quickly as possible." He jogged a few steps down the corridor; then he stopped and turned to face them with a slightly confused expression on his face. "Which way out of here?"
- - -
They went to retrieve the Doctor's clothing from House's office, and the Doctor made House give back the wallet, explaining curtly that it wasn't a wallet at all but something called a psychic paper. Wilson didn't quite grasp the concept of how it worked, but it seemed like it showed random identification certificates to anyone except the really smart people, an explanation that made House raise a very smug eyebrow. After that, they briefly discussed the quickest way to get to Baker Street and decided to take Wilson's car.
Wilson refused to allow anyone else but himself behind the wheel, and House claimed the passenger seat as usual, which meant that ten minutes later, the Doctor was trying to arrange his long legs in the foot space of the Volvo's backseat, repeatedly poking Wilson in the back, and talking a mile a minute, relating the most improbable tale Wilson had heard since he'd worked night shifts in the ER.
"I'm actually not from this universe," he began, and Wilson felt another poke as the Doctor shifted. "I'm from a parallel universe, which is actually quite similar to this one, only that my Earth has more aliens. I wonder what that says about my interference in their timeline."
"A parallel universe," House repeated. "Like in movies?"
"Actually yes, it's pretty much like that." Wilson stopped at a red light, and there was another stab in his back. "Only that the getting back and forth isn't as easy. Or it shouldn't be."
"So how come you're here, then?"
"Yes, well." The Doctor produced a cynic little snort. "As usual, this started out with Torchwood meddling with things they have no business meddling with. Really, those people. At the rate they're going, they're going to cause some serious damage sooner rather than later."
"Never you mind," the Doctor said. "I think they don't even exist for you. What you need to know is this: a friend of mine got himself into a bit of a fix by taking on the Ethmmoruraelry, transdimensional beings from the dark times. They were trying to set up a network between the third dimensions of the fifth level using power derived from the implosion of two universes of the first level. Torchwood couldn't let that happen."
"Obviously." The dry undertone in House's voice was unmistakable.
The Doctor exhaled audibly. "They were trying to build a bridge between universes by destabilizing yours and the one I'm from," he explained. "In my world, Torchwood got wind of the plan and attempted to stop it, but twenty-first century humans are no match for the Ethmmoruraelry. Even if they have Jack."
As the Doctor answered, Wilson noticed his voice getting a hint tenser, and he checked the rearview mirror to see the strange man staring out of the car window into the night as if he were looking for someone. "That's my friend I was telling you about. The second he attracted their attention, the Ethmmoruraelry took him captive and then used him for their own purposes." The Doctor looked around, and Wilson started as his gaze was suddenly met by two dark, intense eyes. "The Ethmmoruraelry are powerful beings, and the human mind is no match for their mental abilities. They can't take on a corporeal form, so they possess lower life forms if they need any sort of errand carried out. By taking over Jack, they gained access to the most sophisticated technology on my Earth. They made him use the Rift manipulator-"
"They made him use the what?"
Wilson was impressed at how House seemed to keep up with all of this. He himself had by now resigned himself to the fact that whatever it was that was going on, it went way over his head, and all he could do was tag along and play chauffeur.
House seemed to be on top of things, though, and it reminded Wilson once again of the reason why House always got away with everything: he seemed to never lose track of things. So if he did something that seemed completely insane, it wasn't him you questioned, but you ended up wondering what it was that you were overlooking.
It was quite a neat trick, actually, now that Wilson thought about it.
"The Rift manipulator," the Doctor was explaining. "In my universe, there's a Rift through time and space running right through the city of Cardiff. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, Torchwood found a Rift manipulator, and ever since they started tinkering with it, the Rift has been acting up, spitting out aliens in the middle of Central Square and whatnot. The Ethmmoruraelry used Jack to manipulate the Rift to open a small crack to this, your universe. That's how he got here, and I followed him with the TARDIS."
"But why?" Wilson asked, thinking that this was the one thing he really wanted to know. "What do your Ethmoh-whatever people get out of your friend being in this universe?"
"Somewhere here in this town is a gap," the Doctor said. "Not a Rift, it's not that big, mainly because there's no Torchwood in this universe meddling with things they don't have the first clue about. It's just a small gap, a place where the layer between the universe and the Void is very thin. The mission Jack has been given by the Ethmmoruraelry is to find that gap and tear it wide open. The matter in this universe and the one in my universe will attract each other like magnets, and the force of the collision will destroy both universes and kill every life form living in either of them."
Silence followed the Doctor's words. Wilson tried to wrap his mind around this explanation, but his mind refused to cooperate. The idea of an event that would destroy not only everything Wilson had ever known, but also the rest of the Earth and billions and trillions of other planets plus a whole other universe - that thought was a little too H. P. Lovecraft to take it in.
"I guess we'd better find that Jack person, then," House said, and his calm, almost flippant tone completely fit the situation. They were on their way to save two universes from ultimate destruction. There was no other way one could talk about this than in a calm tone that audibly expressed the small, ironic smile playing about one's lips. Wilson noticed that House had the end-of-the-universe voice down pat.
"That won't be a problem once we get to the TARDIS," the Doctor said, as appropriately unmoved by the gravity of their situation as House. "She can find him."
They didn't talk until Wilson pulled up to the curb of Baker Street and killed the engine. As he got out of the car, he looked over at the blue box standing twenty feet away and still fading in and out of reality.
The sight had been mind-boggling before, and it was still rather strange, but what Wilson found even more astonishing was that there was no crowd. Not even a small one. No one was standing in front of the TARDIS, gaping or shooting clips with their cell phone to upload them to YouTube first chance they got. Nobody was pointing or yelling or calling the police. The few people that did pass it by threw one or two anxious looks over their shoulder and quickly walked away.
"That's some box you got there," House said.
The Doctor grinned happily. "I'd say so." He held out a hand. "Keys, please?"
Entering the box was easier this time, but only a little. Wilson figured that if he closed his eyes before he stepped over the threshold, maybe his heart wouldn't do this small, worrying skip on entering, and so he almost ran into House who had stopped right behind the door and was looking around the impossibly big room.
"Sorry," Wilson muttered and manoeuvred around House, who wasn't paying him any attention. Wilson walked over to the railing that ran along the ramp that led from the door to the central console and leaned against it, glad to have something solid under his fingers. The gridded floor with the shadowy maze of machinery beneath made him feel a little like he imagined walking on water would feel.
In the company of the Doctor, House was a lot less bold in here. He was still bolder than Wilson, though. He limped up the ramp to where the Doctor was bent over the console and leaned against the circular railing behind him.
"So, what now?"
The Doctor didn't answer right away. Wilson could hear him muttering something under his breath, and as he watched, he thought he could see him running a caressing hand over the console. It almost seemed as if the Doctor was stroking his ship, but Wilson dismissed the idea. After all, how was he supposed to know how those controls worked? Maybe when you were in a phone box that was actually a bigger-on-the-inside space ship that wasn't invisible but couldn't be seen anyway, you stroked buttons instead of pushing them.
Finally, the Doctor looked up, and directed his gaze at House. He didn't look very happy. "What did you do?" he asked. "How did you manage to turn on the Integrity Destabilizer without triggering the Vortex Avidity Program? That shouldn't even be possible."
House raised an eyebrow. "'Impossible' is not a concept I'm familiar with."
The Doctor looked as if he were going to reply, but then he only shook his head and turned back to the controls.
While the Doctor and House had been talking, Wilson had slowly edged along the railing towards the centre of the room, and was now standing close enough to be able to see what the Doctor was doing. Not that it made any sense to him whatsoever. The Doctor's fingers were moving with an amazing speed; he was flicking switches and pushing buttons seemingly at random. He had pulled the monitor closer and was frowning at it with a concentrated expression on his face. The images flashing across the screen didn't tell Wilson anything, and he exchanged a look with House, who apparently didn't understand any of this either, but for some reason managed to look a lot less lost than Wilson felt.
With a small jab of envy Wilson wondered how he always seemed to manage that.
"There!" the Doctor suddenly exclaimed, straightening up and startling Wilson out of his mesmerized daze.
"What?" House had pushed himself off the railing and was limping over to look at the monitor.
"I found Jack," the Doctor said. "Well, not me, technically the TARDIS found him. He's right..." He frowned at his monitor again and squinted, and Wilson remembered the glasses they'd found among the Doctor's stuff.
"Where's Whitney Street?" the Doctor asked.
"Just down the street and around the corner."
The Doctor looked up at House, and Wilson saw him pale. "It's not that small side street down the block, is it?"
"It is, actually, yes."
The Doctor quickly straightened up and grabbed his coat. "Come on, we have to hurry!"
Wilson just managed to get out of the way as the Doctor brushed by him towards the door. He exchanged a surprised look with House, then hurriedly followed the Doctor. House's cane made a hollow thumping sound on the metallic floor as House followed as quickly as he could.
"Doctor!" Wilson stood beside the door of the TARDIS, which had stopped fading in and out and looked as solid as ever, waiting for House to catch up, his eyes on the Doctor who was already halfway down the block. He didn't stop when Wilson called out.
"Come on, Wilson," House said as he passed him by. Wilson closed the door of the TARDIS behind him and took a few quick steps that brought him up next to House.
"What's the hurry?" he asked. "What's in Whitney Street?"
House threw him a quick side-glance. "The mysterious Jack, I assume."
"But-" Wilson took a deep breath, not exactly knowing what he was protesting against, and then shook his head. "This is crazy," he said. "You've finally managed to drive me insane."
House didn't react, didn't even make some sort of sarcastic remark, and Wilson would have commented on that if they hadn't arrived at the corner of Baker and Whitney right that moment.
They rounded the corner and both stopped in their tracks.
In Wilson's book, meeting a man with no lungs and two hearts who owned a space ship that looked like a telephone box was quite crazy, but still somehow conceivable. After all, the concept of alien life forms with alien technology wasn't new to him, even if it was a bit of a shock to have it confirmed in real life.
What he was seeing now, however, lay so far beyond his realm of understanding that at first, he was sure he was hallucinating.
Whitney Street, usually a small back alley of the seedy, creepy kind running down the narrow gap between two building blocks, was completely transformed. The first twenty feet were the dirty pavement Wilson was used to seeing here, but then, the change started. There was a wall of white light reaching up into the sky, going up all the way to the second floor windows of the buildings lining the street. It wasn't transparent, Wilson was sure of that, because somehow, he knew that the street he saw behind that wall of light wasn't the Whitney Street he knew. Or at least it wasn't only that street. It seemed like there were thousands of Whitney Streets behind that barrier, each overlayed by another, creating the impression of a blurred, three-dimensional photograph.
This part of the image wasn't the most disturbing aspect, though. There was something between this street and the streets behind the light, something that took up no space and wasn't visible, except that Wilson could see it anyway. He had never experienced anything like that, except maybe when earlier this evening, he had first laid eyes on the Doctor's phone box. The feeling he'd had then had been unsettling, but this was ten times stronger. There was something behind that light that wasn't there, and it was wrong.
Wilson's throat dried up, and he took an involuntary step backwards. He probably would have turned around and made a run for it if House hadn't chosen that moment to reach out and grab his arm.
Wilson followed the direction House was pointing in with his eyes, and realized that he'd only been taking in half the picture. Before the wall of light stood a man. He was quite tall, with dark hair and broad shoulders, and he was wearing a long coat that in the light of the wall behind him seemed black. Wilson couldn't make out his features, but he could see quite clearly what he was holding in his hand: it was a gun, an old-fashioned revolver with a thin barrel, and he was pointing it at the Doctor, who was standing between them and the man in the coat.
"Jack," Wilson heard the Doctor say. "Jack, put the gun down."
Nobody moved. Wilson's eyes flitted back and forth between the Doctor and Jack.
"Jack, you know you don't want to do this. They are making you. Don't let them control you, Jack, you're stronger than them."
Wilson thought he saw the gun in Jack's hand tremble, but Jack didn't lower it, and when the Doctor took a small step towards him, he visibly tightened his grip on the weapon. Wilson barely registered House's fingers digging deeper into his arm.
"Stay where you are." Jack's voice was strained, but his words had definitely been a warning. The Doctor apparently thought so, too, because he stopped and slowly raised his hands in a gesture of peace.
"Okay," he said. "I'm not going near you. But you have to fight this, Jack. You mustn't do what they want. I know you're strong enough, Jack."
"Go away," Jack said. "Go away, or I'll shoot."
"No, Jack," the Doctor said, imploringly, and Wilson had to admire his courage, because he saw him take yet another step towards Jack. "You won't shoot. You don't want to, don't let them make you."
Wilson could only see Jack's silhouette, but he could hear his harsh breathing, and could see the gun's aim waver as Jack's arm started to tremble with strain.
The Doctor had seen it, too, and he edged closer yet towards Jack, now no more than three or four feet away. If Jack shot him now, there wouldn't be much hope of survival for him.
"It's alright, Jack," the Doctor was saying. "You don't need to do this. Don't let them make you. I can help you, just put the gun down and I'll -"
There were maybe two feet left between the two men, and Wilson was already starting to dare hope that maybe this wouldn't end in a bloodbath when suddenly, Jack made a strangled, desperate sound and turned the gun away from the Doctor - and towards himself.
The report seemed extremely loud in the confined space between the two building blocks. Wilson flinched and ducked his head and felt House's grip on his arm tighten some more. It happened all so quickly that Wilson didn't even have the time to turn his eyes away.
Jack shot himself through the head. He collapsed the second the gun went off, and all Wilson could do was stare at the dark outline of his crumpled form on the pavement.
That was when he saw it. It was almost like the old special effects from previous century movies when the protagonist died and their soul left the body. Only that this wasn't happening on a TV screen.
There was a cloud of white mist rising from Jack's body. In the light of the wall, it was almost invisible if it hadn't been for the changing, moving swirls that Wilson could see inside the mist. They didn't take on any particular form, but Wilson could tell that they were about to; if he just looked a little longer, he'd see something in that mist; a face, maybe, or a figure.
"Don't look at them!" It was the Doctor. Wilson registered him from the corner of his eye, coming towards him and House. "Stop looking! It's the Ethmmoruraelry."
With some effort, Wilson tore his eyes away from the changing mist and looked at the Doctor. He was a mess. His front was spattered with blood. There was even some in his hair, and Wilson was reminded of just how messy it was when people got shot.
He also knew the slightly shell-shocked look in the Doctor's eyes, remembered it from his late-night shifts as a young MD, although Wilson had to give it to him that he was holding it together pretty well, considering he was covered in blood and bits of a man's brain.
"Don't look!" the Doctor said again, and Wilson turned to House, who was still staring in the direction of the wall of light. With an effort, he pulled his arm from House's fingers and gripped his in return, shaking him a little.
"House! House, look at me."
For a moment, Wilson thought House hadn't heard him, but then House slowly turned his head, visibly reluctant to tear his eyes away.
"Look at me, House," Wilson said again to make sure he understood, and also to give himself something to concentrate on. The urge to turn back towards the misty swirls was strong enough for Wilson to believe the Doctor when he said they were dangerous.
"Do not try and touch these humans!"
Wilson looked up and saw that the Doctor had placed himself between them and the nebulous swirls, and was staring up directly into the whitish mist.
"I will fight you for them, and you know I will win. Leave this dimension, don't try to come here again. I will know it if you try, and I'll stop you. You know I'm able to."
The urge to look up, to see the mist shifting into that final shape, grew almost too strong for Wilson to resist. He grabbed both House's arms and sought out his friend's sharp blue eyes, whose colour was perfectly recognizable in the bright light of the gap between the universes.
"Look at me, House, don't look at them, look at me, alright?"
House didn't answer, his eyes wide, his whole body tense, and Wilson knew that the only thing House wanted in this moment was to look at the Ethmmoruraelry, to see their real shape, to know what they were. The knowledge gave him the strength he needed to hold House's gaze, to make it impossible for the other man to look away, and the Doctor's voice faded into the background.
"Leave now, leave this plain of existence and return to where you came from. Don't try to come back. Leave these worlds in peace."
Without breaking eye contact with House, Wilson noticed the quality of the light changing, the brightness of the Ethmmoruraelry fading, moving away; then, from the corner of his eyes, he could see the wall crumbling, flickering and growing dimmer and darker. He was still looking at House, but he knew all the same that right now, the thousands of Whitney Streets behind the wall of light were fading out of existence, vanishing one by one until all that was left was this one Whitney Street, and that the wall was pulling together to one central point, like a slow-motion version of an old TV screen going out in a whizz of static.
Wilson didn't look away, wouldn't let House turn his eyes away from him, until he thought he could actually hear the fuzzy popping noise of the light disappearing, and his surroundings grew as dark as it was appropriate for this time of night. Only then did he allow himself to blink and break eye contact.
House, who had been standing there frozen in place, shuddered and briefly shook his head as if to clear it. "Let go of me, Wilson," he said. "You're hurting me."
"Yes, sure, sorry." He let go of House and looked around for the Doctor. For a short moment, Wilson thought he'd disappeared, too, but then he spotted him crouched next to the dark, man-shaped form lying on the pavement in the middle of the street. He felt a pang of sympathy, and started to walk towards the Doctor, the tapping of rubber on pavement indicating that House was following him.
As he came closer, he could hear the Doctor speak, and before long he could make out the words. "... yourself into a big mess, and when I come to help you out, you ruin my suit."
"I'm really sorry about that, Doctor. I'll get you a new one."
The voice was a pleasant tenor, the tone was slightly amused, the accent was American, and Wilson stopped dead in his tracks, staring.
"He was dead. A minute ago, he was dead."
The man on the ground - the dead man - propped himself on his elbows, squinting at Wilson and smiling. "So I was. D'you like this little trick of mine?"
Jack let the Doctor help him up and stood, his coat swishing as he turned around. The light from a street lamp illuminated his features, and Wilson noticed with an emotion that he wouldn't have been able to describe if his life had depended on it that not a single strand of hair was out of place.
"I'm Captain Jack Harkness. And who are you?"
"I'm Doctor Gregory House." Wilson's eyes flicked to the left, where House had come up beside him. He was leaning on his cane and squinting at Jack. "You just regrew half your head including most of your brain, your skull, your skin and your hair. You even regrew the hair gel. How did you do that?"
Jack's eyes, which had been resting on Wilson in a way that Wilson would have described as flirty if he'd been in any state to give these sorts of things any consideration, moved over to House, and his eyebrows drew together. "Um, it's... "
"It's complicated," the Doctor interrupted. "Has to do with time and the Vortex and the TARDIS and is way too complex to be explained right now. Would anybody mind getting out of here? I really would like to change into some clean clothes."
- - -
Wilson followed the other three men back up the street towards the blue box, blocking out their voices and struggling to strengthen his grip on reality, which was slipping. He concentrated on the sane, black pavement under his feet, and his fingers on the sane, creased cuffs of his shirt. With each step, he felt the real world moving closer and the faces he hadn't seen in the misty white swirls moving away, and by the time they'd reached the phone box, what had happened back in that side alley seemed about as real to him as the events of the movie he'd watched last Saturday.
Wilson found that he could live with that.
"We will have to hurry, Jack." The Doctor's words were the first thing that reached Wilson as he returned his attention to his surroundings. The four of them were standing next to the blue box - the TARDIS - and the Doctor had slipped his hands back into his pockets, squinting at something in the sky. "The gap won't stay open for much longer."
"You're going back to your universe?" That was House. He was leaning on his cane and looking at the Doctor, and in his stance, Wilson could see - something. It almost seemed as if House were apprehensive of something.
"Yes." The Doctor nodded. "We have to. Well, Jack has to. He's needed back there."
Jack threw the Doctor a look that seemed almost reproachful. "So are you, Doctor."
"Yes, I suppose." The Doctor lowered his eyes, and his gaze locked with House's. Wilson watched the two of them, and he could tell that something was happening, some unspoken communication was transpiring, but before he could figure out what it was, House looked away.
"Good luck, then," he said, his tone gruff, but not hostile. "I guess I won't see you around."
"Probably not." The Doctor sounded almost apologetic. Jack slipped his hands into his coat pockets and lowered his eyes. Wilson had a brief moment of feeling a bit useless, but then the Doctor looked around at him. "Goodbye, Wilson." He paused. "Is that your first name, Wilson?"
"Ah, no." Wilson cleared his throat. "No, it's not. My first name is James."
The Doctor smiled brightly. "That's a nice name. Goodbye then, James. And Gregory. James and Gregory." He looked back and forth between House and Wilson, and Wilson noticed a slight sadness creeping into his expression.
Then Jack took the Doctor by the arm. "Come on, let's go, before we end up stranded here."
"Right, right, of course." The Doctor nodded and pulled open the TARDIS door. A slant of bright, orange tinted light fell onto the pavement. "Have a wonderful life, you two," he said. "I wish you all the best."
"Thanks." There was no sarcasm to House's voice, no undertone at all, really.
The Doctor entered the TARDIS, and Jack followed him, with two fingers tapping his non-existent hat in an informal farewell salute. The blue wooden doors closed, and a moment later, the TARDIS began to fade in and out again, accompanied by a whooshing, whining noise that for no reason sent a cold shiver down Wilson's back.
Then the blue box was gone, and House and Wilson started to walk further up Baker Street, heading for number 221B.
- - -
Wilson was sitting next to House on the couch in House's living room, a beer that he'd barely touched yet growing warm in his left hand. The silence was heavy, until Wilson eventually broke it.
"You wanted to go with him, didn't you?"
House didn't answer at first, nursing his own beer, staring at the television screen that was, for now, still blank. "No," he said finally. "Why would I want to do that?"
Wilson nodded, accepting the lie without a comment, and took a sip from his drink. "You want to watch a movie?"
House pursed his lips in a way that might have communicated agreement, and Wilson got up to walk over to the shelf with the DVDs, running an idle finger over the row of plastic casings.
"No sci-fi," House said after a moment. "I don't want to watch any sci-fi tonight."
"No," Wilson agreed. "Me neither."