Author's Note: Sorry this chapter took so long to finish – real life, work, etc. got in the way again and I wanted to make sure I got the personalities right and have tried to keep as in-character as possible. Thanks again for all the wonderful feedback and behold the final chapter. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know. :)
House awoke slowly, concluding that he must be dead. Nobody could feel this bad and still be alive. His head throbbed and every muscle in his body ached. If he didn't know better, he'd believe he'd just gone ten rounds with a garbage truck. He allowed himself to drift, not quite knowing where he was or how he'd managed to get there. Eventually he became aware of a warmth surrounding his left hand and opened his eyes to see Lisa Cuddy fast asleep in the chair next to his bed, her hand wrapped tightly over his. His movement caused her to stir and her sleepy eyes met his. She smiled.
'Hey,' she whispered, reaching out and placing her palm gently on his cheek. 'How are you feeling?'
House opened his mouth to answer, but was only able to generate a low moan.
'Don't worry, House, whether you deserve it or not, you're going to be fine.' Cuddy continued to stroke his cheek. House fought to keep his eyes open. The fuzziness in his head made the thought process difficult but he knew there was something he needed to ask. Not quite being able to figure out what it was, he settled for the obvious.
'Wht hpned?' House managed to murmur. Cuddy peered down at him concernedly.
'You don't remember?' House thought hard for a moment and the scenes gradually emerged into his conscious memory. Oh crap, he had thrown up all over Cuddy, hadn't he? She was going to be so mad when she stopped being worried. As the memories continued to re-emerge, the rest of the scene played back in his head. Shit. He had been in the ICU and Wilson had been dying. Did that mean..? Panic in his eyes, he turned quickly back to Cuddy.
'Wilson?' he gasped. Cuddy nodded her head toward a second bed at the far side of the room.
'He's out of danger. We transferred you both here from the ICU a few hours ago. He hasn't woken up yet but he's doing a lot better.' House breathed a sigh of relief. 'Which is more than I can say for you,' she continued. 'You're still very sick, House. You need lots of rest. If I even see you think about getting out of this bed again in the next few days I'll have you strapped down.' House rolled onto his side and smirked.
'In your fantasies,' he muttered. Before Cuddy could formulate a suitable reply, she noticed that House had fallen into a deep sleep.
Cuddy glanced at the two sleeping men and smiled. Her relief that they would both recover was exceeded only by her amazement. This time death had been far too close, for both of them. She had been certain many times over the past few days that she was going to lose one or both of them. When Wilson's vitals had begun to fade, his death had seemed inevitable. Even in the face of death House had been defiant, and, astonishingly, it had worked. House's words had seemingly pulled his friend back from the edge. Cuddy was once again stunned by the unlikely bond shared between the two.
The diagnostician's tenacity continued to amaze his boss on a virtually daily basis. Considering the number of times House had come close to killing himself since the two had met, it was a miracle the man's body hadn't given up long ago. Cuddy couldn't imagine life without either of the two men and was once again thankful that the pair had made it through their latest ordeal. There was still a need for her friends' emotional scars to heal, but for the first time Cuddy was confident their friendship would endure. Finally having received the reassurance that she needed, the Dean of Medicine left to claim her first real sleep in days.
When Wilson finally regained consciousness several days later, it was not the awakening he might have expected. As his mind slowly dug itself out of the fog it had been buried in for what seemed like weeks and slowly reconnected with his body, he became aware of a stabbing sensation in his side. It was almost as if he was being…prodded? What kind of idiot would be prodding an unconscious…oh!
'I know you're in there,' House's voice sounded from only a few feet away. 'I've been watching your EEG. Wake up already!' Wilson groaned inwardly. He had given up eternity with Amber for this? Torture by House for the next umpteen years? What had he been thinking? Unbidden, images flooded into his head of his distraught friend collapsing into Cuddy's arms. He shuddered. That had been a dream, hadn't it? Newly convinced of his need to remain in the land of the living, Wilson forced himself to turn his head towards the sound of his friend's voice. Forcing his eyes to open, he was rewarded by the sight of Lisa Cuddy snatching House's cane, ostensibly the source of the aforementioned torture, from his friend's outstretched hand. For a moment neither of the two noticed that he had joined them.
'House, I allowed you to remain in the same room as Dr. Wilson on the proviso that you behaved. If I can't trust you to…what the hell are you smirking at?' House had finally noticed Wilson watching him and as the pair locked eyes, House's mouth curled up at the edges. Wilson found himself copying the gesture. Cuddy's face softened as she finally noticed the newly conscious oncologist. She was at his bedside in an instant, taking his hand in hers. 'How do you feel?' she asked softly.
Wilson considered the question for a moment. Given the circumstances he wasn't actually feeling all that bad. He felt very light-headed and his muscles ached but he figured that was to be expected. In fact, the only overriding sensation was one of complete and utter exhaustion. He was fighting to keep his eyes open and he was sure he didn't have the energy to formulate a sentence.
'Tired,' he managed to whisper, his voice weak from lack of use. Cuddy just nodded.
'Get some rest,' she instructed, resting her free hand on his arm and planting a kiss on his cheek. 'Welcome back, James.' The last thing Wilson heard as he drifted into a deep sleep was his friend's voice trying to get his attention.
'Hey, you can't go back to sleep now,' House called. 'This party's just getting started.' Wilson was still smiling when oblivion claimed him.
It was several days before Wilson was able to remain awake long enough to hold a conversation. When he opened his eyes, it was to find House sitting at the side of his bed studying him closely. As the oncologist in turn ran his eyes over his friend's face, he noticed the unhealthy pallor and deep lines that had not been present in the weeks before the bus crash. Wilson once again felt a pang of guilt that he had brought his friend to this. He shook his head sadly.
'You're an idiot, House.' His friend raised an eyebrow and smirked slightly.
'I think I'm going to have to get Cuddy to re-check you for brain damage,' he stated, 'I could have sworn you just called me an idiot.' Fighting back the urge to smile, the oncologist continued to stare earnestly at his friend.
'You nearly died, House. Again.' Try as he might, Wilson could not shake the guilt he associated with this thought.
'I didn't nearly die anywhere near as much as you nearly died,' the diagnostician argued. 'Besides, I,' he gestured, 'am a professional. I've got the nearly down to a fine art.' Wilson rolled his eyes.
'I didn't do this on purpose,' he spluttered, 'whereas you…you need to learn that your life is just as valuable as everybody else's. Especially mine. It's not that I'm not grateful for what you did, I just want you to promise that you'll never, ever pull a stunt like that again.' House thought for a moment before responding.
'Sorry, Wilson, no can do. This is what I do, it's who I am. Like you've always told me, I have to solve the puzzle, no matter what the cost.'
'There was no puzzle this time, House. If I had been any other patient, you wouldn't have done what you did. You wouldn't even have taken the case in the first place.'
'You're my friend, Jimmy.' As Wilson's jaw dropped, House continued. 'I'm sorry I couldn't save her.' The diagnostician's voice dropped to a whisper. 'If I could have traded places with her I would have. I need you to know that.' Wilson sighed, now acutely aware of the guilt consuming his friend.
'You've already nearly killed yourself twice trying to prove that to me,' he began. 'It needs to stop.' His voice began to falter as he continued. 'I miss Amber, every minute of every day. Sometimes so much that I think I can't take it any more.' He began to cry as he continued. 'I will always wish that you hadn't called her that night and I will always wish that she hadn't followed you onto that bus, but I have never, even for a second, even when I was really mad at you, wished that it was you instead of her.'
'Perhaps you should have,' House responded quietly. 'Perhaps you should try hating me. You may find it helps.'
'Is that what you want?' Wilson demanded through his tears. House shook his head. 'Good,' Wilson responded. 'I don't think I could stand to be that alone.' He buried his head in his hands, sobbing. 'What am I going to do, House?' The diagnostician glanced around to ensure nobody was observing then carefully raised himself until he was sitting on the bed alongside his friend. House hesitantly wrapped his arms around the distraught oncologist and Wilson immediately buried his head in his friend's shoulder. House tightened his grip. When he spoke, it was in a gentle tone that even Wilson had never heard him use before.
'What you're going to do,' House informed the younger man, 'is concentrate on getting better so that Cuddy will let you out of here. Then, we're going to go back to my place, have a few beers, talk about this and give Amber a proper send off. Then,' he continued, 'we can take as long as you need to deal with this. I won't let you go through this on your own any more, I promise.' Feeling more at peace than he had at any time in the weeks since this nightmare began, Wilson allowed himself to fall asleep, protected by his friend's arms.