Summary: Wilson quits his job, and only sometime later does Wilson realize that maybe he is the one that should ask for forgiveness.
Spoilers: Well, this story may be spoilerish for Season 5, but I haven't actually seen the trailers (way too many hours of watching the Olympics), so I don't really know.
Author's note: This story was inspired by the first chapter of Juliabohemian's Walking Away. These two stories have gone in completely different directions, but go read her story, because it's awesome.
Many thanks to Juliabohemian for being the beta for this story! Any errors or medical inaccuracies are entirely my own.
Wilson is gone. For a week, House actually expected Wilson to change his mind, that the boxes that lined his office would magically be unpacked and things would go back to normal. During that time, Wilson was busily making sure his patients were assigned to other doctors and finishing up any last minute paperwork. Or at least those were the excuses that he gave himself to avoid talking to House.
An hour before the going away party, House finally cornered Wilson in his office. All of the boxes were sealed with clear packing tape, and the desk completely bare. So there were no more excuses. It's funny how later, House only manages to remember the last part of the conversation, and how the rest somehow becomes lost to him.
"Please stay." Even now, he cringes at how pathetic he sounded.
Wilson's answer had been unusually harsh. "Why? So I can prescribe drugs for you...Loan you money? Lie for you?"
In Wilson's eyes, House had seen the deeper truth, that those things were all that Wilson saw of their friendship, that House had no worth, no value. Somewhere along the way, Wilson had become just like everyone else, who saw House as a self absorbed drug addict, a miserable bastard that had nothing else to offer but his brilliant medical skills. He was someone to be despised, or at best tolerated. And Wilson had reached his limit of tolerance.
Whatever words he had planned to say died before crossing his lips. He gripped the cane a little harder, and willed the muscles of his face to show no expression as he exited the room, and then a few minutes later, the hospital itself.
He was tempted to go someplace to drink himself to death, but some part of him refused to prove Wilson's lowest expectations correct. He found himself at a movie theater, and he bought a ticket for the next movie about to start. It was 1 PM on a weekday, and the theater was practically empty. He forced himself to stare at the screen for the entire movie, even though to this day, he could not have told anyone what the movie was about, or even what actors were in it. It was still better than being at Wilson's going away party, listening to Wilson talk about the wonderful opportunity it was, how he'd be able to help so many people, how sad he was to leave, blah, blah, blah. It was bad enough knowing that Wilson wouldn't have wanted him at the party.
The finally irony wasn't apparent until a few days later. In that time, no less than six people had yelled at him for his selfishness and failure to attend. He became adept at tuning them out. For weeks, he had seen the speculation in people's eyes: was he responsible for Amber's death? But now he had officially become a pariah. The only reason people attempted to talk to him was for something work related.
In a strange twist of fate, House didn't even know where James Wilson had ended up working after leaving Princeton. Wilson had barely said two words to him in the week leading up to his departure, and everyone assumed that House already knew. He was tempted to look him up on the internet, but rejected the idea as pathetic in the extreme
As the days wore on, it became harder to keep up the routine of his life. Mentally, he began to make lists of the bare essentials for existing: Get up, shower, drive to work, office/clinic/diagnosis, lunch, more work, drive home, sleep. Somehow, if he could break things down into small enough tasks, he could get through the day.
Lunchtime was the worst. Option one was the cafeteria, where he would inevitably be the only one eating alone. He could practically feel the weight of the stares of the other diners. Eating at his desk in his office was also not a good idea, as he was typically eating only a fraction of his lunch before his appetite fled again, and having the remains sitting in his trashcan only made him feel even more nauseous. So he usually found himself hiding at lunchtime, which not only meant that he was alone, but had the added bonus of no one being able to find him.
With the help of bourbon, he was sleeping ten hours a night, and was still tired when he woke up in the morning. He slept at his desk when he could get away with it, and endured Cuddy's lecturing whenever she caught him. At least her yelling at him was a change in the monotonous routine of his life.
Every day was just a minor variation on the day before it, and House was surprised when he looked at a calendar and realized that two months had passed since Wilson had left. He was losing weight, and there were dark circles under his eyes. He wondered if it would ever get any easier, or if he was doomed to maintain this never-ending pattern until one day he just dropped dead. He tried to make an effort to eat more, forcing himself to take a few extra bites. But the weight loss persisted.
A week later, he was standing in his bathroom, trying to summon the energy to brush his teeth when something caught his eye. He peered at his reflection; was there a slight yellowing of the whites of his eyes? It was something that would probably be undetectable to anyone not trained to look for symptoms.
Part of him wanted to rejoice. This was it; he'd fucked up his liver, and now it was time for everyone to say I told you that you shouldn't take so much Vicodin, conveniently forgetting that it was a necessary evil to keep his pain away long enough to allow him to save their precious patients. It would be so easy to sit back and wait for the end, but he'd never been one to take the easy road. Some stubborn part of him wanted to continue the fight, the same part that hadn't given in to his father's abuse, or to the pain after the infarction, or when most people would have said that he didn't really have anything left to live for anyway.
That morning, he surprised the nurses by showing up to work in the clinic a few minutes early. All day long he treated a record number of patients, and just before lunch, he was able to find a minute alone in an exam room. With the ease of much practice, he tied the tourniquet around his left arm, and on the second try he located a vein. He drew enough vials to run a complete liver panel, plus a few other tests. He tried to think up a name for the fake patient to assign the vials to. He considered all of the silly names he and Wilson had come up over the years for running anonymous blood tests, like the time that Wilson had become convinced that he'd acquired an STD and wouldn't stop freaking out until the tests came back negative. He quashed the memory and proceeded to fill out the paperwork. The nurse didn't even look up when the vials for a John H. Smith were added to the basked to be sent down to the lab.
When the results arrived a few hours later, he knew he needed to do an ultrasound ASAP. The easiest place to get a hold of one was probably down in the clinic, so he headed down for another few hours of purgatory. When he had a sufficiently large pile of charts, he told the nurse that he was going to finish up his charting in Exam Room 3. She nodded distractedly, only grateful that for once, Dr. House was pulling his weight in the clinic. The charting was mostly finished, so he piled the charts on the stool and turned on the ultrasound machine. As he moved the wand across his abdomen, he could immediately see that his initial diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver was incorrect. He laughed at the bitter irony of it; pancreatic cancer. Too bad he didn't know an oncologist.
In a daze, he shut down the machine and wiped the gel off his abdomen. He handed over the updated charts, and made his way up to his office. He sat at his desk, plotting his next move with a sense of concentration that hadn't been present in weeks. As he waited for his fellows to leave when the day was done, a quick internet search yielded the phone number of a doctor that House remembered speaking to at a conference a few years ago. One phone call, and he had an appointment two days later. With even greater ease, he was able to book a hotel room in New York City, only a few blocks away from the hospital. One more phone call to the janitorial services, and he had set in motion the next part of his plan.
He watched as his fellows gathered up their stuff, silently bidding them farewell. He got up to pull the blinds closed, and a few minutes later George was tapping on the glass door. House opened the door, and George pushed in a cart loaded with cardboard boxes. They both worked at packing away House's trinkets and knickknacks. As George loaded the now full boxes onto the cart, House printed his letter of resignation. He folded it carefully, putting it into an envelope with Cuddy's name on it. He laid it in the center of the now empty desk. He placed his pager and cell phone next to it. He looked around the barren office. Already it seemed alien to him, as if someone else had worked here all these years. He opened up the blinds and turned off the lights. It was time to leave.
House made his way out to his car, George following behind him with the cart. They loaded them into the trunk and the backseat, rearranging everything until it all fit. House handed over the five hundred dollars he had promised George in exchange for the man helping him pack, rather than whatever menial task he was supposed to be performing.
"Thanks, doc." George seemed to take a good look at the other man for the first time. "Everything okay?"
House wasn't sure if the concern was genuine, or the result of the cash he had just handed over, but he smiled anyway. "Yeah. Gotta know when it's time to leave the party."
George had no idea what House meant, so he nodded and tried to look smart. "Whatever ya say, doc." He watched as House slid into the driver's seat and drove away. Oh well, it was time to get back to changing lightbulbs.
That night, as House surveyed the boxes that had invaded his living room, he knew he had made the right decision. He knew the odds of beating pancreatic cancer were abysmally low, and there was no way he was going to have his illness play out in front of the entire hospital. He'd had enough false sympathy and concern a year ago when everyone had suspected he had brain cancer. At least by quitting, he'd saved Cuddy the trouble of organizing a going away party that no one would want to attend.
He didn't see her for another month. In that time, he'd had surgery to resect the tumor, and then had been put on chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells in his body. He'd finally given in to having a home nurse stop by once a day. The woman didn't even try and pretend to like him, but it was still better than the rather cheerless rehab center. At least when he was at home, he was surrounded by his own things. He'd just gotten back the day before from his first chemo session. After much wrangling, the doctor had agreed that House could go home when he was well enough to move, but that for his treatment he would be hospitalized for four days. His hair had yet to fall out, so when he saw who his visitor was, he decided to open the door.
"Hey, House. I wanted to see how you were doing."
She stood there, looking as beautiful as ever, and he suddenly longed for her company, for some human contact that wasn't medical in nature. He was about to invite her in when he noticed a file folder in her had.
"What's that?" he asked, gesturing to it.
"Patient. Forty-three year old male..."
He cut her off. "Get out."
She looked at him in confusion. "What?"
"You heard me. Get out of my house."
"Dying, I assume," he interrupted. "They always are. Didn't you get the memo? I quit. I don't care about your patient. It's not my problem anymore."
She looked confused, unable to understand why he wouldn't help her. He grabbed the file out her unresisting hand, and threw it into the hall. He watched in satisfaction as the papers scattered in the entryway.
"And here I thought you actually gave a shit about me."
He grabbed her arm and propelled her out the door. "Don't come back."
He slammed the door behind her. Suddenly he felt extremely tired. Any energy boost from the anger had disappeared like the wind. He limped into the bedroom and crawled into bed. For a long time he lay shivering, unable to get warm despite the pile of covers.