A/N: Hi all, this is a little Christmas present to all my loyal and lovely readers out there. I know this is not an original idea by any means (House was, after all, born to play Scrooge) but this is my take on it. My thanks to Charles Dickens for inspiration and apologies for plagiarising his fabulous work just slightly.
A House Christmas Carol
Stave I: Marley's ghost
"Did you hear about poor old Marley?" Wilson asked.
"What? Kicked the bucket? Dropped off the perch? Paid St Peter a personal visit?"
"House," Wilson said in his usual disapproving tone. "Show some respect. He was a figurehead at the hospital for a long time."
"Yeah, a very long time," House agreed. "He was around when they invented penicillin. Cuddy should have fired the doddery old codger years ago. Hobbling around yelling at people, stitching them up with those shaky hands of his." House's eyes lit up with fake glee. "You know, I just had a thought: maybe I've got a chance at 'Curmudgeon of the Year' now that he's gone!"
Wilson shook his head, but couldn't deny the truth of House's words. Marley had never been particular pleasant. In fact, Wilson thought if you looked up "grumpy old bastard" in the dictionary, there might well have been a photo of Marley next to the entry. But that didn't stop him feeling a need to defend the guy. "It wasn't like he was practicing House. He hadn't seen a patient in years."
"Precisely my point. Why keep him hanging around? Why didn't he go play bowls or move to Florida, or sit on a street corner and call out lewd things to teenage girls?"
"I actually don't think he had much else in his life," Wilson said a little sadly. "The hospital was everything to him." He bit his tongue to prevent himself from making the very clear parallels between Marley's life and House's own, knowing that it would make not a lick of difference and would only result in him, once again, ending a futile conversation with House feeling stressed and exhausted. He decided to change the subject.
"So, coming out for drinks tonight? There's a few people meeting up at McCafferty's tavern: Cuddy, Chase and Cameron, Kutner–"
"Nope," House interrupted, his answer definitive.
"But House! It's Christmas Eve! We always . . . well, when I'm not married, we usually . . . " Wilson hoped his face didn't completely betray his disappointment, but he'd been planning on spending the evening with House. "I thought we could go get Chinese food afterwards."
"Bah humbug," House said, but his voice lacked its usual vitriol. "Not tonight. I think I caught a flu from one of the clinic patients I saw yesterday. I feel all stuffy and fevery. I'm gonna go home, watch some TV and go to bed."
"Are you just trying to get out of going to Cuddy's Christmas lunch tomorrow?" Wilson asked, suspicious. "She's been working on it for days."
"I told her I probably wouldn't come. Now I'm sick. I can't go," House said with a pathetic whine.
"You look fine to me."
"Well I'm not fine. And don't worry about coming by to check on me. We both know how well that worked out the last time you bothered." House turned on his heel and strode off.
Wilson couldn't help but feel ashamed of House's reference to the Christmas Eve Wilson had left him lying in a pool of his own vomit. It was something neither of them ever normally brought up, and Wilson took it as House's particular brand of warning that he really didn't want any visitors this Christmas.
Wilson shrugged off his disappointment . There was only so much he could do. He wandered off, deciding to call it a day and join his colleagues at the bar.
House was lying on his sofa, his regular lounging spot, watching TV. The beginnings of the flu that he'd truthfully claimed to Wilson earlier that afternoon had hit him with a vengeance. He had a headache, scratchy eyes, a sore throat and could feel the weird hot-and-cold sweats shivering through his body signalling fever.
Great, just in time for Christmas.
Not that the fact that it was a holiday really made a difference. It wasn't like House had anything to do. There was no family to be disappointed by his illness ruining a get-together, no kids to disappoint by being too sick to play Santa. No partner to bring him medicinal eggnog and cuddle up with him to watch It's a Wonderful Life, which was a shame really, because the flu would have given him the perfect excuse if a few stray tears had squeezed out when the angels got their wings.
In the trance-like state provoked by the virus in his body, House found himself staring blankly at the television. Then suddenly, he was brought to awareness as a green frog in Victorian-style dress marched across the screen singing.
Was he tripping? Hallucinating?
No, the answer was far more banal. While he'd zoned out, A Muppet Christmas Carol had come on. The desperate cheerfulness of the froggy version of Tiny Tim was too much for House to bear, but he couldn't find the energy to reach for the remote and change the channel, let alone move from the sofa.
He sleepily watched on, half dozing, waking up every time the puppet creatures found a need to express themselves in song – which was far more often than House would have liked.
The movie had reached the scene where hardworking Kermit was visited by his now-deceased old boss when House figured Wilson must have slipped a tab of acid into his final coffee of the day. Suddenly the screen went darker. The cheery, tinny songs extinguished. A silence, heavier than just the absence of the television jangling seemed to settle over the apartment and House felt a chill shudder through him, goose bumps prickling the back of his neck. Then the old ghost, a heavy chain wrapped round his waist, turned away from the frog and stared, monstrously, from the screen, directly into House's eyes.
"Shit!" House jumped in his own skin, instantly recognising the face on screen. Marley? Dr Marley? The recently deceased Dr Marley?
After a moment's fright House relaxed. He chuckled. It was clear. He was obviously hallucinating. He should probably be concerned that he had flu-like symptoms and that there was something seriously wrong with his brain, but for the moment the hallucination seemed more interesting than the diagnosis.
"Dr Marley? Nice chain," House said.
"I wear the chain I forged in life," Marley said, his voice booming and ominous, "I made it—"
"—link by link, yard by yard. Yeah, yeah, I know. I read the book."
"Greg House, hear me! My time is nearly gone!" the ghost's voice boomed.
"Let me guess. Tonight I am going to be haunted by three spirits."
"You do not take this seriously enough young man!"
House raised his eyebrows. He was not a "young man". Although in comparison to Marley? Perhaps he classified.
"No space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused!" The ghost continued ominously. His chain rattled in the background, a phantom echo of gravitas.
House chose to ignore it. "Marley, you were from Minnesota. Why are you talking like working-class Englishman?"
Marley appeared to ignore the slight. "I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance of escaping my fate."
"What fate? Of a distinguished medical career? Of having a heart attack in the middle of a board meeting while making decisions that affect the healthcare of thousands of people? Your fate doesn't sound so horrible."
"My fate was to live alone, to walk through crowds of fellow human beings with eyes cast down. I healed, but only bodies, ne'er souls. The links of my chain are the failures of my mortal soul to connect with another. Over and over, the links, oh!" The ghost gave a pitiful wail. "The chain is so heavy, House." The whispered complaint, the agony in the voice, the use of his name, all brought the goose bumps back to House's skin. He shivered.
"I've had enough of this," House said, battling to retain his rational, scientific objectivity. Ghosts did not exist. There was no afterlife. House had seen enough people die – hell, he'd been dead a few times himself – to know this for a fact. "Piss off back to the Muppets. Tell Miss Piggy I've always had a thing for her and if she dumps the frog we can make some bacon." House laughed, amused by his own joke.
Marley's ghost slowly shook his head, frowning. House felt chastised, as if he was a child again, and his father was the one shaking his head in disappointment.
The ghost took a long, rattling breath before speaking again. "As you predicted, tonight you will be visited by three ghosts. They will appear on the strike of each hour of the next morning." The ghost seemed to peer even further out of the television and House was struck by an irrational urge to reach out and touch the apparition, as if he was in a 3D movie. "I urge you, on pain of an agonizing eternity in anguish to reconsider yourself, think again about your antipathy to the human beings around you."
The ghost stared blankly out at him until House yawned, without really knowing why, and it broke the spell. When he opened his eyes again the dead Dr Marley was gone, and Kermit and Fozzie Bear were cavorting across the screen. House reached for the remote and clicked off the bright, noisy movie. It was too much for his eyes and ears to manage.
He stumbled his way into the bedroom, telling himself that if his symptoms got any worse he'd break down and call Wilson. Hallucinating was a pretty severe symptom, especially given he hadn't had any medication that would explain it. He fell into bed and was asleep almost immediately.