Trial and Error
The girl perched on the edge of the exam table, one hand fiddling with the ends of her long, blonde hair. She fidgeted nervously and looked at the clock again. Nearly forty-five minutes she'd been waiting to see a doctor. Would've been quicker to get one of those test things at the pharmacy – but that would have used nearly all her week's allowance and then she'd have to tell her mom why she hadn't got the bus fare for the rest of the week. Her mind hadn't got quite as far as thinking her mom would find out sooner or later.
The door opened and a grizzled man stepped through, leaning casually on a cane and reading the chart open in his other hand. Without a glance in her direction he intoned, "Good morning, and what can I do for you today?"
"I need a … a pregnancy test," she blurted out. The doctor looked up, narrowed his eyes and peered back at the chart.
"R-iiight, and you're how old?"
"Eighteen," she said confidently, "I wrote it on the form."
"So, remind me, when were you born?" The doctor hung his cane on a cupboard door and reached in for a sample jar. His hand hovered while the girl attempted the mental math then continued, "Never mind – I don't really care. You'll need to pee in this and I'll check you for STDs too." The girl reached out for the pot but froze as it fell to the floor. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open as she watched the doctor's eyes roll back into his head. He was suspended for a heartbeat, and then keeled over like a statue toppling from its plinth.
As his body started shaking and jerking uncontrollably, the shocked girl jumped from the table and edged around him towards the door, then bolted to the nurse's station.
Ignoring the queue and angry mutterings she slapped her hands on the desk for attention.
"The doctor's just fallen down – he's having a … a fit," she mimicked the movements she'd just witnessed. The nurse quickly went round to the exam rooms, knocking sharply on a window as she went.
"Doctor Wilson, need some help here," she called then hurried to the next room to find Doctor House in a full blown seizure.
James Wilson, mild-mannered oncologist and a favourite amongst the nursing staff was listening patiently as a grey-haired lady listed the various symptoms of old age. Having established his patient was really just here for the company, he had allowed his mind to drift slightly onto the mundane topic of picking up his dry cleaning on the way back to his hotel, and where he should eat tonight.
At the sound of Brenda's voice his pulse quickened at the prospect of some excitement, whilst his conscience chastised him for feeling that way. He politely excused himself and walked briskly into the exam room next door.
"Oh geez…" He knelt down next to his friend, looking in shock at his pale face and thrashing body. Nurse Previn had grabbed a blanket and managed to get it under House's head and now she was trying to keep him from bashing into the table leg whilst staying clear of the flailing limbs. Suddenly House started vomiting and choking. Wilson grabbed his shoulders and hauled him over onto his side.
"We need some suction here!" he yelled over his shoulder to the small knot of people who had gathered at the commotion. Quickly, another nurse was at his side attempting to clear House's airway.
Time stretched out for Wilson who was panting with the effort of keeping House on his side, but gradually the thrashing dwindled to twitching and finally House lay still. Wilson grabbed a nearby stethoscope and listened for a moment then he sat back on his haunches with relief.
"Strong and steady," he said to the room at large. The crowd soon dissipated leaving just Brenda and a junior doctor. "Get a gurney; we need to get him to the ER."
Wilson waited impatiently outside a curtained cubicle in the busy ER, his mind churning over possible diagnoses for adult-onset seizures; head trauma, blood clot, hhemorrhage, infection … and the one his oncologists mind couldn't help but focus on - brain tumour. He was just about to go to fetch himself another coffee to give his hands something to do when a young man in scrubs emerged, carrying a fresh chart.
"Hi, I'm Doctor Fischer." Wilson blinked at the impossibly young doctor before him. "Can you tell me what meds Doctor House is on?"
"Vicodin ES, upwards of ten per day," he replied, acknowledging the raised eyebrows with a small shrug. He hesitated then, realising that he hadn't actually seen very much of House lately. It had been several months since the Tritter debacle but it was still hanging between them; neither of them prepared to raise the subject and lay it to rest. There had been an uneasy truce between them as they ignored the elephant in the room and they'd both made some overtures of friendship with lunches at work and gossip on the balcony. They hadn't yet got back to that close friendship of movie nights and beer and pizza on House's couch. Doctor Fischer cleared his throat with all the authority of a second year resident bringing Wilson's focus back to the matter at hand.
"We're doing a tox screen, but I'll add a liver panel – given the level of acetaminophen," he explained unnecessarily. "Any head trauma recently?" Wilson shook his head racking his brain for any other information that might suggest a cause for the seizure.
"No – not that he's mentioned anyway." As if he would, he added silently.
"Okay. Well he's post-ictal, we'll let him sleep it off then I'll talk to him about a head CT." He looked at Wilson who nodded his agreement. He finished his note taking and closed the chart. "Is there anyone I should call for him?" Wilson hesitated briefly; Fischer was obviously new.
"No thanks, I'll hang around for a while." Wilson was already moving towards the cubicle, mind buzzing with questions and fresh worries. "Let me know when you get any test results back," he added.
It was dark and cold. House's limbs were aching and he could feel the cramp building. He found himself clinging onto a rough surface, fingers jabbing into tiny crevices and bare feet shuffling on the tiniest of ledges. The black granite cliff glinted malevolently just inches from his face and he could feel the pull of the blackness from beneath him, willing him to fall. His breath started to hitch as his muscles screamed and he knew he couldn't hold on any longer. His hands scrabbled for purchase on the rock face but found empty space and he fell backwards. Panic was causing his heart to race and the breath to rasp in his throat and that was what finally woke him.
House blinked in the bright lights, trying to bring his blurry eyes into focus as the dream fled from his memory. After a few moments he became aware of his surroundings. He was pretty sure he wasn't in his own bed, this one was far too hard and unforgiving, and the blanket was rough and smelt faintly chemical.
The voice was another big clue that he wasn't at home.
"Hey, it's okay. Take it easy." A worried voice, familiar, comforting. He took some deep breaths, frantically trying to work out what was going on. "You back with us?"
Wilson. Of course.
House grunted, lifting a hand to shield them from the glare. Wilson clicked off the over-head light and turned on the bedside dimmer.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Uh-huh. Hospital." His mouth felt clumsy, as though his tongue was a size too big for his mouth.
"What day is it?" That one was harder but he dredged it up.
"How're you feeling?" House could hear a slight edginess in his friend's voice. He thought about the question for a minute.
"Killer headache … sore muscles."
"Do you remember what happened?" House was quiet for such a long time that Wilson thought he'd gone back to sleep. "House?"
"Dunno." House felt that he ought to be concerned about holes in his memory but at that moment he was just too tired to care. "I was in the clinic … ?"
Wilson decided to help him out. "You had a seizure. Scared the crap out of me."
Another silence fell while House took this in. "You in any pain?"
House considered this and decided that apart from his head which was lined with slivers of glass, he was okay. "No, I'm fine."
"Your leg?" Wilson was insistent.
"Not bad." House wanted to go back to sleep.
"That's … amazing," Wilson responded carefully, "Considering there's no trace of hydrocodone or acetaminophen in your blood." House turned slowly with a sigh and rubbed his face with the hand that had been shielding his eyes.
"Yeah … about that…"
But Wilson didn't wait for an explanation. "I pulled your chart," his eyes narrowed accusingly as House sighed deeply and tried to bury his head back into the pillow. "You started getting liver function tests two months ago," his voice was clipped as he kept his anger under control. "You knew you were heading for liver failure and you never said a word!" He slammed the file down on the end of the bed and leaned over menacingly.
"See, I knew you'd have a fit if you knew," House responded lightly.
Wilson turned away, both hands wrapped behind his neck, massaging muscles knotted with tension.
The silence hung between them for several minutes as Wilson paced round the small space and House lay back watching him tiredly, waiting for him to put the pieces together.
"You stopped taking Vicodin," he stated finally. He thought back over the last couple of months. "That conference in New York," he raised his finger accusingly, "I knew you hadn't been to any of the sessions." Everything was clicking into place. "You looked pretty crappy when you got back, you'd been detoxing hadn't you?" House didn't respond. "Why didn't you say something? What have you been taking instead?" Wilson was getting agitated and raising his voice. House winced.
"Keep it down – headache here," he muttered. Wilson was obviously waiting for some sort of explanation so House put on his best whine, "I take the Vicodin and you get mad; I stop taking the Vicodin and you still get mad."
Wilson rolled his eyes dramatically. "House! You were bordering on liver failure, didn't it occur to you that I might be able to help?"
"I didn't need your help!" House spat back, "I'm a doctor too, I knew what was happening and I dealt with it!" He winced again and rested his head back against the pillow.
"So what drugs are you on?" Wilson repeated his earlier question.
"Drug trial. PCN1481 at New York University Hospital." House was finding it hard to keep his eyes open now. "Erich Mathers, neurologist and pain management. Go look it up …"
Wilson stood with his hands on his hips, a look of disappointment on his face. He'd been trying to get House to try other pain management regimens for years now, and when he finally did, he chose to do it on his own. He couldn't deny that he was hurt.
"And you couldn't tell me?"
"I didn't know if it was going to work, then when it did …" he waved his hand vaguely, "I thought you'd notice soon enough when I stopped coming for refills," he finished lamely.
And that was it of course; Wilson hadn't noticed. He'd assumed House had fallen back into his old pattern; that he was content with being a drug addict and that nothing Wilson could do was going to change him. And he'd left it at that. In the stress of the last few months the fact that House was indeed a chronic pain patient had been pushed to the back of his mind.
Wilson snapped his attention back to the patient before him and nodded guiltily. He'd just realised how bad House looked. "I'll let you get some rest. We can talk about this later."
"Something to look forward to," House replied, turning onto his side away from Wilson.
Wilson returned to the ER a few hours later and drew back the curtain to House's cubicle. House was sitting on the edge of the bed putting his shoes on and pointedly ignoring Doctor Fischer who was trying to give him discharge advice about not driving and staying with family for a few days.
"I've been in touch with Doctor Mathers at NYU and he agrees that the seizure was most likely caused by a combination of the new meds and stress," Fischer struggled on looking to Wilson for support.
"Fine. Can I go now?"
The young doctor sighed and quickly signed off the chart. "Yes, anytime you like." He left giving Wilson a resigned look which Wilson returned with a small shrug and a quick lift of the eyebrows.
Wilson turned his attention to House. "Want a lift home?" he asked casually.
House nodded shortly, grabbed his cane and jacket and limped off without a backward glance.
The drive back was mostly in silence. Wilson knew better than to inquire how his friend was feeling, making do with occasional glances in House's direction.
House spent the journey looking out the side window with his head propped on his hand; he still had a headache and was unreasonably tired. He could feel Wilson buzzing with pent up questions and was mentally bracing his exhausted brain for the onslaught.
It started soon enough.
"Did you know about the seizure risk when you started this trial?"
"You could have had a seizure at any time," Wilson admonished, "on your bike, in the shower!"
"It may have slipped your notice but I've been taking the bus lately," House responded testily. "And I'm only in the shower for ten minutes a day," he continued. "Anyway, the risk was low, 2 percent in Phase I trials."
"You should have told me – someone," Wilson thumped the steering wheel with the heel of his hand. "Doing this on our own was just … just … irresponsible!"
"It was in my medical record," House defended himself.
"Oh yeah, one line at the bottom of a file five inches thick," Wilson snorted, "And no-one trusts your chart anymore after all the stunts you've pulled."
Wilson negotiated a junction and the silence crackled with tension. Eventually they pulled up outside House's apartment. Wilson switched off the engine, gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath.
"Can I come in?" he asked quietly.
House hadn't moved, his eyes were shut and a muscle jumped in his jaw.
"I'm just going to bed," he replied tightly, "no need for you to come and tuck me in."
"I just thought … some company …" Wilson added almost desperately. House rubbed at his face and stretched, letting out a deep breath.
"Okay, anything to stop the whining," House relented, "but can we not talk about this anymore?" Wilson took a long look at his best friend and nodded in defeat.
Over the next week, Wilson became very skilled at keeping a surreptitious eye on his friend whilst not falling into the "over-caring" role that House despised.
He'd started giving House lifts to and from work and more often than not he spent the evenings with House on the pretext that he liked to cook and couldn't at the hotel. He sometimes slept over, on the couch, because it got too late for him to drive back to the hotel. Although he knew House was not fooled by these excuses, he seemed happy to go along with the game and gradually more and more of Wilson's things ended up in the closet at House's apartment.
House was surprised at how easily they fell back into the dorm-buddy routine. As much as he valued his privacy, he found himself enjoying the company in the evenings. For all Wilson's bad habits – getting up early, hair-drying – there were advantages. Good food, someone to wash the dishes and keep the place tidy. The tiny voice of conscience that told him he was taking advantage of a man whose need to care was in overdrive was easily squashed under the weight of pancakes.
Wilson was pleased to see that the new drug seemed to be working well for House, relieving pain more effectively than the Vicodin had ever done. As House's pain level fell he was more relaxed and seemed more comfortable with the world at large. He'd even started going to PT and as a result his limp was less pronounced. Things were looking good.
Until the second seizure.
Wilson was in the kitchen clearing the debris from their evening meal when he heard a crash from the living room. He stuck his head round the door to see House lying between the couch and the coffee table, body jerking.
"Oh, hell!" Wilson ran to his side and shoved the coffee table back to make some space. House had fallen on his side but his head had evidently caught the edge of the coffee table on the way down. Blood was spattering across the hard wood floor with each spasm. Wilson leapt up to the bathroom to grab a towel which he held against House's head as best he could. He glanced up at the clock. All he could do now was wait until the seizure ended.
After only a few minutes, House became still. Wilson carefully rolled him over so he could take a look at the wound. It was a nasty gash, about two inches long cutting through his right eyebrow. Wilson pressed the towel against it and tried to rouse his friend.
"House, House! Come on, wake up for me. Just for a few minutes." He shook his shoulder firmly. "Come on open your eyes for me." Wilson finally resorted to rubbing his knuckles on House's sternum which raised a groan and finally two blue eyes staring blearily up at him.
"Wha' happnd?" he mumbled raising his own hand to meet Wilson's on his forehead.
"You had another seizure – you hit your head." Wilson was peering into House's eyes. "Pupils look okay. Any blurred vision?"
"No. 'M okay … just need to sleep." Wilson couldn't let him sleep right away.
"Let's just get you cleaned up a bit and into bed." He half dragged, half carried the limp form to the bathroom and sat him on the toilet seat. The bleeding had stopped but bruising was beginning to form around the eye.
"You're gonna have a shiner there tomorrow," he said, trying to keep House awake. He made a grab for the first aid kit under the bathroom basin and extracted a dressing which he carefully stuck over the wound. He knelt down in front of House, gripping him by the shoulders to stop him slumping forward and looked at him critically. "You'll do," he announced finally.
He somehow got House into his bedroom and onto the bed. Undressing him proved to be impossible with no cooperation so he made do with just taking off House's sneakers and jeans. He hurried back to the kitchen to fetch the five year old bag of frozen peas kept for just such an event and grabbed a tea towel to wrap it in. Back in the bedroom he placed the impromptu ice-pack on the side of House's face. House just mumbled, turned on to his side and fell asleep.
Wilson went back to the living room and sank onto the couch. His heart was hammering and his hands were shaking as he looked at the dark smears on the floor. Visions of House lying motionless in a pool of blood flitted through his mind and he shook his head to clear them. He took a deep breath and made a conscious effort to let anxiety flow from his muscles as he returned to the kitchen to fetch a floor mop.
The following morning Wilson woke to a feeling of disorientation. He'd had a restless night as he'd been doing hourly neuro checks until 4am and his eyes felt sore and crusty as he rubbed them. He could smell fresh coffee brewing which was very odd as he could count on one hand the number of times House had gotten up before him.
"What bar did we go to last night?" came a hoarse call from the kitchen.
Wilson frowned. "What?"
"Or did you finally crack and hit me?" House stuck his head round into the living room. His eye socket had turned a mottled purple-black, and that combined with a bloody dressing, scraggy beard and hair poking up in all directions made it a rather fearful sight first thing in the morning.
Wilson sat up, alarmed. "Don't you remember?" he asked, a hint of panic in his voice. "You had another seizure …"
House grinned, transforming the vision. "God, you're so easy to wind up before your first cup of coffee."
Half an hour later House was showered and dressed ready for work and he limped into the kitchen where Wilson was perched on the edge of the counter eating a slice of toast. Wilson cast a worried eye over House.
"What are you going to do?" he queried.
"Cup of coffee," House pointed to the pot as Wilson huffed impatiently.
"You know what I mean."
"…then some toast." Wilson ignored him while he poured a mug of coffee.
"You should start on an anti-convulsant," he prompted.
"The whole point of the exercise was to save my liver," House snapped back.
"If you get the dosage right, they're not all toxic…"
"Yes but my liver's not running on all cylinders to start with," House responded scathingly. Wilson held his tongue. There was no point arguing when House was in this mood.
"Are you going to pull out of the trial then?"
"No!" House rounded on him. "This is the best I've felt since the ketamine failed. I'd gotten so used to being at a six I'd forgotten what a two felt like. I've got a clear head. It works!"
"Apart from the seizures," Wilson added quietly. "You've got to do something you know, I won't always be around to pick you up." Wilson knew this was the wrong thing to say the minute the words came out of his mouth.
"I didn't ask you to baby-sit me," House slammed down his mug, "feel free to go back to your hotel room anytime you like." And he stormed out grabbing his jacket and helmet on the way.
"House!" Wilson yelled as the front door crashed, " - you shouldn't take your bike," he spoke to the empty room as he heard the roar of the motorcycle starting up and tearing off down the street.
Wilson didn't see House again until late that afternoon, although he'd done some discrete questioning to reassure himself that the idiot had actually made it to work.
When he pushed open the glass door, House was sitting at his desk sorting through some journals. He didn't look up but Wilson sat down in his accustomed chair anyway.
"I can clear my stuff out tonight if you want," he said quietly. House gave a barely perceptible shrug as he continued shuffling.
"House, we need to talk," he tried again. This time House sighed melodramatically and leant back in his chair.
"You always want to talk. I don't."
"I'm just worried about you."
"I've got a mom to do that."
"As if you've told her what's going on," Wilson snorted.
"I don't need anyone worrying about me," House's eyes flashed angrily.
"Well I'm going to whatever you say. You're my friend." They sat in silence for several minutes each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, House dropped his head back and scrubbed at his eyes, and then said quietly, "I've started on Pheno."
Wilson let out a sigh of relief. Phenobarbitone was a bit old fashioned nowadays but it was least toxic to the liver and was still effective. House finished with whatever paperwork he was pretending to do and leant back in his chair, fingers steepled together. "You know the kitchen's full of ingredients," he said with distaste, leaving Wilson to reach the right conclusion.
"So, you want a lift home?" he grinned in reply.
It was fair to say that the anti-convulsant stopped the seizures. Unfortunately it stopped most other signs of life too.
As the drug took affect, House was sleeping more and more. Not content with a full eight hours at night, he would be caught napping wherever he happened to be sitting: mid-differential, in the clinic, even the cafeteria.
It came to a head one Friday when Cuddy received her third complaint in a day. She was quite used to finding her diagnostic genius napping between patients but when she got complaints of him dozing during consultations, she had to step in.
She cornered him in his office at the end of the day as he was packing his bag.
"House!" she barked.
"Yes, Mistress," he intoned.
"What's going on?" He gave her a dumb look. "You're asleep all the time," she clarified.
"Well, this must be a dream then. Any minute now, you'll be taking all your clothes off." He leered suggestively. Cuddy glared at him and waited.
"Wilson's wearing me out – he just won't take no for an answer." House sighed with fake weariness. Cuddy threw up her hands in frustration.
"Fine. Whatever it is, get it sorted out or you'll be on part-time wages for the hours you actually work." She swung around and left in a huff.
House dropped his bag onto his chair, lifted the phone and dialled. "Doctor Mathers please." He waited a few moments. "It's House. You need to come up with another anticonvulsant, the Pheno's not working out."
Thanksgiving came and went as House switched between a limited combination of anti-seizure drugs trying to find something effective with minimal side-effects. It was proving difficult since the trial drug interacted with the same areas of the brain being affected by seizures; it seemed to be impossible to find a combination of drugs that provided stable pain relief and control seizures.
It was nearing Christmas and House had been depressed and irritable since the latest drug combination had wiped out his appetite and left him feeling drained and useless.
Wilson was late home that night and he opened the door quietly, expecting House to be asleep. He was surprised to find him pacing the living room, angrily jabbing his cane into the floor with each step. He had the phone to his ear but hung up and flung the phone onto the couch when Wilson approached.
"Damnit!" he yelled.
Wilson just stood there, mouth slightly agape, eyebrows raised, waiting for an explanation. Concerned, he reached out for him, but House just pushed past and went to the bathroom, clicking the lock into place. Wilson shrugged out of his coat and went to the kitchen to find the makings of dinner. He could wait.
Some time later, House emerged fresh from the shower and slumped onto the couch next to Wilson who had just finished a bowl of clam chowder.
"It's been withdrawn," he announced. It took Wilson a few seconds to extract the full meaning from this sentence as he carefully put the bowl on the coffee table and leant back again.
"The drug trial? Why?"
"Apparently, seizures are up to sixty percent," House said in a flat voice. "PCN is not combining well with any AEDs," House fiddled with his cane, "and there's been a fatality," his finished quietly.
"I'm sorry." He was stunned by the news. Admittedly the side-effects were a problem but the pain relief was remarkable. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know, back to the Vicodin I guess." Wilson could feel the despair rolling off House. "I've got to give the drug 72 hours to clear my system." Wilson nodded as he remembered reading that the new drug was an opiate antagonist. The heavy silence hung between them for a few minutes then House levered himself off the couch. "What's for dinner?" he limped to the kitchen, leaving Wilson staring blankly after him.
Twenty-four hours later and House wasn't limping anywhere. He sat on the couch furiously kneading his missing thigh muscle. He'd been up since 4am, alternately pacing and sitting, hunched over his thigh. By now he was exhausted. Wilson had been to the pharmacy earlier and bought the only painkillers proven to be safe with PCN – Ibuprofen.
"How the hell am I supposed to manage pain with this?" House had said with disgust, but he'd taken them anyway and now he'd had the maximum safe dose and then some.
"You should eat something." Wilson looked at House worriedly. "There's some pasta cooking." House looked sick and shook his head. He grabbed a pillow and shoved it under his thigh then rested his head back on the couch and shut his eyes. Wilson returned to the kitchen and served himself some pasta with an instant cheese sauce. He leant against the counter where he could keep one eye on House while he ate.
During the evening House dropped in and out of a fitful sleep. Wilson had the TV on at a low volume but he spent more time watching and worrying about his friend. Eventually Wilson's eyes began to close too.
The pain had stalked him while he slept; it crept up silently then pounced in a tangle of claws and fangs. Now it was toying with him, releasing a bit here and there, giving him some hope until he attempted to move. Then it tightened its grasp, digging claws into flesh and squeezing, oh so slowly, crushing muscle and bone into a pulp. His body and mind were screaming to be set free, he could see the swirling white of oblivion, tantalising in front of his eyes, but he could not reach it, the pain would not release him.
Wilson wasn't sure what woke him, but he knew instantly that something was wrong. The lights were all still on and he immediately leapt over to the couch.
House was curled on his left side, both hands gripping his leg, white knuckles stark against the dark pants. Sweat had soaked his tee-shirt leaving dark patches down his back and his hair had curled slick around his face. But Wilson was looking at House's face in shock. It was tear-streaked and tense, the glazed blue eyes staring straight ahead with no hint of recognition. Wilson crouched down beside him and touched one hand to his friend's brow. He could see muscles trembling throughout his body.
"House, can you hear me?" Wilson moved his hand down to House's neck to feel his pulse – it was racing too fast to count and his breathing was rapid and shallow. Wilson the professional switched in.
"House, listen to me, you need to take some deep breaths, can you do that?"
Still no response.
"Come on, with me, in through the nose, out through the mouth … in … out."
At last House blinked and he seemed to register Wilson's presence. The blankness gave way to fear, agony and a desperate plea for help, because he was too far gone to be able to help himself.
"House, I'm going to call an ambulance. We need to get the pain under control." He spoke clearly and calmly, "I'm just going to get the phone, I'll be right back. Okay?" He held his friend in a firm grip until House nodded almost imperceptibly.
Wilson grabbed the phone from the hall stand and dialled 911 with shaking fingers.
"I'm Doctor Wilson, Princeton-Plainsboro. I need an ambulance now at 221B Baker." He paused for the operator to patch him through to the paramedics.
"Patient, male 48 … acute pain, in shock… " he was back at Greg's side, "… okay, eight minutes." He hung up and dropped the phone on the floor.
"You're going to be okay, paramedics are on their way." He grabbed a blanket from the back of the couch and pulled it up to House's shoulders. As he tried to raise House's feet a little he felt the knotted leg muscle spasm and then go rigid. House flinched and his breath came in small grunts as the pain held him in its grip.
Wilson felt utterly helpless against the level of pain House was experiencing. With his own stomach twisting, he did the only thing he could; he sat down by his friend's head and held him close. With one hand rubbing his shoulder gently he kept up a stream of inconsequential words until a knock at the door signalled the paramedics.
Four hours later, House surfaced from a warm, comfortable cocoon. He had a vague feeling that he shouldn't be feeling this good but chose to ignore it. He kept his eyes closed in an attempt to return to its depths but his heart monitor had given him away.
He turned to the voice and just caught the look of worry in those brown eyes before James broke into a grin.
"Déjà vu. We've gotta stop meeting like this."
House licked his lips and glanced across at the water jug. Wilson raised the head of the bed slightly and poured a drink which he passed to House.
"You're looking a lot better." House did a quick self assessment. He felt grimy with dried sweat and his body ached as though he'd just had a hard session in the gym. And his legs were numb. Both of them. He reached down with his right hand, kneading the unresponsive muscle in his thigh, peering questioningly at Wilson.
"I called Cuddy and she got NYU to page Doctor Mathers. He suggested epidural anaesthesia was the safest option in your case. Any pain?"
"Nope. Numb." House sank back into his pillows, he wanted nothing more than to sleep for the next twelve hours. But Wilson hadn't finished.
"You'll have to stay here for a couple of days until you're okay with opiates." House tried to ignore him and started counting the ceiling tiles under his breath. Wilson struggled on. "You might need some morphine … or oxy might be enough…" he trailed off seeing the resignation in House's face. He fell silent, waiting for House to say something.
"I can't do this anymore." House's voice was so low Wilson wasn't sure he'd heard him correctly.
"What?" he said with concern furrowing his brow once more. House turned to Wilson, his eyes dull and flat.
"I can't manage the pain anymore," he admitted. "Vicodin was barely taking the edge off and upping the dosage is going to kill me."
"There are other -" House silenced him with a single look of defeat.
"I can't do it."
"So, what ... you're just giving up?" Wilson rubbed the tension from the back of his neck.
"I'm not just giving up," House snapped. "I've been looking for alternatives for the last eighteen months. I think it's time to call it a day."
Wilson had no idea things had gotten so out of hand. He knew how badly House had suffered after the ketamine failed but since then things seemed to have improved. He also knew that many chronic pain sufferers had an exit plan; many never intend to use it but find it reassuring to have it in place. He was pretty sure House had enough morphine stashed away somewhere to end his life on his own terms should the need arise.
House kept his eyes fixed firmly on the bedclothes so he didn't see the stricken look on Wilson's face.
"You managed to get off Vicodin, you seemed to want to live then," Wilson accused.
"I thought I had an alternative then." House plucked at a loose thread on the blanket. "There are no other trials, no miracle cures."
"There are breakthroughs happening all the time," Wilson perched on the edge of the bed. "You're just depressed right now, you need to give it some time."
"I've had enough time; I don't want to be in pain any more, I … I just … I just want it to stop." House finally looked up at his friend. Wilson's breath caught in his throat as his saw something he hadn't seen before; defeat - and acceptance. As long as he'd known him House had always been a fighter, even during the tough months after the infarction, House's anger had spurred him on from the wheelchair to crutches and then, despite expert opinions, to the cane. He always managed to overcome any obstacles in his path, be it annoying administrators, vengeful patients, and the biggest one of all – his own deep depressions.
"You selfish bastard!" He stood up sharply. "What about the people left behind? Your patients? Your parents?" House shrugged almost imperceptibly. "What about me?" He turned to face House. "I don't want to lose you."
"You need to get a life and quit worrying about me."
"In case you hadn't noticed, you are my life! I've got three ex-wives, a family I see once in a blue moon and a brother who's probably dead by now. I live in a hotel, I've got no friends, no relationships. Don't you get it – I love you!"
"You only love me for my neediness-" House started his usual defence but he was cut off by Wilson who turned back to the bed and gripped the side-rails as if to stop himself physically lashing out.
"No matter how hard you try to push me away I always come back. Why do you think that is? Despite what people say, I'm not a masochist, I want to be with you! I love you House, not your leg. I love your obsessiveness, your crankiness, your weird sense of humour, your honesty when it matters." His dark eyes glinted as the words tumbled over themselves. "I love the way you know me better than anyone ... better than I know myself sometimes. I can't bear to see your leg dragging you down, slowly eating away at you and destroying your life. I just want to help you cope with the pain so that maybe, God forbid, you can think about something else for a while, so that you stand a chance of happiness." Wilson was leaning over the bed rails now, face flushed and breathing hard, looking into wide, unblinking blue eyes a few inches from his own. As House failed to respond Wilson slumped back into the bedside chair, embarrassed at his outburst.
Time stood still in the hospital room as House gazed at Wilson and Wilson gazed at the floor. Finally, House's gravelly voice broke the silence. "It'd be a shame to waste a speech like that." He paused, weighing up the options. "I could … I could try an intrathecal morphine pump." He rested his head back into his pillows and spoke to the ceiling, "Partying 24/7 could be fun." He turned to meet Wilson's disbelieving stare. "Of course you'd have to get Cuddy to sign off on one of her doctors being on the hard stuff, but with speeches like that and the puppy-dog eyes she doesn't stand a chance."
Wilson tentatively reached out for House's hand. House sighed as he watched Wilson blinking furiously. "Don't go all girly on me," he admonished, but still, he grasped Wilson's hand in return as he settled back into the pillows and drifted back into a peaceful sleep.