The fire was spreading fast, lapping at his heels. He was running like a sprinter in the 100 meter dash, finally getting out in front of the flames by several yards. Looking down at his legs, clad only in running shorts, he could see the deformity in his thigh, but it no longer hindered him. He was pain free, at least in his thigh. The heat was bad, but tolerable. It was the acrid smoke filling his lungs that hurt, his lungs were screaming, his chest cramping. He had to get out of there or he'd suffocate. His vision started to tear from the smoke burning his eyes. The window was only fifty feet away.
He latched onto the window sill, grabbing the window pull and yanking it up with all the strength he could muster with his oxygen deprived muscles, but it was stuck, solidly painted closed. There was nothing close for him to use to break through the double pane class. His heart constricted from the fear of being burned alive. Something was moving just outside the window. He saw her on a ladder outside in the freezing sleet. Her gloved hand was waving him back, away from the window. House took three steps back, but couldn't go any further, the fire was too close. She took out a pointed hammer from the pocket of her huge, fireproof jacket. Smashing the window with one good swing, she reached her hand through for him. Despite the havoc around him, he couldn't help but notice that even though she wore a fireproof glove, her hand was small in his. She grasped his bare hand with an unusual strength and pulled him towards her, taking her oxygen mask off and handing it to him so that he could breathe. He threw his leg over the ledge and leaped the short distance, mask in hand, onto the bucket at the top of the fire-ladder. The ladder strained from their weight as it pulled away from the tenth floor of the building, extended to its full capacity and swaying wildly in the sharp wind that whipped around them.
Just as they cleared the building by twenty feet, the entire tenth floor exploded, fire pouring out from every window in large gaseous billows, glass flying, embedding in his arms and the back of his neck. He didn't care; he was relatively unharmed thanks to the woman behind the fireman's helmet. He could just make out her lips, petite, the perfect size for her delicate chin.
He couldn't catch his breath, his words came out stilted, wispy, "Thanks, thanks. I owe you. What's your name?"
The surroundings started to blur, his thoughts swimming, heart pounding, head throbbing. He opened his eyes to see a woman reaching down to him. The sky was dark, wind fierce and sleet was coming down in sheets. Over her shoulder he saw the Princeton Plainsboro Clinic entrance.
"Harper, my name is Harper Nolan. Dr. House, I don't think you should get up just yet. You took a nasty fall almost half an hour ago and I think I heard something crack. I'm going to run in and get someone to send out a gurney, you should get checked in Emergency."
The sharp freezing air rushed back into his lungs like buckshot from a shotgun. A searing pain hit his chest. Everything hurt, especially his head. He reached back and felt blood on his scalp, "F#ck!" He tried to roll to his side to get his cane so that he could leverage himself and stand up, but the sharp knife-like pain in his head stopped him. He could see her running back inside, sliding and slipping as she did. He noticed she didn't have a jacket on, odd considering the sleet and wind were tearing through the hospital parking lot. Looking down at his chest, he could see why she was jacketless; she had covered him with her long, down parka, a good thing since it was freezing outside. The cream parka was so well insulated that he felt relatively warm despite being sprawled on a sheet of ice. There was no one else around, the parking lot was empty, everyone had left before the ice storm hit. He saw her running back out to him.
"Dr. House, are you okay?" She said, leaning down and smiling warmly at him, her entire countenance had an aura of kindness and comfort. Her lips perfect for her chin.
He sneered, "Sure, I love lying on the frozen sidewalk while the numbing sleet hits my face and body, my head bleeds and every inch of my body feels like crap. What do you think numbnuts?"
Harper held his hand, "Well don't worry, I'll stay here with you until they come."
He couldn't understand why anyone would want to stay with him in this weather. It was clear from that the shivering woman needed to get out of the sleet. He shook his head gently, "You go home and get warm. I see them coming now." House couldn't move or lift his head very high, but from his advantage point he could see the wheels of a gurney coming out of the clinic doors followed by Cameron.
Harper gave him a consoling smile, patted his shoulder and stood up. Cameron rushed over to him dressed in a man's jacket which had obviously been thrown over her lab coat in a hurry to get to him. Her hands quickly went over his body, manipulating bones and muscle.
"House, you're blue. Thank God that woman found you before you died from hyperthermia. Cameron nodded to the orderlies, "Get him inside, his spine seems to be intact."
He was quickly lifted and transferred to the gurney and rushed towards the doors, head first. He could see Cameron walking quickly behind the gurney and Harper Nolan, standing in the freezing rain dressed in a soaked brown sweater and heather plaid skirt. Her arms were crossed over her chest, shivering as she watched from the sidewalk as they transferred him to Emergency, her face contorted in worry, her hair plastered to her head from the rain.
Why does she look so worried? She doesn't even know me! She looks as if I'm her injured child. I don't understand how people can feel such empathy for strangers. Sap.
Wilson shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and turned his palms up in a sign of ignorance, "I don't know. You say it was the same woman in your dream that helped you? How do you know?"
"Same lips. Same jaw."
Wilson took a deep breath and knitted his brows together into one long eyebrow, "You probably saw her just before you fell and your brain made the connection that she'd be the first on the scene."
House eased himself out of the hospital bed with Wilson's help, "No, because I remembered thinking as my body flew in the air that I was lucky, there was no one around to see my embarrassing faux pas."
"Well she obviously saw it because didn't she say she heard something crack?"
He nodded slowly, guarding himself to avoid the pain from the crack in his skull, "She must have been behind me or looking out the window or in her car in the parking lot."
"Come on, let's get you home. You've been gone two days; I bet the brown wrappers are piling up outside your door."
House slipped his body slowly into the wheel chair onto the donut they had given him, grateful that he didn't have to walk just yet. His tailbone was bruised, his head cracked and his shoulder had been dislocated. But, he wanted to get home and away from Nurse Hatchet, aka Allison Cameron. Her hovering and eagle eye had managed to keep him from all things he loved, drugs, whiskey, and porn. No one had been able to smuggle any of it into him despite several hundred dollars being slipped to the staff.
As they rolled past the nurse's desk, Nurse Brenda chirped up, "Dr. House! Wait!"
Wilson stopped the wheelchair as House struggled valiantly to keep it moving forward. But, Wilson had managed to slip the brake on. House pressed his lips tightly together and gave Wilson the evil eye.
She ran up to him with a cream colored down parka, "This is yours, I think." She looked at it with a puzzled look on her face. It was clearly a woman's coat. Shrugging she said, "Emergency insisted that it came with you. It's an expensive jacket." She looked at the tag and nodded, "Dolce and Gabbana."
House pulled his head back, "I don't own--" Then he remembered Harper standing in the sleet without a jacket as he lay on the sidewalk warm and toasty. He could deny it was his or he could keep it and try to find her, give it back; find out why she gave up her jacket, why she helped him. He wrenched it from Nurse Brenda and piled it in his lap.
He figured it shouldn't be too hard to find her. How many Harper Nolans could there be? Especially rich ones with Dolce and Gabbana in their wardrobe.
Wilson started laughing as he pulled the wheelchair into the hall of House's apartment building. Lying on the floor in the hall were several plain wrapped magazines and boxes from, "Den of Inequity, Inc." sitting in front of his mailbox. Wilson picked them up and plopped them into House's lap. Opening the door, he pushed House inside.
House reached out to Wilson to give him his cane. Setting the brake on the wheelchair, Wilson handed the cane to House and then helped him stand, pain slicing through House from several areas of his body. He hobbled to the couch clutching his cane and the parka and then lowered himself carefully onto the donut that Wilson had slipped onto the leather chair. Wincing from the pain, he managed to sit as the donut cushioned his tailbone.
"Damn, where's my pain meds?"
"I've got the Flexiril for your muscles and your Vicodin for everything else, which do you want?"
"Hell, I'm not picky; throw them in a blender and serve them up. I need everything I can get. And while you're doing it, hand me the white pages."
Wilson raised an eyebrow, but handed him the white pages from the book shelf while he went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. House thumbed through the "N's", finding at least sixty in Princeton alone. There were four H. Nolans. He grabbed the phone and started dialing. Wilson handed him the pills and the water as House waited for the phone to be picked up on the other end.
Ten minutes later three of the Nolans had been ruled out and he doubted the fourth was her either. House had reached an answering machine for 'Henry" whom House assumed was Henry Nolan.
"No luck?" Wilson asked, looking up from the television which had an old episode on of the Dog Whisperer.
Without answering the question, House simply moaned, "Who can afford to give up a Dolce and Gabbana parka?"
"Either someone very rich or someone very nice."
"If she's so nice, why didn't she come back to the hospital to see me?"
"Well, she knew your name, so maybe she knew your reputation too and decided it wasn't worth it…going back for the coat that is."
House narrowed his eyes in thought, "You're right, she knew my name. Why? Was she a patient? The relative of a patient? Why was she at the hospital?"
Wilson took a drink of his beer and decided it was best if he kept his mouth shut and watched television. Besides, Caesar was back at the dog rehabilitation center with Daddy working his magic with a red zone Rottweiler. Wilson wished he had a Daddy, he'd like to find a place that would let him have dogs.
House was deep in thought all night long, working like mad on the internet. Wilson cleaned up the empty Pizza boxes and cans, grabbed a pillow and blanket and went back to the living room. Making his bed on the sofa he looked over at House, who was still engrossed in the computer.
"Do you need help getting back to your room or getting undressed?"
House stopped and looked at him, grinning, "I've always suspected that you wanted to get into my pants. Sorry Jimmy, I don't bat for the other team."
Wilson rolled his eyes, "Fine, I'll take that as a no."
House was back to surfing the web, "No thanks, I think I can do it. In fact, if you want to go home—"
"No, Cameron insisted you have help your first night and I'm not about to give her any excuses for chopping my balls off. Goodnight, House."
An hour later House took more pain killers and hobbled back, readying for bed. Climbing into bed, the down comforter pulled up under his chin, he could feel his thoughts fading as sleep filled in the empty places where his thoughts had once been.
The water was freezing and mirky. He knew he was in a river because he was being dragged over rocks and through fallen branches from trees. He floated to the top, but there was no air. The river was frozen over and he was looking at the sky through a filter of ice. He tried to grab onto something, stop himself from being pulled with the fierce current, but it was too strong. He couldn't get a good enough grip. He was starting to lose consciousness when he saw it. An arm plowed down towards him through the ice, her hand reaching around frantically trying to feel for him. The current brought him right to the hole she had made. Just before slipping by, his hand grasped hers and she held on. She screamed shrilly for help. Two men pulled her back, bringing him up with her. His head was out of the water. Gasping, he realized he wasn't completely out because he could feel the current pulling him back down. But she was a Pitbull, hanging on even though he dragged her with him into the water.
He saw her face in the water, her shoulders and arms stretched as far as she could to hold onto him. Then there was a pull from behind her and they were out of the water, laying like flapping fish on the ice, both gasping for air. The cold wind was freezing their wet bodies. He could see his hand was blue and so was her face. There was a commotion and within minutes they were both in the back of a car being driven to the hospital.
His teeth chattering, he managed to get out the words he had been trying to form for the last ten minutes, "Thanks, I owe you one. What's your name?"
"Harper, Harper Nolan."
A sharp pain traveled up his spine from his tail bone and suddenly he found himself staring at the ceiling of his bedroom shivering and breathing hard. He looked around and saw the clock on his night stand. Four am. He had been dreaming. House put his head back down on the pillow and stared into space, almost afraid to go back to sleep.
I have to find her.
"Where do they sell Dolce and Gabbana coats in Princeton?"
Remy and Kutner looked at each other and shrugged.
House shook his head in frustration, "I'll wait for the Jew, I bet his wife knows where to buy them."
Taub opened the door to the office, Starbucks in one hand and a bakery bag in the other. Everyone was staring at him.
"What?" Taub snapped.
"Where do they sell Dolce and Gabbana here in Princeton?" House asked as he put the pillow on the chair and sat down at the table, grabbing the bag out of Taub's hand.
Taub tore the bag back from House and glared at him.
"Fine, keep it. Just answer my question."
Taub took his bag to the other end of the table, "They don't. You have to go to Short Hills or New York City. Unless you buy it at an outlet store. Why?"
"Get your keys, we're going to Short Hills."
The Dolce & Gabbana Rack
"Yes, this is a real Dolce and Gabbana, but I can assure you I haven't seen it before. It must be from an old collection. Let me ask Sandra, she's been here for ten years. Maybe she's seen it before." The tiny store clerk with the perfect figure (for a fifty year old) slipped into the back of the store. Taub sat drinking the wine and eating the pate that was out on platters for the clients. House looked around at the sparsely filled racks with carefully hidden price tags and designer lighting to show off the textures in the materials. He had to admit, the clothing looked rich and well tailored. The clerk came back out followed by a woman who was possibly five years younger. She was a brunette with molasses eyes.
"Can I help you?"
"This coat, I—"
A smile flashed over her lips, "Oh! I recognize this line. We sold these the first year I worked here in 1999. It looks brand new. You've done a great job at maintaining it."
"It's not mine. It belongs to Harper Nolan and I need to return it, but I don't have an address. I was wondering if she was a client of yours?"
"Not that I know of. We keep records on the computer of our clients. I'll look her up." She pulled up the information on the screen and shook her head. "I only find one Nolan in my records, Charlene and Henry Nolan. But, they live in Princeton."
"That's it! I bet Harper is a relative, maybe their daughter?"
"Daughter? I'm not sure, but when Mrs. Nolan comes in she never brings or talks about a daughter. But, there is no Harper Nolan in the computer, sorry."
"I'll take Charlene's address."
"I'm sorry I can't give you any addresses. If we had a Harper Nolan I would have called her and asked if I could give it to you. But, obviously I can't give you Mrs. Nolan's address."
"Fine." House grabbed the coat and motioned for Taub to follow. They drove back to Princeton in the new Porsche, House safely padded by his donut.
"You're just going to leave…no fuss, no ruse to get the address?" Taub asked.
"I already know where Henry and Charlene Nolan live. They're on Google."
House pulled out a computer printout of all the Nolans in Princeton and Plainsboro that were listed on Google, "They live in Cherry Valley."
"By the country club?"
When they arrived at the house they drove up to the iron and bronze gates and stopped. Taub hit the intercom and within a few minutes a woman's voice came through, "Yes? Can I help you?"
Taub and House could see that the security camera had swung over to the left to get a better view of them and the car.
Taub answered, "Yes, we were wondering if Harper Nolan lives here?"
There was silence. After almost a minute of silence House barked, "Hey, anyone there? We have a coat that belongs to Harper. We want to return it." He held the parka up to the camera.
An angry male voice came over the intercom, "Who are you?"
Taub pulled out his Princeton-Plainsboro I.D., "I'm Dr. Taub and this is Dr. House from Princeton-Plainsboro."
There was a long pause and then the gate buzzer sounded and it opened. Taub drove up the circular drive and parked. House hardly let the car stop when he was opening the door to get out. The front door was already opened and a man, in his mid to late seventies was standing on the landing of the extremely beautiful Georgian-styled mansion. Despite his age, he looked healthy, sturdy, a very powerful man.
House slowly hobbled up the steps, the pain keeping him from going faster. He stuck out his hand to shake the man's, "Gregory House."
The man said nothing, but reluctantly shook House's hand. He motioned for the two doctors to go inside. House walked into the foyer where a grand staircase encircled a large crystal chandelier straight out of a European palace. An older woman, handkerchief in her hand, started patting her eyes. She held out her arm for them to follow into the front reception room. Taub and House sat on the woven silk sofa (very carefully) while the elderly couple took chairs.
They were quiet, saying nothing. House exhaled loudly, "Look, do you know Harper Nolan or not?"
The man glanced at his wife and back, "Yes doctor, we do."
"Good, can I meet her?"
"No." he said quietly.
There was no attempt to explain. House held up the coat, "I want to return this to her. She helped me and I wanted to thank her. "
They were silent. House looked up and saw a portrait in the corner and immediately recognized Harper Nolan. She was beautiful in a wholesome way, maybe in her mid-thirties. Her hair wasn't plastered against her face, but lustrous and wavy, framing her face perfectly. Her eyes sparkled, bright, shiny and happy as they stared out into the reception room like beacons. Seeing her like that brought a smile to House's face. He wanted to meet her even more.
"Yeah, that's her!" House exclaimed as he pointed at the portrait. "Just tell me where I can find her and I'll give this back to her."
The man stood up and stomped out of the room leaving his wife, tears rolling down her eyes. Taub leaned forward and patted the woman's hands.
"Is there anything we can do?"
The old woman swallowed and shook her head, "Dr. House, thank you for bringing back her jacket, we really do appreciate it, but you need to leave."
House shook his head vigorously, too vigorously. The pain from his concussion made him dizzy for a moment. He knew that yelling wouldn't get him anything. Instead, House reached in and found the part of his soul that had been touched by the woman in his dreams, "I've spent a lot of time tracking her down. Please? I'd really like to meet her."
The woman studied House and then nodded. She stood up, "Follow me."
They traveled through the foyer to an elevator. The small elevator slowly took them to the second floor where they disembarked and started down a long hall. They came to a set of double doors that opened to a beautiful bedroom full of light and rich fabrics. It was feminine, but tasteful. Sitting on the nightstand was a photo of the elderly couple when they were younger and a photo of Harper kneeling down with a dog, a mutt, obviously her favorite pet.
Mrs. Nolan crossed the room, paused for a moment and then opened the closet. House stepped back. Both Taub and House found that they had lost any capacity to say anything. House looked at the woman with an expression of curiosity.
The woman took a hanger from the closet and reached for the coat that House now held loosely in his hand. He gave it to her.
"I don't understand. Why does she have ten coats exactly the same?" Looking back at the closet he marveled at the ten coats, exactly the same down to the little ink mark on the right sleeves.
The woman tried hard not to cry. "Dr. House, my daughter died ten years ago last week. She stopped to help a family who hit a patch of ice and skidded off the road. She was reaching through the window to pull the last child out when another car slid off the road on the same patch of ice, hitting her. She died at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital two hours later."
House went cold. His face turned white as his head started to spin. Taub grabbed him and guided him over to a chair. House tried to find his voice, "Harper, Harper Nolan?"
"Yes, doctor, Harper Nolan."
"I don't understand, why the jackets?"
"Every year someone shows up with another one, telling us how my daughter helped them." She hung the jacket up with the others. "Harper was a delightful human, always reaching out to the sick, the unfortunate, the injured. I guess she just keeps doing it. I hope you understand why my husband can't talk about it. I'm proud of her, but he doesn't understand. He thinks someone out there is playing a cruel joke, but we've had judges, scientists, teachers, mothers and even a priest bring us a jacket with a story about how she helped them. I don't think it's a joke, I think it's a blessing." She looked down at her shoes, composed herself and then smiled, "How did she look?"
House couldn't get his mind around it at first. Finally, he looked up, tears in his eyes, "She was wet. I slipped on ice in a sleet storm, was unconscious on the ice. She covered me with her coat and then went in for help." He swallowed and looked down, "Your daughter's voice and kindness haunted me. I wanted to meet her. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. There have been nine before you that have been inexplicably drawn back to our house with a jacket. You're not alone. Now, Dr. House, I'd appreciate it if you would leave. I need to tend to my husband." Her voice was firm, but kind.
House nodded. When they got to the Porsche House simple barked, "Nothing, you say nothing about this, understand? Not to anyone. Understand?"
Taub nodded, "I'm not sure I understand it any way."
He was tired and sure that the truckload of drugs he had taken would make the dreams go away. Within minutes of hitting the pillow he was asleep.
He saw a light, a hospital corridor and then Wilson running after Cuddy.
"She's holding a donor card and she's a match for my patient. I need a kidney or my patient is going to die, she can't take dialysis for much longer."
"But she has cancer. Why should we let her have the kidney?" Cuddy asked.
"Because it's in remission, she's fourteen and with a new kidney she might actually be able to marry some day."
A younger Lisa Cuddy sighed, "We need to ask the parents. Ask them to donate the kidney directly to the girl so that we bypass the recipient list."
Wilson nodded, his face thinner like it was when House had first met him, "I've already talked to them. The father is out of it. But her mother says that their daughter would have wanted it."
Lisa turned to the surgeon standing nearby and nodded her approval for the harvesting. Turnign back to Wilson she admonished him, "Okay, get the paperwork signed. If we get any flak, I'm sending them to you."
Wilson smiled as he handed Cuddy the clipboard with the donor paperwork for her to sign. Cuddy looked down at the form, "Harper? What an unusual name."
Waking up from the dream, House looked around his room, almost sure she was there. But there was no one, just the feeling of a small hand in his.
THE END (Thank you for the reviews, they're the only payment we fanfic authors receive!)