Night of the Dripping Tap, Chapter 12

The lights on the sidewalk burned a deep pink and winked on in succession, as though they were guiding the little Ford home. Blythe breathed out a long sigh as she turned into House's street and the Sat Nav announced she had reached her destination. Pulling into a parking space, she knocked the gear stick into neutral, pulled on the parking break and turned the engine off. Once she was sure the car was not going anywhere, she rubbed her son's arm and called his name.

'Greg, honey. We've arrived.'

He snorted awake, instantly rubbing at the ever-present ache in his thigh.

'It's dark, how long have I been sleeping?'

'Judging by the snoring? I'd say, almost the entire journey between here and there.'

'How 'bout that?' He liked it when tedious journeys slipped by in the blink of an eye.

He levered himself out of his mother's rental and shivered as his body registered the drop in temperature now they were back in the north. Blythe struggled to lift his overnight bag out of the car and he limped off stiffly to avoid watching her. He felt a million years old, like his body was threadbare and might give in with an almighty twang at any second.

Fortunately, Wilson was waiting, as promised, on House's stoop for them to arrive. Recognising her struggle, he sprinted across the road and grabbed the bag.

'Thank you for being here, James.' Blythe whispered in his ear, taking advantage of House's lack of pace.

'Don't mention it. Thanks for calling, Mrs House.'

'James, I'm no idiot. God knows he wouldn't have told you himself.'

'Right, you have him there.' Wilson chuckled as he hopped up the steps with Blythe in his wake.

As House lumbered after them, Wilson hopped from one foot to the other like an over-excited child, struggling to contain the laughter that was threatening to burst out of his gut. Using his key to open the door, he kissed Blythe once on the cheek, then hurried her into the living room.

He managed to snap on the kettle and turn the lamps on before House made his painful way into his apartment releasing an audible groan of relief. With a stupid grin splattered across his face, words spilled out of Wilson's mouth almost faster than he could think them. This was priceless.

'Do you know? Have you heard? There's this new, unheard of and incredibly rare digestive disorder? I heard form Raymann down in Nevada that a young ingénue, Grog Condo or something, discovered it. I hear it's all the rage in the suburbs!'

'Go away Wilson.'

'No seriously, it's so rare that only the world's foremost diagnostician has seen it. Wait now while I think of the name of it… ah yes… it's Divetium? No wait, Divolia? That's it-'

'-yeah yeah yeah, I get it. You don't think the irony was lost on me too? What are you doing here anyway?'

Wilson brushed off House's question with a flick of his hand, 'I would ask a normal person how they were feeling but seeing as it's you…'

'Yeah yeah yeah, got that one too. If you don't mind, I'm just gonna flick through my TiVO and wait for you to blend into background noise.'

'Wait, you think I'm going to let this one go?! You think that late at night, on the verge of some brilliant diagnosis I'm not going to floor you with your, what was it? Appendix call?'

Blythe piped in from the kitchen, 'You know honey? I was a little surprised myself when it turned out to be Diverticulitis and not appendicitis- like you said to the paramedic, remember?'

Wilson bustled off to join Blythe, and House turned the volume up to uncomfortably loud. He'd even had it from Uncle Bob on that one, 'Have either of you ever actually had to diagnose yourself while simultaneously trying not to die?

He listened as Wilson and his mom busied themselves preparing some unpalatable, high fibre food, clinking and clonking around his kitchen. Wilson really was becoming more and more like his mom.

'Then there's the outfit House. Really, I don't think I've ever seen quite a… what's the phrase now? Unique blend of styles.'

Wilson prattled on and House checked out the razor-edge crease in his jeans and pulled at the hideous hand-knitted sweater swamping his skinny frame.

He thought back to the conversation he and his Mom had had in the car and couldn't let the opportunity to ridicule pass him up. 'You know, my Mom knitted this.'

Wilson dropped the glass bowl he was using, making it clatter, much like his 'joke'. 'Oh, um, Mrs House, I'm sorry, I, I-'

Blythe continued stirring her coffee whilst she replied, 'Don't give it a second thought. It's a horrible sweater. My mind wasn't on design as I made it, you know?' She popped her head around to face the lounge so she could give House the 'Mom Glare' for his efforts.

He actually didn't have it in him to think up another witty retort. He could feel the beginnings of sleep nagging at his edges, imploring him to surrender once again.

Seeing that he wasn't going to retaliate, she asked quietly, 'You okay honey?'

'Yeah…' House huffed as he lumbered off toward his bedroom.

His bedroom… his bed had taken on mythic proportions during his stay with the nearly dead. He had dreamed of slipping beneath his sheets, his comforter.

He sat gingerly on the edge of his bed waiting for his abdominal muscles to relax enough to let him lie down. He felt them stretch and groan before flopping down on the mattress with the pillows enveloping his head. Closing his eyes, he let out a long, soft and grateful breath. Within seconds he was hovering just on the verge of sleep, listening to the murmuring of his mom and Wilson as they sat drinking coffee and eating who knew what.

Assuming that Wilson would be trying to convince Blythe to stay at his apartment, and knowing she would refuse the offer and check into her regular hotel, House felt an overwhelming sense of order and rightness. Everyone was playing their part exactly as they should.

He was back where he belonged. He had to admit, he felt kind of good, relaxed, content.

From the depths of a sleep that had finally pulled him under, he jerked awake when he heard the door to his apartment squeak as it closed. Knowing he was finally alone, he turned his pillow over to the cool side and lay back into it. There was silence, peace…

Something wasn't quite right.

He sat up in his bed, holding his stomach together as he did.

Senses bristling with adrenaline, he turned on the bedside light and turned his head, pointing his ear toward the door.

Somewhere in the apartment, there was a feint but regular sound that his sleepy mind couldn't quite figure out.

More irritating than fearsome, the noise was incessant enough to wake him fully and force him up out of his bed.

Stumbling though shadows and light cast by the streetlights outside, the noise grew louder in his mind, getting stronger as he neared the source.

Limping through dark rooms one by one, his cane struck the ground in time with the dunk, tap, tink of the mystery sound.

When he reached the kitchen, the last room to investigate, he stopped in the doorway and let the sound fill his ears, his head.

Lurching forward, he turned off the tap that had been left dripping endlessly over the cups and bowls waiting in the sink, turning it more tightly than necessary.

With a curse, he limped back to his bedroom, clambered under the sheets and dropped down into a deep, deep sleep.

Damn dripping tap.

So here we are, the end has come, it's time to face, the final curtain and all that. Huge thanks to everyone who sent lovely reviews and to everyone who has secretly been reading whilst hiding under their 'lurking rocks'. Big, big thanks to Verb and to Iyimgrace for all their ace beta-ing help and general wonderfulness. Thanks for reading!