A/N: For Aiffe, my dearest friend, all twelve thousand words of it.
As the Crow Flies
House smells Cameron before he hears her. Not because his hearing's going, thankfully, but because Maui seems to have stuck to her skin like she spent the entire time there rolling in plumeria blossoms. Maybe she did. Who knows what kind of bizarre fetish she and Chase prescribe to this week. Not that he wants to know. He doesn't. Not even a little.
"Hi, House," she says when she realizes that he's ignoring her, not doing something else more important, as if there were anything less important than talking to her.
Idly, he wonders what Wilson's face would look like if he started up pottery lessons. Getting my hands right into the clay, creating something right from scratch... I don't know, Wilson, it just makes me feel like a better person. Maybe I should have a kid or something. Oh, yes. He's definitely going to do that. Wilson will have that horribly conflicted expression where he wants so hard to believe House means it but knows beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that he doesn't and is only doing it to break him down a little more. It's delicious. He has Wednesday evenings free, perhaps then—
Or maybe art. Ooh, that's almost better. He could hang his masterpieces all over the hospital, every one of them full of subtle threats and inside jokes that only Wilson would understand. Cuddy would kill him and light both them and him on fire—preferably in that order—but it would be so worth it. Enormous still-lifes of that stupid green mug with the raunchy red lipstick marks on the rim right across the hall—
He sighs. Clearly she doesn't plan to go away even if he ignores her. That means it's probably a case, which is worth heaving a put-upon sigh for and turning around. "Yes, Miss Wailea 2009?"
Cameron doesn't even blink. Why would she? It was a failure of a joke. He's clearly losing his edge. Blaming it on the impending insanity, he shrugs it off and waits.
She doesn't disappoint. "Thirty-seven year old caucasian male in the ER. Apparently... fell from the sky."
"Weird," House drawls. "Call the morgue to pick up your gory pancake and go away. I'm pondering quadratic imponderables."
The file lands on his desk, papers spilling slightly as it slides towards the edge. He stops it from falling off with a hand, but doesn't look inside. She has yet to make it interesting.
"He's not dead, House, that's why he's in the ER."
"Not dead yet, you mean."
Cameron grins. It's that grin she gets when she's about to tell him why this is interesting, and it's wider than usual. This is going to be good. He leans back, staples his fingers, and hopes it'll be good enough to distract him from the—
"Not even close to dead, House, just unconscious. The people who brought him in are the ones who say he fell from the sky."
"Weirder," says House, "but still boring."
"We gave him a routine checkup. I discovered something very, very weird indeed by accident."
House rolls his eyes and gets to his feet. It's almost lunchtime. If he doesn't hurry, Wilson will get to his lunch before House does. Can't have that. "Would you mind if I go have lunch while you work your way up to the point? I'll be back in fifteen minutes, so talk faster."
He's halfway out the door when she catches his arm and actually hauls him bodily back into the office. Huh. She's never done that before. Not that he objects; pulling him like that involves pressing very close against his side and she's soft and buoyant in some very pleasing places. Maybe if he pulls back a little harder, she'll—
"He has two hearts, House," Cameron says softly.
House stops, looks down at her, hopes very hard that the rib-clenching shock rolling down his nerves isn't showing up like neon on his face. He suspects it is. He's not shocked often, and when he is, he's usually expecting some kind of shock anyway, just not that one. This is the kind of shock he feels when he's really and truly blindsided, the kind he's made a conscious habit of never feeling, ever.
"Well, now," he says, a little strangled, "that's interesting."
"Name?" the nurse asks once the Doctor is awake enough to figure out which two of the half-dozen narrowed brown eyes staring at him are real. She looks harried. Like she hasn't slept properly in weeks. Understaffed, thinks the Doctor pityingly. He hardly even needs to ask what year it is. The technology and the obvious signs of financial difficulty make guessing easy. It's 2010, and he's in America.
That is very, very interesting, considering he clearly told the TARDIS that he wanted to go to Amelioris in the Adflictanis Diadem, and this is basically the other end of the universe from that. Also, he has no idea where the TARDIS is.
At least he is alone. It isn't the first time he's been thankful for that. Usually he's more bitter about it. This time... he has many sorts of bad feelings, but this is different. Something is going to happen here. Something terrible in an entirely different way than the kinds of terrible he already knows.
Best to get his bearings. He wonders if the hospital cafeteria might have decent tea, then regrets letting himself hope. Hospitals never have decent tea. Hospitals in America probably don't have tea at all, at least nothing he'd call tea.
"Excuse me," he says to the next doctor he sees passing by, a pretty young lady with blonde hair. She reminds him for a split second of Rose, and he looks away from her face to avoid betraying himself. "I'm the Doctor, and I was just wondering—"
She laughs and puts her hand on his shoulder. "You're not the doctor, sir, you're the patient. You've hit your head and seem to be a bit out of sorts, but don't worry. I've come to take you to your private room. It'll be quieter there."
He closes his mouth and lets her help him into a wheelchair. Quiet would be nice. Time to think. Time to convince his legs that they still work and walk out before anyone figures out—oh, dear. Hospital. If he's already been assigned a private room they must have already done an examination while he was unconscious, which means there's going to be a very curious doctor asking questions about certain bits of his anatomy he'd really rather not discuss. What a pain in the immortal behind.
He sincerely hopes this Dr. House is a calm sort of person, someone who will listen to reason. If not, the Doctor's day is about to get considerably worse.
As he walks, House thinks.
It's perfectly reasonable to nearly herniate over someone with two hearts. It's two hearts, for chrissakes, medically impossible and three kinds of insane. It's the weirdest thing he's seen in... oh, a week? Yeah, it's weird. Really goddamn weird. But that's not enough to explain why he feels like his heart—one, singular—is about to pound out of his stupid, irrational chest. It's a defect of some kind, very odd but ultimately explainable. Or at least it will be once he's through explaining its redundant ass down to its tiniest redundant valve.
So why is he unsettled enough to simultaneously want to turn around, walk out, and go redirect a mid-sized river of bourbon down his throat?
He barely even notices he's arrived until the door squeaks as it opens, making him nearly run into the frame.
The man sitting on the bed straightens his back and waves cheerily. "Hello! I'm the Doctor," he says, and beams at House.
The patient is, as Cameron said, a thirty-seven year old Caucasian male. He's also about House's height, about House's weight, and very, very British. His hair is brown, his eyes are brown, he's not especially handsome but he has charisma coming off him like a stench. House knows him. Knows him better than anyone else in the world.
He's also never seen the guy before in his life.
"Hi!" says House, almost cheerfully. "I'm Doctor Gregory House. Will you excuse me a minute? I have to go have a quiet mental breakdown in my best friend's office. I'll be back in five minutes."
The Doctor watches him go with mixed feelings.
Since he apparently has five minutes to spare and his legs are definitely not planning on cooperation, he decides to use them to sort those feelings out. This one over here is confusion, which needs no interpretation. This one is amusement, also simple. This one is a nagging sense of something that has no name, but roughly equates to I forgot my wallet at home or the answer to this question is right on the tip of my tongue—the feeling of being right on the verge of discovering or remembering something very, very important that feels like it ought to be obvious. And this last one in the corner is that wistful feeling that makes him wish for tea harder the closer he looks at it. It feels much like nostalgia, or homesickness, except in reverse... like he knows he's about to lose something.
Well, that's uncomfortable. The Doctor pulls his attention away from his feelings and devotes the remaining two minutes to talking earnestly at his recalcitrant legs.
"Now, you see, if we stay here, they're going to subject us to endless tests and call in all their friends and soon half the continent will be staring at us and trying to figure out what we are. We'll be strapped to a bed and fed through a needle in our elbow and won't get any closer to finding the TARDIS so please, come on, move—"
"Talking to yourself isn't necessarily a symptom, but it's not generally a good sign," the doctor—House? odd name—says wryly from the doorway. "Most of the people I know who talk to themselves are either insane or in denial about being insane or sane but in denial about that. Which one are you?"
The Doctor grins. He likes this man already. "None of the above, I'm afraid. I'm not quite sane, but not insane either, and am far from denying either. Besides, being thought insane can come in quite handy sometimes."
House nods, his blue eyes razor-sharp and not the slightest bit kind. "Yeah, well, there's a fine line between people thinking you're nuts and thinking people only think you're nuts."
"That there is," the Doctor replies softly. "That there is."
House has no idea where to start, so in true House fashion, he shrugs and goes in headfirst. "What's your name? You told the nurse it was John Smith, which is so obvious it has to be fake."
"I told her my real name first. She didn't believe me," 'John Smith' says with a wink and a grin.
John Smith shrugs and sighs, grin fading a little. "I'm the Doctor."
Rolling his eyes, House tries not to walk out again. He hates dealing with psych patients. Most psych patients, anyway. Some of them are fun. This one's mostly annoying right now. "Right, and is that your first or last name?"
"Only," replies the Doctor, then amends, "well, sort of."
"What's your sort-of other name?" House asks waspishly, rapidly losing his nearly-nonexistent patience.
"Are you my wife?" the Doctor asks instead of answering.
"Not last I checked. Give me another five minutes with Google and I'll make sure. What is your name?"
"I told you my name. My other name is reserved for those closest to me, which is a group that did not involve you last time I checked."
There's a strange feeling in House's chest, like he should be angrier but isn't because he knows something he can't possibly know, but also doesn't, like it's right on the tip of his tongue if he could only spit it out. Damn. Talking to psych patients is clearly not helping him postpone his long, slow slide into the loony bin. If anything, he's losing it faster every minute he spends in this tiny grey room with this remarkably annoying man. "Whatever. I don't care. But I'm the only doctor in this room. As far as I'm concerned, you're John Smith, and by the time I'm done you're going to wish you'd picked a more interesting fake name."
"I'm rather attached to this one, actually—" John Smith begins to say, but House cuts him off with a brief twinge of satisfaction.
"You have two hearts. Did you know?"
John Smith winces and runs a hand through his hair.
Odd reaction. Certainly not any of the ones House had been expecting, like the patient knowing and nodding calmly or the patient not knowing and being shocked and a little horrified. But unhappy? Why?
"I could have lied and said I didn't know, but I suspect you're a rather good judge of people despite generally loathing them and would have caught me at it. Yes, I know, and I wish you didn't. I also know there are no answers for you to find that you'd accept, and no happiness in searching for them, so how about when my legs start working again you let me leave and forget I was ever here? I promise you, it's for the best."
"Shut up," says House, and glowers. "Obviously you're a crappy judge of character, else you'd know that I have no intention whatsoever of letting you leave until I figure out why the hell you have two functioning, healthy hearts, and while I'm at it, why the people who brought you in seemed to think you fell from the sky but you're somehow not dead. You'd be well advised to just tell me what you know and make things quicker and possibly less painful for you, though no guarantees on the latter."
John grins a grin that makes his face look broken. "All right, then. I'm a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. I have two hearts because all Time Lords have two hearts."
House stares, then feels a slow smile pull his face tight. "You're going to regret that, too," he promises. "I bet you think you're hilarious. God, I hate psych patients."
"You hate everyone, and I can be," the Doctor replies without missing a beat, and House is discomfited to note that he doesn't appear at all deflated. He just looks... longsuffering, for lack of a less cliche description. There are bags under his eyes, and he looks ten years older when his smile fades. "I can be very funny indeed when I want to be, but I'm not mocking you. I'm really not."
"Sure you're not. You're an alien. Makes perfect sense," House snaps.
"It does," replies John, still wearing that infuriatingly honest expression. "But you don't believe me, as I know you wouldn't, and perhaps it's better that way. Go on. Run all the tests you want. I'm afraid to say when my legs start working, you'll lose your chance."
"Not if I tie you to the bed," House retorts, "and believe me, I have no compunctions about doing that, even without a good reason."
John looks taken aback for a moment, then laughs. "Never been much into bondage, myself, but I suppose if it floats your proverbial boat—"
Despite himself, House realizes that he's beginning to like the guy. He has a decent brain in his head, even if that brain is clearly insane. Insanity and intelligence aren't mutually exclusive. "It floats my proverbial ocean liner, but don't worry, I'm a man of honour. I promise not to molest you in your heavily drugged sleep." He pauses, for dramatic effect. "I like it better when they squirm anyway."
The Doctor ruefully regards the thick leather straps across his shoulders and around his forearms. He should have known better than to underestimate House, or to overestimate himself in this condition. Now he's being actively restrained, and can't seem to find his sonic screwdriver, or his psychic paper, which combined with the TARDIS makes a very worrisome list of things which should not be missing. In fact, there is nothing in his suit which is anything but perfectly mundane, except for him, and he's feeling a bit strange, a bit... human.
Oh, well now, isn't that interesting.
"I know what happened," he tells the ceiling with a broad grin. "I know what happened! It still shouldn't have happened, I should have seen it coming, but here I am so obviously I didn't."
The realization brings a whole host of friends, however, and the Doctor doesn't like many of them. For instance, he knows where the TARDIS is. However, knowing where it is isn't going to help him, because where it is is still impossible to get to for another century or so, until Earth develops the capacity for locating and entering shiftspace, and even then the prospect of locating the exact tiny pocket his things are in when it could be anywhere in the universe is quite daunting, to be honest.
Another example: he knows who—or, interchangeably, what—is responsible, but that doesn't help him because if this is where they want him to be he has no choice in the matter whatsoever. They could have been gentler about it, but he could easily have done something to make them angry without being aware of it. Perhaps they have a soft spot for Daleks and got tired of him always wiping them out. It would explain why they always managed to survive, at least.
What frightens him most, however, is that despite all these answers, he doesn't know why they want him here, or how long they plan to make him stay. Perhaps—and this is an idea he wishes desperately he could quash—they don't mean for him to leave at all. Perhaps this is their way of getting him out of their way permanently without outright wiping him off the face of existence.
The Doctor takes a deep breath and buries the thought and all the horror that's trying to explode from it deep within himself. Then he firmly locks it and walks away. If that's the truth, he's not going to drown in despair looking at it for hours on end. He's going to try his damndest to get out of here and get back to his TARDIS and his endless stars and the adventures he hasn't had yet. He's going to fight, because he's the Doctor, and the Doctor never gives up.
No, he says quietly to himself. No, it doesn't work like that. The Doctor gives up all the time. That's why he chooses companions who don't, or companions who need him not to, so he can use the guilt as drive to make himself keep going through all the madness and pain.
Who's waiting for him to save her now? Who needs him to do anything but lie here in this bed and wait for the doctor to come back with needles? Who needs him, period?
The Doctor stares at the ceiling and tries his hardest not to drown.
Cuddy catches him in the hallway on his way to Wilson's office.
"House. You can't restrain a patient for no reason."
Eyeing her chest appreciatively—god, he loves this top, the dark red is such a fantastic complement to the freckles in her cleavage—he nearly misses the turn and has to suffer being caught and redirected by Cuddy's unforgiving hand. She has a tight grip. Almost manly, for such slender fingers.
"It's not no reason," House explains patiently, "the guy thinks he's an alien."
"Is he having convulsions? Threatening violence?"
"Nope. Since when do I need a good reason to tie people up, incidentally?"
Cuddy glares. "Since always."
House grins down at her. "Oh, come on. I know you like it."
"I could arrange to leave you alone with him for ten minutes or so, if you like. He's your type—tall, nerdy, foreign, tied up—"
Cuddy interrupts him with a look that says she's half a second from stomping on his foot with a wickedly sharp kitten heel. "House! Let him go. If he's still tied up in that room when I get back, you and I are going to have words."
"Oh no, words," says House sarcastically to her retreating back, "my one weakness. How did you know?"
The Doctor dreams he is free.
The TARDIS arches white and blue and familiar around him. Time twists and eddies in her wake, like soothing streams of hot water around his shoulder muscles.
His screwdriver is in his pocket next to his psychic paper. Rose is asleep in the bunk opposite him, hair all in her face.
It was all a dream. The hospital, the doctor, the tearing loss of everything which made up his life.
Except he is a lucid dreamer, and he knows it wasn't.
The Doctor makes himself forget. Then he gives himself to kinder dreams. Dreams which don't promise things he may never touch again.
Wilson is preoccupied with sorting out a mislabeled file when House comes in. He opens his mouth to remark on how easy it is to forgive Busty Redhead for stuff like this when she's wearing the green top, but closes it and lies down on the couch instead.
That catches Wilson's attention faster than actually talking could have done.
"Forget something?" he asks. "Feels like you just left."
House continues to say nothing, staring at the familiar ceiling tiles. There are sixty-three of them. He had one of his Wannabes count them once. Seventeen, if he remembered correctly. They still look exactly the same as they have every time he's stared at them. He practically has the pockmarks memorized. They're not doing a very good of reassuring him today, though, for some reason.
"House. What's wrong."
Trust Wilson to jump straight from House hasn't said anything to House is suffering from profound mental discomfort. Trust him, because he's always right unless House is intentionally messing with him. He's not. Wilson's right. He's suffering from mental discomfort on a Texas scale and has no idea what to do about it.
"I have a patient with two hearts."
Wilson frowns. "Fascinating. Why does that bother you?"
"They both work."
"Bizarre, but I'm sure you'll figure it out once you investigate. So... why are you in here?"
House turns over onto his side and stares at Wilson, biting his lip. "He told me he's an alien."
"So he's insane. That's never stopped you before."
There's that constellation of pockmarks that looks like the Pleiades, and there's the one that looks like Cuddy's ass, and there's the one that looks like Cameron with a bad hair day. House takes a deep breath and smells books and lilac-scented carpet powder. This office is his sanctuary. Mostly because it has Wilson in it, but he'd sooner choke to death on something awful than tell him that. He's safe here. He knows he's safe here.
"Wilson," he says.
His friend sighs and puts the files down. "Yes, House?"
"Pinky swear you won't tell anyone?"
"Feeling a bit six and girlish today, are we? Low pressure front coming in?"
House rolls off the couch and limps over to Wilson's desk, holding out his pinky. Wilsons stares at him.
"Are you serious? House. I'm not going to tattle on you to Mommy, just tell me what's going on."
Feeling more like a six-year-old girl than he's at all comfortable with, House sits back down and heaves a long, hard sigh. "He says he's an alien, and I think I believe him."
"Oh," says Wilson. Then, softer and almost sad: "Oh."
The Doctor wakes up from troubled, murky dreams to blue eyes glaring at him from beside his bed.
"Hello, Dr. House," he says. "I don't suppose you've come to ask me if I'd like some tea, though I would certainly say yes if you were. A good cup of Darjeeling with two cream and two sugar would not go amiss."
House ignores him. "Here's the situation," he says. "I believe you."
"Oh," says the Doctor.
The smell of bourbon wafts across the space between them. That doesn't surprise him. Everyone he tells reacts differently, and he's had House pegged as the drink-heavily-and-wrestle-with-worldview type right from the moment he walked in. The battle doesn't look to be going so well, if the haunted shadows in his eyes are any indication.
"That can mean one of two things. First, and unlikely, you're actually an alien and my intuition is right on the money. That would mean I either have to let people cut you open and lose all chance at finding my own answers, or I have to get you out of here before anyone else finds out."
The Doctor nods. Either way it looks like House intends for him to be poked and prodded and examined and experimented on to within an inch of his life, but if he's honest, he'd rather let House do that than an anonymous team of government-owned scientists any day. Besides, House will be much easier to escape from than Area 51 when the time comes. "With you so far."
"Or, and this is much more likely, I'm losing my mind. This is nothing new, I've been slipping for a while now. Seeing dead people. Missing things I shouldn't be missing. Stuff. If that's the case, I don't care what happens to you. I'll let my team figure you out and go camping for a couple of weeks, maybe chew some peyote buttons and have cathartic visions until I get over it."
"There are worse ways to deal with things. But?" the Doctor asks softly.
House stares at him, sharp-edged conflict clear in every line of his face. "But... I'm not sure yet which one it is."
"Ah," says the Doctor. "So—"
"I'm going camping," House says, and then his face breaks into a rogueish grin that chases the shadows from his face, "and you're coming with me."
"Camping? House, you hate camping. Bugs! Uneven ground! Also, worst of all, peace and quiet!"
House glares at him. "That was before I bought Princess Love Machine."
"Princess—House, tell me that's not—"
"It's a motor home, Wilson, you filthy pervert. King-size bed, full kitchen, and a sound system that would make Beethoven weep."
"Beethoven was deaf."
"He heard by vibration. Hence my point."
Wilson shakes his head and spreads his hands the way he does when he feels the thread of a conversation slipping away from him.
"So you're going to go camping in a motorhome for... how long again?"
Picking up a new glass paperweight remarkable only for its astonishing round boringness, House wandered about the office tossing it from hand to hand. "Cuddy's kicking me out for two weeks. Minimum. Says I can't come back until the spooky visions go away."
Now it's Wilson's turn to glare. "House, you know what's causing those and what to do to fix them. You're just being a coward."
"Wel fight that wel flight, seth the wise, Wilson," House says flippantly. "I'm going camping. Also, I'm going to kidnap a patient to keep me company, so cover my back, will you?"
Setting the paperweight down on Wilson's fingers purely by lucky accident, House ambles out with deceptive speed. He can hear Wilson yelling behind him, but the door swinging shut with a satisfying click muffles the worst of it. Wilson will cover for him. He always does, especially when he suspects House's crazy plans will be good for House in some way, which this will. Probably.
Now all that's left is to go say something to Cuddy which will send her into an impotent rage, then leave before she can find a way to retaliate so that she'll smoulder for the next two weeks and be delightfully well-smoked when he gets back.
If it weren't for the possible alien and the possible irreversible brain damage due to the drugs he takes for the pain in his irreversibly ruined leg, this would almost be fun.
The Doctor grins triumphantly as his weight centers over the balls of his feet and stays solid. They still feel a bit numb, but with only a little extra concentration walking should be more than possible.
"Now, where have they put my coat?" he muses out loud.
With perfect dramatic timing—House really is quite good at that, he thinks—the door swings open and a bundle of cloth flies through the air at his head. The Doctor snags it inches from his face with perfect aplomb and slides it on with a sigh of relief. He feels naked without it.
"So—" he begins.
"Move your extraterrestrial butt, Mr. Smith," House interrupts. "We're going camping."
"Delightful," says the Doctor, actually meaning it. He loves camping. A little less exciting than the sort of camping he's used to, but a little peace and quiet is good for the soul now and then. He wonders if House likes to fish.
Together they saunter out of the hospital, nonchalant as you please. The sky is a cheerful shade of deathly grey, and there is a bank of pale fog rolling in.
The bike, however, is very colourful indeed, and looks very fast.
"Hop on," says House with a rakish grin.
The Doctor answers him with an identical grin, only wider. "I do hope that can go as fast as it looks like it can."
House's back warms quickly against the Doctor's chest. He digs his fingers into the doctor's very fine leather jacket and hangs on as the engine shrieks and the rubber digs into the pavement.
The highway vanishes behind them as they fly into the swallowing mists.
The adventure begins.
House peers through the rain, squints, and heaves a sigh. "Damn. I was hoping to get further today."
He can feel more than see the Doctor staring at him in mute frustration, and grins to himself in self-satisfaction. Like he said: he likes it when they squirm. And the Doctor squirms very nicely.
"Can I presume by our west-nor'westerly directional pattern of travel that we are headed for the border?"
Instead of answering, House reaches down and cranks the music.
"I do love Beethoven," the Doctor admits, "but I'd also love to know where we're going."
"I bet you would."
"Not that this isn't lovely all on its own. It's been a while since I've traveled by such... quaint methods."
House rolls his eyes. "Right. I suppose traveling by spaceship is cooler."
"Yes, much," the Doctor answers briskly. "Its name is the TARDIS. Stands for Time And Relative—"
"Dimension In Space," House finishes absently.
"Yes, quite right, but..." The Doctor is silent for a moment. "How did you know that?"
"Huh?" says House. Damn, it's near impossible to see through this rain, it's like smoggy glue in the dark. The yellow lines are impressionistic smudges at best, invisible at worst. At this rate they're going to have a big, messy accident. Spotting a tiny, muddy turnoff, House wheels sharp right and thunders into it with a heavy splash. It's not a campground, it's a driveway, but the house nestled in the woods at the far end of it looks to have been empty for a long time. It's a decent place to stop for the night. Out of the way, at least.
"I said—oh, never mind. You're very smart. I suppose it was a lucky guess."
"Right, I am that. You hungry? I have canned beans and sausages."
"Food of the gods," the Doctor says with a delighted clap of his hands.
House shoves down the uneasy tilting of his gut and goes to find the can opener.
The Doctor lies awake and stares at the ceiling of the camper, listening to the hollow rattle of rain on the roof and the whistling sweep of wind against the sides.
This is their second night on the road. The first House had simply driven through, aided by copious amounts of coffee and earsplitting music which the Doctor had actually come to like after the first few hours. He isn't sure where House is in such a hurry to get to, but he looks forward to getting there.
Why? Because House likes canned beans and sausages and fast vehicles and fly-fishing and telling the truth and all the right music. It stands to reason that the Doctor might like the same kind of places House likes. They like so many of the same things.
House is an uneasy sleeper. The mattress shifts and wheezes in time with his dreams, and his breath catches and jerks every few minutes. The Doctor is hardly a light sleeper, many of his companions have been prone to stertorous nocturnal breathing, but listening to House is like listening to those little machines which make false rain noises—just a bit disturbing in how closely they mimic something they are not.
This may turn out to be more of an adventure than previously expected, the Doctor thinks, and tries very hard to be excited about that.
They are held up for two hours at the border.
"Any drugs in the car?" the guard had asked, bored.
House had rolled his eyes and drawled "Yes, lots," and now they are sitting side-by-side on extremely uncomfortable backless metal benches in the slightly-cooler-than-comfortable waiting room, just... waiting.
The questions are done, probably. Hopefully. The guards seem mostly convinced that he isn't actually a gay drug-dealing terrorist, though the Doctor hadn't helped much with the first and the Vicodin even less with the second.
"Ah, what I wouldn't give for my psychic paper," the Doctor mutters beside him, fidgeting like a ten-year-old with a bellyful of sugar. "We would have been through here in ten seconds, your big mouth notwithstanding."
"Why the hell would you mislay something like psychic paper?" says House waspishly. "Damn useful stuff."
"You know what it is?" the Doctor asks, clearly astonished. He whips out his glasses and peers into House's face from approximately three inches away, which is a good two feet too far into House's personal space. "Most curious!"
"Know what what is?" House asks, leaning away pointedly.
House stares. "What?"
The Doctor's face falls. "I thought you... oh, well. Must have been imagining things. In any case, it's not here, so I suppose there's nothing for it."
The border guard returns, hands them their paperwork back. The Doctor's passport actually belongs to one James Wilson, who looks nothing like him, really, but apparently the border guard can't tell one pale-skinned brown-haired geek from another, which works out well for House and "James Wilson." Princess Love Machine rumbles and groans, then ambles into motion. They're clear.
"Welcome to Soviet Canuckistan," says House with a slanting grin, and hits the gas.
The drive is long, very long, and almost unreal in its serenity. They hardly ever speak. Sunlight and rain and darkness come and go, plains and lakes and mountains slide past as if in a dream.
The Doctor rarely does much travel between points on the surface of the planets he visits—all the action usually happens around him wherever he lands. And so he has forgotten, it seems, the sheer scale of even a smallish dirtball like this one. They drive for days and days and get hardly anywhere, as if in passing the border into Canada they actually passed into another world, endless and flat and silently beautiful.
House still hasn't told him where they're going, or why they're going there, but the Doctor has come to a curious sort of peace with this. It isn't that the desire to know is gone. It has simply sat back and folded its hands to wait with the kind of patience the Doctor had until this point been fairly certain he didn't possess.
Perhaps it's something about this place, this empty, echoing wilderness. Oh, there are people, to be certain, but they are gathered in small, quiet towns. There are hardly any cities at all, not like the places he usually lands himself in, full of beings and the conflicts between them. The TARDIS knows, time itself knows, what he wants and where to send him to get it. They always put him somewhere he is needed, some place where and when there is something he can do to help.
Out here there is... nothing. Only the slow careening symphony of time and space echoing in his skull, the endless unfolding landscape, and the dull thump of Princess Love Machine's speakers. He hardly even hears the music anymore.
The truth is catching up to him. The Doctor is too tired to run for much longer.
"Here we are," says House with a strange sense of apprehension. "You ready for a bit of a hike?"
"What about your leg?" The Doctor asks with real concern. "Surely you can't be meaning to climb up this hill carrying a burden with that leg."
House shrugs. "It's just pain. I'm not actually damaging my leg by climbing, and it'll be worth it for the view. Besides, I just took enough Vicodin to turn the trees technicolor. I'll be fine. Let's go before it gets dark."
He can feel the Doctor staring at his back when he turns around, and shrugs irritably. The Doctor is right to suspect he's not telling the whole truth. He isn't. He hates pain, hates it more than he hates anything else, maybe even more than he hates himself. If this were any other hill he would tell it to go screw itself and light it on fire before he'd climb it, but this hill...
House doesn't believe in magic. Obviously. He's a doctor, a scientist, he lives and bleeds by the rules of logic. And yet, he has never found an explanation for this place and what it does to him.
The camper is parked against the wire fence. They're miles off the nearest semi-major road. The fence surrounds a tiny, unmanned electrical hub. It makes the hill look unappetizing to hikers, a touch of civilization tainting the wilderness they're looking for. For House, it's a blessing in disguise. It means that no one comes here.
This place, this impossible magical place, belongs to him alone.
He slings the tent and half the supplies onto his back and hobbles towards the path, not needing to look back in order to know that the Doctor has taken the rest of them and is following him.
Five agonizing steps up the hill, and the magic kicks in, blessed and unspeakably sweet. House gasps in relief and nearly falls.
"Doctor House?" his companion asks, alarmed by his sudden stop and slump. The question is followed bare moments later by a soft gasp and silence, however, so House doesn't bother to answer.
"What is this place?" the Doctor asks quietly, awed and reverent.
House shrugs. "It's a hill. In Canada."
"Oh, it's more than that!" the Doctor exclaims, running from one side of the path to the other, touching trees, kneeling down to press his fingers into the earth, waving his hands through the air, licking leaves for chrissakes. The man is nuts, but so is House, so it's not like he can talk. "So much more than just that! This place is... well, there are lots of words in lots of languages I could use, but the best of them I can think of right now is... hallowed."
"Okay, so it's a magic hill. Let's go."
The Doctor shakes his head. "No, no, not magic. Magic doesn't exist. Blessed."
House shakes off the uneasy shiver that crawls over his skin and snorts. "Gods don't exist either."
"Not in the sense that humanity thinks of them, perhaps," replies the Doctor absently, "immortal beings endowed with great power, almighty benevolent parents, vengeful lovers and gentle older brothers and hateful broken angels. But there are beings, ancient and powerful, who care nothing for humanity or its limited perceptions of good and evil. Bodiless, eternal, timeless, scattered."
"And you think one of those airheads likes this place for some reason," House says, more sharply than he intended, knowing that his voice broadcasts how unsettled he feels and hating it. "Invisible gods. Magic hill. And I haven't even brought out the funny mushrooms yet."
The Doctor turns to regard him with eerie calm and a patient smile. "Well may you laugh, Doctor House. When you have seen the things I have seen, you learn not to laugh at the impossible."
House reaches down to touch the top of his thigh, feeling the stretch and dip of his skin towards the scar—his pain-free, touch-sensitive scar—and thinks about impossible things.
The Doctor wants to dance.
He wants to spin in a circle, stretch his arms to the heavens, run until his breath comes hard and then fall down in the sweet, cold grass and just feel. He has been in places like this before, on occasion, but usually he is running from something or towards something and has no time to stop and breathe it in, feel it seep into his pores and colour his soul.
Now he has nothing else but time. Time and this place.
It took them an hour to climb the top, and now that their tent is set up, the Doctor is gathering firewood. It's plentiful—the tall pines crowning the hill are old, dry, draped with moss which comes away in his hands like dead grey hair. To the west, the Rocky Mountains rear their massive backs, blazing with illusionary flame as the sun sinks into their waiting fingers. To the north, high rolling foothills draped with conifers. To the south and east, the prairies stretch into the horizon, glowing orange at one point with Calgary's distant lights.
It is taller than any of the hills around it, and so their view from the top is unobstructed. It feels like the top of the world.
On the east side there is a stone, an unremarkable flat slab of granite, jutting from the hillside into the sky. Twenty feet below it the hill sweeps out in a grassy sward, peppered with late-blooming wildflowers. It looks like nothing so much as a seat for a giant.
The Doctor feels it humming under his feet and finds a name for how he feels, to be allowed to stand here—honoured.
It's night now, true night, the kind that can never happen in any city. There the fake lights form a thick, comforting blanket, like a shield, protecting the tiny, swarming populace from the glaring stars.
There is no shield here. The universe bears down on House's head, looming, unthinkably vast.
It's nice. His ego enjoys the attention he gets back at the hospital, but every once in a while a little context is comforting. Also nice is the smell of sausages roasting over the roaring campfire he'd built with his own hands, and the knowledge that in one of his packs is a bag full of marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, and nobody to tell him how bad that'll be for his teeth. Childlike, perhaps, but he figures with his life he's entitled to a little kiddie fun like s'mores and ghost stories now and then.
Somehow, he figures the Doctor has a few really awesome ghost stories up his mysterious little sleeves.
House is right. The Doctor knows many ghost stories, all of them the more terrifying for being true.
He is glad to tell them, even if House doesn't believe him. At heart, he is first an adventurer, but after that or when he cannot adventure, he is a storyteller. Though the stars have been made distant, untouchable, he can still speak of them, still draw them in the mind of his listener, and see them reflected back at him. It doesn't help very much, but it does help a little, and a little is more than nothing.
House is not easily frightened. He has seen thousand of horrors, things which wake him in the night with a strangled cry caught in his throat, blood-red, fat-yellow, bone-white images of death and suffering and fear which will never leave him. He had thought himself beyond fear.
He was wrong. Sitting in the dark wrapped in a blanket beside a campfire, House listens to the Doctor tell him about the Vashta Nerada and is afraid. Afraid of the dark.
"You tell a mean story," House tells him, too loudly, a show of brash unconcern which doesn't touch his eyes.
It's frightening, he realizes, because it doesn't feel like story at all. Patients tell him stories every day, pretty summed-up accounts of their sordid little lives. He knows what it sounds like when a story has been built, woven from the imagination like a gingerbread house. Memory has a different texture entirely, clear and whole unto itself like water. Muddied by perceptions, sludgy with fear and self-delusion sometimes, but elemental and real.
The Doctor tells stories like he remembers them. Like he was there, in that library of horrors, with his companions dying around him without the benefit of time for diagnosis and treatment. Fast as a gunshot. Faster.
House isn't afraid of the unseen—viruses and bacteria are invisible too, after all—but he is afraid of things he can't fight. Things he can't solve away so hard they never come back. Things like the Vashta Nerada.
The universe, he is beginning to remember with a sinking feeling like losing his grip on the edge of a cliff, is a far bigger and stranger place than he has wanted to live in. He has shielded himself with those orange city lights just like everyone else, and now that sheltering glow is gone and there is only space.
"Gregory? Are you all right?"
When did the Doctor start calling him by first name? House can't remember, doesn't care, it's not important. One tiny detail against the entire spinning cosmos and the weight of... something, something he doesn't want to know but can't avoid, a tidal wave of dark truth thundering up the hill towards him, inescapable, unforgiving.
"Damn," he whispers, "and I haven't even done the drugs yet."
"I thought you were joking about those," the Doctor says, but his voice is distant and fading fast.
House passes out.
The Doctor carries him to the tent—he's so much lighter than he looks, so terribly thin, thin as the Doctor himself—and wraps his sleeping bag around him gently.
House looks different in sleep, blown open and wounded as if the bandages holding him together while awake are torn away when he dreams. He curls in on himself defensively like a child, but not to full fetal position—only halfway, as if even in sleep he is putting up a defiant resistance against his demons. A defiant, sarcastic resistance.
The Doctor touches his forehead gently and smiles. "Sleep well, Gregory," he says, and leaves the tent to stand under the brilliant moonlight.
Without thinking, he walks, and finds without surprise that his feet are taking him towards the giant's throne. It is the center, the heart of whatever power touched this place.
A flash of unexpected colour catches his eye, and the Doctor looks up. His mouth opens. His heart leaps in his chest.
"Oh, my," he whispers, reaching up to run a strip of crimson cloth through his fingers. Its brothers and sisters, one for every shade, flutter from the branches overhead like ghosts. And they are, he realizes. Ghosts. Ghosts of a time long past, prayers of a people who have not lived here in a hundred years. One for every prayer.
They would not have been answered. Whatever power had been here is here no longer, has not been here for a very long time. This is only an echo, a shadow of an ancient footprint.
The Doctor walks out onto the throne and looks toward the horizon. There is no glow. There is no light at all but that from the sky, reflecting from the featureless stretch of pale grass. As suspected. He inhales deeply, tastes the sweetness of air that has never known the stink of exhaust, looks up into the sky that is clearer than any sky House has ever seen. Clearer than any House's grandfather would have seen.
How had House found this place? the Doctor wonders. It's in the middle of nowhere in a place he should not have had reason to visit. Why would he come here? Who had he come here with? Why had he gone to the trouble of bringing the Doctor here, despite the wrath of his superior and every rule of his occupation?
So many questions, and the source of answers unconscious in the tent.
It's going to be a long night.
House wakes up to the soft glow of midday sunlight filtering through the walls of the tent. The sleeping bag next to him is empty, untouched—either the Doctor slept outside, or didn't sleep. House wouldn't put either of them past him. The Doctor's a weird guy.
Stumbling out into fresh air, House gets a strong whiff of bacon and eggs.
"Seriously?" he says. "Where did you get those?"
The Doctor beams up at him and pokes the eggs with a spatula. "It's a secret."
"Well, you're keeping an entire bucketful of secrets from me, it's only fair. I've been completely honest so far. It's only fair that I have at least one secret from you." The Doctor turns his attention to the fire, adding a few bits of tinder and rearranging them to his satisfaction. The eggs sizzle distractingly.
"Damn, that smells good," House says at last, giving up. The Doctor has a point. House has barely told him more than his name. The Doctor has done everything short of spilling his life story.
The Doctor gestures with the spatula off to the left, towards the flattened top of a fallen tree's stump. "There are plates over there."
To House's astonishment, there are. He didn't pack plates. He didn't pack eggs or bacon, either, or a goddamn spatula.
"Fine," he says shortly. "Fair enough. What do you want to know?"
"Sit down," the Doctor says. "Have some eggs."
Warily, House finds a smoothish spot on a log opposite the Doctor and fills his plate. The eggs aren't magical. They're just eggs. Tasty eggs, yes. But House is obscurely relieved nonetheless. He wasn't sure what else he'd been expecting—what would magic eggs taste like, anyway?—but this show of almost-normality is comforting.
"Not bad," he says.
"Have as many as you like, there are plenty more where these came from."
"Where?" House asks, mystified.
"Why are we here?" the Doctor counters with a sunny smile.
House sighs. "I don't know."
The Doctor frowns at him. "What do you mean? No particular reason? Or you didn't decide your destination in advance, and just came here because it was in the direction you chose to travel in?"
"No, I mean I don't know," House replies honestly, if a bit grouchily. "I've been here before, but I wasn't meaning to come here. I was heading for California. Pretty girls and beaches. I don't know why we're here."
"You didn't choose to come here because of your leg?" the Doctor asks shrewdly.
House massages his thigh and looks at the ground. The absence of pain is deeply wonderful, and the thought of walking back down the magic hill into hell nearly unbearable. "No," he says shortly. "I didn't decide."
"When were you here before?" the Doctor presses, his curiosity burning brightly all over his face.
House opens his mouth to answer and is deeply unsettled to find he doesn't know. "I... don't remember."
The Doctor stares. "Gregory, you're a diagnostician. You remember miniscule details of cases you worked on years ago. There is no way you would forget when or why you came here before. Who were you with? Did they bring you here?"
House shakes his head, drops his forehead into his hands. His heart is speeding up to uncomfortable levels. "I told you, I don't remember. It must not have been that memorable."
"Then why on earth would you come back?" cries the Doctor. "You aren't making sense, Gregory. There is something very odd about this whole ordeal, and I'm sure you've noticed that too. You fell unconscious last night for no apparent reason, and slept for fourteen hours, and now you're hardly touching your food. Add to that your unconscious recognition of terms you couldn't possibly know and you driving through the night for days to reach a place you claim you don't even remember visiting previously, and a picture begins to form in my mind. Are you following me?"
"Honestly?" says House, then lies: "No."
The Doctor knows House is lying. It's obvious. The truth is flickering around in his eyes like a trick candle, refusing to be extinguished no matter how hard House blows on it.
"Do you own a fob watch?" the Doctor asks softly.
House twitches, but doesn't seem to notice. He shakes his head. "Nope."
"But you know what a fob watch is."
"Of course I know. Who doesn't?"
"Most people in modern America," the Doctor remarks drily. "Also, did you realize you have an accent?"
"No, I don't," House replies instantly, sounding more American than ever, but the Doctor isn't fooled.
One more question. One more, and then he'll know for sure. Elation is rising in his chest faster than he can quell it. It's been so terribly long. "Gregory, please answer this honestly. Please. Were you adopted as a child?"
"What the hell kind of question is that?" House snaps, glaring with those ferocious blue eyes. It's really quite intimidating. Or would be, if the Doctor weren't so nearly certain he was right—"No, I wasn't adopted. I was the result of my mother cheating on my asshole father with a family friend. I have the DNA test to prove it and everything. Where were you going with that?"
The Doctor gapes like a fish, at a loss, unable to breathe. He had been so sure. "I don't understand," he says softly. "How can you... if you aren't... Gregory House, who are you really?"
House just glares at him, glares and glares, and says nothing.
"Let me explain," the Doctor says, defeated.
Then he explains. And watches House run inside himself and slam the door behind him.
The Doctor is a damn good storyteller, House thinks. Damn good. That was a great story. Time travel and gadgets and regeneration, oh my!
But that's all it is. A story. A fascinating, imaginative story, but a story nonetheless. A colourful fabrication mimicking reality but only barely, like an impressionist painting, a stylized illustration of dragons and knights.
Man is out of his goddamn mind, House thinks. Completely batshit crazy.
The wind picks up, sings gently over the crown of the hill and off into the blue. It's a beautiful day.
The Doctor sits on the Giant's Throne and tries to find the alternate explanation.
There has to be something he missed. House is clearly not lying about the circumstances of his birth, and his parents were clearly nothing more than human, so something about the Doctor's theory has to be wrong.
But nothing else fits.
He has added the pieces of the puzzle together in every way he can think of, and some that made no sense at all but had to be tried simply for the sake of being thorough, but this is the only theory that rings true, the only pathway that doesn't degenerate into the complexity of madness after a few steps.
"I don't understand," he tells the trees. They rustle back at him sympathetically, but have no answers for him. No other answers, in any case.
If only there were a way to prove it, to jog the situation into letting more details shake loose.
Oh. Perhaps... maybe if...
"Gregory," he calls brightly, "would you mind grabbing some bread and cheese? I find myself to be a bit peckish, as it were."
"Get it yourself," House snaps.
The Doctor is patient. "I'm getting us set up for a nice evening fire. Please, it'll only take you a moment."
House heaves a melodramatic sigh. "Fine. Whatever." And then, without a moment's pause from his distracted thoughts, he reaches over and pulls the Doctor's coat onto his lap. Bread and cheese appear from the pockets like magic. House doesn't notice, but the Doctor does. It was what he was looking for.
"Fascinating," he murmurs. Then, louder, as if he hadn't been watching: "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you where they are—oh, I see you found them. How did you know?"
The Doctor watches the realization dawn on House with almost sad satisfaction.
"What," House says flatly, choking for a moment on the rest of the sentence. "What the hell is going on here? Your pockets are bottomless!"
"Yes, they're quite handy sometimes. They were a gift from Lady Harglbzrekank of—"
"Save it," House interrupts, on his feet and backing away slowly. "I don't care."
The Doctor shakes his head. "Yes, you do. You know you do. You need to know. The curiosity burns in you like a sickness, tears away at your insides until you feel like you're going mad. You can't stop thinking about it, mulling over the details, looking for connections and possibilities. I know. Believe me, I know."
House looks like a lost child, hands wandering aimlessly through the air as if fending off ghosts the Doctor can't see. "Stop it," he says. "There has to be a perfectly rational explanation for this. There has to be. There is nothing in the universe that can't be explained. Nothing."
"Of course not," the Doctor agrees. "There is an explanation. You are, or were, a Time Lord. Like me."
Throwing his arms in the air, House laughs wildly. "Right! Of course! Perfectly rational! I'm an ancient time-traveling alien! Why didn't I see it before?"
"Listen to yourself, Gregory," the doctor says excitedly, walking forward to catch House by the arms. "Really listen!"
"What do you mean, listen to—"
"There!" the Doctor cries, stabbing a finger into House's chest. "Listen! You have an accent!"
"I do not have a bloody accent will you please shut up—oh god."
"Gallifreyan! Very refined."
"Haven't the faintest," the Doctor confesses. "A Time Lord can't be conceived by human parents—oh. I didn't think... perhaps it's possible. Certainly unprecedented, but theoretically—"
"As far as I know, no Time Lord reduced to human form has ever died while in that form. It's only ever temporary, an emergency measure, and almost never done for obvious reasons. Being human makes us... weak, blind, helpless. But it also makes us harder to find. It's reversible, of course, even easy with a trusted companion."
"But if one of you were to die while still human—"
"Then... I always thought we would just die. But perhaps that's now how it works. Perhaps the regenerative ability cannot be totally purged, just as the intellect mostly remains, just as the memory of greater things echoes in our bones. Perhaps just enough to create something very small, not an entire new person as it normally would, only—"
"An embryo," House supplies, looking like he desperately wishes he could stop but can't. "Just a few cells."
"A baby," echoes the Doctor. "Yes. It would take on the genetic imprints of its chosen mother and father, but underneath that shallow repainting of the exterior it would still be a Time Lord underneath, the shadow of one at least. Tell me, Gregory, is there anything you own that you have always owned? Something precious to you that you keep very safe?"
House shakes his head and looks suddenly terribly sad. "No. Nothing like that. I left everything behind when I moved out, and I wouldn't shed a tear if my apartment burned down today. Would be miffed about the guitar and the piano, maybe, but nothing else. And I didn't buy the guitar until I was in my teens."
The Doctor looks down and sees that he is still holding House's arm. He tells his hand to let go, but it doesn't listen—instead, it slides around House and pulls him into a hug. "I'm sorry," he says into House's ear, and means it, just like he's meant it every time he's ever said it. "I'm so, so sorry."
Now it's House's turn on the Throne, staring out sightlessly across the prairie.
Now that he thinks about it, it's not really all that crazy after all. Just because he's never met an alien doesn't mean one can't exist, and he's done things with his brain most normal people would find impossible. Like talking directly to his subconscious while fully awake and lucid. Like waking his mind while in a coma and finding a temporary cure for his leg in his dying dreams. Leaps of intuition unsubstantiated by anything in his memories, like he has a library of trivia somewhere beyond his brain that he can't touch consciously but part of him lives in.
The signs have been there all along. He's just been too... himself to let himself see them.
It's an answer. One that makes sense. But now there's a whole host of new questions that he needs answered, and needs answered right now.
"Doctor," he yells, "get your ass over here."
"I'm right here, Gregory," the Doctor says gently from right freaking beside him. He must have been more out of it than he thought.
Hiding his unease with a roll of his eyes, House leans back on his hands. "So tell me something."
"That coat," House says. "Do all you... Time Lords have one?"
The Doctor shakes his head. "No, no. As I said, it was a gift! I saved the Lady's daughter from—oh."
"Yeah," says House. "Why don't you tell me more about this regeneration thing."
The Doctor wants to run.
He's already run so far, so fast, but he stopped and now the truth has caught up to him at last. It found him first in the hospital room, when he realized his effects were missing, except for the coat because what can you do with bottomless pockets but put things into them? You cannot use them to make buses fly, or time travel devices, or anything at all. They are keepers, not creators.
And of course there isn't a fob watch. They don't need one to do this.
He wonders what they've done about Torchwood. They have no direct technology capable of returning him to the stars, but they have the tools he would need to do it himself. Those who put him here mean for him to stay here. They wouldn't be that careless.
They are, after all, gods.
The Doctor wonders now what exactly it was he did that made them so angry. He must have broken some rule of theirs, infringed on what they saw as their territory. It's impossible to know now. They don't care if he knows the reason for his incarceration. He is nothing to them now. Helpless. Harmless.
House can't look at him.
Not now. Not now that he knows what the Doctor is, who he is, and who he's going to become.
That brilliant smile, that endless hunger for life, all that kindness and compassion... the Doctor is a wonderful person. One of the best House has ever met. One of those rare few who make it impossible not to love them.
And he's going to become... House. Miserable, limited, world-hating, self-hating, callous and cowardly and god, a terrible human being by anyone's standards.
Maybe not right now. Maybe not for a good long while. But sooner or later, somehow, that crazy alien angel is going to fall, and fall hard.
House wishes he hadn't asked, but apparently he's too human for time to bend to his wishes now.
And so is the Doctor.
"One last question," House asks, and now the Doctor can hear it, the faint echo of what he used to be. House is callous not because he is cruel but because he is sick of bleeding. He has hurt for so many years already, many times the years he remembers, eleven lifetimes' worth, and now he's forgotten all his reasons for being kind. The Doctor understands. Oh, but he does understand.
"Ask," the Doctor replies. "I can't lie to you."
House laughs bitterly. "No, of course you can't. My question is this: who did this to you? To us?"
"Remember how I told you what I know of the gods?"
House nods, looks around the hilltop—blessed, sacred—and nods.
The Doctor makes himself continue. "When they speak to mortals, they call themselves the Q. They are all-powerful, capricious, of one mind but many personalities. Some of them are kinder than others, like the one who touched this place. I made one of the less-kind ones angry, somehow, and this... this is his solution. Or hers, I suppose. They have no real gender. They took my TARDIS, my sonic screwdriver, my psychic paper, everything I had that was even slightly useful aside from my coat, and thrust it into shiftspace—a weird little pocket of space made up of five of the seven extra microdimensions, in case you're not up on current string theory or I have my scientific progress timeline wrong. And then they made me human and dropped me off—quite literally, as you heard—here, on the planet I've spent the most time on and know most about. Somewhere I'd fit in. A small kindness, I suppose."
"You pissed off a god," House translates, in disbelief, fists clenched at his sides. "And now you're going to live and die here, on this stupid rock with all us stupid humans."
His heart breaking in his chest, the Doctor reaches out to put his hand over House's. House doesn't pull away. "Yes. I'm so sorry. Though... you're hardly a stupid human."
"No. A stupid human alien. Much cooler."
The Doctor smiles, and tightens his fingers around House's without looking at him. "Yes, quite."
House turns his hand over to twine it with the Doctor's, like a little boy searching for safety.
There is none. But humans are good at make-believe.
Now that there is no more running to do, there's a sort of peace, unlooked for and unwelcome but kind in its own way.
House sits with the Doctor around their campfire, making s'mores and listening to his insane, fabulous stories about his insane, fabulous life. They explore the hill, name all the things they find, make it theirs. For hours and hours, they play games, mental acrobatics no one else could hope to follow without being one of them, without being a Doctor.
House hasn't been happy for a long, long time. He's not happy now either. But he's closer than he's been in years, since his leg was all right for those few blessed weeks after the shooting. There's no pain here either, no one suffering, no one dying, no one needing him. There's just trees and grass and wide blue sky and them, and they understand each other as perfectly as only people who are the same person can.
House has always wanted to talk to someone like himself, after all. That and have sex with himself, just to see what it would be like, but it's not like that with the Doctor so he supposes he'll have to wipe that one off the list for now.
It doesn't even rain. Not once.
The Doctor can see in House's sliding posture that their little sojourn has come to an end.
Too soon, but time waits for no man. Turns back, has children, certainly, but it does not wait. House is expected back. He has not seen anything out of the ordinary. Of course, he wouldn't. The truth has caught him. It has no reason to call ahead anymore.
He wonders if he should tell House about the Vicodin, and how much it isn't doing, but decides against it. It makes him feel better. Placebo effect. Mind over matter, and the minds of Time Lords have very firm hands with their matters.
If it eases his pain, all the better. He wonders idly as he takes the tent down if House has companions. The Doctor hopes he does. He's never done well without them. It stands to reason that House wouldn't either.
"Back to the grind," House groans, slinging a pack over his shoulders. Then he grins—making the best of a bad situation, the Doctor knows the expression well. "I can't wait to see Cuddy's face."
The pain returns the minute they step off the hill. House staggers, lets out a helpless cry and almost falls. The Doctor catches him. There is nothing he can do for this, but by god, he wishes there was, and not just because this is his future. House is a person entire unto himself. He is not the Doctor as he is now. He is the same but more, less, different, and the Doctor wants him to be happy for his own sake.
He has his own path to walk. Until the end.
"May I ask a favour?" he says as they buckle their seatbelts and Princess Love Machine rumbles to life.
"Sure, why not," House replies, already haggard and slumped with pain. The Vicodin is taking a long time to kick in, or perhaps he simply doesn't have the will to fight right now.
The Doctor smiles at him, searches through the dashboard compartment for a record other than Beethoven. "I need a plane ticket to England."
"Torchwood?" House asks.
"You remember?" the Doctor asks, astonished.
House shrugs. "Not really. It just popped into my head, and the things that pop into my head are usually right."
"Ah," says the Doctor. "I suppose that makes sense. Anyway, to answer your question—yes, Torchwood. I have to try."
"I'd be careful if I were you. You end up dying the day I'm conceived, remember, which is a few decades back. Messing with time could take you somewhere you really don't want to go."
"I know," replies the Doctor sadly, "but I have to try anyway."
"Yeah. I know."
House drives slower this time, but even so the journey goes by quickly, far too quickly.
When they pull up in front of House's home, he opens his mouth to ask the Doctor to stay. Before he can even draw the breath, however, the Doctor meets his eyes and tells him no. He doesn't even have to say it out loud. It's just that clear. No. He may want to stay, but he can't. He won't.
"I'll buy you that ticket," he says instead. "For tonight, stay here. I'll call Wilson over to cook us dinner. Or order pizza or something."
The Doctor grins. "I do love pizza."
House grins back, rakish, identical. "I thought you might."
In the dark, the Doctor leans over and just watches, for a few moments. Then he kisses House's forehead and goes to call himself a taxi.
The past awaits.
House, unsurprised, wakes up to an empty house.
For him, there is only more future. He takes a deep breath, reaches for his Vicodin, and prepares himself to make-believe that impossible things are still impossible, and that there isn't an zany British alien version of himself flying towards his past—future, whatever—right this moment.
It's a small comfort, very small, to know that somewhere in that Doctor's future, there is a magic hill in Canada. Paradoxical, perhaps, but real and waiting for them.
Their own little corner of time and space. The center of their conjoined worlds. Home.
His bike feels oddly light without the Doctor clinging to his back, but the road looks the same, grey and yellow off into the misty six-am horizon.
He really can't wait to see Cuddy's face.
A/N: This story took a goodly chunk of my soul with it when I tore it out of my chest, so take care with it, if you please. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go rewatch the happiest, most ridiculous DW episode I can find and eat some chocolate and stop crying, dammit.