"You're dead," House said, voice flat, matter-of-fact.
"Everybody dies," Amber volleyed.
"Am I dead?"
Amber's head turned enough to peer at him with a sideways glance, her eyebrows rising as if she possessed a store of hidden knowledge. The bus, bereft of a driver, slowed to a gentle stop, and Amber silently redirected her attention toward the front of the bus.
An old woman boarded the bus, her spine curved under her knit cardigan. House's mouth hung agape, his eyes fixed on her. "She's dead," House said, jerking his head in the old woman's direction.
"Patient?" Amber asked.
"Esther." House stared at the back of Esther's silver-white head as she took a seat several rows in front of him. "Erdheim-Chester." House shook his head almost imperceptibly before he turned toward Amber, repeating, "Am I dead?"
"Am I dead?" A voice echoed with a high-pitched, tinny giggle.
House spun in his seat, turning sharply to discover a man in a policeman's uniform lounging on the back row of seats. The man doubled over, clutching his sides, and began to laugh hysterically, continuously, never pausing for a breath.
"It's that cop." House glanced at Amber, pointing with a wagging finger, then faced the cop again. "You're that cop!" He lowered his arm and shuffled his feet to face forward, addressing Amber. "Stole water contaminated with Naegleria."
"Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis," Amber replied.
The cop's laughter ricocheted through the bus. Rolling his eyes, House peered over his shoulder. "Shut up." The laughter escalated in volume and speed. "Shut up!"
"That's not very nice, yelling at him."
House's head spun to face forward, his eyes falling on a young girl. She wore a blue bandanna on her head and flashed a warm smile. "You. You're that brave cancer girl," he said, voice heavy with sarcasm on the word "brave".
"Andie," the girl supplied. She abruptly stepped forward and wrapped her arms around House's shoulders.
"Oh, no. One hug limit." House pried her off him. "You redeemed yours after we saved you."
"Still had cancer," Andie answered cheerfully. "You can't save cancer patients like me. Duh."
Andie stepped aside as a woman materialized in the aisle beside her. Her blonde hair was cut short, her body thin. "But you can enrich their lives," she said.
"With herpes," House retorted.
"With opportunities," she replied, thrusting a pile of photographs at him.
House nudged her hand away from his face. His eyes flickered from the woman to Amber, whose curious expression prompted him to issue a hurried introduction, "Amber, Grace. An undeniably stupid blot on Wilson's dating record."
As Grace continued to wave the photographs inches from his nose, Amber's breath streamed into his ear as she whispered, "Oh, Grace. He told me. I always suspected I was hotter."
"Well, yeah," House said. "She had cancer." One of the photographs struck his chin, and House glared at Grace. "What?"
"Look," Grace insisted, extending the first photograph. "Michelangelo's David. I saw it. The Duomo of Florence. I was there."
"Good for you."
"Isn't it beautiful?" Grace hugged the photograph to her chest. "An architectural marvel. The largest dome built of brick and mortar in the whole world."
House recognized the voice before its owner's head of fluffy, white hair invaded his peripheral vision. House angled his head to find Gabe, Vegetative-State Guy, peering over his shoulder at Grace's photographs.
Gabe continued. "Me, I never got out of Jersey."
A loud crunch-crisp lettuce and firm bread-sounded in House's ear. House closed his eyes, his face scrunching with displeasure. "Do you mind? Take your love affair with your hoagie somewhere else."
For the first time since his appearance, Gabe turned his attention to House. "You're on my turf, now. My turf. My rules." He tore another bite from the end of his hoagie and spoke as he chewed. "Took me ages to track down Giancarlo. I'm going to enjoy this." Gabe lifted his sandwich as if it were a shot of whiskey.
A piece of tomato fell from the roll, landing with a wet slap on House's toes. He groaned as he shook his foot. Behind him, laughter erupted, and House shifted to glare at the cop, who was rocking in his seat, kicking his legs in a hysterical frenzy.
House felt a tap on his arm and glanced up to see Gabe jerk his head toward the cop. "That the cop? The one who wanted to arrest you?"
House scowled at him. "Are we playing the question game?" he asked petulantly.
"Only if you want to," Gabe replied, stepping toward the cop. "I know how much you enjoyed it last time." Gabe cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "Hey! Hey, buddy! Want your ass tossed onto the street? No? Then shut up."
The cop's laughter ended with a hiccup. House peeked over his shoulder. The cop sat frozen, pursing his lips together. As Gabe sank into the seat opposite him, House stared at him, gaping.
"I told you," Gabe said, shrugging. "People listen when I talk." A grin spread over Gabe's face. "Even you."
"Wish he listened to me." A weary, sunken-eyed man appeared beside Gabe. His hand waved with a frustrated gesture toward House. "Could have died peacefully and a day earlier."
Amber's delighted whisper prompted House to look at her. "Is that Ezra Powell?"
His sigh seemed to confirm her suspicion, and House watched her lean forward, peer across him for a better look at Powell.
"Cool," she said, still staring across the aisle.
"It's not cool. It's creepy." House gripped the handrail and levered himself out of his seat.
"Where are you going?" Amber asked.
House stepped forward, replying over his shoulder. "Getting off this damn bus."
He found his path suddenly blocked by a tall man in a brown suit, and House ground to a halt before colliding with him.
"You never told him. Robert. That I was dying." Rowan Chase's voice was characteristically calm, but his eyes squinted with cold accusation.
House felt his brow furrow. His eyes mirrored Rowan's squint. His mouth opened and closed several times before he managed to speak. "You told me not to," he uttered. "You told me it wasn't my business."
"You're naturally defiant," Rowan scoffed. "I was under the impression that you would characteristically ignore my request and tell Robert the news."
House straightened his back and squared his shoulders. "I don't do other people's dirty work. Move."
He felt a hand tugging on his sleeve, forcing him to turn. A woman stood in the aisle. Long blonde hair swept across her forehead. Her lips hovered above the rim of a glass. She sipped her cocktail-gin and tonic-and jabbed her forefinger into his chest. "You said dirty."
House stared, allowing Rowan to nudge him to side to grasp the woman's shoulders. Rowan guided Mrs. Chase, House guessed, to an empty seat beside a young man, whose head was bowed, his mouth turned down into a frown.
"Looks like you could use a drink," Mrs. Chase slurred, her face inches from the young man's.
"I miss my wife," the young man said. "Such a wonderful person. So selfless."
House watched him produce a wallet-sized photograph. He did a double-take, squinted, and leaned over the back of the seat for a closer look at the picture. An image of Cameron, several years younger and dressed in a white gown, smiled broadly at an unseen camera. Cameron's dead husband, House assumed. Cameron's dead, forlorn, pining, pathetic husband.
Stepping into the aisle, House scoffed. "She's not selfless. She's-"
House stumbled over a warm, furry lump on the floor, cutting off his words. Hector, Bonnie's insufferable dog, was stretched across the aisle, gnawing on his flame cane. "Hey!" House said, bending over to wrestle the cane from Hector's mouth. "That's mine. One cane's not enough for you?" He hooked the handle of the cane around the handrail attached to the ceiling of the bus. "It's about time you died. Must have set a world-Hey!" Another cane, already broken in two pieces, appeared on the floor; the dog's jaws immediately closed on the handle. House crouched beside the dog, reaching for the broken cane. "That's mine, too!"
Before House could work the cane free of Hector's grip, a familiar gray-brown blur streaked past him. His head swiveled to follow the blur of color. "Steve!" he shouted, catching sight of the rat scurrying beneath a row of seats.
Amber leaned sideways to peer into the aisle. "Who's Steve?"
"My rat. I found him in-Holy shit!" House howled, frantically trying to pluck a frightened, claw-bearing cat from his back. Another dog bounded past House's feet and nearly knocked him off balance, relentlessly searching for the cat. "Good Lord, what is this? Pet Cemetery?" he exclaimed, dropping the fluffy gray cat on the seat he'd vacated beside Amber.
"I can't imagine these were your pets, too," Amber said, urging the cat onto her lap and stroking its head.
"The cat"-House pointed to it-"was a patient's. Proved the kid had naphthalene poisoning. This dog"-House gestured to Hector-"was Wilson's ex-wife's. And that dog-"
House looked toward the rear of the bus and noticed Thomas Stark sitting comfortably-no wheelchair-in one of the bus seats. House gestured toward him, a forced smile on his face. "You remember Stark."
"Green blood guy," Amber affirmed. "Thirteen killed him."
Stark tickled the dog behind its ears. A satisfied grin pulled at his lips. "You have an awful lot of visions of the afterlife for someone who doesn't believe in it," he said.
"This isn't the afterlife," House retorted. "I'm not dead."
Amber addressed Stark, supporting House's claim with a nod. "He's right. He's not dead."
"I don't belong here," House said. A soft smile-a confirmation-spread across Amber's face. House met her eyes, lingering before he pivoted and dashed toward the front of the bus.
To his left, Death Row Guy-Carl? Clarence-shared a round of shots with Staph Infection Girl-her name escaped him completely. Several rows in front of them, a brown-haired woman wore a vacant expression, staring at her trembling hands. To his right, a young woman-no more than thirty-pressed her hand to her chest. She peered up at him as he passed, and chanted, "It was just a cough. It was just a cough."
From behind, a hand wrapped around his sleeve, bringing him to a stop. Bewildered, House encountered the haggard face of an old man, who pulled him closer to his seat. "Does Dr. Cameron remember me?"
House's eyebrows drew together as he uncurled the man's fingers from his sleeve. "I don't know," he said curtly. "Ask her." Before the old man could lunge for him, House propelled himself up the aisle. His head spun; he felt dizzy, but he pushed forward, hurtling himself toward the doors, toward life.
As his foot reached for the first step out of the bus, a frantic voice, tinged with an accent-Indian-called out. "Dr. House! Wait!"
A strange couple hurried up the aisle and stopped beside him. The man looped his arm around the woman and tucked her close to his side.
"Who are you? What do you want?" House asked. His eyes settled on the man; he looked vaguely familiar, and his brain tried to place him.
The man ignored his first question, jumped to the second. "A favor. Tell Lawrence-"
"Our son," the woman said, pulling her thick braid over her shoulder to fuss with the strands of dark hair.
House looked quizzically at them for a moment before realization dawned on him. "You're Kutner's parents," he said, nodding in understanding. He hadn't known they were dead; he obviously hadn't done enough snooping into Kutner's personal history.
"Tell him to pay attention to his food when he eats. Half of it dribbles onto his shirt because his eyes are glued to that TV," Mr. Kutner said.
"The boy needs a good kick in the pants sometimes. He'll learn a lot from you."
House blinked, then peered toward the back of the bus. He caught sight of Amber's smile and felt his own pulling at the corner of his mouth.
"Go," Amber urged, waving him away.
Then, with a shake of his head, House stepped off the bus.