WARNINGS: Character death. House/Wilson slash, House/Cuddy and House/OMC flirtation. Spoilers through S3 and for 5X4, "Birthmarks."
DISCLAIMER: Seriously not mine. David Shore and colleagues created the characters on House M.D., and Tom Ford and David Scearce wrote the screenplay for A Single Man, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It really wasn't my intention to write another deathfic after the monster that was "Three Months," but I was struck by so many parallels when I watched "A Single Man" that I felt compelled to attempt this experiment. I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether or not it worked, even if you haven't seen the film.
I am walking towards the site of the accident, dressed in a dark suit, deliberately placing one foot before the other. He lies spread-eagled in the snow, drying blood caked along his cheekbone and forehead. His glassy eyes stare up unseeing at the brilliant winter sky. I stretch out my length beside him, propping my head up on one hand, then lean in and press my warm lips gently to his, stiff and bloody and blue.
I start awake, lying on my side of the bed, naked and alone. The alarm clock beeps a shrill clarion call to action. My thigh throbs in time beneath the twisted sheets, which are sodden with my sweat. For the past eight months, waking up has actually hurt, and not just because of my old injury. When I touch my fingers to my stinging lip, they come away bloody. The cold realization that I am still here slowly sets in.
I was never terribly fond of waking up. I was never one to jump out of bed and greet the day with a smile like Wilson was. I used to want to punch him sometimes in the morning, he was so happy. I used to tell him that only idiots would greet the day with a smile, that only idiots could possibly escape the simple truth: That now isn't simply now; it's a cold reminder. One day later than yesterday. One year later than last year. And that – sooner or later – it will come. He used to laugh at me and then give me a kiss on the cheek.
I steel myself, plant my feet on the floor, and limp into the bathroom. I piss, shave, chase a couple of Vicodin with a glass of water. Wilson would snicker if he could see the care with which I run the razor over my skin. He told me once that I looked good unshaven, and whether he was lying or not, I took him at his word. Now that he's gone, I feel compelled to scrape my jaw and cheeks raw, resulting in a smooth mask that I barely recognize, one whose revealed wrinkles cause me to look older and sadder, if not wiser.
These days, it takes time in the morning for me to become Greg House. I brush my hair, iron my shirt, wrestle with a tie, and even shine my sneakers – all the little steps in a daily ritual that serves to delay the inevitable moment when I must leave our – my – apartment and play my appointed part.
Looking in the mirror, staring back at me isn't so much a face as the expression of a predicament. I hiss at my reflection, "Just get through the goddamn day." A bit melodramatic, I guess. But then again, my heart has been broken. I feel as though I'm sinking. Drowning. I can't breathe.
When I emerge into the living room at last, Wilson is teasing Hector, holding a treat just out of reach so that the little dog circles, tottering, on his hind legs. He smiles conspiratorily at me over Hector's head, then vanishes. I close my eyes and lean against the wall for a moment, caught in the grip of an all-too-familiar spasm. Wilson is dead. My thigh twinges despite the Vicodin, and there is a stiffness in my arm, a tightness in my chest.
In the kitchen, I regard the refrigerator, nearly bare. With Wilson gone, my bachelor's diet has degenerated to stale bread, cold cuts, and peanut butter. And today there is no bread. I finally find it in the freezer, stone cold and nearly as hard. I bang it on the edge of the counter in frustration, but it just bounces off instead of shattering. I can't get no satisfaction.
Beside the desk in my new office at Princeton Plainsboro, my name and that of my very own department freshly stenciled on the door. "Aren't you going to say something?"
"Are you kidding? It's spectacular." Wilson leans in, eyes alight with mischief, backing me against the single solid wall.
"What are you doing? Stop it." I retreat as far as I can, the firmness of concrete behind my head, and gesture towards the door and the single fragile, transparent sheet that separates us from the adjoining conference room. "I don't think I'm quite ready for life in a glass house."
"Blinds, old man," he murmurs, warm breath brushing against my lips. "You're the one who's always saying that we're invisible."
"That's not exactly what I meant," I object, just before he stops my mouth with a kiss.
My cell phone rings, disrupting my reverie. I try to ignore it. For the first time in my life, I can't see my future. Every day goes by in a haze. But today, I have decided, will be different. Then the sound triggers another flood of memory that threatens to wash me away.
Sitting on the couch in our apartment with the Lancet, I pick up the phone. "Finally," I grouse. "You know it's been snowing all day. And I've been trapped in this place waiting for you to call."
"I'm sorry," a vaguely familiar voice says, "I must have the wrong number. I was calling for Dr. Gregory House."
Smelling a telemarketer, I almost hang up, but something in the man's tone or timbre stops me. "Oh. Yes, you've got him. Who is this?"
"This is Harold Wilson, I'm Jimmy's brother."
"Oh, of course." I can place him now. We'd met once, years ago, when he was in town for a visit after Wilson's second divorce.
"I'm afraid I'm calling with some bad news."
"Oh?" My heart clenches like a fist, already fearing the worst.
"There has been a car accident."
"Accident?" I repeat idiotically.
"There's been a lot of snow here lately, and the roads have been icy. On his way to town, Jimmy lost control of his car." I pull off my reading glasses, my hand shaking. "It was instantaneous, apparently."
"It happened late yesterday, but our parents didn't want to call you."
"I see." Wilson's mother had never approved of me, and the feeling was mutual.
"In fact, they don't know that I'm calling you now. But I thought that you should know."
It takes me a moment to marshal breath enough for words. "Thank you."
"I know this must be quite a shock. It was for all of us."
"Yeah," I say. My lips feel numb, and my much-vaunted brain has turned to mush. "Will there be a service?"
"The day after tomorrow."
"Well, I suppose I should get off the phone and book a flight…"
"The service is just for family." There is honest regret in his voice.
"For family, for…" I close my eyes. "It's Julie, isn't it?"
"One of his ex-wives didn't think that it would be appropriate," Harold confirms, deliberately vague. One of his ex-wives. Just for family. He probably doesn't understand how hurtful these words are to the man on the other end of the line, the man who has watched the parade of women march through Wilson's life over the years while he stood on the sidelines. Or maybe he does. I don't know which would be worse.
"Well, thanks for calling," I say, because it's all that I can manage without ripping into an innocent bystander, or worse, humiliating myself with a near-stranger. I fumble to hang up with clumsy fingers and sit there for a minute, stunned. I can barely feel the tears that begin to trickle down my face.
I find myself pulling up at the curb of Cuddy's house on my bike with no recollection of how I navigated the slick streets. I pound on the door desperately with the handle of my cane, and she opens it, her expression resigned at first, then expanding in astonishment and compassion. "I didn't know where else to go," I confess, and she cradles me in her arms, her generous breasts pressing against me underneath her nightgown. She strokes my hair as I pour out my story on her shoulder.
The phone is still ringing. I grab this week's issue of the NEJM and take it with me to the john, letting the caller go to voicemail. Nothing much happens for a long time except that I become better informed about the improved quality of life and longer survival seen in patients with metastatic lung cancer who receive early palliative care. Then the ringing begins again. Exasperated, I limp into the living room, my pants still down around my ankles, and pick up. "Hello, Cuddy."
"How did you know it was me?"
"Cuddy, nobody else calls me before ten in the morning."
"Well, maybe nobody else expects you to get your sorry ass into the clinic before class."
"I couldn't come in today. I have a headache."
"With that much Vicodin coursing through your veins, you can feel a headache?"
A diversion is clearly in order. "I was going to call you, actually. Is it too late to change my mind about tonight?"
She perks up immediately. "No, of course not. I haven't seen you all week." I wonder whether she's so anxious to see me out of sexual frustration or concern for my well-being. Just like with Wilson, it's probably a little of both.
"I know, I'm sorry. I have to run now, I'm late for work." I can almost hear her eyes roll on the other end of the line. "I'll come by later."
"All right, I'll see you then."
"Bye, old man."
I give up on this morning's BM and pull my pants back up. The NEJM goes into my backpack, along with the handgun I retrieve from my locked desk drawer. I hold the revolver in my hands for a moment first, reassured by its weight and solidity. And I check to make sure that all cylinders are empty, just like my father taught me.
Lady has arrived by the time I emerge into the kitchen. "Good morning, Meester Greg," she greets me, then peers at my face with a slight frown. "Sir? You don't look so good today."
"Good morning. No, I didn't sleep very well." I pause. "You forgot to take the bread out of the freezer."
"It stays fresh that way."
"It was a little too fresh this morning," I retort, "not unlike yourself." She frowns again, not parsing. I decide to move on. "There are some papers laid out on my desk which need to stay there, so please don't move them. And… I'm afraid that the sheets need changing again."
She only smiles; this woman has the patience of a saint. "It's okay, sir."
"Thank you." I bend down to peck her farewell on the cheek. "You're wonderful." She stares after me as I turn towards the front door, the word loco hovering unspoken in the air between us.
Now that I have made my decision, all of my senses seem ironically to have come alive. My perceptions even appear to arrive before the sources of the impressions. On my ride to work, the scenery seems to float by, so slowly that it throws my reflexes off as I brake and turn. The air flows thick as molasses, filtering the sunlight.
I pull into my handicapped spot. It takes me a long time to get out of the car. The reflection of a broken but determined man stares back at me from the rear view mirror. Finally I push myself against the weight of all that air and lever myself to my feet.
I've caught them between classes, a flood of budding humanitarians surging from one building to the next, pagers in hand, textbooks tucked under their arms. I walk against the herd like Moses parting the Red Sea, turning the heads of students of both sexes. It's a small place; they all know the story, and watch me pass with horrified fascination, or pity, or polite skepticism in their smiles. A few of them watch with something else, an expression that I used to catch on Cameron's face when confronted with terminal cases. I have never experienced that kind of attraction myself, but she devoured the damaged with her eyes, and as for Wilson- well, Wilson had eaten neediness. Lucky for me.
One especially beautiful boy with straight hair like ripe wheat recognizes me from my class and waves in welcome. I raise a hand half-heartedly to return his salute. The blonde girl beside him blows smoke rings, insolent and bored.
The nurse at the front desk catches me on my way to my office. "Doctor House? There was a student here this morning asking for your address."
I do some rapid calculations. "Address? Did you give it to him?"
She doesn't ask how I knew it was a he, just stammers, "Yes sir? I did? I hope that's okay," she adds hurriedly, no doubt all too aware of the uncertainty of my temper. "I realize I probably shouldn't have, but… he was very nice, and before I knew it, he…"
I have never noticed her eyes before, how unusual and varied their shades of vivid blues and greens. Her straightened hair is a glossy sheet of beaten gold. "Your hair looks great like that, it really suits you," I say. She colors, completely disconcerted, squinting as if trying to discern a novel angle of attack. "You always look so beautiful, really fresh, and you have such a lovely smile." I'm close enough to inhale her delicate scent. "Arpége?"
"Sir?" she says with a nervous laugh. This is the kind of behavior that women expected from Wilson, never from me.
"Really beautiful," I reassure her, and proceed past her to the elevator, leaving her witless in my wake.
I get my coffee in the Oncology lounge these days. No one would dare be insensitive enough to object. John Reuter, the unrepentant ass-kisser that Cuddy's kept on my tail since abandoning her campaign to get me on antidepressants, sidles up to me as I pour myself a cup. "Good morning, Greg."
"Good morning, John."
"You look awful, what have you been doing?"
I can't shake him; he follows me back to my office, looking as if he might grope for my pulse or impale me with a thermometer at any second. To distract him, I start complaining about the quality of med students these days, a familiar refrain. "Seriously, all they want is to pass the boards, do their residencies in Derm, and sit on the beach for the rest of their lives when they're not popping the pimples of rich brats from the Jersey suburbs. Half the time in class, I find them staring at me with a kind of bovine stupidity as if I were lecturing in a foreign language. Remind me again why we shouldn't all just be annihilated?"
I don't listen to his response; my mind is already elsewhere. When I look up again a few minutes later, he's gone. I sit at my desk watching the numbers count down on my computer screen until it's time for class.