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The Last Vacation Day
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He's sitting contentedly on his ass in the sand when the tall shadow slides over his legs, and he squints upward to find its source. Female, a silhouette against the dazzling shore and sky.

His appreciation of her figure is immediately shut down as she kneels beside him and he sees her. She is sipping serenely on a piƱa colada.

"You're not real," House says. He looks around, quickly, but no one else on the beach seems to be paying attention to the man talking to himself. "You're not real," he says again, putting more force behind the words. "There's not enough Vicodin left in my system."

Amber smiles at him and hands him the drink, but not before she picks up the tiny plastic sword, and delicately removes a maraschino cherry.

"Well then," she says, and oh god her eyes are sparkling with such fucking good cheer, "it must be something else ... mustn't it?"

"No." He's not having a philosophical debate with his own deluded brain. He looks down at the glass, which can't be real either. It is solid, but it should also be cold, and it isn't ... anything. He hurls it in a high arc, end over end, its contents spilling out before it falls into the waves. "There is no 'something else.' There's just -"

"Shut up," she says. Her smile is gone. She swallows the cherry, licks her lips - too red, the way they were on the bus - and puts the flat of her palm on his chest, pushing him backward into the sand. This, he can feel: her hand is cold.

"Clear," says Amber.

The beach explodes around him like a firework. The ocean boils away.

"Clear, you bastard!"

His body jolts. Air rushes inward. His eyes might be open or shut; can't tell. It's blindingly bright here -

"House!"

- and that voice isn't Amber's anymore.

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Wilson's out cold. And he should be. He looks more dead than Amber. He shouldn't be here, tying himself into knots in a chair that was outdated in 1972.

First thing Wilson had done when House was lucid enough and they were alone was: he made sure they got their story straight. House was driving much too fast, yes, but it was an accident. He blacked out behind the wheel, never even saw what he'd done, never meant to, and he's a liar and an idiot and of course he meant to, but that is not the kind of thing a guy can tell the cops.

The next part feels like a lie, but Wilson assures him it's true: he was unconscious when they removed him from the car. He vividly remembers otherwise. Hairbrush, limping away; the plane flight that must have happened but was probably boring and so his brain skipped it. Should've known something was wrong when he had no trouble walking on the beach with his cane.

They found the swelling in his brain when they MRIed him. Back when he went on the tumor hunt, he'd only looked at his damn leg; but in fairness, this wasn't a tumor. Just a few very slow leaks in a few small blood vessels, and a bacterium that moved in to feed on the damage. Inflammation and fluid buildup: the likely real cause of rattus mortis. The rat-scientists would never have noticed what was lurking backstage while the tumors hogged the spotlight.

His chart is on the table beside the bed, but he can't reach it.

By the time House crashed he should have had the Killer Zombie Headache from Space, but he'd barely felt it over the white-noise padding of all that Vicodin.

"Your numbness is going to fucking kill you," Wilson said, and then he'd left it alone. Turned on the TV, with the volume down so it would murmur some kind of comfort, and then curled up beneath his sport coat and fell into what House recognized as drug-induced sleep. That was a while ago - House's pill-taking spreading like a virus. Someone turned the TV off since then.

House's head itches so bad he could scream, but he can't scratch it. The Princeton General staff won't remove the restraints, and he couldn't bring himself to ask Wilson to do it.

"Wilson?" he calls, softly. Wilson doesn't move.

"Wilson." The itching is getting worse, traveling to other parts of his body. He hurts, damn it, hurts, and it doesn't matter why. His voice is breaking, louder each time he calls out, until at last Wilson opens his eyes.

House can't wipe his face any more than he can scratch his head, but it hardly matters now what Wilson sees.

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"Are you -"

"I hurt."

"Do I need to call -"

"No. No nurses." He's cold, he's hot, he'd puke if there were anything to throw up, he hurts, hurts, his leg and everywhere and nowhere in particular. Detox and something a lot less medical, something that probably can't kill him but feels like it will. Whatever special blend of drugs he's on now, a side effect is that he's lost his ability to not fucking cry in front of Wilson.

"I ... House, I can't let you out of ... I could be ..."

"Don't." House flexes his hand, stretches it out as far as it can go, looks from his own extended fingers to Wilson and back. "Wilson."

And Wilson, Wilson, still himself even now when he should be gone gone gone, he's there in crumpled clothes, unshowered, unshaven, still Wilson. His hand is warm. House holds onto it like he's dangling above the abyss. He hears the words coming out of himself, from some place inside him that he doesn't even know. I tried, I tried, Wilson, so sorry, it didn't help. I tried, but it didn't matter. I was tired of trying. I hurt.

My head itches.

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He's fuzzy. Fuzzy, fuzzy, and of course it has to do with the catheter lodged in his skull, or more precisely, with the fluid that it's there to drain, and the drug that caused the problem in the first place, and now that it's all over it's like he was walking around in a bubble that distorted everything and then popped. Violently. All over the only people who gave a damn about him.

Cuddy hasn't been here. That feels ... not good, but right.

It doesn't feel right that he isn't fighting the straps on his wrists. It's not like him. He knows he's the guy who'd be pushing and twisting poor Wilson into setting him free, but he's not, and he wonders if that could mean he does in fact need tying down.

"I don't know what I'll do," he confesses. He has let Wilson's hand go - the pain has subsided like a dying wave, waiting to surge back later - and he's watching that hand pull tissues from a box. "When they let me out. I don't know."

"Neither do I. Hold still?"

House does. Wilson wants to wipe the tears, sweat, and snot away, and it's not dignified at all, but neither is lying here and letting it all dry and crack on his skin, so the next nurse to come by can read the whole story like words on a page. But Wilson touches only once before muttering that he'll need water for this, and gliding out of the room.

The relief when he returns is strong enough to make House shut his eyes and turn his face into the damp-paper-towel caresses.

Wilson's gently clearing away the sticky matter from his lids when it occurs to House that he doesn't know what day it is. How long he was out. He hasn't asked, because he's fuzzy and he's not himself. And he won't ask just yet because he doesn't want Wilson to stop what he's doing and damn, how wrong is that.

"My head itches," he says.

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Wilson had to go to work, and this isn't PPTH so it isn't like work is just upstairs. The neurologist will be in soon. Tests. Then the shrink, whose job is to prod at House's mind and judge whether it's safe to free his body. He has a feeling the answer will be no. The doctors think he'll pull out the ventricular drain and try to gimp his way to freedom, and House can't promise them he won't.

He can't decide if he should tell them to call Nolan. Well, he should tell them; the question is whether he can, and face the disappointment of one more person who used to care for him.

He might ask Wilson about that, if and when Wilson comes back. What Wilson should do is come to his senses, pack up and move and leave no forwarding address. Probably won't, though, if only because he's not sane either. Someone, either Wilson or Cuddy, once called House the long-distance runner of need, but Wilson's the ultimate caretaker, the world champion soother of everyone's hurts except House's. House would never let him.

Now he has.

Wilson had pressed his fingers into House's hair and scratched, rubbed, massaged away the itching, working one-handed because the other hand is in a garish blue splint. House had been afraid to ask what happened; he already knew it was his fault, whatever it was. Around the drain tube where the itching was worst and the skin most delicate, Wilson had worked lightly with his blunt nails. It felt so good that even though his neck hurt, House had craned his head forward so Wilson could get around the back. He'd kept his eyes closed again, not ready yet to watch Wilson watching him.

"I've got to go," Wilson said at last. "I'll be back when I can."

House has chosen to believe him.

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He passes the neuro exam like a child prodigy breezing into the gifted-kid class. "Fuzzy" for him, unsurprisingly, is "sharp" for anyone else. The tests are way below his skill level, easier than they have any right to be after all the shit he's done to his body and brain.

The doctor seems neither impressed nor judgmental, her dark brown eyes impartially pleased with his progress. She's pretty. Could be hot, even, and it's sad that House doesn't have the wherewithal for some wittily offensive remark. He's hungry, aching and nauseated, his chest tightening. He has enough internal resources for only one statement.

"I have a shrink," he tells her. "Think you'd better call him."

Somewhere, on a bright shore in the back of his head, he can feel Amber smiling.