When House was finally discharged a few days later, he came home to a bedroom that looked almost the same.
The king-sized bed in the master bedroom had made way for a hospital-standard bed. Wilson had made sure to choose a bed that didn't seem like it came straight out of the hospital. A wooden frame made it seem more homely and less hospital-grade. There was a roll-away bed stowed in the corner. He could tell Wilson had tried to make the IV stand less conspicuous by stuffing it into the corner next to the wardrobe.
But the sheets looked and smelled like home. House's pillow wasn't a lumpy, soft mess. The blanket wasn't scratchy. His guitar was there on its stand by the bed. There was no chart by his bed. There was cable. There was no fluorescent lighting, no constant squeaking of hospital trolley wheels, no feeling of being watched and observed all the time.
"Is it okay?" Wilson was anxious for approval.
House was quiet for a while. "Are those flowers?"
The incredulous tone didn't throw Wilson off. He turned to look at the flowers he'd placed on the window sill. "They look nice."
"You like them. I can tell." Wilson tried not to hover as House transferred from the wheelchair to the bed. "Anything else, master?"
House leaned back into the pillows, winded. "No." He paused, then questioned, "Don't I get a bell or something? To, you know, summon you when need be?"
"Har dee har har."
House shrugged as he tugged on his blankets. "Just trying my luck."
"Hmph," Wilson huffed as he sat down on the bed and began trying to unbutton House's loose shirt. "Nice try." He ignored House batting his hand away, and instead shoved the TV remote into House's hand. "Now quit fidgeting."
House grumbled under his breath as he switched on the small TV set, dutifully staying still as Wilson uncapped the PICC line. "You hungry?"
Wilson paused, the needle in mid-air. "You need to eat, you know that right?"
House averted his gaze. Unconsciously, his hand travelled to his stomach, and he grimaced. "I know."
House shook his head wearily. "Later."
Wilson suppressed an unhappy sigh and made up his mind to try get some food into House later.
"You should ask her out, you know."
Wilson startled, his hands slipping as he nearly poked House's chest with the needle. "What?" he sputtered.
"My chest is not a pin-cushion, thank you very much. I said, ask that brunette candy striper whom you've been ogling at out."
"Why are you even hesitating? Have you seen those breasts?"
"I… No… She - " Wilson stuttered out, before giving up, "Yes."
"So? What are you waiting for?"
"I don't even know if she's interested," Wilson replied lamely.
"Oh please," House rolled his eyes. "She's been checking out your ass and offering you her home-baked cookies every single time you step into the damn ward."
"Why are you telling me this?" Wilson asked softly.
House shrugged. "Go ask her out. I'm sick of the two of you making lovey dovey eyes at each other without even having a date. It's making me sick."
"Ha ha ha."
"You approve of her, then?"
"I quote what she said today, I'm only letting you ogle at my boobs and ass because you are terminally ill, House," House grumbled. "So yeah. Have at her."
Wilson chuckled. Amanda was the only candy striper who dared go near House. They had the most entertaining conversations, reveling in the sharp wit and barbs they exchanged.
"I'll be okay, you know," Wilson said after a while. He steadfastly pinned his gaze on the PICC line as he fiddled with it. "After."
House obviously didn't quite believe him. "I know."
"You don't handle grief well, Wilson," House muttered gruffly.
Wilson knew it was true. "That was different. That was out of the blue. This… the suspense you're building is torturous, you know." And before he could stop himself, he added, "It's killing me."
There was a short pause, then House snorted and laughed out loud. "Look at you… You look mortified. You're an oncologist, for God's sake, Wilson."
Wilson ducked his head. "It's hitting a little too close to home time," he muttered.
Wilson felt House twitch slightly in the bed, and knew that House agreed.
When he was done with the PICC line, he peered up to find House asleep, mouth slightly open and just barely snoring. Wilson took a moment for himself, closing his eyes, allowing himself to slump forward and leaning against the railings of the bed.
He allowed himself a moment to freak out.
Then, laying a head over House's chest, he let the sound of the gentle snores and the rise and fall of the chest calm him down.
When House opened his eyes, it was Chase seated next to his bed. He was typing methodically on the computer, concentration fully on the screen, but caught House looking at him. He nodded shortly in acknowledgement.
House let his eyes fall close again, drifting off again for an indeterminate amount of time before rising to consciousness again. "What are you doing here?" he finally said after feeling more himself and less trapped in a grey haze of muffled sound and pure fatigue. "Where's Wilson?"
"Hello to you too," Chase peered over his laptop at House's grumble. He set the laptop down and poured out a glass of water with one hand while helping House sit up with the other. "Wilson had an emergency with one of his kids whose parents refused to let any other doctor treat."
"Bah," was all House could summon. "Parents."
"Cuddy's at a meeting with some ex-donors who'd left when she'd left for New York. Jones is hoping to woo them back."
House rolled his eyes, making clear his opinion of donors, and shifted on the bed. "Aren't you supposed to be with some patient who is bleeding out of her eyes?"
Chase shrugged. "Taub and Masters are searching her house right now – and yes, we asked for her keys – Park is at the office with Connell." Park and Connell were the new fellows whom Chase – with very constructive comments from House that had consisted of wholly irrelevant remarks that had nothing to do with the medicine but everything to do with their looks and figures – had selected. "You wanna see the test results? Got them right here on the laptop."
House seemed to consider Chase's offer for a moment, taking in the laptop and its glowing screen before shaking his head. It was not worth the effort to put on his reading glasses – wherever they were, it was hard to keep track nowadays, not that he got to use them very much anyway – focus through the haze of the pain medications, and try to think.
Chase was good enough. He'd better be – it had been nearly a decade since he joined Diagnostics. House didn't quite realize he'd said that out loud until he saw Chase's palpable disappointment. Which was ridiculous, because Chase was supposed to be proud of himself, not disappointed that House was unwilling to help.
Or something like that. It was hard to think straight with the amount of meds he was doped up on in order to make the pain slightly bearable.
"I've got something I've been working on," Chase finally said after a while. "I want you to take a look."
House allowed Chase to lay a pillow across his lap and place the laptop on top. He leaned in closer. "A textbook?"
"I just thought… it'll be good. Ten years ago, no one would have thought Diagnostics a distinct department from the A&E, or General Surgery. Now, it's different."
"Damn," House narrowed his eyes. "Do not tell me you're teaching."
The way Chase's eyes shifted was a good enough answer.
"The Head of Diagnostics is not supposed to teach," House whined. "I thought I established that well enough!"
"That single session you taught was really good," Chase defended. "And Jones is no way as lenient as Cuddy was towards Diagnostics. It's a bi-weekly lecture only, and it's always a full house! They love it."
House paused as something occurred to him. He added almost menacingly. "Do not tell me there are interns in Diagnostics."
"It's a prestigious internship offered to only the top two students of the semester! And it's only for one month each year!"
"You're ruining my department. You're ruining it."
Chase rolled his eyes. "Theatrics."
House jabbed a finger in the air. "You're undoing all my work!"
"Well excuse me for wanting to give others a chance to learn." Chase dragged out the word excuse and accompanied it with a gentle poke. "Excuse me for doing things differently now that it's my department."
"The department I founded," House interjected. "And is now being run by the shmuck who once x-rayed the wrong foot – "
"And yet, is now Head of Diagnostics," Chase cut in emphatically. "As approved by you." Chase tapped on the screen of his laptop. "I am not razing it to the ground. I might do things a little differently from you, but that doesn't mean it's wrong." Then, softening, he said quietly, "I'll always remember what you've taught me. I just want others to have the same chance to learn."
Chase looked straight into House's eyes, chin jutted out ever so slightly. House recognized that bit of him. It was the grim determination that had somehow emerged in Chase over the years.
In the end, House sighed, looking away. "If you ever do anything to ruin the department, I will personally rise from the grave to kick your butt."
Chase straightened, a smile slowly creeping onto his face. "Wouldn't expect anything less."
"My name first on the textbook," House added grumpily. "The more gory visuals the better."
"Dream on," Chase replied cheerfully as he scooped up the laptop and settled back into the squishy armchair. "Maybe a mention in the foreword." He buried his nose back into his laptop, occasionally asking House questions about certain cases or for advice on how to proceed in a hypothetical case. Or rather, they debated about the merits of certain procedures, and how the high level of risk they entailed shouldn't stop anyone from getting at the answer.
"Chase," House suddenly said seriously after a long pause. He fingered the blanket and fidgeted uncomfortably.
Chase could hear the change in tone. He straightened in his seat. "Yeah."
"Can you help me..." A quiet mutter. "I want a bath."
Chase pointedly continued typing on the laptop for a while. "Sure," he agreed easily, making sure to keep his tone light. "Give me two minutes to wrap this up."
He had expected this. From what Wilson had told him, Wilson and Cuddy had been helping House into the shower chair for his daily showers ever since House had moved home a week ago. But as much as showers made a person squeaky clean, House had always preferred hot baths. Soaking in hot water helped improve blood circulation – something House was always particular about for the leg - and soothed aches and pains.
The problem was, Cuddy was too small in size to take House's weight and help him into the bathtub. And Wilson's back had never been in great shape, much less now that he was fast approaching the wrong side of fifty.
Chase set aside the laptop and stood up, heading into the en-suite bathroom to run the bath. He tested the water with the back of his hand before laying a foam mat down in the tub and laying several towels against the back of the tub.
House had already scooted over to the edge of the bed when Chase re-entered the bedroom. Chase sat down on the right side of House and waited. From the way House was glaring balefully at the wheelchair, Chase knew he was going to support House to the bathroom.
When House nodded, he extended one arm and wrapped it around House's torso.
He felt, rather than heard, the agreement.
Lifting House was easy. Chase could feel House lean heavily on him, his body a warm weight against his side. He waited for House to take the first step before moving forward incrementally, taking most of the weight whenever House stepped on his right foot. Chase could feel every single labored breath House took, as well as the sharp pain from House's fingernails digging into his bicep.
The last few steps into the toilet consisted of Chase carrying House more than anything else. In the end, he settled House on the toilet and left quietly to retrieve the oxygen tank. House seemed about to snark at the sight of the hospital tank, but the pressing need to regulate his breathing and not pass out from lack of oxygenation seemed to stop him, and he allowed Chase to place the mask on his face, his hand trembling slightly as it came up to hold the mask in place.
Chase helped House take off his ratty white cotton tee. He ignored the angles and sharp corners on House's torso as he crouched down in front of House to make sure that the cap of the PICC line was screwed on tight and waterproof. He gestured to House's drawstring pants. "Wanna leave these on?"
House seemed to contemplate for a while before removing the mask and rasping, "I'm wearing boxers."
Off came the blue pajama pants. The loose boxers just barely covered the scar, which Chase carefully avoided as he tugged off the pants. He moved swiftly but gently, not wanting to make this anymore uncomfortable for House, but also not wanting to hurt him, for he bruised easily now.
House's entire body had begun withering away. What used to be well-defined muscles in the shoulders, biceps and left leg had long withered away, leaving behind a thin and bruised body that was undoubtedly the body of a sick man. House's right leg had atrophied even further. The scar no longer seemed like a canyon; it in fact appeared to consist of almost ragged peaks protruding from House's thin and pale thigh.
They left the boxers on. Chase helped House transfer to the edge of the bathtub. Hooking one of House's arms around his neck to make sure he didn't fall over and crack his head open, he took the majority of House's weight as House lifted his left leg over the edge of the bathtub. For a brief moment, House scrabbled frantically for a handhold as he lost his balance, nearly tipping over into the bathtub. But Chase eventually regained his balance, his right hand shooting out to stop them both from toppling into the bathtub.
Moving the right leg required some effort on Chase's part, but eventually, House slid down into the hot water safely.
As he settled down onto the foam mat, his hands coming to rest limply at the bottom of the tub palms-up, House closed his eyes and leaned against the towels. Chase could hear the sigh of relief. As he watched House settle in, he could see tense muscles and the frown lines on House's face – that had become so familiar – slowly begin to relax and disappear.
House seemed to retreat into his own world at this point, not reacting even when Chase retrieved his paperwork and settled down on the toilet, wary to leave House alone in the bathroom in a tub full of water.
"This is very kinky," House murmured after a while. "You perv."
"I would rather not have you drown, thank you very much," Chase said wryly as he reached over to dip his hand into the water. He frowned as he realized it was cooling, and immediately turned on the hot water tap. "I think Cuddy still has the power to ruin my career."
House smiled slightly at that. "Mmm."
"Water still warm enough?"
A contented hum. Chase didn't miss the brief flash of gratitude that House shit his way before closing his eyes and sinking deeper into the water.
As Chase was about to refill the tub for the second time, he was startled by the sound of the door opening.
"Hey," Cuddy said softly. Her eyes immediately darted to House, who was asleep with his head thrown back and mouth wide open. "You helped him in…?"
Chase stood up from his makeshift seat and set on the counter his documents. "He asked me about half an hour ago. You're done with Mr and Mrs Crawlin? That's fast."
Cuddy shrugged modestly. "They've always been staunch supporters of PPTH. Where's Wilson?"
"The Bayley kid was admitted today and they were kicking up a huge fuss about them being major donors and yet not having the head of oncology treat them. He left," Chase checked his watch, "about three-ish." Chase glanced at Cuddy, then House. "I'll be outside. Let me know when he's done?"
Cuddy smiled gratefully, stepping out of her heels.
She waited till Chase left before crouching down next to the tub and running her hand through House's thinning grey hair. "Hey," she whispered softly. "Wake up." She leaned in to press a kiss to his forehead as he opened his eyes, blearily blinking several times. "Morning."
An incoherent mumble was all she got. She could tell it was a good incoherent mumble though. She laughed softly as she rolled up the sleeves of her navy blue blouse. Cuddy removed the drain plug and let some of the now lukewarm water drain away, turning on the tap again to refill the tub. She could feel him shiver slightly, so she rubbed her hands against his arms, trying to summon up some sort of heat.
When the tub was full again, she helped him sit up. With one arm wrapped around his shoulders – more an embrace than support – she began shampooing his head.
"This is supposed to be a really sexually charged moment," House grumbled. "Mount Gregory is supposed to be way more enthusiastic than this."
She leaned in and planted a quick kiss on his temple. "So your brain has decided to start working?"
He leaned his head to the left, smushing his ear against the back of her hand that was wrapped around his shoulder. "The hot water feels really good." He admitted.
"This is what I used to fantasize about."
She laughed out loud at that, a hearty one. "I know."
"The best sex we had was in the bathtub," he said gloomily.
"I agree," she said mildly as she reached up for the handheld showerhead. "Tilt your head back."
He obediently tilted his head back as she let the water flow over his soapy head, careful to not let any of it get into his eyes. "We had some phenomenal times in your bathtub."
Cuddy made a face as she turned off the handheld showerhead and grabbed the bottle of medicated shower gel designed for diabetic patients with neuropathic pain. "The entire bathroom floor was covered in water."
House sniggered. "We got better at it after a while. Less water, more movement. More moaning."
Cuddy gave him a light slap on the back for that before she resumed using the soft washcloth to soap his body. They were silent for a while, House's eyes closed as he savored the sensations. Cuddy slowly made her way from his back to his chest, steadfastly ignoring how she could feel the knobs of his spine and the ridges of his ribs.
House tilted his head forward slightly and whispered against her wrist. "Do you miss it?"
"Of course I do," she murmured back, her fingers tightening fractionally around the washcloth as she continued rubbing it gently across his delicate skin. The front of her blouse was getting wet, but she didn't really care. "You're a sex god, as you always claim."
"I'm always tired now," he said quietly.
She could feel it in every bone of his body. "It's okay." He took the washcloth from her to clean his own genital area, and she took the opportunity to sweep her hair back over her shoulder.
"Contrary to popular belief," Cuddy stated matter-of-factly when House relinquished the washcloth to her. It hurt him to bend over. "I love you not for your sexual prowess." She moved the washcloth down his left leg, making sure to get behind the knees and between the toes. "And not for those devastating blue eyes too," she hastily added, seeing him begin to quip so.
As she progressed to his right leg, she could feel him tense slightly. After all these years, he still tensed when it came to the right leg. Even with her. She shut down on the slight pang of disappointment, instead concentrating on making this as swift and painless as possible for him. Still, he only relaxed after she was done with the entire right leg.
"Want to soak for a while longer?" Cuddy asked after she was done.
A satisfied sigh and nod from House. Cuddy turned on the hot water tap and let some of the lukewarm water out, waiting for the tub to heat up again before she turned the tap off. She trailed her fingertips across a cheek and leaned in to kiss him at the corner of his mouth before getting up and sitting down on the toilet, her elbows on her knees. She was content to just watch him and spend the time with him in silence.
"You didn't sign a DNR." She paused, then added. "When I got the call from Wilson, I was so afraid that there would be a DNR, and I wouldn't get the chance to… see you."
House opened his eyes and dropped his head to one side, looking at her. "Yes."
"I thought you would have signed it." She let him take her hand and threaded her fingers through his. "I was almost mad at you – when I was rushing over – I was so mad, so terrified because I thought you would have signed a DNR."
House remained quiet for a long while. "You remember the night after we found the metastasis?"
"I mean what I say." He gave a crooked smile, almost conspiratorial. Then, not giving Cuddy more time to process what he'd said, he raised his voice, "Chase!"
Chase appeared at the door in mere seconds. "You ready?"
"Yeah" House said. "Can't let you slack off, can I?"
Chase glanced between Cuddy and House for a moment before stepping in and helping House out of the bathtub.
Filing what House had said to the back of her mind for later, Cuddy hurried to the bedroom and got a soft towel and House's clothes from the closet. The hot bath had made him sleepy and pliant, muscles loose and relaxed, so she helped him into his clothes while rubbing his head gently with the towel to dry his hair.
By the time House was fully dressed in his soft shirt and pants, and the PICC line had been reconnected by Chase, House was almost fully asleep. Cuddy slipped the memory foam pillow under House's right knee as Chase maneuvered him into a comfortable position for sleep. Then she laid the two blankets over him.
"I've got to go," Chase said softly when they were all done. "I have to review some test results with the team."
Cuddy glanced at her watch. It was six in the evening. "You don't have to drive them so hard like he did you guys. It's your department now. He was a slavedriver."
Chase's lips quirked up in an ironic smile. "It's because he drove us so hard that we are where we are today. But don't worry, I'll make sure to let the team have at least some sleep."
"I heard that." A sleepy interjection from the bed.
"You once made us stay overnight to run tests while you went home to your bed," Chase jested mockingly. "And you had the nerve to saunter in the next day fresh-faced and whistling."
"Alright, break it up, boys," Cuddy cut in. "You," she pointed to House, "rest." Then she turned to Chase. "You, please get some rest as well. No all-nighters in the hospital."
Chase walked over to the bed and laid a hand on House's forearm. There used to be a rule of no-contact, but somewhere along the way across the years, it had disappeared. Chase didn't know when they'd crossed that line. But he was glad that they had. "I'll see you soon, House."
Chase rolled his eyes and slipped out the door.
When Cuddy turned back, House was looking at her with an unidentifiable look in his eyes. She quietly shut the door and sat down at the edge of the bed. When he didn't do anything, she slotted herself into the bed below the blankets. Wary of hurting him, she made sure not to place any pressure on his body, simply tucking herself into his side. He didn't grumble, only made space for her by shifting marginally to the side.
She had the sudden urge to say, I miss you. Instead, the words that came out of her mouth were, "Rest well, House."
As she watched him slowly drift off to sleep, she wondered about why she'd wanted to say I miss you, and not I'm going to miss you.
All those years ago, she had thought that if he'd changed, he would be a better man, and she would love him more. Now that he had changed, she found herself wanting the old him back. The man in front of her was no longer the House she had admired and loved and bickered with all those years ago. And God, she missed him. She missed that House who would storm into her office and demand to be let out of clinic hours, and flirt with her and make inappropriate jokes at her. That House had been in pain, yes, but he had been full of life and vitality and a spark and passion that no one else could rival.
She rued the day that she left. She hadn't been able to love him fully for who he was, flaws and all. She had not been strong. And if she hadn't even tried to love him and accept him unconditionally, flaws and all, then who was she to say that she had tried her best, and that he had been the only one in the wrong?
The years had changed him, and what they'd gone through had changed him. A little here, and a little there, they all added up to a lot. Something had broken somewhere along the way, and the fact that they'd mended it didn't mean that all was fine. The cracks were still there. Would always still be there.
"I miss you," she whispered, even though she knew she was not entitled to do so. She had wanted him to change. And now, here she was, wanting that part of him that had died out a long time ago to reappear for just the briefest moment.
It made brief appearances sometimes. There would be a moment or two where there would be that spark in his eyes as he talked to Wilson, or moments where she'd feel that spark, that fire, between them again. But those moments left as swiftly as they came, leaving behind something bereft in her heart. He was here, but he wasn't here.
So why was there this soul-sucking sadness threatening to overwhelm her at every moment that she spent with him?
She didn't have the right to say it, but she did, again. "I miss you," she whispered into his ear. "I miss you so goddamn much."
"Anyone can love a thing because. That's as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect." - Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear.