Title: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Disclaimer: House M.D., its character's, locations, and storyline are the property of David Shore, Bad Hat Harry Productions and Fox Television. All Rights Reserved.
Characters/Pairing: J. Wilson, G. House, L. Cuddy; R. Brown, R. Chase and the rest of House's team, briefly; House/Wilson est. relationship.
A/N: This story is written as an entry for the Camp Sick!Wilson 2011 Sekrit Woid challenge: Prompt-Anemia. Also, an entry for the Hug Wilson Challenge as well.
Genre: sick!Wilson, drama, angst, hurt/comfort, fluff, AU.
Spoiler Alert: No real spoilers at all. Could take place at any time after season five.
Word Count: ~10200
Rating: PG-13 for coarse language, suggestive subject matter and serious topic.
A/N 2: This is a longish fic and I haven't had time to have it beta-ed before posting it so it's rife with errors but I really wanted to get it in on time before Camp Sick!Wilson ended. So please forgive how rough it is. I still plan on editing it a bit and having it beta-ed then repost a better quality version in the near future. I ran out of time, sorry.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Wilson sat on a bench in the corridor just outside one of his patient's room. He had to go into that room in a few moments, watch two very tired and hurting parents say goodbye to their eight month old son, and then stop the machines that were keeping him artificially alive. Sure, left on life support Drake Dunning could probably survive another three, maybe four days, but they would be days of agony medical science could no longer control both physically for the baby and emotionally for his mother and father and extended family. Off of life support Drake would likely last a half-an-hour, perhaps a little more, but then the suffering his tiny body was experiencing would be over and his parents would be able to say goodbye, grieve, and, hopefully, heal and move on.
It was the death of his pediatric patients, especially the infants and toddlers, which hit Wilson the hardest. They were so innocent and hadn't had a chance to even live a full life before having to leave it because of some damned disease. Most of their existence had been in the presence of pain and suffering. If there was a God, surely he would spare the children this kind of hell, and by doing so, spare their parents as well, wouldn't he?
It was particularly hard on this occasion not because he was closer to this baby than any of the others past and present but because he wasn't feeling well. He was feverish and had been maintaining a low-grade fever for over two weeks; hiding it from House had been impossible, so he'd lied and told him that he had a UTI. He even had Dr. Chase write him a script for an antibiotic and swore him to secrecy.
His symptoms began to worsen, however and new ones began presenting. He'd suspected what that and his constant exhaustion, itchiness, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, night sweats, nosebleeds, swollen lymph nodes and shortness of breath were about; he'd taken samples of his own blood and studied them in the lab, not wanting anyone else to know that there might be something wrong with him. The results had been exactly as he feared. He knew he needed to have imaging exams done, a lymph node biopsied, maybe the same with his blood marrow, to confirm but he knew. He dreaded having to face House and tell him the truth, though he knew that his partner was catching on to the fact that something was up and he wouldn't be able to keep it a secret for much longer.
Sighing, Wilson told himself that he would complete this last duty for his tiny patient and then would leave his paperwork for a second day in a row and head home early. Being alone in the loft would give him time to rest, clear his mind, and figure out what he was going to say to House when he got home from work. Slowly he stood up and took a deep breath, hoping it would enervate him enough to see him through this, and squared his shoulders. Swallowing back a sigh, Wilson slid the door open and entered Drake's room.
House paused in front of the front door of the loft apartment he shared with Wilson and stared at the doorknob for a long time. It had been a long day; since he'd had no patient to diagnose, slave driver Cuddy had chained him to a clinic exam room most of the day, threatening to double his clinic hours if he didn't stay there and actually see patients for once. Usually, when forced to work his clinic hours, House would sign in and then hole up in one of the exam rooms with his PSP or mini-television and only occasionally see a patient (during commercial breaks or once his player died) to keep up appearances. Today, however, Cuddy had left instructions with Nurse Brenda to send him patients at regular intervals and report any problems directly to her immediately.
He'd gone to Wilson's office around two that afternoon to drag him downstairs for a coffee break only to learn from his partner's personal assistant that Wilson had gone home early, claiming he had a headache and must have a virus coming on. It had confirmed in House's mind that his suspicions were accurate; Wilson was, indeed, sick and was trying to hide the fact from him—probably because he wanted to spare House the stress of knowing. Would he never learn that it stressed House out more to have to figure out for himself that something was wrong than for Wilson to simply be honest and tell him about it from the start?
House had begun to notice small changes, signs that things weren't quite normal with Wilson just a week ago, and kicked himself repeatedly over the fact that it had taken him that long to clue in. There had been the insomnia and restlessness when Wilson did manage to catch a few winks of sleep combined with the fatigue and general lack of energy or motivation for anything. Next had been the lack of color in Wilson's cheeks, the deep circles under his eyes and the panting he made after the least amount of exertion. Finally had been the loss of sexual desire, the pale nail beds, and the waking up at two in the morning with a nosebleed nights.
Last night, as Wilson had slept, House had watched him because he was too worried to sleep himself. A feeling of desperate fear had chilled House to the bone; he had imagined his life without Wilson in it and knew he would never make it without him. With that thought House had wrapped his arm over Wilson and rested his head on the younger man's chest, needing to feel his warmth to remind himself that Wilson was still alive and it wasn't too late to act. The tachycardic palpitations had motivated him to wake Wilson to make certain that he still could; Wilson had somewhat wakened for a minute or two before turning his back on House and going immediately back to sleep. That was when House had decided that he couldn't wait for Wilson to be honest with him any longer. He'd confront Wilson in the morning, which became lunch, which became now, or rather, very shortly.
Swallowing hard and then taking a deep breath, House put his key into the lock, turned it, and then opened the door.
Feeling completely exhausted upon arriving home that afternoon, Wilson had dropped his briefcase next to the front door, thrown his coat onto a hook, and headed straight for the bedroom to lie down for a short nap before he had to get up to start preparing dinner—and to tell House about the lab results. He had set his alarm clock to wake him in two hours but he slept right through it and was having the most disturbing dream when he became aware of someone's hand on his shoulder, shaking him to wake him. He was simply too tired to acknowledge it. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so tired. He began to descend back into a deeper sleep but the shaking became more emphatic and he heard House's voice say his name. It sounded like he was talking to him from the bottom of a well, deep, deep down…
A sharp sting to his cheek finally woke Wilson up. He opened his eyes, blinking a few times, to see House sitting on the edge of their bed staring down at him with a cellphone to his ear and talking into it. The vertical lines between House's frowning eyebrows were deep, dark, parallel chasms. Fearful blue eyes started down at Wilson, shinier than usual. Something was wrong; Wilson wondered what it was. He reached up to rub his face and his hand came back covered in red.
House hung up and tossed his phone onto the bed then placed a hand behind Wilson's head and elevated it.
"What's wrong…?" Wilson murmured; it was beginning to dawn on him that the redness on his hand was blood. Shit, he thought groggily, another nosebleed…. "When did you get home? What time is it?" Wilson made to sit up so he could properly see the clock but found that he didn't have the strength. He just noticed the familiar metallic taste in his mouth he knew was blood. Yup, it was definitely a nosebleed.
A noise that sounded suspiciously like a whimper came from House who followed it by gathering Wilson into his arms, pulling him against him, hugging him tightly as if trying to ensure that Wilson couldn't get away. It felt so good to be held like that, so comforting, so warm and tender….
House's voice murmuring into his ear jolted Wilson awake. "… and you've lost weight, so just tell me what's wrong. I know you know and I think I do too but I need you to tell me—now. Please, Jimmy!"
Was House crying? Wilson tried to lift his arms to hug him back but couldn't. What was House talking about? Oh yeah, Wilson thought, about the problem.
"I'm anemic," Wilson whispered, unable to locate the rest of his voice. "RBC count is four thousand."
"There's more," House urged, sounding frightened and frustrated. "Tell me."
Wilson found it difficult to keep his thoughts straight and he kept dozing off but he somewhere found the strength to stay awake and focus. "Reed-Steinberg cells…present…need…biopsy…"
"Shit," House whispered even as the knocking on the front door signaled the arrival of the EMTs and the ambulance he'd called for. His job done, Wilson allowed himself to go back to sleep.
House sat next to Chase in the booth as they ran the full-body MRI on Wilson. Wilson had been rushed to PPTH where he was given a blood transfusion, having lost so much from his uncontrolled nosebleed while he slept. House had him admitted and had grudgingly brought in the strongest attending in Wilson's department (after Wilson, himself, of course) to act as his partner's oncologist and primary physician. While he had wanted to take control of Wilson's diagnosis House knew that once they confirmed what was already suspected he had to hand over the reins to someone more qualified and less personally involved. There was no way he could be objective enough to treat Wilson and be in charge of his care. His power was in Wilson's medical proxy and giving the final okay—or not.
"I know about the 'script you wrote Wilson," House told him; his voice was hard, accusing.
Chase swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. He furtively glanced at his boss out of the corner of his eyes.
"He practically begged me not to say anything to you," Chase admitted. "I told him I would remain silent but he had to tell you in a week or I would. He came back the next day and told me that he'd taken care of it."
House snorted. "And you believed him?"
Shrugging, Chase replied, "I had no reason not to." He started, and leaned in to stare at the screen. Seeing this, House turned his attention to it as well. A few keystrokes later and Chase had backed up and frozen a particular section sequence on the display and allowed it to play on a repeating loop. He pointed at something on the screen. "There."
"Bingo," House said, sighing. Chase was indicating the small mass on a lymph node which had spread to a smaller mass on Wilson's spleen right next door; a Lymphocytic tumor that had begun to metastasize. House hoped that was the only anomaly they would find; any others would indicate that Wilson was further along in the disease than House had suspected.
"Hodgkin's Disease, anyone?" Chase muttered, frowning and slumping in his chair.
House looked at the monitor that displayed Wilson's face as he attempted to lay perfectly still in the MRI scanner. He pressed the button for the speaker. "Wilson."
The grim undertone in House's single word told Wilson what he needed to hear. He frowned and nodded slightly.
"Where?" Wilson asked weakly.
"Figures," Wilson said as if he had suspected that all along. Perhaps he had. "Page Brown. Get him to book a suite for the resection and biopsy. tell him to take a marrow sample at the same "
"Chase is already on the phone with him," House told him as he watched the younger doctor speak on the phone. "Wilson, one of the lymph nodes has a mass of about two and a half centimeters and the spleen has one of about point five. So far we haven't noticed anything elsewhere. We'll have to review the scans later to be certain."
"Yeah," Wilson responded, swallowing hard. "Ironic, isn't it?"
"You're going to be okay," House assured him, meaning it. "We'll beat this."
An eyebrow arched on Wilson's forehead and a sickly smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "We?"
House nodded, momentarily forgetting that Wilson couldn't see him. "Definitely we," he assured him firmly. The smile House received from Wilson in response made it impossible to hide one of his own. An idea occurred to him. "Wilson, this is Satan."
Wilson stifled a chuckle but did roll his eyes. "How come you get a message from God but I get a message from Satan?"
"God's too busy watching a commuter bridge collapse in Brazil to come to the phone," House quipped, blue eyes sparkling. "Wilson, this is Satan."
"Yeah, what do you want?" Wilson said, playing along.
"Since House has been building himself a resort down here we have no room for you. You'll have to wait another fifty years for us to find a spot for you."
Wilson couldn't withhold his laughter any longer. The sound of it caused House to start to chuckle. He didn't notice the half-smile on Chase's face.
"You guys are fucking up the MRI images," the Australian muttered nearly under his breath. Louder: "Wilson, you have to stay still unless you want us to have to start over."
Wilson ignored him. "What makes you think I'm going to hell?"
"Because House has already made reservations," 'Satan' replied, "and everyone knows that you wouldn't be able to stand being separated from him for eternity."
Wilson didn't answer; his face was deadpan.
"Wilson?" House said when he received no reply.
"I'm thinking," Wilson replied, bringing a laugh out of Chase before he could stop it. House glared at his employee briefly before turning his attention back to Wilson. On the monitor Wilson was smirking smugly, impressed with his own joke.
House fought the urge to chuckle but eventually lost the battle. They had to beat this disease—he couldn't lose Wilson and the good times like these.
When Wilson woke from the anesthetic he groaned almost immediately from the incredible ache he felt from his left hip. Of the two that he had, why did Brown have to take the bone marrow sample from the left one when everyone knew that Wilson's dominant side was the left one? He also felt the pain from the incision in his abdomen where the diseased lymph nodes and his spleen were excised. Brown had tried to spare the spleen but upon visual inspection acted on the safe side and removed the entire organ and the connective tissue that had held it in its place. No other masses had been visible in the area of his abdominal cavity and neighboring organs to the spleen. Those tissues would be examined in pathology to determine their histology and composition—in other words, whether they were cancer or not.
His groan alerted House, who had been sleeping in a recliner situated right next to Wilson's bed. He was instantly awake, it seemed.
"Hey," House said simply, sitting on the right side of the bed so as to disturb the biopsy and resection sites as little as possible.
"Hey," Wilson croaked. House reached over to the tray table nearby, where a glassful of ice water and a straw waited for Wilson's need. He grabbed it and then brought the straw to Wilson's lips. Drinking greedily, Wilson enjoyed the feeling of the icy liquid as it flowed down his raw, aching throat. When he was done House set the glass aside again.
"Everything went as expected," House informed him. "Visual inspection found no evidence of metastasis to any other surrounding organs or tissues. Brown is down in pathology with my team right now overseeing the examination and testing himself. You consumed three more pints of blood during surgery, Vlad. Cuddy was by for a few minutes about an hour ago and wants regular updates on what we find. She's pissed that we didn't call her personally and she had to find out her chief of oncology had been admitted for testing from her PA this morning. Oops."
"House," Wilson chided.
"Hey, don't blame me if I had more important things on my mind last night than calling my boss to tell her my lover nearly bled to death from his nose and had to be rushed to emergency," House defended, quickly but gently brushing a stray lock of Wilson's hair back into place, as if that would make up for the dozens of others that stood up where they shouldn't. "Knowing Cuddy, she would have accused me of giving you the bloody nose in the first place."
Wilson saw an involuntary shiver run down House's spine. "How bad was it, really?"
House sighed. "You know that Steven King movie, Carrie, where the title character is pranked on prom night and a bucket of pig's blood is dumped all over her?"
"That's about how bad," House murmured, frowning at the unpleasant memory. "At first I thought someone had slit your throat while you slept. Don't ever scare the shit out of me like that again."
"I'm sorry," Wilson told him, reaching a hand to grab onto and hold one of House's. "I'm sorry for all of this."
"Don't," House told him, shaking his head. "Just…don't."
"But I know how hard this has to be for you," Wilson insisted but he was silenced by House's mouth descending upon his. Two long fingered hands came to cradle Wilson's head and hold it still as House kissed him passionately; Wilson returned his kiss with just as much enthusiasm, though he had less endurance and had to part to breathe sooner. They rested their foreheads together.
"You're right," House admitted quietly, looking furtively into Wilson's soft brown eyes. "This is hard on me. I hate seeing you suffer. That's supposed to happen to me if it has to happen at all, not you. I'm scared; the thought of losing you…" House sighed, unable to finish that sentence. "I told you that I love you and that I would be there for you when you need me when we started this relationship and I still mean it. Don't apologize for being sick…just fight like hell to get better; that's all I ask."
Wilson nodded and placed a kiss on the end of House's nose. "I didn't wait twenty years to be with you just to kick off right after I finally got you. Whatever it takes."
House smirked and nodded. "Whatever it takes."
House reclined on the hospital bed next to Wilson, holding him in his arms for a long time after his partner had received more pain medication and had fallen back to sleep. He rested his head against Wilson's, his face turned into his rich brown hair that was starting to turn silver around the temple. He had always loved the smell of Wilson's hair, how it always smelled like some kind of fruit depending upon what type of shampoo he was using at the time. Before they had acknowledged their feelings for each other and went from best friends to best friends and lovers House could only catch a whiff of it on occasion when Wilson would walk next to him or in one of their living rooms when he would lean past House to grab the remote control. Now…now he could smell in up close and personal, run his fingers through Wilson's thick, silky locks and enjoy him in intimate ways that included but weren't restricted to sex.
The past six months with Wilson as his partner had been the very best of his entire life, better than even the honeymoon period with Stacy. He'd smiled and laughed more than he had in all of the fifty-one years that had preceded them. Nolan had erred in saying that House wanted Cuddy and would find his happiness being with her—that shrink couldn't have been more wrong if he had tried. House had finally found peace and happiness in the one person that had been staring him in the face for over twenty years. He would do anything to make certain Wilson got better because if Wilson died, House knew he would soon follow him just from the grieving alone. Wilson's love and trust in him in spite of all the horrible things he had done over the year had made House want to be a better man, and he had become so, at least a little—not that he wanted too many people knowing that; he had a reputation to protect.
The blinds over the glass walls of the hospital room had been closed for privacy so he didn't see Cuddy, Chase and Brown arrive until the door opened and Cuddy stuck her head in.
"Results?" House whispered. The Dean of Medicine nodded and then withdrew from the room to wait for him to follow her. House didn't want to let go of Wilson just yet, but his curiosity got the better of him. He carefully withdrew himself from Wilson without waking him, rose stiffly to his feet with a stifled groan due to the pain in his leg, grabbed his cane and hobble gingerly and as quietly as possible out of Wilson's room. He joined them where they had congregated near the nursing station.
"The tumor was definitely malignant," Brown told him, the first to speak. The marrow samples were inconclusive but considering how low his RBC and platelet counts were I think it's reasonable to suspect that it may be compromised. He definitely has Hodgkin's Lymphoma; I'd say late Stage Two to early Stage Three B."
"Treatment plan?" House asked, not thrilled to hear that Wilson indeed had cancer but not surprised either. He'd pretty much resigned himself to that fact already. Now that they knew exactly what they were dealing with they could begin to battle the disease.
Brown exhaled tiredly and rubbed a cheek with his hand. "I have to sit down and work out the specifics at this point but considering the fact that we're looking at the possibility of metastasis to his bone marrow and the fact that he's already suffering severe symptoms I believe we have to go with a combination of chemo and radiotherapy. When I have a couple of treatment plans made up I'll want to sit down with both James and yourself to discuss them with you and allow the both of you to discuss the options and pick the route you want to take."
House sighed silently. There went that thick, silky, sweet-scented hair—at least until Wilson went into remission.
"And his prognosis?" Cuddy inquired.
"Well, it's a little early for me to be able to give you anything near being accurate," the oncologist answered, "but I have a good feeling about this. Let me put it this way—I've had patients who have been further advanced in their disease upon discovery who were in half as good of condition physically as James who went on to full remission. Is that a guarantee? No way—but I'd be willing to stick my neck out and say that my money's on him beating this."
"I'll keep that in mind," Chase muttered, earning a glare.
"Nobody bets on Wilson's survival," House told the Australian sternly. Chase was known as the hospital bookie, and usually House participated in the betting that took place, but this was Wilson; that made this opportunity to make money off-limits.
Chase nodded, appearing properly chastened. "Of course."
"I'll have the treatment plans written up before quitting time this evening," Brown told House, "and I'll bring them by here before I leave for the day. In the meantime I'll be checking the bone marrow samples for the viability of James's own stem cells and I'll have him put on the non-related donor list in case a transplant becomes necessary. Does he have any full siblings that you know of? They might be our best bet for finding a match with James."
"He has two brothers," House answered soberly, "but no one in his family has been notified yet. Wilson wanted to hold off saying anything to them until we knew for certain what exactly was wrong with him. I'll contact them right away and try to arrange for his brothers to be tested."
"Good enough," Brown acknowledged, nodding. "Look House, I'm not going to insult you by assuring you that everything is going to be just fine; we both know what James is facing and what the complications and roadblocks may be. But he's still relatively young and otherwise in good health so I'm cautiously optimistic."
House nodded once, curtly; he appreciated Brown's deference to his medical knowledge and the respect he was being shown. There weren't too many doctors at PPTH—or anywhere else in Princeton, for that matter—who had any use for House and they had never failed to let him know that whenever the opportunity made itself available to them.
Brown departed, heading off to do what he said he was going to as well as to attend to the other patients under his care. House sent Chase off to the clinic to work his hours for him and surprisingly neither his fellow nor his boss made any objections. Cuddy gently touched House's arm.
"Would you like me to help with those calls to Wilson's family?" she offered.
House touched her hand briefly before extricating himself from her. "No. I've got this," he told her. "Thanks."
Cuddy nodded and then left as well. House watched her go before returning to the privacy of Wilson's room and using the phone extension in there to make those unpleasant calls.
Wilson listened carefully to the treatment plan Brown presented to both House and him. In anticipation of receiving the diagnosis of Hodgkin's Lymphoma the chief of oncology had already formulated in his mind what he would recommend if he were the doctor with a patient in the exact same circumstance as he was. Brown offered two choices, the only ones that were feasible, and they almost matched what Wilson had come up with completely.
House reclined next to Wilson on the bed with an arm protectively draped across his shoulders and holding Wilson's hand with his free one. Wilson was surprised at how quiet and cooperative House was being with Brown and felt warmth fill his chest; House really was making an effort to be a source of strength and support for him. Wilson knew, however, that House's reserves were not limitless and that eventually he would end up drained and in need of some reinforcement himself. For now, though, he was holding up remarkably well, and Wilson was very proud of him.
"My recommendation, based on the fact that no other masses were visible on the MRI and PET scans," Brown concluded, "is that we forego radiation therapy at this time and focus on an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. I want to avoid the causation of secondary malignancies that could be brought on by radiation. I want to start with the ABVD cocktail: doxorubicin plus bleomycin, vinblastine, and dacarbazine. We'll be careful about the level of bleomycin to mitigate the toxic effects it may have on your pulmonary functions. Once we've completed the initial series of treatments we'll reevaluate the effectiveness and any negative results, if any, of the ABVD. If necessary we can adjust the cocktail or try a different cocktail altogether. We'll also keep monitoring your bone marrow at regular intervals so if there is the metastasis of malignancy there we can catch it early. I want to keep the possibility of stem cell transplantation open so you've been listed with the Red Cross's Non-related Bone Marrow Registry. Did you have any success in convincing your brothers to be tested and screened?"
"My older brother has agreed," Wilson answered, glancing over at House; that had been quite the experience for the both of them. "Arrangements are being made for him to have a marrow sample taken where he lives and screened for a match. My younger brother is unable to make the decision for himself and my parents, who officially hold his guardianship, are still discussing the issue with their rabbi but they promised to get back to us with their decision as soon as possible."
Wilson felt House bristle slightly. His partner was ready to fly to Chicago to have a go at Wilson's father after talking with him last. Insisting on seeking religious advice on the ethics of 'forcing' Danny to submit to screening first when his other son could be dying was something House simply couldn't understand or tolerate. The only thing that had kept House from reacting was Wilson's plea that he be patient and wait for his parents to work things out in their minds. What Wilson didn't tell House was that he was just as pissed with his parent's reaction to his illness as House was, but much less surprised by it. His parents were simply being…his parents; there was no religious reason for them to even hesitate about agreeing to the donation; his parents were simply being the selfish pricks they had always been. Wilson knew from over forty years of experience that putting pressure on them would only slow down the process, not speed it up. Plus, Wilson's parents were still angry and disappointed about his same-sex relationship with House and having House get up in their face ready for a fight would, he knew, only complicate an already over-complicated situation.
"Good," Brown acknowledged with a bob of his head. "I'd like to begin your first round of treatments in a week from today. James, I've put in orders for you to receive immunizations for the usual: haemophilusinfluenzae type B conjugate, meningococcal, and pneumococcal, so someone should be coming by sometime today yet to do give you those. Are we good, then—in agreement with what our next steps are going to be?"
House and Wilson exchanged glances; House was deferring to Wilson and whatever he thought was best since he was, after all, an oncologist. Wilson gave House a reassuring smile and squeezed his hand gently before answering, "Yes, Rich, we are."
Bound up by a case Cuddy had tossed onto his desk, House missed being there for Wilson's first chemo treatment by ten minutes, and found him sitting in a well-padded chair outside the treatment clinic waiting for him when he arrived. Wilson sat with his head tilted against the back of the chair, his pale face directed at the ceiling and his eyes closed. He opened his eyes and turned his head in House's direction when he heard the approach of his distinctive footfall.
House stood before him morosely, feeling sick to his stomach about letting Wilson down.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "My patient began to hemorrhage and then she crashed—"
Wilson shook his head and stood up slowly. He closed the distance between them and cupped House's bristly cheek with his hand. "It's okay," he assured him. "At that moment she needed your attention more than I did."
House leaned so that his forehead touched Wilson's, and two strong arms, one having a cane hanging on it, enveloped him. "You're more important to me."
Wilson nodded. "Don't worry—I know that. Come on—take me home, I'm tired. If you're a good boy, I'll let you massage my feet."
"Only if I get to suck your toes."
He hugged the toilet, gasping for breath between bouts of vomiting and gagging. Wilson watched droplets of sweat drip off his face into the mess in the bowl. It took a great deal of effort to lift his arm enough to reach the lever to flush the toilet but he managed, trembling. In a few minutes, once his stomach settled again, he would somehow find the strength to pull himself up to his feet, remove his soiled pajama bottoms and clean himself up as best he could. His stomach lurched painfully again and he leaned over the bowl. All that came up was mucus and bile with a hint of blood, likely from his raw, burning throat.
Absently he heard House hobble cane-less into the bathroom. "You should have woke me," House chastised sleepily.
The heaving calmed again. "You were sleeping so soundly," Wilson told him, his voice quavering. "You've been up every night this week with me plus working a complicated case. You're wearing yourself out."
His first round of chemo had been easier on him than this one, but it had also been less effective than they had hoped. His bone marrow had tested positive for metastasis; Wilson agreed with Brown that they had to switch cocktails and work with more aggressive dosages. House had been leery about just how aggressive they were being but had stood by Wilson's decision.
For three weeks now he'd been receiving treatments with the new cocktail and his hair had completely fallen out, the nausea, vomiting and diarrhea had been violent and he'd lost twelve more pounds, making that forty-one since he'd begun chemotherapy. His clothes had begun to hang off of his ever-thinning body and without the layer of fat under his skin that he normally would have had Wilson felt cold all the time; he had taken to wearing sweaters under his lab coat at work and wrapping himself up in woolen blankets at home in order not to roast House out of the condo by raising the thermostat.
House had been caring for him at home, though to keep up appearances it was usually with the rolling of his eyes or grumbling under his breath about not signing up to be Wilson's slave. They both knew that House's protests were token at best. In fact, Wilson found himself telling House repeatedly to sit down and rest his leg, to go back to bed, and to go out and have some fun. As usual, his partner ignored him. Wilson feared that with House burning the candle at both ends he was going to burn himself out completely. There were times when he wondered if it was fair to House to be tied down to him, if it wouldn't be kinder to House in the long run to end their relationship and send him away. Those thoughts broke his heart, but he couldn't help but think them. He adored House enough to give him up if it was the best thing for his partner. Yet, Wilson hadn't mentioned it because he was, he knew, basically a selfish man and didn't want to lose House, didn't want to have to face this uphill battle alone.
"I'll decide whether or not I'm wearing myself out," House told him, still stern. His gorgeous eyes were dulled with worry and fear and had been continuously so since the change in Wilson's treatment plan. "Let's get you out of those bottoms and run a bath."
Wilson didn't argue. He fought his humiliation as House helped him up to his feet in spite of his own lameness. As House removed his soiled clothing and helped him clean up the worst of the mess Wilson closed his eyes, wishing that the ground would just open up and swallow his sick, deteriorating, stinking carcass whole and be done with it. House started a warm bath for him, forcing Wilson to sit on the toilet while he left the room to grab a change of clothing and towels for him when he got out of the bath.
Once safely in the very warm water, House sat on the edge of the tub and washed Wilson's back with a face cloth. Normally Wilson didn't take baths, preferring to shower instead. However lately he had been suffering from dizziness; the heat of the shower and standing on his feet had become too much of a hazard so, baths it was.
"Wilson?" House said.
"I think…I think that it's time you take a medical leave of absence from work," his partner told him. While House couldn't help but be blunt, he was learning to lace the tone of his voice with gentleness when speaking to Wilson, especially when it came to sensitive topics like that one. Wilson had been determined to keep working as long as he possibly could; he'd reduced his patient load upon the insistence of House with Cuddy backing him up but he'd continued with the administrative duties of his position as well as working his clinic hours (when House or others on his team as well as doctors in oncology didn't work them off first, behind Wilson's back). He hadn't wanted to be molly-coddled and babied and actually resented all of the help, no matter how well-meaning everyone had been.
House and he had avoided arguing about Wilson's workload, surprisingly, and this was the first time House had brought the subject up in weeks. Wilson could tell by House's body language that he expected the younger of them to react angrily at the suggestion; however, when Wilson looked at the deep, dark circles under House's eyes and the lines of stress around his forehead, eyes and mouth he realized that he had to think about how his work schedule was wearing on his partner as well.
Sighing, Wilson reluctantly nodded, looking up at him. "I know. House, I need to ask you a question, and I need you to be perfectly honest with me: Do you ever wish that…that you weren't involved with me and could just run away from all of this?"
House stopped rubbing circles with the wash cloth. He threw it into the water, creating a splash, then grabbed a rail and stood up. Finding his cane, he limped heavily out of the bathroom and slammed the door behind him—hard enough to make everything not fastened down in the room shake.
Closing his eyes, Wilson swallowed hard at the lump forming in his throat. Sadness, guilt and frustration wanted to take up permanent residence in his chest. He blinked back the tears that wet at his eyes mockingly. He shouldn't have asked that question. Everything had been going so well…too well, actually. It had only been time before they both began to crack under the strain and pressure. Wilson cursed himself for his selfishness and stupidity. He hated this so much that he wanted to scream, throw things, punch something, curse a God that he was certain now that he didn't believe in, and give up—but he didn't, because that would have been a useless expenditure of what little energy and strength he had left.
Fifteen minutes later House returned but he refused to meet Wilson's gaze and said only the minimum necessary to help Wilson out of the tub, dry off, and dress into a clean shirt, boxers and pajama bottoms. Wilson sat on the closed toilet seat again as House helped him put on heavy wool socks to keep his feet warm.
"I'm sorry, Greg," Wilson whispered earnestly. The only response he received was a hand up to his feet and then an escort back to their bed. Once he was settled in under the blankets House gave him his shots; one for the nausea and one for the bone pain Wilson suffered from constantly.
House eventually settled into the bed beside him and turned off the light before rolling onto his side facing away from Wilson. A few moments later he rolled over to his other side and grabbed Wilson, pulling him into his arms, holding him close. House's scruffy cheek brushed Wilson's temple and it was wet from silent tears.
"I don't want to be anywhere but with you," House murmured to him, his voice deep and gravelly. "I'm never going to leave. Don't ever ask me a stupid fucking question like that again! Do you hear me, Jimmy? Neither of us is going anywhere." House kissed Wilson's temple two or three times. "Never."
Wilson closed his eyes, squeezing a tear out to roll down the side of his face. "Okay," he said.
House followed behind the paramedics pushing the gurney out of the ambulance as quickly as his gimp leg would allow him, up the gangway and through the ER's automatic doors with the negative pressure blowing air in behind him, ruffling the hair at the back of his head. Hospital staff took over custody of the gurney and its passenger from the ambulance crew. Wilson was pushed into a special treatment room. House was intercepted by Cuddy carrying a sleepy four year old Rachel in her arms, the child's legs wrapped around her.
"What happened?" she demanded, watching with House as the ER team assigned to Wilson worked quickly but efficiently around him. House tore his eyes away from Wilson's motionless form to look at her. She had thrown on some slacks, tucking her nightie into them and covering up with a thick cardigan and wearing tennis shoes over bare feet. Rachel wore her jacket and boots over her fuzzy pajamas. Obviously she had wasted no time getting to the hospital after House had notified her that he and Wilson were in an ambulance on their way to PPTH.
"Where's Lucas?" he asked her, nodding at Rachel.
"He's on a stakeout," she answered briefly, "incommunicado. Answer my question."
"I—I'm not certain." House's stammering visibly disturbed Cuddy more than his answer. "I woke up and he wasn't in bed. He'd fallen out, onto the floor. He was in cardiac arrest. I don't know what the hell is going on. I'm supposed to be this fucking genius diagnostician but I don't even know what's wrong with my own partner!"
House's volume had increased with every syllable spoken, attracting the attention of everyone around him. Cuddy signaled with her head to a nurse to approach. "Jeffrey," she spoke softly, calmly, holding out her keys, "take Rachel for me to my office and lay her down on the sofa, would you please? She's practically asleep right now."
"Absolutely," he responded, carefully taking Rachel from her. "Come on, honey, let's you and I go for a walk to mommy's office."
Rachel waved to her mother and then to House as she was carried away, too sleepy to speak.
Cuddy turned her attention back to House, grabbing his face in her hands. "House, look at me. None of this is your fault. Everybody and their dog knows how attentive and good to Wilson you've been in all of this; for months we've watched you wear yourself thin. Nobody expects you to be able to predict every incident that occurs or know immediately what's wrong with him. You're not his doctor for a reason; you're his family, his partner. Quit kicking yourself in the ass! Allow the people around you to help you and Wilson now. That's an order."
House had a sick feeling that this might be it, that Wilson was too weak to keep fighting and that he would never wake up again. His head was spinning, his stomach churning, and the ground felt like it was moving beneath his feet. His leg was screaming and not for the first time did he crave Vicodin to take the pain-of every kind-away for a while. He couldn't lose Wilson! He would never survive without him; what's more, he didn't want to. Wilson was his North Star. House's world was held in place by Wilson and he was lost without him to help navigate his crazy life. Without him, House would be set adrift, lost forever. The walls began to shift and shimmy now.
Cuddy looked at him, her eyes widening. She turned toward the nearest staff member.
"Help me! He going to faint!"
Too late, House mused as he hit the floor and everything went black.
"Dr. Cuddy, he's coming to."
House heard the shuffling of feet and clothing, felt a soft, cool hand caress his cheek before coming to rest on his shoulder. He exhaled before opening his eyes. Cuddy was standing next to the treatment bed he lay on, looking down at him. Assembled with her around him was his entire team, including Foreman, and Dr. Brown. They stared at him with a menagerie of expressions ranging from relief to boredom to concern.
Realizing that he'd fainted and that he'd been lifted onto one of the tables in the ER, House tried to sit up quickly only to be overwhelmed by dizziness and white static.
"Easy, House," Cuddy told him, "not so fast."
House didn't give a damn about his own well-being. Seeing Brown standing there couldn't be a good sign. "Wilson! Where is he? Is he okay?"
"He's critical but stable, House," Brown reassured him. "They're just about ready to transfer him to the ICU. Once he's settled you can see him. In the meantime, I think it's time we talk transplant."
House nodded. He had known this was coming since Wilson's fourth round of chemo had failed to bring him into remission. It had been a year and a half of tests and treatments, nausea and vomiting, blood transfusions, home care nursing while House was at work (which had only been part-time for the last four months), and emergency ambulance rides at all hours of the day and night. House had watched the love of his life slowly decline and suffer as treatment options ran out, leaving a bone marrow transplant their last chance at saving Wilson's life.
The pain had been almost too much for the both of them and there were times when House felt so worn out himself that he marveled at how long Wilson had been able to go on for before the final big crisis hit. Wilson had been talking more and more about stopping the treatments altogether and receiving palliative care until the disease finally took him. House had refused to allow Wilson to give up, reminding him of their vow to do whatever it took to win, to survive, but watching Wilson in terrible pain, the disease no longer advancing but not getting any better either, had begun to wear on his resolve. He'd begun to question his motives; was he really pushing Wilson to keep fighting for Wilson, or for himself because he couldn't bear the prospect of losing him? He didn't like the answer he kept getting.
"Is he even strong enough now to attempt it?" House asked in response, frowning.
Brown half-shrugged. "He's not getting any stronger. This might be his last best chance, House. If we're going to go ahead with the transplant, we can't wait any longer. As you know, Daniel matched six markers out of six and other than for his schizophrenia he's in excellent health."
House nodded. Wilson's parents had agreed to give their consent to harvesting bone marrow from Danny to transplant into James only after everything else had been tried and failed. If they hadn't been such assholes, House would have convinced Wilson to go for the transplant after round three's disappointing results. Wilson had appeared to have taken his parents' decision in stride, But there were moments that, when his parents were mentioned during conversation, House saw the bitterness flit across his partner's eyes, only to quickly disappear again.
Now they had run out of options; Wilson's parents were going to agree to the harvest or House would make their lives so miserable that they would give in just to make his wrath stop. They had fought for so long and hard that there was no way they could quit now. Since Wilson was unconscious, it was House's decision. He didn't take that responsibility lightly; after all, it had been the decision of his proxy holder over a decade before that had left him crippled and in chronic pain for life. House wanted to be certain he was making the right decision for Wilson now.
House looked at the faces of his team again. Now all looked somber and worried, but nodded or otherwise indicated their support for House no matter what he decided. He looked at Cuddy and her eyes were 'misty' with unshed tears. She met his gaze and shrugged before nodding hopefully.
House closed his eyes briefly and then opened them and gave Brown a single nod.
Brown didn't quite manage to hide his smile of approval with House's decision. "I'll contact James's parents and New York Mercy and get the process rolling full steam." He left the treatment bay.
"Good choice," Thirteen told House with a small smile and she squeezed his shoulder briefly before leaving with Chase following her.
"He has a perfect match for a donor," Taub said with an encouraging nod. "The odds are in his favor." He also left.
"Well?" House asked Foreman, the only member of his team remaining.
"No matter what happens, House," the neurologist said to him mildly, "you've done a damned good job looking out for Wilson and you've pleasantly surprised me. I'm impressed, and I'm sure Wilson is too. Good job."
He left before House could comment. He looked to Cuddy.
"James has fought hard," Cuddy said. "He'll make it."
House shook his head at her optimism. "You don't know that. Nobody does."
She patted his knee and got up to leave. "And you don't know that he won't. I'd prefer to believe that good will prevail unless I'm proven wrong. Maybe, just this once, you should try it."
House stood by the window of the observation gallery, watching the OR team set up for the transplant. Earlier that morning Wilson's body had been bombarded by bone marrow-destroying radiation in preparation to receive healthy, disease-free marrow from his kid brother. House knew that if Wilson survived the surgery itself, his body could reject the marrow despite the fact that the markers matched perfectly. It was also possible that it was too late and this was an exercise in futility, that the Hodgkin's had weakened Wilson to the point where he couldn't properly use the new marrow well enough to survive.
Wilson was wheeled into the operating theater and transferred to the operating table from the gurney. He was quickly prepped by the nurses and anesthesiologist and once everything was ready the surgical team entered, masked and gloved. While Brown wasn't performing the transplant himself he was there assisting the hematologist and surgeon. He looked up at the gallery and his eyes met House's. House gave him a simple nod which Brown returned. The point of no return had arrived the moment Wilson's own marrow had been destroyed and now his last chance was at hand.
Wishing that he believed in a god to pray to, House leaned against the glass, settling in as the transplant surgery began. It was now out of his hands and into those of the surgeons, science, and Wilson.
House's brilliant blue eyes shining over a nanofilter mask were the first things Wilson saw when he opened his eyes next. He could tell immediately that he was in the ICU, in a clean room, hooked up to every machine imaginable with lines and tubes going in or coming out of him. He wasn't in pain, yet, probably because the anesthesia hadn't completely worn off yet and it was being supplemented with morphine or some other strong painkiller. He had no idea what had happened to him to put him back in the hospital under intensive care, but he wasn't shocked by it. This kind of thing had become the norm since lymphoma had invaded his life and turned it upside down.
The last thing Wilson remembered, he had gone to bed at the same time as House and had been held in his protective arms before falling asleep. Ta-da! Here he was now.
"You're supposed to wait to wake up until Prince Charming kisses you," House told him in mock-exasperation, rolling his eyes.
"Okay," Wilson said from beneath his oxygen mask. "Wake me up when he gets here."
House smirked. "Jerk."
"Idiot," Wilson returned.
"Zombie," was House's next jab.
Wilson smiled weakly. "Necrophiliac."
House cringed with distaste and then gave Wilson a favorable smile. "Eww, gross! Good one, Jimmy—except you're not dead and no, this is not hell, though many have made that same mistake before."
He was too weak to chuckle, but Wilson managed a smile. House looked scruffier than usual, his hair stood up in several cowlicks and his eyes were bloodshot but Wilson smelled no alcohol or other intoxicating substance on him.
"What happened to me now?" Wilson croaked, his throat sore.
"You fell out of bed and went into cardiac arrest, scaring the shit out of me," House told him, sobering quickly. "Tom and Hal picked us up again in their ambulance and drove us to lovely Chez PPTH. They said to say hi. It was decided that we couldn't wait any longer, that we had to proceed with the transplant surgery, which you just survived with flying colors, hence the mask and gloves I'm wearing. You'll have to live without seeing my devastating handsomeness until your new bone marrow starts to produce blood cells of all kinds. So far so good, Jimmy. Now we wait and see."
"What if this doesn't work?" Wilson asked him, weariness coming out of every pore in his body.
"Well, we'll deal with that should it occur when it occurs," House said. "I promise…if this doesn't take, I won't force you to keep on with treatments. Until we know that, I expect you to keep believing that it will work."
"When did you become an optimist?"
"When the alternative meant visualizing a life without you in it," House told him, caressing Wilson's cheek with the back of his fingers. "That can't happen. It won't happen. I won't let it."
"I love you , House."
"Back at ya, Jimmy-boy."
Ten Months Later:
Wilson pretended to be surprised, but in truth a little bird—or rather a big bird with size thirteen Nikes—had tipped him off to the welcome back party Cuddy et al had planned for his first day back at work. The nursing staff in oncology had put into action Cuddy's plan and House's team had volunteered to lend a hand—and yes, they had actually volunteered of their own free will and not under duress from their boss.
Cuddy, all smiles, was first to come up to Wilson and give him a hug.
"Welcome back, James," she whispered. "I knew you'd be back."
Wilson smiled softly. "Thank you—for being there for both House and me but especially for House. He needed to know he wasn't alone."
She nodded understandingly. In turn the other's present at the party found an opportunity to personally welcome him back. A few commented on how Wilson had color again, or that his hair was growing back in so evenly or that he'd put some weight back on since the last time they saw him. It was true that he was looking one hundred percent better to how he had appeared when he was at his sickest but he had a long way to go to actually look and feel good about his appearance. However, that really wasn't of much concern to him. What was important was that he'd gotten a second lease on life, was feeling stronger, and had tested clean of any disease again at his last check-up. Perhaps what was most important was the fact that if he ate right, exercised, took his meds and stayed on top of his health he would probably have many more years left with House. Less than a year ago he'd been on his deathbed, mourning the fact that soon he was never going to see House again and worrying that House would do something reckless and stupid after he died. Now he was on the fast track back to feeling healthy again, his career was back in gear, and he and House actually had a future to plan together.
Wilson turned to speak to House, who had accompanied him to oncology, and discovered that he was gone. Frowning, Wilson looked around for him but couldn't find him and nobody Wilson asked seemed to have seen him leave. It was strange enough to motivate Wilson to leave his own party to search for his lover and best friend.
Not surprisingly Wilson found him standing out on the balcony that connected his office with House's. House was standing at the low wall, leaning on it and staring at the traffic on the streets below as it began to settle down after the morning rush. It was cool outside but then again it was the end of March and not unusual for it to be a little nippy at the start of the day. Wilson entered the balcony from House's office and joined him at the wall.
"Not in the mood to party, I take it?"
House snorted but didn't look at him. "No booze, no party. Besides, I didn't feel like watching all those nurses fawning over you and flirting. Watching a traffic jam is more interesting."
There was a heaviness in House's voice that told Wilson that something was wrong. He put his hand on the small of House's back and began to rub gentle circles. "Greg, what's wrong? Don't tell me nothing—I'm not stupid."
House sighed, hesitated a moment longer, and then turned to face him. His eyes were red and puffy. Wilson immediately grabbed House and pulled him into a hug, relishing the feel of House hugging him back.
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Wilson murmured into his ear, changing his mind. "But I'm willing to listen if you want to."
House pulled away slightly in order to kiss Wilson passionately, one of his hands behind Wilson's head and the other on his back, keeping him close. Wilson smiled against his lips.
"What—you didn't get enough this morning in the shower?"
House ended the kiss and touched his forehead to Wilson's. "It just hit me…I almost lost you forever."
"You just realized that now?" Wilson asked teasingly. House shook his head, unamused.
"I'm serious. I can't—I don't mean—I don't know what's wrong with me, but I think I'm going to cry." House's eyes were wide with wonder and glistening with unshed tears. "What's wrong with me Wilson?"
"Nothing," Wilson answered him lovingly, "that a good cry can't cure."
"I'm such a wuss!" House objected, swallowing hard several times.
Wilson took House's face in his hands. "You're my rock. I never would have survived this without you there with me like you were. You were amazingly strong and supportive and everything I ever could have needed you to be, but it's time now for you to let go and let me be strong for you for a while. Let me hold you up now, House. Just let go."
So House did, beginning to weep quietly, trying to turn away from Wilson in shame but Wilson wouldn't allow him to retreat and push him away. He grabbed his partner and held him as House sobbed into his shoulder, the months of fear, pain, and stress trying to be strong for Wilson finally being expressed and released. When House's sobs subsided he wiped his tears away with his hand.
"Nobody ever finds about this," he warned Wilson.
"Don't worry," Wilson told him. "I wouldn't share this moment with you with anyone else if my life depended on it. I love you."
House smiled adoringly at him for a brief moment before rolling his eyes. "Wilson, you can be such a chick sometimes!"
Wilson said nothing in response but took House by the hand. "Come on. If we hurry we might still make it in time to have some of that chocolate cake."
"Well, when you put it that way," House responded and allowed Wilson to lead him back to the party, "how can I say no?"