A/N: hi! I got the idea for this story a while ago, thinking of alternative ways for House to pay for his crazy "performance" back in May. This story is set some time after the season 7 finale. And I'm not willing to reveal anything else because I'll otherwise spoil the end of this chapter to you. This is a hard time in House's life: he's far -very far- from home, in a hostile environment where death is behind every corner. And he misses the life he has decided to waste, but it might be a bit too late to put a remedy to it. Probably huddy towards the end, but I'm planning to make this exciting for you up until then, ship aside.
Warning: rated M for raw images, war, blood, whatever.
They'll laugh as they watch us fall,
The lucky don't care at all,
No chance for fate,
It's unnatural selection,
I want the truth.
Snakes of New Jersey
So, that had to be how dying in a place like that was like. Just a whole new level of pain, and undesired liquids wetting the sheets. And the smell, oh, the smell: it had to be blood, judging by the lingering halo of metal. And disinfectants. Only disinfectant could send off such a creepy smell, the odor of hopelessness: that was when they used it, when bandages and syringes and wishful thinking overflew from their hands, flooding the tiled floors, they patted disinfectant all over the bodies, in a last attempt at saving the day with the less still hearts they could.
House turned back to the door he had come in from. For a second, he regretted his decision to come here. But now that blood and sweat and urine strained his scrubs, he could not call it off. The room was crowded, noisy and rectangular: beds – cots – aligned up to the small pane-less window: they had just lost the glass panel, thanks to a hand grenade being thrown at it by some son of a bitch hidden in the bushes that surrounded the hospital building. "It's a fucking hospital, you motherfuckers!" had been House's colleague's last words, before he brought both hands to his stomach, wide-eyed from pain and surprise at the piece of shrapnel embedded in his own flesh.
House's thoughts ran back home as if they had their own free will. His office, clean bedding, the silence in the ICU, all those private rooms and quiet OR's. Having a potentially infinite number of changes for scrubs in the locker room. And peace, which was now an empty word for those working in that living hell with sand and fear and mines all over. He fell on his knees, deafened by the explosion, reaching for his colleague who was bleeding out inches from him.
"Hey, I'm here."
The young doctor in scrubs as dirty as House's tried his best at a distorted smile.
They needed that stupid attack to be over. They needed to operate on him, take all the fragments out of his abdomen. House pressed his open palms on the man's wounds, but he could only see blood pushing its way between his fingers.
"Shut up, doctor Jordan. Save your breath for surviving."
Jordan turned his face aside, suffocating a twinge of pain. House exhaled, trying to collect himself. He was freaking out, that was the truth.
"I told you to shut up."
"What, for the sake of..."
"I know you."
"Jordan, I swear to god if you don't keep your mouth sh..."
"I graduated from Princeton, seven years ago."
"Good for you, mate. Now, please..."
"What did you do?"
"Your leg. I remember your cane, and the...pills... The story you told."
"The...uhm..." Jordan's breath got faster. "Carmen Electra. The golfer."
House almost released the grip from his colleague's arm.
"You were there."
"I was there."
Jordan was at the lecture House had given many years earlier, in a crowded hall filled with naïve med students forced by Cuddy to hear his thoughts on the basics of Diagnostic medicine. Jordan was there and now he was here. Dying. He was the guy who thought Stacy had made the right decision in order to save House's life.
"You said the patient... You said I was an idiot."
"You're welcome. It was a good lecture though."
"I know right."
All around them, the patients were paralyzed in their beds, wordless. Jordan had been caught by the explosion because he was right in front of the window, and his body had prevented the pieces of shrapnel and the splinters from blasting away the whole room. Thank god he and House had just pushed the beds a little farther from the damn window.
"So... What did you do."
"I did nothing, Jordan. I'm here, just like you."
"No cane. No pills. I see you swallowing ibuprofen before going to bed. Ibuprofen was a joke for you seven years ago. And you came here, while all you used to care about is..."
"That explains the pills and the cane. What else. Why are you here?"
Another grenade exploded somewhere far from their building. Someone screamed, and they could hear M4's shooting. Then, a major blast. And the lights went off. Someone whispered a prayer in Farsi.
"House..." Jordan's face was getting paler and paler. House felt the man's blood and urine wetting his knees.
"Hold on. Hold on Jordan... I'll be right back."
House limped out, in desperate search for someone. All around, it was just sand, fire and distant shots. He wished he had his cane to walk faster, but that just wasn't part of the deal.
Then, someone grabbed his shoulders and pushed him down on the ground.
"What the hell..."
"For god's sake, doctor House! Shut up and go back inside. We're under attack."
"I need help."
"Everyone does. A commando just wreaked havoc on the entire area. Kandahar's on fire."
"Doctor Jordan is injured... badly... Listen," House freed himself from the soldier's grip, without standing up. "He's..." he lowered his voice. "He's bleeding out."
The officer raised his stare and exhaled, sincerely hit by House's words.
"Yeah, me too. Now could you please send someone? I need a nurse to watch my patients over there. I need to take care of Jordan, right now."
"We have to wait until this is over."
"It is over! We're not under fire anymore. Come on, I'm doing it all by myself. Look, just... Keep an eye on me while I take Jordan out to the OR."
"The orders are to stay inside. You have to go back, House. We'll call you when it's over."
"This is bullsh..."
Another explosion, this time aimed at the central building, about 100 feet from where they lay. House's mouth filled with boiling sand. The soldier had jumped to his feet bracing his M4 carbine and was now invisible in the fog created by the falling debris and the lifted sandy soil flying midair. House spat and crawled his way back inside his small "department". When he crossed the threshold, still partially blinded from the explosion, and definitely deafened by it, his strength just wore off, and he fell face-flat on the floor, coughing.
"Doctor Hows. You right?"
A young man in grey cottoned pants with a huge bandage on his abdomen crouched beside him. He had to be in his late teens.
"Doctor Hows, we pray they go away, we pray, listen. Wake, okay?"
House opened up his eyes to the darkness of the shaded room.
"You. Go back to bed, and stay away from the door. It's dangerous."
"I know! They send me." The boy pointed his finger at the older men in bed. They nodded convincingly. "We were worried you being bad."
"What a mindless people..." House couldn't hide the sad smile forming on his face. They were brave, indeed. Men born and raised in war, who never knew which side to take because whoever won was just as evil as the others. They had lived their lives in civil war and then ruled by the men with long beards who had banned kites and music. And then the Terror War bombs had come, and the defeated long beards placing mines all over the place, and their children losing limbs in 2010 as their fathers did in 1985. It was all a fucking mess and House hated it. Even now, that an unsteady veil of peace had covered the lands of Afghanistan after the mission, people kept dying and terrorist attacks kept scaring everyone, no matter how hard the US Army and all the others fought them back. The Red Cross needed personnel and supplies, and House's job there was making sure that as many patients as possible walked out of that hospital on their legs, either artificial or not. That was why the Army had sent him to Kandahar to help the ICRC, as an emergency surgeon with a double specialty in infectious diseases and nephrology. But that was not yet the whole story, and no one knew it except from House himself.
"I'm fine, boy. Go back to bed now."
The young man walked up to his bed and propped his knees to his chest, rocking himself.
House stood up, leaning against the door frame, and reached the rear of the room, staggering dangerously.
"Hey, Jordan. Jordan..."
The young doctor lay on the floor in the same position he had left him. He hardly opened up his eyes.
"I thought you'd been blown up. Good to see you here mate." He whispered.
"Don't talk. I need... Listen." House pulled a flask from his left pocket and held it close to Jordan's mouth. "I fetched it while rolling in the sand with officer Travis, five minutes ago. Drink."
Jordan swallowed a couple of shots.
"House, I don't..."
House ripped his colleague's scrubs off and exposed the naked, bloody skin of his chest. Two pieces of shrapnel, one huge glass splinter. He washed his hands with the remaining scotch, and poured some on Jordan's wounds. The younger man shrieked.
"I'm sorry..." House swallowed a lump of panic.
He'll never make it.
"Hey, Jordan... How many types of poisonous snakes are there in New Jersey? Remember?"
"Uh... I guess..."
House wrapped his fingers around the piece of glass, pressing the wound with his free hand wrapped up in a piece of cloth.
"How many? Come on."
He applied pressure on the cloth and ensured his grip on the splinter.
"I don't remember..."
"Come on! Think Jordan, think!"
"That's right, man. Which ones?"
Their patients were frozen in their beds, no one even screened his ears from the desperate cry Jordan let out. The young doctor started sobbing heavily.
"Come on, which ones?"
"The copper..." House pulled again."...head! The copperhead! Jesus!"
"Remember, we thought it was a snake! Do you remember?"
House's piece of cloth was now soaked in blood.
"Yes... I... checked the types..."
"You did. There was another one. Which one was it Jordan? Come on!"
"The... it was the... I can't. I can't..."
House grabbed the last piece, trying to keep his grip steady as the blood and bodily liquids made his fingers slippery.
"No, no... please..."
"The timber... Ahhhh!" Jordan's eyes turned hollow for a second. "The motherfucking timber rattlesnake! Stop it..."
"It's over, Jordan. It's..." House threw a glance at the puddle of blood around them. "You did great. Remember? It wasn't a snake."
"It was the dog."
"Indeed. You did great, mate. It's all right. I'm finished."
House pressed a clean cloth on Jordan's now fully opened wounds. He poured all the remaining alcohol on the cuts before patting them as gently as he could.
"Hold on, they're coming. No more explosions, see? They're coming. You'll be all right." House looked the young dying doctor in the eye. He had found out he could easily lie to anyone, persuading them all was going to be fine. That was the price of war: you would lose your sincerity.
"What did you do?"
"I told you..."
"Don't lie to me. You made me curious, it's your fault."
"It was a single damn lecture."
"I know. What did you do?"
"You don't want to know..." House hesitated. "I'm not... a hero. I'm bad."
Jordan slowly shook his head.
"You're not. House... You're not."
"I... I came here in exchange... For prison time."
By the time Amir had jumped off his bed to help House's shaking arms sustain Jordan, the young doctor had already died.