"Cough…" House ordered, placing the cold stethoscope to Wilson's bare back. Wilson obliged, releasing a set of half breathed wheezy sounding coughs.
House winced before finally removing the device from around his neck.
"That bad huh?" Wilson croaked, coughing into his fist.
"Yeah pretty much…" House growled, "Unless… have you inhaled a cat in heat while I wasn't looking? Because that would be a game changer…"
Wilson smiled weakly and shook his head.
"We can't know anything for sure…" House pointed out, "Not unless we go to an actual hospital…"
Wilson was already shaking his head again while House was speaking. "No."
House nodded, "Fine." He got up and threw a T-shirt in Wilson's general direction. "Put a shirt on Skeletor… I'm gonna go pay for another day in this dump and see if I can find us something to eat that doesn't involve a vending machine or the last Twinkie on earth…"
"Those are worth a lot of money you know…" Wilson shot back half-hazardly.
"Pfft… Yeah…" House huffed, "Like any baked good pumped with preservatives will last long enough to turn into cash around me…but wait…" He paused dramatically, "…is it still worth something coming out the other end?"
"Doubt it." Wilson replied dryly.
House nodded, opening the door of the dingy motel room, "Stay here." His eyes were still planted on Wilson as he limped out.
House stepped out of the room into the glaring afternoon sun. He leaned heavily on the railing of the second floor wrap around balcony and squinted his eyes. In his head, a war was raging:
"He's dying…" the all too familiar voice told him.
"No he's not…" Another argued.
"He can't go on like this—not much longer…"
"He's strong. He beat the odds many times before."
"I'm not ready…"
"No one asked you…"
"Life doesn't work like that…"
"I can't watch him die…"
He closed his eyes and inhaled a shaky breath. Why was he even thinking about this? All Wilson needed was an extra day of rest and he'll be fine—ready to pester him and drag him to yet another useless pit stop across the US of A. All House needed to do now is focus on what needed to be done—paying for the room and getting food. He placed his cane back down to the ground and began to walk towards the stairs.
"Denial…" a final voice in his head chimed in. And House could feel the blood rush to his head and his knuckles grow white.
"Eat." House growled. He threw the remains of his pre-wrapped turkey sandwich and nudged the hot and steamy cup of instant soup toward Wilson.
"Come on!" He urged, "I didn't voluntarily give up the last cup of normal tasting food on the planet just so you could look at how pretty it is…"
"This isn't the Zombie apocalypse, House…" Wilson raised an eyebrow, "Have at it."
House could feel the frustration build up inside him. "You wouldn't let me get away with this if it was the other way around…"
Wilson tiredly leaned back on the couch, "But you're not me…"
-Approximately 15 years prior-
"You don't want to be walking on that leg so soon after surgery…" Wilson warned. He was leaning against his best friend's bedroom door, watching him carefully in case he needed to make a run for it to catch him—though he doubted House could make it beyond a sitting position at this point.
"Shouldn't you be playing the Hokey-Pokey with your new wife?" House shot venomously, his face grimaced with pain as he attempted to straighten his freshly mangled leg.
"Well, you know me… I'm more of a Twister kind of guy…" Wilson folded his arms. But when House didn't respond he took it as a clear sign that his friend's state was dire.
"Come on. House…" he practically begged, "let me help you."
"Over my dead body…"
"Which is almost what happened! At least that's what Stacy told me…"
If House had anything hard he could slam his fist on or something menacing he could do to that effect he would, but the painful truth was that he was stuck in a fluffy soft bed, crippled, and in no way even prepared to move. This was the opposite of menacing—he was pathetic.
"So is that why you're here?" He asked, downplaying the pain radiating from his right thigh, "Because of Stacy?"
"If I was here for Stacy don't you think that would require Stacy actually being here and not at work?" Wilson raised an eyebrow.
Tired of his futile struggle, House leaned back, "Which brings up another interesting question… why aren't you at work?"
"Can I get you anything?" Wilson tried again—though he knew what the reply would be.
Wilson nodded, "Pancakes and painkillers it is…"
"You're wheezing…" House grabs Wilson's shoulder and turns him around gently.
Wilson coughs harshly before opening his eyes and seeing the offering House has placed in front of him.
"Where did you get the oxygen from?" he asks, shakily placing the mask over his nose and mouth.
"You have your nagging ways and I have mine… I'm stealth… like a ninja."
Even through the mask, Wilson can't suppress his look of worry and an eye-roll.
"Just breathe and don't worry about it…" House reassures his friend, "Last time I checked, Oxygen was still legal…"
-Approximately 7 years prior-
Wilson stormed out of House's apartment as quickly as he came in. He couldn't believe it—House actually managed to down a whole stolen bottle of Oxycontin. The worst part of it was the fact that House had stolen the pills from Wilson's patient – once again putting him and his career in jeopardy.
Wilson kicked the concrete pavement in front of him angrily. What kind of friend would do that?
But as much as he wanted to stay angry with House, an answer to this rhetorical question was quick to pop into his head and ruin his plan:
A friend who really can't help it…
"Crap…" Wilson muttered to himself as he made his way back up the stairs leading to the apartment. His priorities were once again shaken by his conscience—sure House stole the pills, lied to the cop, forged prescriptions and betrayed Wilson's trust and pretty much everyone around him. But that didn't change the fact that right now at this very moment, House was lying helplessly, in a pile of his own sick, on Christmas Eve.
His anger could wait; consequences could wait. Right now Wilson would do what needed to be done. He would go back into the apartment and pick House up from the floor and drag him to the comfort of the couch. He would clean the vomit from the hardwood, the corners of House's mouth and pour the liquor down the drain—just because.
And then he'll just sit there, perhaps for an hour… maybe two… waiting for House to stir and show signs of consciousness. With any luck, House would purge the remains of Oxy from his system by then and all will be fine. But Wilson will wait nonetheless, just in case.
He'll be gone before House wakes up, and tomorrow he will give him a mouthful of his opinion. He knows it won't help, but screw it—it makes him feel better.
He doubts House will remember he was even there. Because if he ever did, he's pretty good at pretending he doesn't. Perhaps Wilson could tell House someday and he would thank him.
"Pfft… fat chance…" he snorts to himself before he opens the door and re-enters the dark apartment.
"It's snowing…" Wilson croaked hoarsely, rubbing the sleep off his eyes.
"Yes." House acknowledged from the other side of the room, "that's why I'm trying to up this stupid thermostat…" he kicked the wall in frustration, which resulted in an expected jolt of pain down his thigh.
"Don't do that…" Wilson reprimanded as he pulled himself up to a sitting position— just barely.
"How're you feeling?" House asked.
"Like crap…" Wilson stretched his limbs, "but better…"
House shrugged, "Figures… since you look like crap." He waited for Wilson to throw him a look, "but better…" he quickly added.
Wilson nodded, "It would be nice if you could get somebody to fix the heat though…" he bundled up in whatever fabrics he could manage to grab in his proximity, "It's freezing in here…"
House joggled his tongue nervously and checked the thermostat; "I got it up to 67… you should be fine…" he limped across the room and kneeled in front of the couch where Wilson sat. He placed his palm to his friend's forehead, "You…" he inhaled a breath full of the warm air radiating from Wilson, "…are burning up."
-Approximately 6 years prior-
House was lying on the couch, clutching the side of his abdomen when he heard the familiar knock on the door.
"Go away!" He hollered, not even bothering to hide his discontent.
"I've got you pills!" The voice behind the door exclaimed.
"Well that didn't take a whole lot of persuading…" Wilson said as he closed the front door behind him and entered the apartment.
"You had me at pills…" House joked, wincing as he dragged himself up from the couch—still clutching his side.
"Pain from the biopsy Thirteen gave you?" Wilson asked.
House grimaced, "She really needs to work on her skills with the giant needle thingy…"
"Maybe if someone didn't dose her with caffeine—knowing it would make her hands shake…" Wilson folded his arms.
House took in a painful breath of defeat, "Good point." He reached for the pills on the coffee table and plopped back on the sofa.
"How many of those did you take tonight?" Wilson asked curiously.
"A lot, but not quite enough…" House deflected as he threw two pills down his throat.
"You should be kinder to your liver today…" Wilson sighed. He knew any attempt to get House to lay off the pills was futile, but he still felt the need to say it—just to put it out there.
"Thanks Doc… I'll remember that… thank you for the pills… Now unless you want to grab one of those Xbox controllers and let me kick your ass in Online-Team-Mode… You can go home now."
"You look flushed." Wilson noted, ignoring everything House had just said.
"I told you earlier, I had a mild transfusion reaction…"
"With a fever that won't go away even after taking buckets of Vicodin?" Wilson managed to get a feel of House's forehead with a quick draw of the hand before House slapped him away.
"Okay… " House squirmed, "a not-so-mild transfusion reaction! Why are we even discussing this?" he raised his voice as his gaze followed Wilson, who got up and was now making his way to the kitchen, "It's no surprise—I knew I would get one!"
"House…" Wilson dug through the kitchen cupboards and through the fridge, "Lean back and shut up before you hurt yourself…"
"A bit snappy today aren't we?"
"Yes." Wilson grabbed a case of bottled water from under the sink and carried it back to the living room; "I'm a real bitch sometimes…"
"Oh my god!" House squealed, "It's like you stole my thoughts! No wonder we're besties!"
The case of water landed on the floor next to the couch with a loud thud. Wilson grabbed one of the bottles and handed it to House. "Drink."
House obliged, twisting the cap open. He didn't pass on the opportunity to do this while shooting Wilson the most miserable and angry of looks.
"I'm gonna make you drink at least two of those now. Two more in an hour—you look dehydrated. If that doesn't help cool you off we'll move on to more drastic measures…"
"Does that mean you're staying?" House shot dryly, taking another sip of water.
"Yes. Deal with it." Wilson grabbed the spare Xbox controller.
"Please, House…" Wilson begged. His entire body was now shaking and his hair was drenched in sweat.
"I can't give you Vicodin…" House's voice was tense with frustration, "Your breathing is shallow enough as it is—you're a doctor, you know this…"
Wilson attempted to swallow whatever moisture was left in his dry mouth; "It hurts…" he coughed into the edge of his sleeve.
In a split moment of pure instinct, House allowed himself to push the strands of sweaty hair away from Wilson's forehead. When Wilson finally caught his breath and managed to open his eyes, he wore a look of defeat and pure exhaustion.
House took a deep breath, "We need a plan…" he spoke in a low, serious voice, "You're immunocompromized, this can't just be the cancer—you managed to catch some kind of bug…" he looked up at Wilson to make sure he was still with him, "We need to get you through this, get the fever down, manage your pain, keep you breathing."
Wilson shot House a skeptical heart-breaking look.
"You can do this." House assured his friend, "Just… hang in there and pretty soon you'll be back to feeling your more normal level of Cancer-crappiness…"
"You really think so?" Wilson asked weakly.
House nodded, "I know so."
"I hope so…" House's mind contradicted.
-Approximately 5 years prior-
As soon as Cuddy led House into the room it was painfully obvious to Wilson that something went horribly wrong.
Cuddy's expression read a mixture of worry and "deal with him."
House's expression was nothing short of sheer terror.
Wilson swallowed nervously and nodded toward Cuddy—signaling her that she should leave—he'll handle this.
"House?" he asked softly, grabbing the sleeve of his scared friend's blazer, "You think you'll be okay to sit on the couch for a few minutes while I make a phone call?"
House's expression was still dead; his puffy tired eyes wet with unshed terrified tears. "Do it." He croaked, slowly allowing Wilson to guide him down to the couch.
A short while after, once he got the OK from Dr. Nolan to bring House in, Wilson managed to drive House back to the apartment, stuff a few items into a suitcase and begin the four-hour drive up to Mayfield.
Wilson was glad when House passed out asleep not soon after he began driving—he looked exhausted. And from putting together some of the pieces of the story he got so far, it was clear to Wilson that House hadn't got a real night's sleep in a while.
It was two hours into the ride when House stirred awake—his blue eyes fluttering tiredly, adjusting to the sun. He looked at Wilson, who had his gaze firmly planted on the road.
"Did sleep do you any good?" Wilson asked.
House exhaled shakily, "Stop the car." His white knuckles clutched the seat firmly.
"We're in the middle of the highway…"
"Stop the damn car!"
Wilson signaled the other vehicles and managed to swing his way to the side of the highway. As soon as the Volvo came to a stop, House lunged out and threw up violently on the side of the road.
Wilson hurried to House's side, catching him right before his leg caved in awkwardly. He helped him down to his knees so he could finish retching. Only when he was done, did Wilson speak again.
"Is there anything… at all I can do to help you?"
House spit on the ground and wiped his mouth with his sleeve carelessly, "You can tell your dead girlfriend to shut up!" he yelped. His voice was hysterical, like nothing Wilson had ever heard House do before. It cut through his heart like a knife.
"Is…" Wilson's eyes widened, "is she here? Now?"
Amber was seated on the side of the road next to House. "Tell him to turn the car around and drive back home, you think your nausea is bad now? Wait 'till we get to the looney bin and they take away your pills for good…"
"Shut up!" House croaked.
"What?" Wilson raised an eyebrow.
"Not you…" he scratched his head profusely.
"You hallucinated the last two days… how do you know this is even real?" Hallucination Kutner asked.
House whimpered, clutching his head between his arms. Wilson had never seen House this terrified in the entire time he had known him—not even after the infarction was he ever this out of it. It struck a chord with Wilson— watching House behave like that. It reminded him of Danny.
"House…" Wilson clicked his fingers in front of his friends face, "House listen to me…" he shook his shoulder gently. "I know this is probably scary… but regardless of what you're seeing or hearing right now can you listen to me? Can you hear me?"
House's breath hitched, "Yeah…" he rubbed his temples.
"Good." Wilson let out a sigh, "So I need you to listen to my voice no matter who else is talking."
"Good. You ready to go back to the car?"
House's eyes were still shut, "I think I'm gonna be sick again…"
"That's fine…" Wilson helped House up to his feet, "That's fine… Just… be sick in the car…"
He led House back to his seat and closed the passenger side door. "Lets just get you to where you need to be so you can get better…"
House looked at his reflection in the mirror; graying stubble, untidy long hair and fresh bags under his bloodshot eyes. He looked terrible, which wasn't surprising since he hadn't got a lick of sleep in three days. From the other side of the door he could hear Wilson violently coughing again. By the sound of it, at least it wasn't a bloody cough—but it still echoed painfully through the thin motel walls.
The sound made House wince. He turned on the faucet and splashed his face with some cool water to help him wake up. He then gave his sad reflection one final look before stepping back into the main room.
Wilson was still lying on the couch, his silhouette rising from under the blanket with the sound of every cough.
"Wake up…" House kneeled on the carpet in front of the couch and shook Wilson gently.
Wilson groaned, and House could feel his body shake even under the heavy blanket.
"Wilson, turn around…" House asked tiredly. He was glad Wilson was too out of it to notice the gloominess of his tone.
Finally, after realizing Wilson won't be a cooperative patient, House turned his friend himself.
Wilson opened a pair of dark eyes and looked straight at House.
"I eh…" It was incredibly difficult for House to see Wilson like this; "…I want to check some of your vitals… you up for it?"
Wilson nodded and made a feeble attempt to get into a sitting position. House quickly noticed and lunged forward to help his friend up.
"Okay…" House said in a low whisper, "You're good..." he noted how Wilson could barely hold his head up.
"You have to drink something, Wilson…" House urged, "No IV's in Shithole USA here…"
Wilson breathed heavily, "No… wise crack… about… shriveling up…" he coughed, "like a prune?"
"Will that make you feel better?" House asked.
"No." Wilson coughed.
"Well then what's the point?" House replied groggily.
"Since when do you need one?" Wilson asked, inhaling small bits of air.
House sighed, "Just drink your damn water, will you?" he averted his gaze and turned his head back only when he heard Wilson's cough echo from inside the water glass. He placed his hand on Wilson's back, "Sip slow…"
"You see…" Wilson put the glass down and leaned back on the couch, "The fact… that… you didn't end… that sentence… with… 'You idiot'… makes me… suspicious…"
"What do you want me to say, Wilson?" House rasped dryly.
"The truth?" Wilson croaked, "You don't… seriously believe… I'm getting up from this couch…" he coughed harshly, "Do you?" he looked at House with wet glassy feverish eyes.
House shook his head, "Wilson don't…"
"As a doctor…" Wilson cut House off, "Not…As a friend, House…"
"But I'm not a doctor… remember?"
Wilson smiled, "Yeah I remember." he coughed, "…you idiot…"
Seeing Wilson smile like that gave House the last dose of courage he needed to do one last act of kindness towards his friend, supposedly one he was good at delivering—the truth.
"You're dying…" he let the words leave his lips with coldness—leaving a shiver down his spine.
Wilson's face contorted into a sad grimace.
House shook his head," I tried… I… your temp won't come down… your oxygen is in the tank… It's in your thymus, it's in your lungs…" House paused to compose himself, "I… am pretty sure it's in your bones… but then I thought… liver? Heart? Infection?" he nodded, as if he was diagnosing the conditions progression in his head, "It doesn't matter though." He turned to face Wilson, "You're dying."
Wilson inhaled whatever little air he could and propped his head back down on the pillow.
House peeked at Wilson— he expected more of a reaction.
"Are you..." House was about to say "OK" when it hit him just how ridiculous it would be to ask a dying man that question.
"I'm tired…" Wilson decided he would shake House off the hook, "It's okay…"
House bit his lip. Nothing will ever be okay.
House managed to get some shuteye that night. He had no idea how long he dozed off for, but it was the sound of Wilson's painful groans that woke him up again.
He shot up, hissing from the pain in his thigh—he forgot when the last time was he even took a Vicodin. He made a mental note to himself to take one as soon as he tends to Wilson—he could not afford to go into withdrawal. Not now.
He limped in the darkness to face his friend—his sick mess of a friend.
"Wilson…" House whispered in his familiar gravelly voice—a voice Wilson's mind had learned to associate with comfort, "What hurts?"
Wilson winced and gagged with pain, "Everything…" he coughed and in some deep part of his mind kicked himself for not succumbing to the comforts of a hospital and modern medicine.
"Be specific so I can help you!" House urged, growing increasingly frustrated with this mess of a situation they were put in.
"House…" Wilson didn't seem to hear House's previous request, "I don't want to die…" he shook his head and gagged, "I was wrong…" tears began rolling down his cheeks, "I should've… done the chemo…"
"Don't do this to yourself…" House begged. He tried to remain collected for the sake of his friend, but he could feel his heart beat out of his chest.
"I'm scared… I'm not ready to die…"
House could barely hold it together, he closed his eyes and clumped his fingers into tight fists, "But you are…" he said—not daring to open his eyes.
"It hurts…" he heard Wilson moan through strained breaths and tears. It killed him that there was absolutely nothing he could do to help—a world-renowned diagnostician who was helpless in the face of boring ol' cancer. A cancer that was about to take the only friend he ever had, the only person he had left in this godless world.
"There's nothing you can do."
"Hey, House?" House could hear Wilson's voice in the distance, "House…" – and there it was again. He stirred, and as he did so he realized, yes, now he remembered—he was asleep.
"House?" Wilson's voice echoed once more. But House didn't want to wake up. No. It was nice where he was, in this warm dream. And reality was… not.
But it was too late, and the feeling of Wilson's body tense with every cough stirred him awake. And the source of the warmth in his dream was revealed— "oh, right..." he remembered. A short while after both he and Wilson acknowledged there was nothing left to do but wait for certain death, House put Wilson back on the oxygen and pulled out the last bottle of Oxycontin. They toasted to life, death and to stupid choices—acknowledging that they both made their fair share. Wilson took four. House helped himself to one—Wilson insisted.
When Wilson's pain did not fully subside, House first placed his hand firmly on top of his unconscious friend. But he himself was suffering from pain and exhaustion at this point. Refusing to let Wilson go through this alone but fighting his own urge to rest, House found only one suitable compromise…
And that's how House ended up dozing on the couch, and how Wilson ended up using House's lap as a pillow, and how House's hand remained planted across Wilson's rib cage even as they both slept. And that, House acknowledged, is how he will forever remember the source of the warmest dream he ever had.
"House…" Wilson's hoarse voice peeked into Houses consciousness again—only this time House was awake enough to reply.
"Yeah?" his heart beat out of his chest with sudden relief— no dream this time; Wilson was still alive.
"Do you see that?" Wilson asked calmly, his head still planted on House's lap.
"See what?" House asked tiredly, allowing himself to place his hand on Wilson's head.
"Stars…" Wilson croaked, "a butt load of them…"
"You're hallucinating…" House looked down at his friend, "And you don't seem terribly bothered by it…" he removed a stray clump of sweaty hair from Wilson's face, "Good for you…" he nodded in approval.
Wilson coughed, which made House instinctively tighten his grasp of Wilson's shoulder.
"Why are you talking so much?" House raised an eyebrow.
Wilson giggled. And it made House happier than anything.
"I just…" Wilson wheezed, "I just… I mean, promise me… you'll be okay?"
"What kind of an idiotic question is that?" House growled at his lap, "Look at your dumb stars…"
Wilson looked up, and for a split second his brown eyes met House's icy-blues.
House felt a lump build up in his throat. "I can't promise you I'll be okay…" his voice broke, "I'm gonna miss you… and… not having you… is gonna suck…" his voice hitched in his throat, "and you're lucky…" he looked down at Wilson, "you're lucky your brain is so full of endorphins right now I don't even know how much of you is actually left… because… losing you is the hardest thing I've ever had to do." He wiped his nose with his sleeve, "And I… don't… I don't know what to say anymore."
"How about… goodbye?" Wilson offered.
Wilson's faint words hit House like a brick. How is it that even in his last moments Wilson managed to offer House one last epiphany? How many people get to actually say goodbye to their loved ones? It is a rare occasion when a person does not actually die alone. And Wilson, the magnificent bastard… he was unconscious, barely breathing! But the bastard hung for dear life, managed to wake House up and in a sea of stars was determined to leave House a final parting gift—the notion that sometimes life can deal you some fairness and give you what you deserve. And a friendship like theirs deserved closure. They deserved a goodbye.
House ran his hand through Wilson's hair, down the back of his neck and over his spine, "Goodbye, Wilson."
And when his hand finally reached Wilson's, he thought he felt him squeeze back—though he could never know for sure.
His best friend— the only brother he had ever known was gone.
They went through the drill many times. To the point where House felt he was automatically programmed to go through with it:
He pulled out Wilson's real ID and credit cards from the back compartment of Wilson's duffle bag and placed them in his wallet on the side table. He then grabbed any evidence of the names "Kyle Callaway" and "James Callaway" and removed them from the room. He went through every bag, every shirt and every pocket—leaving nothing that was even remotely close to being associated with the name Gregory House. He disposed of any drugs that were not lawfully purchased, the pre-paid phones and even of Wilson's non PPTH X-Ray—just in case.
When he deemed the room as clean, he took one last quick look at the shell that used to belong to his friend, grabbed his belongings and closed the door behind him.
He threw his things into the Challenger, started the ignition and drove for a good fifty miles, finally stopping at the side of a road to nowhere. The sun was beginning to rise and the motel workers will find the body soon. With the help of the documentations left behind, they'll deliver the body to Wilson's parents and they can give him a proper burial.
And as the sun began to fill the lone prairie with the light of a new day— Gregory House, who some might've known as James Callaway, just sat there hoping the world would stop for a while— and so it did.
And he cried for his friend, and he cried for his brother, for he knew there would never be another.