I'm swimming in the smoke
Of bridges I have burned
So don't apologize
I'm losing what I don't deserve
(Linkin Park, Burning In the Skies)
Denial: Trust me, I'm A Doctor
The kind nurse he interviews at the front desk nods and provides relatively the same information printed in the article, reciting the stories almost word for word, which the news reporter—overdressed in a pressed navy blue suit—takes immediate note of. When he prods her for more, even encourages continuation with small hand movements, she seems to shrink away, afraid or unwilling to elaborate further.
Sam sighs and thanks the nurse, pocketing his blank notepad inside his suit jacket. He clicks his pen and stuffs that in too. Nearly a full minute of foot tapping passes—he's certainly in no hurry—and he hesitates before glancing at his wristwatch. "Mind if I use your restroom?"
The nurse directs him, and he gives a quick nod. And then he's walking, glancing over his shoulder to make sure she isn't watching, darting around the corner, pulling out his vibrating phone.
"Where are you?" he nearly growls into the mouthpiece.
A heartbeat of silence. "Closer than you think."
Sam's chin jerks up and he effectively scans the area for any sign of his older brother in a sea of white coats and clipboards. A loud ding, metal elevator doors sliding open, and then he knows.
Sam is fairly sure he stands there with his mouth hanging partially open long enough for someone to notice before the sole doctor left in the elevator gestures for him to join his little party of one, though no one seems to care. Sam snaps his phone closed, fighting the urge to grin like an idiot as he steps in, right hand covering his left in a patient stance, pretending not to recognize the man standing next to him. The doors barely close before Dean Winchester makes a full turn—arms spread wide—in his newly–acquired white lab coat.
"What do you think, Sammy?" Dean asks as the elevator ascends.
His little brother's eyes drift to the tag clipped to the breast pocket. "Not bad . . . Dr. House." Sam squints and points at the picture. "You know you look nothing like—"
Dean slaps Sam's hand away. "Shut up. No one's gonna know."
Sam scoffs. "Right." Because we never get caught, he adds silently.
"What did the blonde say?" Dean shifts the conversation instantly, and Sam lets him.
"Same as the article."
"Think she's been questioned before?"
Sam shrugs. "Well, that, or she's had no clue about what's been going on and read the article. Either way, we have nothing to work with . . . Gregory." He chuckles at Dean, who looks down, horrified to find the name on the tag is the one Sam effortlessly tossed his way.
The doors open again and they step out onto the third floor.
"Call me Greg," Dean murmurs.
I love you.
I need you.
I miss you.
Three things he's never said to her (well, said and meant). Three things he knows he won't say, even if given the chance. Two years of working together, hours of bantering over differentials, and the closest he's ever gotten to any of those three things was asking her back to the hospital after driving her away in the first place. Of course, two out of the three aren't true—hadn't been, couldn't, and wouldn't be—and it feels foolish to admit to himself that he's capable of missing her presence. Stupid, even. Especially when he sees her everyday working diligently beside Foreman and Chase—though sometimes alone, covering his clinic hours that have been divided between the doctors in silent agreement, which seems like a huge waste of the time she could be spending doing a multitude of other things, like sorting through his mail—but still somehow detached. Not just from her colleagues, but everyone and everything. And, despite the fun he's had being "invisible", all House can think is how poorly he treated her, and Wilson's words:
"You had the perfect person, and you blew it."
Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. But no amount of clogging toilets and jamming vending machines is going to make him feel any less crappy about how she's been acting. Sure, he could feel bad about bashing Foreman, and possibly Chase, but he doesn't. Because they can handle it. Because they can take care of themselves when it comes to do or die and their ass of a boss lapses into a coma after getting shot in the head and jugular. Though Cameron has always been a puzzle to him—maybe that's why she'd wanted to seem so not simple, and then he'd be interested—and now is no different.
But he watches the trio. Not all day long anymore like he'd started out doing, just when they're on the verge of finding the right track and jumping in headfirst. House studiously ignores the times he seems to poof into the same room as his employees when he was just somewhere else, flooding the bathrooms, mixing up paperwork on Cuddy's desk with huge gusts of air, provided by the windows he forced opened. He shrugs off the spaces of time he can't account for. Of course, he stopped trying to talk to them all after the first few hours and settled on continuing to make their lives miserable, only with a bit more subtlety, which really has never been his style. But being invisible and capable of moving only certain things, he doesn't really have much choice. He does what he can while he can. And once one or all the Musketeers solve the case, everything goes back to being boring, as usual.
Everything is and as it should be.
Except it isn't.
And even though no one can physically see him, House leaves his hints: medical articles and magazines concerning his suspicions related to their current case sitting out in the open. A few times they surprise him, coming to a conclusion faster than he thought possible without so much as blinking an eye, paging through the books. Complications rise and disappear, and lives are saved.
Despite his absence, they do their jobs just as well.
"Dean, you're not wearing cowboy boots, okay? So stop acting like—like you're Dr. Sexy, or something." He elbows his brother in the ribs to stop Dean from smiling flirtatiously, increasingly aware of passing female medical staff. "People are staring."
The oldest Winchester covers his side protectively and frowns at Sam. "I'm not— Wait, seriously?" He stops in the middle of the hallway and gestures to himself. "You think I'm acting?" Dean smiles and laughs, shaking his head from side to side. "Wow, I guess nothing gets past you, huh? Okay, yeah," he admits, lowering his voice. "I'm not a doctor, Sam—I've got no choice. You didn't want to go with my plan and play dress–up, so don't get pissed at me for this annoying compromise you came up with." He pats his brother on the shoulder, flashing a winning smile. "Happy now, cupcake?"
"Fine," Sam says, ignoring the comment. He slows his pace to match Dean's. "Where are we going, anyway? And why did finding a cheap doctor getup take so long?"
Dean shrugs, hooking a thumb on the lapel of his lab coat. "Found this on the fourth floor in a dark office. Get this: Guy has an old time TV, a PSP, and a crapload of CD's."
"Sounds like he's got a lot of time on his hands."
"No kidding," Dean agrees. "Other than that, not much else up there."
Sam smirks knowingly. "Too many big words you didn't know?"
"No," he replies unconvincingly in an instant. At Sam's unwavering look, Dean adds, "Not . . . really."
His little brother gestures to their surroundings. "And we're here now because—?"
Dean frowns. "Haven't you heard?" He begins glancing into patient rooms as they pass, not really sure what he's looking for. He temporarily meets Sam's gaze. "This hospital's haunted."
Sam rolls his eyes. "I know that. I meant, why aren't we searching the morgue? You know, the place they keep dead bodies?" Fed up with Dean's stubborn quest for nothing, he places a hand on his older brother's shoulder and spins him around, anger getting the best of him. "I'm serious, Dean. Stop screwing around. We're working a case here, all right? We don't have time—"
"Remember when Dad died?"
Sam goes silent.
"He made a deal. Him for me. And that damn demon won." Dean shakes his head. "I don't remember much about it, Sam, but I know I had these . . . horrible nightmares while I was out. You and Dad—you fought. And I tried to stop it, but there was something after me, something I found in his journal. A reaper was trying to take people close to death . . . and I was one of them."
He isn't sure what to say at first, but opens his mouth and blurts, "They were just dreams, Dean—"
"I don't think that anymore, Sammy," Dean interrupts. "Maybe it was real. Sure felt real. I was a damn spirit, hunting a reaper. And there was this girl. . . . She was stuck, too." He looks into the nearest hospital room through the sliding glass door and then back at Sam. "What if that's what's happening here? It makes sense."
Sam sighs. "It doesn't," he insists. "Being in a coma doesn't automatically make you a spirit."
"What if I can stop it?"
"There are dozens of patients here, not just a handful we can check."
Sam scrambles for an argument. "So it'll take longer than we thought. And do you really think you can pass for a doctor longer than a few hours?"
Dean shrugs again, determined. "Guess we'll find out."
He doesn't know what day it is or what time it is. He doesn't know for the life of him why he's on the roof, looking out into the blinding light of the setting sun when he doesn't even technically have eyes. Clouds overhead burn bright pink and orange, a large portion a deep purple, and he doesn't understand why he can't feel the wind that moves them across the sky. House can see leaves whirling past in the unsteady breeze, wishing things could be the way they were before.
Just as the air settles, the door opens.
And out steps Allison Cameron.
"Miss me?" he can't help but ask. But then he remembers she can't hear him and watches her face carefully. Sunlight falls over her, revealing eyes ringed with dark shadows, indicating lack of sleep. She nearly crashes into the ledge a few feet from where he stands to her right, leaning heavily on the stone and brick. She's clearly exhausted from his clinic hours, covering some designated to Chase and Foreman. He sighs and walks—limping becoming history—to her side, looking down at her. "You're an idiot."
She holds her head up with one arm positioned on the ledge, eyelids drooping. He imagines she agrees with him.
He rests his forearms on the ledge next to her, unable to feel the roughness of the material, gazing out into the distance. "This sucks. Except the never having to go to the bathroom part," House amends. "Bottom line is, coma's are boring."
Cameron's pager suddenly goes off, and to his surprise, she launches it over the ledge. They watch it plummet until it becomes a black speck and disappears.
"I guess anger management never hurts."
She takes a step back, and for a brief moment, he fears she'll do the unthinkable and follow her pager as she eyes the ledge thoughtfully, but instead turns and slumps to the ground, defeated, with her back pressed against hard stone. And then he's fearful that she'll burst into tears—and he can't pat her on the back and tell her everything will be alright, if that's even what he's supposed to do—but she remains distant and quiet, curling up into herself. Isolated. Alone on a deserted island far out at sea. House hopes she'll speak, but who would she talk to? Herself? Every time he's opened his mouth, he might as well have been talking to his own damn self. He already has enough self–loathing stored away for being a jerk and getting shot, but a depressed and rapidly breaking Cameron will rip his heart out, with or without his permission.
Not that he's had one to take all these years, but who's keeping track?
He sits cautiously, waiting for the meltdown that's sure to come. "I'm sorry," she whispers to the wind.
Great. Now she thinks it's her fault. Am I the biggest ass on the planet? "Shut up," House growls. Then, more softly, even though she can't hear, "It's got nothing to do with you. Go to my office, take the Ben Franklin under my keyboard, and head to the spa or something. Have some fun."
But she won't.
He holds up his hands. "Okay, you got me. Ben Franklin's in my lab coat. Thought it would be a good place for him since I never wear it."
She tilts her head back until it rests against the brick ledge.
House stands and takes several steps away from Cameron. "Omnes te moriturum amant," he mumbles, the breeze whipping the words high above him into golden light. "You should hate me."
She closes her eyes.
House loses it. "You're so damn frustrating! You don't get to be sorry, you don't get to be miserable." He points to his chest. "That's my job. You just had to go and rub your niceness on me, didn't you? And guess what? Some of my horribly moody self got on you in the process!" He watches her, eyes still closed. He throws up his hands. "This is stupid. I must be dead or dying because you sure as hell aren't listening. And neither is anybody else."
He knows he's not dead. Because even if no one can hear him, he can hear them, loud and clear.
Cameron struggles to get to her feet, and despite his unpredicted outburst, he feels exactly the same, if not a little worse. She manages the feat and enters the stairwell, door banging shut behind her.
And since he's alone, and since she's gone, he asks the question that's always haunted him since discovering her feelings.
"Why couldn't you have loved someone worth the trouble?"
Dean looks incredulous. "Plan? I thought we were making this up as we go along. Otherwise, where's the fun in it?"
"We don't have time for fun."
"Whatever." Dean glances left, then right from his spot in the middle of the hallway. "Check the entire floor for coma people—"
"Comatose patients," Sam corrects.
Dean waves the term away. He hadn't really paid much attention to the medical terminology on his favorite show, and Sam nagging at him just wasted even more time. "Whatever," he repeats, exasperated. "Check, and if it's clear, we'll move to the second floor, okay? Meet back here in half an hour."
Sam nods. "I'll take the far side." And he sets off, hoping not to be questioned by medical staff, though he can easily lie and say he's a patient's relative looking for the men's room. The thought makes him smile, if only a little, and he thinks he can squeeze in a minute of fun here or there. For Dean's sake, at least.
Dean Winchester heads in the opposite direction, trying to appear casual. When a nurse fumbles and drops a stack of files, he stops to help, slyly snagging one in the process, keeping up his seemingly professional look. He chuckles quietly to himself. "Dr. House to the rescue." And he rounds the corner out of sight.
Neither brother notices the gruff old doctor leaning against the wall, arms crossed, having overheard the entire conversation. He wastes no time in jogging after the older brother.