Here it is folks, the last chapter of "In the House". I'm sorry for the delay.
I want to say thank you to all of you who read it and all of you who read it and commented it.
This story would never had happen without the following persons:
Amy and BabalooBlue, my fantastic proofreaders. I owe everything to them. If you are reading this story in english it's because of them. I want to thank them their interest and generosity.
Hugh Laurie. Without his fantastic performance as House, I would never had the inspiration to write this story.
After the man crashed his car into Cuddy's dining room, he went to the Fiji islands and stayed there for three months. When he returned to the United States, the man gave himself up to the authorities, dismissed the help of a lawyer, appeared in court, listened in silence to what the judge had to say and prepared himself to spend the next eight months in prison.
He felt that what he had done had been a necessity, a liberation of sorts. An ending to a new beginning. But not everything had ended with his gesture. Something had remained, a small leftover, a grain of sand. Shame perhaps. Or sadness. Or a mixture of the two.
He had been Cuddy's friend for many years. Almost a lifetime. They had been colleagues in college, and after that, colleagues in the same hospital. Throughout those years, they had argued a lot, but they also had laughed a lot, played pranks on each other, had fun together. He had pleasure in her company. He was going to miss her.
The man thought, not without sorrow, that if by chance he would meet her again, she would come to him as a stranger, no more the lover, no more the friend. A stranger full of anger, full of resentment. Perhaps she would come to him as an enemy.
That's why the last thing the man wanted was to see Cuddy again. He couldn't stand to imagine the way she would look at him, to imagine what he would read in her eyes. The violence of his action couldn't be erased, he was conscious of that. Echoes of it would last for a long time, like circles in the water after a stone had been thrown. He didn't expect forgiveness.
The man's first days in prison were spent watching. From morning, when he stepped out of his cell, to night-time, the man paid close attention to the habits and routines of everyone. By the end of the first week he had memorized the schedule of every guard, who was on which shift, who was nice, who was nasty; how many groups of prisoners there were, who were their leaders, what was their hierarchy, who was dangerous and who was helpful, who was doing favours to whom, and what those favours were, who was to be trusted and who could be a potential threat. Everything he mentally catalogued for future reference.
The man used to sit, alone, in the prison social centre, looking at the comings and goings of prisoners, guards and other personnel. He looked at the row of people waiting for their meds to be delivered. He knew what each of one of those persons was thinking about, what they were going to do thirty seconds, fifteen minutes, one hour, from this moment on. He watched them so intently that their bodies disappeared under his gaze and what he saw was their trajectories in time and space, like vectors that passed, crossed and collided. The persons were particles and everything was mathematics.
The prison was an enormous hierarchical structure. On the bottom there were the common prisoners, the old, the weak, afterwards would come the strong, the enforcers, then the leaders of the several groups, then the guards, the guards supervisors, the director of the prison, and, looming above them all, the Law. The supreme Law.
In the past, someone had told him that he was not above the law. It was fair to assume that the events that had occurred were proof enough of the truth of that affirmation. No, the man was not above the law. That fact was painfully obvious. But he didn't feel that he was below it either, not the way he saw it, as a collection of rules made by a small group of men to control the crowds. To the man, the law was not about justice or the truth. The law was about power and control. And he knew everything about power and control. About having them and losing them.
The only law the man recognized was his own. That was the reason why he had come back to the States, why he had refused a lawyer, why he was now in jail. Because he had found himself guilty. There was no need for a judge to condemn him. He already had done that in the more strict court of his own consciousness. The man was the only prisoner in jail by his own accord.
He was not above the law, or under it. In a strange way, he was more in parallel to it. He existed apart of it. Again, the man was looking from the outside into the inside, even if "outside" was a figure of speech and he literally was "inside" now.
When the man observed prison life, he saw in his mind the huge building that was the system, like a knight in shining white armour and spear in his hand facing a tower so big it pierced the sky and its top was lost beyond the clouds. That tower was his enemy. Knight and tower, locked in a perpetual dance throughout time.
Now the knight was inside the tower. No more dressed in white but in greyish blue. No more wearing an armour. Cotton was the fabric of his garments.
After the first weeks of thorough observation, the man started to immerse himself in the daily prison routine. He started talking with the other inmates, trying to find possible allies. He tried also to be useful because usefulness was one of the ways a person with no friends could survive inside those walls.
He became a janitor. During the day, the man followed the program. He limped through the corridors, wheeling the cleaning material, scrubbing the floors, washing the bathrooms, becoming, both in body as in spirit, the true heir to the buraku that inspired him so long ago. Occasionally he played chess with one of the prisoners, a man named Frankie. He was the closest thing to a friend the man had in there. During the night, or in his solitary hours, the man listened to music, read a lot and studied Physics.
The man had an idea of what he was going to do as soon as he was released. An idea that implied to begin everything all over again; in an even a more radical way than in other times of change. The man was going to create a completely blank slate, tabula rasa, of everything that he had been in the past. Friend, profession, city, country… he was going to leave everything behind, he was going to ditch everything like someone tossing away old clothes that he is tired of wearing.
The man didn't want to be a doctor anymore. Being a doctor reminded him of his old life. He wanted to start anew. No, no more medicine for him. He was going to employ his talent in other things. As soon as he was out of there, he was going to get a PhD and become a Physics teacher on the Fiji islands. The man intended to prove the existence of Dark Matter, that elusive substance nobody could see but whose presence conditioned the motion of planets and starts. If someone could achieve that feat that someone was certainly the man. Who else was more knowledgeable of the dark that existed in every thing large or small, of the dark that resided in the heart of all men?
Hence the man's wall in his cell, the wall nearest his cot, was full of mathematical calculations and Physics graphics. The man kept himself busy in this way. It was good for him, for his obsessive nature, to have a clear objective to guide his thoughts. It was a way to cope with the life he led, with the routine, the bullying, the violence, the humiliation of seeing himself destitute of any power or influence; no more the head of a department in a big hospital, no more the world renowned doctor, no more the last resort of so many patients. Inside the prison he was only House, not Doctor House. House, the middle age cripple who cleaned the latrines and who sometimes showed glimpses of rebelliousness, promptly squashed, by the guards or by the other prisoners. It had been a harsh fall. But the man was a specialist in falls and resurrections. He knew the prison was only a passage, a mere station where the train had temporarily stopped. Soon, it would be moving again.
The doctor was dead. Buried beneath Cuddy's dining room rubble. Saving lives had ceased to interest him. The man was fed up. He was going to find the Truth elsewhere from now on.
On a certain day, the man was in the prison clinic when he heard two doctors talking about a clinical case. One of the doctors was the chief prison doctor, the other one, probably his assistant, was a young woman, very pretty. The man was paying attention to the conversation and every now and then he suggested something to the differential diagnostics. Flashes of the old days crossed his mind. The older doctor didn't interest him. But the younger… The man asked himself what she was doing in there. She didn't seem the type of doctor one would find in a prison clinic. The woman was an anomaly, and he loved anomalies.
The young doctor's history aroused his curiosity as much as the clinic case. Her name was Adams and the man could see right from the start that she had ambition and a willingness to make a difference. She also had guts to defy authority, as the man would discover later. Adams' interest for Medicine, for helping people (it was because of that she became a prison doctor, clearly a case of Mother Theresa syndrome), contrasted with the man's disillusion. Perhaps it had been her presence, the fact that she had become curious and had read his file, the fact that she knew who he had been, what he had done, and still was capable of recognizing the potential for good that was inside of him, that had led the man to become progressively involved with the patient's case. Adams spurred him, she challenged him by saying that he had a gift and that gift shouldn't be wasted, that the mysteries of the Universe, which the man was so interested in, were nothing compared to the mysteries of humanity.
The disciplinary board had given the man one week, by the end of which he would regain his freedom, if he could stay out of trouble during that time. One week. They might as well give him an eternity; it wouldn't have made any difference. Trouble seemed to follow the man wherever he went even when he tried to avoid it, sometimes it happened when he avoided it on purpose, as if the man was a giant magnet perpetually attracting chaos.
That week was no exception. On the first day, the chief of one of the gangs, an old sadistic man called Mendelson, covered with swastika tattoos, had told the man that he had to give him, by the end of the week, twenty Vicodin pills. Just to reinforce the importance of the request in the man's mind, Mendelson had sent his gorillas to beat him up. It was a tricky business. The doses that they gave the man daily, even if he kept them and never took any, would never add up to twenty pills by the week's end. For him to be able to get the twenty he needed first, to endure the pain, and second, to get hold of more meds. To be able to do that, the man had to put to use all his cunning, smartness and imagination.
To complicate things further, he started to become obsessed with the patient's case. At night, he no longer did mathematical exercises. Instead, he would compile list of symptoms on the bottom board of the cot above. The doctor's demise had been announced too soon.
When the end of the week arrived, the man had not been able to acquire the Vicodin but he had arrived at a possible diagnosis. To be able to prove it, the patient needed to take an aspirin. If the result was a heart attack, the man's diagnostic was correct. They had refused him access to the clinic, so he needed to find a way of entering there by other ways. On the last day of the week, the man challenged Mendelson in the cafeteria, provoked a riot, took a beating and was sent to the clinic. Mendelson was sent to solitary.
As soon as the man saw himself inside the clinic, he locked the door. Besides him, the only people there were Adams and the patient. It was the right moment. The man crushed the aspirin and dropped the resulting powder in a cup filled with water. He gave the cup to the patient. The patient hesitated for a moment and that hesitation was fatal. During those few seconds the guards managed to break the door down and grab the man, taking him away from the patient. The cup was still in the patient's hand. The man tried to free himself but was overpowered by the number and the force of the guards. One of them grabbed the cup from the patient and put it on a table. Everything was lost.
They were going to take the man away when something extraordinary happened. Adams, who up until that point had remained motionless, seized the cup, gave it to the patient and the patient drank its content. The prison doctor, who had entered with the guards, immediately fired her. She didn't care. All eyes were fixed on the patient. Never was a heart attack awaited with so much expectancy, with so much desire even. Fifteen seconds… half a minute… one minute... nothing. The guards dragged the man out of there while he shouted that it was still too early. He was sent into solitary confinement. The possibility of an early release was gone. The prison would remain his home for the next months.
Because he had wanted to save a man's life, because he had returned to thinking like a doctor, to acting like a doctor, because he had searched for the truth, and in doing so, he had defied authority, the man was back in the dark. It was ironic. Almost comical. The man could hear the distinct sound of laughter in the air. Fate is a bitch.
But what bothered him more was the fact that he had never found out if his diagnosis was the correct one or not. Possibly not. Possibly the man had been wrong and everything he had done was in vain, had no meaning. It had cost him his freedom, it had cost a good doctor, someone who had trusted him, her job. Only because he had fallen in love with Medicine again, with the rush of finding the right answer. Only because he had wanted to know. Perhaps this was the way fate had of telling him that his earlier decision of giving up Medicine had been the right one, after all. Perhaps he was no longer the man he once had been, the doctor he once was. He had been inactive for too long.
The next day, by lunch time, a hatch at the bottom of the door was opened and a tray slid across the floor. The hatch closed again. The man rose, looked at the tray and noticed on it, next to the food, a piece of paper. He grabbed the paper, unfolded it and, with eyes accustomed to the semi-darkness of the cell, read what was written on it. A slight smile appeared on his face.
"You were right", was the text scribbled on the paper.
He had been right. A wave of relief washed over the man. The gift was still there, untouched. He was still the genius doctor of the past. Nothing had changed.
The man had revised, in one night, the major moments of his life. The great victories, the even greater defeats. The past lovers. It had been a fulfilled life, he had to admit it. Although he had the impression that it had been less of a life and more a collection of accidents. Perhaps there was no great difference between the two after all. It didn't matter. He was going to get out of prison and he needed to decide what he was going to do as soon as he regained his freedom. Going back to the hospital was out of the question. But the man wanted to continue to be a doctor. It was in his nature. And it was useless to fight one's own nature. He had already wasted too much energy trying to do that.
After his release, the man would continue to practice medicine. First thing he would do was to find Wilson, ask for forgiveness and try to salvage as much as possible of his old friendship. Afterwards… afterwards he would go wherever chance would lead him.
The man was serene, lying in his cell. He was looking at the dark. There was still a last memory to evoke.
He thought of Cuddy and her face appeared to him. Ethereal like a ghost but nevertheless distinct. She looked like she was made of silver filaments.
Cuddy smiled at the man. He didn't smile back. He was looking at her with an intent gaze, memorizing every feature of her face: the curve of her chin, the expression of her eyes, the shape of her mouth, the beauty of her smile (he had missed that smile).
The man lifted his right arm and with his hand very delicately caressed Cuddy's face. Sadness filled his heart. He remained like that, looking at the apparition, for a moment more. Then he murmured: "Enough". He made a gesture with his fingers and the figure vanished.
The man dropped his arm but continued looking at the darkness, as if it was something solid. He wanted to pierce the darkness to reveal the true dark that lurked behind it. The heart of the darkness. He wanted the dark to hear him.
He said out loud and with a clear voice: "No more changes, no more fixing, no more searches for meaning. I am a cripple. I will always be a cripple. I am in pain. I will always be in pain. I am selfish. I am miserable. I am a mess. I will probably be a mess until the end of my days. I am a doctor. I am alone. All this I am and I accept what I am. Now and forever."
The man stopped for a moment but didn't avert his gaze. He kept looking steadily in front of him. His look changed to an expression of challenge and his mouth widened in a dangerous smile. "I am here and I will continue to be here. Come and get me… if you can."
Silence was the answer.
The man closed his eyes and fell asleep.