It was unusual for House to get a page directly from Cuddy. A true predator, she nearly always preferred to approach through the tall grass, flexing her claws while he pretended not to notice – the metaphoric limping gazelle. But in this case, even the rattle of the buzzer against his belt held a clouded sense of urgency. He unclipped it without thinking and ducked his eyes to read the message:
/Clinic. Wilson. Hurry./
Little remained on earth with enough potency to really chill House's heart. But those three words, opaquely green against the background of his pager, brought his breath up short.
The elevator was a boxed prison, creaking slow, and when a ding finally signaled the door ratcheting open into the main lobby, he arrived to a scene of bedlam. A cluster of people ringed the central island, hands raised in pacification positions. He could not see the center of the declarations, the slow edging forward, the heightened hostility, but he could hear them calling a name, some cajolingly, some calmingly, and more than a few with a growing exasperation: "Dr. Wilson, everything's okay. Put that down now, alright?"
A flash of disheveled brown over the fluttering hands, someone shaking their head. Defensive gestures, and just over the din, panicked panting. House was ready to bully his way through that crowd to reach that cornered dark head, but a slender hand stopped him before he could.
"House. Thank God." Cuddy's frame of curling hair traced a face tight with anxiety.
"Wilson," he said; a question, demand.
She nodded. "We've been trying to talk him down, but he's delirious, and I don't want to hurt him."
Her earnest eyes sought his. He let her have her pretences about being in control of this hospital, his job, parking privileges, any number of things. However, there was no dancing around where the lines of authority were drawn when it came to Wilson, and she knew he'd hold her responsible for any avoidable damage.
He bypassed the tension with a true inquiry: "What happened?"
"Nurse Brenda said he seemed confused when he came down, but she thought he was just overworked and gave him a file when he asked for one. Then he got upset, started staggering. One of the orderlies tried to help him, but apparently he punched the man in the jaw. Simons is getting treated for a hairline fracture in radiology right now."
House vaguely recalled a pushy nursing assistant with an obnoxious sneer, but honestly he wouldn't have cared if it was the pope being treated in radiology. All he cared about was Wilson.
"You've tried talking to him yourself?"
Her face crumpled. "He begged me not to fire him," she answered. "And then he started crying."
Rare sympathy flashed through House. "Well, who knows what you look like through the distortion of fever. I'd have cried too," he mocked kindly, glad when she pinched the bridge of her nose and assumed a more professional aspect.
"Chase was nearby and managed to calm him down," she informed him. "But then security showed up and he went off the wall again. I was thirty seconds away from having to let them wrestle him down and sedate him." She paused. "I'm glad you answered your page."
House didn't even deign a response. His focus had already clicked over to the slow circle of personnel and his hunched, terrified best friend braced against the countertop. Nearest to the troubled man was a familiar blond thatch, murmuring soothingly. But he could see Wilson's chest heaving, and he still clutched the steel tray close across his belly, ready to swing.
Chase was visibly flustered when his boss came beside him. "House," he said, a note of clear relief in his voice. "He's fighting too hard. I'm worried about his heart."
House nodded. "I'll take it from here," he muttered, a breath before he roared, "WILSON!"
This garnered immediate attention. The man's roving gaze meandered to House's face, his pupils tracking slowly. God, the man was feverish out of his mind. House could see the unhealthy flush against his cheeks even from here, and the sheen of sweat he might have expected was notably absent. He had to be damn near a threshold to be so disoriented. How the hell was he still on his feet?
'James Wilson, like the bunny,' he thought wryly. 'Just keeps going and going.'
"Wilson," he cajoled again. "Put that down, you lout, before you lose your reputation as the sweet little Head of Oncology."
This harangue agitated the sick doctor. Grimacing, he batted at the air, protesting, "House." House had seen the man do that before when he was in pain, that defensive, futile, 'please-stop' gesture, like a child trying to push away a forceful adult.
He felt his second flush of compassion in one day. "Wilson," he said again, this time without so much aggression. "Wilson. Hey."
This gleaned a more profitable reaction; Wilson moaned. He was weakening now, his knees trembling violently. House dared to advance, reaching out a hand. "Hey," he asked. "What's wrong? You're making a real mess."
The deep brown eyes were so liquid and malleable that House could have pressed his fingers into them and left an impression. "Sorry," Wilson said.
They were beside one another now, and the diagnostician gestured imperiously for the tray the wavering oncologist still clutched. Wilson gave it up almost immediately, slumping against the counter as he did so. Casting the metallic plate aside, House pressed both his palms against his friend's neck and frowned. "You're sick," he said. As though it weren't obvious.
Wilson wilted against House's shoulder. "I don't feel well," he agreed. "There were trains."
Hallucinations? Well, that was interesting. He clarified, "Trains here? In the hospital?"
Wilson whined, "I don't want to go to the hospital."
"Too late for that, buddy," House said, and grinned in spite of the hot, heavy weight leaning against him.
Wilson's eyes rolled a little, flicking around as though they couldn't quite anchor. "The trains were coming. Oh," he made a sound deep in his throat, a combination of hurt, fear, and delirium.
"It's alright," House comforted. Conspiratorially, he shared, "I pulled out some of the rail spikes. They'll never make it."
This provoked a giggle that melded with a half-sob. "House," Wilson scolded, as though admonishing him for his prank. But then his expression hazed again, and fingers bore into the diagnostician's arm. He pleaded, "House?"
The older doctor had never known his name to have so many qualities of expression. "What?"
"House, I have to go to work."
"You're too sick for work. What if you stricken your little cancer kiddies?"
"Have to do my job," Wilson panted, sounding thwarted. "They'll fire me if I don't."
"No one is going to fire you." House cast a defiant look toward the swinging doors, where Cuddy was still standing, rotating the rings on her fingers as she waited to make certain the disruption in her front lobby was taken care of. "But you, my friend, need to be admitted. How does some nice IV fluid sound to you?"
A long puzzled moment. "Does it have any calories?" Wilson asked.
Bemusement. If only one could track the associations of a deep-fried brain under a scanner. House assured his friend, "No. And it will make you feel better. Swear." He crossed his heart with a careless gesture, jostling the cane still hooked over one arm.
Wilson considered this. "I do want to feel better," he decided, then squinted around, as though bewildered by his surroundings and the many curious faces. "Look at all the people."
"Yes, there are a lot of people here who should be doing their jobs," House said testily as he felt his friend begin to tremble again at the sight of the navy-suited security personnel. A few of the nurses – the ones who had likely been hoping to come to the rescue – gave him sour looks, but with a glance at Cuddy for confirmation, they dispersed. Soon only Chase remained. House pointed his chin towards the long hall. Stretcher.
Wilson was relaxing a little now that he no longer had an audience. "So what happened?" House asked conversationally as he reached into one pocket. He saw Cuddy begin to approach, but waved her away. "Should have stayed home this morning but somehow managed to drag your infected carcass into work anyway?" House was punching numbers into his phone.
It was as though Wilson didn't properly understand the question. Bowing over his stomach queasily, he insisted, "Sick people live in hospitals."
"Very true," House agreed. "Even the doctors. The medical profession doesn't attract healthy people, after all. You, for example, probably haven't been 'healthy' your whole life."
"I don't think so." Wilson was rubbing his forehead, still hunched as his eyelids drooped.
The elevator dinged again and a confused looking Foreman stepped out from its paneled interior, holding his pager. He took one look at the deconstructed island with its toppled chairs and spread of paperwork like snow on the floor, then sighed as he approached. He shot keen look at Dr. Wilson. "Well, that's not good."
The sickened doctor, meanwhile, had emerged from his cloud of fever long enough to peer between the two men with a bewilderment which quickly transformed into horror. "Oh, I can't," he moaned, holding his head. "I'm too tired. Go back into one, House."
Under different circumstances, the look on Foreman's face would have provoked long, riotous laughter. But Wilson chose that moment to crumble, and only Foreman's practiced reflexes kept him from hitting the floor. Like the professional that he was, the neurologist deadpanned, "He needs to be cooled down. Now."
"Cuddy might fire me," Wilson was still babbling. "I'm not a very good doctor."
The double doors that lead further into the interior of the hospital batted, and the gurney House had requested rolled in, manned by anxious faces and supplied with cooling packs. However, the sound of the wheels electrified Wilson, who bolted up from his slump. "NO!" He gyrated, struggling, and only Foreman's stubborn hold kept him from bolting. "Trainstrainstrains."
"Wilson! Stop that right now!" House commanded him, taking hold of his arm. To his surprise, the man turned fully and clung to his arm, hyperventilating. Help me, he was begging. And Wilson asked for so little protection.
Split second decisions. House made split second decisions all the time. Finally, he turned his head toward the man who was still supporting much of Wilson's weight. "The staff showers are closest," he said.
Foreman looked like he might argue, but something stopped him and he shut his mouth. He nodded, and looped his arm securely around Wilson's. House took up the other side, guiding him with a falcon's grip on one elbow. As they left the others, he gave orders to Chase: "Have a room ready, an IV drip, the works. As soon as we get his temperature down he should be pretty tractable."
The spray of lukewarm water filled the small receptacle, raining water and sound over its double occupants, one propped clumsily between Foreman and the slick cubicle wall. Wilson was shuddering too much to stand on his own, but he refused to sit down. Really, they were lucky he wasn't vomiting or in convulsions.
"Stay out there, House. The last thing we need is for you to get injured," Foreman insisted when his boss attempted to step inside. He deliberately eyed the slippery tiles, and House compromised by bracing himself just outside the flimsy curtain. He was agitated; his brow knotted in a way that Foreman usually only saw when the man was conflicted with a difficult puzzle. The grey of his hair stood out more. Worry. Not that the bastard would ever admit it.
The sound grew pervasive, the only other noises being Wilson's panting and the repetitive tap of House's cane rebounding off the floor. Foreman broke the static by asking, "How serious is this?" It stood in the place of the question he really wanted to ask: 'Is this something we'll be seeing on your whiteboard?'
House was looking off into the distance, fingering his crook as though distracted. "It's nothing," he answered. "He's been nursing a bug all week. I told him not to be so pathetic about a tummy ache. Obviously, he didn't take my advice to heart."
Foreman felt a familiar hook of disgust in his belly. "Mm. Very compassionate of you, House," he remarked. "Remind me never to depend on you for emotional support, okay?"
The older man leered. "Too late."
"Why are you talking to yourself, House?" Wilson voice echoed off of the close tile, or it would have if it hadn't been for the watery disorientation playing over his face. Sighing, Foreman hitched the man a little higher, keeping him from slipping to the floor.
Foreman was a pragmatic man. His attitude towards Dr. Wilson generally wavered between professional interest in a colleague, and an indulgent feeling felt towards someone who was not useful to his work but nonetheless served some purpose – in this case, as a playmate for his volatile boss. It was this feeling of indulgence that came out now.
"Wilson, it's Foreman. Not House. FORE-man."
Wilson blinked up at him. "Oh. Hi, Foreman. Did you have a good time on your date?"
House pounced on this unexpected tidbit. "Date?" he wondered, waggling his eyebrows.
The neurologist groaned, his brow knitted with irritation. As though any of his secrets were safe. To Wilson, he growled, "I'm forgiving you for that only because you're sick."
This made the other wilt, a truly pathetic sight with his strands of dripping hair, delicate shivering, and drooping, loosened tie. Foreman could feel the heat off him, even now. In a small voice, Wilson wondered, "Are you mad at me?"
A pause. Then an awkward pat. Foreman assured him, "No. I'm not mad."
He looked up to find his boss staring at them both with his hands clasped together. The diagnostician showed his teeth, "How sweet."
Irritation radiated. Biting his lower lip to keep from shouting, Foreman grated, "Shut up. Maybe if you weren't such as ass to him so often..."
The pseudo-smarmy expression melted into annoyance. House could growl like an animal when he became truly angry, and as much as he meddled in other people's lives and relationships, he was protective of his own. "Are their two Wilsons in here all of a sudden?" The question was viciously sarcastic, a slur to both men dribbling water. He stared sharp-eyed, as though the azure was made of bits of jagged glass. He snapped, "You're a neurologist, not a psychiatrist. You can keep your non-medical opinions to yourself."
However, Foreman was well rehearsed at this game. In a retaliatory impersonal monotone, he fired a barb at the fortified husk that House called a heart. "Fine. My medical opinion is that the patient is suffering from severe hyperthermia with febrile delirium and mental confusion, exacerbated by lack of sufficient care, dehydration, and exhaustion. Worst possible outcomes; seizures, worsening illness, and brain damage."
Wilson looked up drowsily from his near stupor. "That sounds bad," he commented.
A rare fondness entered House's eyes. Foreman had seen it before a handful of times, so he was only partially surprised. The diagnostician reached through the curtain and pressed his friend's sodden bangs from his eyes; through he immediately reduced any possible sentimentality in the action with an insult:
"Yeah. You've officially lowered your likelihood of beating me in an battle of witty repartee to roughly the same level as your stapler. Or maybe the paper clip holder. It's hard to say."
Wilson giggled breathlessly. "Yer so funny, House. I always liked that about you."
The static silence of the water overwhelmed them for a while after that, all the while the oncologist melted against the side of the stall. Foreman put a hand under his chin. "Better," he judged. "We'll be ready for that gurney soon."
"Hear that, Wilson?" House called over the spray. "We'll get you some rest and some saline, and then you'll be good to go."
His friend shifted, his face bunched and a little grey without the harshness of its former color. He shook his head, his eyes closed tiredly, but otherwise remained mute until the stretcher arrived for him. Someone had muffled the wheels, the neurologist noted, though at this point he didn't think Wilson had it in him to do anything but senselessly acquiesce. He was already up on the board getting a preliminary check before he spoke again:
The man lurched to the side of the cart, propping his cane on the side so that he could put his hand near Wilson's arm. "What is it, you big baby? More theatrics to make me feel sorry for you?"
Dimly conscious, Wilson said, "House. You're my best friend, House."
No response at first, just an almost imperceptible stiffening down the older man's spine. His head drooped a little. "Alright, Wilson," he answered.
Chase was there, at the head the procession as his boss was carefully pushed away by a nurse. He lingered as they wheeled the sick doctor away carefully through the narrow doors. "Don't worry, we'll take care of him," he promised before he disappeared.
Foreman may have been mistaken, but it seemed as though House wavered when he was finally left alone in the empty shower room.
Hospital rooms were, contrary to popular opinion, not white. They were colorless, and generally featureless save the looming plastic machinery and metal bars of the folding bed. They weren't designed to be comfortable either, not for convalescents or their visitors. House didn't know exactly why this was, unless some primordial dean of medicine – he thought of Cuddy in an insufficiently draped loin cloth – had designed them that way as a cost cutting measure, encouraging anyone healthy enough to run away to stop sucking the hospital's air.
Ironic, he thought with some measure of self-depreciation, that something like attachment could keep one sitting on the hard little stone chairs. He refused to call it affection.
Reward came in slow blinking eyes, weary but definitely awake. House learned over the bedrail, calling, "Wakey, wakey, Jimmy."
Full awareness was a slow thing, but House could tell the exact moment when his friend realized just who it was looming over his bedside. It was a crooked quirk at the corner of his mouth. He complained, "My head hurts."
"You were dehydrated," House explained, mostly just to hear himself talk, since he wasn't sure how well Wilson was really tracking. "It's a wonder your head didn't just pop off, like a thermometer on television."
Wilson felt his forehead, as if reassuring himself it was still there. Still, he sounded lucid when he asked, "Did I make a fool of myself?"
Now that was something to talk about. Warming up to the topic, House shared, "Held up the clinic like a mental patient. Brandished a metal tray at that idiot Simons."
A flush, this one of embarrassment, dashed across the oncologist's face. "Oh. Did I at least get in a good hit?"
"Right in the jaw. Pow." House demonstrated. "Dementia must agree with you."
"I've always had fever dreams, ever since I was a kid," Wilson admitted, face drooping into a frown. "Bad dreams. Dying. Trains and bombs. Never so bad though."
House was fiddling with the antibiotic drip to avoid the troubled expression on his friend's face. "Well, you ended up with quite an impressive bacterial infection. Possibly exacerbated by those double shifts." He pouted dramatically. "Keep this up and you'll sound even more hypocritical than usual when you tell me off for not taking care of myself."
"It was pretty stupid, I guess." Wilson was sinking back down into his flat, starchy, colorless pillows again. His eyelashes fluttered.
"Keenly stupid," House told him. And then, because his friend's breathing had steadied into slow, rhythmic puffs, he muttered, "I was worried."
Mussed up hair in a cowlick over one half-lidded eye. "Really?" Wilson wondered.
House settled back against the hard rock, feigning a disgruntled, unconcerned hunch. He said, "No, of course not." But his friend just grinned as he slid into sleep.
Author's Note: I haven't the slightest idea how common "fever dreams" are in the general public, only that from a personal perspective they are incredibly frightening. The testimonies I have gathered seemed to confirm that they are often repeated over years, and usually involving some encroaching death-bringer (airplanes, trains, etc). Frequently, they are accompanied by some other form of mental confusion, and as a point of clarification, they aren't really "dreams" as they occur when a person is conscious.