Many thanks, as always, go to maineac.
Over the Bridge
When the cancer starts getting really bad…
House could have finished Wilson's sentence for him. He knew what he was going to say but he didn't want to hear it. Not then, not there. Not yet.
But it was going to come up again eventually.
House had worked hard to deflect this particular topic nearly every day since Wilson's first attempt to bring it up, that day on the bridge. Then, he had simply used one of his old jokes, the ones Wilson knew were weak and feeble and so ancient that neither of them could even remember them ever being funny. But Wilson had latched onto it gratefully because he had seen the intent behind the flippancy - let's not spoil our first few days of freedom, there'll be plenty of time for this later on. Considering what both knew awaited them down the road, it wasn't surprising that the idea of a few carefree days was appealing, even to Wilson.
Surprisingly, this fake levity, the fake jokes had been good for more than just a few days. They even stopped being fake for a while. For a while that lightness had carried them. It carried them across three state borders, through sunny days and rainy days. And whenever Wilson looked like he was about to fall back into that black pit and ask the question, House had dug up one of those jokes, shaken the crud off and slapped it right in his best friend's face.
"House, we have to…"
"We really don't have to do anything, Wilson. We're footloose and fancy-free. That's the whole point of this, isn't it? We're free as the breeze and can do as we please." And he started whistling. That last bit was borrowed from Dean Martin but the end justified the means.
The trick had worked for longer than House expected it to. Or they pretended that it worked. Agreeing to pretend was the same as really working, so they were good.
Until day 35.
He was running out of jokes, and he was also running out of energy to divert Wilson's attention. They weren't running out of time, not quite yet. But they would, eventually. And since they both knew that, the inevitable happened. The unspoken agreement collapsed.
"We need to talk, House."
Actually, they needed to do more than talk. They needed to make plans, start preparing. They couldn't run forever, not from Wilson's cancer. It would catch up with them and when it did they had better have a game plan or they'd be screwed. They'd probably be screwed either way but he knew Wilson wouldn't want to go into this blind. Wilson needed a strategy to feel in control. Even if he wasn't.
But yeah, we'll start with talking. "What do you want to talk about?"
"What we have avoided every single day since we left Princeton." Wilson was staring into his coffee and kept stirring it, as if it hadn't gone cold half an hour ago. "We need to talk about what we're going to do when the cancer gets bad."
There it was, right on the table, slap bang between them, surrounded by half empty cups, uneaten toast and congealed egg from their breakfast.
"So talk," said House and leaned back against the sticky fake leather of their diner booth, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Hell, he wasn't going to make it easy for Wilson.
Instead of a reply, his attitude earned him a Wilsonian look of disapproval, complete with raised eyebrows. Time to go on the offensive.
"Well, what do you expect me to say, Wilson? You're the one with cancer. This is your trip. You pick the destination, you decide how far we go and when. And I mean that in every possible way. So you talk."
He hadn't actually intended to sounds so hostile. Because he wasn't. He was anything but.
"Damn it, House, do you think this is just going to go away on its own? Stop avoiding the big issue for once!" Wilson banging his fist on the table and sending plates and saucers rattling earned them a wary look from the waitress behind the counter. She had been less than sympathetic from the minute they had both limped into the diner – Wilson from being saddle-sore and he, well, he always limped. A long day on the bike, a three-block walk to the restaurant last night, followed by a night in a motel bed that had seen better days definitely hadn't helped in matters leg.
Shocked by his own outburst, Wilson dialed it down a notch and continued in a slightly hushed tone. "I need to know what we're going to do before I get too sick to make any decisions. House, you promised, no hospitals. That still stands. I'm holding you to that!"
Wilson knew this but House had to point it out: "That's gonna make pain management a bit of a problem."
Wilson didn't say anything to this; he just nodded and kept prodding at the sad-looking pieces of toast left on his plate.
"You're already on the wrong side of the law …" Wilson's voice was so low it would have been easy for House to pretend he hadn't heard him. He knew exactly what Wilson was asking. They both did. They also both knew House wouldn't be able to say no to what Wilson was asking. He never could say no to Wilson's requests. Been there, done that, got the deep brain stimulation. Then as now Wilson knew what he was asking of House. He had risked his life for Wilson that time, in the full knowledge of what was at stake, and he would do it again, no hesitation. He would go and get the drugs for Wilson. They had already covered his own Vicodin needs by less than legal means before they left Princeton.
"Yeah, can't let Mr. Perfect go out on the streets scoring drugs. They'd spot you a mile off. And then where would you be? Boy Wonder Oncologist locked up for possession of narcotics – imagine the headlines. You'd die a slow death in prison. Can't have that, Wilson."
Uh oh. Wrong thing to say; levity was not what was called for right now judging by the look on Wilson's face. House wasn't quite sure what was scarier for Wilson, a slow death or prison. Or maybe it was the combination of both. Whichever it was that had him looking so terrified, Wilson seemed disinclined to pick up where he had left off and that was just fine with House.
He kind of hoped this was the end of it.
But he should have known better.
Their next clash came on day 46.
"House, where are you going at this hour? It's nearly midnight."
He stopped at the door but didn't turn around. "I know what time it is. I'm a big boy now, Mommy said I could stay out after dark."
He could hear Wilson moving about on his bed behind him. They had started taking one room with two beds instead of splurging out on two individual rooms. They always ended up watching TV in the same room together anyway. Plus, this way House could keep an eye on Wilson overnight, just in case. Of course that was not one of the reasons either of them mentioned when they made the decision to share a room.
"House, it's dark and the forecast is for rain. And The Return of the Swamp Thing is coming on in ten minutes. Where are you going?"
House could actually hear Wilson struggling to keep a whiny edge out of his voice. He was starting to get clingy. It was time to get going, there were things he needed to get done.
"Trust me, Wilson, it's better if you don't know." And with that he opened the door and left.
To his credit, Wilson didn't ask any further questions afterwards. Maybe he was in denial. He should have moved past stage one a long time ago. They had definitely passed anger a good while back. Bargaining hadn't worked and it seemed like they had dealt with depression during those two days when they were cooped up due to bad weather. Trust Wilson to shy away from acceptance and jump right back to denial.
Getting his hands on enough morphine and Pentobarbital hadn't been as difficult as he had thought. This was a sizeable town, not far from a medical school. Where there were wannabe doctors, there were broke wannabe doctors. Everyone had a price. The stash went into his backpack, as far away from Wilson's prying eyes as possible. Not that he wouldn't find out sooner or later anyway. But House had rather it was later. Much later. Or never. But that ship had sailed when Wilson refused further treatment.
House was relieved to find Wilson asleep already when he returned and went straight to bed. Running around on the streets trying to score was a young man's game, which was why he had made sure to score big. No way was he going to do this again.
Wilson had turned the light in the bathroom on and had even been kind enough to leave some of the good Scotch for House. It actually looked like he hadn't touched the bottle at all. No skin off his nose, that meant more left for himself. Two fingers would do tonight, though, just to take the edge off the pain in his leg. He was tired and needed sleep.
But that wasn't to be, not for long anyway. It felt like he had just nodded off when thrashing and moaning from the next bed woke him. One glance told him, though, that this wasn't the emergency he had been dreading. No, Wilson was just having a nightmare. A very vocal one by the sounds of it.
"No, no, no, no, you're not getting that …"
House watched Wilson struggle with the covers while arguing with someone. The fight got more and more heated, and Wilson sounded more and more desperate.
"No, not him. You can't have him. Leave him alone!"
Now he was getting really worked up. When House saw tears running down his friend's face in the low light from the bathroom, he decided it was time to intervene. He carefully sat down on Wilson's bed.
"Hey." He shook his friend's shoulder. "Hey, Wilson, time to let go, wake up."
Wilson kept thrashing around and House was too sleepy to duck fast enough, so Wilson's right caught him bang on his ear. Thankfully the guy was a leftie, so there wasn't much power behind that hit.
House ended up pinning Wilson's hands to the mattress to stop him from hurting him any further.
"Wilson, damn it, wake up! Are you trying to kill me?"
Somehow, that did it.
Still slightly disoriented, Wilson mumbled, "What're you doing here, House? Go back to your own bed."
Sniveling, he rolled over and turned his back to House. His shoulders were shaking, though, so it was easy to see through the cool guy attitude. Wilson's shtick never really worked on House anyway.
That's how he ended up rubbing Wilson's back until his breath didn't hitch anymore and the sniveling had stopped. Only then did he make his way back to his own bed.
Twenty minutes, or 142 breaths later, when he thought Wilson had long gone back to sleep, he heard him whispering from his side of the room.
"House? I know I have no right to ask this of you…"
It was so quiet that he almost missed it. And, had he been asleep, he would have. As it was, he wasn't and he didn't. He tried to figure out how to respond. Knowing exactly how Wilson was going to finish that sentence made him wish he'd had more than that one glass of scotch. A lot more.
The answer shouldn't be so difficult. After all, he had offered to help Thirteen. And she hadn't even asked. It had been a relatively easy decision at the time. But then, it had been a long way off and didn't concern his best friend. He liked Thirteen, appreciated her smarts and quick wit. But she wasn't even close to being a meaningful fixture in his life. Wilson on the other hand… Wilson was Wilson.
"Damn right you've got no right," he grumbled finally, after deciding he couldn't leave Wilson hanging like that forever. "Do you know what it's going to be like? You'll have trouble breathing; with the thymoma pressing on your lungs, your O2 sats will be in the tank and …"
Wilson interrupted him quietly, but determined. "House, I know what it's going to be like. And I also know you've probably got a shitload of drugs in that backpack right now. We both know how it works. If it were up to me, I'd go for morphine for the pain plus Pentobarbital. I'm guessing you got enough of both in there. But I still have to ask because I'm not taking this for granted. I know you've done so much already and this could really be the end of anything resembling a normal life for you if anyone ever figures this out. So I know I have no right to ask. But I'm asking anyway."
As if he had ever had any hope for a normal life. All he wanted was to not go back to prison. And he would make damn sure he wouldn't. But he couldn't take that illusion from Wilson as well. Wilson was struggling with reality as it was – he probably still thought House could come back from this. No need to complicate things even further for him.
He had gone this far for Wilson already, there was no good reason to stop now. No good reason except his own fear. And after all, that had never been a good enough reason for anything.
And that was the second time in his life he promised to kill someone. This promise he would be able to keep, though. Or he'd die trying.
"Yes, as in…?"
"As in Yes, I knew you'd ask me that. As in Yes, I knew you'd go for Pentobarbital because I've been friends with an oncologist most of my professional life. As in Yes, I'll do it if and when you want me to. Happy now?"
That was it. There was no way back now. He would never go back on his word and Wilson knew this. All of a sudden House felt queasy and couldn't get out of bed and into the bathroom fast enough.
House was sure Wilson could hear him retching through the thin plywood door. But he couldn't bring himself to reply to Wilson's insistent knocking on the door when it came. He was too shaky, sitting there on the tiled floor. This squeamishness was so not like him. He had never shied away from the truth.
"House… are you okay in there? Shit… alright, alright, I know you're not okay. Obviously not. House… open the door!"
For a while he just sat there listening to Wilson's pleas.
He had just committed himself to killing his best friend. That he had known this was coming, ever since making the decision to leave Princeton with Wilson, made no difference whatsoever. He was going to end Wilson's life. And then – then what? Burning all bridges in Princeton made it impossible for him to go back. It was impossible to go back to anything even remotely resembling his former life, no matter the location. Really, his only choice was prison. Or…
"House, please – open the door!"
"Go away, Wilson. I meant what I said - I'll do it. What more do you want?"
"Nothing, House. I just want you to open the door and let me in, so we can talk about this."
"There's nothing to talk about. I've said all I'm going to say."
He heard Wilson walk away after that.
House fingered the bracelet on his wrist. And knew he had done the right thing.