Empty Spaces

There are the hard, cold facts – the chair covered in pillows, the basin filled with cool water and a flannel next to it, the vials of Pentobarbital on the dresser, a glass of warm water, a jar of honey and a bag full of morphine in the closet.

There are the hard cold facts and then there's everything else. The moment your best friend says, "It's enough, House" and your insides turn to ice. The way the vials felt when you dug them out of your backpack, cool and innocent. And they are innocent, there is no good or bad where drugs are concerned. You know that better than most. They are as harmless or guilty as any other drug – it depends on the dosage. And in this case, 15 grams should do it. Not much if you think about it.

The sudden realization hits that these are going to be the last hours you will be spending together, and you will be spending them thinking about what you are going to do before the end of the night.

You're wondering if your best friend is as scared as you are but you're too afraid to ask because you know if he says yes you'll chicken out and blame it on him.

When you look at your friend standing there in front of the mirror brushing his hair you suddenly realize you were wrong all those years ago. He may not be able to walk more than five steps without pausing for breath but he still has that same old smile on his face he had nearly 20 years ago. He is showing you what dignity is.

Then he finally stands before you in his gray bathrobe that he has been wearing for weeks, and you have a vision of taking off the robe once he's gone and it will stand up on its own, a perfect Wilson mold with a big fucking Wilson-shaped hole inside. You could fill that hole and make yourself a new Wilson – but it would be a Golem.

While he was in the bathroom you have plumped up the pillows for him and then he looks at the bed and decides he wants to sleep in it once more, not in the old recliner chair he has been occupying for the last month and a half. So you take all the pillows he has been hoarding and arrange them into a neat little Wilson-nest in the bed. A nest that will hold his shape even after he is gone.

"Can you turn on the radio in the kitchen? I want to hear something nice," he asks haltingly.

You jump at the chance for something else to do. "No Broadway tunes or the deal is off!" Surprisingly that raises a small chuckle in Wilson, and a cough immediately after.

In the kitchen you take your time finding a station with classical music you think both of you will like.

When you return you start helping him take off the robe but he refuses to part with it and pushes your hands away without a word – this soft and comfy thing from the store down the road is what he wants to wear. You help him into the bed, pull the covers up and fuss with the pillows until he looks comfortable. You straighten and realize the way you're standing there, towering over him, is not the last view you want to have of him, so you sit down right there in his recliner.

"House…" his voice is hoarse, has been for weeks now. "There's space next to me. Push the other bed a bit closer and you'll fit. I… don't want to lie here all on my own… is this okay?"

Is it okay? Of course it is okay. It's more than okay. You just can't say it because you're afraid you're going to burst into tears if you as much as open your mouth. So you simply nod and climb into bed next to him.

You've heard him wheeze at night for weeks now, watched his chest struggling to rise and fall. Now that you're lying next to him, you can actually feel the constriction, feel the struggle of each single breath.

You take your right and gently rest it on his ribcage, careful not to add more pressure. Rise… and fall…

"I'm sorry," you finally whisper. "So, so sorry."

There is no need for an explanation, he doesn't need details. Sorry for his pain, for fighting over the years, for not listening, for not doing more, for having to let him go…

Listening to the music he suddenly says, "I'd rather you were playing this right now…"

"Huh, anything else? Can't play and cuddle with you at the same time. Besides, we don't have a piano, in case you've forgotten."

"Do you miss it? The piano?"

"Yeah, sometimes."

He picks this moment to get inquisitive. "What is it about the piano? I've… never figured this out. What do you think about when you're playing, House?"

How to explain music to someone who doesn't play? You shrug your shoulders. "Nothing. I don't think. It's not about thinking. It's about feeling."

Wilson is silent for a long time.

"I'm sorry…"

"Huh?"

"For making you leave everything, for messing up your life. For making you do… this." Now he's choking up. You check whether he is crying but he isn't. Not yet.

"Wilson, I've managed to mess up my life all by myself. And this… this… you would have done the same for me one day."

Another long silence.

"I'm not sure I would've been able to. I don't think I would've had the guts. I've been a coward most of my life, House. Afraid of what people think… what they would say, afraid of not conforming. I've wasted much of my life living up to other people's expectations. If I have one regret, it's this. If I could go back and talk to a young me, I'd tell him to live his life the way he wanted to. And fuck the rest."

Afraid that he is going to burst into tears, you rest a hand on his shoulder.

"You can't go back. But we can still do something about now. So, what do you want now? Rainbows?" You're trying to lift the mood; a weak attempt but he will recognize the intent.

"Yes, House! Yes. I do want all those soft, soothing pictures; I want flowers and rainbows and unicorns, soft pillows and kind people telling me it'll all be okay. But then, I'd know that it's all a lie, right? You're not lying to me. Why do you think I'm here with you?"

"Because you don't have anyone else willing to do this shit. That's why."

"But I have that one person. Most people don't. I know, I've seen it so many times. I have this one person in my life who will do this for me and basically throws his own life away to be able to do it. It's the biggest gift, House. Enabling me to do this on my own terms – well, except for the show tunes – and not be alone… it's… an amazing gift. And I have nothing to give in return."

There is regret in his voice, hoarse as it is.

"And you think you haven't given me enough? All the mothering and meddling you've done over the years wasn't enough? I've made my misery your business, Wilson."

"No, I have made it my business, you never asked for it. We've made each other our business. Your life is my business and mine is clearly yours now."

There is nothing to say to that. It's true. His life is your business.

"By the way… if you want to go now…" he hesitates. "If you don't want to be here when I go, if you change your mind… I understand. It's okay."

"No way am I leaving you alone. All this to pull out at the end? Not a chance. You're stuck with me."

And Wilson turns his head into your shoulder. "Thanks. Because… you know, I would've secretly called you a chicken if you had."

You can't help it; you have to laugh at that. Your laugh sets him off and you end up trading stories back and forth in the dark. There are chickens running through hospital hallways, bottles flying through mirrors and windows, takeaways consumed and crappy movies dissected. Someone gets stuck in a window and someone else locked in his own bathroom. Pancakes get made and an organ is played. Someone proposes and gets drugged multiple times. Endless bottles of beer are drunk and mountains of pizza eaten. Nearly twenty years of friendship squeezed into one night.

When finally, halfway into the night, he pokes you in the side, you know it's time. His respirations are shallow and your hand on his chest can feel the struggle of every single breath.

You drag yourself out of bed and begin pouring the Pentobarbital into the glass of water, one vial after the other, until all of them are empty. You're careful, trying to avoid spillages because if you waste any of this, there is no more. What you have plenty of is morphine, more than enough for whatever happens. Without turning around, you know that he is watching your every move.

It's going to taste horrible and you worry that he will vomit it all back up in a reflex. You should have gotten an anti-emetic. But the honey will have to do the trick; at least he won't have any trouble swallowing that. A spoonful right after the drink…

When you're done and turn towards the bed with that glass in your hand, you can't help it. "Do you really, really want this, Wilson? I have to ask. Because if there's even the slightest bit of doubt… you have to tell me."

He shakes his head slowly. "No. No doubt whatsoever. I don't just want this. I need this. It's gone far enough."

You need to give him the glass. Don't forget to wipe it. This is his to take and yours to give. But your traces stop here. Anything else can be explained if you have to. If you decide to. And when you pass the glass to him, you touch his hand and realize his is the one that's dry and yours is sweaty. His isn't the hand that's shaking, it's yours.

He empties the whole glass in one go and puts it on the nightstand, trying hard not to gag. The honey soothes a raw throat and helps with the alkaline taste.

Back in bed you turn over to look at him and are surprised to find him watching you, eyes wide. And then you see everything in that look – everything you wanted him to put into that damn letter he probably never wrote. You can't look away because it's all there.

He rests his head on your shoulder and you wish you couldn't feel his carotid pulse through your thin shirt. You search for his hand under the cover and when you find it, he still manages to grasp yours and squeeze it, half asleep as he is. Your other hand goes back to his chest where, in this low light, the faded colors of your bracelet look like part of the gray plaid pattern of his robe.

You don't have to look at him, you can close your eyes because you can feel his respirations slowing down, your hand rising and sinking with his chest.

You didn't expect this. But yes, it feels right.

And you reach over and turn out the lights.