Fiction: "Swan Song" 1/1
Title: Swan Song
Author: Kids Nurse
Characters: House, Wilson
Word Count: 1,287
Warnings: Angst and melodrama; no hurt/comfort--just hurt. Major character death.
Last time, he'd messed it up. He thinks that maybe he’d wanted to mess it up. He’s never been one for clichés, but he’s willing to admit that there’s gotta be a grain of truth to them—how do you explain their popularity otherwise? So last time was a cliché—the proverbial “cry for help.” And no one answered. Yeah, Wilson came, Wilson saw, Wilson scrammed, turning a deaf ear to the loudest cry House was capable of making.
So this time, he’ll get it right. No coded farewell phone calls to the folks, who never returned the first one anyway. No pathetic pleas for help to Wilson, who’d only tell him to go to rehab—again. And no chance of vomiting up the poison; why waste the good stuff a second time?
He’d taken steps this time, steps to assure the desired result. Yesterday, he’d paid a locksmith $112.38, and had received in return a shiny new deadbolt installed in his front door, and just one key to fit it. The locksmith had been puzzled; everyone requested a spare key. For a friend, a relative, a roommate? “None of the above,” House had answered tersely. Not this time.
And today, he hadn’t tried to get out of clinic hours. Hell, he’d even offered to see the flu-ridden patient who’d already vomited on two nurses and projectile-spattered into the face of the hapless intern who’d stepped in to help. And that had netted him the syringe of metoclopramide currently nestled in his pocket, the strong anti-emetic which would see to it that the other stuff stayed down long enough to insure his safe passage outta here.
So everything’s taken care of. He’s even thinking differently this time. Last time, he’d just wanted the pain to stop. This time, he wants the pain to stop. Not the intractable leg pain, which had been the overriding concern on Christmas Eve; this time it’s his life that hurts, and must be gotten rid of—although getting the damned leg to finally shut up will be a nice bonus. Too bad he won’t be around to enjoy it.
While he waits for the metoclopramide to take effect, he reflects on the irony of his current situation. Cuddy and Wilson hadn’t believed in the reality, the severity, of the leg pain. So they’d unknowingly watched him grow this new pain, ignoring it so they wouldn't be forced to diagnose it, to acknowledge it. They’d watched with cold eyes and calculating plans as the pain had spread from his leg, and had finally taken over his heart, his mind, his emotions. His life. Did they really think that he enjoyed being dependent on pills to give him less than half of the physical comfort they took for granted every day? And could they honestly believe that his diagnostic skills were really just luck? Yeah, to both questions. Screw them. Screw everyone and their smug pity.
He downs the first tumbler of scotch quickly. He fills the glass again, takes a leisurely swallow. He dumps half a dozen pills into his hand and smiles at them before he puts them in his mouth and downs them with a second slow swallow of scotch. Already, he’s feeling the relief of knowing that soon, nothing will ever hurt again.
Everything’s the leg? Nothing’s the pills? Sure, Jimmy. See, I’m just confused; I thought the pills were to decrease the pain—you shoulda told me that they’re fun too! Been missin’ out all these years, thinkin’ the only ‘extra’ they supplied was nausea.
It wasn’t morphine; it was saline. I gave you a placebo. Yup, Cuddy, that was the day you laid the first brick into that wall of trust you expected me to build.
You’re not always right, House; you’ve proven that lately. Yeah, buddy; go save someone else’s wings from melting.
This hospital doesn’t exist for your whims! Right, boss—and the paralyzed patient who walked outta there was a figment of your imagination.
He’s been distilled down to two things; his leg, and his brain. And his so-called friends don’t believe in either of them. So the two things that make him him don’t exist? Follows, then, that neither does he. All that remains is to kill the shell that houses those things. He notes, with satisfaction, that the process is well underway.
As he swallows the last of the thirty pills, one more scene plays out in his head. He notes, with wry amusement, that there’s no dialogue in this one, no verbal stabs from his own, personal Judases. The scene playing now, that Christmas Eve visit from Wilson, was the dress rehearsal for tonight—only tonight’s final performance will end as scripted. When Wilson shows up—if Wilson shows up—he’ll waste that inevitable disappointed, disgusted look on a dead shell this time, instead of inflicting it on a hurting, vulnerable friend who never wanted everything to break—no matter what Wilson believed that Christmas Eve night.
It won’t be long now; being a doctor has its advantages when a life is ending. House figures ten minutes, maybe less. He rises unsteadily from the couch, tries to make it over to his piano, and fails. No self-played swan songs for him, apparently. First, he smiles at the irony of where he’s fallen, where his life will end—even now, months later, he can smell a faint whiff of his own vomit where his head lies on the rug. Then he smiles because his life is ending; the pain is finally gone. The leg, the heart, the mind—they’re all quiet now, even comfortable and warm. Damned leg hasn’t been really warm for years, but it is now. So he closes his eyes, and enjoys the warmth, and he smiles again, although he's feeling the first real pangs of regret--not for what he's done, nor even for his choice now. This regret is for how things once were, for how they might, one day, have been again. If the pain hadn't won. He whispers into the empty room, “Sorry, Jimmy. Really. I didn’t wanna push this, push us, ‘til we broke. Least I can do now is… save you… won’t break you….”
And when the heart stops pumping, when not only the leg but the rest of his body begin to grow cool, he’s still smiling. For the first time ever, it doesn’t hurt to be House.
The next morning, Wilson is perplexed when his key refuses to work the lock. Fortunately, the super remembers Wilson, and hands him the shiny new spare key that the bemused locksmith had insisted upon dropping off in the office yesterday when he left. As Wilson enters the apartment and spots House, the sense of déjà vu is so overwhelming that he pauses, considers leaving, pretending to House—pretending to himself—that he hadn’t come here. Instead, he advances slowly towards House.
Even as he reaches out to turn him over, he’s composing what he’ll say to him. But as his hands touch the cold skin, as he sees the fixed and peaceful smile on the calm face, he knows that this time the stilled head won’t lift, and the bleary, desperate eyes won’t ever open again to meet his. Still holding the stiff hands, trying to warm them in his own, he lowers his own head, closes his own eyes, and whispers what he’d planned to say. “I didn’t want it to break either. I’m sorry I let it happen. I… didn’t know.” And Wilson already knows that he never wants to raise his head, never wants to let go of those hands, never wants to open his own eyes, not ever again.
The argument, he thinks, had to have been one of their worst. No, he admits to himself, ruefully, the worst. His own words echo in his mind, and run roughshod over his soul. “Ya know what, I never would’ve left—you pushed; oh man, did you push. And I stayed anyway. You know why?”
And House had zeroed in on him with those eyes like ice. “No, Jimmy, but I’m sure you’re gonna tell me; you’re always so big on sharing.” He’d sneered the word, made it… ugly.
He couldn’t have left then, when things could still have been fixed. No, House was right—he’d had to share. “I stayed because I cared. You were my friend, my best friend. And now, I’m going for the same reason. I won’t watch you kill yourself; I can’t watch you die, because—God help me—I’ll always care. And you make that hurt.”
And just before he’d left the apartment, in that split second between the opening of the door and the angry slam, the eyes like ice had melted; his last look at House’s eyes had been a journey into House’s pain.
And so, now, he sits at his desk, staring at the blank computer screen, wishing that he didn’t have to do this, that he didn’t have to pull all these things out of his heavy heart, but he owes this to his best friend. He places his fingers on the keys and looks down at them, but what he sees are House’s fingers on the keys of a piano. He closes his eyes so he can better hear the music in his mind. It helps, a little, and when he opens his eyes again he’s able to start typing the tribute.
I am privileged to say that I knew Gregory House, M.D. for the better part of a decade. He was an awe-inspiring diagnostician; most of you already know that. And most of you are here today only out of respect for that part of his life.
What I want to do today is share with you a part of House’s life that very few ever saw. I am honored to know these things; some of them hurt, but most of them bring me comfort.
When I picture House, I like to see him at his piano. He was an artist, and all the emotions he hid from his colleagues, and his patients, he poured into the music. It was through his music that I learned he could hurt, just like the rest of us. I call myself his best friend, but I may be wrong; his best friend may have been that piano, where he felt safe spilling out the pain he couldn’t show to us.
You know he had a motorcycle; what you don’t know is that a dying nine-year-old girl touched his heart—and yes, I assure you, he had one—and inspired him to get that motorcycle. He gave her one more year of life, and she gave him some of his freedom back. There was no disability when he was on that bike; he could fly again, and maybe even be happy, for a little while. He was free.
His freedom—something he felt he lost the day they took away part of his leg. He always felt that they stole more than muscle from him; he thought they’d taken his independence, too. He was wrong; he was the one who took that from himself—he gave it away to a little amber bottle. And that’s what hurts the most for me. I’ll always feel that I could have done more to help him. I’ll always wonder why his pills meant so much more to him than his life did. And I’ll always be just a little bit angry with him, for trusting me less as he trusted the pills more.
I can’t change anything for him now; I can’t help him anymore. I just want everyone to know that Greg House was my friend, and that I’ll never be prouder of anything in my life than that I was able to be his friend
His pager goes off then, and he leaves the office in a hurry as the cursor blinks steadily over the word “friend.”
And another mournful man enters the office. Finding it empty, he walks to the desk to leave a note. His face is sad, thoughtful, as he reads the words on the computer screen, and he denies aloud to the empty room—denies even to himself—that the dampness on his face might be tears. He sits there, rereading the screen, for quite awhile before he finally picks up a pen and begins to write.
He’d run a successful code; he’d saved a life. He contemplates the irony in that as he returns reluctantly to his office. He knows he must finish the eulogy; it is the most important thing he can do for his friend right now, this clearest, most loving message.
He sees the note left on his desk by the other mournful man. He reads it with a small, sad smile on his face, and then he slowly reaches over to the keyboard and hits ‘delete’ while he rereads the note:
A bit melodramatic, don’t you think? Message received, point taken, let’s discuss the Vicodin tonight over beer and pizza at my place. 7:30. Be there.
EULOGY: Part Two
When Wilson arrives that evening and lets himself in, he notices that the pizza’s already arrived and “General Hospital” is playing. “Be right there,” House calls from the kitchen.
In just a minute, House enters, carrying two open beers. “Show’s half over. Let’s eat.” They sit in an almost companionable silence until the program ends. House turns off the television and turns to face Wilson. House’s face is serious; it’s clear he’s through playing games. “They’re not working anymore. Not at the therapeutic dose. Not at… double... the therapeutic dose,” he says.
“There are other things to try, House. Lots of other things. Stronger meds, PT maybe, counseling.” He doesn’t mention the surgery that would end the problem; that’s not an option in either of their minds.
“You still think it’s all in my head. It isn’t.”
Wilson remembers the eulogy, remembers that it had served its purpose—the message had gotten through. He wouldn’t be here sitting on House’s couch right now if it hadn’t. And if the message had gotten through, then he had to trust him; he had to believe that House was telling the truth. Finally, he says, “I believe you,” and sees the relief in House’s eyes.
“The stronger meds, then,” he tells House. “Vicodin is comparatively mild. We could bump you up, find something that works.”
“It’ll only work for a while.” House sighs, and Wilson hears the discouragement and the frustration.
“And then we move up again. This isn’t insurmountable; I’ll do some research, we’ll figure it out together. But you’ve gotta quit pouring what’s become useless poison down your throat. There is something out there that’ll work. And we’ll find it.”
House grows quiet, and Wilson allows him the time to think. For several minutes, there’s no sound in the room.
“I don’t like ‘em, you know—the pills. You all seem to think I enjoy them, get some sorta high off them.”
“You put on a pretty good show.” Wilson smiles to let House know he’s trying hard to understand.
“What would you do?” House asks, still serious. “In my place, what would you do?”
Wilson considers it. Finally, he says quietly, “I’d put on a pretty good show.” He meets House’s eyes with an apology in his own.
“S’okay. Knew you’d see it my way, eventually. Took longer than I thought, but you came through in the end. Always do.” This last sentence is said very quietly, but Wilson takes it for the unspoken thanks that it’s meant to be.
“I’ll start work on this in the morning, House. Not gonna stop ‘til we solve it. Count on it.” They lock eyes briefly, acknowledging their solidarity. Always.
“Hey, Jimmy—you mean all that cool stuff you wrote?” House grins slyly.
“Nope. Not a word,” he replies, deadpan. Then he smiles back at his living, breathing, hoping, best friend.