readingrat: (words_can_hurt)
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Chapter 5

They didn’t talk about it again. It was the proverbial elephant in the middle of the living room: House figured that he was best served by pretending it didn’t exist, because accepting its existence would mean admitting that there was an uncontrollable element to medicine, something way beyond what he did in diagnostics. Diagnostics was all about finding patterns and interpreting them. Wilson was altering those patterns. He was adding an element of randomness to a discipline that had given House stability and orientation throughout his adulthood.

Nevertheless, he kept a close eye on Wilson whenever a ‘trigger’ patient was admitted, while Wilson stopped trying to hide what was happening from House. House’s feelings whenever Wilson exerted his gift were ambivalent: he wanted a ring seat so he could study the phenomenon, but try as he might, he could find no explanation for Wilson’s powers except ones that featured the supernatural. It was an unacceptable state of affairs and the less often it happened, the easier it was for House to suppress his discomfort. At times it took all his will power to stop himself from grabbing Wilson and dragging him away from a patient who just might trigger him.

The occurrences were rare, however, and the intervals appeared to increase. And then House was caught up in his own irrational drama and lost track of what was happening in Wilson’s life. When he returned from prison, there was no overt evidence that Wilson was still healing patients. This state of affairs continued for so long that House was inclined to believe that Wilson had given it up altogether. Or maybe it had all been a Vicodin-induced hallucination. House really wasn’t sure.

And then Wilson said, “I have cancer.” And refused treatment, more or less.

“We had one shot at the tumour, Wilson. We can give it another try. You of all people know that cancer isn’t a death sentence.”

Wilson stood up and turned to examine the assortment of patient gifts on his shelves. He picked up a stuffed monkey. House vaguely remembered the donor, a young girl. “House, remember when I told you that there was a price? A price that I have to pay every time I . . . you know?”

House didn’t get it at first. It had been years ago, after all. Besides, he didn’t want to get it. When he did get it he said, “You said it made you hallucinate and could possibly drive you over the edge — whatever it was that happened when you tried to help Danny.”

“Yes, because Danny is schizophrenic. All the others had cancer.” Wilson paused to let his words sink in. “Now I have cancer. I’m surprised it took so long.”

“You said,” House reiterated, “that you didn’t cure everyone because you didn’t want to lose your mind.”

“I lied,” Wilson said without blinking. “I’m told everyone does. If I’d told you that I’d get cancer in the long run, would you have let me continue?”

“No!” House shouted, frustrated.

“See? . . . It’s the price we pay. Saving lives comes at a price, House. It’s pay-day for me.”

“You can’t be sure that there’s a connection. It could be a coincidence. Lots of people get cancer.”

“That’s why we did home chemo: to exclude the possibility that it’s an unconnected occurrence. It isn’t.” Wilson shifted a few things on his desk to and fro, probably to avoid having to meet House’s angry eyes. “By my count it’s been fifteen people, all with extremely aggressive tumours. From my experience with Danny’s schizophrenia I can tell you that when it hits, it hits bad. I don’t stand a chance, so I’m not even trying.”

“You can’t . . .” House yelled.

But Wilson could and he did.

House shot up in an abandoned warehouse and had strange visions of people from his past telling him what his life was worth, what he should do (or not, as the case was), and what an asshole he was. As such, he wasn’t particularly surprised when Wilson turned up too.

“Go away,” House muttered. “You’re abandoning me, so don’t bother to haunt me here.”

“Who’s abandoning whom?” Wilson asked, sitting down on an upturned crate after dusting it off. “You’re offing yourself to spite me.”

“You could have stopped ‘it’ long ago, then you wouldn’t have cancer now,” House pointed out. “You’d already decided to abandon me long before your tumour started growing.”

“Don’t be a hypocrite, House,” Wilson said. “You and I, we’re birds of a feather.”

“I don’t cure cancer kids at the expense of my health. And if I go all in every now and then, it’s because I know it’ll work out somehow. I don’t go into patient treatment with the intention of sacrificing a part of myself. I don’t donate bits of my body and I certainly don’t put a ‘sell by’ stamp on my life.”

“When was the last time you diagnosed a patient?” Wilson asked with his most annoying I’m-gonna-prove-something-and-you-won’t-like-it expression.

“I diagnose a patient every week.”

Wilson’s tone was smug. “Your fellows are diagnosing your patients, not you. It’s been them for quite some time now. You haven’t diagnosed anyone in ages.”

House felt heavy dread in the pit of his stomach. “What are you trying to say?”

Wilson finally dropped his placid demeanour. His eyes flashed. “Don’t be dense. You’ve lost your ability, like I’ve lost my health. You’ve expended it saving lives, just like me. You’ll never save another life.”

House could feel panic rise in him, clawing at his chest, taking his breath away. “No,” he said wildly. “You’re wrong. I’ve been distracted recently, but . . . but I’m not like you. Diagnostics isn’t mumbo-jumbo and laying on of hands.”

“Suit yourself,” Wilson said. “But you know I’m telling the truth, because I’m not real. This is your subconscious telling you what you’ve known all along. You’ve saved all those people — well, maybe not all of them, but certainly a fair number — by compromising your mental abilities. Healing patients the way we do comes at a price; I told you that long ago. It wasn’t just a piece of information; it was a warning, one that you chose to ignore. Your presence here has nothing whatsoever to do with my dying.” He leaned forward and pointed a finger at House. “You’re here now because you can’t face life without your gift. You’ve lost your mojo, and it’s killing you as surely as cancer is killing me.”

“You’re saying I should lie down here and die,” House said slowly, “because I’m useless now.”

“I’m not telling you to do anything. I’m saying that I’ll understand if that’s your choice, because it’s what I’ve chosen.”

House sat up, his eyes narrowed. “You’re lying. It’s what you always do.”

“You know I’m not lying.”

“Not about that. But you are lying about me being useless.”

“I said nothing of the sort. You said that. And even if I’d said it, it would still have been you, because I’m not me, I’m your subconscious.”

“But you implied it. And now you’re trying to confuse me.” House was decidedly sick of his subconscious and he was getting uncomfortably hot. “You want me to die here so that . . . so that I don’t have to watch you die. No, wait, I want to die here so that I don’t have to watch you die. Which I don’t have to do anyway, because if I leave this warehouse I go to jail and don’t watch you die either. Unless . . .”

He broke off and scrambled to his feet as fast as he could. His leg, sore from lying on the hard floor, protested.

Wilson rose too, dusting off the back of his pants. “We’re leaving?” he asked.

“Yep,” House answered briefly, feeling around for his cane. “It isn’t just about saving lives.”

“That’s rich, coming from you.”

“It’s never too late to change.”

Wilson trailed behind him. “I thought you said people don’t change.”

House wheeled round to face him. “You’re supposed to be my conscience, my better half, so to say. You’re crap at it. I prefer the real thing to the hallucination.”

Wilson held up his hands placatingly. “Fine, I’ll just stay here. I hope you know what you’re doing!”

“So do I,” House muttered as he hunted around for the back exit.

The real Wilson didn’t argue much with House’s decision to reappear in his life as a nominally dead man. He did, however, point out that House would never practice medicine again (among other objections that didn’t really count).

House locked eyes with Wilson.

“I’m dead, Wilson,” he said. “Like you. Well, not quite like you — I haven’t got cancer, but . . .” He was rambling, hoping he wouldn’t have to spell it out.

He saw confusion in Wilson’s gaze, then slow realisation, sadness, and finally something akin to relief. And acceptance.

Before Wilson had a chance to get maudlin, he asked, “How do you want to spend our last five months?”

~ The End ~
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