Characters: House, Wilson, Cuddy, Chase with some appearances by the rest of the Scooby Gang.
Rating: Gen; a mild R for language; H/W strong friendship (slash if you wear slash goggles)
Summary: The fallout from House's recent misadventure. Follows Sleeping Man: Outside.
Timeline: Set in the early fall of last season, around the events of Cane and Able, Informed Consent, Lines in the Sand.
A/N: You would think I would learn. Last time, with "Outside," I posted six chapters in a rush and then took a long break while I rewrote them. I've just done the same thing. Sorry I've been away so long. Those of you who want to re-read the beginning to figure out where we are can find those parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. I recommend it, but if you'd rather just jump to Part 7, here it is:
By dawn, House gradually settled down, his ranting and struggling subsiding as the fever slowly gave way before the antibiotics they had flooded his system with.
During the night the usual parade of hospital personnel had come by, despite Wilson’s best efforts to keep them away. Chase, before retiring to some doctor’s lounge or on-call bed with strict instructions to page him with any developments, had left an order for House to be suctioned. A respiratory therapist removed a startling amount of dark-tinged mucous from House’s lungs while Wilson watched. Wilson had been appalled by it, but he was sure that House’s breathing improved a little bit afterwards. He was sure that it was less shallow and labored.
Shift change at 7 am found Wilson nursing a cup of coffee that he’d bribed--and bribed handsomely--an orderly to bring him. With his other hand he picked at a plate of dried out scrambled eggs and dry toast that the ICU charge nurse had added to the breakfast order for House and slapped onto House’s bedside tray.
“Eat this,” she had said in her brook-no-arguments-voice, glancing significantly from Wilson to the unconscious House. “Otherwise you’ll get your very own NG tube.”
Another nurse was busy prepping House for the NG tube. Although no one had paged him, Chase had shown up an hour earlier, wearing the same clothes that he had clearly been sleeping in, and decided he couldn’t wait any longer to get a naso-gastric tube started. Patients with altered mental status weren't supposed to get NG tubes, but Chase decided that House’s mental status should improve as the fever was subsiding, and that it was too risky to let him get any more malnourished. They’d keep the restraints on him a while longer, just to be sure he wouldn’t pull the tube out. He was scheduled for a trip to radiology first thing in the morning to get it inserted. It was also a chance to check his arterial line and the subclavial line for the dialysis.
And then, just after seven, another nurse had brought in a wash basin and suggested subtly that it might not be a bad idea, seeing as House was stable for the moment, to give him a sponge bath.
“He could really use one,” said Nurse Rachel, making a slight face. “Even though he’s only been here a few hours.”
Wilson no longer noticed it, having shared the same room for many hours, but he remembered now that House had reeked when they’d brought him into the ER. It was one of those disturbing anomalies that had been nagging at the recesses of Wilson’s fatigued brain all night. House might go out of his way to create the opposite impression with the way he dressed, but he was in fact extremely meticulous about cleanliness. The dirty condition he was in right now was (barring Wilson's drug bender theory) completely inexplicable.
Nurse Rachel was exceedingly young and very pretty, and she’d already been in to check on House more than was strictly necessary. There was no way Wilson was going to let her give House a sponge bath.
“Give me that,” said Wilson, his voice rough with lack of sleep. “I’ll do it.” Rachel seemed startled by the idea of a doctor doing such a menial job, but she handed over the basin and washcloth. “Toothbrush, too,” added Wilson, looking at House’s sleeping form. He picked up House's hand. “And a nail brush from the scrub room.” Rachel returned quickly with the other items and then lingered needlessly checking lines and monitors while Wilson prepared to brush House’s teeth for him.
The reason most unconscious patients get their teeth brushed is to prevent the build up of bacteria that can cause pneumonia. That horse had long ago left the barn, Wilson thought, as lifted up the oxygen mask and slid the toothbrush in, but no harm brushing them anyway. He leaned down for a closer look, once House's mouth was open. Yet one more anomaly: House clearly hadn’t brushed his teeth in a long long time.
Wilson finished that job and then waited, pointedly, for Rachel to leave the room before he pulled back the sheets and opened House’s gown for the sponge bath. He began with his feet. These were truly filthy, and Wilson remembered that House had been wearing flip-flops, or, to be precise, one flip flop, in the ER. His right foot was covered in scrapes that must have occurred while he was trying to walk, or rather drag himself along, barefoot. Wilson took a long time getting House’s feet clean, and he was not unaware of the symbolism of what he was doing.
Next, his legs. Laid out like this—Wilson was trying hard to ignore the overwhelming sensation of preparing a body for burial, but he couldn’t avoid the comparison with a body on a slab in a funeral parlor—laid out like this, the difference in musculature of House’s two legs was starkly visible. His left leg was heavily muscled, especially the long, well formed quadriceps, because so much more was asked of it. While he was walking, House used the cane, and his shoulder muscles to make up for the deficit in his right leg. But as he soaped the washcloth, Wilson’s mind replayed images of House standing, always standing with his full weight on the left leg. House tried to minimize the impression that he was favoring that leg when standing still, he was good at that, but Wilson had known him too long, known him from before when he was whole, to be fooled. He ran the washcloth up and down the leg, taking his time. And then he shifted to the right leg.
The calf was undersized. He washed that quickly, and around the knee, with its gauze bandage covering the infected abrasion. Then he couldn’t avoid it any more: the thigh with its long ribbons of scar tissue, the mess where most of the rectus femoris had been. His hand hesitated, and he told himself it was because he was afraid of hurting House.
“Ugly, isn’t it?”
Wilson startled, his hand jerking away from the leg. House was watching him through heavy-lidded eyes, his face expressionless. Wilson took a slow breath and then deliberately laid the warm washcloth on the thigh, washing the corrugated surface of the scarred area gently. “Does that hurt?” he asked.
House shook his head. “Helps.”
Wilson looked down at the clenched muscles and could see them visibly relaxing. “Heat helps? I’ll get a nurse to bring a heating pad.” He kicked himself for not thinking of that sooner. Drugs weren’t the only thing that could help with pain.
“’Kay,” said House, his eyes closing again.
Wilson studied him closely. The fever was ebbing and House seemed fairly lucid. Wilson realized yet another opportunity might be slipping away. He pressed his advantage. “House,” he said. “What the hell happened to you?”
House opened his eyes again, halfway. “Bear,” he said. “Car crash. Who knows?”
Wilson sighed. He had no idea what House was talking about. He was clearly not even halfway lucid—probably due to the toxins from the kidney failure. But Wilson wasn’t going to let House go back to sleep if he could help it, so he took the washcloth and began washing House’s hands (like his feet, filthy) and arms, his torso, the chest with its light smattering of dark hair, his abdomen—again avoiding the surgical scars— his too prominent rib cage, his too prominent hip bones. He talked as he went, trying to keep House with him.
“There,” he concluded. “I’ve washed up as far as possible,” he told House, who was still watching him groggily, “and I’ll wash down as far as possible. And you can—“
“—wash possible.” There it was, an actual smirk. House was …in there, somewhere. Wilson put down the washcloth and tried once more.
“House, look at me. Do you have any idea where you are or who I am?”
House rolled his eyes, looking around him without moving his head. "It's a...hospital," he said, or guessed. "And you're"--the smirk again-- “my secret …gay ex-lover?”
“Good, ‘cause…” he glanced down at the washcloth in Wilson’s hand, and paused for breath, “you had me…worried.”
Wilson tossed the washcloth into the basin with a gesture of irritation. But House wasn’t done with him yet. He gestured with his head for Wilson to come closer.
“I have to warn you,” he whispered. “I’ve had all the…gay…knocked out of me.”
“House, get serious. House?” But he was asleep again. Wilson regarded him with exasperation. “Well, we’ll see who gets the last laugh here, my friend,” he muttered. Then he reached for the Rachel button. She appeared so quickly he suspected she’d been lurking outside the door.
“Bring me a heating pad,” Wilson commanded. “And an electric razor.”
Wilson regarded his handiwork with bemusement. House clean-shaven bore almost no ressemblence to House unshaven. Losing the heavy beard changed the shape of House’s face radically, far more than it did most men when they shaved. This new face was markedly paler and longer. The hollows beneath the cheekbones, the jawline, and the Adams apple, all were more pronounced now that they were more visible. Wilson almost wished he had left well enough alone. The face of this House was undeniably the face of a very sick man.
He was about to pack away the razor when something caught his eye. He pulled on a pair of gloves and leaned in closer for a good look.
“Damn,” he sighed, shaking his head. There was no doubt about it. “House, you don’t do anything by halves, do you?” And he reached once more for the razor.
The pager roused Chase from a deep sleep. He was still only half awake when he stumbled into the ICU. For a moment he was convinced he was in the wrong room. The man in the bed wasn’t House. Then he saw Wilson in the corner of the room, pulling his latex gloves off and dumping them into a trash container, along with a towel full of what looked like hair.
“What the hell did you do?” asked Chase, looking again at the bed. It was House. Only his beard was gone. And all his hair.
“Oh, that?” said Wilson dismissively. “I shaved his beard off. He was overdue.”
“But why—“ stuttered Chase, gesturing toward House.
“And then I noticed he had pediculosis.”
Chase, being only human, shuddered. “So you shaved his head, too?”
“Had to. No other way to deal with it. He’s going to kill me when he wakes up.”
Chase smiled for what felt like the first time in days. “He sure is, mate.” His smile faded as he regarded the unfamiliar figure in the bed, face and head beautifully clean shaven, to be sure, but looking more than ever like someone at death’s doorstep. Looking, in fact, like one of Wilson’s terminal cancer patients. “But you didn’t page me down here to tell me House had head lice.”
“No,” said Wilson. “I paged you down here to show you this.”
He approached the bed and tilted House’s head gently to the left. There, above his right ear, in a sickening shade of yellowish purple, was a large, nearly faded, and very nasty-looking contusion.