Title: Sleeping Man Finale
Here is the only entry (so far, anyway) in the Sleeping Man Final Chapter Open Invitational. It's by guest author zeppomarx, who is currently writing the Contract-verse epic A Gentle Knock at the Door. I recommend you stop by her LJ and read it, if you haven't already. Thanks for playing along, Zeppo! And anyone else who wants to contribute can either send me their stuff or just post it on their own journals.
* * *
As the bewigged Wilson rolled the bewigged House’s wheelchair through the lobby, they were stopped by the familiar voice of Emal Nercessian, an ER resident.
“Hey, that’s a new look for you, isn’t it, Dr. House?”
Before House had a chance to answer, he continued.
“Whoa, dude! You look terrible. Jeez, man. You oughta take a vacation.”
For once, even House was stumped. His mouth opened but nothing came out.
Nercessian smiled vacantly and waved before turning and heading off toward the ER.
Wheeling House’s chair through the door into the parking lot, Wilson began to laugh, snickering until he had to stop and double over.
“Jeez, man. You oughta take a vacation,” he managed to get out before the laughter started up again.
“Yeah, well, maybe I should,” growled House, not willing to concede defeat. “The grass around Cambridge smells mighty nice this time of the year, and there’s a park bench with my name on it.”
* * * *
Almost as soon House began to remember the details of his journey from Cambridge to Princeton, Wilson had insisted that the police get involved. Although he couldn’t help thinking about dogs and flashlights, House reluctantly agreed. After the police report was filed, it became a public document and the press was all over it.
And because he was still seriously pissed off at the police, the homeless shelter, the public library and the clinic that had been so dismissive of him during his travels, House decided to give an interview to the Associated Press detailing exactly how he’d been treated… or not, as the case may be. As always, he was pithy and witty. With juicy quotes like that, the AP reporter ate it up. Soon it was picked up everywhere, the story about the world-renowned doctor who, after being mugged, had been arrested as a vagrant, turned away from a clinic without desperately needed pain meds—despite an agonizing chronic pain condition—thrown out of a public library and cast out into the cold, cruel world.
Once again, House’s picture was in the papers, this time because the doctor who was missing and presumed to have committed suicide had actually been found alive, if not well. Technically, he hadn’t exactly been found—the truth was that he’d found himself, after lurching his way home. But the press wasn’t going to quibble over details. It was far too good a story, and it made the wire services and the front page of every major paper around the country. It was like Lassie Come-Home without the dog.
* * * *
At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, the paper landed with a plop outside the railroad flat in Cambridge. At 7 a.m., the door opened and a robe-clad arm reached down for the paper, which was then set down next to a bowl of cereal. A minute later, a cup of coffee arrived, and the paper was unfurled.
When Jim Krupke opened his copy of The Boston Globe, his eyes immediately lit on the photo. That guy looks kinda familiar, he thought blearily, without reading the headline or the caption. He perused the rest of the front page, and then turned inside. When he got to page 19, a headline caught his attention.
“World-Famous Doctor Mistreated in Boston,” it said, and was followed by a jumpline from page 1. He turned back to the front page, back to the familiar-looking photo, and began to read. When he got to the third paragraph, he blanched. No wonder the guy looked familiar.
“Shit!” he said.
“What is it, sweetheart?” asked his blonde buxom wife, coming toward the table with her own coffee.
“Goddamn it,” he replied.
“What’s the mattah? You sure got agita this morning.”
“Well, I’m gonna have agita for a while, Jen. `Member that story about the doctor from Jersey, who supposedly committed suicide? Drove his cycle into the harbor?”
“This is him.” He pointed at the PPTH ID picture on page 1.
“So he showed up. Turned out he’d been mugged and lost his memory. Some cop arrested him, and it’s all over the paper what a big stink there’s going to be about how bad the guy was treated here in our fair city.”
“So what? What’s the big deal?”
“I’m the cop.”
She sat down suddenly.
“Shit,” she said.
* * * *
It was warm and it was comfortable. It was his own bed, and he was in it. Finally.
House slowly opened his eyes and looked around at the well-known room, allowing himself just a moment of pleasure in being once again in familiar surroundings.
A voice wafted through his mind. “So what else would cause him to act funny, pass out and puke?” Then another: “Hey! I got it. Someone clocked him on the head.” A suggestion of a smile crept over his features. If I had to be Homeless Guy for a while, he thought, I could have found worse companions than Fergus and Estelle.
He wondered what had happened to them after he’d left for Princeton, and felt a flash of concern about Fergus’ budding melanoma, and then a moment of gloom.
Of course, there was no way to find them. Homeless people tend not to leave forwarding addresses.
* * * *
The pharmacist glanced at the empty bottle.
The guy in front of him started rooting around in his pockets. He spent quite a bit of time involved in this activity with no actual success.
Finally… “Must-a left my wallet at home.”
The pharmacist thought a moment. “No prob, Mr. uh… House. I’ll just call it in. Why don’t you wander around the mall awhile, and stop back around 2?”
The man looked relieved. “Hey, will do. I’ll come back.”
At 2, when Lenny Kovach returned for his prescription, two police officers were waiting, keenly eager to talk to him about how he happened to have that particular prescription bottle in his possession.
* * * *
When Wilson woke up on House’s sofa the next morning, he found something on the coffee table. It was a piece of notepaper, covered in childish script, as if House had written it with his left hand, or perhaps his toes.
“What I Did On My Summer Vacation” read the heading.
Wilson began to grin.
“This summer I had a very interesting time on my vacation,” it said. “I met some new friends and took a long trip and got to see new places. Then I came home. The End.”
Wilson heard an odd noise and felt the shadow of something by his left shoulder. It was House, looking slightly better than he had, pulling up to the sofa in his wheelchair.
“So, what do you think?” he asked. “Is Knopf going to be begging for the publishing rights?”
“Oh, sure,” said Wilson. “Everyone wants to read the mindless ramblings of a Homeless Guy.”
House gazed at the back of Wilson’s bald head, and a hint of a smile crept over his features.
* * * *
After a few days, the stubble returned to House’s face, mirrored by stubble on his head. A lot of the lost weight came back quickly once he started eating again, but for several weeks, House still looked gaunt. Because he loved junk food, it wasn’t too terribly hard to convince him to eat, however, and eventually the weight returned, along with all of his hair.
Until his hair grew out, though, he adamantly refused to go back to work, and since the timing of his hair growth coincided nicely with his recuperation time, Cuddy agreed to his request for a leave of absence, allowing him to think he’d gotten his own way.
Now he was home again, but he was still incredibly tired. He alternated between the bed and sofa, too weak to argue much with Wilson, who was reveling in House’s neediness. Preparing homemade chicken soup, doing the laundry, helping him to the bed or bathroom—it all fed into Wilson’s primary motivator, neediness, and his secondary motivator, guilt. Finally, House felt well enough to have had enough.
“Wilson! Will you just stop that?”
“Please, mother, I can do it myself.”
House batted at Wilson, who had been attempting to help House get undressed for bed. To House, who was feeling much improved, it was the last straw.
“Go away. Right now. Go away.”
“No. Now, Wilson. Go away now. Now!”
Realizing House was serious, Wilson retreated to the living room, sat himself down on the couch and turned on the TV, keeping the volume low.
House’s anger dissipated easily as he changed into pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt. This exhaustion business was a real nuisance, he thought as he slid under the covers. But despite its nuisance factor, exhaustion overtook him and he quickly fell into a deep sleep.
In the living room, Wilson began to doze off on the couch. On the table by his head, he heard Steve McQueen racing on his wheel. Wilson reached up, fumbling, and poked at some keys on the laptop.
Just before his eyes closed, something caught Wilson’s eye. Something colorful peeked out from the pages of a book on the coffee table.
Odd-looking bookmark, he thought as he propped himself back up and reached for it. Pulling it out of the book, he realized it was a postcard. Whether it had been there all along, or House had just planted it there, he wasn’t sure. He wondered how many other postcards were still hidden in odd places around the apartment.
He held the postcard in his hand and looked at the colorful picture on the front. It was a picture of Boston Harbor. Flipping it over, he found House’s familiar scrawl, which said, “You’ll miss me when I’m gone, you rascal you. H.”
Suddenly, Wilson gasped and had trouble catching his breath. Slowly, he exhaled and tried to let go of the anxiety of the past few days.
Thank god I didn’t find this one two weeks ago, he thought with a pained smile. House. Boston Harbor. Miss me when I’m gone, you rascal you. Yes, very good he didn’t find that one sooner.
He let out his breath, relieved that the nightmare was finally over. He thought about the card and smiled. This rascal had certainly learned exactly how much he’d missed House when he was gone… and it was a lot. One thing was for sure—never again would he pressure House to go on vacation. If the man wanted to stay here in this apartment and rot for the rest of this life, that was okay with him.
Once again, Wilson felt a sense of relief wash over him. Relief that House was alive, that he was safe and that he was mending, returning to his old cantankerous self. With that thought running through his head, Wilson turned off the TV, plumped his pillow, pulled the blanket over his semi-bald head and went to sleep.
The apartment was still, the only noise being the gentle snoring of the two friends, one in the bedroom and the other on the sofa. Occasionally, the sound of a truck or a siren passing by permeated the exterior of the building.
On the table near Wilson’s head, Steve McQueen leaned forward, happily watching his favorite YouTube clip on the laptop next to his cage.