Title: Connecting the Dots
Authors: nightdog_barks and blackmare_9
Characters: House, Wilson.
Spoilers: Yes, for episode 5.20, "Simple Explanation" and mention of a sixth-season character.
Summary: After an act of senseless violence, House copes the only way he knows how. 1,968 words.
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Never will.
Author Notes: The LJ-cut text is from the song "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads. Lyrics here.
Beta: My intrepid First Readers, with especial thanks to topaz_eyes and deelaundry.
Connecting the Dots
It's the same with every patient -- the monitors, the tubes and lines tangled like transparent snakes, the way the light angles in from the hallway and the fluorescent bulbs hum that single monotonous note.
Not that he visits every patient. It's just one, these days.
"House," that patient says. "It's not like I was trying to get shot!"
"No? Then why did you tell me to stay in the car?"
Wilson huffs out an exasperated breath, but it's shallower than his normal exasperated breaths. Still, the monitors start beeping a little faster as House answers his own question.
"Because you saw the gun. Because instead of taking your wallet like a normal hold-up guy, he shot you."
Wilson shifts in his bed. One of the monitors beeps, annoyed, and he glares at it. He starts to pull at his blanket, then gives up, as if it's too much bother. House wishes he would pull it higher, all the way up to his chin, hide the staples and stitches that stretch from umbilicus to pectoralis major. The PICC line that guarantees no gourmet cooking anytime soon.
"How was I supposed to know?" Wilson grumbles.
"What, that he was stoked out of his mind on PCP and embalming fluid?"
House's knuckles are white where he grips his cane. He looks away. He remembers the pop pop pop! of gunfire, the solid thump of Wilson's body hitting the side of the car. Struggling to get the door open and not being able to because Wilson was slumped against the other side. Music plays in his head; after a moment he recognizes it as the Muzak version of "All Along the Watchtower" that'd been playing over the bays at the gas station.
He'd tried to get out, once he'd realized what was happening, had seen the guy hassling Wilson.
Well, actually that wasn't quite true. If the guy had just been hassling Wilson, House wouldn't have done a thing. Wilson was a grown-up -- he could take care of himself, and his people skills rivaled those of an FBI hostage negotiator.
He'd tried to get out when he'd seen the gun in the guy's hand. He was sure he had. He'd started to open the door, and Wilson had pushed back against it, hard, but it had opened, just for a second, and Wilson had said Stay inside, House, and then all he'd been able to see through the passenger window had been Wilson's waistline. Which was getting rather girthy, if you asked him. He fumbled in his pocket, thinking cell phone, 911, but it was over before he could hit SEND.
"What kind of gun?" he asks.
Wilson rolls his head back against his pillow.
"What kind of gun was it?"
"I don't know." He sounds tired. "You'd have to ask the police. Detective Carlson." He closes his eyes, then opens them, and seems surprised to see House still standing there.
"It was a gun," he says. "Look, House, do you need to talk to somebody about this?"
"I'm talking to you," House says. Wilson rolls his eyes, and if he wasn't still being pumped full of drugs every half-hour, he'd probably do that nose-bridge-pinching-thing that always indicates he thinks House is being a total ass. The thought fills House with happiness, not that he'd ever admit it.
"I meant someone else," Wilson says pointedly. "A professional. Doctor Nolan. I know you're having trouble processing this -- "
"I'm not having trouble processing anything," House snaps. "I just want to know what kind of gun it was."
"Because -- " House begins, and then stops. Wilson's pupils are dilated, and he's fumbling for his morphine button. A memory rises, unbidden, in House's mind.
Wilson's dying patients. His attempted self-immolation at the conference a month ago.
"No ... reason," House says. "You're right. I don't need to know."
Wilson's eyes widen, and then his eyelids droop and he tries to smile. It's a little lopsided, and he looks for all the world like a sleepy kid up past his bedtime.
"S'okay," Wilson mumbles. "Didn't ... want you t'get out of th'car." His eyes close. "'Fraid," he slurs.
House stands there for a few minutes, until he's sure Wilson is under. Only then does he turn away.
It'll be easy enough to find out the make of the gun -- as Wilson's attending, he's entitled to all copies of the police reports. He'll be able to see everything from every angle, calculate vectors and trajectories.
Everything will be transparent this time. No black box, nothing shrouded in mystery. No gunshot in an empty room. This is a chemical reaction, phencyclidine combining with formaldehyde, methanol, other solvents, to produce a guy who probably thought Wilson was trying to hand him a live cobra. Not someone putting a pistol to his head and pulling the trigger ...
This time, there's a simple explanation for everything.
The sun is low through the blinds, waking him slowly with gold-striped fingers that slide across his face. Warm, he thinks, and realizes the rest of him is a little cold. Never pulled his blankets up; too busy saying something to House.
What kind of gun. How many kinds are there, House?
The whole thing might have been a dream; it was surreal enough, but that's House for you. Anyway, morphine gives sleep but takes Wilson's dreams away, or makes him forget them. Given what he'd likely be dreaming about, he guesses that's just as well.
His face itches, as if the sunlight-stripes are tickling his nose. He reaches up and rubs the itch away, and that's when he notices that his palm has turned strange colors. Holding it away from his face, he blinks at the words as they come into focus, red, green, and black:
DON'T LOOK DOWN, it reads. The lettering is ... distinctive.
He glances down across his chest. He's a human coloring-book, full of some shapes he recognizes and others he doesn't, not at this angle and as groggy as he is. His free hand flops back down on the bed -- and strikes against something hard and flat.
House has left him a hand mirror. The note taped to it says I TOLD YOU NOT TO LOOK.
For the first time since he saw the gun, Wilson snorts out a soft laugh.
It's ... inventive; he'll give it that.
There's a large red arrow at the base of his neck, marked in fat block letters: THIS END UP.
Below that, to the left, a cartoon heart covers his own. A cartoon, but anatomically correct, and also bleeding. Profusely. In the mirror, Wilson can make out the caption above the severed aorta. KISS IT AND MAKE IT BETTER, House wrote.
Wilson wonders who's the intended audience.
The line of staples has become a train track, a far less realistic affair than the bleeding heart. A little black steam engine chugs its way over Wilson's ribs, its side emblazoned SSI LINE. His best guess is it means Self-Sacrificing Idiot, although this being House, there's no telling. Could also be Seeking Sexy Interns, or any number of things Wilson's too sane to imagine. The tableau on Wilson's body is a fractured fairy tale, spelled out in some cryptic shorthand known only to House.
The train pulls three cars, all marked BAGGAGE. An arrow pointing down and backward reads GO FIND THE LOOSE CABOOSE.
One of the bullet holes has been lost in the incision. The two others have bullseyes drawn around them -- complete with tiny fletched darts, none of which have hit home but seem to hang suspended, mid-flight. Those have no captions; House must have thought their meaning obvious. A charm for protection, Wilson imagines, but he'll never say that to House. It'd break the spell.
If it didn't hurt so much to laugh, he'd laugh at himself for that thought.
The concentric target-circles are almost perfect, despite the uneven canvas. He can imagine House bent over him, drawing and examining at the same time, his hands moving slowly.
It wasn't until he woke up from surgery that he even knew there'd been a third bullet.
He'd felt two blows, dull and hard, like fast mule-kicks. Must've fallen against the car, but he didn't feel that at all. He remembers lights overhead, the SuperAmerica sign, and then the sign blocked out by House.
He thinks House ripped his shirt apart; it was there and then it wasn't. There was blood, but not as much as people think. The word internal formed in his mind, but he didn't seem able to say it. House was on his phone anyway, yelling at someone else. Shooting, gas station, intersection of this and that, ambulance now now NOW.
The last things he saw were House's desperate eyes, and House's bloody hands on his skin.
Wilson looks downward again at the scene of the crime. Crimes, plural, if you count what House has done to him now. Wilson's mental jury is still out on that one.
On the right, in contrast to its neighboring wounded heart, Wilson's nipple is now a cheery yellow sun. The bright color appears to have been achieved using whiteout and highlighter pen. More whiteout forms a flock of puffy clouds, the largest of which reads ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE.
"Should've let him get shot," Wilson murmurs, and then remembers that's already happened. What is it with House's life, and people with guns?
Psycho bastard could've shot me in the head, Wilson thinks. It occurs to him then to wonder what his face looks like. Wincing, he holds up the mirror.
His face is just his face. No lipstick, no eyeliner, no falling-tear gangsta tattoo drawn on. Both eyebrows are still right where they belong. House hasn't done anything that can't be hidden.
Voodoo, Wilson thinks. It's the prank House would claim it is, yeah, but it's more than that. He tilts the mirror, angling it as if by doing so he could see under the surface. Secret symbols and incantations to drive out the evil, purify the ground that the son of a bitch mojo'd when he ...
His breath hitches in his throat.
When he shot me.
All at once, everything hurts.
He got shot, and House watched it happen and stayed and saved his life, and damn, he thought it was House who wasn't processing this very well? House who needed someone to talk to?
He wonders if there are any more. Men with guns, buried in House's past, so deep they're beyond reach.
I'm an idiot.
Wilson's eyes travel from the mirror, to the phone beside his bed.
He clicks the morphine button once before he reaches for the receiver.
"About time you woke up," House says. He's been waiting for this call. "Enjoying the view?"
"Yeah," Wilson says. His voice is scratchy with recent sleep. "Yes, actually. I ... House?"
"Don't worry," House says. "They're non-toxic. Borrowed 'em from the arts and crafts box in Peds."
"And by 'borrowed,' you mean ... "
"Moron," House says. "You were shot, and you're worried about a six-dollar box of markers?"
"No," Wilson says. "I'm ... okay, look -- "
"You are not okay," House says. "Gimme three minutes."
Kutner had understood him -- well enough to give him a Timex with a stopwatch function. House goes for a personal best, and gets to the ICU in two minutes nineteen.
It's easier to look at him now, House thinks, with the punctures and staples incorporated into larger patterns.
Wilson's raised the bed a little so that he's more or less sitting up. The ceiling light is glinting off the staple-tracks. He looks at House, and his eyes are as black as the little steam train.
"I want to know," Wilson says, "what kind of gun it was."
A Few Notes:
The central incident in this story is borrowed from episode 7.03 of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. More information about the episode "Toe Tags" may be found here and here.
A fascinating news article on the effects of smoking formaldehyde-laced joints is here.