IN THE HOUR OF MY DEATH
A/N: For those of you who haven't made the connection, yes, this is a follow-on from my Deliverance-Blood Moon-Remembrance trio of stories. Now, even if you haven't read the latter two, it might help if you refresh your memories with the events of Deliverance. And that's the only hint I'm giving.
Oh, and btw. Don't panic. I hope to have a new chapter of The Long Road Home posted before the end of today.
Drs Cameron, Foreman and Chase were used to having the first hour or so of their day to themselves, particularly on days that they had no case to work on. Their immediate boss, Dr Gregory House, was frequently prone to wandering in whenever it suited him; usually, when he should have been in attendance at the clinic.
Hence, all three were surprised when the door swung open and House looked in at them.
“Grab your coats, kids. We’re going off-site.”
Then he was gone, leaving the three to scramble themselves and chase after him.
“Where are we going?” Cameron asked as they hurried to catch up to their limping mentor.
“Probably to break into someone’s place,” Foreman muttered. House spared him a disdainful glance.
“We’ve been invited to attend a lecture.”
“A lecture?” Chase echoed. “Are you kidding us?”
“You hate attending lectures,” Cameron pointed out.
“This isn’t a medical lecture,” House elaborated. “It’s in the Police Science Faculty.”
All three young doctors exchanged mystified looks, none of them daring to ask the obvious question. They were almost to the hospital exit when a familiar voice stopped all four of them in their tracks.
“House? Where do you think you’re going?”
House turned back, an indifferent expression on his face as his best friend, Dr James Wilson, walked over with a look of mixed incredulity and amusement on his face.
“And shouldn’t you be in the clinic?” Wilson added dubiously.
“Finished my four hours for the week yesterday,” House informed him with a suspicious amount of cheer. “I even saw patients, and everything.”
“You never learn,” Wilson groaned. “Cuddy is going to kill you, I swear to God. And I won’t be there to pick up the pieces!”
“Why don’t you come with us?” House asked.
“I can’t! I’m on duty! And so are you, in case it slipped your attention!”
“C’mon, it won’t kill you to play hooky, just once.” House sidled in close to Wilson. “C’mon, Wilson, live dangerously. You know you want to.”
“Where are you going?” Wilson asked, more than a hint of curiosity coming through in his voice.
“To attend a lecture over in the Police Science Faculty. The subject of our interest is one Detective Robert Goren, of the New York City Police Department who, I believe, is suffering from an increasingly severe case of bronchial pneumonia.”
“And you know this because…?” Wilson pressed.
“I saw him in the clinic yesterday and, unlike most of the morons I usually have to deal with, this guy was actually sick. However, like most stubborn idiots, he refused to do the right thing and insisted on giving his lecture this morning. Even though he didn’t want to give it in the first place which, in my opinion, makes him an even bigger idiot when he had a perfectly good excuse to get out of it…”
“And you’re going to listen to him now because…?” Wilson wondered.
“Two reasons. I want to be there to say ‘I told you so’ when he can’t get through it. Second, I’m curious to know exactly how he ended up permanently in a leg brace, and what’s so special about him that he didn’t get booted off the NYPD because of it. After he collapses and we have to admit him, he won’t be able to run away from me and I can bug him until he tells me.”
“You’re a real son of a bitch. Anyone ever tell you that.”
“Yeah. You. All the time. So are you coming, or not?”
Wilson couldn’t quite hide the smirk that was fighting to surface on his face.
“Let me grab my coat.”
Half an hour later, the five doctors sat in the front row of a large lecture hall, watching as the detective in question made his way slowly onto the stage. Though most of the attendees might not have noticed, the doctors all had no difficulty picking up on the very distinct signs of severe illness.
“Did he look that bad when you saw him yesterday?” Wilson asked in a low voice. House shook his head.
“Nope. He looks a lot worse this morning.”
“He should have been admitted yesterday,” Foreman said.
“Gosh, now why didn’t I think of that?” House snapped. “Oh, right. We can’t admit people to hospital against their will and, darn it, he just wasn’t far enough incapacitated.”
Foreman rolled his eyes, and settled back to watch and listen.
Nearly an hour and a half later, although it was painfully obvious that the detective’s condition was worsening, the collapse that House had predicted was yet to happen.
“He’s tough,” Wilson murmured with a hint of admiration in his voice.
“He looks like he can barely stand up,” Chase retorted. “The guy’s an idiot. He could have wrapped this up half an hour ago.”
“That leg must really be hurting him,” Cameron said. “See how he keeps leaning his weight onto his left leg? Poor guy…”
House shot her an incredulous look.
“Now why don’t you go all gooey like that with me? I’ve got a crippled leg, too.”
Cameron rolled her eyes, and chose to ignore him.
From the side of the stage, Carolyn Barek stood watching Bobby closely. She was genuinely afraid now for his physical wellbeing, after he’d suffered a long night of severely broken rest.
She feared he was on the brink of collapse, but nothing she’d said to him earlier that morning had convinced him to pull out of giving the lecture.
It was truly ironic, she thought grimly. When he’d been healthy, he’d tried everything to get out giving the lecture. Now that he was sick, though, and had a genuine reason to pull out of the obligation, he refused to grab the opportunity.
She didn’t understand his logic, and had no intention of trying.
He’d finished the actual lecture now, and was fielding questions from the students. Her trained eye easily picked out the way he held onto the lectern with a death grip. He was barely able to stay on his feet, and she could only pray that he ended it soon, before he did irreparable damage to himself.
Bobby was answering question purely by rote, his brain jammed on autopilot while his body desperately fought off the effects of his worsening illness.
Contrary to what Carolyn believed, he had seriously considered pulling out of giving the lecture, until he’d spotted Dr House sitting in the front row of the auditorium, flanked by four other doctors. At that point, he’d shrugged off any notion of pulling out and letting Barek do the lecture instead. He was not going to give the son of a bitch that sort of satisfaction, and so he’d limped onto the stage and begun the lecture.
Half an hour in, and he’d begun to seriously regret his decision. An hour in, and it was all he could do to keep his brain on track. Now, he was finding it a struggle just to stay on his feet, let alone stay lucid and answer the questions that were being fired at him from all directions.
He coughed hard, wincing at the pain that shot through his ribs as he did so. He reached for the nearby glass of water automatically, sipping carefully to avoid sending himself into a choking fit. Then, setting the water back down on the top of the lectern, he went on speaking.
“Check it out,” Chase said softly. “There’s blood in the water.”
House sat forward slowly, his senses pricking up. Chase was right. When the detective had taken that last sip of water, blood had passed from his mouth back into the glass. By all appearances, though, Bobby wasn’t even aware that he had blood in his mouth.
He had to concede that he’d started to wonder whether Bobby might have made it through the full lecture after all. As Wilson had said, he was tough. The blood was a telltale sign, though. A collapse was imminent, House was sure of it.
In the end, it happened quite quickly. Bobby was in the middle of answering a question when he suddenly stopped, staring ahead blankly and gripping the sides of the lectern.
Confused silence descended on the auditorium as Bobby simply stood there, neither moving nor speaking. At the side of the stage, Carolyn took a slow step forward, sensing impending trouble, and getting ready to walk out there and put an end to the lecture.
She didn’t have the chance. A moment later, Bobby’s strength finally gave out. The leg that wasn't supported by a calliper buckled beneath him and he fell forward, his full body weight collapsing against the lectern.
Unfortunately for Bobby, the lectern wasn’t secured to the stage floor. His weight caused the lectern to tip forward and go crashing off the stage, falling a good metre and a half to the floor below.
Unable to stop his momentum, Bobby tumbled after it, his body first hitting the fallen lectern, and then landing hard on the polished wood floor.
His head struck the very edge of the lectern as he landed, and his world exploded with pain before fading to black.
Barek got there first, darting across the stage and jumping down to the floor beside her collapsed colleague.
“Someone, call an ambulance!” she shouted, her attention focused exclusively on Bobby.
“No need,” House stated calmly as he joined her. “I’ve got one waiting outside.”
Wilson looked at him incredulously, taking care to step aside as Chase moved in to do what he could for Bobby.
“You’re kidding me. You’ve had an ambulance waiting this whole time?”
House shrugged. “Someone owed me a favour.” He paused, taking in the look his friend was giving him, and then added, “A really, really big favour. Cameron, be a good girl and go get the nice paramedics.”
“Better hurry,” Chase said tensely from where he knelt beside Bobby. “His vitals are slipping. If we don’t get some oxygen into his lungs fast, he’ll start seizing.”
“All right,” House retorted. “Let’s not panic.” He glanced around at the huge crowd of Police Science students who were still there, watching the unfolding scene with morbid fascination. “And someone get those students out of here! This isn’t a damn sideshow.”
Ten minutes later, Carolyn stood back, watching in numb shock as her colleague was finally lifted into an ambulance for transport to the hospital.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Wilson asked gently, diverting her attention as House climbed awkwardly into the ambulance after the paramedics. Finally, she nodded, too stunned to object.
“He’ll be okay,” Chase assured her as they led her towards their car. “He’s in good hands.”
Carolyn didn’t respond to that. All she could think of as she allowed herself to be led towards the car park was that Alex Eames was going to kill her for not taking better care of her partner.
House sat in silence, watching as the medic worked to keep the sick detective stable. His motives for going in the ambulance were purely selfish, of course, and he had no problems admitting that. He desperately wanted Bobby to wake up so that he could hit him with one really big ‘I told you so’. So far, though, his newest patient just wasn’t cooperating.
It was just as the ambulance was reversing up to the ER doors that Bobby suddenly moaned, and his eyes flickered open.
“Detective Goren?” the medic asked loudly, causing House to cringe. “Can you hear me?”
“He’d have to be deaf not to,” House muttered. The paramedic ignored him. He knew House only too well.
Confused and disoriented, Bobby reached for the oxygen mask, to pull it off. Anxious to keep it in place, the medic pulled his hand away and pinned it carefully to his side.
House started a little in surprise as Bobby suddenly began to writhe in a panic. Jerking his hand free, he ripped the oxygen mask from his face.
“Get away from me,” he gasped, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth as he spoke.
“Detective, I’m just trying to help you,” the medic insisted.
“Erik, you sick bastard,” Bobby moaned, oblivious to the medic’s attempts at reassurance. “You think I’ll let you hurt us again? You’ll never do that to us again. I’ll kill you before you do…”
“Damn, he’s hallucinating,” the medic shouted to his colleague as he struggled to keep Bobby pinned down. “Tony, I need some help. Get this thing parked, and get your ass back here!”
“What’s his body temperature?” House asked, drawing an incredulous look from the medic.
“Are you fucking kidding? He’s in the middle of a hallucination, and you want to know what his body temperature is?”
“That’s why I want to know,” House snapped. Shaking his head, the medic finally did as House demanded. A moment later, he looked up in confusion.
“This… This isn’t right. He’s doesn’t have a fever… His temperature is completely normal. He shouldn’t be hallucinating.”
House sat back, a thoughtful frown on his face. The pneumonia would have explained the hallucinations, if there had been a fever. But there was no fever. So what had just caused the detective to start hallucinating…?
Dr Lisa Cuddy strode into the ER, fuming and ready to take out her anger on the first unfortunate soul to get in her way. It had been bad enough that House and his team had disappeared two hours ago, going off-site from the hospital, but they had convinced Wilson to go as well. She was angry at all of them, but at House most of all.
Now, she’d been told that he was apparently in the ER, and that had made her angrier still, that he’d hidden from her in the one place she honestly wouldn’t have thought to look for him.
She paused just inside the ER, looking around for wherever he was hiding. It was a good couple of minutes before she finally spotted him, and she quickly realised why it had taken so long. Rather than hiding in a corner, or behind some curtain, House was standing in plain sight, doing something that, where he was concerned, was completely unexpected. He was actually supervising the emergency treatment of a patient.
“What the hell is going on?” she demanded as she joined him. “First you disappear with your entourage, and you take Wilson with you…”
“There was a totally legitimate reason, honestly…”
“Shut up, and let me finish. Now, I find you here in the ER! What is going on?”
House motioned towards Bobby’s semi-conscious form.
“We have here a forty-three year old male, presenting with symptoms suggesting bronchial pneumonia. I saw him in the clinic yesterday and, against my advice, he went on to give a lecture this morning, which he collapsed in the middle of. On the way here in the ambulance, he started hallucinating…”
Cuddy shrugged. “Fever from the pneumonia…”
“I had the medics check his body temperature. He didn’t have a fever. He still doesn’t.”
“But that’s impossible,” Cuddy argued. “He can’t have pneumonia, and not have a fever.”
“So I diagnosed incorrectly,” House said calmly. “He doesn’t have pneumonia.”
“Then what does he have?” Cuddy asked. House shrugged.
“Haven’t got a clue.”
“But you want the case, right?”
House didn’t answer, only smiled.
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