IN THE HOUR OF MY DEATH
Deakins was just about ready to leave when his phone rang. He fleetingly considered ignoring it, but decided after a moment that perhaps that wasn’t such a great idea. Biting back a groan, he answered the call with extreme reluctance.
“Captain, it’s Logan.”
Immediately, all weariness was forgotten, and Deakins sat up straight.
“Mike, what’s happening over there?”
“It’s not good, Captain. Goren... He really is sick. I mean really sick. He, um… He went into cardiac arrest not long after Alex and I got here.”
Deakins felt an icy wave of panic wash over him.
“Cardiac arrest? He’s not…?”
“They revived him, but he’s officially critical, now.”
“Oh god… And I wouldn’t believe him… Mike, how is Alex coping?”
Mike snorted loudly.
“Coping? I really thought she was going to shoot his doctor for a minute. The guy’s a real son of a bitch, Captain, but he seems to be the best shot Bobby has.”
Deakins sat silently, drawing in a long, shaky breath as the gravity of the situation finally started to sink in. Bobby was sick… Bobby was dying…
And all of a sudden, Deakins wanted nothing more than to be there in New Jersey, at his detective’s side. It was a desire that he knew he could not fulfil.
“Mike, did you get Bobby to sign medical proxy over to you?”
“Yeah, not fifteen minutes ago. He’s not really aware now of what’s going on, though. I’m not so sure he really knew what he was doing.”
“This doctor… House, was it? Do you really think he can help him?”
“Look at it this way, sir. He’s a stubborn bastard, just like Bobby. I think he’s got the resolve to figure it out.”
“Figure it out…? What do you mean, figure it out?”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Captain, they don’t know what’s wrong with him yet.”
Once more, Deakins felt that sickening, icy wave of panic sweep down his body.
“He’s sick… You’ve told me he went into cardiac arrest… but they don’t know what’s wrong with him?”
“Apparently all the tests they’ve done so far have come up negative. And Bobby’s symptoms keep changing. Delirium without a fever… Delirium with a fever… Nausea… Vertigo… Fluctuating heart rate… numbness... I’m telling you, his own body can’t seem to make up its mind what’s wrong.”
“Okay. Listen, Mike, I want to be updated regularly. You call me again tomorrow morning, and again at noon, and then tomorrow evening. And if anything happens in between, you call me straight away. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. Will do.”
“Take care of Alex.”
“I will, sir.”
Deakins hung up and slumped back in his chair, feeling sick to his stomach. Then, finally, he got slowly to his feet and headed out of his office in heavy silence.
“You get through to the captain?” Carolyn asked softly as Mike rejoined her just outside the door of Bobby’s room. He nodded wearily.
“Yeah, I think I caught him just before he was leaving.”
“How’d he react when you told him what’s happening?”
“I think he nearly had a heart attack when I told him Bobby went into cardiac arrest. He’d come himself, if he could. I could hear it in his voice. He hates being stuck in New York, knowing now that Bobby is so sick.”
Carolyn sighed softly.
“There’s nothing he can do, except wait… like us.”
Mike looked past her, into the room. Alex sat on the edge of the bed, clasping Bobby’s hand and talking to him in a soft murmur. It didn’t appear to Mike that Bobby was even awake at that point, but it wasn’t deterring Alex. The doctor called Foreman was in there right then, running through a check of Bobby’s vitals, and talking to Alex, but House was nowhere in sight.
“That doctor is some piece of work, isn’t he?” Mike mused, walking away from the door and sitting down on a chair nearby. After a moment, Carolyn joined him.
“You’re not wrong. You know, when Bobby gave his lecture this morning, House was there with four other doctors! He said he knew Bobby was going to collapse, and he wanted to have people there that he could gloat to when it happened.”
“Son of a bitch,” Mike muttered.
“On the other hand,” Carolyn conceded, “if he hadn’t been there, Bobby might have ended up in someone else’s care… Maybe even at a different hospital… and something tells me that Dr House is the best chance he’s got at the moment.”
Mike glanced sideways at his partner. She looked exhausted.
“Carolyn, why don’t you head back to the hotel? You look like crap.”
“Gee, thanks, Mike.”
“I’m not trying to insult you. I just mean, you’re exhausted, and you look it.”
She shook her head, though.
“No. I can’t leave. Not until I know Bobby’s going to be okay.”
Mike sat silently for a long moment, processing her words in his mind.
“You’re not responsible for what’s happened, Carolyn.”
Tears abruptly filled her eyes, and spilled down her cheeks.
“Then why do I feel like I am?”
Sighing, Mike slipped an arm around her shoulders and drew her to him in a warm embrace. She put up a brief resistance, but then caved and slumped against him, crying softly into his shoulder.
“He tried to tell me he was sick,” she said, her voice muffled. “But I wouldn’t listen to him. Why didn’t I listen to him?”
“Because he was being an idiot, trying every trick in the book to get out of giving the lectures,” Mike murmured. “I tell you, Carolyn, when he gets over this… whatever he’s got… I’m going to kick his ass.”
Mike looked pointedly past her and Carolyn followed his gaze, feeling her stomach roll at the sight of Alex clutching Bobby’s limp hand and crying softly.
House sat slumped in his chair in his office, twirling his cane as he worked silently through all the illnesses that his team had so far eliminated. He liked puzzles, but this particular one was fast becoming the proverbial matter of life or death. Though he’d done a good job of hiding it in front of those other detectives, and even his own underlings, House was deeply worried about Bobby’s rapidly deteriorating condition.
He had been sure at first that all the detective had was a severe form of pneumonia, but none of the treatment had been effective. Instead, in the short time since Bobby had been admitted, his condition had deteriorated with frightening speed.
Now, the more he thought it over, the more he believed the detective’s illness was linked in some way to his partner. Whether or not it was related to something that happened to them when they were being chased by the serial killer two years, House didn’t know and wouldn’t presume to guess. Not that he dealt exclusively with absolutes, mind you; not at all. But he hadn’t heard that entire story yet. Detective Eames had ended up getting somewhat emotional and had stormed out of the room. The next he’d heard, she was back in ICU, with her partner.
In fact, according to a little birdie called Cameron, the good detective was sitting on the bed beside her partner, and holding his hand in a very unpartnerly-like manner. House smirked a little to himself. He was positive she’d lied about sleeping with Bobby, and that little tidbit of information went a good way towards confirming his belief. And oh, he was going to enjoy taking her apart over that not-so-little lie.
A shadow fell across him, distracting him from his train of thought, and he looked up to see Wilson standing there, watching him in bemusement.
“You must really be worried about this one,” Wilson remarked, once he had House’s attention.
“And what divine enlightenment led you to that conclusion?” House asked flatly, not bothering to even make an attempt at looking like he was working. Wilson couldn’t quite conceal the smirk that struggled to the surface.
“You’re missing General Hospital. It started twenty minutes ago.”
“Ah. So… Any breakthroughs yet?”
House looked slowly up at Wilson, and Wilson felt his stomach roll just slightly as he registered the grim look in his colleague’s eyes.
“All the tests we’ve run so far have come back negative. His symptoms keep changing… None of it makes sense. It’s almost like he’s contracted an entirely new disease. I have no idea how to begin treating him. I’m running out of time, Wilson. He’s deteriorating fast… Faster than I thought he would.”
“How fast are you talking about?”
The look that Wilson got in answer to that question sent a chill down his spine.
“If we can’t find out what’s wrong with him within twenty-four hours, then it won’t matter either way. Because by then, it’ll be too late.”
Ten minutes later saw House and Wilson walking towards ICU. After more pointless contemplating, House had finally decided it was time to talk to Bobby again, and hopefully get some sense out of him, rather than a delirious ramble.
“I heard his partner is pretty feisty,” Wilson remarked. “Rumour has it, she just about had a piece of you earlier today. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for the guy, or envy him.”
House grunted, scowling.
“I’d waver on the side of sympathy. She threatened to shoot me.”
It took more than a little effort for Wilson not to burst out laughing.
“Might I point out, she wouldn’t be the first, and probably won’t be the last?”
“That’s not the point,” House argued. “The mafia didn’t count. They’re supposed to threaten to shoot people! They’re the mafia! You expect it, it comes with the territory. She’s a cop! She’s supposed to be protecting people, not threatening them!”
They rounded the corner, came within sight of Bobby’s room in ICU, and House froze. Wilson looked at him, baffled.
“House? What’s wrong?”
Slowly, House took a shuffling back-step.
“Uh… I just remembered… I’m missing General Hospital.”
Abruptly, he turned and headed back in the direction of his office. Wilson looked back at Bobby’s room, momentarily confused, until he realised who was sitting with the detective. A grin lit up his face, and he hurried after his friend and colleague.
“It’s her, isn’t it? His partner? You’re afraid of her!”
House slowed to a halt, glaring at Wilson.
“Don’t be an idiot. I’m not afraid of her.”
“Yes, you are! You are scared of her!”
“No, I’m not!”
“Then why are you suddenly heading away from your patient?”
“I don’t like patients.”
“No,” Wilson argued. “You don’t like her. Admit it! You are afraid of her!”
House stood stiffly, glowering at Wilson, before finally turning and heading wordlessly back to Bobby’s room.
Alex heard them enter, but didn’t bother to look. Instead, she kept her focus completely on her partner, on his pale, sweat-lathered face that seemed to be getting hotter by the minute.
He’d not woken up again since he’d gone into cardiac arrest, and though the nurses and doctors had assured her that he was stable for the moment, it didn’t calm her fears. Nothing would do that except seeing him open his eyes, smile and tell her he was okay. Nothing more, nothing less. And she knew damned well that it wasn’t going to happen.
“You’re looking nice and cosy up there, Detective.”
Alex clenched her jaw just briefly. She’d promised herself that no matter how pissed off she got, she was not going to degrade herself and come down to the doctor’s level; or rather, at least not when she was within such close proximity to Bobby. After all, as attractive an option as it might have seemed, shooting the man who was trying to save Bobby’s life probably was not such a hot idea.
“Wow,” she said finally. “You actually came in to see him yourself. What’s the occasion?”
House glared at Wilson, daring him to make a comment, but the oncologist only smirked. He was enjoying this far too much to spoil it by speaking.
“Listen,” House said as he turned back to Alex, “do you think that you might be able to lay off the attitude?”
She finally looked at him, her eyes narrowing to pinpoints.
“You started it.”
“Oh, well, that’s real mature. Tell me, do you and your partner manage to solve anything? Between his stubbornness, and your attitude…”
Strangely, Alex didn’t find herself feeling pissed off by his question, even though she noticed his colleague flinching and backing off slightly. Rather, a wry smile touched her lips.
“Dr House, Bobby and I have one of the highest solve rates in the entire NYPD. Very few of our cases end up going to trial, because more often than not, Bobby manages to break the suspect in the interrogation room. He’s the best profiler the NYPD has. Maybe even one of the best in the country.”
“Wow,” House retorted. “All that, and with a crippled leg.”
“His bad leg doesn’t affect his mind,” Alex snapped.
“Just how did that happen, anyway? While you were up on that mountain, being chased by that lunatic?”
Alex fell quiet. She tried to think about that incident as little as possible, but the truth was it was never far from the surface of her mind. Indeed, she was served a bitter reminder of it every time she saw Bobby struggling in that heavy calliper, and every time he cringed from the pain he was constantly in.
“It was night time,” she said softly. “Mathers caught up to us, and he shot me in the leg with an arrow. I couldn’t walk, so Bobby picked me up and carried me. It was dark, he couldn’t see where he was going too well, and we ended up on the edge of a precipice. Mathers shot Bobby with an arrow… He lost balance… and we fell. He broke both his legs when we hit the water. I broke my arm. It… was bad.” She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. “I have the feeling that this won’t impress you in any way, but Bobby managed to get up and walk on two broken legs, up a fairly steep hill, to get to where we would be seen by the search choppers.”
“You’re right,” House said tonelessly. “It doesn’t impress me. You’re so busy blowing his trumpet… Exactly what are you in this spectacular partnership?”
“My… grounding force.”
Alex looked down in surprise to find Bobby awake, and watching her through eyes that were bright with an intense fever. He looked barely capable of keeping it together, she thought miserably.
“Hey, you,” she murmured. “How are you feeling?”
“Like… I’m on fire.”
House limped over, and checked the gauge on one of the many machines that was monitoring Bobby’s body temperature.
“A hundred and two point three,” he announced. “High, but not unmanageable.” He turned around again, looking piercingly from Bobby to Alex. “You lied to me.”
Alex frowned, puzzled and angry.
“You and him. Sleeping together.”
Even in his fever-riddled state, Bobby didn’t miss the way that Alex went tense at the accusation.
“I already told you…”
“I know what you told me,” House cut in on her. “And I know what I’m seeing right now. The two don’t mesh, Detective.”
Alex went red as she suddenly realised what House meant. She made no effort to slide off the bed, though. She wasn’t leaving Bobby’s side for any reason.
“I don’t care what you think of this, Dr House. I am not sleeping with Bobby.”
“Well, maybe I’ll just ask your partner.”
“Be my guest,” she snapped. “Bobby? Tell this clown we’re not sleeping together.”
Bobby looked vaguely puzzled.
“But… we are.”
Alex gaped, while House was positively crowing.
“I knew it!”
Bobby shuddered a little. He was so hot, and it was so hard to focus… Struggling to maintain some clarity of thought, Bobby looked slowly over at House.
“We s… sleep together… sometimes… because of… nightmares… But we’ve never… had sex.”
Taking in the annoyed frown on House’s face, Alex couldn’t help it. She began to giggle, the slightest touch of hysteria in her tone.
“Let me get this straight,” House said, frowning deeply. “You do actually sleep together in the same bed…”
“Sporadically,” Bobby inserted breathlessly.
“Sporadically,” House conceded, with obvious reluctance. “But no vital naked parts have ever come into contact?”
“Very nice,” Wilson muttered. Alex wiped at her eyes, still laughing softly.
“Not very eloquent, Doctor, but yes. That’s what it is. So I guess you’re right. I did lie. We do sleep together. It just doesn’t include sex, like Bobby said.”
“But you are sleeping together,” House insisted, and Alex groaned softly.
“All right! Yes, we sleep together! Okay? Happy?”
“Very,” House confirmed, almost gleeful. Alex glowered at him, embarrassed, and angry at feeling embarrassed.
“But it’s still irrelevant. There’s no way Bobby could have picked anything up from me, because we are not having sex.”
“No, not true,” House argued. “Doesn’t matter whether sex is involved or not. If you two are spending significant amounts of time even just cuddling together, you could still have passed something on to him.”
“Like what?” Alex asked incredulously. “In case it slipped your powers of deduction, I’m the healthy one here! If Bobby is sick because of something I passed on to him, wouldn’t I be sick as well?”
“Not necessarily,” Wilson answered as he approached the end of the bed. “Viruses and bacteria have a nasty habit of laying dormant in one host, and then hopping to the next and nearly killing them. It’s possible that you have some bacteria that you’re immune to, but your partner isn’t.”
Alex looked down at Bobby anxiously. She had to concede that there was a certain grim logic to that, but the idea that she might be in some way responsible for Bobby’s illness was enough to make her sick to her stomach.
“No,” Bobby said hoarsely, looking from Alex to House. “It’s not her. Find another explanation.”
House stared grimly at him, not back down.
“Sometimes the least popular explanation turns out to the only explanation. I have to explore all the options.”
Bobby shuddered and shut his eyes. He understood the reasoning behind that, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. Above all else, he didn’t want Alex feeling she was in any way responsible for his getting sick.
“Find… another option,” he whispered.
“But Bobby, what if he’s right?” Alex asked softly. “What if it’s something that I’ve passed on to you?”
“What a surprise,” House snorted. “One of you is actually capable of being reasonable.”
Alex glared at him, but bit back a sharp retort.
“So, what happens now, then?”
“We’ll take blood and urine samples from you,” House told her. “With any luck, we’ll be able to identify something that could be making your partner sick.”
Bobby tried to shake his head, wanting to protest, wanting to tell House to take his assessment and shove it up his ass, because there was no way in hell that Alex could have ever done anything to make him sick. But all of a sudden, nothing was working. He couldn’t move his head, and when he opened his mouth to speak, no sounds emerged, except for a strange, gurgling moan.
“Bobby?” Alex asked anxiously, looking down at him with fresh fear. House reached out to Bobby, only to stop just short of touching him. He looked around, and even Wilson couldn’t miss his sharp intake of breath.
“I need Chase and Foreman here, now,” he announced, more to himself than to anyone else in the room, and quickly paged them.
“What is it?” Alex asked tensely. House didn’t answer, but Wilson answered for him as he peered past House to the monitors.
“106? His temperature jumped nearly four degrees in less than twenty minutes!”
“We have to get his body temperature down, now, before his organs start to liquefy and his brain cooks,” House muttered.
“What are you going to do?” Alex asked, tightening her grip on Bobby’s hand. House regarded her grimly as he reached across and pressed the button that would summon the nurses.
“There’s only one way to get his body temperature down quickly. We need to put him in an ice bath.”
Alex choked back the urge to protest. As much as she knew that an ice bath would be agony for Bobby, she also understood the very real danger presented by his rising body temperature. She looked down at Bobby, and at his fever-stricken features. She could feel the heat radiating off him so fiercely, it was truly frightening.
“Bobby?” she asked, trying to draw his attention even as Chase and Foreman strode into the room, followed by a team of nurses. “Do you understand what’s happening? They need to put you in an ice bath to cool you down.”
Understanding slowly registered in his eyes, along with a healthy dose of panic. Like her, he understood just how much an ice bath would hurt.
“No…” he moaned, the word barely distinguishable. “No… Alex… Don’t let them…”
Tears filled Alex’s eyes, and she leaned down to kiss him gently on the forehead.
“Bobby, they have to. You’re burning up! If they don’t do this, you could die. Please, don’t fight them.”
Hands alighted on her shoulders, urging her off and away from the bed.
“You need to come away from him now,” Wilson told her in as gentle a tone as he could. Alex shook her head desperately.
“No, I have to stay with him. He needs me to stay with him.”
“Trust me,” Wilson warned her grimly as he guided her out of the room, “you do not want to be there when they put him in that bath.”
Mike and Carolyn had just returned from the cafeteria when Wilson ushered Alex out of the room.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Mike asked, feeling a sharp twinge of fear deep in his gut. Alex shuddered and fell into his embrace, her body trembling as she fought to suppress fresh sobs.
“His body temperature just sky-rocketed,” Wilson explained when Mike looked to him questioningly. “They’re getting him ready to put him in an ice bath.”
“An ice bath?” Carolyn echoed incredulously. “I didn’t think anyone did that anymore.”
“In extreme circumstances, it is still used,” Wilson answered. “This is an extreme circumstance. His temperature jumped nearly four degrees in less than twenty minutes, and it’s still rising. We have to get his temperature down…”
“Or?” Mike asked tensely. Wilson glanced around as Bobby was brought out of the ICU room on a gurney, and rushed away down the long corridor. There was no point dancing around the truth, like he might have done with the family and friends of his own patients. These people were cops. They expected to be told the truth, however grim it was.
“Or he’ll die.”
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