IN THE HOUR OF MY DEATH

“Incredible…”

“What’s incredible, Carolyn?” Angie asked when, several hours later, they all sat together in the hospital cafeteria. After Bobby had been brought back to the ICU, Dr Cameron had encouraged them to go elsewhere for a while. Even if they couldn’t bring themselves to leave the hospital, then at least go somewhere away from the stiflingly sterile atmosphere of the ICU wing. Alex had protested, not surprisingly, but Cameron assured them that she, Chase and Foreman would be taking it in turns to monitor Bobby around the clock. He would not be left alone, not for a minute.

And so, Deakins had conceded on behalf of the whole group and, despite Alex’s obvious displeasure, herded them all out and down to the cafeteria.

Now, they sat around steaming cups of moderately decent coffee, each of them mulling over in their own minds the dramatic events of the last few days.

“That something so tiny could do so much damage,” Carolyn said, in answer to Angie’s query.

“What I’d like to know is how was it missed?” Mike growled. “That goddamn piece of metal has been in his body for two years!”

“Something that small?” Deakins said. “Easily, when there was so much else to deal with at the time. Don’t forget how badly hurt he was, Mike.”

Mike’s expression was grim.

“Don’t worry, Captain. I remember.”

Alex looked up slowly at them.

“What was it like?”

Silence fell at her ambiguous question. Finally, Deakins spoke, asking for clarification.

“What do you mean, Alex? What was what like?”

“That flight home… from Gore Mountain. I… I don’t remember it.”

“Thank God,” Mike muttered, and the captain nodded his agreement.

“Yes, I agree. It wasn’t pleasant, Alex. You and Bobby were in such a bad way…” He shuddered slightly at the memories that assaulted him. “We thought we were going to lose you both.”

Alex looked away again, and Angie reached over to squeeze her husband’s hand reassuringly. It was all too clear what was going through all their minds. It would be a massive injustice for Bobby to have survived all of that, only to lose his life as a result of Erik Mathers’ evil after all.

“I want to say we shouldn’t worry, that he’ll be okay,” Angie said quietly. “But I don’t dare, because there’s still that chance that he won’t be.”

“They said it was up to Bobby now,” Carolyn said. “It would be his decision whether he lives or dies.”

“Just like on Gore Mountain,” Deakins said softly, and all eyes turned to him.

“What do you mean?” Alex asked, frowning a little. Deakins hesitated, realising this was part of the story that Alex had never been told.

“What do you mean?” she asked again, her voice taking on an edge. The captain sighed, and gave in, knowing she would not be deterred.

“You know that I went looking for Bobby after we found you.”

She nodded wordlessly, still frowning. Deakins went on quietly.

“Well, what you were never told was that when I shot Mathers and he fell over the edge of the cliff, he took Bobby with him. When I got there, Bobby was hanging on to the edge of the cliff by one hand, and I was just in time to grab his wrist before he let go. I needed him to give me his other hand, though, but he wouldn’t reach up.”

“His left hand?” Alex wondered, and Deakins nodded.

“Yes.”

“That arm was broken, Captain.”

“I know, but I needed him to reach all the same. I couldn’t pull him up with just the one arm. He wasn’t trying at all… I believe he wanted me to let him go, because he thought you were dead, Alex. And we might not have been able to save him from falling, if Lieutenant Caine hadn’t arrived at that point and said you were still alive. It was only by telling Bobby that you were still alive, that he finally decided to live.”

Tears filled Alex’s eyes, and she looked away once more.

“If he dies now… I might just follow him,” she said in a muffled voice. Mike slipped an arm around her shoulders, and hugged her to him.

“Well, Alex, maybe you need to tell him that.”

She looked up at him incredulously.

“What? That I can’t live without him, and he’s not getting away with dying without me? He’d probably kill himself laughing.”

“Don’t be so sure of that, Alex,” Angie told her gently. Alex flushed red, misinterpreting the inference.

“Bobby and I aren’t lovers. How many times do I have to say it?”

“We know that, Alex,” Deakins assured her. “But we also know you two are so close it’s almost frightening. And if Bobby is going to listen and respond to anyone now, it’ll be you.”

“What am I supposed to say to him?” Alex asked, confused and miserable.

“You’ll know,” Deakins told her confidently. “When we go back upstairs, you’ll know.”


In the end, Alex left them still sipping coffee in the cafeteria, and headed back upstairs to the ICU. She arrived back at Bobby’s room to find Cameron gone, and House himself standing at the end of Bobby’s bed. The doctor wasn’t making any effort to examine the charts, or check the output of the machines that were all doing their part to keep Bobby alive. He was just standing there, leaning heavily on his cane and watching Bobby in silence.

“Does it hurt?”

House looked around, slightly startled by her voice. Then, the surprise faded from his eyes, to be replaced with a familiar cynicism.

“No. I just like the image it gives me. And the cane is really useful for hitting people with.”

Alex smiled as she walked around and took her seat once more at Bobby’s side.

“Bobby hated his cane, when he graduated to it from the crutches. He thought he should be able to just skip that altogether. The number of times Captain Deakins tore strips off him for walking around without it… And his rehab physio wasn’t too happy with him, either. Now… He’ll need it for the rest of his life. He still hates it, but he’s learning to live with it.”

“What do you want me to do, Detective?” House asked caustically. “Throw confetti?”

“Lay off the attitude, Doc. It’s old news. Tell me honestly, will he live?”

“He will if he wants to badly enough,” House replied bluntly. “We have him on the right mix of antibiotics now to counter the poison in his body and the pneumonia, and he’s responding well to them. His vitals are slowly improving, his body temperature is coming down, his heartbeat is regular and his lungs are starting to function again properly. We’ll give it another twenty-four hours, and then start bringing him out of the coma. After that, when and if he wakes up will be entirely up to him.”

Alex turned and leaned in close to her comatose partner.

“Did you hear that, Bobby? It’s your choice, and you’d better choose the right one, or I swear to god I’ll kick your ass. Do you hear me, partner? Don’t you dare leave me behind.”

“I still don’t know whether to envy him, or feel sorry for him,” House remarked wryly. Alex couldn’t quite hide a smile.

“He’s my best friend, Dr House. Neither of us would be here now if it weren’t for the other. We owe each other our lives, and I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back and let this get the better of him.”

House stared at her for nearly a minute, taking in the way that she continued to murmur to him, to hold his hand in her own and stroke his forehead soothingly. He took in the way that everything she did spoke in volumes of how much she loved Bobby.

“You’ve got my professional opinion,” he said abruptly. “Now here’s my unprofessional opinion. I think he’s going to be fine, Detective.”

She looked around at him as he turned to head for the door.

“Really, Dr House?”

House threw her a flat stare as he paused in the doorway.

“With you sitting there threatening him? He’d be an idiot not to be.”

Alex watched him go, before allowing a small, tired smile to touch her lips as she returned her attention to her partner.


Over the next twenty-four hours, Alex watched in a near silent vigil as, slowly, the medical staff began to remove various equipment from the ICU room. One by one, the pieces of equipment that had all played a vital part in keeping Bobby alive were shut down, and removed entirely. Finally, all that remained was the IV unit, and the ventilator that was attached to the tube down his throat.

At the end of twenty-four hours, that too was removed once it was determined that Bobby was capable of breathing once again without assistance.

“It’s a good sign that you’re taking that out now, isn’t it?” Mike asked as Foreman slid the tube carefully out of Bobby’s mouth and throat.

Right then, he and Alex were the only ones there. With the danger period finally over, the captain and his wife had returned to New York, leaving any further decision-making in Mike’s hands. Carolyn, at both Mike and Alex’s insistence, had gone back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. Mike hadn’t bothered to suggest that Alex leave as well. He knew damned well that she would not leave Bobby’s presence until she was convinced in her own heart and mind that he would be okay.

Foreman smiled, and nodded in response to Mike’s query.

“Yes. He’s breathing on his own, now. We’re ready to start waking him up.” He paused, looking around at them with a reassuring smile. “He’s going to be okay, folks.”

“How long will it take him to wake up?” Mike asked, with one watchful eye on Alex.

“It could be anywhere between a couple of hours to a couple of days. I don’t think it’ll take him that long, though. He wasn’t kept comatose for that long. Usually when a person has spent a week or more in a coma, it’ll take them longer to pull out of it. With Bobby, it was less than forty-eight hours.”

“What about side-effects?”

Foreman hesitated, his gaze flickering to Alex.

“I’m sorry… I’m not sure what you mean. Are you referring to possible side-effects from the coma?”

“I’m referring to any possible side-effects at all,” Alex answered quietly. “He went into cardiac arrest once. His temperature went so high that you had to put him in an ice bath. He had a seizure where he stopped breathing entirely. How can you know that none of that did any permanent damage to him?”

“You’re talking about brain damage,” Foreman realised, and knew he was right from the way that Alex tensed just slightly. “Okay… The fact is, there is no real way to tell for sure until he wakes up. When he does wake up, we’ll run a fresh series of scans and tests, but until then, all we can do now is wait.”

A bitter smile touched Alex’s lips.

“I never was any good at waiting.”

Foreman smiled sympathetically.

“I can understand that, Detective Eames. And I know I can’t say for certain… but just between us, I don’t think we’re going to find any indication of brain damage. I think he’s going to pull through this just fine.”

Alex leaned forward a little, brushing her fingers lightly over Bobby’s pale cheek. One of the nurses had taken it on herself to shave him earlier that day, and his skin was nice and smooth as a result. With her fingers pressed gently to his cheek, without the barrier of the usual day and a half stubble, she could feel the difference between the mild fever that he was still suffering, as opposed to the deadly heat that had nearly killed him only a couple of days before.

“And the pneumonia?” she asked.

“Well,” Foreman mused, “he’ll need to stay hospitalised here for a couple of weeks…”

“He’ll hate that,” Alex murmured. Foreman chuckled softly. He didn’t doubt she was right about that.

“Like it or hate it, he’s not going to have a choice.”

“You don’t know him very well, do you?” Mike asked dryly. “You tell him he has to stay, and I guarantee he’ll get himself discharged as soon as he can walk five steps without tipping over.”

Foreman nodded, unperturbed.

“It’ll be at least two weeks before he can walk two steps without collapsing, let along five. The danger period is over, but he is still a very sick man. After two weeks, then we’ll review his condition, and look at a medical transfer to New York for him. But until then, he’s stuck with us. Specifically, he’s stuck with my boss.”

“You mean he might actually look in on Bobby?” she asked snarkily. “Wow. We’d be honoured.”

Foreman’s grin widened as he headed for the door.

“Don’t knock it, Detective. Dr House usually doesn’t like dealing with his patients at all, and when he does, he generally gives them as little time as he can get away with. The fact that he’s been coming to look in on Bobby is definitely not the norm for him. He’d never admit it, but I think that story you told us really impressed him. And believe me, it’s almost impossible for impress Dr House.”

Alex glanced over as Foreman headed for the door.

“Dr Foreman?”

He paused in the doorway, looking at her questioningly.

“Yes?”

“How much of all of this is he likely to remember?”

Foreman hesitated in answering. He thought he knew why she was asking, and his mind briefly flashed back to when they’d had to immerse Bobby in the ice bath to counter the effects of a potentially lethal fever.

“I don’t know,” he answered finally, honestly. “Hopefully, not a lot. But the human mind is a strange thing, and there’ll be no telling until he does actually wake up. Excuse me.”

He hurried from the room before she could ask anymore questions. Mike watched him go, before joining Alex at their colleague’s bedside.

“Too bad there isn’t a drug that they can give him to erase the memories. He doesn’t need to remember any of this.”

“He wouldn’t want it, even if there was something that could do that.” Alex sighed softly. “I can’t believe how close I came to losing him again. If Erik Mathers wasn’t dead…”

Mike slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“I know. But he’s gonna be okay, Alex. We’ll deal with whatever else comes along, as it happens. Right now, all we need to know is that he’s gonna be okay.”

She looked at Mike sadly, and then back to Bobby, to where her fingers still rested against his cheek.

“I’ll believe that when he wakes up, Mike.”

He nodded agreeably, trying to look more confident that he really felt.

You’d better be okay, Goren, he thought grimly. For her sake, you’d better be.

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