debbiel66 (debbiel66) wrote,

Housefic: Remembers to Breathe

Title: Remembers to Breathe
Author: debbiel
Characters: House, Wilson
Word Count: 4345
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Post "Wilson's Heart." Between seasons.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: House is crazy if he thinks Wilson doesn't know he's being followed.

Author Notes: this story is a sequel to my first House story, "Shadowing." Feedback is very much appreciated.

Remembers to Breathe

Wilson knows House is following him.

How could he not know? This is House. It’s part of his nature. His insatiable curiosity gets the best of him each and every time, and House cannot – will not – let go. Most would find it disturbing. After all, House has been spending most of his waking hours tailing him in some rented Cutlass that could have belonged to either one of their mothers, but Wilson can’t find the energy to care.

His world is flat. If he heads too far in any given direction, he will fall off the edge, and Wilson knows this is not just a metaphorical hazard. Freefalls aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

God, he misses Amber.

Sometimes he misses her so much that he forgets to breathe. It’s hard work figuring out how to keep living in a world that doesn’t have her in it any more. A professional life of mucking through death has done nothing to prepare him for this. He’s embarrassed for every platitude he’s ever offered a grieving family. Wilson is one of the best oncologists in the country, but truly he has no idea what anyone should do in his situation.

Still on bereavement leave, he has no idea what to do with his days. Every morning and afternoon, he walks. It’s what Amber’s great-aunt Hannah told him to do, and Wilson is very good at taking advice from scary old ladies. At the funeral, the woman glared at him with fierce, old Amber-eyes and ordered to him to get off his couch every day. Take a walk. Feed the birds. Drink strong coffee in the morning and decent scotch at night. Remember Amber but don’t wallow.

At the time, Wilson could only nod agreeably and offer her a glass of punch. She turned him down – said she was waiting for them to break out the good stuff. But Wilson watched Amber’s Aunt Hannah shuffle away and wondered if that was how Amber would have turned out, if she’d had the chance to grow old.

So he walks. He sleeps, sometimes, but not always. He eats even less. It’s not much of a life, really, but his outings give it some structure. There’s a chance he might not always hurt like this, but he doesn’t kid himself. With his history, it’s unlikely he’ll ever find joy again. Before Amber, Wilson’s life was pleasant but rarely more than that. Their time together made him aware that joy was something that had nothing to do with vague satisfaction. She made him happy. She made him laugh. He knows he should feel grateful for this, but it’s almost seems worse to spend the rest of his life without it, now that he knows what he was missing. On bad days and worse nights, he wonders if it might have been better if he’d never loved her at all.

He hates himself for thinking this.

Amber wasn’t perfect. But she was getting nicer every day. They were rubbing off on each other, and nobody but Wilson knows that it was for the better. It makes him wake up crying in the middle of the night – the idea that nobody will ever know the person she was turning into. He tortures himself by imagining them old together, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the sofa at night, still holding hands. Although Wilson isn’t one prone to melodrama, he’s honestly not sure he will ever get over this.

“Sir? That’ll be $6.50.”

Wilson glances up, surprised to find himself standing in front the deli counter. He doesn’t really remember getting there, and he certainly doesn’t know what he ordered. His instinct to purchase food is fairly intact. He just can’t remember to eat it. The girl behind the counter is waiting politely, tapping her fingers on the register. Wilson smiles back, always wanting to please. He has no idea what he’s ordered, but he hands over a twenty.

“Your friend came in yesterday,” she tells him, ringing up his order. She emphasizes the word “friend” like it’s some sort of a code word between the two of them.


“He wanted to know if you ordered a sandwich or a salad. He also wanted to know if you ate your cookie.”

Ah. That friend.

“Did you tell him?”

She shrugs. “He gave me a twenty.”

“So did I,” Wilson says and doesn’t take the proffered change. “Don’t tell him anything if he comes again. Or at the very least, hold out for fifty.”

“But he’s scary,” she says, as he heads out the door.

“So am I,” Wilson mutters, eyeing the parked tan Cutlass across the street. His chest tightens. But he manages a wave over his shoulder as he leaves the deli.

Really, this is the longest conversation he’s had in days.

Across the street, House starts up his engine. Wilson rolls his eyes, as he heads down the sidewalk, holding the paper bag. He still doesn’t remember what he ordered, but it’s not like he’ll eat it anyways. Other things puzzle him. House and his stalking...

Does House seriously believe that Wilson doesn’t see him? It’s ridiculous, delusional really. It makes Wilson worry that House isn’t doing nearly as well as Chase thinks he is. It’s got to be hard hitting every light. Wilson’s tempted to make a run for it and lose him, just like he did to dodge House’s inquisition about his mysterious girlfriend. But Wilson doesn’t have that kind of initiative any more. Besides, he’s not feeling great. Wonders if he’s coming down with something. His chest feels tight, and he’s been coughing. Could be allergies. Seems too early in the year, but it’s not like he’s been paying attention.

He’s almost at the park. Doesn’t know what time it is, but already light’s falling across the treeline. Wilson likes this park. Finds it comforting. Doesn’t mind the homeless men and women skirting around the edges. For the first time in his life, he envies them. Wilson’s tired of pretending that he has a home. Amber’s apartment is haunted, and he’s just another ghost, treading lightly so as not to leave any traces once he’s gone.

Three benches form an arc, angled toward the copse of trees. Choosing one takes effort. It’s another fork in the road, and Wilson knows enough from the bus crash that every decision has consequences.

Finally he claims the one that looks out over the gardens, as well as the street. Its angle allows him to keep an eye on House, who’s parked across from the park underneath a large tree for shade. Wilson frowns, toying with his sandwich. He can’t help it. He’s worried about House, even though Chase calls him once a week to give him the latest update. It would be the best thing in the world if Wilson could simply let House go and move on, but it’s never that simple. Wilson could no more give up on House than stop breathing. But he’s not ready to close the distance yet. Too much feeling all at once, and Wilson wants to stay numb. He needs it, really.

Damnit, he’s starting to cry. Wilson rarely has fair warning before it starts up again. One minute, he’s ordering a sandwich, he smiles when he’s supposed to, he’s fine. The next, he’s undone, ruined, he’s sobbing on a park bench. There’s an odd whistling when he tries to catch his breath. Will it ever get better than this? He’s calculated his life expectancy and hopes the actuary charts are wrong. He doesn’t know if he will make it to the next morning, let alone through another thirty years of days just like this one.

Wiping his eyes, he’s perversely glad that House can see him crying. Another symptom for that proverbial whiteboard. Even from a distance, House has that look on his face, the one that’s trying to piece it all together. Disgusted, Wilson scrubs at his eyes even harder. He can hear it more clearly now, a whining in his chest. He can feel the pressure. It’s strange. He had asthma as a child, but he hasn’t had an attack since high school. But he shrugs. Can’t bring himself to get worked up about it. Wilson considers eating but instead tosses bits of his sandwich on the ground, delighting the pigeons. Turkey on rye. His favorite.

He glances back at the street. House is still there. Wilson is willing to bet that House is wishing he could steal his cookie. He’s got to give House credit for showing this much perseverance. Yesterday, Wilson lingered at the park for hours, trying to outlast him. Not surprisingly, House won. In all the years they’ve known each other, Wilson’s hardly won at anything except an occasional game of poker. But then again, Wilson cheats. But then again, House knows this.

Wilson’s not cheating now, and his diagnosis can’t be much of a challenge. His symptoms all line up in a row.

Lack of appetite, insomnia, apathy. Lethargy in body and soul.

Wilson wishes he could give House a more compelling diversion. Depression disorder is an easy assessment, and Wilson’s case is textbook. Ordinary grief, but he’d like to fold up in it and call it his own.

There’s a buzz in the air. Crickets and frogs. The park smells like fertilizer and damp grass. They’d never gone to the park together. Never had time. Amber was too busy trying to salvage a career after House fired her. Wilson spent all his time juggling his patients and her and House. Always figured they had plenty of time for sitting side by side at the park on a warm afternoon.

The wind is picking up. There’s a rattle in Wilson’s chest that is warning him of something, but it can’t be winter. It’s actually early summer but it feels more like fall, and maple leaves flutter to the ground around his feet. Grief would have him believe that the seasons are out of order. It’s self-indulgent and a little insane to believe that the earth’s axis has fundamentally shifted, just because his girlfriend died.

Amber’s dead. And Wilson no longer lives in a world with seasons.

It would be easiest to blame House for this, but Wilson doesn’t have the comfort of easy anger. Amber hid her stash in vitamin bottles. Her boyfriend was a doctor. As far as Wilson’s concerned, his own blindness is inexcusable and should effectively disqualify him from any further pursuit of medicine. He’s spent enough time in the company of a drug addict that he should have known better. How could he have missed it?

Wilson starts coughing, the pressure in his chest building. He’s going to have to get checked out if it gets any worse than this. He probably should go home anyways. There’s no way he’s going to outlast House today.

Offhandedly, Wilson glances across the street. In the Cutlass, House is in the middle of what looks like a heated discussion. Alone. Wilson has never, ever known House to talk to himself. There’s something about the emphatic punctuation of his hands. Wilson’s only known three people to set House off like that. Stacy. Himself. Amber.

And then Wilson knows.

He knows it. He can hardly breathe. It’s Amber. House is talking to Amber. He sees her. Like some deranged Shakespearean diviner, House sees.

How many times has Wilson watched House in the middle of a hallucination? The last time, just before his seizure, is too raw, too painful, but Wilson forces himself to think about it anyways. House is an eloquent storyteller. He brings his visions to life with devastating finesse. Wilson felt like he was there when Amber walked into the bar. When she caught the bus, holding his cane. When she sneezed and took the anti-virals. Impatient Amber, always looking for a quick fix. When the headlights of the truck backlit her hair, making her lovely and bright. Wilson was there when House tried to save her.

Just once more, Wilson has to see her again. There will never be enough, but it’s all he has left. He can hardly breathe. He literally can hardly breathe. He’s having an asthma attack, the first in decades, but Amber taught him to be brave. To go for it.

And Wilson is running. It’s a mistake; immediately, the tightness in his chest ratchets up, and his lungs ache with each breath. For once, House isn’t watching him. He’s far too engrossed in his argument with Wilson’s dead girlfriend. The car’s not that far away, but Wilson’s not sure he’s going to make it. As a kid, he never went anywhere without an inhaler but hasn’t bothered to get a prescription in years. But he picks up his pace. Has to get to House before he’s too late again. Before she’s gone.

It’s almost like waking out of a dream. Wilson feels alive, running towards the unseen, even though he’s obviously fighting to breathe. It makes sense. House and his unholy gift, tottering along the edge of prophecy. It might mean that House is crazy, but strangely enough, Wilson doesn’t care. The distance between them is finally closing.

But so are his airways.

Knowing what’s happening doesn’t make it any less irritating. Wilson finally knows what he wants, but he can’t breathe, dammit. And it’s more than ironic that the one time he’s actually dying, House isn’t even paying attention. He’s arguing with the dead, but Wilson doesn’t want to be left out. Don’t even say it, House.

You don’t always get what you want.

Like Wilson doesn't know that.

He’s almost to the car but no longer running. He’s staggering, collapsing actually, but House doesn’t turn around. Wilson drops to his knees, trying to crawl the last few feet, but he’s not going to make it. He curls onto his side, rubbing at his chest uselessly, trying to relieve the terrible tightness there. Wilson can’t remember it ever being this bad, and it came on so fast. He can’t get enough air. He wants to call for her – for House – but he really can’t breathe.

He knows exactly what’s wrong, but it’s not like knowing is helping. Wilson needs more oxygen, and his airways are closing. He tries to sit up again and hunch up his shoulders, but it only strains his abdominal muscles, trying to breathe. This isn’t good. Impending respiratory failure. Textbook. Damn.

But House never stays distracted for long, and he’s an awfully quick study. The door opens and House is in his face.

“Since when do you have asthma?” House growls. He always hates finding out there’s something he doesn’t know.

Wilson would be glad to tell him what to do with that, but he can’t spare the words. Breathe, he needs to breathe. But he also needs to know.

“Where… is she?” he manages.

He sees something – fear?--crossing House’s face.

“Where’s who?” House asks, too carefully, monitoring Wilson’s pulse with one hand and fiddling with his phone with the other.

Wilson only glares. He can’t spare words for stupid questions.

“You…saw her… talked to her.”

Doubling over, Wilson begins coughing so violently, he’s retching and vomits onto the street. Like breathing through sackcloth, he strains for another breath. House pulls him aside, out of the mess. House’s spare hand is everywhere, trying to assess, but Wilson grabs it. Needs to know. Now.

“Where?” he rasps. He’d cry, if he could. “Where’s Amber?”

“What the hell, Wilson?”

He’s managed to shock House, and Wilson feels it as an odd tingle of victory, but he can’t spare it. Every word costs him dearly.

“I know… you see her.”

“Amber’s dead.”

Wilson tries to push away. House sees her. He just knows it.

“Tell… me.” He’s talking in words, not in sentences.

“Keep still, damnit, Wilson.” House has gotten through on his phone and is firing out symptoms like ammunition. “Severe bronchospasms, acute onset, respiratory distress. Blue lips, rapid breathing. Yeah, he’s having retractions.”

Wilson has to know. “How?”

“I can’t see her!” House snaps. “She’s a hallucination… leftover shrapnel from having my hypothalamus fried. Now shut up and breathe. Damnit, Wilson, since when do you have asthma?”

“Always… sick… as a kid. House. Want to… see her.”

“You can’t. She’s dead.”


House has his arm braced around him, trying to keep him from falling headlong onto the street while keeping the airway open. Wilson isn’t even wheezing any more, but he knows this isn’t a good sign. He still can’t breathe. Silent chest is far more dangerous than wheezing. House knows it too. He’s as close to panicking as Wilson’s ever seen him.

“How long can this take? We’re only five blocks away from the ER…”

House sounds calm, but Wilson can feel his heart beating against his cheek, matching the pace of his own. Funny, how he’s being supported by House, rather than the other way around. There’s a first time for everything.

Wilson tries to hang on. If nothing else, he needs to know. He’s been suffocating slowly for weeks, but now that he’s dying for real, Wilson feels a curious longing to try and stay alive a little bit longer. Consciousness ebbs and flows with the trickle of air in his lungs; he’s running out of time.

“Hey, cut that out. Stay with me.”

“What…” Wilson starts to ask, but begins coughing instead. “What… does she say?”

“You idiot, just breathe. You’re making it worse.”

“Tell me.”

Wilson’s voice catches, because it’s all so chancy and woebegone – this life, death, and whatever comes in-between. And he’s sorry. Sorry for himself, sorry for Amber, and he’s even sorry for House. He’s angry too. Amber poisoned herself with drugs, House lured her to her death with a drunken phone call, and Wilson didn’t stop either one of them. He’d have lectured them both to the edge of the world and back, but he never protected either one of them from their excesses. Wilson knows himself to be the greatest of sinners, the guiltiest of them all. But House doesn’t know this. He still believes himself to be the one who Wilson hates.

“What do you want me to tell you?” House asks, roughly.


He actually wants everything, but that’s asking too much. House will have to figure it out himself. It’s their gift-- or curse, really—what they know about each other. Wilson tucks his head against House’s shoulder, trying to get close enough to hear. Sirens in the distance. It’s almost irritating. Dying is a distraction he doesn’t need right now, but he’s hardly getting any oxygen at all. Asthma is the kind of death House would never let him live down. After all, he’s almost died in a dozen different ways, and every one of them was interesting.

Besides, it would be stupid to die on a nice day like this, while the two of them are together again, sitting still, and Amber is so close by…

Oh, Amber.

She never had a chance. Maybe, they’d never have had a chance. Even if she lived, Wilson’s not sure he could have made her happy. He tries to suck in another breath, but it’s so hard… he’s just so sad.

House finally seems to understand that Wilson is waiting. The ambulance is on its way. There’s nothing House can do now. When it comes down to it, House has never been able to deny Wilson anything. That’s something that most casual observers really don’t understand.

House begins slowly, with palpable reluctance.

“She watches you. She wants you to eat better. Stop giving all your food to the pigeons.”

Wilson tries to smile. This actually sounds like Amber with a good helping of House mixed in. When she died, Wilson was only just beginning to learn where one left off and the other started. Despite House’s claims, he and Amber were not interchangeable.

But Wilson needs more, and he needs it soon. His fingernails are turning blue, all sprawled out on House’s lap, a position he couldn’t have imagined before. House’s leg must be hurting like hell. Wilson would tell him he’s sorry if he could. He’s sorry for a lot more than House’s crippled leg… but House is still talking.

“Breathe, just hang on. She wants to know why you’re not sleeping. She spent all that time on that mattress, the least you can do is use it.”

Wilson does use the mattress. Sometimes. But his vision is going fuzzy and closing in. Breathe. Again and again, in and out. Shouldn’t be that hard. Until Amber died, he’d been breathing just fine without thinking about it. Now it’s so much work, it would be easier to let go, but House is in his field of vision, irritated as hell and giving him a shake to prove it. Typical. House’s timing has always been awful. That’s what caused this whole tragedy in the first place. Insanely bad timing…

He must have drifted off, because the paramedics are here. Wilson’s lying on the ground, and House is giving orders. He feels the prick in his arm, before he comes up with a name for it. Epinephrine. No time for albuterol. It’s like a miracle, the path the medication forges towards his lungs. Almost all at once, he can breathe again.

His lungs feel expansive and wonderful. He’s still wheezing, but now he can feel the adrenaline, the air rushing in. He can see how close it was by the look on House’s face. Vaguely, Wilson remembers being hospitalized when he was a kid and wonders why he never asked his mother for details. Asthma hasn’t been something he’s thought about – kind of like the allergic reaction to the pertussis shot he had when he was five but only remembered after his arm swelled up at his last booster. It’s just been irrelevant, except now, that it isn’t.

There are so many things that can go wrong and so little that he can control. It’s a lesson that has not come easy.

Everyone seems to be arguing whether to intubate him. Wilson came very close to respiratory failure, and he’s not out of the woods yet. The techs don’t think it’s necessary, but they’re afraid of House. Wilson can’t really focus on the argument, so he’s not sure who won. Besides that, he’s sleeping…

He opens his eyes as the EMTs lift him onto the gurney. Breathing better, but still, he can’t get the words out. This is important. He’s glad House still sees Amber, even if she’s not real, and wants to tell him so. There are things he never got to tell her. Things she didn’t tell him. If there’s any chance at all… he needs to say them. House needs to hear them too. Yet, House is walking alongside the stretcher, like they’re in the middle of an ordinary conversation.

“I don’t want to hear it and neither does she,” he says. “No lame excuses. How hard it is to remember to carry an inhaler?”

Wilson hasn’t carried an inhaler since he was in high school. Amber might not know that, but House surely does. House knows his medical history since he’s been at Princeton, because he steals his file and makes copies every time it’s updated. House has got to know that Wilson knows that.

And he knows one more thing, and it’s important. Wilson knows that House tried to save her. He wishes he’d told Amber. Wilson would tell House that and more, but House leans in before he can try.

“She knows, Wilson. Apparently, so do I.”

Hearing this helps, even though Wilson’s not sure that House has the faintest clue what he wanted to say. He knows House isn’t channeling Amber and that he can’t read minds either. He knows this, and yet there’s always a chance with House.

Instead Wilson manages to grumble, “Stop following me… damn stalker.”

House almost smiles. “Such gratitude for saving your life… like the meter maid was going to be willing to do a trach with her Hertz car keys...”

They’re loading Wilson into the ambulance. He hears medical terms tossed around, and this time, he’s following, so he can make his own decisions in the ER. The EMTs are checking everything, but House will grill them at the hospital anyways. Parameters at presentation: pulse and respiratory rate, ph, duration of onset, peak airway pressure, minute ventilation, tidal volume, and fraction of inspired oxygen. They’re setting up the IV. It all means one thing. Wilson almost bought it this time.

House is still standing next to the open doors of the ambulance, leaning heavily on his cane. If he lifts his head, Wilson can still see him, glaring from outside. They are going to have to do this friendship their own way, which probably means messily and badly. Although House has never really made Wilson happy, he brings something else to the table, something every bit as fundamental but less easily defined.

Take care of yourself.

That’s really what Amber wanted for Wilson, more than happiness. It's what she wants him to know. He’s suddenly pretty sure that she wouldn’t begrudge him help getting it, even if that help comes from House.

Wilson has no doubt that House will be tailgating the ambulance, a fact that’s oddly comforting. He will never let go of Wilson. It’s what Amber had come to accept. It’s also why he and Amber might have had a chance together. House was going to be part of the deal, custody battles notwithstanding. Wilson knows that’s why Amber went to pick House up from the bar. She could have just as easily told him to call a cab.

As the ambulance accelerates, sirens blaring, Wilson sneaks another look out the back window. The Cutlass is keeping up, less than a car’s distance between them. While he’s not all you could want in a best friend, House has always been good at sticking around.

The End


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