title: please leave a message (march 2009)
author: the unreliable narratress
fandom: House MD
episode/spoiler: post-4.16 Wilson’s Heart
rating: pg, gen
warning: none I can think of
summary: House tries to call Wilson, but ends up with Amber’s voice on the answering machine instead (short-oneshot)
disclaimer: I have to feed a seven year old wabbit and a half a year old computer so please don't sue me. Seriously: I hope the idea to this story is mine, but I do not intend to touch the rights of the owner of the characters from House MD I’ve used. No moneymaking, no offence meant.
„You’ve reached the phone of…“
He disconnects the call without waiting for more; there is no need to listen to it. Hearing her voice again sends his heart tumbling around in his chest, careening like a drunk driver losing control over his car.
He drops his cell onto the couch, where it mercifully vanishes between the couch cushions and then sits down. Maybe he should try to shrink and follow his phone into oblivion.
A handful of pills and a glass of Scotch take care of his heart and he wakes, a few hours later, to the dull vibration of his cell phone, wedged underneath his cheek like a sad excuse of a security blanket.
He spends the next two nights in the hospital, trying to diagnose a patient by sorting through lies and concealed truths and more symptoms than the whiteboard can hold. There is no time to think about a voice, preserved on an answering machine, like a fly trapped eons ago in a piece of… amber…
The third night he’s back in his apartment; back to booze and pills and the satisfaction of a puzzle well solved. He tries to hold on to the buzz, but it gets harder and harder.
His eyes wander over the coffee table, as if he’s committing it to memory. An empty glass smeared with greasy fingerprints from a hasty dinner of takeout, crumpled napkins, an almost empty bottle of Scotch, two vials with varying amounts of Vicodin… and his cell phone, discarded along with his keys.
No Wilson to join him; slapping his fingers for picking from his half of the pizza or complaining about having to tidy up the place before he could even think about sitting down to eat. There wouldn’t be much to complain these days, though. He had Lady clean the apartment while he was at the hospital, as if she could discard memories along with dust bunnies and empty bottles.
He grabs the phone and after a few seconds of hesitation, dials her number. If Wilson should answer, he’ll turn it a prank call instead. Or he’ll just disconnect and forget about it. His pulse speeds up when he hears the faint buzz of electronic switches engaging and disengaging to allow a machine to answer calls…
He glares down the glass and the bottle as if they are the culprits forcing him to wait out her lame message.
Cuddy spent a hour in front of his apartment this afternoon, going from polite knocking and quite concerned inquiries to very un-lady-like kicking his door while cursing his stubbornness. Her parting words were along the lines of “him needing to get back in control before he could return to work”.
All the fuzz because he walked out on a patient after Cuddy forced him to do Clinic hours. The puzzled woman went to the nurse station to ask if she did something wrong and that’s how Cuddy got involved in it.
A young blonde sitting on the edge of the examination table, dangling her legs and playing with a bright red scarf loosely slung around her neck and shoulders. For a second he saw Amber sitting there instead, smirking at him from across the other side of the bus. He backed out the room and walked away; kept walking blindly until he found himself standing outside hospital.
Kutner joined him after a while, awkwardly holding the cane he forgot in the examination room in both hands as if he was afraid of dropping and breaking it. His fellow didn’t look at him as he delivered Cuddy’s carefully phrased message to take the rest of the day off. She even went so far as to call a cab for him, because she confiscated his keys earlier that week, despite the ‘clean’ bill of health Foreman gave him after a final MRI of his skull. She tried to force him to take more time to recover, but caved after a few days when Cameron brought a new case from the ER and his fellows wouldn’t come up with a diagnosis – much to Foreman’s anger. </blockquote>
Lost in thoughts he almost misses the signal at the end of her message and silence greets him. He didn’t think of anything to say and the machine clicks again and disconnects the call before he can come up with something.
He closes the phone and buries it beneath a cushion before he reaches for the bottle, forgoing the glass.
* * *
A few nights later he listens again to CTB’s voice, telling him to leave a message. This time he’s already in bed, sitting up, a pillow in his back, another one supports his right knee, keeping the bad leg slightly elevated and fairly relaxed. He keeps the cell phone jammed between shoulder and ear, while he waits for the recorded message to end; using the right hand to massage his thigh underneath the soft flannel of an old pyjama pant. The fingers of the left hand fiddle with a bottle of Vicodin, swirling it around and around like a charm. Only a few pills are left and they click tumbling against each other and the plastic walls. It almost sounds like someone whispers in his ear.
The message ends and he starts breathing again, finally realising he had been holding his breath all the time. As a result his voice sounds thin and airy and somehow shaky as he speaks: “I’m sorry.”
It feels like he just made a prank call or left an obscene message and he lets the cell slip free and fall to the sheet, where it vanishes in a sea of folds next to his hip.
* * *
He reasons with himself that Wilson never listens to the messages.
Because there is no call, no text message or even an ordinary letter mailed to his office telling him to stop calling the answering machine of a dead woman. Neither does the recorded message change - knowing his former best friend House simply assumes Wilson couldn’t bring himself to even touch the damned thing to unplug it.
After some more calls, late at night, to Amber’s answering machine he starts to feel like a lovesick teenager. But somehow never receiving an answer seems to make it somehow okay. It’s not like he’s hurting anybody. Wilson doesn’t know or doesn’t care. CTB won’t. And he’s hanging onto the last bare thread of connection he has with Wilson.
He keeps the messages short, not because of the limit of recording time, because he can’t bring himself to say more. What would there be to say?
Some nights he simply waits and listens, and a part of him hopes there will be an answer after the phone rings out. A real voice instead a dead recording.
Some nights he hangs up as soon as she starts to recite her phone number. Did she have to sound that bored while she recorded it?
More days and even more nights go by but Wilson doesn’t return to the hospital.
He starts to call every night, but every time only the answering machine takes the call.
He starts to wonder if Wilson simply deletes the messages without listening to them first. In the short time Wilson lived with her they never got around coordinating their phone lines, so if anybody’s trying to reach him it wouldn’t be by using Amber’s landline.
Maybe the first thing Wilson does every morning is to press the delete button and the flashing “1 new message” vanishes from the display.
He rather likes that idea. It’s like the calls don’t happen in the first place; as if he never allowed himself to be weak and vulnerable. Keeps the façade intact.
He can’t imagine Wilson sitting in the darkness, listening first to the recorded voice of his dead girlfriend, than to the voice of his ex-best friend. Wilson might have the makings of a martyr, but he’s not a masochist.
But maybe the machine is left completely untouched, the figure on the display not only marking the number of missed calls, but also counting the days of silence like a digital calendar.
* * *
Another day... or to be precise: another night. He’s still in the hospital, working late. After he sent his fellows away to arrange more tests and generally keep their patient alive, he dragged the Whiteboard into his office, locked the door and closed the blinds. Hours later the scribbled down symptoms still refuse to make any sense to him.
Exhaustion settles heavily upon him as he pushes his wheeled chair back until he reached his desk. Someone pushed the extra chair usually sitting there aside and he faces his desk like a visitor would. Bracing his elbows against the desk, he presses his fingers into his temples, vainly trying to massage away a mounting headache. He can still feel the oddly smooth new skin of the tiny scars; leftovers from when they bolted his head to the scaffold during the DBS.
He feels safe behind closed blinds and locked doors – safe enough to allow himself moments of weakness, of exhaustion, of doubt.
His cell lies discarded in the middle of the desk, like a forgotten toy. He starts to push it around, sends it spinning towards the edge and back again.
Finally he takes it, flips it open and goes through the list of saved phone numbers. At any other time he would have called Wilson, talked trash to him and listen to his complaints about being called in the middle of the night. He would have waited for something to ‘click’ in his brain, to put everything together.
He skips over Wilson’s number until ‘CTB lair’ is shown on the display. Then he presses the button and waits.
The machine dutifully delivers its recorded message and he starts to talk, almost stumbling over words in his desire to get through all the symptoms before he runs out of time. A vague idea starts forming in the back of his mind…
...as a voice breaks into his thoughts. A real voice.
The voice of a woman.
She sounds sleepy and mildly confused as she wants to know ‘who is this?’.
He drops the cell as if it suddenly turned hot in his hand and the connection breaks up. Fighting down an irrational surge of rage about the interruption of what by now had turned in to an almost comforting ritual, he stares at the silent phone. Beneath the rage shame of being caught by a stranger surfaces slowly.
Who was she? Was Wilson already back to seek more familiar ways of comfort? But why would a… a fling answer the phone? Maybe someone who knew Amber... a friend or a visiting relative, most probably the latter if she took the call… He didn’t know a thing about her family background, he never got a change to dig deeper as they started battling for custody…
Grabbing the cell he chooses another phone number. Foreman answers and he orders him to again grill the patient in regards of his family background, to get an even more detailed history - much to Foreman’s obvious frustration. He ends the call without listening to Foreman’s complaints and leans back in his chair.
Slowly the symptoms start to make sense and all he has to do to wait for Foreman to call and confirm his theory.
But this time even solving the puzzle leaves nothing but emptiness.
* * *
In the wee hours of the morning he’s back at home and settled down on the couch. Pulling his cell out of the pocket he makes a final call.
After the recorded message ends, he leaves only two words: “Thank you.”
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