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“I don’t understand,” Booth said after House and Foreman interrupted his vigil in Brennan’s room and motioned him outside to explain their mefloquine theory. “You’re saying that Brennan was taking some medicine in the Mulatto… Mollusko… in Indonesia that made her sick?

“Yes,” Foreman confirmed. “She probably didn’t think to mention it when we took her history because she had her last dose a couple of weeks ago. But this drug sticks around in the body for a long time, and the neurological issues can last for months afterwards.”

“We’d like to keep her here under observation until we’re sure that she’s not going to experience any more serious side effects,” House said.

“But now that you know what’s wrong, you can treat her, right? Make her better.”

“You have to understand,” Foreman said, “that there may not be much we can do except wait until the drug clears out of her system.”

House glared at him. “Et tu, Foreman?”

“What are the other options?” Booth asked.

“Well, we could have her transferred to a psychiatric hospital,” Foreman explained, ignoring House’s annoyance. “I imagine that it would make it easier on her friends and family if she were being cared for in the DC area instead of here.”

Booth lowered his voice. “She seems to be in pretty bad shape right now. Are you sure it’s safe to move her?”

“We understand your concerns, but-“

“NO,” House interrupted Foreman loudly, “it is not safe. We need to continue to keep a close eye on her until we know she’s stable.” To his credit, Foreman only allowed his jaw to drop a little.

Booth looked from one doctor to the other with a frown. “I think I’m going to need a second opinion.”

Great,” House responded. “Let’s go see Dr. Cuddy and explain the situation.”

Booth’s lips twisted in a disbelieving smirk. “No offense, but I think I’d rather consult with someone who’s in a position to be a little more objective about your cases.”

“Actually,” House assured him, “she’s been letting me get away with a lot less since we started having sex.”

***

Booth found Dr. Saroyan and Dr. Sweets having lunch together in the cafeteria. Cam immediately rose to give him a hug. “How are you holding up, Seeley?”

“Been better,” he admitted quietly, before breaking away and pulling up a chair. “I have some big decisions to make.”

“Have Dr. Brennan’s doctors figured out what’s wrong with her?”

“They think they know,” Booth said, massaging his temples. “Of course, they thought that the first few times, too.”

“Much as we wish it were, medicine isn’t an exact science,” Cam said, not without sympathy. “What’s the current diagnosis?”

“Side effects of her malaria medicine.”

“Oh, wow,” Sweets said. “I’ve heard of that happening. It’s pretty rare, though. Usually people just get these really vivid and disturbing dreams. But there have been documented cases of paranoia and even hallucinations.”

"Ahh, see?" Booth burst out, leveling a finger at Sweets. "It wasn't about Hannah at all, Bones was just worried because of the mefliwhatzit."

"The two explanations are not mutually exclusive," the psychologist shrugged.

"Down, boys," Cam broke in impatiently. "So, Seeley, what's the next step?"

"Well, I was hoping to get your recommendation, Cam."

"I can try," she agreed doubtfully. "But I'd like to hear more from Dr. House first."

“Sure,” Booth said. “Let’s go up and have a chat with him when you’re done here.”

“Get yourself something to eat,” Cam urged him. “We’ll wait.”

“Nah,” Booth replied, shoving his chair back. “I’m gonna make a phone call. I’ll meet you in House’s office.”

The other two exchanged glances behind him. “How’s Hannah been taking this?” Sweets asked in a low voice.

“I haven’t heard,” Cam answered. “But she can’t be thrilled that he’s been out of town practically since she returned from Afghanistan.”

“I knew it,” Sweets muttered, meditatively munching on a french fry.

***

“Hannah, hey.”

“Hey yourself, stranger. What’s going on?”

“Good news! The docs figured out what’s wrong with Bones. Some kind of side effect from her malaria medicine.”

“Really? So she’s going to be all right?”

“Well, actually, she’s still having a pretty rough time of it, and it may take a while for the drug to clear out of her system.”

“When did they say she would be released?”

“They’re not sure. It sounded like it could be months.” On the heels of her sharp intake of breath, Booth added hurriedly, “But we might be able to transfer her to another hospital closer to DC. At least that way I’ll be able to come home every night.”

“Now you’re talkin’. When will you know?”

“Cam and Sweets are up here and we’re gonna meet with her doctor. I should probably get going.”

“Okay. I miss you, Seeley.”

“I miss you too.”

***

House looked up sharply and pulled off his reading glasses as a shapely woman with glossy black hair pushed open the door to his office. “Dr. House?” He said nothing as she advanced confidently across the room to stand directly in front of his desk. “Camille Saroyan, head of Forensics at the Jeffersonian.”

He ran his eyes appreciatively down her body, then looked past her to Booth, Sweets trailing behind him. “You’ve brought reinforcements.”

“Hey,” Booth said, “we’re on the same side here. We both want what’s best for Bones, right?”

“’kay,” House agreed. Then, raising his voice, “How’s it hanging, Lance? Talking cure not as effective as you expected?”

Sweets ignored the gibe and strode up to stand next to the others in a cramped semicircle. “Agent Booth tells us that you and your team have reached a consensus regarding Dr. Brennan’s case.”

“About her diagnosis, yes. If we were in consensus about her condition, I doubt you’d be here.”

“How confident are you that you’re right?” Cam asked.

House leaned back in his chair. “I’m always confident that I’m right. I find it confusing to operate under the opposite assumption.”

Sweets smiled slowly. “Fair enough. Contrary to what you might think, you are the acknowledged expert here. So, assuming that you are right, what are the associated risks of moving Dr. Brennan to another facility?”

“Impossible to estimate,” House answered obstinately. “Outcomes have too high a degree of variability.”

“And yet you believe that it’s in Dr. Brennan’s best interests to remain here at Princeton Plainsboro,” Cam recapitulated.

“I think it’s in her best interest to remain under observation by the best diagnostics department in the country, yeah.”

“I’m sure that your reputation in diagnostics is richly deserved,” Sweets said. “But isn’t ongoing oversight somewhat out of the ordinary for you?”

“We’re willing to make an exception for such an interesting case,” House allowed.

Booth blew out his breath in disgust. “I knew it. Bones is an interesting case. She isn’t even a human being to you. I bet she has more sympathy for her skeletons than you do for your patients.” He shook his head. “Don’t get me wrong; you’ve done your job, and I’m grateful. But I’m gonna get her out of here. She deserves to be surrounded by people who actually care about her.”

House’s eyes darkened, although he didn’t deny the accusations. “At least let us keep her overnight to make sure that she’s physically stable.”

“All right,” Booth agreed. “But if nothing has changed by tomorrow, I want to take her back to DC with us.” He turned and walked out of the office, Drs. Sweets and Saroyan behind him.

As the door swung shut, House heard Sweets say softly but distinctly, “What an asshole.”

***

“The door was closed for a reason,” Wilson said mildly as House limped unannounced into his office.

“And now it’s closed again for a reason,” House said, sinking onto the couch and absent-mindedly rubbing his thigh. “We solved the Brennan case.”

“Drugs?” Wilson hazarded.

House looked up at him sharply. “Lariam. Who talked?”

“No one,” Wilson said. Then, “Today,” he amended. “So what’s the prognosis?”

“Right now she’s still experiencing full-blown psychosis. Could take weeks or months for full recovery.”

“And you want to keep her here.”

House shrugged. “Can’t risk transferring her to some rehab center when it’s impossible to predict her trajectory. There could still be respiratory problems, liver failure…”

“Yeah,” Wilson said sarcastically. “They’d have no idea how to deal with drug clearance issues in rehab.” He pointed an accusing finger. “You’re actually trying to be nice.”

“Spare me,” House snarled, struggling back to his feet.

“Let me rephrase that. You identify with this patient.” Wilson lowered his voice but was too smart to allow sympathy to creep into it. “You know how terrifying it is to hallucinate, to not be able to trust the evidence of your own senses. And you remember Mayfield too well to wish a similar experience on her.”

House scowled at him from the doorway. “I’ll thank you to keep your idiotic excuses for psychoanalysis to yourself, at least until I’ve convinced that caveman of hers.”

Wilson spread his hands. “House. It’s either that, or you’re feeling guilty because you dicked around for days without diagnosing her and helpless now that you know that there’s nothing you can do. As far as I’m concerned, either of those motivations would be a good thing.”

He smiled down at his desk when his office door slammed and went back to his patient file.

***

House was restless. Wilson’s words kept repeating themselves in his thoughts like a broken record, and while he still thought them ridiculous, he couldn’t seem to come up with better reasons for his conviction that Brennan was better off here, with him. He chased his fellows out to have their lunches, claiming that he couldn’t think with their food stinking up the place, and then cranked up “Exile on Main Street” until the walls pulsated and Wilson crossed the balcony to complain. Chastened, he tried resorting to quieter distractions, but the best porn that the internet had to offer couldn’t compete with smoke blue eyes in a frightened face.

Finally he grabbed his cane and headed for the elevator.

***

In the psych ward, Agent Booth was in his usual position at Brennan’s side. House limped into the room and jerked his chin at the chair. “Hey. You look like the kind of guy who would offer his seat to old ladies and cripples.” Booth glowered but consented to rise from the chair, whereupon House collapsed into it with a soft grunt of relief. “Give us a minute.”

Booth opened and closed his mouth but said nothing. “Counting to five? Are we gonna be here a while?”

“I’ll be right outside,” Booth growled, leaving at last.

House sat for what seemed like a long time, hunched forward, focusing on the features of Brennan’s unconscious face, his cane tapping erratically against the floor as if of its own volition. He wasn’t sure exactly what he had expected, but he’d hoped that being in the same room with her would inspire him, either with an approach to treatment or with an insight as to why he couldn’t seem to fucking let go of her case now that his usual role was over. But he only sat, his mind skipping from one useless thought to another, as Brennan slept and her partner paced, and at last he heaved himself to his feet and beckoned to Booth to reenter the room.

But just then, Brennan’s eyelids fluttered, and before House could back away from the bed, out of her line of sight, she opened her clouded blue eyes wide, blanched, and jerked against her restraints, struggling unsuccessfully to sit up.

“It’s all right,” he said quickly. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Why are you here?”

“Your case interested me,” he said, feeling a surge of optimism at her obvious ability to perceive him and engage in conversation, at least temporarily. “And we think very much alike in some ways, so… I thought that I might be able to help you.”

Brennan’s color was coming back. “We do think alike in many ways. Rationality and evidence are very important to us. But… I would never have allowed logic alone to dictate my actions in the ways that you have. The ends do not always justify the means.”

House cocked his head. “Even if the end is saving a life?”

Her expression became severe. “What you did,” she said slowly, “was the opposite of saving a life.”

“I know that our attempts to diagnose your illness were unsuccessful at first, but you are going to get better,” House replied, more confidently than he felt.

But now Brennan frowned in bemusement. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I thought that you were here to help us solve our case.”

House stared at her thoughtfully for a few seconds. “Dr. Brennan, do you know who I am?”

“Of course, I do, Zack,” she said. “I’m just surprised to see you outside of the asylum again.”

House looked sharply at Booth, whose eyes had widened. “Zack Addy,” he clarified. “Her former grad student. He confessed to killing someone but was judged NGRI and committed.”

Suppressing a shiver at the uncanny parallels that Brennan’s subconscious had apparently detected, House turned back to her, choosing his next words very carefully. “Of course you are,” he said. “But I think I can explain. Dr. Brennan, neither of us are religious people. We prefer to believe in the evidence of our senses.”

“Agreed,” she said. “But what does this have to do with-“

“Just hear me out,” he urged her, holding up his hand. “We also know, as scientists, that sensory data are not always reliable.”

“Of course,” she nodded. “Our senses can be tricked by certain types of illusions. We can also fail to perceive things if our neurons become damaged, or perceive things that don’t exist in reality when under the influence of drugs or mental illness.”

“Exactly,” House confirmed. “Now, the advantage that we have is that even when our senses fool us, we can use logical reasoning to determine, if not the truth, then at least the fact that our perceptions cannot be trusted under the current circumstances.” He leaned forward, looking at her intently. “Dr. Brennan, can you recall the events of the past twenty-four hours?”

Brennan frowned even more fiercely, but she wasn’t actually angry, merely making an effort to remember. “I’ve been here,” she said, “in the hospital, alone.”

“And before this?”

“Hodgins and I were trapped underground, and Booth rescued me.” She paled, staring at him in horror. “Taffet is out there! Where’s Booth? He has to warn everyone and find her!”

House raised his voice authoritatively. “Try to calm down. Now, how did you get from being buried alive to this hospital?”

His insistent gaze caught and held her, prevented her from teetering over the edge of blind panic. “I… I don’t remember.”

“Do you remember being in the hospital before you were rescued?”

She stared back at him, then nodded slowly. “Yes. I was… I was sick. Dr. Foreman suspected that I might have a brain tumor.” Suddenly realization dawned. “Booth had hallucinations because of his tumor. Is that what’s happening to me?”

“Yes and no,” House answered. “It’s not a tumor in your case. But you have been having hallucinations, both vivid sensory impressions of being buried alive and inhibited perception of… of someone who apparently cares about you and has not left you alone.”

Brennan closed her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. When she opened them again, they were unnaturally bright as she focused on his face. “Dr. House,” she murmured, and he nodded, the corner of his mouth curling up in relief. “And you’re saying that Booth is… here?”

“Even if you can’t see him, I promise you that he is here.” Brennan smiled trustingly, and the FBI agent snuffled and shot forward to take hold of her hand.

***

“Hannah, it’s me.”

“Hey, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you again so soon! Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat. “More than okay. Brennan’s getting better.”

“Oh, Seeley, that’s fantastic!”

“Yeah, it is. I have to give credit where credit is due, House actually found a way to get through to her.”

Really? Huh. Well, that’s great! Surprising, but great. So… what’s the plan?”

“Well, under the circumstances, I’ve decided that she should stay here until they’re sure she’s well enough to go home. So, uh… I’m going to stick around for a while.”

“I bet Brennan must be impatient to get out of there and get back to work.”

“Actually, she’s been pretty out of it. She, um, still doesn’t always know where she is.”

“But she recognizes you now, right?” When he hesitated, Hannah huffed in annoyance. “No? Honestly, why don’t you just come home? It sounds like there’s not a lot that you can do for her right now.”

“I can be here for her,” Booth said sharply. “And that’s what I’m going to do. I hope that you can understand.”

There was a pause. “Sure, Seeley,” Hannah said, a little unsteadily. “You do what you have to do.”

***

Drs. Saroyan and Sweets found Booth sitting by Brennan's bedside, holding her hand and looking more relaxed than they had seen him since arriving at PPTH. But when Cam opened the door and beckoned to him, he reluctantly released Brennan's fingers and got up to join them in the hallway.

“Seeley, I called around and got a recommendation for a facility just outside of DC. We could take Dr. Brennan down there tomorrow if you wanted.”

“Thanks Cam, but actually, I’ve decided to keep her here. House had a bit of a breakthrough this afternoon, and, well, I feel like Bones is better off with someone who speaks her language. I just told Hannah that I’ll be staying here too, until she’s able to come home.”

“Really?” Sweets asked, his face lighting up. “That’s fantastic. I’m so glad to see that you’ve been able to acknowledge your feelings for Dr. Brennan again and-“

“Sweets,” Booth said tiredly, “Knock it off. I told you, I’ve moved on. Stop trying to make this more than it is.”

“Sure,” Sweets nodded, obediently schooling his features into an expression of solemnity. But he lingered in the hallway on a hunch, and when he looked back into Brennan’s room, Booth was bending over her and brushing his lips to her damp forehead. Sweets broke into a triumphant smirk as he hurried after Cam.

Read Epilogue: War Stories

 

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