( Collapse )
( Collapse )
It took a while for House to get back to where he used to be. Things happened on television just like that, sure, but just like that was television and television, while fantastic for entertainment purposes and whacking off when the urge struck, was far from reality. Everyone with a brain cell to spare knew that you couldn’t even rely on cooking shows for a little honesty along with the truffles; most of ‘em made the food before they taped the episode. Losers. But that was TV.
So, while a character from an afternoon movie might’ve gone from years of limping to marathon running in three days, the truth was that physical therapy sucked. The truth was that House didn’t manage those eight miles to work for two and a half months, and even then the first time was—well, glorious, but he was sore.
His muscles just weren’t used to it any more.
If the ketamine held, though, they were going to get used to it again, whether they liked the idea or not; they were definitely gonna get used to it. Because there was nothing quite the same as running, starting off and hitting your stride, running and running and thinking for awhile maybe you’d never slow down, never feeling that pain that had become, over the years, so much a part of you it might’ve been an extra limb.
His palm was still callused, which annoyed him. He was accustomed to the calluses, of course, but they reminded him of what he didn’t particularly want to remember. And, sure, in the back of his mind maybe he thought every now and then about what might happen if the ketamine didn’t hold, but that was just thinking and thinking didn’t mean anything unless you acted on it. His father’d always said that; actions are everything, Gregory. What a shit-faced hypocritical bastard. Bastard, all right.
House punched his left hand with his right.
If they weren’t related, things would’ve been a hell of a lot better for him. That was for sure. But that was fate, you got what cards you were dealt and played them as best you could, and what was he thinking?
You got the cards you were dealt and swapped ‘em on the sly, baby, ‘til you got the best cards at the table and then you played everyone else under the table so they lost everything but their shirts and froze their nads off.
Where the hell was his cane, anyway?
Okay, so House didn’t know where that particular thought had come from, or which primordial sea from whose depths it chose to surface, but it was a shocker. He didn’t need it any more—with luck he’d never need it again—so what did he care? Well, maybe he wondered just a little, as it had been a pretty good cane, but now it was just a long thin piece of metal with a curvy grippy bit at one end that attracted the chicks.
No. He was not going to waste valuable time searching his apartment for a cane when he could walk. No way.
He was going to have a drink and sleep. Like normal people. And then he was going to ride to work, like normal people, and pester Wilson like normal people and he was not, absolutely not, going to look for his cane, and what the hell maybe he left it in the closet that’d only take a minute. If it only took a minute it wasn’t really looking.
Turned out looking took more than a minute. By two A.M. House’s floor was covered in various articles of clothing, most of which he hadn’t seen in a year and a half, and he was blasting something from the nineteen-eighties and cursing a blue streak:
“Damn it damn it damn it, where the fuck did I put the fucking thing?”
And narrating for the benefit of… well, no one exactly:
“I checked the closet… checked the dresser… checked the… damn it!”
And generally being pissed off.
By three-thirty A.M. House was asleep. No luck on the cane front. That housekeeper Wilson pity-hired for him awhile ago, though—now she was going to have her hands full. But what the heck, why else did he pay the woman?
Okay. Technically, Wilson paid her, but friends didn’t let friends throw money down the drain. Unless he was the drain, of course, in which case—keep it comin’.
Trouble started the next morning. He ran to work again and showered when he got there, loving the way he could stand on both feet, shifting his weight for the hell of it and shaking his head like a dog. Then, of course, because life was like that, somebody paged him.
True to form, House ignored it.
When he’d got the shampoo in his hair, the pager went off again. Beep beep beep. He should’ve smashed the damn thing ages ago.
“Shut up,” House snapped, though he knew perfectly well that there was no one around to hear him and he might as well have hollered at the nearest wall, which was essentially what he was doing anyway.
Beep beep beep.
Now he had to get out of the shower, walk across the room to his jacket, cold and wet—good thing he was alone, all right, because the scar tissue was still there even if the pain wasn’t, and it just wasn’t your ordinary conversation topic; look, ladies and gents and old lady on the corner, there’s a significant chunk of my thigh gone, you ever seen anything quite like it?
But he walked to his jacket anyway. Cuddy. What could she possibly want? Way too early for him to be doing clinic hours. Way too early for him to be at work. And because she couldn’t have known he was at work, that meant she thought he was at home. And if she thought he was at home, that meant they were currently in the middle of (a) an emergency or (b) the apocalypse, the only two reasons anyone would ever disturb him when he wasn’t working.
Odds were it wasn’t the apocalypse.
He changed and sprinted to the elevators—it was great, the sprinting thing—and was pounding irritably on the door of her office in less than five minutes.
“You better have a good reason for—”
The secretary opened it.
Damn, he hated that man.
“Dr. House, don’t you think it’s a little early to—”
“Step aside. Cripple coming through.” House looked down. Oops. “Ex-cripple coming through. Seniority rights. Get your ass out of my way.”
“If you’ll wait a moment, Dr. House, I’ll see if she’s—”
“If you’ll wait a moment—she paged me. Move.”
The secretary moved. Smart guy.
Cuddy was sitting behind her desk, staring morosely at her own pager, and she didn’t look especially happy. Sure, she ordinarily didn’t look especially happy when he barged into her office at odd hours, making a fuss and offending her secretary’s “sensitive moral core” (the man actually had one)—but something was off.
“What’s up?” he asked, falling ungracefully into a chair and whacking his toe on the footstool.
“Bad news,” Cuddy said, still refusing to look at him.
“O-kay.” House drew the word out and waited. And waited.
“Bad news like more innocent children starving in Africa, or bad news like hey, House, a meteor just hit your apartment and Cameron is offering her spare room?”
“Bad news like Wilson is in the hospital,” and Cuddy was looking at him now, and, oh, shit.
“Wilson’s in the hospital. This hospital.” Cuddy’s eyes were wet.
“He does work here, you know. There’s a door with his name on it and everything.”
And now he was the one studying his pager like it might as well’ve been the fucking Rosetta Stone.
“What’s wrong with him?” he said finally. Not because he wanted to know or anything. Wilson would probably be fine. Probably was fine, actually. Probably tripped over his ego, something stupid like that. Sprain maybe. No big.
“He was attacked in the clinic last night. A woman came in who’d been repeatedly reported for disturbing the peace in her apartment building—someone apparently got a little too tired of her, tried to eviscerate her with a butter knife. Wilson was working late, and he took her case.”
“If she’d been eviscerated, why the hell was she in the clinic?”
“I said tried, House. Tried. There wasn’t too much damage. She was a real fighter, held him off—just needed a few stitches.”
“Wilson learned fucking stitching in medical school.” House was just about spitting the words through his teeth, like they were seeds he wanted to get rid of, gritty and stuck up against his gums.
Cuddy looked at her desk again, moved some things around on her blotter, tried to avoid saying what came next, was very obvious about it. “House—there’s something I have to tell you.”
“She didn’t have a weapon when she came in—”
“Wilson got his ass kicked barehanded? That’s rich.”
“But she had access to one in the clinic room. It was your cane, House.”
“Your cane. You must have left it down in the clinic sometime before the ketamine. Wilson stepped out to speak with a nurse. The patient was waiting for him when he walked back inside. I don’t think he stood a chance.”
House stood. “And where the fuck was everyone else for this? Wilson didn’t fight? Call for help? They all deaf?”
“No—he did call for help, House. He managed to push the call button. Police have her in custody as we speak. But—House—” Cuddy was on her feet by now, too. He was aleady heading for the door. He stopped and stayed where he was, facing the glass, looking out into the hospital.
“He’s not in very good shape,” she said finally.
“Yeah. I got that when you said a sociopathic patient beat the shit out of him.”
“I just wanted to make sure that—”
“I can handle seeing him?”
“You’re not stupid, House; you know that even doctors often have a hard time with something like this, and—”
House spun around. “No. I’m not stupid. That’s why I wouldn’t be going if I couldn’t handle seeing him. I don’t need to hear the same spiel Cameron’s given family members a hundred times. I have my name on a door too, in case you forgot.”
She didn’t say anything this time, so he went back to leaving.
“House,” she murmured just as he was letting the door swing shut, but he caught the end of the sentence—“House, I’m sorry.”
They’d put Wilson on the third floor, in a corner room, and House’s first impression was that he looked embarrassed. Embarrassed and affronted.
“Hey,” Wilson said, studying the bedsheets. People were doing a lot of examining inanimate objects lately. At least when House was around.
“Hey.” House stepped over the threshold, and then said nothing at all.
Wilson glanced up.
He didn’t look good.
A greenish-yellow monstrosity spreading across his left cheekbone. The beginnings of a shiner. From the looks of the tape, cracked ribs. Probably a couple dozen more bruises under the gown that he couldn’t see. Wilson was sitting there like he was made of glass, didn’t want to move around too much in case he’d break. He had to be in a shitload of pain.
The bruise—his cane. Almost looked just like his cane. He could’ve held the cane up to the injury and it would’ve fit perfectly. Shadows of violence.
“So I guess you heard about what happened,” Wilson said finally.
“You’re the talk of the hospital.”
“Yeah. Great.” Wilson looked at the bedsheets again. House walked over and sat down in one of the guest chairs. They were remarkably uncomfortable—as if visiting relatives weren’t already in enough pain, right?
“Knew you couldn’t hold your own in a bar fight.”
“Hey.” Wilson smirked. “She surprised me, okay?”
“Oh come on; you got your ass whupped by an old lady with stitches in her belly. It doesn’t get worse than that.” House glanced at the IV—pain medication, he’d bet, and a heart monitor, which was pretty ridiculous because Wilson obviously wasn’t dying or getting ready to have a coronary or something but regulations were ridiculous a lot of the time anyway.
“You in a lot of pain?” he said grudgingly.
“Huh?” Wilson glanced at him, at the IV, at the bedsheets, back at him. “It’s okay.”
“Okay tolerable, or okay I haven’t started screaming yet?”
“I’ve got a clicker, House,” Wilson said. “I press this little button a few times, and I can be high as a kite.” But he winced when he shifted.
“When are they gonna let you out of here?”
“This afternoon. Observation, I guess. I passed out.”
House walked over to the side of the bed and eased a leg up beside Wilson’s. “Knew it. You’re just the kind of guy who’d faint when things’re getting good.”
“Look, House—” Wilson had his Serious Face on, that couldn’t mean anything positive— “she hit me with your cane. I mean, you’ve gotta be—”
“Fuck!” House lifted his other leg onto the bed too, and Wilson scooted over, wincing and generally being a tender sensitive Tiny Tim attack victim. “You’re in the hospital and you’re going to tell me I need to get in touch with my feelings? I’m not the one who lost a fight with a girl.”
“I—” Wilson gasped. That was bad. Bad bad bad. And he wheezed. That was bad too.
“Wilson. Hey. Wilson!” Now House was a little glad for the heart monitor. Not tachycardia—not yet, anyway. Spike in blood pressure, significant spike in pulse rate, clammy skin. Panic attack. Great. Wilson was going to send himself into v-fib if somebody didn’t do something about it.
“Calm down,” House muttered. “Hey. Chill.” He put a hand on Wilson’s back and rubbed his fingers in a little circle, pressing down, trying to massage away the tension. Wilson, the stubborn idiot, kept wheezing. House thought about telling him to put his head between his knees, but, what with the ribs, that might not have been the best idea.
Wilson leaned into him. Before House knew what he was doing, he’d lifted his arm, and Wilson was lying against him, head on his chest, and House was patting his shoulder and being almost maybe sort of comforting and Wilson was trembling. Just a little.
“It’s okay,” he said gruffly. Then he said other things that he remembered hearing from Wilson after the infarction, but that degenerated pretty quickly, to mindless comforting noises that actually seemed to help, his lips moving, saying stuff he didn’t even understand.
Wilson was awfully warm. And he smelled damn good for a man.
In a few minutes, Wilson seemed to have recovered. The wheezing stopped, anyway, and his BP and pulse rate dropped back to normal. House shifted his arm and let Wilson sit up.
“Sorry,” Wilson said.
“Hey. No big.”
“It was just—”
“Really. No big. You keep talking, it’s going to turn into a big.” House sat up himself, looked at Wilson, looked back at the visitor’s chair.
“Yeah. Yeah.” They were quiet.
“They’re going to let you go this afternoon?”
“Huh?” Then Wilson remembered. “Oh. Right. I could check out myself, of course, but I figured it’d be better to cooperate.”
“Great.” House rolled off the bed with surprising agility and headed for the door. He latched it behind him and didn’t look back at Wilson even then, but he did lean against the wall. He did draw more than a few deep breaths. And he did apologize, there in the hallway, entirely alone.
“Sorry, Wilson,” he murmured. “Shit. My cane.”
“What’re you doing here?”
House shifted his feet and… shifted his feet again, just for good measure.
“You did say this afternoon. I’m not deaf.”
Wilson was surprised. Maybe happy, too. He was moving carefully, and his ribs were still taped, of course, and the bruise was darkening by the hour and House could tell, he swore he could tell, that his right eye was already swelling shut, but through all that stuff Wilson actually grinned at him.
“Don’t get too soppy. I wanted lunch.” House stepped forward. “And since most people eat it, you interested in eating it together?”
“You’re feeling guilty, aren’t you?” Wilson smirked, and his eyes twinkled—well, his good eye twinkled. His right eye sort of tried to keep up.
“I never feel guilty. I am impervious to guilt. I’m trying to hide from Cuddy. Quiet.”
Wilson continued walking toward the parking lot. “If you want to come, House, I’d rather you drove. I don’t think I can handle it yet.”
House laughed, watching the way Wilson walked—delicately, like some kind of bad fashion model, holding himself as carefully as possible. “You look like an idiot.” But he followed.
Neither of them mentioned a cane.
Neither of them mentioned the panic attack, either, and they scarcely discussed the beating itself at all.
But they did eat lunch together, and Wilson did pass the night on House’s couch, and while they watched some old movie on television if Wilson, tired and more than a little stiff, happened to doze off on House’s shoulder—if Wilson slept there for awhile, his hair brushing House’s neck, and if House held perfectly still—well. Neither of them mentioned it.
The next phase begins when the hamburgers stop. House brings twelve of them, great juicy artery-clogging things, over a three-week period—and then he quits. Wilson sits behind his desk for fifteen minutes before he realizes that he isn't doing anything; he expects House to show up, swinging a greasy paper bag and disregarding napkins entirely like the inferior things they are.
Wilson laughs. He's being an idiot. It's not like he ate most of those sandwiches anyway.
After awhile, he leans over to toy with his latest acquisition, a disturbingly happy china bear that a patient, bald as a cue ball, gave him when he told her family that she was in remission. She'd said that a doctor bear—there was a red cross of some sort on its hat, about the size of a rat dropping—was perfect for her favorite doctor. House would've gagged, but she was so damn cute. He looks at his Zen garden, too. He replaced it because he thought it was a pretty handy thing to have around. Didn't actually help with stress much—looked great on his desk, though.
Then, before he can stop himself, he's dropping the bear in the sand, raking a desert over its black button nose.
If that's symbolic of something, he doesn't want to know.
He leaves the bear there once he's finished burying it. The nose sticks up, but he can't see the stupid white hat anymore.
Somebody knocks on the door. Can't be House—House wouldn't knock on an unlocked door unless he was beat to death and his assailant ripped his hand off at the wrist and rapped with his lifeless knuckles. If the door was locked he'd stand out there pounding away and making himself as obnoxious as humanly possible until (a) the occupant let him in, (b) the hinges broke, or (c) he dropped dead on his feet. So it definitely can't be House.
"Come in," Wilson says politely, glancing at what remains of the bear, and in walks House.
"Don't just sit there," House says, more than a little pissed. "I called you for a consult an hour ago."
"I was with a patient an hour ago," Wilson says, and then, "You knocked."
"Are you coming or what?" House is already out the door. Wilson follows him. He looks back to the Zen graveyard once. Maybe he'll dig it out later.
House has tells. He doesn't think he does, but, oh, he does, and Wilson knows them all.
Right now, for instance, he's hiding something.
"I know there's a steak under there," Wilson says, eyeing House's tray, "if that's what you're so guilty about."
"I am never guilty." House smirks. "You Jews, on the other hand, you are the kings of guilt. You practically invented guilt. They should've named it after you." Suddenly he drops his fork and bends over to pick it up. He takes a very long time about this retrieval, and Wilson begins to wonder what, exactly, he's doing down there.
"Taking a long time," he says, glancing around the room.
"You weren't complaining last night." House wiggles his butt.
Okay, Wilson's blushing. Well, it doesn't look like anyone heard. He bends over too. They've both got their heads under the table now.
"Seriously. What are you doing?"
"Ever notice how much chewed gum people stick here? It's a germ-fest. Germ bash. Germ fiesta, baby."
Wilson doesn't say anything, and House looks at him. "Don't you know anything about being inconspicuous?"
"Only what I've learned from the master."
"Then I must be a piss-poor master. I bet you always got caught in school."
"Why," Wilson says impatiently, "are you under the table?"
"Because everyone else is above their tables. It's about being different, dawg." House twists his head to the side and glances around—then he sits up with a jerk and rubs his leg.
Wilson sits up too. A nurse is staring at him. She looks… mildly curious.
"Just… looking for something," he mutters, and she turns away.
"Now that I can't show my face here again," Wilson says, "are you going to explain yourself?"
"Can't." And again House's buzzer goes off at the most inappropriate time, as if on cue. Wilson is beginning to believe that he's setting it off himself.
"What is it this time? Anaphylactic?"
"No—Foreman's next job interview." House grins real widely, so widely Wilson can just about count his teeth. He hasn't touched the salad, or the steak that he hid in the lettuce, or the bag of potato chips, or Wilson's bag of potato chips, but when he stands he manages to snag both bags of chips and slide the rest of his food into the trash in one fluid motion.
"I was going to eat those."
"And now you're not. Funny how these things work."
Wilson looks at his own tray after House is gone. Why does he even bother? He glances around—to the left, to the right, at the nurse who may go to her grave believing that he's gay (and she was hot, too)—lifts the lid of his cup, and pulls out another bag of chips.
Maybe he's learned something from the master after all.
Before the whole embarrassing-himself-in-House's-house deal—Wilson has always privately thought the phrase "House's house" is very amusing—he hadn't had a panic attack for awhile, and he was even beginning to hope they were gone forever. Okay, he knows better. Things like that aren't content to vanish when your back is turned. Probably too much stress, and then House's being more of an asshole than usual, and running on less sleep than he was accustomed to and not taking his antidepressants.
He's not planning on admitting it to House any time soon—ever, if possible—but the antidepressants do make him a little hazy. Happier, definitely, but kind of hazy, too. Not like he went into it blind. He knows the side-effects. Worth the risk. He was tired of feeling shitty, and when you felt shitty and knew you felt shitty and were willing to admit that you needed help in order to not feel shitty and had two brain cells to rub together, you did something about it.
House had looked happier with those drugs in his system. Maybe he hadn't been happier—Wilson couldn't know that for sure—but he'd looked happier.
If he would just—
Oh, forget it.
Wilson sits on the foot of the bed. Hotel room again. Why doesn't he rent another apartment? You only want to spend so long in a hotel room, with a lumpy mattress and that damn traffic outside the window and a thermostat that never really seems to do what you ask. And he hates the bedspread.
Friday he'll probably show up at House's. They're back on more even terms again, thank God. Case of beer'll get him inside. Watch TV, grab a bite to eat, fight with House about something—there's always something to bicker about.
The teddy bear is in his pocket. Wilson takes it out and looks at it; he rubs his thumb over the red cross. Remission.
He wonders how long it'll last.
House brings Wilson lunch. This makes Wilson suspicious.
"What's in there?" he says, eyeing the grease-stained bag.
"Nothing," House says a little too innocently. He sits down on Wilson's couch and swings his legs up to rest across the cushions. Apparently, what's in there includes a burger with a good deal of ketchup and far too many onions for a rational human being's consumption.
"It's harmless," House mutters through a mouthful of what's gotta be half a pound of cow. "You really think I'd be stupid enough to drug you again?"
Wilson makes a point of ignoring the "again" and continues staring at the food. He's actually pretty hungry.
"You," House continues, having swallowed the cow's left leg, "are now interesting. For awhile, anyway."
"So this is your way of saying that I haven't been interesting for forty-two years?"
"Hey, you said it, not me." House takes another enormous bite and commences chomping. He is just about to drip some of that ketchup on Wilson's leather couch. Wilson has the presence of mind to fish around in the bag and hand him a napkin. House ignores the napkin.
"Okay. I am taking a break. I use the word 'break' for a reason. It implies a resting period and a resting period is another way of saying time without you."
"Now that's harsh." House has spilled the ketchup by now, and Wilson gazes morosely at the spot on his upholstery.
"That's not going to come out, you know."
"I always pull out."
Wilson's jaw drops. "That doesn't even make sense!"
"But it was the perfect opportunity to say something crude, and—" House is reaching across his desk as he speaks— "crude enough stuff still shocks you for some reason—" he's got another sandwich in his hand— "and you do that cartoon crap with your face when you're shocked. Never waste an opportunity."
Wilson has a mouthful of ground beef, and House is sitting there smirking at him, looking far too pleased with himself, and there is ketchup on his couch. It's not bad. The food, that is.
"Thanks," he says. He grabs the abandoned napkin and dabs reluctantly at the brand-new stain. House has spilled so many things on various pieces of his furniture over the years that he could almost, just by licking the cushions, remember every meal they'd consumed together in a decade. "So."
"So?" House hasn't quit eating, and he appears to be watching the clean-up process with rabid curiosity. He looks at Wilson now, eyes wide, eyebrows raised.
"When can I expect to start putting the moves on patients?" Wilson gives him an exaggerated wink.
"Oh. Didn't I say it wasn't drugged?"
"Didn't I say I don't believe you?"
"Stop scrubbing at that," House says irritably, "you're just going to make it worse." He pulls another napkin out of the bag, scrubs it over his face, and tosses the filthy wad in the general direction of Wilson's trash can. He misses by a mile.
"Aren't you going to pick that up?"
House's beeper buzzes. "Sorry, can't. Patient's going into cardiac arrest."
"And last time I checked, you weren't a nurse."
"Last time I checked, you weren't a janitor, but—" House waves a hand at the trash can, and he's right; Wilson picked up the napkin. "You are such a control freak. They're not very good in bed."
Wilson sits behind his desk again and stares pointedly at the wall.
"You're boring, too," House says from the doorway.
"Oh get out."
"Not till you admit it."
Wilson blows a straw at him, and House leaves laughing.
They keep up the routine for two weeks. House doesn't drug him the first day. He doesn't drug him the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the ninth, either. On the tenth, Wilson swallows the last bite of a hamburger special that is really wearing out its welcome (provided it ever had one) and begins to wonder about House's ulterior motive, because House always, always always always has an ulterior motive and House has not paid for his lunch in years.
Come to think of it, the last time House bought anything for Wilson he dosed him with amphetamines and he nearly felt up one of his patients—sitting up for a breast exam? Gloves? He was lucky he didn't have a heart attack. Okay, afterward he'd had to admit that it was a little funny—but it could've been disastrous. And that headache was the headache from hell.
He runs through the options.
House might be trying to escape someone. But he hasn't heard of anything.
Wilson adds a footnote to his mental list: Talk to Cuddy.
House might be trying to… trying to be nice.
Wilson scratches that off immediately, and scrawls under it his reasons for elimination—no flying pigs, no rain of fire, no end of times. Not yet, at least.
House might be trying to drug him again.
That doesn't make sense either. He's eaten ten hamburgers—okay, four, since he threw away six because he didn't think he could look at another chunk of cow again, let alone eat one—and there's nothing wrong with him.
House might be easing into things so he can slip him a drug with less difficulty.
Yeah, that has potential.
Wilson leans back and runs a hand through his hair, loosens his tie a little, tries to relax—which reminds him. Two weeks ago he'd had another panic attack, and it'd been in House's living room. Damn, that was embarrassing, and House never brought it up. Odd behavior; if House found anything he thought could be used against Wilson, he was sure to milk that thing for all it was worth, bringing it up at every possible opportunity, shouting it down the hallways when he had the chance.
Panic attack plus free hamburgers equals….
Wilson leaves the equation incomplete. He's just turned his brain into a synaptic whiteboard, for God's sake.
The ketchup stain is still on his couch, and he has a meeting in half an hour.
Life's funny in that rational thought can't always overpower what it should. Man says to himself over and over and over that mind betters matter every time, but things don't always work out that way. Panic attacks, for instance. Sometimes the common-sense part of the mind, whatever part that is as you don't see it labeled on a medical diagram (parietal lobe, temporal lobe, hypothalamus, small-section-that-prevents-owner-from-j
Wilson has panic attacks occasionally. They are not fun, and he would much prefer not to have panic attacks occasionally. He would much prefer not to have panic attacks at all.
He doesn't know for sure what sets them off, but they've been around for awhile, a few in high school even. He hasn't had one in front of House before, and he isn't inclined to. He thinks having a panic attack in front of House would be even less fun than having one anywhere else.
Unfortunately, what with things not always working out the way they should, Wilson gets unlucky.
He's sitting on House's couch some Friday evening; he's got his feet up on the coffee table, and House is sprawled beside him drinking a beer with his feet on the coffee table too, almost a perfect mirror image, in that special way that should be creepy but isn't because that's the way good friends tend to operate. They're watching the end of a Hitchcock movie he caught on TBS because he's had a shitty day, but he knows that he can almost count the seconds until House changes the channel. House has never been able to stand Vertigo for long, but Wilson's always liked it. Something about old movies appeals to him. House has always ventured the notion that he might harbor an unhealthy attraction to Jimmy Stewart, but he shoots that down.
They're not talking, and neither of them has said a word for half an hour, because they were bickering over House's latest insane scheme. House called him a spineless shit-faced saint or something along those lines (possibly cruder), and he said something about House needing to build relationships with actual human beings and maybe needing to have more than a drink with the nutritionist. Things escalated from there, but they'll talk again in an hour or so. House'll start playing the piano sometime, and afterward Wilson will probably go back to the hotel.
But then House turns to him abruptly, with a look on his face that Wilson doesn't see very often, and sets into a new spiel. He's seriously angry, angrier than Wilson thought he was before maybe. Who knows? Maybe it's a combination of the day's stress and the fact that he thought he could get away without taking the antidepressants. He can feel pressure building up in his chest, and before he knows it he is finding it difficult to breathe, which is eerily familiar.
He bends down and puts his head between his knees a little and tries to breathe deeply. There are a few tears sliding down his cheeks—that's what always happens to him, and it's the most embarrassing part. His eyes are heavy, and there's an ache forming in his stomach. His heart's racing. He wonders if he has the presence of mind to take his pulse. He's not in any danger but he is curious.
He's still fighting to breathe normally when he realizes that House left the room at some point, because House has returned. House pushes a glass of cold water into his hands and says a grumbled something about drinking it slowly, along with another hard-to-follow remark about calming down, and Wilson's shoulders are shaking and his fingers are trembling so he can't hold the glass properly. House takes it back, sets it on the table where their feet were minutes ago.
"I'm okay," Wilson says, but that's ridiculous. His voice keeps cracking and his heart keeps racing and he isn't sitting up yet.
"You're an idiot," House says, and House is, as usual, right.
When he does calm down, half an hour later, and his heart rate returns to normal, he doesn't meet House's eyes and House makes no effort to look at him. They exchange a few clipped sentences—does he do that often or only to impress the chicks, well he's done it a few times, has he identified any triggers, probably stress but he's not really sure. They're watching the end of the movie like it's continued to hold their interest.
Wilson drinks the water eventually, though he would prefer alcohol. House wends his way to the piano bench once the glass is drained, where he plays quietly for awhile until Wilson dozes off, his plans to return to the hotel forgotten, his clothes from work rumpled and his briefcase abandoned by the door.
He shifts Wilson on the couch when he's snoring, loosens his tie and then decides to remove it altogether. Though it's not something he would normally do, he unearths a blanket from the hall closet and covers Wilson up.
Wilson, in the morning, vaguely remembers someone standing beside him, hesitantly smoothing the hair from his forehead. But the sensation is hazy and could be nothing but a dream.
Wilson kills himself quietly.
No one sees it coming, and afterward they console each other—“Never thought he was the type,” acquaintances murmur in the hallways, “My God! can you believe it?”
Those who can believe it don’t say anything, because if they suspected it maybe they could have stopped it, and not stopping it means they might be responsible. They want to sleep at night, the nurses in Oncology who noticed that their Head of Department came to work just a little tired sometimes, the doctors who asked him how he was and kept right on walking while he answered. People slip through the cracks, they tell themselves after they’ve turned out the lights. People kill themselves all the time. It wasn’t their job to make sure good old Dr. Wilson didn’t take a potent combination of tranquilizers and codeine. It wasn’t their job to see that he didn’t die.
They sleep at night, those people, and they dream. And they forget.
Someone replaces good old Dr. Wilson soon, because Oncology is too busy to go without a Head for long. A man brings a dented toolbox and painstakingly scrapes his name from the door. In the lounge outside some pretend the man isn’t there—others stare, and you can’t be sure what they’re thinking because you don’t know how they knew Wilson, or if they knew him at all.
You’re sure they didn’t know that he slept in soft T-shirts and threw his arm above his head when he snored, or that he had a dirty sense of humor that nearly rivaled yours, or that he was the only one who could make you feel guilty.
Or that he was your conscience, and now he’s gone—well, now he’s gone.
Chase and Foreman discuss it in hushed voices when they think you aren’t around, but you eavesdrop.
You wonder if Chase is remembering what Wilson said to him after he saved the girl who was allergic to light. You don’t know what Wilson said, obviously, but you are thinking of the way he’d drift off to sleep in your office, and the way he lent your vegetative-state guy his car, and the way he played paper football.
The police came when you called them, even though you mistrust detectives (hell, authority figures in general), and said that there were no signs of homicide. Dr. James Wilson, respected medical professional, picked up several prescriptions on Friday afternoon for patients who didn’t exist. He carried those bottles to his new apartment, where he locked the doors, ate a simple meal, brushed his teeth, and took the pills one by one until he passed out. They said it was painless.
“Like candy,” the sergeant on duty marveled. “That took guts. He just popped ‘em like Tic-Tacs.”
You don’t know why he did it, but you know how.
You are playing poker at the time, with some losers from your building who are more than happy to let you win their hard-earned cash. When you learn his time of death the next day, you realize that you’d held a full house.
You don’t go to see him until Saturday afternoon. You want to pester him into going to a stupid, grimy, cheap bar with you, because he doesn’t get out enough and someone has to be his bad influence and you are so damn good at it. You open the door with your spare key, because knocking is for wimps.
He looks alive on the couch, like you caught him in the middle of a nap, but you know better.
You pick up his hand and feel for a pulse, moving through a haze, your skin going numb, and he is lifeless. You peel back his left eyelid and he is still lifeless and there is a desert in your chest, hot and sandy and dry. Rigor mortis has already set in. Wilson is gone, and he has left you with his shell, the way a rattlesnake sheds its skin.
The desert spreads until dunes build in the back of your throat. You’re not sure you’ll ever drink again—the grit will absorb the liquid and suck it away, drain it down to nothing.
You realize that his hair is limp and his chest is flat and suddenly it hits you; Wilson will never draw another breath.
Wilson is dead.
You sit beside the body, put your head in your hands, and cry. A little. A lot.
Your shoulders shake, but there’s no one around to see, because you’ve closed the blinds.
When you stop crying, the desert is not appeased. You run a hand over your face, fish out your cell phone, and call for help—you don’t notice that your voice breaks, and when the operator asks if you’re okay, you hang up.
This happens once or twice a week. Wilson has killed himself quietly on a Sunday and a Monday and a Tuesday and just about every day by now, and it’s always the same. You are sweaty, tangled in your sheets. Your leg throbs. You have to drink a glass of water before you can speak, and your heart rate doesn’t return to normal for half an hour. You call Wilson and he answers groggily, but you say nothing, only wait to hear his voice and hang up.
Occasionally, you bring out a shirt that you’ve stolen from him, and look at it, or touch it to reassure yourself that he is still alive, still your personal Jewish mother hen, still your best friend, or pull it on and sleep without dreams.
If he notices that he is minus one of those soft T-shirts, he never mentions it, and if he identifies his midnight caller he is wise enough to leave well enough alone.
“Wilson!” For once, House’s voice lacked any mockery or sarcasm. He sounded genuinely shocked. “What in God’s name happened to your face?”
The lollipop he’d been eating fell out of his mouth and landed on the desk, where it split down the middle.
Wilson was leaning against the doorframe. Since the walls were glass, leaning against the doorframe wasn’t exactly easy, but he managed. He touched his cheek and winced. “Ran into somebody’s fist.”
“Yeah, that’s what it looks like, but that’s not what happened.” House stood, threw the broken sucker away, frowned. “Damn, you look like you got hit by a truck. Well, more like you got hit by a truck and the driver backed up.”
He was sitting in House’s second-favorite chair by then, the one in the corner of the room where House reclined when he didn’t feel like being behind his desk because he could rest his feet on the ottoman. He’d seen House there after the evening with his parents, Gameboy in his lap and gaze fixed on the opposite wall, and hadn’t knocked on the door.
“Shit happens,” he said irritably.
“Okay, shit happens. But it normally happens to me.”
“So you’re the one who’s always getting kneed in the balls by patients. I don’t see why I can’t have a turn.”
“That’s more than a kick in the cojones.” House sneered. “Somebody must’ve really whaled on you.”
Wilson wished he had a mirror. He knew he looked bad, but how bad was bad? “Is there a lot of blood?”
“Well, I think the tie has finally passed on. Mercifully.” House leaned over. “Let me see.”
House actually did have a bedside manner of sorts—that was something Wilson tended to forget. Yeah, he was no Florence Nightingale, but he wasn’t Nurse Ratched either. Wilson held still so he didn’t lose an eye, and House ran his fingers over his face, grazing his cheekbones, cradling his chin, almost comforting.
Then House muttered, “You’re a fucking idiot, you know,” and there went that theory.
“It’s not like I asked for it.”
A first-aid kit in his desk drawer—that was House. He came back to Wilson with the plastic case already open, digging through it for gauze and hydrogen peroxide. Before Wilson could take a deep breath to ward off the sting, House dabbed his face, grinning appreciatively as the peroxide foamed and evaporated.
“Ouch! That hurt!”
“Oh, don’t be such a baby. I’ve seen pediatrics patients who handled a little peroxide better than you.”
Wilson grimaced. Damn, he was beginning to feel like he had been hit by a truck. Now House was bandaging the worst of the scrapes, smirking, and Wilson didn’t pause to wonder why he hadn’t fallen laughing on the floor or sent him down to the clinic. “You finished yet?” he asked.
“Yeah, just about.” House pressed his last Band-Aid onto the little gash on Wilson’s chin with a flourish, then poked him in the nose. “That hurt?”
House poked his nose again, wiggled it tentatively back and forth. “Well, it’s not broken. You’ll live.”
“Hey, thanks, Doctor Friendly.” Wilson sat back and touched his cheeks, wishing again that he had a mirror.
“You want a sucker, Wilsie, since you’ve been such a good little boy today?”
Wilson grinned. “Seriously? Sure.”
But House, who’d already found another piece of candy for himself, leaned a hip suggestively on the corner of his desk and wiggled his eyebrows. “Too bad. That was the last one.”
“Bastard,” Wilson said good-naturedly. He stood up. His face almost felt a little better.
“So,” House said. “I did the doctor stuff. Now I get to hear the story.”
Wilson sat back down. “Who said there was a story?”
“Oh, come on. If you hadn’t wanted to tell me what happened, you would’ve gone to the clinic and let one of our many well-endowed nurses patch you up, or you would’ve gone home and done it yourself. Not like a few scrapes and a black eye are life-threatening.”
Yeah, he had a point. Wilson looked across the room, out the windows behind House’s desk, and shrugged. It was raining. “So maybe I just came to say see you later.”
House rolled his eyes. “Let’s go. I’m not gonna wait for the self-pity and denial so I can reassure you that hey, I’m a nice guy, because you already know I’m not. You didn’t come here banged up for no reason.”
“I got mugged, that’s all.” Wilson shrugged again. “Some jerk in the parking lot. Guy had a knife, so I didn’t make a fuss.”
He heard a popping noise. House had pulled the sucker out of his mouth and was examining it in the gray light. Wilson loosened his tie.
“You ever wonder how they make these?” House said, after awhile.
Wilson smiled, but that made his cheeks hurt. The mugger, whoever it had been, really packed a punch, had nearly knocked out one of his teeth even. He’d just opened the car door when someone’s hands gripped his shoulders—they’d turned him around and slammed him against the side. He’d tried to say something, but the guy, who’d been wearing dark glasses—the oldest trick in the book—held a knife to his throat, just lightly, enough to indicate that he meant business.
“It’s just sugar and corn syrup. It all goes to this huge press, and they insert thousands of sticks at a time.”
“When I was a kid,” House said, “I used to think the Tooth Fairy had a big black market going, where all these little dwarves got together and made lollipops when she wasn’t around.” He was still looking at the sucker.
“You were one weird kid, House.”
House laughed. “You should put ice on that.”
Wilson leaned back and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, House was standing beside him, pack slung over one shoulder.
“I’m done for the day,” he said quietly. “And I’m pretty sure you were done two hours ago.”
“Yeah, okay.” Wilson stood, but he was hit by a wave of dizziness, and he swayed for a moment. Strong fingers wrapped around his forearm for only a second, then released him. “You wanna catch a movie or something?”
House glanced at the door. “Only if you make my dinner.”
Wilson shrugged. “Sure.”
“And do the dishes.”
He laughed. “You’d have to throw that in, wouldn’t you?”
When they got to House’s place, though, House wrapped a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and insisted that Wilson hold it to his face to bring down the swelling—and while they’d walked across the parking lot, they pretended not to notice that House glanced around protectively.
And if Wilson noticed that House wasn’t letting him out of his sight—well, they didn’t mention it.
“I was charged with all this information when I called upon Holmes next evening.”—The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
“‘I was charged with all this information when I called upon Holmes next evening’—House, there’s a lot left; you do realize that—?”
“Okay, okay, I’m reading. ‘He was out of bed now, and he sat with his much-bandaged head resting upon’—”
“If you have this memorized, why am I reading it?”
“Your voice turns me on.”
“The pain hasn’t come back. You know what the statistics show—”
“I’ve done the research. I’m not completely stupid.”
“Gonna keep going or what?”
“‘Why, Holmes,’ I said, ‘if one believed the papers, you are dying.’”
“I opened the curtains and looked out into the garden, remarking that it was a fine night with a bright half-moon.”—The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
The phone rang at midnight. Wilson’s hand, fumbling, eventually caught the receiver.
“’Lo,” he mumbled thickly, and waited.
“Howdy!” came the answer, too cheery.
“It’s midnight,” Wilson growled, unnecessarily. He flicked on the light.
“What d’you want?”
“Amusement, alcohol, leg muscle. World peace is for Cameron and kittens.”
Wilson snorted. “Amusement’s first on your list?”
“Why are you talking?”
“If we’re asking obvious questions—”
“If you were with your wife, you’d be whispering.”
“Hanging up now.”
“My couch is bigger.”
“This a size contest? According to Cosmo, length—”
“It’s an invitation.”
There was a click. Wilson switched off the light. Smiled. Slept.
“Holmes was lost in thought.”—The Adventure of the Three Gables
House was behind his desk, bouncing his ball with the handle of his cane, lost in thought, when tickets appeared beneath his nose.
“Truck show Friday,” cried the holder of said tickets gleefully. House looked up, and the cheerful, disgustingly youthful smile he was faced with helped him forget about his shitty life. He grinned.
In the crowd, tie notably absent, Wilson loosened up. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, balancing a drink in one hand and a bag of buttered popcorn in the other, he didn’t look like a middle-aged man with two divorces under his belt—he looked like a friend.
House grabbed a handful of Wilson’s popcorn, crunched the kernels between his teeth, and when Wilson glanced at him, smile flashing in the stage lights, he laughed.
“While they were talking a sudden cry of pain was heard.”—The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
During their bet, while House was earning his time off from clinic duty and proving that he was an addict, he broke his hand. Wilson never quite knew what weapon caused the damage, but from the X-rays he determined that it was probably a heavy, blunt object, rounded at one end. He wouldn’t have admitted it, but the level of pain House endured hurt him. When he taped House’s fingers he was as gentle as possible—as if he were treating a child—and whether it was from guilt or from something else—well, he did not know that either.
“It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy.”—The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
House sat through “Psycho” and laughed. Uproariously. Loudly. At every scene. Wilson eyed him with each outburst, wondering whether or not to ask—he waited until the credits, when House’s giggles faded. There was dead silence from the opposite end of the couch for the bits which were actually funny. Wilson switched off the set.
“I can’t hear the soundtrack over your cackling, psychopath.”
House punched him in the arm, harder than necessary, grinning. “Loosen up.”
Wilson looked at House, who was remarkably happy and had no pills. He glanced back at the darkened television screen and laughed. And laughed.
My sister was in L.A. on vacation recently, and she picked this up for me--apparently, it's the film canister in which the footage for an upcoming episode of House was stored. I figure that, since episodes have to be filmed in advance, it was the footage for a January episode--? Maybe the one on the ninth?
Anyway, I thought it was pretty awesome and wanted to share it--xD. Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays!
(And a story:)
Discounting sex, which was, of course, incomparable (and in a league of its own), there were two extracurricular activities House figured he’d always enjoyed—running and playing the piano.
He’d discovered running in elementary school, when the stereotypical fat-with-no-self-confidence bully stole his lunch for what seemed like the eighty-second time and he decided to get it back. One magnificent thirty-yard dash and one not-so-magnificent flying leap later, he was sitting gracefully atop McNeal’s head and McNeal was eating sand. House learned he had the proper build for running—tall and thin—and the proper motivation as well—half the time he ran because he didn’t want to get his ass kicked, the other half because he wanted to kick someone else’s. Things evened out, and eventually he started running for sport and pleasure instead. He’d never really liked fighting anyway.
Piano came after running, in high school. House was placed in a Piano 1 class his senior year because no other electives would fit his schedule. He was unsure about the idea at first, but he caught on fast—damn fast, as his father would have said in those days—and remained at least a full chapter ahead of his classmates for the rest of the semester. At home there was a baby grand which soon became his favorite haunt; until college, he divided his time between its polished bench, studies, the track, and lacrosse.
In college, House had no access to a piano. He did, however, have access to a track, and made use of it every chance he got.
In medical school, House got stuck with a roommate who’d wind up changing his life forever (and, regrettably, worming his way in on the list entitled “People Who Can Make House Smile”)—a Mr. James Wilson, brown-haired, brown-eyed, shy and remarkably devious, ladies’ man and geek, Hitchcock fan and great chef. For some reason—Lord knew why—they got along. They didn’t always get along, sure—Wilson was too patient for House, House too childish for Wilson—but something was there, some hidden similarity that drew them together regardless.
Wilson didn’t run or tickle the ivories. He played the guitar, though, and could hold his own against House in verbal banter any day of the week. And, of course, he could always make House smile.
A year or two into school, Wilson’s life seemed to be crashing down around his ears. His mother died, his brother dropped out of college and disappeared. Wilson’s grades fell—he slept less (not that House cared, but the tossing and turning became annoying eventually, and that bedside lamp—good Lord), drank more, and spoke hardly at all. House was beginning to think he’d have to solve the problem somehow when Wilson suddenly perked up again. Nothing obvious had changed; they hadn’t even had the funeral yet. It was just plain weird.
Though he burned with curiosity, House tried to forget about his friend’s abrupt personality alteration until he accidentally discovered what was going on anyway. He’d open the closet to grab his running shoes and they’d be missing, but the next day they’d be back, slightly dirtier and smelling of another man’s cologne. Obviously, either extraterrestrials were performing experiments on sweaty Nikes or Wilson was running, and House suspected the latter. Because the shoes tended to vanish when Wilson had a particularly bad day, House waited until such was the case and hid out by the football field. Needless to say, he wasn’t disappointed.
Fifteen minutes after House’s arrival, Wilson appeared on the scene, lugging some very familiar footwear. He sat in the bleachers, laced them up, and began running laps. The shoes were a size-and-a-half too big and Wilson was not exactly a track star—he was shorter and slightly stouter than House, after all—but there was something graceful in his stride, something fascinating about the lone figure moving in circles, hemmed in by the grass of the field, getting rid of some excess frustration. House was amused, annoyed, and pleased—Wilson felt pretty damn comfortable (too comfortable) with him if he was okay with stealing his shoes.
While House carried his tape player and blasted rock music in his ears as he ran (jazz was for wine and relaxation, rock for running), Wilson ran with no accompaniment other than the slap of rubber on sand and the huff of breath in the evening silence.
But those shoes—those damn shoes—were too big.
For some reason, this bothered House—perhaps because he’d always liked order and fit, perhaps because Wilson would get bloodstains on them if he happened to fall and snap his fool neck, who knew.
A week later, when the running hadn’t let up, House bought another pair of shoes in a smaller size. He left them where Wilson was certain to find them and sighed with relief because they began disappearing in place of his own. They hadn’t been expensive; it was no big deal, and no words were ever exchanged on the subject, no acknowledgment made by either man. House ran when he knew he wouldn’t encounter Wilson—if Wilson hadn’t told him, he wanted privacy, and House could be less than annoying sometimes—and promptly forgot the entire incident. Soon Wilson’s life took a turn for the better and the shoes began gathering dust, but House always knew his friend was depressed when the closet was emptier than usual.
House’s infarction changed everything, including his friendship with Wilson. He couldn’t even walk—running was no longer so important. And he had no way of knowing, though he might not have cared if he had, that Wilson frequented tracks again in the Nikes from med school.
Eventually, however, House recovered. It wasn’t easy and life sucked a whole hell of a lot more than it had before, but he could work, and work and music became everything. He longed to run again, and his dreams were often filled with the rhythmic sound of rubber on sand.
Then, of course, came the ketamine.
House ran to the hospital; he learned to skateboard and threw his cane gleefully in the closet. Maybe he even felt… happier.
And the day after he returned to work, he discovered the box of new shoes on his desk, and he smiled.
Total Word Count: Approx. 25,468
Characters/Pairings: All characters, essentially--House/Wilson friendship
Rating: PG-13, for a few swear words that kiddies shouldn't hear
"Summary":What if the problem with Wilson's latest marriage wasn't Julie's infidelity--what if it was something altogether different and considerably worse? Slight AU, but attempts generally made to keep all in character.
Sorry it took me rather a long time to post this last bit. Comments are much appreciated!
It’s not about the land
I’ll never beat the view
From my front porch looking in
There’s a carrot top who can barely walk
With a sippy cup of milk
A little blue-eyed blonde with shoes on wrong
‘Cause she likes to dress herself
And the most beautiful girl
Holding both of them
Yeah, the view I love the most
Is my front porch looking in
Two weeks later House was on his way home from work when he saw Julie.
He had just pulled his bike up to the stop light at an intersection; as he waited impatiently for the light to change again, he began a game. It was a particular game which he’d played since being a boy bored to tears on family vacations—finding people nearby who caught his fancy and using their behavior and clothing as clues to guess what their lives were like. He was fairly close to accurate often enough that he even surprised himself at times, and he enjoyed the game so much he still played it when he had the chance. This was, of course, generally at stop lights.
Across the street there was a middle-aged woman, whippet-thin, with blond hair. Her movements were quick and rapid but precise, as if she wanted to control her motion and only allowed herself to travel a certain distance with each step. House watched idly as she strode, heels clicking against the pavement like Prada castanets, to the door of the Second Street grocery; before she turned inside her gaze skimmed once around the surrounding area, as if to check and make sure it had not moved while she wasn’t watching. It was when her eyes hesitated on him that House realized who she was; who she was and that she recognized him as well.
Then he was swerving dangerously through traffic and pulling into the parking lot.
House drew his bike up in the nearest handicapped space, removed his cane from the side, and swung his leg onto the ground. He left his helmet on the handlebars and headed toward the automatic doors; he made a point of ignoring the small blue-and-white sign, refusing to look at it though he knew it was there and felt its mockery tingling in the hair on the back of his neck. He had more important things to deal with.
Wilson was still living with him. It was taking awhile to get things sorted out with the divorce and House personally suspected that Wilson didn’t want to return to his old place anyway, but planned on renting his own apartment somewhere else. They fell back into their usual pattern of joshing each other and cracking crude jokes and things returned to normal except that every now and then Wilson had had a nightmare. In the early hours of the morning one day House heard a high-pitched keening sound—it had been followed soon after by a series of choking, half-restrained sobs. The noise disturbed House, sending an unpleasant chill up his spine, and he had popped a Vicodin, dragged himself out of bed, and limped half-asleep to the living room. He’d found Wilson twisted in the blanket, writhing as if in pain, face and arms pale and covered in chilling sweat. House had looked at him for a moment; then he’d sat down in a chair and flipped on the television. There was nothing on at six in the morning but he had General Hospital on TiVo; halfway through the show he’d glanced up to find Wilson awake, still pale, shaking a bit but calmer. He’d poured them each a shot of whiskey, the color came back to Wilson’s face and they went to work two hours later like nothing had happened.
(Cuddy called Wilson a good influence. If she’d known how he was getting House in at eight she might have reconsidered.)
After a similar situation had occurred three nights later, with brandy and Blackadder, House began to realize that while Wilson had told him more than he’d ever wanted to know by a long shot, the man still had told him nowhere near everything. He didn’t push Wilson about it; that wasn’t his job, his duty, and he didn’t really want to hear about whatever it was anyway. Instead he woke Wilson with the television, plied him with alcohol, and kept his mouth shut. They didn’t really talk any more, but he still played the piano.
The nightmares had begun to stop within a week. The first time House woke up at nine to the sound of his cell phone ringing rather than at six to a desperate cry for help from his living room he nearly felt the way a parent does when their kid uses the potty; he and Wilson never mentioned it, though—he’d never asked Wilson what he dreamed about, he didn’t particularly care to know, and Wilson didn’t volunteer.
When Wilson wasn’t working or watching television in the evenings with House, he was reading a book, making dinner, sleeping, blow-drying his hair, doing something else reflecting an odd male passion for cleanliness, studying oncology journals, or—and this was the latest development—calling a woman. House had had no idea who this particular woman was until he’d listened in on one of Wilson’s conversations and heard the name “Grace.” He hadn’t asked Wilson about her, of course, just waited to see what happened—nothing had, but Wilson used his cell phone for an hour and a half every evening talking to the mysterious chick about nothing in particular, and when he hung up he always seemed happier. Happy-Wilson meant Wilson-Who-Didn’t-Wake-House-Up-At-Six-A.M.
It was the first time he’d been so close to anybody since Stacy, and—to be honest—the whole thing scared the shit out of him.
The oddest thing about it of all, though, was that he wasn’t trying to change it, wasn’t attempting to kick Wilson out or forget about him. The oddest thing was that he still hung around.
He was beginning to realize that, all those times when he’d insistently asked Wilson why he still stuck around and Wilson couldn’t answer him satisfactorily, those times after his infarction when Wilson had knelt in House’s own vomit to dab his face with a cold cloth, hauled him to his bed, stuck his head in a cold shower when he’d drunk too much, and House had turned round the second he got a chance and flung a beer bottle at his face, when House screamed in pain at Wilson to get out and Wilson sat next to the door—all those times this was how Wilson had felt. How, perhaps, Wilson still felt.
Not that he was particularly masochistic, but that he had to stay. Needed to stay. Because, if for no other reason, nothing else would seem quite right.
But it had been two weeks and things were really getting back to normal.
And then he saw Julie at the grocery store.
House pushed his way past a young woman with a basket of yogurt and a tongue ring, past an older man with a beer belly larger than a small collie, past a tiny boy who nearly ran over his foot pushing a minature shopping cart of his own, and into the produce section. The familiar blond head was bobbing by the asparagus. Ten minutes and one unwanted artichoke later, House was trailing her into the meat.
In the meat department she bought a large soft-shell crab, four and a half pounds of ground chuck, and a pack of a dozen Foster Farms chicken legs. In dairy she bought a gallon of milk, two cartons of cottage cheese, a tub of butter and six small containers of fat-free strawberry yogurt. In deli she bought a pound of potato salad, half a pound of fresh-sliced roast beef, and some Provolone cheese. By the time she reached baked goods House was cursing his photographic memory and furiously trying to remember the words to Bohemian Rhapsody so he wouldn’t count how many frosted vanilla cupcakes went into that cart of hers.
He finally got his chance in frozen food.
The aisle was empty, there were no stockboys within twenty-five feet—he’d checked—and she had her head inside the low-calorie dinners, checking a box of chicken marsala for carbohydrates, when he tapped her on the shoulder. He almost felt sorry for her when she jumped and cracked her head against the next shelf up—almost.
Not sorry enough though.
In his mind he saw a disturbingly cheesy montage; Wilson tied to a hospital bed demanding to know why he was called suicidal, Wilson asleep in the Corvette, Wilson grimacing when he heard the name Wilsie, Wilson drinking beer quietly in a pizza parlor, Wilson standing by the stove flipping pancakes, Wilson striding through the hallways at his shoulder letting him know in no uncertain terms exactly how stupid he was being, Wilson talking over the sounds of a General Hospital rerun which had been turned down anyway, Wilson munching popcorn and watching a movie, Wilson making fun of him, Wilson answering the phone too politely, Wilson sobering him up when he was too stoned to stand, Wilson’s sobs waking him at six in the morning, Wilson pointedly ignoring him while he swiped chips, Wilson rolling up his sleeves, Wilson lying on his couch while he played the piano, Wilson smiling in the dark—Wilson.
As House looked into the blue eyes which were practically mirror images of his own, knowing he was staring down Wilson’s demons, he realized he couldn’t hurt the woman. Not because he didn’t want to—oh, no, he wanted to. Because Wilson, naïve idiot that he was, still loved her, and because he, God help him, loved Wilson.
Julie blinked. Somehow his fingers had found their way around her wrist, and through his too-tight grasp he felt the butterfly-wing fluttering of her pulse. She was obviously frightened.
House found that he didn’t give a shit, but he released his grip anyway.
“Greg?” she said, unconsciously rubbing the marks left by his pressure. “What can I do for you?” A carton of strawberry yogurt dropped from her cart and rolled across the floor. It came to rest by a rack of small, fluffy children’s toys, leaving behind on the tile a puddle of gloppy pink liquid which made House think of blood. Nobody moved. The store radio went off for a moment; the intercom came on and someone announced that a cleanup was required in Aisle Four.
“Long time no see, Ms. Scott,” House growled. He refused to call her Ms. Wilson.
“Yes, it has been, hasn’t it?” Julie gave a nervous smile and took a step to the right. House mirrored her movement. “And what a surprise to run into you at the grocery, of all places.”
“You’re buying a lot of food. For more than one?”
“I’m having a bit of a party tonight,” Julie said. “Some friends are coming to visit.”
House had no idea why he was making inane conversation in the frozen-food section of a grocery store with a woman he hated when he should have been—he didn’t really know what he should’ve been doing, but he knew it should’ve been something different.
“No new husband, I hope,” he said.
“Aren’t you going to ask how he is?” House snarled. “Five years. Do you even care?”
Julie stared into his eyes and backed away. She seemed to be regaining her courage. “Do you, Greg?”
“That doesn’t matter,” he said, pressing forward again. “You nearly destroyed him. Why? Why would you do that? He didn’t deserve it and you may be a cold-hearted, frozen bitch, but what you did is worse than kicking a puppy. Worse than kicking a thousand puppies.” House’s voice dropped, but the lower pitch served its purpose better than a higher one would have. “You bitch, why did you do it?”
“Need any help, ma’am?”
Both House and Julie glanced up at the noise and turned to look down at the end of the aisle; there stood a bag boy, red-apron-clad, trolley-wielding, and glaring viciously at House as though the man were the devil incarnate. His brown hair stood up in an unmerciful cowlick atop his head, his cheeks were covered in freckles, and all told he looked like there was nothing he’d have liked more than to bop House over the head with a large cast-iron frying pan.
“Oh, no, I’m fine,” Julie said quickly, “thank you for asking.” The bag boy, with no small amount of reluctance, retreated. Julie snapped her head back around to House with a movement so sharp he wondered she didn’t get whiplash.
“We can’t talk about this here,” she hissed.
“Let me buy these things and we’ll go to the parking lot.” The tone of her voice was that of a question, not a statement, and she made no move toward her cart. She seemed to be waiting for him to respond.
House studied her face and nodded briefly, silently. Julie’s heels clicked back across the aisle, chicken marsala forgotten; he tailed her to the checkout line, waited impatiently as she slid her Visa (wondered if it was Wilson’s money she was using), let her struggle with the bags all the way to her car. Leaned against the bumper while she loaded the goods in the trunk and jerked it shut; then, with his cane, gestured for her to sit on a bench across the way. Her eyes flickered up to him—she was short, shorter than Wilson. She obeyed, folded her hands in her lap, said nothing. House wanted to tell her she was not a lady and so she couldn’t sit like one. Instead, he limped over and stood in front of her.
“Why did you do it?” he repeated. He was quieter, slightly drained of adrenaline. Waiting in line for a man whose face belonged on a Shar-Pei to find his checkbook had the habit of doing that to a guy.
Julie raised her gaze to his. “What?” she said.
“I don’t want to play games with you. Cut the crap.”
“He’s living with you now, isn’t he.” Julie’s eyes bored into his and House couldn’t picture Wilson with her. He didn’t answer; that wasn’t her business.
“He wasn’t a very good husband.”
“Did it ever occur to you that you weren’t a very good wife?”
“Do you want me to answer your question or not?” Julie’s voice rose a bit. House sensed she was getting angry and knew that if she made it to her car he’d never get another chance as good.
“He’s not a true Jew,” Julie said. “He’s a workaholic who can’t keep his pants zipped or his hands to himself. That stupid dog of his trashed the place—“
“Charlie,” House muttered to himself, and then it hit him.
“Charlie. Where is he?”
“What makes you think he’s any place other than home?” But Julie dropped her gaze. House knew where Charlie was, all right.
“Did you have to kill his dog too?”
“He wouldn’t stay out of the garbage. Stunk up the furniture. Scratched at the doors till the early hours of the morning. What was I supposed to do with him?” Julie said, annoyed.
House shook his head. “Forget it. Keep talking.”
“He’s an embarrassment. Has the manners of an oaf.”
“So you threw plates at his head.”
“No. I—I—” Julie got to her feet, her cheeks glowing, fists clenched. “I don’t have to talk about this with you. With anybody. I have to get home. I have guests.”
“The home might not be yours for long, you know. Divorce and all.” House didn’t feel threatened; even in heels, the crown of her head barely reached his chest. Compared to Wilson, he thought, she would have been a lot taller.
“I have to go.”
“You never told me why. You’re not going anywhere.”
Julie stepped forward. House stepped forward. “You really are a crazy bitch, you know that?”
She said nothing, was motionless. Trembled with restrained anger. House thought of Charlie and shook his head slowly. “You won’t answer me.” He studied her eyes, her face, one last time.
“You know why he cried at night. You have the power to give him some closure—you owe him that. And you won’t answer me.” He shook his head again.
“But you have told me something,” House said a moment later. She still hadn’t moved. “I think you answered me anyway.”
He left Julie standing by the bench, strode to his bike and never looked back. It wasn’t until he reached home that he began to regret not punching her.
Wilson was stretched out on the couch napping in a dying ray of sunlight, an oncology text open on his stomach, when House opened the front door. Steve McQueen was rustling busily in his cage in the corner and didn’t notice a thing.
“Some guard-rat you are,” House said. He flipped the latch on the cage and lifted out his pet. Steve scrambled onto his shoulder and began nibbling his earlobe. House thought momentarily of Charlie, another test job in the experiment to determine whether dogs really went to heaven, and limped into the kitchen to hunt down something for dinner. There was a plastic container in the fridge with a Post-It stuck to the top; the note was in Wilson’s terrible scrawl. It read “House—this is my lunch. DO NOT TOUCH IT IF YOU VALUE YOUR RAT.”
House tore the note off and was about to dump it on the counter when he realized there was something written on the back.
“House—you never listen, right? Anyway, the joke’s on you this time. I made extra.” Wilson had skipped down a space or two and written, in much larger letters, “HA.”
The food was some kind of unusual spiced meat and noodles, but a third of the way through it House realized he’d lost his appetite. He popped two Vicodin, poured himself a shot of scotch, and put Steve into his small, specially-designed rat-ball. Steve disappeared in the direction of the living room, rolling at top McQueen-speed, and it wasn’t more than two minutes before House heard Wilson.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Steve—House?”
House—intentionally—didn’t say anything.
Wilson got up and came into the kitchen carrying the rat-ball in his hand; the first things he noticed were the Post-It on the counter and the half-empty dish on the table.
“I knew you’d eat it, I knew it! Didn’t I tell you, Stevie-Weevie? Didn’t I say that?”
“Talking to rats is, in most circles, considered the first sign of insanity.”
Wilson smirked. “Well, we all knew you should’ve been in an asylum decades ago.” Steve squeaked as if in affirmation.
House tossed the scotch to the back of his throat and swallowed.
“How’s the patient?” Wilson asked, sitting across from House. He absentmindedly reached over with one hand to pull open the oven. “You put them in there aga—”
“I saw Julie today,” House said, and then mentally clocked himself with the nearest bat for being about as subtle as a tanker truck. Wilson’s face went approximately four shades paler; he began rubbing his fingers lightly over the plastic of Steve’s ball and occupied himself by looking anywhere other than at House. House poured another shot of scotch and slid it down the table to him. Wilson drank it without hesitation as soon as it came within reach; he had two more before he spoke.
“At the grocery store. She was buying strawberry yogurt.”
“Julie hates strawberry.”
“She had guests.”
There was silence for a minute. Steve began to fidget, so Wilson opened the hatch at the top of the ball and let him climb out. He ran up Wilson’s arm to the back of his neck, where he sat down and began busily twitching his ears. Steve wouldn’t sit on anybody else. Apparently he made Wilson think of pets too.
“How is—” he began.
“You don’t want to know.”
“I do.” Wilson got to his feet. “Don’t tell me what I want to know, House. Just—”
House sighed. “Have you ever seen the movie All Dogs Go To Heaven?”
“No,” Wilson said hesitantly. It took him a moment. He looked pleadingly at House and House lowered his gaze.
“I’m sorry,” he said, not sure why he was apologizing.
“Why did you see her?” Wilson said angrily.
“Why did you see her? Did you learn anything?” Wilson burst. “Do you get off on coming home and telling me my dog is dead? Are you happy now, House? Damn it, are you happy now?”
House glanced at the grain of the table and followed the pattern of it with his eyes. The blow-up had to come eventually, right?
“I don’t have anything else. You remember when I said to you that all I had was my job and our stupid, screwed-up friendship? Oh, you do? Damn you, House, I was exaggerating then. Exaggerating.”
“I know,” House said.
“You got me to where I’m not exaggerating, House. Not any more. I don’t have anything. Nothing.” Wilson’s voice caught and he pushed upright; Steve ran hastily back down his arm and onto the table again. “I won’t put you out. You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? Had to see her. Had to push. People are nothing but puzzles to you, aren’t they?”
“I’m not a puzzle. I’m not a damn puzzle. I’m a human being, House. You keep pushing, I’ll break. You don’t give a shit about what I say to you but you still want to know, you still want to know everything. And when I won’t tell you—well, I guess we all know what you do then.” Wilson looked at his feet and wiggled a toe philosophically. “I hope she answered your questions. I hope she did. I hope she told you all the shit I wouldn’t. And I hope—I hope, House, it keeps you awake at night, you bastard.”
Thirty seconds later House heard him in the living room, grabbing the few things he’d kept while staying over—slacks, shirts, his pager, novels, medical journals, a—House winced, remembering—rubber dog bone—pulling on his shoes, picking up his keys. The door slammed and he was gone. When House returned to the scene in ten minutes, it was disturbingly empty, as if its second occupant had never been. The blanket was even folded over the back of the couch. He sat down at the piano, bringing the scotch with him, touched his hands to the keys, and began to play. He was three-fourths through a song before he realized he was playing Paper Moon.
The brim pulled way down low
Ain’t no sound but the sound of his feet
Machine guns ready to go
Are you ready?
Hey, are you ready for this?
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat, yeah
Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
And another one gone, and another one gone
Another one bites the dust
Hey, we’re gonna get you too
Another one bites the dust
Wilson woke up the next morning with a rat on his face.
He would not have found this quite so unusual had he been in House’s apartment, but as things happened he was attempting to sleep on the too-small, too-hard couch in his office with no blanket, no pillow, and no breakfast, and he definitely hadn’t expected to have a rat on his face at—he checked his watch—seven-thirty in the morning. Last time he’d checked, there were no rats in the oncology department.
Wilson reached up with one hand, dislodged the furry culprit’s claws from his nose, and acknowledged that it was Steve. That was good. He didn’t particularly want a rabies shot. It was much nicer to have a friendly rat on your face.
He let his head hit the arm of the couch again—bump bump stabilize—closed his eyes.
He’d been living with House for about three weeks when he’d had his first nightmare. It had been so real; it was like going back in time and reliving, over and over, the memories which he’d worked so hard to bury. But then he was woken by the sounds of a television show he recognized—General Hospital—and when he’d fought his way back to reality, he’d seen House sitting there watching the set. It made him feel surprisingly safe. There really was something to the idea of carrying a big stick.
He’d never mentioned anything he dreamed of to House. Though he was able to tell the man a lot of things he hadn’t thought he’d be able to tell anybody, some things would remain his secrets forever.
To Wilson’s credit, he’d never imagined House might go behind his back.
House and Julie had not been friends when he was married and didn’t become friends afterward—House had attended two dinner parties, caused both to end catastrophically, and, in fact, was banned from the property. As a result of that, they’d barely spoken; Wilson knew perfectly well House hated her guts. And after the phone call from the lawyers, Wilson found himself torn. Part of him still loved Julie and wanted to see her again, to find out how she was doing, and the rest of him wanted to slit the first part’s throat and was terrified of ever so much as going within five miles of Julie. He knew she didn’t want to talk to him, and there he was torn as well—he couldn’t decide whether she didn’t want to talk to him because he didn’t deserve her attention or because she’d just given up on him. There was also the possibility that she did, in fact, want to talk to him, but was waiting for him to make the first move.
Wilson was afraid of seeing Julie again, wanted to see her again; was relieved she wasn’t contacting him, was ashamed he’d been such a rotten husband that she didn’t want to contact him; knew he didn’t deserve her behavior, had a niggling feeling that wasn’t quite true and maybe he did anyway. And through all his confusion one question had resounded in the depths of his mind—why?
He was not certain really of anything else, had no clue of her motives, was even growing less certain of how he felt about himself, but he knew one thing—he wanted to hear from her lips the reason why she hated him.
Wilson had been distracted and he forgot to be suspicious. He forgot what a bastard House could really be when he sat down and gave it the good college try, and he forgot that House saw a Rubik’s Cube where everyone else saw a man. Again, his emotions told him House would not betray him, had a greater sense of honor than that, was a better friend than that, but his common sense didn’t believe it. And when House came home, told him so bluntly—as if it were an everyday thing—that he’d seen Julie at the grocery (House never went to the grocery—how did he wind up there?), told him in so many words that Charlie was dead, something had come over him. He’d lost control; he’d exploded. Grabbed his stuff, stormed out, got drunk in a terrible bar, and wound up on the couch in his office at three in the morning, dead to the world.
He’d had a nightmare by himself, the first in two weeks, and no one was there with soaps and silent brandy when he woke cold, sweating, afraid.
And there he was, drained, slightly hung over, with a rat sitting on his face.
Wilson cradled Steve in his left hand and got to his feet. The blood rushed to his head as he stood, but he ignored it. Steve squeaked in protest. Wilson lifted Steve to his shoulder and moved slowly, gingerly across the room. There was a cage by the door. Wilson bent down and picked it up. It was Steve’s. A small piece of paper had been pinned to the bars; he undid the safety pin and examined the slip. The note was written in House’s handwriting. It was unsigned.
“You’re a dog person, but Steve seems to like you. I’m sure you’ll survive.”
A few lines had been skipped, and then—
“He hates walnuts. After dinner he gets a small—small—piece of Swiss. And Wilson, if you give him alcohol I swear I will hunt you down and kill you.”
One more line—
“Take care of McQueen. He’s good company and a real ladies’ rat.”
“My God,” said Wilson reverently (if House had been there he would have said “You finally got it right”), once things had properly sunk in. He shrugged on his lab coat, dashed a comb through his hair, and made for the elevator as fast as he could considering that he had a cast on his ankle and a sleeping rat on his neck.
House was twirling his cane. Every now and then he opened one eye and glanced up at it, spinning through the air, a blur of smooth silver against the sterilized ceiling of his office. If he squinted he could not make out the cane itself at all any more, only an oval that somehow mysteriously glowed. He thought he would make a nice kitchen fan and laughed mirthlessly to himself. The hallways and the Diagnostics rooms were silent. The white-board was blank; his markers were—thanks to Cameron—color-coded; his team wouldn’t be in for fifteen minutes. It was too early to be anywhere and he was at work. At least he had his iPod, and said machine was currently blasting Queen.
House concentrated on separating the sounds of each individual instrument from the rhythm created by the collective.
Then his own private version of meditation was utterly ruined, because the song finished and changed to a terrible ballad by Mariah Carey.
Wilson had been tampering with his playlists again.
House kept his eyes shut and scrolled to the next song. This was one Wilson had actually recommended—and he'd downloaded it, of course. He kept scrolling. There was a knock on the door—sounded more frenzied than usual. He pretended not to hear. The knocking kept up. He’d closed the blinds and locked all the doors to his office.
Five minutes later the knocking stopped. House heard limping footsteps retreat down the hallway outside. He scrolled until he found a song by The Who and lost himself in solitude.
House sat with the Coma Guy at lunch, using the man’s left hand to hold his bag of Doritos, his chin for his Reuben, his belly as a perfect soda can holder. He watched General Hospital sprawled in a guest chair with his feet propped on the edge of the bed, and nobody found him. Cuddy forced him to start doing clinic hours in between consults and his patient’s MRI; he told a fat nun she was pregnant, a man with kidney stones that he had prostate cancer, and was well on his way to telling a worried young mother with a colicky baby that her son had smallpox when Cuddy caught on and forced him to stop doing clinic hours. He left at four-thirty, didn’t get home until five. His apartment was too empty without Steve or Wilson; he ordered Chinese and cracked open his fortune cookie by himself.
He threw the paper into the fireplace. There was no fire but he thought there might be one eventually.
He lay on the couch, researched his case for a few hours. When he had an idea, he poured some scotch and punched buttons until he found a show on television to watch. He quit playing the piano at midnight. Then he popped two Vicodin, went to bed, and stared sleeplessly at the ceiling.
After a month and a half, he no longer liked making music for himself.
House got to work the next morning at nine-fifteen. His team was already by the white-board; Foreman—Foreman, not even Chase—was touching his markers. He didn’t realize Wilson was leaning against the wall in the corner until he was halfway through railing on the black boy for being where he didn’t belong—they didn’t call it a white-board for nothing—and noticed that Cameron was grinning more than usual.
When he looked at Wilson, Wilson merely stared at him.
House hid his surprise by sending Cameron to take patient history, Foreman to run an MRI, and Chase to—well, as he put it, to wherever blond-haired British boys liked to go at nine-thirty in the morning. Then he went into his office, locked the door, and found his iPod. Ten minutes later, Wilson left. He still hadn’t said a word.
That evening, Wilson was sitting on the couch eating chow mein clumsily (very clumsily) with chopsticks when House got home.
Steve was in his cage on the coffee table.
Has come and gone away
In even Paris and Rome
And I wanna go home
May be surrounded by
A million people, I
Still feel all alone
Just let me go home
Oh, I miss you, you know
Let me go home
I’ve had my fun
But, baby, I’m done
I wanna come home
He’d knocked on House’s office for ten minutes; there had been no answer and he’d given up.
House hadn’t appeared in the cafeteria at lunch. For a minute, he’d wished someone would steal his food and leave him with the bill.
He hadn’t gone to House’s that evening. His fear had returned with a rush. He’d driven to the apartment, limped uncomfortably up to the doorway, and stood with his finger resting lightly on the bell, unable to apply pressure. He was a certified award-winning oncologist, head of his department, and he could not bring himself to ring a doorbell; he’d approached, lost his nerve, approached, lost his nerve, finally made for his car and drove off. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of, but he was afraid anyway.
He’d waited in the diagnostics room the next morning—he hadn’t been able to say anything then either.
Finally, when he got home after work, he decided that he’d had enough; enough of tiptoeing around, trying to figure out a way to contact House safely, with minimal nervousness. Wilson plucked his spare key off his dresser, dropped Steve from the rat-ball into the cage, slid on his ratty tennis shoes (there was a pun there someplace), and drove, once more, to House’s apartment. He was sitting on the couch with his feet up eating Chinese and watching Steve sleep when House turned his key in the lock at six and came in, scowling, smelling of alcohol.
House glanced at Wilson, ignored him, sat silently on the couch and flipped on the television.
After ten minutes of being half-heartedly studied, glared at, and surveyed by a very annoyed, more-in-need-of-a-shave-than-usual House, Wilson took Steve out of his cage and dumped him on the couch. Steve scurried over to House and climbed up his arm to the back of his neck. Wilson grabbed the remote, aimed it in the general direction of the set, and pressed mute. House’s eyes could have lit something on fire.
“Steve is yours,” Wilson said, ignoring House’s stubborn silence. “I can’t keep him, and I won’t keep him. You and that rat are like—like bosom buddies. It may be unhealthy, but I can’t keep him.”
House lifted Steve from his shoulder and stroked the rat’s ears lovingly.
“Will you take him back?”
“Why did you come back?”
Wilson looked at his shoes. “I never said I wouldn’t.”
No one spoke for a few minutes. Something scratched at the front door. There was more silence, and then a bark. The bark was followed by a second and a third—each one was louder than the previous. Steve’s beady eyes darted warily in the direction of the sound. House glanced at Wilson and raised one eyebrow.
“You see, uh,” said Wilson, “there is, uh, sort of, kind of, maybe a little reason why I can’t keep him. Besides the whole your-disturbing-relationship thing.”
“Would this reason happen to have, oh, I don’t know, four legs and a tail?”
Wilson stood up and opened the door. No fewer than thirty seconds later House’s face was being furiously licked by a large fluffy brown mongrel and Steve was cowering for his life behind his own cage.
“House,” Wilson said hesitantly--very hesitantly--“I’d like you to meet Greg.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you named a dog after me? What are we, married?”
“Now, now, Greggy,” Wilson crooned, hefting the dog in question into his arms and stroking its head, “he really does like you—your uncle Housey-Wousey just has something we grownups like to call commitment issues.” Greggy seemed unfazed and began slobbering thoughtfully on Wilson’s left ear. “Ooh, Greg, that’s the spot, that’s the spot. A little to the left—oh, yeah.”
“Can we sound a little less dirty when we talk to the dog?” House said, snickering. “You’ll tarnish my rep.”
Greggy leapt, with a groan, from Wilson to the floor and began snuffling under the coffee table. Upon finding a spilled chunk of meat, he settled down, crossed his paws and proceeded to make small half-growling happy sounds. Steve poked his nose cautiously around the corner of his cage, wiggling his whiskers; House grabbed him and put him inside. “Where’d you get the dog?”
“Same place I got Charlie,” Wilson said, sitting on the couch again, “the city animal shelter.”
“Okay,” House said, “try this—for a man sleeping in his office, where do you plan on keeping the dog?”
Wilson grinned. “Um.”
“You want to keep that—” House gestured at his namesake “—in my apartment?”
“Look,” said House, “I didn’t expect you back in the first place, and things were normal around here again finally, and you show up with a dog. It’s named after me, which is nice and all, I guess, disturbing really, but—”
Wilson studied the top of Greg’s head silently for a few minutes, and when he glanced warily back up, House saw that the shadows in his gaze of a month before had returned.
“I’m sorry,” Wilson said. “Can I talk to you?”
It was House’s turn to stare at the dog. He rolled his eyes. “You want a drink?”
Ten minutes and two shots of Jack Daniels later, House and Wilson were sitting on the couch while Greg scampered in circles around the coffee table and Steve, in his cage, nibbled busily on a pecan he held between his front paws.
“So,” House said finally. “What’s up with this Grace?”
Wilson promptly shattered his tumbler. “What?”
House sighed. “You idiot, that was my favorite shot glass. Grace. The one you’re always calling up and grinning about.”
“Hold on.” Wilson retreated to the kitchen and returned, arms akimbo and smirking. “A doctor, a man who should know better than anybody the value of cleanliness, and you don’t own a dustpan?”
“I don’t own a dustpan,” House said, “and if I did it wouldn’t be in the kitchen. Forget the glass. It’s not gonna go anywhere. Neither are you.”
Wilson, feeling rather like a small, unruly child, sat down and focused with an extreme amount of concentration on the tip of Greg’s twitching tail. He resisted the urge to ask where, exactly, the dustpan would be, if not in the kitchen.
“She is,” Wilson said, “uh, a patient. Of mine.”
“Do you talk to all your patients so much, Patch Adams?”
“Anyway,” Wilson said. “About the other day.”
Greg lifted his head and woofed softly. House pursed his lips and whistled. A moment later Greg was draped across House’s lap and House’s fingers had found their way to his ears. Wilson’s jaw dropped. House popped a Vicodin.
“Is there a point to this discussion,” he said, rolling the pill around on his tongue, “or are you just going to keep stuttering and yacking till we all die of boredom?”
“Saw her on the way home, corner of Market and Fourth, walking into the store. So I followed her, okay? Man, could you have picked a colder bitch?”
Wilson looked at his shoes. “Why?”
House sighed. By now Greg’s eyes were closing in bliss and he was beginning to snore.
“I had one side left.”
“On the cube. I had one side left.”
Wilson reached over and touched Greg’s nose. “Which color?”
“I hate red.”
“Huh?” Wilson dropped the shard of broken crystal he’d been idly fingering. In years of friendship, not once had he heard those words so solemnly from House. Greg thumped his tail once, twice; House glared.
“Don’t make me repeat it or I swear I’ll shoot you and mount your head on the wall of a country club. You’re pretty enough; with antlers I could pass you off as a five-point buck.”
“No. Wait. I just don’t get it. Let me get this straight. You’re sorry that I hate the color red?”
House rolled his eyes. “You’re dumber than I thought.”
“Woof,” said Greg.
“What? You want some whiskey?”
“House. Dogs don’t drink alcohol.”
“Hear that? He wants some.”
There was silence. House rubbed Greg’s ears once more and met Wilson’s eyes.
“She didn’t answer me.”
Wilson blinked confusedly. “What did you ask her?”
“I asked her why.”
“What now?” Wilson’s eyes were on the ground, the keys of the piano, the ceiling, the abandoned TV Guide resting on the coffee table, anywhere but House.
“Haven’t you ever heard of walking your dog?” House grabbed his cane and got to his feet. There was a rather large wet spot on his jeans. Greg jumped to the ground, where he began running in circles and barking excitedly. Wilson snatched the leash—it had been Charlie’s—from the table and snapped it onto Greg’s collar; Steve squeaked in protest and House irritably poured another shot of whiskey, whereupon he proceeded to dump it on Wilson’s head.
“That’s for stinking up a perfectly good pair of jeans.”
“Well, that was for making me wet the bed!”
“No, you filed through my cane for that.”
“And you stuck twenty copies of Playboy in my briefcase before a board meeting for that!”
“Woof,” said Greg, dancing busily by the door.
“House. I have whiskey. On my head.”
“So? Chicks dig that.”
“Squeak,” said Steve, thinking he’d join in.
Wilson wrapped the end of Greg’s leash around his hand and went outside. House examined the now-empty bottle of Jack Daniels, tossed it into the trash, grabbed the remote and began flipping through his TiVo. By the time Wilson came back House had worked his way through half the order of won ton and was busy amusing himself by throwing grains of rice to Steve. Greg curled up near the cold fireplace and went to sleep. Wilson, whose hair was plastered to his head and who still stank of liquor, sighed, sat down, rested his feet on the coffee table and opened his mouth.
“I like you better when you don’t say anything.”
The television went silent again.
“Why she wanted to hurt you, okay? Damn it, Wilson, even when I pour warm whiskey on your head you’re Mr. Rogers. I half expect you to burst into song while you do the dishes. Sure, you cheat, you drink, you swear, and you are one major pain in the ass, but nobody wants to break you for it. She wanted to break you.”
“And a puzzle piece was missing,” Wilson said to himself.
“No. Well, yeah, but I wanted to know—” House sighed and glared at the quiet television set “—for you, too. Wilson, you had night terrors. You weren’t exactly the picture of sanity. Not like you ever are, of course, Mr. I-Dry-My-Hair-At-Six-AM-And-Clip-My-Very-L
Greg rolled over in his sleep and twitched an ear.
House sighed. “I’m not gonna ask what for—”
Wilson shrugged. “I blew up. It was wrong. You’re not a bastard.”
“No,” House said, “I am a bastard, and you know it. But, you idiot, you like me anyway. And get this.”
“Yeah?” Wilson glanced at him quickly.
“That’s your funeral—and this is mine.” House paused. “You’re a pretty-boy adulterer who doesn’t know what’s good for him—but, call me an idiot, I like you anyway. I do. And--and I need a drink.” Greg waved his paws in the air. House returned in a few minutes with two shots of scotch.
“Thanks,” Wilson said, after he’d had a swallow.
“I told you you’re a pretty-boy adulterer.”
“No, you told me I’m a stupid pretty-boy adulterer. And you said you like me anyway.”
“So maybe I don’t know what’s good for me either.”
“There’s an apartment closer to PPTH I’m gonna check out tomorrow.”
“Till then,” Wilson said quietly, “can I stay here?”
House turned his head. “Have I taught you nothing, padawan?”
“No, not really.”
House laughed. “Number one on the list of things never to do is ask a question when you already know the answer.”
Wilson grinned, and House found that he was grinning too.
“They’re fading,” House said a few minutes later, with an abrupt nod.
“Huh?” said Wilson, glancing briefly around.
“Those scars you were being such a girl about. They’re fading.”
Wilson looked at them himself. “I know.”
“Scars give a man character.”
“Yeah?” Wilson looked at House again.
“That whiskey on your head? Total babe magnet.”
“Maybe Grace’ll like it,” Wilson said, winking.
House whistled and the newly-awakened Greg jumped into his lap.
“If you’re ready,” House said quietly, “maybe she will.”
Wilson rested his head against the couch and scratched Greg’s ears. “Thanks, House.”
“I swear, you thank me again and I’ll—“
“Shoot me and mount my face on the wall of a country club, I know.”
“Woof,” said Greg.
“Squeak,” said the sleepy-eyed Steve.
And that night, while House played the piano and sang old Irish drinking songs too loudly with Wilson, they realized Julie didn’t matter, Stacy didn’t matter, Cuddy didn’t matter, nobody mattered. Because, whether or not the other one admitted it, whether or not the other one wanted to even think about admitting it, they’d be there.
Because scars will fade, but friendships don’t have to.
Because House could tolerate dog drool, and Wilson knew he’d always have a place to stay with no lobster in sight.
Because music sounds better when you’re not the only one listening to it.
And because House was a full-fledged, grade-A bastard, but Wilson loved him anyway.