October 21st, 2006

house and wilson bros before hos

It's Not Easy, 1/3

Title: It's Not Easy
Word Count: 25,468
Characters/Pairings: Pretty much all of them; pairing Wilson/Julie (sort of)
Rating: PG-13?
Disclaimer: Do I really need one? 'Cos if I owned this show, I sure wouldn't be writing fan-fiction.
Summary: It's sort of an AU, really kind of an "epic" fic (but please don't be scared off, and please give it a chance--I'm too lazy to post all the chapters separately), and it involves domestic violence. Um, what else? Dunno. Hurt/comfort stuff, House/Wilson friendship. Yeah. If you flame me and tell me not to write about things I don't understand, I won't be happy. Hope you enjoy it. Au revoir.

Prologue



It was Monday morning, and James Wilson, M.D. was running late.


To Wilson’s credit, however, he was not entirely responsible for this tardiness. Perhaps the greatest blame for the shameful slip-up should have been placed on his wife, Julie. You see, the night before Wilson had come home ten minutes after five—dinner time—and she was seething.


Wilson pushed gingerly at the door to Princeton-Plainsboro, wincing with the onrush of another brief flash of pain and wondering where House had gotten to—his motorcycle had not been in its normal space when he pulled up, and Wilson hadn’t seen him on his way into the hospital either. At the moment, though, Wilson wasn’t sure he wanted to run into House, or, for that matter, anyone else. His shoulder throbbed where he had hastily bound it upon waking, and he felt fairly certain there was a new bruise forming on his hip—he brushed against the briefcase of a patient, let the door swing gently shut on his heels, and amended his previous remark; he was absolutely certain there was a new bruise forming on his hip.


In his mind, Wilson began to list the things he had to do that morning. This was a tactic he had adopted recently, and one he employed on a daily, sometimes twice-daily basis. Reviewing his plans in an organized, calm manner diverted his thoughts; it allowed him, briefly, to focus on something else and even to temporarily forget the events of the past hours entirely. But as he walked forward, his own briefcase swinging from his left hand and his right shoulder uncomfortably stiff from its hasty medical treatment, his heart sank to the pit of his stomach at the unpleasant realization that the hazy haven of memory loss was not on the agenda that morning.


Waiting by the clinic, glaring at him rather menacingly, hands folded before her chest, stood Cuddy.


“Good morning, Lisa,” said Wilson. He attempted to slip quietly past and make for the elevator. Unfortunately, he was not as quick as he would have liked. Out of practice, he assumed; House could have made it in ten seconds flat, and he was missing a significant amount of thigh muscle. Wilson thought that was just another part of a base difference between the two of them; while House held no qualms at all about running away from a potentially unpleasant situation—funny, him being a man who couldn’t run at all—Wilson had stopped running years ago. And he’d paid for it ever since.


Cuddy did not make a move to uncross her arms; in fact, if such was even possible, her grip tightened. “Dr. Wilson,” she said, standing motionless and (handily enough) in his way, “you are three hours late.”


Wilson knew for a fact that, regularly, he was never more than five minutes late, and rarely even that small amount. Lately, however, he had begun coming in later and later. Thus far, three hours was his record. He supposed he should have expected Cuddy would say something to him; they were, after all, friends—of a sort. The problem was that they were also boss and employee, he was extremely late, and she had just caught him. He paused a safe distance away and gave her a shy smile.


“I’m sorry,” he said, and thought rapidly for a plausible excuse, “but I was getting a ride with House, and—well, you know how he is about being anywhere on time.” There, he thought, that should do it.


“No dice.”


Wilson blinked. “What do you mean?”


“No dice,” Cuddy repeated, with a quick, mournful shake of her head, “I’m afraid that’s not going to wash, Wilson. You see—although, for all I know, this may well be a sign of the Apocalypse—House arrived at eight. He’s been here for two-and-a-half hours.”


At this, Wilson shook his own head and momentarily closed his eyes. Whenever he needed the man to be late—well, wasn’t that Murphy’s Law for you? The only thing he could think was—busted. Busted busted busted. This was it. He tried weakly to flex his right shoulder, testing his mobility, hoping to ward off the panic he knew was inevitable, but his efforts were to no avail. His own bandaging job proved too much of a constraint. Busted, his mind reminded him again, and he felt the blood rush from his head. His vision shimmered and grew fuzzy. His legs began to tremble. He took a deep breath—


And collapsed in a dead faint.


Wilson’s briefcase hit the ground as he did. Its clasp broke with a snap and it gleefully abandoned its mountainous contents in a snow-like flurry of creamy paper and black ink. The clinic patients sitting nearby turned their heads curiously to see what was going on—a doctor’s illness was a nice distraction. Meanwhile, one of Wilson’s forms drifted peacefully up to the air vent, where it slid through the grate and disappeared.


Cuddy shook her head again and paged House.



I.



Cause lately my heart keeps telling me to run to you

I still can’t believe that you’re gone

But, baby, my mind keeps telling me that we are through

And telling my heart to move on



Tell me, what do we wish on now,

Now that our star

Has fallen from the sky?

And where did we go so wrong in this love?

And how do I kiss you goodbye?



--True Vibe



When Wilson next opened his eyes, he had a Foley.


While the Foley was certainly not his most important concern, it was, at the time, the most pressing. Beside the fact that he hated the things—the immodesty which came with them (somebody had to set it up, didn’t they?), the fact that they were a bit more uncomfortable than he usually found tolerable, and the way they effectively restrained his mobility—a Foley could have meant only one thing, and that one thing was the one thing he definitely did not want.


A Foley meant that he, James Wilson, was in hospital.


Given, the admission sounded a bit foolish coming from an oncologist, but Wilson had not been in hospital for ten years, since he broke his leg in two places skiing with some college buddies, and he did not intend to start the practice again soon. It was not so much a phobia as it was an incredibly severe dislike. Wilson considered himself a fairly private person—well, except when he was drunk, but House was the only one around then—and if there was one thing besides good food that you could not have in hospital, it was privacy.


And on top of that, Julie would kill him.


At this, Wilson shifted his eyelids from half-shut position to panic mode and began making a very credible effort to sit up. He got his head about three inches off the pillow (what were those things stuffed with, rocks?) when he realized something both rather alarming and very important.


He, James Wilson, was not only in hospital—he was tied to the bed.


Wilson twisted his hands quietly back and forth for a moment, trying to test his restraints. Sure enough, his wrists were bound by thick leather straps to the bed rails, and he could do little more than flex his fingers. The rough edges of his bindings chafed against the wrist he’d recently sprained; he sighed and, in annoyance, stopped resisting. In hospital and restrained. He began to feel sympathetic for the patients who actually required restraints; in truth, he’d experienced few things more degrading. It was when he waggled his feet back and forth beneath the blanket and found his ankles were bound as well that the reality of the situation began to sink in. He could not get up, and he had no idea why. If this was the current punishment for being late, a Foley and a set of restraints, why wasn’t House suffering too? He shut his eyes and was about to indulge himself in pretending to be somewhere else, far away from wives and Foleys and bindings and House, when he heard a voice.


“Dr. Wilson?” it said. “Are you all right?”


Wilson, of course, knew right away who it was—one of House’s fellows, in particular one by the name of Allison Cameron. He sighed to himself and, with more than a little reluctance, pried open his eyes once more. She was standing by the door smiling at him. He could tell by the look on her face that the façade was rather flimsy, and he wondered what bad news she had found out and whether it had anything to do with why he was bound to the bed.


“I’m fine,” he said, though he felt far from it. His wrist ached, he couldn’t move, he felt sure he was bleeding through the bandage on his shoulder, and the bruise he’d noticed earlier was throbbing away in full glory. In addition, he was currently wearing a hospital gown, and Allison Cameron was… staring at him. Did he miss something?


“You gave Cuddy a real scare.”


“What happened?” Wilson asked.


Cameron smiled weakly and made a few hand gestures in an effort to decide exactly what she should say to that. Wilson essentially filled in the blanks for himself—something bad had happened and she didn’t want to tell him about it. He tried to mentally retrace that morning’s activities; he remembered arriving, missing House’s bike, running into Cuddy, coming up with a lie which should not have come true but somehow, by some cruel twist of fate, did anyway… and then nothing until the Foley. He was fairly sure that, provided he were motivated to, he would be able to remember earlier events, but he worked so hard for blissful ignorance most of the time that he didn’t mind indulging in it when he actually had a proper excuse. He sighed—he was supposed to have seen a patient that morning, but the whole three-hours-late deal pretty much screwed that up.


Cameron was still grinning at him.


Wilson liked Cameron—he wasn’t interested in dating her (he was not quite as much a player as House or the hospital rumor mill made him out to be), but he felt a strange kinship with her, and she was oddly fascinated by him. She was, by no means, the only one who found his friendship with House odd, but she was one of the few who found it intriguing. And as if that weren’t enough, Wilson personally believed Cameron preferred to like everyone anyway. He did not have a close friendship with her but a sort of acquaintanceship; it was true that House was his only real friend (after all, that was all he had—a job and a stupid, screwed-up friendship), but if he were to have a second, he thought she’d be a pretty good candidate.


At the moment, helpless and bound to his own bed like a patient in the psych ward, he remembered telling Cameron “You’d be surprised what you can live with,” and he felt the truth of his statement finally hit home. He was surprised by what he could live with—and he guessed she was, too. Everyone had their secrets, right? Everyone lied.


“Did I faint?”


Cameron nodded. Wilson suspected she was pleased by the relatively mild question. “Collapsed right in the clinic,” she said. “The janitors will be digging your papers out of the air vents for weeks.”


“My papers?”


“Your briefcase broke,” Cameron said. “The fall was probably too much for it.”


Wilson knew Cameron would really have appreciated more avoidance, but, for his sake, he had to get back to the topic at hand. “Why am I in bed?” he asked, “if I only fainted?”


“It was, uh,” Cameron began, “a bit more than that. You see—”


Luckily for her, she was cut off just then by a direct, rather imposing thudding noise on the door to the room. It was a loud noise, so Wilson instinctively flinched a bit. He knew what was making this particular loud noise, however, and so did Cameron. She stood back a foot or two and the door swung open.


“I haven’t taught you well, have I?” said House. The expression on his face, if what was there could have been called one at all, was utterly unreadable. Wilson was completely caught off guard. He blinked.


“Huh?”


House turned to Cameron and leered at her in a particularly suggestive fashion. She sighed, sent another cheery smile in Wilson’s direction, and took the hint.


“Bye, Cameron,” he said, wondering if a sort of lopsided four-fingered wiggle counted as a proper wave and doubting it but trying anyway. Once the door was shut, House turned back to him and maintained a blank stare which went on until something caught up with Wilson, exhaustion, embarrassment, injury, who knew, and he closed his eyes.


Big mistake.


“Fainting’s a real girly thing to do, you know,” came a voice about four inches away from his nose. “I thought I taught you better than that. Did you at least get a chance to look up her skirt? Otherwise, you lose, dude.”


Wilson’s eyes sprang open about halfway through the first sentence; he let out a frightened squeak and reflexively strained a bit against the restraints, but the pressure on his wrist was too much. House’s eyes narrowed rather dangerously. Wilson did not really consider that a good sign. “Sorry,” he said, “cheated on the test and all that. Learned that from the best though. And as for the skirt, I’m—” he stumbled over the word “—married.”


“You know,” House groaned, “I never thought I’d even think this, but—”


“Oh, please, House, this isn’t the best place to propose—”


“We might actually have to—”


“Wait for Aspen, much more romantic that way—”


“Talk,” House finished, then sucked in a very large, very exaggerated gulp of air as if the word had simply been too much to get out. “Damn it, I need a drink.”


“Look,” Wilson said, forcing himself to be serious, “while I’m tied to a hospital bed probably isn’t the best time for anything—”


“Oh, I can think of something—” said House, leering at Wilson in a particularly suggestive fashion, which Wilson found highly disturbing but chose to ignore in favor of more important discussion.


“Let alone talking,” Wilson spat. “Since when are you Mr. Rogers anyway? And why, damn it, am I chained to the damn bed?”


Wilson didn’t think he’d ever seen House drop his gaze before, but he did. There was, surprisingly enough, silence for a moment. Then, “Apparently, Wilson, you’re suicidal.”


If Wilson hadn’t known the message was serious simply by its contents, he understood the weight it carried by the fact that House used his name. House hadn’t called him anything other than “you” in years. But the “suicidal” part was enough for him. He shut his eyes again and wondered how he’d ever get out of that one. On second thought, he wondered why they believed he was suicidal in the first place. The Boy Wonder oncologist with a less-than-perfect life? It was enough to send half the nurses into shock.


In the air vents above Wilson’s head, the form which had been the first to fly up there continued silently on its journey.



II.



I’m thirty-three for a moment

Still the man but, you see, I’m a they

A kid on the way, babe,

A family on my mind



I’m forty-five for a moment

The sea is high

And I’m heading into a crisis

Chasing the years of my life



Fifteen, there’s still time for you

Time to buy and time to choose

Hey, fifteen, there’s never a wish better than this

When you’ve only got a hundred years to live



--Five For Fighting



DNA is a really cool thing,” said House. “Did you know that? I bet you did, Wilsie.”


Wilson’s eyes were shut again. He was still chained unmercifully to the bed. By the sound and direction of House’s voice, Wilson guessed he was sitting sprawled on one of the visitor’s chairs. By the sound of the television he hadn’t known he had, Wilson guessed General Hospital was on. Wilson had never been very good at ignoring people, and the current time was no exception, even though House had intentionally become more and more annoying by the minute in the name department and Wilson was fairly certain that any nurses walking by would promptly decide he was gay.


“I don’t see where you’re going with this,” Wilson said. He was still tired and so he kept his eyes shut. Keeping his eyes shut also made it easier to ignore House.


“DNA,” House repeated. “Learned about it in med school, didn’t you, Jimmy-poo? Nah,” he interrupted himself, “don’t like that one. Anyway, I’m pretty sure we all did. Amazing stuff, that. Just need a little bit and those cool dudes in the blue uniforms can figure out about anything. Like, oh, I don’t know, who to arrest. A strand of hair’s good enough. Think you shower that well, Wilsie?”


“You watch too much Cops,” Wilson muttered, “and I still don’t see where you’re going with this.”


“I don’t believe you’re suicidal,” House said.


This was interesting. Perhaps he had an ally after all. Wilson cracked open one eye. General Hospital was on. He ignored it. “You still haven’t told me why they think I’m suicidal,” he said, “and why haven’t you left yet? I think it’s lunchtime. Don’t you have some food to steal?”


“Why would I steal some, Wilsie, when I have your lunch?” House said. “It’s so much more fun this way. And better-quality stuff too.”


“Look,” said Wilson again, for the second time that afternoon, “my name’s Wilson, not Wilsie, and I want to know why everyone in the hospital seems to think I’m determined to off myself. Can’t you be serious for five seconds and at least explain that?”


House paused and eyed the television. He was quiet for a minute—for House, being serious always took considerable exertion—then he said, still without returning his gaze to Wilson, “Looked at yourself lately?”


Wilson blinked. “Huh?”


“Do I have to spell it out for you?” House yelled angrily, twisting back around in his chair. “You idiot, you look like hell, you’ve been sleeping in your office all week, you’ve got about ten damn scars, and you fainted in the damn clinic. What do you think people are gonna believe? That you spend your weekends on the good ship Lollipop?”


It was too much for Wilson. He hated himself, oh, he hated himself for being such a wimp, but it was too much at once. Too much after what had happened that morning—which, he hastily reminded himself, he wasn’t going to think about. He began, involuntarily, to shake. His bindings jerked back and forth in a pitiful, bizarre rhythm as he trembled. House, not being an idiot, was fully aware of what was happening; he sighed and got to his feet. For a hesitant moment he made as if he might undo the bindings, but Wilson could not help flinching as he approached, and House shook his head and left the room without glancing back. Wilson, afraid, helpless, frustrated, and unbearably angry—at House, at himself, at the hospital staff, at the leather imprisoning him, at the Foley, at the ridiculous gown, at Julie, at the world—lay still and began, silently, to sob. He cried to himself until he once more was able to recover his composure, and when he had he cried again, because—thanks to his wife—he could no longer wipe away his own tears.



--------------------------------------------------------



Cuddy was not terribly surprised by the fact that House was waiting outside her office when she returned. It was really starting to become a regular occurrence, and, though her secretary found him rather disturbing and harbored a secret fear that he was the Unabomber, she discovered that she didn’t mind. Even though it meant she had to put up with him, she enjoyed having the company. She was not young any more, she never had liked being alone, and her office tended to get awfully quiet when there was not a scruffy, hulking, six-foot-tall doctor-cum-teenager leaning on his cane and griping in the middle of it.


Today he was waiting in the hallway outside, and he looked more angry than usual. Her secretary’s desk was notably empty. That was no surprise.


“I can’t believe what you’re doing!” House said, as soon as he spotted her approaching.


“What do you mean?” she asked, stepping rather nimbly around him and unlocking her door. This, too, was becoming routine; he would follow her in and explain, as irrationally as possible, his latest complaint—probably about his latest patient, she thought, and something I’m not doing, or not doing to his liking, or, most likely, not letting him do—she would explain, much more rationally, why things were the way they were, and he would sneer, make some biting remark about her clothing, and storm out, usually already coming up with a way to get around her. Aside from her secretary’s recent increase in therapy bills, the situation worked. Patients generally lived and she hadn’t been sued—not in the past month, anyway.


Dealing with House was all about strategies, compromise (when necessary), and games. Once you got the hang of it, you could handle him. He was not often as cruel of a man as most of the staff believed him to be, though he could do a fine job of living up to his reputation—there was something oddly respectable about him which kept people around. Otherwise, she thought, and laughed, he would’ve been lynched already; if not by Foreman, then by a patient. Perfect grades in medical school the man had and she’d swear her father’s retriever had better social skills.


Of course… the leg. That was a large part of the reason why she tried so hard, fought so hard to make sure he didn’t get himself killed. That and the fact that he was one of the best doctors she’d ever had.


Not today, though. Today he was ready to go for the jugular and Cuddy found herself wanting to hide out with her secretary. If she’d just known where the woman was, she might have.


“Are you insane?” House said, banging his cane on the ground angrily, once, twice. A painting on the opposite wall vibrated and fell askew. “Do you enjoy torturing your doctors? Is this some new kink of yours?”


Cuddy sighed and took a much-needed deep breath. “What,” she said, upon exhale, “are you talking about?”


“James Wilson. Head of Oncology. Remember, Pied Piper for all the bald little cancer kids?” House hissed. Yes, Cuddy decided, “hissed” was the best word for it.


“Calm down, House, and explain so I have at least an atom of knowledge regarding what, exactly, you mean. What about Dr. Wilson?”


“He is chained to a bed,” House said, biting every word neatly off like rapid-fire pellets from a machine gun, “humiliated, devastated, and beat nearly to death, though he would never admit to any of it. And your damn staff is calling him suicidal. You know Wilson as well as I do. Suicidal? It’s his damn wife, not a Gillette in the tub at midnight, that’s for damn sure, and I—”


Cuddy held up a hand. “Three things, House. First, I had nothing to do with this. Wilson fainted at my feet and I had a meeting, so I paged you to take care of him. It’s not my fault if you didn’t answer and someone else got there first. We are, if you’ll remember, in a hospital.


“Second, if someone is hurting Wilson, he needs to call the police. You can think it’s his wife all you want, but unless you can come up with some kind of proof, you’re going to have to get him to admit it. I have no idea one way or the other.


“And third—” She paused. “Third, House, why do you care?”


House stared at her. “I’m cruel,” he said, “but I’m not that cruel.”


Cuddy was silent for a moment, and then she nodded. “I’ll make sure he gets set free,” she said. “You’re right. The man fainted, he didn’t slit his throat.”


“Good,” said House, and with that he turned and left.


Despite the seriousness of the moment, Cuddy laughed when her secretary poked her head up from behind her blotter and slid quietly into her seat again. Then she took her pager and set about the business of removing one of her best, most reputable doctors from suicide watch. Of all the things to be doing on a Monday—and for Wilson, of all people. What were the odds?



---------------------------------------------------------------



In his lifetime, Wilson could not remember ever feeling more relieved than he did as the nurse on duty undid his bindings, her fingers deftly sliding along the leather like a magic trick. She said nothing about the drying salty tracks of tears on his cheeks or the way he shrank back when she leaned too close, overly-painted lips brushing together mere inches from his eyes and musky, flowery perfume flooding his senses. When he’d thanked her and she left him alone again, he adjusted his bed to a proper sitting position—he didn’t feel well enough to get up yet—tried to cover himself more effectively with the thin hospital blankets, rubbed his eyes with one hand, and settled down to study the insides of his eyelids for a bit. House, in his insulting, blunt way, had been right; he did look like hell. He felt rather like it as well, and he intended to amend the situation as soon as possible. He could do nothing for the scars he bore on his forearms and upper thighs but hide them, which did not work so well when he had to wear a hospital gown; that was, he thought, probably why whichever staff had found him on the floor had deemed him suicidal. He certainly didn’t look sane, and he didn’t blame them—he would’ve done the same thing.


Wilson shifted his head an inch or so in order to arrange it more comfortably on the pillow and closed his eyes. For the first time in a little too long, he thought, he might get some sleep.



III.

You’ve got me captured—I’m under your spell

I guess I’ll never learn

I have your picture—yes, I know it well

Another page is turned

Are you for real? It’s so hard to tell

From just a magazine

Yeah, you just smile and the picture sells

Look what that does to me



I’ll wait till your love comes down

I’m coming straight for your heart

No way you can stop me now

As fine as you are



--Van Halen



Julie’s face wrinkled when she was angry.


The rational part of Wilson’s mind realized that, under the circumstances, this was a rather odd thing to notice, but the irrational part, the part which focused on things like survival instincts and sheer, unmitigated fear, considered it the perfect mental focal point. A safety blanket. A binky, if you would. Thinking about the way Julie’s face wrinkled meant he didn’t have to think about the other things she was up to—didn’t, of course, make them disappear, didn’t make them hurt any less, but provided—at least—a brief mental respite.


When they’d married, her face was smooth. But it wrinkled when she was angry.


Wilson’s situation was complicated, ironically enough, largely because he’d spent so many years trying to be a gentleman. By the time he realized that saving himself meant he would have to inflict pain on his wife, she had taken too many liberties, gone just a bit too far. Done just a bit too much. Crossed the line. He tried to fight her off, tried to fight back, but when she was not attacking him with anything she found handy, she was screaming, cursing, telling him he was worthless.


And eventually it happened.


She began to make him believe her.


It was two days into his Christmas vacation when Julie first tried to break him. They’d had a fight and he’d found himself sitting hours later, bruised and swollen, at a chair in the kitchen, idly scratching Charlie and clutching like a lifeline the same shirt which had just ignited her fit because she’d smelled another woman’s perfume. He’d tried to hold her off, and he did try, but he could not bring himself to injure her. She’d wadded the shirt up and pushed it to his nose, screaming for him to confess his infidelity, and at first he smelled only Downy, but as time went on the scent of clean laundry transformed into that of the hot woman in radiology. And perhaps he had had an affair with her. He couldn’t remember. What if he had? She wouldn’t hurt him if he didn’t deserve it. She loved him.


Didn’t she?


The worst part was not that he’d confessed. The worst part was that, an hour later, he couldn’t remember the truth any more.


That afternoon he’d shed a single silent tear into Charlie’s fur and retreated for hours to his office at PPTH. He showed up at House’s with a six-pack and the latest Girls Gone Wild on Christmas Eve and spent the evening eating Chinese, listening to House’s version of James Taylor, drinking their favorite beer, and icing his knee—he blamed the swelling and sprain on a running accident and was too tired to be perceptive when House didn’t believe him. He had another fight with Julie because he stayed out on a holiday, but he didn’t miss New Year’s Eve. That night the throbbing of his ribs accompanied the dropping of the ball. His main problem, when he fought back, because he refused to merely sit and be wounded, was that he simply could not hit her as hard as she hit him, hard enough to hold her off. His main problem was that he still loved her.


He began to mark time by his injuries.


Exhaustion, for the most part, kept him from realizing that people were slowly beginning to catch on. It clouded his senses and overwhelmed him at the oddest of times. He found himself becoming instinctively afraid of things which had not bothered him in the slightest before. He had to give up tennis because he was no longer comfortable around the ball, which seemed to head rapidly for your face just when you least expected it to; she threw things at him. She screamed at him; he watched as his confidence was depleted. When she got close enough to throw a punch, he’d restrain her or even punch back, but she quickly learned and found other ways to injure him; while he was sleeping, or from across the room, or with her newly-discovered sharp tongue. He had never cheated on Julie, but he became so afraid of accidentally, perhaps subconsciously, doing so that he often prevented himself from so much as looking at other women for fear he might jump them.


He adapted his wardrobe so that, regardless of what he wore, where he went, his scars would not be visible. She was wearing him down with her deprecation, the candlesticks she liked to wing at him, and the lies she fed him until he nearly accepted them as truth. He was ashamed—horribly ashamed; he was a man who’d been beaten by his wife, and if that was not the epitome of spinelessness, he thought, what was? And even if he were to try to get help, who would he ask? What could he do? He needed her signature to get a divorce, and he’d been with her so long that—the worst part of all—he was becoming afraid to try.


She’d find out. He knew it. She’d find out.


Oh, God, no, she’d find out!


“Wilson. Wilson.”


It was an Australian accent. Julie didn’t have one of those, did she? For a moment he couldn’t remember; then it hit him.


Shit. Princeton-Plainsboro.


Wilson opened his eyes and blinked once or twice. His sight was rather fuzzy, and he soon realized that this was because there was a light in his face. Chase. He should’ve known.


“What are you doing, Chase?” he asked. “I’m fine.”


“You were hallucinating,” Chase said, somewhat defensively, clicking off the light and taking a step backward. “Moving round and saying all sorts of funny things like ‘She’ll find out!’ Or something.”


“It was a dream,” Wilson said. “Trust me, I’m fine.”


“Sure.” Chase eyed him. “You don’t look so good, you know.”


“I know.”


“Cameron’s a bit worried about you.”


“Cameron’s sweet,” Wilson said wearily. He was tired of conversation, tired of people, tired of pain, but going to sleep didn’t sound like such a good idea either, not if he was going to dream like that again. And just then—oh, perfect timing really—came the familiar pounding at the door. House was back. Before Wilson had time to wonder why, he was in the room.


“Chase,” House said, by way of greeting—Wilson wasn’t sure if it could be considered that, since he’d never really seen House “greet” anybody.


“Er… House,” said Chase, rather warily.


“Done blinding Dr. Wilson? Good. Off with you then. We grown-ups have something we need to discuss, and we don’t want you nosy little Brits eavesdropping.”


“He was having hallucinations,” Chase insisted, desperate to justify the waving of his light in Wilson’s face, and left the room mildly annoyed. House glanced at Wilson to gauge his reaction to the term “hallucinations,” but Wilson shook his head.


“It was a dream,” he said. “That’s it. Perfectly ordinary.” He paused. “Why the visit, House?”


“What, did you forget that we needed to talk already, Wilsie?”


Wilson sighed and allowed his lips to curve into a wry grin. “Just because you got me off suicide watch doesn’t mean you get to call me Wilsie.”


House grinned slyly himself. “How’d you know who busted you out?”


Wilson shrugged with his good arm, feigning innocence. “What do you get when you combine one middle-aged, self-conscious, gossipy nurse and one extremely overactive hospital rumor mill? A news and communications system faster than E-mail, that’s what.” In the act of shifting position, he bumped his injured shoulder. The pain was not much and he only allowed himself to wince for a moment, but it was enough—unfortunately—to remind House of the topic at hand.


“Where’d you get the battle scars, Wilson?” House said. He was suddenly serious, and again Wilson marveled at the rapidity of his emotions. He was not sickeningly sweet, did not even seem, to the untrained eye, very kind, but he went from laughter to solemnity in under a minute, and he eyeballed Wilson in a manner which was not threatening so much as curious and—dare he say it?—perhaps even, just a bit, solely for an instant, caring.


Though he forced himself to acknowledge the fact he could be imagining the situation, Wilson had not felt like he had a friend in months, and suddenly he did.


This was not like House—oh, no, not like House at all. It was almost creepy.


And Wilson found himself fighting an overpowering urge to honestly answer the question.


Instead, because he was afraid, he dropped the bed back to its horizontal position again, said, “What battle scars?” and got up, ready, for all intents and purposes, to get dressed and check himself out. It was a lovely idea, if he’d just been able to stand up properly. As it was, he staggered rather pitifully, stumbled across the room, and regained his balance by leaning on the door just as Cuddy opened it. He jumped backward in surprise, felt a crack in his left ankle, and landed somewhat abruptly on the floor.


The last thing he remembered before blacking out was House laughing uproariously. Laughing, and reaching out a hand to help him up.



IV.



I’ve never been

The one to raise my hand

That was not me

And now that’s who I am

Because of you

I am standing tall



My heart is full

Of endless gratitude

You were the one

The one to guide me through

Now I can see

And I believe

It’s only just beginning



--Taylor Hicks



It was about six o’ clock that evening when Cuddy ran into two of her most valuable doctors—oh, how she hated to admit that—on their way out. If it were not for the solemnity of the situation, she would have burst out laughing; as it was, she found restraining herself was no simple matter.


While, ordinarily, Dr. Wilson had to match his steps and stride to Dr. House’s, today it was the other way around. Wilson was dressed in his original clothes again—sans tie—looking slightly more normal, but he had a cast on his left ankle due to the—er—accident with the door, he was supporting himself with a pair of crutches, and though he was covering them with sleeves and slacks again, she knew the wounds he had which weren’t going to heal. For a moment she wondered if House had been right about the injuries being the fault of Julie Wilson, and she contemplated the satisfaction of bashing the woman’s face to shreds with a few nice, well-placed blows. Unfortunately, Deans didn’t do such things.


That was, she thought, altogether too bad.


House, on the other hand, looked dapper and dashing in comparison to Wilson for once. His gait seemed to have improved; he wasn’t limping as heavily as per his usual. The humor of the moment lay entirely in the way the two of them looked together. Cuddy knew they were friends, but it wasn’t often that they matched.


As she watched them approach, she noticed a few things which hadn’t seemed so obvious before; Wilson stayed a pace further away from House, rather than moving shoulder-to-shoulder with him; in turn, House seemed to have a pretty good idea when Wilson was becoming uncomfortable, and would either lower his voice a bit or move slightly apart again. Cuddy felt a rush of guilt for failing to understand what was going on previously, but she consoled herself with the reminder that she wasn’t really to blame—after all, who had figured it out? If House couldn’t, the odds were no one could have.


“We don’t need any more Girls Gone Wild,” House said to Wilson in an abnormally loud stage whisper as they came within hearing range, “we have the hottest Dean in fifteen counties.” Wilson sighed and shook his head, but he was still hard put to keep himself from grinning. Even though they’d been talking about her, Cuddy found herself wanting to grin too.


“Wilson?” she said, nearly putting a hand on his arm before she caught herself.


“Yes?” he replied, pausing gingerly and flashing her another of his shy smiles. (With those, she understood the basis for his reputation.)


“The janitors did a remarkably quick job of removing your papers from the air vents,” Cuddy said, smiling, “and you can have them back. I believe they’re all here.” From the bottom of a drawer, she removed a rather thick sheaf of documents, and then she paused, uncertain as to what to do with them; it was clear Wilson couldn’t carry them, and House was already halfway to the door. Wilson was suggesting he try to fix the clasp back on his briefcase when House heaved an exceedingly loud sigh and limped over to them again.


“Give ‘em to me,” he said. “Cane only takes one hand.”


Wilson shrugged and grinned to Cuddy when House was leaving again. “Thanks,” he said, quietly, and then he made a valiant attempt at hobbling, in a dignified manner, away.


When the door swung shut behind them, Cuddy sat down and indulged herself in a private smile. They were good men, both of them; good men, good doctors, and good friends, and when they were with each other, she knew they were in good hands. And that was lucky, because, for a Dean of Medicine with far more lawsuits than she felt she deserved, she needed every reassurance she could get.



---------------------------------------------------



Wilson hobbled alongside House until they reached the parking lot, when he found himself faced with a rather problematic conundrum. They had arrived in separate cars; as such, they should leave in separate cars, and the odds were that once they did they would wind up returning to their separate homes. Wilson’s problem was that he did not want to go back to the house where he lived. In fact, as he stood, balanced somewhat precariously with his crutches, and touched his hand to the door of his car, he realized he was terrified of it. He glanced at House, who was a few spaces down heading toward his Corvette, and let out a weary sigh. It seemed he would have no other choice.


He’d just rested his crutches against the side of the car so he could begin the process of climbing in when he heard an engine behind him and a very familiar voice.


“You going to stand there all night,” it said, “or come watch good porn, eat pizza ‘till you puke, and drown your poor angsty teenage troubles in beer?”


To Wilson, a comfortable night on the couch under a blanket in his own boxer shorts (not an annoying hospital gown) while House griped about his latest case and noodled away on the piano sounded like a much better idea, but regardless of what they wound up doing, he knew he didn’t want to go back to Julie. So he grabbed his crutches again, hobbled over to the passenger side, and clumsily climbed inside when House flung open the door. For a moment, he was able to forget why he didn’t want to go home—and for that, he was grateful.


House glanced over at him after he’d dumped his crutches in the back seat and settled himself with one or two quiet sounds of relief. At first Wilson thought that House was going to say something about Julie, but he was comfortably silent on that topic and instead remarked, “You still look like hell.”


“Gee, thanks,” Wilson said.


At the next stop light, House took his eyes off the road again and said, “You can even look cool in this baby if you’re sleeping in it, you know. It is that awesome.”


Wilson took the hint. The leather of the seat was astonishingly soft, not at all like that of the restraints used at PPTH (he already feared he might have nightmares about those), and it wasn’t more than two blocks before he’d dozed off. He did not so much as snore or stir until they reached House’s place, where House rather unceremoniously blasted Bohemian Rhapsody to provide an incredibly effective wake-up call. Wilson dreamed about nothing at all. It was the best sleep he’d had in a year and a half.


They went inside and amiably bickered for a few minutes over what Chinese to order, as they always did. Wilson examined the contents of House’s medicine cabinet so he could change the bandage on his shoulder; when he removed the dressing, he was pleased to note that the wound had stopped bleeding and begun to clot. The night before she’d flung a fork at him over the dinner table with a surprising amount of force; he hadn’t been able to dodge it in time and had had to remove it from his arm later. The next thing she threw, though, he’d deflected with her favorite china plate, and the episode of flying cutlery was over soon afterward.


House was watching The Princess Bride when Wilson got back to the living room; it was probably House’s all-time favorite movie, which, if you thought about it, was really rather odd, but Wilson didn’t care; for at least one night, he didn’t have to go back. He didn’t plan on thinking about the next until he had to.


House, on the other hand, had altogether different ideas.


Different, Wilson thought idly. Now there was House in a nutshell.



----------------------------------------------------------



Whenever House thought about the events of the day, as he could not stop himself from doing a few times too many for comfort, he wondered about the same thing, and it was beginning to plague him. He and Wilson were, if anything, like brothers. Wilson was the only one who had never left him, and the only one House almost felt he could trust—even then, there were many times when he was still afraid, felt the need to push the boundaries, to see if maybe, if he just pushed hard enough, Wilson would leave anyway. Like everybody else. But House pushed and Wilson stayed, and House pushed and Wilson stayed, and even when House wanted Wilson to go away Wilson stayed, and after a time, though House knew he could never fully trust Wilson—probably could never fully trust another human being again—he also knew he could come close enough. It was comfortable. Wilson needed to be needed, and now Wilson was the one doing the needing, and House had never before quite realized how nice it felt to be depended on by someone else. Not that he’d turn nice and become Wilson or anything. Ties that ugly? They’d just have to kill him first.


As such, the question that plagued him was this: why hadn’t Wilson told him?


In the same abrupt fashion House did everything else (life was so much more fun that way), he turned to Wilson and asked.


“What?” sputtered Wilson, dropping his chopsticks into his lo mein. “What was that?”


As Westley helped Buttercup through the Fire Swamp, House repeated his question. “So why didn’t you tell me?”


“Tell you what?” Wilson asked.


“That Julie beat the shit out of you.”


“I never said Julie had anything to do with anything. That was all your idea.”


“So go home to her,” House said. “Prove she has nothing to do with anything.”


House had not known anyone’s face could lose color quite that quickly.


“I can prove my side,” he said, with a smirk which was not as pesky as his usual. He leaned over and fished a form from the pocket of his leather jacket. It was, oddly enough, the same form which had been sucked through the air vents at the time Wilson fell.


“See this?” House said, pointing to a telling spot of something red in the upper right-hand corner. “Looks an awful lot like blood, doesn’t it?”


Wilson sat and stared at him. He was utterly silent.


“I bet if I ran this through the lab, I’d have plenty of evidence for you, pal. Like that, for starters. Unless you recently decided to dye your hair blond, I’d be willing to bet—” House jabbed a finger at something on the paper “—that isn’t yours. The blood, on the other hand, is much easier. Speaks for itself really.”


Wilson moved not a muscle, only shifted his gaze to the television. It was time for the wild dog to die in Count Rugen’s Machine.


“You should know better than to fight near work from the hospital,” House said, and then went back to munching his food. Well, he was done. Whether or not Wilson wanted to talk, the ball was in his court. And Wilson had better take advantage of it damn soon, because House didn’t do listening, didn’t do mushy friendship stuff. This time, though, he was beginning to realize that he might actually care. For years, Wilson had cared about him; maybe it was finally up to him to return the favor.


House figured, after all the crap he put Wilson through, he owed him at least that.


And so he muted the movie.


There was silence in his living room for a few minutes and he was contemplating giving up and going to the piano, saying screw the whole thing, he was no therapist, when Wilson spoke brokenly into the quiet.


“I was afraid.”


House didn’t turn to look at him, kept staring at the soundless television screen.


“I didn’t tell you because I was afraid.”


“Of what?” House said. He resisted, with less difficulty than he’d expected, the urge to tell a joke, to cover up feeling with humor again. It wasn’t the time.


“Of—of her,” Wilson said. “It was her, it is her. I was afraid to tell you, and I was ashamed.”


More silence. Inigo and Fezzik were reunited, and Fezzik began trying to cleanse Inigo of brandy. House realized he knew the lines to the film by heart and could say them in his mind along with the characters. He wondered why he still felt the need to watch it.


“I started to believe her. Started to think, after a while, that what she said was true. Started to—to doubt myself,” Wilson said, and trailed off. About ten minutes passed.


“How long?” House asked.


“Few years.”


“How often?”


“Whenever I deserved it.”


At that, House put his hand on the arm of the couch and turned to face Wilson. “Haven’t you learned anything today?” he asked, trying, for Wilson’s sake, not to become too angry.


“That it’s easier than it sounds to convince people you’re suicidal?” Wilson offered weakly.


“That you didn’t deserve it. Didn’t deserve any of it. Nobody,” House said, “and damn it, I mean nobody, deserves that. Not even Vogler, though he might come close. Do you understand me?”


“I get it,” Wilson said, and he sounded exhausted. “It’s just—it’s not easy.”


“What about New Year’s?” House asked, a few minutes later.


Wilson didn’t reply, but House got the idea.


“Listen to me closely,” he said, “because you’ll only hear this once in your lifetime. I care about you. And I owe you. A lot. You hear me?”


Wilson gave a quick, abrupt nod.


“It’s like—I don’t know, it’s like a brother thing, okay? The only one allowed to beat the shit out of you is me.”


“I’m not going to leave,” Wilson said quietly. Now it was House’s turn to be surprised.


“I’m not going to leave,” he repeated. “I know you think I will, but I’m not going to leave.” And House knew what he meant.


“Okay,” House said. “Okay.” So, he thought. This is how it feels to trust someone.


Wilson sighed, long and deep. He felt he was finally providing his problems with a means of escape, letting them into the open air to evaporate in puffs of gas. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the couch.


“You don’t have to go back. Court—you can sue. File for divorce. Like I said, you have all the evidence you need.” House wasn’t good at comforting, but he was willing to give it a shot.


“House?”


House glanced over at Wilson, who was limp. Drained. Pretty much half-dead. And… undeniably relaxed. Maybe even at peace.


“Yeah, Wilsie?” he said, throwing a fortune cookie at Wilson’s head. It made contact with a small cracking sound and split. Wilson reached up and extracted the fortune from his crumb-filled hair.



YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE FOR THE BETTER.
BE READY.



02146784431190602394587



He grinned and tiredly flicked it back at House.


“Thanks,” Wilson said. He meant it for more than the cookie, and somehow he knew House understood.


House turned the volume back up, and they watched the rest of the movie together, with House running his own quirky commentary every chance he got. When the credits began to roll, Wilson grabbed a blanket from the closet and carefully stretched out on the couch. House wandered over to his piano and began to play.


Wilson drifted off to sleep on the strains of Paper Moon, and he dreamed again of nothing at all. And as the last quiet note faded into the darkness, floated up to the waiting stars, he smiled a drowsy smile at the ceiling and knew, for the first time in years, how it felt to be happy.



will be continued later

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