October 23rd, 2006

house and wilson bros before hos

It's Not Easy, 2/3

Title: It's Not Easy, 2/3
Word Count: No clue
Characters/Pairings: All characters, essentially; House/Wilson friendship
Rating: PG, possibly PG-13 (I suppose)
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. Final "chapter" up in a few days.

V.

Sunday morning, rain is falling
Steal some covers, share some skin
Clouds are shrouding us in moments unforgettable
You twist to fit the mold that I am in

But things just get so crazy, living
Life gets hard to do
And I would gladly hit the road,
Head off and go if I knew
That someday it would lead me back to you
That someday it would lead me back to you

--Maroon 5

The trial was in two weeks, on a Thursday. Wilson had always privately thought Thursday was the worst day of the week, and this just cemented the belief for him. While most people, House—of course—included, considered Monday the worst day of the week because it was the start of work, for years Wilson had looked forward to the start of work—it meant he got to get out of the house. Thursday was not Friday, which was bad enough in itself, but it was the day before, and that meant Wilson spent the entire time dreading the next. And now Thursday was the day of the trial. “I’m sorry,” Wilson said, “I don’t have time to buy your encyclopedia,” and he hung up the phone.

A remote hit the couch beside him. Wilson gave an involuntary jump and looked up to find House standing in the doorway smirking.

“Secret girlfriend?”

Wilson stiffened and dropped his gaze and House sighed, striding forward to retrieve the remote himself. “General Hospital,” he said, “is on, and we are not watching it. This activity, or should I say non-activity, is so heinous it should be criminal. I certainly hope you have an excuse which will hold up in a court of law.”

“I have a question,” Wilson said, and waited until House glanced at him. “Why aren’t you at work?”

“No time for questions,” said House, “it’s time for TV.” And he sat down on the couch across from Wilson. Wilson noticed the fact that House sat more gently than he usually did and was relieved.

House flipped on the television and grabbed his beer from the coffee table. “You know I spend all week thinking of reasons not to go to work,” he said, taking a swig, “especially when we don’t have a case—and we don’t—and now that I have a ready-made perfect excuse in my own home, you ask me why I’m not there? Have to be an idiot to pass up an opportunity like this.”

Wilson grinned at him. “Wouldn’t have anything to do with me, would it?”

“’Course not. It has everything to do with you. Now shut up. Show’s on.”

Wilson sighed. “Yup. This is why I became a doctor.”

House quirked a brow without removing his eyes from the screen.

“To get my best friend, who’s also a doctor, mind you, out of going to work because—”

Wilson, though he’d begun the quip rather well, found he couldn’t quite bring himself to finish the sentence.

“You broke your ankle when the Dean opened the door in your face.”

“She’s had it in for me for years, you know.”

“I believe it. Woman’s vindictive. Why else would she give me all those clinic hours?” House rolled his eyes. “This is it. Either shut up or I force you to—”

For a moment, Wilson feared House would say “go home,” though he knew it was irrational and House couldn’t force him into it anyway. He swallowed.

“—watch Vertigo.”

“But I like Vertigo.”

“What’s your point? And what did I just say?”

“Er—shut up?”

House turned up the volume and Wilson got the message. Using the arm of the couch and his crutches, he pushed himself to his feet to begin the journey to House’s kitchen. He’d started to notice that distances seemed a lot longer when you couldn’t walk without aid. This, he supposed, was what House always had to endure, and he felt a brief rush of sympathy. His movement was enough to draw House’s attention—he glanced in Wilson’s direction and raised an eyebrow again.

“Gotta make a phone call.”

House shrugged and went back to watching his show, ignoring the fact that the cordless was still beside Wilson’s can of beer where he’d abandoned it a few minutes ago.

Wilson put a hand on the wall for support as he turned into the hallway and made his way around the corner. He passed up the phone hanging by the light switch entirely, touching the handle of the fridge instead, pulling it open. For the phone call he was about to make, he needed a fresh drink. Someone from the television in the living room was heard audibly confessing her love. Wilson popped the top on his beer and reached for the receiver.

“Get a lawyer,” he said, when he heard the familiar answering machine. “It’s over. Court’s two weeks from Thursday. You’ll get the papers in the mail.” He paused. “I’m sorry,” he said. He hung up.

The sounds of General Hospital filled the apartment. Wilson left his beer untouched on the counter, the second one that day, and headed in the opposite direction. “House?” he called.

Being deprived of the opportunity to make a snappish, non-verbal remark, House growled, “Yes?”

“Can I take a shower?”

“Well, I should hope so!”

Wilson wanted to grin at the stupid joke but could not make his face obey. It fell instead.

“Just take the shower,” House sighed.

Wilson took a step.

“And don’t use all the hot water, either.”

Wilson heard the volume being raised and walked into the restroom. He propped his crutches against the sink and levered himself onto the toilet, where he began to remove the bandage from his shoulder. The wound had stopped bleeding entirely and was instead scabbing over quite pleasantly. Wilson tossed the bandage into the trash, tilted his head back until it touched the wall, and closed his eyes.

That was where House found him forty-five minutes later, asleep.

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

The night before, House reflected, had actually not been so bad. Wilson had gone to bed, and House had played his favorite song until he fell asleep; oddly enough, when he’d passed by to go to his own room, he’d noticed Wilson was grinning. He himself hadn’t slept for longer than he’d expected, and he knew it hadn’t been from his usual insomnia; it was in the foggy hours of the early morning when he’d drifted off, and it was around eight o’ clock when he’d woken to someone in the kitchen.

To his surprise it had been Wilson, balanced uneasily on his crutches by the stove and turning pancakes—his favorite kind—with a spatula. House supposed it was in return for his previous sympathy and his uncomplaining acceptance of Wilson’s residence. He didn’t care as long as his friend’s guilt came along with those half-dollar slices of heaven.

He’d talked Wilson, with some difficulty, into calling a lawyer at around nine and retreated to the shower until he heard the click of the phone. At ten-thirty, thanks to Wilson’s wheedling and the fact that he knew perfectly well where the man’s car was (the parking lot of Princeton-Plainsboro), he drove downtown, dropped Wilson off at his lawyer’s office, and swung by to pick up some lunch—a Reuben, no pickles for him and a ham-and-cheese on sourdough for Wilson. It was the first time in ten years he’d paid for anyone’s lunch. In fact, he realized, laughing to himself as the tinny jingle of a commercial began playing, it was the first time in five he’d paid for his own.

Wilson hadn’t said much when House picked him up, only thanked him for the ride and the sandwich and fell asleep again for the rest of the trip home. He hadn’t mentioned his visit with the lawyers at all. House assumed that, after his confession, Wilson needed a break and a long nap; he didn’t have a problem with that himself and didn’t particularly want another deep, emotional conversation either, but he figured under the circumstances they’d probably have to have one eventually. He’d woken Wilson up with The Who that time. It was about noon.

They’d sat in the living room to eat lunch while watching a TiVo-ed episode of Blackadder. When Wilson, who hadn’t spoken in half an hour, remarked that he needed to use the phone, House had gone to get another beer and waited in the doorway until he heard Wilson hang up, and then he’d come back in to watch General Hospital. Though it had been amusing watching the man struggle to politely refuse the offer of a telemarketer, he was not about to miss his show for it.

Twenty-five minutes into General Hospital had come Wilson’s request for a shower of his own, and as the program came to a close House stretched his bad leg on the vacated seat and drew a deep breath.

It was just then that the phone rang.

House jerked his cordless off the coffee table, punched the “Talk” button and snarled, “House.”

“Coming to work today?”

“It’s—“ House glanced at the clock “—three o’ clock. Bit late really.”

“Oh—right.” There was a pause.

“Cuddy?” House smirked.

“Yes?”

“You’re actually worried, aren’t you?”

Silence. “A little. Is he all right?”

House sighed. Feelings. He had to discuss them again. Sure, they weren’t his own, but in the grand scheme of things that didn’t really count. “Took him to the lawyer’s this morning,” he said.

“Lawyer’s?”

Fully prepared to savor the moment—he’d gloat, oh, he’d gloat—House said, “I was right.”

“You were right?” said Cuddy.

“Tell you what. Say it again, and don’t make it a question this time.”

House swore he heard Cuddy heave a grudging sigh. “Fine, House. You were right.”

He grinned and waited. His leg throbbed. Shit, he thought, time for another happy pill, and reached into the pocket of his jacket. He was able to take two before Cuddy spoke again; though he knew if she knew she’d kill him for it, he washed them down with a swig of beer.

“So it was Julie?”

“Oh yes. Not sure what the two of them were up to, but either they have some super kinky bedroom manners or they haven’t exactly been Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez.”

“You watch I Love Lucy?”

“That one’s a great kink of mine. Know what’s a really cool party game?”

House imagined Cuddy rolling her eyes. “No, House, I don’t. What’s a really cool party game?”

“How many times can you say ‘Vitameatavegimen’ stoned?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake—” Cuddy paused. “Look. How is Wilson, and when can he come back to work?”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself? I’m not—” he snickered “—my brother’s keeper.”

“Why don’t you give him the phone?”

“Fine, we’ll do it the easy way.” House dumped the phone on the couch beside his leg, leaned back and hollered, “Wilsie!” He tapped his fingers against the sofa, waited a minute, and tried again. Midway through the “ie” he remembered.

“He’s all hot, sweaty and wet right now,” he purred into the mouthpiece, “we’ll have to call you back.”

Absolute silence.

“Oh, for such a stacked woman you can drain the fun out of just about anything, can’t you?” House sighed. “He’s in the shower.”

“I’ll call later,” Cuddy said. There was a final pause. “And how do you know they’re real?”

And before he could answer, she hung up.

“If they weren’t real they wouldn’t jiggle when you walk down the hall,” House said to the empty room. He set his leg gently back on the ground and was about to scrounge up some food someplace when he realized Wilson had been in the shower for a pretty long time and, as far as he remembered, he hadn’t heard water. Unless Wilson was into taking dry showers, which didn’t seem right for a guy who was so ridiculously feminine about his looks, something was up. Maybe he’d broken the other ankle. House grinned—at least he’d be symmetrical—sighed over the sheer injustice of the world, and headed off to check.

VI.

Not too crazy ‘bout love songs
Never been into that kinda stuff, no
But this one’s got me conflicted
Feel like I’m addicted
This sadness self-inflicted, I just can’t get enough

Now it’s taking on a whole new meaning
This type of story cuts
A little too close to home, ‘cause
This song is all about us
How do they know about us?
What happened was just between us
And now the whole world knows
‘Cause it’s all over the radio

Somebody’s making a fortune
Selling emotions to fools like me, who
Relate to what they’re saying
Obsessed, you can’t stop playing
No use in changing stations now
‘Cause it’s everywhere on the radio, the radio, the radio

--Clay Aiken

Wilson.”

A fish with a cane—since when did fish need canes?—swam by in the blackness before Wilson’s eyes and he felt his lips curve into a smile. It was House. Well, it was the aquatic version, but it was still House. Why was he dreaming about fish anyway?

“Wilson, wake up.” There was something on his shoulder. Shit, he hadn’t let her get that close in years. He shoved himself backward, struck out viciously with his left arm, opened his eyes. She was going to come after him again.

Wait a minute. He was in House’s bathroom—alone? Now that didn’t quite fit. Who’d been waking him up then? Wilson glanced down almost fearfully, half expecting to see Julie, and—oops. Problem solved, there was House.

“House?”

“Mike Tyson?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I thought you were—”

“Forget it, I know who you thought I was.” House sighed. “It was my fault. Now are you going to help the cripple up or keep sitting there like a deer in headlights?”

“Right.” Wilson took a deep breath and extended his left hand. House grabbed it and, with the support of Wilson’s weight and the bathtub, pulled himself to his feet again. He knew his leg would get him for those little aerobics in the morning, but the buzz from the Vicodin hadn’t worn off yet, and so he wasn’t really in any more pain. At any rate, it was tolerable.

“You’ve—uh, you’ve got a little—”

House glanced in the mirror. His nose was bleeding. “Had worse,” he said.

Wilson rubbed the bridge of his own nose and realized that he’d rolled up his sleeves. He was in the middle of rolling them back down and fastening the buttons on each cuff when House finished examining the damage to his face and glanced over.

“I’ve seen ‘em.”

Wilson buttoned his shirt anyway and shifted his position until he was seated more comfortably. “What are you doing?” he said. “I still have to take a shower.”

“I don’t call sleeping showering, do you? Take it later,” House said, “won’t kill you.” He paused. “This is the second time in forty-eight hours and I just had my last beer, so you’d better be grateful, but—“ he rolled his eyes “—I think I need to talk to you again.”

Wilson blinked. The bandage he’d thrown in the garbage seemed to be staring at him. He grabbed his crutches, levered himself to his feet, and mutely followed House out to the living room. He was staying in the man’s house. He didn’t see he had a choice.

House sat down at the piano and touched his fingers softly to the keys. Halfway through some piece of Chopin—the melody was graceful, haunting, but Wilson couldn’t place it—Wilson interrupted him.

“What is it?”

“What is what?” said House, over the sound of the piano.

“You wanted to talk to me about something. What is it?”

“What makes you think I wanted to talk about something? Maybe I wanted to talk about nothing. What then?”

“You dragged me out of the shower for this?”

“Cuddy called,” House said. “Wanted to see how you were doing. She’ll call back later. She was—“ he turned and leered “—worried.”

“That was nice of her,” said Wilson. He shook his beer can, determined that he still had about half left, and took a swallow. House eyed the drink enviously but said nothing. Ten minutes passed, and Wilson resigned himself to another conversation. “Two weeks from Thursday,” he said. “Court date. That what you wanted to know?”

House stopped playing long enough to speak. “I don’t want to know anything,” he said gruffly, “but you obviously have something you still need to say. So spill, and maybe then we can go back to work.”

“You? Want to go to work?” There was no answer.

“I called her,” Wilson said. House was quiet. The piano filled the silence.

“I didn’t want to. But I did anyway.”

“This is a court case,” House said. “Lawyers, you know, the snakey people—they generally get stuck with the dirty stuff.”

“I know.” Wilson shrugged. “I didn’t have to. I’m sorry.”

House spun around on the seat abruptly with, Wilson noted, surprising speed. “Stop apologizing to me.” Without the music, the room seemed abnormally empty.

“Huh?”

“I said stop apologizing to me. I’m a jerk and you’re a grown man. It may be bruised, but I’m pretty sure you still have a spine.”

“You’re right.” Wilson stared at the ground and wiggled his beer with his thumb. “But I can’t.”

House went back to his playing.

“Two years ago,” Wilson said, “I sat with my dog and I cried.” He squinted through the opening of the can at the bitter-tasting amber liquid inside. “Sat there for an hour. I couldn’t remember what was real. Whether I’d actually had an affair. In the morning I knew I hadn’t, but then I couldn’t remember.” He paused. “You know that running accident? Wasn’t a running accident.”

House’s head moved briefly in a nod.

“I quit playing tennis. Couldn’t take the things coming at my face. I’d hold her down, so she’d throw things.” He touched his shoulder without thinking. “Pretty good arm really.”

The music continued. Wilson erupted.

“You’re the one who wanted me to talk, House,” he said angrily, slamming down his beer, “so quit playing and listen.”

Miracle of miracles, House did, but he didn’t turn around. “You think I want to hear?”

Wilson was, to say the least, caught off guard. “What?”

“You think I want to hear this? You think I want to sit here and listen to this? Not a chance in hell, Wilsie, not a chance in hell.”

“Okay,” Wilson said quietly. “I understand.” He caught himself in time, lifted his feet onto the coffee table and reached for the remote.

“No. You don't. You don’t get it, do you?” House grabbed his cane and stood facing Wilson in the middle of the room. “You just don’t get it.” He shook his head, deflated, and sat down, keeping his movements conservative. “Put The O.C. on.”

Wilson scrolled through the TiVo, realized it was on live, and silently complied.

“I’m not a good man. I’m not a good person. I don’t do emotions, I don’t do feelings, I don’t do therapy. You know the only real way to keep from getting hurt?” House spat. “Well, I’ll tell you. Distance.”

“Not when she can throw,” Wilson whispered.

House looked at the television and didn’t say anything for a minute. “I’m not who you’d like to believe I am,” he said finally. “I, Wilson, am a full-fledged, grade-A bastard. But I thought—“ he shook his head “—maybe I hoped, just a little—that I was a better friend than I knew I was. You stuck around. I didn’t want to, but I must’ve been doing something right.” He paused.

“I may want to be miserable,” he said, “misery may be my life, I may not give a crap about anyone else, but it still feels good when someone trusts you—even when they shouldn’t.”

“You do give a crap about somebody,” Wilson said, “you give a crap about me.” He met House’s eyes. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

“You couldn’t tell me.”

“What?”

“You couldn’t tell me,” House repeated. “You were afraid to tell me what was just about the biggest thing in your life, when I thought, you blabbermouth, that you told me pretty much everything. Then there you were tied to a bed, beaten, saying your wife had been psychotic for years. I didn’t want you to tell me,” House yelled, “because then I might have cared, and I didn’t want to care. I didn’t want you to tell me, but—” he took a deep breath “—it hurt when you didn’t. You’re the first person to hurt me in ten years. Maybe you deserve a medal.” He sank into the couch, shut his eyes, and thumped his cane on the ground. “A medal. A damn medal.”

Wilson thought, I did it. This—this is House. He paused. Maybe I broke him.

He looked over at his best friend, who still hadn’t moved. No. I didn’t. I didn’t fix him, but I didn’t break him.

I talked to him.

And, he realized, it was all thanks to Julie.

VII.

You had a bad day
You say what you like
And how does it feel
Oh, one more time
You had a bad day

Sometimes the system goes on the brink
And the whole thing, it turns out wrong
You might not make it back, but you know
That you could be, well, oh, that strong
And I’m not wrong

--Daniel Powter

The credits for The O.C. were rolling and Wilson needed a drink. Not necessarily beer—he was pretty much done with alcohol for the day. Maybe water. His neck, without a tie, seemed odd, loose. He wore yesterday’s clothes and he was fairly certain he smelled.

But, he thought, glancing at the silent, sulking House, he felt better.

“It was habit,” he said. “And I thought she should hear it from me, not a lawyer.” He laughed slightly. “Poor man. Caught off guard like that, she could’ve killed him.”

House picked up the remote and started flipping through his TiVo. Unlike before, Wilson knew he was listening. He didn’t want to be, but he was.

“I think I fell asleep because I was tired,” he continued. House snickered. “Just tired. Tired of everything really.” Wilson spoke quietly and slipped into a tone of voice which showed he was not speaking to House so much as to himself, and House relaxed. “I still love her.” He paused. “Now that I think about it, that’s sad. All those women I didn’t love, not really, and the one I’ve loved for years hates me.

“It all happened so fast,” he mused, moving from thought to thought as they appeared. “Yesterday I was pulling forks out of my arm, today I’m sleeping on your couch, trying to file for divorce. When I dreamed about finding a solution it didn’t happen like this. There was—” he laughed again “—a therapist involved. Bit like Cameron actually. Marriage counseling. Took awhile for me to give up.”

“But you did.”

Wilson shook his head a little, as if remembering House was in the room. “Yeah. I did.”

“When.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Last year.” Wilson shrugged. “Christmas really. We were having lobster. I was over here the night before—maybe you remember?” House didn’t say anything, but Wilson hadn’t expected input anyway. “I wanted turkey. Lobster was classier. I tried to ask her if she didn’t think turkey might have been nicer, more in the holiday spirit of things, and she screamed something—can’t remember what—threw her plate at my head. Lobster and all.”

There was silence for a minute. “Hadn’t been expecting it,” Wilson said, “so I couldn’t block it. Hit my face and shattered, broke my nose, got lobster bisque in my eye. I remember very vividly that it had too much salt.” He licked his lips. “Julie loved salt. Salted everything. It’s funny what you remember.”

Again House said nothing, settled on an episode of General Hospital he’d missed.

“After that, she left. I couldn’t decide whether to feel lucky or unhappy. I thought of calling you—” he stopped “—I thought of calling you, but it was a late dinner and you don’t sleep well. I swept up the china, did the dishes. Let Charlie get rid of the lobster. Taped my nose and went into the living room. I was watching Blackadder—” he laughed “—yeah, I TiVo it too—when it hit me.” Wilson paused.

“It hit me. Normal wives don’t throw their dinner at their husbands. I thought, I may love her but I don’t think she loves me. Not any more.”

He was quiet for another minute.

“The last year was better,” he said, “probably because it was easier to hold her off, to treat her as an opponent more than a wife. But when I looked at her….” He drew a deep breath. “When I looked at her, House, she was still the same woman I’d kissed in church, still the same woman I’d vowed to love till death do us part. And it was hard. Oh, God, House, you have no idea.” Wilson sighed and shut his eyes. “You have no idea.”

House rubbed his leg, looked at the clock, popped a Vicodin. The TV murmured quietly in the corner. Wilson realized that House had turned it down so it was almost completely mute; he couldn’t make out the voices at all. He didn’t open his eyes. “I’m sorry to kick you out of your own living room, I really am,” he said, “but—can I go to sleep?”

“Yeah,” House said. “Sure.” He hauled himself to his feet and went into the kitchen. The light where Wilson was blinked off and the light in the kitchen switched on; Wilson heard the clinking of glass. He lifted his own bad leg onto the seat House had vacated and removed his shirt. The blanket, which was folded up on the floor, he unfolded and stretched over himself. His pillow was already by his side. He lay down and looked up at the ceiling through the gloom, feeling almost as drained as he had the night before. Almost. But grateful, incredibly grateful. He’d unburdened himself for the first time in years.

Wilson was nearly asleep when House came back into the room, set a tumbler of scotch down on the piano, and began playing Paper Moon.

VIII.

Gotta change my answering machine
Now that I’m alone
‘Cause right now it says that we
Can’t come to the phone
And I know it makes no sense
‘Cause you walked out the door
But it’s the only way I hear your voice any more

And I’m so sick of love songs
So tired of tears
So done with wishing
You were still here
I said, I’m so sick of love songs
So sad and slow
So why can’t I turn off the radio?

--Ne-Yo

Cuddy knew House was making showing up in her office more and more of a routine, but she still didn’t expect him there at eight in the morning on a Wednesday. Truth be told, she didn’t expect him within ten miles of the hospital at eight in the morning on any day really, but what did you know? There he was. And there—she laughed—went her secretary. Eventually, she thought, House would give the poor woman a complex, and then he’d be sorry—because she’d start billing him for the therapy bills which were being passed off as business expenses.

“How’s the leg?” she said, by way of greeting, brushing by him and over to her desk.

“The leg?” House said, caught slightly off guard. “It’s okay. No worse than usual.” He didn’t miss a beat. “How’s the cleavage?”

“It’s okay. No better than usual.” Cuddy sat down and began thumbing through forms. “How’s Wilson?”

“Better question might be, how did you know he was staying with me anyway? I notice, Ms. Busybody, that you called my house.”

“If it was his wife—which it probably was—you wouldn’t have turned him away. You’re cruel,” Cuddy said, without looking up, “but you’re not that cruel.”

House thoughtfully chewed a Vicodin. “Hmm. Point. You’re getting better at this.”

“How many of those have you taken today? And you know you shouldn’t chew them.”

“Two, Mom,” House said, sneering at her, “and, if you’ve forgotten, I am a doctor.”

“A doctor who’s addicted to narcotics,” said Cuddy, “and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something. What is it now?”

“A case,” House said. “I’m dying in the clinic, I really am. It’s draining my soul. If you don’t find me something good and confusing, utterly enigmatic—” he drew a finger dramatically across his throat “—it’s curtains for me, and who’s going to do that really important job—you know, saving lives—then?”

Cuddy neglected to mention the fact that she employed more than twenty other doctors. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I honestly do not have anything that requires a diagnostician. Trust me, if I did I’d give it to you just to get you out of my office. Unfortunately,” she shrugged, “looks like it’s back to runny noses and sprained ankles for you, Superman.”

House sighed irritably, and there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” Cuddy called, eyeing him.

Foreman pushed open the door and stepped in. “Where were you?” he said to House, “I got stuck with your hours.” He looked at his watch. “And why are you on time?”

“Wow, for a minute I forgot who was whose boss. I’m dreadfully sorry, master, I don’t know how it possibly slipped my mind that I have to account with you for my every absence. Now that’s just a crying shame.” House bowed his head and feigned submission. Foreman rolled his eyes, ignored him and crossed the room.

“Got those papers you wanted,” he said, handing Cuddy yet another sheaf of things she had to sort through.

“Thank you,” Cuddy said, smiling. “I appreciate it.”

“More applications for—“ House began, but he met Cuddy’s eyes before he could finish and, for once, thought better of it. “Go do more of my hours,” he said to Foreman. “Got nothing else for you anyway.”

“Still no case? It’s been a week and Chase is becoming more of a beaver every day. I swear I heard the pencils screaming.”

“Nope. Chop-chop, black boy, those colds aren’t going to treat themselves.”

Foreman smirked and, with a “Good morning, ma’am,” left.

“You know,” Cuddy said, “technically, those are your hours and I can’t very well mark them off now I know Foreman’s doing them…”

“I get the message.” House shrugged and gave her a proper leer. “You dress like you’re a lot more friendly than you are.”

“Five seconds before you get twenty more. I can just say we’re understaffed.”

House made an attempt at a sexy growl which sounded more disturbing than anything else—then again, that was probably what he was going for—and left. It wasn’t more than ten minutes before there was another knock.

“Come in,” Cuddy called, with a sense of déjà vu; she was both surprised and pleased to see Wilson there, wearing his same dress shirt—again, sans tie—coupled with his lab coat and sporting his crutches and a smile. She was stunned that he was wearing House’s jeans. They were too big, of course, and dragged a bit over his dress shoes. House wouldn't let anyone borrow his clothes.

“Thanks for the call,” Wilson said. “It was nice of you.”

“Not a problem,” said Cuddy, and she knew it hadn’t been. “Are you working today?” She studied his face, which was pale, slightly drawn, and undeniably happier. “Under the circumstances, you know you don’t need to. In fact, you probably shouldn’t.”

“I would, but I’m not sure I’d better.” Wilson glanced at her. “Is that all right?”

“Of course.”

“Thanks.” Wilson grinned and Cuddy found herself suddenly grinning as well. Her professional façade, which had been patchy and near-nonexistent at best, slipped and fell away entirely.

“It’s nice to know you’re okay, James,” she said warmly.

“It is. It really is.”

“Well...” Cuddy shrugged and gestured at the mound of paperwork on her desk. “I’d really like to talk to you more, but—“

“I understand,” Wilson said. “I imagine something of similar proportions lies in wait in my office. I just thought I’d stop by and thank you for the call.” He smiled and made for the door. At the jamb he turned, met her eyes quickly, shyly, and said, “And I talked to him.”

With that, he was gone. Cuddy pondered his statement for a minute until she suddenly understood what he’d meant.

And when she turned back to her work, her smile was even larger than his.

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

A week later House had a case, and he was back to being a brat. A considerably more understanding brat, certainly, but a brat nonetheless. Wilson was doing his own job again and had a new small stockpile of shirts and dress slacks, because he’d got his car back. He returned a bit to his normal life; he made pancakes, cooked dinner, burned his tie in an ashtray one Saturday when House was gone, told House futilely not to put the dirty dishes in the oven, did the dishes after House put them in the oven anyway, slept on the couch, and went to work. He hadn’t heard from Julie, not once; part of him wondered what she was up to, what she thought, and part of him—the larger part—was afraid to even think about it. So he didn’t think about it, tried to push it to the back of his mind, to the section padlocked and covered in caution tape. He was terrified that the moment he opened the lock he would break down; instead he cracked it apart in small increments, when he felt safe, and spilled his past in pieces—he’d talked to House three times more after that fateful Tuesday evening, each time longer and longer. Once they had been watching Blackadder and he began to cry, broken, half-stifled sobs, before he finished. House just handed him a handkerchief (only House would carry handkerchiefs) and kept watching the show, but Wilson had known he was listening, dried his tears, and continued. House did not look at him while he talked and Wilson no longer asked him to—he understood it wasn’t necessary. But at night on those days there was always the piano.

Wilson never knew time could fly so quickly before a hearing. He was afraid of seeing Julie because he wasn’t sure what she might do. He was fairly sure, if there was one thing she hadn’t expected, it was that he’d take her to court. He was also afraid of what questions he might be asked. Reliving memories with House he found remarkably, surprisingly easy, but he was speechless in the company of anyone else, as if his throat had been sewn shut and packed with cotton (he had seen a therapist, once, before he decided that House, beer, General Hospital and James Taylor were a better cure than he’d ever hoped for), and he worried he might not be able to reply in a courtroom. Julie herself would also be there, of course, which only made it worse. He wanted to hate himself for it, but he still did not have a desire to hurt her.

He hadn’t actually considered this new speaking-confidence dilemma until one Friday, after work, when he managed to convince House to go with him for pizza and a beer with Chase and Cameron. He’d given House a ride because the man’s leg had been more painful than usual, and—coincidentally—they’d actually shown up at the agreed-upon time; seven. Chase had been waiting at a table in the corner, bottle of beer, red-and-white checked tablecloth and all, and Cameron, uncharacteristically, had been late.

They’d sat down and ordered—Chase remembered Cameron loved pepperoni, so they had three large stuffed-crust supremes, two half pepperoni and half ham-and-pineapple and one a vegetarian special. Wilson hadn’t gone out comfortably with friends in more time than he liked to remember and he found the evening very pleasant. There was no tension, no fear, no (real) hostility—he had to include the word “real” because of House, who was never completely unhostile but could, when he wanted to, come close enough. Wilson had sipped his beer, savoring its bitterness and distinct taste in his mouth, and listened with half an ear to a discussion of House’s current case, a patient who happened to have an abnormally swollen tongue. Cameron had come in just as Chase left for the bathroom and accidentally taken his seat. Wilson had guessed by looking at her that she planned on asking him something he didn’t want to answer and, for that matter, probably didn’t even want to think about.

“How’re you holding up?” she’d said, drinking from the beer she’d just ordered as Chase returned, scowled at her and sat down in a different chair. “With the hearing. It must be really hard.”

Wilson had blinked and quietly put down his own bottle. He thought for a moment and finally said, “I don’t know.” It was true, he’d realized, he didn’t know, and he’d set to work then and there to decide whether he was holding up while House glared at Cameron and asked her why she didn’t have her own business to mind and Chase picked pineapple off one pizza to drop it on his own slice.

That night, having decided that he wasn’t holding up, not as well as he’d have liked anyway, was the night Wilson cried.

IX.

I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell
I know right now you can’t tell
But stay awhile, and maybe then you’ll see
A different side of me

I’m not crazy, I’m just a little impaired
I know right now you don’t care
But soon enough you’re gonna think of me
And how I used to be

--Matchbox Twenty

As two weeks from Thursday approached astonishingly quickly, House found himself thinking about it more and more, despite his efforts to the contrary. He was realizing, too, that he had changed. Not really, no, not severely, no, but enough that he noticed. It was slightly intoxicating to know that you were needed, and he was pretty sure that, for once, Wilson needed him. A month ago he’d never seen Wilson cry, not even when drunk out of his head, but now he’d been there. They had been sitting watching TV while Wilson talked; House found it unusual that Wilson, usually such a private person, actually wanted to talk so much about something which was obviously uncomfortable for him, but he did. House was listening a lot more than he let on (once Wilson began, hesitantly and almost dreamily, it was near impossible for him to stop himself) when between words there had come a quiet sob. It was hardly noticeable really but it had brought a friend, and after a few more House couldn’t stand it and gave Wilson a handkerchief. He hadn’t been surprised when Wilson didn’t blow his nose, and it wasn’t until he’d been sitting at his piano playing and sipping scotch in the dark that he understood the impact of the sobs themselves. That evening he’d played longer.

Listening to Wilson was not as hard as he’d have expected it to be before. The act really did not require much involvement; it made him feel good, he knew it made Wilson feel good and—for some reason—that knowledge made him feel better. He didn’t analyze it too much; it worked for them. A few times the things he learned kept him awake at night, but he didn’t sleep well anyway. He almost grew to like James Taylor—almost. And Wilson—Wilson, for all the blow-drying, nail-clipping, and neediness, three things House usually hated, was an okay roommate.

House was beginning to realize that he liked the company.

“Wilsie,” he said, limping into the kitchen one morning two days before the hearing, “take the day off.”

“What?” said Wilson, glancing up from slicing into a pancake and staring at him. “And you know my name’s not Wilsie.”

“Wil-sie,” House said again, “take-the-day-off. You know, from work? That thing we do way too often?”

“The thing that pays the bills?” Wilson said, grinning.

“Live a little. You’ll never get anyplace otherwise.”

Wilson’s grin faded. “Take the day off? I have a patient at ten.”

“For what?”

“Er, an interview,” Wilson said slowly, sensing that he was losing the argument and preparing himself to phone in. He swallowed, rather abruptly, a piece of breakfast.

“So don’t go,” House said, with a grin of his own which quickly became a leer. “Buddy boy, we’ve had this date from the beginning.”

“Oh come on,” said Wilson, laughing, “you’ve never seen A Streetcar Named Desire.”

House limped over to the table and swiped Wilson’s plate. “So? Doesn’t mean I can’t quote it.”

Wilson sighed, passed House the maple syrup, and pulled out his cell phone. “Fine. You win. But once, okay? And only because I didn’t want to go in anyway.”

House, because his mouth was full, held up both hands; one with the pointer upright and one a closed fist. Wilson got the message—me one, you zero—laughed again, and set about explaining to a very irate doctor why he wasn’t going to work.

They left for someplace—Wilson had no idea where—in the Corvette at nine. Wilson found out where they were going soon enough when they pulled into the McDonald’s drive-through and House turned down the radio and stopped the car at the window. Wilson ordered only a coffee—he’d already eaten too many pancakes—and was pulling a dollar fifty out of his wallet when House paid.

“I owe you,” he said gruffly. Wilson smiled, was silent and took the drink.

There was a showing of Click at ten-thirty which, coupled with popcorn, Milk Duds—House’s favorite—cookie dough bites—Wilson’s, also paid for by House—and a very annoying, lengthy running commentary was over at about one.

After that they had a drink at Wilson’s favorite bar and stopped by Fry’s, where House decided he deserved a new game and spent half an hour debating its merits and problems to an extremely bored teenage member of the staff who had more acne than brains and a large, oddly-colored stain down the front of his uniform. They left at four, with House proudly brandishing his video game (10% off, no surprise there) and Wilson swinging a plastic bag containing Michael Crichton’s latest novel (there was a Barnes and Noble nearby—he’d paid for that himself).

At five-thirty they reached House’s again, Wilson having had to drive on the way home so the Vicodin had time to take effect, and Wilson pulled the Corvette up beside his own car in the driveway and cut the gas. Before he got out, he turned to House.

“Thanks,” he said, simply.

“She is a beaut, isn’t she?” House said, patting his car, “and a real babe magnet, too.” But he knew perfectly well what Wilson meant, and Wilson, for that matter, knew he knew. Wilson grinned and climbed out of the Corvette and they went inside to order Chinese and pester the delivery boy when he arrived. There were, House thought, forty-three hours.

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

The next day was Wednesday and Wilson spent its entirety, even while at work, putting a great deal of effort into not thinking about the following one. He stayed clear of Cameron, who meant only the best and so could not be resented but did not understand people who just didn’t care to consider the situation at all; Chase passed him in the hallway and offered to buy him a drink after work on Friday, being remarkably sympathetic; and House sat at their table silently at lunch, stealing his Lays while sneaking blatantly obvious peeks at a new nurse who happened to be both particularly—er—well-endowed and completely oblivous.

Wilson stopped by Cuddy’s office a little while before he was ready to go home and discovered House in there already, gesturing wildly in annoyance about something; Cuddy spotted him waiting outside and called him in, most likely if only to get House to shut up.

“Hi, Lisa,” he said, pausing in the doorway.

“Hi, James,” said Cuddy, simultaneously smiling at him and glaring at House, who stood in the corner leaning heavily on his cane and leering at anyone who’d give him the chance.

At that, he stepped inside. He had stopped walking with crutches recently, instead acquiring a slightly awkward limping stride which was slower but more comfortable.

“Am I interrupting something?”

“No,” House said, stomping by him and storming out.

Wilson glanced curiously at Cuddy. “No,” she said, sighing. “Did you need something, James?”

“Oh, no,” he said, thinking privately that everyone else was saying no at the moment and why shouldn’t he join in, “I just wanted to let you know that I can’t come in tomorrow. I have no appointments, so that won’t be a problem.”

“Right,” Cuddy said, smiling sadly. “It’s fine.” She paused. “In fact, you don’t necessarily have to come in Friday either.”

“I will,” Wilson said hastily. “I mean, I think I can make it.” After the mess was over he knew he wanted to keep his mind off it as much as possible, and if coming in to work was the best way to do that—well, that was what he’d just have to do.

“Are you doing all right?”

“I’m—” he thought for a moment “—I’m okay. Thanks.”

Wilson made it to the elevator and was riding down when one of his patients, a woman named Grace, stepped in just above the ground floor.

“How are you?” he said. “Are you in any more pain?”

“Not so bad,” Grace said. She smiled at him shyly and pressed the button for the floor below, which was already lit up. They made small talk for a few minutes; she walked out beside him, and they chatted about whatever they could think of to discuss. She went her own way in the parking lot, and as he climbed into the driver’s seat of his car he found his heart lighter and his lips mysteriously curved. It was not until he was halfway to House’s again that he remembered he was unhappy.

Later that evening, his belly pleasantly full of pizza, Wilson lounged on the couch and tried to immerse himself in his novel. When House entered the room he had very nearly succeeded. House eyed him, plucked up a medical journal from the nearest table, and sat down as well; they remained in companionable silence for a little while Wilson worked on putting various thoughts as far from his conscious mind as he could and House worked on figuring out exactly what was wrong with his latest patient—besides, of course, intrinsic idiocy.

As he leaned over to the coffee table to pick up his drink, Wilson realized his sleeves were rolled up and put his novel down to set about the business of fixing them. This got House’s attention surprisingly quickly. He glared at Wilson over the top of his own book.

“I’ve seen ‘em,” he said, unconsciously echoing his earlier remark.

For the first time in weeks, Wilson looked at the scars himself. There were three, one thicker, jagged line beginning at his left elbow and continuing for an inch and a half down the underside of his forearm, one thinner, longer and straight line from his right elbow, and one oddly shaped, as though it was an attempted tattoo, just behind his wristwatch. Without quite thinking about what he was doing, he traced the oddly-shaped one with a forefinger. It was almost over, he thought, almost the end. Five years, and in two weeks it was almost over—except for the scars, but House had already seen those.

He traced the healing wound once more, met House’s eyes.

“Okay.”

House nodded. “Okay.” Wilson left his sleeves rolled to his elbows and drank his beer.

At eight that night the phone rang.

Wilson, who happened to be sitting closest, leaned over and picked up the cordless. “James Wilson,” he said politely into the receiver. “May I help you?”

House, though he thought with disgust that he needed to re-teach Wilson the proper way to answer a phone, said nothing and continued watching The O.C.

“Really?” Wilson said. “But why?”

Pause.

“I don’t believe it.”

Wilson’s remarks, House noticed, were growing more distraught by the moment.

“Does that mean it’s off, then?”

Pause. “No,” Wilson said quietly, with an amount of resolve which surprised even him. “No, I don’t.”

Pause. “Okay.”

Pause. “Are you sure?” Wilson’s voice held more than a little fear. It was the voice of a man who knew he shouldn’t hope because it would only end in disappointment but who couldn't stop himself from hoping anyway and mourned the finish he felt was inevitable. It was depressing really.

“Okay.” Pause. “Well, I can’t thank you enough.”

“Okay.” Pause. “I really appreciate this.”

“Goodbye.”

Wilson held the phone cradled in his left hand for a minute, barely breathing; then he pressed the “Talk” button with an unsteady forefinger and leaned back into the couch cushions. House, helplessly overwhelmed by curiosity, muted the television. The show was a rerun anyway.

“I have news,” Wilson said, after about five minutes of House’s patented expectant stare. He wasn’t sure how to feel.

“I gathered that,” said House.

“It is, I think,” Wilson said, “good news. No, it’s great news.” He glanced at House. “Are you ready for this?”

“In thirty seconds, will I be any more ready? Didn’t think so. Spill.”

Wilson’s heart leapt into his throat and he found he couldn’t bring himself to say it, put it into words for fear it might disappear. But he knew he had to get it out. “Julie,” he began, which was never a good start to any sentence, “has decided—it seems Julie has decided—”

House studied him as he might a lab rat and idly massaged his bad leg.

“Julie has decided,” Wilson said in a rush, “to give me a divorce—” and he buried his head in his hands, torn with deciding whether to laugh or cry. “No trial,” he whispered. “No hassle. We won’t even have to—have to—” he drew a shaking breath “—see each other. A divorce,” he repeated. “Never thought—never thought I’d be so happy to hear those words.” He could not raise his head yet.

House got up and went into the kitchen. In a few minutes, Wilson heard his limping stride return. There was a clunk, as of aluminum on wood, and a light, completely unexpected pressure on his shoulder. He opened his eyes; two Cokes sat on the coffee table and House stood beside him, a hand on his arm.

“It is good news,” House said. “It’s great news.”

Wilson kept his head down. “They didn’t say why she changed her mind,” he said. “I could have pressed charges, but I didn’t. I didn’t do it.”

“It’s not easy,” said House quietly. “It’s not easy, and I would’ve.” He paused. “But you did what you thought was right. And I'm proud of you.”

Wilson looked up at House and saw, for the first time in too long, the man honestly smile. They reached for the sodas as one and toasted to better days, and Wilson thought of the long-ago fortune cookie and decided that maybe, just maybe, he might believe in fate.

Maybe.

That night Wilson slept on House’s couch listening to Paper Moon and dreamed not of nothing at all, as he’d done two weeks ago.

That night, as the by-now-familiar melody washed over him, Wilson dreamed of safety. Of safety, Charlie, and the lean, hulking figure of the best friend he’d ever had.

And he slept like a baby.