It took a while for House to get back to where he used to be. Things happened on television just like that, sure, but just like that was television and television, while fantastic for entertainment purposes and whacking off when the urge struck, was far from reality. Everyone with a brain cell to spare knew that you couldn’t even rely on cooking shows for a little honesty along with the truffles; most of ‘em made the food before they taped the episode. Losers. But that was TV.
So, while a character from an afternoon movie might’ve gone from years of limping to marathon running in three days, the truth was that physical therapy sucked. The truth was that House didn’t manage those eight miles to work for two and a half months, and even then the first time was—well, glorious, but he was sore.
His muscles just weren’t used to it any more.
If the ketamine held, though, they were going to get used to it again, whether they liked the idea or not; they were definitely gonna get used to it. Because there was nothing quite the same as running, starting off and hitting your stride, running and running and thinking for awhile maybe you’d never slow down, never feeling that pain that had become, over the years, so much a part of you it might’ve been an extra limb.
His palm was still callused, which annoyed him. He was accustomed to the calluses, of course, but they reminded him of what he didn’t particularly want to remember. And, sure, in the back of his mind maybe he thought every now and then about what might happen if the ketamine didn’t hold, but that was just thinking and thinking didn’t mean anything unless you acted on it. His father’d always said that; actions are everything, Gregory. What a shit-faced hypocritical bastard. Bastard, all right.
House punched his left hand with his right.
If they weren’t related, things would’ve been a hell of a lot better for him. That was for sure. But that was fate, you got what cards you were dealt and played them as best you could, and what was he thinking?
You got the cards you were dealt and swapped ‘em on the sly, baby, ‘til you got the best cards at the table and then you played everyone else under the table so they lost everything but their shirts and froze their nads off.
Where the hell was his cane, anyway?
Okay, so House didn’t know where that particular thought had come from, or which primordial sea from whose depths it chose to surface, but it was a shocker. He didn’t need it any more—with luck he’d never need it again—so what did he care? Well, maybe he wondered just a little, as it had been a pretty good cane, but now it was just a long thin piece of metal with a curvy grippy bit at one end that attracted the chicks.
No. He was not going to waste valuable time searching his apartment for a cane when he could walk. No way.
He was going to have a drink and sleep. Like normal people. And then he was going to ride to work, like normal people, and pester Wilson like normal people and he was not, absolutely not, going to look for his cane, and what the hell maybe he left it in the closet that’d only take a minute. If it only took a minute it wasn’t really looking.
Turned out looking took more than a minute. By two A.M. House’s floor was covered in various articles of clothing, most of which he hadn’t seen in a year and a half, and he was blasting something from the nineteen-eighties and cursing a blue streak:
“Damn it damn it damn it, where the fuck did I put the fucking thing?”
And narrating for the benefit of… well, no one exactly:
“I checked the closet… checked the dresser… checked the… damn it!”
And generally being pissed off.
By three-thirty A.M. House was asleep. No luck on the cane front. That housekeeper Wilson pity-hired for him awhile ago, though—now she was going to have her hands full. But what the heck, why else did he pay the woman?
Okay. Technically, Wilson paid her, but friends didn’t let friends throw money down the drain. Unless he was the drain, of course, in which case—keep it comin’.
Trouble started the next morning. He ran to work again and showered when he got there, loving the way he could stand on both feet, shifting his weight for the hell of it and shaking his head like a dog. Then, of course, because life was like that, somebody paged him.
True to form, House ignored it.
When he’d got the shampoo in his hair, the pager went off again. Beep beep beep. He should’ve smashed the damn thing ages ago.
“Shut up,” House snapped, though he knew perfectly well that there was no one around to hear him and he might as well have hollered at the nearest wall, which was essentially what he was doing anyway.
Beep beep beep.
Now he had to get out of the shower, walk across the room to his jacket, cold and wet—good thing he was alone, all right, because the scar tissue was still there even if the pain wasn’t, and it just wasn’t your ordinary conversation topic; look, ladies and gents and old lady on the corner, there’s a significant chunk of my thigh gone, you ever seen anything quite like it?
But he walked to his jacket anyway. Cuddy. What could she possibly want? Way too early for him to be doing clinic hours. Way too early for him to be at work. And because she couldn’t have known he was at work, that meant she thought he was at home. And if she thought he was at home, that meant they were currently in the middle of (a) an emergency or (b) the apocalypse, the only two reasons anyone would ever disturb him when he wasn’t working.
Odds were it wasn’t the apocalypse.
He changed and sprinted to the elevators—it was great, the sprinting thing—and was pounding irritably on the door of her office in less than five minutes.
“You better have a good reason for—”
The secretary opened it.
Damn, he hated that man.
“Dr. House, don’t you think it’s a little early to—”
“Step aside. Cripple coming through.” House looked down. Oops. “Ex-cripple coming through. Seniority rights. Get your ass out of my way.”
“If you’ll wait a moment, Dr. House, I’ll see if she’s—”
“If you’ll wait a moment—she paged me. Move.”
The secretary moved. Smart guy.
Cuddy was sitting behind her desk, staring morosely at her own pager, and she didn’t look especially happy. Sure, she ordinarily didn’t look especially happy when he barged into her office at odd hours, making a fuss and offending her secretary’s “sensitive moral core” (the man actually had one)—but something was off.
“What’s up?” he asked, falling ungracefully into a chair and whacking his toe on the footstool.
“Bad news,” Cuddy said, still refusing to look at him.
“O-kay.” House drew the word out and waited. And waited.
“Bad news like more innocent children starving in Africa, or bad news like hey, House, a meteor just hit your apartment and Cameron is offering her spare room?”
“Bad news like Wilson is in the hospital,” and Cuddy was looking at him now, and, oh, shit.
“Wilson’s in the hospital. This hospital.” Cuddy’s eyes were wet.
“He does work here, you know. There’s a door with his name on it and everything.”
And now he was the one studying his pager like it might as well’ve been the fucking Rosetta Stone.
“What’s wrong with him?” he said finally. Not because he wanted to know or anything. Wilson would probably be fine. Probably was fine, actually. Probably tripped over his ego, something stupid like that. Sprain maybe. No big.
“He was attacked in the clinic last night. A woman came in who’d been repeatedly reported for disturbing the peace in her apartment building—someone apparently got a little too tired of her, tried to eviscerate her with a butter knife. Wilson was working late, and he took her case.”
“If she’d been eviscerated, why the hell was she in the clinic?”
“I said tried, House. Tried. There wasn’t too much damage. She was a real fighter, held him off—just needed a few stitches.”
“Wilson learned fucking stitching in medical school.” House was just about spitting the words through his teeth, like they were seeds he wanted to get rid of, gritty and stuck up against his gums.
Cuddy looked at her desk again, moved some things around on her blotter, tried to avoid saying what came next, was very obvious about it. “House—there’s something I have to tell you.”
“She didn’t have a weapon when she came in—”
“Wilson got his ass kicked barehanded? That’s rich.”
“But she had access to one in the clinic room. It was your cane, House.”
“Your cane. You must have left it down in the clinic sometime before the ketamine. Wilson stepped out to speak with a nurse. The patient was waiting for him when he walked back inside. I don’t think he stood a chance.”
House stood. “And where the fuck was everyone else for this? Wilson didn’t fight? Call for help? They all deaf?”
“No—he did call for help, House. He managed to push the call button. Police have her in custody as we speak. But—House—” Cuddy was on her feet by now, too. He was aleady heading for the door. He stopped and stayed where he was, facing the glass, looking out into the hospital.
“He’s not in very good shape,” she said finally.
“Yeah. I got that when you said a sociopathic patient beat the shit out of him.”
“I just wanted to make sure that—”
“I can handle seeing him?”
“You’re not stupid, House; you know that even doctors often have a hard time with something like this, and—”
House spun around. “No. I’m not stupid. That’s why I wouldn’t be going if I couldn’t handle seeing him. I don’t need to hear the same spiel Cameron’s given family members a hundred times. I have my name on a door too, in case you forgot.”
She didn’t say anything this time, so he went back to leaving.
“House,” she murmured just as he was letting the door swing shut, but he caught the end of the sentence—“House, I’m sorry.”
They’d put Wilson on the third floor, in a corner room, and House’s first impression was that he looked embarrassed. Embarrassed and affronted.
“Hey,” Wilson said, studying the bedsheets. People were doing a lot of examining inanimate objects lately. At least when House was around.
“Hey.” House stepped over the threshold, and then said nothing at all.
Wilson glanced up.
He didn’t look good.
A greenish-yellow monstrosity spreading across his left cheekbone. The beginnings of a shiner. From the looks of the tape, cracked ribs. Probably a couple dozen more bruises under the gown that he couldn’t see. Wilson was sitting there like he was made of glass, didn’t want to move around too much in case he’d break. He had to be in a shitload of pain.
The bruise—his cane. Almost looked just like his cane. He could’ve held the cane up to the injury and it would’ve fit perfectly. Shadows of violence.
“So I guess you heard about what happened,” Wilson said finally.
“You’re the talk of the hospital.”
“Yeah. Great.” Wilson looked at the bedsheets again. House walked over and sat down in one of the guest chairs. They were remarkably uncomfortable—as if visiting relatives weren’t already in enough pain, right?
“Knew you couldn’t hold your own in a bar fight.”
“Hey.” Wilson smirked. “She surprised me, okay?”
“Oh come on; you got your ass whupped by an old lady with stitches in her belly. It doesn’t get worse than that.” House glanced at the IV—pain medication, he’d bet, and a heart monitor, which was pretty ridiculous because Wilson obviously wasn’t dying or getting ready to have a coronary or something but regulations were ridiculous a lot of the time anyway.
“You in a lot of pain?” he said grudgingly.
“Huh?” Wilson glanced at him, at the IV, at the bedsheets, back at him. “It’s okay.”
“Okay tolerable, or okay I haven’t started screaming yet?”
“I’ve got a clicker, House,” Wilson said. “I press this little button a few times, and I can be high as a kite.” But he winced when he shifted.
“When are they gonna let you out of here?”
“This afternoon. Observation, I guess. I passed out.”
House walked over to the side of the bed and eased a leg up beside Wilson’s. “Knew it. You’re just the kind of guy who’d faint when things’re getting good.”
“Look, House—” Wilson had his Serious Face on, that couldn’t mean anything positive— “she hit me with your cane. I mean, you’ve gotta be—”
“Fuck!” House lifted his other leg onto the bed too, and Wilson scooted over, wincing and generally being a tender sensitive Tiny Tim attack victim. “You’re in the hospital and you’re going to tell me I need to get in touch with my feelings? I’m not the one who lost a fight with a girl.”
“I—” Wilson gasped. That was bad. Bad bad bad. And he wheezed. That was bad too.
“Wilson. Hey. Wilson!” Now House was a little glad for the heart monitor. Not tachycardia—not yet, anyway. Spike in blood pressure, significant spike in pulse rate, clammy skin. Panic attack. Great. Wilson was going to send himself into v-fib if somebody didn’t do something about it.
“Calm down,” House muttered. “Hey. Chill.” He put a hand on Wilson’s back and rubbed his fingers in a little circle, pressing down, trying to massage away the tension. Wilson, the stubborn idiot, kept wheezing. House thought about telling him to put his head between his knees, but, what with the ribs, that might not have been the best idea.
Wilson leaned into him. Before House knew what he was doing, he’d lifted his arm, and Wilson was lying against him, head on his chest, and House was patting his shoulder and being almost maybe sort of comforting and Wilson was trembling. Just a little.
“It’s okay,” he said gruffly. Then he said other things that he remembered hearing from Wilson after the infarction, but that degenerated pretty quickly, to mindless comforting noises that actually seemed to help, his lips moving, saying stuff he didn’t even understand.
Wilson was awfully warm. And he smelled damn good for a man.
In a few minutes, Wilson seemed to have recovered. The wheezing stopped, anyway, and his BP and pulse rate dropped back to normal. House shifted his arm and let Wilson sit up.
“Sorry,” Wilson said.
“Hey. No big.”
“It was just—”
“Really. No big. You keep talking, it’s going to turn into a big.” House sat up himself, looked at Wilson, looked back at the visitor’s chair.
“Yeah. Yeah.” They were quiet.
“They’re going to let you go this afternoon?”
“Huh?” Then Wilson remembered. “Oh. Right. I could check out myself, of course, but I figured it’d be better to cooperate.”
“Great.” House rolled off the bed with surprising agility and headed for the door. He latched it behind him and didn’t look back at Wilson even then, but he did lean against the wall. He did draw more than a few deep breaths. And he did apologize, there in the hallway, entirely alone.
“Sorry, Wilson,” he murmured. “Shit. My cane.”
“What’re you doing here?”
House shifted his feet and… shifted his feet again, just for good measure.
“You did say this afternoon. I’m not deaf.”
Wilson was surprised. Maybe happy, too. He was moving carefully, and his ribs were still taped, of course, and the bruise was darkening by the hour and House could tell, he swore he could tell, that his right eye was already swelling shut, but through all that stuff Wilson actually grinned at him.
“Don’t get too soppy. I wanted lunch.” House stepped forward. “And since most people eat it, you interested in eating it together?”
“You’re feeling guilty, aren’t you?” Wilson smirked, and his eyes twinkled—well, his good eye twinkled. His right eye sort of tried to keep up.
“I never feel guilty. I am impervious to guilt. I’m trying to hide from Cuddy. Quiet.”
Wilson continued walking toward the parking lot. “If you want to come, House, I’d rather you drove. I don’t think I can handle it yet.”
House laughed, watching the way Wilson walked—delicately, like some kind of bad fashion model, holding himself as carefully as possible. “You look like an idiot.” But he followed.
Neither of them mentioned a cane.
Neither of them mentioned the panic attack, either, and they scarcely discussed the beating itself at all.
But they did eat lunch together, and Wilson did pass the night on House’s couch, and while they watched some old movie on television if Wilson, tired and more than a little stiff, happened to doze off on House’s shoulder—if Wilson slept there for awhile, his hair brushing House’s neck, and if House held perfectly still—well. Neither of them mentioned it.