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Fic: Loss

Title: Loss
Author: Mer
Pairing: H/W – theoretically gen, but there’s always subtext
Rating: PG for nasty Anglo-Saxon words
Disclaimer: House, Wilson et al, are not mine
Warnings: Vague spoiler for "Acceptance," speculation and excessive shmoopiness. AU for episodes after “Sex Kills.”
Summary: “I asked you. The one thing I asked of you. To let me know when you finally called it quits.”

“Tommy Linder died today.”

That was enough to silence even House. Doctors weren’t supposed to play favourites and oncologists never, ever got attached to patients, but Wilson did have his favourites and Tommy Linder had been top of the list. Fifteen years old, he’d been battling leukemia since just after his sixth birthday. He had been one of Wilson’s first patients after he’d joined PPTH for his oncology fellowship and they had stuck together through promotions and remissions.

“Does Wilson know?” House asked finally.

Cameron nodded. “According to the duty nurse he was with him when he died.” She looked around the office, though it was difficult to mask anything through the glass walls. “I thought he might have come by to tell you.”

House tried not to think about what it might mean that he hadn’t. “He’s not in his office?” He got up and peered across the shared balcony. The blinds were pulled across the glass doors, the lights off.

“No one answered when I knocked.” Of course Cameron had checked. “He’s not answering his cell phone or his pager. Maybe he went home?”

Given that Wilson’s marriage was about as healthy as Wilson’s patients, House doubted that, but he picked up the phone and dialled Wilson’s home number anyway. He grimaced when Julie picked up. “I need to talk to James,” he snapped, forgoing the usual – or in this case unusual – pleasantries.

“Why hello, Greg, how nice to hear from you.”

House had managed to stay on good terms with Julie for nearly a year after the marriage, but the terms had shifted radically the first time Wilson had crashed at House’s place. Julie blamed House for ruining her marriage and House blamed Julie for making Wilson unhappy. “How about you pretend that we exchanged the requisite amount of small talk and put James on the line.”

There was a long pause that had nothing to do with their running battle. “He’s not here. He moved out last week. I thought you knew.”

“Would I be calling if I did? Damnit, Julie, why didn’t you let me know?”

“I assumed he’d go running to you the way he always does.”

House tried to ignore the hurt buried under the anger. It was easier to think of Julie as the enemy. “I asked you. The one thing I asked of you. To let me know when you finally called it quits.”

“He didn’t say anything?”

“Of course he didn’t say anything,” House shouted. “He never says anything. You know that. It’s why you’re divorcing him.” He could see the team react to that with varying shades of surprise and sympathy and forced himself to lower his voice. “Where is he staying?”

“I – I don’t know. I thought he was staying with you.” She paused to take a breath. “It’s been a week. Why are you only calling now?”

Why indeed. Why hadn’t he noticed that his best friend’s life had fallen apart yet again? Maybe it was because his own life was so crap that he barely noticed in comparison. Maybe it was because Wilson was getting used to getting divorced and knew how to hide the signs. “One of his long-term patients died. I wanted to make sure he was all right. Obviously he’s not.” He didn’t bother to wait for her reply, just broke the connection with a satisfying click.

He looked up at his team. They weren’t even pretending to mind their own business, which saved explanations. “Get a list of all the nearby hotels and find out which one he’s staying at,” he said. “Split it up and it’ll go faster. Take turns trying his cell phone and pager. If he’s got them on, he’ll answer eventually. He has a low threshold for ignoring responsibilities.” He pushed himself upright and limped to the door.

“Where are you going?” Foreman demanded.

“Wilson hunting,” he replied, not bothering to turn around.

He checked the parking lot first, not that he thought Wilson would be hanging around shooting the breeze with the attendant, but if his car was gone it meant Wilson was probably out of his range. But Wilson’s Volvo was safely in its spot, the hood cold. It didn’t mean he hadn’t walked away or taken a cab, but it did mean he was coming back if he had.

Next stop cafeteria. The cashier hadn’t seen Wilson and House knew she would remember if he had been in. Wilson was unfailingly polite to service personnel. House was not, which made him memorable in his own way. Chapel, abandoned; oncology lounge, deserted.

He tried the clinic next. Normally it was the last place he wanted to be, but Wilson was more conscientious about his responsibilities and even though he wasn’t scheduled for clinic duty, he often picked up extra shifts, particularly when one of his patients died and he wanted to remind himself that some illnesses were curable. The duty nurse hadn’t seen Wilson, but he checked the exam rooms anyway to make sure he hadn’t slipped in to hide. Walking into a rectal exam provided some mild entertainment, but otherwise no clue to Wilson’s whereabouts. That left one last stop before he sent his minions on a complete sweep of the facilities.

Cuddy was in her office when he opened the door without knocking. Of course her walls were glass as well, giving her ample opportunity to see his approach. It also enabled him to determine that Wilson hadn’t taken refuge in a surprising locale. Though not really surprising if House thought about it objectively. Wilson and Cuddy were allies on the board, close in age and equal in their dedication to the hospital. If it weren’t for House constantly leading him into mischief, Wilson would probably be friends with Cuddy. But being Gregory House’s best friend was an exclusive contract.

“Come in, Dr. House,” Cuddy said with a sardonic lift of one corner of her mouth. “Did you get lost on your way to the clinic? I believe your shift is in twenty minutes.”

Much as he enjoyed their verbal volleying, he didn’t have time to lob a serve. “I need out.” He raised a hand when she automatically started to protest. “I’ll make the hours up tomorrow.”

That was enough to throw Cuddy off her game. “What’s so important that you’re willing to negotiate?” she asked.

He wondered why she had to ask. “Wilson. I assume you heard about the Linder kid.” She grimaced and nodded. “Did you know Julie kicked him out?” He was relieved to see that it hadn’t come as a surprise just to him. “He’s gone to ground. I need to find him before he does something stupid like join the circus or shave his head.” His cell phone rang before Cuddy could come up with a smart reply. “What?” he barked.

“Do you want to know where Dr. Wilson is staying or should I hang up?” It would have to be Foreman who called.

“Why do you ask questions you already know the answers to?” House might have imagined the soft chuckle at the other end of the line.

“He’s registered at the Marriott. They put me through to his room, but no answer. Doesn’t mean he’s not there, though.”

“Get over there and find out. If he’s not there, wait until he shows up or I call you.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” Foreman replied hanging up.

House pocketed his cell phone smirking at Foreman’s well-founded cynicism. Now he would have to call, just to keep him off-balance. “His car’s here but he’s not in any of his usual hiding places. Can you think of someplace he might go?”

“Have you tried the roof?” she asked.

House fought back the instant dread her words caused. “He wouldn’t do anything that stupid,” he protested.

Cuddy rolled her eyes. “Not to jump. The orderlies aren’t the only ones who go up there to smoke.”

“He’s an oncologist. He doesn’t smoke.”

“No, but it’s a good place to brood.”

House couldn’t argue with that. He pulled out the cell phone again and punched a number. “Chase. Get up to the roof and check to see if he’s up there. No, I don’t think he’s going to jump. He likes the view. If he is there, don’t approach him, just call me.” He hung up. “Kids. Have to be told everything.”

Cuddy was staring at him, but without the mixture of hostility and frustration he had come to expect from her. “You’ve got your team searching for him?”

House supposed it was a technically a waste of hospital resources, but it wasn’t as if they were doing anything else. “You have a problem with that?” he demanded confidently. He always enjoyed arguing with Cuddy, but he had found it went better when he was actually in the right.

But Cuddy only shrugged. “I can think of worse things for them to do. Wait. I don’t have to. I’ve got a file folder already full of examples.” Her heart wasn’t in the words, though. “I’m sure he’s fine,” she said, not sounding particularly convinced. Wilson wasn’t one to act rashly, if you discounted his marriages.

“Sure,” House retorted sarcastically. “That’s why he’s gone missing in the middle of the workday. As you’ve so charmingly pointed out, he’s only irresponsible when he’s with me.”

“Have you tried the courtyard?” she asked thoughtfully. “He likes to sit out there.”

“It’s raining,” he protested, not wanting to examine too deeply why Cuddy knew Wilson’s favourite places.

“It’s raining on the roof too,” she countered.

Just then Chase called back announcing that there was no sign of Wilson on the roof. “I’ll try the courtyard,” he told Cuddy.

It was raining, but in a half-hearted sort of way, not much more than a drizzle. It had been pouring earlier, though, and House was careful to avoid puddles as he made his way through the courtyard to Wilson’s favourite table. Before he was halfway across the lawn he saw the huddled figure on the picnic bench and thought, “Bingo.” It was annoying that Cuddy had guessed right, but he awarded himself bonus points for actually venturing into the rain to check.

Wilson had obviously been sitting there during the downpour, for his dark hair was plastered to his skull and his lab coat was soaked through. “Have you volunteered for a clinical study to determine just how long it takes to catch pneumonia from sitting in the rain?”

Wilson looked up. “Go away,” he said. A stream of water drained from his bangs down his face.

“I’d love to, but it would be criminally irresponsible for me to leave without you.” He tapped his cane impatiently on the ground. “Come on, the study’s over. Let’s go inside.”

“I’m not going back in there,” Wilson balked.

There were times when House wanted to smack people across the head with his cane. This was one of them. “You’re soaking wet. You need to get changed into dry clothes. And if I stand out here any longer, so will I.”

“I’m not going back. Everybody will stare at me.”

House closed his eyes and prayed to a god he didn’t believe in to give him patience. “If you didn’t want people to stare at you, you shouldn’t have sat out in the rain like a moron. How long have you been out here anyway?”

Wilson shrugged. “Awhile.” He wrinkled his nose and sneezed.

“Fine,” House snapped, anger masking a fresh wave of worry. “We’ll go to my place then. Making yourself sick might seem like a reasonable penance to you, but it’s a pain in the ass for the rest of us.” He grabbed Wilson’s arm and pulled him to his feet. “Move it.” He drove Wilson towards the parking lot, poking him in the back occasionally to get him to move faster.

Wilson started to shiver as he waited for House to unlock the car. House detoured to the trunk and fished out a musty smelling blanket. “Here,” he said, throwing it at Wilson. “Wrap yourself in that before you freeze to death.” He cranked the heat as soon as he started the engine, but even with the blanket and the heat, Wilson was shaking like a cheap motel bed.

Keeping his eyes on the road, he reached across and brushed his hand over Wilson’s forehead. The skin was cold and clammy and the worry spiked again. He was glad his home was only a few minutes drive away. “Go take a shower,” he ordered, as soon as he’d herded Wilson inside. “I’ll get some clean clothes for you.” The worry reached almost unbearable levels when Wilson obeyed without arguing.

House changed out of his own wet clothes, and found a pair of sweats and a ragged baseball shirt that Wilson had left behind the last time he’d had a fight with Julie. He called Foreman. “You can quit the vigil,” he told him. “I’ve captured our lost bird.” His eyes strayed to the closed bathroom door. “Do me a favour, though. Check him out of the hotel and bring his stuff back to the office. I’ll pick it up tomorrow.” He hung up before Foreman could comment. As an afterthought, he called Cuddy to let her know that her Head of Oncology had been located and that neither one of them would be coming back that day. Finally he speed dialled their favourite Chinese restaurant and placed an order guaranteed to clear sinuses.

He listened to the water run in the bathroom, but the sound of another sneeze sent him to the kitchen where he brewed a pot of tea and searched through the cupboards for the bottle of Echinacea that Wilson had brought over the last time he’d had a cold. After a few minutes the door opened and Wilson emerged, wearing only boxers, a towel draped over his shoulder.

“Here,” House said, throwing the change of clothes at Wilson, who made his way to his favourite spot on the couch. “Get dressed before you really do make yourself sick.”

Wilson glanced at the shirt and then up at House. “You still have this? I thought it would have gone to Goodwill after your last move.” He paused to bury his face in the shirt and breathe deeply before pulling it over his head. “Smells like ballparks,” he said dreamily.

House plopped down next to Wilson and took an exaggerated sniff of the shirt. It smelled like Wilson, which was why he’d kept it. “When were you going to tell me?” House demanded, handing Wilson a mug of milky sugared tea.

“Tell you what?” Wilson replied tiredly, as he pulled on the sweat pants. “That I screwed up another marriage or that I let a kid die?”

The words made House’s chest hurt, though not nearly as much as the desolation in Wilson’s eyes. He resorted to anger. “A week ago,” he shouted. “You moved out a week ago and didn’t tell me. I thought we were friends.”

Guilt was the one weapon he could always count on against Wilson, but even that wasn’t working. “And here I thought I was sparing you the inconvenience of having to deal with my fucked-up life,” he snapped back. “Or sparing myself the smug reminder that you told me it would never last.”

The hell of it was that Wilson was right on all counts. Even now he had to remind himself not to make a snide baseball reference. “I want to help,” he said instead.

Wilson clutched the mug with both hands, pressing it against his chest for comfort. “There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing anybody can do anymore.”

“Cameron said you were with him when he died,” House said softly, shying away from the far more dangerous topic of Wilson’s marriage. “You know, if you let her see what a wreck you are, maybe she’d learn not to wear her heart on her sleeve for patients.”

Wilson snorted. “Do as I say, not as I do. I’m quite the hypocrite.”

“You don’t lie to yourself,” House replied. “And you don’t lie to patients. You don’t give false hope, even if it means you lose your own. You’re not like Cameron.”

Wilson managed a slight smile. “God forbid. I don’t think you could handle two of her. Or me.”

That wasn’t entirely true. House would have been happy in a world populated entirely by Wilsons. There were days when he actively made that his goal. But the thought of two Camerons was exhausting. Two Cuddys on the other hand, meant double the funbags. He tore his mind away from that delightful, yet frightening, image and concentrated on Wilson again. He still looked miserable, his skin too pale and the flesh beneath his eyes too dark, and even sitting still he radiated exhaustion. “The food should be here soon,” he said. “Then you should try to get some sleep.”

Wilson blinked and the smile grew stronger. “Will you read me a bedtime story?” he teased.

“Shut up,” House retorted. “If you’re really lucky, I might let you look at the latest Penthouse. And I mean look, not touch.” He grabbed the remote and began the process of running through every channel in search of something interesting. He glanced at Wilson and saw the younger man surreptitiously rubbing his nose. “Take the Echinacea,” he said, gesturing at the bottle on the coffee table.

“I’m okay,” Wilson protested, undercutting his words with an audible sniff.

“Sure you are.” House felt an irrational burst of anger at Wilson’s stubbornness. “Sit out in the rain. Get sick. See if I care.”

He could feel Wilson’s eyes on him and he glared at the television set, jaw locked to prevent any more words from slipping out. Wilson swam into his peripheral vision, leaning forward to grab the bottle, before drifting back against the couch. House didn’t need to look at him to know that he carefully poured a measure into the lid, wrinkling his nose as he swallowed the liquid, and then repeated the dose. “It doesn’t work, you know,” Wilson said lightly.

“Then why did you buy it for me?” He turned his head in time to see a half-smile curve the corner of Wilson’s mouth.

“Because it doesn’t not work either.”

House relaxed and let the channel remain on a repeat of Seinfeld. “Do you ever listen to yourself?” he demanded. “Is that the kind of thing you say to your patients? We’ll pump you full of chemicals, because even if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t not work either.“

Wilson shrugged. “And that’s so different from giving your patients medicine that will cure something you only think they have?”

The doorbell interrupted the brilliant retort House was forming in his head. Arguing with Wilson took so much more effort than browbeating the juniors. If they ever found out that his verbal practice with the oncologist was what kept him on top of his game, they might not like Wilson so much. Though despite his decade-long association with House, the only people who actively disliked Wilson seemed to be power-hungry billionaires, board rivals and angry ex-wives.

He shifted slightly and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “Go pay the man, James,” he ordered haughtily, tossing it at Wilson.

Wilson let out a long-suffering sigh that was mostly for show and clambered to his feet. The sweats were too long for him and after a week of bachelor guilt too loose as well; he looked like a little boy dressing up in his older brother’s clothes. House smiled fondly. He liked his Wilson rumpled and casual.

Wilson dropped the bag of food on the table and disappeared into the kitchen for plates and cutlery. House just rolled his eyes and grabbed a container, digging into it with chopsticks. Szechwan green beans. Wilson’s favourite. He hugged it protectively against his chest when Wilson returned.

“Give,” Wilson demanded, gesturing to the carton with his own pair of chopsticks. House wondered why he even bothered to grab cutlery, much less plates.

House turned away. “Get your own food. There’s plenty to go around.”

“You don’t even like green beans,” Wilson protested. “You’re only hogging them because I do.”

House snorted like a pig, but relinquished the carton, reaching instead for the noodles. Happiness was a good dose of MSG.

He narrowed his eyes, though, when Wilson bit into a mouthful of beans and immediately started to cough. He reached blindly for the mug of tea and gulped down the lukewarm liquid. House reached over and, instead of pounding Wilson on the back, as had been his intention, felt the younger man’s forehead and then grabbed his wrist and took his pulse.

“Stop it,” Wilson complained, pulling his hand away. “I’m not sick, I just bit down on a chilli pepper. Jesus, you complain about me being a mother hen, but you’re ten times worse.”

House allowed the hyperbole to pass. “I’ve had years to train you. When was the last time you were sick? Two, three years ago?”

“More like six months.”

House frowned. Six months ago he had gone to DC for a conference. “What, you waited until I left town to get sick?”

“Must have been withdrawal from your delightful personality,” Wilson replied dryly.

“Who looked after you?” he demanded.

“I did have a wife six months ago,” Wilson pointed out. “She was delighted to soothe my fevered brow, bring me chicken soup in bed, give me sponge baths…”

“Ugh,” House groaned. “Now you’re making me sick. I hope you don’t expect that kind of service here.”

“I would,” Wilson replied, “if I were sick. But I’m not.” He dug back into the food, effectively closing off the conversation.

House let him. His forehead had been cool and his pulse normal. He would keep an eye on Wilson for the next few days, though. Wilson had a bad habit of not caring about himself when he was upset, and while House didn’t care about himself ever, Wilson was one of the few things that mattered to him.

Wilson picked at his food, barely eating enough to satisfy his keeper. They watched television in silence, and while it wasn’t the usual companionable silence between them, House let it lie. House watched as Wilson’s eyelids drooped and he drifted to sleep, still holding his green beans. House gently took the container away from him before he tipped it all over the couch, then jabbed him awake. “Go to bed,” he ordered. “The guestroom’s made up.” House always kept it made up for Wilson.

Wilson blinked at him, then slowly stood up. He glanced at House through lowered lashes. “I’m sorry I made you worry,” he said softly. “Thanks for looking for me.”

It was hard maintaining a tough-guy exterior when Wilson’s earnest gratitude made him want to cry. “Yeah, well, it got me out of clinic duty,” he muttered. “So I guess I owe you.”

Wilson looked up. “Cuddy let you out of clinic duty to look for me?”

“The children are probably still looking for you. Though I suppose Foreman called them off. What?” he demanded when Wilson groaned. “I didn’t want him hanging outside your hotel room all night. With his record he’d get picked up by the cops for casing the joint.”

“That’s not…” He rubbed the back of his neck in a gesture so typical it made House smile. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. Oh god.” He wrapped his arms around his body and stared at the floor.

“Stop it,” House ordered. “They looked for you because they care. And because I told them to. Though technically it’s not in their job description, so we’ll go with the first explanation.” He rapped Wilson on the leg with his cane. “Buy them donuts tomorrow and you’ll be even.” Wilson still couldn’t meet his eyes. He thought about hitting him again, but it seemed to send a mixed message, so instead he shoved Wilson towards the guest room. “Get some sleep. Things will be better in the morning.” He didn’t actually believe that, but at least it got Wilson moving.

He waited until the door closed before he sank into the couch and grabbed the remote. Primetime was just starting. Once he’d exhausted his patience for television for the evening, he got up to go to the bathroom and stopped outside Wilson’s door. A sound snagged his curiosity and he poked his head in the door to listen. Wilson moved restlessly, muttering in his sleep, but when he choked off a sob, House stiffened, paralysed by his friend’s pain. A whimper unfroze his muscles and drew him to the bed.

He had left the light on in the hallway and enough filtered into the room for him to see Wilson clearly. The younger man was lying curled on his side, back to House, but he could see Wilson’s shoulders shaking and knew that moonlight would be silvering the tracks of tears down his cheeks. Wilson whimpered again and it was too much for House to take. Lifting his cane, he jabbed Wilson lightly between the shoulder blades, repeating until Wilson at last stiffened and rolled over, rubbing his face free of tears and sleep.

“What?” he mumbled, peering blearily up at House.

“You were dreaming,” House replied bluntly. “Shouting like a maniac. Some of us are trying to sleep, you know.”

Wilson mumbled an apology, but then sat up when House sat heavily on the side of the bed and awkwardly shifted until he was stretched out next to Wilson.

“Talk,” he ordered. “Tell me what’s going on in that whacked out head of yours.”

“Leave me alone,” Wilson replied, trying to turn away, but House grabbed him and held on hard enough to leave bruises.

“Talk,” he repeated. “Or if you won’t talk, listen.” He waited a moment to see which option Wilson would choose, unsurprised when the silence dragged out between them. “You’re bottling it up inside and it’s eating its way out. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for anybody else around you.” He had hoped to play on Wilson’s over-defined sense of guilt, but instead he sparked a flame of anger, which was just as good.

“I’m sorry I interrupted your sleep,” he snapped. “I’ll go back to the hotel tomorrow.”

“You’re not going back to the hotel,” House replied, rolling his eyes. “I already had Foreman check you out.”

Wilson pulled away. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I’m your friend,” House shouted. “I’m your friend,” he repeated quietly. “And friends don’t let friends grieve alone in sterile hotel rooms.”

“I’m not grieving.”

“Yes, you are. You loved that kid and don’t dishonour his memory by denying it. And you loved your wife.” He tried, but he couldn’t hold back an editorial after-thought, “God knows why.”

Wilson just shook his head, his mouth twisting slightly at the corner. “Is it any wonder I’m having nightmares when my best friend and my wife can’t even speak civilly to each other?”

“Ex-wife,” House corrected. “And about time. The bitch promised she’d warn me before she kicked you out.”

“She didn’t kick me out. I left.”

That was a new development. Wife number one had kicked Wilson out after he’d admitted that he’d fallen in love with wife number two. Wife number two had changed the locks on the doors once she realised that she came a distant third in Wilson’s priorities after his career and Gregory House. “What happened?” he asked. “Did you walk in on her screwing the milkman?”

Amazingly, Wilson laughed. “You’ve been screwing the milkman. And then he ran into my knife. He ran into my knife ten times,” he quoted in a terrible falsetto.

“I knew I shouldn’t have taken you to Chicago,” House muttered. “It was supposed to give you a warning, not a comedy routine. I’m serious. What happened?”

Wilson played with the edge of the duvet. “Nothing happened. Maybe I just got tired of loving for the sake of loving. Maybe I got tired of fooling myself with the fairy tale. Nobody lives happily ever after. Some people don’t get to live at all.” His voice cracked and he turned his face away.

This was why House didn’t get close to patients. He bumped Wilson’s shoulder. “You gave him nine years, Wilson. That’s a long time for that kind of leukemia. This isn’t the first patient you’ve lost,” he said carefully, not adding the obvious comment that it wasn’t the first wife either. “Come on. Tell me what’s got you all tied up in knots.”

Wilson turned to look at him. “Why don’t you tell me? You’re the diagnostician.”

“You need to put it in words,” House retorted. “You haven’t even said his name. Or hers.”

That did make Wilson pull away. He got up and stalked to the window, staring out into the night. “What do you want to hear? That I love Julie, but I don’t know who she is any more, much less why I married her? That while I’m apparently capable of making a commitment, I sure as hell can’t keep one? That I’m a cancer, eating away at good, decent women, making them angry and bitter and disappointed?” He leaned his forehead against the window. “And speaking of cancer,” he said, his voice twisted with bitterness, “I can’t even keep someone alive long enough to go to their junior prom. He looked at me before he died and I could see in his eyes all the years he wouldn’t have.”

This time House knew better than to approach Wilson. His body was whipcord taut with tension and he looked about a second away from smashing his fist through the window. “You did everything you could.”

“I screwed up my marriage and I let Tommy die.” His voice broke on the name.

For once House had no pithy response to fire back. “Just because you’re a bad husband doesn’t mean you’re a bad person,” he said finally. “Sometimes people fail. I know you don’t have a lot of experience with that, but it’s part of the human condition.”

Wilson turned and stared at him. “You are so full of shit. I sentence people to death every day. Don’t tell me about the human condition.” He spun away again and smashed his fist into the wall, and then again.

Alarmed, House slid off the bed and moved as quickly as he could without his cane to Wilson’s side, grabbing Wilson’s arm before he could cause permanent damage to himself or the wall. Wilson turned, his other arm cocked back to swing at House. He froze and dropped his arm.

House released his hand and stepped back. “Do you want to hit me?” he asked calmly. “Go ahead if it will make you feel better. Flesh is a lot more forgiving than plaster.” His palm was damp with sweat and sticky with blood from where it had brushed Wilson’s abused knuckles.

Wilson shook his head. “You should get away from me. I kill everything I love.”

Greg House had always been a contrary individual. If Wilson had asked him to stay he might have considered leaving, but as it was, he was in his own home and he wasn’t going anywhere. Instead he stepped closer, took Wilson’s arm and led him back to the bed. He turned on the lamp to get a better look. The knuckles of his right hand were raw and bleeding, the pinkie slightly out of alignment. He popped it back into place, surprised not to feel broken bones grind in the process. “You’re lucky,” he said. “No boxer’s fracture. We should get x-rays to make sure, though.”

Wilson didn’t answer, just flexed his hands, as if to prove that he was all right.

House decided they could wait until the morning. “I’ll get some ice and bandages for those knuckles. Sit here and don’t abuse my walls.” He grabbed his cane and manoeuvred towards the kitchen. Fortunately icepacks were something he had in abundance. Bandages were harder to track down, which he supposed was an embarrassment for a doctor, but at last he found a dusty pack in the back of a bathroom drawer. He thought about giving Wilson one of his Vicodin, but opted for a milder ibuprofen.

Cradling his finds against his chest, he limped back into the guest room. Wilson hadn’t moved.

“Did you look back and turn into a pillar of salt?” he called out as he approached the bed. He didn’t actually expect an answer, had only said something to avoid startling Wilson.

“I’m not anyone’s wife,” Wilson said softly, just loud enough for House to hear. “I’m not even anyone’s husband.”

There was no answer to that, or at least none that wouldn’t make things worse. Normally House enjoyed picking his way through conversational minefields, but Wilson was in no shape to handle stray shrapnel. He took Wilson’s abraded hand and used his last remaining antiseptic pad to clean the knuckles. That done to his satisfaction, he bandaged each knuckle, leaving a litter of paper squares and wrappers on the floor. He admired his handiwork a moment then wrapped the gelled icepack around Wilson’s hand.

“You’d almost think I was a doctor,” he announced proudly. “Don’t tell Cuddy about this. She might expect me to do it in the clinic as well.”

That teased a slight smile from Wilson. “I am flattered you deigned to practice basic first aid on me,” he replied. “I feel special.”

“You should,” House said, before he could stop himself. “You are.”


Wilson squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “No, you were right before,” he muttered. “I’m a failure.”

“I never said that,” House snapped. He didn’t mind getting called on the terrible things he said to people. That was half the point of saying them. But he wasn’t going to answer for something he hadn’t said. He reviewed the conversation and pinpointed Wilson’s reference. “You’re twisting my words. Didn’t you listen to the part where I said failure wasn’t something you were used to? Ergo, you’re not a failure.”

That brought a snort of disbelief. “Did you just say ergo? What, are you arguing before the Supreme Court?”

“That would be easier than trying to talk sense into you,” House retorted. He waited for the next explosion, but apparently only compliments were mines.

“Now you know how I feel,” Wilson said softly, the pain in his eyes so stark House had to look away.

House supposed he deserved that, so he let it pass, concentrating instead on the opening Wilson had given him. “You’re right,” he said. “I do know how you feel. I know how it feels to have the bottom fall out of your life. I know what it’s like to think you’ve lost everything.

Wilson looked away. “I’m sorry. I should just shut up.”

Now House wanted to pound his fist against the wall. “Don’t apologize,” he snapped. “You’re allowed to be unhappy.” He took a deep breath. There were things that needed to be said that he had never wanted to say. “You were there for me when the bottom dropped out. I need you to understand that no matter what I say or do, I’m here for you. You’re not alone.”

He heard Wilson sigh, felt the tension drain from his body. “I know,” he said softly. “You came and got me out of the rain.”

That reminded House of his earlier worry. “How are you feeling?” he asked, shifting his concern to the tangible. He pressed the back of his hand against Wilson’s forehead. “You’re a little warm.”

“I’ll take some more Echinacea in the morning,” Wilson replied drowsily.

“Even if it doesn’t work?”

A slow, sweet smile spread across Wilson’s face. “Even if it doesn’t work,” he agreed.

Something shifted deep within House, let him breathe freely and relax. For the first time since Cameron had brought the news of Tommy Linder’s death, he thought Wilson would be okay. He smiled back. “I’m sorry about Tommy and I’m sorry about Julie,” he said. “I’d bring them back to you if I could.”

The smile hit Wilson’s dark eyes, which twinkled with welcome mischief. “Even Julie?”

Sometimes House’s better nature took over for a brief moment. “If it would make you happy, yes,” he said sincerely. “Even though I think you’re well rid of her,” he added, unable to keep that thought inside. Wilson stared at him and he wondered if he’d set off another mine.

Then the younger man laughed. It was one of House’s favourite sounds. Better even than the wailing of Pete Townsend‘s guitar. Wilson pulled him into a rough, one-armed hug, knuckling the top of his head. House tried to look disapproving when Wilson let him go, but the corners of his mouth refused to stay down. “What was that for?” he demanded.

“For being you,” Wilson replied, his eyes shining. “For always being you, no matter what.”

As if he could ever be anything else. Still, it was nice to know that it was good enough for Wilson. “Do you think you can sleep now without waking up the neighbours?” he teased.

Wilson slid down under the covers, curling onto his side so he could still watch House. “I’ll try,” he promised. He grabbed House’s t-shirt when he started to stand up. “Don’t go yet.” He grimaced apologetically. “I just…I don’t want to be alone.”

“What did I just tell you?” House retorted, but stretched out next to Wilson nonetheless.

“I assumed you were speaking metaphorically.” He rolled onto his back and covered his face with one arm. “I think I keep getting married because I only understand it literally.”

House snorted. “You keep getting married because you lack imagination.”

Wilson dropped his arm. “I lack imagination.”

“You’re a work-obsessed oncologist with a demanding, self-destructive best friend and the unfortunate habit of falling in love at the drop of the hat,” House observed. “Anyone with a shred of imagination could see that’s a recipe for marital disaster.”

“If I’m such a terrible husband then why have you never liked Julie?”

“Just because you were a terrible husband, doesn’t mean she was a good wife. And you’re wrong about being able to keep a commitment. You’ve stayed friends with me for ten years. Murderers are paroled after less time than that.”

That made Wilson smile, as he had known it would. “Are you comparing our friendship to a life sentence?” he asked.

It would be if House had his way and didn’t screw up too badly. “Obviously the judge had it in for you,” he quipped.

Wilson was still smiling, but his dark eyes were serious. “I threw myself on the mercy of the court and got lucky.”

House’s chest was hollow, then suddenly too full. He stared across the room at the far wall. “I should get a TV set in here,” he mused. “I mean if you’re going to be needy like this, I’ll have to have something to do.”

“You could talk to me,” Wilson suggested.

“The point is for you to fall asleep, not be stimulated by my brilliant conversation.”

“I suppose there’s always a first time for everything,” Wilson agreed, struggling not to grin.

House was struck by just how much he looked like a mischievous little boy. “That’s gratitude for you. I take you home, give you the clothes off my back and a place to sleep, and all you can do is insult me.”

“That does seem unfair,” Wilson agreed, yawning. He burrowed deeper under the covers. “You can go if you want. I’m okay now.”

But House stayed with him until Wilson’s breathing evened out and he relaxed into sleep.



Apr. 20th, 2006 06:25 am (UTC)
I'm glad it made you smile! House is fun - he comes ready-made with props, and he's not afraid to use them. And he does save me from getting completely sappy by being a jackass, even when poor Wilson weakens my resolve.

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