Chapter 1: Exchanges
"Yes?" Wilson looked up to see a smiling woman standing in his doorway, a takeout coffee cup in each hand. "Oh. Caroline, hello." He rose and came around the desk to usher her into his office, closing the door behind her.
"Is this a good time?" Caroline asked brightly before she sat down. "I know you're very busy."
"Ah, this is as good a time as any," Wilson said as he gestured to a chair. He settled himself behind his desk and remarked, "Actually, you have excellent timing—I have some space in my schedule right now. What can I do for you?"
Caroline handed him one of the cups. "I brought you some tea. You look like you could use a pick-me-up." He really did—between his disintegrating marriage and House's couch, he hadn't slept well in weeks.
Wilson smiled as he reached over the desk to accept the tea. "You always did strike me as someone who mothered everybody. But how are you?" He took the cover off the cup and took a careful sip. The tea was a perfect temperature. His body must have been anticipating the caffeine; he could feel the tension start to ease from his shoulders.
"I'm doing pretty well, considering." She smiled back, tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear. "Mom's passing wasn't exactly a surprise, after all."
"She was quite a woman," he said, and she nodded. "The whole team misses her." He took another sip, bigger this time, and felt relaxation spread with the warmth.
Caroline's shoulders tensed slightly, and she blinked. "I wanted to let you know ... how much I and my family appreciate your doctors. You put a good team together, and you really took care of all of us, not just Mom."
"You're welcome. I'll be sure to let everyone know." A long drink took him halfway through the cup, and he felt like he had just taken a refreshing nap.
"I was here to deliver her last shipment of newborn caps," Caroline sighed and wearily leaned back in her chair. "Right to the end, Mom's knitting was perfect as ever."
"Ah, I remember. All the times I talked to her, I don't think her hands were ever still." Wilson smiled again, and Caroline nodded. He noticed for the first time the dark circles of fatigue beneath her eyes. He wasn't surprised; he had seen many family members in a similar state. "How many of those caps did she make?"
"Thousands, most likely," she replied softly. "She made the last batch with red and purple yarn, though. I don't know how many new moms will go for those."
"Oh, I think you'd be surprised. I imagine new parents get tired of pastels." He ducked his head as they shared a chuckle. After a quiet moment, Wilson looked up again and waved his cup. "What is this? It's fantastic."
Her smile changed slightly; her face seemed to tighten somehow. "Just plain Earl Grey, with a little sugar. Mom used to worry about you, you know."
"She thought you worked too hard."
"Maybe I do. But your visit has done wonders—I feel much better," Wilson replied, realizing how good he felt. Like he'd had a night on a custom sleep-number bed instead of a restless cripple's couch. He drained the last of his tea.
"Well, then, in that case," Caroline announced with forced brightness, "I should probably get going."
She got up from her chair far more slowly than he had, and he helped her to the door with a solicitous hand on her elbow. "Thank you for the visit, and the tea."
Wilson watched her a moment as she made her way down the hall. Kirkpatrick, files in hand, silently appeared at his side. She followed Wilson's gaze down the hall and asked, "Was that Caroline Paskin?"
"Hmm?" Wilson started and turned. "Oh, yes. She dropped in to let me know how much she appreciated your team."
Kirkpatrick smiled. "I already knew; Edith made me a red and purple scarf. You wanted these?" She handed him the files.
"Yes, thanks." He flipped the top one open to peruse it.
As she turned to go, she remarked, "She really shouldn't have had the energy she did, considering."
"Wait—what?" Wilson called after her.
She turned back and said, "Edith Paskin. She's the only person I've seen stay upright and active on that treatment regimen. I don't know how she did it." And Kirkpatrick disappeared, leaving Wilson to his paperwork.
Wilson sat, the quiet of the hospital room interrupted only by the occasional beep of a monitor. He had not been there when House lost half his thigh muscle. He had not been there when House gained two bullet wounds. For the second time, he sat in the aftermath, in House's hospital room, watching him sleep, sweat, moan, dream. Six years ago he had sat in House's room, sat in the aftermath, and whispered while House whimpered in his sleep, "Oh, House. Trade you." Now, he sat silently, and waited.
He had argued with Cuddy over the ketamine. The procedure was risky, but the chance that House could live without his pain was worth the risk. Finally Wilson had the opportunity to take his friend's pain from him. Eventually, his arguments and his signature next to House's had convinced Cuddy it was worth it, too.
The ketamine had to work.
Unlike House, Wilson enjoyed his clinic hours. Since he wasn't making up years of backlog, he only spent a few hours a week seeing clinic patients. Those hours tended to be full of average people and benign maladies; he usually welcomed the break.
But without House creating havoc in the hospital, clinic hours had begun to lose their appeal. Wilson checked the date on his watch as he picked up the next file. Only a week before House was back to work, on two legs instead of three. He flipped open the file, checking the symptoms the intake nurse had written and the results of the labs—all added up to a simple UTI. He tucked the file under his arm as he entered the exam room.
A small dark-haired woman was seated on the exam table, and she smiled as he entered. "Dr. Wilson, this is a surprise!"
"Caroline?" Wilson flipped the file back open as the door closed. Yes, Caroline Paskin, written right across the top of the chart. "How're you feeling?"
"It's all written there, the nurse was thorough," Caroline waved at the file he was holding. "I've had plenty of UTIs; this one isn't any different. I don't have cancer, do I?"
Wilson smiled his best reassuring smile. "No, absolutely not. We all spend some time in the clinic; it's part of the job." He stepped up next to the table and tapped on her lower back. "This hurt?"
Caroline gave a small wince. "It's a bit tender, but not bad. I had one a few years ago that was really awful."
"Well, your labs confirm it. Drink plenty of water, cranberry juice is good too, and I'll put you on some antibiotics." He sat down on a stool to write out her prescription.
"You still look tired, Dr. Wilson." Caroline was watching him intently.
"Too bad you didn't bring any of that tea," he muttered as he wrote. He smiled as he tore off the paper. "You could make a fortune. I felt great for three days."
Her face paled as she smiled weakly in return. "It doesn't work that way." She took the sheet from him and stood up. "Thanks."
"Wait," he said, reaching out to grab her wrist. "Did you...give me something in that tea?"
"You mean, drugs?" Her eyes widened at the implication, and she pulled away from his grip. "No, it was just tea. It was a gift."
A moment passed; something she wasn't saying to answer a question he didn't know he had. And then it was gone. Wilson leaned back a bit and smiled reassuringly. "Just asking. Don't forget to take the whole bottle, even if you feel better." He waved at the prescription in her hand.
"Of course," she replied as she left the exam room. Wilson shook his head and went to get his next patient.
"God doesn't limp." The echoes of House's parting shot echoed in Wilson's office in spite of the carpeting. In quiet moments, it would bounce back to his ears, ricocheting off the bookshelves by way of the desk lamp. The teddy bears had always been silent witnesses, but now their blank eyes regarded him with something like reproach.
He had failed House in every way. He was glad, for the first time, that House had only ever thanked Cuddy for the ketamine treatment. His half-assed attempts to make House emotionally healthy had managed to make things worse. Maybe he wasn't the best guide on the path to mental health.
His eyes caught on something colorful beneath a stack of paper on his desk, and he pulled out a comic book. Spectacular Spiderman 110. Wilson scrubbed at his face and sighed. Last week Kirkpatrick had passed along a request from a 14-year-old inpatient collector—this was the last of a story arc, she said, and the girl's parents had no idea where to look. Of course, House had produced it less than four hours after Wilson had asked.
The young collector had been ecstatic to get the issue. This morning Kirkpatrick had delivered the whole story arc, four comics' worth, to Wilson during their morning meeting. "She thought you might like to read it," was all Kirkpatrick had said as she left them on Wilson's desk.
Wilson eyed the cover of the book, idly wondering if he should pull the other three out and read from the beginning. A box on the lower right screamed at him in blood-red letters: "ALL MY SINS REMEMBERED!"
"Oh, rub it in, why don't you?" Wilson muttered to the book.
Wilson was on the balcony above the clinic when House, once again leaning heavily on his cane, hobbled through the front doors. They locked gazes for a moment, and then House leaned back on his left leg and raised his cane in a military salute. Wilson nodded his head in response. He wasn't forgiven; that much was obvious. He could also see that there would be no discussion, as usual. But they would be OK.
The pager buzzed insistently against Wilson's hip. He was relieved to see "CONSULT GH EX RM 2" across the small screen; he had lost interest in his paperwork twenty minutes earlier. House hadn't called him for a clinic consult in weeks.
As he pulled on his lab coat and closed his office door behind him, he idly wondered if House was calling him to look at something singularly disgusting or another spectacular pair of breasts. He really hoped it was the latter. As he started down the stairs he realized House had probably discovered his newest transgression, and was finally calling him for a consult so they could 'discuss' it. He didn't want to be caught out again.
Wilson knocked and waited a beat before entering the exam room. House was alone, spinning on a stool.
"It was me—" Wilson began at the same time that House said, "Do you know—?"
Wilson and House both stopped, and the door thudded closed. Wilson quickly saw that House had called him for something entirely different, and he mentally backtracked. He blanked his expression, spread his hands and said, "Sorry, go ahead."
House tilted his head. "No, you first."
"You paged?" Wilson asked.
Wilson crossed the room to lean against the counter. "What's your question?"
"What's your confession?" House wheeled his stool closer and set his chin on the handle of his cane.
Wilson sighed. He'd given House just enough, might as well finish the thought. "Ezra Powell."
House sat up straight and let out a low whistle. "Huh." He frowned. "That explains a few things."
House held up a hand to tick off his list. "The too-full morphine bottle in my office. Cameron's jumpiness. You're too cool for jumpiness, but you've been extra cool lately—"
"You don't think you could have something to do with that?" Wilson interrupted.
House barely let him finish before he said, "Caroline Paskin."
"Caroline Paskin," House repeated and dropped a folder on the exam table between them. "Says you treated her a month ago, simple UTI. You remember her?"
"Yes," Wilson replied, and he quickly continued when House looked about to interrupt, "Her mother was a patient of Kirkpatrick's. That's why I remember her. You think she has cancer?" He picked up the half-inch-thick file and flipped it open.
"Munchausen's." House started to spin his stool again, slowly this time. Wilson began to page through the forms in Caroline's file as House continued, "She's racked up an impressive number of clinic visits in the last six months. When did her mother die?"
Wilson looked at the ceiling while he thought back. "Well...it was while I was living with you, so...?"
"So it's Munchausen's-by-proxy turned Munchausen's. No mommy to torture, she turned on herself."
"What!? House, is she here?"
"Exam One, broken finger. Says she caught it in a car door." House stopped spinning and gave him a look that told exactly how much he believed that.
"And you think she gave her 75-year-old mother lung cancer."
"She...supplied the ciggies?"
Wilson continued to page through the file. "And then gave herself a UTI, a dislocated shoulder, two bouts of bronchitis, a scalp laceration, an ear infection, and now a broken finger?"
"She likes the attention."
"House, she doesn't have Munchausen's; she's just unlucky."
"That's just what she came here to get treated." House waved at the file in Wilson's hands. "Who knows what's in her file at Princeton General?"
"Munchausen's patients have vague symptoms, they don't actively seek real infections."
"Crappy luck is a lousy explanation."
Wilson gave House a long look. "Sometimes crappy luck is just that: crappy luck." House's jaw twitched, then he dropped his gaze to the floor. Wilson suddenly didn't want House anywhere near Caroline Paskin. He said, "Remember what you said about that Munchausen's patient you had?"
House's expression softened. "The grapey gambler?"
Wilson nodded in response. "If you send her out of here with a diagnosis of Munchausen's, you guarantee no doctor will take her seriously again." He closed the file. "Let me talk to her."
House wheeled over to a cupboard and dug around until he found a lollipop. "Fine. Munchausen's or crappy luck, you're right that I wouldn't do anything but patch her up. Let me know when I'm done treating her." He waved his lollipop at Wilson, indicating his dismissal as he settled back and pulled out his video game.
Wilson turned off his car, unsure of what to do next. He hated this neighborhood, but he knew it intimately; he had spent the better part of a year haunting an eight-block radius from the spot where he lost his brother. The experience of trying to inconspicuously watch for his brother served him well now: he was parked in just the right spot to watch the goings-on through the St. Joseph’s cafeteria windows.
Earlier that afternoon, Wilson had questioned Caroline closely about her visits to the clinic. Her explanations had been just odd enough, and she was just embarrassed enough, that they had to be true—she said she had cut her scalp when ducking her head into a metal cupboard in the soup kitchen where she volunteered, and the broken finger really did seem to be caused by a car door. Wilson had initially been satisfied that crappy luck was the only explanation. So why was he here, watching as Caroline doled out cornbread?
She carried on an animated conversation with her chili-pouring neighbor while smiling and nodding at the owner of each new plateful. Out of habit, Wilson glanced at the faces of the men and women standing in line. One man stood out: bright white hair stuck out at all angles below a red and purple knitted hat, and he nearly doubled over with a coughing fit. Wilson followed his hacking progress through the line and noted Caroline's concern as she put cornbread on his plate.
He watched for another ten minutes, unsure what he was waiting for. He was getting ready to leave when he spotted Caroline weaving her way through the tables, a mug in her good hand. She pressed it into the hands of the coughing man, obviously urging him to drink it. Wilson leaned forward and put his arms up on the steering wheel.
Over the next fifteen minutes, the man sipped at the mug. As Wilson watched, his coughing subsided. When the man got up to leave, Wilson looked back around the cafeteria for Caroline, who was no longer in view. He got out of the car and headed for the church's side door, intending to slip inside and find her.
As he rounded the corner, he heard someone coughing, a gurgling-gasping hack that sounded an awful lot like pneumonia. Caroline was leaning against the wall, holding a splinted hand over her face as she coughed. Wilson stepped up next to her and held out a handkerchief. She looked up, startled, but accepted the handkerchief with a small smile as she got her coughing under control.
"You should get that cough looked at," Wilson said as she wiped at her face.
"I will; thanks for this," she replied, waving the handkerchief. "I'll wash it and bring it round the hospital." She turned to go back inside, and Wilson caught her arm.
"It takes more than six hours to develop a cough like that."
She looked back at him, her dark eyes wide. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You were fine when I saw you this afternoon. Tonight, a man in a red and purple hat had a cough like that when he came in to eat, and now you have it."
She pulled out of his grasp. "Doctor Wilson, what are you suggesting?"
"When you came to see me after your mother died, you were bone-tired when you left, and I felt like I had slept for days."
She grabbed the door handle. "Now you're imagining things. I'm going back inside, and I suggest you go home and get some sleep."
He reached around her and held the door closed. "Doctor Kirkpatrick said your mother had more energy than she should have, given her treatment."
She gasped and stepped away from him. "Please, Doctor, go home."
Wilson let go of the door and leaned back against it. "I think you know what I'm talking about, even if I don't. What's going on, Caroline?" He watched as she started to cough again.
As the coughing subsided, she whispered roughly, "You wouldn't believe me, so please, I need to go." She turned and started walking toward the front of the church.
"Caroline," Wilson called as he ran after her and grabbed her shoulders. "Wait." He turned her around, looked her in the eye. "I'm not going away. I can guess at what's going on, but I have to know. I can help you with that cough without you having to go to the clinic. But you have to help me. Please."
She looked at him warily and coughed weakly. "What do you think I can tell you?"
"It's crazy, but I think you absorbed all those injuries and infections. I think you somehow took that pneumonia, and the broken hand." Wilson waved at the handkerchief wrapped around her splinted finger. "I think you can tell me how to do it."
"Why? Why would you want to know?"
"Because I have a friend," Wilson replied. "If I'm right, you could show me how to help him."
"And how do you want to help him?" Caroline asked quietly.
"I would...heal him," he answered just as quietly.
She looked at him a moment, then looked through him. She glanced around the alleyway, and she seemed to shrink as she hunched her shoulders. "There's a room we can use, inside. Come on." She waved him back toward the door.
On Friday night, Wilson let himself into House's apartment, bearing groceries as usual. He could hear House in the shower; it must have been a bad day for the leg.
House was only slightly surprised to hear activity in the kitchen as he hobbled, caneless, from the bathroom. The leg had been vicious that afternoon, working itself into a screaming mess before he'd managed, shakily, to make it home. It hadn't felt that bad in months. The heat of the shower and the Vicodin had combined to beat the pain back to a dull murmur, leaving him feeling mellow and boneless. As he got dressed, House was secretly pleased that he hadn't obviously forgiven Wilson just yet—Wilson always cooked more when he wanted something.
They ate in near-silence, the inane babble from the television the only sound in the apartment. Wilson had been waiting for the chance to try his new Moroccan chicken recipe, and he was very happy with the results. House grunted as he cleaned his plate. Wilson allowed himself a small smile at the effusive praise.
As he pulled House's plate from his lap, Wilson asked, "How about some tea?"
House tilted his head and arched his eyebrows at Wilson. "How about beer?"
"It's cold in here, I know you took some kind of painkiller, and tea is always recommended after a Moroccan meal."
House rolled his eyes. "Have you ever even been to a Moroccan restaurant?"
"Well, no," Wilson admitted, "I might have made up that last part."
"You mean you lied."
Wilson hung his head a moment. "I'm in for the long haul, aren't I?"
House grinned. "Oh, yeah." He rested his head on the back of the couch. "Are you making it?"
"Duh. I want tea." He started for the kitchen.
Wilson heard a dramatic sigh follow him from the living room. "Well, if you're already making some..."
He washed the dishes while the teakettle heated. Wilson only half-listened to House's discussion with the movie as he worked. Mostly he thought about the instructions Caroline had given him. She had said the essential elements were the ritual recitation, the thoughts about what he was trading, and the will to make it happen.
The words and the will: sounded like something out of a fantasy novel, or a comic book. Like something impossible. But it had worked, hadn't it? He had seen it. He had seen it work on him. Caroline had said that it was an old ritual, passed down through her family, from before the world had rational explanations and cold science. Cold science had failed House; Wilson had nothing left to try but this.
He pulled mugs from one cupboard and teabags from another, idly wishing that he'd brought his infuser from home. As he poured the hot water into House's mug, he began to repeat, quietly, what Caroline had told him: "Arweiniwn 'ch beichia." The words were foreign and difficult on his tongue. He tried to focus the way she had taught him, to think about the exchange: his health for House's pain. She had told him not to think too deeply of the medical specifics—"It might be harder for you because you're a doctor," she had said—but to trust the old magic to translate the physical components of the trade. Just before the tea was finished brewing, he muttered, "I told you years ago I would trade places with you, House. I would carry your burden." He tossed the teabags in the trash and picked up the mugs. With a deep breath he said to himself, "I hope this works."
Arriving in the living room, he set House's tea on the end table next to him and settled himself in the leather chair next to the couch. House barely glanced at him and picked up the mug. Wilson was surprised at the flutters of nervousness in his stomach as he watched House take his first sip. He sipped his own tea in an attempt to look natural.
House grudgingly admitted, only to himself, that the tea was rather soothing after the spicy meal. He was surprised as he sipped to discover that it was also acting with the shower and the pills to quiet the jangling nerve endings in his thigh.
As Wilson watched House watch the movie, he became aware that his shoulder was starting to ache, deep in the rotator cuff and the shoulder blade. Of course, House worked that shoulder in ways it wasn't meant to work, day in and day out. Apparently the old ritual had begun its translation of what 'House's pain' meant.
The tension in House's face started to ease, and he settled deeply into the couch cushions. He took another drink, a longer swallow this time, then rested the mug on his stomach. Wilson felt the ache spread from his shoulder down his arm, and it radiated into his lower back. His right calf also started to protest. He shifted uncomfortably in the chair.
Wilson closed his eyes and leaned his head back. House glanced over at him and said, "Go home. Get some sleep; you look like shit."
Wilson chuckled. "You're one to talk." His right palm itched insistently. He brought his hand to his face so he could see the callus forming across his hand, then rubbed his eyes to conceal the gesture.
House took another long swallow of tea. He hadn't felt this good since the ketamine treatment. Hell, he hadn't felt this good since the infarction. He looked down at his bare feet, resting on the coffee table, and was a little surprised that he wasn't a puddle of goo.
Wilson could feel his whole body coiling, tensing at each new sensation. The pain in his right thigh started as a tingle, and each time House took a sip, it escalated. He wondered how Caroline's magic would finish its work.
He didn't have to wonder for long. With a last gulp, House drained his mug. Wilson couldn't stifle a yelp as his skin twisted and his thigh muscle disappeared, nerve endings frayed and suddenly screaming. His pant leg collapsed into the sudden hollow.
"What?" House asked sharply, reaching to set his mug on the end table and looking over at Wilson, who was gripping his right thigh.
Wilson's face had gone white, and he pulled in a shuddering breath. Little beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. He had thought he was prepared. He had thought House was prone to hyperbole. He wished he'd thought ahead enough to take a pre-emptive painkiller.
House watched him closely, but was unwilling to move just yet. "What is it? Charley horse?"
"Hunh," Wilson sighed, "something like that." He was afraid of what would happen if he loosened his grip, but he looked over at House and tried to smile. He couldn't seem to breathe more calmly than a pant.
House narrowed his eyes at Wilson. "If that's supposed to be a reassuring smile, you're worse at your job than you think."
Wilson decided the best course of action was a hasty retreat. He levered himself up out of his chair, keeping most of his weight on his left leg. He managed a hop-step around the chair and started for the bathroom. Between gulps of air, he said, "Just...need to...walk...it off." He hoped he could make it the eight feet from the support of the chair to the support of the hallway wall.
But as he put more weight on his right leg for the first time, he forgot about how House would stick his leg out to the side to support himself without his cane. Wilson felt the leg start to buckle, there was nothing to grab to keep himself upright, and he didn't even have time to scream. He was unconscious before he hit the floor.
House heard a sharp intake of breath a split second before he heard Wilson land hard on the floor. "Hey!" he shouted. When he got no response, he heaved himself up and maneuvered around to Wilson's sprawled form. He poked Wilson's shoulder with his cane. "This is not funny. I was feeling good for the first time all day; I'm not in the mood for games."
When Wilson didn't respond, House eased himself down to the floor next to him and gently turned him over. He checked Wilson over for head trauma, peeled back his eyelids, and held two fingers at his throat to check his pulse. It was racing, and Wilson continued to breathe shallowly. House frowned.
It took House a few seconds of looking at Wilson to remember why he'd gotten up in the first place. Wilson had been gripping his right leg. A muscle cramp was hardly enough to cause someone to pass out, so House started mentally drawing up a list of tests he'd need to find out what was really wrong as he reached over to Wilson's knee. He ran his fingers up the muscle, expecting to find the knot.
The hollowed-out muscle, with its ridge of scar tissue in the middle, should have felt familiar, but he had never touched it from this angle before. House was halfway up the leg before he realized what he was feeling under the cotton of Wilson's pants. He jerked both hands away from Wilson and scooted backward. "What the hell?"
Wilson groaned in response and shifted slightly.
Breathing heavily, House reached over and ran his hand along Wilson's thigh again. He hadn't imagined it; Wilson's thigh still had a long dent where it shouldn't. He scooted himself closer, then unfastened Wilson's pants. Tugging awkwardly, he managed to get them down to Wilson's knees, and he hissed sharply as the leg came into view.
He sat for a shaky moment, studying the scar from the angle the rest of the world saw, on the rare occasions he let them look. This was impossible. His scar, Wilson's leg. House ran his right hand from his own hip to his knee. He felt a ridge of muscle under his jeans, muscle which should not have been there. His hand tightened on his leg. "This does not make sense," he murmured.
With deep, gulping breaths, he stood up, marveling at the ease of it, at the lack of pain, and pulled his jeans down to his ankles. House looked down at his own thighs, a perfect pair. He felt like fainting himself.
Chapter 2: Impossible
Wouldn't do for both of them to pass out. House pulled up his jeans and leaned back against the couch. He needed to figure this out. He looked down at Wilson, noting the tension in his face, the callus on his upturned palm, the angry scar on his thigh. House felt a little giddy, almost high, then he remembered the Vicodin he'd taken. Shit—no wonder Wilson passed out. The puzzle could wait.
House loped to the bedroom and dived for the nightstand, where he'd stashed his stolen prescription. He couldn't keep himself from grinning foolishly as he ran back into the living room. The smile dropped from his face as he heard a soft moan from Wilson, who was beginning to come around. Change of plan.
He tossed the pill bottle onto the couch and headed for the bookcase, pulling out several thick texts and reaching behind them for his morphine box. As he knelt (knelt!) next to Wilson and popped the box open, he hoped the bottles hadn't expired. House sighed with relief when he saw the last one, the unopened one, was still good. He rolled up Wilson's sleeve and tightened some rubber tubing around his arm.
Wilson let out a low groan as he woke up. His whole right half seemed to be on fire, complete with brimstone, and he dimly felt the floorboards beneath him. As he felt the cool swipe of an alcohol pad, he opened his eyes. After a moment to focus he found himself watching House upend a bottle over a syringe. "Hey, not too much," he mumbled.
"Vikes aren't fast enough. This will make you feel better," House replied around the cap in his mouth. "Promise." He tapped the syringe and moved to find a vein.
"I don't have..." Wilson hissed as the needle slipped in, "your tolerance."
House chuckled as he pulled the syringe out and loosened the tubing. "I don't have much tolerance anymore, either. Detoxing in a coma can do that." He watched Wilson's face relax as the morphine hit. Satisfied, he started putting his supplies back in the box.
Wilson breathed a long sigh as the holy water drenched the hellfire. Christian imagery was nothing if not useful. "Thanks," he whispered.
House pushed himself to his feet and returned the box to its spot on the bookshelf. He stood for a moment, squarely on both feet, standing on the impossible strength of his leg. Impossible, impossible, makes no sense and what the hell?—there was probably a showtune in there somewhere. "Jesus, Wilson," he mumbled at the books. As he listened to Wilson's ragged breathing become even and deep, he judged it was time to get back to the puzzle.
He pivoted away from the shelf and walked back to where Wilson still sprawled on the floor. House looked down at his friend. "You can't lie there all night," he announced as he nudged Wilson's left hip with his foot. "I'll trip when I emerge for my early morning snack."
Wilson groaned again in response, opening his eyes and looking back at House. He had always wondered which of the side effects he would get if he ever had morphine, and right now it looked like he got the good ones: a pleasant drowsiness, lethargy, and a touch of euphoria. He couldn't be bothered just yet to remember all the other side effects. "I like morphine," he slurred up at House. His lazy smile turned to an apathetic frown. "Your eyes are a long way away."
House bent down and grabbed Wilson's wrists. "Come on, let's get you up." Without time to protest, Wilson found himself sitting on the floor.
A sharp spike of pain poked through the warm opiate blanket on Wilson's consciousness, and it brought him back to what he had done. He looked down to see a crouching House's knees on either side of his shoulders and House's forearms wrapped around his chest. He reached up to push them away. "Don't," he ordered.
"Why not?" came a low voice over his shoulder.
House wasn't letting go of Wilson. Wilson wasn’t letting go of House's wrists.
"Because I have to learn to get up on my own," Wilson replied.
House growled softly in Wilson's ear, "Like hell you do. I've got to figure out how to undo whatever the hell got done. But I can't do that while you're on the floor. Get ready to get your left leg under you."
That was all the warning Wilson got as House lifted him from the floor. The spike of pain from his right leg was back, but muffled, and Wilson didn't particularly care about it. As he pulled his feet beneath himself he felt his pants slip all the way to his ankles. "That's just great," he muttered.
House allowed Wilson to take some weight on his left leg, but he didn't let go. Instead he leaned back and supported most of Wilson's body weight against his chest and hips, like he remembered the orderlies doing when they moved him around after the infarction. For the first time, he was thankful he hadn't managed to suppress every memory of those hateful weeks before he could walk on his own.
"OK, I'm up," Wilson announced and tried to lean forward, to break away from House.
House only hitched his arms lower and took even more of Wilson's weight. "Not so fast, sport. We're going to the chair." He dragged Wilson backward, practically carrying him over one hip as they lurched around the couch.
Wilson thought briefly about struggling—it's what House would have done—but he finally recognized that with his pants around his ankles he wouldn't get very far. He settled for helping as best he could with his good leg.
Narrowly avoiding knocking over a lamp, House gave one last heave and dumped Wilson into the armchair, making sure he landed mostly on his left side. He sat down hard on the ottoman directly in front of the chair. After he had carefully removed Wilson's pants and shoes, House rested his forearms on his knees (two healthy knees!) and waited for both of them to catch their breath.
Wilson shifted himself slightly in the chair. Conscious of how often he'd seen House do it, he lifted his right leg and settled his foot on the ottoman next to House's hip. Finally he met House's eyes. The best defense was a good offense, and now that he was feeling human again, he was up to it. "How long have you had morphine in your apartment?"
House's mouth dropped open. "You weren't complaining ten minutes ago."
"I was in pain," Wilson pointed out.
"So was I," House grumbled as he looked away. Then he glared at Wilson. "Can we get to the real issue here?" He jabbed a finger toward Wilson's thigh. "Am I hallucinating?"
"What?" Wilson barked, surprised out of his offensive plan.
"You're wearing my scar, and you are surprisingly cool about it. It's disturbing, how cool you are right now. You're cool, Jimmy, but you're never that cool."
"So your conclusion is that you must be hallucinating?"
"It fits," House replied, spreading his hands. "I have two healthy legs, which we both know is not possible, and I have a history of hallucinations. It's the best explanation."
"If you thought you were hallucinating, why did you dose me?" Wilson asked, trying to regain control of the conversation. "Ideas, not actions, remember?"
"Ideas led to action." House winced and stared at his feet. "You were in pain," he added softly.
Wilson gave up trying to control the situation. He always did, when talking to House. "Have you considered the possibility that I'm cool about this because I caused it?"
It was House's turn to be surprised, again. He rocked backward, and his gaze flew to search Wilson's face. Wilson, who was looking utterly convinced that he had just pulled off some kind of miracle healing. "Don't be an idiot," he snapped.
Wilson leaned back into the chair cushions and rubbed at the callus on his palm. "You're not hallucinating, I can tell you that. And I'm not an idiot."
House had to concede the point; if this really wasn't a hallucination, it would be the first act of real idiocy House had ever seen from Wilson. He rubbed at his forehead. "So, as impossible as all this is—" he waved his hands between them, "—you're telling me you somehow took that?" He pointed again at the scar.
Wilson nodded, watching the twitches and tics that indicated House's mind working at its fastest.
House frowned as he asked, "How the hell did you do it?"
Wilson wiggled his fingers and smiled. "Mmmmagic."
"That's impossible," House snorted.
"You keep using that word."
"Magic is card tricks and illusions, not regrown thigh muscle." House propped his elbows on his knees and rested his head in his hands. "Maybe I'm going insane."
Wilson rubbed the back of his friend's head affectionately. "Real magic, old magic—every culture has stories about how it works. You don't think there's a kernel of truth to them?"
"I'm not discussing anthropology with you." House broke away from Wilson's touch and stood up. He strode to the fireplace and held onto the mantel. "We're talking about what you did."
"One just has to know how to use it," Wilson said matter-of-factly, as if that explained everything. "Get used to it, House. It's done."
"Undo it." House turned around and pointed at Wilson's leg again. "Give it back."
Wilson sighed. "No."
"But you can undo it, right?" House asked.
"I don't know." Wilson rubbed the back of his neck.
"I could do what you did and take it back." House sat down on the ottoman again. "Tell me how to do it."
Wilson spread his hands apologetically. "Magicians never reveal their secrets." He picked up his right leg with his hand and carefully dropped his foot on the floor, "It's late." He looked pointedly at House, who needed to vacate the ottoman to allow him to lever himself out of the chair.
House leaned forward. "You're not playing nice, Jimmy," he said quietly.
Wilson narrowed his eyes. "No, I'm not. I was never playing. You wanna get out of my way?"
House reached under Wilson's arms and hauled them both to a stand. Wilson knocked House's hands away and pushed at his shoulders, forcing him to trip over the ottoman as he was shoved away. House regained his feet and yelled, "What the hell, Wilson?"
"I don't need you to lift me, or carry me," Wilson half-shouted. "I don't need your help." He swayed a little and balanced himself against the arm of the chair behind him. "You of all people should appreciate that," he spat.
House threw up his hands and took a step back. "Fine!" He pointed at the arm of the couch, "There's your pants," then at the couch cushions, "there's your pills," and finally at the floor on the other side of the couch, "there's your cane. Go get 'em, cripple."
The word hung in the air between them as they glared at each other. Wilson's eyelid twitched.
"I didn't ask you to do this," House growled.
"Of course not, you don't ask," Wilson snarled back. "You never fucking ask."
House was the first to look away. He stalked over and picked up the cane from the floor, then gently leaned it against the end table. He didn't look at Wilson as he said, "I'll take the couch. You got clothes in your car?"
House swallowed and nodded. He fished Wilson's keys from the jacket hanging on the coatrack and quietly closed the apartment door behind him.
"He took it, Cuddy, he took it and he won't give it back." House was breathless and pacing in Cuddy's bedroom, a manic tornado of energy taking up more space than he had any right to in the small room. He dived into her closet and started randomly pulling out clothes. "You've got to come with me. You can talk some sense into him; you can make him give it back."
Cuddy barely caught the pink suit that came flying out of her closet. She watched as a pair of jeans and a silk blouse landed in a heap on her floor. "House, what are you doing?!" She draped the suit over the back of the bed and grabbed House by the shoulders to pull him back into the room. He had a black satin slip in one hand and a ratty green t-shirt in the other.
He pushed the items into her hands and ordered, "Get dressed."
"Your fashion sense sucks," she replied as she took the clothes. "And I'm not going anywhere until you tell me why you climbed through my window at three in the morning to pace hysterically in my bedroom. What is going on?" Despite her ultimatum, House's agitation worried her enough that she started gathering clothes herself.
House resumed his pacing, dragging his hands through his hair. "Look at me, Cuddy! Notice anything?"
Cuddy's eyebrows rose questioningly and she shook her head slightly.
House waved his arms and bounced on the balls of his feet, shouting, "No cane, Cuddy! I ran here. No cane, no strings, I'm a real boy!" He scrubbed at his face with both hands, then waved impatiently at her. "What are you waiting for?"
"So...the booster worked," she said, crossing her arms.
This brought House up short. "Booster?"
"Doctor Wilson said you were going in for a ketamine booster, since the initial treament failed. That leaves the question of who took what, and what can I do about it?"
"Wilson!" House exploded with such force that Cuddy took a step back. He strode through the doorway and stalked to the kitchen, where he barely restrained himself from pounding a hole in her countertop. Instead he leaned heavily on his knuckles and hung his head. "I'm going to kick his crippled ass," he hissed quietly.
From behind him, Cuddy said, "You'll have to wait until he gets back, and I'm still waiting for an explanation. Crippled?" She turned on the kitchen lights.
"He put in for personal time two days ago. House, what happened?"
He barked a short, bitter laugh. "Planned it all out, did he? Nice cover story."
"You need to start making sense, and you need to do it right now." Cuddy leaned a hip against the counter. "What is going on?"
House turned around and mirrored Cuddy's posture against the counter. "Wilson...did something," he began. He breathed out with a long sigh, felt the craziness that drove him on his panicked run to Cuddy's start to drain away from him. He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand while he searched for the right words. There was no way to say it without sounding ridiculous. "He took my scar."
"What?" Cuddy frowned. "What do you mean, he took your scar?"
House gave a frustrated grunt and stepped toward Cuddy. She jumped but held her ground as he swung one leg up to the counter and propped his foot next to her. He pulled the hem of his shorts up to his hip, exposing a long stretch of unmarked thigh. "Look."
"House, what?" Cuddy looked down, then leaned around and looked at his other leg. It took her a moment of looking back and forth to realize that his right foot was the one on the counter. She reached out and ran her fingertips lightly over the perfect skin. House shuddered at the touch.
"That's what," he mumbled gruffly. "Sexy, right?"
Cuddy felt her knees starting to buckle and she grabbed the counter for support. "How?"
"How sexy? I'd say impossibly so, myself," House said as he put his foot back on the floor. He finally looked at her, meeting her eyes for the first time since he'd arrived. "That's the question, though, isn't it? How?"
"Has my scar. His leg looks like mine used to."
"I need to sit down," Cuddy whispered. She didn't move.
House took her by the shoulders and gently put her in one of her kitchen chairs. Rather than pace her kitchen, he filled her coffeemaker with water and started digging through her cupboards. He'd made it almost all the way around the kitchen before Cuddy broke the silence.
"I don't understand—you're completely healed? No pain?"
House pulled two big mugs from a cupboard. "Could you find a mug more cliché?" He turned to Cuddy and held one of the mugs up. "Monet?"
Cuddy put her head in her hands and groaned. "House, do you think you could control your subclinical ADD for one minute and answer the damn question?"
House put the mugs down and crossed the kitchen to sit next to her. He understood how she felt. "Yes, I am completely healed. No scar, no pain. Regrown muscle, nerves, skin, everything's fine, as far as I can tell. Wilson, on the other hand..." Cuddy raised her head and looked at him sharply. "Wilson has all of it. The scar, the pain, hell, even the callus." He showed her his right hand with its smooth palm. "I gave him...some painkillers. He's at my place."
Cuddy's fingers were twisting the placemat into an unrecognizable shape. The smell of brewing coffee blanketed the kitchen with a comforting sense of normality. House got up, filled both mugs, and brought them back to the table.
As he set Cuddy's mug in front of her he said, "Wilson said he did it with magic."
She wrapped her hands around the mug. "What, did he chant? Wave a wand?"
As she sipped her coffee House tilted his head, watching her closely. "No," he replied quietly, "he made me tea."
Cuddy raised one eyebrow. "Tea?"
"It was the last thing before 'impossible' broke loose." House's eyes narrowed. "Proximate event, Cuddy." He got up from the table and began pacing again, excited this time. "Proximate event equals potential cause. That might have been how he did it."
"House, you know that's impossible."
"Maybe if I make him tea I can undo it. Although if it was just a mechanism, I maybe can't, because I still need him to tell me what—"
"House!" He finally stopped and looked back at Cuddy. "There's no such thing as magic."
"Tell that to my leg. Better yet, tell it to Wilson's leg." He closed one hand around her wrist and tugged her to her feet. "Come on, you've got to come with me. You can make him give it back."
"Hey," Cuddy said softly as she resisted being pulled into the bedroom. House turned back to her, still holding her wrist. She asked, "You really want your pain back?"
House chewed his lower lip, and he looked at Cuddy with eyes that were far too old. "No," he said simply. "But I can't let him have it, either."
Chapter 3: Pills and Pop-Tarts
House lay on the couch as the morning dawned, studying the ceiling. The ceiling that had become familiar to Wilson in the weeks he had slept in this very spot. The last time House had looked at this particular patch of ceiling he had been floating on a morphine cloud, escaping pain and loneliness and harsh truths about his own responsibility for his messed-up life. Before the shooting. Before the hope of the ketamine. Before the crush of the ketamine’s failure.
He’d gone back to the cane. He’d gone back to the Vicodin. They were familiar; they helped him avoid the memory of hope. He’d also avoided the morphine box, avoided it to the point that he hadn’t bothered refreshing the supply. He turned his head to look at the bookshelf where the textbooks innocently hid the secret of a path he’d once taken, a path he knew he would have taken again, if not for Wilson.
Wilson. House had to admit the man’s bullheadedness might be a match for his own. Cuddy came, Cuddy saw, Cuddy conquered her disbelief and tried to get Wilson to return House’s world to his version of normal. Now House lay on the couch, 0 for 2, watching the ceiling and waiting for Saturday to start.
Wilson watched the ceiling get brighter with the morning light. He had been unable to get back to sleep after House had dragged Cuddy into the bedroom to show him off like some kind of sideshow attraction. Great. He was already starting to think like a cripple.
How long could he go before needing a pill? Slowly, he eased his head up a few inches to check the clock. The morphine had worn off a while ago, but the pain wasn't too bad if he didn't move. And there was the problem—he needed to move. He yearned to pee. Every other part of his body protested being in the same position for the last three hours. He couldn't move without taking a Vicodin, and he couldn't take a Vicodin without moving. Or water, which he had forgotten to fetch in his hurry to get himself to the bedroom before House had come back with his overnight bag.
House hadn't acknowledged Wilson when he tossed the bag into the bedroom. Thanks to the morphine, Wilson's anger had dissipated before he got himself and the pillows arranged in the bed. He had slept deeply for a few hours until House had burst into the room with Cuddy in tow. House hadn't spoken or looked at Wilson; he let Cuddy do all the speaking and looking.
After her departure, Wilson had listened to House pace for an hour. Then the apartment went silent. Had been silent since.
On this, his first morning as a cripple, there was no way Wilson was going to ask House for help.
House checked the mantel clock when he heard Wilson's soft, suppressed groan. Wilson should have taken a Vicodin hours ago. Just like Wilson to try and show how much better he was at pain management.
House slowly pulled himself out of the depths of the couch cushions. He watched his legs as he padded silently toward the kitchen. Stopping in the kitchen doorway, he backed his shoulders against one side of the frame and rubbed like a bear scratching his shoulders with a tree. After the itch was taken care of, he bent his knees and slowly slid into a deep wall-sit, the kind of exercise he remembered hating during practice. He couldn't keep the smile from his face as his legs held, rock-solid and evenly pushing him back into the doorframe. He stayed there until his thighs burned and his knees shook.
He heard another stifled groan from the bedroom. Just like Wilson to wait to take a pill and let the pain get a roaring headstart.
See how judicious he'll be after waking up like that for six years.
House's legs suddenly gave out. Somehow he managed to keep himself from hitting the floor with a thump. He sat in the doorway, waiting until he stopped shaking to pull himself back to his feet.
Wilson did his best to suppress the low groan that built in his chest as he tried to carefully roll himself onto his left side. Maybe if he could change positions, most of the discomfort would ease. He lay there a moment, focused on the pulsing pain that the movement had caused to flare up in his leg.
What had he signed up for? What had he done? The questions pulsed behind his eyelids in time with the nerves in his thigh.
This was what House had awakened to for the last six years.
This was what House lived with. This was what was killing his friend by inches, a thousand cuts to nerves that wouldn't heal. And Wilson hadn't even managed a sitting position yet. No wonder House didn't like to get out of bed in the morning.
He opened his eyes and studied the green pill bottle sitting sentinel on the bedside table only a foot away. Green. Plainsboro had a few pharmacies that had green bottles. He reached over and turned the bottle so he could read the label. Vicodin. For Gregory House. Prescribed by Dr. James Wilson, apparently less than a month ago. Take as directed.
Wilson's eyes narrowed. House had tried to tell him the ketamine was failing; Wilson hadn't wanted to believe it, thought House was being his usual addict self. So House did what he always did; he found a way to get what he wanted. House being House could be so infuriating—
The one time House asked, really asked, you refused.
Wilson squeezed his eyes shut, the sudden pain in his heart competing with the pain in the rest of him.
He needed to be out of bed, up and about and away. Wilson pushed himself to a sitting position and had to stifle another groan as his knee bent too quickly. He sat on the edge of the bed, waiting until he stopped shaking to reach for the pill bottle.
The white pill that had always looked so small in House's hands looked uncomfortably large in his own—definitely too large to swallow. Wilson tilted his head first left, then right, contemplating. Maybe if he chewed it, it would be easier to get into his system. Either way, he needed the damn thing if he wanted to make it to the bathroom while he still had control of his bladder.
He had decided that dry-swallowing was the best course of action when a pair of bare feet encroached into his peripheral vision. A glass of water suddenly appeared next to the hand that held the pill. Wilson jerked his head up to see House, owner of the bare feet and bringer of the water. Without looking at Wilson, he muttered, "Took me a week to learn to do it that way."
When Wilson didn't immediately take the glass, House took a long swallow. He held the glass out again, insistently pushing it against Wilson's fingers.
Wilson didn't trust himself to speak because just then he could have cried. Or kissed his prickly friend; he couldn't decide which. He settled for nodding as he accepted the glass, then he tossed back the pill with his own long swallow of water.
"Give it a few minutes," House mumbled as he took the glass from Wilson and sauntered back to the kitchen.
"Yes, Doctor," Wilson grumbled at his retreating back.
It took Wilson nearly an hour to get out of bed, shower, and dress. The Vicodin had beaten the pain back somewhat. It wasn't completely gone, but the drugs had the pleasant effect of making him not care about what pain was still there. Sometime during his shower House had left the apartment.
Wilson was glad House wasn't there to see his awkward progress toward the kitchen. He had been watching House get around all these years; one would think that he would have picked up the trick of it. But apparently watching was different than doing.
He was leaning heavily on the refrigerator door, thinking that he really didn't want Moroccan chicken for breakfast, when House arrived, stomping into the kitchen with grocery bags in both arms.
House made three trips to the car and filled the island with bags while Wilson leaned against the counter and watched. As House set the last of the supplies on the island, Wilson asked him, "Are you planning a party?"
"Stocking up," House replied. "If you give it back today, I've got groceries to last me. If you don't, you're staying here until you do. Either way, we'll need food." He started transferring items from the bags to the cupboards.
"And what makes you think I'm staying here?" Wilson asked. "My apartment—"
"Is on the third floor, and the elevators are on the other side of the building." House was now stocking the refrigerator. "Why did you think I never came to visit?"
"Because you said it was a soulless pit of mediocrity? A halfway house on the road to the next doomed marriage?" Using the counter for support, Wilson cruised around the kitchen to retrieve the corn flakes House had just put away.
House paused in his emptying the bags to watch Wilson attempt to maneuver himself and his full cereal bowl back toward the refrigerator. He had to bite his tongue to keep from critiquing Wilson's form.
After the milk was poured, Wilson turned around and leaned against the counter so he could watch House while he ate. He tried to suppress the flash of irritation he felt when he saw House watching him.
House nodded his head and asked, "You planning on drinking that?"
Wilson looked down at his bowl. No spoon. And he'd passed the silverware drawer twice. He smiled at House and took a gulp from the bowl. "I totally meant to do that," he mumbled around the cornflakes. He swallowed and said, "I'm not staying here."
House rolled his eyes. "We already established that your apartment is not outfitted for the handicapped. This one, on the other hand, was chosen because of its friendliness to the differently abled."
"Then we trade apartments. Or I find a new place, one that's handicapped-accessible. Because I'm not living with you forever."
House dropped his hands to the island and looked Wilson in the eye for the first time since the night before. "So this is permanent, then?" he asked quietly. "This morning not enough to convince you to give it back?"
Wilson shook his head. "This morning reminded me why I took it in the first place."
"And why was that?" Wilson didn’t miss the dangerous note in House's question.
He decided he could be dangerous, too. He put the bowl down on the counter behind him and started to tick reasons off with his fingers. "You are an addict. You use the pain as an excuse to feed your addictions. You were shooting morphine. Then you got shot, and there was the possibility of... I hoped, without the pain, you would..." He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers and made a frustrated noise. "When the ketamine failed, there was nothing else. You stole a prescription for Vicodin, from me. Did you go back to the morphine, too?"
House looked away and shook his head slightly.
"The pain and the pills made you a miserable son of a bitch," Wilson sighed.
"And I suppose you think you can do better?" House growled loudly.
"Yes," Wilson ground out between his teeth. "You weren't adjusting, you weren't coping, you've been running away from it for six years."
"And you, you'll handle it? Show me how to deal?"
"Exactly. I've told you before, I'm well-adjusted." Wilson grabbed the cane from where it leaned against the cupboard and started for the living room.
"What, you think you can outrun me now?" House strode easily around the island and tailgated Wilson through the doorway. He growled from behind Wilson, "You can sit on that high horse and rot. You want me to thank you, is that what you want, to thank you for healing me? You want me to sit at your crippled feet in gratitude for the sacrifice you made?"
Wilson abruptly spun to face House. He started to say, "No, I want—" but with a hiss of pain he overbalanced and crumpled to the floor.
House watched him fall. "Now you can learn to get up on your own." He turned on his heel and went back to the kitchen to finish putting away the groceries.
Wilson managed to regain his feet and make it to the couch by the time House was finished in the kitchen. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He'd only been out of bed for an hour and a half; how was it possible for a Saturday to suck so much in so little time? His leg ached more insistently now, joined by a chorus of stinging bruises from last night and this morning.
He felt a nudge against his left knee, and opened his eyes to the welcome sight of coffee. He looked up at House, who was holding a second cup in his other hand and looking down with his contrite face. Wilson raised his eyebrows as he took the mug.
House nodded and sighed as he settled himself next to Wilson. After another sigh and two sips of coffee, House asked, "So, what's the plan?"
Wilson sipped his coffee as he looked over at House. "Well, what do you do on your days off?"
"I read, I pace, I sit here and wallow in my misery," House replied. "Or I bother the hell out of you."
Wilson gave a small, bitter smile. "Sounds like a good plan to me."
"But I'd rather you didn't wallow on my couch."
"Ah, but if I stay here," Wilson said as he jabbed a finger into the couch cushion between them, "I'm fulfilling the 'bothering the hell out of you' part of the plan."
House chuckled softly. "I should make you eat that cereal you left on the counter."
"Did you buy any Pop-Tarts?"
"Of course. What's Saturday morning cartoons without Pop-Tarts?" House reached for the remote.
After lunch, House watched as Wilson made his way down the hallway. He tilted his head, trying to decide what looked off about Wilson's gait—aside from the cane. Wilson was concentrating, looking down at his hands and feet and placing each one carefully. He was midway to the living room when it finally dawned on House.
"You're using the wrong hand."
"No, I'm using the left hand, which is the one your physical therapists told you to use six years ago."
"You look ridiculous."
Wilson stopped. It was time to practice standing anyway. "No, you looked ridiculous lurching and listing like a, well, you know. A sinking ship." He snapped his fingers. "A drunken sailor! Much better simile."
House narrowed his eyes and frowned. "You look like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone."
"Great, because Christopher Walken is only the creepiest man alive." Wilson regarded House, who was leaning nonchalantly against the desk. "Why do you care which hand I use?"
"One, because if you insist on using your left hand for the cane, that functionally makes you right-handed. While it might be nice for you to join the majority of the world, you'll still have to rewire your handedness, and that is a pain in the ass." House paused briefly to let that sink in. "Two, I don't want you switching the callus to the wrong hand." He spread his own hands, revealing the smooth palms.
"You're not getting it back, so that argument's irrelevant." Wilson braced himself to stand unaided, then he picked up the cane in both hands. He looked at his left hand, already rubbed an angry pink, then at his right hand with its rough callus. House did have an excellent point about the handedness thing. Wilson switched the cane into his right hand, then took several experimental steps.
He fell into a rhythm almost immediately, lurching along like he'd always walked that way.
House watched him for a few steps, then he pushed past Wilson and started to dig in the hall closet. He emerged with a derby-handled cane and held it out to Wilson. "Bought this a while back but cut it too short. Try it."
Wilson braced himself again and exchanged the round-handled cane he had for the one House held out to him. He started back down the hallway toward the bathroom, and his next few steps worked even better. It felt right, a perfect imitation of the stride he'd been matching for years.
He carefully turned and hobbled back toward House. "How do I look?"
"Like a cripple," House replied roughly.
Wilson smiled as he continued his rolling lurch down the hall. The leg even seemed to hurt less, although his shoulder would occasionally twinge in protest if the cane hit the floor especially hard. So House wasn't just being House when he ignored the physical therapists. "I think I'm getting the hang of this," he mumbled as he passed House. "I'll be out of your hair tonight."
House tilted his head, then grabbed his keys from the desk and headed for the front door. "I'll be back!" he shouted over his shoulder.
Wilson was dozing in the late afternoon shadows when House returned. He didn't bother getting up; he wasn't scheduled for another painkiller for a half-hour yet. Instead he raised one arm in a lazy wave.
House saw the flash of arm over the back of the couch and called, "Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!"
Wilson called back, "I'm awake, I'm not baking, and you can't have my ear."
"How's the leg?" House came around the couch carrying a box.
"How many times have I asked you that question, and how many times did you give me a straight answer?"
"Well, this is different; I'm asking you. You take your Vicodin yet?"
Wilson rolled his eyes. "Not for another half-hour, Mom."
House grunted as he dragged the television closer. "You let that bitch get going you won't get much sleep tonight."
"'That bitch'?" Wilson asked as he carefully pulled himself up.
House knelt next to the television and glanced at Wilson briefly before ripping into the box. "I lived with it six years, should have named it. Usually only swore at it, but it is definitely female."
"The pain," Wilson half-whispered.
House went very still. He muttered, "I could write you a whole thesis on what you just got yourself into. It's got moods, it's got colors, it will knock you on your ass if you give it an inch."
"Be still my heart," Wilson said as he put a hand on his chest, "Greg House is a poet."
"You won't have to get to know it if you give it back." House pulled a half-size steering wheel out of the box.
"You would never have told me any of that, before. Even if I had asked."
House met Wilson's eyes and demanded this time, "Give it back."
Wilson shook his head as he replied, "Mine now."
"I thought you would say that," House sighed. He reached into his jacket pocket and handed Wilson an amber pill bottle. Wilson turned it and read the label. Vicodin. For James Wilson. Prescribed by Dr. Gregory House. Dated today. "Figured you'd want legitimate narcotics. Now take it; you're going to need it." House pushed the coffee table out of the way.
"What's all this?" Wilson asked as he suddenly found his lap full of black plastic and a base with pedals pushed under his feet.
House was untangling wires and hooking them to the game system. "I'll let you out of my hair when you show me you can drive."
Wilson winced. He remembered how long it had taken House to relearn how to drive after the infarction. "Ah, yes, the true symbol of American independence."
House muttered while hooking the game system into the TV, "Always wanted one of these. At least now you can practice without being a menace to small children and fire hydrants everywhere."
"I seem to remember small dogs and squirrels in mortal peril."
House grinned and held up a pair of game cases. "Need for Speed Underground or Gran Turismo Four?"
"I'd like to try—"
"Gran Turismo better simulates the driving experience, I think," House announced and put the disk into the player.
"Why did you even ask me?"
"Did you know it uses a nine-hundred-degree turning radius, just like a real car?"
"Well, no," Wilson replied. "But I think—"
"You're staying here until you get all your licenses in the game." House pulled Wilson's keyring from his pocket.
"Are you keeping me prisoner?"
"Just looking out for you, Jimmy," House said breezily. "Now shut up and drive."
Chapter 4: Sunday, Bloody Sunday
House woke with a start. He looked up into blackness, gulping air and hearing only the pounding of his blood in his ears. Adrenaline told him to flee, to run; he knew that was not an option.
Slowly, he sat up and rubbed his thigh, surprised when it didn't twinge. He was in his living room; why? He glanced around, saw the shadow of the television in an unusual spot, pint-sized driving wheel perched on top. Wilson. Wilson was in his bed, that's why he was on the couch. Oh. Maybe he could run after all.
A short scream, quickly cut off, and House was running.
Wilson woke with a scream: a short, sharp exhalation of breath that left him unable to gasp for another. His leg, his leg was on fire and speared with ice, muscle turning to stone under the skin. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think, he curled his shoulders around to his knees and held on because he didn't know what else to do.
Then hands were uncurling him, pushing his shoulders back, pulling his hands away, and he whimpered because he had no breath for the scream he really wanted. A gruff voice rumbled in his ear. House. House would know what to do.
Warm strong fingers started pushing and prodding the stone in his thigh, crumbling and grinding sharp edges together. Finally he found the breath for a pitiful howl.
House worked the hot, angry muscle beneath his fingers, wincing because he knew there was no way he could be gentle about it and still be helpful. Wilson howled and grabbed his wrists, and House shouted to get his attention. The hands around his wrists didn't loosen, but they no longer tried to push him away. "I'm sorry, buddy," he said. "This is the best thing, trust me."
House ground his knuckles down into the tight knot of remaining muscle in Wilson's thigh. He ran his fingers up and back and over and down in a repetition he'd done a thousand times, only this time he was rubbing from a different angle. He glanced at the fingers encircling his wrists and remembered the rare occasions he'd let Wilson do this for him. He mumbled, over and over in time with his motion, the meaningless syllables Wilson used to mumble to him.
Wilson's hands gradually loosened their grip around House's wrists. After a few minutes, House could see the rest of him relaxing, too.
House kept one hand working Wilson's leg and reached with the other into the nightstand. He pulled out a small heating pad and plugged it into the surge strip on the headboard. The pad's worn pink terrycloth cover looked garish even in the soft lamplight. After it was hot, House wrapped it around Wilson's thigh.
The heat from the pad finished the job House had started, and the exhausted muscles finally released. Wilson's loud sigh of relief morphed into a low groan. The sheets were damp, his clothes were damp, and Wilson did a great wet noodle impression.
House stood up on shaky legs. He rummaged in the dresser for some dry clothes and tossed them next to Wilson. "You'll sleep better."
Wilson stared at the ceiling and flopped one hand on the sheets in what was probably supposed to be a dismissive wave.
House sat on the bed next to him and poked him in the ribs. "Want me to do it for you?"
Wilson blinked his assent. House slid his hands under his friend's shoulders and gently lifted Wilson's upper body away from the bed. As the damp t-shirt slid over his head and down his arms, Wilson leaned forward and dropped his head on House's shoulder.
House had the fresh t-shirt in his hand, but he paused. Wilson, trusting and exhausted, was bonelessly leaning into him, one arm draped across his hip in the closest thing to an embrace they had ever shared. House swallowed thickly and stopped himself from sighing.
Wilson's shoulders hitched with a sad little hiccup, and House winced. He ran his free hand up Wilson's back and let himself hold on for a moment. "I know," he whispered into the hair behind Wilson's ear.
With a shrug of his shoulders, House urged Wilson to lift his arms. Together they wrestled the t-shirt on and the sweatpants off, but by mutual silent agreement they decided that the fresh pair of sweatpants could wait until morning.
House nodded to the bottles on the nightstand: Vicodin and water. "Take your pill before you conk out completely."
Wilson twisted around with a grimace, trying to see the clock.
"It's just after three," House told him softly. Too early to think about why watching was suddenly worse than experiencing. "Take your pill and go back to sleep."
Wilson caught House's hand as he turned to go. "Thanks," he breathed.
House didn't turn back but nodded slightly before he pulled his hand away and walked out the door.
Wilson opened his eyes slowly, letting them adjust to the sunlight streaming into the bedroom. He pulled his arms above his head and luxuriated in the stretch, feeling only a twinge of protest from his leg. With a long sigh he remembered the muscle spasm and he gently rubbed his thigh. He twisted to look at the clock and realized he had been scheduled for a pill an hour ago. Maybe the spasm had been a point of critical mass. Maybe today he would have a good day.
Nonetheless, he downed his morning dose before he even tried to sit up and get out of bed. The morning shower felt wonderful, and the routine took considerably less time than on Saturday morning.
House was sprawled on the couch, an occasional snore escaping into the silent apartment. Wilson step-thumped past and faced his first dilemma of the morning: making coffee while balancing on the cane. After some juggling and a lot of leaning on the counter, Wilson was pleased that he had managed without dropping anything. The pot started bubbling merrily, scenting the kitchen with the promise of caffeine.
On Sunday mornings, Wilson liked pancakes. Which wouldn't happen unless House bought—oh, yes. He had even put all the necessary ingredients, along with an obscenely oversized measuring cup, on the counter next to the refrigerator. Apparently House liked pancakes on Sunday morning, too.
While he mixed the pancake batter, Wilson wondered how one went about giving oneself one or two black eyes. Throwing himself down some stairs? No—too much risk of other injury. Walking into a door? He probably couldn't get up enough speed. Asking House to hit him? In light of all his recent interfering, House just might be willing to give him a black eye.
Wilson always liked to have a plan, to examine every possible option and outcome before acting. As he poured the first drops of batter onto the hot cast-iron griddle, he imagined how the conversation with House would go:
"See, for my cover story, I have to be in a car accident. So I just want tolook like I've been in an accident. And it has to happen today, so the bruises are healing on the right timeline."
"You want me to hit you?"
"Yes. Two black eyes would be ideal."
"I may have overlooked some neurological damage when you passed out the other night."
"Come on. When else would you get permission to punch somebody?"
"It's not much fun when you have permission. The whole point is to not have permission."
Then the conversation would end one of two possible ways:
"Can I use your cane?"
"You're insane. I'm not hitting you."
Wilson sighed as he flipped the first batch of pancakes onto a little pan and popped it into the toaster oven to keep warm. If House said yes, great. But if House refused to hit him...then what? If he tried to goad House into hitting him later, House would see right through it and refuse to be goaded. Wilson decided he'd have to try some other way to get black eyes before he would try to get House to hit him.
He was pouring batter for the second batch when House said over his shoulder, "How do you get them so fluffy?"
"House!" Wilson gasped and poured enough batter to nearly cover the griddle.
House moved to one side of Wilson and pointed at the enormous pancake. "That one's mine."
"It's not going to be easy to flip without cutting it," Wilson warned.
House clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm sure you'll find a way."
In an odd fit of helpfulness, House had pointed Wilson toward the living room after breakfast and proceeded to wash the dishes. Wilson happily settled in with a cup of coffee and small stack of journals. He was halfway through his first article when House flopped on the couch and turned on the TV and game system.
Two hours later, House was still on the couch, busily dodging slower vehicles and trying to escape what looked like a legion of police cars. His whole upper body leaned into the turns as he wove through the digital traffic. Rock music and sirens echoed in the living room.
"I think I'd like to to go for a walk," Wilson announced, finally giving up on his attempt to read. He had spent more time watching House's driving than reading.
House cranked the wheel and let his car crash. He looked pointedly at the cane leaning against the ottoman, then at Wilson. "Give it back; you can walk all you like."
"Not happening, House."
"Not. Happening." Wilson pushed himself out of the chair. "I'm going for a walk. Wanna come?"
House smirked. "You do realize that you no longer walk so much as lurch like a drunken sailor?"
Wilson smirked back and waved with his free hand. "Lurch with me."
House grunted dramatically but turned off the television. "I don't understand you."
"I haven't left this apartment since Friday. I'm getting sick of your walls."
They shrugged into their jackets. "And the company?" House asked as he closed the apartment door behind him.
"Yeah," Wilson replied. "There was this asshole in there playing the most annoying video game." He carefully stepped over the threshold of the building's outer door and stopped at the top of the step. Only two steps. He leaned on his cane and put his left foot out, then pulled it back. He leaned on his left leg and dropped his right leg and the cane to the step below. House stood in the doorway behind him, watching as he maneuvered himself down the steps.
When he made it safely to the sidewalk, Wilson turned to House with a look of triumph. House skipped down the steps and grinned.
As they started off down the street, House asked, "So, are we going anywhere in particular?"
"Do we have to be?" Wilson asked in return. "It's a crisp autumn day, the sun is shining, and I wanted a chance to practice walking on new terrain."
"And steps," Wilson agreed, nodding. He kept a cautious eye on the sidewalk, noting that House was also watching closely where he placed his feet and cane.
"I assume all this practicing means you're not planning on giving it back anytime soon," House said. Wilson snorted but kept going. "It's not yours, you know, and stealing is wrong."
Wilson had to stop and look at House. "We've been over this. You're healthy; that's what you wanted, isn't it?" He turned the corner and started down the block.
House caught up with him in two long strides. They walked for half the block before he said, "I'm not supposed to get what I want."
Wilson stopped, bending his knee and leaning on the cane in an attempt at House's favorite nonchalant pose. "What happened to the great search for meaning?" House shrugged. "Maybe now, without the threat that the pain will come back, you can start up again." He walked away from House for the second time, and House was forced to catch up again.
"What, like I'm supposed to go climb a mountain and find me a guru?"
"Well, now you can." Wilson grunted as he stepped over a large crack in the sidewalk.
They arrived at the corner. Wilson decided that although his leg was feeling pretty good today, he didn't want to push it. Once around the block was far enough. He turned and started up the block, House matching his stride but giving him plenty of space to wobble along. He wasn't as accustomed to walking next to a cripple as Wilson had been.
"It was the tea, wasn't it?" House's question broke through Wilson's little reverie.
"What?" Wilson was glad he had been watching the sidewalk just then.
"You gave me tea right before this whole thing happened, and you said you caused it. You use magic beans?"
Wilson smiled. "Tea is not made with beans."
"Magic tea leaves?"
"Plain old regular tea, in teabags no less. Nothing special about the tea." Wilson dismissed House's idea with a wave.
"I have to know how you did it."
"Consider this the first step in overcoming your puzzle addiction."
Wilson kept walking as House mused aloud, "Was it a chant? Voodoo doll? Not like you to make a deal with the devil. You had to have learned about it after I got shot, otherwise you would have used it before. But then the ketamine worked, and there was no point. I've only had the pain back for..." House frowned.
Wilson matched House's frown with one of his own. "Overcoming your puzzle addiction means deliberately leaving this one alone." They turned the corner.
"You would have had to plan everything out, because that's what you do. After the pain came back, you had to find the right time to put your plan in motion..." House stopped and pointed an accusing finger at Wilson. "You could have discovered this any time in the last three months."
Wilson stopped and carefully turned to smirk at House over his shoulder. "I guess you've got your work cut out for you, then."
Wilson sat on the couch, contemplating the smooth empty surface of the coffee table. House had gone to the bathroom; now was his chance.
When the idea had first hit him, it played out like a movie in his head: He sits on edge of the couch. He throws his shoulders forward. He slams his head facefirst into the tabletop. He gets a pair of shiners and maybe a broken nose to convince all and sundry that he was in a car accident. House comes running, keeps him from bleeding all over, tells him he's an idiot in that voice that means he cares.
It had seemed so simple. It had certainly looked simple in the third-person view of the movie in his head. But it looked a lot harder in the first person. The table looked a lot harder.
Wilson swallowed hard and leaned forward to press his nose to the cool surface. There's the motion. Just like that, only really slam it next time.
He sat back and swallowed again. A little shiver passed up his spine. He leaned forward halfway. The table didn't flinch.
He wanted to vomit.
Wilson heard the toilet flush and leaned back against the couch cushions with a long sigh. He couldn't do it. Not then, not ever. Man was not meant to deliberately smash his face into things. No avoiding it: Plan B it was.
After dinner, Wilson hobbled back to the bedroom and began packing his bag. After a few minutes, House followed him.
"What are you doing?" House asked from the doorway.
"I should think that would be obvious to one with your powers of observation," Wilson replied as he stuffed clothes into the bag. "I don't want to be stuck here when you go to work tomorrow. I'm going back to my place."
"You can't drive," House said as he crossed his arms. "You demonstrated that yesterday."
"I'll call a cab." Wilson started toward the door, then turned around and grabbed the bag.
"We already established that you should stay here," House argued as Wilson pushed past him and into the hallway.
"I already established that I don't want to stay here," Wilson snapped as he lurched into the bathroom and set the bag on the sink.
House stood in the bathroom doorway and shook his head. "I'll take you to your place, you can pack some fresh clothes."
"What are you doing, House?" Wilson started tossing his few bottles into the bag.
House looked at him in the mirror, then half-turned away. "I just don't think you should be alone."
With a flash of irritation, Wilson saw his opening. Just like that, Plan B. He turned as quickly as he could and asked, "Why not? Afraid for me?"
"What would you have done if you had been alone last night?"
Wilson stepped forward, forcing House to back into the hallway. "I would have been fine."
"You screamed and whimpered like a kicked puppy," House pointed out. "Even had the eyes."
Wilson glared at House. "I would have remembered what to do. I used to do it for you."
"Right. Would you have remembered before or after you lost the ability to breathe?"
"I don't need you to take care of me!" Wilson shouted. "I'm not fragile, I'm not feeble, I'm just—"
"Crippled," House growled.
"I'm no different than you used to be!"
"With the little white pills your new best friends?"
"No, they were your best friends, and now you miss them, don't you?"
"This isn't yours. I want it back." House took a step toward Wilson.
"You only want it back because the pain and the drugs keep you from facing the things you don't like about yourself," Wilson snarled. "With me gone, you'll have to face yourself; you'll have time to think, and you're afraid."
"I've had about enough of your—"
"Being a cripple made you special. You're afraid of who you are without it." Wilson stepped in close to House.
"I don't define myself by my leg. I told you that before."
"No, that was you telling yourself that." House was nearing the edge, Wilson could tell. "Being a cripple meant you could get away with shit like this." He smacked House's shin with his cane, hard.
His world exploded into a rush of colors and swirling black dots as House's fist connected with his jaw. His whole upper body swayed; he overbalanced and fell. Wilson lay on the floor, wishing that he'd had the courage to smash his head into the coffee table. It would have hurt less.
"Get up," House growled through clenched teeth. "I don't kick cripples while they're down."
When Wilson was again on his feet, he leaned on his cane and waited for the next blow. House stood shaking, hands fisted at his sides, but he made no move toward Wilson.
Wilson closed his eyes and swayed slightly. One punch wasn't enough. Bracing himself with the comfort that now House was healthy enough to beat him up, Wilson looked up at House and said, "I kick cripples when they're down. I make things worse."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"You were crippled because of me."
"The fuck are you—"
"After the infarction. The second surgery was my doing."
House grabbed fistfuls of Wilson's shirt and shoved him roughly against the wall. With House's forearms digging into his ribs, Wilson felt his weight shift off his feet.
"What?" The question was low and dangerous.
Wilson had never seen House so angry. He needed House to be so angry.
"After you went under, I told Cuddy to suggest the middle ground option. I told Stacy to use her power of attorney," Wilson whispered. "Lawyers aren't the only ones who can be very convincing."
House suddenly stepped back. As his weight returned to his feet with a jolt, Wilson felt a sudden flare of pain from his leg. He had just enough time to realize the trouble with Plan B before his world exploded into color and black a second time.
House smashed his fist into Wilson's nose, sending his head backward. Wilson had been the one person he didn't blame. He pulled his hand back and hit the side of Wilson's face with a vicious backhanded fist. Wilson had been the one person who hadn't hurt him. He grabbed at Wilson's shirt and shoved him bodily against the wall, once, twice. Wilson had been the one person he trusted.
House stopped himself, barely, when Wilson's head lolled forward onto his forearms. As he groaned softly, House resisted the urge to toss him to the floor. Instead he let go and stepped back, watching Wilson slide down the wall.
"You deserve it," he muttered under his breath. "All of it, you son of a bitch." House angrily swiped at his eyes with his bruised knuckles. He grabbed his keys and his helmet, then reached into his pocket for Wilson's keys. He dropped them on the floor and left the apartment, telling himself he didn't care that he was walking out on his last and only friend.
Chapter 5: Karma
Monday morning, House arrived at the hospital in a fouler mood than usual. People barely noticed, which only angered him further. When he stormed into his office without his cane, Foreman raised his eyebrows and Chase blinked before going back to his charting. Cameron opened her mouth, but before she could utter a syllable, House pointed at her and warned, "If it's not about a patient, you're fired." She closed her mouth with a snap.
"Find me a case," he ordered as he opened his office door. "You know what I like. Something old, something new, something revolting, something blue." He sequestered himself in his office, busying himself with avoiding work until he got an interesting patient or hell froze over, whichever came first.
Until lunchtime, when Cameron burst through the door wearing Concerned Face #4.
"It's all over the hospital; Doctor Wilson was in a car accident," she announced breathlessly.
House's stomach dropped a few inches, and he had to remind himself that he didn't care. His stomach ignored him and continued its cold slide toward his shoes as he realized just who had been the 'car' in the 'accident.' The son of a bitch deserved it, he told himself. The bastard had only revealed the extent of his treachery when it gave him some advantage. All this was happening behind his eyes; his face remained blank as he nodded, which had the added benefit of sending Cameron into Outraged Face #2.
"Your friend was in a car accident yesterday and you don't mention it? You don't care?" she squeaked.
"Nothing to mention," he said nonchalantly.
"What the hell do you mean, 'nothing to mention'?" Outraged Face notched up to #3.
"It means that you work for me, not Doctor Wilson, and therefore he's no concern of yours. It means that my personal life is not up for discussion. It means that you should be worried about doing your own damn job and quit gossiping." House tried to shoo her out of his office by tossing a toy car at her. Wilson had given him that car; maybe he could kill two drama queens with one Hotwheel.
She dodged the car easily and snorted in frustration. Wearing Angry Face #6, she spun on her heel to leave.
"He's not dying, so stay the hell away from him!" House shouted at her retreating back.
That night, House sat at his piano, staring at the empty glass and the half-empty bottle beside it. Six little white pills sat in a neat row in front of the glass. The last of the Vicodin in the apartment glowed against the polished lacquer of the piano.
He didn't play. The apartment was silent, dark, clean, empty. Had been silent, dark, clean, and empty when he'd come home in the early hours that morning. No trace of Wilson, save the Moroccan chicken leftovers that House had no intention of eating.
Now he knew why Wilson had always stayed, despite everything. The bastard liked to watch, to observe his handiwork up close.
Wilson might never have told him.
House bit into one little white pill and waited for the numbness.
Tuesday went better than Monday, but only slightly, and only because his team finally brought him a mildly interesting patient. He didn't have the patience to wait for tests, so he startled them all by visiting the patient before ordering anything. He made them wait in the hall while he rained some of his pent-up venom on the patient.
The poor man lasted almost ten minutes before he confessed that his girlfriend had given him a love potion to spice up their sex life. Love Potion #9 it was not, House could see as he dug the bottle out of the man's coat pocket. "Next time you want spice, try cayenne pepper in your lube," House snarled at him.
"Don't you believe in magic, Doctor?"
"No," House replied flatly. "But I like karma. Cosmic retribution." He stalked out of the room and tossed the little bottle to Cameron. "Test that," he grunted.
The rest of Tuesday was spent much like Monday, in silence.
Wednesday afternoon, Cuddy intercepted him before he managed to escape for the day. "My office," she ordered sharply as she passed him. From the furious click of her heels, House decided the wisest course would be to follow. He headed for the doors instead.
"House!" Cuddy's shout echoed like a tuning fork in the clinic. B sharp. "It wasn't a suggestion."
The look on Cuddy's face as she closed the door behind them promised pain and clinic hours. To make matters worse, she was wearing a turtleneck sweater. House flopped into a chair.
"I hope you're proud of yourself," she said with a note of accusation as she sat behind her desk.
"Absolutely. I saved my patient in near-record time this week."
Cuddy fixed him with one of her better glares. "I mean Wilson. What did you hit him with, his cane?"
House sat back and frowned slightly. The carpet was suddenly fascinating.
She continued, "I went to see him yesterday. You did an excellent job making him look like he was in an accident."
House's jaw twitched. "What did he tell you?"
"He told me he smashed his face into the coffee table." Cuddy clasped her hands in front of her. The knuckles turned white almost immediately. "But I know better. You hit him."
House tried, but he couldn't completely suppress his flinch. "You don't know that."
"I do now. Was this some crazy teenage stunt gone horribly wrong?"
"'I din't mean to hit him so hard, mistress,'" House begged in a thin falsetto.
"If you planned it together, you wouldn't have broken his nose."
"Noses are fragile, Cuddy."
"Add to that, you've been less-than-pleasant this week, even for you—"
This time House couldn't disguise his grimace. Cuddy was too close.
"And I'd say he provoked you. I'd say he said something that made you angry enough to take it out on him. On your best friend."
"If you brought me in here to spank me over hitting Wilson, I would much prefer something physical," House growled and glared at her.
Cuddy glared back for a moment, then she propped her forehead against one hand. "And you're still angry," she sighed. "After all he's done for you—"
"After all he's done for me?" House's question cut sharply through Cuddy's sigh.
"He took your pain."
"He caused it," House said bitterly. He slouched in his chair.
"He caused what?" Cuddy asked, incredulous. "He caused your infarction?"
House looked back at the carpet.
"That's ridiculous, even for you. What are you saying?"
"My—" he waved his hand, "—surgery."
"You think he had something to do with the surgery that crippled you? The surgery you've been exploiting the last six years?" House glanced around the office, anywhere but at Cuddy. She stood up and leaned over the desk. In a low voice she said, "You know where Wilson was. You know we had no contact with him—"
"That's not what he said," House replied petulantly.
Cuddy frowned at him. "So he lied to you, and you were willing to believe the worst of him. He got what he needed to cover for the incredible gift he gave you, and all you can think about is how angry you are. You need to get your head out of your ass and get over it."
House glowered at the wood panels of the desk.
"House, have you seen him?"
"Not since the weekend," House mumbled.
"Not since you beat the shit out of him," Cuddy snarled. House, surprised, looked up to meet her eyes.
"Why, Cuddy," he chided.
"You deserve worse," she ground out. "Since he's not going to give it back—and I tried to convince him, again—he's going to need his best friend. You should be thanking him, not avoiding him." She drew herself up to her full height and crossed her arms. "Go see him. And, as foreign as it is to you, apologize."
The winding subdivision streets kept House from gunning the throttle like he wanted, so he revved the bike's engine at every stop sign instead, shattering the sleepy evening quiet. One little boy ran to the edge of his driveway and waved enthusiastically as House rolled past, and House stopped himself from waving back because badasses don't wave, to anybody. On the next block a woman glared disapprovingly from behind her garbage can. House flipped her off.
Cookie-cutter houses, bland yards, boring people—perfect for the Mark Warners of the world. He parked in front of one of the slightly more interesting houses on the block. He pressed the doorbell and rolled his eyes when, through the front door, he heard Greensleeves chime inside the house.
"Hel—" Stacy's face went from cheerful to irritated in an impressively short time, "—lo. Greg."
"Hi, Stacy," House greeted her in an equally flat tone.
House shifted his weight from foot to foot. "Ketamine. Tranquilizes horses, causes hallucinations, eliminates chronic pain."
"So which of those did you take it for?"
"Ha ha." House stopped shifting. He had driven two hours and didn't know how to start.
"Well. Nice to see you, good luck with the leg," Stacy said briskly and started to close the door.
House put out his hand and held the door open. "One question, and I leave you alone."
She stopped pushing at the door and looked at him. He could tell she was trying to keep her face neutral.
"When I had the infarction, where was Wilson?" he asked.
Her eyes widened. "You came all the way here to ask me that?"
His eyes narrowed. "You lie with your voice. You're good at it." He knew how convincing that voice could be, velvet and compelling.
She nodded in resentful agreement. "We told you where he was a hundred times."
"Tell me again, now that I'm not out of my mind with drugs and pain." House tilted his head and asked her again with his eyebrows.
"He was in Maine. With his wife. In a little cottage with no phone. Trying to save his marriage." She angrily bit off the ends of the sentences and tried to push the door closed again.
House pushed back. "He wasn't involved in the second surgery?"
Stacy stopped pushing the door. Instead she opened it wider and stepped toward him. "You think James might have had something to do with the second surgery? James? All these years of blaming me weren't enough, now you want to blame your only friend, too?" She was standing a step above him, her voice a furious almost-whisper. "I did not talk to James before signing those papers, and I wouldn't have, either. He would have tried to talk me out of it, even if it meant letting you die. Of all the questions I would have expected from you, Greg, that was not it." She stepped back in the house and started to close the door.
"He wasn't there?" House asked softly.
Stacy paused. "Get your head out of your ass, Greg. James is the kind of friend everyone wishes they had."
Wilson returned to the hospital on Thursday morning. House watched, half-hidden by a pillar, as Wilson slowly gimped his way across the clinic to the elevators. The gimping was slow because he was stopped so often by well-wishing nurses and doctors, and House could see, even from across the clinic, that his face was well-bruised. He seemed to be maneuvering his cane and briefcase just fine. House made sure to head up the stairs before Wilson got a chance to spot him.
He watched as scores of people—nurses, doctors, orderlies, janitors, patients, delivery boys, even the lunch lady—filed past his office on their way to Wilson's. He sat in his chair and threw his ball at each and every one of them, wishing he could shatter the glass wall protecting them. He did manage to get a few of them to flinch as the ball banged the glass inches from their heads.
At 1:00, House looked up from the journal that had distracted him to see Wilson, coat on and briefcase in hand, slowly making his way to the elevators. He almost got up to taunt the man about taking a half-day, but stopped when he remembered that he was still pissed. Instead he watched as Wilson, waiting for the elevators, slumped over his cane and hung his head in a posture House knew too well. He swallowed as the anger in his gut twisted into something that stabbed upward, toward his heart. The leg was vicious today, only this time it was screaming at Wilson.
House sat back and turned toward his computer so he wouldn't have to watch. He clicked solitaire cards, winning aimlessly as his mind worked at a mile a minute.
Stacy was good with her voice, but she had never been able to lie with her eyes, not to him.
His breath hitched in his throat. He stopped clicking.
Cuddy was right.
That night, House sat again at his piano, staring at the half-empty glass and the empty bottle beside it. Three little white pills sat in a neat row in front of the glass. The last of the Vicodin in the apartment glowed against the polished lacquer of the piano.
He didn't play. The apartment was silent, dark, clean, empty. No trace of the righteous anger that had fueled him all week. No trace of Wilson.
Wilson had been the one person he didn't blame. House buried his knuckles in the palm of his other hand and felt again the crunch of Wilson's nose.
Wilson had been the one person who hadn't hurt him. House gripped his traitorous fist and saw Wilson's head twisting sideways with the blow.
Wilson had been the one person he trusted. House pounded his fists on his solid, healthy thighs and remembered how he slammed Wilson into the wall.
House cradled his head in his fists. He could make people better; he was brilliant at his job.
He sucked at everything else.
Friday morning, Cuddy cornered House in his office. With threats of bodily harm and moving his parking space to the far reaches of the outer lots, she managed to cajole him into two hours of morning clinic duty.
He was halfway to freedom when he opened the door to Exam 4 and saw Tuesday's Love Potion Guy and Stupid Girlfriend. He briefly wished he was British; it would have been so satisfying to call them 'complete plonkers.'
He settled for muttering, "Oh what now?" as he closed the door behind him. He turned to face them with his eyebrows raised. "Well?"
"We did what you told him," Stupid Girlfriend began. She glanced uncertainly at Love Potion Guy. "And it...burns."
"What I told you?"
Love Potion Guy shifted uncomfortably on the exam table. "Cayenne pepper...in the lube."
House felt his mouth fall open. In the back of his mind, Cuddy's Administrator Voice scolded him about patient complaints, and for once he decided to listen to it. He snapped his jaw shut and headed for the stool. "Yes. Well, that can happen." He scribbled out a prescription for each of them.
"Don't you want to...see it?" Love Potion Guy asked.
"God, no," House replied quickly as he tore the sheets off the prescription pad. "A little anesthetic cream, you'll be fine. You want spice? Google it; don't listen to your doctors. What the hell do doctors know about getting laid?"
Stupid Girlfriend took the prescriptions. "Doctors do it all the time on TV."
"What the hell do TV doctors know?" he said and shrugged as he ushered them out of the room.
He'd barely got the door shut behind them when he finally let out the guffaw he'd been holding. As he gasped for his next breath he thought of paging Wilson, and that only served to cause a round of sniggering. He leaned on the doorknob and out of habit snicked the lock closed. How long would it take Wilson to get down here? This sent him into another fit, but the laughter was fast approaching despairing. He wiped at his eyes with the heels of both hands as he sucked in air for a laugh that sounded suspiciously like a sob. Would Wilson even answer silly pages anymore?
Eventually he managed to get onto the exam table. He looked up at the ceiling and tried to regain some control.
After fifteen minutes, he was feeling like himself again. And House had a plan.
Chapter 6: Bruised and Battered
As the office door swung closed behind him, Wilson limped over to his desk and finally let his pain show on his face. He glanced at his calendar before he sat down at the desk and heaved a grateful sigh that he had no appointments until 1:30. He looked up at the wall clock, then over at his couch. Two hours, he had two hours. The 10:00 Vicodin was still working well; he could get some paperwork done and relax for an hour. He looked down at the desk, then back to the couch. The couch won.
He settled himself into the cushions with a satisfied sigh. Friday department meetings never used to take this much out of him. But then he hadn't slept in such short stretches since his residency, either.
Wilson had barely closed his eyes when he heard the door handle rattle. He ignored it.
A few minutes later, the balcony door opened. Wilson kept his eyes closed as he heard someone pace the length of the couch, then turn one of the chairs near the desk around. A long sigh echoed in the room as the intruder sat down.
"You look like crap, Jimmy," House rumbled from across the room.
Wilson finally opened his eyes to see House cataloging the variegated mask of healing bruises covering his face.
"I, uh..." House swallowed, looked down at the carpet, and started over. "I'm...Jesus, Wilson, I'm—"
"Don't apologize. I'm already in pain."
A ghost of a smile crossed House's face, then he looked up and narrowed his eyes. "Bad day today?"
Wilson was suddenly irritated. "Did I ever ask you that question?"
"You'll notice how the situation changed."
"So now you're all, what? Caring?"
"No." House rubbed the back of his neck and looked back down at the floor. "I already know that you're having a bad day. I know yesterday was a bad day. I just thought—" He snorted and started for the door. "Never mind."
"House? You thought what?"
With one hand on the doorknob, House muttered more to the door than to Wilson, "I thought you'd want to talk about it, is all."
Wilson shifted slightly. "Why didn't you ever want to talk about it?"
House hung his head, then turned around and pulled the chair closer to the couch. He sat down and finally met Wilson's eyes. "How would I have explained it?"
Wilson nodded, conceding the point.
"Come on." House sat forward and tapped Wilson's good foot. "Buy me lunch."
Wilson shifted again, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket. "I want a turkey sandwich. No mayo." He threw the wallet at House's head.
House flinched, but he caught it. "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a delivery boy."
Wilson waved his hand dismissively. "And you'd better get enough chips for the both of us."
"You can't make it to the cafeteria and back," House challenged.
"Can't and don't want to are two separate things."
"And you don't want to because?"
Wilson sighed and looked up at the ceiling. "My apartment shower has a bathtub."
House winced, adding, "And a flimsy towel bar."
Wilson nodded slightly and continued to look up.
"Once getting in, once getting out. Earlier this week."
"Why didn't you call me?"
"I wasn't anywhere near a phone." Wilson shrugged. "It was nothing major."
House stood up and half-shouted, "Nothing major? Bathroom falls are serious! Do I need to remind you I once spent six hours with a broken wrist waiting on the bathroom floor for Stacy to get home?"
Wilson's eyes widened, then narrowed. "Yes, you do. Because you said it happened in the living room. While Stacy was home." He cautiously started to sit up.
House scrubbed at his face with one hand, then reached forward and pushed Wilson back onto the couch. "Stay put."
"Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you call me?"
"Same reason you didn't call me. You going to let me inspect the damage?"
Wilson rubbed at his eyes, then reached over and grabbed the wallet out of House's hand. "Buy me lunch and I'll think about it."
House opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again and turned toward the door. Wilson started to breathe a sigh of relief as House reached for the handle, but stopped himself when House turned back.
"How about a Life Alert? We could sew a pocket for it into your ties." Wilson glared at him as he backed out the door. As the door swung closed, he heard House's falsetto fade down the hallway, "I've fallen and I can't get up! Oh, that never gets old..."
Wilson was finishing some paperwork, waiting for his 6:00 Vicodin before attempting the cab ride home. He didn't look up when his balcony door opened.
"Movies tonight?" House asked, not quite stepping into the room.
"Uh, sure," Wilson said, shuffling some papers on his desk. He finally looked up. "Ah—"
"Need a ride? I drove the 'Vette today."
Wilson smiled. "Sweet. Give me five?"
House nodded and headed back to his office, jauntily vaulting the dividing wall.
Wilson watched him go, then heaved himself out of his chair. He found the pill bottle in his jacket pocket and checked the clock. 5:45—close enough. He was reluctant to take his meds in front of House. He had been reluctant to take the pills in front of anybody.
Dinner was ordered, delivered, eaten, cleaned up after. They were halfway through Plan 9 From Outer Space when House returned from the kitchen with two beers. He set one in Wilson's lap as he settled himself on the couch.
Wilson tried to hide his wince as he leaned forward and placed the beer on the coffee table.
House had been watching him. "You don't want it?"
"Yeah, I want it. But I'm not a mad pharmacist, mixing chemicals in my body that will combine to put me in a coma."
"One beer will not put you in a coma." House rolled his eyes as Wilson resolutely crossed his arms. "When was your last Vicodin?"
"None of your business," Wilson snipped as he turned his eyes to the television. "I don't mix narcotics and alcohol."
House leaned forward and set his own beer on the coffee table. Then he paused the movie and turned to Wilson. "All right, the doctor is in. Strip."
Wilson frowned. "I'm fine." He grabbed for the remote, but House tossed it across the room and jabbed him in the ribs. He shrank back into his corner of the couch with a hiss. "What was that for?"
"You're not fine." House pointed at Wilson's chest. "Strip, or I wait until you're in the shower."
Wilson looked shocked. "You wouldn't."
"Can't run when you're wet and naked." House spread his hands.
Wilson scowled, but unbuttoned his shirt. "I thought your bedside manner was atrocious before." He tried and failed to smoothly shrug out of his dress shirt, so he settled for awkwardly peeling it off. "It's worse when I'm the patient." He pulled the undershirt over his head.
House let out a low whistle and motioned Wilson to sit back and lift his left arm. "That looks just the shape of the rim of a bathtub," he said, as he started to gently prod around the dark purple bruise curving along Wilson's ribs.
Wilson sucked in a breath and sat up straighter. "Because that was exactly what I fell on. I managed to get an arm under myself, so I don't think I broke anything."
"Was this the getting in or getting out?"
"Does it matter? Ow!"
House nodded and stopped poking at Wilson's ribs. "OK, no breaks. And the wrists?"
Wilson held out his hands. "They're fine."
"And those are?" House indicated the fading bruises on Wilson's elbows and shoulders as he checked over his wrists.
"From your floor."
"Wrists look fine," House said as he sat back.
"Now the pants."
Wilson grunted as he pushed himself up from the cushions. House probably would follow him into the shower (whichever shower that might be), so he might as well comply. He maneuvered around the coffee table, turned so his bad leg faced House, and unbuckled his belt.
"Shit, Wilson," House exclaimed as the bruise came into view, "you're like, the worst cripple ever."
An angry bruise the size of a man's fist started just below the hem of Wilson's boxers and skirted the backside of the scar on his right leg. As House shifted on the couch to get a closer look, Wilson put his hands on his hips and explained, "This happened on Monday, the first time I tried to get in the shower. The leg just didn't want to hold at the angle I tried, and my hand slipped."
House started prodding around the bruise, studiously avoiding the scar. "This is why we pay physios—you have to relearn how to do things."
"Yeah, well, I couldn't exactly waltz into the physical therapy office and schedule a session, now could I?" Wilson asked the back of House's head. The fingers on his thigh stilled, then slid to curl around the back of his knee.
House asked softly, "Why did you lie to me?"
Wilson tried to step back, but the hand didn't let go of his leg and he had to grab at House's shoulders. "What?"
House finally looked up, and Wilson could see the guilt on his face. He'd seen a similar look before, when he'd finally gotten the story about Crandall. But this time he could see pain alongside the guilt, pain and something else. House repeated, "Why did you lie to me, to get me to hit you?"
"I needed a cover story, and it was safer than getting into a real car accident," Wilson replied. He took a shuffling step toward House, who let go of his leg and shifted over to give him room to sit down. He left his pants around his ankles and fell back onto the couch with a sigh.
House was looking at a spot on the floor near the coffee table. "So you—"
"Risked your friendship to hide the truth?"
"So last week—"
"I knew you'd figure it out eventually. I thought you would either add it to the 'things I'll never forgive Wilson for' column and we'd be OK, or you would decide that column was long enough and we wouldn't."
"Either way, you're—"
"Either way, you're healed, and it's worth it."
"Why didn't you just ask me?" House almost whispered the question.
"Would you have done it if I asked?" Wilson was suddenly met with House's startled gaze. "All those times I wanted to pop you one. But I couldn't have done it, not like that."
House flinched slightly. "I'm an ass."
"And my ass is cold," Wilson announced too loudly as he went to stand up again.
"You're not forgiven," House said as he got up from the couch and grabbed both beer bottles. Wilson bent to grab his pants, missed, and fell back onto the couch. "And you're staying here tonight."
"I have to go to work tomorrow." Despite his protest, Wilson started to untie the laces on his shoes.
"Doctor's orders," House called from the kitchen. He stopped in the doorway on the way back to the living room. "This is déjà vu."
Wilson looked up from pulling his socks off. "Me half-naked in your living room?"
"Wearing my scar." House shuffled forward, looking over Wilson's battered body. "Voluntarily torturing yourself."
Wilson smirked at him. "It's a masochism thing."
"You're an idiot." House smirked back and held out one hand. "C'mon. I'll take the couch."
Cuddy found Wilson in his office on Sunday morning. She poked her head in his door and asked, "Got time to talk?" At his nod, she closed the door behind her and sat down in front of his desk.
"What can I do for you?" he asked as he set his papers aside.
She waited until he met her eyes. "How are you?"
"That sounds like House. I'd like to talk to James now. How are you really?"
Wilson smiled weakly as he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. "I'm...adjusting. I've got to relearn how to move, and the leg reminds me when I don't do it right."
Cuddy nodded, a sympathetic expression on her face. "Are you on Vicodin?"
"Yeah, for now. I'm thinking of trying other meds, if you'd prescribe for me."
"Of course," she replied and sat forward a bit. "House...didn't talk about it."
"That's like saying the Great Pyramid is a pile of bricks."
"You can talk."
"Like a...House whisperer?"
Cuddy laughed, a sharp, surprised giggle that was quickly stifled. "No, I just...I meant you can talk to me. If you want."
"You want to know what this pain feels like?" he asked. She pressed her lips together and nodded.
Wilson rubbed his chin and thought a moment. "It's...always there, but it's...unpredictable. When I'm resting, sometimes it's a low burning, and sometimes it feels like something's crawling under the skin, sawing at what's left. If I've been walking for a while, I get sharp, throbbing twinges radiating down my leg and up my spine." He shifted in his chair. "Remember it rained on Wednesday? Everything ached—not just the leg." He paused when he realized he was rubbing his thigh. "The worst thing about it is that it's unpredictable, and I haven't figured out how to control it. If I work it too much, I could be so tired that it actually feels close to good, or I could be in for a sleepless night. Sometimes it's needles, sometimes it's knives."
"And right now?" she asked with an empathetic wince.
He offered a rueful little smile. "I can tell it's almost time for the 10:00 pill; it's a hot serrated steakknife." She glanced at the clock. Somewhere deep in his briefcase, his cellphone emitted one tinny little chirp and went silent.
Wilson spread his hands and looked apologetically at Cuddy. "Now that I've thoroughly depressed you—"
"You didn't have to do this," she reminded him.
"I did," he said firmly. "For all this hurts—" he waved at his leg, "—watching him suffer hurt more."
Wilson sighed a heavy sigh as he unlocked his apartment door. Saturday and Sunday had been long days at the office but had been worth it; he was finally caught up. Now all he wanted to do was microwave something unhealthy and collapse on the—
Apparently the only place to collapse was the floor. An expanse of beige carpet stretched before him as the door swung closed behind him. He dropped his briefcase and swayed a bit on his cane. The apartment was empty.
Wilson closed his eyes, hoping he was hallucinating, then opened them again. The apartment was just as bare as before: no boxes, no pictures leaning against the walls waiting to be hung, no couch, no lamps, no nothing. He gimped toward the bedroom, which was just as empty as the living room. He ended his tour in the kitchen and squinted in the harsh fluorescent light. His muttered curses echoed loudly in the space.
Empty white countertops. Empty, open white cupboards. A bright fuchsia sticky note and key taped to the refrigerator door. $4.71 wash. Starch $2 extra. Wilson crumpled the note into his pocket and tore the tape off the key. "That son of a bitch," he grumbled. His fingers twisted around the cane handle. For the first time, he wanted to use it as a weapon.
But he was just too tired. He leaned his forehead against the cool metal of the refrigerator. "All I want to do is relax," he whined. His shoulder hurt, his wrists ached, his left leg trembled with overwork and his right leg was sending hot pokers up into his lower back. He could see the carpet of the living room on the edge of his vision, and he was tempted to take two Vicodin and stretch out on the floor.
But there was a reason he wasn't stretching out on his couch just then, and that reason also happened to be the reason he was so miserable in the first place. That reason hadn't even been polite enough to tell him where to find the whole of his worldly possessions without turning the whole thing into a twisted scavenger hunt. He growled into the metal door in frustration.
After a minute, he resignedly pushed himself away from the fridge and limped back to his briefcase. He pulled out his cell phone. He had it halfway to his ear before he saw the "New Message" icon.
The first message had been sent at 9:54 that morning. On the tiny screen was a picture of his garden gnome, sitting on his armchair in the apartment he was standing in. The next picture showed the gnome on the running board of a moving truck. The message ended, and he muttered, "Thanks for that. I couldn't have figured out my stuff was gone."
A second message, sent at 2:13, showed the gnome back in the armchair, but this time with a green wall in the background.
He closed the phone and dropped it back in his pocket. As soon as he found him, Wilson was planning on smacking House in the shins with his cane.
Wilson had just settled himself into the cab and pulled out the sticky note when his phone chirped with a new message. This time the picture was of a big gray building that Wilson recognized was near House's apartment. The gnome sat in a first-floor window, looking forlorn.
He looked back at the sticky note. $4.71 wash. Of course, House lived on the corner of Baker and Washington Avenue. As Wilson looked between the phone and the hot pink paper, the cabbie turned around and asked, "Hey, buddy?"
"Ah, right, 471 Washington Avenue, please."
Another message popped up on the phone. This time the gnome lay on his back, smiling up into the camera while a Converse All-Star stepped on his neck. A piece of paper on the floor read, Get over here or the gnome gets it.
"I'm going to kick his ass," Wilson growled as he snapped the phone shut.
471 Washington Avenue was an imposing gray stone building, with tall windows and columns surrounding the entryway. Wilson looked at the heavy black entry door and noticed a wheelchair-marked button. He pushed it, and the door slid smoothly open.
It didn't take long to find apartment #2, and the key slid the lock open with a soft click. The smell of chili and cornbread greeted Wilson as the door swung open, and he could hear House arguing with a radio commentator. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him as silently as he could.
It looked like a home. His couch faced his TV, his armchair sat next to a gas fireplace in the corner. His side table sat waiting for his keys, and he dropped his briefcase next to it like he'd always done. He hung his coat on a hook beside the door. His mother's mirror hung on the other side of the door; his Nightingales print took pride of place on the long wall of the room between the built-in bookshelves. A short hallway led off the other side of the room, and to his left, bright light streamed from the kitchen.
The gnome greeted him with a cheerful smile from the coffee table. Wilson patted it on the head before he settled himself on the couch with a sigh.
"Hi, honey, how was your day?" House shouted from the kitchen.
Wilson turned his head to yell in House's direction. "Funny thing—when I got home, my place was empty."
House stuck his head through the doorway. "Empty? You don't say." He disappeared again.
"All I really wanted to do was sit down," Wilson grumbled. "Except I had no place to sit."
"You're sitting now," House called.
"I had to decipher your crappy clues," Wilson called back. As House came back into the living room, Wilson lowered his voice. "And you threatened my gnome."
"What's your attachment to that thing, anyway?"
"He's cute, he makes a good doorstop, and Sarah hated him."
House nodded. "About the only thing you got from that divorce, wasn't it?"
"About the only thing she didn't fight for." Wilson levered himself up from the couch, took a few steps over to House, and waved around the room. "What the hell, House?"
House spread his arms wide. "Welcome home!"
Wilson seized his opportunity. He brought his cane across House's right shin with a satisfying little thwack.
Wilson leaned on his cane with an apologetic look on his face. "I'm sorry, I didn't see your shin there."
"I spent days on this, and what do I get in return?"
"If you spent days on this, you certainly could have told me about it."
House straightened up, indignant. "I told you about it! I sent you a message when we started this morning!"
"A picture of the gnome on a moving truck does not equal telling me you're moving me to a new home!"
"The gnome pictures were a nice touch, though, weren't they?" House ducked his head and started to chuckle.
Wilson found it hard to hold onto his irritation. He started to chuckle, too. "Yeah, I liked the one of him in the window."
They both limped to the kitchen, House in the lead. Wilson asked, "How did you—"
"I hired a couple college kids. You don't have that much stuff."
"I didn't let them touch your DVDs."
"Ha. Who did you blackmail to get this place?"
"Never mind how I found it." House waved dismissively. "Just don't be late with the rent; I had to co-sign the lease."
House glanced over his shoulder as he stirred the chili. "You're gonna love this stove—bakes like a dream." It was a lime-green monstrosity straight out of the 1950s. House was right: Wilson loved it almost immediately.
"Well, that alone is worth whatever you've signed me to pay for this place," he said, as he sat at the small table.
House ladled the thick chili into bowls for the both of them and pulled the skillet with the cornbread out of the oven. "Wait till you see the bathroom."
"All the amenities?"
"Cripple heaven." He set the skillet between them and sat down to eat.
House waved his spoon. "You were so set on proving how good a cripple you can be, you would have killed yourself over there." As Wilson started to sputter, House asked, "Would you have agreed to this if I asked?"
Wilson stopped and considered it. He tilted his head and said, "No, probably not. You still should have told me."
House looked down at his bowl. "Yeah," he admitted quietly.
They ate in silence for a moment, until Wilson asked, "One other thing: why chili?"
House gave a sly grin. "I was inspired by a patient."
Suddenly, the apartment at 471 Washington Avenue felt like a home.
Chapter 7: House Hunting
"Good morning, flatfeet," House said loudly as he entered the conference room and tossed his bag on a chair.
"Flatfeet?" Foreman asked, without looking up from his journal.
"Flatfoots? Flatfooters?" House mused as he wandered over to the coffee pot. "Beat cops, whatever, I have an assignment for you. You get me what I need, just maybe you make detective by Christmas."
"We have a patient," Cameron announced from the doorway. She sat down at the table and passed files to Chase and Foreman.
"You have an assignment, I might have a patient," House growled and grabbed the folder from Cameron. "You work on your assignment whenever I don't have you working on my patient." He smacked the folder loudly on the table, briefly wishing he still had his cane.
Finally he had three pairs of eyes trained on him. Foreman started, "This patient—"
"Can wait two minutes," House interrupted. He frowned and pointed at Cameron. "I need you to get me copies of Wilson's patient files. Every patient Wilson had contact with in the last three months, clinic, oncology, consults, all of it." Cameron's mouth worked open and closed like a drowning fish. House swiveled to point at Chase and Foreman. "You two, I want a detailed timeline tracking Wilson's movements for the last three months, from my shooting up until his time off two weeks ago. His hospital schedule, where he went when he wasn't here, everyone he talked to."
Chase and Foreman started to sputter at the same time. Chase managed to say, "But that's going to take months," just as Foreman protested, "We're doctors, not cops."
House waved a dismissive hand. "You don't need to break into his apartment. But if I see any of you reading magazines, playing sudoku, or scratching your ass before this assignment is complete, you will regret it."
Foreman wasn't done with his indignance. "It's not our job to investigate Doctor Wilson. Do it yourself."
House leveled a glare at Foreman, then glowered around the rest of the room for good measure. For the second time in a very short while, he missed his cane. "I am doing it myself. You are simply gathering the information." He nodded at Chase. "Pretty over there can get anything he wants from the nurses, and she's—" he nodded at Cameron, "—a whiz with the collating."
"You want us to investigate Dr. Wilson because you're afraid to ask him whatever is bothering you," Cameron said softly, trying her best psychoanalysis voice while wearing Concerned Face #1.
House glared at them all again. "I see the light at the end of your fellowship tunnels. If you want to do anything more than snot-wrangling at the clinic in Podunkville, Iowa, I'll have your first progress reports on this assignment by the end of the week." He picked up the file he had thrown on the table. "Now, about this patient."
House vaulted the dividing wall and popped open Wilson's office door. A quick glance revealed nothing out of the ordinary, and he quickly stepped over to the desk. The calendar confirmed House's mental schedule: Wilson was at a board meeting for the next hour. Sighing in relief and anticipation, House settled himself in the desk chair and effortlessly put his feet up.
He looked around. Big wooden bookshelves provided security and warmth, movie posters provided color but the movies themselves weren't exactly reassuring. How can you tell someone they're about to die when they're looking over your shoulder at a Touch of Evil poster?
Tacky kitsch was everywhere—the desk, the shelves—House was surprised Wilson didn't have a child-sized teddy bear occupying one of the chairs. How could a person think in the presence of all this clutter?
He shook his head. Unraveling Wilson had already occupied him for years; he needed to focus on the more pressing mystery. Magicians might not reveal their secrets, but House had always been good at spotting the trick of the tricks. He slid open the desk drawers one by one; nothing unusual there. The desk was organized, neat in that obsessive-compulsive Wilson way, and House easily deciphered the system governing the stacks of files and paperwork.
He got up from the desk and paced a lap around the office, trying to remember what it had looked like three months ago, what it had looked like two weeks ago, mentally comparing to see what had changed, to see if clues were out in the open. He brushed against Wilson's overcoat and heard a familiar rattle. Frowning, House pulled out the pill bottle. He spilled the pills into his hand and counted. It had only been two weeks, Wilson seemed to be sticking to a schedule—but it was only a matter of time before Wilson discovered why House had always kept the pills close by. Swearing softly, he dropped the bottle back into the coat pocket.
Dissatisfied, he looked around the office one more time, and something odd on a bookshelf caught his eye. Four comic books, tucked between two stately-looking oncology texts. House pulled them out and opened the first one. Inside the cover was a sheet of paper, addressed to Wilson in loopy teenage script, complete with circles dotting the 'i's.
I won't have time to sit
inside and read comics
anymore, so I'd like you
to have these. Thanks.
House closed the comic and fanned all four in his hands like oversized poker cards. Spectacular Spiderman. He squinted, remembering that Wilson had requested #110 for a patient of his. When was that? House's eyes widened as he remembered. Just before the ketamine wore off. He looked again at the comics in his hands. One cover said in garish letters, "SIN EATER STRIKES!"
House's head cocked sideways and his eyebrows drew together. He tucked the comics back on the bookshelf and vacated the office.
Sin eaters. Interesting.
"How progresses the healing?" Tomlinson from Orthopedics asked as the board members began gathering their notes from the conference table.
Wilson paused to give her a half-smile. "Slow and steady, they tell me."
"So when will you lose that?" Tomlinson pointed at the cane as Wilson levered himself up.
"Maybe never," Wilson replied with a small grunt. He straightened up, then motioned for her to precede him out of the room. "It's starting to look like permanent nerve damage."
"You should let us take a look at it," Crane from Neurology piped up from across the table. "Second opinion, and all that."
Wilson's half-smile turned into a rueful one. "More like a fourth opinon, really."
The remaining board members in the room chuckled softly, and Nolo from Cardiology snorted behind him. "How many tests has House bullied you into?"
"You don't want to know," Wilson replied over his shoulder with a little smirk.
"No doubt Dr. Cuddy got involved, too," Tomlinson muttered. "She was a real pain when Mary Wright had her accident."
Wilson simply nodded in response as they escaped the cramped doorway in favor of the hall. He breathed a sigh of relief as he stretched his stride out for a few steps. Nolo caught up with him and asked, "Join us for coffee, Dr. Wilson?"
He half-smiled in response, then made a show of checking his watch. "I'd love to, John, but I need to get back to the office. Maybe next week?" At Nolo's nod, Wilson headed for the elevators.
Once he was alone in the elevator, Wilson sighed and leaned harder on his cane. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to focus his breathing, telling himself it was only a few more minutes to his office. The board meeting had gone long. Too long. He felt like his thigh was embedded with crushed glass. Without warning, that damned Annie Lennox song popped into his head. "My torture is complete," Wilson muttered at the ceiling.
House sat at the conference table, his mood as foul as the weather outside. Cold rain pelted the glass, and a gloomy pall settled over the room despite his efforts to dispel it by turning on every available light. Finally, finally he could concentrate on this mystery: spread on the table before him were patient files and several pages of Chase's barely decipherable handwriting. "And he wonders why I won't let him touch the markers," House grumbled as he got up to pour himself yet another cup of coffee.
He should have predicted that his team would go about their investigation in a way that was less 'team' and more 'random flailing.' Foreman's half-page, written at the top of one of Chase's pages, screamed "This is idiocy" between the lines of Wilson's committee meeting schedule. Chase had begun with asking nurses about Wilson's most recent activities and worked backward. Cameron's stack of patient files began just after House had been shot and didn't include the most recent patients.
Sipping his coffee, he walked over to the printer to retrieve his latest research and added it to the paperwork on the table. The internet wasn't particularly helpful regarding sin eaters, but what he had been able to find confirmed his hunch that there was something useful there. Sin eating was an old ritual from England and Scotland; the sin eater would, through eating or drinking, take on the sins of a dead person and thus allow the dead to pass into heaven. Wilson hadn't taken House's sins, exactly, but what if it worked in other ways, too?
Almost absentmindedly, House continued flipping through the stack of patient files, glancing at each while he looked over the computer printouts and Chase's pages. Wilson's hospital schedule had been frustratingly regular—the only deviations were at the time of House's shooting. House let his focus wander across the table, his left hand paging through files almost automatically, as he considered the evidence.
A phrase in Chase's handwriting suddenly caught his eye. Nurse saw him near her church. The stack of patient files was almost gone, and House reflexively glanced at the next one. Paskin. A Welsh name. House's eyes narrowed as he looked more closely at the file.
Wilson had seen Caroline Paskin in the clinic and written a prescription for a UTI. He had also treated her a month later for a broken finger. House paged through the thin file. Broken finger. Thin file.
House sat forward and grabbed at Chase's notes. The nurse had seen Wilson near her church almost a month ago, same time as the Paskin woman's broken finger. House recognized the neighborhood. Once, he had found Wilson sitting in the dark, on a bench not far from the church's address.
Broken finger. Thin file. Wilson at a church. Something was not adding up.
The next morning, House sat on his bike just outside St. Joseph's church. The church itself was old and grand, and the modern community center stuck out from its side like an ugly grafted appendage. A small group of people stood waiting outside the door.
"Hey, buddy," said a rough voice near his shoulder, "got a light?"
House turned to see a hunched-over old man grinning at him hopefully and toothlessly. The man held a cigarette between two shaking fingers. "Smoking is bad for you," he replied.
The man laughed weakly. "So's sleeping on concrete, but smokin's a lot more fun."
House nodded in response and spread his hands in apology. "I can't help you." As the man started to turn away, House pulled his wallet out of his pocket and called, "But if you can help me, I'll buy you a lighter." He held up a $10 bill.
The man turned back warily, but his eyes lit up. "Whaddya need?"
House tilted his chin at the community center. "What are they waiting for?"
"Saturday food bank." The man reached for the money.
House pulled it away. "You ever see a guy around here, little younger than me, dark hair, well-dressed, driving a silver Volvo?"
"Yeah, sure, he was here," the man said and nodded confidently. House let him have the bill and he crumpled it in his fist.
House muttered as the man walked off toward an alley, "You don't even know what a Volvo is, do you?"
The man shouted over his shoulder, "It's a scooter, right?"
House shook his head as he dismounted from the bike. He joined the back of the line that had started to disappear through the community center doors. Once inside, he slipped off to one side and leaned against the wall.
"First time here?" came a friendly voice at his elbow.
House looked down at the round, silver-haired woman smiling up at him and nodded.
She nodded back and waved around the room, pointing at various stations. "You can pick up a box over there, and there's where you get your canned goods, and then you go—"
House raised his eyebrows and interrupted her, "No, no. I'm here looking for someone, a Caroline Paskin?"
The woman's smile faltered. "I'm sorry, what?"
House pulled the file from his backpack. "I'm a doctor at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and I'm trying to find Caroline Paskin."
"Oh! Oh, I'm sorry, I just thought—" she apologized as she took his elbow and started leading him toward the kitchen. "Never mind what I thought; she's back here and she'll be delighted to see you, I'm sure. Not often doctors make house calls nowdays. Why, when I was a girl—"
It took a mental recitation of the biochemistry of photosynthesis to drown out the woman's chattering. House let himself be led as his eyes glazed over slightly. Through a pair of swinging doors was a large kitchen where several people were bustling about. The woman at his side called out, "Caroline! There's a doctor here to see you!" as they entered.
A small, dark-haired woman near the sink turned around with a smile on her face. When she caught sight of House, her smile disappeared and she nearly dropped the dish she was holding. She quickly recovered and started across the kitchen.
House had a similar reaction, although he was much better at hiding it. The pieces started falling into place. House had seen her for the broken finger and pawned her off on Wilson, and her file had been a half-inch thick with paperwork from a rash of visits. Wilson had taken his scar later that week. He frowned down at her when she arrived in front of him. "I'm a friend of Doctor Wilson's."
Her eyes widened, and she smiled politely at his escort. "Thank you, Ella." Ella turned and left as Caroline looked up at House. "How is Doctor Wilson?"
"Hurting," he growled.
Her face tightened, but she didn't lose her smile. "I'm sorry for that. What can I do for you?"
"Tell me what you told him."
She frowned. "I don't know what you're talking about." She started to turn away.
House gripped her elbow. "He healed me," he said quietly. "Doctor Wilson is walking around with my cane and my scar, and I think you told him how to do it."
She looked at his hand, then his face. "That is utterly ridiculous, Doctor. If you don't mind—" She pulled her arm out of his grip.
"What do you know about sin eaters?" House called after her. She spun around, frowning. No one in the kitchen seemed to have noticed his question. He took a step toward her and said, "I'm not going away. It'd be better if you talked to me."
She shook her head and pointed to the doors. "Not here."
Caroline led him to a small room that smelled of books and incense. "The sacristy?" he asked as he sat down on a stool. "Little blasphemous, wouldn't you say?"
She closed the door behind them. "Heretical, actually," she answered as she sat down on her own stool with a sigh. Before House could speak, she said, "I saw you once, with your cane. Why did you need it?"
"I had a blood clot in my thigh. Surgery took half my thigh muscle and left a lot of nerve damage."
"And left you in pain?" At House's nod, she sighed again. "And you said Doctor Wilson has it."
House sat forward, leaning his elbows on his knees. "How did he do it?"
She straightened in her seat and met his eyes. "What do you know about sin eaters?"
"Just what I could find on the web. They take the sins of the dead so the dead can get into heaven."
Caroline looked down at the floor between them. "They were considered unclean, bearing the weight of so many sins. They were outcast." She paused a moment; House watched her fidget but said nothing. "That is what the Church would tell you, because the Church is supposed to be the only means of absolution, the only source of comfort in the face of suffering."
She looked up at House again, a challenge in her eyes. "The Church feared them; even today they have been unable to stamp us out completely. They feared us because we ease suffering in ways they can't."
"What the hell does that mean, 'ease suffering'?"
"We take on the burdens of others. We trade our health for their sickness, our rest for their weariness. We heal for them."
House stood up and paced the small room. "So your clinic file, all those infections and injuries, those weren't yours?"
"I have insurance; I can afford the medication. The people I heal can't."
"So you could cure cancer."
Caroline shook her head sadly. "I could cure one person's cancer. And then what help would I be, once I'm dead from it?" She rubbed one hand across her brow.
"And if the wound doesn't heal? You suffer in their stead?"
She looked at the floor again. "It was not meant for that, but yes." Caroline looked up, leaning forward and following him with her gaze. "Doctor Wilson must care a great deal for you, if he took such a burden."
House scrubbed at his face and sank back onto his stool with a sigh. "It's not his. Tell me how to get it back."
Wilson pulled himself out of his car with a little difficulty; the parking lot was gravel so he was extra careful with the placement of his cane and feet. House had called and invited him here, which was unusual enough in and of itself, but when Wilson caught sight of Cuddy pulling up next to him, he was truly surprised.
She grinned as she closed her car door. "He invited you, too, did he?" she asked as she fell into step next to him.
"He actually called me about it," Wilson replied, stepping carefully on the gravel.
Cuddy laughed merrily. "You got the royal treatment. He emailed me."
"I don't feel like waiting for him here," he said as they reached the asphalt path to the field. "Let's find a place to sit, and he can find us there." He smiled and held out his left elbow.
She smiled in response and threaded her arm through his. "An excellent idea."
They sat in the second row of bleachers, allowing Wilson to stretch his leg out without the danger of a passerby tripping on his foot. Players were already on the field, stretching and warming up, obviously wearing padding under their t-shirts. Several players were using long, netted sticks to pass a small ball back and forth.
"Lacrosse?" she asked.
"Looks like it," he replied. "You know anything about lacrosse?"
Again she smiled. "Not a thing."
Even without any idea of what was happening, they enjoyed watching the fast-paced game. It was one of the last warm days of the fall, sunny and breezy, and Cuddy leaned into Wilson's shoulder companionably. Wilson leaned back; if pressed he would have said he was flirting but the real reason was that his leg and back were aching and Cuddy was comfortable.
After a half hour of Cuddy loudly cheering whoever looked to be the underdog, Wilson was getting impatient for House to show up. He kept glancing toward the parking lot, but still no House. Suddenly a player ran up to the bleachers, stopping in front of Cuddy and Wilson.
"Having fun?" the player asked breathlessly from behind his mask. He leaned on his stick and started to pull his helmet off.
"House?" Cuddy half-shouted.
"What are you doing?" Wilson asked at almost the same time.
House grinned at them both, his 'kid-with-money-in-a-candy-store' grin. "I'm showing these college kids a thing or two about the game."
"Looked to me like you were getting your ass kicked," Wilson said.
"Yeah, that too," House gasped. "Isn't it great?" He waved his stick at the field.
"Mmm, fantastic," Wilson replied sourly. He hadn't expected to be irritated by a reminder of what he could no longer do. He had no interest in playing lacrosse, but what galled him was that even the possibility was gone.
Cuddy gently elbowed him in the ribs. "It is pretty exciting to watch."
House nudged Wilson's cane with his stick. "We on for tonight?"
Wilson nodded curtly. "Yeah, fine." He pulled himself to his feet and turned to Cuddy. "This was great, but I'm heading home."
Concern knit Cuddy's eyebrows together. "You all right?"
"I'm fine, just tired." He glanced at House and smiled. "See you."
Cuddy and House watched as Wilson slowly made his way off the bleachers and to the parking lot. She turned to House, waved at the field, and asked, "What's all this about?"
House pulled his helmet back on. "One last fling," he replied softly before turning and heading back to the field.
Chapter 8: Want
House knocked once on Wilson's door, but didn't wait for a reply before letting himself in. "Wilson!" he shouted into the apartment as he closed the door behind him.
"In the kitchen!" Wilson called back. As House came into the kitchen, he asked over his shoulder, "Did you win?"
"No winners, no losers," House replied and opened the refrigerator, a lime-green hulk that matched the stove. "It was a scrimmage."
"How did you get to play, then?"
House pulled out a beer and closed the door. "The promise of new equipment tends to soften coaches right up."
Wilson stopped stirring spices and turned to look at House. "You. Parted with money."
House simply smiled and took a long drink from his beer.
Wilson shook his head and turned back to his skillet. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself."
This time, Wilson rested a hand on the counter and fully turned toward House. "Yes," he said forcefully. "You were...alive out there."
"I wasn't alive before?" House asked quietly.
"Not like that, not like you used to be." Wilson looked at the floor, cleared his throat, and turned back to the stove. "I'm sorry I didn't stay."
"No kidding, you missed me flattening an attackman with a perfect body check." House bounced on the balls of his feet around the kitchen, imitating his moves in the game. He stopped just behind Wilson and watched him toss chicken into the pan. "What're we having?"
Wilson looked back at House with a smirk. "Curry."
Wilson stretched his leg out on the coffee table, absentmindedly rubbing his thigh as he leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling. He heard a soft clink next to him and looked over to see House setting a steaming mug on the end table.
As House settled next to him, Wilson reluctantly lifted his head. "What is that?"
"Chai," House replied and sipped his own drink. "Puts out the fire from your curry."
"Where did...?" Wilson raised one eyebrow and made no move to pick up his mug.
House glanced over and nodded. "Spent a year in India. Mom loves the stuff, when it's made right."
Wilson shook his head and turned back to the television. They watched in silence, the occasional slurp from House the only noise between the two. He looked over at the chai, and back at House. All the years they had known each other, House had never before made him tea.
"You found Caroline."
House's shoulders tightened slightly. "Drink your tea."
That confirmed it. Wilson pushed himself up from the couch and grabbed the mug from the end table. He gimped, caneless, into the kitchen and poured the chai down the drain.
"What the hell did you do that for?" House shouted from the doorway.
Wilson was tempted to break the mug in the sink for good measure. "You found Caroline," he said again.
"You didn't give me any choice!"
"You could have left it alone." Wilson turned and leaned back against the sink.
"How long have you known me?" House leaned a shoulder against the doorframe. "I don't leave things alone. I get what I want. And I want you to give it back."
Wilson chuckled softly and rubbed the back of his neck. "I told you. It's done. Get used to it. I'm not giving it back."
"It's been a month—"
"And you've saved six patients," Wilson interrupted.
"Came close to killing two of them," House growled. He scrubbed at his face, then crossed his arms. "You're not worried about my wings?"
Wilson crossed his own arms in response. "You don't need this pain, House."
"And it was your job to take it, make me all better?" He took two steps into the kitchen, closing the distance between them by half. "The great martyr, suffering for me?"
"I'm not suffering, I'm coping. Because I did the one thing you couldn't: I chose this." Wilson pushed away from the counter and moved toward the door.
House grabbed his elbow as he hobbled past. "You could let me choose it now."
Wilson looked at his friend, at the question and fear in his eyes. "Don't try it again," he said softly before limping away.
House tried again. And again and again. House would try to hand him coffee when Wilson limped into the conference room for a consult. He would show up in the clinic carrying two takeout cups and nonchalantly leave one next to Wilson. One day Wilson turned from his computer to find a steaming red mug sitting on his desk.
Wilson never said anything more about House's attempts; he simply dumped whatever it was and went on lurching through his day.
Wilson finished toweling off after his shower and caught sight of himself in the floor-length mirror on the back of the door. The scar was ugly, there was no denying it: a long trough where thigh muscle should have been, and, down the middle, a ridge of puckered tissue that glowed red when he'd been on his feet too long. But as he stood with his right leg propped out to the side, Wilson noticed for the first time the changes the scar and the pain had forced on the rest of his body.
His left leg seemed more muscled than it had been before, probably from spending more time bearing his weight. His right shoulder and arm were also more defined, more obviously well-used. His forearm looked almost ropy; he rotated his right hand and watched muscles he hadn't seen since college ripple under the skin. His hips seemed to have a permanent tilt from accommodating his new stride, and his left shoulder rolled forward in a slight hunch.
He turned slightly. Whatever spare tire he'd been developing was gone, his stomach now flatter than it had been in some time. Nausea from the pain meds, a general unwillingness to move more than necessary, and a perverse need to pace on bad days had resulted in some not-insignificant weight loss.
Wilson shook his head, turned away from the mirror, and started to get dressed. Taking House's pain had been one thing; living with it had become something else. As winter descended, a deep ache had settled into his leg and shoulder. Everything took longer to do. He felt old.
But not tonight. As he arranged the knot of his tie just so, he smiled. Tonight he had a date, a second date, and maybe, just maybe, he'd get lucky.
"Goooood morning, sunshine!" came a penetrating, damnably cheerful voice.
Without opening his eyes, Wilson muttered, "House. What are you doing here?"
"I was out for a morning stroll," House replied in that same damnably cheerful tone. "I ended up in front of your building. And whaddya know, I have a key!"
Wilson flinched as bright sunlight suddenly assaulted his closed eyelids. He shifted just enough to pull his pillow over his head with a loud groan.
"C'mon, Jimmy," House wheedled from the foot of the bed. "You're supposed to be the morning person. You have a late night?"
Wilson cautiously rolled himself away from the sunlight and pulled the pillow away from his face. He frowned and grumbled, "What do you think?"
House grinned, a slightly disturbing, predatory grin. "I think we both got lucky." He pulled a lacy red panty from his pocket and twirled it around his finger. "Where's yours?"
Wilson's frown intensified. "That better not be—"
"Stalker Girl's?" House chuckled and shook his head. "I'm not an idiot." He tucked the trophy back into his pocket.
Wilson closed his eyes and muttered, "Could have fooled me."
The bed dipped as House sat down. "Must not have been that great; you're alone."
"No, I'm not," Wilson groused. "Kinda wish I was."
"OK, then," House chirped, "I'll tell you about my date."
"Oh, for the love of—"
"I was in this bar, just for the hell of it." House rose and began to pace the small bedroom, ignoring Wilson's groans of protest. "There I was, minding my own business, when this blonde parks herself next to me and orders a martini in the most pissed-off voice you've ever heard."
"Lemme guess, she wanted to screw her guy by screwing you."
The predatory grin was back. "Oh, yes. Came right out and said it, too."
Wilson looked up at the ceiling. "And you, always one to help in a time of need—"
"Her breasts were perfect." House stopped pacing and sighed wistfully. "Not too big, not too small, bounced just right as I screwed her against the wall." House spread his hands and wiggled his fingers to demonstrate.
"How nice for you." Wilson grimaced. "Now get out." He pushed himself up to sit against the headboard and reached for his painkillers.
"I told you mine," House whined.
Wilson tossed back a pill and dry-swallowed it. "I don't want to talk about it."
House looked down at his shoes and shuffled his feet. "She ran when she saw your leg."
"I said, I don't want to talk about it."
House looked back up and narrowed his eyes. "She didn't run, but you couldn't perform."
"House," Wilson sighed, exasperated. "She didn't run; I was fine. We had sex, I came home. End of story." He shifted his feet to the floor and grabbed his cane off the bedpost.
"Not end of story," House replied softly. "You were ready, she was willing, but you had to think about where to put what so it wouldn't hurt. Half of what's fun about sex isn't possible anymore. Knowing you, you tried and tried until the mood was totally gone."
Wilson sat on the edge of the bed with one hand on the nightstand and one hand on his cane. He hung his head and stared at the floor.
House slowly sank down to sit next to him. "So you had crappy sex, and you've been hurting ever since, because crappy sex just doesn't make up for the effort."
Wilson nodded, wishing for just a moment that House had brought coffee with him.
He remembered the smile on House's face when he'd pulled off the lacrosse helmet, the glimpse he had caught of House running past his apartment, the way House had looked like death warmed over in the weeks before he'd been shot, and he felt his resolve return, battered but intact. Wilson heaved himself to his feet with a grunt and forced himself to sound more cheerful. "Come on," he said, tapping House's ankle with his cane, "you wake me up early, you take me out for breakfast."
House rummaged in the conference room kitchenette, then growled in frustration. He swiveled around to Cameron and asked, "Where is it?"
She looked up from the computer screen and blinked. "Where is what?"
"That tea you make, when I have allergies."
"The black walnut and ginger?" She came over to the counter and reached around House. "Right here." She set the teabags on the counter and went back to her computer.
House glowered at her back for a moment, then busied himself with the tea, whispering the words of the ritual so she wouldn't hear him over the music of the stereo. As he went to toss the teabag in the trash, Cameron said, "It's the middle of winter."
"So, you don't have allergies."
House narrowed his eyes as he looked down at the tea, then he turned to Cameron. "Wilson has a cold." When, as expected, Cameron slid immediately into Concerned Face #1, he handed her the mug. "Why don't you take it over to him?"
She smiled and took the mug from him. "I have something else I wanted to ask him about, anyway."
"Hey," House called as she opened the door, "don't tell him it's from me. I've got a reputation to maintain."
Cameron wore a new face, an Awww Face, as she left the conference room.
House nonchalantly strolled out onto his balcony to watch Cameron and Wilson talking in Wilson's office. Wilson looked exhausted, as had become the usual look for Wilson lately, but interested in what Cameron had to say. Every so often he sipped at the tea, and every time, House tensed a different set of muscles until he was twanging like a bowstring while trying to look casual. He was strung so tight that he nearly jumped when Wilson opened his balcony door. He forced himself to relax.
Wilson lurched over to join House at the balcony wall. It must have been a good day; he wasn't using his cane. House raised his eyebrows and nodded questioningly at the mug he was holding. "Cameron," Wilson replied, waving the mug before taking a drink. House tensed again, feeling a knot in his right shoulder.
"Smells good." House looked out on the parking lot and waited for his leg to start hurting again. He thought of his last two Vicodin, tucked safely in his shirt pocket next to his pounding heart. Now that he'd finally succeeded in getting Wilson to drink, they wouldn't be his last two Vicodin.
"She brought me another article." Wilson frowned at House. "You should read it."
House leaned forward and dropped his palms on the low wall. "Probably another boring patient-rights diatribe," he said sourly. He scrubbed his right palm hard against the concrete and was surprised by how much it hurt. The callus wasn't appearing there like it should.
Wilson sipped again at his tea. "Actually, it was about balancing patient consent while making sure doctors can do their jobs."
"Hmm," House snorted. "Maybe she's learning something after all."
Wilson chuckled, but said no more. They stood in silence, almost shoulder to shoulder, watching the traffic below them. Every so often, House shifted his weight from foot to foot, and he hoped Wilson just attributed it to his natural restlessness. Finally Wilson drained his mug and set it on the wall between them. "Tell Cameron thanks, that was good." He turned to go back into his office.
House straightened and picked up the mug, watching Wilson limp away with narrow eyes. He felt fine, better than fine. Something was wrong.
It was a long shot that Caroline would be volunteering, but House couldn't wait until the weekend. He slipped into the kitchen through the alley door, looking around for a familiar face.
He spotted her coming around a corner, a large mixing bowl in her arms. In two swift steps he caught up to her and took the bowl away. "I need to talk to you," he growled as he set the bowl on a counter.
She stopped, hands on her hips, and frowned at him. "Doctor House, I really wish you'd leave me alone." She picked up the bowl and walked back the way she had come.
He followed on her heels, easily keeping up with her staccato strides. "You'll notice I'm not limping."
"Rather hard to miss," she replied over her shoulder and ducked around a corner.
"What didn't you tell me?"
"I told you everything." Caroline pulled open a walk-in freezer door and stepped inside.
House followed and let the door fall almost closed behind them. He had to duck in the small space, leaving him crowding her from behind and above. "You did not tell me everything. Because I tried it, and it didn't work."
Leaving the bowl on a stack of boxes, she spun to face him. "But I did tell you. I told you the same thing I told Doctor Wilson."
"Then why does he still have my scar?" House resisted the urge to grab her by the shoulders and shake.
She wrapped her arms around her middle and started to shiver. Looking down at the floor, she said softly, "I don't know. Something must have been missing."
He shifted to the left, in between some shelves; there was no room to pace but he needed to move. "I did everything you told me. I made tea, I said the words, I concentrated on the change, all of it. Wilson drank the tea, and nothing happened."
Caroline stepped toward the door. She turned to him and said, so softly he could barely hear over the hum of the compressor, "The words aren't enough; it's driven by will. You have to want it to happen." Then she opened the door and slipped out.
House stood and watched the door drift half-closed, shocked into silence for the first time in his life.
The bike rumbled as House sat at the intersection, waiting to turn. He shouldn't have taken it out tonight; it was viciously cold and the fine mist made the streets unpredictable, but he needed to think. He needed to get out on some open roads, out of the city, and let the bike try to keep up with his brain. He didn't want to think about what Caroline had said while he was sitting still.
But he couldn't help thinking about it as he sat at the stoplight, so he was startled by the light change and the horn behind him. He peeled out from a standstill and revved the engine around the corner, forgetting for a just-long-enough moment about the slick street. The tires started to slip, the bike tipped, and House had no time to react. The bike slid on its side, straight for the building around the corner. By some miracle he missed other cars, lightposts and garbage cans, only to slam rear-wheel first into the unforgiving brick.
House felt his left leg crumple between the bike, the ground, and the wall. As everything but the front wheel came to a stop, he rested his helmet against the pavement. As he heard running feet behind him, he became aware of a hot, screaming pain radiating from his left knee.
Chapter 9: Resolution
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the idiot genius, Gregory House."
House's eyes popped open. Wilson, standing at the foot of the hospital bed, watched as House's expression went from surprise to shame to grumpy irritation.
"What are you doing here?"
Wilson leaned on the footboard. "I was going to ask you the same thing, but I can see for myself." He waved his cane over the bed. House was lying awkwardly, his right half covered with a blanket, his left half propped on pillows from hip to ankle. His entire left leg was bandaged, with an ice pack over the not-completely-straight knee.
House shifted, seeking a less uncomfortable position. "It's not as bad as it looks," he mumbled.
"Not as bad as it looks?" Wilson half-shouted, then he remembered they weren't in a private room, but in the ER. He hooked his cane into the curtain rings, drawing them around the bed, and he imagined he was drawing his composure back around him the same way. In a more conversational tone, he said, "It looks to me like you fucked up your leg."
House had been watching him warily, but the lack of yelling relaxed him. He smirked and replied, "Your powers of observation remain keen."
Wilson leaned on the end of the bed again. "It looks to me like I owe you an I told you so." House's smirk melted away with the low fury in Wilson's voice. "It looks to me like you miss the pills and the cane so much that you want to leave both of us in pain."
"Come on, Wilson," House said weakly. He started picking at the hospital blanket to avoid Wilson's gaze.
"Come on? Come on? I've stood by and watched you do a lot of stupid shit. I've even helped you with some of it. But this..." Wilson rubbed the back of his neck and sighed through his nose. "I can't believe you. After all these months, after all I've done—"
"After all you've done?" House interrupted loudly. "After all you've done? You weren't a martyr, you said. You chose it, you said. Now you want to sit on your high handicapped horse and lecture me? I've got news for you: being miserable doesn't make you better than anybody else." House scowled pointedly. "Being miserable doesn't make you noble."
"You asshole," Wilson hissed, leaning over the bed. "I didn't expect gratitude from you. I didn't want pity or thanks or a new apartment. I wanted my friend back. Now here you sit, road rash and all, in Princeton fucking General waiting to find out if you'll walk again. And this time there's nobody to blame but yourself. I should give it back, then you'd be the best cripple ever. You'd have two limps."
House snorted, surprised laughter turning to sputtering as he tried to suppress it. He gasped helplessly and pointed at the chart on the foot of the bed.
"What are you on?" Wilson asked, looking in the chart. His frown eased as he read, then he started to chuckle. He looked sheepishly back at House, who was finally getting himself under control. "You're still an ass."
"With a dislocated kneecap and a torn LCL. Little surgery, little rehab, I'll be fine." House shrugged. "Could've been worse."
Wilson's smile disappeared. "Exactly. It could have been a lot worse."
House looked away and said softly, "I know."
"You could have lost your leg."
"You could be paralyzed."
"You could be dead."
House's jaw twitched, and he nodded, finally looking back at Wilson. "I know."
Wilson sighed and pressed his lips together. The simple acknowledgement was the closest House would ever come to an apology. He decided he'd pushed the point long enough and changed the subject. "Where's your jacket?"
"Managed to save it," House replied and waved at a paper bag on the nightstand. "The jeans are another story." He picked up the blanket, and Wilson could see the emergency personnel had shredded the left leg of the jeans, but House was still wearing what was left. "They were pissed I didn't let them cut them off completely."
"How do you plan to get them off?"
House looked down at his lap, then at the bandages encasing his leg. "I'll Flo-Jo it." He shifted again, pulling the ice pack off his knee. "Can we go home yet?"
"I thought you said you needed surgery." Wilson lowered himself into the chair next to the bed with a grunt.
House waved dismissively. "I'm not letting these clowns touch anything. Tomlinson's got me scheduled for tomorrow afternoon."
"You called Tomlinson and didn't call me."
Again House shrugged. "Tomlinson may be a bitch, but she doesn't bitch at me."
Before Wilson could reply, a nurse pulled the curtains open. "Your paperwork will be done soon. Will you need help with these?" She held out a set of scrubs and backed away when House grabbed them roughly and glared at her.
"I'm sorry," Wilson said smoothly as he rose to his feet. "Pain makes him cranky." He looked pointedly at House, who still wore a sullen glare. He moved to follow the nurse back to the desk. "Do you need me to sign anything? It'll be better for all of us if we get him out of your hair. And I wonder if we could get some scissors?"
She returned Wilson's apologetic smile and led him through the last of the paperwork. By the time Wilson got back to House's bed, House had pulled the shirt on.
Wilson leaned the crutches he was carrying against the bed, hooked his cane over the footboard, and pulled the curtains closed again. He reached in his pocket for the scissors. "You want to do the honors, or should I?"
House sullenly grabbed the scissors and leaned back to give himself room to cut the waistband of the jeans. As he got the left side free, he mumbled, "These were my favorite pair." When he was finished, Wilson traded him the scissors for the scrub pants. House grunted in frustration when he couldn't bend his left knee enough to get the pants over his ankle.
"Here." Wilson sighed and pulled the pants around House's lower legs.
"You didn't need to apologize for me," House grumbled as he shifted his legs over the side of the bed. He carefully pulled the pants over his swollen knee.
"If I hadn't, you'd be waiting another half-hour for your crutches," Wilson pointed out as House gingerly lowered his feet to the floor. "This way we'll get out of here some time before two."
House pushed away from the bed with one hand, the other still holding up his pants, and he hissed as his left leg took too much of his weight. He leaned away from the pain and overbalanced. Blindly he flailed with his free arm, looking for something to keep him from hitting the floor, and he grabbed Wilson's shoulder.
Wilson had been expecting it. Braced on his good leg, he grabbed House around the ribs. They swayed for a moment as House pulled the scrubs up over his hips. When their eyes met, they smiled.
"What a pair," House muttered as Wilson said, "Now this is a Hallmark moment." They began to laugh, braced hip-to-hip on the two good legs between them.
Wilson tried to bring himself under control. "This is..." he gasped, "this is not funny."
"Yeah," House barked. "Except it is." He let go of Wilson and braced himself against the bed. "I'll take my crutches now, Limpy."
Wilson cautiously shifted around to the end of the bed and passed the first crutch over to House. "Your chariot awaits, Gimpy."
"Do you need anything else?" Wilson asked, leaning hard on his cane and trying to hide his exhaustion.
He knew he'd failed when House replied, "I need you to get some sleep."
"I'd like nothing better myself." Wilson looked around the bedroom. House was settled in his bed, pillows under his left knee and his shoulders. The crutches were in easy reach. A bottle of water and a bottle of prescription-strength ibuprofen sat on the nightstand. "You're all set?"
"You're hurting." House propped himself up on his elbows and watched as Wilson started toward the door. "You need narcotics and sleep, in that order."
Wilson stopped and leaned his free hand against the door frame. "I'll pick you up in the morning."
"You could stay here, save yourself the trouble."
"Your couch is not a place for a cripple to spend the night. I live four blocks away."
"Yeah, home isn't far, but you still have to drive there, which means your head won't hit the pillow for at least a half-hour. You stay here you could be asleep in under five minutes."
Wilson hung his head and stared at his shoes. He thought about maneuvering out of the apartment, into his car, back out of his car, into his own apartment. His vision was already doubling dangerously; a cripple falling asleep on his feet was nothing but trouble. He looked over his shoulder at House, who patted the empty side of the bed.
"I won't kick you; you don't kick me, we'll be fine."
"I'll let you borrow my fuzzy snowman pajamas," House coaxed.
This got Wilson to step away from the door and turn all the way back to House. "You don't have fuzzy snowman pajamas."
House smiled that 'I know I won' smile and tilted his head at the dresser near the door. "Third drawer, under all the sweats." He lowered himself back into the pillows with a satisfied grunt as Wilson shuffled to the dresser.
Wilson pushed aside several layers of balled-up sweatshirts and threadbare pajama pants to find a perfectly folded shirt at the bottom. As he pulled it out of the drawer, his eyes crossed slightly in response to the lurid red-and-white print on the soft flannel. The snowmen on the shirt looked like they were rioting. He looked back at House and raised his eyebrows.
House's eyes were already closed, but he said, "Dad hated them."
Wilson looked back at the shirt. No tag at the collar. A wobbly seam on the placket that would never have made it out a factory door. Two different colored buttons. In a flash, he imagined the whole story: House, wounded from Stacy's betrayal and abandonment, hobbling around his parents' house and complaining about his frugal father's unwillingess to turn up the heat. Blythe, sewing pajamas to keep her son warm, using fabric that only someone insane would wear.
Even if he asked, he would probably never get the real story out of House, and he rather liked his version. Wilson smiled and tucked the shirt back into the drawer, grabbing a t-shirt and a pair of striped pants instead. A gentle snore followed him from the bedroom as he went into the bathroom to change.
"So, did it work?"
"Hmmm?" Wilson opened his eyes to a dark but familiar ceiling, then allowed his eyes to slide closed again.
He wasn't dreaming, because the low rumble beside him continued, "In the ER you said you did it because you wanted your friend back. Did it work?"
"The fact that you're starting this conversation when I'm barely conscious says yes."
The bed shook a little as House shifted his arms behind his head. "I don't think I remember him," he said softly.
"Who?" Wilson turned onto his side, obviously losing his battle to achieve wakefulness.
"Your friend. From before."
"I do," Wilson slurred, reaching his hand behind him to awkwardly pat House's hip. "H's righ' here."
House listened as Wilson's breathing evened and slowed. He waited a long time for sleep to come back to him.
Tomlinson and her team were excellent doctors, and House's surgery went without incident. That he was too sedated to talk certainly helped. House was given a brace, crutches, and a strict physical therapy schedule. Both Wilson and Cuddy expressed surprise at how compliant House was with the rehab.
House had tried to schedule his physical therapy at the same time as his clinic hours, but Cuddy had gotten there first, so House ended up doing his PT in the early morning hours, before most of the hospital was awake. A week and a half after the accident, Cuddy found him there.
On an exercise mat in the corner, House was on his back, raising and lowering his left leg in time with Freddie Mercury's chanting about working hard (every day of his life). He saw the top of the door open and close, and he hit the remote to turn the stereo up. As Cuddy rounded the stair machine, House lay back and sang at the top of his lungs.
"Can any-body find me. . .SOMEBODY TOOOOOOOOO—" and there was no way House was hitting Freddie's glory note, but he was giving it a try anyway; the sour look on Cuddy's face was worth it as he threw his arms out, inviting her to join in, "—loo-oo-ve!"
"Talk about setting a Herculean task," Cuddy said, as she perched on the edge of the nearest treadmill. She raised one eyebrow. "Queen? Seriously?"
House reached for the remote and turned the music down. "Musical genius knows no boundaries, Cuddy." At her smirk, he admitted, "Wilson added the whole three-disc Greatest Hits to avenge my replacing Les Mis with Hillary Duff on his." He looked over at her, but her ankles were crossed demurely, so his view wasn't as good as it should have been. "Checking up on me?"
"Actually, I'm not here to talk about you."
She sighed. "I'm worried about Wilson."
He sat up, wrapping an arm around his right knee and leaving his left leg stretched out in front of him. "Wilson's fine."
Cuddy shook her head, just a little. She had straightened her hair this morning, and House missed the bounce of her curls. "He's not. His patient load is down."
"So? Mine's almost nonexistent."
"You're not Oncology. Wilson has been assigning more new patients to his staff; his caseload is two-thirds what it was at this time last year."
House shrugged. "His patient load was the heaviest of any Oncology department head on the Eastern seaboard. It's good that he's cut back." He scooted over to the bench and pulled himself off the floor.
"Other department heads don't have his talent with patients, especially with difficult cases. People come here to be treated by Doctor Wilson, and he never used to turn them away." She stood up and crossed her arms. "He's behind on his paperwork."
At this House looked up sharply from fastening the brace around his leg. Wilson was never behind. On anything. He frowned. "I assume you're prescribing for him."
"You know I can't tell you that."
"I'm not prescribing for him. He can't show anyone else; ergo, you're it. What's he on?"
"Still on Vicodin?"
Cuddy shook her head again. "I'm worried about him, House." She stepped closer and lightly gripped his elbow. "He's lost weight; he's withdrawn." She leaned in close and said softly, "You know what I'm talking about, don't you? You saw it a long time ago."
House nodded, unable to look at her directly.
"I just want you to keep an eye on him. He's not himself." She squeezed his arm and left him leaning against the bench.
As the door swished closed behind her, House murmured, "I know. He's me."
"What the hell is that?" House poked a finger into Wilson's Tupperware container. Wilson jabbed the back of the intruding hand with a fork, and House quickly pulled his hand back and licked his finger.
"It's my lunch," Wilson replied and pointedly ignored House as he started to eat. The first hint of spring meant that they were sitting outside; the fact that the weather merely hinted of spring meant that they were the only ones sitting outside. Wilson tried to eat quickly; if they were out there too long, his leg was going to start protesting.
House leaned over, sniffed ostentatiously, and watched Wilson eat from six inches away. "Smells...decent."
"It has eggplant," Wilson warned around a mouthful of food. He smirked a little when House couldn't sit back fast enough.
"Eugh," House grunted and made his best disgusted face. "How could you?"
"Eat moussaka? It's delicious."
"Make something that I don't like."
"I've found it's an effective method of ensuring that I don't go hungry." Wilson looked entirely unapologetic as he chewed.
"What am I supposed to eat?" House whined.
Wilson pointed his fork at the cafeteria doors. "The hospital cafeteria offers a large selection of meal choices for visitor and staff member alike."
House's disgusted face reappeared. "That from the hospital brochure? Cuddy needs a new copy writer." He heaved himself out of his chair and disappeared into the cafeteria.
Wilson was contemplating saving his brownie for later when House returned. From the way House eyeballed the brownie while he was unwrapping his sandwich, Wilson decided to finish his dessert before House had the chance to swipe it.
"I've got it," House announced before taking a bite of his sandwich. "The hospital cafeteria provides enough calories that visitors won't expire of starvation while on premises. Random hospital-borne infections will kill you faster than the food, but not by much."
Wilson snorted. "You need to send that to Cuddy right away."
"I could rewrite all the brochures. People would actually read the STD ones."
"Breast exams should be completed monthly by Doctor House."
"Nooo," House said loudly. "Absolutely not. There's a reason I'm not a gynecologist."
Wilson raised his eyebrows and gave House a look.
"When I was fifteen, I made a root beer float with a half-gallon of ice cream and a gallon of root beer."
"Holy shit," Wilson muttered, turning slightly green.
House smirked. "I learned early on it's possible to have too much of a good thing. Give me infectious disease any day." As if on cue, House's pager went off. "Ah, Groucho's LP results are back." House tossed his garbage at the can as Wilson grabbed his cane. "Let's go see what the kids failed to diagnose this time."
They headed for the elevator together: Wilson leaning stiffly on his cane and trying to warm his leg back up, House limping only slightly. Another two weeks and he'd be cleared to run again.
House was barely listening as Wilson mused about what could be wrong with the patient. He was busy watching Wilson walk, and especially watching himself walk next to Wilson. It wasn't until they reached the elevator that he finally realized why walking with Wilson had been bothering him.
He always made sure he was on Wilson's left side, worried that he'd knock the cane out from under his friend. Wilson had never seemed to care where he walked in relation to House; he used to match House's lopsided stride gracefully, unconsciously, closely. House couldn't do it. He couldn't bring himself shoulder-to-shoulder with a limping Wilson. He suspected he would never be as comfortable walking next to Wilson as Wilson used to be walking next to him.
As they stood in the elevator, House wondered if Wilson felt the distance.
The week House was cleared to start running again, winter reminded everyone it wasn't quite finished by unleashing a nasty ice storm. House's first run in two months was spent on the treadmill. Wilson came by with a bottle of water, but he didn't stay to talk.
For House's second run, the sidewalks had been mostly cleared, and he reveled in the burn of the cold air in his lungs. He didn't run far, but he loved it, especially the fact that his knee had been blessedly silent and cooperative. He had started his cooldown walk when he reached Wilson's block, humming along with his music as he passed the homeless guy lying on the sidewalk in front of Wilson's building.
Until the homeless guy rolled onto his back as he passed.
House stopped, pulling one earbud out of his ear and tilting his head. That homeless guy—
"House." Low, almost a groan.
He spun around to see the homeless guy, flat on his back on the sidewalk. Except the homeless guy wasn't homeless; he was Wilson.
In two easy strides House reached him and knelt down. He started to check Wilson over when his wrist was grabbed in a viselike grip.
"M'fine," Wilson gasped. "Inside." He tried to sit up, but the movement made the last of the color disappear from his face and he fell back with a moan.
"You're not fine," House growled. The cane was trapped under Wilson; House decided he'd have to come back for it. He gently pulled Wilson into a sitting position, ignoring the pained hiss the movement caused. He wrapped his arms around Wilson's chest and said into his ear, "All right, going up. You ready?"
"No," Wilson grumbled, shivering, "I want my couch."
"Sooner we go," House grunted and heaved them both to a stand.
Wilson wrapped his arms around House's shoulders and whimpered into House's neck. "Oh shit, oh shit, oh, shit," he panted.
"Hold on to me," House mumbled and started them both for the door, practically carrying the near-limp and shaking body of his friend. He knew just how Wilson felt; he'd always hated the helplessness, the weakness, almost more than the pain. He half-hoped Wilson would pass out before he broke down completely.
They fumbled their way into the apartment, and House eased Wilson onto the couch. After he gingerly lifted Wilson's feet onto the cushions, he went to get a glass of water. Wilson already had the pill bottle out of his coat pocket by the time House returned, and he gratefully accepted the glass. He looked pointedly at the open apartment door, and House remembered the cane was still on the sidewalk.
House scrubbed at the dampness on his neck and shoulder as he returned to the apartment. Wilson hadn't moved, except to tuck the pill bottle back in his pocket and throw one arm over his face. House stood next to the couch, regarding his shivering friend, and asked, "Wanna tell me what happened?"
"Ice happened. Didn't see it."
"How long were you there?"
Wilson lowered his arm and looked at the ceiling with red-rimmed eyes. "No clue. Too long."
"Where's your phone?"
Wilson waved half-heartedly at the side table by the door. The phone was cradled in its charger.
"Well, that was stupid." House turned back, exasperated. "Did all the times you picked me up out of the snow teach you nothing?"
"Yeah." Wilson finally looked over at House. "That as soon as I got you on your feet you'd go right back to it."
House nodded, conceding the point. "We need to get you out of those wet clothes." He moved to grab the coat, but Wilson waved him off.
"Give the pills some time, would you? I'm not that cold."
"He stutters through blue lips," House countered before throwing up his hands in defeat. "OK. We'll do it your way."
"You should go home, shower and change," Wilson suggested and turned his attention back to the ceiling. "I'm not getting up for a while yet."
House nodded again, then turned toward the door. He was halfway across the room when he heard Wilson mumble, "Maybe I should get rid of the damn thing."
He turned back and stared for a moment. "Are you ... ready to give it back?"
"Mmmmm. Not to you." Wilson shook his head. "Cut it off."
House felt his knees start to buckle; he barely made it back to the coffee table to sit down in front of the couch. He almost didn't get the question out. "Amputation?"
Wilson grimaced with a fresh wave of pain and nodded. "No takebacks."
"Don't be an idiot," House snapped, grateful that at least his standard vocabulary hadn't deserted him. "Amputation is not a solution."
"It'd be gone."
"Your mobility would be gone."
"Some mobility," Wilson said bitterly.
"They'd have to take from the hip down," House argued, quietly but forcefully. "Walking with a prosthesis would be almost impossible; you'd be on crutches at best."
"It wouldn't hurt like this," Wilson whispered and squeezed his eyes closed.
House swallowed and watched as a single tear escaped Wilson's eyelashes. "That's the bitch of it," he said gently. "It probably would. Those nerves have been firing pain signals for years—"
"—and we have to assume it's the same with you; you got everything else. Amputation won't shut those nerves down, and you know that. You'll be stuck with phantom pain, hurting without anything to bitch at."
Wilson nodded weakly. The pills were beginning to do their work; his face had begun to regain its color and he was visibly relaxing. "I know," he sighed. "I just want it gone."
"Then give it back."
"No!" Wilson said loudly, opening his eyes and glowering at House. "I want it gone." He relaxed back into the pillow and turned his face toward the back of the couch. "I don't want you to have it, either," he said, so softly House barely heard him.
"Can't always get what you want," House replied, just as softly.
They sat for a long moment, each lost in their own thoughts, until Wilson took a deep breath and turned back to House. "How about dry clothes and hot coffee?" he asked with a weak smile.
House smiled back and stretched out his hand. "That, we can do."
Cuddy settled herself behind her desk and turned on her computer. She shuffled through stacks of files; a new batch of pediatrics interns was starting today and she would need to spend time there, which meant the afternoon's paperwork needed to get done this morning. She was so focused on her day that she barely twitched when she saw House unfold himself from her armchair in the corner.
"How nice to see you here on time," she greeted him.
"I'd be early more often if you gave me some incentive to be here," he leered as he walked up to the desk.
"Like a morning quickie in the boss's office?"
He leaned over the desk and pointedly looked down her blouse. "Well, since you brought it up..."
Cuddy leaned back in her chair and looked speculatively up at him. "You wouldn't need all that much time. But then, I'd have to offer the same benefits to all my department heads."
House cocked his head to one side with a lecherous smirk. "With your breasts and her legs—can I watch your mornings with Mitchell?"
"Oh, please. There'd be nothing left of you but a smoking grease-spot on the carpet." She sat forward and gave him a serious look. "What are you here for, House?"
House's shoulders stiffened, and he straightened up, glancing out the window over Cuddy's head. "Has Wilson been upping his meds?"
"You know I can't tell you that. Doctor-patient—"
"Oh, screw HIPAA!" House half-shouted. "Unlike you, I am intimately familiar with his pain. The man is walking around with my scar, and I think that entitles me to a kink in the damn privacy laws. Now, what is he taking?"
She had sat back in her chair during his rant, and now she folded her hands in her lap and regarded him calmly. "What changed?"
"What?" he asked, surprised enough to collapse into the chair in front of the desk.
"This is only the second time you've asked me about Wilson's meds. You didn't just start caring about this now, so what changed? Did Wilson stop talking to you about it?"
House replied, "He never talked to me about it, but I knew anyway. I know he's tried gabapentin and oxycodone." He paused and rubbed at his chin. "I don't think he cared how I found out, or that I watched him, at first. Problem is, now he does care."
Cuddy's expression softened into a near-smile. "And he knows you, so he's very good at keeping it from you."
"Did he start...caring...after your accident?" At House's slow nod, she reached into her desk and pulled out a file. "We were going to try amitriptyline—"
"Wilson's not depressed."
"Now who's the idiot? You know low-dose antidepressants can help with chronic pain."
House scowled sourly and waved for her to continue.
"After your accident, Wilson changed his mind. He's back on Vicodin, almost sixty milligrams a day."
"Shit," he growled, then stood up suddenly and headed for the door.
"House?" Cuddy's question made him pause and turn back to her. His expression reminded her of the night he'd showed up in her bedroom, the night Wilson had first taken the pain.
"Don't tell him you talked to me," he said softly before letting the door fall closed behind him.
A large envelope landed on Wilson's desk with a THWACK! Wilson barely flinched and didn't turn from his computer monitor as House settled himself into a chair.
"Wanna tell me what that's all about?" House asked, propping his ankles on a corner of the desk.
Wilson turned and glanced at the envelope. "No idea. I assume you opened it?"
"It was in my mail." House looked up at the ceiling. "Understandable, really, considering it's from the New Jersey Pain Institute. But why would it be addressed to you?"
"I'm an oncologist. I handle pain management for my patients."
"Ah, but all the information in that envelope is for chronic pain." House dropped his feet to the floor and leaned forward. "They were very adamant that they treat pain cancer docs won't touch."
Finally Wilson turned away from his computer. He pushed his chair backward, rolling over to a bookshelf, and pulled an accordion file from the bottom shelf. As he set the file on his desk he said, "I've kept a file on chronic pain for almost seven years." He stuffed the envelope into the file without looking at the contents.
"But it's different now that it's you."
Wilson snorted, levering himself toward the door and grabbing his cane in one smooth movement. "I need to walk."
House followed him out into the hallway. "When it was me, you kept it just in case, just hoping I would decide I needed a change and you could whip out that file and say, 'I have some ideas.' Now it's you, and you didn't even bother to open the envelope."
"Not interested in having this conversation," Wilson muttered and lurched faster.
House easily kept pace and talked forcefully, but just loud enough for Wilson to hear. "I'm betting you researched every pain clinic in the Tri-State area. Got up-to-date material when you took it. You were gonna be so good at this, gonna manage your pain, get it under control. So what happened?"
Wilson kept walking, eyes fixed firmly on the floor ahead of him.
"I'm not going away."
With an exasperated sigh, Wilson turned and opened a door. House followed him into the empty oncology lounge.
The door had barely closed when Wilson rounded on him. "What do you want from me?"
Nothing like the direct approach. "What are you taking?"
Wilson snorted. "I need to walk." He started pacing a lap around the room.
House didn't follow; he just leaned against the door and watched Wilson lurch around the room. "Let me rephrase: How much are you taking?"
Without breaking stride, Wilson huffed, "What's it to you?"
"How bad is it?"
"What do you think?" Wilson was circling the lounge, punching his cane into the floor with each jerky step.
"Why give up on pain clinics?"
"All this time, you never once wanted to discuss it. I was your doctor, I was prescribing for you, and you wouldn't even tell me what this felt like, you just settled on a scrip you liked and popped it like candy because you knew best. If I had suggested a pain clinic, a new doctor, what would you have said?"
"New doctor means new questions. New doctor means learning to trust somebody else, make yourself the patient. Pain clinic means talking about how you feel, months of trial-and-error and pain while you figure out what really works best. Means getting off the pills that are cutting your liver to shreds, but hey, who cares about liver damage when you can feel so fucking good in the meantime?"
Wilson stopped pacing and leaned wearily against the couch in the middle of the room, his back to House. "I know now what you were saying when you said Vicodin takes away the pain. It..." a deep breath, "softens the edges, of everything." He dropped his head to gaze at the floor, and his shoulders slumped as his anger left him. "Take enough, you're not just pain-free. You're numb."
House stepped around the couch to lean next to Wilson. "So, your quest to Single White Female my life is nearly complete."
"What?" Wilson asked, the word twisting into a short, sour bark.
"Well, you've got the scar, you're working on the addiction." House gently poked Wilson in the side with his elbow. "It'll take a lot more than magic to get the startling good looks."
"And give up my boyish charm? I think not."
"So you're back on Vicodin," House said quietly. "How much?"
"Enough," Wilson replied, just as quietly.
"The pain's gotten worse?"
As if to answer, Wilson shrugged. "I'm not addicted."
House turned his head sharply, but Wilson kept his gaze fixed on the industrial-gray carpet.
"But I could be," he said, barely above a whisper. "An extra here, just before delivering a terminal diagnosis. An extra there, before an emergency department meeting because my attendings are in revolt over something. It would be easy."
"Life's easier when it's fuzzy," House admitted.
"I actually had extra the other day, when you had half the nursing staff threatening to resign," Wilson said and poked House's shoe with the tip of his cane. "The problem with running interference for you is we don't run the same speed anymore."
"You're going to tell me I can't go on like this, but I'm fine."
"You just told me—"
"You could try a ketamine—"
"No. Absolutely not." Wilson pushed away from the couch.
House stood up too, but didn't follow Wilson as he started to pace again. "It worked for me."
"For three months." Wilson shook his head, giving his stride a dangerous-looking tilt before he righted himself with his next step. "I'm not the gambler you are, House. I couldn't do it."
"I have a patient," Wilson said abruptly, his hand on the door handle. He looked back, finally meeting House's eyes. "I'm fine. I'll be fine. Bring the beer and the movies tonight."
In spite of a line at the video store, House managed to beat Wilson home. With the beer chilling in the refrigerator, he dropped onto the couch and scowled at the blank TV screen. He let his gaze roam the apartment, looking for anything out of place, any potential clues to Wilson's well-being. If anything, the place was too clean.
He pulled himself off the couch and started pacing the apartment, not really knowing what he was hunting for but driven by an inkling of what he might find. He glanced briefly in the kitchen, but dismissed it as too obvious. He scoured the bedroom, pulling open dresser drawers and carefully checking the contents of the nightstand. Satisfied he'd put the room back the way it was, he headed back to the living room and scanned the bookshelves before his gaze came to rest on the garden gnome.
The gnome sat on the bricks in front of the fireplace, grinning crookedly. House narrowed his eyes. The gnome was set rather haphazardly on the bricks, and one corner was caught on the slightly raised lip at the edge. He went over to the fireplace, telling himself he just wanted to straighten it, doing his best to ignore the gnawing in the pit of his stomach.
House was surprised that he was surprised to feel something soft as he slid his fingers underneath the heavy concrete gnome. He wasn't one for hoping, and he generally tried his best not to be caught off-guard by his feelings. "I wasn't aware you had a gooey center," he muttered to the gnome and carefully tipped the thing over.
A chill danced up his spine as he pulled out a small leather pouch. He could feel the weight of a glass bottle in his palm, and he rocked back on his heels. He looked at the pouch for a long moment, unwilling to open it. A trickle of sweat down his back finally spurred him to undo the zipper and lay the pouch open in his lap.
Three syringes in sealed plastic. Rubber tubing. A small bottle of morphine, with no prescription information.
"Jesus, Wilson," he muttered.
I'm not addicted.
Then what the hell was this?
But I could be.
It would be easy.
The clear liquid in the bottle was seduction, was the bliss of complete freedom from care, from worry, from pain. House had feared that seduction and had hidden his own stash in a place of last resort. His stomach dropped as he remembered the despair he had felt when that last resort had been breached.
But Wilson... Wilson had this stuff in his goddamned gnome in the middle of the living room. So he didn't fear it; maybe he wasn't like House, maybe he had more resistance in him, maybe he wanted the simple comfort in knowing relief was close by.
Or maybe he's already using it, and wants it in easy reach.
House shuddered again, blinking back the heat that suddenly sprang up behind his eyelids. Carefully, he zipped up the case and tucked it back inside the gnome. He even placed the gnome back exactly as it had been. The search had taken too long; he didn't have time to dispose of the morphine before Wilson got home.
"You don't get him, you bitch," he whispered. "You don't get Wilson."
Neither of House's vehicles were in sight as Wilson arrived home, so he was surprised to find House sprawled on his couch. He waved the remote as Wilson dropped his keys on the table.
"Where's the food?" House whined. "I'm starving."
"Like you didn't just help yourself to the muffins," Wilson called back as he hung up his coat, relieved that House didn't appear to want to revisit the afternoon's conversation.
House had heaved himself out of the couch and was in the kitchen before Wilson turned around. "There's muffins?"
"House—" Wilson was interrupted by the knock of the delivery girl.
House was settling himself back on the couch when Wilson turned around with the pizza. Two glasses of beer and four muffins sat on the coffee table, and Wilson knew better than to ask how House had managed to carry them all. He simply carried the pizza over and sat down next to House.
They ate in companionable silence as The Ugly barely escaped his hanging and The Bad butchered his way across the desert. As they nursed their second round of beer, and The Ugly and his brother discussed the mistakes of their lives, House glanced at Wilson and said, quietly, "Thank you."
Wilson turned to look at House, who had returned his attention to the TV. "For?"
House shifted uncomfortably. "For the pizza."
"You're welcome," Wilson replied. He allowed himself a smile as he turned back to the TV. "For all of it."
"You were right, you know."
"It's not uncommon." House waited, his eyes on the movie, as Wilson lifted his foot onto the coffee table.
"I gave up on pain clinics." Wilson was grateful for House's silence. When House decided to listen, he did just that, and Wilson was glad of it now. "When half your daily willpower is used up by getting out of bed in the morning, it's hard to find the energy to do something different with the rest of the day."
"There's no prize for 'Best Cripple Ever,'" House said with a glint of a smile.
Wilson half-smiled in return. "There should be, though."
"Only be worth it if there's a cash prize."
"Or maybe strippers."
Wilson couldn't help but grin at House's laughter.
As the Mexican standoff onscreen reached its peak, House glanced over to see Wilson reclined against the couch cushions, snoring softly. He silently made his way to the kitchen when The Good rode off in triumph. He returned as the credits rolled.
House sat down on the coffee table directly in front of Wilson. "Hey, Wilson," he said softly. When he got no response, he said louder, "Jimmy."
Wilson opened his eyes, looked down at the mug House held in his hands, then back at his friend. "You know better than that," he whispered roughly.
House curled both hands around the warm stoneware. He couldn't hold Wilson's gaze, so he talked down at the liquid instead. "I know you're not fine." Wilson's whole body flinched, and House knew he was looking at the gnome, but he didn't look up. Let Wilson think what he would about how much House knew.
Wilson relaxed, in a piecemeal way that said it was forced. House watched him reach over. Even after all this time, the rough calluses looked wrong on Wilson's hand. House said, "This is not your pain to bear."
"I chose it, House," Wilson whispered. He squeezed House's wrist to get him to look up and meet his eyes. "I would choose it again. I would carry your burden."
House swallowed. "You've carried it long enough." He dropped his gaze back to the mug, and the hand on his wrist. He was glad Wilson hadn't rolled his sleeves up very far.
"I couldn't watch it crush you."
House let out a harsh chuckle. "So you pushed me out of the way of the falling piano?"
"It's more of a slow-moving steamroller, don't you think?"
House shifted the mug, freeing a hand to wrap around Wilson's calloused one. "Have I ever ... asked you for anything?"
Wilson frowned. "You whine, you steal, you demand, you browbeat, you expect." His frown turned to a rueful little smile. "You never fucking ask."
House held the mug out, the handle turned toward Wilson. "I'm asking now."
Wilson took a slow breath. "House," he sighed.
"I know what I'm asking. I know better than you did when you took it in the first place. Look, it won't ever get as bad as it did, before, because now when I tell you about it, you'll understand me. You'll believe me. I'll share, I'll talk, I'll even let you find me a pain doctor who isn't a moron. But it's my pain, and I want it back."
Wilson looked down at the mug and started to shake his head. "House—"
"I want my friend back."
Wilson looked up to meet House's eyes. His throat suddenly felt tight; he didn't trust himself to speak.
"Please." House barely whispered the word.
They sat like that for a long moment, gazes locked, fingers twined, the mug resting in House's palm.
Between them, the steam from the tea curled into the air, pushed into eddies by their combined breath.
Chapter 10: Epilogue: Beginnings
Wilson was the first to look away, to look down at the steaming mug House held out. His voice was thick as he whispered, "I can't. This—"
"It's not yours, either. Not anymore."
House shook his head. "Maybe not. But you need to give it back."
Wilson looked at the cane leaning against the arm of the couch. How could he willingly give this back, knowing what House would suffer? He shivered a little as a new question arose. Would he have taken it, had he known what it was like?
House squeezed Wilson's fingers between his own. "You've walked your mile. It's time."
Wilson looked up, meeting House's eyes again.
"Besides, I'm sick of your fancy French shoes."
Wilson found himself smiling, and something flopped over in his belly. He reached for the mug's handle. "I'm going to hold you to your promises, you know."
As Wilson took his first sip, House gently disentangled their fingers and shifted from the coffee table to the couch. "You won't have to," he murmured as he settled himself next to Wilson.
"Well, this is familiar," House grumbled, rubbing the callus on his right palm with his left thumb. He shifted his feet on the coffee table and looked over at Wilson, who was setting the empty mug on the end table. "Done?"
"Yeah," Wilson replied and looked back at House. "How do you feel?"
House's eyes narrowed. "This is a test, isn't it?"
Wilson rubbed his palms down his legs to his knees. "You could think of it that way, or you could turn off the analyzing and just tell me."
House looked down at his own legs, one with a familiar dip in the denim. He was going to have to learn to talk about it sometime. "It... doesn't feel too bad. Achy. But I haven't tried to move yet."
"The Vicodin should be kicking in by now, too."
House nodded. He hadn't had Vicodin in months; he could feel the single pill he'd taken working as well as three used to, before.
As Wilson leaned forward to get up off the couch, House grabbed his wrist. "Can I trust you not to do this again?"
"You mean, can you trust me to cook for you?" He looked over at House, then leaned a bit in his direction. He said quietly, "I don't know if I could."
House searched Wilson's face, then nodded and let go of his wrist. "I'm no good at being support personnel anyway."
"Tell me about it." Wilson got up from the couch and took his mug to the kitchen.
"Was I that bad?" House shouted after him.
Wilson stopped in the kitchen door and leaned on the frame. "No, you really weren't." They shared a smile. "Now what?" Wilson asked as he came back into the room.
"I think we should walk to my place."
"You. Want to go for a walk."
House shrugged. "I've got better porn."
Wilson snapped his fingers and pointed at House. "I knew it! You stole it when you moved my stuff!" House grinned back at him. "You told me I must have lost it, or Julie swiped it!"
"What can I say? It was going to waste here." House shifted his feet off the coffee table, moving carefully so as not to disturb what was only a mild twinge in his thigh. "Maybe I just want to walk a bit."
Wilson picked up the cane from where it rested against the couch and offered it to House, who shook his head. "It's too short, remember? That's why I gave it to you in the first place."
Hefting the cane in both hands, Wilson contemplated the thing that had been his near-constant companion. He looked over at the fireplace, where a row of nails had been driven into the mantel by the previous owner. Wilson wouldn't need them for Christmas stockings, but he decided he'd use them for something else.
He walked over to the fireplace and laid the cane across the nails, resting it like a trophy. He looked back to see House watching him intently, and he nodded. Not like either of them would need the reminder, but Wilson thought it deserved to be showcased.
"I'll be right back," Wilson said and disappeared into his bedroom. He returned carrying the silver-handled dress cane. "Remember I borrowed this for the benefit last month? I didn't bother to cut it down."
House suppressed a smile and held out his hand. He'd always liked that cane. Maybe he'd start using it more often, make Fridays a little more pimp. "Let's go, then."
They were halfway down the first block when House stopped and turned to Wilson. "Don't do that."
House waved his cane in the space between them. "Walk around me like I'm fragile. You never used to."
Wilson spread his hands in apology, not really sure what he was apologizing for. "That was before I knew."
"Well, get over it." House turned and hobbled away.
Wilson caught up to him easily and puzzled over exactly what House had meant while they walked. Midway through the second block Wilson said, "What did you—"
"Shut up if you're going to walk with me. I'm trying to enjoy the night air."
Wilson chuckled and shook his head. "Ah, the delicate scent of truck exhaust."
House sniffed in a long breath. "Smells like rain."
Wilson could smell it, too, mingling with exhaust and lawn and concrete. He ducked his head in agreement and kept walking.
By the time they reached House's block, they were walking shoulder to shoulder. House didn't bother to hide his smile.
Written by blackmare_9
Two months had passed before Wilson could bear to touch the garden gnome by the fireplace.
He hated the thing, because every time he looked at it he knew just how far he might have fallen, had his friend not insisted on catching him. And he loved the thing, because it reminded him that the friend he had known had never gone away. That in the end, Greg House, Grand Champion Selfish Bastard, had made one choice that told Wilson everything.
Those two thoughts buzzed around the squat concrete figure like hornets, keeping Wilson's hands at bay.
He would look at it and shake his head. Not what he says, but what he does. Oh, House.
It was a Sunday afternoon and he was in the middle of doing the dishes when he decided, at last, that something had to be done. He'd been scrubbing pots and glancing at it, remembering the Gnome Trail that had led him to this new apartment, when it occurred to him that he just never knew when House would choose to play another game. If House kidnapped the damn gnome again, he'd find It. The reaction—well, with House you just couldn't predict. Maybe nothing, maybe anger, maybe just a sense of regret that wouldn't do either of them any good. Despite the hot dishwater on his hands and the steam in his face, Wilson froze. There were a few things House didn't need to know.
So he dried his hands and braced himself. House wouldn't be at the hospital right now; he could dispose of the drug in the incinerator without getting caught. Mentally swatting away the phantom hornets of love and hate, he reached for the gnome, hefting it gently, and started in confusion when something metallic fell out onto the bricks. It was a chisel.
Wilson began laughing weakly. He really should have known. House found everything.
The inside of the gnome had been carefully altered. He had an idea of when House might've done it; there'd been an opportunity when Wilson was at a conference shortly after—it was still hard to think about that day. And yet he was smiling now.
Two grooves had been carved into the thick cement sides of the gnome's interior. It was done perfectly, which didn't surprise Wilson a bit. House had made just enough room to slide the case of a CD in there, and then he had tucked the chisel in alongside it and replaced it just so. The black leather bag, Wilson's secret, was gone. Wilson would find out later what House might have done with it.
Taking a breath, he plucked the musical offering from its hiding place, and tried to decide whether to laugh or cry. He settled on laughing, again, because this was a joke, the kind only House would pull. The name of the band was Morphine; the disc was titled Cure For Pain.
Shockingly (or maybe not), it turned out to be good.
At sunset on Monday, with two kazoos to play Taps and their camera phones in hand to record the occasion, they had a little ceremony. Together they pitched the gnome off the hospital balcony.