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"A shrink? If you'd go to a shrink I'd pay for it myself. The hospital would hold a bake sale, for god's sake."
--Cuddy in 1 x 04, "Maternity"

 

"Wilson? Come get me."

~

House was already sitting and waiting on the front steps of Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital when Wilson pulled up with the car. Before he could kill the engine and exit the car, House leapt off the steps (as well as a cripple with a cane could leap) and hefted his bag up before Wilson could get to the trunk.

"Are you in that much of a hurry to leave?"

House swung his bag into the trunk and slammed it shut. "Patient uprising. They put peas in the mac and cheese again. Thought I'd get out while the getting was good."

"Yes, leading the insurrection then escaping under cover of the riot sounds exactly like you." Wilson rolled his eyes while he headed back to the front driver's door.

House followed two steps behind, rounding to the passenger side. Through the car window he spied a paper bag on the front passenger seat. He opened the door and snatched the bag. "You brought me presents!"

"Leftovers, actually. From the bake sale."

House swung himself inside, dipped his hand into the bag, and pulled out a cookie half-wrapped in waxed paper. "Bake sale?"

"Yes. The fundraiser the hospital held yesterday to finance your four-month stay at this luxury resort. Cuddy asked me to bring a tray of cookies. Of course, at one thousand dollars a cookie there were more than a few left over--"

House had already broken off half the cookie with his teeth and he rolled his eyes heavenward. "Macadamia nut," he said, spewing crumbs over his lap and the dashboard. "And white chocolate. God, these are better than your pancakes." He shoved the rest into his mouth and swallowed with an orgasmic sigh.

Though secretly pleased, Wilson still frowned. "That is disgusting. Didn't you learn--"

House shrugged and popped a second cookie whole. "Can never beat homemade. Too bad the slop jockeys who pass for cooks in the loony bin," he jerked his head at the hospital, "never figured that one out. Boxes taste better than the stuff that's in 'em."

"Did you even leave toothmarks--? Wait, I don't want to know." Wilson turned the key in the ignition.

"Floor it," House said through a mouthful of his third cookie, "before they change their minds about letting me loose on the streets again."

"I will not," Wilson replied--but if he sped ten miles over the limit while exiting the grounds, he never admitted it.

The cookies went down well, he thought, heading towards the freeway back to Princeton. And after the food... Wilson expected--hoped, if he were being honest with himself--that House would jump him any time now. Over four months of enforced abstinence (despite regular weekly visits) had made him more than ready to turn off onto a side road at House's say so.

But House appeared content to fiddle with the radio buttons on the console instead; to expound upon the last couple of patients on his ward in whom he'd diagnosed organic causes for their illness, much to the annoyance of the chief psychiatrist; and to catch up on the latest hospital gossip. Hearing House's animated voice, his visible relief with each mile they put between them and Mayfield--especially compared to the memory of the drive to the hospital that forlorn day all those months back--Wilson decided he could wait. He was just too glad to have a semblance of his friend back beside him right now.

As they drew nearer to Princeton, however, House lapsed into silence; instead he looked out the window, munched down what seemed like another half-dozen cookies, and tapped his knees in an intricate and unsettling rhythm. Wilson alternated glances at the road and at House. It was probably the anxiety of getting back on his feet again, of cobbling his life together without the safety net of the psych ward--of becoming re-acquainted after they were back home, Wilson assured himself.

They were approaching the outskirts of Princeton when they passed a sign for a Motel 6 a few miles down the road.

"Pull in and get a room," House said.

Wilson jumped at the sound, then furrowed his brow, silently thanking God for cruise control. "House, I know it's been over four months since we've had any, but we're almost home. Can't you wait just another half hour--?"

"Motel 6. Rent a room. I need to talk to you."

"Talk? Is that what they call it these days? We can pull over and 'talk' in the car."

"Not good enough."

"What? Why?"

"I want the room."

Wilson blinked at the sudden vehemence. "But we're less than thirty minutes away. Are you out of your mind--?"

House raised an eyebrow. "Mocking the crazy cripple already. Nice."

Wilson winced, feeling his cheeks grow hot. "Oh, God. House, I'm sorry. That's not what I meant to say."

House's mouth twitched in amusement. "Still impressive, Jimmy." Then he looked away, fidgeted in his seat. "I need someplace that's neutral," he added quietly.

Wilson felt his stomach clench at the somber tone. Neutral?

He peered sideways at House, but it was obvious that House wasn't about to elaborate further. After a minute he acquiesced. "Okay," he said, and signaled to exit the freeway. "We'll--rent a room."

Ten minutes later Wilson unlocked the door to Room 117, a standard-issue double room complete with puce-colored bedspreads and dull pictures of pastoral scenes on the beige walls. He strode into the room and flicked on the light switch. Behind him, House hesitated at the door.

"I can do this," he heard House murmur above the rush of cars on the freeway as he stepped inside.

Wilson blinked. Do what?

When House closed the door behind him the din of traffic outside dulled to a barely-there hum, so when Wilson spoke his voice startled him. "Well, we're here," Wilson said, "so what is it that you couldn't 'tell' me in the car, or wait until--?"

He turned around on his heel to find House just inches away from him.

House shook his head and touched a finger on Wilson's lips. "Don't talk."

Wilson's eyes widened, and he held his breath as House reached out to grab Wilson's shoulders. House's fingers curled around to his back, though he did not pull him in. House let go of the cane and it fell against the side of the bed to the floor, with a whish against the nylon spread. Wilson felt the warmth and pressure of his hand, and watched House squeeze his eyes closed, swaying a bit with what appeared to be fierce concentration.

Wilson's nerves knotted into a ball. His tongue darted out, tasting hints of vanilla and butter and nut House's finger had left behind. He heard House's sharp, and shaky, intake of breath.

"What's going on? House--?"

"I'm re-negotiating boundaries," he said. He pursed his lips together.

Before his meltdown, the only way House would have ever served up those words was with a generous helping of sarcasm, accompanied by a heaping side of mockery. Even now they sounded absurd falling from his mouth. But as House slid one hand from his shoulder to cup Wilson's jaw the pieces clicked into place; his stomach sank.

"Are we breaking up?"

House licked his lips; when he opened his eyes they appeared ragged in his grave face. "I'm still not okay, Wilson," he murmured. "I'm better than I was, but--" He brushed his thumb pad along Wilson's cheekbone, his stare a little too bright in the dim room. "I don't own you, and I don't want you to feel obligated to stay."

Wilson heard the distinct I don't deserve you beneath the careful words. "You want me to decide where we go from here," Wilson said, stunned.

He gave a curt nod of agreement. "It's your call." He dropped his hands; they fell to his sides. He hopped a half step back and bowed his head, hands clenched.

Wilson felt the world contract around him. If this were the old House saying this, it would have been just another classic House manipulation, just another challenge to the limits of Wilson's endurance. Even now he knew it was a test.

But this was genuine: the choice to wash his hands and walk away altogether, despite the certain knowledge that it would break House for good. Because Wilson had been witness to House's breakdown. Because House himself had been witness to it.

If you love someone, set them free. There was only one answer, though, had ever been. "You're an idiot," he replied softly.

House startled and looked up, flabbergasted.

Wilson reached for the lapels of House's jacket to pull him forward, then lowered himself onto the bed, drawing House down with him. "Don't even think I plan on abandoning you."

~

An hour later they lay on top of the bed covers, sweat and stickiness drying on their skin. Wilson listened to House's easy breathing beside him, felt his own settle in tandem, and wondered how he could arrange for housekeeping to get the bedspread cleaned without giving anything away--assuming it had been clean in the first place.

Despite the warmth of House's body beside him, the room air grew chill, and House, half-sprawled over Wilson's chest, began to stir. "I'm starving. I think I left the bag of cookies in the car." Even so, he made no attempt to get up.

"You mean to say that you didn't inhale them all between Mayfield and here?"

"Might have left some crumbs at the bottom," House admitted. "Consider it the highest accolade anyone can bestow."

"Yes, your pancreas begging for mercy pleases me no end," Wilson said, though he couldn't help but grin at the compliment. He felt House's lips quirk against his skin.

"My pancreas is honored to make the sacrifice." House raised himself on one elbow and peered at him. "But seriously. A thousand dollars a cookie? News flash: I'm crazy, not stupid."

"I--might have mistaken pennies for dollars," Wilson said.

"And it might not have been a bake sale, either." House yanked the sides of the bedspread over top of them and settled back down.

In minutes House dropped into a snoring doze, and Wilson allowed himself another small smile. Everything that had happened today was typical House. Yet it was the most considerate thing he might have ever done in all the years of their friendship--to let him go.

But he wasn't going anywhere.