"I can live without Kyle," he says, and just like that, the last wall crumbles.
They stare at one another for a moment that seems as if it lasts a lifetime. It isn't an ending; it is a beginning. It is the very last sentiment he needs to hear, to know: you don't need a child, you don't need a spouse, I don't need that person you think you ought to be.
House doesn't need Kyle Calloway. Kyle Calloway never would've needed House.
Neither of them sleeps the rest of the way home, but neither of them talks, either. The distorted glow of headlights and brake lights mottle against the bus' tinted windows and they both have taken to measuring moments: how long this one will last, how soon the next one will end, how many they have left before they're out of moments altogether.
Wilson thinks about the night they met, and the way the lights played the same tricks on that drive through the rain back to the hotel. He thinks about the way the bank of elevators dinged twice, and the way two separate doors slid open; how they stepped into the same one despite having rooms on different floors.
He doesn't often let himself think about the rationale behind that decision, because honestly, twenty years later, he still can't contrive a plausible lie.
That doesn't mean he doesn't let himself wonder if House ever thinks about it, too; how much he remembers.
Not that he'd ever ask.
When they finally arrive in Newark and manage to hail a cab, it's well into the next morning but still midnight-dark. Something symbolic, and something foreshadowing, and they're too tired to snatch the thoughts from the ether to complete them.
They don't speak about illness or threesomes or forgetful old women in the cab, and they don't discuss the fact that House directs the cabbie home. To his home. Nevermind the fact that Wilson doesn't have any bags, or any idea why history tends to repeat itself, or any clue as to what this is going to mean, now. Now, with a ticking clock and twenty years' history behind them.
A silent prayer as they toss their jackets over the sofa because he's superstitious but not particularly religious, a dozen deep breaths, and he's standing in his best friend's apartment with barely enough time to sleep before waking for work. Unless they call in sick again, and oh, they might just. It wouldn't be a lie. Not that they're above lying.
It's finally too much, then: not the unbearable loss of what he thought he might have the chance to recapture out in the great unknown, but right here, now, standing in front of the one person-
"What are we doing?" Wilson asks, his voice hushed with nervous energy.
House turns just a bit and lowers his gaze. He shakes his head, just once, and that's enough.
And so it begins again.
The hallway shrouds them in darkness and the loud thunk of shoes on the wooden floor breaks the silence. The way they enter the room, one after the other, feels vaguely out of place. Out of time.
Too late, too late, too late rushes through Wilson's head like blood through his ears.
Too late and unfair and fifty other things he has to forget, right in this moment, because this is the one he'll want to remember most.
He settles his thumb and forefinger on the top button of his shirt and House reaches out to curl his fingers around Wilson's hand to still it. They stare at one another, Wilson's mouth hanging open to speak though his brain is unable to send the right signal, and he drops his arms to his sides.
House rests his cane against the foot of his bed and undoes the buttons one by one. When he reaches the last two, aching bones creak as he drops to one knee, and no, no symbolism there. Too tired and too late for that, now.
"There are some things," he says, untucking the plain gray undershirt beneath the plaid button-down, "that I don't need."
A hand brushes against Wilson's bare stomach, cold against warm, and he shivers.
And fuck, how he wants to tell House to shut up, to keep those things to himself since he's done so for their entire relationship, and that it's not worth using this moment to fill it with the kind of sentiment that wasn't worthy of quiet lunches on park benches or Chinese takeout in front of the television. But he doesn't. He doesn't say anything at all. Not yet.
"I don't need you to try to be someone you aren't," he breathes slow and measured, hot puffs of air ghosting over the skin just below Wilson's navel.
House slips the metal button from its denim slot, pulls at the zipper until it sticks, and bunches the fabric in his hands to drag it to the floor. When he gets to the shoes, Wilson helps by lifting each foot, one at a time, and there they are. There they are, together; always together.
Still on one knee, he rests both hands on Wilson's hips and stands slowly, palms grazing the bare skin of his waist, torso, pectoral muscles, neck, finally coming to rest with thumbs on Wilson's jawline and fingers tangled in the short crop of his hair. House rubs one thumb against his cheek and feels the light stubble, remembering years and years of the boyish, clean-shaven protagonist of his fucked up fairytale.
This isn't the same at all. But it's theirs, and it's all they've got.
"I don't need," he exhales deeply, heart pounding, "everything."
Wilson's hands cover House's, steadying them, and finally, "What do you need?"
"I don't need you to give me more than I was ever willing to give you," House says, guilt thick in his throat. "It's time for me to-"
Wilson laughs softly, tucking his fingers under House's and pulling them to his lips. The words vibrate on House's knuckles and he is nearly destroyed.
"I think we're just about out of time," he says, struggling to keep his voice flat. "People don't change. Tell me what you need."
"Just... just you."
They stand there, frozen in time, remembering all they've had and all they haven't. The inverse isn't true: if they'd had more time, they wouldn't have used it. Just because two elevator doors open doesn't mean you have to use both of them. Just because you lose your keycard in a bar fight doesn't mean you can't go to the front desk and ask for a new one. Just because you've got divorce papers tucked under your arm and a stranger who's known you for five hours feels like home... well, just because you've got time, doesn't mean you're going to use it.
Without another word, Wilson places a kiss to the fingers pressed against his lips and begins to undress his best friend. That's what they are; that's what they're always going to be. There's never going to be a title change. There's never going to be a discussion. There's never going to be anything more than this.
And that's enough.
Their hands fall away. Rather than migrate to either side of the bed, Wilson sits at its foot and House slowly presses them backward, settling heavily on top of him. They smell of travel: stagnant, musky, unfamiliar against the comfort of fresh bedclothes. There is no pretense and there is no attempt to assuage the intensity of what this means by lightening the mood with a joke. There will be time for that, in the end. There will be time for the things that need to be said but won't because they're felt all the same, and there will be time for hands in hands, but this moment is too wide and too deep to spend thinking rather than feeling.
They press lips to lips, and lips to chests, and it is so much after so little, for so long.
House props himself on an elbow and they help one another remove boxers and briefs. Wilson feels the hollow of missing muscle against his thigh and his chest constricts when he sees the look in the other man's eye; he's never felt him like this, so utterly exposed in every sense of the word. It's fucking terrifying and unbearably perfect.
He is completely sincere in mirroring his friend's words: "Tell me what you need."
Wilson guides House's hand to encircle them both, already slick with want, and he begins to stroke them. Wilson's eyes close; one, two, three seconds and they snap open again, because this is something he simply cannot miss. If he were to die right now, like this, it would be perfectly okay.
But something blossoms within him, burning his nerve endings, electric, and he has to ask.
House's rhythm slows. "Don't."
"No, I - I want to know," Wilson swears under his breath as House's hips buck against him and they begin to press, grasp at the gentle curve of love handles, sloppy and without pace, too far gone to undulate in tandem. "W-why this... long?"
Their mouths meet again and House runs his tongue along Wilson's lower lip until their tongues are sliding, tasting, desperate. They meld together, shaking, coming on hands and bedclothes and naked, goosebumped skin desperately in need of soap and water.
The moment stretches as if time were elastic, bending them back to that first touch and slinging them forward, mercilessly, toward the uncertain yet inevitable snap of its tension.
"Because I can live without everything else," House says, nearly breathless, as if it's that simple. Maybe it is.
Wilson kisses the sweat from the other man's temple and pulls their bodies flush.
"I would have loved you," his voice shakes now, eyes full. "I would've loved you all of my life."
An abrupt exhalation, a puff of air from his nose, and his chest shakes against Wilson's.
"You have," he says. "You will."
They fall asleep like this, bare, raw, tangled on the bed they should have shared for nineteen years, eleven months, three weeks, and six days.
When House wakes first, he lies with an arm slung across his chest and lets his mind wander to the night they met, utterly vivid down to the very last detail: the green glow of the streetlights, the driving rain and silent walk to room six fourteen, the way wet clothes peeled from their skin with sucking sounds. The laughter. The jagged edges of inebriation blurring their vision. How everything fit just so, but... but. He wonders how often Wilson thinks about that night, and the divorce papers resting on the bedside table like nothing at all. He wonders if Wilson thinks about it, and what it could've meant, and decides that maybe it is nobody's fault that they didn't spend all of that time together; perhaps it was a confluence of events conspiring against them.
Perhaps it doesn't matter now.
Wilson stirs, pulling his arm away to swipe it across his eyes to focus them, and House flattens a palm against the other man's chest. He smiles, eyes slowly adjusting to the morning light, and however much time he has left seems at once wholly inadequate and the greatest gift he could imagine.
They haven't got the time to waste on further discussing what they need and what they can do without, because this is what they've got, and it is quite enough.