OCTOBER 16, 2008
"So did you want to talk about the funeral?"
James shifts on the couch. He takes a little strawberry-shaped strawberry candy from the bowl on Dr. Rubin's coffee table. "Yeah," he says. "I did well, I think."
Dr. Rubin is the far side of sixty with white hair, a close-cropped beard and a low, reassuring Brooklyn accent. He's sort of strawberry-shaped himself, and the tips of his fingers are wide and spatulate; heart disease. James told him that, after their first appointment after the divorce, and he sometimes wonders if Dr. Rubin's gone and got it checked, if he's on aspirin, if he might drop dead in this room some day while James is sharing some important recovered memory.
"That's good," says Dr. Rubin, crossing his legs. He's wearing UGGs. "No manipulation? Nothing unexpected?"
James thinks about the cop and the cuffs and the way the stained glass window exploded out the back of that church in a ball of light when he hurled the bottle. "Well, it's House," he says. "It's never the sort of thing you can really plan for, you know?"
"I know," Dr Rubin nods. "But we talked about how to respond if he tried to appeal to your old habits."
"I did good," says James again. "I did a really good job this time."
"Tell me about it," says Dr. Rubin.
OCTOBER 5, 2008
The knock on the door sounds like House, a morse code fist rap with the low kick of a cane at the bottom.
James looks at his phone, actually picks it up with every intention to call Lisa and tattle but the knock just gets louder and faster and then House is hollering, "I know you're in there; I can smell the existential crisis from all the way down the hall."
James fixes his feet, locks his knees, takes a deep breath and opens the door. "Please go away."
"I need a prescription," House says. "I'm here to see you in a purely professional capacity."
"No," says James, and wishes he sounded stronger.
"You are still a doctor, aren't you? I'm suffering here."
"Go somewhere else," James says, wrapping his fingers around the doorknob but somehow not closing the door. "There's got to be at least one doctor left in New Jersey who doesn't enjoy seeing you writhe in agony."
House clicks his tongue. "That sounds suspiciously like caring to me," he shakes his head. "I mean, if you truly didn't care about me you wouldn't have a problem with this sort of strictly professional interaction."
James sighs and looks down at House's sneakers. He's in the lime green day-glo pair. James gives himself a good thirty seconds to steady his breathing before he looks up. "I don't work at the hospital any more, House. Go find someone on duty to support your habit."
House puts a hand on the door jamb and leans forward, craning his neck to see inside James's apartment, and James actually finds himself embarassed, wondering if there's empty bottles standing in plain view or underpants on the floor. Like House would know what he'd been doing in there, what he'd been thinking. And, of course, House would. Either way he doesn't say anything, just looks at James again with those horrible, incisive blue eyes. Not for the first time James thinks that, for a junkie, House's eyes are remarkably un-bloodshot, remarkably, oppressively clear.
"Go away," James says again, this time more forcefully. He pushes the door shut another inch, enough to make House pull back. He sees him limp a little, favoring his good leg and pushing white-knuckled on the jamb.
"Write me a script and I'm out of here," House says. "Just because you're unemployed doesn't mean your DEA number's broken."
"Are you in a lot of pain?" James hears the words spill out before he can stop them. "Wait. Strike that. I don't care. Go bother someone else."
House grimaces. "I think I pinched a nerve," he whines.
James sighs. "I don't believe you," he says, finally. "Part of my supposed clean break from you was meant to include my refusal to hear you cry wolf anymore."
"'Supposed' and 'meant to' sound final to me," House nods and fakes a pained expression. "I can't imagine why I thought you might still care enough to not want to see me in excruciating need."
James sighs again, weighing the relative merits of continuing to argue versus giving in to House's plaintive manipulation. And then again, he might really be in terrible pain, and what kind of doctor would James be if he turned a patient away?
"Fine," he says. "Stay here. I'm getting my pad."
"You're not going to ask me to sit down? I'm a cripple!"
"If you set even one foot across that threshold I'm calling the cops," James says. He waits for House to look chagrined before he heads to the kitchen for his prescription pad.
When he comes back, House is on the couch, holding an empty bottle of Smirnoff in one hand and a pair of James's plaid boxers in the other. "Either you've been getting lucky or you're even more pathetic than I thought," House says. "You don't drink vodka straight."
"There's a lot about me you don't know," James lies. "People change." He tears off the top sheet of his pad, two months worth of Vicodin at 1000/10 migs q 4 hours, enough to tranquilize an ape. "Here. Take it. Go."
House shoves the scrap of paper in his pocket, leans on the couch armrest to hoist himself up onto his cane, and leaves. "Thanks again, doc," he calls from the doorway, without even looking back.
SEPTEMBER 27, 2008
Just a week after leaving Princeton-Plainsboro, James Wilson has already stopped changing out of his sweatpants from day to night.
The first thing he did was cancel everything in his and Amber's names; theater subscriptions, golf foursomes, plane tickets for Goa over Christmas.
Later he went through his drawers, his closet and his various cabinets and bookcases for any shred of anything that might link him back to Gregory House. It's a shame pile big enough for a bonfire, when it's all finally collected on Wilson's coffee table. Receipts for French meals charged on Wilson's credit card. Bank stubs from House's incessant loans. The Big Big Book (and accompanying DVD) of Lesbian Mudwrestlers. A holey sweater and a perfectly broken in chocolate leather jacket, too long to wear on the motorcycle so House had sold it to James for a modest fee, and then sat there grinning like somehow he'd won when James held the leather up to his face and inhaled deeply.
Four half-bottles of Jim Beam and a giant plastic travel mug from a roller derby. At least six loose Vicodin and two or three dried-up globs of gum House had apparently stuck under James's kitchen counter over the years. It had to be him. Who else would it be? A photo of himself and Greg at a crab shack in South Carolina, drunk with two ladies Wilson could swear he'd never seen before. A photo of House and Stacy, right after the operation and House in a wheelchair looking pissed as hell. An unlimited number of dirty magazines and well-thumbed medical texts, and an audio guide for learning Italian. "You'll need it someday," House had said, but then later it was just so he could tell a Ducati from a Vespa.
James stares at the pile and tries to translate it into money, pain, things lost. He's already got House so indebted James could claim him has a dependent on his taxes, but he knows that's as much his fault as House's. He loved keeping him dependent. He loved being obligated to feed House, to make sure he's got clothes and shelter. Even more, James admits, he loved taking House to monster truck shows and strip bars and he loved, loved the drunken smile of victory on House's face when James pulled out his wallet. House might be an ungrateful wretch but those smiles paid a lot of bills and helped James through a lot of lonely nights. He wonders who's buying House dinner now.
The phone rings.
"Wilson, it's Cuddy. Lisa, I mean."
"Lisa's the only Cuddy I know," James agrees.
"I was just. Checking to see how you're doing. How are you doing?"
James sighs. "I just got rid of everything in this place that reminds me of Greg House," he says, staring at the pile. Some boobs stare back.
"And Amber? How are you holding up?"
James rubs his forehead, forgetting, for a minute, why she'd probably called in the first place. "Yes. Of course, Amber. Got rid of her stuff too. Got rid of everything. Clean slate."
There's a pause. "That's good," Cuddy says. "Sounds like you're... getting your head screwed back on."
"I am," James says, a little too forcefully. He paces around the coffee table and picks up the chocolate-brown leather jacket. "I'm good, I think," he says. "Better, anyway."
"You know your job's here for you whenever you want it," she says. "We miss you."
"I'm moving to Cleveland," James says. "Or Cincinnati. Haven't decided between hospitals yet, but definitely Ohio."
James sighs again, clutching the leather to his chest. "Why not?"
He doesn't throw out the pile of House paraphernelia. Instead he sorts through it, arranges piles by type and size and the painfulness of the memories, and then he puts it all in a blue tupperware under-the-bed tub and slides it under his bed.
That night he thinks he can feel House under there, like the Princess with her pea, and he tosses and turns until the sun comes up.
OCTOBER 14, 2008
The night they get back from Lexington they go to Musso's and get tanked. When the bar closes, James takes back streets so he can crawl along at 20 mph, but at least he's not as drunk as House, and he'd had a cup of coffee besides.
He parks across the street from House's building, gets out, comes around to the passenger's side and helps House to stumbling feet. He gets him home, upstairs.
House says, "Stay for one more? I TiVoed Australia's Next Top Model. Like thirty percent more natural boobage than the domestic variety."
James chuckles, his laughter in sync with the rhythmic flutter of his heart. "I don't think so," he says. His head's hurting already and in fact it's probably medically responsible to take a dose of dog's hair to even himself out, but there's two things James knows about himself when he's drunk: he can't get it up, and he'll say everything he's feeling out loud. Bad combination under any circumstances.
"See you later, House," he says, and once Greg is on his sofa facing vaguely forward, James gives him a pat on the head and goes home, and it's 3:30 am before he climbs into his own bed and tries not to think about it, about any of it.
The enablers never get any respect, not from the object they're enabling or from anyone else unfortunate enough to audience his pathetic display. But then, the secret of eternal knowledge says to always surround yourself with people smarter than you are, so maybe that's the tradeoff. Nothing about a craggy-faced guy with a limp and a history of making sense of liars.
And none of that means anything in the face of the fact that James is just in love with Greg House. Just love, the plain kind, the kind that's mostly misery riddled with absurd fantasies.
He can pretend he wants House back because it's like being part of something greater, and, hell, it probably is, but that doesn't explain the things he wants to do to Greg, the things he wants Greg to do to him, that scar -
"Wake up!" House is banging on the door and shouting. "Wake up and let me in, you imbecile!"
James gets up and turns on the light, pads over to the door. "What could you possibly want now, House?" he groans, without opening the door. "I just saw you like an hour ago and I'm going to see you again tomorrow at the hospital when I go talk to Cuddy -"
House kicks, the door shakes from the pounding of fists and foot and cane. "Let me in, I need to borrow a cup of sugar!"
James opens the door.
"You came over in the middle of the night to borrow a cup of sugar. Wait, how did you get here? House, you didn't take your bike, did you?"
"You did," James groans, and holds the door open so House can come in and collapse on the couch.
"Clearly I made it here okay," House says. "Now here's what I'm thinking. Something about this doesn't add up."
James goes to the bar. "It'll be bourbon, then?" He brings back two tumblers.
"You blamed me for Amber's death -"
"- No, House. It was an accident. I know it was an accident."
"Shut up," House says. "I'm just saying you shoved me away. You fashion some ferkakte story about how I'm dangerous to be around, and that allows you to justify running away from me. And then you say you come back just because you were bored? Does that make my danger any less, I dunno, dangerous?"
"Boredom's boring," James says, shrugging.
"You're boring," House says. "You might think you like some carefully scheduled spontaneity, but that's not really what you're getting here, is it. Is it?"
James looks around, finishes his drink, looks a lot of places that aren't House's deceptively sober eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"You know full well that being my friend's more about you... paying for my new skateboard or seducing Cuddy for me," House says.
James can't even stop himself thinking that if House did need a new skateboard he'd get him one tomorrow. "You said you'd stopped being an enabler," House says.
James takes a deep breath. He gets up, pours another drink and finishes it without looking back at House.
"Maybe... there's a reason," he says. He doesn't sit down. "Maybe... enabling you isn't really so bad for me."
House scowls. "Of course it is, you masochist. So the question is what keeps you coming back? You can't love the torture, people think you're crazy, I've done more damage to your life and your career than would drive most people homeless, and here you are."
James teeters on his feet, his shoulders the scales weighing his decision, to go forward or go back. He decides on, "Are you purposely being a moron?"
"Why was it so important that you get me to that funeral yesterday?"
"Because that's what I do, House." James sits. "Maybe that's what I do in exchange for... whatever it is I get from this insane friendship. Help... keep you human. Or, humanized, anyway."
"Well, thanks, Jiminy Cricket. I'll sleep a lot easier knowing you're here to guide my moral compass."
James exhales, hard. "I'm just saying we're good for each other. We... complete each other."
House drops his jaw. "Whu?" he boggles.
"Oh, just fuck off," James says. "You know what I mean."
"You really are in love with me," House says. "I mean, I always knew it was something, you know, for a joke, but my god James Wilson you really are in love with me."
"I am not," James says. "We have a complicated relationship."
"Not from over here," House raises his hands, innocent. "Until just this moment I legitimately believed that you were destined for a series of damsels in distress while I tortured you from the sidelines."
"No, I -- wait, what?"
Now James is breathing more easily, because that was a chink in the armor right there; House said something. A symptom. "So why the torture, then?"
House snorts. "That's easy, I belittle others to maintain proper inflation of my huge ego. It can also be used as a flotation device."
James shakes his head. "I don't think so," he says. "There was something in your voice, something about... sidelines? Like, maybe a life of seething jealousy?"
House rubs his forehead. "Ah, Jesus Christ, James."
James blinks. "Um... what's wrong, Greg?"
This time House stands up, takes a step, thinks the better of it and leans on the sideboard. "You know that I'm smart enough to know when you're lying, so despite your constant adorable attempts at accessing the tender part of me you also know that I know what you're thinking, and fearing, and that I plan my responses accordingly."
James is sober as a guard dog when he parses that, and then has no choice but to agree. "I do... know that."
"But at this point, right now?" House waves a hand around. "I have no idea if you're smart enough to see right through me."
"Look, House, I --" and then he stops. That was something. "That was something," he says. "You -- really? You're here because -- really?"
"YOU ARE AN IDIOT," House says, crouches, grabs James's face in his big smooth hands, and kisses him.
They stumble to James' bed, House knocking into the doorway and James, finally, finally being able to cradle that leg, lay House down and minister to him. House arches back and lets James take off his jeans and see his scar, touch it.
"That okay?" James whispers, pulling House's face close, letting his fingers ride up inside House's thigh.
"Mmm," Greg murmurs into his mouth. "Doesn't hurt."
AND BACK TO OCTOBER 16, 2008
"So what happened after you went out for drinks?" Dr. Rubin is asking.
James tenses. "What? Nothing. I drove him home, and went to sleep."
"Good for you," Dr. Rubin says.
James shakes his head and thinks that, after work tonight, he might take House out to dinner. "Yeah," he says. "I think so. Good for me."