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Part One

autumn

"My leg hurt," House says.

Wilson sits back at his desk. Tension seeps out of his neck and shoulders when he rests his head against the leather of his chair. He takes in a quiet breath, letting it fill his chest.

House stands across the room, staring out the balcony door, one hand resting lightly on its handle as if he might push his way out and disappear as quickly as he'd come in. It's dark enough outside that Wilson can see House's reflection in the glass.

Wilson's desk is perfectly arranged. File folders at exact angles. Phone messages a careful inch away from his left hand. The stack of charts in his outbox gratifyingly higher than the stack in his inbox. He might even be up to date on his dictations. And when House came in--without knocking, but without a loud stomp and a casual slam of the doorknob against the wall, either--he didn't so much as flick sand from Wilson's Zen garden across his paperwork, or fiddle with a toy on his way past, or nudge a trophy out of place.

House's shoulders are rounded, halfway between slumped and tensed. He toys with the light switch, then the string for the blinds, then his fingers tap along the door handle again. Against the blue twilight outside, his face is a pale blur.

Wilson feels like House has shoved him out onto a tightrope, blindfolded. The wind pushes dead leaves along the rain gutters outside. He remembers the last time he asked House for anything--the last time he went to House for comfort. He was drunk, and lonely, after seeing the divorce papers all neatly written out. He'd kissed House.

House had kissed him back. Wilson never imagined that House might turn him away. He remembers the exact pressure of House's lips, the soft dryness, and then the more desperate need that followed, in a slick twine of tongues. He remembers House's breath in his ear as he pulled away. I'd be flattered if I thought you meant it.

How many times, this summer, has Wilson held back from telling House that he's going to kill himself on his skateboard? To take it easy with the running, just in case? House would have shouted him down if Wilson had breathed a single word of caution while House felt good. Now he thinks one cramp means the pain is coming back, when it's probably nothing more than a little soreness, no more than House deserves for pretending he's still a teenager.

"The surgery worked, House," Wilson says, avoiding what he wants to say. "You're fine."

House nods, as if he hadn't expected anything else from Wilson. He walks out of Wilson's office without a word, closing the door too softly behind him. Wilson sighs and rubs his forehead, looking back at his desk and the piles of undisturbed work. The ketamine treatment worked. House is fine. He's almost certain of it.

Wilson has to believe that House is happy, after all.


summer

"Okay, okay! Stop!" Wilson bends over, hands on knees, his racket clattering to the floor. "You win."

"Stop punking out," House says, his voice echoing off the walls of the squash court. "Shouldn't you be the one saying quitters never win?"

Wilson's breath scrapes in his throat, and he feels dizzy just lifting his head, but he can hear the amusement in House's voice and he can't stop himself from looking. House's smile is genuine, even though it's currently mocking Wilson in all his sweating, panting glory. Wilson grins back. "Strategic retreat," he protests. His college tennis team was twenty years ago, after all, and more a fond memory than a glory he needs desperately to recapture.

He can't remember House ever looking quite so happy. The closest Wilson's ever seen was content, but only when he's in his element. When all the symptoms come together for him and he pulls a patient back from the brink of death (or even, Wilson thinks, remembering Andie, afterwards). But that's combined with calling somebody an idiot, whether it's his fellows, the patient's family, the patient himself, Cuddy, or on a good day, all of them. But there's usually anger mixed in with his satisfaction, and too much emphasis on how the world has vindicated House once again. And always, there's an element of suspicion attached to it. Not today. House grabs the ball and shoves Wilson over to his side of the court.

"You're dripping on the floor," House says, which is completely unfair--he's sweating at least as much as Wilson. "Twenty serving five."

"Eighteen serving fifteen," Wilson corrects, scooping up his racket. He might be losing, but he has his dignity.

House sniffs, wounded that Wilson would accuse him of cheating, but he accepts the score. Wilson forces himself to stop gasping and takes a firmer grip on his racket. The serve is low, right next to the wall, and it's in exactly the wrong spot for a lefty to make an easy return. House's smile sneaks out again when Wilson tosses him the ball along with an annoyed look.

House might be playing to Wilson's weaknesses, but the fact that they're playing squash more than makes up for losing. There was a time when Wilson couldn't coax House to PT, and now it's House dragging Wilson's sorry, middle-aged ass to the gym. The fact is so startling that Wilson feels a new rush of affection for him. He'd even throw the game, if it weren't so patently unnecessary.

Wilson hasn't really seen this since Stacy left. Since the leg. But then, that's what House has, his leg, and with it comes such triumph that Wilson doesn't mind being trounced--at this point--twenty-one to fifteen.

"Come on, move!" House says, and swats at Wilson with his racket the way he used to with his cane. No, it's not quite the same. The anger behind House's knocks to the shin and efforts to trip Wilson up is missing. With the racket, House's swings aren't meant to connect with any force. "For a guy wearing an alligator shirt, you could at least pretend to look like you know what you're doing."

Wilson's, well, dressed for squash, matching white sweatbands at wrists and forehead, and he's wearing the regulation goggles that the gym hands out to everyone. "Yes, because it's so much cooler to be blinded when you serve a ball into my face," he said when House gave him a drop-jawed, incredulous stare in the locker room.

"I'm playing with a dork," House had said, loudly, as if he expected everyone in the change room to agree with him--but everyone else is dressed more like Wilson than like House. House's basketball shorts are so loose that Wilson thinks like it would only take a nudge to slip them off, over his hipbones, catching on the flash of his Nikes as they fell. His t-shirt is dark blue with a faded grey Columbia logo across the chest, sleeves cut out so that Wilson sees flashes of House's ribs as he bounds after the ball. House's sides are tanned, slightly paler than his arms, and Wilson remembers how grey House's skin was when he cut off House's shirt after he'd been shot. God, he never wants to think of that. He doesn't want to remember. It's easier if he doesn't.

All summer, House has been running shirtless. When they were changing, Wilson noticed the slight peel of old sunburn across his brown shoulders. He closed his mouth right before asking if House has been wearing sunscreen. House would laugh at him, and anyway, Wilson doesn't want to think about who would smear the lotion on. He knows that preventing skin cancer isn't the point; even as House bitches at being sunburned, he revels in it. And for today, at least, Wilson gets to witness it.

"Twenty-four." House plays a quick air-riff on his racket in celebration.

Wilson blinks, wonders if he's missed House cheating on the score again, but House is too honestly gloating over the rebound that just bounced through Wilson's legs. Wilson grabs for the ball, misses, and has to chase it across the court.

"Have I mentioned that the victory is yours, General?" Wilson shakes his head, wipes the sweat from his temples. He can't decide if House looks more or less scruffy with his hair plastered to his forehead with sweat and his beard darkened.

"Not yet." House points his racket at him. "Trying to avoid getting spanked? Game's to twenty-five."

"As much as the image of you spanking me with a squash racket appeals--"

"You're getting paunchy," House says. "You should be glad I'm taking an interest."

"Fine," Wilson says. "Since you won't accept anything other than total attrition." He tosses the ball to House, readying himself for the last serve. Maybe he can pull out at least one more point, even if it continues his humiliation a little longer. House would appreciate that. So would Wilson's bruised ego.

The problem is, Wilson can't help watching House, as surreptitiously as possible. Along with House's physical joy--there's really no other word for it--Wilson thinks that House might actually be happier. That thought dims his concentration, and he barely gets his racket on House's serve. It's a weak, dribbling return that only just manages to make it across the line, and House lunges for it. Wilson wishes, even as his body aches and he makes another stumbling, panting dive for the ball to keep the rally alive, that he had more of House. He wants to hold on to House like this, freeze him in time and keep him exactly here, in this moment. Almost laughing, certainly having fun. He's Wilson's right now, focusing completely, smashing a backhand that gets behind Wilson before he knows it.

"Game point," House crows, when Wilson's swipe with the racket sends the ball bouncing uselessly into the corner.

Wilson shakes his head, chuckling breathlessly. It's so different from flipping quarters at each other over a paperclip net. So different, and such a change that Wilson can't help but wonder when the pendulum will swing back the other way. He hasn't brought it up with House, not once. Talking about it would jinx it. He tries to soothe away that kind of superstition in his patients, but with House it's different. Wilson almost believes that voodoo would work. If he could keep a doll of House protected and safe from harm, then House will always be like this--wiping his hair back into half-curled spikes, smiling triumphantly.

Wilson offers House his hand. House considers it disdainfully before shaking. His palm is hot and sweaty--Wilson's is too--and the touch slips by too briefly to mean anything, before House pulls back and heads for the door.

Wilson will take this. He'll take this because if he argues, if he asks about the ketamine--what the chances really are that it will last--then House will shut down. One word of caution will mean that Wilson doesn't trust House. This was House's treatment and it worked. Wilson wants to trust him. He desperately wants to believe everyone can have remissions. He wants to watch House soar.

But he's been there before, when the pieces fall. When House crashes to the earth. Wilson's the only one who really knows what that's like; he was there when Stacy left. Who else could keep House from spiralling down into his own damn self-pity if the treatment doesn't last? Who's going to be there to keep House interested and engaged if he can't play like this any more? There's a day in the future when the squash and the running and House's most ridiculous attempt to recapture his youth, the skateboard, are all impossible. When House gets mired again in his own misery, Wilson knows he's the only one who has the power to see it coming, if not to head it off.

The next pair is waiting for the court. House leads the way out, grabbing his water bottle as he goes. His throat works as he drinks, head thrown back, water dripping down his chest. Wilson feels suddenly parched, and becomes acutely aware of the salt coating his skin under the sweatbands. He picks up his own bottle and follows House to the change room as House drapes a towel around his neck. Wilson sees the flash of House's dimples, and he knows that he'll have to keep an eye out for a flick and snap of a rat's tail. At least House isn't currently rubbing Wilson's face in the loss, although Wilson's certain that House will be bringing it up at every opportunity, appropriate and inappropriate, from now on.

"Want to get lunch?" he offers, opening his locker and pulling out his clothes.

House glances over his shoulder. "Loser buys?" he asks, not making any promises.

Wilson sighs. "Why do I have a feeling that the winner would be generously treating if you'd lost?"

"Hypothetically, you might be right," House says. He pulls his shirt off, and Wilson averts his eyes. Why put himself through watching? He doesn't ask about the Columbia logo on the t-shirt, either. House never went there and the shirt's certainly not one of Wilson's. It's another reminder. This isn't Wilson's gym. House used guest passes to get them in. It's easier to pretend that House joined an upscale gym because his leg is better, easier to ignore the real reason they're here. Wilson concentrates on his sports bag, instead, grabbing soap and shampoo, and then heads for the showers.

He knows he should be keeping House realistic about the ketamine. Warning him that maybe--a word they both hate--it won't last. Someone needs to be the voice of reason. But that's not really his place any more. Who is he to tell House what he should and shouldn't do or what's best for him? House wouldn't take it from him when he was with Stacy and he barely allowed Wilson to try after she left. House is happy; Wilson won't interfere.

House changes quickly, without showering. Wilson knows he hates being exposed, showing his scar for longer than necessary. "You're not going to blow dry your hair, are you?" he calls into the showers. Wilson can practically feel his eye-roll. "Isn't your child nurse waiting for you?"

"Pediatrics nurse," Wilson calls back, exasperated. The pedophile joke has worn seriously thin. "I told her I'd be gone most of the afternoon."

House grunts impatiently. Wilson snaps off the shower and wraps his towel around his waist. It's easy to hear what House isn't saying. They won't be going for lunch. House has plans.

Wilson pulls on his clothes quickly, feeling stiff despite the hot shower. It's already over. He was allowed to watch all the sweat and happiness. He had his hour and a half to pretend he wasn't staring at House, wasn't hoping. He isn't allowed the rest of the day. The slow way House won't be able to stop smiling as he drinks a beer and stretches, lazy and mellow, after he showers at home. He'll probably take up his reading glasses and a medical journal and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening half-napping on his couch. That, Wilson doesn't get to see anymore. He doesn't regret missing an evening of bad television and House's inevitable complaints about the food. But he won't get to watch the easing of House's frown lines as he falls asleep, either; he's not the one who will feel House, warm beside him, curled under crisp sheets as the light fades.


spring

Wilson first noticed Wendy on his tour through pediatric oncology. As much as House likes to poke fun at Wilson's bald-headed cancer kids, Wilson doesn't actually visit the peds ward that often. He's better with parents than with kids, although with the young ones, Wilson admires their strength and bravery.

Some days, though, when he's tired, and the edge of a headache rides the base of his skull and pulses behind his eyes, Wilson can only offer the kids a hearty familiarity that's too easy to see through. How can he complain about his own small aches and pains, or his losses, when their lives are so much more tenuous? What's middle age to a ten-year-old who can't ride a bike or to a fifteen-year-old trying to choose a wig? Wilson is sympathetic when it counts, and he listens. But there are times when the kids cry in snivelling, whiny tears, when they try to yell and don't have the strength, when their parents snap and speak sharply and then try to gather themselves together against the tears long enough to listen to what he has to say, and...even Wilson doesn't have that kind of strength. Not for all of them.

When he sees Wendy, though, for the first time, it's a good day. No one is dying, or worse off than the day before. It's to the chaos of the kids' Playstation--one that House thinks Wilson doesn't know he sneaks turns on--rather than to the spatter of vomit that Wilson sees her, and he smiles almost before he knows he's doing it. ("You always know you're doing it," House tells him in his mind, but that's a voice that Wilson has learned to dismiss.)

He approaches her working on a chart at the nurses' station. There's a pencil thrust through her messy bun of red-blonde hair. A few wisps of hair straggle out of control and drift down to the V-neck of her scrubs. Wilson clears his throat, waits until she looks up. "Hi," he says. "I'm James Wilson."

"Wendy Quinn," she says, and the smile she offers is just distracted enough that that Wilson wants to ask her what she's thinking about.

"Did you transfer here recently, or..." He leaves the sentence carefully hanging. "I haven't seen you, I don't think."

"About a month ago," she says, and Wilson blushes a bit, and stammers.

"Oh, well," he says, "I'm, I'm glad to meet you now." The blush, the stammer: he has to ask himself if they're real. In his mind, House is rolling his eyes and thinking up loud, obnoxious comments to drop into the conversation. Wilson firmly shoves House back to his subconscious, where it's so much easier to shut him up.

Wendy raises her eyebrows, the corner of her mouth lifting with a hint of humour. She's cataloguing him as cute: non-threatening. Such a simple category to slip into. Wilson offers his hand, and Wendy stands up and places the chart in the rack, before she shakes his hand. "It's nice to meet you," she says, her eyes bright at his awkwardness. "At last."

Her skin is cooler than his, enough that Wilson can imagine her palm (will imagine it, later, when he's alone) against his chest, against his cheek if she kisses him. He grins, a little self-deprecating, and says, "I'm one of the rare ones that does a second impression better."

"Then I'll have to compare," she says, laughing before she's called away.

Wilson continues his rounds, but he looks for her again when he leaves the wards. He catches her eye when he does. He was looking; but then, so was she.

He goes home to Julie and tries to greet her with a kiss. She smiles at him, but she's distracted, as if it's unexpected. Wilson thinks of Wendy (and of Debbie, when she's not angry with him), and tries to pin down exactly how their smiles are different. With Debbie it's either an offer or a warning, depending. With Wendy, he thinks, it would be softer and gentler, as if she is offering him a chance.

He's run out of chances with Julie, but that's hardly news. Wilson sighs and leaves her alone, goes about his life as if they're strangers who happen to share a house. There must be some right decision, something beyond the horizon, some offer that won't be pulled out from under him.

Maybe he should have asked Wendy out. Coffee. Lunch. He tries to be proud of himself that he didn't; he tries to assure himself that he won't. He's not divorced, but he knows it's coming. It's an uncomfortable anticipation. He feels like he's hunching as he walks along, like he should be ducking everywhere he goes.

But when he's finally served the divorce papers, Wilson finds himself heading down to peds earlier than he might have. He works at his charting, standing at the nurses' station. He smiles when Wendy walks by, but he doesn't offer conversation. ("Oh, I get it. You're not flirting, you're working," House sneers in his mind. "Standing within five feet of her at all times. That's not creepy at all." Wilson shakes his head to himself. House, who probably has sex in the hospital janitor closets, has no right to talk.)

It's late. Wilson glances at his watch when she comes by to take her purse from the locked drawer under the desk. "Shift over?" he asks, closing the file he was reading over even though he knows the history inside out.

"Yeah," she says, and there is a tone in her voice, a quality, that means she has no one to go home to. Wilson finds himself smiling as he sets House's voice aside.

"Have you seen much of the city, since you moved here? Restaurants?" he asks. There was never a pale band of skin around his ring finger. Too easy to lose a ring in surgery--Bonnie bought that explanation, but Wilson doesn't think Julie ever did. If Wendy knows that he was married, or that he's not any more, she doesn't give a sign.

"Is this a date?" she asks, with a grin that reminds Wilson of what fun is like. He smiles back diffidently.

"It's dinner," he says, "if you'd like."

The restaurant is lit mostly by small candleholders and yellow-shaded lamps, the kind that lend a dim, intimate feel to the shadows around each table. Wilson orders a bottle of wine, after raising an eyebrow at Wendy to confirm that she doesn't mind. He sips slowly as he watches her, and listens.

It turns out that she is looking for hours for her nurse practitioner's license, that she left a long-term boyfriend for her career, that she had to give her dog to her parents when she moved. If it seems that she hasn't, yet, made any of those friendships that last, here in Princeton, then is it any wonder that Wilson can offer to listen? And when she's finished, he
tells her stories about House. He'd rather laugh than remember what's really going on in his life. He lives in a hotel and his wife is divorcing him.
He'd much rather watch the candlelight wavering on the skin at Wendy's throat and glinting in her hair than think about that. He wants to make her laugh. He should be allowed to have this.

The air is cool when they leave the restaurant. Wilson follows Wendy, opens the door for her. Dares himself to touch the small of her back, leading her out.

"I think it was a date," she decides, as they hover next to her car.

"I'd like that," Wilson says. He kisses her, lightly, on her cheek. Cool soft skin, the scent of lotion, of her perfume. He doesn't expect her to return the kiss, but he's not surprised, either, that she turns her head, and lets her lips meet his. Her apartment is lonely, her eyes say, and Wilson thinks of his hotel suite with his luggage still packed. He hasn't, quite, let himself show up on House's doorstep like he's been dispossessed; he's not ready to have House call him a moron. Somewhere in the back of his mind House is huffy and impatient, because Wilson kisses Wendy again.

After that, it's simple. Would you like...? and Only if you... and Yes, all right; yes. If Wilson has started something he shouldn't, whose fault is it really? Love can't be dictated. Wilson's been caught too many times in that wild swirl of emotions to think it can be controlled.

Wendy smiles at him the next morning. Wilson leans across the bed and kisses her, twining her fingers in his. It's so easy to imagine that this time he'll stay.


Wilson was the one who stayed when House was shot.

Three days. Wilson doesn't stay up nights, or skip shaving, or wear the same clothes over again as if he's living out of his office and using the hospital showers. He's not. He keeps his regular hours, and if he lies awake at night, at least he's at home where there's only Wendy to suspect that he's losing sleep. House is stable and recovering. They transfused six units of blood during his surgery, keeping up with the loss. The damage to his jugular and his nicked bowel were repaired, while Wilson and Cuddy stood at the observation window and repeated It could have been worse, like a mantra. House is breathing on his own; they took him off assisted ventilation on the first day. Now, he just has the nasal canula, a saline line in the back of his hand, and the catheter, with an NG tube for feeding.

Wilson won't hang around House's bedside, hovering. He takes Wendy out for a nice meal, the second night, distracted, and has to smile away her questions that he doesn't hear. Each day, Wilson gets his updates from House's chart. He checks Chase's notations against his own intuition, watching the colour of House's skin and the quality of his breathing. It's becoming a routine, one he hopes doesn't last. He wants House's eyes to snap open, for him to launch immediately into a complaint about the food, the nurses, about the pattern of Wilson's tie. Anything would be preferable to seeing House looking like he did after the infarction, as if the hospital bed has drained his strength.

"Any change?" Wilson asks when he shows up on the third afternoon. He stands in the doorway with his hands in the pockets of his labcoat.

Cameron, reading glasses perched on her nose, has taken up doing paperwork at House's bedside. Wilson feels a mean sort of congratulations for himself that at least he hasn't glued himself to House like a too-caring lamprey. "No," Cameron says. She's distracted, concentrating on another file, another patient that House won't do the aftercare for, even if he was conscious.

"Has Foreman visited?" Wilson asks. He presses his lips together, and then tacks on, "Or Chase?"

"Chase is the attending," Cameron says.

"Yes." Wilson takes another step into the room, his body tensing with impatience. She's taken over the visitor chair, filled House's room with her things--coat on the couch in the corner, purse by her feet, cold cup of coffee on the bed table. "I meant--" Wilson hesitates, wishing he'd never brought it up. "Socially."

"He's in a coma," Cameron says, with admirable blitheness given that she looks like she hasn't been home in three days. Her hair is heavy and oily, and there are dark smudges under her eyes. Wilson wonders what Chase thinks of her devotion, whether he's bitter. Wilson could understand that. He refrains from rolling his eyes, even though he's probably had more updates on House's condition than Cameron has.

Cameron closes the file she was working on, and starts to gather her things. "Foreman's acting as head of Neurology," she says. "While Lee's at the Tourette's conference."

As if that explains why Foreman hasn't so much as stuck his head into the room to see how House is doing. Wilson shakes his head, and waits for Cameron to leave before he picks up the chart to reassure himself that House's stats haven't changed. He sits down and drops the bagged cafeteria lunch on House's bed table. The crinkle of sandwich wrappers alone, not to mention the smell of fries, might be enough to snap him out of it. Wilson takes the remote and turns to the television suspended over the bed, crossing his legs and settling in to the opening credits of Prescription: Passion.

As a way to pass a lunch hour, it's no worse than what he and House usually get up to. Wilson can't quite help the stab of fear whenever he looks over and realizes again that it's not the coma guy, but House, lying silently in the bed. He doesn't talk to House. He barely even glances at him. He stretches his legs out and tries to be fascinated with the plots on House's soap. He doesn't know who they're talking about, but someone's being blackmailed and someone else is pregnant and Wilson thinks, maybe, that one of the characters is gay because of the way he stares, smouldering, at the lead.

He hasn't yet been late for a patient consult or a meeting. The first day, when he arrived a few minutes overdue for his clinic hours, Cuddy crossed the room and stopped him before he saw his first patient. "Wilson," she said, looking up at him softly, one hand firm on his elbow. "You don't need to be here."

Wilson opens his mouth, not quite sure what to say at first. "I'll make up his hours," he says at last. It's the least he can do. He has a feeling that Cameron has already snuck back into House's room, hoping to be there when he wakes up.

Cuddy sighs. She looks tired, herself, although like him, she conceals it better than Cameron does. Up close, her makeup is caked a little too thick around her eyes, hiding the insomnia.

"I need to do this," Wilson tells her.

Cuddy shakes her head, her eyes shining with sympathy. "He's going to be fine," she says, and Wilson nods. If they reassure each other enough, then it has to be true.

Yesterday, Wendy looked in on him while he was sitting with House. Wilson smiled at her but he didn't invite her to stay. He doesn't want her to be here when House wakes up. He wants to be alone when it happens.

Sophia has just declared her intention to destroy Tim if he tells Georgia about Brad when House lets out a tiny, half-snoring grunt. Wilson freezes, then takes a very deliberate bite of his sandwich, chewing carefully and swallowing past the flutter in his throat. The monitors register House's rising heart rate, and House takes a deep, sharp breath, as if he's been startled awake from nothing more than a nap.

Wilson forces himself to breathe and keeps his eyes on the TV. He waves his soda when he hears House's head move on the pillow. Without even looking, he can imagine House's calculating frown. "Sandy's been abandoned on a deserted island," Wilson says, "and it looks like Billy might be the secret cabaret singer."

"Of course he is," House snaps. "That's been online for months."

Wilson raises his eyebrows and nods, as if it's new information and interesting. As if he's riveted to the TV. "You missed three episodes," he said, to give House the date.

House grunts. He shifts, restlessly, and takes in the room, the monitors, the oxygen, and Wilson's half-eaten lunch. He makes a grab for the remains of Wilson's sandwich; Wilson smacks the back of his hand and takes it himself, wolfing down half. He feels suddenly ravenous, even though a minute ago he was only picking. "Jell-O," he says, muffled by whole wheat. House reaches for the bed remote and sits himself up. He snags the orange Jell-O container out of the paper bag and rummages for the plastic spoon.

"I like raspberry," he complains, after a bite.

Wilson turns his head for the first time, awarding House a bland stare as he sets his soda down. "I'll get the catering staff on that right away." He can nearly feel House's eyeroll but he bottles up his relief. Suddenly, Wilson needs to know desperately if Vincent is Sandy's kidnapper after all. He can't look at House for too long; if he does, he won't be able to hide.

"The guy..." House pauses. His voice scratches in his throat. He snags Wilson's soda off the bed table. Gingerale, which Wilson doesn't like, but which he knew would be easy on House's stomach. It's part of the liquids-only diet he will, inevitably, be prescribed, so Wilson barely glances over when House snatches it.

"They didn't catch him," Wilson says, keeping his voice neutral. He hears it again--the shocking explosion of the first shot. He didn't even recognize it as gunfire. The second shot sounded even louder after the whole hospital was silenced by the first, and it broke Wilson's paralysis and sent him sprinting for House's office. He was the third person in the room, yelling orders at Cameron and Chase, both of them stunned to inaction, while House's blood pumped all over the carpet. Wilson had his fingers in House's jugular, astonished at the heat of his blood. He felt like he was trying to hold back the tide.

"Wilson," House said, his head lolling back, before they managed to get him onto a gurney. Cameron had taken over holding a gauze pad in place, and Chase was tearing open House's shirt to get at the abdomen wound.

"Yeah," Wilson said. He grabbed for House's hand and squeezed. "Stay--just stay--"

"I want ketamine," House said. His eyes were unfocused, and his fingers tightened spasmodically around Wilson's before they loosened entirely.

The surgery lasted for three hours. Wilson spent most of that time shouting Cuddy down, insisting that House be given the treatment he asked for. "This time," he said pointedly, and he didn't care at all about the stricken look on her face. "I'm his proxy."

So House got what he wanted. As usual. He doesn't know that yet. Wilson spent the nights when he couldn't sleep reading all the literature he could find on the uses of ketamine in pain reduction. It isn't much. He can't read German, and the translations are occasional and unhelpful, mostly abstracts. Wilson watches House sucking at his gingerale--the Jell-O has already disappeared--and promises himself that he won't ask how House is feeling. Not yet.

Still, it must have shown on his face. "Shot in the stomach," House snaps after a moment.

Wilson raises his eyebrows. "I noticed."

House stares at him as if he's the slowest child in the remedial class. "I can't reach the chart."

"Are you asking for help?" Wilson asks innocently, for the pure amusement of seeing House's frustration. After a second, he relents and passes House the chart, and goes back to the show. Maybe he really does care if Sabine finds out about Billy's secret career.

They watch the episode in silence, but it's different. Better. Wilson isn't trying to drown out the sound of the monitors. House glances back and forth between the TV and the chart and hmms over the notes taken on his surgery, probably evaluating Chase's work and finding it wanting. Wilson feels a sort of peace stealing over him. House is alive, cranky, already impatient with being confined to bed. He hasn't asked for drugs. Something must have gone right, and House's body is already through the worst of the detox.

"I expected Cameron," House says finally, setting the chart aside and letting his head fall back against the pillows.

"Why?" Wilson blurts out, glancing over. House's stubble is longer and darker than usual, nearly enough to be called a proper beard. Wilson expects House to ask for Foreman, but House's eyes are far away, and Wilson knows he won't.

When House turns back to him, the calculating look is tinged with disdain. "Because she cares, and that makes people do idiotic things."

Wilson swallows down his anger. He's not going to yell. He's House's friend, whether House disregards his caring or not. "Like save your life."

House shrugs, then winces. It must pull at both of his wounds, right side and neck. "That would've happened anyway. Best place to be shot, in a hospital."

"Ah, so that's why you work here, as an insurance policy."

"Well, it's certainly not the patients."

Or their families, Wilson thinks. He wants, fiercely, justice; but it seems right somehow that House won't get resolution for this or anything else that happens to him.

"I dreamed..."

Wilson fixes him with a sharp look. House's eyes are distant, but he catches Wilson watching, and he quickly snaps a sneer into place. "Yes, and you were there, Toto."

Wilson presses his lips together. The credits roll on the TV. The soap changes to one House doesn't watch; Wilson is late for clinic.

House is quiet, his jaw tight, frowning at something Wilson can't see, as if he's trying to shape it in his thoughts. "Hallucinations," he says at last, as if confirming a diagnosis. "You were there," he repeats.

Wilson nods, enough to show he's heard. He's here. He's always going to be here.


summer

Wilson hears the shouting before he even makes it inside the front door of House's building. He raises his eyebrows and hesitates in the hallway, debating the propriety of trying to make out what's being said. He pushes his keyring into his pocket. He won't, however innocently, use his key to get in.

The door slams open quickly enough, and Wilson takes up a surprised stance, as though he was about to knock. Foreman's looking over his shoulder before he turns and sees Wilson standing there. Wilson can't help feeling vaguely sheepish that he's a witness to the shouting match. Foreman looks incredibly different outside the hospital, when he's not shoehorned into his perfectly pressed suits. He's wearing creased jeans and a t-shirt that Wilson recognizes as one of House's, white with a design of vines and skulls in black. "He's here," Foreman shouts down the hall, not acknowledging Wilson at all.

"Wilson!" House's voice comes from down the hall. "Get in here and tell Foreman to stop being such a baby."

Foreman's stare is hardly welcoming, but he stands aside to let Wilson into the apartment. Wilson frowns, wondering if there was ever a chance that they might have made some sort alliance. Fighting House all the time is exhausting, and Wilson needs all the backup he can get. Cuddy is a reluctant ally at best. When Wilson conspired with Stacy, it was simpler. Making sure House didn't ruin birthdays or convincing him that yes, this time, he must go see his in-laws no matter how uncomfortably polite he had to be for Stacy's sake. With Foreman, he somehow missed the window of opportunity. Wilson warned him about House, right at the very beginning, and that had set the tone.

Foreman stays at the door, still ignoring Wilson in favour of the argument. "You're paying for the goddamn dry-cleaning, House."

House appears in the living room, pulling on a t-shirt. When his head emerges from the neck, he's rolling his eyes. "Oh, come on, it's not that bad."

Foreman looks apoplectic at that. "All my shirts are pink."

"All your shirts were pink anyway."

Wilson is not listening. He's mostly wishing he hadn't spotted a parking space on his first tour around House's block, so that he wouldn't have to be here. He and Foreman, for the most part, have silently worked out a system of leaving early and arriving late that doesn't require them to actually speak to each other. House knows, of course, and the most surprising thing is that he doesn't engineer these meetings more often, just because he's bored.

"Where the hell did you even get those socks?" Foreman demands. "Did you buy them on purpose just to put in my laundry?"

"You have your own washing machine."

"Yeah, at my apartment." Foreman glares at House, and Wilson wonders if he reads the same message in House's prank that Wilson does. House needs space. "So I should travel across the city to throw in a load of shirts, when I haven't been home in two weeks?"

Wilson hides a smile when House throws up his arm--there was, once, a cane inevitably in his hand, and now the gesture looks empty, unfinished, when he has nothing to point at Foreman. "I let you borrow my shirt."

"You complained for half an hour that I was going to stretch it out before you let me put it on!"

"Well, you are going to stretch it out." House keeps his eyes on Foreman, his expression turning suggestive when he adds, "And the half-hour was your own damn fault."

Some of the tension drains out of Foreman's muscles. He flicks a glance at Wilson before replying, but it doesn't stop him from looking smug. "Yeah, because you were really complaining."

"I wasn't--you were."

Foreman raises an eyebrow, skeptically, apparently just now catching on to the fact that House is delaying him for delay's sake. "Just take the shirts to the dry-cleaner's, House. I'm already late."

"No, you're not." House can out-smug Foreman any day, apparently without effort. "It's an hour to your parents' and you're leaving anally early as usual."

Wilson sighs to himself. Of course House knows everything about Foreman: where his parents live, the distance, the time. He knows that about Wilson too. For that matter, House could probably show up at Cameron's grand-aunt's home on her golden anniversary, without hesitation or needing directions, if he felt there was some need for it. More than once House has called Wilson away from his family, and known down to the minute what course of dinner he's interrupting and whether Wilson's Uncle Milton has started telling fishing stories yet. Wilson isn't surprised that House knows this much about Foreman, but he's annoyed at being pressed into service as House's audience. He takes off his jacket and moves to sit down on the couch, hoping this will all be wrapped up soon.

Foreman picks at the t-shirt. It really is much too tight on him; House is right that he'll stretch it out. "It's not early if I have to go home to get a new shirt."

"That shirt's a classic." House frowns studiously as his eyes trail over Foreman's chest. He seems to like it right where it is. It's strange, but House allows familiarity like this. He steals Wilson's ties when he's sued, and Wilson's certain that more than one of his shirts is buried somewhere in House's place, because he always comes up one shirt short after each stay. House no doubt keeps them as a memento of another disastrous divorce.

"I am not visiting my mother wearing skulls, House."

"She wouldn't remember if you did!"

That's the last straw; Foreman's eyes widen, a muscle working furiously in his jaw. With a disgusted scoff, he shakes his head and turns to leave, the door closing just short of a slam behind him.

"Pissy," House says, and throws himself carelessly down onto the other end of the couch, frowning.

"I can't imagine why," Wilson says. He's been the victim of House's attempts at doing laundry before, although that only left him with a sweater-vest shrunk down to chihuahua size rather than a load of pinks.

There's a faint smirk on House's face, as if he's remembering that too. It was the laundry that eventually drove Wilson off House's couch after Bonnie left him. He can't help but wonder what House is telling Foreman. Wilson raises his eyebrows; he's not going to bring it up. "So are we, or are we not, visiting the Paradise at the center of a monster truck track today?" he asks.

Like a light switch flicking, House focuses on him, a gleam of excitement burning in his eyes. "Foam finger's in the car." He jumps to his feet and heads back to the bedroom. "Need my hat. Gravedigger waits for no man to do anything but keel over in fear."

Wilson waits for him to emerge, trucker sunglasses and green ball cap in place, and wonders how often House and Foreman shout the walls down over laundry. Wilson has impeccable timing and he knows when to step in: when to offer a patient tissues and when to be quiet, letting them tell him about all the ways their lives should not be ending, how this is unfair, how it should not be them. He calculates emotions, he deals in well-thumbed sympathy. But he doesn't have enough information here, so for now, he lets it slide. House comes out of the bedroom with his backpack slung over one shoulder, probably full of toys--his airhorn, a spare finger, a beercan holder for his hat; it looks stuffed.

House drives them to the arena with the top down. The Corvette is an instant mood-lightener, the cheerful red lines and House's pure pleasure at sitting behind the wheel more than making up for the encounter with Foreman. Wilson blinks into the wind and tries to watch the road as much as House, enjoy the heat of the sun beating down on his head. But it's the still-strange sight of House actually shifting gears--instead of using his left foot to work the gas and brakes--that brings home to him again that House is better. Wilson wants to laugh, but mostly he's grinning like an idiot. The tickets House sniped from under the nose of a complacent eBay buyer at the last second get them top parking along with access to everything--the track, the trucks, the owners. Wilson pays for beer and cotton candy, tastes sugar dissolving on his tongue when House pulls pink tufts off his stick with his lips until his mouth and tongue are red.

"Remind you of anyone?" House yells over the rev of engines. They're between two trucks, the wheels towering over their heads. House leers at one of the girls draped over the hood of Absolut Crush. "Think Cuddy could get a part-time gig?"

Wilson raises his eyebrows at the generous spill of the girl's breasts out of her barely-there top. Her legs go on forever, before curving beneath a skirt that toys with the line over to 'wide belt'.

"Cuddy's only waiting for you to suggest it," Wilson says, when he's finally able to close his mouth and stop stuttering.

"Fifty bucks says she'd take the offer better from you."

Wilson actually thinks that Cuddy would be more likely to brush off a remark from House than take it from him if he tried to tell her she should strip down to a string bikini and five-inch stilettos to hump an engine block at a monster truck rally. "Taking your money wouldn't actually be worth that much humiliation," he says.

"A hundred," House offers immediately.

Wilson just rolls his eyes. "More beer?"

House raises his foam finger and points to the nearest beer hut. "Thought you'd never ask."

They grab another beer each, and House nags until Wilson buys him a giant pretzel, before they make their way to their seats. House is on his feet before the first flame ring is ignited, shouting with the crowd for The Titanium Titan to come out and face Gravedigger. Each time the trucks launch off the ramps, tearing and screeching metal rings above the crowd and the roar of the engines as the lines of crumpled wrecks are flattened into the mud. Wilson laughs at House, who gets into an argument with a ten-year-old girl over whether or not Exhaust Zombie is a lame name for a truck. And he thinks, House and Foreman don't do this. They barely interact at the hospital unless Foreman is called in on a diagnostics case. House eats lunch with Wilson, shares his gossip with Wilson, and hides out in Wilson's office when Lou is too close on his heels after a prank. Foreman had a chance to see House like this and he turned it down.

Foreman never did come to see House when he was shot. He wasn't even in the hospital when House deftly took out his IV and got to his feet. Foreman didn't see that first tentative, almost confused, smile on House's face, the deepening of his dimples as he stared down at his sockless Niked feet and took his first step without pain and without falling. Wilson was the one who discharged him, if only because House would have walked out AMA if he hadn't. Wilson was the one who took him home.

He parked on the street, and House didn't wait before climbing out of the car. He walked inside and immediately sat down on the couch. Wilson caught his breath, thinking that he'd collapsed. But House lifted both legs, stretching out his left foot and then his right, staring intently down at his thighs. As if he couldn't believe what he'd been given.

Wilson watched from the kitchen doorway, feeling suddenly, unaccountably lonely. House wouldn't accept congratulations, or any sort of celebration. But Wilson wanted so badly to do something, say something to mark the moment, and instead he could only watch.

He called for takeout, pulling the menus out of the wild clutter on House's coffee table, which was when he began to notice it. Instead of the usual spill of unpaid bills on what might, in anyone else's place, be a kitchen table, there was something like order. Books reshelved instead of tossed at the bookcases. A haphazard, must I? sort of order but one that was there nonetheless. It was still unmistakably House's apartment. There was no moment when Foreman's presence could be said to overwhelm. But House himself had been tempered, softened, camouflaged. It wasn't like Foreman had called in a cleaning service and had the whole place organized. He had simply...accommodated House, turned chaos to purpose.

By the time the monster trucks take their final, growling laps around the arena, most of the crowd has started dispersing. House sits back in his seat until the last truck has gone, something he used to do because he'd have to stand up again and use the cane to make his slow way back to the car. Wilson sits with him, crumpling his last beer can and tossing it, clattering, down the arena steps to merge with the rest of the trash. He waits for House, assuming House is enjoying some kind of monster truck jam related afterglow. When House gets up, Wilson falls into step beside him, anticipating House's limp and then correcting himself when House nearly leaps up the stairs to the tunnel out to the parking lot.

They make it back to the car, and House unlocks the doors. "Got a stop to make," he says, taking one last opportunity to point at Wilson with his giant finger.

"Fine," Wilson says, sliding in to the passenger seat. He's had enough beer that he feels content, just enough to smile for no reason.

House pulls his backpack over the seat and unzips it for Wilson to see. Wilson glances in, expecting House's toys, before remembering that House hadn't taken it into the rally with him. But it's a wad of shirts, instead, splotched red and pink, that look more like House was working on tie-dying them than washing them.

"You--" Wilson stops, trying to understand. "You're taking them to the cleaners?"

"Best dollar I ever spent on socks," House says, starting the car and pushing the button to retract the top. "Colour-fast is for wimps."

The wind is colder than when they came, tearing away anything Wilson might say. The argument was simply how House and Foreman react and interact, with all the shouts and stompings and clattering doors. Foreman left disgusted but without any indication that he wouldn't be back. Wilson doesn't believe for a second that House will pay for the dry-cleaning, but the very fact that House will run the errand means there's more between them than Wilson believed. House did it so that Foreman would wear his t-shirt. That casual, undeniable intimacy.

Wilson can only guard his wallet to ensure that he, at least, has nothing to do with dry-cleaning Foreman's shirts.


autumn

"Hiding from Cuddy?" Wilson asks, stepping halfway into the Neurology lounge. House is draped over a wing chair in front of the widescreen TV, his legs lifted over the armrest, Nikes waving idly. Wilson glances up and down the hall, making sure the coast is clear, before he slips into the room.

"No patient. Finished my clinic hours." House takes another mouthful of pudding and studies the spoon to make sure he's licked it entirely clean. "Why would Cuddy possibly be after me?" He pauses to leer. "Besides the obvious."

"You...stole all the clinic's pens."

House sneers faintly, and Wilson imagines that anything that happened more than half an hour ago has been reduced to complete trivia in his mind. "The nurses hid the lollipops."

"So you found them and used them to replace the pens." Wilson shakes his head, not quite able to hide his amusement. There must be a pen graveyard somewhere between the clinic and the Neurology lounge, which quite possibly, Cuddy will never find. "The calling card of a demented madman."

House speaks around another spoonful of pudding, but Wilson makes out his smug, "Exactly."

"You're right." Wilson sits down in the other wing chair, crossing his legs, committing himself to at least a half-hour's worth of distraction. It's Friday afternoon, as if he needs more of an excuse than House. No one really expects their phone calls returned before Monday. "It is hard to see why Cuddy didn't appreciate your genius. Why would anyone rather have pens than candy in her clinic?"

House throws his head back in exasperation. "You're such a wimp," he says, pointing his spoon at Wilson in judgment.

"You mean, when I don't sabotage my colleagues? Yes, how terrible; I should be beaten up and stuffed in my own locker after school."

"And you're such a liar. You love this." As emphasis, House finishes his pudding and tosses the cup towards the garbage can, a three-point effort that bounces off the rim and spatters the wall with chocolate before tumbling in.

Wilson shakes his head repressively. "I'm here to stop you."

"Oh, when have you ever managed that?" House flicks off the television with the remote. Wilson has his full attention now that he's actively trying to get in House's way. "When I switched all the nurses' coffee for decaf?"

"That was different."

"Yeah," House says, his voice rich with duh. "That was awesome."

Wilson pauses to consider. Besides the stealthy fun of watching House's Mission: Impossible antics, indulging himself in dry commentary every time House found another stash of coffee to sabotage, he hadn't really seen the point of the prank. "It seemed kind of tame, actually."

House frowns at him. "Have you ever seen an uncaffeinated nurse? That was downright dangerous."

"So what's this?"

House smirks. "Strategy."

Wilson settles deeper into the leather of the chair, glancing around the lounge to reassure himself that it's empty. It's plush with comfort, with the deep chairs and a flatscreen television. The stainless steel fridge in the kitchenette looks space age and as cold as ice. Oncology is more comfortable, with furniture that Wilson inherited during his tenure. He'd insured that the small spills remained to tell people to actually use the room. The foosball table alone guarantees visitors, and Wilson encourages it. Interdepartmental cooperation. House, at least, is always there to call the table next, and Wilson can't be seen to allow House free reign without inviting others. Neurology, though, looks as though it is meant to be separate and above. Not the usual brand of House's hangouts, even though Foreman works in this wing. "Seriously, House. What are you doing?"

House shrugs. He struggles upright, lifting his leg off the chair. He still has trouble with his hip flexion, and Wilson frowns quickly. House hasn't complained of pain after Wilson suggested an anti-inflammatory and an icepack, so he must be getting by with ibuprofen and rest. There's no limp when House stalks across the room--literally stalks, like a cat about to pounce on prey. Someone--and Wilson already feels badly for them--has left a laptop sitting on the table, open and unattended. "Putting peanut butter on the door handles," House says. He's relishing every minute of anarchy he's about to create. "Replacing the Evian with tap water."

Wilson follows House, his hands settling on his hips. "How pedestrian."

"Too low for my intellect?" House peers up at him, wrinkling his nose at Wilson's attempt at reverse psychology. "Is that how you're going to stop me?"

"No." Well, not if it's not going to work. "I just don't think that's what you're planning."

"Chaos," House says, wriggling his fingers over the laptop's keyboard like a master pianist sitting down to a concerto, "has no plan."

"That's...so reassuring."

"Wasn't meant to be." House studies the laptop screen intently. Wilson's internal red alert sirens shriek, but he purses his lips and takes a tour around the lounge. If he's lucky, Singh or Lee will come in and put a stop to this.

But the door stays closed, and the fates leave Wilson to deal with House, as usual. "How does your leg feel?" he asks. He's probably imagining that House has been moving more slowly lately. He's not using his cane, so even if there's some soreness, it can't be that bad.

House looks up, and his expression shuttered into an impatient mask. "Fine."

"If it really was hurting..."

"Then I'd see my doctor about it," House says shortly.

There's a nasty undercurrent to his voice, but Wilson can't be sure if it's directed at him. "I gave you my opinion..."

"You gave me your hope. Now shut up."

"I want to know if anything's changed, House."

"Nope." House shapes the consonants precisely, his lips popping on the p. "Peachy."

Wilson sighs. House's wild, exultant physicality tapered off as the summer ended. He's more himself now, tense and snappish. Back, almost, to how he used to be. Wilson has several categories of 'used to be', not only for House but for himself. Wilson used to be happy: there were times, with Julie, with Bonnie, with Ellie, when he laughed easily, when he thought more of them than of work or of House. With House, there is the 'used to be' that means Stacy, and another that means his leg. Right now 'used to be' means before Foreman, which Wilson has only reluctantly admitted as a category at all.

"Do you think Singh prefers dolphins or dogs in his porn?" House pulls on his lower lip, one fingertip moving thoughtfully over the trackpad.

"House," Wilson warns. It's probably better if House isn't pulling a prank, even if he's looking up porn on Singh's computer. Of course, it could still be both. Singh barely registers on House's scale of contempt, but since he's Foreman's main competition in the Neurology department, House reserves the occasional jab for him.

"Oh, relax. I'm not sending him porn."

"Somehow that sounds even worse."

"I'm sending a resumé."

That can't possibly end well. Wilson has no idea what House is planning, or even if he's serious. "Foreman's?"

House stares at him witheringly. "If Foreman wants a better job he knows what he needs to do."

Wilson wonders at this. Does House want Foreman to have a better job? Does he think there is a better job, or does he want Foreman to take on the position of House's diagnostics fellow full time? "I--wonder how he's doing." That isn't entirely a lie, though if House weren't distracted, he might tear it to pieces. "After your patient died."

"After he killed her," House says, not looking up. Instead of meeting Wilson's questions with sneering comments of his own, he's nearly agreeing, which is a bad sign.

"What job should Foreman have?" Wilson asks cautiously.

House rolls his eyes elaborately. "You don't care about Foreman's career."

"Neither do you!" Wilson says, with a certain incredulous conviction. House tolerated Stacy's career, went to parties and conferences with her (for the golf, he always said, and 'for the sex' was implied). House seems to take Foreman as more of a challenge, someone worth pushing. It disgusts him that Foreman would rather concentrate on administration, clinical trials, and publishing. "House. Whose resumé are you sending?"

"Did you know that Taylor's retiring?"

Wilson blinks, trying to sort through all the Taylors he knows, and how one of them retiring could possibly be significant. When he gets it, it still doesn't make any sense. "The head of neurology at County? In Chicago?"

"Singh would be perfect for it."

Oh, God. Wilson hasn't exactly been keeping up with the politics at Princeton-Plainsboro's neurology department, let alone those in another city, but Singh is hardly head-of-department material. He barely scrapes by as Lee's deputy as it is. "Singh would be awful at it."

"Oh, right, that's what I meant," House says. "Too late, though."

"Why the hell would you do that to him?" Lee's retiring, too, and now he'll see Singh as out for his job. Chicago will dismiss Singh entirely. House has just torpedoed Singh's career and he doesn't even know.

House shrugs. "Just following your advice. More elegant than peanut butter."

Wilson glares. There's no way he's going to let House pin this on him. House has been planning this the entire time he's been here. He was waiting for an audience to appreciate it. "House, take it back."

House blinks at him, the picture of dumbfounded innocence. "You do know the tubes don't work that way, don't you?"

"Tell them what you did!" Wilson takes a breath and grabs control of his voice. House listens to orders even less than he listens to anything else. Wilson squeezes at the back of his neck and forces himself to speak calmly. "This isn't--House, trading pens for lollipops isn't the same as sabotaging someone's career."

"Sure it is," House says, but it's not with the same gleeful enthusiasm that he has for a harmless prank. Under his manic heartiness, there's a sullen anger, and Wilson studies him, trying to follow the logic.

"Was Foreman that upset about killing your patient?" he asks. The only reason Wilson can think for House to start meddling in Lee's department is for Foreman's sake, even though House has to know that Foreman will be furious with him.

"Who cares?" House snaps the laptop shut, his mouth tightening as he looks away. "He was wrong. He should get used to it."

"And this is...what you told him?" Wilson wants to shake House, tell him that he might be able to treat his fellows that way, but Foreman isn't just a body who happens to work in his department.

House shoves the chair back from the table and stands up, his anger pushing him into Wilson's space. "If he'd wanted compassion he should have come to you."

"Right, because Foreman sees me as a mentor figure." Foreman would never ask Wilson's advice. He's too proud, too arrogant. And Wilson doesn't have a stake in Foreman's practice or in his life. Still, he feels a twinge of pity for Foreman, who would get no sympathy from House, either at work or at home. Wilson could talk to Foreman, even now. He can see the crack, the beginning of a splintering, that he could fix if only Foreman would listen.

"Yeah, talking is pointless when no one listens," House says, his gaze slipping past Wilson's as he heads for the door. "You've really shown me the way." He leaves the lounge without looking back, the door swinging loosely behind him.

Wilson exhales shortly, staring at the doorway after House has disappeared. He should tell Singh what House has done, give him a chance to do damage control. As for Foreman, it's hardly Wilson's job to interfere. No one would appreciate it, so he will hold his tongue.


House sucks noisily on his straw, pulling up the last of his milkshake. He lifts the cup in greeting when Wilson pokes his head into room 213. "Sabine told Brad that Billy and Tim are together," House offers, an absent greeting.

Wilson nods and takes the second visitor's chair, although the names have slipped through his memory after his few days sitting next to House's bed, months ago. He pulls out his own lunch, sandwich, chips, and a can of Coke. The crumbs on the coma guy's blanket show that House has used the poor man as his tray table, but he doesn't hesitate to snatch Wilson's chips as soon as he opens them.

It's so easy to slip back into normalcy. Wilson frowns lightly over his own definitions, treading softly. He takes the pulse of his life with practiced and assured fingertips, tracing and returning over the same spots, searching for some change.

Change is never good. It means tumours and malignancy far more often than it signals remission. For now, everything is as it should be. House's gameboy sits among the lunch detritus on the bed table, the remote is clutched in the coma guy's unresponsive hand, and House is stretched out with no intention of moving even though he's half an hour late to start in the clinic.

It's comforting. Like the soap. The plotlines are all the same, repeating, and Wilson frowns, wondering why House needs the extra drama. Wilson doesn't want to watch women slapping their husbands for being unfaithful, men trapped by blackmail or threats, surprise pregnancies and sexual crises. Wilson interlocks his fingers over his stomach and lets out a breath. He's not really here to watch the show. As long as House is absorbed in it, Wilson has a certain leeway to watch him instead.

House's legs are lifted up next to the coma guy's, and his fingers are digging in to his right thigh. He massages his scar almost unconsciously--but House is never unconscious of his scar. The dent between his eyebrows is deeper, and his lips are pulled into a thoughtful pout. Even though he's staring at the television with all apparent concentration, it's not really the show he's watching anymore.

It's how he looks right before he takes a pill. The thought comes suddenly, and Wilson's sandwich dries in his mouth. He sets it down, taking a swig of his Coke to clear his throat. Wilson doesn't think anyone else would see it, if they didn't know House, but House's fingers are tapping an impatient morse code on the arm of his chair, and the lines around his eyes and mouth have deepened. Wilson has read pain on too many faces, but this is how he knows it best, in House's impatience. Wilson offers morphine to his patients, no more than necessary, yet always enough. As an oncologist, he's learned it like an art. This much for coherency, this little to avoid the worst of the side effects. House hasn't taken a pill since the summer. He's been fine. Wilson opens his mouth to ask, but shuts it again, his pulse rising with his uneasiness. He hasn't seen House take a pill since the summer, but suddenly, he doesn't know if he's been watching closely enough.

But, some part of him wants to argue, he's not using the cane. Isn't that enough? There's no yellow tint to the whites of House's eyes. If House was in pain the whole world would know, Wilson first of all. He's House's doctor.

But what does he really know? He hasn't prescribed for House since he was shot. They're friends, but it doesn't come with the same tabs on House's life that writing for him did. Wilson wants to take his penlight and flash it across House's pupils to see if they're constricted, take his pulse, and feel the heat of his skin. It can't be pain. He has to be misreading House's expression; maybe he's upset about something else entirely, something he won't share with Wilson.

It has to be Foreman. Wilson swallows down his anger, the edge of hurt that makes it hard to breathe. Something's wrong, but House won't tell him. Wilson reaches across the bed and grabs for his chips, and House snatches them back before Wilson can get a finger on them, without even looking. "Getting slow," House says to the television.

"They're dill," Wilson says blandly. Sometimes the only victory is buying the flavours House hates. House turns and stares at him as if Wilson has tried to poison him, but he stuffs a defiant handful in his face and starts crunching. Wilson tries to smother his smile and, from the answering twitch of House's lips, probably fails. They're still good.

A second later, the door slides open and the clack of heels announces Cuddy. Wilson raises his eyebrows, insisting on his own innocence. This is his lunch hour, at least. House glares at her and takes his hand away from his thigh.

"House. Clinic," she says evenly. Wilson expects yelling, but House nods once, barely an acknowledgement.

"What are you doing?" Cuddy asks--still without yelling, Wilson thinks.

House gapes at her like he's not sure which of them is the developmentally delayed three-year-old. "The magic box makes pictures that tell a story," he explains.

Cuddy gives him a flat stare and refuses to engage. "How are you doing?" she tries again.

Wilson frowns, looking back and forth between them. House is crankier, grumpier, but that's hardly a change.

Instead of answering, House takes his leg down from the bed and levers himself to his feet. Wilson opens his mouth to speak, but what is there to say? Cuddy's watching House as intently as he is, both of them holding their breaths. There's a pride to House's motion, an insistence on independence. Once he's up, he walks carefully, but with no noticeable limp, and he leaves the room, apparently heading for the clinic without any further prompting from Cuddy. Wilson wants to follow him, to find out what the hell is going on, but he won't learn anything from House.

Cuddy shakes her head and starts tidying the mess that House left behind, her lips tight. She's cutting House some slack; she has to know what's up with him. "What's the matter?" Wilson asks.

Cuddy gives him a look--and oh, Wilson recognizes it. He's never seen it before, but he knows himself well enough that he knows it as the look he's directed at Cuddy more than once. It's an evaluating expression. Can I trust you with this? Can I trust you with House? Seeing Cuddy assess him that way hurts, clearly and suddenly. Wilson should be the one who knows the secrets, not the one fishing for answers. He should know.

"You haven't heard?" Cuddy asks, a frown crossing her face. Wilson's throat tightens. What she's really asking is, He hasn't told you? God, what has he missed?

"No," Wilson says shortly. House seems fine, even if today's a bad day. It's breakthrough pain, just a remnant. House might have been stupid about it once or twice--forcing Wilson to rescue him--but he is fine.

"You should ask him," Cuddy says. She stops for a minute, turned away from him, House's garbage piled together on the bed table before she pushes it into the trash. She picks up House's gameboy with a long-suffering sigh and hands it to him.

"Cuddy," Wilson says. It's his best cajoling voice, and he's embarrassed to realize it's the same tone in which he's said, so many times, Honey, I never meant to be so late. "Tell me what's going on," he says, almost laughing. There can't be anything, not truly, or he would have noticed.

"The pain is back," Cuddy says, staring at him, as if he's an alien or someone she's never met. "You're not prescribing for him?"

Not since the spring. House isn't using his cane. Beyond a few leftover pills, House hasn't even asked him for a scrip. Wilson swallows a gape, tries for nonchalance, and fails. "Foreman must be--"

"No," Cuddy says. "That's the problem. You haven't heard them arguing?"

They don't, at work. Not where Wilson can hear. "What do you mean?"

"Foreman's worried," Cuddy says. Worried sounds like a half-truth; Foreman's never been worried about anyone but himself. Angry, maybe. Pissed off that House is the bastard everyone said he was, after all. Cuddy hesitates, glances at the door, which is closed. She starts checking the monitors, making sure the patient's nasal canula are properly fitted, as if she needs to reassure herself that he's really in a coma and won't be able to repeat her words. Wilson swallows, realizes she's breaking confidences for him. He has that, at least. Cuddy trusts him with House's welfare. "He says House is taking too much. A hundred milligrams a day, maybe more. That he won't move when he's at home, but he refuses to use the cane."

"Foreman told you this." Wilson doesn't want to believe it. House calls him when he's in trouble. He always has. Wilson's voice comes out flat, as if there is something to deny.

"They're arguing. Foreman's not staying there." Cuddy raises her hands, a helpless gesture, before she opens the door to slip out. "I think House needs a friend, Wilson, or I wouldn't be telling you."

House needs a friend. Isn't that what Wilson's always been?

Then why, he does not ask himself, did he refuse to see?

 


summer

Wilson listens to the rain in the night, the wild crash of it, and watches the flicker of lightning, while he holds Wendy, sleeping, in his arms.
Her hair tickles across his chest when Wilson breathes. He strokes her shoulder lightly, just fingertips, just thinking. Wide awake in the dark.
He thinks, I should love her. I should...

There are too many shoulds in his life. Wilson shouldn't raise Wendy's hopes. He shouldn't allow her to fall in love with him. But it's so easy and he's so practiced at it. The soft laugh when she jokes, the interested look when she tells him about her day, the dinners out and the occasional, random bouquet. This romance. This should be.

Wilson doesn't love her. He thinks of the moment when Foreman was sick, maybe dying, when Wilson had cornered House in his office and nearly made House admit that he cared. At least that would have been honest. At least Wilson would have known. But House had only snapped, "He's not Stacy. He's not the same!"

How do you fall in love for the second time? How do you love someone different?

Wilson wishes he knew. He wishes he'd known long ago. It's so unfair that House knows. House, the misanthrope, the cynic. How does he know? Certainly Foreman and Stacy are nothing alike, and Wilson thinks that House's feelings for them are different. Wilson understands how House loved Stacy, how House still loves her. He doesn't understand how House can love Foreman. Maybe he doesn't. It's not like how it was with Stacy. It's different. House said it himself.

"You're allowed to care," Wilson told him, and he wonders now if he was pushing too hard, trying to protect himself by believing that House really was in love. "You're allowed to be worried."

That's something House never wants to hear, but it's true. You're allowed to care. Wilson clings to that thought as his only certainty. It's not cheating to care. He cares for Wendy, too, tries to help her as best he can. When they first started going out, he showed her around Princeton. Then, later, he started giving her space when she found friends of her own. They make love, softly, and it's always been good.

But, listening to the rain, Wilson's chest tightens. His breath comes shallowly and grates in his throat. His eyes are hot. He won't blink, he won't shut out the sight of Wendy's bedroom ceiling. He's trapped here, under Wendy's soft and yielding weight. He is trapped by the rain as it washes the world clean, offering second chances.

He kissed House on a night like this, with the rain falling, with winter coming.

It's with these thoughts that he arrives at work the next morning. If he happens by Neurology and Foreman's office, then it's a coincidence of his rounds. If he stops in to chat, it's the way two people talk about someone they both know. He taps at the door, wondering if Foreman is even there, but Foreman calls for him to come in.

Wilson enters, closing the door quietly. Foreman's working at his laptop, consulting a sheaf of papers sitting beside him. Dressed in a shirt and tie, even though the day is sweltering outside. Wilson studies him for a moment, until Foreman sits back impatiently and raises an eyebrow to prompt him. No words lost. "I wanted to talk with you," Wilson says. "About House."

Foreman lets out a light scoff. "I don't have any news for you," he says, as though this is about House's recovery from his gunshot wounds.

Wilson hesitates, but the way Foreman lets the emphasis fall lightly on you, the dismissive, irritated set of his shoulders, as if Wilson is interrupting his earth-shatteringly important work--it rubs him the wrong way. Maybe he wouldn't have said anything after all, let Foreman stay ignorant. But that's not really fair to any of them. Wilson smiles slightly, trying to soften what he has to say. "I don't know if he's told you," he says. "But...knowing House..." He pauses and meets Foreman's eyes. Foreman's expression hasn't changed. He doesn't plan to listen to a word Wilson says. Wilson's resolve tightens. He knows how to deliver the truth. You are dying, he says, and he says it softly because that is how his patients will hear it. "I kissed him," he says, and the memory comes back with the words. The tense, warm press of House's lips; the tingling, feverish feeling when House's breath teased the side of his neck.

Foreman's eyes widen fractionally. Wilson's caught him off-guard. Of course House never told him. That was why Wilson had to. When Foreman speaks, though, he hasn't lost his unimpressed sneer. "When?"

Wilson shakes his head. It was months ago, but that's not what's important. House kissed back. He was aroused, and Wilson knows there was a moment when Foreman was forgotten completely. That's something Foreman will never hear, no matter how tactfully Wilson words it. "Does that matter?" he asks.

Foreman laughs shortly. "No," he says. "It really doesn't."

He laughs. Wilson has no idea what that means. "I thought you'd want to know the truth," Wilson says. He's doing them both a favour, really.

Foreman stares at him flatly and then looks pointedly at the door. This impassive, arrogant man, with his self-righteous belief in his own infallibility. Wilson can see the edges of his confidence. If he was House he would know exactly where to tap to make Foreman shatter, but Wilson doesn't know him that well. He only offers the truth because Foreman would want it. He lifts his hands before leaving, a vague defense, and then leaves Foreman to his work.

After all, Wilson's only the messenger. House and Foreman should talk this out. They should know everything before they commit to anything. A secret kept is a secret that festers. Wilson always told his wives, taking what comfort he could from the confession. It doesn't always work out. It hasn't yet. Wilson believes--he knows that it will, when it's right, and it's only ever going to be right if it's truthful.

Necessary things can bring pain. Wilson treats his patients with poison and radiation, and they get better. Most of them get better. He can expect House to yell at him for interfering, unless Foreman keeps the secret, this open secret that all three of them know.

House never shows up to yell.

But he and Foreman are still together. Neither of them shows a single thing they feel, and it frustrates Wilson like a canker sore, drifting in and out of his attention, always painful when he remembers. They don't show it. How can you know if you're in love if you don't offer tokens, gifts? Smiles and kisses and concessions? How is it love if you simply work together, go home to each other, and endure each other? Because that's all House and Foreman have, some stubborn endurance of each other's faults.

Wilson tries to love Wendy, helpfully and carefully. Careful: full of care: that's what it means. If he offers what is best for her rather than what she wants, then...he knows her. That's love, to know someone that well.

Wendy smiles at him sometimes, puzzled, as though she's looking for something in him that should be there. Maybe it's simply hidden. Wilson's hidden so much over the years that he doesn't know what this thing is, what she's looking for. If there's a secret, then he hasn't found the right person to tell.

Wilson told Foreman: "I kissed House."

And that, it seems, brings everything out of hiding. That's the moment that makes it real.


Part Two

summer

"Lee's retiring."

The first thing Wilson thinks, as Cuddy falls into step beside him leaving the department heads' meeting, is thank God. If Wilson has to smile and nod through Lee repeating one more 'amusing' anecdote about the neurology department, he--along with the rest of the department heads--might actually explode. "So soon?" he asks, amusement hiding in his voice. He holds the clinic doors open for Cuddy and follows her through, the two of them like proud parents. The hospital is doing well, staying in the black, and they haven't had a major disaster in months. They've even managed to push through funding for better security, using House's gunman as leverage.

"Hm," Cuddy agrees, eyes twinkling, even if she won't acknowledge the irony in his tone. "I was thinking of putting Foreman up for his position."

Wilson laughs. Cuddy looks up at him with a half-puzzled smile, and he stops. "Oh, seriously?"

Cuddy raises her eyebrows, and Wilson reorients to the professional manner of the meeting, abandoning their conspiratorial moment. "I can't appoint anyone, obviously," she says. "But it wouldn't hurt to put in a word with the board, if he applies. Don't you think so?"

"Well," Wilson says. He pauses, trying to evaluate what he knows about Foreman's leadership style. He settles for, "He's a little young." Foreman's in his late thirties, he thinks, and certainly not ready for a major position at a teaching hospital. He's only been at Princeton-Plainsboro for...well, nearly a year, now. Actually, a little longer. But he's never held an administrative position.

"Nearly as old as you were," Cuddy says.

Wilson frowns at that. Has it really been so long? He was made head of Oncology at thirty-seven. He doubts Foreman is anywhere near that. "He's inexperienced." When Wilson was made head, he'd been on several committees for longer than Foreman's worked here. Foreman's still a fellow, though his term is probably ending soon.

"He's been Lee's second for the last six months," Cuddy says. "He knows as much about the department as Singh does. He organized the diagnostics conference at Mercy last winter, and his publishing is very impressive."

"Because of the cases he gets," Wilson says. Foreman hasn't run any trials of his own, only written some conservative, if astute, articles about diagnostics. They've been impressive, yes, though Foreman doesn't have Chase's flair for writing. Foreman is staid and academic when he writes, and relies on the strength of numbers, where Chase can draw a reader in. He's certainly not Cameron, who writes impassioned articles for ethics journals rather than clinical diagnostics. All three of them have an advantage in their casework, first working as secondary authors under House, and then branching out on their own.

Foreman's articles have received attention, Wilson knows. Several are outstanding. And House has read them all, gone over them with his sneering red pen. Foreman might think that House is trying to tear him down, mocking him right down to his word choice, but Wilson knows what an honour that is. For the most part, House refuses to review much of anything. "Saves me having to subscribe to the journal," he said, about a month ago, flopping back in his chair with another of Foreman's articles on his lap. "Can you believe this? He's implying that there's no causal correlation between immunosuppressive therapy and chronic autoimmune neuropathy. Moron."

"Outrageous," Wilson agreed dryly, and tried to remember the last time House mocked one of his articles.

"Maybe you're not the person I should be talking to?" Cuddy asks, as they reach her office. She stops, with a hand on the doorknob, and looks at him, concerned.

Wilson shakes his head. He's the one Cuddy turns to in the department head meetings to share annoyed glances with. He's the one she trusts to rein House in. "Who would you rather consult?"

Cuddy shrugs and heads into her office. Wilson follows, diffidently, his hands in his labcoat pockets, watching her drop the meeting's agenda on her desk and check quickly for phone messages. "House says he's the best for the job," she says matter-of-factly.

"That's...hardly impartial," Wilson says.

"No," Cuddy says. She sits down at the desk and looks up at him, folding her hands neatly under her chin. "But it's honest."

Wilson feels his words die in his throat, wondering what that means. "I'm not going to hold Foreman back if he's the best for the position."

"And I'm not going to ram him through the board if he's not," Cuddy says. "House made a recommendation, that's all."

"You really think Foreman has what it takes?" What's this really about? The hospital? Cuddy's feelings for House? Wilson wants to dismiss the rumours Vogler started a few years ago, that the reason Cuddy tolerates House is that she's sleeping with him. It's not true now, but it does have an undertow of conviction to it, as though fond memories are enough. Is Cuddy really that concerned with House's happiness, that she would give a position to Foreman so easily? Even the offer is nearly a promise, from Cuddy, who rules the hospital with a steely smile. This, though, offering Foreman a place for that decades-old fling, doesn't seem like her.

"I think," Cuddy says, meeting his eyes evenly, "that if I had two department heads at this hospital capable of dealing with House, then I might keep the number of lawsuits we're fighting at their current levels. They haven't been this low since Stacy worked here."

"She's a good lawyer."

"Yes. And she was also good at stopping House from being insane."

Wilson tries not to gape. "That's why you'd give Foreman the job? Because he can promise to keep House safe?"

Cuddy sighs. "No one can promise that."

"But that's what you're hoping." He wants to say that Foreman has weaknesses. That he is high-handed with underlings and proud with colleagues. That this is the wrong choice.

Cuddy brushes away the implication, shaking her head and turning on her computer, angling the screen so that she can start skimming through her email. "Foreman's going to start applying for positions sooner or later," she says. "He impressed Schaeffer at Mercy. He might get some interest in Los Angeles, too. Don't you think he deserves that?"

"Of course," Wilson says, and swallows his doubt. Foreman doesn't really have friends here. But does it take friends to run a department? Does Wilson have friends, or does he only have a staff whose work he counts on, whose lives he directs without every truly seeing them? When was the last time he cared about a co-worker's birthday, or anniversary, or pregnancy? Foreman won't need to have friends to command. But that's what he would do, command, rather than lead. Would Foreman ever listen, if he was told he was wrong? Does he have it in him to grow?

"He's competent, he can handle the administrivia, and he can bring in research dollars," Cuddy says. She looks back at him, her lips tight. "I'd rather have him doing that here, than leave."

So that's what this is about. Cuddy's playing matchmaker, not acting as the Dean. Acting on her feelings. It's true that House returns her affection in a playful way, smirking over her outfits and dropping hints to Wilson about how they used to be together. Sometimes, to pass the time, he plots their reunions or frets about whether or not Cuddy had his bastard lovechild when he wasn't looking. But what Cuddy's doing right now is far more dangerous. "You think Foreman might leave House," Wilson says.

Cuddy shrugs. "I don't know if House would let him."

Which is exactly why giving Foreman the position won't work. House's recommendation is about House, not about the hospital, not even about Foreman, and Wilson's amazed that Cuddy doesn't see that. She's apparently as willing as House to throw Foreman into a position he's not ready for. Foreman may have the confidence, but he doesn't know what his ambition really means. Foreman's failures are still ahead of him.

Wilson shakes his head absently. "No objection," he tells Cuddy, turning for the door. "If you think that's what's best."


What's best often seems like such a simple thing.

It's been months since Wilson has seen Julie, even through the mediation of their respective lawyers. He uses the hospital as his personal mailing address, because he didn't want to give her the satisfaction, at first, of sending documents to the hotel. He won't impose on Wendy, either, not without promises that he can't make. So the envelope comes to his office. Wilson has grown resigned enough that he doesn't delay opening it. The printed, official words take away his thoughts: the dissolution of marriage, official and complete.

Has it really been that long? Fall, looking to House for comfort and being turned away. Winter, while Wilson worked to forget, and spring when House was shot, and summer now, with the sky hot and high. How long was he married to Julie? Wilson tries to count the years but he can only name them. The year of the infarction: Bonnie left. The following year: Stacy. Then, Julie, while House recuperated. They were married two years before House got the Diagnostics department. Four years, then, edging into five, and Wilson finds he can't remember their fourth anniversary. Surely they'd done something? Exchanged gifts?

He's sitting on the couch in his office, slow with memories, when House breezes in through the balcony door and snatches the papers off his lap. Wilson frowns up at him, not quite prepared for House's brand of sympathy.

House grunts and throws the papers on Wilson's desk. "You finally took a blowtorch to the old ball and chain."

"I suppose." How long is four years, really? What does that measure?

"So can Jimmy come out and play? Or did she suck out the fun along with the alimony?"

Wilson shakes his head, more to scatter his thoughts than to answer House's question. He wants to make sure Julie lands on her feet. She got the house, so the alimony isn't excessive. "I don't mind," he says.

"That's why you're a sap."

"I pay for you," Wilson says, a tinge of anger breaking through his numbness.

"That's why you're a sap," House repeats slowly, widening his eyes. House takes two impatient steps around the office, grimacing as if the air itself is too depressing to breathe. For once, Wilson wouldn't argue with him. "Get your things," House says. "We're going bowling."

Wilson blinks, and his chest loosens. Bowling means beer, and greasy food, and House. Sometimes--not often, but it's been known to happen--House knows exactly what to say. Wilson shakes off the daze of being told in dense legalese that he is a failure. He gets off the couch and reaches for his phone. "I should--" he says, shrugging an apology as he holds the receiver between his ear and shoulder and looks up the number to dial.

House seems to understand Wilson's gesture without explanation, and he accepts it, too, which is worse than if he'd butted in with complaints. It's the same move Wilson has made through all the years of his marriages, so familiar that he nearly says, "Hi, Julie," when it's Wendy who answers the phone. "I'm going to go out with House tonight," Wilson tells her. "Bowling. Yeah--" He laughs a bit, cutting a glance a House. "He bowls."

House sneers at this but doesn't try to yell or grab the phone. "Twenty-five cent hot wings," he says loudly, as if he knows it's expected that he'll be obnoxious.

"Right," Wilson says into the phone, to Wendy's reminders. "I won't forget. I won't be home late."

How often has he said those words?

Doesn't matter. Wilson's grinning before he hangs up. The workday is close enough to over and he doesn't mind leaving early. Half the fun is watching House 'sneak' out through the clinic at quarter to five, expecting Cuddy to catch him and chain him to an exam table for whatever eternity is equivalent to fifteen minutes. Wilson leaves his briefcase and the mess on his desk. House gives an approving sniff and heads out over the balcony, vaulting the wall. He meets Wilson in the hall, pulling his motorcycle jacket on over his t-shirt.

"Twenty bucks a strike?" House asks as they head for the elevator, slinging his backpack onto his shoulder.

Wilson nods, as if he's considering the bet with all due solemnity. He takes a deep, resigned breath, accepting the burden of being a far better bowler than House will ever be. "Should I be watching out for the mickey in my drink, or have you already drugged me?" he asks.

House watches the floor indicator loftily. "If you were a real freshman co-ed, you'd say yes before I broke out the roofies."

Wilson rolls his eyes. It's not really flirting, and Wilson lets it slide. "Well, if you want to hand your wallet over now..."

House scowls. "And have you weasel out of buying me nachos? I don't think so."

"You said you were taking me out."

"Yeah, bowling. You're buying me food."

"Ah, of course. Wrong of me to assume otherwise."

The elevator opens, and they head across the lobby. It's still bright out, the heated air glowing with humidity. House squints upwards, pulling on his helmet, heading for his motorcycle. Wilson's sweating before he reaches his car, and he unbuttons his cuffs, pulls his tie loose at his throat. By the time he makes it to the Bowlerama, he's tossed it into the backseat. He finds a parking space and walks past House's motorcycle pulled up near the doors as he heads in. House is sitting at a score table with two cold beers, and he nods at a pair of shoes sitting in the chair opposite, in Wilson's size.

Wilson changes shoes while House complains--the same complaint every time--that the aerosol Febreeze substitute is going to give him toe cancer. Wilson promises sweetly to amputate any toe House would like if it means he shuts up.

The first few frames go as usual--both of them flubbing, leaving ridiculous splits. Then Wilson starts getting his rhythm, remembering the movements. He gets a strike, a spare, and then another strike, while House hasn't managed to empty a full frame yet.

"Come on, man, don't put so much backspin on it," Wilson says around the mouth of his beer.

House peers down the lane, head tilted, with that same puzzled look on his face that he's always had when a ball refuses to obey him, when his athleticism lets him down. Gravity isn't always about Greg House; Wilson finds that reassuring. House launches his ball and pouts as it hooks left, barely clipping the seven-pin.

Wilson laughs out loud. "You know, when they call it bowling, they don't mean the kind you see in cricket."

House looks over his shoulder, frustration mingling with a sort of wistful humour. He'd like to laugh at himself, Wilson thinks, but he's not built that way. Wilson struts to the ball-return, riding high on his last strike, and House ungenerously gives him room. "So what did she end up taking?" he asks as Wilson picks up his ball. This is House's idea of strategy, to get Wilson thinking about the divorce when it's his turn.

"Nothing," Wilson answers innocently. Nothing that Julie didn't take a long time ago--or maybe, nothing, because he didn't give her anything in the first place. But with the beer, and the scent of nacho cheese-product on House's breath, he can push the thoughts away. He's still smiling slightly as he lines up at the foul line, his arm moving smoothly into his swing. The ball curves, hitting the pins perfectly, the ten wobbling stubbornly for a second before it topples as well. "Yes!" Wilson pumps his fist in victory, and spins around to point at House in triumph. "What's that, sixty bucks you owe me?"

"Oh, come on," House yells. He slumps at the score table before marking another strike for Wilson. By then, Wilson's victory is assured, but House plays out the last two frames doggedly, as if he might pull off some miracle.

Wilson sits back, watching House move easily, gracefully, and still manage to throw a gutter ball. A crazy peace surrounds him, despite the sweaty smell of too many bowling shoes, the stick of old spilled beer under his feet, and the crash of pins around them in the other lanes. House is doing this--losing badly--not on purpose, but for Wilson, as a stab at some sort of compassion. Wilson wants to laugh, but he can't, quite, because despite spiraling through another divorce, nothing has really changed.

Wilson changes, and he doesn't change. Maybe that's what House likes about him--despite House's protestations that Wilson's not boring, Wilson knows better. Yes, he falls into patterns, but then, who doesn't? Who takes risks? Who really leaps anywhere?

Wendy is tall and blonde and Wilson met her when she needed a friend, or even just reassurance, and Wilson could give her that. But she's also herself. She puts cinnamon in oatmeal. She touches his chest when she brings him a beer and she likes the game well enough to curl up next to him and groan at the ref's calls. That's a kind of peace, too, when it's dim in the living room and the only light over them is the flicker of the television. There are moments that Wilson has had only with her: he can name them, and number them. But it's a new lyric set to the same beat.

Some of the heat has faded by the time they step out of the bowling alley. Wilson pauses with House beside his motorcycle, and thinks about asking if Foreman's waiting for House. He doesn't think so. House probably wants to spend the night playing Wagner, or setting up all his books like dominoes throughout his living room. Playing endless games of Grand Theft Auto, marathoning Spongebob episodes. The manic in House wakes at sunset. There's something sophomoric about it, his strange vampirism. Foreman couldn't possibly wait through that, or have the patience to sleep through it. Sex aside, what on earth do they find to talk about? Wilson can't imagine them sharing a meal, or flossing their teeth at the same sink, or agreeing on anything.

"Good night, Wilson."

Too late. Wilson closes his mouth around the question. House lifts his leg over the motorcycle seat and turns the key in the ignition. "Good night, House," he says instead, and watches House pedal with his feet until he's backed out of the parking space. House pulls open the choke before revving the engine, and a second later the motorcycle peels easily out of the parking lot.

Wilson's left alone, listening to the wild echo of the throttle blatting off the canyon of buildings.


It's not as though Wilson's missing anything in his life. He kisses Wendy when he gets home, cupping her face in his palm. Despite the heat, his lips are warmer than the pale curve of her cheek, and she leans in to kiss him again.

Wilson is constantly baffled by the slow erosion of happiness, the way women's lips start turning down, their body language closing, arms crossing across their chests. But Wendy still smiles at him; she hasn't turned away. "How was work?" Wilson asks, the question a murmur against her mouth.

"Work was work," she says, shaking her head, pulling back and wiping her thumb over his lips, smearing away her lipstick. "Your friend managed to disrupt the entire department by grabbing one of our patients."

Wilson laughs shortly. "He does that." He doesn't ask if House found out what the kid had. He barely even wonders if the disease was neurological. "Let's not talk about him," he says.

"That's fine." Wendy rolls her head back, and Wilson moves closer, settling his hands on her nape and kneading away the tension he finds, pushing her hair aside to continue the massage. "I just want to relax," she says, her voice trailing off into a low hum when Wilson's fingers find a tricky knot. "Mm, there."

"I'll make dinner," Wilson suggests.

Wendy's eyes snap open and she kisses him again, quickly, wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning in until they're too close for Wilson to keep eye contact. "That would be amazing."

Wilson ducks his head, smiling, and kisses her again, before he pushes her back. "Not a problem."

He makes chicken and pasta with an alfredo sauce. It's nearly finished when Wendy wanders into the kitchen, fresh from a shower, her skin glowing. Wilson lifts the spoon for her to taste, and Wendy brings a finger up to her lips to catch a drip, laughing as she licks her lips. She offers the spoon back to him and he accepts. The sauce burns against his lips, a touch too salty. He can try to add more cream and hope it doesn’t reduce as much. Wendy holds the spoon away from their bodies as she kisses him. "James, I swear, you could have moved in sooner if I'd known you could cook."

If Wilson doesn't falter, then it's only because he would never let the tightness in his chest show. "I like it," he says, feeling strangely defensive. House would laugh at him if he knew. Wilson wonders if he could ever get House to taste anything he made, with his eyes closing and his tongue circling the spoon.

But Wendy only nods. She kisses him again, a bit deeper this time. Wilson breathes in through his nose. The aroma of the chicken, and Wendy's body pressed against his. These should be comforts, the signs of home.

"Let's eat," Wendy says. "I just want to go to bed." This, with a sparkle in her eyes, and Wilson's penis twitches without his permission.

"Yeah," he says, smiling, and he sends her to the dining room to open a bottle of wine.

After they've eaten, Wilson kisses her again, and she's the one who says, "Leave the dishes. I'll do them later..."

Wilson does love her. Her skin, warm as silk. The filmy lace of her bra and panties. It arouses him, slowly revealing them, knowing that she's been walking around the hospital in these soft creations under her clothes, and now they're his to see and touch. Wilson kisses her gently, closes his eyes, lies down beside her.

He finds himself thinking of Debbie. She's wilder, and more fun at times, and they rarely made it to a bed. Debbie only invited him over once or twice before declaring him a menace. "James," she said, laughing, "you slept over and made me breakfast. This is why we won't work."

Wilson flushed guiltily, trying to somehow take back the coffee he'd brought her, in the middle of a shift he knew she hated. "What do you mean?"

"You have to remember that you're married," Debbie said. The implication, and I don't want to be, hung between them. Wilson left, confused for several days until she invited him back to Accounting as she passed him in the hall, with a hint of pink tongue wetting her lips. The sex, that time, was even more desperate than usual; Wilson strained not to let out a sound when he came.

Debbie always urged him to be quiet. Wilson would bite his lips, strangle a groan in the back of his throat. He's so used to holding himself back that now, with Wendy, he can barely find his voice. But he wants. The more they kiss, the more he touches her--oh, how he wants.

They're naked now, stretched out on her bed, lips meeting softly. Wilson holds her breast, pinching her nipple, as her hand drifting softly along his penis. He's nearly fully hard, but he never wants to insist, or assume, so he lets Wendy lead. She does, sliding lower, kissing his chest and then his stomach. Wilson thinks about how he's starting to get love handles. House still runs every day. Wilson should join him, or challenge him to a rematch at squash.

Wilson gasps when Wendy takes his erection in her mouth, swallows a moan. It's good, but too light, too tentative. When Wilson's alone, he fists himself roughly, and now he thinks of that, thinks of hard, callused hands, a mouth rough with stubble. "Oh," he says. "That's, that's good." He wishes he had the words to demand more, to say fuck and oh, suck me, but he can't; it's simply not who he is.

His voice strains when, at last, he speaks. It's easier to ask if he pretends that she won't hear. "Would you--there's, ah, something I like..."

"Mm," Wendy says, pulling away. Her lips are swollen, and her hair tumbles in curls over her shoulder. Wilson hesitates. Why can't he accept what she's offered? He's hard but not desperate yet. He could thrust into her for a long time, make certain that she comes more than once before his orgasm overwhelms him. Why not that? I want to be inside you. So easy to say.

But he doesn't. "Could you--" Wilson stops, knows that his face is flushed red. "Your fingers, just--ah, inside?"

Wendy's eyes widen, but it's the only sign of her surprise. "I don't want to hurt you," she says. If she's hesitating it doesn't show in her voice.

"There's," Wilson glances at the night table, where she keeps the condoms. She has lubricant, he knows, because he hasn't stopped himself from looking.

"All right," Wendy says. Wilson nearly panics, his heart pounding, his chest tightening, because he sees that puzzled half-smile again, as if there's too much about him that Wendy can't really see.

But she's doing it. She's willing. Wilson focuses on that. It's not the first time; Bonnie...well, that didn't work, but it's not the first time.

Wendy goes back to sucking him, but now with the slip of lube and the pressure of her finger behind his balls, slipping lower...she's a nurse, she knows how, and Wilson can feel that clinical detachment even as she's kissing along his penis, pausing and sucking softly. Wilson's already harder, from the anticipation, just from knowing she's going to.

And then--she does. Wilson moans out loud, an honest sound that feels as though it's been pulled straight through his sternum. Wendy's movements are too cautious but of course Wilson would never hold her down, never demand more than she's willing to give. And her finger--her finger--inside him, that foreign pressure, that hot intrusion. It hurts, even with the lube, it hurts, but the hot wetness of Wendy's mouth around his penis almost makes up for it. Slow, starting a rhythm, and the pain fades. Wendy seems to know it, because she keeps going, and then, then.

Wendy pulls back when Wilson comes without warning. Wilson jerks, his semen pulsing out onto his stomach, and he closes his eyes because he doesn't want to see Wendy frown and reach for a Kleenex when she spits. "Sorry, sorry," he's chanting, words he says too often, but it's all he can say right now because even when she pulls away, the memory's like an aftershock.

He goes down on her, afterward, apology and thank you both at once. She's quiet at first but Wilson knows her body, has learned what she likes. He brings her to orgasm once, and twice with his mouth, and a third time with his fingers. It's still not quite enough, because she turns away when he moves to kiss her. It's not a rejection. She's simply turning off the lamp, setting the alarm clock, settling down to sleep.

Now, though, Wendy knows what he's been hiding. All those searching glances, the half-frowns as she tries to figure him out. She has to know. God, he shouldn't have said anything. He shouldn't have wanted it.

Like so much in Wilson's life, it's something he can't unsay, can't take back. And Wilson wonders, lying in the dark, if it's his fault; if, by speaking, he has let whatever is between them die a quiet and unnoticed death.


Wilson finds the smell of the morgue--preservative fluid, ether, bleach--to be strangely comforting. It's a reminder of med school, when he nearly lived in the labs during his anatomy finals. A time when he was successful, when he didn't have anything more to worry about than earning his next A.

That's how it feels now, anyway, with the comforting distance of time. His brother was faltering even then, and Wilson was far enough away from his family that he couldn't do anything other than answer the phone; the sneaky sense of relief he felt over that made him feel guiltier than not being able to help Danny when he asked. There were at least three weeks, too, when Wilson was terrified that Ellie was pregnant, that he'd have to drop out of school to support her. He was so terribly relieved when she wasn't that he married her anyway.

Wilson dreads the night that a call will come, when he'll have to travel to a morgue in some other city to identify his brother. He'd say if he was asked--if the right person asked--that he has the same feelings for the morgue that any normal person has, a vague nausea and the pall of grief. But it's not true. Wilson has seen far worse: he's seen suffering. The dead don't bother him.

House is the only doctor Wilson knows who cares more for his dead patients than for the ones who live. Well, that's not exactly right. House doesn't care about the dead if he knows why they died, and how. For the rest, for the mysteries, House conducts his own version of a vigil.

Wilson pauses in the doorway when House pages him down to the basement, taking in House's ragged mad-scientist appearance. He's wearing a morgue attendant's apron over his t-shirt, latex gloves, and goggles pushed back up his forehead, making his hair spike up in tufts. He's started the autopsy with the external exam. House conducts an autopsy until he's satisfied, whether that means biopsying every tissue right down to the bone, or else stopping with the Y-incision unfinished. When his epiphany rushes over him, House doesn't notice leaving a body split open, the sternum shears unused. Wilson has soothed the pathologists more than once after they've had to clean up House's mess.

This time, though, Wilson knows House won't go any farther than the external. He looks up when Wilson steps into the room, and then he rolls the body over. She's still limp; it's been barely an hour since time of death. House points to a tiny, meaningless scratch on her back. "Bra clasp," he says, showing how the hooks and eyes match up.

"Strep?" Wilson asks. God, what did House do to her?

House shrugs and strips off his gloves. "It happens."

"House, it does not just happen!" The girl--she can't be older than twenty--is grey, her eyes half-lidded, lividity beginning to leave bruised marks down the backs of her arms and legs. "You irradiated her entire body."

"The presentation was strange." House is cataloguing each of the girl's symptoms, how they tied together, what they meant. Running through what he will do next time. If there is a next time.

Wilson shakes his head. House tosses his goggles onto the instrument tray with a clatter, disrupting their order, and he pulls the apron off next, tossing it in the hamper. Discarding the case, and the girl, now that he has his answer. "It was damned irresponsible," Wilson says. "You killed her."

House looks up at him, suddenly sharp with interest. Wilson's lips tighten. He can feel the test coming. House always has to push, making sure that the people around him will still bleed when he lashes out. "No, I didn't," he says.

"She was your patient!" Wilson hates how House doesn't care, how he can let any damn thing happen in his life and not care. "You were in charge of her treatment and you decided to experiment," he says. "How is that not your fault?"

House raises his eyebrows. "Is it your fault every time you lose a cancer kid?" he asks. "Might as well arrest you for mass murder."

God, he can be so insufferable. "You should have been more conservative," Wilson says, obstinately, although he feels like he's losing the argument.

House scoffs. "Do you even know me?"

Wilson, sometimes, truly wishes he didn't. He knows that House is right. Wilson treats and Wilson prevents, but he's one man against a tide. House is precise. When someone dies on House's watch--and it's rare, Wilson knows--then there is a reason for it. Something so strange that there's no way to second-guess it. Impossible to imagine that a different doctor might have saved her. But this isn't like House. He treats without confirmation, but he doesn't destroy a patient's immune system on a whim. Wilson rubs at his forehead, wishing he hadn't answered House's page. For once. "You should have tried broad-spectrum antibiotics first," he said. "There wasn't enough reason to assume it wasn't an infection."

House shrugs. He stands up, slowly, as if he aches. "Foreman was the primary on the case."

Wilson blinks. Opens his mouth. "He--"

"He killed her." House seems almost satisfied by that, as if this girl's death was worth a life lesson for Foreman. "He thought he knew what he was doing."

"And he didn't."

House raises his eyebrows. "Guess I should have told him that a little sooner."

"You let him--you let this happen!"

"It wasn't a bad idea."

"Of course it was! House--"

"--and now he's moping." House's face twists into a sneer. "He'll finish this."

At first, Wilson's not sure what House means. It looks to him as though Foreman's done more than enough. But then it becomes clear--the naked, cooling body, with the one, easily-overlooked scratch on her back. Foreman's mistake. "You're going to make him finish the autopsy?"

House nods and pushes away from the slab, heading for the door. "Better if he doesn't forget."

Wilson steps in front of him. "You don't want Foreman to forget he killed this woman--what about you?" House stares at him flatly. Wilson clenches his jaw, holding back a sigh. House hates his own graveyard of unfinished files, his share of ghosts, so Wilson has no idea why he wants Foreman to start his own collection. "You'd really do this to him?"

"It's his fault. Why wouldn't I?" House pushes around Wilson, the gesture as good as a shrug.

Because you care about him. Wilson bites back the words. Maybe he's wrong. Maybe House doesn't.

"If he wants to run his own department, then he gets all the responsibility that goes with it. And I wouldn't want to show any favouritism." House says this with a different sort of mockery, as if he's repeating someone else's words--Cuddy's, maybe, or more likely Lee's. House has always been disgusted by Foreman's ambition. This could be one more way of showing it. House pauses at the door before pushing out into the hallway. "Want to go out for a beer?" he asks.

"House, at least do her the courtesy of--"

"What, locking her in a drawer?" House stares flatly at the body. "There's no such thing as courtesy when you're dead."

"And you want to go out for a beer."

"Why not?" House asks. "Do you have other plans? Because I don't."

Wilson can feel the question bubbling up, one he has, until now, refused to ask. It bursts out anyway, even though he's not even sure he wants to hear the answer. "What about Foreman?"

"Nothing's wrong with Foreman," House says. "Don't you remember your first time? Or are all of them equally special?"

Wilson slants a disappointed, tight-lipped look at House. No, he doesn't remember the first death. He remembers the first death that was unexpected. His patient went into remission and they celebrated--six months, then a year with clear tests.
When the symptoms returned, the breast cancer had metastasized to her lungs, and the treatment had no effect. Wilson always thought he'd be the compassionate doctor who would be there at the end, but it was the middle of the night and he wasn't on call. Who would have thought to wake him at two in the morning for one more patient? He'd been a resident, and he remembers the crushing feeling in his chest when he went to make his morning rounds, hearty smile in place, words of hope on his lips, to find her bed empty and stripped down. The orderlies were efficient and everything was coated with that hospital smell, the ambiguousness of sickness and death under too much cleanser.

Foreman will hate House for this. House is right that it's Foreman's mistake to remember. He's killed someone. She's probably not his first patient who's died, but the first he's treated so badly, so recklessly. And for House to treat it like it's nothing--no, worse, to rub Foreman's face in it like a puppy that's messed on the rug--all under the pretense of teaching him something--that can't possibly be forgiveable.

Wilson shakes his head. "You don't care at all about what you're doing to him."

House pouts dramatically for a second. "Nope. But you'll go out for a beer with me anyway," he says, entirely sure.

And he's right. Wilson isn't upset; it wasn't his patient or his responsibility. Why shouldn't he go out with House? The only thing Foreman will learn from this, he thinks, is what a bastard House really is.

Wilson doesn't even bother to wonder why it's a lesson he's never learned himself.


autumn

Wilson startles awake to the sound of the phone shrilling. He reaches instinctively for his pager, then his cell phone, both sitting on the nightstand beside the bed. He doesn't have any patients who are dying, and he's not on call. One look at the clock--two thirty-seven in glowing red numerals--sets his heart pounding. He sits up, soothing Wendy back into sleep with a hand brushed down her shoulder, and flips his phone open. "Yeah?"

"Wilson."

"House?" Wilson stumbles out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him. He scrubs a hand across his face and yawns as he massages the back of his neck. "'S wrong? You all right?"

"No," House says, his voice rough and close, his eye-roll so familiar that it's like it's been transmitted through the phone. "If I was all right, I'd be sleeping right now. At home."

"You're not at home? Where--" Wilson feels muzzy, can't quite form the question.

"Police station."

Wilson groans out loud at that. "And you called me?" A pause, and Wilson nods to himself, since House's silence is as good as an answer. Of course House called him. "Fine," he says. "Fine. Tell me where, I'll--"

House takes a breath, audible enough that it might almost be relief that Wilson hears. Knight in shining armour, he thinks, and resents it even though House hasn't said a word. Even though it's House who needs rescuing. "Let me get dressed," he mutters. He's wearing boxers, and goosebumps are rising on his chest and arms.

"Ooh, Wilson, did I interrupt something kinky--?"

"Shut up," Wilson snaps. House has no leeway to make jokes right now, and it seems that he knows it, because he shuts his mouth--Wilson can hear that, even, House's breath cutting off abruptly. "This is, uh, really your first call?"

"You only get one," House says, and then he gives the address, which Wilson scrawls almost illegibly on the nearest scrap of paper.

Twenty minutes later Wilson's drinking instant coffee out of a travel mug, dressed in chinos and a hoodie, his hair a rat's nest. He slapped his face with cold water, and he's still shivering as he hurries out to his car. He should not be behind the wheel--but he is, at three in the morning, all because of House.

The police station is brightly lit even in the middle of the night. Wilson drives even more carefully once he turns into the parking lot, trying to look alert as he passes a police car. He finds a space and parks, then makes his way inside, asking at the desk and getting redirected several times before he ends up on the second floor, trying to explain himself to a large, bland-faced detective.

The detective thrusts paperwork at him, and Wilson rubs his eyes, trying to make sense of what he's signing. He just wants to see House. The detective eyes him over the sheets, suspicious and grinding his teeth. Wilson can only assume that he's met House.

"Are you Dr. House's prescribing physician?"

Wilson blinks. "Of course," he says automatically, even though he hasn't been since the spring.

"This yours?" the detective says, thrusting a crumpled prescription at him across the desk.

Wilson peers at the letterhead, but he's so tired. His eyes blur and he rubs them again. "Of course," he says again. What the hell has House gotten himself into?

The detective nods. "Tell your friend not to drive under the influence," he says, sneering, as if he wishes he could say more.

Wilson carefully doesn't say that he doubts House does anything when he's not under the influence. Some influence, whether it's Vicodin or whatever puzzle he's chasing down at the moment. He's even more careful not to say that he'd thought House was clean of any influence for the past five months. "I will," he mutters instead. His signature straggles across the last of the forms, and then the detective nods to a uniformed policewoman.

House emerges a few minutes later, limping in socked feet, looking old. His hair's an even worse mess than Wilson's, if that's possible. He seems to have learned something about discretion, because he sullenly keeps his mouth shut when he signs for his wallet, belt, sneakers, helmet, and jacket.

"Your leg hurt," Wilson says to him, like it's something stunning. It's the only reason House would have Vicodin with him. Wilson still feels dazed, bogged down in confusion while the world rushes past him. A few weeks ago, yes, House complained of a cramp, but it wasn't serious. He hasn't said a word since then.

House walks past him with barely a glance, heading for a bench in the waiting area. He looks like he needs something to lean on; he looks like he needs his cane. He's holding his right thigh as he walks. He sits down and pulls on his sneakers, then his jacket. The policewoman explained to Wilson that House's motorcycle has been impounded. He'll have to surrender his tags or transfer ownership before getting it trucked off the lot, because they're not going to release it to him. House carries his helmet in his left hand--Wilson can see that he's keeping his right hand free to steady himself if he needs to. Still, once his shoes are on, House's limp nearly disappears.

Wilson follows House to the elevator--habit, if it weren't for the fact that House has been bounding up and down staircases all summer. He wants to know what the hell House is playing at. If his leg hurt more than he could deal with using ice packs and ibuprofen, then why didn't he come to Wilson again? What the hell is he doing with Vicodin in his pocket, getting pulled over by the cops? "How long has this been going on?" he asks.

House gives him a scathing look over his shoulder, and Wilson realizes guiltily that they're still in the police station, where anyone--that hulking, gimlet-eyed detective--could overhear and misconstrue. He waits until they're downstairs, keeping his mouth shut as they pass the front desk sergeant. Wilson shivers once they're outside, the wind pulling away his body heat. House stares into the gutter, his eyes on the skiff of dead leaves as he plots out where he's stepping. Wilson heads for his car, unlocking the doors and sliding in behind the wheel, staring straight ahead. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see House hesitating before he gets in, but then, with a thunk, he pulls open the door and folds himself into the passenger seat.

"What are you doing?" Wilson asks, holding his anger tightly in his chest. He's not going to leave until he has some answers.

House keeps his head turned away. The streetlights in the parking lot wash out his eyes and shadow his face with exhaustion. "You told him you prescribed for me?"

"Yes, but--"

"Then nothing." House shakes his head, his usual frown deepening into leaden brooding. "I had the prescription. I had the pills in the proper bottle. I wasn't impaired. So I got a speeding ticket and a warning. That's it."

"But where the hell did you get the pills?" He's too tired to make anything out, to have the situation crystallize into sense.

"Leftovers," House mutters.

"Five months of leftovers?" The car feels too quiet, like something expectant, but House has always been good at digging his heels in, even when the world holds its breath waiting for him to answer. It's cold, too, and Wilson reaches forward to turn the key, the engine and the blowing heaters pushing the silence away. Wilson sits back. He can't believe this. He can't quite get it through his mind. "Did you--were you hoarding?" The most unbelievable part of the whole story is that House carried the prescription around, as technically he should, but House? Keeping up with technicalities?

"It was a buttload of pills," House says. "I was saving up for a rainy day."

Wilson swallows a sigh. A rainy day, meaning it was just tonight, just once. This isn't something ongoing; it was breakthrough pain. Not a pattern. Not something that's going to happen again. "Why did you call me?" he asks.

He means, why didn't you call Foreman? It's hard to imagine that Foreman doesn't know what House is going through, but Foreman can be damn oblivious, seeing nothing but himself. Foreman is still--as House put it a few weeks ago--moping over his dead patient. And Foreman is actively campaigning for Lee's job, dropping the right words in the right ears, networking with other department heads. He's the political animal, telling everyone what they need to hear, that he's interested in learning and growing and that Princeton-Plainsboro is where he wants to do it. Right now Foreman doesn't need anything resembling help from House. He's probably avoiding him, disregarding House's problems in favour of his own. Foreman must be spinning his patient's death as House's responsibility; otherwise, the board could never approve him as Head of Neurology. He's blaming House for something House thought he was doing to help him. No wonder House is in pain. No wonder he was speeding, getting reckless, getting himself arrested. The only thing that doesn't make sense is why House called Wilson.

House doesn't answer the question. He stares out the window, his shoulders hunched forward, his right hand resting on his thigh. Wilson swallows against the anger beating in his throat, and doesn't try to force House to talk--shut down and morose, House won't say another word. Foreman is the problem, and if House can't deflect with medicine, then he has to find another way. Since the ketamine treatment, House hasn't had the luxury of covering up how he feels with pain and pills. Wilson purses his lips. House's pain might be real, but Wilson doubts that it's entirely physical.

Wilson drives him home in silence. When he parks, House gets out and walks to the door. Slowly, carefully. Just breakthrough pain, Wilson insists to himself. Just a setback. He's been fine, all this time he's been fine. Foreman's car isn't out front that Wilson can see, and House's apartment windows are dark. They're fighting; that's all the explanation tonight needs.

Wilson thinks about going in after House, and making sure he's settled--and then, with some trepidation, searching House's apartment. Is there really a 'buttload of pills', House's stash of leftovers? What does that even mean? Is House using? Or is it, as he claims, just one night?

Wilson doesn't know. He is not the one who needs to know. He was House's prescribing physician but he's not any more. Let Foreman do it, or Cuddy. Let House beg them for meds. Wilson won't help him stockpile. He's not House's dupe. And after all, House can't really be hurting that much, or Wilson would know.

With that thought, that very satisfying thought, Wilson pulls away, and leaves.


"And I'd like to welcome Dr. Linda Ruparell to Princeton-Plainsboro as our new Head of Neurology," Cuddy says.

Wilson startles back to himself and sits up straight, reaching for the meeting agenda, while around him the rest of the department heads start clapping. Wilson applauds, too, trying not to show how much he was drifting behind his expression of professional interest. As soon as the polite acknowledgement ends, though, he frowns. Nobody--not even Lee--seems surprised at all. When the hell did this happen?

"Dr. Ruparell will be starting in a month, after Dr. Lee's retirement," Cuddy continues. She smiles at Lee, who is wearing a benevolent expression, taking it for granted that he will be universally missed. "We are all, of course, very grateful for everything Dr. Lee has done for Princeton-Plainsboro, and his twenty years with us will not be forgotten..."

Wilson finally finds the notation on the agenda: head of neurology announcement. He'd so clearly expected Foreman to be named to the position that his eyes had passed right over that item at the beginning of the meeting. He tunes out Cuddy's speech, all of it empty words, describing of Dr. Ruparell's experience and research. Did Foreman's mistake cost him the job? Was his campaign that blatant or that ineffective? Foreman and House aren't obvious at work, but they're out and the whole hospital knows about them. Maybe that's why.

In the past few months, Wilson has slowly been pulling back from the hospital gossip chain. There are people who would have known about this before the announcement, people he could have asked. Chase loves to share the freshest news, and he's the closest person Foreman has to a friend at the hospital. Wilson could have directed one of his patients' MRIs himself, and let a few leading statements drop in Rhonda's ears. She probably had a book open on the appointment. Wilson wonders who had money on Foreman, and who won a bundle on an outside shot.

He chose not to find out. And now it's this Dr. Linda Ruparell, someone he doesn't even know, who's been hired, and Wilson missed it entirely. The board met a week ago. They must have decided it then. Which means that Foreman's known for a week that he isn't getting the job. And House, by extension, must have known too, but he hasn't said a word.

But then, House hasn't said a word about much of anything since Wilson drove him home from the police station. The detective called again, sniffing around, asking questions, but by then Wilson was prepared. He knew how to answer each one, with the right mixture of bewilderment and honesty. Yes, he's always been House's physician of record. Yes, he's been prescribing for him for the past six years. Yes, the dosage has increased, but that's not uncommon with opiate habituation. The most recent scrip? That was for breakthrough pain only.

After a day or two, it seems that House is in the clear. Wilson takes pride in the fact that he's saved him, even if House doesn't seem to know or understand how badly it might have gone, how stubborn this police officer might have been. Wilson wants to shake House and shout at him and demand that he acknowledge what Wilson has done for him. But he can't. He saw House go alone into his dark apartment, while Wilson went home to Wendy. Wilson has someone to go home to, someone who will hold him and ask, even at four in the morning, what's happened? and is he all right? Who does House have? If Foreman's paying more attention to his career than to House, then maybe they don't have much of anything.

The meeting breaks up a few minutes later, and Wilson concentrates on gathering his papers so that he won't have to walk out with the rest, exchanging pleasantries or congratulating Lee on his retirement. He's hoping to slip out once they're gone, but Cuddy waits for him, closing the door to the meeting room. She raises her eyebrows, and Wilson knows he's not going to be allowed to escape without an explanation whether he wants one or not.

"You looked surprised," she says. Her stare is accusing, and Wilson wants to hold up his hands and defend himself, but he doesn't know what she thinks he's done.

"I thought--" Wilson doesn't want to admit his ignorance, but he doesn't have much choice. "I thought Foreman had a chance."

"He did," Cuddy says. "The board cleared him of any wrongdoing in the death of House's patient. House was the attending and he approved all treatment decisions. They know what diagnostics requires. The department still has the best statistics."

And that's all the board looks at, the statistics. They're the lawyers and the business people, and they care about the money first and the accountability second. Foreman's motivations, beyond what's on paper, wouldn't have registered at all. "They would have given him the job?" Wilson asks.

"They nearly offered it to him," Cuddy says. She peers at him, frowning in puzzlement. "You didn't know?"

House didn't tell me. That's too humiliating to say, and Wilson sets his jaw against the hurt. "Why didn't Foreman take it?"

"He's moving to New York."

Wilson exhales, a short breath that seems to take all the air in the room with it. Foreman is leaving. Leaving House.

Cuddy reads his shock, and her stare becomes more disbelieving, more angry, as if it's Wilson's fault that he didn't know. "Schaeffer at Mercy offered him a diagnostics department of his own," she says.

So that's Foreman's true ambition. He's been using House. Learning from him? Maybe. But everything they had was a lie. House must be furious; he must have kicked Foreman out when he found out. A week ago? That coincides a little too neatly with House's arrest. Wilson's seen House every day since then, and yeah, House has been looking tired. He doesn't have a case now, so he hasn't been doing much except avoiding Cuddy and clinic work. It occurs to Wilson that House has been dodging clinic work a little too well, that Cuddy hasn't been hunting him down the way she usually does.

"He left?" Wilson asks, feeling blank, his heart beating in his ears. He didn't think Foreman could be that cold-blooded, that he could leave House without a word. Maybe he's been in negotiations with Schaeffer for longer than anyone knew. Foreman planned his escape too well for all of this to be coincidence.

Wilson wonders if House is hurt, or angry, or if he's even noticed at all. It's ridiculous to think that House loved Foreman. It's Cuddy's romanticism that's kept them together as much as anything. She's maneuvered for both of them, letting Foreman set up that diagnostics conference last winter, keeping Foreman available to work with House, allowing Foreman to take over from Singh as Lee's right-hand man. Wilson doesn't know what Cuddy was trying to accomplish, but he doesn't care. She was wrong. Wilson saw this breakup coming. Foreman was always ready to leave. Probably even House knew that. They were lucky it lasted a year.

A year. Foreman's gone and House is back where he started. Wilson stares at Cuddy, hardly seeing her. He'll take House out. They'll drink themselves into a stupor and then come home to bad television and worse hangovers, and it will be over.

"Wilson," Cuddy says, and he focuses on her. She's worried. For a second Wilson's angry, wants to tell her this is her fault--she kept House and Foreman together for the hospital's sake, she was never thinking about what was best for them. But he holds it back and nods to her. He's paying attention. He knows exactly what's happening. "Go and talk to House," she tells him. "He won't say a word to me."

It's time to pick up the pieces, Wilson thinks. Strangely, another thought follows, more uncomfortable, and he wants to push it away. But it's there nonetheless, underneath.

He thinks: It's finally time to pick up the pieces.


Part Three

winter

Wilson stares at the prescription bottle on his desk and tries to imagine it, how the summer faded.

House's resentment isn't hard to picture, his anger at himself, at Foreman, at his leg, at the whole damn world for playing false with him just one more time. If Foreman had gotten used to House's manic cheerfulness, if he'd believed that House was truly better, then it must have come as a shock. How long had House's improved muscle condition staved off the pain?

When had he decided that Wilson was the simplest tool to get what he wanted?

Probably not long. House never thought long before using Wilson.

Wilson picks up the bottle, and even though it's empty he can almost hear the click of the tumbling pills as he turns it over and over in his hands. Even with the date printed on the label--October, long after Wilson had stopped prescribing--he wants to believe it isn't possible, that House couldn't do this to him. The date places it after House's arrest, too, so he'd lied straight to Wilson's face about stockpiling. Wilson doesn't know what hurts worse: that House lied, or that Wilson believed it, blithely, convincing himself far more than House had tried to. He wonders if Marco had any idea if the scrips he was filling weren't Wilson's, or if House had gone to the trouble of filling them at a different pharmacy.

No. House wouldn't try to hide it. He would have wanted Wilson to know. Besides, any change in House's routine would have raised flags for that detective.

God, Wilson kept House out of jail without even knowing it. He'd lied to the police, and House had used his ignorance to make him do it. What does that mean, that House wouldn't even tell the truth then?

The light in House's office is still on. Wilson lifts his head and watches it, the light blurred by their mutual panes of glass. He closes his hand around the pill bottle, squeezing until the edges dig into his palm, until he feels like he might shatter the plastic. He wants to ask House what the hell he was doing. If he even considered that he could have gotten Wilson's license revoked, his DEA number stripped from him, if House had ever considered what the cost of his actions might have been. Wilson needed to look him in the eye and ask, and if House turned away, if that was the answer he got, then at least Wilson would know where he stood.

He could take House's route, over the balcony wall, and make this private instead of giving it some official weight. Wilson stands up and turns out the lamp on his desk. If House is watching, he think Wilson is going home, giving up. Wilson puts the bottle in his pants pocket and decides on the frontal assault, taking the hallway. When he opens House's office door he finds him sitting back in his Eames chair, wearing headphones and with his right leg up on the ottoman. Not watching; not caring in the least. His cane rests against the arm of the chair.

House doesn't move, but Wilson's sure he knows he's there. A twitch in his fingers and the slightest tightening of his lips. Wilson takes out the pill bottle and tosses it on House's stomach. "Are you high?"

House opens his eyes, blinks slowly, and pulls the headphones off, letting them drop to the floor beside his chair. "That's relative."

"How much are you on?" It's exhausting just watching him. House has pulled into himself in the last few days, the pain carved deeper into his face.

"Foreman does enjoy burning my bridges," he says. He looks up at Wilson evenly, not even bothering to pick the bottle off his lap or act surprised. "Are you going to tell Cuddy unless I agree to rehab?"

"Is that what he did?"

"No," House says. His eyes are grey, like a leaden sky. "She already knows."

Wilson rubs the back of his neck and suppresses the urge to pace. He knows what punishment Foreman inflicted. "Is this why he left?" he asks.

"Did you think there was some mystery?" For the first time, there's a hint that House might feel something. Bitterness tugs at the corner of his mouth, and Wilson thinks that House isn't surprised Foreman left him--only that it took him so long.

Wilson tips his head back, releasing a sigh. House probably hates himself for trusting Foreman, for letting him in. "I thought he wanted the diagnostics position at Mercy."

"Of course he wanted it." House sneers, but it's not his usual effort. "He's not a moron."

Which is probably the only eulogy their relationship will get, Wilson thinks. "Doesn't that matter to you?" he asks. "That he left for his career?" He's always dealt in careful, probing questions. Dancing around the truth in the middle of a minefield.

"Should it?" House says. Even though his body seems relaxed, Wilson can see the tension hidden there, in his jaw and the slight hunch of his shoulders. "Like you said, he's always wanted that."

"More than he wanted to stay." Wilson doesn't want to sound cutting, but he's still furious with House over the pills, and it spills out instead of sympathy, crueler than he meant.

"More than he wanted to deal with a junkie." House glares up at him, cold and clear, and Wilson knows that Foreman said those words to him, threw them in his face. God, what a bastard. Wilson wants to grab him and point him at House, force him to look at what he's done. Even if House had protected himself, thought that Foreman couldn't hurt him, those words must have done it.

"He has a brother in jail for dealing," House says. His voice is carefully blank, but his hand moves to pick up his cane, thumb following the curve of the handle. "I guess you're really not that different after all."

"I'm not like him," Wilson says automatically. Danny is sick, not like Foreman's brother, and Wilson's not like Foreman. Foreman ran out when House needed help. He chose to dump everything on Wilson's shoulders at the same time as he was blaming House, as though Wilson wanted House to fuck himself up at Wilson's expense. "I want to help you."

House pouts, mugging some mockery of Wilson for daring to show some compassion. "Going to kiss me and make it better?"

"No--" Wilson ducks his head, pinches the bridge of his nose. This isn't about what he wants. This isn't about him, and he knows that. "House, I'm your friend."

House stares at him like he's a stranger. "Are you?"

"Let me--"

"I don't need your help." House tightens his hand on his cane, his body tensing as he pushes himself to his feet, levering himself out of the chair.

As if House has any idea when he needs help, or when to accept it. Wilson's anger finally breaks free, the reason he'd come in here in the first place taking center stage. "You apparently need my prescription pad."

House hesitates for a fraction of a second, but then he steps forward to grab his coat. "Cuddy will write for me."

Cuddy knows better than to feed House's addiction, and the only possible result of her restricting his intake is that House will keep looking for more ways to get high. What Cuddy's offering is a way for House to hide the real problem. "You know she won't give you what you're asking for," Wilson says.

"And you will?"

"No--House, I want you to cut down." Why doesn't House get it? Wilson's here, he's offering, and the only reason House is refusing to listen is because he can't tell the difference from pity. "Keep up your PT, use your cane, and get back to your old levels. Eighty milligrams a day."

House snorts. He pulls on his coat, not looking at Wilson. "After what I've been taking? Don't think it'll cut it."

Wilson presses his mouth shut. What has House been taking? What the hell has he done to himself? "I'll help," he says. "I'll be there--" Like Foreman refused to. He couldn't handle staying when House needed him.

"I've had your help before," House says. He meets Wilson's eyes again, both of them standing in the center of House's office. The desk lamp behind House throws his face into shadow, and Wilson doesn't know what he means. "You couldn't give me what I want."

"I--House, please." It hurts to see House like this, and Wilson's throat aches as he keeps his voice from wavering. "I want to try."

House starts to move past him, but he stops at the door, letting his head hang as if he's too tired to hold it up. "So give me the scrip."

Wilson swallows down the fact that House would throw away their friendship like that. Even if Wilson wanted more, he knows that House would never accept it. Not at first, anyway. Not while he's still, in whatever twisted sense, missing Foreman. Wilson wants to be there for him, see him through the detox. Sex doesn't enter into it at all. "No," he says, his voice quiet with conviction. "I'm not giving you any pills. There are other ways to manage pain."

House straightens his shoulders, making whatever effort it takes to stand taller. His knuckles pale as he grips the door handle and yanks it open. "I don't actually need a pity fuck," he says, leaving. "The only one who needs that is you."


autumn

When Wilson's certain that Wendy's working--she takes an occasional night shift--he feels more like himself, even in this house that isn't really his.

There's no space he can really call his anymore. His office belongs to his patients and to House more than to him. His house with Julie was always hers. The hotel room is nobody's at all.

Wendy's things surround him, but that's the fault of his hesitation as much as anything. Wilson hasn't put in the effort to put up his photographs or trophies, though Wendy says she doesn't mind. Wilson changes the subject. She wouldn't want to know that he keeps each of his three wedding photographs in storage, in the same box; he would never open it by choice.

If Wilson shuts the lights off, though, the room is dim enough to pretend it isn't hers. He prepares methodically. Strips down to his shorts and undershirt, with a towel on the bed; he lies down and feels the faint scratch of the terrycloth nubs along the backs of his legs.

He starts with Debbie. It's simple, because she has become a symbol in his mind, a metaphor for something different. Another woman. He can see her clearly, her breasts, her small waist and the curve of her stomach, the smile she favoured him with when they both couldn't get enough of each other. Yes, that will do to start. Wilson sits up to take off his socks, and then settles back against the pillows. He pulls off his undershirt and makes sure the lubricant is on the night table. Practiced. Easy. He runs his hand down his chest, his fingertips rubbing cautious circles low on his stomach.

It's the kiss that interrupts him. It always is, these days, but this time Wilson's prepared for it. He lets it happen. The rasp of House's lips, the breath-stealing surprise of his bristles. Wilson won't let this be the second time, when he was turned down. The first, instead, when he could have said yes.

It was six years ago, or seven. Doesn't matter. They're sitting on House's couch. Something forgettable on the television. House leans forward and sets down his beer bottle, and Wilson barely glances at him. Why would he?

Outside, winter pushes closer, a damp, creeping cold. The wind slaps rain against the windows, but it's warm in House's apartment. They've eaten. Three of the empties on the table are Wilson's. House isn't in pain, for the first time since the infarction. Wilson can't force himself off the couch, to go home to Bonnie when, for once, he's here because House is feeling good. It's a celebration, though a quiet one.

Wilson turns his head when he feels House shift, wondering if it's his leg. Maybe Wilson can help; maybe House will let him. But instead of saying anything, House leans in--Wilson remembers his eyes, the honest appraisal, the simple expectation that this will feel good--and House puts a hand on his shoulder, and kisses him.

Wilson doesn't back away, or hesitate. House's stubble is sharp, and his lips are dry. Wilson closes his eyes, his breath slowing to a stuttering gasp, just from the press of House's mouth against his. His lips tingle, and he opens his mouth slowly. The first touch of House's tongue against his, a quick, darting sweep, is like a shock of cool water against his skin, like diving headfirst into something deep and unexpected.

"That," he asks, when House draws a breath's distance away. "What was that...?" But the question's not serious. Wilson's body cants forward into House's space; House's fingers squeeze his shoulder, warm through his shirt.

And House smiles, a bit crookedly, as if he didn't expect this much good fortune. He's enough of a pirate that he'll grab with both hands when it's offered. "I'm going to assume you recognize a kiss when someone shoves their tongue down your throat," he says, his voice low and rough.

"House..." He should be objecting, but he doesn't want to. And in his mind, he doesn't need to. He's not married. He's not worried about what this might mean. So he returns House's smile and lets everything he wants show. "Are you drunk?" he asks. He lifts a hand to mirror House's gesture, touching his shoulder, fingering the cotton of his t-shirt. It's not an objection. He wants to know.

"Surprisingly sober, actually," House says, and the last word is lost because he leans in again, and this time Wilson meets him halfway.

Oh, he wants that, yes. He'd felt House's erection half-hard through denim, a firm pressure against his hip. Wilson touches himself, his hand over his shorts still, remembering. Imagining. House will unbutton his shirt, impatient but not rushed. In his mind, House's leg isn't a problem, so House pushes him back and presses until he's nearly on top of him. Now, alone, Wilson can push away the couch, the coffee table, House's living room. He lies back (and he pushes his way down Wendy's bed) without any effort, without pushing House away. House would come on strongly, after that much encouragement. The last thing he'd want is to stop.

They're in bed now as they kiss. Side by side, exploring. House's skin is smooth on his sides and his upper arms, the slight amount of hair on his chest and stomach rasping lightly under Wilson's palm. Wilson touches House's cheek, his chest, his biceps, tracing differences. Every time his eyes open, House's are right there, meeting his, blue and unconcerned. Mischievous, yes. Eager, interested. But there's also that occasional tenderness that Wilson has seen in his eyes when House thinks Wilson's being particularly dense on purpose. Yes, he can imagine that.

He's hard now, his hand pressing rhythmically against his erection through his shorts. Time to kick them off. Hand on hot skin. Familiar. Wilson opens his mouth, squeezes his eyes closed, turns his head to the side. He imagines touching House's penis like this, seeing House gasp, his mouth opening, his eyes sliding tremulously closed. Oh yes. A twist, like this, and House's mouth might open around his name.

Yeah. Wilson. Oh, yeah.

"Yeah," he hums, nearly out loud. The sound brings him back to himself, his eyes startling open as he remembers that he's alone. Wilson swallows against the judgmental silence of someone else's room all around him. He takes a deep breath before reaching for the lubricant. The first time, on House's couch, that kiss--he knows House wants this too.

The lube is cool and slick and Wilson pours out more than he thinks he needs. He strokes his penis, nearly fully hard. Cupping his balls, a familiar weight in his hand as he touches himself. He goes further. Fingers slipping along the inside of his thighs, his perineum, the cleft of his ass. Pressure there now, and an unsteady rhythm on his erection with his right hand, focusing on the head where he's most sensitive. Pressure. One finger. He wants this, he wants it. He imagines House again, the blood-dark flush of his erection, his muscled, lean chest pressed against Wilson's.

"You ready?" House asks.

"Yes," Wilson whispers, out loud, the word disappearing into the still air. "House--"

"It's going to hurt."

Wilson nods. Swallows. "I know."

Just his fingertip now. Pushing. It's an intrusion, but he breathes out, forces himself to relax, face twisting in a strained grimace at the contradiction. Then, yes, yes, he's reaching inside. Awkward, but House's blue eyes are above him, that's his hand on Wilson's erection, that's House's penis inside him now, too much, awkward. Feels good. If Wilson asks House to wait then he will, patient, on his knees above Wilson, kissing him again, rougher, needier, demanding, yes, and then--

Then, for the first time, finally, Wilson reaches that spot, that perfect, electric spot. He nearly jerks away from his own touch in surprise but it's there, that's what he wants.

It's his own hand on his penis and it's his own finger up his ass and he's the only one here, but the orgasm comes anyway, spurts of semen messing his hand. His body clenches with it and Wilson knows it will be better with House; it will.

Wilson opens his eyes, sweat-chilled, alone, a mess, in his girlfriend's bed. He uses the towel to wipe the lube from his hands, his ass. The semen from his stomach. He hasn't been with another woman, or made promises he can't keep. It's not cheating, what he's done.

It's not cheating, no, because masturbation, pointless and empty, isn't nearly as good.


winter

"I hope you'll like it," Wilson says. He sits next to Wendy on the couch in his office, but he is careful of her space. He watches her hands, turning the envelope over to open it, and tries to ignore the tension curling in his stomach. A guilty kind of anticipation, like an unvoiced confession.

Wendy shakes her head, laughing away his nerves. Wilson finds himself noticing all over again that she's beautiful, with the sun on her hair and her eyes bright. It feels, suddenly, as though he'd forgotten, and he wants to tell her, right now, that he's sorry.

"Did you--" Wendy stops, and it's as though her entire body pauses, her expression faltering for a second before she looks up at him, puzzled, with the brochure in her hand. "Boston--?"

"Massachusetts General Hospital," Wilson says. He shifts his weight, leaning forward, and takes a breath to speak, but everything she needs to know is in the brochure, so in the end he doesn't speak. His office was the wrong place to do this. Wilson's had too many conversations about death, sitting here. Too many people dying on him. He suspects that this will be one more.

Wendy's hands drop to her lap, the brochure hanging limp between her knees. "You're sending me to Boston."

"No, I--it's a good opportunity." Wilson truly does want her to see. He catches her hand, trying to press understanding into her skin. "It's the best program you could ask for to get your nurse practitioner's license. I made some calls--"

Wendy pulls her hand back, and Wilson feels like he's dancing to steps that have been laid down for him. "I want to stay with you, not move three hours away," she says. "Do you really think that we could get through that?"

Wilson shakes his head. "I'll do whatever you want," he says. He knows they wouldn't survive that, but then, he's not sure that they will survive next week. Wilson hasn't numbered his flaws but he knows that there are more than enough to indict him in her eyes. She'll find out what he wants, and she'll throw him out. And Wilson barely spares a thought to wonder why so many of his relationships end with at least.

"This is why you've been helping me get my surgical hours for accreditation."

"That's what you wanted," Wilson says, letting his bewilderment show. Their relationship isn't ending because he doesn't care. He's helping. He's giving her everything he can.

Wendy sits back against the couch, her eyes sliding away from his, everything about her posture accusing him of not understanding. "Stupid," she says, and Wilson isn't sure if she means him or herself. "You've got ten feet of personal space around you. I step forward, you step back."

That's unfair. They've been together for months. Wilson opens his mouth, tries to shape that time so that she remembers it the way he does. "I've shared a lot of things with you," he says quietly.

"No, James, you haven't. I know your favourite food, your favourite colour, the shows you like to watch. I don't know you."

Wilson moves back. Their knees aren't touching now. Wendy's staring at him as if he's a stranger--as if she's finally given up looking for that secret she was searching for. Maybe she sees it now, that there's nothing more to find than the sum of his parts. "I'm not perfect--"

"I know that. Don't you think I know that? I'm not asking you to be perfect."

She is, though. She wants him to be the face he shows to the world, and Wilson doesn't know how to explain how impossible that is. God, he always hated her puzzled smile, the confused way she accepted him for now, until the mystery was solved. "I don't know what you're looking for," he says, helplessly, and too honestly.

"I'm looking for some sign that you might let me in!" Wendy stares at him, but if this is a last chance, then it feels too hostile, too slippery to catch hold of. "That some day that ten feet of personal space around you might finally give."

Wilson swallows. What he might tell her piles up inside him. It would be selfish to tell her. To put it all on her. Everything with House, everything Wilson has thought in the last few months. The space she sees--it isn't him. It's House, House's voice in his mind, cutting down everything he might say.
Asking her to put her fingers up your ass wasn't enough? Every time they leave, you still wonder why--

Wilson shakes his head. This once, he'll keep it to himself. "I don't--I'm sorry," he says. "We could try it, if you wanted. Or you could stay--"

Wendy pushes off the couch, impatient, moving for the door. "After you pretty much told me to get out of your life?"

"That's not what I'm asking..."

"That's what it feels like."

"You're--"

"And don't turn around and try to pin this on me." She crosses her arms, staring down at him. Beautiful, but her eyes are hard. She's angry enough that Wilson's stomach unclenches, his tension fading away. She's strong enough without him. She's better without him. "I've tried, James, you can't tell me I haven't tried. I've ignored the gossip and the betting pools. I was bigger than that. I thought we had a chance."

"We still do," he says. Softly, cajoling. Playing his part. "It wasn't--I'm sorry. It's my fault. It was the wrong thing."

"I'm not breaking up you over a bad gift. It's not that it's the wrong thing, James, it's that you don't understand why it's the wrong thing."

"It's--you said it was because of my personal space."

"No. It's because you haven't even tried to get inside mine."

Wilson knows that's not true, but she should be angry with him, so he doesn't tell her how unfair she's being. He knows about her family, he knows the troubles she's had at work. He knows how she feels. He could have loved her, if he hadn't loved someone else first. But he doesn't say it. He deserves to be hated, even if she doesn't know the real reason why. She's leaving. She's already gone.

"I'm sorry," he says again. There's a finality to it. It's his doctor's voice, that death-knell. He won't be able to ressurrect whatever they had. He's not even sure that he wanted to, when he called her here. It's just that--he needs room, he needs space. He can't keep going home to a place that isn't his. He can't stand to walk into a room that holds no part of him. He has the chance for something different now, to break his pattern, and this time he won't stop himself from reaching for it. He stands up, too, feeling like he's guiding a patient out after a consult. "I'll leave," he says. "I'm sorry. I'll go."

Wendy turns her face away. "If you think you were ever there to begin with--" she says, but she lets the thought drop. Wilson feels like she might slap him, or kiss his cheek, but she doesn't. She shakes her head, and her eyes are bright, so that Wilson can still imagine loving her. But he's resigned to one more failure, to hurting her to break away from himself.

She stops in the doorway, looks down before she fixes him with one last stare. "The only one who's allowed to know what you're really like is that ass friend of yours," she says. "Maybe because you let yourself be human around him, James." She opens the door and walks out.

Wilson couldn't tell her she's wrong. He's not human around House. He's not better, or more himself; he's simply a different prisoner, with no other place left to go.


When Julie filed for divorce, Wilson packed his life into boxes and interred most of it at a storage facility. It's almost a shock how easy it is to erase himself from Wendy's home. He lived with her for three months, and the only sign of it is his clothes in her closets, his good pans in her kitchen, and a few CDs next to her stereo. He never even changed his mailing address.

Three suitcases and a few boxes in his car. It feels so nomadic, as if Wilson was never meant to be there at all. The entire load fits into his trunk, and it's as if the luggage disappears once he's closed it.

Wilson buys two six-packs of House's favourite beer, adds a bag of Thai food from a place House loves but which won't deliver. A week ago, a month ago, he might have had no right to ask this. But now? Who's to say who's owed and who's owing?

Foreman's gone. Wilson doesn't know if he's left Princeton, but he's not staying at House's place, and that's good enough. They won't be interrupted this evening. They've danced this particular dance three times before, and so: Wilson presumes. He knocks, and he uses his key without waiting for an answer.

House limps toward him down the hallway, dressed in pajama pants and an old t-shirt. Wilson holds up the Thai food as if it's all the explanation needed.

House pauses long enough on his way to the couch to offer a sneer, and says, "You told her, didn't you."

"No," Wilson says. He never told Wendy anything about House, if he could help it. He drops his jacket on the back of House's couch and goes into the kitchen for plates. He doesn't want to eat out of cartons. Tonight is going to be different. Wilson was the one who ended it with Wendy.
He may not have told her that he cheated on her--and truly, he never did--but he thinks she figured it out anyway. What he was hiding. Either she understands or she will hate him quietly; he supposes it's best that she took the brochure for the nurse's practitioner's license with her when she left.

After a moment or two of rummaging for plates and cutlery--unnecessarily, but Wilson likes the small moments he can have in House's kitchen, knowing where everything is--he heads to the couch and hands House a plate. House accepts it with barely a second look, focused on the third period of a hockey game between two teams neither of them care about. Wilson makes a second trip to open two beers, and House snags his with the same distracted, proprietal air.

Wilson sits down next to him gingerly, as if he's holding his breath. A second later, he realizes he is, and he tries to let it out quietly, without House noticing. Wilson can't remember the last time it was this simple, to breathe out soft and slow, and feel his tension fade with it. It feels like this is how his life should be. Peanut sauce and the cool wheaty taste of the beer and the murmur and clash of a hockey game in front of them. House sitting beside him, slumped slightly, forking food into his mouth, watching television with an absent intensity.

The leather of the couch warms underneath Wilson's body, and the Thai food heats him from the inside out. When he gets up to get them fresh beers, the air in the apartment is cool against his back. The beer, after the second bottle, starts to wash away his worries--that image is so clear that Wilson can almost see them floating away, taken by a current on the calm blue surface of a deep lake. It's so easy to slide back into this routine, what he had with House in the last few years of his marriage, before Julie left him, before Foreman. When an evening like this was a typical Friday night. Neither of them speaking, neither of them expecting to. Wilson never realized how much he missed it until he couldn't have it any more. This feeling--it's like being at home. He is home.

"I hope you like the couch," House mutters as he stabs his food.

Wilson's confused for a moment. He nearly asks if this is meant as some strange stab at decorum, if Foreman might be coming back after all to get more of his stuff, or simply to yell at House again. But it's too soon to joke. "Sure," he says, not quite suppressing his surprise. "It's fine." And he takes another swig of his beer, hoping that his sideways glance at House will provoke a response, that House will quirk his eyebrow at him the old way, so that Wilson won't need words to understand.

"Sheets are in the same place," House says. He leans forward to drop his plate on the coffee table, the fork clattering.

Wilson frowns. He thought it was clear why he was here, and sleeping on House's couch has nothing to do with it. "I don't need a place to stay, House," he says.

House eyes him skeptically over his beer bottle. "Right," he says, pulling the beer away from his lips with a pop. "That's why you showed up on my doorstep with a suitcase and a bribe."

Wilson doesn't mention the boxes in the trunk of his car. "I don't need a place," he repeats. There's always a hotel, if House doesn't want to put him up. He's not here to beg. "I'm here because--"

House finishes his beer and sets it down sharply on the coffee table, and Wilson stops, because he has no idea where House's sudden anger is coming from. "And you can leave just as easily," he says.

"What are you talking about?"

House rolls his eyes heavily. "You dumped her, didn't you?"

Under House's peevish tone, he seems almost hurt, and Wilson doesn't know why. House never cared for Wendy while Wilson was dating her. He's never cared about how Wilson handles any of his relationships. "No, I--we agreed we had different priorities. She might move to Boston--"

If he expects House to flinch at his mention of moving, then he's...not disappointed, no, but surprised. "Because you gave her those brochures and that speech," House snaps. "I saw that move coming from a mile away."

"I didn't break up with her, she--"

House scoffs, turning away. He picks up the remote and turns off the TV, plunging the room into silence. "You made it impossible for her to stay with you and keep her dignity."

So that's what this is about. He thinks Wilson's going to treat him the same way. He doesn't get that this is different, that Wilson's been waiting for this for so many years that he doesn't know how to go about it any other way. Wilson didn't mean to throw himself into anything with House,
or for House to figure him out, but he can't help wanting more. It's not about forcing House, or forcing the situation. House is only complaining because he doesn't like Wilson having control over the situation. It's Wilson's methods, not Wilson, that he's angry at. House wants this too. "I'm, I don't expect anything, House," Wilson says. "The couch is fine." And it is. He can wait. He can be patient.

House heaves himself to his feet, the movement an excuse not to meet Wilson's eyes. "You think you'll be moving up to the bed because the cripple is old and alone," he says, with acid self-pity.

Wilson thinks of the pills; he thinks of the eager, demanding press of House's lips against his. If he's honest, he did come here hoping. There's House's usual prescription in his jacket pocket, and when he glances at where it's lying across the back of the couch House follows his eyes. "Cuddy's restricting your intake," Wilson says, cautiously. And House is using his cane, even in the apartment. Wilson wants him to cut back, but he hates seeing House being limited, his life closing around him. He can wait, but he can still help House. Cuddy's right to make sure House takes less Vicodin, but Wilson's the only one who can really judge House's pain levels.

"After that DUI?" House snorts, and lifts his cane to poke at Wilson's jacket. The pills rattle in his pocket, and House's lip lifts in something like disgust. "Yeah, she seems to think doling them out one by one is the best method to keep my ass out of jail." He picks up Wilson's jacket with the tip of his cane and brings it closer to fish through the pockets. He pulls out the bottle and shakes it next to his ear, as if he might be able to tell a placebo by the clack of the pills against the plastic. The sound knots the back of Wilson's neck, makes him hold his breath against explaining himself. House is mocking him, telling him how little his promises are worth. "I told her I'd already had the big black cock so it didn't really matter, but she didn't take that as a convincing argument."

Wilson clenches his jaw, but he's not so blind that he thinks House could have forgotten Foreman. "House, I'm sorry--"

House doesn't even bother telling him that he's not. "I don't owe you, do I, Wilson?" he asks, his voice full of an insinuating sneer.

"I'm worried about you." As if House would ever accept the truth, when he can invent a conspiracy instead. "I don't want to see you in pain."

"You won't," House says. He twists the pill bottle open and taps two into his hand.

He dry swallows them like they're nothing, like he hasn't even taken into account how much hydrocodone he's taking. Wilson starts, "Do you really--"

"I'm in pain," House simpers, and he caps the bottle with a practiced, one-handed gesture. He tilts his head at Wilson before he turns around and heads for the bedroom. The look is an invitation; the way he clutches the bottle as he goes makes Wilson wish he hadn't shown up at House's apartment at all.

But Wilson follows him. The pull is like a line hooked to his sternum; the center of his chest aches, watching House walk away from him. Wilson doesn't know what he's looking for when he pauses in the doorway to House's room. What he expects to find, or for House to say, while Wilson's framed there, waiting. House's bedroom is messier than he remembers, more laundry on the floor, more clutter on all the surfaces. Wilson hesitates in the doorway. In a moment, he will say: I'm sorry, but I should go. I'm sorry, I can't do this. He'll make up the couch and sleep in the living room, or he'll leave entirely and find a hotel. House sits on the edge of the bed, staring at him intently, but that isn't why Wilson is here. The pills have taken the place of honour next to House's alarm clock. "I'm sorry," Wilson says, but then, the rest of the words won't come.

House only answers, "Get over here," and Wilson lets the discussion end.


Tomorrow will be simple.

They'll talk. There won't be the beer between them, or the pills Wilson has provided. House, after sex, must be easier to deal with--and tomorrow will be easy.

"House," Wilson says, "I--I want--" He has no idea what to ask for. He's never done this before. Better if House knows somehow, if he can push Wilson down and draw his reactions out of him. Wilson's sweating, heat rising to his skin, from remembering the kiss and from knowing, already knowing, how good this will be.

"I know," House says, and he rolls his eyes before pinning Wilson down with a kiss, hard and insistent. Suddenly Wilson's shirt is open and House's hand is inside, pressed against his breastbone as if he's taking note of Wilson's tumbling heartbeat. House's tongue tastes of beer, of peanut sauce. Wilson thinks he might be able to taste the Vicodin as well, but House's mouth is warm and wet and nothing at all like the bitter chalk of pills. Wilson gasps and House deepens the kiss, chases his breath back into his throat.

It's fast, faster than Wilson wants. House knows the choreography, and Wilson feels like he's catching up. Tomorrow he'll fix this. He can help House if he'll just let him, but not now, as his thoughts disappear into a hot, full-bodied craving. House pushes his shirt off, and Wilson's almost embarrassed at how quickly goosebumps spread across his chest, his skin tightening with anticipation. He wants House on top of him, that solid weight, body heat penetrating like a promise. He kisses House back, closing his eyes, memorizing every sensation. House seems intent on keeping Wilson quiet, or maybe he doesn't want to speak himself. Wilson feels like there's too much to say, and he'll take what House offers. He reaches for House's shoulders, pulling him closer, breathing the desperation between them.

House squirms closer, grabbing and shoving, awkward with elbows as he climbs on top. Nothing gentle. Wilson shifts, trying to adjust his position to accommodate him, to catch his breath without pushing House away. His erection is trapped by his pants. Wilson wishes he could strip off his clothes without giving up the kiss. He wants them both naked and to feel House's skin against his. Wants, so badly, and this time it's all right, because he's walking into this with his eyes wide open. Wilson knows what House is like. Knows better than Foreman did. He's known House for twelve years, and if it's entirely new, lying in House's bed and kissing him until he can't breathe, then Wilson won't let it surprise him either.

"Take off your shirt," Wilson whispers, lifting his head to chase House's mouth with kisses. He wants House to say something, mock him, anything, just so that Wilson can answer back. That's how he'll know this is real.

House grunts impatiently, but he pushes himself up by his arms. Wilson lifts himself on his elbows, still panting, smiling to see House willing to do as he's asked. House shifts until he can sit on the edge of the bed. He tugs off his button-down, opens his belt. Wilson opens his own fly, takes the opportunity to shed his pants and boxers, without taking his eyes off House's back. House looks no better and no worse than he should, his muscles lengthening as he pulls his t-shirt over his head. His skin is smooth under Wilson's searching fingertips. He wants to explore House, every joint and muscle, every twitch of skin that might give away how House is truly feeling.

House snorts as he shoves his jeans off his hips. "Yeah, really here, not your jerkoff fantasy," he says. "Stop poking." He lies down next to Wilson and pushes on top of him again, too quickly for Wilson to see his body, but House's hip digs nearly too hard against his penis, and that is entirely real.

"Just checking," Wilson answers on a gasp, squirming closer to the center of the bed to give House room. House's hand moves down Wilson's stomach, but Wilson catches his wrist and stops him. He wants more, he wants kissing--the scratchy taste of House's stubble, the concentration House puts into the movements of his mouth and tongue, as if he is analyzing Wilson with every kiss.

"You get that this is a sure thing, right?" House mutters. He frowns as he shakes off Wilson's hold and starts palming his erection. Wilson arches up, without thought. God, he's getting so hard, too quickly. "Stop, slow--"

"You want me to stop?" Almost a rough laugh in House's voice. His fingers curl tighter, squeeze, move up and down once, and then he starts to take his hand away.

"No," Wilson says, the word breathed out before he can call it back. He knew it would be good, but he didn't know it would be like this, so perfectly immediate. He can't think of anything but House's hand, House's touch. It will happen the way it should, this time.

"Didn't think so." House takes that as permission to touch him everywhere, until Wilson's panting and the kiss is forgotten. He presses his mouth to House's shoulder, hands spread over House's back, trying to touch him. He doesn't know what he's doing but he can do this, tongue his way over House's neck, suck on the thin skin over his collarbone, hold him tight and close. But House keeps pushing him back, and Wilson doesn't want to get in his way, not if this is what House wants--House wants him, and to be the object of that desire, all that restless attention, is too much for him, and he groans.

"Oh," he says, "I want you to--" He bites his lip to stop himself.

House lifts his head at that. He meets Wilson's eyes, his breath coming quickly, but his stare is sharp, seeing more than it should. Wilson swallows, and stammers. His mouth feels raw with stubble burn. He can't get the words out, but from the messy flush of his face, House will know what he wants. Something more than a handjob, a blowjob. Something he couldn't have with any of his girlfriends or his wives. The diagnosis isn't hard to reach, and House would never miss a second of Wilson being desperate, or needing anything.

"It'll hurt," House says, after a deliberate pause. No emotion there, as if he's testing the waters.

"I, I can--" Wilson's embarrassment multiplies, and he licks his lips. If it was difficult telling Wendy what he wanted, it's infinitely worse confessing to House, who assumes the worst and who will take this as the perfect opportunity to laugh in his face.

House's eyes brighten with sadistic humour. Wilson has no idea how seeing that devilish look on House's face turns him on more than House touching him, but it does. "You've been fucking yourself," House says, and this time, there's something almost like admiration in his voice. "Kinky, Wilson."

Wilson can only blush. He feels paralyzed by it, by House's suddenly more personal interest, the smug mockery in the way he says Wilson's name--the first time he's said Wilson's name. He didn't want House to find out this way, but it's not the same if House gets him off with his hand or his mouth, and Wilson has been wanting for too long not to say something.

House laughs, a short bark, and then he pushes Wilson aside. Playfully, this time, instead of his earlier impatient shoves. "You better have brought a condom."

"What do you mean?" Wilson blinks. He's not the one who's been in a year-long relationship with a man. "You--"

As quickly as House's humour had shown through, his expression vanishes entirely, leaving behind a mask of prickly blankness. "Fresh out."

Wilson assumes that House and Foreman have been on the rocks longer than he suspected, and that they'd stopped having sex too long ago to bother keeping up a supply. After a second, though, it dawns on him. They weren't using condoms. House's taut, shuttered face is one big warning sign, but Wilson asks, "You trusted him that much?"

House's body tenses; Wilson can feel all the muscles along his side tightening, where they're pressed together. "I don't trust you that much," House snaps. He rolls to his back, pulling away, and glares at the ceiling. "But I'm sure you'd never run out."

Wilson sighs. Stupid. Stupid to bring it up. He does have a condom, in his wallet, but he ignores House's pointed comment. He feels ridiculous fishing for his pants off the side of the bed. Exposed, his bare ass pointed at House, when a moment ago he wouldn't have cared. He opens his wallet and finds the condom. House does some rummaging of his own, pulling out a half-used bottle of lube from the drawer in his bedside table. Wilson does his best to ignore the fact that the last person to use it with House was Foreman, but he can't help wishing that he had a place of his own, that they were doing this in his bed. A place without memories.

Neither of them is particularly hard, after the interruption. Wilson feels his desire returning, though. If he wants to touch House, he can; if he wants to kiss him, or suck him, or make him hard, he can. Wilson's breath catches. "Do you want--" he says, although the offer is hesitant. His gaze dips to House's penis, and he wets his lips. He doesn't know if he can make it good. He doesn't know what he's doing. House frowns, and tips his head back to blink at the ceiling before he nods. Wilson tests, first, with his hand, moving the loose skin up and down, feeling the warmth in House's penis, wanting it hard and full for him. He reaches up to kiss House while he's jerking him but House turns his head on the pillow.

"House--"

"Just. Suck," he says.

Wilson bends down, to hide his frown, his uncertainty, and breathes along House's penis, gratified to see it twitch, before he lifts it to his mouth. He tastes warm skin, and a hint of sweat. Wilson sucks lightly, taking his time, and tries to keep the rhythm of his hand going while he learns what will make House react. House's body is tighter, his stomach moving with the flex and release of his muscles, with the hitch of his breath. Wilson knows what he likes himself, and he does his best to keep his teeth clear, but he feels amateurish and awkward. House starts to harden, and he's moving his hips a bit more--more than Wilson can really handle, but he's not about to give up. He sucks more firmly, testing with his tongue, nearly losing control of his breathing when he hears House give a swallowed sound like a nearly-voiced moan.

It's not enough. Wilson's jaw starts to ache, but House is still only half-hard. Wilson can feel House tensing, getting defensive. Strangely, he feels more aroused himself, from the taste, or the heat, or the occasional quiet sounds House let out. Maybe House won't be able tonight--the pills, or the pain, or the booze, or his age. Any number of things, all of them together enough to put this off. But then, maybe they can just keep kissing, and Wilson will sleep here instead of the couch, and tomorrow--

House nudges him off before Wilson can figure out how to suggest that they wait without bruising House's ego. Wilson backs away, panting, licking his swollen lips. House grasps his penis and starts tugging himself hard and rough, faster than Wilson could possibly have sucked. He was halfway there, and it's not long before he's fully erect and straining. His eyes are closed. He's biting down on his lower lip, and his air pushes out in a low, needy fricative. The expression on his face is so lost, eyebrows raised, mouth open. Wilson reaches down and touches himself, his erection sliding easily through his hand, feeling hot and shameful all over again at how good it is, how much he wants.

"House," he says again. God, he needs more than his own touch, more than to watch. He wants it to be real.

House nods, once, sharply. "Yeah," he says, and then he opens his eyes. His gaze sweeps down Wilson's chest to his erection, and it's like he's dragging his hands along the same path, because Wilson can nearly feel the heat of his eyes like a touch. "Now."

Wilson reaches for the lubricant where it fell in a twist of the sheets. Slicks both his hands, not bothering about the mess. He's not quite sure how he'll do this--he usually lies on his back--but if he spreads his legs, and kneels, he can reach behind himself to touch and rub before he pushes one finger inside. Doesn't know if it's better or worse that House is right there, taking in every detail. Heat curls in his groin, stronger than his embarrassment, and soon Wilson's too distracted to care what he might look like. He tenses against his own touch, a moan stuttering on his lips. House is still stroking himself and now his eyes are narrowed and intent on Wilson's hands. He finally lets that word out that he was holding back: "Fuck, yeah."

Wilson knows he should be going slowly, letting himself adjust, but time seems to be speeding by, and Wilson can't stop himself. God. God, it's good, better than it ever has been. Even with two fingers, even, pushing it, with three. Wilson's head dips forward, without his permission--he wanted to keep his eyes on House's face--but he's concentrating, focusing, needs to close his eyes and feel the tight, electric burn. "Yeah," he whispers. Answering House. "Yeah, now."

He looks up again at the crinkle of the condom wrapper tearing. House rolls it on, and then picks up the lube, smoothing a handful along his erection. Wilson reaches out and touches him--the too-slick feel of the latex over the heat and hardness of House's penis--rubs for a moment, until House starts to frown. "I get it, you can do foreplay," he says. House jerks his head to the side, a half-nod that tells him to get on with it while leaving the logistics mainly up to Wilson.

Straddling House seems to be the only way this can work, with his leg to be careful of, and Wilson gingerly moves one knee across him. He hesitates before going any further. He'd rather be kissing House than sitting astride him, and the angle is different than he's used to. But he's panting, pleasure settling low in his stomach, anticipation fluttering in his chest. He's hard enough that it's starting to ache, now that he's not touching himself. House rolls his eyes and lifts his hips a bit, their erections rubbing together for a slippery, too-short moment. "Okay," Wilson says. "Yeah." It's different, but that's the point. He's different, like this, with House. He takes House's penis in his hand--settles lower, awkward, trying to feel his way--feels the press of House's penis against his ass. "Ohhfuck," he says. Slow. Has to go slow.

House's hands grip his hips, tight enough to bruise. He grunts, his eyes squeezing shut for a second, but he lets Wilson move the way he needs to. It's still too much, all at once, but Wilson's determined to push through the pain, even as his erection wilts a little. He bites back a whimper, and then--House is inside. "Wait," Wilson says. "Just--"

House groans out loud, frustration and impatience in equal measure, but he tips his head back so that Wilson can stare at the long line of his throat. House's larynx moves as he swallows, and he licks his lips quickly, compulsively. His fingers spasm tighter on Wilson's hips. "Come on," he says. He reaches for Wilson's penis and strokes him. Wilson whimpers, the sound escaping before he can even think about stopping it.

Wilson covers House's hand with his, hot on his erection, showing House the speed he wants, the pressure. Arousal tumbles through him, sweet and needy, letting him relax around House's erection. Wilson moves, shifts, goes deeper. A few thrusts later there's the beginning of pleasure, the dim red tide of sensation that he knows will grow; he works for it, closes his eyes for a long moment. "Oh, God. House..."

House blinks at him. Sweat shines on his chest, his ribs heaving quickly as he pants. "Lean back," he says. The advice could have sounded clinical, but House's voice is clipped and gravelly, and when Wilson does as he says, suddenly, suddenly it's right. He can still feel the pain, the burn, but it doesn't matter at all. He repeats the movement, feels the throb of House's erection, feels paralyzed with how good it is. Nerves and body twining together as the sensation rises through him. Sweating, moaning, probably looking ridiculous, but he can't stop. He grabs House's hand, anchoring himself, both their fingers oily from the lube. House doesn't have the leverage to lift his hips up against Wilson's weight, so Wilson uses his thighs to guide the speed, gradually increasing the pace.

God. Oh, God, he's fucking himself on House's cock. House is fucking him. Wilson loves this, loves every moment, loves it more as House's thrusts hit his prostate more often. "Yes," Wilson says, "yeah," moving faster, needing more. His orgasm seems to come from somewhere so deep inside that he didn't know it was there, between his balls and the base of his penis, the pleasure erupting with a wash of incredible feeling. Wilson works his hand on his erection, and he comes, too fast, but he doesn't care. Everything he wanted. Semen spurts over his stomach and drips down his knuckles. He grips House's hand, hard, until the sensation starts to fade, and he can finally open his eyes.

House's eyes are closed, too, and he's still straining. Wilson forces himself to move, despite the ache in his thighs and his ass, until House jerks underneath him, suddenly demanding and fast. Wilson sees every instant of House's orgasm passing across his face. Taut, a quick frown, and then House's mouth falls open around a groan. He thrusts a few more times, finally shuddering and settling underneath Wilson.

And then, before Wilson figures out what more he could have expected, it's over, and House is pulling out and away. Shoving him aside, so that Wilson lands heavily on his side. House's erection is already softening, and he strips the condom off and tosses it in the trashcan beside the bed. He tosses the lube into the drawer it came from, then picks up a box of tissues and throws them at Wilson.

Wilson cleans himself up, watching House roll himself up in the covers. When he's wiped his hand and penis mostly clean, he follows House's example and lets the tissues fall in the trash. Hesitantly, he pulls the covers over himself, lying on his side behind House. Watching the small hairs on the back of his neck, the way his hair looks greyer in the dimness. He wants to say...something. The one, perfect thing that House wouldn't be able to mock. But right now, aching and strangely exhausted, he has no idea what that might be.


Part Four

winter

It's easier to stay late at work, when Wendy doesn't have a night shift. They won't have to face each other, or sleep in the same bed. It's over, and Wilson has his office couch. He'll move his things out of Wendy's place while she's at work, and let it end quietly, whatever it was. For now, there's enough work to keep him occupied, until he's too exhausted not to sleep.

From time to time Wilson finds himself staring out his window, watching raindrops beading and running down the glass, each time checking to see if the light from House's office is still on. It's comforting to know he's not the last person left in the hospital; even more comforting to know that House's hours haven't changed because of Foreman.

There's a knock at the door. That discounts House, and Wilson's not expecting anyone else. It would be nice to pretend he's not in. He covers his face with his hands, rubbing at his eyes for a second before blinking himself into alertness and calling, "Come in."

Foreman opens the door. Wilson leans back slowly, eyeing him, wondering if he'll see anything different now that Foreman's left House. But Foreman looks the same as ever, impatient and scornful. He's dressed in a suit, as if turning down the neurology appointment gives him the authority to ditch his lab coat. Foreman closes the door behind him and locks it. Wilson raises his eyebrows. A second later he understands, as Foreman takes three steps across the office and locks the balcony door as well, then tugs the blinds closed. So this is about House. Wilson could have guessed, but the confirmation makes him tense and angry.

"Can I help you?" he asks, in his mildest voice.

"No," Foreman says. He grabs the back of the visitor's chair and leans on it, staring down at Wilson. He seems to fill the whole room, the contempt in his stare directed squarely at Wilson. "But you might help House, if you're serious about being his friend."

Wilson glances automatically at the balcony door, but of course the blinds are drawn. "What are you talking about?" he asks, forcing himself not to show his anger. He will be the bigger person. Foreman is the intruder here, and Wilson isn't interested in what he has to say about House--especially not about whether House and Wilson are friends.

Foreman snorts and looks away, shaking his head. He reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out a small pill bottle. Wilson recognizes it instantly. House's Vicodin. Foreman slams it down in the center of the desk, the pills rattling. "Are you prescribing for him?" he asks. From his sneering tone, he thinks he knows the answer.

Wilson stands up slowly, refusing to let Foreman pin him to the chair with his glare. "I think I've heard everything I need to," he says stiffly.

"No, you damn well haven't." Foreman stabs his forefinger at the pills. "Read the date on that bottle."

"I know when I've prescribed for him." He's not going to look at the pills. Foreman doesn't deserve that courtesy.

"Really?" Foreman crosses his arms and stares at him flatly, pressing his lips together, holding something back so hard that it seems like he's going to explode. Wilson almost hopes he does, because he's so tired of not knowing, of House refusing to tell him anything. And finally, with a disgusted breath, Foreman gives up whatever fight he was having with himself. "Maybe the fact that I found him in a pool of his own vomit might mean something to you, Doctor Wilson."

Wilson gropes for the edge of his desk. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Foreman breaks eye contact, staring past his shoulder. He laughs shortly. "He didn't tell you."

"I don't know--"

"Obviously." There's nothing like sympathy in Foreman's expression. Wilson searches for some sign that Foreman feels anything, that he's not just a sanctimonious prick, but Foreman is looking at him like Wilson's barely worth his notice. If Foreman ever worried about House, if he ever cared, it's been erased. "He's using again. Probably for the past three months."

Wilson shakes his head. "I don't--"

"And either you're prescribing, or he's using you, because he knows I won't give him a single milligram."

Foreman can't possibly be that dense. The ketamine was never a guarantee. If he's right, if House is taking narcotics, it's not a whim. House admitted that he was hoarding, and using leftovers, once in a while. Foreman has no idea what he's talking about. "He's in pain--"

"I'm his boyfriend, not his dealer."

How did House ever think that he had a relationship with this man? Foreman could have given House what he needed, and instead he chose to treat House like he was nothing, like his problem didn't matter. "How is that helping him?"

"How is it helping him to not see what's right in front of your eyes?" Foreman points viciously at the balcony door. "Do you ever lock that? Do you know for certain that House doesn't have a key?"

"No," Wilson says. It's not an admission, but... Wilson remembers the night he'd bailed House out of jail. Over a speeding ticket. The detective had stared at him with such a bland, knowing look that Wilson had assumed he'd had a run-in with House, but, remembering, it seems worse than that. When Wilson claimed the crumpled prescription, without checking the date, the detective had stared at him with something like pity. "He wouldn't," Wilson says.

Foreman tilts his head and levels a patronizing, disbelieving look at him. Whether House has stolen prescriptions or not, they both know there's very little he wouldn't do. Wilson's lying to himself, and they both know it. "You do know House, don't you?"

Better than you, Wilson wants to say, but he clamps his lips shut. "Thank you for telling me," he says flatly.

Foreman shrugs lightly. "I told him I wouldn't stay if he was using."

Tiredly, Wilson wishes Foreman would get the hell out. He's never cared about Foreman's confessions. They aren't his problems. But Foreman looks up and meets Wilson's eyes directly, and the sneer is back in place. "That's why I'm going to New York," he says. "In case you're curious."

As if Wilson will believe that. Foreman's leaving because it's the safe thing to do. Protecting himself, and letting House go to hell, if that's what happens. "He needs the pills," Wilson says. Explaining it is futile, if Foreman doesn't understand by now.

"Maybe. But he doesn't need to get high."

"He's not," Wilson says. Foreman thinks he knows the difference between using enough to get by and using too much, as if he's the authority on how much pain House is in. He's made up his mind, and he's never been very good at listening.

"He's being stubborn." Foreman drops his arms, gripping the back of the visitor chair again, staring at the floor like it's suddenly fascinating. Like there's some weight pressing him down. "Won't use his fucking cane, as if I give a shit about that--"

Wilson barks out a laugh, before he can stop it. "I'm sure he doesn't care what you feel about that," he says dryly.

Foreman barely reacts. "He cares," he says, his voice low and bitter. He finally looks up, his eyes wide, and reddened around his irises. "He hates the scar, I hope you know that much."

"Of course, but--"

Foreman's face twists into a grimace. "But nothing. I don't care about that, I don't care if he can't get it up, I don't care if he turns my shirts pink. And I don't think you get that."

The last thing Wilson wants to hear about is House and Foreman's sex life. Wilson might be in the business of offering comfort, but Foreman hasn't earned it. He hasn't even tried. "If you cared," Wilson says, "you wouldn't be moving to New York."

Foreman ignores him. Of course. "If he can't get it under control, then I'm not going to stop him," he says. "He doesn't listen to me and I doubt he listens to you. If you want to try, though--" He glares at Wilson, but the stony disgust is gone, and he just looks tired. "If you actually are his friend, then I'd suggest doing something before he tries again."

"I don't believe you." Wilson can't picture it--no, worse, he's pictured it too often. Calling House and getting no answer. Rushing over, insisting all the way that it's nothing, that he's overreacting. Forcing open the door and finding House sprawled on the floor...in the bathroom, maybe, curled around the toilet, collapsed. Searching for his pulse, for his respiration, finding nothing. Fumbling for his phone, then--laying House out like a CPR doll, working on him until the paramedics rush in... No matter how many times Wilson's thought it might happen, believed it might happen, it's never seemed entirely real. It's like a poorly-acted play that repeats behind his eyes when he can't sleep, a dream image he can't erase. He's thought what if, laid out every scenario he can think of, as if imagining it would let him prevent it. And, in the end, what he can't believe is that it happened to Foreman, instead of him.

"You can check his medical records at Princeton General, where I got his stomach pumped," Foreman says. Whatever crack in his armour showed a minute ago, it's gone now, and there's only anger left. "You can check with Cuddy; she approved his sick time."

"And after that--" Wilson shakes his head. God, it's unimaginable. "You're giving up."

"Somebody has to say no to him." Foreman scoffs as he turns away, heading for the door. "I know that isn't you, but maybe you'd like to try."

Wilson hates that Foreman thinks that saying no to House is as far as it goes. "Did you even suggest rehab to him?" he asks. No is the first step; it's what comes after that matters. Convincing House that he needs help, persuading him to try something different. No means nothing to House, and if Foreman had ever understood him, he'd know that.

Foreman glances over his shoulder. He's as stubborn as House, and as defensive, refusing to show a thing. "That's none of your business."

"I assume you didn't."

"All right. You want to know?" Foreman turns back from the door, long enough to try and prove Wilson wrong. Questioning his abilities as a doctor is probably the one thing that might have stopped him from walking out. "He's considered tracking down CIPA patients and having a nerve graft. He's tried to get into depression clinical trials so that he can have pain meds injected directly into his brain. Rehab isn't going to cut it. I'm not going to enable him anymore."

It's like Foreman doesn't even see that he's only thinking of himself. That he's running away to save himself. "And what about House?" Wilson asks.

"You're asking if I care about him?"

Wilson can only respond in his driest voice. "I think I can see that for myself."

Foreman catches the implication, but he only rolls his eyes. "Believe what you want. I just hope he doesn't kill himself while you figure out what that is." He unlocks the door and jerks it open, letting it slam shut behind him.

He leaves the pills behind. The small orange bottle, sitting in the middle of the desk. Wilson falls back into his chair, unwilling to move. But, in the end, he has to. He picks up the bottle, and reads the label. His own name printed there. And a date when he'd thought House was fine.

It takes a hell of a lot of patience to be House's friend. To be around House at all. How long has Foreman really been around? A year and half? Two years? Practically no time at all.

Wilson has no idea if Foreman was telling the truth. All those claims have to be exaggerated. Making Foreman look good at House's expense. Foreman wants the job Mercy. He wants the corner office and the lip-service respect. He wants to challenge House as a diagnostician on the East Coast, as if he could ever be as successful as House.

That's all it's ever been. Foreman's puffed-up ego, his inflated sense of self-importance. Wilson knows that Foreman has no idea at all what it means to love House.


winter

Afterwards, House turns away.

Maybe he's sleeping, or else it's his leg. The lights are off and it's nearly dark, but Wilson's eyes have adjusted enough that he can trace the shadows of House's shoulder blades, the way his muscles fit together. He can watch House breathe. Wilson finds his eyes trailing over the small places where House is imperfect, the places where he must hurt--the faint scar on his neck, and the tension that gathers along House's spine. Even though House's back is turned, Wilson feels like he can see more than he was ever allowed to, before.

House's grip worked fingerprints into his hips, bruises that will serve as memories. Each time Wilson shifts he's perfectly aware of his body, the burn in his thighs from holding himself up, the groaning you-are-too-old-for-this pop of his knees when he stretches his legs, and most of all, the feeling that he is still being penetrated, the uncomfortable realization of intrusion, the ache of it. It was good--Wilson was right about that--and he came harder than he can remember. There was never once a moment when he found his thoughts slipping away to other women, or worse, to work.

After a few minutes, House starts to shift. He pushes up onto one elbow and glances at the alarm clock. With a pained frown, he sits up, and then slides his legs off the bed. It's all thoughtfully carried out. Each motion has a price. Wilson has seen House caged by pain before, after the infarction, but that was years ago, and Wilson's forgotten the effort of it. As much as he cares, he knows that House would rather that Wilson forget what House goes through. Too often, he does.

Wilson lifts his head from his forearm to watch. "House--" It's fascinating to see the way his voice plays out on House's back, the hunching of shoulders. House twists at the waist to glance over his shoulder at him.

"Go to sleep, Wilson." House reaches for his cane, and there's that ponderous deliberateness again as he gets to his feet. Wilson thinks, with a burning flush that holds more shame than it should, about the muscles House used, thrusting into him. He's not ashamed, but the embarrassment boils through him regardless, the blush catching him off-guard. Mostly House's abdomen, but each thrust would use his quads and gluteal muscles: Wilson traces the muscle groups in his mind and wishes it was with his touch, his hands; or, with that crawl of shame again--his mouth. He doesn't know where these thought come from, only that they feel traitorously good, even though he knows he won't be allowed to act on them, not if House's mood keeps up.

House pulls on pajama pants, but he doesn't bother with a shirt. Seeing him half-naked is better, somehow, than the sex itself. House isn't covering up. Wilson can imagine a lifetime like this--he still has the optimism to think in lifetimes--of watching the flex of House's muscles as he stands up, the droop of his pajama cuffs over his bare feet. There's an intimacy to it that Wilson barely knew he needed until House offered it.

It ends when House shuffles out of the room. The bathroom door shuts with a click, locking Wilson out, and very suddenly, he doesn't know what to do. He's naked and spent in House's bed, his penis not quite flaccid, the semen he couldn't entirely wipe away drying against his stomach. And he's alone.

What he thinks is: I love him.

It's strange to even think the words, stranger still to imagine saying them out loud to anyone, least of all House. House probably wouldn't listen. He'd cut him off, or cut him down, for daring to feel something. Wilson can practically hear House's sneer at hearing the words. Telling Wilson to shut up, because House is too damn scared to hear it. But when Wilson opens his mouth, in the silence of House's bedroom, it feels like his breath stops. How was it so easy to say the words to his wives and girlfriends before, when he's not able to get them past his lips when it's House he wants to say them to?

The pipes rumble as House starts the water running in the bathtub. Wilson sighs. His body feels too heavy to move, as if he's sinking down into the mattress. The rush of the water lulls him, and Wilson turns his head on the pillow, blinking in the near-darkness. He stares at House's night table, feeling like he's missed something, lost some connection. House's clock flips over the minute, twelve forty-one to twelve forty-two. And then Wilson gets it--when House shoved the tissues back on the nightstand, he grabbed the pills. He took the bottle with him to the bathroom.

Wilson shoves the covers back and grabs his shorts off the floor. He yanks them on and steps into the hall. There's a bar of light under the bathroom door. With a sudden wrench, the water turns off, and Wilson's pulse skips in his wrists. He edges closer, his head tipped forward as he strains to listen, staring at the shadow of House's feet blocking the light. And there, in the silence after House turns off the water, he hears it. The rattle of the bottle, the snap of the cap.

There are thirty pills in the bottle. House took two earlier. It's been an hour, maybe more. He shouldn't be taking more.

Wilson frowns. Ridiculous. He has no reason to believe House is going to overdose. They just had sex. House needs his pills after any activity. It's Foreman's fault; he's left Wilson thinking this way. But Foreman saw House's problem and did nothing about it. Wilson can do better. He simply won't prescribe for House until each empty bottle is returned. He'll keep a vial with him in case House has breakthrough pain, but he won't hand it over.

Wilson lets out a soft sound, nearly a laugh. He won't need to. He'll be close by. Not on House's couch. He rubs a hand over his eyes, then scrubs his fingers through his hair before massaging the back of his neck, pushing his elbows back until he can feel the stretch through his whole body. God, he's exhausted. House will be finished in the bathroom soon enough, and Wilson will clean himself up quickly before going to sleep.

He doesn't want House to catch him in the hall. The bed's warmer, and Wilson straightens the sheets before climbing in. He sighs, a long exhale through his nose, as he lets his eyes close.

The words I love you fade like a dream passing with waking. Wilson drifts, almost sleeping, waiting for House to come back from his bath. The words fade, but Wilson's determination doesn't. He'll keep House honest. He'll help him now like he couldn't before.

Where Stacy failed, where Foreman didn't even try, Wilson will succeed.


When the apartment door cracks open, Wilson doesn't bother saying anything. He simply holds up a bottle of Vicodin. House snorts, but with a snick, he unhooks the chain and lets Wilson in. Whatever Cuddy's letting him have isn't making a dent in his pain levels, because House is sweating and stiff, moving as if his whole body hurts with the same fierce pain as his leg.

"So that's the point you're at?" Wilson asks. "If I wave the pills, you'll open the door?"

"You'd talk your way in eventually," House mutters. His tone would be bitter if it weren't so exhausted. He leans heavily on his cane as he heads back to the couch, and he wasn't even stubborn enough to try and block Wilson from coming in. There's nothing play-acted about that. The pain is real.

It's easy to blame House. That's what Foreman did; that's why he left. And after everything he said, Wilson was ready to blame him too. House's apartment feels empty, and the mess is growing to cover over that resentful absence. It was far worse when Stacy left, but the signs aren't much different, if Wilson measures them by House's pajama pants and t-shirt, and the three-day stubble.

Wilson won't make the same mistakes. But that doesn't mean he's a pushover, or the sap House accuses him of being. He stays on the threshold, the door open. "Why didn't you tell me?"

House eases himself down into the corner of his couch, sweat beading at his temples and darkening his hair to damp strands flat against his scalp. "It was nothing," he says. He still has the energy to sneer, to throw Wilson's words back in his face. "It was breakthrough pain, right? Just normal midlife aches?"

Even if the ketamine failed, House was in control of the narcotics for seven years. He knew the danger, and he threw himself right back into the same pattern. "Withdrawal is a bit outside the normal range of a midlife crisis."

"Happens when your source cuts you off."

"You were stealing from me!"

"And you didn't notice." House tips his head back, contemplating the ceiling. "Foreman threatened to go to that detective."

Wilson opens his mouth. He thinks, He wouldn't, but he realizes he knows less about Foreman than he ever believed. Not if he'd do that, to someone he professed to care about. House could have lost his medical license, and for what? Rehab doesn't work if the addict doesn't want to change, and House is more stubborn than most. Blackmailing him would be the worst possible way to make him cooperate, and it would have left him with the same hole to fall into as soon as it was over. The only thing that saved House was that Cuddy didn't turn him in the minute she found out. "And you're telling me it's not a problem," he says.

House glares at him. He pushes to his feet--so stubborn that he won't stop moving, not even while he's detoxing and in pain--and starts towards Wilson, his right shoulder rolling with every heavy, limping step. "I was pain-free for four months and I didn't take a single pill. I take what I need to not to be in pain, and you think that's a problem? The pain is the fucking problem!"

"You drove Foreman away! How is that not a problem?" The words stop House like a gunshot. Wilson can hear the raggedness of House's breathing. It has to be from the way he's pushing himself, forcing his leg to support him. Wilson aches for him, but his throat closes against an apology. The last thing Wilson wanted was to bring up Foreman, but maybe in House's eyes, driving him away isn't a problem. Maybe House still thinks he has further to fall, that there's more he might lose. Wilson can't help thinking that the only thing House has left to lose is him. "What's going to make it a problem, House?"

House doesn't answer--at least, not with words. Wilson is still standing in the doorway, and House takes the last, half-staggered steps to reach him, lifting his cane to slam the door shut behind Wilson. He startles at the bang, even though he saw it coming.

"You tell me," House says, and then he leans in and kisses him.

Wilson tastes bourbon on House's breath. He's been drinking to avoid the pain--probably trying to knock himself out. Wilson pulls back, although he doesn't have far to go. He can't push House back. Any touch would knock him down. "That's not why I'm here," Wilson says.

House scoffs as he pushes forward again. He kisses Wilson with same burning, forceful intensity as last night. The first kiss, from years ago, has nearly been overwhelmed in Wilson's memory. It was so surprising, he thinks, because of how gentle House was. The second time, when Wilson initiated it, House was angry and pushy with it. This time, he barely pauses to let Wilson breathe, and his hand is yanking Wilson's coat from him, shoving beneath his clothes.

"House--" Wilson's arms are tangled in his sleeves, and he has to struggle free of his coat before he can brace a hand against House's chest.

"You're still here," House says. He's given up supporting himself on his cane, so that Wilson can't let him go without risking him falling. House is heavier than he ever imagined. Wilson can't get a full breath with House pushing against him.

"I told you I'd help you." Wilson won't leave, no matter how difficult House makes it for him. Foreman abused his trust and forced House's barriers up again. It took House five years to get over Stacy, and what House never saw was that Wilson was the one who stayed. But he's not leaving, and he's the only one left that House might listen to. "House, you need to get into rehab."

He expects House to react, to shove away from him, to shout. Instead, House sags further, and he looks down, away. "Not as much as you do."

Wilson frowns, and shifts his weight. "What do you mean?"

"You're worse than me." House is angry, but it's all surface. They're close enough that Wilson can resignation and sadness in his eyes, but House only knows how to cut. Wilson's providing him a distraction, exactly what House needs, and Wilson can feel the breath of each of House's words, knives aimed for all the places he's already bleeding. "Give you an orgasm and you think you're in love. That's touching, Wilson. But I don't need it."

"I'm not here to have sex with you!" It doesn't matter that he's trapped by House's body, by the demanding weight of him; that he wishes they could keep kissing. Wilson wants to kiss House without expectation, with that innocence, that sense of being on the verge of something new and terrifying, knowing that he doesn't need to let the moment catch him up and sweep him along. He hasn't said I love you yet, and he wants to believe there's a chance that this time he'll get it right.

House lifts his eyes, even though his head is bent, his face tight with pain. His voice is low and even, with the barest trace of bitterness, when he says, "You brought me pills, so I assumed."

Wilson can't think. A jumbled, incredulous hurt pins his heart to his sternum and refuses to let it beat. House's breath stinks of alcohol, his body of sweat. They're pressed together against House's front door because House can barely stand, but Wilson feels like he's the one whose legs are about to give out. House never wanted him. He only wanted the high. The pills.

Wilson was so certain that he'd be different, with House. That this was the touch he'd needed, that opening himself up to House would make him better. He thought, I will be better for this. He should be better. Wilson's not using House, or his addiction, for nothing more than sex. He is better than that. He never wanted that. But that's what House believes.

And Wilson realizes that this is the point that House has reached. Opening the door to Wilson was nothing. House will have sex for the pills, without desire, without love. And that is why Foreman left.

"House--" Wilson's voice trembles, and he hates himself for it. House won't respect it. Wilson forces himself to swallow, although it pushes the ache in his chest closer to the surface. He can't do this. Foreman was right. He can't do both. "I can't prescribe for you."

House exhales slowly, a breath that breaks halfway through. He pushes off Wilson, using him as a prop while he reaches for his cane. His weight disappears as he turns around but Wilson can still feel it, crushing, against his chest. "Then get out," House says, sounding so old, so nearly worn out.

"I'll tell Cuddy to give you your old prescription," Wilson says. "Eighty milligrams a day. I'll--I won't interfere, House. But I'm not leaving."

House doesn't stop. Once he has his momentum, it's easier for him to keep going, and he heads for the bedroom, without looking at Wilson, without acknowledging him. Wilson watches him go, breathless and aching, and still, he knows, not hurting as much as House is.


Wilson stays.

He doesn't know if it's because he's stubborn, or because he has nowhere else to go, or because, after twelve years, he simply can't imagine his life without House in it.

Standing in Cuddy's office, Wilson can't quite meet her eyes. He rubs the back of his neck, ducking his face away, and when he manages to look up he can see on her face that she already knows. Wilson expects--he almost hopes--that she will be uncertain, that she'll ask, Do you think we should really be doing this? After all, they're taking House's life into their hands. That's always been Wilson's area of expertise.

"You're telling him you don't trust him," Wilson says helplessly. It feels like the wrong approach, to regulate his intake, because House is sure to live up to their worst expectations. It's what he's always done.

Cuddy shakes her head. "I don't trust him. Neither should you. I want you to keep your prescription pad with you at all times, and locked up when you're not at the hospital. If you even suspect--"

Wilson laughs raggedly, because he can't even defend himself. He carries the pad with him, and sometimes he checks for it in his pocket, never quite believing it's still there. A nightmare he can't convince himself is over when he wakes up. "I told him I couldn't prescribe for him," he says. Cuddy's eyes are bright blue and steady, and Wilson hates himself more when she nods and accepts that without question. "I can't," Wilson repeats, swallowing the break in his voice. He doesn't want to think about why.

After a moment, Cuddy looks away, and smoothes her skirt as she sits down in her desk chair. "I think," she says, "I think he needed to know how far he could push it before it broke."

Wilson wonders if House was surprised to find Foreman's snapping point. Maybe House is conducting another sort of vigil, a different kind of autopsy, searching for the otherwise meaningless scratch.

Wilson works twenty feet from House's office, but he doesn't visit. Cameron and Chase are subdued, working cases and treating patients. House abuses them more and yells at them less. He doesn't stick his nose outside Diagnostics except to do his clinic duty. Each evening, Wilson passes by House's office on his way home--home is, once again, a hotel, and Wilson stays at the hospital as late as he can to avoid it. He never manages to stay later than House.

One evening, he glances in as he passes. House is sitting in his lounge chair, head bent, and Cuddy perches on the ottoman across from him, her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands.
Cuddy watches House as if he's a comatose patient, as if she's waiting for the moment he starts to wake up. She's not speaking, but there's something endlessly stubborn about the way she's watching him, and House tolerates her presence.

Wilson doesn't know if House will tolerate him, and so he doesn't try. He keeps up through Cuddy or through Chase.

One afternoon, when the temperature's below freezing, and the city is iron-grey with ice, Wilson sees House out on the balcony. He's not wearing a coat, but he looks as if the cold can't touch him. Wilson watches him for a long moment before he opens his own door and steps out. A blast of wind pierces his dress shirt, swirling down his collar and under his arms, as he moves to stare out in the same direction as House.

House doesn't acknowledge that he's there. They stand on either side of the dividing wall and watch headlights sweep past on the road in front of the hospital. Shivers wrack Wilson's body, but he refuses to go back inside. The cold must be hell on House's leg. If he's hurting, he won't let it show.

It might be five minutes. They couldn't have lasted longer. But when House turns away from the balustrade and heads for the door, he nods--Wilson's certain that he does--and they both go back inside, hands stiff, bodies frozen.

Wilson brings his lunch to the coma guy's room, and watches Prescription: Passion while he eats. Billy and Tim might make it after all; Sabine has finally given them her blessing. Wilson doesn't want to usurp House's place--he takes the second-best chair. Some days, House walks by outside. He doesn't stop.

This is what waiting looks like, Wilson thinks. This is limbo. Grey winter, wind and snow and treacherous streets. Wendy moves to Boston, and Wilson barely has the chance to tell her good luck, fumbling through another apology before she walks away from him. Wilson asks Chase if he's heard from Foreman. Chase screws up his face doubtfully and answers, "You don't really hear from Foreman," as if that explains something. About Foreman, maybe it does.

Cameron starts talking about what she wants to do when her fellowship ends. "It's like he's not really there," she says when she and Chase come to Wilson, asking if there's some way they should be looking for jobs without leaving House without a staff. Wilson only shrugs. Cameron is the first to send out her resume and start interviewing. One day, one of them is going to get a job somewhere else, and House won't stop them from going.

This has to end somehow, this strange, twilight detente, and Wilson wishes he dared to make it happen. Cuddy tells him that House is back to his usual dose of Vicodin. She's finally found something that she can say no about. All it took was for someone to say no to get House to realize how far he'd gone, how much further there was left to fall.

It's been nearly a year since House was shot, nearly a year since the ketamine. Wilson wishes he had those months back; he wants to say he's sorry in some way that House would hear.

For now, the only way he knows is to wait.


second spring

One morning, when Wilson is standing on the balcony, his hands braced against the balustrade, enjoying the first tease of warmth and the melting snow, House opens his door and steps out as well. They share the faint sounds of traffic for a few minutes, until House nods like they've reached an agreed upon amount of time spent together, and heads back inside.

At lunch time (while Brad and Georgia conspire to bring down Sophia's business empire), House shuffles into the coma guy's room and takes his accustomed seat in the visitor's chair, leaning his cane against the bed. Wilson leaves his chips unguarded; they're regular ruffled, and before long, they're gone.

In the afternoon, Chase, wide-eyed, brings Wilson some films and asks him if he thinks it's cancer. It's not--there's not even a suspicion of a shadow on the images--and Wilson tells Chase that, gravely, and just as seriously, Chase accepts his opinion.

It's the patient that tips the scales. Total lack of cancer aside, it's an excuse. House is giving him a chance. When he's ready to go, Wilson heads towards the elevators, passing House's office as he always does, but this time, he stops and opens the door, tapping his knuckles on the glass as he walks in.

House is standing at the windows, dressed to leave, in his long winter coat. Wilson stays by the door and waits for a sign. Not of forgiveness--he's not sure he's earned that--but that he's not forcing himself into House's space. "Did you get a second opinion on your patient?" he asks.

"It was retinal melanoma," House says, but there's no bite to the words. "We had to cut out his eye."

"My mistake," Wilson offers mildly. He doubts there is a patient, let alone one that House performed an orbital extenteration on in the last three hours. "Can't believe I missed it."

House is silent, the game apparently played out. He's painted in greyscale, under the striped light falling through the blinds. "Did you come to check up on my patient?" he says. "Confirming a bad call?"

There's a quality to House's voice that makes Wilson feel like House is speaking to him for the first time in months. "I came to see how you were doing," he says, wishing it didn't seem like the wrong thing to say. Wishing House would let him care.

With something like a shrug, House turns away from the window. "Hungry?" he asks.

Wilson hesitates. "Sure," he says, too uncertain to hope. House stares at the floor as he crosses the room, as though he doesn't trust his footing or his cane. Wilson waits for him, holding the door open. House passes by him, close enough that their coats brush, House's limping half-step rolling him into Wilson's space. It's nothing like an invitation; it's only the fact that he hasn't drawn back completely from Wilson that makes it feel like forgiveness. The release of House's boundaries, as if Wilson is allowed, now, to exist in House's life.

"Wilson," House says. He stops, both of them framed in the office doorway.

Wilson meets House's eyes evenly. "Yeah?"

House drops his gaze, before he looks up with a faint frown on his face, watching for Wilson's reaction. "Foreman moved to New York," he says.

Wilson nods. There's a finality to Foreman's actions and to House's acceptance of them. They can't go back in time. But House still loves him. For too long, Wilson refused to see it, or acknowledge it. If he had a chance with House, he thinks that it came and went years ago. That first kiss on House's couch is the one Wilson will remember. The simple offer in House's eyes. It's there again now, that weight of expectation, the chance to be House's friend. This time, he won't turn House away.

"Yeah," Wilson says. "I'm sorry."

 

end