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Eating Neediness

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"It's not whether you really cry. It's whether the audience thinks you are crying."
--Ingrid Bergman

There's something pathetic about cafeteria trays. It's partially the awkwardness of corners, the dishwasher steam clinging to the bottom and making Wilson's hands feel clammy and mildly unclean, but there's probably also some kind of early imprinting from grade school when he was the quiet smart kid with enormous eyebrows, who wasn't always saved a seat at the lunch tables. It's not anything he thinks about when House is around, outraging and distracting him with steak hidden under a pile of salad or the conversational equivalent thereof; that's the advantage to having a best friend at any age, and House is probably the grownup equivalent of that kid who's just too goddamn nuts for any bully to feel safe disdaining. He makes his own cool table, even if he's the only one sitting at it.

But House has a patient today, whose trainwreck of a young life is sufficiently notorious to get the whole Diagnostics department's undivided attention for his trainwreck of a case. Well, that and the fact that, as Wilson pointed out, it'd be no fun for House to only win by default the vicious snark-off he and the kid got into within two seconds of making one another's acquaintance. It's been twenty-four hours and eight procedures since the boy was brought in by his tiny and terrifying girlfriend, and at the moment House is doubtlessly off waving his cane at some deserving soul. And therefore unavailable as Wilson's designated lunchmate and floorshow.

As he thanks the cashier for his change Wilson is already scanning the room, feeling that residual little twinge of am I going to have to sit alone? and are people looking at me? Not that it should matter: he is, after all, a grownup. But in amongst the clustered nurses in cheap poly-cotton prints and little scattered family units, he sees a pretty, childish face crumpling with frustration. He heads over, bearing the tray with him, and is just in time to hear her emit a little whimpering shriek and pound her hand, curled around some sort of shiny cell-phone organizer, against the table.

"Hey," he says, and the young woman looks up. Her face, surrounded by red waving hair, is pixieish, pansy-eyed, and (he's had enough experience with women to recognize) very carefully and subtly made-up. It's also familiar somehow, though he can't place why. "Are you all right?"

The woman bites her lip, and looks randomly coy for half a second before her expression settles into something best described as Brave Victim #43, not a look Wilson has ever seen on anyone with a real problem. She's wearing some kind of perfume that makes her smell not so much good as expensive, and has in front of her a salad and an Evian which seem to be more accessories than anything she's consuming; the only thing which looks touched is the half-drunk coffee.

"I just...I got the call this morning. I didn't even know he was on the East Coast - I still don't know why they were over here." Her voice is breathless, girlish, and currently choking with woe. There's something in it as well, though, something that chimes in Wilson's memory and catches his interest despite the petulance scrawled all over her expression. "And I had to drop everything and fly out, and it was a really important...okay, it wasn't that great a role but it was work, you know? And then I get here and there's nothing I can do. The head doctor insulted me when I tried to find out what's wrong. And I can't even get a signal..."

"We're in the basement," he points out gently, and sits down.

"Oh. Right." She looks down at her salad, and when she looks up again her eyes are brimming, imploring. He blinks at her, surprised: where the hell did that come from? "It's just. He's all I have left."

Her lower lip trembles and Wilson wonders why he's wasting his lunch hour with her. (She's definitely familiar, though.) He reaches out to pat her hand. "I'm sorry."

She nods, and tears tip out of her eyes. Pressing the back of her free hand to her cheek, she goes on in a quavering voice, "It's been so hard, these last couple years..."

"Trina," says someone behind him, and Wilson looks around.

A balding man in a cheap suit has come to stand nearby, haggard and with his hands in his pockets. He's someone Wilson's seen recently in the halls, he thinks, he's pretty sure they haven't been introduced.

"Mr. Mars! Hi!" Her expression changes again, to something bizarrely chipper this time, and she pulls her hand away from Wilson's as though she's been caught. "This is..." She gives him a sorry, I didn't get your name look.

"Dr. Wilson. James Wilson."

Trina smiles at him approvingly and his skin prickles. Something is seriously wrong with this woman, something that makes him glad for a split second that he isn't touching her.

Mr. Mars just jerks his head in acknowledgement, with something not unlike sympathy in his eyes. "Doctor."

"Is there any news?" Trina-apparently asks, serious now. Rapt, almost.

Mars rubs his forehead. He looks tired, but he also looks like the kind of man who nearly always looks tired. He doesn't look like anyone who'd be calling this woman by her first name. "They're still doing tests. Veronica's with him."

"Holding his hand, I'm sure," says Trina sweetly. There's something ugly in her tone, and it's something Wilson is disconcerted to find himself responding to. He watches her small, delicate fingers, curling around the coffee cup, as she goes on in a sort of sing-song, "Remind me to see what kind of paperwork you need to have your daughter made next of kin. I'm sure that's what he'd prefer."

Mr. Mars doesn't seem to react to this, except to hunch his shoulders and look even more tired. "Logan's doing well. Considering."

(It's the "Veronica" that does it, tells him who Trina is, not her own name. It isn't every day he got to see Greg House backed into a corner by a pretty blonde who'd have to wear stilts to be even half his size.

Wilson could see her point. A few hours before, the boy in the hospital bed had been pasty and full of tubes but still smirking and winking at Cameron as a flustered Chase questioned him about his past week. He was now half-curled up on his side, and despite the rising tension in the room his eyes stayed shut.

"'Everyone lies?'" the girl said. "Yeah, no kidding. Bears are Catholic and the Pope has a Pope-O-Potty in the woods."

"Well done. Pointlessly snippy and offensive. Has anyone ever told you your eyes light up when you're angry?"

"That's my line," mumbled the patient, not moving his head from the pillow. Veronica looked round at him anxiously, then turned back with renewed energy to House. Her eyes actually did glow a bit in battle, Wilson saw.

"The point is, I'm not lying, so tell me something I don't know. Tell me what's wrong with Logan."

"Oh, of course. Because it's just that easy," said House. "This is why I don't come to meet my patients." He rolled his eyes at Wilson, who crossed his arms and stared up at the ceiling.

"Because they might expect you to do your job? I brought him here for a reason, you're supposed to be good."

"I'm good, sweetheart. I'm very, very good." House's Humphrey Bogart was weirdly on the money.

She narrowed her eyes. "Yeah? Well, 'I've been bad, worse than you could know.' And believe me, if you think I'm a pain in your ass now you have no idea how persnickety I'm capable of becoming." Wilson thought the accusation in her tone was a little unjust. House had, after all, come to meet the kid, and low motive or not that was an usual degree of care from him which this girl clearly failed to appreciate.

When Foreman had led her off with the distraction of breaking into a car rental office, House looked down at his patient meditatively.

"You do realize that girl's going to destroy you?"

"But only on days that end in 'y'," said the Echolls kid in a wavering voice. "Can you stab me already? Or at least have Dr. Cameron do this? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you near the base of my spine."

"You should be so lucky," said House.)

Trina smiles an odd, tight little smile. "He's used to being hurt."

Mr. Mars regards her unblinkingly. "Yes, I suppose he is." It's not said with any particular emphasis, but Trina looks down at the table, smile fixed and hard.

There's just no way to interpret that as anything but a horrible thing to say, even if he hadn't seen Cameron looking over the kid's x-rays with a divinely pitying expression plastered across her face. Wilson really doesn't want to think about what it says about him, that the recognition of that lurking quality he's found so intriguing as spite sends a weird jolt of interest through him. He remembers House's first reaction, chuckling. ("This kid has the worst luck in the universe. Really. I'm in awe.") The patient is the delinquent son of two dead movie stars. And she's the C-list actress daughter, the one who claimed to have bone cancer for a publicity stunt.

Mr. Mars' face goes tired again, remote but polite. "I'll let you know if there's something else you need to sign."

"Tell him I'm still here if he needs me. Tell him I...I'm praying."

"I'll do that." He leaves, nodding briefly again to Wilson before turning away.

Wilson watches him thread his way out of the cafeteria. He has no idea what's on his own face right now.

From the corner of his eye he can see Trina's expression return to neutral.

There's silence for a moment, while she stabs her salad savagely with the stainless steel fork. "I don't hate hospitals," she says at last.

"...What?"

A cherry tomato is speared, and then consumed. Her lip gloss is pale pink, and very shiny. "Everybody says that, you know, 'I hate hospitals.' 'Everybody hates hospitals.'" The two voices aren't very good, aren't differentiated enough to be any kind of impressions, and it takes him a second to catch up.

It's true, of course, everyone does say that. Wilson runs his hand through his hair. "I think half the doctors I know hate hospitals. They have good reason, of course."

"I don't. I sort of like them. The food's bad, but you've got a free pass not to care because you're too upset. And there's always someone around in a hospital. So whatever's wrong, you know it's being looked after. Maybe it can't be fixed, but everyone knows it's there and they're trying to fix it."

("Look, I'm too tired for this," he said to House, who was gleefully reading the article aloud. Wilson hadn't actually heard of Trina Echolls till she was the celebrity joke of the week; her desperate plea for life and reunion with her birth mom had gone to the Instigator, but it wasn't till it was a lie and a scandal that it made the pages of People magazine.

"What's the matter? You can't be out of righteous indignation yet, I'm only two paragraphs in."

"I don't think it deserves any more attention from me or the rest of the world. She's obviously got Munchausen's Syndrome."

"I don't think it's Munchausen's," said House. "Not that I'd make any bets that she won't go that way - keeping the world's attention on her, personally, must be tough with that last name, and her meatiest role to date was the second lead in Wilder Things. Which we should totally rent tonight, you get the beer..."

"It'll probably be checked out of every video store in town."

"I'll send Cameron to pick it up this afternoon. The thing is, osteosarcoma's a ridiculous thing to make up. And she didn't make any attempt to fake it for her doctors, just the press."

"How on earth could she fake...?"

House waved this away. "My point is, there's something else going on there. Who is her birth mother, anyway?")

Wilson wants to ask her why she did it, why anyone would think it was okay to make a mockery of other people's bravery for their own gain. He's just not sure lightning wouldn't strike him, since the reason he'd gone to see House this morning was to collect another ten bucks on their ongoing bet. Besides, he's not really sure how to phrase the words 'when you found out you were left in a dumpster...', and the knife edge her emotions seem to be balanced on scares him a little. He takes in a breath, and then sighs. "Listen. If you don't want to use the pay phones you can use the one in my office."

"Really?" She looks down at her cell phone. "I don't know if anybody'll believe me. Pat didn't, he was the only one I got through to, and I could tell he thought I was making it up, after that little," she waves her hand in the air, "bone marrow thing last year. I could probably get the Instigator to send a few cameras..."

He manages to ask, "Why?"

She looks at him like he's the crazy one. "Why what?"

"Why would you do that to him? Your brother," he clarifies. "He's sick. He could be dying."

Trina frowns uncomprehendingly. "I know that. Why do you think I...? It would be good publicity. I don't think he's ever even had good publicity before. But, I mean, being young and battling a life-threatening illness makes you automatically tragic, right? I'd make sure they got one of the better photos. Teenage girls would be mailing him their panties for moral support."

The thought of Cuddy's reaction to mass panty deliveries is almost enough to make him agree that media attention is just what this case needs. To say nothing of House's inevitable glee - Wilson allows himself a moment of imagining the eBay store House would undoubtably open to sell any panties that arrived. And probably the Echolls kid's blood samples and catheter as well, if people were that interested in souvenirs.

He covers his face with his hands, so that his next words come out a bit muffled. "If I remember correctly, Logan...everyone involved was pretty insistent that given Logan's condition and the events of, um, everything, it'd be best to keep this out of the papers."

"Why does everyone think they know him better than I do?" she says fiercely. "I'm his sister, I've seen every piece of footage and read every story that's ever been written about him. I might not have known about..." she breaks off, and stares into space, her expression undergoing another reset.

("Choir boy. Cub Scout. Starving actor. Mega-star. Husband. Father. Adulterer. Cradle-robber. Murderer. Who is the real Aaron Echolls?" asked the TV narrator with unholy relish.

"Oh, for god's sake," said Wilson from the doorway, craning his neck to see the screen. "Haven't you already seen this one?"

"General Hospital's in commercials," said House, his feet propped up on the coma patient's bedrail. "Shh, you've got to see the 'I did not have sex with that woman' routine he does in a minute."

"You're going to insist on watching the whole trial, aren't you," said Wilson, opening a bag of pretzels and eating one in a resigned manner.

House snorted. "Are you kidding? I've got two hundred down for his acquittal in the nurse's pool. It's going to be hard to find a TV in the hospital that won't be showing the Echolls trial."

"You don't think he did it?" asked Wilson curiously.

"Of course he did it, are you stupid?" House looked away from Tinseltown Diaries, now yammering on about the younger Echolls' brushes with the law, and slanted a disdainful blue glance at Wilson. "But in what world would that make a difference?")

"Nobody ever used to believe I was adopted. They all said Logan and me look too much alike not to be related," Trina is saying. "We've got the same smile. Only he smiles all the time. And he never shuts his mouth all the way, ever."

"You eat neediness," he remembers House telling him. He wonders if this is some kind of special Hollywood neediness she's displaying for him, rich and sublime, a chocolate cake frosted with black tar heroin for someone who's hungry for other people's pain. He tries to think about talking to her about...well, any of it. The idea makes him a little dizzy.

It's all so much larger than life: the glossy murders, sex, and suicide. As perfectly groomed and styled as her surface is, what's looking at him from across the small table is a clear example of probably congenital and obviously terminal systemic damage.

Wilson isn't Cameron, he knows how little in life is fixable. He's an oncologist; the vast majority of his cases don't end with any kind of spectacular last minute save. Another reason to want to hang around House's department in his spare time.

He still can't stop staring at this girl's mouth.

"It's okay," Wilson tries. He has no idea what 'it' is, in this situation.

"Oh, I know. Everything will be okay." It's pure insincerity, that face she's making; he can see the script in her hands, opened to the scene where the tragedy is spotlit by the heroine's plucky attempt at optimism. It's entirely an act; he's just not sure that it's entirely a lie.

"No, really," he insists. "Dr. House is good at what he does. You'll go through the wringer but..." and he realizes that he's on the verge of promising that her brother will live. What the hell is going on with him, with this girl, with this whole conversation? "He's very, very good," he says instead, because she's staring at him, and her eyes are huge, and at least that much is absolutely true.

"I'm sure he is." She looks down at their joined hands. He'd hardly been conscious of reaching out to her again. "Is he always such a..."

"Yes," he says with feeling, and she smiles. She has dimples.

"Ms. Echolls." Cuddy came up out of nowhere, and this time they both jump and pull away. Cuddy spares a second for a withering look at Wilson before turning to Trina with her gentle, you are a high profile case bedside manner back in place. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but Dr. House needs to speak to you. There's a procedure, it's still experimental..."

"Okay, sure." She rises, and flutters around for her purse, her phone, water bottle, a last swig of coffee. Cuddy waits patiently to escort her. Trina pauses at the moment when all her things are gathered, and "Thank you for listening, Dr...?"

"Wilson."

"You treated me like a real person. I can't imagine why," she says, and for a second he sees what she meant about resembling her little brother. "But it meant a lot."

"Look," he says, standing with puppyish haste, reaching for a card.

He holds it out to her, and she takes it wonderingly.

It's stupid, of course, stupid to think she'd be interested in a guy who wears a pocket protector and is probably too old for her anyway. It's stupid to think that he'd be interested in someone so morally bankrupt. "In case you want to remember my name."

Cuddy raises her eyebrows, and he knows it won't just be House he'll never hear the end of this from. But it's worth it, because something about Trina's posture lightens, straightens just a little. "I will," she promises.

He's always preferred being the audience, after all.