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Bathwater

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"His temperature keeps rising!" Cameron argues, eyes wide with disbelief.

"The antibiotics obviously aren't doing anything," Chase adds.

Foreman's face is set with determination. He's already at the door when he says, "We're moving him into an ice bath."

Cameron and Chase glance between House's rigid form and Foreman's retreating back. Without a sound, Chase hurries out the door. Cameron waits a moment, mutters an apology, and rushes after her colleagues. House doesn't look after them. He clenches his jaw tight enough that his teeth begin to ache.

He stands motionless in the conference room, right hand wrapped around his cane, eyes fixed in a sightless stare. Every muscle thrums with tension, but he hardly recognizes the present aches and pains.

"I'm not letting you become an embarrassment. Did you think that little prank was funny? You're lucky your mother figured it out before our guests arrived. You're getting off easy this time. Next time you do this I'll make sure you can't sit for a week, understand me?"

Squatting next to the back steps with his arms wrapped around his legs, Greg whispers, "Yes, Sir." He can't suppress the shudders wracking his body. It's a late fall night with the nip of winter in the wind. He hadn't had time to dry off after the bath; barely had time to tug on shirt and pants and a pair of shoes. He isn't wearing socks or underwear, but worst of all in the lack of sweater or jacket. He knows better than to ask for one. He grimaces as the screen door slams shut, followed by the inside door and the sound of the deadbolt sliding into place.

The water is already bitterly cold. The addition of ice cubes make the water lap at his numbing skin, splashing against his calves and hips and back. He curls forward and tries hard not to shake. He does his best to hold back the tears but he isn't so successful with hiding the hitch in his breathing.

"For Christ's sake, boy! You're not a baby."

The next fall of ice cubes drop directly over his hunched form and he whimpers as they slide over his shoulders and back. His feet and butt have gone completely numb. He wonders if it's possible to get frostbite even if it isn't winter. He thinks his feet aren't the only part of his body turning an unnatural color. He's terrified.

"C'mon, Greg!
We've got a fort and everything! We're gonna win," Vince says as he packs the snow in his gloved hands into a ball.

Greg eyes him warily and tucks his hands more snugly under his armpits. Even dressed in full winter gear with mittens, scarf, hat, boots, and warm jacket, he can feel the cold seeping into his bones. He wishes he could figure out a way to always skip going outside during break. He hates the winter, even though he finds the snow beautiful as it drifts to the ground and it means holiday gifts. He loathes the cold and wishes they were living in a warm country again. He promises himself that when he grows up he'll live someplace warm or have a second house near the equator where he can hide out during the winter.

Greg holds his shirt in front of his groin in mortification when Robbie stumbles off as fast as he can, water casting off behind him as he hightails it out of there.

"What the hell were you doing?"

Greg clutches the shirt with one hand and holds his pants up with the other as water continues blasting at him from the hose pointedly directed at his pelvis. The water dripping over his forehead catches on his eyelashes and makes it hard to see. Then again, he realizes that he probably doesn't want to see the expression on the man's face.

"Answer me, Gregory."

He's older now, but still feels like a little boy when past memories pour over him with the newest bout of freezing water.

"Are you a faggot? You're letting some lowlife fag 'friends' corrupt you? Hell if my son's a damn queer."

Hard to be sexual, he thinks ironically, if his penis has to shrivel so close to his body to maintain some semblance of heat.

"Hey, Greg?"

House jerks away from the hand that suddenly lands on his shoulder. He has his cane raised before he recognizes where he is and that Wilson's standing close with a worried expression on his face.

With an irritated snort, House turns to the counter and limps heavily toward the coffee pot. Hopefully it's still fresh.

"Are you alright?" Wilson follows him and hovers bare inches away, a hand still up as if at any moment he'll make contact again.

House moves his arm to a safe distance and glares at the other man. "I'd just like to get some coffee," he snaps.

"Ah, okay, okay." Wilson backs off a bit. One hand settles on his hip and the other reaches behind his head in a familiar motion. "It's just that I passed your team on my way over. Chase looked a little freaked and Cameron had that smacked-puppy concerned look. Then I find you standing in here...

"Seriously, what's going on?"

House spits out a mouthful of coffee and dumps the contents of his mug and the entire pot down the sink. He continues to ignore Wilson and reaches into his pocket for the ever-present pill bottle. Wilson watches balefully as House swallows two Vicodin dry.

He smirks. "Something you want to say, Jimmy?"

Wilson closes his eyes and sighs helplessly. "Do you always have to avoid me when I'm trying to help?"

"You help plenty," House replies. He turns and limps toward his office. "I let you give me the 'goodbye pain' pills."

"Oh yes, because that's turning out so well," Wilson says, stepping ahead to hold open the door. Damnit, he's noticed how bad the limp is.

A shiver runs down House's spine as he walks to his desk and sits down. He shivers again and his fingers and toes tingle in response. "Is it cold in here?" he asks without thinking.

Wilson's delay in responding makes House realize his mistake. Wilson comes around the desk; he frowns down at House and reaches out a hand to capture the faintly trembling fingers.

"Did you take something?" Wilson asks without recrimination.

House lips tighten, and he shakes his head.

Wilson crouches at House's side and glances up with a calm expression. "What didn't you agree with?" Wilson's good and knows how to ask questions in a roundabout way – a tactic that House pretends not to recognize as his friend slowly pieces together the truth.

"Didn't disagree," he mutters, glaring at the fingers that betrayed him.

"Well, you must have protested about something. Foreman did not look happy," Wilson counters.

"Foreman's always cranky, unless he wakes up in bed with a gorgeous woman." House snorts. "Patient's fever was rising."

They sit in silence for a few moments. Wilson eventually speaks. "So to bring down the core temp, they're putting him in an ice bath." House gives a jerky nod, refusing to meet Wilson's gaze. "Oh," Wilson whispers, almost too quiet to hear.

At some point Wilson gets up and brings a chair around the corner of the desk. House turns on the TV and slouches back to watch the current soap – something he only catches on occasion. They don't speak but House isn't shivering anymore. He actually feels a little numb.

During a commercial break Wilson's hand crosses the gap between them and curls around House's hand. Still staring at the television, House gently squeezes the fingers in his. The heat from his hand trails up his arm. Finally he begins to feel warm.