"You haven't been doing your stretching exercises."
"That's because I'm not a sadist," House said. He lay back on the mat and hoped that, just this once, the vicodin would be strong enough to get him through the session. "However, I must be something of a masochist because I keep coming back and letting you hurt me."
Lori, physical terrorist extraordinaire, barely blinked. "I know it's what I live for."
"Tell me the truth," House said. He grimaced in anticipation. His leg didn't hurt too badly yet, but he knew it would. Very, very soon. "When you're trying to rip my tendons apart, you're visualizing some drunken ex-boyfriend, abusive uncle, that nasty gym teacher from sixth grade, right?"
"I'm thinking only of you," Lori assured him. House frowned, because he wasn't sure that assurance was very reassuring. "Dr. House, you know better than anyone that if you'd just do your exercises like you're supposed to, it wouldn't hurt so much."
"On the contrary, it would hurt just as much, only more often."
"How can you expect patients to follow doctor's orders when you don't?"
"House rule number two: do as I say, not as I do." House let out a sharp gasp as she moved his leg into a position he was sure it had never been intended to assume, even before the infarct. "Jesus, is that really necessary?"
"It is if you ever want to dance Swan Lake again."
"Retired," House said, his words interspersed with grunts. "Hung up my toe shoes. Gave my tutu to Dr. Wilson."
"Cool," Lori said. She bent his leg just a little further and House swore he felt the dead muscles rolling over in their grave. "He's got the legs for it."
House knew his reaction was hidden by the expression of sheer anguish on his face and for once pain was a good thing. Before he found out about Wilson's true orientation, House could've made some offhand and off-color joke about Wilson's legs without giving them a second thought. Now his mind fixed on Wilson's legs in a distinctly not offhand way and he could only tell the truth.
"He does, doesn't he?"
"Foreman," House bellowed as he shoved the door to his office open.
In the conference room Foreman looked up, startled. House walked straight to his desk. Sure, he could've stopped in the other room and requested Foreman's presence in a more civilized manner but he needed to sit. Then he needed drugs. Then he needed someone with warm hands and an even warmer mouth, but he was willing to settle for two out of three at this point.
"You wanted to see me?" Foreman leaned in through the door.
"No, I often call out your name at random moments," House said. "Confuses the hell out of the hookers."
"What is it?" Foreman walked over to stand in front of the desk, impervious by now to all but the worst of House's moods.
"The file and my summary are on your desk." House looked down.
"Huh. So they are." He pulled his pills from his pocket and shook out a couple. He waved impatiently, telling Foreman to sit down. "Give me the highlights."
"In hindsight, knowing his final diagnosis, one could make an argument that several of the tests we did were unnecessary. But we didn't know they were unnecessary at the time we did the tests because we didn't know what his final diagnosis would be."
"That's why we do teststo get a diagnosis." House shook his head in disgust. "The guy should be grateful. This disease is essentially non-existent in this neck of the woods. Most other doctors would've been clueless."
"From a medical standpoint, I think we're clear on this one," Foreman said.
"Just wait until the lawyers muddy the waters," House said ominously.
"That I have no control over."
"What about this patient of Wilson's?"
"Taylor?" Foreman pulled a small notebook from his pocket, leafed through until he found the right page, and then tossed it across the desk to House. He gave House a moment to skim the notes. "Any suggestions?"
"You tried hyperbaric oxygenation?"
"Tried itdidn't work," Foreman said. He nodded at the notebook. "We've tried everything that's ever been even remotely suggested as a treatment for radiation necrosis."
"What's her condition now?" House asked as he gave the notes more thorough consideration.
"She's a vent-dependent quad."
"For real?" House asked.
"It shouldn't be progressing like this. There's got to be something else going on."
"Nothing. Still no sign of recurrent cancer. She's negative for fungal, bacterial, or viral infections. No toxins, no hormonal or electrolyte disturbances." Foreman shrugged. "Surprisingly enough, she's even negative for seizures."
"There's some edema, but intracranial pressure is within normal limits." Foreman sighed in frustration. "Still, the neurosurgeons tried a ventriculostomy, just in case."
"None." Foreman grimaced and shoved the notebook back in his pocket as he got to his feet. "Sorry, House. Even you aren't going to pull a rabbit out of a hat on this one."
House sat in the stands, his body hunched against the chill, gray morning. He watched Wilson and Chase run around the track, their feet chewing up the laps at an easy pace. Once upon a time when dreams had perhaps not come true but had at least been worth having, House had been Wilson's running partner. House's long legs could cover a lot of ground, but Wilson Wilson was pure greyhound. He was born to run.
Or not. House cocked his head, curious, when Wilson slowed down. Chase looked back over his shoulder when he realized Wilson was no longer beside him, but Wilson waved him on. Chase gave a small wave in return and continued along the track. Wilson jogged over the stands and climbed up.
"You didn't have to stop on my account," House said as Wilson joined him.
"I was done anyway." Wilson's sweatshirt was sticking to his chest and his breath puffed small clouds of mist in the air.
"Can't keep up with Chase," House said. Wilson shot him a dirty look as he pulled a small towel from around his neck and wiped his face.
"I thought I'd let him think that," Wilson said. "After all, his ego takes enough of beating working for you."
"Nice cover story."
"Do you have an early patient?" Wilson stopped and gave himself a shake. "Let me rephrase thatdo you have any patients?"
"Sticks and stones," House sing-songed.
"Well, we all know who has the stick," Wilson said. He draped the towel around his neck again. "Come on."
"So tell me," House said as he gingerly followed Wilson down the steps. The athletic complex was only a few blocks from the hospital. By the time they arrived Wilson would be cooled down and House would be sweating. "Have you and young Dr. Chase been spending a lot of time together?"
"You know, I was just thinking it was very odd that you haven't taken advantage of my inadvertent confession to harass and humiliate me," Wilson said.
"Given the extremely personal and potentially prejudicial nature of your confession, I felt it was only right to give you a grace period."
"Grace period?" Wilson asked with a suspicious look over his shoulder.
"Time's up," House said with a hint of malicious glee. Or maybe more than a hint, given Wilson's reaction.
"Do I really need to explain to you that this is not something I want feeding the hospital grapevine?"
"Do I really need to explain that I can eat out for a month on this kind of gossip?" House countered.
"Nobody likes you that much," Wilson said sourly.
"For this they'll fake it."
"Haven't I provided enough fodder for your personal soap opera?"
"Please. Slut is a given and the divorce thing is positively stale," House said. "Gay Wilsonthat's fresh. That's hot. That's my meal ticket."
"I'll feed you for a month," Wilson offered in obvious desperation.
"People adore you," House said, dismissing Wilson's concern. "That's not going to change even when they find out the real reason you can't make a relationship with the opposite sex work."
"Maybe I'm not willing to take that chance."
"Promise me I can watch when you tell Cuddy," House said after a moment. He could keep a secret. Granted, they were usually his own secrets, but the basic concept was the same. The relief on Wilson's face when he realized House wasn't going to plaster his personal life on a billboard gave House a momentary twinge of guilt.
"I'll even let you tell her," Wilson promised.
"Sure, what do I care?" Wilson said. "I'll be retired and living in Florida by then."
House whacked him on the butt with his cane.
"Angiogenesis," House announced as he shoved through the office door first thing in the morning. Cameron and Foreman gave each other puzzled looks.
"What is gene therapy," Chase said, barely glancing up from stack of lab reports. "I'll take Famous Australians for 200 next, Alex."
"That'd be a short list," House said as he wiped down the dry-erase board. "What's the primary problem in radiation necrosis?"
"Cell death?" Chase asked in a mocking tone. This time he set aside his labs. Foreman leaned back in his chair, obviously content to watch Chase irritate House. But House didn't want Foreman content.
"What causes the cell death?"
"Could it be radiation?" Chase said. House rolled his eyes and Cameron put her hand over her mouth, trying to hide a grin.
"Thank you, Mr. Obvious." House turned to stare at Foreman.
"It's ischemic," Foreman said.
"Exactly. Radiation damages the intracranial vasculature, the brain cells are deprived of oxygen, and they die." House smiled. "Angiogenesis."
"Are you suggesting we try angiogenesis to arrest Taylor's disease?" Foreman asked. He leaned forward, clearly no longer content. "We already tried H.B.O."
"And it didn't work," House agreed. "We need to be more aggressive."
"It does make sense," Chase said. "If her brain's ischemic, stimulating new blood vessel growth should, theoretically, help."
"There aren't any clinical trials for the use of angiogenesis therapy in ischemic brain disease," Foreman said.
"So we should never try a therapy anywhere but where it was originally intended?" House asked. "If we did that bald men wouldn't have Rogaine."
"An anti-hypertensive that coincidentally stimulates hair growth," Chase said with a smirk. House smirked back. Chase might be sitting pretty now, but give it another twenty years and he might be running around popping pills, too. Especially if the alternative was a toupee.
"I don't know," Foreman said, shaking his head slowly. "Even if we could find an appropriate protocol, it won't reverse the damage that's already done."
"No, but it might prevent more," House said.
"She's quadriplegic and nearly blind," Foreman said.
"So she not worth saving?" Cameron asked. She bristled at the implication.
"I didn't say that," Foreman said. "I'm merely pointing out that her deficits are severe. She may not want to live like that."
"Some of the deficits could be localized to areas of the brain that are still viable, if we can just get some blood to them in time," Cameron said. "In addition, if we can reduce the secondary effects like edema, she may have less impairment than we think."
"Her higher brain function is still intact, right?" House asked. Foreman nodded. "So ask her. As long as she wants to live we should be giving her every opportunity."
"But if there aren't any clinical trials ," Chase said.
"Then find someone who's got a trial for cardiovascular disease. Find someone who might be willing to slip you a little on the side." House paused as a thought came to him. He looked at Foreman. "Hey, talk to that new drug rep you're so cozy with. She must have connections."
"No one is going to bootleg an angiogenesis factor for us," Foreman said.
"You weren't that good in bed, eh?" House asked. Foreman gave a long and somehow threatening sigh. "Then request its release on the grounds of compassionate use. I don't care how you get it, just get it."
"You knowI'm supposed to be the scruffy, bags under the eyes, vaguely untrustworthy looking one," House said as he made himself at home in Wilson's office late one evening.
"The look works so well for you I thought I'd try it," Wilson said. He slapped a hand over a yawn and gave House an apologetic look.
"When is the last time you had a full night's sleep?" House asked. Wilson shrugged, nearly dislocating his jaw with another yawn. "Julie?"
"On the rare occasions we're actually in the house at the same time we're excruciatingly civil to each other." Wilson paused to rub the back of his neck. "I moved into the guest room. It's very flowery in there. I hate flowery. I'd rather sleep in the on-call room."
"Yes, because that industrial beige color scheme is so attractive," House said. He moved over behind Wilson, hooked his cane on the back of the chair, and began massaging his neck.
"It's a nice, inoffensive gray in the oncology on-call. And anything's better than flowery."
"Are you sure you're gay?"
"Shut up," Wilson said. He let his head drop forward as House's fingers dug into the tight muscles.
"You could just stay at my place," House suggested. Then he wanted to kick himself because that was a bad idea. A very bad idea. House knew he shouldn't be sleeping in the same town as Wilson until he'd sorted out a few things in his own mind. Wilson being gay wasn't really the problem. The problem was that he was slightly gay himself. No big deal, just minor part of his makeup that didn't really impact much on his day to day life. At least it hadn't until now.
"No, I've got stuff I need to take care of here anyway." Wilson let out long breath. "Taylor asked to be taken off the vent."
"Really?" House's hands stopped for a moment.
"She knows it's hopeless. Her quality of life is crap."
"It sucketh mightily," Wilson agreed.
"Did you consider ?"
"Angiogenesis? Forget it. And don't blame Foreman. He pounded on every door and crawled under every rock," Wilson said. "It's just not an option."
"I was afraid of that," House said. "Well, won't be the first terminal wean you've had to do."
"Most of my patients know when the end is near and they don't get intubated in the first place. The few that are they're usually so far gone they're not aware. Taylor's conscious. She's coherent." Wilson gave an involuntary shudder. "I've never had a patient look at me while I disconnected her from life support."
"She's nearly blind. She won't be looking at anyone." House couldn't pretend there was any comfort in that.
Wilson shook his head. "Doesn't matter anyway, her husband doesn't agree to withdrawal of life support."
"Last time I checked it wasn't his choice," House said.
"Technically, no. But he's the one who will survive this and he's the one who can sue us if he's not happy."
House ended the massage, allowing his hand to rest against Wilson's neck for a moment. Then he limped around the chair and sat on the corner of the desk facing Wilson.
"That sounds suspiciously like something Stacy would say."
"She's right," Wilson said. He leaned back in his chair and rolled his head from side to side, working out the last of the kinks. "You know as well I that we can't completely ignore the family's wishes, even if they contradict the patient's."
"I don't have a problem with ignoring the family's wishes."
"You don't have a problem ignoring the patient's wishes," Wilson said dryly.
"Only when they're being stupid," House said. "In this case, the patient is being surprising rational."
"I have to give the husband time to come to terms with his wife's prognosis."
"And the patient?"
"I do what I can to make it bearable for her until he's ready to let go."
"And where does that leave you?" House asked.
"Walking a goddamn tightrope."
Foreman was staring at the clock on the wall, Chase was staring at some nurse's ass, and House was whistling "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" through clenched teeth when Cameron jogged into the clinic area looking flushed and disheveled.
"Where have you been?" Foreman asked impatiently.
"Sorry," Cameron said. She tugged her lab coat into order. "I was waiting on the interventional radiology report for Mr. Murphy."
"Did you get it?" House asked. He was mildly disappointed she didn't have a more interesting excuse. Or maybe she did. Maybe she lied.
"No, it's still pending the final read," Cameron said. She looked genuinely apologetic and House's hopes for a distraction from the acid eating through his leg faded. Cameron could and would lie, but she wasn't very good at it.
"So you managed to be both late and unprepared," House observed. "Nice work, Dr. Cameron."
Cameron opened her mouth, studied House for a second, then closed it again without saying a word.
"What's on the menu today, Zippy?" House asked.
"Mr. Ames ," Chase began.
"Should've transferred to surgery yesterday."
"There was an emergency. His lap chole had to be postponed until this afternoon," Chase said. "He'll go to the surgical floor after that."
"Slackers," House muttered. He picked up a clinic chart and waved at Chase to continue.
"Tiffany's LFTs are trending down so it appears that she didn't completely destroy her liver with the Tylenol OD," Chase said. "Both of the ATN cases are in the polyuric phase of renal failure, and your C. diff case isn't responding to treatment."
"Oh, sure, he's not responding so naturally he's my case," House said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes.
"Technically, they're all your cases, but Foreman's primary," Chase said.
"He's getting a standard course of Flagyl," Foreman said.
"Then I'd suggest considering something non-standard," House said. He looked down at the clinic chart in his hand with dread. "Don't we have anything new? Isn't there anyone in this place near death? Or just really screwed up? "
"Not that I'm aware of," Chase said.
"Great. That means I have no choice but to deal with clinic patients now."
"There's always the possibility that you'll find an interesting case in clinic," Chase suggested. House stared at him in disbelief. "Well, it could happen."
"I want to know what drugs you're on, because they're obviously way better than mine."
House grimaced but waited. If it had been anyone but Wilson he would've kept walking. But it was Wilson and House was due at some pointless presentation by some knuckle-headed consultant, so he waited.
"You've been scarce this week," Wilson said as he caught up to him.
"No, I haven't." Which wasn't exactly a lie. He'd been at work all week, it was just that vicodin only got him so far, and his reserves were shot. Every moment he wasn't directly involved in a case he'd been holed up in his office seeking distraction. Sex, drugs and/or rock and roll were his usual methods of choice, but they weren't working so well lately.
He feared he was developing a tolerance to the drugs, music didn't help unless he played it so loud he was in danger of rupturing an eardrum, and he never thought about sex anymore except when he saw Wilson. And that was a distraction he feared would only lead to more pain.
"You haven't exactly been Mr. Social yourself," House said because, as everyone knew, the best defense was a good offense. Or simply being offensive.
"Busy," Wilson agreed. "Listen, you want to get together this weekend?"
"No," House said flatly. Not this weekend, no way. As much as he enjoyed Wilson's company he wasn't prepared to expend the energy necessary to interact with another human being, any other human being. Especially not Wilson. Especially not this weekend.
"O kay," Wilson said. He swallowed House's rudeness like he almost always did, believing that it wasn't personal. He gave House a long, searching look. "You all right?"
"Right. That's why you left an urgent message saying you needed a refill a week early," Wilson said. He gave House a hard look. "You're escalating."
"No, I'm not. I dropped a few pills on the floor."
"You don't believe in the five second rule?" Wilson asked.
"It's only three seconds, and it was a very dirty floor," House said.
Wilson stared, then finally pulled the prescription from his pocket and shoved it at House. House folded the paper and tucked it away. "My leg thanks you. My staff thank you. My patients thank you."
"Well, as long as everyone else is happy," Wilson said sarcastically.
"I suppose next it's the lecture on the dangers of alcohol and unprotected sex," House said in a mocking tone.
"We've already had the discussion about alcohol. As to sex, if I thought you were actually having any ."
"You can go away now." To emphasize his point, House resumed walking.
"Sure. Just use me and cast me aside." On any given day, Wilson was perfectly capable of infusing his voice with the same cutting edge that House used. It made him fun to argue with, but House wasn't in the mood to argue.
"I said thank you." House sighed. He knew that, to Wilson, his reluctance would be obvious. But it was Wilson. He had to make the effort. "Want to do lunch?"
"Actually, I can't today." Wilson muttered an oath under his breath when his pager went off. He pulled the pager from his belt and checked the number. "I'll catch you next week then?"
"It's a date," House said. He watched as Wilson turned and started walking back in the direction from which he'd come. "That means you're buying."
Wilson threw his hand up in an abbreviated wave, never looking back. "Like that's news."
House lined the pills up in a semi-circle around the tumbler of Scotch sitting on his bedside table. He gazed at the arrangement for a moment then nodded in approval. There was a certain junkie aesthetic to the layout. Vicodin: a still life.
Wilson would blow a gasket if he ever found out, which is why House tried to keep him from ever knowing. And frankly this was one more way in which the whole gay thing was going to be a problem. If House followed this potential change in their relationship to its logical, possibly even inevitable, conclusion, he wouldn't be able to hide anything from Wilson.
"Fuck it," House muttered into the silent room.
House wasn't as cavalier about his health as everyone believed. He always knew exactly how many pills he'd taken and when he'd taken them. He'd also carefully assessed the effects of mixing alcohol with the pills. Not much alcohol, the last thing he needed was a hangover, or a touch of liver failure, on top of the pain, but a little. Just enough to wash the pills down.
House undressed until he was wearing only a t-shirt and boxers. He allowed himself a smile when he remembered Chase's expression of horror at the thought of House going commando. Cameron was right; Chase was shallow. But everyone was shallow in House's experience. Chase was simply more obvious about it. House supposed you could get away with that if you were a pretty boy. Or a bastard. Chase was already the former and had great potential for becoming the latter.
"Ah come to papa," House murmured to himself. He got himself settled comfortably on the bed and reached for the first of the pills. He was going on a holiday, a pain holiday. With enough pills and a little booze he could divorce himself from the pain almost completely. Of course, he'd be useless for anything else but so what? Doctors were people, too, even House. Like everyone else they periodically needed some down time. It was just that House needed to get further down than most people. He didn't like it, but even one day, twenty-four hours, without pain was enough to keep him sane.
He'd unplugged his phone, turned off the cell, and switched his pager to vibrate before shoving it in the toe of his shoe. For the next twenty-four hours, forty-eight if he thought he could handle it, he'd be unavailable. And then Monday morning he'd be back at work taking great pleasure in annoying all who crossed his path. He'd be prepared to face a few more months of the constant torment from his leg until he needed another holiday.
Maybe next time he'd just go to France.
House almost sauntered into the office. Almost and on a Monday morning. Amazing what a few pain free hours of sleep could do. He pushed through the door with a big smile on his face, knowing it would provoke his unsuspecting subordinates into acute paranoia. He so loved screwing with people's minds.
"Where the bloody hell have you been?"
"Weekend," House said. He gave Chase a wary look and wide berth and went straight to the coffee pot. He filled a cup and turned to face the kids. "All work and no play makes House a dull boy."
"You didn't answer our pages," Foreman said.
"Week. End," House repeated slowly. He took a sip of coffee, wondering why all three of his staff were lined up and staring at him with sober and vaguely fearful faces.
"Wilson's in the ICU," Chase said.
"Good for him," House said, puzzled.
"As a patient," Chase added.
House froze for a moment. When the world stopped shifting off its axis he shoved his coffee cup onto the counter and started walking.
"We tried to reach you," Cameron said.
"When? How?" House said, cutting Cameron off.
"MVA," Foreman said. "Late Friday night. Well, technically it was early Saturday morning ."
"We tried ." Cameron began.
"Yeah, I got that." House pushed through the door. "What's his condition?"
"He was upgraded to serious this morning," Chase said from behind his left shoulder.
"Head and chest trauma," Foreman said from his right. House looked back at Foreman.
"He was conscious and following commands on arrival," Chase said. "Doesn't look too severe."
"He hasn't been conscious since admission," Foreman argued.
"He's been conscious, he's just sedated. When we turn the propofol off, he wakes right up," Chase said, dismissing Foreman's concern. "The head injury's minor, it's his pulmonary status we're worried about."
"Spit it out already," House snapped.
"Multiple left sided rib fractures, hemothorax, left both bone forearm fracture."
House stopped dead and turned on the three. "Was he wearing his seatbelt?"
"Probably," Foreman said. "He's got typical belt marks. Besides, the general consensus is that he must've been wearing it or he'd be a lot more messed up."
"He'd be dead," Chase said with a blunt certainty.
"But the air bag ." House said.
"Side impact," Chase said. "Airbag didn't deploy."
House ignored the sputtered warnings from the unit clerk and pushed right into the ICU bay. Cuddy was standing on the far side of Wilson's room and she looked up, her back stiffening at the sight of House. She crossed the room and laid a hand on his arm just as he reached the foot of Wilson's bed.
"Not now, House."
House shook off her hand and looked. Most of Wilson's face was obscured by an oxygen mask. A bruise had ripened on his left temple. A laceration bisected the bruise, stitched with small, neat sutures. There was more bruising on Wilson's neck and across his collarbone, but beyond that House couldn't see. A white sheet hid the rest of his body from view.
"I want to know ," House protested when Cuddy gripped his arm more firmly.
"I'll tell you what you want to know but not here." Cuddy kept her firm grasp on his arm as she directed him to the small consultation room just outside the ICU.
"I am going to see him," House said. He remained standing near the door while Cuddy took a seat.
"He was just extubated twenty minutes ago, he's sedated, he's got a concussion; basically he's had a really bad weekend," Cuddy said. "And you're going to wait to visit until it's a good time for him."
"Concussion?" House asked. Even he knew, sometimes, when fighting Cuddy was a lost cause. He surrendered as gracefully as he was capable of, and joined her at the small table.
"Yes." Cuddy gave a weary sigh and slumped a little, leaning one elbow on the table. "He hit his head pretty hardI'm sure you saw thatbut no fracture and no evidence of underlying brain injury. He got lucky."
"What the hell happened?" House asked.
"We're going with the theory that he fell asleep," Cuddy said with a helpless shrug.
"The weather was clear, he wasn't drunk," Cuddy said. "You tell me why he wrapped his car around a tree."
"What does he say happened?"
"He doesn't remember the accident." Cuddy shrugged again. "He's concussed. He may never remember."
"Wilson doesn't do that," House said. "Wilson is responsible and he doesn't just fall asleep at the wheel."
"He's also been working too many hours for too many days," Cuddy said. She gave House a disgusted look. "And you could've told me he was in the middle of another divorce."
"Now you know."
"Yeah, thanks," Cuddy snapped. "I felt horrible, dragging Julie in here, putting her in a position where she felt like she had to tell me about the divorce. And then I had to tell her it didn't matter because legally she's still his next of kin."
"But she did come?" House said.
"She came, but she felt very uncomfortable making decisions for him under the circumstances. She offered to let you take over. That's when I had to tell her we didn't know where you were." Cuddy glared at him. "For a while we thought you might've been with Wilson and had been thrown from the car."
"Yeah, yeah, I should've answered my pages. My bad," House said. He pulled his pager from his pocket for the first time and started going back through the stored numbers, deleting them as he went. He cleared all but the first message. It was from Wilson. "What time was the accident?"
"Er shortly after midnight, I think."
House checked the time and date on Wilson's message, then threw the pager against the wall.
"House?" Cuddy asked, surprised by his outburst.
"Made in China," House said with an irritable wave at the broken pager. "You know I only buy American."
"Right." Cuddy's gaze was intent on him, assessing.
"He fell asleep," House said, still not believing it. It happened, he knew that, and more often than people realized. But he still couldn't fathom Wilson falling asleep at the wheel.
"The psychological stress, the divorce, on top of his recent workload ." Cuddy shrugged. "He's only human."
"Not according to his patients. They all think he can walk on water," House said.
"He lost one Friday morning."
"Don't tell me," House said. He closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. "Taylor Woods."
"You knew her?" Cuddy asked.
"I knew her case," House said, because the person hadn't interested him. Still didn't. People were Wilson's thing, puzzles were House's.
"As unbelievable as it seems, I think Wilson was starting to crack under the strain," Cuddy said.
House nodded. It was unbelievable until it happened.
"You should've done something," Cuddy continued.
"Aren't you usually telling Wilson to do something about me?" House asked.
"You're friends. It's supposed to be a two-way street."
"It is. He pretends I'm not a jerk, and I pretend he's not a chump." House shrugged. "It works for us."
"Not very well." Cuddy stood up with a resigned sigh. "I'll have a nurse page you when you can see him."
House looked up. He'd been sitting in the waiting room so long, his mind wandering, that it took him moment to fully reengage. Julie was looking a little plainer than usual. Jeans, pale yellow t-shirt, and tennis shoes were a step down from what she usually wore in public. Certainly a step down from what she usually wore as Mrs. Dr. Wilson.
"Julie." House waved a hand at the chair opposite him. Julie sat down, dropping a plastic bag on the seat next to her.
"James' things," she explained, nodding at the bag. "I don't know why they bothered to save the clothes. The blood will never come out."
"Given that the E.R. nurses probably took great delight in cutting his clothes off, I doubt they would've been salvageable anyway."
"They cut his clothes off?"
"It's faster. Besides, E.R. nurses as a rule are kinky and they've been dying for a chance to get Wilson naked."
"That's not funny."
"In present company no, I suppose not."
"I was supposed to move out Saturday morning," Julie said. Her gaze held a certain defiance, as if challenging House to argue with her about the divorce. "James promised he'd make himself scarce so I could pack up and leave without any scenes."
"Well, I'd say he kept that promise," House said. "Rather emphatically, in fact."
"Sometimes, when I was really angry, I wished ." Julie bit her lip.
"I see. You wanted to hurt him and now he is hurt and you figure you're responsible," House said, rolling his eyes. Ego was such a powerful, and misleading, force.
"No. James' life has nothing to do with my wishes. Hasn't for a long time," Julie said, which surprised the hell out of House. Julie had never struck him as being particularly perceptive when it came to her husband. "Which is why I shouldn't be here."
"You are his wife."
"A technicality at this point. And James is awake now. My presence is unnecessary since they don't need me to sign consents anymore." Julie shrugged. "If something changes, you can handle it. He'd probably prefer that."
House didn't really have a response to that. At least, not one that Julie would enjoy hearing. Julie got to her feet, pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and stared at House. He shifted a little, uncomfortable with the scrutiny.
"Listen, Julie ."
"I know you already have a key to the house. And Dr. Cuddy knows how to reach me if it's really necessary." Julie turned to take a step, then turned back and dropped the bag of Wilson's personal effects into House's lap.
"Guess after all those times he's cleaned up your messes, it's your turn to clean up his."
House moved slowly through the auto yard. The ground was uneven and deceptive in the growing shadows of early evening. Cameron trailed along just behind him, the only one of his serfs who hadn't thought fast enough to get out of this technically non-work related chore.
It was weird to see Wilson's car in a line of other soon to be junkers facing a weed riddled chain link fence. From the angle they were approaching the car didn't look too bad. Then they reached the driver's side.
"Wow," Cameron said. The entire front panel was raw, twisted metal. The driver's door had been pried open and now hung cockeyed from one hinge.
"Let's try the other side," House said. He limped around to the passenger side and got in the front seat. Leaning over to pop the lid of the trunk, he called back to Cameron.
"Clean out the trunk. I'll get the stuff from in here."
House opened the glove compartment while Cameron rummaged behind him. There was nothing unexpected in Wilson's glove box: no hotel or restaurant receipts from illicit meetings, no unidentified phone numbers, no silk panties. Or boxers. Not even a gum wrapper. Nothing but the car's registration, owner's manual, and gas station receipts. And House thought Wilson was either far more anal than he'd ever realized, or a little pathetic.
The trunk lid clunked shut.
"Not much in there," Cameron said. She climbed into the back seat. "Some rope, a pair of boots, first aid kit, and set of golf clubs."
"Oh, Dr. Wilson, you cliché you," House said absently as he leaned forward to feel around under the seat for any stray pieces of Wilsonalia.
"I don't think he's played for a while," Cameron said.
"His putter's bent."
"Yeah, that was my fault." House frowned. "I thought he'd replaced it."
"Your fault?" Cameron asked. "Did you bend the club? Or did Dr. Wilson bend it over your head?"
"He cheated," House said. He stacked the contents of the glove compartment into a neat pile and started to turn toward the door.
House looked over his shoulder at Cameron's soft exclamation. She handed him a thick folder. House opened it and found legal stuff. He glanced at the top page: Wilson v. Wilson, which would make it divorce type legal stuff. He set it on top of the stack.
"I don't get it," Cameron said. She leaned forward against the back of House's seat. "How does a nice guy like that go through three marriages before he's forty?"
"He never puts the toilet seat down."
"You're always serious," House said. "That's your problem, Cameron. How do you expect to win Party Girl of Princeton-Plainsboro if you don't lighten up?"
"Where were you this weekend?" Cameron asked.
House sighed. Generally speaking he admired persistence. The problem was that Cameron tended to persist over the wrong things and for the wrong reasons.
"On a vacation."
"Not to," House said. "From."
"From us? Work?"
"From pain," House said. He could feel the intensity of Cameron's frown right on the back of his neck as she tried to figure that out. "You know, I thought once we got that little crush thing settled, you'd stop trying to fix me."
"Nobody wants to 'fix' you. Well, except in the sense that we'd all rather you didn't reproduce."
"She shoots; she scores," House said. Not quite the score she'd originally hoped for, but he figured it had taken pretty much all of Cameron's nerve to hit him with that little zinger. He respected the attempt.
"I realize that you can't or won't change," Cameron said. "But couldn't you, just once in a while, try not to be such a miserable bastard?"
"That would involve changing," House pointed out.
"There are people who care about you. Wilson cares about you."
"Not you, too," House muttered. He knew Wilson cared. He knew Wilson didn't need the extra aggravation. But House had never asked Wilson to care. He couldn't be held responsible for what that caring might do to Wilson.
"Look," House said. He shifted in the seat so that he could meet Cameron's gaze. "By now you should understand I'm not a people person. I don't want to be a people person. You don't want me to be a people person either 'cause then I'd be really grouchy."
"Isn't there anyone you care about?" Cameron asked.
"There are a few people who are not as inherently annoying as the rest. All that means is that I don't actively avoid them," House said. "Passively, yes. Actively, no."
"You really are a jerk," Cameron said, a heavy note of resignation in her voice.
"It's taken you this long to figure that out?"
This story was added on 27 OCT 2005