"Hey." House strolled as casually as he could around the foot of the bed. "You look like crap."
"Thanks. So kind of you to stop by and brighten my day." Wilson rolled his head against the pillow, following House's trip around the room. He looked exhausted by even that small exertion. He was half sitting, the head of his bed raised to make it more comfortable for him to breathe. And he really did look like crap. House wondered if he'd looked this wiped when he'd been a patient.
"Don't get me wrongthis is a definite improvement from a couple of days ago," House said.
"Says you. Feel like I was hit by a truck."
"Actually, it was large Canadian maple tree," House said. He and Cameron had driven by the accident site on their way home from cleaning out Wilson's car. The tree had definitely gotten the better end of the deal, but it hadn't gone completely unscathed.
House angled the chair toward the bed and sat down. "Canada sends its apologies, by the way. If they'd known it was such a vicious tree they would never have allowed it to immigrate."
"Far be it from me to hold a grudge against a foreign national," Wilson said. "Wouldn't want to provoke an international incident."
"With Canada?" House said skeptically. "What would that entail? They threaten to stop saying 'have a nice day' when you cross the border?"
"You, on the other hand, could start an international incident without even trying. Even with Canada."
"I would've only been acting on your behalf. You know, while you were unconscious and bleeding internally."
"I must have a concussion. You almost sound concerned," Wilson said with a weak smile.
"The possibility of your imminent demise put a real crimp in my usual happy-go-lucky demeanor," House agreed.
"You should be. You upset the children. Foreman was all gloom and doom, Cameron was ready to marry you, and Chase was all over my ass." House paused and gave Wilson a thoughtful look. "You sure there's nothing going on there?"
"Up yours," Wilson said. He was too tired to put any real scorn into his voice.
"So what the hell happened?"
"I honestly don't know. Last thing I remember is driving home. Next thing I knew Chase was screaming in my ear to wake the fuck up."
"So how was that?" House asked, genuinely curious. "Having Chase for your doctor?"
"Well, I still wouldn't turn my back on him for a minute, but he does know what he's doing," Wilson said. He gave a bemused snort. "Ending up as Chase's patient was just the first of many surreal experiences over the last couple of days."
"Experiences, I'm sure, that will only serve to deepen your empathy for your patients."
"Screw that," Wilson said. "What happened to my car?"
"Totaled? As in totaled? Or as in the insurance company doesn't want to pay to fix it?" Wilson asked.
"I've seen it. It's totaled," House said. Wilson grimaced. "Look at it this wayit's one less thing Julie can get in the settlement."
Wilson closed his eyes and pushed his head back deeper into the pillow. "She was planning to leave Saturday morning."
"So I heard," House said. He played with his cane until Wilson opened his eyes again. "To be fair, on the 'not a complete bitch' side of the equation, she stuck around long enough to know that you'd probably survive."
"That must have been disappointing for her," Wilson said. He winced at his own bitterness.
"Cameron and I retrieved everything from the car. I left most of the stuff in your garage," House said. He was unwilling to encourage any wife related discussions. Neither he nor Wilson was in the right frame of mind. They probably never would be, but that was beside the point. "Why haven't you replaced your putter?"
"My ?" Wilson frowned as he tried to keep up through the concussion and the drugs infusing through his I.V. "I don't know. I haven't had time to play recently so it wasn't really a high priority."
"You should start playing again."
"I think I'll hold off on that for a while," Wilson said, gesturing at the battered left side of his body.
"I promise I won't try to make a boomerang with the new one," House said.
"Is that what you were doing?"
"I think so. We were pretty drunk, but I distinctly remember saying that anything Chase could do, I could do better."
"And you thought he made a habit of turning golf clubs into boomerangs?" Wilson asked. "Surely you realize the aerodynamics are all wrong."
"It made sense at the time," House said, althoughsoberhe wasn't quite sure how. Wilson gave a vague nod of agreement. "Julie came home and found us in your garage, stinking drunk, laughing our asses off over a bent putter and Pink Floyd screaming on the car stereo. I thought she was going to castrate you on the spot."
"If she could've found the pruning shears, she would have."
"Those were the days," House said with a pang of nostalgia.
"It was four months ago," Wilson said, incredulous.
"Yeah," House agreed. "And look at us now."
"I've been looking all over for you," Stacy said. She was standing squarely in the door of the exam room, which meant no patients could get in. It also meant House couldn't get out. Sort of a win-lose proposition from House's perspective. "Should've known you'd be in the last place I looked."
"A doctor in a clinic?" House smacked his head in mock surprise. "My god, that's positively revolutionary."
"It is when you're the doctor in question." Stacy gave him a puzzled look. "You're not scheduled in clinic this afternoon."
"Wilson's staff is scrambling to cover his other duties," House said. "Do you have any idea of the caseload that man carries?"
"You're doing Wilson's clinic hours in addition to your own?"
"Bite your tongue. I'm only doing Wilson's hours."
"What about yours?"
"Well, if you're volunteering to bite my tongue, too ."
"Your hours," Stacy said, giving him a dark look.
"If I actually worked my hours, Cuddy would drop from the shock," House said. Stacy shook her head with a resigned sigh. "Was there something you wanted?"
"How is James?"
"Ask him yourself. He's out of the ICU now."
"I know, and I did," Stacy said. "But I want to know how he really is."
"How he 'really' is? You mean his emotional and psychological health?" House asked. He hunched over the patient file, scowling. "How the hell would I know?"
"God, you're a piece of work," Stacy said with disgust.
"Why? Because I'm not going to ask him about his relationship with his mommy or how often he was bullied in school?"
"No one's expecting you to get all mushy," Stacy said. "Just pretend you give a damn for once."
"I do give a damn."
"Then act like it," Stacy said. "He has to be hurting."
"Of course he's hurting," House snapped. "His wife left him, his patient population would put most people on Prozac, and he has me as his best friend."
"You could try to help." Stacy gave him a hard look full of disappointment before she marched out of the room. And damned if that didn't hurt just a little.
"I can fix diseases," House muttered to himself. "I can't fix people."
"You're missing a bet."
"How so?" Lori asked. She was walking slowly next to Wilson in the corridor outside his room when House found them.
"Should've nixed the robe," House said, nodding at the short, hospital issue robe Wilson was wearing over the short, hospital issue gown. "Could've made a fortune."
"Yeah, right," Wilson muttered. He was breathing fast and the death grip he had on his I.V. pole appeared to be the only thing keeping him on his feet. "Like anyone would want to see my skinny white ass."
"You'd be surprised." Wilson would but House wouldn't, and neither would Lori judging by the wink she gave him behind Wilson's back.
"Are we done now?" Wilson asked Lori.
"Sure," Lori said. She took him by the elbow and directed him toward his room. "I'll let the nurses know that you're cleared to ambulate independently. But you need to make sure you get up and walk at least a couple times a day."
"Looking forward to that," Wilson said sarcastically.
"Now, nowyou know there are three things you have to be able to do before they'll discharge you: poop, pee, and walk," House said. He stood to the side as Lori helped Wilson settle into bed. "Preferably not all at the same time."
"Dr. House, should I schedule an appointment with you?" Lori asked. The expression on her face was pure innocence. House knew better.
"I'll let you know when I feel the urge."
"You do that." Lori waved at Wilson and left.
"I think I understand the attraction between you two now," Wilson said. "She likes to cause pain, and you're just begging to be hurt."
"I'm getting her new manacles for Christmas," House agreed. He pulled the chair over to the side of the bed. "She thinks you have nice legs."
"Really? And you would know this how?"
"We discussed it during one of my torture sessions."
"That's just too weird."
"Well, on a note of professional weirdness, I went over Taylor's autopsy results with Foreman," House said.
Wilson leaned back into his pillow with a sigh. "Let me guessthey didn't find anything."
"They found cancer."
"What?" Wilson stared at House in disbelief. "But we . Twice. We biopsied twice and got nothing."
"I know, and there wasn't a lot of cancer, but it was there. Honestly, I'm not sure how to explain it all," House said. He made the admission reluctantly. There was always an explanation and it was his job to find it. He hated when he couldn't do his job. "But she either did die of cancer, or she soon would have. Your cure didn't kill her exactly."
"My cure didn't cure her either," Wilson said.
"She got five extra years because you treated her. A person can do a lot of living in five years," House said. "Or a lot of damage."
"Okay, I'm assuming that last wasn't about Taylor," Wilson said with a puzzled look.
"I'm feeling a little fragile."
"You are?" Wilson nearly choked on his disbelief.
"There's been some talk lately. People are saying I'm selfish and careless and a really, really bad friend."
"People?" Wilson asked.
"Stacy, Cameron, Cuddy pretty much everyone," House said. "Except Chase. He says I'm a black hole of evilness."
"A what?" Wilson said, laughing.
"Apparently I could give Satan a run for his money. Chase has already consulted an exorcist. And he has an astronomer on standby."
"Ow," Wilson groaned. "Don't make me laugh. It hurts."
"They seem to think that I should've prevented your accident."
"I know you believe in your own omniscience," Wilson said slowly. "But when did everyone else start buying it?"
"I'd have to be not only omniscient but prescient as well," House said. "No, I was supposed to have prevented you from getting into a state in which you could fall asleep at the wheel."
"So ." Wilson closed his eyes and thought. "They thought you should've saved me from myself? That's really stupid."
House threw out his hand in an emphatic expression of Yes, exactly, why the hell can't the rest of the world see this?
"And since when do you care what anyone thinks?" Wilson continued.
"Since it occurred to me that there might be an element of truth to the accusations," House said. He wasn't responsible for Wilson or anything Wilson did. But he was, perhaps, a little too complacent. And a little too selfish. "Except for the black hole partclearly my gravitational field isn't that strong."
"I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I'm also perfectly capable of screwing up by myself." Wilson stared at the ceiling so long that House looked up, wondering if he'd seen the face of the Virgin Cuddy in a water stain. "Taylor I did my best. My marriage? Yeah, I screwed that up. And since I was the only one in the car, the accident was obviously my fault."
"You paged me that night."
"I should've answered."
"Given that I wanted you to go out and get blitzed with me, I sincerely doubt that would've helped," Wilson said. "Might've made it worse."
"Still, I have no good excuse for blowing you off."
"I'm not asking for one," Wilson said with a puzzled look at House.
"True," House said. Wilson hadn't asked. Wilson never asked. "Which would make it your fault that I'm a selfish friend."
"Want to run that by me again?"
"You don't ask for anything. How can I avoid being selfish if you don't ask for anything?"
"I ask all the time," Wilson argued.
"But it's always something you think I should do for my own good," House said. "It's not for you, it's for me."
"Except ." Wilson paused to think. "Except that if you actually ever did what I asked, I wouldn't have to spend so much time running interference for you. Therefore those requests are for my benefit."
"If that's true, then it's back to being my fault again," House protested.
"I don't have a problem with that."
House sighed. Wilson had been righttheir friendship was stupid and screwed up. It worked only because they were both obviously borderline masochistic. He wondered if it would continue to work if they were both a little gay.
"What?" House asked when he heard Cameron approaching. It was well past seven o'clock. He'd opened his blinds to the last light of the setting sun. It gave his office a nice, mellow glow. Definitely too mellow, and too dim, to work by. He might get eyestrain. Then he'd have to wear glasses. After that it was a short, downward slide to pocket protectors and he'd join Wilson in full blown geekhood.
"Quarterly reports," Cameron said. She leaned over and turned on the desk lamp. Blinking at the harsh light, House snatched the paper from her hand, leaned back in his chair, and stared. Then he turned it sideways. Cameron reached over and righted the page. "I tried that. It doesn't help."
"Is this good or bad?" House asked, still trying to puzzle out the numbers.
"I really don't know."
"Then it can't be good."
They were both interrupted by banging noises at House's door. Wilson was trying, mostly in vain, to maneuver an I.V. pole into House's office. Cameron hurried over to hold the door open, and House watched.
"Did you realize your office isn't handicapped accessible?" Wilson asked as soon as he'd manhandled the pole, and himself, safely into the room.
"There's no automatic door opener."
"Doesn't stop me," House said. His expression went blank for a second, then he slapped himself in the forehead. "I can't believe I overlooked such a perfectly legitimate excuse for playing hooky."
"There's always tomorrow," Wilson consoled him. "Or next week. And the week after that ."
"I'd better get going," Cameron said. She gave Wilson a little smile. "It's good to see you, Dr. Wilson."
"Thanks. And thanks for the cookies," Wilson said. "I think House and Chase ate most of them, but it's the thought that counts."
Cameron gave House a dirty look, then smiled at Wilson again. "Anyway, you look good."
"He looks like crap," House said. He turned the graph upside down, still trying to puzzle it out.
"He's right," Wilson told Cameron.
"He's a jerk," Cameron said with a belligerent look that was completely wasted on House.
"That, too," Wilson agreed.
Cameron gave him a smile of commiseration, then went into the other room to retrieve her coat and purse before leaving.
"Don't even think about making her number four," House said once Cameron was safely out the door.
"I don't think Cameron is interested in me."
"She would be, if she knew how screwed up you really are," House said. He tossed the reports on the corner of his desk and leaned back in his chair.
"There won't be a number four," Wilson said. He sagged into the chair across the desk from House. "We were just being polite. It's something most people try to do."
"The question is why do they do it?"
"For most people, i.e. anyone but you, it makes life go a little more smoothly."
"Socially condoned lies," House scoffed.
"Wow," Wilson said, raising one eyebrow. "Mr. Cynicism's in a cranky mood today."
"Speaking of which . What do you sayas soon as Cuddy signs your parolewe shack up."
"You, me: living in sin," House explained. "Only we do it together this time."
"I hate when you do this."
"Say stuff just to see what kind of reaction it gets."
"I'm serious," House said.
"Then that is quite possibly the worst idea you've ever had."
"You think so? I've come up with some pretty bad ones."
"Yes, but this is like a whole bunch of badness squeezed into one single idea."
"Gee, good thing I'm used to rejection." House gave Wilson a hurt look, and for once he wasn't faking it. He knew all the reasons it was a bad idea. He wrestled with them for weeks. But despite what logic was telling him, his gut said go for it.
"You're not even gay."
"I've been known to be moderately giddy."
"That's just the drugs," Wilson said. "You've never been with a man in your life."
"How would you know?"
"I just do," Wilson insisted.
"Right, the way I just knew you weren't gay."
Wilson shook his head and changed tactics. "Just because you can't have Stacy ."
"This has nothing to do with Stacy," House said. He couldn't imagine why the idea would even cross Wilson's mind. Okay, that was a lie. They both knew why the idea had crossed Wilson's mind. They also both knew it wasn't going to happen.
"Look me in the eye and tell me you're not sorry it didn't work."
"I am sorry it didn't work," House said. He leaned forward to look directly into Wilson's eyes. "But I got over it. As much as I can get over it."
"You're not gay," Wilson repeated.
"Not usually," House agreed.
"Fine, for argument's sake, let's say you're gay. What makes you think I'm interested in you?" Wilson asked.
"Well, you gave up your job for me. That was kind of a big tip-off."
"I didn't do it for you. I was taking a moral stand."
"Would you have done it for Cuddy?"
"Vogler was a bully," Wilson said, which didn't answer the question.
"Would you have done it for Cuddy?" House repeated.
"Way to be definite."
"I don't know, okay?" Wilson snapped. He grimaced as he moved too suddenly. He pressed his arm against his broken ribs and took a long, controlled breath. "I didn't even know for sure I'd do it for you until it got right down to it."
"Was it just one of those ethical responsibilities of our friendship?" House asked.
"You defended me only because your personal moral code required it, not because you wanted to."
"Where are you getting this?" Wilson asked, incredulous.
"Hey, you're the one who said our friendship is an ethical responsibility," House said. And he still wasn't sure how he felt about that, or even exactly what Wilson had meant.
"Yes, friendship carries with it certain obligations," Wilson said. "But being your friend in the first place is purely by choice."
"Huh." House thought that over. Wilson's words answered some questions but not all. "So you choose to be my friend, but you don't choose to be my lover?"
"I can't do this." Wilson pulled on his I.V. pole to help him get to his feet. He stood for a moment, his eyes closed, breathing deeply.
"Fine," House said in a controlled voice. "You're not interested. Just forget I said anything. It's no big deal."
"Yes, it is a big deal," Wilson said. He opened his eyes and stared at House. "It's a huge deal. That's why I need time."
"To consider all the reasons it would be a bad idea to get involved with a bad tempered junkie?" House asked, his voice sounding a little sharper than he'd intended.
"No. Time to deal with all the other shit in my life," Wilson said. "I have to do that before I can even hope to deal with you."
"So go. Take all the time you need." House pulled his earphones out and started looking for his iPod.
"Don't be a dick," Wilson said. "Look, you said I never ask you for anything. Well, I'm asking now. I'm asking for this."
"You know, I really hate when you throw my own words back in my face."
"Want to withdraw your offer?"
"Then back off." Wilson walked to the door, and House remained stubbornly seated. If Wilson was going to walk out, he'd have to do it on his ownbroken ribs, I.V. pole and all. Which, of course, was exactly what Wilson proceeded to do. House let out a resigned sigh and called after him.
"You have my new pager number?"
"Will you answer?" Wilson asked.
House really, really hated it when Wilson threw stuff back in his face. "I'll answer."
"House, you coming?"
"Where?" House asked. Chase was leaning into his office. In the conference room, Foreman and Cameron were standing by the door to the hallway, watching House and waiting.
"Oncology department," Chase said, a slight frown forming. "They're having a little do to celebrate Wilson's first day back."
"Is that today?" House said with deliberately unconvincing innocence.
"Fine, I suppose you already spend plenty of time with Wilson," Chase said. "But you don't mind if we go?"
"Go. Enjoy," House said, waving a hand at him. "Page me if there are any really good snacks."
"Will do." Chase let the door close. House watched as Chase joined Foreman and Cameron as they left through the conference room door.
House went back to sorting through internet articles on glomerulosclerosis. The web was a wonderful thing. He could find public websites offering all kinds of medical information. And being public, House had discovered that he could leave scathing commentaries on the sites offering the most ignorant and potentially harmful information. It was the most fun he'd had with a computer since Cuddy had blocked his porn sites. After a few minutes, though, he lost interest. He looked around his desk and noticed a sheet of paper stuck under his desk lamp. He started to smile.
House pushed through the door to the oncology department's conference room. He stopped to wonder how many patients were freezing their asses off waiting in little exam gowns because it appeared that the entire department was in here. And then some.
Wilson was standing to one side of the room, deep in conversation with Cuddy and Foreman. House hadn't seen him in several weeks, not since he'd been discharged. He was a little pale but the bruising had subsided and the cut on his forehead appeared to be healing well. The ubiquitous tie was in evidence, although the suit coat was missing. Probably because he still had a cast on his left arm.
House nodded to himself and shuffled toward the goodies. Just as he'd suspected, Wilson's people had gone all out. The long table in the middle of the room was covered with just about every kind of cookie imaginable, along with fresh fruit and muffins. This was verging on ridiculous. No one should be that happy to see the boss come back to work.
"Should've known I'd find you wherever there was free food."
"You see what these people have been wasting their time on while you were out?" House asked. He grabbed one of the blueberry muffins and turned to Wilson.
"Obviously I'll need to crack the whip now that I'm back," Wilson agreed in a dry tone. "Of course I'm only working part-time at the moment, so maybe I'll just kind of wave it around in a threatening manner."
"Here," House said. He pulled the sheet of paper from his pocket. "A welcome back gift."
"Really?" Wilson unfolded the page, then smiled. "My clinic schedule. How touching."
"The patients will be grateful, believe me."
"Thank you," Wilson said quietly. He refolded the paper and slipped it into his pocket. "Cameron told me you covered all my hours."
"Cameron talks too much."
"A real blabbermouth. Still, I appreciate it."
"Yeah, well." House shrugged. "You owe me one. Actually, you owe me twenty-four. And a half."
"But who's counting," Wilson said.
"Exactly." House and Wilson stood for a moment, staring at their shoes. "So, what's new?"
"I was kind of hoping we could talk about that," Wilson said.
"Talk?" House asked. His eyebrows rose, adding emphasis to the question.
"Yeah," Wilson said. He suddenly looked uncomfortable. House glanced around the full room but no one was paying any attention to them. Too busy stuffing their faces. Or too afraid of House.
"Not here." Wilson glanced around quickly before giving House a scandalized look.
"There's free food. No one's paying attention to us," House said.
"Yes or no?"
"My propositionyes or no?"
"I'm serious. I'm not discussing it here," Wilson said. House opened his mouth to repeat his demand and Wilson blurted out, "No."
"Oh. Okay." House gave himself a little shake. He'd prepared himself for this possibility, as much as anyone could prepare. Wilson was a devoted friend, but expecting even him to want to get mired more deeply in House's life was clearly expecting too much.
"I'm not saying no to everything," Wilson said. He glanced around again and dropped his voice even lower. "I'm not moving in with you. Not yet. Everything else is negotiable."
"Negotiable?" House asked. That sounded so businesslike. Blunt. Completely lacking in romance. House was pretty sure he could work with that.
"I'm not sure I know what it is you want," Wilson said.
"Pretty much everything we already have," House said. "Plus sex."
"Jesus." Wilson fixed House with an exasperated stare, but House was right. No one was paying them any attention.
House studied Wilson's body language. "Scared?"
"Me, too. Feels good, doesn't it? The adrenaline pumping through your veins, the testosterone pumping through ."
"The acid eating through my stomach," Wilson interjected.
"Wuss," House said.
"I told you I only have two things, my job and this," Wilson said, inclining his head toward House. "I can always find a new job."
"You won't lose this."
"You sound confident, evendare I say it?optimistic. That's not like you."
"Must be the drugs."
"Must be," Wilson said. "Why don't you come over tonight?"
"Hell, no. But I've got the Chinese place on speed dial."
"Okay, as long as you're paying." House started to walk away. He smiled when, behind him, he heard Wilson muttering to himself.
"I have a feeling I've just started to pay."
This story was added on 27 OCT 2005