Author's Note: When I first came upon this prompt between seasons five and six, everyone was preoccupied with House as an inpatient at Mayfield. I actually hesitated to take it for that reason – after all, no writer likes to endlessly rehash old ideas. However, when I reconsidered the notion that Wilson might be fractured enough to engineer his way into joining his friend… Well, that gave me considerable impetus. Then there was Broken, and canon threw a wrench into the story I had been carefully constructing around the framework of my necessarily original doctors, nurses, and orderlies. I'm not one to buck canon, you see, and the dreariness of starting over slowed me down; other projects intervened. Now here we are, at the end of House M.D., and as I endured the final weeks of tension leading up to the finale, this story reemerged, rearranged itself, and was finally reborn.
What Lurks In Man
"A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future,
the key to sanity in a totally insane world."
- Lois Wyse
The night was starless. Instead, a mist made the lights shine from below, gleaming up from the sidewalk out of the sheen of a New Jersey rain. A soft, wet static filled the otherwise soundless backdrop. From the coffee table, a digital readout burned red – 3:21 a.m.
Wilson pressed his forehead to the cool glass and exhaled so that his breath became a fading ghost against the black surface. He watched the water bead, knowing that any self-respecting person would be asleep. Yet here he was, every ligament of his body wound tight, his eyes burning, his pulse hammering far too fast – awake, just as he had been for three straight nights.
It was only one of the things in his routine that had fallen off. An abandoned dinner was wrapped up in the refrigerator, and unwashed dishes lay unattended in the sink. He blamed the change on stress, but, deep down, he knew the truth. Depression sat like an old, weary weight over his shoulders. He knew its grey pallor, its long sighs, the tightness is brought to his throat.
His eyes fell on a frame from which a blond woman smirked. Yesterday, he had found one of her socks mixed in with the laundry. Lord only knew how it had gotten there after almost a year. He'd kneaded that sock in his fingers and thought about the foot that should have filled it – pale white, slender but not petite – and wondered how it was that the fragments remained the clearest memories.
Funny that he'd thought of himself as having moved on from her. But, then, if the events of the last few weeks had proved anything, it was that no one had really moved on from Amber.
A chill of loneliness overcame Wilson, and he rubbed his arms. The flat, vacant hallways of his apartment receded, emphasizing the empty spaces. Once, he might have expected a phone call from House, who would rant loudly in his ear while he voiced sleepy complaints. There might have been the clamor of a cane against the door, or loud, uneven footsteps, or the noise of his commandeered television. Things that were impossible now.
A growing anxiety rose, and Wilson looked at the counter on which the phone rested, his fingers twitching. But, no. House wasn't allowed visitors yet, or even a phone call. Wilson had been warned, but the impulse to find out – to know House was okay – punctured him viciously.
Wilson let himself slump into the cushions of the couch. There was a faint stain on the fabric of the armrest. House's fault, of course, and no amount of scrubbing had been able to get it off. He remembered the struggle for the pizza slice, which a lanky arm had held stubbornly out of reach. It was a ploy, a dissimilation of affection. It was the way they worked.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked around the apartment, its quiet so profound that the sound of the clock seemed like a hammer. Unreasonable panic rose, and as he panted, trying to come back under his own control, he saw the prescription bottle. It was sitting on the table, its hood uncapped. It's label was turned away, but Wilson saw the small pills through the amber plastic.
A half-mad thought leapt into his mind. He reached over and picked up the white cap, slid it through his fingers. Thought of Christmas, and vomit, and his best friend.
Wilson let himself wonder, what if I could –
'House,' he thought. For him, what if I could?
Dr. Lisa Cuddy stared at her desktop computer. Had anyone been looking, they would have seen worry in the planes of her face as she leaned forward to re-read the two emails in her inbox. The first was a coolly professional notice from the Donor Committee, the other a personal note sent by a patient. Both had Dr. Wilson's name attached to the header, which wasn't an unusual thing, except that their contents contained something less then unconditional praise.
The first announced:
To: Lisa Cuddy M.D.
Subject: Dr. Wilson's absence from recent committee meeting
It has come to the attention of the board that Dr. Wilson missed the last two Donor Committee meetings without notice or explanation. We've attempted to contact him, but he hasn't responded. You are aware that disciplinary action would ordinarily be taken in this case, but in the light of Dr. Wilson's excellent record, we wished to notify you first in case there are extenuating circumstances of which we are unaware. Please contact us at your earliest convenience.
Dr. John Pen M.D.
Medical Director, Orthopedics
John was a compassionate man. At the bottom of the official request, he had tagged a personal message – Lisa, this isn't like James. What's going on?
Cuddy wished she had an answer, because Wilson had also been conspicuously absent form the Departmental meeting the evening before. Such blatantly unprofessional behavior was completely out of character, and yet the second email she had received was even more disturbing.
She paged over.
My daughter, Anne Marie, has been receiving treatment from Dr. Wilson since she was diagnosed four years ago. He's always been a thorough and compassionate doctor, and I credit his personal warmth toward Annie as one of the biggest reasons why she isn't afraid of coming to the hospital, even with all she's been through.
However, at our last meeting, Dr. Wilson looked awful – very tired and pale. I got the impression he was trying to refer us to another doctor. I'm worried about him, and since it affects my daughter's health, I feel like I have to ask. Is there a reason why we should switch to another oncologist? I don't want to do this, but I need to know if something is seriously wrong.
The email went on for a few more lines, but Cuddy had read enough. In all her years as Dean of Medicine, Cuddy had never received a written complaint from a patient about Wilson, not even one couched – as this one was – in genuine concern. She just didn't know what to make of it. James' patient care record was immaculate. He would never have caused this kind of doubt in a patient under ordinary circumstances.
Though, she thought bleakly as she sank back into her chair, recent times had hardly been ordinary. House's sudden absence had been felt all over the hospital, like the space left by a sun that had destabilized into a black hole. His listless fellows had been reassigned for the time being, and the third floor hallway outside of diagnostics had become eerily quiet without the thunk, thunk, thunk of a ball against glass.
'Do you even understand your influence, you stubborn ass?' Cuddy thought bitterly toward the absent House. 'Do you even realize how many people depend on you despite everything?'
Of course, no one had been as affected as Wilson. He was taking House's barely consensual detox extremely hard. For that reason, Cuddy was willing to give Wilson as much leeway as she would for any of her staff with serious family problems, but she couldn't ignore the missed meetings.
Other things had come to her attention, too. His department was deeply loyal and had been trying to cover for him, but Cuddy knew that Wilson had been arriving late and leaving early. House's fellows had all come to her at one time or another and dropped some tidbit of information on her desk – Wilson had thrown out his lunch, he had snapped at an intern, he wasn't wearing a tie – all with accompanying flashes of concern that silently begged her to intercede somehow.
Cuddy was mildly touched, actually. House's people had made an attempt to maintain a professional distance from Wilson, but it was apparent they saw him as more than just a bulwark of protection against House's more volatile moods.
Ill at ease, Cuddy tapped one manicured nail against her desk in an unbroken rhythm. Finally, she picked up her office phone and dialed Wilson's cell. No answer, not even voicemail. Cuddy sighed as she set the receiver back on its cradle. Well, she supposed it could wait until she saw him in person. A glance at the clock told her that it was still early for him to be in the hospital, so she paged Nurse Brenda and asked to be informed when Dr. Wilson made it in.
After that, a crisis in the clinic derailed her attention. She forgot she had been waiting for a call that never came.
Chase had been watching Dr. Wilson's office for half an hour. He ran his hand through his hair, which was bleached almost white from his recent honeymoon, and leaned forward, hoping to spy even a hint of movement.
Wilson went to the hospital dining room for coffee at ten-thirty everyday. In the times before House left for Mayfield, he would return with two cups and then disappear into the glass office adjoining the diagnostic conference room. Of course, Wilson didn't do that anymore, but he could still usually be seen making his way to the cafeteria. So, on that Tuesday morning when the appointed time passed and Chase saw no movement from Wilson's office, he was worried enough to sidle up to the nurse's station and rest his hip against the counter, upon which Dr. Wilson's assistant was scribbling notes into a patient file.
"Sandy, have you seen Dr. Wilson this morning? His office looks dark."
The handsome young woman narrowed her eyes, partially in irritation and partially as a warning. He had a reputation in the hospital for being a kind of a charming slut, which his recent marriage had not yet eclipsed. Finally, though, her suspicion was beaten off by unease.
"I had to cancel two of his appointments," she admitted. "It's not like him. I mean, sometimes he'd get distracted –" She meant, held up by something to do with House. "But he always called ahead if he didn't plan to be in."
She didn't need to say anything else; Chase understood exactly. Wilson may have been House's partner in crime, but he was always, without exception, conscientious of his patients. He would never simply not show up. At least, he never would have before.
"Maybe I'll go give the handle a jiggle," he suggested, pushing away without waiting for an answer. It wasn't impossible that Wilson had snuck in unnoticed and was hibernating under the influence of a bad migraine.
Yet there was no answer from inside when he knocked. No light seeped from beneath the door. By all indications, the office was unoccupied. However, for some reason, Chase wasn't satisfied. He tested the doorknob and found it was locked, but he hadn't spent years breaking into patients' homes for nothing.
Once inside, he gazed around the shadowed space; the Hitchcock poster affixed to one wall, the towering bookshelf, the ubiquitous couch. The pale white square of the balcony door, laid over with the stripes of the long, hanging blinds. A ficus. It all seemed just as usual, except…something.
Chase shook his head, thinking that the paranoia House cultivated was finally getting to him. Then he stilled. There was a neat stack of manila envelopes on the corner of Wilson's desk, each with a crisp white sticker in each corner. Chase had seen envelopes like that once before, when Tritter's interference had forced Wilson to refer his patients.
Feeling dread open up like a dark pit inside him, Chase walked back into to Wilson's tidy desktop. There was another envelope, a smaller white one, propped up between the keys of the keyboard. In Wilson's slanted scrawl, two words had been carefully written:
Chase was running, digging for his car keys, before he even reached the door.
Wilson was amazed how little effort it had taken to convince the people he worked with that he had lost whatever competency left to him after Amber's death and House's subsequent, related institutionalization. In fact, it was just a little crushing, seeing what his efforts had come to – that even after years of meticulous efficiency, of holding two department's administrative heads above water, of flawless punctuality and uncompensated overtime, and House – after all that, their confidence in him could be so easily undermined.
Perhaps they had always expected that if the head of Diagnostics or Oncology went down, the other would soon follow into the other's ashes. He didn't know. He just knew that dismantling his life had been easy. And that he had fewer friends than he thought.
'You only have one friend.' The thought crept in, even as he carefully went over the calculations in his head and counted out the pills into his hand. They were pale against his palm, and so light he could barely feel their weight.
He was going to lose his job. Unlike House, there would be no resolution that he could think of, no second chance. Cuddy would not be waiting for him with a department and a hopeful expression. Without House around, there was no longer any incentive for her to preserve his job. Yet, even knowing the risk, he couldn't change his mind. House might not want him there, but even that heart-stopping possibility paled beside the thought of leaving his friend to face the loss of the only thing he cared about – his mind – essentially alone in the hands of clinicians and psychiatrists.
And if it meant that he didn't have to spend one more sleepless night in his apartment with the walls leaning in like falling tiles and his lungs rigid in his chest…well. If things went wrong then it would be alright, wouldn't it?
He flipped the prescription bottle around in his palm, thinking of House and all the years when seeing him with a bottle like this had been almost as inevitable as seeing him with his cane. At times, he had felt as trapped by the Vicodin as House had been, especially when Tritter – Wilson stymied that train of thought immediately.
Anyway, he thought, squeezing the bottle and hearing the faint rattle, these weren't Vicodin. They were antidepressants, the same ones he'd used to 'dose' House's coffee. He'd been taking them himself for more than a year. House had never attempt to conceal his contempt for a depression diagnosis, but now it was a godsend. No one would question what he was about to do.
Wilson let the pills drop – one, two, three – into his mouth, and then paused to take a methodical swallow of cheap whiskey. He smiled a sad smile as he felt them go down. It was too bad that pills were the best way to have control over this; there was just too much irony.
He raised his hand. Four, five, six.
He looked one last time at the picture frame, out of which Amber's face smiled (knowingly, coyly, approvingly), and then he closed his eyes and the pill bottle rattled. He swallowed the pills, again and again, until a low buzzing filled up the silence of the apartment and everything went away.
They found him on the floor of Amber's apartment. Wilson thought he discerned a commanding Australian slur, and that comforted him. He had been right to count on Chase. Of all House's fellows, he had always been the one Wilson liked best.
People were asking him things: "When? How much?"
He blinked blearily up through the frantic chaos he had created and tried to understand what they were saying, but the words spiraled away, inaccessible now. There was a smell like vomit beside his head, and he regretted that. It was going to stain the carpet, and who was going to clean it up now?
Then his body seized, and Wilson felt his eyes roll back and take him away. Everything was quiet and dark, but it wasn't the same as the silence of his apartment. It was just the way he wanted it to be.
When he woke up in the hospital, squinting under the harsh lighting, Wilson almost cried with relief. He had gotten it right.