House had one more meeting with Nolan, but not in his office. He refused to leave the infirmary, and some kind of permission must have been given because aside from a few disapproving looks from the duty nurse, no one tried to kick him out. Nolan came to see him there, carrying a pixie cup.
"There's a two milligram tablet of Valium, if you want it," Nolan said as House pinched the pills with his fingers, hard-eyed, evaluating each to be sure it was nothing that would allow them to take him away from Wilson.
To show Nolan what he thought of the Valium, he flicked the pill across the room with his thumb, listening for the satisfying plinking sound as it ricocheted off several surfaces. After that, he just glared.
Nolan sighed and pulled up a stool. At least he wasn't stupid enough to join House on the edge of Wilson's bed. House was expecting him to say something bland, like "Are you okay?"
Instead, he asked, "Are you regretting this now? All of it, admitting yourself to Mayfield, the detox?"
House almost didn't answer. His throat felt swollen from not talking during the long vigil. Finally, he rasped. "I came here because I almost killed Chase. Subconsciously, I took an action that would have resulted in him being dead."
Another doctor might have spoke, encouraging him for seeking help, but Nolan merely waited. House looked at Wilson and the padded cuffs around his wrists even now.
"I was angry with him. I think I've been angry with him since Tritter."
Nolan knew all about Tritter and what had finally pressured Wilson into that betrayal. Betrayal. In spite of everything that had come before – the prescription pad, the bank account, the impounding, the abandonment, the theft, the punch – the sense of being betrayed had been the most powerful he had ever felt. Nobody had ever let him down like Wilson, because nobody had ever been there for him like Wilson. Not even Stacy had a record like that, or Cuddy. And though he had dismissed it, House was starting to realize he'd never really gotten over it.
"I've been punishing him, trying to make him sorry."
"For hurting you?" Nolan wondered.
"It doesn't seem like it's been a one-way street."
No, House could admit that now, though still not easily. He could look back and see why Tritter had called his position one of total selfishness. Yet Wilson had been messed up long before House even met him. They had built their entire friendship off of their compatible psychoses. But it had worked. For the longest time, it had worked for them.
His hand clinched around the bed sheet. "Will he be alright?"
"You're the 'real' doctor, House," Nolan said.
"Damn you. You know what I meant."
Wilson, for the second time, had tried to take his life. Before that, he'd gotten admitted to a mental hospital because he was lonely – a move that House now realized was not just stupid, but literally insane. They had both believed Wilson came for his friend, but now it was clear that it wasn't only House who had reached a crisis and fallen over the edge.
All these thoughts passed through House's mind while Nolan watched Wilson, who was corpse-pale against the pillows. Except for the ligature marks. Those were black around his neck.
"Obviously, it isn't the same thing as before," he said. "The first attempt was passive, but this…"
House growled, but didn't interrupt.
"He needs support," Nolan said, "and not an uncomfortable, obligatory pat on the shoulder. He needs someone to care."
"And then?" House asked.
"And then…you'll have to wait and see."
House dozed off propped stiffly against the back of the medical bed. A shift of the mattress woke him, and when he blinked he saw Wilson's head tilted back, his barely cognizant eyes skittering around House's face.
They stilled when he moved, and Wilson whispered hoarsely. "Hey."
"Hey." There didn't seem to be anything else to say. Finally, House swallowed and said, "You swallowed pills to get here. You put them in your mouth and you swallowed them, alone in your apartment, where you and Amber used to sleep."
Sticky tears Wilson couldn't hide began to roll down his cheeks, not with the restraints holding him to the bed. House pulled a tissue from a Klenex box and rubbed his face dry.
House said, "It was real, wasn't it?"
The depression, the therapy and the drugs he had mocked. It amazed him that he'd ever had any faith in the coping mechanisms of an oncologist who kept mementos of dead patients scattered all over his office. Only his dead patients.
"I kept seeing her," Wilson said, going on despite House's sudden, sharp look. "Socks in the laundry. That damned mug. You weren't there. I kept thinking it was my fault. The deep brain stimulation… I hurt you, didn't I?"
He had done that procedure for Wilson, so they could both have peace of mind. Funny how peace was the last thing it had brought to either of them.
"I'm…" Wilson started. "I'm so…"
House slammed his hand down over Wilsons, so hard it could never have been called gentle. He squeezed until both their knuckles went white. "Shut up, Wilson," he said.
Wilson's fingers moved weakly, clinging. His eyes closed. "Don't leave me here," he pleaded.
"I'm not leaving you," House answered. After all they'd done, both to and for each other, they deserved this strange, screwed up thing they had between them. It was all that was left now, and House would be damned if he kept digging a grave for it.
It was time to put down the shovel.
He went while Wilson was asleep, smuggled past the threat of dreams by the mercy of pharmaceutical intervention. He used the phone card privilege he had earned, and held the plastic cradle to his heavy head while his fingers punched the numbers.
"House?" Her voice was groggy, confused. It was early in the morning. She was probably hanging awkwardly off the side of her bed, wearing the ridiculously inappropriate bed clothes he knew she favored.
He didn't waste any time, offered no explanation. "Get us out of here," he demanded.
"Both of us, Cuddy. This place is a hellhole."
The decision to seal Amber's apartment hadn't been discussed. All the photographs of Amber were gone too, systematically packed away until the memory became less damaging. Wilson had agreed they weren't healthy to have out now, for either of them.
They found someplace neutral, someplace to find solid ground again. In the beginning, it was hard. There were words burned into House's mind – "Maybe next time you should" – which sometimes made him struggle out of sweat-soaked sheets and limp down the hall to check that Wilson was still breathing. They had both nearly lost something of value, and the very thought of that loss still haunted them both.
The cookout had been Wilson's idea, a farewell of sorts to the people with whom they had once worked. House wasn't interested in something so paltry, but Wilson's therapist was supportive, and so he went along with it. It had taken a lot of effort to find someone House had not only deemed competent but Wilson had also trusted.
Yet as he stared at the green grass and the milling people, he thought, 'That doesn't mean I have to like it.'
One particular voice of greeting made the feeling all the more acute: "House, there you are. I've been looking for you."
House braced himself. "Cuddy."
She was carrying a drink and offered a nervous smile. "You look good," she said weakly. "You both do."
House looked over at Wilson, greeting Chase by the tables, his thin hand extending to return a handshake with barely a hesitation. Then, as though catching his eye, Wilson turned to House and Cuddy and flashed a grin that looked as brittle as matchsticks.
House turned back to the sizzling grill, tucking in his severe frown. He knew how Wilson looked. In the weeks since they returned from Mayfield, the bruises had faded and things had gotten better, but Wilson still wasn't himself. Perversely, House had never had such strong incentive to keep Vicodin out of the house.
"We're better," he answered. For him, it meant no more hallucinations. It had meant a reality check, and a change he had vowed to upkeep. Sitting beside that bed in the Mayfield clinic, he had thought about all the times he'd made Wilson sit like that, and he'd had to stagger to a bedpan.
"You know your job is waiting for you," she said softly. "Foreman will be unhappy, but he knows it's coming."
House had known this. Wilson had known it, too. He'd said it to the counselor, who he'd told the story of what he'd done, of how easy it had been – and of how no one was holding open a department for him.
Angrily, House flipped one of the steaks, dislodging a piece of fat and sending up a plume of black smoke. Tersely, he said, "I've already told you we won't be coming back."
Cuddy's fingers flexed around the plastic cup. "You did say. But what are you going to do instead?"
The doubt in her eyes was confirmation for the hours of counseling, during which he had concluded that he could not to put himself back in an environment of people who knew and expected the worst of him. He used the tongs to avoid looking at her. "We're leaving on a road trip, soon. We have a few stops planned, but no solid destination. It's a vacation."
"And when you get back?"
"Research for me." House had found what he hoped was a job with all the technical challenge he might require, and though he sometimes doubted it would be enough – sometimes so strongly he had to physically leave the apartment to avoid the temptation to return in to the cabinet one more time – he was going to make it work.
As for Wilson, he didn't know. They'd talked about some things: long-term care, consulting, or maybe the Make a Wish Foundation, but nothing seemed right yet. It wouldn't be cancer, at least not right now.
It was time to take a break from death.
"We're moving on, Cuddy," House said definitively, and he hoped that would be enough for her to get the idea so that he wouldn't have to get ugly.
He was surprised when she smiled at him, a sad smile, but still a smile. "Okay, House. I – we just want you to know we'll be here if you need us. You still have friends in Princeton."
Maybe. Maybe someday. But for now… House laid out the last of the food onto a plate and hollered across the yard, "Hey, Wilson! Better come and see if these meet you immaculate standard!"
He caught Wilson's eye, saw him raise an eyebrow, and then watched as he said something to Chase and headed over to where House waited.
House's mother had once told him the story of a person who, having discovered a valuable pearl, sold everything he had to buy it. The moral had been that, sometimes, one precious thing could be worth everything else. At the time a young Greg had scoffed, but as he looked now at Wilson standing beside him poking dubiously at the cooked meat – fragile perhaps, like their friendship, but still alive – he did not scoff. Not anymore.
For now, there was still a foundation to build on, and neither he nor Wilson were going to take it for granted again.
Author's Note: It's interesting to look back on the series as I come to the end of this story, a piece or writing I started almost five years ago and am now finishing only after House M.D. is over. I've gone back and forth about how I feel about House eventually falling into bad habits again as Season Six ended. Part of me always raged to the heavens, why can't they all just be happy? The answer given by the writers was, of course, that it wouldn't be House, and I understand that. Still, resolution is something I always wanted for this series, and as I brought What Lurks in Man to a close, I was imaging a good future. In my mind, with the cameras no longer driving the need for continuing dramatic tension, House and Wilson finally find fulfillment and live out normal, content, dysfunctional lives and die from old age. So there. :)
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