Author's Note: I wrote this story long, long ago, before we learned about House's parents in this season's "Daddy's Boy." No, House's dad didn't die of cancer. No, he never had a sister. And his mom probably wouldn't act this way. When I posted the first half of this story, I had intended to leave it there, but I gathered from some reviews that it didn't feel like a finished piece. That's probably because I'm notorious for tacky endings and I was saving you all the pain of another one. But shortly after I "finished" this story, I started writing a follow-up to it. And then I completely forgot about it. And now I'm posting it. So…apologies in advanced if you really liked this story and I've just ruined it for you by adding this section. And apologies to anyone who read the first installment and thought that it would go on, because boy, what a wait. As for the fic itself, I did some half-assed research about pain meds and kidney transplants, but anyone familiar with either of those things will probably see that I'm bluffing half the time. Kids, don't try this at home. On to the story.
Three days later, House was still refusing all visitors. Normally, James Wilson would have ignored Greg's stubbornness, but this time…well, to say that things were complicated was a gross understatement. So he did the best he could, keeping after the nurses to make sure House went undisturbed, or as undisturbed as possible for the man in question. Cuddy kept him abreast of House's progress. It wasn't good. The transplant had gone smoothly and House's body showed no signs or rejecting the new kidney, James's kidney, but House was basically going through rapid detox, and though it was a lot prettier this time around, with proper medical supervision and a safer pain management regiment than broken bones, it was rough going. Wilson hoped that was why House was insisting on being alone. Greg could belittle himself just as much as he did everyone else, but he was still a proud man. His mantra had always been "I'm fine," and the front he put up kept most people from questioning him. That week months ago when House had so publicly fallen apart had shown them both that he needed a damn good incentive to put himself through it again, and James really couldn't think of anything right now. Other than getting healthy, that is. So it was that he took to haunting Cuddy's office in his free time, which was often, now that he was on hiatus from the hospital. He was supposed to be home, resting. He supposed he wasn't the only stubborn one.
"How is he?" he asked Cuddy, gingerly settling down on her couch and placing the take-away sandwiches on the table, a bribe of sorts for putting up with him and, more importantly, for putting up with his friend.
"Much better," Cuddy smiled. "He'll be back to making us miserable in no time."
"When do you think he'll be discharged?"
"As soon as he can keep down solids," Cuddy sighed. She kept the fact that there had been some delayed graft function to herself, on House's request. He'd claimed that he didn't want Wilson feeling jilted, but she knew that he was trying to save his friend from the worry that, despite all of his efforts, House wasn't going to make it out of this one so easily.
"Still detoxing?" Wilson asked, frowning. He knew that House had cut back on the Vicodin ever since he'd diagnosed the renal failure. He shouldn't still be experiencing such extreme nausea.
"Berger doesn't thinks the new meds are working as well as we'd hoped. He's in a lot of pain. There's a chance it's just withdrawal, but Berger is still worried. The fentanyl should have taken the edge off, but it doesn't seem to have worked. He's thinking about oxycodone. We'll give it a few days. I just want to be sure we have him off the Vicodin for good before letting him go. Hopefully, if we find something that works almost as well and doesn't do as much long-term damage to his kidney or liver, that'll be enough for him."
"You know, I can think of one thing that'll make his life worth living," Wilson slowly mentioned.
"Not gonna happen," Cuddy glared.
"Lisa, I'm serious," Wilson sighed. "I know you can get someone else. Hell, Chase, Cameron and Foreman are probably bored enough to grace the clinic with their presence. Any one of them could cover Greg's time. Or I could do it."
"You said yourself that it was good for him!" Cuddy argued.
"Well I was wrong!"
"No, you were right. He needs to deal with people. Besides, you know he picks up a lot more cases from the clinic than he does from requests for consults. He's a doctor. He needs to have patients!"
"Lisa. He's…he was suicidal." Just saying it made Wilson want to scream or cry or curl up into a ball. But maybe he'd been feeling that way all week. Greg wouldn't let him in.
"I think you're exage -."
"He gave up his meds AND broke his hand just to get out of clinic for a month!"
"No, knowing that I thought he had a problem that would justify giving him a month off of clinic duty was enough to make him do it."
"He paid you two grand to get out of it for a week."
"He has plenty of money, no one to spend it on."
"I'm serious. He was going to give up."
"But he didn't."
"Only because I went and gave him a kidney! If I hadn't done that, he was going to refuse dialysis. He was going to just…die. Dialysis isn't a barrel of laughs, but he could have done it. He could have done it and carried on with things nearly the same as before, but he jumped at the chance to throw in the towel."
"Do you think he's a danger to the patients?" Cuddy asked.
"Of course not," he answered emphatically.
"Then why should he get out of clinic duty?"
"Because he hates it."
"He hates almost everything in his life," Cuddy countered.
"Yeah, so wouldn't it be nice if we could make it just a bit easier for him?" Wilson pleaded.
Lisa Cuddy stared at James for a good long minute. Years ago, she would have bent over backwards to please House, to make it a little easier for him to function, and to make it a little easier to look herself in the mirror. Both House and Wilson understood that her hands had been tied; once Stacy had requested the debridement, she couldn't refuse a treatment that she knew would save House's life. But that didn't mean she didn't feel it every time she walked into House's hospital room that first week after his surgery and overheard the terrible things said between him and Stacy. Now though, things were different. House, and everyone around him, everyone who really cared about him, had learned to live with the pain. And it wasn't enough. She and Wilson had agreed, over a year ago now, that it wasn't enough. House struggled to get through his days, to put in his time with the least amount of obvious effort, only to go home to no one. In his refusal to look weak, to look bothered at all, he mowed people down with barbs and sarcasm, hoping that he'd distract most from his cane, and those who refused not to see it, he welcomed their misguided pity, if only to reaffirm his belief that he was surrounded by idiots. So she and Wilson had agreed; House needed to be exposed to more people. Someone was bound to be a pleasant surprise. Someone was bound to get in. And, at worst, House would see that this career was not what he really wanted anymore, and then he'd go find something that wasn't such a struggle. Something more than a way to kill time. The clinic had seemed ideal. It gave him something to do, even if a large percentage of that something was fighting Cuddy over clinic duty. No one would accuse House of being happy, but at least he hadn't looked bored. But now she supposed that that wasn't enough either.
"Do you really think it'll make a difference?" Cuddy asked, but Wilson could tell he'd won.
"I really don't know."
"I'll give him an indefinite leave from the clinic, but he's got to start taking on more cases or he'll be back there before you can say 'differential diagnosis'."
"I said no visitors," House groaned, hearing the door to his room slide open. He knew Cuddy and company were eager to get him out, but even they were above sending in a nurse every ten minutes. Besides that, no one on this floor's staff wore heels.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?"
Claudia House was…normal. She was a mother, a normal mother. She'd tell anyone that, if they'd ask. And they did. Anyone who knew her son, and then had the chance to spend some time with her, inevitably asked. Sometimes, it was, "Greg must have been an…unusual child." Which meant, "He must have had an unusual childhood." Which meant that whatever Greg House was, it was all her fault. But she'd be the first to say that she was just a normal mother.
"How are you feeling?" See, perfectly normal.
"I'm fine," House sighed.
"You had a transplant."
"Yes. Yeah, I would have called."
"Thank God for your staff. I'd have died thinking you had both kidneys. My face would be so red."
Greg couldn't help but smile at that.
"I might have the other one somewhere around here…in a jar. I'm thinking of putting it on my mantle."
"Don't be juvenile, Gregory," Claudia huffed, pulling up a chair to his bedside. "I'm surprised at James. I haven't heard from him."
"Who called you?"
"You sound surprised."
"No. Surprised would have been, 'Really!' I was going for more of an amused but not really amused tone."
"Long story," Greg muttered. "You've just ruined a hard-earned reputation, is all."
"Where is James?"
"I always knew you liked him better." The banter was keeping his mind off the constant pain in his leg, off the churning in his stomach and the cold sweat and the torture of inhalation. "You'll be glad to know that we've taken our relationship to the next level."
Claudia House did not look amused.
"He gave me his kidney. So if he hasn't called you yet, it's probably that pesky post-operative pain. I wouldn't let him get away with it, though. You should really give him a talking to."
"I will," she answered, and then she left.
"Mrs. House," James smiled in greeting as he looked up from the paper work on his desk. He'd meant to go home after speaking with Cuddy, but he knew that Greg was due for some PT in an hour and he was hoping that, if he happened to be in the hall when his friend walked by, House might speak to him. Or at least nod, or ogle his nurse, or something to show that that whole emotional pre-op scene wasn't some figment of his imagination.
"James," Claudia answered warmly, waving off Wilson's attempt to stand and leaning over to give him a faux-kiss on the cheek. "You look pale."
"I'm fine," he answered.
"I'd have thought some of your personality would have rubbed off on him, not the reverse," Claudia answered, pursing her lips.
"Honestly, I am fine," James grinned. "A bit tender in places, but well on my way to recovery. Did you just get into town?"
"Last night," she answered. "I stayed at Gregory's. There are some things I'd like to speak to you about." Claudia House was never the type to beat around the bush.
"I don't appreciate being kept in the dark, James," she began sharply.
"I don't approve of the amount of bottles I found scattered about Gregory's home."
Wilson wasn't sure if she meant pill bottles or scotch bottles or beer bottles. He said nothing.
"No, ma'am. Neither do I."
"He'll be alright."
"I feel as though you are letting him get away with something here, James."
"You know what I'm saying. Now, I think I'm going to go back to New Haven. Please see that Gregory calls me when he's feeling better."
And then she was gone.
An hour later, James Wilson was leaning against the nurses' station, gossiping with Chloe, the new-ish girl. She was talking about some second year resident and Rebecca the night nurse, but James was thinking about Mrs. House. He thought about those Vicodin bottles, with his name on the label as prescribing doctor. He thought about late nights in front of the T.V. with House and Chinese food and beer. He thought about years of being Greg House's best friend. Maybe he was letting Greg get away with something. But he had the uncomfortable idea that Claudia had meant none of those things. As he watched Chloe's face, animated and friendly and beautiful, he had the uncomfortable and painful idea that Claudia House had meant to say, "He got himself into this mess; he should get himself out." It was something Julie had also meant to say. What she actually said was, "Nobody will thank you for this."
"I need some damn pants."
James turned around and saw Greg slowly making his way down the hall. He saw Greg's leg, his strong calves but uneven stance, his slow-shriveling thigh. He saw Greg's smirk. He saw his friend.
"You need more sun."
"I take it you saw mommy dearest?" House panted. Being in bed for the better part of three days had knocked him back what felt like years.
"Yes. She says I'm a bad influence on you."
House just gave him the what-the-hell look.
"Don't worry. She also says you're a bad influence on me."
"That's more like it. Is she gone?"
"That was a nice reunion. Short and sweet and coming in at under 5 minutes. My favorite kind of social interaction."
"Now I know why you're such a hit with the ladies."
"With wonder boy's kidney in me, the ladies better watch out. I'm five percent new man. That'll cover the pick up and the morning after, and everything in between I'm a pro at."
"Or you hire a pro for."
"Nice. Don't look now, but I think it's working already. New Girl is checking out my ass."
"Are we going to keep talking like nothing's happened?"
House's grip on his cane, and on his IV pole, tightened.
"Well, now we can't," he whined.
"Seriously, Greg," James sighed. He didn't know why he felt the need to push House, but it had felt like something important had started in his hospital room the other day and it hadn't…finished.
"Lift up your shirt."
"Excuse me!" James hissed, acutely aware that New Girl was listening, and probably taking notes.
"I wanna see the scars," House explained impatiently. "Don't worry; your virtue is safe. Couldn't possibly take advantage of you in the hallway. Plus, it would be a bit incestuous, sharing a kidney and all."
"I think you mean narcissistic," James answered, hand hesitating at the hem of his shirt. He already felt naked without his tie. Being even less formal was something he considered exhibitionist, at least inside PPTH.
"I didn't want to label you."
James placed himself between House and the nurses' station and, once certain that they couldn't see, lifted the bottom of his shirt to reveal the five small incisions from the laparoscopic nephrectomy. As far as organ removal went, even James had to admit it was almost noninvasive.
"Amateur league," House observed, but James could tell that his friend was bothered by it. He didn't look curious, or amused, or trapped, or annoyed. Wilson knew those faces. Greg looked…cowed.
"One more day and I can get rid of the catheter," Wilson said, before inwardly wincing. How the hell was that a comfort?
"Too much information," House joked, but he was obviously ready to bail out of this conversation.
"You should probably get back to your room."
"You're not my mother," House sneered, but he let James follow him closely as he slowly turned around to head back down the hall.
"Thank god for that," James answered.
James was finally allowed into Greg's room two days later, when House was ready to check out. The small overnight bag that Wilson had packed for him and asked Cuddy to smuggle in was on the bed, and House was haphazardly filling it with journals and toys. Wilson noticed that the few cards people had sent were still on the bedside table, unopened. He wasn't surprised.
"You my ride home?" House asked, tired of waiting for Wilson to say something.
"Your car's still in the garage. I came to give you these," Wilson explained, shaking a bottle of pills before tossing it to House. He didn't trust anyone else with this job. "I thought you'd tried oxycodone before."
"I did," House answered, frowning. Vicodin was so much sexier. Not to mention effective.
"Well?" Wilson prompted. He knew House had tried, many times, to find an alternative to vicodin in the two years immediately after the infarction. Nothing ever took. Either they didn't help with the pain, or they helped a bit too much, making him lose focus and balance, making him lose himself. The vicodin wasn't perfect, and it didn't even take away all of the pain, but it dulled it just enough to let Greg get through the day. So Wilson knew that there had to be a tradeoff, this time.
"My leg loves the stuff," House answered. "Unfortunately, my tummy doesn't. I'm one of the lucky few to experience chronic nausea."
"Well, we'll work on finding something better," Wilson offered lamely.
"There isn't anything better," House sighed. "Not for me." The only alternative was a morphine shunt, and he knew there was a limit to Cuddy's, and the medical board's, leniency. Looking up, House saw the worried frown on Wilson's face. He hated that face. He hated feeling sorry for anything. "Don't get your knickers in a twist. Metaclopramide will help with the nausea."
"I want you to take a look at that bottle. Two pills a day, House," Wilson warned.
"I can read, thanks," House sneered.
"I'm just saying. No more popping pills in front of patients just to prove a point."
"Wow. Check out Mr. Alliteration. Try saying that three times fast."
"I'm being serious, here."
"Well, let me take a moment to be equally serious. Have you seen the list of meds I'm on? Zenepax, cyclosporine, corticosteroids, pain meds, meds to help me stomach the pain meds, et cetera, et cetera. More than enough pills to pop in front of patients just to prove a point, prince of the pocket-protector."
"You won't be on all of those pills forever."
House pretended not to notice the Mercedes following him home. True, he made a lot more pit stops on the way. The grocery store, where he donned his sunglasses as armor against the bright glare of white tile and bought comfort food and toilet paper. The liquor store, where he bought a few cigars and an obscene amount of booze, just to tease his audience. The gas station, where he bought gas and snowballs. The video store, where he rented Tomb Raider and the first season of The O.C. O'Shea's Pub, where he bought a Coke and took one of the many pills stuffed in his pocket. Finally, he decided he'd toyed with Wilson enough and just went home. The stumble as he exited his car wasn't faked, nor was the grimace as he navigated the front steps. He wished he could just turn around, walk down the block, knock on Wilson's window and tell the bastard to just come inside. But he couldn't make the walk and, more importantly, he couldn't make the gesture, so he settled for peering out the window until he saw his friend drive by and away.
Turning around, his stomach tightened at the sight of seventeen empty bottles, lined up neatly on his coffee table. Scotch. Gin. Vodka. Vicodin. All in order of size, little ducks in a row. Of course there was a note taped to the Macallan. "There's soup in the freezer – Mom."
"Sentimental bitch," House grinned, but there was no point to hiding the…what was it? Embarrassment? Shame? He never bothered to hide the fact that he took Vicodin and that he liked to drink. It made no sense to pretend to be someone else for her when he so rarely saw her. Still, he knew how her mind worked and he could just picture the beleaguered and resentful expression on her face as she picked up all of the bottles in his house as her soup of the week boiled away in his under-stocked kitchen, penned that condescending note, gave Wilson a talking to and returned home with tales of "my son the drug-addict" under her belt. And people asked him why he didn't want a family. Actually, no one asked him that. He assumed the answer was written on his face.
It was early in the afternoon but he was already tired and hoped that it was just the jump back into physical activity, and not the drugs, that was wearing him out. After putting away the groceries, and checking that there indeed was soup in the freezer, he limped into his second bedroom. When he'd bought the place, a few months after Stacy had left him, he had planned on turning the room into a study, but ultimately he'd decided that he liked coming home to stacks of books and medical journals littering the living room floor. So in a fit of boredom and curiosity, he'd spent a night shopping online and the next week was the proud owner of the world's cheesiest waterbed. James had laughed and said some lightly offensive things, but even he had to admit that the eyesore was comfortable, and on nights when his leg refused to obey the pain meds, House would plop onto the waterbed and cover himself in goose down. If things went well, it was almost worth the pain of getting himself out of the bed in the morning.
Five hours later, House was sitting in front of the T.V. eating his mom's Chicken Florentine soup. He'd been surprised and a bit disconcerted when he'd noticed that he'd slept through two phone calls, but at this point his was glad he'd missed them. One hang up that was probably Wilson, and one long rambling rewording of "Are you ok?" that was definitely Wilson. House tried to consider it as payback for that huge bottle of The Famous Grouse he'd flaunted in the parking lot of ABC Liquor, but that didn't keep him from wondering what the hell to do about his best friend. He hated owing people. He was stuck working at the Clinic because he owed Cuddy. He was stuck dealing with Mark fucking Warner because he owed Stacy. He was stuck being a doctor because he owed his father and sister. He doubted James would be satisfied with the surrender of Vicodin, though he knew he'd never ask for payment. How do you repay something like this?
Sighing, House hit the play button on his answering machine again.
"I think Julie's trying to poison me with Campbell's Chicken and Stars. I'm getting psychosomatic symptoms for Chicken Pox. Or…Herpes. I've been watching Reading Rainbow for the past twenty minutes. I need sitting-on-my-ass-watching-daytime-tv lessons from you. Or something."
James Wilson had never been good at entertaining himself, which was one of the reasons he was always in love with several women at a time. It was the least Greg could do, calling him back.
"I've got Tomb Raider on the TV and homemade soup thawing in the fridge. I'll share Angelina's boobs if you keep your Herpes to yourself," he offered, hanging up the phone before the person on the other end could even say hello. He figured that, if it was Julie, she would pass the message along.