A Life Between Us
Chapter (1/4) Winter
Rating This chapter: PG-13
SummaryWe're staring at each other, like the banks of a river and we can't get any closer but we've all the life between us.
Disclaimer I don't own these boys, David Shore is the lucky man that does.
A Life Between Us
Part One: Winter
It's been a long, cold and lonely winter for Gregory House.
He wakes, goes to work, does what he exists to do and then goes home again. He eats Chinese takeout alone, each mouthful without any taste as he stares blankly at the images moving on the television screen.
He swallows his last Vicodin pill for the day and goes to bed, alone, and dreams about the end of the bitter winter that is consuming his life.
On a day like any other, Wilson stops by his office. House can see the weariness of being burdened with an empty marriage and long working hours etched in every line upon Wilson's face. Wilson looks exactly how House feels; exhausted and lonely.
But it's easier to focus on someone else's long, dark winter than to deal with his own.
Wilson's deep, heavy sigh answers his question. House watches the way his friend absent-mindedly rolls his sleeves up and then rakes his fingers through his dark hair. "She's fine." His response is spoken flatly and without feeling.
House doesn't really care for Julie. He respects the fact that Wilson married her, but that's about it. He has no time for shallow people like her. On the surface, Wilson seems shallow, too, but House has known him enough to see that there are many layers to James Wilson. It's part of the reason why House has time for him. "You're not."
Wilson sighs again and sits back in his chair. "No," he says plainly. "I'm not."
There is a long pause; just House and Wilson looking at each other from across the desk. Sometimes, more is said in these silent moments of holding eye contact than any words that could ever be passed between them. The stillness stretches for a few more beats before Wilson speaks again: "Neither are you."
House is always secretly grateful for being understood but, at the same time, terrified of how close they really are, how well Wilson knows him. It's for this reason that House never replies to comments like this. Instead, he breaks the eye contact and looks down, a non-verbal affirmation to Wilson's remark. No, he's not alright. He's lonely and even though he's used to that, he's sick of it. Just like Wilson is used to his empty marriage but sick of the emptiness, regardless.
He hears Wilson speak again, his tone uncertain. "I'm tired, Greg. This, you know… empty… marriage. I'm… It's all… Going home to…"
The way his friend trails off causes House to glance up quickly and he sees Wilson looking down at his lap and fidgeting with his tie. He doesn't want to continue this conversation here, so he abruptly says, "There's a good film on HBO tonight. You bring the beer."
House leaves it at that and ends the discussion by pushing himself up from his seat. Wilson gets the hint and, as he stands he gives House a faint, thankful smile before he walks out of his office.
There isn't really a good film on HBO. But there is beer and a spread of Chinese takeaway across House's coffee table, and the subtle influence of a couple of consumed beers has made them feel more relaxed than they both have felt in a long time.
They are seated in separate armchairs, the top buttons on their shirts undone and sleeves rolled up as they dig into the square cardboard cartons of Chinese food with chopsticks. House and Wilson exchange casual smiles and a few small laughs between idle chitchat, the sound of the television providing comforting background noise.
When House finishes his meal, he quietly belches as he takes his cane and pushes himself up with a groan. "Great movie," he aloofly remarks, plucking his bottle of beer up from the coffee table as the credits of the film they didn't watch roll by on the television screen. "I love a film that sucks me in so much I have no recollection of what happened in it."
He takes a swig of his beer and limps towards the piano, awkwardly seating himself upon it. The lid pushed back, House sets his beer to the side and places his fingertips on the keys.
Wilson says abruptly, his tone pensive, "Julie used to care if I came home late."
House has been expecting that to be brought up at some point in the night. He doesn't like discussing relationships, because as far as he is concerned, relationships aren't meant to be understood; they just are, whether they work or not.
Staring down at the piano keys, House lightly pushes down on the E key nearest to middle C with his forefinger, the sound of the note softly ringing from inside the piano. "I always find the key words people use when discussing relationships very revealing," House comments dryly. He presses the same key again, a little harder.
"You know, this might sound odd, but… I don't really recall when she stopped giving a shit."
She never really gave a shit in the first place, James, House thinks. He says nothing, though. The bitterness in Wilson's voice makes Greg inwardly ache. He identifies with bitterness so well. It's a lonely, isolated place to be.
Softly, he begins to play the mellow tones of Schubert's Impromptu in B-flat Major, watching his thin fingers trilling from note to note. The sound is soothing and he hears the television switch off and the clatter of the remote control being tossed onto the coffee table. House plays for a little while, the gentle music filling his apartment before Wilson speaks again, tiredly.
"I hate going home."
He halts in mid-play and glances over his shoulder. Wilson is staring at his bottle, swilling the beer that is left inside it. He looks lost. He is lost. He's been lost for a long time, House thinks. House identifies with that, too. He feels that familiar ache again. Greg faces forward once more and says plainly before resuming the piece he is playing, "Then don't."
There is a pause. "Don't what?"
Even though Greg can't see him he can feel the look of surprise Wilson gives. The tone in his friend's voice confirms it for him. "But I-I… I… What if Julie--"
"Julie doesn't give a shit, Wilson. You said so yourself, many times. Look, if your pager rings in the middle of the night and it's not from work, then you know she actually does give a shit. We can add a fun spin to it and place a bet by flipping a coin if you'd like." House plays the last few chords and then drops his hand from the piano, and looks over his shoulder. "Got a quarter?"
"Taking bets. You really like scraping in low places, don't you?"
House purses his lips as he watches Wilson sigh and take another swig of his beer, polishing off the last of what was in the bottle. It's not really a suitable time to be making jokes. It would be more constructive to offer help instead. Swiveling around on his seat so he is facing Wilson, House clasps his hand around his cane and taps it on the floor quietly. "If I were the type of person who was generous enough to let people crash at my place, I'd charge a couple of hundred bucks a week for the rental of my couch, the use of my bathroom and for the consumption of the contents of my fridge. But, in your case... consider it a favour."
Wilson coughs suddenly as he swallows and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, completely taken off-guard by what House just said. "What?"
"Or you can just go home. Whichever you prefer."
"Stay here?" Wilson sounds incredulous.
"I'm just being the Fairy Godmother and granting you the offer. But, you know--" he shrugs, "--it's your call."
Wilson glances around House's apartment in silence for a moment. "You… don't mind?"
"Would I even be offering if I did?"
House pushes himself up from the seat and begins to limp towards the linen closet. "All's I got is--" He grunts as he yanks the linen closet door open, and he peers in, rifling through sheets and pillowcases; "--a couple of crappy hospital blankets that I pinched from work and my old comforter." Yanking them out, they drop to the floor and he grunts again in pain as he leans down to pick them up. Stuffing them awkwardly under his arm, he nudges the door shut with his cane and begins to walk back to Wilson. He dumps the comforter and blankets on the couch next to his friend and adds, "I haven't got a spare pillow, so I'll just lend you one of mine. You better not have nits."
For the first time in a long time, Wilson doesn't look lost. He looks relieved, as though a weight as heavy as the world's troubles has been lifted off his shoulders. He pats his hand on the bundle of blankets and says humbly, "Thanks. Thank you, Greg. I appreciate this."
House doesn't like sentimentality. It's enough for him that he's offered Wilson a place to stay. "If you do have nits, you owe me a new pillow." House smiles faintly at his friend before he turns and walks off to the bedroom to fetch the pillow.
It's been over a week. Just as expected, Julie hasn't called.
Greg is quietly playing a slow rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" when he hears the front door close. Finishing the last few bars, he looks behind him and sees Wilson standing at the entrance of the lounge room, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looks drained, his dark hair messy from, what House guesses, him raking his fingers continually through it like he always does when he is stressed.
"I talked to Julie." Wilson drops his bag to the floor with a thud and places his hands on his hips, looking down at his feet tiredly.
House shifts on the piano stool until he is facing his friend. "How'd it go?" he asks in a low voice, digging into his pocket for his Vicodin. The deep, weary sigh Wilson gives answers his question. "I see," House murmurs as he unscrews the bottle and tips a pill out onto his palm. "Not good."
He throws the pills into his mouth, pockets the Vicodin again and pushes himself up from the seat. "I bought some beer," Greg adds off-handedly. It's his way of saying that he'll listen to Wilson if he needs to talk.
Wilson, still looking down at his feet, lets out a bitter laugh and shakes his head. "She called me a bastard. Told me that all of this is my fault. Apparently, I'm the one that doesn't give a shit." Wilson looks up and House meets his dark eyes. He looks exhausted. House feels that familiar ache in him again. House watches his friend lift his hand to his head and claw his fingers through his hair. He looks defeated and helpless. "Hope you don't mind me staying a while longer," he says guiltily.
House taps the end of his cane on the floor and considers his friend for a moment. Of course he doesn't mind. He never comes out and says things like that plainly, though. His answers to such comments are typically cryptic, and Wilson knows him well enough to recognise House's intentions behind the seemingly evasive remarks he makes. "I'll order us some pizza. Supreme alright?"
Wilson gives him a small, grateful smile of relief before House turns and walks to the telephone.
A few weeks has passed.
Greg is certain he will never outwardly admit it, but it's nice having Wilson staying at his home. With all the beer they share after work, all the Chinese takeouts and ordered-in pizzas, the long talks into the nights and the baseball they watch on the television, House finds himself slowly growing closer to Wilson.
House has always been the sort of person to appreciate in silence, when no one is watching. Wilson doesn't know it, but House has come to look forward to getting up in the morning and seeing his friend sprawled messily on the couch with the blankets tangled around his legs. Sometimes House stops in his tracks on the way to the kitchen for coffee and watches Wilson sleep; the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, while listening to the faint snores he makes now and again.
It's peaceful watching Wilson sleep. It's comforting for House, knowing that for once in his life he isn't alone, that through each other's loneliness, they are keeping each other company. Even though Greg doesn't like sentimentality, he's found lately that he can't help smiling slightly at that thought.
It feels like the long, cold winter is finally coming to an end.
End part one of four