Wrote this ages ago and found it the other day when cleaning out my USB drive. Contains hinted-at slash and not much language at all.
Many thanks to earthdrago for beta-reading this and helping me get over the 'dear god this sucks' stage. I most likely wouldn't have posted it if not for her encouragement.
The truth begins in lies.
He'd said that once. A casual, throwaway line. Now, it returned to his mind as the steadily darkening sky leeched the light from his office. It was a quarter to six. House was at his desk, regarding a document he'd been staring at for the last ten minutes.
If the truth began in lies, where did rumors start? There were always rumors, had been since he'd started at the hospital, would be after he'd left. This doctor was going out with that doctor, this nurse was having an affair, that intern was really a Mafia drug lord... a particular oncologist was in love with a particular diagnostician...
House and Wilson had always laughed at the rumors; they'd been something of a standing joke between the friends. Ridiculous, absurd ideas, but nonetheless fun to toy with, deliberately allow conversations to be overheard that could have the corridors buzzing. Jokes. Mind games. Nothing more.
House wasn't sure now.
Oh, it hadn't been anything dramatic, no sudden revelations, no blinding flash of truth that left him reeling. Wilson was far too subtle for that. Just – just a look, some casual comment that had caught in the fine mesh of House's mind, something that could have meant a million things but seemed to mean just one.
Sometimes having his ear for tiny discrepancies could be tiresome.
And so, House was sitting in his office, long past the time he would usually have gone home, staring at some chart or another. A sardonic smirk touched the edge of his mouth, almost invisible in the half light of the office. Funny, that this was the exact sort of thing he'd want to talk to Wilson about. But he couldn't talk to Wilson about Wilson.
Time dragged on. Unconsciously, with the ease borne of practice, House tossed a Vicodin in the air, caught it in his mouth, chewed it reflectively while the daylight continued to trickle from the room.
"Didn't you take them an hour ago?"
House flinched, hoped that it hadn't been noticed in the semi-darkness because that would mean the rumors had won, then glanced up at the doorway where Wilson was standing. He stretched, waiting for his neck to click, before rubbing his forehead and looking up crossly.
"How long have you been standing there?"
"A while. Very unlike you to be so lost in something so closely resembling work."
"Thought I'd give it a try. Who knows, I might even like it. That's what my mother used to say about vegetables, anyway."
"You've been avoiding me all day," Wilson said bluntly, taking the few steps into the office to stand a few paces from House's desk.
"I have not." That was weak, for him.
"I saw you limp in the opposite direction when you spotted me this afternoon." He really was annoyed then, using the L-word without the charismatic wince afterwards. Yes, House had been avoiding him, but he wasn't about to admit it because that would mean the rumors had won.
"Cuddy was behind you."
He got abruptly to his feet, seizing the ever-present cane for support, turned icy eyes on his friend. He was annoyed, annoyed with rumors for making him paranoid, annoyed with Wilson for challenging him, annoyed with himself for over-reacting to nothing. Just rumors and lies, and a look that could have meant anything. Really, House, get a grip. He turned to snarkiness, his old friend.
"Maybe I've been avoiding you because I don't want to be deluged with the morose ramblings of the recently divorced. Again."
Wilson visibly flinched. House turned away, affecting concern in the papers spread over his desk to avoid seeing the hurt look in Wilson's eyes. He just wanted him to go away, wanted the world to go away, wanted rumors and ridiculous ideas to go away.
"You're a real bastard sometimes, House."
He'd heard that one before. Wilson's voice was level, his shoulders back, hurt and defiance in his eyes. House straightened, turned to face him. Two shadows, silhouetted against a darkened window. There was a waver in Wilson's voice, something brittle in his expression that threatened tears. Damnit. House relented, shoulders slumped as he scrubbed wearily at his forehead with the back of his arm.
"It's been a long day." It was as close to an apology as Wilson was going to get. The oncologist nodded, once, sighed and rubbed his neck. "How is all that legal... stuff going?"
"No, Wilson, the other legal stuff." A smile danced faintly in Wilson's eyes at that.
"It's – as alright as it can be, all things considered."
Silence fell. House got the distinct impression that something was going on – there was a wary look in Wilson's eyes, an expression not unlike the one that had sparked his previous reflections. House wished very much that people would just come out and say whatever it was they were thinking without all this ridiculous double-meaning talk and significant looks. He was sick of reading people. He had to do it all day, it was his job. That didn't mean he enjoyed it.
And abruptly, Wilson's eyes were swimming with tears, and House was tempted to swear. He'd been through this, the last two divorces, lent a gruff ear and done what little he could to help. And he hated it, and he hated himself for hating it because Wilson so obviously needed him to do something other than stand there, watching him break down from the inside out.
"Third time lucky, I thought. I thought wrong," Wilson said quietly, a bitter edge in his voice House had only heard a few times before. Without quite realizing what he was doing, only that he needed to do something other than stand here, House stepped forward again and gingerly, awkwardly, pulled Wilson into a stiff hug, half leaning on the man because he'd left his cane leaning against the side of his desk. He felt as if he should make some comment about not being much of a hugging person, couldn't quite get the words aligned right.
Wilson stiffened. House didn't release him, and after a moment the oncologist slumped forward, burying his forehead in House's shoulder, allowing himself to be gathered in, almost childlike. Without thinking, House lifted a hand, stroked Wilson's tousled hair.
They stayed like that until the last of the light was gone from the room, until the only illumination was the dull fluorescent glow of the corridor lights creeping in between the drawn blinds. It was surreal, holding his friend while the rain drummed against the window. Wilson was warm against his chest, which made him more aware about the coldness of the office. And aware of something else, something deeper, something on the edges of his mind, like the thing you see on the cusp of vision that's gone as soon as you turn to look at it.
And abruptly, the oncologist stiffened, pulled away. House let his arms drop, found himself the subject of an intense look.
"What?" he said, suddenly self-conscious.
"You hugged me." The incredulous look in Wilson's eyes was almost amusing.
"You looked like you needed a hug," House said, as if he hugged people every day, very glad the dark office disguised the slightly unnerved expression on his face.
"In the time I've known you I've never seen you hug anyone. Ever."
"My calendar said to try something new today."
Wilson continued to stare at him. House was aware of how close the other was still standing, the few inches that separated their faces. Their lips. He could tell Wilson had realized that, too, a subtle shifting in those dark eyes. There was the distinct sensation of leaning over a point of no return, a crossroad. Surreally, the idea of saving the game in case he messed up swam into House's mind.
But neither stepped back, neither relented. Again, House felt he was missing a good sixty percent of what was going on here, knew only that if he said something wrong, if he trod somewhere he shouldn't, that the moment would break. Then he'd be left in even more of a frustrated fury of not knowing what the hell was going on, know only that it had something to do with whatever it was he couldn't quite grasp that was dancing in his mind like the fading memory of a dream you knew was important but couldn't remember why.
"How do you see this ending?"
House's voice was soft, low, almost whispered in the silence of the office. Wilson's eyes flickered, a resigned, ironic expression in his eyes.
"You'll remember you're meant to be an uncaring bastard, and... and I'll go home, I suppose."
He said it quietly, without malice, almost without emotion. House held his gaze.
"And how do you want it to end?"
The inexplicable tension in the room could have been cut with a knife. House could see a battle raging behind Wilson's eyes. And he saw, for the briefest of seconds, something that made his heart stop.
Bloody rumors. How the hell had they seen what even he couldn't?
It was panic, pure and simple, that took over then, shut down the part of his mind that would very much have liked to hug Wilson again for entirely different reasons another part of his mind was resisting viciously.
There was something resembling an apology in his eyes as he turned abruptly away, made his way to his desk, fiddled with some paper. For the second time in so many minutes, he hated himself. There was a sad smile in Wilson's eyes that went unseen as the oncologist turned for the door.
"See you tomorrow, House."
And he was gone.
And nothing was resolved.
And he was left more confused than he had been in the beginning.
House didn't see him stop halfway down the corridor, turn back towards his office door with a wistful look in his eyes. Likewise, Wilson didn't see House later, slumped over the wheel of his Corvette with his face in his hands.
The world returned to normal the next day. If House was a little crankier than usual, it was only because of a night spent caressing the keys of the piano and staring into the middle distance, and if Wilson was a little absent-minded, it was only because he'd done much the same, lain awake in an empty bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out what that spark in House's eye had been before the ice wall had come back up and quietly, softly smiling at the fact that he'd predicted all this before it even happened.
Life ground on.
The truth begins in lies. And for now, the truth would stay there.