He'd been playing some rendition of something. It was a rare occasion when House meandered over to the piano while Wilson was at the apartment. Usually, he waited until the young doctor had gone out to retrieve groceries or worked late, or was sleeping so soundly that House could lightly compose something without disturbing him, or drawing unwanted attention to himself.
Wilson was never quite sure why.
It had been a painfully long day at the hospital. Wilson was foggy on the details as to what had happened among the ducklings, but dissention towards House appeared inevitable. From Foreman, conflict was appreciated; from Chase, though, it was haughty, and Cameron was annoyingly willing to go along with the majority. There had been such a distressing rift, apparently, that House hadn't even bothered to meet Wilson for lunch.
He'd come back to the apartment late, too. After wordlessly heating up the leftovers Wilson threw together earlier that evening, he retreated to his room, stuffed green pepper on his plate and whiskey bottle in hand. Wilson thought of making some humorous comparison to a moping teenager, but House never poked his head out again. Something was obviously off kilter, but whatever it was, House didn't want to let Wilson in on it.
The couch had become just as comfortable as his old bed, and Wilson drifted off to sleep around twelve. A tingling sensation slipped through to his consciousness hours later. He realized it wasn't a physical interruption-it was a musical one.
Straining to hear, he could catch the piano notes floating out from House's bedroom. He lied still on the couch and, despite it being three o'clock in the morning, listened appreciatively. The piano sounded too sensitive and ethereal to be coming from the tall, gruff doctor who had somehow, someway, become his best friend.
House had told him specifically that he didn't like him hovering over his shoulder while he played. He claimed Wilson ruined the ambiance if he could hear the oncologist shifting from foot to foot, hands in pockets, trying to decipher the notes that ran frantically over the treble and bass clef lines.
Opportunity to listen in came few and far between. Wilson rubbed his reddened eyes, sitting up on the couch, and listened reservedly from a distance.
Notes unwound themselves, pained in instances, then stretching out, relieving themselves of pent-up fatigue and guilt in their melodies. A burst of revelation and freedom kicked up at the end. Wilson felt the surprise coursing through him, moved by the harmonious rapture of the instrument. The sound was so uncharacteristic of House.
Heavy and cramped with sleep but tired of merely musing on the couch, Wilson quietly crept toward the bedroom and stood furtively in the doorway. From behind, House seemed distant and unflawed. Half of the stuffed pepper was deserted on a plate, where it set on a desktop scattered with patients' medical charts and open, half-read books. A ubiquitous container of Vicodin and the bottle of whiskey were setting on top of the piano, both running suspiciously low.
Only the cane propped on the side of the bench hinted of his limitations. Some days, Wilson was grateful House carried that limp. It was like the thorn in his side. Without it, he just might have been untouchable. House might not have had a need for him.
Yes. The cane humanized him. Even more conveniently, it gave him the perfect excuse to be miserable, to keep happiness at an arm's distance.
At a cane's distance.
He hated pity, though Wilson never gave him any. The younger man offered empathy instead, which House despised more.
The final flurry of notes faded, replaced by the brittle rattle of Vicodin pills. Wilson listened to the ensuing silence, searching for the faintest piece of piano music that might still cling to the air. The entire apartment had been overflowing before. No wonder House had that piano. It filled the emptiness, even for a moment.
"What, no applause?"
Wilson startled. "How did you...?"
"You haven't been snoring for the past hour. Either it's a miracle or you haven't been asleep." House, still not turning to face him, gave a brusque nod of his head. "You might as well come in, unless you'd rather stand there."
House never failed to surprise him. Wilson supposed he should have expected that by now. He'd witnessed enough of his clever medical deductions-derived from nothing more than a few casual observations-to whittle off the amazement factor.
But sometimes, he figured, the longer you know someone, the more you realize you never really do know them.
Still, a part of him was convinced that House-despite all the pretext, all the flaunting, all the arrogance-was ridiculously easy to figure out. But that was one puzzle he'd yet to crack.
Sighing, draining the drowsiness from his body, Wilson pulled up a chair at a desk across from the bed and diagonal from his friend. House glanced over the piano keys for a moment, then turned his body a bit on the bench to meet Wilson's eyes.
"I'm still waiting for that applause."
"Encore, encore," Wilson replied with a frivolous wave of his hand. "Humility is so overrated."
"So is sleep, apparently." House glanced over Wilson's face, noting the deep umbrage that hung below his russet eyes. "If you're trying to look like a bruised prize-fighter, my compliments."
Wilson gave a short laugh. "Thanks. I figure the key is to look desperate when I go house-hunting this week."
"You're moving out, then."
"If my phone calls aren't erased, yes. I think I'll just give out my cell number this time." He broke off, considering. "Well, I guess that was stupid to tell you. Should I expect to find my phone floating in the toilet by morning now?"
"Oh, ye of little faith," House lamented as he stretched stiffly. Wilson noted his white t-shirt and sweatpants were unwrinkled, a clear sign that he hadn't been sleeping much, either. After a sip of whiskey, he rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, rearranging the pile of sheet music with the other.
"You're good." Wilson watched his expression carefully. "I wouldn't have thought that."
"What? The piano?"
"Yes. I guess I just thought it was some vain decoration to throw in your apartment."
"And all those trophies in your office... Little League baseball stuff, am I right? On the losing team, but hey, give the kids some prize for trying."
"Hah-hah. You're even funnier in the morning." Wilson wracked his brain to remember House having mentioned when he'd ever made time to study music, but couldn't recall. "So is this your back-up plan? If another Vogler ever shows up and sacks you, you'll fall back on a musical career?"
"Please. Let's not invoke the Name of Evil in this apartment."
Wilson grinned. "Sorry. But you obviously took time enough to learn piano, so it had to be worth something."
"It was either this or flamenco."
Wilson laughed, his nose crinkling boyishly and eyes creasing with light-hearted crows' feet. Sometimes, House forgot just how young he really was. It made him wonder if he himself had really ever been like that, too. That damn bum leg seemed like an infinitely present curse he'd had to drag around all throughout his life.
"So your secret dream is to play professionally?" Wilson prompted conspiratorially. "I'll never tell."
"But how I miss flamenco!"
Wilson smiled, but a calm composure had settled on him now. "Seriously, House. Did you ever consider...? I mean, if you weren't a doctor, what would you be?"
The oncologist brushed off the comment. "You're already multitasking with that. I mean professionally. What would you do"
House paused for an instant, counseling the ceiling. "I suppose I would turn to my Three Step Plan."
"Step One: Win the lottery. Step Two: Spend the tax-reduced sum with complete disregard for everything except my personal happiness. Step Three: Repeat."
He could be so annoyingly wry at times. "Funny. I would've thought you'd at least corner the Vicodin market"
"We can always bump that up to a Four Stepper." House grinned, the whiskey evidently loosening his spirits. "And you, Dr. James Wilson? What was your big dream squashed under medical school?"
Wilson mentally flipped back through the years. Well, disregarding that one childhood obsession of wanting to be a Secret Service Agent/Stunt Double/Paper Boy, his list of dreams had been almost blandly short.
"...I think I've always wanted to be a doctor."
"Borrrrring." House looked him over with a half-hidden smirk. "I see you on Broadway. Big, righteous, dramatic monologues under the stage lights. Oncology Boy. It would be like Cats only ten-times better."
Wilson raised his eyebrows, amused. "You've never even seen Cats. And I don't know how either of those relate."
"Hmm, let's see. Cats have nine lives, and with your brilliant medical diagnoses, you'd give people another chance at their pathetic human existence."
"I'm sure that makes sense on whatever delusional plane you're on."
"It makes perfect sense."
"All right," Wilson grinned, drawing himself up from his chair. He hastily snatched away the near-empty whiskey bottle, which sat next to the pills like an old friend. He waved it out to the side, just beyond House's grasp. "No more drinking for you."
Setting the bottle safely to the floor, Wilson took a seat beside the other man on the piano bench. Awkwardly, he picked out the only song he knew how to play on the keys: Hot Cross Buns.
"Your talent astounds me, Jimmy."
Wilson glanced up at the personal name. The whiskey really must have gone to his head. He smiled and gestured to the keys, feeling more confident in his attempts to coax further piano playing from his friend. "Well, if I'm the star of Oncology Boy, you're going to be composing the musical arrangement."
"Of course. Something toe-tapping." House's fingers leisurely trailed across the ivory, as simply as one might shuffle a deck of cards, or set a table, or an artist might sketch a face. An astonishing smidgen of grace and sensitivity seemed to spark from his fingertips as they persuaded melody from the piano keys. Wilson let himself drown in the sweetly unexpected concord. It picked up to a rapid dance of carnival music, then grew dramatic, quiet, and finished upbeat again. It took all of fifteen seconds, but Wilson wanted to store the memory under lock and key.
House looked up with sardonic panache. "What do you think? It says, 'Yes, I have cancer-but God, look at me dance"
Bursting out laughing, Wilson shook his head. If it hadn't been for all the manipulative side-digs House inflicted on everyone, he might just be likable.
But of course, that was the last thing he wanted. Misery loves company, yes, but House just loved the company of misery itself.
"Well, you look somber all of a sudden," House interrupted, sending Wilson's thoughts askew. "What, did you just realize we only have two hours until work? That does put a damper on everything, doesn't it?"
Wilson blinked, caught up in the sharp blue irises that stared inquisitively at him. If he could just figure him out.
House looked away, shoving the music sheets to the side as he reached for the Vicodin one last time. In between popping pills, he muttered, "I'm going to try to sleep. You should too. There're some patients I want you to look at tomorrow, and I'd appreciate it if you weren't falling asleep on the job. Cuddy only has time to humor me."
"Pass the whiskey."
"I thought you were going to bed."
"Well, a glass of water beforehand makes me want to pee, and warm milk makes me puke. You aren't going to leave me thirsty, are you?"
Wilson didn't move. "It's nearly finished."
"Well, then, let me officially empty it."
When it became apparent Wilson wasn't budging, House leaned over him, reaching for the bottle. Wilson caught his breath at the contact, shirts rustling together, limbs stretching over limbs.
The whiskey was still too far away. House sat up, disgusted, leaving Wilson alone in his space again. He glared at the younger man. "Help a cripple, would you."
Wilson fought to clear his throat. "I am. No more drinking for tonight. And-" he glanced at the other precarious bottle still in front of House "-let's lay off of these drugs of choice, all right."
As Wilson gathered himself to his feet, House's expression faded from defensive to reflective. He spoke, eyes scanning the sheet music, as if he were reading from the clefs. "All geniuses had their drug of choice. It opened the door to their brilliance"
"And 'Dr. Greg House,' another name to add to the list." Wilson reached down and rescued the whiskey bottle before moving toward the hallway again.
"I'm in great company. Look at Nostradamus. There's a guy who smoked opium, and look at all the fun stuff he predicted. Too bad the aliens never came in '99."
Only House could take a drugged-out mystic and turn him into a saint. Wilson stood in the doorway, unable to place his hesitancy to leave. He was tired; his body ached for the couch. Work would be hell tomorrow if he didn't catch even the lightest of sleep. Still, though.
Wilson sighed at the image of House retrieving his cane. Even those three steps to the bed were perilous without its support. He still clenched the pills in his spare hand. There was no changing him.
"So... drug of choice. Yours is Vicodin, I presume?"
"Nope." House hid a grimace as he turned to look at Wilson. "I've developed a tolerance for these fancy little pills. A drug has to have a bit of an edge for it to work."
Wilson paused, puzzled, wondering if he should be concerned about what other stimulants House was taking. "So... What's your drug of choice, then?"
House shrugged offhandedly, the word sounding light and unimportant. "You."
The bedroom lamp clicked off before Wilson had even left. Numb, feeling as if he'd just missed something incredibly profound, he stumbled tiredly back to House's couch.
He stared at the apartment ceiling but didn't sleep. By morning, the rest of the whiskey was gone.