A/N: This is totally out of the blue. It just came to me. I've been working on it gradually all day. Hmm.
No slash intended, as always. Please read and review. Thanks.
Listen to Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2, 'A Therese' by Brahms.
Six months after Wilson moved into House's apartment and moved out for 2 months before moving back in again, the two doctors encountered a new development in their friendship. Wilson discovered House's quiet side, to the extent that he could probe it. He had always known House had a quiet side, had even sometimes snatched a glimpse of it. It was the House that met his angry and disappointed outburst the day he had almost lost his job. The sarcasm and apathy melted away, suddenly revealing a man who wore his heart in those blue eyes and the startling humanity that accompanied it – the fear of failure and rejection, the need, the insecurity.
Wilson was washed into this part of House when he fell ill for the first time since they made their cohabitation arrangement permanent. It hadn't been often that the oncologist had gotten sick, and when he had, he would spend what little time he was willing to take off work at home and out of House's sight, a minor burden to whatever wife he had been with at the time. Now, however, House would be confronted with this new phenomenon – Wilson unwell.
It had started with the sniffles, a sneeze, and a runny nose. The following morning, he drifted awake and found himself in a state of true discomfort. His body felt heavy and ached, he had sinus pressure, he was hot and weak and lightheaded. He felt too ill to get up off the couch, and it wasn't until House limped out from his bedroom that he bothered speaking.
"You're still asleep? I thought I was the late-sleeper," House said, stopped halfway to the kitchen.
Wilson swallowed, eyes closed. "I think I'm sick."
House cocked his head. "Sick?" He limped over and took a good look at his friend. "You do look slightly shitty, but maybe that's because you haven't preened yet."
"I'm – serious," Wilson said, breathing heavily, which House caught on to. The elder man bent down a little and laid the back of his hand against Wilson's brow.
"You're feverish." Wilson didn't answer, and House didn't wait. He turned and hobbled away, retrieving a thermometer from the bathroom and clicking it on.
"Here." He slipped it into Wilson's mouth and waited for it to beep. "102.5. And we can round that up to 103."
Wilson only lifted his eyebrows a little, breathing audibly. House shifted, staring seriously at his friend. After a moment, he made his way into the kitchen, and Wilson vaguely heard him move around and make noise, before returning.
"Take this," House said. Wilson opened his eyes to pills in House's hand. He pushed himself up against his pillow and the sofa arm and took them, along with the glass of water House offered next. "Advil." Wilson drank the whole glass of water, knowing House would otherwise prompt him to do so, and handed back the glass. He sunk back down on the couch, still under House's light scrutiny.
Wilson was on the verge of sleep soon afterward and did not notice, despite the distant sounds, that House put off showering and dressing until he was done stocking up the coffee table with bottled water, Gatorade, Kleenex, the Advil, the cordless phone, and the TV remote. Once he finished, he returned to the kitchen and was virtually silent for a while, as Wilson floated in that strange light sleep where he was still able to hear slightly. At some point, House shook him awake carefully and murmured something about soup on the stove and crackers on the table.
"I'll be back early," House reassured. "You're the perfect excuse for escaping clinic duty."
Wilson was too far gone to look up and see House's reluctant face, and he didn't hear the door's deliberately small click shut.
When House returned later that afternoon, unusually flustered due to his unanswered phone calls, he found the pot of soup untouched and only half a water bottle consumed. He cursed. Wilson slept deeply, flushed in the face and almost wheezing. House almost threw his helmet on the kitchen counter but caught himself and set it down instead, not wanting to wake Wilson so harshly. He hobbled over to his friend again, noticing the few wads of Kleenex left on the table.
"Wilson," he whispered, shaking the other man's shoulder. Wilson rolled onto his back and slowly came to. "Did you take anymore Advil?"
"Yeah – a while ago."
"I assume that's why you drank any water at all," House said irately.
"I've been sleeping."
House picked up the thermometer again, wiping it with a tissue before giving it to Wilson. 102.8. He frowned. Wilson suddenly winced.
"God. My head."
"Does it hurt?" House asked. Wilson nodded, shifting his legs. House grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and shook out two more Advil. "Here – and drink all of that, too."
Wilson obliged, too tired to argue and barely awake. House leaned on his cane and watched, taking back the empty bottle once Wilson finished. The oncologist slowly rose from the couch, saying he needed to use the bathroom, and House followed closely, in case his friend stumbled. He waited outside the door and followed Wilson back to the couch, asking if the other man wanted soup. Wilson answered no, too tired he said. House nodded to himself and decided to sit in his chair, propping up his leg on the foot rest.
"If that fever doesn't break by tomorrow, I'm admitting you."
"You're – overreacting. It's just – the flu," Wilson labored.
"You're virtually at 103, and you're in bad enough shape to apply to three of the five senses."
"It's only been – a day or two."
House was silent for a moment, before telling Wilson to sleep. Wilson didn't try to ask if House wanted to watch TV, and House didn't move. He sat in his arm chair as dusk swept down, listening to Wilson's unhealthy breathing, and he wondered how his wives had taken care of him before, if they had bothered at all. And House thought of the way he was alone on the rare occasions he got sick, with no one to help him. He remembered how soothing Stacy had been as a caretaker, how good it felt to be taken care of despite the negative feelings of illness.
Wilson's cough distracted him from his thoughts. He waited for a minute before pushing himself up and limping back to the bathroom, in search of cough medicine. He didn't wake Wilson up again but left the box of cough drops on the table for later. House stood in his air of solitude for a while, looking down on the oncologist, before sinking back down into his chair. He started thinking again, until he dozed off himself, and didn't wake for another two hours, when Wilson had a coughing fit.
"I think it's time for that soup," House suggested, as Wilson downed more water. It was dark now, past seven o'clock, and Wilson almost squinted when House flipped on the kitchen light behind him.
"Grab that thermometer and see if you've made progress," House said, switching the stove on. He hobbled around, opening up a cabinet for bowls, a drawer for spoons.
"102.2," said Wilson, tossing the thermometer back on the table and shutting his eyes.
"Could be better."
"From – two and a half hours ago?" Wilson sneezed.
"With me around? Yeah."
Wilson wanted to roll his eyes. Instead, he slowly rolled over.
"Go watch TV or something," he said.
"No can do. You might fall into the bowl and drown in your soup. And then who would get charged with negligence?"
House took his time returning to Wilson, not wanting to spill his friend's dinner. He took the risk of falling and tapped his cane against the other man's leg for a second.
"Come on. I actually cooked here."
Wilson groaned. "Meaning – you dumped a can into a pot and heated it up."
"It's the good kind of can, though."
"Chicken noodle, I assume?"
"Would anything else be appropriate?"
Wilson forced himself to sit up, and House cautiously handed over the bowl, before getting up again to retrieve one of the old trays he never used. He sat on the coffee table and watched Wilson eat, while his own bowl sat empty and clean next to the stove. Wilson didn't notice the quiet stare until he was nearly finished, and when he did, he glanced over at House a bit perturbed.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You eat like a woman," House remarked, "And you're one step away from slurping."
Wilson did roll his eyes this time, and House didn't break his somber expression, despite the sarcastic reply.
"You know, it's best to stay away from people with the flu," the oncologist reminded, handing the empty bowl back to his friend.
"It's also best to not leave someone alone when they have the significant potential of sucking at self-care."
"You don't like playing caretaker. It's boring. Go entertain yourself."
"You don't think I find someone else's misery entertaining? Why, Wilson, where have you been all these years?"
Wilson scoffed and settled back into the couch, complaining of the heat.
"I have a fan somewhere," House said, getting up.
"Don't bother. There's no way you could pick it up or drag it here without demolishing half the apartment."
House ignored him, however, and retrieved the fan from one of the closets, taking more time than usual to limp. Wilson frowned as he approached with an unabashed grimace on his face, but House took no notice and plugged in the fan opposite of the oncologist's face. Wilson thanked him, and House didn't answer as he finally went back to the kitchen for a beer and his share of the soup.
House ate in the kitchen, leaning on his good leg with his hips against the island. The fan's flap-flutter noise made him feel as if it were June or Hawaii. Wilson fell asleep fast, soothed by the cool air, and deep – enough that House didn't wake him upon returning. The elder man looked down at his friend once more, his brow settling into that sobriety and concentration, blue eyes clear. A tuft of Wilson's hair swayed in the fan's breeze, hanging in the oncologist's feverishly pink face.
He couldn't help but worry. The majority of his brain sneered at such silliness, but something in his chest surged with concern that he was rather unacquainted with. He had never seen Wilson physically vulnerable. That was – well – his condition. Wilson was his emotionally damaged counterpart. But here, the oncologist had invaded House's space in the realm of personal circumstances. He didn't like this. Wilson wasn't supposed to be physically compromised. He was supposed to be unhindered enough to look after House, according to the arrangement of subtlety they had unofficially settled into.
House also disliked being cornered and forced into caring about a patient for once. It wasn't his style. Work was a hell of a lot less complicated when he wasn't emotionally involved in the slightest. He only cared about patients on the shallow level of wanting to fix them, because that's what his purpose as a doctor was. If he was honest, however, he probably cared more about solving the puzzles than he did about fixing the actual people.
Not now, though. Now, regardless of this simplistic illness – the flu, he was startlingly concerned for the patient's welfare and recovery, motivated to restore the patient's health in full as soon as possible. It was personal. He hated that. He hated caring. He hated the way it left him vulnerable.
House bowed his head, the fan cooling his right side. This scared him – this realization that he needed Wilson to be okay. No one stayed in tact forever. Accidents, disease, and time happen. Murder and suicide happen too. No matter what the manner, death comes for all. And House couldn't deny it, when he was finally asked the question. He wasn't ready for death to claim Wilson. He – he didn't think he ever would be.
Is this the way he had made Stacy feel? Is this what had seized her, pushed her to the betrayal of his trust? Would he betray Wilson's trust in order to appease his own selfish desire for Wilson's eternal company?
He couldn't lie to himself. He gripped his cane a little harder. He knew the answer.
He had been secretly overjoyed when Wilson returned to the apartment. The oncologist's rebound affair hadn't lasted more than six weeks, and it took another two for Wilson to acknowledge his own undefeated loneliness and sacrifice his pride in order to ask House for a second chance. House had forced Wilson to wait for an answer for a few days, even though he had already agreed from the moment Wilson awkwardly posed to question. House was just as lonely as his friend, had been all these years. And he couldn't deny it – the first time around, Wilson's company in the apartment had made him happier.
There would always be hookers, flings, maybe even some girlfriends on Wilson's part. But they both knew, without discussing it, that they had each reached a point where they had to seriously reconsider whether they were meant to have the standard living situation. Wilson was finally reevaluating himself and his current position in the romantic field and had concluded, at last, that he had to step away from marriage until he cleaned up his act. House was still getting comfortable with the idea of letting Stacy go permanently and knowing that no other woman would ever satisfy him the way she did.
When Wilson had left for that new woman, House had resented him for it. He would never admit it, but he had missed the oncologist. Wilson also had a hard time, after breaking up with said woman, working up the courage to tell House that he thought maybe their living arrangement was a better idea than he'd believed. He almost hadn't said a word. Both were glad he did, though neither told the other.
Wilson had been back on the couch ever since, and House had been happier. He had started doing the dishes on his appointed nights; he hadn't stopped being an ass about the TV, though. Wilson had decided compromise was compromise, and House figured that it didn't matter if Wilson took up the couch because nobody else ever sat on the damn thing anyway.
For the most part, neither said much about their arrangement. It was understood that it worked for them, even though it wasn't the most conventional of set ups. It was also understood that they were both generally happier, splitting the bills and not coming home to solitary dinners. Wilson's stuff had gradually come to clutter House's otherwise neat rooms, but he only bitched because he liked bitching. Hell, he had even enjoyed that Nicholas Sparks novel he'd found on the coffee table last week.
He smiled at that, now sitting back on that same table, Wilson still asleep. He could not recall, even during his destined affair with Stacy, ever feeling this same compulsion to care for another person in the physical sense. Whenever Stacy had been sick, he had tended to her with the same affection with which he had carried out all tasks in regard to her but with no real conviction that stilled him this way, into this quiet sobriety. This was not necessarily because he loved Stacy less. He wasn't sure why it was.
Was it possible that Wilson mattered more? Could he even make the comparison? Maybe it wasn't right. Sure, he loved Stacy now as he always had, but there was no longer a relationship, as there was with Wilson. He couldn't be sure. He supposed, however, that if it came down to a life or death situation and to a choice between the two – as much as he could not bear to... condemn Stacy, to know that she would no longer be anywhere in the world – he could not sacrifice James Wilson, for anyone. The reality was that it was Wilson's companionship he had now, not Stacy's. Her love for him and his love for her was surely alive and unyielding, but the support was absent. And it was the support that House leaned on, not love alone. Love was useless if it was not active. Call him unromantic, but it was true.
House blinked, his vision returning to the oncologist's face. He flipped up his wrist and peered at his watch. 9:05. He rose and hobbled off for a while, before returning to flip off the kitchen lights. He settled back down into his chair with a bottle of rum, his head phones, and another one of Wilson's books, The Surgeon's Mate by Patrick O'Brian. As Chopin's Nocturne No. 1 in G Minor began to flow in his ears, he opened to the first page, knowing he would finish it by morning and never go up to bed while Wilson lay on the couch near him.
In the morning, he would bring Wilson some tea and murmur quietly. Wilson would ask why he wasn't getting ready for work, and House would say Cuddy had given him the day off.
"Looks like it'll snow today," House would comment, and Wilson would silently agree, looking to the gray light muffled by the curtains. House would say that he liked that Stephen Maturin character and Jack Aubrey besides and that he was now considering abandoning medicine for the sea life. And Wilson would smile sleepily. House would bring him an old quilt and Wilson would say that his fever had broken and House would whisper that he knew. And then the blue-eyed doctor would come away, never turning on a light, and Wilson would smile to himself for some unspoken reason, as House would begin to play Brahms' Intermezzo in A Major, Opus 118 No. 2 "A Therese." Neither man would recall when last they had a morning so soft and brimming with love.