Thanks so much for the feedback, everyone. I changed a bit of the chapter and just reposted it. Let me know what you think!
"He needed me and I left him."
The street lamps from outside tossed in slate blue light, punctuated sporadically by a crisp stream of white from insomniac cars. House, his back to the window, seemed drenched the color. I wavered.
"If you're going to repeat yourself and pause every two seconds this is going to take forever," House needled.
I ducked my head and nodded, my lips pursed. Find somewhere to start; find a thread that's not as frayed.
"I was the middle child," I tried. "My older brother, he's in the military."
"Navy. I remember. He managed to weasel a week's leave to be at your wedding."
"Yeah." I sighed, rubbing the back of my neck. I suddenly felt like fatigue threw itself on my shoulders and was lounging there, waiting for the cave-in. I shook it off. "He left when…when Ian and I were still teenagers. I respected him, but it wasn't like he was ever really there. It was just me and Ian, for the most part." The remnants a smile flickered across my face, vaguely noticeable, but there all the same.
"Ian." House tried out the name like he was learning a foreign language. I glanced up at him, nodding with my eyes. It was a word I usually reserved, too, as if using it too often might wear it out, make it human, make it fade.
"He was two years younger than me. Great at sports. I never missed a baseball game—he threw two no-hitters, once when he was only a high school sophomore." I shook my head. "Hated school. He envied me, my grades, but I don't think he ever realized how much I admired him. Everyone liked him. Life was so easy for him."
House's company suddenly seemed oppressive, so I tested my unsteady knees and got up from the couch, walking in hazy circles around the room. Each step sent a jolt through my chest; it was like my blood was weaving frantically in out of arteries, absurdly thinking it had become a trapped rat in a maze, oblivious of a way out.
The cobalt light cascaded over my features as I stood framed in the window, wishing fervently it could dye my skin, that something could preserve me—that something could be permanent.
"He told me things he would've never told anyone else. Parties, drugs, whatever. Our parents never knew. No one would have ever thought…" I took a breath and let my eyes roam the dirt and traffic smog that clung to the window. I'd have to clean that eventually. Not now. Now, let it stay there. Let something else be marred. "I tried to help him. And I did for those last two years. He was getting better, but…"
I cut myself off momentarily, desperately pleading against reality that I could rewrite the next line. House, for an unnerving, telling moment, didn't throw out a snide comment. I almost wished he had. Instead, I unearthed my sentences as if they were skeletons reluctant to leave the ground.
"I had to leave for college. I promised I'd visit; I told him to keep in touch. He didn't want me to go."
"But you went."
I closed my eyes. The dimness from outside speckled my vision. "He needed me and I left him."
"You didn't leave him."
"I was at medical school and he was screwing up his life!" I snapped, eyes flashing open as I turned to face House. "Of course I left him. I was half the country away from him! I could've taken a year off, just to make sure he was stable—"
"If he wasn't stable in two years, what would one more year have done?"
I stared hard at him, silently begging for his condemnation, or at least affirmation of my selfish error. Nothing. He just sat there, red-framed eyes obscured by the shadowed space between us. A thin gloss had settled over his blue irises, the same gleam that arises as he consults a case. I felt like I was staring up from out of a test tube, waiting as he peered down.
I rubbed a hand across my face as I slowly meandered back to the couch. "He hated me. He thought I was shoving success in his face, that I didn't care about him anymore."
"Funny. You don't often see self-centered drug addicts."
There. There was the snark tone, giving me credence to react. My mind was operating on two distinct levels; one in my control, the other preserved in the amber of loss. I had shoved him back against the sofa before realizing I was doing it. I was more than surprised to find my hands pressing hard against his chest, my breathing erratic and unfamiliar, hot against his skin.
"Don't you ever say that. Ever."
House calmly observed me like he would an anticipated newspaper headline. He let me lean my weight against him, channeling the hurt through this one burst of aggression. Thinking back, he could have just as easily deflected the hit. But he let me anyway.
"What, Jimmy?" House's tone had strangely mellowed. "It's true, isn't it? He didn't hate you. He hated himself. It's just easier to take the blame yourself than to force it on your little brother, one someone you love." He waited patiently as my hands relaxed into slight trembles against his shoulders. "Nine years ago, you said. You were…twenty-seven when Ian disappeared." He eyed me, forcing me to say it.
"My last year of med school." I bowed my head, hands still clutching House's shoulders. "He couldn't—he'd never gone to school—and I was graduating—and—"
"He couldn't stand to look his failure in the eye." House reached out and touched my face, raising it to meet his gaze. I turned away, embarrassed that I should have divulged such a significant piece of myself.
I'd given him plenty of things over the years, and the most in the past month—friendship, humor, tenuous belief that always seemed to find stability in the most doubtful of moments. Maybe we were the only people capable of getting through to each other. It was frightening and transcending at the same instant. I would look at him in moments and feel everything tunnel to a single point, a concise purpose; and then I'd drift back to a place beyond myself, and wonder what he could possibly see in me, if he really did need me, if our relationship was a chance born of desperate circumstance or something unavoidable.
Yet even physical closeness failed to compare with this immediate moment, whatever this was—if it was confidence or confession or consensual trust. My eyes burned, dyed a deep copper, lost in avenues of regret.
He didn't force me to look at him for once. His voice was steady enough. "It wasn't your fault."
"If I'd never gone…"
"James. You can't blame yourself for other people's decisions. And helping every single other person is not going to change what happened."
"But I can stop it from happening again."
House shook his head. "You can't control everything."
I scoffed contritely, daring to look at him. "This coming from you?"
He didn't have a rebuttal for that one, so he just leaned in and kissed me, long and deep and slow, letting the warmth permeate and fill our mouths. I felt restraint finally snapping under the burden of guilt, and House guided me close, encouraging my arms to wrap around him while he massaged circles on my back, down my spine, hovering at my waist. I squirmed, murmuring his name, letting my fingers explore the rivulets of his hair.
House never knew what to say. He was far from sentimental; to choose a kiss over a quip was a considerable step in our relationship. He didn't exactly have a memory stock-full of Hallmark card phrases to pluck out and distribute at a moment's notice.
But it wasn't something I minded.
He pulled back momentarily to gaze at my flushed face, eyes already heavy lidded and closing.
"I want you," he said slowly, "to go see a Mets game with your kid."
We stared at each other for a long time before a small, stress-releasing laugh worked its way out from my mouth. "What if the Mets suck by the time he's old enough to go?"
"Teach him to be a true fan," House murmured back, placing another kiss on my lips before he was even done with the sentence. "No band-wagon-jumping. And buy him those crappy Cracker Jacks that stick in your teeth. Explain why TiVo just doesn't compare to actually being able to throw beer at the opposing team in person. Why Barry Bonds' helmet size increased exponentially. And why you should throw beer at Barry Bonds. And show him how to keep a scorecard."
"I don't even know how to keep a scorecard."
"That's pathetic. Everybody's forgotten the good ol' days. Now they just sit there on those freezing aluminum bleachers and let some billboard sponsored by Budweiser do all the thinking for them."
I watched House's expression shift, his eyes wandering as he slid off into a rambling, self-protecting tangent. I sighed against his neck, his facial hair bristling against my skin, and listened to the faint thumping of his pulse against my ears.
Listened. Drifted. I wanted to spurn reality, but it kept circling back.
"She came to you. She must want a father in the picture somehow." Matter-of-fact as always; cutting straight to the point. He ducked his head for a moment, then said against his better reasoning, "But I want you in my picture, too."
I grinned, sitting back as if to admire the cheesiness he'd exposed. "Now there's a Hallmark card."
"Shut up." He jokingly pushed me off of him, then reached for his cane. On second-thought, he poked at my leg and nodded off toward the kitchen. "Make yourself useful. Find out when she's rescheduling the appointment. I want to come, too. You know you're making me the godfather or something, right?"
"Well, with your mafia connections already, I think you have a pretty good claim to the job," I jested. I was about to point out how calling the hospital at three in the morning was completely pointless when a familiar rattle interrupted me.
"What?" He downed a couple pills, taking a lengthy pause at the end to appreciate them as they spread in his system. After a self-content smile, he tossed me that mocking glare he uses when trying to convince people he's merely humoring their idiocy.
"You—you have Vicodin."
"And a medical condition. Doesn't mean these pills aren't fun, though."
"But I thought you said Cameron took them."
"Nope." House screwed the cap back on and tidily replaced it in his coat pocket. "She didn't."
"So it was one of the other doctors?"
"Nope. Too stupid to think of anything that creative."
"Then… Where did you find it?"
"I never lost it," House replied. He leaned on his cane, pulling himself to his feet, and sighing as he straightened himself up to look at me. "I just took a little hiatus from the pill-popping misanthrope persona. Sorry you missed it. Cameron claimed I was almost charming at the lectures. To Oscar Wilde levels, I believe."
I stared at him, flabbergasted. "You went off of Vicodin by yourself?"
"Stunning, isn't it?"
He watched me like I might change in front of him, or my expression might lapse into unconcern or boredom, or tire of the conversation. When nothing altered, he cocked his head to the side, regarding me with another sigh.
"Because. I didn't want you to be in pain alone."
"Liar," I retorted. "That's not even close. You probably lost it and just stopped at the hospital for a refill, or you luckily found it where you misplaced it."
A smirk crossed House's face. "Really? How confident are you with that diagnosis, Dr. Wilson?"
It annoyed me to no end that I couldn't tell. He knew it, too.
"Come on." He nodded off to the room, cutting me off before I could pry anymore. "You're going to look miserable tomorrow if you stay up any longer."
"Are you going back to New York tomorrow?"
"I think Cameron can take it from here."
I paused dubiously. "Cuddy's not going to be thrilled."
"Is she ever? I mean, besides when she's gifted with my company."
"House…" I shook my head with the strange combination of admiring disbelief I reserve for him, and joined him stride by stride. Never had it felt so good falling onto a mattress.
House was changing into a short-sleeved shirt and sweatpants, the clothing rustling. I stretched out across the bed and yanked him by his arm.
"Why the hell are you changing?" I grumbled, tossing up a smile I hoped he could see.
"I thought you were tired."
"Exhausted." I pulled myself up to meet his mouth as my hands played at the neckline of his shirt. "I need a refresher."
I could feel him grinning against my mouth, and the bed sprung a bit as he gingerly settled beside me. I wondered just how throbbing his leg pain was. He'd set the Vicodin on the dresser, within a quick reach.
His hand trailed a solid, almost demanding touch from my torso down. His lips followed quickly after. I lifted my hips as he rid our confining clothes, sealing my slight moan with a deepening kiss, blending into me.
The silent air was punctuated by our breathing, weaving in and out of each other's, a serenade of the silk-sand skin-to-skin sounds and nonsensical murmurs escaping our mouths.
He stopped, but I could feel him watching me.
I wet my lips and whispered. "What?"
Though I couldn't see him in the dark, I knew his expression innately. I blinked several times in a row, unsure if I was closing or opening my eyes; the room was veiled in night and I couldn't tell the difference.
"Ian," he said simply, "would be proud of you."
The dark really didn't matter. I could interpret him without seeing. And I figured that was the most important thing.
I ran a hand through his short, coarse hair and tugged him close to me. "You surprise me, House."
He paused and then visually explored my face. I gazed up at him, enraptured.
"Good," he said. "We're even then."
So… I don't think you need me anymore, Jimmy.
Of course I need you.
No. I mean this me, the one wreaking havoc in your head.
As much as you'd egotistically like to think so, you're not 'wreaking havoc' up here, House.
And said so convincingly. That's only because you have enough chaos up here to begin with.
You'd know from experience.
Doesn't matter. This will be the last time I'll talk with you here.
Why? You don't have to go. You're annoying, but I'd miss it.
But there's no point for me to stay here. You've quit pushing me away. The slinky metaphor isn't relevant anymore.
Oh. Yeah, I guess--I guess that's right. Are you sure…you can't stay at all?
Talk to me in person. It's so much better that way. And I'm much more cantankerous when I'm not a figment of your imagination.
Yes. Wouldn't want to dull that down.
Wake me up. I'm sure I have a lot to say to you. And you to me.
Later. In the morning. Then we'll figure everything out--you know, with Jules, and the kid, and what excuses we're going to have to use to explain everything.
That might take awhile.
We have the time. Trust me.
Yes. For once. All the time we need.