Okay... Finally done. Went on a bit longer than I planned. I guess I could've cut out some other stuff,but oh well. I'll probably be taking a writing hiatus, too, at least with House stories for a bit. Thanks again for reviewing, andenjoy...

------------------------------------------------------------

It was amazing how quickly the room shrank when three people stepped inside, jamming their hostility within four walls. Protectively, Wilson laid Mia down in her crib. He could practically sense Julie's anger throbbing in the room. House, meanwhile, was loitering in the doorway between the kitchen and living room.

"Anyone want a shot?" he asked glibly.

Julie kept staring demandingly at Wilson. "Where were you?"

"We—we were at the hospital." The surprise on Wilson's face stunted his words. "I didn't expect you home until Monday."

"Cape May is miserable when it rains," Julie snapped. "And I didn't expect to come by to pick up Mia and find an empty room."

"Julie." Wilson massaged his head. "What do you think we were doing?"

"I don't know. I just know that Mia was gone. You could've left a note, rather than have had me worried out of my mind—"

"She's my daughter, too," Wilson interrupted defensively. "You don't think I worry when I don't have her with me?"

"Well, I don't go dragging her out of the house on a whim."

"Right. You keep her cooped up in a nice little bubble," House sneered. The whiskey remained uncorked.

"No, but I don't take her on a tour of a hospital where's there's already germs and bacteria and disease floating around the halls."

"For God's sake," House snapped, "we work in the hospital. You don't see us contracting the plague, do you?"

"We were just in a few offices," Wilson insisted. "She wasn't anywhere near patients' rooms."

"That's not the point."

"I'm beginning to think you don't really have one," House shot back. He studied her face, suddenly calm as the pieces fell into place. "Your hair isn't wet."

"What?"

"Your hair. It wasn't raining in Cape May." He paused. "You didn't even go, did you? What? Did things fall apart already with Mr. Rebound? He decide that fatherhood is just a little bit too stressful?"

Julie threw up her hands, disgusted. She didn't deny it, which was answer enough for House. "That's it. James." She reached out. "I'm taking Mia back home."

"It's still Saturday. I have her until tomorrow."

"Look, James, I'm not playing games. I'm not driving back out here tomorrow when I can just pick her up now."

"It's still Saturday."

"James." She moved forward, and Wilson mustered the remnants of his rationale and stepped in front of her. He tried to look calm, but she slapped his appeasing hands away. Her strained voice was teetering a tightrope line between screaming and crying. "Don't touch me."

"Julie, I'll drop her off tomorrow if you don't want to come here—"

She went to sidestep him, but House blocked her path. He eyed her steadfastly, trying to overlook the frustrated fury that ricocheted from her eyes, battering anyone who fell into her line of vision.

Her teeth remained gritted. "Greg—move."

"Check the clock. You said the weekend. Jimmy has another day with his kid."

"James." She turned back to the oncologist. Something had changed in her face. "We're meeting lawyers next week to figure this out. But now I need to take her home." She hesitated. "Please."

Wilson felt his tense arms dropping to his sides, conceding. By the looks of it, her day had been the epitome of horrible. She was miserable, going home to an empty house again. Not that she hadn't essentially made him do the same a few months ago, but this wasn't worth a fight. Not now.

He wet his lips, eyes looking astray. Slowly, he stepped aside.

House took the initiative to block her way to the crib even further.

"Greg, if you don't move—"

"Oh, yes, please. Impress me with your threats. Are you going to hit me? Call the police? Go ahead. I'm listening."

"House," Wilson said gravely. "Move."

The older man stared in shock, falling beneath the undertow of his rising anger. "No. She's early, and you aren't going to let her have her way. She's wrong."

"Let it go, House." Wilson's tone had dropped to a severe, unfaltering level. "I'm serious."

For a second, no one moved. Then Julie took a step forward, and House quickly shoved himself in the way again. Wilson broke between them, grabbing House by the shoulders and pushing him back. There was a loud, rattling crash as they collided with something.

Wilson stared down at the chess pieces rolling in skewed paths across the living room floor, the board upturned.

Mia was crying again. Noise reverberated cacophonously in the rigid air of the room. Julie swept her up from her crib, grabbed the baby's diaper bag, and left without another word.

She didn't even slam the door, which annoyed House even more. Pretending to be mature and sensible was far worse than being naturally childish and brash.

Wilson just stood still, watching and wondering when that one rook would stop rolling. It did, finally, when it hit the wall.

--------------

"Next week. It'll all be straightened out."

"You'll sign some papers, make up a schedule…"

"Yeah."

"Was she always this protective?"

"First time being a mother."

"Ah."

"Yeah. Explains a lot."

"Think you'll get weekends?"

"Yeah. That was the idea."

"But today…?"

"She had a rough one. I can't… I can't blame her for wanting some company."

House poured him another glass of whiskey and for once didn't say anything. Leaning his weight on the cane, he rose from the couch and started picking up the chess pieces.

--------------

"What, do you have a photographic memory?"

House was replacing the last two pieces on the board. He squinted meticulously, like how he did when he strained to hear if his piano was still in tune. Satisfied with the setup, he returned to the sofa seat next to Wilson.

"No. I just happen to think the pieces look nice there."

Wilson skimmed the chessboard. It seemed right. At any rate, his moves would still be possible, so long as he could get House to move his bishop a certain way so he could capture the older man's rook.

A few shifts of pawns did the trick. Trying to keep conversation flowing so as to distract House from sensing what he was doing, Wilson suddenly asked,

"Does Stacy know? About us, I mean. Like how Julie does."

The oncologist watched him astutely, waiting for a slight fall of the lips or crinkle in the forehead that would give him an answer. House tapped his cane against the floorboard. Once. Twice. The air trembled with the wooden echo.

"I never told her." He let the thought settle out, like dust shaken from a rug. "She sends her well wishes, though."

Wilson blinked. "What? To you?"

"To us. Left a message a couple weeks back."

Wilson assumed House had deleted it, like he deleted everything else of relative importance that crossed the answering machine. "I thought you said you didn't tell her."

"I didn't. Cuddy might've. But she knew before that."

"How would she have known?"

House glanced down at the chessboard. "Look carefully before you move. Then ask me again."

Typical House. He even wanted to control the story he was obligated to tell. Wilson wanted to keep prodding until he yanked the narrative out of him without wasting his capture, but the tightness dominating House's face clearly indicated he wasn't going to get any more side commentary. Wilson moved his queen forward, knocking out one of House's rooks.

"How," he said again carefully, "would Stacy know?"

-----------------------

House

Keep your eyes closed. Keep them closed. Now fall asleep for about two days straight. A little bit longer to really get the idea. Wait for someone to pour a medical medley of drugs into your head, let it stir in there for a couple hours, let it freeze over the neurons in your brain until they're temporarily shriveled in submission.

That's what a coma feels like. You don't see, you don't think, you don't even dream. You just float in a negative space, without any knowledge of time or of yourself.

Now wake up.

At first, you think your body's been turned inside-out, like a botched parachute caught in an unexpected updraft. There's light in your face. Instinctively panicking, you think the ceiling has caught on fire. Finally, you vaguely consider the option that it might be God or Heaven or some traffic signal screaming for you to Turn Back Now.

And then you realize it's the hospital's light. Artificial, dulled down to a rotting-cantaloupe shade of yellow-orange. Even the room looks pallor, like the wallpaper is made of peeling corpses.

The glass walls strike you as annoying. They're crystal clear and answers aren't. Outside, people who take up space on the planet without doing anything waste precious time staring at you. They don't know you—they don't even particularly care—but you're having a crappier day than they are, and that's nice to see. Hovering around pain is an attractive ego-boost.

The light narrows, bleeding back into itself, until it's become the point of a pin, a molecule of a sand grain. You blink, and you realize it's someone shining an invasive pen-sized flashlight into your eyes, checking for dilation.

It's the first time you've seen in days and suddenly your blind.

Then the colors slowly start making their way back, reintroducing themselves like has-beens returning to the stage. The bedsheets are blue, itchy. Probably crawling with perspiration and bacteria. The flowers someone's stuck on a nearby table are a pale lavender and paisley green, wilting. Someone's beside the bed in a red shirt, scented. Perfume. Familiar.

And then your life comes fumbling back to your body.

-- -- --

Stacy was staring at me—no, she was staring at my neckline, her eyes unable to lift up and meet mine. She had her hand covering her mouth. Judging by the fervent creases accosting her eyes, she was either laughing, or crying, or seizing. It's bizarre: The most intense forms of human emotion all basically look like the same thing.

I went with the crying because that seemed to be the worst possible scenario. I wondered what crucial body part I'd just lost to bring her to that state.

It turned out she was doing a bit of everything. Mascara streamed like calligraphy pen mistakes down her rouge-colored cheeks. Tears entwined in the curving smile of her lips. She shook as if miniature nuclear bombs were rattling every organ under her skin.

My sensory systems were so drowned in morphine I couldn't tell one way or the other about my leg. She said I still had it, minus the dead muscle. A bandage hid how much they'd cut from me. I tried to feel with my hand, but the wrapping was far too thick to make an accurate estimation.

I wanted to be furious, but the coma still tugged at my brain. I reverted to thinking objectively, since that's the best way to reason when first-person concerns are skewed.

Maybe this entire event is a coma within a coma. Maybe I'm a thought derived from the unconsciousness of a whole other person. Maybe I owe my increasingly pathetic life to someone's inconsequential daydream.

But she touched my hand, and I knew it was real; I felt her painted nails digging slightly into my palm as she squeezed. I strained my memory back as far as I could remember, and I noted events and thoughts I'd had over the years. If I was someone's delusion, the person had given me a very dense and intricate history. I figured it was safe to assume I really did exist.

If Stacy apologized for the damn surgery one more time, I was going to ask to be put into another coma.

"Wilson…?" I managed.

She said no, you weren't here. She didn't know where you'd gone; you'd disappeared.

I muttered something I don't even remember as my head fell back into the cavern of my pillow. I felt her watching me, her revelation soaking through my body's cells, even more permeating than the morphine.

She said something in reply but I wasn't listening. A familiar lab coat whisking behind a familiar stride out in the hallway had caught my attention. I blinked, forcing my eyes to focus on you.

You glanced in, almost unnoticeably. Your face crumbled like misshapen architecture the instant you knew I'd seen you.

-- -- --

They took me off the morphine to judge just how effective the surgery was. The pain had decreased slightly, but without any inhibitors it still felt like a burning rod was being screwed through my thigh.

"Greg, tell me what I can do," Stacy kept asking.

"Wilson. I need Wilson."

I wasn't drowning in morphine then.

You didn't come until almost forty-eight hours later. By that point, they'd already given me a nice hanging bag of numbing drugs. Some miracle pill known to the world as Vicodin was piling up on a nearby table for quick reference. Pain alleviated, I could focus on hating whomever I wanted.

And I wanted to hate you. I wanted you there in the room so I could vent and scream and push you away. My leg became resistance's martyr.

I still don't know what I drug-drunkenly muttered in my haze coming out of the coma—that I'd never forgive you; that I loved you; that I was afraid. Whatever I said, I was terrified Stacy might tell you. Everything I'd once controlled was now being doled out for other people to manage. At least I could retain sarcasm. I could put dents back in the people who decided my body was their responsibility.

I'm not apologizing. I did want to hate you.

It was the closest thing I could do short of admittance.

End

------------------------------

House moved his remaining bishop.

Wilson gazed at the board for well over a minute. He didn't even bother moving. "Check."

The older man looked up as if he hadn't heard him, as if his words had been blurred. "What?"

"Actually… Checkmate." Wilson drew an invisible line with his finger from his Queen right to House's King. "Your bishop was blocking it. You moved it. There's a clear path now." He paused, eyes skimming the board once more. "And you can't move your King to the side because you have other pieces in those spots so… Checkmate."

A gradual sigh worked its way stiffly, gruffly, from House's throat. "No."

"What do you mean, 'no'?"

He shrugged, leaning back into his chair. "No."

"House, you can't deny that you lost. I beat you, the game's over. Admit it."

"Admit it?" Something caught in House's look.

Wilson stared at him, exasperated. He could deny patient's histories; he could deny medical tests; he could deny blatant truth and pick out the lies. But he couldn't deny what was staring him right in the face. "Yes, I want you to admit it."

"Fine."

He gave Wilson plenty of time to move, but the oncologist was going nowhere. Almost surreptitiously, House leaned over to him, kissing his mouth—not directly on, but lightly at the corners. He trailed his lips slowly up over his defined cheekbones and then into the pieces of hair that dangled into his ear. Wilson shivered faintly with the bristling feel of House's scruff against his skin. Quietly, House breathed the words he knew he'd said in that foggy space and time when he'd emerged from the coma.

Wilson's eyes fluttered closed, and he lost his fingers in House's short, black-gray hair.

"You told everyone," House whispered, "so it's my turn to tell you."

"Is that why you wanted…?"

House shushed him with a flash of light in his eyes, then with another kiss, this one deeper. A low, humming murmur from Wilson accompanied their coalescing tongues.

"You do know…" House broke away momentarily, "that I let you win, right?"

Wilson raised an eyebrow, eyes still half-closed. "That's very convenient to say in retrospect."

"I gave you a clear shot at my King."

"I set you up."

"You only won back in med school because I wasn't playing."

"Again, that's easy to say."

House raised Wilson's chin a bit so he could kiss him once more, his thumb skimming the younger man's jawline. "Easy to deny, too."

"Well, we're not denying anymore, are we?" Wilson tilted his head sideways a bit, so House could sigh into the hollow his neck, finding the dip in his collarbone that he spent so much time on. He let his fingers rest in the older man's hairline, enjoying the feel of coarseness giving way to the softer skin on his crinkled forehead.

END