It has been brought to my attention by a reviewer that this fic's content may warrant an M rating (why was not stated - if it's for violent content I understand, though I didn't consider it that severe, if it's for slash that's no reason to change a rating). So,I can't say I agree, obviously since I rated it T, but if anyone else finds that this is in the wrong rating band, please inform me and I will move it.


Attrition

Wilson glanced nervously across the bar. It was rougher than the places he and House tended to frequent, and in a place that seemed to be filled with regulars, they stood out like sore thumbs. Low lights and sticky tables were nothing new, they were almost a requirement in most of House's favourite places, but periodic rising of voices from the clientele coupled with what Wilson was sure were blood stains on the carpet set this place apart. Not to mention, every single person in the bar had turned to look at them with a sneer as they entered.

A night out drinking had led them here but neither had the energy to be downing shots anymore; if they had, perhaps the venomous looks in their direction and the rotten stench of stale beer would be less offensive. House remained intentionally oblivious and continued fondling Wilson's leg under the table. Wilson was between enjoying it for a few more minutes, or letting House know they needed to leave.

He picked secret option number three; probably not the brightest move but his bladder insisted he took it. Slipping out of the booth, he informed House he was going to the bathroom and gave his hand a quick, reassuring squeeze. It was for his own sake more than House's.

There was a pool table by the door marked with a little man logo, the universal symbol for "pee standing up here", and around the table playing some version of pool that looked like it involved drinking and smoking more than anything to do the game itself. Every head turned to look at Wilson as he passed with their brows drawn together and their cues held at their sides like rifles.

"Fuckin' fags."

Wilson's head snapped around to meet the eyes of the stereotypical beefy biker. The common sense of not fighting with a man who was 200 pounds of pure muscle won out over the anger that flared up within him. He continued to the bathroom, his entire body tense and the hairs rising on the back of his neck, fists clenched at his sides. He kept his eyes on the floor and tried to stop himself straining to hear the muffled conversation taking place behind him.

Wilson jumped when the door to the bathroom swung open, then sighed to see it was House who had entered. "You nearly caused a very painful accident with my flies."

"That wouldn't have been good for either of us." His eyes twinkled.

Wilson couldn't help but smile in return and followed the impulse to plant a soft kiss on his lips. The soft kiss turned more passionate as House grabbed the material of Wilson's shirt and pulled him close. They stood, House's back pressed against the wall, wrapped in a slow kiss and sinking into the familiar sensations and flavours.

The door swung open again and they sprang apart. Wilson tried to smooth the creases from his clothes. After what seemed like an eternity of standing under the man's harsh gaze like guilty teenagers, he went into a stall and House and Wilson collapsed against each other in barely stifled peals of laughter.

Still chuckling, their foreheads touching, House suggested, "Back to my place?"

"Absolutely."

Biting cold air hit them as soon as they stepped out on the street. It was near deserted; one car rolled down the street and its lights glinted off the ice patches. House was trying to calculate the likelihood he would fall on his ass if he tried to walk home and Wilson was contemplating calling a cab when four men appeared on the sidewalk next to them. Wilson was fairly sure he recognised them from the bar.

"Goddamn disgusting," one man sneered, his face inches away from House's.

"House…" Wilson reached out his hand to House's arm, gently warning him.

House ignored the warning. "I'm disgusting? It smells like your mouth hasn't seen a toothbrush for months," he said in a perfectly calm tone. "Y'know, personal hygiene really improves your love life." House looped his arm around Wilson's waist.

"House, let's just go home. Now."

"Of course, I suppose any person willing to look past your hideous features and loathsome personality thinks 50 bucks is enough to ignore the bad breath."

"House!"

"Now, now, Jimmy, calm down. I'm just giving these nice men some relationship advice."

Wilson tipped his head to the sky in exasperation, and heard the crunch of an impact, followed by wood clattering against concrete and suddenly House was laying on the floor, blood dripping from his mouth. Wilson dropped to his knees beside him. He heard a crack and it took him a moment to feel the searing pain spearing his side. In the haze he noted that the kick had probably broken some ribs.

"House, you know those instances I was telling you about?" Wilson said breathlessly.

House tried to struggle up and received a boot in his stomach. A shoe stamped down on his hand, crushing the fingers that had been splayed against the ground and he cried out. Through gritted teeth, he said, "Those times when I should keep my mouth shut?"

Wilson gasped by his side and House turned to see him being pulled up into a sitting position, hands digging into his arms. His eyes were unfocused, bloodshot and glassy as he stammered out, "This was one of those times."

House's face was pressed to the floor, the cold numbing his cheek. Someone pulled on the back of his shirt collar then slammed him to the ground again, spitting the words "fucking butt-pirate." House would have laughed if he wasn't too busy raising his arms as a cushion to stop his head smashing open on the ground.

He could hear Wilson's muffled groans and gasps, along with the thuds of punches and kicks. Pulling his arms down and opening his eyes, House saw Wilson receiving blows all over his upper body. His legs were drawn up as if he had been trying to get into the foetal position, trying to protect himself, but he had been frozen by pain.

House watched as Wilson's head lolled backwards, only to be held up by his hair. Smatters of blood were all over his face. Wilson's eyes rolled back into his head, then forward again and they locked with House's, unwavering.

Until a final kick to the face knocked Wilson unconscious.

House's own hair was tugged back, but he kept his eyes fixed on Wilson's unmoving body. His head was snapped sideways by a punch and a kick to his back sent him sprawling on the floor. Pain exploded from a thousand points within his body, like ice cold needles shoved below his skin.

Face down on the black concrete, House didn't even register the blow that sent him spiralling into unconsciousness.


His senses came back one by one. Warmth, cotton sheets around him, a sterile smell, the tastes of antiseptic and blood, a beeping machine. The last to come was sight, and after the return of the first 4, and the pain they had brought with them, House wasn't sure if he wanted to take the last step. He flexed his fingers and toes, sending fresh sparks of pain all along his body. Even breathing hurt. Wilson. He remembered. He remembered what happened and his eyes snapped open. Cuddy was in the chair at his bedside, half asleep.

"Cuddy!" House croaked. His intended yell barely made a sound.

"House, how are you feeling?"

She was in doctor-mode. She checked his stats and morphine drip. She looked like she had been crying.

"How's Wilson?"

"House, can I make sure you're ok first?"

"No. How is he?"

She rubbed her hand over her face and sighed. "He's…alive. If you can turn your head, he's in the bed next to you."

It hurt. Everything ached but trying to move his head brought tears to House's eyes, partly from the pounding that started in his head and the stings sent all the way down his spine and partly from his inability to even see Wilson. He ignored the pain and forced his head to turn.

Wilson looked pale. Vivid purple bruises stood out on his swollen face.

"How bad are his injuries?"

"House, you're awake. I have to make sure you're ok. We'll talk about Wilson in a minute. Now, tell me, do you know the year?"

"1912."

"House!"

"The year is 2006, the president is…God help us, I just remembered who the president is. You're Cuddy, the sky is blue, chikungunya is an arbovirus and Wilson and I got attacked, and you need to tell me the extent of his injuries now."

Cuddy flopped down into her seat. House was sure he saw her eyes starting to glisten again. "One of his broken ribs punctured a lung, his jaw was broken and had to be pinned and the severity of the trauma to his abdomen caused some internal bleeding, which was successfully operated on."

"Prognosis?"

"House, you heard the inju-"

"You treated him; I want to know what you think."

She spoke slowly, cautiously. "He should wake up, if in pain, fairly soon. But, with the loss of blood and the probable concussion, there's a possibility – an extremely small possibility – the damage was too extensive for us to have helped."

House looked away from Cuddy and stared at the ceiling. The tiles had dots on. Hundreds of dots on each tile. The beeping was suddenly loud in his ears.

"House…"Cuddy started, trying to find the words. "His outlook is good, I swear."

"I know," he said quietly. How many dots were there? How many beeps? A heart beats more than two and a half billion times in the average life.

"Your team asked me to let them know as soon as you're able to see visitors, then police are going to want to talk to you. I can ask them to come back later."

"I might as well get it over with. I don't want them hanging around outside my room anyway – how will the hookers get in?"

Cuddy smiled, pleased by the attempt at humour. At least House was still House. "They said…they think it was a homophobic attack."

"Yeah."

"Oh. Oh! I didn't know."

House moved his focus from the ceiling tiles, looking at Cuddy through the corner of his eye, not wanting to move more than that. He quirked an eyebrow. "Because I didn't tell you."

"Well," Cuddy stood up and smiled down at House, "good for you, for both of you. I thought you were being less of a jerk recently. I'll give you a minute then tell them they can come on in."

House thanked Cuddy silently in his head.

He saw them outside his room, conversing quietly. From the shocked look on Cameron's face and Chase's uncomfortable shifting, it was clear Cuddy had spilled about him and Wilson. House sighed, realising it was probably a little redundant to care about that anymore.

The door opened and they trooped in, lining up at his bedside.

"How are you feeling?" Cameron asked.

"3 guesses."

Cameron smiled lightly. "Cuddy said the morphine hadn't improved your mood." She moved away to the end of the bed. She pulled her glasses from her lab coat and flipped open House's chart. "You could have told us about you and Dr. Wilson, you know."

"Yeah, at least give me something to hit back with after comments about my hair," Chase said from the top of House's bed, hand resting on his boss's upper arm.

"It's looking great today, by the way."

"That's what a few days without you around will do," Chase quipped.

"But is it really worth it compared to all the dead patients?" Foreman was stood to the back, observing the scene and quietly smiling, so of course House pulled him out. "No comments to make on my sexuality, my homeboy?"

Foreman shrugged. "I'd kind of figured."

House raised an eyebrow, "Oh, yes?"

"There's only one person you actually enjoy being around. Makes sense you'd be getting sex out of it."

"Well…yeah. That basically sums it up."

"You've still got the cops to talk to and you look tired already. We'll leave you be." Foreman ushered the other two out of the room, amid their calls of "See you later!" and "Get well soon!"


"Dr. House?"

House blinked, squeezing his eyes tightly shut then open again. He wasn't aware he had fallen asleep again, but suddenly two cops had appeared in his room and he doubted magic was involved. He pushed himself up on his pillows and cleared his throat. "That's me."

"How are you feeling today?"

"Are the questions with obvious answers really necessary?"

"No, no, of course not. We'll try to get this over with as quickly as possible."

The speaking man was young, House observed, younger than Wilson, probably just into his thirties. He settled down into Cuddy's chair. His silent companion looked older, thinning hair and a drooping eyelid. He stood beside the chair like a soldier.

"Can you tell us, from the beginning, what happened?"

House told them.

"Can you tell us, in as much detail as possible, what your attackers looked like?"

House told them.

"Can you tell us any further information you think may be relevant?"

House told them.

"What about your relationship with Dr. Wilson?"

"How is that relevant?"

"Well, if it was an attack based on your sexual orientation-"

"I've already told you it was." House had had enough. He turned away from the officers and looked at Wilson, lying still, chest rising and falling gently, face desecrated. "Their perceived opinion was that we were in a relationship. The reality of it is none of your business."

"Sir-"

"Just what sort of information were you looking for? Positions? Lubricants? Kinks? You have your information. Go do your job and stop pestering me."

"Thank you for your time, sir."

House heard shuffling and the door clicked closed. The older man had never spoken, just stood quietly making notes, even when House hadn't been speaking, it seemed. House scanned his eyes upwards from the bottom of Wilson's body and jolted when he reached the open eyes staring back at him.

Wilson tried to speak, but winced in pain.

"Don't talk. They put a pin in your jaw, it's gonna hurt like a bitch for a while."

House struggled out of bed, groaning at the pain and having to stop with every big movement to catch his breath. He limped over to Wilson's side, hospital gown flapping around his knees, and hoisted himself onto the bed. He pulled the small whiteboard and pen that had been left in preparation for Wilson's early waking moments from the bedside cabinet and held it out to him.

Trust you to piss off the people who are on your side.

"Right, blame me for their stupid questions. How are you feeling?"

Duh.

"Right, right." House traced his fingers across Wilson's face, following the contours of his bruises and brushing back his hair. He kissed the only clear patch on Wilson's forehead and whispered, "I'm sorry."

Wilson slipped his hand out from the covers and laid it on top of House's; for the first time, House remembered it had been crushed in the fight.


"Cuddy says tomorrow, you may be free." House flopped down into the chair by Wilson's side, it moulded to his shape over the past week, and propped his feet up on the bed. "And you can come back to work whenever you feel up to it."

"Good. That's…good."

"You sound positively overjoyed," House said dryly.

"No, it's good. I just…" Wilson's face flushed. The bruises had faded to green-yellow and the swelling had gone, save for a crooked bump on his broken nose. The pink spots flooding to his cheeks only served to highlight the injuries that had yet to heal. "I don't want to be on my own."

"So move in with me."

"Are you serious?"

"Someone paying half the rent, cooking my meals and you're still recovering, you could use a doctor around." House shrugged.

"For once, could you ask me to do something for reasons that aren't entirely practical?"

"You mean "Move in with me because I love you"? Why must people insist upon making me state the obvious?"


House had brought fresh clothes to the hospital for Wilson to change into – old, paint splattered jeans and one of his sweaters from med school. Leaning on his cane, stood by the door, House took in the sight of him; thinner than he had been ten days ago, he looked small hunched inside his baggy clothes. He hadn't spoken to anyone but the police – who thus far had be useless – about the attack. Neither had House himself, he realised, but he didn't feel like he needed to. All things in good time.

"Ready to go?"

Wilson nodded. House hoisted the bag of Wilson's things onto his shoulders. On the way to the elevator they passed their offices, Wilson picking up a few things he intended to work on at home and House informing his team that if they killed anyone during his time off, they should blame Chase. They walked down to the lobby together, for once Wilson leaning on House for support, his arm wrapped tightly around his waist.

Cuddy was waiting for them at the main desk holding out a file and a pen, smiling. "Sign this and you're out of here."

Wilson took the pen and file and signed his name by the cross. "Thanks."

"Like I said, just call me when you're ready to come back."

"Vacation time." House grinned.

"Not for you – you've already been discharged for a week. I expect to see you in the clinic first thing tomorrow."

"What?"

"Not as quick as you once were, are ya? Take care of him, Dr. Wilson." Cuddy winked and waved goodbye, returning to her work.

Wilson looped his arm back around House's waist, digging his fingers against his hip, and they walked out slowly, warmed by the smiles of semi-acquaintances and laughing quietly at the scowling nurse Wilson said had been hitting on him for the past month. They both pretended they didn't notice the muttering that started in their wake, nor the "ugh," of a middle-aged woman who pushed past them, three children in tow.

They rode home in House's car quietly. The sun had gone down already and the lights of the town sparkled off the windscreen from the shops and bars along the sidewalk. Wilson fidgeted in his seat, eyes darting to look out the window every few seconds. Only a few other cars passed them on the road, too late for commuter traffic and too early for people to be heading out for dinner. Wilson's hands clenched around the fabric of his pants.

"Everything ok?" House asked.

"It seems like forever since I was outside anywhere but the hospital gardens."

"I'll take you for a walk tomorrow, get you re-socialised," House smirked.

Wilson laughed softly and hit House on the arm. "I'm not a dog, you know."

"Does that mean you won't be wanting the collar and leash I got you?"

They pulled up in the street outside House's apartment and sat still for a minute, both men nervous about the next move for their own reasons. They were about thirty seconds away from officially living together. House moved first, unclipping his seat belt and pulling the keys from the ignition. He took Wilson's bag out of the back while Wilson went to the door and unlocked it with his own key.

House joined him in the hall, and they stood on either side of the door marked with the letter B. Wilson stepped forward and gingerly laid his lips against House's; his jaw still ached. He let the soft scents and flavours wash over him as their bodies pressed together and House slipped his hand around to rest on the small of Wilson's back, drawing him closer.

The door to apartment A opened and they sprung apart. An old, blue haired woman walked out and smiled at House.

"Good evening, Ida."

"Good evening, boys."

When the main door closed they collapsed against each other in barely stifled peals of laughter. "The misanthropic bastard knows his elderly neighbour's name?"

"Shut up; just be pleased she didn't beat you up with her Zimmer-frame." Still chuckling, foreheads pressed together, House gave Wilson another soft kiss. "Canwe finally get back to my place now?"

"Absolutely."