Disclaimer, etc., in chapter 1

The end of the fic formerly known as Shorts. I'd like to write a prequel to this story but I don't know if that will happen. I hope the ending works. Some of the loose ends haven't been tied up; this story was very loosely written. I might go back and add short tie-ups, and I might not, because even though this is the end of this fic, the story isn't finished or completed by a long shot. This seemed like a good place to suspend the action, that's all. Use your imagination to fill in the rest.

Thanks as always for reading and reviewing.


Later, lying in exhausted heaps on sweaty sheets, they stared at the ceiling, slowly coming down.

After he caught his breath, Wilson rolled toward the floor, got his shaking legs under him, and trekked toward the kitchen.

House closed his eyes, basking in sweet bodily sensations he felt so rarely, until a warm wash cloth landed on his chest. He nodded his thanks to Wilson, then shook his head at the offer of water.

Wilson shrugged, swallowed another mouthful, and placed the glass on the table next to House's pill bottle. He collapsed with a happy groan beside House.

House grunted in agreement and reached over for the water and a pill. He settled back and let an arm flop against Wilson's side.

For a while they did nothing but breathe and feel good.

Then Wilson breathed in and rolled on his side to face House.

"Can I ask you something?"

House's eyes shifted sideways. "You just did."

Wilson sniffed. "Then I'll ask you something else."

House watched him for a moment, weighing what he saw, then looked back at the ceiling.

"I know you'll only tell me what you want me to know, but on the off chance you'll be forthright, I'll ask," Wilson said.

Now House turned his head to the side to watch Wilson, sensing that whatever the question was, he wouldn't be able to brush it off.

"You're not about to ruin a perfect make-up screw, are you?"

Wilson looked into his eyes. House saw no answer to his own question there; only Wilson's intent to ask him something serious.

House sighed, somewhat impatiently, and waved a hand: get on with it.

Wilson studied him. He had no desire to ruin great sex with serious talk, but he knew House and he knew that this was one of the few opportunities he had to get House to be honest. Or closer to honest.

Wilson propped his head up on one elbow. "Why did you drink so much yesterday?"

Inwardly, House sighed with relief. This question was easy compared to the questions he'd imagined.

Letting his head relax back into the center of the pillow, House let out a small, genuine sigh.

"It didn't work," he answered, shrugging slightly.

Wilson's eyebrows collapsed together. "What didn't work?"

House stared at the ceiling. "Rehab. Counseling."

Wilson waited, watching House blink and breathe and think. Their upstairs neighbor stomped across the room, stood still, then stomped back. The squeak of wooden floorboards made Wilson wonder idly just how stressed they were.

Eventually, because House hated silence, House elaborated.

"I got home yesterday," he began, still talking to the ceiling and the now-absent neighbor, "and I needed a hit worse than anything I've ever needed."

He spoke slowly, his voice emotionless and distant as though he were relating someone else's experience.

"Vicodin didn't help." He snorted. "An entire truckload of Vicodin wouldn't have helped."

Now he began gesturing in the air above his chest, carrying on the conversation with the absent neighbor.

"I tried all the stupid rehab tricks, had all the invisible conversations. I paced. I smoked. I yelled. Nothing helped." His hands fell uselessly on to his chest.

And suddenly he turned to Wilson and let Wilson see what he usually concealed: pain, desperation, fear.

"Took two thirds of the bottle before I felt like I wasn't dying any more."

His voice grated—not because he wanted it to. And not being brave enough to wait for Wilson's reaction, House shifted his eyes back to the ceiling.

Wilson sighed and rolled onto his back, hands falling as uselessly on to his chest as House's had. He understood why House had done it now, and he'd forgiven earlier than he'd understood, but he was still stung.

"You could've called me," he said, speaking to the invisible neighbor himself now.

"There's nothing you could have done," House answered.

Wilson blinked, glanced at House, and blinked up at the ceiling again. "You don't have to do everything alone."

House shook his head and turned to Wilson again, surprised at his own honesty and the fact that he hadn't pretended to fall asleep yet. Because though he hated it, he knew that he needed to have this conversation. The part of him that Stacy had killed, that would never heal, that urged him to flee from any admission that would bring him closer to someone else—especially someone he loved—hadn't surfaced from the flood of endorphins yet. But if he really thought Wilson would hurt him, he would have stopped talking long ago.

"I call you, I end up conning you into bringing me a hit," he explained, searching Wilson's face. He knew he'd upset Wilson. He hadn't intended to. Wilson still didn't really know just how hard it was to stay alive from day to day. He couldn't know; House didn't want him to know. And he wouldn't change what he'd done yesterday if he could. But now there were some things in his past that he would change if he could; some things that he didn't want to do again. The biggest one, worse than falling off the morphine wagon again, was conning Wilson.

"I don't want that to happen," House added, softly, seriously. He shifted uncomfortably as the urge to run began to grow.

Wilson turned his head on the pillow, his hand out in appeal to House. "It's only been a few days," he responded.

House stared at the ceiling, always more disappointed in himself than anyone else could be. "It's been long enough."

"You can always check into rehab again," Wilson suggested.

His hand fell against House's side and he rubbed the space between two ribs with his thumb.

"It's better than the Molotov cocktail you tossed at your liver yesterday," he added wryly.

House said nothing, busy fighting the urge to run.

"I know you said it wasn't working, but what about last time?" Wilson asked.

House glanced over at him with an eyebrow raised. What last time?

"Rehab," Wilson clarified. "You made us think it worked. Cuddy. Me. You were there so long. So?"

House glanced over again. So what?

"Did it work?"

House's eyes shifted back to the ceiling, then to the bed's vanishing point beyond his feet. His face remained neutral.

Wilson usually read him fairly well, but he had no idea what House was thinking right now. So he kept talking.

"If it worked, you wouldn't be so opposed to going back," Wilson reasoned. "Or, you think because it did work for a while but now it's worn off, it isn't a good enough fix. And you don't like to admit that you need other people to help you. Or that you—"

"It never worked," House said, letting out a sigh he could no longer keep back.

Wilson would be disappointed. He was tired of disappointing Wilson. He'd learned recently that disappointing Wilson equaled disappointing himself. He hated being a disappointment. He couldn't stand to see that disappointment in Wilson's face, but he couldn't stop himself from looking for it either.

Wilson's eyes were waiting when House peeked over at him. Forgiving; questioning; wanting to know and to help.

House turned his attention back to the ceiling and sighed, shifting again—this time because he was uncomfortable with Wilson's scrutiny.

"I stayed the extra week because it wasn't working," House told the ceiling. "I thought if I tried harder…. But their techniques. They aren't for me."

Now he did look at Wilson. Sarcasm and self-assurance crept in from the wrinkles around his eyes.

"And you and Cuddy always gave me an A for effort." His expression softened and turned inward. "Always let me get away with doing my best."

He searched for the disappointment he knew he'd find. If he just looked long enough, he'd see it. But Wilson reflected only concern and compassion. He would, House sniffed to himself, shifting his eyes to the ceiling again.

Wilson wanted to ask so many questions, but he knew better. Contemplative House didn't like to be pressed. So he stayed quiet and kept observing the thin, tired, graying man, for once calm and self-reflexive, he always came back to.

House quieted also, turning on himself again. He always managed to disappoint someone. As much as everything he'd said made his skin itch to flee, the knowledge that Wilson needed to know these things kept him still and present in the bed that was their bed, that hadn't been just his bed or Wilson's bed for a long time now. Lately he found himself incapable of keeping anything really important from Wilson. Somewhere along the line, he'd gotten too old and too lonely to keep pushing Wilson away.

He felt the light touch of Wilson's fingertips on his shoulder and looked over.

"You're not perfect, House," Wilson said. "No one expects that but you. So stop trying."

Wilson's fingertips dug in, offering support, and Wilson smiled.

"Besides, you'd be boring if you were, and I hate boring," he added.

House's lip quirked. Wilson was offering him an out. Of course. Wilson was always generous. Kind. Too kind.

House's face flattened, nearly wrinkling. He blinked steadily and breathed steadily. He had to remain steady.

"What do I do when it happens again?" he asked, not able to keep his voice steady.

Wilson's hand crept from House's shoulder to his chest even as he noticed the substitution of 'when' for 'if'.

"Cross that bridge when we get there," he answered.

House shot him a look that indicated his dislike of that answer.

Wilson let out a breath and half-rolled his eyes. "You don't like uncertainty. It deprives you of the illusion of control. But you can't control everything. You hate that, I know, but it's true." His fingers dug in again. "You're trying. That's enough—because that's all you can do."

House grunted unhappily, eyes on the ceiling. Then, getting over himself, he reached up to place his hand over Wilson's, where it had stopped on his chest. He smiled slightly.

"You'd never make it in the Marines," he said.

"Nah," Wilson answered, relaxing on his side next to House, sensing the approach of sleep. "I'm Air Force material."

House shook his head. "You'd never make it in the Air Force either," he said. He cast an appraising eye over Wilson. "The Navy might take you."

Wilson sniffed a laugh, smiling, and burrowed into the pillow and mattress, lightly flexing his fingers on House's chest.

"I didn't mess up the make-up sex," he said in a triumphant if sleepy voice.

House snorted. "You'll have to try harder next time," he answered.

"Mmm," Wilson purred, half-asleep, "harder."

"Shut up," House answered, reaching to turn off the lamp. "You wake him up, it's your problem."

Wilson merely grunted, too relaxed to formulate a come-back. His hand went limp on House's chest and after a minute or two, he began snoring lightly.

In the dark, House smiled to himself. But it was a long time before he joined Wilson in sleep.