Title: Headwall 3/3
Genre: House/Wilson gen (friendship); angst/humor
Summary: What a stupid move it had been, to hope that House would not find out that he was going to the conference in Aspen.
Timeline: Set in January, 2006, the middle of Season 2Chapter Three
Wilson knew that one of the reasons House avoided conferences—though he would never say it in so many words—was that he tended to run into colleagues and med school acquaintances he hadn't seen for years. There was always the stunned moment while they took in the cane and the limp and the scruff, followed by the awkward moment when they pondered whether to say anything, and the even worse moment when House had to try to ignore it all, or decide whether to go for the flip explanation ("pulled a hamstring playing Twister") or –rarely--the straight answer.
Bad enough to have all those one-on-one encounters as an attendee. As a very public speaker, and in the silence of the auditorium, it must have been even worse for him, climbing the four long steps at the front of the conference hall stage, to hear the murmurs start to circulate the room. Wilson felt fiercely protective and angry on House's behalf as some of the people around him exchanged glances, then snickers, and half-overheard remarks.
"God, he looks like he's been living in a dumpster."
"What the hell happened to him? He was always supposed to be such a wonder-boy?"
"I heard he's got a drug habit."
"Too bad about his leg." Followed by a snort. "But his ego could use taking down a peg, from what I've heard."
"Believe me, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." That was Blaine, unaware that Wilson was sitting directly behind him.
The murmurs subsided as House, with no preamble, launched into his speech. Wilson stopped paying attention to the people around him, and listened to what House was saying. He was, frankly, blown away. With the exception of the lecture House had given at PPTH last year on leg pain, he'd never really seen House in this setting before: he spoke for nearly an hour without notes, leaning hard on the podium but refusing to sit in the chair someone had provided for him. He was quiet, professional, and dead serious. His research had been meticulous and well documented and his conclusions were well thought out. House never mentioned his own struggle with chronic pain, but it was clear from the reactions around Wilson that his personal connection to the topic was not lost on the audience.
When he finished—and Wilson knew that by now his leg must have been agony—he didn't take questions, or acknowledge the crowd. Instead, he frowned, abruptly unhooked his cane from the side of the podium, and limped heavily over to the stairs in front of the stage. And there he stopped.
With a sinking feeling, Wilson realized what was going on. House was desperate to get off the stage out of the public eye, someplace where he could sit down--but he wasn't sure he could make it down the stairs. Going down was always harder than going up for him, and his leg had to be exhausted from standing the last hour. Wilson stood up and pushed out of the row as fast as he could. But the conference organizer, who'd been sitting in a front row, beat him to it. Wilson bestowed a quick blessing on the woman as she jogged up the stairs to the stage, with her hand extended to make it look like she had just come to thank House for his speech. At the same time, someone in the crowd began clapping, and the rest quickly joined in.
"Thank you, Dr. House," said the woman over the noise, pumping House's hand. And under cover of the sustained ovation, she said something in his ear and then, a hand on his elbow, guided him off stage left, avoiding the issue of the stairs altogether. Wilson breathed a sigh of relief, and collapsed into a chair. Just one more chapter in the continuing saga of Life with House, he thought ruefully.
Like most of the other doctors, Wilson changed into his ski gear before lunch, which was being served in one of the lift lodges at the foot of Aspen mountain. But he was having a hard time working up any enthusiasm for skiing, despite everything House had said to him about not worrying about him. He was worried about him. He hadn't seen House since the lecture, and his assumption that he'd gone to the hotel room to lie down and rest his leg had proved false when he'd gone back there to change and found the room empty.
When he didn't find him at lunch, either, he picked up the phone and called.
"Where the heck did you disappear to?"
"I'm enjoying the après ski scene."
"You can't, by definition, enjoy après ski until after skiing."
"Okay then. I'm enjoying the avant ski scene. In a hot tub. With some hotties."
"Open your eyes."
Wilson swiveled around. House was sitting a few feet away from him, not in a hot tub but on a sofa, facing a cheerful fire burning in the fireplace in the center of the lodge. His right leg was propped up on one of his crutches, which was laid across two chairs. On one side of him sat a blond woman in an Aspen ski instructor parka, who was laughing at his last remark. More surprising, House's right leg was encased in a long, thigh-to-foot orthopedic knee brace. Wilson hurried anxiously over.
"House," he said, looking at the brace. "What happened? Did you —"
"Dr. Wilson," said House abruptly. "I'd like you to meet Heidi." The ski instructor gave him a brilliant smile. "Heidi works in the Handicapped Ski Program at Aspen. She's from Austria. Aren't you, liebchen?" Heidi smiled at House warmly.
"But your leg—"
"Yes," said House hastily. "Good news. Turns out it's not fractured after all. Just torn ligaments."
"I'm…so relieved," said Wilson slowly.
"Ja, you should know better than to ski the Headwall on your first run down," said Heidi, placing a hand on House's leg. "Especially when it's sooo icy."
"Yes, that will teach me," said House. Heidi gave him a soulful look. House drained the drink he had in his hand, and raised his eyebrows at her.
"Eine anderes glas gluwein?" she asked solicitously.
"Bitte," said House handing her the empty glass mug, and she got up to go to the bar, making sure to wiggle her cute little ass as she went. Halfway there she turned to give him a smile over her shoulder. House watched her go, and then turned to the astonished Wilson.
"Did you know hot wine is the national drink of Austria? Sadly, it contains very little alcohol." Then, before Wilson could respond: "She's giving me a lesson in a few minutes. I'm going to try it on one ski, using these." He picked up a sort of modified arm crutch that had been propped against the sofa. Instead of a rubber tip, it ended in a short ski. "It's part of the handicapped ski program. You get your first three lessons free. Did you know that?"
Wilson sat down. "House, I…you…So this"—he gestured toward the leg brace—"this is the 'special equipment' you brought? In order to attract women?"
"Works like a charm, especially with the crutches. Hey, cripples are boring. But wounded veterans, so to speak—very sexy. Thanks for playing."
Wilson sat back with a sigh. It was hard to believe he had felt sorry for House and worried about leaving him behind while he, Wilson, enjoyed himself on the slopes. He pulled his mittens and hat out of his pocket.
"So, you're really okay with me going skiing?"
But before House could answer, Blaine and Simpson walked up. They cast questioning looks at House, and his knee brace, but neither of them mentioned it. Simpson was wearing a coat and tie, but Blaine was dressed in the most expensive ski gear money could buy: a shiny yellow parka and blue ski pants, with state-of-the art boots. In his hands he carried a short pair of brand-new-looking parabolic skis.
"Simpson, you're not going out dressed like that?" said House. "You'll get all frostbitten."
"I don't ski," said the orthopod sourly.
"Smart move," said House. "Hang out down here at the Ski Patrol headquarters and wait for them to bring the casualties down on the toboggans. The orthopedic version of ambulance chasing."
Simpson chose to ignore the remark, but Blaine gave House a pitying look, and then smiled at Wilson.
"Jimbo, you know what they say: never ski alone. You know the mountain. Are you up for showing me the best runs?"
Wilson, who had been buckling up his ski boots, paused and glanced up at House.
"You could take him down the Headwall," suggested House innocently. Then he looked at Blaine. "Depending on how good a skier you are."
"I'm an expert," Blaine declared. House appeared to think this over, tapping his fingers on his cheek and giving Blaine the once-over.
"Don't believe him," he said at last to Wilson. "Blaine—that's a Jewish name, right? You Orthodox or Reformed?"
"Catholic, actually," said the doctor, unable to conceal his irritation. "And I don't see what that has—"
"Stick to the intermediate trails, Wilson. Take my advice. Avoid the Headwall at all costs. It's not for the faint of heart. Tragically, my own skiing days are over"—he rolled his eyes dramatically at Blaine—"but the last time I skied it, I very nearly—"
But Blaine had shouldered his skis and was already on his way outdoors. "Come on, Jimbo," he said.
House leaned back into the couch. "Ski responsibly," he called after them.
Simpson turned to him as Heidi came back bearing two steaming mugs of gluwein. "What are you trying to do?" he asked House.
Another innocent smile. "Oh, Dr. Simpson. Some day you'll thank me."
When the cell phone call from Wilson came, at approximately 2:45, they both responded, Simpson walking and House stumping on his crutches up the short but steep slope to the Ski Patrol headquarters. There Simpson was able to do a quick assessment. He shook his head sadly.
"Looks like your ACL," he said to Blaine as the doctor groaned in pain on the cot. "But we'll have to do an MRI to be sure. I'll go with you to the clinic."
"The anterior cruciate ligament?" repeated House. He glanced down at Blaine. "A damn shame. I'm afraid your skiing days are over, buddy. But don't despair." He gave the oncologist's shoulder a manly massage. "I've got a spare knee brace you can borrow."
As Wilson and House exited the Ski Patrol building, the last crimson rays of the January sun were picking out the top of Red Hill, behind the glittering town of Aspen, and night skiing lights were winking on on the slopes above them. Wilson surveyed the scene, filled with the kind of pleasant fatigue that comes after a day of hard exercise. House had paused as well, his lanky form silhouetted against the sunset. It might have been seven years ago, if not for the crutches.
Wilson broke the brief silence.
"Mose Solomon," he said.
House cocked his head at him, and waited.
"The 'Rabbi of Swat,' Wilson continued. "Batted .375 for the New York Giants."
"The Rabbi of Swat? Doesn't have quite the same je ne sais quoi, does it?"
"No, but it does disprove the stereotype."
House snorted. "And the fact that he only batted in two games, what's that mean? And that's the best you can come up with after Googling 'Jew' + 'athlete' for five days?"
Wilson laughed and bent to pick up his skis for the short hike down the hill, but House stopped him. He was still wearing the single ski boot from his earlier lesson, and as Wilson watched he balanced on the crutches and stabbed his left foot into the binding of one of Wilson's skis, stomping it home with a firm click.
"Come on, Rabbi," he said, pointing to the remaining ski with his crutch. "I'm gonna teach you to ski on one ski."
Wilson's face split in a slow grin, then he thrust his boot into the ski and grabbed his poles. "Race you to the bottom," he said.
And off they went, side by side, the one skiing with a reckless abandon, perfectly complemented by the flawless style of the other.