But none, I think, do there embrace.
-- Andrew Marvell, 1621 - 1678
The telephone rang again.
Coffee slopped over the edge of House's red mug and splattered on the carpet. "Shit," he mumbled, and set the carafe back on its hotplate. It wasn't even his phone -- that was the worst part, because it meant he had no real control over it. He could hear it ringing every time he got coffee or went into the conference room. It was Wilson's phone, next door. With the buffer of the office wall between himself and Wilson's desk, it sounded like an angry insect buzzing around his head, insinuating itself in his consciousness. It had been like this almost all morning -- the phone ringing, no one answering, the tiny telephone bug (a flying black beetle with an old-fashioned rotary dial embedded in its back) burrowing deeper into his brain.
He set down his mug and steadied himself, then lifted his cane and banged on the wall. "Wilson! Pick up your goddamn phone!" he shouted. He knew Wilson wasn't there (why else was the phone ringing?) but it gave him some small measure of satisfaction anyway. The phone ignored the banging and kept ringing. With a sigh, House stuck his iPod buds in his ears and turned up the volume. Pete Townshend began wailing about staggering out of an Underground, and House forgot about Wilson's unanswered phone.
Lunchtime, and no Wilson.
There was, however, a small knot of people gathered around Wilson's office door. House could see them if he angled his chair in just the right way and craned his neck just so and squinted -- not that he was nosy, of course. Who cared about people standing in the hallway, blocking traffic? He considered reporting them to PPTH security as a fire hazard just for fun, but instead stood up and opened the door to his balcony.
It was a cool, clear day. House leaned on the balcony dividing wall, resting his weight on his forearms and peering thoughtfully into Wilson's office.
Wilson's suitcoat was hanging on the coatrack behind the desk, and the desk lamp cast a warm yellow glow that competed with the sunshine streaming in. Wilson must've turned it on early that morning when it was still dark. The telephone that had annoyed him for so long was silent. Papers and patient charts were scattered across the desktop, and an uncapped fountain pen had leaked a small blob of ink onto an open folder.
House narrowed his eyes. It was unlike Wilson to leave the pen open. It was the Mont Blanc that House had gotten him for his last birthday, and was both a beautiful writing instrument and a guaranteed source of amusement for House as Wilson's left shirtsleeve cuff invariably got inked when he used it. If it had been House's he would've thrown the leaky thing in a drawer, but not Wilson. It had been a gift, and so he used it. The fact that Wilson might use it because it had been a gift from House never crossed House's mind.
Wilson's office looked like he had just stepped away and would be back any moment. House shrugged, pushing away a vague sense of disquiet, and went back into his own office.
House was writing on the whiteboard, the Fellows throwing out opinions, questions, and theories, when the other doctor stuck his head in the door to the Diagnostics conference room. House gave him a quick glance but didn't stop writing.
The doctor nodded apologetically and scanned the room as if looking for someone.
"Can we help you, Dr. ...?" Cameron asked, and House rolled his eyes.
"Parker," the other man supplied. "Oncology. Sorry to interrupt. I was just checking to see if Dr. Wilson was here. Didn't mean to bother you." Nodding again, he smiled and walked away.
House stared after him. The room was quiet for a moment.
"Okay," House said, turning back to the whiteboard. "With these symptoms --" with a thump of the marker, he bullet-pointed each entry, "what do we have? And don't say lupus!"
Ten minutes later the next doctor stopped by and poked his head in. House looked up.
"Birdsong, Oncology," the man said. "I was just --"
"Looking for Dr. Wilson?" House broke in. The other doctor looked startled
"Yes," he began. "He --"
"You mean to tell me you guys have lost the Head of your own Department?"
Dr. Birdsong seemed to be mildly embarrassed. "Well, we're looking for him," he clarified.
House shook his head. "Pathetic. Busy here." And he turned away and started writing again.
"Well. I'll just ... um ... look elsewhere then," Birdsong said.
"You do that." House didn't turn around.
"House, do you know where Wilson is?" The voice was firm, level, and ... feminine. Cuddy.
House sighed. Was he never to get any work done today? "Darling!" he sang out. Cuddy's eyes narrowed.
"You don't need to use Wilson as an excuse any more!" he continued. "'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments --'"
His impromptu sonnet was brought to a halt by Cuddy's slamming shut the conference room door.
"Um," he said.
"He was here at 6 a.m.," Cuddy said, crossing her arms across her chest. House's Fellows all looked vaguely terrified. "He was scheduled for a 9 a.m. consult in surgery. He never showed up. He's missed two appointments, one board meeting, one budget committee meeting, and two other consults. He's not answering his phone. He's not answering his pages." She took a step closer to House. "Security confirms his car is still here." She took another step closer. Her eyes were serious and her tone even as she repeated her question. "House, do you know where Wilson is?"
House stared at her and made an immediate strategic decision that now was not the time to fuck around. "No," he said.
Her face fell, and in that moment House realized just how much she'd been depending on him for the answer. The next words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
"I'll find him," he said, and winced. Oh, shit, what a stupid Boy Scout answer.
House had sent Foreman to Immunology, Cameron to Neurology, and Chase to the ER to look for Wilson. He didn't honestly expect any of them to actually find Wilson in any of those places, but it would mess with his Fellows' minds and give him time to think.
He paged Wilson, and waited. No answer. He frowned, and tried again, using the emergency code they'd agreed on -- House 911. That should've brought an almost immediate callback. It didn't.
Now he sat in his office, bouncing his oversized dog-toy ball off the opposite wall and catching it. The rhythm was soothing and allowed his mind to focus.
The last time Wilson had vanished like this had been when Tommy Linder died. Julie had left him earlier that same week, but House was convinced the Linder death had loomed larger in Wilson's mind. He threw the ball. Bounce, thump. Linder had been a kid, one of Wilson's very first cancer kids, and Wilson had gotten too close to him. Bounce, thump. That couldn't be it. Wilson had learned his lesson and hadn't allowed himself to become emotionally involved with any more of the Oncology children. Bounce, thump. So -- no dead kid this time, no wife leaving -- it had to be some other emotional trigger, and it had to be a big one for Wilson not to answer House's pages.
His office phone rang and he glanced at the caller I.D. Chase, ER. Catching the ball one-handed, he used the other to pick up the receiver and listen to what Chase had to say.
The morgue was a fine and private place, House thought, putting a sardonic twist on Andrew Marvell's words. He didn't know why other people felt uncomfortable there -- it was quiet and isolated, always dimly lit; a perfect spot for thinking. Or hiding.
Wilson had pulled up one of the hard plastic chairs and was sitting in front of the wall of storage units. He didn't turn his head at the sound of the door opening and closing, and as House drew closer he didn't turn his head to look at House.
House took his time as he approached, studying his friend. The indirect lighting could play tricks in here, and for just a moment Wilson looked like a little boy, seated in a chair too large and waiting for someone to come home. House blinked in surprise and the vision was gone. Wilson had his lab coat wrapped around him -- the morgue always held an uncomfortable chill -- and he looked pale and tired. No, more than that. He looked weary.
There were a few more chairs against the opposite wall. House grabbed the back of one and dragged it, scraping across the floor, to a spot next to Wilson's. Something crunched underfoot and he looked down. Bits of broken plastic littered the floor like the shattered carapace of some black-shelled insect. Wilson had evidently set his pager down and methodically smashed it to pieces with the heel of one French leather shoe. House raised an appraising eyebrow and sat down. Oh, Jimmy, what's happened?
"You know that's coming right out of your paycheck, mister," he said. Wilson's jaw muscle twitched; it was the only indication he was listening. House looked down. A manila folder rested in Wilson's lap and House reached for it. Wilson let him take it and leaned back in his chair a little as House flipped the folder open.
"John Doe," House read out loud from the single sheet of thin hospital paper. "Admitted PPTH ER 7:43 this morning, massive heart attack, pronounced 35 minutes later. Indeterminate age --"
"Forty-five," Wilson mumbled. House glanced up, and Wilson cleared his throat. "He was forty-five," he said, a bit more distinctly.
House looked at him for a long moment, then shut the folder and tossed it back on Wilson's lap. He stood and moved towards the morgue storage unit directly in front of Wilson. When Wilson didn't move he slid it open, the long steel drawer rolling easily on ball bearings.
The man inside was enclosed in a body bag. House pulled down the overlarge zipper tab, and immediately stepped back as a miasma of unwashed rankness and death rose up. The morgue attendants had bathed the body, but the years of life on the streets had left a residual odor untouched by one sponge bath. He waited a few seconds for the worst of the smell to disperse, then looked into the bag.
Behind him, Wilson had started talking in a calm, almost conversational tone. "He had an emergency contact card in his pocket," he said, as House stared at the dead man's face. High cheekbones. Light brown hair, beginning to go gray. "My name on it. But I'll never know now what he was doing so close to the hospital. ER techs didn't find it until after. They called me." House had a feeling if he lifted the corpse's eyelids he'd find hawk-brown eyes, focused now on something the living could never see. "No, his eyes were like yours," Wilson chipped in, and House started. Had he spoken aloud? "Except lighter," Wilson continued, still in that oddly conversational tone. "Ice blue. Could never tell what he was thinking. If he was thinking."
House zipped the bag back up and shoved the unit drawer closed. Wilson was still staring straight ahead as House sat back down.
"You should put the name on the folder," House said gruffly. "Fill out the forms."
Wilson shook his head. "Can't do that," he replied. "If I do that then it's official. I'd have to call Mom and Dad." He looked at House. Wilson's eyes were bright, the pupils slightly enlarged. "There's no turning back from official."
House watched his friend carefully, a low whisper of fear starting in the back of his head. He'd long suspected Wilson's childhood hadn't been as idyllically all-American as his friend always claimed, but he'd have to do a lot more digging and poking to find the truth. There wasn't time for that right now, though -- Wilson had been sitting here in the morgue since early morning, in this cold, dim light, surrounded by the dead and their secrets. The surreality of the situation gripped him as he tried again.
"Wilson." House's voice was softer. "You need to put his name on the folder."
Wilson's gaze drifted away, and he shook his head again. House reached for the folder, but Wilson gripped it tightly with both hands, keeping it secure in his lap.
Have to do something, House thought. He's not connecting ... who knows what ghosts he's been seeing all day?
"No," Wilson said stubbornly. "It would be --"
"I heard you the first time. Official." House sighed. "Jimmy, I really hate to do this, but it's for your own good." In one swift, graceful move, he lifted his cane from the floor and swung, whacking Wilson hard across his left kneecap.
Wilson's mouth dropped open as the blood drained from his face. "Ah --" he said, in a tiny, strangled voice. "Why --?"
"So you couldn't come after me when I did this," House said, as he leaned over and retrieved the folder from Wilson's now-unresisting fingers. Clicking open a ballpoint pen, he began writing.
"Oh ... God," Wilson breathed, as he folded himself slowly over his legs. Tears were welling in his eyes, but not falling. House wasn't sure if they were from the pain or for the dead man in the storage unit. "You fucking hit me."
"Yeah, I know," House said, not looking up. "Just like he used to."
Wilson was fully bent over now, both hands gripping his left knee. His voice was muffled. "I never said --"
"You never had to. It was in your body language every time you talked about him."
Still doubled over, Wilson turned his head to look at House. "I only talked to you about him once!"
"I'm a great observer of the human condition," House replied, clicking the ballpoint shut and replacing it in his pocket. He held up the folder. "Here. It's official."
Wilson stared at the folder, at the name House had written on the tab. The tears pooled over, and Wilson squeezed his eyes shut, resting his forehead on the hands that still clutched at his knee. House looked away, laying the folder flat in his own lap. The name on the tab was all caps, in bold black letters: DAVID WILSON.
House considered funerals a waste of time.
He knew the rationale -- they were for the living, not the dead. They provided closure. He didn't buy it. The living should have better things to do with their time than stand around looking at a hole in the ground, listening to platitudes, and "closure" was just another manifestation of New Age bullshit.
Naturally, he thought about all this as he attended the funeral for Wilson's older brother.
The Jersey weather had turned cold and raw, and Wilson stood stone-faced, wrapped in his overcoat, the light rain leaving sparkling droplets beading on the black wool. House was next to him, the water running in little rivulets off his black leather coat. The rabbi droned on. Wilson's parents and younger brother wept. His parents' and brother's friends wept. House was bored.
It wasn't until the rabbi passed out the small rectangular cards with the Kaddish printed on them that House perked up. Wilson saw him looking at the card and leaned over slightly.
"Kaddish," he whispered.
"I know," House whispered back. "Hebrew prayer."
Wilson shook his head. "Aramaic, written in Hebrew," he muttered.
The rest of the mourners had started reciting the ancient words. No one was looking at them.
"Why?" House whispered. Wilson stared at him.
"Why write it in Hebrew if it's Aramaic?"
"Because --" Wilson started, then stopped. The prayer was finished and now people were looking. Wilson smiled a tight, fake smile at them. "This can wait, you know," he told House through gritted teeth, but House's attention was already somewhere else.
Dirt was raining down on the casket. It was customary for each of the mourners to toss in a small amount of earth, using the small shovel provided for that purpose. Wilson's parents had gone first, their faces like thin parchment paper. Wilson's brother Jonathan was second, scooping out of the dirt pile from the excavated ground and sprinkling the clods over the long wooden box. The dirt made a hollow, clattering sound like hail as it hit the wood. There was a long pause. Wilson was staring at the casket, not moving. House stepped carefully near, his cane sinking a little into the damp ground.
"Wilson." Wilson looked at him. His eyes were forlorn and miserable. House was reminded forcefully of his earlier vision in the morgue, of Wilson as a child, waiting for someone. He touched Wilson very gently in the small of the back. The wool was wet and slick beneath his fingers.
Wilson moved mechanically forward and, stabbing at the dirtpile with the small shovel, dropped a bare handful of dirt into the grave. The earthen clods bounced and rattled. He tossed the shovel aside and walked away. House followed him.
In the car, the heater running, steam rose from both men. The smell of damp lambswool and leather filled the car. "Well, that was sudden," House observed.
His hands moving in short, vicious jerks, Wilson unknotted his tie and slipped it out from under the shirt collar. He stuffed it in a convenient pocket.
"I don't want to talk about this now," he said.
"Are you going to sit shiva?"
Wilson's tone was low and warning. "House. I don't want to talk about this now."
The drive home was very quiet.
House sat at the piano, picking out what notes he could remember of Satie's Three Gymnopedies. Dinner had been Chinese, the beer, Dutch. A Marx Brothers film had been on TV, and after some hours Wilson's mood had finally begun to lighten. The haunted look was still there, but he had laughed with genuine relief at House's singing along with Groucho's Hurray for Captain Spaulding.
He'd caught Wilson earlier, sitting on the couch; rocking back and forth, his hands clasped together in front of him, his lips had been moving in some silent prayer or plea. House had pretended not to see, had turned on his heel and gone back into the kitchen. When he'd come back out with two beers, Wilson had been staring at the television.
Now House's fingers moved in time with his concentration, trying to conjure up the old music lesson. Other images kept intruding; a ringing telephone, a dimly-lit room full of secrets, people seeking but not finding. Wilson was stretched out on the sofa, his features easing at last into drowsy relaxation.
House leaned back a little on the piano bench. Wilson would tell whatever stories he needed to tell in his own time; until then, House was content to wait.