It was the first night for a week that it hadn't rained, which made Wilson's drive from the hospital ten minutes shorter than usual. He sat in his car for a while, looking up at House and Stacy's apartment, trying to put the day behind him and brace himself for the evening ahead. As he finally made his way up the steps, he could almost hear House joking – well, probably joking – that Stacy had only chosen the place to keep him a prisoner and making references to Misery. Not that he needed more of that at the moment.

Stacy's smile was tinged with relief when she opened the door.

"Hi, James. Come in." She took his coat and they exchanged kisses.

"How is he?" Wilson asked.

Stacy shrugged. "Oh, you know."

The weariness in her voice made him look at her more carefully.

"And how are you?"

She shrugged again, not meeting his eyes.

"Same old same old. Still here."

He'd noticed the pile of blankets in the corner of the room three nights ago. It was still there tonight, covered with a blue silk dressing gown. Before he could say anything, Stacy asked,"Do you want a drink?"

"Just coffee for now thanks. Stacy-"

"Wilson? That you?" House's voice carried clearly from the back of the condo.

Stacy gave a rueful smile.

"No, it's the stripper," she called back. "He's late."

"Did he bring beer?"

"Tucked in his g-string."

The exchange sounded so normal, so naturally House and Stacy, that Wilson had to smile, allowing himself a moment of false hope. Stacy caught his amusement and returned the smile, warm and genuine this time.

"Go on through," she said. "I'll bring you both some coffee."

"Feeding the animal caffeine? Are you sure that's wise?"

"It's better than leaving him un-caffeinated, trust me." She patted his arm and headed into the kitchen.

The bedroom overlooked the communal garden behind the building. In the dying light, Wilson could just about make out the shapes of trees and bushes that had been House's view for the last few months. The man himself was sitting propped up in bed, crutches leaning against the bedside table, alongside the cane he'd bought last week. It was too dark in the room to really see properly; House probably preferred it that way. Tough.

House blinked when Wilson flicked the light on, squinting across the room.

"No beer, no g-string. Not by the way you're standing, anyway."

"Sorry, Julie made me throw them all out." Wilson dropped into the easy chair, shrugging out of his jacket and giving House a conspiratorial smile. "But I did bring gossip."

"Juicy, I hope."

"And fresh. Only the best for you."

He broke off as Stacy came in, bringing two mugs of coffee. Wilson took his with murmured thanks and watched as Stacy put House's on the bedside table. There was no communication between them that he could see. No eye contact, no thanks, nothing.

When she was gone, Wilson looked over and met House's challenging gaze.


"Is everything-" Wilson started to ask, but House cut him off.

"I thought you came to bring gossip."

"Am I about to pick up more?"

"It's only gossip if you repeat it."

That was it, end of discussion. Neither of them probed too hard into the other's relationships, maintaining a tacit solidarity. So Wilson let it go, managing to regain his smile

"Well, I'm only going to say this once. You know Lisa Cuddy?"

"Ah, the two best features of my hospitalisation."

"Well, you'll have ample chance for continued familiarization, since she made Dean."

House nodded to himself. "She beat out Hayes."

"And it was some fight, let me tell you."

The corners of House's mouth twitched into something resembling his old smile.

"Hayes plays dirty. You remember that time he got the ER nurses to-"

"I remember," Wilson said quickly. "I guess you have to give him credit for an original idea. And it was working too, right up until you-" he broke off with a gesture.

They both fell silent, smiling at the shared memory. At moments like this, Wilson could forget why they were having this conversation in House's bedroom rather than his office. The moment passed, and House seemed to come back to himself.

"Well, good on her."

"Good on who?"

Wilson looked round. Stacy had come through from the kitchen, leaning on the doorway and wiping her hands on a tea towel. The affable smile dropped from House's face.

"Of course, Stacy talked to her more than I did."

Wilson gave his friend a sharp look, getting only blankness in return. To Stacy, he said,

"Lisa Cuddy's our new Dean of Medicine."

The reaction was not what Wilson expected. Stacy's face fell a little, and she frowned, looking over at House.

"Will that affect you? With the department, I mean."

Wilson caught the flash of – what? anger? annoyance? – that passed across House's face, before he twisted his lips back into a sardonic smile. When he spoke, it was to Wilson, not Stacy.

"But then anything that keeps her in her office and away from patients and their relatives, I'm in favor of." He stretched. "Any idea what's for dinner?"

It turned out to be pasta, with a side order of sarcasm and just a hint of sniping. Afterwards, Wilson left House sitting at the table and went to give Stacy a hand clearing up.

"Look," he said, washing a plate, "I'm sorry. I didn't think."

"No, it's fine. She's not the one who signed the papers."

As she took the plate from him, Wilson held onto it, making her look up at him.

"He can't stay angry forever," he said. The words rang horribly false in his ears and apparently in Stacy's as well, because she shook her head and gently pulled the plate out of his hand.

"You have met Greg, haven't you? The mafia bears shorter grudges than he does." She turned away, putting the plate back in the cupboard. Wilson could see the tension in her shoulders and the way her hands shook as she twisted them in the dishcloth.

"Look, James," she began, her tone of voice lifting the hairs on the back of his neck. "I haven't said anything to Greg yet, but," she stopped, turning to face him and biting her lip. Acutely aware of how awkward he felt, up to his elbows in soap suds, Wilson shook off the worst of it and reached for a towel. He dried his arms as he waited, focussing on them as Stacy struggled for the right words. He'd broken enough bad news to people to know that look. Finally, she stepped closer, dropping her eyes and her voice. "There's a practice in Manhattan that's approached me."

Leaving what he suspected of who'd approached whom aside, Wilson kept most of his surprise from his face. Instead, he dropped the wet towel on the counter and looked at Stacy properly. Stacy who had watched the man she loved go to hell and back. Stacy who had made a decision few would have had the courage for. Stacy who was still here, months later, despite everything House had thrown at her. Wilson couldn't do it; he couldn't be angry at her.

"Partner?" he asked, as though he was genuinely interested.

"Could be."

"Big bucks." Which was clearly the most important feature of the job, not that it would take her away from Princeton. From House.

"Says the soon-to-be department head," she replied, smiling a little. "You're not the only one who hears gossip."

She was good, he had to give her that. But he'd had too much practice deflecting House's changes of subject.

"How long?" he asked, watching her eyes fall again.

"A week, maybe two."

That was a hell of a lot more than an offer. That was 'now I've signed on the dotted line, please can I choose my wallpaper?'

"Weeks?" he asked, unable to conceal his surprise this time. "When-" he was interrupted by a crash and a cry from the lounge.


The shout was one of pure frustration, the kind that House only used when he was really, genuinely angry. Wilson didn't hear it very often.

House was standing between the couch and the side table. An empty glass dangled from his left hand and he was leaning, struggling for balance. The vase of flowers that had been on the table lay smashed on the floor, the center of a growing puddle of water. Apparently, the glass had been full when House picked it up, because there was a dark stain across the front of his sweat pants.

Swearing under his breath, House dropped the glass on the couch and put some more of his weight onto his left leg, face contorted with pain and anger.

"Get a cloth," he snapped, and at first Wilson thought the order had been barked at him. Then he glanced over his shoulder to see Stacy disappearing back into the kitchen.

One thing at a time, he told himself and went to help House. The floor was slippery underfoot and he had to take a long step over the puddle. Without that option, House put his cane down carefully and tried to lean his weight on it. He half caught himself before it slipped away, the movement costing him another hiss of pain. Wilson stepped closer.

"Here, let me." He slipped an arm round House's waist, putting his free hand on the cane. "I've got you."

After a moment's hesitation, House let go of the cane, lifting his arm up to rest on Wilson's shoulders. They made slow, painful, hopping progress across the lounge, Wilson acutely aware of House's labored breathing and the occasional grunt of effort. Behind them, he heard the clink of glass as Stacy began to clear up the mess.

They got to the bedroom without serious incident. House steered them over to the chest of drawers, fishing around for clean clothes. Then they hobbled over to the bed, Wilson ducking out from under House's arm but remaining within reach. He resisted the urge to offer more help, standing silent as House started to change. House sat on the bed, not looking up, leaving Wilson free to observe. He kept his eyes on House's face, the set of his shoulders; anywhere but his right thigh.

There was a moment's pause as House braced himself to stand again and Wilson decided that he'd had enough of just standing there. Screw House's independence. He stepped closer, holding out his arm and for a moment thought he was going to be refused. Then House gripped the waist of the clean pants with one hand and put the other on the offered arm, pulling himself upright and swaying a little as he tried to finish dressing. Wilson shifted his feet to balance them better, putting a hand on House's elbow and leaning forward for stability. They were standing like that, so close that Wilson could feel stubble against his ear, when Stacy came into the room.

"Give me those pants," she said. "I'll take the laundry down."

House nodded and released his grip so that Wilson could bend down and pick up the pants, adding the t-shirt to the pile as well. Knowing that House would just have thrown them in Stacy's general direction, he walked across the room and handed them over, offering what he hoped was a supportive smile. Stacy didn't return it. She hadn't reacted at all to House's outburst or the scene she'd walked in on. There was no anger, no jealousy, no nothing. When Wilson met her eyes, they were empty and cold.

Once she was gone, Wilson turned back to House, who had stretched himself out on the bed, head back against the wall.

"She tell you about 52nd street?" House's tone was normal, conversational. As though this was the most natural thing in the world for them to be talking about.

"What?" Wilson decided to try the ignorant route, but House knew him too well

"You convince Julie with that face?" He gave a snort of near-laughter. "The new practice in the big city. The one she's leaving me for."

Wilson didn't ask how House knew. His friend wasn't above listening in on phone calls, opening mail and doing digging of his own.

"She told me," Wilson admitted.


"And what? Isn't it what you want?"

"Of all the things I want, "a new job for Stacy" doesn't even reach the top ten." House closed his eyes. "I just can't."

"I know." Wilson came to stand at the foot of the bed, looking down at his friend.

"You think I'm an idiot," House said. "That I should try harder. Give her a reason to stay."

"Are you really asking for my advice about relationships?"

"You have enough of them."

"We're talking about you, not me." Wilson took a deep breath. "Yes, I think you're being an idiot. And even if you did give her a reason to stay, I don't know that she'd take it."

"It wasn't your leg she took a piece out of."

"True. It wasn't my life she saved."

That got House to open his eyes, and he glared at Wilson.

"You don't know that."

"And you just can't face the idea that you might have been wrong."

"You weren't there!" House shot back.

"I know." Wilson heard his voice fail as he spoke the words. He hadn't been. All excuses were useless. Wedding anniversaries, the need for a vacation, quality time with his wife. None of them made up for having his cell phone turned off for four days. For not knowing anything about it until it was too late. The frantic drive back to Princeton, dumping his wife at home and sharing sleeping shifts at the hospital for nearly a week. They didn't make up for not being there. Nothing could.

There was nothing else to be said.

Giving up, Wilson took his jacket from the back of the chair and pulled it on.

"Do you need anything before I go?" he asked.

House shook his head, looking across at the crutches and the cane that wer back leaning against the bedside table. Wilson was halfway through the door when House called out.


"What?" He didn't turn around for a moment, not really wanting to know. When House didn't reply, he looked back and met his friend's eyes. Nothing was said, but something passed between them, and Wilson felt a weight lift from his shoulders.

"Same time tomorrow?" House asked.

"Sure." Wilson half-smiled. "But if you don't promise to behave, I'll bring Julie along."

"The ultimate threat." House returned the smile, leaning back against the pillows and closing his eyes again. Wilson made it into the hallway this time, coming to another abrupt stop at the sound of his name. Sticking his head back round the door, Wilson saw House still lying back, apparently dozing off. He didn't open his eyes as he spoke.

"You're here now."

Stacy met him at the door again, coming back with an empty laundry basket. Wilson pretended he couldn't see the redness around her eyes as he retrieved his coat and bag.

"Leaving?" she asked.

"Julie's class finished at eight. I should get home."

Stacy nodded. "Say hi for me."

Making no promises, Wilson pulled his coat on and asked, almost casually,

"Really just a week?"

"Yup." Stacy clasped the basket in front of her, almost hugging it. "Clean break."

"I think it's already too messy for that," Wilson said gently.

"Probably." Stacy gave him a familiar, lopsided smile. "Would you believe a bid to save my sanity?"

"Yes," he said, possibly too quickly. "Yes, I would. You've stuck at it longer than most would have done."

"Not as long as you." Stacy took a step towards him, looking properly at him for the first time that evening. "Look after him."

"I always do." Not thinking too hard about what that would mean, Wilson turned to call back towards the bedroom.

"Bye, House!"

"See you tomorrow." Came the reply. "And don't forget the porn this time!"

Wilson and Stacy both laughed a little, leaving everything else unsaid, knowing that nothing useful was going to come out now.

"Stay in touch?" he asked instead.

She nodded, swallowing hard and blinking back yet more tears. Then, standing on tiptoe, she kissed his cheek and stepped back.

"Goodnight, James."



As she passed the window for the fourth time, Stacy checked that James's car was still there. He usually sat on the drive for about ten minutes before coming up to the front door. Checking her watch, she reckoned he'd be another five minutes or so. She was probably safe to put the coffee on now.

The last drops had just filtered into the jug when the bell rang. Smiling at her own prescience, Stacy went to open the door.

"Hi, James. Come in." Taking his coat, she accepted the proffered kiss.

"How is he?"

Always the first question. Some nights, like tonight, he actually forgot to say hello. Keeping the smile in place, she shrugged.

"Oh, you know." She couldn't keep her voice as even as she'd have liked, and she looked down as James turned to her, frowning.

"And how are you?"

She bit back the instinctive sharp reply. Instead, she shrugged and tipped her head.

"Same old same old. Still here." When she had enough self-control to look up, she saw that James' eyes had moved away from her, roaming the room and lighting on the pile of bedclothes in the corner. The flicker in his expression almost made her lose control again. "Do you want a drink?" she asked, before he could say anything.

"Just coffee for now, thanks. Stacy-"

"Wilson? That you?"

The pain had done little to temper Greg's shout. If ever, it was louder than before and, for once, Stacy was grateful. Before James could reply, she called back,

"No, it's the stripper. He's late."

"Did he bring beer?"

Four words. Four damn words that were the first he'd spoken directly to her in three days, since she'd moved from the cot in the bedroom to the couch. As though she hadn't noticed, she replied at the same volume.

"Tucked in his g-string." She caught James' smile, always infectious, and rolled her eyes. "Go on through. I'll bring you both some coffee."

"Feeding the animal caffeine? Are you sure that's wise?"

"It's better than leaving him un-caffeinated, trust me."

She turned away, heading back to the kitchen and hearing James' footsteps down the passage to the bedroom. Determined not to cry over such a silly little thing as four careless words, she concentrated on pouring coffee and adding sugar. If Greg was only going to speak to her when she was out of the room, then she'd just have to shout at him. Not that there would be anything unusual about that; the neighbors had probably been worried by the recent silence.

The conversation in the bedroom died as she took in the coffee. James accepted his mug with a quiet 'thank you'. She put Greg's on the bedside table and left the room without looking at or speaking to him, hearing the conversation restart at a lower level than before. James missed nothing, and although he'd said nothing to her, she wondered what he'd said to Greg.

The pasta she'd started earlier was just about done, and it was only when she was giving the sauce a last stir that she noticed the blue smudge under her thumb. Running the water until it was hot, she scrubbed at the mark, knowing that Greg had to have seen it already. He'd assume it was from the paperwork she'd been doing earlier in the day as, of course, it was. She'd have to check whether her signature was smudged on the contract.

Grabbing a tea towel, she turned off the stove and went to get the boys for dinner. The conversation had regained its previous animation and Greg was sounding almost like his old self.

"Good on her."

"Good on who?" The instant she spoke, Greg's face became a blank mask.

"Of course, Stacy talked to her more than I did."

She could hear the reprimand in James' voice as he explained.

"Lisa Cuddy's our new Dean of Medicine."

Not sure what to make of the news, she turned back to Greg.

"Will that affect you? Taking over the department, I mean?"

There was something more than annoyance in the expression that passed across Greg's face. There was anger and a flash of the dark humor that she knew so well. Then the moment passed, and he spoke, still to James, with his usual sarcasm.

"Of course, anything that keeps her in her office and away from patients and their relatives, I'm in favor of." Reaching out, he took his cane and began to get up. "Any idea what's for dinner?"

Even though she'd made it, Stacy couldn't actually remember what she'd put in the pasta sauce apart from tomatoes. Greg held forth throughout the meal, taking swipes at her, the hospital, the New Jersey authorities and the new couple who'd moved in across the street. She retaliated when she couldn't help herself, and James kept his head down, staying out of it as much as he could, offering conciliatory remarks and trying to keep things on a polite footing. It didn't work very well.

To make up for it, he came out to help with the dishes.

"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't think."

She knew he wasn't talking about the dinner conversation. Greg had saved some of his more barbed comments for the Dean of Medicine-elect.

"No, it's fine," she said. "She's not the one who signed the papers."

James was holding on to the wet plate, and as she looked up, she could see the outline of the blue still left on her thumb.

"He can't stay angry forever." James said, but she smiled, shaking her head and taking the plate.

"You have met Greg, haven't you? The mafia bears shorter grudges than he does." As she turned away to put the plate in a cupboard, she could feel his eyes on her back. He hadn't asked, but even a blind man could have seen how uncomfortable she was. "Look, James, I haven't said anything to Greg yet, but-" The confusion in his face threw her for a moment and she had to look away. James was drying his hands on a towel and she looked from them down to her own hands, twisted in the tea towel. She hadn't managed to stop them shaking. It was as though she was betraying Greg all over again, telling James first. The thought helped her to get a grip on herself. The first time had been for his own good. This time was for hers. So the question remained as to what exactly she did tell James. Somehow 'Greg hates me and I'm leaving him' didn't seem quite the right way to start.

She took a step closer, speaking more softly in case Greg was trying to listen from the lounge. "There's a practice in Manhattan that's approached me."

His eyes widened for a moment, before he could stop them. Greg always said he was a lousy bluffer. Watching the calm, professional expression take over again, Stacy had to wonder if he was right.

"Partner?" he asked at last.

"Could be."

"Big bucks."

"Says the soon-to-be department head. You're not the only one who hears gossip."

He wasn't distracted by the statement, dropping the towel onto the counter. "How long?" he asked.

She couldn't lie to him but nor could she take the look of sadness and pity that was in his eyes.

"A week, maybe two," she told him.

That broke his composure and his voice rose in surprise.

"Weeks? When-"


Once again, Greg had saved her from an impossible conversation. James pushed past her, beating her into the living room. Greg was standing by the sofa, barely managing to stay upright. The vase that his mother had bought them last Christmas was shattered on the floor, the water mixing with the red wine spilt from his glass. He was breathing hard, leaning his weight onto his good leg and gripping the glass so hard she thought it would break.

After a moment, he dropped it on the couch and looked up, catching her eye.

"Get a cloth."

The anger and frustration on his face was more than she could handle, and she fled back into the kitchen, scooping up a couple of tea towels and the dustpan.

From the kitchen door, she saw James slip an arm round Greg's waist.

"Here, let me," he murmured. "I've got you."

For a moment, Stacy thought Greg would refuse and half of her hoped he would. He had ignored her as much as was possible over the last week. Even anger would have been better than his apparent indifference when he was forced to talk to her. Unwilling to face him, she hovered in the doorway, waiting for the uneven steps to make their way towards the bedroom. Standing there, she realized it hadn't been a week. It had been nine days. Which would make the start of this particular phase the day after she'd received the contract. He had to know.

She told herself it didn't matter. The lounge was empty now, so she began to clean up, collecting together the bigger shards of glass and dropping the towels on top of the water. The wine-glass had left a tiny stain on the couch and, she'd seen, an even bigger one across Greg's pants. Gathering up the sodden towels she took them and the remains of the vase into the kitchen, dropping it in the trash. With that done, she decided she might as well try to rescue Greg's pants before the wine dried in. She remembered her mother once pouring a glass of white wine over her father's shirt to get out a red wine stain. Greg would only have red in the house.

When she reached the bedroom, Greg had changed his t-shirt and was just doing up the string on a clean pair of sweat pants with one hand. He had the other on James' arm and the two of them were leaning against each other for balance. Although neither was speaking, she felt as though she had interrupted a conversation.

Choosing to ignore it for the moment, she said in the most matter-of-fact tone she could muster,

"Give me those pants. I'll take the laundry down."

Greg let go, letting James bring the dirty clothes across. He tried to smile at her, but she couldn't return it. There had been something in the way that he had been helping Greg, in the way Greg let him help, that hurt more than she could think about. She took the laundry basket and fled.

To her relief, the laundry downstairs was empty. She dropped the clothes in the machine, fumbling with the powder drawer and finally, thankfully, hearing the water trickle in. Under the covering sound of the whirring machine, she finally let go of the tears. It was so much easier to cry when no-one could hear you. She hadn't realised how deep the hurt went until she was sobbing, falling to her knees, forehead pressed to the machine and weeping, gasping. The tears flowed from deep within, from a pain she couldn't dull. She felt as though she would never stop, that the hurt was always going to be there and that this, this sense of loss and sorrow and pain, would be everything for the rest of her life.

She came back to herself as the spinning picked up speed, bumping her head against the machine. She stood, shakily at first, willing the tears to subside. Only when the pain was locked away again did she splash her face with water from the sink and head upstairs.

James was on his way out when she reached the apartment.

"Leaving?" she asked.

"Julie's class finishes at eight. I should get home."

Stacy had almost forgotten about the current Mrs Wilson and, judging by the amount of time he spent with Greg, so did James sometimes.

"Say hi for me." This was normality. This was what normal people did. Then James asked,

"Really just a week?"

"Yup." She fidgeted with the basket, not wanting to meet his eye. "Clean break."

"I think it's already too messy for that."

"Probably." Knowing it was as pointless to try to hide things from James as it was from Greg, she half-smiled at him. "Would you believe a bid to save my sanity?"

"Yes," he said, and she believed him. "Yes, I would. You've stuck at it longer than most would have done."

It may have been true, but she was suddenly hit by a pang of guilt.

"Not as long as you," she said. "Look after him."

"I always do."

He always did. The guilt was for him, not for Greg and what she was doing, or had done to him. Before she could speak, he turned towards the bedroom.

"Bye, House!" he called.

"See you tomorrow," Greg shouted. "And don't forget the porn this time!"

They both smiled at that, the difficult moment having passed. With nothing else to say, Stacy bent to put the laundry basket on the floor.

"Stay in touch?" James asked and she nodded, feeling her throat close up again. Putting a hand on his arm, she lifted her face to place a kiss on his cheek, trying to convey everything in that single gesture, reassured by his understanding. She even managed, with a final effort of will, to smile.

"Goodnight, James."



House couldn't work out what had woken him, or when he'd fallen asleep in the first place. He lay with his eyes closed for a moment, reluctant to open them. The four walls of the room wouldn't have changed much since he'd dozed off; they'd still be the same prison cell they were before. The room might have been the county jail compared to the maximum security detention of the hospital, but it was all the same to him. He'd already decided that next week he was going to hire a decorator to put up the least tasteful wallpaper he could get his hands on, just to give him something to look at.

Eyes still closed, he reached out a hand to the bedside table, fumbling for, then finding his bottle of pills. Over the comforting rattle, he could hear voices in the hallway.

"Wilson?" he called. "That you?"

"No, it's the stripper," Stacy's voice came back, nearly making him choke on the Vicodin. "He's late."

Smiling despite himself, House struggled to sit upright on the bed. "Did he bring beer?"

"Tucked in his g-string."

Still grinning, House shifted the pillows to get a bit more comfortable and turned to the door as Wilson appeared, turning on the light as he came in. Blinking against the sudden glare, House looked at his friend.

"No beer, no g-string. Not by the way you're standing anyway."

"Sorry, Julie made me throw them all out. But I did bring gossip." Wilson slipped out of his jacket as he sat down, loosening his tie a little.

"Juicy, I hope," House said.

"And fresh. Only the best for you."

Wilson broke off as Stacy came in with two mugs of coffee. She gave one to Wilson, then came over to put the other on the bedside table. House didn't know if she tried to meet his eyes because he kept his firmly fixed on Wilson. He'd become reliant on his friend for news from the hospital and he hated feeling so out of touch and dependent. Maybe he should come up with a new nickname for Wilson, to reflect his status. 'And now for our PPTH gossip report, over to Doctor James Wilson, our Cripple Correspondent''. That was what he wanted from Wilson. Reports from the hospital. Anything to distract him from home.

"Well?" he asked, after Stacy was gone.

"Is everything-"

House cut him off before he could finish the question.

"I thought you came to bring gossip."

"Am I about to pick up more?"

"It's only gossip if you repeat it," House shot back, watching concern cross Wilson's face. If they were going to have that conversational battle, House was betting he had more ammunition. Wilson had clearly thought of that as well.

"Well, I'm only going to say this once. You know Lisa Cuddy?"

Whatever else he'd lost, House could still bluff with the best of them. His face was straight and his voice even as he replied.

"Ah, yes, the two best features of my hospitalisation."

"Well, you'll have ample chance for continued familiarization, since she made Dean."

"She beat out Hayes." In his mind's eye, House could see Lisa Cuddy. Stunningly attractive, fiercely intelligent, just plain fierce on occasions. Despite everything, he had a grudging respect for her as a person. He tried not to think of her as a doctor.

"And it was some fight," Wilson went on, "let me tell you."

House nodded. "Hayes plays dirty. You remember that time he got the ER nurses to-"

"I remember." Wilson was trying to sound embarrassed, but his sense of humor was getting the better of him. "I guess you have to give him credit for an original idea. And it was working too, right up until you-" He waved his hands expressively.

House smiled. That had been one of his best efforts. "Well, good on her."

"Good on who?"

House hadn't heard Stacy come down the hall, and his reaction owed more to reflex than thought.

"Of course, Stacy talked to her more than I did."

He was sure that he got twin glares of annoyance, but he only saw Wilson's, a brief flash of anger before he looked away.

"Lisa Cuddy's our new Dean of Medicine."

Apparently, Stacy was quicker on the uptake than Wilson because the first thing she did was look at House.

"Will that affect you?" she asked. "With the department, I mean?"

Of course Stacy would get it. She always did. But he was damned if he was going to acknowledge that.

"But then anything that keeps her in her office and away from patients and their relatives, I'm in favor of." He stretched a little, reaching out a hand for his crutches, then catching himself and putting it on his cane instead. "Any idea what's for dinner?"

Stacy wasn't a great cook, but she knew what she was doing with pasta. To cover up for it, House made a point of maintaining a running commentary throughout the meal and pouring himself a second glass of wine. He could still goad Stacy into fighting, which at least gave him something to do. Wilson was harder work tonight, only occasionally joining in to call time-out with a look or a conversation-killing comment.

One good thing about not being able to stand on two feet was having a cast-iron excuse for getting out of the dishes. The downside was that his display over dinner seemed to have pushed Wilson into a fit of helpfulness. That left House alone at the dinner table, nursing the second glass of wine and an incipient cramp in his right leg. Stacy had started refusing to feed him if he sat on the sofa and the hard, upright chair wasn't doing his back any good at all. Soft cushions were only a few steps away now, and the combination of alcohol and Vicodin was giving him added confidence. So much so that he decided he could make it there with his wine and without help. He had two hands and two things to hold. Should work fine.

It was a nice simple plan. Wine in the left hand, cane in the right, - which was where it belonged and what did the physio know about it, anyway? - just a couple of short steps and he could sink into the cushions.

Where the plan went wrong was at the table behind the couch. Stacy had put a vase of roses far too near the edge, so that as he listed to the left, momentarily easing the strain on his right leg, he caught the tallest flower with his elbow. Where the plan went to hell was when he tried to grab for the falling vase. It was never going to work. As the vase hit the floor and the wine followed it, he tried to shuffle out of the way, getting a searing bolt of pain for his forgetfulness.

"Damnit!" He was angry now, at himself, the roses, the wine that was seeping into his pants, and, just for good measure, the world in general. As the pain receded to its usual fierce ache, he realized that he was still clutching the wine glass. Screw that.

He dropped it, not caring where it ended up, and saw Stacy and Wilson coming out of the kitchen.

"Get a cloth," he snapped. Stacy turned away at once while Wilson came over to him, stepping across the growing puddle. House tried to put his cane down, lean his weight onto it; his left leg was starting to cramp under the strain but the floor was too wet. The resulting slip sent another burst of fire up his thigh.

"Here, let me," Wilson said, taking the cane from his hand, putting the other arm around his back. "I've got you."

House hesitated, then brought his arm up and over Wilson's head, letting him take the weight. For one wonderful moment, the pain receded, clearing his head from the red mist that had come down over it. He knew it wasn't real, only temporary at best, but the slight easing felt heavenly. The pain would creep back, he knew, seeping into his nerves and remaining muscle, setting them on fire again. He tried not to think about that, concentrating instead on pushing the pain further away. For now, arm wrapped around his friend's shoulders, he could rest.

He was glad that he had enjoyed it while he could, because Wilson was already encouraging him to move and he wasn't exactly in a position to refuse. The walk to the bedroom was memorable for all the wrong reasons. In his peripheral vision, he was aware of Stacy moving around the lounge, cleaning up his mess. He could almost hear her making the obvious reply, and the grim humor helped him through the next step.

Several years later they reached the bedroom and House was beginning to realize exactly what it was that physios knew. Wilson wasn't bad in an emergency but the staff who'd moved him around when he couldn't move himself had been considerably more skilled. His arm ached, a welcome distraction from his leg, although nowhere near enough.

He fumbled around in the chest of drawers for clothes, then, with Wilson's help, dragged himself over to the bed to change. It was always tricky, trying to do things in the right order so that he only had to stand up and sit down once. He pointedly ignored Wilson's worried looks as he changed shirts then pulled at the cord of his sweat pants. He managed to sit down on the bed to get the pants off, still not needing to look up to know that Wilson was watching him. If he didn't look up, maybe he could pretend that he wasn't humiliating himself in front of an audience.

The illusion was broken as Wilson came closer, offering him an arm for support. House hesitated for a moment, but he needed the help, he knew, and it wasn't like Wilson hadn't already seen the worst of it. Bracing himself, he put a hand on Wilson's arm and pulled himself upright. At first, he didn't think it would work, what with his unsteady balance and needing a hand for his pants. Then Wilson shifted, bringing a hand up to support his elbow and House felt himself leaning harder, sure that he wasn't going to fall now. He had to stop in the middle of tying the pants, letting the flame in his leg die down before attempting to move again. He could feel Wilson's breath against his throat and a slight trembling in the arm under his hand.

Stacy's voice broke into the silence. "Give me those pants," she said. "I'll take the laundry down."

Feeling, rather than seeing Wilson's hesitation, House nodded and released his grip. As Wilson reached down for the dirty clothes, House saw the white marks he'd left on Wilson's arm fade then blossom into red. Gently, he sank back down, getting a good grip under his right knee before lifting it onto the bed. It hurt like hell, but he'd let Wilson be concerned enough for one day.

"She tell you about 52nd street?" he asked, when Stacy was gone.


"You convince Julie with that face?" Actually, it hadn't been that bad a lie, but Wilson and Stacy had been talking too quietly in the kitchen for it just to have been about dishes. "The new practice in the big city," he went on. "The one she's leaving me for."

"She told me," Wilson said softly, the guilt finally showing.


"And what? Isn't it what you want?"

"Of all the things I want, 'a new job for Stacy' doesn't even reach the top ten." House put his head back and closed his eyes. He was tired, sore and angry, and Wilson knew him too well to be fooled by casualness. Even through his eyelids, he could feel he was being watched, and suddenly the tiredness took him. "I just can't," he whispered.

"I know."

House heard Wilson move across the room and felt the slight jolt as his knees hit the end of the bed. It felt like an explosion in his thigh, pushing the tiredness out of the way as pain took control again.

"You think I'm an idiot," he said through gritted teeth. "That I should try harder. Give her a reason to stay."

"Are you really asking for my advice about relationships?" Wilson asked.

"You have enough of them."

"We're talking about you, not me." Wilson was silent for a moment, then went on, "Yes, I think you're being an idiot. And even if you did give her a reason to stay, I don't know that she'd take it."

"It wasn't your leg she took a lump out of."

"True. It wasn't my life she saved."

That was enough to push anger just ahead of pain in the control stakes.

"You don't know that."

"And you just can't face the idea that you might have been wrong."

"You weren't there!"

It sounded so pathetic even if it did have the desired effect.

"I know," Wilson said, lowering his head, looking away, around, anywhere but at House. There were no apologies between them. That was another unwritten rule. House wasn't about to apologize for being angry, Wilson couldn't apologize for actually trying to make something of his marriage. And Stacy wasn't about to apologize either. House knew where he was on that front and, during the silence, he wondered if he'd finally pushed Wilson to the same response.

He was convinced of it when Wilson tugged his jacket on and straightened his tie before leaving. Then he asked "Do you need anything before I go?" and House felt the sudden tension ease. He just shook his head, then, as Wilson got to the doorway, he called him back.

"What?" came the reply, sounding as tired as House felt. Knowing that any words were going to be the wrong ones, House waited until Wilson was looking directly at him to ask,

"Same time tomorrow?"

"Sure." Wilson smiled, out of forgiveness or kindness, for once, House couldn't tell. "But if you don't promise to behave, I'll bring Julie along."

"The ultimate threat." House returned the smile, leaning back into the pillows as he felt the last of his energy draining away. He waited until Wilson had taken four steps, enough to take him into the corridor without being out of earshot, before he called him back this time. He heard the footsteps stop and come back to the doorway of the bedroom.

"You're here now," House said, almost too quietly for Wilson to hear. But only almost.

He drifted a little, listening to the murmur of voices in the hall again, waiting for the sound of the door closing. He thought he might have actually been asleep when Wilson's shout jerked him awake again.

"Bye, House!"

"See you tomorrow. And don't forget the porn this time!" he shouted back. He didn't hear the door closing, and he was still smiling when sleep overtook him.