"Wilson." He said it with what he knew was a deadly threat in his voice, but didn't get the reaction he had expected.

"You never will learn to knock, will you?"

Wilson wasn't looking up. His blinds stayed closed all the time now, and House rarely knew what he was doing in here and never asked. Paperwork, it looked like, right now. What a thrilling life. It sucked to be Wilson, but then again, why shouldn't it?

This was already annoying. Wilson would try to defend himself, but without any of the life that used to drive such exchanges. It would be tedious beyond endurance. He considered walking out, but the thought died instantly, crushed by the need for information. Not to mention the anger.

"Tell me the truth, Wilson." He flung the offending item, an early Christmas card, onto Wilson's desk.

"There is no Santa Claus. Will that be all?" Wilson was still not looking up as the card flopped open slowly, like a moth in its death throes. Before he even knew he'd been thinking of it, House saw himself raise his cane and whack it, hard, across desk and paperwork and dying holiday greeting-thing, just inches from Wilson's hand. The effect was satisfactory: He had Wilson's full attention at last. The effect was not at all satisfactory, either: Wilson's eyes were still unreadable, hollow; not even a flash of emotion.

"I said, you're going to tell me if this is true." With the cane tip he shoved the now-flattened card directly beneath Wilson's nose, enjoying knocking his other papers to the floor in the process.

Wilson rested his forehead on the palm of his hand and looked down. There was a flicker of surprise across his face as he realized who had sent the card. Chase, his fellowship over, had left four months ago; none of them had ever expected to hear from him again. He watched Wilson's eyes move over the writing, and the rest of him become very still. Well, that was interesting. Genuine, Wilsonian shock. It meant that Wilson hadn't put Chase up to this, and that had been the first thing he wanted to know.

"Yes, it's true. You can go now." Infuriating.

"You didn't tell me." Not telling him things was standard procedure, since they didn't speak anymore, but this was different, and Wilson knew it.

"No. I didn't. And I don't know why Chase did, either."

"Chase's motives are irrelevant. I want to know why you, my supposed, if former, friend, did not tell me this yourself. It was more important to protect Chase?!" In his mind there flashed an image of a cane connecting with violent force against the side of Wilson's head. It was gone as soon as it had arrived, but it bothered him. Not because it was brutal, but because it was still possible for the man to piss him off that much. He already knew, and did not care to think about, exactly what that meant.

It was now Wilson's jaw, not his forehead, that rested heavily on his hand. Wilson was looking up at him, and that was good. Wilson was an excellent liar until placed under pressure, at which point his skill disintegrated. House knew he had him cornered. If and when Wilson began evading him, his face would announce the falsehoods like a flashing neon sign. Or he'd try to avoid getting caught by turning away, which would be just as good.

"How many reasons do you want, House?"

"All of them."

"Fine." He paused. "To start with, I couldn't know for absolute certain that he really meant to do it. It was the fastest diagnosis I ever had to make. It wouldn't have been so bad if heíd been angry, House. It was so far past that--I felt like I had just seen death itself walk out of the room. He never actually said any of this to me," Wilson flipped the card over like the dead thing it now resembled, "so how could I have told you that I knew? He'd have lied to save his job, and he's more convincing when he lies than I am when I don't. I knew which one of us you would have believed."

House, against his own will, considered this, glaring, thunking his cane in an angry little rhythm on the side of Wilsonís desk. It was true, damn it all. That did not, however, make it OK. No way was Wilson getting off the hook that easily. He had spent a year, a whole goddamn year, without a vital piece of a very important puzzle, and Wilson was going to pay for that somehow.

"So you just kept me in the dark, you asshole. Chase left and you still lied to me, and don't you even try to say it wasn't lying." He was using his best little snarl and puzzled at its lack of effect; Wilson remained maddeningly placid.

ìAnd you'd have believed me, would you, if I had waited until Chase wasn't around to contradict my story? Hm, how convenient. Get real, House. You know exactly how that conversation would have gone."

Yes, he did; and meanwhile it was turning out he'd been terribly wrong about the present conversation. This wasn't merely tedious, it was hell, because really, of all the times for Wilson to have been right, did it have to be now? He almost spun on his good heel and stomped out the door, but the rest of his body wouldn't follow the lead of his foot. Perhaps because he had just become aware that Wilson was actually mad at him. He couldn't recall the last time heíd seen the man show any discernible, real emotion. Fakery aplenty, sure, because that was Wilson's specialty, but real? Nothing real in ages. And now he was getting worked up, his hands clenched and some sort of light in those eyes. No way could House leave yet.

"You'd have hated me way worse for, as you'd have seen it, trying to pass the buck to someone who I hoped you trusted even less than me. Or, hey, let's presume, just for fun, that you'd have believed me. You'd have just loved me for keeping the little wombat from having you skinned alive, wouldn't you? You already knew how hard I was trying to save your ass, anyway, and if that didn't matter--." He took one of those deep, exasperated Wilson-breaths that House hadn't heard in, oh, about a year now. "So no, I didn't bother telling you, and I was never going to." He let out a harsh sigh and that elusive, dim flame of anger left his face. House was extremely annoyed to discover that he wished it would return.

He stared, adding it up, holding Wilson's gaze, feeling all his assumptions shudder and creak beneath his feet like a faulty scaffold. He had known for a while that the thing was shaky, really, and that was why Chase's little stunt had bothered him so much. "Youíre such an idiot, Wilson," was all he could think of to say.

"It just wouldn't have mattered, House," he said, quietly, spreading his fingers flat on the desktop, as if laying down a phantom hand of cards. "You can't tell me it would have. I knew I was sunk, I couldn't have won. Was I supposed to let him have Tritter slaughter you, and then pretend that I hadn't known? Pretend I hadn't sat there on my ass and let him do it?"

There had to be a reply to this, there had to be. "You could've--" he said, but nothing else would emerge. Damn.

"Could've what? I had maybe two minutes to decide whether to sacrifice the only thing I still cared about, or whether to try to keep that thing, your trust, at the cost of letting you rot in jail. You know which choice I made. You're the genius, House. You tell me. I'll give you two minutes to tell me what else I should have done."

He felt a little like he had the day in fourth grade when he had fallen off the jungle gym, landed flat on his back, and lain there just trying to remember how to breathe. Let alone speak. He realized that they were both looking at their watches. His thoughts scrambled in dizzying circles, but there really didn't seem to be a way out. Wilson was waiting, trying to look resigned, but--House noticed with intense interest--failing. Beneath the flat wooden veneer of his face, something was flickering again. Rage, or grief, or maybe even hope. For a moment he wondered whether he could provoke it, whatever it was, out into the open; but so far this little exchange hadn't exactly been going his way, so perhaps that might be a bad idea.

"Time's up, Einstein," Wilson said, his voice even softer now. "Too late. Your best friend will go to prison because you couldn't stand to be the bad guy. That was the choice I had to make. Now get out."

He did, because he knew Wilson, and Wilson was telling the truth and he did not know what to do about it. His wallet and keys were in his pocket, so he didn't even bother going back to his own office. Later, he could recall getting into the elevator, but nothing else until he parked the bike at home and shuffled painfully inside. Two minutes. Chase, in his cheery little card, had confessed that he had spoken to Wilson, tried to eat, gone into the restroom and vomited instead, and then made a beeline for Tritter, intending to put House away for as long as he possibly could. He had stopped only because Wilson had stepped into his path, just outside that fateful door, and said, No. Go home, Chase.

It probably wasn't even two minutes, he thought. Wilson, being Wilson, would have been generous with the estimate. He'd have allowed more time than he himself had really had.

He was furious to find himself watching every clock in the apartment as the night wore miserably on. He couldn't make himself stop measuring out the evening in two minute increments. Some kind of TV show was on, and the commercial breaks took longer than that. Two minutes at a time through the sitcoms and the Star Trek reruns. Two minutes at a time through songs on the stereo, mangled half-assed attempts to play the piano, and pointless excercises in pacing about the living room. Two minutes to make a sandwich and then find out he was too angry to eat it. Sacrifice the only thing I still cared about. Wilson had used the past tense. Meaning he either didn't care anymore, or he did, and knew that House wouldn't want to hear about it.

Damn, but his leg hurt tonight. He wasn't going to fool himself about the reason, not this time. He hadn't wanted Vicodin (hell, preferably morphine, if he were honest) so bad since the day he had found Tritter and Wilson in his office. Wilson, who didn't hate anyone, had learned to hate Tritter very soon afterward, but that was no consolation. He slammed down a shot of whiskey and tried again to turn away from his thoughts, but he couldn't help seeing the microwave oven, its clock showing that another three minutes had passed. Longer than Wilson had. Here he was, a bona fide genius, and in six long hours he wasn't smart enough to figure out what the hell Jimmy should have done.

Or he was smart enough, and that was the problem. Smart enough to know, to have always known, really, that Jimmy had done, if not the right thing, then the only thing possible. Smart enough to know that Jimmy had also left the building that day and never come back. He had been replaced by the animated corpse of Doctor Wilson. Wilsenstein, House thought, and snorted to himself. He looked about the same to everyone else, but House knew that Wilson had become the walking dead; he was practically turning green and growing bolts out of his neck. And House had said to himself that Wilson deserved it, because blaming him had been way easier than this. Hadn't it?

He picked up his cell phone and then threw it angrily on the counter as he remembered that he had long since deleted Wilson's number. That was all right. This was going to call for more--what was the word? More direct action. He sucked at phone calls, anyhow, and there were much more fun ways, much more screw-with-Wilson's-head kinds of ways, to go about this thing. He blinked at the realization that he had in fact just made a decision. But he was still pissed and he'd be damned if he'd go over there with his hat in his hand. Ah. That was a thought. Hats, plural. If you had more than one, and of the correct variety, yes, that could work--he smiled for just a second. It was freakishly pleasant out, for early December (Thank you, global warming), and that would help. He could do this without both of them dying of hypothermia, but he'd take a spare jacket anyway, because he would allow for no whiny, Wilsonian excuses. It was time for payback. For today in Wilson's office, and all the rest of it. A whole year's worth of having the truth withheld from him.

Another two minutes had passed. 11:16 pm. As good a time as any.

It was 11:38 when Wilson answered the door to a very determined House. He hadn't been asleep, and House was pleased because he had known it would be so. He still had Wilson's number, stored in the cell phone or not.

Wilson wasn't saying anything, which was unusual. Confusion worked its way crookedly across the poor little puppy-dog face. Awww. He was already completely knocked off balance. God, but this was going to be fun.

"Not asking me in?" He wasn't going to give Wilson a minute, let alone two. Wilson was generous with the timetable, but not House. "Good. Because your place sucks and you hate it here. Out." He pushed open the door with such swiftness that he surprised even himself, and grabbed Wilson's arm, jerking him outside into the night, stunned. House reached around with his left hand and swiftly locked the inside doorknob before slamming the door shut. He was not going to take any chances. Wilson had no coat on, which meant that his keys and cell phone would still be inside. His options were thus reduced to Go with House or Attempt to sleep in your yard.

"What's the matter with you?" Wilson squawked, standing there on the concrete step in--oh wow.

"You've still got your shoes on, Wilson? At midnight? How anal-retentive are you? Fortunately, it's all good, since I did just lock you out of your home. Oh, no you don't." He clamped down on Wilson's arm again when he saw the little rat make a move to back away. And then he saw, with great delight, the horror flow through Wilson's body as he realized that House had two motorcycle helmets, hung by their chin straps from his right arm, bumping quietly against the cane and each other.

"If you fight me, Wilson," he growled, "you will lose." He shifted, thrust out a helmet and savored the utterly lost expression on the other man's face. "Here."

"Are you planning to kill us both, House?" It was a joke, and it wasn't, but what the hell. Wilson was already buckling the chin harness, dark eyes peering nervously through the helmet's visor, but almost resigned to his fate. House threw the extra jacket at him, and Wilson snatched it without a trace of gratitude.

"Kill us? What, crash, and ruin my ride?" He snorted. "Come on, you pussy." He hitched his leg over the bike and waited, loving the hesitant, distrustful gait of Wilson's approach. He had forgotten just what joy it was to torture him.

Wilson settled stiffly into place, like a pile of upholstered two-by-fours, exactly as House had expected, radiating bitterness and hurt. It was funny, and Wilson could feel House's chuckle, which made him even more angry. "This doesn't mean I forgive you, you bastard," he yelled, over the noise of the freshly started engine. "It just means that I have some sense of self-preservation."

"No you don't, Jimmy. You don't, you never did, and you never will."

There was a smile on his face as he roared out of the driveway with Wilson's petrified hands clamped onto his belt. He was deeply soothed and satisfied by Wilson's confusion, his pain and anger and fear, because all of it was real. It was like sinking his teeth into prime rib after living for eons on tofu. He would have his revenge upon Jimmy, and enjoy every moment of it, even though he knew it was his own damn fault that he'd spent the last year eating lunch with Coma Guy. He would irritate, frustrate, frighten, insult, bicker with and steal from Wilson and that was how he would, eventually, forgive Wilson for his awful, unavoidable choice. And Wilson would forgive him, too, not overnight, but he would. Because he understood House's mathematics, the equations that transformed this kind of revenge into all sorts of other, better things.

"Better hang on," he shouted, as he aimed the bike toward the freeway and felt Wilson's body freeze up even tighter with the increase in speed. He hadní' a clue where he was going, but he'd figure something out, and anyhow that wasn't the point. The point was to scare the shit out of his friend, who had been dumb enough to climb aboard the Death Machine rather than risk losing, again, the last thing he truly cared about. Now. Today. Still.

Present tense, Wilson, you moron, he thought, and twisted the throttle a little wider open. Present tense.