"I just want to know who tried to kill the kid."
Greg stood at the edge of the pool. The concrete was hot under his bare feet and he moved closer until his toes reached the puddle of water on the tiles.
"C'mon, Greg, you can do it!"
Dad stood in the pool a few feet away from the edge, arms stretched toward Greg, the water up to his chest.
"I'll catch you," Dad said. "Jump!"
"It's too deep, John." Greg turned toward his mother, sitting in the shade of an umbrella. "He's only four," she said.
"Don't baby him, he can do this." Dad turned to Greg. "Right?"
"Now jump," Dad said. "I'll catch you, I promise."
Greg jumped up into the air, away from the solid surface of concrete and tile. He kept his eyes on Dad, saw him smile, then saw Dad's hands move back, away from Greg. Greg hit the water, closed his eyes, dropped below the surface and kept falling. He kicked, paddled wildly with his hands. He felt himself moving.
He broke through the surface, eyes still shut, nose filled with water. He coughed and took in a breath of air.
Greg felt his father's hands under his arms, felt himself being lifted. He opened his eyes, saw Dad smiling.
"Greg!" Mom was kneeling at the edge of the pool. Greg looked at her. "Honey, are you OK?"
"Of course he's OK, aren't you son?"
Greg turned toward his father, saw the grin on his face, and smiled back at him. He turned toward Mom and nodded.
Mom straightened up, hands on her hips. "John, you shouldn't do that. He's just a little boy."
"He's not a boy, he's a Marine, aren't you son?"
"He's too young for the Marines, and this water's too deep for him."
"Stop worrying, Blythe," Dad said. "It's the best way to learn how to swim -- just jump right in. It's the way my Dad taught me, and the way his father taught him." He loosened his grip on Greg, let him float along the surface. Greg kicked his legs again, felt himself move in the water.
"You told him you'd catch him."
"Stop worrying. He's fine, aren't you?" Dad pulled him close again, lifted him up to sit on the edge of the pool.
Greg nodded. He felt the water dripping down from his hair into his eyes and he wiped away the moisture with the palm of his hand.
"Ready to go again?"
Greg looked at Mom. She'd stepped back toward her chair and into the umbrella's shadow. She was shaking her head. Dad smiled and splashed some water onto Greg's legs. Greg laughed and splashed Dad. He stood and looked out at Dad in the pool.
Dad stepped back from the edge. The water was deeper this time, nearly to Dad's shoulders.
"Let's see you go further this time, OK?" Dad held out his arms. "C'mon Greg, jump!"
"Are these people completely incapable of telling the truth to each other?"
"You said I'd be able to keep it." Greg stood next to the bicycle his father was loading into the car to take to the Salvation Army.
"No I didn't." Dad tied the trunk shut.
"Yes you did," Greg said. "When you brought it home you said if I didn't get in trouble at school that we could take it with us."
"That was before I got the posting in Egypt," Dad said. "There's no room."
"Greg, don't be a baby, you're almost ten years old." Dad opened the car door. "We'll get you another bike," he said. "I promise."
"You promised before."
Dad closed the door and started the car. He leaned out of the window. "Well then you'll just have to trust me, won't you?"
Greg watched Dad back the car out of the driveway and onto the road.
"People pray so God won't crush them like bugs."
Dad was on maneuvers when Grandpa died and Greg and Mom went to the funeral alone, flying out from California to Florida.
Greg looked at the body in the coffin. Grandpa's hands were folded over his stomach and Greg couldn't remember ever seeing them so still. He remembered the tombs in Egypt, the way the mummies would be sealed up with food, with jewels, with servants -- everything they would need for the afterlife.
He thought about dropping a screwdriver into the coffin, so Grandpa would have it later -- when he needed it -- but then remembered that all those things they'd put into the tombs rotted away unused. There was no afterlife. Nothing but archaeologists and spiders and dust waiting in the years and centuries that followed.
He felt Mom step next to him, reach one arm around his shoulders and squeeze him tight. He was nearly as tall as she was now, and at 12 he knew better than to cry. Dad had told him over the scratchy ship-to-shore telephone that he needed to be a man for his mother. He needed to take care of her.
"Are you OK, honey?" Mom asked.
"We'll see him again, someday," Mom said. "In the next life."
Greg turned to her. "How do you know?"
"Because God promised," she said.
Greg shook his head. "But you can't know that, can you?"
"Faith isn't about believing in what you can prove is true, honey," Mom said. "It's about believing in things you can't prove, and I believe we'll see Grandpa again someday."
She squeezed his shoulder again. He let himself relax for just a moment, allowed his head to drop down onto her shoulder as she hugged him. He could smell her perfume as it fought against the odor of the funeral parlor's lilies and dust. Then Aunt Sarah called her name and she kissed the top of his head before stepping away.
"Your old gym teacher has a big mouth. You should write a thank you note."
"I'm sorry, but I can't help you out." Mr. Jamerson didn't look at Greg when he spoke, just kept his attention focused on his papers as he graded the ninth graders' science tests.
"You said you'd write the recommendation," Greg said. "You said I belonged in the honors program."
The red pen stopped for a moment above a paper. Greg looked down, noticed that the student had misspelled kinetic. He recognized the name at the top of the page -- a colonel's daughter. The pen moved down the page without making a mark.
"The principal doesn't think you do," Mr. Jamerson said. "He thinks you're undisciplined, that you don't put in any effort unless you're interested in the class." He looked up at Greg. "Can't say that I disagree with him there."
"It's not fair," Greg said. "You know I'm smarter than any of the other morons in those classes."
"Well I think it's safe to say you certainly have a bigger ego than they do."
Greg ignored him. "And you promised last week that you'd get me in there. You promised my Mom you'd do it. She already told my Dad that I was getting in."
"That was before the cherry bomb incident in the second floor bathroom."
"That wasn't me," Greg said. Mr. Jamerson looked at him over the top of his glasses. "You can't prove it."
"The principal doesn't agree."
"You're not even going to try?"
"I did," he said. "I talked to him ..."
"I don't believe you," Greg said.
Mr. Jamerson put down his pen. He steepled his fingers together in front of his face like he did whenever he was in charge of study hall, when he'd stare down the older boys to try and get them to behave. Greg stared back at him, didn't blink.
Mr. Jamerson looked down.
"Greg, you're a bright young man, but you're walking around with a huge sense of entitlement," he said. "Nobody owes it to you to put you in that program. Believe what you want to." He picked up his pen again. "You're not getting in."
"Your unwillingness to stick by your diagnosis almost killed this woman."
The woman was 73 and in the early stages of renal failure when she was transferred over to nephrology.
House wasn't assigned to her case. He hadn't been assigned to anything except scut work since starting his residency two months earlier: doing his attending's charts, collecting lab work, checking in with the patients in dialysis.
Bohn had tossed the chart on top of House's stack. Renal artery stenosis, he'd said. A simple clear-cut case. House looked at the tests, the results of the arteriography, the long list of symptoms.
"No it's not," House said. "There's no narrowing of the arteries."
"Did I ask for your opinion?" Bohn took the file. "Hypertension, edema, renal failure. And there is narrowing."
"Not enough," House said. "And seizures don't fit."
"They do if she's losing too much salt due to urine output." Bohn gave him back the chart. "Now, are you capable of doing your job and getting the surgery scheduled, or do I have to find someone else? There are plenty of other doctors out there anxious for a residency here."
House opened the file again, flipped past the lab reports to the patient history. It was there, in the notes, the fact that she chewed tobacco -- and from somewhere he remembered reading that some tobaccos had a high licorice content, that high levels of licorice depleted potassium. He sensed the picture developing in his mind, the cheap tobacco, the lifetime habit, the kidney damage. "You're wrong," he said.
"You're the one who's wrong. You think you're irreplaceable? You're nobody. We've got a waiting list, and Jeffords never wanted you here in the first place. He knew about Hopkins. I'm the one who talked him into bringing you in," Bohn said. "One word from me, and -- well, he may not be able to get rid of you right away, but he can make your life miserable until you ask him to release you."
"I'm sure he could," House said. "But I meant that you're wrong about the patient. She doesn't need surgery, just potassium."
Bohn shook his head. "You're grasping, House. You're looking at something that's not there."
"It is there," House said. "Muscle weakness, seizures, renal failure ... it's hypokalemia."
"It's not ..."
"Hypokalemia can cause renal artery stenosis. Operate and all you'll do is make some surgeon more money that he doesn't need. All she needs is potassium. Start that, and she'll respond without surgery."
Bohn snatched the file from House's hand. "You know what? Forget it," he said. "I don't have time to teach you how to be a doctor today if you're not willing to listen. I'll schedule the surgery myself. I'll do your job, then I'll tell Jeffords that he should wash you out."
House finally stood, using his height to look down on Bohn, trying to give himself an advantage he wasn't sure he had. "Don't bother. I'll tell Jeffords myself. He'll agree with me."
He brushed past Bohn, headed for the door.
"You're a resident," Bohn said. "First year. Why do you think Jeffords will believe you?"
House stopped, thought about the question. "Because I'm right."
"A hundred bucks says they're as miserable as the next couple."
"I love you."
House felt the vibration of Stacy's voice as she lay on his chest. He could feel the beating of her heart, could almost count her heart rate as it slowed, could see her flushed skin cool to pale pink.
"Prove it," he said.
"I think I just did."
"That was sex, not love. I could get the same assurance for two hundred bucks."
He could feel the slight hitch of her breath as she chuckled. "You've discovered my secret," she said. "I'm only here for the money. A girl has to find a way to pay off law school."
He let his fingers slide along the length of her hair, feeling the softness that came from the bottle of conditioner in the shower, the thick texture that came from her mother's side of the family. She turned to face him.
"It's all right if you don't say it too," she said. "It's the 'L' word. It's a big step for you."
"I can say it, but it's just a word," House said, "or three words. I love you. See? Doesn't change anything. I could also say that I love Angelina Jolie and dim sum from that place over on Fourth. Words don't mean anything."
"Words do have meanings." Stacy rolled onto her side, but kept her arm across his chest, maintaining contact. "Those three words mean something -- even if you've never said them before."
"You want to believe that because laws are made of words, and juries are swayed by words and judges are convinced by words," House said. "But without cops and fines and jails to back them up, they don't mean anything. They're just social conventions." He turned on his side toward her, raising himself up on one elbow. He took her by her hand, their fingers intertwining. "Actions are what matter."
"So do you think I'm lying when I say that I love you?"
He shook his head. "I have no reason to say that you are."
"But you haven't discounted that possibility."
"I think," he said, "that the fact you haven't moved out says more than any three words. I think the fact you invited my parents here for Christmas even after you met my father says something."
"So what lesson should I take from the fact that you never put the toilet seat down?"
"That I'm a heartless bastard." House smiled. "And that you have made a very, very foolish choice."
"And what about the fact that you bring me flowers every Friday?"
"That I know how to steal them from patients' rooms before the nurses notice."
Stacy smiled. "And what about the fact that you didn't complain when I made you cancel those tickets to Paris because I had to work?"
"That I'm so wealthy that I didn't even notice the two thousand dollars in nonrefundable tickets, and that you'll be able to take me for all that I'm worth, and pay off your bills from law school."
Stacy slid up against him, pushed him back onto the mattress. "Then maybe I better start earning my keep -- two hundred dollars at a time."
"Maybe she just gets her kicks slowly sucking the life out of a guy and watching him suffer."
House stared down at the thing that used to be his leg. Wilson was still in the room, but stood on the far side near the windows. It didn't matter if he was there or not. House didn't feel anything. He'd gone numb inside.
He'd thought maybe he'd feel something different when he finally saw it, what they'd done, what she'd allowed them to do, what he'd trusted her not to do.
He didn't know what he'd expected. He'd seen it soon after he'd woken up, when Cuddy and some of her minions had chased everyone out of the room so they could check the incision and change the bandages.
They'd lowered the head of the bed, so he'd had to hold his head up to see anything at all, and he'd tired after only a few moments. He'd only managed to raise his head for a few seconds at a time, seeing the damage in short bursts, glimpses caught as the nurses' arms and hands moved across his body.
There was the upper thigh -- mostly intact-- his knee -- pale and thin -- the inner leg -- which still seemed normal -- then the outer part of his thigh, which seemed to drop away into nothing.
He'd dropped his head back onto the thin pillow and Cuddy had stepped up, asked quietly if he was ready for more morphine.
"We've got you switched over to a PCA," she'd said, and slid the control under his hand.
He'd touched the button, felt the surge of relief, tried to let himself drift off, to forget everything. Three days later, the button was still there, still handy, still tied onto the rail where he could reach it.
House let it hang there and touched the upper edge of the scar. The skin was rough and warm beneath his fingers. There was an ache beneath the pale flesh. He caught his breath as the throbbing in his leg increased, and moved both hands off to the side. He waited for the pain to ease again, then held his left hand over his leg, spread it wide. The space where there used to be muscle stretched out wider than his palm, longer than the stretch from wrist to fingertip. He spread his fingers, idly measured it at a little more than an octave's reach.
He placed his index finger at the point where the healthy tissue dropped away, measuring how much muscle was missing, seeing it fall away past the first knuckle, nearly to the second.
House pulled both hands back. He sensed, rather than heard, Wilson at the far end of the room. He wondered if Wilson expected him to yell. Expected him to cry. He wondered why he didn't.
He wanted to be angry. He knew he should be. He knew he would be. But all he felt now was numb, as if Stacy had told the surgeons to cut away something more than muscle.
House lay back against the mattress. He stared up at the ceiling and heard Wilson step up to the bed.
Wilson picked up fresh bandages, began putting them on, covering House's leg, a thick white blanket of fresh gauze covering over everything that was missing, disguising it as something whole, something undamaged, something that had never been touched. House grunted as a fresh shot of pain broke through and Wilson apologized.
House reached over and hit the button on the PCA control and felt the first familiar sensations as the drug entered his veins. He waited for the morphine to make his body as numb as his emotions, then nodded, motioned to Wilson to continue.
"It's OK," House said.
"My old philosophy used to be "Live and let live," but I'm taking this needlepoint class and they gave us these really big pillows."
"You're not going through this alone."
"You going to do my PT for me now too?" House took the water bottle Stacy offered. He twisted off the top and tried to ignore how his muscles shook even at this small movement.
House shook out a pill, put it in his mouth and swallowed. He leaned back into the cushions, waiting for the drug to take effect. Always waiting.
"How many times are we going to have this argument?" Stacy sat on the arm of the chair closest to him. Once she would have sat next to him on the couch, leaned her head against his shoulder, allowed her fingers to rest gently on his leg or on his chest, their bodies in constant contact. Now she kept her distance, her hands in her own lap. "I did what I had to, to save your life."
"You didn't have to do it," House said. "You chose to do it. You knew what I wanted, and you didn't care."
"I did care. I love you. I didn't want to lose you. Why is that so hard to believe?"
"You keep saying that, but the proof isn't there," House said. He could feel the first flirting touch of the Vicodin. He closed his eyes and waited for the sensation to build. He heard Stacy moving, but didn't bother looking at her.
"I do love you," she said. "You're going to remember that, and until you do, I'll be here, with you. I'm not going anywhere."
House heard her footsteps move from the living room to the kitchen, heard her moving pots and pans as the Vicodin haze built to its full strength. He took a deep breath and tried to feel nothing.
"People used to have more respect for cripples, you know."
"Let me get that for you." House turned his attention away from the book on top of the bookshelf at the sound of Wilson's voice. He lost his balance, just for a moment, and managed to catch himself again before Wilson moved. He glanced at Wilson's face, and saw that Wilson had noticed the stumble, even though he didn't say anything.
House shook his head. "I'm good," he said. "I've got it." He pushed himself up on his toes on his left foot, held tight to the shelf with his left hand and stretched up with his right. His fingertips brushed the edge of the immunology textbook, but didn't move it.
He'd stashed the book on top of the bookcase when he'd first moved in, climbing up on the step ladder to place it there. He'd been unwilling to throw it out then, figuring it might come in handy someday. Now Wilson had asked him to go over a speech he was set to give at the end of the month, and House had remembered something about an old study that he was sure was referenced in the book.
He'd stolen a look or two up at the shelf as Wilson spread his papers across the coffee table.
"You need something?" Wilson had asked when House stared at the bookshelf a third time.
House just shook his head. Wilson would have gotten it, would have been glad to get it.
But he'd waited until Wilson went into the kitchen. Then he'd stepped up to the shelves himself, leaned his cane against the books and reached high.
House couldn't run anymore. He couldn't take the stairs. He couldn't sleep through the night. He could barely walk a straight line.
But he could get a book off a damn shelf. He knew he could.
House eased back down onto the floor, stepped in closer to the shelf, braced himself again and stretched. This time his fingers made contact with the edge of the binding. He snuck the tip of one finger under the edge and it wiggled just slightly in its place. He felt himself lose his balance again and Wilson steadied him with one hand at the center of his back as House dropped back down onto both feet.
"I'm not going to fall," he said.
"You're always saying I'm too cautious," Wilson said. "I wouldn't want to disappoint you." Wilson reached toward the book, but couldn't reach it either. "I'll get a chair," he said.
"Don't," House said. "I can do this."
"Maybe, but you don't have to do this."
"Yes. I do." House put his forehead against the books lining one of the shelves. Novels. Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn. "Trust me."
House turned toward Wilson. Wilson seemed to consider House's words, then nodded and stepped back, giving him space.
House looked back up at the book. It seemed even further out of his reach now, or maybe he just felt smaller somehow. He shook his head, steadied himself. He stepped up with his left foot, held tight with his left hand and stretched.
The book shifted slightly and he could feel the rough edge of the pages. He pulled and it slid out into his hand.
He handed it to Wilson. "Told you I didn't need any help," he said.
"Never doubted you."
"My staff are idiots."
"I've got something you should see." Walters stood just inside the conference room, holding out a file folder.
House reached toward it, but Walters shook his head. "Not you," he said. "It's for Dr. Wilson. One of your residents said I'd find you here."
Wilson shrugged and took the folder. House grabbed it out of his hands and opened it.
"It's oncology's case," Walters said. He reached toward the file, but House turned and held it away from his hand. "Even I'm not that stupid, no matter what you may think of me."
Walters was six months into a two-year fellowship, and both he and House knew he'd never make it to the end of his term. House hadn't wanted Walters, but had been forced to take him on to get full funding for the diagnostics department.
Wilson peeked over House's shoulder at the papers. "What have you got?"
"Forty-seven-year-old male came to the clinic to get the results of his P.S.A. test," Walters said. "The numbers aren't good."
"You already give him the good news?" House handed the file to Wilson.
"Yes," Walters said. "I said it wasn't definitive, but the markers are a good indicator ...
"Call him back, and tell him you're an idiot," House said. "Tell him to wait two weeks and then retake the test."
Wilson shook his head. "House, these numbers ..." House pointed to one of the pages. Wilson studied it for a moment, then nodded. "Tell him to come in for another test at the end of the month." He handed the file back to Walters.
"I don't ..."
"Of course you don't, you're an idiot," House said.
Wilson looked at House, but spoke to Walters. "You're not an idiot," he said. "He just went off finasteride, right?"
Walters opened the file, looked at the medical history.
"Better known as Propecia," House said as Walters skimmed the data. "So either he decided he doesn't really need that full head of hair, or his insurance plan dropped it off his prescription plan. I'd bet on the insurance angle."
Wilson sighed and looked at Walters. "There are some early reports that finasteride can screw up the numbers on a P.S.A. study. A guy goes on it, and he gets false negatives. He goes off it and he gets a false positive."
"Or rather, you just gave him a false positive," House said. "Tell him to stay off the hair tonic and retake the test at the end of the month."
Walters looked down at the floor, shook his head. He opened his mouth, but didn't say anything.
"You couldn't know," Wilson said. "There haven't been any published studies yet on the relationship between finasteride and P.S.A. markers."
"You knew," Walters said. He glanced at House just for a split second, then focused on Wilson.
"It's my job to know," Wilson said. He smiled at him. "It's your job to learn. That's why you're here."
Walters shook his head again, then turned and walked out.
"And it's your job to teach him," Wilson told House. He stood and carried his mug over to the coffee pot. "You shouldn't be so tough on him."
"Why not?" House said.
"He's a good doctor," Wilson said. "He's doing his best."
"Fine. You can have him."
"His fellowship is in diagnostics, not oncology." Wilson filled his mug, then took the pot over to House and filled his.
"Good thing for that, considering today's screw up," House said.
"He didn't screw up," Wilson said. "And he's not stupid or a moron or whatever else you've called him in the past twenty-four hours.
"Maybe not, but he is out there there messing up my good reputation."
"OK, forget the good part, but I do have a reputation. I have to trust him to be my eyes and ears. When people see him, they're supposed to feel like they can trust him like they'd trust me. I don't need someone out there making me look stupid."
Wilson took a drink of his coffee, sat next to House. "You could actually see patients yourself you know," he said.
"I'd rather risk dealing with Walters."
"He's just another liar and manipulator."
"You idiot." House let the file fall onto the desk and leaned back into his chair. "You actually believe him."
Wilson crossed his arms. He looked down at the folder, then at House. He nodded. "Yes."
"You idiot," House repeated.
"Why would he lie?"
"Because he has about everything else," House said. "Because he swore to you that he'd stopped smoking, only for you to find out he hadn't when he nearly blew up his house while smoking and using supplemental oxygen."
"He's stopped now, though," Wilson pointed out.
"And because -- even though he knew he was immunocompromised and needed to keep clear of crowds -- he swore to you he hadn't been out, only for you to find out he'd had eighteen people over for Sunday dinner."
"Five people," Wilson corrected. "And he's in a clean room now. And," Wilson said, "that still doesn't explain the abdominal symptoms, the bleeding, the seizures ..."
"But the chemo drugs do."
"We changed his meds."
"Lying explains everything," House said. "What I can't explain is why -- when you know he lies -- you insist that he's not, just because he tells you he's telling the truth now."
"Because he has no reason to lie," Wilson said. "Not now." He reached for the file, but House grabbed it off the desk.
"You're pathetic," House said. "You want to believe everyone. You want to believe that your patients are doing exactly what they're supposed to do. You want to believe that they're sticking to their diets, that they're doing their exercises."
"And you don't believe anyone, about anything," Wilson said. "You'd rather believe that no one can be trusted to do the right thing. That the only thing that you can trust are tests and scans and lab results that you can measure and study and quantify -- numbers that you can log in a book and then one day look back at and prove to everyone that you were right."
House leaned forward, elbows spread across the closed file. "Being right matters," he said. "Being right means that I save lives. I thought that's what you all expected me to do."
"Sometimes you have to trust that the other guy is going to do the right thing too," Wilson said. "Sometimes giving someone that trust is harder than proving that you're right."
"Is that what you and Dr. Phil tell each other when you're relaxing over a few beers?"
"Fine," Wilson said. He reached for the papers again. "Just give me the damn file and I'll figure it out myself."
House shook his head. "Chase needs to know which tests to repeat," he said. "I'm going to guess that the MRIs are recent, so we'll start with the blood work."
"Wait," Wilson said. "Wait, you ... you're going to take the case?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I seem to recall something about lying patients and the lies that they tell us."
"Well of course the patient's lying," House said. "But you said it was an interesting case. Or was that just your own lie?"
"There is not a thin line between love and hate. There is, in fact, a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate."
"You should have started the ketamine a week ago," House waited while Cuddy closed the blinds.
"I was a little more concerned with the issue of you not dying at the time," she said. "Crazy, I know, but I'm just a crazy kind of gal."
"You were just afraid of losing your hospital's best resource."
"A resource," Cuddy said. "You're not the best. Not by a long shot."
"That's not what you told the new donors you were wooing last month."
"Hey, you know me, I'll claim any insane thing for a dollar or two."
Cuddy placed everything she'd need on the table, all in a neat row. She'd already chased everyone else out of the room. Wilson had been the hardest, insisting that he wanted to be there.
"If anything goes wrong, it's better if I take the fall alone," Cuddy had said. "We might need you later to help cover our collective asses."
"Sounds kinky," House had said, "but I'd rather handle Cuddy's ass on my own." He waved Wilson toward the door. "You can take your turn later."
Wilson had stood at the door, watching House while Cuddy set up the drugs. "See you in a few days," he finally said. He'd nodded to Cuddy, then closed the door behind him.
Now Cuddy had everything ready, there was nothing else she needed to do. No more excuses to delay the procedure.
"You're sure?" she asked again. "It's not too late to put this off, wait until they finish some more studies."
"No reason to wait." House was still pale, still weak, but not as bad as he'd been in the first days after the shooting, when he'd provided Cuddy with the details of the study. "It'll work or it won't," he said.
"There are still some risks," Cuddy said. "We could try other pain meds, other alternative programs ..."
"I trust you," House said. "Or at least I trust you enough to not screw up those precise guidelines that I oh so carefully wrote out for you."
"Please, no compliments," Cuddy said. "You'd be so embarrassed if those were your last words."
"Then make sure that they aren't," House said. He nodded toward the syringe. "Let's go."
"I choose the outcome I find more comforting."
House sat at one end of the couch, his father on the other end. Neither of them spoke, instead watching the commercial, as if they cared about the latest camera phone. All the noise was in the kitchen, where Blythe and Wilson were cleaning up the last of the dinner dishes.
House heard his mother laugh and heard Wilson chuckle as they walked into the living room. "Whatever either one of you said, I'm denying every word," he said.
"I have witnesses," Blythe said. She crossed the room and put her hand on John's arm. "One witness anyway."
"And photos, right?" Wilson leaned against the doorway. "You said you could send me some. They may come in handy."
"Hey, don't forget I know your secrets too," House said. "Revenge is a two-way street."
"I just want to be ready when the opportunity presents itself," Wilson said.
John House stood. "We should be going," he said. "We've got an early flight tomorrow."
Blythe sighed, but nodded her head. "And I still have to pack," she said. She leaned down, kissed her son on the cheek. "You're sure you're going to be all right?"
"Don't fuss," John said. "All the doctors said he's fine, Wilson says he's fine, hell, even he says that he's fine, don't you son?"
House looked at his father. He nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Just peachy." He stood, holding back a grunt at the ache that came from the healing muscle and skin in his abdomen.
"Don't get up," Blythe said. "You should rest."
"I'm already up," House said. He wrapped both arms around her in a hug. "And Dad's right. I'm better than I've been in a long time."
"I know you are." He saw the tears in Blythe's eyes before she turned away. She took her coat from John, wiped her eyes before turning back to him. "I love you honey, but please be careful, all right? I don't think my heart can handle any more shocks from you."
"I'm always careful," he said, and hugged her again. "That's why you don't have any grandchildren," he whispered into her ear, and she giggled.
She was smiling this time when she let him go.
"Let me know if he gives you any trouble," she said to Wilson, and gave him a quick hug. "I've got plenty of blackmail material you can use."
"I thought you were on my side," House said.
"Always," she said, and gave him another quick kiss on the cheek. "Bye, honey."
She walked out the door. John paused for a moment, nodded at his son and at Wilson, then closed the door behind them.
House lowered himself back down onto the couch. He moved slowly, still not trusting the treatment, not trusting that the pain was gone for good, believing it was just lying in wait, ready to return at the slightest movement.
"I like your Mom," Wilson said, and took the spot where John had been sitting. He put his feet on the coffee table.
"So do I," House said. "But she tells lies, you know. You can't trust a word she tells you."
"I'll wait to see the pictures and decide for myself."
They sat in the quiet. House flipped through the channels: animal shows, adventure shows, decorating shows, cop shows.
"She wanted to know if I'd approved the ketamine treatment," Wilson said. "She thought I had the proxy."
"Did you set her straight?"
Wilson nodded. "Yeah," he said.
The channels slid by again: news, interviews, weather.
"Why ..." Wilson shook his head.
"Why do I have Cuddy as my proxy?" House guessed. "Why not you?"
"It doesn't matter," Wilson said. "It's your life."
House sighed. He put down the remote. "Who did you think had the proxy?"
"I hadn't really thought about it," Wilson said. "Maybe your parents. Maybe nobody."
"I take -- I took," House corrected himself, "an ungodly amount of Vicodin, ride a motorcycle too fast, have a pretty crappy recent medical history and, apparently, I piss people off. I'd be stupid not to have a readily accessible medical proxy in an emergency."
"OK then, tell me," Wilson said. He turned toward House. "Why Cuddy? Why not me?"
House sighed, he looked up at the ceiling. "What's the first rule in Vegas?"
"Never let them catch you counting cards at the blackjack table."
"No, what's the first rule in Vegas for people who aren't me?"
Wilson studied House, took in the way that House was studying him. "Never bet what you can't afford to lose," he said.
House nodded. "I've never asked you what you would have done if you'd been in Stacy's position back then."
Wilson lowered his feet from the coffee table. He looked at the floorboards, then back up at House. "I don't know," Wilson said. "I can't say that I haven't thought about it." He shook his head, spread his hands wide. "I just don't know."
"Maybe I trust you, but maybe I don't want to know what you'd do either." House finally looked away from Wilson. He picked up the remote, began flipping through the channels again: a documentary, a Bogart film, a reality show.
"Maybe," House said, "maybe that's one bet I'm not willing to take."