James was the oldest brother. He was the only one to really make something of himself. The only one to work hard in school, the only one to go to college. He made the most money, drove the best car and called home the most frequently. David was younger by thirteen months. He was funny, laid-back and a good guy. At school, David had been bright, but lazy. He barely graduated, but even that was a relief to his family, who had doubted he would even make it to the end of high school. Even so, everyone knew that David was smart, and that he could succeed in life with a little application.
Eddie just wasn't in the same league. He wasn't stupid by any means, but with brothers like James and David it was hard not to look like the weak link. He didn't start to feel it until he was eleven years old, the year James graduated college. Eddie stayed at their grandmother's while the rest of the family travelled to Canada to see the Commencement and bring James home. His mother explained that Canada was too far for him to go, and that he would be bored by the ceremony.
They were not a rich family, and the real reason that Eddie was left behind was that his parents couldn't afford to take him. But he would never see that. From then on, it seemed to get worse. Family talk was always focussed on his brothers: James making such a success of himself, graduating medical school at the top of his class. David had left high school and gone into business with a friend, repairing and selling second-hand motorbikes. It took off big-time. Meanwhile, Eddie struggled through his studies, a slow reader and abominable speller. It wasn't until he was fifteen that a teacher finally listened to him and realised he was dyslexic. By that time, it was too late. All his teachers had given up on him, he had fallen in with a bad crowd and spent his weekends in an arcade in The Bronx smoking – first tobacco, then pot – and drinking. The family tried everything, from punishments to incentives, but Eddie always found a way to get back on the streets and back with his new friends.
Eventually, things blew up – a week after his sixteenth birthday. One Friday night, the police brought Eddie home. He and some friends had hotwired a parked car and taken it for a swing around the block. The driver had been arrested, but Eddie and the others would be given no more than a caution. The police left Eddie standing on the doormat in the bright light of the hall, his head lowered and his hands thrust rebelliously in his pockets. His mother cried, his father bellowed at him to get to his room and not come down.
He didn't. Ever. He climbed through his window and onto the garage roof, and from there down into the yard. The next morning, as his mother washed cups by the kitchen window, something caught her eye. A broken panel in the yard fence. Her heart plummeted into her stomach and she dropped the cup. As the turquoise china shattered around her bare feet, she screamed, "Ben! Check Eddie's room!"
Two miles away, in a carriage on the New York-Chicago train route, Eddie Wilson sat bolt upright in his seat, his arms tightly holding the yellow sports bag containing some clothes and about forty dollars. The swift-passing lights by the railroad tracks caught the fiery gleam in his eyes. He lit up a cigarette and looked at the lights of New York slowly stretching further into the distance.
Wilson put the phone down, his hand shaking. He looked blankly at the opposite wall of his office, stared absently at the shadows thrown over it by the light of the desk lamp. Outside, in the dark evening, wind battered the building and rushed his window with long screams. He barely registered them. A thought occurred to him, and he closed his eyes.
"Barukh atah Adonai eluheinu melakh ha-olam, hatov vehametiv."
Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who is good and who does good.
Lisa Cuddy looked once more around her office, mentally checking every detail. She paused, standing behind her desk, and opened a drawer. There were six application forms to be looked over. She lifted the papers out, folded them, and put them in the open purse on the desktop. The clock showed half-past seven.
That had to be everything. She closed the purse and swung it over her shoulder. As she stepped forward to leave, she saw Wilson open the outer door and knock on the inner. He looked at her, halfway to the door, and smiled sheepishly.
"Sorry. This'll only take a minute," he said.
"Come in," she called, returning to her seat, "What's up?"
He edged in a few steps, then stopped. She looked at him, frowning in confused expectance and he took a breath. Then he let out a sigh, clasped his hands together and raised them to his chin.
"Wilson? Is there a problem?"
He lowered his hands and let them hang awkwardly at his sides. "The…uh…the Missing Persons Bureau just called. They've seen Eddie."
Cuddy got her feet and opened her mouth to congratulate Wilson, but he relaxed suddenly, a wave of euphoria seeming to wash over him. He laughed hoarsely. "They saw Eddie," he repeated, shaking his head in disbelief. Cuddy smiled.
"That's great news! Do your parents know yet?"
Wilson nodded. "They're…God," he paused, deflating a little, "I hope this doesn't go bad. I don't want them to get their hopes up."
She nodded. She knew that Wilson's mother had been sick recently, and that he didn't want her to lose her baby son all over again.
"Was he okay? Eddie, I mean."
"The man from the Bureau said he turned up at a men's shelter in Detroit. He stayed the night, they gave him hot food. He let them take his name, but he wouldn't let them call us until he'd already gone. When he left, they informed the Bureau."
"Oh," she lowered her voice, "well, sometimes people can be like that. At least you know he's alive."
Wilson frowned. "No," he said, "that's not it. I'm gonna need some time off."
"James," her use of his first name seemed to make him flinch, as if it called him back to a reality his dreams had left behind. "What chance do you have of finding him? And he didn't seem to want to be found."
"Maybe. But I'm done with being understanding, okay? I've been trying to understand for nearly ten years and…" he realised he was shouting and quickly forced his voice back to normality, "and now I'm done with it. He has caused unimaginable hurt to this family, and if he wasn't old enough then to realise that, he's certainly old enough now. His parents deserve some answers, and if I can get them…" he trailed off, running a hand over his face.
"All right," Cuddy shrugged slightly, "if you come in tomorrow, I'll try and schedule you some time off. How long?"
"A week, maybe two. Listen, I'm sorry about this, I know things are hectic here at the moment, but..."
"I understand. Of course, you'll have to organise your department for the time you're gone."
"Right. Uh…thanks…" he said, uncertainly. Now this was becoming reality, what he had been picturing for years, and he wasn't sure what to do. He was starting to feel sick. "Well, I'll go, and let you finish up. Thanks."
"That's okay. Hey," she stopped him as he moved to leave, "have you told House yet?"
"No. I think he's gone home."
After saying this, Cuddy quickly cast her eyes down to her desk and pretended to reorganise some clinic schedules. When she looked up again, Wilson was staring at her, hands on hips.
"I'm not following you," he explained.
She set down the schedules loudly and leaned her hands on top of them. "Look," she said quickly, "you're his best friend, only friend, and I'm sure he loves you in his own screwed-up way. But if you tell him this, he will wreck it for you."
He cocked his head to one side. "What?"
"You know how he grew up, right? Moving around, base to base, continent to continent, never sticking around long enough to make any friends. Same afterwards, getting fired from three hospitals, never holding down a job long enough to even learn people's names. And then," she sighed, and almost laughed, "there was you. He'd never admit it, but you are the only real friend he's ever had and he clings to you. That sounds almost sweet, doesn't it? But it's not, because he'll never let you go."
A look akin to hurt flickered in Wilson's eyes, then sunk away. "What are you trying to do?" he said softly. The words hung in the air like smoke.
"I just don't want you to get hurt. I don't want you to go ahead with this, and find out for yourself. House…if he thinks Eddie might come back into your life, he'll act like a six year old trying to sabotage his stepmom."
"I thought I was supposed to be the House Analyst," Wilson smiled ruefully.
"You know him better than anyone. You can work him out when he's with me, or Cameron, or Foreman or whoever. But where you're concerned, suddenly you're not so hot." She smiled. He smiled weakly in return, unsure of what else he should do.
"I'll…bear that in mind," he said disjointedly, as if in a dream. He walked out of the office with Cuddy looking at him, a sad smile on her face.
House stood in the doorway of Wilson's office and watched his best friend. He was talking into his cell phone, facing the balcony.
"Yes, Mom…I will. I…will try, I said that. Please, don't make this…I can't promise that…" Wilson caught House's reflection as he finally entered the office, and span around, "yes, yes…can I call you back in a minute? Okay? Bye, Mom."
He returned the phone to his pocket. House had helped himself to his desk chair, so Wilson dragged a chair from the corner over and sat down. House was looking at him meditatively.
"What's up?" Wilson said, shrugging off his jacket onto the back of the chair.
"Apparently, your dislike of your parents," House answered, "You don't talk to your mother like that."
"I do when she's being…it doesn't matter. Long day, that's all."
"It's not even lunchtime. You're a bad liar."
Wilson opened his mouth to argue, then appeared to think better of it. "Right. Whatever makes you happy."
"I need you to run some tests on a patient of mine. When are you free?" House said suddenly, bored of the previous subject and tossing it aside.
Wilson glanced at his schedule, lying open on the desk. "This afternoon, say two? I've got patients to see until then."
House looked at the file in front of him. "Says here that you're free right now."
"House, come on! I've got twenty minutes til I'm supposed to give a lecture to a bunch of med students!"
"Won't take long. And I'm sure they'll work it out for themselves – cancer bad, not cancer good."
Wilson smiled patiently. "Okay, let's go."
"Let's go? As in 'let us go'? You don't need me – you might not know this, but you're actually pretty good at this stuff yourself."
Wilson sighed, and followed House out the door. "Coming over on Friday?" House asked as they paced down the hall towards the elevator.
"What? No. Oh, I didn't tell you. There's an oncology conference in…"
"…Chicago," House cut in. Wilson found himself surprised for the thousandth time at House's seeming omniscience.
"Yeah," he could feel his palms getting damp. God, he thought, he really was a lousy liar. However, House didn't pursue the subject. At least not then.
With Wilson busily examining his friend's latest case, House was prowling across their balcony and breaking into his office. House termed it a 'division of labour'. Dear, trusting Jimmy had left the balcony door unlocked, so getting in was laughably easy. Pangs of conscience were practically alien to House, so he felt no qualms as he slipped into the darkened room and opened the blinds. The light flowed in over Wilson's desk, his chair, and the jacket over the back of the chair. House stumped over and went through the pockets. They were almost empty. House hissed in perturbation and moved around the desk. He wrenched open a drawer, the there it was. An airline envelope. He opened it and pulled out the ticket inside.
The flight was to Detroit. Interesting. He returned the ticket to its place and closed the blinds on his way out.
Ten minutes later, as he tossed his cane from hand to hand, his feet resting on the edge of his desk, House looked up to see Wilson push forward the glass door.
"It's cancer. Bone - Stage Two."
"I've started her on…you don't care, do you?"
"Fine," Wilson nodded, "I'll see you when I get back."
Wilson left. House watched him, and chewed the inside of his cheek in annoyed puzzlement. Slowly, an idea began to form in his mind. The phone call, the airplane ticket – the lie. A conversation once had on a bench on a cold night.
Wilson returned a week later. He looked tired and pale, and spent the morning shut up in his office. Just before House was going to leave his office and head to the cafeteria, his friend entered. They looked at each other briefly, each wondering if a greeting was necessary. Wilson spoke first.
"Hey," he said heavily, "Lunch?"
"Yeah," House grabbed his cane and levered himself to his feet. Wilson turned to go.
"You find him?"
Wilson froze in the doorway, his shoulders tensing. There was a long silence, before Wilson choked out, not turning around, "What?"
"Your brother. Find him?"
For the thousand-and-first time, Wilson felt bewilderment at his friend's unavoidable intellect. "No," he said, his back still turned, "can we go?"
"Sure we can. Where'd you look?"
"Everywhere I could think of. Please," Wilson finally turned to face House. They were a few feet apart, and House could clearly see the pain in Wilson's eyes. "Please, can we not talk about this?"
"Fine," House answered, relief washing over him. They would go to lunch, and forget this ever happened. Wilson would give up eventually. House smiled, and followed him out the door.