A/N: Ever get the feeling you're way out of your depth? Yeah, well I had that feeling when writing this, so please be kind. This isn't fun, but I hope it's a fairly interesting idea. There will be a second chapter, and I think that'll be it. Lyrics are from 'Please Call Me, Baby' by Tom Waits. If you can, download it because it is beautiful. Otherwise, please read the lyrics even if you don't bother with the fic, because they say what I want to say in roughly 3000 words less.
We do crazy things when we're wounded
Everyone's a bit insane
I don't want you catching your death of cold
Out walking in the rain
We're always at each other's throats
It drives me up the wall
Most of the time I'm just blowing off steam
And I wish to God you'd leave me
And I wish to God you'd stay
Life's so different than it is in your dreams
After the infarction, Stacy took a lot of time off work. Greg resented it - he made that fact all too clear – but what choice did she have? He could barely stand, needed help to move even a short distance, and was frequently incapacitated by bouts of extreme pain.
And then there was the guilt. That made relations none too pleasant between them. She knew that he was furious at her perceived betrayal, but he needed her and the fact that he relied on her made him even angrier. This was not the man she had fallen in love with – God, that sounded so cliché, but it was the truth. Greg was always outspoken, certainly, but when it came to serious emotion he had always been a model of restraint. There had always been a wall between what Greg said and what Greg thought, but the infarction seemed to have breached it. This Greg was unpredictable. He was, she hated to even allow herself to think it, scary.
There had been some very black days. One, she remembered with a chill, was the Pasta Day. It occurred almost two weeks after Greg was discharged. He was in bed. He had told her to leave him alone so that he could sleep, but she knew he wasn't sleeping. She stood silently behind the bedroom door, feeling like an eavesdropper in her own home, listening to the suppressed moans of pain. He was up to his limit on the painkillers he had been given, but they were evidently not enough. The sudden gasps and reined-in cries went on, and she felt tears sliding down her cheeks.
She couldn't bear to hear anymore, so she absented herself. She dared not leave the apartment with him in this state, so she only ventured as far as the kitchen. The sounds were still audiable there, so she began making pasta, being needlessly loud with the crockery. While it was cooking, she cleaned up her face, wiping away the streaks of tears and re-applying foundation.
In retrospect, she could pinpoint her error. She was upset, not thinking straight. It was a simple mistake, easy to make: she didn't knock. She just walked in, bowl of pasta in her hand, and then stopped abruptly.
He was crying.
As soon as she entered, she knew she had done the wrong thing. Her instincts told her to pretend she hadn't noticed, so she slowly advanced to the bed.
"Greg? You haven't eaten all day. I made you-"
It happened so fast. He wrenched the bowl from her hand and hurled it against the opposite wall, where it exploded with an electrifying shatter. Then he had shouted. She couldn't remember what he had said, but she knew he was out of control and left the room before he could really get into the swing of it. She had gone into the living room, shakily sat down on the sofa and melted into tears before she realised it. She wasn't sure how long she had been there, sobbing into her hands and wondering how the hell this was going to turn out, when she heard his voice.
He was standing in the doorway, his face pale and strained, leaning heavily on the doorframe and breathing hard.
"Greg, you should be in bed. You're not supposed to be wandering around."
"I…I know," he paused awkwardly then continued suddenly. "Go back to work. This isn't Disneyland for either of us, but…" he turned away and took a heavy step towards the bedroom. With one hand on the bedroom door, he turned around to face her again, "…at least you can get away."
That evening, she called the office and told them to expect her back in the morning.
After that night, Wilson had taken to coming round for a couple of hours after work. Stacy often didn't get away from the office until seven or eight o'clock and Wilson came straight over from the hospital at five. House protested, but Wilson made himself useful and had seemingly endless patience with House's moods. After a few days of complaining, House carried on just as if Wilson wasn't there, letting his friend watch his TV and drink his beer while he read or slept.
"You know," he said abruptly one evening, as Wilson flicked through his video collection, "you should stop this. I'm not going to do it."
"Do what? And why do you have Gone With The Wind?" Wilson asked, holding the offending tape aloft.
"Because I'm thinking of growing a Clark Gable moustache; what do you think? It's Stacy's. If you ask her nicely, maybe she'll let you borrow it."
"Ha," Wilson replied dryly. "You're not going to do what?"
"Oh, drop the innocence!" House chastised him, "Do you expect me to believe that Cuddy is letting you leave at five every day so we can hang out? I'm on suicide watch; I get it."
Wilson slid the video back into place, rested both hands on top of the shelf and closed his eyes. He looked almost amused.
"House, grow up. Cuddy isn't an ogre. She knows that you're going through a rough time and she's cutting me some slack. There always has to be some dark plan behind everything, doesn't there?"
"Right. I'm crazy. If you want to make Department Head, you're gonna have show your face a lot more. They don't just hand those jobs out like…"
He trailed off and shut his eyes.
"Are you okay?" Wilson asked. He had noticed House doing this a lot since the infarction. He would begin a sentence and then stop as though he had decided that it wasn't worth continuing. The strange silences always made Wilson feel uncomfortable.
"Yes. Yes!" House snapped, "That exactly it! I'm fine! I don't need you, Wilson. I don't…" he paused, trying to gauge Wilson's hurt from the expression on his face, then went ahead anyway, "need you. Go home."
Wilson had given him a sad smile, infuriatingly patient and pitying, picked up his jacket and left without a word. House had turned over on the couch and tried to think of something that was shaped like neither his leg nor Wilson, with little success.
Wilson met Stacy in the hall as she was coming in. She had her eyes on the ground
"You're early," he said with an automatic jocundity which seemed hideously false, even to him.
"Yeah...I am," she said apprehensively, "which begs the question – what are you doing out here? Aren't you supposed to be with Greg?"
"Yeah, well..." he rubbed the back of his neck, wincing. "He decided he'd rather be alone."
"Right," she nodded, a quick jerk of the head, biting her lip. Wilson stepped in towards her, putting an arm around her shoulders and drawing her head to rest on his shoulder in a brief embrace. When she stepped back from his hold, he could see, with guilty relief, that she wasn't crying. He rested a hand on her arm and looked her in the eye.
"You don't have to go up there. He's not expecting you for another hour or so...we could go for coffee, talk about...things, whatever you want. I figure you might like to talk to someone."
"James, you know it doesn't make any difference. Sometime or another, I'll have to go back. He's...he resents me so much-"
"No," Wilson interrupted. "He's just in pain."
"I know, but it...I know it's not going to get better, okay? Just...go home, don't worry."
She knew that he would worry, because that was what Wilson seemed to do as a profession at the moment.
Greg was still lying on the couch when she came in, his back to her and his face leaning into the cushions.
"Hey," she said, closing the door softly behind her in case he really was sleeping. He wasn't. His eyes were wide open, cold and fixed. He nodded, his face blank. He sat up a little to readjust a cushion, and then rested back down.
"How long have you been there?" she asked, seeing how stiffly he moved.
"Few hours. I can't really move around much, on account of being crippled. Did you hear about that?" he said, his mouth twisting cruelly, the words harsh.
She sighed, prepared herself for another evening of bitter jibes and occasional bursts of shouting. She always tried to stay calm, but that seemed to make him angrier. There is no way to win, no way to make this easier.
The next day, she wakes up feeling like hell. She vomits twice before she can get dressed and drive Greg down to the hospital for his therapy. He doesn't speak to her on the journey, except a frustrated "Fuck it!" as he slips on the bottom step of the porch and she steadies him, but it probably wasn't even directed at her. He was talking to himself, the only person he seemed to talk to at all these days. She hands him over to the therapists with relief, like a tiresome child being dropped off at kindergarten.
When she gets back to the apartment her head feels like it has been stuffed with feathers, so she heads into the kitchen and opens a cupboard, groping inside a Tupperware box for some Tylenol. When she finds the packet, she almost sobs to see that it is empty. She remembers picking the pills up at the store four days ago. Greg had obviously found them. She counts the torn holes in the packet...thirty-two pills in three days, plus what he had been prescribed. How the hell was he not in hospital she couldn't fathom. Another wave of nausea washes over her, and she leans against the counter and breathes hard. How long has this been going on? She glances at the calendar, and a horrible thought dawns on her. She fishes her car keys from her pocket and almost runs out of the apartment.
She calls Wilson. She has female friends she could have called, closer friends she could have called, but she finds herself dialling the number for the hospital without a second thought. It's as if it's the next best thing to telling House.
"Stacy?" Wilson comes on the line, sounding like he has his mouth full. "What's up?" he adds, swallowing whatever foodstuff had been obscuring the conversation thus far. Stacy looks down at her watch. It is twelve o'clock.
"Can you get away at lunch? I need to talk to you."
"Uh...sure. What's up?" he repeats.
"I can't talk over the phone," she answers, glancing around the office to be sure no-one has slid in under the door or evaporated through the ceiling. "But if you come down to Arnello's on the corner, we can talk."
"O-kay," Wilson sighs out the word. "Listen, is this about anything in particular?" he asks, gently. He doesn't want to keep pushing, but something tells him this isn't just a need for company.
"Yes," she answers firmly. Might as well be honest. "And it's..." Oh God, she can't say 'secret'. That sounds like something from the Famous Five, for Christ's sake. "You can't tell House," she mutters, lamely.
Wilson, at the other end of the line, doesn't like the sound of this. She's his friend, he's his friend – the dilemma is not hard to comprehend. He decides to do the noble, neutral thing. He will be the Switzerland of this dispute, he thinks.
"I don't think I can promise that. If there's a problem, you really should discuss it with House. I don't think us meeting up would be a good i-"
There is long silence. Very long, very silent. He can't even hear her breathing. His mind seems to circle the room a few times before returning to his head thoroughly dizzy. His stomach kicks up into the bottom of his throat and apparently blocks his vocal chords, judging by the strange noise he makes when he tries to talk.
"Give me twenty minutes," he garbles finally, dropping the phone like a hot brick.
He is in his car in five minutes, having dodged Cuddy and fled through a side entrance. As he drives, he feels ill, his cheeks flushed and hot. The feeling that he is being drawn into something he wants no part of is nauseating in itself, but this is unlike anything he's ever had to deal with. Why, Wilson thinks, why did she have to tell him? There was no advice; no help he could give that would make this situation right. Every option was awful. And what played on his mind the most was House - what would he say, what would he think, would he ever even know? Could he, House's supposed best friend, keep something like this from him even if Stacy begged?
She is waiting when he arrives at the coffee house, sitting near the counter on one of their comfortably battered brown leather couches. She is sipping a hot drink of some kind from the cardboard cup held tightly between her hands. He barely registers her in his confusion, a brief nod, then goes to the counter and orders a latte simply because it is the first item he sees on the chalkboard standing by the till.
He sits down on the opposite couch, a low pine coffee table between them. She smiles weakly and ducks her head back down to her drink. Wilson automatically takes a nervous gulp of his latte then chokes as it sears the inside of his mouth, gasping it down his throat before he scalds himself. There is a little more silence, then Stacy suddenly raises her face towards him. He sees her make-up has been recently reapplied, and even now the lights hanging from the café's ceiling catch a wet glint in her eyes.
"The fact that you're here says you're willing to keep this between us," she says, quietly.
"I...don't know. But you might as well tell me anyway. I think I've already heard the essence of it," he replies. He isn't sure he wants to hear, but there is nothing else he can do except listen. "How far along..." He trails off, but she knows where the question was headed.
"About eight weeks."
"You didn't notice...uh..." He's kicking himself. He can't even finish a goddamn sentence, never mind offer anything in the way of concrete support. She shrugs awkwardly, wiping her eyes with her thumb before they can overflow.
"I've been so preoccupied with Greg, I haven't been thinking about anything else."
He nods, then offers "Are you sure about this? Stress can delay periods, and no-one can claim you haven't been under stress."
She shakes her head and smiles again. Wilson blows across the steaming latte and swills a sip around his mouth. The big question is looming somewhere just behind his larynx but he forces it out of his mouth.
"Are you going to keep it?" he asks, softly. He feels that he knows what the answer will be, but he needs to hear it for himself. Part of him wants to move over to her, put an arm around her and say that things will get better, but the idea that they will is so uncertain that he can't bring himself to the deception.
"Right," Wilson tries to sound reassuring. Outside, the rain is starting to pour down, tapping on the windowpane like a thousand pin-tacks. She is looking at the droplets' trail down the glass when she speaks to him.
"Can you promise to keep this to yourself?"
"He's my friend. I don't know what to say..."
"You were my friend before you were his, James. Can't you do this for me?"
Her eyes are on him now. He curses his own stupidity; this was such a bad idea, coming down here and letting himself get dragged into the situation. He realised now that whatever he did, someone was going to get hurt. In times like this, he always chose the option that would cause the least damage.
"No, I won't tell him. But you have to."
"I know, I know. When he gets better-"
"He's not going to get better," Wilson interrupts, "Not really. He deserves to know. It's his..." he can't bear to finish. He blows again on the latte; even though he's done it so many times that it's already cold. He wants to weep but he has no idea why. He still can't believe that a month ago, he had been a (fairly) happily married successful doctor with a reasonably well-adjusted best friend, and things were good for both of them. This new revelation was the last straw. He swallows the hard ball forming in his throat.
"Are you all right?" he asks, because he hasn't asked yet and he feels an irrational compulsion to tick all the boxes on the list of 'Things a Friend Should Do and Say to a Friend in Trouble'. She folds her lower lip under her teeth and nods. He nods too, awkwardly, and wishes like hell he wasn't here.
She goes to the clinic four days later, after she has dropped Greg off more therapy.
When she returns, and sees him lying on the therapist's floor on a blue mat, sweating and shaking with the pain, she almost blurts it out. But the urge evaporates as quickly as it arose, and the next minute she's helping him up and he's hating her all over again.
As they pass through the Clinic, six inches of air and a mile of body language between them, she sees Wilson standing at the front desk and watching them. She looks back at him over her shoulder and their eyes meet in a painful glance, before she turns away to help Greg with the steps.