Author's Notes: A little AU given "Insensitive," but everything can't be sunshine and kittens already. Spoilers for the Tritter arc. Thanks to elynittria for fixing all my mistakes.
Disclaimer: Just taking the boys out for a drink. I'll return them to David Shore and company before March 6.

"Blow out the candles, Robert, and make a wish. Want something. Want something." Company

Every year, the oncology department held an informal party in the lounge on Wilson's birthday. When he protested that he didn't need the attention, his assistant reminded him sternly that it wasn't about him, it was about the cake. He offered to bring in a cake on any other day, but she told him that wasn't the point.

"People want to show you they care," she said.

After the events of the past few months, Wilson wasn't sure he believed her, but it was good for the morale of the department so he stopped putting up a fuss.

At three, one of the interns was dispatched to drag Wilson out of his office and into the lounge. He smiled and demonstrated the requisite amount of pleasure and appreciation as the gathered crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to him.

He paused as he leaned over the cake, ready to blow out the candles, one for every year of his life. It was depressing to see how many had accumulated.

"Make a wish," someone called out, and he closed his eyes, wondering what he could wish for that might possibly come true.

Most of the oncology department was there, except for those in surgery or on patient consults. Cuddy breezed by to wish him a happy birthday on her way to a meeting, accepting a thin slice of cake before she left. A few other department heads, looking for Wilson's support on board initiatives, made a point of being seen, as did a steady stream of residents hoping for an oncology fellowship. He saw Chase in the corner, but no one else from Diagnostics. He tried to pretend that he didn't care.

Chase made his way to Wilson's side. "Happy birthday," he said, tilting a glass of punch in a mock toast. "Any plans to celebrate?"

"I'm having dinner with my family on Saturday," he replied. He didn't add that he had asked House to join them and been turned down.

"Well, if you're not doing anything tonight, let me buy you a drink."

Wilson didn't even feign hesitation. "Sure," he said. "That would be nice." Anything was better than sitting alone in the hotel room. He knew Chase was only being kind, but kindness was something he'd been in short supply of lately, and he couldn't afford to pass it up when offered. He looked around the crowded lounge and wondered how he'd ended up so alone.

Chase returned to the Diagnostics office with three pieces of cake. Neither Cameron nor Foreman were around, so he put their cake in the fridge and then opened the door to House's office.

"Busy," House said, not looking up from whatever game he was playing on his PSP.

"Wilson asked me to give this to you," Chase replied, holding out the cake. It wasn't entirely true - Wilson had said nothing about giving it to House personally, but Chase had seen Wilson watch the door hopefully for someone who never arrived.

House reached for the cake greedily, but then curled his lip. "It's not a corner piece. Hardly any icing at all."

"You could have had a corner piece if you'd been there," Chase pointed out. He knew that House was an antisocial asshole, but the least he could have done was make an appearance at his best friend's birthday party.

House scoffed and waved him away. "Busy," he repeated and picked up the game again.

Chase stared at him for a moment, pushing down a surge of anger, and then stalked out of the office.

Foreman had returned and watched Chase storm around the conference room. "What did he do now?" he asked warily.

"Nothing," Chase snapped. "Absolutely nothing. Par for the course." He grabbed a piece of cake from the fridge and shoved it at Foreman. "Here. Enjoy."

"What's this from?" Foreman asked, digging his fingers into the cake.

"Wilson's birthday."

Foreman frowned. "It's Wilson's birthday? Doesn't Oncology usually have a party? I didn't hear anything about it."

Chase glared at House's office. "Neither did I. Or I wouldn't have, if I hadn't walked past the lounge and seen them decorating. Wilson's assistant said she sent an email to House, but the bastard either ignored it or deliberately didn't tell us." He dropped into a chair and grabbed the newspaper, flipping through the pages for a crossword to calm himself down. He could feel Foreman's eyes on him, gauging his degree of turmoil.

"When did you turn into Wilson's number one fan?" Foreman asked finally.

"When he was the only one who noticed or cared that House hit me, just because I was right and he was wrong." Chase didn't care that he sounded bitter. He was bitter. Not on his own behalf any more, but on Wilson's.

Foreman rolled his eyes. "That was more than two months ago. Get over it."

"I am over it. I don't give a damn what House thinks about me any more." If he said it often enough, he might even believe it. "But if you think House has gotten over it, you're wrong."

"He apologized to Wilson," Foreman protested. "They're back to whatever passes for normal with them."

"Maybe. And maybe he even meant it. But they're not back to normal." He saw House stand up and waited until he wandered out of his office for a refill of coffee. "I'm taking Wilson out for a drink after work," he said to Foreman. "Want to come along?"

Foreman glanced between House and Chase. "Sure," he said. "Sounds fun."

House snorted and walked away.

"Why don't you join us?" Chase called after him.

House kept walking. "Why would I want to do that?" he snapped.

"Because Wilson would want you to?"

This time, House didn't bother answering. Chase was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of sadness - for Wilson, for House, for himself. He shook his head, wondering when everything had fallen apart.

They asked Cameron to join them, but she elected to stay and monitor their latest patient. There was another thread broken. Chase didn't know if Cameron was still angry with Wilson about the deal, or if she felt guilty for her part in isolating Wilson. He thought it was probably a mixture of both.

Wilson was doing his best to stay cheerful, but as the level in his pint glass lowered, he became quieter and drank faster. Every now and then Chase saw him glance at the door. Foreman left after the second round, but Wilson showed no inclination to leave, so Chase stayed to keep him company. It wasn't as though he had anywhere else to go.

Wilson was on his fifth pint and Chase his third when Wilson got up to go to the bathroom. He stumbled as he turned the corner and bumped into a man walking in the other direction. "I'm sorry," Wilson muttered, steadying himself by grabbing onto the man's arm.

"Watch where you're going, asshole," the other man sneered, shoving Wilson away.

Tottering on legs befuddled by drink, Wilson couldn't maintain his balance and he overcompensated, falling towards the man again. This time the man shoved Wilson against the wall. Wilson made a slight cry of protest that turned into a strangled moan when the man jammed his knee into Wilson's groin.

Chase scrambled to his feet and was rushing to intervene when a familiar figure stepped around the corner and smashed a cane across the man's shoulders. The man turned away from Wilson, ready to swing, but Chase got there first and wrapped his arms around Wilson's assailant, pulling him away from Wilson and out of House's range. "You just want to walk away, buddy," he warned, pushing him in the direction of the door. One of the bartenders stepped in to make sure the guy kept walking, and Chase turned back to Wilson.

He had slid to the floor and was curled in a foetal position, still moaning. House was kneeling awkwardly next to him, frowning. "Get some ice and a pitcher," he ordered Chase. "He's going to puke the second we try to move him."

When Chase returned with the requested items, House grabbed the ice and told Chase to get the pitcher ready. "Uncurl for me, Wilson," he murmured. "This will help."

Wilson moaned again, but managed to sit up. His face was chalk-white and he swallowed convulsively, but he accepted the ice wrapped in a towel gratefully, pressing it against his groin.

"Do you need to puke?" House asked.

Wilson shook his head, then reconsidered and nodded tightly. He leaned over the pitcher and filled it with recycled beer and half-digested fries. House wrinkled his nose fastidiously and told Chase to take it away. When Chase returned with a fresh pitcher, just in case, House and Wilson were sitting shoulder to shoulder against the wall. He handed Wilson a glass of water.

Wilson rinsed his mouth and spat into the pitcher, then gulped the rest of the glass down.

"You know, management will probably object to the two of you sitting on the floor all night."

"Fifty bucks says they won't," House replied.

"You want to bet on that?" Chase didn't know why he was surprised. House would bet on anything, particularly when he was sure he would win.

"No, the fifty bucks Wilson just gave the manager says he'll leave us alone for at least half an hour." But House levered himself upright and then braced himself to help Wilson up. "Come on, buckaroo. A booth will be more comfortable."

"I'm comfortable," Wilson muttered, but let House pull him up. When he swayed unsteadily, however, he grabbed Chase's arm to keep his balance. House looked away, but for a moment Chase thought he saw anger - or hurt - on House's face.

"I should get going," he said, knowing House didn't want him there and Wilson didn't need him any longer. "I'll just pay the tab."

"I already took care of it," Wilson said.

"But it's your birthday. You shouldn't pay."

"Don't worry about it," House said. "Wilson's used to buying his friends. How much did it cost you last time, Jimmy? Fifteen grand for bail?"

Wilson stepped back until he was leaning against the wall, his expression stricken. "I made some of it back with thirty pieces of silver," he whispered.

Even House flinched at that. "I'll make sure he gets home," he told Chase. It was both dismissal and thanks.

"Happy birthday, Dr. Wilson," Chase said. If it had been a friend, he would have clapped him on the shoulder or given him a quick hug; but Wilson wasn't his friend and his walls were almost as high as House's. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Wilson nodded and smiled, but he looked pained in a way that had nothing to do with a knee in the groin. Be careful what you wish for, Chase thought, looking at House. Lest it come true. When he got to the door, he looked back. Wilson was walking gingerly to the nearest booth, House limping a few steps behind him. From a distance it was impossible to tell if he were guarding Wilson or stalking him.

Once they settled in the booth, a waitress came by to see if they needed anything, and then left them alone. The power of a well-placed tip, House thought, shifting uncomfortably on the bench across from Wilson. He didn't know why he was there. Chase had made sure he knew where they were taking Wilson, a bar temptingly located on House's route home, but he'd had no intention of going in, even as he was opening the door. He'd had no intention of staying, even as he'd ordered a beer at the bar, out of sight of Wilson's table. And he'd had no intention of talking to Wilson, even as he'd sat down on the floor next to him.

He saw Wilson hunch over and wince in pain, and he allowed himself to feel sorry for someone other than himself. "Worst birthday ever, huh?"

Wilson shook his head and puffed out a soft laugh. "Barely makes the top three," he muttered. "Besides, for once I got what I wanted."

"A kick in the balls? Why, Jimmy. I knew you were a masochist, but I thought that was just your taste in friends."

Wilson traced a random pattern in a splash of beer on the tabletop. "I'm certainly that."

"So what did you wish for?" House pressed when Wilson didn't elaborate. "What does the oncologist who has everything really want?"

It didn't seem physically possible, but Wilson folded in on himself even more, and House remembered that most of what Wilson had, at least in material terms, was in storage or crowded into his office. "Proof," Wilson whispered finally.

"Proof of what?" House demanded.

"That you give a damn." Wilson stared at him, as if daring him to deny it.

House couldn't deny it, but he couldn't admit it either. He put the pieces together. "You knew I was here."

Wilson nodded. "I saw you come in. Chase didn't."

"So you staged that little fight to test me?"

Wilson shrugged. "Not exactly. I bumped into him by accident, but when he got hostile, I pushed a little more." He grimaced. "I thought he'd just hit me."

"Serves you right." The only thing House hated more than being manipulated was being predictable. "You took a pretty big chance that I would race to your rescue." But he had. He had seen the guy push Wilson and had felt a vicarious shimmer of pleasure. Someone else found Wilson as aggravating as he did. But when Wilson had cried out in pain, he had moved instinctively. The only coherent thought he'd had between standing and swinging his cane was that he was the only one who was allowed to hurt Wilson. He felt slightly sick.

"Not much of a risk," Wilson said. "Chase would have broken it up before he hurt me too badly. And at least I would have had my answer."

House definitely felt sick. He wondered what Wilson had considered acceptable damage. A black eye, broken nose? "And now you know?"

Wilson shook his head. "No. But I'm narrowing down the parameters." His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. "As long as you're not detoxing or in the middle of solving a puzzle, or you don't have to listen to my problems, or I agree to cook for you, then you won't leave me out in the cold."

"You took the silver," House replied, unable to keep the hurt from bubbling back up. He had apologized for blaming Wilson, and it had been sincere, or at least as sincere as he could make an apology. But Wilson had taken Tritter's side and he didn't think he could ever forget that.

"He took everything from me," Wilson said, his voice cracking. "My money, my car, my patients. And the one thing I thought I had left slipped away with everything else, and I had nothing to hold onto." He stared defiantly at House. "I tried anyway, but you were out of control. It was the only way I had left to help you." He pulled one hand down his face. "And if you believe the gospel of St. Cameron, then yes, I was helping myself too." He looked away. "Nobody else was going to."


"Don't call me that," Wilson snapped. "You only call me that when you're making fun of me and I can't take that right now."

A series of sound bites flashed through House's memory. Stripped of any underlying affection, none of them contradicted Wilson's statement. "Your family calls you Jimmy."

"You mean the family you don't want to see on Saturday?"

"I don't have dinner with my own family. Why would I want to spend time with yours?" Except he liked Wilson's family. They were damaged, but in a way that was interesting, not hurtful - at least to him. "Fine. If it will make you happy, I'll drive up to Dullsville with you on Saturday."

"I didn't invite you to dinner to punish you," Wilson retorted. "I invited you because it wouldn't be a family dinner without you." He shook his head. "Forget it. It's my birthday, the one day of the year when I should be allowed to think about myself. But you turn even that into some damn sacrifice on your part." He stood up. "I'm out of here."

House didn't celebrate his own birthday. He had even less reason to celebrate Wilson's. If asked, he would have admitted that he was glad Wilson had been born. But he didn't see how that merited baked goods, bribes, and public adulation. Wilson's mother was the one who had done all the hard work and deserved the credit. And if one cold February day, not long after Stacy left for good, he had sent Helen Wilson a blossoming camellia, it was nobody else's business. That didn't mean he could stand to watch Wilson walk away again. "Don't be stupid. I said I'd take you home."

"I don't have a home, House," Wilson shouted. "I don't have anything."

"Sit down and stop being such a drama queen." For a moment House thought Wilson would just leave, but then Wilson slumped back into the booth. "News flash," he stated. "I'm a lousy friend. That hasn't changed in all the years you've known me. Why is it such a big deal now?"

"Do you remember the erythropoietic protoporphyria kid?"

House wondered if Wilson had deliberately chosen the case that he got wrong and Chase got right.

"The photosensitivity was aggravated by the surgical lights, because her condition had finally reached critical mass." Wilson rubbed the back of his neck. "Tritter was like a surgical light shining down, and maybe it triggered critical mass. I used to be able to take things just on faith. Now I need proof."

"I don't think I can give you the proof you need," House admitted. "I'll beat the crap out of anybody who hurts you - assuming I get my head out of my ass long enough to notice - but we both know I'm the one who hurts you the most."

"That goes both ways," Wilson said softly. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

With his hair rumpled and tie askew, Wilson looked impossibly young, but House knew that was just an illusion. When he looked closely, and it was the first time in months that he had looked really closely, he could see faint new lines around Wilson's eyes and mouth. He wondered how many of them he had put there. "What time do you want me to pick you up on Saturday?" he asked.

Wilson sat up and frowned. "So now you're going?"

"I was always going. Your mother asked me this morning, and I can't turn down your mom on your birthday. But I thought you'd be happier if you got to manipulate me into doing something I didn't want to do. Think of it as your birthday present." He thought Wilson would laugh. But too many things between them had stopped being funny.

"You don't have to humour me," Wilson said quietly. He gnawed on his lower lip, then blew out a sigh and looked away. "It's all right. I'll explain to my mother."

Once, he had been able to make Wilson smile at will. He wondered if that too had been burned away under the bright light of Tritter's investigation. He wondered why it had taken him so long to notice. "I'll pick you up at 6."

Wilson didn't smile, but he nodded. It was a start.

"Make a wish," his mother said, as he kneeled on the chair and leaned over his birthday cake.

"What should I wish for?" he asked. He imagined puppies and two-wheeled bicycles and his own baseball glove.

"You should wish for whatever will make you happy," she said and kissed the crown of his head.

That made him happy, but he didn't think he had to wish for it. He tried to think of the best thing in the world. "I wish..."

"You can't tell anybody your wish," his brother interrupted, "or it won't come true."

He closed his eyes, wished for the best, and blew.