Fall Down Seven Times by Aenisses Thai

Disclaimer: All rights to House MD belong to David Shore, Heel and Toe Films, and Bad Hat Harry Productions in association with NBC Universal Television Studio. I do not make any monetary profit from this fanfiction.

This story is rated T for language.

Warning: Spoilers for Season Three, up to Episode 17 at least.

Note: This story takes place after the (aired-in-the-US) episode Half-Wit (Season 3, Episode 15), and also after the (not-yet-aired-in-the-US) Episodes 16 and 17, maybe 18 as well. Since I'm not on the House production team, I've only read the written spoilers and haven't seen the actual episodes, so there may be continuity errors, for which I accept all responsibility. This fic is original, but if by some exceedingly strange chance, this scene occurs later in the season, then I'm reclassifying it as "clairvoyant fic." :P

You're stretched out as far as you can go, your arm aching as it reaches its full extension. Wilson grunts with effort beneath you, a thin sheen of sweat coating his face.

"Come on!" you gasp. "Push harder!"

"Damn it, House, I'm the one doing all the work, so the least you can do is shut up!"

"That's no way to talk to your partner—"

"Partner! If you were any kind of a partner, you'd be giving me a hand here!"

"Can't," you remind him kindly. "Bum leg."

He mutters imprecations about your leg, using language that would get him banned for life from the PPTH Cancer Kids Christmas Caper. You helpfully point out this detail, which earns you a spate of suggestions of several anatomically uncomfortable, if not downright impossible, things you can do with your cane.

Life is good.

Wilson seems to be reaching the limits of his endurance, however, because he suddenly lets out a groan that builds into a near shout. Twisting his hip, he pushes with everything he's got, and—Victory! All obstacles suddenly give way, which would be great except for the fact that there's no longer anything holding him up—and thus nothing holding you up, either.

You lose your grip on the door, and both of you go tumbling through the doorway towards certain injury. Luckily, you end up on the couch you've been pushing. Well, technically, Wilson ends up on the couch, and you end up on Wilson.

"Get off me!"

For a moment, you struggle to get up, but your cane has fallen beyond your reach. You settle for tapping your ear while Wilson flails around beneath you. "Can't hear you, Jimmy; you're mumbling into the cushions. What was that you wanted?"

With a muffled roar, Wilson gives a tremendous push upwards, incidentally catapulting you into a near-standing position. You regain your balance and scoop up your cane, as Wilson lies panting against the smooth green linen cushions.

"Just think," you lean over him, "all those push-ups finally paid off."

"Shut up." Wilson closes his eyes and passes a hand over his damp forehead. "Tell me again how after four years of medical school, four years of residency in radiation oncology, three years in hematology oncology, and untold years in hospital practice, I end up as a furniture mover?"

"Shhh," you caution, "if the union guys hear about this, they'll rough you up and slash your tires. Anyway, we had to move fast in order to get Cuddy's couch." You sit down beside Wilson. "Just think, at this moment, our asses are parked in the exact spot where Cuddy's warm little thong-clad caboose usually sits. Turn-on, right?"

"Maybe for you." Wilson is still too winded to be any fun. "I'm all for recycling, especially if Cuddy's just going to toss this out once her new office suite is delivered, but explain again why we couldn't get the movers to do this tomorrow?"

"Well, uh…" it's confession time, now that the couch is safely in your office, "the movers are going to be a bit late."

Wilson's eyes narrow in suspicion at your overly-innocent tone. "How late?"

"Er, next week late?"

"Damn it, House!" He leaps off the couch and starts waving his arms around. "Do you mean that Cuddy is without a couch for the next seven days? How did you ever get her to agree to this?"

You look towards the ceiling and whistle lightly through your teeth.

"You didn't!" Wilson's outrage translates into a frustrated little dance. "Do you have any idea of what she's going to do to you?"

You observe the dance with amusement. "Not to me; I have a bum leg, remember? As much as Cuddy thinks that I'm superhuman, even she can't really believe that I'm capable of stealing her couch and dragging it to my office. I think her suspicions might turn to—" you point your cane at his chest.

"Except for the fact that the couch is in your office, not mine. Whatever. You still owe me dinner, and because of what I just learned, I'm going to make sure it's at the most expensive place in Princeton. Chateau Henri, here we come!"

"Not like that." Your cane shifts to indicate the large wet patches at his underarms. "You stink. Go shower in the call room."

Wilson gives a self-conscious sniff and wilts visibly. "We don't have time if we're going to catch the second seating at Henri's. I have some clean shirts in my office, thanks to your tendency to spatter lunch across me, but I don't make a habit of storing clean underwear there."

"With your sexual proclivities, you should make it a habit," you say dismissively. "Anyway, you can do what I do whenever I don't have clean underwear—turn that pair inside-out."

"Why do you have to tell me these things?" Just as you'd hoped, Wilson does his trademark "ew" dance, tightly clenched fists waving in disgust. (If only he knew how many hours you spend thinking up perverse things just for the pleasure of seeing that little dance.)

"No excuses. Stink! Shower! Now!" You shove him out of your office, watching him disappear down the corridor, grumbling under his breath.

Now you have some time to kill, so you wander to the conference room, hoping that some of Chase's coffee is still in the pot so that you can heat it in the microwave. Your attention is caught by the glimmer of the city lights below (did they forget to close the blinds again?), so your cane strikes the obstacle before you see it, sending you staggering.

A shadowed form leaps up, hands steadying you. You pull away, holding up your cane defensively, your heart in your throat.

"I warn you, you're messing with someone who's packing some serious wood." You're pleased that your tone is steady instead of shaking like your knees.

"It's alright, House; it's me."

The lilting accent both reassures and angers you. Reassuring, because at least it's (not a gun-toting maniac) someone you know; angering, because things have been tense between you two ever since he (stabbed you in the back again) threw his loyalty to Cameron.

Your tone is sharp with displeasure. "So what are you doing here in the dark? Sniffing for more dirt to feed to Cuddy? Or are you on booty call, waiting for Cameron to snag a sleep clinic bed or a janitor's closet?"

Even in the darkness, you can see him flinch. "That won't happen again."

"So you say now." You can't resist getting in another dig. "But let Cameron crook her little finger, and I'm sure you'll go running with your dander up, damn the torpedoes and broom handles."

"It's not going to happen again. Ever."

You take in the flat finality of his tone and realize that you've stepped into his personal minefield. That's fine with you; minefields are interesting and fun. In fact, you have an entire arsenal of shots saved up for this occasion, since you foresaw the inevitable implosion of his and Cameron's trainwreck of a relationship (an implosion that you helped along whenever you could.)

Yet…something makes you hesitate. Something in his manner is off, not right, and your ever-present curiosity demands an answer. You need to get a good look at him in the light.

"Fine, since you're just sitting around, you can give me a hand. I have some furniture in my office that needs rearranging."

"To accommodate Cuddy's couch." There's faint amusement in his tone but it sounds as distant as if he's listening to a joke from last year.

Definitely something off.

"Right. So get in here and start moving it around; that'll make you an accessory to the crime, and you won't be able to rat me out." You move to the connecting door and gesture him through it with your cane.

At first, you're disappointed to see that there's nothing immediately different about Chase; he fidgets, sighs, and rolls up his sleeves as you make him move your desk, your chair, and the couch around the limited space in several configurations. But you begin to see the brittleness in his manner—he's going through the motions, but his actions are a breath too slow, distracted, as if he were a reassembled toy that isn't working quite right.

Or the boy from The Snow Queen, whose heart is slowly turning to ice.

Time to investigate. You finish with the couch and your other furniture back in the exact same places where they started. Chase drops down on the couch, winded, and you sit beside him on the other end, twirling your cane.

"So you got tired of Afternoon Delight and dumped Cameron, huh?"

Chase flinches under your direct attack. "No! I wasn't the one. I wanted…but she didn't…" he shuts up, realizing that he's giving you more ammunition.

He's obviously bleeding, but you're on the hunt now, and mercy has never been one of your foremost qualities. "So it was Cameron who led you down the path of promises before dumping your sorry ass."

He bristles, unknowingly exposing his hand. "She never lied to me. She was honest with me from the start about what role I had in her life."

"Which was?"

He smiles grimly. "Microwave pizza."

"Ah." You figured as much. "A convenience. She used you," widening your eyes, you affect an innocent lisp, "but she was honesthst about it, and thath's what counths."

"It wasn't like that!" He's spirited in his defense of Cameron, and you lift your eyebrows in exaggerated surprise. "All right, maybe it was like that, but I used her, too. We used each other. Equally."

"I see. An equal relationship, as shown by the fact that she's continuing on her happy way, and you're stuck sitting in the dark."

He hunches down lower on the couch, refusing to rise to your bait. He reminds you of a turtle. Or maybe a hedgehog, the Australian kind, a whaddayacallit…

"Echidna!" you shout in triumph, and he jumps, startled. "Stop acting like an echidna, and tell me why you're just sitting here instead doing something constructive, like egging Cameron's apartment."

He mumbles something, and you lean forward, cupping your hand to your ear. "Eh?"

"I said that I was hoping that maybe you'd be here, and I could…uh…"

"Declare your everlasting admiration for me? Take a few snapshots, commission a sculpture?"

"…ask you something. Your advice."

What the hell? "Not to sound cold and uncaring—well, all right, I'm fine with sounding cold and uncaring—but isn't advice something you're supposed to get from people who are, what's that word again…friends?"

He makes a small sound of contempt. "Oh yeaaah, I could phone them up, roust them out of bed, and cry them a river. They'll all say the same thing: 'It's not you; it's her, mate.'" His accent has broadened into an Aussie caricature, so that the long A's sharpen until mate sounds like mite. "What else are they gonna say? They're my mates, so yeah."

"So you decided to ask my advice instead, because I remind you so much of Doctor Phil." You can't keep the incredulity out of your tone.

"No." He forges on with that weird, stubborn look on his face, the one he gets when he knows that he's treading on thin ice with you. When he's treading on thin ice with himself. "You're lousy at relationships, but you're good at seeing what's wrong with people—and you're honest."

You say nothing, giving him nothing. He continues anyway, forcing out the reluctant words. "My mum…loved my dad. Really loved him. When he walked out, there's wasn't anything left for her, no one worth crawling out of the bottle for. As for my dad—you met him. He was a busy man. Too busy to go for a drink with me his last night here, even though he knew it was the last time he'd ever see me. And now Allison…"

He looks over at you and suddenly the shield drops, the ice cracks, and his eyes are full of broken glass and shattered hopes (the same look you saw in the mirror the day you finally drove Stacy out of your life) and for some reason, you feel a weird tightening in your throat.

"I want you to tell me what's wrong with me. I want to know why I can't get anybody—not my mum or dad or Allison—to care…" He chokes for a moment. "'Cause I'm still young, I think, and maybe it's not too late. Maybe I can fix it, if only you'll tell me what's wrong—"

You've heard enough. You don't want to hear anymore.

Reaching out, you catch him by the far shoulder and pull him against your right side. He struggles for a moment, surprised by the strength of your arm (try supporting half your body weight on one arm for a few years), but you don't release him.

"Be still!" you bark, and he obeys. Like he always does.

You sit there for awhile, using one hand to thoughtfully tap your cane against the floor and holding him with the other. You can feel him breathing rapidly, his chest rising and falling against your side. He's on the verge of panicking, unsure of what you're about to do (beat him with your cane?).

You have his full attention now.

"I want you to listen carefully and memorize this, because I'm only going to say it once. Got it?"

He nods against your lapel.

"It's not you; it's them."

It starts as a strangled sound, a little snort of amusement that blossoms out into a full-out bout of laughter. He's shaking, gasping for breath as a note of hysteria creeps into his hilarity.

You nod to yourself and wait, staring across the room into the dim glow of your desk lamp.

It changes subtly, his laughter growing quieter, intermittent, until it dies away completely. He's still shuddering, however, his face hidden in your shoulder, his right hand coming up to grasp at your other lapel.

Unheard children cry silently, you think, and try to remember where you read that.

Or maybe it was something you wrote.

After a minute or so, you see movement from the corner of your eye, and turn your head to meet Wilson's shocked gaze through the glass. He raises his hands in a What the hell? gesture, and you shake your head slightly, flashing two fingers with the hand that rests on Chase's back.

Not now. Wait twenty minutes. The secret language of friends.

Wilson signals his understanding and moves off, probably going in search of some late-night coffee. You wish briefly that he could bring some back for you, preferably with a good stiff shot in it. Then again, you could hardly drink it since your hands are full, one with a cane, the other with a grieving fellow.

Chase eventually calms, his frame shuddering only occasionally. You think about the way Life seems to delight in kicking around certain individuals, and wonder how much more the boy can take.

Suddenly the words appear in your mind, swimming up through the haze of years.

Nana korobi, ya oki

A language learned long ago and far away, taking you back across the world to a land of pristine beaches and crowded houses, luxury and poverty sprawled side-by-side across the chain of coral islands. You were an outsider there, instructed to remain on your father's Marine base, but you couldn't resist venturing out into a land and culture so radically different from anything you'd seen before.

They hated you, the Okinawan boys; hated your white skin and blue eyes, seeing your presence in their land as another show of American military arrogance. You reveled in their honest hatred, feeling it cleanse you of your father's poorly hidden distaste for you. It was no accident that the first full phrases you learned in Japanese were hurled curses, and with your gift for languages, you were soon flinging them back with enthusiasm, your lengthening legs carrying you to safety as you raced past the fish market and soba shop.

They finally caught you behind the soba shop one day. They beat you as they did everything else in that place, with methodical thoroughness: hard enough to hurt but not enough to send you to hospital. You could almost admire their attention to detail…almost.

The soba shopkeeper put an end to it, shouting at the boys and waving his bamboo whisk broom. He was a small, middle-aged man, yet the boys still scattered in the face of his wrath. Respect for elders, you thought fuzzily, before he hauled up your gangly adolescent form with surprising strength and forced you through the back door of his shop.

Seating you at a tiny table in the corner of the kitchen among the pungent scents of pickled radish and dried fish, he thrust a steaming towel into your hands. Despite its burning heat, you obediently cleaned the blood from your face and hands, somehow sensing that this man could inflict more pain on you with the pressure of a single thumb than the combined efforts of the entire population of Okinawan boys put together.

A bowl of thick noodles in broth was placed before you—and just like that, you lost it. One act of kindness in this vast wasteland of disdain, one hand reaching out when everyone else (your own father) kept telling you that you didn't belong, and the tears came flowing (silently) like rain. You bowed your head above your bowl, humiliated in the presence of this stranger, wishing he would leave in disgust so you could escape.

Instead, a pair of chopsticks was placed beside your bowl, followed by a cup of hot green cha. After a while, your silent sobs died away and you lifted the chopsticks, carefully catching the soft, fresh noodles in their grasp. Beyond the curtain, the regular patrons of the soba shop slurped their noodles with gusto, unaware of the gaijin boy in the back. Your breath hitched, and you accidentally slurped your own noodles, earning you a pleased clap on the back from the owner.

His words came drifting down from above, their simple, profound wisdom reverberating in you to this day.

Nana korobi, ya oki

"Fall down seven times…" you translate softly to the darkness.

"Get up eight."

You can't help jerking in shock (wasn't he asleep?), and Chase lifts off your chest, wiping his eyes and running a hand through his hair. You stare at him, still surprised by his words. "You know that proverb?"

"I live that proverb. Anyway," he stands up self-consciously, "it's from my side of the world." His gaze meets yours briefly, then flickers away. "Sorry I messed up your jacket."

You don't bother to look, feeling the dampness seep into your shoulder. "Don't worry, I'll send you the dry-cleaning bill." A happy thought crosses your mind. "Better yet, you can do my clinic hours next week."

"We'll see," he replies, and you lift an eyebrow at his mild defiance. Seems that Chase is back to normal (you hope). His eyes are red and his hair tousled, but that fragile, brittle quality is gone from his manner. He'll still hurt after tonight, maybe even bleed, but he won't break.

He stops at the door to your office and looks back at you. "Thanks for the…" he falters, not sure what to call this thing you shared, so he just waves a hand at the couch.

"I owed you one."

He looks confused for a moment before his face clears, remembering that hug from a few weeks and two betrayals ago (one of him by you, one of you by him). Giving a brief nod, he moves off down the corridor, and you mull over his words.

I live that proverb.

You struggle to your feet, your right leg stiff from being leaned on for so long, and you're glad that no one is there to see your awkwardness. Except that Wilson appears within seconds, bearing two styrofoam cups and a smug expression.

"Congratulations, it's a boy," he says with heavy-handed sarcasm. You briefly consider advising him to lighten up his clumsy, har-dee-har-har type delivery—but then again, PPTH needs only one brilliantly witty physician on staff.

Shrugging, you relieve him of one of the styrofoam cups. "Fast-track method. This way, I get to skip the smelly diapers and runny noses, and go directly to having him run differentials at the whiteboard."

He pulls out a handkerchief and swipes at your lapel. "Apparently, you haven't escaped the runny nose part yet."

You lift the lid of the cup and inhale cognac-scented steam. Blessed Saint Wilson, you think, although it would take hot coals, bamboo slivers, and a feather duster to get you to say it out loud. Closing your eyes, you take a long, blissful draught of hospital coffee converted into ambrosia by Wilson's secret stash.

"I really don't get you."

You keep your eyes closed against the Saint Wilson Pre-Lecture Whine. "Are you trying to shock me with this revelation? I warn you, I'm not as young as I used to be."

"I'm serious, House. What is it with you and Chase? Last week, he went behind your back to tattle on you to Cuddy—"

"That was because Cameron had his balls in her pocket," you interrupt, feeling oddly stressed (defensive?) over Wilson's criticism of Chase.

"—and three weeks before that, you set him and all of us up with your brain cancer scam."

"It wasn't a set up. None of you were supposed to know about that," you remind him.

"That's not the point," he sighs. "It's just…no matter how many times you two betray each other, you always end up…"

"Back here," you finish.

Wilson blinks at your uncharacteristic directness.

"Like us," you offer, making him blink again. A fleeting look of distress crosses his features, and you immediately diagnose the cause.

"Don't worry, Jimmy," you slap him on the shoulder, forcing him to jump back to keep his coffee from slopping onto his trousers, "he won't come between us. For one thing, I don't think of you as my offspring; that'd be freaky, almost incestuous." You smirk as he begins choking on his coffee. "You're more like my faithful wife, while Cuddy is my hot, squeezable piece of ass on the side."

Wilson regains his breath. "Do you realize that you've just described the most terrifyingly dysfunctional family in history?"

"Nah, the Borgias have us beat six ways to Sunday. Not to mention the Osbornes."

You're interrupted by your cell phone playing an annoyingly tinny version of Baba O'Riley. Flipping it open, you cock an eyebrow at the number displayed inside. "Ayuh?" you ask in your best Nor'eastern accent. "Oh, you don't, do you? What makes you think…check the pic?"

You hold the screen a distance away (secretly wishing for your reading glasses) and squint your eyes to focus. "It's Chase," you inform Wilson, "telling me that he doesn't have to do my clinic hours next week. Seems that he's sending a picture…oh."

Wilson cranes his neck to look over your shoulder. "Oh my God! How did he—?"

"He was watching us in the dark." You try to suppress your grin, and it comes out as a smirk. "Using his cell phone to photograph us, it seems. Ah, the little ones grow up so quickly. One moment, they're sobbing on your shoulder; the next, they're blackmailing you with kinky pictures."

"It's not kinky!" Wilson sputters. "You fell on me! It's not what it looks like!"

"But what it looks like is the point. Now, what's that phrase one is supposed to tell blackmailers?" You scratch your stubble thoughtfully. "Publish and be damned?"

"You can't!" Wilson pleads desperately. "I'm the Head of Oncology, damn it! My reputation—"

"Then I guess the Head of Oncology will be doing my clinic hours next week. We'll talk about it over takeout Chinese." You move past Wilson, who sounds as if he's beginning to hyperventilate, and switch off the lights.

Life is good.

The End

Japanese translations:

Nana korobi, ya oki – Proverb translated as: Fall down seven times; get up eight. Literal translation: stumbling seven times but recovering eight.

soba – noodles in broth; Okinawa soba has thick wheat noodles, whereas elsewhere in Japan, soba refers to buckwheat noodles

cha - tea

gaijin – foreigner (not polite)

Notes: While it's canonical that House lived in Japan when he was fourteen, becoming inspired to pursue a medical career after an encounter with a brilliant but despised buraku (low caste) doctor, I don't know that he ever lived in Okinawa. But since House's father is an ex-Marine, and most Marines in Japan were stationed in Okinawa, I made an educated guess.

Thank you for reading. Honest critiques are deeply appreciated, mulled over, and used as educational tools to advance my writing efforts.

Aenisses 27-March-2007