Author's note: This weekend was a nightmare for paramedics, especially in my town. Sometimes my job sucks, and I thought maybe Wilson thinks so too...
Disclaimer: They're not mine. They're only my chosen method of stress relief.
"So," asked House, tapping his cane against the floor. "Just how many of those have you had?"
Wilson didn't look up at him, and briefly considered not answering. But as that would have been rude, considering that he was currently trying his best to drink himself into a coma in the other man's lounge, he raised his glass of scotch to his friend and said in a remarkably steady voice, "Not nearly enough."
He could count the number of times he'd seen Wilson drunk without ever having to take off his shoes, and would barely need the second hand. Sure, he had drank beer with him, even seen him slightly buzzed, but seeing him like this was totally different. He was sprawled on the couch in the diagnostics lounge, his tie removed and crumpled in the corner like it had been thrown and his white dress shirt discarded, leaving him in dress slacks and a white t-shirt. His shoes and socks had been shoved roughly under the couch. More disturbing was the half-empty bottle of scotch on the floor beside him. This was new territory. Not even at his worst after Julie left had he seen the otherwise well-adjusted, well-put-together doctor at this level of dishevelment. "You want to talk about it?"
Wilson laughed roughly. "Talk about it? No. And I'm not drunk enough to believe you really mean that." He ran his fingers through his short brown hair and finished off the glass. Groping blindly for the bottled, he finally managed to refill it without spilling a drop. House noted with some alarm that with the amount of alcohol missing from that bottle Wilson should be almost comatose, not still steady-handed enough to pour his own drinks. "I wish I was drunk enough to believe it. But I can't seem to get drunk. Why can't I just be drunk?"
House was well aware of the phenomena of strong enough emotions disabling the effects of alcohol. That made it a mystery. A diagnostic mystery. He had never seen Wilson too upset to get drunk. "So pretend you are drunk enough and tell me what's wrong."
Wilson shook his head and stared down the couch at his bare feet. "Not you."
Wilson finally looked up. His brown eyes were remarkably clear, marred by neither tears nor alcoholic haze. Meeting the gaze for as long as he could stand, he drained half the scotch in his glass with one drink, not even wincing as it went down his throat. "Can't talk to you about it. Maybe Cameron. Has she left yet?"
House winced. That had actually hurt. He didn't even know words could still hurt him. "Can't we just pretend I have a heart of gold and a nice ass?"
"Go away, House. Go get a hooker. I'll even pay her if you'll leave me alone."
House sat down in the chair, scooting it over to Wilson's line of sight. "I'm not leaving you here like this. Especially with you drinking my scotch and not offering me any."
"It's not yours," Wilson replied, getting to his feet steadily and bringing back a coffee cup. He poured House a full cup of the strong drink. "I brought my own this time."
The wheels were turning quickly in House's mind. "If you didn't want to talk to me, why are you in here? You have you own office, even your own lounge. And it has TiVo."
Wilson looked everywhere but at his friend. "It smells like cancer in there."
House filed that response away to question him about more when he felt better. The mystery had gotten deeper. It was work related, but how? "As opposed to in here, where it smells like the cheap air freshener the wombat brought in?"
Wilson shook his head. "You wouldn't understand. In fact, you'd laugh at me, and I couldn't take that right now, so please let it go. Or if I have to talk, send in Cameron, or even Chase. But not you."
"Why not me?"
He flopped his head back against the wall, not even reacting when his head slammed into the wall with considerable force. "Because I need someone who can actually still feel something! Because I can't right now!"
Even House's mind couldn't make sense of that. "What do you mean?"
He sighed. "If I explain it the best I can, will you go away?" House nodded solemnly, and Wilson abandoned the alcohol that wasn't helping anyway to pace around the room. "What do you want to know?"
House rolled his eyes. He said he'd tell, he didn't say he'd make it easy… "Okay, for starters, why were you in my department trying in vain to drink yourself numb, when you seem to think you already are. Second, what kind of stress are you under that is strong enough to keep you from being able to drink yourself numb. Or, more numb, as the case may be. Third, why does your job repulse you so much you think you can smell cancer when you delivered no death sentences today, even gave two remission notices, and haven't lost a patient in a week. And you took that remarkably well, even with it being a kid. Fourth…well, actually that's it."
He looked up at where Wilson was pacing, and was amazed at the expression on his face. The pain that had been there earlier was gone, replaced by the darkest anger he had ever seen on the gentle oncologist's face. It was frightening, and House wasn't sure who it was aimed at. "I handled it remarkably well, huh?"
"Uh, yeah…" said House, taking a sip of his scotch, confused. "Like a professional."
"Yeah," said Wilson in a flat voice, a dangerous anger still etched into his handsome features. "Like a professional executioner. Congratulations, House. I've finally turned into you!"
House would never admit to this, but he was completely and totally lost. "What are you talking about?"
"A nine year old kid dies of lymphoma and I move on like I stepped on a bug. He died, House, and I feel nothing!"
This was serious. Well, not normally to House, but now it was serious to Wilson, and that made it serious to House. "What do you want to feel?"
"I don't know! Something! Hurt, sad, anything!"
House did something then that he would deny to his dying day. He got up, leaving his cane leaning against the chair, and stepped in front of Wilson. Putting his hands on the agitated doctor's shoulders, he looked him straight in the eye. As the blue eyes searched the brown ones, the anger faded to something like despair. Content that he had defused the immediate threat of Wilson putting his fist through the wall, he guided him back to the couch and sat beside him. "Look, if you tell anyone I'm actually being nice, I'll have to kill a puppy in front of Cameron to get my reputation back. But listen to me. You work in the specialty with the highest death rate of any there is. And it's not all old people in nursing homes, sometimes it's young people. You are going to lose lots of patients, lots of dead kids. Do you really want to hurt for every one of them? Are you that much of a masochist? I enjoy seeing people in pain, and I don't want you to suffer for every person you can't save. You're only human, and you can't single-handedly cure cancer. You really want to hurt for them all?"
It was only then that tears filled his eyes. "I know I'm human, House. What I don't know is why, as a human, I don't feel devastated over the horrible and painful death of a child!"
House wasn't sure what to say, how to help him. "You don't have to take the world on your shoulders, Jimmy."
The tears were bravely held back. "It makes me a horrible person to not be hurt. I should feel worse."
He put his hand on Wilson's shoulder, well aware that he was breaking his own rule about personal contact for the second time in five minutes. "You've seen a lot of people die. If you hurt for every single person who dies, you'll end up with more scar tissue than heart." Wilson looked up at him, hope flickering in his moist eyes, so House plunged on. He held up his right hand. "When I first started needing a third leg, my hand hurt like hell. Blistered, bled, gave me all sorts of trouble. Took a long time to form this callus, but now it doesn't hurt anymore. It doesn't make me any less human, just a basic physiological reaction. The mind can form calluses too. Same principle."
Wilson shook his head. "But I don't want a callus. I still want to feel human. If it doesn't hurt to lose, where's the motivation to play your best? If I don't play my best, more people die. But I won't care, and then things are on their way to hell!"
There was no easy answer, no way to make his friend feel better. He wasn't hurting over the death of the kid, but he was torturing himself even worse out of guilt for that lack of pain. But hurt was hurt, and Wilson was the one person House couldn't handle seeing in pain. "Come on, Jimmy. Let's go home. I'll drive, and we'll get the good stuff, sure to knock you on your ass."
Wilson looked indignantly at the bottle on the floor. "That IS the good stuff!" House was looking at him almost sympathetically, the look House himself despised, and Wilson wouldn't abide causing it. "And you have something to help me get drunk?"
"How drunk do you want to be? 'Til you can't spell 'oncologist'?"
Wilson shook his head. "'Til I can't spell 'cancer'"
House nodded. "You got it. Let's go."
They walked slowly to the elevator, and as he pushed the button, House looked over at Wilson for a second. The pain was still there, but not as close to the surface. "Hey," he said, leaning his cane against the wall and holding up his right hand again. Wilson stared at his palm, hoping House had an answer hidden in it. "If I want the callus to go away, all I have to do is take a break. Not use it for a few days. Take a break. It'll hurt again when I get back."
Wilson gently touched the thickened skin on his friend's hand, and House endured the touch, knowing Wilson might well find his answer there. Soft fingers traced the outer edge until the elevator stopped. As they stepped out, Wilson almost smiled. "I think I have some vacation time coming."
House did smile. Wilson had found his answer.