VISITING HOUR

House shifts restlessly in the molded plastic chair. The chair's so old that the edges are crumbling, and each time he moves, a sharp piece of plastic bites into the back of his thigh. But he can't sit still, and for once he's oddly grateful for the added physical discomfort--it gives him something to focus on besides his usual pain, besides his unusual surroundings. This room where he sits and waits for Wilson isn't where he's supposed to be, was never where he was meant to be--so it's a concrete reminder of everything he's ever done wrong. Eventually, when even his pain can't distract him from the room anymore, he simply closes his eyes and waits for Wilson.

Funny what the brain does to the body when you put it under enough stress; he must've fallen asleep--the ultimate escape from reality. He struggles back to wakefulness when he realizes that Wilson's called his name at least three times. When he opens his eyes, Wilson's sitting across from him wearing the same gentle smile on his face, the same poorly-masked concern in his eyes, that House remembers from the last time they'd seen each other.

"Good to see you," Wilson says. "You doing okay?"

House thinks about the question a minute, then answers with uncharacteristic seriousness, "Guess so. Be doing better if this was the hospital cafeteria and I was stealing french fries from you."

Wilson quirks the corner of his mouth into an expression House can't quite make out. "Yeah," he says. "Me too."

There's half a minute of painful silence then, until Wilson says, "It's good to see you."

"You've already said that," House points out. "And we've already determined that I'm doing okay."

"Sorry," Wilson says with just the slightest bit of irritation. "Misplaced my copy of Emily Post's Guide To Proper Prison Etiquette."

House breaks the next silence. "You were late," he observes.

"I know. I was helping out... with a patient. Sorry." Wilson truly does feel badly about that; House doesn't like to be reminded of the medical license, lost forever.

"No skin off my nose," House assures him. "Just that we don't have much time; looks like the school bell's gonna be ringing any minute," he says, indicating the guard headed towards the PA system. "Recess is over."

Both men stand and stare at one another. Wilson sees a sudden wash of anger and bitterness roll through House's eyes.

"Neither one of us would be here now if you hadn't been such a moron," House says abruptly, in a barely controlled voice. "We could've beaten Tritter. You know that, don't you?"

Wilson smiles, and when he speaks his voice is soft, almost soothing; he knows House's anger isn't directed at him. "I know. And it's okay."

The buzzer goes off, and the two men nod solemnly at one another, then each turns quickly away from the other.

On the way back to Princeton, House drives the bike a bit faster, a bit more aggressively than normal. And in the prison infirmary, a nurse comments to her co-worker at how extraordinarily gentle that new inmate-orderly, Wilson, is today, handling the grumpy prisoner with the twisted foot and the bad attitude.