Disclaimer: I don't own "House" or any of the characters, but I take them out and play with them every once in a while, just for fun. I promise I'll return them in good condition J
A/N: set after "Sex Kills" in season 2. This is a timed-out zine fic from 'Snarcasm 2'.
It was late, and in the third floor hallways of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital the lighting was at half-mast for the benefit of sleeping patients. Dr. James Wilson stepped lightly, his footsteps echoing softly through the quiet halls. At times like this he always felt like he was trespassing. But, then, right now he felt like he was trespassing in almost every aspect of his life.
Since leaving Julie, his few-days' stay at House's place had stretched to two weeks, and even though House had been unusually accommodating about it, Wilson couldn't help feeling that his welcome would soon wear thin. Frankly, he was amazed his friend hadn't kicked him out on his ass already.
As he rounded the corner to his office, Wilson saw a light coming from the diagnostics conference room and he slowed down. He'd thought everyone had gone home for the night. House had left hours ago, after griping at Wilson for not coming with him and thereby depriving him of a proper, home-cooked meal. And the Three Musketeers should have disbanded shortly thereafter, seeing as they currently had no cases. But as he got closer, Wilson saw Chase, Cameron and Foreman huddled around the conference table, deep in discussion. Warning bells went off in Wilson's brain. The underlings were conspiring behind House's back, and that could only lead to mayhem and misery—something Wilson had had more than enough of lately.
With an exaggerated clearing of his throat, Dr. Wilson pushed open the glass door of the conference room. The resulting reactions were so comical they almost made him laugh. Dr. Chase looked like a kid who'd been caught stealing from the cookie jar, and Dr. Cameron's face turned a whiter shade of pale from the shock of getting caught. Dr. Foreman, though obviously surprised by Wilson's sudden appearance, had a smug look on his face. Without a doubt, Foreman was the one behind this…whatever it was.
"I guess that's it for tonight," said Foreman. "We can work out the details later." He got up, gathered his belongings and pushed past Wilson, giving him a dark, self-satisfied smile that reminded Wilson unnervingly of House. Chase was hot on Foreman's heels, eager to escape the scrutiny of Wilson's glare. But Cameron, with more things to gather up, had lagged behind, and Wilson blocked her escape, his arms crossed like a disapproving parent.
Cameron boldly stood her ground, clutching her folder tight against her chest and frowning at him as if declaring a stalemate.
"Care to tell me what that was all about?" asked Wilson, giving her his best stern look.
For a second it looked like she was contemplating an all-out denial, but she was smart enough to realize that there was only one way she was going to get past him. "It's March 30th," she said, as if that was enough of an explanation.
"And…" Wilson prompted.
"And that means April Fool's Day is coming up," she said, that guilty look creeping back onto her face.
"Ah," said Wilson, having worked out the gist of what their clandestine meeting was about. The previous year, House had pulled a prank on Foreman, hiring an actor dressed as a cop to arrest him as he was breaking into a patient's apartment (as per House's orders, of course). The year before that, Chase had spent a harried morning trying to figure out why several collection agencies were suddenly after him. "So you were trying to figure out which one of you House has targeted this year."
Cameron's eyes shifted away from his and she started fidgeting nervously with the folder in her hands.
"Wait!" Wilson exclaimed, pointing a finger at her triumphantly. "That's not it, is it? You weren't wondering what he's up to—you're planning a counter-strike!" Cameron's eyes shot up to meet his, and Wilson knew he'd hit the nail on the head.
"So what if we are?" said Cameron defensively. "Maybe it's time he got a taste of his own medicine."
Wilson snorted out a laugh. "The last thing House needs is more medicine."
"You know what I mean," said Cameron.
"Yes, I do," answered Wilson, his smile dropping away. "And you know House well enough by now to know that if you do whatever it is you're planning to do, someone's going to get hurt. And it won't be House."
Cameron shifted from one foot to the other under his intense glare. She feared he might be right, but she had to play her part—Foreman and Chase were counting on her. And besides, she reasoned, it was harmless fun, and their plan was foolproof.
"No one's going to get hurt," she said.
Wilson eyed her sceptically. "What are you going to do?" he demanded.
"Nothing," Cameron answered.
"If you won't tell me, I'm sure I can get it out of Chase," said Wilson.
"Fine, then ask him," she replied defiantly and squeezed past him into the dimly lit hallway.
Wilson heard the sound of light jazz piano emanating from House's condo as he got out of his car. He smiled—jazz was good. Jazz meant that, despite his bitching earlier, House was in a good mood.
The piano stopped when Wilson's jangling keys alerted House of his arrival. And by the time he pushed open the door, House was well into one of the more depressing blues songs in his repertoire. But Wilson wasn't fooled. He knew it was a jazz night.
Under the analytical gaze of his friend, Wilson dropped his satchel on the floor by the couch, stretched a kink out of his back and sauntered into the kitchen.
"It's too late—I've already eaten," said House to his own bluesy accompaniment.
"And I see you didn't make enough for both of us," Wilson shouted back to him. The frying pan on the stove had just enough dregs of House's stir-fry dinner at the bottom of it to rub it in. House's reply was a dramatically morose series of minor chords. Wilson shook his head with a tolerant smile and rummaged through the cupboards and fridge to find something to eat. Unfortunately everything he found required more time and energy than Wilson was willing to expend, and he ended up carrying a half-empty box of Ritz crackers and a beer back into the living room.
"You call that dinner?" asked House.
Wilson shrugged and flopped onto the couch, stretching out along its length like a seasoned pro. With a beer in one hand, comfort food in the other, and House finally giving in and returning to jazz on the piano, Wilson felt instantly at home. This was why he hadn't continued looking for a place of his own after the deal on the first place fell through. He couldn't bear the thought of returning home to an empty apartment after a hellish day like the one he'd just had. And while House may not have a warm meal waiting for him when he got home, it was still an improvement over the cold shoulder he used to come home to when he was living with Julie.
When it came right down to it, House was there when he needed him. Despite the verbal evidence to the contrary, Wilson knew his friend cared about him. Whenever he doubted that (and it happened frequently), he always remembered what a wise young kindergarten teacher once told him: it isn't what he says, it's what he does that proves he cares. And that was why, three failed marriages later, Wilson could still count on House to take him in.
And this time, House hadn't shoved him out the door after three days. Wilson didn't know if it was because this time it was his wife who'd done the cheating and House felt sorry for him, or if it was because House had just lost Stacy and he secretly welcomed his company. Wilson hoped it was the latter, and it seemed more likely, given that House wasn't the pitying type.
Suddenly the music stopped, and Wilson peeked his head over the back of the couch to look at House. "Why did you stop?" he asked.
"You were humming," House answered.
"I was not," Wilson protested.
"You were. And what's more, you weren't even humming the same tune I was playing. If you're going to hum, have the decency to stick to the program."
"Sorry," said Wilson around a mouthful of crackers. He realized House was right—he had been humming.
"You seem unusually chipper tonight—have you been sneaking joints from your patients' stash again?" asked House.
"Can't a guy simply be happy?"
House studied him, looking doubtful. "Sure. But you were downright grouchy when I left you at work."
"Alright; if you really must know, I'm happy because you're happy. It's contagious."
"If you think I'm happy, then you're on better drugs than I am," said House.
"Okay. Maybe 'happy' is too strong a word. But you've definitely been less miserable lately," said Wilson with an impish smile. "Admit it."
House harrumphed quietly and went back to his jazz, making Wilson's smile broaden playfully. He hadn't denied it. In fact, his silence was pretty much an admission that Wilson was right. It was a victory he intended to savour.
With a tiny grunt, Wilson dragged himself off the couch and carried his beer over to the piano. Leaning over the glossy black instrument, Wilson dug a dollar bill out of his wallet and slapped it down in front of House.
"I'd like to request a song," said Wilson.
"I don't do requests."
"You used to."
"I also used to run relay, but somehow that's not as much fun these days, either," said House, finishing off his song with a rolling flourish down the keyboard.
"Just play the song," said Wilson.
"And what song would that be?" asked House, his eyebrows arched comically.
"You know what song," answered Wilson.
With a look that could rival a saint's for long-suffering patience and indulgence, House's fingers plunked out the opening chords of "The Piano Man". It was a standing joke between them, going back to the night they'd first met.
It was one of those stuffy hospital staff parties that doctors climbing the promotion ladder had no choice but to attend. Stacy had dragged House kicking and screaming to the political butt-kissing event in the hopes that he might actually make a good impression on his new bosses.
She really should have known better.
After half an hour of obligatory hand shaking and mind-liquefying insincerity, House managed to sneak away from the crowd to do a bit of exploring on his own. He hit the jackpot when he came across a sitting room furnished with the sleekest-looking black Steinway he'd ever seen. Not that he'd seen many up close. It was too tempting an opportunity to pass up.
Wilson had come to the party early in order to corner the head of Oncology about the opening he had on his team. He'd put on a winning performance and had quickly come away with a verbal guarantee of securing the position. So with the pressure off, the rest of the evening sparkled with promise of a different kind. He made the rounds, flirting with all and sundry, and as he schmoozed, he lost track of the number of drinks he'd knocked back and soon found himself wandering the halls looking for a bathroom.
On his way back to the party, the sound of piano music coming from the opposite direction caught Wilson's attention, and he followed the sounds, intent on finding the source of the mysterious music. When he found it, he stood in the open doorway, as captivated by the musician as he was by his rendition of 'Rhapsody in Blue'. The man's eyes were closed—a look of absolute joy on his face as his fingers coaxed life out the keys beneath them. He was so lost in the music that he hadn't noticed Wilson's presence. Or so Wilson had thought.
With his eyes still closed, the man at the piano spoke to him. "I don't play for audiences…so unless you can sing, get lost."
And if Wilson hadn't had a few drinks in him, the rude remark would have been enough to turn him away. Instead, he found the contradiction between the man's surliness and the beautiful music he was producing fascinating, and he was drawn towards the piano.
Wilson would always remember the moment House first opened his piercing blue eyes and looked at him. It was as if, in that brief moment, he'd been dissected and reassembled and had been found worthy. And as strange as it was, Wilson found himself relieved that this stranger approved of him.
"Got any requests?" asked the blue-eyed stranger.
"Piano Man," said Wilson without hesitation.
"Got any other requests?" the man asked with a look of distaste.
"'Fraid not," Wilson answered, leaning heavily against the solid black frame of the grand piano. "It's the only song I know all the words to."
The man shook his head as if to say 'you have so much to learn, my little one', but smoothly transitioned into the requested song nonetheless.
Wilson sang, shocking both himself and his new acquaintance with a pleasant-sounding and heartfelt performance. His accompanist nodded in appreciation, and then joined in with a ridiculous vocalized version of the harmonica part that made Wilson nearly fall apart, laughing.
…And eight years later it still made Wilson chuckle.
As House played out the last few chords, their eyes met, sharing the memories the song always brought to the surface. But even though there was a smile on his face, House's eyes looked stark, and the furrowing of his brow suggested that the pain in his leg had encroached on his enjoyment of the song. The familiar rattling of House's pill bottle was a sad reminder of just how much had changed since that night so long ago.
Wilson said nothing about the painkiller House popped into his mouth. He hated nagging him about the pills almost as much as House hated being nagged. And tonight had almost been perfect—the first time since Stacy had left that his friend had shown some sign that he was emerging from his self-imposed misery.
The evening soon drew to a close, with House retiring early to get a decent night's sleep. Wilson cleared away his pathetic excuse of a meal and made up the couch to go to bed. It was the one thing he truly hated about crashing at House's place—the damn couch. It was too short for him, which wouldn't be so bad if it was only for one night. But two weeks without being able to stretch out his legs…it was almost enough to make him want to move out. Almost.
Getting as comfortable as possible, Wilson settled into his makeshift bed and dragged his satchel closer. He rummaged through it and pulled out his journal. Julie had given it to him a year ago on his birthday and had insisted he write in it every night. Somehow she thought it might help their marriage. He hated it at first, but after a few weeks, he actually found it helped him cope with things. It hadn't done a damn bit of good keeping his marriage intact, but it had kept him sane through it all. He was just starting to write when he heard a noise behind him.
That was when Wilson made his first mistake. Startled by the sound, he quickly shoved the journal back into his satchel. By the time he realized how suspicious that might look, it was too late; House limped into view, evil glee lighting up his face.
"Dear Diary…Nervous about meeting J. tonight…" said House.
"'Twin Peaks'. Laura Palmer's diary..." House explained. Wilson simply stared blankly back at him. "Never mind—you had to be there. So… What deep, dark secrets could the saintly Dr. James Wilson possible have to write about?"
"None," said Wilson. "And it's not a diary, it's a personal journal."
"My mistake. There's nothing at all girly about having a personal journal," said House as he headed into the kitchen. He emerged a minute later with a glass of water in his hand.
"You're never gonna let this go, are you?" asked Wilson, upon seeing the devious leer on his friend's face.
"Oh, no—this is too good," House replied. "So unless you've got something more interesting up your sleeve, you should expect to be teased mercilessly for at least a month."
And that was when Wilson made his second mistake. "How about this?" he said. "I stopped by diagnostics tonight after you left—are you aware that your crew are planning an April Fool's Day mutiny?"
House's eyes narrowed and he smiled that distant smile of his, which meant his mind was in overdrive. Wilson had seen that look many times before, and he feared the worst for House's team. Their boss would not rest until he uncovered their plan, and Wilson feared that this time the body count was going to be high.