A/N: In a way, this epilogue lasted much longer than I had planned, and in another, it wasn't long enough. (Though it is quite long) It ends abruptly, in a manner of speaking, and a few questions go unanswered, but as it is, I'm rather pleased with it. And this story as a whole. I'm sorry if I've depressed any of you with this fic or with what you're about to read – I had no real intension of writing this. I didn't plan or plot this story in any way. It just…came out. Reviews are always welcome and appreciated, though. And on that note, this is your author, saying tootles for now.
Four Years Later
Dr. Gregory House limped through the doors of Chandelle's – an obnoxiously expensive and overrated restaurant that served food in tiny portions and charged way too much for it. Admittedly, that was a guess, as House had never been to this restaurant before in his life – but he had an annoying tendency to be right about these things.
"Sir," a well-tailored man at the front door greeted him in a pompously superior tone. "Can I help you?"
House sighed aloud but turned towards the man anyway. "I have reservations." He mocked an English accent – just for kicks. He'd always been told that he was quite good at it. Probably had something to do with his time spent in England as a child.
"Right," the man seemed taken aback by his voice. Good, House cheered internally. "Table for one?"
"No," House kept up the accent because now it would be weird and awkward to switch to a normal one. "I'm meeting someone." He waved his non-cane hand in a semi-circle for affect.
"Ah, right." The man moved around to the podium at the front of the establishment and – House assumed by the rustling of pages– checked their guest book. He looked up after a moment of flipping through the pages. "You're late. Your son has already been seated. Table five; it's across the dining area by the back window."
House stared uncomprehendingly for a long moment. Finally the rational portion of his mind decided on, "I'm sorry…what?" Still in the accent, of course.
"Table five." The man got halfway through rolling his eyes before remembering himself and pulling at the hem of his suit. "I can show you if you like."
"My son?" He decided to narrow down his field of incomprehension. He briefly considered telling this man he was a world famous doctor – just to see what kind of response he'd get. As this guy obviously assumed he was of a lesser standing than most of the restaurant's other occupants. Of course, that could have something to do with the way he was dressed – his normal work attire with a tie –one of Wilson's uglier ties – thrown on to comply with this place's dress code.
"Yeah," the man with the annoyingly good posture now looked rather unsure of himself. He glanced back at the guest book. "Robert Chase? I'm sorry, I just assumed…he's the only guest tonight who didn't show up with his other party, so…"
"No, yeah, that's him." House smirked. English accents and Australian accents did sound remarkably similar to the untrained ear.
"Well, great." Mr. Table-Seater seemed annoyed again. House thought about sharing a few of his Vicodin, but then promptly decided against it. They were his, after all. "Do you need help finding your table, then?"
"Nope, I'm good." House walked away, but called over his shoulder – as loudly as he could- "This has been real swell, mate."
House limped across the main floor of the restaurant and made it to the back table where Chase was sitting. The younger man was looking up towards him, expression on his face a dead tie between amusement and exasperation.
"You need a haircut." House began as he unceremoniously collapsed into the booth across from his former employee.
Chase's hand went immediately to his hair, which was indeed long. Longer than it had been during his days at PPTH – and much wilder. Not downright untamable by any means, but House doubted there was an ounce of hair care product in there. He'd developed noticeable stubble as well.
"What's wrong with my hair?" He asked, lowering his hand and looking almost defiant.
"Not a thing," House said casually, he'd slipped easily out of the English accent. "But if I'm going to be mistaken for your father, I figure I have the right to make a pestering comment or two. By the way, what's up with the beard?"
"I look good unshaved." Chase replied with faux-irritation. "And of course that guy thought we were related. See unshaved faces and Australian accents."
"That was an English accent you moron." House snapped and – out of a fairly bothersome sense of unease – picked up a napkin and began playing with it. He started slightly when silverware fell out of the folds and clattered to the table. "And did we have to meet somewhere so damn fancy?"
"I wanted to talk to you." Chase sighed.
House rolled his eyes, "And we couldn't of chatted over pizza and beer at the bar down the street?"
"A patient of mine owns this chain of restaurants." The blonde man took a sip of water from his wine glass and grinned somewhat sheepishly when he set it down. "He gave me a couple free vouchers after I saved his life."
"So this meal won't cost us a thing?" House perked when Chase nodded. "Well I'm ordering lobster."
Chase laughed and followed House's lead, pulling the menu that had been sitting in front of him, untouched until now, towards him.
The sounds of clanking silverware and quiet conversation surrounded them for several long minutes, drifting by from the other occupants of the establishment. "So…" Chase began somewhat nervously. "You're not the least bit curious as to why I wanted to meet you?"
House snorted. "I know exactly why you called this little get together."
Chase raised his eyebrows, "Oh, yeah? Then-"
But, as if on cue, a cheery blonde waitress appeared by their table, seemingly out of no where. "Good evening, Dr. Chase." She greeted him earnestly. As he wasn't paying for this meal, she was obviously hoping to get a good tip. "My name's Miranda, I'll be your server tonight." She smiled fleetingly at House and the older man had to bite back a chuckle. "Can I start you out with something to drink?"
Chase looked to the water he already had and House had to bite his lip to keep his displays of amusement in check. "I'm good." He nodded.
Miranda turned towards House. The older man made a grab for the wine list propped up on the side to the table – obnoxious face already in place - but Chase thwarted his efforts with a sharp kick to his good leg.
The graying man rolled his eyes but retracted his hand all the same. "Scotch on the rocks, please." He paused. "Hold the rocks."
Miranda smiled tightly and nodded sharply. "I'll be back in a moment."
Chase glared until the waitress was no longer in view. "You'll be lucky if she doesn't spit in that."
House had to admit that the man made a decent point, but said aloud. "Nah, they wouldn't risk offending their esteemed guest."
Chase blushed slightly, "I told you, my patient-"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." House interrupted impatiently. "Enough about the restaurant and their love for you. Let's move onto something interesting."
"Right." Chase leaned back and shut his menu, "I believe you were just about to tell me why I asked to meet you."
House couldn't believe that Chase still underestimated him so much. To show how offended he was, he cut out the theatrics and simply blurted, "You and Cameron are getting married."
The younger man widened his eyes briefly in shock, before settling back into a comfortable head shake. "Do I even wanna know how you knew that?"
"You don't fly from Arizona to New Jersey just to catch up with an old pal." Which was the only way he was comfortable describing his relationship with Chase.
"I told you," the younger man protested. "There was a conference in Trenton that I-"
"Wasn't registered for." House cut in. "Your dad told that same lie once upon a time."
Chase deflated slightly and smiled sadly at the mention of Rowan. "That was a long time ago."
"Bad lying must be genetic." House smiled a little, hoping to lighten the atmosphere.
"Well, I guess it's too bad we're not related, then."
Miranda returned a moment later with House's Scotch and stayed only long enough to take their orders before scampering away again.
House studied his drink carefully.
"Checking for luggies?"
"Shut up." House growled and just to prove his point, took a large sip of the amber liquid. "Tasty." He licked his lips and set the glass where his menu had been a moment ago. "So…marriage, huh?"
Chase grinned big, his still perfectly white teeth flashing across the table. "I asked her two weeks ago. She said yes."
"Yeah," his voice was sarcastic but he had a feeling his eyes were sparkling with real emotion. "I figured."
"The ceremony probably won't be for another year, year and a half." Chase took a deep breath. "She wants a big wedding, you know. Flowers, doves…whatever else comes standard in a wedding."
"And you're just gonna stand there and look pretty." House nodded. "Leave all the hard work up to the woman."
"And her family." Chase rolled his eyes. "She just told them yesterday and they're already planning the engagement party."
"She have any older sisters?"
"Never mind." House said quickly.
"Perv." Chase shook his head.
House just smiled lazily and leaned back against his cushioned seat. This wasn't the first time he'd seen Chase in the past four years. After Foreman's death, both he and Cameron stayed working with House for almost a year.
Until the night it had all come crashing down around them.
House remembered the case they'd been working on. It had been one of Jimmy's patients – a terminally ill middle-aged man who was experiencing symptoms unrelated to his cancer.
House had thrown himself into the case wholeheartedly because that's what he'd been doing for the past year. Losing himself in his work and wishing at times that the rest of the world would just go away and leave him be.
He'd been tired and stressed and annoyed at his own lack of euphonies on the case. He, Chase and Cameron had been at the hospital for nearly two days straight – running on only catnaps and caffeine.
House had been walking through the upstairs hallway – right by what had been Cameron's hospital room during the time after the attack. He'd taken to wandering through that bit of the hospital ever since Foreman's death.
And up until that night, he'd thought he was the only one. But he'd stopped when he'd heard his two remaining employee's inside the otherwise unoccupied room.
Cameron had been sobbing violently and Chase had been trying desperately to calm her. House had known that it probably had a lot to do with the current stress they were under, but as he'd heard the words, Foreman, miss so much, and don't know if I can do this anymore, he'd known it was time for a change.
He'd called Chase into his office the next day after telling Cameron to take the morning off.
"So…" the younger man had started, rubbing his eyes tiredly, "Do you know what's wrong?"
He'd been talking about the patient, but House had nodded anyway. "I think I do."
Chase had just looked up at him expectedly.
House truly regretted what he'd known he'd had to say next. "You're fired."
Chase had blinked several times, shaken his head and run a hand through his hair before responding. "What?"
"You and Cameron both." House had sighed tiredly – he hadn't slept in days in preparation for the pain that would be coming. "You need to find new jobs. I've called a couple hospitals that have Diagnostic specialties, and Intensivist and Immunology positions available."
"What are you saying, House?" Chase had spoken slowly, something almost dangerous tingeing his tone.
"I'm saying that you're no longer welcome as an employee here." He'd tried to be rude and standoffish, but he doubted very much that he'd pulled if off. "You're fired."
Chase had looked so broken, so confused and so utterly worn in that moment that House had almost wanted to take it all back. But he'd known he couldn't do that.
"Why?" The word had been almost a sob.
And House had told him the truth, because maybe just that once, everybody didn't have to lie.
"Because being here is killing you."
"Do you regret leaving Princeton?" House phrased his question as casually as he could manage, but the fact that he really wanted to know was obvious even to him.
Chase looked only somewhat startled by the shift in their conversation. He took a deep breath. "No. Neither of us do. You were right. We did need to get away from there."
Toxic memories. House thought bitterly. Sometimes the only solution was to start over. Or take a break.
"That's what I figured." He sighed.
"What about you?" Chase looked at him steadily. "You ever wish you could leave?"
House smiled a little.
He'd considered leaving. Not long after he'd fired Cameron and Chase. He'd considered retiring, renting an apartment in a state where it was always warm – no more brutal winter weather to screw with his damaged thigh – and just leaving his life behind.
But his job was here. Jimmy was here. He was familiar with his life here and he doubted that he'd ever be able to leave it. He'd never done well with change.
"Nah," House just shrugged now. "I've got fresh new underlings to do my bidding, don't I?"
Chase laughed, "How're they doing, anyway?" He asked about House's new employee's, whom he'd met a handful of times over the years.
"They're idiots." House griped. "But they're still learning. I've got plenty of time to corrupt them."
Chase shook his head almost fondly. "I still can't believe you got that one kid straight out of med school."
"Get 'em young, that's what I always say." House chuckled to himself.
"And the other two," Chase balked, "Just finished their residencies."
"The younger, the more interesting," the older man pretended to look insightful.
"More like impressionable."
"Yeah," he sighed, deflating a little. "Thought that would be fun, at first. But I like it better when they argue."
"Still got 'em breaking into houses?" His voice was painfully nostalgic and House grinned.
"Miss the good old days?"
"Don't get many interesting cases in the E.R. at Poto General." He griped. "I mean, I know I said it'd be good to take it easy for a while…but now it's just like…"
"Boring." House supplied.
Chase took another sip of his water and sighed. "Yeah, a bit."
"Ready to venture back into Diagnostics?" House raised his eyebrows and waited patiently for a response.
"I've been thinking about it." He nodded. "Discussing it, too."
"Yeah, and what's Cameron have to say?"
"She likes her job, but after the wedding…she wouldn't be opposed to moving somewhere new."
House nodded thoughtfully. He'd been considering this for some time, actually. He hadn't planned on bringing it up today, but now that Chase had provided the perfect segue…
"Wanna come back to Jersey?" He tossed it out there as if he were doing nothing more than commenting on the weather or the bread at their table.
Chase's wide eyes were the only indication of a more sober topic about to be broached. "Seriously?"
"No, I'm joking," House bit sarcastically, "'Cause you know how great I am at that."
"You want me to come back here?" Chase repeated. "To work for you?"
House sighed painfully, "To work with me." He amended, then caved and explained. "As Cuddy and Wilson are so fond of pointing out, I'm not that young anymore."
"You're only fifty-two." Chase reminded, as though he might have forgotten. "That's not that old."
"It kinda is with a steady diet of Vicodin and booze." He said this in a monotone voice.
Chase's eyes went wide again, this time with fear and worry. "Is something wrong with your liver? Because if that's it…"
"What?" House picked up when he trailed off. "You know as well as I do that extended use of narcotics significantly shortens a lifespan."
"Are you…" Chase swallowed thickly. "Are you dying?"
"Everyone's dying." House pointed out. "I've just…been speeding up the process for the past ten years."
"You could get a partial liver biopsy." Chase was quick to come up with solutions for his former boss, and House couldn't help the slight feeling of pride that swelled in his chest. "Find a match from a donor whose organs were rejected. Like that case we had with that old guy."
"Chase…" the older man took a deep breath. "I'm not in any immediate danger. I'm not going to die tomorrow."
"But you are going to die," he said sadly, "Sooner, I mean, then the average white male."
House smiled. "Yeah. Probably."
"And you want me to come back to Princeton Plainsboro to…" he looked genuinely confused, "What?"
But House was promptly cut off by the arrival of their food. "Your lobster, sir," Miranda placed House's meal in front of him then moved to Chase. "And your Chicken special. Now, is there anything else I can get for you?"
"I'm fine," the younger man said distractedly, still obviously fixed on the conversation they'd been having before Miranda had interrupted.
House was more eager for a distraction. "Another Scotch." He told her. "A double, please."
Miranda nodded curtly and left again.
House took a big bite of his rice side dish and went about prying open one of his lobster claws. Chase got as far as lifting his knife and fork before giving into what House could only assume was an intense curiosity.
"Why do you want me to come back to Princeton?"
The older man sighed. "Cuddy wants me to hire a second Diagnostician," he took another bite and chewed thoughtfully before going on. "To work with the fellows part time so I can quit working forty hours straight every time we have a case."
Chase studied him thoughtfully. "And that's what you want to do?"
House clenched his teeth. He knew that Chase would find this offer odd, he knew it wasn't in his nature to want help, ask for help or admit needing help.
House had his own reasons for wanting Chase to take this position, but he wasn't yet comfortable voicing them.
So instead of explaining it, he just barked, "I'm offering you a job. Take it or leave it."
Chase reeled back slightly but was familiar enough with him to not be overly startled by his harsh tone. "What about Cameron?"
"She can work with you, or she can take another job in the hospital." Because House had thought this through. "You know Cuddy would bend over backwards to find her a position. Or…if she still doesn't want to work at Princeton Plainsboro, I'm sure she can find a job and Princeton General or Trenton Mass that would be similar to what she's doing now."
"You've really thought about this," Chase commented carefully as he went back to his fancy chicken dinner.
House managed to free some lobster from its shell as he studied Chase's face carefully.
It wasn't until the majority of their meals were complete and House was feeling a little spacey from the Scotch that Chase spoke again.
He cleared his throat and met House's eyes firmly. "I'd…have to talk it over with Cameron."
The other man gave up on his last piece of seafood and lowered his utensils. "I figured that much."
"And…if she agrees, I wouldn't be able to start until at least after the wedding." He was looking almost hopeful and House thought briefly that he'd gotten exactly what he'd wanted.
"I think I can manage for another year." He said, casually answering the unspoken questions.
Is that too long? Will you hire someone else?
Chase grinned. "It really does get ungodly hot in Arizona."
"It gets ungodly cold in Jersey." House replied, "But I see your point."
"It'd be nice…" he leaned back and looked thoughtful. "To have challenging cases again."
House just smiled at the younger man, thinking that for once, he'd made a smart decision regarding his career and its immediate future.
Jimmy – his best friend still, after all these years – had told him time and time again that if he didn't cut back on his stress levels he'd probably drop dead before his fifty-fifth birthday.
House would generally just ignore these comments – like the ones about his drinking and Vicodin – but last month when Cuddy had come to him and suggested expanding his department, he hadn't been entirely opposed.
It might be nice to have someone else – someone competent – around to pick up the slack and do the dirty work. His new ducklings were okay, he supposed, but they still had a long way to go.
"We've been getting more case referrals than ever," House mentioned, following his own thought process and Chase's last comment. "After that heart valve thing and the Michael Perkins case."
The Australian man rolled his eyes in an almost affectionate manner. "Michael Perkins is a self made millionaire that owns more software companies that Bill Gates. You shouldn't really be surprised that everyone in the country found out who his doctor was."
House just shrugged. "It was interesting."
"And that's all that matters at the end of the day, right?" Chase smirked knowingly.
"I didn't even know the guy was famous until the press started harassing me." He recalled that particular case with a scowl. "Cuddy didn't see the need to fill me in."
"I can't believe you didn't figure it out," Chase laughed. "Didn't he have security outside his hospital room?"
House stared at him stupidly. "Right," the younger man sighed, "You wouldn't have gone to see him, but didn't one of your team notice?"
"I think they might have been a little too afraid to mention anything." House smirked only a little sheepishly. "I'd kinda of…reprimanded the day before."
Chase shook his head. "They'll get used to you."
"Actually Stephens caught on faster than any of my other employees ever did." House grinned. "She just goes running to Wilson every time I yell a lot."
Chase barked a laugh. "She's the one just out of med school, right?" House nodded. "It's that whole, 'When daddy's mean go tattle to mommy mentality.'"
"I'm waiting for her to figure out that Cuddy's a better bargaining tool."
"They'll learn." Chase said wistfully. "We all did."
House was tempted to say, 'Yes, you really did.' But that kind of pride went against his personal code to never show affection.
Besides, Chase was smart enough to read between the lines. And he knew that House would never have offered him this opportunity unless he was completely confident in his abilities as a doctor.
Likewise, he knew he would have never offered him a position where they'd be working with each other – on mutual footing – if he didn't respect him as a doctor and as an individual.
"So about this wedding…" House's tone was littered with menacing qualities and Chase groaned as soon as he heard it.
House ignored him and leaned forward, suddenly very eager to be a part of the decision making process. "You don't think Cameron would be opposed to hiring a couple hookers, now would she?"
"You met Chase for dinner?" Wilson was standing in his living room with his hands on his hips as soon as House arrived home.
The older man sighed and went about removing his jacket. "Are you having me followed?"
Wilson sighed, clasping the back of his neck in one hand. His best friend looked almost exactly as he had four years ago – maybe a tinge grayer and a pound or two heavier – but that was to be expected. "You didn't erase you machine."
House rolled his eyes and threw his coat across a nearby end table and started limping towards the kitchen, pulling off the tie as he went. "Don't you have a wife to go home to?"
House caught sight of the dejected expression that marred his friend's face for only a moment before it dissipated. It was enough for the older man. "Are you kidding me?" He asked with exasperation, stopping in front of the fridge, pulling out a beer and leaving the tie in the freezer. "There's actually going to be an ex-Mrs. Wilson the fourth?"
Actually, House had been half-expecting this since Jimmy's marriage a year and a half ago, but only because his friend had proven himself a creature of habit. This Mrs. Wilson – Alice, was her first name – was a better find than all Jimmy's other ex's put together.
She had a solid career of her own, she wasn't desperately clingy, she actually liked House and – this was the older man's favorite – they're marriage had taken place in a Vegas chapel after a few too many Tequila shots.
House still remembered that phone call.
It had been eight in the morning his time and House had just been rolling out of bed when his cell phone rang. "What?" He'd answered grumpily.
"I need you to wire me some money." Jimmy's hangover voice had been immediately recognizable and House had grinned, feeling substantially perkier.
"Why, Jimmy," House had pretended to be surprised. "Vacation not going too good? I told you you shoulda gone to Hawaii."
"You ass." Wilson had mumbled. "You're the one who switched my ticket at the last minute."
House had felt rather proud. "Vegas is the city of opportunity." He'd laughed at Jimmy's grumbled, inaudible reply to that before getting back on track. "What happened? You gamble all your money away?"
"Yeah…" Wilson had sighed and House had just sensed another shoe about to drop. "And I spent some, too…"
"On what?" He'd been thinking that it better have been hookers.
"We're not getting divorced." Wilson snapped now as House cleared his mind of the memories. "She's…she's kinda…"
But it really didn't take a genius to put together that the anxious, slightly pale look on Jimmy's face and his constant – getting annoying by now – nervous ticks and the fact that he was in House apartment at all at eleven at night on a Tuesday – all added up to one thing.
"She's pregnant, isn't she?"
Wilson seemed startled for a moment, but quickly dissolved into a look of relief. "She thinks so."
"Thinks so?" House echoed.
"She's getting a blood test day after tomorrow."
House studied his best friend carefully, hiding any and all emotions behind his mask of purposeful ambiguity. "And why are you here?"
Wilson took a deep breath and promptly collapsed onto the couch. "I don't wanna talk about it."
House grunted a little and sat down next to him, drinking his beer. "You don't want to talk about it. Fine. Good." He paused. "You don't want to talk about how much this would change your life, what it would mean for you – your job, your marriage – you don't want to think about why you never had kids in the first place, because after all, three wives and no child support kinda paints a pretty clear picture. You don't want to think-"
"Shut up." The demand was half-hearted at best, but House still complied.
Silence stretched between the two old friends for some time. It was a comfortable silence in which each was preoccupied with his own thoughts. Overwhelming thoughts made just a bit easier by knowing that the man sitting next to you on the couch wouldn't be leaving anytime soon.
These silences were almost always the times in which House thought about John Haring and Eric Foreman. The man he had murdered and the man he had failed. It'd been a long time since he'd thought about anything else.
Yet, ironically enough, his dinner with Chase tonight had him thinking of other things. He and the younger man had purposely not discussed Foreman or Haring. They never did. When Chase came into town or called House for a consult. The one time the Diagnostician had gone to Arizona to see his two former employees. They never talked about it.
It took great effort, sometimes, to work around the topic, but they'd developed a system over the last three and a half years. And Cameron too, would never mention either name in his presence. House got the feeling, every time he saw her though, that she wanted to. She probably only held back because Chase asked her to. For that, House was deeply grateful.
"I offered Chase a job." House blurted, and as expected, Wilson's eyes widened and – for the moment it seemed – all his other worries vanished.
House wasn't sure if he brought this up purposely to distract his friend or because he actually wanted to talk about it. For the sake of his reputation he'd have to say neither. He was just being a self-centered asshole.
Wilson was distracted nonetheless. "The extra help Cuddy's been on you to hire? You picked Chase? Now?"
"That surprises you?" House was genuinely curious.
Wilson seemed to think about it for a moment before he shook his head slightly. "No, I guess it doesn't. Not really. I just thought you'd wait awhile." He took a deep breath. "Is that why he came up here?"
"No," House shook his head slightly and rehashed the highlights of his dinner with Chase for his friend now.
"They're getting married," Wilson leaned back thoughtfully when House was done.
"The young and sickeningly romantic tend to do that." The older man grinned. "As do the old and sickeningly drunk."
"Shut up." Wilson griped for the second time that night. "Did you tell Chase that-"
"No," House interrupted, narrowing his eyes. "And I'm not planning on it."
"Don't you think he has a right to know?" Wilson questioned, and House began to feel tired. Exhausted in a way that only Jimmy could bring about.
"It's not even finalized yet." He reminded. "And I don't plan on dropping dead for at least another decade."
Wilson, it seemed, was channeling all his worry, apprehension and fear about his wife's possible pregnancy into House's current predicament. The older man suddenly wished that he'd just kept his mouth shut.
"You arranged it, so that after you die, Chase gains control of your practice. He gets your job." Wilson spoke slowly, as if explaining something to a small child. "And you don't think he has a right to know that?"
"First off," House started, sipping more beer and beginning to feel drunk, "That only happens if Cuddy approves and if he wants it."
"But you're still offering him a job now?" Wilson confirmed.
House nodded, but said in a warning tone, "Just drop it, alright?"
"You know he'll say yes." Wilson pushed anyway. "And you really know that Cuddy'll approve it. She's always liked Chase. And the fact that you and Cuddy are-"
"So, should I start calling you daddy now?" House interrupted, not wanting to hear the rest of his friend's reasoning. "Or would that be too kinky?"
"You're avoiding the subject." The younger man ran a hand through his hair dejectedly, but glared at House all the same.
"And you're avoiding your wife." He bit back. "Do you know what she's gonna think about you now? She tells you she might be pregnant and you run away."
"I did not run away." Wilson snapped. "I just needed some time…"
"To figure out how to get out of this."
Wilson's sudden glare was sharp and wounded. "That's not-"
"That's what she's gonna think." House interrupted. He drank more beer, knowing that he'd probably have a hangover tomorrow and not minding so much at the moment.
"Since when do you care about other people?" Which was a fair enough question, House figured, as he still went out of his way to be cold and standoffish to most everyone.
The problem with his default personality, however, was that after Haring's attack and the events that had followed – and the rumors that had followed that – House's reputation as a bastard had been debunked.
Sure, people that hadn't been present four years ago still hated him when they met him, but most of the others had heard the rumors or been there to witness it all themselves. They knew what lengths House had gone to, to protect his team.
He'd even heard one particularly kindhearted doctor say, "He watched over them like his own family." Several years ago.
He'd been almost overwhelmed with the urge to sucker punch that man. Because House knew the truth. He hadn't stayed in Cameron's room solely to monitor her condition – he'd done it because he'd wanted to hide. He'd failed Foreman entirely. And he hadn't just fought Haring – he'd killed him. He wasn't just a bastard – he was a murderer.
And no one knew it save himself and Chase. And possibly Cameron – he'd never wanted to know whether or not she knew the truth.
Furthermore, Chase had lied to the police for him – because House had let him.
He wasn't a protector. He was just a man who'd done what he'd done – and was now living with the consequences.
"House?" Jimmy's voice was almost as soft as it was questioning. The older man wished his friend could handle knowing the truth. If there was one person in the world he wouldn't have minded talking to about that bit of his life, it was James Wilson.
But Jimmy couldn't handle knowing that his friend had killed someone. Died at House's hand. He'd lied to him fours years ago when he'd asked him if he'd lied to the cops – and he didn't regret that now. He needed this friendship – like he needed his job, his pills and his off-beat, complicated relationship with Cuddy.
He would never risk any of that. Because what it cost him to keep his secret wasn't nearly as much as what it would cost him to not keep it.
So as far as most were concerned – the events that had taken place that night over four years ago at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital were just pieces of the past now.
"I like her." House spoke again, pretending as though none of his loaded silence had ever washed over them. "She's not an idiot, and she's not a clingy little vixen."
"Gee, thanks." He drawled sarcastically, getting back into the flow of the discussion with ease and only a little lingering worry.
"Shut it," House snapped. "And go home to your wife."
Wilson deflated, "I was hoping I could…crash on your couch tonight."
"No." The older man said flatly.
"No." House repeated. "And I'll call Cuddy and make her have security kick you out of you try to go to the hospital."
"House?" His voice was honestly perplexed and the Diagnostician felt only a little bad about turning his friend away.
If people were going to think House was a great guy, then he might as well act it from time to time. Tough love, baby.
He stood up and hobbled to the door. He opened it and eyed his friend patiently. "Go home to your wife, Jimmy."
The soft use of the nickname was enough to push the younger man into action. He left with a whispered, "Thank you." To which House simply rolled his eyes fondly.
As he shut the door behind him, all that House wanted to do was take off the rest of his semi-formal attire, finish his beer and fall into bed.
So that's exactly what he did. After making a short detour at the phone to call Cuddy as promised.
Jimmy would have no choice but to go home tonight.
"I think it's time to let go of all that crap, don't you?" Alex had been talking about House's relationship with his father – both his parents, if one were to really get down to it – but the other boy hadn't heard it as just that.
As they'd stood together on the balcony of their apartment, watching a thunderstorm play out before them, his complex mindset had picked up on the philosophical undertones of his best friend's words.
"You never let go of crap." He'd responded and wondered if Alex heard the different layers of meaning as well. "All that crap just builds up inside you. I don't care if you tell a million people, it's never really gone."
"Not until you die." Had House been paying attention, he would have picked up on the foreshadowing.
But all he'd heard was the thunder, so he had simply nodded. "You learn how to deal or you don't. It's always a part of you."
"No happy endings." He'd stated plainly, sadly.
"Not for us."
Because even if they'd had a thousand king's horses and an army of king's men – no one would ever be able to put them back together again.