Wilson storms into House's office; he's so angry he wishes the door were slammable. He has to settle for picking up the giant tennis ball and flinging it, hard, against the glass wall.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" he shouts.

House doesn't bother looking up from the magazine he's reading. "Nothing that wouldn't immediately improve if you'd leave."

"I'd like nothing better! Unfortunately, Cameron's in my office crying, Foreman's in Cuddy's office threatening to quit, and Chase is in Human Resources trying to get a transfer to Intensive Care, effective immediately. So as usual, I've been given the impossible task of trying to find out what you've done this time!"

House, who's neither moved nor met Wilson's eyes since Wilson entered his office, suddenly throws the magazine to the floor and glares at Wilson with such angry intensity that Wilson literally takes a step backward.

"Daddy yelled at them, so they go running to Mommy, and she goes running to you. You're all so damned predictable! Did it ever occur to you that maybe they actually did something wrong?" House isn't shouting, but the pure anger in his voice is unmistakable.

"No, actually. Not all three of them. I'm unreasonable that way. If three people tell me it's raining, and the fourth says the sun's shining, I'm gonna grab an umbrella."

"They killed a patient! A little less mundane than the weather, don't you think? I take a day off, and they murder my patient, and I'm supposed to pat them on the head and tell them what a good job they did?"

"House, your patient was practically dead when he was admitted! They didn't even have a chance to diagnosis him; they sure as hell couldn't treat him until they knew what was wrong."

"Oh, excuse me—my error. I thought this was the Department of Diagnostics. Stupid of me to expect them to diagnose an illness. Send 'em in; I'll apologize to them right away for expecting them to do their damned jobs." House's tone has moved from angry to vicious, and his eyes are colder than Wilson's ever seen them.

"You're not being reasonable," Wilson says, making a conscious effort to calm himself down.

"No, I'll tell you what's unreasonable; it's unreasonable to expect anything to get done right when I'm not around! And it's unreasonable for me to be forced to listen to you tell me how to run my department. So unless you wanna critique something really important, like whether or not Housekeeping's emptying the trashcans on schedule, get. The hell. Out!"

Wilson narrows his eyes and starts to say something, then thinks better of it. He turns on his heel and leaves. He still can't slam the door the way he needs to, but he gets a little satisfaction out of making the blinds clatter in their tracks on his way out.

As soon as Wilson's gone, House clamps both hands firmly onto his thigh; his fingers dig deep into the muscle. His teeth are clenched; his breathing is a loud hiss in his ears. He closes his eyes tightly, and allows himself the luxury of an audible moan.

After a minute, he unclamps one hand, reaches into his pocket, pulls out the Vicodin. He flips the cap off with his thumb and tilts the bottle, allowing two pills to fall onto the desk.

Waste of time, he thinks disgustedly, scooping them into his mouth, grinding them between his teeth, allowing the bitter powder to burn its way down his throat.

Thirty minutes later, he removes a third tablet from the bottle. He studies it for a moment before replacing it and carefully recapping the bottle. In a sudden swift motion, he flings the bottle across the room and watches it strike the wall, bounce, land next to the tennis ball Wilson had thrown. He stares for a moment at the tableau the objects make—a testament to impotent anger. Then he puts his head down on his desk and tries to breathe.

He remembers when the breakthroughs first began. Wilson had been kind, compassionate. Empathetic. House had been… less than human. It was after he'd hurt Wilson a second time with his cutting words that he'd made a decision—if Wilson couldn't protect himself from the cruel results of House's pain, then House would.

The next time he'd had a breakthrough episode, House didn't make the usual effort to hide his anger, his frustration. He'd allowed himself to say something cruel about a child, a cancer patient of Wilson's. It was the first time Wilson had looked at him, eyes narrowed in disgust, and said, "Sometimes, even I don't like you!" Then he'd stormed off, leaving House to face down the intractable pain alone.

Eventually, House had intentionally incorporated some of this cold, inhuman persona into his daily behavior—so that when the breakthroughs came, the change in his personality wasn't so blatant, didn't raise worried questions from Wilson. House hates himself for this—but he hates more the monster he becomes.

Somehow, no one bothers him for the next hour and a half, and the muscle spasms have called a break in the action. Oh, they're still there—tightly coiled snakes that flick their tongues once in a while, daring him to move, to give them an excuse to strike. But over the years he's trained himself to stay utterly still, absolutely silent in the face of their venom. He wishes he could sit here, frozen, all night, keeping the snakes quiescent. But he knows that the longer he stays, the worse the odds that he'll be left alone. If someone comes in, he'll have to move, have to speak—and the snakes will be on him in an instant.

So at 5:30pm, he calls a cab, and somehow makes it out of the building without running into Cuddy or Wilson. When the cabbie pulls up at his building, House painfully exits the taxi. He refuses the cabbie's offer of assistance with a barked, "I'm not an old man!" and makes his way to the staircase. He knows what the two lousy steps will cost him; he pulls in a deep breath and holds it for the climb.

Once inside, he locks the door behind him. He doesn't bother turning on any lights; it's enough that he's made it to the couch. Once he's got the right leg propped up, he knows he can't keep the waiting pain at bay any longer. He leans his head back and lets it come.

The first wave of spasms leaves him dizzy, breathless. He knows, though, that if he just rides the wave, doesn't try to fight it, it'll fall into a pattern so familiar that it's almost comforting. So he sits in the dark and waits it out.

Five minutes; that's all I want. Five minutes of relief, so I can get up, go to the bathroom, take a few breaths that I don't have to think about. Five lousy minutes; not gonna happen.

He doesn't know how long he sits here, lost in the haze of pain. He knows it'll go on the rest of the night, so it doesn't really matter, does it? Maybe not knowing is better.

And then the unthinkable happens—the unmistakable scrape of a key in the lock, the click of a light switch, and Wilson, standing in front of him, primed for Round Two.

House sets his jaw and raises his head. He knows his eyes are unfocused; he knows that Wilson will attribute it to too much Vicodin. He doesn't care; that'll actually work to his advantage.

"What the hell are you doing here? Cuddy's errand boy? You can both screw off."

Wilson's eyes spark with anger. "I'm here because I was concerned. Forgot that's a crime in your book. And just in case you're interested, we managed to smooth things over with your team. Again."

"Nope, not interested. But thanks for the misplaced concern. Next time pick up the phone; it's easier to ignore. Turn out the light when you leave."

"Why, so you can sit here in the dark and enjoy your buzz a little longer? When you planning to come down? Gotta tell you something, House; no one bought your 'food poisoning' yesterday. People are beginning to talk. They're figuring out the truth."

You wanna know the truth? Couldn't get out of bed yesterday. Pain was so bad I lost track of how many pills I popped. Didn't matter; didn't work. More truth? I pissed in a soda can; couldn't make it to the bathroom. You buy whatever you want; whatever you're thinking, it's prettier than 'the truth.'

"Also not interested in what 'people' are saying. They're all morons. Their opinions of me are about as valid as election results in Florida." House is trying for flippant sarcasm, but the latest spasm is undermining him; the statement comes out vicious, angry—and that's what it sparks in Wilson.

"What about my opinion, House? That count for squat too? Because my opinion is worse than theirs; I'm thinking you're so messed up on the drugs that you're beginning to pose a danger to your patients!"

House narrows his eyes. "Don't you think you've got that backwards? Seems they only die when I'm not there. And if you're officially questioning my medical judgment, you need to leave. Now." House is breathing rapidly, trying to make it through the spasm; he hopes Wilson mistakes it for anger.

"No, I'm not officially questioning your judgment! I'm voicing my concern. And my point was that your absence is the danger! Your patient would've had a better shot at living yesterday if you'd managed to put away the pills and drag yourself in; we both know that."

Of course I know that! I was useless yesterday; couldn't do my job. Couldn't do my job. Great feeling, Jimmy; you oughtta try it sometime.

"You've voiced your concern; it's been noted. Now you can leave." House doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to keep up this ruse; he's got to get Wilson out of here.

"No. I'm staying until we resolve this, House. So talk to me. Tell me how I can help you. Is it the leg?"

"You can help me by getting out of my damned apartment! I didn't ask you to come, and I didn't ask you to stay. But now I'm telling you to leave. Go home."

Wilson doesn't move, and doesn't speak. And House can taste the blood in his mouth, where he's bitten through his inner lip to keep from crying out in agony; he's amazed that Wilson can't answer his own question—he's got to have noticed the strong, visible tremor of the thigh muscle.

Maybe he didn't see it—sure as hell didn't notice that I didn't answer his question. Trained him well. Had to. He doesn't know what 'self-preservation' means; he'd never have pulled away on his own. The fact that he's here now is proof of that.

"Don't just stand there—go home. Oh, wait; that'd be impossible! You don't have a home. You've got… what'll we call it? A… hired room. No commitments required. No need to acknowledge that your life is just as miserable as mine is, because it's just temporary. It's not real. Gonna wake up one day in that house with the picket fence, and live happily ever after, right? Because no one lives in a hotel. You just stay there until that storybook life falls into your lap. So go stay there and feel all smug and superior to the junkie because your misery is just temporary."

Wilson stares at him, and House watches the disbelief in his eyes turn to hurt, and then to anger. As Wilson finally walks out the door, House closes his own eyes. He tells himself it's against the pain, but he won't let himself examine whose pain.

Once Wilson is gone, House's exhausted, trembling body curls in on itself, and he lies there, shivering, unable to fight it anymore. He doesn't hold back the moans or the curses; he can't.

As the night finally edges towards dawn, House realizes two things. The first is that the attack of breakthrough pain is ending. The second is that he has to face another day.

He'll go into work, make nice to everybody. They'll forgive him because they have to work with him. They'll go off shaking their heads and whispering to each other about what an inhuman bastard he really is. And all will be well—until next time.

And now, he realizes something else. He's done such a good job of hiding his agony that they all believe he's just a misanthropic jerk. Even Wilson. But that's what he wanted, right?

No, not what I wanted—what I needed. What he needed. Nothing anyone can do for this, but he wouldn't believe that. He'd keep trying; then I'd have to deal with his pain too—can't. Just… can't. Better this way.

Since the infarct, there've always been two things he could count on: his pills, and Wilson. Now the Vicodin has betrayed him. And he's betrayed Wilson.

Still curled on the couch, House smiles grimly to himself. There's one thing he's still got. It's too dependable to ever betray him, and it will never allow him to push it away.

He can always count on the pain.