"God dammit!" Was the first thing that came out of Greg House's mouth, after his body had so rudely made contact with the hospital floor. For a second, Foreman and Chase simply stared down at their boss in surprise, before doctor instincts seemed to kick in, and at least Chase hastily crouched down next to the older man, scanning him for obvious injuries.
House hadn't yet tried to sit up, and was still lying awkwardly half on his back, half on his left side, hugging his left hand close to his chest. Chase shook his head, puzzled. "What… was that?"
House shot him a seething look. "Well, what did it look like?!" He started to push himself up with a grunt, for once not shaking off Chase's supporting grip. As soon as he sat leaning back against the wall, he started to cradle his left hand in his right one protectively, a small grimace of pain distorting his features by now.
Then his right hand went to his thigh, fingers briefly digging into the muscle, before he gestured for Chase to hand him his cane. The younger man instinctively followed the implicit command, but eyed him doubtfully. "Do you think you should be getting up…?"
House just rolled his eyes in response, retorting harshly. "Do you think I should diagnose my patient from down here?!"
Chase sighed. "I just meant we could get you a – " He interrupted himself, quickly reaching out for his boss to support him as he pushed himself to a shaky stance.
Foreman approached House on his other side now, careful to avoid touching his left arm, which seemed to have been injured in some way.
As soon as he had reached a more or less upright position, House planted his cane close to his right leg, but hesitated then. Foreman narrowed his eyes at that, adopting his most analytical Sherlock Holmes impression. "You seemed disoriented the moment before you fell. – You still seem unsteady now. – Vertigo?"
House closed his eyes, voice carefully controlled. "I'm fine." But he didn't protest when his two employees slowly moved him onto the nearest visitor's bench.
When House then started to rub his leg, while resting his left hand in his lap palm up, Foreman nodded towards the obviously injured limb. "Hand, wrist or forearm…"
House shot him a very short glance, replying more forcefully this time. "Which part of 'I'm - Fine' got you confused…?"
Foreman nodded. "Yeah, well... – I'm gonna page Dr Wilson."
He had already turned to go and do just that, when the determination in House's voice stopped him. "No!"
Puzzled, he turned around again, eyeing his boss questioningly. House quickly managed something resembling a reassuring nod, his voice calmer now. "It's okay. Just… Give me a minute."
Chase shook his head slightly, clearly confused. "Why don't you want us to – "
House interrupted him, irritation once again seeping into his voice. "Because…," he took a deep breath, "…it's not necessary! Stop making such a fuss. – I fell; it happens; I'm okay."
When James Wilson entered his friend's office, it was already dark outside. He hesitated a moment, before deciding to stick with the familiar and flop down in the chair opposite House's desk. He casually gestured towards the other man's left arm that was once again resting in his lap. "I hear you injured your hand…"
House snorted at that, slowly looking up from the chart he had been studying. "You hear? Meaning Foreman ran to Mommy…"
"I'm not anyone's Mommy, House…"
Something in House's expression changed at that. "No. – You're not."
An awkward silence hung between them for a minute or two. Then Wilson spoke again. "But that doesn't mean I'm not interested in what's happening to you…"
"I didn't say you're not." The lightness in his tone didn't quite match his tense posture.
Wilson kept his gaze fixed on the other man. "You didn't want them to page me."
"Because there was no reason to!"
Silence again. Then:
"So… Foreman thinks you were having trouble with your balance before you fell?"
House shrugged, half-heartedly focusing on his chart again. "That seemed to be his impression, yeah…"
Wilson couldn't suppress an eye-roll at that. "And were you?"
"House… - Vertigo can be the symptom of a serious condition! Could be a cerebellar infarction, MS; hell even a tumor!"
House impatiently met his gaze. "Could be. – But it's not."
Wilson replied with a shake of his head. "You can't know that. Why don't you let me-"
He was abruptly interrupted. "Because. It is none of the above. – Now, why don't you just… go back to those dying kids or check out the new nurse from Peds? I hear she has a thing for annoying, multiply divorced, middle-aged men…"
"House." Wilson waited for him to meet his gaze again. Which he didn't.
"Seriously, Wilson. Get out of here. I've got a patient to diagnose."
Wilson completely ignored the warning quality his friend's tone had taken on, his own voice suddenly very gentle. "If this is about Christmas eve…"
He was sharply interrupted again. "This – isn't about anything. Except for the obsession everyone suddenly seems to have with sticking their nose into things that are none of their business!"
Wilson lowered his head slightly, concentrating on talking through his friend's anger, keeping his own voice very calm. This was too important. "I didn't… leave because I don't care about you. – I left because I care too much about you most of the time. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do..."
House responded with a half-snort, abruptly turning his head away. "That's funny. 'Cause it sure as hell wasn't one of my greatest moments either…"
The bitter words caused Wilson to wince slightly. "I know. – House… If you wanna talk about – "
"Then at least talk to me about whatever happened today."
"No!" House forcefully hit the desk with the flat of his hand. Apparently somewhat embarrassed about his sudden outburst, he added almost immediately: "Because there is nothing to talk about!"
Wilson shook his head. "Why do you always have to be so damn stubborn?"
House eyed him challengingly. "And why are you so wound up about this? A little dizziness shouldn't really alarm you that much…"
"Aha!" Wilson exclaimed, raising an accusing finger. "So you admit that you've been feeling dizzy earlier…"
House moved his head in a non-committal way. "Which doesn't answer the more interesting question. – Why are you so upset?"
When Wilson didn't immediately reply anything, he analytically continued. "Not so long ago, you didn't have a problem not knowing what was happening to me, when it was clear I had digested a possibly lethal dose of a narcotic! – And now you worry like that about a bout of dizziness?!" Tone incredulous.
"'Not so long ago' I had to make a point to you. Push you to… finally wake up."
House replied with a pained half-laugh. "Oh, that's interesting. Nice way to 'wake someone up' to have them choke on their own vomit!"
Wilson abruptly pushed himself to his feet, one hand flying to the back of his neck in a gesture that screamed louder than words how uncomfortable he was feeling. "I didn't leave you to choke on anything…!" He forced himself to turn slightly and meet his friend's intense gaze again, tone almost imploring. "I needed to help you understand – "
"…that vomiting on your living-room floor is a bad idea?!"
"That you needed – "
House rudely interrupted him, almost yelling all of a sudden. "You left me there, fully accepting the possibility that I might not get up again! – You left me there… to die, Wilson!"
The harsh exclamation caused Wilson to pale visibly, but he responded immediately, his tone now matching his friend's.
"You were able to lift your head!!"
The words hung awkwardly in the air for several long moments, sounding completely ridiculous even to Wilson's own ears.
House stared at him incredulously. Then he seemed to just slump in his chair, like a balloon that had suddenly lost all its air. He slowly rubbed his forehead, averting his gaze completely and turning half-way towards the window, voice resigned. "Yeah. Whatever…"
Wilson looked almost desperate all of a sudden. "House, please… - I, I, I…" He forced himself to sit once more, leaning across the other man's desk, willing him to meet his eyes. "I was desperate…! I was so afraid I'd lose you – to Tritter; to jail; to… liver failure. – I didn't know what to do anymore! I only knew that what I usually did hadn't helped before. I thought if I left you to deal with things alone for once, you'd maybe see for yourself which way you had to go. – I needed you to see how bad things had become; how much you really had to take that deal. I – "
He paused briefly, helplessly searching for the right words. "You have no idea how difficult that was for me."
House met his gaze again at that, his expression still unreadable. "Yes. I do."
He clarified after another moment of silence. "I know you. Your inability to not care." He made the last word sound like a curse. "For you to just leave someone, who had just ODed on alcohol and narcotics, to his fate; on the floor; in his own vomit…" His expression was guarded, except for a brief flash of hurt Wilson would almost have missed. "I know how much you'd have to resent someone - in that moment - to do that." He turned his head completely away again.
Wilson quickly looked towards the ceiling, momentarily afraid he wouldn't be able to hold back the tears that slowly but surely threatened to come. "I don't… resent you, House. And I didn't resent you then. I…" He shook his head, clearly uncomfortable. "…love you. You know that. – I wanted to help you. I wanted to somehow… get us all through that impossible situation. I thought making the deal with Tritter was the only way to save you. And I thought walking away would be the only way to get you to maybe accept that."
House eyed him impassively for a long moment. "And… you're done making your point now?"
"Now I'm just… worried you could be seriously ill." Voice resigned.
House kept his gaze fixed on the other man for what felt like an impossibly long time, before suddenly just nodding once. "Well, I'm not." He casually threw a bottle of pills into Wilson's general direction.
Who caught it in the last possible moment, reflexively glancing at the label. He suddenly frowned. "Proglumide?" He eyed his friend critically. "Do you have an ulcer…?"
House rolled his eyes in response. "No, idiot… - Proglumide's a CCK antagonist."
Wilson still looked confused.
Another eye-roll. "CCK's one of the evil substances responsible for the tolerance we develop for narcotics."
Understanding suddenly lit up Wilson's face. "So… If you knock out the CCK, you counteract the tolerance, meaning lower doses of the opiate suffice."
House interrupted him. "Temporarily."
Completely ignoring the comment, Wilson shook his head in momentary disbelief, voice stunned. "You've been trying not to go any higher on the Vicodin." To not let it escalate like that again…
House's face still didn't show any emotion, voice flat. "Yep. Reduced it actually…"
Wilson lifted an eyebrow in surprise. "Wh…" He briefly shook his head. "I can't believe it."
"Yeah, well… It's no wonder-drug. The body develops a tolerance for it as well. – Can only use it every other week…"
Wilson's expression didn't change. "It's… still… - Very, very good!" He forced himself not to sound too exuberant, knowing House wouldn't appreciate it. Then, clinically: "And the… dizziness, vertigo, whatever it was?"
House just shrugged. "Side effect maybe… Or the hydrocodone boost. - Not quite used to the stuff yet. Still balancing with the dosages..."
Wilson couldn't help but grin somewhat stupidly all of a sudden, waving a hand in a gesture of pure relief. He hadn't felt something this close to hope in months. "Well, balance away! I'm sure you'll master this just like everything else…"
House nodded. "Hopefully before I break every bone in my body…" He held up his injured hand for the first time. So, part of the self-irony was back. That was a start…
Wilson took that as permission to finally pay some attention to this newest injury and very carefully touched his friend's swollen hand. "It's the wrist, isn't it… - Will you let me take a look at it now? Get you a couple of x-rays…?" He hopefully looked up at House, who stared back at him a strangely contemplative expression on his face.
"I know what you were trying to do; I know that it was probably the right thing to do. – But that doesn't change the fact that it hurt."
Wilson had to swallow hard at his friend's completely unusual admission of his feelings; at the raw honesty in his voice. He also didn't know how to respond.
"I…" One hand automatically went to the back of his neck, rubbing tensely. Then he forced himself to look at his friend again. "I know, House. – And for that I'm truly sorry."
House held his gaze another long moment after that, before breaking eye-contact and giving a brief nod. "So… What about those x-rays now…? - Feels like it's already starting to heal this way." A wry smile. He gingerly cradled his injured hand in his good one again, causing Wilson to look somewhat pained himself.
"You know why I hope it's not a complicated fracture?" Wilson handed House his cane.
The diagnostician looked at him dubiously. "Because you wouldn't want a friend to suffer…?"
Wilson just shook his head, holding the door open for the other man to pass. "No... – Because I'm pretty sure we'd be hard pressed to find a surgeon you haven't managed to piss off by now…"
House just shrugged, keeping his eyes on the way in front of them. "Luckily, I still know one or two who wouldn't want me to have a nice little chat with their wives though…"
Wilson just nodded, trying not to let on just how relieved he was that they seemed to be relatively okay. "Right. Always a man of subtle measures…"
"At least more subtle than your tie…"
"Which is at least more subtle than your cane…"
Wilson's stride was naturally matching his friend's again by now, the easy banter comforting for both of them after weeks of hurt silence.
"You think I get to choose the color of the cast…? Black would be cool…"
Wilson rolled his eyes, though more amused than annoyed. "House… There's no such thing as a black cast! – And we don't even know yet that you'll need one..."
"Sure there is... – And 50 bucks says at least a month."
"No. 50 bucks says they'll tell you a month, and you'll get rid of it after three weeks tops."
House seemed to consider this briefly, but then just shrugged. "Guess I can't argue with that one…"
"Must be a first…"
"On the other hand: If I agree with you now, that could lead you to think I've been missing you. Which could be very bad for any future attempts to – "
"House." The oncologist interrupted him with a half-smile. "Shut up."