Author's Note: This one is a birthday present for MuffyMorrigan who is celebrating today and has been trying to persuade me for weeks to write another House story! Hope you like it – Happy Birthday!
As the cab pulled away from the kerb House picked up his overnight bag and steadied himself so he was balanced with the cane. One ride in the elevator later he was standing outside Wilson's door, banging like the four horseman of the apocalypse were on his tail. He glanced at his watch and grinned.
The door was flung open and Wilson stood there, dressed in pyjama bottoms and a tee shirt with dishevelled hair and a rabbit-in-headlights look on his face.
"House?" he said, blinking blearily at him and House shoved him out of the way as he barrelled past.
"Good to see your powers of observation are as sharp as ever." he said, dropping his bag on the floor and lowering himself into the chair next to the table.
Wilson actually stood there for a second, still with the door open, as his brain tried to process that fact that not only was he abruptly awake but he was also having to deal with House. He closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face. It was far too early to be ready for this.
Speaking of which.
"What the hell are you doing here at 6:30 in the morning?" he said and House just smiled serenely at him.
"It's a surprise."
"A surprise?" he said, using the same tone of voice he would have had House just told him he'd found religion.
"Yes, a surprise. You must have heard of them – occasions when other people know what's happening but you don't? I hear they're quite popular in some places."
Wilson could feel the headache building already.
"Look, not that I'm not thrilled you chose to start your daily torture of me before sunrise today, could we please not do this until I've at least had some coffee?" he pleaded.
House shook his head.
"No time for that. We can get some on the way."
"On the way where?"
"Do I really need to run through the definition of surprise again? God, you really are slow first thing in the morning aren't you?"
Yep. Definitely a headache day.
"House.." he began but this time House didn't let him finish.
"As fun as playing twenty questions is when you're only using one brain cell, we're going to end up off schedule at this rate. So why don't you go take a shower and we can get going. Oh, and you don't have time to blow dry that mop of yours I'm afraid – you'll just have to manage au natural today." he said with a mock serious expression.
Deciding that he clearly wasn't going to get rid of House and a shower sounded pretty good right now, Wilson chose to ignore the predictable hair comment and headed for the bathroom, slamming to door behind him slightly harder than necessary.
House grinned. This was going well already.
Ten minutes later Wilson emerged with his hair still damp and feeling slightly more awake. He stopped and stared at the sight of his overnight bag sitting on the bag, clearly full, and House leaning against the windowsill tapping his cane impatiently.
"Good, I thought you were gonna be in there all day. You might want to grab whatever stuff you need from the bathroom. Some of the hair products will have to stay behind though – not enough room in the bag."
Wilson held up his hands.
"Ok, this has gone far enough – what on earth are you doing, House? In case you've forgotten, it's not the weekend yet and I have patients who are expecting to see me today. As I'm sure do you. We can't just take off somewhere cos you woke up with some crazy plan in that brain of yours." he said exasperatedly.
"Actually, we can. Your patients are taken care of and so are mine as it happens. I cleared the whole thing with 'Mom' so you and I are free to go. So get moving." he said, gesturing at Wilson with his cane.
Wilson didn't move, but he did frown. "What do you mean you cleared it with Cuddy? And who's covering my appointments?"
House rolled his eyes.
"You know this is gonna be a whole lot easier if you don't keep asking stupid questions every five minutes. All you need to know is your appointments are covered and we really need to get going. So lets go!"
Wilson debated digging his heels in some more but he knew what House was like when he got that look in his eye and truthfully, he was too tired to get into a battle of wills with his friend right now.
"Fine." he said wearily and went back into the bathroom to collect his stuff.
House watched him go and then frowned. He should have been pleased Wilson had given in, but somehow the victory was hollow. He'd heard the weariness in his friend's tone and seen the resigned look on his face. This wasn't the Wilson he knew and loved – metaphorically speaking of course – this was the one that had been created out of the whole drama with Tritter.
He felt his stomach churn and told himself it was because he hadn't had breakfast yet.
His thoughts were interrupted by Wilson's emergence from the bathroom. He dropped his wash-bag into the holdall and looked at House warily.
"So what now?" he said and House looked amused.
"Well I'd suggest getting changed unless you want to make the trip in your pyjamas?"
Wilson looked down and realised he was indeed still wearing the clothes he'd been sleeping in. Glaring a little at House he grabbed some jeans and a shirt from the drawer and went back into the bathroom.
When he came back out, finally ready, House pushed himself up - rubbing his leg briefly - and held out his hand.
Wilson raised his eyebrows.
"What makes you think I'm going to let you drive my car?" said Wilson and House shrugged.
"Well it's gonna make it a little difficult for you to drive if you don't know where we're going."
"I would know if you told me." retorted Wilson and now it was House's turn to glare.
"You're really making this much harder than it needs to be. Maybe we should just forget the whole thing and go to the hospital after all."
Wilson looked at House and saw something behind the sharp words that he couldn't quite put his finger on. It was somewhere between frustration, hurt, and a real need for them to do whatever this was.
Giving in, just like he always did in the end, Wilson picked up the keys from the side and threw them in House's direction.
For a brief second there was a grateful look on House's face but then it was gone, replaced by his usual cocky grin.
Still not sure he wasn't insane to be doing this, Wilson picked up his bag and House's and followed him out the door.
It was testament to how tired Wilson really was that he was asleep before they even hit the freeway. House glanced across and for a second his expression softened as he looked at his friend almost affectionately. He'd been noticing the dark circles under Wilson's eyes and the weary air about him for weeks, and it didn't need a genius to figure out what was bothering the oncologist.
The fact that his own nights were often spent restlessly pacing his apartment these days wasn't the point.
They hadn't really discussed what had happened and as far as House was concerned it would be fantastic if they never did, but he couldn't ignore what it was doing to Wilson or indeed what it was doing to himself. Truth was he missed a lot of things these days. He missed the easy conversations, the talks on the balcony, the lunches spent stealing food from Wilson's plate whilst Wilson grumbled about it but made no move to actually stop him.
He missed his friend.
Shaking himself out of the maudlin thoughts he spotted the lane they wanted up ahead and concentrated on driving. It really would spoil the whole thing for them to end up wrapped round a tree before they got where they were going.
A further two hours later and his leg was demanding he stop for a while. His stomach was also suggesting a late breakfast might be a nice idea.
Pulling into an old fashioned looking Diner he switched off the engine and rubbed his leg for a moment, bracing himself for trying to get out of the car.
Wilson stirred and opened his eyes, looking round blearily for a moment as he tried to remember where he was.
"Morning, sunshine." said House and Wilson glanced over at him.
"And here was I thinking the whole thing had been some bizarre nightmare." he said dryly, sitting up and wincing as he straightened out the kinks in his neck.
"Where are we?" he said, looking round curiously. He could see trees all around them and something about the air told him they weren't anywhere near the city anymore.
"Almost there." said House, cryptically and Wilson sighed but in truth he hadn't really been expecting a proper answer.
He opened his door and got out, stretching as he did so. House opened his own door and managed to swing his good leg out. He did the same with his bad leg and was about to grab hold of the doorframe for leverage when a hand appeared in front of him.
He looked up and saw Wilson standing there, ready to help. He hesitated for just a moment and Wilson gave him a half smile that looked so much like the old Wilson that House reached out and took his hand without even thinking about it.
"On three?" said Wilson and House nodded.
Wilson counted then gently but firmly pulled as he helped House to his feet. House stood there for a moment, leaning back against the car, as his muscles cramped after so long sat in one position. He realised after the pain had eased to a dull throb that Wilson still had his hand on his shoulder. He chose not to mention it, this time.
Straightening up he stepped away from the car and shut the door behind him.
"Come on, I'm starving." he said.
"You're always starving." said Wilson mildly, with a slight smile on his face.
Inside it was like stepping back into the fifties. House grimaced a little at the décor but the aromas that were coming from the kitchen made his stomach growl so much he decided he didn't care.
They sat in a booth near the door, House stretching his leg out with a sigh of relief, and he ordered the full breakfast and coffee for both of them without even checking what Wilson wanted.
Wilson shook his head but didn't object, deciding that clearly for today it was easier to let House take charge.
Not that that made it much different from most days as it happened.
As he sipped his coffee Wilson watched the other patrons of the Diner, content to just sit in silence. It wasn't as if any of his questions would be answered anyway. Plus it had the added bonus of annoying House. He could see his friend watching him out of the corner of his eye, frowning slightly because he wasn't digging for more information about this trip.
He took another sip of coffee to hide his smile.
Their food arrived pretty fast and Wilson was surprised to find he was actually hungry for the first time in ages. House watched him eat, when Wilson wasn't looking, pleased to see him enjoying his food so much. The lack of appetite over the last few weeks was something else that hadn't escaped his notice.
Despite Wilson's enthusiasm House still managed to finish first, as usual, and the last hash brown on Wilson's plate quickly disappeared before he had a chance to stop it. He glared exasperatedly at House but there was no real heat behind it. Although he'd never admit it, it was actually nice to have House stealing his food again. It made things feel like they were back to normal.
"Come on, drink up. No rest for the wicked." said House with a glint in his eye as he slid out of the booth.
Wilson did as he was told but almost choked on the last mouthful as he realised House was going to the counter to pay. He stared in disbelief and was still staring when House came back over moments later.
"What?" said House with a frown. "I got food on my face?"
Wilson shook his head. "No, I just - you paid. You actually paid. Voluntarily."
House shifted uncomfortably.
"Well, given how slow you seem to be moving today it was quicker. I'll just steal it out of your wallet later. Now come on." he said, not waiting for Wilson to get up as he limped purposefully toward the door.
Wondering briefly if he'd somehow managed to wake up in a parallel universe without realising it, Wilson got up and quickly followed his friend.
He wouldn't put it past him to drive off without him.
Now he was awake Wilson watched the scenery go by with interest. He realised they were in the forest and he wound the window down, taking deep breaths of clean, fresh air.
House looked at him and shook his head, turning his gaze back to the road.
"You even think about breaking into song I'm leaving you by the side of the road."
"Some people actually appreciate nature you know." came the reply and House just smirked.
Half an hour later the car pulled off the main road and down a long track. The only thing on either side was trees but as they came round a bend the trees opened out and a large wooden building came into view.
The sign hanging in front of it proclaimed it as Lake View Lodge. House pulled the Volvo into a parking spot near the entrance and switched off the engine. Wilson was so busy staring at the impressive building that he hadn't noticed House had got out of the car until his door was opened.
"You gonna actually get out or are planning on staying in the car for the duration?"
Closing his mouth, which he'd just realised was hanging open, Wilson stepped out.
"Can you grab the bags?" said House over his shoulder as he walked towards the Lodge.
Pulling them from the trunk Wilson quickly jogged to catch up with him. They climbed the steps up to the porch that ran round the outside of the building and stepped through the large doors into an impressive lobby. Although the walls and pretty much everything else were wood, the huge windows and size of the place itself stopped it being too dark. House walked confidently over to the girl behind the reception desk who smiled at both of them, her gaze lingering a little longer on Wilson.
House gave a long suffering sigh and waited until he had her attention again.
"Dr House and Dr Wilson – we have two rooms booked for this evening." he said.
The girl consulted her computer before getting up and fetching two keys.
"You're in rooms 24 and 25. Ben will show you the way." she said, smiling brightly.
They turned round and saw an older man standing behind them. He nodded and reached out to take both the bags.
"Oh, thanks." said Wilson, feeling a little guilty as he handed over the luggage.
He turned round and smiled his thanks at the receptionist and she blushed. House elbowed him and when Wilson glared at him he just shook his head.
"We're not gonna be here long enough, Romeo." said House.
"I was only smiling at her." said Wilson indignantly and House raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah. That's what you said about wife one, two and three if I recall."
Not particularly wanting to get into slanging match about his marital woes in the middle of the lobby, Wilson bit his tongue and followed House and Ben up the stairs.
The old man stopped in front of their rooms and put the bags down. When House just stood there Wilson reached into his pocket and took out enough to tip the man for both of them. He smiled his thanks and left them to it. Wilson ignored House's smirk and held out his hand for the key.
Inside the room was nicely decorated without being ostentatious. The carpet was cream and matched the curtains that framed a large window on the far wall of the room. There was a double bed flanked by two wooden cabinets, a wooden chest of drawers on the left and a small wooden table and two chairs in front of the window itself. On the right was a door that led into a bathroom with a large shower cubicle, sink and toilet.
Wilson put his bag on the bed and walked over to the window.
He couldn't help exclaiming as he saw the uninterrupted view of the lake. Surrounded on all sides by trees it was beautiful.
He jumped as he heard a door open and turning round he saw there was another door on his left that he hadn't even noticed at first. As it opened House stuck his head round it.
"Connecting doors – how cool is that?" he said with a grin and Wilson looked him.
"Oh yeah – I'm thrilled." he said dryly, imagining all the ways House could torture him with uninterrupted access to his room. He wondered if he could push the chest of drawers in front of it.
"Hey, you've got a better view." said House indignantly, joining him at the window.
Wilson chuckled. "You always think what everyone else has is better than what you've got. You want to swop?" he said and House shrugged.
"Nah, you keep it. You're more into all this nature crap than me anyway."
"You're too kind." said Wilson as he pulled clothes apprehensively out of his bag, given the fact House was the one who'd packed it.
House watched him from his position in front of the window, leaning back against the wall.
"You really are so anally retentive – you just can't wait five minutes before you unpack can you?" he said, amused.
Wilson didn't even bother replying to that one. "So aside from the fun of being insulted in different scenery, do I get to know the reason you dragged me all the way out here when we should be at work?" he said instead.
House didn't reply and for a moment Wilson thought he was going to ignore the question altogether. When he did speak he sounded more subdued than usual.
"Why don't we get a drink downstairs first?" he said and Wilson glanced at him, seeing that House was actually looking nervous.
"Ok." he said simply, feeling a little apprehensive about what could possibly have made his friend this edgy.
House disappeared back into his own room briefly, presumably to unpack his own stuff, and by the time he reappeared Wilson was finished.
They made their way back downstairs and went through the lobby into the bar area. House sent Wilson to get a table out on the balcony area that overlooked the lake while he went and ordered their drinks. He joined Wilson a few moments later and they sat looking at the view in silence until the barman brought them over.
Wilson glanced at his watch and saw it was only just after 12:00, and therefore a little early for him, but then this wasn't exactly an ordinary day so he decided to go with the flow and took a sip of the ice cold beer.
"So?" he said when it was clear House wasn't in any hurry to start.
House took another sip of his drink and stalled for time. This had seemed like a good idea when the thought had first occurred to him after looking at the calendar a few days before. Now he was actually here though he was almost regretting the impulse. He wasn't exactly good at this whole 'talking' thing.
Looking up he saw Wilson watching him warily and noticed again just how much his friend seemed to have aged over the last few weeks. He felt a pang of guilt and realised that he had to do this.
For both their sakes.
"I thought maybe we should talk." he said, quietly, and Wilson raised his eyebrows.
Ok, so he's not gonna make this easy. I guess I deserve that he thought.
"About what happened. With Tritter."
Wilson tensed and took a slightly longer gulp of his drink as he felt his stomach churn. He'd wondered if that was the reason they were here but he'd dismissed it, given the fact House would barely acknowledge anything had even happened. Since the court hearing and Cuddy's 'rescue' things had returned almost to normal.
Except it wasn't really normal.
Wilson was still tortured by the look on House's face when he'd gone with Tritter to offer the deal of rehab. He could still hear the harsh words they'd each spoken, both then and before when he'd been literally packing up his desk and his career because what the vengeful detective was doing was crippling him. His own guilt, and whatever the hell it was House was feeling, had created this distance between them that neither seemed to know how to bridge.
If he was truthful the last few weeks had been almost worse than when they'd been in the middle of the whole thing. He was hardly sleeping, his appetite had all but disappeared and he went through most days almost on autopilot. He hadn't truly realised just how important his friendship with the diagnostician was until it had been fractured almost beyond repair.
House meanwhile appeared to have taken it all in his stride, and that was almost what had hurt the most. But looking at him now Wilson realised the signs of strain were there too. He just hadn't been allowed to see them before.
Putting his glass down he steeled himself and nodded, since House seemed almost to be waiting for permission to carry on.
House took one more sip from his drink, wishing he'd gone for something stronger, and followed it up with a deep breath.
"I brought you here for two reasons actually. The first is to apologise. This whole nightmare with Tritter – it was my mess and I shouldn't have let you get dragged into it. You were right to be mad at me for not putting a stop to it sooner and I'm sorry I couldn't see that before." he said, softly, looking at the table rather than at Wilson himself while he spoke.
Wilson had to swallow, telling himself it was the breeze from the lake making his eyes sting slightly.
"What about the deal I made? You were pretty mad at me before. The way things have been, I just figured you still were." he said, almost not wanting to hear the answer.
House sighed. "I was mad, I admit it. But I had no right to be. You did the right thing and you coulda done it a lot sooner than that and saved yourself a whole lot of trouble, but you didn't. I let my pride and my anger at Tritter take over and I shouldn't have. You deserved better than that. Truth is I've hated these last few weeks. All the awkward conversations and avoiding each other. It really sucks only having the kiddies and Cuddy to torment." he said with a slight smirk.
Wilson felt his own lips twitch, despite the seriousness of the moment.
"Well when you put it like that."
House chuckled, then looked up, his expression serious again.
"I'm serious about hating the way things have been though. When we were in Atlantic City, I meant what I said about not wanting this to break. I know I push and I know you put up with a lot but I.."
He tailed off, not quite able to bring himself to say what he wanted to aloud.
Wilson had heard enough though, and he always had known how to read between the lines when it came to House.
"I know." he said quietly and when House looked at him he saw that he really did. He smiled, and it wasn't his usual cocky grin but a real, genuine smile that Wilson found himself returning.
House took the opportunity of the lull in conversation to signal the barman for two more beers. When they arrived he took a long drink from his, feeling relieved that the hardest part was over.
If he was honest with himself there'd been a part of him that had been worried he'd screwed things up for good this time. To hear that he hadn't was more of a relief than he was ever going to admit. To anyone.
Wilson sipped his own beer, feeling lighter than he had in weeks. He knew people wondered why he stayed friends with House, why he put up with the moods, and the crankiness, and the insults. But there was a side to House that people didn't see, the one that he revealed only now and again in moments like this. And that was the reason he stayed, the reason he'd lied to a cop, the reason he'd come on this trip even though things had been so far gone he hadn't been sure there was a way back.
He realised there was still something that hadn't been said and he put his glass down, leaning forward slightly.
"You said there were two reasons?" he said and House grinned suddenly. He'd been surprised it had taken that long.
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a box wrapped in plain blue paper. He put it on the table and slid it across so it came to a stop in front of Wilson. The oncologist looked at warily, as wondering if it might explode in his face.
Which he was, as it happened.
"What's this?" he said and House looked at him, exasperated.
"It's a spaceship. What the hell does it look like, Wilson?"
Wilson raised an eyebrow at him.
"It looks like a present. But since you've never given me a present in the entire time we've been friends I'm certain I must be mistaken."
House shrugged. "I hear it's traditional on someone's birthday, so I thought I might give it a go. Just this once." he said, trying to sound casual.
Wilson blinked at him and House could practically hear the cogs turning. He shook his head.
"You forgot, didn't you?" he said and Wilson blushed.
"Well I've been kinda busy lately and I didn't really take much notice of the date." he said, mentally slapping himself as he realised it was indeed his birthday.
House just looked amused as Wilson floundered for a reason why he'd forgotten his own birthday. Keen to shift the focus off himself Wilson narrowed his gaze as he pointed a finger accusingly at House.
"You've never remembered my birthday, ever. And now you're doing this?" he said, gesturing at both the present and their surroundings. "Who are you and what have you done with Gregory House."
House rolled his eyes. "Well if you don't want the damn thing." he said reaching for it, but Wilson was quicker and snatched the parcel off the table.
"I didn't say that." he said, looking at the parcel with exaggerated interest before he began to carefully unwrap it.
House tapped his fingers on the table impatiently, his good leg bouncing up and down underneath it.
"Could you be more annoying about this?" he muttered and Wilson just smiled serenely at him.
"It's my birthday, I'm allowed to be annoying." he said and House just glared at him as he picked up his beer again.
Aware after all these years of exactly how far he could push, Wilson finished opening the wrapping paper and laid it to one side. This was such a rare occurrence he was determined to keep evidence of the whole thing.
Inside the paper was a small brown box. He glanced once at House as he opened it and his eyes widened slightly as he looked at what was inside.
Nestling in the box was a watch that he could tell was older probably than he was. The face was cream and the numbers and hands gold, and it was on a brown leather strap. It wasn't showy or flashy but it was one of the nicest things Wilson had ever seen. It seemed to speak of years of history, of a quality of workmanship and skill that just wasn't used these days. He knew it was unique, a handcrafted piece of engineering that he wouldn't be likely to find anywhere else.
"Are you gonna try it on or just look at it all day."
He actually jumped, having almost forgotten House was there. He looked up sheepishly and reached in carefully to pick the watch up. Putting the box on the table he examined it close up, noticing as he glanced at his own watch that it was telling the right time already.
As he turned it over he suddenly noticed something on the back. Holding it closer to his face he saw it was engraved.
He squinted slightly, angling it towards the light and as he read the words he felt a lump in his throat.
Some things are unbreakable
He looked up and House met his gaze briefly, before looking out towards the lake slightly embarrassedly.
Wilson swallowed and said nothing about the inscription. It was enough to know it was there and that House meant what it said. It was enough to make the struggles of the last few weeks a distant memory and it would be enough the next time they were clashing over something, as was inevitable.
Undoing the strap of his own watch and putting it in his pocket he placed the new one on his arm and did it up. It fitted perfectly.
House had turned back from the lake again and Wilson raised his glass at him slightly.
"Thank you." he said sincerely, and House knew it was for more than the watch.
Foregoing his usual sharpness he simply nodded and raised his own glass in return.
"So what do you say we see what they've got for lunch here?" he said, standing up and grabbing his cane.
Wilson shook his head in amusement, wondering how House could sound like he hadn't eaten in a week when they'd had such a huge breakfast only a couple of hours ago.
He got up and made sure to pick up the paper and the box the watch had come in, slipping both in his pocket for safekeeping for now. As he listened to House enthusing about a review he'd read of the food here he felt as if the weight he'd been carrying for so long had been lifted.
He knew the thing with Tritter would remain a sore subject, but it was one that was now firmly in the past. They'd survived the encounter and although both had come out of it bloodied and bruised they were intact. And that was what counted.
They'd spend the next 24 hours enjoying everything Lake View Lodge had to offer and getting back into the rhythm that had come so naturally until recently. Then they'd drive back to Princeton and things would go back to normal.
But that was just fine by Wilson. Because he hadn't truly realised how much he missed House's version of normal until it was gone.
Looking down again at his watch he smiled. Whether House would ever admit it or not, he had a permanent reminder now of just how important their friendship was to him.
And that was worth more than money could buy.