Author's Notes: Thanks to elynittria for catching my ridiculous errors. Any remaining mistakes are the result of any post-beta meddling on my part.
"You know he wants you, you know he's good, you know he can make you good. I don't know what I'm saying. You don't, I don't, you know what I'm saying, and you know I'm right. I gotta go." Wilson, Resignation
When House returned from the patient's room, he had that smug expression on his face that made Foreman want to hit him. It usually meant one of two things: he'd come up with the diagnosis, or he'd found some flaw in an earlier procedure or result that he was going to lord over them for the next week.
"Little Miss Muffet spiked her curds and whey with Lysol," House announced.
The former, obviously. Foreman could live with that. House was irritating in triumphal mode, but it was preferable to the alternative. A self-satisfied House might even make his last two weeks bearable.
"Cameron, go hold her hand and tell her life is worth living. And then get rid of anything sharp in the room and remove the laces from her shoes. Chase, book an OR and get a surgeon. Not Hourani. And Foreman, go check on Wilson."
Or not. He knew he'd regret asking, but he had to know. "What has Wilson got to do with anything?" Wilson had been acting oddly earlier. Though anyone who was friends with House was surely allowed a mild psychotic break now and then.
"Nothing. Though don't tell him that. It will fill his heart with sadness and take away his gladness." House frowned. "Or is it the other way around?"
"Why do you want me to check on Wilson?" Foreman asked, enunciating each word carefully to make the meaning clear.
"Because he has a headache and you're a head doctor," House replied in his most patronizing voice.
Foreman had never been able to stand being patronized. "I'm a neurologist," he snapped back. "And the only head doctor Wilson needs is a psychiatrist to explain why he's friends with you."
That, surprisingly, scored a hit. House narrowed his eyes. "You're still a doctor and you still work for me," he said. "And since you've pussied out on the real medical stuff, you can go treat a headache. Or spend the next two weeks in the clinic. It doesn't matter to me, but I'm sure Wilson would appreciate confirmation that he's not bleeding into his brain."
There was a suggestion of concern beneath the sarcasm, enough to both surprise and confuse Foreman. He wondered why House didn't just check on Wilson himself, but knew he wouldn't get a real answer if he asked. It was easier just to grit his teeth and do what House wanted. Two more weeks and counting.
He knocked lightly on Wilson's door and opened it quietly, conscious of Wilson's alleged headache. Wilson was lying on the couch, one arm draped over his eyes, but he sat up groggily when he heard Foreman enter. He blinked, shading his eyes against the light from the corridor, and managed a faint smile. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"House asked me to drop by," Foreman said. He turned on the light and closed the door, grimacing in sympathy when Wilson winced. "Sorry. He said you had a headache." He did a visual assessment. Wilson looked pale and tired, but no more than he had a dozen times over the past three years. Terminal patients didn't keep a schedule, and Wilson carried more on his roster than any other doctor in the hospital. Add House's constant interruptions and crises into the equation, and it was a miracle Wilson got any sleep at all.
"Getting his money's worth before you leave?" Wilson quipped, and then yawned widely. "Excuse me. And before you say anything, I don't have a cerebral tumour."
The penny finally dropped. Foreman remembered House's query about yawning as a symptom and their various suggestions. "Are you on antidepressants?" he asked, sifting through his memory for the side effects of several commonly prescribed antidepressants. It could explain the headache, even the manic episode he'd witnessed earlier. Then he remembered the samples House had picked up at the pharmacy while they reported back on the arteriogram. "What did he give you?" he demanded.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Wilson had a look of amiable confusion on his face that didn't fool Foreman at all. He'd listened to House gripe enough over the years to know that Wilson was a master liar.
"Bullshit. He gave you something yesterday, something that ramped you into overdrive."
"Espresso," Wilson said, looking suitably abashed. "I knew better than to mix caffeine with the antidepressants, but I try to reward any glimmer of generosity from him."
But Foreman knew the difference between a caffeine high and a chemical high. "This is exactly why I quit," he snapped.
Wilson squinted up at him. "Because House gave me a coffee?"
"Because he drugged you."
"You don't know what you're talking about." Wilson abandoned the folksy routine and gave Foreman a warning look.
Foreman ignored the look and shook his head. "You're both unbelievable. He doped you up on something — I'm guessing amphetamines — and you're still protecting him." He wasn't sure which was worse: House drugging his best friend, or Wilson just accepting it. His decision to quit was looking better by the second.
"You have a bad habit of making judgments before you have all the facts," Wilson replied sharply. "That's a dangerous thing to do in your line of work."
Foreman flinched, thinking of Lupe, who had died because of his personal and professional judgments. "You're obviously not bleeding into your brain," he said stiffly. "I'll let House know."
Wilson smiled, not the charming smile that made nurses rush to do his bidding, or the disarming smile that helped clean up the messes House made, but a soft smile that was meant for no one but himself. House's glimmer of concern was obviously enough for Wilson. Foreman couldn't imagine anything more pathetic.
"You think House is a bastard. But he only wants you to be the best doctor you can," Wilson said, returning to his earlier theme, albeit more coherently.
But Foreman didn't want to be cajoled into rethinking his decision. He wanted as far away from House — and anyone insane enough to call him friend — as possible. "Let me know if you experience any dizziness or blurred vision. I'll be next door working on my resume." He was halfway to the door when Wilson spoke again.
"You're not afraid of becoming him. You're afraid you won't become him."
Foreman willed himself to keep walking, but his legs wouldn't obey. He refused to turn around, though.
"You're afraid you'll never be as good as he is," Wilson continued relentlessly, "so you're just going to stop trying. Cuddy made you a good offer, one that anyone else would have leapt at. But you turned it down. Because you can't stand the thought of being second best. Better to be top dog somewhere else."
It wasn't true, or at least it wasn't the whole truth. But it was close enough to hit Foreman hard in the gut. He didn't need to turn around to know that Wilson was giving him that cool, assessing look he usually reserved for dissecting House. For an instant, Foreman almost empathized with House — it wasn't pleasant being subjected to the harsh light of Wilson's analysis — and that was enough to get his legs moving again.
But Wilson wasn't finished. He raised his voice slightly, an odd note of sorrow colouring the tone. "You don't want to be the guy that had all the potential, but didn't quite live up to it. The one who's good, but not quite good enough. It's not House you're afraid of becoming. You're afraid of becoming me."
Wilson's office suddenly seemed stifling, almost suffocating. Foreman wrenched the door open, but he couldn't leave without the last word. "You're right about one thing," he said, summoning his most disdainful voice, the one he'd learned from House. "I wouldn't ever want to be you." He thought he heard a sharp hiss of pain as he closed the door hard, and he was glad. He wasn't sure if that made him more — or less — like House.
By the next day, Wilson had managed to beat back the worst of the amphetamine hangover, but the last lingering effects — and the knowledge that he'd screwed up yet another attempt to help House — left him in a depression his own medication couldn't touch. It didn't help that House had been avoiding him all day, though Wilson had heard the unmistakable sounds of gloating through the thin wall that separated his office and the Diagnostic conference room. Another patient cured.
It was well past quitting time, but he was still at his desk, completing the paperwork to get one of his patients into a promising new clinical trial. He'd seen House leave an hour or so ago while he'd been out on the balcony getting some fresh air, so he was surprised to hear the familiar tap-step approaching his office door.
House didn't bother knocking before he barged into the office. It was a courtesy Wilson didn't expect of him, even when they weren't fighting. Wilson didn't think they were fighting now, their recent pharmaceutical exchange notwithstanding, but a cessation of hostilities didn't equal a sudden increase in niceties.
House walked up to the desk and thrust a take-out cup at Wilson. "For what ails you," he said.
It was a handy reminder that most of what ailed Wilson was House's fault. "You must think I'm an idiot," he said, recoiling. "Do you really think I'm going to drink something you give me after yesterday?"
House rolled his eyes and took a sip. "See? Completely safe."
Wilson shook his head. "That doesn't prove anything. You enjoy getting high," he pointed out.
"True," House admitted. "But I hate peppermint tea. Not even speed makes it palatable."
"You bought me peppermint tea?" Wilson found it hard to summon up any enthusiasm, despite what he'd told Foreman about encouraging House's acts of generosity. He didn't like peppermint tea either.
"Lust makes people do incomprehensible things. The hot vegan with the animal by-product name likes peppermint tea. She also likes drugged-out, depressed adulterers. You should give her a call." He paused. "Oh, wait. She also likes honesty, so that rules you out. Unless you can lie your way into her pants."
"She bought the job interview line, so it shouldn't be too hard," Wilson replied, though even the idea of bedding a 26-year-old exhausted him. "What do you want?" he asked. Everything exhausted him right now, especially House. He'd thought the antidepressants would help, both him and House, but they had only become another battleground.
"Why do you assume I want anything?" House said, with an innocent look that not even a trusting vegan would believe.
"Because you never just drop by without a reason. You either want me to look at your patient, or buy you food, or listen to you rant about the stupidity of mankind. You don't have a patient any more, you're bringing sustenance instead of demanding it, so who pissed you off? The nutritionist? Foreman? The last person you passed in the hall?"
House put the tea on Wilson's desk and then crossed over to the couch. He sat down, resting his chin on the top of his cane, and just studied Wilson. Wilson had grown used to these moments of intense observation years ago, and he was adept at ignoring House.
"I heard what you said to Foreman," House said finally.
Of course he had. House had eavesdropped on his fellows from this office more times than Wilson could remember. It was why Wilson kept his desk opposite the connecting wall. But House had sent Foreman over, knowing that Wilson was lying on the couch, where the sound bled through the clearest. He had probably listened to the entire conversation. Wilson tried to remember if he'd said anything incriminating, but he was too tired to care.
"Is that what you came to tell me?" he asked. "I'm not going to apologize for trying to convince Foreman to stay. You don't want him to leave, even if you won't do anything about it."
"That's why you think I'm here?" House replied, and he almost sounded surprised. "I'd have been worried if you hadn't interfered. It's in your nature."
Wilson wondered if that were House's way of saying he didn't mind the interference. He had, after all, accepted Wilson's nature, if somewhat derisively, for over a decade. "What's your point, then?"
"Does there have to be a point?" House stood up. "Maybe the point is you hear interesting things when you take the time to listen." He fixed Wilson with another penetrating stare and then left by the balcony door.
It wasn't long before Wilson heard a murmur of voices from next door, identifiable by timbre if not content. House and Foreman. The voices became clearer and Wilson pictured House standing next to the coffee machine, drawing Foreman closer with an impatient wave of his hand.
He moved to the couch, straining to hear the words. He had no scruples about eavesdropping. House had wanted him to listen.
"...can't believe you did that to Wilson." Foreman no longer sounded outraged. Now there was a hint of amusement in his voice, and Wilson wasn't sure he wanted him to stay after all. "He did a breast exam on speed. He could have been sued."
Or fired, Wilson thought, and decided that he wasn't very pleased with House either. But he wasn't exactly innocent himself. He wanted to believe House had been happier on the antidepressants, but it was possible that they did dull his mind, make him hazy. It was easier to forgive House when he remembered that he really wasn't any less of a bastard than House.
"Is that what you're afraid of?" There was definitely amusement in House's voice. "That you'll turn into someone who will drug his best friend just to test a theory? How about someone who'll stab a colleague with an infected needle to make her break quarantine? I have to give you props for that. I only tried to kill a rat."
"I was desperate and dying," Foreman protested. "You were bored and curious. And yet Wilson still defended you. He's either an idiot or brain-damaged."
Most days Wilson agreed with that assessment. But he knew sides of House that Foreman would never see. Even the remnants of an amphetamine hangover couldn't make him regret their friendship.
"Not everybody has your talent for forsaking the damaged people in their lives," House retorted. "And you're an idiot for underestimating Wilson. He's the kind of doctor you can only dream of becoming."
Wilson sipped the tea House had brought him. It was lukewarm and weakly flavoured, but he accepted it in the spirit it had been offered.
"Wilson loses more patients than he saves."
"He's an oncologist. And his office is the last stop on the cancer train. His patients die, but they die knowing they had a doctor who cared about them as people, not just as cases or puzzles to solve."
Wilson wondered if House actually believed that, or if he was just using him to score points off Foreman. It was House, so it was probably a little of both.
"Patients die," House continued. "Sometimes despite what we do, sometimes because of what we do. If you can't handle that, maybe you should go into research. Or find yourself a nice safe practice in the suburbs. Your whole life can be clinic duty."
Wilson shook his head ruefully. Sometimes House was his own worst enemy, which was saying something given the past year. It was too much to hope that House would come right out and ask Foreman to stay, but Wilson wished he would refrain from actively driving him away.
"There are worse things than clinic duty."
House wasn't likely to ignore that heresy. "A lifetime of boredom." Wilson could almost hear the sneer.
"Better than a lifetime of misery. I wouldn't want Wilson's life any more than I'd want yours. Three divorces before he's forty, living in a hotel, always at your beck and call, and getting nothing in return. That's not the kind of life I want."
It wasn't what Wilson had wanted either, but it was what he had. And it wasn't all there was. He had a career he believed in, patients he cared about, and some he even saved. And he had House, the most frustrating, fascinating person he'd ever met. He didn't expect Foreman to understand their friendship, but it annoyed him that he would judge it.
House's voice was clipped and harsh, and Wilson knew he was annoyed too. "He's the world's worst husband, but he could teach a master class in friendship. He's even on speaking terms with all his exes. Talked to Wendy lately?" His voice faded away, the conversation — at least for Wilson's benefit — over.
Wilson smiled. The last of his headache was gone, taking with it the last of his anger. He finished the peppermint tea and decided he liked the taste after all.