House sat in the lobby of the emergency room, behind his favourite potted plant, thinking about what he'd learned. The man who attacked Wilson was named John Killian. According to the police, he had a string of arrests for drunk and disorderly and disturbing the peace, nice euphemisms for bar fights. He'd had a couple of charges of assault dismissed, and one conviction for battery.
As soon as the police were done with him, he'd called Cuddy to explain what happened and to get her to check the hospital's files. Christine Killian had been admitted three days ago with a broken collarbone and various bruises, the result, she'd said, of a fall. As one of her attending physicians, Wilson had been called in. The next day, she'd been transferred and her records locked. But Cuddy had the magic key. Christine Killian was safely tucked away at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
House was pondering the mystery of how someone as cynical as Wilson could also be so ridiculously quixotic, when he heard someone walk up.
"I thought I might find you here," Cameron said, standing in front of House. "Wilson's going to be all right. Grade 1 concussion. Two cracked ribs and lots of bruises, but no internal injuries. The x-rays of his shoulder look good." She hesitated and House knew there was something else, something that he wouldn't want to hear. Cameron had never been good with bad news. "There's a slight possibility of damage to his optic nerve," she said finally. "They won't know until he's fully awake if his vision has been compromised."
House struggled to his feet. "Is that your definition of all right?" he snapped.
Cameron didn't even flinch. "They're keeping him overnight for observation. Cuddy did her thing and got him a private room."
"Only the best when one of her employees is attacked by the relative of a patient."
"Why don't you get cleaned up and go see Wilson," Cameron suggested calmly. "He should be coming around soon and he'd probably like to see a friendly face. Or at least a familiar face," she modified.
"If he can see, you mean," House snapped. It wasn't until Cameron pointed it out that he realized he was splattered with Wilson's blood. His hands, his shirt. The cloying smell of copper nearly made him retch. There was blood on Cameron's scrubs as well. He couldn't stand looking at her. "I'll be in my office if anything changes."
Cameron followed him to the bank of elevator. "If there is a problem with his eye, he shouldn't be alone."
House stabbed the up button impatiently. "I'm sure Cuddy's got his room staked out so she can get him to sign off on liability the second he wakes up. And god knows you love a bedside vigil." The elevator dinged its arrival. Saved by the bell.
"You'll come if he asks for you," Cameron said.
It was a statement, not a question, and House was pleased she was finally developing a spine, even if it was too late to do him any good. He didn't answer, though, just let the elevator doors close between them.
An hour later, Cameron walked into his office without knocking.
"Is he asking for me?" When Cameron shook her head, House turned away. "Then what are you doing here?"
"He woke up a few minutes ago. He has diminished vision in his left eye. The odds are it's just swelling, but until the swelling goes down..."
"What has that got to do with me?" House asked.
Cameron stared at him. "Nothing," she said finally. "Just thought you'd want to know."
House waited until she was nearly out the door. "Does Wilson know if his patient is safe?"
She paused. "I don't know. Has anyone even been in touch with her?"
House rolled his eyes. "Do I have to do everything?" he complained, though it was no-one's responsibility but his own. He had failed to keep Wilson safe. The least he could have done was confirm that his patient was safe.
He called Robert Wood Johnson and convinced the switchboard operator, who had no record of a patient named Christine Killian, to put him through to security. Security finally agreed to connect him to her room, after he explained in great detail who he was and what had happened. They wouldn't tell him what name she'd been admitted under. Not even Wilson knew that.
The phone rang five times before it was answered, and House imagined her starting at the unexpected sound, unsure whether or not to answer, and then finally overcome by curiosity.
"Hello?" Female, fragile, and frightened. Just Wilson's type.
"Mrs. Killian, I presume," House said.
There was a long pause and House checked the line to see if she'd hung up. "Who is this?" she asked finally.
House approved of the wariness in her voice. It was nice to know Wilson hadn't risked his life for a complete idiot. "Dr. Gregory House. I'm a colleague of Dr. Wilson."
"Is everything all right? Why isn't he calling himself?"
The note of hysteria in her voice was less impressive, and House regretted making the call. "Dr. Wilson had an emergency." It wasn't lying as long as he didn't have to elaborate on the nature of the emergency. "But he asked me to let you know that your husband won't be bothering you again. You're safe."
He grimaced when she started to cry. "Wilson will call you as soon as he's able. He'll explain everything then." He hung up and glared at Cameron, as if it were her fault he'd had to deal with emotions. "Go tell Wilson his damsel is distressed but fine."
"Why don't you tell him?" Cameron suggested.
"Because I need to burn the sound of weeping from my memory." He put in his earbuds and turned the volume up as high as he could stand. It nicely masked the sound of Cameron slamming the door.
House's office didn't have a couch, an oversight he'd never bothered to fix, because he had a perfectly good couch — and bed — at home. Wilson, however, was frequently unwelcome in his own home, or just between homes, so he had a very comfortable couch in his office. House broke in through the balcony and made himself at home.
He woke with a gasp from a dream about knives to the sound of someone pounding on Wilson's office door. It took a moment to remember where he was, the dream still so real that he thought the dampness on his cheek was blood. He wiped his face quickly, and then dry-swallowed a Vicodin before stumbling over to unlock the door.
Cuddy was standing on the other side, glaring at him. "Why aren't you answering your pages?" she snapped.
The easy answer was that he'd left his pager in his office, but he wasn't about to demean their relationship with something as tawdry as the truth. "Why aren't you stalking unsuspecting sperm donors?" he countered.
But Cuddy wasn't playing. She'd always had an unfortunate tendency to lose her sense of humour when one of her department heads was hospitalized. "You need to talk to Wilson."
"Why? Is he lonely? Are the nurses refusing to give him a sponge bath?"
"He wants to check himself out AMA."
House shrugged. "What do you want me to do about it?"
For a moment he thought Cuddy would stamp her foot in frustration. "I want you to do what you do best. I want you to go down there and browbeat him into staying until I clear him for release."
"Did he pass all the neuro checks?" House asked.
Cuddy nodded. "And his x-rays and CT scans are clear."
"Then there's no reason to keep him. If he wants to go home, let him go home." House didn't know why Cuddy was wasting his time. He wasn't Wilson's keeper. And if he was, he'd done a piss-poor job of it.
"He has a concussion and his home is a crime scene. Do you really think it's a good idea for him to go back there alone?"
House didn't think most of Wilson's decisions were rational, but that was no reason to trap him in a hospital room indefinitely, unless Cuddy was planning on admitting him to the psych ward. And while Wilson would clearly be safer there than on his own, it wasn't in his best interests to give Cuddy a precedent for involuntary commitments.
"He's not going home and he won't be alone," he told her. "I've cured my quota for the week. I'll take Wilson back to my place and handcuff him to the couch if I have to. I'll even take photos for you." The curing part wasn't entirely accurate, but the patient was responding to treatment so far. The candidates could keep an eye on things.
Besides, it was an excuse to get out of clinic duty even Cuddy wouldn't override. Wilson might not be pleased, but he'd forfeited his right to complain when he put himself in the middle of a domestic dispute that was — for once — not his own.
Cuddy, though, was smiling, and House realised she'd intended to make him baby-sit Wilson all along. "I'll start the paperwork," she said. "You can have the rest of the week off, as long as you keep in touch with those misguided fools who want to work for you. I'll even give you a pass on your clinic hours this week, as long as you actually take care of Wilson. No pranks."
That took all the fun out of rooming with Wilson. Without the practical jokes, House would have to listen to Wilson bitch about dirty dishes or laundry. Wilson wouldn't even be able to cook with a dislocated shoulder.
Cuddy accurately read the pout on his face. "I mean it. He needs to rest, not rush a fraternity."
"As if any self-respecting fraternity would take Wilson," House muttered. "Fine. But if I die of boredom, you'll have nobody to torture with clinic hours."
"I'll take that risk," Cuddy replied wryly. She paused. "Thank you for doing this," she said. "He shouldn't be alone." She shook her head, a long sweep of dark hair shadowing her face before she pushed it back. "What was he thinking?" She swallowed thickly and looked away, her eyes suspiciously bright.
"You're not going to cry, are you?" House demanded. "Because I've already had to deal with one hysterical woman and that's more than filled my quota."
"Two of my department heads — two of my friends — were hospitalized this week. I think I'm allowed to be upset," she replied, as she swiped at her eyes defiantly. "I know you're a self-destructive idiot, but Wilson... I don't know whether to hug him or hit him myself."
"Oh, god, don't hug him," House exclaimed. "I'm putting a restraining order on him. No women within 100 yards without strict supervision. Wilson is the Henry II of medicine. He could have conquered Europe, but he had women in his life."
"You're ridiculous," she said, but she was trying hard not to smile. "The two of you are like opposite sides of the same coin. You hurt yourself by pushing everybody away; he hurts himself by trying to save everybody. You deserve each other."
They both probably deserved better, but House didn't trust Wilson with anyone else. "I'm going to deserve a vacation after playing manservant to him all week," he grumbled. "How is he going to do the dishes with one hand?"
Cuddy rolled her eyes and turned to leave. "I'm sure you can manage to throw away the take-out containers all by yourself. I'll drop by later to make sure you haven't killed him with your peculiar brand of kindness."
"Bring porn," he shouted after her. "Or just wear that low-cut black silk blouse with a push-up bra. It's the same thing."
Wilson was sitting on the edge of the bed, frowning at a scrub shirt, when House walked into his room. He leaned against the door and watched as Wilson undid the sling and slipped the shirt over his right arm with a grunt of pain. Putting the sling back on proved more difficult, but he managed to adjust it properly on the third try.
"You're an idiot," House said.
Wilson blinked, or winked, as his left eye was covered with a patch. "Did it take you all night to come up with that line?"
House wasn't in the mood to banter. "Just a self-evident observation."
"Takes one to know one," Wilson replied, looking pointedly at the healing burn on House's hand.
Wilson was not going to make him feel guilty. He had no problem making Wilson feel guilty, however. "At least I had the decency to make sure you weren't the one to find me," he retorted. "You got blood all over my best t-shirt."
But Wilson didn't look guilty. In fact, House couldn't see any emotion at all, which worried him more than the visible wounds. Wilson had the most expressive face of anyone House knew. The expressions were sometimes misleading — particularly at the poker table — but they were always eloquent. Looking at Wilson now was like looking at his whiteboard after the symptoms had been erased, but without the satisfaction of getting the diagnosis right.
"I'm sorry," he said flatly. "But it's not like I planned this."
"Really?" House had come to a few conclusions after talking to the police. "You have a history of making insane sacrifices for other people. You had to know you were placing yourself in his sights once you removed her from them." And there it was. Just a tiny tell: a quick look to the left, and silence. "You hypocritical bastard," he snapped. "What right do you have lecturing me about my choices when you're offering yourself up as a punching bag to a wife beater?"
"You don't make choices," Wilson retorted. "You act on whatever whim catches your fancy, regardless of the consequences."
House ignored that. He'd heard variations of that lecture enough times to be able to repeat it by rote. "She wasn't going to press charges, was she?" He didn't wait for an answer. "But you knew his record. You knew that another arrest would mean jail time. Even a couple of years would be enough. You wanted him to go after you." When Wilson didn't deny it, he had to suppress the urge to throw his cane at Wilson's head. "You stupid son of a bitch! He had a knife. He could have killed you."
Wilson looked away, but not before House saw the first sign of emotion in his eyes, a glimmer of despair that unnerved him more than anything else that had happened over the past 24 hours. "Wilson?" he asked cautiously.
"I don't know," Wilson said dully.
"What don't you know?"
"I don't know why he stopped." He touched the patch over his left eye and shuddered. "I remember the knife, and I remember the pain, but I don't remember what I said." He looked up at House, the despair overwhelming now. "I must have told him where she was. Why else would he have stopped?"
House needed to cut off that trip down guilt highway quickly. "Don't be so pathetic," he snapped. "I talked to RWJ. You set up so many security precautions that you practically have to have a retinal scan to get into her room. And you don't even know what room she's in or what name she's under, so you couldn't have told him enough to find her. Which proves you knew this might happen." His stomach hollowed when he thought through the implications of that. He studied Wilson critically, cataloguing just how much abuse he'd taken. "Are you sulking because you don't think you held out long enough? What would have satisfied your sense of honour? Actually losing your eye? Both eyes? Or do you think you should have died before you told?"
Wilson didn't answer, which was an answer in itself. When he finally spoke, his voice was almost inaudible. "The last time I gave in, you nearly died. I promised myself I would never let that happen again."
House closed his eyes and wondered when Wilson would stop atoning for things that other people did. "Don't put this back on me," he said. "This is one mess that's not my fault." But he knew absolution couldn't come without forgiveness, and that was one of a legion of things he had never been able to give Wilson.
House managed to keep Wilson away from his office for the rest of the week, but only by loading him into the car and driving to Atlantic City. The eight miles between his apartment and the hospital were too short to avoid temptation, even if he confiscated Wilson's keys and wallet. But Wilson was far too responsible a department head to take a two-hour cab ride on the hospital's tab.
Besides, House was neither cruel enough to force Wilson to recover on his couch, nor generous enough to sleep there himself. He was generous enough to check into the hotel on his credit card — though he knew Wilson would feel obligated to split the bill on checkout.
Wilson regained full vision in his left eye on the second day and abandoned both the patch and the sling by the weekend. With his bruises and ribs carefully cloaked in loose clothing, the only outward sign of his physical ordeal was a nearly invisible line of stitches tracing beneath his eye. House had to admit that 39 was good with needlework.
The emotional recovery was harder to gauge. Wilson didn't speak the entire trip to Atlantic City, which was just fine with House, but when the silence lingered and Wilson turned in early to bed, House started to worry. But Wilson got up early the next morning and took a long walk down the Boardwalk. When he returned, he was back to his normal, if somewhat subdued, self. House was beginning to realize though, that even normal in Wilson was cause for concern.
When Wilson took another long walk the next morning, House made a phone call to the Princeton Borough police station and asked a few questions. He was waiting when Wilson walked into the room.
"You didn't tell."
Wilson didn't even pretend to act confused. "How do you know?"
"I called the police station and found a friendly cop. He checked Killian's statement. Bastard's plea bargaining. He claims he never meant to hurt you badly, just scare you. He left because he heard someone in the hallway and got spooked." He handed Wilson a coffee and watched him warm his hands against the heated porcelain. "No one would have blamed you if you had told," he said. "It would have been the smart thing to do."
"I would have blamed me," Wilson replied softly. He managed a real smile and reached into his jacket pocket. "I got us tickets for George Carlin on Saturday," he said, and the subject was dropped.
House had a hard time letting Wilson out of his sight, however, once they were back in Princeton and at work. He sequestered himself in his office, where he could watch the corridor and wander out onto the balcony every hour or so for a breath of fresh air and a covert check of Wilson's office. Even when Cameron — who seemed to think Wilson required a break from House-wrangling — convinced him to take on her latest ER freak, he ran his team remotely, uneasy out of earshot of Wilson for long.
Wilson tolerated his hovering with amused affection. "I don't need a guard dog," he said, as he joined House on the balcony for a late-afternoon coffee break.
"I beg to differ," House retorted, watching Wilson shift his right arm gingerly.
Late one night, when they were both drunk on casino highballs, Wilson had told House everything he remembered about the beating. Afterwards, he let House catalogue his injuries, matching each mark to each blow: the kick that cracked his ribs; the punch that left an imprint of knuckles above his navel; the shove that split the skin on the back of his skull. Wilson hadn't talked about the knife to his eye, but House still dreamed about it every night.
"Go on," Wilson said, pushing House gently towards his office. "You've got fellowship applicants to torture and ghosts to exorcise. That's a full day." He sighed when House planted his cane and refused to move. "What happened wasn't your fault. You're not responsible for me."
But Wilson was his responsibility, one of the few he took seriously. He had never been very good at keeping Wilson safe or keeping him happy, but he'd keep trying. He still had a chance to get it right. "It's Shark Week on Discovery Channel," he said. "Want to come over after work?"
Wilson smiled. "I'll cook fish."