Wilson took a long, low breath outside the door before he opened it and rubbed his temples. The inside of his head felt like a playground for a troupe of small but active monkeys. He could hear the low hum of music from behind the door. As he pushed the door in a few inches, it became clearer. It was a crackly old blues delivered by someone who chose to sing in incoherent barks and wails. Blind Someone Someone or Something Joe Someone. He'd never had much time for blues.

I wonder why they electrocute a man at the one o'clock hour of night
And I wonder why they electrocute a man at the one o'clock hour of night
Because the current is much stronger, when the folks has turned out all the lights

"House? It's Wilson," he said, slipping around the door and into the room.

House was sitting on the sofa with a half-full glass of milk between his knees and blood on his chin.

"What a treat."

"That burst lip really brings out the blue in your eyes. I'm going to get a cloth."

He left House on the sofa and headed into the kitchen. He found un unused dishcloth and soaked it in a trickle of warm water, feeling the pressure pound at the nape of his neck.

"You haven't got any aspirin, have you?" he called through. He heard House snort derisively. "Take it that's a no, then?"

He walked back into the living room and seated himself on the arm of the sofa. He didn't think, as he craned forward, that House would let him touch his face with the cloth, but he was wrong. Except for a flickering flinch of pain, House didn't recoil, didn't drive him off with sharp prohibitions. He seemed to be deep in thought, barely noticing that Wilson was dabbing the blood from his lip and chin.

"Stacy called me," Wilson said. House shrugged, then winced as he inadvertently pushed his chin into the cloth. Wilson frowned, tilted House's head upwards and them gently wiped at the luminous smears on the pale skin. "All she said was that she thought you might be hurt and would I check things were okay here."

House's lip curled slightly, as though he were preparing for another derisive snort, but nothing came of it.

"That's a nasty bruise coming up on –"

"My forehead?" House interrupted brusquely. "Yeah, I realise where it is on account of the throbbing."

"The skin isn't broken. How much does it hurt?"

"Somewhere between 'face being torn off by birds' and 'talking to you'."

Wilson folded the cloth over and continued cleaning up his friend's face. "Great. If you start to feel dizzy, et cetera, et cetera, all the medical stuff you already know."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Are you done yet?" House snapped, but his heart wasn't in it. If he hadn't known better, Wilson would have said there was a tremor in his voice.

"Almost. House," he paused a few seconds. "Did… did she do this to you?"

House lowered his head slightly and visibly snarled. Wilson knew that he would have jumped out the window if he thought it would get him out of answering.

"We had a fight. No –" he interjected before Wilson could say anything in response, "not the gloves-on, 'ding ding' kind. It was an accident."

"Did you…"

House jerked his head up suddenly, his eyes livid. "What? Did I smack her? Obviously that's the only fucking explanation, Wilson."

"Sorry. I know you'd never do anything like… I just… Well, what happened then?"

House took a long swallow of milk from the glass. "Nothing, for God's sake."

"Right," he raised a sardonic eyebrow. "You'd better not make a habit of doing nothing or you'll end up on life support."

House didn't seem to register this remark. He took another sip of the milk and lay the glass at his feet.

"Okay, I think we're done here," Wilson said finally, leaning back to observe his handiwork.

House stood up silently and bent over the record player on top of the piano. There were four or five sleeves fanned across the glossy wood, and House picked up one and put it on, blowing a fine layer of dust and carefully lowering it onto the turntable. They both waited in an oddly tense moment while the arm skipped softly over the first few seconds of silence. The first few bars sounded exactly like the previous record until the vocals kicked in. The voice was clear and light over the layered quiver and spring of slide guitar.

Some of these mornin's, gonna wake up crazy
Gonna grab my gun and kill my baby

"Well, there's no way she could have split your lip and bruised your forehead at the same time. I'm guessing … coffee table?"

"Right," House muttered, sinking back down on the sofa. "Excellent work, doctor. I told you she didn't do it anyway."

"She still seemed upset."

"Maybe she feels guilty because she's the one who made it so I fall down like a house of cards at the slightest shove."

"She pushed you?"

House gestured impatiently. "It wasn't… When she calls you later so you can gossip, she'll tell you that I was too close and she just reacted without thinking."

"Well, is that what happened?"

"She was looking for an excuse to take a swing anyway."

"House, you're supposed to have broken up three months ago and you're still having sex – how exactly did you picture this ending?"

"Well, if it makes you feel better, I think the sex is off the table now. Can you go get me a drink if you're sticking around?"

"I'll make some coffee," Wilson answered. He knew he wasn't getting anything more out of him. His headache had ebbed away to a hot, stupid feeling around his temples. Leaning against the kitchen counter, he could see House sitting very still on the sofa, black thoughts written on his face, his fingers moving slightly with the music.

Wilson listened to the kettle whistle and measured out the cheap store powder into a pair of chipped mugs, both of which came from a German nephrology conference. House blurred momentarily as the steam rose up and bubbled the pale kitchen wall before his eyes. The humid mist faded away and he poured out the stream of water.

"Thanks," House muttered, quickly gripping the proffered mug to hide the tremble of his hands.

"No problem."

Wilson stood up and walked to the window, looking out onto the night-time street with his mug between his hands. The yellow glare of streetlights covered the sidewalk in a thin gauze, making those few pedestrians shuffling along look like lumbering shadows. He cranked open the window a few inches to clear the dusty, close air of the apartment and headed back to the sofa.

House's posture was a little less tense now, his head leaning against the back of the couch, his eyes staring at the ceiling. The music merged with the whistles and clanks of the street below.

I'm feelin' worried in mind, and I'm tryin' to keep from cryin'

I'm feelin' worried in mind, and I'm tryin' to keep from cryin'

I am standin' in the sunshine, to keep from weakin' down

Keep from weakin' down

Wilson sat down wordlessly and pretended to read a magazine which was lying on the coffee table. House changed the record and retook his seat.

Nothing was happening, Wilson thought, and nothing was likely to happen. House certainly wasn't going to volunteer further information, and he wasn't going to press him for it. He'd had enough trouble tonight already. Wilson knew he might as well leave – House wouldn't be grateful if he did stay – but he also knew he was going to sit it out anyway.

They talked. It would have been impossible not to. They exchanged stinging remarks, assessed their co-workers' various extra-marital relations in detail and had an unusually long and involved reminiscence about discontinued makes of candy. As the shadows got longer and blacker and the noise outside faded, the gaps between conversations grew long and languid.

It was almost midnight, and Wilson was exhausted. The record player was still playing. House was sitting forward on the sofa, leaning on his knees and staring into space absently. Wilson opened his mouth to say something but ended up gaping in a yawn. He leant back into the surprisingly comfortable (or maybe he was just that tired) padding and let his eyes close. Soon, he was in a kind of dreamy limbo in which he vaguely wondered where he was and where the music was coming from. The sound got softer and lower, until he slipped away into sleep.

Big star fallin', mama t'aint long 'fo day,

Big star fallin', mama t'aint long 'fo day,

Rain or sunshine, drive these blues away

When Wilson jolted and opened his eyes, the black had turned to grey and the freshness of morning was in the air. He rubbed his face, feeling the cushion imprints on his face. Wilson looked down at his watch, squinting in the half-light. Five o'clock. He looked along the sofa at House, who was asleep, his head tilted full back and his mouth wide open. The marks on his face looked more severe in daylight. He looked as though he was in a deep slumber, but as the record player was still going he couldn't have been asleep long.

"Please tell me you're not watching me sleep."

Wilson started. House had said this without opening his eyes or giving any indication whatsoever that he was awake.

"Just debating whether you could fit an entire fist in your mouth."

House smiled crookedly.

"I better get going," Wilson said, standing up and stretching his arms out.

"You'd better. What will people say when you leave my place in the same clothes you came in last night?"

Wilson smiled now, and picked up his jacket. He made his way to the door and stopped. He looked back at House, who was still lying as though asleep.

"This record player must be about to explode. You want me to switch it off?"

House shook his head. "No," he mumbled thickly. "Not yet."

A/N - Lyrics are from the following songs respectively:

'Lectric Chair Blues – Blind Lemon Jefferson

Nobody's Dirty Business – Mississippi John Hurt

Sleepy Man Blues – Bukka White

Mama, T'aint Long 'Fo Day – Blind Willie McTell

The title comes from 'Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground' by Blind Willie Johnson