They find Wilson there in the morning, kneeling on the carpet, squeezing one of House's hands between both his own. He's crying. At least, that's what they think at first. Then they realize tears are pouring down Wilson's cheeks partly because he's failed to blink for god knows how long, is just sitting there staring vacantly, like a corpse.

But it's obvious to the paramedics that Wilson isn't the real corpse; the real corpse is lying on the couch with its eyes closed peacefully and an ipod still piping music into its dead ears.

They pull Wilson off. The man is obviously unbalanced, they think, and he needs help. It's too late for the other one, way too late. No pulse, no breathing, icy cold to the touch.

Wilson's been kneeling there for ten hours now. He's freezing too, they mutter to each other. His vitals are crap. He doesn't seem to understand what's going on around him. Somebody lies him down, they're moving him, he finally passes all the way out.

When he wakes up, he knows immediately by the smell and the beeping that he's in a hospital.

He opens his eyes slowly and looks around… almost as if he expects House to be sitting there watching him, the way he always is. The way he's supposed to be.

But no. It's just Cuddy. Her eyes are red and swollen.

Wilson knows he broke down sometime during the night. Maybe some of what he remembers is… "How-" He clears his throat, tries again. "How is he?"

Cuddy shakes her head, and they sit in silence for a while. "He knew what he was doing," she says at last. "The ME says he was calm and comfortable at the end. They figure time of death was around 10PM."

Death. Someone's said it. Wilson feels everything drain out of him all at once. He suddenly can't even summon the will to keep his eyes open. He hears Cuddy's chair shift, feels a hand on his shoulder. She whispers "I'm sorry," and leaves him alone.

The next time he wakes, he can hear House's voice ringing clear and sharp in his head: Oh, give it a rest! Man up and get the hell out of bed.

"Okay," he whispers aloud. On the one hand he knows it's not really House he hears, but he's getting up anyway because how pissed would House be to know that he'd lost all his power already?

He moves to pull the covers back. His fingers are all cramped and stiff, but he's glad of it. As long as they won't uncurl, he can still feel House's hand between his. Which means what? House is telling him ruthlessly. Your friend's dead. Deal with it.

"I am. I know." Boy, did he ever. The sight of the meds laid out on the coffee table, the empty vials, bottles, syringe. The trusty Maker's Mark, nearly half gone. And just a hint of weed in the air. (Why not? I had a joint lying around… couldn't take it with me.) And the body… Wilson knew even before he reached for the pulse. He felt the wrist, then moved to the neck and then the groin. As if somehow there could still be life there, hiding from him. I always knew you wanted to get in my pants.

"Stop," Wilson says, choking on the word. "Not now. I've just-... Don't tease me. Please."

House huffs inside him. Fine.

It's amazing how real, how vivid the voice is. Especially considering he's been hearing less and less of it lately.

"It was just a rough patch," he whispers to himself. He's been telling himself that a lot this winter. They'd get better. They'd be okay – they were always okay. Sure, House was a little withdrawn when he got back from rehab… but hey, give it time. Time for House to cool down and admit that the deal was a necessary evil, time for Wilson to convince himself that his best friend really does prefer him to a handful of pills, even if he'll never admit it…

They hadn't had a real conversation in weeks. What was the last thing House said to him? Was there some clue he should have noticed… or worse, some cry for help he unwittingly ignored? No, House had poked his head in yesterday, jubilant as always now that he had the answer, and announced: "Neurosyphilis. Yes – I am that good."

That hardly counted. What was the last real thing House said to him? Are we going to play this game for the rest of your life, Jimmy? House speaks up impatiently in his head. When's the last time House drank a slurpee, what's the last thing he said about Cuddy's rack, when's-"

Wilson bows his head and pleads: "Don't do this… I need you."

House, of course, being dead, can't help him.

So he closes his eyes and tries to bring up the image of his friend's face, not alight with mischief or drawn in pain… or closed-off the way it's been lately. He just wants to see, just for one second, that House can need him, can maybe even care about him a little. He needs to see the guard down. Just for a second.

He has it, finally. House in the lobby of the hospital, turning to him, for one moment hiding nothing. The nausea's bad this time, is what he's saying.

Wilson's stomach twists. He grasps for something else, something better. Maybe I don't want to push this til it breaks. There – that's something. Not much, not when it calls to mind all the accusations that preceded it… but it's something.

Oh, boy, House thinks at him. Shut up already. Go look at the body, go cry over it if you need to, and then get on with your life.

Wilson decides not to go look at the body. He's seen enough of it. A whole night's worth, in fact, sitting there letting House's fingers leech the warmth from his... refusing to notice how cold they were becoming. He went over there at eleven. Time of death was apparently ten. If he'd been just an hour earlier…

Yeah? You would have what?

All of a sudden the smell of Christmas Eve washes over him. The booze and vomit, House lying there stoned to high heaven and hardly breathing…

Wilson's stomach is churning and he feels very cold. Wallowing in the tragedy of having been just too late… that was one thing. But now he's being denied even that tiny, weak comfort. He can't even cry and say: if only I could do it over, if only I could have a second chance. Because he did have a second chance. This was his second chance, and he blew it. Again.

House needed help, he'd been at the end of his rope for so long now and all he would've needed was a simple- "No," Wilson whispers, trying to block out the horrifying truth. "It wasn't like that."

Actually, it was, House admits to him quietly. You know you've done better by me than anybody else in my life, ever… but yeah, this time you dropped the ball.

"I…"

It's okay. Watching out for me should have been my job, not yours. Now go see the damn body, would you?

"No." It was easier to pretend House was still with him when he didn't actually have to see

You need closure.

"I don't want closure." Closure meant shutting House out, forgetting him, getting on with life. Getting on with what, exactly? These last two months had been empty. Just the marking of time until the ice thawed and he could get his best friend back.

You need it. Jimmy…

"Don't say it – don't say goodbye" Wilson says out loud, fiercely.

I had to do it. I'm sorry it has to be bad for you.

Wilson can feel one of those moments unfolding, the ones that make him uncomfortable because much as he craves seeing House vulnerable, he never knows what to do with him then and always manages to hurt him somehow. But he's determined to get it right this time. He won't mock, he won't lie. He'll be as honest and caring as he knows how. "Please," he whispers. One more chance to do it right.

He can hear House fidgeting. You did matter to me. You do. I want you to know that. There's a pause after that, and Wilson wants to explode and demand to hear how the fuck House could do this to him if he mattered at all. But just in time he remembers that he's out of chances, that he promised to try and be understanding, and that if he says something harsh now he will probably never forgive himself for it.

The silence stretches on and Wilson wonders if that's the last thing he'll ever hear - or think he hears - from his best friend. But then House's voice plays one more time:

Check the morphine box on top of my bookcase. I left you a goodbye.

"House…? Seriously?"

The first thing Wilson does when he leaves the hospital is fetch that box.


End of part 1.

Originally I intended this to be the end, leaving everybody free to decide what Wilson finds in the box… if he even dares to open it.

But then I decided: to hell with that. The second half is a downer, and I'm posting it anyway. Expect it later today or tomorrow. And in the meantime, let me know what you think of part one!