FORWARDS, BACKWARDS AND SOMEHOW ELSE

(Sequel to Forward in Reverse)

By: GeeLady

Summary: Wilson and House, present day. An exploration of what is and what might be. Pre-slash, slash, angst, and the things that transverse time and space.

Pairing: Wilson/House

Rated: M, NC-17, Mature, Adult.

Disclaimer: I own nothing. I see nothing. I hear nothing!

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EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME, SOUNDS THE SAME, TASTES THE SAME..

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House tucked his helmet under his left arm and tapped the curved brass handle of his cane on the white front door, forgoing the brass knocker.

Wilson answered wearing his Saturday morning red and white striped robe, black slippers and the newest addition to his wardrobe - a white bandage wrapped around his head.

"Fashionable." House said.

Wilson stepped back to allow House room to step into the foyer of his condo. It was a modern, tasteful abode with the three levels, a six burner stove and Jacuzzi bathtub.

"How's the head?" House tossed his helmet on a small shoe bench and hung his coat on the attached wood coat rack. Wilson's place was expensive and from revolving tie-rack to polished fire-place pokers sitting neatly beside a natural gas fireplace.

Wilson's hand automatically went to his bandage. "Still aches but no more hallucinations or dizziness."

House nodded and said "Good.", kicking off his shoes. Wilson was particularly anal about the new finish on his expensive wood floors. "Must have been a nice settlement." House said as he walked into the living room and plopped himself down into a comfortably over-stuffed brown chair, propping his bad leg on the matching ottoman. Wilson had added to his already expensive collection of furniture with a huge, new mahogany bookcase plus everything hutch. It glowed from a fresh oiling. House looked around. No dust and everything gleamed. Maid service.

Wilson followed him and sat down on the three cushioned brown couch. "The bus company practically begged me to take the money. Almost a hundred grand because they were stupid enough to let me be stupid enough to accidently walk in front of their bus."

"It's the American dream." House commented. Wilson looked pale but still a thousand times better than when he was lying on the hospital bed in ICU, in a coma, machines feeding him, watering him and taking away the left-overs. Nineteen days and Wilson's heart had slowed three times, stopped (and was re-started) once, and steadily lost weight.

House had broke the record for the number of times a person can fearfully hold their breath without passing out.

"Like a coffee or something?" Wilson asked.

"Sure." House answered and let Wilson get it ready. Despite the healing head injury, Wilson was still more mobile on his two good legs than he was with his bad one, which was aching far more than usual of late.

House called from the living room to the kitchen which, compared to his one bedroom apartment, was the next state over. "When are you going to stop being a lazy ass and come back to work?"

Wilson returned to the livingroom. The odor of perking coffee followed him. "Sorry, I've been a little busy trying not to die."

Sarcasm still intact. Check. House thought. Good sign. He shed his leather jacket, letting it fall to the floor beside his chair. Decal-ed across the front of his T-shirt (one he'd clearly had printed up) was: "My buddy died, went to heaven, came back and all he got me was this crappy T-shirt."

"Very cute." Wilson said. "You're...forty-eight, right?"

"Forty-nine."

Wilson just realized something. "I missed your birthday."

House was indifferent. "Well, probably something to do with being in a coma or the fact that I've never given a damn about my birthday."

Wilson nodded as expected. But House was lying. He did care, but only so far as Wilson was involved. Wilson invariably got him something or took him out for drinks. "Well, when the head's all better..."

House shrugged. "Sure."

House wasn't actually in a hurry to see his friend back at work too soon. But if Wilson thought he was needed there,...being needed was a moral boost. And moral was good for the healing. Wilson liked to be needed. He said he'd suffered a nightmare in the coma, though had flatly refused to talk about it and not wanting to talk was not like Wilson.

Almost dying could influence a person to think differently about life. Some sentimental types - and all one hundred eighty pounds of Wilson was one of those - came out of tragedies, the death of a loved one, accidents or even run-of-the-mill coma's viewing things and people as though they were all new. As though every day was a blessing or a gift from God. Foreman was prime example until House had straightened him out.

Shiny, happy people make lousy fellowships. Though they do sometimes make splendid best friends.

"I've a new case." House said.

Wilson, grateful for the distraction, "Yeah?" House sitting in his livingroom was...weird.

House was House. Greg had been Greg. And never the twain did meet.

But, Wilson kept having to remind himself, they were one and the same. He missed Greg terribly. House,...yes, he had missed House. And there he was, leg propped up going on about his new case, like nothing had ever happened between them. But then, nothing had. Wilson shook his head to dislodge the wasp's nest of thoughts. Everything and nothing made sense. Everything and nothing felt right.

He and House together in his house in the present, in the flesh, was...weird but shouldn't be.

Wilson felt caught between two worlds and, at the same instance, completely at home in neither. The world where he'd left his heart was gone forever because it had never been. And the one he had come back to, the real one, where his heart was encased in indecision and confusion, felt unreal. Ever since waking up, his mind had been grasping to find some sort of equilibrium. A level ground where he might find peace. Where he would belong in this new but old life of his, where House lived in his work, in his fridge, in his life, in his face.

In his living room House was talking. "Thirty-six year old female presented with elevated white count, pneumonia, swollen joints and a host of other weird symptoms that so far add up to several possible diseases, most fatal. So far, we've managed to make her a whole lot worse. If I don't make a diagnosis soon, prognosis is - she's going to die."

Come on, Wilson forget it. It wasn't real. "White count suggests infection, that would account for the pneumonia." Wilson ventured, happy with his performance of interest and fake contentment. "Or small cell lung cancer."

"And the joints?"

"Weak kidney function, could also be due to infection."

"But not lung cancer."

Wilson agreed with a nod. He was circling the level field of normalcy, at least intellectually. Even if it didn't really help, at least he could appreciate. Getting back to work -- the American cure for whatever ails you--work your ass off. "Underlying arthritis could account for the joint swelling."

"Negative for RH."

"Sedentary lifestyle can cause fluid retention. Or too much caffeine." Which reminded him. "Coffee's probably done." This time House followed Wilson into his kitchen and they poured coffee's. Wilson thickened his with a mountain of sugar and enough cream to make it almost white. He sat at the table.

House stirred in a touch of sugar and a not as much cream -- its appearance remained coffee-like. Leaning against the counter, House scratched his chin whiskers and popped a Vicodin.

Without thinking, "Still on those?" Wilson asked.

House threw him a puzzled look. ""Still"?"

"I mean, it seems like you were cutting down before I was..." Wilson felt House's eyes on him, "...hit by the bus." He finished idiotically.

"Stepping under a bus." House commented, a suspicious eye on Wilson's bandages, "clearly not a brain booster." House shook the little pill bottle absent-mindedly. "I grew tired," he said, "of worrying about being addicted to Vicodin. So I gave it up."

Wilson did a double-take. "But you just - isn't that...you gave up Vicodin?"

"Nope. Just worrying."

Wilson stood up, too quickly, a wave of pain added to the headache already nestled between his eyes. "More coffee?"

House shook his head. "Home." He moved with some difficulty. More than average for him. "Porn. Dinner. Beer. Sleep. Probably in that order."

"Leg okay?" Wilson asked, not failing to notice his slower and stiffer walk.

"Leg's super." He answered.

"Fine. Don't tell me." Despite the confusion of heart and his unsettled mind, Wilson was reluctant to have House leave so quickly. "Hey,...you could stay for dinner if you want. Pizza guy delivers to this neighborhood too. Better tips though."

House smirked. "Statistics show those with the least disposable income, tend to give the most to charity."

"I'll remember that next time a street bum delivers my pizza." Wilson tossed a thumb over his shoulder. "Seriously. I've got beer. And not that soda you drink. This stuff's imported."

House's eyes lit up. "Guinness?"

"Kilkenny, and you know you love me for it."

"Chilled glasses? Gotta have chilled glasses for Guinness." House sat back down.

"You're high maintenance, House." But Wilson was delighted his offer had been accepted. He didn't want to be alone tonight.

"I'm not the one who owns a hair dryer."

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HE KNOWS WHERE I AM.

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It took Wilson a couple of weeks to discover that this place and time, these people, were really his life. He did his best to settle back into his regular regime of cancer patients, lunches with House, jokes with House. He even partook in the occasional shouting match with House, a few of which - incredibly - he won.

Which was out-of-the-ordinary and he didn't understand why. What they fought over was nothing new. House's risks with patient safety or his aversion to treating people with anything above barely contained disdain. These things they had often fought over. But House had actually backed down once or twice.

Wilson muddled over it on his own. There was a time he would have discussed it with Cuddy to, if for no other reason, share the worry and get ease his mind a little. Maybe House was trying to go easy on him.

House was the House he remembered. Wilson was so deep in thought over it that a finger poked him in the back. "Hey Wilson, move on."

Wilson quickly moved forward in the cafeteria line, catching up to the nameless people in front. On his tray was a hamburger and coffee. He paid and found a table by himself near the windows.

He used to eat hamburgers with Greg.

Wilson bit into it but it tasted greasy and bitter in his mouth. Not like he "remembered".

"Hey." House plopped himself down in the chair across from him. Looked at Wilson's plate.

"Hamburger?" He said a little startled. "Joining the rest of North America at last?" House asked and bit into his own double cheeseburger. A mountain of steak fries waited their turn, smothered in ketchup.

Wilson suppressed a shudder. He played with his own burger, trying to look like he was enjoying it while studying House's face as the other man ate.

It was a handsome face but unaware of itself. Unconcerned about it's own attractiveness and uncaring about what people thought of it. Lined, older, a little more sour in it's expressions, seasoned with what life had thrown at it. Like Greg and unlike Greg. Wilson sighed and ate the awful hamburger.

And House watched Wilson, knowing Wilson had been studying him while trying to look like he hadn't been. Wilson had been doing a lot of that lately - staring then looking away - as though trying to see something more than what was before his eyes. They both had been doing it. Like two friends who'd hadn't seen each other for decades, trying to sort through the changes and locate those things they used to know.

Wilson ate his bitter hamburger and tried to let his mind be distracted by the lunch crowd.

House chewed a french fry and tried not to stare at Wilson. He'd really missed him.

Still did.

XXX

Quitting time came and went for House. A new case kept him after hours as long as he had the energy for it and his leg wasn't bothering him too badly. Though tonight it was getting bad again.

He popped two Vicodin and sipped some strong coffee. The patient was stable, but no better, and his fellowships had all gone home. The conference room was in darkness and only a small lamp illuminated House's desk.

Wilson walked by his office, not raising his eyes off the floor. No good-night nod through the glass doors even. Weird.

House was pretty sure Wilson wasn't mad at him about anything. He'd appeared both depressed and preoccupied. House limped to the door and looked down the hall after him.

When at the end of the hall Wilson turned right instead of left - the way to the main elevators - House grabbed his leather jacket, his cane and followed.

He kept to a good distance as Wilson took the lesser used staff elevator to the ground floor and slipped out a side employees only exit. It led to the park-area and the one road that bisected the huge grounds, residences and main hospital that made up Princeton Plainsborough.

Wilson walked to the bus top and sat down. Which was weird since House knew Wilson had driven his car in that morning. He saw a faint orange glow come to life near Wilson's mouth and that was weirder still.

House stepped out of the dark and into the light of the street lamp shining down on his friend on the bench. "You don't smoke." House said, making Wilson jump.

Wilson just sighed and went back to his cigarette, leaning his elbows on his knees. His body language said a lot. Wilson himself said nothing.

"Want one?"

House accepted a cigarette and lit it. He only smoked once in a while and only socially and then only cigars. He'd given cigarettes up during his fellowship years. No time or money.

They both sucked on their cigarette for a few minutes, enjoying the night air and the relative quiet. A few people walked across the grounds. A few waited farther down the street by the bus shelter.

House asked, "Everything okay?"

Wilson nodded but it was a lie. He knew House knew it was a lie too. He was aching for Greg. He would happily accept House if House was his to have, but he wasn't. "Not really." He admitted.

"What's up?"

Wilson tried to think up a plausible lie. He wanted to say: "I'm totally in love with...Greg House. And, yeah, that's you but not really you because he was a figment of a hallucination I had during which Greg and I lived together. For a year and half we fucked, swallowed each others tongues, made love and were as happy as two people could be in this stinking world. But that wasn't real--so they tell me. However, my feelings were, and are, real and you're real. So I'm feeling lonely and lost and I'm missing hallucination Greg so much I can't stand it. No, I'm not okay. I'm completely fucked and I can't do a goddamn thing to change it."

When he'd woken up in that hospital room, he'd felt a tidal wave of joy at seeing House's face. Gregory House was alive and that's the only thing he had wanted.

Then gradually he'd come to thoroughly understand that House wasn't Greg. Well, was and wasn't. Greg had been his lover. House was his friend. The more he saw House's face, the more he missed Greg's. And he had come to the bus bench to think about Greg. To imagine his face, dream about his smell and the way his skin felt when he laid on him at night. The way he looked after a thorough screw. So sexy and alluring. So young and free. So his.

Now here was House, Gregory House, sitting beside him on the bench in almost the exact same spot but House was so not the same. So just a friend. So older, bitter and...injured--and not just in his leg.

And so not his.

Unfair, evil fucking world.

Wilson choose a tiny portion of that silent confession. "I'm feeling a little lost I guess."

House nodded. "Wanna a get a beer?" He was a little surprised when Wilson shook his head no.

Instead, Wilson stood, gathered up his briefcase and coat and said "Gonna' go home." and walked away toward the employee parking lot.

Wilson did not dare look back. He did not dare acknowledge the feelings for House that he would like to. Feelings contrary and confusing. He loved and wanted Greg House (at least he thought he did) and he wanted nothing to do with him.

But being around House, even just sitting there on that bench with him, had caused a deep seated emotional and sexual aching in his mind and body. It was becoming harder each day to spend time with House without House being Greg. He didn't know what to do about it, but he had to do something soon or he would go crazy. Or, worse, he would slip up and spill the whole story.

Ironically that would probably solve his problem.

At his car he could see in the dark distance House limping painfully back toward the side entrance. His leg must be hurting a great deal for him to be moving so slowly.

Wilson felt a twinge of guilt that he hadn't taken up House's offer for a beer. A wave of unfamiliar pity for House washed over him, something he had never allowed before. Seeing House limp was all new again. It looked wrong on him. Greg had been so strong and mobile.

Wilson was overcome with a terrible sadness for House and for himself. At the thought of Greg, he choked up, his lover still so fresh in his mind. Still so acutely painful.

A thought occurred to him. One so unlike him that even he was surprised: If only he hadn't woken up.

XXX

"Differential diagnosis." House said to his team.

Thirteen, Kutner and Taub all had their eyes on their boss rather than the white board. They all offered their medical opinions, House had shot some down, wrote down others, added his own and barked out orders for the tests he wanted them to do.

They had gone, taken the samples needed, run the cultures and done the tests. Making sure their patient of four weeks was stable and comfortable, they had all returned to the conference room and sat watching House. Two weeks was thus far the longest House had gone without a diagnosis. Foreman was getting on edge. Cuddy had blossomed to downright nervous.

That morning House had limped in sloth-like, by-passed pouring himself a mug of coffee and sat down at his desk, immediately propping his leg up on the corner of it. Usually he tried to hide it if his leg was worse than usual. This morning he had rubbed it openly, grimacing.

Post differential Kutner and the others huddled to whisper about him when Doctor Foreman entered and hung his coat. He wore, as was his habit, a dark suit with white shirt and tie. He was fresh shaved and alert. Whenever House was absent, Foreman was the man in charge and for good reason. He was a clever neurologist who'd trained under House for three years and had now worked with him for just over six months.

He turned his dark, handsome face to the three with their heads together. "House gossiping I assume." He glanced into the office where House sat rubbing his thigh.

The three underlings offered their opinions of the House trouble.

Thirteen spoke. "He didn't even get a coffee. We did the differential, then he just went in there and sat down. We ran the tests." She explained to Foreman.

Taub was indifferent toward House other than appreciating the opportunity for a fellowship under the brilliant diagnostician, and was determined to prove himself.

Thirteen wasn't as confident as Taub, but knew she was at least as good at her job as Kutner, maybe better. She disliked House altogether and so wasn't afraid of him one bit. "He never talks about it." Referring to his leg.

"Don't ask him." Foreman advised. "He wouldn't tell you anyway."

Kutner looked over at his boss. "He's cranky. More than his usual cranky. Brat kid with his sling-shot taken away cranky." He was a smidgen worried because he liked House, sort of, though felt a little afraid of him too. Kutner also liked his job and was proud that he'd made one of the three spots. He'd already written his mother about it. She'd already sent him a gift and card full of praise. House suddenly becoming too sick to work would mean they wouldn't be working either. That would hugely suck.

Kutner rose and poured a coffee, stirring in cream and a half sugar. The way House drank it.

Foreman watched him. "That won't work."

Kutner looked around. "What? I'm getting him a coffee. His leg obviously hurts."

"It won't curry you any favor with him. Friend or employee, House treats everyone the same - like crap." Foreman said.

Kutner ignored the well meaning advice and delivered the coffee to House. They saw House eye him suspiciously but accept the cup.

"How's our patient?" Foreman asked. The team brought him up to date on her condition.

Foreman listened with half his attention on House sitting in his office, apparently momentarily unconcerned with his teams test results. With his leg up and his eyes closed, House appeared to have settled in for the day. Foreman walked through the doors, feeling three sets of curious eyes on his back. He went and drew the vertical blinds, giving House and himself the privacy to speak.

House opened his eyes when he heard the door open and followed Foreman's actions without commenting.

"Are you going to be of use today? " Foreman asked, not without sympathy. "Because if not, maybe you should go home. Rest the leg."

House didn't take his eyes off his thigh, but said, "My leg got more sleep last night than I did."

"House, when you're in pain, you don't always make sense."

"And when your making sense, you're always a pain. My leg is fine." As though to prove it, he eased it to the floor and stood, a little more hunched over than usual.

Foreman did not fail to note it. "Right." He said sarcastically, "Nothing wrong with you at all." He gave up the concern and turned away. "Fine."

House grabbed his cane and followed Foreman into the conference room. "Tests done? Results?" House asked the group.

They summed up what they had already told Foreman.

"Other than having all the signs of an infection," Taub said, "she has no infections."

"But now a fever." Thirteen added.

"And her white count's still up."

House looked over the symptoms on the white board, narrowing his eyes in thought. He was sweating and pale.

The group could see it for themselves. He looked bad. And he clearly had nothing more to say for the moment. House turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" Foreman asked.

"To think." He answered. He looked back, speaking specifically of Foreman, "Mind your mamma kids."

Foreman threw him a dirty look. "I'm going to call Chase and Cameron for a consult." He said to House's back.

House did turn around at that. But after a second, decided not to argue it. "Fine." He said. He had bigger legs to fry.

XXX

I DON'T HAVE TO GO TO DETROIT TO KNOW THAT IT SMELLS.

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House hobbled into Wilson's office. "Hi." He said. "I'm looking for a good doctor. You know any?" He sat down in the visitor's chair.

Wilson noted that, despite leaning heavily on his cane, House had been hobbling around as slowly as before. It was the second time in three days Wilson had seen House's tell-tale limp become almost a sideways lurch. "Yes." Wilson answered. "But he wouldn't help you. He hates people and is a total jerk." He gestured to House's inability to get comfortably settled in the chair. House had adopted a left-cheek one sided tilt. "So, are you going to tell me what's up with the leg or has Cuddy just chewed your ass off again?"

Wilson had poured himself into his job for the last few days. It had helped him to center himself, somewhat. He could act normal at least, if not feel normal.

"Leg's extra bitchy lately. It must be her time of the month." Since House had not denied it was a problem, it meant his leg really was worse. "Probably scar tissue. Maybe I ought to do an MRI..see how bad it is."

Wilson's heart skipped a beat. That House had freely mentioned MRI-ing the leg meant it really was hurting, and really a lot.

"Maybe an adjustment in your med's might help too." That wouldn't happen of course. Incredible, Wilson thought quizzically, how very much everything had stayed the same. Or returned to it's place. All pieces settling into their designated slots like figurines on a game board. All was just as before. House and his leg pain and popping Vicodin, and himself with his worry over the leg plus his silent bitching about House's over-use of the Vicodin.

Wilson was reminded of lines from a childhood story: "Return, return to the beginning. Go back, go back to yesterday. Today is tomorrow's past. So make it last, make it last..."

He was losing his mind for sure.

House nodded. "Right. As long as the adjustment is more pain killers and not less." He grimaced. "Gimme' a hand with the MRI?"

Wilson was worried, he realized. At least his mushy heart where House's health was concerned acted the same in both worlds. But not only that -- he was grateful to have something to do. "Of course."

XXX

House undressed and lay down on the MRI table. Wilson pushed House into the round, claustrophobia devise and then settled himself at the controls on the other side of the large window. He kept his eye on the screen. "Lay very still." He said needlessly into the mike. It would take about a half hour to MRI the whole thigh and for the computer to start spitting out an image on the screen before him.

"Tell me a story." House said from the booth, and Wilson smiled. This was a familiar part of their old routine. Their old, old routine. This mutual buddy-friendship was no where near the type of relationship he wanted, but it was a good light year from House being dead and not being around at all. He felt bad that he didn't feel better about that.

Wilson warmed, though, to House's playfulness, and spoke into the mike. "There once was this cantankerous old doctor named House-"

"-a lesbian story."

"Two cantankerous, old female orangutans..."

"Fine! Then talk about something that'll make this next mind numbing half hour go faster."

"Wanna' hear about my newest cancer case? She's-"

"-I said faster."

Wilson thought of a very pornographic story he could relate but House would be embarrassed since he was sort of the star. "It's good to be back." Wilson said. It had just popped out, and he wasn't sure how House might take it. And, despite his mixed up feelings of late and the loneliness, it was true.

"Just for the record, you didn't actually go anywhere." House cleared his throat. "Good to have you back. Touchy-feely moment over. Can we get back to the task at hand now?"

Well, that was okay. House hadn't even mocked him. so though he wasn't sharing bodily fluids with House, they were sharing lives again and Wilson would have to somehow be content with that. He felt suddenly more light-hearted, and younger, than he'd felt in the few weeks since he had awakened. Though the memories - or false memories - of nights spent under the covers with Greg, and then his terrible death, still hurt, they would, he hoped, eventually heal. Wilson felt, at least for the time being, for the moment at least, somewhere in the ball park of his old self. House was alive and for now that's all he ought to care about.

That's all he would care about. Yes. I've decided.

House hadn't said anything for a few minutes. "House? Are you asleep?"

"Of course I'm asleep. Who could stay awake on this nice, hard table?"

Life in the aftermath of delight and tragedy. Not so bad, really. Wilson assured himself that it would get better. Days, weeks, months,...soon years would go by and he would feel his old self and House would still be there. Maybe not they way he really wanted, but close. His friend, his buddy, a special person in his life.

Time heals all wounds.

Yes. Things were going to be okay.

A green flashing light told him the MRI was nearing completion. Still smiling at House's sarcasm - he would never again get tired of hearing it - Wilson took a look at the screen . At cursory glance, things inside House's thigh looked as usual.

Wilson squinted. Except...

Then he punched in a command for a closer view. Except for...

Using his sleeve he wiped a fine coating of dust from the screen.

Scar tissue build-up. That's all it was. Scar tissue is often denser than the healthy surrounding tissue.

"Well?" House asked from the inside the MRI unit.

Wilson didn't answer. The "except" was, had to be, scar tissue. After five years, not surprising. Only it didn't look quite right for scar tissue. Where it was didn't seem correct either. It's placement seemed to be associated with House's femoral nerve, where most of the damage was located. A large swelling almost, twice the diameter of the nerve below it. And, yes, denser.

Wilson went through it in his head. Scar tissue can build up on nerves, but rarely. Scar tissue requires no blood supply but does result from friction. Pseudo regeneration of cells can occur but thus far only in a laboratory setting. But nerves do have blood supply and thus could become...

Wilson got a hard graph of the screen and a print out of the MRI's interpretation of what Wilson's human eyes were seeing. The machine obeyed, producing in a few minutes an eleven by eight sheet of paper and a hard copy graph of his friend's thigh with the "except".

Wilson turned his face away from the interior room where House was climbing out of the MRI without waiting for Wilson to enter and help him.

"Hey..." House called, obviously puzzled by Wilson's delay. "Need a little help here." Came House's muffled, impatient request. "Where're my clothes?" He called again.

Wilson held the film in his hands. He could not be seeing what he thought he was seeing. Things had shifted again. Right. Things, the world, time, space, fate and him, had changed once more. A dream, a hallucination. He hoped to a contrary god in his nice, pain-free, peaceful heavenly zone it was all in his mind.

But not this.

Not what was laying in his slightly trembling hand, staring back at him with its coldly presented facts.

Wilson had an urge to look around to see if the world had changed shape. Only, of course, nothing had altered. House in his hospital gown was still the House he knew. The Diagnostician and friend. The MRI lab was still the MRI lab.

And he was still Wilson, in the here and now, holding a picture of things to come. A portrait of the future. Only not his future - indirectly. It was House's future and Wilson, not by mental telepathy or divination or even a turn of the cards, but by experience, knew exactly what it held for him.

Wilson knew because, despite his own mind trying to deny what he knew, he was the cancer specialist.

And he understood, right now at this moment, that he could not face House. Would not find the right words to tell him the news no one had ever even considered let alone expected. Not because House couldn't handle the news. He, Wilson, wasn't ready to.

The first stage of grief is denial.

Ignoring House's annoyed demand for his clothes and knowing a puzzled House was watching him leave, Wilson exited the MRI room as fast as he could. Outside in the hall, he leaned against the cool wall with one hand. His other hand shook while holding the graph up to the inferior hallway overhead lights.

Maybe in the last thirty seconds, something on the MRI might have changed. Maybe he was wrong. Perhaps he hadn't looked carefully enough. It wasn't possible that House had this. Terrible things can't happen to the same man again and again. It was hateful. It was unfair even in the endless unfairness of the world and her perverse sense of irony. It could not be.

Wilson walked away down the hall in no chosen direction, his feet moving of their own accord until he found himself on his office balcony, once more holding the graph up to the sunny sky, knowing he'd made a mistake in the MRI room. He had to have.

It was a smudge. It was a shadow. House had moved, his leg had spasm-ed. Something had produced that white, dense, elongated mark on the graph. He refused to accept the alternative.

Only, there was none.

Wilson crumpled up the piece of paper and pitched it over the balcony. It was a useless gesture, bringing no relief and changing nothing. Not caring who heard him and with balled fists he vented his outraged to a God he no longer believed in "You son-of-a-bitch!"

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PAIN MAKES US MAKE BAD DECISIONS. FEAR OF PAIN IS ALMOST AS BIG A MOTIVATOR.

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Cuddy did not look up as the door to her office swung open and a man entered. It had to be House. Everyone else knocked. "No you can't get out of your clinic hours tomorrow." She said without waiting for her visitor to speak.

When no answer was forthcoming, she finally raised her head.

Wilson had sat and was waiting very patiently. Well, not patiently. Morose would be more in tune to his body language. Cuddy pushed aside her stack of paperwork.

"What's the matter with you?"

Wilson was fingering an MRI graph in his left hand, stroking the edge of it with the fingers of his right like it was an old friend. His face was the color of chalk.

"This," He started. Stopped. Cleared his throat. "This is a MRI graph I took forty minutes ago of House's leg. There is a growth on his femoral nerve and it appears to be intruding into the surrounding muscle - what's left of it." He held the graph in both his hands for a few seconds, staring at it again himself. He felt hollow and weighted down. Then he handed it to her. "House has cancer."

Cuddy stared. Shook her head. Narrowed her eyes. "If this is some puerile joke you two have cooked up-" But she took the graph and held it up to the overhead lights.

Her face recognized the abnormality easily enough. For Wilson it confirmed the grim diagnosis he already knew was true. And now Cuddy knew it too and somehow, he hated her for it.

Wilson did not look at Cuddy but the corner of her desk as he revealed things he had said to no one yet. Not even House. "It is most likely a non-neurofibrosarcoma." He coughed. "A peripheral nerve sheath tumor." He continued before she had a chance to speak doubting words.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose. A subconscious effort to distract himself from news he wished did not have to be said. "From it's placement and density, I believe it's a solitary, sporadic schwannoma-type with possible involvement of the femur."

Cuddy licked her lips and took a deep breath to composed herself. "How could this possibly be?" She tried to mentally sort the facts that Wilson had clinically presented. Cuddy heard the words "cancer" and "House", saying them silently but not believing. Not agreeing. Not yet.

"Surely House would have noticed a change in his leg? Pressure, discomfort..?"

Wilson almost smiled from the irony. "The only symptom would have been pain."

Cuddy bit her lip. "Is it...do you think it's..?"

"We'll do an aspiration, get a sample..." Images flashed through his mind. Pictures, one after another, of his patients. So many. So many now dead. As the cancer had raged through their bodies, some had become virtual corpses before even breathing their last. He drove the horrific thoughts from his mind, not wanting to think that about Gregory House. Never, never...

"If it is,.." Wilson considered the "m" word but rejected it. Standing up, "I'll get started on the biopsy. Don't say anything to his team yet. House would raise a stink about it."

"Please tell me the results right away."

Wilson nodded and Cuddy watched him leave. Only then did she let the sadness come over her, but until they knew for certain it was real, she would not cry.

XXX

The moment he saw Wilson's strictly controlled features, House had guessed something on the MRI had been off. He'd had to gather up his clothes in the change room outside the MRI lab, angry at having to bare his ass in a public hallway to access it. What idiot architect would not put a connecting door from the change room to the MRI lab? Then he had gone Wilson hunting, finding him in his office scanning the graph with his oncologist's eye.

"I want to do a CT." Wilson said as soon as House entered and sat down.

So there was something there. "Why can't you just say what you already know it is?"

Wilson swallowed. "One MRI is hardly a diagnosis."

"Do a biopsy."

"We will. But you can't be sure it's anything more than scar tissue."

"Do the biopsy. Then we both won't not be sure."

XXX

House had reluctantly changed into a new drab-grey gown and lay still on the hospital bed. Wilson had admitted him to general ward. Not the cancer ward. We're not going there yet.

Wilson applied topical lidocaine to the appropriate spot on House's wasted right thigh muscle. "This will pinch." He warned him, and thrust the long aspiration needle quickly and deeply into House's thigh. It's tiny pinchers bit a fractional piece out of the mystery growth. House gasped a bit his lip. But Wilson efficiently withdrew it just as quickly. "Done."

Leaving House to rest propped up on his pillows, Wilson said, "I'll get this to the lab." He made a hasty exit.

XXX

The tiny piece of House's leg invader lay between slides under Wilson's trained eye, giving up their secrets. He stayed glued to the microscopes's eye-piece refusing to accept the possibility that the words malignant loomed on the horizon. Even though he knew it was in fact a probability, Wilson refused to consider it. Not yet. It was too soon. Too soon medically. Too soon for careful, measured, reasonable thinking.

Too soon for him. Wilson took a moment to study the slide. The lay of the cells, the growth patterns might be cancerous, but not conclusively. Wilson took a breath in and blew it out. He studied the numbers the scope had spit out. He read them again and then a third time. No doubt was left. His emotions threatened to spiral out of control and he had to sit down for a moment.

Wilson let his heart have its few seconds of disbelief and grieving rage. Then he returned to House's room and sat beside his bed, saying softly. "I have the results."

The quiet fear in his voice told House everything. "It's malignant." He said to Wilson.

Wilson nodded and read: "The...immuno-chemistry indicate that the tumor cells express vimentin, keratin, and epithelial membrane antigen. That tells us it is malignant."

House sighed. There was nothing to say.

XXX

Cuddy listened with a sinking heart as Wilson related the facts to her of House's condition.

"This type of neoplasm is common to soft tissue, although it's rare. And it's often deadly. When it does respond to treatment, there is still a high incidence of recurrence."

Cuddy was white. "Is there any part of this that might be good news, relatively speaking?"

Wilson cleared a painful throat and continued as though the question had not been asked. "And despite, to all intents and purposes, completely successful resections, in most cases, it metastasises." So, no, there is no good news about any of this.

Wilson flipped through House's file. He, Plainsborough's chief oncologist, had a file now on his best friend. A patient file for his closest friend's new and most deadly illness; Greg House's cancer. Within Wilson's specialty, House might become another statistic.

His face pale and quietly furious, "It is a devastating type of cancer and I wish to hell I'd caught it earlier." Wilson threw the file down on her desk.

Cuddy tried her soothing voice. "You couldn't have known."

"Oh, please." He said. "House has been telling us for over a year that his pain was getting worse. We listened politely." Wilson itemized, pacing in front of her. "We patronized him, we dismissed him and walked away, chalking his worsening pain up to narcotic resistance. It was his growing dependance on Vicodin, we told him - and ourselves. We said it was the alcohol. Or he needed PT, or more rest, cold compresses, hot compresses, he needed to relax more. Meditation - yeah! Go home, put your agonizing leg with the hole in it on a nice cushion and think about flowers and sunshine and happy children running up and down on green grass."

Wilson ran frustrated, regretful fingers through his hair. "The increased pain was all his fault - that's what we assumed. Not once did we act like doctors and consider that the pain, that his leg, was actually, really getting worse."

"You took an MRI.."

"That MRI was over two years ago."

"Beating ourselves up for what we didn't do isn't going to help. What treatment options are there? What can be done?"

Wilson rubbed his temple. "Radiation. Chemo',...I hesitate to suggest resection. I've only ever seen one that didn't metastasize within a year post surgery."

Cuddy sucked in a quick breath over that. Wilson was always so optimistic with his patients. So supportive and encouraging as to hope. But they were strangers. Temporary clients.

House was his best friend. Wilson would still hope. In his heart, he would hold out to the very last breath for House, that his friend would survive this. But that didn't mean his hope was rational and they both knew it. It just meant the hope was desperate.

Wilson stopped pacing and sat again. An image of young beautiful, lover Greg crossed his mind one moment, and then dead Greg the next. He remembered House pre-infarction, athletic and constantly active. He remembered House post-infarction, crippled, slowed down, in constant pain. Then the image of Greg's body beneath the bus. The blood, the death, the lover he acutely missed to this miserable moment. And he thought of House and the terrible thing that was growing in his leg. Death from without or within. It was still death and Fate was a rotten, mean, merciless whore.

Wilson rubbed his face to relieve the tension. It didn't work. Nothing would change any of this. Nothing would alter that he could not bear up to watching Gregory House die again. Not again. Greg or House - this man he adored in that time, the one in this place - House's coming to and end, was beyond his ability to survive. Wilson did not believe he could endure it and come out the other side sane.

Platitudes and hope got stuck in his throat. Other words escaped but only after great effort. Crawling weakly from his larynx, "I'm,..ahem,..I'm going to recommend Strong for treatment." He snatched a look at Cuddy and saw her puzzlement.

Cuddy frowned. "Strong?? At University Medical? Why?"

Wilson fidgeted and looked at his shoes. "I...can't be objective. House is my friend-"

"-He's a cancer patient here and you're our chief oncologist."

"Strong is excellent."

"You're better."

Wilson sighed, rested his hands on his square hips. "It would be ethically unsound for me to treat a friend. Objectivity is a must..."

Cuddy stood and walked around her desk to face him. "Not with you it isn't. It never has been. You lived with a cancer patient."

"I knew she was dying. I-"

Cuddy saw he was having difficulty with this. Great difficulty. It was House. Wilson cared deeply about House. Maybe Wilson was right. Maybe he wasn't the best doctor in this case. But, "What if House refuses Strong? What if he wants you?"

"I'll have to say no." Wilson rubbed his face, shook his head. Turned dark, turmoil-ed eyes to his boss. "House might ask for me, but he'll also understand my answer. He'll agree. I can't treat him."

Then he said something he was pretty sure he didn't believe. "House will be fine without me."

"Forgive me but you didn't see him." Cuddy said to her underling.

While she elaborated, Wilson rubbed the back of his neck and tried to concentrate on feeling right about his decision. He sat down again.

"House was a mess when he thought you were dying." Cuddy gestured at the center of his chest. "Your heart stopped. Your brain activity nearly flat-lined" When Wilson said nothing, "He was a ghost walking through these halls, Wilson. I don't think you understand how important you are to him."

Defending himself, "He's important to me too."

"Then go tell him that. House has cancer. He's sick. He's going to need you."

Wilson felt the water in his eyes wanting to trail down the sides of his face. He held them back. "There are things you don't understand..about this."

"Then acquaint me with them."

Wilson told her a condensed version of his hallucinatory alternate life.

Cuddy listened patiently but, "It wasn't real." She exclaimed

The reaction he expected. "It felt real. It still does."

Cuddy tried to sort through Wilson's irrational justification for his actions. She couldn't. "So you regret the "relationship"," she spoke the word in quotes, "you had with...him. Because you watched him die, you don't want to help our real House stay alive?"

"Of course I want to. I can't!" Even to his own ears it sounded lame and cowardly. But he also knew the idea of House dying terrified him. He just wasn't sure he'd live through it himself.

Cuddy was not convinced. "So, it's okay if House dies. It's just not okay if you have to watch."

"It's not "okay"!" Maybe no one could really understand what it is he'd had, had felt with Greg. Even though it had not been real. He shouted the next thought, "It was as powerful, maybe more so, than what I feel for House now. Here in...reality!" He begged Cuddy to understand. See it. He told her silently. Get it.

Cuddy words broke through the images racing across his vision. "It was a dream." She said.

And he answered the same as before, defeated. Deflated."But it felt real." For him, in each of the cells of his body, it had been real, through and through. God, he even remembered the way Greg sweated, the texture of his skin, the rumblings of his digestive tract against his own lips when he kissed Greg's stomach. The smell of his fleshly showered skin or semen. The alcohol on his breath, each and every soft hair on his head and body. Every fucking part Wilson remembered in every sense as though it had been last night. As though Greg were waiting for him at home.

He wanted that again. He wanted Greg.

But to them it would never be seen as anything other than a hallucination. They would never comprehend the impact -- the imprint of that life once lived on his hopes and dreams now. What he wished for in life. How he had been changed. Profoundly. Forever.

Cuddy -- no one -- could ever see the changes. They would never feel and taste the shifting of his consciousness. He, Wilson, was not the same person. When he had awoken, he had thought he was, for a time. But each day the chasm between himself and the man who had lived and loved Greg were drifting so far apart, they were becoming strangers to each other. Never would be brought together again. There were two Wilson's, as there were two Greg's. His Greg had died, and he, some horrible fucking how, had brought the other Wilson with him. Had become him.

The Wilson from before, who ate Chinese food with House and wrote his prescriptions, bailed his ass out of jail, nearly saw him kill himself with pills and booze; that Wilson was fading like an old stain.

There was only one more thing, useless words of course, to try and make her understand. "I loved Greg." He could not meet her eyes. She and this life they were occupying, were as ghostly as the old Wilson was becoming.

"So in turn, you love House." She finished.

Wilson nodded. Yes he did. Perhaps not as he had loved Greg, but enough. Enough to make the concept of his death cut almost as deeply. Bloody his heart almost as red as the pool under the bus.

Greg House in the here and now was probably going to die. House himself would agree. Even the numbers fit. "I can't watch him die again." Wilson was miserable. "I just can't."

Cuddy nodded. She felt bad for Wilson, and tried to understand and sympathize, really. But House was her priority. He was the one in extreme need, and it would only get worse for him. She played her last card. "And what if he lives?"

Wilson stared at her. He had considered that of course. He could spend six months or a year not treating House, not seeing him much, leaving his therapy to other physicians and then House might survive it. He might come out all right. A one in ten chance but possible.

How would he feel knowing he had abandoned House? How would House feel? Could he even face House again? Re-start the friendship - if it could be salvaged at all?

Wilson tried not to, but he very quietly, in his boss's office, started to cry silently. Right there in front of Cuddy. He had run out of words.

XXX

"House." Cuddy found him where he'd been for days. In the hallway outside ICU. Wilson had been in a coma for eleven days and showed no signs of coming out of it. Cuddy knew the longer he was in it, the less likely he would ever wake up. House knew it too.

House looked at her briefly before his eyes drifted back to the ICU main double doors. Occasionally one swung open and a doctor or nurse passed through going in one direction or the other.

House knew why she was there and spoke before she had a chance to ask the question. "My patient is stable." He said. "We have her on broad spectrum anti-biotic's."

"And what is your team doing to advance her treatment while you're loitering here?"

"Everything I told them to do. Continue with the cultures. Monitor her condition until we come up with something that makes sense."

"What do you think it might be?" She asked.

House didn't take his eyes off the ICU doors. "It might be cancer, or an unknown infectious agent or alien possession, but every test shows it's not any of those."

Cuddy watched him watch the door. "You can't do anything for Wilson that they are not already doing."

"I know. But as long as the only thing I can do is think, I can think here as easily as in my office or the lab."

Cuddy could see the worry he was trying to hide. To anyone else he looked as usual -- scowly and in pain. To her who knew him almost as well as Wilson did, he was a mess.

"He's developed some menages swelling." He told her.

Cuddy reached out and touched his arm. "I know."

"At this stage, that's bad."

"Yes."

House leaned against the wall and gripped his cane. White knuckled, eyes almost never looking anywhere but the ICU entrance, his facial whiskers were threatening to turn from a shadow into a beard. The shadows beneath his eyes and the extra wrinkled clothes said he had not gone home for days. House was about as close to falling apart as she'd ever seen him.

"Wilson's going to be all right."

House didn't accept the easy platitude as she knew he wouldn't. But she had nothing else to offer.

"The numbers say you're wrong."

He wanted to hope Cuddy thought, but his pessimistic nature didn't allow it. "Your patient's been here six days. She's no better."

"She's no worse."

"I want you to go home and get some sleep. Some real sleep. That's not a suggestion. You're no good to your patient or Wilson if you're too tired to think."

Without another word, House reluctantly pushed himself off the wall and limped down the hall. He moved very stiffly.

Ten hours later another crises in the ICU brought House back to the hospital. Wilson's vitals were crashing.

House made himself a nuisance and refused to leave Wilson's bedside when ordered to by the attending.

Cuddy intervened and spoke to the irritated physician, issuing two words. "House stays."

They managed to stabilize Wilson's vitals and again House took up his watch over his friend.

Cameron came on shift, not surprised to find him there or to hear about his refusal to leave. She couldn't recall a time when Wilson had suffered so much as a cold.

And here he was most likely, dying. No one had ever witnessed House in this state. Wilson seemed a staple to House's well being. The pivotal man. The pillar and support of the insane genius. They all knew it.

The only one who had not recognized the crucial place Wilson played in House's life was House.

Until now. House was riding the ragged edge of disaster. He was one intake of oxygen, one mechanical heart beat from losing his best friend. His only friend. The look of hopelessness behind his carefully controlled mask was frightening.

Cameron wanted to comfort him, but of course he would not have allowed it. She moved in and out of ICU, monitoring Wilson's O2, heart-rate and fluid levels, stepping around House without asking him to move. Changing the urinary bags, the IV's and House stayed right where he was, on a stool beside Wilson, sometimes looking at him, sometimes staring at nothing.

She brought him a coffee and he actually looked up at her gratefully. That in itself said a book about his state of mind. He was vulnerable and scared. Even two years ago, the threat of jail had not shaken loose his dismissive attitude toward his own future. But Wilson's toe-on-the-line from death had stripped House of all lassitude. He was naked of soul. Terrified.

Cameron knew from her work in Emergency and now here in ICU that in such situations, naked and fearful were norms. Here indifference was a foreign concept. There may as well have been a sign hanging above the entry that read: "This Is The Last Day of The Rest of Your Life.".

After four days of cat-napping in his office and his patient no better off, Cuddy ordered House off the case and home to his bed. She awarded Foreman temporary control of the fellowships and the patient's treatment.

Wilson's brain activity worsened a day after Cuddy had sent House home. It was usually the last stage before the brain waves flattened out and brain death was announced. Cuddy called House with the bad news. He listened impassively, said thanks and hung up.

House spent the next hour drinking half a bottle of bourbon and, for the first time in nearly ten years, weeping.

XXX

In her office, before her confusing employee, Cuddy clasped her hands. She could not make Wilson treat House's cancer. And she didn't agree with his reason why, or even understand it. But she had no choice. "I'll inform his team." She offered.

"Thanks." Wilson turned to go. "And I'll let Cameron know. She'd want to know."

XX

Cameron, for a brief few seconds, also thought it might be a joke. But Wilson's face instantly convinced her otherwise. "Oh my god." She said quietly. "What kind of cancer?"

Wilson condensed the details but told her enough that she'd recognize the seriousness of it. "I saw him a couple days ago." She said. "He was limping worse than usual, but I've seen that before, there was no reason to think-"

"I know." Wilson said and quickly added, "He'll be seeing Strong for his therapy."

Cameron reacted exactly as Cuddy had, but she was far more blunt. "Why not you?"

"I couldn't be objective."

Cameron cut to the chase, and to the bone, "House is going to need you."

Wilson turned away. "I know. But I can't." The thought crossed his mind again. If only I'd stayed in the coma.

"I can't believe this. Or you." Cameron said.

Wilson almost couldn't either. A few hours ago he was happy - getting happier - and now all he could think of doing was getting as far away from House as possible. Cameron didn't understand. Cuddy didn't. Probably no one would, and he couldn't explain why.

Neither could he tell House. He would have to lie some more. Wilson's heart ached and his mind screamed for relief.

Then he said, "I wish things were different."

That at least was the pure, unadulterated truth.

XXXXXXXXXX

To be continued...

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