Author's Note: The characters in this story belong to David Shore and company. The fic is rated M for sexual situations between House and Wilson. "Palliative Care" was begun before Season 4's "It's a Wonderful Lie" and when I started it again, I decided to stick to the Christmas theme. So here's a belated wintry tale.
He's sitting at his piano, fingers splayed on the ivories, but he can't find the energy to decide on a melody, let alone depress the keys. He's staring out the window, at the season's first snow. Wondering how bad it will be (and Wilson's voice nags in his ear – you should have checked the reports. Local on the 8s. Don't play games with this sort of thing). Wondering if he should get his bike ready for hibernation. Wondering.
He swings his leg over the bench, twisting so he can stare outside. It's only a dusting, so far, but he doesn't have to turn on the Weather Channel to know that it's fucking freezing outside. By morning, the ground will be frozen. He remembers last winter, even though he wishes he could forget. There are years of life he wishes he could…he remembers last winter and the way he drunkenly threw his ice grip into the river and then sat on the bank until a cab came to take his crippled ass home. But he doesn't care. He imagines walking down the front steps, slipping, breaking. He doesn't care.
Closing the blinds, he moves back into the living room, away from the cold seeping through the window and cracks. He sits on the couch, turns on the TV, and glares at the phone.
His mother had called that evening. He wonders if she called Wilson, first.
"Your father's tumor…it's grown, again. That's what's causing all the pain. We thought, because his leg was hurting so much, that it was what you…but no, it's the cancer. The doctor said there was some lymph involvement? At the base of the lungs, now, too? He starts radiation soon."
"Tell him I don't want him looking at my file!" he heard his father shout. "I know how he treats his patients."
You don't know a fucking thing about me, he'd wanted to snarl. Instead, he told his mother he was sure everything would be fine. Then he hung up. She always knew when he was lying.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is playing on the television. He remembers when it first aired, all those years ago. Sitting with his mom on the stiff sofa, frowning at the sight of the world's most pathetic Christmas tree. Wishing they had one, too. But his father had been reassigned and they were moving to Egypt in three days. He remembers crying in his bed, that night, because he didn't want to leave his friends, to miss the base's holiday party, to live in the desert and have no snow for Christmas. He remembers his father coming into his bedroom, sitting at the foot of his bed, resting his enormous hand on top of the blankets covering his feet and just giving a light squeeze. He didn't say anything. Couldn't say he was sorry, because that would be dishonest. And wouldn't say that he wasn't doing this to punish him.
He goes to bed early that night, dreams a dream he won't remember, and wakes to a muscle cramp that has him whimpering into his pillow.
A scalding bath helps, and two cups of coffee and a poptart later, he's out the door, squinting against the glare of the white expanse of snow.
Years ago, Wilson would have just shown up and offered him a ride on a day like this. He had broken him of that habit eventually, making the man call instead of assuming that he needed his help. But Wilson hasn't gone out of his way to offer him anything since…when? He thinks it was the day before he faked cancer.
There was that word again, and suddenly he remembers that he doesn't care that he has no ice grip on his cane and he doesn't care that his balance is for shit without traction and he doesn't care that no one has salted the stairs or even the sidewalk. He takes a step, feels his knee twist, hears the crack of dislocation and the ground rushing up to meet him, and smells the snow and blood pooling around his nostrils before he lets himself just curl away from it all.
He was gasping something, moaning it, that something, and there was need, and House would have whispered, or rasped, his return – yeah, I need it. Need you…just there – always covering for his own honesty by giving another sort of truth, but when he leaned in closer, to lick at the sweat on Wilson's throat (and he remembers farms in so many states and so many countries and the way he'd nibble on salt licks to fill the absence of french fries and Spam, of all things), he heard what Wilson was really saying. "God, I needed you."
"What?" slipped out, as he slipped out, but he kept running his fingertips over hips (less defined these days) and kept rubbing himself against the dampening curls of Wilson's inner thigh, pretending he was pausing for, what, effect? Affect.
"Hmm?" was the answer. Like that use of past tense was a slip of the tongue. "Ready?"
And he lost it. (And this wasn't losing it like the night when Wilson first talked dirty – the sound of "suck" still pinging around his skull – and he'd had no choice but to fuck him until both their throats bled. And this wasn't losing it like that morning when Wilson's ass had made the most embarrassing and horrific sound mid-proceedings and, after exactly two seconds of strained – or was it stunned? – silence, they'd called it a day because neither could move after laughing like eight-year-olds for eight gut-busting minutes. And this wasn't losing itlike the countless days when pain and drugs and age joined forces and said Seriously? An erection, at your age? We thought you were all about the logic.)
At least, he was determined this loss wouldn't be like that last one, all anger and embarrassment and no way of knowing who, of the two of them, was feeling which more keenly.
Before Wilson could stop him, House had pulled away, sat back, rearranged, set himself down on Wilson's cock in one fell swoop, and understood, really understood, what the word keen meant.
Despite its overexposure in "pornographic literature" (which was all he had growing up, too shit-scared of his mother finding nudie pictures while packing up house for the umpteenth time), you don't often hear keening in the bedroom, even in the middle of a good hard fuck. A keen is an expression of grief. One that House was trying to swallow, and once he was sure he could open his mouth without screaming, he did.
"Shut up," he gasped, and then added a sharp stop as Wilson persisted in trying to, what? Lift him up off of him with his two sweaty, weak-willed hands?
"Are you insane?" he was screeching (and that was a sound House was familiar with). "You… y-you didn't even use lube!"
"No condom either, so I hope you haven't been up to your usual standards since the last time we went bareback."
"House…why - ?"
"Shut up," was all he could give as an answer. Couldn't very well say a slip of your tongue made me lose my hard on. As oxymoronic as that sounds. Couldn't say that and still give Wilson what he wanted (and though House may not understand everything about Wilson's many needs, he does know that an orgasm is always at the top of his list of wants). "My calf is starting to cramp," he added, because it was. He'd been on his knees for too long. "I'm gonna turn around and you're gonna fuck me until you come. Right?"
House had Wilson better trained than to argue with that. And, with an exasperated "your wish is my command," he hoped he was hearing at least some sort of fulfillment, some small measure of appreciation for the effort to redress so many deficits he'd accumulated over the years, not to mention whatever particular failure Wilson had been thinking of when he'd moaned I needed you.
When House opens his eyes, he's not feeling the heart-stuttering pain in his leg, not smelling the crimson and metal and soil of the blood-soaked snow separating his face from the pavement, not hearing the murmurs of the postman who'd called an ambulance and don't worry, buddy, help is on the way. He's not tasting the sweat from a man in a dream of a time that he's not remembering. When House opens his eyes, he's cataloguing injuries, assessing the damage, bored by such a mundane thing as slip and fall and crippled crippled crippled.
He does the ddx himself, runs the tests in his head, could do this sort of doctoring with one hand behind his back. Or face-down in the snow, scalp laceration, bloodied nose, possible concussion, broken cane, broken body, no, no, just a lot of pain and blood and a knee shot to hell. Maybe relocate on its own, get X-ray, arteriogram (blood flow looks fine), check numbness (nerve damage), splint, orthopedist after swelling goes down (breaks in knees possible, always torn ligaments, may need surgery for damage to popliteal artery – angiogram), 3 weeks on crutches (maybe wheelchair), elevated, chronic pain in 46 of cases (ha), more serious - torn the anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, lateral collateral, lateral arcuate, lateral coroner ligaments, and the ilio-tibial band.
He tries to sit up, vaguely resentful when the postman puts his hand on his shoulder, his elbow, suggests that he stay still. "You a doctor?" House asks, but it sounds too faint, too wet, and he gives up speaking his mind. He braces himself for the pain and then rolls onto his back, swallowing mouthfuls of icy air as he struggles not to pass out. Again. "You got a phone?" he asks, because he can't remember watching the man call for an ambulance only minutes ago.
"Sure," is the answer, and House wonders how long it will be before cell phones outnumber humans in New Jersey. And he wonders why his brain works this way, when the straight line from A to B would be so much easier on days like today.
"Don't yell," is the first thing he says when Wilson answers his phone.
"What did you do?" is the only thing Wilson can say.
"Nothing. Hangover. I'm on my way in but wanted a chat." He can see the postman looking at his watch, tallying the minutes, regretting his choice of calling plan. "Will you look at a file for me?"
"The colonel's." Only John House had never made it to the rank of colonel. It was something he'd always felt ashamed of, and something House had always rubbed in his face. Even now, some things won't change.
"It's metastasized?" Wilson asks, his voice gentle and worried not at all surprised and House tastes the blood in his mouth and can't feel his right foot.
"Yeah. There's probably nothing you can do, but…mom would be happy to hear from you. Anything."
"Of course," Wilson agrees. House's ears are ringing, but it's just his ride to the hospital.
"I'm coming in," he says.
And House hangs up the phone. "You know where I live," he tells the postman, bobbing his head towards 221B. He's not sure the guy knows what he means by that, knows to expect a Christmas bonus this year, but he's too busy screaming at the paramedic who's loading him into the bus and muttering something about Princeton General is closer, sir.
"Fuck that," House answers, and then he's doing his best not to kiss the man as a jostle relocates his knee and some street-grade euphoria enters his system. Last thing he sees are the dingy walls of the ER, Cameron's blond hair pulled back into a loose bun, and his jeans being cut to shreds. Last thing he hears is someone saying "I'll page Wilson" and House thinks, that's fine then, and goes to sleep.
"God, how much did I drinklast night?" Wilson was asking. And House sighed, wishing he didn't know what Wilson was doing. Wishing this wasn't the same fucking thing that happened every morning after. Wilson hadn't had anything to drink the night before, because if he had, there'd be nothing for him to feel guilty enough about to blame on the booze.
"Lightweight," House mumbled, pushing himself off the bed and hobbling into the bathroom, sans cane, sans clothes, sans dignity. He clinically examined the half-hard dick in his hands, the flecks of blood on his thighs, the stream of urine sinking the cast-off condom in the toilet.
"Coffee!" he bellowed, as he flushed and got into the shower, standing under the water as it went from cold to hot to cold again.
"So…" Wilson greeted once House joined him in the kitchen.
"So," House mocked. "So, last night was a mistake. Again. You were drunk. Again. We can't be in a relationship…again. We shouldn't do this again."
"So, pancakes?" Wilson was asking. You're an idiot.
"Again?" House asks.
House shakes his head, clearing away the fog of pain meds, but not the fog of pain. "Hey," he says, trying again. Wilson is standing at the foot of the bed, and House wishes this didn't look so familiar.
"How's the pain?" Wilson asks.
"Fine," House answers. "My head…"
"Grade II concussion. You remember your neuro exam?"
"Vaguely. Foreman still black?"
"Well, we can rule out brain injury," Wilson answers.
"Kutner doesn't think you'll need surgery. You'll be back in the chair for a while, though."
"You let Kutner see me without my pants on?" House asks, flipping through his chart and noting so many familiar names.
"Dream come true for him, I'm sure."
"You call my mom?"
"I didn't think you'd want her to know" Wilson answers, confused and hopeful, for what, House doesn't know.
"Not about me," he clarifies. "My dad. I think I called you about it. Before the ambulance came."
"Why the hell didn't you tell me that you fell?" Wilson demands, and there's the bitchiness House knew had been missing.
"Don't," Wilson warns.
"You don't. I already had people there to save me. You don't get to stand there and lecture me about being self-destructive or suicidal or whatever it is you've been dying to say since they wheeled me in here. And you really don't get to act like I've been cheating on you with another white knight."
"I wasn't –."
"Is my nose broken?"
"Good. Wanna look good for the ladies. Now go away. Go call my mom. Do your job."
Cuddy comes by with a wheelchair that night. House hasn't seen Wilson since lunch, when he'd dropped off a Reuben, outlined the treatment plan he'd discussed with John House's oncologist in Richmond, asked about the pain and told him that he'd made House an appointment with an orthopedist.
"Turning me loose?" House asks her, wondering what his chances are for upgrading to crutches once he gets home.
"Take at least a week," Cuddy warns, and House wonders if the concussion means Cuddy can suddenly read his mind. Maybe a skull fracture, brainwaves leaking out into the atmosphere for any moron to read. Brain damage putting him on the same level as everyone else.
"Who will watch the kids?" House had seen Kutner that afternoon, in between naps and soap operas and fending off Cameron's offers to write his super and complain about the slippery stairs.
"You need me to drive you home?" Cuddy asks. Foreman, then. It was a stupid question.
"No. You seen Wilson around?"
"I think he's still in his office."
"Ok. I'm billing you for my jeans, by the way. Those were vintage."
"I'm billing you for botox injections and Clairol Nice n' Easy. I've aged prematurely because of you."
"I'm billing you for personal lubricant and Viagra. I've prematurely ejac-."
"Don't finish that sentence," she warns. He just shrugs and lets her help him into the wheelchair.
"Sure you don't need a ride home?" she asks.
He thinks about his apartment and the stairs leading up to the door. He thinks about Wilson's hotel and its elevator access. He thinks about Cuddy's house and the guest bedroom on the ground floor, and a thousand other places in a dozen other countries that could have been home if things hadn't changed.
"I'm going to stop in my office for something, find Wilson," he answers. She steers him towards the elevators and says goodnight. He sleeps on his Eames chair, and not even the night janitor bothers to find him there.
"My mom called this morning," he was saying.
"Did you tell her? About the Ketamine wearing off?"
"My dad has cancer. Colon."
"God. I…Greg, I'm so sorry."
"I don't want you to be sorry. I want you to fix it."
"I'll look at the file, talk to his doctor. You think they'd come here?"
"That's. Fine. I'll talk to his doctor. Will they let me do that much?"
"I think that you're the only reason he told me at all. Sometimes it's handy, having a doctor in the family."
"I'm sure your mom was going to tell you no matter what they decided about treatment."
"He doesn't want me looking at his file."
"Probably because I'm a bastard."
"Well, he'd be in the position to know, wouldn't he?"
"Maybe it's because I'd never do my science homework on time."
"Are you... when are you going to tell them about your leg?"
"How long will it take you to stage the cancer?"
"It'll be done by the end of the week."
"Then I'll wait until the end of the week."
He wakes up. Wilson's hovering over him, briefcase in one hand, coffee cup in the other. "Ungh?"
"You slept here?!"
House surveys his kingdom. Taub and 13 are in the conference room, reading newspapers and dipping their hands into paper bags with alluring grease stains on the sides. Kutner is at the computer, looking up into House's office every few seconds, looking away when he see he's been caught. Close by, House sees an empty trashcan, indicating that the janitor had come and gone and he'd slept through it all. Next to him, the empty wheelchair.
"Icy stairs at my place, remember?" he answers, practically feeling the tension radiating from Wilson's trapezius.
"I thought someone drove you home."
The phone rings and Kutner picks up. Greg? he hears, then oh, you mean House? Uh…no, I'm new. Kutner? Larry. Oh, oh hi. Hello. Yeah, it's been really exciting. Your son is an amazing doctor. Sports medicine. Yeah. Yes. Yeah, let me just…bring the phone to him. Or no, wait, can you call his cell? He needs to keep his leg elevated.
"Shit," House hisses, motioning for Wilson to help him up, but it's too late. Kutner's hung up the office phone and "Someone to Watch Over Me" is ringing out of his jacket pocket (and he's surprised his phone survived the fall and he's wondering how his jacket ended up here in his office).
"Hi Blythe," Wilson greets, and House scowls at him for answering for him.
"Give," he barks, but Wilson is still talking talking talking and he can see Kutner slinking out of Diagnostics from the corner of his eye.
"He's fine. Just had a bad slip on the ice yesterday morning, dislocated his knee. No, no surgery. At least, Dr. Kutner doesn't think he'll need it. We're going to a follow-up appointment with an orthopedist today, now that the swelling's gone down a bit. Wait a second, Blythe, I think he'll bite my hand if I don't give him the phone."
He would, too, but now he's talking to his mom, telling her that he's ok Don't Lie Gregory and that he'll go home and take care of himself after he sees the doctor.
"Did you and dad talk to Wilson?" he asks, even though he knows they did, even though Wilson is in the room and staring at him because he knows they did.
"James has been very helpful. He talked to Dr. Thomas. They're getting your father onto a trial for…well, you'd know better than I do. He's…in a lot of pain, Greg, but James says that they'll do their best to make sure he doesn't suffer."
"I know he will." He doesn't mean to be ambiguous, only he does.
"Are you sure your leg is going to be ok?" his mom asks.
"It's just another bump in the road," he answers, and after a quick goodbye, hands the phone to Wilson. As he struggles to push himself into the wheelchair, he hears Wilson promising that he'll take care of him.
"Is palliative care really the best you can offer? Because God knows you suck at it," he growls, and he rolls away before Wilson can catch his breath.
As House sits outside in the ambulance bay, waiting for his ride home, he remembers Wilson telling him last year about finding Cuddy in her office. Crying. Because of what he'd said, in a fit of pain and frustration and unfiltered cruelty. He doubts the reverse will happen, this time, but he's still relieved to make it home without running into either of them. The EMT gets him inside, even gets him settled on his couch, before taking off. He'd like nothing more than to take a long, hot shower. Or a bath. But he knows he doesn't have the strength at the moment to even lift his ass up to pull off his scrubs, let alone make his way to the bathroom. He worries that he's been sleeping too much, worries that, with his luck, he'll have post-concussion syndrome. And the seas will burn and the sky will fall. But he falls asleep anyway, because he's not actually worried. He can't be worried when he doesn't care.
"He's in remission," Wilson was saying.
"Great. Who?" House asked, watching the smoke flowing out the crack in the window and dispersing in the winter wind. Watching the embers and ash, the reflection of light against his admit bracelet.
"Your dad," Wilson answered.
"You talked to him?"
"This morning. Thomas confirmed. Remission."
"You tell him I'm here?"
"Don't you care about anyone other than yourself?"
"No, House. I didn't tell your father that his only son is in rehab in a desperate bid to avoid jail time. I'm not doing your dirty work for you."
"I think we've established there's a whole list of things you'd never do for me."
"Fuck you," Wilson answered, and it shocked them both into silence. Still, he didn't leave.
"It'll come back, you know."
"What?" Wilson asked, shaking himself out of the lull in conversation.
"The cancer. Remissions don't last. It'll come back, and it'll be worse, and nothing will stop it."
"Sometimes they last, the good things."
"Yeah?" House asked, and he lifted his leg off the windowsill, grabbed his cane, and limped away.
A knock on the door wakes him up. "Use your key," he shouts. And then he remembers that Wilson had left his copy there, last Christmas Eve. So he's surprised when the door opens and Wilson walks in.
"I can't believe you keep a spare above your door," Wilson nags. "Aren't you worried someone will break in?"
"Not as worried as I am about the possibility I'd kill someone if I got locked out," he answers, and wonders if Wilson recognizes that he's holding his old key in his hands.
"Makes sense," Wilson nods, hands in pockets and eyes searching for a place for him to sit. House pivots and groans and manages to swing his leg from the couch to the table, freeing up some space, but Wilson remains standing and House doesn't know what else he can do to show that he's not exactly unhappy to have him there.
"Traditional Christmas dinner, my wandering Jew? We've got Peking Palace on speed dial," House offers.
Wilson makes a show of considering it before shrugging and picking up the phone to place their order.
"You have any beer?" he asks when he's hung up the phone. "I plan on getting tanked tonight."
"You do what you have to do," House answers. Wilson looks confused by that, but brings back two bottles from the kitchen. "To palliative care," House toasts, clinking the lip of his bottle to the neck of Wilson's and thinking that that's the last erotic experience he'll have for the year.
"Merry Christmas, House."
House turns on the TV and, as they wait for their food to arrive, he searches his Tivo for what he'd wanted to share with Wilson. Later, as they're digging their way through boxes of lo mein, Charlie Brown is wailing, "I've killed it. AUGHH! Everything I touch gets ruined!" He feels Wilson staring at him, and wants to crawl under the couch and die when he turns to him and earnestly says, in his best Linus impression, "I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love."
"You are so gay," House moans, and he'd scoot away from Wilson if he didn't intimately know the pain he'd be faced with.
Hours later, half asleep, he feels Wilson's hand moving up his thigh.
"Just keep drinking, Wilson," is what he says as he places his hand over Wilson's and pushes it away. "Then you won't have to lie about it in the morning."
Wilson looks at him, and House wonders what he sees. The last Christmas tree in the lot? Damaged, dying if not dead already, but capable of being beautiful if only you care enough? The only real tree left? It's all crap, is what House thinks. He's just a middle-aged man with a banged up leg and a dying father and a shitty love life and a screwed-up friend. But as he makes the long trip into his bedroom, alone, House calls back to Wilson, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown," because no matter how fucked things might be, they're better than what happened last Christmas Eve and he wants Wilson to remember that. Hell, he wants to remember that. And when Wilson offers a grudging smile, lifts up his bottle, and toasts, "to palliative care," House smiles back and his mind finally settles on a melody. Christmas Eve will find me, where the love-light gleams. I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.