The first time he'd held the cane in his hands he'd thought nothing, but judged as the weight became more familiar. He had run his hands along it, letting the thought of it manifest itself in the smooth lacquer. Stacy had taken him out to buy it, trying to make the best of it. It was a beautiful, simple tool. The handle had a thoughtful shape, some small engraving etched in a ring around it. But despite its innocuous simplicity he knew that it would be the first thing they saw now.

The crooked walk; Stacy had said that, shortly after they went home and he was bound and determined to try and do all the things he'd done before. Somehow the phrase had stuck in his mind, despite its frivolous use at the time. She had been putting on a brave front still, things hadn't gone sour but they were strained.

Careful with that crooked walk, Greg.

By time he realized that this wasn't going to get better he'd managed to drive her away. Since then, he'd just been watching out for things with the awkward gait that he'd adopted through the pain.

He hated how Wilson would match his pace, hated that he did it without knowing. He loathed, he scorned, and he did all those bitter things that those close to him had come to know him to do. He hated everything. Hate, hate, hate; Loathe, abhorred, despised, disliked, sickened and all manner of obscenities and eloquent synonyms; however, hate was the quickest word to reach, always. It always came back to that one word, which was as shaky and imperfect as his leg, as crooked as his walk.

The people around him crashed down on with worry and hard faced sympathy as they perceived him to be more unstable, which admittedly maybe he was. Giving attention to the fact, it only made them all pitiful, he thought. Wasn't it satisfactory enough to know that he was damaged goods, return to sender, the piece of Asian made crap that you take back to the store for some sort of defect you couldn't see through the cool contemporary package design? It'd be much better then wasting your time only to realize, you didn't get a refund or replacement when it came to the Gregory House model.

Regardless of these things, he was glad to be walking beside Wilson. Even if while they walked he was reminded how much he hated the pattern of his steps when they brushed forearms, elbows, shoulders.

In the evening, fingers that didn't feel as though they belonged to him pounded out notes. They sounded, but were empty and rang in his head with discord. This was the medication, he knew. There was nothing wrong with the notes. He'd only overdone the Vicodin. At the moment the weighing of what was intention and what was not held no interest for him, not when he was alone, not when he could allow himself the leisure. Somewhere unvisited in his mind, Wilson echoed back that what he called leisure was actually abuse. Hush.

The music swerved on the paper, his fingers stumbled, and memory played tricks as he automatically recalled the symbols on the staff. He could see through the tricks. He had to wonder about all the musicians who were debatably better when they were enumerated. Did they see the tricks in a different way? He knew that he wasn't better like they were, even if no one else could hear it.

Reaching out with hands that were still only vaguely his own he took a draught of his drink, the angular curves of glass cool in his hand. The alcohol helped with the pain, too. He was careful not to drink in excess, though sometimes he failed. It was the leisure theory.

He looked down at the keys, refusing to create the image of Wilson coming in from the door on Christmas Eve. That's what happened when you crossed the leisure theory. You ended up so deplorably incapacitated to even answer the phone, instead having to listen to the steadily growing anxiety coming from the answering machine as punishment for your decadence. Sorry, Wilson.

House lightly tossed the music to the table. Things were stacked everywhere. Since Wilson had been coming over less and less, the disarray had accumulated. The floor was clean, but only for the obvious. That damn crooked walk, the leaning walk. How many steps in a day? How many in a week, month, year? It was all accumulating. Like the papers, books, nothings, notes, glasses...

How depressed are you!

Like how Wilson kept trying to take care of him, and how he kept falling in stride next to him.

He heard the phone ring and waited for the message before answering. It was Wilson. Answer the phone, House, he demanded lightly.

If he didn't answer, Wilson would come over anyways, but he leaned over and picked up the receiver.

Lately the goal had been to just make it through, and he refused to exist like that. He'd taken time off for a "vacation", made a grandiose show of it just so he'd have space to breathe. They were smothering him. It was cumbersome, more then the usual weariness. He wanted to let everything hurt in peace.

On the day of his scheduled arrival back from Vancouver Island, Wilson phoned. Was strange was that House nearly said "I missed you"? Things like that popped up now and then. He smoothed it over with a rude remark, finding that his voice was edged from barely saying anything over the week.

Within the hour Wilson was letting himself in to the apartment. After a week of isolation, the presence of another person filled the air noticeably. The air gave a tremor, but settled evenly enough as Wilson made his rounds through the apartment, making sure that House had eaten, that the place was clean enough to stave off any impending government conspiracy infilitration with bioweapons. Or something of the like. Wilson joined his on the couch once he'd been satisfied with his inspection.

"You didn't go, did you?"

House finally looked over to Wilson, caught off guard. He didn't ask how Wilson knew, instead deducing what he hadn't done to make it look as though he'd been on vacation. No luggage that he wouldn't have put away when he got home, dishes in the sink from the previous call to make sure that Steve was fed.

"No," he admitted lowly, turning his attention back to the screen.

Wilson wanted to go out. For some reason, Chinese take-out, a couple bottles of beer and television just didn't make the cut tonight. House fingered the seam at the bottom of the automatic window in the passenger seat of Wilson's car. Wilson had it replaced again. He wasn't bothering to ask where they were going, instead thinking that this felt to much like Wilson getting caught up in a vendetta of sympathy. House wondered if he should clarify that he wasn't any more interested in being Ex-Mrs. James Wilson the fourth than Cuddy.

It was a small, crowded club. The stage was small and the band was getting ready, checking strings and microphones. They found a small table off the side, where they were barely able to see the stage. House remained sceptical about the quality of the band. He made sure that Wilson heard all of this, determined not to fall into his trap. Considering he saw clearly what Wilson was trying to do (and the parts he didn't know that he was doing) it'd be bad form on his part.

The scepticism House felt towards the music was ill-founded. The band was good, playing a rocky blues. Against his general outward disposition, House was visibly enjoying himself. He tried not to look at Wilson, choosing instead to ignore feel-good vibes his friend was absorbing; choosing not to admit that the feeling went vice versa. It was much safer to get lost in the bass line, the nimble finger picking and crooning voice laying bare swaying confessions.

People moved out onto the dance floor and he watched limbs pulled with strings from the sultry voice. His eyes flicked over to Wilson and he recalled a near dance. Memory led to dream and he felt himself moving across the floor in a awkward diagonal or staying trapped a shuffling standstill. He didn't fancy either.

At the end of the night they left through the back door, avoiding the hustle of the leaving crowd. Neither of them had said anything about it, it was just assumed that that was how it had to be done.

The week off had helped, but it didn't last as long as he would have liked. He was already beginning to feel the same. It wasn't to that point yet, the point where he couldn't take it. Knowing where the point was seemed only to speed it along though.

Wilson pushed him a cup of coffee across his desk which he took up without question. The taste was abrasive and hot on the roof of his mouth, but his face didn't show it.

The morning levelled out to a slope that he could tolerate and then crept into the afternoon. Even clinic duty was tolerable. Before he noticed, he was bumming a ride back home with Wilson and the promise of a comfortable, mediocre night.

House had gone back to the club Wilson had took him too. The same band was playing tonight. It hadn't taken much research to discover that they regularly frequented the place and to plan for the next gig. He'd gone to the same table despite it's poor view, finding the familiarity of the location satisfactory. Glancing to the empty seat in front of him, he considered calling Wilson, but vetoed the thought. He was perfectly capable on his own. Although he could have saved on the cab fare.

Some feedback drew up his attention to the stage but it looked as though they were running late and no where near ready. House ordered a drink and waited patiently, catching sight here and there of the band members as they continued to prepare, get through their nerves and monitor the filling room. House knew the feeling, hoping that were people but at the same time hoping that they were the right sort of people. Tonight it seemed that it was the right sort of people as the bass player gave a apologetic smile and quick update on the microphone. An amp had blown out that morning. Patiently, House waited, ordering a second drink.

Just as his drink had been served the lights went down on and the stage lit up. House smiled at the dramatic pose the lead singer had adopted, a hand on the bulky old style microphone as he looked down, as though to bashful to look up. Maybe he was, maybe it was his role on stage.

House wondered again if he should call Wilson, but again opted out on the idea. He likely still wasn't overly pleased about the spiking of his coffee. House covered his smile with the rim of the cup. Smiling in public for no apparent reason felt overly inviting. He didn't want to give the impression that he wasn't adverse to small talk. But looking overly sullen would invite the sympathy bringers. He focused on the stage and listened to the music. The lyrics were repeated in mantra-like prayer, as though the singer were trying to convince himself of something, and simultaneously insist to the audience that he was right.

I'm trying to be better for you but your learned fatigue never leaves you once
you've made the bill
you're not finding what you're looking for but neither am I but I won't leave,
won't, I won't...

He should have called Wilson, he thought, but by time he'd fronted the conclusion it was to late. Again he waited for the crowd to clear out, sidling his drink and watching the people. People watching, so long as they didn't have a compulsion to interact was a habit that no one insisted he quit. He vaguely wondered the freedom he might feel if all his habits were disregarded in such a fashion. Deciding whether or not he liked the attention changed depending on the person telling him. The glasses of liquor throughout the night had blurring together the songs and his regret for coming alone.

He ordered a cab, and before he thought it through directed it to Wilson's hotel.

The distances from the club to the cab to the hotel, through the lobby, on the disorienting movement of the elevator down the madly pattered floors and pretentious wallpaper; all had added up and by time he'd gotten to the door of Wilson's room, he knew that he was tired, sore and would be riding on the intake of liquor until he woke up the next day. He hesitated before knocking, momentarily noting that not only did alcohol make him unreasonable, it was beginning to have a high rate of frequency in making hasty Wilson-related decisions.

Wilson opened the door and House greeted him as he barged past him. He stumbled and with aided grace fell safely onto the still perfectly made bed.

"You're walking all crooked!" Wilson exclaimed beside. His hand was on House's arm, making sure that he'd fallen right.

"God, how much did you drink tonight?"

House was glad to see Wilson's worry etched face. If he wasn't careful, it'd get stuck like that. He wasn't that drunk, he thought. Just sore. He mumbled that it wasn't the alcohol but instead that he was tired. The reprimands on his poor sleep patterns ensued, but he didn't mind hearing them again tonight appreciative of the playful banter that followed Wilson's expressive concern. Neither did he mind falling asleep in the bleached fabric amidst the sounds of another person's breathing.