House thinks he knows pain

House thinks he knows pain. Thinks he understands the ins and outs; the fierce, ever-fresh ripping from a limb he can't bear to part with. His companion was pain; it lived inside of him, wound him tight as a spring ready to release.

But this, this feeling was something he'd never experienced before. It didn't happen right away; he'd woken up to nothing, having been filled to the brim with morphine—and then Cuddy was there, asking him to be there, praying the bottom had not fallen out on him as well. It hadn't, though when he blinked and affirmed the clarity of his mind, he wished it had. Then he wouldn't have been surrounded by Cuddy, encircled by soft skin, the gentle smell of hydrangeas and warm breath that blows over his ear, raising bumps on the skin of his neck. He closes his eyes once she backs away, preferring to be asleep.

But it doesn't come. He knows he should feel high, tired; he wants to drift away and he should be able to—but though his mind is sluggish, though he actively chases sleep, it eludes him. He settles for watching Cuddy sleep, curled like a child in a chair next to his bed, her unconscious fingers entwined with his own. Every once in while, she jerks a little, pulling his hand toward the edge of the bed. He strokes her hand, tracing the blue veins that wind underneath, winding in and out and around each other like sections of a braid.

His eyes are closed when a nurse comes in; he keeps still, hopes she'll check his vitals and leave, but the footfalls stop in the doorway. The room is too quiet and House's wonders if he's always breathed that loud. He's fidgety, can't stop moving, twitching. He gives up, opens his eyes and stares into the dark, hollow eyes of a man he used to know. The man he knew is gone; what remains is a broken shell, a man who has no use, no ineed/i for House anymore. A man, who, through his gaze, tells House that Amber's death lies squarely upon his shoulders—upon a body that can barely support its own weight. House opens his mouth, tries to say he's sorry, he's so, so, sorry but something's in his throat and he chokes on it, tries to swallow but it won't go down—and, oh, it aches and he's flushing now, heating up, veins opening, allowing the blood close to the surface, becoming vulnerable. Waiting for Wilson to take his best shot.

But nothing comes. Not a blow, not words. Just a gaze that hurts more than his leg could pound, more than his father could evoke. The look is endless; House wonders how long Wilson will stand there in front of him until he realizes the stare is coming from his own mind now; he projects the image of a man who left hours ago.

He's not listening to Cuddy's words, instead listening to the melodic quality of her dulcet tones; it's not until he's wheeled out of the hospital and put into a taxi that he realizes he's agreed to take some time off. To relax, recuperate. Gather the pieces of himself and try to reassemble.

He isn't sure he can do puzzles anymore.

The first day off he drinks himself into a stupor; throws up and falls off the couch. He lays there on the hard floor, somewhere between consciousness and sleep and whispers his sorrow to the ceiling. It doesn't reply.

After awhile he's able to roll over; sitting up comes slower, with an arm pressed into the leather of his couch, groaning as each muscle protests his movement. He's halfway up when a hand appears in front of his face, palm and fingers extended. The skin is cool to the touch but he's distracted by the fact that he's suddenly standing; his arm is over the shoulder of someone slight, narrow but strong. Blonde hair spills onto his shoulder and he's staring into familiar eyes.

"Why'd you call me?" She asks, releasing him from her grip. He falls onto the sofa and jerks awake, eyes blearily searching for her presence. He's alone.

He can't sleep; closing his eyes brings her back, grasping for him, desperately asking him to save her. But he can't save her, can't save himself anymore and so he counts the hours and minutes pointlessly, with nothing and no one to look forward to. He is only in the present, hanging on with self-preservation he was unaware he had.

He hears Cuddy's voice on the answering machine, soft, careful. Her voice is like a woman smoothing a blanket over her child: careful, fearful. She knows she's lost him yet she clings desperately, digging her fingernails into what used to be.

"….a month, House. Please call me." Then her voice is gone, replaced with a droning dial tone. She calls again the next day; he hears 'Wilson,' but the rest slips by him, as if the words were caught by a current, moving rapidly around him as he stands still, trying not to fall.

He's at Amber's apartment a half-hour later; the spare key is tucked in an envelope taped on top of the doorframe; he lets himself in and is greeted by a museum, an apartment stuck in a time continuum. A cereal box, some healthy, whole-wheat monstrosity House wouldn't consider eating lies open on the counter with a bowl nearby, as if, at any moment, the woman who purchased it would return and eat breakfast. Papers lay on the table, scattered slightly, and covered by a fine layer of dust.

Amber is preserved in the details.

House moves through the house, finds the bedroom and sees what once was Wilson asleep on the bed. He's thinner, has a ragged, almost wild look to him. But his eyes are close and House is grateful; he doesn't have to look into sorrow he caused just yet. Without thinking, he lies down next to Wilson, listens to the other man's breathing. The skin next to his is flushed, warm, and House strokes Wilson's arm gently, carefully.

Eyes flutter open and Wilson's body tenses, but he doesn't pull away. House takes Wilson's hand in his own and is allowed to stay there; they lie like that, listening to each other breathe, until slowly, they leave the world behind. House sits in his own kitchen, in an embrace. His instinct is to fight it off, to rid himself of the arms acting as shackles. But a voice stops him, whispers in his ear to take time, to take care. He's released, and finds himself alone.

When he wakes, House is tangles with Wilson. The other man's face presses into his shoulder, his legs parallel House's. It's too quiet, too peaceful and House is sure he isn't supposed to be here, doesn't deserve what he's asking and begins to sit up quietly, carefully. He's almost out of the bedroom when a single word, cracked with emotion, calls him back.