Title: Feel This Narcolepsy Slide
Author: Slipstream (LJ: slipstreamchan)
Rating: PG (language, some sexual references)
Pairing: House/Wilson pre-slash, mentions of Wilson/Amber
Summary: Someone switched the blood samples, but it wasn't House.
Disclaimer: I may make sandcastles, but in no way shape or form do I own the sandbox.
Spoilers: For season four, specifically "No More Mister Nice Guy," as well as implicit ones for season three's "Half-Wit." Takes place before the events of "House's Head" and "Wilson's Heart."
Notes: Unless we get thrown a curve ball next season, this is an AU version of the fallout from the events of episode 4x14. Fans of sick!house (such as myself) take note: there be h/c and medical angst within! However I am not a doctor, so the accuracy of the medicine in this fic is by no means guaranteed, though I'm always eager to expand beyond my Google-fu. Therefore if you spot anything embarrassingly out of place, do please leave a note saying as such, and I will try to fix it.


Nurse Blond Hair and Big Boobs #6 is far from happy. Hands on her hips, she leans forward, giving House an unobstructed view of her gloriously fake tits. Something about her demeanor and stance reminds him eerily of his boss, though the illusion vanishes when she opens her mouth.

"What happened?" she demands, all pout and Valley Girl, sounding more like the women in his Naughty Nurse tapes than the tired mid-western and seaboard accents he hears muttering behind his back every day.

Dr. Brock Sterling is solidly positioned on his mark, hands also on hips. It's a staple pose for the grade of actors on this timeslot. Characteristically, he refuses to turn and address his female counterpart, instead gazing off-screen with Emmy-nominated narcissistic angst.

"When I searched my soul, I found Anna."

Nurse Boobs shifts, letting one small, manicured fist fall angrily to her side. "Are you going to tell Marie?"

"I have to," he says.

"It will destroy her!" she squeaks. In the background a boom mike dips briefly into view, drawing attention to the randomly backwards x-rays decorating the set.

House leans back in his chair and kicks his feet up on top of his desk, eyes still glued to his computer monitor. When Brock takes a drink of his gin and tonic—his fourth this episode—House raises his own cup of coffee in a toast.

He loves this show.

Thank god for the internet. Now that his patient is cured he can get caught up on the episodes he missed during the course of his treatment. Most of the major networks have started streaming episodes of their hit soaps on their sites, meaning that House no longer has to rely on TiVo for backup in case he's rudely interrupted by a so-called medical "emergency" or a gaggle of meddling ducklings concerned about the welfare of his penis.

Truth be told, he'd all but forgotten about the leftover vial of "his" blood still lurking in the corners of the PPTH lab. Luckily his face had remained blank while he scrambled to connect the dots following Kutner's dropping of the STD-bomb. Really his lackeys had done most of the work for him on this one, which is what made it so hilarious. The fall out had been delicious, if preemptively cut short by one annoyingly interfering ex-fellowship candidate.

His newest underlings were still too uncertain of their own place within the department to react in any way beyond the most boring of ethical questioning regarding their motives in medicating him, but Cameron had predictably found a way to twist the whole thing to suit her imagined relationship with House, and Chase had with equal predictability followed blindly along with her lie of omission. If regular sex with Cameron has made Chase so absent-minded as to forget her enthusiastic relief at having failed to bone her boss during the last is-it-brain-cancer-or-is-it-neurosyphilis song and dance, then House had chosen well in avoiding her bed during the years of her fellowship. Foreman either has more long-term-memory cells than the rest of his former team combined and was therefore content to let the new team learn the hard way or he actually no longer cares about House's physical health. Both options suit House just fine.

Of course as with all experiments it had yielded some unpleasant findings. He had expected Wilson to run home yapping to CB, had encouraged it, even, but the breach of confidence still hurt. How long until the more intimate of their secrets became casual pillow-talk for Wilson and his coy mistress, until House himself was merely an amusing anecdote to be passed with the butter at dinner, or an annoyance that deserved no mention at all?

He doesn't have nearly enough scotch stashed in his desk to begin to even contemplate that question, so House pushes it to the back of his mind for now. On his monitor Brock is looking deep into the eyes of Nurse Boobs and telling her that "love lasts forever" as if it was the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Ahh, right where he'd been forced to leave off! House leans forward in rapt attention.

Once the episode is finished, House muses on how best to waste the rest of his workday. Eating lunch with Wilson and catching up on Prescription Passion had been the only things really on his agenda, though he'd been forced to amend the former when Wilson failed to show in the cafeteria, having gone out to lunch with his girlfriend or some other nonsense that, again, House doesn't really want to think about without a tumbler or two of scotch.

He supposes he should probably go down and retrieve "his" wayward blood sample from the lab. It had brought plenty of laughs, but now with the cat out of the bag for good it had run the full course of its usefulness. With no better ideas forthcoming, and with the hour of his scheduled clinic duty rapidly rounding the corner, House decides that there's no time like the present and hoists himself out of his chair.

Despite the fact that Wilson is singing like a canary and blowing off lunch with him in favor of lunch with CB, House is feeling pretty good when he pushes open the door to his office and steps out into the hall. He suspects that the double dose of Vicodin and swig of scotch in his coffee he'd treated himself to in light of Wilson's absence has something to do with it.

Whistling, he strolls down to the lab, amusing himself by switching from "The Basin Street Blues" to "Elle's Theme" from Kill Bill when he passes the one-eyed nurse from radiology, pushing some poor fuck with two broken legs. She's in her fifties and has a glass eye instead of a patch and has never seen a Tarantino film in her life, but that doesn't make it any less funny, especially given the wide-eyed reaction of her patient.

Once in the lab it doesn't take long to find what he's looking for. Diagnostics is miniscule in size compared to the other hospital departments, and their allotted sample storage space in the lab reflects this, never mind the fact that more often than not House's lunch is chilling on their cooler shelf reserved instead of biopsies and cups of urine. Fresh off of a case their shelf still holds undisposed samples, with the vial House is looking for sitting front and center on the rack. Thank you, Kutner, ever organized and trustful.

House is all set to toss it with the other bio waste when something about the vial gives him pause. He frowns, hefting its slight weight in his hand. Only when he twists it so that the label is better illuminated by the light does he catch it.

The blood sample is clearly marked as belonging to him, Gregory House, and not to patient # 020406, Luke N. Laura. The label is also computer generated instead of hand-written, which for some bizarre reason makes his gut twist in strange, ominous ways.

Running his thumb along its edge, he notices a certain thickness to the label compared to those of the thousands of blood vials he's held in his lifetime. He shifts it to his left hand and limps slowly over to the scalpel drawer, where he draws out a fresh 10A blade. Perched atop one of the lab stools, he begins to carefully peel away at what is soon confirmed to be only the top-most label, positioned in such a way as to perfectly conceal the original underneath. The adhesive is strong, so it's slow work to remove it with minimal damage to both, but House has unparallel patience for tedious work when there's a mystery involved.

In the end the top label comes off in mostly one piece. He sets it aside for later analysis. The original is revealed to be much older, weathered and slightly faded with some water damage that partially obscures the handwriting. There's no patient name or number, just a set of initials and a date, of which only the month has survived. Nothing to be terribly alarmed about, if it weren't for Wilson's unmistakable handwriting and the familiarity of the initials themselves: GH.

He trips back through his memory, trying to pinpoint all the times when Wilson would have had cause to take a blood sample. There's quite a few of them, thanks to his penchant for pushing his body's abilities and his body's penchant for falling spectacularly short of House's demands. Add to that equation Wilson, the man who thinks he can stop the sun from going nova so long as he plans for it long enough, and it's a wonder that he's not wading ankle-deep in sample vials with his name on them.

But a label doesn't necessarily mean that it's his blood, and even if the vial is genuine, that doesn't preclude the possibility of someone swapping out the original sample with a new one. A label is just that, a label, and has no actual bearing on the contents beyond what people say it does. And people, as he is so fond of pointing out, very often lie.

Drawing blood for a new test feels like a win for her, but it has to be done. The necessary supplies are already scattered throughout the lab. He runs the test himself, but doesn't look at the results. That would be too easy. Once the lab printer spits them out he grabs at it blindly, folds the hard copy in half, and stuffs it into his jacket pocket, still not looking at it. He deletes the soft copy on the computer and disposes of the (unlabeled) vial he used for the draw. No reason to set himself up for a repeat of this little melodrama.

He hesitates for a moment over the old blood vial and label, finally slipping the former into the same pocket as the lab results and tossing the latter. While the label could contain some interesting fingerprints, he's never been a fan of looking for such evidence without a set theory already in mind. Besides, he'd left his My First CSI Kit at home.

Back in his office, he draws the blinds and sets about a self-differential. It's too risky to spell it out on the whiteboard, so he digs a battered yellow legal pad out of his desk and starts brainstorming. House doesn't let himself think about whether or not the symptoms he's listing are applicable to him, just pours his attention into getting them all out of the rolodex in his head and down onto paper. Sans fellows, he has to pull books down from his shelf in places. He even trolls through the latest relevant articles online, assuring himself that his thoroughness is rooted in boredom.

After an hour's work, House has a page covered front and back in dense, heavily notated writing. He drops his reading glasses onto his desk and rubs at his eyes roughly. His leg aches. He decides to take a break, fishing through the back of his top desk drawer for his emergency pack of smokes and lighter. They don't see as much action as they did in the days before the infarction, but there are still times where nicotine can smooth out some of the rough edges left untouched by the Vicodin.

Out on the balcony he checks to see that Wilson's office is dark and empty before shaking out a cigarette and tucking the pack away. It's an absurdly bright and windy day. Sunblind, he fumbles with the lighter one-handed, leaning against the wall so that he can bring his cane-hand up to cup protectively around the flame as he brings it to his mouth.

This is stupid, he thinks. Amber is stupid, and Wilson is even stupider for dating her. House is extra stupid for letting her mind games get to him. Double plus extra stupid, but what choice does he have? It's a war out there, and in war there are strategic losses.

When he's finished he flicks the butt of his cigarette angrily across the barrier separating his and Wilson's balconies. The black scattering of ash across the pristine floor isn't as satisfying as he wishes it was. Frowning, he limps back inside.

Now the hard part. He goes over the list slowly, crossing out symptoms that aren't applicable, circling those that are, and leaving blank those that would require further testing to establish.

Again, he focuses only on the task at hand, evaluating each symptom separately, not allowing himself to view the larger picture. It's difficult, because many of the things on the list are things that have been a part of him so long it's hard to think of them as symptoms. Irritability and insomnia, for instance. House pretends that this is another patient—Jerk Chess Kid, maybe—and not himself. Has there been an increase in the patient's level of irritability and frequency in episodes of insomnia?

Yes, laughs Wilson from inside his head. God yes. Do you seriously have to ask?

House circles them both. After a great deal of nagging by mental-Wilson, he also circles "depression."

Pain, muscle spasms, impaired muscle function, and abnormal gait he has in spades thanks to his leg, but he can't just push them aside as unrelated. Strokes can also be caused by neurosyphilis, and strokes are just infarctions that occur in the brain.

More circles. Deterioration of visual acuity. Headache. Urinary retention. Plenty of crosses, too. No seizures or hearing loss. Definitely no ataxia, and he's had anything but a loss in pain sensation, so it isn't tabes dorsalis. Can't be sure about pupil reaction, but he's guessing normal given that he's had medical professionals up in his grill shining lights in his eyes with a fair amount of frequency over the course of his life.

House has to think long and hard about the part of his list including all the various flavors of the Skittles mental impairment rainbow. He's often been accused of poor judgment, but is it truly poor, or just not in line with the norm? Same with delusions, and he's had more than his fair share of hallucinations, but those tended to correlate with his preferred mind-altering substance of the week. Decisions, decisions…

In the end it doesn't really matter. He can debate endlessly with himself about whether his soaps and his yo-yo and his Gameboy are just distractions or an indication of impaired attention, but the circles filling the rest of the page make that particular point meaningless.

It fits. It isn't textbook, but it fits. And the tests, when he screws up the courage to finally pull them out of his pocket, confirm.

House's immediate impulse is to go out on the balcony and smoke another cigarette—hell, smoke the whole damn pack, then shout and make a real ass of himself until one of his lackeys brings him another one so he can smoke through that one, too, and then another and another until he's flat on his back in Wilson's office, Wilson saying there's nothing they can do, he's burned his lungs to a crisp, so long and thanks for all the fish—but he's strangely frozen in place.

It doesn't make sense. Neurosyphillis means deterioration in brain matter, in brain function. Wouldn't he have noticed this deterioration, this change, if not in his own head then reflected in his work over the past however many years? Instead his solve rate has remained pretty consistent, and he's even put to bed a few of the old ghosts that haunted him from his days before the infarction.

But things have changed, whispers the voice that had also said that the pain in his leg wasn't just a pulled muscle from a bad game of golf. Look at all that's happened in the past year.

House has done some crazy shit in his life, but would he have pushed the Tritter thing as far as he did if it had happened five or ten years ago? Would he have taken the word of some idiot kid in the clinic with a disregard to electrical safety to rival Kutner's over his own experiences involving near-death as reason enough to play with knives and his own heartbeat?

His fellows have been the ones to come up with the ultimate diagnosis with increasing regularity. Either his teaching is finally seeping into their thick skulls—which he kind of doubts given the amazingly stupid things he's seen the first batch do even after three years of his tutelage—or he's missing things that even a snot-nosed first year fresh off of the MCATs would notice.

Is his entire diagnostic method merely a symptom? The whiteboard, the fellows, the nicknames… Are they just crutches to toss him connections his brain would normally be making if it wasn't swiss cheese?

It terrifies him to try to contemplate how much brain tissue he's lost. Syphilis can be cured even in latent stages, but what's done is generally done when it comes to organ damage. This brings up the question of just how long the infection has lurked unseen in the folds of his brain, eating and eating and eating. If the original infection had been within the past two years he could still be contagious, but neurosyphilis could linger for decades before presenting symptoms.

Had he infected Stacy? Had she been the one to infect him? Was it some other lover, a one night stand, a warm, genderless body in a nightclub? Was it a patient? If he saw whoever it was in the clinic tomorrow, covered in sores and wearing a giant button reading "Hello, I'm a syphilis carrier!" in screaming neon font, would he even remember them?

The pills that Thirteen placed apologetically on his desk when she and the Duckling Starship shuffled in all silent and doe-eyed to tell him that his dick is poison are still there, sitting placidly between his Magic 8 ball and his pencil holder. He hates the bottle, fresh from the pharmacy and bearing a childproof twist-cap and a label with Kutner's name instead of Wilson's. It's been a long time since anyone but Wilson or Cuddy prescribed for House, and here his team just hands him penicillin G like it's no big deal, like they give their boss drugs to combat brain-destroying STDs every day of the week.

'Take two and call us in the morning. Should we write down our phone numbers in case you forget? Should we tattoo your own name on your forehead, Leonard Shelby?'

He snatches the bottle up and hurls it angrily against the wall, where it bounces and falls to the floor with an unsatisfying rattle.

No, no, it isn't that bad yet. He can still work. If he takes the pills, halts the infection in its tracks, he won't get all of his brain back, but there will still be enough to work. He could get away with it. None of his fellows would know that he hasn't always been like this. They only care about changes in personality. Not even Cuddy could be relied upon to put two and two together, as they'd not crossed much professionally beyond med school and the annual PPTH charity Casino Night until she and Stacey put him in a coma and cut his life apart. They've never known the before. They've only seen the after.

But Wilson…

Wilson, who likes him because he's damaged, because people have long been saying that Gregory House is missing the piece of the puzzle that makes people human…

Wilson, the well-disguised bastard, who maybe even loves him because House can see that…

Wilson, his best and only real friend…

Wilson would see. Wilson would know.

He'd found it funny when House told him about his latest prank on his team, had laughed at the thought of House getting nicer as he got better. House had laughed with him.

It doesn't seem nearly so funny now.

If he does take the pills, if he does get better, where does that really leave him? STD-free and without a hole in his head where diagnostics used to be, sure, but with the same flat, slightly vapid personality that characterized all of Wilson's ex-wives?

He wonders if Wilson would give him alimony when he dumped his "nice" shell of a best friend to the curb.

House feels torn. Any other person he would (and has) push aside in favor of his own body and bodily autonomy, but Wilson is different. Wilson is everything. It's a realization that has been slow in coming, the gears of the thought first pushed into rusty motion on the day that they'd met, their rotation accelerating all through Christmas of two-thousand-and-Tritter, and finally completed in the moment he'd seen the label bearing Wilson's southpaw scrawl and known in an instant the whole horrifying potential of its implications.

Wilson has tried to dose him "better" before, but he'd just wanted House happy, not nice. He didn't realize, and maybe even House didn't fully realize, that it wasn't the pills that made him happy. It was Wilson himself.

Maybe he's been wrong all along. Maybe Wilson doesn't need him, but only someone like him. CB has already shown an enthusiasm for the game, and Wilson hasn't exactly been pushing for time alone with House since his female doppelganger settled smugly into his bed.

Wilson needs, yes, but Wilson doesn't need him.

The thought makes House's breath hitch in his chest.

If Wilson of all people doesn't need House, then who does?

And even if anybody else did need him, what did it matter without Wilson?

He realizes with a start that his hands are shaking. He presses them flat against his desk, but the shaking doesn't stop.

If he doesn't have his own head, doesn't even have Wilson, then what is there really left to have?

His heart feels like its going to burst out of his chest. He wants to… no, needs to run, but he can't, he can't, because he's crippled and getting older and if he was a fool to think that he could run again after the Ketamine then he's twice the fool now to think that it would do him any good beyond putting even more space between himself and his best friend. Stupid to think that he's smart, that he's interesting, that he's anything but the sum of his worst parts. An idiot to think that Wilson, with whom he used to run laps around the hospital track every morning before work, would ever slow down so that he could keep pace, wouldn't find another, better, faster partner further ahead and hurry to catch up.

Distantly House realizes that he isn't thinking logically, but the voice of dread only grows in volume, succeeding where television and drugs and mind-games and all of his other favorite forms of distraction have failed in completely drowning out the background mutterings of his brain, making his head throb painfully with its adrenaline-soaked singularity of purpose. Bombarded by an overwhelming and terrifying series of sensations—can't calm down, can't get enough air, can't stop shaking, can't solve the puzzle, can't hold onto Wilson, can't hold onto himself, can't can't can't—he curls over double in his chair, head between his knees, hands fisted tight against his feverish temples, and vomits.

Time slows after that, stretches out unreal and disconnected before him. For what seems like an eternity there are only bright, meaningless bursts of color behind his clenched eyelids and the deafening rhythm of his heart racing to catch up with the too loud too fast pace of his thoughts, but then other sounds emerge, muffled and rumbling.

Voices.

Brief rush of air across his skin.

Vibrations of footsteps toward him, then away.

Funny, House thinks. He's certain that he's dying, but it feels nothing like any of the times that he's actually died…

Long blank space, full of only his brain's own buzzing. Then, pressure against his lower back, tugging up his shirt. He feels a sudden, sharp pinch, followed by a slow burn creeping up his spine, down his limbs, and curling around his chest.

Muscle relaxant, he realizes as everything unclenches, if only fractionally. His breathing finally slows from its marathon runner pant, giving him time to gasp and wheeze. His internal monologue pauses its frantic race, and his eyes flutter open, giving him a brief glimpse of a jumbled cluster of shoed feet before drifting closed again.

"House," somebody says, their voice faint and gurgling as if calling him from underwater.

"House…"

But he doesn't hear them, not really, only the black, soothing and warm, calling.

Tired, he thinks. He's so tired…

House wakes up stretched out on the couch in Wilson's office with only the vaguest of memories of how he got there. There's a blanket tucked loosely around him, the soft, slick, furry kind characteristic of hotels and hospitals in winter. Someone's taken off his shoes and jacket and undone the buttons of the shirt.

Turning his head and wincing slightly at the brief stab of pain light and consciousness have brought, he finds Wilson seated in a chair drawn up near the end of the couch where his head is resting.

"Hey," he says.

"Hey," House replies, raspy with sedated sleep.

Wilson sits there for a moment longer, watching him. Probably making sure that House is going to stay awake. "You had a panic attack," he finally says, his voice that quiet, softly neutral tone used to tell people horrible things they already know.

House sighs, eyes slipping closed, but the memory of it looms too close there in the dark, so he forces himself to open them again.

"Yeah…" he says. The sun has shifted significantly since last he was aware of it, and the red-gold light of afternoon waning into evening shines through the half-drawn blinds, casting noir-movie lines onto the walls and furniture. "I out long?"

Wilson leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands dangling down below House's line of sight. "It's been about two hours since we gave you the smoother. Kutner found you, thought you were having breakthrough pain at first. That was after you threw up. Thirteen realized what it really was and got me. Foreman thought you might be trying to give yourself a blowjob…" He trails off, his mouth quirking as if he wants to smile but can't quite. "We tried to talk to you, but you couldn't really hear us."

House licks his lips, but his dry tongue doesn't provide much moisture. "How long before that?" he asks, knowing it's a vague question, but Wilson picks up immediately.

"We can't be certain," he says, voice tinged with regret. "Ten minutes, twenty? Since you'd been sick we decided to dose you after about five minutes without a response."

House is silent, unsure of what to say or even how to say it.

"Have you ever had a panic attack before?"

Old memories, long drowned, threaten to surface, but House beats the icy water back.

"No," he lies. "This is a first." Squinting pointedly at the wall clock—one of those As Seen on TV ones with a different bird call for every hour, a cancer patient gift, silent ever since House tore out the sound board in an attempt to reprogram it to chime obscenities—he continues in a slurry attempt to deflect. "Why are you still here? Isn't this her time?"

Wilson's muscles clench, his mouth pressing into a hard, white line. "House, just… Not now, okay?"

House has his mouth open, ready to croak a retort, when Wilson shifts again in his chair, and House couldn't see his hands before but now they come into view tanned and manicured and curled tightly around two folded pieces of paper House immediately recognizes as his test results and legal pad differential. Shit.

He knows.

Wilson knows.

House can feel the panic trying to wash over him again, but there's still enough of the sedative in his system to keep it at bay for now. He closes his eyes and fists the blanket tighter around himself. He can tell that Wilson is looking at him, that solid, unbreaking look that House can never bear and always tries to break with a joke or an insult or a well-placed thwack with his cane.

House hates that look. He can't lie when Wilson looks at him like that.

Wilson waits quietly for a moment before speaking. "Is this what you were trying to tell me before?"

Amber lingers between them, unspoken but not forgotten. House can almost feel her eyes, watching from the chair behind the office door.

"No," he says, voice muffled. He wonders if he can smother the hot tight feeling in his throat with the blanket.

"You still thought it was a game then?"

A game, a game. Always a game. Wilson should know that. Even when he's serious, especially when he's serious, to House everything is a game, because if he plays it like one maybe losing won't hurt as much, and House almost always loses when it comes to the most dangerous games.

"Yeah," he says. His gaze flits to the closed door leading out onto the balcony and his office beyond. "Did they see…?"

The results. His team. At the end of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" it's the boy who gets eaten.

"No." The papers flap in his hands. "They'd slipped mostly under your desk. I only found them because I stepped on them."

House stares at him warily. "Why'd you think they were mine? Could be for a patient."

Wilson's face doesn't give anything away. "I also found the blood vial in your pocket and the stick mark from the blood draw."

Old blood, fresh stick, crap results, freaked House… Yeah, Wilson isn't dumb.

"Mmm…" House murmurs. "Sure I wasn't just shooting up during lunch?"

"Positive," he says, eyebrows pursed seriously. He grins. "Though I can't be so sure about afterwards, given your fondness for afternoon delights."

House can't help but grin, too, even if only slightly. He debates whether or not to hum the rest of the line, sky rockets in flight and rubbing sticks and stones to make sparks ignite, but Wilson, the buzzkill, is unfolding the sheets of paper spelling out his doom and shaking loose the legal pad DDX.

"You missed some, you know." The page is dotted with additional notes in Wilson's handwriting, but he points specifically to "paranoia." House had originally crossed it out, but now it's circled in the same shade of green pen that Wilson most often favors.

"I probably would have gotten it. Panic attack is kind of a big hint."

"Probably," Wilson agrees.

Probably, but not definitely. House feels sick to his stomach. The likelihood of being almost always eventually right has decreased Andre the Giant knows how much thanks to his own personal venereal zombie.

He shifts onto his elbows, trying to sit up, but Wilson presses a stilling hand against his shoulder. House doesn't lie back down again, but he doesn't try to sit up further. Even this small change in elevation is enough to sooth some of the feelings of vulnerability, never mind that the movement has made him dizzy.

When the room stops spinning, he turns to look at Wilson, who has an oddly guilty expression on his face.

"What?"

"The old vial of your blood, the blood your team tested…" He hesitates before squaring his jaw and looking House dead in the eyes. "It came from me."

This is not what House was expecting to hear. He'd expected that Wilson had ratted him out, sure, but not been the one to actually set up the farce to begin with.

"You gave it to them? Why—?"

But Wilson is shaking his head. "No, I didn't give it to them. I mean that I've had that blood in my freezer for years." He gestures to the mini-fridge in the corner, the one he uses to store active samples and the occasional can of Coke.

House quirks his eyebrows, confused. "What, are you a vampire, or something?"

Wilson actually looks a little sheepish. "I've got a baggie with a hair sample and an old toothbrush, too. Same for Lisa, my parents, my brother, Julie…" He gestures vaguely. "You get the idea."

Blood samples, hair samples, and epithelial samples, "just in case." It's anal, it's paranoid, and it's entirely Wilson. "You watch way too much CourtTV."

Wilson shrugs.

"So, has Amber graduated to freezer space yet?"

Wilson turns away, gaze unfocused. "Last week. I did the draw here . She…"

He doesn't pick up from where he trailes off, but House doesn't need to hear the rest of the sentence to get what he's saying.

She knew about the other samples.

She was the only person who knew.

Suddenly his elbows don't seem like quite enough support. House lets himself fall back into the couch cushions. He stares at the hideous white popcorn of Wilson's ceiling, feeling strangely numb.

"I'm beginning to think I might have been wrong in firing her."

Wilson's laugh is dry and empty of real humor. "No, you were right. You don't need another you around."

"But you do?"

He doesn't mean to say it, wants to take it back as soon as he does, but it's far too late. He bites his lips. Wilson winces but doesn't immediately reply.

"I haven't talked to her yet, so I don't know whether or not she knew you were positive before hiding the blood in the lab. It's possible she just—"

"Don't," he interrupts, and Wilson finally turns back, looking at him questioningly. House sighs. "It doesn't matter. To me. Her motives, or whatever." Freeing one hand from the blanket, he gestures between the two of them. "Only what you do matters."

Wilson nods, slowly. He opens his mouth, shuts it, opens it, and shuts it again. He runs his hand over his eyes roughly, thumb and pointer finger spread to rub at his temples as if to sooth a headache.

"I… I don't know what I'm going to do."

House nods. That's fair. He has no idea what he's going to do, either.

His eyes slide shut without him willing them to. God, he's tired. But…

He pulls himself out of sleep, struggling to make eye contact. Wilson watches him with barely concealed concern.

"No MRI," he slurs.

Wilson gives him an odd, unreadable look. When he speaks his tone is unsure, and his shift in posture forebodes a shift from Jimmy-his-friend to Jimmy-his-doctor. House can already see the lecture about potential benefits of a contrast MRI of his brain, which would tell them where and how much and how long, pursed at his lips.

"House—"

"No."

It's a struggle to say it, and the "n" sound drags out longer than it should. Wilson is silent for a long time, but he finally nods. "All right."

Wilson's an oncologist. He understands that sometimes it's just best not to know.

House turns and presses his face into the back of the couch as if to sleep, though he still fights the post-attack exhaustion and lingering sedation. He just can't look at Wilson anymore.

Though their conversation has been quiet, he feels overstimulated, skin hot and ready to burst. He tells himself that his muscles are tight with tension and pain, and that he's shaking because it's been unknown hours since his last dose of Vicodin, and that was probably sitting half-dissolved in the puddle of puke seeping into his carpet.

He starts sharply when Wilson's fingers brush against his cheek. Wilson's hand hovers momentarily before shifting to run through his hair, petting the mussed half-curls with slow, sure strokes before curling to cup the crown of his skull with his palm.

House desperately wants to flinch away, but he doesn't have the energy.

Don't touch me, he thinks. I don't know where I've been.

Wilson, damn him, ignores his psychic plea. "You're an idiot," he says, mock-stern and intimately fond. There's sadness there, too, but House chooses to ignore it. "Go back to sleep."

House wants to protest, but the warm weight of Wilson's hand on his head feels nice. Later there will be more tests, he's sure, maybe even an MRI, and then IVs and pills and injections and endless, voiceless questions with no satisfactory answers. But for now there is only Wilson's thumb, stroking small circles at his temple before brushing down once slowly across his eyes, easing them shut.

It's too easy, he warns himself. It's deceptive. It won't be this easy again.

Still, he reasons, already half-asleep, it can't hurt to let Wilson hold his cares for him, just this once.

So he does, and Wilson does, and House feels himself slipping once more into the dreamless dark.

-fin