Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or the show, but if I could, then I wouldn't say no...
A/N: Set after Half-Wits...not exactly an AU, more like a 'could have happened behind the scenes' thing. Semi-slash.

One

I wish I had let the maids do my laundry.

It isn't the oddest thought to ever have crossed his mind, one couldn't be around the people he is daily and not have far stranger things fly through one's head. But standing before the glass fronted diner, a bag of clothes in one hand and rain soaking through his suit jacket, he has to admit it is pretty damn strange.

The next thought, a short, sharp -oh fuck!- is much more expected. Given the image laid out before him, it's a surprise the phrase isn't echoing round and round until it fills his head and pushes past his lips. Bit it doesn't and he remains silent. His heart pulls in his chest, and as a doctor he knows that can't really happen, but it sure as hell feels that way. Like so long ago, when he had stared through another glass front, longing for the things in front of him the way only someone with no hope of ever having them can. It isn't the model steam train he sees now, though he wishes it was, because that would hurt so much less.

He doesn't know, and actually hopes he never finds out, if Greg (because he is always Greg in the dark recesses of his mind) intended for him to find him here, surrounded by his Fellows, socialising in a way James thought long gone. Because if Greg had searched for the one way to completely screw him over, this is it. Because everything with Tritter, that can be skimmed over, can be put in a box labelled "Drug Addict" because it was all about the pills and never about him, not really. But this, this is more personal, this is what he ripped himself open to offer only hours before. And maybe he hadn't really expected Greg to invite him over, not tonight, because then it would have been as if House had actually listened. But then he hadn't expected this either, so maybe he should start revising his Gregory House Handbook, because somewhere along the way, the language changed and he can't read it anymore.

He wants to walk in there, to join them like he would were they sitting in the Conference Room, because they never invite him in, but they don't send him away either, except this time he thinks they will, and isn't that the story of his life?

This is what he wanted for his friend. Maybe he thought it would include more of himself and less of the ducklings, but this is still what he wanted, and his Mother's voice sounds in the distance about wishing and being careful.

He wonders if this is what it feels like to die, because his life seems to be slashing through his mind, reflected on the rain splattered glass, except it's not all of his life, just the last seventeen years, and it's all Greg's face shifting through the stages of life, and he realises that something is dying tonight even if it isn't really him.

He feels ridiculous because his cheeks are wet and it has nothing to do with the rain, but there's a smile on his face that probably makes him look like he's gotten something he has always wanted, and isn't that true? Because Greg is socialising and laughing and isn't that really what he has always wanted. Except it's not quite right and it's killing a part of him that he's not sure how to live without, but Greg is laughing and that's all that has mattered to him for so long that even as tears pour from his eyes he has to smile.

He knows he shouldn't still be standing here, that it isn't a good thing that he has finally stopped shaking with the cold. But moving away would be to really admit that Greg doesn't need him anymore, and he needs more time to acknowledge that.

Of course, House will still need him, need someone that will defend him from so many fronts that at times he thinks he's actually going to split apart. But he won't need him as a friend anymore, not now that he finally wants other people around. Because James has always been good at surviving on need alone, but when it's gone, and inevitably it always goes, for him there is nothing left. He thinks that he could do more than survive if someone wanted him, but it hasn't happened yet so he doesn't actually know, and he probably never will because even House doesn't want him, after all their years together and that was really the last test.

He thinks about going back to his empty hotel room and it makes the deserted street seem friendlier and more welcome than it has any right to be. Maybe this is what Michael felt when he ran away and it scares him that after all this time of searching for him to bring him back, he might actually like to join him.

He should take his own advice and call some people and have a drink and try to forget the World of House for a while. Only, he has become as isolated as Greg, but he's been on amicable terms with his staff for too long to suddenly make it anything more, and Lisa still isn't sure how to talk to him because Tritter blew holes in everything and it's taking too long to fill them all back in.

He blinks when Greg suddenly turns and their eyes meet. His smile is still perfect because he is happy for Greg really, and even seeing Greg's own smile drop slightly upon seeing him doesn't make his fall. The last chords of their friendship, stretched taught these last few months creak with the strain, and as though a candle has been placed beneath them, strands start to ping apart. He holds the last one tightly in his heart, like a small child clinging to his mother's hand. With a soft nod he lets it go, because he can't bear to see this one break, and almost stumbles under the loss.

He holds the blue gaze for a moment longer, but then someone says something and Greg turns away for a moment, and suddenly there is nothing holding him here anymore, so he turns and walks away before Greg can look back.

He can't ever let anything break completely, and he will always be there is any of the people that walk through his life need him again. It isn't healthy, but it's who he is, so he will be there the next time Greg needs him and, after placing his laundry in his car, he will go sit on the wall he has almost claimed as his own and wait, just in case his brother has decided that tonight he needs him again.