Author's Notes: Well, the end is here. It's been a long journey; trying to get to this point has taken a lot of time and energy, but I'm finally done. I wish I could spend a page and a half thanking everyone who decided to take the journey with me, but alas, the chapter is already too long. So I will simply say thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who read and reviewed and kept pushing me to finish this. Mostly though, I would just like to thank my beta, Olly, whose efforts made this fic possible. There aren't many people in the world who would look at a chapter this long and still be up for the challenge. Thank you so much, Goosey, for agreeing to read all of this and everything else that came before.

Disclaimer: It's not mine.

Edge of Chaos
Chapter Fifteen: Control of Chaos
By Duckie Nicks

"[Arnold's cat map] is a simple and elegant demonstration and illustration of some of the principles of chaos – namely, underlying order to an apparent random evolution of a system. An image (not necessarily a cat) is hit with a transformation that apparently randomizes the original organization of its pixels. However, if iterated enough times, as though by magic, the original image reappears." – "Arnold's Cat Map" by Gabriel Peterson

She woke to an empty bed. Her fingers instinctively ran the length of the fitted sheet to see how long she'd been that way. The mattress all around her cool, it meant that she'd been alone for a while, and Cuddy sighed sleepily at that knowledge. It was still dark outside, maybe a few hours since she'd fallen asleep at most, and he was already gone.

It wasn't that she'd expected House to spend the night spooning with her. That would have been the equivalent of asking a walrus to tap dance, and if she'd had to bet on which were more likely to happen, she would given the animal the benefit of the doubt. But what she had hoped was that his insomnia would take a back seat to his need for sleep.

Then again, she'd also hoped that her exhaustion would have allowed her to sleep through the night. And clearly she'd been wrong about that for reasons she was just beginning to understand. When she'd first woken up, she'd been too tired to recognize what had made her wake. She'd assumed it was House – or rather, a lack of House – but now Cuddy could tell what her problem was.

Well, she could feel what the problem was:

Her throat.

The entire length of her neck ached painfully, and her throat burned as though her attacker's hands were still squeezing the life out of her. In the back of her mind, she'd expected some discomfort, but this was worse than she'd imagined, because it not only hurt more than she though it would.

It also proved to be an unwanted reminder of what had happened.

Pushing the sheets off of her body, Cuddy forced herself to shut down her train of thought. She could see where this was headed; she could tell what would happen if she kept thinking about it. She knew that the more she thought about it, the more she would fixate on how badly things could have ended. And if she did that, then she would turn into the kind of woman she would absolutely despise being – the kind who was afraid and weak and everything she tried not to be.

Which would be bad in and of itself but made so much worse by the fact that she was in House's apartment. If he were to see her give into her blossoming fear….

She'd never hear the end of it.

She was sure of that much.

And even if she were wrong about that part, even if House refrained from humiliating her, she would never forgive herself for it. Because of all the lines she'd been willing to cross, this – being vulnerable like this in front of him – was not one of them; this seemed too risky, even for her.

But then that wasn't anything knew, she supposed. Cuddy had once said that Wilson was a safe option compared to House, and she still believed that to be true. He was too good at stripping away all of her defenses, at reading her inner most thoughts, and manipulating both of those things to get what he wanted. And though she understood that he was considerate of her most of the time, maybe even a little reluctant to hurt her, there was always the danger of him doing just that. When he was in pain, when they were seriously fighting with one another – her weakness was exploited to the max. So voluntarily letting her walls down to let House in…

She was always hesitant to do that – and probably always would be.

Then again, there were times when she had opened the metaphorical door for him. When he'd discovered her foray into fertility, she'd reached out for him.

And she hadn't ever regretted anything more.

He'd tried, of course, to be kind to her. He'd tried to be a supportive friend, and she would never deny that fact; he'd done the best he could.

But so too could she not deny that, in the end, he'd used all of that information against her. When push came to shove, House had thrown her fears of motherhood in her face. He'd known exactly what would hurt her, armed by the parts of herself she'd given him access to, and he'd crushed her with it.

And frankly, Cuddy wasn't interested in repeating the experience again by revealing just how shaken up her brush with the mad man in the clinic had made her. Although she suspected that he wouldn't make fun of her now for feeling the way she did, she couldn't rule out him using all of this against her in the future.

But more importantly, she reminded herself that she had never been a fan of collapsing into a heap of tears and bemoaning all of the terrible moments in life. Had she been one of those women, she would have never been as successful as she had been – as she was. Cameron had once scoffed at the idea of revenge for motive to work hard, but what the younger woman hadn't realized was that there was nothing more powerful than taking control of your emotions and channeling them into something useful.

Unfortunately for Cuddy, channeling her almost suffocating fear into productivity of some sort was an option with limits at the moment. On the whole, in the past, when she'd wanted a distraction from her personal life or from her emotions, she'd relied on work.

But this time, that couldn't happen, because she hadn't brought home any work with her; she'd been in such a hurry to get the hell out of the hospital that she hadn't really considered taking anything, aside from the lidocaine, with her. That didn't mean, however, that she couldn't do something with herself.

What activity that would be, she didn't yet know. But she figured that there was no way she'd distract herself in House's bed (and she silently thanked God then and there that House couldn't read her mind, the sex jokes he'd make over that comment alone), so she pulled herself to her feet.

In the very least, she thought at that moment, she could figure out where House had ended up and what he was doing.

Rubbing her neck lightly, she padded out to the living room. All of the lights were off, but the television was on, casting an odd blue glow onto all of the furniture and shapeless shadows onto the walls. The Great Escape was playing on the screen, but the room was silent, save for the rain, which must have started to pour in buckets while she was sleeping, pinging against the windows.

She could only assume that the movie was on mute because of House's tinnitus. And the idea that something as simple as a film might make his life unbearable made her frown deeply.

Taking tentative steps towards the couch, Cuddy wasn't surprised when she discovered House, wide awake, sprawled out on it with a blanket lying on top of him.

Her voice huskier than usual, she asked, "Did you sleep at all?"

He shook his head. "It started to rain right after you started drooling on my shoulder."

"I don't drool," she fought back. Her voice cracked like a thirteen year old boy going through puberty, and she frowned at that; although she knew her larynx was physically okay, the little damage that had been done made her nervous.

It made her remember.

"You do," House said, interrupting her thoughts unknowingly. "But when I got up, I just assumed you'd slobber on my pillow. I didn't realize you'd wake up, because I was gone."

Cuddy fought the urge to hit him. Tersely she instead explained, "I didn't wake up, because you were gone. Although I'm sure you think that I'm desperate for your body, I'm really not." House scoffed, but she ignored his vote of confidence by jutting out her chin and adding, "I only woke up, because my throat hurts."

Admittedly it sounded like a lie. More precisely, it sounded like a weak, lame lie that she would cling to when the truth worked in his favor. But oddly enough, she wasn't lying. Her throat did bother her; it had woken her up, and it wasn't her fault if it sounded like a lie, she told herself peevishly.

Closing her eyes, she waited for the insulting reply House was sure to utter. She had no doubt that he would say something quick and cutting; this was House after all, and honestly she embraced that fact for the first time in a long time. She didn't exactly want to be insulted, but at least it was a distraction. Which was what she wanted, she reminded herself silently as she braced herself for a fight.

Yet no fight came. Instead House's demeanor completely changed in that instant. "Come here," he said quietly, in a tone that didn't quite approach friendly.

Her eyes popping open, she looked at him suspiciously. She hadn't expected this kind of reaction, and to be honest, she didn't know what to do or say. Insults she was used to, this… not so much. And she needed a few seconds to assess the situation.

However, at this point, Cuddy was too tired to really do that. Her eyes burned with the desire for slumber; every muscle in her body ached, and really just wanting to go to bed, she figured the sooner she cooperated, the sooner she could find an outlet for her to pour all of her emotions into, the sooner she could go back to sleep.

Resigned to her fate, she trudged around the side of the couch. Wordlessly House rolled over onto his side and propped himself up on an elbow so she could sit down. Of course, she didn't sit as much as she ungracefully flopped down onto the sofa.

House's warm fingers immediately went for her neck, which made her flinch embarrassingly enough. She muttered something about his hands being cold as he brushed her dark hair onto her shoulders, but it was a throwaway line. One she had no doubt that he didn't believe. The worn pads of his fingertips lightly palpating the injured area, she was nothing short of relieved when he didn't comment on the lie. Rather, he asked her, "I assume someone looked at your neck when you had your lip sutured."

She nodded her head, even though it was only slightly true. Wilson had seen the injury first hand, but he hadn't given it a thorough exam. And she was okay with that, because having a detailed examination would have made her uncomfortable.

"You're lying," House deduced knowingly, his gaze trained on hers heatedly. "But you'll be fine. Take an aspirin; drink some cold water, and shut up. Talking will just make it worse."

Cuddy scowled. "Stop picking fights with me, and I won't have to keep talking," she replied snottily. "And nice bedside manner. No wonder I have to set aside thousands of dollars every year to pay for your legal fees."

House bristled at the comment as though it were the most ridiculous thing on the planet. "The point is you'll be fine. Now get out of the way, so I can finish watching the movie."

But she didn't move. "You should be sleeping," she told him softly.

His response was a quick "can't."

"You haven't slept in days. Your body needs sleep in order to heal."

"And yours requires you to stop talking. So. Stop talking."

He was annoyed, clearly so. His jaw clenched together in rhythmic intervals, and his eyes flashed brightly with irritation. Cuddy would never tell him this, but she could always tell when he was angry with her from his eyes alone; the blue of his irises, for some inexplicable reason, became bluer, clearer. And right now they were about as blue as they'd ever been.

She didn't really understand why he was suddenly so irritated with her. But he obviously was, which led her to believe that his exhaustion was affecting him more than he'd initially led on. "You're tired," she said suspiciously.

"Shut up." He was scowling as he said it, but while he did so, he tugged the edge of the blanket out from under his body. Holding it up in a welcoming way, he told her, "All right. If you're going to keep annoying me, at least lay down, so I can see the screen." When she suspiciously raised an eyebrow in response, House hastily added, "Relax, Gidget. I'm not trying to seduce you."

"Thank God for that," she muttered without thinking.

He gave her a dark look before finishing his train of thought; "I'd just like to watch the part where they actually escape, since that is the whole point of the movie."

She was about to say something in return, something along the lines of "You should be in bed, not watching a movie you've seen fifty times," but she didn't have the chance. House was too quick to bark out, "Either lie down, go away, or I'm going to finish the job and smother you with a pillow."

His words were cool if not downright cruel. Yet the hand between her shoulder blades was still warmly pressed into her flesh, taking the bite out of everything he was saying. And she didn't know if it was because of that or the stupidity that came part and parcel with exhaustion that made her do it, but she did what he'd told her to do. Pulling her legs up onto the sofa, she laid down next to him on her side.

It wasn't the most comfortable position for her. House, being a jerk, was hogging both of the throw pillows, his head propped up against them. For a brief moment, she contemplated demanding one, but realizing success was unlikely, she peevishly kept her mouth shut. Pillowless, she had to rest her head on her hands to keep out of House's line of sight, which made her neck ache at the slight strain placed on it.

Even less comfortable than that was House's arm trapped beneath her. The limb wedged between the couch and her body, it pressed awkwardly into her rib cage. His hand was lightly curled against her side, and she could almost delude herself into thinking that he was holding her. Almost only, thank God, because if she'd actually been able to believe House was holding her while spooned up against her, then she would have had to admit that she was more insane than she'd previously suspected.

It wasn't that she wouldn't like to believe that he could be that emotionally comfortable and open with her. Truth be told, she'd uncharacteristically yearned for that the last two months. If only because it would have made dealing with Amber's death all the more easier, Cuddy had wished that House would confide in her. But he wasn't able to do that for whatever reason, and she couldn't pretend that they were different with one another.

Of course, she couldn't really find fault with him for maintaining his distance. She preferred to do that herself, after all, so how could she judge him for doing the same thing?

Besides, they worked best this way. Stuck in the fuzzy nexus between friends, enemies, and lovers, they were most at ease with one another when they avoided settling into any specific set of labels. Why that was, she didn't really know. At best, she had a theory that maybe they both needed the freedom being more and less than friends offered, because it allowed them to say and do all sorts of things no friend, enemy, or lover could, would, or should say or do. And she was complacent with that fact if occasionally angered and frustrated by it.

What she wasn't content with was their current situation.

Now granted, she couldn't deny that there was something bizarrely and inappropriately nice about lying on the couch with a man pressed up against her. But in this case, it wasn't relaxing in the least. If anything the whole thing was completely unnerving for her.

As he tucked her in underneath his blanket, she had to wonder what was happening between her and House. One minute they were fighting; the next they were spooning, and the disjointedness of it all made her tense and unable to focus on the movie or House.

Considering everything they'd both been through, she supposed that it wasn't all that odd for them to be… seeking comfort in one another. It had been a really long time since she'd been in a relationship, but from what she remembered, it wasn't bizarre for two people, who had both individually been through so much, to come together like this.

In fact, it almost made sense, she thought. They'd always been obviously attracted to one another; they'd slept together before. She'd been living with him for two months now, and she'd been taking care of him that entire time. And although he hadn't reciprocated on that end, Cuddy had just been through something… slightly traumatic, she conceded. All of that together, it seemed like foregone conclusion on paper.

But that didn't make it feel any less weird in reality.

Focusing her gaze on the movie playing, she wondered if House felt the same way right about now.

Of course, she sure as hell wasn't going to ask him. That would just end in disaster, she knew. So instead she complained, "Although I'm sure you've seen this movie a thousand times, I haven't, so can we please turn up the volume?"

House made a face at her but ultimately complied by reaching for the remote on the sofa's elbow. Frankly he was all but happy to do that; he hadn't intended to use this scenario to cop a feel of Cuddy's breasts (he'd really just wanted her to shut up). But when she'd lain down on top of his arm, the side of his hand had been sweetly pressed against her boob. And if he, hoping to get a little double-the-funbag-double-the fun action, could press his luck even further by using the remote to change the location of his free hand, he was going to.

Turning up the volume, he snidely asked her, "Happy?" As he made a dramatic show of giving her what he wanted, he masterfully worked to get what he wanted.

"Hmm," she said with a slight nod of the head. "If it makes you feel better, I'll fall back to sleep soon," she explained.

"Tired?"

She nodded her head once more. "And I'm going to go in to work early tomorrow if I can… assuming I can trust you to be alone."

At that moment, House felt some part of himself sour at the thought. He didn't know why that was, but for whatever reason, something in her words made his mood change. Not that he'd been in a good mood before, but nevertheless, melancholy – he could feel it – was creeping up on him. And he had to fight it off to return to the task at hand.

Literally.

Forcing himself to ignore her words (and that was easy to do as groping always came before explaining his emotions), he dropped the remote around the upper part of her rib cage before allowing his hand to follow.

He was subtle about it – make no mistake: he was sly about the whole thing. A lesser man would have gone straight for the prize, but he was smarter than that. Instead of cupping her greedily, he merely allowed the flesh between his thumb and index finger graze along the underside of her cleavage.

Having had some practice in this particular art, House moved his hand in such a lazy way that, to Cuddy, it would just seem that he happened to rest his hand near her chest. And if, at some point, his fingers also happened to drift farther north, well… that would seem like an accident too.

Okay, so it sounded a bit… date rape-y; although he never claimed to be the most moral person, the way he was thinking made him seem far more loathsome – even to himself. But in his own defense, he wasn't hurting her, and he had no intention of doing so. If she told him to back off, he would.

And in the meantime, he was going to enjoy the few parts of her he did like, he thought with a smile.

Or not, he realized immediately, frowning as Cuddy told him in annoyance, "Stop trying to feel me up."

Weakly he tried to defend his honor. "I'm not –"

"Yeah, you are."

Shifting his head on the pillows, House said, "Okay. Maybe I am, but it's accidental."

"No, it's not," she dismissed under her breath.

"Where else am I supposed to put my hand?" He dramatically pulled it away from her and let it hang in the air. "Your enormous ass is taking over the rest of the couch."

"Oh, it is not." She tugged his hand down in irritation, pushing it towards her stomach. "And if you were so worried about my ass, which is, in your estimation, apparently the size of Lake Tahoe, you shouldn't have insisted I join you on –"

"I didn't insist," he interrupted irritably. "I gave you a choice to either join me, get the hell out of the way, or die. You're the one who decided to smother my thighs with your backside."

At first Cuddy didn't say anything. Her jaw clamped shut, she remained silent for a few moments before exhaling a deep, shuddering breath. He couldn't deduce, not from this angle anyway, if she were more angry or frustrated. But he didn't doubt that she was feeling both.

When she sat up as though she'd been hit by a bolt of lightning, she quickly gave him an answer. She grumpily angled her body so that she could face him, and he could see the frustration in every line of her features. Her arms folded across her chest, she pointed out, "This is why you and I will never –"

"Oh, I'm sorry," he interrupted mockingly with a fake pout on his face. "Did you think that this was an attempt on my part to seduce you? Make you my girlfriend?"

"I don't know what you're trying to do," she confessed unexpectedly. "I don't even think you know at this point what it is you're trying to do. You're just…" She paused, sighing on an exhale. When she spoke again, her voice was calmer. "You keep doing these things that I don't understand and…"

She said more after that, but by then he'd stopped listening. He was too affronted by her insane implication that he was the one pushing this thing when clearly she'd been the one to start it.

And he decided to tell her as much.

"Last I checked, you're the one who's been all touchy feely with the hugs and –"

"Because you are so unhappy," she defended in a high-pitched tone that made his ears ring. "You are so intent on pretending like losing Wilson doesn't mean anything, that losing Amber doesn't mean anything, and –"

Angrily he interrupted by throwing what had happened to her right back at her. "And how's it feel to have the crap strangled out of you?" Sitting up, he suggested, "If I'm acting like something bad hasn't happened, one thing I know is that I'm not alone, now am I?"

Her entire demeanor changed. In a matter of seconds, she'd gone from frustration to deeply yearning and now to infuriated. Her voice low and filled with disbelief, Cuddy said, "I cannot believe that you would bring that up."

"Then you must not know me at all," he replied easily with a shrug.

"After everything I've done for you, you're going to bring that up now." She nodded her head as though she were just beginning to understand something about his character.

And secretly, House kind of wished she would share whatever knowledge she had with the class, because he really had no idea why he was picking this fight with her. She'd mentioned going back to work tomorrow, and everything about the way he approached this moment with her had changed. Had changed so much that he couldn't even begin to trace the evolution of his mood.

But if she could do that, she didn't tell him – much to his dismay. She was too busy waiting for an apology that would never come to explain to him what had happened. And when he didn't give her what he wanted, Cuddy stood up angrily. "Fine," she snapped. "Be an asshole and sleep on the couch. I'll leave your medication on the counter before I leave."

And though she'd essentially ended the conversation right then and there, she didn't make any move to leave. She just kept standing there, still expecting that apology more than likely.

Truth be told, House wouldn't – couldn't – deny that she had the right to demand such a thing. He'd picked this fight with her; he'd pushed her.

He'd hurt her.

And that absolutely earned her an "I'm sorry" or two.

However…

All of his experience from the last two months and years preceding them had taught him that an apology always came with a cost. And that price tag didn't just come in the form of a bruise to his ego; it also involved the humiliation of having to then explain why he'd created the fight in the first place – or at least, the embarrassment of having to come up with a half-decent lie on the spot to explain his behavior. Because he couldn't just say, "I'm sorry" and be done with it. She would, understandably, want to know why he'd done what he'd done.

And in this case, he wasn't sure he wanted to know what his reasons were. One hundred per cent, absolutely, they couldn't be good ones or ones he could easily explain away. So knowing that, he refused to pursue the matter any further. As much as he liked to break down the mechanics behind any person's decisions, this was one time where he wasn't going to be going anywhere near that.

In doing so, though, he was forced to remain silent, resistant to Cuddy's imploring look. And that made her angrier than any reply he could have uttered would have. Glancing at her enraged features, he could tell that much just by looking at her.

Her lips had thinned out into a single, straight line of dissatisfaction. In the seconds of quiet he'd given her, her chin had puckered together; whether or not that was out of the desire to yell at him or to cry, he didn't know. After a beat, he thought that the answer was probably both.

In the end, however, she did neither. Her head bowed slightly toward her chest, she stormed off instead. The sounds of her harried footsteps were echoed by the way Steve McQueen rhythmically bounced his ball against the walls of his solitary cell.

It was enough noise for House to instinctively reach for the remote once more. As he put the television on mute for the second time that evening, he couldn't help but wonder:

Why the hell had he just screwed everything up?


A loud series of knocks yanked Foreman from slumber only mere minutes after he'd fallen asleep. His head having just hit the pillow, he was in no mood to get up to see who amongst his friends and family had no human decency. But he supposed he had no choice when the person at the door just kept on knocking – not if he wanted to get any sleep anyway.

Lamenting the interruption, he didn't even ponder who was at the door as he trudged out of his bedroom. In hindsight, when it was all over, he supposed that the answer to the un-asked question was obvious. But at the time, he couldn't have cared less about what it was the knocker wanted. And that feeling didn't really change when he yanked the door open and saw Thirteen, her eyes rimmed red, standing in front of him.

Her hands were nervously tucked into the pockets of her skinny jeans, and an awkwardly forced conciliatory smile on her face, she asked, "Can I come in?"

Foreman found himself nodding his head before he'd even had a chance to realize that he really wanted to say no.

She took a few steps into his apartment, her heeled boots scuffing lightly on the hardwood floor. But she didn't venture in any further, as though she was too afraid to.

He didn't think it was a matter of consideration for his feelings. Thirteen had never struck him as the kind of person who would care about whether or not he was comfortable with her being in his apartment. Given how she'd had no problem drugging House to get a biopsy of his liver, Foreman didn't doubt for a second that she would have busted right through the door if it had suited her purpose to do so.

And that meant that her discomfort now was all about her.

As if to prove the point, she nervously glanced back at him as he closed the door; she looked as though he'd just barred her only potential exit as though she were reconsidering her decision to come here altogether.

Honestly, more than anything, Foreman found her growing indecision to be rather annoying. He'd been asleep, enjoying one of the few minutes of peace he'd been afforded in his once-more growing work schedule, and here she was treating him as though he'd forced the meeting.

Sighing, he tried to keep the impatience out of his voice as he prompted, "What's up?"

She didn't reply right away. At first she just stood there, rocking back and forth on her heels in indecision. But when he started to ask her again, she was quick to answer by pulling a piece of paper out of the messenger bag slung over her shoulder. "Here."

He took it but didn't look at it. His gaze was blurry with the desire to sleep, and frankly he didn't feel like reading anything when she could just tell him what was going on. Pretending to glance over it, he asked, "What's this?"

She cleared her throat and forced out in a tense voice, "It's my letter of resignation."

Foreman didn't react.

He didn't know how to react.

He wasn't even sure he'd heard her right – he mustn't have heard her right – and he didn't know what to say without looking like a complete idiot. He wanted to ask her if she'd actually said that she was quitting, but doing that was essentially admitting that he had no idea what was going on.

Then again…

He was tired, and he kinda didn't.

Parroting what he thought he'd heard her say, he asked doubtfully, "Your letter of resignation?" She nodded her head but didn't give him a single reason for why she would take such a drastic action. "Why?"

Thirteen shrugged immediately. But then she must have figured out that that was a really lame way to respond to his question, because she nervously tucked a thin strand of hair behind her ear. "You were right," she admitted, swallowing hard. "I've been terrible at my job."

Inwardly, Foreman cringed. Moments like these were the reason he didn't have a girlfriend. It was why he chose not to have a girlfriend, he mentally corrected upon realizing how pathetic his original statement made him seem. By saying he just didn't have a girlfriend made it seem like he couldn't get one, and he could definitely get one if he wanted to. No matter how empty his social calendar had been the past three or four months, he still had game (he refused to even consider otherwise). He'd just made the conscious choice not to use it.

All of the hand holding, all of the reassurances that needed to be made – he hated having to do that. Especially after a long day's work, he didn't have it in him to be sympathetic. And this particular instance wasn't any different. He really didn't want to have to spend the next couple hours trying to make her feel better – not when he could be in his warm bed sleeping and dreaming of less complicated women who only wanted one thing from him.

But it wasn't meant to be, he lamented with a frown.

He would have to make her feel better, even if he didn't want to, if he hoped to ever get any sleep tonight. And knowing that, he was quick to say, "I didn't mean –"

"No," she interrupted quickly, an understanding smile on her face and a small chuckle escaping her thin body. "No, you were right. Completely right about the way I've been acting."

Well, this was new, he thought, knitting his eyebrows together in confusion. "I am?"

"I've been a terrible doctor," Thirteen said simply. "I was… only thinking of myself this entire time." Laughing joylessly some more, she confided in him, "You know, I can't even remember the last time I paid attention to a differential; I've been so focused on Huntington's and tests and what…"

Her voice trailed off in a defeated sigh, the shift in behavior making Foreman wonder if she'd ever been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Okay, that sounded bad. He understood that some form of insanity was what most people (but especially men) cited when dealing with a person (especially women) they didn't understand. But in this case, this was more than sexism, more than an inability to understand where she was coming from; she was going from nervous to something approaching manic and now bottoming out again. Her moods were unpredictable and all over the map, and it made Foreman's head spin as he desperately tried to keep up with her.

Yet he didn't understand the change in mood until she finished her initial thought with a graveness that nearly took his breath away. "What will happen to me."

But that didn't make him feel any less confused. "And you think quitting will help you forget about what's going to happen to you?"

She shook her head and shifted her weight onto her heels. "No. I…" She closed her mouth solemnly before trying again to speak. "Talking to you made me realize that I've been avoiding work for a reason."

"And that reason would be… what exactly?"

Gesturing to herself, Thirteen explained, obviously in pain, "I know I'm going to die… sooner rather than later. And watching you walk out of the bar, seeing you go back to a job where you deal with life and death – it made me realize that I can't do that anymore."

He sagged against the front door. This certainly wasn't going to be a short conversation – just as the conversation where he had to tell House that Thirteen had quit wouldn't be a short one either. "So you're just going to, what, drink all day and night until your disease progresses? Because that doesn't exactly seem like a good way to spend the rest of your life either," he told her with more than a hint of unintended bitterness in every word. Apparently he couldn't be nice or understanding about this, even if the situation dictated that he be so.

"No," she agreed after a moment of silence. "You were right about that too."

"Then what are you going to do?"

She looked nervous and shrugged shakily. "I don't know… swim across the Chesapeake Bay? Run the New York or Boston marathon? Build some homes with Habitat for Humanity? I don't know."

Instantly Foreman shook his head, seeing the problem in her plan… or in her lack of one. He'd been through this before with friends and colleagues who'd quit med school or dropped out during their residency, and he knew what would inevitably happen with her.

She would probably consider herself unique in this, but Foreman knew that she wasn't, that she wouldn't be. Because she like the rest of them would be lost without the job, without the rigors and schedule of being a doctor. And if she had a set of goals, if she knew what she wanted to do, she might be okay. But just quitting like this…

It wouldn't end well.

Deciding to tell her this, he explained in calm, even tones, "You want to quit your job – I can understand that… I guess. But before you do that, you have to have a plan. You have to know what you're going to do. Or you'll spin out of control and end up in more pain than you're already in."

"No, that's what's going to happen if I stay here, doing a job that I don't want to do." Jamming her hands into her pockets once more, Thirteen said slowly, "When I showed up for House's… insane job interview, I was taking a risk. I was seeing how good I was, how far I could push myself. And House hiring me showed me that I was good."

But Foreman disagreed with her assessment. "Being hired is an honor, but it doesn't make you good much less a great doctor. It just means that House sees promise in you, promise that you're willing to waste, because you, what, can't deal with other people suffering at the same time as you?"

He could feel himself scowling at her, and he didn't mean to sound so hateful, but he couldn't help it. She was throwing away a good opportunity for reasons he couldn't quite wrap his mind around. "I don't get that," he added after a moment.

"I don't expect you to." She started to head for the door, but she couldn't get out unless he were to move.

And frankly Foreman wasn't interested in doing that just yet.

"Wait a minute," he said, holding his hands up. "You can't just say that and leave."

"What else is there to talk about? I said all I needed to say." He bristled at the comment, which forced her to add, "You obviously don't like what it is that I want to do with my life, and you've said what you wanted to say. And I've heard it, so… I think we're done here."

"You need to think about this some more."

"Believe me when I say that I have thought about it. I can pretend to think about it some more if that will make you happy, but I won't change my mind," she said obstinately.

But Foreman remained unmoved. After all, as much as she wanted to act like she was in charge of this situation, the fact was he could refuse to accept her resignation. Or worse, he could take this bit of information to House, and she could deal with his insanity.

Feeling the need to share that info with her, Foreman said, "I don't have to accept your resignation. I also don't have to wait until you've taken a plane ride to Cambodia to raise orphaned chimpanzees to tell House. And he'll be even less understanding than I am."

She scoffed at the threat. "You wouldn't tell him."

"I will."

"Cuddy won't let you."

This time he was the one to scoff – not only because their fight was beginning to sound like two children threatening to tattle, but also because he knew Cuddy way better than Thirteen did. "You've worked for House how many months now? Seen him do how many underhanded things to avoid Cuddy yelling at him? You really think I haven't learned a thing or two along the way?"

"Well, you haven't exactly learned how to be a doctor like him, so I would say yes to that question," she said with a thin, predatory smile.

The insult wounded him as was intended. Even though he understood rationally that she was just lashing out, it was hard for Foreman to cut the emotional part of him out of the conversation. And in the end, he couldn't help but feel anger and defensiveness creep into his system.

His spine becoming ramrod straight, he asked her, "How many people did you kill this year?" When she blanched at the question, he knew that his words had had their effect. "We've both made mistakes. We've both killed people."

There was more regret in those words than he would have liked.

He didn't mean to fixate on the patients he'd killed; he didn't want to do that, anyway. But he couldn't help himself. The guilt had lessened but not by much. It still felt like a very heavy part of him that he couldn't shake, that he couldn't avoid thinking about.

And Foreman could see the same emotion flitting through Thirteen's eyes in reaction to what he'd said. So he went in for the kill. "The only difference between you and me is that I'm still trying to be as good as House is."

At that moment, suddenly, Foreman could see what he'd been trying to achieve all of these years; he wanted to be as good as House – he wanted to save lives like House could. And though Foreman supposed he'd known that for some time, he could finally appreciate what all of his struggles had been for.

The past two months, there'd been nothing but cases he'd failed to diagnose, and he'd questioned whether or not he'd ever be good enough. He'd been trying so hard to outdo House, to escape all of the trappings of House that Foreman had failed to remember just how much he'd already learned.

How much he could and would learn.

And though that didn't make everything better, didn't take away the sting of failure, for the first time in a long time, Foreman could see the point in the struggle to be better: he might not ever be as good as House. But then again, Foreman also wasn't doing what Thirteen was doing.

Instantly he accused. "You don't want to learn just how great you are. You want to settle for just making the team. You learn you have this disease, and you want to throw everything away for it."

She bristled. Swallowing she argued weakly, "That's not what I'm doing."

"Sure, it is."

"I'm accepting my diagnosis," she told him snottily, accentuating every syllable in each word.

His reply was a doubtful "Right. People who've accepted that they're ill forget about everything they hold dearly."

"I have accepted it. I have Huntington's Disease, and I'm… okay with that. I've accepted that there's nothing I can do about it."

But she didn't sound as confident that time, and Foreman could see that. The bite in her words was gone, and she seemed more hesitant than she had only moments before. And he decided to use that to his advantage by taking a gamble.

"You know what?" He stepped away from the door. "If you want to quit, that's fine. I'll accept your resignation and give it to Cuddy tomorrow night, and she can figure out when and how to tell House."

"Good," she said earnestly, moving towards him, so she could leave.

"I'm not finished," he told her in a stern voice that stopped her in her tracks. "If that's what you want, fine. But if you actually want to give your life meaning, if you want to enjoy what time you have left, you'll show up for work tomorrow. You'll do what you would have done if you weren't sick."

One of her eyebrows raised, she asked, "Are you done now?"

He nodded his head, knowing that there was nothing more he could do or say to stop her from making this mistake.

"Wonderful." Thirteen opened the door and stepped into the hallway with more assurance than she'd had when he'd first seen her. Which made complete sense, because she was pissed off, incensed by his refusal to say what she wanted to hear.

He didn't feel too bad about upsetting her though. If she was going to come here in the middle of the night and wake him up, then Foreman felt that he had the right to say anything he damn well pleased.

As he closed and locked the front door once more, he wondered if he'd done the right thing. From what he'd seen, Thirteen was on the verge of destroying herself long before Huntington's ever did. And because of that, Foreman wasn't entirely sure how she would respond to what he'd said; really, it could go either way, and one wrong word, he knew, would make things worse.

But as he lazily headed back towards his bedroom, he also knew that what he'd said had been true. All of the things he'd told her had been more than just empty conversations and threats. And though she would probably want to deny that, if she had any brains in her….

Well, of course, she was smart. If she weren't, then House would have been wrong to hire her, and Foreman knew that, more than anything, his boss was capable of spotting intelligence in others.

So that meant that Thirteen would have to see the truth. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but at some point, she would realize that giving into her illness and self pity was a mistake. And when she did that, the very second she did that, she would come back, more potent than she'd ever been.

Lying down once more, Foreman smiled in the dark. A fact appearing to him as though it were bathed in bright, white light, there was no doubt in his mind that she would be back eventually. He mightn't have been as smart as House, as gifted at instinctively knowing what people were thinking or trying to do, but Foreman knew that much.

Yes, she would come back.


Right before dawn, Wilson woke with an angry start that was so violent the muscles in his body twinged from the effort. He was drenched in sweat, Cuddy's sheets wrapped tight around his legs. And he struggled to put air in his lungs, his mouth hanging open and his breathing obnoxiously loud.

He'd been dreaming of Cuddy.

Not in the enjoyable sort of way he sometimes did either.

This had been nothing short of a nightmare, the day's events clearly plaguing his mind. In the dream, Wilson had imagined her bleeding, choking, dying… dead. Her lifeless corpse on a cement floor, her dark hair spilled across her pale cheeks. Her pupils were dilated, empty, and unfocused. And though he'd only stumbled across her in the dream, it had been enough to send Wilson reeling into consciousness.

Sitting alone in bed now, he was torn between the impulse to laugh and the one to call Cuddy in a panic to make sure she was okay. The latter was really the most instinctive. All the years of being concerned for the women around him, picking up the phone seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do.

House had once said that he was only attracted to women in need. Wilson didn't think that was one hundred percent true, but at the same time, he couldn't deny that he had almost always been drawn to women who needed help. And this wasn't all that different.

Except that it kind of was.

Since Amber had died, he'd told himself that he should care less about others. He'd decided that the reason his girlfriend had died at all was because he hadn't been able to see what was most important to him; he'd simply given everything – House, his patients, his lover – equal importance, an equal share of his heart, and that had left Wilson exhausted and ultimately alone.

Knowing that, he thought it made no sense to feel the need to call Cuddy now. She had a place in his life, but she certainly wasn't the most important person in it. She'd decided to live with House, and hadn't that been all the proof Wilson had needed to see that she didn't value him as much as he thought she did? Hadn't that been reason enough to say to himself that he didn't have to support her and befriend her every single minute of every single day?

Apparently the answer to those questions was a resounding no. Not even the fact that Cuddy seemed okay by the whole incident with her patient calmed him. Wilson couldn't help but think that was odd; if anyone should have been upset by what had happened, it should have been her.

It should have been the victim in the entire attack.

And maybe she was to some extent, but for the most part, she seemed… peeved that someone had had the audacity to strangle her, downright furious that her security team had failed her, and overall eager to move past the event.

Really, given the way she was acting, Wilson thought that the most natural thing to do would be to drop it, to pretend that nothing had ever happened. It was what she clearly wanted and something that he understood would be relatively easy to give her. Certainly, it would be easier to say nothing than to initiate a conversation about her feelings on almost being murdered.

That thought embedded in his mind, it didn't help his impulse to laugh at his own concern.

One would think, he thought ruefully, that with two brothers, he wouldn't have the personality of his Jewish grandmother. One would think he'd be able to resist the urge to ring his hands and to be worried about every little thing.

But clearly something had gone wrong in his childhood – or suffocating amounts of sympathy were written all over his genes – because he was still reacting to nearly every situation with worry.

Honestly, the only person it seemed he could remain cold to these days was House. And even that offered little comfort to Wilson, because he hadn't seen House in months. So it probably wasn't all that difficult to not care.

Except…

It kind of was.

Wilson sighed, yanking the covers off of his sweat-soaked body.

As he got out of Cuddy's bed, silently giving it a glare as though it were responsible for his nightmare, he had to admit that even hating House was harder than it should have been.

Oh, he didn't want to be friends with the man who murdered his girlfriend.

That would never happen if he had anything to say about it.

But… if today had proven one thing, it was that diagnostics was harder than Wilson could have imagined. There was more pressure, more room to fail than he had realized. As much as he'd known that there would be a considerable amount of guesswork and trial and error, he hadn't been prepared for the feelings of failure. Which was odd, because Wilson was an oncologist – the kind of doctor who routinely had to deal with the very dark and real aspects of the medical profession.

Before today's patient, he'd had more than his fair share of sick kids and patients too ill to survive chemo. He'd seen the ones who were too optimistic to suffer the indignities of a bald head, the ones who were too defeated to bother with treatment, and everything in between. And by comparison, diagnostics should have been a cakewalk.

Actually, considering the regularly positive results he'd had in House's department before today, Wilson had actually believed that working there more permanently would be easy.

But it hadn't been.

Not at all.

As he padded to the kitchen to grab a glass of water, he felt a pang of guilt thrust him into full consciousness. He'd been so distracted by what had happened to Cuddy that this was the first time since it had happened that he considered how awful it really was to have failed his patient.

That family had looked to him for all the answers… and he'd only been interested in proving to everyone that he was better than House, above him. They'd wanted a cure, but Wilson had involved them – both his patient and his team – in his curse.

Which was what it was really at this point.

A curse.

His inability to choose Amber – well, himself, he supposed – over House and everyone else had set an entire series of disasters into motion. He'd gotten Amber killed, injured House, lost his best friend, forced the woman Wilson would consider his next best friend out of his life, killed this girl, probably helped break up Chase and Cameron…

The list went on and on, and if he stopped outlining the last two months of his life, it wasn't because he'd run out of bad things that had happened. Nearly gotten Cuddy killed, pissed Thirteen off so that she didn't show up to work anymore – it never ended, it seemed.

Plopping down on Cuddy's couch, a glass of water in his hand, he sighed. For all of the distance he'd tried to put between himself and House…

With the way things were going, it just seemed like Wilson was becoming more and more like him. And with that happening, it was becoming harder and harder to judge House, to hate him, to believe that anyone other than Wilson himself was responsible for everything that had occurred recently.

Placing the glass of water on the coffee table, a loud clink piercing the silence, Wilson understood:

It would be a while before he fell asleep once more.


Two days had passed since their argument on the couch, and they still hadn't resolved the matter. Of course, in order to solve an issue, Cuddy supposed that you had to know what it was that was actually causing the problem. And in this instance, she had no clue what had made things with House turn so bad, so fast.

Her instinct was to blame it on his head injuries. Irrational behavior, emotional lability – they were all classic symptoms of traumatic brain injury, and he'd definitely had enough trauma to bring out both of those things.

But then that almost seemed like an easy answer. To not look at the big picture, to not examine all of the things that had led up to the fight and just give into the simplest diagnosis… it felt like cheating even if a head injury would explain those things.

Yet, as she sat at her desk, she could only think that there was no deeper explanation to be found. For all of her searching, she hadn't discovered any definitive reason for his behavior. At most, she had a couple of theories but nothing good enough to sway her one way or the other. If anything, retracing the events had only made it even more clear that one second he'd been holding her and things had been so nice and then the next… fighting with him over something that didn't even make sense.

It wasn't a matter of intimacy.

She'd decided that much early on, and the more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that it wasn't about the closeness itself. After all, if House had been so afraid of being close to her, then he shouldn't have – wouldn't have – asked for her to join him on the couch. And surely, if it had been a matter of realizing belatedly that he didn't want the closeness, they wouldn't still be fighting now. Things would have been cool, yes; he would have tried to keep her at a distance, obviously, but he would still talk to her. He would still look at her when she entered the room. But House was so pissed off, he wasn't even eyeing her cleavage.

Cuddy couldn't even remember the last time that had happened.

Actually, thinking about it now, she was pretty sure that had never happened before. For as long as she'd known him, he'd never passed up the opportunity to get a look (or to even be so bold as to stare) at her body. But now, he was all but totally uninterested, and that made her even more confused.

Part of her had considered that maybe, after practically groping her on the couch, House had simply had his fill of her. Maybe, after all of these years, he'd grown tired of drooling over her looks.

That seemed unlikely though. The last two days, she'd decided to test him by dressing as provocatively as she could get away with; the skirt she was currently wearing was so tight she could barely sit down in it. And none of that had provoked him into saying anything even remotely sexist or disparaging. Which she took to mean that either she'd suddenly lost the figure she'd worked so hard to maintain (which she doubted) or he'd lost all interest.

But she couldn't believe that he'd become uninterested that quickly. And even if he had, what sense did it make for him to completely ignore her for two days? How was moping around the apartment with Hitler the appropriate alternative to constantly making sexist remarks?

She had no answer for those questions, and though she longed to once again cite his brain injury, she resisted the temptation. Because House, even in his current state, didn't do things without reason. There was always a reason, always some sort of twisted logic, behind his behavior.

It would be something she'd done, something she'd said to upset him. It would be something he'd thought of in the middle of the night that drove him to his mood swing. And even when she couldn't quite understand why he would react to the event in the most negative way possible, she'd been able to see how he'd gotten from point A to B.

But there wasn't anything like that with this particular fight. All she'd done was join him on the couch on his insistence. How could he be mad at her for doing what he'd essentially forced her hand in doing?

It didn't make any sense for that to be the case… unless his whole goal had been to lull her into doing something he could then reasonably yell at her for. But even that was convoluted enough to seem unlikely. And in the end, it would have meant that she'd done something earlier in the week to piss him off, and she couldn't think of an event that had occurred that was also worth creating this entire scheme.

Sighing not for the first time today, Cuddy knew that she needed to accept that she was at a loss; she had no idea why they'd gotten into a fight. But somehow… that was actually hard to do. As easy as it should have been to say, "I don't know," it wasn't.

Granted, she'd never been particularly eager to admit that she was clueless about something. Given that her entire life had been about demonstrating how knowledgeable she was, it was hard – if not impossible – for her to accept that she might not ever understand this one thing. Especially since House was involved, guaranteeing that this wouldn't be the end of it, it was difficult.

And Cuddy was ready to replay the events of the past week in her head again right then and there, work be damned. But she didn't get the chance; Wilson knocking on her office door and coming inside stopped her.

A kind smile on his face, he asked her, "What's up?"

She looked up at him, a blank expression purposely on her own face so as to mask her feelings.

And not just those feelings she was having about House.

To be completely honest, Cuddy was more ambivalent about her current relationship with Wilson. Although she'd been the one to press for their friendship to move forward past Amber, it was still odd and confusing to take those first few steps with him. He'd been so angry with Cuddy, even two days ago, that it was downright weird for him to be coming into her office with a friendly expression on his face.

That there was this whole shared experience of… the attack didn't make things any less bizarre. At best it just made her feel even more indebted to him, made her feel even more unworthy of his friendship.

She shook her head to clear her mind of the unwanted thoughts flitting through it. "Not much," she forced herself to answer. "Just trying to get some paperwork finished."

Wilson looked at her carefully. "You seemed distracted when I first came in. Everything okay?"

"Fine," she replied quickly.

Too quickly.

But if he didn't believe her, he was considerate enough to refrain from accusing her of lying. Instead, he asked a more targeted question. "Your voice is deeper. How's your neck feeling?"

"It hurts," she admitted uneasily. "But it could be worse, right?"

Wilson didn't say anything in response. Nodding his head, he looked at her as though he wanted her to tell him more, which made her shift in her seat in discomfort.

She really didn't want to talk about this… any of it. Even more, she didn't want him to look at her as he did all of the needy women he ended up marrying. Although she wouldn't deny that Wilson was quite the catch, the last thing she ever wanted to be was a weak person who couldn't take care of herself.

Yet, in a way, she didn't see a way to avoid being that in this case. Wilson had saved her life, and as much as she wanted to forget that, she couldn't. She doubted she ever would, and because of that, she felt completely unable to deny him anything he wanted.

Knowing that, she capitulated quickly. "You know… if it hadn't been for you, I…" She sighed and pursed her lips together in a tense, puckering manner. "That man probably would have… well, you know. I just… thank you."

She exhaled loudly as she forced the words out. The effort required to say thank you, even in the awkward, halting way that she had, was almost more than she could bear. And by the time she was finished, she couldn't help but feel exhausted.

"You don't have to thank me," Wilson told her.

Shaking her head, Cuddy disagreed, "Of course, I do."

"You would have been fine either way," he reassured her. Shrugging he said, "I mean… if you're willing to deal with House on a daily basis, you can handle anything, right?"

The comment made her scowl. "Are we going to go through this again?" Her voice was calm, even, but beneath all of it, there was an inkling of frustration.

"Relax," he said hastily, holding his hands up in the air to show that he was capitulating. "Just a joke."

She eyed him carefully but said nothing, which hopefully said everything to him.

"Really. It's just a joke," he insisted. And when that didn't get her to loosen up any, he added, "All I'm saying is that you're a strong woman and –"

"Okay," she interrupted quickly. The last thing she wanted to hear was how strong she was. After all, only weaklings ever needed to be told that, and knowing that, she didn't want Wilson to humor her.

But he didn't understand that. "Okay? I'm singing your praises here," he said slowly, clumsily. "You don't want me to keep going for a little –"

"No, I'm good. Lets just drop it," she said hastily.

He nodded his head in agreement, and she was more than a little grateful for that. Because if he'd insisted on being nicer than he already was being, she wasn't sure that she could handle that. She already felt ashamed enough that she hadn't been able to be the kind of friend to him that he was clearly being to her now.

And she was about to tell him something along those lines, an apology on the tip of her tongue, when Wilson asked completely randomly, "You know what's good for a bruised larynx?"

Her mind, exhausted and overtaxed as it was, drew a complete blank, forcing her to shake her head.

"Ice cream," he told her. "There's a diner down the block that sells the best –"

Her eyebrows knitted together in confusion, and she had to ask, "You're asking me to go get ice cream with you?"

"It's almost lunchtime. Why not?"

Feeling petulant for reasons she didn't quite understand, Cuddy wanted to reply, "Because I'm not a six-year-old girl who just had a good visit to the dentist."

But she kept her mouth shut, knowing that her currently foul mood had very little to Wilson himself.

Oh, she didn't like the overbearing feeling of owing him her life. Although the thought was distinctly House-like in its ungratefulness, the fact of the matter was she really didn't like feeling like the weak one in the relationship. She was so used to being an equal to Wilson, a partner to him, that it was odd and unwanted to suddenly feel like he was responsible for her very existence.

But first and foremost, it was the reality that her existence had been threatened at all that made her as childish and sullen as House had been all week. Which was another problem that weighed heavily on her, she thought, embracing the segue for all it was worth.

Although she didn't enjoy the effect House had on her mood, there was no denying that he did. How could his sudden bursts of anger or sadness not affect her? She lived with him, slept by his side. They weren't lovers by any stretch of the imagination, but she was involved in his life in a way that she hadn't been before on a day-to-day basis. And now that he was upset, now that he had free rein to make her miserable outside of the job, it was hard not to have that rub off on her.

However, cocking her head to the side, Cuddy supposed she had to fight both of those influences. If she didn't want to be affected by them, then the only choice she had was to force herself to remain untarnished by the insane psychopath who had tried to take her life and the potentially even crazier friend who unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) tried to tarnish everything that was good in her life.

"I don't know," she told Wilson. "I have a lot of work to do." And she wasn't sure that her already tight skirt could handle a hot fudge sundae (but she kept that part to herself).

Wilson shrugged the concern off. "Like I said, it's almost time to eat lunch, and it's a ten minute – fifteen tops – walk from here." Still she hesitated, and he finally confided, "Look, I know you're busy and trying to catch up on all of the things you've missed in the last two months. But…"

His voice trailed off, his gaze shifting from her curious eyes towards the lip of her desk. It was an obvious sign that he was about to confess something important to her and that he was torn about doing so.

Cuddy, understanding what was coming, sat up straight in her chair, ignoring the way the waistband of her skirt seemed to dig into her hips. "But?"

He smiled self-deprecatingly, almost as though he felt like what he was about to say was stupid or pointless; she doubted what he was going to say was either, but she kept that thought to herself and waited patiently. And finally Wilson told her, "Since Amber… died, I've been by myself, and I guess I thought it would be nice to do something with –"

"You've been pretty chummy with Cameron lately," Cuddy pointed out, mentally kicking herself for the way she sounded like a jealous girlfriend accusing her beau of cheating.

He nodded his head slightly. "Yeah, well, I think she's finally come to her senses and realized that trying to be my best friend right now isn't good for her relationship with Chase."

Although he clearly tried not to sound upset by this, Cuddy could only think that he was. And when she thought about it, she understood why he would be. If she were Wilson, she imagined that he must have felt very important in his female friends' lives. Cameron chose her boyfriend over him; Cuddy had chosen House…

"I'm sorry," she said honestly, guilt making her frown.

"No," he replied instantly with a shake of the head. "No, she should choose Chase over me. If I'd chosen Amber over my destructive, selfish friend…" He tossed his hands in the air in defeat. "We probably wouldn't be here."

Cuddy was out of her chair more quickly than she thought her skirt would have ever allowed for. The tight fabric making her stride shorter than normal, it took her a few extra seconds to close the distance between her desk and Wilson. But when she did finally reach him, she enfolded him in the fiercest hug she had in her arsenal.

Her arms gripped him tightly, the pads of her fingers digging into his shoulder blades as if to remind him that she cared about him, as if to remind him that she was there.

It was a reminder he eagerly accepted, his own arms wrapping around her waist.

He was shaking slightly, the tiny motions reverberating within her, as he pressed his face into the side of her neck. There was a very clear feeling of yearning emanating from him as though the emotion were simply part of the air she breathed.

"This isn't your fault," she tried to console, knowing all too well that the words would be ones that he probably never believed. "Wilson, there was nothing you could have done to prevent this." She fumbled to say something that would make him feel better; since he remained silent, she could only assume that he hadn't been swayed by her reassurance anymore than she had by his.

But then again, thinking about her attack once more made her realize that she could potentially use that to her advantage.

No, she easily corrected; she would use that to her advantage right now. Her voice almost hesitant, she added, "It's like… what happened to me. That man. Nobody could have predicted that. It just happened."

"But I was able to save you," he muttered, his words hot and humid against the injured expanse of her neck. "I couldn't – I didn't –"

"Nobody could save her," Cuddy interrupted.

She tried to say that medical fact with as much grace and friendliness as possible. Nevertheless, however, it sounded cold, even to her own ears, no amount of kindness able to cover up the starkness of Amber's death.

"Maybe if we found her earlier," she conceded in a soft voice. "We could have pumped her stomach, administered physostigmine, but we both know that the medical likelihood of her recovering with pre-existing kidney damage is slim."

"I know that," he said in a way that approached hostile.

In her heart, she believed that he was being unintentionally angry about the whole situation – or at least she thought that he wasn't being furious with her. Which was a big change from even a week ago, Cuddy knew; just a couple of days ago, actually, his fury would have been absolutely aimed at her.

But now it was apparent that he was more frustrated and angry at the situation – and accepting of that fact. Because rather than attack her, he exhaled against her throat and pulled her closer to him with his embrace. "I just wish that things could be different," he confessed miserably. "I know the medicine. I've thought of that plenty of times; I get it. I just wish she were still here."

The confession made her want to cry – was making Wilson cry. Tears silently sliding down his cheeks and landing on her clavicle, it was impossible to miss the sudden change in his demeanor.

She frowned deeply, one of her hands instinctively sliding to the back of his head. Her fingers nestling in the thick brown strands, she tried to think of something worthwhile to say. That was easier said than done, though, because she had a multiple masters to serve at the moment; she needed him to understand that it was normal for him to feel this way, that it was all right for him to be upset.

But at the same time, she was also painfully aware that they were still at work and that consoling him by cradling his head against her body was probably not the most professional thing in the world. And considering rumors about her sleeping with House were still floating around the hospital, Cuddy knew that the last thing she wanted right now was for this perfectly platonic moment to be injected into that.

God, she could already imagine the love triangle that would blossom if someone were to see her with Wilson like this. Dr. Cuddy two-timing on House, Cuddy fooling around with best friends, the Dean of Medicine interested in partaking in a threesome – she could practically hear what would be said about her now.

And on top of all of that was the fact that she still believed House and Wilson needed to talk. For both of their sakes, she needed the two men to get into the same room at some point, so that they could, once and for all, deal with the effects of what had happened. And what were the chances of Wilson agreeing to do that if she couldn't ever get him to look past Amber's death?

Non-existent, she feared.

Yet again she didn't want to – could never – say to him as he sobbed quietly into her body, his weight leaning heavily on her, "Cheer up. You'll be banging some nurse in ortho soon enough."

Truly, even if she were to find a better way of telling him to look on the bright side, she had no doubt that he would find it to be incredibly and completely insensitive. And if he were to also then realize that she'd wanted him to be happier so that he could talk to House?

Wilson would never talk to her again.

Which meant that she didn't have a lot of room for error here; one wrong word, one ill-placed emotion, and all of the progress they'd managed to make in the last couple of days would be for naught. Actually, this was so important that with one wrong move, they'd be so much worse off than they'd been before; it would be worse than the way things had been when Amber had first died.

And that made Cuddy incredibly fearful.

She didn't want to be scared; the very notion that she could be afraid to talk to Wilson seemed so anathema to what she normally felt when it came to dealing with him. They'd never been the best of friends, but he'd always been so non-threatening that she'd felt as though she could tell him anything.

Of course, that fact was probably why she hadn't confided all that much to him in the past. As much as she could trust him, as sympathetic and wonderful as she knew he could be, she'd also always been wary of taking advantage of that. On a matter of principle, she refused to confide in him everything that was wrong with her life. Not only did it make her dependent on his support, it also made him the equivalent of a garbage receptacle, and she had no desire to do that.

But that had never made her feel afraid to tell him anything.

So that she was now… well, it was hard to reconcile those feelings with the knowledge that she had to say something. And in the end, she was sure that she hadn't made heads or tails of what was going on before speaking as much as she'd just acted on instinct.

Turning her head slightly so that she could press her lips to his forehead, she said gently, "I know you miss her. She was a good person."

To her ears, the words fell short. Although she did mean them, Cuddy couldn't deny that she'd never taken a liking to Amber. Cuddy had tried for Wilson's sake – for her own sake as well, considering she had the unwanted but completely warranted job of refereeing between Amber and House. Given that Cuddy had had to field nearly daily conversations with one or the other, she'd always thought that it made sense to try and get to know – and like – the other woman.

To be perfectly frank, though, when Cuddy looked back on those few months where she'd had nearly daily phone calls and dealings with her, Cuddy hadn't learned much, much less become friendly with her.

Cuddy wasn't sure if that was due to lack of effort or because Amber really was that unlikable. But either way, it made Cuddy feel guilty to be comforting Wilson now by trying to sing her praises.

It just felt… fake.

However, Wilson didn't take issue with Cuddy over that. Instead he simply nodded his head and said in agreement, "She was."

There was a small amount of hesitation on his part, which she took to mean that he wanted to say something more. And perhaps she'd spent way too much time with House the last two months, because her first thought at the idea of eulogizing Amber some more was: hadn't that been the entire point of the funeral?

God, it was a horrible, insensitive thought, and she would never ever allow for Wilson to know what she was thinking. But nonetheless, she felt herself silently urging him to get it out of his system, so she could pull away from him.

Yet he didn't say anything.

And after a few moments, Cuddy realized he wasn't going to without prompting him. "Wilson…"

"I'm sorry," he replied quickly, pulling away immediately. His tear-stained cheeks were flush with embarrassment, his eyes red from crying. His entire demeanor was that of a broken man, of a lonely person who was too ashamed to feel comfortable in accepting her sympathy… such as it was.

"You don't have to be." Her voice was calm, but underneath that, she felt her heart break for him. "I can't imagine how you must be feeling."

He shook his head and reached for a tissue from the box lying on her desk. "I didn't come here to talk about Amber, and I know that you probably don't want to hear about her and –"

"It's fine," she interrupted, knowing that it was sort of a lie. But as long as he didn't really know that…

Again, he shook his head, using the Kleenex to wipe his face. "No, it's not. You've been through this whole… thing, and I came here to make sure you were okay – not to garner your pity."

There was so much disgust in his tone it was almost breathtaking. It was an emotion she'd gotten used to hearing in his voice lately, much to her dismay. But for the most part, it had been directed towards her or to House. And although she didn't like that either, at least it was understandable… maybe even deserved in a way.

All of that hatred and anger directed at himself though?

She hated it and almost wished that it had been aimed at her, if only to avoid the sadness making her already sore throat feel even thicker with emotion.

Taking a few steps towards him, Cuddy placed a warm hand on his forearm. "Don't. You should be talking about her. It means you're healing… and frankly," she began to confess slowly. "I'd rather talk about Amber than about what just happened to me."

But her wishes definitely didn't sit well with him. "No, I came here to see how you were doing and to take you out –"

Smiling she supplied, "To go get ice cream?"

"It's good for your throat," he explained in a voice that had inklings of defensiveness.

And knowing that he really was just trying to be nice, Cuddy knew she couldn't refuse the offer. He didn't have to be concerned with her well being; even though they were trying to repair their friendship, he easily could have decided to be as inactive in her… recovery as she had been up to this point in his.

Besides, at that moment, she remembered that this whole thing had gotten started, because he'd said that he was lonely.

Recalling that was the last straw.

Tossing her hands in the air, she said, "Then lets get ice cream."

Wilson threw his used tissue in the trashcan and smiled. "You sure? You're not too busy?"

Her response was an honest one. As her head bobbed a little, she admitted, "Well, I was hoping to replace security before the end of the day."

"Then I'll let you do that," Wilson said quickly, almost as though he were afraid of possibly interrupting her plans. Which was odd, because surely he'd known that he would have been imposing before even leaving his office.

But she let that slide, so she could tell him, "No, don't worry about that." Rubbing her forehead with the palm of her hand, she explained, "Honestly I think I could use a break. Legal thinks they're going to try and fight the dismissal, so I've been cataloging every incident I can remember where they screwed up."

"That's… going to be a long list," he conceded with a cock of the head. "So then maybe I should really leave you to get your work done. You wouldn't want to have to work late and keep House waiting."

His voice was even, but she was sure that there was an insult in his words somewhere. Gazing at him carefully, Cuddy studied his eyes to see what emotion was behind them. But the dark brown irises gave away nothing, and she had to respond blindly.

Clearing her throat, she said, "House is a big boy; he can be without me for a few hours –"

"Then why'd you take time off for nearly two months to be with him?"

Tension flooded into the room, expanding rapidly within the sudden silence. As easy as their closeness had almost seemed, his question explosively reminded her that they were not past any of this yet.

Sighing, she clarified tersely, "I meant that he can handle me being away now. Two months ago, he definitely could not, and I don't regret –"

"Okay," he interrupted in a similar manner that wasn't outright angry but on the verge of it.

And that was truly the last thing she wanted. As furious as they both probably had a reason to be, Cuddy only wanted to move beyond this really uncomfortable part of their lives as quickly as possible. She certainly didn't want to fight, didn't want to undo all of the progress they'd made.

Her voice breezy, she said, "I don't want to fight with you… but I think you were right about the ice cream; that does sound like a good idea. I'm thinking chocolate, but - "

"It's raining," he replied miserably.

Of course, it had also been raining when he'd first entered her office; it had been storming all week, much to House's dismay and discomfort. So the thing about Wilson's words was that he would have absolutely known about the weather when he'd decided to ask her out to ice cream.

The only difference between then and now, Cuddy understood, was that before he'd been concerned with and not angry at her. And with one small comment about House, she'd ruined all of his good will towards her.

She hated herself for that, for knowing what would make Wilson miserable and for bringing it up anyway.

But she supposed now was not the time for recriminations. He was looking at her for some sort of response, and she knew that if she took the time to mentally berate herself, he would take that as her agreeing that the rain should stop them.

"We should go anyway," she insisted. "We can drive if you're worried about getting wet or me getting my work done on time." He wrung his hands together, perhaps feeling as though he didn't have a good excuse anymore to get out of it. And unless he actually said that he hated her, there was no excuse she would accept.

Moving away from him, she went around her desk to open the drawer she kept her purse and briefcase in. "C'mon," she told him gently. "They have that cucumber ice cream this time of year that I know you're so fond of…"

God, she sounded so much like a mother trying to get her toddler to do something he didn't want to do. The subtle bribery didn't really fit in with that image, but it was close enough to make her feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable and surprised that the child in this situation wasn't House, anyway.

And maybe it was because of House that she could be such a good maternal figure to the over forty, male population. But whatever the reason, she could tell that Wilson was seriously considering her offer.

He had that far off look in his eyes as though he were weighing the pros and cons in his head. Furthering that impression, he said almost wistfully, "They also have the peach this month, which is really good…"

"Then lets go," she replied decisively. "I can write off the expenses as a business lunch."

"All right."

There was something hesitant about his demeanor that made her frown. He might have been agreeing with her, but he clearly was no longer doing this to spend time with her. That her company was somehow secondary to a scoop of ice cream was… sad, and it made her feel that way.

But she didn't press the matter, as she buttoned up her coat. At this point, she was probably just lucky to have him agreeing to come for any reason. And though this had been his idea, one she'd initially resisted, their conversation made her feel that this really was an important to thing to do. For the sake of her already guilt-ridden heart, it seemed imperative that they eat ice cream together for lunch.

As they exited her office, Wilson trailing behind her like a bored, uninterested dog following its master, she asked him, "Should we drive or walk?"

He contemplated the question for a few minutes before answering, "Walk. If you don't mind the rain."

Truth be told, Cuddy didn't really want to venture out into the rain. The effect it would have on her hair alone was reason enough to drive. But she felt almost desperate to prove to him that she could respect his wishes and give him what he wanted without constantly second guessing him. So she simply reached into her bag, which was big enough to hold an umbrella and pulled it out. "Lets go," she said with a tight-lipped smile on her face.

Motioning for her to step through the sliding glass doors first, he said chivalrously, "After you, Mary Poppins."

She did what he told her to, giving him an unimpressed look as she obeyed. "You know, I was going to offer to share my umbrella with you," she told him in a teasing voice.

"And now?"

She smirked. "Have fun getting wet."

"Meanie," he retorted in a mockingly childish tone that had her snorting in the least ladylike of ways.

Despite the tease, though, when they stepped out into the rain, she held the Burberry umbrella over his head. It wasn't entirely big enough for two people to stand under, droplets of rain spilling onto her right shoulder and presumably onto his left.

But Cuddy couldn't help but feel that he'd made the right call nonetheless by saying that they should walk. The streets around the hospital were busy, but once they'd gotten past all of that, Princeton was essentially deserted. And there was a sweet peacefulness in all of it that she hadn't experienced in a very long time; she could only assume that Wilson felt the same way.

It explained their amicable silence anyway.

In fact, they didn't even speak again until after they'd gotten their ice cream (his scoops of brilliantly colored cucumber and peach, hers boring but absolutely perfect for her period chocolate with peanut butter cups on top). And even then it took a few minutes after they were seated in a cushy booth to really start talking again.

She was busy chewing on a Reese's cup when Wilson asked almost out of nowhere, "How is House doing?"

Her eyes, which had been focused on her food, darted upward to meet his questioning gaze. It was the last thing she expected him to ask her about, and honestly it made her a little suspicious that he had. "Are you seriously asking me that?"

He was surprisingly enough. "You said that you were trusting him to be alone these days, and I'm curious."

Her brow furrowing in confusion, Cuddy parroted, "You're curious?" She played with the ice cream in her dish. "About House? Really." The last word wasn't even a question; there was just too much doubt in it to end the comment with a question mark, he thought.

And Wilson understood why completely. He'd spent so much time trying to pretend that he didn't give a crap about House, insisting that he didn't care about House, that it seemed odd for him to be asking about him now. But for his part, Wilson felt that it was completely normal, and taking a bite of his ice cream, he explained, "You've been leaving a trail of bread crumbs for me for the last eight weeks. So, dear Gretel… spill."

She eyed him with displeasure. "I will if you stop comparing me to fictional characters." He smirked and nodded his head in agreement. "All right," she said quietly, dropping her spoon into her dish.

Picking up her napkin, she dabbed at the corners of her mouth gingerly. There was no doubt in Wilson's mind that it was a diversion for her, that it was something to do while she figured out what she wanted to say. And considering just how much she had been pressing for this conversation, he couldn't stop himself from saying bitterly, "I'm surprised you don't have everything you wish to tell me scripted in your mind."

She gave him a dark look that was heated enough to make him swallow awkwardly.

"Sorry to disappoint you," she said in a cool voice. "Although I've wanted to have this conversation with you for a while now, I'm not exactly sure what it is that you're willing to hear me tell you."

This time he was the one to drop his spoon into his dish. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means every time I try to tell you something about House, you jump down my throat. And I don't want to be yelled at."

Wilson didn't want to admit that she was right, but in his heart, he knew that she was. Because as curious as he knew he was, part of him was ashamed of and hateful towards that interest. And though he never planned on fighting with her the second she brought House up, somehow Wilson always seemed to do just that.

But he thought that it was completely understandable for him to be angry. Really, if she expected anything different, then she was being ridiculous and idealistic to the point of insanity.

However, rather than start a fight (and prove her point) by telling her that, Wilson simply held his hands in the air innocently. "I'll be good."

She looked at him doubtfully but didn't say that she didn't believe him, which he supposed was a start. "All right," she capitulated in soft tones. Her mood brightening a little, Cuddy told him, "Well, I'm not sure what you're hoping to hear. He's a little better physically. Not one hundred per cent – nowhere near that, Wilson. But… he's okay… I guess."

Wilson blinked. "You've just told me absolutely nothing. You do realize that, right?"

Taking a deep breath, she tried again. "Okay… his ability to process information is better than it was. I told you that the man who attacked me probably had diabetic ketoacidosis and –"

"I remember," Wilson said with a nod of the head. "House diagnosed him?" She didn't say anything in response, and he took that as a yes. "How is that possible? He didn't even see –"

"House could smell the fruitiness on me. And since I didn't have any of the symptoms, he deduced that –"

"That's actually smart," he conceded. As much as he didn't want to sing any of House's praises, there was no denying that the man was smart. That was about as logical as denying that the sun was hot or that rain was wet.

Cuddy, of course, smiled at Wilson as though he'd said that all was forgiven. "It was smart," she agreed.

"So I guess he'll be back to work sometime soon," Wilson concluded, knowing how this whole incident would inevitably end.

He'd spent a lot of time trying to deny and avoid what would happen in the future. But now that that future was practically on top of him, there was no denying that, at some point, House would come back to the hospital.

Wilson didn't really like that idea; the longer House stayed away, the longer Wilson could pretend that the other man didn't exist. The longer he could deal with his grief without having to really think about anything else.

Maybe that was selfish – to want House to stay sick, so that Wilson didn't have to contemplate the other side of this entire accident. But that was how he felt, even if some part of him realized that it was foolish to feel that way.

Already there was no escaping the presence of House in his life. Even though he'd tried, Wilson knew that there had been many moments already where he'd been reminded that there was another person involved in this mess. When Cuddy brought it up, when he sat in House's office, when House's team looked at him as though he were incapable of doing the job – they were all painful reminders of House's very existence.

And Wilson couldn't help but feel that things would be about a million times more painful when House actually came back to work.

So it was relief – pure and total relief – when Cuddy shook her head slowly. "His ability to solve cases is intact; there's no denying that. But…"

Deep down inside, he knew that he shouldn't have pressed her for more information. He knew that he shouldn't have prompted her by asking, "But what?" Yet he did do exactly that, somehow feeling as though it was his duty to ask.

As unconcerned for House as Wilson was, he was worried about Cuddy; ever since she'd asked him to forgive her, to be her friend once more, he'd found it hard to deny her any of it. Although there'd been moments of anger and resentment toward her, he was, for the most part, willing to give her what she wanted. Maybe even what she needed after being attacked like she had, he realized.

So much for maintaining a hard line with Cuddy and her unwillingness to choose him over House, he thought to himself miserably…

Shamefully.

Granted, there was no going back now; even if he wanted to push her away (he didn't), he couldn't at this point. The more time he spent with her, the more Wilson was beginning to notice how difficult Amber's death had been on Cuddy. Even without her attacker, she was exhausted – in every sense of the word. Mentally, physically, she looked as though she could and would break down at any moment.

And as she began to explain herself, Wilson couldn't help but worry that this might be the breaking point for her. Her voice tight with emotion, her pitch slightly higher than it had been post-strangulation, she said, "There have been a fewproblems that would bar him from returning to work any time soon."

But that didn't exactly explain anything. Nearly annoyed, he asked, motioning for her to spill, "Such as?"

"He suffers from tinnitus," Cuddy admitted in a tone that was more mournful than he felt was warranted. As much as Wilson could believe that such a condition could be irritating, he couldn't get behind the idea that it was some serious condition that would prevent House from coming back to work. "It's serious," she practically snarled as though she could sense Wilson's ambivalence.

"Of course it is," he replied easily, not believing a single word he'd uttered.

She rolled her eyes and angrily took a bite of her ice cream. As she chewed a chunk of peanut butter cup, she practically glared at him – as though a death stare would make him feel any differently.

When it didn't, Cuddy heatedly told him, "It bothers him. A lot. It makes him irritable – more so than he normally is," she conceded quickly. "He can't sleep at night. Noise drives him to distraction, and I'm honestly surprised that he had enough focus to even realize that I smelled differently when I came home."

"But that's it?"

Somehow Wilson was expecting more than to hear about how House's ears were bothering him. After all the enticing chatter about how House was miserable, how House was suffering, it was nothing short of a letdown to hear about this.

"No. That's not 'it,'" she said, her lips curled into a sneer. She clearly had no love for his language. "But if you're so concerned or doubtful about his current condition, why don't you go see House?"

Wilson had to smile at the way she easily slid that insane idea in there. He didn't know if that had been her plan all along – to get him to ask about House, so she could say that – or if the idea had popped into her head just now. But either way, he had to admire her deviousness. Even though he'd been scrambling to hate that quality in her for the last eight weeks, it was hard to do that now.

Maybe it was the result of having seen her almost be murdered only two days ago.

Maybe it was the fact that being angry with her was such a miserable way to expend energy.

Maybe he'd just remembered how charismatic she could be when she set her mind to excusing her (and House's) bad behavior.

He didn't really know, but for whatever reason, he found himself handling her suggestion with more grace than he'd thought possible. "Yeah, and after that, I'll go rob a bank with this spoon," he replied sarcastically, holding up the white plastic utensil to emphasize the point.

"Your spoon would get you nowhere. But if you're curious about House, then the best thing to do is to go see him." Wielding her own spoon as a weapon, she warned him, "I'm stealing some of your peach."

Wilson pushed his bowl towards her. "You should try the cucumber," he suggested amicably. "It's refreshing, a good counterbalance to your chocolate and peanut butter."

"It's also a vegetable," she replied doubtfully.

He smiled as she dipped her spoon only into the ice cream that had a slight orange tinge. "It's good… really."

"I'll take your word for it."

"And I'll take yours about House and how he's doing."

Forcing himself to not smirk at his own brilliance, Wilson nevertheless gave himself a mental pat on the back; she wasn't the only one who could segue into topics they were both better off ignoring.

Obviously though, Cuddy wasn't interested in the awesomeness of his reply. As though to prove him wrong with her actions, she immediately scooped up some of the greenish dessert and shoveled it begrudgingly into her mouth. "There. I tried it."

"And?"

She bobbed her head a little, clearly hesitating to concede that he'd been right about the flavor. But eventually she did do that, saying, "Fine. You're right. It's good… now, will you talk to House?"

He scoffed. "Cuddy, you can be so brave as to try the noodle kugel flavor if you want, but no amount of ice cream tasting is going to make me talk to the man who killed my girlfriend to see how his boo boos are doing." Childishly, he pulled his bowl back (and even more childishly reached over with his spoon to nab the last bit of Reese's cup out of her dish).

"I don't want to fight," Cuddy said out of obligation.

At least, that was the reason he assumed she said it; he certainly couldn't believe that she really meant those words anyway.

Clearly he wouldn't have meant them, so he simply told her, "If that's true, then drop it."

But she refused.

"I wish I could," she replied in a voice that sounded earnest. "I know you don't want to believe me when I say that, but I really do wish I could drop the matter and let you two go on hating each other."

"Then do it."

It was a challenge he silently prayed that she would accept.

Instead she shook her head and frowned. "Don't you understand why I can't do that?"

"Don't you understand why I need you to?" He lobbed the question at her with as much venom as he could throw her way these days without feeling horribly guilty about it.

Her answer, however, was one he wasn't expecting. "No, I don't know why you want me to do that," she admitted.

"Well, I can explain," he said nastily.

"You're furious with him. I get it. You don't want to be near him, because it's painful. I get that too." Once more Cuddy sounded honest, and he didn't doubt that she at least thought she understood his reasons. "What I don't get is why avoiding him – changing your life completely – is a better option than spending time with him… better than telling him how you feel."

From an outsider's perspective, Wilson could see the logic in her point.

If you didn't know how he felt, then he supposed it made sense to say that there was nothing to be lost in dealing with House head on. At worst, there'd be moments of anger filled with nasty words that Wilson wouldn't be able or willing to take back. And in the end, all of that would hurt House more than it would hurt Wilson himself, so he supposed there was something to be said for meeting with the other man.

If you didn't know how Wilson felt.

Which clearly Cuddy didn't.

"If I go and see him," he explained in a halting, barely controlled voice. "Then I'm validating his existence. I'm giving him all of the attention that he's always been so desperate to have. And even if I'm standing in front of him, shouting at him, blaming him for everything bad that's happened, he won't see it as a bad thing. He'll just be happy that I'm talking to him."

Cuddy didn't say anything at first in reaction. Her lips only opening so she could eat the last remnants of her ice cream, she remained silent for several moments.

To be perfectly honest, Wilson relished the quiet; it meant that she had no idea how to respond, had no idea how to deny what they both believed to be the truth.

And he guessed that it was because she knew she couldn't deny the truth that she embraced it in her response. "Look," she said in a serious voice, dropping her spoon into her empty dish. "I would really like you to go see House this evening."

He laughed humorlessly, almost – not quite but almost – amused at her optimism.

She agreed that it was rather stupid. "I know, I know…"

"Well, like I said, going to see him would only encourage him."

"Wilson, I can't deny that a lot of this is for him." Her eyes filling with sadness, she explained, "I've been getting the distinct impression that his physical wellbeing is suffering – a lot – from your unwillingness to talk to him. And –"

"That's not my problem." It really wasn't, and Wilson took great affront to anyone believing that it was.

Rolling her eyes, she quoted, "'First do no harm'? Does that ring a bell?"

"He's not my patient, and he's certainly not my friend, and I don't have to do anything to make him feel better." His body tensed instinctively as though to lend his words a certain sense of finality. "I don't owe him that – or anything."

Wilson scowled at the immaturity of his comments. Although the subject matter was different, more serious, the way he was talking reminded him of a child who couldn't accept that two wrongs didn't make a right. So much so that he waited irritably for Cuddy to point that out.

She didn't do that though.

Instead, she said, "Then do it for yourself. Go see him so you can get closure on –"

"How do I get closure from seeing him? How does that make things better for me?"

Again, he realized that it sounded so selfish and immature to ask questions like that. But at some point, it had to be okay to look out for number one, right? After everything he'd been through, after losing the love of his life, it was okay to be selfish…

Right?

He didn't have an answer to the question before Cuddy spoke up. "Well… for starters, you get to say all of the things you've been thinking about saying to him."

He narrowed his eyes on her. "I haven't –"

"Please," she interrupted doubtfully. "You haven't been angry with me just because you're mad at me."

"Then enlighten me. Why have I been angry with you?"

"Because of misplaced anger?" Her suggestion was a tart one, was one that he had to roll his eyes at.

"I don't think my anger was misplaced anywhere." And before she could respond, he asked her in a cold voice, "Are you done?" He gestured towards the empty dishes of ice cream. "Because I have work to do."

Cuddy nodded her head and dutifully stacked up both of their Styrofoam dishes. "I'm not saying that you haven't been angry with me because of the decisions I've made. I know that there are plenty of things I've done that are more than worthy of you hating me for the rest of my life," she said sadly, standing up in an uncharacteristically clumsy manner.

The booth's leather groaned under the shifting of weight as her knees pressed awkwardly into the bench. She looked like a woman desperate to get away from him, and he couldn't even begin to pretend not to understand why; even though he'd agreed to drop the matter and to try and be her friend, he'd just brought up everything that had kept them apart for the last two months.

And he understood why she was eager to put distance between them – just as he understood that it was probably in his best interest to apologize. In the very least, he felt that he should say something to make her feel better, unless he wanted to deal with his boss and friend leave the ice cream shop with tears in her eyes.

But he didn't get a chance to. Because as he stood up, she told him, "But you can't tell me that some of that anger isn't about House… that it's not about you being so furious at him that your anger is bubbling over into the other areas of your life. Because I think we both know that it is."

"Do we?" He was more curious at this point than anything else; although he couldn't deny that he'd spent the last eight weeks feeling as though he had something to prove, he hadn't really thought about how his anger had affected any of it. And he wondered just how obvious it seemed to her that it had.

She hesitated as she grabbed her purse and umbrella. "I don't want to fight," she told him quietly, her voice sounding more hoarse than it had even only moments ago. "I just think that if you were to tell him everything you've been feeling, you would feel so much better."

He silently put his coat back on, and she must have taken that as a sign to keep talking, because she added sweetly, "I won't deny that getting you two in the same room would help him as well…. I just also happen to believe that you would be so much happier if you talked to him."

And Wilson wondered if that were true.

Considering Cuddy's meticulous nature, he could only believe that she'd been thinking about having this conversation for a while. Even if the words weren't rehearsed, he felt that she would have had to have been thinking about how to ask him to see House before actually coming out and suggesting it. So that meant she would have had to have come up with some logic behind her last statement. She would have had to see some reason for saying that he'd be happier after talking to House.

Or in the very least, if she were lying about that part, she'd have to have a twisted logic to support the lie. She wouldn't have come into this without the tools to back herself up.

And knowing that, Wilson decided to press her for more information.

Of course, he didn't want to come off as though he were earnestly asking why she was thinking that, so he put it more gruffly, asking her, "And what makes you think that's going to happen?" As they walked towards the exit, she gave him a put upon look – as though he were the one pushing the matter. "Hey, you're the one who's saying I'm going to benefit in some way. I think it's understandable – reasonable even – for me to ask why you think that."

And maybe he'd been around House too long, but at that moment, Wilson could feel a sarcastic remark bubble within him. Before he could even stop himself, the words pushed their way out. Breezily he added, "Or to at least get the number of your dealer."

The comment was one he was sure would earn him a walk back in the rain. She was trying to be nice about all of this, and he was kind of (totally) being a dick about the whole thing. And if the situation was reversed, he would absolutely let her get soaking wet before he even considered sharing his umbrella with her.

But she was clearly the more mature one, handing the plaid umbrella to him to hold. His shock over the gesture must have registered on his face, because she smirked and told him, "I won't deny that you deserve to get wet, but knowing our luck, you'd catch pneumonia and die, and I'd rather not have that on my conscience was well."

Her voice was filled with teasing, but somehow the words felt hollow to him. Maybe he was overreacting to the fight they were having, but he couldn't help but feel like there was a morsel of truth behind what she'd just said. And that made him incredibly uneasy, because the last thing he wanted after all of this time was to be a burden on someone else in the same way House had been to him.

"I'm kidding," Cuddy said quickly, curling her arms around one of his own. Her fingertips burying themselves into the crook of his below, she explained, "The way I see it telling House how you feel can only help you. You're so angry at him that I can't – I don't – believe that you have nothing to say to him." As they started to walk together, she suggested, "So why not tell him how you feel? In the very least you get all of what you've been thinking off your chest, and House will be forced to accept that one way or the other."

Wilson scoffed. "Yeah, I don't see that happening. House listening to what I have to say and just… taking it? That's never going to happen."

Cuddy seemed to be willing to concede that point with a slight nod of the head; she refused to actually say that he was right, but her body language certainly made it seem like she was rethinking her argument. And because of that, it wasn't all that surprising when she took a different approach. "It beats waiting for him to come back to work and dealing with him then."

"Yes," Wilson said sarcastically, waving his free hand in the air. "Prolong the misery. That sounds like a great idea."

She smiled at the remark. "Okay. Point taken. But maybe the flip side of that is that talking to him now means you don't have put off the misery either."

They stopped at a crosswalk, his gaze firmly on the orange "Do not walk" sign across the street. And he had to point out, "You do realize that the one thing both courses of action have in common is that there will be misery for me at some point."

He could feel her gaze shift to his face, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see the sadness seeping into her features. She was fast in recovering control of her emotions, of course; somehow Wilson had begun to realize that the rule of thumb in this circle of friends and non-friends was that you never stayed emotional for too long. But the brief lapse of control had been more than enough for him to know that this was painful for her as well.

Wilson figured then that he should apologize. He didn't want to exactly, but his intention had never been to make Cuddy upset, which he was clearly doing.

However, he didn't get a chance to say anything; she changed her approach and asked him, "Do you know why this is so hard for us?"

His forehead wrinkled in confusion. He didn't exactly know what she was talking about. "Why what is hard? Walking across the street?"

"No," she replied loudly and impatiently. "I mean a friendship – a real friendship – between us."

They'd just managed to finish the crosswalk's distance when she uttered those words. And Wilson was glad for her good timing, because the things she was saying stopped him immediately. Cuddy took a few steps away from him ignorantly, but he couldn't do the same.

Her fingertips nearly sliding off of his elbow, she finally stopped walking and turned to look at him. "Wilson?" Her voice was filled with concern.

His own grasp on the umbrella wasn't very strong; all it would take was a gust of wind to make him drop it. But he wasn't really being mindful of that at the moment, because all he could think about was the fact that she'd just destroyed every illusion he'd had about the nature of their relationship.

And that made him angry.

Furious.

Explosively he demanded to know, "We're not friends?"

She rolled her eyes. "That's not what I said."

"Sure, it is," he snapped.

"No. What I asked you was if you understood why it's so hard for us to have a real friendship. Do you?" She angrily snatched the umbrella away from him. But although she was clearly annoyed, she had the decency to still hold the contraption over his head as well.

Unfortunately for him, his mind wasn't quite as good at working while angry. He hadn't considered himself to be a person who couldn't put his feelings to the side, but this was making him rethink that. Because at the moment, his mind was drawing a blank; he had no idea what she was trying to get at, and he had to fake it. "Well, I'm guessing your vague questions and my instinctively angry answers are part of it."

"That doesn't help, but I wasn't thinking of that actually." Her fingers adjusted themselves around the stem of the umbrella.

"Then –"

"We've known each other for years," she interrupted with a hint of nostalgia in her voice. "We see each other nearly every day of our lives. I was at your last wedding. We have lunch – and ice cream – together. I was the one who decided when you got to see Amber and House when you were dating her."

He was tempted to smile at the memories her words were invoking. Not just the more recent, more painful ones featuring Amber – but the ones that were older, the ones that made Wilson think that a lot of time had passed since he'd first met Cuddy. He couldn't even remember off the top of his head how long it had been. But so much had changed since then.

She'd had a few boyfriends along the way before seemingly settling for a life alone. He'd been divorced and married and divorced again in that time, and that in and of itself made it seem like centuries had run their course.

"But," Cuddy continued, interrupting his thoughts. "I think we can both agree that a lot if not most of that time has been spent… not really being close to one another." She stumbled over the words, awkwardly grasping at whatever language seemed to fit her purpose. Wilson liked that fact, because it meant that she hadn't pre-planned this moment with him. "We plot against House more than anything else, talk about him as though the only reason you and I have anything in common is his insanity."

And at that moment, Wilson couldn't help but think that it was an odd thing to bring up now. Given that she'd just been trying to force him to talk to House, it seemed weird to point out that he was the very reason Wilson wasn't best friends with her. "And knowing that, you still think I should talk to House?"

She nodded her head slowly, hesitantly. "What I think is this: all this time, we haven't done a lot for one another. I mean… I didn't make a big deal about killing your patient the other day. I defended you, yes, but it was my job. And you saved my life, because you're not a psychopath."

She was tossing both of those events out there carelessly, but Wilson thankfully didn't get the impression that they were unimportant matters to her. If anything, for him, it cemented in his mind that those moments had affected her more than she'd previously let on.

"Well, there is that," he said for no reason other than to let her know that he was on the same page as she was.

She gave him a small smile, but it didn't reach her eyes. "We've had a few moments with one another, but we're not…." She shook her head before reaching up with her free hand to rub her neck. "We don't make a habit of it. We don't hang out. We don't talk to one another when things are bothering us – unless it involves House, and even then, I think you'll agree that the conversation is usually about House and what we can do to make him change."

He nodded his head in agreement but added, "You're right… but I still don't see why this means I should talk to House."

"Wilson, I want to be your friend – a really good friend to you – and I can only believe that, because you suggested we go get ice cream in the middle of the work day, you feel the same way."

Cuddy stopped talking, which clearly meant that she wanted him to say the words, so he did. "Yes. That's what I want too. Of course it is."

"Then I think we need to start doing things for one another, for the sake of our friendship," she suggested in a polite voice.

But Wilson could read between the lines. "And somehow that means I should talk to House."

Holding the umbrella over both of their heads, she grabbed his hand. He wasn't prepared for the contact, so it was easy for her to tug him into a leisurely walk. As they started to move once more, Cuddy conceded, "Yes… but I'd like you to consider this from my point of view for a minute."

Wilson was taken aback, and he couldn't keep the accusation out of his tones when he asked, "Because you've been so eager to consider this from mine?"

Immediately she rolled her eyes. "The woman you love is dead, and the person who helped set all of those unlikely events into motion was your best friend and is someone you no longer want to talk to. I get it."

"You make it sound so easy," he replied peevishly, his cheeks turning pink. "You make it sound like there's no actual emotion behind any of this… like it's just the easiest thing in the world for me to –"

"That's not what I'm saying," she interrupted in an equally annoyed tone. "I understand that this has been hard for you in ways I can't even imagine. And I'm not trying to minimize the way you're feeling. Really, I'm not."

To be perfectly honest, though, that was exactly what it felt like to Wilson. It felt like she was standing there, believing that being angry with House was the only way this could have gone – like it hadn't even been a choice. And Wilson didn't even know why that seemed like such an insult, really, but it did.

Perhaps it made him feel that his anger wasn't entirely real if it was something he'd been hardwired to do; maybe it made him feel as though he was just going through the motions as opposed to consciously making a decision about his life.

He didn't really know why, but whatever the reason, he was annoyed by her words.

And yet that wasn't enough to stop her from talking. Only her quietly imploring tone gave away the fact that she knew he was irritated. "All I'm asking you to do is consider this from my perspective."

It didn't seem like too much of a request, but at the same time, his head was beginning to ache. He'd skipped his lunchtime coffee in order to have this ice cream date with her, and it was beginning to affect him. Which meant that he was already too frustrated and fed up to do what she requested. And instead of thinking for himself, he confessed irritably, "I don't know what you want me to see."

She smiled almost pitiably. "Surely by now you realize that, during these last two months, I've been in the middle between you and House." He nodded his head once in agreement but didn't say anything. "And I don't know if you've noticed this or if you've intuitively figured this out, but to be completely frank, it's not exactly a position I like being in."

Wilson frowned a little at her. "But you chose –"

"No, I didn't," she said sadly. "House had his seizure, and I sat by his bedside, because I was afraid of what…"

Her voice gave out, leaving her unable to finish the thought. An outsider might have thought that that was the result of her attack; the beating her larynx had taken surely could have accounted for the sudden inability to speak.

But Wilson knew better.

He wasn't even getting a full look at her face, as they were walking side by side. The small glance he was getting, however, let him know that her problem had nothing to do with the physical and everything to do with the emotional battering she'd been through.

And he was about to comfort her as best as he could, but he didn't get the chance; she cleared her throat and started talking once more. "He was hurt, and I was being a friend, and Amber died, and… there I was between you both."

Her words were probably intended to make him feel guilty, and in that respect, there was no denying that she'd succeeded. Wilson didn't want to feel that way, but of its own volition, the guilt began to course through his system as effectively as the sucrose from his ice cream was.

Nevertheless, guilty or not, he was hardly willing to let her know that he was feeling that way. So instead of apologizing, he replied, "Well, that might be true, but you don't have to stay there. Don't be in the middle if you don't want to be," he ordered her in a dismissive voice.

"As long as you two refuse to talk to one another while still desperately needing to hear what's going on with the other –"

"You're the one who keeps bringing House up," he accused.

"Let me finish my thought," she snapped irritably in a way that dared him to interrupt once more. "He is the one who wants to hear more about you. But you're just as bad with your inability to deal with anyone or anything involved with him. And as long as you act like anything remotely House-like will give you a hot case of herpes, I'm going to unfortunately stay exactly where I am."

He didn't want to admit that she was right.

God, he didn't want to give her the satisfaction of having to say, even in the smallest way, that he had been wrong. Nor did he want to admit – to himself or anyone else – that he had had a small part in the pain she'd clearly been feeling for the last two months.

It was easier to function when he could pretend that his actions had no consequences and that he'd been right to do whatever it was that he'd been doing; he was happier living in his little bubble of absolution that ran on the motto: everything bad started and ended with House.

But what she was saying…

He didn't want to admit that she was right, but there was obviously no denying that he'd been wrong.

And there was no avoiding it now either.

Sighing, he muttered, sounding like a child being forced to apologize, "I'm sorry."

She smiled kindly at him; hell, she practically grinned, although it was sort of hard to tell. The second her lips began to turn upward, she pressed her face into his bicep, her smile swallowed up by the fabric of his clothes and blocked by a dark skein of her hair. "It's nice to hear you say that," she admitted almost joyfully.

"But let me guess: you'd still like me to talk to House," Wilson said quietly, refusing to let himself enjoy the peaceful moment. As much as he wanted to, he knew that Cuddy was nothing if not persistent… and cunning to the point of deviousness. Which meant that there was no way in hell he was going to be getting back to his office without either agreeing to see House or starting an even uglier fight.

Her head moving to his shoulder, she admitted, "I would like that… yes."

"And if I say no?"

They stopped at another crosswalk, and Cuddy let her head remain where it was, eliciting (much to Wilson's chagrin) approving smiles from some of the other people on the street.

He supposed they looked like a couple sharing a tender moment with one another. But the fact of the matter was things probably couldn't have been further from the truth; they weren't a couple by any stretch of the imagination. And even if the previous seconds had been filled with friendship and happiness, the ones they currently were experiencing were more bittersweet for him than anything else. Because they might not have been lovers, but the feelings this walk was invoking were hard for him to handle.

At this point, it had nothing to do with Cuddy herself but everything to do with Amber.

Now, obviously, Amber hadn't been much of a… supporter of public displays of affection. As affectionate as she could be, she probably would have never taken a walk with him like this and done the things that Cuddy was doing right now.

But nevertheless, the feeling of camaraderie, of closeness made him think of his girlfriend… made him think of his dead girlfriend, he miserably corrected.

And that made him think that, although anyone else on the streets might smile, he could only feel the urge to push Cuddy away.

He didn't, of course.

The temptation was there, but he wasn't going to break the tentative détente that they'd reached. Especially when she answered his question by saying, "I'm not going to do anything if you don't talk to House…. What could I do? Threaten you with clinic duty? Drug you and kidnap you? Hold you hostage until you agree to talk to him?"

The sadness he'd felt so keenly only seconds earlier seemed to evaporate immediately at the images she was putting in his mind, which made him think that maybe working for a friendship with her was the best thing to do. If it was going to make him less miserable in the end and keep him that way, then maybe it was for his benefit to do what she wanted.

But the idea of that was still almost a maybe in his mind, and he wasn't going to commit to talking to House before that maybe turned into something a little more definite. So Wilson simply joked, "Of course not. You don't have the handcuffs for that."

Her head rose as the sidewalk crossing changed to the silver, bold letters that granted them passage. "You're right," she replied easily. "My plans have been foiled. You'll just have to agree to talk to him on your own."

He sighed at her persistence. "You're just not going to stop with this, are you?"

The question was friendlier than it could have been, and as cruel as the words might have been on their own, he hoped that his tone made her realize that he wasn't angry.

"No, I'm not," she replied with equal kindness. "I would really appreciate it if you did this for me."

Well, that much was obvious, Wilson thought wryly.

But he still wasn't ready to commit.

"Lets say I agree to have a little chat with House. What exactly are you expecting me to do?"

"I would prefer it if you didn't kill him," she replied honestly, the remark eliciting a smirk from him. "Though I can understand the desire to do that, I really don't want you in jail or him dead, so I'm hoping we can keep murder off the table."

"Pretend that we can," he told her.

"Then…" She shrugged. "I don't really care what you say to him. I mean obviously I hope that you two will reach some sort of… understanding, but I don't expect it." She cocked her head, so she could give him a serious look, the emotion behind it something he couldn't quite discern. "I just want you two in the same room. What you say or don't say… that's up to you."

That seemed fair, he thought to himself. She obviously wanted him to make up with House, but she wasn't expecting it, which meant that she wouldn't be angry with Wilson if he didn't forgive House for all of his sins.

Of course… there was something to be said for faking it. Although Cuddy was saying that she wasn't expecting anything, Wilson realized that there was a good possibility that she was lying. And if that were the case, then she would be upset when things didn't end with a rousing rendition of Kumbaya.

But then again, if that were to happen, the fault wouldn't lie with Wilson. Worst case scenario, she'd be pissed at him for a bit – at least until he made her realize that it was her fault for having unreasonable expectations. And then in that case, she'd feel even more guilty about everything that had happened then she already did, and he would be able to use that to his advantage.

Conversely, if she were being honest about her expectations, then agreeing to do what she wanted would work in Wilson's favor no matter how a conversation with House ended. If it ended well (which it wouldn't), she'd be happy that their collective situation had changed and indebted to him as a result. If things ended terribly (which they would), she'd have to accept that he'd agreed to what she'd wanted and still be indebted to him.

So really…

As anathema as it felt, agreeing to meet with House was actually a win-win situation for him. Machiavelli himself couldn't have come up with a better scenario for Wilson to further his friendship with Cuddy while simultaneously once and for all dealing with House.

At that point, Wilson thought that he must have been smiling, because Cuddy interrupted, "Wilson?"

He shook his head to clear away the rather dark thoughts in his mind – and they were dark. For someone who usually tried to do the right thing, who usually believed in kindness and the goodness of the human spirit, examining a potential conversation like he just had was completely out of character. And there was no denying that, he knew.

But then at the same time, there was also no ignoring the fact that Amber's death had changed him.

It had made him colder, angrier, quicker to judge.

Quicker to hate.

The person he'd become since her death was scarcely one his longtime friends would recognize. But Wilson knew that it was himself, nonetheless, and he could only try to either change or accept that fact. And since he wasn't ready to do the former, he had to cling to the latter.

He just had to accept that this was who he was now.

And in the spirit of that, he decided to explore a few more facets of Cuddy's suggestion before accepting her deal. The old Wilson would have probably said yes by now, but the new one needed to know more. "What if I say that, in the spirit of friendship and doing things for one another, I need you to respect my wishes and accept that I'm not ready to talk to House?"

She raised an eyebrow and looked at him carefully as they waited to cross the street once more; they'd gotten in a bad traffic cycle (despite not driving), and it seemed like the roads of Princeton had conspired to keep this conversation going as long as possible. "Is that your way of saying you won't do it?"

He shrugged. "That's my way of asking a question."

"Then I would say I asked you to do this for me first, so it wouldn't be right for you, as my friend, to then ask me for something that goes against that wish," she said with a surprisingly jovial smile.

Once she'd realized the seriousness of the question, he'd expected her to get angry. But instead, she seemed to be in quite the flirtatious mood, and despite the brief moments of hurt and pain, for the most part, she was lighter and more humorous than he'd seen her in a while. And he had to wonder then if he hadn't been the only one to benefit from this little outing.

He kept the thought to himself, however, and simply murmured, "Well, who can argue with that logic?"

Her smile faltered then, her mood turning slightly more serious as she realized that that matter had been dropped. "So will you do it?"

"Out of curiosity," he said, angling for a little reciprocity. "If I do this for you, what do I get in return?"

She looked confused. "You want me to bribe you?"

"No," he answered with a shake of the head. The question hadn't come out right, and he hadn't meant to sound as though he was asking her to sweeten the deal for him. "I'm just wondering how you envision this working. You think we need to do more for each other. Okay, fine, but… I guess I don't know what it is that you feel like you can do for me – or what it is that you're willing to do."

"Whatever you want," she said quickly, stressing each syllable to apparently let him know how serious she was. "Whatever you need."

Wilson realized there was a lot of leeway in this matter. "Whatever he wanted," "Whatever he needed" – that covered a lot of ground.

A lot of ground.

These last two months he'd been thinking about how much Cuddy's absence had hurt him. He'd been telling himself all this time that, if she were around, things would be different for him. He would be happier, able to move on with his life, able to feel as though every good thing in his life hadn't been destroyed.

And here she was, giving him the freedom to ask for exactly what he'd wanted all this time, and…

It didn't feel right.

Or it did; it felt right as in it felt like it was the thing she should be doing. Her proposition felt like something he could get behind.

But what it didn't make him feel was satisfied.

At best, the whole situation had become anti-climactic for him, and all of the consolations she was now making – or at least willing to make – seemed like watered-down visions of what had been in his mind. And though he was getting exactly what he wanted, it felt like the last thing he really wanted.

"I don't know," he admitted with a hint of misery. "I don't know what I want."

She nodded her head in understanding. "Think about it."

But that was actually the last thing he wanted to do now, because it seemed like his concern only compounded itself when he thought the matter through. And though he wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not, a sudden urge to just… blurt out the first thing that came to mind coursed through his body.

He'd never been an impulsive person, but the new Wilson couldn't take any more cautiousness. Enough with the careful prose and the Machiavellian consideration, he opened his mouth and allowed the first words that came to mind to spill off his tongue. "I want you to visit Amber's grave with me."

Her hand squeezed his. "Done."

But he was reticent to believe her; apparently, he could only handle spontaneity in small doses, he thought wryly. "'Done'?"

"If that's what you need me to do, of course, I'll go with you. It's the least I can do, considering I didn't go to her funeral," Cuddy told him.

To which he silently agreed; he realized that he could have pushed the matter to make her feel guilty (or to feel guiltier, anyway). However, at that moment, he was more interested in avoiding another fight than creating one. "Tomorrow?"

"Will you talk to House?"

He pulled his hand out of hers as soon as the question escaped her lips. He hadn't wanted to start another fight, but she was certainly doing the best she could to provoke him into one. "Is that the only reason why you're saying yes? To make me talk to House?"

The accusation definitely startled her, which wasn't hard to understand. They'd been having a fairly nice discussion, and his abrupt return to anger was obviously a divergence from that. But then again, how she could have expected him not to become angry after hearing that was beyond his understanding.

Quickly, she said, "No. No, that's not – I wasn't asking you because of that." She was back peddling as fast as her tongue would allow. "I was just asking –"

"So that you wouldn't have to commit yourself to witnessing my grief unless you had to," Wilson finished furiously.

"No. I was asking, because, if you were willing to talk to House, I would want it to happen today. And in that case, I didn't think you would want to meet with me tomorrow, because I didn't think you would want to see me after that conversation." Her fingers readjusting themselves on the stem of the umbrella, Cuddy murmured, "I was trying to be nice."

He blinked.

That definitely hadn't been the answer he was expecting. And honestly, he couldn't help but feel like a little bit of a jackass for having automatically jumped to such a negative conclusion.

To further that feeling, he stupidly said, "Oh."

"Yeah." She didn't snap or bark, but there was a definite amount of coolness in the single word.

Which was effective enough for him to wiggle a little bit in shame. "Sorry."

It was all she needed, it would seem.

Instantly her icy exterior melted, sliding off of her features with as much ease and grace as rivulets of rain glided along the contours of her umbrella. Replacing the anger and annoyance was something that he decided was compassion – was something that he himself had admittedly been lacking for the last two months.

And he felt incredibly… beholden to her in that moment.

He'd wanted her friendship, and she was trying to give it to him the best way she knew how. There was no denying that fact, and even though he somehow wanted more from her, he knew that she was giving him all that she could.

Where as he was giving her…

What exactly?

Half the time he was snapping down her throat; the other half he spent confiding in her things he had no right to share – and those times were worse than when he was angry. Because he was asking for her to understand, to console, to take on the burden of memories that threatened to crush him. In those moments, he was placing on her a weight she didn't deserve; he was giving himself a reprieve he knew he didn't deserve.

He was being selfish and…

And abusive.

And all of a sudden, it – keeping and enjoying New Wilson – wasn't a choice for him anymore. As much as he'd been complacent with this ugly… cancer invading him, looking at his behavior now the only thing that was clear was that it had to be destroyed.

He had to change.

He had to fix this before he angered Cuddy to the point where she no longer wanted to be near him.

And it was almost hilarious that he'd had to go this far with her to realize that fact. After all that had happened with House, after watching that man take on his own downward trajectory, Wilson thought that he should have known that the same would happen to him. Being a selfish asshole only paid off for so long, a fact that House's life had been a testament to.

It was also a fact that Cuddy had thrown in Wilson's face before now. Although the earliest weeks after Amber's passing were hard to recall, grief and gin a potent combination, he did remember the fight he'd had at Cuddy's home. She'd seen him completely trashed out of his mind and said that he'd been doing his best to become House.

And she'd been right.

He'd been so busy embracing his anger and grief, so selfishly expecting the rest of the world to back down in the face of his pain that he hadn't seen just how House-like he'd become.

But he had, and in doing so, he'd set his life on a course that only had one possible destination. So really, Wilson felt that the embarrassment and regret knotted at the back of his throat was completely and wholly deserved and expected.

And he didn't know if it was those emotions or the concern that telling Cuddy "no" would push her away permanently that made him do it. But regardless, whatever the reason, Wilson found himself nodding his head. "I'll do it."

This time she was the one to blink numbly.

At first Cuddy was sure that she'd heard him wrong. Considering how much she'd had to fight to have any decent conversation with her companion, she thought she must have misunderstood.

Of course, she'd heard him wrong, she told herself almost immediately.

It wasn't like she'd said anything in this little date of theirs that she hadn't said before. And there was no real reason for him to be any more open to it now than he'd been two days ago, two weeks ago, or two months ago. So to assume, to believe, even for a second that he was willing to meet with House was asking for disappointment.

Yet, she was so sure that that was what he'd agreed to do. Her mind thought it was insane to even consider that idea, but her heart pounded with the knowledge that he'd said exactly what she'd been hoping to hear him say.

Clearing her throat, she asked calmly, "You'll do it?"

Wilson hesitated to answer the question. He didn't give her an outright no, which was a good thing. But at the same time, any hesitation made her heart sink with the fear of failure.

With each second passing, it felt more and more certain that she really had misheard him, or worse, that she'd only heard what she'd wanted to hear. And with that came the feeling of panic; if she'd gotten it wrong, no matter the reason, she would have to explain – justify – herself, and she wasn't sure she could think quickly enough to come up with a convincing lie.

Instantly her mind began to scramble for the words to smooth over what she'd just asked. She wondered what she could say to make Wilson forget that she'd just implied that he'd said yes. But she had no idea what to tell him.

And in the end, she didn't need to say anything, because Wilson nodded his head. As they crossed the final distance to the hospital, he said in a voice that wasn't entirely confident, "I'll do it. I'll talk to House after work."

She stopped in front of the hospital's entrance, the lack of movement forcing him to do the same. A smile on her face, she asked, needing the reassurance, "Really?"

"Yes," he said in a manner that made her think that he was annoyed at her. Furthering that point as he stepped towards the hospital once more, he called over his shoulder, "And to prepare myself, I'm blowing off my clinic hours."

Standing alone in the rain for a few minutes, Cuddy couldn't help but feel as though a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. She'd spent so much time and energy to get this far that she was nothing short of relieved to see all of her hard work finally – finally – paying off. And that alone was worth a couple hours of unperformed clinic duty.

Getting House and Wilson together was also more than worth finishing up the termination papers she'd been working on, she realized. Certainly making sure that House was prepared for such a visit was worth the sacrifice, and God only knew that, if he weren't aware that such a conversation was about to occur, her hard work would be for nothing.

So deciding right then and there to blow off work for a little while, she stalked to her office. As she briskly passed her assistant, Cuddy told the girl in a serious tone, "Hold all my calls. Don't let anyone in. Unless it's an absolute emergency, I want to be left alone."

"Do you want some Midol?"

Cuddy practically snarled out a "No." The implication that the problem was her period didn't bother her, but the idea that her assistant had memorized Cuddy's menstrual cycle did.

Or maybe bother wasn't the right word, because that fact didn't exactly bother her. It just… made things more difficult for her right now. Truth be told, the last thing she wanted to do was waste time explaining why she wanted something to be done; her assistant's job was to assist, and…

And handling that wasn't important right now, Cuddy told herself, forcing her feet to move into her office.

She shut the door forcefully. Though it didn't approach a slam, the blinds on the windows rattled loudly nonetheless. The irritating sound probably would have been enough to give her a headache if it had lasted long, but thankfully by the time she sat down and picked up the phone, it had dissipated.

Then again, she was hardly in the clear if trying to talk to House was in her near future. And he was definitely not interested in dissuading her from believing that; the second he answered the phone, he barked, "What?"

Her voice low, both in tone and volume, she told him gently, "It's time for you to take your medicine."

"Fine."

"Make sure you write it –"

He hung up.

She supposed she'd been lying when she'd stated that he hadn't talked to her for two days. The only way she could handle leaving him alone at home was to call him when it was time for him to take his medication, forcing him to say those two words to her multiple times a day.

But that hardly counted as actual conversation.

Three times during her work day she would call him; three times a day he would hang up on her, and three times a day, she would worry as to whether he was actually listening to her when she instructed him to take his meds.

Obviously Cuddy wanted to believe that he was taking the drugs when she said to and in the doses she said to (though on the latter she'd given him an extra chance to succeed by only leaving him the exact amount of medication he needed to get through the day). She wanted to believe that he would write down the times he'd taken the drugs on the off chance that he forgot about taking the medication.

She had to believe those things in order to get through the day. If she allowed herself, even for a moment, to think that he was doing something harmful, intentional or otherwise…

She'd be driving home as quickly as her car would allow her.

Red lights be damned.

And maybe he knew that. Maybe House knew that, by refusing to write things down and by hanging up, he was worrying her.

Perhaps that was what he wanted.

But either way, intentional or not, she did worry, although she did usually spare him the pain of having to suffer through any more phone calls than was absolutely necessary. As much as he might have deserved the pain of listening to the extra rings, she pitied him enough to spare him.

That logic wouldn't apply today, though.

As she hit redial, she told herself that this wasn't about making him feel any worse than he needed to. He would accuse her of that, of course, but her intention was to let him know that Wilson was coming over – nothing more or less.

However, House didn't seem to appreciate the extra noise. Answering phone loudly, he practically yelled, "What the hell do you want, woman?"

"Did you take your medication?" She tried to sound as calm as possible, but the fact that he sounded like a man ready to lose his mind unnerved her.

He'd been heading down this road for the last couple of days. His precarious physical condition combined with the rain and lack of sleep made for an unbalanced House that she didn't exactly know how to deal with.

A loud guttural sound, the noise approaching a growl, carried over the line before he added the words, "I am trying to do that, but you just keep calling me, don't you?"

She bit down on her tongue until she was sure she'd bite through it. She'd expected this conversation to go terribly, but somehow it seemed like a slap in the face now that she was actually in the midst of talking to him.

But she supposed that she had to keep trying for all of their sakes. "House, I need –"

She didn't get a chance to finish the thought as he supplied sarcastically, "To stop calling? Cause, yeah, I was thinking that to."

"Don't hang up," she said quickly and louder than she intended. Much louder than she intended, she amended as she heard House hiss into the line. And though she probably should have apologized, intuitively Cuddy felt that that would only make things worse. So instead, she got down to business and told him, "We need to talk about something."

"There's nothing to talk about."

"House," she both warned and implored by elongating his name. "I discussed some things with Wilson today, and –"

"Don't care," he interrupted defensively, almost as though he were afraid of what she would say.

She ignored the remark. "And we agreed that –"

"As thrilled as I am to hear you ladies have synched up your cycles once more, I'd rather not hear about it."

Just from the way he was talking, she could tell that he was already moving to put the phone in the receiver. And that meant she had to blurt out as quickly as she could, "He's coming over after work to talk to you."

The confession – which was what it sounded like, even though in truth, she was speaking of a plan – was one she expected him to react to with silence. Considering how well the last attempt to get the two men to talk had gone, Cuddy had anticipated that House would need to quietly think about this before saying anything.

But instead, she got an immediate and decisive "No."

"What do you mean 'no'?"

"He's not coming over, and I'm not talking to him," House said in a final tone.

And though that voice would have had others backing off before he'd even finished the sentence, it didn't work on her.

It couldn't work on her – not when she'd spent so much time trying to get them to talk.

Really, more than likely, there was nothing he could say or do that would get her to drop the matter. But if there were, certainly, he would have to work for that, she told herself. "He is, and you are."

"No, I'm –"

"You don't have a choice," she said hastily. "He's coming over this evening, and that's all there is to it."

"Actually," he started to correct in clipped tones. "I think it's more accurate for me to say that I'm not talking to him, and if he comes over… I won't –"

"Answer the door? Because I'm thinking you will if only to avoid listening to him ring the doorbell."

She sounded snotty and disgustingly knowing, even to her own ears. She couldn't deny that she had the upper hand in this situation, as House's physical health and dependency on her largely gave her control over what happened to him. But then she also couldn't deny that it would have been way more mature to take the high road on this.

Not that either she or House were particularly interested on taking the high road apparently. At some point in their friendship, at least when it came to one another, they'd permanently set up camp on the low road; they'd been there so long that if either of them had been the type to build, they'd have their own set of condominiums overlooking the sewage-filled ditches by now.

Offering the punctuation on that image, House replied, "If there's one thing you should have learned by now, it probably should have been that I have no problem suffering if it means outmaneuvering you."

There was no denying that, she supposed. He was like a child throwing a tantrum in that respect. Even when she was the one technically in charge, even when she was the one who technically had control, if he wanted something (or didn't want something), he would kick and scream for that lollipop long after she'd dragged him out of the drugstore.

Or something, she thought, shaking her head to refocus her mind. She really didn't have time to deal with analogies at the moment – not when she was also trying to handle House.

"I know what you're capable of," she told him, feeling as though she were verbally stroking his ego. "Which is why I also know that you're more than able to comprehend the opportunity you have here."

"Yeah, I get it. But I don't think you do."

She was more exhausted than angered at that point. And though she felt as though she should respond with irritation – at least give him a small taste of his own medicine – she didn't have it in her. "What does that mean?"

"It means that while you're sitting there thinking that everything will be okay, that Wilson and I will make up, I know that that's not going to happen. I know that you're wrong."

And though he didn't say it, underneath all of those words, Cuddy could tell that he was afraid.

It wasn't hard to understand why that was. The last attempt at reaching out to Wilson hadn't gone well, and House was one of those people who took rejection as poorly as a human being could. Which was almost ironic, considering how doggedly persistent he could be; his determination and stubbornness qualities she couldn't even begin to imagine him without, they should have made him much braver than he was with personal relationships.

Should have was clearly the key phrase in that sentence, because for all his posturing, the fact was he was a coward when it came to dealing with the people he cared about.

Naturally putting it that way made it seem like she judged him for that. And nothing could have been further from the truth, actually, as she didn't find herself to be any braver in that respect. If anything, she felt weaker than he was, so afraid to be close to others that she'd never had a Wilson to lose; in all of her life, she'd had many friends, but she'd never had one as close as that.

She'd never had a best friend to confide anything and everything to.

But House had, and he'd lost him, and it wasn't hard to understand why he was so afraid now. Anyone would have been in the same situation, she told herself; anyone would have wanted to avoid being told that their best friend hated them.

Yet she also knew that, if things were ever going to be better – for any of them, House would have to talk to Wilson.

Knowing that, she consoled in calm tones. "I know that you're worried about what he might tell you. You don't want him to say that he hates you, and I understand that. But the way this gets better – the way he leans to forgive you – involves you talking to him."

"No."

His voice was a dangerous growl. Not unlike the sound a caged animal, afraid and ready to attack, would make, it was proof enough that he was on the verge of slamming the phone down and never speaking to her again.

And that would have only been for starters. There was an eager fury in the single word he'd practically hissed, and she would have been stupid to think that that would be the worst he would do; he was angry enough – he was dumbly angry – to do all sorts of things that she didn't want to think about.

And the need to end the conversation, to diffuse the tension between them immediately became all she cared about then.

Sighing, Cuddy said in a softer voice, "This is how this is going to work: Wilson is coming over." Her tone, though kind, left no room for disagreement, which was exactly what she wanted. As odd as it might have been to make such a final statement to someone so clearly desperate for control, she understood what needed to be done. She knew that the way this chat with them ended best was with her giving him a specific set of options. A lesser person would have caved to his demands, but she knew better.

Because if she'd given him what he'd wanted, if she'd said, "Okay, Wilson won't come over," two things would have happened. Firstly, he would have become arrogantly pleased with himself; his chest would have puffed up as though his lungs were capable of housing days' worth of air in them. And he would have let that good, egotistical high control him for as long as it could possibly last; he'd ignore everything she said to do; he'd take risks with his own health and life that he knew rationally were stupid.

And eventually, the second thing would happen: he would crash. Not only because screwing her over was a temporary high, but also because at some point, House would realize that winning this particular argument was nothing more or less than a loss for himself. Unlike taking a risk with one of his patients' lives, by getting her to back off, he would realize that he'd essentially lost all chance to make up with Wilson.

Which she was desperate to avoid at all cost.

So she went against the grain, went against what seemed like the most logical and stated without any room for disagreement that Wilson would be coming over. And to make House feel slightly in control of himself, she offered him two choices. "If you don't want to talk to him, don't. Just sit back and watch him walk out of your life forever."

He started to say something along the lines of "Enough with the dramatics," but she cut him off.

"But if you have any desire at all to earn his forgiveness, you're going to accept that he's coming over, and you're going to prepare yourself for it. You're going to stop fighting with me," she told him in a cold voice. "You're going to take your medication and a bath, so he doesn't faint at the smell of you."

She waited for him to blurt something out about how the scent of his studliness was only offensive to her cloistered self or something along those lines. But no remark ever came, and she forced herself continue elaborating on what he should do. "You're going to lie down. You're going to get some sleep, so that you're not so damn cranky with him. And you're going to be friendly and supportive and nice and all of the things that are so abhorrent to your senses when he gets there."

Cuddy expected him to slam down the phone; she'd made her point, and he, understanding that intuitively, should have written anything else she had to say off as something not worth listening to. At least, she thought that he would have. But instead he simply asked in a voice that offered no emotional insight, "And where will you be for our homemade episode of the Jenny Jones show?"

Her answer was immediate. "I will be there with you. He's stopping by after work, and I'm going to make sure that all of the things I need to take care of will be done by then," she promised. In the back of her mind, she couldn't help but think she was being repetitive by constantly telling House when Wilson was coming over.

But then again, given House's brain injury and his overall stubborn nature, she supposed that there was something to be said for reiterating the point over and over. Which was why she added, "I won't let you do this alone. I will be there."

House didn't believe her, however; he definitely didn't put much faith in her ability to show up, because his response was to scoff at her words – to scoff loudly before hanging up and leaving her to wonder if she really were doing the best thing for him.


Wilson spent the rest of the day alternating between maintaining his workload in the oncology department and helping Foreman look for a new case. Truthfully, when he'd first returned to work, Wilson had wanted to avoid working with the cancer patients; he'd tried to pawn off his cases on lesser doctors in the same field.

He'd done everything he could to avoid the certainty of death that seemed so oppressive these last two months.

Maybe it had been stupid to think this, but Wilson had truly believed that handling cases where the patient had a shot would be more helpful to his own well being. He'd thought that he would feel better saving lives than witnessing the destruction of life.

But the fact of the matter was working in diagnostics had been even more a reminder of the inevitability that loomed over everyone.

As odd as that was, it was the truth; Wilson had never felt so aware of how easy it was to kill someone as he had in the last couple of days. Because even though cancer was one of those buzz words that instantly made people think of death, the reality was this: death never seemed closer than when you had no idea how to stop it, when you had no idea what was pushing you closer to it. Cancer might have been just as deadly, but Wilson knew how to deal with that.

And because of that, he'd had to reassess how he felt about working in oncology.

He hadn't wanted to come back to that, his legs itching to move on to something different. But he could see now that the oncology was where he belonged. It was what he was good at, what he knew how to do, and if he were any good at being a doctor – if he were to be of any use to anyone, working in oncology was what he had to do. So he'd spent the day balancing his time between re-embracing his normal caseload and trying to give Foreman one.

Frankly, Wilson would have been happy to say goodbye to diagnostics all together. But since he'd kind of been an ass to Foreman – and since Foreman currently needed Wilson's name to get Cuddy to get a case – Wilson felt beholden to the younger man.

However nothing came out of his helping hand. At the end of the day, there was no case to solve; there wasn't even anything that could potentially be a case to work with. And so by the time the workday finished, Wilson was frustrated with his inability to give Foreman what he wanted.

Really, it shouldn't have seemed like much, but if Wilson had been able to acquire a new case for the diagnostics department, it would have been… a nice way to try and undo the damage he'd done only days previously. It might not have fixed everything – it wouldn't have fixed everything. But it would have been a nice start, a peace offering of sorts that said, "I'm sorry for doing something that made our boss look at you as though she were going to eat you alive."

Okay, that might have been a stretch.

It would definitely take more than a single case to make Foreman forget that Cuddy had rubbed his failures in his face. It would absolutely take more than a case for Taub's injured manhood to be soothed, despite the fact that Cuddy had essentially said she wasn't interested in him. It wouldn't take anything more than a case to make Kutner happy, but then Kutner was already happy.

Nothing got him down.

And to be completely honest, with the conversation with House breathing down his neck, Wilson could only wish that he'd been given some of Kutner's positive outlook on life.

It wasn't that Wilson thought that things would go badly.

It was that he knew they would go as horribly as human possible.

The bombing of Hiroshima, the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the Titanic – all of those things would look like wonderful, cheerful events compared to what was going to happen in House's apartment.

And Wilson had to wonder why he'd ever agreed to have a conversation to begin with. Had he really been that desperate to prove himself to Cuddy? To be her friend? Had he really been that convinced that talking to House would be a good thing?

Wilson guessed the answer was yes to all of those things on one level or another. But knowing that didn't exactly make him feel better; if anything, it just made him feel as though he'd willingly stepped towards his doom to accomplish something he hadn't even set out to do.

It was almost a morbid thought that occupied his mind as he finished the workday by gathering his briefcase and courage. But it was what he was thinking nonetheless.

And it remained in his mind until he was at House's apartment, standing outside in the hallway.

Wilson hadn't knocked yet, and he was still dabbling with the idea of turning and walking away without ever doing it. When he'd left the hospital Cuddy's car was still in the lot, so he considered at that moment that he could easily slip away unscathed – without anyone knowing the wiser.

For now anyway.

He supposed that if he were to leave without saying a word, without doing what he'd said he'd do, he would have to eventually deal with the fallout of that choice. Eventually Cuddy would learn that he hadn't talked to House, and House would probably learn that too one way or the other.

And then where would they be?

House would react with anger and blame – all of it directed towards Cuddy. And she would, in turn, be more miserable than Wilson wanted to see her be. Which would make him feel guilty, for starters.

And if he didn't sound (even in his own mind, that was) all that serious about her misery, it was because he knew she would make him feel that emotion ten fold. Of that he had no doubt. After all, her agreeing to visit Amber's grave was predicated on him doing this.

Cuddy hadn't actually said that, of course, but Wilson was smart enough to know that nothing came without a catch.

Nothing among this circle of individuals anyway.

So he knew: If he ran away now, she would never do what he needed her to do. She would never see what he needed her to be a witness of.

Honestly, he didn't know why it was so important to take her to Amber's grave.

There was no… acknowledged symbolism in the act; he wasn't replacing his dead girlfriend with Cuddy. He wasn't entrusting her to keep Amber's memory or anything like that.

He just….

He didn't really know.

He supposed he just wanted Cuddy to see for herself what he'd lost. He wanted her to see that House's mistakes didn't occur in a vacuum, that they didn't come without a cost. And he wanted her to understand that, even if that price came at the expense at other lives and other families for years, the closer she got to House, the more likely it would be that she would have to pay eventually.

She wouldn't escape unscathed, able to move forward with her life without him. That just wasn't how House and his so-called friendship operated.

Why no one had been around to tell Wilson this, he didn't know. He wished – desired with all of his heart and soul – that someone had, but he hadn't been lucky like that.

He'd had to learn that lesson in a painful collision of metal and events, of physical damage and sloppy planning on House's part.

And although part of Wilson felt that Cuddy deserved to experience something just as painful as a punishment for all of her betrayals, he couldn't do that to her.

He could not hurt Cuddy like that.

Which meant that he had to go through with this conversation.

He really did have to talk to House.

Standing there in the hallway, his hand curled into a fist, Wilson wondered if this was how men felt as they journeyed to the gallows. He wondered if that dreadful feeling of inevitability coursed through their veins in the same way it moved through his.

He wondered, but he gave himself no opening to find an answer to the question; instead he cleared his throat and bravely raised his fist to the door, his knuckles rapping against the wood several times. Four times to be exact, he noted, his mind intuitively trying to take control of the situation by delineating pointless details he had no use for.

For that reason, he noticed that, although he could hear House in the apartment, the door didn't open right away. House's footsteps were uneven, as they typically were, but slower than normal. A traitorous part of Wilson wondered if that meant that the other man's pain was worse than normal.

But Wilson was quick to squelch that concern, to refuse to give it even the slightest bit of oxygen to breathe and expand within his consciousness.

And when House answered the door, his eyes rimmed red, hair disheveled and body covered in a thin sheet of sweat, Wilson thought that it was really easy not to care. House looked high, looked like a junkie in the worst and least sympathetic way possible, making it easy for Wilson to ask in disgusted amazement, "Are you high?"

House made a bitter quip about Nurse Ratched, forcing Wilson to respond loudly, "Right. Withdrawal then?"

House offered no answer other than a non-committal shrug that Wilson didn't know how to take.

Truth be told, he had expected House to confirm or deny the accusation one way or the other. As much as the man rarely defended himself, House – the House of yester year, anyway – would have offered his best friend (Wilson thought of the moniker with disdain) an answer.

But House hadn't, which made Wilson want to turn around and leave. Really, if House wasn't even going to pretend to be interested in the obligatory small talk, angry and heated as it was, then Wilson couldn't help but feel that all of this was a waste of time. He couldn't help but feel that only the worst of things could come from this.

Except rationally he knew that that wasn't true. He had to remind himself that he was there was something good to be had from all of this, but it was true: he would get something – he would get Cuddy's loyalty – from this…

If he were to play his cards right.

The prompting all he needed to refocus his attentions, Wilson said awkwardly, "Right. Well, I can't stay long. Cuddy told me to stop by."

House waved Wilson inside, both men taking a seat on the couch. But that was, it seemed, the closest they could come to any sort of détente. Because nearly the second they started talking to one another once more, Wilson felt his hatred for House grow, make itself known.

Wilson had tried to be almost conversational when he asked, "So Cuddy's living with you?"

Yet conversation was the last thing he felt like making when House joked, "Soon as Foreman gets a cap busted in his ass or Cameron has an accident with the peroxide, Cuddy'll move onto them."

The remark made Wilson laugh, of course, but it wasn't the kind of laugh you made when you actually enjoyed what the other person was saying; it was the kind of chuckle he made when he couldn't believe how stupidly unaware of human emotions House was being. "You think she's treating you just like she would anyone else in your position?"

"No. I think she's doing this to satisfy her guilt complex."

There was a bitterness in House's words that Wilson could only feel in his bones. House was clearly under the delusion that Cuddy didn't care about him at all. It was so… stupid and unfeeling that Wilson wanted to strangle the other man until he realized just how lucky he really was.

Because Cuddy hadn't been living with him out of obligation. She hadn't waited on him hand and foot just because it was one of those things that she felt she had to do.

She was doing it because she cared, because she loved him even more than Wilson thought she was willing to admit.

And the truly most horrible part about all of it was that, if he had been in House's position, Wilson would have never had the nerve to complain about being treated out of duty.

At this point in his life, it was all he wanted, all he could hope for.

And even then, no matter how much he tried to guilt Cuddy, her attention was always with House.

It was a fact that House couldn't appreciate, that he wouldn't have cared about even if he realized just how true it was. Which meant that…

Nothing had changed for him.

Cuddy had said that things were different, that he was sad and depressed and all of that.

But this was proof that House was still House.

"You're unbelievable, House," Wilson said in disbelief. His hands in the air, he continued, "Just this once, I was hoping… that things would change for you."

Which made House snap angrily. "Right. See, I was thinking spending every waking moment with Cuddy in my drug-free, porn-free, fun-free apartment was a change. And a crappy one at that. But you're right. Nothing's changed. That jumbo box of super tampons in my bathroom has always been there."

The comment about the tampons struck Wilson the most – mainly for its sheer ridiculousness.

Granted, everything in House's list of "Things I did this summer" were pretty ridiculous. Being without porn hardly constituted a real change – nor was it indicative of any sort of suffering. And Wilson seriously doubted that House was drug-free, considering all of the ailments Cuddy had mentioned that House was suffering from.

But it really was the tampons that pushed Wilson over the edge.

Maybe it was the fact that the mention definitely shed new light on Cuddy's decision to have ice cream today. Maybe it was the fact that imagining House with a box of tampons in his hands conjured all sorts of prepubescent jokes in Wilson's mind. But whatever the reason, it was enough to make Wilson take a verbal step back.

His voice slightly calmer, he conceded, "All right, certain things have changed. But you… haven't, and I –"

House rolled his eyes. "You've been here two minutes. You don't know –"

And that was more than enough to send Wilson back over the edge.

"Come on, House!" His hands bunched into fists, and he had to mentally remind himself that hitting House would not make Cuddy happy. "After everything you've done, someone still has the patience to stand by you, and you resent it."

It was such typical House crap that Wilson thought it shouldn't have made him so angry. But it did; it was, and he was nearly hysterical over it. "Cuddy has bent over backwards to keep you happy, and you feel trapped!"

Expectantly, Wilson waited for House to offer some defense. Realistically Wilson understood that that was foolish at best, as there really was no defense to make in moments like these. But he still expected – hoped – that House would try.

And that he hadn't made Wilson feel the need to point out just what it was that House was taking advantage of, being unappreciative of. "You have a beautiful, smart, successful woman willing to do anything to help you."

He tried to avoid adding too much emotion or to list all of Cuddy's good qualities like a lovesick puppy. But somehow House managed to see through all of that anyway. "What – you want her?"

"This isn't a game," Wilson snapped. "You can't just… play swapsies." God only knew that he wished they would, that they could, but he couldn't force Cuddy to see what he was offering much less demand her to accept it.

His voice quieter, he said, "Cuddy chose you. Over her job, over her other –"

"You mean she chose me over you."

The simplicity of House's correct deduction took Wilson's breath away.

It was exactly what he'd been thinking.

It was precisely what he'd been feeling all of this time and what he'd been trying to overcompensate for by telling himself that he didn't need Cuddy or her help.

But House – with his brilliant mind and his occasional ability to understand human nature with startling clarity – had seen what the truth was.

And Wilson didn't know why he said it then, but he, searching to see just how much he knew, asked House, "You know she didn't even come to Amber's funeral?"

"Probably on account of the fact that she didn't like her," House offered readily.

If Wilson had been calmer, he would have sarcastically considered that the time for House's insights had come to a dramatic and quick close. But the fact was Wilson was not calm.

He was livid at the reminder of what Cuddy had done and even more furious by the way House so easily parlayed that knowledge about a conversation.

"You're an ass," Wilson said viciously. "You've been sitting here for weeks, no doubt feeling bad. And I believed Cuddy when she said it was because of me and –"

"Yeah. I can't stop thinking about you, Wilson. Wanna see the shrine I built?"

It was the kind of sarcasm Wilson expected but did not want. "But she was wrong," he continued. "You don't feel bad about what you did. All you've been thinking about is yourself, what you don't have." He was shaking his head in disgust, his face red as he stood up. "I lost the woman I wanted to spend my life with. Who I honestly could have done that with. And you didn't lose anything."

He laughed at the irony.

He'd always believed that people eventually got what they deserved. But in this case… the only one who had suffered was him. He bled for the woman he loved; he wished day and night that he had died in her place, and House just got to go on with his life like nothing had ever happened.

"You gained from all this. A lot. You got someone who's voluntarily putting up with your insanity. And you can't even appreciate that." He turned away from House and quietly added, "You can't appreciate our friendship enough to stop joking about it."

At that point, House stood as well, but Wilson was already on the move.

This had been a mistake.

And the sooner he put distance between this twisted wart of a human being and himself, the better he would be. "Just… don't," Wilson warned to ward him off. He was no longer interested in hearing anything House had to say.

This had been a mistake, Wilson repeated to himself, the horror around him soaking into his consciousness slowly. This was something that he shouldn't have even tried to do, much less something Cuddy should have asked him to attempt.

This was something he had to end, had to escape.

Now.

Shaking he took a step towards the door. If he stayed here any longer, he would do something he'd regret.

But he'd barely moved past the couch when the front door opened to reveal a shocked Cuddy.

There was take out at her feet and a dismayed frown settling upon her lips.

She could feel it happening as she realized that she was late. She'd hoped to get to the apartment before Wilson, but getting dinner for all of them had taken longer than she'd expected. And between House's pained expression, his face red with agitation, and Wilson's visible disgust, Cuddy could tell that it had been to both of their detriments.

House, ill equipped to deal with this alone, had surely said something horrible and horrifying to Wilson, and Wilson had no doubt taken the sarcasm as glibness… which House was anything but as of late.

And she knew what all of that had inevitably led to, because as the door opened all the way, she could see what the ramifications were. Or she could see the most important one, anyway:

Wilson was leaving.

"Wilson," she implored, using his name to beg him without actually having to beg him to stay.

In her heart, she understood that it was a useless gesture at that point. She knew that it would take so much more than uttering his name to get him to stay. And that meant she had to act fast.

Fluidly, she reached down and grabbed the white bags of Malaysian takeout, her gaze never leaving the two men. Honestly at this point, she trusted neither enough to believe that one of them wouldn't try running past her while she wasn't looking.

Especially Wilson.

He looked like he was ready to bolt at the earliest opportunity.

Determination welling within her, she decided that she would be damned before giving him one.

Easily stepping through the doorway, she kicked the door shut with a slam. The clamoring noise must have echoed negatively through House's head, because he hissed loudly.

And though she felt guilty about it, she also felt justified in her behavior. The slam, though loud and annoying, was an audible way of telling them both that no one was going anywhere.

"What the hell is going on here?" It was a half-question, half-accusation that she really needed no response for. After all, it was pretty clear what had happened, but she'd uttered the words anyway, hoping that it would at least get one of them to say something instead of looking at her in silence.

House spoke up first, snapping furiously at her, "Are you senile?" He didn't say, she noted, that she'd been late, that she'd let him down, but there was a deadly subtext to it that made her feel awful. Because although he would never say that he needed her to be there, his current display of anger made it seem like that that was how he'd felt.

And she hadn't been there.

But she didn't even have time to dwell on that thought, because Wilson held his shaking fingers up in frustration. "I'm leaving. I can't –"

"No one is going anywhere," she interrupted.

House scoffed. "You gonna shackle us to the couch?"

"Shut up." The two words were uttered through gritted teeth, the only way she knew how to convey to him that he was screwing this up – the only way to tell him (without saying the words) that, by being sarcastic, he was ruining his chances with Wilson.

Thinking about it for more than two seconds though, she realized that there was no way two words could say that much. Especially when House was in no mood to read between the lines, there was no way he understood what she was trying to tell him.

Nevertheless, it was enough to quiet him down. He might have glared at her, but he wasn't railing at her as he had been doing when he got into one of his rages.

But then again, his silence left an opportunity for Wilson to insist, "You two can have your lovers' quarrel without me. I'm going home."

Cuddy jerked her head in his direction. "No, you're not."

"Yes –"

"No, you're staying," she interrupted in an authoritative tone.

Wilson shook his head so quickly that it made her own feel as though it were spinning. "You can't keep me here."

"Well, that's true," she admitted, dropping her briefcase onto the floor unceremoniously. "But what I can do is remind you of our deal. And if you want to walk out that door now, then I can't guarantee that I won't feel the same way tomorrow."

It was a threat she hadn't wanted to make. It was a threat that she could only handle herself saying by telling herself that it, actually, wasn't a threat and just a reminder that reciprocation worked both ways.

Wilson, however, clearly didn't see it that way. Because even though he didn't speak, he looked at her as though he wanted to scream. And frankly, she could only be thankful for House's presence in that moment, because she was sure if he weren't there, Wilson would have shouted.

Of course, this was House, and he was never content to let her appreciate him for more than a minute at a time. "You're blackmailing him into talking to me?" He sounded surprised by the development he thought he saw. "That's desperate even for you."

She started to say no, but she didn't get a chance to even utter the word, her mouth left hanging open as he continued.

"What exactly is the bargaining chip here?" He pretended to consider the question himself, but Cuddy knew, even before he spoke, that he was going to mention the most repulsive thing that came to mind. "Sex? You promised to let Wilson give you a Dirty –"

"Bedroom. Now," she interrupted furiously, her words clipped and harsh.

House smiled oily, his grin like the kind you found on a used car salesman who knew when he'd found an easy mark. "Sorry, Jimmy. But it looks like the lady wants me to give her a ride first. Don't worry, though; I'm sure she's still good – even if she is my sloppy seconds."

Cuddy glared at him as she placed the take out food on the coffee table but said nothing. He was clearly looking for a reaction from her, and she sure as hell wasn't going to give him one. Not when she had to physically grab Wilson's hand to stop him from leaving or killing House (she didn't know which he intended), anyway.

And she didn't really have a chance to yell either, because, for all of his talk, House started to walk down the hallway towards the bedroom.

As soon as he was far enough away to not hear her, she told Wilson, "I'm sorry."

"You should be. He's –"

"Sick and angry at me, and – "

"And none of that should have anything to do with me," Wilson interrupted, obviously still incredibly annoyed. "I can't believe you asked me to do this. And I can't believe you let him talk to you like that."

Looking in his dark eyes, she could tell that he was furious enough to need more than a few conciliatory words. The brown irises somehow blacker than they normally were, it was clear that what he needed to hear was an explanation she wasn't entirely ready to give. But she supposed she had to try, lest she accept failure over the whole endeavor now.

"Wilson… I know it's hard for you to understand. But he's not –"

"He's not what? Serious? Sane? Some combination of that?"

She would have had to be stupid to think that he was seriously asking any of those questions. The disbelief and anger were so keen in his words that there was no doubt in her mind that he wasn't going to take such excuses as being matter of fact.

So she said what should have been the most obvious thing in the world. "He's sick. I know you want to chalk this up to House being House, but rationally, as a doctor, surely you realize that he is not a healthy man."

He looked like he wanted to say something sarcastic, but she didn't give him the opportunity to do that. Instead she added, "Between the skull fracture, the brain surgery, the seizure, and the cardiac arrest, you have to admit that it's insane to think that he's completely together right now. Or that he'll be fine, or would have been fine, immediately after all of those traumas combined."

She hated having to put it like that.

Hated it, truly, completely, absolutely hated having to see House like that… like a victim.

Wilson probably didn't want to think of House like that either, she realized. Wilson wanted to liken House to a monster, incapable of showing even the slightest bit of remorse.

It made hating him easier.

But Cuddy didn't want to believe he was a victim of circumstance either.

She'd known House since she was practically a child. Maybe not in years but absolutely in maturity, a little girl she had been when she'd first stumbled upon House and all of his intoxicating, infuriating, addictive intelligence. And in all of that time, as much as she had joked about his insanity, as much as there had been times where she'd foolishly hurled that insult, it had never been even remotely true.

Behind all of the superficial madness, there'd always been a reason; there'd always been some thread of logic for her to use as a life raft, to pull her to understanding him and his motives. Sometimes it drove her nuts to be left grappling for that rationality, the undertow of doubt somehow always threatening to carry her off. But no matter how much he seemed to try to push her away, no matter how hard she tried to shrug him off, she had always eventually seen it.

She'd always found the logic behind his diagnoses and actions. In some ways, her certainty in him, in his abilities, which clearly exceeded her certainty in herself and her own talents, left her feeling breathless, left her feeling as though the world had lurched onto new axes. He was so smart, so… intuitive that she never felt and always felt, paradoxically enough, reassured by that power.

And though she didn't doubt that he would recover (she refused to believe he wouldn't), it scared her that anything so… overwhelmingly impressive and large could be harmed.

Though she could feel Wilson's gaze on her, she was not, at that moment, compelled to think of anything other than a very distant memory. Long before she'd met House, she'd been a schoolgirl forced to write a report on Einstein. The particulars, of course, were no longer in her consciousness; how old she'd been, the length of the essay, or if she'd been forced to recite the report to the class were details she'd long since forgotten.

Cuddy remembered the color ink she'd used to write the stupid thing. Maybe that was a little bizarre, but since the brilliantly blue ink had been smudged to the point of illegibility, and she'd received demerits for it, as a result, it was hard to forget that fact. That her left wrist and palm had been dyed said color as well had only cemented that part of the memory in her mind.

Which was a shame, because she had a hunch that what she'd written had been some of the most beautiful prose she'd ever managed to put to paper. Again, the details had slipped through the cracks of her memory years ago; she'd had more important things to remember over the years anyway, but she vaguely recalled talking about Einstein's aestheticism ultimately limiting his abilities to understand the implications of his own theories, limiting his abilities to understand the world around him.

She must have been in high school at the time, she decided, because she remembered deriding him for that… which her teacher might or might not have also penalized her for; Cuddy didn't know.

But she did know that Einstein had dismissed the existence of black holes for their ugliness, for the way they turned his beautiful theories into something that held a potent amount of inevitable degeneration. He didn't like the idea of something as splendid as a star slowly dying in on itself, only to collapse into an entity only capable of destruction.

And at the time, she'd sort of understood his feelings behind that… but not really. The way she saw it, the stars diminishing, the universe decaying… was a sad reality, sure. But it was a reality nonetheless, and no amount of denying the truth could alter that.

Now, though… she could understand all too well his willingness to ignore that truth. Her problem might not have had anything to do with the universe. But believing that House's gift, which had been a part of her life for so long, could be taken away so easily terrified her.

Of course, some might say that, if it had required a skull fracture, a seizure, a heart attack, and a surgery, then it hadn't been easy to destroy his genius.

But that was precisely how it seemed to her.

And probably to House as well, because it wasn't like there'd really been a way to avoid any of it. He couldn't have predicted the bus accident; he couldn't have predicted the damage caused by the deep brain stimulation. He probably should have anticipated some sort of negative effect, sure, but this was far worse than even Cuddy herself had imagined. And besides his mind, when working at its best, wouldn't have allowed for him to leave a question unanswered anyway, so really, he'd only had the option to pursue the matter in the way that he had. There'd been no way to avoid it, no way to escape the inevitable.

From the second he got on that bus, all roads pointed them to this, to where they were now.

And it was hard – impossible – for Cuddy to understand how such a thing could be possible. Her entire being tried to rally against that fact, the hand clasped around Wilson's forearm instinctively gripping him tighter.

The motion clearly grabbed his attention, because at that moment, he pulled her from her thoughts. "I don't care if he's sick. I care about the things he says about you. And you can't tell me that the things he's been saying don't hurt –"

"I'm not saying that it's been easy for me," she interrupted, knowing exactly where he was headed. "Am I annoyed by what he said? Yes. Do I wish that his personality were one that allowed for traumatic brain injuries? Of course. The last two months would have been a lot easier for me if he weren't such a stubborn son of a bitch to begin with. I know."

She sounded more frustrated than she wanted to. Truth be told, she was more annoyed by Wilson trying to be her big brother than what House had said. However, she realized that Wilson was unlikely to understand that. Not that she really wanted to say, "You're the problem at the moment," obviously, but she silently squirmed at her apparent inability to choose her words more carefully.

"But you want me to be his friend?" Wilson looked at her confused, and she knew she had to regroup herself.

Her lips pursed together for a moment, the small action giving her a few seconds to consider what she wanted to say. "I want you to talk to him. I want you to listen to him – to what he has to say. The last thing I want is for you to fight my battles for me," she told him in a firm voice.

She hoped he could appreciate how deeply she felt about the matter.

However, Cuddy figured that it was better to reiterate her feelings a little more than to under prepare him in the same way she'd apparently done with House on this conversation.

"He's being mean to me?" She shrugged. "Let it go. He and I have our own issues that have nothing to do with you." Realizing that that sounded mean though, she added immediately, "That I don't want you to get involved with."

But that didn't exactly make things better.

Because Wilson asked, "Why not?" He was evidently more curious than incensed, though she could hear the beginnings of offense in his tone. So she knew she had to answer carefully.

"You have so much going on," she explained simply… ineffectively. "And I get that you want to help me, but what's happening between me and House… it's not something you should waste your time on."

To be completely honest, Cuddy didn't exactly want to waste her own time on House's crap either. But she didn't have the same option to avoid it completely like Wilson did.

Not anymore anyway.

The time to extract herself from House's madness had long since past for her. And even if she'd decided to change that today, there'd still be no avoiding finding a resolution to the fight they were having now.

Sighing, she pulled herself from her thoughts and said calmly, "He's mad at me. I should be the one to handle that – not you." But that almost made it seem like she didn't trust Wilson to address the situation, which clearly wasn't going to make him feel better.

She reassuringly squeezed his arm then, hoping the gesture would convey to him that she didn't mean to sound so derogatory towards him. And if it didn't, she went the extra distance by apologizing. One of her hands wiping her forehead, she groaned, "I'm sorry. Every thing I'm saying is just making things worse, and I'm really not trying to hurt you or write you off."

Oddly enough, Wilson seemed to respond to that admittance. Whether it was the apology itself or the fact that maybe he was finally getting a sense of how she was feeling, the reason behind his behavior was one she didn't know. But whatever the motivation, he did seem to calm down.

The set of his shoulders seemed to ease a little, the harsh lines of his body softening infinitesimally. And she took advantage of his slightly relaxed state to say, "I just want you to focus on what you need to say to him. Please don't worry about me."

He nodded his head in understanding, though he didn't seem to really appreciate the sentiment behind her words.

That wasn't hard to understand, really. He was so uninterested in House at this point that she knew it was hard, if not outright impossible, for Wilson to get why it was important for her to handle House on her own.

"You're sure?" His eyes searched her for reassurance.

Her immediate response was to cup one of his cheeks gently. As much as she took him for granted, there were times – moments like the one she was having right now – where Wilson's sweetness was undeniable. The warm apple of his cheek soft beneath her palm, there was no denying that his gentleness concealed beautifully the strength within him. He was supportive in the best of ways; he would accept her decision now without issue.

But he would also without question beat the hell out of House right now if she told him to. Honestly, Wilson would do almost anything for her, she discovered at that second. And if he hadn't in the past, she suddenly realized that that had had everything to with her not asking him. All this time she'd just assumed that they weren't close, because they never really did much for one another.

Yet now she could see that she'd kept him at bay by never truly allowing him access to her. He'd probably always been willing to help her, she thought. But out of respect for her, for her independence, he'd restrained himself. Any other woman he probably would have helped a million ways by now, but he'd allowed her to make the choices and mistakes she'd felt were so important to make on her own out of respect for her wishes.

Out of respect for her.

And between that and the earnestness in his eyes, Cuddy couldn't help but feel guilty for asking him to talk to House. It was the right thing to do for all of them, of course – God, it was the right thing. But that didn't make her feel any less unworthy of Wilson's friendship at that moment.

Conversely, she'd never found House less deserving of her friendship than she did right now. And deciding to focus on that – on her anger instead of her guilt, she nodded her head. "Believe me, I have no problem with handling House on my own." There was a hint of a threat in her voice, her indignation over the things House had said beginning to let itself be known. "Please keep that separate from what you need to do right now with him."

Wilson responded tartly, "Maybe you should remind him of that."

She smiled at him, understanding that the coolness in his words was meant for the one who was no longer in the room. "I'm on it," she said eagerly.

That said, she started to walk away from Wilson and towards the hallway. Her body was already tensing for a fight with House, but she'd barely taken three steps away from Wilson before stopping. In all of her eagerness to deal with the real problem here, she'd almost forgotten to play her last card in getting Wilson to stay.

Turning back to him, she asked, "Would you mind getting plates for the food while I disembowel House?" He nodded his head dutifully but said nothing. And she liked that, because his silence allowed her to entice him further. "I know I probably should have come here after work straight away – especially after I noticed your parking space empty."

She hoped the implicit apology meant something to him. But since that wasn't exactly her point, she redirected herself and her words. "I just figured that, given the time, we could all eat something… and since I don't have the same culinary abilities you do, I stopped by the Malaysian place on Nassau."

He appeared to be almost touched by the thought; after all, it was one of his favorite restaurants to eat at. "You didn't have to do that…"

But in her heart, she felt that she actually did have to make that extra bit of effort. "It's the least I could do. The way I see it, if you're going to come over here and talk to House, then really, it's not too much to ask for a decent meal."

One of his hands in the air, he halted her from moving towards the bedroom; clearly he wanted her to know that the conversation wasn't over. "But you didn't get a 'decent meal,'" he pointed out suspiciously. "You went to one of my favorite restaurants, a restaurant that House isn't a fan of."

"And I got the braised duck," she pointed out confidently, sliding that bit of information into the conversation with a smile.

His face scrunched up in confusion. "You think setting a duck in front of me is going to make me happy?" Before she could answer, Wilson added, "I mean, yes, it might be the best cooked bird in the state, but… that's reaching, even for you."

Cuddy didn't think it was though. She'd eaten with him at that restaurant before, and from start to finish, the meal had been punctuated by his colorful praise for the food. He might have been playing it cool now, but she'd seen him laud the duck dish as though it were his own baby taking her first steps.

Besides, although she didn't like this fact, she was sure that, in the last two months, Wilson had had very little help. He might have gotten some sympathy from Cameron, but with her relationship with Chase in jeopardy, that was surely over by now. And the end result was that Wilson was lonely, desperate for support from any place he could reasonably get it, and Malaysian take out was admittedly not all that much.

But it was something.

It was proof that she knew him well enough to know his favorite foods, to consider his needs.

And she knew that he saw it that way. Even though he was writing her efforts off out loud, she believed he was secretly pleased that she'd taken him into consideration.

"Not just the duck, no," she said carefully. I also got the honey squid and the –"

"And that's still supposed to make me happy?" He was more curious about her reason than offended, but she could tell that if she weren't careful about her explanation, that would very well change.

She shrugged. "I'm just trying to be nice and –"

"Nice? Since when does this group do nice?"

It was a joke… or at least, she wanted to believe that it was. Something in the tone of his voice told her that it would be foolish to write his questions off completely, despite the rather jovial manner in which they'd been asked.

"I know it's… stupid. But I knew that this was going to be hard for you. And any way I could make it easier – I'm not saying that good food will make this simple for you or… fun. I just wanted to give you as many reasons as I could to stay. To see this conversation with House through."

Wilson nodded his head but apparently couldn't resist asking, "And what reasons are you going to give House?"

She cocked her head a little. She hadn't really thought about what she was going to say to House in the bedroom. But maybe that was because she didn't exactly need to. "I don't know; I was thinking something along the lines of, 'Go talk to Wilson or I'm going to neuter you' as incentive number one."

Smirking Wilson said, "I think that might work."

She smiled. "Don't go anywhere." As soon as he nodded his head, she finished the trek to the bedroom, and the difference between the mood in this part of the apartment and the room she'd just left was impossible to miss.

Where as Wilson had at least been conversational, House was clearly in no mood to talk; he was lying on the bed, half of his face buried in his pillow. His gaze completely on the black and white rabbit (who should not have been on the bed), he wasn't even acknowledging her presence much less speaking to her.

But frankly, Cuddy was more than okay with that. Right now the last thing he needed to do was talk, and he certainly didn't need to do that in order for her to yell at him.

As she stalked towards his closet, she snarled, "I'm guessing that this is a rhetorical question, but do you have any idea how badly you're screwing this up?" Yanking the closet door open, she added, "Or are you so brain damaged or pissed at me that you don't get what the hell is at stake right now?"

He said nothing.

And although sanity dictated that she change in the bathroom, at the moment, her judgment was too clouded by anger for her to think about what she was doing.

It wasn't that she somehow forgot that House was there. Indeed, it was impossible to miss his presence in her life, no matter how much she might have wanted to. But the fact was her skirt was too tight, the waist band digging into her skin, and she was too itchy and uncomfortable with fury, and all she really wanted to do was rip her clothes off and strangle him and….

She growled in frustration, her shaking fingers fumbling with the zipper of her skirt. She felt like a pot of water that had been left to boil for too long. She felt like her anger was searing her body in the same way a hand over a hot burner would instantly twinge from the heat.

And it was stupid – so incredibly, uselessly dumb – to allow her anger to suddenly get the better of her. After all this time, after all of the time spent restraining herself, part of Cuddy knew that it was self-defeating to allow herself to lose it now… to lose it when everything she'd worked so hard for could easily fall into place.

Yanking her skirt past her hips with enough force to make a couple threads rip, she said, "I get that in your head, I've done something horribly wrong. I don't know what that could be, but obviously you think it's worth punishing me for the next week and a half. To you, it's apparently worth ruining this opportunity you have with Wilson – the opportunity you won't get another shot at if you don't start behaving like an adult."

Cuddy kicked her skirt to the side and started looking around the small closet for the clothes she'd haphazardly stuffed in there only a few days earlier. She'd been fighting with House then too, and at the time, she'd been too concerned with him to pay much attention to note where she was putting her pants.

Naturally, there was also the possibility that House had moved things around out of spite and that, even if she had been paying attention at the time, it wouldn't have done any good.

But she didn't get a chance to accuse him of childish trickery, because he suddenly and unexpectedly spoke up, "Interesting."

She turned her half-naked body away from the closet to give him a glare he never saw; his attention was still on the bunny, who was currently trying to eat her pillowcase. "What are you –"

"None of this has remotely anything to do with you, and yet you're making it all about you. That's pretty impressive," he said condescendingly.

Which, of course, renewed the anger within her. Not that it had really dissipated, she conceded, but hearing him say that and then add, "Your skills at narcissism truly are one of a kind," only made her ire grow to such an exponential degree that she felt as though she had never experienced true fury until this moment.

"Right. This is all in my head," she snapped in disbelief. "Why don't you look at me and suggest that?"

He didn't.

And she was about to compare him to a little boy who couldn't lie to Mommy when he told her scathingly, "Why don't you put on some clothes and then have this conversation with me?"

The suggestion stopped her in her tracks.

Whatever she might have said, however she might have been feeling – it all died within her as House's curious remarks washed over her. And she thought that that metaphor worked pretty damn well right about now, because House verbally telling her to put on clothes felt as though someone had thrown a large bucket of cold water on her.

A bucket of cold, sewer water, she corrected dismally.

Her gaze instinctively snapping towards the shelves in the closet, she fumbled to find some pants. To no avail, even as he said disapprovingly, "I get it. Everyone gets it. I've seen you naked, and everyone else on the eastern seaboard has gotten a couple eyefuls every now and then too. We know. You're hot. Now put it away and try something new."

He was being completely serious. His tones were even, filled with disdain, leaving no doubt in her mind about the sincerity of his words.

The reality of the situation had her reeling, a fact that she was almost ashamed to admit. It shouldn't have been so mind boggling for her to know that someone found her unattractive and desperate for attention. God, it really shouldn't have been so upsetting to know that House thought those things about her, because it only confirmed that she was as self-centered as he'd said she was. And worse still, it made no sense for her to care about his opinion.

But damn it, she did care.

She was bothered and confused and taken aback.

And she loathed herself for all of it, but there was no denying that his attempts to hurt her were working.

Her hand finally hitting a pair of jeans and a sweater that belonged to her, she quickly changed. Although she would have liked to use getting dressed as a way of delaying the rest of this conversation, Cuddy knew that she couldn't do that. House would either see it as an attempt to entice him or correctly see it as a diversion for herself. And on top of that, Wilson still had to be dealt with, so she changed as fast as she knew how.

"All right," she said, as she pulled her short-sleeved sweater down over her bra. "Since your foul mood clearly cannot wait until after you talk to Wilson, lets get this over with now."

She stalked towards House's side of the bed, her arms folded across her chest. But he didn't turn to look at her; he just kept focusing on that damn rabbit, whose presence she was beginning to despise… even as some part of her was secretly glad that he'd warmed up to the idea of having a pet.

Snottily she demanded to know, trying to prompt him into speaking, "Well?"

He didn't move but asked, "Well what?"

"Tell me what's going on with you. Explain to me what it is that you think I did wrong, so that I can apologize and we can move forward."

Finally, House rolled over with something she read as hatred in his eyes. "It's not exactly an apology I want to accept if you're not even willing to believe that you did something wrong."

She shook her head. "That's not what –"

"Oh, that's exactly what you said," he interrupted knowingly. "You wanted me to explain to you what I – and I quote – 'thought' you did wrong. If you actually believed that you'd screwed up, you a). wouldn't need me to explain what you did wrong, and b). wouldn't say 'thought' in that sentence."

It was so ridiculous that she almost wanted to laugh at him. His mind was so messed up; the way he thought about things was messed up.

But then again, he was never unaware of subtle tells – nor was he incapable of using those tells to his advantage. And more than laughing, what she really wanted to do at this point was bash her head against the wall until her eyes popped out. That would definitely be less painful than this conversation.

"Just tell me what I did wrong," she told him through gritted teeth.

"No."

"Yes."

"No."

"Yes."

"No." She was about to snap her requisite one word response, but he didn't allow for that by adding, "And if you say yes one more time, I'm never going to tell you anything. Ever."

Her mouth snapped shut with an abruptness that made her imagine a clicking sound to accompany the motion.

Truth be told, Cuddy had no desire to remain quiet, much less drop the subject matter. But the fact was that House clearly meant every word that he was saying; if she annoyed him any more than she already had, he would never tell her what was wrong. And yes, there was something appealing about that; she couldn't deny that. But if she irritated him into silence, then he would never explain to her what her crime had been, and if he never did that, then he would probably never forgive her for it either.

It sounded insane, even to her own ears. That she could be punished for something she'd never done, for something she didn't even know she'd done was insane.

Then again, this was House, and as rational as he could be, there were moments where rationality and fairness were two nouns he steered clear of.

All of it meant that she had to proceed carefully… which was the story of her life, it seemed; tread around both of these men, lest she upset one of them and destroy the fragile balance only she seemed interested in maintaining. These days, that was all she did, all she thought about and all she considered when deciding what to do.

And it was impossible to deny that she was becoming very resentful of that fact. She didn't want to believe that that was true, but it was: she was becoming tired of being consumed by doing everything for House and Wilson and getting no results from it.

But at the same time, Cuddy understood two things. One, she knew that her current position had been completely of her own doing. Wilson had wanted her to go to Amber's funeral, to take care of him, but he probably wouldn't have forced Cuddy to choose a side if she'd better managed her time. And House hadn't wanted her anywhere near at the time, so it wasn't his fault either. So really, she could only blame herself for being in this position.

And in addition to that, she understood that, although she'd failed to get results in the past, today could very well end differently.

How many times had she already told herself that today?

Casually she wondered about that; frustrated, she wondered how many more times she would need to say it before something would actually happen.

One, ten, a million – she didn't really have any idea.

But that there was any hope of a resolution today at all gave her the resolve to calm down. It wasn't a quick thing, obviously; House had gotten her too riled up for her mood to return to anything close to understanding in a short period of time. And it didn't help that his bright, accusing eyes were trained on her carefully, those brilliant blue irises watching her to see what she would do. If anything his insistent, obnoxious interest in her only served to make her feel more unnerved, more disgusted by his constant desire to view her in the most dispassionate and scientific way possible.

She did calm down, however. It might have been done slowly and by sheer force of will, but it did happen.

And once that had occurred, she was able to reach out to House. One of her hand resting warmly on his back, she told him in a gentle voice, "I can't make this better if you don't tell me what I did wrong."

But the way House saw it, she should have already understood what the problem was. He'd been getting pissy with her for days over the same things essentially, and if she weren't smart enough to figure out what was bothering him, he doubted she ever would. And really, why should he have to go through the humiliation of explaining his issue with her, because she refused to learn?

Cuddy would never see it that way though. She would continue to stand there and whine and allude to the fact that she didn't think she'd done anything wrong, and House was pretty sure that listening to her yap would only make the ringing in his ear that much worse. So he supposed that, if only to spare him more suffering, he had to talk to her, let her know what was bothering him.

For a brief moment, he considered lying. He could easily make something up….

Or not, because he surprisingly couldn't think of anything to use as a convincing lie. His mind was just drawing a complete blank.

And he didn't blame that on his insomnia or the tinnitus or anything else that was physically wrong with him. He could have, he guessed, but honestly, he was more convinced that it was Wilson's presence and Cuddy's insistence that was giving him a little performance anxiety.

That was something he would need to overcome before talking to Wilson, House realized. Although he didn't necessarily intend to lie to the man sitting on his couch, House knew that the truth wouldn't be a guaranteed way to get a proper invitation back into Wilson's life.

That brief conversation they'd had had told House that, more than anything, Wilson had come here to hear a specific version of events. He didn't agree to come to House's apartment to hear the truth. He didn't want to listen to the way House had struggled the last two months, nor did he want to see House cry over Amber's death. Wilson might have wanted to hear House's regrets, but he definitely didn't want to listen to someone essentially beg for pity either.

He would want emotion but not too much.

And House was willing to play that part. If it killed him, he thought he would give Wilson what he wanted, what he thought he wanted.

House would do that for Wilson, for the sake of the friendship they once shared. House would willingly, eagerly do whatever he had to to make things right.

But then, he hadn't been properly prepared to perform that tightrope walk. Cuddy had just sprung this crap on him, and he'd been expected to just be ready.

But he wasn't.

At all. And he could get himself there if he tried, but in order to do that, he would need some time to ready himself.

And the only way to get the time he needed was to tell Cuddy what was wrong.

Again, he supposed a lie would allow him to bide his time as well; however, he was too distracted to come up with a good lie, and she would leave the room, knowing that what he was saying was false. And then he would be forced to confront the Wilson issue before he was ready. So really, he had no choice but to tell her the truth.

Shrugging her sympathetic hand off of him, House accused, "Stop being a tease."

Her eyebrows raised in confusion immediately. "Excuse me?"

"You're being a tease," he said gruffly with an eye roll to also hint at his irritation over having to repeat himself. "Stop it."

But she still wasn't understanding. "I'm not being a –"

"Yes, you are." His voice was firm, and for extra conviction, he added, "And you can say you're not, but I know you are. Times infinity."

Some individuals might have considered adding that last part to be immature, but in House's opinion, he was simply being thorough. Childish or not, they would have absolutely gone through a series of "No, I'm not" and "Yes, you are" if allowed; he was just preempting that as best as he could.

To no real success.

"I'm not –"

"You are," he insisted angrily.

She folded her arms across her chest once more. "How am I being a tease? Please let me know how you've come to that conclusion."

"You think I'm lying?"

"What I think is that I'm not a tease, and if you're going to say that I am – or that I have been – you should give some examples," she replied with acid practically dripping off of each word.

"You just changed in front of me. Actually, you stood in front of me in your little polka dot thong, demanding I look at you. You don't think that's –"

"That's different," she interrupted insistently. "I was angry and distracted, and it wasn't like you were watching me."

The remark almost made him smile.

Almost.

Ever since he'd gotten angry with her two days ago, she'd been trying to get his attention; her current dissatisfaction was proof of that, and it was borderline amusing how desperate she was to get it, to have him acknowledge her in that way.

But where the whole thing fell short for him was in her follow through. She wanted his attention, but she didn't want anything more. She wanted the credit for getting Wilson here, but she obviously hadn't wanted to be around for the nitty gritty – or else she would have come straight home instead of going out to get take out. And she definitely wanted to be the one responsible for House getting better, but as soon as he'd seemed even remotely better, she'd checked out as quickly as she could; she might have been coming back here each night, but it was just a matter of time before she stopped doing that.

And in his mind, all of that amounted to someone who was a complete and utter tease.

"Oh, well, then that's completely different," he told her sarcastically. "Now, you're not just a tease but an ineffective one."

She still seemed taken aback by the entire accusation, but she had the good nature to reply snottily, "If I were ineffective, I don't think you'd be complaining about it."

"So then you admit you're being one."

It wasn't so much a question as it was a statement… though she clearly took it as one. "Of course not, and I'm not going to until you give me proof."

Honestly, it was the last thing he wanted to do. To have to list out all of those instances where he'd felt like she was promising more, where he'd almost believed she would be there for him only to have her fail him or reject him… it was humiliating.

And the conversation they were beginning to have wasn't even the one that he wanted.

He didn't want to have to justify his feelings, didn't want to have to prove what he was saying. Nor did he want to have a fight with her over this.

All he wanted was an apology.

Scratch that, he thought almost immediately. He was willing to forego the apology if she were willing to let him know exactly what she planned on doing with him. More than anything, it was not knowing when she would leave him, when she would decide to take that step away from him, that concerned him.

The way things were now, he had no control over any of it. Not that he wanted to – or planned – on forcing her to stay, obviously. But he thought that if he knew what was going on in her head, if he knew when to expect her to pull away from him, it would be so much easier for him to adjust to.

And why did he need to prove to her that she was being wishy washy and brazenly insensitive to what he needed from her? Why couldn't she just accept the premise of the argument like anyone else would have (anyone else who had the same guilt complex that she had, anyway)?

Frustrated, he said, "I don't need to prove anything to you."

She appeared to be shocked by the almost sudden outburst of anger, which was funny, because of all the things she probably should have been used to by now….

But she quickly recovered. Licking her lips, she told him in a calm, low voice, "Please talk to me. I don't know what I did, and I need you to tell me." Her words were carefully uttered, spoken with such precision and timing that it seemed as though she were afraid of upsetting him.

That effort was negated though by one of her hands reaching out to him. Her fingertips carding through his unkempt hair, it was practically a miracle that her fingers weren't lost in the unwashed strands. And if they had, it would have served her right for once again doing exactly what he was accusing her of.

"This," he said suddenly, loudly. "This is my problem."

Her brow knitted in confusion. "I don't know what you're talking about." Shaking her head a little, she started to ask, "What am I doing?"

She sounded sincere, but he offered her no answer. He figured it would be better if she were to figure it out on her own; it would be less embarrassing for him, less of a bruise to his ego – though it would still suck, he thought grimly.

"Touching you?" The suggestion slipped out of her mouth with about as much grace as he would have on an ice skating rink. "I don't understand."

"I'm not spelling it out for you."

"Well, you're going to have to," she replied eagerly. "I don't know if this is just a game to you or if you're really hoping I'll suddenly understand. But either way, I don't know what it is that I'm supposed to see, so you're going to have to tell me." When he didn't say anything, she added, "If you want an apology, then I need to know what it is that I'm apologizing for."

He let out a rough exhale. The knowledge that she wasn't going to figure it out for herself was making him feel like a balloon with too much air in it, and unfortunately for him, the feeling didn't dissipate after forcing out all the oxygen in his lungs.

He didn't really expect it to. Being ready to burst with air might have been the proper metaphor, but it wasn't what was going on inside of his body.

What was happening inside of him was something completely mental. Synapses might have been going off in his brain, but for the most part, it was not a physical event; feeling the impulse to explode with revelation was not physical.

But it almost seemed that way.

What he was feeling wasn't precisely a Pavlovian response, but he couldn't deny that explaining the puzzle was rote. He'd done it for years – solved the case and then gone through the rather satisfying process of taking his colleagues, his patients, and everyone else involved from point A to B.

Maybe it should have been boring for House, especially since he despised explaining himself.

But it wasn't.

If only because taking a moron through the differential step by step was proof that he was smart, House liked it. Having never claimed honorable intentions, he didn't care that he sounded like an egotistical dick. He was, and if he were saving lives in the process, what did that really matter? Certainly, as long as he kept saving lives, no one would care.

But this – what he was tempted to tell Cuddy now – was different.

Very different.

Explaining to her that he was… terrified at the prospect of her leaving was not satisfying. It didn't make him feel smart, didn't soothe or stroke his ego. If anything, doing that would make him feel like a complete jackass, like a weakling. And what was even hoping to get in return?

Really, did he expect an apology? Did he expect that apology to make him all warm and fuzzy inside? Did he really think that the words, "I'm sorry," and a false promise to stay would make anything better for him?

No.

On all counts, his answer was a resounding no. He didn't expect her to be sorry, much less to actually say it. And on the off chance that she did apologize, he didn't expect it to mean anything to him; he might have wanted her to be contrite, but he was too much of a pessimist to believe that he would respond well to it. To be perfectly honest, he wanted the apology, but he knew all too well that he would doubt her sincerity, that he would allow those doubts to remove any good that could come from this conversation.

And yet…

The need to delineate precisely what it was that was upsetting him lived and breathed within him.

It wouldn't make him smart, wouldn't make him feel better in any way, shape, or form. Which he knew intuitively, but somehow he couldn't quite convince himself to shut up about that long enough to force Cuddy from the room.

And knowing that, House actually contemplated reconsidering his assertion that there wasn't a physical mechanism involved in all of this. Because from where he was standing (or laying), it was hardly a logical choice on his part. If anything, he just felt programmed to say exactly what he ended up telling her.

"On the phone, you said you would be here," he reminded her.

Cuddy nodded her head in agreement. "I know."

"You weren't."

The look on her face was some hybrid between sympathy and incredulity. She didn't say anything immediately, but she didn't really need to; it was clear from the way her features moved that she didn't know if she should be telling him that she was sorry or defending herself against the attack she was sure would come.

In the end, she apparently decided that a combination was what he needed to hear. Her fat ass sitting itself on the bed and rubbing up against him, her hands were back on him; one was on the back of his neck, her fingertips lightly touching his hair, the other clasped around his t-shirted bicep. "I'm here," she told him quietly but firmly. "I –"

"You were late."

He didn't mean for the accusation to sound so… pathetic. He didn't mean to make himself sound pathetic, he corrected. But there was no denying that he did sound precisely like that.

How could he not though?

He was taking issue with Cuddy's absence; he was essentially saying, "You weren't there for me," and if that weren't childish and lame, he didn't know what was.

"I know," she said gently, the hand on his arm squeezing him lightly. "I'm sorry. I should have budgeted my time better, but I thought I could be back before Wilson got here. And I thought you could handle –"

"Don't blame me," he snapped bitterly. "You said you would be here. You weren't. That's not my fault."

He was audibly becoming more infuriated and upset by this conversation, which wasn't exactly what he wanted; it was one thing to be upset, another entirely to show it. And considering she wasn't emotional about this at all, it felt even more wrong for him to be the opposite.

Her even voice a stark contrast to the tempest within him, she said, "I'm not blaming you for anything. I'm merely trying to tell you that I thought you would be okay with Wilson by yourself for a while. I didn't –"

"You didn't think I was going to screw it up like I did," he finished miserably.

"No. That's not what I'm saying. I'm –"

"It is," he asserted loudly, gesturing with his chin. "You said I was screwing things up with Wilson. When you first came in here, that's what you wailed about."

Her gaze was cast upwards, as though she were praying (if she were the praying sort) for some supernatural strength to deal with him. And when that clearly didn't work, she went for a peevish reply of "I didn't wail. I yelled. There's a difference. And," she said hastily, apparently taking note of the way he opened his mouth to respond to that. "You still have plenty of time to make things right with Wilson. If you would stop wasting your time by accusing me of being a tease and –"

"My God, you're an idiot," he said derisively, in a way that said he was almost surprised at her limitations as an upright being capable of complicated thought processes. "Do I really need to walk you through it?"

He could see her jaw clench in frustration, and it was no surprise that her reply was a terse, carefully parsed, "Apparently… since I obviously don't know what you're talking about."

Scowling, he realized that it was do or die, tell her precisely what was going on or completely bullshit his way out of this mess. And somehow he knew that the latter was no longer an option, so he really only had that choice to tell her what his problem was.

"My point," he furiously argued in clipped tones. "Is that you said you would be here. You've been saying that you'll be here, but –"

"And I will be here," she interrupted in a reassuring voice. The hand on his neck moved down his back, her fingertips rubbing circles between his shoulder blades. "I'll be here as long as you need me, House. I have no intention of leaving you alone before you're ready."

Not knowing what to say, House became quiet. He wasn't sure if she were just responding to his words on instinct or if she had some deeper understanding as to what he was trying to tell her. Whether she was simply saying what first came to mind or if she realized what it was he was asking for.

No, he thought immediately, it couldn't have been the latter. House himself had no idea what it was he was asking for, so it was impossible for her to know.

But in any case, no matter the motivation, no matter his confusion, he found himself taking comfort in what she was saying nonetheless.

He didn't really like that fact, of course. As much as he might have wanted to hear what she was saying, there was something incredibly… shameful about actually allowing himself to believe her words.

It made him feel weak… made him feel dependent on her in a way he hadn't really been before now.

Or maybe that wasn't the right way to put it. Rationally he understood that nothing had really changed; he was as dependent on her as he'd ever been. He was no more or less in her debt because of it. And if anything, with her returning to work, with her assuming he could bathe himself and wipe his own ass, House realized that he was probably more in charge of his life now than he'd been in what seemed like a very long time.

But at the same time, this felt different, like a new stage in this whole drama. For the last two months, he could have very easily claimed that he'd had no say in whether or not Cuddy stayed. Honestly, he'd had no choice in the matter, her presence one he'd willed away and tried to escape to no avail.

Now though… it seemed like she'd given him all the control over this situation. She'd said that she would be there as long as he needed her. And he'd essentially said, though in not as many words, that he'd been uncomfortable with the prospect of her leaving.

Or maybe he hadn't; he supposed it really depended on where Cuddy was coming from in her response.

He also figured that he could let the whole thing slide and see whatever meaning he wanted to in her words. Yet he wasn't satisfied with that, and immediately he rejected that notion. Substituting an interpretation of her reaction for a truth he'd been too lazy to find was not in his nature. And as painful as the reality could be, as much as she might not have meant what she was saying (or been oblivious to her meaning), he had to know exactly where she was coming from.

He just had to know.

And without any hesitation, he decided that the best way to derive the truth was to push her further.

Craning his head so he could look over his shoulder to see her, House asked cruelly, "Do you think that means something to me?"

She didn't say anything at first. Her gaze trained on his, it was obvious that she was trying to put the puzzle pieces in front of her together. Her eyes had that far off look, the kind a person had when they were trying to figure out what was actually going on, after all; being a diagnostician, House was more than a little familiar with the way a person looked when they were trying to understand what was happening around them.

He saw it all the time, which was why he was pretty confident that she would never figure it out. Cuddy might not have been a complete moron, her ability to hit on, even by mistake, the issue that plagued him proof of that. But he'd been unintentionally careful enough to only give her the slightest amount of information, and he was sure she would need more to understand what was going on.

However, he was clearly wrong.

So wrong.

Because then she looked at him, her mouth parting slightly as realization seemed to hit her. As realization and disbelief hit her, he readily amended. Because watching her, he could see the doubt in her eyes. He could identify the uncertainty that lingered in her gaze and controlled her voice.

The shock came as no surprise, frankly. This was him, after all, and he knew she must have been surprised and suspicious of him; this was something he didn't ordinarily do – say, or even roughly imply, that he needed her company. Truth be told, he was still unsure of that fact himself, unable to reconcile it himself even though he'd been the one to do it. And so it was not surprising to see that emotion reflected in someone else.

Nor was it all that shocking for her to turn smug when she failed to detect any dishonesty on his behalf.

The second she seemed to feel as though it weren't a ruse, her lips turned upward in an arrogant smirk. And she said knowingly, "I think it does. I think you really are upset that I wasn't here earlier, and now that I think about it…"

She closed her mouth briefly to mentally slide another puzzle piece into place. He decided that she must have liked the mental image she saw – or at least was quick to believe the mosaic in her front of her – as her smirk evolved into an enormous grin.

"You've been mad at me since I returned to work." Her head shaking a little, she was deducing far more than he intended.

And she didn't stop there.

"You didn't want me to go," she said in a voice that sounded absolutely shocked. "Which is why you called my office several times when I first went back. You wanted me to be concerned for you. You wanted me to think that I couldn't possibly leave you alone, because you were too weak or too much of an ass to be alone."

Her hand no longer rubbing circles along his back, she was clearly beyond interested in consoling him anymore. Now that she seemed to understand how long he'd been playing her, she didn't seem quite so friendly. Especially when she realized, "That's why you chased Cassandra away… so I wouldn't have anyone to watch you, so that I would be obligated to stay home from work, where you weren't letting me get any work done anyway, to keep an eye on you."

"That would make a lot more sense if you actually had stayed home," he pointed out, instinctively trying to weasel his way out of this.

He might have been the one to instigate this entire conversation, and because of that, he supposed that his discomfort was really his fault. Actually, he felt that it was wrong to even feel uncomfortable about the whole thing because he'd been the one to bring it up.

But he was nothing if not sick and confused and only ever willing to go so far with Cuddy. He refused to go so far as to say that he was afraid of intimacy, because that was such a girly thing to believe, but he supposed that diagnosis fit as well.

Not that it really mattered; Cuddy was able to see past the misdirection anyway. "Doesn't mean you weren't trying."

She paused but only for a second. He wanted to point out the flaw in her logic, but he barely had enough time to open his mouth before she started speaking once more. "In fact, I'm going to go ahead and guess that that's why you got mad at me when we were on the couch. Because that was when I told you I was going to go to work the next morning, and you knew your little plan hadn't succeeded."

"Yeah, that sounds exactly like me," he said, forcing the doubt in his voice.

But it definitely wasn't enough to cast any doubt in her mind.

Unfortunately.

More assured than ever, she allowed her smugness to reach toxic proportions – or at least that was what it felt like; her arrogance made his stomach turn, especially when she taunted, "I know your secret."

House tried to roll over, but she wouldn't let him turn very far. Her face pressing into his back, her weight resting against him, he couldn't turn onto his back without elbowing her in the nose.

… Which was, admittedly, rather enticing.

But knowing that Wilson was still out there, House was pretty sure that giving Cuddy a bloody nose wasn't the answer. And instead of getting violent, he merely argued feebly, "You don't know –"

"Oh, yes, I do," she said, her taunting smile something he could feel even through his t-shirt. One of her hands found one of his underneath the pillow, and though he couldn't see what she was doing, he could feel her fingers entwine with his. "You like me, House."

He scowled, despite knowing that the emotion to convincingly pull the expression off was surprisingly absent. "I really don't. Really, really, really don't."

Her chin dug into his back as she playfully argued, "You lie. You like me."

"I don't like you; I'm used to you," he replied grumpily. "There's a difference." Thinking of the quickest comparison that came to mind, he added, "A prostitute becomes accustomed to the danger associated with her profession; doesn't mean she likes waking up to an ass covered in warts."

He could feel her eyeing him carefully. "You're comparing yourself to a prostitute."

"It's okay," he assured her. "I don't mind being the hooker in the metaphor. It's still better than being the clusters of –"

Quickly she interrupted, "I get it."

"Good."

"You're in complete denial over how much you like me," she said in a cheerful manner.

Which was in direct contrast to how her comment made him feel. "Yeah, that must be it."

"Like I told you, House… I'm here as long as you need me," she reminded him. "You're healthy enough for me to say that if you really want me gone…"

She didn't finish the thought, and he didn't need her to. Her offer was one he naturally understood; she was challenging him to ask her to leave, calling his bluff.

And every fiber of his being demanded that he say the words she was daring him to say. Some voice screaming above the ringing in his head told him that it would be so easy. This was who he was; this was what he did: act like a bastard; push her away, and tell her to leave.

It should have been so easy.

After years of doing it to nearly everyone he knew, it should have been the simplest thing in the world to do.

But…

He didn't ask her to leave.

He didn't tell her that her presence was suffocating him and that he still longed to be alone.

Instead, House muttered softly the truth of the matter: "That's not what I want."

The admission hung heavily; his words seemed to steal all of the oxygen in the air, and he had to struggle to breathe (the task made all the more difficult by the weight of Cuddy on his back) once he'd spoken something he'd only ever thought before.

He didn't want her to leave, and he'd finally said it aloud, and now she knew precisely what it was that he'd been thinking. And to be completely honest, he expected her to use that against him.

Well, he expected anyone he said that to to use it against him. If only because he probably would have done just that if the situation were reversed, he anticipated anyone and everyone in Cuddy's position to do the same.

She didn't though.

She easily could have; she was certainly already smug enough to take pleasure in his admission.

But she didn't use it against him.

Cuddy just calmly said, "Good… it's nice to hear that… especially after being compared to venereal warts."

"Fine. I'll come up with a better comparison if it bothers you so much," he said, sounding falsely put upon. Thinking about it for a second, he tried to come up with a simile she would be less offended by. Granted, he didn't think she was actually offended now, but if he could come up with a better metaphor, he would certainly use it; if only to stop her from using this comparison against him for the rest of the week, he definitely thought it was worth trying to find something better.

Yet... nothing less offensive really came to mind.

He tried on for size, "All right. Cuddy. You're the barnacle stuck to my –"

"I don't have any desire to hear how you're going to finish that sentence," she said dryly. "And for the record, comparing me to a parasitic –"

"Barnacles aren't parasites," he corrected immediately. But he knew that wasn't exactly true, so he amended, "Well, some are, but most –"

"Forget it," she muttered into his t-shirt. "If you have to explain it, then it's not a very good metaphor."

"Well, I'm sorry." He sounded and felt peevish. "You try coming up with something better after you haven't slept in –"

"You didn't sleep at all today?" There was light concern in her voice.

"No."

"Did you try?"

The question was an annoying one, one that House couldn't help but snap at her for. "No. I thought to myself, 'Hey, this whole not sleeping thing is rather fun. Lets see how long I can do it without dying.'" After a beat, he asked her, "What the hell do you think?"

"Calm down," she quickly admonished. "Ignoring the fact that you would, absolutely without question, go without sleep to prove a point, I was curious. I am curious."

Pulling away from him, she sat up once more. Her gaze trained on him carefully, she began to explain, "If you tried to sleep and couldn't, then perhaps the problem is related to a physical –"

"Perhaps?"

His mind immediately picked up on the verbal oddity. Although there were many causes of insomnia, most of those reasons fit into one of two categories: physical causes or mental ones. And if Cuddy believed that his inability to sleep was related to a physical problem, she would say so; that she'd used the word perhaps suggested to him that she didn't believe that the issue was a physical one. And if she didn't think it was physical, then…

"You think I'm crazy." House had meant for the words to sound more like a question, but that wasn't how it sounded to his ears. It didn't even seem like an accusation, he thought miserably. Which he would have settled for, because even though he wasn't feeling accusatory, it still had to be better than the way he'd spoken. The deduction one filled with defeat, it must have made her think he was pathetic.

It had to have, because if his words hadn't given her that impression, she wouldn't have been so quick to disagree with him. "I don't think you're crazy," she said almost immediately, her voice firm but paradoxically gentle at the same time.

But then she cocked her head and conceded, "All right, I think you're insane. However, I don't think your insomnia is proof of that."

House propped his head up on one of his hands so he could get a better look at her. What she was saying made sense, but part of him suspected that she was simply trying to placate him. And if she were doing that, he thought he would be able to see the lie in her eyes.

However, he didn't get much of a chance to look at her carefully. Because as soon as he shifted on the bed, she was quick to suggest, "We can fight about this later… if you insist. Right now though, you should talk to Wilson."

Folding her arms across her chest, she explained, "He's not going to stay here for forever, and the sooner you talk to him, the sooner you'll be able to sleep."

From a rational perspective, he could see that everything she was saying made sense. Rip the bandage off the skin as quickly as possible and all that…. It made sense.

But he didn't make a move to get out of bed; even though Cuddy stood up and reached out with a hand to help him, he stayed exactly where he was. Because her suggestion might have made sense, but it was still the last thing he wanted to do.

"Come on," Cuddy coaxed to no avail.

He shook his head. "I'm tired." And there was no doubt in his mind that that point had come through his tone effectively; every syllable of that sentence dripped with exhaustion – the kind of desperate ache for slumber that had become a familiar companion impossible to ignore.

"I know. But the sooner we get this over with, the sooner you can –"

"I'm not ready." His voice cracked over the words, the doubt he'd been feeling bleeding through to the surface for her to see.

He hadn't wanted her to see it.

His jaw clenching and unclenching repeatedly, he thought over and over that this was the last thing he wanted.

To need Cuddy.

To have her know about it.

To have her be the one to bring Wilson here.

To have to speak to Wilson when House knew they weren't ready to be friends again.

To know that failure was the only way this could end…

House hadn't wanted any of it.

If anything, he'd done everything he could to avoid all of these situations. He'd tried to avoid Wilson and Cuddy ever since the accident as best as he could. But House hadn't succeeded by anyone's measure.

Cuddy hadn't let him.

And maybe – maybe – that was a good thing, but it hardly felt that way now. Truth be told, at this very moment, he didn't think he knew how to resent her more. But then she said, "You're going to have to be," and he realized that he could definitely be angrier.

She wasn't saying anything he didn't already know; if he didn't talk to Wilson now, House understood that he wouldn't have another chance. Wilson would take the rejection as proof that House didn't care, and he would leave, and that would be all there was to it to their friendship.

There was no denying that, no ignoring the truth in what she was saying. But House hated her for it. He hated her for the way she so blithely had decided that today was the day to bring Wilson over.

After all, shouldn't that have really been House's decision? Shouldn't he have been the one to say, "Hey, Cuddy, I think I feel good enough to talk to Wilson, so why don't you go shake your ass in front of him and use your milkshake to bring him to the yard"?

Or something like that.

The exact language escaped him, and it wasn't important, because the point he was trying to make was that it should have been his choice. It should have been up to him. And because she hadn't respected that fact, now House stood to lose all of it.

She was right: if he didn't talk to Wilson now, it was over. But House couldn't help but feel as though she'd stacked the dice against him to begin with.

"You shouldn't have done this," he muttered angrily.

Sadness graced her features, and he was relieved to see that she at least had the decency to look contrite. "I'm sorry that you're tired and not feeling well," she said in earnest. "Maybe today wasn't such a great day for this."

"You think?"

She wasn't put off by the sarcasm. "But that doesn't matter now. I can't do anything about it. So you're just going to have to talk to him."

He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off with a motion of her hand. "And," she added harshly. "You can waste your time fighting me on this all you want. But we both know that you can't deny what I'm saying. So you might as well save us both some time and get your ass out of bed."

Surprising her, House obeyed the command. He forced himself to his feet like she wanted… but not without telling her, "I hope Hitler poops on your side of the bed."

Her gaze immediately shifted to the black and white rabbit who was hopping along the middle of the bed. It was obvious that she was considering complaining about the animal; God only knew she'd bitched about it at least three or four separate times this week alone. Which was stupid in his opinion, since she'd been the one to buy the bunny to begin with.

But she didn't say anything about the creature. Instead, Cuddy shook her head and looked back at him. The annoyance in her gaze was muted, and it was clear that she wasn't going to fight him on the somewhat (okay, completely) immature remark.

"Come on," she encouraged, placing her hands on his forearm and the small of his back. As she corralled him to the door, she tried to reassure him. "You'll be fine. I'll be with you the whole time."

House would have liked to be able to say that her words bolstered his confidence. Granted, it would have made him feel like the world's biggest pussy, but at least he would have felt better about talking to Wilson. House knew he would have felt better prepared to speak to Wilson if her words had meant something.

But the truth was there was nothing – absolutely nothing – to be said that could take House's mind off of the reality around him. Cuddy could have been the most convincing woman on the planet, her tongue made of silver, but there was no way he could ignore that the odds right now were stacked against him; he'd killed Amber, and Wilson hated him for the inexcusable act, and there wasn't much House could say to make it better.

And he supposed now was the time to rally behind the challenge, to look at winning Wilson back as the same kind of mental exercise sick people provided. But walking down the hallway, House couldn't help but feel like a criminal being walked to the electric chair.

The pervading deadly silence of the living room did nothing but confirm that that comparison had its merits.

Wilson had laid out the food Cuddy had bought into an attractive spread on the coffee table. The take out boxes had been discarded, the meal neatly arranged on dishes and plates. Naturally, House wanted to make a joke out of the matter, because really, who gave a crap about take out presentation?

But he kept the comment to himself.

Aside from the fact that Wilson had probably put everything out out of boredom, House understood that the joke would fall on deaf ears. As difficult as it was sometimes to remember that Wilson hated him, as much as the impulse within him to tell Wilson things lived on, House knew the less he said the better.

He'd already come close to screwing everything up; if Cuddy hadn't shown up when she had, Wilson would have absolutely left. Actually, if it hadn't been for her, Wilson wouldn't have come at all, and all of those circumstances were impossible to miss.

Just as it was impossible to miss the awful tension in the room and the way Wilson's hateful gaze seemed to propel animosity through the air towards House.

Frozen he offered no fight when Cuddy guided him silently to the couch. His eyes trained on Wilson, House barely even noticed that she was moving him further into the room, and it was impossible to mount any defense against her when he was too concerned with what Wilson might do.

In the back of his mind, House reminded himself that the situation around him was precarious at best. Success lived on the edge of a knife; one wrong or miscalculated move, and they would all suffer for it. Wilson would hate him; Cuddy would be furious, and House himself would be relegated to continue in the miserable existence he'd found himself in for the last eight weeks.

And for all of their sakes, he was determined to avoid that future.

Of course, it seemed like such an inevitable thing at this point. Cuddy thought that she could fix this by scheming and manipulating them together, but the fact was:

Things were grim.

House knew he had to stave off the desire to capitulate and fight as hard as he knew how to against that reality. He knew that, if he wanted to make the next few months ones worth living for, he would have to go against the grain and make Wilson see the value in their friendship. And in order to do that, House also knew that it would take more than a few ill-considered platitudes.

He would have to focus all of his attention on Wilson as well.

Years of experience had taught House that more than half of any good conversation resulted from noticing and interpreting cues from the other person. Although he usually enjoyed telling people the stuff that would piss them off, he had always appreciated that saying the right thing depended on understanding how the other person was feeling. And he was determined to put that knowledge to good use now.

The thought plaguing him, he didn't even notice Cuddy sitting down on the couch next to him until she broke the uncomfortable silence by suggesting, "Why don't we eat?"

He noted almost immediately the dutiful tone in Wilson's response of "All right." It was so perfunctory that you would have had to have been completely unaware of human emotions not to notice it. Frankly it made House a little bitter and filled with melancholy, because even though it was unintentional, Wilson's tone was proof that he was only here, only doing this, because Cuddy had clearly asked him to do it.

Of course, House had figured as much. But that didn't mean he necessarily wanted to be reminded of it every time Wilson opened his mouth.

Then again, sitting here in silence as Cuddy dished an assortment of foods onto three plates wasn't exactly much better. Wilson was watching him without saying a word, and House tried hard not to squirm under the other man's intentional gaze. Which was hard to do, considering the serving spoons kept hitting the china, loud clinks bursting through the air like fireworks on a dark night.

The noise, in direct contrast to the annoying consistency of the rain, was always sudden, in time with some equation he didn't instinctively know. Its unpredictability made him tense, his muscles constricting of their own accord. What he hoped would happen by doing that he didn't know. The move wasn't making Wilson's heated gaze or the sound any easier for House to take; each scratch, contact, and clash with the dishware still made the ringing in his ears infinitely worse.

And he had half a mind to snap angrily at Cuddy. Hell, if Wilson hadn't been there, House would have already. But since Wilson was there, House knew that yelling wouldn't accomplish anything.

Or rather, it wouldn't accomplish anything good, he mentally corrected. Because shouting at Cuddy to be more careful would get something done. It would make her pissy and send Wilson running from the room, convinced that nothing good could come of this. House had no doubts about that; barking would only make things worse for himself, so he kept quiet.

He'd probably explode with rage as soon as this conversation was over, but in the meantime, he would control himself. He would repress every bad feeling – bad being defined as something that wouldn't help him win Wilson over – until things were back to the way they should have been.

Until Wilson accepted an apology and agreed to be his friend once more.

Anything less than that, no matter how much more likely it was to occur, was not grounds to let loose, and House refused to let himself believe otherwise.

Of course, he quickly realized that it could be a long time before things were righted between Wilson and him. Not entirely because there was a lot they needed to work through, mind you.

But because nobody was saying anything.

Cuddy was silently handing out plates of food; Wilson and he were taking the dishes without a word (House didn't count Wilson's muttered "Thank you" as speaking). And if the purpose of this meeting were to talk, they all seemed intent on doing the exact opposite.

Well, at least he'd been right in thinking that this wouldn't be easy.

An admittedly small consolation, it was one he grasped hold of nonetheless. This meeting was proving to be as painful as imaginable, as he'd thought it would be. And if he couldn't lessen his awareness of that unfortunate fact (or fix it quickly), then he sure as hell was going to take small victories where he could find them.

At this point any success was one he would appreciate.

However, that only got him so far on the House-happiness scale. He did feel better superficially, his satisfaction roughly on par with the first lick of a cherry lollipop or first sighting of Cuddy's cleavage. It made him feel pleased for a brief moment, but it did nothing in the long run. It did nothing to warm the chill of shame, combined with knowledge of impending disaster, inside of him.

Suddenly feeling as though both Wilson and Cuddy could see those emotions inside of him, House broke his rule to look at Wilson constantly. As much as House needed to observe the other man's cues, he felt the urgent, illogical fear inside of him whisper that that worked both ways. The voice said that Wilson knew, or would know, that House was desperate for their friendship and embarrassed that he should have ever lost it to begin with.

And for his purposes, he supposed that sharing that knowledge was a good thing in the long run. But it didn't feel like that; he might have been pathetic, but there was still an inkling of pride within him. And as much as he probably should let Wilson know how he was feeling, House wasn't a fan of the idea that he was or could be divulging information about himself without meaning to.

He was not a control freak like Cuddy could be.

He was not obsessed with being in charge for the sake of being in charge.

But he was also aware that quite a lot had been decided for him the last two months. So much had been taken from him without any consent on his part, without any awareness on his part. And on any given day, that was upsetting, yes, but today he resented it more than usual.

Whether that was because Cuddy had brought Wilson here or for some other reason, House didn't really know. Maybe it was just the fear that he could share with Wilson something that would only make things worse, he thought. Either way though, he wanted to be in control of what Wilson knew, so he looked down at his plate of food.

Cuddy had given him a little bit of everything. Squid, tofu, and some sort of bird were all mingling together on the dish, the juices and sauces from each food mixing together to form a brown river of MSG, soy, curry, and who knew what else.

It should have been appetizing.

Considering how little he'd eaten today, he should have been stuffing his face full of food. Even if it was Malaysian, which he wasn't a huge fan of, House thought he should have been hungry enough to eat with gusto.

But he wasn't.

He wasn't even interested in eating the noodles and rice Cuddy had put on his plate. Which was really surprising, because, aside from the bread on his Reubens (which he was so sick of at this point), he hadn't been allowed much in the way of carbohydrates.

He hated having to put it that way – "he hadn't been allowed." It made him feel like a little boy denied soda and cookies at the dinner table or chocolate milk in the lunch line at school. It reminded him that Cuddy had had quite a bit of control over his every day life for the last extended period of time. And though he understood her motivation and probably would have denied himself the same foods if he were in her position, it still sucked.

It was still embarrassing.

And it should have been all the reason he needed to chow down now like his life depended on it.

But for whatever reason, it wasn't, and he just sat there, picking at a jiggly piece of tofu with his fork.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Wilson, who was sitting on the chair that normally in front of House's desk, eating with an awareness of the awkwardness around them. Every bite taken was careful, thoughtful, as though chewing too loudly would screw everything up and push them all over the edge. It seemed like an insane belief at first, but after a bit of consideration, House guessed it wasn't that crazy; his tinnitus could very easily be aggravated by a noise like that, no matter how innocent it was, and that could set off the precarious calm that had settled over the room… though he doubted that that was what was motivating Wilson.

Cuddy, on the other hand, was eating with more earnestness – as she had for the last two days as a clear result of skipping lunch at work. She wasn't inhaling the food; she was too delicate and polite for that kind of piggish behavior. But she was quick to shovel food onto her fork right after she'd taken the utensil away from her lips.

And yet her obvious hunger did nothing to stop her from giving House an imploring look the whole time.

He didn't want to glance in her direction as he knew what to expect from her. And really, he didn't need to look at her to feel her pained expression wafting his way as though it possessed a scent as pungent as the squid and curry.

She was silently asking him to talk, asking him to take the first step. Rationally, he had to agree with her that this was really something he had to initiate, because honestly, what was Wilson going to say to start off the conversation? "Hey, House, I think you're a douche bag" didn't exactly sound like a great way to begin matters, and he understood intuitively that, if he allowed Wilson to initiate things, then it would be a failure from start to finish.

Logically, House knew that he had to be the one to take that first step towards reconciliation.

But that was not an easy thing to do.

And to be frank, the tug of war within him, the desire to say nothing and everything, the need to fight and apologize, yell and cry – all of it made him feel absolutely insane.

He wasn't.

This was not a matter of his brain injury or his apparent depression or any other mental or physical illness controlling him.

He was completely sane in this utter madness. Aware of every possible motivation and way he could behave, he knew that he was absolutely in control of his facilities – even as it all threatened to pull him in several directions.

He felt like a rubber band on the verge of being stretched to the breaking point. The invisible elasticity within him, the ability to manipulate any event to his advantage, was nearing the point of no return, he felt like things would either return to normal for him or never be anywhere near the same again after today. And the unfortunate thing was that no matter how he got there, no matter how things ended up…

He would be going there with all of the sanity he'd ever possessed.

There would be no hiding behind his illness, no hiding behind the lie that the universe had created this conflux of events.

There would be no hiding period.

And if he succeeded or failed, it would be success or failure of his own doing and nobody else's.

Maybe that should have made him feel better; maybe knowing that he was in control should have made him feel like he could take Wilson on. But it didn't; it just made him feel as though sitting here in the silence, making no move towards one direction or the other, neither gaining, nor losing any ground, was the best thing to do.

Cuddy clearly didn't agree.

Clearing her throat, she suggested awkwardly, "Maybe one of you should say something."

Wilson and House said nothing, perhaps a true testament to just how powerful she wasn't in this situation.

Not that she was ready to believe that, much less throw in the towel.

Swallowing another bite of food, she tried to encourage them. "Come on. I know you both have plenty of things to say to one another…. Someone should start."

Neither did.

And that made her sigh loudly, the exhale of air so big House thought he could feel it. "All right," she said to no one in particular, leaning forward to put her plate on the coffee table.

Before she'd even had a chance to angle her body his way, House knew that she was going to make him talk. Well, she was going to try to make him talk, he corrected, somehow feeling slightly more confident by telling himself that she couldn't make him do anything.

"House," she said carefully, her knee brushing up against his leg as she brought her own legs up onto the couch. "Do you have something you would like to say to Wilson?"

Unbidden the memory of having to apologize to the neighbor for breaking her window with a baseball flitted through House's mind. Back then, his mother had had the same kind of soft, condescending encouragement in her tone as Cuddy did now, and the forty years or so of time between the two events only seemed to accentuate how very little he'd changed. No more responsible than he'd been then, no more mature or willing to accept the help of others, he was proof that people did not change.

He was proof, all the reason Wilson needed to believe that they were better off not being friends. That Wilson himself was better off without him, House amended, because he knew in his soul that without Wilson…

House had very little.

Wilson didn't need him, but he needed Wilson in his life.

Needed him, but didn't deserve him.

Shaking his head, House answered Cuddy's question silently.

She, however, didn't seem to understand – or accept – that Wilson was better off, because she simply kept persisting. "I think you do have something to say," she told him, audibly trying to prompt him into an apology. And when that didn't work, she took a more direct route.

Instead of giving him the opportunity to pick his own words, Cuddy simply asked him, "Are you sorry about what happened to Amber?"

He didn't want to dignify her verbal handholding with a response. What he wanted to do was to say screw Hitler, the middleman be damned, and take the dump he'd threatened Cuddy with earlier himself.

She was trying to help, yes, but he resented her so much in this particular moment. And he wanted to punish her for it, wanted her to know just how much he hated her for it.

But he couldn't do that.

His anger might have been pervading through his entire body, but he was not so enraged as to miss the way Wilson's eyes had narrowed on his form.

Wilson wanted an answer.

He was searching for one, for one that he could believe.

And if House allowed his ire towards Cuddy to get in the way of giving Wilson the truthful answer, House would have never forgiven himself for it.

In any emergency, you had to triage, he told himself. Vaguely recalling the time he'd taken Foreman and a patient hostage in an elevator, House remembered the words he'd said then: "You wake up in the morning; your paint's peeling; your curtains are gone, and the water's boiling. Which problem do you deal with first? None of them! The building's on fire."

That metaphorical building was on fire now. And he could waste his time getting angry at Cuddy; he could selfishly and childishly make this harder for her just to see how she would react to his stubbornness. He could react to the symptoms of the problem and choose to ignore the overarching cause.

There would be some sick pleasure in that. Not just in making Cuddy miserable, but also in fulfilling this prophecy he'd had that this would only end badly.

There would be sick pleasure to be had in being right.

But that wouldn't make him happy in the long run. That wouldn't fix the problem around them, and the metaphorical house would burn down, would be unsalvageable, if he reacted small mindedly.

Forced into a corner, he nodded his head. He didn't say anything, but it was an admittance nonetheless.

An admittance that Wilson didn't believe.

"You're lying."

The icy words made the sun-heated room suddenly seem cold, and both House and Cuddy shivered instinctively at his reaction.

And she was quick to defend him. "Wilson, I don't think –"

"He's lying."

Wilson was so insistent that House found himself looking up from his plate and into angry, dark eyes that showed no hint of warmth or sympathy. House didn't know what he was expecting, but it wasn't that.

He supposed he'd merely been hoping that the anger in Wilson's words were a front, were a guise for some deeper desire for friendship.

It was clear though that that wasn't even remotely the case.

And House had to wonder if there were any point in trying to convince someone who obviously hated him that a friendship was a good idea.

Cuddy, on the other hand, apparently, didn't wonder that at all. She was quick once more to defend him. "Wilson, I promise you that he's not lying to you. He wants –"

"I don't give a damn what he wants," Wilson snapped viciously, the sentiment making House set his fork down on his plate with a loud clang. "The entire time I've known him I've been concerned with him. With what would make him happy, what would make him miserable, and I'm so sick of it, Cuddy."

Wilson sawed through a piece of what House had deduced was duck but did not eat it. But then again, he was pretty sure that Wilson had only cut through the food as a way to distract Cuddy and House from the fact that his hands were shaking with rage.

"I let him come between me and my wives… all of them. I didn't spend as much time as I could have with my girlfriend, because I was afraid of upsetting him too much. I wasted so much energy and effort on making him happy, and it cost me the rest of my life with Amber," Wilson accused with so much bitterness and pain in his voice that House felt as though he couldn't breathe.

And in a way, it made him almost happy that Wilson hadn't allowed him to see his suffering for the last two months. Because having to face it now, House wasn't sure he could have handled that on a daily basis. The guilt, sadness, and indignation it inspired was terrifying and exhausting.

And confusing.

Sitting there, House felt as though his internal rubber band were being pulled once more to the brink. He could feel himself wanting to react in a number of ways; he wanted to apologize; he wanted to yell at Cuddy, at Wilson, at anyone and everyone in his vicinity.

He wanted it to stop.

But he didn't know what he should do.

Maybe it should have been an easy decision to make. A sane, shrewd person would have argued that, if he wanted Wilson's forgiveness, then the only option was to apologize with as much honesty and intent as possible.

For House though, it wasn't that simple.

Oh, he was willing to apologize for all of the things he'd done to Wilson. He would apologize for killing CB; he would apologize for demanding so much attention that it had led Wilson to neglect some of the other areas of his life.

But – and maybe this had to do with the way Wilson was talking – it seemed like he wanted House to take responsibility for everything that had gone wrong in their lives.

And he wouldn't do that.

It was not his fault that every one of Wilson's wives had left. If they'd left, that probably had more to do with Wilson cheating on them or them cheating on him than anything else. And more than anything, even if House had tried to make himself the most important thing in Wilson's life, at the end of the day, wasn't it up to Wilson to prevent that from happening?

Didn't he bear some responsibility for all of this?

House didn't dare ask that question; just thinking it was all he intended to do, and it was all he needed to feel that he couldn't be held accountable for every poor choice Wilson had made.

It was also all the motivation House needed to keep his mouth shut. At this point, he thought that, as much as all of this anger was about him, some of it wasn't. Some of it was about lashing out against the shitty circumstances that they all found themselves. And House knew this because…

Well, because he was there himself right now; he'd been there for two months, and he was smart enough to know how to recognize that same kind of frustration in another person.

But Wilson interpreted his silence differently. "You see?" he asked so loudly that he almost sounded hysterical. "He's not saying anything. He knows I'm right. He knows that this is all his fault."

Cuddy leaned forward in Wilson's direction, though she didn't get up and go to him. "You can't argue that he's not sorry and then also say that he knows it's all his fault," she pointed out in a non-accusatory manner. She was clearly trying to make a point without upsetting Wilson, but House knew from experience that her intentions probably didn't mean anything.

"Sure, I can. He knows it's his fault; he just doesn't care." Wilson paused to rub the back of his neck with one of his hands, and the gesture made House think that he was more resigned and frustrated by the scenario than outright angry at the moment. Really, it just seemed like Wilson had thought to himself: Okay, this is the way House is, and he'll never change, and I have to accept that and banish it (and him) from my life.

And that pissed House off.

Because if Wilson had already decided to move on, he should have never come here. He should have never agreed with Cuddy to talk to him. Granted, House was sure she'd given Wilson something he wanted – really wanted – to get him to come here but still.

If Wilson had already decided that there was nothing House could do or say, then this was just a waste of time. A painful waste of time, House amended, as his tinnitus seemed to pound on his skull and shatter his fracture even further.

And whether it was the pain or his irritation that finally loosened his tongue, House didn't know. But he did speak then.

"Yeah, I just love it when people die at my hand," he responded roughly, interrupting the tirade Wilson was clearly working towards. "I get off on it. And when I can't kill someone, I think making you miserable is an acceptable substitute."

The mocking tone was impossible to miss, and Wilson was temporarily taken aback by it. Which let House know that, for all of his anger, for all of his statements about House and how awful he was, some part of Wilson had believed – until now – that maybe House was repentant.

He screwed up.

The thought hit House immediately and repeatedly.

He had just screwed up.

Badly.

Whatever chance he might have had…

He'd just ruined it.

And Cuddy softly admonishing him by saying his name was proof of that.

He'd just made everything impossible for himself.

Yet Wilson didn't get up and leave.

House had expected him to end the conversation right then and there. He'd anticipated a bunch of insults filled with an honesty that only feeling deep-seated rage would allow for and a flurry of activity as Wilson bolted and Cuddy tried to get him to stay.

But none of that happened.

For the life of him, House had no idea why. If the roles were reversed, he thought he would have left by now (although if the situations were truly reversed, House couldn't deny that he probably would have never come, no matter how much Cuddy offered as compensation). But for whatever reason, Wilson stayed precisely where he was.

Wilson silently set his plate on the ground, allowing his now free hands to clench in and out of frustrated fists. House took special note of this. He didn't necessarily think that Wilson would hit him, but House wanted to allow for all possibilities.

However, rather than use those fists, Wilson began to speak in slow, furious words. "Thank you, House, for proving to me that you are… exactly what I thought you would be like." He gestured towards Cuddy, disdain somehow evident in the flick of his hand. "She kept saying you'd changed, that you felt bad about what happened. But once again, you have shown that humanity is something you have no capacity for." With a mock bow of his head, Wilson finished by saying, "Thank you for showing me that I made the right decision by cutting you out of my life. You poison everything you touch."

Cuddy looked like she wanted to say something to calm Wilson down, but House had no interest in that Lifetime television movie. Before she'd even had a chance to utter a single word, he railroaded over her. "Yeah, I'm the only one in this room who's made a mistake," House replied snidely.

He figured that there was no point in trying to argue his own virtue. Would anyone in this room believe him anyway?

He doubted it.

And so the only option left to him was to make sure that everyone else realized that he wasn't the only one who had screwed up.

"Last I checked, I wasn't the one who cheated on two of my three wives. I wasn't the one who slept with a patient." Of course, House didn't particularly care about either all that much. The latter was probably more bothersome to him as the very idea of fraternizing with patients made House feel as though he were going to break out into hives.

But he didn't really care.

Unlike Cuddy, who immediately said in a disgusted tone, "You slept with a patient?"

Both House and Wilson scowled at her, but the latter had no chance to speak as House once more started talking. "We all make choices – good and bad. Did I screw up? Of course. But you don't want to hear me say how bad I feel about that. You don't care if I tell you that I liked Amber – that she was my friend too or that I knew her long before you ever did – because you don't want to even consider that this might not be as black and white as you think."

Wilson jutted his chin out defiantly, obviously refusing to lend credence to anything House was saying. Even Cuddy was looking at him as though he'd lost his damn mind. Her hand covering one of his, it was a sign that he should shut up.

But he didn't.

"You don't want an apology. You want to hate me," he said knowingly, his bright eyes trained on Wilson's dark ones. "You want to make me out to be the big bad wolf? Fine. Consider this my final act of huffing and puffing. Consider your house blown down."

Cuddy sighed next to him in exasperation. His gaze might have been trained on Wilson, but House couldn't miss the movement out of the corner of his eye. She clearly thought he'd just screwed everything up… and perhaps he had; but more than anything, House felt as though Wilson had preemptively decided the outcome of this conversation. And that meant that there was no real way for House to succeed, much less screw up.

Besides, if Wilson were only willing to believe the worst in him, then why not give into his darker urges? Why not give Wilson everything he was obviously hoping to see?

"If you actually felt bad," Wilson snarled. "You wouldn't be such a –"

"If you actually wanted me to feel bad," House interrupted loudly. "You wouldn't be such a judgmental dick."

"House," Cuddy warned. She was clearly worried about where this was going, and he didn't have the heart to tell her that it was already too late for him or that it didn't matter what he said now.

Wilson stood up, but he made no move for the door. His face red, he told Cuddy, "Don't bother. Just let him talk like he always does. There's no point in trying to dress him up or put him in a nice package." With disdain he looked at House. "He's always going to be like that, and no matter how hard anyone tries to change him, he will still be the same disgusting piece of human waste that he has always been."

Cuddy squeezed his hand, but it did nothing to stop the blood from draining out of House's face. It did nothing to stop the feeling of failure from washing through him, as though the emotion itself had replaced the plasma suspending his blood cells. She was trying to keep him calm, give him some hope that he hadn't had for at least a month now. But her efforts were worthless, her reassurances unable to touch the place inside of him riddled by his anger and fear and feeling of defeat.

"Sit down," Cuddy ordered immediately, perhaps sensing that Wilson was ready to bolt.

However, he refused, shaking his head as fast and as hard as his neck would allow. "No."

She sneered at him. "That wasn't a request, Wilson. Sit down. Now."

House almost laughed at how angry she was. Compared to his own and Wilson's anger, hers was the equivalent of the fury a fuzzy kitten could create. Really, it was a pathetic output, given what both Wilson and House himself were capable of doing. But there was no denying that she was absolutely furious.

And apparently, despite its comparative weakness, her ire was still scary enough for Wilson to obey instantly.

"Nobody is going anywhere," she informed them both in a cold tone. "And you both are going to stop insulting one another. I didn't bring you here," she told Wilson, "so that you could merely shout at each other until you're blue in the face."

Once more, Wilson shook his head. "You asked me to come here so I could tell him everything I needed to say."

"And in return, you need to hear him out," she reminded him. "You need to listen to him, or else there's no reason for him to listen to you."

Wilson narrowed his eyes on her, almost as though he couldn't possibly consider what she was trying to tell him. In the back of his mind, curious, House tried to remember the last time Wilson had been too furious to even consider what was going on around him. And almost immediately, another memory from the past washed over House.

This one was much more recent than the recollection involving his mother, but it still felt like a lifetime ago. Wilson had been in the process of realizing his third marriage was a failure; he'd been living with House, and at the time, House had been trying to solve a case involving…

Heart failure?

Something involving ticks?

He couldn't really remember at the moment what the case had been about. That he was willing to blame on his brain injury, the impulse to fully recollect what had happened stomped out by the ringing in his ear.

But anyway, he'd been trying to think without interruption, so he'd put the stethoscope on the doorknob, and Wilson had thought he'd been jerking off. Of course that was more disgust than anger, but nevertheless, it was probably the last time House could remember Wilson being too upset to speak, much less reason.

And the memory, though incomplete, was enough to make House smirk, an unwanted chuckle sneaking past his defenses.

Immediately, both Wilson and Cuddy snapped their attention, with varying degrees of ire obviously, to him. Cuddy spoke first, a curious "House?" escaping her lips.

He opened his mouth to respond, but Wilson interrupted with such rage that he looked like he was about have a heart attack. "You see?" House noted that Wilson had said that multiple times this evening – as though believing that House was awful wasn't enough; Wilson apparently wanted, needed, Cuddy to see it as well. "He thinks this is a joke. He's actually laughing. And if he's not going to take this seriously, then –"

"You don't even know what I was laughing at," House retorted lamely. It wasn't his best defense in the world, but it was true enough in this case.

Wilson stood up once more, hands on his hips. "Then what were you laughing at? Huh?"

House hesitated to tell the truth. He wasn't sure that he wanted to remind Wilson of better times; at this point he just didn't know if Wilson would respond to it or if he would see it as a cheap attempt to make things better.

Probably the latter, House decided. But then at this point, he didn't exactly have many other options. So he sighed, his right hand instinctively beginning to rub at his right thigh as he said, "You're so pissy you can't speak right now, which is odd for you, because you normally like to overanalyze and rationalize everything."

Wilson understandably took offense to this, but House kept talking, never giving the other man the opportunity to speak. "So I was thinking about the last time you got this way. You were living with me, and you thought I'd been masturbating in the apartment for hours."

Wilson's eyebrows knitted together as he tried to remember such a time. But in all honesty, it was Cuddy's response that was truly worth noting; she'd been around House's antics long enough to be nearly immune to them. Sometimes she responded with anger – only a robot would be able to deal with him on a day-to-day basis without getting upset at some point. But for the most part, she looked at his antics with rather bored eyes, as though she were expecting him to be a jackass.

Yet this was different.

She wasn't angry or unimpressed by any means. If anything, she was looking at him as though she had no idea what he was talking about. But the bemused expression on her face was hardly noteworthy; the touch of relief flitting across her features, on the other hand, definitely was.

Behind the confusion was clearly an amount of gratitude that she'd never had to experience such things. Which was really stupid in House's estimation. She wanted to sit there and act like him masturbating was gross, but she'd also had sex with him and had admitted that she'd always thought they'd do it again. In her own words, the night they'd spent together had been more than a moment of weakness. In her opinion, the sex had been good enough that she'd assumed it would happen again at some point. And without feelings of regret or disgust, she didn't really have a right to be disgusted over the idea of him getting off with his hand. Because truly, how was using her body any different than jerking off in private?

House decided to file that question away for later. He definitely wanted an answer, but he supposed that right now wasn't the perfect time to ask her. Considering Wilson didn't even know that they'd slept together (unless she'd confirmed it at some point, which House doubted), it would probably be weird to remind her of that moment in time now.

So knowing that, he waited silently for a response, giving Wilson the time he needed to recall what House was saying.

And eventually, Wilson confessed, scrubbing his face with one of his hands, "I didn't really remember that."

His tone was much less accusatory than it had been moments before. The anger that had been in his voice was nearly gone, and House took this as a sign that he'd done something right just then. His tinnitus backed off just a little bit, allowing him the mental clarity to see that Wilson was calmer. And House could use the change in mood to his advantage.

He would use it to his advantage.

"I don't know why you were so freaked out about the idea," House said conversationally. "After your bachelor parties, I thought you would have been more understanding about –"

Wilson interrupted speedily, "Karamel and I never –"

"Karamel?"

This time Cuddy was the one to interrupt.

Disgust was audible in the single word she spoke, and she had an expression on her face that matched her tone. Her features distorted, smushed together, she looked as though she were about to change the sheets of an incontinent sufferer of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. "That sounds like the name of a stripper."

"She is," House and Wilson replied simultaneously.

But only Wilson added, "Well, she was. She easily could have –"

"Stopped stripping?" Cuddy asked doubtfully.

She looked like she wanted to say more – say more judgmental things, House instantly corrected. Which could have been really amusing, he understood. Hearing her take on the role of the stereotypical woman unable to resist being prejudiced against an incredibly hot chick taking off her clothes would have been hilarious. But somehow he thought that Wilson wouldn't be similarly amused.

So he told her, "That's nothing. You should have seen him with the duck."

Her eyes widened, her mouth falling open. She looked like a child who'd just been told for the first time that gullible wasn't in the dictionary. She was horrified at the thought but convinced that it was also the truth. "You had sex with a –"

"There was no sex!" Wilson was half-shouting hysterically. "It wasn't even a real duck."

And though it was the truth, what he was saying sounded lame enough to be a lie.

Using this to his advantage, House said with a smirk on his face, "That might have been what you thought at first, but once it started quacking, surely you realized…"

Wilson opened his mouth for a rebuttal, but Cuddy held up a hand to tell him to stop. Her eyes closed as though she were trying to wipe the image from her mind, it took a beat to ask, "There was quacking involved?"

"No," Wilson whined loudly, his dark eyes imploring her to believe him.

When that didn't work, he turned his attention back on House. "Why did you say that? Why are you telling her this… this garbage?"

The questions weren't as angry as they could have been. If anything, this was all at a normal level of Wilson irritation, and House was pleased with this. Although he was careful to keep that to himself, he believed it was a good sign.

Shrugging he said, "Hey. If she's dumb enough to believe you enjoy a little bestiality every now and then…"

"So you're just lying to me then," Cuddy stated in a dangerous voice.

"Duh."

"And that part about Wilson peeing on your couch," she continued in an undeserving knowing voice. "That was a lie too."

House said nothing in response.

It would be better, he thought, if Wilson had to handle this one on his own.

Casting his gaze innocently on Wilson, House blinked a couple of times in an exaggerated and expectant way. "I don't know. Is that a lie? Who can say?"

"I think you can," Cuddy replied irritably, her arms folding across her chest.

And finally Wilson, perhaps understanding that there was no avoiding the truth, spoke up hesitantly, "Well…"

"It is true?" Her words were caught between being a statement and a question. And though it seemed physically impossible, her eyes widened even further.

Which made Wilson go on the defensive. "Yes, but." He held his hands up as if to say, "Hear me out."

When she didn't interrupt, he continued, "But I don't have a problem. House stuck my hand in a pot of warm water."

But Cuddy clearly didn't believe that. "Oh come on," she said doubtfully. "That doesn't actually make you pee. It's an urban legend."

"Tell that to my bladder," Wilson replied immediately. "The hand in the water works, because it worked on me." Her doubtful expression didn't change, forcing him to look at House. "Tell her."

At that moment, House knew he had to tell the truth. As funny as it might have been to let Wilson flounder a bit more, House understood that whatever progress he'd made would be lost in doing so.

Rolling his eyes, he admitted to Cuddy, "There might have been a bowl of water involved, but –"

"But that's all there is to it," Wilson finished. "You made me pee on the couch. I didn't have a problem holding it." Saying that, however, only seemed to make him more flustered, his cheeks burning with embarrassment as he added, "I'm not incontinent. I don't have a problem. I'm not a baby."

His voice becoming more accusatory once more, he finished by saying, "The only person with an issue is House and his inability to be a mature adult."

Cuddy looked at House at that moment. She didn't say anything at first, and she didn't need to; he could feel her eyes silently roving over him, her mind trying to assess him in the context of Wilson's words. It was as though she was trying to figure out whether or not to admonish him or try and move on from the subject.

But in the end, Wilson made that decision for her. "Don't look at him like that," he ordered her in a fed up tone. "Like you don't know what he's capable of. You've lived with him for two months! Think of how many pranks has he pulled on you since then."

She blinked. "He hasn't pulled any, Wilson."

House wanted to smirk. She was clearly ignoring the event that had only happened days ago. He didn't know why that was; although he didn't really think kicking the useless moron of a hospice worker out counted as a prank, his phone calls, his attempts at getting her back home… those things were.

But, hey, if she were willing to look past all of that, he was too.

Wilson, on the other hand, wasn't ready to take her at her word for it. "He hasn't done anything. That's what you're telling me."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm not saying he's been perfect – just that, for all of his immaturity, he hasn't felt the need to stick my hand in a bowl of water at night."

Hearing about his own perpetual adolescence, House felt the urge to stick his tongue out at her. He didn't, of course, settling for a way more mature scowl in her direction. Which Wilson clearly noted and immediately commented on. "Yeah, he really seems like he's learned how to act his age."

"Says the person who sawed through my cane," House replied immediately.

Once again, this shocked Cuddy… although for the life of him, he couldn't understand why. "You sawed through –"

"It was justified," Wilson said in a manner so haughty that it was almost easy to forget that they were talking about hurting a cripple. "He started it, and if you were in my position… though I don't understand why…"

His voice trailed off, and House and Cuddy looked at him, waiting for him to finish the thought.

But Wilson didn't say anything right away. His gaze darting back and forth between House and Cuddy, it was obvious that Wilson was drawing some sort of conclusion about the situation, about their relationship.

A wrong conclusion, House decided as Wilson, features filled with shock, explained, "You two are sleeping together!"

House smirked at the accusation while Cuddy practically shouted, "No!"

Admittedly it was not a good way to start off a defense or denial. If anything, the combination of their behaviors just made them look guilty. And though they hadn't been sleeping together (in the slang sense, anyway), their reactions did nothing to convince Wilson of that fact.

So it made perfect sense for Wilson to run a hand through his hair and say, "Oh God. You really are."

Out of the corner of his eye, House could see Cuddy looking at him as though she were going to kill him if he didn't start denying it. And he must have been too slow for her liking, because no sooner had she glared at him that she was telling Wilson firmly, "We're not having sex. I promise you. I would never –"

"Never?" House asked curiously. "Because –"

"Shut up," she warned him in a low voice. "Unless you want me to cut your precious rabbit into a million pieces, be quiet."

He hated to take note of it, but his cheeks burned with embarrassment. The admonishment and threat aside, it bothered him to hear her mention Hitler. Now, maybe Wilson already knew about it, and this was a moot point, but House couldn't be sure either way. And he definitely didn't want to hear what Wilson would have to say on the matter regardless. If only because House wasn't sure how to defend himself, he'd wanted to keep the rabbit's existence between Cuddy and himself.

It was odd in a way, because he'd never really cared what other people thought of him before. Then again, he'd never been a fifty-year-old man with a pet rabbit named Hitler before either. And when Wilson's judgment would completely determine whether or not they had a friendship, House resented Cuddy for bringing it up. Especially when Wilson, his eyebrows raised, asked, "Rabbit?"

House was fast in responding; he certainly didn't want her to talk anymore. "Her nickname for my penis. I keep telling her that I'm really that good and that she's not home alone with her vibrator, but with all those orgasms, it's a little –"

"What part of shut up do you not understand?" Cuddy growled. He opened his mouth to respond, but she didn't let him speak. "Nevermind," she continued as she stood up. Her voice authoritative, she explained to both men, "I'm going to go get a drink." House wasn't sure if she actually wanted a beverage or if there were something else going on – like, say, she was pissed at them both or wanting to give them some alone time so they could work things out.

Whatever her motivation, he simply watched her leave; her plan – whatever it might have been – wouldn't be nearly as effective if he quizzed her about it beforehand. And unlike at work, he supposed he would like her to succeed. So he stayed quiet as she told them both, "When I come back, we're not talking about this anymore. I'm not sleeping with him."

She walked towards the kitchen, her gaze only looking back at them once threateningly.

Not that it did much good, because the second she was more than an earshot away, Wilson said, "So you are sleeping with her."

"Don't be an idiot."

As soon as the words escaped him, House knew he'd misstepped. He hadn't been particularly nasty about it, but at this point, any bite to his remarks warranted a game over. And the last thing he wanted was to earn defeat because of a casual comment he hadn't even meant.

Unfortunately, the only immediate way to soften the blow was to absorb it himself. House really didn't want to stray into self-hating territory. He supposed that it was worth it though if it meant earning Wilson's forgiveness.

Hastily attempting to move past calling Wilson an idiot, House explained, "We both know Cuddy could and should do better than me."

His eyes searching Wilson's for any trace of incredulousness, he added, "I wasn't lying when I said she was here out of pity… we're not together."

But the remark didn't appease Wilson. "She's not here out of pity," he said with disdain. "She's here, because she cares about you enough to put up with your crap. And if she's willing to do that, then it's really not that much of a stretch to think –"

Refusing to even consider what Wilson was saying, House interrupted with barely concealed agitation in his voice, "It's not like that. Like I said, she can do better than me."

She really could, and House thought that she must have known that as well. If she hadn't, all of their flirting, all of their back and forth over the years probably would have led to more by now.

Although maybe it wouldn't have, he conceded. Whether she knew or not, he most certainly did. And what that meant for him was that he was never not aware of how much better she really was. He was never clueless about how much of a prize she was, and though he hesitated to say the logical, painful conclusion that had been percolating in his mind for the last two months, he did say it. "She deserves better than me, and I wouldn't –"

"You wouldn't what?" Wilson demanded to know with a ferocity that surprised House. "You wouldn't take advantage of her feelings for you? You have. You wouldn't ask her to be in your life like that? You have. You are. Every time you get her to defend you, in one way or another, you are using her."

There was no point in denying what Wilson was saying.

He was right.

About all of it.

And House didn't have the words within him to put up anything resembling a fight. He didn't even have the wherewithal to lie to himself about how he was treating Cuddy. So he glanced at the side of the couch instead. His gaze trained on the golden afghan precariously draped over the arm of the sofa, he said nothing.

But he didn't need to, because Wilson sat back down in his chair and said, "The thing is… in a weird way, I get it. You treat her like garbage to push her away, to prove to her that you don't deserve to have her in your life."

There was something in Wilson's voice that suggested that he knew what it was like to do that – to push her away. Experience laced his tone as though he was all too familiar with the concept. Yet he didn't elaborate on the matter.

Instead House could feel a dark set of eyes trained on him, looking, waiting for him to respond. But he didn't say anything. More than anything, he was curious as to where this was going, feeling neither the need to confirm or deny Wilson's words. He was interested in seeing where Wilson might take the conversation.

"And each time you do that, you're surprised when she still talks to you the next day. Cause no matter how much Cuddy should hate you, she doesn't. Every. Time. She forgives you," Wilson told him in disgust. "And you – hating to be wrong or happy about anything – never take that as a sign to be appreciative of what you have."

Wilson laughed humorlessly. "No, you think you have to work harder to push her away."

It was then that House realized that this was why he hated Wilson… sometimes anyway; Wilson had that uncanny ability to say in a few words everything House tried to hide. Whereas Cuddy typically reacted to his façade, Wilson – only Wilson – had a way of seeing past all of that to get to the truth. Masks, defenses, walls – whatever purple prose you wanted to use… Wilson was immune to that.

He could see everything for what it was.

He could see House for who he was.

And the intimacy such knowledge and abilities created was far more powerful than anything House could have ever had with Cuddy.

Oh, she tried. She'd been trying so hard for the last two months, and he would always be grateful for that, love her for doing that for him. She put more effort into him than anyone ever should have, maybe more than anyone else ever had. He was a lemon of a human being, and that she should ever have ignored that fact made her both the sweetest and the dumbest person he'd ever had the pleasure of knowing.

And still none of it amounted to the totality of what House shared… had shared with Wilson.

Because as hard as she tried, Wilson had never really had to do that. He'd always just gotten it.

House had told himself earlier in the day that Wilson clearly didn't understand him anymore, didn't want to understand him anymore if he could say those things. But now House suspected that he did.

Wilson always understood.

… Even if he reviled such comprehension.

Which was surely the case now. Wilson was sitting across form him with deduction, understanding, and disgust in his brown eyes. The irises giving it all away, the totality of the look practically screamed, "I hate you, but I still know you, and that makes me hate myself."

And as though the realization had suddenly hit him, House felt his body exhale with a shudder. The breath had literally been knocked out of him, and replacing that oxygen was the knowledge of exactly what he had to say.

"I'm sorry."

The words sounded pained. They were not forced; they didn't sound that way by any means. But although it was a simple sentence, it was audible just how depressing it was to take responsibility for it.

Yet Wilson was not moved by the emotion. "You should tell that to Cuddy."

House blinked numbly, as though he couldn't feel his nerves fire or anything else not related to the burning, horrible realization: Wilson didn't get the apology.

It was a cruel irony that left House feeling betrayed and parched.

He wanted a glass of water, though there was no cup for him on the table. But he didn't dare go get one; he was neck deep in an apology that would determine everything.

Everything.

Clearing his throat, the weight of the matter resting heavily on his shoulders, House tried again, "I mean I'm sorry for –"

"I know what you meant," Wilson replied smoothly, his voice low. "I was just hoping you'd take the hint and realize that I'm not accepting the apology. Or interested in it."

His words felt like a slap in the face. It might have only been a blow to House's plan to earn Wilson's friendship and forgiveness, but House could feel his cheeks redden nonetheless. And for all of his speaking talents, for all of his ways to manipulate and deflect, all he could say in that moment was "Oh."

"I don't know what Cuddy told you to get you to sit down with me, but I can tell you now that I didn't come here to make up with you." Wilson paused, perhaps to let the heartbreaking words cleave through House's left ventricle. "What I came here for," Wilson said in a calm voice. "Is to tell you that… I'm done. No more phone calls. No more pranks. No more free lunches. I'm out. It's done."

He ran his left hand parallel to the width of his chest to emphasize the finality of the words.

"You're saying you'll never forgive me?"

House meant for the softly uttered words to sound more like a statement, but somehow, in the space between his throat and his lips, the sentence had morphed into a question.

And that made Wilson angry. His hands clenching into fists once more, he snapped, "You killed my girlfriend. That's different than stealing my iPhone. You killed Amber!"

House ignored the way his aorta seemed to detach itself upon hearing Wilson's accusation. He ignored the way his body felt as though the freed artery began to spray blood and guilt into the pit of his stomach. The feeling was on the verge of consuming him. And he feared that, if he saw Cuddy's sympathetic eyes now, the emotion would overwhelm and send him running into her arms like a scared child.

But with her still in the kitchen, he was able to funnel that hurt feeling into adrenaline, into motivation. "You think I wanted her dead?" He shook his head sadly. "I did everything I could to save her."

He swallowed hard, fighting off the memory of his failure. "I didn't want her to die."

"Oh, yes, you did," Wilson snapped coldly, apparently barely able to even register the hurt inside of House. "You didn't approve of my relationship with her."

"That's a lie. I told you you had my –"

"Your blessing?" Wilson offered viciously. Shaking his head, he continued, "If this were any sort of a normal friendship, you would know that I didn't need your blessing. And if you didn't have your head so far up your own ass, you would realize that I never had it anyway. You were always trying to break us up."

For a brief moment, House sat there speechless. His stunned silence came to him unexpectedly, because, to be honest, he'd already figured out how Wilson would interpret the events of the last six or seven months. House had deduced that he would be blamed for all of it going wrong, for all of the time not spent with Amber. And hearing Wilson say that now came as no surprise.

But nevertheless, House didn't speak. Truthfully he didn't exactly know how to respond. Should he apologize? Defend himself? He wasn't sure what the best move would be, although he did recognize that taking either path could lead to disaster. If he apologized and Wilson didn't believe him, game over. If he defended himself and Wilson didn't accept the defense, game over.

Nothing, he realized, was a guarantee, and in the end, lost in his indecisiveness, House spoke slowly. Calmly he chose his words as he went. "I never believed you needed me. I always knew how this friendship worked: I… needed you."

He looked away from Wilson as soon as the words had been uttered. As much as House would have liked to gauge his audience's reaction, he was too afraid of what that response might be. Obviously it was cowardly, but he preferred cowardice to any more pain.

His gaze focused on the afghan spread across the arm of the couch once more, he continued to explain. "I didn't give you the okay, because I thought you needed it."

"Then why –"

"Because it needed to be said," House spit out quickly. But it was with less speed that he continued. Almost as though his mouth had run out of gas, he sputtered to find the right words. And his thumb running along his brow, he said, "Because… I wanted you to know I was… trying… to, I don't know, back off, I guess."

He frowned at the choice of words but kept talking. "I didn't want to lose you, but I… was trying to let you go. I was trying," he stressed.

Wilson threw his hands in the air. "But then you thought… what? 'That's too hard, so I'll break them up'?"

House shook his head once solemnly. "I wanted you to be happy. But I also knew that without you, I'd be completely alone." His voice broke on the last word, and he swallowed back the bitter taste of fear and regret. "I just didn't want to lose you."

The words hung heavily in the air. A truth he'd never wanted to speak of emitted into the heavy, heated climate, it made him sweat with the realization that he couldn't take it back.

Ever.

There was no rewind, no undo… no forgetting how he'd uttered his greatest fear of all: losing his one and only friend.

Just as there was no ignoring Wilson's harsh reply.

"Well, you did," he announced sarcastically. "You murdered her. And with that, you killed any hope of us ever being friends."

House had known the words were coming; he'd known that resolution would never be quite so simple.

But it killed him to hear Wilson say those things nonetheless.

And it angered House as well.

Although that might have been the head trauma talking, he couldn't help but feel enraged.

He hadn't expected things to be easy, but he also had expected his honesty to leave him empty handed in the end either.

"All I wanted," he insisted, "was to know that I had a place in your life. I didn't want to hurt her. Or you."

Wilson opened his mouth to speak, but House stopped him. "She was important to me too. I worked with her, saw her everyday for months. I know what I did. I know what you lost."

"But you still want me to forgive you," Wilson deduced in a sad, knowing voice.

House couldn't deny that fact. Yes, he did want his friend to forgive him. But he only nodded his head once before adding, "I want it, but I don't expect it. I want it," he repeated, making a grabbing motion with his right hand. "But I know I don't deserve it."

Wilson remained unmoved. "And yet, you have Cuddy bringing me –"

"That was all her," House admitted. "I had nothing to do with that…. If she'd asked me, I would have told her not to bring you here."

His voice was filled with honesty, especially when he said, "You don't deserve this – this conversation. You didn't deserve any of it." He shrugged. "What you're doing… not talking to me, not being in my life – I more than earned that."

Whether it was those words or his overall commitment to the sentiment that gave Wilson pause, House didn't know. Either way, the fact of the matter was that Wilson's eyes seemed to soften then; the why completely damned in House's mind, he didn't care how he'd managed to make this breakthrough.

He just cared that he had.

No questions asked.

Of course, if House had asked, Wilson wouldn't have known what to say. Forgiveness wasn't coming suddenly, but a cool trickle of the feeling was beginning to seep into his bones. And though he couldn't spot the crack in his exterior that had allowed for it to happen, Wilson could feel it nevertheless. The tension in his muscles was beginning to ease, the ramrod stiffness of his back settling into something less formal. His once overwhelming hostility no longer consumed him, and he was able to look at House with clearer eyes.

The man Wilson had desperately wanted to break was clearly already broken.

He hadn't wanted to believe it at first, but it was impossible to deny it anymore. Everything House was saying, everything he was doing pointed to the same thing – that House already felt as guilty as was humanly possible. He already blamed himself, already accepted that he had been the one in the wrong and that he had been the one to kill Amber and destroy their friendship.

And to be honest, Wilson couldn't help but feel that that revelation was completely anticlimactic.

He supposed he could have been relieved by the fact that House accepted his part in what had happened. Surely, it was better for him to feel guilty than for Wilson to have to explain to him why killing Amber was wrong.

Or if not relieved, Wilson thought he could have at least mustered up the courage to continue being annoyed. If he couldn't take solace in this turn of events, then the very least he could do was continue on in his bitter fury. After all, he'd been so angry the last two months, he'd been so consumed by rage, that it should have been second hand at this point to keep that emotion going.

But no.

There was none of those emotions, neither relief nor anger, inside of him. There was nothing inside of him.

He just felt… numb.

He felt… completely drained of all emotional response, as though his hatred and regret from the last two months had left him entirely incapable of having any real feelings on the matter.

It wasn't – was not – an act of forgiving House.

It was not like House said those things and every complaint Wilson had had before now was suddenly null and void (truth be told, he refused to let that happen). Because the rational part of himself realized that his criticisms of his relationship with House were valid. Even House himself had essentially agreed as much.

The codependency that had led to Amber's demise, the things that had brought House and Wilson's friendship literally to a screeching halt… it was all very real. And there could be no denying that those things would have to change in order for them to be friends again.

Of course, there was a chance (albeit a small one) that they'd already made those changes. Wilson could concede that much.

For his own part, he'd become a lot less of a doormat in the last two months, this current conversation proof of that. Well, it was if you ignored the part where Cuddy bribed him into coming here, he realized. But even if you didn't, there was still no denying that he'd become more selfish, more angry, more judgmental.

He'd become a far worse person than he'd been eight weeks ago.

But maybe those things would allow for a healthier friendship with House, who ironically seemed (and maybe that was the keyword: seemed) like a better person. He seemed capable of adulthood – at least for extended periods of time. He was taking responsibility for the accident; he was apologizing and sharing his feelings. Sure, he was still being cruel to Cuddy, but he'd refrained from shoving parts of her unconscious form into buckets of warm water. And that was progress.

He was changing.

They both were.

But whether or not that was enough for Wilson, he didn't know. Whether they could go without doing this, whether those changes would be lasting enough to avoid this kind of disaster in the future…

Wilson had no idea.

And though part of him was admittedly curious to see what would happen, the rest of him was still reluctant.

His body giving only the smallest of giveaways, he finally said, on the subject of each man getting what he deserved, "Well… at least we agree on that."

There was an implication there – that House had deserved to lose Wilson's friendship – but the remark's bite was lost by the conversational tone.

And that did not go unnoticed by House, though Wilson knew it would have been foolish to think that it could.

"Is there any hope for me?" House asked in an almost hesitant, quiet manner.

Wilson's own response was much quicker, to start with anyway. "I don't know…. Maybe."

It hadn't been a no, which in Wilson's mind felt like a yes, like a betrayal of Amber. To even suggest that there could be a friendship again felt like he was spitting in the face of the woman he loved.

Perhaps it was.

But at the same time… it felt like an even crueler betrayal of himself to say no to what House might have been offering. Because for all of these years… more than anything, what Wilson had wanted was a healthier House, a healthier friendship with him. All of this time, Wilson had wanted a friend who could understand the ramifications of selfish, destructive behavior. He'd wanted a friend who could look before he leaped, who could empathize, who could… see Wilson through the most awful things in the world.

And maybe House wasn't like that; maybe the changes he'd made were superficial. But either way, wasn't that a truth Wilson had to find out for himself?

Wasn't it something he owed himself to figure out?

And if the answers to those questions were yeses, then wouldn't Amber be happy for him? Supportive of him?

She'd given him the freedom to say no to her, to get the bed he wanted, even when he had no idea what it was that he really wanted. She'd done so much to encourage his self-exploration, and admittedly, being friends again with House was bigger than a waterbed, but nevertheless, didn't the same rules apply?

Wouldn't a cutthroat… bitch (Wilson's mind stumbled over the words) understand the Ayn Rand-ish need to explore aspects of his life selfishly?

Especially since he wasn't saying all was forgiven, wouldn't Amber be okay with that?

Wouldn't she?

For all of his attempts at reassuring himself, Wilson realized that he was not sure.

Not by any means.

But then he hadn't said yes to House, Wilson reminded himself. And with House looking at him as though it had been a flat out no, Wilson thought his response had been an okay one. Definitely not a great one, but he felt that it would do for the time being.

House clearly didn't like it though, his eyes sad and full of hurt. Which was impetus enough for Wilson to ask, "Did you expect me to answer that with a definite yes? You want a hug and some cookies for an answer instead?"

The deep and maybe uncharacteristic sarcasm seemed to cut House to the core. His lips turning downward into a frown, he replied with a pout, "No. Still sucks though."

"You should be grateful," Wilson admonished in a voice so breathless it was practically hissed.

Frankly, the presumption on House's part that he somehow deserved a better answer infuriated Wilson.

That alone gave him pause. That alone was enough to make him reconsider giving House a shot.

And House must have sensed this, because he suddenly insisted, "I am grateful. Really I am."

"You sure?"

"I am," he stressed. "I just… I don't know." He shrugged apologetically. "It's just that, if you're holding out on a friendship with me, because I'm not doing something you want…"

He never ended up finishing the thought, and Wilson supposed that it was just too hard for House to ask for tips, for ways to improve his odds. To be honest, Wilson didn't blame him for that and ended up finishing the thought for him. "You want me to tell you what to do?"

House didn't say yes or no, which sort of said it all. He simply said sarcastically, "You've never hesitated before." But the harshness of the words was outweighed greatly by the imploring look he was giving Wilson.

And House was right: Wilson hadn't ever hesitated before to give advice. Yet in this case, Wilson wasn't entirely sure what he needed to see from House. Sure, he wanted to see that the changes House made were real and permanent. But how he would know that that was the case… he couldn't put that into words. And if there were something more Wilson wished to see, he didn't know what that was.

Unless…

"You want something to do? Pull the hand-in-the-water trick on Cuddy," Wilson said seriously.

Naturally though, House looked at him with suspicion. "You… want me to make Cuddy pee her pants." It was almost a question he sounded so confused.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because she's going to continue to believe that I'm a bed wetter!"

"So?" Honestly House wasn't opposed on principle, although he would have preferred to wait until Cuddy was no longer sleeping in his bed for obvious reasons.

"So," Wilson repeated in annoyance, "If you want to be my friend, you'll show me that you want to protect me from unkind opinions. You'll defend me. Or something."

Now Wilson was the unsure one, and House suspected that that had to do with the fact that Wilson was trying to take childish revenge on Cuddy for bringing him here and then also refusing to believe that House's prank had worked.

But House was okay with doing this for him. His bed aside, there were no downsides to this. Tormenting Cuddy might have been wrong on many levels, but it could also be incredibly enjoyable. And if bothering her was the key to getting Wilson back, then why the hell not?

"Consider it done," House said cheerfully. "Anything else?"

"No."

"Want me to sleep with her too? Cause that would be just as easy…"

"No. I'd rather not have to deal with the mental image of you and Cuddydoing it," he said with friendly, immature disgust.

And House, brazen and pleased with the way Wilson was clearly warming up to him, was about to say something dirty when Cuddy reminded both men that she was still around. Obviously having heard what they were talking about, she angrily stormed back into the room.

Whoops.

"You two are still talking about this?" Cuddy demanded in a shrill voice that surprisingly didn't make his ear ring.

She stomped in front of the couch, coming to stand over House with her hands on her hips. She looked at him as though she blamed him for the topic of conversation, and he guessed that technically she was right.

"Please," she said in a voice that negated the polite word. "Stop telling people that we're sleeping together."

"Now, now, snookums. We don't have to hide our love," House tormented. One of his hands reached around her to squeeze her ass, but she caught the wandering appendage around the wrist.

"I'm going to kill you," she seethed. "Wilson, it's good you came; you can say your goodbyes to him now."

Immediately she dropped his hand in order to use hers as a weapon against him. But unfortunately for her, House had expected this and grabbed her hands before she'd landed a single blow.

"Gonna have to try harder if you want to kill me," he teased.

Had she been slow to respond, House might have considered just how inappropriate his words were in Wilson's presence. But lucky for all of them, Cuddy was quick to growl as loudly as she could.

As she tried to wrench her hands free, he considered once more the state of his tinnitus… or rather the stunning lack of it.

If this had been any other day in the last two months, with the amount of noise she was making, he would have been curled up in a ball in pain by now.

But he wasn't.

And that gave him pause. He didn't dare, not even for a second, consider that his tinnitus might be permanently gone; he refused to give himself any sort of hope.

But it did make him wonder:

What was going on?

The question was enough to tear him away from what he was doing. It divided his attention, and doing that led him to instinctively loosen his grip on Cuddy.

Her wrists practically free, she yanked her hands back hard. So hard that she actually stumbled backwards a few steps. Which would have been fine…

If not for the coffee table covered in food behind her.

House knew what was going to happen before it did, and he couldn't help but watch in horror as the sequence of events unfolded.

Reeling from the force, she couldn't help but move backwards in tiny, uneven steps. One, two, three, four – all in quick succession, she stumbled backwards. And then the backs of her legs hit the lip of the coffee table.

An audible thud mingled with the sound of her surprised gasp. And before she even had time to figure out what was going on, she fell back. Not obnoxiously so, House thought with dismay. He would have preferred the comedic, exaggerated, I love Lucy sort of fall, but this wasn't like that. The force of the collision wasn't enough to send her spiraling over the table. But it was definitely enough to send her backwards even further.

Her arms sprawled out by her sides to catch her body.

But it was too late.

Her hands smacked into a few of the plates, some of her fingers splattering in the sauce for the tofu. And with the loud clink of dishes colliding with one another, Cuddy sat down.

Right on top of the duck.

There was a loud, mushy, moist sounding noise and a look of shock on her face as her considerably sized ass came in contact with the hot food.

"The duck!" Wilson exclaimed, horrified.

Truth be told, Cuddy looked too shocked to move, much less take offense at Wilson's priorities or House's hand in her current position. Her head snapping to face him, she apologized, "I am so sorry. I –"

"Relax," House told Wilson. "The food's still good. Personally I prefer to eat all my meals off of her –"

"Okay, I think I'm done here," Wilson interrupted fervently.

Cuddy apparently didn't understand. "What? What do you mean you're done?" There was a bit of concern in her voice, a clear indication she was worried that Wilson was leaving.

"House and I have come to an agreement."

At this she looked to House to verify what Wilson was saying, which he did.

Things with Wilson weren't as concrete as House would have liked. But he recognized that this was a start, an opening, an acknowledgement of what they'd shared and could share again. After all of the back and forth, underneath all of the veneer of hatred, there was still an interest in one another. There was still a desire to know the other person, and House planned to exploit that fact as best as he could.

He hadn't lied when he'd said Wilson was fine without him. Wilson was – would be. But without his friendship, House knew that the same would not be true for himself.

He needed Wilson.

He loved him.

And that fact all but guaranteed that House would do whatever it took to get his friend back.

Wilson was obviously reluctant to trust him once more, but that was understandable. House had yet to prove that anything had really changed.

But he was up to the challenge.

In general, his rule might have been that people didn't change, that they couldn't for the most part. However, he had always allowed for the very rare possibility of change being possible when the person was forced, when something horrible had happened to demand change. And in this case, it went without saying that that had definitely happened here.

He hadn't died (well, technically, he had, but it wasn't permanent or anything), true. He'd lived, and usually he believed that almost dying rarely changed anything.

But Amber had died.

And the effects of her death had been real.

And though House had never wanted to change, to remain as he had been would have made all of their pain meaningless.

He might not have been one to believe that the universe had a point, that there was some overarching meaning. But he did believe that to stagnate when his behavior had clearly resulted in suffering was stupid.

Completely and unacceptably idiotic.

The adult's version of holding your hand over an open flame and leaving your fingers there to burn.

And there was no way in hell he was going to do that and lose Wilson if that path could be avoided.

House would do whatever it took to go in a different direction.

Nodding his head resolutely, he told Cuddy, "Yup. We're good."

She looked at him as though he'd spoken gibberish. "Are you sure?" she asked with a dignity not appropriate for someone sitting in dinner.

"Yeah."

Cuddy turned her head to look at Wilson. "You?"

"We're fine," he soothed in response before standing up. "And since dinner is… over, I think I should go."

She looked pained to see him leave but ultimately kept her reservations to herself. "Yeah… yeah, you're right. I'm sure you have a lot to think about." Her voice had that professional lilt to it, the tone one she usually reserved for concluding meetings with would be donors.

And that impression was furthered by the way she, finally standing up, ushered him to the door with her cleanest hand in the crook of his elbow, as though he were an eighty year old she'd just blown for cash.

Of course, the image wasn't perfect, House conceded. The duck and curry smeared on her ass was something he'd never seen at work (or anywhere else) before.

But other than that, the comparison worked, he thought, as Wilson said to Cuddy, "We'll go tomorrow?"

"If that's what you want."

"It is."

House had no idea what they were talking about, and he watched them curiously to see what information he could glean from them.

"Then I'll pick you up around ten," she said, opening the door.

Wilson nodded his head but said nothing. He was apparently content to end the conversation there, much to House's dismay.

But Cuddy wasn't.

Doing something that made House scoff in disgust, she stood on her tiptoes and pressed her stitched lips to Wilson's mouth.

It was a chaste kiss.

Let it be known: she hadn't slipped him the tongue or anything like that.

But House still wasn't a fan. Nor was he a fan of the way she told Wilson in a sweet voice, "You should go back to the house. Get some rest."

There was concern and friendship in the act – nothing more – but House was kind of horrified nonetheless.

Really, why not just call his parents up and have an orgy with them, Cuddy, House thought with disgust, his nose scrunching together.

Trying to sound casual after Wilson left and Cuddy shut the door, House taunted, "On the lips? Cuddy, you're becoming quite the hussy. Pretty soon you'll have to start charging."

She smirked. "Are you jealous?"

He balked at the idea. "God. No." But somehow saying that just made him seem like he really was jealous.

So it came as no surprise that Cuddy started advancing on him with a mock pout on her face. In a baby voice, she asked, "Aw, does Housey want Mommy to give him a kiss?"

"No," he practically screamed. But again, it had the opposite effect than the one he'd intended, so he hastily added, "Sure I'd like to see you naked a little bit, but –"

"No." All of the cutesy taunting had disappeared from her voice, as though the childishness from only moments before were nothing more than an apparition.

"But," he insisted, annoyed that she'd interrupted his train of thought. "What does that have to do with kissing?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm going to take a shower."

"Need someone to soap your back? And by back, of course, I mean your ass." His eyes were filled with mischief, and he wiggled his eyebrows for extra effect. "And by soap, I mean –"

"No."

She started to walk down the hallway, and he was quick to follow. "Are you sure? Because –"

Her body just over the threshold to the bathroom, she spun around to face him. "Go eat some dinner and leave me alone."

He opened his mouth to respond, but she slammed the door in his face before he had a chance to say anything.

The conversation was effectively over, and he couldn't help but smile then. As he walked back down the hallway, he reminded himself that you couldn't always get what you wanted.

But he was beginning to see that, thanks to Cuddy, he was finally getting what he needed.

The smile still on his face, House went to the kitchen to set out a pot he could use later. He wasn't a big fan of preparing pranks ahead of time, but she was a decently light sleeper, and he didn't want to screw things up by having her wake up before he'd had a chance to toy with her.

Setting the pot on the stove, he could feel his smile turn into a wide grin.

She would never know what hit her.


She was late to pick him up for their trip to the cemetery. She'd said she'd be there around ten, but Wilson was little more than aware that the clock was rounding noon when she did finally show up… at her own home.

There was a knock on the door, which was weird, because it was her place. And when he answered, Cuddy was standing there in a black dress and suit coat, her attire completely inappropriate for the July heat. Her hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail, her pale skin remained unmarred by the sun's summer rays. And the overall result, in Wilson's estimation, was a severe portrait of a woman who looked overworked, exhausted, and not entirely thrilled to be doing this.

In an appropriately somber voice, she immediately asked, "Are you ready?"

He nodded his head and started to follow her to the car in his own black suit.

But they were barely off the front porch when she apologized in the quickest way possible, "Sorry I'm late. I wanted to get flowers for her grave – I bought lilies – and I'm sorry for the whole bedwetting thing. Turns out it's not an urban legend."

At first he thought he'd misheard her. Sure, he'd asked House to pull that prank on her, but Wilson hadn't ever expected her to admit to it. Yet, looking at her, he could see that her cheeks were flushed. And Wilson only served to accentuate that embarrassment by guffawing. "House put your hand in the water, I take it."

She didn't look at him. Instead, she mumbled, "Lets not talk about it."

At her request, they didn't. Frankly just knowing that House had kept his word made Wilson happy enough.

Not that that feeling would last.

Or could.

He was mindful of where they were headed, and the second they got to the cemetery, whatever joy was in him died – just as everyone who called this grassy tomb home was.

"Where should I park?" Cuddy asked as she steered the car through the winding gravel road.

Swallowing hard, Wilson didn't respond right away. His mouth was paralyzed by emotion, by the fear of letting everything inside of himself out for her to see.

Maybe it had been stupid to bring Cuddy here if he weren't willing to show her the incapacitating grief that he carried around with him on a daily basis. But it was too late now either way, and he just hoped to maintain, at least for now, some semblance of control over all of this.

Finally calm, he answered her question. "It's up ahead a little bit." He didn't have the nerve to say grave. "By that split oak tree," he told her as a reference, pointing at it.

"Okay."

But in his mind, nothing was okay.

Everything was wrong.

And not even Cuddy's reassuring presence took away from that, from the clamoring emotions within him and the chaos all around. There was just so much to contend with that, as the car came to a stop, he really just wanted to run back to Cuddy's house and hide in that small place of solace.

Exiting the car, within seconds, he was sweating under the sun's rays; beads of moisture were collecting underneath his arms, along his back, and between the lines of his aging face. It was nearing the height of summer, and he recognized that it was hot, but as they strode to the grave, Wilson could only feel cold.

He shivered, every muscle in his body reacting to the rows of headstones and plaques. The sweet smell of freshly shorn grass and newly plucked and bouqueted flowers filled his nostrils and his mind with the knowledge that life was all around him.

But all he could feel was the cold absence of the woman he loved.

Up until now, he hadn't been to her grave, and somehow being closer to her body in proximity accentuated the chill he felt in his soul. And maybe he'd suspected that that would happen, because save for the day she'd been buried, Wilson had kept his distance.

Part of him wanted to believe that it had been entirely unintentional. He'd just been so wrapped up in other stuff that he'd never thought about it, a voice whispered.

But the rest of him knew it was a lie.

There had been no "stuff."

There'd been grief for her and hate for House and a desire to forget through work and drinking. But there had been nothing to keep him from coming here. Rationally he understood that.

But as he started up the oak-lined hill towards her grave, Wilson could see why he hadn't come.

It was all a reminder that he wouldn't wake up one day with Amber by his side. The headstones, American flags, mausoleums, the wreaths – it was proof that this nightmare had happened, that it was real.

And knowing that he was close to her filled him with such anxiety, such keen anticipation that it was nearly too much to bear.

His heart beat faster.

His feet moved more quickly, and Cuddy was left in the dust as Wilson scrambled up the small hill.

There was no explanation for it, no reason he could articulate behind the impulsive moves. He could only think, with both joy and dread, that in a matter of seconds, he would be near Amber once more.

Finally her grave spotted, Wilson lunged for it.

Immediately he dropped his hands and knees. Wet grass rubbed impatiently against his pants, his knuckles scraping against the marble of her headstone. His fingers, trembling with want, traced her name etched in the stone.

Tears slid down his cheeks, the epithet he'd haphazardly chosen blurring in his eyesight.

Cuddy was nowhere to be seen (she was probably getting her heels caught in the yielding ground), but he was hardly focused on that fact. The only thing that mattered, the only thing that kept his attention was Amber.

He opened his mouth to speak, to talk to her while he still had a chance at having some privacy.

He missed talking to her.

But the only sound that came out was a raspy whimper. And he no longer trusted himself to say any of the things he wanted to tell her.

Needy and needing to be closer to her, he scrambled towards the headstone, closing the minute distance between their bodies as best as he could. The flowers that had once covered the ground had died by now; the grass that had once been unearthed and killed to house her body had grown back. And there was a clear, green path to her now.

His cheek pressed into the ground, his forehead resting against her sun-warmed headstone. As though it were his lover in physical form, he stroked the erected statue tenderly. And though he could not speak, he told her in thought all of the things he wanted – needed – her to know.

I love you.

I'm sorry.

I love you.

I'm sorry for not being strong, for wanting House to change, for wanting to believe that he can, that maybe he already has.

I'm sorry.

He could hear Cuddy's sloppy footsteps on the ground, and suddenly feeling his privacy breached, Wilson whispered to Amber in a voice so low Cuddy surely could not hear, "Some day, you'll be proud of me. Some day, I will be worthy of your love."

The words had barely been uttered before he stood, shaking. He didn't look at Cuddy, nor did he say anything as he walked away. The feeling of failure, of grief consuming him whole was overwhelming him, and he didn't have the energy to put the effort into making small talk. So he silently hurried back down the hill instead to get away.

He had to get away.

His feet tripping over themselves, mud and cut grass stuck to his shoes, he fled. As fast as he could, he moved.

But he didn't head straight to the car. His body acting on its own volition, he hurried to a nearby oak tree.

The leafy branches swayed lightly in the warm breeze, the rustling sound filling his ears. The tree was old, sick. The trunk and roots were dying, decayed, and twisted. Moss and fungus covered the bark in a brilliant but decidedly random pattern, and Wilson felt gross when his hand instinctively gripped onto it for support. His nails dug into the bark, tiny brown molecules falling away like dust.

The world suddenly tunneling in, Wilson bent over. His forehead pressed against his forearm, and he breathed shakily. And then he threw up, unleashing all of the fear and sickness within him onto the earth.

It splattered to the ground, splashed on his pants, and somehow managed to get stuck in his nose. His throat burned; his tongue was thickly coated with the acrid taste of failure and bile.

Snot, sweat, tears, and stray vomit mixed together on his face in a putrid combination. But he could barely register his disgust as he wiped his dirty face on his sleeve.

He just felt diseased and awful… unworthy.

He hadn't deserved Amber.

He hadn't deserved Cuddy's support or House's desire to change.

He didn't deserve anything or anyone.

His pain clouded his vision, and he let out an awful sob that shook his entire body. And he didn't even realize that Cuddy was there until she placed her now empty hands on his sweaty back and said with concern, "Wilson?"

He was in her arms before he even realized that he'd turned around.

Collapsing against her soft, sweetly scented body, he could hear the tearful sympathy in her voice. "It's okay," she repeated over and over as though the more she said it, the more true it would be.

His face buried in her neck and hair, Wilson felt that the effort wasn't necessary on her part. He recognized the truth in her words intuitively.

… Things probably would be okay.

Cuddy would keep being his friend. His patients and House's staff would forgive him for needing time to adjust. And even House himself seemed eager to make the choices needed to be friends once more.

So Cuddy was right.

Everything would be okay and eventually return to normal. The status quo would be restored as it always was.

Wilson's gaze trained on Amber's grave in the distance, Wilson couldn't help but think:

That was precisely the problem.

The End