A/N: For a disclaimer see my profile. Well, that's it, folks. Thanks for the ride, I'm very grateful for all your comments and encouragements. Go ahead and let me know what you think about the way the story ends. :)
And if you liked it, you may want to read "A Different Dream", a sequel of sorts to this story.
Wilson didn't leave House out of his sight for even a moment for the rest of the day. He sat next to him on a couch, trailed after him to the kitchen and to the phone, when House got up to order something for dinner. He didn't even let him go to the bathroom alone. Had the word existed in House's vocabulary, he would have called it "sweet".
However, since the only use of that word that was acceptable for House was "red lollipops at the PPTH front desk are sweet and yummy", he limited himself to calling Wilson a furry idiot and gratefully scratching his ears for the best part of the evening. The cat apparently understood what he meant anyway and didn't expect anything else.
During the night at Wednesday the weather cleared a little bit and House woke up feeling much better than the day before. The new day still didn't qualify as "good", but - stretching the meaning a bit - it could be called "tolerable". After swallowing his Vicodin - only one this time - and a tentative walk around the couch House decided he could manage going to work today.
Wilson, judging by his behavior, had his doubts. First he followed House's every step with worried looks. Then he tried to make his morning bathroom routine and getting dressed impossible at all cost, even going so far as stealing House's sneakers and pushing them so far under the dresser that House had no hope of getting them out, until he would feel well enough to move the furniture around. Finally the cat sat in front of the door, looking determined and evidently planning on not letting House leave the apartment.
House sat on the bench in front of his piano and begun negotiations. "Wilson..."
"...you stupid cat. I have to go to work, nothing will happen to me."
"Sure, you know better. Remind me again, which one of us is a doctor here?"
"I have to go to the hospital and invent some crazy story on my way there, to explain playing truant yesterday and piss Cuddy off."
Wilson blinked in surprise. "Meow?"
"What would be the point? You heard her yesterday. She won't believe me anyway, even if I tell her the truth."
Wilson lay down on the floor and rested his head on his front paws. "Meow..."
House shrugged. "I told you - unfair and sucks. But it's better that way. I'm a mean bastard, I lie and I don't give a shit about anyone. Everyone's happy. I'd rather they didn't know that few times a month I'm actually a worthless, pathetic cripple, who can't walk twenty feet from the couch to the bathroom on his own."
"Because then they would start treating me like a worthless, pathetic cripple even on the good days, when I'm just a mean bastard."
The cat stared at him for a long while, then he walked up to him, jumped up on the bench and nudged House's hand with his nose.
"Thanks." House smiled. "Does it mean I can go now?"
"Great. Don't worry so much, stress is unhealthy. I'll be home late, I expect Cuddy will spot me as soon as I'm through the door and will send em to do something boring. Behave, Wilson" said House, opening the door.
"Meow" said the cat and House smiled.
"Sure, I will behave too."
Cuddy didn't disappoint. He didn't even manage to reach the elevators when she got to him. She chewed him out for shirking his duties, chewed him out for lying to his boss, chewed him out for making public comments about the "twins" (this, unlike the rest of it, he deserved) and finally handed him a file of some poor bastard who, for reasons unknown, was bleeding out of every orifice and hearing voices.
Thoroughly chewed out and resigned House limped to the Diagnostics, spent a moment tormenting the Ducklings to improve his mood, then begun diagnosing their new case.
Luckily the case turned out to be fairly interesting - enough that it distracted House from his increasingly angry leg. After fifteen minutes of throwing the ideas back and forth, he sent Cameron to redo the tests that the other doctors ran and sat down on the recliner to wait for the results and, without much success, try to massage the pain out of his throbbing muscles.
After a moment he noticed that Chase and Foreman were staring at him with interest.
"What?" he growled. "I've got something on my nose? My socks don't match?"
Chase shot him an uncertain smile. "Cameron and Foreman say you've got a cat."
"Ah. Sure. I thought you wanted to ask me about something completely irrelevant and unimportant, like for example my theories about our patient. My apologies. It's good to know that you're focused on what's really important."
Chase looked surprised. "So you do have a cat? I thought they were pulling my leg."
"Fantastic. Who cares about the patient! Joe..."
"Henry" Foreman corrected him.
"...can bleed to death, what do we care. All that matters is that you know everything about Wilson."
Chase's eyebrows shot up. "He's name really is Wilson?"
House scowled at him. "No. I was talking about the Boy Wonder Oncologist from the next office. I'm his press agent. What would you like to know? Shoe size? First love? Plans for the future?"
Chase shook his head in disbelief.
"Did you tell Wilson about this?" asked Foreman, sounding amused.
"Did I tell my cat that I had a cat? I think he noticed."
"The other Wilson."
"There's two of them?" House feigned surprise.
Foreman rolled his eyes.
"Besides, I think you called him as soon as I left on Sunday."
Foreman looked down. "Um. We tried."
"Couldn't do it? What do you know, when I hired you guys, I was sure you knew how to use a phone."
"Wilson didn't pick up, not in his hotel room phone and not his cell."
"He was probably busy flirting with someone" House shrugged. "I wouldn't pick up the call from you either."
"That's why we used the phone in your office."
House looked up. "Hm. I probably wouldn't pick up the call from me either." He picked the medical journal from the table and tried to make it clear that he considered the topic closed.
"It's going to be weird, once Doctor Wilson comes back. We won't know which Wilson you're talking about" Chase mused aloud.
House glowered at him. "Yeah, it will be almost impossible to tell from the context. After all Jimmy always purrs when you scratch his ears and my cat will be tremendously helpful when we get a patient with lung cancer."
"You scratch your cat's ears?" Apparently Foreman had some trouble imagining something like this.
"No" grumbled House. "I keep him in a cold, dank cellar, only feed him once a week and I kick him every time he wanders near me."
"And where does Wilson sleep?" asked Chase, smirking.
Before House was forced to come up with something in order to save the remains of his reputation, Cameron marched in with a folder in hand and a worried expression on her face. "We've got a problem" she said.
"Thank God" muttered House and gingerly stood up.
House didn't manage to leave the hospital almost until midnight. Actually, he shouldn't have left at all, because the patient's condition suddenly worsened and the test results, brought by Cameron, raised more questions than they answered.
The leg didn't care at all. House kept swallowing Vicodin like candy, tried to walk the cramps out by pacing in a corridor in front of his office, he spent half an hour listening to jazz on the floor, went to argue with Cuddy - nothing helped. Around ten in the night his thigh was burning and throbbing in agony, and he couldn't force himself to focus. He finally gave up an hour and a half later, after Foreman had to repeat the latest test results three times, before House registered what the man was even talking about.
"I'm going home" he said and, not paying any attention to his Ducklings' protests, slowly walked to the door. "Make sure the patient doesn't kick off until morning. And run some tests, we'll need new ideas tomorrow, the ones from today apparently suck."
Half an hour later House clambered out of the cad and, carefully stepping around the freezing puddles, walked to the green door at 221B. He went inside, leaving the frozen and rain-soaked street behind and sighed in relief. Without taking his shoes off he dragged himself to the couch, fell on the soft cushions with a blissful expression and closed his eyes.
"Wilson, I'm home!" he yelled.
Nothing. He didn't hear the pitter-patter of soft paws on a wood floor, or that strange squeak that Wilson always made when he said his name. No sound at all.
"Wilson?" repeated House and opened his eyes. Something was wrong. The apartment looked exactly like it always did, bur for some reason it seemed strangely... empty. Something was missing.
House grimaced and got up from the couch. Fifteen minutes later he knew, what was wrong. The apartment was missing a cat.
Wilson wasn't in the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen or the living room. House, ignoring the protests voiced by his leg, looked under every dresser and shelf, under the bed, in every corner of the apartment - including the ones not big enough to fit a mouse, not to mention a grown cat. He even checked the oven, the washing machine and the closed underwear drawer. Nothing.
Apparently Wilson managed to get out of the apartment somehow and he disappeared, even if House had no idea how the cat did that. All the windows had been closed and the only person, beside him, who had the key, was in New York.
House stood leaning against the counter in the kitchen, stared at the empty bowl on the floor, and, not very effectively, tried to convince himself that he wasn't feeling sad, when the doorbell rang. House glanced at his watch and looked at the door with surprise. Only one person ever came by at that hour, but...
"Wilson?" said House, staring at his completely drenched friend, standing behind the door.
"Hi" said Wilson quietly.
"What are you doing here? I thought you were coming back on Saturday morning?"
Wilson didn't answer, only fixed his eyes on the floor. Something was wrong. Getting more worried by a minute, House stepped aside to let him in. Wilson went inside and for a minute just stood without a word next to the couch, dark puddle growing on a carpet under his feet.
"What happened?" House broke the silence and walked up to Wilson. The younger man raised his eyes and for a moment it seemed like he wanted to say something, but in the end he looked down again and just stood there, shivering from the cold, drops of water falling from his soaked, brown hair.
"Wilson? Jimmy?" said House quietly, putting his hand on Wilson's shoulder. "Christ, say something! You know I'm hopeless with this stuff..."
Wilson took a step forward and hugged House, hiding his face in House's shoulder. House stopped in the middle of a word and froze with his arms full of a shivering oncologists but without a faintest idea what was going on.
"I'm sorry" whispered Wilson, holding on to the fabric of House's shirt for dear life.
"What for?" asked House, completely confused. "You have nothing to be sorry..."
"I'm sorry!" Wilson interrupted him, his voice frantic. "Christ, House... I... I had no idea... I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..."
"What for?" repeated House, putting an uncertain and awkward hand on Wilson's shaking back.
"I... You told us so many times and we... And I... I never believed you! I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
"All right, it's all right now" said House quietly, desperately searching for something that would calm his friend down. "It's not your fault. Life is just..."
"...unfair and sucks. I know" finished Wilson.
Stunned, House took half a step back and looked at his friend. "How..."
Wilson sniffled and smiled a little. "It usually is. But not always, it doesn't have to be. House, no matter what, you are not, you never were and you never will be a worthless, pathetic cripple" he said with sudden seriousness, looking House straight in the eye.
House froze. Impossible, flashed through his head. How did he... Completely flabbergasted, he stared at Wilson, and his brilliant mind created one possible explanation after another, throwing them all away after a moment of consideration. All but one.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
"Wilson?" whispered House with disbelief and... hope?
Wilson gave him a wide smile.