As Wilson followed House out of his office, turning out the light and shutting the door behind him, a sense of overwhelming relief came over him. It was as if he had been carrying a heavy and cumbersome weight for hours, simply because he had no idea where it belonged – and finally, finally he had found its place and laid it down.
Things were as they should be.
House was his friend again.
Still, a pensive frown creased his brow as he regarded the taut carriage of his friend's shoulders, the uncertainty in House's eyes as he sneaked a searching glance at Wilson again. Wilson allowed the thoughtful expression to fade into a reassuring smile, touching House's shoulder briefly as he walked beside him toward the exit.
The drive to the restaurant was strangely awkward, considering their reconciliation only minutes before. House seemed a bit nervous and awkward, as if he wasn't sure what to say – or what to do with his hands, for that matter. He fidgeted with the glove box, the visor, the vents, anything he could get his hands on.
Wilson understood his unease… because he felt it, too.
They were going to be okay; of that Wilson was certain. There was too much shared history, too much knowledge and intimacy between them, for their friendship to ever really end. Wilson knew that now. They were friends, for better or worse, whether they wanted to be or not.
And yet, there was so much yet unsaid between them, so much which still needed to be dealt with. Yes, they were friends again – but on what terms? What had changed, what was the same – there was no way of knowing yet. He almost felt as if they would have to relearn the ease of camaraderie that had been so damaged by the past few months of distance and isolation.
There was so much each wanted to ask, to tell; and yet, neither seemed to know where to begin.
It felt almost like a first date.
Wilson smiled at that thought, shaking his head slightly.
House immediately looked up at him, eyes wide and searching. "What?" There was an undeniable note of suspicion in his voice.
"Paranoid much?" Wilson smirked. "It's nothing; I was just… thinking about how now, of all times, is the time you finally choose to keep your mouth shut."
House returned his smile, though there was little humor behind it. "Not quite worth the process to get there, was it?"
Wilson winced slightly at the utterly inappropriate comment, but just shook his head. "No," he agreed. "No, it wasn't."
Awkward silence consumed the rest of the drive.
They had been in the restaurant for ten minutes when Wilson figured out that by Are you hungry? House really meant, Do you want to go out and get totally wasted? Of course, Wilson didn't actually have that option, considering that House managed to consume four drinks in less than an hour, while merely picking at his food.
For once, Wilson didn't mind.
House was just beginning to come to terms with what he'd spent the last several days avoiding – the fact that the man who had raised him, molded him into the man he had become, was really gone. If he needed some liquid assistance in dealing with that, Wilson would not begrudge it to him.
Besides, the more House had to drink, the more comfortable he became – and the less awkward everything was. House filled Wilson in on the hospital gossip he had missed in the past few weeks, and before long, Wilson was having fun again – the kind of fun he had missed so much during the separation he had enforced.
The kind of fun he never had with anyone but House.
After House's fifth drink, Wilson laughingly beckoned the waiter, informing House with a patient smile, "I'm cutting you off, mister. Let's get you home."
The ride home was considerably less awkward, with House singing loudly and off key to the music on the radio. When some terribly misguided deejay played a familiar selection by Hanson, House and Wilson's eyes met, and they burst into sputtering laughter. Wilson remembered so many moments like that one before – moments in which all it took was a look, a shared memory, to send them into hysterics, while others around them looked on in confusion.
It was familiar, and safe, and comforting – and perfect.
Wilson took House inside, where he immediately flopped down on his sofa, lifting his right leg to rest it on the coffee table, eyes closed, a silly smile of contentment on his face.
"Well, I… guess I'll go," Wilson said, taking his car keys from his pocket and heading toward the door. "This was fun, House…"
"Don't go," House whined, his lips forming a disappointed pout. "I only just got you back, and you're leaving already?"
Wilson blinked, startled by the open neediness of the words. House was always needy, but he was almost never so obvious about it. Wilson's expression softened as he met his friend's eyes, and saw insecurity there.
And I put it there, he reminded himself with an inward wince. He probably thinks I won't come back. That this was just – pity, because his dad died. God… his dad died! Between that, and us being friends again, and the alcohol… no wonder he's a little more vulnerable tonight.
"I guess I don't have to go… just yet." Wilson relented, tossing his keys down on the coffee table as he sat down beside House. "Anything good on tonight?" He nodded toward the television.
House shrugged listlessly, looking back toward the television. "Miss America pageant," he offered half-heartedly. "They should be almost to the swimsuit competition."
They sat there in silence for a few minutes, not really listening to the vapid commentary, laughing at House's occasional crude and appreciative comments about the contestants as they made their way across the stage. After a little while, however, House's comments got farther and farther apart, until he wasn't talking at all anymore. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up the remote and pushed the mute button.
Wilson gave him a curious look, which quickly became a look of concern when he saw that House's drunken cheer had gradually shifted to a pensive, morose mood that was probably normal given his circumstances, but was much less guarded than it might have otherwise been. House was looking at the television, but seemed a thousand miles away, lost in his own thoughts.
"House?" Wilson ventured softly. "Everything okay?"
When he finally spoke, House's words came out slow and even, as if he was just processing them mentally as they came out of his mouth.
"He wasn't… my father."
Wilson was quiet for a moment before agreeing quietly. "No."
"And… it doesn't matter."
Wilson sensed that House had more to say, and was simply working out the words, so he kept quiet, just patiently watching and waiting.
"Nothing's changed. It seems like… the things he said… the things he did…shouldn't matter so much. The fact that he raised me was nothing more than a matter of coincidence and convenience. His opinion of me shouldn't matter anymore."
"But it does," Wilson concluded gently.
House nodded, still staring at the television screen. "Yeah."
After a quiet moment, Wilson shrugged slightly, frowning thoughtfully as he tried to come up with the words he thought House needed to hear.
"Well… that's normal, House. One DNA test forty-odd years later doesn't change the fact that he's the man you had a relationship with."
"No, I didn't."
"Still…" Wilson sighed sympathetically, giving House an apologetic look, "…he was your father in every way that really matters."
"I know." House paused a moment, adding quietly, "That's what sucks." He drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly before adding in a voice of quiet resentment, "He meant nothing to me before I knew he wasn't my father. Now he should mean less than nothing. So why doesn't he?"
"Because he never meant nothing to you, House." Wilson's voice was gentle, patient, not wanting to push too hard.
"Like hell he didn't," House muttered, looking away.
"House…" Wilson began cautiously. "…I know he was a terrible excuse for a father. I know he made your life a living hell for at least eighteen years, and you have no reason in the world to… to love him, or to grieve for him." He was quiet a moment, allowing the words to sink in before adding softly, "It's okay if you do, anyway."
House swallowed hard, and the suspicious shine in his eyes told Wilson his words were well-aimed. Stubbornly, House insisted, "I hated him."
Wilson's voice was gentle and quiet, filled with compassion as he stated simply, "I don't believe you."
House flinched slightly, turning his face away – but too late to hide the look of hurt and confusion in his eyes, made too obvious by his rare state of vulnerability.
In a single day he had faced the death of his father, confirmation of a childhood question that had informed his entire life, and getting back something so precious to him that he was terrified if he loosened his grip on it for just a moment, it would fly away again, leaving him alone to deal with his pain and loss.
These things had slowly, insistently picked and pulled at his walls throughout the day, until now, those carefully guarded borders lay in fragments at his feet.
Wilson's sympathetic touch, a gentle hand on House's shoulder, was all it took.
House leaned forward, hiding his face in his hands in a vain attempt to conceal the tears that shook him. A moment later, he felt Wilson's strong arms around him, pulling him firmly into his embrace, and holding him steady, holding him together…
Just holding him.
"Shhh… that's all right… it's all right…"
Wilson quietly soothed him, rocking slightly, one hand threading gently through House's hair as he did his best to comfort his grieving friend. House had fought for so many years to convince himself, and everyone around him, that John House meant nothing to him – but in the end, he couldn't conceal the loss he felt, not for what was, but for what he'd always wished could be.
Gradually, House's tears ebbed away, his sobs quieting, but he made no move to leave the shelter of Wilson's embrace – and Wilson made no move to make him. They just sat there in the midst of a heavy silence, weighted with the unspoken words of House's grief and pain. Wilson knew there was more House needed to let out, but was unsure of whether he could get him to do so.
He kept stroking his fingers gently through House's hair, well aware that at any other moment, he'd have been rudely shoved away for such a sentimental gesture.
At the moment, sentimental seemed to be just what House needed.
After a few moments, Wilson finally ventured, "House? This afternoon… when you gave the eulogy… you said... well, you started to say… you wished… something was different, I guess? I don't really know… but… but I'd like to."
House shook his head in silent refusal, not lifting his face from where it was buried against Wilson's chest. "Don't, Wilson," he warned in a quiet, hoarse voice.
"House… talk to me," Wilson urged him softly. "What were you going to say?"
"I… didn't even know." House shrugged slightly. "Okay? I don't think I had any idea then what I was going to say."
Wilson was quiet for a moment, considering his choice of words before concluding, "But… you do now."
"House." Wilson's voice was very quiet, gently searching. "What were you going to say? Go ahead. Just talk to me."
"I don't know," Houser reluctantly replied, his voice small and uncertain as he began. "I just wish… I wish he'd ever once listened to a thing I had to say. I wish I knew… what I did wrong, to… to make him hate me so much." House's voice broke over the words, and he drew in a deep breath before continuing, a little stronger. "I wish… I could ask him… why he did the things he did to me… what I could have possibly done at the age of six to make him… to make him…"
House shook his head, sitting up slightly. His red-rimmed eyes were averted, but Wilson could see his face as he swiped angrily at his tears.
"I wish that just once, who I was would have been good enough to make him happy – that he could have been proud of me and accepted me as I was… just once. I wish he'd said he was sorry, for what he did… to me, and… and to Mom… or at least admitted that it happened… at least acknowledged in some way that at least some part of our crappy relationship was his fault, too."
His voice dropped to a whisper, his eyes closed against the pain, as he finished in a voice full of pain decades old.
"I wish that one time… in forty-nine years… I'd ever heard him say… he loved me…"
Wilson's heart ached with grief for the pain House was experiencing – as well as guilt, as he recognized in House's anguished, longing words the needs that he himself had denied House as well. The need for acceptance, for understanding that who he was as a person was not inherently wrong, flawed beyond repair – Wilson knew all at once that he had failed to meet.
All I ever did was tell him how messed up he is… how many things he needs to "fix" about himself… and all this time, he just needed to know that he's okay… that he's worthy, and deserving of love… just the way he is…
House's words echoing in judgment in Wilson's mind, tears sprang to his eyes, as he reached out to take his friend by the shoulders, silently leading him to look up and meet his regretful gaze.
"House… he's gone," he began gently, his voice aching with sorrow and remorse. "You will never get those things from him… not now. But… you need to know some things. I need… to tell you…"
House was quiet, searching Wilson's face with an uncertain, vaguely fearful expression.
Even now, he thinks I'm going to take it back – thinks it's possible that I might walk out on him again… and he's the one that's supposedly done so much damage?
"I've been so wrong," Wilson confessed softly, shaking his head as tears streaked his face. "I was wrong to treat you like you couldn't make your own decisions all these years, like every decision you did make was the wrong one. I was wrong to make you feel like you… weren't good enough…"
House opened his mouth to object, but Wilson held up a hand to silence him.
"No, House. I'm your friend – and a friend should accept the person you are, not try to change you into someone else. You are fine the way you are. Just exactly the way you are… is exactly what I need." Wilson paused, shaking his head. "It just took me way too long to figure that out."
House's eyes were wide, stunned and a little bewildered at the words he had never dreamed of hearing, especially not from Wilson.
"I was wrong to walk out on our friendship, House. I was wrong to make you feel like you had to somehow earn my friendship. All the bad stuff – all the things that need to change – are my fault as much as yours. Maybe more. It was just… easier, to pretend that I could walk away from my own problems by walking away from you. But… the truth is, House…" Wilson hesitated, before admitting softly, "…you're the only thing in my life that makes my problems bearable. I was ten times as miserable without you as I ever was with you, and… and it made me wonder… who was the one spreading the misery around, after all."
He let out a quiet, ironic laugh, and was relieved when House responded with a weak smile, blinking away tears.
"So does that mean I should start blaming you for my break up with Stacy?"
Wilson laughed, a real laugh this time, and House joined in, the laughter just another part of the cleansing catharsis begun by their shared tears.
They talked for a long time after that.
House opened up to Wilson in ways he'd never expected, spurred to a new level of trust by the unconditional acceptance and understanding he'd always longed for, but never received from anyone – until tonight. Wilson listened to the stories House told him, the bittersweet memories from his childhood, and felt that he gained a better understanding of the man he had called his best friend for so many years, but in some ways, had barely known.
House had been badly hurt early in life by the man who should have protected and nurtured him – and it had served to damage his sense of trust, as well as his self-worth. Wilson found himself feeling strongly protective of his friend, wanting to undo the damage that had been wrought by years of abuse – by his father in his childhood, and later in life, by other adults who had deceived him, taken advantage of him, taken control from him over things he should have controlled, out of a misguided attempt to do what was "best" for him.
Wilson knew there was so much damage, it wasn't possible to undo all of it.
But maybe I can start working on my share of it… the things I caused… Wilson told himself with new resolve. I can make sure he knows, from now on, that he's accepted… that he's loved… for who he is, not in spite of it… Maybe, just maybe… I can make a few of those unfinished wishes come true…