One Step Closer Away.

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By G-Lady.

REPOSTING DUE TO CHANGES MADE.

Originally posted in late 2007.

House & Wilson centric. ALL YOU HAVE TO KNOW in this universe - set near the end of Season III - Foreman accepted Cuddy's offer to head up his own Neurology Dept, Chase assists him, and Cameron (still an item with Chase) continues to work under House. Everything else is the same.

Characters: House, Wilson, Cuddy, Cameron, Chase, Foreman.

Pairing: House/Cuddy (a bit), House/Wilson ( a LOT)

Rating: NG-17. Pre-slash, Slash.

Content: Angst, Hurt, Love, Violence.

Disclaimer: Fox/David Shore and others own 'em. I just write about 'em.

"...I leaped headlong into the Sea, and thereby have become acquainted with the Soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice."

John Keats.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"What's Wilson's problem?"

Doctor Lisa Cuddy, Administrator of Princeton Plainsborough Teaching Hospital, hoped if she didn't answer Gregory House, he would turn around and leave her office. Her desk was piled with paperwork and her mood was sour.

"Hello?" House plopped himself down in the chair opposite her desk, hooking his newest cane over the chair's arm. The cane was deep, rich wood with a curving brass handle in the shape of a naked lady.

Sighing, she knew he wouldn't leave until he had his say. That he had limped his way to her office was telling enough. He never dragged his painful leg anywhere without specific purpose.

Not looking up, "House, I've had a rotten day and it's still not over. I have a lump of files to go through and a now another lump sitting opposite me. Go do the clinic hours you promised so I don't have to dock your pay and make for myself yet more paperwork."

"Wilson," He began, ignoring her acerbic commentary, "is avoiding me."

Considering who was addressing her, she was unimpressed. "Someone's avoiding the biggest pain-in-the-butt in the hospital and you're surprised because...?"

"Because Wilson's a gooey "I just wanna help" kinda' guy and I'm his best buddy. If it was Foreman avoiding me, I'd be handing out cigars."

Again, Cuddy felt a tad regretful that she'd kept Foreman on as Head of Neurology. He'd been strutting around like a rooster, rubbing House's face in it every chance he got and the backlash - House - kept ending up on her doorstep.

"So go talk to him." She said, turning her attention back to her papers.

"I tried, hence the fact that I noticed he's avoiding me. I saw him twice today and when I tried to talk to him, he walked the other way." House patiently explained as though to a four year old.

"Then call him. I have no time to referee you two."

House pushed down hard on the chair's padded arms and heaved himself to his feet. "Tried. He won't pick up. Has he talked to you?"

"No. He came once, saw I was busy, and politely stated that he'd come back tomorrow."

House got the back-handed point as he dot-and-oned his way to her door. "Sheesh. Avoidance and Surly, two dwarfs that I guess didn't make the final cut." He threw over his shoulder.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Wilson dismissed his latest patient with the soothing words of experience: Yes, the cancer was advanced, but there were new breakthroughs all the time. He would do his best to get her into any trials that fit the profile of her particular disease. Yes, she could call him at the hospital anytime if she had any concerns. No, it was no problem. Of course, yes. Goodbye.

House passed the woman with the drawn, grey face as she exited, and he entered, Wilson's office. "Hey-"

"I'm busy." Wilson stated before House had a chance to say any more.

House made himself comfortable on Wilson's couch. "No, you're not, your newest case of body-rot just left."

"She has cancer!" Wilson snapped, then calmed immediately. He had not intended to sound so harsh. It was just House being House but today, in fact lately, House had been getting under his skin in a variety of ways and presently Wilson felt not the capacity enough to endure the man's electric personality.

House raised delicate eyebrows at his friend's bark. Trying to lighten the moment, "Feeling a bit droopy? Did Cuddy turn you down again?"

Wilson thought best not to try and par with House. "No. It's been a crazy busy few days and I'm tired as hell."

"All the more reason we need to go out and get sloshed. Turnbull's having an all-you-can-drink and-eat-night-"

"-Not tonight." Wilson said quickly.

House actually stopped mid-sentence, his face showing a rare, and fleeting, hurt. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared. He nodded, accepting Wilson's forthright answer, and more subtle dismissal.

Wilson watched his friend exit his office with a pang of conscience. What he knew, and what he had not told House, would have been worse. Wilson rubbed his aching temples. Life had gotten more complicated than he had ever expected, and even more disappointing. He did not know what to say. He did not know what to do.

That last wasn't entirely accurate. He knew what he had to do; what he was planning already to do.

He just didn't know how to tell House.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Are you sure you want this?" Cuddy asked her Oncology Department Head. James Wilson nodded.

"I need this." He shook his head back and forth a little as though trying to figure it out for himself. "Things have been,...hard for a while, and it seems like my career is going forward about as quickly as my life had been." He smiled a little sadly. "Not moving, in other words."

"Have you discussed this with House?" Cuddy asked.

No, and I have no intention to. "Yes. I mean, I'm going to. Do you think he'll take it hard?"

"Well, Duh." She stood and walked around her desk. "You've worked on the same floor for - what? - eight years? Now you want to move your office to another wing? Convince me that this ISN'T about House."

Wilson tried to explain, to himself as much to Cuddy. "I need...space. House is my friend but he's,..." He tried searching for an explanation that to the intelligent Administrator would sound like the truth. Cuddy rarely missed anything. "House is exhausting. I need time to...unwind. Time to figure out if I want something besides to be House's conscience or the guy who always watches his back even when he doesn't care whether I do or not." He shrugged. "I know it sounds lame, but I'm...tired."

Cuddy, memory thick with her own experiences helping House out of this or that jam, understood Wilson's problem , if not his solution.

She nodded. "Okay. I'll start the paperwork. It'll be a couple of weeks."

Wilson nodded back, in gratitude. "Thanks."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

When House entered Wilson's office it was the next day and he stood before his desk like a churning storm, ready to unleash. "Why didn't you tell me you were moving to the South Wing?"

Wilson's face turned pink, not just from the embarrassment of not having told House his intentions but because he was going to lie about the reason. "Cuddy's moving me." She'd promised to back him up on the lie. Coward! His conscience shouted. Liar! Wimp!

"Yeah. I asked her. She says she's hiring new staff and they need your space until they get used to the place. What the hell kind of reason is that?" House asked - rhetorically - because he answered for himself. "If some new idiot needs to get used to Princeton, he can get "used to it" just as easily from the South wing as from here."

Wilson silently agreed. It was a stupid lie and, Cuddy had pointed out, since she was hiring no new staff House would certainly find that out. But, Wilson had argued, it would give him time to finish the actual move and by then it would be too late for House to scheme out a plan to stop it. Besides, it gave him time to think of a better lie to tell House once the man figured out their duplicity.

Seems he and Cuddy were always hatching a lie or two where House was concerned. All for Greg's better, Wilson told himself. Right? It would be easier on House in the long run.

Yes. Correct.

"A change of horizon's good for the soul." Wilson quipped. How asinine!

"Right. And life is a roller coaster - I gotta puke!"

Wilson tried for a chuckle but it came out a small cough. He continued to place books and folders neatly in boxes while, for a few seconds, House stood and watched.

"How are we suppose to go for lunch or discuss the newest hot nurse's cup-size?" House asked.

His crippled friend walking all the way to the South Wing without a lot of pain would be difficult. Which was the point. "We'll still do those things." Wilson lied. He would have to have a jar stuffed of ready excuses as to why he wouldn't be able to join House very often for the afore-mentioned lunch-time camaraderie. Wilson, you're a cowardly son-of-a-bitch.

House looked at his cane, a sub-conscious gesture he often resorted to when faced with things he either did not understand or could do nothing to altar. "You'll have to do the walking over here."

"'Course."

House still didn't make a move toward Wilson's office door.

Leave, House, and let me burn in my own shame. Wilson felt House's eyes on him and knew House suspected there was more to his office move than met the eye. "So..."

Wilson cringed inside. Here it came, the question that could not be answered.

"...how's everything else going?" House asked quietly.

A question of inquiry. Of, perhaps, concern. Unexpected. And unusual. Wilson played it for all it was worth. Anything to avoid the stinging truth. "Are you actually asking after my health and life?"

House looked a bit uncomfortable. "Sure."

Wilson felt on more secure ground. "Things are...fine. I guess. The usual. I was thinking of going to see my parents. They're buying a new house and want me to see it. Maybe I'll go next month for a couple of weeks..." He could tell House was already bored with the conversation. He tapped his cane impatiently on the tiles.

Wilson looked at his watch. "Oh, I've got a patient arriving in about five minutes..." He hoped that would be enough to prompt House into making a hasty exit.

Though rarely succeeding, this time it worked.

"See you later."

House nodded but didn't answer. He walked out, a bit slowly, as though reluctant to end the one, short conversation he'd had with Wilson in four days.

Wilson placed his palms on his desk and breathed a sigh of relief. Then he sat and waited for his patient, who was not arriving for another thirty minutes. Even Cuddy had no idea why he was really moving offices. Really. But she had the tact to not ask.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

As the day grew nearer for Wilson to leave for the South Wing, House started making noises to Cuddy for the same thing. He wanted his office moved as well.

Wilson ambushed Cuddy on her way out the door that same day. "You can't let him move offices."

She pulled him aside to allow others to pass out the door for the night. "I know. But he's come up with several reasons that are hard to argue. Being able to consult with you, for starters..."

"He can consult Foreman and Chase. He's still got Cameron-"

"-Yes." She looked at him squarely. "But you're his friend. His only friend." She pointed out.

That was another thing. "I can't be that anymore. His only friend, I mean. He's forty-seven years old-"

"-He's lonely."

"Who isn't?" He put his hands on his hips and explained his rehearsed, part-truth reasoning. "For years in this hospital I've been: "The guy who's friend's with the bastard", "House's idiot" and "Jerk-face's lap-dog". I have no other friends. Not because I don't want them, but because he sucks the energy completely out of me.

"When he needs something, he's at me all the time until he gets it. When I need something, he tells me to go talk to you or call a Rabbi. It must sound like I'm a teenager but I can't..." He struggled to find the words that would inculcate his meaning into Cuddy so she would have no doubt. "...I've had three marriages dissolve and, in every case, part of the problem was House. And it wasn't really his fault because I let him interfere. I allowed him to come before my wife. Not just occasionally, but often."

Wilson sighed, rubbing his eyes with one hand. "If I don't get on with living my own life, things are never going to change for me. I'm not willing to let that happen. Not anymore, not after-" He looked at Cuddy, knowing she that she had endured almost as much as he had, "..not after this last year, I,..it's too much. I just can't do this anymore."

Cuddy pursed her lips. "I'll deny his request to transfer. But eventually you're going to have to tell him the truth."

"I know. I just don't want to hurt him."

"Do you think he's not hurting now?"

Wilson shrugged. The indecision itself was a painful bitch.

A small office-move party was held in Wilson's honor in the Cafeteria. House got him a set of walkie-talkies - keeping one for himself - so, he explained, they could talk back and forth where-ever they were. It was a typical, juvenile gift from his genius friend.

"You know we can't use these in the hospital?" Wilson reminded him.

"Thh-poil thh-port." House said in a reasonable facsimile of Sylvester the cat. House also got him a box of flavored condoms. "For all those un-a-foreseen nurses you'll be wanting to boink."

It solicited a good round of laughter from some and rolled eyeballs from others.

Cuddy got him a new name plate and a ticket to a hockey game. Foreman, Chase and Cameron all pitched in and got him a weekend's fishing up-state.

Cocktails and handshakes all around and the festivities soon waned to a few who stayed around only to finish up the punch.

House licked frosting from his fingers. He'd wolfed down three pieces of chocolate cake and walked with Wilson back to his old office.

Wilson piled his gifts on top of the already full to bursting last box and gathered it under his arm. "This is it." He said lamely.

House just said, "Don't be a stranger."

Wilson stuck his hand out for House to shake and knew immediately that it was a mistake. House looked down at it as though at an alien appendage. "We're shaking hands? You're not off to make your fortune, Jimmy. You're moving one hospital wing away."

"Right." Wilson agreed, feeling foolish.

"Call me later." House said and turned away. Wilson watched him hitch away to the elevator. He suddenly wanted to forget the whole thing and tell House it was all an elaborate joke. But instead he let the elevator doors open. House entered it without looking back.

Wilson felt sick to his stomach.

Everybody lies.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

After a week of Wilson's evasive excuses, House solved his mobility problem by borrowing a motorized wheelchair belonging to a bedridden patient and before long was whizzing his way along the corridor's of Plainsborough's South Wing.

"So?" House said loudly as he maneuvered through Wilson's door, making Wilson jump like he'd been stung. "This is your new digs?" House glanced around at the smaller office. "An inferior interior if you ask me. How is this better than being beside me?"

House launched himself out of the chair with the assistance of his naked lady cane.

Wilson shrugged. "It's not that bad, a little smaller but-"

"No." House interrupted him with a soft, calculated tone that said 'You're a liar.' "No. I mean How Is This Better Than Being Beside Me? More to the point, Why did you move your office here?"

Wilson swallowed.

House saw the hesitation and fear in his friends eyes. "It's Truth or Consequences time, and our contestant is Wilson!" House announced like Bob Barker.

Wilson sat heavily in his desk chair. "I didn't want my office beside yours anymore." Let it be Consequences then.

House looked disappointed. Soon it would turn to hurt. "Why not?"

Wilson wished he had prepared himself for this move. Leave it to House to resort to the sin of theft to force another into the cleansing of a confession. "I need space."

"You had space. More space than this closet."

Closet...

Confining. Dark. Sweaty. See nothing, be still...

Be invisible.

"I needed space.." Wilson took one courageous breath. "...from you."

House stared, his normally animated face unreadable. In shock? "Ah." He finally said. "My mouthwash not making it?"

Wilson drew a tired hand down his face. "Do you think it might be possible for you to treat this conversation with a bit of seriousness? Just have a go at it, for once?"

House looked out the tiny, balcony less window just for a second, then back to Wilson. "Being serious, yeah. I guess that's way more important than telling me the truth."

He'd steeled himself for it, but House's anger and hurt cut deeply.

Wilson stood, crossing his arms. "I'm going through something in my life right now," He articulated so House would have no doubt, "that I can't talk to you about."

"Okay. Keeping your mouth closed about it might have been easier than moving half a hospital away and then lying to me." House's tone dripped sarcasm. Then, without rancor, "How do you know I'd want to hear about it anyway?"

"History." Wilson said.

House squinted his eyes and turned his head in that way that Wilson hated, the way that said, You're an idiot and I'm about to educate you on how big of one. "Why didn't I think of that? Of course, "History"!" House hit his forehead with the palm of his hand. "How stupid of me. That explains everything!"

"I mean your history with me. Your inability to show the slightest concern about anything going on in my life - unless it directly relates to, and enhances, your own narcissistic needs. I can't remember a time when you dropped in on me to see if I was okay. When you called me to invite me over just because you thought I might need the company, or a friend, or to talk...about a problem I was having."

"I get you drunk and rent a porn movie. That's how I help you. Maybe it's not touchy-feel-y but you know that's not-"

"-"Your way", I know." Wilson finished. "And that's become the problem I guess." Wilson looked at his shoes. "House. I'm pushing forty and recently I realized I'm not happy with my life. I have to change it. I need to change it. And this next change,...I want to work. And with you there, in the center, I just don't think it could."

House stared and Wilson could see the anger draining from his scruffy cheeks. Replaced with confusion and pain, House said, "I'm the change."

Wilson could not look at him. "Yes." It came out half-squeak.

House gestured at the undecorated walls of the office space. "So this move was to get rid of me by you getting rid of you?"

The phrasing was like a punch to Wilson's gut. Wilson felt as though he were tossing House aside as he might a used tissue. He thought the floor would open up and swallow him. He nodded once, biting his lip. The worst heel ever born is called James Wilson. Look it up.

House stared at him, then glanced away and did not look back again. Instead he sat down in the wheelchair and maneuvered it to the door. He did not look back even once.

"Bye Wilson."

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For the first week and a half, Wilson felt relieved, almost light on his feet. Almost. It was refreshing not to have House at his elbow with this or that want or need.

It was also unsettling. Particularly when to his mind would pop the memory of some small kindness or gift that House had, just occasionally, bestowed upon him unexpectedly. House liked to give gifts but not according to the dictates of societies urgent celebrations such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or birthdays. He preferred to give them when he wanted to.

"If someone else tells me I'm supposed to give you a present, it isn't actually from me, is it?" House had once answered when a sulking Wilson had remarked that he had not received a Thirtieth Birthday gift from his best friend.

Wilson thought he ought to call Cuddy to see how House was doing. One hand held the receiver but the other hung in mid air, refusing to press the appropriate numbers. He put the phone down and sat at his desk. It was Thursday, November Tenth. Paperwork was caught up and his next patient was not due until two-thirty. By his watch, Wilson saw he had about two hours to burn before then.

Lunch at the Hospital Cafeteria was out because House was likely to be there. He grabbed his overcoat off the hook on the door and walked to the elevator. Lunch a few blocks over would be fine. There was a small café that served muffins, sandwiches and passable coffee.

Then there was to wait for his patient. Then there was to wait for quitting time. Then for suppertime. Then for bed.

At two-thirty-four his client, a small, boney woman well along with colorectal cancer arrived for her new prescription med's. Wilson spent a few minutes explaining the possible side effects. She nodded, her balding head wrapped in a pink-flowered blue scarf as he explained, once again, the virtues of hope.

xxxxx

Using his cane, House pushed open the door to Cuddy's office, the cane entering before his limping self followed.

Cuddy dreaded these visits, that is, the new twist they had taken. House was on the hunt for the explanation behind Wilson's sudden severance of their friendship. He was smarting and angry and being House, had no idea what to do but diagnose the symptoms.

"I'm busy." She tried, knowing it was futile.

"I'm not." He sat down opposite her and she allowed it because she knew he was hurting and needed the company. "I've noticed, however, that though you say you're busy, you're NOT busy moving any new staff into Wilson's old office."

"That's because I haven't hired anyone yet."

"You haven't even accepted any resume's yet."

Cuddy tossed him a doubting smirk. "How would you know?"

House ran his eye over her desk and the piles of folders and binders on the low shelves behind her. "Your folders are all still where there were a week ago, the piles haven't gotten higher or lower. I know you don't keep them in your fashionably small desk drawers. That's where you keep staplers, pens, Super-tampons for those "heavy days", extra panties in case of a bloody boo-boo and eye-bag concealer.

"I've seen no new faces anywhere, other than the boring patients with the sniffles I'm forced to contend with in the Clinic, and Harold the maintenance man is suspiciously not busy removing Wilson's name from off of Wilson's old office door." He took a long breath. "For starters."

"My God, it's obvious that you have not been given enough cases this week." She looked down at the forms in front of her. They were, in fact, separation papers for a nurse who was moving at the end of the month. Plainsborough did not require a replacement but she wasn't about to tell House that.

"Do you also know," she asked coolly, "how many times a day I take a pee?"

"Mmmm, depends on how good the cafeteria coffee is."

What bugged her the most was he probably wasn't kidding. He knew.

Cuddy sighed and blew her nose.

"Are you sick?" He asked, suddenly serious of face.

Cuddy shook her head. House was always a surprise. One minute he was doing his best to insult her, the next he showed genuine concern about her well being. "No. My car's in the shop so I walked part way to work. The cold air always makes my nose run."

"Makes it Rudolf red too." He said. "Does it also make it grow, Pinochio? Your nose is much bigger since Wilson took his ball and left the playground."

She glared daggers. "Fine. You win. There isn't new staff moving in. What do you want me to do, House? Tell Wilson to come home and play nice?"

"No, I want to know why he suddenly can't stand the sight of me."

"I thought he told you why."

"He lied."

Cuddy didn't know all the reasons behind Wilson's decision to put distance between himself and House but she was tiring of the dancing parlay' between them and her. "Well, I'm not going to talk to him for you. You boys are just going to have to sort the marbles out on your own."

House stood though he was reluctant to leave. He had nothing to do and, in the past, whenever boredom confronted him he would wander to Wilson's office and dilute the stupor with a few jokes or chit-chat about their current respective cases.

Foreman could barely stand him, Chase was far too busy running after Foreman and Cameron, well, she was so deep in sugary eyed sympathy for his present predicament that whenever he got too close to her, he felt the keen need for a shot of insulin.

As he moved to leave, House stole a glance down Cuddy's low cut blouse.

"And stop staring at my breasts!" She barked.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

At the end of the second Wilson-less week House borrowed the electric wheelchair and once again motored over to the South wing. It was two-twenty-five on a Thursday and he was determined he would have the truth by three.

Wilson's office door opened and House burst in (as fast as a man with a cane can burst into a small room).

"House, I'm with a patient."

House all but ignored the frail female and addressed himself to Wilson. "Why don't you want to hang with me anymore? What changed from last month to this one?"

With an apologetic look to his shocked patient, Wilson stood and quickly moved to House, his hands up to guide the irate doctor to the door. "We'll discuss this later. right now-"

House refused to budge. "We'll discuss it now." To the woman, "Nice scarf. If you're a patient of Wilson's, I assume that means you're dying? So two minutes more or less won't make much difference unless of course you're dying right now - am I right?"

Wilson's eyes were black with fury and his cheeks burned red.

The timid patient pleaded to him, "Maybe I should go, Doctor Wilson? I have an engagement."

"Splendid idea." House quipped. "Those wigs aren't going to buy themselves."

Wilson shoved him toward the door. "That's it, House, GET OUT!"

"Not until you tell me the truth!"

"I told you the truth. You just can't handle it."

"What I can't handle is the load of crap you fed me last week." House gestured to the frightened woman. "Did you tell her the truth?"

Wilson stared at House as though to a crazy man. "What does my patient have to do with anything?"

House gave the woman a quick once-over with the trained eye of a diagnostic physician. "You've got a bandage and a pelvic wrap under your dress. You had an abdominal skin metastasises removed, right? That means you were diagnosed with, probably, colorectal cancer - what - five years ago? Now you're about to get the latest experimental med's and radiation on any new legions in what I'm thinking are your inguinal lymph nodes.-"

"Hous-s-s-e..." Wilson's voice was a deadly warning.

House ignored him. "So Doctor Wilson here has probably told you that you might see another year?"

The woman stared up at House in white-faced shock. Though her eyes were saucers of horror, she effected one, tiny affirmative nod.

"He's lying. You've got four months, tops."

With white fists Wilson grabbed House by his shirt collar, throwing him off-balance, and unceremoniously began pushing him out the door. In the hallway, House managed to get his feet under him and somehow stood his ground against his furious former friend and colleague.

"You'll lie to your dying patients. Is that why it's so easy to lie to me?" House pushed, trying to provoke Wilson into confessing his sin.

House had stepped over the line, way over, and he knew it. It was too late to do anything now but play it out to the end. Wilson hated him, or claimed he did, so what difference would it make if he hated him a little more after today?

Wilson stared into House's cool, blue eyes, too angry to speak. But somewhere down inside, another angry man woke up and before he could pass judgement on the action, that angry man's balled left fist was making hard contact with House's right eye-socket.

House actually spun in place once before hitting the opposite wall with his head and falling hard to the floor. The sound his head made when it struck the wall was like a bat on a fastball. Crack!

Wilson watched in horror as the stranger's fist - his own - completed it's left hook and saw House spin like a top then slump like a rag doll. His victim lay still for a few seconds before stirring and managing to get at least onto his hands and knees.

A tiny creak of blood followed a path down House's angled face. The skin where his head had struck the unyielding plaster had split apart two inches. The blood flowed a bit faster as House groped for his cane, got it under him and pushed himself upright again. Without a word, he limped away, much more slowly than usual, forgetting all about the electric wheelchair.

Little round splatters of blood trailed evenly behind him.

A small crowd had gathered but quickly dispersed when they saw the show was over almost as soon as it had begun. It had been a lightening brief spar, with one clear loser and neither fighter appeared to want a re-match.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Oh God." Wilson covered his face with his hands. "I can't believe I did that."

Foreman enjoyed Wilson's occasional visits to his new digs. Wilson didn't talk at you, he talked to you. He was a man you could work with a feel better for the experience. "I can't believe you didn't do it years ago."

Foreman poured Wilson a cup of coffee. "Here, drink this caffeine, it won't settle your nerves but it might your stomach."

"Thanks."

"What happened?"

Wilson shook his head to dispel the question and because he didn't have the mind to invent another lie to explain the first one. "It's complicated."

"Well, yeah, it's House, so no kidding?" Foreman said. "I for one do not miss working under the man. He's arrogant, pig-headed, thinks he's right about everything..."

Wilson was glad for the change of topic, if not subject. "You regret the three years?"

Foreman looked at him, shrugged. "No. I'm a better doctor for having had the experience. But it could have gone easier if he wasn't always such an ass. Or detoxing, or in rehab or-"

Wilson held up one palm faced outward "-I get the drift." Funny how he felt the need to defend House even when his own anger at the man had not fully subsided. "House...almost...can't help the way he is, you know."

"You think it IS Asperger's, not that he's simply a first class jerk?"

Wilson shook his head, not in the negative but because he truly didn't know. "I think it's something. Maybe a few something's that togther add up to a bigger something that even House doesn't recognize. Like a distorted mirror. The way he see's things and acts is the way he's used to seeing them. The way he's always seen them his whole life. I've known him for eleven years and he almost never, ever perceive's things the way other people do."

"You mean normal people?"

"I mean average people. Me and you, Cameron and Cuddy...House is unusual. He's...House." It was a lame answer but the only one he could presently produce.

"Where is he?" Wilson had come to his old working area in search of House but had run into Foreman. It was just as well.

"Cameron's licking his wounds." Foreman said.

Wilson was glad. As long as someone was caring for him, Wilson felt it would be better if he stayed away.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

In the small exam room, Cameron stitched very carefully to minimize scarring. House's hair would grow back over the scar in time, but she did not want to pucker the skin. "Stop fidgeting."

"My leg hurts and my Vicodin is in my jacket which is in my office."

"You can wait ten more minutes. And keep that ice pack on your eye."

House held the blue freezer pack against the swollen skin surrounding his right eye socket. The area was as red and tender as a delinquent's backside. When Wilson had landed that blow, House thought his eye had popped out.

"Why did Wilson hit you?"

"Wilson doesn't want me riding my bike over to his house anymore."

Frowning at House's usual obscurity when it came to explanations, Cameron finished the stitches, dabbed the area with another alcohol soaked cotton ball, then lifted the ice pack. "Let me see." Already she could see the black and blue spreading south like a river overflowing it's banks. "That's going to be a hell of a shiner. What did you say to set him off?"

"Nothing mean. To him."

"Oh? So Wilson almost punched your lights out for no reason?"

"I didn't say it was for no reason, I said it was nothing I did to him. Obviously there was a reason." House took the ice pack back and angrily slapped it against his eye, immediately regretting the action for the extra pain it caused. "Ahhg!" He held it more gently. "I just don't know what the reason was."

"Wow. I've never seen two grown men have a girly fight before."

House looked up at her. "It wasn't a girly fight. And it's Wilson, not me for a change, who's being the ass."

"You'd better go home. That eye's going to swell and be hurting pretty badly and you're going to look like..." Cameron tried to remember the name of any boxer that House would also know, but her knowledge of sports was next to nothing. "...like some...old, ugly boxer from some boring, old sporting event..."

"You mean like Mickey Mantle?" House offered, and waited.

"Yeah, like him." Cameron nodded.

House rolled his eyes, then winced in pain.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

House popped Vicodin like candy once the eye swelled to it's full glory and bloomed into a rainbow of purples and blues. The stitches stung, his leg ached with extra vigor due to his hard fall outside Wilson's office. Once or twice he almost called him but slammed the phone back down the second time too. "Fuck it."

At the end of the week, he called Cuddy, booked long overdue vacation time, and threw together a few clothes and supplies for an impromptu road trip. He told no one where he was going and left the next day, a crisp Sunday morning.

The air was cold but felt good against his skin. The road was frosty but almost empty of cars as he burned west for a few hours, then turned north. He wanted trees, a river, a bottle or two, a few Vicodin and the music from his Ipod. It would be the perfect week.

He knew of a small Inn with individual cabins that weren't too expensive in the fall. He might even get lucky a meet a good looking woman with whom to share it for a night or two.

House felt like some music and fumbled with the Ipod. He eased back on the throttle, best to be careful, and with one hand on the left handle-bar, he plugged his earphones into the tiny Ipod's jack.

When he next lifted his eyes to the road there was a white-tailed deer standing in the middle of it, it's eyes wide and frozen at the noisy creature approaching. House made an attempt to swerve but the road conditions were less than ideal for traction. Hitting the deer head on was unthinkable at fifty miles per hour. He and his motorbike would be stopped dead and then catapulted a hundred feet, the twisted bike and all it's hard, hurting parts probably landing on him somewhere down the highway.

All he could do was try to lay the bike down and slide to a stop. It sounded easy, but it wasn't. If the rubber tires caught the pavement in just the right way, the friction would cartwheel him and the bike end over end. If he got a leg caught in the mechanisms of the engine chain or the wheel spokes, he could tear apart muscles, snap bones or sever a foot altogether.

Laying a bike down was nothing more than a controlled crash. Usually a little control and a lot of crash.

House turned the front wheel slightly left and leaned over left all in as smooth as one motion as he could manage with his bum leg. His right thigh screamed in protest as it was asked to momentarily balance the weight of not only his leftward leaning body but the bike as well. Going down, House pulled his left leg free from beneath the Honda's engine. His jean's cuff, however, got caught up in the chain just long enough to bungle the attempt and House and the bike began to flip. Luckily, he flipped only twice as his momentum had been enough reduced to prevent a truly spectacular, and deadly, crash.

He finished up by sliding twelve feet on his back to a painful stop on the left shoulder of the highway, his bike in two pieces a little farther up the road. The front wheel and shocks had snapped off and careened away in their own crazy direction.

The deer he had managed to miss watched him curiously for a moment, snatched a few spiky mouth full's of grass from the roadside and pranced off in oblivious innocence.

House tried to move his hands. They worked. He slowly tried to turn then lift his head from the cold pavement. His helmet was still in place on his skull, though his wound felt warm and sticky. The stitches had most likely torn. His back hurt but his ability to move indicated that his spine was not broken. He could feel road rash from shoulders to ass, and his leather jacket was in shreds.

But his left foot throbbed the worst. House managed to sit up. His right sneaker was where it should be but his left was sole-less and his left foot was twisted outward to such a degree that it was obviously not only broken, but dislocated. That meant likely bone fragment or ligament tearing and so surgery. He tried to lift that leg and was rewarded by a terrific pain that traveled up his leg like an electric jolt, making him gasp and forcing him to lie back down.

He hoped a car might happen by soon as he felt dizzy and tired. Blood pressure dropping. A bit shocky, then. Not bleeding internally he didn't think, but it was cold of course and that made it worse. His cell phone was in the saddle bag on his mangled bike four dozen yards beyond his reach. House's right thigh was mightily protesting its ill treatment of the last few minutes and began to shriek for its Vicodin.

Soon, he was smothered by a blanket of pain and he passed out.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Cuddy answered the call from Pennsylvania.

Bradford Regional Medical Center had one of her doctors as a patient. Single Motorbike accident. Injuries were non-life threatening. He was being treated for a badly broken left ankle, one cracked rib, road rash, general cuts and bruises. They'd had to re-stitch a previously treated head wound. Complications: Patient was an obnoxious ass. Doctor House was awake and asking for a Doctor Cameron to drive up and bring him home.

"Oh God." Cuddy replaced the phone and dialed Diagnostics.

Cameron was clearly very concerned but was busy with a very sick case and a diagnostic puzzle.

Cuddy tried Neurology. Foreman agreed to go and left Chase temporarily in charge.

"Fine, but you'd better take some Tylenol for the headache you're sure to get." Chase said as Foreman slipped on his coat. "Or a sedative for House."

"You wanna do this?" Foreman asked.

"Are you kidding? House fired me." Chase sourly reminded him. "I hope his scalp has a big scar."

xxxx

Foreman helped House from the Bradford Center's generic wheelchair into the passenger seat of his shiny, new Impala Limited Edition four door sedan. He was immensely proud of his new position at Plainsborough and his new car. "Try not to get blood on the upholstery."

An ill-humored House didn't bother to answer or thank his former employee-now-colleague and let Foreman close the door for him. His foot was killing him, his thigh was throbbing, his head hurt, his road-raked skin was on fire and he was out of Vicodin.

The idiots at Bradford had declined his request for a refill and had instead given him four Extra-Strength Tylenol Three's. They had done the job for about two hours, then the various painful locations had already begun to hurt. Now he faced a six hour ride home - with Foreman no less - and not a Vicodin to be had.

House was in no mood to be nice or accommodating. When Foreman wasn't looking, he dabbed his finger in the sticky blood seeping from his stitches and wiped it down the side of Foreman's pretty tan leather seat.

Somewhere on the east side of the New Jersey state line, House asked, "Wanna grab a beer?"

Foreman looked at him strangely. "You just got out of the hospital."

"So?"

"So, I have a job to get back to, and so, by the way, do you. And the last thing you need after the drugs they pumped into you at Bradford is alcohol, which could cause several bad after-effects not the least of which is it'll thin your blood and you'll most likely bleed all over my new car."

"But aside from that, so?" House raised his eyebrows in a mimic of a recalcitrant child, but was forced to stop when it made his black eye sting.

"So, you look like shit, House. Besides the fact that I happen to not like you, I'm not taking you into any public house looking like one big bruise. They'll probably think I bitch-slapped you."

"Why don't you wanna hang around with me? I'm interesting, I'm funny and I promise never to expose myself when we're sitting at the same table."

"Wow, how can I say no?" Foreman shook his head at his nutty mentor. "You must miss Wilson a hell of a pile if you're asking me out."

"I'm not "asking you out". I'm not looking for a dude-date. All I asked is if you wanted a beer."

"Well, I don't. I want to get back to the hospital and my job. And you need to get your ass home in bed. You're even whiter than most white men usually are."

House didn't say anything else for the rest of the trip, causing Foreman to look over at him now and then to be sure he hadn't fainted.

House's face was covered in beads of sweat and he held his hand against his right thigh like a vise. Pain had shut him up.

Foreman wondered about all the hub-bub between Wilson and House. It was none of his business but it seemed House was on another of his downward spirals only this time Wilson wasn't around to pick him up before he reached bottom.

Who was going to take up the job no one envied? Who would be willing to keep House sane enough to stay alive and do his job if not Wilson?

Foreman saw House to his apartment. Not an easy task as House had to use a walker. His right lame leg was now asked to bear most of his weight as his left foot and ankle were encased in a cast and could stand almost no weight at all. House bit his lip the last few steps and all but fell onto the couch, doubling over with pain. His hand only clutched, Foreman noticed, at his scarred thigh.

Foreman spent a few minutes settling him in. Got him a blanket and a pillow, a glass of water and his Vicodin. House right away swallowed four of the pills dry and lay his head back to wait for them to take effect.

When he seemed a bit better, Foreman asked. "Anything else? I gotta go."

House shook his head and muttered a thanks as Foreman opened the door to leave. He hesitated, his hand on the door-knob. Then he took a piece of notepaper from his pocket, scribbled something on it and handed it to House. "Here. My private cell' number. If you need anything, call."

House placed the paper on the coffee table and nodded his thanks.

Foreman closed the door behind him and waited on the step. He'd done all he could. He'd call Cuddy to see if she had any ideas. House would need in-home care as long as his foot was in a cast. He would hardly be able to get around his own apartment, never mind cook for himself or bathe without assistance.

He'd let Wilson know, too.

xxxx

Cuddy called Wilson to her office. "You know about House?"

"Yes." Wilson wanted to run away from her accusing eyes. But to where? To House's angry ones?

"He needs in-home care. Which Agency do you want to call?"

At what she thought was a protest when he raised an uncertain hand, she interrupted. "I know you can't or won't do it yourself, but you'll have to be the one to make the arrangements and ensure the job is being done properly. You know how difficult a patient he can be."

Wilson nodded. "I'll do it." He said simply. There, it was done. He'd made the commitment to see and speak to House. Only one thing remained to be discovered: Whether House cared to see or speak to him. Ever again.

"You want to? Are you sure?" Cuddy leaned across her desk, chewing her pen thoughtfully. "Why the sudden change? Last week you punched his lights out and this week you want to play nurse maid?"

Wilson sighed and ran a hand down his tired face. "It's complicated."

"Boy, I'd love a nickel for every time I've heard someone say those words when referring to House."

Cuddy stood and walked around her desk to speak to him eye to eye. "What's wrong between you two? I know House is an ass. I know he's exhausting and a load of work. But he's..." Cuddy searched for the right word,..."he's worth it." She spread her hands helplessly, knowing it made no sense. But she also knew she was right.

Wilson felt an odd sort of relief that Cuddy had just hit on exactly what he'd been feeling. House was an endangered creature. Difficult. Infuriating, yes. But one of a kind. Few people had known the privilege of being his friend. He, Cuddy and a couple of others blessed with insight enough to recognize something rare and special in the man.

"Yes." Wilson said. "He's worth it. And I'm an idiot."

"You needed a break from him. That's not idiocy, that's preservation of sanity."

Wilson appreciated her moral support, but, "No, I lied to him about everything. Not just a white lie, a real big lie. Just to make it easier on myself."

"What do you mean? What lie?"

Wilson swallowed and took a moment to compose himself. What difference did it make anyway? House would probably not let him in the door. No difference. Cuddy knowing would be a relief at least.

"I love him."

Cuddy nodded, all agreement and kindness. "I love him too, he's my friend-"

"No, I don't mean "I love him, he's my pal". I mean I...love him."

Cuddy tilted her head and her eyebrows nearly disappeared at her hairline. "Oh..." Nodding. Enlightened.

She sat at her desk again, heavy with the weight of what he had just confessed to. "Oh." Understanding. Quick acceptance.

"Yeah." He agreed. It was an "Oh" situation all right.

Cuddy, curious, "Uh, when..?"

"A long time. Since before Stacey left, I think. Through my three wives and my bankruptcy. I just didn't recognize it. I thought it was a special sort of loyalty on my part. Thought myself a savior or a rescuer. Three divorces and it still didn't click in my head."

"What?"

"That House always came first. Always." Wilson sat down wearily on Cuddy's leather sofa. "At least until last Christmas. I never told you but House OD-ed on booze and Vicodin."

At Cuddy's shocked expression, he quickly assured her, "I found him. He was okay because he'd vomited up most of the pills. I didn't even stay to make sure he stayed okay. I couldn't take the pain of seeing him like that. Not when I could nothing to stop it.

"I made the decision then to get away from him. I took a coward's way out. So, a few weeks ago, instead of telling him the truth about how I felt, I made him think he was the problem. Just him."

"No one could blame you. He's not easy to be around sometimes." She smiled a little. "I'm glad he has someone in his life. Someone who cares for him."

"I care. I'd just like to kill him now and then! Well, maybe it's a good thing I won't have the opportunity to."

"-Wilson." Cuddy paused until she had his full attention. "House misses you. He may be angry, he may be resentful, but he's hurting. The previous two weeks, before his bike accident, he spent every Saturday at my house, sitting on my couch, watching football and getting cracker crumbs on my furniture. I've seen House disappointed, I've seen him frustrated, angry, depressed. But until these last few weeks, I'd never seen him truly sad."

Cuddy clasped her hands. "I'm his boss, I can be a friend but not a pal. You're that. He needs you. Go talk to him."

"I don't know what to say."

"Tell him the truth. He can deal with that easier than believing that his best friend hates his guts. Go be his friend. Because, frankly, I'm tired of vacuuming."

Wilson smiled at that. Then quietly, "I hurt him pretty badly."

"So? Go try to heal it. What else do you have to lose?"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Wilson sat in his car outside House's apartment for close to an hour before he found the courage to walk into the building, and then, only went as far as the small foyer. Apartment "B" stared him in the face. Best friend. "Bestest buddy". House's words.

Wilson knocked and was not surprised to get no answering call from inside. Foreman said before he left that House had taken a palm full of Vicodin to kill his many pains and so by now, House was probably passed out on the couch.

Wilson knocked again and then fished his copy of House's apartment key from his pocket. House had never asked for it back. Not even after Wilson had blackened his eye and bruised his dignity in front of all those witnesses.

Wilson stepped quietly into the entry. The room had one small lamp on and it did not reach all corners. The couch was to his right and Wilson walked softly over to see if House was sleeping there.

Indeed he was, but he did not appear comfortable. Slouched over to his left, his blanket had slipped to the floor and his pillow was squished behind his lower back. Wilson bent over him a little.

"House?" He said softly, not wanting to startle him awake. "House?" Wilson said a bit louder. An unpleasant smell reached his nostrils. House had wet his pants in his sleep. Wilson checked the pulse at his throat. It was strong but a bit slow, down to under sixty beats per minute. House must have taken quite a tidy handful of painkillers.

Wilson spotted the aluminum walker tipped over on the hallway floor halfway between the livingroom and bathroom. Apparently House had tried and failed to make his way there. On the coffee table sat a glass already full of discolored urine.

Discolored. Cloudy. Could be infection setting in somewhere. Wilson felt his friends forehead and found it quite warm. A bit too warm for a man asleep, where the body's temperature was naturally suppose to be a degree lower than in wakefulness.

Wilson shrugged off his coat and suit jacket, laying them across the far end of the couch. He hooked his hands under House's armpits and heaved. House was not a lightly built man. But Wilson managed to throw House's right arm over his own shoulder and half carried, half dragged House to the bedroom.

Wilson laid him down as gently as he could manage and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He struggled to remove House's soiled clothes, considered and rejected the idea of giving him a quick and painless wipe with a clean, warm cloth and instead, just covered him with a clean sheet and blanket. He'd worry about a bath for him, somehow, tomorrow.

The couch was unusable.

Wilson considered returning to his own apartment but it was fourteen miles in the other direction and he was already having trouble keeping his eyes open. He found another sheet and blanket in the bedroom closet, removed his belt, tie and dress shirt then folded his long frame into House's easy chair. It wasn't that comfortable but he was so tired it didn't matter. In minutes he was snoozing.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

House woke to the odor of frying bacon. Trying to sort out when he had gotten up and put on bacon to fry, he opened his eyes and quickly closed them again when the right one protested with a dull ache.

The shiner had faded but the swelling remained.

He didn't own bacon. He couldn't recall the last time in fact he'd gone food shopping or opened his fridge for anything other than blueberry jam for toast or a cheap beer.

It had to be Cameron. Since she and Chase had begun their horizontal "relationship", she had spent far less time worrying about his ills or needs which was way cool and also sucked a bit. He'd had to start doing his own paperwork and other than when Wilson used to, she was the only other person he knew who used to drop in once or thrice a year. Though never when he was feeling fine and would have appreciated...

...tolerated it.

"Cameron?" He called feebly from the bedroom. Louder, "Cameron!" He tried to sit up. Couldn't. Not quite yet. His legs hurt like burning. His head throbbed, his back stung like...stinging needles.

Trying again, "You don't have to nursemaid me like I'm an infant!" To himself, "I can cook my own breakfast and wipe my own ass Snow-white."

"How'd you get to bed?"

A voice from the bedroom doorway made House rapidly sit up and turn his head. Nausea and dizziness hit and he had to wait a few seconds before speaking.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

Wilson turned away and said over his shoulder, "Wiping your ass and cooking your breakfast."

House threw the covers off, (it took three mighty tries to do so), and swung one leg - the crippled one - and the other leg - the broken one - to the floor. "Get outta my house!" He shouted, but in reality it was a pathetic rasp.

Wilson had heard him. "This isn't a house, House."

"I said get out!"

"Make me."

Wilson had leaped over the preliminary verbal sparring which habitually occurred at this juncture in any of their arguments and crossed the finish line first.

There was no way Wilson intended to leave just because House told him to, and there was no physical way House could force him to leave.

As though reading his thoughts, "You're stuck with me." Wilson shouted from the kitchen.

"Great." House muttered. "You here to match-up my other eye?"

Wilson didn't answer. No doubt on purpose so House would have to use the walker to get out of the bedroom and to the kitchen so he could shout closer to his target.

Wilson had anticipated all of House's needs and had left on his bedside table beside his alarm radio fresh water in a clean glass, his bottle of Vicodin and his aluminum walker upright and ready two feet from the bed frame. House's dark blue bathrobe hung over the handle on the walker.

"Hey, Snow-white!" House shouted again, "There'd better be coffee!"

Wilson heard the walker and halting steps of House's slow advancement into the living room.

"Don't sit on the couch." Wilson warned him. Unnecessary as House smelled the drying urine before he sat. He moved to far end of the couch and eased himself down onto it's softness.

He was sweating from the effort. "So?" He addressed Wilson who was still puttering around in his kitchen. "You tell me we're done, blacken my eye, split my scalp and now we're back to being pals?"

Wilson carried two plates into the living room. "I'm assuming nothing. Here." He handed House a plate piled with bacon, buttered whole-wheat toast and two sunny side up eggs smothered with melted cheddar. On the cheese was a reddish sauce.

"What's this?"

"Southern style eggs. You'll like them."

"Doubtful." House remarked but scooped a big fork full. He was starving. The eggs were spicy and delicious. Out of one corner of his mouth, "Tastes weird."

Wilson was used to House's lies about his cooking. House liked his cooking but would never admit to it.

Wilson picked at his own breakfast. He'd woken up hungry but now that he and House were speaking, his stomach flipped-flopped. Depending on how he handled House, it might be the last conversation he ever had with him. "I pushed it until it broke." Wilson said simply. "I'm sorry."

"Unaccepted." House answered, then glanced at Wilson's veiled eyes. "That doesn't explain why you pushed it."

Wilson did not know how much to tell him. He would, he believed, eventually tell him everything but should everything be right now? "I'm having a personal problem that I can't discuss...at present. I...didn't think you'd understand. I didn't know how to cope with it. I still don't."

"That's it?"

"For now, that's all I can say."

House nodded and continued to shovel food into his mouth. "Thanks for breakfast, you can leave now."

Wilson wasn't that surprised by his friend's reaction. He left his untouched plate and gathered his tie and coat. When he opened the door to leave, behind him House said, "Stay."

Wilson hung his coat and sat back down on the easy chair.

House took a big gulp of coffee, looking at his friend over the rim. "You're an idiot."

Wilson detected the facetiousness and chanced a tiny smile.

House shook his head and matched it. "Idiot." He repeated.

xxxx

House had the television on and was watching Spongebob Square Pants, chuckling every so often.

Wilson washed dishes and wiped the stove. He heard House shake out a Vicodin and down it with the dregs of his coffee cup. A moment or two later, the walker's scraping could be heard heading back down the hall.

Good. House needed the sleep.

A few seconds later, Wilson heard retching and the toilet flush.

At Wilson's approach, House raised his head from the bowl. He was no longer white, he was positively green. "Told you it tasted weird." He croaked.

Wilson wet a face cloth and handed it to House who used it to wipe his mouth.

"Nausea from the pain or the pills?"

House shrugged. "There's some Gravol in the medicine cupboard." House indicated with a nod of his head.

"Ginger-ale might be better. Sometimes Gravol can make you puke more."

"I hate Ginger-ale."

Wilson fished out the packet of pills and squeezed two out of their tin-foil pouches, then got him a glass of water. By that time House was making his way back to his bed. He sat on the edge and leaned over. Obviously the nausea had moved in to stay for a while.

"Here."

Still in his bathrobe, House swallowed the pills, took a small sip of water and lifted his legs one by one onto the bed, twisting around to properly lay down. "Vicodin." He said.

Wilson realized House had probably threw up the Vicodin along with breakfast. "You just ate too much all at once. Sorry, I should have realized. Next time I'll make oatmeal."

"Vicodin." House repeated.

Wilson got him the pills and left the bottle by his bedside. House swallowed two more and closed his eyes with a weary sigh. He was asleep almost immediately.

While House slept Wilson made a second trip to the grocery store to stock up on food. House's fridge had been empty, and still was with only eggs, bacon, bread and butter in it.

Wilson purchased fresh fruit, lean ham and pork chops, whole wheat pasta, sauces and frozen vegetables. A dozen or so salt-lite canned soups were added. He selected a variety of flavored oatmeal packs, and some healthier snacks than House was probably used to like baked sun chips and granola bars. Out of the goodness of his heart he also tossed a few candy bars into the basket. A six pack of light beer finished the task and he filed through the cash-counter.

By the light snoring coming from the bedroom, House was still asleep when he got back. With a practiced hand, he put the newly bought foods neatly away and set another pot of coffee on to brew.

Wilson stripped the cover from the soiled couch cushion and took it (and any other dirty clothes he found) down to the basement laundry room. Feeding coins into the machine, adding some powdered soap, he set it on Extra-wash.

Wilson spent some minutes just flipping through channels and sipping hot coffee. Things were back to normal between him and House.

Wrong. They were not. House thought they were, Wilson knew they weren't and never would be again. He was in love with House. House wasn't. House was straight. Hetero'. He told gay jokes, he rented hookers of the female variety, and though he'd never said anything about it directly to her or Wilson, Wilson knew House was crazy about Cuddy. Did he love her? Wilson didn't know for sure. But House liked her. Enough that he followed her on her dates and stared at her rear-end whenever he thought she wasn't looking.

What was Wilson against all that? There was zero chance. He and House would never be together. As he sat there, Wilson came to the sad conclusion that he shouldn't have changed offices.

He should have moved to the west coast.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

House's cast came off at the end of six weeks. After a few therapy sessions, he was able to bear almost his full weight on the ankle and had Wilson toss the walker into the big garbage bin at the back of the apartment building.

Using his cane, House practiced walking again around his apartment.

As Wilson caught up on his medical journals from the easy chair, he surreptitiously watched his friend pace in circles around the couch and coffee table, into the kitchen and around the island, out to the livingroom, passed Wilson in the chair, and down the hallway to the bedroom where he'd turn one-eighty and start all over.

Today was the first day House had gotten fully dressed and was wearing faded jeans and a red T-shirt.

House used his cane on the right side of his body, where his crippled leg was. Not on the opposite side, which was usual. Wilson sometimes wondered why House used it that way. Was it because using it on the left was how crippled up old men did it? Or was it simply easier?

House was right handed. When he needed to write on his whiteboard at work, to drive, to eat, to hold his dick when he peed, he needed his right hand, forcing him to place the cane temporarily in his left or hang it on something while his right hand was busy.

It made more logical sense for him to use the cane with his left, but he didn't.

The use of his cane on the right was interesting and a bit inexplicable. But it also lent House's lurching walk a shadow of gracefulness. Wilson was so used to seeing House with the cane and the gently rocking limp that, back when House was still delighting in the painless after-effects of the Ketamine treatment, it had seemed foreign to see House without his constant wooden appendage.

House kept up his pace around the apartment. He'd been at it without let-up for a full hour.

Wilson stole a glance at House's face the next time he passed. It was shiny with perspiration and the skin over his cheekbones was stretched taut. His eyes squinted as though the lights were too bright.

"Is your leg bothering you?" Wilson asked.

House nodded but did not stop.

"How bad?"

The next time House passed, "Bad."

"Did you take a Vicodin?"

"Four an hour ago. Today, not enough."

Wilson felt like he'd been gut punched. The Vicodin always worked, he'd assumed. That's why House demanded them, ate them like gum-drops. But "Not today"?

Wilson saw House slow his pace and his limp grew more pronounced. He stopped and placed his hands on the back of the couch, easing his weight completely off his right leg. His breath hitched in his throat, like the spasm's were suddenly worse - after the exercise. After the endorphin's were supposedly coursing through his blood and easing the ache.

"How often does your leg get this bad?"

"Every few days." House kept his answers short and concentrated on breathing. Maybe it helped.

Wilson was alarmed and ashamed. He'd seen House detoxing and in pain, in rehab and in pain. He'd never seen him doped up on enough Vicodin to get a buffalo giddy yet still be in agony. The leg was no joke. It wasn't a scam to get high. It never had been.

Wilson had always believed that House's need for Vicodin had been half real pain and half junkie craving a fix. "Jesus." He said under his breath.

Suddenly he saw the reasons why House had been so difficult on Stacey. It is possible he might have died had she not made the proxy choice (against his wishes) for him and instructed the surgeons to go middle ground and remove most of the dead muscle. Possibly but not certainly.

But they had known, certainly, that going middle ground would leave him in chronic pain for the rest of his life. The possibly in it was they had no idea how much possible pain he would have to endure. Had Stacey known of this, seen this now, would she have made the same decision?

"I can get morphine." Wilson offered.

House shook his head. "I have some." He was out of breath and exhausted. "Sometimes it eases on its own after a while."

Wilson wanted to give him an injection now but didn't want to over-rule House's good decision to avoid the more addicting morphine and instead ride the pain out a bit longer. House was trying to stay off pain killers as much as possible, it seemed. It was becoming obvious to Wilson that it just wasn't always possible.

For five years House had lived like this. Five years, every day. And two or three days of every week the pain was like this. Not merely bad but unbearable. Excruciating.

Wilson did a quick calculation in his head. Seven hundred and eighty days of insupportable pain. How many hours, Wilson wondered, did House usually sweat and gasp in agony before the pain broke him and he surrendered to the needle?

Wilson had an urge to hug him long and hard, but instead stayed put in the easy chair and, trying to take House's mind off his leg, asked, "Are you coming in to work tomorrow?"

House nodded. "New case. A weird one, Cameron says." House always perked up at a new, interesting sounding case. "She's bringing the file by tonight."

Now Wilson perked up. "Good. Sunday night television blows."

xxxx

Cameron did not show up alone. She towed Foreman with a sour faced Chase taking up the rear. The two doctors politely greeted Wilson. Foreman said a hello to House while Chase donned a strictly neutral expression and kept quiet.

Cameron gave House a quick hug, which he endured silently then asked for the case file.

"Female," House read aloud. "Seventeen years old, general health good. Skin is blistering and sloughing off." He looked at Cameron. "History?"

"Dad is diabetic. Mom has high blood pressure. No brothers or sisters. Maternal grandmother lived to be ninety-two. No health problems. Husband killed in the Second World War at age thirty-eight. No known health problems -"

"-Except probably a few gun-shells in the torso," Chase said. "That'll kill you."

"I got a couple of those and I'm alive." House said.

Cameron ignored the interruption, "Paternal grandparents are both living. She's fine, he's had two heart attacks and a double by-pass - sedentary job and a bad diet - otherwise fine."

House read some more. "Her skin blistered and peeled off after twenty minutes playing volleyball on the beach..." He looked at Cameron. "She's allergic to the sun. Why is this interesting?"

"Keep reading."

He found the crucial part. "She got the sunburn though she was fully dressed. So a severe allergy to the sun."

Cameron shook her head. "No, I tested her. No allergy, and she's fine under light. No reaction."

"If she's already blistered, how could you tell?"

"I tested her feet. They and her hands were the only parts not blistered or partially blistered."

"Hmm." House was curious, Wilson could tell.

"Arthritis? NSAID's? SAID's? Sulpha drugs?" House asked her.

"None. No arthritis in the family. The beginnings of osteoporosis in the mom."

"Infections?"

"Blood work was clean, but we could have missed something."

House closed the file and handed it back to Cameron. He clutched at his right thigh. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. "If she's not in a clean room, get her in one. Treat the burns, Morphine sulphate if she's in a lot of pain, keep her on fluids and I'll see you tomorrow." The meeting was adjourned.

Cameron stood up. Foreman and Chase exchanged glances that said "So why in the hell did Cameron insist we come?"

"Thanks for dropping in." Wilson said lamely as the three filed out the door.

Wilson thought of scolding House for not saying Boo to either Foreman or Chase but seeing the pain he was in, he decided against it. Foreman and Chase were old enough to make up their own rules regarding House. And House, he didn't follow rules.

"Need a massage?"

House looked sharply at Wilson, his eyes wary.

"I meant I could call Ingrid. She does house-calls, no pun intended."

House stood, shook his head. Cane in his right hand, he limped off to the bedroom. "You don't have to stay here tonight. I'll be fine." House said as he retreated. "Nite'."

Wilson felt a bit lost, and a bit sad, having to go home. He'd become comfortable sleeping with House in the next room, even if he couldn't be in there with him. "Goodnight House."

Wilson moved back home.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"How's our patient?" House asked, entering the meeting room next to his office. Cameron was checking lab results. She let him get his own coffee. "Resting. The parents want to talk to you."

"Of course they do, and I'm sure you told them they can't?"

"No, I said when we know something more, we'll talk to them."

"Is that the second blood work results?"

"Yes."

"Clean?"

"Yes."

"Then we already know something more and I'm still not going to talk to them."

"We don't know anything more."

"Sure we do. We know it's unlikely to be an infection."

"That's one of your negative result something more's."

"It's called the process of elimination. It works for Columbo, Nancy Drew and Survivor."

"Great. We eliminated that it most likely isn't an infection, now all we have to do is eliminate a hundred other things that could cause skin blistering and peeling."

"A hundred? That's way too many. Maybe twenty-five things, or thirty. Well, fifty. Or so."

House sat in his habitual head of the table chair. "Drugs. Drugs are the most likely culprit."

"We already ruled out allergy after she was admitted."

"Not a drug allergy, a drug reaction."

"She isn't on any drugs."

"Cancer then. Or a lack of something reaction." House sipped his coffee, thinking. "Sulphur deficiency. It affects first the skin, then the immune system, then the blood, then the liver. The body can't fight infection and the first line of defense against infection is-"

"-the skin." Cameron finished. "It seems unlikely. There was no sign of infection in the blood work."

"Not yet. It hasn't got there. But it fits. Sulphur deficiency leaves her open to skin infection. Skin infection spreads in the subcutaneous tissues. Was her skin tested for infection?"

"No, we thought she was burned."

"Test it. If I'm wrong, we need more information anyway." House stood up and made his way to his office. "I'm going to talk to Wilson about cancer. You - research. Find out what else she was doing on the beach that day."

xxxx

Wilson, back in his old office again, felt somewhat comforted by the fact that while not everything was back to normal, some things were. Like House entering his office without knocking.

"What's up?"

House plopped down in the opposite chair. "My case might have skin cancer. Any cancer's where the skin sloughs away to the granulosum?"

"A few. I've never heard of any affecting, what, ninety percent of a person's skin."

"Which one might?"

"Rhabdomyosarcoma."

"Embryonal?"

"Possibly. Aveolar's more likely, considering the extensive involvement of her skin. The presentation is unusual but not out of the question. You might need to do a chest X-Ray and check her bone marrow."

"Skin layer test first."

"Yup. If it is Aveolar's, there's almost no hope. We don't even know what causes it. Some rare genetic disorder's contribute- "

-House let out a great sigh.

"What?"

"Now I have to go talk to the parents."

xxxx

House explained their various theories simply and directly. Cancer maybe. If it is, treatments are available. Twenty percent survival rate. He waited until the cries of shock and tears subsided and then continued with the lesser bad of the bad news. Maybe a severe allergic reaction to an undisclosed drug - yes, even good girls sometimes take drugs and don't tell their parents - or a reaction to something missing, like acute Sulphur deficiency contributing to an undiagnosed systemic infection.

The parents cried and hugged and House returned to his office for a snooze and to await the lab results.

Cameron returned late that afternoon. "The kids on the beach did some skinny-Jacuzzi-ing. In a portable, heated mud bath. I sent a sample to the lab to check for bacteria and contaminants. We'll have the results tomorrow."

"Horny boys and girls mud skinny-dipping. What's the point if nobody can see anything?" House remarked.

Wilson dropped House off at his apartment. "Need a ride tomorrow?"

"Nope. Bike's fixed. New paint job too. Want a beer tonight?"

Not feeling like going home, Wilson accepted.

House found a game on the television, cracked a beer and kicked back. His leg was behaving itself for a change and he seemed in a good mood. House often was when he had a bit of baffle in his cases.

Wilson sat beside him on the couch. Not too close. But he could smell the subtle, almost-not-there scent of House's cologne. An understated odor of spice and oak that reached Wilson's nostrils if he leaned to the right just a little. Mixed with the fading smell of House's Irish Spring shampoo, Wilson felt a warmth spreading through his torso and soon a hot stirring in his loins.

This was just a bad idea. "I gotta go."

House frowned and pointed at the TV with his cane. "The game just started."

"I'm tired."

"You can sleep on the couch."

"I've got a lot of paperwork."

"You always have a lot of paperwork. What you don't have is a lot of Football, the season's almost over."

"My team is losing."

"No one's scored yet, and the Giant's are gonna win!"

"My mind isn't on the game."

"Have another beer."

"It's warm."

"I have ice. I think."

There was no escaping. Wilson crossed his arms and tried to concentrate on the men in uniforms trying to beat each other into the ground to score their turn with the little pig skin.

House removed his jacket and cotton shirt, leaving just his Tee-shirt and stretched his legs out on the coffee table.

Wilson stared at them. God they were gorgeous. Beautifully muscled things of perfect length. Few tall men were nicely proportioned but House was. Tall men were often mostly leg, and then chicken-legged to boot.

Not House. He had the leg length but a long torso to match. And all of him was still in shape. Even after the infarction and the surgery and the detoxing and stints in rehab, House had tried to keep in form. When the Ketamine had worked, House had jogged a dozen miles a day. When it had stopped, he continued to work his upper body in the Hospital employee weight room.

At forty-seven years old, gravity was starting to shake hands with House as it eventually does with all, but on the whole the man was tight and tasty. Wilson strictly kept his eyes from wandering further north to the area above House's thighs. Fantasizing any more, especially about that, and he would squirt in his dress pants.

Wilson's blood pressure was rising. He had to get out of there.

To his horror, Wilson realized that House was watching him. How long had he been staring?

"What?" Wilson asked, hoping his voice was not as shaky as his thighs felt.

"What "what"? You were staring at my legs."

"So?"

House rolled his eyes. "I'm fine. The leg is fine, the ankle is healed. Have another beer and stop fretting like a Jewish grandmother."

"Sorry." Wilson almost fainted with relief. How the hell was he going to stand another two hours of sitting so close to the object of his desire and lust? Wilson opened another beer and tried filling his mind with naked images of ugly, bloated truck drivers and hairy circus freaks.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"This isn't going to work." Wilson sat across from Cuddy.

Cuddy sympathized with her friend and employee but she had no sage advice to offer. "Now you want to close your practice and move to California? How is this going to solve your problem?"

"It'll get me away from House."

"And then he'll make my life miserable until the day I die, or he does."

"I have parents out there, I could tell him they need me, or that one of them is sick..."

"And House'll phone them to see if you're lying again."

Wilson nodded rapidly, resembling a chicken scratching for seeds. He covered his face. "God, this sucks."

Cuddy held her head in her hands. At times, Wilson and House seemed like two pre-teens in grown men's bodies. "Listen to me." Cuddy began. Wilson leaned on her desk, his fingers laced.

"What will happen if you don't tell him?"

Wilson's eyes flicked to the side and back. "I suffer."

"Why?"

"Because I love him and want to be with him and can't."

"So you'll suffer. And maybe you'll have to move to relieve that suffering. So what if you do tell him?"

"He rejects me, maybe wants nothing to do with me as a friend. I suffer."

"And maybe have to move to relieve that suffering."

Wilson laid his chin on his hands in defeat. "I'm screwed no matter what I do."

"So tell him. Maybe he'll surprise you. Maybe you won't be together, but maybe he can handle it. All you have to gain is your friend."

Wilson knew she was right. He needed to tell House how he felt. "Oh, my God, this isn't going to be easy."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Talk to me." House said to Cameron as she entered his office.

"No cancer, no skin infection."

House bounced his big baseball off the office wall again and again. It helped him think. "No cancer...no infections...huh. What about the mud Jacuzzi?"

"It was positive for a number of common and harmless bacteria. None of the other kids have gotten sick or displayed skin outbreaks of any kind. One of them said Kristy.."

"-Kristy?" House asked.

"Our patient. One of them said Kristy was a little distracted that night. She sort of zoned out once or twice, but they were all smoking cannabis and drinking heavily."

"Zoned out. Sounds like acid, not pot."

"No evidence of LSD."

"The wuss's!" House went back to his ball tossing. "We need more information. Talk to her parents again and get her grade-school medical records. I want to know every cold she ever had, every vitamin they ever gave her, every measles outbreak, every diaper rash. Everything that has ever gone wrong with this kid."

Cameron looked tired. "O-okay-y."

House's phone rang. He tossed the ball across the room and picked up the phone. "House." He said into the receiver.

"House?" It was Wilson.

"Is there anyone else by that name who calls himself by that name talking to you on the phone?" House asked.

Wilson didn't get the joke, or didn't care. "No. Um, you want to grab some dinner Friday? My place? I want to,...I'm cooking,...I feel like some four-cheese lasagna" (Wilson knew House loved it) "and spinach salad," (House poured extra portions of Wilson's home-made dressing on his salad),"and maybe a pineapple cheese-cake...?"

"With the little pineapple chunks?"

Wilson could almost hear House salivating. "'Course."

"What's the occasion? Did the other one finally drop?"

"Hilarious. Uh, n-no occasion. I'm sick of take-out and I'm off early Friday."

"I'll bring the beer."

"I have white wine."

"And I have golden suds."

"Fine, bring beer, ya' Homer. Seven o'clock."

xxxx

House showed up with a six pack of Pilsner under his left arm. He wore faded Levi's and a thread-bare faded blue tee-shirt with the slogan: "When monkey's masturbate, they go bananas!"

Wilson shook his head. "Charming. When your mother goes to Bingo, she probably wears a bag over her head."

"My mother loves me. I'm her favorite."

House set the beer down on Wilson's neatly made up dining table. Two plates with cutlery were already set atop a round beige table. A piece of art was sitting off to one side and House killed time trying to figure out what it was. He leaned in close, his forehead crinkling. "What the hell is this, a whale's pe-"

"-No! It's a leopard sea cucumber."

House looked at his friend with misgivings. "Interesting choice of art for a dining table. Where's your stereo?"

Wilson gestured to the other side of the dining/living area, realizing that this was the first time House had ever been to his apartment. "The CD's are in the drawer - no Blues!" To himself, "Too damned depressing."

From the closet-sized kitchen off from the dining nook, he watched House rifle through his music collection then removed the lasagna from the oven. The top was crispy orange and bubbling.

A soft music drifted from the stereo like a fog. House had kept the volume reasonable, for once, and Wilson groaned inwardly. House had chosen Beth Orton.

"Couldn't you have chosen something less..mournful?"

"Beth's a babe." House answered.

"Fine, whatever."

Wilson kept his hands busy hacking into the cheesy, gooey mass and plopping a large portion on House's plate. He followed with a salad bowl each of spinach salad and placed the gravy boat of dressing within House's reach.

The pineapple cheesecake was cooling in the fridge.

Wilson announced, "It's ready."

House grabbed a beer and seated himself in front of his plate. "Looks good." He remarked and started shoveling.

Wilson picked at his plate but mostly sipped from his glass of Pinot.

House set his fork down two-thirds way through his lasagna, took a big swig of his second beer, linked his hands together above his plate and turned to Wilson. "So, aren't you going to talk about your problem?"

Wilson's glass halted halfway to his lips. "Um...what?"

House shook his head, annoyed. "Come on. You've never had me over to your apartment. you sure as hell never made me my three favorite things all at the same time before. Bad news, dear?"

"You've been to my apartment." Wilson stumbled, trying to encourage an argument more than anything so he wouldn't have to talk to House about what he brought him there to talk about. That was the whole point to the dinner but now that the dreaded moment was upon him, he wanted to run from House's unwavering gaze.

"No I haven't. And you're not eating. James Wilson never not eats unless something's stuck in his craw."

Wilson was surprised that House had noticed. "I lost my appetite."

"And you're acting more and more like a wet noodle. I've half a mind to-"

House's half-hearted tirade was cut short when Wilson clasped shaking hands under his chin, frantically trying to stop the glistening in his eyes which were glued to the wine glass in front of him. He did not dare a glance toward House.

House was mute in the face of his friend's obvious grief. Finally, he stuttered, "Look, I didn't m-mean to..." Then stopped. He was aware of his own inadequacies in such situations. They made him squirm. He had no idea what to do.

"Friends...help friends." House kicked himself. He tried again. "Did Hector die?" He hadn't seen the dog underfoot. "Did he try to make it with your sea cucumber?"

Wilson laughed in spite of himself. House, while groping around in the emotional dark, always managed to stumble upon what was the very nearly perfect thing to say. That's why he loved him. One of the reasons.

Wilson collected his tumbling emotions together in one place. "I have something to say to you, and..." Wilson shook his head in defeat, "I have no idea how you're going to react, so I'll just say it."

Wilson looked at House with frightened eyes. "I love you."

House stared. Then a tiny smile escaped his lips, the smallest flash of teeth showing. He laughed. A simple harumph that jerked his body once. "Yeah, I love you too, Jimmy. you're a pal. Weird sense of humor, but a pal." House looked passed Wilson to the fridge. "If that's it, how about that cheese cake?"

Wilson figured it wouldn't be that simple. "House? I mean it."

House stared at his friend, searching for the twinkle in Wilson's brown eyes that would indicate he was just pulling his leg. The brown eyes looked steadily, unblinkingly, back. Little, upside-down, dining-room lights were reflected in them, one in each dark iris. "You don't mean it." House said.

Wilson could not place the inflection in House's words.

"Yes I do, I lo-"

House stood, using the table for support. "No-o-o-o. You don't!" He was no longer looking at Wilson. His eyes darted elsewhere, never again at Wilson.

House did a visual search for his cane, found it on a chair by the stereo and slowly limped over to retrieve it.

"House..."

Walking as quickly as his leg would allow, House ignored him, and limped back, grabbing his jacket from where it was draped over an empty table chair. He shrugged into it and turned to the door to leave.

But Wilson was too quick for him. He slammed his hand up against the door so House couldn't open it.

"Move it or lose it." House ordered.

"No." Wilson held his ground. "We need to talk about this."

"O-o-o-o no we don't. YOU can stay here and chat all you want. I'm leaving."

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you couldn't cope with this news with the least grain of maturity, but you're not leaving until you hear me out."

"Look, honey!, I just found out you're gay. News flash: I'm not. End of conversation."

"What the hell are you so embarrassed about?"

"Maybe because I've, for purely medical reasons, been bare-assed around a guy who's favorite dish, it turns out, is franks and beans - mine!"

"Oh, give it up! You're ego knows no bounds. I'm not a voyeur. I haven't spent the last eleven years drooling over your ass pimples."

"My ass thanks you. Wanna smell?"

Wilson let his hand drop. "Oh, you're SO the sexiest thing." Wilson walked back to the table and began cleaning up dishes.

House didn't leave. He watched Wilson move back and forth from the table to the kitchen sink.

"Tell me this is a joke so I can have cheesecake."

From the kitchen, "It's not a joke, House."

House rubbed a hand over his face a couple times. "Christ. I knew something was up I just didn't know it was your-"

-"Again - charming." Wilson remarked from the garbage tin. Wilson was scraping the plates.

When Wilson returned to the dining area, House had not moved from the door, though at least he was facing inward. But he was not relaxed, his arms and legs were crossed and he stared at Wilson from beneath pinched brows. "So? Talk." House demanded.

Wilson wanted to but it would achieve nothing. Nothing would change except House. House would be walking on eggshells around him, avoiding trips to the hospital bathroom with him, not talking about nurses with him, no longer eating lunch with him...

Things seem to have gotten a whole lot worse. "It doesn't matter. You're obviously freaked by this and I'm...I don't know, screwed I suppose."

"I'm assuming non-sexually." House sighed, looked at his sneakers. "How are you "screwed"?"

House waited patiently, Wilson saw. He was trying. "This clearly changes our friendship, for the worse I'm assuming. You don't want a gay friend, especially one who's in love with you-"

House cringed.

"-I don't want just the old friendship now. I want...something more which you can't give. So, I'm screwed. I guess I'll be taking that post in California after all."

House stood straighter. "What post?"

Wilson remembered that he had not divulged Plan B to House. "Alvarado Hospital in San Diego needs an Oncology Department Head. It's mine if I want it." Wilson explained a little sadly. "I get a new job in a nice sunny spot and I don't have to daily pine after you anymore. It's win-win."

House took a step - one step - away from the door. "So, you turn gay, move five thousand miles across the country, I lose my best buddy...how is this win-win for me?"

Hands on hips, "I guess it isn't." Wilson said.

House tapped his cane on Wilson's wall-to-wall. "Look, you don't have to move. Why don't you...why don't you just rent a penis and pretend he's me?"

"What makes you think I haven't? And, by the way, your insinuation's a little insulting. I'm in love with you, not just your pickle."

"Stop saying you love me and it's a cucumber!"

Wilson shot him a pointed look. "You willing to prove that?"

House raised his cane over his head and laid it across the back of his neck, using it to massage a tense spot. "How long have you been hiding in the closet anyway? Since you lived with me? Were you hiding in MY closet?"

"Since college maybe."

House fidgeted. "So whenever I was taking a leek or showering and you were shaving...?"

"Yup."

House reddened, letting his cane fall. He let out a long breath from between pinched lips. "You married three times. Three times! I'm pretty sure they were all women. Except for Amanda, she seemed a little butch."

"I lied."

"You lied? That's some big, goddam, massive amount of lying."

"I didn't say I'm proud of it."

House swung his cane around, part in nervous play, part to distract himself from Wilson's watchful eyes. "So-o-o, When exactly did you...start...renting Brokeback? Putting from the rough? Packing fudge into the candy-box-?"

"-I get your meaning - you have such a delicate way of putting things!"

"I mean, when did you start wanting-?"

"-Loving you? I'm not sure. It sort of happened gradually. Then last Christmas, when you O.D-ed-"

"-When you walked out an left me dying on the floor..."

"...LYING on the floor, yeah." Wilson nodded vigorously. "That day! I couldn't...pick up your pieces anymore. Not without something for the effort. Not without nothing in return. I was getting nothing."

House thumped his cane down hard. "We hung out! We laughed! We drank beer and watched great porn. And I never meant to O.D. It was an accident."

"We did the things YOU liked." Wilson underlined it for him. "And, by the way, the Head of Diagnostics at one of the most prestigious hospitals in New Jersey does not swallow thirty-six Vicodin and drink sixteen ounces of whiskey "by accident". You tried to kill yourself."

"YOU walked out!"

"You'd puked! You were fine."

"Right. Puking saved me."

House had swallowed those pills to punish. To punish Cuddy for taking away his Vicodin, to punish Tritter for making his life even more miserable than before and to punish Wilson for lying and betrayal. For not believing him when he said he was in pain. And maybe to punish himself for flooring the gas pedal in the car wreck which had become his life.

Wilson turned back to the table and picked up the salad bowls. "Go home, House."

House didn't move. Suddenly he shouted, "Why the hell did you have to turn queer and fall in love with me anyway?" Then, more controlled, "I'm older than you, I don't dress an snazzy as you, I have no sense of personal style, I'm a jerk, I'm not quite as handsome as George Clooney, I'm a cripple, I'm an addict - I never iron!..."

Wilson nodded, thoroughly agreeing. "Doesn't add up, does it? You are all those things." Wilson turned to face him squarely and his voice dropped a full register. "But you're also tall and artfully muscled. You have sweet, suckable lips, gorgeous eyes the color of an arctic lake and when you get to within ten feet of me, you get me so hot for wanting you I can hardly breath."

House was stunned. Disbelieving. Rendered speechless. Then, "Really? No way."

Wilson threw him a smokey look that left no room for doubt. "Way."

"Cool."

Wilson chuckled. "Only you..."

"So what now?" House asked.

Wilson shrugged. "Nothing."

House felt let down. Not by Wilson's lack of answer but by how he knew things were going to change for them after tonight. "I don't think we can do the same things anymore." House announced quietly, looking at his own hands instead of at Wilson.

"I know."

"Consultations. Lunch maybe. Jokes. I'll still be the funnier one."

Wilson turned to him sadly. "And now I'll be the "funny" one."

House turned to the door. "You really going to take that job in San Diego?"

"Probably."

House nodded once and turned the handle. "See you Monday."

"Goodnight House."