Title: In His Footsteps
Summary: House and Wilson meet at a medical conference after years of silence, but Wilson keeps his distance and House wants to know why.
Characters: House/Wilson, Wilson/OC, LLB
Rating: R for Language
Warning: AU, Angst. Slash.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be.
This story began as a one-shot, "Freeze Out," but due to reader interest, it's been expanded. To refresh memories, and give others a jump start I've included "FO" as a prologue to part 1. It is very short.
Also, I attempted to incorporate suggestions and answer everyone's questions, (eventually), so this is my way to say thank you to everybody for their interest and encouragement. I hope you find this sequel satisfying. It's complete, so chapters will come out on a regular basis, but if there is anything you want to see happen with the plot or characters, let me know and I will try to accommodate. This story also encompasses, "A Glassful of Shattered Hope" which should be read before part 6.
In addition, I want to extend a big thank you to my beta, bishojokitsune for her support and encouragement.
Freeze Out - Prologue:
Hopkins extended an invitation for Wilson to deliver the keynote address at the national medical conference. An honor he could do without, but the medical director dropped the airline ticket down on his desk as if it was an edict, "I've let you slide on public appearances, but this means a lot to the hospital. Trinity can spare you for a few days. Take Dr. West along if you like, but you're going."
Two weeks later, his speech met with enthusiasm and a bevy of questions, but Wilson knew the gauntlet wasn't over. He couldn't get away fast enough from his eager colleagues, and as the doctors melted away, he fell prey to the man leaning on a cane.
It was awkward meeting face-to-face. Neither wanted to extend a hand for fear one would reject the other. House saw icy resolve. It meant more to Wilson to give in than for him, so he spoke first.
"You look ten years older than when I last saw you."
"How odd, because it's been five since the last time we spoke." The glacier cracked, "I see you haven't changed." It was a momentary spy hole into the past that sealed back up as Wilson transformed into granite.
The wall of silence froze both of them. There was nothing left to say. House's eyes betrayed sadness as he turned and walked away.
West came rushing up, "Sorry Wilson, was that House? I got tied up with hotel checkout and our air confirmation." He lowered his voice, "Did he ask questions?"
Wilson held himself erect and walked deliberately slow to disguise the telltale limp, "No, and we didn't talk about anything personal. He's a curious son-of-a-bitch, but he doesn't suspect, and I don't want him ever to find out, got it?"
In His Footsteps - Part 1
Airport terminals – another way to say "Obstacle course for cripples."
House checked the departure schedule against his pass. His commuter flight was at gate 33B. Any further, and he might as well walk home. He slung the backpack over his shoulder, flexed and curled his fingers around the handle of his cane, and continued trudging forward.
What a lousy day. He began with unfounded expectations. The way he went about implementing most plans.
He plotted it all in his head: Call in sick to Cuddy, hop a flight to Baltimore, get face-to-face with Wilson, talk about good times, fan long dead embers into flame.
You're a damned fool.
When he finally had his chance to look Wilson in the eye, what did he do? Tell him in his pithy way that he looked like crap. Nice going you moron. So what if Wilson was no longer youthful and his face resembled mashed sardines on toast? He didn't have to say it out loud. For one moment, one blink of the flight board he saw a softening look around cool brown eyes, and then it fled into furrows and creases that never were in his face before he left Plainsboro.
Why was he shocked at the change in Wilson? The last time they talked was five years ago.
Sure. When they were together, there were ups and downs, disagreements, give and take where Wilson always gave and he always took. That was par for the relationship. But, despite all that, they were becoming a couple. Two boulders knocking against each other, grinding sharp points into rounded edges with identical needs and wants.
House checked the upcoming gate. It was for his flight and none too soon because it was close to boarding time. He found a seat near the outlying border, facing the pilgrims flowing past, seeking their holy shrine and welcoming pew of black plastic and chrome.
But as he watched the waves of strangers, he did not see.
Old Technicolor film with special effects ran through his head at double time.
Evenings with Wilson beside him on the sofa, and more and more often in his bed. The fresh laundered scent of Wilson's clothes wafting from a chest of drawers when he searched for a pair of his socks. Closets bursting with so many suits, that when House opened the door he was afraid George Zimmer would jump out and say "I guarantee it."
They began discussing the likelihood of a more permanent relationship where Wilson would give up his nomadic existence and move in with him. Everything was working for them this time, until…until wrapped up in his own brand of selfishness, after losing three patients in a row, House began drinking. Long and hard drinking.
More images, faster now. Lightening fast like a professional card sharp dealing a deck.
Wilson lectured. Wilson nagged, "House, stop doing this. Can't you see what you're drinking is doing to us."
House laughed, "Yeah, look whose talking, wonder boy. Losing three patients in three weeks would make you the medical messiah of oncology."
That remark earned him two full weeks of solitary drinking time as Wilson slammed the door behind him, disappearing into one of his favored catacombs that included turn down bed and room service.
Cuddy finally learned the knack of couples counseling and brought them together, or maybe it was just because they really couldn't do without each other. They began talking, and Wilson was once again the man who bought, brought and came to dinner. House was back to solving his medical mysteries.
He was cutting back on Maker's Mark, but not enough, and his Vicodin dosage was slowly overtaking the riverbanks of his drug tolerance.
A magician yanking a fountain of vividly painted scarves twirled and flowed from his hat. Watch out ladies and gentleman. Don't get too close if you want to preserve the illusion.
An evening in an old world steak house was planned for a Friday night. House should have recognized a trick up Wilson's rolled sleeves.
Over candlelight, fine wine and two-inch steaks hiding under moist slices of truffle Wilson made his offer. It was more of a plea, "House, we're in a rut that's not working for either of us. We need a change so that we can change."
"Isn't it enough that I change my shorts for you? Neither of us is capable of change."
Laying his knife and fork down on the plate, "I'm proposing a change of scenery for us both. A time out. A chance to reboot and consider how we relate to each other. I've been talking to Cuddy. She's willing for one or both of us to take sabbaticals and work at different hospitals in separate cities. Throw ourselves into completely different environments and see how much we miss each other." Wilson scrutinized his plate. "Where I can't prescribe or enable you."
Different hospitals? As ideas went, House wasn't about to warm up to one that left his bed cold. "When did you become a closet romance reader? Separate? Why?! Prove that 'absence makes the heart grow fonder?' Haven't you heard of 'out of sight, out of your crazy lovin' mind?'"
Now absorbed in playing with the stem of his wine glass, Wilson didn't look up, "Yes, well maybe it's about time to find out if it's one or the other."
He felt as if he downed a cocktail prepared with two parts jealousy to one part anger with a splash of hurt.
This time it was House's turn to walk, or limp away in a huff. He wiped his mouth in disgust on the linen napkin and threw it onto the matching cloth. The wine glasses almost tipped over as he made a clumsy retreat from the elegant table, "Clever Wilson. A chance to keep me on the hook, while you find a new lover on the side. Well, do what you want, but don't tell me what to do or how to act. Go off on your quest, Sir Lancelot, but don't come running back when he or she has enough of you."
Wilson's eyes were bright with pools of unshed tears. God, those dark brown eyes dripped with sincerity. He felt like he kicked a puppy.
No. What he did was worse. He kicked his best friend and lover out of his life.
"Don't you know me by now? I'm not moving out of town to start a new life. I'm happy with the one I have now.
"On Sunday I'm riding with a group of hot biker chicks. You can come by while I'm out to pick up your clothes and beloved blow dryer. Leave the key on the coffee table."
The off-key music of a carousel slowing, and the sparkling overhead mirrors reflecting a kaleidoscope of cotton candy colors freeze on wandering white-legged tourists. If you don't like reality, cover your eyes.
That was that. Two people irritated with each other, and not willing to budge.
Wilson stuck to his plan and Cuddy found a hospital in the Midwest that was willing to trade doctors for six months.
They spoke once, maybe two times during the first months of the separation, but what began as a six-month sabbatical stretched into five long years.
The first half-year self-destructive forces ruled. A midnight hurricane that steals landmarks and alters shorelines before the sun's rays uncover the mutilation.
He remembered little during that period. After Wilson went out of town, he became fast friends with his liquor cabinet.
Wilson left messages a couple of times. Torch songs asking for a second chance when he returned, but not relenting on the length of exile.
House didn't call back. He wanted Wilson to show up on his doorstep, apology and credit card in one hand, Chinese and beer in the other. He would accept nothing less than a three dimensional Wilson radiating body heat, brushing a sandpaper cheek against his neck, and a greedy mouth exploring his own.
Instead, he just looked at the tumbler full of bourbon and chatted up the ever-lowering contents in his best Bogie impersonation, "It's you and me, sweetheart until Wilson returns."
His memory was blurry about another phone call around the time the deportation treaty was expected to expire. At least, he thought there was a call. His love affair with alcohol was at a record high or at rock bottom. It was a matter of perspective. He mentally shrugged, maybe he was hallucinating that there was a message, like what he was doing with patient's symptoms during that time.
Losing patients, but racking up lawsuits. It was time for him to change, and Wilson wasn't there to see it.
Wilson never came back to Princeton-Plainsboro. Cuddy gave him penetrating looks before sending out an announcement that the former department head was not returning to the teaching hospital, deciding to pursue his career in the Chicago area. The email ended with formal wording to the affect that Wilson was wished much success in his new position, would be sorely missed, and posting for his replacement would begin the following Monday.
So what did he expect from his foray today? Wilson to fall into his arms? No, but not the stony silence either. He'd never seen Wilson quite like this. The warmth from the eyes closed off. Lips tight - forbidding bitterness and anger to escape.
Now he knew they both changed. Was he in any way responsible?
A blip in the human slipstream unfolded in front of him, arresting his attention away from his thoughts. A young man with the harnessed energy of all the solar panels in Las Vegas zipped through the crowd on the verge of missing his flight. He clipped off people like a motorist racing home from work on a Friday afternoon, dodging and weaving between busy foot traffic. Apparently, for one man the near miss came too close, causing him to stumble and lose his balance, but his traveling companion caught and steadied him. House stared as the vignette transpiring in front him. The stumbler behaved ungrateful, even truculent as the hero of the day appeared supplicating and solicitous. He couldn't hear them from this distance, but he watched with a mixture of uneasiness and fascination.
House stood up as the announcement of his flight buzzed through the PA system, but it was coincidental. He rose to get a better view of the two men starring in the silent movie in front of him. After a short dialog the irritated man nodded, and they continued walking together, or rather the good-hearted schmuck walked slowly to best match the uneven gait of the hostile man next to him.
Memories flooded back. That was exactly what Wilson used to do for him. The woman's voice was again announcing the flight as House stood there indecisively. He couldn't decide if he should satisfy his curiosity, miss his flight and follow them, or digest what he observed. It was definitely a form of déjà vu. It was an ass backwards version of "A Christmas Carol."
The luckless hero looked and dressed similarly to him. Jeans, and a loose shirt over a t-shirt. Tall and slim, but much younger. Dark hair with no signs of gray.
It was the other man, with the temper of Scrooge that resonated with his own irascible personality.
And, it was none other than Wilson.
House closed his eyes, watching a replay in his head of the buckling leg and near-fall, uttering a phrase that he would never say out loud to Wilson, "Oh God. I'm sorry, Jimmy."
The two men were almost out of sight, but moving slow enough for even House to catch up. He bowed his head as he leaned both hands on his cane and thought. While considering the pros and cons in his mind, there was a final call for boarding. Damn, another reason presented for missing the flight. As the passengers walked up the ramp, the odds were shortening by the moment that his seatmate would be a sniveling or screaming child.
Still, he weighed his choices. Be hasty or take it slow?
Straightening up, he turned toward the wall of windows framing the mural of cheerful colors painted across the side of the jet.
He walked to the flight attendant and handed over his ticket.
No doubt about it, five years ago House would have acted on impulse and Wilson would have stood stoically by and accepting his humble status as master enabler, but that was then.
This was now.
Thank you for reading. Comments welcome.