AN: Written for the One Hour, One Story challenge/exercise on the LJ community Housefic_Meta.
Wilson watched the ball arc up slightly, then begin to drop. He braced himself for the impact, but still winced at the thud that echoed off the walls when the ball made contact with wood.
House stood on his left leg, still balancing himself after the slight stutter hop that he'd make every time he released the ball, drifting slightly into the path of the next lane.
The ball slid on the oil for a moment, spun slightly to the left, then found momentum, picking up speed as it rolled down the center right of the lane.
House watched it, then leaned to the left to will it back toward the middle of the lane as it veered off course.
The ball made contact with the six pin, clattered through to the end of the alley.
"That's four," House said. He walked back to the scoring desk, his right hand pressing down on his right leg to give it some extra support as he took the one step down from the alley.
"The scoreboard says three," Wilson noted, nodding at the electronic display above the lane.
"It should be four," House said. He dropped down onto the empty seat next to Wilson, picked up his beer. "Cripple discount."
"But I'm not keeping score," Wilson pointed out. "It's out of my hands."
House grunted, took a drink. "Automated scoring sucks," he said. "We should have gone to Colonial Lanes."
"League night," Wilson pointed out. "We could have stayed at your place and waited out the weather."
"Rain delays suck," House said. "If the Phillies had a dome ..."
"Then you'd bitch about domes, like you did when they were playing in Tampa."
"No one should need a structural engineer to determine if you got a base hit," House said.
"So you said. Repeatedly."
House's borrowed bowling ball popped up through the ball return, its gaudy teal and orange markings rotating end over end until it slowly came to a stop.
"Now go throw your gutter ball so I can play," Wilson said.
House shook his head, but pushed himself up and onto his feet, his right hand again supporting his leg as he limped up onto the alley approach. He picked up the ball, took two short steps over to the approach.
Wilson watched him as he settled himself into place, then stepped forward -- right leg first as he made one short step, then the left leg, then another short step with the right until he was nearly at the foul line. He put all his weight onto his left, lowered the ball and let his right leg swing back in an abbreviated motion of the classic bowling move. He couldn't dip down very far without losing his balance, though, and released the ball just a little lower than his waist.
They were four frames into their second game. Wilson knew that House was feeling the strain of the first game, and trying to save enough strength to finish out this one. He'd be releasing the ball a little higher with each frame from here on, taking a shorter approach up to the line.
The first time House had dragged Wilson out to a bowling alley, it had been nearly a year since the infarction, six months since Stacy had left. He didn't like to leave home. He'd only reluctantly take cases, and spent what few hours he was at the hospital inside his own office, with the door closed.
But that day, he'd shown up at Wilson's desk, told him to take the night off -- to tell Bonnie he was visiting a sick friend -- and led him to the alleys on the south side of town. Wilson had followed him to the desk where House rented a lane, then a pair of shoes.
"He'll take a size nine," House had said, nodding toward Wilson.
Wilson had taken them and walked alongside House as he made his way to the lane at the far end of the bowling alley. He noticed there was no one else playing nearby. He kept thinking that this was a mistake, but there'd been a light behind House's eyes that Wilson hadn't seen for months, and he was afraid to see it go out again.
"Are you sure about this?" he'd asked.
"Twenty bucks says I'll get a strike," House had said, and leaned his cane up against the ball return.
He'd been unsteady on his feet, nearly fell when he released the ball, but he'd managed to somehow catch his balance and stood there as the ball bounced twice, then began to roll toward the pins.
Wilson brought him his cane, raised his eyebrows as the ball bounced into the gutter.
"I didn't say when I'd get the strike," House had said. He walked over to the ball return, waited until the ball appeared. "Bet still stands."
He'd gone back to the alley the week after that, then the week after that and the week after that until it somehow became a regular thing. Wilson kept coming at first because he worried what would happen if House fell, wondered who'd be around to catch him -- if he'd let anyone touch him at all.
But then he noticed House becoming steadier. His steps becoming stronger. His left leg compensating more easily for his right, and even the right becoming more solid beneath him, no longer as shaky as it had been. Wilson began to wonder if the guys in physical therapy had ever considered bowling as rehab, then realized that if they'd suggested it, House would have never tried it in the first place.
Wilson felt himself relaxing with every frame, every game. He began looking forward to it almost as much as House.
Four months later, House had his first strike.
"Twenty bucks," he'd said, and Wilson grinned, put the bill on the scoring table.
Six months after that, Wilson bought his own bowling shoes.
"The ones at the alley make my feet itch," he'd said, as House held one out, stared at it, turned it from front to back.
He'd finally just shook his head, and handed it over without a word.
Wilson had never bought his own ball. He liked trying out different ones at the alleys, seeing how a twelve-pound one performed compared to a thirteen-pounder, or seeing what would happen if he tried different grips, getting the feel of each one as he placed his thumb, index finger and ring finger into the holes.
It soon became Wilson's Monday night ritual. He'd toss the shoes in a bag, put the bag in the back seat of his car. After work, they'd head out to one of the lanes. House had an ability to scout out small neighborhoods joints that Wilson had never heard about, places he'd never been.
They'd play one game at first, then stretched it out into two as House grew stronger.
Scoring was just something to bet about -- who'd hit 100 first, who'd pick up a spare, who'd get the most strikes in one night. It was the one time House never seemed to care if he lost.
After Wilson moved in with Amber, he'd missed one night, promised House he'd make it the next week, and tried to come up with an excuse he could give Amber about why he'd be gone on Monday.
He hadn't needed it. He'd come home one night to see Amber had started unpacking some of his boxes, putting his things on her shelves, giving him space in her life. He'd heard her laughing in the bedroom, and followed the sound.
"Have you found something you were looking for?" he'd asked, and she'd turned around, the shoes in her hand.
"Maybe, but not what I was expecting," she'd said.
He'd started to explain, about House, about bowling, about how much good it had done him when he'd give up on traditional rehab.
She'd just smiled, told him he didn't need to tell her anything. "Just promise me that we'll go together someday," she'd said. She'd put her arms around his waist and pulled him closer. "Besides, I've got a wicked, wicked hook. I think you'll like it."
They'd never made it, though, and Wilson had found the shoes on the floor at the front of a closet when he was cleaning out her things. He'd picked them up, tried not to think about her, tried to forget about House, about all those Mondays. He'd tossed them into a box with everything else he was going to donate -- Amber's clothes, Amber's books, Amber's life.
He was going to make a clean start, and bowling seemed like such a small thing to give up after everything else he'd lost.
But on the morning he loaded up the boxes to take them to Goodwill, he'd pulled the shoes out, and put them back in the closet. He couldn't say why.
Now, maybe, he could. Because even then he knew he'd be back. Even if he didn't want to admit it -- not to Cuddy, to House, or even himself.
He looked up as the pins clattered at the end of the alley, four more falling and skittering across the wood.
"That's eight," House said, and walked back to the desk, sat down.
Wilson glanced up at the electronic scoreboard. "Seven."
"Ten bucks says you won't do any better," House said.
Wilson stood, walked over to the ball return to pick up his ball, waited for the pin setter to clear the lane.
"You already owe me ten from the last game," he said.
"But when you lose this bet, we'll be even."
Wilson stepped up to the approach, and tried to remember how to line up the arrows just right. He'd gotten a little rusty in the past few months when he wasn't playing, but he was feeling better now, feeling an ease as he hefted the ball, remembered what it was like to just have fun and not pay attention to the score.
Bowling as therapy, he thought to himself. Maybe, in some way, it makes sense when nothing else does.
"You're on," Wilson said, stepped forward and released the ball.