It was getting late. Wilson sat on the sofa trying to immerse himself in his book. It wasn't working. His mind wouldn't co-operate, and he found himself fighting not to look up every few seconds and glance around the room. Concentrating too hard on looking at one thing meant he might not notice if anyone entered the room. The door was locked, House was the only one who could get in, but that was small comfort to him. He might be his best friend, but that didn't stop him being an ass. An ass who responded to situations he didn't want to deal with like a child acting up.
Wilson dragged his eyes back to the book on his lap. It wasn't interesting, some novel he'd found on House's bookshelves, the one single work fiction among hundreds of medical textbooks and reference books on every conceivable subject. A present, probably, from some well meaning ex-girlfriend, a friend he'd left behind at some point, maybe even a patient who didn't understand that once the puzzle was over, their doctor would lose interest completely and move on to the next thing that caught his eye. Be it a new case, the latest twist in someone's love life, or a new method of torturing his team.
Anyway, the book was boring beyond belief, some kind of romance story set in a version of eighteenth century Europe where everyone was young, gorgeous and constantly jumping into bed with one another. Come to think of it, it wasn't so inconceivable that House had bought himself he book after all, it read like a literary version of one of his favourite soap operas.
He inhaled deeply and released the air slowly through his mouth, rested his head against the back of the sofa and stared at the ceiling. Even that was more interesting than the story.
It was depressing that this had become his life. Sitting around reading romance books, watching daytime TV. He was even cooking and cleaning for House because he had nothing better to do. You could only spend so long each day studying sign language before you went insane. He was taking three classes a week, and between that and refusing to see a councillor – what would be the point if they couldn't communicate effectively? - he had a lot of time with nothing to do. So to put off thinking about the situation he was facing, he went out of his way to do anything else.
It would be easier when he was able to go back to work, but it would be a long time before he was ready for that. He had months of adjustment ahead of him before he would feel ready, and even then, he suspected, he would be wrong.
He knew what he was doing, procrastinating, hiding, waiting and hoping that one day he would wake up an be back to normal. Worse yet, House knew it too. One of the few good things about the whole nightmare was that House couldn't gloatingly analyse him and get it spot on in that way of his that made you think that he could see right inside your head. Or rather, he could do, but Wilson didn't have to know what he was saying and so could kid himself into believing that House had it all wrong.
He put the book down on the coffee table and looked around the room again. He turned his head to the left to be greeted by House's face, staring right at him. He gasped and jerked backwards, heart pounding. House grinned evilly, "Boo," said the shape his lips made.
Shock quickly turned to anger, "House! What the Hell?!"
House pointed at the book and said something, he looked amused. Whatever it was, Wilson didn't care. He straightened his t-shirt with trembling fingers and glared fire and ice at the other man, "Don't do that again," he told him.
"What?" Can't hear you!" He cupped a hand around his ear to demonstrate.
Wilson frowned in confusion, "Are you all right?"
House turned his head and pointed to his ear, Wilson's eye was drawn immediately to the earplug, his frown deepened, "House, what are you doing?"
House ignored the question and switched on the TV. Wilson waited impatiently as he flicked through the channels. When it became apparent that he wasn't going to get an answer, Wilson reached out and rested his hand on House's arm. House looked at him.
"What. Are. You. Doing?"
House replied unintelligibly and resumed channel surfing until he found something worth watching then turned the volume up as high as it would go.
Alright, if that was his game. It might even be fun. "That's cheating," Wilson signed. He took the remote away for the second time in as many days, and turned down the volume to zero. He stayed seated on the couch, eyes fixed on House, watching with interest for his reaction. House nodded his acceptance, and they watched TV with the subtitles on.
House had the ability to become completely engrossed in something, more so than anyone else he had ever met. It was part of the reason why he was so good at his job. Once something caught his interest, he wouldn't let it go until he knew everything there was to know about it. It was also the reason why no secret was safe around him, why he knew everything there was to know about everyone around him. In addition to that, it also allowed him to get caught up in TV shows that many people would be embarrassed to have been caught watching.
Wilson waited as patiently as he could, watching House, not the TV. He took in the concentration shown in the deepening of the wrinkles around his eyes and the fact that those eyes never once left the screen.
As the show ended, House switched off the TV and turned his attention back to Wilson, who simply watched him, waiting to see what would happen next.
House reached for the ever present pad of paper and wrote, 'Well, aren't you even going to ask?'
'I did ask. Twice.' Wilson underlined the final word and stared at House expectantly. There was no point speaking, he knew House would probably be able to hear him through the earplugs, but the other man clearly didn't want to talk. That suited Wilson just fine. Speaking without being able to hear himself was awkward, he found himself constantly worrying about how he sounded.
House glanced away for a second before replying, "I waned to know what it was like," at Wilson's look, he wrote, 'Was interested'
'And it's interesting,'
Not the word Wilson would have chosen. He waited for more, but House got to his feet and mimed tipping his hand towards his mouth as though holding a glass. It was the motion he had chosen to indicate a drink, probably without knowing that it was the correct sign. Wilson shrugged as he nodded, and watched House walk into the kitchen, returning a minute later with two bottles of beer.
Wilson took one gratefully, waited for House to sit down again, then pointed to the word word he he had written. Interesting? He underlined it and drew a question mark next to it.
House's expression took on a thoughtful look, Wilson waited as he attempted to articulate his thoughts, and then translate them to something that would look good on paper.
'It's weird,' he wrote, 'muffled, hard to describe, but you already know.'
Wilson nodded, but waited for more. Nothing else came. House simply sat there drinking his beer, thinking. His mind was elsewhere, his eyes held the faraway look of a man thinking far too hard about something. Wilson ached for more input, to know what thoughts were going through House's head, but he didn't want to ask.
Even if he did, what House was experiencing was completely different to him. If someone closed their eyes, would they know what it was like to be blind? If Wilson tripped up and bruised his leg, would he have any idea what it was like to be House? House may think he had satisfied his curiosity, but what he was experiencing was completely different to waking up to complete silence and knowing that it would last forever.
House knew now what it was like to wear earplugs for an hour or so, safe in the knowledge that he could take them out whenever he wanted. He would still be able to hear someone if they spoke to him. He might have to listen a bit more carefully, but it wouldn't be difficult. It wasn't the same thing.
Habit had him open his mouth to ask, before he realised the pointlessness of verbalising the question. He picked up the pen, put it down again and spoke in a whisper that House wouldn't be able to hear, "What is this supposed to achieve?"
House just looked at him, his expression a picture of complete non comprehension. Wilson smiled, if House wanted to know how he felt, he would have to learn what it was like to have a friend babbling on silently, acting as though he expected to be understood. He began to speak, whispering because at that level he knew he wasn't being too loud. It didn't matter what he said, but he found himself venting his frustrations. It was surprisingly easy to say things when he knew there was no possibility of being understood, once he started the words just seemed to flow. Not having to worry about how he sounded, for the first time in weeks, he just spoke. It was a huge relief.
When he was finished, he took a deep breath. House was sitting there, watching him, his expression unreadable. He reached for the notepad and wrote, 'You're right, that is a bit irritating.' He put down the paper and picked up two takeaway menus from the table. "Pizza or Chinese?"
Wilson rolled his eyes and raised his hand to point at the pizza menu, when he suddenly realised. He pointed instead to the telephone, then to House's ear with a quizzical look.
House frowned, then his eyes took on a look of understanding and he half smiled and mimed removing the earplug.
Now that just wasn't fair. The game didn't have clearly defined rules, but if it had, that would be breaking them. "Cheating, House," Wilson told him, speaking loudly enough this time, he hoped, to be heard. Suddenly the game wasn't as interesting any more, and he didn't want to play. He got to his feet to leave before he realised that not counting the kitchen, the bathroom or House's bedroom, he had nowhere else to go. He turned to the door and left the apartment before House could comment on his hesitation, closed the door behind him and started walking.
House watched him go, knowing there was no point calling out and that he had no chance of catching up to him.
Somewhere during the last few weeks, fall had turned to winter. He had barely noticed the change, spending most of his time indoors, and the rest too distracted to think about the weather.
He walked quickly through the dark streets, keeping his eyes constantly on the move, flicking from side to side, peering down the streets as he crossed the, on the lookout for anything or anyone he might want to avoid. When he passed another person, he kept his head down and hoped they wouldn't notice him. It they did, if they spoke to him, he didn't notice and they didn't press the matter.
It wasn't safe wandering around the streets in the dark alone, and for him now, it was more dangerous. There were any number of hazards out there that he wouldn't hear coming. He felt exposed, as though he were being watched by hundreds of curious eyes, people whispering about him, even shouting, planing their attack. He wouldn't know until it was too late. The thought made him quicken his pace and look cautiously behind him. There was no one there, but that didn't mean that a potential mugger hadn't ducked around a corner before he had seen them.
His hand flew instinctively to his back pocket, it was empty. He had left his wallet behind. His cellphone too. He didn't use it as much any more, but the text messages were useful. It was normally stored in his pocket so that he would feel the vibration alert. Today though, he had left it on the table at House's apartment. Great. That meant that the muggers wouldn't find anything worth stealing. They wouldn't be happy about that, and he knew who they were going to take it out on. It also meant he couldn't stay out long. With no money he couldn't even get himself a drink, let alone a hotel room to hide in for a few days until House figured out what he had done wrong.
For that matter, while Wilson figured out the same thing. House had always been an inconsiderate bastard. Now, for the first time in his life, he appeared to be trying out empathy. Granted it was just to satisfy his own curiosity, but it had to be a step in the right direction. The thing that had pissed Wilson off hadn't just been House's cavalier solution to the problem of how to order takeout, though that hadn't helped. It had been House's actions throughout the evening. The idea that by clogging up his ears with a pair of cheap earplugs he could have any idea what it was like not to be able to hear.
He should be pleased that House was making an effort, or at the very least indifferent to the fact, but it pissed him off. And the truth was, he didn't know why. He shivered. He had forgotten his jacket too, and the late winter nighttime air was unforgivingly cold.
He hugged his arms tightly around his chest, hunched his back against the cold and kept walking, more slowly now. He had nowhere else to go, he didn't know anyone else who lived in walking distance, but he didn't want to go back, not yet. Not so soon after he had stormed out, he couldn't face going back to House's smug smile. He would know Wilson was without his jacket and wallet, he probably knew it before the door even closed behind him.
House dry swallowed a Vicodin and took out the ear plugs. The sound of the room suddenly rushed back, the hum of the electricity, the kitchen tap dripping, traffic driving past outside. He had never really noticed how loud it could be in there. He listened carefully, savoring the noise. With Wilson gone, the room suddenly seemed very empty. He felt his absence much more acutely than he had the absence of sound. Their friendship seemed more fragile these days. Even though Wilson had eventually chosen to come back after Amber's death, as House knew he would, things had felt strained between them. Recent events hadn't helped, and he couldn't fight the feeling that if Wilson didn't think that he needed him so much, he would leave again, this time maybe even for good.
He got to his feet and walked into the kitchen, pausing at the piano to idly tap at a few keys. He didn't play any more, not since Wilson moved in. It hadn't seemed fair.
He opened the fridge, took out two more beers and limped back to the couch, he opened one and left the other on the table. The soundtrack of the room changed subtly as outside the rain began to fall, tapping gently on the window. He leaned his head backwards and half cosed his eyes, waiting for the sound of the door opening.
It wasn't a long wait. Wilson came back with rain dripping from his hair down his face, soaked to the skin and shivering. House didn't gloat, he threw him a towel and waved the second beer in his direction. Wilson noted that the earplugs were gone as he sat him soaking wet self back down on the couch and accepted the peace offering.
'Am I forgiven?'
Wilson read the question with a smile and nodded, "I'm sorry," he whispered, "I don't know what I was..." he tailed off.
"Sure you do," House told him, speaking out loud. Wilson watched his lips move, saw the expression on his face changing as he spoke, but couldn't make out most of the words. "You're miserable. You don't want to be, but you are. The thing is, that feeling gnawing away at your gut, that's yours. You don't want me to have any part of it, you don't anyone else to understand because that takes away a little bit of it away and shares it out among the rest of us, and right now you think that misery's all you've got."
Wilson frowned, he knew he'd just been analyzed, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know what House had told him.
"You're wrong though," House added, "you've got a lot more. It's just going to take a while for you to remember it."
Wilson sighed and took a sip of his beer, "Why won't you learn to sign?" he asked.
House hesitated, looked down at the ground, then brought his gaze back up to look Wilson directly in the eye. "I am," he spoke slowly, enunciating clearly in the hopes that he wouldn't have to write it down, "I started learning when you were in the hospital, before you even woke up."
"You..." Wilson frowned, trying to work out whether he had understood that correctly.
House nodded, 'I'm learning,' he signed slowly and clumsily, still holding his beer in one hand.
Wilson smiled widely and resisted the urge to hug his friend, 'Thank you' he signed back.
House rolled his eyes, picked up the two takeaway menus and thrust them in Wilson's direction, "Lets try this again, pizza or Chinese?" he asked, "And don't think this lets you off the hook, you're still learning to lipread."