A/N: So, that's it guys: the last chapter of this series... Thanks so much to everyone who's been sticking with this despite the long periods of waiting in between posts. This was actually the first time I started posting something before I had it (at least for the most part) written out, so there you go...
A huge THANK YOU also goes to the amazing Misanthropicobs over at LJ, who generously offered to beta-read this part. I added a couple of things after that, so all remaining mistakes are mine alone! – But now enjoy & have fun with the conclusion! :)
A/N #2: This one takes place following the episode "Locked in" (5.19), in which House takes on a patient with Locked-in Syndrome, while he himself is treated in New York after a motorcycle accident…
"I've been thinking."
House looked up from his desk to find Wilson standing in the door to his office, hands on his hips, a determined expression on his face.
Somewhat reluctantly removing his reading glasses, House grimaced slightly in anticipation. "Experience tells us that's almost never a good thing…"
Simply ignoring the dry remark, Wilson slowly approached the other man's desk, never taking his eyes off his friend.
"We should get you an MRI," he finally announced in a tone that was probably meant to sound authoritative.
House didn't seem particularly impressed. "And we should get you a chastity belt! – Both ideas rank about equally low on the scale of things we're actually going to do though…"
Wilson rolled his eyes in response. "Stop deflecting, House; I'm serious."
A small shrug. "So am I!"
Determined not to let himself be distracted, Wilson eyed his friend seriously. "I've booked you in for 6 pm tonight."
"What?!" House's formerly mocking expression morphed into a confused frown. "Where's that suddenly coming from…"
"'Where's that suddenly coming from'…?" Wilson echoed incredulously. "Motorcycle accident…? Head trauma? – Any of that ring a bell?"
This time it was House who rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't be such a drama queen… I scraped my elbow! – So unless my neck has suddenly migrated to an area right above my ulna, there was no 'head trauma'…"
Wilson's eyebrows shot up at that, and he started to gesture somewhat hectically in his friend's general direction. "Your… three billion facial bruises beg to differ!"
Another eye-roll. "I'm fine, Wilson. – Where's this suddenly coming from?"
"It's not coming from anywhere, House…" Wilson replied almost a little harshly, before taking a deep breath and continuing with forced patience: "It's the logical thing to do after head trauma from an MVA."
"Three days after the accident. With the patient showing no residual symptoms," House retorted dryly.
Wilson countered without hesitation: "Brenda saw you take some Aspirin this morning." He sounded almost a little accusing.
House merely shrugged in response. "So what? I had a mild headache. – Not surprising; and certainly no indication for an MRI…"
Wilson slowly shook his head at that. "You're on 80 mg hydrocodone, not to mention a few grams of acetaminophen per day! – For you, a mild headache could actually mean a massive headache, which would be an indication for an MRI…"
"I have no other symptoms!" House finally insisted.
"You came in by cab this morning, and you didn't steal any of my breakfast." Wilson gave him a challenging look. "Explain that without use of the concepts 'dizziness' and 'nausea'!"
Glancing at the ceiling in obvious frustration, House slowly but surely seemed to be losing his patience. "You're not nearly as good at the Sherlock Holmes thing as you think you are, Wilson…" Then more loudly: "How about the concepts 'broken motorcycle' and 'breakfast at home'?!"
Wilson suddenly exhaled audibly, tensely starting to rub the back of his neck. "I don't know why you're so stubborn about this, House. An MRI can hardly hurt you…"
"That's not the point! – Since when do we run around the hospital prescribing pointless procedures for people who are not even patients!"
"It's not a pointless procedure." Wilson searched his friend's gaze, his eyebrows by now drawn together in a typical display of concern. "Did they even do any imaging in New York?"
"No, because it would have been a pointless procedure even then!" To Wilson's continuing critical stare, he went on explaining with another irritated eye-roll: "I was fully conscious when I arrived at the clinic, I passed the neuro-check, and they kept me overnight for observation. – Which you might actually recognize as standard procedure!"
"Aha!" Wilson suddenly pointed an accusing finger at him. "So you were not fully conscious before you arrived at the clinic!"
Shaking his head in exasperation, House suddenly grabbed his cane and started to push himself to his feet. "That's enough, Wilson; this conversation is over. You're not being rational… – I have no idea what you're so desperately trying to overcompensate for, but feel free to finish this discussion by taking on both parts of the conversation."
With that he was already on his way to the door.
He couldn't have been any more surprised, when he suddenly felt a strong hand on his shoulder, spinning him back around almost forcefully, then keeping an iron grip around his left forearm. – Wilson was standing just inches away from him, just about yelling into his face: "You had a skull fracture not even a year ago! An MRI after renewed head trauma is not a pointless procedure!"
From his peripheral vision House could see all three members of his team slowly move towards the door separating the conference room from his office. When Kutner was about to enter the room, worriedly taking in Wilson's threatening stance over his boss, House answered his questioning gaze with a small shake of his head.
Then he turned his attention towards his newly out of control best friend again trying – for once – to sound placatory. "Okay, you're right. Not a pointless procedure. – Let go of my arm now Wilson, you're hurting me…"
That definitely did the trick. As if burned, Wilson immediately released his arm, shock at his own outburst now written all over his face.
As if on cue, House saw the three younger doctors simultaneously relax and back off a few steps from the door again. – The whole scene would have been comical, if he hadn't been so clueless as to what was actually going on…
"Oh, God; I'm sorry, House…" Wilson's eyes almost anxiously wandered over his friend's body, coming to rest on his crippled leg. "Did I – "
"It's fine, Wilson. Don't worry about it…"
Nodding a couple of times at the other man's reassurance, Wilson pushed his hands into his trouser pockets in a gesture that couldn't have screamed 'discomfort' any more loudly. – When he finally spoke again he kept his eyes fixed on the floor, his voice now strangely toneless.
"You had a skull fracture last year. One I don't think has been adequately followed-up on. – And after the… You had a brain bleed that could have left you permanently…" He didn't finish the sentence, instead raising a slightly trembling hand to the back of his neck. "We don't even know how well the old fracture has been healing, do we?" He threw House a somewhat questioning glance at that, but didn't wait for a reply.
"And now there's been some new trauma… – You didn't even get one night of decent rest after that! Just took on that case, and…" He took in a slightly unsteady breath of air. "You should have been in the hospital yourself, House, instead of just pushing everything away again to deal with some random patient… You can't just risk your own health like that just to…" He once again interrupted himself, his breathing by now bordering on erratic.
"Calm down, Wilson. You're hyperventilating."
"Stop deflecting! This is not about… We need to deal with this. I – " He suddenly seemed to be gasping for breath, sweat breaking out on his forehead.
"Wilson; sit down."
The message seemed lost on the younger man, who impatiently brushed House's hand away. "I can't believe I – " He frantically started to loosen his tie. "It's hot in here, right? I can't…"
Without any further warning he suddenly threw up all over himself and House, vaguely registering that his friend would be really pissed, because this was probably the second ruined shirt in as many days.
"I need some help in here!" Was the last thing he heard before everything went mercifully dark.
Wilson woke up to the sound of rhythmic thumping. His first association was a cripple with a cane; his second association was the basketball court in the backyard of his childhood home.
It turned out to be somewhat of a mixture between the two.
Turning his head slightly to the side, he saw House with his ball, engrossed in a list of symptoms on the white board, which he had – for a change – set up in his own office.
House had apparently seen him move, because he suddenly turned his head to look at him; the thumping of the ball ceased.
"I'm… I wasn't feeling well. – I didn't have a heart attack, did I?" As soon as he'd said the words, Wilson realized how ridiculous they were, seeing as he probably wouldn't be lying on House's recliner if he'd really had a heart attack sometime within the last hour or so…
But instead of the expected mockery in return, House just regarded him calmly. "No; your heart's fine. – You started hyperventilating, then you passed out."
"A panic attack." Not a question.
House still answered, his tone unusually mild. "Yes."
Wilson frowned slightly at the information, wondering if it was normal for him to still be feeling this drowsy. After a brief moment of contemplation, he decided to voice his concern. "I'm still feeling – "
"That would be the Ativan," House quickly interrupted, his expression unusually solemn. "You briefly came to earlier, but you were still pretty upset then. So we decided to help you relax a while. – You should be fine in a couple of hours…"
Nodding slightly, Wilson tiredly rubbed his face, still trying to get his bearings. – That was when he suddenly remembered the vomiting…
"I made a mess, didn't I… I'm sorry, House, I – "
"It's fine, Wilson. Everything's fine. – Why don't you just rest some more and sleep it off…"
He didn't want to sleep. He wanted to clear this whole mess up!
But the residual sedation and his own exhaustion almost instantly decided against him…
The next time he woke up, it was already dark outside.
A jacket was loosely draped over him. House's jacket, now that he regarded it a little more closely… The characteristic scent of his friend suddenly seemed to engulf him, and he felt himself automatically relax into the familiar smell that he suddenly found oddly comforting.
"You seemed cold." House's gruff voice explained somewhat unnecessarily from somewhere out of his sight. "How are you feeling?" His friend slowly step-thumped towards him, before carefully lowering himself onto one of the visitor's chairs.
Wilson slowly started to sit up a little. "Better. Fine…" It was true. He was still feeling a little tired, but all in all he felt pretty good; considering.
"House, I'm so sorry. I don't know what's gotten – "
"Will you stop with the 'sorry' crap already! I told you: It's fine."
Wilson couldn't help but smirk slightly at that. "I'll stop apologizing, if you promise not to say 'fine' one more time. It's starting to creep me out…"
That got him a hint of a smile and a small nod in return.
A minute later, he noticed House regarding him somewhat critically for a moment. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, the older man then pushed himself to his feet again and took a few heavy steps towards the light-board opposite his desk. To Wilson's somewhat questioning glance, he switched it on and nodded towards the imaging results of an as of yet unknown patient.
"This is the old fracture site." House indicated a region around the temporal bone of the displayed head, and that was when Wilson finally got it. He instantly started to feel slightly sick to the stomach, but forced himself to sit up fully.
"As you can see, it has not been re-injured; all things considered it's actually been healing pretty well." Without waiting for Wilson's comment on the matter, he moved slightly to the right to indicate a second scan, clearly depicting his brain.
"Also, there's no significant edema or swelling, no bleeding, no indication of a subdural hematoma; no nothing anywhere around the brain." He now half-turned towards Wilson again, meeting his still slightly shocked gaze with what seemed like a conscious effort. "I'm officially fine. --- Oops; sorry about that…"
Wilson slowly shook his head, still trying to catch up with the situation. "Who – "
Carefully pushing himself to his feet, Wilson now approached the light-board as well in order to examine the scans more closely himself.
Swallowing hard, he finally raised a slightly trembling hand to trace the by now barely discernable fracture line.
"You're not freaking out on me again, are you?" House regarded the slight tremor in his hand with a small frown. "Because this was definitely my last set of spare clothes…"
Simply ignoring the gruff remark, Wilson's eyes were still resting on the light-board.
"You know what I did after the trip-wire thing?" When House didn't immediately reply, he clarified somewhat impatiently: "After all those… pranks Cuddy played on you?" Wilson turned his head slightly to look at House, a somewhat pained expression on his face. "I confronted her." He shook his head as if incredulous at his own actions. "Accused her of hurting you; physically hurting you…" With a short laugh, that might just as well have been a sob, he once again turned towards the light-board. "I can't believe she didn't just laugh in my face…" The raw bitterness in his tone made House reflexively wince.
"For years, I prided myself with being your best friend, making painfully sure everyone realized just how much I cared about you; how much I loved you…" He almost spat the word out, as if it were the concept alone that had betrayed his friend.
"But ever since the… accident – " Swallowing hard a couple of times, Wilson suddenly averted his gaze. "I just can't believe I've hurt you like that! – If this is how I show my love for people, it's really not surprising I'm being divorced all the time…"
House's gruff voice finally interrupted him, in a trademark attempt to somehow dismiss the matter. "Oh, would you stop with the whining already… Everybody hurts the people they love." Then, more quietly: "We can't really hurt anybody else now, can we…"
Wilson regarded him for a moment, seemingly considering this, but then he just smiled sadly and shook his head.
"You know what's most despicable about what I've done?" He seemed to force himself to hold eye-contact, his voice finally breaking slightly. "You already barely love yourself, the last thing you need is a 'best friend' who confirms for you just how replaceable you are…"
House suddenly closed his eyes, as if trying to block out the painful words. "Stop it now, Wilson. This isn't helping… – If I'd known it would have this effect on you, I'd have let you ride it out without the Ativan…"
Wilson simply continued as if he hadn't even heard his friend. "And the worst thing is: I never even realized what I was doing! – Maybe I just didn't really wanna think about it… I mean, everybody's been telling me practically non-stop what an ass I'd been. I was still being actually… But I just – " He shrugged slightly, but the movement seemed forced. "I thought that you hadn't lost anyone, so you shouldn't – " He once again interrupted himself, grimacing slightly at the weak explanation, then continued with an almost tortured expression. "But then I heard about your accident in New York, and nobody seemed to know how bad it was, and I just…" He slowly searched his friend's gaze, his eyes suddenly glistening suspiciously. "I can't lose you, House."
If the older man was affected by Wilson's emotional anguish, he certainly hid it well. – When he finally replied, it was in his usual gruff inflection. "Well, lucky for you, it seems you won't have to. At least not in the foreseeable future." He firmly nodded towards the imaging results again. "You wanted to know I'm okay: Here's your evidence! I'm okay… Everything's been healing just fine."
But Wilson wasn't deterred that easily. Quickly averting his gaze, he shook his head slightly. "No… Actually, everything hasn't. The insomnia, the flashbacks; the increased pain… – When I said I'd credit Cuddy with the psychiatrist thing, I was wrong, wasn't I. It wasn't about Cuddy at all…"
A minute or more passed, before House finally replied, his tone suspiciously devoid of emotion.
"No. It wasn't." He sounded entirely too calm for the admission.
Wilson quickly glanced towards the ceiling at that; he actually seemed to be fighting back tears. But then he just nodded slightly, before once again searching his friend's gaze.
"Are you really not planning on going back?"
A small shrug. "Probably not."
When Wilson just wordlessly kept looking at him, finally nodding unhappily, House barely managed to suppress another eye-roll. "Oh, don't give me that look, Wilson… You may believe otherwise, but there's actually nothing wrong with me that a psychiatrist would need to cure. – It's just been a…" He suddenly interrupted himself, the admission of weakness foreign on his tongue. "…very long year…" Quickly moving his head slightly, he tried to avoid the look he knew he would find on the other man's face.
Wilson finally spoke again in a very soft tone of voice.
"Is there any way we can be okay again?"
The question surprised House, causing him to look up sharply. He wasn't prepared for the strange mixture of sadness, fear, remorse and hope he saw in his friend's expression.
Swallowing hard a couple of times, his eyes went back to the scans, before he started to lightly rub his leg in an almost reflexive gesture. Then he just shook his head slightly, unable to meet the younger man's searching gaze.
"That's a stupid question, Wilson. Of course there is."
"Then… what would it take?"
The almost childlike question caused House to meet Wilson's gaze again, this time unable to hide the pain in his eyes. He once again swallowed hard, fighting to keep his tone even.
"You forgiving yourself; me forgiving myself; we both forgiving each other…" He seemed visibly uncomfortable even as he said it.
The words brought another strangled sound from Wilson's throat that House couldn't quite place. "I have nothing to forgive you, House…"
A somewhat sad half-smile slowly formed on the other man's face. "Well, that'd be one down then; three to go…"
Flinching slightly at the implication, despite the softness of House's tone, Wilson forced himself to nod, his whole posture once again radiating uneasiness.
He could feel House's gaze resting on him, but couldn't find the courage to return it. It was only when he heard his friend take a heavy step towards his desk, that he managed to look at him again.
House had in the meantime sat down in his usual chair and was absently twisting the cane between his hands.
"I… don't know what to do, House. How to start…"
House simply shook his head. "Doesn't matter. – You just did."
Wilson looked up sharply at that, surprise at seemingly being giving a relatively easy way out apparent on his face. He suddenly felt a profound wave of pure gratitude.
"If I could do everything differently all over again – "
"…you wouldn't." House finished the sentence for him, his tone mild.
Wilson looked ready to contradict, but then suddenly just stopped himself. – He finally gave one very small, almost resigned nod.
"Then how can this ever be okay for you…"
House briefly looked up at him at that, before quickly averting his gaze again. His voice held no accusation, when he finally replied.
"Because… you didn't mean it." His tone was surprisingly light, even though the tense half-smile that accompanied the statement really looked a lot more pained than amused. "You just can't lose people, you never could… So when Amber was dying, you panicked. You desperately wanted to save her, and you saw only one way out." He shrugged slightly. "Asking me to do the deep-brain stimulation was the logical thing to do." Then he once again turned towards the scans of his head and brain, his tone by now purely analytical. "And after that… You just couldn't stand it. The memory of her, the knowledge of what you'd… asked of me." Another shrug. "So you left! You were just trying to protect yourself, there's nothing wrong with that. – You didn't mean to hurt anyone …"
Wilson gave him an incredulous look at that. "So, because hurting you wasn't my primary goal, that makes what I did okay? Just like that?"
Another small shrug. "Didn't say it was okay. But it makes being angry about it pointless."
Wilson just looked at him for a moment, before once again averting his gaze and glancing at the ceiling, desperately trying to get a grip on the panic that was once again threatening to take hold. – He finally nodded unhappily a couple of times, still trying to come to terms with his friend's quiet rationalization of everything he'd done. His uncharacteristic lack of anger was just one more sign that proved just how badly he had hurt the other man.
Quickly blinking back the tears that finally threatened to fall, he decided he at least needed to get one honest truth across.
"You're right, I probably wouldn't act any differently if I could do it all again. But," he once again forced himself to meet House's gaze, needing him to see he meant this. "I would also regret it all over again. – I've never been more ashamed of anything in my life than of my behavior these last couple of months. I am really, truly sorry, House…"
For a long moment, the older man simply stared at him, seemingly trying to process the words.
Then he suddenly just gave one clipped nod in response, before pushing himself to his feet with a slightly pained grunt.
"So! Now that that's out of the way, what do you say we grab a bite to eat. All this emo-talk always makes me so hungry, I'm practically starving!"
"House…" Wilson was about to protest, not yet ready to get back to their usual banter, only to be immediately interrupted again.
"Wilson." House's tone wasn't exactly sharp, but definitely decisive. "You haven't eaten in hours and you've had a hell of a day. – We're going out to get some dinner. If you absolutely can't help yourself, we can maybe talk some more then…" Switching off the light-board, he quickly made his way towards the door.
After a very brief moment of hesitation, Wilson hurried after him, picking up the discarded jacket on the way.
When the older man reluctantly stopped walking and turned around again, Wilson held the jacket out for him but didn't let go, thereby forcing House to face him.
He knew that if he didn't say this now, he probably wouldn't say it at all, and even though his friend had clearly signaled that he'd had enough of all this for now, he simply needed him to hear it, just this once.
"I know that I've done absolutely nothing to show it these last couple of months…" He saw House tense slightly at the preface, but continued anyway, bracing himself for a potentially bad reaction. "But I do love you; you know that, right?"
House looked startled for just a split second, before simply rolling his eyes again. – When he noticed that Wilson kept looking at him, he seemed to realize that some sort of verbal response was actually required if they wanted to make it out of here any time soon…
Reluctantly returning the younger man's somewhat anxious gaze, he gave another clipped nod.
"You practically having a coronary over some scratched skin on my arm might have just tipped me off, yeah…" Even though his tone was once again gruff, the expression on his face had softened slightly.
Without waiting for a reply, he then quickly turned around and resumed his way towards the elevators.
"Doesn't make you any less of an ass though…" He finally added in his usual grumble.
Quickly falling into step at his friend's side, Wilson couldn't suppress a slight smirk, feeling almost dizzy with the weight that suddenly seemed to be lifting off his shoulders. "Hey! What happened to 'I was only trying to protect myself, and there was nothing wrong with that'…?!"
House turned his head slightly to glance at the younger man. His lips curled slightly in the beginnings of a smile.
The end (Yay!)