.

.

He wakes in the morning to the smell of coffee and the prodding of a cane-tip in his ribs.

"Take it back," House says, and a piece of folded yellow paper -- the cashier's check -- flops downward onto Wilson's chest like a dying butterfly.

"House. I ... didn't leave because of this." He picks it up and looks again at the red-printed numbers, a figure both exorbitant and meaningless. "It ... wasn't the money I wanted."

"If I thought it was, you think I'd be giving it back?" House looms like a crane above the sofa, making an easy escape impossible.

"I can't take it."

"It's yours, you moron. You bitched enough each time you shelled out."

"That's not the point. I take it, and you'll either think everything's fine, when it isn't, or you ... you'll think I mean thanks for playing, I'm ... done." Damn it, he's losing his cool and he hasn't even had his coffee, hasn't even gotten up to pee, for God's sake. "Neither of those things would be true. The fact that I'm here means that I'm obviously not ... not gone. But it doesn't mean we're okay, and will you move? I've got to get up."

House moves, stepping back from the sofa with the tiniest almost-smile at the corners of his mouth. Danger, danger, danger. It's not safe when House looks like that, the hopeful and damaged, sweet, endlessly selfish child peeking through the windows. You let him into your home, you feed him, he loves you, and when you're not looking he burns the place down. It's always an accident and he never, ever learns not to play with the stove.

"Don't look at me like that," Wilson warns, getting up at last. It's already too late, though; the bastard knows he's winning, knows it's only a matter of how long. Folding the check in thirds, Wilson tucks it into his wallet, noting with some surprise that nothing is missing inside.

It's been a very long while since House, presented with an easy opportunity -- a lone wallet unguarded on the wild prairie of the coffee table -- didn't steal from him. Borrow, actually, corrects a part of Wilson's mind that he can't seem to silence, if the size of the check is any indication.

Looking up, he sees House in the kitchen, resolutely ignoring him while pouring two cups of coffee. It's nine in the morning and the lines and shadows of House's face look like it's midnight on a sixteen-hour shift.

The bastard is winning, all right, Wilson thinks, but which bastard?

.


.

"Give me the keys," says House, while they're halfway through hash browns and bacon at the First Light Cafe.

"I thought I was driving. Or did you forget something at --"

"We're not going to the funeral."

"What?"

"She won't know. She won't care."

"You will. Maybe not now, but --"

"My dad will be upset. He'll miss one more chance to tell me what a screwup I am and that I never called her enough. I'm not going."

"House."

"What's the point? Look at a body that isn't her anymore; lie to a bunch of strangers by pretending I want anything to do with my wonderful, loving father?" House sips more coffee, looking, if anything, more exhausted than he was an hour ago. "No."

"Then ... don't pretend. Don't behave yourself. But you do ... you did love your mom. You don't have to lie about that."

"I'm not."

"If you don't show up, it's the same as saying she meant nothing to you." Wilson stops, waits until House looks him in the eye. "Only reason I went to Amber's," he continues. "I ... didn't want to. I hated every minute of it. You will, too."

"They oughta get you to write the brochures. You make it sound so appealing."

"You loved her. She was the only good thing about your life at home, and ... you need to do this."

"Funny. The way you say that, I might almost think we were friends."

"Don't. Just ... not now." He's not ready for this, not strong enough yet to tell the truth and then prevent the consequences -- whatever House will do, whatever pattern of disaster they'll create for each another this time around.

"Now, or I limp out of here, call a taxi, and disappear until it's over. You want me to do this, I need one God damn person on my side, because I promise you my dad isn't."

So there it is. House and his father have been decades at war, and House is right. There's nothing fair in asking a man to tread grieving and alone into hostile territory. It's spectacularly unfair if the man in question is Gregory House, whose defective armor won't stop the bullets but does keep the medics from treating the wounds.

"It ... it can't be the way it was." Wilson takes a breath, hands over his card to the waitress without thinking twice. Once she's gone again, he continues. "I'm not ... I have to look out for myself. It has to change, House, but ..."

The moment Wilson stops talking, House starts to get up. "We're friends or we're not."

"We ... we're ... in ICU, on life support, but ... yeah. We're friends."

"Your medical metaphors are lame," House says, but he's sitting back down.

"That's all you have to say?"

"Am I calling a cab right now?" House has hunched over the table like a cowed, defeated convict, not a guy who just got what he wanted. Grief; this is grief, the one thing Wilson should recognize best. House pretends inhumanity so well that it's easy to play along, forget, stab thoughtlessly at him and then stand bewildered in the growing pool of blood.

Actions, not words. House calls you an idiot a thousand times and when you ask him to put his life on the line for you, he does it. For the people he loves, there are no questions asked.

"Let's go," Wilson says, signing the check the moment it hits the table.

House, unmoving, stares at him. "You said I'd be buying breakfast. Last night."

"Your twenty-four hours of free food haven't run out yet. Take the bereavement perks while you can get them." Wilson drains the last of his coffee and gets up, pretending not to hear the quiet exhalation -- the pain -- when House follows suit. "Let's get this over with. There's only one other stop I need to make on the way."

House moves fast, as he sometimes does when he's really hurting; the sooner he's out to the car the sooner he can sit again. "Luscious Lila's Lipstick Lounge?" he asks, as they push their way out the door. It's a good try, Wilson thinks, but House's heart just isn't in it. All the same, a try is worth something, no matter what House says.

"No, I ... have to stop at the bank."

They climb into the car, House seeming to study him all the while, watching for every changing angle. "We'll hit Lila's on the way back, then."

"I'm not in the mood for strippers lately," Wilson says -- and all movement from the man beside him abruptly stops. "Dead girlfriend thing," Wilson adds. "You wouldn't know. Can we just ... get dinner instead?"

"You're driving. Your call. Your bank is --"

"Two blocks up, on the right. I haven't forgotten." While Wilson merges into traffic, House is shifting around, digging in his pocket. Good; he'll need to prevent the pain from --

"You'll want this." House interrupts his thoughts, leaning over to shove a slip of folded yellow paper into the pocket of Wilson's shirt. The check, the one last seen nestled safely in the depths of Wilson's wallet.

"House, why ... you told me to --" He realizes he's swerving when another driver leans on the horn. "Never mind. But if it doesn't clear, you're buying dinner from now on."

There's no reply from the passenger seat, so Wilson looks over, not realizing he's just said "from now on" until he sees that tiny, tentative, dangerous smile taking hold on House's face.

"Cool," says House. "You just missed the turn."

"There are other banks in the world," Wilson says, feeling like he's about to plunge into a deep, dark ocean. Anything could happen, and it probably will. "Let's just get out of here."

House nods, leans his seat all the way back, and is fast asleep before they even hit the freeway.

.

.

~end~