Author's Note: I really do hate it when I have such a delay between chapters, but life just got insane and I'm just thankful that I could get the last of this story out before the new season. And, as you can tell by the week number, we have skipped forward a bit. Thanks to everyone who has followed the story!
...Oh and I just have to say that Hugh Laurie was robbed once again at the Emmys! He's always great, but he REALLY deserved it this year!
Wilson was just finishing the last of his paperwork when he glanced out the door and across the snow-covered balcony, noticing House's light was still on. He sighed, wondering if he should stop by. He found that he still worried over House like a mother hen. A few weeks after House's release from Mayfield he was allowed to come back to work. Cuddy and Wilson agreed to keep a closer eye on him than usual, but it turned out to be unnecessary.
Within days of his return, Foreman confronted Wilson in his office about where House actually had been. Wilson knew that it was inevitable that someone would figure it out.
"Do the others know?"
"He's been unsure of himself and withdrawn, so they know something is up."
"Tell them that he's experiencing increased leg pain. They must know that he's off vicodin."
"Look, if there's some doubt that he can handle his job then I need to know."
"He's fine. Just… if you think there's something to be concerned about let me know."
"So that's it? He had a mental breakdown and you're just covering it up?"
That's when Wilson got uncharacteristically stern. He stood up to face Foreman. "You're on record as having been House's attending physician in the past. Any indiscretion on your part could be seen as a violation of patient confidentiality. How do you think Cuddy will handle that?"
"I won't say anything, but if he does something stupid then it comes back on you and Cuddy."
Fortunately for everyone involved, House's behavior had been normal (for him) and his patients had all survived his typical diagnostic process. To the best of Wilson's knowledge, the team never got the complete truth about their boss' sickness. His confidence returned quickly and things seemed to be on their way to becoming normal again. Normal, but just a little different.
To those closest to him there were some small differences. He seemed a little more appreciative of the people in his life. Oh, he was still an ass. He still stole food, pissed off patients and was generally hated by most of the hospital personnel, but Wilson and Cuddy had noticed small things. He thanked Wilson for things more often and seemed to genuinely care when he asked about his day or patients. Wilson even heard him ask Cuddy about Rachel once when he noticed a picture on her desk. It was done without any sarcastic remarks about bad parenting, though he did cover his interest by commenting that he thought the child looked underweight. Still, he did ask.
The only thing that Wilson found he could complain about was the Great Wall of China built completely of tension that existed between him and House when they were alone. True, things appeared normal on the outside. They'd gone bowling, played poker and Wilson had been present for several of House's witty, yet childish rants on the amount of cleavage Cuddy was showing. When they were alone, however, Wilson could feel all the things going unsaid.
There is a problem with keeping a big secret for so long. It wasn't in the actual act of keeping it. It was more in what happened after the secret had been told. As long as House didn't know how Wilson really felt about him it was easy to pretend that everything was normal. It was so easy to compartmentalize and move the secret to a more comfortable place where it didn't interfere. Once House knew the truth, things were different.
And what was even worse was that Wilson now knew that there were some sort of unresolved feelings on House's side too. If he hadn't promised to not bring it up until House was ready, he certainly would have made a move by now. Day after day they were close, working or sitting on the couch watching TV. The urge to slide a little closer to House was nearly unbearable. And then there were House's normal suggestive comments that were tolerable before, but positively excruciating now. When House limped over to his office in the middle of the day, Wilson always wondered if this was going to be the time he would say something.
But he wasn't sure if they would ever address it. It was up to House to decide if he was ready for that conversation, but it might just be one of those things that he would rather forget. He probably just chalked it all up to insanity that they said while he was in the loony bin and it was better left alone. Wilson was beginning to wonder if the whole thing was his own hallucination. He tried to remember that all that mattered was that House was healthy again. They had survived.
He picked up his brief case, shrugged on his coat and locked up his office for the night before making his way over to House's door. He was leaning all the way back in his chair, his feet up on the desk, staring at something on the wall. Pensive House wasn't usually a good thing.
"Is your patient still dying?"
House looked up at him, shook his head and turned back toward the wall. No self-satisfied smirk. No explanation of his brilliance and how he came to the amazing conclusion.
"What does she have?"
"Opportunistic infection secondary to HIV."
"HIV…" he trailed off trying to recall everything House had told him about his case. It couldn't be. "The eleven-year-old?" House nodded. "She couldn't have been born with it. She'd be dead by now, especially if she'd never been diagnosed…"
House gave him a dark look. "I knew there was something not right about the older brother. He came right home from college when she got sick. Stayed in the room with her for two days. Thirteen thought he was being supportive." He shook his head. "He was right here every day and I knew there was something wrong, but I couldn't… I just couldn't get it. Then she flinched away from him when he sat down by her bed."
"Most people would have missed that."
"Drug user. Not symptomatic yet, probably won't be for years. He gave it to her sometime in the last four years he's been abusing her. Parents were too busy at the country club to notice that he liked to get high and screw his sister. And her doctors failed to run an HIV test because what eleven-year-old has HIV anyway? What happened to our cynicism? Why don't just assume that all kids are being abused by older family members? It saves time."
He rubbed his forehead, physically and emotionally exhausted. It was moments like this when he still doubted himself. When he had a particularly hard case he would wonder if there was some other reason why he hadn't figured it out. He would usually end up in Wilson's office, picking his brain to make sure that he wasn't losing it. It was hard for him to remember that sometimes there were just things that he missed because he was human.
"How bad is she?"
House shrugged. "She's started on drugs. Maybe she'll make it. And live the rest of her life on drugs that make her almost as sick as the disease they're meant to treat."
"She might be okay. Adults with HIV are living relatively normal lives with almost normal lifespans."
"Great. Every kid wants to be almost normal. And that's only what's wrong with her physically."
"The physical is all you had a duty to diagnose. You can't do anything more about the rest. And if she hadn't come to you, if she hadn't have gotten sick when she did, the HIV could have progressed and the abuse would have continued. You did what you could."
House nodded reluctantly. "The kids are treating her now. The cops arrested him a few hours ago." He paused, taking in Wilson's coat and the gloves he hadn't put on yet. "You're here late."
"Yeah. Getting ahead for the week. I'm leaving early Friday to go spend the afternoon with Danny and take him his Christmas present."
"It's funny how you don't point out my observance of Christian holidays when you're the one getting the presents."
He shrugged. "How's your brother doing?"
Wilson didn't answer right away. He was still trying to process that House had asked about his brother's well being. House must have followed his train of thought.
"Hey, us nutcases gotta look out for each other, you know."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "He's doing good. Better since his meds were changed."
Danny was still in the facility in Trenton. Wilson still went there a couple times per week, though he was needed much less than when he was first transferred.
"Great." House paused, took his feet down from atop his desk and took a deep breath. "So you wanna have dinner?"
"Pizza or Chinese?"
"No. I meant… dinner. In a restaurant. You know, the kind where you have to sit down, make small talk and leave a tip for the waiter afterwards." When he finished he was peering up at Wilson awkwardly, hesitantly making eye contact.
"Okay…" Wilson suddenly felt extremely anxious under House's gaze and he wasn't really sure why. House had that look-- Oh. "You mean like… a… d-date?"
"Yeah. Sure." He was trying very hard to remain casual, but Wilson could tell he was nervous.
"No, I often ask people on dates as a joke." House rolled his eyes, but the smirk gave away affection rather than true irritation. "I'm actually surprised you held out this long. I'd have put money on you jumping me the first week I was home."
"So why didn't you say anything sooner?"
He shrugged. "I wanted to see how long you'd last before you cracked, but it just got boring."
"You… This was a… test? The last few months while I've been wondering if you were going to say anything—if you even wanted to say anything—this was all just a test… for what? To torture me?"
House was smiling fondly as he watched Wilson pacing his office, using wild hand gestures and Wilson stopped abruptly as he realized that he had just completely freaked out. House was screwing with him specifically to get that reaction. He sighed and studied his friend's face.
"Are you sure?"
He shrugged again. "Well, I thought about driving myself crazy all over again wondering when was a good time to ask you, but instead I decided to just say it and get it over with."
"I didn't think you even… I figured that maybe you were…"
"You thought that I was insane and didn't really mean any of it."
"Well, yeah. That, and you didn't really say that much about it anyway, so maybe I just misinterpreted what you did say."
"There are a lot of things about back then that we don't talk about. I just didn't want to fuck things up by talking about it first if you didn't want to. I was trying to keep my promise to not push you on it."
"Well now I'm the one fucking things up, so let's talk. You're better at this stuff than I am."
"You may find this hard to believe, but this is new territory even for me." Silence fell between them and Wilson set his briefcase on the floor before collapsing into the chair in front of House's desk. He rubbed the back of his neck just for something to do. "Do you really think you're ready to talk about it?"
He blew out a frustrated breath, "Have I given you any reason lately to question my judgment? Aside from the reasons you had way before I went crazy? I'm pretty sure there's not going to be a relapse. And considering how long I've wanted to do something about it, I don't think I'm exactly rushing things."
"Um, how long exactly is that?"
Damn House and his evasive answers. "Just so we're clear, before the hallucinations?"
"Yes. Well before that. And you?"
Wilson swallowed nervously. "Before my last divorce."
House smirked. "That long and you had to wait until I was in a mental hospital to say anything?"
"Yeah, well… You're my best friend. You can understand why I wouldn't want to take the chance and ruin it all. It scares me," Wilson confessed. "And you waited this long to say something to me."
House nodded slowly, contemplatively. "And if I told you, what would you have said?"
"I…" he trailed off with a frown. "I would have thought you were joking."
"When did you know? Besides just 'a while.' I want to know."
House tried to keep his expression blank, but the underlying frown was evident. This was not the kind of conversation he did well at all. He'd already been more open than Wilson normally expected of him. They needed to hurry up and get the talking over with before neither of them could take it anymore. Like ripping off a band aid quickly. When the conversation was over it wouldn't be discussed again. It would just become part of their history, regardless of where their relationship went from there.
He spun his chair so that it he was facing Wilson, though he kept his eyes on his desk, hands folded in front of him.
"There was this one time when you spent Christmas at my place."
Wilson searched his memory. He'd spent several Christmases at House's apartment and probably would again this year.
"It was when you were still with Julie. She had been picking fights and you didn't want to talk about it. You came over instead of going home and we stayed up late eating takeout and mocking all the dumb Christmas classics playing on TV. You were laughing and smiling and I just…" He trailed off with a shrug. "You were happy. And you hadn't been in a while. Happy with me and completely miserable home with her. It was like, no matter who you were with or what was going on I… mattered. I meant something. I never understood that."
Wilson smiled, remembering all the times he put off going home as long as possible just so he could stay with House longer. He reached out and set his hand on top of House's. "You always meant something."
It was sad to him to realize that House very rarely felt like he was important to anyone apart from the world of medicine. He would never fully understand exactly how much he meant to those around him.
House stared down at Wilson's right hand on top of his left. Trembling slightly he slid his right hand to rest on Wilson's. That one small movement was a huge gesture for him. Wilson's heart was beating dangerously fast it seemed. This was something that he had thought about for years, but he never really believed that it would happen.
"I have one question," said House, "Why did you keep pushing me at Cuddy if you wanted me for yourself?"
Good question. Wilson wasn't sure if he even knew completely.
"I wanted you to be happy and I thought that she could make you happy."
"You're an idiot."
Wilson smiled. Only House could make that an endearing sentiment. As eager as he was though, he knew that they couldn't just jump right into whatever this was. He didn't know about House, but he'd never been in a relationship with a man before or, more to the point, he'd never had sex with a man. And that was going to be an entire process of figuring out how much they were each comfortable with. He also knew that more than a decade of friendship was at stake if for some reason this didn't work out. It had to work out.
"We should take things slow," he whispered.
House nodded. Wilson figured he had done quite enough talking for the night anyway and he settled for just gazing across the desk at him. House took his hand away, the closeness having become too much, and started playing with a paperclip to keep occupied. Then Wilson suddenly remembered what started this whole thing.
"Do you really want to go on a date?"
And then he saw a look that was very rare indeed. House was suddenly unsure of himself and very nervous. He looked down at the paperclip, concentrating on it a little too much. "It's been a while, but I think that's what people usually do. I buy you dinner and get at least a few glasses of wine in you before trying to take advantage."
Wilson frowned. "I'm the woman in this scenario?"
"Of course. You certainly wear more makeup than me."
He decided to let the comment pass, even though he most certainly did not wear makeup. Chap-stick maybe…
"You know about these things. Aren't I supposed to ask you out? Isn't it in the dating etiquette rule book somewhere?"
Wilson smiled. He was extremely pleased that House was making the effort for him, but he knew that House wasn't the dinner date type of person. He knew from the beginning that this would never be a typical relationship. House wasn't going to change just for him and honestly Wilson wouldn't have wanted him to try. For any of this to work, Wilson knew he was going to have to accept House as he was. And do a better job of it than he had in the past.
"Yes, rule one, subsection A of the rulebook clearly states that it is how things are done. However, amendment three to the rule adds that if the two people in question have known each other for more than ten years, then they can skip the formal date and move right on to Chinese takeout."
House grinned and they stood up. He put his coat on and grabbed his backpack, making his way slowly to where Wilson was already waiting for him at the door. Wilson went out first and they walked side by side to the elevator, just like they always had. House made a thoughtful noise and glanced at Wilson as they stepped inside the elevator.
"You know, if we follow those dating rules then it's not much different than how we've spent our entire friendship."
Wilson smiled, pushed the button for the ground floor and watched the doors slide closed. He then turned to House, set his briefcase down and grabbed the lapels of House's coat.
"I think we can find some way to make it different."
He leaned in slightly and though it felt like House was about to pull away he changed his mind and held his ground. Wilson lightly brushed his lips against House's. Not enough to be a real kiss, but certainly not a mere friendly gesture. He pulled back to look up at House's face, not sure what he would see there. He didn't know how House would feel about this move. His answer was House pushing him back against the elevator wall, bringing their lips together a little more forcibly. As they felt the elevator coming to a halt at the lobby House stepped back quickly and faced the doors. Wilson hurried to compose himself, though the kiss left him a little dizzy and very surprised. He grabbed up his briefcase just as the doors were opening and it could have been like any other night. Nothing looked different. To anyone else they were just two doctors leaving work for the night. They'd done this a million times. Except it was different now and always would be.
A few steps into the lobby House broke their silence. "How about pizza instead of Chinese?"
"As long as you don't order any weird toppings. The anchovies last time were just gross."
"You pick the toppings, but I'm getting bread sticks."
Wilson smiled and nodded as they reached the main doors. He wondered if it would always be this way. Would they always keep this easy part of their relationship while adding the part that they had started on the elevator? Wilson shook his head. There was no choice now, but to continue and accept it. But he didn't think he would have it any other way.