Summary: Altering one thing in the past can change everything. House and Wilson. SLASH. Angst, Hurt-comfort. Warning! Primary character portrayed (in part) as a child.Story contains some paranormal events.
Pairing: House/Wilson. And Father-child (NON-sexually of course!), family difficulties.
Rating: Mature. NC-17 ADULT! Some swearing. Possibly violence. Mentions of child abuse and child abduction.
Disclaimer: The cutie with the stuffed horse doesn't belong to me, neither the guy with the cane...yadda, yadda...
Author's note: I suspect this theme, or something similar, has been done before in the House-verse but I wanted to try this unusual, slightly paranormal-ish plot, in answer to a story I read as a kid; one that has stuck with me for decades, and it begged the question: What if we were given the opportunity to go back back in time and change just one thing? What would it be and what would the consequences be? How might we be different? Perhaps not precisely what we hoped for.
He was so tiny at this age; three, maybe four years old. As an adult, even face to face, the man at fifty beat him by almost two inches; three when he wore his extra thick soled, expensive running shoes. But this small, baby-fat faced boy, sitting under the willow bush clutching a soiled stuffed toy and holding onto a blanket for dear life, was a total stranger. Except for the large, expressive eyes. Intelligent, even at so young an age, and, even now, as blue as planet Earth.
It began to rain. Just piddles that did not yet hold the unwelcomed promise of a chilling down-pour. Young Gregory House turned those large eyes, round with fear and confusion, toward the warm lighted windows of his father's house. It was just passed one AM.
Only six more hours to go.
Wilson had not meant to pry. Some things were better left un-said or un-heard. Left un-read. Yes, House's childhood had been a remarkable one and, at the same time according to him, not all that happy. At least within the home.
But Wilson had not expected to learn of these things that lay on his desk, absconded from House's apartment weeks before. Wilson felt shame at the theft - he would return them of course, but insatiable curiosity had won-out over personal ethics and, when rifling through some boxes in House's closet looking for the dinner jacket he had loaned him months ago, he had stumbled across the, at first glance, innocent-looking paper memorabilia. An envelope from decades passed. Nineteen-sixties nostalgic. Innocent in time.
One part of the envelope's interior in particular that had spilled out and caught his attention, was a folded sheet, yellow with age. Lined paper covered front to back with dark script. As he shoved it and an assortment of shoes, shirts, and a baseball glove aside, a few negatives had then slipped out of the envelope as well. The negatives were in color, but other than the indistinct figure of a slight person surrounded by white light, he could make out no details at all.
Wilson fretted at the two sets of none-of-his-business items sitting before him on his small kitchen table. He really had not intended to steal anything. Borrow, he corrected himself again. But when he had opened the envelope to return the mystery photographic negatives to their dark place, the hand-written letter had unfolded almost of its own accord, lying in wait for his curious eyes. The ink was old - purple now instead of blue. It was a woman's writing; mature, neat, the words deeply inscribed onto the pulp, as though the pen had been fiercely pressed down, line by line, over the entire missive. The hard script of anger.
Wilson could not help but take a second and third look. Names and words that made no sense apart, simply jumped off the page and onto his retinas. "John", "your son Gregory", "the pictures are proof", "so much pain". And other words nearer the letter's closing - "or we'll leave you!"
Wilson now remembered (a small application of balm to his conscience), that he had hesitated before taking the items. The letter, the negatives, were none of his business. This was House's closet, his past and his privacy.
Of course House had given him permission to go into the closet, with a wave of his hand, so Wilson could rifle through its contents looking for the jacket which House had borrowed months ago and never returned. That night, Wilson had an appointment with a Pharmaceutical Rep', and he needed the beige one. It was dressy enough for business without being formal. It was a jacket that said "I'm a trifle interested, but not really in the market."
Wilson had exhausted all the spots a normal man would usually hang an expensive jacket. But in House's world, once you had come up empty on the usual spots, you started looking in unusual ones. Like boxes of old correspondence mixed with sports stuff mixed with dirty socks. You checked behind the bathroom door and under the bed and behind the dressers.
Wilson recalled hearing the television in the living-room. House had been flipping channels, which meant he wasn't finding anything good to watch, which meant he getting probably bored enough to abandoned the TV and wander to the bedroom to watch Wilson's frantic search, just for the entertainment value.
Sure enough, it had happened. The couch springs creaked. Wilson at least knew House that well, and he swiftly folded the letter, stuffing it and the negatives, into his pants pocket. It didn't bulk too much. Nothing for House to grow suspicious about. House had appeared in the doorway seconds later, complaining about how hungry he was, and that he'd buy him a new jacket if Wilson drove him to his favorite Chinese restaurant.
Which Wilson gladly did. The favor eased his guilt a little. Enough that he didn't break down and confess his sin to House on the way over.
House, happily home again with boxes of Chinese take-out to last him a week, offered Wilson a beer, which Wilson declined. He was beginning to sweat over his crime, and needed to get away before he broke down completely.
Wilson wore his usual black suit, and was distracted through-out the drinks and new cancer drugs talk, finally ending the meeting a little sooner than was socially or business-tasteful.
Even days later, the negatives and the letter tucked away in his bedroom dresser's sock-drawer, Wilson still had not stolen another glance at them. The words "or we'll leave you" kept coming back to haunt him. The letter had most certainly been penned by Blyth House. Why had she found it necessary to threaten to leave her (Wilson assumed), husband? The answers were there beneath his cotton foot-wear.
One late night, days and days later, Wilson, unable to sleep for the curiosity, finally broke down and retrieved the stolen goods from his dresser, spreading them out before him on his kitchen table. He turned on the swag light directly overhead and contemplated them over a cup of midnight coffee. Finally, he was going to read the damn thing, prove to himself that it was nothing all that interesting, return them to the dark confines of House's junk box, and forget the whole sordid thing.
But first things first.
The letter. He would read the letter first. There was no reason why he should be sweating. Swallowing misgivings over prying into House's personal business, Wilson sipped his ill-advised beverage, unfolded the yellowed letter and began to read:
"Tuesday, 1963" It was no month given, but the letter then continued simply enough with -
"John", (no Dear or Husband)
"I've made up my mind. This has got to stop. Gregory is your son"(son underlined heavily), "whom you say you love, and yet you do these awful things" (awful underlined twice). "You hurt Gregory last night. Really, truly hurt him" (hurt underlined three times), "and I won't put up with it anymore. Last night after you went to bed, I took pictures. Gregory has burns" (burns underlined twice) "on his stomach from it." (no mention thus far of what "it" was). "Do you see the blisters?Your son Gregory has freezer burns!" (freezer burns underlined twice) "He is in so much pain today, I am beside myself. How long did you keep him in there this time? How many more times before you scar him for good? Before he is ruined in his love for you? Before I am? For God's sake, he is only a child." (child underlined three times) "You may look at these pictures - the pictures are proof! -" (proof circled and underlined), "and do what you like. Throw them out, burn them. But I'm keeping copies of the negatives and everything else hidden (not here of course). You will never" (never underlined three times) "lay a finger on Greg again unless it is done with loving concern, and not anger, or I SWEAR, John, we will LEAVE you!"
Wilson set the letter just to the side, not too far, just far enough that he would have some space between himself and the awful thing; so he could keep an eye on it but not be damaged by its malignant words. But it was in his mind now and so the knowledge of what it contained was in his life. Blyth had spoken of freezer burns and pain. How does one get freezer burns? Did John House stuff his son into a freezer as some kind of twisted corporal punishment for an infringement of house-hold rules?
The negatives. Wilson stared at them. Left as they are, he would never be able to see beyond the markings of dark and light in the tiny squares. There were seven in all, each square a little different from the last. But he had to know now of course. Impossible to ignore their implications, however little of it that was visible.
Wilson went to his own closet, and found on a shelf, a negative photo-viewer. A gift from Amber who had been a bit of a photography nut, and who had owned boxes of photographic equipment of all shapes and functions. The device was used to examine negatives one by one until the photographer found the one he or she liked best, mentally marking it for full developing. After Amber's death, her photographic equipment he had returned to her parents. This item, though, had been missed, and when he came upon it one day while sorting out his closet, he had decided to keep just this one thing.
The switch on its side produced no light, and Wilson dug around in his utility drawer for some fresh triple-A batteries. Setting them in place, he closed the small plastic hatch and tried the switch again. The small screen lit up strongly.
Wilson picked up the short strip of photographic negatives and placed the first tiny square on the far left into the slide-port. At first he didn't know what exactly he was looking at. It was something pinkish, surrounded by shining white squares. Tiles maybe. Sure. Bathroom tiles. One of the brightest rooms in a house. Plenty of light, big mirrors to reflect that light. A good place to take a picture if one didn't have a flash.
The substance of the photo started to make sense. And suddenly it made a complete and terrible sense in form and color. It was a picture of a child's torso from the back, the child's plump buttocks could be seen just at the bottom, but the rest of the figure was all back. A back red and pink with blisters of varying sizes. Fluid-filled bubbles of burned skin covered the back and sides and of what could be seen of the buttocks. Burns. First degree at least. Perhaps in some spots - second.
The negative contained no date, but it seemed reasonable to assume that the body portion he was seeing in the picture was House's, but back when he was (difficult to tell age from such an angle), roughly eight or nine years old.
The next slide was less distinct, but it showed the backs of a child's legs from thigh to ankle covered in the same angry marks. Blisters from almost head to foot. The next slide was even more horrible but more for what it did not show than what it did. A bath-tub filled with water and choked with ice-cubes. An arctic mish of slushy liquid. A human-sized tub of flavorless Slurpee. Keep a child down in that long enough and, yes, the skin would begin to freeze.
Freezing, when it was first happening, when the cold was seeping in and stimulating your nerves and blood vessels to sting and curl up in retreat, felt at first like the worst kind of cold you ever felt. Then, when enough minutes went by, it began to feel like, not ice, but fire on the skin. That could last for many long, agonizing minutes until the skin began to go numb below the surface. The numbness would finally reach the deeper tissues and put an end to much of the pain but by that time, tissue damage was already present. Keep living flesh beneath water that cold, sub-Arctic ocean cold, long enough, and tissue death would begin. Burst cells, stopped up circulation, infection, gangrene...the sloughing off of the epidermis and dermis.
Wilson, his stomach queasy, looked at negative number three. This one was the weirdest still. It was a picture of someone's back yard. Why in the worl-?
Wilson then saw the reason behind the odd photograph. There was someone in the photo. A small, hunched figure sitting beneath a bush, wrapped in a blanket or quilt. A very small someone hunched there. The grass looked damp with rain, the sky was cloudless with a sliver of a moon in the far distance. It looked early spring maybe. the leaves were still green but the breaths of the squatting figure rose above the bush like a signal from a lone survivor.
What time was it in the picture, Wilson wondered. Late enough that no pink remained in the sky. So after dusk then.
The last picture was Gregory lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask on his face, the head raised a quarter to facilitate breathing. A hospital stay. For asthma?
House didn't have asthma. For pneumonia? A cold plus an ill-timed freezing ice-bath can do that to a little person.
Wilson tossed the negative-viewer down with a clatter and dashed head-long to the toilet, vomiting up his coffee in a light brown spray. He flushed and got to his feet, fumbling around in his bathroom cabinet for some ant-acids and popping three of them. He stared at his reflection in the mirror, remembering the terrible sights on his kitchen table. The awful words and the past that House had kept hidden all his life.
Wilson felt sick and, for some reason, like he had somehow just violated his best friend.
Well, you did. You, James Wilson, stole House's personal, private property and then stuck your nose as far down as it could go into it.
As he looked at himself looking back, Wilson remembered his own idyllic youth spent in his dad's store, the large pieces of licorice and chocolate his mom would sneak for them. Playing fireman in a large, treed back yard, climbing up to the tree-house and sliding down the pole his father had sanded down and erected, riding his BMX bike to an imaginary burning building, putting out the fire and saving all the people. He recalled family trips to Coney Island every summer, going on the rides again and again until his stomach churned, and then running around with his brothers on the beach. A seemingly timeless, care-free era of his life
Suddenly Wilson, knowing it was illogical, felt ashamed of himself. Not for the theft of the letter and negatives, (though he was not proud of himself for that), but for the embarrassment of what he had been granted as a child: those basic things like safety, security, the assurance of care, a family who had their ups and downs like all sometimes did, but essentially a close-knit cell where he felt protected and loved. And for those very same things which House had been denied.
The image of a lone figure crouched beneath a bush, his cold breath rising in the icy night air; a child left to fend for himself with nothing to comfort him but dreams no doubt filled with monsters crawling out from the shadows...
He slapped the edges of his shell-shaped sink. "Fuck!" Serves me right for stealing.
How in the hell was he going to talk to House about this, if at all? How would House react to this sudden exposure of his darkest secret? Likely not good, Wilson thought.
After giving the idea enough consideration, he decided he wouldn't bring it up. That it might possibly be a very bad idea to speak of it. House had not spoken of and that indicated that he didn't want to.
Wilson stood there for a long time, looking at himself in the bathroom mirror and decided it. No, he would say nothing...unless he found a reason to do so. Or unless House gave him a reason to broach the subject. What reason that might be he really had no idea. Their friendship-sexual relationship had been running smoothly for several months. Wilson was ecstatic, and House seemed happier than he'd been in a long time. It was heartwarming to see the man, although still a little batty when it came to his job, enjoying a personal life again. On those Friday nights he stayed over, House would actually smile at him in the morning, and be laughing at Bugs Bunny or some other slap-stick cartoon, while Wilson made breakfast.
Why must every advance forward between them always come with a clause that says "Sorry, but on the road to new happiness, you're going to have to take this with you."
Wilson wasn't certain he understood why it bothered him so much to learn of the letter and the awful, awful pictures. Because you love him, you idiot. And because it made his heart ache to know House had, with the exception of some casual references to some more benign forms of neglect, kept this painful knowledge to himself for almost fifty years, not even telling his best friend. Not even telling his best lover.
House was doing so well. The psyche' med's were, mostly, working. His pain was, mostly, under control, save for some infrequent break-through pain that sent him hopping around the apartment like he'd been shot with a double barrel. But them, he and House, were getting along pretty damn great. The friendship was intact again, and, a few months back, had been taken to another level where they shared beer, food, television, and after the lights were out, some terrific sex, too. Even, on rarer nights, up close and personal love-making. House was still House, the man he had always been, but with some new life-accessories.
There was no good enough reason for Wilson to mention his shocking discovery and screw all that up.
Talking to House about anything turned out to be moot, anyway.
House's latest case, a patient he and his team had argued over until House all but stomped out of his office and gone home until his team either backed him up on his choice of treatment, or Cuddy made them do so, to get him to return and work his sorcery. It was a marginal improvement over House's old war-horse method of getting what he wanted: pop pills and act verifiably insane until Cuddy either sent him home, or gave in and handed over whatever he demanded in order to solve the case.
House was skipping much of the worst of his old method to arrive directly at: go home and sulk. In such a state, there was no talking to him. Not even Wilson could shift him when he was in a good and thorough pout.
The patient, it turned out, was not impressed with his attending doctor bugging out on him and, rich as King Midas, sought to make Cuddy feel the pain because of it. Cuddy transferred that pain, as she often had, to Wilson by calling him and leaving the whole mess of House's behavior on his shoulders.
Wilson came home, found House slumped in front of the TV, drinking his light beer, and massaging his leg with forced abandon.
Wilson watched him for a moment. "Leg's bad, huh?"
House just nodded, but Wilson could see by the sweat on his forehead that it was more than bad. Today, his leg was killing him. Wilson could well imagine it had been acting up all day and House, looking for almost any excuse to let off some steam and escape to his couch to ease the demand on his ruined thigh, was what had precipitated his verbal show-down with the patient, his team and his boss.
"I'll get the topical Lidocaine." It certainly wouldn't completely numb it, but it would help. He wondered why House hadn't already applied the stuff himself. Maybe it was easier to sit and cope with terrible pain than strain the leg even more by trying to hobble to the bathroom and back, and be left to cope with excruciating agony.
House un-zipped, slipping his jeans down to the knees, and leaned back, letting Wilson take care of massaging the ointment into the skin, trying to work it gentle through the pores and into deeper tissue. His hands working the sore, twitching muscles accomplished the other half of the pain-relief.
Finally House closed his eyes, breathing a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
Wilson kept his eyes on House's face as he leaned over and kissed the scar with just a touch of his lips. He liked to see the expressions on House's face these days. It was still a pleasant delight to see contentment there, or quiet gratitude. Both looked good on him.
Wilson sat beside him, not touching. House liked physical affection as much as the next person, but he didn't like to be pawed. "What are you going to do about your patient?"
He glanced at his watch. "Cuddy'll be calling me any minute, begging me to come back in."
"Um. She called me, actually, to try and talk some sense into you. Her words."
House looked at him. "Oh." He turned back to the television. It was a show about things blowing up. House had it on Mute. "And are you going to try and talk sense into me?"
Wilson chuckled just once. "No. I figure you'll have a flash, one of your" He wiggled his fingers in bunny-ear air quotes, "little epiphanies, and you'll be sproinging out of here like a kid on pogo-stick to go test out your theory."
House shook his head at Wilson's terminology. "Sproing-ging??"
House nodded. "Oh."
"I'm tired." Wilson said, his eyebrows wiggling suggestively.
House turned a studious gaze to his lover's crotch. "You got anything else in there on the verge of sproing-ging? 'Cause," House sounded apologetic, "the leg's kind of stiff, which means other parts won't be." He pursed his lips. "Sorry. Afraid me and the tripod are just not up to that kind of instant spring-action."
"Tripod? And I said I'm tired. Bed-time for me. Coming?"
House nodded. "Be there in a minute."
Wilson padded to the bathroom. With returning peace, he heard House punching numbers on the phone and then "Cuddy? Look, about today..."
House returned to his patient the next morning, and Wilson heard nothing else about House's current case until after lunch.
But what he heard then...
"What the hell happened?" Wilson demanded.
He had been paged by Chase to a private hospital room. Chase greeted him at the door, and held up his hands to stall the small storm in disguise as Wilson "He's okay." He assured him, steering the steamed-up Wilson back into the hall. "House isn't seriously injured but the guy did get a few good shots in. He's got a broken right malar, some bruises, and he's going to have a hell of a black eye. Other than that..."
While listening to Chase describe House's injuries, Wilson looked over Chase's slightly shorter shoulder, trying to peer into the room. All he could see was a nurse helping a paper-gowned pair of legs get comfortable on a bed. She handed an ice-pack to a left hand. That much Wilson did see. "A cracked zygomatic?" One of the hardest bones in the human body. "What did the guy hit him with - a table?"
"We think it's more than just a crack. One minute they were having a conversation-"
"A good conversation, or-?"
"-there was some raised voices, but none of us thought anything of it. A stubborn patient, House and yelling go hand-in-hand like - " Chase considered an apropos metaphor, finally settling on "T-N-T."
"Right. Someone yells at you - perfect reason to crack their skull open!" Wilson wanted to throttle the guy.
House's malar bone was fractured on the same side of his head where he had suffered a serious concussion/contusion. The type of complicated skull fracture House had suffered rarely healed as quickly as a simple, linear crack. A CT had confirmed that, after five months, the break had finally sutured itself closed again. But still, an impact to the right side of his skull, hard enough to crack his cheek-bone, not an easy bone to fracture. "That ungrateful son-of-a-bitch. The patient I mean." Wilson took a deep breath, getting himself under control.
"I know who you meant." Chase said. "The patient somehow got hold of House's cane and went to bat. Took House down in the first two swings, and began whaling on him after he was on the floor. The guy's back in his room. Security's got him in cuffs."
"So how cracked? Comminuted?"
"Yes, but we'll take x-rays, a CT if we need to, and we'll put in a couple of titanium staples if the bone is badly fragmented. But as far as we can tell so far, House is otherwise okay."
Wilson apologized for his outbursts, thanked Chase, and entered the room, saying "Hi."
The ice-pack the nurse had given House was dealing with some of the swelling but his right cheek was twice the size it ought to be, and his right eye and the flesh around it were puffy with fluid build-up. Wilson could already see the destroyed tissue and blood cells staining House's fair skin with blotches of black and purple that would soon run together to form a pirate's patch. Even bigger probably. Chase was right. House was going to have one bitch of a black eye in the coming weeks.
House just waved a hello. Wilson didn't blame him for not speaking. Opening the jaw moved a lot of facial muscles, pulling on the skin and the ligaments beneath as well, and would hurt like hell when the outer edge of the eye-socket was in pieces.
"You want a lawyer?"
House shook his head, very little.
Wilson didn't think he would have. "Um, look, don't talk but do you have any idea why this guy went ballistic? Chase said the nurses heard shouting."
House shook his head, again very little. Even so, he winced each time.
Wilson gently patted his leg, keeping his hand well away from the old scar. "Okay. Doesn't matter right now, anyway. Chase says they're going to CT the cheek and maybe insert a couple of staples if they have to."
House nodded, just a twitch, and Wilson felt a little foolish for repeating things to House that House would already have been told.
"Um. Do you need anything?" Wilson asked. "Do you want me to stay here overnight?" Privately he hoped House would say yes.
But of course, House shook his head, rolling his eyes a trifle, and that caused him to cringe even more. As the swelling increased, so would the pain.
Wilson nodded. He was okay with House not wanting to be mothered. He didn't want to mother him. But he did want to be near him in case any complications arose. Wilson looked around. The nurse had left, and swung the door almost shut behind her, though leaving a crack as most care-givers almost always did. "Don't suppose I can kiss you goodnight, huh?" Wilson asked. Unlikely to be any complications, and Chase or one of the nurses would call if something happened.
House stared at him. He didn't shake his head no, but then Wilson understood House's dilemma. Where was Wilson to kiss him? Nowhere on the face - without causing pain. Wilson settled for a small square of exposed shoulder skin. It was soft and warm. Nice. "I'll be by in the morning."
House said his goodnight by lifting his left hand again, and wiggling his fingers.
After a week, once the staples were in place and House had been sent home with ibuprofen and several ice-packs to keep on his swollen cheek, he began to look a little better. The bruising had faded from black and purple to shades of ochre and yellow, and he could talk again without too much discomfort.
"What happened with your patient?" Wilson asked the next morning over eggs, toast and juice. No more sugary cereal. House was the right age and professional stress-level for type two diabetes. It didn't take House long, though, to get used to - and then begin to appreciate - Wilson's gourmet coffee, whole-grain toast, free-range eggs and double-fruit cherry preserves.
House was chewing said breakfast hungrily, though far more slowly than usual and with as little movement as possible.
"You know, you need to chew more thoroughly or you'll end up with ulcers."
House nodded, but clearly irritated at the impromptu advice. "I may look like Federer after going twelve rounds with a Sasquatch, but try to remember - I'm a doctor, too."
"I know." Wilson was pleased, though. It was the longest sentence House had spoken since the attack, and he didn't appear to be in too much pain anymore. "Going in today?"
House nodded. "Thanks for looking after me all week."
Wilson was so taken by surprise at the out-of-the-blue word of gratitude, his coffee nearly washed down the wrong tube. Wilson kept his voice casual and his words wrung of all sentiment. "No problem."
But inside he was delighted to have had House in his apartment all week, feeding him healthy dinners, sleeping beside his warm body very night - even if they hadn't been intimate for a while. But letting that level of gooey love show on his face would shut down House's sparse bouquet of loving acclaim as fast as you could count to two. House had worked long and hard and had learned to apply some social graces, even if they still nauseated him, and to not be so nervous around intimacy, and had experienced some success at it. But he still ventured out into genteel humanity only when he had to, or when he was really grateful, like he often was with Wilson. He still just didn't show it all that much.
Without warning, the vision of a four year old House sitting out in the cold dark flashed across Wilson's mind, killing his appetite. He dropped his half eaten toast onto his plate like it had stung him.
House looked at him quizzically.
As casually as humanly possible - "I'm full." Wilson explained.
House snatched the toast and popped it in his mouth. Wilson regarded him affectionately, glad to see that some things had not changed. Good things ought to remain timeless. "I'm going to get ready."
Wilson walked in bare feet to the bedroom and angrily picked out some socks and underwear. Shedding his pajama's, he thrust his feet into the socks with barely controlled violence. He wished he had never taken those things from House's closet and had never seen those negatives. Because then he would not feel like knocking House's patient's lights out with a bowling ball, and he wouldn't be feeling so weirdly, fucking illogically guilty over the safe and loving childhood he had been granted, but House had not.
He knew he should not be obsessing over the pictures of House with freezer blisters on nearly half of his body. It was all over and done with decades ago. It didn't really matter now, did it? And he had seen House's back now, plenty of times in all sorts of contorted positions. Not a scar. Not a single unattractive mark on that long, golden muscular expanse of skin.
Maybe a year ago or two, Wilson would not have reacted with so much outrage. But he loved House differently now. He felt protective and he...Wilson tried to think of a word that fit the emotion best. Finally he found it - he treasured House, and the idea of House being mistreated back when he was in every way defenseless, made his thoughts rage and his blood boil. Made him sick to his stomach in fact.
House's patient attacking him and leaving him with a fat, bruised, broken cheek didn't help matters. What kind of coward beats up a cripple with his own cane?
Wilson, as he often did, left for work first. When he arrived he decided to scout out those nurses who had been assisting House and his team with patient Asshole. Who was still a patient, now in ICU deteriorating a little bit more every day with repeated fevers and bouts of violent outbursts. At the slightest provocation, the man would start swinging. House's team was keeping an eye on him, but Cuddy had already called in a second infectious specialist. There was speculation that the guy had been exposed to something in Iraq.
Wilson strolled through the cafeteria where many employees sipped morning coffee prior to the start of their shifts. He spotted one he knew had been working with House at the time, approached her and asked his question.
"I'm not sure what started it." She said with a very cooperative, and slightly flirtatious smile for the good looking Doctor Wilson. She was a diminutive woman with short blonde locks and rumor had it she was sweet on him. "One moment they were talking. Doctor House seemed, I suppose, as usual." She said a bit cryptically. House she was not sweet on. "I went to get a new saline bag, and when I came back, Security was there, and the whole show was already over."
Walking up to another nurse, Wilson greeted her with a friendly smile. "Karen?" Wilson knew this nurse. She was often on duty in the clinic. She was a long-time career nurse with a degree and looked about ready to retire. She was everybody's grandmother, and had a soft spot in her for House, whom she had once remarked to Wilson reminded her of her youngest son, a loveable but lost rebel of a boy.
"You were with House's patient a week ago, right?"
"Yes, and I saw almost the whole fight." She frowned in distaste. Things like this had not happened in her day. "The patient said some very unkind things to Doctor House."
"Really? Do you remember what?"
"Well, no, but I recall hearing the man mention Vietnam. Then something about being stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq."
House's patient was over seventy years old, so a career marine or army man. House had always had a complex about his dad and, Wilson now understood, with good reason. "Anything else? Did Doctor House say anything that might have, maybe, set the guy off?"
"The patient was sweating and I was busy applying ice-packs to get his temperature down." She thought for a few seconds. "I think Doctor House was angry at the guy, only he was being careful not to react - you know how he used to be."
Shared common knowledge of the rebel called House, who had been working hard to change. Faced with a bastard that undoubtedly reminded him of his old man, yet House had kept his cool. Good for him. "Yeah. What did House say?"
"The fellow was getting more agitated and Doctor House ordered some Ativan to calm him down. The patient, um, Colonel Broyle - he said he was a colonel - refused the medication, and Doctor House finally lost his patience. He said something about the colonel being a jar-headed Rambo." She quoted "Big as a gorilla and almost as smart."." She looked up at doctor Wilson - such a nice young doctor - adding "That wasn't really wise of Doctor House." And then made an excuse for the churlish scruff-man who always made her think of her son. "But the patient was very trying."
Wilson thought it over a bit. "Did it seem like the patient acted out-of-proportion to what Doctor House said?"
"Way out of proportion. I mean, you don't start beating on a man for a few thoughtless words, unless you're sick or a coward." She underlined the last word and that about summed up her opinion of Colonel Broyle. Then she offered. "But it might have been the fever, too. After Broyle hit him the first time - you should have heard the crack when the cane hit his face. Like a rifle shot."
Wilson could well imagine. That was the strike that had shattered House's cheek bone.
Karen continued. "Doctor House just stood there. He didn't move an inch. It was like he was frozen. Broyle hit him again on the shin I think and Doctor House fell to the floor, and then the guy just kept hitting him. Doctor House didn't even defend himself." She said. "He was staring up at Broyle like he was in shock. Like he couldn't remember how."
Explained a lot, but not everything. "Thanks Karen."
Wilson puzzled over it through his first patient's and at lunch, sought House out in his office. "How's Broyle?"
"Fever explains his altered mental state and the violence, but it's not encephalitis, not Dengue, not any tropical or mid-Eastern infection." House seemed agitated. "Cuddy called in some idiot from the CDC."
"Well, maybe he'll be able to help." He offered lamely.
For the present, House wasn't playing nice. "Or maybe he's a moron."
Wilson made no further comment on it and suggested lunch.
House shook his head, stood and started to slip into his jacket. "I've got to check on Babe Ruth."
A reference to the guy's hard swing. Wilson wasn't sure if he should ask it, but he wanted to know. "Why didn't you defend yourself?"
House stopped fiddling with the collar of his shirt, and stared at his friend.
Wilson thought he was about to get a colorful ear-full of "mind-your-own-&%#$%!-business", but after a minute, House just shrugged and crabbed his cane. The old wooden affair with the curved handle had been split in the attack, and House was using a different one from among a collection of at least a dozen. This one had a red stripe. "I just didn't think of it." House looked down at his cane, adding "It freaked me out a little. I couldn't...remember what to do."
It was clear House himself thought that a little odd. Probably the pain and subsequent operation on his face had obscured that memory or made an aching haze of it, but now that Wilson had mentioned it, House seemed uncertain how to answer. He had always been able to hold his own in a bar fight. Thankfully, there hadn't been too many opportunities for those since the infarction.
House finally offered a possible hypothesis for his temporary freeze-panic. "Maybe Nolan's med's are screwing with my reflexes? Some sort of sensory nerve/motor response confusion." He suggested. "I'll ask him about it." For now, that appeared to be all the time House wanted to spend on the question, and he left his office.
"See you at dinner." Wilson said to his back before it disappeared down the hallway.
House raised his cane in the air. House-sign for okay.
"Stand still, soldier, and don't move."
When House didn't show up at home for dinner, Wilson called the hospital. Cuddy answered. "I was about to call you. There's a stand-off in the ICU. House's patient..."
Wilson's stomach dropped a few floors.
"...he's got hold of a scalpel and...well, House is in there and a few nurses..."
Wilson slammed the receiver down, grabbed his keys and broke the Autobahn record for crazy-stupid speed. The sight that greeted him outside the ICU doors were of Security being joined by city police. No SWAT. At least this patient didn't have a gun.
Cuddy halted Wilson in his tracks. "Don't be an idiot - you can't go in there. House is fine."
Wilson looked at her like she was an alien. "For now, maybe." Wilson got a glance inside the small double windows. The fevered patient - why the hell didn't they strap the guy down and keep a guard inside the room instead of out in the hallway where he had obviously done little goddamn good?? - had a broom in his hand, the flat, cotton pad type that hospital janitors used to sweep up and down wide halls. Broyle had used bandage tape to attach a scalpel to the end of it, and had House cornered, currently brandishing the home-made weapon like a bayonet, the very sharp blade only inches from House's throat.
"Fuck!" Wilson blurted.
He tried to see the expression on House's face. House stood straight, being careful not to move his head or even swallow. He looked...frozen. He didn't look scared. Not scared at all. Just numb. Shocky, maybe. Puzzled, actually, too, and that freaked Wilson out. There was nothing to puzzle out. The fucking guy was going to slash House's throat unless someone did something about it.
Apparently someone had already made that decision. A police marksman had arrived with a dart gun, into which he set a dart with a dose of fast-acting anesthetic.
The swinging door to the ICU was carefully, so as to be noiseless, opened a crack. Just enough for the nose part of the gun-barrel to find its target. With a careful squeeze of the trigger, the dart found the patient's right buttock and in seconds he dropped.
Police, nurse, Cuddy, everyone, including him, rushed into the room. Wilson stepped around the fallen son-of-a-bitch to check on House who was...calm as a summer day in June. He wasn't sweating or shaking. His breath was a little shallow, like the stand-off was still in effect. Wilson snatched up a square of gauze and pressed it to the side of House's neck. On his way to the floor, Broyle's make-shift spear had nicked House's flesh but not too deeply. There was only a small cut and the blood was swiftly stopped but applying a little pressure.
Wilson looked at House carefully. "You okay?"
House was staring down at his patient on the floor. He nodded.
Wilson was not reassured. "Come on. Forget this guy. Someone else is going to take the case." Wilson made the decision for his friend, since House seemed to have momentarily lost the ability to speak. Wilson's tone brokered no argument from House or Cuddy who stood near-by. She nodded her immediate agreement.
Wilson walked House out of the room. "You're done with Broyle."
House came out of it in just a few minutes, finally swallowing and shaking himself back to a more conscious representation of himself. Wilson drove them both home, threw together some quick food, and handed House a large belt of the forbidden bourbon.
House looked at him. "I'm okay, you know. You don't have to start breaking rules to smooth out the wrinkles."
"I'm not breaking rules." Wilson explained, pouring himself a glass of white wine. "On the med's, you're allowed to have one drink a week. So drink."
House sniffed the glass. Even one drink a week he hardly ever took anymore. It just screwed with his medication too much. He's start seeing things, hearing things. He'd rather be sober. But this drink he drank in two swallows. It went almost directly to his head, as he had not touched any dinner yet. He didn't feel like eating.
"Fever," House muttered, "Violence, fear, delusions maybe, PTS probably,...toxins?"
Sitting beside House on the couch, Wilson looked over at him. "Enough, the case is over."
"The case is not over. I can still work on the case without needing to have any contact with the patient." House suddenly felt very angry, as though Wilson were betraying him. "You're the one who lectured me for years to have more contact with my patients. Did me a lot of good - thanks."
Wilson did not want to fight, even though it could sometimes be cathartic after a frightening incident. Anger gave the person back their power and eased their sense of outrage at being made a victim. But anger needed to be directed at the right person. "I didn't hold a blade to your throat. If you want to yell at someone, call up Broyle and yell at him."
House was silent for about two seconds.
Then, each word suffused with seething anger and his voice up by a half octave, House was suddenly screaming at him - "Sure! And give him a heart attack. Kill him. Good fucking idea, Wilson. That would solve my problem. What happened to "Be nicer, House."? "Be helpful."?" House spat the words out like nails. "Be the good, well-behaved public servant - like speaking my mind is some how giving cripples everywhere a bad name."
House's voice echoed off the fire-place bricks, and bounced around the room like machine-gun fire. House was actually attacking him verbally. Wilson hadn't heard such furious rhetoric from House since the days of the Tritter trouble.
"I suppose I could hurt him just enough to put him into a coma, that's not murder - right? Because maybe he's a drunk and enjoys making people miserable, or maybe he's just a bastard who loves to control. A few people might object to an outright murder, though, 'cause he's probably someone's dad, and I have to save the prick, so he can go home and show his family what a terrific father and husband he is - what an all around great tough guy - and they can look at me with smiles, and be ever so grateful."
House topped off his out-burst by whipping his empty glass at the fire-place where it shattered into a hundred tiny shards, spraying the room with little needles of fine lead crystal. House then struggled to his feet and half limped, half stomped off to the bathroom, slamming the door so hard, Wilson thought it would pop its hinges.
Wilson was left sitting on the couch, dizzy with what had just transpired.
Inches from his ear, House had blown his top and screamed out rages that must have been pent up in him for days. Ever since the first attack.
At fault or not due to illness, the patient through-out had brought stress to bear on House's new-found parameters of behavior. Somehow, the guy had broken through House's newly erected modes, and not just the physical ones. Wilson was pretty sure House was battling, and had just screamed at, his father, and not himself or Broyle. It was a fury House had placed, Wilson surmised, in long, cold hibernation a long time ago. Perhaps a fury House would never have found a reason to voice, until Broyle had been assigned to him.
After a few minutes of hearing the water running, sweeping up the broken glass and dumping it in the garbage, the water was turned off. Wilson waited until almost an hour had passeed, then he walked down thr hall to the bathroom and quietly opened the door. House in the bath-tub, asleep. The water was cold. "House?"
House stirred and opened his eyes. Wilson had expected them to be shot-through with red from crying, but they were clear. House cried about almost nothing. That was another thing that House had put into hibernation, and Wilson suspected it was still buried deep down in the snow. Or maybe in the cold, dark night, frozen in time.
"Coming to bed?" Wilson asked.
House looked sheepish. "Yeah." With a hand from Wilson, he stood up, shivering in the cooler air. Keeping his face on the towel Wilson handed him - "Didn't mean to yell at you."
"I know." Wilson didn't care about the yelling or the broken glass. But he was worried about House. There was no guarantee House would never get another veteran patient, or another violent one. What then? Same scenario? House reacting like an automaton? Very slowly falling apart in secret, until he shattered in secret?
Part II asap
*Also Part I of "Incompatible" is almost complete (a tropical island medical case story).
PLUS: One Small Consequence is NOT over.
FATHERLAND is also NOT over.
(Some readers were a little worried)