Disclaimer: I don't own House. [insert witty joke here]
Okay, so I've been writing this story for two months, and I've now finished it. I'm really nervous about it--so nervous, in fact, I had my dad beta it. And he's a huddy shipper. Yeah, talk about awkward. Also, thanks to Jonic Recheio, for listening to me babble on and on about it, and offering good ideas and criticism. This takes places after Joy to the World, and disregards the rest of the season.
A New Divide
"And there's the foundation of our entire friendship--if you hadn't been bored one weekend, it wouldn't even exist."--Wilson
I don't even know why it bugged me so much. Honestly, it wasn't even that big of a deal. All right, so perhaps it would've irritated anyone--I know plenty of people who would've been furious at the whole thing. But most people weren't best friends with Gregory House. Considering all of the crap we'd done to each other over the years, I didn't even know why it bothered me as much as it did.
It was just a gift. Okay, so it had been an expensive gift that I had been sure he'd love, but instead, he hadn't even bothered to open it. I knew House had never really been one for Christmas (or any holiday really) so I'd always kept the gift-giving to a minimum. Any time I had ever bothered to give him something, I had just handed it over--no wrapping, no cards, and definitely no holiday sentiments. I hadn't expected one back, either. I had always just showed up at his apartment on the holiday (with beer and some form of takeout, of course) and handed him over the gift. He would roll his eyes and mutter something condescending, but that was that.
I hadn't even been planning on buying him anything--not that I didn't want to, because I did, but because I knew he didn't want me to do it. Then again, that was how it happened every year--I'd promise myself I wouldn't buy him something, and then some trinket would catch my eye and I would have to. But the fact was, I had been looking for a gift for Amber--she had just been fired, we were still in a tentative, secret relationship--and the book had caught my eye. Seeing as I had had already made plans with Amber, I didn't have the time to show up at his door with beer and food, so I'd just wrapped it in the colour of green that I knew he liked (simply because Julie had hated it) and it didn't even occur to me that he wouldn't open it.
I suppose that was why I had waited all year for him to mock me for being sentimental, and he'd never gotten around to it.
It wasn't that I thought he would been glad to receive something. I knew he didn't like holidays, and thus, didn't necessarily like people celebrating them--which, of course, didn't deter him from using the holidays as an excuse to get what he wanted--but still. I suppose I had assumed that he would've at least grudgingly accepted it.
What was worse, I couldn't help but wonder that had it been Cuddy who had given him the gift, would he have opened it? He had forced his new team to buy him Secret Santa presents and he'd opened all of them--so why hadn't he bothered with mine? Yet, I was certain that had Cuddy bothered to give him something, he would've been more than happy to open it and brag about how she wanted to get him into her bed.
Honestly, it was House for God's sake. Why did it bother me so much that he hadn't shown even the slightest concern for me? He never did. In fact, I should've expected it. But why not? Why wouldn't he open it? It wasn't like I had expected anything in return. House always took, and never gave--so why wouldn't he take the damn gift?
The more I thought about it, the more it irritated me. After all the years we'd been friends, he couldn't even show it by appreciating my gift? He didn't even have to like it--all he had to do was open it, and he couldn't even do that. He'd always been an ass; I hadn't expected anything kind from him--which just went to show how screwed up our relationship was--but did he really think so little of me he couldn't even bother with tearing off some wrapping paper?
I knew he cared for me, but what did that mean, exactly? It couldn't have meant much if, even after using my gift as some way of pranking his team, he still didn't show much concern about what was on the inside.
Perhaps that was it--perhaps it wasn't the fact he didn't open the gift that bothered me. Perhaps it was why he didn't that irritated me. He had shown, on more than one occasion, that he cared for me, but not when it mattered to me. I did everything I could for him, at times it seemed my entire life revolved around him in some way, and despite all of the crap we'd been through, he couldn't even take time out of his day to open something his best friend had thought to give to him.
I had long since given up on him returning the same amount of affection as I held for him. I had never expected him to feel for me as I felt for him, and I had given up hope on our friendship ever progressing into something more. I was old enough to deal with unrequited love, as it were. I was old enough to either stick with the friendship and handle the pain, or leave and attempt to get over it. I had attempted to leave, and that hadn't worked, so I had decided that I'd just have to quietly stew about it, and never get what I wanted.
I had given up hope on ever getting what I wanted in regards to him.
So perhaps it was immature of me to be upset over something I should've foreseen, anyway. I wasn't blind to all that he did for me--because really, he did a lot, even if it wasn't all that noticeable--but it felt like I was always giving, and he never thought twice about taking.
It was because of him that my last two marriages had failed--nobody was stupid enough to think otherwise. And I suppose, on some nights, I had internally ranted about how much I hated him for it, but for the most part, I hadn't even cared. I would have rather been on his couch than in my bed beside my wife. It was why I had finally decided to move out of his place. I had come to accept my feelings for him, but being so near him--living with him--was difficult for me to handle. So even if it was his fault, it was mine too--I hadn't ever done anything to prevent it.
House wasn't the first man I'd ever had feelings for, but he was the only man I had ever fully loved. I wasn't gay--that I knew. I had loved my wives, and Amber, but it had never felt like it did with House. I didn't know what was worse--the fact that I was in love with my obviously straight best friend, or the fact that I had gotten so used to his personality that, unlike most people, I didn't even want to change him. I would have taken him as he was, imperfections and flaws and everything, rather than be without him. I wouldn't change him, because I loved him as he was . . .
But I didn't want to love him. Why couldn't I have fallen for someone who was less obsessive and self-revolved? Why couldn't I have loved my wives a fraction of the amount I'd loved him? My life would've been so much easier if I'd never met him, never become friends with him, never fallen in love with him, and I never would've had to sit and wonder why something as simple as my best friend refusing to open my gift bothered me when, in reality, I shouldn't have thought it wasn't a big deal. I should have thought it was outrageous--instead, I was comparing it to all of the worse things he'd done throughout my life, and how I loved him despite all of that--or, perhaps, because of it.
My life would've been better had we never been friends--I was certain of that. And yet, I went back, every time I was angry with him. And I always would, despite the fact I knew that I shouldn't. I knew that I should've been pushed past the point of no return long ago. I knew that I shouldn't have come back to him after his father's funeral. But I needed him just as much as--if not more than--he needed me.
I didn't want to love him. I didn't want to find his antics somewhat amusing, even if they were childish.
I just couldn't fathom why on earth he wouldn't have opened it. Normally, I knew why he did what he did, even if no one else could figure it out. But I just couldn't piece together why he wouldn't open a present. I couldn't think of any purpose it served.
So, instead of going home to the apartment I had once shared with my dead girlfriend, or stopping by House's which was custom on Christmas, I found myself strolling into a bar, fuming over something that really wasn't that big of a deal anyway.
Although, I suppose, I wasn't so much angry with House for being an ass as I was with myself. If I was going to be his friend and deal with the fact he didn't reciprocate my feelings, then I would have to handle things a bit better. I was going to have to start acting my age, instead of like a moping teenager in high school (I was feeling a bit self-pitying at the moment, wasn't I? Thank God House wasn't here, or I'd never hear the end of it.) Life would be better without him in it--hell, I was even starting to believe his life would've been better had I not been there through half of it, lecturing him or expecting impossible things from him. I was just as horrible a friend to him as he was to me.
I had only finished half a mug of beer when someone sat on a stool beside me. I glanced over to see a girl who either had managed to get into the bar without being checked for ID despite the fact she didn't look old enough to buy rated R movies, let alone drink, or she had been checked for her ID so much that the bartender had gotten used to serving her.
She had her light blonde hair in ringlets, and watery blue eyes. She was pale, but not overly so. She even had a cherubic face, a full mouth, and a white dress. Honestly, she looked like she had walked right out of a Christmas card--she looked like one of those blonde, curly haired angels I saw everywhere during December. All that was missing were the wings.
Without even waiting for her to order, the bartender asked for her ID. She plopped her purse on the counter and smiled at him, gladly handing it over. The bartender stared at her ID and then at her for a few seconds, before handing it back over to her and asking what she wanted. She ordered a cranberry juice and tucked her bangs behind her ear, a picture of innocence.
"Cranberry juice?" I asked, for some reason amused at the fact she would go through the trouble of being ID'd just to order a non-alcoholic drink.
"The night is young," she answered with an impish smile that was either completely innocent and oblivious, or purposely coy and flirtatious. I had yet to decide which. "I'm just waiting for some friends. So, how'd your Christmas go?"
"I'm Jewish," I told her.
"Oh, sorry," she said quickly, then tucked her hair behind her ear. "Happy Hanukkah, then. How has it been?"
"Fine," I lied.
"Are you sure? You don't sound like it." Her thin, pale eyebrows were furrowed in obvious concern. Oddly, it wasn't something that was new to me. So many people looked at me with concern or sympathy, simply because I was friends with House. It was a nice change to have someone looking at me that way without knowing who House was.
"I just . . ." I thought about how I could possibly explain my situation to someone who didn't know House. Besides, I was sure it would sound even more ridiculous out loud than it did in my head. Not to mention, I was sure she hadn't come to a bar to listen to my troubles. "Nothing you'd be interested in."
"Sometimes it helps to get things off of your chest, you know." I raised my eyebrows at her, wondering if she really was interested. Not in my problems, per se, but in me. It was flattering, I suppose, to have someone who was probably just barely legal to drink interested in someone almost twice her age. She raised both of her hands. They were thin and long, and not painted. Now that I looked for it, I noticed the only makeup she had on was a bit of mascara and some lip-gloss. "You don't have to say anything if you don't want to. I was just offering a friendly ear, is all."
"It's . . . difficult to explain." I sipped my beer, narrowing my eyes in thought.
"I'll pay close attention," she promised coyly, just as the bartender put down her drink.
I chuckled and drank some of my beer. She was flirting with me. It was even more flattering to know that I had gotten used to being flirted with nearly every time I came to the bar.
She reached into her purse and handed the bartender a bill. "Keep the change," she said, and he nodded once as he walked off. She looked back at me, after sipping her drink. "Well, I know it can be hard being Jewish on Christmas."
It wasn't the first time someone had assumed I was bothered by the holiday.
"I've grown accustomed to it," I told her, which was something I had told many people throughout my life. "In fact, I celebrate Christmas more than I celebrate Hanukkah, anyway."
"Why's that?" Also, not the first time someone had asked.
"My best friend."
I laughed at that. House a Christian? Right. "He's Atheist, actually. He doesn't even really celebrate Christmas, but . . . Well, sort of, in a weird . . ." I furrowed my eyebrows, trying to think of a good way to explain what it was he did, but I couldn't ,so I sighed. "Well, I like to spend it with him."
I waited for her to ask why I bothered when he didn't even like the holiday. I was asked that several times by several people every year. Usually people trying to understand him, or me, or why on earth we had managed to remain friends as long as we had.
"So why aren't you with him?" she asked instead.
I figured that she either didn't care about why we hung out, or why I bothered. Or perhaps it was really only of interest to people who actually knew how much of an ass House could be.
"It's . . . difficult to explain."
"Ah," she said, as if that had somehow explained everything to her, although I honestly doubted it could. "So . . . Did you guys fight or something? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to." Her wide eyes were innocent and trusting, and I knew what House would say if he knew I was considering telling a stranger at a bar my troubles, especially if he knew what she looked like. She looked vulnerable and sweet--the type of girl he would assume I saw neediness in.
"No, not . . . not fight, per se. It's . . . really difficult." She didn't glance away or suddenly appear uninterested. She took a small drink of cranberry juice as I sipped my beer, and she brushed her ringletted bangs away from her eyes. "I . . . I bought him a present, and . . ." I let out a sigh. "Oh, never mind. It's . . . really stupid."
"And you didn't get any back."
I shook my head. I didn't want her pitying me over something that wasn't true. "No, I got presents."
"Just not from him."
"Well, no, but he never really gets me anything. Trinkets, maybe. One of those toy cars or something else like that. Sometimes."
She blinked at me and narrowed her eyes briefly.
I sighed. Although I was more than a little irritated with House at the moment, that didn't mean I wanted people thinking he was a complete bastard. All right, so he was, but that was beside the point. If anything, it was more annoying that people constantly told me what a horrible friend he was than the fact he actually probably was. It wasn't as if I were perfect, either, and even if he deserved it, I didn't like people making those assumptions. "Trust me, that's . . . That's not what's bothering me. Honestly, I could care less. He doesn't like Christmas. Or any holidays, for that matter. But . . . This is so stupid . . ." I shook my head and took a larger pull of my beer, as if that one gulp could get me drunk and give me the courage and endurance to explain something that even I wasn't quite sure I understood. "I bought him something last year, and I just found out he hadn't even bothered to open it."
She tilted her head and sipped her cranberry juice. "Why not?"
I rubbed the back of my neck and shook my head slightly. "I don't know. He just didn't."
"Maybe you should ask him."
"I did. He didn't explain; he just . . . Brushed it off like he usually does. I don't know why it bothers me as much as it does--honestly, it's not as if he hasn't done worse. It's really not that big of a deal."
"Sure it is," she reassured, putting her hand on my arm briefly.
Which, of course, is what someone would assume, had they not known who House was. "No, really, it's not. If you knew him, you'd understand."
She sighed and rolled her eyes, as if I had somehow insulted her intelligence--as if she were offended by the fact I had assumed she wouldn't understand. But honestly, she couldn't understand because she didn't know him. "He's done worse than refuse to open a present from you. Of course he has--if you're close enough to a person for long enough, you're going to do worse than that. But the fact he won't open something from you, his best friend . . . It's a big deal. It means something." She furrowed her eyebrows and sipped her cranberry juice, looking thoughtful, much like in the way House looked thoughtful when ruminating over an interesting case.
I shrugged. "I suppose. I just . . . Oh, never mind."
She lifted both of her hands. "Hey, if you don't wanna talk about it, you don't have to. I just think it's . . . interesting that he wouldn't open something from his best friend. Were you two fighting?"
"Not at the time, no. It's just . . . I really shouldn't be bothered by it. In fact, I should just be able to shrug it off. And maybe . . . Maybe . . ." I faltered at admitting that maybe that was what bothered me--the fact that it wasn't the worst he's done to me--on a regular basis, even. Admitting that made me feel as though I betrayed him and would practically invite her to tell me I should probably cut ties with him. My own psychiatrist told me to cut ties with him (not that I blame her--it wasn't like our relationship was healthy, by any means.) "I'm sorry, really I am, I never do this. I don't . . . I don't unload my problems on unsuspecting strangers. Really, I'm very sorry."
She pressed her hand to my shoulder and smiled warmly at me. "No, it's fine. Really. I asked."
I realized she had a point. I had no idea why, but I felt at ease with talking to her. She hadn't once insinuated he was a horrible person, or tried to take her flirting beyond the cautious, friendly stage. She wasn't being overly pushy, and as pathetically cliché as it sounded, there was something about her I felt I could trust. Then again, the phrase 'comfort in strangers' existed for a reason. "You have a point," I conceded. She had asked. "I'm James, by the way."
"I'm Noel," she greeted, reaching forward and shaking my hand. That seemed weird, for some reason. Most people didn't shake hands when introducing themselves; not unless they were in a business deal or old fashioned. Or selling something. Somehow, I didn't think she was old or in a business. "Pleased to meet you."
"Noel? That's a very fitting name for the season."
She shook her head slightly. "Something I never get tired of hearing in December," she muttered wryly while taking a drink.
"I'm sorry. I guess you would have heard that before."
"I've grown accustomed to it," she told me, then smiled coyly. "So you think you shouldn't be bothered by the fact your friend didn't open your gift? I can see why that would upset you."
"Well, I'm more upset at the fact that I shouldn't be bothered by it. If he'd been someone else, then it wouldn't be weird for me to get so annoyed, but after some of the stuff we've done to each other . . . Sometimes I feel . . . Oh, I don't know. Never mind."
"Sometimes you feel . . ." she pressed, moving her hand in a circular motion.
"That we would've been better if we'd never become friends," I admitted quietly, hating myself for saying it out loud, although of course I'd wondered it before. It's hard not to, what, with all the middle-of-the-night phone calls and insults and the drug habit and the divorces. . .
Not only was I admitting that sometimes, House really did anger me to the point I wished I'd never met him, but that maybe I had only made his life worse. Nobody else had betrayed him during the whole Tritter ordeal. Nobody else (well, besides Cameron, perhaps, in the beginning, although she had learned not to) enabled him, like I did. I was mature enough to realize that I only wondered it out of anger, but I was also wondered if it was true. Just because I only let my mind go there when I was pissed at something didn't mean it may not have had some truth in it. Had I only become a hindrance to him? Was he really such a horrible friend I should, as my psychiatrist told me all the time, cut ties with him? Was it because of him, and not my latent bisexuality that really wasn't all that latent, that I was on depression medication? Were we really just hurting each other?
She drank the rest of her cranberry juice in one shot, then hummed to herself. The lights of the bar reflected off of her pale skin, hair, eyes, and dress, and she looked almost ethereal, in a sense. "That's interesting."
"You said 'we.' You didn't say you would be better off, or just him . . . But the both of you."
I smiled at the thought of how House-like she sounded. "You're starting to remind me of him."
"Should I take that as a compliment?"
"Well he is my best friend, so . . ."
"Thanks," she chimed, putting her hand on my lap briefly and smiling brightly. "Look, maybe you shouldn't be so concerned about why it shouldn't bother you or why it should or whatever, and maybe a bit more on why he didn't open it. I'm sure he has a good reason."
She sounded more sure of herself, and less flirtatious, than she had the whole night. And I realized she made a sort of sense, and it sounded like something my psychiatrist would've said, had she not been more concerned with me stopping our friendship. She'd been so happy after I'd left him after Amber's death, but was 'really disappointed' in me for giving into my weakness and returning. "Are you a psychologist?" I asked, sounding sarcastic, but at least partially serious.
"Something like that," she answered cryptically, then she hopped off the stool. She was short, but not abnormally so. "Look, I gotta go, but it was nice chatting with you," she told me, placing her warm hand on my shoulder and squeezing.
"What about your friends?"
"Never said I was waiting for them here." She smiled at me again, shiny lips curving coyly.
Something in the back of my mind clicked when I realized she no longer seemed flirty, or cautious, but in fact, almost arrogant, as if she'd just won a game. I realized that I had just been manipulated--she had wanted something from me; I had no idea what--and she had gotten it. I couldn't think of anything she could have obtained other than me complaining, but I knew that I'd just played into her game. After being friends with House as long as I had been, I had still managed to be manipulated. What was worse was that she had come up to me, naïve and innocent, which was something I had done enough in my life to realize she had been doing it too.
"You came by specifically to talk to me," I stated, staring at her and wondering if House was somehow behind whatever she was pulling. I don't know why he'd do it, but it really wouldn't surprise me.
She shrugged. "Maybe I just like their cranberry juice. I'll see you again sometime." She gave a little half-wave and walked off.
I sat there, staring at me beer, and remembered her putting her hand on my lap. Quickly, I checked my wallet, making sure that she hadn't pick-pocketed me. I sighed with relief when I realized my wallet was still there, but then furrowed my brows in confusion when I realized I had an extra twenty dollars I hadn't had before she came in.
Although I was in a better mood by the time I got home, not drunk enough to be forced to hail a taxi, but buzzed enough to be extra cautious when driving, I still couldn't stop thinking about the damn present and how he hadn't opened it. I still couldn't figure out why he wouldn't have opened it, but the more I thought about what Noel had said, the more I told myself that the next time we spoke, I'd just flat-out ask him why, and refuse to listen to any jokes or accept any deflections.
It was almost midnight by the time I stripped off my clothes and crawled into the bed I used to share with Amber, acutely aware of the pain in my chest as I realized that I still refused to sleep on her side, and still hadn't touched her pillow. I expected House to call within three hours, seeing as we hadn't hung out much that day and House called around three in the morning at least four time a week anyway, if not more, but this was . . . Tradition. House and I always hung out the day after Christmas (at the crack of why-the-hell-am-I-awake) which was just basically code for "I'm hungry dammit take me to a diner and pay for my crap." I don't know how we ended up doing it every year, but we did.
The last thing I thought before falling asleep, just as soon as 11:59 turned into 12:00, was that despite all the crap we put each other through, I really hoped he never stopped the middle-of-the-night phone calls, and even if we might've been better off without each other, I suppose I would never know and so I could only hope I was wrong.
Wilson sat in the jail cell, back pressed against the wall, legs dangling off of the cot he assumed was supposed to be his bed. He wasn't completely drunk, but he was still slightly buzzed--however, he had sobered up enough to know he had royally screwed himself over by throwing that bottle into the expensive antique mirror. Not only was he in a city he was unfamiliar with, fresh out of med school as well as money, but he knew what was in the express package he currently had in a box somewhere outside of the cell, being held with his other effects, being guarded by some fat policeman with an accent so thick he hadn't understood him.
He dropped his head to his hands and held back the tears that threatened to fall. He kept thinking back on the physics class he'd taken, remembering the discussion about the cat in the box. Were he to never open the box, the cat could be simultaneously alive and dead, seeing as he wouldn't know for sure which was true until he opened the lid. Once he did, though, the cat's fate would become obvious, and therefore, it couldn't be both anymore. He remembered thinking how stupid the theory sounded at the time. He kept thinking that just because he didn't know the answer didn't mean there wasn't one. Just because a three year old doesn't know two and two is four doesn't mean that answer could be forty-seven. But he'd always counter that thought with, well, maybe that was why he was becoming a doctor, not a physicist.
And yet, now, what was he doing? Applying the same theory to his package he'd been carrying around, which he knew carried divorce papers, but as long as he didn't open it, then it could hold anything other than what it actually did. As if, as long as it remained closed, then she didn't care that he'd gone and done something stupid with one of his classmates, all over a fight he'd had with his wife. He could pretend that she hadn't shrieked at him when he'd admitted to what he'd done, hoping against hope that she'd forgive him, and that he could feel less guilty.
But he knew what was in the package, and he had known the entire time he'd been carrying it around, and it was like a weight pressing in on him, making his day steadily worse and worse, until he'd finally snapped and inadvertently caused a brawl, blushing heavily as the cops arrested him and some tall, blue-eyed guy leered at him, laughing the entire time.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, then tilted his head back, never feeling more alone than he did at the moment, and wondered if this was what Danny had felt when he'd betrayed him.
Maybe he deserved it. Maybe he deserved the divorce. Hell, he deserved a lot worse.
But he needed to get home, and he certainly couldn't do that sitting in jail, listening to some guy try to covertly jerk off in the cell next to him. Mind made up, he decided he would have to swallow his pride and ask his parents for bail, and pay them back as soon as he had the money. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he walked hesitantly towards the bars and closed his eyes tightly, trying his hardest not to cry. "I'd like to make my phone call," he told the fat policeman when he strolled past the bars.
The policeman nodded once and fixed his belt, and Wilson tried to think of how he could break the news to his mother without bursting into tears.
A/N--I shall be posting the next chapter tomorrow.