Wilson woke to pain, sirens, and House's blurred face above him. "You're going to be all right," House said. Wilson believed him, because House only lied about things like that when he wanted something, and Wilson didn't have anything to give.
He nodded and closed his eyes, letting the sound of the paramedics' voices wash over him. When he opened his eyes again, Cameron was asking if he knew what his name was. He did, and she approved of the answers to her other questions, so she gave him something that let him float happily away while she stitched him up and sent him off to radiology.
Cuddy was waiting when they wheeled him back; no makeup, her hair in a ponytail, looking exhausted, and worried, and beautiful. She asked him more questions, but those ones didn't have a right answer, or at least one that wouldn't make things wrong. House could explain, but nobody seemed to know where he was. Wilson knew he should be worried about that, but it was hard to focus on anything but the pain. He remembered seeing House on the ground, clutching his thigh; remembered how he'd howled in pain. "He needs an MRI," he told Cuddy, but she said not to worry about it. She'd look after everything.
He was too tired to argue, and Cuddy was good at looking after things, so as soon as everybody stopped asking him questions, he let himself drift away again.
The next time he woke, his head was clearer, but the pain had clawed through the thin cover of painkillers. For a moment he just lay there, breathing as carefully as possible, and then he looked around. He was in a private room. Cuddy must have pulled strings.
His right hand was wrapped in gauze, which made it hard to push the call button. When the nurse came by, he asked to see his chart. She frowned, even though she knew that he was more than qualified to read it, and told him he would need to wait until the doctor came by. I am a doctor, he wanted to tell her, but that didn't count for anything when he was also a patient.
Foreman walked in a few minutes later. Someone must have found House. "The nurse said you wanted to see your chart," he said, sounding mildly disapproving, as if Wilson had breached some unspoken etiquette.
"I thought asking would be preferable to climbing out of bed and getting it, but I guess I was wrong." He would have rolled his eyes, but that hurt too much.
Foreman smiled. "Your reasoning ability seems unimpaired. But now that you're awake, I want to do a quick neuro exam, just to be safe."
Foreman's idea of quick was excruciatingly thorough, but Wilson didn't complain. If he wanted out, he'd have to get Foreman's okay. And while it wasn't the blow to the head that had knocked him out, he knew even a superficial head injury could be dangerous. "Did I pass?"
"B+," Foreman said. "You've got a concussion and a nice gash, but if you take it easy for a week or so, you should be fine." He grabbed the chart off the end of the bed and made a note. "Do you want to know the rest?"
His body was giving him a pretty clear picture, but he gestured for Foreman to give him the chart. He deciphered the various scrawls while Foreman filled in the details. Twelve stitches in the palm of his right hand; five above his eye; two broken ribs; and a contusion on his left kidney. It was like a Mafioso Christmas carol. All of it hurt, but none of it was life-threatening. He'd been lucky, all things considered. "When can I get out of here?" he asked. "Somebody must need this bed more than I do."
Foreman smirked. "I'm under orders to give you a sedative if you try to make a break for it."
"Not without my consent, you won't," he said, though that had never stopped House -- and by extension his fellows -- in the past. "Is House all right?" he asked, remembering his earlier worry. "I think the guy with the pipe hit him on his leg. He needs an MRI."
"Already done," Foreman said. "He's got a deep muscle bruise, but the blood flow is good. Nothing he can do but stay off it for a few days."
That wasn't going to go over well. "Did someone drive him home?" Even if House could drive with his leg, both their cars were gathering parking tickets by the bar.
"Taub offered to take him in the Porsche, but he's barricaded himself in his office and is refusing to leave."
That didn't surprise Wilson, but it didn't make him happy either. "Can't Cuddy make him go home?"
"Cuddy can't even make him do his clinic hours on a regular basis," Foreman retorted.
Which meant she'd already tried and failed. "Tell House I want to talk to him," he said. He shifted and tried to sit up straighter and pain flared like a Bunsen burner in his chest. He saw Foreman inject something into the IV port, but he couldn't catch his breath to complain. Maybe it would be a good idea to rest a little longer.
"I'm sure he'll be by when he's stopped sulking in his tent," Foreman said.
Wilson squinted, trying to work out the meaning of that, but while he might have passed the neuro exam, his brain wasn't quite operating on all cylinders. "Won't I have to die for that to happen?" he murmured, as the sedative hit his bloodstream and pulled him under.
When Wilson surfaced again, the IV was gone, and the pain had settled down to a steady, manageable ache. He turned his head to the side and saw House picking through the remains of his lunch tray. "How long have you been here?" If lunch had been served, he'd been out for at least four hours.
House looked up, a smear of what once might have been peas -- at least before the kitchen got hold of it -- on the corner of his mouth. "Me? I just got here. I didn't want to miss lunch."
"Then why is your chair next to the bed?" House was lounging in the yellow Eames chair from his office, his right leg propped on the ottoman. A wheelchair was discarded at the end of the bed.
"This isn't my chair. Cuddy's finally recognised my superior taste and decorated all the rooms with them."
"I must have missed that bake sale," Wilson replied. He raised his bed, shifting carefully to sit up without triggering any unwanted jolts of agony. "I gather you got my message. Does this mean you've stopped brooding, or have you just changed venues?"
"I came, I ate, and now I'm getting the hell out of Dodge," House retorted, swinging his leg down with a wince.
"You know, for a cripple you're pretty good at running away," Wilson observed. It would be typical of House to spend the morning sitting at his bedside only to disappear as soon as he was awake.
"Next time learn from my example. You should have run when you had a chance."
"Not an option." Wilson coughed, pressing an arm across his chest to stabilize his ribs. "Shit," he hissed, wondering if he was due for more painkillers.
"Idiot," House retorted. "You should at least have stayed down. You would have had a killer headache, but you'd already be home eating ice cream on the couch."
"Not an option," Wilson said again. "And you're the idiot. Next time give the man with the weapon your wallet."
"And lose my Hooter's VIP card? Do you know how many waitresses I had to grope to get that?" He manoeuvred himself awkwardly into the wheelchair. "Let me save you the rest of the lecture. I'm a self-centered bastard who destroys everyone around me. I don't deserve your forgiveness, and I don't deserve your friendship."
That wasn't what Wilson had wanted to say, but he couldn't deny that he'd played variations on the theme in the past. "Wait, House," he said, reaching out to stop him from leaving. His ribs screamed in protest, and for a moment all he could think about was the pain. But when he blinked away the tears, House was still there, reaching into his pocket.
"Here," he said, shaking out a Vicodin. "Don't make me call you an idiot again," he said when Wilson looked warily at the pill. "I hate repeating myself.
Wilson took the Vicodin and washed it down with the lukewarm tea House had left on the lunch tray. "I didn't ask you here to lecture you," he said when he could breathe easily again. "Not just to lecture you," he amended more truthfully. "I needed to know that you were all right. The last thing I remember was you shouting for me, but I couldn't do anything. If the police hadn't come..." He stopped when he saw House staring at him as if he'd had a psychotic break.
"Did you forget about the part where someone was kicking the crap out of you? Because I can get you a mirror to jog your memory." He grabbed Wilson's right wrist and held up his hand. "That's a nice start on stigmata you've got going there. Most doctors with a messiah complex think they can heal everyone. You think you can save them all."
"So you're going to wheel yourself out of here just to prove to me that I'm wrong?" The only person Wilson was trying to save was House, but Sisyphus would have more luck pushing his boulder up the hill. House's resistance to help was greater than gravity and the will of the gods combined. "Or are you just angry because I ruined your solitary fight against evil, Norrin Radd?"
House snorted and struggled not to smile, as Wilson had hoped he would. "The Silver Surfer stands alone," he proclaimed. "And I have every right to be pissed off at you. Wasn't the whole point of your self-imposed exile not to throw yourself in front of the bus for me anymore?"
Words couldn't literally hurt, Wilson told himself. It was just the broken ribs. He closed his eyes and saw a bus spinning out of control, House and Amber lying broken and bloody beside it. Months later, and he still couldn't walk past a bus stop without shuddering. "There's a difference between enabling self-destructive behaviour and trying to rescue someone from it. You've done the same for me." It was easier to see that after the fact. Most days, he wanted to strangle House for interfering in his life, but more often than not he was forced to admit that House was only trying to save him from himself. And if he was being honest with himself -- which was somehow easier to do lying in a hospital bed, cause and effect tattooed across his body -- his own attempts to save House from himself too often just made things worse.
"And what happens when I'm the one you need rescuing from?" House replied. "The only one who had a chance to save you is dead because of me." House's voice was flat, but he met Wilson's shocked gaze unflinchingly.
This time, Wilson couldn't pretend it was the broken ribs that ached in his chest. He didn't know if it was for Amber, for House, or for himself. "I know part of you still blames yourself for her death, but you did everything you could to save her." He knew that didn't matter. House had solved the puzzle, but Amber had still died. There was no locked drawer for those cases, just sleepless nights and endless recriminations. "You didn't want her to die any more than I wanted you to die when I asked you to do the deep brain stimulation." But House had nearly died, and that formed part of Wilson's own sleepless nights. "And I know that you didn't want me to get hurt last night."
"You were trying to save your girlfriend's life. I was trying to save standing in line for two hours at the DMV to get a new licence," House retorted.
That wasn't fair, and Wilson knew he should argue the point, but he had more immediate concerns. "I need to cancel my credit cards," he said, bolting upright. God knows what those assholes had charged in the last eight hours. He leaned over and pulled open the bedside table drawer. No wallet, no keys, no phone. His heart started to race and he took a deep, steadying breath before he swung his legs over the side of the bed. He hissed when every inch of his body protested.
"Calm down before you hurt yourself." House tossed Wilson's wallet at him. "The paramedics got it off the guy you nearly castrated. Cameron brought it up a couple of hours ago. I've been holding onto it for safekeeping."
"You couldn't have mentioned that before I started to panic?" Wilson complained, but he could feel his pulse start to slow. "Do you have my keys or did you send your minions off to search my apartment while I was unconscious?" If House didn't have them, he'd have to pay to get the entire building rekeyed.
"No need," House replied. "You haven't changed a thing since Amber died, and we searched it thoroughly then."
"I bought new placemats the other day," Wilson offered, hoping to make House smile. "There might be a mysterious pattern for you to decipher."
House didn't smile, but his shoulders did relax slightly. "You're such a tease." He pulled out Wilson's iPhone. "Your battery is dead."
Wilson snatched it from him and checked. He'd charged it before he'd gone to bed. "You'd better not have been calling 1-900 numbers on my phone."
"I dragged you out of bed in the middle of the night, made you pay my bar tab, got the crap kicked out of you, and you're worried that I might have run up your phone bill?" House shook his head and laughed. It was more a snort than a chuckle, but under the circumstances it was as good as a guffaw. "I had to keep myself entertained while you lazed around all day. A man has needs."
Wilson did not want to think about what might show up on his call log. "I'm going to have to get a new skin for the phone." He shuddered dramatically, partly for effect and partly in genuine disgust. He'd have to disinfect the screen as well. "And you know you're not supposed to use a cell phone in clinical areas of the hospital."
"Interference occurs less than three per cent of the time," House replied. "And it's not like you were hooked up to a ventilator. I think I liked it better when you were unconscious." But his fingers pressed into his thigh, as if to still a muscle spasm. "I sent Kutner and Taub to pick your car up," he muttered. "Nobody goes joyriding in a Volvo, so it's probably safely parked in your usual spot."
"Then I'll give you a ride home as soon as you sign me out of here." Wilson checked the bottom drawer for his clothes, but only found a set of scrubs. He didn't care about the jeans, but the sweatshirt had been Amber's favourite. She'd claimed it the first time she'd spent the night, and he couldn't bear the thought that it might be gone forever.
"Your stuff's in the laundry," House said, staring at the ground while Wilson struggled into the scrubs. "The paramedics wanted to cut your shirt off, but I couldn't let them destroy the only decent thing in your wardrobe."
Wilson took his time pulling the scrubs top over his head, hiding his face while he tried to compose himself. Even in paralyzing pain, House had been looking out for him. "Thanks," he murmured, not trusting his voice to stay steady.
"Don't thank me," House said sharply. "You should be pissed off, not grateful."
The familiar note of self-loathing helped ground Wilson. "Why can't I be both?" he asked, settling back down on the bed. "Anger doesn't contraindicate gratitude. You want emotional reactions to be like chemical reactions, for there to be some logical formula that you can figure out. But emotions aren't logical, and you can't predict or determine how someone is going to feel."
"I can predict that you'll pretend everything is okay and repress all those illogical emotions until you throw something through one of these glass walls," House retorted. "You should save on the repair bills and just tell me you hate me instead."
"I don't hate you. I never have." Sometimes Wilson wished he could hate House. It would make his life easier. But four months without House in his life had shown him that easier wasn't better. "I hate that you're miserable. I hate that you're in pain. I hate that you do stupid, reckless things that hurt you and those around you. But I don't hate you. You hate yourself enough for both of us."
"That's not true," House protested. "I love myself deeply, possibly with the aid of your cell phone."
"Gah!" Wilson exclaimed, cringing away from House. "I did not need to know that." He was going to have to buy a whole new phone, not just a new skin.
"Relax," House said, rolling his eyes. "All I did was burn down your battery fishing. You need better apps."
Wilson was grateful that he'd changed his iTunes password after the last time House had "borrowed" his iPhone. "I have all the apps I want," he retorted. "And stop changing the subject. You owe me five minutes of serious conversation and then you can go back to ignoring the consequences of your actions."
"I've been staring at the consequences of my actions for the last three hours while you lay there like a boring log. You think I'm not going to keep seeing it even after the bruises and the stitches are gone? You taught me all about seeing consequences in the absence of something."
"And yet you still got drunk and called me to pick you up in the middle of the night. Apparently, you didn't learn anything at all."
"Says the guy who got out of bed to pick me up. What did you learn from your girlfriend's death?"
Wilson had asked himself the same thing on the drive to the bar and a dozen times before that. "Maybe I learned that if something bad is going to happen, I'd rather be there -- where maybe I could do something about it -- than show up for the aftermath and wait to turn off the machines." He stared at House, daring him to look away, but House had never backed down from a challenge, even an illogical emotional one. "Why were you at the bar? Why did you call me to pick you up in the middle of the night?"
Now House looked away. "I was miserable, and I was in pain. Are those good enough reasons for you?"
It was more reason than he'd ever gotten in the past. "For going to the bar. But it doesn't explain why you didn't call a cab like the rest of the drunks who've had their keys confiscated." It was part of their pattern, but he needed House to acknowledge that pattern or they would just keep repeating it blindly.
Either House understood that or he thought he owed Wilson at least part of an answer this time. "Because when the alcohol makes some of the pain and some of the misery go away, I want to talk to you, not some cab driver who barely speaks English, or a bartender who thinks mixology and psychology are the same thing."
"If that's what you'd wanted, you would have called me after the first couple of drinks. Why wait until they were kicking you out? Why drag me out of bed?" When it came to exposing other people's emotional secrets, House was like a truffle hog, rooting deep to find the good stuff. His own secrets were harder to sniff out, but Wilson had refined his sense of smell over the years.
House looked like he wanted to bolt again, but he held his ground, or at least his seat, even if he couldn't look directly at Wilson. "When I can drag you out of bed, or away from a dinner party, or out of a consult, then I know that I'm important to you. That I matter."
"Thank you," Wilson said, because he knew that admission had taken more courage than facing down a trio of muggers. "And when I poke and prod and push you out of your comfort zone, it's because I need to hear the same thing." What House needed from actions, he needed in words. Too often, House's actions didn't just send mixed messages; they sent messages requiring a cryptographer.
"Are you sure you have testicles? Because I'm not sure you're producing any testosterone. Maybe we should get that checked out before you're released."
"Right. Impugning my manhood totally makes sense. I'm the one who put somebody in the hospital." He was counting on House being as good at interpreting as delivering hidden meanings.
House stared at him, and then nodded. "I have to admit, you had some impressive moves. Killer Wilson, the Jiu-Jitsu Jew. You should start training for the Mundials." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded square of documents. "Here are your walking papers, Killer. I signed you out after lunch was delivered. No point in missing a meal your insurance company is paying for."
"I did opt in for the gourmet coverage," Wilson replied, standing up and slipping into his loafers. "Come on. I'll give you that ride home now." He waited until House shifted into the wheelchair, knowing better than to offer help. "What are you going to do if we're accosted between here and the parking lot?"
"Give them your wallet," House replied promptly. "Unless it's a gang of candy stripers. Those girls might start a catfight over your collection of gift cards."
"You say that as if it were a bad thing," Wilson replied. He pushed House out the door, using the wheelchair as a rolling walker. It still strained his ribs, but House helped by wheeling, and after a few missteps they found a rhythm that worked for both of them.