PRETENDING

Wilson rather likes to pretend with House. He likes to watch House, or, rather, the somewhat vacant shell of House, as the once brilliant diagnostician stumbles about their home or sits with one of the garish developmental toys in his lap. It helps when House is distracted, his mind occupied with what should be the downright basic tasks of the toys' designs. It makes him seem less empty, less devoid of the spark and life that had once inhabited those crisp, a crystalline blue eyes. It is these quiet moments that Wilson likes best as House putters away, fiddling with his toys.

Wilson likes to imagine that House is not working on developmental toys designed for both entertainment and physical therapy purposes. He likes to envision that it is not over-sized, chunky fasteners to be opened nor colored, plastic shapes to be sorted into the appropriate holes of a larger cube that has House so enthralled. House had, in what feels like another life, been a keen lover of puzzles and mental games, which makes it somewhat easy to believe that he is not working on children's toys but on complicated puzzles. Sometimes, Wilson can even see House, hunched over a series of interlocking metal pieces or Rubix cube, solving the puzzle in minutes with ease, whereas Wilson would have to spend hours laboring over the thing - maybe days.

It is almost frighteningly easy how Wilson can slip into this imaginary scheme. House's furrowed brow is one of concentration and focus, perhaps as he works on a tricky level on one of those hand held electronic games he loves so much. His silence is not the mute catatonia stemming from years of torture and neglect but of irritation. He is not unaware of the world about him; he is, instead, rather pointedly ignoring the world about him, including Wilson. Wilson has done something to irk him, like refusing to go out to the bar that night because they're supposed to be in work early the next day. It is so familiar and so comfortable that there is something terrifying about how easily Wilson can see it, this fractured little vignette.

Wilson likes to imagine that there is nothing wrong with House, but it is only a fleeting illusion, easily shattered. House's flesh is an intricate tapestry of scars of various age, depth, and shape. One of his eyes is fogged and unfocused, blind. He still is painfully thin, his skin pulled taut over sharp, angular joints and a gaunt, pale face that seems almost alien and sickly to Wilson, even after months of weight gains. The outward evidence of the horrors with House so stoically endured smack harshly against whatever fragile imaginations Wilson can concoct with the blinding light of this most unkind reality.

Worse, yet, is his hands. Houses fingers were broken several times over through the course of that horrid contract. Now, those once graceful and artful digits lie as gnarled, twisted claws, bent in decidedly unnatural angles. It is why there are so many developmental toys, in hopes that the physical therapy may yield some small measure of comfort or returned dexterity to those mangled paws that can hardly grasp a toddler's chunky handled spoon. Wilson has contemplated corrective surgery on those ruined hands, but he cannot bring himself to subject House to something as confusing and frightening as the surgeries required for such repair would surely be for his friend.

House leans closer over the plastic sorting game he cradles in those hands, averting his gaze from Wilson. It is a hunched position that House has adopted over many years. It is a protective stance now, rounding over his game with care and shying from something - who know what- while it had been a gesture of irritation and ignoring before the contract. Wilson smiles slightly, thinking back on better times of finding House curled up with his portable television watching Prescription Passion or playing some video game.

Wilson likes to torture himself. He likes to think that, someday, House is just going to look up at him, and roll those blue eyes of his. He likes to think that House will laugh and snicker at Wilson, chocking these last few months as a cruel joke at Wilson's expense before hobbling off to solve some crushing medical mystery.... or just find himself a cold beer and a hot stripper. Wilson likes to think that.

Then again, Wilson likes to think a lot of things. He likes to think that, one day, he will be out of a job. He likes to imagine that there will be a cure or maybe even a vaccine for cancer in a neat, precise little single-dose form, rendering oncology as a medical profession useless. He pictures it, the sweet misery of it, his occupation dumbed down and distilled to simply doling out a single shot to child after screaming child before covering the injection site with a brightly colored Spongebob or Blue's Clues band-aid before handing over a sticker (never sweets or lollipops from Dr. James Wilson - lollipops always seemed a trifle hypocritical to him) and sighing at the end of the day about how horrible and boring his job is.

"C'mon, House. Time to go home," the oncologist announces softly.

House turns at the noise, lifting his solemn, wide eyes to Wilson. He opens his mouth just slightly, as though to say something. Wilson's heart leaps.

His mind screams over and over, "Say something, say anything."

Yet House merely drops his head and his gaze in mute acceptance. House never speaks. Not anymore. Thompson and his thugs have stolen House's voice along with his spark and vitality. In his imagination, House is vibrant and as well spoken as Wilson recalls from before the contract, but, in the cruel light of reality, House remains silent as ever, no matter how Wilson wants it, no matter how he pictures it, longs for it, craves it.

Wilson sighs to himself once more; he has one hell of an imagination.