"We've got a problem."

House looked up from the file he was reading. Wilson's assistant was standing in front of his desk, arms akimbo in a creepy imitation of her boss's favourite stance. House imagined an army of oncology nurses staring disapprovingly across the battlefield, ready to commit acts of passive aggression on behalf of their leader. "The only problem I have right now is you interrupting me. Though technically I suppose that's your problem as well, or would be if I weren't the soul of patience."

She just stared at him, one eyebrow quirked in amusement. She was made of sterner stuff than her boss, who could never resist undermining his silent disapproval with a lecture. Of course, now that Wilson had joined the reckless endangerment club, his lectures wouldn't hold quite the same moral weight.

When Wilson's assistant showed no signs of leaving, House acknowledged that the one problem he did share with her was an over-compensating oncologist. "What's he done now?" he asked, capitulating to her steady stare, not out of concern but from a desire to get her out of his office as soon as possible. "Signed away his life savings to a panhandler?"

She pursed her lips to hide a smile, relaxing her posture slightly. "Tucker's gone back to his mid-life crisis. He's checking into a rehab place closer to where she lives. Dr. Wilson just found out."

"How is that a problem?" House asked. "I've been telling Wilson for years that the guy is an asshole. Now we have proof. Sounds to me like all is right in the world."

"Your world, maybe. Not the world of the guy who thought he was giving up part of his liver to help reunite a family. Mary thinks he cheeked his painkillers. I wonder where he learned how to do that?" The hands were back on the hips, the amusement gone.

"Not from me. Painkillers are yummy." House decided that called for another ibuprofen. It wasn't nearly as yummy -- or effective -- as a Vicodin, but it was made for headaches just like James Wilson. "If he wants to suffer in silence, that's his choice. He'll be screaming for a double dose in an hour."

"So you're okay with him suffering." She didn't sound surprised or disappointed, which was another difference from her boss. Even after years of friendship, Wilson still harboured illusions about House's better nature. It would have been amusing if he didn't feel compelled from time to time to live up to Wilson's expectations.

"Hey, I told him not to give away his internal organs to ungrateful bastards. I also told him not to double the ungrateful bastard's chemo, but clearly he doesn't listen to me." If Wilson were capable of listening to him, not only would he still have all four lobes of his liver, but House wouldn't need to resort to pharmaceuticals to make sure Wilson's life didn't spiral out of control.

"Who said anything about talking?" she replied, as if she'd read his mind. This time, she didn't try to hide the grin, and winked at him before turning away.

For a moment, House wished he knew what her name was, so that it would be easier to file a sexual harassment complaint against her. Either that or make her his new best friend. He needed a back-up in case his liver crapped out in the next eight months. Not that he had any intention of doing her bidding. Wilson wasn't the only one who didn't listen to his best friend.

On the other hand, he was scheduled for clinic duty, and while he didn't need an excuse not to show up, actually having one to throw in Cuddy's face made it all the more sweet. Especially when he could remind her that she had enabled Wilson's little foray into self-mutilation. He might not have been able to talk Wilson out of the operation, but Cuddy could have refused to sign off on the transplant.

Still, he waited until lunchtime before he went to look in on Wilson. Enough time had passed for Wilson to have a visceral understanding of what an idiot he was, but not long enough for the pain to get so far ahead that they would have to chase it down. Not that he expected Wilson to admit that he was in pain; Wilson was too much of a stubborn ass to back down. Which was why House planned on bypassing the actual offer. It was easier just to spike Wilson's drink.

But Wilson was sleeping when he got to the room, which ruined most of his fun. He wasn't sleeping peacefully, however; his face was flushed, and his body twitched restlessly. As he approached the bed, House could hear Wilson muttering, the words barely distinguishable.

"Don't take my heart, don't take my heart." Suddenly, Wilson let out a thin cry and twisted beneath the covers. Before House could do anything, he jerked awake, gasping for air.

Instinctively, House placed a hand on Wilson's forehead and pressed lightly down on his shoulder to keep him still. "Take it easy, Wilson," he said. "You'll undo the needlework and that scar's going to be ugly enough as it is." Wilson's temperature was elevated slightly, though not enough to be alarmed; it was most likely from stress and pain, not an opportunistic infection brewing. House slid his hand down to check Wilson's pulse. Rapid, but strong.

Wilson pressed his hand against his sutures and struggled to control his breathing. "I was dreaming," he said, his voice hollow, as if he were speaking down a long tunnel. "Am I awake now?"

"Define awake." House slipped a pulse oximeter onto Wilson's finger while he was too dazed to protest. His blood ox levels were fine, but his heart rate was too high. "I'm going to call for some Ativan," House said. "You'll take it with a Dilaudid chaser." He pressed the call button before Wilson had a chance to protest. That took care of any remaining fun, but while he wouldn't admit it to bossy assistants, he didn't enjoy seeing Wilson suffer. Squirming, yes, but not in actual pain.

The nurse responded so quickly that House suspected she'd been hovering outside the room since he'd arrived. "Get me half a milligram of Ativan and two milligrams of Dilaudid. Dr. Wilson promises to swallow not spit this time."

Wilson glared at him, but gave the nurse a penitent nod. "A T3 is enough," he muttered, once she'd left.

"A T3 might have been enough two hours ago. Or when you had a whole liver. They should take your medical license away." House slouched down into the bedside chair that he'd claimed as his own as soon as Wilson had been moved out of recovery. "Who was trying to take your heart?" he asked.

Wilson turned his face away. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Sure you do. You just don't want to tell me." Wilson should have known by now that denial was a red cape to House. "It couldn't have been a woman, because you check your heart out to them like it was a library book. And you don't need your subconscious to bitch about things that I take from you. So who does that leave?" Any number of people, actually, but only one who would be top of mind at the moment. He stared at the back of Wilson's head. "Tucker wasn't satisfied with just one internal organ?"

Wilson didn't reply, which was all the answer House needed. His breathing hitched, and House wondered what was taking the nurse so long to get the pills. He should have called the order down from his office. He considered calling the nurse back to add a sleeping pill to the mix, but he knew he was already pushing his luck with the Ativan. Wilson might dope his patients to the gills, but he couldn't even admit to himself his own need for chemical assistance. House had found his last prescription of anti-depressants, filled just after House had checked into Chateau Mayfield, in the back of the sock drawer, a hiding place so obvious that House knew Wilson had expected him to find them.

The nurse returned and House watched carefully as Wilson took the pills and swallowed them with half a glass of water. He even opened his mouth and moved his tongue around to prove they were gone, though House had cheeked enough pills in Mayfield to know that didn't mean anything. It was good enough for the nurse, however, who gave him an indulgent smile and House an aggrieved glare, as it if were somehow his fault that the saintly Dr. Wilson was a crappy patient.

"I'm glad your subconscious at least has a sense of self-preservation," House commented, once they were alone. "Though I'm not sure what the self-important jerk thought he'd be able to do with your heart, unless he's thinking about branching out from post-pubescent bimbos into damsels in distress."

"You must think you won the lottery," Wilson replied bitterly. "You get to trash my choice of friends and my taste in women at the same time. Why not remind me that I lost the diagnosis bet and go for the trifecta."

House could hardly turn down an invitation like that. "Transverse myelitis from a cold sore? Aspergillis fungal balls? If one of my fellows came up with suggestions like that I'd fire them." He knew that Thirteen had lobbed out the fungal infection, but Wilson had run with the ball.

"I get it. I'm a crappy doctor," Wilson snapped, but he sounded resigned rather than angry.

"You're a crappy diagnostician," House replied. "But as oncologists go, you're better than most. None of the drones in your department would have caught the spot on Grandpa's lung until it was too late." House wasn't even sure he would have caught it. Depression was a state of existence, not a symptom, in his experience, and he didn't know the patients that passed through his department well enough to tell the difference. "What do you need with zebras when you're a horse whisperer?"

Wilson's eyelids were already starting to droop, but he fought the chemical undertow long enough to stare at House in surprise. "Was that a compliment?"

"Only if you like chick flicks or Robert Redford movies." Fortunately, Wilson liked both, which meant he could receive a compliment without House actually having to give one. "Tucker wasn't worth it," he added, more comfortable with unqualified insults.

But Wilson only grunted in disagreement, before he drifted off, his forehead smoothing out in sleep. House knew Wilson was capable of playing possum to avoid the issue, but he'd been studying Wilson in varying states of consciousness for the past week, and he knew all the rhythms of his breathing.

He thought he'd known the rhythms of Wilson's heart equally well, or at least the arrhythmias that sent him into emotional arrest. The weeping women who tried to turn a sympathetic shoulder into a lifetime commitment; the patients who died too soon, or sometimes not soon enough. Wilson had always given too much of himself to people. House should have anticipated that blood, sweat and tears would escalate into spare body parts. He'd been caught unprepared, however, with no argument other than the truth to counteract Wilson's over-defined sense of guilt. Next time he'd be ready, in case Wilson tried to give away something that couldn't be replaced or regenerated.

Wilson's pulse had settled down to an acceptable resting rate, and he was sleeping soundly, so there was no real reason for House to stick around. But the department was between cases, and the apartment was empty, despite the clutter from House's reclaimed possessions. With luck, one of his minions would find a promising patient before his attention wandered and the ghosts crowded in again.

Until then, he would keep watch until Wilson woke.