After an hour of pretending to sleep, Alvie was starting to lose his mind. Pretending was not an easy thing to do. Especially when the guy laying on the other side of the room was pretending, too. The quiet felt forced and unnatural; even after an hour, neither man's breathing softened and evened out, neither tossed and turned or even snored.
Slowly, carefully, Alvie lifted his head and squinted through the shadows at House. A whole minute passed, in which House, lying on top of the bedspread with his arms folded behind his head, did not move.
Alvie paused, listening to his own heartbeat. The longer the awkward, stifling silence lasted, the harder it would be to break it-and he had every intention of breaking it.
"So that's it?" he said, letting the words hang in the stale air of the small room.
House was still.
Alvie frowned, rolling onto his side. "I know you're not asleep."
House shifted, the sheets rustling beneath him. He brought his hands out from behind his head and cracked his knuckles, and then replaced them, wriggling around to get comfortable again.
"You're just gonna start doing what they tell you?"
House sighed. "That's the idea, Alvie."
"Well, I don't like it," Alvie answered quickly.
"You think I do?" House snapped, head lifting slightly. Alvie couldn't see in the dark very well, but he was sure House was scowling. "I'm just playing along so I can get out of here."
Alvie propped himself up with his elbow. "What do you mean?"
"Nolan won't sign for my release."
Alvie felt his stomach churn in anxiety, but it wasn't dread or even sadness. If he hadn't known any better, he could have sworn it was excitement. "Can he even do that?"
"Apparently. I can leave, but without signed consent, I can't go back to practicing medicine."
"Oh," Alvie said quietly, smoothing a hand over his covers. "Look on the bright side, this place isn't so bad."
"Maybe to you."
"Well… at least you're making friends," Alvie tried.
"I didn't come here to make friends," House replied coldly. "I came here to get clean."
There was a stabbing pain in Alvie's stomach, something he recognized as betrayal, but he only allowed himself a few seconds to experience it before he thought of something. He shot up out of bed and folded his legs Indian style.
"You know what? You were right."
"About what?" House asked. He sounded indifferent, but Alvie hoped to change that.
"They do treat us like kids. But we're not. Yeah, a few of us are a little crazy, but we're not stupid. You know why they treat us like kids? 'Cause nobody ever stands up to 'em. But you did! You stood up to 'em, and look what happened."
"I got lucky."
"But you got Nolan to fork over the ping pong paddles like it was no big deal!"
"I was pushing. Nolan pushed back, just not in the way I was expecting."
A little voice in the back of Alvie's head told him that enough was enough, and that riling his roommate up would only end badly, but he couldn't stop himself. He felt horribly selfish; the idea of losing the only roommate he'd ever really connected with scared him, which was why he said, "I thought we were friends."
House sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed with such force, even with having to manually move his bad leg, that Alvie flinched and immediately shut up.
"What do you think this is, a game?" House asked, his voice harsh. "You think you're here to have fun? You're here because the public deems you a danger to yourself and society. You're here because you refuse to take your medication. I'm here because I thought I could beat the system. I can't beat the system, Alvie, and neither can you, so stop trying."
Columns of light from the window illuminated across House's face, and Alvie watched as the irritation was quickly replaced by a look of apology. He watched in silence as House laid a hand on his thigh and hung his head, staring intently at the floor.
"You want out? Take your medicine, play your cards right, do what they tell you," he said softly, lying back onto the bed. He rolled over so that his back was facing Alvie.
"I don't not want out..." Alvie said quietly, fidgeting with a loose string from his bed sheet. "I just…" don't want you to leave, he finished inside his head. "You're the first real friend I've had in a long time."
For a long time, he stared at the back of his friends head, trying to recognize and process each emotion as it assaulted his system. Sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, embarrassment; finally, completely worn out, he settled back into his bed and stared up at the ceiling.
House said what he said because of the pain, Alvie had caught onto that quickly, but it never made the blows any easier to handle. He wished he could have met House before Mayfield, before the infarction. He wondered, for a brief moment, if House had only used him to get information and access to things, to show him the ropes, and he had just been too dumb to catch on.
It wasn't always as difficult as it was then thinking; or as stressful. He felt a strong feeling of insecurity and uncertainty build up within him; what if House was right? Maybe he ought to be taking his medication again. Maybe some people could function on the outside with medication, but not all people.
As House's snores gradually filled their shared room, Alvie noticed that pretending to sleep suddenly became much easier.