Again, it's been forever on this one. Sorry about that. Once again, I don't own House or Wilson, just everyone else.

# # #

Doctor Sheldon made her way to her floor, meeting up with Doctor Keller almost immediately, and the two of them started making their rounds.

Doctor Keller was Doctor Sheldon's opposite in nearly every way. Where she tended to be a soft touch with her patients, he was rough and gruff, a straight shooter who had frequently been accused of having no bedside manner.

She knew differently, of course. Keller had little patience for the handwringing of family members who, in his words, had read too much WebMD and thought they were doctors themselves. He preferred to go straight to the patient if at all possible, laying out all the options, leaving no truth uncovered. Sheldon knew that when she had left the previous evening, she was leaving House in exceedingly capable hands.

They soon reached the end of their rounds without mentioning House. Sheldon was baffled. "I think we missed someone."

"You mean House? He's back in ICU." Keller told her bluntly, with no preface. "Pulmonary embolism in the middle of the night. His clotting factors are through the goddamn roof, and no one seems to able to figure out why. We upped his meds and handled the embolism. Figured ICU could hold him until you came in."

"Dammit, you should have called me." Sheldon snapped.

Keller shook his bald head. "You've been here too damn much as it is. This place won't fall to pieces without you. Besides, he's scheduled for an ultrasound first thing this morning."

Sheldon sighed and fixed Keller with a sharp glare. "He's my patient. You still should have called me."

Her pager started beeping before she could continue her rant. She unclipped it and glanced at it before shutting it off. "Speak of the devil. Guess I'm off. Have a good one."

"You too."

With that they separated, and Sheldon quickly made her way to the ICU. The head nurse immediately gestured toward the ward. "Martinez wants a consult."

"Thank you." Sheldon nodded in response as she entered the ICU.

House was in the second bed from the entrance, hooked up to a full oxygen face mask, his eyes closed, the monitor beeping steadily. Martinez was at his side, making notes in House's case file.

He looked up when Sheldon approached, fixing her with a warm smile. "Good morning, Sheldon. You got my page, I see."

"I did." Sheldon gestured for House's file. When Martinez handed it to her, she started looking through it, searching for anything she might have missed the day before.

"Both Keller and I went over the file. Twice." Martinez seemed to read her mind. "Nothing jumped out."

"We're missing something." Sheldon murmured. "Probably dates back to the original infarction."

"The tech is coming in with the portable ultrasound before too long." Martinez told her. "Perhaps that will show something."

Sheldon hoped the ultrasound would confirm her suspicions, though she was reluctant to subject House to further surgery. Still, better to put him through surgery than to wait for the next disaster to strike. She hated to think what could happen if another clot busted loose.

Almost on cue, the ultrasound tech rolled in the portable unit, flashing Sheldon a quick smile as she set up. House was non-reactive right up until the tech opened his gown and squirted the gel on to his chest.

His eyes flew open, a muffled curse escaping him. Sheldon couldn't help suppressing a tiny smile at House's startled response.

"We're performing an ultrasound on your heart." She explained. "After what happened to you last night, we can't afford to wait any longer to find the source of the clotting activity."

House seemed to sink into the bed, glancing down and giving a short nod. The tech performed the ultrasound while Sheldon watched the screen.

"Stop right there." She instructed the tech. "Now zoom in."

The tech did so, capturing the image, and Sheldon rounded the bed to take a closer look. She turned the screen toward House, tapping it with one finger.

"As I suspected." She told him. "See that dark spot? That's a hole in your heart."

House's eyes crinkled ever so slightly behind the mask, and he lifted it away long enough to speak. "Explains a lot." He rasped out.

"It explains the clotting." Sheldon responded. "I would guess you've had it for years. Probably contributed to the original infarction."

House frowned, moving the mask again. "So it's fixable?"

"It's major surgery." Sheldon warned him. "You'll have a long recovery ahead of you. But yes, it's fixable."

House looked relieved. "How soon?"

"As soon as I can arrange the surgical consult and secure an OR." Sheldon assured him. "I'll also get in touch with your medical proxy and draw up the necessary paperwork."

House scowled. "Is that really necessary?"

"Standard procedure." She answered crisply. "Don't worry. I'll make sure we only stick to the medical. Anything else isn't relevant right now."

She reached out to squeeze his shoulder, and House seemed to relax under her hand, unlike times before when he had tensed under her touch. Sheldon got the impression that House either didn't care to be touched or wasn't used to it.

She had seen it many times. A patient would be admitted, more or less alone. Often they were scared, lonely, looking for reassurance. A simple touch usually went a long way toward easing a patient's fears.

House was a different animal, as she had quickly found out when she first laid a hand on him. From the beginning, he had insisted on the absolute, unvarnished truth. It made Sheldon wonder what kind of doctor he was. Probably similar to Keller.

She left the ICU to collect the necessary forms and make the phone call she had been dreading. Her previous dealing with James Wilson hadn't gone so well, and she didn't expect this to go any better. Somehow Sheldon suspected House's friend would try to find a way to tie this to House's previous Vicodin use.

"James Wilson."

"Good morning. This is Doctor Kathleen Sheldon at Princeton General. How are you?" Sheldon put on her most pleasant, soothing voice.

"Fine…" Wilson sounded guarded in his response. "Is this about House?"

"I'm afraid so. He had a pulmonary embolism last night. We transferred him back to the ICU."

There was a long silence before Wilson replied. "Is he okay?"

"He had an ultrasound this morning that revealed a hole in his heart." Sheldon explained. "We think that's what led to his clotting activity. It's possible that it contributed to the original infarction."

"That doesn't answer the question." Sheldon could hear the concern and tension in Wilson's voice.

"He'll need surgery to repair the hole." Sheldon answered. "That's the primary reason why I'm calling."

"Let me guess." Wilson let out an ironic chuckle. "More forms."

"Always." Sheldon couldn't help but laugh a little in response. "Seems to be a way of life for us, doesn't it?"

"Yes." Wilson was silent for a moment before speaking again. "Is House…you know…able to give consent for the surgery?"

"Oh, yes. He's conscious." Sheldon answered quickly. "I think he could use some company. He seems so…alone."

Wilson sighed. "I think I'm the last person he wants to see right now. I said some terrible things to him yesterday."

Sheldon debated pushing the point, but she decided to back off. She suspected that Wilson was probably right, to a certain extent. "You do still need to come in and sign the forms. You might as well try to see him if you can."

"I'll do my best." Wilson responded. "Thanks for calling."

They hung up, and Sheldon made one more call to arrange for the surgical consult. That done, she returned to the ICU to check in on House.

His young neighbor was sitting at his bedside, telling some story. House looked pained, but amused.

"I'm not interrupting, am I?" Sheldon teased them both.

"Oh, no." The young man quickly rose from the chair. "Just stopping in on my way to work." He gave House a quick nod. "I'll stop by later. Anything you need?"

House shook his head and closed his eyes, and the young man nodded at Sheldon on his way out.

Sheldon checked House's monitors and made a few notes before speaking again. "Nice that he stopped in."

House shrugged and rolled his eyes through the mask before moving it. "Get a hold of Wilson?"

"Yes, I did." Sheldon answered. "He's going to come in and sign his end of the paperwork. I think he wants to come see you, too."

"Don't want to see him." House grumbled.

"That's up to you." Sheldon told him crisply. "I arranged for a surgical consult. We should be able to get moving on this pretty quickly."

House nodded, moving his mask one more time. "Thanks." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know, for a doctor, you're not half bad."

Sheldon laughed a little, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder. "And you're not the worst patient I've ever had."

House suddenly reached over and placed his hand over hers, letting out a long sigh. His eyes flicked upward, sadness and a hint of fear reflected in bright blue.

Sheldon didn't know what to say. Normally she would have offered words of comfort, but she already knew House didn't want to hear them.

Instead she turned over her hand and grasped his, squeezing lightly. "We're going to do the best we can with you. I won't tell you everything's going to be okay, because I don't know if it will be. It's risky, but I think you already know that."

She saw House swallow hard and nod firmly. His grip tightened for a moment before releasing her hand, moving the mask. "Get out." He rasped.

Sheldon was startled at House's brusque response until it dawned on her what was happening. She quickly squeezed House's shoulder one more time before leaving the ICU.

This had to be an overwhelming experience for House. Sheldon knew that doctors were worse patients than the general public. All that medical knowledge was useless when you were the one in the hospital bed.

She strode down the hallway to begin her next set of rounds. For some reason she could still feel House's rough, warm hand in hers, still see those brilliant eyes reflecting his sadness and fear.

Sheldon hoped that Wilson showed up, and soon. House needed all the support he could get right now. She just hoped that Wilson would be the kind of friend that House needed.

# # #

House managed to hold it together long enough for Sheldon to leave the ICU before letting out a long, shaky sigh and quickly swiping at his eyes. Everything was crashing down on him right now, and it was damned overwhelming.

Waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe, feeling as if someone was sticking a knife deep into his chest hadn't exactly improved matters. Were it not for the quick actions of the medical team, he might not have survived the night.

For the second time in as many weeks, he found himself scared of dying. First in the collapsed building, now here at General. It was an unfamiliar emotion for someone who had rarely given a second thought to whether he lived or died at all.

Knowing what was happening should have been a relief. It wasn't, not really. Fixing the hole in his heart meant open heart surgery, and that carried its own set of risks. And there was a possibility that his clotting issues would continue despite the repair. He couldn't deny that.

At least Jason had stopped by this morning. If nothing else, it was a pleasant distraction to listen to him talk about his technical rehearsals and his comic book project.

He hadn't gotten a callback, but he seemed okay with it, more or less. No, he wasn't going to try again. He was a 'techie', and he was cool with that. Really.

House had his doubts, but hadn't felt like pursuing it. Just breathing was taking enough of his energy right now.

"Doctor House?" A voice pulled him out of his thoughts. "You have a visitor."

House looked up to see Wilson enter the ICU, hands in his pockets and an unreadable expression on his face. "Hey."

"What do you want?" House rasped.

"Your doctor had more forms for me to sign." Wilson answered. "Figured I'd stop in while I was here."

"I'm still alive." House snapped. "You can go."

Wilson pressed his lips together, a little sigh escaping him as he nodded. "Thought that would be your reaction." He pulled up the chair at the side of the bed and eased himself into it. "Look, I said some awful things to you yesterday."

"No shit."

"And…I'm sorry." Wilson leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together and staring at the floor. "I didn't know how much pain you were living with."

"You never asked."

"You never told me."

"Why would I?" House demanded. "You'd just assume I was looking for a fix anyway."

"Dammit, House, I don't want to fight with you!" Wilson snapped, running a hand through his hair. "I was this close to losing you again. It scared the hell out of me. I don't even care that you took the pills. I just want you…here."

"Until the next Mrs. Wilson shows up."

Wilson sighed heavily. "I know I let myself get…distracted. Doesn't mean I care about you any less."

"Can't tell."

"I haven't given you as much of my time as I used to. You're pissed. I get it."

House could feel his irritation growing. Wilson didn't get it at all. Maybe he never did. Maybe their entire friendship was based on House's neediness and Wilson's need to play Superman.

He sighed and closed his eyes. Maybe if he ignored Wilson, the man would go away. House didn't need him anyway.

"House?" So much for that plan. "Are you okay?"

House opened his eyes and glared at Wilson. "What the hell do you think?"

"I think I'm missing something." Wilson answered. "I wish you'd just talk to me."

"And I wish you'd fucking listen."

There was a brief silence before Wilson spoke again. "I'm listening now."

"Too late." House replied roughly.

Wilson's face nearly crumbled, the hurt obvious. He pulled it together quickly, however, nodding firmly and rising to his feet. "This isn't over. I'll be back."

"Don't threaten me."

Just as Wilson started to leave, Sheldon showed up, another doctor with her. "Ah, I see I'm just in time." She gave Wilson a steely look. "This is Doctor Antonucci. He'll be performing your surgery, Doctor House. Since you're both here, I'll have him give you both the rundown."

"Actually…I was just leaving." Wilson's voice was tense.

Suddenly House didn't want Wilson to leave. The idea of facing this alone was almost more than he could take. "You don't have to."

Wilson turned toward House. "Do you want me to stay?"

House debated with himself briefly. If he said 'yes', he would be opening himself up to a whole new level of vulnerability. If he said 'no', it would be just business as usual for them. Was that really what he wanted?

He looked away from Wilson and nodded his assent.

Wilson immediately eased himself back down into the chair, briefly reaching out to touch House's shoulder. "Then I'll stay."

House blew out a silent sigh of relief, swallowing the lump that threatened to close up his throat. He barely listened as Antonucci explained how the surgery would go and what to expect during the recovery process.

Wilson, of course, asked all the right questions. Damn good thing, too, as House wasn't sure he would have remembered all the details in his current state.

Once the consult was complete, Wilson rose from the chair, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Now I'm really leaving. I'll see you when you come out of surgery."

"I'll be here."

A wide smile broke out on Wilson's face. "I really hope so."

House hoped so, too.

# # #

Back to you, readers. Read and review.