James Wilson was exhausted.
What had started out as a quiet Monday had morphed into a weeklong inundation. 3 stable patients suddenly taking a turn for the worse. A 40-car pile-up on the Turnpike. A single confirmed case of swine flu, and the hundreds of cases of supposed swine flu – mostly colds and sore throats – that followed. And House's case, which after a week wasn't any closer to being solved. He had left House at the hospital, poring over the file while his fellows struggled to keep awake and alert at the conference table. Wilson had felt bad, knew his friend was struggling, but also knew there was nothing he could do about it. They had ruled out cancer days before. House had to come to the answer on his own, and Wilson hovering around him was not going to help.
The door to the hotel room clicked shut behind him. Wilson dropped his briefcase to the floor and, after a moment's hesitation, undressed where he stood, letting everything just fall to the floor. His suit would be a mess in the morning, but his dry cleaner could worry about that. Wilson was too tired to care. The last working part of his brain was telling him to get his phone and plug it in, but then his body hit the bed and he was asleep.
What he was dreaming about, he'd never know, just that when he work up, he had The Pirates of Penzance in his head.
Three little maids from school are we / Pert as a school-girl well can be / Filled to the brim with girlish glee / Three little maids from school.
He blinked rapidly, trying to orient himself. The click read 2:17 a.m. What day had it been when he'd fallen asleep? What time had it been? Then he heard it again – Three little maids from school are we! – but slower, like a tape that was dying. A little light caught his eye and he remembered. House had stolen his phone last week and reset all the ring tones as show tunes. Three Little Maids meant House's fellows, and the fact that they were calling him meant Wilson's night was not going to get any better.
Wilson kicked off the covers – when did his covers become so heavy? – and grabbed his phone from where it had fallen out of his pants pocket. It beeped twice, flashed "LOW BATTERY", and died.
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
Hauling himself off the floor, he sat back down on the bed and tried to remember Cameron's number, Chase's number, Foreman's number. Nothing came. He dialed House's conference room number instead, hoping they all hadn't left for the lab or called him in secret.
Foreman picked up. His voice sounded impossibly deep. "Diagnostics."
"You called me?" It was too late and they were all too tired for niceties.
"Cameron called you," Foreman stated, his tone making it obvious he hadn't approved. "Hold on." There was a shuffle and low voices, then Cameron's higher-pitched tone over the line.
"Dr. Cameron." There was a long pause and Wilson rubbed his face. "Dr. Cameron, it's late. Just tell me what he did."
"No," she rushed out. "He didn't do anything."
Wilson's eyebrows shot up. "Then…your patient?"
"Yes. No. Well, sort of. We figured it out. But… it's too late. There's nothing we can do. But House… he won't leave. He won't let us leave. He's convinced there's something we can still do, and when she dies, he's going to be convinced there's something we missed."
In the background, Foreman's voice rumbled, "And he's going freak the hell out on us."
The line scratched as Cameron put her hand over the received and hissed, "not helping," at Foreman.
"So what is it you want from me?" Wilson asked, even though he was already standing up, already searching for a pair of jeans and his sneakers and his keys.
"If you could come get him…"
"Yeah, yeah. It was a rhetorical question," Wilson mumbled. "I'm on my way," he said more clearly, and hung up the phone.
The hospital was quiet when he walked in the front doors. The perpetual soundtrack of a hospital – the whooshing of ventilators, the beeping of heart monitors and elevators, the shuffle of nurses doing bed checks – was like white noise to Wilson, a soothing presence he didn't even realize was there. On the fifth floor, all the lights were out except for House's offices. He could see Cameron pacing back and forth, and Chase and Foreman stretched out at the table. The shades in House's office were shut.
Wilson stepped into conference room. Chase was sitting up but asleep, his head listing backward at a sharp angle. From Foreman's dull stare, Wilson couldn't be sure that he wasn't asleep as well, until he sucked in a deep breath and nodded slightly towards Wilson. Cameron stopped pacing and started talking, the caffeine and adrenaline having given her a frenetic second wind. Wilson ignored her and walked past into House's office. The older doctor sat in his lounge chair, elbows on knees, cane floating back and forth from hand to hand. He didn't seem to register Wilson's presence, just kept staring at the white board in front of him. Arm pain, it read at the top in large letters. Bleeding. Septicemia. Crossed-out symptoms and possible diagnoses littered the corners and sides. Liver failure. Then in smaller letters underneath, kidneys lungs heart.
Wilson leaned against the doorframe. "I'm sorry."
For a moment, the cane seemed to still, although Wilson would admit it was probably only wishful thinking.
"You need to go home," he stated. House didn't respond, just stared at the white board. Wilson sighed, steadied himself for the onslaught (better him than the fellows, he figured, since in their states it would probably explode into a fight or a resignation), and stepped in between House and the board.
House didn't respond, didn't move, didn't even lift his eyes. Wilson realized House hadn't been staring at the white board, but rather towards the white board – he probably wasn't seeing anything at all except whatever was swirling around in his brain. For the first time Wilson noticed the sagging shoulders, the dead-eyed stare. He exhaled slowly. This was worse than a House explosion. This was House implosion.
Wilson pulled out the footstool and sat in front of his friend, his face only a few inches from House's. "Hey." He grabbed House's chin and turned his face towards his own. He could feel House's fellows watching intently but couldn't be bothered to get up and close the blinds, especially not when blue eyes finally looked up. It was the first indication that House even knew Wilson was there. "Listen to me. You need to go home and sleep."
House blinked back at Wilson in confusion, a clear look of when did you get here? on his face.
"Sleep," Wilson repeated.
House looked for a few moments longer then inhaled, as if coming out of a trance. The look became cross and he smacked Wilson's hand away from his chin. "My patient – "
"Is dying," Wilson finished. House's jaw dropped slightly at Wilson's bluntness. "You did everything you could, House. You need to go home. Cameron, Chase, and Foreman need to go home. You all need to rest."
House looked around Wilson at the 3 fellows like he was looking at them for the first time. Then he barked out, "What the hell are you all still doing here? Get out. Go home."
Chase made an unseemly noise as his head snapped up. Foreman shook his head, pulled Chase up, and walked out. Cameron huffed and stomped a foot.
She made eyes at Wilson, as if he was going to invite her in for a cup of tea and a therapy session. He glared back at her. You woke me up, he wanted to tell her. Don't be annoyed that I'm the one to take care of him.
She huffed again and marched away, her large bag catching on the door as she left. They listened to her footsteps and the ding of the elevator, and then it was quiet again.
House sat back in his chair. His head rolled to the side and his eyes closed. It looked like he was resting but Wilson knew House was going every moment of the case in his memory, trying to see what went wrong, what he missed. Wilson stuck his hands in the front pocket of his sweatshirt and waited.
"I thought she was looking for drugs."
Wilson sighed and looked back up at the board again. Arm pain. To the side, crossed out, history of drug use – heroin. "You had every reason to believe that she was."
"No, I didn't," House snapped back. "She had a drug history. It doesn't mean she was looking for drugs. There was no reason to think she was looking for drugs. But I did anyway."
"Any time someone has a drug history you have to assume there's drug seeking involved." Wilson knew he was arguing a moot point, that the patient's true motives had nothing to do with what was going on. So he went straight for the truth. "Hard to believe it's been five years."
House looked surprised again, and Wilson saw something akin to amusement flick across his face. "I'm not sure how I feel about this new straight-forward attitude of yours, Jimmy."
Wilson allowed for a small smile. "It's always been there. It only comes out at night. Or really, morning."
House made a contemplative face. "Remind me to call you in the middle of the night – excuse me, morning – more often."
"You didn't call me, Cameron did. She spends so much time watching you, she knows when something is up, even if she doesn't know what."
"Nothing's up. I'm tired, and my patient is dying, as you so succinctly put it."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "It's not the patient's exit that's the problem, it's her entrance. That's why this case is bothering you so much. It's been five years since your infarcation. Stacy's back. The pain's not getting any better. And then a patient with limb pain and possibly drug-seeking behavior shows up, and you think you did to her exactly what they did to you."
"Boy, those psychology classes really paid off," House snapped.
"Don't get mad at me. I'm just telling you what you already know."
"Well, then there's no need to tell me about it, is there?" House shoved himself out of the chair, knocking into Wilson as he rose. "You've done your duty. You can go home and feel good that you rescued the poor triplets from their mean daddy."
Wilson groaned. He should have known better than to start this conversation in the middle of the night with House's patient withering away down the hall. "I didn't come here for them," he said defensively. "I came here because you needed help."
"I don't need anything, unless you think Cameron knows better than me."
"It's not about Cameron – "
"Damn right it's not!" House's cane down hard on the desk, sending lacrosse balls and papers and magazines skittering off onto the floor. His eyes were wild, and Wilson had to look away from the desperation that he saw there.
House dragged in a deep breath, trying to get back some control. "It's about the patient."
Wilson looked back up, directly at House. "It's about you," he said quietly.
House's eyes narrowed, and Wilson could practically here the gate slam shut. "Go home, Wilson," he finally said. "You've done enough here."
Wilson opened his mouth, then wisely shut it. Turned around and walked out the door.
Back at the hotel, he snatched his suit off the floor and hung it in its proper place. Organizing always made him feel better, but there wasn't much to organize in the hotel room. He could feel a severe feeling of claustrophobia setting in, being trapped in there, nowhere to move around, nothing to see but the same 4 walls. Normally he would have headed over to House's apartment, let himself in, and fallen asleep on the couch. Instead, he looked out the window at Route 206. The roadway was quiet.
He looked back at the bed longingly. The sleep that had come so easy a few hours ago had abandoned him. Now he was wide awake. He sat down at the desk. Maybe paperwork would tire him out again.
The sun was starting to rise when he heard a bang in the hallway, then a thump, thump, thump on his door. He rubbed his face. He knew that sound well. The cane made an entirely different sound than someone's fist.
Thump, thump, thump again, then his name, drawn out into a long, loud whine. He jumped up and yanked open the door. House listed forward, caught himself on the doorframe, and belched.
"Jesus, House, that's disgusting. And people are trying to sleep," Wilson hissed, as a door across the hall opened and a pissed, sleepy man stuck his head out. "Sorry, he'll be quiet," Wilson called, yanking House into the room. "You are going to get me kicked out of here."
"Oh, how sad, kicked out of your dream home," House snarked, his words slurred just the smallest amount.
"How much did you drink? How did you get here? Why didn't you call me?"
Even in his addled state, House was able to follow the rapid fire questions and answered back just as quickly. "A lot. A cab. You didn't answer."
Wilson looked over to his phone, still dead. "Crap. I forgot to charge my phone again." He made for the bed but House planted himself in his way. "House, move."
House stayed put.
"Seriously, House. Move."
"I have to ask you a question." Something about House's tone, House's face, made Wilson squirm. He could sense they were headed a dangerous path.
"You need to sleep," he answered instead.
"You weren't sleeping," House retorted.
"Sure I was."
House looked around at the bed, then the desk. Wilson took the opportunity to slip past him into the room. "The bed covers are pulled down, but the desk light is on. Your pen's uncapped, and you know you never leave pens uncapped because then the ink runs out, even though you shouldn't care since the hospital pays for them. Your hair isn't sticking up. And you're still wearing jeans."
"Fine. I was awake." Wilson hated that House could make him feel foolish, even when Wilson was the sober one. "You still need sleep."
House didn't dignify Wilson's repeated request, just walked over to the window and peered out. Traffic was already starting to build. "My patient died," he said finally.
Wilson had figured as much – House wouldn't have been there if she hadn't - but just nodded. "My condolences."
House nodded back. "Do you wish you had been there when it happened?"
Whatever question Wilson had been expecting, that wasn't it, but he got the sense that even if he had known it was coming, it still would have felt like a punch to the gut. "I – what – you mean your leg?"
House gave a look and Wilson could hear House's voice in his head. Don't be stupid, Wilson.
"I…" Wilson didn't know what to say, couldn't even begin to formulate an answer. "House, do you really want to discuss this now? It's late and you're drunk."
There was that look again, this time telling him they both knew being drunk was very rarely a detriment to House's mental prowess. "You brought it up," House reminded him.
"You told me to shut up and leave it alone."
"And now I'm telling you to talk about it. Do you wish you had been there when it happened?"
The claustrophobia was back, although Wilson knew that now it had nothing to do with the room and everything to do with the man standing in front of him. He felt like he couldn't breathe, so he looked away for a minute, counted to 20 in his head.
When he turned back, House was waiting. And for once in his life, James Wilson threw caution out the window, all over Route 206, and told him the unadulterated truth.
"Yes. I wish I was there because you were in pain and I wasn't there to help you. Because Stacy was your medical proxy but she isn't a doctor. Because Cuddy was too caught between the two of you to really be the best doctor she could. When she finally called me, I was so angry at her. They had every reason to believe you would die – you did die – and nobody called me. Nobody bothered to call your best friend." He paused, and looked at House. The older man's face was impassive but his breathing was heavy. "But no, I don't wish I had been there. Because I didn't have to make a decision. Because if I had had to…" He swallowed hard and looked down. "I saw the way you looked at Stacy. Whether or not she made the right decision, I know how betrayed you felt. And I would never want you to look at me like that."
House didn't say anything, just looked out the window at the lights below.
"Go ahead, make fun of me. Tell me I'm a girl or a pussy or whatever."
"What…" House drew the word out, like he wasn't sure he wanted to ask the rest of the question. "What would you have done?"
Wilson's heart dropped into his stomach. "Jesus, House. I don't know. I can't tell you what I would have done when I wasn't there."
"Yes, you do."
"I don't, honestly." He knew he was pleading – whining, House would have called it. "Please, House."
He did know. He had known from the minute he got the call, from the way his heart had broken when he learned what Stacy had done. "I wouldn't have done the surgery. I would have kept you in the coma and given your leg time to heal. And if it didn't…well, I would have given you every chance possible. I would have done what you wanted."
They were so far into the deep water, Wilson couldn't see land anymore. He felt lost and free at the same time, like he didn't know where he was going but at least he wasn't being weighed down by useless luggage.
"Thank you." House's voice was quiet.
"I didn't tell you what I would have done because I think it's what you want to hear or so I'll seem like a hero." When had this turned into just a simple conversation, like they were talking about the weather? This is what it felt like, Wilson thought, to just talk and not worry about everyone else's reaction. "It's what I would have done."
The smile House gave him was small but Wilson had never seen such affection in House's face before, and it took his breath away. House stood and advanced on Wilson, coming to stand in front of him so that they were almost nose to nose.
"I take back what I said before. I love this new attitude of yours." Then House's hands were in his hair and before Wilson could think – how House's reflexes were still so much quicker than his, even with the bourbon, Wilson would never understand – House was kissing him. Wilson knew he should have been shocked, should be justifying to himself and House why this was a bad idea, why they didn't really want to do it. But everything else had come to the surface that night. Whatever had spurred them to be completely honest with each other had led – unsurprisingly, Wilson had to admit – to this point. Why stop now, he thought to himself, and slid his hands around House's skinny waist and pulled him closer.
When he awoke, it was to the hotel phone ringing, an industrial bleat that only served to remind you this was not your home.
"Hello?" he managed.
"Dr. Wilson, it's Dr. Cuddy. I tried to call on your cell - "
"But it's dead, I know." Wilson looked at the clock. "10:05 – oh, shit. Excuse me! I'm sorry. I'm late."
"Is House with you?"
How do you know about that?, his brain screamed before his logic center reminded him that she meant did House crash at his place, not was he in the bed beside him. "He's here," he said.
"How is he?" Cuddy asked. "Dr. Cameron told me about his patient."
"He's… he's okay." Wilson's brain was moving slowly, partly due to him being woken up from a dead sleep, partly due to House's fingers playing a minuet up and down his spine. "But he should probably take the day off. I'll probably stay with him. You know, make sure he doesn't do anything crazy."
Behind him, House snickered. Wilson lifted his head and gave a half-hearted glare over this shoulder.
"Call me if you need anything," Cuddy was saying. "We'll talk tomorrow."
"Okay. Thanks." Wilson dropped the phone back in the cradle. He laid his head back down on the pillow and regarded the man lying next to him. House stared back.
"So," House echoed. There was a pause. "How 'bout them Knicks?"
Wilson laughed as House smiled that smile again, the one that held so much feeling Wilson had to wonder if he stockpiled it for moments like that.
Then something flicked across House's face, too fast for Wilson to analyze it, certainly too fast for him to brace himself. "I told Stacy and Cuddy not to call you. Threatened them with various unpleasant things if they did."
Wilson felt his gut roll like he had been punched, and briefly heard the voice of everyone who'd ever warned him about House. He sat up too fast, his head spinning.
"Whoa, settle down. Relax."
"What - Why would you say now? You couldn't warn me? You – " Wilson took a deep breath and asked the question he really wanted the answer to. "Why? Why wouldn't you want me there?"
House shrugged. "The same reason you didn't want to be there. I didn't want you to make that decision." He scratched his forehead. "I knew I was in the minority. Every time I saw Cuddy and Stacy huddled in the hallway, I was sure the next time I fell asleep I was going to wake up missing a leg."
"I could have tried to sway them."
"You could have. But Stacy held the legal power. Cuddy was my physician. You weren't working at PPTH then. They didn't know you. You would have just been the best friend, even if you are a better doctor."
"But still - "
"I didn't want that to be all I saw every time I looked at you."
Wilson's head was still spinning, but House's voice was matter-of-fact.
"I knew even when it was happening that from that time on, every time I looked at Stacy, I would see her trying to convince me I was wrong. And then when she approved the surgery…" He laid back down and stared at the ceiling. "I tried to get over it, I did. But that was all I could see when she looked at me, until I couldn't take it anymore and I drove her away."
"You knew what you were doing to her," Wilson said quietly.
House nodded. "Sometimes I told myself she deserved to suffer like I was. But mostly I was just trying to get her to leave so I wouldn't have to be reminded of it constantly. The leg pain did that already, I didn't need her too."
"It was going to destroy me and Stacy," House stated. "I didn't want it to destroy me and you. I couldn't let it. If I was going to get through it, I needed you and me to be okay. So I needed you to not be there, not be a part of it." He looked over at Wilson. "Understand?"
Wilson dropped his gaze to the bedspread. He knew full well House wasn't asking if he followed the story, he was asking if Wilson could hear everything underneath House would probably never say. You're important. I rely on you. I need you.
I love you.
He gave House a small smile. "Yeah, Greg, I understand." I'm not going anywhere.
And I love you, too.
That smile again for just a second, then House rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Wilson, don't turn into even more of girl than you are already just 'cause I hit that."
"You hit that?" Wilson's eyebrows flew up. "Really, we both hit that, didn't we?"
House shrugged. "But I started it. You'd still be standing there if not for me."
"Oh, okay." Wilson laid back down. "House?"
He hesitated, then decided honesty had gotten them this far. "Do we have any idea what we're doing?"
House scratched his forehead again and squinted. "Well… no. Not in the least."
"All right. Just checking."
"I'm still going to be an asshole. And don't even expect any sort of sappy heart-to-hearts at the end of the day. Or any time."
"And I'm not going to prance down the hallways holding your hand and singing Elton John."
Wilson stared at him. "What would make you think I'd want that?"
House gave an exaggerated shrug. "I don't know what you want. I mean, here I am, your best friend, and I just found out you're gay."
"I'm not – I'm gay? What about you?"
"I'm an opportunist."
Wilson blew a raspberry. "Please."
"Hey, now. You could at least put that tongue to good use."
Wilson couldn't help himself, he laughed. "Nice try, House."
"What, no 'Greg'?"
Wilson gave him a look. "Don't mock me for thinking I should call the naked person sharing my bed by their first name."
"His first name. Don't pussyfoot around it now, James."
Wilson's lip quirked up. "Isn't the whole issue that there is no pussy to foot around?"
House let out a loud, surprise laugh. "Jimmy Wilson!" He reached out and clipped Wilson's ear. "I'm proud of you."
Wilson made a humming noise, obviously pleased with himself.
House gave a last chuckle and lay back down. It got quiet in the room, so quiet Wilson could practically hear House thinking.
"Hey." Wilson poked him in the side. "Say it."
"Whatever it is that's running through that head of yours." He reached over and grasped House's chin, like he had the night before. "Talk to me."
House didn't look at him, just fixed his gaze on some point over Wilson's shoulder. "You have to know this is going to end badly."
Wilson shrugged. "Yes, there is a chance of that. But it doesn't have to be that way."
That look again. Don't be stupid, Wilson. This time, he ignored it.
"Who knows you better than me? Who has a better idea of what to expect?"
House didn't look at all convinced. Wilson laid down on his stomach and rested his head on his crossed arms. "Look at me."
House hesitated, then dropped his eyes down. They were so close, neither of them could hide anything. Wilson didn't want to.
"I wasn't there five years ago. You didn't want me there."
"I told you – "
"House." Wilson pressed a palm over House's mouth. "Shut up and let me finish. I understand why you didn't want me there, and in some ways, I'm grateful. But I'm here now. I want to be here now, and I'm pretty sure you want me here, too."
He paused, then felt House's tiny nod against his hand.
"So maybe we should have a little faith in ourselves that we can fix some of what was broken. In both of us."
House blinked twice – was that a little wetness Wilson saw in his eyes? – then pulled Wilson's hand off his mouth so he could kiss him. Wilson pressed back, his hand coming up to rest of House's cheek.
House broke off the kiss, a little breathless. "Okay," he said finally.
Wilson squinted. "Okay, what?"
House reached up, ran his thumb against Wilson's lower lip, and swallowed hard. "Okay. I'll have a little faith."
It was all Wilson could ask for.