"Where are you going?"
Cuddy had entered his office with a disapproving frown that barely masked her worry, and House quietly noted the all-black color of her otherwise flattering outfit as he shrugged the rest of his coat onto his shoulders. It seemed like it had been ages since she'd selected something different from her wardrobe…only it hadn't been. Not really.
"I'm going to see Wilson."
His accompanying glare dared her to protest, so she crossed her arms instead and watched silently as House wrapped his scarf around his neck, retrieving his cane from its usual resting position against his desk. It was almost as if nothing had changed.
He met her gaze as he walked towards the door. "The team's got the patient under control. Told Foreman to stop by your office later and give you the details."
She eyed him momentarily, dark eyes bearing into deep blue. "You asked Foreman to debrief me? That was…considerate of you." She almost added that Wilson would've been proud, but she caught herself just in time – he wasn't ready for that yet, and neither was she.
"I said I told him, not asked him," House grumbled. He placed his hand on the doorknob, briefly turning back to her. "You coming with?"
Cuddy raised her eyebrows, surprised. "I…I was going to go next weekend, but if you want me to come with you – "
"No, I don't," House said flatly, swinging open the door. "That was me being considerate."
You open the door to his office and barge in, because something needs to stay normal in this pathetic excuse for a life. Just because everything is changing doesn't mean that you have to change, too, and for this reason you intend to tell said life to suck it.
"What're you doing?" you ask him.
Wilson doesn't even look up. He's Wilson, so he knows why you're here. It's part of your relationship – you do things like enter his office uninvited and unannounced, and he does things like completely understand why, even though he won't admit it. It's part of the whole being normal thing – relatively speaking.
"I'm just finishing up my patient summaries for Roland," he says, acknowledging you at last.
"Roland's an idiot, but he's not a moron. He doesn't need your patient summaries."
"Only you would make the distinction between an idiot and a moron." Wilson finally meets your gaze, but he can't keep pretending to be annoyed when he also can't help but smile. "Anyway, I'll feel better if he has them. It's the last one."
You wait as he writes the last of his comments, carefully surveying his appearance. He looks tired, but not too bad, and that's supposed to satisfy you enough for now. It doesn't, really, but what choice do you have?
Finally, he stands as he closes the file folder, and you nod towards him. "Come on. I'll take you home."
"I'm perfectly capable of driving," he protests, meeting you at the doorway. "Don't you have a patient?"
"I also have ducklings with medical degrees and no lives." You catch his eyes looking longingly around the office, so you lay a hand on his shoulder and make a mental note to look out for other signs of sadness. He's on enough pills as it is, and the last thing he needs is to add Zoloft to his daily regimen.
"We'll come back this weekend and pack it up together," you say quietly, hoping – knowing – that he'll understand it's the only way you know how to comfort him.
"Yeah." He turns to you, and as he kisses you gently on the cheek you wonder how many gentle kisses he has left to give. "That would be nice."
The rumbling of his motorcycle droned out the unrelenting whirlwind of thoughts plaguing his mind, and House relished being able to simply sit and enjoy the ride. It was the only time his brain could be hollow and empty, not unlike the chasm in his chest, and the only thing he vaguely noticed was the absence of nervous but trusting arms wrapped around his waist.
He zoomed around the traffic and finally made it to the emptier local roads, surrounded by nothing but asphalt and trees. Reaching his destination, he was almost reluctant to park and let the roaring engine die down.
But he forced himself to dismount, taking a deep breath as he removed his helmet and surveyed the familiar land beyond the iron gates.
It felt like coming home.
His eyes bear into your back as you prepare a mug of chamomile tea at the counter, neither of you wanting to acknowledge that he's too tired to do it himself. "House, we need to talk about this," he says, and it's impossible to ignore the pleading urgency in his voice.
You don't turn around, of course, because for all of your talk about telling the truth, the last thing you ever want to do is face it. "That's what she said. Literally. You and Cuddy need to quit tag-teaming the cripple."
But an unexpected coughing fit reminds you all too well that maybe Wilson and Cuddy are right, and your stomach clenches at the sound. You half-run, half-limp to his side, thrusting the mug into his hands and watching carefully as he drinks and catches his breath.
"No more talking," you mutter, sitting beside him on the couch and using your free hand to gently pat his back.
Wilson sets the mug on the coffee table, shaking his head. "No more excuses," he counters hoarsely.
"Seriously, are you and Cuddy ever going to leave me alone?"
The weight of your words hangs heavy in the air, and you fight the urge to kick yourself. Your eyes wander around the room and you focus on the rug, the piano, the freakin' wall, anything but those brown eyes and that brown hair and that forgiving smile that you've never deserved.
You feel his hand wrap gently around yours, and as your fingers intertwine you wonder if it's possible for your heart to break any more than it already has.
"Cuddy might not," Wilson whispers, "but I don't think I'll have a choice."
It wasn't Cuddy's policy to discuss House's emotional state with members of his team, but the one person she usually turned to was no longer there, and the diagnostician's lack of other friends didn't leave her with many alternatives. If he hadn't been doing his job, perhaps she would have had a better excuse, but the funny thing was that the quality of his work didn't seem to be suffering at all.
She thanked Foreman as he concluded his debriefing. "Sounds like you have everything under control," she said.
"Patient's stable, drugs are working, everything's great," Foreman agreed.
"And…would you say that House…did his job to the best of his ability?"
"He's the same as always," Foreman shrugged, but he seemed to understand what she was asking. "He's making good diagnoses, saving lives...and probably annoying the hell out of you."
"House will be House," Cuddy snorted, but her expression softened. "So you think he's…stable, so to speak? You don't think he could use some more time off?"
"He turned down the extra time because he wanted to come back to work," Foreman reminded her. "It distracts him. It always has."
Cuddy sighed. "Did you know that he left at noon to go 'see Wilson,' in his words? It's the third time this week."
"Did he ever stay here when he felt like he had better things to do?" Foreman pointed out. "If going over there helps him, then I'm all for it. Whatever keeps him functioning." He forced her to meet his gaze and gave her a smile. "He's going to be okay, Cuddy. Just give him some more time."
She managed a nod and a small smile back. "Thanks, Foreman."
But after watching him leave her office, she grabbed her own coat and headed for the door, car keys jingling in her pocket. House was not okay, and if she wanted to help him, she'd have to take matters into her own hands – for Wilson's sake.
"Your fever's up," you mutter, narrowing your eyes at the vitals machines. The damn numbers are ruining your day, even though Linda finally got together with Brad and that Nancy bitch is no longer a part of that ridiculous love triangle. The one good thing about Wilson being here is that you don't have to keep lunch dates with coma guy to watch your soap anymore.
Wilson ignores your last comment. "How's your leg?" he asks instead, and you glare at him.
"What? How's my...you're unbelievable, Wilson. Only you would ask about someone else when you're the one lying in a hospital bed."
"Be nice," Wilson chides mildly, and you actually find yourself wishing that he had the strength for his usual annoying scolding. "You've been massaging it like crazy since this morning, that's all."
"Yeah. Big infarction thing a few years ago, don't know if you heard about it."
He's probably about to reply with some lame retort, but an uncontrollable wave of coughing overcomes him, and he struggles to sit up and breathe. You jump out of your seat to raise the bed and press an oxygen mask to his face, praying to ten different gods in ten different languages because suddenly, praying to fake deities feels better than not praying at all. You see the panic in his eyes and use your free to hand to firmly grip his shoulder, hoping the contact will help.
"Easy, Wilson. You're okay."
It takes a few tries, but he's finally able to get some air into his lungs, and you let out the breath that you've been holding with him.
"Sorry," he whispers hoarsely as you return the mask to its holding place, but you just shrug as you sit back down again.
"No more talking," you reply, but you smile inside as Wilson smirks.
"You always say that," he says.
But then you notice that he's shivering and burrowing deeper under the blankets, and you frown up at the monitors again. "Damn."
"I'm fine," Wilson mumbles, closing his eyes, and without even thinking you reach over to squeeze his hand.
"You should get some sleep," you tell him, and he opens his eyes again so he can look into yours.
"You look tired, too."
You pretend to be offended, because that's better than admitting that you've never been more exhausted in your entire life – and you're not even the one who's sick. "Do not. This chair sucks, anyway."
"Who needs a chair when you have a bed?" Wilson's lips curl into a sly smile, and you can't help but grin.
"Cuddy'll kill me," you warn him.
But Wilson shrugs. "Since when do you care about the rules?"
So you get into bed beside him, wrapping your arm around his shoulders as he snuggles into your side. He's so close that you can feel his heartbeat and the rise and fall of his chest, and it helps to settle the pit in your stomach that you've been trying to ignore. You kiss his feverish forehead and close your eyes against the radiating heat, telling yourself that a little more sleep will make everything okay.
It's not like you to make excuses, but rationality flew out the window the moment you saw the x-rays.
All you have left is Wilson.
"Taub offered to go bowling." He was sitting on his usual patch of grass, fiddling with his cane in his lap as he spoke. "I think I'd rather clean coma guy's ass for a month."
His fingers absent-mindedly began to trace the letters etched in the stone, the way he'd reached out to memorize the feel of the letters on the door before Cuddy had the janitor swipe them away. James E. Wilson. Beloved son, brother, and friend.
"Had lunch with vegetative state guy the other day," House continued. "He's doing pretty good. Offered him half of my sandwich, but…"
He turned sharply around. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I…I came to see if you were alright."
"I'm fine," he said angrily. "For God's sake, Cuddy – "
"House, you're sitting here talking to a gravestone. You're not fine."
"I'm talking to Wilson," he mumbled. And then he realized how ridiculous that sounded, because how the hell could he be talking to Wilson?
A quiet moment passed before Cuddy knelt beside him on the ground. "What do you talk about?" she asked gently.
House shrugged. "He used to talk to Amber. I just figured I'd get a tan while I was at it."
He could feel her waiting, could feel her patience and her understanding and her heartbreak combining into some massive force of Cuddy, and he hated how much it actually made him want to open up.
"You don't have to be here," he muttered lamely, knowing that it wouldn't even come close to making her leave.
Peeling her eyes away from the name on the gravestone, she turned to face him. "I promised Wilson I would be."
"You promised Wilson you'd come find me talking to myself in a cemetery?"
"I promised him I'd be here for you," she replied, and it was enough to make House break her gaze.
"I told him I'd be okay," he whispered.
"I know." Cuddy tentatively touched his shoulder, and when he didn't protest, she gave it a gentle squeeze. "But Wilson knew you better than that…he always did."
You swallow hard, your tight grip on his hand never faltering. Medical instinct tells you to force him to put the oxygen mask back on, but his eyes are pleading with you and you may as well let him say what it is he wants to say.
"I…don't want you…to be alone." His voice is barely above a whisper and he pauses to suck in the air that he's lost, and all you want to do is breathe for him. You're fucking Gregory House. You save lives all the freakin' time. Why is it so much to ask just to breathe for him?
But it's so typical of you to do this – to fail those who matter most. Or is it just the Universe's idea of a joke, to start with Amber and come full circle with Wilson?
Universe: 2. House: 0.
"I won't be alone," you try to assure him.
"You'll…lock yourself…away. I know you, House."
You can't answer because he's right, and you're so tired of running from the truth. The truth is that Wilson is dying, and the truth is that you can't handle it.
"No going back…on pills. Okay? It's…important. And make sure you…come to work. They…need you here."
You must have waited too long to answer, because the tired hand that you've been holding has found the strength to squeeze back. "House. Promise me…please."
You force a nod. "No pills," you promise. "I'll stay clean. And I'll make sure I keep Cuddy's ass in line."
The slightest hint of a smile crosses his face, and you lean down to kiss his cheek. "I won't be alone," you repeat softly.
He nods. "I know," he whispers, replacing the oxygen mask and closing his eyes. "I know."
They walked slowly out of the cemetery together, and as they reached their vehicles, House turned to face Cuddy again.
"Thank you," he said quietly. It wasn't a phrase he often used, but when he did, he usually meant it.
"I wasn't sure if I could help," Cuddy admitted.
"You helped." He took a deep breath, replaying their conversation in his head, still unsure how he'd found the words that had come pouring out of him as he sat there with Cuddy in front of Wilson's grave. "He…he would've been happy that we talked."
She gave him a small smile. "Yeah. He would've been. And, House – you know you can talk to me anytime. Always."
He watched as she drove away and hoisted himself onto his motorcycle. Automatically, he reached for the helmet hanging on the handlebars, but on second thought he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket instead.
"Taub? It's House."
He'd be damned if Cuddy was the only one who'd keep her promise to Wilson.
"You, uh…you still up for that bowling game?"