Title: Never Promised
Disclaimer: House M.D., its characters, locations and storyline are the property of David Shore, Bad Hat Harry Productions and the Fox Television Network. All Rights Reserved.
Character(s); Pairings: House, Cuddy, Wilson, OFC physiotherapist, Brandy; House/Cuddy on the surface, House/Wilson pre-slash.
Word Count: 11580
A/N: This takes place about a week following episode 7x4 "Massage Therapy". It's a post-episode response fic by a proud Hilson who believes that the current relationship between House and Cuddy is doomed to crash and burn. Song quote is from "Rose Garden" as performed by Lynn Anderson. Hopefully the characters aren't to OOC.
Spoilers: Spoilers for all seasons up to and including Season 7, episode 4 "Massage Therapy.
Rating: M (PG-17)
I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden.
Along with the sunshine,
There's gotta be a little rain sometimes.
When you take, you gotta give, so live and let live,
Or let go.
I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden.
I could sing you a tune or promise you the moon,
But if that's what it takes to hold you,
I'd just as soon let you go, but there's one thing I want you to know.
You better look before you leap, still waters run deep,
And there won't always be someone there to pull you out,
And you know what I'm talkin' about.
So smile for a while and let's be jolly:
Love shouldn't be so melancholy.
Come along and share the good times while we can…
House was preparing to leave for his appointment with the physiotherapist Lisa Cuddy had recommended when his best friend poked his head inside his office door. The lovers had faced off over House's use of the prostitute he'd hired for quite some time now for massage therapy of his leg with 'benefits'. House had insisted that Brandy was the only one he'd found who actually knew how to massage his leg properly and alleviate the pain and that he no longer hired her for her special services now that he was involved with Cuddy but his girlfriend had given him an ultimatum: Get rid of Brandy or there was no relationship. That had angered him on more than one level; he didn't like to be told what he could and couldn't do by anyone, she was telling him to stop receiving help for the very real pain in his leg, and she apparently had absolutely no trust in him to be faithful to him.
How could they make it as a couple if there was no trust?
House had sought out advice from the oncologist who had proceeded to tell him to give in to her (once again) because mature relationships worked that way. That had rubbed him wrong. In the past few weeks that he and Cuddy had been dating, all he'd done was compromise and cave in to her demands and wishes. When was it her turn to compromise for him? In the end, his fear of their relationship collapsing had led him to agree to call the physiotherapist she'd suggested; he got sex that night, but after she had gone home to her daughter the feelings of resentment and self-betrayal had burned in his chest and gut and had kept him awake all night.
"Hey, ready for lunch?" Wilson asked him. "Or are you eating with Cuddy today?"
"Neither," House told him as he grabbed his leather jacket from its hook and put it on. "I have an appointment in Trenton with a physiotherapist."
Wilson stepped into the office. He smiled, pleasantly surprised. "That's great! I've been telling you for years to go back to one. I'm glad that Cuddy finally got through to you."
"I didn't have much choice but to agree," House muttered, frowning. "It was my act of appeasement to her to have her drop the ultimatum she gave me after finding out that Brandy was also a prostitute. Remember that little conversation we had at the loft?"
"Ultimatum…?" Wilson said, his smile fading. He nodded slowly. "What kind of ultimatum?"
"I thought she talked to you about it," House responded, frowning slightly. "She told me that it was either her or Brandy, not both. I had no choice but to choose her."
"Oh. Well…I guess that's good, right? After all, being with Cuddy is more important to you than some hooker."
House glared at him, unable to hide all of the resentment he felt over the entire situation. "She's not just a hooker. She's a talented masseuse—really. I haven't found a 'legitimate' masseuse who could help relieve the pain in my leg and my shoulder like she can and believe me I looked and tried many before her. I'll go to this PT to keep Lisa happy—again—but I'm not expecting her to be any better that the other therapists before her."
"This is really bothering you, isn't it?" Wilson asked, frowning in concern. "You resent the hell out of Lisa's insistence that you fire Brandy, don't you?"
House grabbed his helmet and backpack—if he had to go on this ridiculous appointment then he intended on taking the rest of the day off. If this PT was anything like the others he'd seen, he'd be in more pain after his appointment than when he arrived.
"It doesn't matter," House mumbled, avoiding Wilson's eyes. "Compromise is the responsible thing to do—you said so yourself. I'll see you tomorrow."
Before Wilson could delay him any longer House limped past him and out of the office. He was already hurting pretty bad today. He hoped he didn't end up regretting this.
Wilson watched his friend limp away down the corridor toward the elevator. He frowned with concern and a measure of frustration. House's pain had to be getting worse, despite the fact that he was finally in a relationship with the woman he'd wanted for a long time. At first House had seemed content and even happy and his pain seemed to be greatly diminished, but weeks after the diagnostician and the Dean of Medicine had become a couple he was now looking tired, frustrated and in greater pain than before.
Perhaps House had been right that day that he'd come to the oncologist for advice while Wilson had been preparing dinner. Perhaps the fact that it was the principle of the thing that was important. House really wanted his relationship with Cuddy to work—that much was obvious. The more Wilson thought about it, the more he realized that his best friend had been right. Distrust and ultimatums were no way to run a relationship and that's exactly what Cuddy appeared to be doing—running or controlling the relationship. He wondered if she had done any compromising of her own to preserve what she and House had. Something told him that if she had, it had been about minor, inconsequential differences in opinion, not the major issues she demanded House to give in to.
Wilson made a decision and returned to his office briefly before heading down to have a chat with their boss and House's girlfriend. He was glad to find her in her office munching on a salad while working at the computer. He rapped lightly on her door. She looked away from her computer and then seeing him she waved him inside. Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Wilson went inside. He stepped up to her desk and stood there for a moment, carefully formulating what he wanted to say and how to say it.
"Wilson, have a seat," Cuddy told him, breaking his train of thought. She pointed at one of the two chairs sitting in front of her desk. Her expression was one of amused curiosity. "What can I do for you?"
"It has to do with House," he blurted, "and you. The two of you. As a couple."
She stared at him like he was speaking Chinese or some other foreign tongue she couldn't speak. "Are you feeling alright?" Cuddy asked.
Wilson sighed, shaking his head. "No. Well, yes…but no. Allow me to explain."
"Please do," she responded, a little impatiently. "Look, if this is about another double date—?"
"No," Wilson assured her quickly. "Ah…it actually has to do with House's leg and pain relief among other things. Look, this is probably none of my business, but House is my friend and I've known him for a long time."
"So have I," Cuddy reminded him with a strained smile. "Longer than you, in fact."
Wilson considered that for a moment with a scowl of doubt and then shook his head. "No…you met him first and knew him for while in college but then there was a huge gap of time when you and he had no contact—that is, until you hired him. So in actual fact, cumulatively I've known him longer."
Cuddy's smile disappeared and instead she began to look a little annoyed. "What's your point, Wilson? I've got a lot of work to get done."
It wasn't like he was stupid. Wilson could tell she hadn't appreciated being corrected about him and having it pointed out that of the two of them he probably knew House better that she. So she didn't like to be questioned or outdone…he had no doubt what kind of dynamic that created when it came to being with House, a man who claimed to always be right and ninety-nine percent of the time he was. Cuddy wasn't stupid, but her intellect didn't come close to House's. So it couldn't be that her intelligence was what attracted him to her. They didn't have anything in common, really, as the disastrous double-date at the go-kart track had proven, and she was a better administrator than a doctor, so there wasn't much there to attract House's attention. Was it possible that the only thing that made up their relationship was sex?
"We both know that House continues to suffer from chronic leg pain," Wilson said. "And while he seemed to be doing better with it shortly after you two began dating I've noticed him suffering a great deal more again this past week."
She smirked, dismissing the notion with her hand. "He's fine," Cuddy insisted. "In fact, it's been hardly bothering him at all lately."
"Is that what he told you?"
"Well, no, but don't you think I would have noticed if he was suffering worse? We do see quite a bit of each other, both at work and in our free time. Trust me, Wilson. If he wasn't doing well, I'd know."
"No," Wilson answered coldly, feeling the muscles in his jaw and neck tense up. She was not taking him serious and the oncologist wondered if that was how she regarded House's thoughts as well. Any person who wasn't too blind or stupid would have noticed how much more pronounced House's limp was becoming. "Obviously not, Cuddy."
Taken aback by the bluntness of his retort the Dean of Medicine was silent for a moment. Then her face turned into a scowl. "I beg your pardon?"
"I've seen that he's slowing down when he walks, the way he's putting more and more weight on the cane," Wilson informed her. "He's been grimacing whenever he has to stand up or change direction. One of the only things he has left that helps with his pain is massage. Now, when you mentioned to me the fact that House was having a prostitute massage his leg, you didn't tell me everything. You didn't mention the fact that House explained to you that he's tried all kinds of professionals who've not been able to help with the pain like Brandy does. You also didn't tell me that he had assured you that there was nothing extra happening anymore because he's committed to and loves you, and you most certainly didn't inform me of the fact that you gave him an ultimatum. I didn't find out about until after I advised House to give in and fire Brandy to secure your relationship."
"Well, quite frankly, Dr. Wilson, none of this is any of your business. Greg's and my private conversations are private, and I'm not obliged to tell you anything." Cuddy was looking at him with a small, smug smile and hard, cold eyes.
"That's right," Wilson retorted sarcastically, "it's none of my business unless it's something you want me to know in order to get me to advise House to do things the way you want them done. Then you tell me information you pass off as complete and honest when in fact there are gaping holes of omission and misdirection which then I use with House without knowing that I've just given him advice based on lies. I don't appreciate being used that way, Cuddy. It's manipulative, and if you love House like you've told him you do you'd want him to receive the truth, not lies. I'm beginning to wonder exactly how genuine your feelings and your intentions really are concerning him."
"How dare you!" Cuddy exclaimed, outraged. She pushed her chair away from her desk. "You know nothing about the way I feel about Greg and I've not lied about anything!"
Wilson shook his head, studying her face and body language. Was it possible that she was so deluded about her own actions that she really believed that to be true? If so, he felt pity for her. Right now he felt disgust rise like bile to his mouth.
"You don't think ultimatums are manipulative?" he asked angrily. "You know how much this relationship means to him. House will do almost anything to make certain you don't dump him. So you know that all you have to do is argue with him and give him the feeling that if he doesn't give in to you he'll lose you and he'll cave. You're playing on his insecurities and his love for you to control him and the relationship. Don't you see how sick that is? He's going to see some physiotherapist for his leg rather Brandy because he wants to keep things working and you made it clear that if he didn't it was over. You misinformed me in order to get me to agree with you and advise him to fire her knowing that if I knew the whole truth I wouldn't have done so. That's not manipulative and hurtful?
"I saw him just before he left for his appointment. He didn't want to go because he knew from experience that physiotherapy doesn't help him—in fact the only person who has helped is Brandy. Still he's going and suffering. Why? Because you are so insecure and lack trust and belief in him to be faithful to you that you can't allow him one of the only things that makes him feel better!"
"The therapist I suggested is excellent," Cuddy told him coldly. "And so what if I'm controlling House's behavior and decisions a little? You didn't see him with the Vicodin in his hand ready to throw everything away. He's a broken human being and he needs me to help fix him!"
Wilson jumped to his feet, nearly upsetting his chair as he did. Here she was, admitting that she was purposefully controlling and manipulating her boyfriend and she had the gall to justify it by putting House down. The same anger he'd felt for her a year before, the one that had led him to stealing the loft from underneath her and Lucas to get back at them for hurting his best friend, returned full-force.
"House isn't 'broken'," the oncologist informed her indignantly. "He doesn't need to be fixed. He just needs to be accepted for who he is and made to feel safe enough that he can let the real House come out from behind his defenses. And even if he did need to be fixed, you're hardly the one qualified be doing it."
"Get out!" Cuddy shouted, pointing to the door. "You're lucky I don't give you a dozen more clinic hours because you obviously have too much time on your hands if you have time to interfere in House's and my relationship."
"You know you have no authority to punish me at work over a difference of opinion in our private lives," Wilson retorted. He turned and strode for the office door and yanked it open angrily. Before he left he turned back to Cuddy to say, "Don't you dare try to use me to manipulate House again!"
She crossed her arms in front of her defiantly. "Don't worry. After I finish telling Greg about this conversation of ours, he won't be coming to you for any more advice."
"Then I guess I'll have to tell him what actually happened."
Wilson left, slamming the door behind him.
After the appointment with the physiotherapist the pain in House's leg had increased so much that he could barely walk to his bike much less ride it home. He'd called Wilson's office and received an answering machine then his cell phone but it was busy. He thought about calling Lisa but then thought better of it; he knew she would probably tell him to call a cab because she couldn't just up and leave the hospital in the middle of the day.
He cursed himself for giving in to her and seeing the incompetent shrew who had just tortured him for the past forty-five minutes until he couldn't take it anymore. He'd screamed at her, asking if she'd taken her training from the Marquis de Sade before hobbling out of the clinic. Now he sat on a bench at a bus stop just outside of the clinic entrance, gripping his leg with vice-like hands. His body shook, he sweated profusely, and he felt like at any moment he was going to spill the content of his stomach all over the sidewalk. He hadn't experienced breakthrough pain like this in a few months and what made it worse was the fact that the pain was now radiating up his groin and into his lower abdomen.
Taking his cell phone again he tried to dial for a taxi but his hands were shaking so much he could barely hold on to the electronic device.
"Fuck!" he muttered in frustration.
"Excuse me," a voice said from above and beside him. House glanced up to see a young woman in her late teens or early twenties standing there watching him struggle with the phone. He had the urge to tell her to piss off and mind her own business when he realized there was no hint of pity in her expression.
"What?" House demanded tersely.
"I can dial for you if you want," she offered. Again there was no pity. She looked at him stoically with a detachment that said 'if you want help fine, if you don't, whatever'. "Did they fuck you up in there?" The young woman gestured back toward the clinic with her head.
"Something like that," he replied, eyeing her a little suspiciously.
"Let me guess…you had Beatrice working on you today, right?" the stranger said knowingly, not really needing an answer. "She's brutal—they all are, really, but instead of helping my back she damned near crippled me. I still can't quite straighten up all the way."
House's eyes ran over her body clinically; she was, in fact, stooped a little. He noticed how her right shoulder was slightly higher than the other. "Scoliosis." It was a statement, not a question.
A weak smile lit up her face. "That's right. Beatrice kept telling me to quit whining, that I only had a five percent curvature so I shouldn't be hurting as much as I do. I may not have it as severe as others but I damn well know when my back hurts, I don't care what that mastodon thinks."
House smirked at her description of the therapist. It was an apt comparison.
"So what's wrong with you?" she asked, appraising him impassively. "I know it has to do with your hip or leg because of the cane."
"Half of the muscle in my thigh was taken out due to an infarction. That's a—"
"I know what an infarction is," she interrupted. "Why didn't you go with a bypass?"
House's smirk turned to a smile. "I wanted to…it's a long story." He handed her the phone. "I need to call a cab. There's a company listed in my contacts list."
The young woman quickly found the number and dialed, then handed the phone back. House took it with his still shaking hand and lifted it to his ear. He ordered the cab, left the address and then hung up by stabbing at the face of the phone a few times until he hit the right button.
"So what do you take for the pain?" she asked him, "because whatever it is it's obviously not enough."
"Ibuprofen," he sighed, sounding defeated. He was kneading away at his thigh like it was a lump of stiff dough.
"That's it?" she asked in surprise. "Whoever your pain management doctor is, you should fire him or her. There's a phenomenal class of pain killers called opiates. Believe me, they work better."
"I know," he replied. "I became addicted to Vicodin, had complications and had to detox. Now opiates are off-limit."
"That sucks." She looked up as the bus pulled up in front of them. "That's my bus. Look, forget the physiotherapy. Hire a good private masseuse." She climbed onto the bus, the door closed and the bus pulled away. House thought about her sage advice and sighed.
A minute or two later his cab arrived. It was excruciating but he managed to get off of the bench and into the back seat of the cab where he could stretch out his leg across the seat. He gave the driver his address and then sat back into his seat and tried to relax while continuing to massage his thigh. His phone rang, startling him. He reached into his jacket pocket and took the device out, fumbling with it. The ring tone, Dancing Queen, told him who it was calling.
"About time," the diagnostician said a little more sharply than he'd intended but he really didn't care because the pain was so bad he was really on edge. "Off holding some little baldy's hand?"
"What's wrong?" Wilson demanded from the other end of the connection. House rolled his eyes. Trust Wilson to be able to sense pain and neediness over the air waves.
"I just finished my torture session and I couldn't ride my bike," House answered, trying very hard to keep the quavering of his voice from betraying just how bad the pain was. "Never mind, I caught a cab."
There was silence for a moment or two and House wondered if they'd been disconnected.
"Look," the oncologist said at last, "I have no appointments this afternoon, just rounds. I'll get to those right away then I'll come over to see how you're doing."
"No need," House assured him and then bit his lip as his leg spasmed hard and a groan rose up in his throat. "I'm sure Lisa will be by later."
"Yeah, well, I need to talk to you about something," Wilson told him sounding grave, "and…and if I don't talk to you before she does, you'll probably not want to talk to me."
House frowned. Never talk to him again? What the fuck happened while he was gone? Jeez, leave the building for a while and the world begins to come undone. "What the hell are you talking about, Wilson?"
"It's not something I can talk about over the phone," was the cryptic response. "Just promise me that if you talk to Cuddy before I get there that you'll at least give me a chance to give you my side of the story, okay? Okay, I've got to go. Bye."
Before House could say anything he heard the slight click of the connection being broken. House pressed END and then stared at his phone in perplexity. What on earth had transpired between Wilson and Lisa? It had to have been something pretty bad if the younger man was in a hurry to talk to him before she did for fear of their friendship ending. House stuck his cell phone into his pocket and shook his head. There was no way some argument between the two most important people in the world to him was going to end his friendship with his best friend. They had been through far too many crises together for that to happen.
Before he was even halfway home his cell phone rang again.
"Popular guy," the cab driver commented.
"Only when there's trouble," House muttered back and answered the phone. "Yes, Mistress?"
"I thought we agreed that you wouldn't call me that," Cuddy said without saying hello first. "It makes me feel like some kind of dominatrix."
"Only in my dreams," House said, gritting his teeth against the pain but he knew he was fighting a losing battle. "Although, if you're curious…"
"I'm not," she told him and he couldn't tell by the sound of her voice whether she was smiling or frowning. "How did the appointment with Beatrice go? She was pretty good, wasn't she?"
House's mind worked quickly at trying to decide what to say. Lie or truth? Lie or truth? Which one, damnit?
"She was something else, alright," he equivocated, his voice tense. In the back of his head he could hear his own voice chanting, Wuss! Wuss! Wuss!
"Good," Cuddy replied and now he could tell that she was smiling, but he wasn't. He was wincing in agony. "Then we won't have to worry about that Brandy person again. Look, when you get back to the hospital come to my office right away. I have something important that I need to talk to you about that's fairly important."
Yeah, I know, House thought before saying out loud, "I'm not returning to the hospital today."
"Why not?" she demanded, sounding a little surprised—or was that worried? He couldn't be as certain with her as he could be with Wilson. "It's only one-thirty in the afternoon."
House opened his mouth to speak when another spasm hit him and emitted a groan.
"Greg," she asked, this time sounding a little alarmed, "are you alright?"
He kneaded his ruined thigh with even more intensity, uncertain whether or not he could even answer. He tried anyway. "No, Lisa, I'm not. My leg—my leg is killing me. It's at least an eight right now and it doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon. I can't make it back to work today."
"Really?" Cuddy replied simply. There was an edge of skepticism in her voice. "You see a great physiotherapist like Beatrice and your leg is worse? Greg, I thought we agreed that at work we were bluntly honest with each other. Quite frankly, I don't believe you. You're angling to get out of your clinic hours."
Hearing her say that made House extremely frustrated, resentful even. Once again she was showing that she didn't trust him enough to believe him about something as real and serious as his leg pain. He'd used a lot of excuses in the past, that's true, but he hadn't lied about his leg and he wouldn't lie to her now after making that agreement to be honest with her. Why couldn't she just believe him?
"You want the truth?" he spat, sounding angrier than he had wanted. He didn't want a big blow out argument with her but damnit! He was angry! "Beatrice belongs in a medieval dungeon torturing prisoners within an inch of their lives! I went in there with the pain at a five and I came out of there barely able to walk. I tried to tell you that I've tried PTs in the past and haven't found one that can help me."
"So, we'll try another alternative," she told him. "What we are not going to do is turn to a prostitute you've slept with in the past. That is out of the question. I won't budge on this."
House wanted to scream at her that it wasn't a 'we' issue because 'we' weren't suffering in misery. Only he was going through it. However he didn't and the biggest reason for that was that he simply didn't have the strength to argue with her about it. All he wanted was to find a dealer, buy a bottle of Vicodin, pop a couple and sleep. Since Vicodin wasn't an option, he'd have to settle with more ibuprofen and a hot bath followed by wrapping his leg in a heating pad.
"What was that?" House grunted. "I can't hear you. Going….a tunnel and…breaking up…" He hung up on her then turned his cell phone off completely. He was breathing very heavily and the cab driver was looking in the review mirror at him nervously.
"Are you okay, buddy?"
House hated that question. It was a fucking stupid question! Did he look like he was okay? "Peachy," he growled softly. "Just get me home." And shut the fuck up.
He'd made it up the front steps to the door of his building but just barely. The stairs inside the building leading to the second floor were another matter. He was grateful that there was no one around to see him bum his way up, step by step. That was the easy part. He managed to scoot his way to his door but once there was in so much agony that he simply didn't have the strength of desire to stand up to unlock the door. Tears from his physical pain rolled down his cheeks, he was breathing in a haggard fashion and he could feel his heart racing dangerously fast in his chest. For several minutes he sat leaning against the door, his legs sprawled out in front of him, wishing that someone would knock him unconscious. The pain was worse than it had been the night of the crane disaster.
Another muscle spasm hit, worse than before, and House couldn't bare it, passing out. He didn't know how long he'd been out of it but the first thing he could see when he opened his eyes a sliver was Wilson kneeling next to him, looking at him with worry. His hand went to check House's carotid pulse and then he frowned and pulled out his cell phone. At first House couldn't hear him speaking but after a second or two heard the word 'ambulance'. He didn't need an ambulance. He just needed some help into his apartment and into a hot bath. House reached quickly and grabbed the cell phone out of his best friend's hand and hung up on the emergency operator.
"No ambulance," he murmured through ragged breaths.
"House, you're having difficulty breathing, you're tachycardic and you were unconscious," Wilson told him insistently. "You need to go to the hospital!"
House grimaced, grabbing at his thigh as another spasm hit. "And what are they going to do for me there…that can't be done…in my apartment?" he demanded, a bead of sweat dripping from his upper lip. "The tachycardia will ease…with the pain. Just help me get…into the apartment and a boiling hot…bath."
House could tell by the expression on his best friend's face that he was going against his better judgment by conceding to House but he did anyway. Wilson took his keys and unlocked the door, then helped House up to his feet, or rather, left foot and acted as his crutch as they entered the apartment. House instructed him to take him straight to the bathroom.
Just as they had in the early post-infarction days Wilson sat House on the toilet long enough to start the bath.
"Hot," House emphasized. "It has to be hot."
"Hot, yes," Wilson agreed, "scalding, no. Where are those lavender bath salts I got you?"
House glared at him, "Do I look gay to you?"
"You convinced Nora," Wilson chirped smugly.
"You're feeling cocky…because you know I can't...hit you right now," House snarled, but there was a playful gleam in his eye in spite of the pain. "I have a long memory."
"I'm serious, House," Wilson said, sobering. "Those were infused with genuine essential oil of lavender. The aroma of lavender encourages feelings of calm and well-being which will aid in relaxing you and your muscles."
"Don't give me that aromatherapy crap," House told him, annoyed. "Besides, I re-gifted them to my mom for Mother's Day."
Wilson sighed and shook his head, then shrugged. "Oh well. At least you remembered her on Mother's Day."
"Thirteen left a huge note on my desk to remind me," House muttered and then groaned.
Wilson took that as his cue to help House undress down to his boxers. Avoiding his best friend's gaze the younger man asked, "Did you want to keep those on or take them off?"
"Are you blushing?" House asked him, trying to hide his own self-consciousness. "For Pete's sake Wilson! You're a doctor. Just pretend my giant manhood belongs to one of your cancer patients and help me take these off."
Wilson looked as if he was about to make a scathing remark but then held it back. Looking away from the diagnostician he quickly pulled the underwear off. As he was doing so House hid a grin began to moan, "Oh, yeah, Wilson. Mmm…Just like that!"
"Fuck off, House," Wilson growled as he turned off the tap and checked the bath water to make certain it wasn't too hot.
"I thought you'd never ask," House quipped. "But you'll have to lose that starched shirt of yours first."
"Funny," Wilson said, glancing over at the diagnostician, obvious in his attempt to not look anywhere but his face. House thought he saw the younger man's eyes twitch in the downward direction for a small fraction of a second but chose not to mention it.
Wilson sighed and then turned around and helped House to his feet and then to the tub. It took a little maneuvering but only a minute or two later he'd helped the older man in the tub and then eased him into the water. House hissed as soon as his ass touched the water.
"Too hot?" Wilson asked quickly, alarmed.
"Perfect," the older man replied and then eased all the way until the water covered most of his chest. He sighed and closed his eyes, resting his head back against the rim. Already he could feel the hot water relaxing the knots in his remaining thigh muscle with a corresponding easing of the pain.
He wasn't looking until it seemed like it was taking Wilson a long time to leave the bathroom. He opened his eyes just enough to be able to look through his eyelashes and noticed the oncologist just sat on the closed toilet seat and ran his eyes down House's body. It was so hot that House could feel the beginning of an erection forming and closed his eyes completely again, hoping that would nip it in the bud. However, he couldn't get the thought of it out of his head and his cock continued to harden. Since Sam had reintroduced herself into Wilson's life House had forced himself to abandon the hope that Wilson might come around and feel the same way for him as he did the younger man. It had been nearly impossible to do, but he had been managing okay if he kept from seeing Wilson for any length of time. When Cuddy had confessed her love for him, House had latched onto that and it had helped significantly with his desire for Wilson, but hadn't eliminated it.
Seeing Wilson checking his nude body out with apparent interest was more than enough to add fuel to his hope. Yes, he loved Lisa and was committed to her and would do whatever it took to make their relationship work, because otherwise he would end up alone again; the harsh reality was Wilson would never act on any feelings for House even if he had them. However, if his best friend ever did make a move, House would have no qualms about ending his relationship with Lisa. Why? Because he loved Lisa, but he was completely in love with Wilson and knew that he likely always would be.
When he still hadn't heard the sound of Wilson standing up and leaving the diagnostician couldn't resist flirting a little. They'd always flirted. It was simply one weird dynamic of their strange friendship.
"Why don't you take a photograph and put it on the headboard of your bed?" House suggested, breaking the silence. "That way when you're fucking her you can be thinking of me."
Wilson's response was not what House had expected to hear. "The thought of that turns you on." It wasn't a question and there was no way House could hide the fact that it did. He was fully erect and fully exposed to be seen. The mere thought of that only increased House's arousal. He tried not to let on, but found himself swallowing thickly.
"Does that bother you?" he asked his voice huskier than usual, opening one of his startling blue eyes to look at the younger man. His heart was pounding hard—he didn't want to push things too far and send Wilson running.
Wilson gave him the exact same look he'd given him the night he'd revealed the organ he'd bought, the look that had caused House's heart to skip a beat and seriously question his assumption that the oncologist was as straight as straight could get. Then along came Sam…. Wilson stood up and walked made to leave.
"I'll go fix you something to eat," he told House softly on his way out.
House stared at the door for a long time after that, thinking.
Lisa Cuddy finished signing her name to the last piece of paperwork on her desk and sighed. So he claimed that Beatrice had only made his leg worse, which Cuddy refused to believe. When she had twisted her knee skiing a couple of years before the physiotherapist had worked wonders on helping her regain her full range of motion. She was a professional of the legal kind and had to be better trained to help House's leg than his usual masseuse in the world's oldest profession. This was House trying to get his own way and keeping Brandy. Well, the Dean of Medicine would not compromise. It didn't matter if she trusted House to remain faithful or not. It was the principle of the thing; it didn't look good for the boyfriend of the Dean of Medicine to be seen in the presence of a whore. She knew she was right, and if she gave in to House on this issue the next thing she knew he'd be installing a pole in his living room and inviting slutty dancers in to entertain him whenever the cable went out.
House had said it himself: He was the most screwed up person in the world. He claimed to want to fix that. Well, Cuddy was determined to employ tough love if necessary to help him do that. He wouldn't always appreciate it at the time, she knew, but years from now, when he was a responsible, dignified, honorable man he would thank her. She was standing strong because she loved him, and knew what was best for him. Wilson, on the other hand, had enabled House's Vicodin addiction and negative behavior patterns for years and had absolutely no idea what was best for House. She would be sure to suggest that to her lover when she saw him. She refused to allow her chief of Oncology to undo all of the good she'd already done for House.
So, there would be no Brandy. She would start asking around about alternatives to physio in the morning. Since she was done her work before five, a rarity to be sure, she decided to call it quits for the day and leave early.
Cuddy intended on stopping by House's apartment for a while on her way home. Being so early she'd catch him by surprise and find out just how truthful he had been to her earlier. He was always finding ways of getting out of working, especially if it involved clinic duty. Cuddy expected to find him fit as a fiddle sitting in front of the TV with a beer in his hand when she got there. She'd punish him; the only way he could make it up to her was to give her three orgasms before she had to go home. A smile crossed her lips at the thought of that. House on a bad day was so very much better in bed than Lucas on a great day. That, she admitted to herself, had been one of the two main reasons she'd decided to end her relationship with Lucas and pursue one with the diagnostician; a woman could only handle mediocre sex for so long. The other reason had been the fact that she'd seen in that collapsing parking garage in Trenton evidence that House was redeemable, with the right help and motivation. Like a diamond in the rough, she was going to chip and cut away all of the imperfections until she found the sparkling gem. Oh yeah, and she loved him.
Packing up her briefcase and putting on her coat Cuddy actually found herself humming to herself. Loving House wasn't easy, but she knew that with the right handling it would pay off in the end. She grabbed her purse, briefcase, and a stack of files as she left. She set the files down in front of her P.A. of the Week, informed him that she was leaving for the day, and then hummed the entire way to her car in the parking garage.
After his bath Wilson had helped House out of the tub and then to his bedroom where House toweled himself off and managed to dress himself without help, for the most part. The younger man had had to start the fresh boxers and pajama pants and lift them to the point where House could reach them without straining and take over. Once he was dressed Wilson gave House the choice of staying in bed or making his way to the living room where he could watch TV. House chose the latter and his best friend helped him to the sofa. Wilson placed a cushion on the coffee table. He wrapped a towel and then an electric heating pad, turning it on low and handing House the control pad. Wilson gently guided House's leg onto the cushion, stuck the TV remote in his other hand and headed for the kitchen, where he grabbed two bottles of beer out of the fridge, wiped the condensation off with a dish towel and brought them out to the living room, handing one to older man and keeping one for himself.
House smiled genuinely, even gratefully. "You'll make some guy a good wife someday, Wilson," he said, not trying to let on how much his friend's care touched him.
"My mother would be proud," the oncologist retorted sarcastically. "You have no food in your kitchen again, so I ordered pizza. It should be here anytime now." He sat down on the sofa next to the diagnostician. House couldn't help but notice how good Wilson smelled even after work and hauling the older man's ass around for the past hour. Wilson always smelled good.
Channel surfing, House said to his best friend without looking at him. "So, you said there was something that you wanted to tell me, something that you wanted to make certain you had a chance to tell me before Cuddy spoke to me. I must admit my curiosity is piqued. I just want to make certain of one thing first. This isn't going to be a plea for forgiveness for screwing my girlfriend, is it?"
Wilson nearly did a spit-take with his beer. "What? No! Of course not! I have no interest in Cuddy and besides, I'd never do that to you."
"Too bad," House answered, smirking. "I would have suggested a threesome when she gets here but I guess not."
Looking at the older man suspiciously, the younger man said, "You are kidding about that, right?"
House didn't answer; he took a pull off his bottle instead. Wilson was too adorable when he was flustered and uncertain.
"Just tell me what it is you want to tell me," House told him, muting the TV and looking at him. "My leg feels much better and I'm in a magnanimous mood."
Wilson appeared hesitant but after a couple of moments he nodded and spoke. "I was wrong to tell you to give in to Cuddy over the Brandy issue. When I talked to Cuddy she didn't tell me that her 'request' to you to stop seeing Brandy for your leg was actually an ultimatum and that she misled me in order to get me to encourage you to give in to her. If I'd known everything, I wouldn't have gone along with her."
"She didn't tell you about the ultimatum?" House repeated, quizzical.
"No," Wilson answered with certainty. "She made it sound like she'd asked you lovingly to stop using Brandy and that you were acting like an obstinate jerk about it and I stupidly bought it. If I'd known then what I know now, I would have advised you to stand up for yourself and not give in to her threat. Look, I don't want to cause problems. I've been very supportive of your relationship with Cuddy, haven't I?"
House looked his friend in the eye soberly. Cuddy had lied to Wilson? Why would she have done something like that? He believed Wilson because he knew the oncologist would never lie to him about something like this. He just wished he could think of a justification for his girlfriend to have done such a thing—and couldn't.
"Yes," he answered. "You have."
Wilson sighed apparently in relief. "Then I have to tell you what I really think. To do otherwise would be wrong. House, ultimatums have no place in mature relationships. It doesn't matter what the issue is; ultimatums end all discussion and the possibility for finding a solution where you both win. It makes it an issue of one person aggressively forcing the other to do something whether they want to or not. It's manipulative. She manipulated you, then lied and manipulated me into unwittingly contributing to her manipulations. From my perspective, you've been doing all of the work, making all of the compromises, caving to her demands and she's done nothing to compromise for you. That's…that's not a sign of an equitable and loving partner."
House felt himself becoming a little defensive. Still, Wilson hadn't said anything that wasn't true. The fact that House didn't like to hear and acknowledge the truth wasn't the younger man's fault.
"Go on," House told him evenly in a gravelly voice. Subconsciously he began to massage at his thigh again.
"In my opinion," Wilson continued, carefully choosing his words, "Cuddy has been using your insecurities about your relationship with her and cunningly using them to control the direction you two are going. She admitted to me that she thinks you're broken and that you need her to fix you."
House looked at the bottle in his hands as if it was the most amazing object in the world. "She's right."
"No!" Wilson told him, shaking his head emphatically. "You're no more broken than she is, or I am. You don't need to be manipulated by her to be 'fixed'. What the hell does that mean, anyway? Whose definition of wholeness are we talking about? Who gets to make the judgment and standard to measure your brokenness or to what degree and how you need to be fixed? Cuddy? Jesus, House. I know you love her, but we both know she's got major issues of her own, she's in no position to 'fix' you when she's got herself to work on. The same goes for me.
"I've done a lot of thinking lately—Sam's been away lately so there's not much else for me to do. I've lectured you for years about wanting to be miserable and pushing away people so that they can't hurt you. I've berated you for not being honest with yourself and others but the fucked up truth is, I've been doing the same thing for most of my life—I'm just better at camouflaging it that you are. I'm a skilled liar who pretends to be rotten at it. You're bluntly honest about who you are and what you think so you leave yourself in the open to be criticized. I put on a fake smile and use a few carefully chosen words and nobody sees just how fucking messed up I really am…except for you. You've managed to see past most of the bullshit where others haven't been able to, but even you don't know me completely. If you did know everything, you'd probably end your association with me right now. My point is you don't need to be fixed. You've already changed so much and it's wonderful and if you want to continue to work on your issues, that's great—but you have to do it only for you, not to please Cuddy, or me, or anyone else. Just for the record, I like the Gregory House sitting here beside me. You don't have to change to be acceptable to me."
House met Wilson's gaze again. His chocolate brown eyes were soft, open, and honest. House felt so humbled by the fact that Wilson liked him for him and not for what he wanted House to be. When he thought about it, Wilson had always taken him at face value. The younger man hadn't always agreed with the things House did, and had told him so, but he hadn't expected him to change in order to remain friends. House didn't feel like a hypocrite and a liar with him, like he did with Cuddy. House felt better about himself now than he had in weeks. He was good enough.
He wasn't good enough as far as Cuddy was concerned. He didn't feel safe enough to be fully honest around her. The constant worry of screwing up and destroying their relationship gnawed at him day and night. He had to deny what he believed to keep her. Was that really a relationship worth sacrificing his self-identity for?
There was a knock on the front door which brought House out of his thoughts.
"That's probably the pizza," House told him. "I have some cash in my leather jacket, in the pocket—"
Wilson looked at him in amazement. "Thanks, but I'll get this," he told the diagnostician, getting up from the sofa and going to the door. He opened it. It was Lisa Cuddy standing there, not the pizza delivery guy. She'd been wearing a smile on her face but as soon as she saw that it was Wilson that answered the door the smile disappeared and was replaced by a hint of a frown.
"Wilson, what are you doing here?" she demanded. "Shouldn't you be at work?"
Wilson glanced at his watch and smirked slightly. "Shouldn't you?" he asked in return.
Cuddy lifted her chin. "I was finished with my work for the day."
"What a coincidence!" Wilson said with mock-enthusiasm. "Me, too! I found out that House was in agony after his appointment and decided to come by to make certain he was alright."
"Wilson?" House called from behind him. "Just pay the guy and bring the pizza over here—I'm hungry!"
"It's not the pizza," Wilson called back, giving Cuddy a stern, knowing look as he backed up and allowed her to enter House's apartment. "It's Cuddy."
She glared at the oncologist as she swept past him regally and put a smile on her face. She walked up to the sofa and then put her hands on her hips, regarding him smugly. "Wow, Greg, you look like you're in agony. It's a good thing you came home instead of doing your job. Convenient that Wilson had all of his work done and could come to have pizza and beer with you! Admit it—I caught you in your lie!"
House stared at her, really seeing her for the first time in a long time. Her perfect make-up applied just right to hide the wrinkles and bags on her fortyish face, the smirk of superiority and derision directed at him. He noted the way she wore her clothes at least one, probably two sizes too small to make up for that which her push-up bra couldn't improve and making her ass appear as large and full as possible. What impacted him the most, however, were her eyes. They were unquestionably a beautiful blue-grey but beyond that all he could see was how cold they were-icy, unfeeling, disapproving. Were they always that way and he had been too needy and desperate to notice or was it simply because he was angry at her and wanted to believe that they were so? His anxiety level had raised several notches the moment she'd entered his apartment. He glanced briefly at Wilson, who appeared to be hugging himself with a somber and slightly angry expression on his face. His stare was boring a hole in the back of Cuddy's head but his lips were pressed tightly together.
House looked back at Cuddy with hard eyes and smirked. "Of course you would have come to that solution. After all, I've done nothing but bite my tongue and lie to placate you since the first day we became a couple. But then again, so have you."
Cuddy's smugness disappeared and was replaced by uncertainty and suspicion. "What are you talking about? When have you lied to me?"
House's smirk remained, his eyes unwaveringly staring into her. "Wilson, could you get my phone out of my jacket pocket and bring it to me."
Wilson gave him a puzzled look but did it. "Sure." He retrieved the phone and then tossed it underhand to the diagnostician, who caught it easily. House looked down at the keypad long enough to search his contacts list and dial a number. He looked back at Cuddy and raised the phone to his ear.
"Hi, it's House," he said quietly into the phone. "You know what I told you on Monday? Forget it. Yeah, the situation has changed. Can you still come to my place tomorrow…? Great. Seven thirty works…. Oh, and Brandy? Bring some lavender-scented massage oil. I've been told it's calming. Bye." He pressed end and then tossed the phone back to Wilson without looking away from Cuddy. He didn't see the smile pulling at Wilson's lips but he knew it was there all the same.
Cuddy's mouth fell open briefly in surprise before she shut it and set her jaw angrily. House not only saw her fury, he could feel it come off of her like heat waves rising off desert sands. That was alright. He was angry too.
"How dare you?" she demanded, barely controlling herself. Tears emerged in her eyes but House wasn't certain whether they were the result of anger, hurt or both. "Greg, you promised me—"
"I never promised you anything," he told her, his voice deep and growly. "I told you that I would see your physiotherapist friend even though I knew it would turn out to be a disaster and I really didn't want to—and I did just that, but I never promised you I wouldn't call Brandy again. You assumed that because you manipulated me with your ultimatum that I'd be too afraid of pissing you off and destroying our 'relationship' to even think about calling her again. It doesn't matter to you that I left that clinic today in such agony that I couldn't ride my bike home and had to take a cab instead, does it? You don't care that I couldn't make it to my apartment after the cab dropped me off and I was in such pain that I passed out on the floor just outside my own door? Or that I was tachycardic and had difficulty breathing or needed Wilson's help to get into my apartment and into a hot bath to ease the cramping in my thigh?"
"Greg," Cuddy said sternly, "I do not want to discuss this in front of Wilson!"
House scoffed at that. "You don't care if Wilson overhears us!" he accused. "You just don't want to bother with discussing this. You'd rather threaten and manipulate me with ultimatums and expect me to cave in order to keep you happy. One question, though…what about my happiness?"
Wilson shifted uneasily on his feet. "Uh, I think I'll just go downstairs to greet the pizza guy when he arrives."
"No!" House insisted suddenly, looking away from Cuddy to his best friend. "Wilson, I want you to stay. I want you to be here when Lisa apologizes to you for lying to you in order to manipulate you into talking me into conceding once again to her way."
"What?" Cuddy exclaimed, smiling defiantly and shaking her head. She crossed her arms in front of her chest to complete the look. "You're crazy if you think I'm going to apologize to Wilson for anything. I didn't do anything wrong. In fact, Wilson should apologize to me for coming into my office today to accuse me of trying to control, you Greg! He should apologize for sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong and trying to cause trouble between us!"
"Enough!" House roared, unable to listen to one more lying word out of her mouth. Both she and Wilson jumped in surprise at his sudden outburst. He breathed deeply and then was able to lower the volume of his voice again. "How can you stand there and accuse him of causing trouble between us when he's done nothing but support and encourage our relationship from the start? If there's trouble then you're the one causing it!"
"Me?" Cuddy spat but before she could say anything else House continued.
"Yes, you!" he told her, lowering his voice but his eyes still blazing. "Wilson was looking out for me today. He realized that he'd been used by you to manipulate me and he wanted to let you know he knew what you were up to. You're the one who lied to him by omitting the fact that you gave me the ultimatum. He wouldn't have tried to persuade me to concede to your wishes with Brandy if he'd known. For once give me an honest answer and tell me—do you love me for me, or for whom you think you can make me be?"
She was stumped for a moment, but House could see the wheels in her head spinning, looking for the right comeback. If she were honest with herself and him, she would have to answer the latter—but at this stage he didn't expect her to be honest. They both had been lying to each other to keep their relationship afloat—he lied to prevent angering or disappointing her and she lied by denying the fact that she had been manipulating him to give her the responses that would prevent angering or embarrassing her. He was tired of groveling; this relationship was supposed to bring him happiness but it no longer did.
"You asked me to fix you!" Cuddy told him fervidly. "That night after Trenton I found a broken, pathetic remnant of a man with so much untapped, raw potential ready to go back on drugs rather than deal with his problems soberly and I saved him from himself; you asked me to help fix you!"
House shook his head; it was clear to him—she hadn't wanted a real relationship with him. He was a project. He had always been a project. She was no better than Cameron had been but at least his former fellow had been more obvious about it. Cuddy had managed to delude him into thinking that she was interested in him for the simple reason that she liked him and found him attractive—and perhaps she did—but that hadn't been her motivation. She'd never gotten past their one-night stand in college. He was a jerk in her eyes who needed reforming, changing, so he wouldn't do that or any other hurtful or uncouth thing.
"I asked you if you thought I could fix myself," he told her pointedly. "I never asked you to make me you personal project like some middle-aged male version of Eliza Doolittle. When you told me that you loved me, I thought that you had finally decided that I wasn't ideal but I was good enough for you. But I was wrong, wasn't I? You've never believed I was good enough."
Setting her jaw and averting her eyes the Dean of Medicine said nothing for several moments and then, quietly, told him, "I wanted to be able to love you and be with you without having to live to regret it. I knew that otherwise there was no way we could work, no way you could fit into what I need in a man—stability, reliability, passion, a trustworthy father-figure for Rachel. What's wrong with wanting a man like that?"
House sighed heavily, expelling most of his pent up tension at the same time. "Nothing," he told her quietly. "But that man isn't me. I will never be your typical family man material and I've never wanted to be. You know that. And trying to manipulate me into becoming one is only going to end up with the two of us resenting and hating each other. We don't work, Lisa. We want two completely different things in life. We'll never work."
"But if you tried!" she insisted plaintively.
"I don't want to," House told her plainly and then looked away. "We're done."
She stared at him for a long moment before turning away from him without another word and headed for the door, glaring resentfully at an extremely self-conscious Wilson along the way. The oncologist remained silent, not reacting. When she realized she wasn't going to get one she left the apartment and closed the door with a little more force than was necessary.
The diagnostician took a deep breath, let it out slowly and rubbed his leg absently. "You better not pay that fucking pizza guy when he gets here. Where the hell is he, anyway?" he deflected.
After scarfing down the last piece of pizza, House sat back on the sofa, burped, and then folded his hands across his belly in satisfaction. He looked over at Wilson who was sitting quietly next to him, lost in his thoughts.
"Wilson," House said to him. He had to say it two more times before the younger man actually paid attention.
"I'm sorry, House," he apologized, sounding wistful. "I didn't catch what you said."
House regarded him for a moment. Something was weighing heavily on his best friend's heart. A huge part of him wanted to reach out and hold him, but the rational part kept him from doing so.
"If you're feeling guilty about Lisa and me breaking up, don't," he told the younger man sternly. "It was inevitable."
Smiling ruefully, Wilson told him, "Actually, I don't feel guilty about that. I feel guilty about the fact that I'm relieved—even glad—that you did. I also feel guilty about wanting to stay here with you instead of going home. How fucked up is that?"
"Pretty fucked up," House agreed, earning a glare from the oncologist.
"You didn't have to agree with me so readily," the younger man said sourly.
"I must be just as fucked up or even worse," House told him, ignoring his comment, "because I'm relieved it's over too, and I don't want you to go home…to Sam. I want you here, with me; but I can't seem to get what I want."
"House—" Wilson began but the older man wouldn't allow him to proceed.
"Wilson," House told him softly, "I don't want to make another big mistake with someone I care about. If I lost you from my life…I don't I could survive it."
Wilson looked at him with a wistful little smile. "But what if it turned out not to be a mistake? What if it's what should have been all along, that both of our failures with others were because they couldn't replace us in each other's lives?"
House met Wilson's eyes, searching them. "Aren't you happy with Sam?" he asked.
The younger man shrugged and replied, "I'd be happier with you."
"You had me. I was right there in the same apartment for months. You chose her."
Sighing, the oncologist nodded but countered with, "I chose poorly."
They sat in an uncomfortable silence for about half a minute before Wilson sighed unhappily and made to rise when House reached out and grabbed his wrist, staying him. They met each other's eyes.
"We all fuck up sometimes," House offered cautiously.
His best friend nodded, looking like he wanted to smile but was afraid to. "Yeah…yeah, I think I've heard that a time or two."
The older man went on, still gripping the other's wrist. "We already know how to put up with each other's bull-shit."
"I guess," Wilson agreed. "I'm still here and I haven't murdered you yet."
House smiled. "We could go slow…make certain that this is really what we both want." His heart was beating hard. Were they both insane…or were they finally making the sanest decision either one of them had made in years? Why did he feel so much more at ease right now than he had weeks ago with Cuddy?
Wilson cocked his head slightly and relaxed back onto the sofa. "House," he asked, raising an eyebrow, "don't you already know what you want? I've realized today that I do."
Reluctantly House nodded in concession. He'd known for years and the fact that the object of his obsession was sitting next to him telling him that he wanted the same thing was overwhelming.
"W-What about Sam?"
Wilson shrugged. "I don't think she'll mind all that much, seeing as she up and moved out while I was at work without leaving a note two days ago. It saved me having to ask her to leave. You're right House. People may adapt and grow and learn how to deal with things differently than they naturally would, but they never really change."
House saw the regret in his best friend's eyes but it was transient, a regret of seeing another failure more than regret that he'd lost Sam. Except, in this case he didn't fail; she did. He didn't bother asking Wilson why he hadn't told him when it happened but the mere fact that he hadn't seen that something wasn't quite right was indicative of how wrapped up in his own issues he'd been.
Realizing he was still holding onto the other man House let go. Smiling almost shyly he laced his fingers with Wilson's.
"Uh uh," Wilson told him. "That won't do." He scooted over closer to House; the diagnostician watched him with fascination as Wilson leaned forward and kissed him tenderly on the lips. When the oncologist pulled away House quickly put his hand behind Wilson's neck.
"Uh uh," House told him, drawing him in for another kiss, "that won't do."