Fire and Ice
Chapter 1: Three Words
AUTHOR'S NOTE/DISCLAIMER: Story is set post-"Unplanned Parenthood" (but pre-"Office Politics"...why oh why must we wait so long for a new episode?) and contains minor spoilers for Season 7. The poem "Fire and Ice" belongs to Robert Frost.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
"I...I love you."
He hadn't expected the words to come out so small, so quiet, so weak. He had wanted them to leave his lips in a torrent of fury and passion, like a freight train roaring out of his body and shattering everything in its tracks. Didn't every romantic movie, book, and song that he'd encountered in his lifetime agree that these tiny, yet burgeoning words were supposed to be some powerful force of…of something?
But instead, they were sputtering and scared, huddled meekly together in the space between them. So he repeated the words, louder and clearer and more powerfully this time. He drew strength from the time that he'd waited and the history that they shared, culminating into a burning desire in his heart that not even Amber had satisfied.
"House, did you hear what I said? I love you."
He'd hoped to get the freight train rolling and pave the way for their lips to meet, yearning and hungry and desperate and finally free. He'd dreamt about this moment a thousand times, imagining all the ways it could go right and all the ways it could go terribly, terribly wrong.
And so it was with a prepared, composed sort of sadness that he was able to watch as House simply turned around and walked out the door.
Wilson, you idiot.
House downed the shot and signaled for the bartender to bring him another one. He didn't know if it was his fifth or his sixth or his seventh – who was keeping count? All he knew was that he needed more alcohol, and he needed it fast.
"Bad day?" the bartender asked, setting the drink in front of him.
House mumbled something about leaving him alone, his fingers curling around the shot glass. He frowned down at the whiskey, his usually-alert mind swimming as he tried to understand why he still wasn't feeling any better.
"Gonna need your keys," the bartender said, holding out his hand, and House begrudgingly dropped them into the outstretched palm. Fuck.
Fucking keys. Fucking whiskey. Fucking Wilson.
He kept telling himself that nothing had changed. House always came and left as he pleased – why was now any different?
He didn't want to think about the look on Sam's face when she'd figured it out, the way her eyes had widened in surprise and hurt and a dawning realization before she'd thrown her things in a suitcase and walked out the door. He didn't want to think about how he'd immediately called House to tell him that she'd left, how the familiar gruff voice on the other end of the line told him not to move, he'd be right there. He didn't want to think about how much it had pained him to lay it all on the line, to risk everything he had. There were two things he lived for – their twisted friendship and House's rare moments of happiness – and he'd threatened them both with the compulsive utterance of three simple, beautiful, forbidden words.
No, Wilson didn't want to think about those things at all.
So instead, he puttered around the empty condo as if he hadn't just watched two people walk out on him in the same night for the same reason. He turned on the television and put on an old episode of The L Word – muted, of course. He ordered Chinese takeout for two – mushu pork with extra pancakes, and dumplings for himself. He raised the lid of the organ whose purchase had said so much about him and yet apparently hadn't said enough, leaving an open invitation for the exploration of dusty keys and unsung melodies.
He knew this wasn't home for House anymore, but what harm could there be in pretending that it was?
Cuddy was angry. Of course she was angry. First, she'd been interrupted by a phone call in the middle of a much-anticipated, hot Housian make-out session, and then she'd been interrupted by a phone call in the middle of much-needed sleep to go and pick up a typical Housian drunken mess.
"You're an idiot," she mumbled, glancing over at the passenger's seat to make sure he wasn't puking all over the car. At least Rachel was sleeping peacefully in her car seat in the back, much to Cuddy's relief that something was going right tonight.
House kept his gaze in the brown paper bag she'd shoved at him, trying to focus against the nausea and fuzziness. "Too much," he groaned.
"Too much what? Too much to drink? Because I'm already well-aware of that, thanks."
"Too much everything," he clarified shakily, and closed his eyes as he leaned back against the headrest.
Cuddy pursed her lips, suddenly torn between frustration and disappointment and sympathy. "What were you getting drunk for, anyway?" she asked quietly. "What happened over at Wilson's?"
It wasn't enough to get an answer out of House, but that in itself was all Cuddy needed. With a sigh, she re-routed her mental GPS and began driving towards Wilson's condo. The two of them had an unwritten pact to take care of all Housian disarray together, but if Wilson had started this one, then he'd be the one to finish it.
The sharp knock at the door prompted a string of several different scenarios running through Wilson's head. For instance, he could imagine House storming in, yelling furiously about Wilson's ridiculous confession and demanding never to hear about it again (pretty likely). Alternatively, he could imagine House collapsing at his feet in tears, sobbing out declarations of love and begging for forgiveness and sex (somewhat less likely).
However, he hadn't expected to find Cuddy glaring at him as she struggled under House's weight, the diagnostician's head practically lolling to the side.
"Take him," she gasped as Wilson hurried to help her. "I can't leave Rachel alone in the car like that."
He stumbled into the living room with House's arm around his shoulders, highly aware that this was technically the kind of contact he'd been wishing for all along. "What happened?" he rasped as he let House collapse onto the sofa, knowing full well that his neglected abs and aching back wouldn't have made it to the guest room.
"He's drunk," Cuddy said flatly, having finally caught her breath. "Obviously something happened between you two and I know he's probably the one who started it, but you need to fix it."
In truth, Wilson was glad to be given the role, but he still felt like he had to play his part. "Why me? You're his girlfriend."
"And you're his best friend." Cuddy paused at the doorway, turning back to Wilson. "Things aren't going to be okay between him and me if things aren't okay between him and you. But I want him back as soon as you're done with him."
The door shut, and Wilson glanced down as he felt House give him a weak kick with his good leg.
"Fucking moron," House grumbled. Wilson knelt beside him, resisting the urge to hold his hand and stroke his hair and let his finger drift across the stubble on his chin.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. But House apparently didn't have anything more to say.
He hadn't been this hungover in a long, long time. He'd made a lot of bad decisions in his life, but at the moment, waking up and opening his eyes was at the top of the list.
Holy…fucking…shit. He thought his infarction was pain? This was pain.
Still, he was House, and being House meant that even amidst a pounding headache, reeling nausea, and screaming leg, he still noticed the careful way that the curtains had been drawn to block out the morning light, the soft blanket that had been draped over his aching body, and the empty bucket that had been thoughtfully left by his side. Too tired and miserable to care about how much Wilson cared, he pushed the blanket aside and promptly grabbed the bucket to empty what was left in his stomach.
"Hey." He felt a tentative hand on his shoulder as he finally finished heaving. "You okay?"
"I'm fucking brilliant," House groaned. "Time?"
Wilson glanced at his watch. "Around 9am. I called in sick for both of us."
"As if Cuddy couldn't have figured that out," House muttered.
"She's worried about you, you know."
"Yeah. She's so worried that she dumped me on your couch instead of taking me home herself."
If Wilson had any response to that, he didn't reveal it. "You should drink something," he said instead.
"What, I haven't had enough to drink already?" House squeezed his eyes shut as he willed the next wave of nausea to pass but could still feel Wilson's lips curling into a small smirk, not too big as to indulge him but still enough to acknowledge him. But then he realized that he was doing exactly what he always tried to avoid. This whole idea of knowing Wilson – of predicting his thoughts and actions and feelings as easily as he could diagnose a cold in the clinic – was never one that he'd whole-heartedly embraced (or one that he'd ever been able to escape).
He knew why, of course. He just chose to push the reason to the back of his mind, ignoring it like some irrelevant detail in a medical chart. The problem was that, apparently, he hadn't predicted everything.
It wasn't the first time he'd failed, and his chest and leg still burned at any recollection of the aftermath of Amber's death. And here again, the great Gregory House had missed a tiny detail that was, like all tiny details, enormously important, and now he was stuck trying to sort it all out. But how could he make sense of something so abstract and irrational, with no concrete symptoms to write on a whiteboard and a colossal hangover to boot?
But then again, there wasn't much to decipher. He'd known the diagnosis for a long time, and pretending that it didn't exist didn't actually make it go away. The only difference now was that Wilson was validating it – a move he had never expected and was completely unprepared to deal with.
Like an expert, Wilson began listing House's usual hangover cocktails. "Water, juice, or Gatorade," he said. "Your pick."
"Gatorade. You got that orange one?" It was a stupid question, House thought, as he watched Wilson head to the fridge. Of course he had the orange one. It was House's favorite.
He drank slowly from the bottle, letting the cold, sugary liquid cleanse his rancid mouth and relieve some of his nausea. Wilson had side-stepped the bucket of vomit and was sitting on the opposite end of the sofa, watching him.
"I'm sorry," he finally said again as House set the Gatorade down on the coffee table and leaned back into the cushions.
"Don't. Just…don't." House closed his eyes, hoping that would end the conversation.
But Wilson wouldn't give up. "Just forget I said anything," he pressed. "You go back to Cuddy and I go back to covering your ass when you feed dimes to her kid, and it'll be like nothing even happened."
"Fine," House snapped, glaring at him. "Nothing happened, then."
And he closed his eyes again.
Wilson wasn't sure how much time had passed. Ten minutes? Twenty? He couldn't even tell if House had fallen back asleep. He contemplated his options, all the while knowing that he didn't want to move – partially because he had nowhere else to go, and partially because there was nowhere else he'd rather be.
He could retrieve the rest of his uneaten dumplings for breakfast, but House probably wouldn't appreciate the smell of the food. He could turn the TV back on, but even on mute, the glowing screen might disturb House's slumber. Or he could –
"Why'd she leave?"
Wilson turned to House, surprised that he was awake. "What?"
"Sam. You never told me why she left."
Wilson raised his eyebrows. "You're kidding me, right?"
"Yeah, I know, I'm fucking hilarious," House growled. "Will you tell me already?"
"House, I did tell you. It's the reason you're sitting on my couch next to a bucket of your own vomit."
House's tired eyes widened in a subdued version of his typical expression of epiphany. "I thought that was just you blurting out crap like an idiot."
"Didn't say it wasn't," Wilson muttered.
They grew quiet again, and now it was Wilson who wanted to close his eyes and sleep. He'd gone to lie down in his own bed after House had passed out, but he'd spent the night tossing and turning, getting up more than once to check on his friend.
"So she found out," House said suddenly, and Wilson nodded tiredly. "You told her?" he pressed, a look of incredulity and disgust crossing his face.
"I…House, I thought we were both going to forget about this."
"Later," House said, waving his hand dismissively. "Tell me what happened."
Wilson eyed him quietly, trying to discern the tangled thoughts behind those blue eyes that he'd grown to love and hate so much. But he was unsuccessful as usual, and at length he let his preparatory deep breath signal defeat.
"We were fighting," he began, leaning further back into the cushions and staring at the blank television screen in front of him. "She wanted to talk about marriage, and I panicked. Somehow Bonnie and Julie were brought up, and one thing led to another…"
His voice trailed away, and from the corner of his eye he saw House's head jerk in his direction, not failing to notice the subsequent wince from his probably killer headache. "You seriously blame your failed marriages on me? Didn't think you were that much of an ass."
"What? No, of course not." Wilson turned back to him, meeting his gaze. "My marriages didn't fail because of you. They failed because my heart wasn't in them."
That didn't require any further explanation, but House still wasn't satisfied. "And that stupid bitch actually figured that out?"
"It may have just come out…I don't know. It didn't go as I'd intended. I was saying things without thinking." Wilson sighed heavily, leaning his elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands across his face. God, he was tired. When had he gotten so tired?
"Go figure," House mumbled.
Wilson wearily tilted his head, resting his cheek in his palm. "Can we go back to forgetting now?" he asked.
He wasn't sure what he expected, and at House's hesitation he started to brace himself for the worst. But rather than replying, House merely grabbed the bucket and retched again instead.