SILENT NIGHT

Immediately after dinner, House asks Wilson to help situate him on the couch as politely as he knows how, by chirping sarcastically, "Oh, servant boy! To the sofa, please."

Wilson cannot help but chuckle to himself before helping House transfer from his broad, sturdy, wooden chair at the kitchen table to his wheelchair. In the few short months following the Johns Hopkins conference, House has shown marked progress. Granted, very little of that progress has been physical. House had reached the limits of his rather severe disability shortly before the conference, meaning that his current physical therapy regime is focused entirely on maintaining skills and strength he has struggled to regain. Additionally, foul weather, illness, and scheduling conflicts have precluded any further advance of the bevy of reconstructive surgeries House needs to even hope for any more improvement.

Wilson and Clarence are both currently hopeful about January; House is slightly more apprehensive. He is scheduled for the first of several orthopedic surgeries which promise to both decrease some of the pain in his hands as well as offer a wider range of usage. Both Wilson and Clarence are optimistic, but House remains reserved and skeptical. He has spent much of October and November plagued by a nasty upper respiratory infection after his newfound ragweed allergies allowed that little bug to slip past his immune system, and the unpredictable New Jersey winters have never been kind to his body since the infarction. Having heard the proposed plan for the veritable surgical opera between various surgeons required to even dare believe for just a second that he might regain any additional function in his hands, House believes the much more conservative estimates of pain alleviation alone and a May surgical date is more likely. He bites his tongue and does not tell this to Clarence or Wilson, who both speak eagerly of that day.

However, in the time since the conference, House has grown significantly more confident and emotionally comfortable with his extreme handicap. Much to the chagrin of both Wilson and Clarence, he has grown so adjusted to his disabilities that House now even teases about it, rather maliciously and generally directed at one of both of his caretakers. Wilson thanks his lucky stars that Clarence is a good sport about House's jest, with enough a sense of humor of his own to serve back whatever House has to dish out.

For example, just two days prior, House had managed to convince Wilson and Clarence to drive him out to New Brunswick after having obtained special permission to attend a rather promising dissertation at Rutgers from a biochemistry graduate student who was working to engineer synthetic nerve tissue from an extremely fine, yet highly conductive filament grown from marine algae. House is still somewhat timid about riding in cars, necessitating that Wilson ride in the back seat with him while Clarence drives. To Wilson's great horror, as they got underway, House had started feigning a southern accent and calling Clarence "Hoke." Clarence, quite fortunately, had found the situation rather comical and retorted with his own references and quotes from Be Kind Reward. Wilson had spent the entire drive laughing so hard he honestly cried as the two sparred the whole way to Rutgers.

Wilson rolls House from the dining room to the living room and gently transfers him from the wheelchair to the oversized, overstuffed sofa Wilson had purchased after noticing House seemed somewhat afraid of his rather standard sofa, as though fearfully of falling off. This is a better solution anyway. The massive couch offers ample space for House and Wilson to both sit and "watch" television and still have plenty of space on the cushion between them for finger foods and snacks in bowls.

As soon as House's bottom touches the cushion, he propels himself back from the edge and across the couch into what is largely considered to be his corner. His corner of the couch is on the right, putting his good ear on the side of the television, marked by a pile of soft, warm blankets and pillows, like the rest of House's nests. As House sorts out his spot, props his legs up on the square, padded storage ottoman, and digs about for the remote – which seems perpetually lost in his corner, these days -Wilson wordlessly finds his electric blanket, plugs it in, and tucks it about House. While not emaciated, House is still seriously underweight and has trouble keeping any weight on his scrawny frame, leaving Wilson fretting about his health with the current chill of New Jersey winter. House knows it likely has something to do with his fingers and toes – more specifically the six digits which had been brutally hacked off without even the minimal comfort of a local when the flesh had been deemed too necrotic from frostbite or infection from injury to spare by the prison's doctor who was conveniently on Thompson's payroll.

Once House is settled, Wilson asks, "You need anything else?"

"Nah. Thanks, serving boy," House responds with a grin, "looking" at Wilson with those vacant sockets of his.

"Your wish is my command," Wilson snipes back before shaking his head and returning to the kitchen to tend to the dinner dishes.

As Wilson packs up the leftovers and begins to clear the dishes, House finds the remote and turns on the television, clicking through several channels in rapid succession. This is an unspoken part of their nightly routine that should seem somewhat rude, but Wilson does not mind. House remains generally occupied by the television and out from underfoot so Wilson can clean up without having to worry about having to shoo House out of the room like a small child. Plus, as House has difficulty sometimes orienting him self to the channels even with their favorite channels programmed onto the buttons especially during commercial breaks or between shows, channel surfing offers some fine motor work that Wilson will never argue against.

Suddenly, the familiar sounds of braying bloodhounds pipes from the television into the kitchen, accompanied by a rather jovial song that Wilson cannot help but recognize; a part of him even wants to chime in as Peter Billingsley as Raphie Parker cries out, "It's the Bumpus Hounds!"

Wilson smiles to himself; despite his Jewish upbringing, Wilson has always rather loved A Christmas Story. There is something adorably kitsch to the movie, and Wilson has watched it nearly every holiday season since 1983. He has not seen that moviein two years, despite the heavy seasonal rotation around the holidays. Last year, on November 3 to be precise, well before the holiday movies appeared on television for the season, House had finally been rescued from his secret world of suffering. Wilson's November, December, and early January had been spent at House's bedside in the prison hospital and in PPTH's ICU following his transfer. As such, Wilson had not celebrated the holidays that year, nor hardly took notice of the usual festivities and television programming. When House does not change the channel, Wilson resolves to load the dishes into the dishwasher so he can sit and watch with his friend.

The doctor has not given it much thought until now, but it will be nice to celebrate the holidays this year. He shall have to get Christmas and Hanukah presents for House, Clarence, Cuddy, Lily, and his currently small pool of pediatric oncology patients. Maybe, if House is feeling up it, and if Cuddy can find a babysitter, they can have a small holiday dinner together. Wilson will have to ask House about it after the movie.

He places the last dish – House's chunky, plastic tumbler – in the top rack, tosses a detergent gel pack in the dispenser, closes the door and turns on the dishwasher, eager to join House in the living room. Wilson's mission accomplished, he quickly washes his hands and trots into the living room, but, as soon as he crosses into the room, his heart drops. House is still safely tucked into his corner of the chair, but Wilson can see that is only an illusion of security from where he stands. House is gasping in short, ragged breaths. His muscles are tense, and he grips his blankets with white knuckled fists despite the pain it must assuredly be causing him. He trembles, visibly. Sweat beads at his forehead, pouring off of him. It is a panic attack, the first House has had in a few weeks.

Wilson crosses the room swiftly, pressing the off button on the television as he does. Quiet often helps to ease House through a panic attack. House rarely offers any insight to his experiences through the Contract, and Wilson does not want to know. However, he had explained once to Wilson that quiet calmed him down because quiet meant there was no one there to hurt him.

"Hey, hey, it's alright. You're okay. Just breathe," Wilson murmurs, gently rubbing House's back as he continues to draw shuddering breaths.

House had decided months ago that he no longer wished any chemical intervention during a panic attack, and Wilson had grudgingly agreed but with several conditions. House had agreed that, if Wilson felt he was in danger due to the panic attack, he could medicate House. House also agreed to try cognitive behavioral therapy to at least attempt to break the positive feedback loop of a panic attack in which the symptoms of the attack often caused more fear which would worsen the attack. Every day, Clarence religiously runs House through his seemingly ridiculous CBT exercises of breathing through a straw, holding his breath, and tensing his body. House considers it to be nothing short of nonsense, but Wilson and Clarence have both noticed a definite decrease in both frequency and duration of panic attacks. They will never say anything; they know House is a proud man in spite of everything that has happened to him.

In time, House's haggard breaths break into choking sobs, heralding the end of his panic attack. Wilson continues to whisper soothing words in House's ears and draws him into a close embrace. House crumples into him, crying softly as he does. House's panic attacks sometimes end in tears. Wilson does not know why. Perhaps House cries over whatever memory or flashback triggers his panic attacks, or perhaps they are tears of shame over having a panic attack. Wilson does not ask; he knows House will not tell him.

When House settles, Wilson asks, "Are you alright now?"

House nods slowly, uncurling himself from Wilson as he does. Wilson holds him lightly, brushing the tears from House's cheeks with the pad of his thumb. House does not move, nor does he resist. He simply sits there, pliant in Wilson's hug like a giant doll, like he did at the beginning when Wilson first got him home.

Finally, when House speaks, it is simply to mutter, "I'm tired, Wilson."

"Okay. Let's get you ready for bed."

House mumbles something affirmative in response. Wilson transfers House back into his chair, wheels him to the master bedroom at the end of the hall, and helps him wash and change for bed. When Wilson begins to ease House out of the chair and onto his air mattress, House protests feebly, shaking his head.

Wilson furrows his brow. "You don't want to sleep on the floor?"

"No."

The oncologist does not argue but offers, instead, "You want to sleep on the bed?"

House swallows and, like a petulant, cranky child, grinds out, "Yes."

"Okay."

The water bed is rarely occupied. Wilson does not like the sloshing feeling of the thing, finding the motion borderline sickening, and House seems to intensely dislike sleeping up high on any bed. As such, it takes Wilson by slight surprise that House should want to sleep there now, but the bed is made and ready for him. Wilson helps set House gently upon the bed but, when he reaches to tuck him in, House grabs him by the wrist.

"Stay," House whispers, his voice cracking as he does.

Wilson nods despite knowing House cannot see him. "Okay. Just let me get changed."

It is still very early, but Wilson changes for bed and settles in beside House. As House snuggles beside him just enough to touch Wilson, to be reassuring of his presence, Wilson turns on the small television beside the bed for such occasions and puts on a nice, safe documentary on the History Channel about UFOs to watch while mulling over what could possibly have set House off this time.

When Wilson finally rolls over to go to sleep around midnight, he still has no idea.

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A week later, when Wilson finally remembers to ask House if he would like to have Cuddy, Clarence, and maybe even his parents over for dinner for Christmas, House does not answer. Instead, he freezes for a moment and, then, crawls off to the relative safety of his air mattress nest. Wilson sighs but lets the subject drop, assuming that House is simply avoiding the holiday cheer as he always has.

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A few days pass fraught with several panic attacks for Wilson finally dares question House after a particularly bad one. This time, it happens in the early afternoon. House had fallen asleep on the couch after a rather grueling PT session with Clarence that afternoon, and, when Wilson had arrived home, he put on the television softly to watch while waiting for House to wake. In the middle of a commercial break, while a host of Snuggie wearing carolers extolled the virtues of a blanket with sleeves to the tune of 'Jingle Bells,' House had stirred slightly, before coming aware of his surroundings and instantly launching into a panic attack. Wilson had turned off the television and immediately set to soothing House. It had taken close to a half an hour before House quieted to

When House is calm enough to speak with, Wilson finally breathes, "What's going on, House?" House does not answer, and Wilson presses. "You've been nothing but depressed the last few weeks, and your panic attacks have been getting worse, too. Please, talk to me, House."

House takes a moment to compose him self before muttering, "Hate the holidays."

"What?"

House sighs and shakes his head. "Christmas. It was always the worst."

Wilson opens his mouth to ask something and, then, snaps it shut. He knows better than to question House in those rare, fleeting moments when he talks about those terrible years under the contract. If House is going to speak of it, Wilson is going to listen with open ears for as much as House will allow. Wilson can do nothing more than that for his friend.

"I knew it was the relative of someone who died because Christmas was always worse than any other day of the year," House breathes softly against Wilson. "The first Christmas, they broke my arm for the first time."

Wilson remembers that. House had appeared to work with a somewhat sloppy cast on his left forearm and said nothing of it. When Wilson had inquired, House had groused about slipping on some ice on his front steps. Wilson had not argued. House's landlady was a bitter old lady who often "forgot" to salt the steps after House did something to piss her off; Wilson himself had nearly broken his neck on those steps a few times. What Wilson had not known until quite recently was that House had driven himself in the middle of the night after a sound beating down to an emergency room in Camden to get the limb x-rayed and set by an ER resident to avoid recognition.

House's lip quivers, but he goes on. "The next Christmas, they…." He trails off momentarily and swallows hard. "They…. they took me to the warehouse, and they tied me down, and they… they took turns using me."

Wilson bites his lip; he remembers that Christmas as well. At the time, Wilson and House were not speaking with one another after the fight. Wilson recalls watching as House shuffled out of the hospital that night, musing on how his friend seemed to be spiraling out of control. Wilson flushes with hot shame. He had shrugged and returned to the PPTH Annual Christmas Party. House had been, by this admission, repeatedly violated in exchange for their safety while Wilson had sipped eggnog and gone about the party with those ridiculous waving antlers on his head.

"The next Christmas, when I got home, they were waiting for me in my living room."

Wilson is not sure he wants to hear the rest. He knows, as well as anyone else familiar with House's story, what happened that Christmas. However, now that House has started, Wilson cannot stop him.

"They had Steve," House chokes out, shaking his head. "They wanted me to…." He sobs once more, the tears spilling freely and soaking through Wilson's shirt when he buries his head against Wilson's chest. "They wanted me to kill Steve, but I couldn't…. I couldn't." House's body jerks in small, painful sobs as he cries. "I just couldn't do it."

Wilson's heart breaks. Despite his initial discomfort about the rat, Wilson had become rather attached to him by the end and knows he could never have killed Steve McQueen if presented with such a grizzly demand. Nor could he imagine just being faced with such a demand.

"The lawyer… he put Steve back in his cage, and he tied my hands. He took me back into my bedroom, and there she was."

House does not say her name. He never does, but Wilson knows who was waiting for House in his bedroom that fateful night, bound and gagged by Thompson's men. Allison Cameron. He did not even say her name at the pathetic farce of a trial that sealed House's fate.

"They made me watch. They. Made. Me. Watch."

Wilson shushes his friend's tears, but he does not silence House. He just holds his friend as he cries. House has not spoken of this day, and a part of Wilson knows he needs to. House needs to let this out, all of this. It has obviously been building up these last few weeks as Christmas has drawn near, and, unless House vents this, it will just fester within him, especially considering House still refuses any form of therapy or counseling.

"I…. I…" He gulps once more. "I wanted to wait until the day after. I did. I just…. after they left, I sat with her for a while. My Christmases sucked, but I couldn't wreck someone else's." He nuzzles his face against Wilson's chest, scrubbing the tears away. "But, I couldn't. They didn't want me to wait."

Wilson does not need to ask what happened after that; he already knows. However, he is surprised by this. House has never struck Wilson as the most considerate man in regards to the holidays, certainly not considerate enough to consider waiting in his home with the corpse of one of his fellows until after the holiday passed just to keep from ruining Christmas for relatives.

"They always made sure I knew when Christmas was. Singing songs, talking about food their wives were making, gifts they were giving their spawn. They wanted me to know." House sniffles, trying to recompose himself but failing rather miserably. "It was Christmas when they…."

A shuddered sob curtails whatever it is he wants to say. House raises one of his gnarled hands to his face and vacant eye sockets, and Wilson understands. House does not often speak of his lost eyes, and, when he does, it is never directly. Wilson has grown accustomed to House's varied euphemisms for his eyes.

Wilson wraps his arms about House. "Oh, House…. we don't have to do anything for the holidays if you don't want to. We can skip it."

"No," House blurts out, shaking his head fiercely and grousing, "I don't want to skip anything. I want to stop not doing things because of them. I want…."

"House?" Wilson asks, curiously now.

House hugs himself and curls away from his friend. "Nothing. It's nothing. Just forget it."

Wilson bites his tongue; with House, things are always one step forward, two steps back.

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Wilson tries not to think about it for the next few days, but the thought continues to nag at the back of his mind. House had never openly expressed an interest in the holidays, going so far as to argue against the holidays. However, Wilson knows House had once secretly adored Christmas, if only for the month's worth of drama he could so easily stir in one day, often in under an hour. However, now, House cannot do that, cannot do much of anything without Wilson or Clarence there, at his side, to help him. Wilson sighs at first, but that is when an idea strikes.

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Wilson is careful after that not to startle or otherwise further upset his friend. He avoids channels airing the usual saccharine array of holiday movies and continues with their usual routine as thought nothing has happened. In fact, Wilson so pointedly avoids the subject and anything associated with the holiday that it slowly begins to nig at the back of House's mind, a tiny kernel of concern germinating as that dreadful night drew closer and closer into a rather liberal dose of fear and worry. Wilson is careful not to upset House, but even his care is becoming a cumbersome and fearful thing in its own right, enough to put House himself on edge. Each day, each hour, and every single minute become a painful exercise in holding his breath, waiting for something, anything to come.

When Clarence assists House into the tub for his nightly bath well earlier than he is due, House knows something is up and finally asks, "Alright. Spill it."

"Don't know what you're talking about," Clarence mutters as he gently pours a pitcher full of warm water from the tub over House's head, careful about the ears and face.

"Don't lie to me," House growls while his caregiver massages his scalp with a tear-free baby shampoo that smells vaguely of fruit salad. "You're worse at it than Wilson." He pauses for Clarence to pour another pitcher full of water over his head to rinse away the shampoo. "What are you two up to?" When Clarence sighs a bit too reluctantly, vindication washes over House, and he cries out, "Ha! I knew it!"

"Look, I'll be honest, Doc Wilson just asked me to make sure you got cleaned up and to bed early so you could get plenty of rest for tomorrow. He didn't tell me why."

House chews his lip and remains silent, contemplative as Clarence finishes bathing and dressing him. He does not like secrets and surprises anymore, and Wilson knows that from experience. Whatever he is hiding either must be very, very good or exceedingly bad for the oncologist to hide it so. He allows Clarence to help him to his nest in the corner on the floor, stiff with nagging worry, his gut knotting. Clarence simply wishes him a good night and eases the door shut behind him.

He should sleep, but he cannot. House's mind tumbles over the myriad of possibilities. Perhaps he is sick or hurt in some way. Maybe Wilson is plotting a repeat performance of the dentist, yet House somehow doubts that. Perhaps Wilson has grown tired of having something as pathetic and disgusting as he hanging about. Perhaps Wilson has found a girlfriend or future-future-ex-Mrs.-Wilson who just does not understand nor appreciate the live-in burden that is House and the near twenty four hour attention his severe level of handicap requires. By and large, House has to admit that as the most likely candidate and that he will end up in some government run home where orderlies treat their patients like bodies to be processed and not people.

When Wilson comes in a few hours later, presumably to check on him and bring his night meds, House cannot stop himself from blurting out, "Please…"

"What?" Wilson breathes in surprise.

"Please, please tell me….."

He can almost hear Wilson's confusion. "Tell you what?"

House blinks furiously against the tears prickling at the edges of his vacant eye sockets. "Are you getting rid of me?"

"Oh, House," Wilson breathes, gathering House up in his arms and making a soft sound that suspiciously resembled crying. "House, I wouldn't…." He makes a strange noise, something between a sob and a chuckle. "I couldn't get rid of you if I tried." House's lip twitches to a faint, transient smirk at that, and Wilson asks, "Why would you think that?"

"You're hiding something. Something Clarence doesn't even know," House sniffles miserably.

Wilson laughs uncomfortably and asks, "House, do you know what day it is today?" House shakes his head, and Wilson states, "It's the day after Christmas." House's breath hitches, but Wilson just embraces him tighter. "It's okay. Nothing bad, I promise." Wilson draws a deep breath, gathering his thoughts. "I didn't want to spoil the surprise, but I got you a bit of a present. Well, really, if you want to be technical about it, the State of New Jersey got you a present since it is covered by your settlement."

"I don't…." House murmurs, trembling against his friend.

"It's okay, I know," Wilson reassures him, rubbing House's bony back tenderly. "I think this is going to help with some of your anxiety." He pauses. "There's a trainer who's coming by tomorrow with a few dogs to see if there's one you click with."

House chortles, the sound rattling uncomfortably in the back of his throat. "I'm not really certain a pet is the answer to my problems."

"They aren't exactly pet dogs." Wilson tenderly arranges the two of them to a more comfortable position upon the air mattress with their legs sprawled before them and his back to the wall so he might continue to cradle House. "They're schutzhunds. There's a program for breeding and training dogs to both serve and protect people like you who… well, who can't protect themselves." Wilson holds his breath for but a moment. "I thought, maybe, you'd be a little more comfortable, a little more sure if you had a little back-up."

House takes a moment before furrowing his brow and inquiring, "What kind of dogs?"

"I'm not really sure what they're going to look like, but they told me they specialized in Cane Corsos and mastiff varieties." House snorts at the thought of big, burly junkyard dogs working as service animals of any kind, but Wilson argues, "At least give it a chance. What have you got to lose?"

House shrugs and answers honestly with a clinician's calculated distance, venturing, "A day spent sleeping off a round of Ativan?"

Wilson smiles softly and gently yet warmly squeezes his friend's shoulder. "Precisely."

"Okay," House finally murmurs under his breath. "Okay."

Wilson gives House his night meds and sits with him until House drifts back to sleep, comforted by the knowledge that House will give it this try. Anything has to be better than the way House has been living this past month. Wilson settles his sleeping friend down to sleep, sets the baby monitor (affectionately dubbed the "House- Monitor") and silently crosses the room, vaguely optimistic for the first time in weeks after tiptoeing around House and feeling a mind twitch of holiday spirit germinating in him for the first time since House's rescue.

As he closes House's bedroom door, Wilson smirks to himself. He can't wait to see the look on House's face tomorrow when he finds out that one of the dogs they're bringing by tomorrow is named 'Cujo.' Knowing his luck, House and Cujo will click just to spite him. A part of Wilson is looking forward to that.

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Author's Notes : Just a drabble, nothing more. I love Cujo and big dogs like mastiffs, and I'm hoping that this will eventually kick Alex into gear with writing more for Pencils…. Hint hint!