"That went better than I expected," Wilson admitted as he and House traversed Princeton-Plainsboro's parking lot.
House snorted. "You should have held out eight weeks of medical leave. Cuddy would've given it to you."
"Six weeks is plenty."
"Plenty for you, maybe, but not for the temps scouring your paperwork for lapses in judgment. C'mon, doc, have a heart."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "You don't care about the temps. You only care that you'll have a live-in cook and maid for six weeks instead of two or three months."
"So hire someone," retorted House, opening the driver's door of his car. "Get that Julia person back. You can afford it with that deal the hotel offered."
"They only offered it to keep me from suing," Wilson mumbled but he smiled to himself as he got in. It was a heck of a deal – full reimbursement retroactively back to October 29, with an offer of free habitation for another 30 days available as soon as the sink and all its pipes and parts could be replaced. Until then, House's couch was home. Again. Which reminded him . . .
"How about some ground rules this time? You lay off the nightly warm water hand baths and I refrain from killing another of your canes?"
"Throw in a few more batches of those macadamia nut pancakes and I think our negotiations have a chance. No promises, though." House started the car and flipped on the radio. An ear-ruptured base line poured forth. Wilson immediately turned it to another station. House immediately turned it back.
"My car, my music," he scolded.
"Fine." Wilson dug his ipod out of his coat pocket and inserted the ear buds.
House turned the radio off entirely. "Solved the mystery of the missing ipod?"
"Umm, yeah." Wilson concentrated on finding a good song. "In my pocket the whole time, I guess."
He could almost feel those blue eyes boring holes into his head. "Maybe it's a good thing your patients' notes are getting scrubbed. You said it was in your gym bag; you even had Chase and Foreman hunting for it."
"So I was wrong!" Wilson exclaimed. "Big deal. I've misplaced it before and without the excuse of heavy metal poisoning."
"Yeah," House said but it was clear from his expression there was a lot more going on in his head than was coming out of his mouth. He turned the radio back on, but turned the volume down a bit, and during the whole ride home he kept sneaking glances at his passenger.
"Good Luck Hut or Mandarin Gardens?" House asked, flopping on the couch. That he was even offering a choice was his attempt at being a gracious host.
Wilson made a face anyway as he curled up in other corner of the couch. "Does it have to be Chinese?"
"Unless you feel up to cooking, yes. I'm getting my spring roll tonight one way or another."
It took a heroic effort not to make a crass comment but somehow Wilson managed. "All right. Mandarin Gardens. Their soup isn't ninety percent grease and they deliver tea."
"Tea?" True to form, House managed to infuse the one word with a universe of disdain.
"Yes, tea. Preferably ginger tea." Wilson rested his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes. Actually, at this point, not even the tea sounded tempting.
"You do know the effectiveness of ginger tea to alleviate nausea is about fifty-fifty, right?"
"Better than nothing."
Even with his eyes closed he could tell House was staring at him. He didn't bother looking, however, until he heard the gentle creak of the couch as House stood up and limped his way into the kitchen. "What are you doing?"
House waved a beer at him like a pom-pom. "I'm thirsty too. Put in the order."
Wilson fumbled for the menu and his cell. From the kitchen came the sounds of water running at full force into a kettle. Then, suddenly , the water cut off and there was what he would have recognized as an ominous silence if he hadn't been struggling to make the rep understand him.
"Thirty minutes!" he called to the building silence behind him.
House limped back to the couch. Wilson had seen him frustrated, bored, annoyed, angry, hurt, and saddened. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen House genuinely enraged.
"You IDIOT!" House bellowed. The hand gripping his cane had white knuckles.
"Wha – "
"Moron. Imbecile. Half-wit." He mouthed a few more silent syllables before returning to his stand-by of, "Idiot!" House drew a deep breath, apparently trying to calm down. The best he achieved was an icy, looming presence. "You poisoned yourself to get out of testifying."
"Wha – no! No, it was the sink – "
"You used the clog in the sink as a shield," House snarled. "It was a perfect excuse. You had a few weeks to come up with a viable reason to get out testifying. It had to be medical because nothing else would be acceptable. It had to have dramatic symptoms. And it had to look natural because otherwise Tritter would have seen right through it. He did anyway, but he can't prove it."
"The sink – " Wilson tried again.
House cut him off viciously. "Maybe there really was a clog. Maybe the pipes really were old and rusty, and maybe the hotel's water supply really does have naturally occurring arsenic. Maybe the roto-rooter really did stir up some arsenic-infused rust, but who cares? It wouldn't have affected you an iota, because the water that goes down the sink doesn't come back up when you turn on the faucet. Otherwise we'd all be in a lot of trouble."
House sighed and went on, flatly, "If the hotel water supply had been contaminated, there would have been arsenic coming out of the tub as well as the sink but only the sink sample was positive. The only way you could get arsenic-infused water from just the sink was if the pipes carrying water to the faucet had been compromised, and they wouldn't have been touched by the roto-rooter."
"Where would I get the arsenic?" Wilson tried to use a normal voice but his mouth and throat had gone dry.
"You're an oncologist. Trisenox is used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia that doesn't respond to traditional chemo. Trisenox is just arsenic trioxide dissolved in water. All you had to do was prescribe it for a dying patient and then take it home and distill the water out of it. The hotel sink uses those compression handles with the screws. You do biopsies on glioblastomas; you have the mechanical know-how to figure out a schematic from Home Depot. Remove the handles, insert the distillation into the siphon and voila! Home brew on tap whenever you want it."
"Except Trisenox uses hydrochloric acid to adjust the pH of the solution," he continued. "Remove the water and you get a lot more bang for your buck. It ulcerates your entire GI tract but what the hell, right? Bloody emesis with seizures is so much more impressive than plain old seizures. Plus it counteracts the tachycardia the arsenic caused so your BP looked normal. Throws us off the scent."
He was frightened, Wilson realized, and his gut tightened for a reason that had nothing to do with chellation side effects. "House – "
"And that damn ipod. You knew where it was the whole time; you just wanted them to bring you the gym bag because you needed your water bottle with its Vitamin Poison, but you couldn't ask for the bag or the bottle outright because that would be too suspicious. And you charmed Ben the Brainless to make him feel sorry for you, make him your ally against Tritter. It was a long shot to keep the water bottle but it worked. It worked," House repeated softly. He dropped into a chair, looking so defeated Wilson couldn't speak.
"What I don't understand is the Welbutrin," House said finally. "As far as red herrings go, it seems unnecessary. We were useless enough as it was without confusing matters more."
"The Welbutrin was real," Wilson choked out. "I really am taking it. For depression."
House looked at him sharply but his voice was gentle. For House, anyway. "Why'd you wait until a couple days before the hearing? Your therapist said you'd been declining meds until then."
Wilson curled into a tighter ball and took a quavery breath. "Because I realized I needed it. With the divorce, and my job, and you, and then Tritter . . . I was being careful about how much of the water I drank a day, keeping it below lethal levels . . . but that day . . . I thought about how tempting it would be to just . . . drink more of it. Glass after glass after glass. And that scared me."
"But the fact that you were deliberately poisoning yourself didn't," snapped House, angry again. "You were willing to practically kill yourself, jeopardize your career, just to keep your friend from going to prison for a crime he actually committed. It wasn't worth it, Wilson! I . . . I'm not . . . worth – "
"It was worth it," Wilson interrupted quietly, understanding what House was trying to say.
"No, it wasn't! I deserve to go to prison! You don't deserve this kind of punishment."
"I sold you out. I had to fix my mistake."
"Jesus, Wilson," House nearly moaned. "If you weren't Jewish I'd get you beatified tomorrow. And canonized the day after that."
"That's a lot of religious talk for an atheist," Wilson countered. He added a faint smile that didn't feel like a smile so much as an uncomfortable twist of his mouth.
"Water's boiling," House said abruptly, standing up. Wilson listened to the sounds of faint whistling cease, to the glug-glug of the kettle emptying, to the electronic beep as House set a timer for the steeping. Three minutes later the timer beeped steadily until House whacked it – across the counter, by the sound of it – and the diagnostician returned with the steaming mug billowing out waves of ginger-scented heat.
"No sugar, not with the kind of inflammation I saw your scopes."
Wilson accepted the mug and wondered if he should be embarrassed by how much House now knew about his insides. He decided it wasn't worth the effort.
"Nothing I can say will convince you it wasn't worth it." House was not asking a question.
Wilson shook his head anyway. "No."
House nodded absently, his eyes somewhat out of focus. The sounds of his brain whirring away was nearly audible. Wilson was about to speak when the doorbell rang and he set aside his tea to accept their order.
They ate in silence. House had Tivo'ed Biography's Murderers Row week. They had both watched it before but it still made for satisfactory dinner soundtrack. Afterwards, Wilson dumped the empty cartons into the trash and stored the rest in the fridge. House hadn't moved from his chair. Wilson could sprawl across the couch if he so chose but he wasn't sure he wanted to.
"Think you'll be ok on your own for a few days? No more little additives to the drinking hole?"
Wilson blinked. "Umm, yeah." He bit his lip hard for a second , gathering up courage. "So. Am I moving out right now or should I wait until morning to get kicked out?"
"Neither." House sauntered, as much as a man with a ruined thigh could saunter, towards his bedroom. That sort of casualness could only mean there was a plan a-brewing. "I'm leaving tomorrow."
There was a tension headache building between his eyes again, as it did so often when House was around him. "Look, it's your apartment. It makes more sense if I leave."
"You're not the one checking into rehab tomorrow. That's a nifty impression of a goldfish, by the way. You ever thought of doing children's parties?"
Wilson shut his jaw. "You're going to rehab?" he repeated. "Seriously?"
"Serious as a gangrene," House agreed cheerily.
Now it was Wilson's turn to stare with narrowed eyes. Granted, his laser look was nowhere near House's caliber but he flattered himself that he was at least somewhat intimidating. "Why?"
The older man found a particular point on the floor supremely interesting. "Because if I can't say anything to you that will you realize what you did wasn't worth it, I have to do something that actually makes it worth it," he admitted quietly if gruffly.
"Why bother? It won't change you. You don't believe people are capable of change," Wilson pointed out. "They just adopt different behaviors temporarily for their own benefit."
"Different behaviors that temporarily benefit them. Geez, if you're going to quote me at least get it right."
"Why?" Wilson repeated softly, ignoring the attempt at deflection.
House finally met his gaze. "I can't change. But maybe . . . maybe I can change one behavior. Just one. Tweak it, alter it . . . for a little while anyway." He shrugged. "It's a start, right?"
Wilson swallowed hard and nodded. "Yeah."
"Good night, Wilson."
"Good night, House."