If you got here via a link, HEADS UP: this is a story that deals with sexual assault. Not explicit, but it is dark and violent.

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Catch

"'Nother Johnny Walker for my friend, here," the guy says. House can smell cigars and rum on the man's breath, sweat and engine grease on his shirt. "You know they got another clause in that health-crap where they're gonna track how much liquor you buy inna month, put a cap on it?"

"The nanny state at its finest," House answers. "Drink up while you can." He lifts the fresh shot off the bar and does just that. This won't work, he realizes. Bill the Mechanic is many kinds of insane, sure, but not nearly mean enough to do the job. "Gotta go," House says. "The little woman'll be all over my ass if I miss dinner a third night straight."

They shoulder-clap each other and House stumps out through the dark maze of chair-legs and patrons. He needs to find a different place. A darker place, in a rougher part of town.

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He's fucked up. God, he's fucked up. He can't see out of his left eye, and he's still bleeding from his nose. It runs down the back of his throat, makes him gag, unless he keeps his head pitched forward. He ducks into the shadows between a couple of engine shops and stands there pinching his nostrils shut, breathing through his mouth, until the blood flow slows and then stops.

Got to keep going. Two blocks, then three, and the pain's so bad it makes his eyes water. Irony, he thinks: if he weren't so drunk, he probably wouldn't be able to stay upright. He's trying to stay close enough to the streetlights so that he can see anyone else, but not close enough to draw attention to himself. Last fucking thing he needs is to get picked up by a cop. To have to stay in some drunk tank overnight with guys who sound and smell just like the ones in that bar. Either that, or call on Wilson, which might be even worse.

His wallet is gone, and so is his cell, but he'd known that was a hazard and he'd stashed a few twenties inside the lining of his jacket, through the split seam beneath the right sleeve.

He spends the first one just getting the kid behind the bulletproof convenience store window to call him a cab.

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He hasn't slept. He's showered, checked himself over as best he can, decided against the E.R. Crawled into bed and been overcome with half-awake nightmares, once and then twice and after that he turned on all the lights and hobbled into the living room. He's kept the television on, and kept drinking. His problem is with narcotics, not alcohol, and something has to numb the pain.

At nine a.m. he picks up his land line and dials his boss. Just his boss, as of yesterday afternoon.

"Calling in sick," he says, and hangs up the phone before she can scold or soothe him. He doesn't know or care which it would be.

When she calls back a few seconds later, he shuts off the ringer on the handset. He'd unplug the jack, but that would mean getting off the couch.

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The day has passed in a slow haze of soaps and cooking shows.

He ditched the Bond flick when someone started taking a beating. Passed right by the Playboy Channel without even slowing down. Not that, not today.

He's been off the sofa to go pee, drink a little water, take more ibuprofen than he should, and that's been it. Walking hurts too much. Everything hurts. Everything, everywhere, in ways he wishes to all hell he'd thought of.

Remembering hurts, because what he remembers is that he's a damn fucking idiot who's lucky, if you can call it that, to be alive. This time, he doesn't dispute that. Wouldn't his dad be proud.

He dozes off with the Weather Channel droning softly at him while day falls into dusk outside the windows.

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The doorbell and the pounding startle him awake, making his body jerk and every injury throb. This is not a real surprise, though. Some things are inevitable: death, taxes, and Wilson.

House might prefer death, right now.

"Use your key," he says, but he can already hear the lock turning. He'd rather say go away, leave me alone, even fuck off. But Wilson won't, at least not until he's made sure House isn't lying on the floor again in a puddle of vomited pills.

"You okay?" comes the voice from the doorway.

"Peachy. Guess she told you." House isn't turning around to look at him. Neck hurts too much for that.

"Cuddy ... only said you'd called in sick. It was, it was ... the way she said it." Wilson, somewhere behind him, is all rustling, key-jingles, and hesitant dress-shoe footsteps. The next sentence floats in from the kitchen. "I have beer and The Blues Brothers."

"Go to hell."

"What?"

This is the only chance he has. Now that Wilson's in striking distance, strike. "Fuck off. Take your beer and your self-serving pity and -"

And here we are, Wilson rushing into view, rounding on him. "What happened to you? God, House, what ..."

"Nothing I didn't go looking for. I said, get out."

"Or what? You'll hit me?" Wilson's hands are on his hips, his legs braced apart. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superdoc. They've been here before, post-infarction, and Wilson hasn't forgotten. Damn him. He looks away, taking one of those exasperated breaths that translates roughly as I cannot believe your stupidity. "How bad is it?"

"Broke a rib," says House's mouth, before his brain can stop it. He'd thought he still had some fight left in him, but it seems he doesn't.

Wilson steps in, feels gently along House's bruised jaw and across the back of his skull. House ought to hit him. He wants to, and he doesn't want to. Apparently it means something to know that someone does still give a damn. "What the hell did you ... never mind. I don't want to know. Have you seen a doctor?"

"Seeing one now. If I tell you I'm uninsured, will you go away?"

"Did you go looking for this, House? After ... after you and Cuddy ... you weren't content with metaphorically taking a beating?"

House's inability to look at Wilson is all the answer that's required. His friend's voice is cracking but House can't exactly care about that. "Damn you, you jackass. You ... you could've called me. Instead of ... this."

"Yeah." House keeps his head turned away while he slowly, slowly lifts his arms to peel off his t-shirt. His shoulders are going to hurt for a week. "I could've."

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The next few minutes are strangely soothing. Wilson in full Rescue Mode, identifying which rib is cracked, bombarding him with soft-spoken questions, Oh of course no police report, God you're a moron, did you lose any teeth? Peeing blood at all? Have you even eaten today, House? You haven't, have you. I'm staying here tonight.

House is too tired to argue.

Wilson steps away for a minute, heading toward the bathroom, and House sits still on the sofa and thinks there was a reason this is not good. It's right there at the edge of his foggy, foggy mind, prodding at him while the toilet flushes and the faucet runs just a few yards away.

And then it comes back to him, what he left in there, and he tries to head it off. "Wilson! I'm starving. Order us some -"

"House?"

Fuck.

Wilson steps into the living room with House's filthy jeans in his hand. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

"House, your ... belt. What happened to ... why is your ..."

"Don't," House says. It's either effective or Wilson's just in shock, because he stops gibbering. House leans back and shuts his eyes so he won't have to see that look on Wilson's face. "You want to help, help. Get food."

In the minute of silence that follows, House knows Wilson's standing there making a dozen calculations. What to do, what to say and not to say. Medical treatment, what's for dinner, and which lies to tell his best friend tonight. "I'll ... I'll go get something. You have to ... okay. Food. Half an hour, okay?" The unspoken Don't kill yourself while I'm out is still ringing in House's ears as the door shuts.

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He doesn't even remember what it was he said that finally set them off.

He remembers how it felt, the exact face he made, the way his head was cocked to the side and his mouth twisted around the words. Whatever the words were.

He remembers how it felt when his lower jaw slammed into the upper one and his molars bit through the right side of his tongue. Dizziness, throbbing, his too-late attempt to strike back. There were already too many hands on him. Big hands, jackhammer hands, warehouse hands.

They were supposed to kick his ass right there in the barroom. That's how this worked the last time, and the time before that, long ago. A real fight, where he could fight back and then lose and it wouldn't be reported to the cops. Just a fight.

It was when they began dragging him back, back through the dirty swinging doors and into a room full of liquor cases and ruined mops, that he knew his plan had gone wrong.

He remembers the utility sink, his face near the drain and the drain stinking of piss. Someone turned the faucet on, letting water pour into his eyes and nose while the hands, so many hands, wrenched his arms back and pinned him there, folded over at the waist and with his shoulders damn near out of their sockets.

Laughter, he remembers. The water turning off. Mop-handles clanking against each other, someone else saying hell no, I'll do this bitch myself.

Self-preservation kicked into high gear then, but his efforts only earned him a knee rammed into his gut and a beating with his own cane.

He remembers a hand waving the knife in his peripheral vision, showing him. The pull on his belt, and the tension releasing as the leather was cut through. The blade against his skin, midway between penis and navel. Gimme an excuse to fillet you like a flounder, cocksucker.

He was drunk, so drunk, but he remembers every bit of what happened next.

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It takes forty-eight minutes for Wilson to return.

House knows, because he can see the clock on the DVR from here.

Turns out, he wasn't lying after all when he said he was starved.

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"You don't have to babysit me." Wilson's cleared away the remains of dinner, and returned with two beers and a new paper bag. It isn't dessert; it's the same kind of bag the pharmacy uses. "And if those are drugs, you know better."

"I'm not ... I'm your friend. I should be here. I want to be here."

"Not talking about it. What's in the bag?"

Wilson scrubs his hand across the back of his neck. "You won't get yourself checked out; okay. I get it. But we have to run the tests." For a long moment he stands there looking at House, like he's waiting for permission. "Your name won't be on it."

"Whose will?"

"Danny's."

Amazing. Wilson with a plan that will actually work. Nobody who notices will question why he would run STD tests on a guy who lived for years on the street. Wilson settles on the edge of the sofa cushions, looking at the bag in his hands, at the TV, anywhere else. "Three medical questions, a blood draw, and we leave it at that. Deal?"

"I reserve the right," House says, "not to answer the questions." He stretches out his arm.

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It's four in the morning when Wilson finally passes out on the sofa beside him.

Wilson's questions were basic. How many attackers, how long ago, and was there serious tearing or evidence of internal damage.

Five, House told him, and only one. Last night, late. And no. If there had been, he'd have gone to Princeton General.

Wilson had nodded, put the blood samples in the fridge to keep, and come back with more beer. "This is not a question," he said, "but I hope you'll go see Nolan soon." He sat down, handed one bottle to House, grabbed the remote. "This is ... bad. I can't lose you."

And that was the end of it. Wilson was pale and if House paid attention he could clearly see the evidence of fear, but - and this must have required tremendous effort, for Wilson - he didn't ask even one more thing. They'd watched a lot of distracting garbage and House had found himself inching closer to Wilson's side. Gravitational pull, he thought, when he noticed it. The last two Cheerios in the bowl. He might ask Nolan about that, eventually, or he might not. He's had enough trauma.

Wilson's asleep with his head leaning back, throat exposed. Tie off, shoes off, belt and pants and stupid dress shirt still on. They'd switched from beer to Scotch a couple hours ago, and House pours himself a little more before attempting to pull the one blanket over them both. He can do it; it just makes his ribs, shoulder, and stomach hurt like hell. He leans back and takes shallow breaths until it subsides, leaving him buzzed and unhappy but with his shoulder and his leg resting against Wilson's, and with the mutual blanket, and the tumbler in his hand. It would be pointless trying to sleep; he knows how that will play out. He'll just sip, and flip channels, right here, with the lights on and all.

For now, this is as close to okay as he is going to get.