December

Spending part of the Hanukkah days with Cuddy's extended family was fun, House thought. The food was superb, most relations polite, and even Arlene was much more friendly now that they had married and he was on the way to conversion.

The family conversation was loud, and he almost didn't hear his cellphone ringing.

"Greg, does that thing have to be always on?" Arlene complained.

"Sorry, I'm expecting a call from my mother. It's Christmas eve for her, today." He went to the bathroom to have some quiet.

The female voice at the other end was unknown to him. "Here Trenton General Hospital. Is Dr. House speaking?"

"Yes, and I hope it's important." House couldn't understand how anyone at Trenton General could have his number.

"We call you because of Dr. James Wilson. You are listed as his emergency contact and medical proxy."

House was wondering. Why would that be? They had hardly seen each other for months.

"Dr. House? Are you still there? You should come here immediately, please. He may not survive the night."

The next hour was like a blur in House's mind. Cuddy had been unnerved at first, but then she had agreed to justify his absence in front of the family. They both briefly wondered what could have happened. Maybe a car accident.

When he arrived at Trenton General, he wasn't brought to the ER, but to a private room. A doctor was waiting for him outside, her face sad and tired. The voice from the telephone spoke. "Dr. House, I'm... very sorry."

"What happened? Was it an accident?"

"No. He called 911 this morning. An ambulance picked him up. You... you need to be strong. You'll find him very changed." She opened the door to the room.

It took House a full minute to realize that the skeletal man in the bed was Wilson. He was unconscious.

"What... what happened?"

"Anorexia nervosa. He kept a diary annotating physical activity, caloric intake and body weight. He started slowly in the spring, and by the end of August had lost about 40 pounds. Then he was a bit underweight but still healthy. He went deeper underweight until about the middle of October and then... he took a nose dive. He's well below 100 pounds now, and all his organs are shutting down. He must have monitored his own condition closely, and when he called 911 it was too late for us to reverse the process."

"Will he regain consciousness?"

"He's been drifting in and out. If you stay here, you'll probably be able to say goodbye. In the meantime, maybe you can tell us if he has other friends or relatives who should be notified? We couldn't find any other name in his flat besides yours and his lawyer's, and the lawyer's offices are closed today."

"I think they still have all the data at Princeton Plainsboro. He was working there until recently."

The doctor thanked him and hurried away.

House sat down and looked at Wilson. And memories flooded him suddenly of a Christmas evening long ago, when Wilson had pretended to have to work to avoid... what was her name... Julie, and they had spent the day together and eaten takeout and drunken beer and watched TV and laughed and it had been the best Christmas of his life. He thought of Wilson taking care of him post infarction, ignoring his insults. Wilson packing his office after Vogler threw him out for having saved House's job. Wilson risking to lose his license and go to jail for him during the Tritter affair. Wilson driving him to his father's funeral. Wilson smiling while he played the organ for the first time.

It seemed impossible to him now that in the last year he had given up on this friendship completely to pursue... what? The normality that always had eluded him? At some point, he had decided to just be who Cuddy wanted him to be. To always say yes. In exchange, he had received peace and love and security and a family. And happiness. Or so he had told himself.

And now the person who used to be his best friend had starved himself to death and he hadn't even noticed. Because he hadn't cared.

He heard a stronger breath intake. Wilson opened his eyes. It almost hurt to see how the eyes had not changed at all, and seemed twice as large as usual in the thinned out face.

"Hi, House. Sorry. Hi, G.H. Cuddy." The little wrinkles in the corner of the eyes were showing as they usually did when he made a joke at House's expense.

"Hi, Wilson." House felt he should be crying. But he couldn't. He just felt a big hard stone halfway through his throat. Maybe that's where the tears were.

"I'm glad you're here to celebrate with me. I changed the bet, you see. And I won."

"Bet? What are you talking about?"

"Last February. You told me I had ten days to get back into it, remember?"

House remembered now. He hadn't thought of that again after he said it. He idly wondered where Sarah was now.

"Well, I decided instead that I would take ten months to stop being in pain. I figured out you didn't want to see me suffer, and I thought ten months were more realistic than ten days."

"But...but..."

"Let me explain, I'll be brief." He paused to catch up breath. "I soon realized that it wasn't that you didn't want to see me suffer; you simply didn't want to see me. At all. First I just tried to forget you, and to concentrate on getting rid of my unhappiness. I tried to be away from you, to do things I liked. The pain didn't seem to go. But then... later... I slowly found a way to do both. Stop suffering. And disappearing. A pound at a time. And I made it in ten months." Wilson leaned back in the pillows, his eyes fixed in House's.

And now there was something else he recognized. The generous, selfless affection that had warmed up his life for years. A feeling so strong and so constant it seemed inappropriate not to call it love. A love stronger than any Wilson had given to the women in his life - maybe Amber had come the closest. A love he had known and enjoyed and then... then, apparently just ignored and forgotten, in his quest for coupled happiness. And nevertheless, as Wilson's life ebbed away, that love was still there.

House was no longer sick with guilt. There would time for that later. He was thinking about his life, the choices he had made, with the eyes of the man he used to be, the man Wilson had known and loved for years; and he was horrified. Disgusted.

Overcome by affection, he held both the dying man's hands in his own, cringing inside at how fragile they felt. "Wilson... how did this all happen? How come I didn't know better?"

Wilson's smile became, if possible, even more full of love. He seemed to recognize that his friend was back after a long absence, and to have understood the deep meaning of his question. "Maybe you were sleeping."


Author's note: The prompt I chose was: "one character falls into a coma, and wakes up to a very different reality".

I took the liberty to replace a physical coma with a long absence of House's true personality. A deep sleep of his soul. Because that's what I see now in the show. I hope his awakening will not be as bitter.

Wilson dies of anorexia, not of suicide. The anorexia itself is triggered by the fact that the depression, which he has been fighting against for many years, worsens when he no longer has House in his life. It is his love for House that makes him call 911, in the hope to see him one last time. And I like to think that it is a comfort to him that his friend not only actually comes, but looks at him with the love of old. Here it is irrelevant whether their love includes or not a sexual component.