Out of Tune
By Scarlett Burns
House MD Fan Fiction
Summary: Set pre-series. Wilson returns to Princeton to find House post-infarction. One-Shot.
AN: The show has never been clear on who worked where first etc., so I've tried to follow what we know as best I can. Thanks for reading!
'There's no reason for him to know,' I tell myself, quickly downing two pills with a shot of whiskey. I can feel it creeping up slowly; a tiger stalking its helpless prey as it stumbles along aimlessly in the dark. My best bet is to hunker down with a tranquilizer and hope the beast won't rip my throat out.
Setting the empty glass down on the table beside me with a thud my eyes find their way back to the answering machine and the incessant blinking red light.
Two days since the first call. Two hours since the last. There was a nice symmetry to that.
Maybe it's those two phone calls that trigger it but as I turn towards the TV I notice, as if waking from a stupor, what a hopeless mess the apartment has become since Stacy left.
I haven't done a goddamn thing.
The empty spots where Stacy's things had been are still there. In too much pain and not caring enough to do anything to fill the void her and her things left, the empty spaces sit there as a reminder of how pathetic I've become. The kitchen is now devoid of any food, but there are three week old dishes sitting in the sink growing all sorts of dubious and dangerous bacteria that I silently hope will finish me off. Dirty glasses litter the tables, mixed among trash, medical journals, and an assortment of pills to help with everything from pain to insomnia.
The only ones I actually take anymore are the pain meds.
I can't see the red light of the answering machine as my gaze rests on the piano sitting silent and forgotten in the corner, but I'm aware of its blinking. My piano's smooth, polished wood is dulled by a thick layer of dust; papers and books scattered on top carelessly. Stacy, no doubt, had placed those things on top in her haste to sort out her things from mine and get the hell out of dodge.
Three weeks, I hadn't even noticed. I should clear it off. Clean the wood. Five months ago, I'd have never allowed that to happen.
Of course, five months ago I'd give a damn.
I force my eyes to look away from the piano and the red light, instead focusing on Grave Digger as it leaps off a ridiculous jump, tipping too far to its right to maintain control and landing in a rolling heap of metal as the commentator shouts excitedly. Picking up the remote I turn up the volume as loud as it goes, to hell with the neighbors, I need the distraction.
I close my eyes, a shot of pain shooting through my upper thigh and radiating into my back, and try to imagine the last Monster Truck Jam I went to. Three years ago. Stacy begged out, disinterested, so I'd asked Wilson to go along instead. Wilson wasn't much of an improvement, barely knowledgeable of what a monster truck even was, but the excitement of the event had proved to be infectious and by the end Wilson had been more amped then I'd seen him before or since.
As it happens my speaker system doesn't get loud enough to drown out depressing thoughts, or immerse me in the action enough to trick myself into imagining I'm there. To do that the dial would have to go up to 11; also known as the brain assault and permanent hearing loss level, which would have cost me $1000 more than I spent at the time.
Opening my eyes again I look towards the answering machine.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
With grim realization I know that what's to come is inevitable. I'm an idiot to have fooled myself into thinking otherwise.
Of course Wilson was going to find out eventually. I'd been lucky to get away with my deception for five months; aided only by the fact that he'd said 'I Do' to Mrs. Wilson number two and was too distracted by his blushing bride to take notice of my lack of intrusion into his life.
Sighing I push myself into an upright position, letting the dizziness dissipate before reaching over to hit the playback button on the answering machine. My finger hovers over the playback button but I don't push play. I already know what he says, having listened to the messages when he left them.
I pull my hand back, letting the red light continue blinking, and turn the TV back down to a normal level instead. Taking a deep breath I lift my damaged leg off the couch and onto the floor, the other following without aid. Cane leaning against the arm of the couch I stare at it for a moment in disgust before grabbing hold of its cold, smooth handle and bracing myself for the pain my next action will cause.
I lift myself up with far more effort than it should take; the cane and my left leg bearing my weight as I stand. Swaying a bit, I catch my balance before taking unnatural steps, making my way to the bathroom.
The cane is still awkward and cumbersome. I wonder if that will ever change. If I ever want it to.
I know it hasn't been that long since I've been off the crutches. I should be grateful I've graduated to the cane. Perhaps I would be if I didn't know that this is it; the highest degree I'm going to receive. I lean it against the countertop as I transfer my weight from it to my two arms now braced against the bathroom sink. My stomach churns slightly, a sign of the pain to come or that I haven't put anything in my stomach other than whiskey and pills. Maybe it was both.
Someone stares back at me from the mirror, but I swear I don't know who that person is. This man is sickly; far too thin, far too pale, far too old, far too unkempt, far too high. That's not who I am and I can't look any longer.
Looking at the watch on my wrist instead I notice its 3:30pm. Wilson's job interview at Princeton Plainsboro started fifteen minutes ago, according to his phone message. I slam my hand against the hard, cold surface of the countertop angrily. Of all the goddamn hospitals, why that one?
If Lisa Cuddy was involved with the interview, and with her position at the hospital it was likely, Wilson would find out. Cuddy would assume I'd told him by now.
All it would take was a "How is House doing?" or "Have you talked to House recently?" or a million other harmless questions to get the ball rolling. Wilson probably already suspected that something was up. I'd dodged his calls to both my cell and home phones since he got into town. If I wasn't known for my distain of phones already he may have been tempted to come over and see what was up. I wonder about Stacy; Wilson had her number so either she was ignoring his calls as well or she hadn't mentioned anything for the last few months. It's far more likely the former than the latter, I decide. Wilson's more my friend than hers.
The cane – my cane – overtakes my vision. I grimace, forcing myself to make it to the toilet without using it, but all it amounts to is my grabbing anything else within reach for support instead. I relieve myself, wash my hands and splash cold water on my face; all without looking at the reflection in the mirror. Wiping off my face with my sleeve I grab the cane without looking at it either, and hobble back to the couch.
Exhausted by the effort and the increasing pain in my thigh I collapse back down onto it. Lying back I cover my eyes with an arm and wait.
A hurried knocking at my front door brings my surroundings back into focus. Closing my eyes against the depressing chaos and unwelcome intrusion ahead of me, I groan in frustration that life can't just leave me the hell alone for a while longer. Not bothering to get up, my hand finds the TV remote and I turn up the volume instead.
"House! Let me in!" Wilson shouts. I try and think up something to say that will make him go away without me opening the door and come up with a big, fat nothing. Wilson continues banging while I stare uselessly at the TV. I'm going to have to get up and the pain in my leg has flared, as expected. Goddamn it.
"Stop trying to break down the door!" I shoot back angrily, sitting up slowly. I do my usual brace and balance routine, and the time it takes me causes Wilson to think I've gone back to ignoring him again.
"You've put me off for long enough. I want to know what's going on!" Three more bangs on my door, and I'm pretty sure it's a miracle I haven't received a phone call from my Super about all the noise.
"What do you have against my door? Did it make fun of one of your hideous ties?" It's an old, lame joke. I can't muster up anything better. I make my way as fast as I'm able – which is a snail's pace – to the door and take a deep breath. My hand shakes from the pain as I unlatch the deadbolt, the fucking traitor. I school my features, trying my best to assume a look of bored detachment and hope I'm at least partially successful.
I open the door quick, and catch Wilson off guard in mid-knock. He stops, drops his arm and the angry look on his face vanishes faster than I can blink. Yeah, I look just that pathetic.
Grabbing the top of the door with my right arm, cane hidden from Wilson's view, I lean against the open door for stabilization and try to cover it by looking casual. I'm pretty sure I'm failing miserably as I watch his expression morph from shock to the very thing I've done nothing but try to avoid for the five months since the infarction; pity.
Even worse, if Wilson didn't know what had happened that pity manifested solely from my appearance. His mouth opens and closes a couple of times, my sad state throwing him off enough that he no longer know's what to say to me. My palms are cold and sweaty and I grip onto the top of the door a little tighter, shifting my balance. "So," I say, before he can ask any questions or comment on my condition. "How was your honeymoon?"
His mouth snaps shut, and irritation returns. I welcome it. "That was four months ago," he says, clearly upset. "God, House…" he pauses and gestures towards me. I don't give him anything. "Why didn't you tell me?"
When I don't want to talk about something, deflection is my thing. I can take it to the level of a martial art, really. "I sort of assumed you'd know when you got back from your own honeymoon," I drawl, forcing a half-hearted smirk that I don't really feel. It only aggravates Wilson further. Infuriating him is no accident on my part. I'll take any look over the one that temporarily overtook his features seven seconds after I opened my front door.
"You know that's not what I meant!" He says forcefully, and steps past me and into the apartment without invitation.
"I don't remember asking you to come in. Think it's a neurological problem?" I ask, not turning around to face him.
"Yes," Wilson states bluntly, no doubt getting a good look at the state of the apartment as well. At least it matches.
"I don't suppose if I say 'Go away' you're going to do it?" I ask hopefully, dropping my hand from the door and placing the cane firmly back on the ground beside my right leg.
"Not a chance in hell," Wilson confirms, and I'm not sure what to make of the tone of his voice right now. I shut the door, resigning myself to the fact that I can't get out of this and pivot around on my cane to face him.
It's that moment when Wilson notices the cane, his eyes fall down to my new accessory like a lead weight. Wilson isn't looking at me any longer, but the goddamn cane; just like everyone else… he was no different.
It used to be that there wasn't much that could annoy me. I had a pretty cool temper, and any exasperation came out as nothing more than well honed sarcasm and mockery. The past five months having taken their toll, however, my usually cool temper quickly lost. "What? Come to see the poor cripple?" I ask bitterly, turning away and limping heavily back to the couch, unable to stand on my leg much longer and not wanting to see the expression on Wilson's face at my retort. It was uncalled for. He probably didn't have any idea what he was in for when he came over if the expression on his face as I opened the door was any indication.
I have no intention of apologizing, however. Today is not a "good pain day", and it's about to get a whole lot worse.
I slump back onto the couch and return my attention to the TV, ignoring Wilson and the waves of concern and caring wafting from his every pore, assaulting my senses. He needs to go. I need him to go.
"House –" he starts, but I cut him off.
"Well you've seen me, Wilson. Now get out."
"That's not why I came here. I…" Wilson pauses. I have the feeling he's waiting for me to look at him, but my gaze remains firmly on the TV. Finally caving, he continues. "House, I don't even know what happened. How could you not tell me something like this happened?"
"Funny, I thought you married Bonnie, not me," I reply, already tired of his concern. I want to be left alone, and close my eyes at his next demand.
"I want an answer."
"I want you to leave," I deadpan. "Guess neither of us is getting our wish, huh?" Finally, my eyes meet his and whatever he sees makes his shoulders sag and his face go slack.
"House, you look like shit."
Well, there was that. "Thanks. I'm doing my hair differently," I reply with a flippant flick of the hand towards my head.
"If you call not brushing your hair or shaving 'doing it differently' then, yes."
"Hey, I shaved three days ago. You should feel honored." I didn't add that before that I'd gone over a week. It probably didn't need to be said.
"How much weight have you lost since I last saw you?" he pushes on, and I look away again, back to the good old TV.
I don't answer the question directly because that answer scares even me. My clothes no longer fit and practically hang off me.
"Twenty?" Wilson pushes, guessing on the low side.
I know I've lost almost thirty pounds on a frame that was already lean to start. I know it's gotten bad, but pain and pills do nothing for my appetite and it's getting hard for me to muster up an appetite or keep anything down.
Shooting him a nasty look I ask, "When did you get the sex change operation and turn into my mother?"
It's Wilson who turns away from me this time with a shake of his head. One hand snaking around the back of his neck and rubbing worriedly. Closing my eyes tiredly I wish the world would just fall away and leave me be, but the world never does that and isn't going to start now.
The silence stretches on, and when I open my eyes I don't look at Wilson. Apparently Monster Truck Jam is over; replaced by some TV show I've never seen before. Damn, I missed Grave Digger pummel Predator; just one more reason why this day sucks big time.
I feel Wilson's gaze back on me, along with a stab of pain in my thigh. I grasp it tightly with my right hand, teeth grinding against the pain as I fight with all the strength I have left to keep my expression neutral. Once the pain ebbs away a bit, I wait until I trust my voice before breaking the deafening quiet.
"How long is the second Mrs. Wilson going to last?" I ask. "Had lunch with any hot nurses yet? Any new prospect on what lucky lady is going to be the third Mrs. Wilson?"
Go away, go away.
My hand starts moving up and down my leg trying to ease the mounting tightness; the first sign of the painful cramping that was coming.
"How long are you going to deflect?" He asks, cutting through my bullshit.
"Hmmm," I pretend to contemplate his question. "Longer than the first succubus you were married to, then. It's good to have goals with things like this."
Wilson doesn't respond right away, and when I turn to him I notice how intently he's scrutinizing me. I don't like it. Wilson's rarely fooled by my bluster. I shift uncomfortably despite myself, wincing at the pain the movement causes, my eyes traveling back to my leg.
I look up to see if he noticed but he's once again looking at my cane. I look at it too, frowning.
"You can't pretend that nothing's happened," he says finally.
My eyes snap up to meet his far too pitying ones. "Fuck you," I hiss, unable to control the anger that's been twisting inside me since Stacy left. "I don't need you here to wring your hands and uselessly state the obvious. How could I – for one second – forget that I'm crippled for the rest of my life? That I can't even stand up and take two fucking steps without a pathetic piece of wood to keep me from falling on my ass?"
Wilson quickly finds interest in his hands, and I breathe out heavily, angry at my own outburst. "It… it will get better," he says quietly.
I'm not fooled, his tone giving him away. "Are you trying to convince yourself of that or me?"
Wilson doesn't answer, which is all the confirmation I need. Not wanting to let him take control of the conversation again I decide to try and shift the focus to him. "I thought you were happy at Mercy."
Looking at me for a long moment I can see he's trying to decide whether he should let me change the subject or not. Finally, he shrugs. "Princeton Plainsboro has an opening in Oncology – Department Head. You told me it might open up before I left so I watched for it."
"Big coup," I say, but it comes out flat. I turn to the table beside me and pour another shot of whiskey, not bothering to offer any to Wilson.
"How are things at Princeton General?" he asks tentatively, and I grimace at how quickly Wilson's turned the conversation back to me.
I toss back the whiskey and welcome the burn down my throat. "I was let go."
Wilson looks surprised, but I don't know why. What was he expecting? He actually asks me "Why?" and I think it's ridiculous how naïve he can still be.
"I think you can hazard a guess," I say dryly with a raised eyebrow.
To his credit, Wilson looks appropriately appalled. "They can't fire you for a medical condition beyond your control!"
"They can if I can't do my job effectively, and right now I can't."
Wilson didn't answer, instead asking, "When?"
"Officially last month, unofficially I'm sure they made the decision when they got word of the outcome. I… wasn't exactly popular with the board."
"There's a shocker."
My leg, fed up with waiting for its big show, decides that now is its moment to shine. I set the glass I'm holding down with a heavy thud as a gasp escapes my lips. I bite down hard.
"Are you OK?" Wilson asks concerned, finally breaking the invisible ten foot barrier between us and coming to my side.
"I'm fine!" I snipe back angrily, fingers digging into what's left of my thigh as I desperately try to message out the cramp that's taking it hostage.
"You don't look fine and haven't since I walked in here. What's going on?"
I groan, embarrassed that I'm in such bad shape he's actually using his cancer voice on me. "Get out," I shout, knowing it's useless.
In too much pain to argue I block him out and focus all my efforts on rubbing furiously at my thigh.
'Just stop!' I lean my head back, look up at the ceiling. 'Isn't five months of this enough?' I plead to the nothing that's listening, closing my eyes as the pain brings unbidden tears to my eyes. I squeeze my leg far too tightly, pain seizing it. I feel like I'm going to throw up. I breathe in through my nose and out my mouth, repeating the process ad nauseam. I think Wilson asks me something, but I can't focus on anything other than trying not to pass out.
At some point he leaves the room, and I don't know how long I sit there frozen, hands clutching my thigh and eyes screwed shut in pain but by the time Wilson comes back the worst of the cramping seems to be going away. I don't dare move; still too nauseous and light-headed to even entertain the thought.
I swallow thickly; keeping my eyes shut as Wilson pries my hands away from my leg and drapes the heating pad I keep in my bathroom over my thigh. Feeling Wilson's hand press against my neck surprises me and I flinch back.
"Just taking your pulse," he explains, but I've figured it out before he even says it. "Damn, you're shaking, and your heart is racing. I think you need to go to the hospital," Wilson says quietly, but I reach out and take hold of his wrist before he can move away and make the call.
"No," I say resolutely, opening my eyes and damning the wetness I feel leak from the corners and down my face. I don't let go, and look him straight in the eye. "It goes away," I say in a way that makes it clear it's happened before and that I know it will subside; most of it anyway.
The expression that crosses Wilson's face is hard to read. Maybe that's because the pain is finally letting up leaving a spent and useless man in its wake. I'm exhausted mentally and physically, and drop my grip on Wilson's wrist.
"This has happened before?" Wilson asks, outraged. I don't bother to answer, it's clear that it has. I've told him as much. I look away and he asks about my pain meds.
I sigh, and give in to his incessant questions. "New pain meds. They don't work," I answer, out of breath. The heating pad, I have to admit, is helping but the fight in me doesn't have enough energy to sustain itself.
"When was the last time you took one?"
"Took some an hour, maybe, before you came over," I guess, not bothering to add I'd taken twice the prescribed dose with a chaser of alcohol. Even I knew it was too early to take more, and my stomach couldn't be trusted to keep anything down anyway. I wave away the pill bottle that he offers me with a limp hand. "Too early. I'm fine."
"Like hell you are," Wilson says angrily. I look up to see that he's not angry at me, but at some imaginary boogeyman doctor who was supposedly letting me suffer. I sigh and rub my hand over my eyes as he moves around the couch and sits down.
Why did this have to happen right now? The chances of getting rid of him quickly were slim before. Now they were non-existent at best.
"House," Wilson says, waiting for me to look at him before he says more. Head against the back of the couch, I roll it to face him, spent. I'm sure I look like a million bucks; if those million bucks had gone through a shredder and then were flushed down the toilet first, that is.
"You need better pain meds. You can't function like this."
I chuckle but it's devoid of humor. "You think I just enjoy debilitating pain? Nothing works. This isn't the first pain medication I've tried."
I'd been on five different pain medications and none of them got rid of the pain. Morphine had worked, but I obviously can't be on that for any prolonged period of time.
Wilson sighs sadly seeing that I'm in no mood to talk, or perhaps just knowing there was nothing he could say to make things better. I pull my eyes away but don't refocus them on anything in particular. I wonder just how much he knows, and what had been said to tip him off.
"You'll have to tell me eventually," he states, and I close my eyes and let out a long breath. I don't say anything right away, but a question keeps nagging me, begging to be asked.
Wilson and I have known each other for years. We hang out occasionally, trade hospital gossip and get tanked during medical conventions and boring conferences we're both forced to attend. Sometimes we go lob a ball down a lane or hit the links and act like we can actually play a decent game of golf… but had Wilson ever truly crossed the line from acquaintance to friend? I wasn't sure when this happened. Can't pinpoint a moment when that switch was made… had it been? I wasn't sure.
"Don't think I'll be able to go golfing with you Saturday," I say out of the blue, referring to the first message he'd left on my machine. We'd both been watching TV for the last fifteen minutes in silence. Wilson sucks in a breath at my words and his body goes ridged.
"Safe to say you'll have to find a new partner," I add and try to sound like I don't care.
I don't care.
"So why don't you go home to your new wife and let me sleep?"
Wilson doesn't back down like I was hoping. Instead, he swings around and points an accusing finger at me. "You, Gregory House, are the most stubborn asshole I know. If you want to put on a ridiculous outfit and play golf with me again, you will, but I don't know why you'd want to. You're a lousy player, anyway."
I stare dumbly at him and Wilson cocks an eyebrow at me, challenging me to deny it. I almost smirk at that. Instead I tilt my head and add, "I beat you most of the time, which makes you twice as pathetic."
Wilson, to his credit, doesn't deny this fact either. "So what the hell makes you think I care if we go golfing again?"
"Why the hell do you care at all?" I shoot back. I don't want to tell him it's not about the fucking golf. It's about my fucking life. About all the things I'll never be able to do again, or ever try. Crippled at the ripe old age of thirty-eight… it didn't have to be like this, it wasn't cut and dry, and the what-ifs and if-onlys wouldn't stop haunting me every chance they got, driving me further into a depression that was becoming impossible to overcome.
Wilson was downright surprised – and dare I say angry? – at my question.
"Six years we've known each other and you ask why I care?" he asks in disbelief, standing abruptly. His outrage is short lived as he stares at me, however, and he ends up stating simply, "We're friends, House."
The 'Are we?' doesn't reach my lips, but the mild surprise at Wilson's declaration of friendship to Gregory House must have reached my face because he frowns. "Does that really surprise you?"
I don't answer, and I'm glad when he switches to the subject of his employment. He sits back down and relaxes against the couch, trying to act nonchalant. "I think I'm going to take that job at Princeton Plainsboro if they offer it to me," he states.
I narrow my eyes suspiciously, but he quickly adds, "It's a huge pay raise."
I don't deny that. I'm sure it is. But it's embarrassing to think he might be partially making this decision because my life is going to hell. He shouldn't consider making a life-changing decision just because some golf buddy had part of his leg cut out and can't deal.
I don't say any of this. I should. Instead I grumble, "It's a teaching hospital filled with second rate doctors who can't diagnose a pulled muscle from an infarction."
"So it's perfect for me," he replies easily, losing the meaning of the last sentence. So, he didn't know anything.
"My, we have been taking our sarcasm classes every day like a good little boy, haven't we?" I ask shifting my bad leg a little, relieved that searing pain doesn't shoot through it from the movement.
"Yes, teacher, but if that's not enough I've got an apple in my backpack."
I roll my eyes and pull myself up a bit as Wilson's tone becomes more serious. "When is the last time you ate, anyway?"
"Right before you got here," I lie.
"Was that right before or after you ran the marathon this morning?" Wilson dropped the sarcasm. "Seriously… House, you've lost a lot of weight."
"I'm training to become a long distance runner. Do you think I have a shot at the 5000 meter?" I snark back hoping to put an end to his mother-hen routine.
"Yes," he deadpans. The word drops like a stone.
Irritated that my comebacks aren't having the desired effect I decide to ignore him, picking up a medical journal from the table and thumbing through it. Wilson gets up and walks to the kitchen, clearly exasperated. I wait for the inevitable blow up to come. One minute, several cabinet doors and a refrigerator door opening later Wilson shouts back in disgust, "House! You have no food… none!"
He walks back into the living room and I barely glance up from my journal. I have no idea what I'm reading but I don't want to give him my full attention. I could see his despondent expression out of the corner of my eye. Clearly he'd deduced that I was probably eating, at most, one meal a day by ordering in.
He wasn't wrong, and I don't say a word in my defense. He runs a hand across his face and picks up my phone, walking back into the kitchen. A minute later I hear him order a large pizza. When he comes back in I tell him I'm not hungry. He shrugs and says he is.
I continue trying in vain to concentrate on the article I'm staring at with little success. Wilson goes to my liquor cabinet and pours himself a shot of bourbon without asking. I shoot him a glare that he ignores.
Wilson sits down, nursing his drink, and the room becomes uncomfortably quiet. It looks like the reality of my situation is hitting him, and I averted my attention back down to the journal in my hands. I couldn't take my own misery much less shoulder his.
After five minutes I've spotted seven different errors that the idiot who'd written this article had made and decide the entire thing is a waste of my time. My eyes flick back up to Wilson who is still just sittings there, unnaturally silent. It's starting to make me uncomfortable. I'm not sure what's worse; him asking the questions or him not asking them.
Wilson apparently feels my eyes on him, because he looks up and breaks the unnerving quiet. I'm almost glad. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Tired of his questions I sigh and put the journal down in my lap. "It wasn't your problem. You'd just left for your month-long honeymoon in the Bahamas. We aren't all BFF," I say, and disregard the wounded expression I see pass over his features. I push on, and don't say that calling him never crossed my mind. I'd been too caught up with Stacy, and my parents, with losing my job, and my life falling apart to even think about him until he called. "Nothing you could do about it, Wilson. You might as well enjoy life as a newly-second-wed."
"Looks like there is plenty I can do."
I toss the paper back on the table, upset. It hits a glass that tumbles to the floor. "I am perfectly capable of handling this by myself. I am a big boy after all."
Wilson shakes his head. "Doesn't mean you should have to." He took another sip of his bourbon. "What happened to your leg?"
"How did you find out?" I stall.
Wilson looks at his glass as if it holds the answers. It doesn't, I've already checked. "My interview was with Cuddy and the current head of Oncology. Cuddy knows we know each other well, and asked me to tell you that she hoped your recovery was going alright. When I asked her what she was talking about she looked pretty stunned and told me I needed to talk to you about it."
I don't say anything, not surprised in the least. I pour myself another glass of whiskey, emptying the remainder of the bottle into my glass. "Infarction," I say as I take a swig. When I look over, he seems confused, and I nod. "Misdiagnosed as a muscle strain. Took four days and a self diagnosis before they finally listened to me and treated the blood clot in my leg… obviously by then it was too late."
I watch as Wilson closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. I wonder if he's surprised I didn't diagnose it sooner. I know I am.
But pain does amazing things to the mind, not many of them good, and by the second hospital visit – when I was admitted – I was in no real condition to talk straight, much less think logically enough to diagnose a rare condition. It may have been sheer survival instinct that made everything click that third day through the fog of drugs and pain.
"Removed a good chunk of dead muscle." I look down at my thigh, knowing full well what hid behind the pant leg covering it. "Wasn't my choice."
I surprise myself by telling him about Stacy. I wasn't planning to, not right away, but there I was telling him how she betrayed my trust. He grew paler as I told him the whole pathetic tale, and my voice falters here and there against my best efforts to keep it steady. Every time it grows wobbly I down a little more whiskey, thinking it's about fucking time I get drunk and stop caring.
"She did exactly what I asked her not to do. She let me slip into that coma believing that she'd make sure they would do what I asked, and when I woke up and realized what they'd done…" I swallow hard, closing my eyes at the memory. "She'd done the exact opposite," I finish.
Wilson doesn't speak right away, and I hear him let out a long breath I hadn't realize he'd been holding. "That's why she's gone?" he asks, but it's not really a question. I nod my head once in response.
"I can't believe it," Wilson mutters, standing up and pacing. Then he stops and turns towards me. "House, she was scared." He says it like it's an epiphany. "She thought you'd die… heck, you'd already flat lined once."
I don't want to hear this, and snatch my cane, shoving myself up to a standing position and gasping at the pain – the pain she caused – as I struggle to keep my balance. "She crippled me, sentenced me to a life of unending pain, with a constant reminder of how useless I've become, I can't even work… this is not what I wanted!" My voice rises steadily through my tirade, cane pounding against the ground to accentuate each of her sins. I drop my voice to a lower decibel when I tell him with certainty, "and she knew that."
Panting, I drop back down onto the couch. I'm done explaining. If Wilson doesn't understand he can get the hell out. I can't look at him anymore, and it seems like he's suffering from the same disease. My eyes fall on my piano in the corner and I stare at it as if it holds some hidden secret to my problems. The thick layer of dust hiding its shine is starting to bother me.
The doorbell rings, signaling the arrival of food that neither of us want to eat. Wilson gets up and answers the door, paying for the food as I stare at the six books stacked on top of my piano, wondering if Stacy put them there just to annoy me. How was she to realize it would take me three weeks to even notice?
Pizza in hand, Wilson closes the door and drops the box onto the coffee table in front of me. I make no move to get a slice, and neither does he. Instead I finish the last of my whiskey.
I struggle to a standing position, and take my empty glass to the liquor cabinet, setting it down on the dark wood top. I lean my weight against it, my back to Wilson as I consider the three bottles in front of me, choosing my next poison. I let out a shaky breath as a twinge of pain runs up my leg. That I can handle. I choose the scotch.
"You'll get through this, House," Wilson says from behind me. I wish I could be so sure. Staring at the off-white wall in front of me while I spin the bottle in my hands I think of the pain I feel now; a deep, dull throb, a new constant companion in my everyday life. A continuous reminder of Stacy's betrayal with each step I take, leaching my energy and robbing me of my passion.
"What if I don't want to?" I ask him offhandedly as I break open the bottle of scotch in my hands and poor a more than generous amount into my glass.
"The pain can be managed," Wilson insists, moving closer. "We'll find something that works better than what you're on now. You'll be able to work again."
I laugh bitterly. "Yeah, and who in their right mind would hire me now?" I ask. I don't make myself popular anywhere I'm at. I know I was barely employable before, only tolerated because I got results; seemingly incurable patients saved, mysterious diseases diagnosed and treated. Numbers don't lie.
Scoffing Wilson gestures at me. "Dr. Gregory House, world-renowned specialist in infectious disease, is questioning why a hospital would want to hire him?"
He was trying to appeal to my vanity, unsure of how else to get through to me. "I'm no prize anymore, there –"
"Oh, end this pity party of yours, House!" he says, losing his temper. "What is stopping you from writing more journal articles, consulting on cases, going into research? So what if you can't work with patients? You have the worst bedside manner on the Eastern Seaboard anyhow…"
Knuckles white as I clench my cane, I slam the wood handle against the bookcase as hard as I can, slightly disappointed when the damn thing doesn't break. He just doesn't understand, can't grasp the gravity of my current situation. Doesn't want to. This pain is eating away at me, wearing me down. It will kill me, one day.
"Damn it! You just don't get it! I can't concentrate through the pain. It never stops." I take a step closer to him, willing him to understand. "If the painkillers are too strong, my brain is foggy and I can't think. If they aren't strong enough I'm in too much pain to think! What the hell am I supposed to do?"
Wilson stands his ground as I approach; desperation and determination written on his face. "We keep trying until we find the right combination. Until we find something that works."
"We," I repeat snidely, stepping away from him, the cane taking the full brunt of my weight. "Since when did this become your problem?" I ask, not waiting for an answer. "Go home to your wife."
"I deal with pain in my practice all the time. I can help," he insists.
I shake my head tiredly, running my free hand across my face. "It's not the same –"
"Pain is pain, House," he interrupts, and he doesn't give me time to argue with him. "Shut up and let me do this."
"It's not going to work."
"It won't if you don't get off your ass and try," he says, irritated by my negativity. I don't want to hope for something better. What if this is all there is? I don't say anything and Wilson's cell rings before I feel too pressured by the silence to spill my guts. I let out a breath as he answers.
It's Bonnie, and it seems like Wilson has forgotten his dinner plans with her. "I'm so sorry but tonight just isn't a good night. We can go some other time…"
"Oh for God sake Wilson!" I interrupt, loud enough for Bonnie to hear. "Go have dinner with your wife. I'll be here tomorrow."
Unhappy with my interference, Wilson shoots me a peevish look before telling Bonnie he'll meet her in forty-five minutes. Hanging up he looks at me with determination.
"Who's handling you pain management right now?"
I suppose I didn't think he was serious before because I'm surprised. "Why?"
"Because I'm going to go talk to them tomorrow about taking over your pain management. They clearly aren't paying attention or you aren't being honest with them about your pain. Either way it amounts to the same thing. You're in more pain than you need to be in."
I glance back at my piano, thinking about what he's offering, if it's worth it to hope. I wonder how the hell I could have forgotten about my piano for five months. How did I become so numb to everything around me?
"House?" Wilson asks, his tone softening. I try not to get upset about it. I look back at him and nod slowly. Limping to my desk on the other side of the piano I almost lose my balance, catching myself on the chair before lowering myself onto it as I search for a piece of paper and a pen.
How exhausted I am hits me as I scrawl the name of my doctor onto a sheet of paper, struggling to remember the spelling. I can't be bothered to remember the number so I tell him to look it up himself as I hand over the paper.
I still can't meet his eyes as he takes it from me, just like I couldn't meet Stacy's, or Cuddy's. When had it become so hard to look at people?
Of course I know the answer. I can't stand the look on everyone's face. The same look. The more I see that look, the more I look away.
Seeing my darkening mood, Wilson puts a hand on my shoulder. He just invaded my space and I look at the hand like it's an alien life form. "It's going to get better. You just have to give it some time."
Wilson removes his hand and walks over to the coffee table. Grabbing a slice of pizza, leaving the box open as he leaves, he tells me he'll call me tomorrow. From the look on his face as he closes the door I think 'you won't make it that long.'
He'll call me after his dinner with Bonnie. I don't get up from the chair, or say goodbye.
Bending down, I open the bottom desk drawer and take out a soft blue cloth. Ignoring the pain as best I can I stand up, retrieve the wood cleaner and move over to the piano. I run a finger along the top of its cool wood, appraising the amount of dust it picks up with a frown.
I ease myself down onto the piano bench, propping the cane up against it, then move the books off the top and onto the floor to deal with later.
The surface clear of books and papers I spray some cleaner onto the cloth and start wiping the wood clean revealing the shiny, polished surface underneath.
I finish the surface, hesitating for only a moment before lifting the lid and polishing each key with care. When I'm done I toss the cloth aside and my hands run along the length of the keys, listening to the sound of the instrument as it comes back to life at my touch. The sound echoes off the apartment walls causing a small smile to tug at my lips.
I know just what to play.