AN: For this chapter I had a special beta come in the form of the wonderful AdieAngel. Thank you for going over this with a very fine-toothed comb! Without her and Akemi1582's input, I would have been lost and a weeping writer. So now I have two betas and a fellow (enthusiastic) writer (who will be mentioned next chapter *wink,wink*) going over this. Thank you all!
Also, Thank you for all the reviews, alerts, views, and favorites. I'm so glad you, dear readers, are enjoying this story despite the sadness of it. I recommend tissues for this chapter and the next. -Penelope
"About as subtle as an earthquake, I know,
my mistakes were made for you."
-"My Mistakes were made for You" by the Last Shadow Puppets
When he had arrived home the night before, he had gone straight to bed. It had only been ten o'clock or so but the stress of death and of Cuddy's momentary lapse in judgment had made him exhausted. On top of that, the Vicodin had been wearing off and was making him feel every step he took like a dagger into his thigh. Of course, sleep did not come easily. He struggled with his mind, trying to bring it to a dull roar instead of the whirling vortex it was. He could feel the softness of her lips. He saw Wilson's puppy-dog brown eyes looking at him with such sadness. He imagined two different voices growling his name. In order to stop that line of thought he gave in to the drugs. The bitter taste lingered on his tongue before he fell into a restless sleep.
It was nine-thirty when his cell phone rang for the first time. He lifted a bleary eye to see the small device vibrate on the wooden surface of the nightstand. He ignored it.
At nine-forty, the phone rang again. This time the voice message alert beeped at him accusatorially. He turned his face away from the phone.
The vibrations started again at nine-forty-five. This time they only ceased for a moment before starting immediately again.
With a moan, he flipped over once more and reached out for the hated piece of plastic.
"What?" he grumbled into the phone. "I don't have a patient so-."
"Get your ass up and out of bed," Cuddy barked in his ear, "We need to go to Wilson's this afternoon to pick out the photos and music for… tomorrow. We didn't do it last night."
"Why do you have to be there? Don't you have an orphan to take care of?"
It was silent down the line for a moment. He shifted onto his back, his left hand running through his hair. He knew that was a low blow.
"Wilson was my friend, too, House," she said softly.
He took in a deep breath. It really wasn't the time to be petty and vindictive so he swallowed down the rest of the retorts and comments on the tip of his tongue.
"I can be there by eleven."
He could practically feel the relief flow out of her and through the phone. He hung up and glanced back at the digital clock. Five past ten. He took in a deep breath. This would be a very long Wednesday in an already horrible week.
They arrived at the same time. He was parking his bike up on the sidewalk of Wilson's apartment complex when she parked at the curb fifteen feet in front of him. He saw the door gingerly open to avoid on-coming traffic. He slipped off his helmet and unzipped his leather jacket. He watched as a black high heel appeared, followed by a calf and then another heel. It always amused him to watch a woman climb out of a car with a tight skirt. Cuddy swung her legs to the ground and straightened immediately. She threw her head back slightly to get the wayward strands of hair out of her face. She mounted the curb and with a flick of her wrist, clicking the lock button on her key ring. The Lexus squeaked pitifully twice before going silent. He saw she was wearing her 'work' clothes and guessed she had to go in sometime today. The deep purple blouse was buttoned unusually high and the grey skirt wasn't as tight as it usually was. She finally noticed him, her step faltering before she caught herself. House could see the armor strengthening around her person.
"Hi," she said in greeting, reaching for the door and walking through first.
He held it open as she walked through, replying with a nod. They stood in silence at the elevator door. She kept her eyes firmly in front of her or to her right, opposite of where he was. The prominent vein in her neck was ticking at a fast rate. It annoyed him. He grasped his cane near the middle and quickly hit it against the metal of the elevator's metal doors. He could swear Cuddy's skin came loose like a cartoon's when frightened. She stiffly jumped and threw him the dirtiest look he had received to date.
"What the hell was that?"
"You're acting like a rabbit with a dog's teeth inches from its neck. We're only looking for photos and music. That's it. So snap out of it."
"Nothing is 'only' with us, House."
The doors to the elevator finally opened to the lobby and they walked in, House stepping in front of her and pressing the button to the third floor. She stood at the opposite corner of the small space, fuming silently. Her body language screamed a mixture of discomfort, stress, and anger. Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest, her spine straight. Her jaw was clenched. The elevator reached their floor in seconds, lurching slightly before opening the doors to the floor hallway. Cuddy had cut him off while stepping off the elevator, walking pompously in front of him. He was glad. He was able to relax his upright posture and really favor his leg as he walked. It had been stiff when he awoke, but he had chosen to take only one pill. He wasn't going to be strung out for the funeral tomorrow so getting used to the pain again was necessary.
He wished he didn't care so much.
Wilson would have been so proud, he thought disgustedly. Instead of indulging in the pills like he desperately wanted to, he was voluntarily restricting his intake. He didn't want to be an addict again. He didn't want to rely on white pills to walk around or even 'function'. That wasn't functioning. It wasn't living. Even when he was with Cuddy he realized he was just getting by. He was substituting one addiction for another; one obsession for another.
He needed to live with himself, not artificial substances and beings.
He needed to get used to his own skin again.
He heard the soft tinkle of keys. Cuddy opened the apartment door and left it open for him to follow. Sunlight filled the apartment and colored the white walls a warm golden yellow. With the living room windows facing the East, the room was already warm from being in direct line with the sun. Cuddy placed her purse on the kitchen counter.
"Do you know where he kept his photos? I thought we could use some of the ones he had hanging, too."
"Yes," he replied. "He has - had them organized on his hard drive. I saw his computer in his spare room last night."
House didn't wait for her to speak again. He limped off in the direction of Wilson's make-shift office and found the Macbook lying on his desk. Papers were lying off to the side haphazardly. Flipping through them, he saw they were just bills and a printed-out excel sheet of his budget. He smirked. Wilson, always ready, always prepared, was - had been - the ultimate boy scout. He disconnected the computer from its charger. It was smaller than his own computer, a fact he had told his best friend numerous times and with such pleasure. Wilson's rebuttal was that he could at least read what was on the screen without the need for glasses or 'old-man' sized font and icons. He limped back into the kitchen to the smell of fresh coffee percolating the sound of it slowly dripping from its well down into the glass pot. For a moment he thought of how tacky it was of her to dig through a dead man's cupboards, but his rational mind reminded him it would only be thrown away if no one used it. It was coffee, not some precious keepsake.
He placed the computer in front of him and turned it on. It was password protected but he knew the various words, numbers, and mash-ups Wilson would have used. It took him less than a minute to guess the correct one. He smiled to himself as he saw the desktop wallpaper. It was a collage of Hitchcock original film posters. Rebecca was prominent in one corner with the faces of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. That had appealed to the oncologist's quiet obsession with genuine horror and romanticism. The idea of someone's living, cherished memory being so different from the evil of their reality made the man shiver, and he tried to philosophize with House for an hour after every time they watched it. House would have rather watched the trailers to the films, watching the director of directors tempt the audience with equal parts humor and fright. Seeing a poster for Frenzy, one of Hitchcock's last films, he remembered when he and Wilson had fought over whether it had been good or bad. He had argued it had been well-done even with the murderer so obvious. He had laughed at the crass remarks Bernard Cribbins's bartender made towards the women he served and who would ultimately be found floating face up in the Thames or in the back of a potato truck. Wilson had hated the film. "Hitchcock was way past his prime…" he had argued. They never agreed and sipped on their bottles of beer at the exact same time, accepting the impasse.
It was too silent all of the sudden. The subtle drip of the coffee had stopped and he glanced up to see Cuddy on the other side of the counter watching him, her face inscrutable. He couldn't decide if she looked curious about his obvious woolgathering or worried about what he might do now that he had caught her. She pushed a cup of coffee towards him and stood back, taking a small sip from her own mug.
"Thanks," he muttered, reaching the rest of the way for the cup and bringing it to his lips. She had remembered how he liked his coffee: a dash of milk with a tablespoon of sugar, enough to mask the bitter taste of the strong Columbian blend Wilson favored. He chose to ignore the pang that had pressed into his chest by this revelation.
Moving his index finger around on the faceplate of the computer, he pulled up Wilson's photo files. Here, too, the man was organized: each folder named and dated. There were photos from barbeques, with ex-wives and girlfriends, with himself and Cuddy at various hospital functions. He didn't know what to pick. His eyes hovered over those boyish features and looked away. He turned the computer over to Cuddy.
"Here are the files. You choose."
He would have laughed at the sudden frozen, deer-in-the-headlights look that came over her face if it hadn't been for his own cowardice. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw right the computer in front of her. He watched her chest raise and slowly descend back. Her eyes darted from photo to photo, too quick to take in anything, he thought. He took another drink of his coffee, scalding himself for taking a huge gulp. He sputtered and coughed.
"Are you okay?" He heard her ask.
The computer was left forgotten.
"I'm-" he coughed. "I'm fine. Did you find which ones you wanted to use?" He deflected. Carefully, he took a smaller sip.
Her eyes fell, downcast, and glanced at the open computer files.
"I don't know what he would have liked. You knew everything about him. I couldn't even tell you what his favorite song was."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said. He wondered how long they could keep up the semi-normal conversation.
"Tell me," she pressed, taking another long sip of her drink.
"It was 'Dazed and Confused.' Wilson was a closet Jimmy Page* fan for decades."
"You were right. I don't believe you." She smiled. He took it in for a moment longer before looking down at his hands, now cupped around his cup.
"He had tickets to see Zeppelin in 1980. He had conned his mother into buying them for his birthday regardless of what she thought might happen to her 15 year old kid. Anyway, the concert was in November and you know what happened before then."
"The drummer died."
"Yep, and no more concert. If he was drunk and nostalgic enough, you never saw such irrational hatred toward an alcoholic before."
Cuddy laughed softly. He noticed the computer screen had moved to sleep mode so he turned it towards himself once more and entered the password. The photos were still on the main screen. Cuddy moved it slowly so that it was in the middle, both of them able to see the screen clearly. House moved his hands and wondered what she was doing.
"I was thinking twenty photos on loop should be enough for the memorial. What do you think of this one?"
Unsaid, it was an olive branch.
"Yeah, put that one up." He had barely seen the photo but choose to accept the cease-fire she was offering. She rarely asked for help or compromised.
They looked through more photos, each of their eyes watery and red at different times, but they pushed on. House thought they had gone over maybe five hundred photos before they finished. Twenty photos of Wilson; as a white-blond haired baby even in a black and white photo, a toddler, a five year old in a tweed jacket for kindergarten, with his family, many friends, graduations, at the hospital, with the favorite cancer stricken kids, and by himself. There had been only one photo where he was by himself, standing in the lobby of Princeton-Plainsboro and smiling at something or someone.
Cuddy sniffled and reached for a napkin. House's nose felt slightly swollen, also, and his eyes were wet. He crushed down the overwhelming feeling of despair and focused all of his energy into not giving in until the next night when he could wallow alone and undisturbed for several days.
"I expect him to walk in here and offer us more coffee," Cuddy murmured, looking down at her empty cup. "I can almost imagine his ornery laugh just in the next room."
"He would have yelled at us for going through his computer. He has a 'hidden' folder on here with some very interesting videos."
"If they're anywhere near as interesting as yours, I can see why they're hidden."
Their shared look lasted a moment before he turned his attention back to the computer. He pulled up Wilson's music, hoping Cuddy would follow his lead and continue on their task.
"How long do we need the music to play?"
"A half hour should be good. I have an official saying a few words first and I'll - I'll say a few. Um…" The hesitation made him weary. He had a feeling of what she was about to ask of him.
"I was wondering if you would do the eulogy? His brother won't say anything in front of all those guests."
He stared at the keyboard without really seeing it. He couldn't do it. Baring his emotions in front of a room of people was a torture he thought he would endure in hell. Most of the people present would expect the worst of him. Most had been harassed, cheated, and maybe even battered by him. He didn't give a fuck about what they thought of him, but if they started to change their opinion of the oncologist's carefully made nice-guy persona, he would get in a fist fight in the parking lot. He wasn't going to disgrace his best friend. He-
"I can understand if you don't want to… I can ask Chase to say something. He's a good-"
"I'll do it."
He ignored the stunned silence.
"Wilson has a lot of acoustic songs that'll fit in best," he scrolled on the computer.
"Don't, Cuddy. I'll do it. It's done." He cut her off. He didn't want to hear it.
"I just wanted to say thank you."
He nodded and continued selecting songs Wilson had loved. He created a folder for it and emailed it to her work account. He logged off and shut the machine down.
"What time is the service?" he asked, standing up. He was hurting. They had been at the apartment for the better part of two hours, seated on bar stools with thin cushions under them. Cuddy stood up and stretched.
"Noon at Hamilton's Mortuary."
He was grateful when she stepped out of the kitchen and made her way towards the bathroom, presumably to freshen up. He walked a lap around the kitchen, muffling the thump thump of his cane. The bones of his back popped and cracked as he straightened his strides. For not popping a pill for two hours, he felt decent. He would need to take one in the next hour before he started to really withdraw again. Vomiting and sweating profusely at the service would be frowned upon. He had another day to get through first before he thought of those consequences. He jumped when he felt fingers brush his arm.
"Sorry," Cuddy said. "I'm going to the hospital now to make sure the mortician has… him ready. I had Mr. Hamilton prepare him at the hospital so the news reporters couldn't get to him."
"I'm going with you."
She scowled at him.
"You don't have to, House. Wilson would not have-"
"We don't know what he would have wanted. It wasn't like he was expecting to die young."
"You know what I meant."
"I do, but it doesn't matter. He's dead."
"It does matter to you. That's why you're terrified for tomorrow. That's why you haven't even mourned him properly," she started. "Even though you think me a callous bitch, I still know you."
"So you know why I need to go."
"Yes… but you don't have to."
He glanced at her one last time before he spoke.
"I'll follow you there."
"Fine," she sighed reluctantly.
The nurses and other doctors stared as the Dean and the 'delinquent' walked through the lobby doors. No one had seen him enter the hospital the night he had cleaned out Wilson's office so it was assumed this was his first day back. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the curious and gossipy looks the nurses were throwing him. He knew news of his and Cuddy's relationship ending was the talk of the building, but Wilson's sudden death trumped all other gossip. He would have to check with Chase on the current betting pools to have an accurate account of the stories being spread.
Cuddy kept giving him sidelong, angry looks as they stood side by side, waiting for the elevator to descend from the upper levels. She had tried once more to dissuade him from going to the hospital, but he was adamant. He wanted to see the body. She had given up when the roar of his bike drowned out her voice. He didn't know why she was objecting to him. He thought she would be all for him seeing it. But maybe she…
"I'm not doing this for anyone but him. I owe him this," he told her, breaking the silence and her mood.
A perfectly formed eyebrow was raised and her lips were thinned. She didn't comment though the atmosphere had lightened. He couldn't believe she was thinking he was using this, manipulating the situation for his own gains. He bit the inside of his cheek. He wasn't going to make a scene no matter how much it was ingrained in his genetics to act out in indignation. He should have known she would think so. She always assumed the worst of him. Not even here she was going to give him a chance.
The elevator ride down was the most uneventful moment of their entire time together, he thought drearily. The doors opened to a dimly lit hallway. He rudely stepped in front of her and made his way to a steal double-door. He grasped the handle but didn't turn it.
"Give me a minute, will you?" His voice was rough and wooden. The handle was icy to his touch.
"Sure," she answered in almost a whisper.
He turned the knob and slipped inside.
The air was thick and frozen in the room. Only one overhead light was on, illuminating the man on the table. The suit had fit him perfectly. The shoes shined brightly after being freshly polished. The man's skin was white, translucent almost. His eyes were closed with his eyelashes almost meeting his cheeks. His brown hair was swept back with a part to the right.
It was all wrong.
Incredibly, horribly wrong.
The metal slab wasn't supposed to be there. The man was supposed to jump up and yell 'Surprise! You son of a bitch!' and jauntily walk out to other members of his staff. There wasn't supposed to be silence. There wasn't supposed to be the fresh cuts along the left side of his face or the obvious sewing up of the top-most part of his head where it met with the window. His hair couldn't hide that wound well.
House saw all this and had not even moved from the threshold.
He was hesitant to take a step, not knowing whether his legs would support him. He was afraid to get any closer to the body in front of him. In all of his years of practicing medicine, he had never hesitated when confronted with a dead body. It was just decaying flesh slowed by formaldehyde and made to look lively by make up.
The hand gripping his cane was wet with perspiration and trembled slightly. He gripped it tighter and placed it in front of him. He took a tentative step and almost sighed in relief when he didn't crumble to his knees. He took another and four more until he was looking down at the dead man. His fingers grazed the cold metal of the table.
House searched his best friend's face. He looked… dead.
His hand clenched into fists with his knuckles now resting heavily on the slab. He felt his jaw clench. Wilson wasn't supposed to leave him alone. He was supposed to be the one laying here. The echoing of his voice startled him. He hadn't realized he had spoken aloud. He glanced at the door making sure Cuddy hadn't heard him. There was no movement from what he could see. He glanced down again.
"James," he whispered. No, that wasn't right. "Wilson."
"Why were you the only one who had faith in me?" he whispered.
Everyone in his life, with maybe the exception of his mother whom he hadn't spoken with in three months, gave up on him. But never Wilson. He was ever the stead-fast side-kick. Even when House had [unintentionally] killed his girlfriend, Wilson came back and forgave him. The oncologist forgave him. He never held anything against House.
"I'm sorry," House suddenly said.
The quiet rankled his nerves. It agitated him like never before.
"I'm so sorry."
He shivered. The cold was seeping into his old bones. To think he used to have lunch in here, to hide from Wilson and Cuddy in this cold, dark room.
"I'm sorry, Wilson," he said louder. His chest was constricted and he felt the warmth of tears falling onto his cheek. He wanted to see those brown eyes offer him absolution one last time. He had never wanted or needed someone's forgiveness so much. He couldn't remember a time when he offered his apologies with so much urgency.
His fist met the table quickly, the flesh, bone and metal creating a sharp boom.
"You weren't supposed to be there!" he said harshly, "You, idiot! Why did you have to be there for me? Didn't I tell you, you were a sucker, chasing after needy people? No, you were optim—no, you weren't an optimist. You were the devil's advocate. You found the neediest, meanest SOB in the hospital and toyed with him. You thought—hoped— everything would be right in the word—well, it fucking isn't!"
He took sure, measured steps around the table, tears still making their way down his stubble, his face flushed with anger. His breathing was labored and he gulped what little oxygen he could into his lungs.
"Wilson, please," he harshly muttered. His back bent as if the world decided to rest there and press down cruelly. His arms were stretched out, his hands clutching the tablet to keep himself upright.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
He heard the creak of the door open and he immediately used the last of his strength to stand up quickly and turn his back to it. He took a deep breath to center himself and let it out harsher than he wanted to.
"Give me another minute," he said, his voice hoarser than he wanted it. "Please," he grated out.
He heard a soft "okay" and the door slowly shutting close. When he was alone, he sniffled loudly and wiped both hands across his face. He needed a drink. He needed to get back home and forget this was here. Forget his best friend was being interred in the ground tomorrow. Forget the last person in the world who gave a damn about him was lying cold, alone in a sterile crypt.
House stared at Wilson. This was one of the last times he would see the man. Tomorrow would be the very last.
The funeral march was already sounding in his ears.
AN: *If you do not know, Jimmy Page was a guitarist and writer for the band, Led Zeppelin. John Bonham was their drummer who unfortunately died of alcohol related asphyxiation in September of 1980, canceling their North American tour and ultimately leading to the break-up of the band. Wilson's story is based on a true one. Thank you again for reading!