A ray of morning light filtered in. Monday. Soon it would be over. The pain was unbearable, but the thought of the nightmare ending filled Wilson with hope. He tried to imagine how good it would be to wake up in a bed with a morphine drip. He might even manage to call House's lawyer, find out how the process was going. He tried not to think about what lay between the current pain and the subsequent relief.
"Dr. Wilson? It's six thirty am. Are you glad it's almost over, or frightened by the last step?"
"Both, I think." Wilson realized he felt almost grateful to Collins for his kind question. Stockholm syndrome must be kicking in.
Collins' smile became a snicker. "You didn't really believe I would miss such a unique opportunity, right? You're not getting out of here anytime soon, Dr. Wilson. You're an idiot."
Wilson wanted to argue, to explain, but his bound limbs couldn't prevent the gag from forcing its way into his mouth.
The pre-trial audience had begun. House whispered to his lawyer "Where's Wilson?"
"I don't know. He had mentioned that he might be late, though."
Wilson had lost contact with the droning voice reading aloud from the computer screen, his brain retreating from the horrors that were awaiting him.
Then, all of a sudden, he noticed Collins wasn't speaking any more. He was moving around, collecting stuff, and when he turned to face him there was a look of pure pleasure in his face. "Are you ready, Dr. Wilson?"
The pain hit his forefinger, skyrocketed, filled his brain, spilled over through his eyes as tears, through the gag as an inhuman wail. His limbs tried to move, uselessly testing the restraints one more time. Collins laughed. And then pain moved to the thumb, and then to the forefinger again, and so on in a dance which ended only when a merciful darkness swallowed Wilson's mind.
"Congratulations, Dr. House. You've been cleared of all charges, and I expect your medical license will be reinstated soon."
House thanked his lawyer back, and was not surprised to see that Thirteen had been the only one of his former fellows to show up.
"I hope you have a drink ready for me, since you're so late." he told her as greeting.
"Sorry, I couldn't find the time. I spent the whole morning trying to get in touch with Wilson. He seems to have vanished; no one has seen him since he left the office Friday."
House did a double take. "What? Have you tried at his place?"
"I've been at his place and at yours, and I called Cuddy and his mother and all his ex-wives. You don't want to hear what Julie told me."
House was really worried now. And yet… there was someplace he could check. "Will you drive me to my place, please? It's urgent. And come with me, I may need someone who's not handicapped. At least not yet."
Wilson suddenly could see House. Smiling, starting his new job at Saint Sebastian's, looking around at the new office, with his ball and his PSP handy. He felt tears of joy welling up in his eyes. He had succeeded. House was smiling too, and hugging him. "I love you, House. I love you, I've loved you so long, and now I can finally tell you." And House kissed him, and kissed him again, and then just held him tight.
And yet, he couldn't really feel House in his arms. That must be the fever, he thought. He certainly had a fever. And then there was a rat eating his fingers. His fingers hurt. Why was that? Where had the rat come from? Why didn't House chase it away?
House had Thirteen climb up and retrieve the box which used to contain the morphine. When he opened it the drug was gone, probably taken away by the police when they searched his place. But the box wasn't empty: there was a message, hastily scribbled on a sheet from Wilson's prescription pad, in the almost illegible scrawl he was all too familiar with. An address, a date and time. The previous Friday, eight pm: sixty-six hours ago.
He asked Thirteen to drive, his hands were shaking too much. They stopped on the way and only Thirteen got out. When she came back, she had two loaded revolvers. House didn't ask questions.
The first thing Wilson noticed was that the gag was gone. The fever was lower, too, and the pain not so intense. Someone was pushing ice chips in his mouth. He sucked the cool relief greedily. Saved. Finally.
Then he opened his eyes, and Collins was staring at him, drinking in his disappointment.
"Hello, Dr. Wilson, good to know the acetaminophen is working. I was waiting for you to be conscious again, you don't want to miss the best of the party."
Wilson forced his parched throat to form words. Tried to think of something that would make sense. "Please… call an ambulance… call 911… I'll say nothing… I'll say I agreed… please…"
"Be quiet, now. I'm the doctor and I'll do what is best for you. See?"
Wilson looked with horror at the surgical saw, the steel glistening. "We're going to have fun together. Or at least, I'm going to have fun. I'll start with the distal phalanx of the pinky, what do you think?"
The steel touched the dark grey skin. And then started moving. Wilson screamed and screamed and screamed. But no one answered, except the sound of the saw on his bone and Collins' pitiless laughter.
"Wilson. Open your eyes, Wilson. I know you're awake."
House. House's voice. This must be a pain-induced hallucination again. A good one, since he could feel no pain. In fact, it reminded him of when he had been given morphine post-op after the liver donation. House had been there, as well. That's it, he was hallucinating a memory. And what a happy memory.
"Wilson. Answer me, please."
A hand touching his. He tried to move his fingers in response.
"Good. Now try and open your eyes, won't you?"
He took a while to focus. He closed his eyes, opened them again. He was in a bed. With bedclothes. He wasn't tied up anywhere. And the face looking at him was House.
He tried to speak, but he only managed a very faint "House…" before his brain switched off again.
Senior Officer Betty Cho met Dr. House in a tiny office in the hospital, close to Dr. Wilson's room.
He looked irritable when he came in, and sat like he wanted to bolt out again fast. "I hope I'll be able to go back to Wilson soon. I want to be there when he wakes up again."
"Certainly, Dr. House. But there are things I ought to tell you, and I couldn't do it over the phone."
House seemed surprised but didn't say anything. Officer Cho sighed.
"Dr. House, we know you forged Dr. Wilson's signature on a large number of Vicodin scripts. The PA has agreed not to prosecute you."
"Did I win the accused lottery? Because it's not my birthday."
"No, Dr. House. He did it at my request. We found complete evidence of Dr. Collins' criminal activities, and we'll make sure a number of former inmates will be paid damages. Collins is dead, but the prison system allowed him too much leeway."
"So it's gratitude?"
"Yes. And respect for… for Dr. Wilson. He's the only one of Dr. Collins' victims to have been a volunteer, and hence the only one he could torture so thoroughly. And keep a complete video record of." Officer Cho had seen many horrors in her thirty years of work, but nothing had prepared her for what she had found on Collins' laptop. The man was a full-blown sadist, to a level she wouldn't have thought humanly possible.
"What happened to Wilson? The orthopedic surgeon who operated on him refused to answer my questions."
"Are you sure you want to know this?"
"I'm his medical proxy. I may have to take decisions based on it, so long as he's unconscious."
Cho sighed. "He got three of the fingers in his right hand broken, three times a week for one month. Collins removed the cast, played with the broken fingers, broke each of them once more, and gave him a similar-looking cast. Sometimes he also played with the freshly-broken fingers."
House had turned very white. Cho kindly asked "Do you also want to know what happened last weekend? You maybe shouldn't."
"I… I saw some of it. But not all. I want to know."
"Collins spent most of the weekend 'playing' with the broken fingers, particular after the gangrene started to develop. He had agreed with Wilson that he would amputate the middle, ring and pinky fingers on Monday in the early morning and leave him at an ER."
"Wilson had agreed… to this?"
"Yes. Broken bones for the slow detox, and three amputated fingers for destroying the forged signatures and saving your medical license. On Monday morning he told Wilson what he planned to do, then broke his thumb and forefinger. Repeatedly. When you arrived he had sawn off all the distal phalanges and the middles ones of two more fingers as well. You don't want to know what Collins' plans for Wilson were, but he had them filed on his laptop: they lasted for a full further week, and your friend would have probably welcomed death at the end."
House started crying. Sobbing loudly and shamelessly, his muscular shoulders bent and shivering. His face, which Cho supposed might otherwise be considered handsome, seemed to belong to a much older man. And at the same time, he inexplicably reminded her of a child, a child heartbroken by the suffering of a very close relative or friend. She resisted the unexpected impulse to pet him, and waited instead until he was able to regain some composure.
When the sobbing ceased, House lifted his eyes but didn't try to dry or hide away the tears.
"Dr. House, I have a very personal question to ask you. It would be very important that you answer sincerely, because there's some information which I'm not sure I should give you. What are your feelings for Dr. Wilson? How close are you to him?"
House looked at her like he was trying to pull information out of her eyes. Finally, he just said "I've been considering this question for a long month in prison. He's been a close friend for many years. I used to think of myself as straight. But now… I wonder whether there's something more."
"You wonder, or you know?"
"I…I don't know. But please tell me anything that might help me help Wilson."
Cho thought that she saw more than friendship in the dark-ringed eyes: she hoped she didn't let her wishes lead her astray.
He opened his eyes, and his head felt clear. He had no pain, no fever. For the first time.
"Good morning, Wilson."
"Hi," he said and immediately started coughing.
"Here, drink some water. It's good to have you back."
The sun was shining outside, and Wilson's brain was working. "What day is today?"
"Monday. You've been here one week, but I imagine you can't remember any of it. Here would be at Saint Sebastian's, by the way. Wilson, how could you let Collins do this to you?"
Wilson's pale face flushed. "How do you know?"
House couldn't resist; he took Wilson's right arm between his hands, and started massaging the naked skin, from the rim of the hospital gown to the gauze around the wrist.
"Collins kept videos of every moment he spent with you. You saved my sanity, my freedom and my license, Wilson. And I wish you hadn't. Not at this price."
Wilson looked at his thick bandages. "How much of my hand is still there?"
"You have two large stubs of the thumb's and forefinger's proximal phalanges, and a small one of the middle finger's. Unfortunately, not only are the ring and small finger completely gone, but a large part of the corresponding metacarpal bones had to be removed as well, since necrosis had already started. You were on the brink of death for several days. I'm sorry, Wilson."
"It's not your fault, House. What happened exactly? All I can recall are Thirteen and you suddenly being there, and then shooting and screams."
House drew a deep breath. Delaying the truth would serve no purpose. "Thirteen and I saved you. Collins shot and killed her, after she wounded him. I shot and killed him."
"Oh my God, House, it's all my fault."
"Wilson, it was her choice - we could have saved her without the DNR. Her disease was progressing. She insisted that I hide behind her, said she would be dying soon anyway."
"Dr. House, you can come back in."
He let Cho get out, and closed the door behind her before going to sit near the bed.
"So, you had a cosy chat?" Wilson looked perkier than twenty minutes before.
"Officer Cho confirmed that it worked. That you'll keep your license because… because of me." His eyes glanced at the stub, and there was a desperate pride in them.
"Yes, and we'll be colleagues here at Saint Sebastian. I… I don't know what to say, Wilson. What you did was unbelievably generous. And unbelievably crazy and dangerous. How can I ever pay you back?"
Wilson looked past House. "Just say you'll never relapse again. Please."
"It only depends on you. You see, I relapsed so badly because the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with dumped me."
"So, if you want to avoid me relapsing, it's enough you never dump me." House's left hand was on Wilson's right arm again, and this time his long fingers went searching the softest skin: under the armpit, then down until the inside of the elbow, and further to the point where he could feel Wilson's pulse by sneaking one finger below the bandage.
Wilson didn't shake him off: instead, he brought House's right hand to his lips, and gave it a feathery soft, chaste kiss. Then he let go, his thumb lingering for a moment on the veins sticking out on the hand's back.
"House, you don't have to do this. I… I just did what I felt was right."
"I know. But you would like to be with me, wouldn't you? I'm sorry, Wilson, but the police told me." House's fingers kept tracing Wilson's inner arm.
"Told you what?" House could feel Wilson ever so slightly shivering under his touch, leaning into House's hand.
"That after sixtysomething hours of torture you started hallucinating me. And you said you loved me, which is precisely what Thirteen had told me while she drove me to search for you."
Without breaking his hold on the wounded limb, House left the visitor's chair and sat on the hospital bed, pushing the long legs aside: he then took Wilson's torso in his arms, pressing his face on his chest and caressing his hair. He felt tears wet his shirt, Wilson's left hand clutching at his bare forearm. He held him close until the crying ceased, then moved him gently away and wiped away the tears, while Wilson looked at him with a mixture of hope and incredulity. He kissed Wilson on the forehead, then pushed his head to his own chest again, so that he could hear how fast House's heart was beating.
"You're scared." Wilson's voice was almost inaudible.
"I am. I'm terribly afraid of screwing this up, Wilson."
Wilson lifted his face to look at House, and there was so much evidence of past pain in his eyes that House found it difficult to look back into them.
"House, do you… do you love me?"
There was no point saying anything but the truth. "I don't know. I thought I loved Cuddy, and Stacy before her, and yet I was never as happy with either of them as I am with you. I never was attracted to men before and we will have to take this slowly from a physical viewpoint. But what I said is true: you're the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. And not just as a friend."
Wilson looked dejected.
"How do you even know you'll enjoy sex with me at all? House, your orientation isn't something you can change at will."
House smiled, his right hand threading fingers with Wilson's left, his left sliding to softly circle the bandaged stump. "I really like to hold your hands."