House looked like Rocky Balboa. Rocky Balboa after he had just gotten his ass kicked, that is. Half of his face was purple, his eye swollen almost shut, lip split, nose skinned - but thankfully not broken. Yet. Wilson shuddered at the sight on the other side of the thick security glass in spite of his promise to himself to remain calm and detached from the horror of the whole situation.
Visitation day. House had served exactly two weeks of his sentence, and already had gotten the crap beaten out of him at least once. It didn't bode well for the coming months.
The two old friends faced each other through the window almost as strangers, seated themselves in the cheap light-weight plastic chairs, and lifted the handsets.
"I see you're making friends and influencing people."
"I've always been prone to speaking my mind. When locked in a cage with bigger, badder dogs – a more discreet man might try to keep a low profile, but -"
"Low profile has never been your style."
"Orange isn't your best color either. It clashes with your purple face."
"Nice to see you too, Wilson. Knew I could count on you to bring a ray of sunshine into my dark, dark little world."
"You might want to rethink your stance on that whole 'low profile' thing. Time off for good behavior requires, well … good behavior. Oh wait – you're You. Good behavior isn't an option."
"Et tu, Brute?"
"Ok, sorry. I didn't come here to lecture you."
"That's a relief. I was afraid you might get all judgmental and tell me I'd screwed up."
"It looks like others are making that point for me."
"Just a little misunderstanding is all. Nothing to concern yourself with."
"You look like Hell, House."
"Funny, I was going to tell you that you're looking good ..."
"Couldn't you just try-"
"Baby steps, Wilson. I'm attending regular Anger-Management classes. All I need to do now is get the rest of my cell block to embrace the concept, and then we can be one big happy family."
"Good luck with that. In the meantime you might want to consider not speaking your mind quite so much."
"Worried about me maintaining my rugged good looks? Don't be. I know an excellent plastic surgeon on the outside. He might even give me a discount for old times' sake."
"I wouldn't count on that. He'll have a couple of child support payments to consider in a few months. His rates might be going up."
"Maybe we can take it out in trade. He might need a drive-thru window installed in one of the-"
"Not funny, House. Not funny at all."
"Have you lost your sense of humor, Jimmy? Because you of all people ought to be able to see the irony of it all."
"All I see is my best friend looking like a punching bag."
"Hey, you should see the other guy. Guys, actually. Really. You should see them. Built like brick shit-houses, and not a scratch on any of them."
"I'm considering hiring a couple of dozen of them as bodyguards to protect me from themselves. Which reminds me … any chance of you smuggling in a few hundred cartons of cigarettes and a couple of pounds of narcotics? The good stuff? I'm compiling a list of the most requested drugs. Free trade, you know. Gotta prove my worth and all that."
"Does that mean you're considering it? I'd do it for you."
"I believe you would."
"Of course I would. What are bestest friends for?"
"Do you really want me to answer that? Because I have a few thoughts on the matter."
"Don't start, Wilson."
"Why not, House? Because-"
"Because you're taking unfair advantage of a captive audience. Literally. And because I already know what you're going to say. And there's nothing you can say that I haven't already said to myself a hundred times over. I know I screwed up, Wilson."
"Yes, House. Yes you did."
"I guess I'm supposed to be grateful that you showed up to visit me?"
"What is that supposed to mean? I'm here because I want to be. Because I'm your friend and because I do care what happens to you … even though you did almost run over me, and then walked away and didn't contact me for weeks. My wrist is fine now, by the way."
"Nothing to say?"
"I'm just waiting for you to get it all out of your system. Go ahead. I deserve it."
"Is that … an apology?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I suppose it is. Surprise, Wilson. I'm acknowledging that I made an error in judgment."
"Is that what you're calling it?"
"Almost killing my best … my only friend - while potentially endangering the lives of the woman I had tried so hard to love - and half of her family … well, that takes too long to say. And it makes me sound like a bit of an ass. So let's do just call it an error in judgment."
"I'm impressed, House. You actually … own all that?"
"I'm trying, Jimmy."
"Rock bottom, as they say."
"No place to go but up, then."
"Trying that too. It's a hard road."
"You have friends along the way."
"Well … one, maybe."
"Yeah. I deserve those."
"This self-recrimination isn't like you, House. It isn't like you at all."
"I'm getting pretty good at being not like myself. I've done it a lot over the past year or so. Being not like myself … not liking myself being …"
"It will get better, House."
"Will it? Can it?"
"You won't be in here all that long really—"
"And then I get out and … what? What do I have to go back to? The hospital? As if. I don't even have my medical license anymore."
"You'll get it back."
"Yeah, I will. That much is a given. But whether or not I'll ever get a chance to use it again is far from guaranteed. I'm a doctor, Wilson. What else have I got? What else is there in my miserable life for me to go back to?"
"Does it mean so little?"
"Did it ever mean so much?"
"So it does, then."
"Mean so little."
"It means fucking everything, Wilson. Except to you."
"To me? Do I have to tell you what it means to me? After twenty fucking years I still have to spell out to you what it means to me?"
"Actions speak louder than words."
"I'm here, House. I'm doing everything I can . . ."
"Until the next one."
"The next … Sam … or Amber … or Grace … or some other needy, or strong, or just … available woman who happens along."
"You can't lay that on me-"
"Can't I? Because there is a history here, Wilson. I tend to get lost in the constant shuffle of all the Mrs. / Ex-Mrs. / Pseudo-Mrs. / Wanna-be-Mrs. James Wilsons. I can't compete. It's more than a poor cripple like me can manage."
"You didn't just play the cripple card on me!"
"That's all you take away from that? At least you're honest."
"I screwed up too, House. I know that. I've known it for years."
"And you took all those steps to rectify the situation."
"While you were busy with all those hookers, and your precious puzzles. And the Vicodin."
"Ah. Here it comes. Finally."
"All you cared about was getting high-"
"All you cared about was getting … what, exactly, Wilson? Just what was it you cared about anyway? A white picket fence? Social acceptability? It sure as Hell wasn't me."
"What are you talking about? I was there for you. Every time you needed someone to clean up the mess, I was there-"
"Except when you weren't."
"When was I ever not there?"
"When I finally admitted I was in love with you. When I believed I had a home with you. When I thought there was a chance for happiness and a future that wasn't just more pain. When I actually pretended in my bed at night that you really wanted me to wear that ring … and then you threw me away like yesterday's newspaper. God, no wonder I took hold of her lifeline! I was fucking drowning, Wilson, and you were waving bye-bye from shore. She threw me a buoy. Then she threw me away too."
"House. I … I always …"
"Thanks for coming, Wilson. You've done your duty."
"You're such an ASS! You can't try to kill everyone in your orbit, then tell me you love me, point out every stupid fucking mistake I've made in my whole screwed up life, then just dismiss me and sink back into your own private Hell. Not this time, House."
"You had your turn, House. Now it's MY turn. Did you forget that you were trying to hit it on Nora when I offered you that ring? How many whores have I passed in the hall over the years? I was second, House … second to the hookers, the puzzles, the booze, the drugs. I was always second. I could never compete with your need for … more. More stimulation, more adrenaline, bigger highs, better puzzles. You never saw me as anything but a diversion. All I ever aspired to was a temporary pain-killer when there wasn't a better drug within reach. I wanted you. God how I wanted you. But you never gave me anything of yourself. You kept the best for everyone else. I knew I fucked up. When Sam left again … I knew what I'd done. And I tried! I tried to get you to see me! See ME! But you had HER by then, and I wasn't even second anymore. I wasn't even on the fucking list!"
"You were never second to anything! You were the ONLY thing that mattered. Were you blind? Were you deaf? For twenty years I made you the center of my life! I was willing to die if it would give you the happiness you sought … because I could never be the one you wanted-"
"You WERE the one I wanted!"
"Did we … did we really waste twenty fucking YEARS Wilson?"
"We … we … God. We did."
"And look at us now."
"You have looked better."
"You've never … in twenty blessed fucking years … you've never looked better than you look right at this moment. And I'm stuck in a cage behind bullet-proof glass. If there was a God, He'd be laughing His ass off."
"When you get out … Stacy says within a year if you don't keep fucking it up … where do we go from here, House?"
"You'll probably be married again by then."
"Cheap shot, House. I'm pouring my heart out and you're mocking me."
"I'm not mocking you. But it's dangerous for me to cry in the Big House, Wilson. Might make the boys think I'm a push-over."
"Don't. Please, House. Just … don't."
"Sorry, Jimmy, but it's my reality right now. Pretty dreams are nice. Ugly days are hard."
"Soon. We'll learn from all our mistakes of the past, and make a future. Together, House."
"Neither one of us is very good at happy endings."
"We don't know that … it isn't the end yet. We both damn well deserve some Happy."
"I don't know if I'll even recognize it."
"I'll point it out to you. And lecture about it."
"I kinda thought you might."
"You wouldn't hurt me, would you?"
"My heart is yours."
"I mean … you wouldn't hurt me?"
"You've been … different this past year. Smashing things. Flying into rages. Pulling dangerous stunts – even for you. I need to know you won't … if something goes wrong … if we fight or … something. You wouldn't hurt me?"
Anyone else would have missed it, given the ravaged state of House's face. They would have missed it under any circumstances, but Wilson caught it: The look of pain. Genuine pain, deeper and more profound than anything physical, clouded the one clear blue eye. For once, House had no quick retort. No answer at all. He stared down at the stark white counter-top beneath the security glass, unwilling – or afraid – to meet Wilson's eyes.
It was Wilson who broke the silence, finally. Gently: "You wouldn't, would you?"
"I'd die first."
Wilson believes him.