Wilson stumbled out of the shower and toweled his hair, staring blearily at himself in the mirror. He had moved into House's apartment in the interim as he tied up the loose ends of his move back to Princeton.
Brown, his former deputy Head, gladly relinquished his position. "The paperwork," he had said, "and the schmoozing. And the donors and the complaints and the politics… No thanks." Everyone else welcomed him back with open arms. There was even a modest Welcome Back party for him.
As much as Wilson expected to dislike it all, it was easier now, an entire year after Amber's passing. People moved on. And Wilson had too. He no longer felt like he needed the entire world to stop moving on while he grieved and tried to heal the wound that was raw and painful.
As Wilson blow-dried his hair, he thought about his first few days back at work. He had heard rumors about what had gone on in the time he was gone. Rumors of House going off the rails, House going mad for real, House trying to kill himself.
He ignored them all. He also ignored the small number of people who didn't welcome him back gladly – Chase, for one. And to his surprise, a smattering of people – Nurse Yvonne, the night janitor and a few others – who had a soft spot, or even cared about, House. The rest of House's team was ambivalent and wary. It was glaring that there was no longer bumbling, cheerful but sharp and intelligent Kutner with them.
Wilson unplugged his blow-dryer and stashed it in the corner of the cabinet. He left the bathroom and entered the kitchen, valiantly trying to ignore the row of pill bottles neatly lined up on a shelf as he walked past.
It was much easier to go back to what things were before, than to have to deal with whatever had happened in a year.
On another note, however, what they currently had right now was in no way like before.
House grunted a good morning as he left the kitchen with a mug of coffee in his hands, blearily heading straight to the bathroom for his turn. Wilson braced himself for a remark about his hair or the use of a blow dryer obscenely early in the day, but there was nothing.
Wilson shrugged on his somber black coat and adjusted his tie. "I'm attending a funeral today." A twinge of reget accompanied that remark. Maria Romero had come into his care two months after he and Amber had started dating. He had promised to do his very best for her – especially since she and her husband, Emmanuel, had given up everything back in Mexico in order to seek treatment for her Stage III breast cancer – but his hasty departure from Princeton had him leaving them in the lurch. He felt guilty, and was thus going for the funeral. "It's at 11am, and my office door will be locked, so there's no use trying to bang it down at lunchtime?"
"I'll see you at the end of the day."
House shuffled awkwardly on the spot. "Can't." He cast a quick glance at Wilson before looking away. "It's Wednesday. Leaving early today."
Wilson tried to find an appropriate response, but couldn't. He'd honestly forgotten about House's appointments with the therapist on Wednesdays. "Okay."
"See you later then."
Things were not awkward at all.
"I made burgers for dinner." House was sprawled on the couch, eyes on his television. "Yours is in the microwave."
Wilson just barely managed to stop himself from raising his eyebrows. He hesitated for the briefest moment before grabbing his plate and a beer before settling down on the couch. There was two feet of space between him and House. They sat there quietly, House nursing his can of Coke and Wilson juggling the beer and the burger.
"Bonnie called," Wilson mentioned casually during a commercial break. "She found an apartment for me, and I went to take a look just now. It's great. I'll be able to move in by the end of the week."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"Okay," House finally said. Then abruptly, he asked, "How was the funeral?"
"It was a small one." Emmanuel had spent almost everything on Maria's treatment. There had only been a few people. "But it was beautiful."
He neglected to mention the fact that he had not attended it per se. He had stood some distance away. Martin, the oncologist who had taken over from Wilson, had told him that Emmanuel wasn't happy, to say the least, that the Dr Wilson whom he had entrusted Maria's life to, and who had promised to do his very best, had left on such short notice, handing the case off to a more junior doctor.
"The Mexican equivalent, I think."
Silence lapsed again. Wilson felt himself begin to drift in a pleasant food-induced haze. He never knew House was such a competent cook.
He must have dozed off, for he was startled awake by the sound of House washing up in the kitchen. Wilson's plate and empty bottle of beer were gone from the coffee table. House must've cleared them. Wilson tempered the feeling of unease.
Wilson dragged himself up from the couch, only to nearly walk smack into House, who hovered awkwardly in the space between the kitchen and the living room. Wilson was instantly more awake.
House looked like he had a question, or something to say.
Wilson took a step back immediately. "You scared me, sneaking up on me like that." It wasn't the first time this had happened. Several times over the past week, House had appeared to be on the verge of asking Wilson a question, only to hastily retreat after seemingly losing the courage to do so, despite the fact that he seemed to be almost bursting to ask the question.
The old House would have asked it point-blank, no matter how intrusive or how offensive.
House peered down at the floor intently. He mumbled something that Wilson couldn't quite catch. "What?"
House seemed to deflate just a little, resolve Wilson hadn't even noticed at first seeping away. Before he could probe further though, House's doorbell rang. Relief dashed across House's face as he limped over to the door.
"Noooooo," Wilson heard House whine emphatically. "I was expecting Candy."
"Very funny," Cuddy shot back immediately, obviously amused. "Like you'll have hookers over while Wilson is staying with you."
"Threesome, foursome, orgy. It's all very easy to arrange." House paused, then added, "What do you want?"
"My neighbor's daughter is having a house party. It's her graduation, so I decided to let it go. Rachel can't sleep with that much noise around so…" House must have made some sort of face, for Cuddy added defensively, "We'll be gone by midnight!"
"Don't you have any other friends?"
Wilson noted painfully that in the two weeks that he'd been staying with House, he had yet to have such a casual, comfortable conversation with House.
"Friends who don't have families of their own, or stay up past eleven? Not in a five mile radius. Come on. You're going to say yes – you haven't seen Rachel for weeks – so let's skip past the bit where I have to grovel or give you time off clinic duty."
Wilson cleared his throat as he stepped out from his corner from where he wasn't visible to Cuddy. "Hi Cuddy." Noticing Rachel, who was cuddling a stuffed giraffe in her arms, he cooed, "Hi Rach."
Rachel smiled shyly and leaned further into Cuddy. Cuddy grinned and stepped into the apartment as House rolled his eyes and shut the door behind her with his crutch. "Well, I did bring some dessert over." She shrugged off the diaper bag as Wilson took it from her. "Right on top in there."
House peered over Cuddy's shoulder as Wilson retrieved the box. "Banana cream pie from Tom's?" He ignored Rachel's little hand smacking his chin. "Maybe I'm okay with you invading my apartment after all."
When Wilson emerged from the kitchen with plates and cutlery, he was surprised to see Rachel crawling from where she was propped against the arm of the couch to where House was seated, leaning against House's side. She leaned in towards House and clutched her giraffe to her chest.
House seemed remarkably at ease with her.
Wilson cleared his throat, though he had no idea why. "Where's Cuddy?"
Wilson handed a slice of pie to House – who remained extremely still with Rachel leaning against him – and settled in next to Rachel with his own serving of pie. "I've missed Tom's," he sighed, his mouth full of banana cream bliss. "His pies are unbeatable."
Cuddy plopped down in the armchair and snagged her own plate. "I wanted the cherry pie, but they were out of it."
House cut in. "Banana cream is so much better anyway."
Cuddy made a face. "Do you know how much fat there is in the cream?"
"Huh." House steadily ignored a wandering hand of Rachel's that smacked his shoulder as she tried to tug herself to a standing position. He didn't make any move to embrace her or hold her, but he put up with her grabby hands. "Yeah, I guess your ass doesn't need anymore plumping up."
Wilson hid his smile as Cuddy gave House a warning nudge with the tip of her flats and stabbed her fork in the air. "I am this close to making you do clinic duty."
"I don't do clinic duty anymore." The way House said it was matter-of-fact. "So there."
There was an awkward silence, during which Wilson avoided looking at both Cuddy and House. Instead, he mashed a little banana on his plate, scooped up some cream, and gave some to Rachel. The smack of her lips was adorable, if Wilson said so himself.
As they sat and chatted in low tones, Wilson noticed that Cuddy kept shooting him and House weird looks. He tried to keep from squirming in his seat unsuccessfully.
At some point during the evening, Rachel drifted off to sleep, head in Wilson's lap and one leg propped up on House's left knee. Her face was buried in the giraffe's neck. Wilson ran his fingers through her soft hair and smiled.
"Do you ever wash that toy?" House asked as he got up from his seat, gently setting down Rachel's foot. "Because there is an epic amount of drool and snot on it."
Cuddy sniffed and reached down to gather Rachel into her arms. "Yes, I do." She settled down in the space House had vacated. "Every single week."
House rolled his eyes. "See yourself out later."
"Good night to you too."
Wilson checked his watch surreptitiously. It was just past nine.
Stop caring so much, he thought to himself. It's none of your business. He's fine.
Wilson snapped out of his reverie. "What?"
Cuddy stabbed a slice of banana, scraping off the cream. "How's everything?"
Wilson bristled at the too-nonchalant tone. "Fine."
"Cuddy – "
"Look, Wilson, I'm just saying. You were away for a long period of time. Then you suddenly appear and you want everything to go back to normal? The likelihood of that happening is zero."
A tiny part of Wilson agreed with Cuddy. The stilted conversations, the way House kept deferring to him, how House had actually helped him do the dishes, how House no longer snatched food of Wilson's plate, sometimes going as far as to pay for Wilson's food… Things were different.
Yet, for the most part, Wilson just wanted everything to go back to what it had been before. That was what he wanted.
"Everything's fine." He tried to not sound defensive. "Really. We're getting along just fine." He hastily tried to change the subject. "When did he and Rachel start getting so close anyway?"
"That," Cuddy commented bluntly, her raised eyebrow letting Wilson know she was onto him – still, she granted him the subject change, "sounds like you're jealous."
"She saw you occasionally, Wilson. You were away. She met House much more frequently."
It was Wilson's turn to raise his eyebrows. "There's a thing going on between you and House?"
Cuddy didn't seem fazed by the accusation. "Nope. Having Rachel over and interacting with Rachel was just good for him."
The way Cuddy put it was just odd. But Wilson didn't probe. He had a feeling he didn't want to know how exactly Rachel had been "good" for House.
"He's always had a way with kids," he acquiesced. "Though he refuses to admit it."
Wilson got the feeling that he'd missed out on a lot over the past year. Many things had changed in the hospital, in House, in Cuddy's life, and basically… everywhere. His favourite deli wasn't even in business anymore. The owner had packed up and moved away to Malibu, where his son, an entertainment lawyer, was based.
He felt out of time.
"A lot of things have changed," he hedged hesitantly. "It's a little unsettling."
Cuddy snorted, though not ungracefully. "You've noticed."
"You and House…" Something in their dynamic had changed, though Wilson couldn't tell what. "Is there really nothing going on?"
"I don't think of him that way."
Wilson raised his eyebrows. "Why not?"
"You know how that would go: first it'll be exciting, and passionate, and novel. Then after a while, we'll start to clash in our opinions, at home and at work. We're both not that great at drawing the line work and life. Then there will be the inevitable blow up – something catastrophic, maybe him driving his car into my house, knowing him – and then there will be recriminations, and things will be more than awkward."
Wilson took a moment to process this. "Well, you've obviously not thought about this before."
Cuddy had the decency to blush slightly, ducking her head. "It won't work out," she murmured, stroking Rachel's hair. "He's changed, but it still won't work out."
"People don't change."
"You've changed," Cuddy said softly.
The way she said it… it sounded like it was a bad thing. "Is that a bad thing?"
"Yes. And no."
"House has changed too."
"And I don't know whether that's a good or bad thing." Cuddy frowned. "A lot happened over the past year. And I think you and House should talk about what happened."
"I don't think that's necessary," Wilson replied hastily. He scooped up the plates and cutlery as he got up from his seat on the couch, heading to the kitchen. "Give me a moment, let me wash up."
Cuddy came to stand at the doorway, her arms folded as she leant against the wall. "You can't avoid this. You can't just suppress it and expect it all to go away."
Wilson set the dishes down on the counter and pressing both hands to the countertop, leaned heavily on it. "Why dig up the past when it's just going to make us unhappy?"
"Because what happened wasn't just some minor tiff!" Cuddy was exasperated, to say the least. "Wilson, you cut off all ties with him after Amber died! He had a major depressive episode where he tried to kill himself!"
Wilson winced at the mention of Amber. And at what had come after. "But everything is fine now."
Wilson closed his eyes briefly. "Everything is going to work out in the end."
"That's very optimistic of you."
"I spent a long time trying to get over this, Cuddy. All I want to do is forget about it. It's not something I want to dwell over."
"You can't find healing if you refuse to acknowledge the problem, Wilson. It doesn't work that way. He's changed. He's in therapy."
"I don't – " Wilson was cut off by his phone ringing. "Hang on, it's the hospital…"
"Wilson, as a friend – "
Wilson held up his hand as he answered the phone, gesturing for Cuddy to hush. "I have to get back to the hospital," he finally said after the call ended. Seeing the look of protest on Cuddy's face, he added, "Everything is fine between me and House. Really." He shrugged on a sweatshirt and slipped his feet into a pair of trainers. "I really have to go."
Cuddy sighed. "I'll let myself out."
Wilson's eyebrows rose. "You have a key?"
"And there is nothing going on between the two of you."
"I think I said for emergencies."
Wilson opened the door and looked over his shoulder. "Goodnight, Cuddy."
There was a beat, then an audible sigh. "Drive carefully."
Wilson smiled back at Cuddy, let his gaze rake over Rachel's sleeping form, then left. As he walked to his car, there was a strange feeling in his stomach. Then he realised - it was relief.
A/N: Yes, I am alive. The muse is just a little MIA nowadays. I miss the show terribly. Then there is also the obscene lack of time. But my stories will be completed, I promise. I only ask that you be patient. Reviews are also a lovely way to inspire and motivate, if that's worth anything.