Toast (And the Borders of Old Cities Get Redrawn, Part Two)

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"Need you to come over, Wilson."

"Um ... you okay?"

"I'm on the living room floor, bleeding out. No, you idiot, I'm fine, for the value of 'fine' that includes electronic monitoring. You haven't eaten, have you?"

"I'm ... no. I'm heating up -"

"Let it get cold. I'm cooking."

"How did you get -"

"You're the genius who said I should have groceries delivered. Seriously, Wilson, your IQ drops right along with your blood glucose. Thankfully, any moron can drive. It'll be ready in half an hour."

He hangs up, not waiting for an answer because he already knows what Wilson will do.

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Wilson looks like a beaten dog. Drooping head, hunched back, dull eyes. It's fun to watch the scent of food, real food instead of whatever loser thing he was 'heating up,' bring a spark of life back to him. If the dog has a collar, the kitchen-smell has just grabbed the leash and dragged him in.

"You really did ..." he leans down and peers through the door of the oven. "Are those ... crab cakes? What's ... there's something you want, or something you did. Out with it."

"I killed your patient, you idiot. How are you even here?"

"An entire landslide of problems killed my patient. You ... protected yours. For your own ridiculous and selfish reasons, yes, but the result was the same. Look, yes, you ... you did a rotten thing, House. You never should have; you had no right, and yes, I should be furious with you."

"And yet you're standing in my kitchen, waiting to get crabs from me. Had your own thyroid checked lately?"

"No need. I was trying to do a rotten thing, too."

"At least you weren't trying to donate the organ yourself this time." House pulls the tray from the oven and begins loading two plates. Hefty crab cakes, broiled asparagus with a buttery dill sauce, and tender baby potatoes. "Or did you already give one kidney away in the year I wasn't around to stop you?"

"No. No kidney. Just some bone marrow. Is there wine?"

"There's Chateau Corona in the fridge. And you did not."

"You're still going to find my files tomorrow and check."

"Not if you 'fess up now." House gimps carefully into the living room while Wilson's got his head in the fridge, finding the beers. "You didn't do it," he calls back. "Once was enough. That jackass who's walking around with your liver doesn't send you anniversary cards anymore, does he?"

Wilson shuts the fridge and soon follows, plate in one hand and beers in the other. "House?"

"Yes, dear?"

"I'm too tired for this."

"Meaning no, you never heard from him again. Of course you're tired; you're starving. Because when you're losing someone you think you should've miraculously saved, you 'forget' to eat. You punish yourself."

"Exhibit A: I'm friends with you."

"I never claimed it was healthy, just that you like me and it's fun. That applies to a lot of things; speaking of which, beer." House wriggles his fingers and Wilson, obligingly as usual, gives those fingers a beer bottle to latch onto.

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He'd been prepared notto sleep here tonight, to be back in his own bed after a week or so of staying with House.

It had begun that strange first night, a punch and a steak dinner and waking up the next morning still caught in the loop of House's arm, with his nightshirt damp and warm between the shoulder blades, because House had moved downward and tucked his head so that he was breathing against Wilson's back.

The next night, he and House had shoved the side of House's bed against the wall, where it needed to be so that House could maybe sleep. They'd ordered pizza because they were both too weary to cook and House still didn't have groceries, and at some point House had looked at him and said, "Wilson," and Wilson had nodded and that was that.

He'd slept in House's bed, with House between himself and the wall, and that - without any further questions or negotiations - is how Wilson's been sleeping since then. Go home, care for poor, lonely Sarah for a while, go to House's. But it can't last, of course. He hadn't planned to even be here tonight.

And he's glad he's here, because he really was starving and damn, House can cook.

"You did not," House repeats, between bites, "donate bone marrow."

"Wasn't a good enough match. I'm in the registry, though."

"Who was it?"

"You'd never met her. She was six."

"Was. As in, isn't now."

"Her name was Leah."

"Someday, you'll accept that you can't save everyone. But ... for a six-year-old kid?" He leans back, sighing and rubbing his face. "I actually do get why you'd try."

"Whereas if I'd said it was Tucker, you'd have hit me with your cane."

"I always want to hit you with my cane. Someday you'll catch on." He leers and waggles an asparagus spear in Wilson's general direction. "It wasn't him, was it?"

"No. You were right; he hasn't been in touch. Not that I've missed him. Don't you dare tell me I should've let him die."

"Fine. I won't tell you. I will tell you, although this isn't saying much, that you're better than him."

"Why do compliments from you always feel like some kind of setup?"

"Because you know me? But I mean it. He's a jackass who didn't deserve what you did."

"While you, on the other hand, totally would have."

"Never said that, and that's the difference between us. He's an ass who doesn't know he doesn't deserve you."

This again, Wilson thinks. His head throbs. "House, if you were a woman, you'd be asking if those jeans make you look fat."

"Do they?" House gets to his feet and does a clumsy pirouette. "There wasn't a three-way mirror in the dressing room, and I've never been sure about the butt."

"I'm serious. There's no right answer for that shit and you know it."

"There's not supposed to be an answer. It wasn't a question; it's just the truth." House empties his beer and lets out an impressive belch. "Dessert?"

"Yes, yes, you're a worthless pain in the ass, and I'm only here because you're also a master chef. I didn't smell dessert?"

"I got lazy and bought ice cream." House is already halfway to the kitchen.

"Lazy works for me. Especially if accompanied by another beer and one of your pills for the headache you're giving me."

"Booze and opioids, Jimmy? I take it you're not planning to drive home." Wilson can hear him slinging bowls and spoons around, House just getting on with dishing out dessert, like this was normal. "But you're on the sofa from now on."

"Uh. Okay."

House comes back, limping heavily with a second dish of ice cream in his cane hand. "Oh, don't look hurt, you moron. I'm a big boy now. Can't sleep with a teddy bear forever."

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He's back in prison.

It must have been drugs, lots of drugs, because whatever he did, he doesn't remember it happening. Doesn't remember any of it. He was out there, and now he's back here, and something is definitely wrong with him, missing at least twenty-four hours. He runs his hands over his head, feels no injuries, and finds no blood on his fingers.

There's mildew on the mattress. Both mattresses. Psycho cellmate is nowhere to be seen.

Nobody is anywhere to be seen. He's alone, really alone. The other prisoners are gone; the guards are gone; the bars of the cell are rusting and the paint flaking off. The door is shut and won't move. No food, no water, no way out. He yells, first just the usual stuff to get someone's attention, and then strings of profanities and insults that should get him thrown into solitary if there were anyone to do the throwing.

He screams until his throat constricts, his chest burns; he tears his collar open but it doesn't help, of course it doesn't, it's fucking anaphylaxis, you -

House sits up, breathing like he's just run a mile. His bed. His place, his sheets, his own pajamas.

His best friend in the living room, sleeping with the television on. The blue flickers and nearly-muted voices are bouncing off the walls outside the bedroom door.

Almost an hour later, House's mind and the living room TV are both still going, and 'from now on' comes to an end. He limps out there, finds Wilson not even attempting to fake sleep, and simply stands over the sofa until Wilson sighs, gets up, and follows him.

Neither of them says a word, and they sleep through what's left of the night.

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The embrace is careful and slow, almost tender. Without opening his eyes, Wilson can easily work out, based upon the position of the arm that has girded his ribs, that House must be lying on his stomach. And that House is awake, well aware of what he's doing, and trying not to wake him.

It might even have worked, if Wilson hadn't already been adrift near the surface of some harmless and fast-fading dream.

You are busted, Wilson thinks, but he wills himself adrift again and feels House relax and gradually settle in, close against his side. Being Hobbes to House's Calvin is really not so bad, but it can't go on like this, with Wilson leaving his own house untended, night after night, and his own very real cat by herself all the time. Poor, sweet Sarah.

Wilson opens his eyes to look at the clock. Another three hours until Sarah needs her insulin. The room is that early-dawn blue color, all over, and the blinds are fuzzy-edged with a thick coat of dust. Just as Wilson's reminding himself that cleaning House's place is not his job, House tenses up and starts to roll away.

"No," Wilson says. The word comes out of him without warning, and his left hand moves. He's caught House's wrist before either of them knows what he's doing.

"You want me off, you have to let go."

He doesn't want to let go, or talk about it. "Idiot," he grumbles, pulling House's arm back into the spot where it was. "Go to sleep."

Slowly, very slowly, House does.

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"You were sober, and you were awake," House begins, because it's best to demand explanations of Wilson first, put him off balance before he has a chance to focus his laser beam on House instead. Right now, to House's relief, the laser beam is focused resolutely on the coffeemaker.

"So were you. Didn't want to discuss it then, don't want to discuss it now." Wilson is practicing evasion-via-breakfast, which is one of House's best-loved of Wilsonian avoidance strategies. It smells amazing in here. French toast, cinnamon and tart sauteed apples, and House is not going to mention that he bought a lot of stuff he knew Wilson might use. "I can't keep staying here all the time."

And there it is, the sentence House was waiting for. Cut and run, the otherclassic Wilson maneuver. House snatches up a mug of coffee, abruptly not hungry, because he's pathetic. A year of wanting his freedom and now that he sort of has it -

Wilson is staring at him. "I need to talk to your parole officer," he says.

"What?" This is not what he was ... "Why?"

"I'm hoping there's some way to get you okayed to ... to be at a third location." He steps away to turn the strips of bacon so the other side will fry. His motions are stiff. "Namely, my location. And before you freak out or anything, I don't mean move back in."

"Good. Because I won't." He does remember how that ended the last time.

"I know. And I understand why not, and I ... look, should I just drop the idea? Do you even want me to try?"

"It's more freedom of movement. Why would I be opposed?" The truth is he almost said no, like a reflex, a means of not having to make the decision Wilson's been making every night. But he might as well just stamp 'COWARD' across his forehead in giant red print.

"Bacon's gonna burn," House lies, smiling at the way Wilson jumps at the false alarm. What he's been doing - wheedling Wilson into staying here, and the way Wilson's been staying, and everything - none of this is even remotely normal. It's weird even by their standards. It probably means something, unless it doesn't; something's changed, or it hasn't; they were always this alone, weren't they?

House doesn't know, and may not even want to know. But he is definitely, absolutely hungry.

He moves in, stands closer while Wilson turns around to say that the bacon is fine. "It's fine."

"I know," House answers. "Hand me a plate."