Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free
Tis a gift to come down where you want to be
And when you find yourself in the place just right
You'll be in the valley of love and delight
-old Shaker hymn
"Soooo . . . what are you doing for Thanksgiving?"
House stared at Wilson in disbelief. He refused to admit he was both amused and annoyed by the elaborate casualness with which the question was asked. "Spending it at the Omni Olde City, of course." He laid on the sarcasm extra-thick. Wilson gave him a knock-it-off look.
"Yes, really," House said. "They have a special five-star holiday package for people with ankle monitors. Some of their best customers wear 'em."
"I have no doubt that's true," Wilson said dryly, which indicated he believed quite the opposite. "I don't think you're among their number this year, however."
"What do you care?" House said. "You've probably got a sit-down for thousands planned at your place."
Wilson put on that pained expression that meant he dealt with one of House's more ridiculous statements. "I don't go home anymore and there's no one since-since Sam left. I thought-" He paused. "I'd like to come over to your place and make dinner for the two of us." He said it quickly, as if he expected immediate rejection. House sat back and twirled his pen as he watched the other man. Wilson squirmed under his gaze but didn't look away.
"So . . . you're saying you want to roast a turkey for me?" House raised his brows. "You're such a good little housewife."
"Listen, if you don't-" Wilson began, clearly annoyed.
"Wanna use my kitchen or yours?" House twiddled the pen between his fingers. "Gosh, that sounds so . . . so dirty somehow."
"I was hoping you'd let me use yours," Wilson said. He sounded terse now. "There's no point in making everything at the loft and bringing it over when you've got a perfectly good oven and—" He sighed. "You know what, just forget it. It was a stupid idea."
"Not so fast," House said. "I haven't said no. You're presuming I will." His amusement faded as the strap on his ankle dug in when he moved his foot. "You should stay over, that way you don't have to get up at two a.m. You can sleep in till three."
"There's an inducement," Wilson muttered. He gave House a wary glance. "So you . . . you want me to-?"
"Why not?" House tossed the pen aside and got to his feet and hid a wince as his leg gave a warning twinge. "Sounds like boatloads of fun."
"Well—okay," Wilson said. He sounded wary. "I'll—I'll drop you off and come back."
"Don't care about the details," House said. "But we should stop on the way and pick up something. You won't want to cook tonight since you'll be busy all day tomorrow."
Wilson gave a hesitant nod. "Okay." He left the office. House watched him go. He envied the other man's ability to walk wherever he liked, without the prospect of Foreman and a pair of cops ready to haul his ass off to the hoosegow if he so much as put one foot outside his invisible prison walls.
The day wound slowly on and ended at last. House limped to the elevator to find Wilson there as well. They got into the car together, to share it with a nurse and one of the security guards, who eyed the lump on House's ankle with a slight smirk. House resisted the urge to clock the creep in the head with his cane and caught Wilson's warning glance. The plea in those brown eyes annoyed him so he looked away as he struggled to keep his temper.
The drive was accomplished in sullen silence, broken only when Wilson asked "You want the usual? Pizza and beer?"
"Nope. Cheesesteaks, onion rings and beer," House said.
Wilson got the order at the same place where he usually bought their pizza. House watched him through the plate glass window. He flirted with the young clerk, made her laugh and flutter her mascara-encrusted lashes. When he returned to the car there was an extra bag. House pried it open as they exited the parking lot. "Antipasto? You shmoozed that bimbette for this?" He shook his head in disbelief. "Garlic knots maybe, but veggies?"
"Some of us do like to eat the occasional healthy food," Wilson said dryly. "I got it for me, not you."
House gave him a suspicious look. "You aren't going to make salad or broccoli or something else that's green tomorrow, are you?"
Wilson sighed but didn't reply.
He dropped House off and returned an hour later laden with bags and cookware. House watched him from the comfort of the couch, and noted with amusement the number of trips it took to go from car to cooking area.
"You could help out, you know," Wilson huffed after the fourth journey. He vanished into the kitchen.
"Cripple here," House said loudly. "Besides, I go past the door, my GPS rats me out and I'll spend Thanksgiving eating turkey roll and canned gravy in prison. That's if I'm lucky. They'll probably throw me right into solitary again."
Wilson appeared in the doorway. "Oh, bullshit. If you want to be lazy, then just say so." He turned away.
"But that takes all the fun out of it," House said. He frowned at Wilson's retreating figure and noted the slightly slumped shoulders. After a moment he got up and limped to the kitchen. His eyes widened.
"Planning to feed an army?" he said after a moment. Wilson glanced over at him. To House's delight he began to blush.
"Not—not all of this is for tomorrow," Wilson said. He sounded defensive and even better, guilty. "I thought—you—you usually don't have much—"
"You're stocking my cupboards," House said. "Why, that's so thoughtful of you, James." He moved further into the kitchen and picked up a can. "Sliced peaches in one hundred per cent juice," he read from the label. "Very healthy. How long do you think it'll be before the can rusts and the contents spill out over my dead and decaying body?"
Wilson glared at him. "It wouldn't hurt you to have some extra things around in case of emergency," he said. His blush deepened. "Mock me all you like. The next time we have a blizzard and I can't get here to help you, you'll be glad to have something on hand."
House put the can on the counter in dismissal. "How big's the bird?" He nodded his head at the turkey in the sink.
"Twelve pounds," Wilson said. His expression dared House to comment. Without another word House went back into the living room, plunked onto the sofa and turned up the volume on the tv, and waited. Thirty seconds later Wilson came in. He looked worried. "What's the matter?" he demanded. "I got the smallest turkey they had."
House said nothing and kept his gaze on the screen, as he fought to maintain a stony silence. He honestly didn't care what size the damn thing was, but the temptation to mess with Wilson's head was too much to resist.
"Okay, fine. Don't tell me." Wilson trudged off to the car once more.
Half an hour later House heard the microwave ping. After a moment Wilson came in and took a seat next to him with a plateful of steaming cheesesteak and onion rings.
"Ick," House said, and changed the channel. "They're disgusting after they've been nuked. All soggy and soft."
"Beggars can't be choosers. At least it's not stone cold." Wilson said, and took a huge bite out of the cheesesteak. He munched with a blissful expression. "God, that tastes so good," he said. "I didn't get a chance for lunch."
"Don't want to hear about it," House said.
"One of my kids crashed. I spent half the day working to get him stabilized and then talking to the family, they were—"
"La la la la," House said loudly. Wilson rolled his eyes.
"Okay then. How was your day?"
"Care to elaborate?"
"No, I don't. When I come home I want to forget I'm more or less gainfully employed." House took a long swallow of beer and belched.
"Which is why your bookcases are crammed with journals and medical texts," Wilson said wryly.
"Occasional research," House said. "Emphasis on 'occasional'."
"I see," Wilson said. He ate an onion ring. "That leaves you plenty of time to do laundry, and yet there's at least three loads stacked in the bedroom. Your hamper hasn't seen daylight in weeks." He took a sip of beer. "I'm gonna hire that housekeeper that I told you about."
"You'll drive each other crazy. You probably buy a totally different brand of spot remover than she does. It'll be Clash of the Anal Retentives," House said.
"I meant she'd work for you."
"Uh uh," House said, disquieted by this revelation. "No way. First of all, I don't speak Spanish—"
"I call bullshit," Wilson said.
"—second of all, I can take care of myself. Just because my place isn't up to your impeccable standards, Martha Stewart—"
"This isn't about standards, this is about making things easier for you! Why not have someone come in and—and—" Wilson flapped his hand, to imperil the plate perched on his knee. "You know, clean and do the wash and maybe cook—"
"Forget it," House snapped, as his anxiety rose. He didn't want some stranger who would watch him all the time, judge him, weigh him in some arcane balance and finding him lacking. "Stop trying to fix things!"
"That's good coming from you," Wilson muttered, but he subsided into a resentful silence. House changed the channel and chose a telenovela, only to have Wilson perk up. "Hey, this is one of my favorites!" he said. House snorted in disgust and departed in search of another beer.
For the rest of the evening Wilson bounced back and forth between the living room and the kitchen. He'd started the washer too, House could hear its asthmatic chugging over the crowd noise of the wrestling match he watched.
"Light somewhere," he growled at last. "You're giving me agita."
"Sorry—sorry." Wilson perched on the couch. "I'm a little short on sleep. Combined with the anti-depressants it makes me kinda hyper."
"So go to bed."
"Hate to remind you, but you're sitting on it," Wilson said. He looked less than thrilled at the thought.
"You can share mine. No one's using it now," House heard himself say. He could hear the bitterness in his words and didn't really care. "Don't clutter up the bathroom with your stuff. Remember what happened the last time someone left a hairbrush at my place."
"Really? Well—okay, thanks." Wilson looked surprised. "Thanks, House."
"And now I'd like to watch this match in fucking peace and quiet, if you don't mind," House said. Wilson just smiled and took his duffel from the spot where he'd parked it beside the end table.
It was late when House shuffled into the bedroom to find Wilson already crashed out. The covers on House's side of the bed were smoothed free of wrinkles, one corner folded back to reveal clean sheets. House stood there for a few moments. Then he went into the bathroom to pee, wash up and brush his teeth.
It took some time to get comfortable, as usual; he had to ease his bad leg into the bed by degrees if he didn't want to be up half the night with cramps in his thigh and calf. With a soft groan he slowly relaxed and hoped sleep would arrive soon. He closed his eyes and listened to Wilson's quiet snores, surprised to find the sound didn't bother him. Usually the slightest noise . . . kept him . . .
He woke with a gasp as a spasm jolted him into consciousness. He gritted his teeth as he pushed the covers aside and slowly sat up, held his ruined thigh with both hands, and tried in the most useless fashion possible to contain the pain. When a hand touched his back he hunched his shoulders. "'mfine," he mumbled.
"Shut up," Wilson said softly. House heard the rustle of covers, and then Wilson came around in front of him with a glass of water and his meds. "Here, I'll be right back."
He returned with a heating pad, plugged it in and watched as House placed it on his thigh. The unit warmed quickly and began to loosen the muscle. Bit by bit the spasm eased, until at last House unclenched his teeth and closed his eyes, trembling. He was aware of Wilson's movements, but the relief from pain was so profound he didn't care what happened now.
"Can you lie down?" Wilson asked. House didn't bother to reply. He just did it, and took his time. His thigh twinged and fluttered as he stretched out, but the cramp didn't return. He let go his breath in a long sigh.
"How's the new med regimen?" Wilson asked quietly.
"Works most of the time," House said. He groped for the covers, shivered a little as the cooler room air brushed his skin. "Weather change always screws things up."
"Let me." Wilson brought the sheet and blanket over him. "Okay?"
House nodded. "It's chilly, get back in bed," he said, and winced at how intimate that sounded. Wilson caught it too. He offered House a tired grin.
"Okay honey," he said, and patted House's arm before he got to his feet with a slight groan. When he climbed in House said
"Keep those cold feet away from me."
"Yes dear," Wilson said. He turned out the light. The covers moved slightly as he pulled them up. Two minutes later his breathing had already started to deepen. House listened to Wilson fall asleep and took a curious sort of comfort in it. He rubbed his thigh and let the feeling wash over him as his pain leaked away, bit by bit.
When he woke, sunlight came in the window and the fragrance of fresh coffee filled the air. The tv played too; from the sound of it, Wilson watched the parades. House lay there for a while, astonished at how late it was. He'd slept several hours after the spasm without waking, something that hadn't happened in quite a while.
It took some doing to get up. That was nothing new, but with the damage from the spasm he had to be extra careful or risk the start of another cramp. By degrees he made it to the bathroom and got into the tub as he peeled off his sleep pants and tee shirt along the way, and covered the ankle monitor with a plastic bag. A shower would work better at this point than a long soak, so he let the spray pound his thigh until the water began to cool. That reminded him that he'd intended to look into an on-demand heater.
When he finally emerged from the bedroom it was to find Wilson ensconced on the couch in front of the tv in his pajamas. He sat cross-legged and absorbed in the display onscreen.
"How old are you again?" House asked, heavy on the sarcasm. Wilson didn't look at him.
"There's fresh coffee," he said in an absent manner.
"Got some cereal."
"What else?" House demanded.
"Sausage, eggs, whatever. You tell me, I'll make it." Wilson spared him an impatient glance. "In a minute, okay? I wanna watch this."
"Three year old," House said, and limped into the kitchen to get himself some coffee and look over his choices. An hour later he sat back, crammed full. "Give up your day job and come work for me. What's for lunch?"
Wilson laughed and shook his head. "That's all you get until dinner." He rose and checked on the turkey in the oven. "What kind of pie do you want? I can make pecan, pumpkin, french silk, apple . . ."
"All of 'em," House said, already anticipating the delights to come.
"Great. You're no help. Go watch some football."
It was pleasant to lie on the couch and flip through the channels while the clatter of pans and occasional whiffs of something delicious drifted into the living room. After a time Wilson came out and plopped into the easy chair. He looked tired but pleased.
"Everything's done for a while," he said, and glanced at the fireplace. "You ever use this?"
"Only when I'm seducing sweet young virgins," House said. "You don't qualify on any count."
"When was the last time you had the chimney cleaned?"
"There's no point in a fire," House said. "It's a nice day. Sun's shining, blue skies. Besides, this place came equipped with a thermostat. Turn it up if you're cold."
"I'm not—oh, never mind," Wilson sounded resigned. He got up and went into the kitchen.
House put the tv on a local channel and dozed on and off through a couple of lackluster college games. He didn't mind though; he was warm, full and didn't hurt enough to notice. At some point he heard Wilson slip past the couch but didn't pay much attention. He enjoyed this little bubble of peacefulness; he knew from experience it would burst sooner or later, but that didn't matter. Right now was all that counted.
When he got up some time later to use the bathroom, it was to find Wilson in the bed asleep. He lay curled up under the comforter, his breathing so deep and slow House had to come closer to make sure his chest really moved. A battered little travel alarm sat on the nightstand, plainly something Wilson had brought with him. House studied his friend. Even though Wilson's face was relaxed in sleep, there was a subtle sadness in his expression that had somehow become habitual. He looked lost, his thick dark hair ruffled as if he'd run his hand through it, something he only did when he felt anxious. After a moment House checked the alarm and reset it to add another hour, then left the room.
It was late afternoon when Wilson emerged on a yawn. He paused when he came into the living room and found a fire blazing in the fireplace. He didn't speak at first. "Nice," he said finally.
"Good thing I know how to check on a turkey," House said. "It could have burned to a crisp."
"That kind of thing tends to happen when people reset other people's alarm clocks," Wilson said, but he smiled. The sadness receded.
"I never," House said, and put on an affronted look.
"Oh, stuff it," Wilson said, and laughed at his inadvertent pun.
"Hardy har har," House said, his lips twitching. "When's dinner?"
"You haven't even digested your breakfast yet."
"What am I, a snake? Don't answer that," House said quickly. "Rest assured, I can eat anytime dinner's ready."
"You want to do things buffet style and sit out here?"
House cringed at the thought of dinner at his small table, forced to make small talk. Too many memories of past holidays, of his father's continual criticisms and contempt—
"Hey," Wilson said. "Relax, it's okay. Dinner on the couch then, no problem." He turned away. "I could use some help if you're up for it."
When House entered the kitchen it was to find Wilson's work tablet perched in a corner. Music emerged that sounded pretty good. "One of the streams from WXPN," Wilson said. "A patient recommended it and I got hooked."
"I didn't think you cared about music one way or the other," House said. "Though you do know your Broadway tunes."
Wilson smiled as he stirred the gravy. "When you've got a wife with connections to someone working at Playbill, you get cheaper tickets. I think we saw every major musical and play from start to finish of our marriage." He dumped the water out of a pot of boiled potatoes and set it back on the stove, added some hot milk and began to mash them. "I like music. I'm just not A Musician like you are." House could hear the capital letters in the words. "Can't even play a comb and tissue paper."
House got down dinner plates. They looked like they needed a good rinse. He hadn't used them since Cuddy had stopped by to check on him after the crane disaster and they'd—His mind slammed the door shut on that memory. "Learn something new every day," he said, amazed at how calm he sounded.
Half an hour later roast turkey, fresh cranberry relish, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and copious amounts of gravy awaited them. House began to fill his plate while Wilson put the last of the cooking utensils into the dishwasher.
"Who's playing?" Wilson washed his hands and wiped them on his apron before he took it off and hung it from a handy cupboard handle.
"Hawkeyes and Huskers," House said. "Should be a good game."
It was a magnificent feast. They watched Iowa and Nebraska savage each other with rough elegance while they ate and exchanged pithy comments or exclamations on the game. House had to admit, at least to himself, that it was enjoyable to have good company, a fire burning to send extra warmth into the room, and the prospect of dessert. He could almost forget the strap fastened to his ankle and the restrictions that loomed over him like bars on a cell door. Almost.
Wilson had made two pies: pecan and pumpkin. House had a slice of both, warmed in the microwave, with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream between them.
"I don't know where you put it all," Wilson said a bit wistfully. "Must be nice to have a fast metabolism." He set aside his plate. "I'll be eating salad for the next two weeks."
House patted his full belly. "Courtesy of my real dad, who's skinny as a rail."
"You—you met him?" Wilson turned toward House a bit. "When was this?"
"I didn't meet him."
"You stalked him then." Wilson's eyes widened at House's silence. "Oh my god. Don't tell me you went to one of his church services."
"Okay, I won't tell you."
"And the roof didn't fall in?" Wilson held up a hand when House opened his mouth to utter a scathing retort. "Just kidding, just kidding."
"I sat in the back," House said. "Left before the service was over."
"How was it?" Wilson's voice was gentle.
He shrugged. "A fairy tale's a fairy tale, doesn't matter how it's told."
"No, I mean do you look like him? Sound like him? Is he as obsessed as you are?"
"Who the hell cares?" House picked a piece of pie crust off his plate and ate it.
"Come on, you're telling me you didn't notice anything like that?" Wilson made a derisive noise. "Yeah, right."
"Watch the game," House growled. They did so in silence. After a few moments he said "He's obsessed all right. The problem is it's with superstition, not what's real."
"Define real," Wilson said, and chuckled when House rolled his eyes.
"You're just mean, quoting my own words back at me that way."
"Did it ever occur to you that maybe your father takes refuge in his beliefs the same way you do in yours?" Wilson stole a spoonful of ice cream from House's plate.
"He can't be too much of a believer, considering I'm here," House said.
"So he's not perfect. You haven't talked to your mother about what happened, have you?" House shook his head. "Then you don't know the circumstances. Everyone has their moments of weakness. Even the strongest convictions might not be enough to get someone past temptation."
"You ought to know," House said. "I think you started that whole 'moment of weakness' thing. You've got the ex-wives to prove it."
"And you're immune to imperfection, I take it," Wilson said. He sounded annoyed. "Which means that thing attached to your ankle is just some weird joke you're playing on everyone."
"Want me to prove it isn't?" House struggled to get to his feet. Wilson tugged him back down.
"Knock it off."
They sat there in silence for a few moments, as the crowd noise and announcers comments washed over them. Then Wilson said quietly, "I don't think you're a mistake."
House hesitated, taken aback by the warmth that simple statement created inside him. "That's awfully big of you," he said finally.
"My mother was three months pregnant with me when she and Dad got married," Wilson said. His dark eyes gleamed with reluctant humor. "They had a lot of explaining to do when a perfectly healthy baby boy popped out way too early. I still get suspicious looks from some of my older relatives."
House snorted in amusement. He picked up the remote and handed it to Wilson. "Find something good. I'll put the food away."
"Wow, I should tell you the 'I'm a bastard too' story more often."
When House returned to the living room Wilson was watching a movie. A box of Russell Stover chocolate truffles sat on the coffee table, already open, along with a bottle of bourbon and two shot glasses. House picked a white chocolate truffle and popped it into his mouth. "What're we watching?" he said.
"Love, Actually," Wilson said. "Great movie."
"Chick flick. Turn it back to the game."
"No way," Wilson said. "We can watch football all weekend. This is only on tonight."
House felt another little glow of pleased surprise at the assumption they'd spend the weekend together. "Sappy movie and chocolates. You should have your man card revoked."
"Let me see yours first," Wilson said, and laughed when House started to unzip his jeans. "Okay, never mind."
The movie was better than House had anticipated. He'd always had sort of a thing for Emma Thompson anyway, and the interwoven storylines were well written and acted. Wilson's acerbic comments, the taste of Booker's and good chocolate, the simple pleasure of being in his own place—a limited freedom, yes, but still far better than the nightmare of the last year—brought a measure of ease he welcomed, and hoped would last past Wilson's visit.
They stayed up to watch two episodes of South Park and the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (the best part of the movie, they both agreed). When it was over Wilson stood and stretched.
"I'm done," he said, and hesitated. "I just wanted to tell you . . . thanks for—for letting me stay."
"I get all the leftovers," House said. "That alone makes it worth putting up with you."
Wilson grinned, and then yawned. "'night, House." He headed to the bedroom. House watched the credits roll, then clicked off the tv and sat there for a moment. This had been a good day, the first in quite some time, and the next three promised to be just as pleasant. Maybe he could somehow slip in a suggestion that Wilson spend his weekends here . . . He smiled a little at the thought and made a mental note to have Wilson pick up more firewood at the store on Saturday. He stood, turned out the lights, banked the fire and walked through the soft shadows to his bed, content.