He can tell from the sharp intake of breath that House is surprised to see him. It's the hardest thing ever, trying to pretend that nothing is wrong, but he forces himself to inch past House carefully and slip into the seat.
House stares for a while before turning away. "Nolan is an interfering fool."
Wilson feels like a fish, the way his mouth opens and closes several times. "He told me he had a ticket." he's rehearsed this many times, but it still comes out frightfully unconvincing. "He couldn't make it."
"I didn't buy one for him."
"He bought one for himself."
House maneuvers his right leg back into an outstretched position and sinks back into the seat, closing his eyes. "Right."
Wilson opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.
He busies himself settling into the seat, fluffing up the pillow and placing his journals and magazines in the pocket of the seat in front of him. House's eyes remain closed. He is unmoving, his hand over his thigh.
There is ample space on the armrest between them since they're seated in business class. House's long limbs seem to encroach on his space, but Wilson knows it's really just an illusion borne by years of non-interaction.
Very slowly, Wilson brings his elbow up to rest on the armrest. It comes to rest against House's, the fabric of their shirt-sleeves just barely brushing against each other.
An hour into the flight, and Wilson is feeling antsy. He's pretty sure one hour is incomparable to the past four years, but he still feels as if he's bursting at the seams. Like he's going to explode. Combust spontaneously. Bring the plane down in a fireball of orange and red flames.
House is supposed to be asking him in the most offensive way possible how many panties he has conquered over the past year. He's supposed to be exasperated and rolling his eyes and trying to pretend that it is not right for House to want to know such intimate details.
God, it feels like he's suffocating. Maybe something is wrong with the air system in the plane. He wishes the oxygen masks would spring from the -
"For Christ's sake, Wilson." House eyes him irritably. "Stop it."
Wilson can feel a blush creeping onto his cheeks. He hadn't realized he was fidgeting. And, House should be the one who is nervous. Wilson didn't do anything wrong. He wasn't the one who nearly knocked over his best friend while driving into a house, and then ran away and became a fugitive.
Wilson suddenly has the irrational urge to burst into hysterical laughter. Fugitive. How many people could claim that they had a world-famous diagnostician best friend whose name was whispered in medical circles with near-reverence nearly run them over?
He see-saws back and forth between wanting to laugh out loud at the incredulity of this whole situation, and wanting to jump out of the plane to go back to the relative safety of his office, for three quarters of an hour until it's time for lunch.
Plane food. Wonderful way to top it all off.
"Screw this," he murmurs to himself.
He glances at House, who, too, is looking at his food with disdain, prodding at what seems to be fish smothered in a lumpy off-white sauce and the limpest vegetables Wilson had ever seen.
"Well," Wilson bumps his elbow against House's, and gestures at his own lunch tray of pesto chicken and rice. "This looks appetizing."
The pesto sauce has congealed and the oil is collecting at the bottom of the container. Wilson gets the sudden urge to laugh out again.
Maybe he's finally losing it after so many years of maybe he's just rediscovering some part of him that disappeared together with House.
"Yeah," House agrees. "It does." A ghost of a smile quirks at House's lips even as he stares down at his lunch tray, and Wilson only just realizes how much he's missed seeing it. "Even your attempt at beef wellington turned out better than this."
Wilson grins widely. "It wasn't that bad," he protests half-heartedly. "It was… creative."
"Your puff pastry didn't puff!"
"I had to win the bet. One and a half hours, you said."
"Not only did it not puff, it was burnt." House finally makes eye contact with him. "Which is, you know, practically impossible."
Wilson forces himself to look at House. And as their eyes meet, he thinks maybe, just maybe, this trip will turn out okay.
"I did put you on my list, you know," House says it as though it is the most normal thing on earth to discuss over dessert, which just so happens to be the highlight of the meal. "You were the only person on my visitor's list."
Wilson takes a long sip from his cup of coffee and says very slowly, "I didn't know that."
"Yeah," House muses. "I probably should have told you."
"I don't think… I wouldn't have visited you."
House nods. "Good for you."
House's meds slowly take effect after lunch, and Wilson watches as House slowly relaxes into the seat, discomfort ebbing way and shallow, rapid breathing gradually evening out.
House blinks drowsily, forcing his eyes open. His fingers twitch as Wilson reclines the seat for him and raises the footrest.
"Don't fight it," Wilson murmurs. "Just go with it." He can distinctly see the look on House's face. It says you are fussing like a mother hen, woman.
The air stewardess, hovering nervously a few rows back, comes over and helps to settle House in. Wilson stops her as she reaches for House's right leg, which is extended into the aisle.
"I'll do it. Could you grab us an extra pillow?"
With one hand under the knee, and the other under the calf, Wilson slowly shifts the leg, allowing the air stewardess to slide the extra pillow beneath the knee. There is a hitched breath from House, who furrows his brow and murmurs a quiet protest. Wilson waits until House has settled back into drugged sleep before bending over and removing the sandal from House's right foot. Red lines mark the spots at which the sandal's straps cut into swollen flesh. The indents gradually even out as the red lines turn as white as the rest of the foot.
He shakes out the blanket, and covers House with it from chest to toe, tucking it in. He is just about to settle back in his seat when he finds long fingers wrapped around his wrist.
House lets his hand fall back onto his blanket-clad lap, tilting his head towards Wilson as he slips into sleep.
For the first two weeks, Wilson was mad. He was really mad. He rummaged through every square inch of House's apartment, retrieving all the Vicodin bottles. He threw all the pills into one huge bag and stomped on them.
And with each stomp, he could feel his wrist throbbing. Stomp thob stomp throb. The pain was a perfect reminder that he had an insane best friend that was destructive and all overall risk to his mental health.
Wilson grew up a good boy, and was a noble doctor in one of the toughest specialties of medicine. How the hell did he end up with a friend like Gregory-fricking-House? What did he do to deserve a best friend who nearly ran him down en route to crashing a car into a house?
Wilson fell to the ground and stared at the ceiling.
He laughed; then he cried.
Then came the worry. Each time his phone rang, he feared it was the police informing him that they'd found a man. To be more specific, the body of a man with a gaping crater in the right thigh.
Then Cuddy realized that she was punishing him for his stupid best friend, and decided to pay a visit. Wilson, she'd said, you aren't looking well. She bit her lips in that coy, tentative way of hers and Wilson could see that she honestly thought she wasn't at fault at all for whatever had happened. He isn't worth it. Don't let him ruin our friendship, she had the nerve to say. And she looked at him with those eyes that said we're in the same boat and only we understand what it feels like to be at the mercy of Gregory House.
Wilson resisted the urge to throttle and scream at her – you shouldn't have fucking entered a relationship with him and told him he was incredible and that you never wanted him to change then - and invited her and Rachel into the loft.
He remembers sitting together with House in a bar, smiling and celebrating the fact that House finally had won Cuddy's heart. House had been happy, telling him everything. He remembers the missed call from Foreman, and how he feared he had been too late to come to House's rescue after the wreck that was Hanna's unforeseen death. He remembers finding out, and smiling after they left his office, thinking that his best friend finally had some semblance of happiness, and had found his savior in the form of Lisa Cuddy.
A few weeks passed, and Cuddy tried to pretend everything was fine and better without House around. I'm seeing a trauma counselor, she said, and Wilson immediately wanted to laugh hysterically because who would help House? and when she suggested he see one too, he said he had a headache and needed to rest. We're still friends, Wilson. Yeah, they still were. But House, House was the glue that connected them both. And House was his friend.
When news came that House had given himself up, Wilson found himself avoiding Cuddy for a week, worrying about court proceedings. Then came the bombshell that House didn't even hire a lawyer, and Wilson knew that was it. House was broken.
He was horrified at House's lack of a fight, and horrified that it was Lisa Cuddy, whom he'd trusted with House's fragile heart, who had finally caused Gregory House to break.
Then came the day House was supposed to be released, and Wilson found himself waiting outside prison for someone who never appeared.
House, eyes still glazed over, transfers over to the wheelchair without any complaint. He sits quietly in the wheelchair as they clear immigration speedily thanks to a special lane, and collect their baggage with the help of a porter.
Benefits of travelling with the crippled, House had once commented during one of their rare trips aboard, so don't insinuate that I don't contribute.
"Subway's good here," House mumbles as they wait in line for a cab. Wilson understands the garbled words only because he's heard this man speak in various states of inebriation. "Should take that."
Wilson absentmindedly pats his pockets for their valuables and passport as he inches the wheelchair forward. "You'll flop over like a wet noodle."
"Taxis're 'spensive here."
Wilson likes the way House, usually so articulate, slurs his words together and forgets certain syllables when he's sleepy.
They end up in a twin single room in a small hotel, and Wilson carefully watches as House heads straight to the nearer bed and all but collapses in it. Soon, soft snores fill the room.
It is a skill to un-tuck bedcovers while someone is sleeping on them, but Wilson considers himself a master at it. He tugs off House's sandals, stuffs the memory foam pillow that House has brought along in his luggage under House's right leg.
Wilson didn't expect his first day ever in Japan to be spent watching over a sleeping man, or that the first place he would visit would be the nearest convenience store. He arms himself with the most valuable and important Japanese product ever invented - instant noodles – for dinner, and settles himself in for an evening with television.
Wilson opens his eyes to find the room still shrouded in darkness. He scans the room to see House disappear into the en-suite bathroom, the thud-squeak-thud-squeak of the crutches being what woke him.
Suddenly wide awake, he listens anxiously to House puttering about in the bathroom. The bathroom is small, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
He glances at the clock – 3.18am.
He hears the bath being run. He holds his breath, and lets it out only when he hears the splash that tells him House has made it into the bath successfully.
He is woken again at 3.55am by a loud thud. Belatedly comes a clatter as what he presumes to be crutches, fall to the ground.
Wilson lies in bed and fights the desperate urge to barge into the toilet. If he hears nothing within the next ten minutes, he makes up his mind to go help House, no matter how unwelcome his gesture might be.
He's at the tail-end of nine minutes when the bathroom door opens.
Wilson lies there buried in his cocoon of blankets, watching silently as House laboriously pulls on his compression stocking, throws on a shirt and tugs on his track pants.
It is 4.26am when House picks up a pillow and unceremoniously flings it at Wilson's head while simultaneously switching on all the lights in the room.
"House," Wilson moans, scrubbing his face. He was just about to fall back asleep. "It's not even five yet!"
"You don't complain when your patients code in the middle of the night."
"You are kidding," Wilson rolls over and buries his head in his pillow. The bed is firm and solid and comfortable. Soft beds wreak havoc on his back. "Entertain yourself. Quietly."
"You want the freshest fish, you wake up early. And this is where people will insert the lame proverb about the worm."
"The early bird gets the worm," Wilson says automatically without even realizing. Then he blinks stupidly at House. The cogs of his brain are working in overdrive to process House's words – they don't work so well before 5am and without caffeine.
"That's what I said. Chop chop, Wilson."
Wilson is an avid grocery shopper. When he has the time for it, he likes to head down to farmers' markets or supermarkets to buy quality ingredients. He is, however, unprepared for what greets him when he steps out of the cab. It is wet.
The building is filled with throngs of people shouting at one another over the freshest fish available – some of which caught barely an hour before. Whole, huge fish are laid out neatly on the tarp-covered ground, while other shellfish and seafood are stacked up on tables. Fishermen wheel their catch to their respective stalls, while chefs, lackeys and housewives battle over the freshest produce.
Everything is so fresh Wilson can almost smell the sea in the air.
"Tsukiji Market," House announces as they come to stand in front of its entrance. "Otherwise known as the Mecca of fresh seafood."
Wilson worries for a moment that the hustle and bustle of the market will pose a danger to a man in crutches, but the Japanese people are polite to a fault, and the crowd parts automatically to let House through.
House bypasses the two shops with the longest queues – at least fifteen people in each queue, and each shop is tiny, seating only twelve at the most – and heads to a nondescript shop just off the main belt of sushi restaurants.
The shop is tiny, with a red lantern hanging to the right of its main entrance. Extending his arms, Wilson can touch both the wall of the shop and the sushi counter. It's eighteen steps from the front entrance of the shop to its back. Ten seats surround three chefs behind a counter displaying slabs of the freshest fish available. A sole waitress weaves in and out of the seats, serving up miso soup, clearing plates and passing out cold towels.
They are hustled to their seats, and they sit shoulder-to-shoulder at the counter. The waitress takes House's crutches, and House gestures at the menu, speaking to the smiling chef quietly in Japanese.
He remembers one of the first times he had sushi meal with House. House had been horrified at the way with which he ate his sushi. That's sacrilegious, he'd proclaimed loudly in the restaurant, attracting the stares of countless other patrons, making Wilson wish he could disappear under the table.
Pick the sushi up with the chopsticks, House had proceeded to demonstrate. In decent restaurants, the sushi already contain a dab of wasabi, House had lifted up the slice of fish to show Wilson the small amount of green paste. Wilson had tried to smother a chuckle at how precise and serious House had seemed. Don't snigger, Wilson, House had scowled, it's an art. Now watch and learn carefully, because you are being woefully ignorant and embarrassing. Wilson had punched House lightly, but House had been too skillful with the chopsticks to drop his sushi. Dip it fish-side down into the soy sauce – the rice will absorb too much soy sauce. Then pop the whole thing in your mouth.
They hardly patronize Japanese restaurants in New Jersey even though House loves Japanese food. Now, in this quaint little shop, just a stone's throw away from the freshest catch available for the day, sitting in front of a chef who has probably dedicated his whole life to the art of sushi-making, Wilson understands why House never bothered to visit the numerous Japanese restaurants back home.
Wilson watches the deft hands of the chef, mesmerized, as he assembles the sushi. He winces, however, when he sees the chef dab on the green paste that is wasabi. He has never been a fan of its grating taste.
House seems to be thinking along the same lines, for he says, "The wasabi here is different. Better."
Wilson casts a doubtful look at House. He remembers House sneakily adding copious amounts of wasabi to his sushi while he wasn't looking, causing his eyes to water and nose to run. His sinuses hadn't recover for days.
From then on, he's never really liked the bright green condiment.
"Seriously, Wilson," House sighs, gesturing to a root vegetable displayed on the counter. "It's freshly grated wasabi here. None of that powdered nonsense we usually get back in New Jersey."
House doesn't use the word home.
Wilson goes through the motions that House has ingrained into him over the years before popping the entire thing into his mouth. The wasabi is indeed different – it is freshly grated, and not as sharp and stinging as those he's used to back home. It's subtle. The soy sauce too, is of a different quality: less salty and more fragrant.
Pieces of sushi are placed in front of them by the genial chef; each impeccably assembled with the perfect fish-to-rice ratio and the right size to pop in their mouths. House introduces each fish in both English and Japanese – sake, ebi, maguro, hamachi, hotate – and Wilson simply cannot keep up. He's eaten Japanese food before, but this, this is in a league of its own. He can taste the sea, and can sense the craftsmanship behind each piece. It's a symphony of flavors progressing from the light and clean-tasting to the rich and fatty, all laid on top of warm, sticky vinegared rice.
One particular piece of tuna, pink with white streaks of fat, which House says is otoro, is like butter. It melts in the mouth, and Wilson swoons unashamedly over it.
He peeks over at House. He can see the tiny smile and the glimmer of a tiny spark in the blue eyes.
They don't talk, too preoccupied with the food that keeps coming. Wilson doesn't actually know what to say. There is no PPTH gossip to discuss, no stupid clinic patient stories to tell. But somehow, there isn't a need to fill the silence. Food has always been something special for them - it's Wilson conjuring up magic in the kitchen, or trying to lure House into eating, or House saving Wilson's balls, or House stealing Wilson's food.
It is the same here. It is enough for them to sit shoulder-to-shoulder next to each other, watching the deft hands of the sushi chef, sipping green tea. It feels surreal here in this tiny shop. They are seated in front of a beautiful wooden counter, under warm yellow lights, surrounded by strangers, thousands of miles away from cancer patients and clinic duty. And it feels right.
The piece de resistance is a warship-style sushi – an orange slimy thing on top of rice, wrapped in seaweed (nori, according to House). Wilson stares at it. It looks disgusting. It's like sludge, but orange in colour.
"You have to eat that," House says pointedly. "Don't be an idiot. It's uni. Sea urchin, and it's goddamn good. Like otoro."
House hasn't lost his knack for reading him, then. Wilson hesitates, reluctant to ingest such dubious-looking food.
Before he can even begin to garner his courage to tackle the… thing, it disappears off his plate and into House's mouth. Then the steaming hot miso soup is delivered to him by the efficient waitress, signifying the end of the meal.
"House," Wilson exclaims in dismay. He did want to try it after all.
House smirks, and really, everything is right again.
They arrive early at the airport for their flight to Okinawa, both painfully aware of how crowded airports can be a nightmare for the… less mobile.
But the Japanese are not only polite; they are efficient too. The airport is huge, but they find their check-in counter easily with the help of their cab driver. The young girl at the counter notices House's crutches, and discreetly offers them the use of a complimentary buggy service.
House doesn't say no.
When they settle in on the buggy, House turns to Wilson with a grin. "Oh come on, Wilson. We might as well have some fun."
Wilson can only manage a weak smile as the wet patch on House's coat – courtesy of a puddle outside the market – taunts him. Wilson can still felt the tattered dredges of panic clinging onto him.
Wilson tries not to enjoy it so much when they zoom past people trudging along with their carry-on bags towards far-flung gates.
He totally does not enjoy it when House makes faces at their fellow travelers and whoops. He totally does not.
Wilson stops in his tracks as he turns around from the small café. House, seated on a bench, contemplatively staring out the floor-length windows, is bathed in the soft glow of the rising sun's light. Instead of bringing vitality and life like it usually would for most other people, the light seems to soften House, bringing out a vulnerability that Wilson has rarely seen.
Wilson sits down next to House, and passes him the green tea. They sit there in silence, the hysterics and fun of the past fifteen minutes having dissipated, watching planes take off and land.
Wilson turns towards House and hesitatingly asks, "What was it like in there?" He remembers cornering Thirteen in the cafeteria, desperation leaking out of his every pore, asking, What is it like in there. The sad, tight smile told him everything he needed to know.
House shrugs, tracing the lines on his cup. "Bad food, bad people, bad sleep. Like everywhere else."
"You were supposed to get out months earlier." Wilson stares down at his own murky coffee. "I checked." I waited.
"I had a patient."
Somehow, Wilson isn't surprised to hear that.
"I went against orders to prove that I was right."
"Were you right?"
"Yeah," House doesn't seem proud of the fact, though, his fingers going to tug absentmindedly at his shirt collar. "Diagnosed him without any machines or references or team. Just the one prison doctor."
Something clicks in Wilson's mind. "Adams."
House nods. "She… believed in me." House sounds rather incredulous. "Said I had a gift."
"She lost her job because of you…" Wilson wonders out loud, trying to piece everything together. "And you asked her to come to PPTH… She came and applied for a job in Diagnostics despite the fact that she had no prior experience, and wasn't particularly brilliant... We weren't even hiring."
"Did she get it?"
"She only got it after she joined in an impromptu differential with the team after one of their patients collapsed outside the hospital after discharge.
"It was rather impressive. Foreman couldn't quite believe that she hijacked the differential and actually came up with the answer, while being all moralizing and self-righteous."
"You miss them."
House shrugs. "I've got all I need with the online consulting."
The fact that House doesn't disagree tells Wilson everything he needs to know. The team was probably the closest thing to a family, or friends, that House ever had, though he strove to hide that he cared for them. And they did too, for House.
Wilson only realized that when he saw them battle off against Cuddy and the other doctors when they took on the case of the lungs for Vanessa. The whole time, Wilson could only think: House would be able to solve this.
Foreman was the one who researched the idea of getting House out on conditional parole. Cuddy had been totally opposed to the idea, but in the end, had very reluctantly agreed to bring House on only to consult.
But no such special reprieve was granted in the end. And Wilson had watched as Vanessa slowly suffocated to death without the lungs.
"They had the coolest case, you know. Lungs, in a box."
"Oh?" House perks up slightly. Wilson shakes his head. "Oh."
Wilson contemplates telling House that he hated him for getting himself into jail, but he decides against it.
"You would have figured it out, you know. Like you would have, for Chase."
Somehow, it doesn't surprise Wilson that House seems to know exactly what he is talking about. He thinks back to those dark times when the entire team was in what could only be termed as shell-shock. "He had to diagnose him – "
Suddenly, it all dawns upon Wilson.
"You solved it," Wilson breathes, not quite able to believe it. "Chase asked you."
House sips at his green tea, and remains silent.
"He emailed me."
"And you replied him. You helped him, even though you had disappeared, cutting off all ties with me- us." For the first time in the trip, Wilson finds himself starting to get angry. "You bastard."
"It was a one-liner. I didn't reply the following ten emails."
"You fucking asshole." You could have contacted me too, he doesn't say.
"What, you wanted me to contact you instead?" House draws himself up, bitter fury somehow mingling with incredulity on his face. "After I turned up at your doorstep, fresh out of two years in jail, with your favorite Thai food, only to get punched? And a door slamming in my face?"
Wilson sputters, futilely gesturing in the air for no good reason. "Yes!"
"Fuck you," House finally spits out as he heaves himself to his feet. "Fuck you and your self-righteousness and know-it-all-ness. Fuck you for encouraging me to go after Cuddy. Fuck you for getting together with Sam and asking me to move out. Fuck you."
House yanks his backpack off the bench. He doesn't look at Wilson as he walks away, his backpack bouncing on his back with each crutch-step.
Wilson ends up boarding the plane alone, having waited till the very last minute possible. He fidgets anxiously in his seat, eyes never leaving the plane door, which remains open for the one last passenger who has yet to turn up.
People around him are starting to grumble at the delay, but when they see the wheelchair, they quieten down.
The flight attendant wheels House to the first row, and speaks quietly to the young lady who was lucky enough to get a seat with ample leg space in the small plane.
Of course, the young lady gives up her seat, and Wilson watches as House puts on a smile of gratitude, and levers himself into the seat. The flight attendant stows House's backpack away in the overhead compartment. The young lady – very attractive, with a great figure – settles down in the aisle seat next to him that was meant for House.
Wilson, dismayed, can't bring himself to chat up the attractive woman.
Halfway through the flight, though, House stands up, trying to reach for the overhead compartment. It is a bad idea, Wilson knows, and he is proven right when after an awkward hop-limp, House passes out.
Wilson all but scrambles over his seatmate in his haste to get to House. To their credit, the plane passengers don't panic. Or maybe it's because he's loudly announcing, it's okay, it's okay, I'm a doctor, I'm his doctor to the entire cabin.
House comes to just a few minutes later. His two seatmates had kindly switched seats, allowing Wilson and the flight attendant to sprawl House across the entire row of seats.
"Your blood pressure bottomed out for a moment there," Wilson presses his finger to House's carotid artery, and mentally counts. He can feel the cold sweat, and the scars that he knows weren't there before. "What do you need, House?"
House's hands shake as they fist Wilson's shirt, and House tilts his head upwards, shifting his eyes towards the overhead compartment.
Wilson retrieves the bag of meds. It's huge, and all neatly labeled. Wilson locates the right container - one of those pill organizers that allow you to pack your meds into separate doses for convenience. Wilson locates the right compartment, snapping it open, and tips out the pills into his palm.
Seven of them, altogether, some of which he see nearly every day.
He helps House up, and drops the pills into House's clammy palms. House's hands are shaking so much that Wilson has to help him bring the cup of water to his mouth. He swallows the pills one by one, taking big gulps of water.
House takes a deep breath, and slowly, his tense muscles start to relax, and the shaking diminishes. Wilson gets up, as if to leave, but is stopped by a hand on the crook of his elbow.
He sits back down next to House, and they are silent for the rest of the way to Okinawa.