How Do You Heal a Broken Friendship?

Foreman waited impatiently for the guard to bring House out to him while he sat at a table in the prison's visitor's waiting area. It wasn't unusual that he was the only one waiting there at this time of night, outside of the prison's regular visiting hours. And House wouldn't be allowed to refuse his visit this time. Foreman's little talk with the warden had seen to that. Wilson's cancer patient didn't have time to wait. If anyone could save her, it would be House. Foreman couldn't wait to see the look on House's face when he told him about the parole-And about his own new position as Dean of PPTH From now on, he would be House's boss.

The door from the holding area clicked open and Foreman saw a guard enter and hold the door open for a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit to hobble through. "My God," Foreman thought and then wondered if he'd said it out loud. "Could that be House?" Foreman stood up in his shock as the formerly world-acclaimed diagnostician dragged himself slowly toward the table. He was so painfully slow, limping worse than Foreman had ever seen, laboriously sliding his right foot up to meet his left, trying not to put any more weight on it than was absolutely necessary; then, a grimace each time he had to transfer his weight briefly to the right foot as he performed an awkward hop with the left to move it one step closer to where Foreman stood. He had no cane, and his hands were shackled. He kept his eyes on the floor ahead of him as he strategically planned each little step, letting the guard guide him forward with his big, beefy hand around House's arm. No wonder it had taken so long to bring him out here. No wonder House hadn't wanted any visitors to see him like this. The guard pulled out the plastic chair for him and kept a firm grip on him as he helped the crippled man gingerly ease himself down into it. If there was any pity involved, the guard kept it off of his face and strictly to himself.

Foreman couldn't do that so easily. He was sure his own feelings showed clearly upon his face as he gazed sadly upon his former boss. House looked horrible. His face was bruised and he kept his eyes fixed upon his shackled hands in his lap. His beard was thick and his hair had grown shaggy, tending to unruly curls. His orange jumpsuit was stained and hung off of him as if it were three sizes too big. Everything about his posture screamed of abuse, his shoulders hunched protectively and drawn inward as if to try to make himself smaller, less of a target, invisible. The guard, who looked like a giant next to House, flashed Foreman a brief look of embarrassed apology, knowing he was just a little too much firepower than was necessary to keep this dangerous criminal in check. Then he went back to stand stiffly at attention by the door.

"House?" Foreman asked, tilting his head sideways as he tried to get a better look at the older man's face. House didn't look up; didn't acknowledge him at all. Foreman swallowed nervously and decided to save all the spiel about bringing House back to the hospital to work, and the stern lecture he'd rehearsed about how House would have to behave himself and not try any of his old games if he wanted to remain out of prison. Instead he concentrated on just trying to get House to give some sign that he even knew Foreman was there.

"House," he said again, more softly. "I came to get you out of here, Man. We're gonna go get your street clothes and I'm gonna drive you back to the hospital with me." No response from House. "I got you paroled into my custody." House just sat staring down at his hands, his lips moving silently as if he were talking to himself? Somebody else? Foreman couldn't tell which. Foreman stood up slowly, so as not to freak out the guard, and went around to the other side of the table where he crouched down beside House's chair.

When he laid a hand on House's arm, House flinched and cringed even more, trying to draw himself inward away from Foreman's touch. Foreman withdrew his hand, keeping his motions slow. He'd dealt with plenty of frightened patients before. Now, he thought ruefully, it looked like his former boss was going to be one more.

"Hey, Big Guy," he said quietly. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to take you home. Don't you think you've hung out here long enough? What's say you and me blow this joint and go see Wilson, okay?"

At the mention of Wilson's name, House paused in his silent recitation and, very slowly, as if he weren't quite sure it was allowed, raised his eyes to look at Foreman's worried face. Foreman groaned inwardly at the bruises on House's cheek and around his left eye. But, beneath some tousled, greasy curls, House's eyes remained bluer than blue, and full of intelligence that gave Foreman hope that House wasn't as far gone as he'd first thought. Their eyes connected.

"Hey there, Boss," Foreman almost whispered. He could feel his legs beginning to protest at being crouched down there so long. "You wanna go see Wilson with me? I got a car waiting outside and we can go get your stuff and leave right now." House didn't speak but, his bright blue eyes widened and began to pool up with tears.

"S'okay, Man," Foreman gently comforted him. He reached out his hand again, even more slowly this time, and, this time, House didn't pull back when Foreman laid it on his arm. Tears began to roll slowly down House's bruised face and his mouth opened, jaw working as if he were going to try to say something. But he couldn't, so he just nodded, almost imperceptibly.

Foreman wished he had a handkerchief to wipe House's face with. Hell, you'd have thought there would at least be a fucking box of Kleenex in the visitor's room. Surely a lot of people cried in here.

House said nothing the whole way to PPTH. Foreman was on his cell most of the way there, alerting the emergency room, alerting Wilson, that he was bringing House in. House stared out the windshield, thinking only God knew what thoughts. He'd been cooped up for so long and had obviously been mistreated. He'd needed help changing into his own clothes, stored in the prison's property room all these months, along with his cane. While Foreman was helping him, he'd noticed a grisly collection of bruises and other unexplained marks all over the older man's body, some old, some new, testifying to long ongoing abuse. And he could have counted every one of House's ribs, he was that gaunt. He also shook badly, and he was too weak, or too out of it to button up his own shirt or buckle his belt, which Foreman had to pull in to the last notch to hold House's pants up on his emaciated frame. While Foreman was helping with House's shoes, House had tried to pull his injured right leg back and hide his foot under the chair, but Foreman was finally able to coax him into letting him put the shoe on.

Walking to the car had been slow and laborious. Even with his cane back, House dragged his right leg stiffly along behind him, sliding it up into place beside his left leg before he'd take another short, carefully planned step with his left. Foreman made sure to arrange for a wheelchair to be waiting for them at the ER entrance when they would get there. He desperately wished he could somehow sneak House in without the whole damn hospital staring at him in this condition but, there just wasn't any way he could prevent that.

He inwardly chided himself for his unsafe driving as he talked on the cell and kept making sideways glances at House to make sure he was okay, well, as okay as he could be for now. "Listen, Wilson..." he paused. How to break this to Wilson? Even though Wilson had tried to pretend, even to himself, that he wanted nothing more to do with House, hadn't visited him in prison, hadn't wanted to call House in on his cancer case until he was left with no other choice, Foreman knew Wilson would be devastated upon seeing House in this condition.

"Wilson, I have to tell you… House isn't going to be able to help with your patient. He's…he's sick, Man. He's semi-catatonic. He's hurt. He's got bruises all over him and, God only knows what's underneath the bruises. It wouldn't surprise me to find some cracked ribs under there."

"What?" Wilson spouted, flabbergasted. "What did he do this time-start a prison riot? Dammit, Foreman! My patient's not gonna make it without House's help…"as if he didn't give a flying fig about House's condition. But then, "I-I'll meet you at the ER. After I…after I break the bad news to my patient," he sighed. Foreman could just picture Wilson reaching his free arm up behind his head and scratching his neck in frustration.

When they got to the hospital, the wheelchair was brought right out to the car by an orderly and they practically had to lift House into it. House just slumped in the chair, looking exhausted. He kept his head bent low, his eyes on his hands, his lips moving again, but still no sound coming out. Foreman followed the orderly as he pushed the wheelchair inside the hospital and through the ER doors. He was on high alert status, his eyes travelling over every inch of the area. If he saw anyone staring at the prodigal in the wheelchair, he gave them a look so stern that they quickly turned away and went back to what they were doing, but Foreman could hear the whispers and the mumbles behind his back after he passed by. He didn't know why he suddenly felt so fiercely protective of his former boss. He felt like a mama hen with only one chick.

Wilson met them at the ER and, when he saw House, sitting all drawn in on himself, looking so small and afraid, any residual anger he'd carried from his former friend's destructive rampage swiftly melted away. House had crashed his car into Cuddy's house, breaking Wilson's wrist in the process, but, no one deserved this. Foreman and the orderly had stopped the wheelchair next to an ER bed. Foreman swiftly dismissed the orderly and pulled the privacy curtain around House, Wilson, and himself. His eyes met Wilson's questioning gaze. How is he? Who did this to him? How did this happen? Will he be all right? Foreman shook his head sadly and his own eyes replied, Not good. Don't know. We'll see.

Wilson knelt down by the side of the wheelchair and reached a hand out for House's hand. In a repeat of Foreman's experience at the prison, House drew his arms back close to himself and his shoulders caved into his body, trying to make himself as small as he could. "My God," Wilson thought, "He doesn't even know me!" He felt vaguely sick to his stomach. Foreman sighed. "He's been that way since I picked him up. Someone's really spooked him." Desperate and determined, Wilson tried again. "House, it's me, Wilson! You remember me," he said hopefully. "Please, just look at me! I'm not going to hurt you!"

House slowly lifted his head and gazed into Wilson's sad brown eyes with his piercing blue ones. It seemed like he was trying to read right down into the very depths of Wilson's soul and then, a very puzzled look crept upon his face; his brow furrowed and he swallowed nervously. He looked down at Wilson's hand-the one that had reached out to him-the left one, the one he'd hurt when he'd crashed his car into Cuddy's house- that he'd seen Wilson cradling painfully as he stalked away from the scene of his crime, dazed at what he himself had just done-the wrist he had broken, as the court had informed him when they'd read the charges against him so many months and months ago…

Ever so slowly, House reached out for that hand and timidly touched it, felt the warmth of it, slid his fingers over and around it, grasped it-Both Wilson and Foreman remained frozen, almost holding their breaths, afraid to make a sound. House took hold of Wilson's left hand and carefully drew it towards himself as if it were made of glass. He brought his other hand up and-began feeling the wrist joint-examining it in a careful, thoroughly medical manner.

All at once, he stopped, as if he were somehow satisfied. It was healed…it was okay, now. He wrapped both his hands around Wilson's, brought it slowly to his lips, and kissed it, so very gently-took it and held the back of it to his bruised left cheek, caressingly.

Wilson melted. "Oh, House," he sighed. "It's okay—it's all better now. I'm not mad. Everything's going to be okay, now." He brought his right arm up gently and, laying his hand on his friend's shoulder, pulled House close to him, crooning nonsense phrases over and over…"It's okay, now-everything's going to be okay, now. You're safe…"

Foreman let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. House would be okay, now. His memory was there. His wounds would heal. Maybe all of them. His friend was with him and everything was going to turn out all right somehow. Foreman sighed and smiled softly as he pulled the privacy curtain aside just enough for him to pass through into the busy ER. He left the two friends, their foreheads pressed together, Wilson still whispering, giving them some time to themselves. Some wounds took priority over cracked ribs and bruises. Some wounds went deeper than mere medicine could heal.