Title: Twenty-Eight Days

Author: pgrabia

Disclaimer: House M.D., its character's, locations, and storyline are the property of David Shore, Bad Hat Harry Productions and Fox Television. All Rights Reserved.

Spoiler Alert: This story involves spoilers for all seasons of House M.D. up to and including Season 8, Episode 21: Hanging On.

Word Count: ~11000

Rating: M(NC-17)
Warning: This kind of a death fic, so if you are sensitive to that, proceed with caution.
A/N:
Had to write this, especially before the penultimate episode airs tomorrow night. Some of it is based on previews for "Holding On". Starts basically as canon but strays off the path very quickly. Also, this is not my ideal ending for House the series but it's better, in my opinion, to what I think TPTB may have planned.

Twenty-Eight Days

Once they were back in Princeton, Wilson decided that he needed to go back to the loft to be alone and think. House wanted him to stay at his apartment; they could drink and watch monster trucks and porn and for a little while longer forget about the fact that Wilson was facing a potential death sentence. Wilson won out, and House drove him home then left.

House considered stopping at a bar on his way home but changed his mind and picked up a bottle of Maker's Mark at a liquor store, going home to get drunk. That way, he didn't have to worry about getting home afterward. He had to start getting used to the fact that he might not have someone to call on in the not-too-distant future—that is, if the radical chemotherapy Wilson had taken hadn't had any effect on the thymoma. But that was ridiculous, right? It was stage-two thymoma. It had a 90 percent remission rate. There was no way the heavy poison Wilson had taken—which had nearly killed him itself—could fail to shrink the tumor; unless, as Wilson feared, he ended up among the 10 percent who didn't survive. With Wilson's kind of luck (and House's), that's exactly where he would wind up.

House entered his apartment and locked the door behind him. He went straight to the kitchen to grab a glass in an empty attempt to maintain at least the appearance of civilized behavior. Filling the glass with the amber liquor, House then took it and the bottle to the living room. He looked at the piano. A huge part of him yearned to bury his pain in music and booze, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to play. His heart wasn't in it anymore. Instead, House sat down on his sofa, set the glass and bottle on the table, and pulled his vial of Vicodin out of his pocket. He poured three of the white, oblong tablets into the palm of his left hand and threw them back, washing them down his gullet with his bourbon. He set the vial on the table next to the Maker's Mark and with his glass in one hand lifted his bad leg to elevate it onto the coffee table beside them.

He proceeded to get very drunk watching monster trucks and remembering the first time Wilson and he had gone to a rally together.

~h/w~

Wilson lay still on the slab inside the MRI dressed only in a thin hospital gown and looking as tightly strung as a violin string. House could see him from the control booth in one of the two monitors before him. On the other monitor was the display of the images being taken and recorded by the scanner. They had just started, and the thymus hadn't yet appeared on the imaging.

House turned on his microphone that transmitted his voice to Wilson in the machine. "I'm bored. Tell me everything that happened between you, the bartender, and the prostitute and don't leave out any of the deliciously sordid details."

Wilson smirked slightly, rolling his eyes. "That sounds like a really bad joke. One day an oncologist and diagnostician walked into a bar and met a bartender and a prostitute…"

"It was a greasy grillhouse that served booze," House corrected, "and I already know that part. Get to the good stuff. I don't believe you when you said you didn't enjoy it."

"Well, it was sex, so yeah, I enjoyed that aspect," Wilson answered, "but it was empty, and odd, and under false pretenses and the damned skull cap kept slipping out of place. I guess I forgot I was Kyle and slipped back into James-mode. It wasn't…well, it wasn't anything like I thought it would be like; let's just leave it at that. But like I said, it was exactly what I needed. One more item crossed off my bucket list."

"You only get to have a bucket list when you are actually going to kick the bucket," House countered, frowning. His voice was sharper than he had intended. "We don't know that to be the case yet."

House heard Wilson sigh. "Soon…"

The sound of the outer door opening drew House's attention away from Wilson and the monitors momentarily. Chase entered the control booth looking somber to announce that he was quitting, He claimed it was time he moved on and utilized what he'd learned under House elsewhere, on his own. House had been basically counting the days expecting this decision from him. He was proud of his longest serving duckling. Chase was ready. Still it was hard for House to let go; it was yet another change he had to endure and there had been too much of that already. He and Chase shook hands for the first time as equals.

"Let me know what happens with Wilson," Chase told him before walking out. House nodded and watched him leave.

Yet another person in a very long string of people was leaving him behind.

Sighing silently, House returned his attention to the monitors, prepared to continue the conversation he and Wilson were having when Chase interrupted. The monitor suddenly reached Wilson's thymus and began to display the results.

The ground opened up underneath House, causing him to plummet down into a bottomless pit, endlessly falling never again to land. Or so it felt. He stared at the readings in shock and horror. He had been so sure it would have worked, that Wilson and he had gone through that hell of a chemo treatment to ensure that the tumor would shrink.

It had grown and further metastasized to the surrounding tissue instead. Not a lot, mind you, but any growth was far, far too much.

Wilson was worse off than before.

Wilson was dying.

He could hear Wilson demanding to know what it was he was seeing, but House couldn't acknowledge it. He couldn't speak. There were no words potent enough to express how horrible this was.

House shut off the MRI scan and pushed the button that controlled the slab Wilson laid upon, causing it to bring him out of the machine. He entered the room where Wilson had sat up and risen to his feet to meet him.

"House?" Wilson said cautiously. "It didn't shrink?"

All House could do was look into the eyes of the most important person in the world to him, knowing that Wilson, too, was slipping away from him and soon he would truly be completely, utterly alone…

House must have swayed or otherwise faltered because the next thing he knew he was the one sitting on the MRI bed with Wilson crouching in front of him, his hands on House's shoulders and his eyes clinically appraising him.

"Easy," Wilson told him, wrapping the fingers of one of his hands around House's wrist to feel for his pulse. "You're pulse is shaky and you nearly fainted. You need to take a few deep breaths for me, okay?"

Looking up at his best friend with a mixture of shock and incredulity, House nodded.

"I'll go grab you some water," Wilson said, turning to run his errand. House grabbed his wrist, not hard enough to hurt but firmly enough to stay him.

"It's grown, Wilson. Additional metastases. The treatment failed."

A sad smile touched Wilson's lips and he nodded. "I know, House. The look on your face told me everything I needed to know."

"We'll fight this, Wilson," House told him, regaining some of his senses. His mind began to reel with possible treatment options, drug trials he'd read about. "It's not over yet. We're not giving up."

"We, House?" Wilson asked pointedly, his eyebrows rising slightly on his forehead. He slowly shook his head. "I'm not certain I—"

"Wrong answer," House snapped, eyes flaring. "You're not certain that you want to live? Are you suicidal now?"

"No, but—"

"No buts," House insisted, tightening his grip on Wilson's wrist slightly. "We're going to fight this and we're going to win."

Wilson sighed and nodded. "Okay," he whispered.

~h/w~

Everything was set up and ready for Wilson when he arrived. House's living room was once again adorned with medical equipment including an IV stand and pump for regulating the dosage and rate of flow of chemo meds into Wilson's blood. House had made certain that he was stocked up on everything they would need, although this time the medication would be much easier on Wilson's body. He would still get very sick and feel like hell, but nothing like he had with his first radical attempt at beating his cancer.

Wilson had been balking lately, hemming and hawing about which drug cocktail to use and whether to do radiotherapy concurrently or consecutively with chemo. House had told himself that his worries about Wilson giving up and reneging on his promise to keep fighting were unfounded. However, Wilson was late for the time they had agreed upon earlier in the day—very late.

House nearly smiled in relief when he heard the familiar knocks on his apartment door nearly three hours after he should have heard them. No matter—Wilson had come and that was all that mattered.

He limped quickly to the door and opened it. Sure enough, Wilson stood on the other side, still in his work clothes, still sporting the stubble on his face that oddly reflected House's own. Wilson hadn't gone home after work. House checked his eyes, sniffed deeply. Wilson might have had a couple of drinks, but he certainly wasn't drunk. He looked calm—too calm. In his rich brown eyes, plain as day, was the expression House had been dreading: resignation.

"Come on in," House told him, walking away from the door to give Wilson room to enter.

Instead of following him, Wilson remained in the doorway.

"I'm not doing anymore chemo."

There it was—the sentence House had been afraid for days was coming, so it wasn't entirely a shock to him. His heart moved to his throat and began to pound hard and fast. Somehow House had to convince him to reconsider, to continue fighting for his life; if not for himself, then for the diagnostician whose entire world was wrapped up in everything that was Wilson.

House walked back to the door and faced him, forcing his stoic mask firmly in place. "Good plan," he told Wilson severely in order to hide his fear. "You'll be dead in 5 months."

Wilson nodded ever so slightly, his expression grim.

"We went for a cure," he told House quietly, calmly. "It didn't work. I've thought about this a lot. Five more months on this earth is reasonable. A year in the hospital in excruciating pain is…" He paused, searching for the right word and eventually settling on, "…not."

House wanted to grab him and shake some sense into him, since Wilson had obviously lost all of what he once had had. He was doing everything he'd criticized his patients for in the past. It wasn't reasonable, it was foolish; Wilson had convinced many a patient in a similar position to keep fighting—for his or her spouse, kids and friends. However, Wilson didn't have any wife or children and most of his friends had forsaken him when he hadn't forsaken House. Obviously, House noted, with a twist of the proverbial knife in his chest, that Wilson didn't consider him worth fighting for.

He couldn't blame him, and yet…and yet House couldn't let this happen. He couldn't just stand by and watch as his best friend, the dearest person in the world to him, the man that he…loved…gave up and allowed his cancer to consume him until he died. House had to find something or someone that did mean enough to Wilson to convince him to fight for because if Wilson died, House wasn't certain he could continue on without him.

"You took a foolish risk that nearly killed you instead of listening to the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of a handful of oncologists you respect the most—and to me!" House nearly yelled in fear disguised as anger. "Yeah, the tumor is marginally bigger and has spread a little. You're still considered stage two of a cancer that has a ninety percent survival rate with no other pre-existing medical issues to limit the possibility of success. How many times have you encouraged patients with worse odds than you have to continue with chemo because you knew it was in their best interest—yet now, when it's in your best interest, you stubbornly ignore logic and run away to hide in the corner and suck your thumb and feel sorry for yourself? You hypocrite! You have no right to steal your talent and wisdom as a doctor from your present and future patients and kill my best friend because you're afraid of pain!"

Wilson had stepped into the apartment by this time and shut the door. He raised his hands in an appeasing gesture and tried to speak his peace but House wouldn't let him; he wasn't done raging yet.

"So that's the criteria to excuse someone for killing themselves, huh? Pain. If a person doesn't want to experience excruciating pain and public scrutiny then he should be allowed to let himself die when he has options that will save his life? If you'll remember, I tried that once. It really worked out well for me, didn't it?"

Normally Wilson would have argued back, but Cancer Wilson looked at him with an expression of defeat and murmured, "A person has the right to choose—"

"If there is no chance for a cure and pain control methods stop working, I agree with you. That isn't the case with you."

Shaking his head, Wilson sighed. "It's my decision to make and I've made it."

House glared at him, wanting to scream and pull his hair out. A thought occurred to him. "Okay. Well, I've made a decision, too. I've been in pain for thirteen odd years now, often excruciating, disabling, and humiliating. If it's good for you, it's good for me."

"What does that mean?" Wilson demanded, frowning worriedly.

House ignored him. He headed to the closet in his hallway and opened it, reaching high up to the top shelf and pulling down an ornate box. Holding it with respect he set it on the floor and pulled out the gun, then limped quickly to the closet in his bedroom where he kept the ammo.

Wilson, who saw the gun, was immediately on House's tail.

"What the hell are you doing, House?" he demanded. "You told me that gun had been rendered useless!"

"Everybody lies," House spat, slamming his bedroom door in Wilson's face and quickly locking it before heading to the closet and obtaining the box with bullets inside. With practiced precision House began to load John House's service pistol. In the background Wilson was banging on the door and half-shouting, half-pleading with House to open up and talk about this.

"House, please! Open the damned door! Don't be stupid! It's not the same for you at all! Come on!"

"I'm in constant pain, Wilson," House shouted back. "Sometimes it's unbearable! But you gave me the perfect solution!" He took the safety off the gun and pressed the barrel under his chin before unlocking the door and hopping back on his good leg toward the bed.

The bedroom door swung open, hitting the doorstop hard and Wilson burst into the room. He stopped short and looked at House in horror.

House's finger rested lightly on the trigger. It wouldn't take much to fire the gun. If Wilson refused to see reason, and allowed himself to die when the odds of survival were so highly in his favor, then House didn't want to live on without him.

"House, set the gun down!" Wilson pleaded with him, lowering the volume of his voice. "You don't want to do this, House. Please don't do this."

"You said so yourself," House answered, his voice cold. "A year of excruciating pain isn't reasonable? Well, how about thirteen, Wilson? I'd say thirteen is completely unreasonable. I think that if you have the right to stop treatment and condemn yourself to death to avoid the humiliation and pain, then I have even more reason and right to end my pain now…because life isn't worth living if it means being in pain, right?"

"It's not the same thing—"Wilson began to protest.

"Yes, it is," House interrupted. "I suggest you turn around and leave the room. This won't be pretty and we wouldn't want blood, splintered bone, and grey matter to stain that suit, though it might actually serve to improve that ugly tie."

House swallowed hard and put the barrel of the gun into his mouth. He closed his eyes, finger twitching ever so slightly on the trigger. If Wilson was simply going to give up and die, leaving him alone, then he figured he'd rather kill himself before the pain of watching his friend die than after. Besides, it was the natural order of things for him to die first.

He wasn't certain exactly what happened next, only that he was hit by what felt like a truck back against and onto his bed, his teeth knocked a little looser than before, his arm wrenched painfully and his grip on the gun lost, but not before it fired into the outer wall behind his bed, the sound muffled by the pillow the bullet passed through first. He opened his eyes. Wilson was half on top of him, effectively holding him down. The oncologist's face was beaded with the sweat of fear and he was panting. House felt his body tremble uncontrollably. The gun was in Wilson's hand, but only for a moment before he threw it aside then pinned House to the bed. House's heart hammered rapidly against the wall of his chest cavity.

Wilson's voice was dangerously quiet and quavering. "Don't you ever—you almost killed yourself!—you son of a bitch! Don't you care what watching you die would do to me?"

"Don't you care what watching you die without a fight will do to me?" House volleyed back without skipping a beat. For a moment it was a stand-off (well, they weren't standing, but the idea was the same). Then Wilson shocked House again by grabbing his face with both hands and kissing him—hard.

House's reaction was almost instinctive. He groaned in his throat and kissed back just as forcefully, one hand finding the back of Wilson's head and the other sliding around his back and pulling him closer.

It wasn't a dainty, sweet, romantic kiss; on the contrary there was the clashing of teeth, the nipping of lips, the battle of tongues. House's fingers dug into Wilson's scalp instead of combing gently through his hair. Wilson's thumbs pressed achingly hard into House's face, sure to leave bruises. They growled and grunted as they fought for dominance. It was as much about pent up anger and anxiety as it was lust.

What happened over the next half-hour or so was a blur of the five senses in action and House's mind trying to keep up and make sense of it all despite the building desire and arousal trying to take over his body and brain.

Wilson pulled back suddenly, amazed. "What are we doing?"

House glared at him, both amused and incredulous, wanting to possess those perfect lips, now red and swollen, again. "You mean you don't know? No wonder you weren't impressed by the threesome!"

"We—we should stop, we shouldn't be doing this—" Wilson began to protest, but House wasn't about to let him chicken out and run away again. He grabbed Wilson's head and pulled him back until their lips were together again, swallowing his words. Wilson put up a feeble fight, quickly surrendering and allowing desire to take over and quash reason.

Things still went fast, though not quite as violently as before. There was still desperation and eagerness and white-hot passion though. Mouths and hands were fully engaged; clothes were nearly torn off and discarded. Teeth and tongues and hands explored undiscovered country. Grunts became passionate groans. Sweat beaded their bodies, trickled coolly down hot skin.

This was something House had longed for and given up hope of ever happening. He knew there would be issues and questions and doubts to follow, but for now he had the object of his obsession for so many years in his arms, against his lips and that was all he cared about.

House moaned loudly when Wilson's mouth found his engorged member. It became apparent very quickly that this wasn't the first time Wilson had performed fellatio, unless he was some kind of savant. House felt jealous that he wasn't Wilson's first male lover, but realized that he had no right to be. Wilson certainly wasn't his. He banished those thoughts and focused solely on the incredible pleasure his best friend's mouth was causing. House tangled his fingers in Wilson's hair, so glad that the chemo treatment he'd already received hadn't caused it to fall out.

When Wilson's mouth left his cock, House grunted in frustration, glaring at his lover and thrusting his hips. Wilson grinned at him and slid up House's body, flesh slipping over flesh, until his face was even with the older man's. He possessed House's mouth and kissed him deeply and tenderly. House wrapped his arms around Wilson, pulling him closer if that was even possible.

"House," Wilson pulled away and whispered, panting lightly. "Are you sure this is what you want?"

House rolled his eyes and thrust his hard cock against him, grazing Wilson's equally hard member. "Satisfied?" he growled softly.

"I want you," Wilson murmured between the small kisses he was pressing against House's neck, "inside me…if you're okay with that."

It was so preposterous, Wilson's asking him if he was 'okay' with it that House chuckled deeply. "I've wanted to fuck you for a long time. I'm definitely okay with it. Now shut up and climb on, already!"

Wilson didn't need to be told twice; he straddled him. A couple of minutes later House's dick was completely sheathed in Wilson's body, overwhelmed to the point of being unable to process it all and surrendering to the experience completely. Wilson held the headboard with one hand and balanced himself with the other as he rocked, bringing out the most deliciously hot sounds from both of them as their pleasure mounted and they edged closer and closer to climax.

House fought the nearly irresistible urge to close his eyes so he could stare up into Wilson's, seeing his own feelings-heat and passion and love-staring back at him. He grabbed Wilson's neck and pulled him into a kiss, unable to get enough of his taste and the feeling of his mouth caressing his own. Wilson changed the angle of his rocking motion, and House's cock began to brush his prostate with every move. He moaned into House's mouth, which only became louder when House took hold of Wilson's cock and began to stroke it with a practiced hand in time with the fucking. Wilson broke free of the kiss, throwing his head back, his eyes rolling into his head before his eyelids slid shut. To House he looked absolutely beautiful like that, and it caused a shiver to run through him that evoked a groan of his own.

The pressure built ever higher until House knew he couldn't hold back any longer. He keened softly as he came hard inside of his best friend, his seed filling him to overflowing. Wilson only rocked twice more before falling over the edge himself, spilling his cum over House's body. He collapsed onto House and the mess, uncaring as he soared with ecstasy. His forehead found the crook of House's neck and they rode out their orgasms together. When House's member softened and slid out of him, Wilson rolled over to lie flat on his back next to him, their arms touching.

Higher cognitive function slowly returned to House, and when he realized that Wilson was lying separate from him he reached over and pulled the other man onto himself, wrapping his arms around Wilson and holding him tightly as if afraid that Wilson would suddenly realize what they had done, panic, and try to flee. When Wilson didn't resist, but rather buried his face in House's neck, warming it with his hot breath and kissing it every so often, House smiled subtly and relaxed a little.

"Manipulative asshole…don't ever point a gun at yourself again," Wilson murmured softly, his fingers drawing lazy patterns in the smattering of graying hair on House's chest. There was an edge to his tone that indicated that he wasn't pleased with being terrorized like that and it wasn't lost on House.

"If you die," House responded, whispering, "there's nothing left here for me to stick around for."

Wilson shook his head. "That's not true."

"Yes," House insisted; his voice was louder but lacking anger, "it is. I told you before, if you die, I'm alone. Nothing's changed about that."

Wilson was silent a moment as he processed and House was in no mood to rush him. "I'm fucking scared, House," he eventually said with a small voice.

"No shit, Sherlock," House retorted, "join the club. I was scared after the infarction, terrified after Stacy left, but you wouldn't let me give up then. You kicked my ass and helped me through it. It's my turn to get you through this. I owe you."

"What if I take all the chemo and radiation, endure the pain, and I end up dying anyway? What would doing all of that be worth at that point?"

"You would have tried, you would have fought, that's what," House answered immediately. He swallowed down the lump forming in his throat. "If I'm not worth the effort, then do it for all those future bald-headed kiddies that will die without you as their doctor. Do it because it's better than copping out, curling up into the fetal position, and dying like an emo."

"If I try," Wilson said carefully, "and I still end up dying, I need to know that I can count on you to be there with me the entire way both in body and mind. You can't run away when things get tough and hide in a bottle of bourbon or a vial of Vicodin. I'm going to need you if I'm going to have any chance at all."

"I'm here with you," House answered with quiet certainty. "I'll stay here."

Wilson paused a moment or two more before whispering, "I want you to promise me something, House. When it gets to the point where there is no hope left and it's not worth the pain anymore, I want you to—"

"I will," House promised, knowing what his best friend was about to ask him. He brought Wilson's hand up to his lips and kissed his fingers. "If it comes to that."

Sighing, Wilson nodded and nuzzled House's neck.

"Okay. For you."

~h/w~

Three rounds of chemo and radiation combined therapy had made little or no difference on the tumors, though they hadn't metastasized further. The effects of the drugs on Wilson's immune system had been harsh, to say the least, and he'd come down with a severe case of pneumonia that had forced him to be hospitalized twice. The rest of the time Wilson spent at the loft; after his second round of treatment he'd taken a medical leave of absence from PPTH, finding himself getting to weak and weary to keep up with his patients and the administrative duties he'd held since becoming the chief of oncology.

During his second hospitalization for pneumonia House never left his side, working from Wilson's room—even running differentials with Taub, Adams and Park there when Wilson wasn't sleeping. Wilson slept a lot, however, from the meds and his illness. Because he had pneumonia and his breathing was already labored they had had to cut back on his pain medications which had a depressing effect on his respiratory system. As a result House could see the pain taking a toll on Wilson, though the younger man put up a good front around him and his team.

Eight months into the fight, Wilson began to complain of severe headaches and began to display degenerative neurological symptoms. Immediately a full-body MRI was ordered. The scan results returned a crushing blow: his cancer had metastasized to his brain. House knew that they were quickly losing this war despite trying everything possible to defeat their enemy. Wilson's treatment shifted from curative to palliative.

House kept his word about not forcing Wilson to spend his last days in the hospital. House took to working only part-time and taking on-line consulting jobs to fill in the gaps and so he could take care of Wilson himself as much as possible. When House had to be away a home-care nurse with palliative training came in to care for Wilson, but House did his best not to be separated from him for more than a couple of hours at a time, knowing that their time together was quickly coming to an end.

House had closed up his own apartment and had moved back into Wilson's loft, and into Wilson's bed. At night as they lay in each other's arms in the dark, sometimes they would talk as if they still had decades to spend together, plotting things they would do together, places they would go, pranks they would pull. As time progressed and Wilson grew weaker, though, they began to reminisce about life B.C.—Before Cancer-chuckling at the fun times, squabbling about the not so fun times. Or sometimes just lying quietly cuddled up under the blankets and listening to each other breathe, silently wishing that they had had the balls to get together years sooner than they had, under better circumstances.

One day House returned from being at the hospital for a couple of hours to hear Wilson's laughter coming from the other room. He set down his helmet and backpack, hung up his jacket, and limped into the living room. Wilson sat propped up in his nest of pillows and blankets on the sofa, looking incredibly thin and frail, grinning at the woman seated at the other end of the sofa, at his feet.

"House—good, you're home," Wilson said quietly, smiling upon seeing him. His visitor turned to look at him as well.

"Hi, Greg."

"Hi, Stacy," House said a little stiffly. He saw her briefcase and the papers on the coffee table. "I've heard of ambulance chasing, but this is pathe—"

"Shut up, House," Wilson told him, his smile fading and glaring at him. His dark eyes stood out starkly from his pale, skeletal face. "We talked about this."

"I was joking," House responded, only half-lying. "Uh, does she know about, uh, you know…?"

"That we're sleeping together?" Wilson filled in the blanks. "She knows."

House walked up and leaned over the sofa. "Well, in that case I can do this." He kissed Wilson gently, lingering a little longer than usual for his ex's benefit. When he ended the kiss House looked pointedly at her as he walked around the sofa and sat down in an armchair. He lifted his bad leg onto the coffee table, setting his sneakered foot on top of Wilson's will.

"Did he tell you he's leaving everything to the Hare Krishnas?" House asked her lightly. "He was going to leave his estate to me but I told him I'd only end up wasting it on the horses, good drugs and bad women so he decided he'd rather throw his money away on something else."

Stacy looked unaffected by House's comments, knowing him as well as she did. House knew she could see past his absurdity and see the pain and fear he didn't want her to see.

"Good to see nothing's changed," she told him, the slightest of smiles gracing her pretty mouth. "Actually he told me he's leaving you his cat, except I haven't seen one since I got here."

"That's because he stuffed her with sawdust and keeps her in his sock drawer, don't you Wilson?" House replied, deadpan. "And when he dies I'm going to have him stuffed and—"

"House," Wilson said softly, cutting him off and giving him a pleading look. Since House had become his personal doormat and could deny him nothing, he stopped talking, looking down at his hand instead.

"I should be going, James," Stacy told him with a warm but sad smile. She picked up House's foot and moved it off the will so she could gather it and her notes up and put them into her briefcase. "I'll get this put together properly and then return it to be signed and notarized, okay?"

"Sounds great," Wilson told her with a nod and a smile. "Thank you again for coming all the way to Princeton for this, Stacy."

She approached him and leaned down to kiss him on the cheek.

"Hey, hey, hey!" House said, frowning possessively. "Go get your own invalid. Wilson's mine—oh, that's right! You're still with Mark, so you already have your own."

Stacy gave House a look of consternation. "Mark is moving about just fine, thank you for asking. The only invalid in this room is the mental one I'm turning my back on." She looked back at Wilson and House caught her give him a knowing wink. Wilson smiled wanly.

She headed for the door and House decided to walk her out to make certain that she did, in fact, leave. He opened the door for her. Before Stacy walked over the threshold she paused a moment and regarded House somberly. Her eyes softened and House, for a split second, was reminded again of why he had fallen in love with her those many years ago.

"How long does he have?" Stacy asked in a whisper, gently laying a hand on House's arm. He didn't recoil, but did stare at her hand for a moment.

"Two months at the most," House answered just as quietly, finding it hard to speak past the lump in his throat and the tightening in his chest. He'd been trying hard not to think about it and now she was forcing him to, damn her! "He's declining rapidly now and is on heavy doses of morphine for his pain. In fact…the next time the nurse comes she's bringing a morphine pump so he can give it to himself when he needs it rather than wait for her or me to give it to him."

"He's so thin," Stacy said sadly, looking back past House toward the living room.

"No appetite," House agreed, nodding. "The wonder of medical marijuana worked for a while but now nothing does. On top of that the cancer has metastasized to his GI tract and lungs as well."

"Oh God," she whispered, her eyes pained. They turned to look at House now. "When he told me that you two were lovers, I have to admit it wasn't as big of a surprise as it should have been. You two belong together, may be you always have. He loves you dearly, you know."

House swallowed again and again at the lump, willing himself to remain stoic. "I know. It's mutual."

Stacy smiled. "I know. I'm so sorry, Greg. If there's anything more I can do—"

"There isn't," House said, cutting her off. He gently lifted her hand from his arm, squeezed it once, and let it go.

She nodded, sighed, then walked out the door and headed for the stairs. House watched her until she vanished into the stairwell and then shut the door. He leaned back against it, suddenly feeling completely exhausted, body, mind, and, if such a thing existed, soul. He would soon be asked to honor his promise, and the dread that caused him chilled him to the bone.

When he'd managed to regain his composure, House returned to the living room. Wilson was asleep, his chest rising and falling reassuringly. He sat down at Wilson's feet and just stared at him for a long while, his eyes mapping out every inch of him, emaciated as he was. Wilson had fought hard; he'd kept his promise and though the war was just about over with cancer being the victor, House's best friend was his hero nonetheless. House leaned back and rested his head against the back of the seat, staring up at the vaulted ceiling until his eyelids grew heavy and finally closed.

~h/w~

"It's time."

The words were Wilson's, breathed rather than spoken. He lay in their bed, hooked up to a pulse oximeter, oxygen mask and tank, and IV/morphine pump. Pinned to his pajama shirt was the trigger for the morphine pump, which Wilson currently rested his hand upon, thumb in position. For the past week he had been unable to do anything more physically than press the button with his thumb to release a dose of relief when he needed it, and he'd needed it more and more, sometimes maxing out what the safety on the pump would allow him. Two people and only two people had the code for the pump—House and Wilson's nurse—and could change the settings or override the safety limit that had been set.

House, lying cuddled up with him under the blankets, closed his eyes briefly, forcing himself to remain strong against the feelings of grief threatening to overwhelm him completely. He tightened the hold he had on Wilson's skeletal form and kissed his bony face several times. Tears pricked at his eyes, making them itch, but House refused to allow them to develop any further than that. Wilson needed him to be strong, and that's exactly what he would be—because House could no longer deny the love of his life anything.

"House?" Wilson whispered when he hadn't responded.

Nodding, House exhaled, his breath shaking. "Okay." He released Wilson and pushed back the blankets, rolling off the bed and to his feet. He punched the code into the pump to unlock it, then overrode the safety on the morphine before crawling back into bed and gathering his lover into his arms again.

Wilson looked at him with pain-hazed eyes filled with gratitude. "I love you, Greg."

House nodded, finding the emotions winning the battle inside of him despite his efforts. He caressed Wilson's face with the back of his hand, gazing at him with adoration and grief rolled up into one.

"I love you, too, Jimmy," he murmured. "Thank you."

Wilson didn't have to ask what for; they both knew. House leaned in and kissed Wilson tenderly, pouring decades of love into that final act. He wasn't successful in banishing a couple of tears and they rolled down his scruffy cheek unhindered.

A smile touched Wilson's lips. "You'll be okay. I promise."

House couldn't speak. He tightened his arms around Wilson and nodded that he was ready, too. Wilson began to press the trigger over and over again, each time causing the pump to release morphine into his blood stream until he drifted off to sleep. House could hear his breathing slow and become shallow. His O₂ saturation steadily dropped and his heart rate sped up temporarily before dropping as well. It wasn't apparent whether or not Wilson had injected enough to do the job. House moved Wilson's hand from over the pump, hesitated only a moment, and pressed the trigger a few more times, until he was certain more than enough morphine had entered his lover's body to mercifully end his suffering.

House cuddled Wilson until he died. The floodgates opened fully on his soul, and House wept for the first time in a very, very long time, until he could weep no more and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep….

…And woke up to the steady beeping of a heart monitor somewhere nearby.

House fought through a dark, dense fog toward consciousness, each of his five senses starting with sound, returning to him one at a time until he realized he wasn't asleep anymore and opened his eyes. He was staring up at acoustic ceiling tiles like the kind they had at the hospital. He was lying on his back, his upper body slightly elevated. Someone was snoring softly beside him. The lights had been dimmed and his head ached dully as did his bad leg. His mouth felt and tasted like a mouse had crawled into it and died. Finally, his dick hurt from the tip, up the shaft, and from within.

He slowly shifted his gaze from the ceiling—which hurt to do but less so than trying to move his entire head—and realized that he was lying in a hospital bed, which just happened to be located in an ICU cubicle. Everything looked oddly familiar.

No shit, really? He thought, mocking himself. You're a doctor. You've probably been in a room like this hundreds of times, too many of them as a patient.

Just moving his eyes didn't provide him much of a field of view; House couldn't tell who it was snoring beside him. It didn't yet occur to him to ask why he was in an ICU bed anyway. Slowly he moved his head toward the sound, ignoring the protest of the muscles in his neck. Sitting—or rather, curled up in the fetal position—on a pleather recliner was a fitfully sleeping James Wilson.

Wilson!

Suddenly everything came flooding back to him like a rushing river flowing through his somewhat lazy brain.

Oh God, I've lost it. I'm hallucinating! Wilson can't really be asleep in that chair—he's dead for Christ's sake! Whatever caused me to end up here has garbled my perception.

House blinked his eyes several times, hoping to rid himself of the vision, but it failed to work. What if…what if Wilson was really there, and the entire cancer thing had been unreal, instead? But that was impossible, wasn't it? Wasn't it more likely that he'd lost his mind with grief and had done something he couldn't remember doing to result in his hospitalization?

No, he told himself, the most rational explanation is that you're nuts.

Nuts or not, he had to try to find out which was true—if he could.

His heart monitor showed the increase in House's pulse from anxiety over his sanity and foolish hope. It was enough to disturb Wilson's light sleep. He stirred and then opened his eyes. They looked directly into House's. He was immediately fully awake and sitting up before standing up and approaching the bed. Clinical brown eyes looked over the medical displays as he sat down on the edge of House's bed. House felt the bed dip with his weight. Everything certainly seemed real so far, but then again, hallucinations had a tendency of seeming very, very real.

Wilson's attention returned to House. He grinned at the diagnostician, looking relieved. Grabbing the call button he pressed it.

"Hey, it's about time you decided to wake up."

House swallowed; he certainly sounded real, too. House looked him over more closely. Wilson looked distinctly different yet still familiar. His hair was a bit longer, slightly greasy, and unkempt, as if he hadn't had a shower in a couple of days. He wore a grey hoodie over a white tee and faded blue jeans. His eyes were bloodshot and there were dark rings under them from lack of sleep. He also appeared a little younger than House was used to, and his face sported at least a week of dark beard. The lines around his eyes and mouth, despite the fact that he actually looked younger, had deepened frown frowning; worry.

"You're dead," were the first words that came to House's mind so he spoke them. They came out sounding like he'd gargled with acid and it stung his throat.

Wilson frowned for just a moment before smirking. "I assure you, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

House shook his head, not allowing himself to accept that as fact. "No. I saw you die. I held you when you took your last breath. You're dead. You have to be. This…is a hallucination."

Wilson's frown returned and remained. "House, I didn't die. None of those things happened. You suffered a head injury, that's why you're confused. You were in a coma for nearly a month. Foreman kept telling me that the chances of you ever regaining consciousness were slim to none, but I knew better."

House wanted to believe Wilson was really sitting there and telling the truth, but he knew he couldn't afford to and then find out that this was simply a delusion. How could he be certain? How did one prove that one wasn't hallucinating?

"What's the last thing you remember happening before waking up just now?" Wilson asked him gently.

The answer was on the tip of his tongue, but House wasn't certain he should tell the truth because he didn't know how Wilson would react to it. Then again, if this was all a part of a psychotic break, what difference did it make?

"You were dying from a thymoma that had metastasized to your brain, lungs and GI tract. There was no hope and you were in agony," House told him cautiously, feeling his chest tighten with grief just thinking about it. "You had me promise to help you die when you couldn't take it anymore. I was caring for you at home for the last bit…I removed the safety override on the morphine pump for you. When you had rendered yourself unconscious I continued to give you enough morphine to end your life. I held you in my arms until you died. Then I woke up…but I didn't really wake up. This is just my grief turning my brain to mush. You're not real but I wish you were."

Wilson listened patiently as House related his story, looking fascinated and worried at the same time. Once House had finished speaking, Wilson's eyes became sad in compassion for House's obvious pain.

"House, none of that happened. It was just a dream. I'm perfectly healthy, aside from being sleep deprived, hunched over with back pain from sleeping in this torture device they call a chair, and forming an ulcer worrying about you." Wilson exhaled loudly. "There was an accident in Trenton. A crane collapsed onto an office building and—"

"Wilson," House interrupted, "that was three years ago!"

"No," Wilson argued calmly. "That was 28 days ago, House. Since then you've had three surgeries on your brain and nearly died twice when your ICP rocketed out of this world. Cuddy dragged you down to the disaster site to work triage. At some point you heard a noise come from the parking garage below the crushed building and like the nosy idiot you are you decided to investigate."

"I know," House said, nodding. "I found a young woman whose leg was crushed and pinned by a huge slab of concrete. I had to amputate. She died in the ambulance from a fat embolism on the way to the hospital. I know that, Wilson, but that happened three years ago. Since then Cuddy and I tried and failed at a relationship, I went off the deep end when she dumped me and ended up in prison for a year, Foreman became Dean and sprung me from prison so I could diagnose what was wrong with a sick pair of lungs you wanted to transplant into one of your patients. You were angry at me because of what I did to Cuddy and you and told me we weren't friends, that you didn't like me. I won you over with my usual charm. Then you were diagnosed with cancer and died!"

"House, what year do you think this is?" Wilson demanded, enthralled.

"2013," he answered with certainty. "The year I lost…the year I watched my best friend and…and lover die. Now I'm hallucinating that I'm talking to you because I've lost my mind with grief—but you know that, you have to, because you're part of my insanity, a figment of my psychosis."

Wilson sat in stunned silence, and House wasn't certain which part had surprised him the most. None of it should have, though, because being a fragment of his fractured mind, Wilson should have already known this. That was how it had worked with Amber the last time he'd gone insane.

Of course, Amber had never denied being a hallucination.

"What can I do to prove to you that you're not hallucinating?" Wilson asked with a sigh.

House had no idea; was there even a way possible to prove that something was not the case.

"Kiss me," House blurted suddenly; the real Wilson in 2010 was with Sam and had just pushed him away again. He would never kiss House, never in a million years—or at least three. Then again, House knew this so his hallucination knew it, so once again it wouldn't really prove anything—

His line of thought was rudely interrupted by a pair of soft, perfect lips brushing his own. It was only for a second before Wilson withdrew a few inches and opened his eyes to look anxiously at him, his face flushing. He'd caught House by surprise—but was that even possible if he was a hallucination?

"Well?" Wilson asked about five seconds later when House did nothing but stare at him wide-eyed.

"I…I'm not sure," House answered hesitantly. Delusion or not, House thought he'd never taste that sweet mouth again. "I think you have to try that again, only a real kiss this time."

A scowl appeared on Wilson's face but he didn't argue the point; cautiously he brought his face toward House's again. He couldn't believe Wilson was actually going along with it. Just before their mouths connected there was the sound of the door sliding open.

"Wilson—Oh, what the…" a familiar voice said, startled. Wilson immediately drew back and rose from the bed, turning to face the new arrival with his hands stuck into his pockets. House groaned in frustration and looked to the door as well, frowning and a sharp comment on his lips. It froze in his throat. Lisa Cuddy stood inside the doorway, and just behind her was Foreman.

Cuddy. What the hell was she doing there? She had left, quit her job and moved with Rachel to parts unknown two years before. Unless…

"Were you two about to kiss?" Cuddy demanded, her grayish-blue eyes nearly bugging out of her head. Her hair was long and flat-ironed and she wore a scarlet v-neck blouse that plunged too far and not far enough, and a tight, storm cloud grey pencil skirt that clung too close. On her left hand she wore a diamond engagement ring that caught a stray beam of light in the dimmed environment.

"Uh…," Wilson verbalized, trying to find a believable lie and appearing like the proverbial kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

House had experienced a delusional morning of passion with her before being carted off to the asylum but Cuddy herself hadn't been the hallucination so much as the sex. He'd only really hallucinated about dead people before. Did that mean…?

He thought fast, giving her a sour glare (that came quite naturally) and rolling his eyes. "Has anyone ever told you that your timing is perfect—as in perfectly bad?"

"The nursing desk paged me when Wilson signalled them," Cuddy defended, stepping into the room completely so Foreman could enter as well. "And you haven't answered my question."

"He just woke up," Wilson interrupted, trying to steer the conversation in a different direction. He looked rattled and House was afraid that he would panic and take off but he didn't. In fact he met House's eyes for a whole two seconds and a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. House's heart flipped in his chest.

"He's confused, though," Wilson continued, directing himself at Foreman, the neurologist in the room. "His first words to me were to tell me that I'm supposed to be dead. He thinks the year is 2013 and that I just recently died from cancer. I've tried to convince him that it's 2010 but he thinks I'm a hallucination."

House noted that Wilson had left out the part that he had told him that he had held his best friend—and lover—as he died. It was just as well.

"This is either a pretty cool delusion," House added, "or I really did dream up the past three years."

Foreman approached the bed, pulling a penlight out of his front lab coat pocket. "House, follow the light at the end of my pen with your eyes only, please."

House did as he was told, submitting to the neuro check without argument.

"Do you remember what happened in Trenton?" Foreman asked him. Moving the penlight around and observing House's eye movements carefully.

"Yes," House answered, "and what followed that for the next three years."

"House," Cuddy said with an exasperated sigh, "the crane collapse took place twenty-eight days ago, not three years."

"So you say," House responded, "but I remember distinctly three years passing since then and every rotten thing that happened in those three years. If you're right and I'm wrong then where did those memories come from? How do I know I didn't go psychotic when Wilson died?"

"Hello?" Wilson interjected drily, sighing. "Completely alive guy sitting right here."

"Extend your arms out straight at your sides and then touch your right index finger to your nose without moving any other part of your body," Foreman instructed quietly. "Then repeat using your left index finger."

"What is this, a sobriety test?" House snapped but did as he was told, performing the act perfectly.

"You must have dreamed while comatose," Cuddy informed him. "Often such dreams have been reported to seem extremely real to those who've had them. Your confusion over your dreams and reality is actually fairly common."

"She's right," Foreman told him with a nod. "Did Wilson fill you in on what happened to you to wind up in ICU?"

"Not exactly," House replied. He was no longer certain that this was all a psychotic break after all. Perhaps the last three years really had been nothing more than a long, complicated, admittedly bizarre dream. He desperately hoped so because if that was the case then Wilson really was alive and healthy and standing not three feet away from him. Of course, that would also mean that Wilson was still with Sam, Cuddy was still engaged to Lucas, and he was still alone. He and Wilson had never made love and become a couple. That was a huge disappointment but still, if it meant that Wilson was alive, he could learn to live with that again.

"I was getting to that," Wilson muttered. "House, there was a secondary collapse while you were in that parking garage with that young woman—"

"Hannah," House provided.

"Right," Wilson agreed, nodding, "Hannah. You and she were down there along with a fireman who was trying to lift the concrete slab off of her so she could be moved to safety and taken to hospital. Something went wrong and the ceiling above your heads collapsed and buried the three of you. It took three hours to get to you, and of the three, you were the only one located and pulled out alive."

House frowned and shook his head. "No…no, that's not what happened. I remember the air bag failing and there being a small shift in the concrete and steel around us, but it didn't cave in completely. We were fine. I didn't get hit in the head, at least not seriously. We gave up on trying freeing her that way and were looking for another while racing against the clock to get her out before crush syndrome set in. I supported Hannah's decision not to amputate, and Queen Bit-bee here tore into me, telling me that I was only supporting the patient's decision to get back at her for getting engaged to Lucas instead of me. We argued, and in the end I had to concede and tell Hannah that I had to amputate. Cuddy heard me explain to Hannah gently that we no longer had any choice and got all wet in the panties."

"I beg your pardon-?" Cuddy exclaimed indignantly. "How dare you imply that such a thing happened!"

"Yeah?" House snarled. "Well explain why you came running to me later that evening to tell me that you had ended things with Lucas because you were in love with me!"

"That never happened!" Cuddy nearly shouted, her hands flying to her hips. "I wouldn't come running to you if you were the last man on earth!"

House winced and lifted his hand to his temple as the shrillness of her voice caused the pain in his head to spike.

"Stop, both of you!" Wilson interrupted, casting glares at both Cuddy and House. "House is in no condition to get into an argument with you, Cuddy. He's the one with the head injury and confusion."

Cuddy recoiled slightly, looking away and backing down. She nodded in acknowledgement, but it was obvious that she was still angry. House didn't really give a shit how she felt.

Wilson returned to his narrative, addressing House quietly and calmly. "None of that other stuff happened. You were extricated from the rubble with a severe head injury and rushed to Princeton-Plainsboro. Dr. Shaffer from Neurology performed the surgery and Foreman assisted. They were able to surgically repair any gross damage done to your brain but they couldn't prevent the swelling that took place. You were given a craniotomy to relieve the pressure in your skull as much as possible and then all we could do was wait and see if you'd ever regain consciousness and if you did, what cognitive and motor deficits you sustained."

"I never went to your apartment," Cuddy told him firmly, "though I did end up spending the night here with Wilson waiting for you to get out of surgery. After that, I went home to be with Rachel and Lucas and catch up on some sleep."

House tried to wade through all of this new information with a splitting headache and a sluggish brain.

"So it was a dream?" House marveled, disoriented. "I…I'm tired and my head hurts."

"I'll order some pain meds," Foreman told him, picking up House's chart and making a few notations, "and a head CT in the morning. We can discuss this more tomorrow. For now I want you to get some rest."

Cuddy nodded, looked at House with an unreadable expression in her eyes, and left the room. Foreman exited as well, but Wilson remained. He sat down on the edge of House's bed again.

"Convinced that I'm not dead?" he asked with a small smile.

"I might be," House answered. They stared at each other for a long moment and House had the feeling that Wilson was thinking about what House had told him earlier, and that almost kiss.

"Well, I guess I'll let you get some sleep."

House nodded. He didn't want Wilson to go; he never wanted Wilson to leave him again. "I guess you want to get home to Sam," he said quietly, watching Wilson carefully for any tells. It hurt House to know that Wilson wanted Sam and not him.

Wilson shrugged. "I could use a hot shower and a good night's sleep in my own bed. But, uh…Sam and I aren't together anymore."

House's gaze flicked up to meet Wilson's in surprise. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to hear it," he admitted carefully, "but I have to admit I'm surprised."

Wilson shrugged. "She resented you, House. Increasingly she was demanding that I move on in life without you mooching off of me and hurting me. I'd argue that you were my best friend and for all your faults I wasn't going to turn my back on you for anyone. I've been pushing you away to please her and make it easier for me to be with her but when I thought you'd been killed, I realized what was truly important to me, and she didn't even make the list. So I told her we were through and gave her a week to move out of the loft. She left three days ago. I thought it would hurt to see her go, but actually it…didn't. You were right about her—again."

House's heart rate sped up and it was reflected on the heart monitor but he didn't care. The Harpy was gone and not because she dumped Wilson but because Wilson dumped her—in favor of him. House had dodged the bullet with Cuddy's name on it, unlike in his…dream? Hallucination? Vision? Whatever it had been, it had not really occurred and for that he was nearly ecstatic. He hadn't relapsed, or gone to prison either. If the past three years—or twenty-eight days—had taught House anything, it was that he needed to be honest with Wilson now and damn the consequences rather than play it safe and risk wasting years playing dodge-ball with his heart. Life was short and unpredictable and he refused to waste any more time waiting for Wilson to take the initiative.

"Wilson, I need to tell you something," House told him and then waited for his best friend to respond.

"Does this have to do with what you said earlier?" Wilson asked him carefully. "When you were telling me about losing me to cancer you referred to me as both your best friend and lover. House, in your dream…were we actually sleeping together? You know, friends with benefits?"

House sighed. This was the moment of truth, carpe diem.

"No," he answered. Wilson's eyes widened slightly. "Oh. Uh, yeah. So, um, what were we exactly?"

"I told you," House answered, forcing back the anxiety he felt. "We were lovers. It was more than just fuck buddies, Wilson. I told you that…that I—"

"Loved me?" Wilson ventured helpfully.

"Yeah."

Wilson took a deep breath. "So, uh…do you really? Love me, that is?"

House couldn't find his voice so he simply nodded, lowering his gaze and waiting tensely for Wilson to get up from the bed and storm out of the cubicle, never to return. Just because Dream Wilson had loved him didn't mean that Real Wilson did.

"I see," Wilson said, exhaling heavily. "Well, I guess it does make sense."

"It…does?" House looked up at him again. No, don't do it, don't hope!

"Yeah." Wilson scooted about an inch closer to House. "Our odd, screwed-up friendship is the longest lasting relationship either of us has ever had. No matter what happens, we can't stay away—we keep coming back. And we've never really been just best friends, have we? People we don't even know suspect or outright believe that we're gay and, well, I can only speak for myself but as I sat here day after day hoping that you'd wake up I realized that you are and always have been the most important person in the world to me. I…love you, too."

"I have to be hallucinating," House told him, his heart feeling lighter than it had for years; or twenty-eight days, take your pick.

"Did you take any Vicodin in the past two months?"Wilson asked.

"I relapsed in my dream," House answered.

Wilson shook his head and smiled. "Doesn't count. In real life—did you take any?"

"No," House told him, smiling a tiny bit. He managed to hold Wilson's eyes, which were so vibrant, so alive!

Reaching out, Wilson took House's hand in both of his. "Then I guess we're okay." He slowly leaned toward House, his eyes zeroed in on the older man's lips.

"Yeah," House managed to whisper before Wilson's lips found his and his eyes fluttered closed.

~fin~