A/N- This was inspired by the following news release about David Shore's new project :
"Shore will write and executive produce the untitled drama, described as a high-end, character-driven procedural about a former cop who's now a cunning but charming low-rent lawyer who uses his street smarts to work the system for his clients while battling his own demons and wooing his ex-wife."
This is a crossover between the untitled drama and House MD :)
Rick Waller sat at a table in the bar, nursing a glass of coke, his empty dinner plate pushed to one side. The bar was quiet tonight; he could hear the piano playing over the soft murmur of conversation. The guy who played Tuesdays and Fridays was good, he'd seen him here before, playing for hours, and the tip jar was always full by the end of the night.
Rick found himself eating here more and more often, rather than going home to a microwaved instant dinner and a night in front of the television watching the latest trashy reality show. He usually propped his netbook up in front of him and pecked away at it between bites, to convey the impression of a busy executive, fitting food in between urgent appointments, rather than some loser hanging around a bar because he had nowhere better to go, and no-one he could be with.
It wasn't that he didn't have work, he did, but nothing that required him to work through dinner - business had been slow lately, the economy had more people struggling to hold onto their jobs and put food on the table than hiring lawyers, even cut-price lawyers, willing to do a little work on the grey edges of the law.
He played with the small package in front of him. He'd picked it up earlier today, hoping he'd be able to give it to her tonight, that maybe it would change things; she hadn't exactly been receptive to his efforts to make amends so far.
"It won't work."
He looked up, startled, as a rough voice interrupted his thoughts. The piano player was standing there, leaning on the cane he always used. He was a white guy, his hair cropped close to his head, his face creased and aged, his most startling feature was his bright blue eyes. He was tall, over six feet, but seemed shorter due to his lopsided lean. Right leg injury, Rick's cop's brain supplied, painful by the way he was standing, and the way his knuckles were white where he gripped the cane.
"Going to her now, straight from a bar, she'll be able to tell." The man talked in quick, clipped sentences, his words sure, arrogant, as if he could never be wrong. "There's a smell you pick up in bars, women can sniff it out a mile away. You go there now, she'll think you've fallen off the wagon and you'll kill your chances for sure. Trust me; I've been on that rodeo."
"I haven't been drinking," Rick said, automatically defensive. The drinking was what got him kicked out of the police, he hadn't had a drink in over a year, although he wanted one every day. Then he frowned, "how did you know..."
"That you're an alcoholic? Seen you here lots of times, haven't seen you with anything stronger than a coke. But I've seen how you look at other people's drinks. You don't drink coke because you want to. Pretty dumb move, spending so much time in a bar, unless you're trying to prove something to yourself." The piano player fished a little medicine vial out of his pocket and ostentatiously swallowed a pill. "Addicts are stupid. Doesn't matter how much time you spend in bars not drinking, the day will come when you have one, and then you won't stop."
"You should know," Rick said sharply, taking a pill in front of someone else like that - the guy had problems of his own. Rick wasn't going to listen to any moralizing lectures from this ass. He pulled his netbook closer to him, signalling that the conversation was over.
"Don't you want to know how I knew where you were going?"
"I'm sure you're going to tell me." Rick tapped away at the keyboard.
"You've been playing with that wedding ring all night," the guy nodded to Rick's finger. "Except for that's not the finger your dear wife put it on, I can see the tan line on the other one. She's on your mind though, and you've got a pretty package all wrapped up for her, so she's not dead. Divorced. Probably due to the drinking. You think you're going to win her back with expensive trinkets?"
Rick dropped the pretence of doing any work. "Who the hell are you? Sherlock Holmes?"
The guy's lips quirked in amusement. "No, although there are similarities. My name's Greg, and that's all you need to know for now. I need a lawyer who knows a few different ways to get things done. You interested?"
"What makes you think I'm a lawyer?"
Greg rolled his eyes, "I asked the bartender of course. What else?"
Of course. Rick sighed, the guy was probably right, no point in going to Cheryl's place tonight. He nodded to an empty chair at his table. "Have a seat."
"Just waiting for the little woman," Greg said, his eyes scanning the rest of the room and then softening as he apparently found his target.
Another man came up to the table. Younger than Greg, but with similarly close cropped hair. He was thin, his clothes bagging on him, and he looked tired and worn down. His smile was quick, although his brown eyes assessed Rick as thoroughly as Greg's had.
He put out his hand and shook Rick's, a pleasantry Greg hadn't bothered with. "James," he introduced himself. "Nice to meet you, Mr Waller."
Greg rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, you can make eyes at each other later. Now shall we sit, cripple here, remember?"
"Rick," Rick introduced himself to the newcomer as the two men got settled and had drinks orders taken. Once they were alone at the table James leaned forward.
"Rick, will you take our case?"
" My case," Greg interrupted. "You haven't done anything that would spoil your Boy Scout copybook."
"We're in this together." James replied firmly, amazingly managing to quiet Greg.
"I don't know what your case is yet," Rick pointed out, although he already knew his answer.
Greg smirked, twirling his cane between his hands.
"Well, to start with, we're both dead." He stilled the cane, staring straight at Rick, "but we got better and now we want to go home."
Rick sat back, draining the last of his coke; for once not even regretting it wasn't scotch. If nothing else, this case certainly wasn't going to be boring
Rick lay in bed, his heart pounding. Fuck! He'd thought he was over the nightmares, it had been weeks since the last one. He closed his eyes, willing his heart to slow down and trying to shut his brain off. After a few minutes he gave up, pushing the covers back and sitting up. His bleary eyes found the cheap alarm clock by his bedside, four o'clock in the morning. He'd managed four hours sleep, great. This was the time when he missed his ex-wife, Cheryl, most of all. When the nightmares had first started she'd get up with him, they'd sit together, not saying much, but she would be there. Then he'd started drinking, and looking to the booze for some peace, and although he'd slept better he'd gradually lost the one thing that mattered most to him. He looked at the little package, still sitting on his bedside table. How could that make up for what he'd put her through?
He sighed and got out of bed, shoving his feet into his slippers and shrugging the worn bathrobe around his shoulders. Still bleary eyed he shuffled into the kitchen and made himself a mug of herbal tea, his therapist had recommended it over his usual coffee. Soothing, she'd said. He took a sip and pulled a face, yeah, he didn't feel very soothed at the moment.
His netbook and notes from last night were still sprawled over the breakfast bar and he sat on one of the stools and quickly read through them.
Greg and James had certainly spun a good tale. The whole thing was like a plot from one of those silly soap operas that Cheryl had always been obsessed with. Terminal cancer, parole violations, heroin overdoses, a burning building that had apparently collapsed on Greg (in front of James, no less!) and from which he'd miraculously emerged unscathed to fake his own death and then ride off into the sunset with his dying friend. Rick had listened with polite scepticism as the two men had related the tale, while constantly interrupting each other, and occasionally descending into a display of snarky bickering that resembled the effort that Rick's Mom and Dad indulged in every Thanksgiving when their children came home.
He should have turned the case down really. These guys didn't need a lawyer as much as they needed a miracle worker if they thought Greg was going to get out of this without spending some serious time in prison, possibly with James as his cellmate, for conspiracy after the fact. But somehow he'd found himself telling them he'd look into it, and get back to them in a couple of days with some recommendations. Greg had scowled at him, and James had smiled at him, and that had been that.
He took another sip of his tea - it sort of grew on you after a little while, and opened up the netbook. One of the first things he'd learned as a cop, and then again as lawyer, was that everybody lies - nobody ever tells the full truth.
They'd given him their surnames so it wasn't difficult to verify the basics. Yep, Greg House, caught in a warehouse fire, body identified by dental records (and Greg hadn't gone into any details of how he'd managed that little feat). Greg was famous enough in medical circles that there was a potted biography, along with mention that he was somewhat notorious - the most recent event before the fire being a year spent in prison for driving a car into his ex-girlfriend's house. Rick made a mental note not to take any romantic advice from the guy and moved onto James.
James Wilson was a tougher nut to crack. Oh, his medical credentials were easy enough to track down, and he had one of the highest ratings Rick had ever seen from his patients. He was ranked in the top twenty in the oncology field by his peers, had published any number of papers, volunteered at any number of charity functions and had never been involved in any scandals that Rick could find. But his personal life barely rated a blip on the internet, his old hospital had a brief blurb that he had resigned due to 'health reasons' on their website and that was that.
James wasn't considered by the public at large to be dead, he had merely disappeared. Apparently when he and Greg left Princeton James' life expectancy was considered to be about five months. Now it was a year past that and he was still here. 'Cured' Greg had said, 'in remission', James had corrected and then they'd spent five minutes arguing the toss.
There were a few photos of James online and Rick compared them to his memory of the man from the night before. The man in the photos looked young, almost boyish, with a charming smile, and an aura of confidence. The man in the bar was undoubtedly the same man, but he'd been through an ordeal, even without knowing about the cancer Rick had seen that. The close cropped hair was the least of it; there was something fragile about him, a hesitation in his movements and even in his speech. Whatever Greg and James had been doing for the last two years it hadn't been a wild road trip - although perhaps it had started out that way. When James had spoken of them leaving Princeton on two bikes, and with nothing but a handful of clothing, there had been a fond wistfulness in his voice.
Rick looked out of the window; the sun was rising, the first rays chasing away the darkness. A new day dawning. He gathered up the paperwork and switched off the computer for now. He'd have a shower to chase away the last memories of his dream, and then grab some breakfast on the way to the office. Then he'd hit the phones and the internet and try and work out a strategy for his new clients; one that didn't involve Greg House going to prison for the rest of his life.
It was a couple of days later when Rick pushed open his office door in the morning to find Greg already inside, seated behind the receptionist's desk, casually going through some paperwork on the desk.
"It's about time you got here, did you bring donuts?" Greg asked him, barely looking up from his snooping. "Seriously, has your receptionist ever heard of punctuation? She must be a great looker; you obviously didn't hire her for her literary skills."
Rick snatched the paper from his hands. " He's fifty, great with clients, and has a boyfriend who could kick your ass all the way back to that hospital of yours."
"You know, I talked to a few people about you before I hired you, they all said you were charming." Greg said, putting on a ridiculous pout.
"Well you know what they say, everybody lies." Rick said. Greg's eyes widened fractionally and there was a calculating look behind those eyes but he didn't say anything more, just levered himself to his feet with his cane and started to make his way towards Rick's inner office. Rick rolled his eyes, and thought about stopping him but shrugged, he'd been going to call Greg and James today anyway; might as well get it out of the way.
Greg had made himself comfortable in one of the client chairs, and Rick sat down at the desk with his coffee.
"James isn't with you?"
"No," Greg said flatly, and unusually for him didn't go on to make some wisecrack. "You said two days, tell me what you've found out."
"You're in a hurry to go back to prison?"
"I'm in a hurry to get this over with."
"Why do you want to return to your old life? Faking your own death, and going through with it, leaving everything behind. Lots of people dream of a fresh start like that. James is better, or as least as good as he's likely to get - why go back?"
"I miss all my buddies at the hospital, they were always so good to me," Greg pretended to wipe away a tear.
Rick sat back and crossed his arms, staring Greg down. Greg didn't say anything for a minute and then he glanced away, thumping his cane on the ground a couple of times.
"What difference does it make? We hired you to sort this out for us. If you're not up the job then just tell us and we'll take our money back and move on and find someone who is."
"To get this done, I'll need to contact a few different people, set up some deals and get things worked out before you hand yourself in. If there's something you haven't told me, some minor detail, some little crime that you were hoping people wouldn't find out about, it will come out and any deal will collapse. Everything will be out of my, and your, control." He wasn't lying; any negotiations were going to be tricky. At the moment nobody was looking for Greg, so there was no incentive for anyone to make deals. Rick was going to have to call in a few favours just to get off the ground on this one.
Greg fiddled some more with his cane and then fished his pill bottle out, taking one, apparently girding himself for this conversation - much the same way Rick used to have a slug or two at the precinct before something tricky. His fingers twitched and he took a deep sip of his coffee and waited for Greg to talk.
"Wilson's cancer..." Greg started and then broke off, shaking his head slightly. "The first month was great, we did the whole road trip thing, rode all day, stopped when we wanted, stayed in seedy hotels, the whole thing. Then Wilson started deteriorating, we had to give up the bikes, not travel as much. He thought he was ready; that he was okay with time running out. Turned out he wasn't." Greg shrugged. "We found a place where he could get treatment; there were running a trial on a new chemo drug. The sort you get when you have one foot in the grave anyway. He'd tried super-chemo before, but this stuff..." He stared into the distance. "It was bad. He died once." He blinked, "they brought him back obviously."
Rick kept quiet, not wanting to interrupt Greg now that he was finally talking seriously and openly.
"All that time, while he was in the hospital, having the chemo - months of it - I couldn't be with him." Greg stared at him. "We had to use his real name, for the insurance. PPTH covered it, because Wilson was still employed there when the cancer was diagnosed. So the paperwork went through that hospital. Everyone at PPTH knew where he was having treatment. Doctors are the biggest gossips there are, Wilson is well known in oncology circles, I'm well known everywhere. I was using a false name, but there was too much danger of people putting two and two together." He waved a hand at his cane and his leg, and Rick had to agree, he would be a hard person to miss. "Wilson wouldn't let me visit."
Greg was silent for a while and then got to his feet and wandered around the office, peering at the diplomas and certificates on the walls. Rick wondered if he'd said all he could but finally he started up again.
"After the chemo they operated, and then there was more chemo... I used to call him every day. That was all I could do. During all that he was alone in the hospital." Greg paused again, obviously remembering that time. "If the cancer ever comes back, or if anything else ever happens..."
"You want to be able to be with him."
"I can't leave him alone like that again." Greg finished simply.
Rick thought it made sense. Like this they could try and limit the consequences of what Greg had done. If he was caught one day by the police everything would be out of Greg's, and James', control. When the men had gone on their trip they were expecting James to be dead in five months, and Rick had the impression that Greg might well have followed him. There had been no long term plan. Now that Wilson had made a recovery they needed a future. One where they didn't have to hide.
Greg's phone rang, cutting the silence, and Rick smiled at the choice of ring tone - I Will Survive. It had to be James of course, who else would ring a dead man?
"I have to go," Greg said after a quick conversation.
"Is everything okay?"
"Wilson is having a bad hair day." Greg said dismissively, but he was already on his way out the door.
"We haven't discussed your course of action yet," Rick pointed out; after all it was Greg who'd broken into his office, presumably to get this thing moving.
Greg looked at him impatiently. "Meet us at the bar tonight. I have to fill in for the regular guy; we can talk in my break."
He didn't stay to check whether Rick agreed, or whether he might have other plans. Rick thought for one moment about just not turning up, but that would be petty. He didn't t have other plans after all - not concrete ones. Still, Greg would find out that lawyers, especially lawyers after hours, didn't come cheap.
"He's very good," Rick said to James, who was sitting at a table with him, his eyes locked on the piano player. Greg didn't seem to be aware of anything in the room; he was totally wrapped up in the music he was making. It seemed a bit risky to Rick, Greg playing in public when he was supposed to be dead, but they were a long way from Princeton, and he could see Greg's passion for the music. He doubted that a piano fit into their current lifestyle.
Rick hadn't been sure whether he'd see James tonight, whatever the phone call had been about it had sent Greg running, well limping, out of his office as fast as he could. Obviously James had called for his help for some reason; Rick had suspected a medical problem as James still looked fragile. Yet when he'd arrived at the bar James had already been at a table, drinking coke, Rick noted with a smile. He'd ordered one and joined him.
"Don't tell him that, his ego is already big enough," James replied but Rick could see he was proud of his partner. James tore his gaze away from Greg and focused in on Rick.
"How long will he have to go to prison for?"
Rick blinked in surprise, he had been expecting James to want to wait for Greg before getting down to business, and he hadn't expected either man to calmly accept that a prison term was an inevitability.
"I think the original six months will be non-negotiable. We'll have to give them that. Whether they'll want anything for the other crimes will depend on many factors, chief of which is the identification of the man who actually died. You said that Greg went looking for him because he was concerned about him, and found that he had overdosed on heroin and was dead when Greg got the warehouse?" Rick figured that there was more to it than that, most likely that Greg had decided to do a little smack of his own and had actually gone looking for his former patient for just that reason. He wasn't going to advise Greg to put his hand up for that though. The concerned doctor was a better story, even if it might stretch believability a bit.
James didn't flinch, just stared straight at Rick with an easy half-smile. "Yes, that's correct. When the building collapsed in the fire House saw an opportunity to get out of going back to jail - and missing the last five months of my life - and swapped his own dental records with the dead man's."
"You thought he was dead for several days..." Rick probed; those must have been hard days for James.
"Yes," James said flatly, not elaborating, his eyes again flitting to Greg. "Greg can tell them the name of the guy, and that he was his patient. They can pull his medical records, his real records, and see that he was a heroin addict. Greg had nothing to do with his death."
"Apart from being there," Rick pointed out. By swapping identities with the dead man Greg had deprived the police of any opportunity to do a meaningful investigation into the circumstances of his death. Any evidence of anything other than the man's identity was long gone.
James look disheartened for the first time, Rick could empathize, what they wanted to do was a big risk and James might be facing losing Greg for a long time.
"I think we can make a good play on the fact that when all this was happening Greg's partner was dying, and only had five months to live, that was bound to affect his judgement. He was facing six months in prison, and wouldn't be able to be with you when you needed him. Did you guys see a lawyer at the time? You would have had good grounds to appeal the revocation of parole given the circumstances."
James looked over at Greg again and then back at Rick, rubbing the back of his neck in what looked to be a nervous mannerism.
"We weren't... back in Princeton we weren't 'partners'."
Rick blinked, surprised. Greg and James presented as such an old married couple that it hadn't occurred to him that they might not be. For one terrible moment he thought he might have misjudged their relationship completely.
"We are now," James hurried on, as if he didn't want to be caught denying it. "But that's happened since we left."
"How long after you left?"
"Two days," James gave an embarrassed half smile, fiddling with his empty glass. "It would have happened the first night if it wasn't for the cow."
"I told you before Wilson, that wasn't a cow it was a horse." Greg of course, appearing out of nowhere to sit down at the table, grabbing James' glass in one motion, and then pulling a face at the fact that it was empty.
Rick pondered the question of the cow slash horse for a moment and then decided to ignore it and continue on.
"Okay, well, I think the fact that you..."
"Had wild monkey sex," Greg supplied helpfully.
"... entered into a relationship only two days after leaving Princeton is enough to establish that there were strong feelings between the two of you, which we can use while arguing a case."
'And if that fails at least they'll let Wilson make conjugal visits while I spend the next ten years breaking up metaphorical rocks."
"It won't be ten years," Wilson snapped.
"The New Jersey prison system doesn't allow conjugal visits," Rick pointed out mildly, not sure how much of the banter between these two was good natured and how much was serious. There was clearly some tension around the prospect of Greg's return to prison, although that was natural.
Greg looked from one to the other of them, obviously trying to decide which to reply to. Rick decided to spare him the effort.
"The next step is for me to contact the prosecutor's office. Once I do that there's really no going back."
The two men looked at each other and Greg stared back down at the table, letting James speak for him.
"He'll just do the six months?"
"I can't promise anything at this stage, but I will argue hard for that. If we give them that they'll be less inclined to push for more. The crucial thing will be the identification of the man who actually died in that fire, and whether they clear you of any involvement, except for after the fact. Everything else we can explain away with grief and with a temporary loss of judgement on Greg's behalf."
There was silence again and then finally Greg looked up and nodded. "There's a prison mop with my name on it, just waiting for me. Start things going."
James looked worried but he nodded as well.
When Rick left the bar, about an hour later, Greg had moved back to the piano and was playing an old Stones' classic. James was standing next to him, leaning on the instrument, his eyes fixed on those fingers as they flew up and down the keyboard.
It was a two hour drive to go and see his old friend, Deandra Clemins, who worked in the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office at Trenton. Rick hadn't been back that way for a long time but these were the sort of tricky negotiations it was always best to make in person. It wasn't every day that you had to tell someone that a person they had thought was dead, actually wasn't. They'd agreed to meet for lunch at a nearby restaurant. He'd been a bit uncertain of the reception he would get but Deandra seemed genuinely pleased to see him, hugging him warmly as soon as she saw him.
They spent a few minutes catching up on their respective lives, and then Rick launched into a careful explanation of the situation during their meal.
Deandra heard him out in silence as the remains of their lunch were cleared away, and the waiters hovered around them, trying to suggest that they should move on. Rick ordered another round of coffees to pacify them and waited for her response.
"This 'hypothetical' person, you know it would be simple to track down who it is, don't you?"
"I'll spare you the effort, his name is Greg House, he was a doctor at Princeton Plainsboro teaching hospital, and he's fairly well known in the medical community."
Deandra laughed. "Greg House, of course. He's reasonably well known to the police here too. Drove his car into his ex-girlfriend's house and fled the country. He rolled over when he came back though, took the first deal we offered, we would have settled for six months, he took a year. I didn't know the rest of the story though. So he's got a boyfriend now, hope the guy never breaks up with him."
Rick smiled, "I don't think that's very likely. Whatever happened between him and his girlfriend he seems pretty devoted to this guy, devoted enough that he threw away his life in Princeton to run off with him."
"From what you say he was going back to prison anyway, not much to throw away."
"It would only have been six months." Rick sipped his coffee. "Six months and he could have gone back to his work and carried on with his life, instead he ran off with a guy who wasn't even his boyfriend at the time."
"You're a romantic, Rick. You want to think that 'true love' conquers everything."
Rick thought about the package still waiting at his home, and the ring on his finger. He'd had that one person in his life once, and he'd thrown it away without ever realising what he was losing.
"He's willing to go to prison for six months, voluntarily, so he can have a proper life with James. So that he can be there if James needs more treatment. He realises he did the wrong thing by running, but he was in a bad spot."
"People don't change, Rick, not permanently. The guy was an asshole to his girlfriend; he'll be one to his boyfriend some time along the line. He may regret what he did now, but he'll do more stupid things in the future, some people just don't think the law applies to them." Deandra finished her coffee and gathered her purse up. "I need to get back. I'll take a look at the case file and be in touch. I can't promise anything, but I'll do my best - for you, not for Doctor Asshole."
Rick walked Deandra back to her car and Deandra gave him a quick hug goodbye.
"You're looking well, Rick. Don't be a stranger, okay? You still have a lot of friends here."
"After what happened?"
"People understood; more than you gave them credit for. We would have helped, if you'd let us."
"I should have." Rick said, returning her hug then standing back as she got into her car.
After she had driven off he took a deep breath. Seeing her again, and being in this town again, hadn't been easy. He walked back to his own car, hoping that tonight he'd sleep without any nightmares.
Greg and James weren't at the bar the next Friday when Rick got there. Another piano player was there, but he wasn't a patch on Greg.
"He quit," the bartender said when Rick approached him. "Said he had to move on. He texted yesterday, didn't even come in. The boss was furious - Greg was the best one we ever had. People were starting to come just to hear him." He winced as the new player hit a sour note. "This guy sucks."
Rick offered his commiserations and left. He had some news, and he'd been hoping to catch up with both men here. It had been a busy week and he hadn't had time to arrange a more conventional meeting. He took out his phone but then reconsidered; he really needed to talk to them in person. James had given him their address and it was on his way home, he'd drop by.
The address was an apartment in a large block of them. Not the best part of town, but not the worst either. There was nothing to distinguish their door from any other in the hallway. Rick wondered if they'd picked this place for its anonymity.
Rick's knocking met with no success and eventually he pulled out his phone and sent a quick message, wondering all the time if they'd changed their mind and had made a run for it.
The door cracked upon and James quickly ushered him in, shutting the door firmly behind him.
"I saw someone from our old hospital at the shops yesterday," he explained, running a hand through his hair, still short but longer than it had been when Rick first met him. "Until you've wrapped up a deal for us we need to lie low - can't take any chances. If we can't get a deal we'll have to move on, it's too risky being in New Jersey like this."
He ushered Rick into the small living room, where Greg was ensconced in front of the television. Looking around Rick saw a sparsely furnished room with almost no personal touches. It looked like a temporary rest stop, and the sight of two bags leaning against one wall emphasized that. James followed his gaze to the bags.
"In case we need to leave quickly." He explained.
"Don't worry we're not skipping out on your bill," Greg put in, his attention still on the television. "Wilson is just prone to panicking. We did the duck and cover drill yesterday."
"I got you a deal." Rick said and that succeeded on drawing Greg's interest. He stabbed at the mute button on the remote and turned his sharp stare on Rick.
"Six months, and then a year's probation - that's for the 'faking your own death' thing. They'll drop the felony vandalism charges if you do drug and alcohol counselling and anger management classes during the probation. You won't be able to leave the state during your probation, but after that you'll be free of all charges. You'll be able to take up your own name again, and go wherever you like." He gestured to the packed bags, "You won't have to run anymore."
Greg's expression darkened at the mention of the counselling but he didn't say anything about it. He nodded to Wilson.
"And what about Wilson - will he be dropping the soap in the showers with me?"
Greg had made it quite clear to Rick that any deal involving Wilson doing jail time would not even be considered, not that Rick would have brokered one.
"They're not interested in prosecuting James as long as you go along with this deal. You've got forty eight hours to accept, and then all bets are off - they'll come looking for you." There was no choice really - now the police knew House was alive he faced being on the run for the rest of his life if he didn't take the deal.
"We don't have to do this, House. Not if you don't want to. We can keep travelling." Wilson said, startling Rick who had been concentrating on Greg.
"Why Doctor Wilson, where has my law abiding BFF gone? Give a man a bike and some stubble and he thinks he's Jesse James. I thought you'd be all in favour of making things nice and tidy again."
"I'm not the one who has to go to prison."
"What - you're not going to visit me? I'm hurt."
Their eyes met, and Rick had the feeling that they were carrying on a silent conversation without him. Then James nodded and rubbed the back of his neck in a nervous mannerism.
"I'll be there, this time."
Greg met his eyes for a moment longer and then nodded at Rick.
"Okay, looks like prison blues it is. I'm sure Frankie will be glad to have someone kick his ass at chess again."
James walked Rick back down to his car, Rick suspected he wanted to talk privately and that suspicion was confirmed when he lingered by the car.
"Thank you, for arranging this. Greg will never thank you."
"Hard to thank someone for sending you to prison for six months."
"He needs this; he needs to be able to be a doctor again. Not at Princeton-Plainsboro again, we're finished with that place, but consulting maybe. It's his gift, it's like his music; he needs that outlet."
"And you? What do you need?"
"I... I don't know. When you think you're going to die, well, things change, and then when you don't die... they can't just change back. "James shivered in the cool breeze and put his hands in his pockets, staring out at the traffic passing by. "I had a patient once, I told him he had six months to live, and then a couple of months later I told him it was a mistake, he'd never been sick. It should have been the best news in the world but he was angry. He'd changed his life to fit in with the diagnosis, with the notion that he only had six months left, and then when that wasn't true - he didn't have anything. I don't know where I'm going, I can't go back, but I don't know where the road ahead leads. I guess I'll figure it out. With House, when he gets out."
"You don't regret getting together with him?"
Wilson looked startled and then laughed. "What, did you think I only did that because I was dying?"
"It could look a bit like it." It occurred to Rick that maybe Greg had had the same thought.
"When I was dying I told him I wanted him to say that he loved me. He did, that first night. But I already knew, we both already knew. The cancer gave us that last push; it didn't create what we felt. I may not know what I want to with the rest of my life, but I know who I want to do it with."
James glanced at Rick's hand, where the wedding ring still sat snugly around the wrong finger. Wrong finger, wrong hand.
"One thing that being friends with House taught me, the only thing worse than taking a gamble is not taking one when you need to. Call her - find out."
Rick got into his car, thinking about that, and then James leaned in the open window.
"Of course when I got back together with my first ex-wife, well that was a disaster. Just so you know."
"Thanks, that's very helpful."
Rick shivered as he got out of the car and met his clients outside the police station. It was only early October but already the weather was turning cold, the warm days of a couple of months ago fast becoming a distant memory. The men had ridden a bike here, James sitting behind Greg, his arms wrapped around his waist as they entered the parking lot. One bike because only one man would be leaving. Greg pulled into a parking spot with the same bravado with which he apparently did everything.
James got off first and then Greg dismounted, taking his cane from a clip on the side of the bike. Both were dressed in leathers and as Rick approached they took off their helmets. Rick was again struck by the similarities in their appearance; both were sporting stubble and still had the short haircuts although they were beginning to grow out. But it wasn't the superficial physical appearance so much, but the attitude that struck him. These were two guys who'd pretty much stopped caring what the world thought. Wherever their road trip had taken them, and whatever they'd been through on the way to here, it had left its mark.
"We need to go in, they're waiting for us." Rick said to Greg, who seemed rooted to the ground, staring at the steps that led up to the station.
"The firing squad awaits," Greg muttered. "Give us a minute."
"One minute," Rick warned and moved away a few paces, out of earshot although he still kept his eyes on Greg. His reputation was on the line here, he had to deliver his client.
Greg took off his watch, passing it to James who slipped it around his own wrist. Similarly Greg's wallet and keys were given to James who tucked them away safely. Then James stepped forward and engulfed Greg in a hug, holding onto him tightly. Rick could see that he was saying something, but he couldn't hear the words. Then he left go and took a half step back, his hands trailing down Greg's arms before letting him go.
"Hey, I said none of the gay stuff here," Rick heard Greg protest as he walked back into earshot.
"Promise me, House," James said, his eyes intent on Greg.
"Yeah, yeah, I pinkie promise," Greg snarked but his expression belied his words. Greg glanced over the parking lot and nodded his head to a car that had entered. James followed his gaze and frowned as two men got out of the car and leaned against it. Rick hadn't seen them before; one was African-American, the other white.
"You contacted them?" James said, "House, I don't need a babysitter, or sitters. And I'm not going back there. Neither of us are going back there, we're going to get this done and then we're moving on."
"Keep your hair on, Chase has my job, and I'm sure Brown has your chair glued to his ample ass; they don't want a couple of dead guys coming back."
"Then why did you call them? I told you I'll be okay."
"I thought you might need some friends." Greg said simply. Then he shrugged and added his usual sardonic quip, "Also to see Chase poop his pants when he realised I was still alive."
"We need to go in," Rick said, reluctant to cut into this exchange, whatever it was about, but he didn't want the cops coming out into the parking lot after his client.
Greg turned to the two late arrivals and raised his cane in some sort of gesture of greeting/farewell and then turned to go without another word, leaning heavily on his cane as he limped towards the station. As he got to the top step he looked around and back at James one last time and then disappeared inside. Rick followed him.
When Rick emerged from the police station an hour or so later he wasn't surprised to see James still there, leaning against the car talking to his friends. Rick went over and reassured him that everything had gone smoothly, Greg was in custody and would be transported to Mercer County Jail later today, and probably through to the prison in a week or so. Rick had obtained assurances that both Greg's disability and his need for medication would be respected, and had told Greg to contact him if he had problems on either count. That was all he could do for now. He declined an offer to go for lunch with the other men and watched them drive off, James riding the bike this time. From the glances his former colleagues had kept shooting at him Rick suspected that this wasn't quite the 'Doctor Wilson' they were used to.
Rick went to his car and sat in the driver's seat, his eyes on his wedding ring. Making up his mind he took out his cell phone and quickly selected her from his contact list before he had a chance to back out.
When she answered he almost hung up, but then, just as she was saying 'hello' to empty air for the fourth time he found his voice.
"Hi Cheryl, it's Rick. I would like to talk to you. Can I come over?"