As promised, Arthur Pope got the charges dropped and, a few days after that, House requested a leave of absence so he could go on one last wild road trip with his best friend. ("My very own Travels With Charley" House described it. "Only, uh, with Wilson.")
They returned, six weeks later, sporting matching sunburns and 5 o'clock shadows, breathless with tales of evaded speeding tickets, epic eating contests, and triumphant backroom bar brawls.
"Wilson scratches and claws like a cheetah in heat!" House boasted to anyone who would listen. "He may fight like a girl, but he is a truly fierce ally in an unfair fight."
"Grandma Wilson taught me everything I know," Wilson said, grinning.
And they slapped hands.
Cuddy hadn't seen either of them so happy in months.
But the merriment was short lived.
Six weeks after they got back to Princeton, Wilson began to feel fatigued. Cuddy would find him dozing off, at his desk, in the middle of the day. Five weeks after that, the nausea came. Wilson made arrangements for all his patients to be treated by other oncologists in the hospital. He was beginning to lose weight—starting to get that sunken look of a man with cancer. And four weeks after that, he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He weighed 97 pounds.
House kept a constant vigil at his bedside. They played cards—House's deck was festooned with bare-chested pin-up girls—and watched Bruce Lee films and had fierce video game battles. They played "fuck, marry, or kill" about every female employee of the hospital. ("Marry," they said in unison, when Cuddy's name came up.) Wilson could barely keep any solids down, but House ran all over Princeton and beyond to find any kind of food that his friend had the tiniest appetite for—he'd come back to the hospital with bags of chicken mole or lamb korma, that mostly went untouched. They reminisced, but not too much. And House gave Wilson shit—"I'm amazed you haven't proposed to the candy striper yet" or "You don't have to write her a thank you note every time she wipes your ass"— because he knew that the more normal he kept things, the better Wilson would feel.
Cuddy visited often—sat with the two of them. (It was impossible not to interact with House because House was always there.) Usually they kept the conversation to banal small talk. "How's he feeling? Did he manage to eat anything today?" But one day, just as Cuddy was about to leave the room, she looked at Wilson's sleeping frame and then back to House. "I'm proud of you, House," she said softly. "Wilson couldn't ask for a better friend."
He gave a kind of half-hearted shrug, like he didn't quite believe her.
"No," she said firmly, making eye contact. "I'm serious. You've been with him every step of the way. It's been extraordinary to watch."
Now his eyes met hers.
"I guess I learn from my mistakes," he said.
She was halfway back to her office when she realized he was talking about her cancer scare.
She worked late that night and swung by Wilson's room one more time before leaving. House was curled up in the chair next to Wilson's bed, fast asleep. Cuddy found a spare blanket in a supply closet and covered him.
The next morning, she saw House holding Wilson's head up as he helped him swallow down a few sips of water.
"Thank you," Wilson whispered wearily to his friend.
"Anytime," House said.
Two days later, James Wilson was dead.
Cuddy expected House to be a complete wreck at the funeral, but she had forgotten one important thing about him—he was a master at hiding his pain.
He gave a funny, sad, and touching eulogy.
"If Wilson was here, I know what he'd say," he started, running his hands nervously through his hair. "He'd say: Don't screw this up, House."
Later, he affectionately teased Wilson's incompetence with women. "It's amazing the guy was married three times because he had NO GAME," he marveled. "None whatsoever. He wore this cologne that smelled like battery acid and his idea of a good pickup line was, 'Chamomile or Earl Grey?'" He chuckled at the memory.
House ended the eulogy like this: "Wilson was such a polite bastard, he even had to die before I did. . ." Then he looked down at his hands. "I don't know how I'm supposed to live without James Wilson in my life. I had hoped to God I'd never have to find out."
And he limped off the altar and sat down in the front row, wedged between Wilson's parents and Foreman. Cuddy saw him cover his face with his hands. He didn't look up for the rest of the service. She knew that he would never let anyone see him cry.
He was worse at the reception. She noticed right away. His eyes had that glassy look they got when he had taken too many vicodin. He was pounding shots of whiskey like there was no tomorrow.
Of course, a large part of him wished there was no tomorrow.
Cuddy kept hoping that somebody would take him home, or at least wrestle the drink out of his hand or give him a hug.
Who besides Wilson or herself recognized when House was on the edge, when his self-destructive streak was about to bubble over and turn into something truly dangerous? There were people who cared—Foreman, Thirteen, even Chase. But they didn't really know him.
House had two people: Wilson and herself. And now he was alone.
Not your problem, Lisa.
So she walked up to him, gave him a pat on the shoulder and said, "I liked your eulogy."
Then, before he could respond, she turned around and left the reception. It was raining outside. In the car, her own tears mingled with the splash of rain against the windshield, the gentle whoosh-whoosh of the wiper blades.
By the time she got home, it was dark.
When she opened the door, she was greeted by a big Golden Retriever with hot breath and a lazily wagging tail.
"Hiya Sadie," she said, petting the dog behind the ears. "Who's my good girl? Who's my good girl? I missed you."
She stepped into the foyer, shook the water off her umbrella.
"Hey!" she shouted.
Noah emerged from the kitchen, a dish towel over his shoulder.
"You made it!" Cuddy said.
"I made it," he said, smiling.
"How'd Sadie do on the flight?"
"Fine. She's always a little jittery at first. But she's calm now. She's been looking for Rachel."
"Yeah, I thought it was for the best if she stayed with mom tonight," Cuddy said. "I knew it was going to be a rough day."
"You okay?" he said.
"No," she admitted.
And he held out his burly arms for a hug, which she gratefully accepted.
He kissed the top of her head.
"Today sucked," she said plainly.
"I know," he murmured. "I wish I could've gotten here earlier."
"Me too," she said, her voice muffled against his chest.
He stroked her hair for a few minutes and then they parted.
"Hungry?" Noah said.
"Not really. . ."
"I made chicken and barley soup," he said. "Comfort food."
"I'll take a little."
They ate dinner—or more accurately, Noah ate dinner and Cuddy swirled her soup with a spoon—and then Cuddy took a bath. By the time she got out of the tub it was late, almost 11.
She put on a robe and wandered into the living room. Noah was standing at the window, staring rather intently outside. It was raining hard—the water was drumming loudly against the side of the house.
"You coming to bed?" she asked.
"There's a man out there," Noah said, frowning.
She wrapped the robe more tightly around her and joined him in the window.
"I don't see anything," she said, squinting.
"Over there," Noah said.
And then she saw him: A shadowy figure, tall and lanky, slightly bent on the right side where he was leaning on his cane.
"That's House," she said, in disbelief.
"House House?" Noah said.
"Yeah," Cuddy said.
She had told Noah all about House. Everything—about their long and complicated relationship, his unparalled brilliance, the car crash. She didn't like to keep secrets.
She put on a coat, pulled on a pair of rainboots, grabbed her umbrella.
"Wait, I'll go with—" Noah started.
"I've got this," she said.
She ran outside, across the street.
"House! What are you doing here?" she shouted through the rain.
He wasn't carrying an umbrella. He was wearing a wool coat, that clung to his body heavily.
"I don't know," he said, slightly dazed.
"How long have you been standing here?"
"I don't know," he repeated.
She put her arm around him and held the umbrella over his head.
"Well come inside, you're soaked."
He followed her obediently. She had expected him to be in a rage, but he was the opposite—docile and subdued.
When they got inside, she gave him a towel. But instead of drying himself off, he just stood there, holding the towel lamely, until she was forced to do it herself.
She took off his coat—it was so thick with moisture, it must've weighed 30 pounds—and threw it on the ground. Then she rubbed his arms and head with the towel. He was shivering.
"Noah, get me a blanket," she ordered.
Noah went to the closet, got a blanket, and helped her lead House to the couch.
"Who are you?" House said, squinting at Noah. (Of course he knew about Noah, but in his current state, he was too out of it to make the connection.)
"You look like Jerry Garcia," House said, laughing. He shakily held up two fingers. "Peace, brother."
"Peace, man," Noah said, smiling a little.
"He seems nice," House said to Cuddy. "Is he nice?"
"Very," Cuddy said. Then, to Noah: "Help me get him to the spare bedroom."
They half-carried, half-dragged House to the spare bedroom. They stripped him down to his tee-shirt and boxers, which were miraculously dry—and Noah got him a pair of his sweatpants, which were swimming on him. Cuddy double knotted the drawstring.
House slumped on the edge of the bed.
"Wilson's dead, Cuddy," he said, almost astonished, as though the thought had just occurred to him.
"I know, House," she said.
"I'm all alone," he said.
Cuddy turned to Noah. "Give us a minute, okay?"
He nodded—he wasn't the jealous type— and headed toward the bedroom.
"You're not alone House," she said, sitting next to him.
"I have nobody," he said.
"Yes you do," she said. "You have your team. You have . . . your mother."
He looked at her earnestly.
"Do I have you?" he said.
What was she supposed to say? He was grieving, drunk, miserable.
"You have me," she said softly.
And he put his arms around her and rested his head on her shoulder, his body was wracked with tears.
And she rubbed his back and held him closer and let her own tears mingle with his.
Holding him like this, she felt an unexpected surge of affection and relief. And she realized that she had wanted to hug him since Wilson's diagnosis—she just hadn't allowed herself.
"It's going to be okay, House," she murmured, over and over again. "I'm here. . ."