A big Thank You goes out to maineac for her patience and help.
They found themselves on the same elevator one Wednesday night.
It was already dark outside, and Wilson knew it was late. One of his patients had died that afternoon, a young woman whose husband, widower he corrected himself, was inconsolable. He had spent nearly the whole afternoon with the man, trying to provide some form of comfort, to help him find some sense in his life. There had been paperwork to catch up on afterwards, enough paperwork to keep him in his office until well after the familiar daytime noise levels of the hospital corridors had faded away to the quieter nighttime hum.
Wilson hadn't spoken to House in a few days. Things hadn't been quite the same since House's ketamine treatment had worn off, and Wilson had messed up things between them once again by trying to teach House some humility.
Wilson had already pressed the button for the elevator when he saw House coming down the corridor. House looked tired and gray, he was back to using his cane and his gait was more uneven than Wilson had seen it in months, not since before the ketamine. He still hadn't spotted Wilson. It wasn't like House to not take notice of his surroundings at all.
This was a rare moment; it wasn't often you got to see Gregory House with his guard down like this.
"Patient saved?", Wilson asked cautiously, not really sure how to get House's attention. He knew his friend was tired to the bone. This wasn't the first time House had spent days working around the clock, only catching a few minutes of sleep here and there.
House's head snapped up. He hadn't been paying attention at all; just watching his own feet progress down the corridor had taken up all his energy.
"Wilson. Well, if it isn't the angel of oncology himself. How goes it? My patient is safely in his bed, his wife at his side. He's going to live and make more stupid mistakes. Only took us three days to figure it out. How about yours? How many did you cure today?"
Wilson sighed. "None, actually. Susan Ortman died this morning. I spent half the day consoling her husband."
The elevator's arrival cut off House's smart reply. Wilson pressed the button for the parking garage, assuming that's where House's bike was parked. Apparently he was right; House didn't protest. Or maybe he was just too tired to notice where they were going.
Both men stood silently on opposing sides of the elevator, leaving a lot more distance than usual. It was rare for them not to talk. So things were still awkward, Wilson surmised.
Their silence was interrupted by a loud squeak, followed immediately by the elevator stopping suddenly mid-descent. The stop was so abrupt that House got thrown off-balance for a moment. Tired as he was, he had been leaning on his cane heavily and not braced against the wall. He was totally unprepared for the sudden stop and stumbled halfway across the cabin, unable to hang on to the rail on his side.
Thankfully Wilson was still awake enough to catch his friend by the shoulders before he could crash into the wall.
House struggled to regain his feet, shrugging Wilson's hands off in the process.
The elevator was silent. It was also not moving.
"What the hell is this? Why is this thing not moving?"
House slammed his cane against the elevator doors, the resulting bang making Wilson jump. Someone was anxious to get home.
Wilson, being the slightly more alert of the two of them, pressed the CALL button on the panel. An alarm was ringing in a security office. Somewhere.
"Calm down, House. Someone will fix this in no time. You'll be out of here and back to guzzling scotch on your couch in a while."
House shot him a scathing look. "And how do you know what my plans for the evening are? I might have a hot date lined up. She could be waiting for me right now…"
"Yeah right, when hell freezes over. It's well after midnight. What woman would be waiting up for you that long? And when did you ever have a date that didn't include calling a premium number first?"
"That's low, my friend, even for you. Also, aren't you being a bit optimistic?" House shrugged his sleeve back to peer at his watch. "Do you really think anyone will hear that tiny little tinkling bell you keep pressing?"
Indeed, there was no response from the speaker built into the panel.
Wilson hated it when House was right.
"Okay, I'll call Lisa. She will get this sorted out in no time." Wilson sounded more optimistic than he felt, even to his own ears. There was no answer, so he left a voicemail and then sent a text for good measure. Maybe the alert tone would wake her.
House just rolled his eyes at him. "Did you expect anything else? Everyone's in bed at this time. Every sane person anyway."
"So, what now? Are we really going to be stuck here with each other all night? Great. Well, here's your chance to kill me then, House, for all I've done over the last week."
House didn't reply. He was slumped against the wall, favoring his right leg to the point that his foot barely touched the ground. Only a few weeks ago House had been running, walking without a cane and, most importantly, he had been pain free. For a moment Wilson felt pity for his friend. Not that he could ever show it. That would surely herald the end of their friendship, which was already looking a bit shaky at the moment. So he did the only thing he could think of to help. He leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor with a loud thud.
House looked up and then down at him where Wilson was now sitting on the floor, cradling his briefcase against his chest. It took a second for House's lips to quirk up slightly and then he awkwardly followed Wilson's example.
"So, here we are, stuck in an elevator. What do you wanna do, Wilson? Got a deck of cards in that neat little briefcase of yours? What do you have in there, by the way? A hip flask with gin, a supersaver mega-pack of condoms and a cuddly teddy bear? Always prepared?"
Even tired, House was still the master of snark. There was no let up.
"What, you want to play 'guess what's in my bag' now, House? Fine. I'll play. Better than sitting around trying to figure out what insult you've got waiting for me next. Okay. You've got three strikes. None of these things are in my bag. My turn."
House's eyebrow rose. "Wait, wait. We have to lay down the rules first. No lies. And since the honor code doesn't apply between us because there is no honor, we check each other's bags after five guesses. Loser buys dinner and drinks when we get out of here. If we ever get out of here."
Great. He wasn't going to let Wilson forget that he had betrayed him. What amounted to betrayal in House's eyes anyway. But it was going to be a long and painful night if he responded to this taunt now. So Wilson decided to let it go.
Guessing the content of House's backpack should be no problem. Wilson knew he'd be able to win this game easily. But then they would have to come up with something else to do. So it would be better to draw this out a bit.
"Okay, here goes. Vicodin, Game Boy and Cameron's panties."
House actually chuckled. Wilson's plan was working.
"Strike, tick and, hm, let me see… strike. Unfortunately. I'm sure her panties could provide some nice distraction now. We'd have to take turns, though…"
"Like I'd be willing to share that with you… hang on, a strike on Vicodin? We said no lies, remember? That's only one strike for me, no cheating!"
House vigorously shook his head.
"No lies. No Vicodin in my pack. Two strikes for you. My turn now. Spare shirt, spare tie and Oncology Monthly's Hottest Babes."
Wilson still didn't believe House about the Vicodin. He always had the pills in his pocket, true. But Wilson knew damn well there was also a stash in House's backpack. No way would House go to work with no extra Vicodin when he had a case and chances were he would have to spend nights at the hospital. But he would get him later; they were going to have to show their bags at the end anyhow. Unless House changed the rules again mid-game. It was known to have happened before.
"Three strikes, House, you're flagging. What's wrong, losing your Wilson mojo?"
"Nope. Just a bit distracted by our situation here. Do you want to call Cuddy again?"
"Why don't you try her? Maybe she's got an extra obnoxious ringtone for you that'll wake her up in the middle of the night."
House grinned at that. "You've got a point. My cell's dead, though. Died a spectacular death yesterday in the middle of a call. Left my charger at home."
Again, that wasn't like House either. Wilson knew House had a spare charger in his desk. He must have been too distracted with the case to recharge his phone.
"Okay, my turn. iPod, dirty t-shirt and a box of animal crackers."
Food was always a safe bet with House, same as the entertainment gadgets. And even the dirty clothes probably weren't far off the mark. Having spent three days without going home, he was bound to have changed at some point.
Two ticks, one strike for Wilson. No animal crackers.
He was now waiting for House to take his next guess.
"House? Your turn."
Wilson looked over. House was slumped against the wall with his eyes closed. He had probably nodded off. Nothing unusual there, House was dead on his feet. Maybe they should both try and get some sleep. This could be a long night.
"Wanna try and get some sleep, House? We could roll up our jackets and use them as pillows..."
"Fuck off, Wilson, cut the Boy Scout crap. We're not camping out here."
Wilson was slightly taken aback. House was always abrasive and rarely polite, unless it suited him. He never felt the need to be nice to Wilson. It was usually brutal honesty all the way. In fact, their communication often resembled frat talk, insults included. This was more than House's normal grousing, though. But Wilson was too tired now to delve into the darkness that was House's head.
"Fine, whatever, House. Suit yourself."
He was not in the mood to fight with House nor did he want to get any further abuse heaped on him. He was tired. Any longer and he would start hallucinating his bed. A few minutes of sleep curled up in this corner were very tempting. So he folded up his jacket and lay down on his side, his legs pointing away from House.
A few uncomfortable minutes later he realized sleeping on the hard floor would be murder on his back. So his choice was between sleep deprivation and back pain. He chose the former and sat up again.
Since House was still sitting there with his eyes closed, his right hand rubbing his thigh, Wilson turned to his briefcase. There was an oncology journal in there he hadn't read yet. Might as well get some work done while they were waiting for the cavalry to arrive.
House had been quiet for the last half hour or so while Wilson struggled to make sense of the medical texts he was reading. He hadn't given House much thought; he just assumed he had nodded off for a while. But apparently not.
"Got a funny story, Wilson? A joke?"
Wilson was too tired for this. "No, I don't, House. I'm all out of funny stories. Leave me alone."
"Because… you know, if you don't make me laugh, I swear I'm gonna cry in a minute or so…"
Wilson's head snapped up from his reading. House's voice was rough and shaky. And now that he finally looked at him he realized how ashen his friend's face was. Sweat was beading around his hairline. House's hands were wrapped around his thigh like a vice. Wilson thought back over the time they had been stuck in here. It had been, what, nearly two hours now. House hadn't taken a single pill since then. It was possible that he had taken one just before he left his office but still, he would have probably topped up by now. And House didn't look like his last dose of Vicodin had been only two hours ago.
Oh shit. How long had he been sitting there like this?
"Shit. You weren't lying when you said you had no Vicodin in your pack. You actually told the truth!"
The attempted grin on House's face ended up as a painful grimace. "Of course. I don't lie to you, Wilson. Not unless I have a very good reason. Like messing with you. But no… wasn't lying. I'm all out of happy pills."
Wilson moved a bit closer to House who immediately glared at him.
"What? I just want to check your pulse, that's all." Wilson's hands went up in a gesture of surrender.
"And what good is that gonna do now, huh? Wanna play doctor? I know I'm tachy… What do you want to do about it, Jimmy? Got a secret stash of weed in your bag maybe? That… shit!" House gasped and then had to catch his breath for a moment before continuing. "Because that… could actually work. But if there are no drugs in your stupid case then I'm afraid it's gonna get pretty loud in here very soon."
Loud? Oh. Wilson's mind was racing. He mentally went through everything in his bag and in House's backpack to see if there was anything, anything at all, that could be of help right now.
How could House have possibly run out of Vicodin? That never happened. Unless… yes, that was it. He hadn't been on the pills again for that long, only since the ketamine had stopped working. Having spent so much time cooped up trying to save his patient, he had probably miscalculated and run out. Why hadn't he asked Wilson for a script, though? But then, they hadn't been exactly on speaking terms lately.
"I thought … I'd be okay until I got home. I… thought I'd manage…", said House. As if he had read Wilson's mind.
House was panting now. His hands were clasped so tight around his leg that his knuckles were white.
Wilson got his rolled up jacket. He moved over to House's side, ignoring the wary look from his friend, and cautiously touched his right knee.
"Will you let me….?"
He wasn't sure what he saw in House's eyes at that point. There was pain, yes, obviously. But there was also something else. Something Wilson hadn't seen in a long time. Fear.
He patiently waited for House to finally nod before carefully lifting the leg and pushing his rolled up coat underneath to keep the knee slightly flexed.
That was as far as Wilson's ideas went. Whatever else he could think of would not work with House. Because one thing was for sure, he would not let Wilson touch him to provide whatever comfort he was able to give.
"I'm sorry, House. I have no other ideas. What did you do when you went cold turkey that time you had the bet with Cuddy to get out of clinic duty? How did you manage? Aside from breaking your own fingers to distract yourself, I mean."
House's laugh sounded more like a bark.
"Oh, you mean that time you tricked me into going without Vicodin for a week? I dunno, Wilson, let me think. Oh, wait. I remember … I think I just suffered through it."
"You knew?" Wilson was stunned. All this time and House had never said a word about it. He had never accused him, never made him pay for being put through a week of pain. "You knew? And you never did anything about it?"
"No. You've got a terrible poker face, Wilson. When you taped up my fingers… you could barely look at me. It's typical you – you did it because you were convinced it was the right thing to do. And then your conscience wouldn't play along… I mean I knew it was all in my best interest, right… You wanted what was best for me, which was to realize that I'm an addict. Of course, if we were able to look at the facts objectively, like doctors could for example, we'd probably come to the conclusion that I'm actually dependent on Vicodin, not addicted. Well, guess what, Wilson? I don't care anymore. It's just words… just words. They don't change the facts. Fact is I need the damn Vicodin!"
A wave of pain took over and House banged the back of his head against the wall.
Wilson's reflex was to grab House and hold him while he rode out that wave. But he shut off that reflex, knowing that for House, touch usually wasn't welcome and certainly not comforting.
He was therefore shocked to feel House's hand grip his wrist all of a sudden.
House's eyes were closed and his head was resting against the wall now. His right was still gripping his thigh while his left was curled tightly around Wilson's wrist. So tight, that it was painful but Wilson didn't pull back.
As unusual as this was, he took it as confirmation that touch was something House needed right now, but he wasn't sure how far he could go. Going too far would produce the opposite effect – House would just get more stressed and push him away.
With House still breathing hard, eyes closed, and occasionally suppressing a groan, Wilson used his free hand to get some tissues out of his briefcase. Gently he used them to wipe the sweat off his friend's face, keeping his eyes on House to make sure he wasn't crossing any lines.
House flinched slightly at the contact but didn't open his eyes or pull away.
"Tissues… I shoulda known you'd have them in your case, shoulda thought of that earlier. Always need tissues for your little cue balls… or their distressed parents."
House's voice was raspy and barely audible at this point. His hand gripped Wilson's wrist even tighter. In this bare elevator carriage that didn't provide any sensory distraction, squeezing the hell out of Wilson's wrist probably helped work off some frustration, Wilson figured.
Something glistened in the corners of House's tightly shut eyes and Wilson realized he was looking at tears.
Wilson felt a sudden wave of affection crash over him. This was his friend, his friend of fifteen years. His asshole friend whom he wished he could kill more than half the time. But there were also occasional tiny moments when he wished he could just hug him. Moments like this one.
So he finally gave in. He chucked the wad of tissues into a corner and used his left arm – his right was still being held prisoner by House – to pull his friend against his chest. As expected he felt House stiffen immediately. But, and this was the big surprise, he didn't pull away. Maybe he just didn't have the energy to resist.
Wilson tightened his hug and smiled when he felt House's arm come around his own back. A red-letter day – House was hugging him back.
Through House's jacket he could feel how clammy his shirt was. And he could also feel his friend tense and after a while relax just a fraction. The pain was coming in waves and, for the first time ever, Wilson could feel it, too.
They sat like this for a long time, House still gripping Wilson's wrist and Wilson holding on to him with his arm around his back. They went through every new pain wave together, Wilson's muscles tensing along with House's. And when the pain receded for a bit, they relaxed together, Wilson's hand rubbing House's back in a slow, soothing rhythm. It seemed to be working because House never once tried to push him away when the pain subsided. Instead Wilson could feel House's breathing slow and his heartbeat calm whenever the pain let off a bit.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
The metallic voice startled them both. House pulled back and his eyes flew open in sudden panic.
"Relax, it's only Security. They finally figured out the elevator is stuck." Wilson tried to stay as calm as possible. They were going to get out of here at last.
"House, you need to let go of my hand, I have to go over to the intercom to talk to them. I won't be long, promise."
He was startled by the open look of confusion in House's eyes. It was as if he was just coming back to reality, as if he only now realized they were still stuck in the damn elevator. But in a matter of seconds the confusion vanished and the shutters went down.
House's hand let go of Wilson's wrist and Wilson got up to talk to the Security guy, rubbing his wrist to get some circulation back.
While he calmly explained who they were and that they needed to get out of the elevator urgently, he kept an eye on House who was slumped against the wall again, eyes squeezed shut. Even though he couldn't feel it anymore, he still knew when House's pain reached its peak and when it subsided a bit – it was as if his body remembered. House tensed up visibly when the pain increased and his breathing grew more labored. Once the pain let off slightly, his face relaxed just a bit but never fully because the anticipation of more and possibly worse pain was always there.
"Look, you need to get us out of here. One of us needs urgent medical treatment. Make it fast, okay?"
The response of the operator on the other side was barely audible.
"What did he say", asked House when Wilson stopped talking, his voice small and weak.
"That they can't turn it back on, they need a technician to come look at it. They've put the call in."
He deliberately didn't tell House that it could take hours for the repair guy to show up. It was the middle of the night after all and he had no idea whether there was an emergency service for this kind of situation or not. As long as House didn't ask, he wouldn't tell him anything.
Turned out it wasn't necessary. House might have been swamped with pain but his brain still worked just fine.
"Fuck! That's gonna take forever. Don't think they'll bother paying anyone double time for a call out in the middle of the night."
Now House was getting anxious. Wilson moved over to try and contain any possible outbreak of rage.
"It's going to be okay, House. They'll come. Do you want to try and get up for a bit?"
Anything to pass the time, anything to distract House. Wilson knew House spent much of his sleepless nights pacing around his apartment; he had been witness to those nightly excursions more often than he cared to remember. Walking seemed to jar the muscles out of spasming too much; at the very least it distracted House and gave him something to do. It had to be better than sitting on the floor passively going through wave after wave of pain.
Wilson held his hand out for House to take but was surprised when House angrily shook his head at him, eyes blazing.
"Go away. Don't wanna get up now."
If nothing else, Wilson was patient. And well versed in House speak. House's reaction was no mystery. Wilson put one hand on his shoulder to get his attention back. When he spoke, his voice was very calm.
"Hey, I know it'll help. It can't get any worse, right? At the very least it'll pass the time until the repair guy gets here. Come on, I'll pull you up…"
He knew House had refused to get up because he simply couldn't get up. His remaining leg muscles must be rock hard by now, Wilson thought. It was hard to tell through the jeans he was wearing.
When House finally met his eyes, Wilson knew he had been right. There he was again, the helpless little boy he had first, and last, seen shortly after the infarction. The boy had disappeared after a few months, and Wilson had never seen him again. Until now.
Wilson mentally steeled himself and met House's look straight on. That little boy look had done him in whenever he saw it. Wilson just wanted to curl up and weep at the sight of him. But he knew he couldn't show any weakness now. If he did, House would withdraw within a matter of seconds and this time he wouldn't come back out. Wilson was still amazed about the touch House had accepted earlier. It must have been the complete exhaustion; at any other time such closeness would never have been possible.
Gently but without hesitation he peeled House's hands off his thigh and pulled them around his own neck. They had done this before, many times, but not in a long time. His own back wasn't as good as it used to be and Wilson prepared himself for repercussions later on.
This time House didn't resist. He hooked his hands behind Wilson's neck and pushed up with his good leg when Wilson gave the nod.
Vertical again, Wilson made sure House was safely leaning against the elevator wall behind him before retrieving the cane for him.
"Didn't think we'd be going back there, did you?" House asked, still out of breath from the exertion of getting up. "I know I didn't… Had hoped the ketamine would last longer…"
This was the first time House had been willing to talk about the failed treatment. At least it was a start.
"No, I didn't either. But it's like riding a bike, not something you forget how to do. Wanna try a few steps now?"
Wilson's tentative smile was rewarded with a lopsided grin.
"Sure, wanna be my fourth leg?"
Wilson chuckled. They had coined that phrase the day House came home for the first time with his new cane. He had moved on from crutches but was still wobbly on the cane alone. "This is going to be your third leg for now", was what his physical therapist had said when he handed House his cane. The first time House tried getting up from his couch with the cane as only support he nearly toppled over and Wilson had to come to the rescue. Hence Wilson's temporary function as the fourth leg.
"Always a pleasure."
While Wilson would never mind helping, this was definitely no pleasure. It was hard seeing House reduced again to this, his newly recovered mobility all but disappeared. And with it, the high spirits that had accompanied the remission. But, Wilson reminded himself this was temporary. As soon as they got out of here they would get the pain under control and things would get back to normal. Just a temporary setback, that's all it was.
House put his left arm around Wilson's shoulders and Wilson reached around his hips. They were good to go.
There wasn't much space; all they managed was three steps in each direction before they hit the door. Turning was a bit of a job, then another three steps. House was already soaked with sweat and the pain just kept on coming. Whenever it hit, they would pause. It took all his energy just to breathe.
Ten slow lengths of the cabin, and House stopped. He was breathing hard.
"Enough, Wilson! Enough."
Subtext: It's hurting too much to keep going, I can't breathe, I have to stop.
Wilson helped House back down to the floor, made sure his coat was back under House's knee and then settled himself next to his friend. He looked over at House but his eyes were closed and he wasn't talking.
"House… talk to me. Don't just shut down."
One eye opened slowly.
"What do you want me to say? That all is forgiven? That I'll leave you my piano when I go? Forget it, Wilson, you're not getting your grubby hands on my baby."
"What? No! What are you talking about? I don't want your piano, you idiot. I just want you with me, here, don't zone out. Tell me some shitty story about a clinic patient or something. Just stay with me."
House huffed tiredly. But before he could reply another wave of pain hit. A moan rose up out of depths Wilson had never been allowed to see.
This time, Wilson grasped House's right hand and squeezed it.
"Come on, start talking. If you don't, I'll start asking you about pain levels."
It was a last-ditch attempt. Wilson knew how much House hated to talk about the pain. Talking about it made it even more real, gave it more power somehow. At least that was how he had always interpreted House's reluctance to open up about it.
House laughed but it was a feeble attempt at the real thing.
"Oh, you're getting out the big guns, Jimmy boy. Go on, do your worst. I can't even think anymore…"
His head lolled back against the wall again and his eyes closed.
A nine? It had been so faint that Wilson hoped he had misheard.
"Nine? Holy shit, House. That a peak?"
He got a weak nod as response.
With nine being a peak, even the troughs right now would probably still be around a six or so, he knew that. The pain never really went away.
Wilson felt queasy all of a sudden. House giving a pain rating without literally being forced to was unprecedented and an indicator of how bad things were. If House was at a nine now, Wilson couldn't even imagine the pain anymore. He knew from experience that House's pain threshold was a lot higher than most people's. It was possible it had always been like that or maybe it was a result of living in chronic pain. House lived with this; his nine was probably Wilson's twelve – off the scale. And Wilson took a pill when his headaches reached a three. He turned away; he couldn't bear to look at House anymore.
"What, you're gonna be sick, Wilson? Don't you think I should be the one to puke my guts out…"
He may be weak but he was definitely not going to pass out yet. If House was still this perceptive to Wilson's reactions, then he was still hanging in there.
"You're not going to puke because I bet there's nothing to puke out. When was the last time you ate something, House?"
Wilson knew House would simply 'forget' to eat when he was on a case. He was like a bloodhound then, everything not connected to the patient and the case just fell by the wayside. This time, maybe that was a good thing.
"Dunno. Chase brought in pizza… yesterday. I think. Maybe…"
Wilson's hand still held House's and he noticed only now that House had never pulled away. So he lightly squeezed the long fingers he held to encourage House to keep talking.
"I'm sorry, Wilson."
Again, this came out so quietly, Wilson thought he had misheard. House never apologized, at least not out loud. It just wasn't part of his makeup. But for Wilson, House's actions usually reflected his feelings a lot more clearly than words.
"Sorry for what, House? For getting us stuck in a stupid elevator overnight? Didn't think you had anything to do with that but now that you mention it…"
"No, you moron… for making you sit through this. I know it's hard to stomach…. I'm not stupid, Wilson."
He wasn't quite sure where House was going with this but this was the most they had talked about pain and everything connected to it. House was an intensely private man, more so than most people realized, given his usually brash exterior and snarky personality. Never in as long as they knew each other had Wilson seen his friend this open. Maybe it was because there was nowhere to hide in this little box and there were no distractions, maybe it was because he was expending all his energy on keeping a lid on the pain so that there was nothing left to hold up the walls that usually kept everyone away from House's heart. Whatever the reason was, though, Wilson wasn't going to do anything that could make House clam up again.
Another wave hit and this time House couldn't hold back the tears anymore, his eyes welled up and the tears just ran down his face. Eerily, there was no sobbing, no other sound than his heavy breathing and occasional groans.
Just when Wilson figured House wasn't even aware he was crying, his friend roughly wiped the tears away with his sleeve. He turned his face as far away from Wilson as possible, which probably wasn't far enough if you asked House.
When the worst of the pain had passed, House's shoulders relaxed.
"You're going through this and you're sorry that I have to sit and watch? What are you, a martyr or something? Where is this coming from, House? You normally don't give a crap about popping pills, letting people know you're in pain."
House shook his head with more force than Wilson had thought possible at this stage. When he was able to talk again, his voice was low and weak.
"You don't get it, do you? The pills… are nothing. Anyone can see. They're just the cover... A symbol. People see it so often they get used to it, they forget what it stands for. It wears off, Wilson, I know it does because I've seen it with you. And that's good. That's the way it's meant to work…"
Another tight squeeze of his hand and another moan, louder this time. Wilson thought they would have reached a plateau by now and it would level out. Instead it still seemed to be getting worse.
"I don't like taking the damn pills, Wilson. But I like being in pain even less… I hate myself when I'm in pain. And I don't even have to look at myself at that moment. I know it's not a pretty sight. I don't know how you can stand this right now. So yes, the pills certainly are the easy way out. They're also the only way I can work."
Wilson knew House was nothing without his work, without a puzzle to solve. His brain needed that fix, needed to be busy. A bored House was a dangerous House. But it was the other part of what he had just said that worried him. He had never heard such honesty from House regarding his condition.
"House, I don't know what to say. It's hard seeing you like this. And yes, you're doing a good job at making us forget that this is your life, with or without pills. An excellent job. You're so damn good that even I have forgotten. Well, not forgotten. Suppressed is more likely. And I should know better because I've seen you before the Vicodin. I was there, House. I should know. I'm your friend. Or I'm supposed to be. And yet, I choose not to know. What does that say about me, House?"
House shook his head tiredly.
"Says you're a friend, Wilson. Nothing else. Says you can't stand to see me in pain... It's a good thing. Don't turn it around."
But Wilson couldn't let this rest. Thoughts were going through his mind that he wished he didn't have.
"All those times I implied your pain was psychosomatic. House, I… I know how that must have sounded to you. I'm sorry."
Wilson now looked down at House's hand still hanging on to his own. House lightly squeezed. This was not a squeeze due to the pain. This was a comforting squeeze. Holy shit.
"Makes no difference. The truth we see depends on what we want it to be. You don't want me to be in pain, so it's easier for you to assume I'm not really in pain. That it's all just in my head somehow. I get it. But, you know what… it doesn't make any difference whether the pain is in my head or not. It is still there; it's still just pain. Pure and simple."
House was right. In the end it made no difference whether his pain was in part psychosomatic or not. It didn't change how debilitating it was. The only difference it made was where treatment came in. Psychosomatic pain would require more than just pain medication. Wilson knew that House was fully aware of this.
But House would never consider therapy to help with that aspect of his pain. And no amount of nagging on Wilson's part would change that, he now realized.
Just then Wilson's cell rang. He dug it out of his pocket. Lisa. Thank God.
"Lisa, please tell me you've got good news!"
"James, what the hell is going on? I only got your message now. You're still stuck? Why hasn't security got you out yet? Are you okay?"
"We're still here. Security says they need a technician. Apparently the call was put out an hour ago but we haven't heard anything since."
"I'll get onto it. They'll be there as fast as possible…"
Wilson got up and walked over to the corner furthest from House. He lowered his voice, hoping House wouldn't be able to hear what he was about to say next.
"Lisa, you have to get us out of here fast. House is in bad shape. Make it quick. And when you do, have a wheelchair and morphine waiting for us down in the lobby."
"What the hell is going on? It's uncomfortable, I know. But it's not the end of the world. Just get him to take a few extra Vicodin, and he'll survive a night in an elevator, James."
That stung. It hurt on behalf of House and it hurt because Wilson couldn't believe Lisa was capable of such callousness. He took a deep breath because he really, really didn't want to yell at her. And then he did anyway.
"Don't you think he would've done that already? He's out, Lisa. Christ, the man's been working in your fucking hospital for three days flat, with no sleep and hardly any time to eat, then he gets stuck in your fucking elevator for hours with no end in sight and you're going all stingy on me about a few ccs of morphine? Lisa, let me tell you something. If you don't have us out of here within the hour, with the things I asked for waiting for us downstairs, you'll have a fucking lawsuit on your hands, that's what!"
He ended the call without waiting for a reply and took a deep breath before turning around.
House had one eye cracked open and a lopsided grin on his face.
"You know, Wilson, that was quite impressive."
Slightly embarrassed, Wilson shrugged his shoulders and slid back down onto the floor next to House.
"You heard everything?"
House huffed. "I bet they heard you all the way down to the morgue. James Wilson blowing his top, niiiice. Doesn't happen often enough if you ask me. You really are my knight in shining armor."
So he probably hadn't heard the first part of Wilson asking for a wheelchair. House wasn't going to like that. But there was no way he would be able to walk out of here on his own two feet. Especially not with the morphine Wilson was planning to give him. He would have to drive him home, too. Wilson tiredly rubbed his hands across his face. So much for a restful night. He would end up sleeping on House's couch again because he couldn't leave him alone after a heavy dose of morphine.
He was exhausted. Yes, he hadn't slept in 24 hours but that alone wasn't it. He was a doctor, he was used to working nights in emergencies, going without sleep for long periods of time. What had tired him out so much tonight, though, was the emotional intensity of these few hours. Spending time with House could be fun or it could be exasperating, depending on House's mood. But tonight had been neither. It had been a bit of a tour de force. What was totally unexpected for Wilson was how affected he was by House's pain.
The last time he had experienced something similar was right after House's infarction. Wilson didn't like thinking back to that time and consequently avoided it. House had been right earlier, he couldn't stand seeing him in pain. It was painful in itself. But it was a natural reaction. Wilson had no great problems dealing with his cancer patients, many of whom were in pain, their pain levels similar to House's. The fundamental difference was that they were patients, not friends or family; there was a natural distance. Wilson was the professional in that relationship. Sitting next to House, literally feeling his pain earlier, it was impossible to be professional.
So, if Wilson was going to take anything away from this disaster of a night, it would have to be that he was going to have to let House deal with things in his own way. He could not get involved on a professional level, trying to treat House, trying to push him into treatments he didn't want. Wilson couldn't play the professional because that wasn't his role here. House wasn't his patient. He realized he was okay to sit next to House, let him handle it and hold his hand. Until tonight he would have added a 'figuratively' to that. Now it was 'literally'. And that thought alone brought a smile to his face. It had been a bad night, and it wasn't over yet. But, in a twisted way, they had found something they would not have found another way.
Wilson was startled out of his thoughts by House gripping his hand again. This was becoming a bit of a habit. One Wilson didn't have any objections to anymore, however. Fuck the bruises.
With House next to him, desperately clinging onto his hand, Wilson realized there was one more thing he needed to do before the technicians got the elevator going again.
A grunt was the only reply. He looked over. House's eyes were closed and he was breathing heavily. Maybe now wasn't the best time. But would there ever be a good time?
"Oh, for Pete's sake, Wilson, what is it? Trying to breathe here…"
"Keep breathing. Don't stop, okay? Don't ever stop…"
House opened one eye and peered over.
"What the hell is going on Wilson? I feel like crap, I'm in pain, big time. But I'm not about . . . shit! … not about to stop breathing. Not yet anyway. Cuddy will be here with the good stuff in a bit... This will have a happy ending, won't be long now. Then you can drive me home and crash on my couch. Take it… you won't want to leave me alone tonight. Getting very attached, are we?"
Wilson squeezed his hand and forced a smile onto his face.
"I know, House. When Lisa called just now, I was going to say something. Kinda lost my train of thought then. I wanted to … you know your patient with Addison's the other week…"
"Wilson, shut up." House sounded really annoyed. "You're Jewish, not Catholic and I'm not hearing confessions tonight. I know… I know why you did it. I get it. You've got good intentions, you always have. Doesn't make you right. But you're one of the good guys. Mostly. Which is why you need me in your life – as a representative of your dark side. You don't… you don't want me to become a good guy all of a sudden. Not really. So just shut up and let me get on with my breathing."
House wasn't going to talk about this, that much was clear. Wilson let out a shaky breath and leaned back. It looked like they were just going to pretend this had never happened.
They spent the next 20 minutes in silence, until the intercom sounded again.
"Hello, Dr. Wilson? The technician seems to have fixed the problem and we'll try turning on the elevator now. Just wanted to give you a heads up, it could be a bit bumpy starting off."
"How very considerate of them", House muttered.
Wilson laughed with relief. At this stage they were both drunk with tiredness. They braced themselves on the floor and waited.
The elevator shook and then started moving downwards.
A minute later, the doors opened onto the first floor and a waiting Cuddy, wheelchair next to her, medical supplies in hand.
Wilson cast a worried look at House but it was like nothing even registered on his radar anymore, he was too far gone.
With Cuddy's help Wilson maneuvered him into the wheelchair and then took the morphine off her.
"Thanks. I think we'll manage on our own from here."
There was no way he was going to apologize for yelling at her earlier. Apparently she didn't expect it either; she just nodded at them both and disappeared with a curt Good Night.
House visibly relaxed in anticipation of relief as soon as the needle pierced his skin. Wilson felt some of his own tension disappear. On the way down to the parking deck he hooked House's backpack over the handles of the wheelchair and gave his briefcase to House, since he needed both hands to push the chair. It took him a few steps out of the elevator to register that the pack was a lot heavier than it should be. Opening the zip a fraction and peeking inside was a matter of seconds.
"House, your pack is full of journals and books – what the heck? No Gameboy, nothing. You made everything up!"
"You're one to talk…" House held up Wilson's briefcase and shook it. "Like you played fair - there's nothing in here except your stupid journal and those tissues!"
"Guess we'll just have to split the check for dinner then", Wilson said quietly to himself and opened the passenger door to his car.
Sleepy as House was, when he shifted over into the car with Wilson's help, he managed to mutter "in your dreams" – just loud enough for Wilson to hear. Some things never changed.
The wheelchair and their bags stowed safely in the trunk, Wilson had just started the car when House's hand took hold of his wrist again. It wasn't the desperate grip from earlier, though; this was almost gentle.
"Hey Wilson", House slurred, "I think I'll be out before we get home and… I won't be able to say what… needs to be said."
Wilson knew what was coming. He just didn't think House would manage to actually say it. And, funnily enough, he wouldn't mind not hearing these words. He didn't need to.
"Yeah, House. I know. Not a word about this to anyone."
House wordlessly shook his head. There was a pause, and Wilson thought House had fallen asleep. All he could hear was the hum of the engine and House's slow breaths.
Simple as that.
Quiet as that.
Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got. – Robert Brault