Author's Note: Imagining House and Wilson's relationship during the age of romantic friendship was easy, since in whatever era, it's impossible to overlook the strong connection they have to one another. Please attempt to ignore any stray anachronisms; it will depress me to know precisely how many there are, and it's my hope that this story might be enjoyed in spite of its errors.


by Swiss

'How heavy do I journey on the way / When what I seek (my weary travel's end) / Doth teach that ease and that repose to say / 'Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend.' / ...For that same groan doth put this in mind: / My grief lies onward and my joy behind.' (Shakespeare, Sonnet 50, 1-4, 13-14).

When the plague broke out in London late in the year 1665, Gregory House was attending a medical conference in France. He had been invited to speak at the prestigious gathering – undoubtedly against the better judgment of many – and at the urging of a confident, he had decided to attend.

In fact, he remembered just the tone in which James had cajoled him: "You love Paris," he'd said, and his lopsided mouth had made that certain grin – the one that dared him to deny, that knew too much. So House had gone, taking his assistant and a cheek full of grossly inappropriate French metaphors to try.

And leaving James.

The conference was much as he'd expected it would be, taking place in a dimly lit hall with full length, yellow damask curtains that snared the light like a tapestry of spiders. They and the heavily upholstered chairs that lined the place in row upon row of stately seating gave the room a smell of pervading musk that got in the nostrils and made one distracted and temperamental. On the whole, it was a stuffy, uncomfortable room with no affectations of being either cozy or welcoming.

There the hours hung on like a lunatic being dragged away by his fingernails; with indescribable unwillingness, but without being as interesting to watch. Dull, wheezing, fussy dissertations, most without a fleck of redeeming medical innovation – while House endured, awkwardly propped against the unyielding back of a chair that was presumably very luxurious. Unless, of course, your leg was quivering all down its length as the muscles clenched into an impressive knot of agony with every passing moment.

By the time that he stood to deliver his own speech, he was – as Robert would have put it – cranky. Even with his cane, the stiffness of his right side made him limp ponderously down the long aisle of medically astute, evaluating aspects, and when at length he reached the podium, he had managed to work himself into a very special furor.

It was a memorable address.

Afterward, the consummate powers saw fit to break for the evening, and the pasty, tepid-faced practitioners broke into the loose mill of a departing gathering. None saw fit to initiate conversation with Dr. House, though he stood resolutely at the foot of the lectern as required.

One warm hand was offered unexpectedly – Lt. Aldrich Krause, a man of few words and very dark eyes. He was a former German officer and a colleague of House's from the academy. Still, his English was very good and it was in this language that offered his congratulations. "Very good, Dr. House; very...very you. My wife will be sorry to have missed it; she begs me to procure every paper you publish." He shook his head indulgently at the thought of his wife's strong features, framed by curling wreathes of beetle-black hair and snapping eyes – in fact, a woman that House remembered very well.

"Pity she was born female," the physician snorted. It was the closest approximation to admiration he was likely to show; but then, Lisa Cuddy had been a very stunning example of her species. He rotated the polished head of his cane in the cusp of his hand. "She might have been a professional."

Lt. Krause laughed heartily, a very good natured sound. He agreed, "Oh, yes, she has a quick head for business. There are times I believe she wishes my death to remove complications from her ledger."

The doctor looked critically at the man. He was good looking in all aspects – young, proportionately and symmetrically formed with excellent teeth – and House had to wonder if Lisa had chosen him in the same way another might choose a good stud. "That sounds very like her," he offered after a beat, though his eyes wandered. Gruffly, he told Krause, "You'll offer my greetings."

"Certainly," the lieutenant answered.

They were interrupted then by an "interpreter" whose employment House found singularly regrettable. He had learned French with his mother tongue – typical of his class and traveling experience. Through his profession he possessed Latin, and he'd enough Greek for the classics. In short, he had little use for the simpering manservant who came to him now, his progress made halting by the frequent pauses he made to duck his head in obeisance to the surrounding powerful men. But then, House thought derisively, he supposed someone had to fold the laundry.

"Excusez-moi, docteur," the man simpered when he had reached them. He folded his primly manicured hands carefully. "Mais il y a une lettre d'Angleterre. Votre assistant vous appelle d'y aller – c'est pressant."

A message from England? House sneered, wondering what that dandelion-headed clod could possibly be thinking. The only correspondence from that soggy island he had any interest in would be from James. House treated those messages in all respects like a dragon curled over its hoard. But, for all that, such a letter could wait patiently on his favorite chair. Robert would know better than to bother him with that.

"Docteur –" began the servant, a little more urgently.

"Assez, tais-toi – I heard you," House snapped fiercely enough to turn a few disapproving heads and make the pusillanimous little messenger cringe away. The physician sought composure begrudgingly. "Fine. Bring a carriage around. Appelle le carrosse, you toad."

A few moments later and House departed. The general disapproval of his fellows trailed behind him, though he told himself with a sneer that was hardly anything new or noteworthy. He had rarely met with approval anywhere or by anyone in his entire life.

House returned to the Être à l'Affût, an aged, wood paneled establishment just at the edge of a more questionable part of town where the hedges grew unmanicured and the ironwork spats of grass and stunted trees looked like spontaneous and mismanaged patches on a bald spot of dirty footpaths. [1]

He had taken a room there because it was a place where they asked no questions, nor did they require some prescribed civility. He was free to examine his corpses, rave and bellow and throw things and read his books in perfect peace. And he could have whatever guests he wished without provoking comment.

Robert greeted him inside their compartments, standing immediately from the spread of research stretched over the table they had pressed into the center of the room. As he nearly always did, House shook his head inwardly at the sight of his youthful assistant; the young man still looked ridiculously boyish, fair blond hair tied loosely at his nape and lips parted for his charmingly blurred speech. Tonight, though, it was the wild, worried red at the edges of his lashes that drew starkest attention.

"House," he sighed upon seeing the older man, and there was no small measure of relief in his voice. "What took you so long?"

The physician didn't deign to respond, instead casting his cane so near the man's brow that it stirred his bangs. With a groan of relief he collapsed into an languishing sprawl on the nearest chair. "Not that I minded being drawn away, but what was so important that you'd send Béchard to grovel and mutter about urgent messages?" he asked.

Robert took the time to place House's discarded cane carefully within range of the armrest before answering, which he did by producing a thick folded sheet from the breast of his doublet and passing into House's waiting hand. It was an edition of an English printed pamphlet, the kind that King Charles used for propagandist proclamations, warnings of dire consequences for the latest issued bane, and public announcements. This one was in the endmost vein, and he read it stiffly:

The playhouses had been closed. There was an outbreak of the plague.

"Is there a letter?" House heard himself ask after a long, empty moment. His tongue felt like a useless wagging weight in his mouth, and for a moment he wondered if the words had fallen coherent from his throat or stuck like flies on his tacky, insensate lips.

Another fold of thick parchment was pressed between his fingers, and House stared at it numbly, partially to avoid Robert's imploring look. He knew the young man hoped he might read it aloud, for James would have known about any outbreak long before the pamphlet could reach them in Paris.

The paper felt warm against the fingers pressed loosely over his own inked name. Dragging forth his cane from its propped position beside him, House climbed laboriously to his feet, his age suddenly like a weight on his back. "Send up a light and a pot of coffee," he dispensed tonelessly as he moved toward his quarters and closed the heavily paneled doors solidly at his back.

His fingers shook as he unfolded the letter, sinking as he did onto the edge of a padded stool. "Greg," it began, a blot at the beginning of a stream of words representing the voice of an intimate friend. House could practically hear him speaking.

"It's possible that by the time you receive this, you will already have word from London. Of course, they've closed the public houses already in an attempt to keep the pockets of sickness isolated, and it seems to be effective so far. I wrote so that you would not get worked into a frenzy and pace yourself into a night of cramps and sleeplessness.

So far, there is no reason to believe the outbreak will be severe. Still, it is bound to be an incredibly dull few months with the Liberties bolted shut and all decent entertainment forestalled. It has been quiet enough around here already without you to insult every noteworthy gentlemen with whom you cross paths. I've not been threatened to be set in the pillory even once, though our good friend, Constable Tritter, still glowers at me if I should happen to pass him in the streets. Perhaps he misses you too.

I treated a woman today who..."

And there it trailed off into news of general order, calming in its normalcy. Later, House would pour over it in detail, but for now he laid aside his hastily applied spectacles and physically withered.

James was okay.

His fingers pressed over the words: 'perhaps he misses you too.' Gentle humor, as was the way of its originator – yet it was the deeper messages that concerned House, and his brows creased. It would have been sentimental beyond his character to reciprocate such a sentiment, but safe in the cloister of his own mind, he felt free to murmur back, 'Yes, I miss you too, my friend. Even Paris misses its bloom without you here to enjoy it with me.'

He read over the letter once more, fishing out its little hidden messages among the snatches of patients, conquests, bleeding hearts, and the kind of poetry James liked that didn't rhyme:

'That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,

For slander's mark was ever yet the fair;

The ornament of beauty is suspect,

A crow that flies in heaven's sweetest air.

So thou be good, slander doth but approve

Thy worth the greater, being wooed of time;

If some suspect of ill masked not they show,

Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts shouldst owe. [2]

He'd included bits of the familiar sonnet near the bottom, and House pressed his knuckles into his cheek. There were few in the world who would assume his need for such affirmation, but the physician bled and breathed like any other man. Another light caress over the grainy paper.

Only James could make him miss that damn foggy island.

They'd always exchanged letters when one or the other of them was abroad. For his part, House was never lacking in outrageous tangents and half-written formula, theories, gossip, and gross calumny. James rarely wrote anything profound, his close written plait of thin pages a little crabbed, pedantic, and half-indecipherable. Yet, through them, they denied distance the sovereignty over their relationship, especially since House's restlessness and reputation ranged him far while James was often tied to his latest beneficiary of long-term care.

Yet while House had always waited upon James' letters before, these days they were increasingly important. Bleak humors continued to seep across the choppy channel waters, black whispered words of which men hardly dared to speak. And people shut themselves in their houses when the wind blew from the Northwest.

James didn't write much about the sickness, however, rarely more than a few lines. But even so the picture they painted grew increasingly bleak. Once, he wrote, "…another of the town nobility left today. I almost couldn't bear watching the desolate eyes that followed their coach as they drove past…" and another time: "…shortage of everything these days with trade all but stopped, and the smell. I shall never think of vinegar in the same way again. Half the city's under quarantine now…"

Often, House spent the night restlessly pacing, wondering whether he should go back, or if he ought to send for James. A dozen times he stopped, frozen on the rough wool carpet, fuzzy and brown with age, and contemplated the letter he would write.

Of course, there came a time when there could be no more subterfuge. Finally, in response to his friend's pressing, there came a short, surprisingly frank letter:


There is no more talk of containment; the plague has taken the city. Conservative totals put the death total at several thousand in just a few days. People cast out the bodies into the streets through windows, because they've bolted the doors with nails. The healthy are half mad with paranoia and fear – they'll scratch the eyes out of a stranger for fear of catching the sickness. It's a sad state, and so few supplies…not that there's much anyone can do. Five in seven die without fail. But then, you always did tell me I liked best minding the dead."

Robert supplemented this with news he gathered from the post building where he went each day without fail. One morning, he reported: "There's talk of death counts higher than the ground can swallow. It's an epidemic. They repeated it over and over – 'plague, plague…their souls to God.'" And while he didn't say it, House could read the fear on his face.

His own chest felt constricted. His mind turned to images of James in London with his fingers on someone's blotched jugular, leaning over their disease-spreading mouths. The very image made House's stomach roll with nausea.

That night, he'd written almost feverishly, "I hope you're keeping your damn neck out of the fire."

Wilson's next letter held no apologies. In it, inscribed in that irregular, sideways scrawl was a single rhetorical question: "What good is a quarantined doctor?"

And it made House grip the fringe of his hair, longing to pull it up by the roots, because it was a question that had once come out of his own mouth. 'Damn you for that, Wilson,' he thought, but there was nothing he could do from two hundred miles away.

The sound that the heavy oaken door made as it rotated full on its hinges and slammed into the wall was resounding. House stalked through its open mouth, eyes sulfurous, in time to see his servants half out of their seats, goose pimpled, their hairs on end. He did not mince his words. "We're leaving," he announced, all prelude forsaken.

Robert, obviously aware of the wild distress in his master's eyes – like an animal with its teeth bared – instantly took his meaning and immediately began gathering their most essential belongings. Béchard was less attuned to the physician's tidal, titan moods and only stirred restlessly and with obvious confusion. "Docteur?"

"Pack only what we'll need, and do it in a hurry," House continued with his orders. Then turning he snapped, "Levez-vous, you ninny."

"House?" Robert dared to ask even as he pressed packets of medical supplies into a bag, stretching for more that was in reach, and issuing soft commands to the stunned Frenchmen under his breath.

The tall, slightly hunched back turned, grizzled head bowed as though preoccupied and gravid with deep thought. "We're going back to England," he finally spat out of his mouth. "That fool is going to kill himself. But I'm not going to have him dying before me."

'Or without me, as the case may be,' the thought trickled, comfortless, behind.

It was difficult to find a ferrier foolish enough to take his coin in exchange for passage off the continent. It wasn't official, but the channel had been closed, and moreover a presiding fear had taken residence in the bosom of France so that most men would not have put paddle in the water if it meant their skins to the devil.

However, in the end, love of money had won over even cowardly souls. House had long believed in this ugly truth, and had sneered it into his friend's noble face enough times. Possibly James agreed with him, but if he did he would never say. It was one of his more alluring traits, like a woman who never lost their air of mystery. House admired that, and went about battering its fortifications like all good suitors. But so far the walls had held.

Overhead, the grey sky of London leaked like an illness, runny with streaks of yellow in a morning covered with sores. They labored down a street without seeming at all a part of it, too richly colored against the bereft stone and molded thatch. Distant crying filtered through the muffle of empty passages, starkly unpopulated in contrast to House's memory. No, there was no one along the walls now, and no voices. Just silent mounds of cotton and flies.

"The smell..." Robert muttered hoarsely as he shied away from them. Béchard was clinging to the younger man's elbow, shrunken with fear. The Frenchman had not wanted to come, but House had felt that he might actually require the man's services for once, and in the end the man's fear of his master had proved even greater than that of a lingering, fever-mad death. Though perhaps he was now changing his mind.

Gelid eyes looked hollowly out at the scene, at the rough wood of the doors bleeding red in a cross and perforated lengthwise by boards, firmly lodged. Quarantine. Ha. Too late for that. No one knew precisely how the disease spread, but... "Keep you mouth covered," he ordered curtly, and moved on.

He led them to the meeting place of the city's greatest minds. The looming brickwork, crawling with ivy and just beginning to blacken with soot, was precisely as he remembered it; pretentious, cultured, clannish and vainglorious. If any safe place in the city remained, then this was it, House thought contemptuously. But it was a bile he instantly swallowed, because he would have forsaken every principle he had to find James here.

The crack of his cane against the heavy portal sounded clamorous in the unnatural quiet. It resonated, and then finally, after a ponderous moment, the latch clicked. The door cracked open only an inch, and then a fearful, ginger-stubbled face peered out at him under the chain. "Doctor House, my God. I thought you were abroad."

"I was," the physician growled. How he abhorred these men. He remembered it now like a pain under his ribs. "Where is James?"

Lowered eyes. "You know his stubborn temperament. He would not leave the city, and he would not stay indoors. Any crying child at the door, whimpering with sores or begging for aid for his ailing mother… We warned him. We warned him more than once."

The realization of what this man was saying grew in House, a swell of dread followed swiftly by molten fury that crawled up over his disbelief. "You put him out," he murmured, and then with growing volume, "You bastards, you shut him out here, in these streets!"

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, House," the man interrupted him, his voice in equal parts exasperated and strained. "He would have dragged the disease in here and left us all dead in a week. What were we supposed to do?"

Sickness, hatred burning in the deepest part of his stomach. Unconsciously, House reared to his fullest height, the cane he held clinched in a fist that had lost none of its strength, whatever his other disability. He raged, "Cowards! I swear to you by the depths of every documented hell, that if I only find his body I shall drag the nearest bloated corpse into your house. You mark me, he had better be alive when I find him!"

The portal shunted, its guardian rearing back. The lock engaged, and then the three men were left alone – one a monument of cold anger, anguish, fear; two others pressing near, huddled. The grey sky seemed very big.

"Where should we even begin?" Robert dared remark.

The physician was looking off, as though distracted by some distant vision too awful to be spoken of. A puff through his lips. "The plague house," he decided. The earliest cases would be long dead, but the desperate would still bring their sick there. And that was were James would be.

'James,' he implored. 'Let me find you alive.' But he didn't dare hope much. For this was James, who caught every cold and ill humor, who shivered through every cloaked damp of winter and sneezed all spring and fall. James, James who...

No, he didn't dare hope much.

Nothing could describe the plague house, any more than hell could be watered down to ice and fire. Such suffering defied the tongues of men and always had.

Soiled bandages and streaks of brown blood covered chaff-strew dirt floors. For want of bed or mat, bodies had been draped across planks of wood, hastily propped over barrels and bricks. Flies flew everywhere, while an unnatural heat stayed over the scene, trapped within the walls along with the smell of urine, fluid, and bile.

The odor was terrific.

Through the horror, Robert knelt, pressing his fingers into the thick vein at the base of a neck. His face was set; he'd always been brave. "Dead," the young man reported. He looked around. A blue infant was curled in the arms of its mother, lying stiff. "Nearly all."

House didn't dare acknowledge what he was saying.

"James!" House called, his voice gritty, though he could not realistically anticipate an answer. Did he expect his friend would appear around a corner miraculously whole, wide-eyed and astonished to see him?

"Check them," he ordered, ignoring Béchard 's squeak of terror as he worked his way to the deepest quarters. Everywhere he looked was his own despair. "James," he murmured, lead filling the pit of his stomach.

He pushed through a door, beyond which a smaller room loomed. Grotesque masks; empty, wordless gapes. And a breathy sound…a sound? Lurching, he forced the door open, ignoring the way it thumped dully against flesh. He heard a wretched inhale and his head swung from side to side, even as he begged himself, pleading with his own heart in screeches not to do this, to build such a hope…

A sickening thud in his chest as his ribs distended with the anguish of its swelling member. There. Half curled against a corner, collapsed as though his strings had been snaggled and cut, hand still curled around a rag that he had undoubtedly been using to mop a fevered forehead. The narrow chest gave a little heave.

"Robert!" House called with all his strength, his voice barely holding under the pressure.

His hands were trembling almost too much to seek a pulse in the slender, lolling neck. No rigor. He swallowed, trying to unchain his paralyzed mind. Surely that meant he lived. Lived.

"God in heaven," Robert said from the door, and though he crossed himself, House couldn't discern if it was a curse or a prayer.

"Mon Dieu," Béchard echoed. "Il n'est qu'un squelette! La fièvre l'a rongé; il est mort."

House raged. "Silence, you! He's breathing. He's sick, but he isn't dead." He tried to draw the diminished body into his arms and ease him from the ground, but a shaft of pain streaked down his leg. He grunted, a helpless plug in his throat. "Robert, help me," he pleaded. "Béchard, venez ici, you wax-eyed clout. Dépêche-toi!"

Thank God they did as he asked, moving to take the little crumbled body from him. "Where are we going?" Robert asked as he hitched the dark head against one shoulder.

House heard him only distantly, taken up with the bruised pockets beneath closed eyes, the face that was nearly unrecognizable it was so changed. He reached out to grip the shoulder, the living flesh.


Laboriously, they made their way across town to where the shadows drew longer over roofs with shingles and buildings pieced together with wood. The sour stench of the plague house wafted after them, clinging tenaciously to the folds of their clothes.

James was wilted like a poisoned flower under the arms of his aide and servant, grey-colored with yellow hands and blue fingernails and a slack mouth that couldn't curl into his provocative, secret smile.

They took him to the only domicile in the city that House had ever called 'home.' There, the close cobbled pathways were familiar, and they moved directly to the back door and let themselves inside. The yellow, ivy-printed wallpaper brought back a flood memories. He and James had kept rooms here for years, almost since the beginning of their acquaintance. It seemed like so long ago.

They'd met at a play, in the two penny seats under a cold, poesy sky near the end of the season. It was intermission, and House had been shifting temperamentally against the unyielding wooden bench in a vain attempt to find a comfortable position. As a doctor he could have afforded a better seat, but he couldn't stand the company of the upper tiers. Better to be surrounded by dirty fingernails and smell of onions than pompous velvet asses and their painted women.

Inexpertly, he massaged the wound of his leg, still new in those days. New and raw and, in spite of his greatest efforts, already beginning to enforce limitations on his life. Like this: the benches, the performance, the cold. Would he be drawn away even from this, the theater, where he had once stood himself in defiance of his father's will? Would he, would he…

The warmth of a hand against his arm had been utterly unexpected, and in his startlement House had very nearly lashed its owner full in the face. Instead, the butt of his walking stick had come down on the invading appendage hard enough to welt the skin with blood.

He turned with choler to face the impertinent tart who'd dared to take such a liberty, but found only his nearest neighbor – a mild faced young man still rubbing his swollen fingers mournfully. "Ah," it spoke. "I only meant to ask if you were alright. You were twitching."

House's face flushed, a knee-jerk reaction. His shame made him indignant. "What would you know about it, you a gross pile of cadmeat?" he snapped.

The young man met his resentful stare levelly. "Pardon me," he said finally. "I shall let you go on convulsing unmolested if you'd rather."

A prickle, like a nettle under his skin, made House squirm. He wasn't sure if he was irritated or intrigued. This confusion possibly provoked his next statement, wrapped in a vicious, barbed bundle of gross sarcasm. He sneered: "Perhaps you would rather I took a hack-saw to the source of my discomfort. A little bloody for theater, perhaps, but at least after the screams died down, you could go back to watching your play without someone else's pain to distract you."

His conversation partner shifted in his seat, his eyes trailing speculatively to the thigh the other clasped, white-knuckled and defiant. But when he looked back up again it was without scorn or even pity. He said, "I don't believe you screamed." And then he turned back to the production without even a perturbed flutter of hawk-brown lashes.

After that, House had just looked at him between acts with his usual complete lack of propriety, but if this bothered him, the man gave no sign. He had a soft, ready look, like one easily imprinted upon. But James was deceptive. No matter how deeply one bore one's fingers into him, the furrows always refilled like dikes with water, or like a cushion reforming its shape.

Their acquaintance might have ended like that, just a memory of that brief exchange of insults. It might have faded away like a wisp, or a forgotten dream. If James had not leaned over unexpectedly – as unexpectedly as he'd inserted himself before – and muttered a joke so irreverent that it had won a short laugh from House.

Still half-stunned by his own reaction, the physician had returned with a whispered comment during an over-acted diatribe. Soon their commentary intertwined with the drama, and more than once their short, stifled laughter received disapproving looks from their neighbors.

By the end of the play, sharp curiosity had developed into an inexplicable but strong inclination not to be parted with this familiar stranger. House thought of the old Greek stories about people walking around with half a soul, waiting to find their philos, their true friend. It had made him grip the man's arm as they stood. Wilson looked a the point of contact but didn't pull away. "Would you like to join me for supper?" he'd asked instead.

It was only after that he learned Wilson was also a physician, fresh out of training, and a caregiver of the dying. Even then, House had mocked him for that, but then James had called him an ass with such a sweet smile that House had instantly decided that he loved him.

They'd been to many more plays since then. Mostly histories, because James thought the comedies "too sad," and House couldn't stand a romance. And all the time they leaned in close, trading jokes often as coarse as any Shakespeare could have devised. Done that way, House had found that he hardly felt the benches. Or the pain, or the cold.

"Vous ne serez pas infecté, docteur?" Béchard was hovering nervously near the frame of the door as Robert settled the stricken doctor onto his own bed. He was wringing his hands together as though by fanning the air he might dispel the invisible fog of sickness that lingered. His words echoed: Won't you get infected?

It was Robert who answered, even as he examined James' flushed neck, feeling the swollen glands. "Devils don't take ill," he said simply, winning a choking gasp of near-laughter from his employer. But House was only half attending; the scattered fracas of his mind was consumed with the husk beneath his hands.

He pressed the botched cheeks, wishing desperately to ignore the scorch of fever and the sharp evidence of bone under the hot, tight skin. He told himself lies; the heat was not so severe, that James had always been thin. He called his friend's name softly, desiring – needing to know that the soul was not beyond recalling.

"House," Robert moaned low. He called the elder man's attention with a shaking hand. "House, look." But the elder physician didn't need to see them to know what they were. The viscous, swollen pockets that swelled in that later stages of the disease had given the malady its name – buboes.

"James," he called, gently slapping the his face. A desperate little squeeze of his heart. "James," he said the name again, and incredibly was answered by a peek of liquid brown under the gummy, purple eyelids. House's heart beat a quick, reedy tempo to see those eyes.

"There you are. Can you hear me, James?" A peek of a pink tongue over lips, so chapped they'd bled. House roared for water and, jolting, Béchard sprung down the steps, only to happy to be away from the room full of sticky grief and his master's desperate temper.

House massaged the tense, hot forehead, soothing matted hair from his temple with a gentleness most would have found unaccountable in him. He sought the roving, half-lidded eyes. "Look at me now, James. It's me."

"And Robert," the younger man paused from stripping the soiled clothes long enough to tenderly press a limp hand. The young attaché had devoted himself to Wilson almost from the beginning, like a mongrel attaching itself to the first person to pat its head.

Wilson's eye was a meandering doe in a tangled black wood. So often House had seen that left eye catch just slightly independent from the right. It had made worse by a blow he'd once been dealt, and became especially bad when he was tired. Now it fought to hook on him, trembling. A hot puff of breath. "H-hou –" he moaned weakly, almost dreamily, if hadn't been laced with so much pain.

"That's right, It's me," House answered.

The sick man swallowed compulsively. He rasped, "I-in…Paris?"

A sharp stab of pain. The elder man spoke though the thickness of despair in his throat. "No, James. I'm not in Paris. I'm here with you."

There was the faintest upward trembling of the lips. "House, safe there. Sick…"

"Yes, you're very sick," he murmured back. "But it's alright now. I'm not a dream. We're going to take care of you."

Wilsons mouth moved again as though to form a smile, but the parch of heat rose up then in a mad, hungry swirl and he lapsed unconscious. A disturbing rattle came in his throat, and House and Robert exchanged looks. When the disease went to the lungs, they almost never survived.

But House wasn't yet ready to surrender. "Let's get him clean and warm. Then we'll fight down the fever," he explained with careful deliberateness. "When Béchard returns, have him get my bag. You packed what we'll need?"

Dutifully, Robert listed the supplies, though they both knew it was mere palliative care; treatment might sooth the symptoms, but would not heal. Nothing cured plague.

"House," the younger man whispered desolately.

"Be quiet," the physician commanded. He didn't want to hear what he already knew, and he didn't care about odds. James wasn't going to die.

Twice during the night Wilson had reached crisis, convulsions wrenching a body that seemed too weak to hold bone and flesh together. Afterwards, he wheezed so shallowly that his caretakers feared his chest would stop heaving and simply deflate like a punctured bladder in a child's game.

For a while, Robert had ceaselessly dribbled tea down his throat in an attempt to battle his raging temperature. But despite his endless patience, it was an attempt that prior deprivation and illness thwarted. Bloody vomit came up, with bile in it. James couldn't even keep water down.

Now he no longer stirred, but only breathed, weakly. The two servants had finally withdrawn in defeat, Béchard gratefully and Robert with a prayer. The small hours, they called this time. The hours after midnight when the sky was a different kind of black; charcoal. Stiffly, House watched out the barely cracked window casement.

He was hurting, badly, but no pain could draw House from this bedside. Instead, he pressed one large palm over his thigh and the other over his friend's heart. He imagined that he could catch the feeble beat each time and press it back so that it was forced to give one more stuttering flutter of life.

He spoke at times, almost inaudibly. Feeling as though he was rending like fabric, he asked, "James, James, what would I do without you to save me from the men of this world? They'll break me like Icarus." [3]

Only once did Robert intrude upon this vigil, to change the oil burning. He offered no words then, no comfort or condolences. After so long in this man's service, he knew better.

House had fallen asleep. A deep, dreamless haze had smothered his lights sometime during a relentless wait, which had turned ghoulish, like watching over a corpse. He awoke to a pale sparkle, a filter of dawn-light through the gauze of the threadbare curtains. He drew a congested breath, for a moment unaware of anything other than that he was at home in London.

A sudden grip around his own hand startled every thought from his head. It was loose, but…the curl of fingers. For a moment, he trembled, unable to look down. He had to spur himself – 'Look, you coward' – before he finally dared.

Barely cognizant eyes, glassy and raw, meandered from their prop against the pillow. They were wallowing on him, semi-present, though they focused when the House's hand clinched hard.

"Oh. Greg," James said, as though he were only mildly surprised to find him there, sleeping at his bedside. As though nothing had happened at all since their separation. Feebly, he stretched toward the table at the bedside where a glass was sitting. He rasped, "I can't reach. Could you –"

Water. It went down smoothly, and afterward the doctor subsided with a sigh. "Dizzy," he complained, sounding puzzled.

"You've been ill." It was his familiar gravelly timber that House answered, but hollow sounding, as though someone else was squeezing the words out of his chest.

"Oh," James said again. There was a penetrating moment of quiet in which House flexed his fingers over the timorous heart beat. Wilson accepted this gesture without comment. Only a groove down his forehead showed his concern. He asked, "Were you sick?"

A pang, deep enough to resonate within. House repeated Chases' words, "Devils don't take ill."

His melancholy was broken by James' hoarse tenor. He still laughed like a boy. "You're no devil," he said, and the way he cocked head was made especially endearing by the slow contraction of his eyes, the black so large that it swallowed the brown almost completely. He offered his friend a lopsided grin. "Maybe a malignant spirit, though. Like a faerie."

House growled, all while his hand absently pet that warm, resonate spot over his friend's living chest. He could felt the coolness even through the cloth and the dampness of perspiration. The fever had broken. Eased, he promised, "Next time I'll just like you fizzle out, like a candle left by the window in the rain."

James pressed himself deeper into the bed. "Liar," he said fondly.

"Everybody lies." House had said it enough times.

Again that weak smile. And meanwhile his heart beat steadily against his cupped hand, cradled in his palm like a baby bird, warm and live.

Some notes:

[1] The Être à l'Affût, named for the phrase "to be in waiting", is not a real establishment. However, the building and the description of its surroundings was modeled after a real neighborhood in Paris.

[2] 'That thou art blamed shall not be they defect...' (Shakespeare, Sonnet 70, 1-6,13-14) A commentary on how the exceptional are often despised by those who envy them, and in the final couplet, how a small measure of perceived "evil" actually protects the beloved, because without it all the world would love him.

[3] This is, of course, a reference to the myth of Icarus, whose wax wings melted when he flew to close to the sun while attempting to escape from imprisonment in Crete.

Author's Note: Shall I tell you a funny story? "Quarantine" is the result of the Redford Companion to Shakespeare and Shakespeare's Sonnets, both of which were required reading the semester I wrote this. I took it way too seriously, and even went so far as to approach my French professor to help me correct my phrasing and make sure it wasn't too modern. I'm pretty sure she was convinced I was a psychopath; strangely, my assurances that I was writing about the plague didn't comfort her.