You Already Know (How This Will End)
They met in a bar. Or, OK, no, back up, too trite, and House hates that start. But it's true, because Wilson says so. And House can't remember the first time they met, so Wilson's opinion counts here.
"We met in a bar," he tells Cameron, when she's sitting across from him making wide, why-aren't-you-more-concerned eyes at him. She's angry, too, there's an attractive flush of red across her cheeks. House likes her riled up like this, likes her when she acts on instinct instead of thought. She's a better doctor when she isn't thinking.
"That doesn't explain this," Cameron says. "What, you met someplace trashy so your friendship means nothing?"
Here it comes, House thinks. Come on, come on -
"He's lost his job!"
She's yelling, now, and her arms are crossed, which is actually anatomically stupid, because she could get more air if she'd stand up and stretch out. But Cameron won't do that, won't loom over him even when she's angry, because she seems to think it's mean. "He didn't lose it," House says, tossing a ball into the air and catching it gracefully, knowing it makes her even angrier. "He quit." He looks up over Cameron's shoulder, to where Chase is holding up the office door and Foreman has been snorting and sighing in response to everything he's says for the last five minutes. "Let that be a lesson, kids: Quitters never win."
Chase scoffs. He seems a little freaked out by the whole thing. Of course, he doesn't have Daddy's money to fall back on, now, so the job suddenly means more to him. He's been looking at other offers - House knows this because his shoes are shined and he hasn't been flirting with the nurses. And Foreman, well, he's here to learn, and he has good perspective on things, seems to understand in his best moments that someday, this could be a great story at another bar, the time my boss almost got arrested, man, you wouldn't believe the shit he pulled, but Cameron's moral outrage always sparks something ugly in him. It's too soon to tell whose side Foreman will come down on.
Cameron's chosen her team. House gives her a week before she goes to Tritter. Maybe less. And that will be a new beginning, too.
James Wilson is a middle child. He's the one the family sent to find his brother, the last one who reached out on a street corner in Trenton, because that's what he does, that's how he was raised. He's always been a fixer.
He can't fix this thing with House. He moves his things out of the hotel and back into his house, a move that his divorce lawyer - not to mention his soon-to-be ex-wife - isn't crazy about, but he has no money and no credit and, hurrah, no job, so there aren't a lot of options. He sits in the den, surrounded by his boxes of books, his suitcases, his diplomas, and wonders what he can sell. He wonders what he can live without.
Cameron comes to see him on the second day, after Cuddy's been through and railed at him, after he's not taken a thousand calls from patients and colleagues and friends.
"I can't believe he's doing this to you," she says, sitting on the couch where Wilson slept the night before. He's sitting in the desk chair, but it feels awkward. He doesn't like having her here, with the door closed against his almost ex-wife's impending arrival home. Cameron has her legs crossed at the ankle, and she's wearing a skirt today, and Wilson doesn't look at her calves or her knees or her wide, sympathetic eyes. He looks out the window.
"Believe it," he says. "This has always been coming." He turns from the window and looks at her, really looks at her. She's the new Wilson, he thinks, and he laughs to himself.
"It's not funny." Her voice is high, offended for him and by him at the same time.
Wilson stares at her legs. "You've come here because you're getting up the courage to turn him in," he says. "You want me to say it's a good idea. You want me to tell you I wish you would do it." He looks her in the eye. She's blushing, just a little, and she leans forward and presses her legs together and her lips are glossed and it's hot in his den and he wants her. And he's probably just become damaged enough for this to work. "I wish you would do it," he says.
She only looks startled for a moment, and he's not sure whether it's because she's surprised at that or if it's the kiss.
It's not Cameron and it's not Cuddy. It's Wilson. House has to pay himself $200 on that bet. There's no prison for him, but there are new rules and he has to adapt. He tells himself he's good at adapting; it's what people do when they need to get things done, and he gets things done, ergo: good at adapting. So he will adapt, he will roll with the punches and do two months at Seabrook Rehabilitation Center in central Jersey, and when he comes back, he'll deal with whatever else Cuddy throws his way.
Cuddy shows up at his condo on the morning he's supposed to go to Seabrook. He knows the date but pretends to have forgotten. She doesn't yell at him and that makes it all worse. Worse than that, she's come in person to tell him she can't drive him and that Dr. Cameron has volunteered. House takes a handful of Vicodin and hopes he's finally hit his limit, that it will knock him out in the car.
It doesn't, but Cameron doesn't want to talk. They stop twice so he can stretch his leg. He thinks about running away. He thinks about running. He throws up in the bathroom at a rest stop, and when he comes out, Cameron is holding bottles of water for both of them. He knocks the bottle out of her hand and goes inside, buys himself the largest, strongest energy drink in the world, then doubles back and buys another. He drinks all of the first one standing on the curb, while Cameron leans against her car and looks at her watch and sometimes says things like, "You're supposed to be there at 10" and "It's my responsibility to get you there" and then "I slept with Dr. Wilson."
It's the last one, or maybe it's the caffeine rush, that makes House stop and turn. He laughs, big, bubbling laughter, and he thinks I won't be doing this again for a while and he opens the second drink.
"You're perfect for each other," he says. He holds the can in one hand and his cane in the other until Cameron huffs and walks around and opens his door. She leans close and she smells just like always. "That's too bad," he says, wishing for a bit of Wilson on her.
"He's pretty messed up," she says when she's in the car. They're back on the highway, racing toward his punishment - eight weeks of hanging out in white rooms with counselors and girls and boys from the city, probably, who blame their drug habits on Mommy and Daddy and have never had anything more painful than a piercing in their lives - and he starts to laugh again.
"He always has been," he says.
Cameron doesn't take her eyes off the road. "Do you even miss him? He's your best friend."
Was, he thinks, and then he says it aloud.
Wilson goes back to work. He thinks about conditions. He goes to Cuddy's office on his first day back and she says, "I have an opening on the fourth floor. Glover's office."
He wants to say yes. A new start, a new office. It would make sense, even, because Dr. Glover's office was closer to the oncology wing, closer to the patient floors. But he likes his office, likes the balcony, likes the distance from his staff. And he doesn't want anyone to think he's running away. "It's fine," he says. "I'm fine."
He settles back in to the office, which has been cleaned but otherwise untouched since he left it two weeks ago. His diplomas fit back on the wall, his photos go back on the shelves, but his filing cabinets stay empty.
Wilson calls a department meeting, and they crowd into the oncology lounge after lunch. Usually, he sits on the table at the front and he lets everyone talk for a while and he tells some jokes and they go over whatever procedural stuff they have to, they set up a call schedule, and then they go. Today he stands in front of them and he wears a suit coat and no lab coat.
"We need to talk about making some internal changes," he says, and people shift uncomfortably. He's always run a good ship, a learning ship, but a loose ship. They have one of the lowest burnout rates in the country. Three of the guys who started with him are still here. He looks at them and wishes he could fire them all, wishes he could scare them all away, so that he could start new. Instead, he makes himself smile. "If you had all the money in the world, and you had to spend it on this department, what would you do?"
The answers are what he's expected: better equipment, better salaries for the support staff and for the docs on call, better access to clinical trials and new drugs, more funding for research.
"And better coffee," Sherilyn, their head of nursing, says.
"I can get you that by Friday," he says. The group smiles. "So this is my job. I'm going to focus on money. I'll consult when I'm called, you know I'm happy to do it, but I'm not taking any new patients right now." He looks around, sees the surprised glances. He's always led by example, led by being a good doctor. But the people in the room with him, they're all good doctors, too, and he's tired and this is where he can be most helpful, right now. "I'm pretty good at my job," he says, and only a few people look away. He keeps smiling. There is nothing to distract him from this. "I'm going to get better at it."
After the detox is over, House is allowed to join the rest of the group on outings, to pick up pizzas or rental videos, to play kickball in the park, to go outside for a few hours and enjoy the sunshine. They put him in a wheelchair, and for this, he will never forgive Tritter.
He makes allies, not friends. He picks Darien, a guy who reminds him of Foreman, a little, because he's black but also because he's smart and he's a little twitchy. Darien is a good guy to know because he's been through other programs, "and this one, man, it's primo. They got the TV, they got the good kitchen, it's good."
Darien doesn't talk about the place's success rate - it's in the sixties, if the pep talk from the nursing staff is to be believed - or about his own. Half of the people in the program seem to be around just so they can learn how to act like normal people. House isn't quite sure which side Darien falls on - it depends on the day.
Darien sits next to House in the grass by the softball field in the park. In front of them, a few of the people are playing a listless game while the counselors lounge near the bleachers, making sure that no one's going to make a run for the fences. Seabrook has a 40 acre campus, and escaping seems like a very bad plan, particularly considering that it's a voluntary program - at least for most people. Darien, for instance, has signed up for a three-month course, and is only on week two, Phase 1. House can check himself out at any time, too, but if he leaves, he gives up his medical license and probably the next seven to 10 years of his life. He stays in the grass, for now.
The wheelchair is a few yards away, because the softball field is a half-mile from their sleeping quarters and House can't walk this far. He has some mobility, because he's been getting carefully-monitored injections every morning for the pain. It barely takes the edge off, but it's better than the previous week when he had nothing. The in-house doctor is a complete waste of space, though, and has no understanding of the words "built-up tolerance to pain killers," which House finds pretty appalling in a man making his living treating drug addicts. So he gets the same non-opiate shots each morning.
"So, you, I figure, cocaine," Darien says.
"And for you I figure black tar heroin," House replies. "Not the designer East Cost stuff, because you've got signs of venous sclerosis. Also, judging by your slightly sallow complexion, several years spent in the bottom of a bottle of whatever was closest by."
Darien's smile is slow and unashamed. "Whatever works, you know?" House shrugs. On the field, a very skinny girl - diet pills, he thinks, escalating to crystal meth - swings a bat and manages to connect with the ball, though the effort nearly knocks her over. "So, am I right?"
"Fancy. I knew a lady, she was on my route when I was delivering for the appliance store, she tried to get me to sell her something like that one time. I says, lady, I ain't sellin' what I can't spell."
"I would guess that was a severe limitation on your business plan," House mutters.
Darien shrugs. He's endlessly good natured. Hanging around Darien lets House slide a little bit under the radar of the counselors, who seem to know that Darien is harmless and probably beyond helping. "Why you here?"
House glares, because, duh.
"No, I mean, like, they gonna ask you, in group, you gonna have to give your tipping point."
House narrows his eyes. He knows there are a few good candidates, all of them lies. "I'm here," he says, "because my boss cut a deal with a prosecutor so that I could keep my medical license and my former best friend could keep his job. And because the case against me sucked and was completely invented out of the mind of a sick and vengeful bully."
Darien smirks. "You ain't got it down yet."
"What, I'm supposed to cry on cue and say it's all because I'm an addict and I've brought shame to my friends and family?"
"Now you're getting it," Darien says. He claps when another guy from their wing hits a softball into the outfield. House closes his eyes. He thinks about Vicodin, about music, about the last, best case he solved, about everything he's left behind. He pushes himself up and shakes off Darien's offered assistance, finds the wheelchair and pushes it toward the counselors, using it as an aid.
"I'm going inside," he says, and they all turn to look at him. "I assume, since you monitor everything from what I eat to when I poop, you're going to care about this, and mark it in some chart somewhere - subject has aversion to sunlight or something like that. When you do that, make sure you get this part right: I'm going in because I'm tired of being outside and I'm in pain and everyone on your softball team is a degenerate who shouldn't be allowed within a hundred yards of athletic equipment. Two of those people have classic signs of cardiac distress when they're sitting still."
The counselors almost all look the same - healthy, white-clad, white-bred blondies with ready-in-a-second smiles. "Everyone here has a thorough physical before they can participate in athletics."
House snorts. "Which was why you're letting an anoretic minor handle a baseball bat even though about 50 percent of anorexics develop osteoporosis, so there's a fair chance she'll break at least one of those bones before the day's up." He sits in the wheelchair and looks up. "Would one of you hurry up and get me inside before that happens? I'm a doctor and I'd hate to have to break my oath."
The closed-mouth counselor, Carl, the one he hasn't quite figured out yet, gets up slowly and walks over, nods to the rest, and pushes House all the way back to the hospital. He says nothing, and House decides that maybe Carl will be his ally on the inside instead.
Cameron stays late. She has nothing to do at work and less to do at home. She sits in House's chair and uses his phone to call her parents. Her mother talks about the weather, and Cameron rests her hand over House's yo-yo. It's raining back home. It's raining in Princeton, too.
The walls are thin, so she can hear Dr. Wilson's door open, can hear him opening a drawer, sitting in his chair. She tells her mother she loves her, loves her dad, is doing just fine, is learning a lot. They love her, too. She hangs up and sits quietly, not moving. It's already nine o'clock. She's put in a 13-hour day. Lunch was a half-hour in the cafeteria with the nurse from pediatrics who wanted to cry about her latest break-up. Cameron eats with her because she feels like she needs more female friends. She wishes there was a female fellow.
Another drawer opens and closes next door. The tenor purr of Wilson's voice, dictating or returning a call, comes through, his words indistinguishable. Cameron sets the yo-yo down and goes into the hallway and then knocks on Wilson's door. The balcony is not hers to use.
She stands in the dark by the door, because he only ever turns on his desk lamp. He looks at her for a minute and then settles back in his chair, keeps looking at her. Wilson is wearing a suit, now, a full suit, a nice silvery color with a blue tie. New leather chairs with studded arms sit in front of his desk, and there's a new painting on the wall, abstract, with broad strokes of color that match the rusty leather on the chairs and the bloody mahogany of his desk. He is trying so hard, Cameron thinks, and she steps away from the wall. She sits on the edge of the desk, facing him, her hand resting on a stack of charts, her legs not crossed. He can't help looking at them, and this makes her bold.
"I told him," she says, "that we slept together."
"There wasn't any sleeping," he says, looking up. His face is cool and calm, though his hand has clenched on the armrest. "That's good, though. He probably needed to hear it."
She nods. She doesn't know how to proceed from here. It's never occurred to her that he might not want more. "Are you still living at, ah, home?" she asks. The line feels clumsy, but Wilson just smirks.
"I moved in to House's place," he says. Cameron gapes, but Wilson smiles. "I still had a key. And it seems like the least he can do, since he cost me a month's pay and all of my patients."
"Does he know you're there?" she asks.
"Not yet, but I'm sure he'll figure it out when he gets back."
She wants to ask him about the future, about how things will be when House gets back, about how Wilson can even say his name, much less live among his things. And she knows she is asking this just by being here.
He shifts forward, and his hand palms her knee, but his smile is friendly. "Come on," he says, and he stands up. "Let's drink his liquor and mess up his sheets."
Cameron wants to scowl, but she pictures Wilson in House's spare, unhappy apartment, pictures herself there, knows he'll find out, and suddenly wants that. It's something House would do, she thinks, and that almost changes her mind, but she laughs and takes Wilson's arm. "Sounds great."
Foreman stays late on Thursday in the office next to Wilson's, doing paperwork. He's the acting head of diagnostics, again, though with House off campus things have been very slow. The fellows spend most of their time writing up old cases for publication and doing odd jobs for other departments. He stays late anyway, because it's quiet and easy, and because he'd like to take the weekend off, away.
His plans are ruined. The next day, they have a patient for the first time in two weeks: seventeen-year-old male presents with a cyclic fever, rash, and trouble breathing. By the evening, he's progressed into seizures. Foreman has to tell the parents that they're doing everything they can, but he doesn't really believe it himself.
Cuddy hovers and tries to offer guidance, but she's most useful in calming the parents. The symptoms don't change, but they do get worse overnight.
"At this rate, he'll be dead within a matter of days," Chase says. It's not his usual snark - there's real alarm in his voice, and Foreman feels it, too. They're killing this guy.
The difference between these days and those, before House left, is that there won't be a last-minute save. Foreman sits on one side of the table, next to Cameron. He starts to make a list of tests they can still do.
Wilson comes in just before lunch. He's well dressed and not in a lab coat, and Foreman looks up at him and thinks, When did Dr. Wilson grow up? Wilson has them take him through the case step by step, disagrees with Cameron's push for a second MRI but agrees with Chase's idea for a PET Scan. He asks to see the MRI scans from yesterday. Foreman hands them over without mentioning that Wilson has no jurisdiction, because he's happy to have someone there, someone between him and the patient.
"Not to sound like an oncologist," Wilson says, studying the scans and then the symptoms, after Chase and Cameron have left to do the PET Scan, "but this feels like lymphoma."
They thought of that, but the seizures threw them off and they still can't explain them. But they do the scan and then a biopsy, and the tests come back with a diagnosis: Nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin's lymphoma, rare enough that it feels like a victory to have spotted it. Foreman goes with Cuddy and Wilson to tell the parents and then the kid. He follows Wilson back to the office, and Wilson stops him just outside.
"Foreman," he says, crossing his arms, "don't make me hear you guys struggling through the walls."
Foreman wants to shake him off, but this is the man, after all, who's been House's sounding board for years. He nods and claps Wilson on the shoulder. "Thanks, Dr. Wilson."
During his third week at Seabrook, they bring in an old man, a professor, to talk to House. "And now I should be all inspired, because it's not just suburban moms and skater boys who kick the habit?" House says, sitting on his bed and staring across at the old man.
"Well, it would certainly waste less of my time if you would be inspired just by the sight of me," he says. "But I have a feeling you're going to be far more tiresome than that."
"I have that reputation."
"Hard-earned, yes, I know." The old man sits straight up in the desk chair, one leg crossed, looking at House. He's wearing a tweed suit and expensive shoes, and he looks comfortable. House can't find anything wrong with him. He begins to wonder if he's a hallucination. "I'm Dr. Earle."
House connects the dots as fast as he can. "Vance Earle?" Earle nods. Not a hallucination, then, he thinks, leaning slightly forward. Vance Earle is a vascular specialist and chief-of-staff at Massachusetts General for something like fourteen years, though House thinks he semi-retired sometime recently. There'd been a big work up about it in the Harvard Journal, since Earle had been one of their big NIH funding draws. Most recently, he's been chosen as the first-ever president of the American Board of Vascular Medicine. House narrows his eyes. "I read you last article in JAMA," he says. Earle nods again. "It wasn't complete crap."
"You'll forgive me if I don't put that stunning assessment on my C.V."
"So, what's your story then, Doctor? Let me guess: you hit the flask too hard back when you and Marcus Welby roamed the halls as young men."
"Now that would hardly be exciting, would it?" Earle says. He stares at House, doesn't look away. "You know, I think the problem here may be that you're smart."
"Brilliant, actually," House corrects. "And it's often been the problem before."
Earle barely smirks. "Just smart enough to think that you'll actually be able to get away with it."
House frowns. "And you're here to give me the homily on why I can't or won't get away with it, and then to tell me about how your wife left you and your career is nearly destroyed, right?"
"No," Earle says. "I'm here to tell you about how I nearly destroyed not only my own career but that of my best friend, cost my hospital 100 million dollars, and was almost sent to prison for ten years because my junkie ways were just too cool for me to give up, much less apologize for." Earle almost smiles as he says this. "I'm here to talk about how I was one of the most brilliant diagnosticians in the world until I just about wrecked my chances of ever practicing medicine again by being a complete and utter jackass."
House clears his throat. "That's plagiarism."
"Not if I don't write it down." Earle folds one hand over the other. "I'm guessing that you're stuck on step one, still. It's sad, really, after all these years of overachieving, that you're being beaten up the twelve-step ladder by a bunch of suburban moms."
"Religious suburban moms," House says.
"Ah, yes, well, that makes all the difference, knowing as you do the proven correlation between religious zeal and IQ." He sighs, an elegant, annoyed sigh. "You can be your own higher power, you know. Feel free to give me a call when you figure that one out."
House snorts. "I'm not going to like you, am I?" he asks.
"No, I doubt it," Earle says. "But you're supposed to be leaving this place in five weeks, so I'm going to be your sponsor anyway."
Wilson spends a lot of time with Cuddy, now, strategizing for their new capital improvement plan. He has two major donors lined up; between them, he thinks he can get funding for a GEMINI TF PET/CT scanner. The time-of-flight technology on the machine is outstanding. "I saw it demonstrated at Penn last spring," Wilson says. "Images you wouldn't believe."
Cuddy nods. "You know every time you get a new toy, you're just going to have to fight nuclear medicine for it."
"And House," Wilson says, sighing, stabbing at his salad. He doesn't eat in the cafeteria anymore, because he doesn't want to see his old patients; he takes a lot of lunches out, with prospective donors and sometimes just with thick books of finance charts. When House gets back next month, he figures he'll either be eating in the cafeteria again, or he'll be taking all of his meals out.
"But at least he'll only be after it once a month, maybe twice." Cuddy opens a plastic container of yogurt. "I offered to let his fellows out of their contracts," she says.
"Let me guess: Foreman's still thinking, Chase said no thanks, and Cameron asked for an extension."
Cuddy snorts and sets the yogurt down so she can take a sip of water. "They all asked for extensions. They've been without supervision for six months."
The shooting and the drugs have taken up the last year. It's been the worst twelve months of Wilson's life, and it's all been because of House, and House has only been around for half of it. He stops picking at his salad.
"It's amazing," Cuddy says. "He's turned them all into junkies."
Wilson has to clear his throat to be able to talk. "In the end, I suppose they'll all be able to go anywhere they want."
"Probably, if House will even let them go."
He laughs. It's almost like old times, imagining House and the schemes he'll invent to keep his new playthings around. "They'll be lucky if he doesn't just drop them off the balcony."
Cuddy smiles. She smiles at him a lot, now, and Wilson knows that it's the suits and the seriousness and the fact that he is now decidedly on her side of any argument. He's an administrator. She picks up her yogurt again and twirls the spoon. "Do you want to go to dinner?" she asks.
He sets his plastic fork down. "Just to be clear - would it be a date?"
She looks down, blushes a little, but her voice stays steady. "Yes."
There are a hundred ways he could answer this - but he's always found that honesty is the best policy. "Sure," he says. "That would be nice."
She smiles again, broader, an almost nervous smile, and nods fast. "Great. Friday?"
"Sounds good," he says. "Shall I pick you up?"
Lisa spends a lot of time shopping. Mostly online. Once a week, though, usually on a Tuesday night, sometimes on a Thursday or a Saturday morning, she goes out and shops in person. It's not relaxing, really, it's not rewarding - it's just something she does, something she likes to do, that gets her out and circulating in the world. She spends most of her days either in the hospital or thinking about the hospital, and sometimes it's nice to get beyond those walls. It's also, she'll admit, nice to see the fruits of her labors, to be able to walk into almost any store and ask for any object and know that she can afford it. She doesn't let herself forget this benefit, because sometimes, during the really hard times, it helps.
There are stores where she's known - the boutique in the Plainsboro Village Center where she buys most of her serious suits can usually be counted on for something, and the jeweler next door often has a new brooch to show off - but sometimes, on days like this, she stays away from the known places. Today, she goes to a new development in Princeton township, a bunch of boxy retail stores all clustered near each other, but not sharing a roof, not wanting to be a mall. She buys matching hat and glove sets for her nieces at The Gap and picks up a new pink top with a frilly neckline for herself. Maybe she'll wear it when she meets Wilson - James - for dinner tomorrow.
She carries her bags through the Baby Gap section of the store and pauses in front of a tiny stand of even tinier shoes. One little sandal barely fits two of her fingers. She looks at the next rack over, where pairs of khaki pants hang in descending order from itty-bitty to small. Lisa thinks of the years that each size dictates, the growth of a boy from birth, from wearing finger-sized sandals, to wearing pants like these, pants made for swing-sets and bicycles and catch in the front yard.
"Can I help you find anything?" The salesgirl is pert and bright-eyed and probably used to seeing women get all teary-eyed looking at baby shoes. It doesn't make Lisa feel any better to think this.
"No, I'm - thank you, I'm fine," she says. She lets the little shoe fall back to its rack and walks out of the store. On the sidewalk, she pauses to wipe her eyes, then takes the bags to the car. Inside, she rests her hands on the steering wheel and watches a family walk into the building. This is pathetic, she thinks. There is so much of that that she doesn't want. She watches a wife smile at her husband as he opens the door, watches two boys bounce wildly around on the sidewalk and ignore their parents' pleas for order. It's all so messy and disorganized, it's all so time consuming. The process is depressing, and there's always that possibility that the results will be, too.
And yet she wants it, wants a child, wants to be a mother not just in the flashy consumer way of these parents before her but in the way that she once wanted to be a doctor. She wants this because she knows she can do it well, and because she knows it's what she's built for. She is a firm believer in biology.
Her phone flashes and begins to ring, and she pulls it out of her purse and stares at the number. Wilson. Probably wanting to confirm for tomorrow night. Or to cancel, she thinks, but that seems improbable. Without House around, his life has to be even more boring than hers. She picks up the phone. "Hello, James," she says.
"Lisa!" He sounds surprised, even though he's the one calling. Maybe it's the first name that's thrown him off, but she can't do what she wants and still think of him as just Wilson, just a colleague, just another doctor. "I just wanted to check on times for tomorrow night."
"Still on," she says. "Seven o'clock? I have reservations for 7:30."
"Sounds excellent. I have a meeting at four, but it won't last much beyond an hour."
"Great, so, I'll see you at my place at seven." She smiles. "And you don't need to wear a jacket."
He laughs. "Good to know. OK. I'll see you tomorrow."
She makes one other stop on her way home, at the drug store. She doesn't buy condoms: she buys pregnancy tests.
The old man keeps coming back. "At some point, you will have to actually do the therapy part," Earle says.
"I have been doing it." House is sitting in his bed, leaning against the wall. He tosses a red ball up into the air and catches it; toss and catch, toss and catch. It's soothing, except that this used to be what he did when he wanted to think, and now there's a complete lack of cool things to think about.
He has already privately diagnosed every single one of the other inmates - residents, as the counselors prefer to call them. They are all boring cases. Pre-diabetes, one counselor with noticeable cardiac problems, and every resident showing predictable, almost textbook signs of past drug use. They lie about it a little, but not nearly so much as House would've expected. He wishes they would lie more, in fact; he wishes they would hold more things back, so that their every-morning group sessions wouldn't run into lunch time and thus make him late to view General Hospital.
"Ah, see, just showing up doesn't count here," Earle says, reaching out and grabbing the red ball. "You have to actually try."
"Do, or do not," House says in his best Yoda voice. "There is no try."
"And if you do not, then you don't get to leave."
House snorts. "Who's to say I'm not making remarkable progress? I almost cried this morning in group. Wait - no - I think I feel it coming - I just," and he puts his head in his hands and fake-sobs for a moment, then looks up at Earle and smiles.
"That's all very cute. But I sincerely doubt that a judge will find it so adorable as to grant the conditions of your deal."
"My deal is already signed and sealed and in place," House says. He remembers that particularly bitter pill, having to sign those forms, waiting for Wilson to come and pick them up from his condo and drive them over to Tritter. "I'm doing my part."
"No," Earle says, and he tosses the ball back, "you aren't. Step nine."
House feigns absolute innocence. "Hey," he says, "I wrote a very nice note of apology to my parents for all the pain I've caused."
"No, you wrote a rather mean-spirited little note to Dr. Cuddy about the care and feeding of your pets."
House tries not to let the surprise show on his face. "You talked to Cuddy?"
"I read your mail." Earle draws the letter, opened but without a postmark, from his inner jacket pocket. He holds it out to House. "Care to make a deal with me, Doctor?"
House takes the letter. He's actually disappointed that it didn't get through. Yes, it is a little mean-spirited - particularly the part about making sure not to get Chase too excited, so he doesn't ruin the carpet - but it had been his first attempt, his only chance since he'd been here, of making contact with his old world. He misses the hospital every single day. He misses the cases, misses the adrenaline rush of solving problems, of doing his job well, but he also misses the down time, the toys on his desk, the elaborate plans to escape clinic duty, the gossip. The people. "What do you have in mind?"
"I'll visit you every day for the next two weeks. Staring tomorrow morning, every time I visit, you have to make a call."
"I knew I memorized those 900 numbers for a reason."
Earle smiles thinly. "You have to call and apologize to one person. Every visit."
House tosses the ball up high enough that it hits the ceiling. "That's not a deal. Deal implies that I get something in return. And besides, the point of all of this is to inspire me to change, right? How exactly does forcing me to make apologies I don't and won't mean work toward making me a better person?"
"It doesn't," Earle says. "But it will probably go a long way toward improving your quality of life once you leave this place if you actually have some people willing to offer you support. And there is that whole 'compliance with the order of the court' thing."
House taps his fingers on the bed. He wants to just sit here, to just wait Earle out, but this time it's not enough to win the battle. If he doesn't win the war, he doesn't get to go back to work. "Fine," he says. "So who do you want me to call?"
Wilson is in Cuddy's kitchen, slicing an orange to have for breakfast, when the phone rings. He jumps at the sound, then laughs at himself. Cuddy - Lisa - is out on a run, and he's an invited guest. He shouldn't feel like an intruder, but he does. It's why he's already wearing his shirt and pants; it would seem weird to pad around Cuddy's house in just his underwear, even though he woke up wearing less than that in Cuddy's - Lisa's bed.
The answering machine kicks in, giving Lisa's terse message, and Wilson makes the last cut on the orange. He lines the slices up on a paper towel, trying not to make a mess. Maybe he should have makes orange juice. There's a whole basket of oranges, there certainly would be -
"Cuddy, it's me."
Wilson jumps again at the harsh sound of House's voice, echoing across Cuddy's kitchen. He turns and reaches for the phone on the wall by the refrigerator, grabs it even as House is talking into the machine. "I need to talk to you. Now. Hello? Hello, I know you're -"
"House? What's going on?" Wilson takes the cordless phone into the living room and stabs the stop button on the answering machine, which ends the horrible feedback. "House?"
Wilson looks at the caller ID. It's a 617 number, registered to V. Earle. If House is in Boston, then the whole deal's off. Wilson sits on the arm of Cuddy's couch. "Where are you? What's going on?"
"What's - what are you doing at Cuddy's place at 6:30 in the morning?"
"Where are you?"
"Though I guess I can connect the dots on that one myself. And I'm exactly where you put me," House snarls.
Wilson sighs and tries to speak through clenched teeth. "You're calling from a Boston number."
"Cell phone," House says. "I traded a couple packs of cigarettes for it."
Wilson groans. He closes his eyes. He's been trying so hard not to think about House these last few weeks, trying to think only of what might be coming in the days ahead. Seabrook is supposed to be a guaranteed fix, but this is the same House as always. Wilson rubs his face. "What do you want, House? Did you leave? Are you - where are you?"
House sighs, and his voice, for a moment, is serious. "I'm at the place. I'm borrowing a cell phone. And I need to talk to Cuddy, if she's there."
"Fine," House says, the snarl back in his voice.
Wilson stands up, and he's snarling, too. "If you're just calling to say you're giving up or that you've decided it's not going to work, to pitch another brilliant plan, you should give up now, House. You should just -"
"It's working just fine!" House snaps. "I'm on step nine, you fucking moron. But I'm not ready to talk to you yet." He hangs up before Wilson can ask anything more.
Wilson is still standing in the middle of the living room, the phone in one hand, when the front door opens. Cuddy looks from him to the phone and back, then puts a hand out to the wall. She pulls one leg up behind her, stretching her hamstring. "What -"
"House called," Wilson says, and his voice sounds too high in his own ears.
"What?" She drops her leg. When she walks toward him, her strides are stiff and uneven. She swallows as she takes the phone from him. "He's quitting?"
Wilson shakes his head and sits on the couch. "He says it's working, he says he's on step nine." He looks up at Cuddy, who's staring back at him with wide eyes. "I don't know whether to believe him or not."
She nods. She takes the phone over to her desk and flips through pages on her planner. He hears the beep of numbers being dialed, then Cuddy says, "Yes, this is Dr. Lisa Cuddy. I just had a call from one of your patients, and I want to ascertain whether he's still in your facility. Can you tell me if Gregory House has checked himself out?" There's a pause, and Wilson drops his head into his hands. He's invested in this, in House's success. He hasn't thought at all about what it will mean if they fail. His stomach churns. "Thank you. I see. Of course. Thank you."
He hears the beep of the phone being turned off, and a moment later feels Lisa sit next to him on the couch. She smells like sweat and rain. "He's still there," she says, and Wilson slides a little further forward. "Step nine is making amends."
Wilson nods. He pulls back, sits up, tries to shake it all off. "Well, I think he'll call you back, then," he says.
She laughs, a dry, humorless laugh. "God, what do you think he'll apologize for?"
Wilson leans back on the couch. "He's got quite a list to choose from," he says. Lisa sits forward and groans just slightly at the move, and Wilson says, "Stay put, I'll grab your water."
He brings back a bottle of water from the kitchen and the paper towel with the oranges. Lisa gulps the water, then takes an offered slice of orange. They sit for a few more minutes and talk about House, and then she goes to shower and Wilson goes out to his own car. He turns the key and realizes they never talked about last night. "Impeccable timing, my friend," he mutters as he backs out of the drive, "just like always."
By Tuesday, Chase and Foreman have both had a call from House.
"Bit weird, really," Chase says, sitting at the conference table and torturing a donut. "He just said he was sorry for hitting me, and sorry that he didn't make the catch on the EP sooner with Alice."
"House said he was sorry?" Cameron asks, leaning forward. "Maybe he hasn't stopped taking the drugs."
"Yeah, he said that, and he said - you're going to think I'm making this up," Chase says, shaking his head, "but he said I'm a good doctor."
Cameron leans back. She does think he's making it up, until Foreman sits at the head of the table. He's concentrating on his cup of coffee. "He said the same thing to me," he says, his voice uneasy. "Not - not the same words, but, something like it. Said he'd gotten used to having me on the team, and -" Foreman pauses, and Cameron's stomach does a little flip-flop of nervousness.
"Well, go on," Chase says.
"He said he was sorry if his problems had gotten in the way of my learning."
They all stare blankly at the table for a moment, and then Chase scoffs. "If it were anyone else with this kind of radical personality shift, I'd say he's high."
"Maybe it's really working," Foreman says. His voice holds the equal measures of dread and excitement that Cameron has been feeling for weeks.
Now, though, she's only feeling left out. "He hasn't called me."
"Really? It's a 617 number," Chase says. "I almost didn't answer, didn't recognize the number."
But Cameron checks her phone and her pager constantly, conscientiously. She hasn't missed a call in days. "I'm sure he's just nervous about calling you," Foreman says.
"Nervous?" she asks, trying to imagine what that would look like on House.
"Afraid," Foreman says.
"Yellow-bellied bastard," Chase adds, and Cameron laughs at that. "You do have a bit more personal history with him."
"And you've had your feelings hurt a bit more," Foreman points out.
Cameron doesn't need a reminder. "Chase got hurt, too," she says, but it sounds petulant. She accepts their reasons, and promises to take notes when he does call.
Since House left, they've been a better team, somehow, even though they rarely work together anymore. There's a foxhole mentality, and Cameron likes it in spite of herself. She feels like they've all agreed that if they can get through this, they can get through anything.
By Thursday, she's tired of waiting. She imagines House has a pretty long list of people he needs to make amends to, and knows him well enough to think that she's probably not the first person he wants to talk to, but she wants the call. She tries to think about what she wants him to say, what she wants to say, herself. It's a long list, and so she starts to write things down in her planner, which she tries to keep with her at all times, just in case. It weighs down her lab coat and makes it uneven, but she doesn't care, really. There's no one at the hospital that she's trying to impress, at the moment.
Her phone stays silent all day, and her list takes up a full page in the notes section of her planner. At the end of the day, she goes to the office of the last person she figures House will call.
"I take it you haven't heard from him," Wilson says, setting his glasses down on his desk.
Cameron sits in the chair across from his desk. "He's called Chase and Foreman."
"I know," Wilson says. She knows he knows. He's been debriefing people all day about the calls. The walls between his office and House's really aren't that thick. "He will call."
She shrugs. "I don't know if it matters. Chase thinks there was someone there making him do it."
"Chase has a lot of experience with this kind of program," Wilson says.
"So there is someone?" Cameron thinks back to what she knows about Seabrook - she knows a lot. She researched the place pretty thoroughly even before she took House up there, and she stayed for the guided facility tour after he'd checked in. It uses the same twelve-step philosophy as AA or NA, though slightly altered. She hopes that the alterations will be able to accommodate House's demand for special attention. "He has a sponsor?"
"Yes, I think so," Wilson says, but he doesn't elaborate, and Cameron can tell that he's not going to. She wonders if Wilson's gotten a call. "No," he answers when she asks. "And frankly, I don't expect one."
Cameron nods. If she could, she would learn to do that, to expect nothing from House. She stands up. "It'd be easier, that way," she says. She stops at the door. There's something she's been afraid to ask, and so she does it without turning his way. "You and Dr. Cuddy."
"We're - not really," Wilson says, but that's enough of an answer. Not really is more than they ever were. It's more than she ever wanted from Wilson. She nods and opens the door. Next door, in the foxhole, Chase and Foreman are laughing and watching something on the new high-def monitor in House's office. She makes sure her phone is on and her ringer turned up before she walks in and sits between them.
They have an emergency meeting of the transplant committee at 6:45 on Saturday morning. Wilson is barely able to pull himself out of bed, and he goes to the hospital in jeans and an old sweatshirt, unshowered, because it takes too long for the hot water to kick in at House's place. Four kids from Princeton all need new livers. At first, Wilson hears that headline and thinks it's a diagnostic nightmare, a new plague, but the man at the front of the room - Chad McIntyre, an internist who's had the luck to be on call this weekend - tells the full story and Wilson's panic recedes. The boys - seventeen and eighteen years old - were part of a hazing ritual at one of the nearby fraternity houses, some kind of drinking challenge called a "green bean." These boys, however, had some very bad advice from a Web site beforehand, and instead of eating a good dinner to hold back the alcohol poisoning, they each chose to down a couple of extra-strength Tylenol. Having done this every night for a week, their livers are shot.
"Two of them have been matched with members of their own families," McIntyre says, "and they're already being prepped for surgery. But these other two boys are running out of time. I'd like to propose moving them to the top of the transplant list immediately."
They vote to move the boys to top because the situation is so desperate. Wilson never has mixed feelings about this, because he knows there are other boards in other hospitals meeting at the same time and making similar calls, and he figures that in the end, they do the best they can with the information they have. He agonizes over decisions that he has some control over; this one is a simple yes or no vote. No one dies immediately if he votes yes, so that's what he does.
In the hallway, he stands with Stan Tyrell, a guy from pediatrics who has three kids of his own. Stan is already dressed in slacks and a pressed shirt. "Have to get rounds in early," he says. "It's my weekend with the kids."
When he was married, Wilson used to look at guys like Stan and think, there but for the grace of God. His first wife had wanted children, his second had been indifferent, and his third, a child of divorce herself, had said "only if we make it past five years." And now Wilson looks at Stan and feels a little pang of regret, because all he has to show for the last fifteen years of his life outside the hospital are piles of lawyers' bills. There are almost no people on earth to whom he is anything more than just Dr. Wilson.
Lisa and Chad come out after a moment, and Wilson stares at Lisa for maybe a moment too long, because he misses half of what Stan's saying. He nods, and that seems to be the right response. Stan says his good-byes and heads for his rounds, and Wilson tries to engage in Lisa's conversation.
"Why is it a green bean?" Lisa asks Chad. "I get the green part, but -"
He shrugs. "They take them out and get them so drunk that the next day, they're all strung out and limp - like green beans, I guess."
"So it's a figurative and a literal green," Wilson says, and Chad nods.
He taps his chart in his hands. "Gotta go tell the families."
He walks away, and Wilson and Lisa are left in the hall, standing side by side. She clears her throat. "Do you want to come in, for a minute?"
He goes into the office with her and takes a seat on her couch. She sits in the chair against the wall, and they smile awkwardly at each other for a moment. "Nice sweatshirt," she says after a moment, and Wilson looks down and shakes his head. It's a Michigan sweatshirt, clearly not one of his, but it was clean and apparently a little too close to his own laundry when he was groping around in the half-dark.
"Go Wolverines," he says. "I've been staying at House's place."
"I know," she says, and when Wilson lifts a questioning eyebrow, she shrugs. "You called to say you'd be late, and it showed up on caller ID. Can't tell you how unsettling it was to see that number pop up."
Wilson nods. He can imagine. Since the morning at Cuddy's, he's been half convinced that every time the phone rings or there's a knock on his office door, it's going to be House, saying he's decided therapy is crap. Please make it through, please make it through, he thinks, because the alternative is that House goes to jail. And if he goes, it will be in part because Wilson sent him.
"So the other night," Lisa starts, and Wilson snaps his head up.
"Yeah," he says, nodding fast, "about that."
"It was - nice," she says.
"Nice," he echoes. "Good."
"Yes, good." She's blushing, and Wilson thinks he probably is, too.
He shakes his head. "Oh, for god's sake," he mutters, hearing House's voice taunting him, "look, we're adults, right? We can - deal with this. In a grown-up manner."
"Absolutely," she says, and she sounds relieved.
"So. We had sex," Wilson says. "Pretty good sex, if my memory is correct."
She smirks. "I think it is."
"And, if my calculations are right, we had sex while you were ovulating, and I didn't use a condom, and I'm guessing you aren't on the pill." Lisa swallows. It's confirmation. He's been thinking about this for a week, now, just in flashes during the days. He understood last week what was being asked of him, which doesn't mean he's thought at all about what comes next. Yet each time he's pictured this conversation, he's said the same thing at this moment. "It's OK," Wilson says. "I knew what was going on."
She nods, at first just a few jerky nods, then faster, more assuredly. "OK."
"So. The question is - well, I guess there are a few questions, right?"
"I don't know yet," she says. "I was going to test today." She looks up. "Actually, you could help."
"Blood test? Sure," he says. "But - I mean, if it is -"
She shakes her head fast, fierce. "I can't talk about it until I know. Until we know," she corrects, and he nods.
"OK," he says. He stands up slowly, feeling suddenly very much like he needs more sleep between him and the rest of this day. "I think I'm going to go home, get some more sleep. I'll be in after lunch, though, so -"
"I'll find you for the test," she says, and he nods. He waves, feeling awkward, as he walks out the doors.
Wilson does come back in after lunch, but he has a meeting at 1. Lisa spends most of the afternoon trying to avert a crisis in Nuclear Medicine after one of the doctors picks a fight with one of the technicians, and thus all radiology requests are backed up four additional hours. She meets for half an hour with the department head, who tries to stick up for his underlings, but eventually caves and agrees that they'll all stay over that evening to finish up the work created by the mess. Lisa even gets him to agree that he'll be the one to break the news to the radiologists. As he leaves, she thinks this is too easy. She's sharpened her skills over the years by fighting with and against and sometimes even for House; the rest of the hospital seems like a cakewalk compared to those battles.
Wilson ducks his head into her office after that meeting, and she waves him inside. "I brought everything," he says, holding a syringe, vial, sterile pad, and maybe even a rubber tie in his hand.
She groans. "I - is it OK if we wait on that until tomorrow? I have Grossman coming back in at 4."
He's agreeable, as always. She watches him try to slide the supplies into the lab coat that he's not wearing, sees his surprise when he realizes his habit. "Well, listen, if you change your mind, I'm going to hang out in diagnostics for a while. They're working on -"
"The Balzer case, I know," she says. She's seen the file. It's a mildly interesting case, though nothing that House would've ever taken on. For one, there seems to be little threat that the man is going to die; he just has an unexplained limp.
Wilson says good-bye and heads out the door, and for a moment she watches him go. She has a fantasy, at the moment, of how things could go for them. The baby will be a girl, and lovely, with all of the right features from each of them. They will be the most equitable and modern of parents, switching off mid-week for care, conferencing and agreeing on every aspect of parenting from the best day-care to the best kind of formula. She pictures them sharing late meals to catch up on school news, and then sometimes falling into bed simply for the company and comfort of it all. In her fantasy, Wilson stays single, and so does she, though they start to lean on each other more, in the way that Wilson used to lean on House, the way that means she'll never have to go to another charity ball without a built-in dance partner.
She isn't in love with Wilson, and she means to tell him that. He isn't in love with her, either, and that's why the fantasy feels like something that could come true. But it hinges on him giving up, and she's not sure he's there yet.
She dodges him for the next three days, because once she takes the test the fantasy will be over. Instead, on Wednesday, she goes home and takes one of the boxed tests. The results are less reliable, so if there's no blue plus sign, she'll still have at least one more night in which to comfort herself with the idea that the plan could still work.
It comes back blue, and so do the next two.
"I don't understand when I turned into a slut," Cameron says, and Chase chokes on his beer.
"You don't understand when, or you don't understand how?" Foreman asks. "'Cause I'm guessing one will be easier to trace than the other."
"Who - says you're - a slut?" Chase gasps, setting his beer on the table.
Cameron shrugs. No one has said it, but she feels it. She's pretty sure that Dr. Wilson is a slut, in a male way, and she thinks that maybe screwing the best friend of the man she's not at all secretly really in love with might be slut material. "I slept with Dr. Wilson," she says, and Chase, who is mid-drink, starts making terrible heaving noises. Cameron holds up her hand and ticks down fingers. "Slept with Wilson. Went on a date with House, and would've slept with him. Slept with Chase." She looks at Foreman, who raises both eyebrows.
"I don't sleep with friends," he says, holding his hands up.
"What about colleagues?"
He laughs. "Allison," he says, and he puts his hand on her arm, bringing her hand back to the table to stop the counting. "You're not a slut."
She rolls her eyes, but she somehow appreciates this coming from him. He squeezes her arm, then pulls his hand away and turns to Chase, ducks to get a look at his face. "Chase, you OK? You're turning purple."
"Mm - fine," Chase says. He sits up and presses his back straight against the booth, coughing once or twice into his hand. "Can we go back a page to where you're sleeping with Wilson?"
"Only twice," Cameron says, though that sounded less slutty in her head. "He was - upset about House, and I -"
"And you were upset about House," Chase says. "It's all a bit sordid, isn't it? You sleeping with House's best friend, both of you probably thinking about him the whole time -"
"I hardly think Wilson was thinking about House," she says. She feels herself blush, and is glad the lights in the bar are low, because she's not sure about this at all. She doesn't completely understand Wilson's motivations for their liaisons, beyond the purely physical. Maybe it was just that. He has been divorced for a while, and living at House's place has to be kind of lonely.
Chase is breathing normally again, and he reaches for his beer just as Foreman says, "Well, just don't ever tell House about it and everything should be fine."
Cameron thinks her blush must be visible even under these lights as she says, very quietly, almost just to the table, "I already did."
This time Chase actually snorts beer through his nose. Foreman hands him a napkin but doesn't look away from Cameron. "You what? Why would you do that?"
She shrugs. She can't explain to them what it was like, that horrible trip with House up to Seabrook. The whole way there, she'd wanted to say something to him - something meaningful, something that he'd understand and file away in his weird, damaged, beautiful brain, something that he could hold on to, cling to, even, in the coming days. And when she'd seen him limp out of his building, wearing a faded old cotton jacket and equally faded jeans, looking pale and sad and defeated, she'd believed that he might be able, just this once, to accept some help.
Instead, there had been silence, and a long, awkward drive, and she'd thought about all of the things that he should have been saying - the apologies he should've been making, or even the excuses he could've been offering - and she'd stared to get mad, to really, truly hate him. When he'd shoved away her offer of help - just some water, just a simple fucking bottle as a mark of human kindness - she'd turned mean, and the truth had been an excellent weapon.
But she can't say that to Foreman or Chase. So she says, "It seemed like the right thing to do."
Chase's voice is rusty when he sits forward and speaks. "Guess we know why you haven't got a call from House yet, then, don't we? He probably thinks you're even."
Foreman shakes his head, then sends Chase to the bar for another pitcher. Cameron looks down at her empty glass, surprised when Foreman's hand again brushes her arm.
"Wilson's a nice guy," he says, "but he actually is a slut. You're not. You're really a nice person. You care about people, about House, about patients, everyone. And I'm saying this as a friend, OK? You probably should give up on House. And stay away from Wilson."
"Because he's a bad influence?"
Foreman shakes his head, and his mouth quirks the way it always does when he's explaining something. "Because those two have years of history. They're all tied up in each other's lives and business, and it's complicated. It could get really messy. Wilson can afford to get messed around by House. He's got tenure and he's got a good reputation."
"Aside from being a slut," Cameron says, but she knows this is all true. Wilson is somehow one of the better-liked doctors in the hospital, even though he's best friends with a maniac and has specialized in field where the mortality rate is astronomically high. He has even managed to come out on top of this entire Tritter business - still a department head, and now apparently Cuddy's new personal favorite.
"All I'm saying is, there are a hundred other guys out there that would be better for you. Hell, Chase is a better match, particularly if you're just looking for someone to pass the time." Foreman gives her a stern look that makes Cameron laugh, just slightly, and then nod.
"Point taken," she says, as Chase sets the new pitcher down on the table. "He is pretty good," she muses, and Chase gives her an unsteady look.
"Wilson?" Chase asks, and Cameron waits until he's pouring his own drink to answer.
When he spills the pitcher, Chase blushes, and Cameron doesn't look away.
House gets a package on the first day of his second month in rehab. Carl escorts him down to the main desk of the residential building. A UPS driver is leaning on the desk.
"What can brown do for me?" House asks him. "What's the going rate on overnight delivery out of hell?"
The driver just looks bored. He hands House an electronic clipboard thing to sign, which House does under Carl's watchful eye. The driver hands over a box about the size of a shoe box, only not as deep. "What, you aren't going to search it for drugs?" he asks Carl. He makes a show of shaking the box; something inside rattles. "I dunno, could be full of Vicodin."
"We've been expecting this," Carl says, and House scowls. That somehow makes the package much less fun.
Everyone is lurking in the lobby when House returns to his floor, and they look at him with open curiosity. They have an hour off between morning group and lunch, during which time some of the residents have their one-on-one counseling sessions. House's sessions are in the afternoons.
He takes the package back to his room, refusing to open it in front of the crowd in the television room. Privacy isn't something they're big on here, but at least House has graduated to having his own tiny room. He limps inside and sits on the bed, then studies the brown box. The return address is corporate, some Internet sales company that House doesn't recognize. Someone's sent him a toy, he thinks, and he hopes it's a Gameboy. Or a tiny television, even though he gets to watch General Hospital without argument in the afternoons, now, on the big screen. He's gotten three other residents hooked, and has spent considerable time applauding himself for addicting people who are in an addiction treatment center.
He shakes the box again. Something slides around inside, but it feels heavy. He wishes for a pocket knife, but those aren't allowed, so he has to pull at the packing tape with his dull fingernails until the box opens, revealing another box. This box is glossy, though, and House pulls it out and stares at it. It's a cell phone, a small, flat, black model, complete with a wall charger. There's a packing slip inside, and House looks at it, sees a note at the bottom.
From V. Earle - Three left.
House reads the details of the phone, sees that it's been charged for 800 minutes of talk time. Plenty of time with which he could call any one of a dozen sex-talk lines, or maybe just the time and temperature line from PPTH.
He hears a shuffle of feet and doesn't have to look over to know that Carl is in his doorway. House holds up the phone.
"Isn't this illegal?" he asks. "Shouldn't you be confiscating it?"
Carl smirks. It's just about the only expression that he has, and House has come to respect that. "Like I said. Expected."
House nods. He knows exactly which three phone calls Earle thinks he has left, and he's not eager to make any of them. "Where's Dr. Earle?" he asks.
"Had an emergency in St. Louis. Flew out."
House tries to think about what kind of emergency could draw out a vascular specialist. The list is long and interesting. It will be a good mental puzzle for the rest of the day. He wonders if he can get a pass to the computer room for the evening. The machines are pretty well locked down - no porn sites, no messaging programs, not even any e-mail allowed - but they are able to consult Web sites for sports scores and news stories. And House has found that there are no blocks on most medical sites, which is very handy.
He sits around for most of the day with the phone in his pocket. They have chicken and pasta for lunch, better than cafeteria quality but not great, nothing to call home about. He sits in the corner and doesn't talk to anyone, and he has to give the people here some credit for not being complete cardboard cutout camp counselors, because they do let him be alone sometimes. After lunch they have more free time - House watches General Hospital - and then an afternoon group session, in which Bobby Bartan, a very eager Phase One kid, gives an eight minute confession about the wedge driven into his family by his addiction and how Jesus is going to get him through. House bets he's a burnout by week three, and Darien takes the bet. "Sooner, man, the Jesus guys always go out sooner," he says. "They think they can cut it with just a Bible and their own damn selves."
House has his personal therapy session in the afternoon, but it's boring and he doesn't have anything new to talk about except the phone. He doesn't mention it, but Gloria, his therapist, does ask how the amends are going.
"It's great," he says. "It's so great, I'm thinking of apologizing for things beyond the scope of the program. Castro's gotta be waiting for someone to give a my bad for that whole Cuban Missile Crisis thing, right?"
Gloria's face barely changes. "How's your pain level?" she asks.
"Also fabulous," he says. This morning, when he woke up, his leg had felt like fire on top of fire and he'd wanted the bitter taste of dry Vicodin in his mouth more than anything he'd ever wanted in the entirety of the world. "Thanks for asking."
She leans forward just a little. "It's going to get worse," she says. "Tomorrow, the next day, it's just going to be more pain."
He wants to shift in his chair, but movement shows weakness. "Aren't you a ray of sunshine?"
She sits back in her chair, and for someone who's supposed to be helping him, who's chosen a career where the main goal is to assist others in healing, she seems very satisfied about his continued pain. "You know what you need to do," she says.
He says nothing for the next fourteen minutes, choosing instead to use his therapy time to picture Pia Zadore in various flattering poses. In the last three minutes, he stares at the diplomas on Gloria's walls. He wonders how a girl who graduated from the University of Minnesota, who still has that strange, elongated Midwestern speech pattern, ended up as a drug counselor in New Jersey. What kind of bitter switch of expectations must she have met to end up here? He tries to picture her fresh out of school, taking her first case, eager to help and solve and comfort. He's glad when the time runs out.
After dinner - steak strips and salad, a definite improvement - House goes to his room instead of to the TV lounge or computer room. He doesn't bother closing the door, because there is no door. He checks his watch, then pulls the phone out of his pocket. The box is still on the floor, and he finds the charger and plugs it in and starts the phone charging. The directions say it needs a full day, but House doesn't have that kind of time. It powers up, and he dials a number he wasn't even sure he had memorized.
A fist of nervousness clenches in his stomach as it rings - one, two, three, and then four, and he laughs to himself as it rolls into voice mail. This feels too easy, too perfect. He takes it anyway. "Cameron," he says, "it's House. I wanted - to apologize." He pauses. "I wanted to say, I'm sorry for hiring you. I'm not saying I'm sorry I did that, or that I'm sorry to have you around, because I'm not. You're a great doctor and I stand by my decision to bring you on. I'm saying - you were someone different before you started working for me, and you're not that person now, and I think you're less happy, or you think you're less happy, and so, I'm sorry for what's caused those changes. I'm sorry if this job - " He pauses. "I'm sorry if I've, that I've contributed to you being a less happy person. You deserve to be happy," he says, and he really believes that. "Anyway. I just needed to tell you that. All right, hope you're not, uh, too bored without me." He hangs up, then tucks the phone under the bed. Enough for today, he thinks, rubbing his leg. Enough for a very long time.
They have a state-mandated emergency preparedness drill scheduled for Wednesday morning. Lisa spends Monday morning trying to brief the department heads. It won't be a full-scale drill, not like the terrorism trials that they've run before, but they'll be looking at the basic emergency plans for fire, for infectious disease and quarantine situations, and for bomb and other security threats.
"A bomb threat," she reminds them, "is Code Black." She clicks the remote control for the projector, and the presentation eases seamlessly into the next slide - which outlines the existing plans for responding to a Code Black situation. Lisa starts to talk through the points that aren't fleshed out, reminding the E.R. supervisor that staff members on the ground floor don't just get to walk out the door. As she passes the woman's chair, though, her perfume wafts up and makes Lisa's stomach do a little fumbling flip. She pauses, only for a second. Oh no, she thinks, lowering the hand with the remote to her stomach.
She keeps talking and makes it through the presentation, standing at the back of the room with her back to the wall, far from the food trays and the perfume and everything. "All right. If you know there's going to be a problem with your department, I need to know by the end of the day, in writing, and I need a planned response." The lights flicker back on and the staff members begin to rise, thought not quickly enough. Usually, she lingers at these meetings, chats with everyone as they dash out the door, but at the moment she's nauseated and very conscious of the fact that she's in a room full of doctors. At least House isn't here, she thinks, pushing into the hallway.
It's a little better in the open hall, though not much. She concentrates on walking toward her office, and her nice, private bathroom. No way is she going to throw up in the bathroom here, not where every woman on staff can walk by and hear it and start all manner of rumor. No, she can make it, she tells herself, even though her legs are starting to feel a little iffy by the time she reaches the end of the hallway and she has to pause and concentrate on breathing through the tight circle of her lips. She hears the sharp clack of dress shoes on the tile behind her, but she can't turn around.
"Easy," Wilson says, putting his hand on her shoulder. "Gonna throw up?" She nods just slightly, almost just a flick of her eyelids. "OK. Let's go."
She steadies herself by holding on to his arm with one hand, and they walk fast to her office. No one tries to stop them, and Wilson holds all of the doors for her and deflects all of the questions. She falls to her knees in front of the toilet in her bathroom and throws up horribly, pitifully. She hasn't thrown up since college. "Oh, Christ," she moans, and throws up again.
That lasts for about five minutes, and then she feels better. She cleans up and washes her mouth out and goes into the office, where Wilson is pacing by her desk. "Are you all right?" he asks, and she nods, falling into the armchair near the wall.
Wilson keeps staring at her, and she eventually finds the energy to meet his eyes. "Congratulations," she says, and his eyes go wide for a moment in what could be shock or fear, and then he grins and lets out a shocked little laugh.
"Really?" She nods. "You never asked again about the blood test, so I figured - but wow. Wow." He sits on the couch, close to her chair. "Have you been sick much?"
"No, today's a first," she says.
"And are you OK, otherwise?" She nods. "Wow. I just - we really should talk, huh?"
She keeps perfectly still. The ease of a moment ago has been lost; her stomach is unhappy again. "It's still early," she says. He's a doctor, he'll know exactly what that means. Things could go wrong.
She throws up again, and Wilson brings her water and offers to take her meeting with the Donnelys at nine if she wants to rest. It's a tempting offer, but she knows the way the hospital works. If she's not in a meeting, other work will find its way to her. "The Donnelys have six children," she says. Her voice sounds gravelly. "If I'm going to fight morning sickness in front of someone, they're not a bad choice for it."
Wilson nods. "I take it you - we aren't telling people. Anything."
"Not until the first trimester's over," she says. It sounds like an old wives' tale, but she knows the statistics. It's better to wait until things are more certain.
He opens his mouth, as if to ask something else, but there's a knock at the door. "Dr. York wants a few minutes about the research proposal," her assistant says.
Lisa rolls her eyes. "Ask her to come back," she says. "Tell her we're dealing with Code Black stuff."
Wilson laughs. "I like that," he says. "Code Black. That's the name, from now on."
Lisa pushes herself out of the chair and thinks it feels like an appropriate name. Everything inside of her feels like an explosion, in one way or another. She looks at the stunned happiness on Wilson's face and allows herself a smile. At least she's not the only one feeling all of it.
Cameron's sheets are white. Chase can't remember if they were white last time. He thinks maybe so. Or maybe pink. Her ceiling is white, too, but she has a pink tapestry tacked up so that it hangs over the ceiling light and casts the whole room with a strange rosy light. There's a metaphor to be had here, Chase thinks, but he doesn't work too hard at it.
Cameron is sleeping next to him, curled onto her side, facing him, one of her hands bent so that her fingers just brush his bare ribcage. They've had sex again, and it was pretty good. Not quite as fast or crazy as last time - there was some awkward conversation beforehand, and a beer each from Cameron's fridge - but still, pretty good. Only now, Chase is awake and wondering what it means that they've had sex now twice, and this time without any drugs.
He knows why it's happened. Cameron got the call from House three days ago. Chase knew this first from Foreman, who'd walked in on Cameron crying at House's desk and eventually had made her play the message back on speakerphone. "Brutal," he'd reported. "But not in the classic House way."
Chase has since heard the message himself, two nights ago. He agrees it isn't classic House cruelty, but he can see - had seen - exactly how hard it was for Cameron to hear it all. And now, he's pretty sure that she's going to wake up and start thinking that this - whatever it is, between them - is a sign that House is right, that she's changed, become more bitter, less good, less happy, since she joined the team. Or maybe they'll go back to the slut discussion. Either way, Chase doesn't see this morning ending well.
Cameron stirs, and Chase sucks in a breath. He wants her to wake up, because he's ready to have this over with. Whatever it will be. "Good morning," he says.
Her eyes flutter open, but she doesn't otherwise move. "Hi."
Chase doesn't know what to say. A thousand things come to mind - most of them so lame that he can feel himself starting to blush. Cameron's hand rises and rests on his chest, just near the base of the ribcage. She looks up and over him, at the alarm clock, and then lowers herself again, her head resting now on his shoulder, her arm sliding over his chest. "Still early," she says.
"Yeah." Chase pulls the white sheet up over them both. "Guess we could sleep a bit more."
Cameron doesn't open her eyes, but her tone is more alert. "Are you freaking out?"
"Do I seem freaked out?"
Chase grins. "Not as much, no." Cameron nods, which he feels only as the slide of her cool, smooth cheek across his skin. "All right. Yeah, let's sleep. Together."
Wilson walks into House's condo and tries to turn on the lamp by the door, but the bulb flashes - a brilliant and frightening half-second explosion of color and a whizzing pop - and dies, and the room stays dark. He blinks against the floating green-gray speckles in his eyes and closes the door, pitching the room into absolute darkness. The place is the same as always, all of the furniture living in the same spaces where Wilson had helped Stacy's brother carry it four years ago, after Stacy had left for good. He has no trouble finding his way across the room to the couch and from there to the other lamp, on the end table. This one turns on without a fight.
In the kitchen, he heats up pasta in the microwave and decides to open a bottle of House's wine. He's been debating about the wine, whether he should leave it or not. A man coming out of rehab shouldn't, perhaps, be faced with a full wine rack and a well-stocked bar and a six-pack in the fridge. Then again, Wilson is pretty sure that House will never forgive the intrusion. Thievery! he can hear him cry. But House isn't going to forgive him anyway, and he's already crossed some serious lines on the intrusion front, so maybe he will move the wine out with him. At least the medicine cabinet has already been emptied.
He pours a glass of white wine from an unfamiliar bottle. Wilson has no remarkable palette for wine. His second wife was a connoisseur, and he'd been happy to learn from her. He's retained only enough of what she taught him to be able to converse casually at fundraisers and cocktail parties. House knows more, even though he doesn't seem to enjoy wine that much. Wilson has relied on his taste several times, and has never been disappointed.
This wine is almost clear. Wilson takes a sip while he stirs his pasta. It tastes sweet, which is a surprise. He looks at himself in the reflection of the microwave and raises his glass. "To fatherhood," he says, smiling at himself.
He's going to be a father. Well, that's assuming everything goes well with Lisa's pregnancy - and he pulled her medical files earlier in the week, in a frenzy of what he likes to believe was justified curiosity, and so he knows they might have a rocky road ahead. The recent miscarriage probably means nothing. One out of five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and no one seems to have yet made any conclusive finding as to why that is. But Wilson has a good feeling about this one. It's based on no medical evidence whatsoever, but there it is. A good feeling. A fatherly feeling.
He takes his dinner to the living room, pausing on the way in to look at the answering machine. Only Lisa and Cameron know he's here, but he feels a little sad when he sees there's no blinking, colored light. No messages. He's been trying not to think too much about whether House will call. He's pretty sure he won't, but he can't quite give up hope. He's not sure he even wants an apology, at this point. He's not ready to give one.
The television remote is still balanced on the arm of the couch where Wilson left it the night before. This is one of the nice things about living alone, which is something he hasn't done in a very long time. Things stay put. His food stays in the fridge, his car always has exactly the amount of gas it did when he last drove it, his toothpaste lasts forever, and the radio is still on the public radio channel that he likes. It's a life of Wilson.
Of course, the TiVo still works for House, not Wilson, and so he never knows which channel it will be on. Right now, it's recording some kind of strange, dramatic dating show, and Wilson lets it go, doesn't try to change the channel, just lets the raucous noise of collegiate coupling run in the background.
What he wants, right now, is House. He wants House sitting next to him, cracking jokes about these stupid, these god-awful people, wants House stealing his pasta and his beer and, after a few hours of that, he wants House to say, "So, does this mean you're going to be shacking up with Cuddy?"
Instead, he has to ask himself the awkward questions, and give the awkward answers: he has no idea what any of this means. He can see a hundred different futures for himself, for this potential child, for him and Cuddy or for him and House. He's been holding his breath for five weeks, now, and the whole time, he's been thinking it's just fear that House won't come back rehabilitated. Now he's not so sure. He's afraid that House will come back and things will be better for him but worse for Wilson; that their friendship will be the price that's had to be paid.
Wilson drinks the rest of his colorless wine and sets the glass on the table. He wishes things could be black and white, love or hate, friendship or strangers.
The weather turns warm overnight, and the counselors urge all of the Phase III residents out into the sunshine after morning group. House takes his cell phone with him and limps over to a bench on the west side of the building, away from the walking path. He's allowed the phone to charge without interruption for three days, since the Cameron call. He has two more calls to make. He picks the easier.
"Hello?" Stacy sounds out-of-breath.
"Stacy, it's Greg."
"Greg," she says. "Well. I was wondering."
He smiles a little. Of course, she's talked to Cuddy, probably. "You were expecting me."
"You're never someone I expect," she says. He hears the sound of a door closing behind her.
"Where are you?"
"I'm in my car," she says. "In the parking lot at a restaurant. I'm - meeting Mark for lunch."
House swallows. He squints against the sun. "And how is Mark?"
"He's fine," she says. "He's getting better."
"Aren't we all." House closes his eyes. "You know why I'm calling?"
"I assume it's because someone's blackmailing you." Her tone is as wry and lovely as ever, but for once, for once, it's not what he wants to hear.
"I do owe you this," he says. "Stacy -"
"I'm sorry, too," she says. "Jesus, Greg, you know how sorry I am."
"Yeah," he says. His voice comes out rough. He clears his throat. "So, I was thinking. We should - there's this thing, people try. It's called being friends."
"I've heard of it," Stacy says.
"I'm a little rusty," he admits.
Stacy laughs. It is the best sound House has heard in five weeks, maybe in five years. "You sound good," she says. "God, you sound fucking wonderful, Greg. How are you?"
"I'm not cured," he says quickly. "I'm the same bastard as always, only now we know it's not the Vicodin causing it."
"That's not true."
He shudders, and rubs his hand over his face. It doesn't come back wet, not really. "What if it is?"
He hears her take a deep breath, and he squeezes his eyes shut even more, tries to imagine sitting in the car next to her, her smooth skin, her laughing, certain eyes. "It's not," she says. "You know it's not."
"I do. You - you've done some things, recently, things that aren't you. This, this guy on the phone, this is you. This is Greg House. I recognize you." She takes another breath. "You need to call Wilson."
House almost laughs. He opens his eyes and takes a short, gasping breath. "And then I'll be cured?"
"He's your best friend."
"Was," House says. "I'm currently auditioning others for the role."
"You haven't called him yet because you know you were wrong," Stacy says.
"I lost his number."
"He thinks you won't call."
House pauses at this. He assumed Stacy had talked to Cuddy, but there is, of course, another option. "You've talked to him?"
He tries not to think about what Wilson and Stacy might talk about, tries not to picture Wilson sitting in his office, picking up the phone, telling Stacy what he'd done. "He's a friend," she says. "We've talked a lot since I left."
"Keeping tabs on me?"
"Actually, yes. He's been worried about you." She pauses, and House closes his eyes again.
"Wilson worries as a hobby."
"He loves you, Greg," she says, and House winces. "He's been worried about you since I left the first time. And now he made a deal with the devil to save you from prison, from your own goddamned stubborn self, and he's lost you for it." The silence between them is horrible, but House can't say anything. "He's miserable," she says after a moment.
He should be, House thinks, but it's an automatic thought, with no rancor behind it. He coughs. "So, about this friends thing," he says after a moment.
Her voice sounds wet, teary. "It sounds like a good idea," she says. "Something to look into, at least."
"Yeah, I thought so, too."
"How much longer -"
"Two weeks," he says. "Unless I'm paroled for good behavior."
"So two weeks, then." She pauses. "You'll call again, won't you?"
"Yes," he promises. "I will."
Darien sits beside him at lunch, at a small table at the back where they won't be disturbed. "Almost out," he says, and House looks up from his mashed potatoes. "You got plans for when you get back?"
He shrugs. He wants to make a joke about driving into Trenton to score, but the counselors watch too closely for that kind of thing. "Figure I'll spend the first week catching up on my TiVo."
"You gonna go to meetings?"
House shrugs. "I'm not a big meeting person."
Darien grins. "Yeah, me neither, man, so here I am." He looks around the room. His food hasn't been touched. "You know, I'm thinking I might try for good this time."
House gives up on his mashed potatoes. Oh, what he wouldn't give for Wilson's pancakes. "Yeah? You going straight?"
"Might as well." Darien picks up his chicken sandwich and takes a bite. He doesn't let this stop him from continuing to talk. "You know what I like about this place?"
"The non-communal showers?"
"All these places, they're always saying, you know, drugs're the enemy. You gotta keep on your guard." He takes another bite, chews thoughtfully. "This place, they got it right, I think. It's not the drugs. It's the choices, right?" He nods to himself. "I like that. I like the choice. I think, you know, I can do that every day. Today's not so bad, I can make it through to tomorrow. That's all I got to do." He drinks from his milk carton. "So how about you? You going straight?"
"I don't have much choice."
Darien shakes his head so vigorously that House sees a small piece of chicken fly across to the next table. "No, man, no, you see, that's where I was. I was thinking, I was in these places 'cuz I had to be - 'cuz my girl said I had to get clean, 'cuz my boss said it was time, 'cuz I ran out of money. This time, I just said, shit, it's time. It's time for me. You always got a choice, you know?"
"Not always," House grinds out, the heel of his hand rubbing into his thigh.
"For this stuff, you do." Darien sets the sandwich down and leans forward. "I worry about you," he says. "I feel bad for you."
"Your concern is touching," House sneers.
"You got a girl? Somebody to help you out when you get out? 'Cuz it can be tough, man. I didn't last my first week."
House grabs his tray and struggles to his feet. "I'll be fine." It's only ten feet to the trashcan, so he limps it without his cane, then goes back to get it.
Darien shakes his head. "You're gonna go back," he says, his voice full of wonder and disappointment. "You're walkin' around here just fine, and you're still thinking about it, aren't you? Still thinking about your little pills and all that good stuff."
It's as though something snaps, some tense string in House's chest that's been winding tighter and tighter for the last six weeks. No one fucking gets it. He slams his hands down on the table and Darien's tray clatters and nearly jumps to the floor. "Of course I'm thinking about it!" he yells. "I'm a fucking addict, you moron! What else am I going to be thinking about?"
His chest is heaving. Darien's face, though it briefly flashed with fear, is now calm, back to wondering. House pulls his hands back from the table. He feels shaky and uncomfortable, and he grabs his cane from where it's fallen. As he starts to walk away, he hears Darien clapping. As he walks through the door, one of the other Phase III guys stops and claps him on the shoulder.
"'Bout fucking time for you, man," he says.
House goes straight to Gloria's office. His leg burns. He pushes the door open without knocking, interrupts her eating a sandwich. He opens his mouth to ask her for more pain meds, hears himself say, "I need -" and then stops.
He leans against the doorframe. What he needs is to pace. To run between the small walls, to bounce from corner to corner, to rage and rage and rage until it's five years ago and everything is fine again. Just the thought of walking makes him tired. "I haven't had a good night's sleep since the infarction," he says.
Gloria sets her sandwich down. "OK," she says. "Let's talk about that."
Cameron and Chase sit on the same side of the table, working on the same crossword. Her arm is pressed against his, her chin almost on his shoulder, and neither of them seems weirded out by this. Foreman is weirded out. He clears his throat, and Cameron looks up, moves back just a little. "Good morning," she says.
"Morning." He sets his own newspaper down on the table. Chase has on a smug look that Foreman tries to neither see nor think about. "Sounds like we might have a case."
Chase huffs. Foreman turns and is kind of glad to see that he and Cameron have separated, as Chase is leaning back in his chair and she's reaching for a folder on the other side of the desk. "Boring," he says, sounding alarmingly like House. "It's just Wilson taking pity on us."
"Or trying to gear us up for House's return."
They haven't talked about this much. There's no set date for House to be back, but Foreman has assumed that it will be sometime next week. His two months in rehab will be up in about a week. "You know," Foreman says, looking around before he takes his seat at the table, "you guys might think of cooling it a little when House gets back."
Chase blanches. "What, you think he'll have a problem?"
"I think," Foreman says, keeping his voice even, trying to be clinical, "he's probably going to expect things to be just about how he left them."
"Do you think anything will change?" Cameron asks.
Foreman looks down at his coffee. He thinks about his own expectations, two years ago, coming into this job. He'd heard House was tough, he'd heard he was crazy, he'd heard he was brilliant. The job has exceeded his expectations in every way. "I don't know," he says. "I guess I hope for the best."
"What would the best even look like?" Chase asks.
Foreman has no answer.
They do have a case, and it is, like Chase predicted, boring. They order an MRI anyway, and Foreman sits in the office waiting for the results. He sees Wilson walk by and wonders what his expectations for House's return must look like. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, he thinks, but he knows it isn't true. He's not Cameron and he doesn't believe in fairy tales. He cannot see any logical way that House and Wilson will ever be friends again, and he's already dreading watching that happen.
He can understand exactly why Wilson has been friends with House for all of these years. He is only just beginning to understand, though, why House has chosen Wilson. The whole time he's been working for House, he's seen why people might be drawn to him - he's brilliant, even when he's a jackass, and he always has a reason for the things he does.
Wilson is the same way. He's more reasonable about things, perhaps, but at his core, he's perhaps even more logic-driven than House. Oncology seems like a soft profession, a profession where the answers are nearly always the same, where protocols dominate the treatment plan, but Foreman can see where a doctor like Wilson would be a medical marvel in the field. The ability to mathematically, calculatingly apply treatments that make patients wish for death while working to stave it off - well, that takes a kind of coldness, a remove, that Foreman can appreciate. And Wilson manages to do it all with an unscathed veneer of humanity. He is loved, and he is admired, though perhaps not so unquestioningly by House.
Chase brings back the results, which are exactly what they expected. "Where's Cameron?"
"Talking to the family," Chase says. His voice holds the disdain it always used to.
"So what's with you guys, exactly?" Foreman asks.
Chase shrugs. "We're - I don't know, really. Not exactly dating."
"Just having lots of sex."
Chase rolls his head around. It's refreshing to see him this uncomfortable. It's like old times. "Something like that." He turns to leave, then stops at the door. "I think you're probably right, by the way. It might be easier if House doesn't know, right away, that we're - that Cameron and I are - lovers," he finishes. Foreman smiles at the awkward strain of Chase's voice.
"It'll be good to have him back," he says.
"Yeah," Chase admits. "I think so, too."
House has intensive individual therapy for three days after his outburst. He meets with Gloria in the morning and in the afternoon, and he doesn't have to go to group therapy. They talk about his leg, his job, Tritter. They talk about Stacy. They talk about his mom and his dad. They talk about Wilson, until House has to change the topic.
He leaves his sessions feeling wrung out, limp, impotent, even. He misses General Hospital every day, because he can't make the trip to the TV room. Too many people. The drama feels unnecessary, anyway. He sleeps a lot.
On the fourth day, he goes to lunch on time, and Darien sits next to him. They haven't spoken since the outburst in the cafeteria. "Man," he says, sitting across from House. The food between them is all in shades of brown: pale noodles, grilled chicken, slices of chocolate cake. "You missed a good one in group this morning."
They gossip easily, with familiarity. It makes House feel less upside-down, less raw and peeling inside. As Darien leaves, he taps the table just next to House's tray. "Get yourself good and worked out," he says. "It's no fun without you."
House nods. He stays at the table until the room is empty, and then he carefully clears his place and goes back to his room. He stares at the cell phone until he falls asleep with his head against the cinderblock wall.
The next day, Gloria sees him in the morning and they talk, or don't talk, about Wilson the whole time. At the end of the hour, she says, "Dr. Earle is coming this afternoon. So let's take the day off."
House nods. He spends a lot of time not talking, now. He's afraid of what he might say.
It's a family group day for Darien. His mother and sister and the woman who is the mother of his daughter have come out. This is the second trip, though last time, they only met with the counselors and then took a walk and left. This time, they come to lunch, as well, and sit with Darien in a little suspicious circle off to the side. Darien waves at House as he goes by, but doesn't call him over, and House is glad. They're OK.
House called his mother and father during the first week that he had the phone. They talked about the weather, about an upcoming cruise they were planning, about his aunt's declining health. He'd been honest with them both, said he was in a place working some things out, and he'd hung up quickly and decided that even Earle couldn't have expected more. He tries to imagine them visiting and can't get past the awkward possibilities of the greetings in his head.
After General Hospital, House walks by Darien's room and sees him sitting on his bed, looking at a magazine. It's glossy and new, so his family must have brought it along. House taps on the door with his cane. "How was your baby-mama?" he asks, and Darien snorts.
"They're all good," he says. "I told them you're a gangster from Princeton. They liked that. They think it's cool."
"All the chicks think I'm cool," House says. Darien shakes his head and waves the magazine, and House heads to his own room.
Dr. Earle is waiting there, sitting calmly in the desk chair, looking at House's cell phone. "Are you here for family therapy?" House asks.
"I hear you've made some impressive progress," he says, looking up. "About time."
"I'm a slow learner," House says, and Earle shakes his head.
"Let's take a walk, Doctor."
They go out onto the grounds, where the temperature is low but the sun is bright. The trees keep the wind low, and it's not uncomfortable, once they're moving. "Everyone but Dr. Wilson," Earle says. House shrugs. He has no ready response for this. "You actually did better than I thought."
"I aim to exceed."
"How is your pain?"
House shrugs. It's better, though he doesn't like to say that aloud. They have him on a new regimen, tramadol injections and gabapentin and physical therapy, and over the last two weeks, he's noticed improvements. He tries not to think about it too much, because in a week he'll be back at work, and he can't imagine how he's going to work an hour of stretching into his daily routine. "I can walk," he says. "Ready for duty, sir, and all that."
Earle tips his head. "Are you going to be ready to go back to work immediately?"
"Is that an option?"
"Once you're out of here, who's to say what you do."
House snorts. "You, I'm guessing."
"Oh, the sponsor relationship is much less hands-on than one might imagine," Earle says. "Though I will expect you to show me around your hospital sometime, and perhaps play the gracious host if I come down for a conference." His voice softens. "And I will always be available to you, should you need to talk to or at someone."
House nods. It is the closest he can come to saying thank you, and Earle nods back.
Earle stops at the corner of the walkway and draws out the cell phone, turns to House. House stops a few feet away. He puts one hand in his pocket, grips his cane tightly. "You're leaving in less than a week," he says.
The phone looks sinister, suddenly, an instrument of doom. House wonders how much Earle knows about this week, about the therapy, the outburst. "Do you want me to call him now?"
"Actually, I have a better idea," Earle says. He dials a number and lifts the phone to his ear. "Yes, in Plainsboro. Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Yes, connect me, thank you." House turns away. He tries to think of what he might say to Wilson, how he could even start a conversation. The last time they talked - when House had made his call to Cuddy - it was angry, awkward. Wilson had sounded scared and angry, and House - well. His feelings had been the same.
"Yes, hello," Earle says, and House turns back to him. "This is Dr. Vance Earle from Massachusetts General. I need to speak with Dr. James Wilson. Yes, an emergency." He looks up at House. "They're paging him."
House wonders where Wilson is at this moment. He hopes he's not in with one of his cancer patients - nothing annoys him more than being drawn away from his sweet little sufferers. Not a good way to start this conversation.
The wait drags on. House starts to feel cold - his nose is sore, the tips of his ears hurt. He raises a hand to warm them. At home, he has a hat. He has sweaters, and a coat, and a coffeemaker, and most likely an empty fridge and an unmade bed and - shit - a dead rat. He'd meant to ask Cameron to feed Steve.
Earle smiles. "Dr. Wilson? No, I'm sorry, it's actually Vance Earle. I'm - yes. Well, that's kind. I'm a friend of Dr. House's, yes," he says, and House looks down at that. A friend, he thinks. He's surprised at how satisfying it is to hear that descriptor. "Right. No, he's fine. He's very good, actually. As difficult as you would expect." House looks up, sees the laughing smirk on Earle's face, and suddenly can hear Wilson's voice, the dry amusement of it, can see the skeptical curve of his eyebrow. Wilson, he thinks, I am so, so sorry. "Anyway, I'm calling today because I'm supposed to pick him up, this Saturday, his release day, but I've had something come up. I wondered if you might be able to meet him."
House's stomach plummets. He starts to shake his head, but Earle holds up a hand to cut off the argument. "He knows about the arrangement, and he's in favor. Yes. All right, good, then. Noon is the usual checkout time. Excellent. I'll leave word at the front gate to expect you. All right. Yes, you too. Goodbye."
He lowers the phone and looks at House, his eyes steady, maybe even a bit amused. House feels dizzy, and angry, and frightened, and - grateful. "So that's settled," Earle says. He puts the phone back in his pocket. "I see you've even left me some time on the phone."
House shakes his head. He falls into step with Earle as they turn back toward the complex. "What did he say?"
"He said he'll be here at noon," Earle says. He looks over, and there's a wry and somehow understanding twist to his grin. "Did you expect something else?"
"I don't know," House says. Four days of therapy, two months of rehab, and this is where he is: he doesn't know anything. He stops and presses his fist against his forehead, and it feels cold and hot all at once. Earle says nothing, just paces a little bit forward and half-turns back to him, keeping his head down. And House just pauses, just feels the cold and the pain in his leg and the protest in his head. He's not ready to leave. He looks up, and he wants to say this, but Earle shakes his head.
"You're going to be fine," he says. As House catches up to him, Earle hands him the cell phone. "I'll see you after you're out," he says. "But if you need anything before then, I'm programmed in."
The phone makes him feel better, somehow, even when he goes to his empty room.
Cameron wakes up at Chase's apartment for the first time on a Thursday morning. It takes her a moment to figure out where she is. Chase's bedroom is very plain, the walls white and bare, the floor of scuffed wood with no rugs. The bed is very nice, the mattress thick, comfortable, the comforter and pillows and sheets all expensive, all leftovers from life before the end of his father's money. The apartment came after that - he has moved within the last year, over a weekend the fall. It's strange to her, now, that she didn't know about it when it happened. That Chase organized and completed a move without her or Foreman helping out.
She gets out of the bed and goes to the bathroom down the hall, where things are again neat and bare. Chase has a few random toiletries on the sink and nothing unexpected in the medicine cabinet. She uses his mouthwash and his floss, and thinks she should start keeping a toothbrush in her purse. His shampoo is functional, inexpensive, sharp-smelling, and his soap is coarse. Chase is new to frugality. It's funny, actually, because their salaries are pretty good, all things considered. Cameron is awash in debt from med school, but she's certainly more comfortable now than she was then. Chase can't possibly have anything to pay back; she wonders where all of his money goes.
It's strange to be sleeping with someone and not to know more about them. She dresses and goes back to the bedroom, where Chase is just waking up.
"'s early," he mutters, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "You're leaving?"
She crosses her arms. "I was just thinking," she says, watching him sit up, watching the clean smooth lines of muscles in his shoulders as he sits up against the headboard. "Do you think we should tell House?"
Chase blinks. "Right now?" She glares. "Uh, I dunno. I mean, he's House, so he's going to catch on whether we want him to or not."
"I think we should tell him," she says, nodding as much to convince him as to convince herself. "Only I guess I don't know what to tell him." Chase stifles a yawn, and Cameron feels a flare of annoyance for him, for his easy life until now, for his comfortable nakedness. "What is it you think we're doing?" she asks.
His eyes get wide, but she doesn't back down. This is something she's learned from House, at least; standing her ground with Chase is no problem at all. "Well, uh, we're sleeping together. Quite a lot." She keeps staring at him, watches as he begins to blush, a faint pink spread across his cheeks that spreads to his neck. "I like it."
"You don't think it's weird?" she asks.
"I dunno," he says. "It's certainly not the weirdest thing in my life right now."
Cameron sits on the bed, her back to him, and leans forward. She rests her head in her hands. It seems so fast. With her husband, it had been fast, too, but that had been for a reason - they'd been on a timeline. She has that same feeling, here, that same urgency, and yet she can't think of a reason why. The only approaching deadline she knows of is House's return to the office. Chase puts his hand on her shoulder. "What's this all about?"
"I feel like we're strangers. I - I don't know anything about your life, what it's like to be you," she says, turning to him. She feels a little desperate, and she thinks she must look it, too, from his face.
He swallows and shakes his head and seems to surface. "That's stupid," he says. "I know you. We - we practically live together already, what with all the time at work."
Cameron shakes her head, shakes off his hand. "Just because I know what test you'll order on a given patient doesn't make us close." She leaves unsaid what she's thinking: just because I fuck you doesn't make us close, either.
"All right," Chase says slowly, "sure, but it's more than that. I mean, isn't it?"
Cameron shrugs. She can't see a difference. A voice in her head that sounds like House asks whether it matters, in the end, whether anyone actually knows anyone.
Chase grips her shoulder. "I know how you take your coffee," he says after a moment. "And that you like the capuccinos from the cart in the lobby better than the ones from the cafeteria."
"The guy in the lobby uses less foam," Cameron says. She looks over. She knows what Chase looks like when he's disappointed, when he's angry, when he's passionate. Maybe that's enough. "You like your tea black, without sugar, unless it's Earl Grey," she says, and he nods and smiles.
"Then a lump can't hurt." She leans into him. "We could try the dating thing, though, if you'd like."
She looks up at him, at his familiar, pretty face, and feels a rush of something that might be hope. "That might be nice," she says, and he smiles before he kisses her.
Lisa goes to the grocery store after work. She used to shop for food once a week, Sunday in the early mornings, while most of the annoying people were sleeping or at church. Now, she doesn't know what will sound good from day to day, so she's in the freezer section at Whole Foods with a basket, staring at the family-sized meals. She pulls her phone from her purse and a lasagna from the case at the same time.
"Do you have plans this evening?" she asks when Wilson answers.
"No," he says. He sounds out of breath. "Well, not really. I just put the last box in my car, from House's place. I've got to get checked in at the hotel."
"Have you eaten yet?" She turns the lasagna box over in her hands, reads the nutritional information with a brief thrill of horror. She puts it in her basket when he says no. "Come by my place before you check in."
He shows up an hour later. She answers the door wearing oven mitts on both hands. "What's your skill level with lasagna?" she asks.
"Moderate," he says, taking the mitts. He pulls the aluminum tray out of the oven and slides a knife into the center, then steps back and washes his hands thoroughly - almost surgically - at her sink. He sticks his index finger into the middle of the pasta and says, "How long was it in?"
"Forty minutes," she says. "The box said 35 to 45."
"Let it sit for ten or fifteen and it'll be ready." He recovers it with foil, then snaps off the oven. She offers him water and wishes she'd thought to open some wine for him. She threw most of it out the week before, trying to get the crisp taste of a good white out of her head. She doesn't even have soda in the fridge.
"I take it the nausea's better?" he asks, following her into the living room.
"Just mornings," she says. "And I make up for what I lose at night."
He laughs. He's sitting very stiffly in her armchair. Please don't make this harder, she thinks. "I had an appointment with Ferrimor," she says.
"Betsy?" She nods. "I didn't know she was practicing any more."
"Part time, in Princeton. Near County."
Betsy Ferrimor worked at Princeton-Plainsboro for seven years, including two as department chair in obstetrics. She'd resigned to stay home with her kids after her partner had been promoted to department chair in mathematics at the university. She is warm and professional and, perhaps most importantly, no longer tapped in to the Princeton-Plainsboro gossip loop.
"She was always very good," Wilson says, nodding. "And she seemed nice."
He clears his throat. "Did she say -"
"Everything's fine," she says, and it's a little gratifying to see Wilson blink at that, to see a flicker of relief on his face. "I'm considered high risk because of my age, and the miscarriage, so I have to go back in a month."
He nods. His face is blank, but when he looks up, his eyes are curious and hopeful. "If you let me know when it is, I'd like to come along," he says. "If that's all right."
She has to clear her throat. It's what she's wanted, really, and she hasn't thought about it. "Of course," she says. "I can get you the dates tomorrow. It's a Tuesday, I think."
She rubs her throat. The room smells like tomatoes and garlic and melted cheese, and her stomach rumbles its approval. She looks up at Wilson, who is still smiling fondly. "We should maybe talk about this now, huh?"
"If you're ready," he says.
She's not, not quite, but at least she has a plan. "Well, I've been thinking about some logistics," she says. "You said you're moving out of House's place, and I take it you don't have a place of your own yet."
He shrugs. "I looked at a few last week."
What would be nice, right now, is a glass of wine, she thinks, something to hold in her hand, to twirl just so. She leans forward a little, just slightly, holds herself perfectly in check, puts on her best sales face. "I have a proposal," she says.
Wilson flinches, and Lisa smirks. "Not that kind of proposal," she says. "I don't think either of us wants to see another Mrs. Dr. Wilson in the world." He laughs and eases back in his chair, a little, and this is better, this is more like it, she thinks. "Besides, we're not really on that path."
"Right," he says. "So what's your proposal?"
"I think you should move in," she says. Wilson's eyes widen, and he sits forward. Before he can start to argue with her, she continues on, using her sharpest voice. "You've got no good place to stay. I've got all of this extra room. And it might be - good, for us, for me, to have some help around here during the pregnancy."
"Are you talking, like, for good?" he asks, his eyes still wide.
"No. Just until the baby is born." She smiles. "Or until one of us gets sick of the other. No strings. I think, we try it out for a few months, and if it's working, we go with it for a few more." She can see him thinking it over, knows she's already overwhelmed him but wants to keep pushing. "It would be easier for you to be involved, this way."
He stands up and paces behind the chair. "People will talk," he says.
She snorts and leans back into the couch. "They're going to talk anyway, particularly once the baby is born."
He's convinced, she thinks, he just needs a few minutes to talk himself up to it. It's something she's used to, something she sees with donors all the time. She can be generous. "I understand if you need to think about it," she says, standing up herself. "For now, let's just eat."
They go into the kitchen. She hands him a knife and a serving spatula, then grabs wide bowls and forks. They shuffle around each other at her kitchen island, and when they're both served, he carries the plates to the dining room while she carries their glasses. It's comfortable and easy, this teamwork, this settled, friendly feeling between them. She looks up as she sits down and knows he's seeing it too. Wilson has really never lived without a woman, as far as she knows. He probably misses things like this.
"OK," he says, after the second bite.
"OK, you'll move in?"
She grins and manages to keep the triumph out of her voice thanks to years of practice. "When?" she asks.
"How about tonight?"
The drive to Seabrook takes an hour and a half. Wilson doesn't stop. He plugs his phone into the dashboard holder and talks hands-free to everyone who will answer the phone. While he's talking, he doesn't have to think about the trip to come. He calls his parents, who he hasn't talked to much since his divorce.
"So what are you doing with your Saturday?" she asks.
He is not like House; he can lie to his mother without a problem. "Just going to catch up with a friend," he says.
He thinks, for a moment, he should tell her about the baby, but Cuddy doesn't want to tell anyone yet, and he thinks his parents probably count into that. Besides which, his mother's reaction is likely to be confused, and he doesn't have the presence of mind today to explain it all to her. Instead, he tells her he's moved in with a friend, for the time being.
"Is it Dr. House?"
"No," Wilson says, "not this time." They met House at Wilson's first wedding, and that was the impression that stuck. That House had been spry, two-legged, non-addicted. The bitter House that had attended Wilson's last two weddings had invoked only his mother's pity and interest; she continues to think that his is the normal state of bachelorhood, that all single men are endlessly unhappy. "It's another doctor, from work."
Wilson sighs. "In a manner of speaking," he says.
"Well," she says. "Well. I just hope you can be happy, again, James."
Wilson takes one hand off the steering wheel to pound against his forehead. "I'm working on it, Mom."
They spend ten minutes talking about his brother and his brother's lovely wife and their lovely little children. Wilson actually thinks his brother's kids are brats, spoiled little lumps who watch too much television. They are, like his brother, computer geeks, video-game addicts, indoor-dwellers. Wilson is the only member of his family that eats salad. He is also the first person anyone calls when one of the kids has a cold. Wilson pulls off the highway at the turn for Seabrook. "Mom, I've got to go," he says.
"It was certainly nice of you to call," she says, in her long-suffering voice. "I hope we can hear from you again soon."
"Sure, Mom." They hang up without saying anything else. Wilson only says I love you to his wife, and then only because she says it first. Said.
The guard at the gate looks at his photo ID, checks a list, and directs him to Building 14. Wilson is ten minutes early, so he drives slowly through the campus, loops around a back building and past a softball field, before he parks in front of 14. It's a modern, red bricked building of about four or five stories. Inside, there's no lobby, just a bank of elevators. A tall black man dressed in jeans and a red rugby shirt is waiting. He looks Wilson over and seems either unsurprised or unconcerned with what he sees. "I'm Carl," he says. He doesn't offer his hand. "I've been Greg's floor supervisor."
Wilson nods as though he knows what that means. "Is he ready to go?"
Carl snorts. "Nobody's ever ready," he says. He puts a key into the elevator panel and calls the elevator. Inside, he has to put the key in again before they can travel to the third floor. "You family?"
Wilson almost laughs. "Do we look alike?"
"Most people have a brother or a mother coming to get them," he says.
"We're friends," Wilson says, though he's not at all sure that's true. "We work together."
This seems to catch Carl's interest, because he turns. "You're a doctor." Wilson nods. Carl shakes his head, clearly unhappy, maybe even disgusted. The doors open before Wilson can ask more.
They walk into a lobby that's wide and white and bright. To the right, Wilson sees a lunchroom, crowded with people sitting at small tables, hunched over trays of food. Everything is clean and organized. It's such a hospital feeling that Wilson feels right at home. Carl has stopped a few feet ahead. "He's in his room," he says, leading Wilson down a hall to the left.
This part feels more like a college dorm than a hospital. They pass four identical rooms - single bed against the wall, pale, thin blanket over the top, small pine desk and chair. None of the rooms have doors. Wilson winces at that detail. Carl stops just short of the fifth door and points. Wilson takes a deep breath and smoothes his hands down his shirt front. He steps forward.
House is sitting in the desk chair, his cane leaning against his shoulder. He's wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, and he looks very plain and small in his plain, small room. He's looking down at the desk, but his head turns up when Wilson steps in. "House," Wilson says.
House clears his throat, and his eyes focus, and he doesn't look so small anymore. He says, "Don't you look snappy." The tone of his voice fills the room, and Wilson leans against the doorframe just for a moment, relieved. It's a tone he recognizes; it's a House he knows.
"Just for you," Wilson says, and House smiles. It's a half-smile, uncomfortable but real. House looks up, past Wilson, and Wilson realizes Carl must be behind him. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah," House says. He stands up. "Think we have to say the good-byes, though."
Saying good-bye consists of first stopping by House's therapist's office. She's a small woman with furiously curly hair, and Wilson has trouble seeing her standing next to House, much less picturing her being of any help. House nods at something she says to him, something so quiet Wilson can't hear, and then she looks up at Wilson. "I'm glad to meet you," she says, shaking his hand.
"Likewise," he says. The look in her eyes is one that Wilson finds vaguely off-putting, a look that says, I know all about you. He glances at House, but House is looking away.
They shuffle out from there to the front lobby. A stocky African-American is lurking by the elevator, his hands in his pockets. "This Wilson?" he asks.
House nods. "Wilson, Darien," he says, and Darien nods at him.
"He's pretty fancy."
"That's my life," House says, but his growl is friendly. "Outside of here, it's tuxedos every day."
"I don't doubt it, about you," Darien says. "I bet you got a gold-tipped cane out there, too."
"Keep it in my Masarati."
Darien grins. "Yeah, man, me too." He holds out his hand, and House, after a pause shakes it. He seems unsurprised when Darien pulls him forward into a half-hug. Whatever he says makes House snort with laughter, and Wilson feels a brief flicker of something like jealousy. He looks over at Carl, then around in the lobby, where people are watching the scene with no surprise on their faces. Wilson tries to imagine them all working together, tries to imagine them sitting in a circle and talking about their drug use, tries not to think about the stories House must have told them. It bothers him to think that everyone here has seen a House Wilson's never known.
"I'm gonna bring my baby girl up to Princeton," Darien says as House and Wilson step onto the elevator with Carl. "Show you what a real woman looks like."
"If she looks like her mama, she's welcome," House says, and Darien laughs. Carl holds the door open. "Look, stay straight, all right?"
"Better than ever, bro," Darien says as the doors close, and House nods and laughs to himself. Wilson feels superfluous, like he's not even there. It's hardly the reunion he expected, but he tells himself it's OK. They aren't fighting, at least.
Carl makes House sign some papers at the front desk, and House does it all with a nice stream of smart-aleck comments. "Maybe I should've signed the release before you had me play softball, huh?" he asks, pushing the papers back at him.
"They made you play softball?" Wilson asks. His stomach actually clenches.
Carl smirks. "Can't make this guy do anything," he says. He folds the papers up. "You drive safely, now," he says to Wilson. "And you stay the hell away from here."
House salutes. Carl walks away, and it's just the two of them, standing in front of the building. House has no bag, nothing with him but what he's wearing and his cane. "I was hoping you'd bring the bike," he says, limping down the stairs.
Wilson takes a moment to watch him walk. It's about the same limp as always. He's moving pretty fast, though, and Wilson thinks that's got to be a good sign. House opens his own door, after Wilson unlocks it, and they get inside. Wilson starts the car. He has a hundred things he wants to say, to ask. House turns and looks at him, and Wilson has to duck away.
"Can we get some food?" House asks. "You made me miss lunch."
Wilson laughs. "Of course," he says. "Anything you want."
"You're buying," House says.
House pauses, his hand on the radio button. Wilson thinks, two months, five years, I'm still holding my breath. "Some things do," he says. Then he shakes his head. Wilson works on breathing normally, on watching the road. House spins the dial. "Your horrible taste in music, though, is not one of them."
Steve McQueen is still alive. He looks happy, actually, and his cage is suspiciously clean. House mentions none of this to Wilson, who lurks awkwardly in the doorway. The awkwardness is appropriate, because House hasn't invited him in; he hasn't sent him away, either.
He looks around in the kitchen, takes in the fresh gallon of milk in the refrigerator, the low level of the sugar in the bowl he keeps with the tea, and several empty shelves. Wilson is still at the door when House steps back into the hallway. "Do I get the liquor back at some point, or has it already been put to better use?"
"Do you want it right now?"
"Yes," House says, absolutely deadpan. "I spent some time thinking, and I really believe alcoholism is the way to go."
Wilson looks tired. He rises to the bait, but without any kind of mirth in it. "The treatment centers aren't nearly as nice."
"Only quitters go to rehab," House says, and then he laughs. He decides that he can be a grown-up about this, just for a few minutes. "It wasn't that bad," he says, and Wilson nods. House can see the questions on his lips.
"Are you -"
"For the moment," he says. He clears his throat. "I have to see Westin, now."
Tim Westin is the head of the hospital's pain management center. He's widely known to be a brilliant researcher and a complete bastard of a human being. One of the conditions of House's release was that he found a court-approved doctor to monitor his pain medication. Westin, House knows, must be Cuddy's idea of revenge.
"Oh, he's a dick," Wilson mutters, leaning back against the door. "You guys will get along great."
"Yeah." House wants Wilson to leave almost as much as he wants Wilson to stay. It's not even Wilson that he wants right now; it's anyone in the world. His condo has never felt quite so large and adult and under his control. He feels taller. He feels like he could walk outside - maybe even run - and nix the last two months with a single word, a breath, a step in the wrong direction. If he can't trust himself, the world is a terrifying place. "Look," he says, and when he meets Wilson's eyes, Wilson looks afraid. "Let's not be children about this. I called everyone but you. You're hurt, you're angry - whatever. Me, too."
Wilson looks stunned. He rubs his neck, then nods. "Do you want to talk?"
"No," House says. He's sure of that one thing. "But - don't leave, yet. OK?" Wilson nods again, and House nods back, and then turns toward the couch. "Did you screw up my TiVo while you were staying here?"
Wilson pauses, but House doesn't look at him, just sits down. Eventually Wilson peels himself away from the door and walks over toward him. "I didn't mess with it."
"What did you mess with?" he asks. "Other than Cuddy."
Wilson sits in the armchair and laughs. It's a very tired sound. "God," he says. "So much." He looks over, and his eyes are still wide, and afraid, but there's concern and wonder there, too. "Do you really want to know it all now?"
"No," he says. He turns on the television and starts methodically deleting all of the recorded General Hospital episodes. "It might be best to take it one day at a time."
"Children," House says, flinging open the conference room door with such a bang that Cameron jumps in her seat, "I have been born again."
Foreman turns around in his chair to watch House walk into the room. He looks the same - maybe not quite as thin, maybe not quite as tan, but everything else is vintage House: T-shirt, jeans, suit jacket, cane. Limp. No rattle of pills, though, and no wide eyes. He's smiling in the same old House way, a half-smirk.
"Welcome back," Cameron says, and Foreman glances over at her. She's sitting next to Chase, in the usual just-a-bit-too-close formation that they've settled into. Chase meets Foreman's eyes and shrugs, just a little. This isn't what they'd expected, but then, how stupid was it to expect anything? As House crosses to the coffee machine, Foreman looks into the hallway. He'd expected an escort. He'd thought Cuddy or Wilson would've come with, or maybe just before, and given them the rules of engagement. Now they've got House, this new drug-free House, and they have some new history between them all - the apologies, the rehab, all of it - and there's no one to guide them through beyond House himself. It's like being thrown back into the deep end. Foreman settles back in his chair and feels a little thrill. This is going to be entertaining, he thinks.
"How are you?" Cameron asks. Foreman watches her, the way she's sitting forward in her chair, her eyes trained on House. He looks at Chase, who's looking between Cameron and House like it's a tennis match, and thinks, so very entertaining.
"I'm dandy," House says. "High on life, saved from within, grateful to be here, all of that crap. Also, I have eighteen hours' worth of 'Laguna Beach' waiting for me at home. Who could ask for more than that?"
Chase finally leans forward. "You're off the Vicodin?"
"Let me tell you what I learned in rehab," House says, leaning back against the counter. "Less money spent on Vicodin means more money for hookers and gambling." He shakes his head, and Foreman suppresses a little laugh at the brief look of alarm on Chase's face. "Had I done that math a few years ago, well, none of this would've been necessary."
"But you are -"
"Ah ah ah," House says, wagging a finger at Cameron. "What happens in rehab stays in rehab. It's like Vegas, only without the buffets."
Chase laughs, that time, and Foreman realizes he's been grinning the whole time when House looks over. "What are you smiling about?"
"It's good to have you back," he says, and for just a moment, House looks like he's about to smile.
"Yeah, well," he says, "you're only saying that because we know what a pit of boring despair this place becomes under your management." Foreman holds his hands up, not willing to argue with House, not today. "Well, vacation's over, kiddies. Daddy's home. There's a man in the emergency room with unexplained red skin lesions and priaprism. Eight-hour priaprism, by the way."
Foreman flinches, and he sees Chase shift uncomfortably. They're doctors, sure, but some things hit too close to home. "Eight hours?" he asks.
"I know, all those wonderful ED meds say call after four, but where's the fun in that?" House turns and looks at him, and then at Cameron, and his voice is perfectly flat when he faces Chase. "Just think of all the sex you and Cameron could have with an eight-hour hard on."
Chase blushes, and Cameron's eyes go wide. Foreman knows he's grinning again, and he tries to hide it. "Is he on ED medication?"
"He says no," House says, turning to Foreman. "And the tox screen the E.R. ran says no, too. Check the home anyway. I'd send Barbie and Ken, but who knows what they'd get up to." He leers at Chase, who huffs and rolls his eyes. Foreman just can't stop smiling. He stands up and gets his jacket while House tells Chase to repeat the E.R.'s blood work and get copies of the guy's chart. "Cameron, talk to the girlfriend. And report back on how long it took them to realize it was a problem." He pauses at the door to his office. "You might want to check out the patient, too, unless Chase would rather you stayed away."
In the hall, Chase looks absolutely flabbergasted. Cameron has followed House into his office, and Foreman looks back at the closed door. "That can't be good," he says.
Chase shakes his head. "How did he know so quickly?"
Foreman shrugs. "It's House," he says, and he feels relieved just saying it. "And it's kind of obvious."
"But in minutes! We hadn't even -" He stops and rubs his hand over his face. "This is what it's going to be like, isn't it?"
"Nah," Foreman says, clapping Chase on the back. "This is just the beginning. It's going to get much, much worse."
He walks by Wilson's office just before lunchtime but doesn't knock. Things were awkward on Saturday and they won't have improved much by now, since they haven't seen each other since yesterday morning. Wilson hadn't even been around when House had made his triumphant return that morning, which seems weird, if House is being honest. He is trying to be honest.
He goes down to Cuddy's office. She's sitting behind her desk, no one before her, and House raps on the door before he walks in.
"You've been back for half a day," she says, not even looking up, "and I already had a complaint from a doctor in the E.R. that you stole his patient."
"He wasn't using him, and Cameron needed a pick-me-up," House says, and Cuddy laughs. When she looks up, she's smiling.
"It's good to have you back," she says.
"Good enough that I don't have to do clinic hours?"
"Has anything ever been that good?" She doesn't stop smiling, though, so he knows he's won. "You can start next week. Westin's going to want to see you every day for a while, probably."
House nods. "Already saw him this morning." For right now, Westin's the keeper of House's pain medication. He gets an injection and evaluation every morning; he goes back at 4 to get a vial of Tramadol to take home with him. His first meeting with a physical therapist is scheduled for that afternoon, with Geoffrey something. House wonders if he's new or just universally hated; he's pretty sure his own name is still legendary in the PT department.
The next part is the hardest, but he's already decided that this is going to be a day of bad things, of small deaths by humiliation. "We haven't got the medications figured out yet," he says, and he can't look at her. He hears her take in a sharp breath, though, and understands that this is going to be everyone's expectation from now on. "I'm not drug seeking. It's just that - there are times during the day when it's going to be bad."
He shrugs. The pain will be at its worst in the late afternoons. Eventually, he'll be back on scale with what he had at Seabrook, and Westin will let him have a capsule or two in the afternoons if needed, but right now he has to prove himself. He wasn't good at jumping through hoops even when he had two good legs. "I'll make up the hours," he says, "but it would be better if I could do clinic in the mornings, not the afternoons. If I have a patient, things could get tricky."
Cuddy pauses for a moment. House has to look up at her. She has her head tilted, and her eyes are wide. Sympathetic. "I'll work with you," she says. "Whatever you need."
"OK." He clears his throat. "Will this be 'working with' like you 'work with' Wilson?" he asks.
Cuddy groans. "And suddenly my good will evaporates."
"I'm just wondering if this is a new department head outreach program."
"Don't you have a patient?"
House smirks. "Patience galore," he says, and leaves.
His next stop is the oncology floor. This is one floor where his rehab hasn't mattered at all - he can feel their hate before he's even out of the elevator. Good, he thinks, heading for the nurse's station. It's pleasing to know that not everyone is trying so hard to forgive and forget.
"Does Dr. Wilson have a busy afternoon?" he asks one of the nurses.
She looks up at him with narrowed eyes. "I wouldn't know," she says.
House sighs. He puts one hand flat on the counter. He doesn't owe this woman anything, not an apology or an explanation. "You don't know because it's above your pay grade? Or because you don't want to tell me?"
"It can't be both?" House rolls his eyes. "You should talk to reception," she says after a minute, looking down at her computer. "He's not seeing patients anymore."
That's news. House debates asking her for more information. She clearly enjoys the fact that she knows more than he does, and while that bugs him, it also makes her a prime candidate for spilling Wilson's secrets. His pager goes off, and he snags the telephone from behind the desk, which makes the nurse glare. "What?" he asks when Chase answers.
"Foreman's back," he says, "and so are the tests. Enlarged spleen."
"I'll be right there." He hangs up the phone and steps back from the counter. He has to pause, a moment, because his leg hurts. It fades, and so was just a twinge, not a warning. As he limps away, he calls back to the nurse, "Thank you for all your excellent help." He smiles as he hears her snort. Being his friend has never made anyone popular on this floor.
Wilson prefers when patients die in the mornings. At early-morning deathbeds, the family is usually so tired that they're past the hyper portion of their exhaustion and into the quiet, weepy acceptance. They can say good-bye with the curtains open to the world beyond, and somehow it always seems to make everyone feel better. When he was younger, he used to make a point of changing his clothes after these rituals, both because of a faint superstition and a desire to cleanse himself of the after effects of death. Now he just changes his tie, and this is a practical concern: families don't like it when they run into him later in the day and he looks unscathed, unchanged. The border that is drawn in their days by death is no longer a very big line for him.
Even now, when his job is no longer to be on the floor, when he doesn't have to sit at anyone's bedside, he finds himself still drawn in to the various details of death. He won't sign those charts in the evening or the afternoon, if he can help it; he saves them for the start of the day. This is how he comes to find out that Grace Karmon has died. In the middle of all of the strange parts of his life right now, he hasn't thought about Grace in months; when he resigned his practice, he'd sent her a letter, hoping it would be forwarded to Florence or wherever she'd ended up, and he'd recommended Carrie Stark to take over her treatment. He'd never heard back, but he hadn't really expected to. She'd helped him through a pretty horrible time in his life, but he'd never given much back, beyond a steady shoulder to cry on, a body to lie next to in bed. He looks at the note in his pile of death records and feels a swell of sadness and shame. Her time of death is listed as 7:03 a.m., two days prior: Saturday, when he was just getting up, getting ready to pick up House.
Wilson sets the chart down, runs his fingers over the paper, then shakes his head. He signs off on the line he's supposed to and folds it back up. It's not like this was an unpredicted ending. It's not as though his presence would've been helpful or even appropriate. He stacks her file into another bunch of signed forms and carries them over to the main reception area in Oncology. Then it's a whirlwind of meetings, three in four hours plus a list of calls to return, and so he doesn't have to think about Grace or death or anything but money until mid-afternoon.
His clinic hours start at two, and he exchanges his suit jacket for a lab coat in his office. On his way out, he passes House's office and decides to stop in. It's his first day back. Wilson scheduled a full day for himself, suspecting House would jump right back in and knowing he wouldn't want a big coming-back party. He thinks it's probably better for there to be space between them at work right now, but it may look funny if he doesn't stop at all.
House's fellows are all standing at the door, taking orders, and Wilson hears, "Tegretol for the pain," as he steps in. House looks up. "Dr. Wilson," he says. His voice is bright and surprised, the engaged voice that means he's just solved whatever this mystery was. "You're looking very doctory today."
The fellows walk out en masse, and Wilson holds the door for them. "Just thought I'd see how the first day back was going."
House rolls his head around. "Late presenting alpha thalassemia trait, type 1," he says.
Wilson narrows his eyes. "From the middle east?"
"Nope, New Jersey native."
"That's one you don't see every day." He shakes his head. "Not the best diagnosis to hear."
House grins. "Presented with priaprism and skin lesions, so I think anything's going to be a step up from 'We don't know what it is but here's a shunt we'd like to shove into your penis.'"
"True." Wilson is still holding the door open slightly with one hand, and he lets it slide all the way closed. It almost feels like a normal conversation, like it's any day out of a thousand. He feels a dry catch in his throat. He's missed House; he still misses him.
"Anything interesting in oncology?" House asks.
There is only one person in the world who even knew about Grace, and that's House, so there is no one to whom he can talk to about her death. Wilson has a pang of regret, of self-pity. He has always married women who don't mind hearing sad stories, women who would curl up on the couch next to him and nestle closer and oo and ah and sometimes get a little teary-eyed themselves. It's funny that these are the qualities he's sought in mates, while his friends are precisely the opposite: all doctors, all clinical.
"Not really," Wilson says. "Just the usual death and baldness."
"Uh-huh." House has his arms crossed, and Wilson realizes, too late, that he's walked into some kind of trap. His powers of House observation have really fallen off. "Here's something interesting I learned in oncology today: you aren't actually seeing patients anymore."
Wilson rolls his eyes. "I see patients all the time."
"But not your own patients."
He shrugs. "I'm the head of the department. In a way, everyone's patients are my patients. And I put in 14 hours at the clinic a week."
"So that's it? You're too busy to have a practice?"
Wilson sighs. He'd put off this conversation on Saturday because, as of yet, he doesn't have a good explanation - or, rather, an explanation that will satisfy House. He leans back against the door. "It was time for a change," he says. With anyone else, he'd worry that saying this would bring on guilt, or concern - most people in House's position would feel responsible. Wilson worries that House will feel victorious, instead.
"You're not a burnout," House says after a moment. His eyes have narrowed. "And you needed that job."
"I still have the job," Wilson says. "And things are better this way."
"That's not what I'm asking." House gives him a very funny, evaluating look that makes Wilson squirm. "Maybe I'm not the only one who's detoxed."
It's funny, really, but he hasn't been angry at House just for being House in quite a while. It's almost a joyous kind of anger. "What makes you think I'm not telling the truth?"
House laughs. "Everybody lies," he says. "And you lie to everyone."
He walks into his office, ending the conversation, and Wilson doesn't try to follow.
Cameron walks into House's office at the end of the day. It's dark inside, the sun setting just beyond the balcony, and so she turns on the light. House looks up. "Dr. Kenimore took Kevin onto his service," she says.
"Hematology, right? Because if you got him a herpetologist, well -"
"I know the difference between blood and snakes." She smiles anyway and sits in the chair across from his desk. He's playing with his yo-yo, and she tries to look like that's what she's watching. Really, she's just watching him. It's nice to have him back, and it's a bit of a relief that he's exactly the same. Or mostly the same. He's not the House that came back to them from the ketamine - not out to find meaning - but he's also not the House that left in December. His face is thinner and his hair looks a little grayer, but those could just be tricks of memory and light, she decides. He is better.
"If you keep staring, your face will freeze that way," House says, though he doesn't look over.
"That's not medically true."
"It would be if I had the power to cause strokes." He catches the yo-yo and looks up and over at her. "Don't think I'm not working on it. I have all of this free time now."
His eyes are narrowed, and his voice is gravelly. She sits forward. "You're in pain," she says, and she feels bad about her surprise. Of course he's in pain. No Vicodin may mean a better engaged House - it may even mean a more healthy House - but it's a very hard drug to replace.
"Gold star, doctor," he says. He sets the yo-yo on flat on the desk and leans back in his chair. "Why did you sleep with Wilson?" he asks.
She keeps her face blank. It's something she's practiced, actually, in front of the mirror at home - thinking shocking, horrible, out-of-the-blue things while maintaining an absolutely straight face. The only way to save this patient is to take out her liver and feed it to her husband. "I like damaged people," she says. "And you damaged the hell out of him."
House jerks and draws in a dramatic breath. "Ooo, you got me," he says, holding up both hands. "I drove you into his arms, at least the first time. But I'm thinking the next round was all about you."
"Everyone needs a hobby. And we can't all afford a piano."
"Chase is pretty damaged," House says, nodding as though this is something they're agreeing on. "The drunken mother, the disinheritance by a distant, over-achieving father..."
"He's also a great lay," she says.
"Better than Wilson?"
"Try it and find out." House actually laughs, then, and he shakes his head. There's a glint of pride in his eyes that Cameron is ashamed to have wanted. "Are you really sorry that you hired me?" she asks.
House stares at her, and his face is a blank that Cameron can't achieve, a mask of nothing that she's never been able to approach. Her eyes always give her away, but he seems to have trained himself, from the soul up, to be this hard and unreadable. "Yes," he says. "But there's a difference between being sorry for you and being sorry about you."
She stands up. "Don't cry yourself to sleep over it," she says. "I signed on for another six months. Cuddy offered us all contract extensions."
"I know," House says.
He doesn't look like he's ready to leave, and Cameron thinks, briefly, that she should offer to help him out, ask if he needs a ride home. He looks like he's waiting on something. But she told Chase she'd meet him at the bar, and she's tired and if House is about to mess everything up again, she doesn't want to know. "It'd be nice if you were here for the extra time," she says.
His smile is brief, stunted by pain or memory, she can't tell. She never can tell with him. "I'll do my best," he says. He clears his throat. "If only I could get one of you trained to take bullets for me."
"Talk to Foreman," she says, and House laughs again, keeps laughing even as she's leaving.
33. Too Much
Lisa has her first big moment of doubt while she's interviewing a candidate for Dr. Glover's old job as the head of cardiac medicine. The candidate, Mark Mendel, is a snappy, attractive cardiologist who's flown in from Chicago. He's the first one she's seen who is dressed for the weather, and she appreciates this even as she thinks her fellow committee members are marking his snow boots against him.
He offers them a well-done presentation on his own accomplishments at the Chicago Heart Hospital, where he's worked for two years under Dan Bleekman, who Lisa knew at Michigan. Mendel has a number of research credits to his name in addition to his recommendations, and his work at CCH is nicely documented. When he leaves, Lisa turns to the committee members and is surprised to see they all look uncomfortable.
"He's almost - too good," Janice Beckman says, her voice soft, halting. "He's only 35, and he's already got more publications than most of the long-term cardiac staff."
"He won't stay." This from Orrin Welch, who's been the chair of internal medicine since the beginning of time. He believes in constancy, in consistency - things that Lisa values, as well. "Why should he? In three or four years, if he keeps publishing like this, he could get a position anywhere in the world for twice the money we can offer him here."
Lisa folds her papers closed. "He's not in it just for the money, though. He'd have taken the offer from Hopkins last year if that was it."
"Hopkins would've been a lateral move," Janice says. "We're a step up."
"And he's going to keep stepping up," Orrin says. "He's always going to be looking for the next challenge."
"You don't think we could keep him challenged here?" Lisa meets his eyes, dares him to say what he's thinking.
Orrin shrugs delicately. "I don't know that we could afford him."
They debate his qualifications for a while and talk briefly about the last two people they saw. Lisa lets them go without taking a vote. After all, she doesn't need their permission to hire Mendel. She's gone against recommendations only twice in her career to hire a department head: once for House, who was highly qualified but highly - and rightly - vilified, and once for Wilson, who was, in the committee's view, too young, too ambitious, and too likely to burn out. She can't quite hold them up as trophies, anymore, but she likes to think they've done more good than harm.
She goes to lunch with Sarah Andrews, a friend from medical school who now works full time in research at Princeton. They talk about work a little, and Sarah talks about her husband and the drama of their Christmas holiday at his parents' house. It sounds nice, Lisa thinks, though she feigns horror on cue. Sarah's life is right on schedule, everything sweet and wonderful, her biggest worries tied up in whether her husband's mother is still angry about Sarah making the wrong kind of stuffing.
Lisa works in the clinic all afternoon. She sees fourteen patients and takes a stack of charts to sign back to her office. It's well past dinnertime when she leaves, and it's dark outside and starting to snow. At home she sits in the garage with her hands over her stomach. This is going to be too much, she thinks. It's 7:00 and she's left a mountain of paperwork behind; she needs to be back at the hospital in 12 hours, and in between she should make a few phone calls and eat something and pay some bills and exercise a little and probably talk to Wilson for a bit. Once the baby is born there will be infinitely more things to do, more things left undone every day, more leaps she can't make and chances she can't take. She thinks about Mark Mendel and his slick presentation and his unending list of accomplishments and she knows why she wants to hire him, knows why she will hire him: because he's just like her, he's just like everyone she admires, always looking for a new challenge, a new obstacle to overcome.
She gets out of the car and goes inside and sits in a chair at the dining table and waits for Wilson to get home. When he does, he sits across from her and asks if she's eaten yet. "What if this is all too much?" she asks him. "What if I'm not built for this, if this is the time when I've bitten off more than I can chew?"
"It may be too much for both of us," he says, and she looks up sharply at that. "I'm not saying I think it is, or that we should - not. I mean, worse people than us raise kids all the time."
"I don't think that's very comforting," she says.
He shrugs. "I don't have a lot of comfort in me, today." He stands up and walks around the table, puts one hand on her shoulder. It's a strange feeling, Wilson's hand there, and it feels more intimate than anything else. She tries not to want it or like it too much. "What I meant was, we're better equipped to handle this than 90 percent of the population. So if it's too much, we call for help."
She nods. It's that simple, she realizes. She's done it before, and it's why Wilson's here at all. "Do you mind cooking?" she asks.
"Least I can do," he says.
34. Not Enough
The first two days he's back at work, House stays late. He doesn't do any actual work in the evenings, but he sits at his desk and hurts and listens to the sound of the hospital around him and doesn't think about his empty apartment or his very large bed or the pharmacy downstairs. He doesn't think about Wilson leaving without checking on him. He doesn't think. He sits at his desk and hurts, and both nights, at around 7:15, he calls Dr. Earle and doesn't talk to him about all of the things he's not thinking about. On the third night, Dr. Earle calls him at 6:30 and says, "Go to the damn meeting. My wife wants to see a movie tonight."
So he goes to the NA meeting in the basement of the hospital. It's held every night at 7:00, and it's run by a woman who doesn't work at Princeton-Plainsboro. House knows this because he checked with the receptionist for the therapy division before he even considered the meeting. He knows how lax security is at the hospital; no way is he getting involved with a group where his pain could end up as gossip.
He doesn't recognize any of the other attendees, which is a promising sign. Mostly community members, it seems. He doesn't talk, and he doesn't really listen to those that do. Instead, he plays with his paper cup of coffee and wishes for more sugar and wonders if it's decaf and if it isn't, he wonders how late he'll be awake and if he'll hurt for the whole time. He remembers the vial of Tramadol in his pocket and feels a small thrill at having held off this long.
He makes it through the meeting and slips out afterward with a donut in his hand. At the front desk, he stops and dials a taxi company on his cell phone. His leg hurts too much for him to be driving. The operator puts him on hold. He could go out to the taxi stand in the visitor's lot, see if there's any waiting, but it's starting to snow and it's a very long walk. Instead, he hangs up and dials Wilson's number.
"I'll be right there," he says. House regrets calling him even as he feels relieved by the response.
Wilson pulls up fifteen minutes later. House sits in the car and makes himself say thank you.
"Do you have a patient?" Wilson asks.
"No," House says. "I had a meeting."
"Like that guy ever works more than a six hour day," House says, shaking his head in admiration.
They stop at a light, and Wilson looks over. "Seriously, what were you doing there this late, then? And please remember that I'm not an idiot if you're thinking of saying you were catching up on paperwork."
"I had a meeting," House repeats.
"Who holds meetings at 8 at night?"
"People who wish to remain anonymous," House says, facing the window so he doesn't have to see the spectacular flash of guilt and understanding on Wilson's face. He clears his throat and fingers the vial of medication in his coat pocket. It's almost 9; if he can make it through until 10 then maybe he'll sleep through the night.
Wilson stops at the curb near House's apartment. It's too much to ask Wilson to come in, but he thinks about it, anyway, thinks about the pleasant distraction that Wilson's low thrum of annoyed disappointment might provide. House opens his door and finds a dry spot for his cane on the damp street.
"I'll just park the car," Wilson says, and House nods and steps out. It takes him longer than it should to get to the door, but he has it unlocked and is in his own place by the time Wilson comes up. House is resting his forehead, just resting, on the door of the refrigerator.
"I need your help," House whispers after a moment, aware that this is the way it started, five years ago. Wilson must be aware, too, because House hears him shift, looks over to see his arms cross. He shakes his head and steps back, just slightly, from the refrigerator, turns to face Wilson. Everything he's feeling is on his face - all of it, the pain, the shock of finding himself here, the humiliation of having to ask Wilson what he's got to ask. "In my coat pocket," he says. "From Westin."
Wilson nods, after a long moment, and goes out to the living room. House thinks he should move himself to the bedroom, but he can't, not right now. His leg is tight with pain, and there's sweat beading on his forehead and the back of his neck. Wilson comes back in and rolls up his sleeve; the needle prick is short, professional, and House can't even feel it over the thrum of his leg. He lets Wilson help him back to his bedroom and fumbles for a moment with his pants and shirt. Wilson helps with this, too.
"This is too much," House says, because it is, it's too much for anyone to see, for anyone to know about him, that he needs this help, that he's this far from well.
"Not for me," Wilson says. He pulls the blanket up over House, and he hadn't even realized he's shivering. Wilson's hand on his shoulder is heavy, warm, but it's not enough, not nearly enough.
35. Sixth Sense
Cameron doesn't stay over on Thursday night because they have an actual date scheduled for Friday - with the usual, unless-there's-a-patient caveat. Chase hopes, for once, that there's not a patient. He has plans. There's a pretty good band playing at the downtown coffee bar that Cameron likes best, and Chase is pretty sure they can have dinner at the Italian place next door beforehand, listen to the band, and browse the bookshop all for under $50. Less, if Cameron wants to go Dutch treat.
Chase drives himself in to work and makes it to the conference room right at eight. Cameron's the only one there, and she smiles over at him, a sly little smile that he likes. It's their standard work greeting. When he picks her up at her place, there's always a greeting kiss. When House is in the office, it feels weird, this non-denial denial of their relationship, but today, it's juts the two of them and it's OK. "Nothing?" he asks, looking at the empty conference table, then over at House's dark office.
"He's got physical therapy this morning," Cameron says, shrugging. "I think I might spend some time in the lab, write up Kevin's case."
Chase isn't sure that's a good idea. Thalassemia is pretty well covered, at the moment, what will all the talk that it's the coming plague in India. But it's date day, and he wants things to go well. "Sounds all right," he says.
She smiles and draws her hand across his shoulders as she walks past. She smells like the lavender-scented soap she bought at the street market last weekend. "Find me at lunch?"
He watches her leave and shakes his head. He's totally smitten. It surprises him a little more every day. It's Cameron, for Christ's sake. Weepy, over-involved Cameron. But she's funny, and she's tougher than he would have ever guessed, and, well, there's something about dating a doctor. Chase can't think of anyone with whom he's ever had a better sex life. Hot and clinically knowledgeable and virtually unembarrassable. He blushes a little just thinking of the weekend before, and takes a few cooling breaths before he busies himself with getting a coffee.
He dabs in a bit of sugar and a nice shot of cream, then picks up his crossword book from his desk and takes his mug over to the conference table. It's actually a book Cameron picked up for him, from a bookstore instead of from the hospital gift shop - it's filled with challenging Sunday crosswords from the New York Times. He's not actively pursuing a publication of his own at the moment - he has two articles out to editors, and is waiting to hear back on either one - so he finishes about one and a half a day.
After fifteen minutes, Foreman walks into the conference room, holding a donut. "Where is everybody?" he asks.
"House has PT," he says. "And Cameron's in the lab. She's writing up the thalassemia guy."
Foreman snorts. "Overdone," he says. "Unless she's got some new bleeding-heart angle on it." He pauses, then glances sidelong at Chase. "Sorry," he says, and Chase shrugs it off.
"'Sallright, I agree with you," he says, setting his crossword book down.
"I may end up owing you some money today," Foreman says as he sits down, and Chase looks over.
"Yeah? He's got Wilson and Cuddy sorted, you think?" They have a hundred-dollar bet about when House will figure out that Wilson and Cuddy are an item. Foreman bet within two weeks; Chase had picked the end of the month.
Foreman shrugs. "He was lurking around oncology yesterday afternoon."
Chase smirks. "They've been pretty quiet about it, though." He only knows because Cameron told him.
"I'm surprised it's taken him this long. I mean, he had you two figured out in about five minutes, right?"
"House has a sixth sense for things that can cause me embarrassment," Chase says. He hasn't quite given up trying to figure out how House does it, but at the moment, he can't really make himself care too much. There's something a little thrilling about House knowing that Chase is shagging Cameron. He wonders if it's as hot in House's head as it is in real life, and he hopes it is. He's never really seen House jealous, but there is a tiny part of him that very much wants to.
Foreman looks up and out into the hall, and Chase turns to look, too. Dr. Wilson is walking past, and he gives them both a short wave. Foreman returns a nod and Chase waves.
"That guy has balls of titanium," Foreman says, and Chase almost snorts up a sip of coffee. "He rats on House and now he's sleeping with Cuddy? Tell me a scenario that doesn't end with the brake lines being cut on his car."
Chase shrugs, but Foreman has a pretty decent point. "House would be more subtle," he says, and Foreman nods.
"Something completely undetectable," Chase agrees.
"He'd probably test it out on a patient, first," Foreman says.
"Or one of us."
They both turn to look at the coffeemaker at the same time. "Did you -?" Foreman asks, and Chase pushes his coffee away. After a moment, Foreman takes a defiant sip.
"Awfully brave," Chase says, and he's only half kidding.
"I figure, of the three of us, I'm safe," Foreman says.
Chase pulls his cup closer. "I suppose he'd take out Cameron, first," he says. He makes himself take a sip, because he's already had a half a cup. And really, it's all just stupid supposition.
"She does drive him nuts," Foreman says. "Of course, you have a record, too." Chase glares. He's not going down this road again; the Vogler debacle wasn't his finest hour, but if it came down to losing his job, he'd probably do it all again. "And you know, if you ever break up with Cameron, she's going to get even more obnoxious, and he'll probably off both of you just to reduce his own pain."
"No worries there, at least," he says. Foreman grins a wicked little grin, and Chase rolls his eyes. He hasn't really thought much about what breaking up with Cameron might mean, but Foreman has a point. As much as House seems to be annoyed by Cameron, she's clearly higher on the food chain than Chase. He tries to imagine the hell his life will become if he and Cameron don't work out and House gets a hold of that information. It actually makes him shiver. "Oh, shut up," he says when Foreman starts to laugh. He stands up and gets himself another cup of coffee, just to prove he can. "He'd probably make you do it," he says.
Foreman grins. "You want to make a counter offer?" he asks.
Chase is trying to think of a response - other than yes, absolutely - when House walks in. "I don't like this no-patient thing," he says. "You two look like you're plotting a murder."
He limps into his office, and Chase sinks into a chair at the table. "How does he do that?" he mutters into his hands.
"Sixth sense," Foreman answers. When Chase looks over, Foreman's pouring his coffee down the sink.
It is the smell of lemons that does Lisa in, now. The morning sickness is usually over before she leaves the house - she's been careful to schedule her meetings only after 9, now, and she stays late to make up for that. But one morning, her assistant is snacking on lemon pound cake when Lisa walks by his desk, and she almost throws up in his trash can.
"A little indignity every day," her mother says when she calls to complain. Her mother had five children, and somehow Lisa was counting on this expertise, was hoping for a homespun cure. Instead, her mother says, "Bake him some pumpkin bread instead."
Lisa rests her head in her hands. "You don't understand my life at all," she says, but her voice is so low that her mother can't hear it.
Two of the nurses in the clinic use lemon-scented shampoo, and for the first time, Lisa ducks into an exam room and decides maybe she won't come out for the rest of the afternoon. If House can make a career of dodging it, surely she has built up the credit to take an afternoon here and there.
She sits in the chair, rests her head in one warm hand. Being a doctor should help, she thinks, but that hasn't been true so far. There's a list of side effects next to every drug in her head, and every time she wants to reach for a syringe - just a drop of ondansetron, just a few capsules of Diclectin - she goes through the list in her mind. She pictures herself tucked into a bed, Betsy's calm, clinical voice and sympathetic eyes above her, Wilson's worried face looking in from the hallway. No medications, she thinks.
The door opens and she turns around with a jerk, almost falls off of the stool. Of course, she thinks, standing up, straightening out her blouse. "Dr. House."
"Dr. Cuddy." He closes the door, and Lisa has a perfect idea of what this might look like to anyone outside. Oh, maybe they'll just think she's giving him drugs. She leans against the counter. "If you're hiding out, it's much more effective if you slide the 'occupied' bar on the door."
She wants to snap, to argue she isn't hiding, but the words just aren't there, so she nods. He hoists himself up onto the exam table - the move isn't graceful, but it's well-practiced - and looks down at her. "Hiding from Wilson?" he asks, and Lisa closes her eyes. "You two have a lovers' spat?"
"We're not," she says, and she waves her hand around.
"Not lovers? Or not fighting?"
She hears him grunt and opens her eyes. "And yet he's staying at your place."
"He stayed with you last year," she says, rubbing her temples. "Were you sleeping with him?"
"I'm not his type," House says. "Though maybe, if I'd offered to have his baby..."
She sighs, and it's deeper and more choked than she wanted. "I don't have the energy to do this," she says.
"Funny, the first trimester will do that to you."
When she looks up, he doesn't look nearly as cruel as she would've expected. She sees emotion there that she hasn't expected - surprise, confusion, maybe even disappointment. "House," she says. There's a lot she could say, and most of it would be true. She had thought of him, she had even, briefly, wanted him. If it hadn't been for the drugs - but no. There's more to it than that. It's all so complicated, and she doesn't know where to start, or how.
He shakes his head, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a GameBoy. "There's a bakery on 12th Street that sells ginger scones just for pregnant women. I've heard good things," he says. "And if you asked him, Wilson would take your clinic hours."
She nods and rubs her hands over her face. "Thank you," she says, letting herself out of the room. The air is clear without, and she takes the opportunity to sneak out of the clinic and over to the cocoon of her office.
House does physical therapy three days a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he has four hours in the clinic scheduled before lunch. He meets with Westin every morning, though now their meetings are short because Westin has the pharmacy deliver House's dose to his clinic. He goes to meetings in the evenings and eats almost all of his meals at the hospital. In some ways, it's not that different from his rehab schedule - just less softball.
He's only had the one patient since he's been back, and he's not completely sure whether that's Cuddy guarding him or Cuddy being mad at him or what. She's been avoiding him, which means he could be slacking off on his clinic hours. He doesn't. He goes through patients like he always has. One of his fellows or another doctor has to sign off on any level-3 or above narcotics that he prescribes, but that's the only change.
On Tuesday night, after his meeting, he takes a cab home, gets his mail, and goes into the living room. He sets the mail on the piano, then stares down at it. He hasn't touched it since he's been back. Tonight, he eases himself down onto the bench and lifts the cover. It doesn't hurt to sit here because he's used to the bench; it's nicely padded and at the perfect height. The pain is there but manageable. Livable, he thinks, and snorts and put his hands on the keys.
Something simple, he thinks. He closes his eyes, listens, plinks a finger down one C above middle, then up to E and G. Mozart. Sonata I, the simple sonata. It's childish, and his fingers still remember the whole thing from grade-school piano lessons. In his mind, it's his mother's poorly-tuned Kimball playing the song out, and he winces when he starts the arpeggios, expecting the clash of an untuned octave at the end. But it's his own piano, which he has tended carefully for years, more carefully than anything else: plants, friendships, lovers. The piano gets tuned every six weeks; it is settled neatly in the corner, out of damaging drafts and away from the warping sunlight of his windows. He sets a drink on top every now and then - or used to, when drinking was something to be excited about, when it meant liquor instead of water or weak tea - but there's no mark, because he is fastidious in his polishing.
It feels like a betrayal that he's been home for almost two weeks and hasn't done this, yet. He starts the Andagio, and when he comes to the middle, the minor, he bows his head in apology. I'm so sorry, he thinks, looking down but not watching his fingers. His memory keeps the music going. It takes more effort than it used to. He's glad for that. There is the pain and the music and he doesn't have room for anything else, and he lets it stay that way to the end, through the brittle challenge of the Rondo, until the final triumphant chord echoes through the room. He's thought of moving, before, but here the acoustics are great, full and perfectly bounded by books, the hard floor softened by the high ceilings.
When the phone rings, the sound is harsh and horrible. He can't believe he bought a phone that's this discordant, and then he remembers, he didn't buy it, Stacy did. They'd always had corded phones, content with one in the kitchen and one by the bed, until the infarction. Then she'd bought the cordless, an expensive phone six years ago, and she'd made him carry it around whenever she wasn't nearby. What if you fall, what if you have a problem, she'd said, and she'd left it behind when she'd left. He gets up from the bench and answers the phone just to stop the ringing.
"Are you all right, honey? You sound out of breath."
"I'm fine, Mom," he says, sinking on to the couch. "Just couldn't get to the phone fast enough."
"What were you doing? I didn't mean to interrupt."
"It's fine. Just playing around on the piano."
She makes a surprised, happy sound, and House closes his eyes. "I'm so glad you've kept that up. You never wanted to practice when you were little, you remember?"
"No." In his memory, the piano is the only constant. They traveled all over the world, and in every apartment, every new, crappy base housing project, his mother would find the piano. Usually, they were hidden away in the community rec rooms, the places set aside for wives to play cards on Tuesdays, the same rooms where they had covered-dish dinners when someone's husband would go missing. He can remember spending hours in rooms like this - white tile floors, dull green walls, every note a sharp echo - and if it's not exactly a fond memory, it's not a bad one, either. "Remember that piano you got when we were back in Ohio? I was thinking about that."
"Oh, the one from your aunt? Sure. What a beast that was to move in." What they are not saying, here, is that his mother is the only one who has ever thought the piano was a good undertaking for him. His father would've rather had a boy out in the yard, playing catch, messing with the car, running around raising hell with the townie girls by the base. House had been happy with his piano, with his books, and, when he turned 16, with a quick ticket out of base life and into an early-acceptance program at Johns Hopkins. "So how are you doing, Greg? We haven't heard from you for a while."
"Yeah, I've been kind of busy," he says, dodging the first question, because he can't think of a truthful answer. "Getting settled back in at work."
She hmms. She has never really understood what it is that he does. He sent her his first publication, back in his post-doc days, and it's still sitting on the bookshelf in the living room, the journal scrunched in between his father's Double Gun Journal editions and her yearbooks from Better Home and Garden. The accomplishments she understands are those that he's ruined - Stacy, in particular. "Do you think you might make it out this way sometime?" she asks. "We'd love to see you for Easter. Your cousin Carol and the boys are going to be in from London."
"I don't know, Mom. I have a lot of catching up to do." He tries to picture himself at his parents' house again. He hasn't been there in three years, since his Uncle Alfred died. And then, he'd gone only because his mother's news of the death had been so vague on the phone that he'd had to go, himself, to see what was going on. The house had been full of people, and that had been so strange that he'd stayed only for the day, driven back late at night after drinks with his remaining uncle and two cousins whose names he couldn't remember. He still can't remember precisely how he'd gotten home that night.
"Greg," she says, and he shifts on the couch and thinks please, please don't. Please. But he doesn't have these powers. "What was that all about, anyway?"
He can't lie to her. He can tell her the wrong truths, sometimes, but not now. Recovery is a process, he thinks, and almost laughs to hear Darien's voice in his head. "I'm a drug addict, Mom," he says. "We talked about this."
"Your pain medication," she says, her voice uncertain. "You said you were taking too much? But you were going to talk to your doctor about that."
"It wasn't - it wasn't his fault," House says. "I knew what I was doing. I got into some trouble. But it's fine now. It's going to be fine."
She is quiet for so long that he thinks she's going to say he's lying. He tries to figure out which part is untrue. It could be anything. "Son," she says, after a moment, "you know you can always come to us, if you're in trouble."
He laughs, and his face is wet when he rubs his hand across it. "OK, Mom," he says. His voice echoes up across the line, sounds too bright, too happy. "I should go."
"Well. All right. It's good to talk to you, though. Don't make me chase you down."
"Your father says hello."
House nods, makes himself say, "Tell him hello."
"We love you, Greg."
He bites his lip. "I need to go, Mom. I'll talk to you soon." He hangs up and stares at the phone, at the base. He runs his thumb over the little switch that will silence its ring, and he clicks it to silent, then clicks it back. He picks it up again, wishes Stacy was still on speed dial, that she was still in the same area code. Then again, he thinks as the line rings, maybe it's better that she's not.
He looks up as he's locking his car and flinches at the sight of her. Stacy, in a black winter coat and hat, almost completely cocooned but still, clearly, Stacy, standing in the parking lot next to a silver Mercedes. "Stacy! Wow," he says, his voice bright, an attempt at recovery. He accepts her hug with a smile. She smells like cinnamon. When she pulls back, she keeps hold of his arm, and they don't move. "What are you doing here?"
Her lips thin into a line, a wry grin. "Greg called me last night," she says, and Wilson's stomach plummets. "I thought you said he was doing better."
Wilson shrugs. He did think things were getting better. He'd talked to Cuddy about House's pain last week, and he thinks she put pressure on Westin, because House has had his medication increased. He's doing better. He hasn't called for help in days - at least, he hasn't called Wilson. "He called you. You don't think that's a good sign?"
"I don't know what to think," she says.
"Have you seen him?"
She shakes her head. "I wanted to talk to you first. Do you have time?"
"Now?" He's supposed to meet with a representative from GE at 8:30 about some new testing equipment. Stacy's eyes are dark and serious and a little scared. "Sure," he says. "Just let me make a call."
He cancels the meeting while Stacy drives them away from the hospital, a few blocks down to the nearest Starbucks. It's busy inside, but they get drinks and find a small table by the window. Wilson likes the professional hum of the place, all of these people in a hurry to somewhere, but none of them so tied down that they can't stop for overpriced, overflavored coffee. He sips his drink - nonfat cappuccino with an extra shot - and watches Stacy watching him. He can guess what's coming.
"He says you're with Lisa, now."
Wilson rolls his eyes. "That's not entirely true." He hasn't yet had to explain their relationship to anyone. He's not sure he wants to. "I'm staying at her place," he says.
"And she's pregnant."
He didn't know that House had figured that out, but he should've guessed. He sets the coffee down and looks at his hands on the table. His nails are short but neat, a habit formed from years of dealing directly with patients. No one wants a doctor with bitten-off finger nails, with any outward sign of nervousness or vulnerability. "Yes," he admits, and he hears Stacy gasp.
"James!" He looks up. He wonders how House found out, whether Cuddy already knows. It used to be that House would storm across the balcony at the slightest provocation. "You're - well. Well. Congratulations?"
He laughs. "Yeah, thanks. It's only the second month," he says. "So we haven't really told anyone." He doesn't like the way that sounds - the we is too formal. It implies too much. "We're really not involved. Not romantically. It's - complicated, I guess."
"It always is." She shakes her head. "You know, I always thought you'd be the one who'd get the whole picture. The wife, the kids, all of it."
"You didn't think you two would make it?"
She shrugs. "Maybe. We could've. But it never would've been all of that. Not with House. He doesn't have it in him. And, well, maybe I don't, either." She shakes her head. Wilson opens his mouth to ask about Mark, but Stacy says, "I'm happy, now, though. Happy enough." She tilts her head to the side. "He's not happy at all, is he?"
Wilson shrugs. Every doubt he's had for the past three months bubbles up. "Maybe it was a mistake," he says. "Maybe - I don't know. He's in pain, now. He was functioning, before. Maybe not in the way I would've picked for him, but now -" He picks up his drink, but he doesn't want to taste it, doesn't think he can bear it. "He's not even angry, right now."
Stacy shakes her head. "God. House, not angry. This, I have to see for myself." She reaches out and touches his hand, and he looks up at her, really looks. He thinks of all the ways that his life could've been different, if Stacy hadn't left, five years ago. If she'd stayed here, instead of staying in touch. He wants to pull away, to walk out into the cold, to run, to find someplace to hide. Instead he blinks and ducks his head.
"James," she says, and her voice is gentle.
"Does he know you're here?" he asks.
"Yes," she says, which is the worst possible answer, because it means she's going to see him, talk to him, probably tell him all of this. They have been friends and confidants for many years, now, but House has always come first. "I'm picking him up from physical therapy." Her hand tightens briefly over his. "You don't have to be the only one who cares," she says, and he laughs, a brief, hard, painful choke of a sound. "He called, when he was in rehab. He said he wants to be friends."
"He doesn't know how," Wilson manages. His voice is more bitter than he could've imagined.
"Well," she says, drawing back. "He's willing to try. And he's a fast learner."
Wilson snorts. There's an actual pain in his chest, an actual physical reaction to this idea that House is going to try and bring in Stacy, that he's turning to other people, that he's beyond Wilson's ability to help and save and care for. He rubs his face with one hand and looks up at Stacy. If there's anyone else in the world who can fix this, surely it's her.
Her frown is full of sympathy. "I never should have left you alone with him," she says. "I'm sorry."
Wilson shrugs. "I've done some pretty bad things," he says. "He's never going to forgive me."
She smiles as she leans in. "You think that in the beginning," she says, "but trust me, eventually, it works out."
Stacy takes him out to lunch after PT. It's early for food, and the grueling session with Geoffrey hasn't sparked his appetite, but House orders a burger and fries off the diner menu, anyway, and gets a chocolate shake. He sips his water and they chat carefully. She's the same as always, beautiful and direct and smart, and she asks right away about rehab and what it was like and whether it's working.
"So far," he says.
"One day at a time?" She looks over, the corner of her mouth lifted just slightly in a way that can turn to either teasing or sympathy.
"If I could find a way to take them faster, I'd do it," he says, "but this is the only option I know of."
She tells him she saw Wilson and he confirmed the baby, Cuddy, everything. "I almost made him cry," she says. "At Starbucks."
House barely holds off a laugh. He remembers lying in bed with Stacy, before the leg, before anything bad, and talking about Wilson, gossiping about his girlfriends and his bad taste in restaurants and his horrible golf game. They weren't always best friends. "Did you kick him?"
"I should've, maybe," she says. Her look turns serious, and he admires that she is able to do this, to go from satire to serious without even blinking. "He says you're never going to forgive him."
"Is this marriage counseling?" House asks. "Did you pick this up in therapy with Mark?"
"He sends his love, by the way," she says as the waitress sets down their drinks - diet soda for Stacy and the shake for House. "I would've brought it in with me, but I don't have a concealed carry license."
"Nice." He takes a sip of his milkshake, and he knows it should taste bad, bitter, wrong, but it doesn't. It's sweet and creamy and it makes him want to smile and never drink anything else but this. Nothing in life can really be so bad if a chocolate milkshake tastes this damn good. "I am a very bad person," he says, and Stacy rolls her eyes. "If Wilson is the great, perceptive friend that everyone, including Wilson, keeps telling me he is, why hasn't he picked up on that?"
"He's perceptive and hopeful?"
"He's an idiot," House says.
"Yeah," Stacy agrees, "but he's your idiot."
"Why are we even talking about Wilson?" House asks. "We know other people. Let's talk about pregnant Cuddy. Or - Chase and Cameron are getting it on, now. Don't you want to know how that makes me feel?"
"I'm going to guess it makes you a little hot," Stacy says, "because that's sort of what it does for me. And Lisa being pregnant isn't really something that's up for discussion by us. And we're talking about Wilson because you called me, last night, instead of him."
House stirs the whipped cream on the top of his shake into the ice cream, and starts to eat the top layer with a spoon. "I'm sorry I called you," he says, and Stacy sighs, her heavy, Greg-please-don't-be-such-a-bastard sigh. It's a sigh he knows well, a sigh that has mileage, history, a drawer reserved in his dresser. "He hasn't actually told me about Cuddy and the baby," House says.
"Do you want my advice about Wilson?" Stacy asks.
"No," he says, and he means it. "But I do want you to try this shake. It's amazing. In fact, you should get your own." He signals for the waitress, and Stacy catches his hand, brings it down to the table still cradled within her own. He looks only at that. "If I was better," he says, "if I wasn't a very bad person -"
"Fix things with Wilson," she says. Her voice is low and certain, and that's a relief, really, because he is a bad person, and he was looking for vulnerability. "Don't chase after me because you're fighting with him."
He manages a grin, just barely. "I like chasing after you."
She sits back, lets his hand loose. "You'd better finish your ice cream," she says, "or you won't ruin your meal."
Stacy pulls up to the staff entrance, leaves the car running. "Does Mark know where you are?" House asks.
"Yes," she says, and that answers the question he was really asking. "Which is why I should probably be getting home."
He turns away before there can be any awkward attempt at a good-bye. No kiss on the cheek, no too-brief hug, no sad Stacy smile. The pavement is a little slick, but he pushes himself up and out anyway. Someone has thrown down salt, and it's good for traction though it seems to be doing little to the ice. Stacy lowers the window.
House leans in and looks right past her, out the driver's window. "You don't have to come every time I call," he says.
"You will call again, though, right?"
He nods. "You could call, too." He's not sure whether she hears him. He pushes back from the car and she rolls the window up. The car glides out of the parking lot and away, and he blinks and wishes it was night, wishes the weather would match his mood. He walks inside, sees Cameron and Chase at the coffee kiosk. They're pretty far from the doors, and he doubts either of them knows off hand what kind of car Stacy drives. He wishes he could make things, people, entire situations invisible. "Oh, the powers I should have," he says to himself, heading toward them.
They are surprised to see him, which makes House feel a little better about everything. It's still weird, catching the subtle changes between them. Cameron is standing a bit too close to Chase before she sees House, but by the time he reaches them, she's moved well outside of even friendly distance. Chase's eyes track both her and House like he expects one of them to start yelling or shooting. It's kind of funny, in a sick way, and it makes House briefly happy to know that other people in the world have just as much trouble navigating romance and relationships as he does.
Chase offers to buy him a coffee, and House accepts. He gets a triple shot latte and dumps four packets of real sugar into it. "There's a guy who just came in with transverse myelitis," Cameron says.
"He's got diagnosed MS," Chase murmurs, handing over House's coffee. "It's just a new symptom off of that."
"So far, I'm with Ken on this one, Barbie," House says. "But you keep chasing, see what you can find. I've got clinic patients waiting." He makes it a few feet before he realizes both Chase and Cameron are still staring at him. "What?"
"You don't have clinic hours this afternoon."
"And I also don't have a patient. Down here - lots of patients."
"You're willingly going to the clinic? To see patients?" Cameron asks. Her eyes are wide. "Are you feeling all right?"
The clinic is safe. No Cuddy, not on a Wednesday and not while she's avoiding him. And probably no Wilson, either, if Stacy really made him cry. Out of sight, out of mind, he thinks, but he can't say that to Cameron. He leans in. "I like the clinic. They keep all the good drugs over there," he says, and Cameron's cheeks get a little pink. It's either annoyance or embarrassment. House has never been able to tell the difference on her, and he's not sure he's supposed to.
"But seriously," Chase says, "the last time you were looking forward to clinic, Foreman was dying."
"Where is Foreman?" House looks around, as though maybe Foreman will simply appear out of thin air, carrying his too-serious briefcase and wearing his too-serious face.
Random Foreman apparition, actually, is a scary thought, and it almost derails House completely, until Cameron says, "He's still at lunch," and Chase mutters, "unless you've killed him."
House snorts. "You check on that. Cameron's got her myelitis guy. And I'm going to go hunting for mysteries in the fertile grounds of the free clinic. Let's see who turns up some real work first."
He turns and walks through the doors, and he isn't followed. At the desk, he asks, "Is Dr. Wilson working this afternoon?" and when he gets a no, he says, "I'll take whoever's next. And I want one of the PA's."
The nurse looks at him, looks over at the schedule, and then looks back. Her mouth actually falls open. "But Dr. Cuttler is -"
"Tell Cuttler he's got a day off."
"Even better. Equal pay for equal work. Give me a damn chart and a patient and let's get this started."
He sees sixteen people in four hours. The PA assisting him is a quick study named Brian who doesn't argue any of the prescriptions and generally hangs out in the background while House bullies people into revealing their problems. He might even be doing Sudoku puzzles while House is diagnosing people. House likes him right away. "You ever want to become a real doctor, look me up," he says, limping out at 4.
"Yeah, you make it look so glamorous," Brian says, signing the last prescription. He hands it to the patient and offers House a funny salute with his stethoscope before he walks out. House turns and finds the surprised nurse from before. "Any way I can get him scheduled to assist me from now on?"
Her eyes narrow. "Are you going to turn him into another little you?"
"He's found that track already," House assures her. "I'm just honing his skills." She grumbles something he's not meant to hear - he catches most of it, and it ends in "jackass," - and starts to turn back to her paperwork. "Ah ah ah," House says. "When are Dr. Wilson's clinic hours?"
"None until Friday," she says, without looking at the schedule.
House rolls his eyes. "He's off the market, you know," he says. "Just because you have his schedule memorized doesn't mean he's going to make out with you after homeroom."
"I remember it," she says, and it sounds like she's talking through clenched teeth, "because half the girls don't want to be on his schedule, having had their precious little hearts broken already."
House laughs. "Any way I can get you scheduled to work with me from now on?"
"No, but if you stay here much longer you're going to need someone scheduled to put back in your front teeth."
"And they're my best feature." He taps the countertop, and the nurse actually smiles, and he pushes away and limps toward the staff elevator. It's time for 4:00 pain meds. After that, he can probably round up the troops and toss the ball around and find enough stuff to do until the meeting. After that, it'll be a cab ride home, maybe some time with the piano, and then a shot and then sleep, and it's another day down.
Wilson is very well organized. It's a strong suit, and it's not common among other doctors. Most of them are good at compartmentalizing - and Wilson is good at that, too - but they can't keep a desk neat or a drawer organized to save their lives. They need nurses trailing them on rounds just to remember where they put their pens, and Wilson thinks that most of the guys he knows had to have their kids program the VCR and their cell phones. It's mind blowing that they let these people perform surgeries, he thinks, and it's a thought that often comes up in House's voice in his head.
Because he is organized, because his paperwork is caught up and his morning meeting already rescheduled, because his desk surface is clean except for a lamp and a pen set and a multi-line phone that he knows every trick of, he has nothing to do when he gets back from coffee with Stacy. He had planned to spend some time out on the floor, that afternoon, talking to the nurses and going over equipment receipts and reports, making sure that they're up on their maintenance, but he knows - organized! - that he has a similar open block of time on Tuesday afternoon, and he can do it then. So he turns his chair toward the window and looks out at the gray sky and thinks maybe it's time he tried to organize his friendship with House into something manageable.
He pulls the pen out of the pen set and takes a notepad from his desk. A list will help, he thinks. He ends up staring at the pen. It was a gift from his father, when he graduated from medical school - two gold Parker pens, one a fountain pen, one a ball-point, mounted onto a dark wood base. He used to keep the set at home, but he doesn't have a home of his own anymore, and it matches the new furniture. There's a gold-rimmed barometer in the middle. Wilson has no actual idea of how to read a barometer, but he likes the look of it and the idea of it, that weather can be predicted, that there's a math behind everything.
He draws a line down the center of the notepad and writes H on one side, W on the other. A list of grievances. It's not hard to fill up either side, and his hand is smudged with black ink by the time he stops. It looks like a lot, and Wilson feels the weight of all these problems, all this bad stuff between them. It's never been a blank page - nothing with House is - but it used to be equal, tit-for-tat, every slight that Wilson endured made up for by something else, some random consideration on House's part, some flash of friendship.
Wilson strikes out "no apology" on both his side and House's. He crosses out "nearly got me fired" and "nearly sent H to jail." He marks through "nearly sent me to jail" and "agreed to rehab." What he is left with is the idea that they have both betrayed each other beyond even what Wilson would have imagined. House stole his prescription pad, expected - no, demanded - his lie, had no sympathy for him when his practice crumbled, when his life fell apart. And that's an old story, maybe, but the pain is new every time. And Wilson's betrayal, well, he understands this, too: he did exactly what House had been waiting for him to do. He gave up. Backed against a wall, past every point of rational behavior and loyalty that anyone else would expect, sure, but Wilson knows that in House's book, he still gave up too soon. He rolled on House. It doesn't even matter that he took it all back, that he wouldn't do it again, because House would do it all again, and in exactly the same way. Wilson believes that. The best rehab center in the world couldn't change who House is at the core.
And so, if he can't forgive House, and House can't forgive him, they can't just be even, this time. They can't just go on from here. This fight, these last few months, this is going to shape every conversation, every interaction, everything between them from now on. Wilson knows it. He's been here before, at the ends of his marriages. There's nowhere else to go but to the end.
He puts his pen back in its holder, feeds the list to the shredder behind his desk, and turns to look out the window. He is organized, but House is not. He wonders how long it will take for him to reach the same conclusion.
In the elevator, he hits the button for his own floor instead of Westin's. On a whim, trying not to believe it's because of Stacy's voice in his head, he doesn't correct the mistake. He goes past the conference room - dark, because Cameron's patient really did turn out to be an MS unfortunate - and his own office and over to Wilson's. He pauses at the door, hears nothing, and knocks twice before he tries the knob.
Wilson is sitting behind his desk, turned toward the windows. He looks to the side as House walks in, but he doesn't face him. "Most people actually wait to be called in."
"I've never been big on most people."
House closes the door and looks around the office. New furniture, new art, even a new smell to the place. Just the sight of Wilson in a room like this is wrong. House is sure he's the only one who would see it this way. Wilson is lucky, and Wilson is smart, and to the rest of the world, Wilson is ambitious and formal and made for this, for ever-higher rungs on the ladder. But House knows Wilson, or he did, and this change makes him uncomfortable. "You upgraded," he says.
"Donors aren't impressed by a couch with vomit stains."
"You're going for the wrong kind of donor, then," House says. He limps into the center of the room and rests one hand on the back of the chair. "Is this actually a promotion, or does it just smell like it?"
"Same job," Wilson says.
"No extra bonus?" He shakes his head. "What about your kid's college fund? Who's going to send Jimmy Junior through Harvard?"
Wilson's mouth twitches. He still doesn't turn. "I make more than you."
"You have three ex-wives."
"Cuddy makes pretty good money."
"Shouldn't you two be on a first name basis?"
"She didn't make me call her doctor in bed," Wilson says.
House bites back a laugh, and what he thinks is, I missed you. There are parts of Wilson he doesn't get and doesn't like - this brooding posture is high on the list - but inside of formal Wilson there's an outrageous bastard just waiting to get out. "I was going to the cafeteria."
Wilson clears his throat and finally looks over. "You didn't eat with Stacy?"
"Four hours ago, yeah," he says. "But she had to run home to her husband. These modern love triangles, they're so disappointing." There are metal studs in the leather of Wilson's new chair, and House runs a finger around them in a figure eight pattern.
"Did you have a good talk?" he asks.
"She said she made you cry at Starbucks," House says, and Wilson snorts.
House shrugs. "It's not hard to imagine. She's made me cry. She looks like a girl, but she plays like a man."
"Not sure what that says about your relationship," Wilson says. He picks a pen up from a gold-plated desk set, looks at it, then sets it back in its holder. "So you're here for - what?"
"I'm hungry," House says, but Wilson keeps staring at him. It is Stacy's voice in his head, now, and it's like they're all three in the room, like she's glaring at him, waiting for him to make this move. "I was thinking. Most guys, they - do things. They have hobbies, and stuff like that."
"You're not big on most guys."
House shrugs. "I'm in recovery."
Wilson nods, very slowly. He stands up. "You're saying we should get a hobby?"
"We used to do stuff. Watch TV, go out to bars, that kind of stuff. Only I'm not sure 'The L Word' is going to be nearly as cool if I can't drink, and the bars have a similar problem. So until I've jumped all the hoops that Cuddy's set up, it basically leaves us with food." House isn't sure why, but he feels a little flutter of nervousness as he says this. If Wilson doesn't understand what he's asking, he'll move on to Plan B, which involves yelling and maybe hitting Wilson a few times with his cane. And then maybe stealing his car and chasing after Stacy.
"We used to have lunch together," Wilson says. House nods, and after a moment, Wilson nods back. "OK. Just let me -"
He opens his desk drawer and pulls out his wallet, slides it into his back pocket. "Excellent," House says. He feels a flicker of relief. He wants to grab his phone and call Stacy and tell her he's done, he's done it, he's fixing things with Wilson. "I was hoping you'd buy."
Wilson follows House to the cafeteria and pays for both of them, and when House leads him to their usual table, Wilson sits down and closes his eyes and just for a minute, it's all fine.
"This silence, right now? This is me giving you the chance to tell me about Cuddy being pregnant, so that we can pretend like we're still people who tell each other things."
Wilson sighs and opens his eyes. "We've never been people who tell each other things."
House snorts. "You told me about your second wife's carrot fetish," he says, leering just enough that Wilson feels himself blush. "What kind of friend would tell me that but not that he's going to be a father?"
"The kind of friend who isn't sure he is a friend anymore."
House sticks out his bottom lip. "Oh, boo-hoo," he says. "Did I hurt your feelings?" He pulls his cell phone out and sets it on the table. "I'll call you right now, will that help?"
"What would you say?" Wilson asks. He's actually interested.
House flips his phone open. "Wilson, it's House. I want to apologize for hitting you with my cane."
"You didn't -" He feels and hears the crack of the cane at the same moment. "Son-of-a-bitch," he groans, leaning over. His calf throbs, and he clutches it with both hands. It was a hard hit, and tomorrow there will be a square, cane-shaped bruise to remind him not to try. "I miss the days when you used to travel with pain medication," Wilson grits out.
"Don't we all." House pushes his plate forward and crosses his arms on the table.
Wilson sits up. "You've always been a dick," he says. "I don't know why I thought rehab would make it any better."
"But you used to like that about me," House says. It's not his tone - which is dry, sarcastic as always - that makes Wilson flinch. It's the tiny speck of uncertainty in his eyes.
"No," Wilson says. "I didn't. I never have. House, it's not your worst qualities that draw me in. You're a standoffish know-it-all bastard, but that's part of the good, because it makes - it used to make - you loyal to a fault, and predictable. I used to be able to count on you," Wilson says, and he says it in such a rush that the words surprise him, and he has to sit back.
House picks up a French fry and looks it over, really studies it. This is usually the face he gets when he's figuring out a case, when he's making that final strike toward a solution. Wilson puts his hand on his leg, feels the already warm thrum of blood rushing to the injury. He grabs his tray and scoots back, but doesn't move any further. Things are so broken, between them. They can't even be alone together any more. Wilson knows this feeling, from three failed marriages, the tension that comes at the end, when he spends all of his time wishing for interference, for supervision, for someone else to take over and offer a solution. House looks up.
"I need my pain meds," he says, shaking his head. He gets up, and Wilson stays seated. His stomach is churning. This is it, he thinks. House picks up his own tray, then looks down. "I'm sorry I hit you," he says.
"I should've expected it," Wilson mutters.
House laughs. "Then we're square," he says. "And I'll get lunch tomorrow."
Tomorrow? Wilson thinks, and he's so surprised that he know he must flinch, but House is already gone. Tomorrow. He wonders how many times they'll have to do this. He waits until House is out of the cafeteria, then clears off the table and walks back to his office. He sits back down in the dark and stares at everything that's new. He's never fixed a marriage before. Maybe this is what it's like. He rubs the forming bruise on his leg. Maybe this is what House's forgiveness feels like.
Wednesday night, while:
House is in his NA meeting, sitting in a circle and listening to long, boring stories of addiction;
Wilson is sitting in the parking lot of the Wendy's by the highway, eating a baked potato and listening to a Neil Diamond CD because he's not ready to go back to Cuddy's yet for the evening;
Cuddy is taking a bath with the door locked, staring down at the already (impossibly) changing shape of her body;
Cameron is buying a three-pack of condoms from the drug store, because she's definitely not ready for any kind of change, not like that;
Chase is picking out a tie to wear to the conference that Cameron thinks they should go to that weekend in Philadelphia, and wondering how serious this is, whether it counts as a minibreak - major step - or if it's just a ride-share kind of thing, a conference with benefits;
Foreman is in the E.R., because he has a thing for one of the interns, and she's doing an emergency room rotation, and he's more than happy to consult on her latest patient, who has unexplained seizures and diurisis,
it starts to snow. And it doesn't stop for twenty-four hours.
Cameron goes into work even though the news says that only emergency personnel should be out on the roads. When she calls House to say she's on her way, he tells her she's an idiot. Her apartment is less than a mile from the Princeton-Plainsboro campus, and she has decent winter boots and a very sturdy coat. Chase has only the tennis shoes he wore when he came over the night before, and his coat is so pathetic that she makes him wear one of her own before she'll let him outside.
His car is covered in snow, as is the street and the sidewalk and even the stop sign at the end of her block. It rained for part of the day before it turned to snow, so everything now has a glassy layer of ice beneath, which she discovers when she sweeps one gloved hand over the windshield and reveals a thick sheet of glittery ice. Chase curses under his breath when he sees it, and she considers taking pity on him, following him back inside, making hot cocoa and watching television all day, but she's not that person. "Probably lots of accidents, with the roads like this," she says.
Chase nods. His nose is already red. It's somehow cute and annoying at the same time.
It takes them thirty minutes to walk to the hospital, and even Cameron is cold by the time they arrive. Chase stands in front of the coffee machine in the conference room and she can see he's considering putting his hands right onto the pot. She takes them into her own and rubs them. "You need decent gloves," she says.
"They're in my car," he mutters, and Cameron almost laughs. Instead, she leans forward and blows on his hands. They are pinking up in her grasp. He cups her face and smiles. "Thanks."
"If you're going to moon over each other, take it outside," House says, and Cameron turns around. "I don't have the stomach for it today."
"What are you doing here?" Cameron asks. She'd called his cell, but assumed he was at home.
"This is where they keep my pain medication," House says. He sits at the table very slowly and rests his cane beside him. Cameron has been watching him for a while - well. No. She's been watching him since the beginning, but she's been looking for pain, in particular, since he came back. Every time House winces, every time his steps are slower or it takes him a few seconds longer to get up out of his chair, she hates Wilson a little more.
"Your street's got to be closed, though," Chase says, and Cameron is almost startled to hear his voice. "And cabs aren't running. How did you get here?"
"Cuddy has one of those ginormous SUVs," House says, stretching his arms out to their full length. "And apparently, the hospital needs doctors right now."
"You made Dr. Cuddy pick you up?"
"Nah, she's too busy running the place," House says. "I made Wilson do it. By the way, Chase, you owe Foreman fifty bucks. I knew a loooong time ago."
Cameron sets her coffee cup down.
Chase shakes his head. "Foreman's here, then?"
"Think he's down in the E.R., doing doctor things." House waves his hand in the air as though he has no idea what those things could be.
Cameron steps forward, cutting off whatever Chase was about to say. "You know about Wilson and Cuddy?"
"That man is like a doctor magnet, recently," House says, and is grin is absolutely malicious.
Cameron rolls her eyes. "Chase knows," she says. He does, after all, and she's pretty sure he's a little bit jealous over the whole thing. It makes for better sex, sometimes, and certainly for more fun in the office.
House frowns. "What is it with you people and names? If you're sleeping with someone and still referring to him by his surname, I don't think that's a good sign."
"I don't care what you think," Cameron says, faster than she can even think about it. Her voice sounds angry and high and strange, and she feels Chase's hand on her elbow but brushes him off.
"Oh, now, that's just not true," House says. He leans forward. "You care deeply. Just like Chase does. It's probably part of what's making the two of you work, right now. You both need approval like most people need air. Chase comes by it naturally, and he doesn't really care where the approval comes from, so he seeks mine and instead he gets yours, somehow, and that's working for him. You need the approval that comes from being the person that everyone needs, the person who fixes damaged people, and so you're probably in heaven at the moment. But at the end of the day, you care, you absolutely care, and I think I'm well on record about why that's not such a good idea."
Cameron's throat feels tight, but she takes a step forward and talks anyway. "Maybe I'm over that," she says. "You said it yourself, this job - being around you - has changed me. Maybe I'm not that person anymore."
House shrugs. "You have some symptoms of change," he says, "but it's a little early to be diagnosing true cynicism. Particularly with so many obvious signs of relapse." He jerks his head toward where Chase is standing, against the counter just behind her, and Cameron looks at him. He's staring at her with wide eyes, as though House has just stripped away her clothing or told her darkest secret. She can't imagine what it is that's surprised him in this - it's just House being House, after all.
"You're a jerk," she says. She turns to Chase and puts her hand on his arm, leads him toward the door. He doesn't say anything, and she looks neither at him nor at House as they walk out.
In the hall, she lets Chase's arm go but doesn't stop walking. "Where are we going?" he asks, following her to the stairwell.
"The E.R.," she says, though she doesn't feel like dealing with patients right now. She doesn't feel like dealing with anyone at the moment. She wants to put her arms around someone - Chase, yes, of course - and hear nothing but a steady heartbeat, easy breathing, careful reassurance. They stop on the landing before the second floor and she turns to him. His eyes are still wide. "What?" she asks.
"You've still got a thing for him," Chase says. His voice is half high jealousy, half stunned curiosity. Cameron hates both parts. "For House," he says, as if she needs the clarification.
"That's ridiculous," she says. "I don't. I haven't had a thing for him for a long time."
Chase shakes his head. "That's what I thought, but - in there, you - he's right about us."
Cameron crosses her arms. "What?"
"Everything he said is true. You've said it. I'm hard-wired to seek approval. The idea that this, us, that House doesn't like it, it's not a thrill for me. It makes my stomach turn. And you get off on it, a little, which, that's been fine." His cheeks are flushed. "I don't mind. Only - only he's right about you, too, and it's just - it's weird." Chase takes a breath. "You want his approval, and the only way to get it is to be just like him, and not to care, so you're playing that part just fine. You slept with Wilson, you're with me -"
"I didn't sleep with anyone to get House's approval," Cameron hisses.
"No, something much more sinister," Chase says. "You're trying to become him. Jesus Christ, Cameron!" He rubs his hands over his face, and Cameron feels a shock, like she's falling back into herself, and she understands that she's done this, that she's what's making Chase look this confused and unhappy. Oh, no, she thinks, no no no.
The door swings open above them, and a nurse rushes by, between them. When she's past them, Cameron reaches out, puts her hands on Chase's biceps. "I'm sorry," she says. "I - I'm not with you because of him."
Chase snorts. "Everything you do is because of him," he says. Cameron starts to argue, but Chase shakes his head. He puts his hand on her shoulder, and it feels friendly but not affectionate. "It's all right," he says. "I'm the same."
She nods, slowly, even though she's not sure what's happened. "Are we OK?"
Chase shrugs. "We'll figure it out, I guess," he says. He squeezes her shoulder, then cups her neck. "Patients."
She nods again and follows him down to the E.R.
Things aren't so busy. The highways were shut down early, and the schools cancelled the night before. People, for once, are staying where they're supposed to be, and those who haven't are getting routed over to County instead of to Princeton. So House is able to hide out in his office without incurring any of Cuddy's wrath. The Internet, thank God, operates rain, sleet, snow, or shine.
Around noon, a knock on the door pulls him up from an hour-long battle with a gigantic rock-and-roll themed crossword puzzle. Wilson stands in the doorway with two greasy paper sacks. Things are still weird between them, since their cafeteria talk, but they're getting better.
"Thought the cafeteria was closed," House says. He'd had to make his own coffee that morning.
"Feeding the patients is actually a critical duty," Wilson says, walking in and setting the bags on the end of House's desk.
The thick greasy smell of melted cheese, and maybe of potato, wafts over. He offers House a spoon and a fork and then a bag. House looks inside and sees a basket of French fries covered in chili and cheese settled in the bottom. "Wilson," he says, still staring at the fries, "you're my hero."
They eat in what House thinks is probably companionable silence. Wilson flips through one of the magazines that House has lying around, and House asks the occasional crossword related question, typing with one hand and using the other for the greasy fry feasting. Wilson's eating something in pita bread.
"What is that?"
Wilson looks over. His eyes narrow, and House knows he's expecting the punch line. "It's got turkey and sprouts and sunflower seeds," he says.
House stares at the sandwich and then up at Wilson. He's still watching House, waiting for the little joke at his expense. "It's crunchy," House says.
"That's the seeds."
House nods and goes back to his game. Maybe they are friends again, or at least on the edge of it. House hasn't apologized for anything; neither has Wilson. It probably makes them even, for the moment, and so House can hold off on mocking Wilson for sport. At least until everything feels normal again.
Wilson gets up to throw his sandwich away, then walks over to House. "Check the weather," he says.
Some things, however, he can't pass up. House glares up at him, then turns and opens the balcony door. He looks outside. "Snow, with a chance of freaking cold," he says, and Wilson rolls his eyes. "You don't believe me? Fine." House pushes back from the desk and lets Wilson step in and call up the weather online. Wilson is courteous - always - and doesn't close House's crossword. House doesn't even have to ask. He never has to ask, with Wilson.
He pushes himself up and grabs his cane, walks out onto the balcony. Snow has piled onto the edge, but there's only a slick dusting on the floor. He places his feet carefully, uses his cane to clear a space on the balcony rim. It had been snowing when he'd left NA the night before, the same lazy flakes as now. It must have been much harder overnight, he thinks, because this half-assed sprinkling can't be what's put a foot of snow on the ground.
"At least it's not too windy," Wilson says, stepping out behind him.
It's the old Wilson, wearing his lab coat and pocket protector, looking up at the sky, standing a little too close to House, smelling like expensive aftershave. This man is his best friend, and not just because he's House's only friend. He's smart, he's almost unshockable, he's endlessly loyal. He's the guy who follows you out into the snow.
Wilson leans on the balcony railing next to him. "Just imagine," House says, looking out over the parking lot, "next year at this time, you'll have a little Jimmy running around down there."
"Or a little Lisa."
House shudders. "Perish the thought."
"The nice thing about her not being my wife is that I am in no way obligated to defend her."
"I don't remember you carrying through on that obligation even when you were married," House says, and Wilson snorts. House keeps staring at the snow. Someone has made a terrible snow angel, with points in too many places, right next to a pile of dirt-heavy snow cleared from the parking lot. "Why did you sleep with Cameron?"
"She's hot," Wilson says, shrugging.
"Usually, you require a little more reason than that," House says. "Chase is hot, but I didn't see you bedding him."
"He didn't come to my house."
House closes his eyes. He imagines how that conversation would have gone, Cameron with her wide, moist eyes, maybe saying how she's worried about Wilson, maybe saying how she's worried about House, and Wilson leaning in and comforting her, and things just - "I'm sorry," House says.
Wilson exhales in a burst of fog. "For what?" he asks.
"For whatever you want me to be sorry for," House says. He turns, just slightly, his biceps pressed to the cold concrete rail. "I didn't call you. I stole your prescription pad. I was mean to you when you were just trying to help. I chased Stacy off and made you -" and here he stops, because some things are still too hard, and he's not ready for this, for any of this, for real life without buffers, for the idea that he's never, ever, ever going to go running again, he's never going to be normal, he's never going to get everything he wants or even get close to most of it.
His head bows, and he doesn't realize it's happened until he feels Wilson's hand on the back of his neck, and he's in a clumsy, mannish hug, and Wilson's lab coat smells like fabric softener and cleaning fluid and the powder from inside their latex gloves. He laughs, just slightly, and pats Wilson on the side.
"I'm sorry, too," Wilson says. "Greg, I'm so sorry."
House nods. That could be for anything, for turning him in to Tritter, for giving him the Vicodin in the first place, for Cameron, for Cuddy. For keeping his hand on House's arm even when he pulls back.
"What kind of crippled moron made that, you think?" he asks, pointing out the snow angel with his elbow, hoping Wilson will look down instead of over. There's got to be some kind of man code, he thinks, that allows for the awkwardness of crying. "Does that look like an angel to you?"
Wilson leans forward and looks down, over the balcony, while House dries his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt. His cheek brushes the skin of his arm, and it's cold, they've been outside to long.
"More like a star," Wilson says. "Or an angel with three arms?"
"Who knows how they make them in heaven," House says.
"You don't believe in heaven anyway," Wilson says, and he's shivering just a little. House opens his office door and limps inside, and Wilson follows him.
House sits at his desk, and Wilson stands just on the other side. "About Cameron," he says, and House looks up. Wilson is looking away. "She is hot," he says, "and she's young, and she - well. Believe it or not, that's not an opportunity I get so often anymore."
It's an honest answer, even if it's not exactly what House wants to hear. That's usually the way honesty works. He shakes his head. "I was never as young as Cameron."
"No one is," Wilson says. "Not even Cameron."
House clears his throat. He wonders if Wilson knows about his apology to Cameron. He wonders what he still owes her, what he really owes anyone. He looks away. "Thanks for lunch," House says, trying to be clear in his dismissal.
"Sure," Wilson says. He even picks up the bags and throws them away on his way out.
Lisa gets up on Saturday to an empty house and she tries not to be surprised. She also tries not to be relieved. It's been OK, having Wilson around - nice, sometimes, particularly when she comes home from work exhausted, her feet aching, and finds him making dinner - but she can use the time alone. She takes a shower to wake up, then makes decaf coffee and reads the front page of each section of the newspaper, standing in the kitchen. She leaves her cup in the sink for the housekeeper to find. When Wilson's around, she feels bad about things like that, about how used to services she's become. Today, she's pretty sure he's over at House's place, because she saw them walk out together on Thursday night, laughing, looking like trouble and exactly like they used to, so she doesn't worry about what Wilson will think.
She goes shopping. There's a Pea in the Pod shop in the new shopping center. She flicks through the different clothes and runs numbers in her head. The standard weight gain for a pregnancy is between 20 and 30 pounds. Her mother gained 16 with Lisa and 40 with her brother. Lisa is small and careful with her weight, so she figures she has a major gain to look forward to.
She finds two outfits that aren't insultingly cute and buys them both. She's not showing yet, not at all, not really even possible, but she already feels bloated to the point that it takes a small battle of will to get into her suits in the mornings. The blouse and sweater that she buys will be good for the spring, for April and May when she really starts to look pregnant.
She puts the bags in the trunk and drives straight to the hospital. The visitor parking lot is finally getting dug out from the snow, a day later than she would've liked. The front lobby has broad, rubber-bottomed mats spread by both doors but the tile is still dangerously wet. Lisa calls the custodial supervisor from her office to take care of it before she's even sat down.
The snow brought all kinds of new people in and through the hospital, and there weren't too many problems. Lisa sends out an across-the-board good work e-mail, then spends the rest of the morning catching up on things she should've been doing on Friday when she was, instead, dealing with the aftermath of snow. She eats one-and-a-half Lean Cuisine macaroni-and-cheese meals for a late lunch.
She walks by House's and Wilson's offices on her way to the ICU. No lights on in either place, though there's a woman's coat - probably Cameron's - hanging in House's conference room. For a minute, she thinks about calling Wilson, finding where he is, if he'll be home for dinner. She's not his mother, though, just the mother of his child, and they don't have a relationship like this. Her call would look like desperation, like she is asking him to come home, which isn't what she wants and isn't what he signed up for. So she goes to the ICU and talks to (yells at) the nursing supervisor.
After that, she tidies up her office and goes home, where Wilson's car is absent. It's strange, she thinks, sitting in her turned-off car for a moment while the garage door closes. Compared to six months ago, even three months ago, her life is teeming with people, and yet she feels more alone than she ever has before.
Inside, she microwaves leftover pasta from two nights ago. Wilson made it with sauce from the jar, but he mixed in peppers and olives and chicken, which he made a point of telling her he cooked very well. He's either been reading about pregnancy or he remembers things from medical school, because he's on-the-ball about what she can and cannot eat. All of the sliced turkey that she's brought home from the deli has been pre-steamed in the microwave, and he threw out her (admittedly old) feta cheese and favorite bottled Caesar dressing.
As she's standing at the sink, getting a glass of water, she sees the calendar next to the phone. Her 12-week appointment is on Monday. She wonders if Wilson will be home before then, or if he even remembers. For the first time, she feels a flare of anger at him. She picks up her cell phone. "It's Lisa," she says to his voice mail. "I just - it's not that I'm worried, or that I need to know where you are, but there were a few things I wanted to talk to you about and so, if you could let me know, maybe, when you'll be home, or when we can talk, that would be helpful. And if you're with House, remind him he owes me the paperwork from his last patient."
She hangs up and feels a little better and a little foolish. She taps her stomach. "You have ears, I guess," she says, "but I hope you didn't hear that."
At the 12 week appointment, she'll hear the baby's heart for the first time. She's already looked into renting her own fetal heart monitor, and that will probably happen next week. In a month, they'll do the first ultrasound. She'll probably have several of those, and maybe even an amnioscintesis, since she is considered high-risk. Standing in her empty house, her hand still over her belly, it doesn't feel like enough attention. It doesn't feel like anyone is paying attention.
The girl's name is Diamond.
She is young, and she is pretty, and when she walks into their hotel room, Wilson's eyes go wide and the irises almost disappear. "Young and hot," House says, taking a seat next to him on the couch. "The opportunity presents itself again."
"And without any of that sticky workplace conflict," Wilson says. House smiles. He knew Wilson would get this. It's not every man who appreciates the beauty of a high-class hooker, but House selects his best friends carefully.
They are in Atlantic City for the second night. On Friday, the day after their tearful balcony episode, House had walked into Wilson's office and kindly pointed out that he had roughly six months left in which to be an irresponsible cad before the judgment of the world - in the form of fatherhood - fell upon him. They'd left for Atlantic City in House's Corvette right after work, without even bothering to pick up clothes. The only baggage they'd brought had been a weekend's supply of House pain meds.
Friday night, they'd hung out in a bar that had some very decent piano and gotten drunk and a little maudlin before retiring to a double room at the Tropicana that overlooked the gray Atlantic. That morning, they'd woken up, walked the boardwalk, eaten ice cream and four different kinds of fried things, gambled a hundred dollars each on a single number in roulette (and lost), had dinner at Carmine's, and now it was time for another kind of AC fun.
Diamond pulls Wilson by the hand toward the bed, and House sits back and watches. He wants a bourbon in his hand, or a scotch, just something to hold and sip and occupy his attention beyond the smooth pretty flesh in front of him. Diamond strips off Wilson's jacket and sweatshirt - a Property of The Tropicana shirt they'd picked up in the hotel gift shop that morning - and runs her hands up under his shirt. Wilson grunts and his fists clench in the bedspread. Typical married man, House thinks, he doesn't even know it's OK to touch.
"You can put your hands on her," House says, and the girl nods her approval. "It's not 'Pretty Woman.'"
Wilson lurches forward and kisses Diamond, and House can't remember if he's ever actually seen Wilson kiss someone like this before, with want behind it. He's used to seeing tepid good-bye kisses, dashed off on the doorstep as Wilson's running out to House's car, or sentimental cheek pecks at charity balls and functions. This is different. This has tongue, and fingers tangled in hair, and Wilson angling his chin and head. It's not like watching kissing in the movies, because there's more sound, more wetness, less romance. It's somehow both better and worse.
Diamond pulls her hands back and starts fiddling with Wilson's pants - the same pants he wore yesterday, sturdy blue dress pants with a solid leather belt. New boxers, though, because Wilson is picky as hell about things like that and looked at House like he'd lost his mind when he'd suggested going without. Wilson's head tips back, though his hands stay on the girl's shoulders.
He doesn't look over at House, and House is glad that Wilson understands at least this part of hooker etiquette. It's supposed to be just him and her in the room. If House is there - if he's hard, which he is, though not desperately so - that's not for Wilson to worry about. All that should matter to him, at the moment, is the cool touch of her hand on his cock, the warm tickle of her breath on his stomach. House can't quite close his eyes, but he feels like he should, to complete the fantasy for himself and Wilson alike.
Diamond is good at what she does - she's highly recommended, though Wilson hadn't asked any questions about how exactly House had known this - but the groan that escapes from Wilson when she puts her mouth on his penis is one that speaks more of months of being alone than any particular skill. Other than Cuddy and Cameron, House doubts Wilson's had sex with someone in months. He doesn't count Cancer Chick because that couldn't have been any good, and he would lay good money that Julie wasn't the type to put out from guilt. House has always been good at making sure his own needs are met. Wilson, though he's the adulterer, though he's the ladies' man, is crappy at it. House thinks he should have maybe had a talk with him, in that awkward hour between when he placed the call and when Diamond showed up, about the beauty of a hired woman: she needs only your money, she wants only what you want. Wilson needs an education in selfishness.
Or maybe not, House thinks, as Wilson comes in Diamond's mouth, his hands in her hair. They both look surprised, though the girl covers better. She wipes a delicate hand over her mouth - manages to make it look sexy, somehow - and smirks over at House. It is a smile that says, oh baby, I am that good, when Wilson's flaming face seems to say, I can't believe it took only that.
Wilson scrubs his hands over his hair. He doesn't bother buttoning up; in fact, he pushes his pants off completely.
Diamond pushes Wilson up the bed, crawling up there herself, and she straddles him and kisses him deeply, lewdly. Wilson's hands settle on her ass, which is resting just over his crotch. House is on the verge of some kind of envious heart attack, thinking Wilson's preparing for round two, when Wilson turns and looks at him, and Diamond does the same.
"Your turn," he says, smile languid and lazy, eyes half closed.
It's a dangerous, dirty thing to say, and House absolutely loves him for it. They didn't pay for this, but House looks at Diamond and nods toward his wallet on the table. She really must be good, because she doesn't break his gaze, just smiles and inclines her head, a thank you, an acknowledgement.
His cane is resting on the side of the couch, and House decides it can stay there. He pulls his T-shirt up, and Diamond just watches. Wilson's hands are pulling her vest open - just a vest, no bra, nothing so complicated as all that - and she lets him slide it from her shoulders. House stares at her nipples, which are a dark, chocolaty brown, three shades darker than her cocoa skin. Wilson is staring at them, too, and when House glances down at him, Wilson looks up and they both share a twelve-year-old boy kind of gleeful look, though the leers they share are much more adult.
House starts to fumble with his belt. "No," Wilson says, his hands resting on the small of Diamond's back, "let her."
He takes two halting, uneven steps over. Diamond doesn't blink at this. She must be used to men walking funny around her. She puts her right palm against his navel, her fingers pointing down, and looks up at him with that same smirk. House's belly flutters, and she smiles and slides her hand down. His fly unfastens as if by magic, but it's her fingers, her clever fingers. He hears a noise like a kiss and looks over, sees the fingers of her left hand sliding from Wilson's mouth, slick with his saliva. She takes House's cock in that hand, slides her hand up and down, and House hisses and almost doesn't hear Wilson say, "Fuck, that's hot."
It feels good, her fingers on him, but when he puts his hand in her hair, she grins up at him. "We can do that, if you want," she says, "but I thought I was gonna get fucked."
Wilson groans, and his hand juts out and grabs the fabric of House's jeans. "Yes," he says, and House nods. His mouth is a little dry, and he can't imagine why. He's done this before - many times, in fact - though never with an audience. It's not that the voyeuristic part worries him, because it's Wilson, after all. It's not even performance anxiety, because he's had more successful erections since his return from rehab than he had in the three months beforehand. It's more a vague idea of lines being crossed, of some physical boundary being betrayed. But when Diamond crawls up off of Wilson and Wilson slides over, and she draws House onto the bed, he goes without voicing anything approaching a concern.
House mentally upgrades Diamond from good to very good as she pulls his pants the rest of the way off, because she has no reaction to the scar on his leg. She doesn't shy from it and she doesn't touch it too much. Her hands slide evenly down both legs, and then she stands at the end of the bed. She strips off her tiny black skirt and the even tinier lace panties from beneath it as both House and Wilson sit up slightly to watch. House can hear Wilson licking his lips, and he glances down, just to see if Wilson's recovered enough to go again. He's relieved to see that he isn't, because he's not quite that magnanimous a friend.
Diamond crawls back up and straddles him. House is hard, and rubbing just barely against the smooth inside of her thigh. "How do you want it?" she asks. "Like this?" Her hands are square in the center of his chest, and she lifts herself just slightly. He nods. There is nothing else he can do.
She twirls almost in place, her perfect, smooth back facing him, her tight little ass right there, and he cups one cheek and grunts as she slides the condom onto him. Wilson reaches over and puts his hand on her other cheek, and she looks back over her shoulder and smiles a very nasty little smile at them. "You boys share so nicely," she says, and House hears Wilson turn to look at him but he doesn't look back. Diamond shakes her pretty ass and then turns around. She leans down and kisses House, and her tongue is demanding and too quick for him, and then she pulls back and leans just a little to the side and kisses Wilson. House barely has to turn his head to see it, because Wilson is close, now, even though the beds are large, even though there's another bed in the room. This time, when she kisses House, he makes it linger, and there's something much better about the kiss. It must be knowing that Wilson can see everything.
She sits back and puts one hand on House's chest, uses the other to guide him into her. He closes his eyes, just for a second. Nothing fucking better than this, he thinks, and he maybe said it aloud, because Wilson says, "Oh, god, yeah." House opens his eyes and sees that Diamond has her other hand resting on Wilson's rib cage, like she's balancing between the two of them. She doesn't move up or down yet, just sort of squeezes him from within, and House groans and puts his hands at her waist. She smiles and starts to move. It's good, fuck, so good, his hips buck up to meet her and his hands fly from her waist to her thighs to the bedspread, where one collides with Wilson's leg. Wilson is turned on his side, and he's watching them and House can feel his heavy breathing against his shoulder. He looks over and sees Wilson's mouth formed into a perfect O. Diamond bends down, still moving over him, and kisses Wilson and then House and then Wilson and somehow they're all kissing. She moves House's hand to Wilson's side, moves Wilson's hand to House's chest, and it's a little weird but it's all just about bodies, at this point, bodies and pleasure and House has no rules about this stuff. Wilson's hand is on Diamond's ass, and then it's on House's thigh, a gentle touch, a touch with memory, and House doesn't know how it starts but he is actually kissing Wilson, and his hand is in Wilson's hair when he comes.
Diamond moves just slightly so he slips out. She hovers over him - he can feel this even though his eyes are closed, and his mind is somewhere very far away - and her breath is rushed. She kisses the curve of his eye socket, and he hears a wetter kiss being shared with Wilson. Wilson's hand is on House's biceps.
It stays there even as Diamond gets up and slides away. House doesn't watch her dress again, doesn't watch her take the money she needs from his wallet, doesn't even open his eyes when the door closes. When Wilson's hand moves, though, he blinks.
"I'll get your pain meds," Wilson says, sitting up.
House nods and shifts up a little in bed. He takes the condom off and ties it off. His head has the floaty after-sex feeling that he likes so much, a feeling similar to the high he used to get from running, from Vicodin. Similar, but not the same, he thinks, watching Wilson walk, naked, across the room, holding a plastic cup of water and a pill bottle. House takes the water, drinks a swallow and holds it, then takes his pills. Wilson holds out a couple of Kleenexes, and House wads the condom into them and hands it back, and Wilson clears it all away. House pushes the comforter off the bed completely and slides in under the sheets.
Wilson gets into the other bed. He turns out the lights. "Thank you," he says after a minute, and House snorts.
"No crisis of sexuality?" he asks. His voice is all throat and post-sex gravel.
"Maybe tomorrow," Wilson says. Sex has made his voice warmer, richer, softer. House likes it.
"Diamond," he murmurs.
"Save that number," Wilson agrees.
Wilson wakes up into the blue glare of the television. He rolls over and glances at the clock - 8:04 - and then over at the other bed. House is propped against the headboard, the comforter thrown over his right leg. He has the remote control in one hand. Wilson blinks and turns slightly so he can see the TV.
"What are you watching?" he asks, his voice thick with sleep.
"'My Super Sweet Sixteen,'" House says. "It's a marathon."
Wilson closes his eyes. "Only you," he mutters. "Did you sleep?"
"Yeah." It sounds believable.
The volume on the TV comes up a little more, and Wilson hears a high-pitched, snotty teenaged voice talking about bands and her father's influence on the world. He wonders for a moment if he has a hangover, then remembers he didn't drink the night before. Did everything but drinking, he thinks, and rubs his face against the pillow. "I need a shower."
He gets out of bed and grabs his clothes, pulls them into the bathroom. There are tiny, sharp-smelling soaps lined up by the bathroom sink, none of them opened, and Wilson takes a couple of them into the shower. It's a very nice bathroom, large, with a generous tub and a showerhead the size of a dinner plate. He stands under the stream and follows the same efficient order he does every morning: shampoo, rinse, then conditioner, and soap while he's waiting for the conditioner to soak in. But after that's all done, he stands still and ducks his head under the stream and closes his eyes and replays the night before. He's not really hard, but he could be with a little attention. House is awake, already, which probably means things aren't as cool and kosher as he'd like to believe. He jerks off anyway, thinking of Diamond, thinking of House's eyes on them in the dark, thinking of the way their breathing had matched at the end.
He towels off and stares at his clothes, then grits his teeth and puts the Tropicana T-shirt and sweatshirt back on over his slacks and yesterday's shorts. There are nice enough stores downstairs. He can buy something better to wear, or he can be a man about it and wear the stuff and not complain. They'll be home tonight.
When he opens the door, he feels a blast of cold air and realizes his hair is going to poof into a big frizzy mess, but he decides he can just not care, for today. He sits on the end of his bed and stares at the TV. Maybe he'll buy a hat.
The girl on screen is showing the camera crew around one of her father's clubs in Florida, and Wilson feels old just looking at the place. "Do people really live like that?" he asks, as the girl climbs into a limo with $3,000 in cash to go dress shopping in Miami.
"Not my people," House says.
"They could donate that money," Wilson murmurs, watching the girl reject dress after dress. He expects House to comment on her final choice, which is pink and too tight and probably the state-mandated uniform for jailbait, but he stays silent.
When the commercials come on, House clears his throat and mutes the television. "Is this going to be a thing?" he asks.
Wilson looks back at him, and House isn't quite meeting his eyes. "Watching 'My Super Sweet Sixteen' together?"
"That's already a thing."
"Ah, so you mean, driving to Atlantic City and hiring a thousand-dollar hooker? I hope not," Wilson says. "There are certainly cheaper hobbies."
"Five hundred dollars," House corrects.
"Well, now I'm reconsidering." House snorts. He's wearing a T-shirt and shorts, so he's been up, but he looks very messy. "How long have you been awake?"
"And you didn't make any coffee?"
"Did we get married last night?"
Wilson laughs and stands up. He finds his wallet on the table and puts it into his pocket. "I'm going to go down and get some coffee. And a hat. You want a Danish or something?"
"Wait," House says, and Wilson turns because his tone is not regular House: it's desperate, almost, and Wilson's stomach twists. "I'll come with," he says, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
He puts his clothes back on while Wilson pretends to look over his hair in the mirror. Surely, he thinks, surely House, who is a doctor, who is the smartest man Wilson knows, can't have a problem with this, with a helping hand between friends, an overheated kiss, a shared bed and woman. It seems impossible, but there's something tense and wrong here.
In the elevator, House pushes the button for the lobby and Wilson notices his hand is shaking. "House," he says, his voice unsteady. He's not sure what to say or ask beyond that.
"I wanted to score," he says, and at first Wilson's mind goes blank-white, alarmed, thinking, with me? and so soon? but then he understands. House is talking to the elevator panel. "I got up, and I went to the vending machine, and I - I could've just walked out."
"But you didn't." The elevator doors slide open, and House steps into the marble-floored lobby and stops. He looks at Wilson and it's more than sleeplessness in his eyes: it's helplessness, it's surprise and anger. "Oh God," Wilson says, his voice barely a gasp. "Did you?"
House shakes his head and looks down. Wilson doesn't know whether to believe him, or what to believe about him. He knows the psychology of addiction as well as the next enabler, but he still thinks, did I push him to this? "House," he says. He steps forward but doesn't touch him; he's not that stupid, not yet. "Are you OK?"
"We should probably go home," House says. His voice is rough but normal, and when he looks up it's an old face, an old House.
Wilson nods. "Sure," he says. "Anything," he says.
What Foreman has learned from House is that good doctors are either excellent observers or excellent actors. Great doctors are both. House is a great doctor. He watches people, he picks up every bit of evidence, analyzes it, believes it, understands what it means, and then sometimes - maybe too much of the time - he acts in spite of it. It's a kind of luck that Foreman can't aspire to, but he can admire it.
He is, himself, an observer. He comes in to work on Monday morning and gets that things are off immediately. It's not a tension in the air - he doesn't, can't believe in such things, not after so much time with House and his literalness - but it's close to that. It's, well, it's a feeling. It's a prickle at the back of his neck when he sees Cameron getting her own coffee at the kiosk as he walks in, Chase nowhere to be seen.
"Good weekend?" he asks.
"It was fine," she says, shrugging. "You?" She's dressed up, a little - a severely collared shirt, a darker sweater, a bit more make-up. Her black, sharp boots match the purse that's hanging from her arm. Purse, Foreman thinks, not bag, not backpack, not briefcase.
"Restful," he says, which is honest. "You look nice."
"Thank you." Her startled expression tells him it's meant to be a personal effort, not something done for a conference or a meeting. Chase, he thinks. They must be fighting, or having some kind of trouble. There's no good way for him to ask, and he's more likely to get confirmation out of Chase, anyway, so he's happy to keep the conversation light as they ride up in the elevator.
Chase is already in the conference room, and the slight widening of his eyes as they walk in isn't for Foreman. Cameron sets her purse down and hangs up her purse, and Foreman watches Chase watching her over the lip of his mug. He's overstirring whatever is within. Foreman shakes his head and gets his own coffee, sits at the table, and skims the business section of the newspaper. Cameron pauses behind him for a moment before taking her usual seat next to Chase, and Foreman amends his guess from fighting to broken up.
House shows up at exactly 8:15, which is also a sign of the abnormal. Foreman sees him coming down the hall, walking next to Wilson, and the two of them aren't talking. Wilson looks over at House for almost the whole time. Something's up there, too, because Wilson is looking at House like House has maybe lost his best friend. Bad analogy, Foreman thinks.
House walks through the conference room and looks them over, then heads for the coffee. "I've got nothing for you, today," he says. "Go to the movies."
Foreman leans back and considers it. Chase stands up, closes his crossword book, and walks out with a brief, "I'll be in the clinic," that makes House look up. He looks at Cameron, who is failing to look nonchalant about her study of the arts section. "Did you kids break up, or did you just cut him off?"
Cameron puts both hands down on the table and looks up, her gaze very even. "None of the above," she says. She stands up and leaves, too, and Foreman watches her go. He'll get something out of Chase at lunch.
House blinks and looks at Foreman. "What are you still doing here?"
He stares, for a moment, and actually looks perplexed, speechless. Foreman pushes his paper away. This is unusual, even for the new, improved, returned House. "Are you OK?"
House shakes his head, like he's waking up. His glare is pure House. "Go observe the E.R."
Foreman gets up. It sounds more entertaining than sitting around trying to avoid House's bad mood, so he says OK and goes downstairs. The E.R. isn't busy, so he follows a lead from one of the nurses up to the ICU. That patient quite clearly has acute renal failure brought on by Goodpasture's Syndrome, though, so Foreman kills an hour sucking up to the guys in nuclear medicine before he pages Chase. Lunch?
They eat in the coffee shop instead of the main cafeteria, which isn't unheard of but is a little out of the norm. Foreman gets a coffee along with his sandwich and sits across from Chase. He feels, for a moment, like a detective, like good old Sam Spade, getting ready to casually interview a witness. "We're avoiding Cameron?" he asks, his chicken sandwich in one hand.
Chase shrugs. "Not avoiding, exactly." He's toying with a bag of chips. "We haven't broken up."
"You say that with such confidence," Foreman says, "that I almost believe you."
"Fuck you," Chase mutters, but there's no heat. After a moment, he says, "It should be better by now, right?"
Foreman chews his chicken sandwich and takes a drink before he responds. "What? You and Cameron?"
"Everything," Chase says. He looks absolutely lost, and Foreman sets down his sandwich. He's spent two years quietly celebrating every time Chase has had a major reality check and even more quietly grousing when things work out for him anyway. This time, though, he looks at Chase's wide eyes and spread hands and genuinely feels bad for him. "House's been back for a month. Things should be getting better by now."
"You mean back to normal? Or better than they were?"
"Both," Chase says desperately. "Either. I don't really care, only it seems like things are just harder, now, than ever."
Foreman nods, though he hasn't thought much about it. Work has been dull since House returned - only the one case so far, and no interdepartmental wars stirred up. The only drama has been that created between the people. "Things are messy," Foreman agrees. "But it hasn't been that long. He was an addict for, what, five, six years? You know this. Recovery takes time."
Chase nods and goes back to eating, and they talk about other things - not Cameron, though. After they finish and carry their food to the trash, Chase says he might knock off early for the day. "You could just go find her and apologize," Foreman says.
Chase rubs his neck and ducks his head. "Actually," he says, "it's not - it's nothing I've done." He won't meet Foreman's eyes when he looks back up, and his cheeks have spots of color.
"Cameron cheated on you?" Foreman asks plainly because he's so absolutely surprised.
Chase shakes his head. "No, nothing quite like that. Only - I dunno." He shrugs and glances toward the elevator. "Look, I'll see you tomorrow."
Foreman nods and watches him go. He can imagine a few possible problems between Chase and Cameron, and the biggest of them is, certainly, House.
He goes upstairs with the idea of further observation. Neither Cameron nor House is in the conference room or the office, so Foreman settles into the comfortable chair in House's office to wait. He picks up a journal from the end table and starts to flip through, looking for names he recognizes - either authors or illnesses. It doesn't matter. Working for House is like being back in school again - he never knows when there will be a quiz, and everything is on the test.
After a few minutes, he sees Dr. Cuddy coming down the hallway. She walks past House's office, which is remarkable enough, and over to Wilson's. Foreman can hear their raised voices through the wall, and he makes out enough to understand that Wilson has missed some kind of important appointment because of House. Well, that makes sense, at least; from the morning, Foreman is pretty sure that Wilson's worried about House. Wilson's a good doctor, but he's probably a better friend, so Foreman has little doubt that he would have put House before some fundraising meeting, hospital coffers be damned.
When the door slams on the other side, Foreman makes sure he's looking down at the journal, and he tries to look surprised when Cuddy pushes the office door open.
Foreman shrugs. Cuddy's face is actually red, and her eyes are a little red, too. Not at all a good sign. "I haven't seen him since this morning."
She stares at him for a moment, and Foreman keeps his face as blank as possible. He's heard nothing. "If you see him, tell him I'd like a word," she says.
"I could page him," Foreman offers as she steps back.
She raises her hand as if to stop him, to wave him off, and the door swings into her side. She drops the papers she's holding. Foreman reaches out for them while Cuddy holds the door and grumbles - to herself, it seems - about her clumsiness. He hands everything back, with a sheet of digital ultrasound images on top. The appointment, he thinks, and when he looks up, Cuddy is blushing.
"Congratulations," he says.
She swallows. "Thank you," she manages after a moment. She glances up and down the hallway, and Foreman looks out, too.
"I won't -" he starts, just as she says, "Please don't - " and they both stop. Cuddy smiles awkwardly. "Twelve weeks," she says. "I haven't told anyone, yet, so if you wouldn't mind -"
"It's fine, of course," Foreman says. "Secret's safe with me. Only - does House know?"
Cuddy snorts. "Of course he knows. He knows everything." She smiles again, a meaner, leaner, regular Cuddy smile. "Don't tell anyone that, either."
She walks away, and Foreman watches her go, wonders how exactly things have become this complicated.
It's not House but Cameron who comes in next, when Foreman is sitting at the table, not doing anything, just staring straight ahead. He almost can't take anymore up close observation, but he turns to look at Cameron just the same.
"You all right?" he asks after a moment, because she looks tired and jarred.
She shrugs. "I just heard Wilson asking House if he'd tried to score today."
Foreman clenches his hands together. Of course, he thinks, and also, no way. "What did he say?"
"He said no." She speaks so softly he can barely hear. "Do you think he's already -"
"No," Foreman says, his voice more confident than he feels. "He's been trying."
Cameron nods. She drops her head into both hands. "God, everything is so complicated," she mutters. "I feel like I can't keep up with anything, with any of the stuff going on around here."
"I know," Foreman says. "I've been watching."
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Legal Disclaimer: The authors published here make no claims on the ownership of Dr. Gregory House and the other fictional residents of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Like the television show House (and quite possibly Dr. Wilson's pocket protector), they are the property of NBC/Universal, David Shore and undoubtedly other individuals of whom I am only peripherally aware. The fan fiction authors published here receive no monetary benefit from their work and intend no copyright infringement nor slight to the actual owners. We love the characters and we love the show, otherwise we wouldn't be here.