Sharp Sorrow, Painful Regret
Stage One: Denial
The part of Wilson that could observe his emotions with detachment was utterly surprised at the form his first step of grief had taken. As a doctor, Wilson would have expected (as if one could ever expect such a thing) that he would skip denial altogether. Instead, his brain reached for the oldest clich in the book.
He - no it, his stupid brain - thought this must all be some elaborate joke that House and Amber were pulling on him. Or maybe they really were having an affair, and this was their cover. But that was just a knee-jerk reaction, and he quickly got past it. Selfish and thoughtless though they were, it wasn't really possible that the two people he cared for most in the world would be so deliberately cruel. Not to him anyway.
And then there was the fact of his profession. He couldn't possibly misdiagnose death. And on the off-chance that he might, there was always a second opinion from the genius in the office next door.
The option of denying death yanked away so cleanly, Wilson focused on denying other things. He denied repeatedly - to Cuddy and Henry, to Cameron and Chase, to Foreman and Taub, and to Thirteen and Kutner - that he was avoiding his best friend. He couldn't deny it to the man himself, because he never saw House. He told himself that it wasn't avoidance: he was just very busy. There were lots of things he was dealing with, like Amber's affairs, moving, and watching over House's care from afar.
The stupidity of that thought led Wilson to his first breakthrough; he'd been in denial about his anger toward House. His therapist would be so proud.
Stage Two: Anger
Anger was much more fun. There was no room for pain or regret with all-consuming anger running the show. He almost relished the chance to tell off the first person who tried to talk to him about his House avoidance. He stayed up at night rehearsing his outburst. He hoped it was Cuddy who approached him, maybe she would fire him and he could walk away from his life. There wasn't much about it he wanted anymore anyway.
Of course, Cameron was probably a slightly more likely candidate. Her relationship with Chase (the poor bastard) not withstanding, her feelings for House were probably going to override her commonsense soon. Then she'd feel compelled to be his hero and reunite him with his best friend.
Once upon a time, Wilson would have felt guilty for even considering yelling at Cameron. But now she was his second choice for venting his House-related anger. She'd been getting on his last nerve for some time now. Wilson had refused to examine the reasons for his sudden hostility before Amber, and he'd be damned if was going to start now.
Wilson's explosion, when it came, was actually at the most likely target, but the one he'd least wanted to confront.
House was waiting for him in his office when he rolled into work at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning. Years of habit made Wilson automatically note the shadows both beneath and behind those startlingly blue eyes. The grief he saw there, and his own reaction to it, just made Wilson angrier. Before he could even think about his carefully planned outburst, Wilson was screaming every vicious, ugly thought he'd ever kept to himself at the man he'd always loved best.
House just stood there, leaning more heavily on his cane than usual, and took it all. His only reaction was an occasion flinch when Wilson said something particularly harsh or true. They were often the same thing.
When Wilson ran down House reached out and placed his left hand against Wilson's cheek. He gently swiped his thumb under Wilson's eye, wiping away the tears Wilson hadn't even notice he was crying. Then the older man limped out of the office, never having said a word.
Stage Three: Bargaining
His anger spent in such a horrifyingly spectacular manner, Wilson tried very hard to force the third step. But he didn't know what to bargain for. He couldn't bargain for Amber not to be dead. He wasn't House; he expected most of the people with whom he came into contact to die sooner rather than later. He'd long since come to terms with the fact of life that was death.
He tried bargaining for the pain to go away, promised to work harder and give more of himself if the terrifying numbness, punctuated by breathtaking agony, would just stop. It didn't work, but he never really expected it to. He didn't really believe he deserved anything better. He never had, which is why he'd bounced from broken marriage to broken marriage instead of reaching for the one thing he wanted most.
Again, his own thought process startled him. What was this thing he wanted that he thought he didn't deserve? His mind shied away, and Wilson frowned in puzzlement at his inability to bring the errant thought in line. He'd almost caught it when House came into his office.
His froze like a trapped animal. Wilson hadn't seen House, even in passing, since his outburst weeks ago. He stared at his (former?) best friend and braced himself for the tirade he knew he deserved.
House opened his mouth, reconsidered, and started again. "I'd trade if I could. If God was any kind of fair, he'd have taken me and let you keep Cut...Amber. And I'm sorry I can't just switch and make it right."
"You don't believe in God," Wilson noted automatically.
House nodded in acknowledgment. "Even so."
With that, House slowly limped away again. Stupidly, Wilson focused on the limp. It looked more pronounced than usual. He latched onto this observation in a desperate attempt at stopping the images House's words had evoked.
It was too late for that. His imagination was gleefully conjuring images of House's broken and bloody body lying forgotten in a deserted bus. He tried focusing on the imaginary Amber whole and beautiful beside him, but all he saw was the body. If possible, his grief intensified at even the imaginary loss of his friend.
And with a whimper, Wilson slipped into depression.
Stage Four: Depression
House's words replayed themselves often in Wilson's head. It was just like House to drop-kick him into the next stage of grief with only three sentences.
The bitch of the matter was that Wilson himself had never once considered making that kind of bargain. Not even at the height of his anger would he have considered exchanging House's life for Amber. The loss of Amber was a gaping hole in his heart. The loss of House would have removed the organ completely.
Even worse, Wilson knew that to lose House that way would have meant the loss of Amber as well. If House had died in that bus accident while Amber was safely ensconced in her car or their home, it would have been the end of them. They never would have survived the blame he would have heaped upon her for not answering House's call.
And that depressed the hell out of him. He'd truly loved Amber, and it could have finally been forever. But he wouldn't have her at House's expense. What did that say about him and his ability to give himself to someone he'd thought he'd loved unconditionally?
When he asked his therapist that question, she suggested he focus on what it said about his stupid, screwed up friendship. Those weren't her exact words, but he got the idea. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to realize, but he did come to the conclusion that the loss of Amber didn't have to equal the loss of House, not if he didn't let it.
Stage Five: Acceptance
Of course, grief didn't really fit into nice little boxes he could tick off as they passed. His depression often slipped back into denial or bargaining. Either one of those inevitably lead back to anger, and sometimes Wilson thought he'd never feel truly level again.
But one day he woke up and didn't automatically reach out expecting to find a sleep-warm body next to him. One day Kutner told the story of Amber's pied-piper con, and Wilson laughed with no pain. One day he wandered into House's office looking for a consult and left with a lunch partner.
One day he glanced across a couch and discovered the ability to love again. And one day love looked back.
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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.