Those We Love
Wilson wasn't snooping. Really he wasn't. Just looking for a pen to write down a message.
"Hang on," he said to Cuddy, "I'll write that down. "
He found the back of an electricity bill to write on but no pen. He opened up the drawer to House's night table and found the photograph of Stacy. It was in a silver frame, untouched by dust or tarnish. Stacy when House first met her, at the Doctors vs. Lawyers paintball game, with a smear of purple paint on her chin and a wide happy smile.
Wilson shut the drawer immediately, and went to his own night table on the other side of the bed. He found a pen, wrote down Cuddy's message and put the message on House's night table, propped up next to the bottle of Vicodin he kept there, where House couldn't help but see it. Then he left the apartment and went for a drink.
Stacy had been - still was - the love of House's life. House hardly ever mentioned her anymore, but Wilson knew that he thought about her every day, probably still dreamed about her every night. She was a part of House in a way that Wilson was never going to be, and he had accepted that. He thought that he was used to the idea, anaesthetized to that particular pain, but every once in a while he was caught off guard, and he knew that he was kidding himself and that it hurt as much as it ever did.
When House and Stacy were together, everything that they did was charged with the intensity of their feelings for each other. They argued passionately, not about bills or schedules and the mechanics of everyday life, but about philosophy, ethics, politics and ideas. They were capable of hurting each other deeply, but they could not stay away from each other. They had no other choice but to forgive since one could not live without the other. Wilson remembered the way that House looked at Stacy, as if she were the only person in the world that mattered. Stuck in a loveless marriage, Wilson had envied them. They were experiencing a passion that he knew that he would never have.
Wilson had heard the theory that there were a multitude of universes parallel to our own, in which all the choices and decisions and random events that have shaped our lives are played out differently. Stacy and House had been so perfect for each other - so obviously right - that Wilson was sure that in every other universe but this one, they were still together. In this one fluky, flawed universe, a single random event, House's infarction, had interfered with their destiny and torn them apart.
Wilson knew that House was happier with him than he had been when he had lived alone, but he was under no illusion that House loved him. House needed him and wanted him. That should have been enough for Wilson. Expecting love was too much.
Wilson gestured for the bartender to come over and ordered a vodka martini. He didn't really like the taste of martinis, but they were a quick way to get drunk.
The cab driver dropped Wilson off in front of the apartment building. The lights to House's apartment were off, which meant that either House wasn't home yet, or he'd already gone to bed. Wilson checked his watch in the light of the streetlamp. It was one thirty in the morning. House was probably asleep. He let himself into the apartment as quietly as possible, and opened the door to the bedroom a crack, just enough to see the shape of House's body under the covers. Then he shut the bedroom door and went to sleep on the couch.
Wilson awoke to the sound of House's electric guitar. He opened his eyes, squinting against the morning light, to see House looking down on him. House played another riff, opening new avenues of pain in Wilson's skull. He groaned.
"Damn it, House," Wilson said, "Stop that!"
House put down the guitar and whipped off the blankets covering Wilson, revealing that the oncologist had not bothered to get undressed before falling asleep on the couch. He was still wearing the shirt and tie he had worn to work the previous day.
"It's nine-thirty in the morning," House said. "We're both supposed to be at work right now."
"I'll phone Cuddy. I'll let her know we'll be late."
"I already phoned her. I told her you had the flu and wouldn't be coming in today."
"You didn't have to lie to her on my account."
"Yes, I did. You haven't been the world's most stable person lately. First you go on a leave of absence after Amber's death and quit your job. Then you decide you want it back. Then you start madly chasing after every woman with a sob story you can find, until I have to take you in just to protect you from yourself. Cuddy's pretty sick of your behaviour. She's concerned that you seem intent on destroying your life and your career. I don't think that she would take your graduation to full-fledged alcoholism as a positive step."
"One night does not make me an alcoholic. Besides if we're talking about self-destructive streaks, you have the world's record."
"Your boss is so worried about your performance and your mental and emotional heath that she came to me to talk about it. Cuddy knows I'm a diagnostic genius; she gives me leeway to go wild once in a while, because that's what geniuses do. You're not a genius, so if you go off the straight and narrow, you get fired. Is that clear enough?"
"Yes, crystal clear," Wilson said. "You shouldn't have to lie for me."
"Next time I won't. You'll have to explain to Cuddy why you chose a bottle of vodka over your patients."
"Considering what happened to Amber, a lecture from you about the evils of demon drink is really hard to take."
"I'm getting really sick of you bringing up Amber whenever her death helps you score a point in an argument. If she really mattered to you, you wouldn't use her that way. You're pretending to be grief-stricken, when all you are really is full of self-pity."
"If I'm such a self-pitying pathetic mess, why do you bother with me anyway! "
"Lately I've been asking myself that question a lot," House said.
He left the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
After House left, Wilson took a couple of aspirin and tried to go back to sleep. He dozed fitfully for a while and then got up and took a shower. He looked at himself in the mirror, bleary-eyed, unshaven (a pathetic mess) and wondered what he should do next.
Should he leave House? It would hurt less, he thought, to go on his accord rather than wait until House had to kick him out. Or was he over-reacting? He didn't want to throw away another relationship just because he was too afraid of being hurt to give it a real chance. If he walked away from House, he would have no one in his life at all.
Wilson shook his head to banish these morbid thoughts, then winced at the pain the sudden movement caused him. He took the vitamin bottle from the cabinet and took one of the pills from inside. He didn't want House to know that he was back on anti-depressants. (He had copied this excellent trick for hiding prescription medicine from Amber. He'd always admired her cunning.)
House had calmed down by the time he returned home that evening. He'd even picked up pizza for dinner, knowing that Wilson, who usually did the cooking, wouldn't feel up to the task. The lights were dim in the apartment. Wilson was on the sofa, watching one of the sad movies he loved. Terms of Endearment was playing, and copies of Brian's Song, Bang the Drum Slowly, and Dark Victory were piled on the coffee table. House knew that Wilson went on binges in which he watched one sad movie after another, usually after one of his favourite patients passed away. He couldn't cry over his patient's death - he'd lost too many and besides doctors have to maintain a professional objectivity - but he allowed himself to respond to the sufferings of imaginary characters. They weren't up to the hospital bed scene yet, Wilson's favourite and a real tear-jerker, so House thought he could safely interrupt.
"I got a meat lovers special with twisty cinnamon sticks," he said. "Want a slice?"
"Yes, please.' Wilson said, looking up. His eyes were still dry, so this was the first movie of Wilson's sad movie binge.
House put the pizza box on the coffee table and sat down next to Wilson. He opened the box and they both took slices of pizza.
"I heard Raymond Schillinger died yesterday. He was one of your patients, wasn't he?"
"I never liked him, you know," Wilson said.
"He was a horrible person. He was a racist, and he had a long prison record. All of the nurses hated him. He rated all the female nurses on their sexual attractiveness. He'd say, `I'll do you, but you have to put a sack over your head first.' He wouldn't let the male ones touch him. He said they were all faggots and he wasn't going to give them a thrill."
House laughed humourlessly.
"Some of his friends used to visit him. They intimidated the other patients and insulted the staff, so I asked security to throw them out. None of them came back after that. I think it gave them an excuse not to visit him anymore. Watching someone die slowly from leukemia is pretty depressing. It doesn't have the glamour of a gunshot wound."
"I can see that," House said. "It's more a civilian disease, even a child's disease. No self-respecting hoodlum would want to die that way."
"He died alone. I keep thinking that if I hadn't kicked out his friends, they might have been there with him. Nobody noticed he was dead for hours. I yelled at the nurse on duty, even though it wasn't her fault. I'll have to apologize to her tomorrow."
"Was that why you went out drinking last night?"
"No," Wilson said. "Well, maybe partly. I know you think I'm milking Amber's death for sympathy, but everything hurts so much more now than it used to. It's like when you get a sunburn, you're so sensitive that the slightest touch causes you pain."
"You could ask Cuddy for some more time off."
"No, I think you were right about Cuddy. She's cut me enough slack already. I just have to toughen up. I'm sorry about last night. It won't happen again."
House nodded. "You know there's a hockey game on ESPN in fifteen minutes. The Devils are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. If we skip right to the hospital scene with Debra Winger and her son, we'll have time to watch it before the opening face-off. The rest of the movie is just Jack Nicholson mugging for the camera anyway."
"Jack Nicholson is a great actor," Wilson said, picking up the remote.
House was ready to argue the point, but Wilson shushed him. The best scene of the movie was about to begin.
Part One - A Visit from Bonnie
House had "borrowed" a remote-controlled car from the Paediatric Ward and was constructing an obstacle course for it on the long table in his outer office. He used office supplies, textbooks, and cutlery to create a circuit that would have challenged Mario Andretti. Taub and Foreman watched him wordlessly. Taub looked bored, as if such juvenile games had no interest for him, but Kutner was excited and eager to try his skill.
The sound made by the stiletto heels of an angry woman is unmistakeable. House looked out the clear glass walls of the office, expecting to see Cuddy. She would be furious, he thought, because he had charged the hospital for the "massage therapy" session that he had ordered for his last patient - a dying seventeen-year-old who had never experienced sex. The angry woman in heels wasn't Cuddy, however. It was Wilson's second ex-wife, Bonnie. She directed a single venomous glance at House, and then strode past his office. She opened the closed door to Wilson's office without knocking or even pausing. Curious, House got up from the table and went out into the corridor.
"How long have you been sleeping with him?" Bonnie demanded, "Were you sleeping with him while we were married? Did you cheat on me with House?"
Wilson and his patient were sitting on either side of his desk. They both looked up.
"I'm with a patient now, Bonnie. If you can wait a few minutes, we can discuss this later."
"I've been waiting long enough to find out the truth. Don't you think you should have told me that you were gay before we got married? It wasn't fair to hide that from me! I had to find out from strangers!"
Realizing that Bonnie wouldn't wait, Wilson tried to conclude his patient's visit as quickly as possible.
"You're newest test results look good, and I'm glad that the new medication is helping with your nausea. I think we've covered about everything. I'd like you to schedule another appointment with my receptionist for next week, please. I'm very sorry for this interruption."
"It's okay," said the patient, who seemed reluctant to leave.
Wilson stood up from his desk, and held out his hand, compelling the patient to get out of his seat to take it. He ushered him to the door. The patient had to squeeze past Bonnie, who was standing in the doorway and didn't move an inch.
"Good bye, Mr. Shawcross. I'll see you again next week."
"Are you ashamed that everyone will find out that nice Dr. Wilson was screwing another man behind his wife's back? You should be ashamed!" Bonnie's voice was loud and carried down the hallway. People turned their heads to stare. Wilson turned pink.
"I'm not ashamed of my relationship with House. It's just not appropriate to discuss my private life in front of patients and staff. It's none of their business." Wilson spoke quietly.
"It's none of your business either," House pointed out. "You're not married any more. I always told Wilson he could better than you, and I was right. You're the worst real estate agent in New Jersey, and you snore like a walrus with sinusitis. At least, Wilson doesn't have to wear earplugs when he's sleeping with me."
Bonnie ignored House's interruption, but Wilson glared at him, not appreciating his interference.
House disliked Bonnie, who telephoned Wilson to tell him her troubles and asked him to do her favours. Wilson could have used the time he wasted on Bonnie making House happy. Just a few weeks ago, for example, Wilson had spent the better part of a Sunday morning putting up Bonnie's storm windows, when he could have been at home making House macadamia nut pancakes. House would much prefer it if Bonnie behaved like a typical ex-wife and avoided her ex-husband.
"The whole time, every time you said you were out bowling, or watching movies and eating pizza, you two were ... it's too disgusting. I can't even say the words. How could you betray me like that?"
"I didn't betray you with House. We were doing exactly what I said we were doing. I only cheated on you once. You already know about it, and it wasn't with House. Come into my office, and we can talk privately."
Bonnie looked at her ex-husband, wondering whether he was lying to her. He seemed sincere, but how could she trust him? He had demonstrated quite conclusively that he was not who he seemed to be. He had pretended to be one kind of person and had turned out to be quite another.
""Even when you were married, Wilson preferred eating cold pizza with me in my apartment to going home and having sex with you," House called out.
The office door slammed behind Bonnie, and silence briefly descended. Then the staff and patients who had been listening to the argument went back to their regular activities.
House had run the remote-controlled car through the circuit a couple of times, but he was too distracted to enjoy himself. He had then passed the remote-controlled car over to Kutner, who was proving surprisingly adept at motor sports.
"It's been over half an hour," House said. "What do they have to talk about anyway? `I'm with House now. Get over it.' Should take thirty seconds."
"It's only been twenty minutes," Taub said. "Shall we discuss finding another case? Dr. Fisher referred one of his patients to us."
"He's in Gerontology. Why waste our time trying to figure out what's wrong with a ninety-eight year old? We'll cure her and then she'll just pop her clogs anyway."
House brooded, and then threw a ball at the office wall he shared with Wilson. He knew the thumping noise could be heard on the other side of the wall, despite the sound-proofing.
"How about the referral from Neurology?"
"I thought that case sounded pretty interesting," Kutner said.
"That because you're a moron," House replied, "and you're easily entertained. I bet you spend your evenings watching paint dry. Or watching CSI Miami, which has the same entertainment value.
I think I should phone Cuddy, for the sake of the hospital. She should know that Wilson is spending so much of the hospital's time socializing with his ex-wives."
"You were spending the hospital's time building an obstacle course out of boxes of paperclips," Taub pointed out.
"Yes," House said, "but as part of my brilliant diagnostic process. Loosens up all my creativity and makes my synapses snap. It's productive, whereas what Wilson is doing is just time theft. At the very least, Cuddy should assign him extra clinic hours."
"Wilson doesn't mind clinic hours," Kutner said.
Taub gave up his attempt to be business-like and professional. It was hopeless while Kutner was playing with toys and House was obsessed with whatever was happening on the other side of his office wall.
"Are you going to let me have a turn?" he asked Kutner, holding out his hand for the remote control.
House got up and headed for the balcony. He scaled the low dividing wall which separated his part of the balcony from Wilson's and tried to peer in the glass doors. Wilson had one of Bonnie's hands in his own, and was leaning forward, talking earnestly to her. All he could see of Bonnie was the back of her head. Wilson looked up, spotted House, casually got out of his seat and strolled toward the balcony. He clearly mouthed the words, "Go away, House" and closed the blinds.
At noon, Wilson and Bonnie finally left his office. Bonnie seemed composed and Wilson was actually smiling. He walked her to the elevator and pressed the down button. House expected him to kiss her on the cheek, say goodbye, and head back to his office, but he didn't. When House realized that Wilson meant to go with Bonnie, he headed for the elevator. He was able to wedge himself into the same crowded elevator that they were taking just before the doors closed.
"So where are you taking us for lunch?" he asked Wilson.
The lunch was a disaster of course. House and Bonnie had never gotten along, and now Bonnie had more reason than ever to hate him. House had seemed so smug, so triumphant. Why shouldn't he be? If he and Bonnie had been in competition for James, he had definitely won.
The more Bonnie thought about House's relationship with James the angrier she became. It wasn't enough for House to destroy her marriage; he had to turn her husband queer as well! Wilson had seemed normal enough when she married him, and their sex life had been satisfying, at least for her. Maybe all the time he had been so concerned about giving her pleasure because he felt guilty about being gay. Maybe every time he had made love to her, he had been thinking of House.
Although she had been divorced from Wilson for years, the pain of this revelation was fresh and new. It made her see entire marriage in a new and disturbing light. She had been fully committed to their life together, but for Wilson it must have been a sham all along. She been an unwitting performer in an elaborate masquerade; she'd mistaken a canvas and paint backdrop for real life.
There was only one person she knew who could understand what she was feeling - Stacy Warner. She too must have been deceived. Bonnie had never much liked Stacy. Part of her dislike was because of Wilson's open admiration for Stacy and Greg. He had thought they were the perfect couple, and that had stung. Stacy had also seemed to be making fun of Bonnie and laughing at her, but in so subtle a way that Bonnie had never found the words to object. To tell the absolute truth, Stacy was a condescending bitch, but at least she would be as humiliated, angry and confused as Bonnie was once she knew the truth.
Bonnie found Stacy's phone number easily enough in an online legal directory.
"Hello, this is Bonnie, Bonnie Wilson."
"Bonnie Wilson?" Stacy didn't recognize the name. "My secretary said my realtor was calling. Are you from Mike's office?"
"No, I'm James Wilson's ex-wife. I'm a realtor now. You must remember me."
"Frankly, Bonnie, I don't think calling up old acquaintances and trying to sell them real estate is very professional behaviour. It's desperate and cheap, and I'm a busy woman and don't have time to waste on telephone solicitations. Besides I already have a realtor and I don't think he'd appreciate your trying to poach his client."
"I'm not calling about real estate," Bonnie said. "I just mentioned realty to get past your assistant. She didn't seem all that impressed when I said I was an old friend wanting to get back in touch with you. Sorry about that. So how are you and Mark?"
"I'm fine and I have no idea how Mark is. We're divorced now."
It is customary to offer regrets when you hear that a friend has been divorced, but Stacy did not sound at all perturbed or unhappy about the failure of her marriage, so Bonnie didn't bother.
"I'm actually calling you about Greg and James."
"Greg hasn't been in accident, has he?"
"No, nothing like that. James is living with Greg now."
"So he's staying with Greg. Did James get his heart broken again, and go to House's apartment for sanctuary?" Stacy sounded impatient. "I'm not sure why you're calling me, Bonnie. If it's just to pass on the latest gossip, you can leave me out of the loop."
"I didn't say "staying with", I said living with. James and Greg are living together. As in, they're a couple. They have sex. " Bonnie almost whispered the last three words.
Bonnie had hoped for a gasp of surprise or at least an expression of dismay, but Stacy seemed unconcerned.
"Greg and I used to joke about the possibility of a three-way with Wilson. We didn't think Wilson would go for it because he was such a straight-arrow. I guess Greg went ahead without me."
"You aren't in the least upset? You don't care that while he was with you, Greg was probably sleeping with my husband?"
"What makes you say that?"
"All the time that they spent together. James said they were watching old movies and talking, but we can guess what was really going on."
"Bonnie, I was there. Sometimes I was sitting on the couch between them. James wasn't spending all that time in our apartment because he was in love with Greg; he was there because he wasn't in love with you. He'd get drunk and say how sorry he was for ever marrying you because he didn't love you enough. He'd say how he ruined both of your lives.
I wasn't just trying to brush you off when I said I was busy. I'm wrapping up my practice here and moving back to Princeton, and I really can't afford to spend any more time gossiping. Thanks for letting me know about Greg. I'll have to phone him up and congratulate him. Bye."
Stacy hung up without waiting for Bonnie to reply.
Stacy was packing up her office. She wore jeans and an old sweatshirt, her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and there was a dirty smudge on her forehead that she didn't know about. She'd been going through boxes and files all day. Her throat was irritated by paper dust, her back was sore, and she thought she could feel a cold coming on. Maybe her physical discomfort made her brusque with Bonnie, but honestly the woman had always tried her patience. When Wilson had first married Bonnie, he had described her as "charmingly naive", but Stacy preferred the term wilfully ignorant. Bonnie had a simplistic black-or-white view of the world, and she became distressed and hysterical whenever the complexity and ambiguity of real life threatened her perspective. For her, people were either straight (normal) or gay (abnormal), just as they were either tall or short, fat or thin.
Stacy had always liked James Wilson though. He'd been so encouraging to her after House's infarction. He'd steadfastly believed that Stacy and Greg could get past their difficulties and reconcile. She'd since realized that Wilson's belief in their future had kept them together for those last difficult months. It was only when Wilson finally gave up that Stacy knew that reconciliation was hopeless and that it was time for her to leave House. If even part of Bonnie's supposition was correct - if , for example, Wilson had loved House but had never told House or acted on his feelings - that made Wilson's efforts to keep House and Stacy together even more admirable. Perhaps he could even be described as altruistic in valuing House's happiness more than his own. Stacy knew that she herself was not capable of altruism. When she wanted someone or something, she went after it whole-heartedly and damn the consequences to anyone else.
There were only a couple more boxes to go before she could leave. She picked up her framed law school diploma, wrapped it in bubble wrap, and put it in the box. The next item was a photograph of Mark in a silver frame. Mark, she thought, had been such a comedown after Greg. She took the photograph out of its frame, ripped it in two and tossed it in the wastepaper basket.
Part Two - A Festive Affair
"Your tie isn't straight," said Wilson. "Let me fix it."
"It's just right," House said, looking at himself in the mirror.
"No, it isn't. You're holding your head at an angle. It's listing to one side." Wilson reached from behind and adjusted it. "There, that's better."
"How do I look?"
"Like Sean Connery in Casino Royale," Wilson replied. "Cuddy will melt into a puddle at your feet."
Wilson headed back toward the living room and sat down on the couch. He picked up the newspaper and turned to the crossword puzzle page. House followed him.
"You don't mind?"
"Not as long as it gets us a new plasma t.v. in the doctor's lounge. If you give her a little tongue action under the mistletoe, maybe we'll get cable."
"You expect me to prostitute myself to get you quality electronics!"
"You'd better believe it. You still owe me for erasing the entire season of my telenovela. I've forgotten everything I ever knew about the past perfect tense in Spanish, plus I'll never find out what happened to Father Ramirez's baby."
"If I promise to track down the dvd on the Internet, will you come with me?"
"No," Wilson said. "I served my time last year. First someone wearing high-heeled shoes stepped on my foot, damn near sending me to the emergency room right there, and then Cameron spilled cranberry punch all over my white shirt and dinner jacket. I told Cuddy I'd donate the cost of a ticket to the Clinic as long as I didn't have to go to the fund-raising party."
"So that's how I got stuck being her escort!"
"Come on, House! I know you love making Cuddy drool. Not to mention Cameron and Thirteen and Chase..."
"Chase. He dreams about you every night. I suggested cold baths and porridge. Works for me."
"You aren't the least bit jealous, are you?" House asked.
"No. Should I be? Do you want me to be?"
"I'd appreciate an appropriate amount of jealousy."
"How about I give Cuddy a dirty look in the elevator on Monday morning? Will that do?"
"I was thinking more of a confrontation in the cafeteria. You can say something like, `Stay away from my man, you skanky `ho.' If you feel into it, you could also throw pudding at her."
"I refuse to re-enact scenes from Jerry Springer for you."
House went to the coat closet and pulled out his overcoat.
"You could at least give me a proper farewell, considering that I'm off to sacrifice myself for your selfish t.v.-watching needs."
"And for the Clinic," Wilson reminded him. "Wait a second. I've got something to give you before you leave."
"A blow job?" House asked hopefully.
"A boutonniere," Wilson replied, going into the kitchen and pulling out a plastic container from the refrigerator. He presented it to House. It contained a perfect white rosebud.
"You don't think this is too "senior prom", do you?" House asked, as he put the flower in his buttonhole.
"No, I think it's the final perfect touch," Wilson smiled and kissed House. "Tell Cuddy it's from me, and then it will remind her to keep her hands off. It sends the same message as a food fight, and it has the advantage of letting me keep my job."
House looked around the crowded ballroom. Not a single drooling admirer to be seen. Instead of lustfully panting over the vision that was House in a dinner jacket, his date was huddled in a corner somewhere with her cellphone. Cuddy was fostering a baby and she telephoned the babysitter for updates on its well-being every ten or fifteen minutes. House had helpfully pointed out that the babysitter had twenty years' experience as a paediatric nurse, and was far more qualified to look after a baby than Cuddy was. Somehow this had failed to extinguish Cuddy's maternal anxiety. He spotted Chase and Cameron at the other end of the room and headed toward them.
"No cranberry punch this year." House observed, noting the glass of white wine in Cameron's hand.
"Wilson told you!"
"Allison offered to pay his dry cleaning bill," Chase said in his girlfriend's defence.
"I was hoping you would spill some punch on me," House said, "so I'd have a really good excuse to leave early. I promised Cuddy I'd stay until midnight but I don't think I can hold out that long. One more inane conversation about whether or not there will be snow for Christmas, and I will be forced to commit an act of extreme violence with a sprig of holly."
"Have some egg nog," Chase said, "and we both promise not to mention snow or sleigh bells or reindeer."
"Or carollers or Tiny Tim or the Grinch." Cameron added.
"Oh, the Grinch is all right. Greg has always had a soft spot for the Grinch."
House turned around at the sound of that familiar voice.
"Hello, Stacy," he said.
"Merry Christmas, Greg," she said, kissing him lightly and affectionately on the cheek.
Stacy looked even more stunning in person than she did in his memories. She was wearing an amethyst gown in a vaguely Grecian style and a shimmering gold shawl. In House's eyes, she outshone everyone else in the room. Compared to Stacy, Cuddy was frumpy and Cameron was callow. Even Thirteen's strange and perfect beauty seemed hollow and lifeless.
When the regular pianist went on a break, House took a seat at the piano and started to play a medley of Christmas songs. He went seamlessly from "White Christmas" to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", a talent that was the legacy of numerous childhood evenings spent entertaining his parents' friends at parties. Stacy stood over him, turning the pages of the sheet music.
"So what brings you and Mark back to Princeton?" House asked, trying to sound casual.
"Just me. Mark and I are over. I don't think I make a very good wife. Mark had expectations about who his wife should be, and I was not that person."
"What sort of expectations?" House asked. "Are you talking about fidelity?"
"You mean, did Mark find out about us?"
"Yes. I told him. And he forgave me," Stacy sighed. "Unfortunately, Mark's a deeply boring man. Also, he's not very good in bed, and he's never been particularly interested in learning how to be better."
"So there was someone else after me."
"Nobody important," she said. "Don't tell me you've been pining for me in celibacy all these years. Anyway, I'm back in Princeton because I decided that Mark was a disastrous detour in my life, and I want to get back on track. I'm renting a condo, and I'm looking to buy my way into a partnership with a small law firm. Go back to my roots in litigation."
"You're going to be an ambulance chaser."
"The Bar Association prefers the term personal injury attorney," Stacy said. "Really, I haven't decided what I'm going to do. I just wanted to get away from Mark and back to somewhere that feels like home. I haven't thought beyond that. I decided that this party would be an excellent way to renew old contacts and get the lay of the land."
"And instead you're spending the evening talking to me."
"I have a very bad habit of putting pleasure before business."
"Let's skip the rest of the party and go somewhere to talk," Stacy suggested.
"You're asking me to ditch my date."
"You didn't mention you were here with a date," Stacy said. "But sure, ditch him."
House noticed the significant pronoun.
"Ditch her. I'm escorting Cuddy this evening. I assume that someone's mentioned Wilson to you, though."
"Bonnie phoned me. She was very upset."
"Bonnie's an idiot."
"So there's nothing going on between you and Wilson."
"No, she's right about that. She's still an idiot though." House stood up. "I'll let Cuddy know I'm leaving. Then we can go and talk."
House and Stacy had found a coffee shop a short distance from the hotel where the ball was being held. They were sitting opposite each other at a tiny table for two. Stacy took a sip of the hot chocolate she had ordered. There was a smidgeon of whipped cream at the corner of her lip. House had to resist the impulse to reach over and wipe it off.
"So, you and Wilson."
"Wilson loves me."
"Do you love him, though?"
"I'm not very comfortable talking to you about Wilson. I know he'd hate it."
"I bet you talked about me to James all the time when we were together."
"That's different. Wilson and I were just friends then, and besides he was always your biggest defender."
"Wilson always wanted us to be happy."
Stacy reached across the table and took House's hand.
"Our timing is awful, "she said. " I can't figure out whether destiny is for us or against us. If it's for us, why put Mark and James in the way? If it's against us, why do we keep coming back to each other?"
"It isn't destiny" House said. "It's you. You keep coming back because you couldn't get enough of me the first time. I'm irresistible."
Stacy laughed, and suddenly House leaned over and kissed away the whipped cream from her lips.
"I shouldn't have done that," he said. He seemed ready to get up and go. Stacy reached for the sleeve of his dinner jacket to stop him from leaving.
"Wait, Greg. We were going to talk. We need to talk."
Stacy looked at him, and House couldn't disappoint her.
She said, "I can't forget how happy we were together. I think about what we had and I want it back. If you don't love me anymore, you're going to have to tell me straight out. Otherwise, I'll keep hoping. I won't be able to let go."
House was silent, considering what to say.
"I still love you," he admitted reluctantly, "but it would be much better for all of us if I didn't."
It was almost three in the morning when House returned to his apartment. Not wanting to wake Wilson, he undressed in the dark as silently as possible and slipped under the covers.
"House," mumbled Wilson. He snuggled up next to House. "Love you," he murmured, and House knew that Wilson was talking in his sleep. Wilson never said "I love you" to House when he was awake; he very carefully avoided those particular words.
"I love you too," House said, and it was safe to say since Wilson was asleep and would never remember.
House closed his eyes and fell asleep almost instantly.
Part Three - Best Laid Plans
A Jew and an atheist sitting down together for Christmas dinner - it sounded to Wilson like the beginning of a not very funny joke. Nevertheless, that was what Wilson wanted. He was in the supermarket, picking up the items to make a traditional Christmas dinner. His cart was loaded with a turkey breast, the ingredients for home-made stuffing, potatoes, two vegetables (carrots and Brussels sprouts), and canned cranberry jelly. There was also canned pumpkin and a container of whipping cream for the pie he was planning for dessert.
Christmas dinner was going to be a surprise for House. Since House had been raised in the Christian tradition, as a child he must have eagerly anticipated the arrival of Santa Claus, happily munched on sugar cookie angels, and helped decorate a Christmas tree. Although putting up decorations or hanging up stockings for Santa would be going too far for either of them, even House could not possibly object to a bit of seasonal comfort food.
Seasonal comfort was what Wilson really needed. He couldn't fool himself that he was planning a holiday meal for House's benefit. This time of year was stressful for Wilson because it reminded him of too many unhappy events. He remembered Julie meeting him at the door with his packed suitcase already in her hand, telling him that she had found someone else and he had to leave. Even worse was the memory of the Christmas Eve when House had overdosed on Vicodin, and Wilson had him found lying on the floor next to a puddle of vomit. Wilson knew that he wasn't going to be able to erase those painful memories entirely, but it did seem possible to overlay them with something more pleasant. For once, Christmas didn't have to mean pain and loss. This year, Christmas could mean enjoying a meal and conversation with someone he loved. For at least one evening, he and House could be a family of two.
Wilson added a dozen boxes of chocolates to the items in his shopping cart. Every year, he brought chocolates to the hospital employees who worked over the holidays. Working when everyone else was enjoying time with friends and family could be depressing, and they deserved to know that their efforts were appreciated.
When House woke up, it was almost eleven. The apartment was silent and empty. Wilson had left a note saying that he had gone grocery shopping. House was relieved. He was going to have to tell Wilson about Stacy, since too many people had seen them leave the party together for their encounter to remain a secret. However, he wasn't sure exactly what he was going to say to him, or how Wilson would react.
House showered and dressed and then ate a cold piece of pizza for a late breakfast. House looked out the window. The streets and sidewalks were clear of snow, and the sky was blue. Princeton was having a spell of unseasonably warm weather, so spring-like that even the trees were confused and some had come into bud months too early. It was, House thought, a perfect day to take his motorcycle. Riding his motorcycle always helped to clear his head.
He went to the hook by the door where his motorcycle keys were supposed to be, but they weren't there. He was absolutely sure that he had left them there. Wilson must have hidden them. If Wilson thought that riding a motorcycle was risky, he thought that riding a motorcycle during the winter was practically suicidal. He'd lectured House on treacherous winter weather - the sudden storm from nowhere, the patch of black ice - but House hadn't paid him any attention, so he must have decided to take the keys instead.
House was irritated. He knew Wilson was trying to protect him, but too often the methods he used involved manipulation, subterfuge and even lies. Fortunately, House had another key that Wilson didn't know about. He retrieved it from its hiding place, inside an ugly but valuable vase one of his grateful patients had given him, and headed out the door.
On his way back from the supermarket, Wilson stopped into the hospital to deliver the Christmas chocolate. He had a couple of boxes for each floor. He left two boxes at the reception desk on the main floor and then headed for the elevator. Some kind person held the elevator door open for him, and Wilson rushed in.
Unfortunately, the kind person was Dr. Birnbaum, a general surgeon and one of Wilson's least favourite people in the hospital. He couldn't fault Birnbaum's surgical skills. It was his personality that Wilson found objectionable. The man seemed to relish other people's misfortunes. He loved to be the bearer of bad tidings.
"Thanks," Wilson said. "Would you mind pushing the button for the second floor? My hands are full."
"Certainly. Anything for the Head of Oncology," Birnbaum said. "I saw your boyfriend at the fund-raising party last night."
Ever since Wilson's relationship with House had become public, Birnbaum had never spoken of House by name to Wilson. He always referred to him as "your boyfriend."
"He was hanging all over Stacy Warner. Looked like he wanted to eat her up for dinner."
"My floor," said Wilson, stepping out of the elevator.
He refused to react Birnbaum's words. Birnbaum followed him out of the elevator and went with him as he went to the nurses' station to deliver the second floor's chocolates.
Birnbaum said, "I thought to myself, Wilson hasn't quite converted him. He's not one hundred percent queer yet."
Wilson walked back to the elevator bank, still ignoring his tormentor. He awkwardly shuffled the boxes in his arms to press the elevator button.
"Then he was at the piano, playing Christmas carols, and she was draping herself over the piano and letting him get a good look at her cleavage. I guess you can't compete with her in that category, can you? " Birnbaum smiled, as if he were only teasing, but the malice in his voice was unmistakeable.
"Next thing you know, they're both headed out the door together, and she's hanging on to his arm like glue. They couldn't even wait for Cuddy to deliver her welcoming address. Not that I blame House. It`s probably been a while since he's had sex with a real woman. I guess he couldn't hold out any longer."
"You've got an ugly mind, Birnbaum," said Wilson, who couldn't remain silent any longer. "Go tell your lies to someone who'll believe you."
Birnbaum realized he'd gone too far. He had no respect for Wilson, but the man was a departmental head, and he had a lot of friends in the hospital. Birnbaum pretended to be offended.
"Don't shoot the messenger. If you don't believe me, ask anybody else who was there."
The elevator arrived at last, and Wilson stepped in. Birnbaum stuck out his arm to stop the elevator doors from closing.
"I heard that Stacy's husband divorced her because she couldn`t keep her hands off her friends' husbands. If I were you, I'd keep my boyfriend away from her! "
Finally, the door shut and Wilson was alone. He pressed the button for his own floor and made his way to the sanctuary of his office. He let the boxes of chocolates fall to the floor and shut the door behind him.
House and Stacy. Inevitable, really. Had he really expected them to stay apart the rest of their lives, when their attraction to each other was so strong? He should have known better.
I can ride it out, he thought. I've done it before. They're both strong-minded people who never give an inch. Without me in the middle, showing them a way to compromise without losing face, they'll tear each other apart. House will come back. He'll be exhausted and wounded, but he'll be back. Eventually.
Wilson took a deep breath, picked up the boxes of chocolates and went out to spread Christmas cheer.
Wilson decided not to mention Stacy until House did. He would pretend he didn't know about the events of the party and give House a chance to explain. Perhaps Birnbaum had misinterpreted everything, and House had just taken Stacy out for a cup of coffee. He had just wanted to catch up with an old friend. (There was only one problem with that theory: Stacy wasn't an old friend; she was the love of House's life.)
Wilson opened the door to the apartment and carried in the bags of groceries. He called out to House, but no one answered. After he had put the groceries away, he looked around on the off chance that House might have left him a note saying where he had gone. There was no note.
House pulled up in front of the address that Stacy had given him. It was a sleek and featureless glass and concrete building. House went to the intercom and pressed her number.
"Stacy, it's me," he said. She buzzed him in.
Stacy's condo was on the eighth floor. She met him at the door. She was dressed casually in jeans and sweater, but she was still stunningly attractive.
"Come in," she said, greeting House with a kiss. "Take off your coat. I was a bad hostess last night. I just took you straight to the bedroom and didn't give you the full tour. This is the living room, of course."
The walls of Stacy's condo were painted white and the furniture was in unobtrusive shades of ecru and sand. Stacy had hung a single painting in the centre of the living room wall. It was a near abstract, showing bands of a thousand different shades of blue and green, that gradually resolved into an image of water, land and sky. Aside from Stacy herself, it was the only touch of colour in the room.
"This is the kitchen," she said.
The room was a marvel of efficiency with its sleek stainless steel appliances. The refrigerator was certain to be empty though, except for a container of milk or perhaps a half-full carton of noodles. Stacy had probably never even touched the oven. Like House, she lived on pizza and Chinese food deliveries, and the occasional microwaved meal.
"The bathroom," she gestured, pointing to a small brightly lit room full of high-tech fixtures and marble surfaces, "and finally the bedroom, which you should remember very well."
A picture almost identical to the one in the living room hung above Stacy's bed. This room also was decorated in bland and inoffensive colours. House wondered how someone as vibrant as Stacy could stand to live in such a sterile environment. Her condo was a blank, white box.
Stacy smiled, and put her arms around House and kissed him. She could feel his tension in his muscles.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I haven't told Wilson yet about what happened last night."
"I can tell him, if you think that would be easier," Stacy said. "I can be tactful."
"He's going to be hurt."
Stacy nodded. "He'll understand though. He knows what we are to each other."
"If he does," House said, "maybe he can explain it to me."
Stacy laughed. She sat down on the bed and grabbed House's hands, pulling him down to sit beside her.
"I love Wilson," House said.
"I know. That's why you don't want to hurt him. I'll be gentle though. I'll explain that when two people love each other as much as we do, they have to be together. It has nothing to do with the way you feel about him. I really don't mind that you love Wilson. Just as long as you love me more."
House shook his head.
"After I tell Wilson what happened, I'm going to ask him to forgive me. I think my chances are pretty good. Wilson has gotten into the habit of forgiving me. He even forgave me for killing his girlfriend."
House stood up and headed for the door.
"I'm sorry, Stacy. I think we both made a mistake last night. I love you, but I don't want to relive our past. I don't think we can change the unhappy ending. Good bye."
On the trip down in the elevator, House wondered whether he had made the right choice. He liked to think that he had chosen Wilson because Wilson represented his future and Stacy his past. He had finally managed to let go off his past and move on.
There was another possible explanation though. Maybe he had just chosen ordinary contentment over a great and consuming passion. It wasn't a decision he would have made twenty or even five years ago. It was a very middle-aged decision.
House couldn't help second-guessing himself. He replayed his decision over and over again in his mind. Most of the time, he picked Wilson.
The good thing about riding a motorcycle is that it demands total concentration. House had to pay attention to the road, to other vehicles, and to his own machine. While he was riding his motorcycle, House was free at last from the burden of his own thoughts.
Instead of going back to his apartment, where he faced the unpleasant duty of confessing his infidelity, House took his favourite scenic route out of the city. By mid-afternoon, it was already getting dark. The temperature dropped significantly as soon as the sun went down, and House shivered in his heavy leather jacket. He knew that he couldn't avoid Wilson any longer. He turned around and headed for home.
House was on a tree-lined street only a few blocks from his apartment, when a shape detached itself from the shadows and darted in front of him. It was a stray dog. Instinctively, House swerved to avoid it. The dog barked once and then disappeared into the darkness. House struggled vainly to control his motorcycle, which skidded into a parked car on the side of the street.
The sound of the collision sent people to their windows. A few of them came out to see what had happened. Someone pulled out a cellphone and called an ambulance. A cold wind blew and it started to snow. Snowflakes landed on the immobile form of the motorcyclist and on the people watching over him. One by one, those holding vigil drifted back to the warmth of their homes. A woman returned, carrying a blanket. She draped it over the accident victim to keep him warm. She was the only one still waiting when the ambulance finally arrived.
Part Four - Christmas Day and After
After Greg left her apartment, Stacy felt stunned. She had thought that she and Greg shared an unbreakable bond. Her rejection came as a complete surprise.
Stacy went into the immaculate kitchen to pour herself a glass of white wine. Stacy's rented condo was the fully furnished showcase suite of a brand new development. Only a handful of the condos had been sold before real estate prices had taken a tumble. Rather than sell at a loss, the investors decided to hold on to their properties and wait for an upturn in the market. In the meantime, one of the investors, a former client, had offered Stacy the showcase suite at a greatly reduced rent. He wanted a reliable tenant to keep an eye on the building and Stacy was looking for a place to stay. The deal had sounded terrific, but Stacy was already beginning to regret it. The silence of the nearly empty building was oppressive. It forced her to admit that she was lonely.
She turned on a cd to break the silence and was soon lost in thought. Greg was wrong. They were not just reliving the past. They could still have a life together. One evening with House was all that it had taken to convince her. Now, she had to prove it to him.
At about six thirty, she started to feel hungry and called a pizza place that delivered. When her phone rang, she assumed it would be the pizza place calling back to confirm her order. It wasn't. Her caller was James Wilson, delivering bad news.
First there was darkness and nothingness and then a brilliant white light.
"Pupils equal and reactive," said a voice.
House recognized the voice.
"Are you trying to blind me, Cameron?"
"How's your vision?" she asked. "Are you experiencing any blurriness?"
"Maybe you should have asked me that before you shone a bright light into my eyes," House complained. "It's hard to tell when all I can see are purple and blue dots."
"He seems lucid," said another voice - Wilson, this time. Cameron was on his right side and Wilson was on the left.
House turned in the direction of Wilson's voice and gradually the dots faded and he could see Wilson. He looked tired and rumpled and worried.
"You've been in an accident," Cameron said. "Do you know where you are?"
"The emergency room," said House.
He wanted to reach out to Wilson to reassure him but his body felt heavy and unresponsive. Part of that heaviness was probably due to the painkillers, but still... He looked down and saw the casts.
"You've broken your left arm and your left leg," Cameron said. "You also dislocated your shoulder but we managed to pop it back into place. The breaks were pretty clean. We don't anticipate any problems with them. We're a bit more concerned about your head injury. You were unconscious for quite a while."
"What were you thinking," Wilson said, exasperation masking his concern, "riding a motorcycle in the snow?"
"It wasn't snowing when I had the accident," House protested. "The accident had nothing to do with the weather. A dog jumped out right in front of me. It was a random event that could have happened at any time."
"It could happen at any time! Is that supposed to be reassuring? You are getting rid of that motorcycle."
House wasn't sure that he would ever want to get on a motorcycle again, but still he wasn't going to let Wilson order him around. He was prepared to argue, but Cameron stepped in.
"I think we should let House get some rest now," she said. "Dr. Wilson, you look exhausted. You should go home and get some sleep too. I promise I'll phone you if there's any change in his condition."
"I'll be back in a few hours," he said.
House shut his eyes. He felt very tired. Wilson leaned down as if he were about to kiss House, then abruptly turned around and headed for the door.
The next time House woke up, Stacy was sitting at his bedside holding his hand. She smiled and lifted his hand up to her cheek in a gesture of affection.
"Thank God, you're awake. Cameron said it was a natural sleep and not to wake you, but it was hard to resist the temptation."
"Stacy," House said. His voice was hoarse, and Stacy got up to give him a sip of water.
"Merry Christmas, Greg."
"It's Christmas morning?" House asked.
"Afternoon actually," she smiled. "Luckily the hospital store is open today, so I got you a present - extra difficult crossword puzzles to keep you from going mad with boredom."
"New York Times," said House. "Quality stuff."
"Nothing's too good for my man," Stacy said. "I got you some pencils too."
"Only wimps use pencils. I'm a pen man myself."
"I'm so happy you're okay. When Wilson told me you were involved in an accident, my heart nearly stopped."
"You talked to Wilson?"
"He phoned me last night. He said that he found a piece of paper in your jacket pocket with my phone number. I would have come right away, but Wilson said there wasn't any point since you were still unconscious."
"You didn't tell him..."
"I got the distinct impression he already knew. Our conversation was very awkward and uncomfortable. I assumed you told him. When you left, you said you were going to tell him."
"I took the long way home and never made it back," said House. "Damn, I wanted to tell him myself before he found out from someone else."
Wilson set the alarm to go off in a couple of hours and tumbled into bed. When the alarm woke him, he took a cold shower to wake himself up and brewed some strong coffee. He poured it into a travel mug, and then went into the bathroom to pick up House's toothbrush, shaver, comb and other necessities. He took his Christmas present for House from its hiding place. It was an MP3 player loaded with House's favourite music, including many obscure recordings and rarities that it had taken Wilson hours to find.
Wilson drove to the hospital and headed for House's hospital room. Someone (Cuddy, perhaps?) must have pulled some strings, because House was in the hospital's equivalent of the presidential suite - a glass-walled room equipped with cable television and a mini refrigerator. Through the glass walls, Wilson saw that Stacy was with House. As he watched, she clutched House's hand and held it to her lips. Wilson turned and walked away.
Wilson had been expecting Stacy. He had phoned her, reluctantly, because he thought it was his duty. House was badly injured and House would want her there. That didn't mean that Wilson ever wanted to see Stacy again, and it certainly didn't mean that he ever wanted to witness her and House together. He gave the bag containing House's necessities to an orderly at the nurse's station and went up to his own office to wait for Stacy to leave. He came down again in half an hour but Stacy was still there, still holding House's hand.
Wilson went back up to his office and got out the MP3 player. He put the Christmas present in the top drawer of House's desk where he would be sure to find it. Then he left the hospital and drove back to House's apartment. He got his suitcase out from under the bed and began packing his belongings. It was time to go.
Unwelcome images assaulted him: Stacy smiling at House and kissing his hand, a folded piece of paper with Stacy's address and phone number, the framed photograph of Stacy that House still kept in the drawer of his bedside table. House obviously loved Stacy, and Wilson was not going to hang around hoping that House might change his mind. He should leave with some dignity. Not that dignity was really an option any more after what House had done. House had not only cheated on him, but he had also made sure that half the hospital staff knew about it, just to add that little extra touch of public humiliation.
House took outrageous risks and put his life in danger. It obviously didn't matter to House at all how devastated Wilson would be if House was killed. House hurt him, again and again, and House didn't care how much pain he caused. He was selfish and he was insensitive, and he would never thank Wilson for his Christmas present or for the Christmas dinner he made (which they were never going to have now), because he never said thank you for anything. He was an ungrateful bastard, and he just took and took, and Wilson let him get away with it because he loved him.
Wilson had never learned how to deal with his own negative emotions. Perhaps his difficulty was a product of growing up with an older brother with a violent hair-trigger temper. He had witnessed what anger made his brother do, and he was afraid that he might succumb to the same violent impulses. Wilson could bicker and argue about little things, but real anger scared him. Now an enormous swell of rage threatened to swamp him. All the ugly emotions he never allowed himself to feel flooded in at once, as if some dam in his psyche had been breached. His hands shook and he felt nauseated and dizzy. He had to sit down on the floor to catch his breath. He wondered whether he was having a heart attack.
A week had passed. House looked up as Cuddy entered his hospital room, then turned back to the telenovela he was watching.
"House, "she said.
"Shhh," he said. "Father Ramirez is about to find out that he's the father of Maria's baby."
"House, I have to talk to you."
"Wait until the next commercial."
"You're watching a dvd. There aren't going to be any commercials."
She grabbed the remote from House's hand and turned off the television. She put the remote on top of the mini-fridge, where House couldn't reach it.
"You can watch your dvd as soon as we're finished."
"Wilson's dvd. It was going to be his Christmas present. It's pretty good. Not up to General Hospital standards but okay. Maria wears little tiny blouses two sizes too small and her breasts are almost as good as yours. She's always dropping things and leaning over to pick them up. I think you should try that."
"I'll keep it in mind," Cuddy said.
She sat down next to House's bed.
"The hospital wants to release you. Unfortunately, we can't do that until you find someone to look after you for the next few weeks."
"I can look after myself."
"No, you can't. Your right leg can't bear your weight and your left leg is broken so you'll be in a wheelchair. You're still experiencing headaches and dizziness. Dr. Ling doesn't think you should be alone."
"He's a worrywart."
"I agree with him. Normally, I'd suggest hiring a practical nurse or a home care worker, but I couldn't find an agency that would take you on. It seems you have a reputation."
"Wilson will stay with me."
"Have you asked him?"
"How can I ask him? I haven't seen him since Christmas," House said. "He's hiding. He won't talk to me. He won't see me."
"Can you blame him? You hurt him very deeply."
"Of course, I blame him! He should be here yelling at me instead of holing up in his office. He should be waving his hands and telling me I'm a self-loathing narcissist with issues stemming from inadequate toilet training."
"You need to apologize to him."
"Gee, I hadn't thought of that," House said sarcastically. "Unfortunately, it's hard to say I'm sorry when he won't visit me and he won't answer my phone calls. I've been sending him psychic messages, but I don't think it's working."
"Maybe it's time for you to accept that your relationship with Wilson is over," Cuddy said gently.
"No," House said. "He'd break up with me in person. He'd tell me it was over. He hasn't done that because he still loves me."
Cuddy sighed, "You can't stay here, and you can't go back to your apartment alone. You're going to have to find someone to stay with you. And, before you ask, it's not going to be me. I have a baby to look after."
"How long do I have to find someone?"
"We'd like you to leave tomorrow," she said. She went to the mini-fridge, got the remote, and handed it to House.
"Maria's lying, by the way," she said. "It's not really Father Ramirez's baby."
She left the room, leaving House to consider his options.
Part Five - Those We Love in Our Hearts
If Wilson had ever been under the impression that Cuddy valued him for the compassionate care that he gave his patients or for the efficiency with which he ran his department, then their discussion that morning had dispelled that illusion. After listening to Cuddy, it was perfectly clear to Wilson that his chief virtue in her eyes had always been his ability to rein in House's excesses and keep him (relatively) happy and productive. House was uniquely gifted. Wilson was expendable.
"The last thing this hospital needs is a feud between departmental heads," Cuddy had said, leaning over Wilson's desk. "You two have to be able to work together. What if House needs an oncology consult?"
"There's no feud," Wilson protested. "I can work with House. I won't let what happened between us compromise patient care or get in the way of my professional duty."
"At the moment, you're avoiding House," Cuddy said. "Your current behaviour does not inspire me with confidence. If I find that your personal dispute with House is affecting the smooth operation of the hospital, I'll be forced to make some unpleasant personnel decisions."
Wilson recognized the unspoken threat. Get along with House or get out. He nodded.
Her message delivered, Cuddy adopted a more relaxed, friendlier manner. She sat down opposite him.
"I know he hurt you," she said, "and I sympathize. But you chose to enter into a relationship with one of your colleagues. There's a downside to workplace romances."
"You want me to forgive him because it will make your job easier."
"You don't have to forgive him," Cuddy corrected, "but you do have to talk to him. You can't just leave him dangling."
She stood up and headed for the door. Her hand was on the doorknob, when she turned and spoke.
"I think you're being deliberately cruel," she said impulsively. "I wouldn't have expected it of you."
"I'm cruel," Wilson repeated incredulously.
"Yes, you've been in the position that House is in now. You've been unfaithful; you've cheated on someone you promised to love. At least your wives listened to you; at least they gave you a chance to apologize. How could you deny House that? Whatever he's done, he deserves the opportunity to tell you that he's sorry."
Stacy had always been very straightforward about getting what she wanted, but the circumstances forced her to be indirect and move slowly, and she was finding it very frustrating. She was a modern American woman forced into a Victorian courtship. No maiden aunt could have made a more diligent chaperone than the doctors, nurses and orderlies who bustled in and out of House's room. Not that anything could have happened anyway. Greg was immobilized, as vulnerable and helpless as a turtle upturned on its shell. Hand-holding, words and the occasional stolen kiss were all she had to work with.
Stacy came to visit House every day though not always at the same time. Sometimes she dropped in on him in the morning with a fresh banana nut muffin and a good hot cup of coffee. Other times she didn't visit him until the evening, so that he would have the whole day to think of her and anticipate her arrival. She wanted her visit to be the highlight of his day.
This time, Stacy turned up in the middle of the afternoon. At the sound of the door opening, House turned his head towards his visitor. Stacy saw a tiny flicker of disappointment cross House's face. It lasted no longer than the blink of an eye before it was replaced by a welcoming smile, but it was unmistakeable to someone who knew Greg House as well as she did. Stacy was not the person he wanted to see. House was still hoping for Wilson.
Stacy was too smart to denigrate her rival in front of Greg. The last thing she wanted was to force Greg to come to Wilson's defence. She merely suggested that Wilson's continued absence was proof that he had turned away from House and was unable to forgive him. For his own sake, Greg had to accept that Wilson had made his choice.
"I know it hurts, Greg. He's been part of our lives for so long," she said. "He's been a good friend to both of us."
"He was more than a good friend to me," House said.
"Maybe trying to be more than good friends was a mistake. Look at James's record with romantic relationships. He tries so hard at the beginning. He's always convinced that he's at last found the one true love of his life. Then when things get difficult, he gives up."
She clasped Greg's hand in both of hers in a gesture of sympathy. Thinking that she had said enough and that further discussion of Wilson would be counter-productive, she quickly changed the subject.
"I saw your doctor in the hall. He told me that you're recovering very well and he'd like to release you as soon as you make arrangements for home care. Why didn't you tell me? I could have taken care of things for you."
"I've been working on the arrangements myself. I told Kutner that I picked him to stay with me. Unfortunately, he's got more backbone than I counted on, and he said no. My mistake was in appealing only to his brown-nosing instincts. I'm going to try again. Next time I ask, I'll use a two-pronged approach. I'm going to give him my sad puppy dog eyes, too."
Greg demonstrated his sad puppy dog eyes, and Stacy laughed.
"What about me? I can stay with you at least until your casts are removed."
"I don't think that's a good idea. You've spent enough time in your life as an unpaid nurse - first with me and then with Mark. I couldn't ask you to do it again."
"You don't have to ask. I'm offering."
"Stacy, I know you're just making the offer because you think that we're going to get back together. That's not going to happen. I hope that Wilson will decide to come back to me, but even if he doesn't, I haven't changed my mind about us."
"You aren't making any sense, Greg. Wouldn't you rather be with me than be alone? We love each other."
"I love you, but we made each other miserable when we were together."
"That's not true. We were happy. If it weren't for your infarction we'd still be together."
Greg shook his head.
"We would have broken up eventually. You must remember the arguments we had."
"Sometimes we disagreed. All couples disagree at times. At least we could always talk about our differences."
"Neither one of us could compromise. Remember when we he had that argument about the merits of putting health warnings on cigarette packages. Neither of us smoke, neither of us really cared, but we fought bitterly about it for weeks."
"I enjoy a good debate. I'm a lawyer. Argument pays my rent."
"I'd wake up at three in the morning with some brilliant idea that would prove conclusively that I was right. I'd have to wake you up then and there to tell you."
Stacy laughed, "We were a good match for each other. It was a game. We enjoyed it."
"At first it was fun, like a chess game between evenly matched opponents. Later, when we couldn't stop, it wasn't fun anymore. Then it was trench warfare in World War I, no way out and no end in sight. I'd invite Wilson over just to have a break in the hostilities. We'd have to be civil to each other while he was there."
"James used to think we were the wittiest, most sophisticated couple on earth," said Stacy.
"We both wanted to live up to his expectations. I think we were always at our best in front of an audience."
"Remember the dinner party we had to celebrate my partnership?"
"Of course, I do. Bonnie sat and sulked, while we captivated her husband with our wit and brilliance. You really dazzled him that night. Wilson thought you were Nora Charles, Dorothy Parker, and the whole Algonquin Round Table all rolled up together."
"I almost felt sorry for Bonnie," Stacy agreed. "You and I were good together. Admit it."
"We had fun."
Stacy leaned over the hospital bed and kissed House.
"We were in love. We still are," she touched House's cheek tenderly. "Please reconsider. I'll stay with you until you can be on your own. Then we can both decide whether we belong together."
"I'd be taking advantage of you," House said. "Besides, you don't like my apartment, and I couldn't live in that Kleenex box in the sky that you're currently calling home. My wheelchair would leave tread marks on the carpet and I'd smudge those perfect white walls."
"Don't be stubborn," she said. "You need someone to look after you."
House just shook his head, and Stacy recognized his determination. She knew she was not going to be able to change his mind. She stood up abruptly.
"Just remember I offered," she said. "When you're all alone, just think about what we could have had."
"Goodbye," House said, but Stacy was already gone.
Wilson stood outside House's room and took a deep breath. He had already worked out exactly what he was going to say.
"Hello, House," he said, opening the door.
"Wilson!" said House.
"I want you to know that I don't bear any grudges. I sincerely hope that you and Stacy will be happy together, and I'm sure that you and I can continue to work together as colleagues. I have always had the utmost respect for your professional abilities."
"You memorized that," House said.
"That doesn't mean I'm not telling the truth."
"It doesn't even sound like you. You stole that speech from some manual on human resources," House said. "And you weren't even looking at me when you delivered it. You were staring at a point on the wall a foot and a half over my head."
"Fine," Wilson said. He glanced towards House for a fraction of a second. "Just tell Cuddy that we'll be able to work together. Tell her we talked and we worked things out."
"You expect me to lie to Cuddy for you again."
"I don't know what I was thinking, asking you to go against your stringent moral code like that. Maybe I thought that you might at least help me keep my job, considering that you've destroyed everything else that mattered to me."
"I'm sorry," House said.
"Well, I guess that makes it all better," Wilson said sarcastically. "At least I tried to sound sincere. You can't be bothered even to do that."
"I know that I hurt you. I don't have any excuses. I'm hoping you'll forgive me anyway."
"I'm tired of forgiving you. I forgive you and then you hurt me again. It's an endless loop."
"I was on my way home to tell you about Stacy when I had the accident."
"You were coming back from Stacy's apartment."
"Stacy told you that? Did she also tell you that I only went to her apartment to tell her that we'd made a big mistake? I told her that I wanted to stay with you."
Wilson sat down in the chair next to House's bed. He avoided looking at House. He turned his gaze instead to the television screen above House's bed, where muted football players huddled.
"I thought we could be happy. I thought I was making you happy."
"If you were happy with me, you wouldn't have cheated on me with Stacy. You wouldn't have taken outrageous risks, like riding a motorcycle in the dead of winter. If you actually had someone in your life that you cared about, you wouldn't want to risk your life for some ridiculous thrill. You wouldn't stick a knife in a light socket to see God or dare a crazed gunman to shoot you."
"Have you ever thought that I do stupid things just because I'm an idiot and that it has nothing to do with how I feel about you?"
"If you actually gave a damn about me, if you actually felt something for me, you wouldn't have tried to kill yourself. I know your Vicodin overdose wasn't an accident, House. You're a physician and an addict - you know exactly how much it's safe to take. You didn't even care that I would be the one to find you."
"That was years ago, Wilson."
"I'm so angry with you right now," Wilson said. "I can't even look at you. I'm afraid I'll lose my temper and hurt you. You're helpless. You wouldn't be able to do anything to stop me."
"I'm not scared," House said. "Then again, we've already established that I'm an idiot with no sense of self-preservation."
Wilson almost smiled. Finally, he looked at House.
"See," House said. "No homicidal rage."
House reached up and touched Wilson's hand.
"I love you," he said. "Please forgive me."
House said, "You didn't have to do all this. You could have just ordered in pizza. We both like pizza and I can eat it one-handed."
"I wanted to do it," Wilson said. "Besides I'm tired of one-handed food. I could go the rest of my life without eating another hot dog."
He was busy cutting House's turkey.
"Each piece doesn't have to be perfectly square and the same size. Hurry up or it will get cold."
"Almost done," Wilson said. "Here, take the gravy boat out to the table."
"I can't believe you actually own a gravy boat."
"Heirloom from my grandmother," Wilson said.
He picked up House's plate and his own and followed him out to the table.
"She made the long journey from the shtetls of eastern Europe, clutching her gravy boat..."
"I think she ordered it from the Sears catalogue."
He poured both of them a glass of wine.
"May the light of love guide us home when we are lost and weary," Wilson said, raising his glass. "Now, it's your turn."
"I have to make a toast?"
"Over the teeth and past the gums,
Look out stomach, here it comes."
Wilson gave House a stern glance.
"A real one, please."
House thought for a moment, and then remembered something he had once heard his grandfather say. It seemed appropriate to the occasion.
"May we have those in our arms that we love in our hearts."
Wilson smiled and raised his glass to his lips.
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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.