A Momentary Lapse of Reason
Julie called on Thursday -- right between "General Hospital" and House's afternoon Vicodin -- and said, "Hey, House. Have you had lunch yet? I'm buying."
House leaned a little further back in his desk chair, let his eyes drift toward the ceiling, and said, "Only if you're taking me somewhere nice. And I don't put out on the first date."
"Well, your virtue's safe with me," Julie said. Her voice sounded very far away, and there was a haze of static over it; it felt like standing on opposite sides of a privacy curtain, and House wondered which of them was the patient in that particular metaphor. "I'll pick you up. Be there in ten."
It was actually more like fifteen, but House was feeling too magnanimous to point it out; he'd taken that Vicodin already, and it was making all the sharp edges kind of soft and fuzzy. They didn't talk much on the way to wherever they were going; Julie said, "Jimmy mentioned you had a patient?" and House shrugged and said, "Conn Syndrome. Boring."
Julie nodded and kept her eyes on the road while the radio muttered on in the background, classic rock quiet enough that it sounded like a foreign language. When the opening riff to "Paint It Black" licked tentatively out of the speakers, they both reached out to turn it up.
Inside the restaurant -- not a classy place, but one of House's favorites, where breakfast could be had twenty-four hours a day -- they claimed a little booth in the back. House settled back into the squeaky vinyl bench as if it were a plush recliner, and when the teenaged waiter offered coffee, House ordered fries instead.
"So," he said, while she was looking over the menu. "When are you filing?"
She didn't look up; she was lingering over the soups and salads, frowning like she was having an ethical dilemma over whether to go for the caesar salad or the beef stew. After a moment she sighed, folded the menu and pushed it away from her, finally looked House in the eye. "Next week," she said. "Tuesday."
House nodded, pushed the salt and pepper shakers to the side until they were huddled up against the ketchup. "You're okay with it?"
Julie shrugged and turned her head toward the window. "I don't know." Her fingers tapped against the tabletop. "I guess I'm still a little surprised that we didn't work." She wiggled those fingers at him when he opened his mouth, and said, "Yeah, I know. You're not."
The waiter sidled up to the table, slid a basket of fries in front of House and took their orders. Julie opted for the salad. House dug into his fries and absently noted that the waiter's eyebrow piercing -- new, from the looks of it -- was on its way to infection.
"He doesn't actually sleep with them, you know," House noted, once the waiter had gone.
"Yes, I know," Julie said. "That's not it, anyway." She reached over and stole a couple of his fries, and he didn't even bother to swat her hand away. "I'll tell him tonight," she said. "If he doesn't want to stay at home--"
House waved a fry. "He'll come to my place. It's no problem."
Julie nodded and looked down at the table. When she looked back up again, there was a tight smile on her face. She said, "Anyway. Did you two ever go see that new slasher flick he was talking about last week?"
House took the ketchup hostage and spilled its insides liberally over his fries. "Yeah," he said. "Not enough gore."
Their food came after that, and they didn't talk about Wilson anymore.
Wilson drives him home from the hospital, and House spends the whole trip clutching at his leg, gritting his teeth, and leaning his forehead against the window while he tries not to throw up.
The pain in his leg isn't even the worst part. It's the wanting that makes every part of him ache and burn; it's the needing that feels like fire at the base of his skull.
He can't have any more morphine, and it feels like he's dying.
When they get to the front door, Wilson says, "Just a little further," and he wraps an arm around House's waist. Getting inside that way is awkward, but they make it work, at least as far as the leather armchair, which House sinks into with a groan.
Wilson crouches down next to the chair, and his hand is on House's arm. He says, "Okay?" and House barks out a breathless, bitter laugh, because that might be the stupidest question he's ever heard, and considering that he works -- worked -- at a teaching hospital, he's heard some pretty stupid questions.
They don't really speak for the rest of the evening. House spends the night on the couch, because he refuses to shift himself as far as the bedroom. Wilson sleeps in the bed.
House wakes up at 6 a.m., like usual, like clockwork. A lifetime ago he would've pulled on some shorts and a t-shirt and gone out for his early-morning endorphin high.
Today he dry-swallows a Vicodin and goes back to sleep. In his dreams, he jogs the usual route, and when he wakes up again, his leg is aching as if he's really done it.
It's mid-afternoon when House drags himself off the couch and into the bathroom. Wilson has gone back to work for the day, and the quiet is like lying in a hole six feet deep and waiting for someone to start filling it in.
House stares at himself in the mirror, and wishes for a shovel.
House left work early, and stopped on his way home to buy curry and alcohol, and rent the absolute worst B-movies he could get his hands on. At home, he put the curry in the fridge and tried to find things to do that didn't involve watching either the clock or the door.
By 11 o'clock, he was still on the couch, nearing the end of "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" and wondering whether he ought to call over to Wilson's place to see if Julie had lost her nerve. He got up instead, switched the discs in the DVD player to start on "Samson vs. the Vampire Women," and took up the search for the yo-yo he'd abandoned somewhere in the vicinity of the TV yesterday.
Wilson finally showed up around 12:30; he invited himself in when House opened the door, then dropped his overnight bag in the living room and stole House's spot on the couch.
"Ah," he said, digging into the remnants of House's reheated and re-cooled curry. "'Horrors of Spider Island.'"
House grunted, sat down next to him and hooked the cane on the arm of the couch.
"You knew my wife was going to leave me," Wilson said, very conversationally, as if he was commenting on the merits of 'Spider Island' versus 'Horror at Party Beach.' "You avoided me all day, ever since you disappeared at lunchtime."
"And you knew I knew," House said, looking at the TV. "So why did you let me avoid you?"
Wilson poked at the curry, like he'd just realized he was eating something cold and congealing. "I guess I didn't want to see if you'd lie to me," he said, and that was pretty much that.
The hospital hires home-care, but it's nothing useful like a maid or a cook or a really expensive hooker. House gets a physical therapist instead, and worse, she's a cheerful morning person. She shows up at 8 a.m. and takes over his living room, shoving furniture aside and laying out all sorts of arcane torture devices on the floor.
House surveys the brightly-colored tools of her trade and says, "Kinky. I should warn you, though, I'm not as flexible as I used to be." He taps his knuckles against his thigh, and feels it in the nerve endings like heat. "Bum leg, you know."
The therapist smiles, neatly arranges a padded mat in the middle of the floor and says, "We'll work on that," with the sort of unflappable calm that comes from many years of finding joy in other peoples' pain. "My name's Julie, by the way."
House frowns and step-thumps his way a little closer. "Damn," he says, "I was hoping it'd be 'Candy' or 'Lola' or something interesting like that. Do you charge by the hour, or the act?"
Julie's grin is all teeth, and her hand hits the mat with a sharp, echoing slap. "Why don't we begin with you on your knees? I'm sure it's a familiar position."
House didn't hear the alarm clock in the bedroom go off, but Wilson did; when House woke up, Wilson was already in the shower, the TV was turned off and the take-out containers from the night before had all been cleared away.
The blanket draped over House's body was from the hall closet, but Wilson hadn't managed to do everything for him, because his mouth still tasted foul, and he really needed to pee.
The bathroom door was unlocked; House strolled in, announced his intention to use the toilet, and did not look at the steamy, translucent shower doors. He flushed the toilet and took his sweet time washing his hands, but Wilson had already seen it coming, and pointed the showerhead at the wall.
"That's not fair," House said, as he headed for the door. "You're not being a very good guest."
"You're a terrible host," Wilson answered, "So I guess we're even."
House grunted, which might've been agreement. "Hurry up," he said. "I'm sure you have a lot to do today, so no time to fool around. There are all those sick little children in need of saving, nurses to hit on, not to mention you need to get a jump on finding another wife. That forty-something who works in the cafeteria was giving you the eye a couple days ago."
Wilson didn't laugh. The shape of him in the shower was a rough outline of a lowered head, one hand braced against the wall.
House clenched his jaw shut, turned and left the bathroom. When Wilson was finished and it was House's turn in the shower, the tiles were still warm, like lingering body heat.
Wilson and Julie meet in the doorway of House's apartment, when Julie's going out and Wilson's coming in. There's an awkward shuffling in the entryway, and Wilson takes an exercise ball hard in the gut.
Julie apologizes and introduces herself, shifts her equipment until she frees up a hand. Wilson accepts the handshake with a little smile and a sort of shy look that's all eyelashes.
House thumps his cane against the floor and says, "I would tell you to get a room, but I'd rather you just get out."
Julie flushes -- uncharacteristic, when she's remained unflappable no matter how much House tries to flap her -- and gives Wilson a smile as she finally negotiates the door. Wilson watches her walk down the hall with a dopey little grin on his face.
"Oh, stop," House says. He turns and starts making his way back toward the bedroom; his leg is killing him and he's covered in sweat, and he can't imagine how any of this qualifies as therapy. "You only just got divorced, you don't need another one. Wives aren't cereal-box prizes; you don't need to collect them all."
The shower seems to have relocated itself to a distance of approximately ten million miles, and House's limbs are already shaking. He stops in the middle of the living room, leans his cane against his hip and strips off his damp t-shirt.
When he looks back, Wilson isn't following; he's still standing just outside the door, staring back toward the elevators. He says, "That's the physical therapist you keep complaining about?"
House drops the t-shirt to the floor, takes up his cane again, and takes a few more steps toward the bathroom. "Well, she put away her horns before you got here," he says. "And now it's time for her to return to the fiery pit from whence she came."
Wilson's fingers are tapping against his thigh. House thinks, Don't, but he doesn't say it out loud, and then Wilson is stepping toward the door. "I'd better help her get all that stuff into her car," Wilson says, and he's gone before House can say anything.
House stands in the living room and watches the open door until his leg is ready to collapse beneath him, and all the sweat on his body has dried.
Wilson doesn't come back.
Wilson spent a good chunk of his day in House's office, camped out in his favorite chair. House didn't say anything about it, even though Foreman was giving them funny looks from the conference room.
"Spider-Man or the Hulk?" Wilson tossed House's favorite blue-and-green tennis ball into the air, caught it, then lobbed it across the office into House's waiting hands.
"Spider-Man," House said. "He's small, but he's wiry." House tossed the tennis ball back. "Mr. Fantastic, or Captain America?"
"Tough one," Wilson said. "Mr. Fantastic has science on his side, but I don't think he'd stand a chance against Captain America. I mean, Captain America has all that experience fighting Nazis." The tennis ball he threw went slightly off-target; House had to stretch to catch it. "Ape-Man, or Sabretooth?"
"Sabretooth, definitely," House said, as if he was making the world's most obvious diagnosis. "He's meaner, and he's got those fast healing powers, plus the claws." He passed the tennis ball back, with considerably better aim.
"Ah, but Ape-Man had super-strength for awhile." Wilson smiled, twisted the ball in his hands, and said, "I probably should go back to my own office, maybe see some of my patients."
House shrugged. "I'm sure they can live without you for one day." He paused, quirked his eyebrows up and smirked a little. "Or maybe not."
Wilson snorted, levered himself reluctantly out of his chair, and headed for the door.
An hour later, Wilson was back in his chair, playing with one of House's slinkies. He said, "Foreman or Cuddy?"
House coughed into his coffee. "Please," he said. "Foreman wouldn't stand a chance."
House isn't the best man at the wedding. He wouldn't have accepted and he wasn't asked anyway, so Wilson's brother has the honor. House makes an appearance, but he mostly loiters in out of the way spots where he's least likely to have to speak to anyone, and he plans to use his leg as an excuse to leave early.
When Cuddy finds him, he's standing near the buffet, washing down a dose of Vicodin with some heavily sweetened sparkling apple cider, and trying not to stare at the happy newlyweds across the room. They're being disgustingly cute, wholesome, happy and all-American, like an advertisement for antidepressants. And they're not even dancing or feeding each other cake or any of those other ridiculous wedding-type rituals; Wilson has been cornered by one of Julie's older and more withered relatives, and Julie's rolling her eyes at him, and they're both smiling those little matching smiles that couples have.
The smell of coleslaw and salad dressing is wafting from the buffet table like body odor in a heat wave. House is trying very hard not to throw up.
So when Cuddy says, "Doctor House," and sidles up next to him, he's almost relieved.
"Doctor Cuddy," he returns, cordially enough. "Well, I'm so glad we had this discussion. Let's end it on a good note, shall we?"
He moves to limp away, but Cuddy grabs his hand, just where it curves over the handle of his cane, and stops him in his tracks. "They're a cute couple, aren't they?"
House looks at the floor, because if he looks up and catches sight of Wilson and Julie again he probably is going to be sick. There's a weight in his stomach as if he's just been downing lead pellets instead of white pills. "I hadn't noticed. Why, were you considering asking them for a threesome?"
Cuddy's fingers tighten over his, and he wants to pull his hand away, but it's not entirely unlikely that he'll lose his balance and end up on his ass, and then Wilson will make some dry remark and insist on driving him home. And it's not that House would be particularly embarrassed about it -- he can handle a little humiliation now and then, for the right causes -- what's worse is that he wants it, wants Wilson to walk out of his own wedding, wants wilson to prove that House is more important.
But he's pretty sure that he's not more important at all, and he doesn't want to risk finding out for sure.
"--with her?" Cuddy is saying.
House blinks and lifts his head to look at her. "What?"
"I said, are you in love with her?" Cuddy's expression is simultaneously challenging and sympathetic; House wonders if that puts an added strain on the muscles of the face, and whether all that pissy sympathy makes her tired.
He glances out into the crowd, and Wilson and Julie are together now, with Wilson's hand on her arm and their heads bent together while they whisper and smile at each other. They're all perfect white teeth and soft white skin.
"Yes," House says. "Madly."
Wilson presses a kiss to Julie's lips. House's fingers tighten around his cane. There's a tremor starting in his thigh and he's never felt weaker in his life.
Cuddy says, "Oh," in a peculiar tone of voice that makes House think he just gave something away, something important. He doesn't look at her, because he doesn't want to see that knowing in her eyes.
"Savor this moment, Dr. Cuddy," he eventually says, and he shakes his hand free of her loosened grip and steps around her, headed for the exit. "It's so rare to see this kind of heart-wrenching dramatic tragedy outside of Shakespeare and 'General Hospital.' Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go think of a suitably overblown way to express my despair. A visit to the local apothecary might be called for; I hope they don't close early on Saturdays."
He's only a few steps away when Cuddy says, "Dr. House. I'd like to have you back at the hospital."
He pauses, turns his head but doesn't turn around. "And I'd like to have my own personal Swiss masseuse."
She sighs, and he can hear the tail end of it in her voice when she says, "I'll see you on Monday, 8 a.m. sharp."
He leans a little heavier on his cane, wanting to move forward and needing to stand still. Then he says, "Yeah, okay," and when he walks away again, she doesn't follow.
It was a Thursday -- right between "The OC" and House's evening Vicodin -- when Wilson shifted himself on the couch, dropped his feet from the coffee table, and said, "I don't think I'll get married again." He said it the same way he might've said that he didn't like shrimp, or that yellow wasn't his color.
"Well, you know what they say," House said. He was flipping channels -- crap, crap, infomercial, crap, crap -- and settled on what looked like a soap, even though everybody was speaking Chinese; these things were pretty easy to follow in any language.
"No," Wilson answered, "and I don't know who 'they' are, either."
"If at first you don't succeed," House said, with a little wave of the remote. "Try, try again. Now, since they only say 'try' twice, I figure that means that if at first you don't succeed, you should try two more times, and if you're still failing, it might be time to take up something less difficult, like alligator wrestling."
"Ah," Wilson agreed, with a sage sort of nod. "The three strikes theory. Probably easier on the pocketbook, anyway."
"Certainly," House agreed. "Or you could try the method all the other men of the world have figured out, which involves not getting married every time you want to get laid."
Wilson made a "hmm" noise like he was thinking that over. "Or," he said, "I could do what you do and just never get laid."
"You could become a monk," House suggested, helpfully. "But the lifestyle could take some adjustment, and I just don't know about those clothes. Brown might not be your color."
"I think you're right," Wilson said. "I think I should try something else."
And then he leaned over and hooked a hand around House's jaw, and pressed his lips hard against House's, lapped his tongue against House's teeth. Wilson's mouth tasted like marinara sauce and cheese, and it felt like morphine, like all the best things the world had to offer, conveniently available in human form.
Wilson was wearing a very old, very worn Pink Floyd t-shirt, which had been House's many years ago, before Wilson had stolen it. House gripped the material at the waist and hung on, like he wasn't going down unless he took Wilson down with him.
He smirked against Wilson's mouth and thought, Hmm. Going down. Bad choice of words.
Against his knuckles, he could feel Wilson's obliques, and beneath those, the curve of ribs. There was heat pouring out of Wilson's body, and it soaked into House's joints and muscles, deep into the fiber of him, just like the Vicodin but better, a thousand times better and--
Wilson grunted as he broke away, jerking his chin up and pulling back; his jaw clipped House's cheek, and his fingers dug hard into the ridges of muscle at House's shoulders. Each breath he released swept over House's hair, hot and moist. House leaned his forehead against the wing of Wilson's collarbone, and his lungs were aching.
"Okay," Wilson said. "I didn't actually mean to do that."
House turned his head, nipped at Wilson's neck and said, "Shut up." He pushed -- hard -- and Wilson put up no resistance; they tumbled back onto the couch together, with House's hands clutching at Wilson's hips and House's weight settling between Wilson's legs.
"Shut up," House said again, softer, even though Wilson hadn't said a word, and then House kissed him, preventative medicine to cure a problem with overactive vocal cords.
He never did take that evening Vicodin.
The hell of it is, House actually likes Julie, at least as much as he likes anybody, which is to say that he finds her tolerable. She isn't completely stupid, and she isn't too dramatic, and she's even decent enough company, once she's no longer his physical therapist and he doesn't feel compelled to actively hate her anymore. She isn't terribly interesting, but she has pretty good taste in music.
He likes Wilson, too, which is an understatement of the absolutely obvious, and he prefers not to think too much about that.
Wilson and Julie together, though, is just about the most painful thing House can think of, for all parties. They invite him to dinner a few days after they return from their honeymoon -- Alaska, this time, and House can't imagine why anybody would want to go there; too many penguins -- and House feels a little rush of vindication the moment he steps in the door.
This is never, ever going to work.
When Wilson's around, Julie's confidence flags, and she defers to him too much. When Julie's around, Wilson's sense of humor loses its edge, and he makes too much of an effort to dumb down the conversation. Julie isn't as smart as Wilson is -- few people are, in House's opinion -- and they're both aware of it. Wilson treats her gently, like she's a patient and he's delivering bad news.
House gives it a month, but their marriage holds out for years, lingering like a terminal patient refusing to just give it up and die already. Euthanasia would be kinder.
It's just a lack of creativity, House ultimately decides, and he's disappointed in both of them. It's a decent distraction, anyway, so he doesn't have to dwell on being disappointed in himself.
Wilson gripped the edge of the exam table, swung his legs a little, and leaned back, finally taking his attention away from the TV, at least for the duration of the commercial break. "So, do you think Sonya and Maxwell are going to get together, or what?"
"No," House said. "They'll turn out to be brother and sister." He was bent over a chart, trying to catch up with the pile of charts he still had left over from Christmas. Cuddy had stolen his iPod and was holding it hostage to ensure his cooperation.
That woman fought dirty. He had to admire that.
House paused in his charting -- nothing he was writing was particularly legible anyway, they'd taught him that one at doctor school -- and looked up at Wilson with a contemplative air. "Cuddy and Wonder Woman in a cage match. Who do you think would win?"
Wilson's eyebrows jumped, and he smiled. "I don't know, but I'd definitely want to watch. You could sell tickets."
"Smart money's on Cuddy," House declared. He closed the chart with a flourish, tossed it into the woefully small 'finished' pile, stretched and cracked his knuckles as if he'd been working hard in the coal mines all day. His show returned from commercial break just as he stood up, so he hoisted himself up onto the exam table next to Wilson, close enough that their shoulders touched.
"I had a clinic patient yesterday who had a bunch of Navy SEAL tattoos," House commented. "I'm thinking of hiring him to infiltrate Cuddy's office and liberate my iPod."
Wilson snorted. "You versus Cuddy? That's not even a contest."
"I know," House said. "I'm glad you're willing to throw your support behind my cunning intellect and wily street-fighting moves."
"No way," Wilson said. "I'm betting on Cuddy. I don't think she'd be above beating you with your own cane. She'd probably even enjoy it."
"Ouch," House said. He shifted a little, to take some of the pressure off his bad leg, and it was just a happy coincidence that it pressed him against Wilson's side for a moment. And if his fingers just happened to brush Wilson's wrist, and he just happened to smell his own shampoo in Wilson's hair, well, it didn't necessarily mean anything. He bumped Wilson with his shoulder, deliberately, once, twice -- third's the charm -- and said, "You'd protect me, right?"
Wilson said, "I don't like you that much," and though he didn't look away from the TV, there was a little smile on his lips.
House wrapped his fingers around Wilson's wrist very lightly, like he was taking a pulse, but there was a little stroking thrown in there, for good measure. House looked at the TV too, and when he let go of Wilson's wrist he let his knuckles skim against Wilson's thigh.
A layman might've missed the little hitch in Wilson's breathing, but House was a very talented doctor. He noticed things.
He smirked in the TV's general direction and said, "Yeah, right. You like me plenty."
Wilson leaned into House with his shoulder, and that was answer enough. Yeah. Wilson definitely had his 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 Fox Television, 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.