Dr-House.com Fanfiction

Tracking Time
Home
Updates
Quick Reference
FAQ
2cutekids2
Abbie G
Ambra
Armchair Elvis
Auditrix
Benj
Betz88
CaitDC
Cakemixo
Carebear
CathyNH
Catlady
DIY Sheep
Dru
Dr. Xreader
jennamajig1
KidsNurse
Kit Kat
Laura
Lunagrrl74
Marisol
Namaste
Narsil
Nomad1328
Pillpopdoc
PipTook
Pradon
rtlemurs
Sanlin
sasmom
SSMoony
sy dedalus
Taruia
TelegramSam
Tpel1

By Namaste

Part One

2005

When Cuddy first offered House his own department and all the perks that came with it, he had demanded possession of the connecting rooms in the hospital’s new wing. He’d been ready to play the cripple card, and argue that the faculty offices in the older part of the hospital where Wilson hung his lab coat were too far to walk on his painful leg.

Cuddy had agreed quickly, though, muttering something under her breath that led House to believe that her real reasoning was the same one that had prompted his third grade teacher to seat him and Tony Clarke on opposite sides of the room after the first two weeks of class.

Truth was, he liked the view. The glass walls of the office and conference room looked out on a main hallway leading to the labs. Anyone needing tests, x-rays or scans passed by, some under their own power, some in wheelchairs, others on gurneys.

And House would sometimes test himself. He’d see a patient passing by, and come up with a diagnosis before they’d moved beyond his eyesight, then he’d send Chase or Cameron out to confirm it. Foreman had rolled his eyes the first time House tried sending him out, agreeing only after setting a $50 wager on it. Since then, Forman had refused, saying he couldn’t afford to lose any more bets.

House rarely looked out the windows looking to the outside world. The glass there faced out to the parking lot and main road, a sea of asphalt, concrete and late-model cars.

“God, but this is a depressing view,” Wilson often commented whenever he’d part the blinds. The older wing housing Wilson’s office looked out at a green field and trees. A corner of the old fieldhouse and track were visible off to the left.

House met Wilson on that track. Wilson had been a resident, House already on tenure track when he’d felt a need to work off a rising level of frustration with the young doctors he had been ordered to supervise.

He’d just spotted Chilton at the nurses’ station, chatting with a brunette. House had already been in a foul mood, and now seeing Chilton there -- rather than running the blood test he’d been ordered to do -- set him off.

“I wrote up the lab order,” Chilton had whined. “They’ll get to it soon enough.”

“I didn’t tell you to order it,” House had said. “I’m pretty sure I ordered you to do it.”

“Why should I? The lab can ...”

“Because as far as you are concerned I am your lord and master.” House ignored the floor nurse trying to get him to lower his voice. “I am God. And the lord your God demands it. Also because the lab has a limited staff on overnights and it’ll take them at least four hours to get to something you can finish in 15 minutes.”

Even then Chilton hadn’t budged until House stared him down, then he moved only grudgingly down the hall.

House was fairly certain if he didn’t pound some pavement, he’d pound Chilton instead -- and that wouldn’t do either of them any favors.

He would have preferred a long run on the trails down the road, but at 3 a.m., you take what you can get, and there was enough ambient light at the nearby fieldhouse to make the track runable even in a total eclipse.

Someone else was already on the track when he got there, but in the dim light couldn’t make out who. House waited until the other runner passed him, then waited until the man rounded the first turn before he stepped onto the surface himself. House would have preferred to have the track to himself, but if he couldn’t do that, at least he could turn the man into his rabbit, using him as an incentive to keep the pace fast, to catch the other runner, pass him.

But more than a mile in, House wasn’t making any headway. He was in a comfortable pace for him, easily less than a six-and-a-half-minute mile, he guessed, a pace that the bulk of the bulk working at the hospital couldn’t match, but he wasn’t gaining on this runner. The white t-shirt bouncing along the track in front of him almost seemed to be mocking him.

He stepped it up, felt his breath come a little faster as he picked up the cadence. Another mile in, he could sense he was gaining again. One more lap and he knew it, the white shirt growing closer with every step. As the front runner cleared the third turn, though, he looked back over his shoulder, eyed House and picked up his own pace. House was certain he’d seen a smile on that face as the man began to pull away.

House grunted, glad for the challenge, and responded to the change in tempo, first settling into the new pace set by the runner, then pushing it up another notch.

Lap by lap, House and the man took turns setting the pace. House had a sudden image of the two of locked into this contest forever. He was closing slowly, but they’d matched speeds for more than five miles now. House knew it had been too long since he’d really pushed it on a long run to keep up for much longer. Too many long shifts, sleepy days and bar nights.

He fell back on an old trick, and began to whistle, as if the pace was no more than an easy stroll. The maneuver would mean he’d have to slow down, he knew, but House also had seen more than one running on the track or trails back in college fall victim to the simple psych out.

Half a lap more, and the other man finally slowed, stopped, than lay on his back on the damp grass of the infield.

He was still breathing heavily when House passed him, then stopped and walked over to stand over him.

“I surrender!” the other man said, holding out both hands.

“Damn straight,” House plopped down onto the grass beside him, sucked in the damp night air. “Know when you’re licked.”

“Self awareness,” the younger man said, still panting heavily. “Is the key.”

“Unless you’ve got a good disguise.”

“So they’ll never know it’s you.”

“Then I’m all about the deception.”

“Deceit does have its benefits.” The other man pushed himself up to his elbows, looked over at House in the dim light. “James Wilson,” he said, reaching over with his right hand.

“Yeah, like I’m supposed to believe a word you say now.” He pushed himself to his feet, reached down and gave Wilson a hand up. “Gregory House. If you can believe that.”

“Nah, can’t be. Chilton says House is a self-absorbed prick. Of course, Chilton is an ass with so few signs of intelligence, I’m not sure he actually counts as a sentient being.”

“It has been my finding that most air headed imbeciles spend their lives in fear of sharp objects.”

“Understandable, since the slightest pin prick could be fatal.”

Both men turned back toward the lights, and House could feel his mood definitely improved.

“Just do me a favor, and tell me you hadn’t already finished 10k before I showed up,” he said. “Not that my ego couldn’t take it, but it would take some of the joy out of running you into the ground.”

“I’m not saying anything. Just try and catch up some day when I haven’t pulled 36 hours straight.”

“Is that an invitation, or a challenge, Wilson -- if that is your real name?”

“What makes you think it’s not a warning?” Wilson smiled as he headed toward the parking lot, leaving House alone in the pool of light at the ER entrance.

 

 

--------------

1997

-------------

House made the time for a long run next time he saw Wilson on the track, this time running with him, rather than in competition. When their conversation veered effortlessly from favorite routes to preferred spots to filch coffee with sidetracks into pop culture, he was satisfied. When Wilson threw out a quick, but thorough, comparison between Pearl Jam and Black Flag, he was pleased. When the younger doctor kept up his end when the conversation turned to the history of supporting the arts through all its twists and turns, House believed he was actually happy.

“So when Lorenzo the Magnificent bankrolled Michelangelo, that was just swell, but somehow Miller Brewing sponsoring Bon Jovi is the end of civilization as we know it?” Wilson said as they rounded another turn, side by side.

“Glad you see it my way,” House said. “And I’ll try to overlook your taste in both music and beer.”

Within a month, they were setting regular times to meet for a run, finding time to squeeze in daytime haunts along both trails -- House’s favorite -- and Wilson’s preferred road routes.

House checked out Wilson’s history at the hospital, and heard nothing but praise for the oncologist. That made him vaguely suspicious until one day when he was slouched in comfortable chair in a staff room and overheard Wilson taking a stand against a recommended treatment by a more experienced doctor. He remained where he was, hidden from the view of the gaggle of residents by a column.

Wilson laid out his case well, offered strong reasons for his preferred treatment and did not back down when the other doctor tried to laugh him off as an inexperienced practitioner. The chief agreed to take both under consideration. Curious, House checked it out for himself, passing off his clinic hours on one of his own residents while he did his research, and came down firmly on Wilson’s side.

He soon discovered Wilson had been checking him out as well. The younger doctor appeared at House’s elbow one afternoon, appearing far too young to irredeemably optimistic to House’s eyes. It had been a bad day and House was in a foul mood, backed up with a monotony of cases, feeble residents and no way out of clinic duty.

At least the rest of the staff had taken the hint and steered clear of him. Wilson either did not know how dark House’s moods could turn, or simply ignored the possibility.

“And you’re here, why?”

To his credit, Wilson didn’t flinch, and returned House’s direct gaze. He held out a manila folder.

“Got a weird case.”

House made no response, didn’t even acknowledge the file.

“A 49-year-old female, not responding to the radiation or chemo. At least not in expected ways.”

“You’re surprised that when you fill a body with poison that it reacts strangely? I thought unusual reactions were what the cancer guys thrived on. Good for the research papers and all that. Publish or perish you know. Hell, play your cards right and you might even get a research grant out of it. Impress the folks back home without the necessity of actually curing anything.”

Wilson didn’t back off. Instead, he moved in closer, leaning against the side of House’s desk, keeping the file well within House’s sight.

“I don’t think it’s cancer,” he said softly. “Or at least not just cancer. We’ve got good people, but they’re all looking at the tumor. She needs someone who can see what else is going on.”

House studied the young man again. Brown hair cut simply. Plain white shirt. Dark pants. Tasteful if forgettable tie. Dressed as if he was trying to blend in. But there was something else. Something that made him stand out despite every intention. House could see it now. An intensity. A sureness -- not like a surgeon’s belief in his own infallibility, but rather in something bigger: In the cause of his patient, and finding the right answer.

“This isn’t my field,” House said, though he took the folder.

“Neither is Australian rules football, but that doesn’t seem to stop you from offering your opinion.”

It was Wilson who introduced House to monster trucks. It was House who schooled Wilson on the finer points of scotch and Irish whiskey.

Wilson was already married then, to his first wife Amy, but House knew it wouldn’t last. She had left her family and friends in St. Louis, traveled more than 1,500 miles to live with the man she’d met her freshman year of college. Amy loved the idea of being married to a doctor more than the reality of it. In Princeton, she knew no one except a husband who spent the bulk of his time at the hospital, even when he wasn’t on call if he was working on a particularly interesting case.

She began traveling back to St. Louis for holidays and birthdays. She took advantage of air price wars to make weekend trips. She’d extend her stay by a day or two, then begin staying for up to a week each time she flew out. House began to notice things missing from the apartment when he’d stop by to pick up Wilson. Photos. Mementos. Amy was erasing herself from Princeton with every trip home.

When Wilson told him he was afraid it was over, he seemed shocked, and House managed to to fight his own first instincts for a scathing reply and keep his mouth shut. He offered Wilson an understated support instead. This time, for this person, it seemed to be the right thing to do.

-------------

1998

------------

Following the first divorce, Wilson began pushing himself harder on the runs. He entered more and more road races, collecting medals for good showings in everything from 5K fun runs to a hilly 20K. Sometimes House joined him -- in training if not in the actual competition. He’d had enough of that in high school and college, both track and cross country. Now, he told Wilson, he ran solely for his own enjoyment, and took note of his times just to prove something to himself. How he measured up against others, he said, didn’t matter.

House stuck with Wilson’s increased pace and mileage in training, though, knowing that the long conversations kept Wilson’s inner thoughts off the legal ending of his marriage at least for a short time. The distances, he assumed, would fall back into more leisurely ones once Wilson no longer needed to exhaust himself just to get a good night’s sleep.

At the hospital, Wilson volunteered to take the toughest cases. Those that were emotionally draining -- dying babies and the good people suffering with no good alternatives -- reminded him that his divorce was nothing compared to the lives his patients faced. The most confusing to diagnose and treat presented him with puzzles to keep his mind occupied.

More and more often, Wilson would talk those cases over with House, using him as a sounding board while also looking into avenues House might suggest. Even if House had no immediate thoughts on the case, he generally knew about some obscure medical journal that had addressed it.

House, meanwhile, would talk over his more interesting cases with Wilson and found that the oncologist had an innate ability to connect dots that others rarely saw.

He also found, to his surprise, that his friendship with Wilson somehow boosted his own image at PPTH. House knew his medical abilities had always been respected, but now the staff actually began to seek him out, ask his opinions on their own bizarre cases.

“What the hell have you been telling people?” House shouted from halfway across the cafeteria on the day he’d chased two residents from his office and ducked another three by making a fast turn into the stairway.

“Just in the past five minutes or are you looking at a wider time frame?” Wilson leaned back in his chair as two other doctors and a nurse at his table picked up their trays and left. “Because my mother says I was a real motor mouth when I was three, and I’d need time to track down those conversations.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time building up my reputation, and you’re ruining it.” House nabbed a handful of french fries off Wilson’s tray as he sat down.

“I was eating those,” Wilson protested. “And what reputation? The one that you’re a complete ass?”

“That’s the one. I’ve spent a lot of years on it.”

“I didn’t think you cared what people thought about you.” Wilson grabbed his soft drink cup away, before House could take a drink.

“I don’t care what they think of my medical decisions,” House clarified. “But if they start thinking I’ve got a soft and chewy center, they start thinking it’s fine to talk to me.”

“And that would be bad?”

“Precisely.”

“Exchanging pleasantries with your peers is a bad thing?”

“You think McIntyre is actually my equal?”

Wilson considered the concept for a moment before answering.

“As a doctor? Well, no. He gives Caribbean medical schools a bad reputation, so you’ve definitely got him there,” he conceded. “But on the other hand, he’s generally pleasant to talk to, so that’s one in his favor.”

“Exactly. You find him not inoffensive, he finds you not inoffensive, and then somehow that miniscule brain of his puts two and two together and begins to think that if you’re inoffensive and spend time with me, that somehow I must also be inoffensive.”

“What did he do, try to talk to you?”

House didn’t answer.

“Seriously.”

Still no reply.

“He talked to you.”

“He wanted to.”

Now Wilson was the one to hold his silence.

“I can tell these things. There’s this look ...”

“Seriously, man, have you finally gone insane or have I? Must be one of us, because if I understand this correctly you’re pissed as hell because someone looked at you?”

“Not just someone,” House protested. “McIntyre.”

Wilson opened his mouth, but could find no words.

“OK, so maybe I can put up with the friendly chitchat without my brains beginning to ooze out of my ears, but it’s not just that.”

“Please continue,” Wilson closed his eyes, rubbed at his temples trying to ease the headache that had suddenly announced its presence.

“He and the other half-wits have gotten it into their heads that I can solve their cases,” House protested. “And it’s your fault.”

“First off, my fault? And second, may I remind you that you bitch whenever there’s a decent case you don’t get to butt in on?”

“Of course it’s your fault. It’s that damn JAMA article of yours.”

“I thought you liked that article,” Wilson interrupted. “Hell, you were the one who told me to submit it.”

“Submit it, sure, but ever since they saw that I consulted on your case, every ambitious resident in the hospital sees me as their ticket to publishing their own paper,” House said.

“And that would bad.”

“Of course it would.” House paused in mid-fry theft and studied Wilson. “Oh don’t do that.”

“What now?”

“That. Get that look on your face. All wide eyed and innocent. Makes me feel like I’ve just kicked a puppy. They’re idiots. Ninety percent of the residents out there couldn’t find their own asses in a house of mirrors if they used both hands. You’re not an idiot. You did good work on that case. You deserve the attention.”

“But I couldn’t have done it without your help,” Wilson protested. “What makes them so different?”

“There’s a difference between asking for a consult when you need information, and wanting someone else to do the work for you,” House insisted. “You do your own homework. You know what you’re doing. A good three-quarters of the calls I get are from people who could figure it out themselves if they’d just care to put in an effort on their own.”

He paused, looked Wilson straight in the eye. An intense gaze Wilson neither wanted -- nor could -- look away from.

“They annoy me. You don’t.”

Wilson blinked. Considered the words. Blinked again.

“Uh, thanks?”

“You’re welcome.”

Neither man said anything for a few moments. House watched the television across the room for a bit. Wilson finished what fries were left, then tidied his tray.

“So if anyone asks, I should deny talking to you?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” House said. He rose from the seat, tossed a few used napkins onto Wilson’s tray. “Tell them anything you like. Just make sure they stay away.”

“Play up your finer qualities, then.” Wilson grabbed his tray, carried it over to the trash bin and sorted out the plates from the garbage. “Point out that you’re a condescending bastard who thinks he’s better than they are and can’t wait to provide them with precise examples of their ineptitude.”

House nodded. “That should do it.”

“What if they’ve actually got a decent case?” Wilson questioned as they walked together out of the cafeteria.

“Then send ‘em my way. Or better yet, just get the information from them and give it to me.”

“Why am I picturing a Wizard of Oz scenario?” Wilson asked as he waited with House near the elevators. “Except instead of paying no attention to the man behind the curtain, you’re hiding behind me?”

A bell rang and the elevator door opened. House stepped in while Wilson waited behind, headed instead for the clinic.

“Stick to oncology, Wilson,” he called just before the doors closed. “You’d make a lousy psychiatrist.”

 

-----------

1999

----------

 

On the day Wilson signed the papers for his second divorce -- less than two years after the wedding -- House took him to Rio. Carnivale was in full swing and if Wilson was ever going to go, he insisted, this was the time to do it.

“Just remember, it’s your job to smile and blush at the women. I’ll do the talking,” House insisted.

“What am I, bait?”

“Got it in one.”

Wilson pulled him to a stop in the middle of the Newark terminal. “And what, cheap meaningless sex with a beautiful woman is supposed to make me feel better?”

“Cheap, meaningless sex with unbelievably gorgeous women,” House clarified. “Trust me on this.”

Unlike Amy, House had never approved of Wilson’s second wife, Tonya. She was on the rebound, and so was Wilson.

When they returned from Vegas, married just a month after meeting, House had wished Wilson luck, but added that he’d need it. The first six months were very good, the second six mediocre. The night of their first anniversary Wilson spent getting drunk at House’s place and crashing on the couch.

“Not a word,” Wilson warned him when he showed up with a six-pack of Grolsch.

House merely stood aside with the door open, then grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels before finally addressing Wilson from the kitchen doorway.

“Should we even bother with the glasses?”

House heard him out that night, and the days and nights that followed. He sympathized. He empathized. Tonya was a bitch. Tonya didn’t know better. Tonya was an accident waiting to happen. He drew the line when Wilson began blaming himself.

“Where the hell did that come from?” He interrupted Wilson before he could even finish the sentence. “First off, I believe we already agreed that it’s obvious she was meant to play the part of the Queen of Hearts.”

“Off with his head!” Wilson downed another shot and poured another.

“Just because she screwed you over, doesn’t make you a screw-up,” House finished, then drank down his own shot.

“Two marriages and two divorces inside of three years,” Wilson countered. “If that doesn’t make me a screw up, then what am I?”

“Available.”

Wilson knew that House spoke more than five languages fluently. He had seen him perusing journals in German and French. He even knew that House had spent time in Brazil through his specialty in infectious diseases. But he was still astounded by House’s ease with Portuguese.

In Rio, as the hot sun and humidity seeped into bones and joints made stiff by a New Jersey winter, Wilson watched as House chatted with the cab driver, directing him from the airport to the up-class hotel he had booked overlooking the water. He let House handle the check-in, then waited in the room, listening in as House skipped from Portuguese to English and back again as he checked in with local contacts while also keeping Wilson updated about their plans.

By that night, or perhaps it was early the next morning by then, they had settled into a routine, with House firmly in the lead.

Wilson followed, tagging along from the beach to a private party, to a street party to a bar to another private party. House was right. The women were unbelievably beautiful. Bodies tan. Hips swaying. The rhythm of the samba built into their every move.

One woman, with eyes as brilliant a green as House’s were blue walked up to him, speaking softly. Wilson stammered out an apology in English.

“So you are American,” she replied with a smile.

“You think he was lying?” Wilson nodded toward House who glanced in his direction, smiled and gestured that he was going out onto the balcony with another woman, just as beautiful.

“He has a good accent,” the woman said. “Most Americans don’t even bother to learn Portuguese, never mind how to use the -- let’s say colloquial expressions -- so appropriately.”

She put her hand on his, brushed her thumb lightly across his skin. Curled her fingers into his palm. That night, Wilson forgot about Tonya. For a while, he forgot himself.

Late the next afternoon, he found a note from House. He followed it out to the beach where he found House lying in the sun. Wilson sat beside him, arms loosely wrapped around his knees and glanced down at his friend before looking out at the water.

“You’re getting a sun burn.”

“I like living on the edge,” House said. “I see you made it home all right.”

“Yep.” Wilson watched two women passing between him and the water and wished he’d worn his sunglasses. “Do I even want to know what you told her about me?”

“Probably not,” House admitted. “But I didn’t have to say much at all, really. She was the one with all the questions.”

“I wasn’t looking for an ego boost.”

“Wasn’t trying to give you one. Unless you needed one, in which case you probably came to the wrong person. I’m not really in to faint praise, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Wilson knew most people could not understand House. For that matter they didn’t try to. More than one doctor had pulled him aside, tried to act as the mentor and warn him away. No one likes House, they’d say. Hang around him, and he’ll poison you, poison your reputation. The new administrator is planning to get rid of him, they’d confide. If he sees the two of you together too much, he may just try to get rid of you too.

Sometimes Wilson felt like House was his own foreign language, one only Wilson could understand.

From the start, though, House had pushed him to push himself, both mentally and physically. He dared him to keep up -- just as Wilson’s brother had done when they were growing up. Being around House sharpened his wit, focused his attention, quickened his pace. Despite that, though, House made no demands that he conform. Where Wilson’s parents had taught him to edit his every word, House did not believe in an internal sensor. He did not expect Wilson to live up to someone else’s idea of how a gentleman or doctor should act.

For that matter, House reveled in finding flaws, poking at them, seeing what made Wilson tick, rather than expecting him to change. House did not expect to find perfection, except, it sometimes seemed to Wilson, from himself.

Not that House was ever easy. That lack of a censor meant that he not only meant what he said, but he also said what he meant. They’d argue -- about office politics, about patient treatment, hell even about the NFL playoffs -- and House would take his argument too far, start pushing at those cracks in the psyche Wilson was all too aware of. Wilson would call him an ass. Walk off.

Three days later, four at the most, and they’d find themselves at lunch together. No apologies needed. Regret, House said, was a wasted emotion. Instead they’d fight over who’s turn it was to pick up the bill.

“I don’t expect you to agree with me,” House had told him once. “Hell, sometimes I don’t agree with me either. Sometimes maybe I just love a good fight.”

And sometimes Wilson didn’t know if he liked House despite his challenging nature, or because of it.

A shadow blocked the sun, and Wilson broke out of his thoughts, looking up to notice House standing there, studying him.

“You still thinking you should take the earlier flight out to catch that symposium?”

“I should,” Wilson admitted as he pushed himself up to his feet. “But I won’t.”

House responded with a genuine smile. “Good,” he said. “I’d hate to see you waste your time on some idle pursuit like medical ethics. I know of something that’s far more educational.”

“Lord knows I wouldn’t want to miss out on an important lesson from the master.” Wilson pushed himself to his feet. “Lead on.”

----------

2000

----------

 

When word came down that Wilson had been granted tenure -- becoming the youngest tenured doctor on staff -- House was still an inpatient at PPTH’s rehab wing.

“Don’t you have something else you should be doing, like moving into your new office?” House asked when Wilson showed up that night.

Wilson knew he shouldn’t have been surprised that House had heard. House may not have many friends, but he always had an inside line on hospital gossip, much of it garnered by loitering around various nurses’ stations and doctors’ lounges. But that system had been shut down to him for weeks now. Stacy may have told him, but then the official list wouldn’t be sent out until the first of the month.

“Do you know, it turns out there’s something called ‘staff’ at the hospital that can actually do things for you,” Wilson replied, settling down into his usual seat and dropping his bag onto a table. “Some people actually prefer to delegate responsibilities.”

“Sure, but then you never know where they’ll put your stuff.”

“If you didn’t try so hard to piss off the janitors, they might not try so hard to lose your toys.”

“I prefer to think of it as a little game we play. I say something, they take offense, they somehow forget where they’ve moved something during cleaning and I have to find it. It’s not retribution, it’s a challenge.” House was silent for a moment, shifted slightly in the chair. “God, it’s going to be a bitch finding anything when I get back.”

At least today House was talking about when he’d return to work, rather than if he would. Wilson took that as a sign that the therapy had gone well today. House had also opted for one of the easy chairs in his room. Some nights Wilson would come in to find House stretched out on the bed, awake but barely responding unless asked a direct question. Those nights, they’d both stare at the television, Wilson occasionally making a comment on whatever show happened to be on the screen, House grunting out an answer, if he bothered to take note of it at all.

House had the set tuned in to a reality show Wilson knew had been in the news. He turned his attention away from Wilson to comment at the naked man on the screen and Wilson took the opportunity to study his friend.

Wilson had been at a conference when the infarction was diagnosed. He and House were supposed to go for a run the morning he left, but House begged off, saying his leg was a bit stiff.

“You gonna wuss out on me?” Wilson taunted.

“Hey, you’re the one who wanted me to take your place in the foursome at the tournament, and I don’t want you bitching that I didn’t come through,” House said. “I’m just trying to collect on your bet with McGreevy.”

“A hundred bucks,” Wilson reminded him. “Cash. Ignore him if he says he’ll pay up later. It took me six weeks to collect last time.”

Stacy called four days later, catching him just before he was slated to give his presentation. House was in surgery -- his first surgery, the one to remove the clot. It was clear from the moment she said Wilson’s name that something was wrong. She stammered out an apology, began one sentence, stopped herself, and started over. He could scarcely believe it was the same woman who had always spoken directly, who prided herself on her ability to think on her feet and win over every jury during closing arguments.

Wilson got the story in bits and pieces. Stacy apologized again.

“I wanted to call you,” she said. “But Greg said I shouldn’t bother you, that you were giving a keynote and that there was nothing you could do anyway.”

“Who’s overseeing his treatment now?” One of the conference organizers was signaling to him, trying to get his attention.

“Lisa Cuddy. I don’t know her that well, neither does Greg.” Wilson could hear her take a drink of something, and waited her out while Stacy paused. “She said he might be better off with an amputation.”

The word echoed through Wilson’s head for a few moments and he leaned forward, rested his head against his hand, elbow propped up on his knee. He could see the conference organizer pacing the length of the speaker ready room, glancing at his watch.

“And Greg refused,” Wilson said.

“Mmm hmm. Said he stood a better chance of saving his leg this way.”

“He’s right, but then depending on the extent of muscle damage, Cuddy may be right too.” Wilson considered his options, gestured again to the organizer to keep the man calm.

“Listen, I’ll check on flights, see how soon I can get back there. It probably won’t be until tomorrow, though,” Wilson warned. “In the meantime, just hang in there. Greg’s a better doctor even doped up than a lot of other ones sober.”

“What about Dr. Cuddy? Can I trust her?”

“Yeah, sure,” Wilson reassured her. “I’ve worked with her before, and we’re on some committees together. She knows what she’s doing, but if you're worried, call me. Hell, call me once House is out of surgery. And I’ll give you a call once I’ve got a flight booked.”

“OK.”

“And tell House I’m going to kick his ass when I get back. He could have given me the perfect opportunity to get out of this gig, if he’d just let you call.”

“You’ll have to stand in line.” Stacy seemed calmer now, but Wilson knew she could hide her emotions nearly as well as House. “And it’s a very long line.”

“Yeah, well you and I get special dispensation to cut into the front of the line, just for putting him with him on a daily basis.”

Neither of them said anything for a few moments, and Wilson saw the organizer headed his way.

“Listen, I’ve got to go, but I’ll be there soon, OK?”

“Yeah.”

“And thanks for the call.”

Wilson was right. He wouldn’t be able to get a flight out of the resort town until morning, and even then had to pull strings to get a seat, using the excuse of a medical emergency requiring his attention. He barely remembered giving the speech, thinking only about how House had told him to spice up a section here or trim another part later on. His colleagues praised it regardless. He only remembered the brief message handed to him just before the panel discussion: “Out of surgery. Looks good so far.”

He packed and repacked that night, trying to make sure he was carrying nothing that would slow him down in the airport. He ditched the thank you gift the organizers gave him to make sure he wouldn’t have to waste time checking luggage. He left a message for Stacy with his flight plans. She answered the third time he called.

“How’s he doing?”

“God, James, it’s ...”

“Stace? You OK?” Wilson could hear her breathing, shaky. He heard her draw in one quick breath, then another.

“I’m here. It’s just ... I didn’t think it would be this bad. God, James, he’s in so much pain. I’ve never ...” she trailed off again.

“They’ve got him on IV morphine?”

“Yeah. They say they can’t give him any more.”

“It’s going to take time,” Wilson tried to reassure her with words he wasn’t certain he could believe himself. “Greg’s tough, you know that.”

“James, you don’t know. You can’t see him.”

Wilson felt a chill. He wondered again whether he should just rent a car, drive through the night to get someplace else, someplace he could gain an hour or two on the travel time.

“I’m sorry.” Stacy interrupted his thoughts. “I know you’d be here if you could. I don’t think you could do anything different, but it’d be good to have you here, you know?”

Wilson sank down onto the bed in his empty hotel room, looked out the window at the deepening darkness in the surrounding mountains.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Listen, I’m going to head back in there. I’ll have my cell, but I won’t be able to keep it on all the time. I’ll let you know if anything changes, though.”

“Or just call if you need to talk,” Wilson said. “Don’t worry about what time it is. Greg never does.”

“Thanks, James. I’ll see you soon.”

Wilson listened to her line disconnect. He held the phone in his hand a minute longer before hanging it up. Nearly 9 p.m. there. Nearly 11 p.m. in Princeton. The flight wouldn’t leave until 6:30 a.m.

He counted down the hours, then dug into his bag again, looking for something to do. He found sneakers, shorts and a t-shirt and headed to the gym. Five treadmills, no waiting.

It was 2 a.m. before he dropped into anything like sleep. He tossed and turned for maybe an hour before bolting awake, something prodding him up, a half-remembered dream of House, running along one of Wilson’s favorite street loops and a car veering off the pavement, straight in his direction as Wilson watched, and Wilson unable to reach House in time to pull him out of the way. He lay back down, staring at the blank ceiling, willing his heart rate to slow. Another 20 minutes and he gave up, started the in-room coffee maker and hit the shower.

Wilson successfully fought the urge the pick up the phone and call a half-dozen times. He actually made the call just as often. He’d ring through to Stacy’s cell phone, only to have it bump into voice mail. He left a message the first two times, but didn’t bother after that. He tried not to let his imagination run away with him. He knew the cell wouldn’t be allowed in the ICU.

Too often in his career, Wilson had needed to calm down a parent, a spouse, a daughter or son. He’d convince them they needed to let the doctors do their work, and assure them that they should try to relax and instead focus their energy on positive thoughts, prayers, whichever seemed more appropriate. Now here he was, with a friend who needed him, and nothing he could do.

He left for the airport more than two hours early, and the terminal wasn’t even open yet when he arrived. He paced the sidewalk in front and watched the lights come on inside. He saw the ticket agents open up. He was first to the counter, with nothing to check in. Even the tiny coffee shop was closed and Wilson settled for walking loops around the tiny baggage claim area. He tried Stacy’s number again. Listened to it ring: four times, five times. He was about to hang up when he heard her answer, her voice soft and uncertain.

“Stacy? It’s James. I’m at the airport and I should be headed your way soon. How’s he doing?”

“I’m going to lose him James,” her voice came back thin and distorted over the cellular connection. “God. I think I’m going to lose him.”

“What? What happened? What’s going on?”

Stacy’s answers came back in a combination of layman’s terms and clinical language, but it was clear that the muscle death was worse than House had hoped and the delicate balance of medications he needed was overwhelming his team. Wilson could feel the waves of despair building one after another. He knew it would be worse for Stacy, but could barely manage to keep his own head above the flood.

“A minute,” he said.

“At least,” Stacy confirmed. “Felt like forever.”

Cardiac arrest. House had left him -- had left them all -- for a minute. Wilson could picture the familiar outlines of a treatment room, he knew where the equipment would have been stored. He knew the process of running a code, he could the medical team working to restart a patient’s heart, but he couldn’t bring himself to picture House as the patient.

Wilson could sense that the airport was beginning to buzz with the start of a new day. He knew there were other people around him, but felt alone and adrift. The telephone and the voice on the other end the only things that were real.

“How is he now? Has he been awake?”

“They’ve got him stabilized again, but James, he’s in so much pain. It’s not getting better and he still won’t authorize the surgery. He’s got this idea about a chemically-induced coma, to let him sleep through the pain.”

“It could work.” Wilson considered the concept. “At least it might give him a chance to ride it out, if they can keep everything else monitored.”

“But they couldn’t handle it last time. He was the one who caught it and God only knows what will happen now.”

Wilson could see the case laid out for him. The alternatives. The best chance for the limb. The best chance for survival. He knew what he would recommend.

“He’s still against the, the ,,,” Wilson couldn’t bring himself to say the word: Amputation. Instead he let the sentence hang there, but Stacy caught his meaning.

“No. I’ve tried. I’ve begged.”

“Try again.”

“James, he won’t listen to me.”

“Don’t give him a choice. Tell him he’s going to have to have the surgery. He may back off if you force him into a corner.”

“Or he may fight harder.”

“Stacy, listen. He could do it for you. You’re the only one who could force him into it. He listens to you. Just don’t let him think he’s got a choice.”

“If I don’t give him a choice.”

“Exactly.”

Wilson would replay the conversation later in his head, consider what he’d said. What she’d decided. He was certain now that something in her tone had changed just there. That she’d made up her mind. Become certain about something. At the time, he passed it off as confidence, that she’d seen how she could talk into the amputation and save his life.

As it was, he’d hung up when Stacy said she needed to get back to House, continued pacing until the flight and spent half the air time standing near the galley, tapping at the plastic trim and trying to distract his imagination.

He had a text message from Cuddy waiting for him when he turned on his cell phone at the airport in Newark that House had gone into surgery. He ignored every speed limit on the drive back to Princeton, constantly changing lanes to try and get to the hospital a few minutes faster.

He grabbed the closest space in the parking garage, not caring who it belonged to, and raced up to the surgical floor, still unable to decide if he was grateful his friend was alive, or horrified at the thought of House undergoing amputation. He saw Cuddy first. She was dressed in scrubs and sneakers, so different from her normal power suits or lab coat.

She told him about Stacy’s decision, how she had used her medical power of attorney and taken charge for House’s care and that he was undergoing debridement as they were speaking. Wilson had thought nothing could shock him any more. He was wrong.

“And you just, what, went along with this?”

“I didn’t have a choice,” Cuddy protested. “I got her to wait for a while, see if his stats improved, but they were getting worse, and she has the power of attorney.”

Wilson knew she was right. Knew he would have been forced into the same action, at least legally.

“Besides,” Cuddy continued. “Whether I agree with her or not, she probably saved his life.”

He and Stacy were both with House when he woke up. He watched House’s face from across the room. Saw him go through the post-anesthesia fog, saw his eyes register confusion and surprise, then lock on Stacy’s face as Cuddy was left to explain what had happened, the extent of muscle removed. House said nothing until Cuddy asked him about his pain level. He seemed to consider it for a minute, closing his eyes and finally turning away from Stacy.

“It’s better,” he said. “Not bad. Maybe, I guess, a three.”

“OK. I’ll see about adjusting the morphine again, see where we need to take it from here.”

House just nodded and Cuddy gathered up her files and excused herself.

Wilson didn’t know what kind of a reaction he expected from House. Anger? Resentment? But he saw nothing -- not then anyway. Whatever was going through House just now, he wasn’t telegraphing any signs. Stacy wasn’t saying anything either. Just sat next to the bed, watching him, holding his hand.

Wilson wanted to stay, but could see that Stacy was desperate for time alone with House. “I better check in at my office.” He pushed himself away from the window where he’d been leaning.

“You were someplace,” House said, searching his memory past the confusion of the past week. “Conference. Idaho? Someplace with fly fishing rather than golf.”

“Wyoming.”

“Hmmm. Catch anything?”

“Would you believe me if I said I did?”

“Maybe. You’re a lousy liar.”

“I never lie about the important stuff.” Wilson hesitated a moment or two longer before heading to the door. “Anyway, gotta make some calls.”

“See?” House’s voice was soft but Wilson could still hear it as he slipped out the door. “Lousy liar.”

 

Two days later, House asked Wilson to stay behind when Stacy left after her lunch break.

With House stable and in recovery, Stacy had even returned to work, but begged off any potential court time to instead stick close to House from her office.

He was doing better. Looking better, too, although they were still trying to find the right combination of medications to control his pain. Wilson was beginning to believe that the pain could no longer be written off as post-op, but rather a chronic condition, though he hadn’t discussed it yet with House, Stacy or Cuddy.

For that matter, he hadn’t had time to speak to House alone. Either Stacy was there, one of the nursing staff interrupted or -- often -- House was asleep or so zoned out that he could barely follow the conversation.

Stacy looked back from the door at the bed when House asked Wilson if he had a minute, shifting her gaze between the two of them.

“Go ahead,” House told her. “We’ve got important stuff to talk about. Guy stuff.”

“It may involve fart jokes,” Wilson added. “Action movies. Blowing stuff up.”

“Carmen Electra.”

Stacy rolled her eyes and walked off. House watched her leave before turning to Wilson.

“Don’t ask,” House warned.

“OK. Don’t ask what exactly?”

“How I’m doing, how I’m feeling. How I’m,” House let out an exaggerated sigh. “Coping.”

“OK.”

“Because everyone asks. Everyone. Nurses, doctors, surgeons, Cuddy. I feel like I have to have a nine-page statement ready on my state of health -- both mental and physical -- every time Stacy walks in the room.”

Wilson settled himself into the chair Stacy normally occupied, slouched down and propped his feet up on the edge of the mattress.

“Hate to break it to you, pal, but in case you haven’t noticed, this is a hospital. You’ve got to expect a few health questions to pop up from time to time.”

“Yes, thank you, Doctor Obvious, I had taken that into account.”

“So, what, you want to talk sports? Because the Mets still can’t beat the Braves, and that’d actually be a depressing subject. I don’t think I could handle that.”

“Or maybe college football,” House suggested. “But then sooner or later someone would bring up Princeton, and I’m not about to enter that tunnel of suckitude without some decent tequila at hand.”

“Or indecent tequila.”

“The best kind.”

Wilson looked out the window through the half-open blinds. Blue sky, a few clouds. Heat was building up with predictions of temperatures in the 90s before the afternoon was out. He stole a quick glance at House. House was staring up at the ceiling. His face was thinner than normal, almost gaunt. Stacy had worried that he wasn’t eating and Wilson had tried to assure her that he would, once his appetite returned.

“I need to see it,” House said, turning from the ceiling to Wilson. “My leg. To really see it, without nurses or Cuddy or Stacy standing there, waiting to see what kind of a reaction I’d have. I’ll need some help.”

Wilson nodded. “I’ll get some supplies.” He put his feet on the floor, pushed himself out of the chair. “If you’re ready now?”

House was looking up at the ceiling again, but nodded. Wilson gathered everything he’d need to remove the bandages and replace them, then stopped off at the nurses station to warn them not to disturb them.

House had raised the head of the bed, so he was sitting nearly upright. Wilson slid the door closed behind him, closed the blinds.

Wilson placed the supplies on the bedside table, went into the bathroom and washed his hands. Everything done according to procedure, but he realized he was also delaying the moment. If House was ready, though, he would be too.

He moved the table up to the side of the bed. House had already pulled the sheets back. Wilson could see the remnants of an inked message along the length of the limb, appearing out from the edge of the bandage that covered much of the thigh, extending down to House’s ankle.

Wilson picked up the scissors and looked at House. House just nodded.

A few moments later, the gauze was stripped back and there it was. The long line of the incision, the cross-tie of black stitches. Medically speaking, it looked good. No sign of infection. Everything as he would have expected it.

But forget expectations. The leg looked pale, the shaved skin only adding to its alien nature. There was a depression where there should be a swell of muscle. House slid his hand down along the edge of his thigh, gingerly touching the flesh on either side of the incision.

Wilson stepped back to the end of the bed, giving House what privacy he could. On the other side of the door, he could see someone going over charts at the nurses’ station. Another nurse was walking slowly down the hall with a patient, guiding him while wheeling the IV pole along. He looked across the room again at the window. Clouds were beginning to form, raising the chance of a summer thunderstorm.

He heard House shift and looked back at the bed. House was sitting back now. Eyes closed, his jaw clenched tight.

“Done?”

House just nodded. Wilson reapplied the bandages and wrapped the leg with gauze, apologizing when he heard House grunt as he shifted the leg.

“It’s OK,” House said. He didn’t bother opening his eyes.

Wilson finished his work, gathered up the supplies , and paused at the door.

“I need to get back to work,” he said. “I’ll stop by again later.”

House nodded again, and Wilson slid the door shut behind him.

 

A week after House’s final surgery, he was released to the PT specialists. Stacy had questioned the move, since Cuddy’s team was still trying to find the right pain medication, but both Cuddy and Wilson assured her that it was time.

“Rehab’s all about pain,” House muttered as the staff settled him into his new room. “I’m sure they know what they’re doing.”

Wilson wasn’t certain who he was trying to convince. He had scouted out the staff before House even arrived. He’d seen most of them around the medical complex before, knew their reputations. Had even handed off patient care to them often enough -- bone cancer survivors trying to balance their joy at still being alive with the reality that they’d lost a limb in the process.

He’d brought the head of the department over to meet House a few days before the transfer, then bought him lunch as they compared notes about the team.

“What about Ford?” Wilson had suggested. “I’ve heard good feedback from patients about him.”

“Ford’s good,” Ed Ransom agreed. “But his style tends to be a little heavy on the motivational speeches. Something tells me that’s definitely ...”

“Not House,” Wilson agreed.

House had banned everyone from his therapy sessions. Wilson obeyed. Stacy snuck in one time, only to end up crying on Wilson’s shoulder when he found her hiding out in House’s empty office.

A day later, he took her to Ransom’s office where together they talked about ways they’d need to adapt the condo, about construction companies that specialized in retrofitting bathrooms.

Wilson concentrated on getting his work done during regular work hours -- a schedule either of his wives would have admired if he’d managed it for them. He’d clock out at a little past 7 p.m., paperwork in order. He got into the habit of driving offsite to pick up either fast food or take-out at some of House’s favorite haunts in case he’d be able to tempt him into eating.

House’s appetite had suffered with every change in his pain medication. One dosage might leave him nauseated, another strip away any sense of hunger at all, a third leave him in so much pain he didn’t want to eat, and yet another make him so groggy he rather sleep than eat.

Wilson made it to House’s room a little before 8 o’clock most nights, about the time Stacy headed home. Sometimes they crossed paths, but it seemed lately that Wilson was seeing less of her. He assumed she was overseeing the renovations.

“I smell something fried,” House said from his chair as the television show went to a commercial break, forcing Wilson’s attention back to the present. “Nothing good, I hope.”

“I’ve been reading up on the latest research on deep-fried cheese products. It’s all the rage.” Wilson handed over the bag from the Wok-Thru, a cheap Chinese take-out House had introduced him to shortly after they’d met. “Don’t eat all the General Tso’s.”

“You always wimp out on the spices anyway,” House said as he dug through the bag. “Did you get the crab meat?”

“You didn’t notice the grease blot the size of Jersey?”

“A lot of things could have done that,” House protested, then pulled out a waxed paper container, nearly transparent from the oil. “This is more like it.”

He broke apart the crisp won ton to reveal the center, then popped it into his mouth.

Wilson opened a foam clamshell and the smell of chilis and MSG spilled out, temporarily overwhelming the odor of antiseptic cleaners and medical supplies. He dug into the chicken and tried not to let House catch him as he monitored how much House ate. Most nights he took home nearly as much as he brought. He’d need to clean out his refrigerator soon.

“There’s hot and sour soup too,” Wilson pointed out as House broke open another won ton. He was satisfied to see House reach for the bag to root out the cup and a plastic spoon.

“So where’s the new office going to be?”

“I’m not sure. It’s not even official for a couple of weeks.” He considered the possibilities and took another bite of the chicken. “Probably on the sixth floor, though.”

“God, those ones are tiny,” House said, setting the cup down. Wilson fought the urge to nag him to eat more. He’d heard enough Jewish mother comments already. “The admin assistants on five have more space.”

“They have ...” Wilson considered his words. “Character.”

“They have crappy ventilation systems.”

“The windows actually open.”

“Which will come in handy in January when the boiler starts pumping all the heat for the entire wing into your closet.”

“Office.”

“Tomato, tomahto.”

“Keep it up, pal, and I won’t invite you to the office warming party.”

House quieted for a bit, began tearing the napkin into long strips. “I don’t know if I’ll be ready by the time you move in.”

“I’m not in any rush.” Wilson set aside his own food and stretched out his legs. “It’ll wait.”

“The department will want to mark the occasion right away,” House pointed out. “You should celebrate. You did good.”

“Thanks.”

House picked up the soup again, took another spoonful, “Of course if you really want to impress them, I’d suggest having the party at that strip club over on Fourth.”

“I thought for sure you would have gone for Chesty LaRue’s on 12th.”

“Nah, Deja Va Voom’s got a third pole installed now I hear. Now they’re pulling in all the high class acts.”

“Strippers with a heart of gold.”

“And breasts of saline.”

“The wonders of modern medicine.”

“Yeah.” Wilson saw the emotion flash across House’s face -- anger, frustration -- for just a moment. “Where would we be without it?”

 

 

------------------

April 2001

-----------------

“Psssst.”

Wilson was dictating some notes into his microcasette recorder when he heard it. He barely paused as he glanced up, catching sight of House at his office door. He looked down at the chart, continued talking into the recorder.

“Pssssssssst.”

He looked up again. House was gesturing broadly to Wilson urging him out into the hallway. Wilson rolled his eyes, and continued with his notes. A few moments later he heard his office door close, then the sound of the syncopated tap and step of House crossing the room. He heard the squeak of the chair as House lowered himself into it. He finished his notes, turned off the recorder and closed the file.

“You hissed?”

“That’s usually a signal,” House said. “Supposed to get your attention, but all stealth-like. Y’know, get you to do something.”

“I must have missed that class at super secret spy school, what with all that time spent at medical school instead.”

“And here you’ve got everyone believing you’re some kind of a super genius who knows everything.” House stretched out his legs, sneaking the left one under the right to give it a little extra height. “They’d be so disappointed if someone were to let it slip that you weren’t perfect.”

Wilson leaned back, elbows propped on the arm rests, hands resting on his stomach. “I’m busy,” he said. “Paperwork. What do you want?”

“I’m not,” House said. “Bored. Want to play hooky.”

House spun his cane as it rested upright under his right hand, playing with the handle between his thumb, index finger and middle finger. He’d always had the unconscious habit of playing with any little object at hand -- paper clips, a rubber band, pens, paper. Now it was often the cane.

Wilson glanced at his watch, noting both the time and the day.

“You know Cuddy only lets you off clinic duty because she thinks you’re in PT. If she finds out you’ve been skipping ...”

“She’ll what, make me write 100 times on a blackboard: ‘I will not have any fun?’ Besides, she’s only interim dean. Not like she can really do anything.”

“For now,” Wilson warned. “A lot of the committee members have been impressed with how she’s been handling things. She’ll have the inside track if they decide to go with an internal candidate.”

“Then I’d better make sure she doesn’t find out. Be all stealthy and stuff.”

“How about you just, I don’t know, go to PT like you’re supposed to.”

House’s face took on the narrow-eyed squint it usually did when he was judging some person or topic unworthy of his time.

“Don’t have to. All better now. I keep this around just so I can get the good parking spots,” he said, rapping his cane on the edge of Wilson’s desk.

For the first few months, House had been dedicated to his therapy, and his efforts paid off as he progressed from crutches to cane. As he gained strength and learned how to use his remaining muscles to help take up some of the slack from the missing chunk of quad muscle, he could walk further with the cane. He leaned less on it now than he had even four months earlier.

But when Stacy left for good, he became less likely to doing any extra exercises at home. As it became clear that he’d always need the cane, House took less and less notice of his scheduled PT, his therapy becoming like one of those games that he discarded as soon as he figured out the final solution.

“Whatever, fine.” Wilson let the topic drop for now. “But I’m still busy.”

“It’s important,” House said. “I’ve got something to show you.”

“Last time you said that, it turned out you’d found a web cam link for Amsterdam’s Red Light district.”

“As if you didn’t enjoy that.”

Wilson didn’t argue the point. “What is it?”

“Can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”

Wilson hesitated. Looked at House, then at the stack of charts he needed to finish going through.

“It’ll be worth it,” House promised. “And it won’t take long.”

“Can’t it wait?”

“Nope. We’ve got to be there before 5.”

Wilson looked at his watch. “Give me a half-hour,” he said, finally giving in.

“Twenty minutes,” House pushed himself up out of the chair, eased the office door open and took a quick look down both sides of the hallway before walking out. “You’re driving.”

House was leaning up against the car when Wilson made it out there 30 minutes later, his weight carefully distributed between his left leg, cane and the fender of Wilson’s BMW. Wilson gave himself a mental kick for taking the extra time to finish that last file. If he’d set it aside, House wouldn’t have had to stand there waiting for him.

“Sorry,” he said, trying to keep his tone casual. “Got a call. Been waiting long?”

House glanced at his watch. “Oh yeah, ‘bout a good two minutes, I’d say. I knew you’d be late. You always are when you’ve got your head in a case file. I figured if I gave you 30 minutes, you’d take at least 45.”

Wilson just rolled his eyes and hit the key fob to unlock the doors, tossing his jacket and briefcase in the back seat.

“You going to tell me where we’re going or should I just guess?”

“Patience young Padawan, all will become clear.”

“God, I knew I shouldn’t have given you that DVD.”

“Of course you shouldn’t have. I asked you to bring me the complete set of ‘Naughty Nurses,’ what do I get? Jar-Jar Binks. At which point did you think I’d lost every sense of taste I’ve ever had?”

“Jesus, House, Julie was with me. I was trying to make a good impression.”

Julie had also been the most recent passenger in Wilson’s car and House had to adjust the seat all the way back before he pulled his right leg up into the car, then reached over and closed the door.

Wilson backed out the space and headed down the ramp.

“How about a hint as to the general direction we’re heading,” he said as he neared the exit, the gate automatically rising at the car’s arrival.

“Take the River Road north. It’s a nice day, might as well enjoy it.”

Wilson stole a good look at House as he looked right, waiting for the traffic to clear. A strong spring sun was shining down, bathing House in the afternoon rays. The bright light seemed to accentuate the dark circles under House’s eyes, the pale skin. Before the infarction, House’s face was always tan, the result of time spent outside -- winter or summer.

He knew that House often had problems sleeping, though he’d never mention it. Of course, he’d never needed much sleep before, but Wilson knew that back then, when he slept, he slept soundly. Now, unless he gave in a took a sedative, his leg made it harder for him to get to sleep and stay asleep. If the pain didn’t wake him, the sounds outside did -- passing sirens, a car door slamming, a fight next door.

Of course, Wilson mused as he pulled out into traffic, he’d had his own sleep issues, recurring dreams that interrupted his nights. He expected they’d fade, eventually. They had before. When his brother had disappeared, he’d see him in his dreams, always in trouble. He’d see Jack stepping off a curb into the path of a speeding car, or tumbling off a bridge or walking into a dark alley where Wilson just knew a madman lurked.

And each time, in each dream, Wilson had seen himself as well. Always two steps too slow to stop Jack no matter how hard he tried. His entire body held back by some somnambulant version of quicksand. He’d reach out and touch only empty air, unable to pull him back from the edge.

The dreams had grown less frequent in the months after Jack’s disappearance, but resurfaced on occasion -- near Jack’s birthday, following a conversation about him with their parents or when the weather turned cold and Wilson remembered how Jack had refused to take James’ coat the last time they met.

Now the dreams were back, but he saw House in them, rather than Jack.

Wilson didn’t know if bad dreams were part of House’s sleep problems, though he suspected they were. He knew House had met with a psychiatrist at least a few times as part of his therapy. He had heard him bitch about it often enough, although House had never hinted at what went on during the few sessions he’d had before he canceled them -- despite Stacy begging him to continue.

Wilson had sat quietly in a corner of the living room soon after House had returned home, trying not to listen to House and Stacy argue in the bedroom.

“It’s important,” she’d said, her voice raising in volume to match his. “Things are different for you now, your life is different. You have to accept that you can’t do everything you used to.”

“You think I don’t know that? You think that somehow I don’t have a reminder every second of the day?”

“You’ve adapted,” she said. “You haven’t accepted it.”

“Oh God, you’ve been reading their literature haven’t you?” Wilson could hear House’s voice move from the bedroom to the hallway. “At least this isn’t something you can force me to do without my permission.”

Stacy left a few weeks later, first asking Wilson to keep an eye on him while she took a break, then calling a few weeks later to ask him to send a few of her belongings to a new address.

“Have you told Greg?” Wilson could hear a mixture of voices in the background, but couldn’t make out where she was.

“Yes.” She was quiet for maybe 20 seconds, only the sound of the background voices coming through the line. “It didn’t go well.”

“Will you be coming back?”

More silence. The background noise was upbeat. If he were forced to, Wilson would have guessed she was at a restaurant or bar.

“I don’t know. A friend of mine says his practice is looking for someone new. It’d be a good opportunity. I might look into it.”

“Don’t make any rash decisions.”

“Any other rash decisions, you mean.” When she wanted to, Stacy could give House’s sarcastic tone some serious competition.

“That’s, that’s not what I mean.” Wilson knew his track record on convincing Stacy to see his point of view was far from stellar. “You’re good for him. He may not say that now, but he knows it.”

“I wish I was as sure as you are.”

Wilson had gone to House’s, uncertain if his friend would even answer the door. He did, eventually. Wilson heard the uneven step and tap of the cane through the door before the lock even turned.

“Checking up on the cripple? Here I am, still in one piece -- what’s left of me anyway.” House stood in the narrow gap between the partially opened door and the frame, the room behind him dark. “You’ve done your good deed. Now go home.”

“But I’ve got beer.” Wilson hefted a six-pack of Sam Adams. “And I don’t feel like drinking alone.”

“I do. Go home Wilson.”

“No.”

“I don’t need you here, got it? You’re absolved of any responsibilities. Guilt free. Go find yourself a willing blonde and let her make a man out of you.”

“No.”

Wilson stared House down. He still had a spare key and knew House couldn’t keep him out, but was hoping he wouldn’t have to use it.

“You’re going to need more than a lousy six-pack,” House said, moving slightly to the left.

“I’ve also got Jameson’s.”

“Should have mentioned that to start with.” House stepped back, allowing the door to swing open a little wider. Wilson took the space he was offered, and slid past House into the room.

“Turn left on Main.” House’s voice from the passenger side interrupted Wilson’s thoughts, drawing back to the sunny spring afternoon. “If we’re lucky, there’ll be some parking open on the street at the end of the block.”

Wilson stole a quick look at House, but House was looking out the window for signs of an open spot. “Where, exactly, are we going?”

“Restaurant. Name of Anton’s.”

“Yeah, I know Anton’s. I took Julie there on our first date.”

“You’ve mentioned.”

“But you hate Anton’s.”

House winced. “I never said I hated it.”

“Pretentious? Overpriced? Big on presentation and short on taste? Any of that sound familiar?“

“Ah, but I never said I hated it,” House clarified. “But Julie loves it, and -- apparently -- you love Julie.”

“Yes.” Wilson found a spot and nosed the car in, turning off the engine. He remained in his seat, wondering what he could decipher from his friend’s hints. “She even wanted Anton’s to cater the wedding, but he said he’s completely booked.”

“Now he’s not.” House swung open the door and began the procedure of exiting the car -- moving his leg onto the concrete sidewalk, swiveling to get his second leg out and placed alongside the right leg, then positioning the cane and finally shoving himself up by pushing down on both the car door and the cane. He paused for a moment before taking a small step to the side, making room for the door to close.

“And you know this how?” Wilson paused at the front of the car for House to move up to his side before heading toward the restaurant.

“His partner’s been sick. Everyone thought it was something he picked up on vacation in Belize, but no one could figure out what.”

“Wait.” Wilson put his hand on House’s arm, drawing his attention. “Was this that case you handled last week? The allergic reactions to the mold from a rehabbed house?”

“Two-century old farmhouse,” House confirmed. “All kinds of nasty bugs been living there for a long time, waiting for the right candidate to attack.”

House turned back toward the restaurant, slowly moving toward the front entrance. Wilson could see movement behind the windows, someone making their way towards the door.

“They were grateful,” House said. “Wanted to show their appreciation.”

The locked door opened and Wilson recognized the chef pushing it out so they could enter.

“Dr. House! Good to see you made it. This must be your friend, Dr. Wilson?”

“James Wilson.” He held out his hand for a quick handshake before Anton went back to the door to lock it behind them. House settled himself into the closest booth and reached into his pocket.

“I’ve got some proposed menus I could show you,” Anton said. Wilson could hear House shaking out a Vicodin from the bottle. “Or are we waiting for your fiancee?”

“Wilson wanted to surprise her,” House interjected. “I’m sure she’ll be happy with anything he chooses, right?”

“Absolutely,” Wilson said. “Surprises can be a good thing, sometimes.”

“OK, I’ll get the paperwork and be right back. Make yourself comfortable. There’s coffee over there, if you want some.” Anton gestured toward the long wooden bar at the side of the room, then headed out of the back of the room.

“Black, two sugars.”

Wilson stared at the doorway the chef had gone through for a moment, before crossing over to the bar, too stunned to say anything. He found the coffee behind the bar, found two cups and poured them each some. He dug around for a moment longer to find sugar and two spoons and give himself a moment to think.

He put both cups on the table and sat across from House, staring at him and trying to find the right words.

“Um, you, uh.”

“It’s so hard to know what’s the appropriate gift for a third wedding, don’t you think?” House came to his rescue. “God knows I wanted to stay away from anything monogrammed -- for reasons beyond the obvious taste issue.”

“House,” Wilson finally managed. “Thanks. Julie is going to flip out.”

“I figured. Think she’ll be grateful enough to forget about ...”

“No way. Not even close.”

“Ah well.” House shrugged, stirred his coffee. “But maybe you’ll be grateful enough to drop all this best man business.”

“Nope. You are not getting it out of it that easy, House. I’m counting on you.”

“But there’s that whole tux issue. I sent mine to the cleaners years ago and never got it back.”

“I’ll buy you a new one.”

“And the last time I went into a church, they had this whole ‘No talking’ thing going. They practically threw me out. I’m probably on some black list and won’t be able to get in the door.”

“It’s at a synagogue.”

“Even worse. I pissed off every mohel in town when I told a couple it was more hygienic to have their son circumcised at the hospital than at home.”

“I’ll bribe the rabbi.”

“I might have to hock your rings to pay for my drug habit.”

“I’ll get some replicas made, just in case.”

“Isn’t this something that brothers usually do? Why can’t Dan do it?”

“He was the best man at my first wedding. And I want you there.” Wilson took a drink of the coffee, the rich taste he’d remembered from his dinners here with Julie. “Besides, I want to make a good impression on my new in-laws.”

House swallowed his coffee down quickly, coughed for a moment and set down the cup before taking a look at Wilson, seeing the hint of a smile on his face, but unable to figure out exactly why.

“And how, precisely would I do that?”

“You wouldn’t. Not directly,” Wilson said. “But I figure anyone is going to look good in comparison to you.”

House picked up his cup again, stared down Wilson over the rim as Anton reentered the room, grabbing a chair to join them at the booth.

“Don’t look so smug, pal. I haven’t written my toast yet.”

 

 

 

--------------

October 2001

-------------

 

The rain that House knew was on its way began while he slept. He woke in the darkness -- dark inside, smudgy gray dawn outside -- to the sound of water pinging off the glass. The last gasp of the Vicodin he’d downed at 3 a.m. provided a barely adequate mask to the pain radiating up from his leg.

He rubbed at his face and turned to look at the clock. Still a half-hour to go until the alarm. He was surprised he’d slept this long. He threw his left arm over his eyes, and fumbled for the bedside lamp with the right. Once, he would have rolled over, grateful for the 30 minutes still available to him, and grateful for the clouds dimming the sun. No such pleasure now. Now pain set the clock. Putting off the morning routine meant putting off his meds, and he’d learned in the past few months that pain was not a patient passenger in his body. Soothe it before it reached full steam, and he could keep it under control, if not completely quiet.

Mornings it always made its presence known. Always. As soon as he shifted the leg, it would wake up, pissed off that House had disturbed it. His first few stuttering steps -- hand on cane, cane firmly against the hardwood floor -- let him know what kind of mood the pain was in for the day.

His damaged nerves sparked out a warning as he sat up and moved his leg over and off the bed. He shook out a Vicodin from the bedside table bottle and downed it quickly before beginning to push himself onto his feet. The muscles trembled in tune with the thunder rumbling outside and he stood. Rainy days were always bad, he’d learned. Autumn storms, with their promise of falling temperatures and bone-chilling dampness even worse.

He moved slowly, bringing the right leg forward in shorter steps than normal, trying to ease it into action. It was always a tradeoff. Short steps meant there was less pressure on the leg for a shorter time. But shorter steps also meant it took longer to reach any destination. The bathroom was 12 steps away on a decent morning. House stopped counting after 15 this morning.

He turned on the shower, knowing the hot moisture would help relax the tightened muscles. He considered his options, took measure of his leg’s responses so far and lifted the small plastic step stool inside the tub. He’d hated when he first got home and saw it there, waiting for him. But he’d needed it then. Now it still came in handy when his leg was particularly grouchy or he simply wanted a longer soak. He still hated it, but at least it wasn’t as ugly as the grab bar Stacy had installed in his absence.

Twenty minutes later, hot water beginning to cool, House turned off the shower, dried off and made his way back to the bedroom. His leg was doing better now, but was still worse than most days, and began the process of dressing -- jeans, t-shirt, button-down shirt --- all within reach from one spot at the edge of the closet. Then he hobbled back for socks and sneakers, sitting on an old kitchen chair Wilson had moved into the bedroom for him, its hard surface easier to push up out of than the bed.

The coffee maker had dutifully started up at 5:45 a.m. and House poured himself a mug. He opted to add sugar this time, wanting the extra buzz along with the caffeine and topped it all off with a Pop-Tart. Strawberry. With icing. Just so he wouldn’t have to lie if Wilson asked if he’d had breakfast.

The wind blasted the side of the building, sending sheets of rain with it, ticking against the glass with a fresh gust. House carefully balanced the coffee and pastry in his left hand and made his way into the living room, preferring the low lights there to the bright ones of the kitchen. Lightning flashed again and he swore he could feel his damaged nerves flicker, the electrical pulse traveling through the atmosphere and into his own body where it echoed out a response.

He stood before the window, looking down at the pavement. Someone was running down in the street, dodging puddles. House took in the dress shoes, the gray pants and long raincoat, a briefcase serving as an inadequate umbrella and looked down to the end of the block where a bus was just pulling up to the stop. He took another sip of the sweet coffee as the man waved to the driver and the doors swung open.

Another flash of lightning, a warning shudder from his tiring muscles and House shifted away from the window as the thunder rumbled again. He took another sip of the hot coffee, remembering the training runs the coach used to send them out on back in college, ignoring the weather and conditions. Cross-country runs in a cold fall rain with his shoes soaked through and mud splattered on his legs -- then the wonderful heat seeping through the coffee cup when he’d finished, his fingers wrapped around the ceramic.

For just a moment, he forgot himself and took too big of a step, turning too quickly for his damaged leg to handle. Pain screamed along the length of his leg and up his back. His knee threatened to buckle and House dropped the coffee to grab the windowsill instead for support. The mug hit the hardwood floor with a heavy klunk, and he felt hot liquid splash onto his left ankle.

“Fuck!” House held himself there, willing his knee to hold, hoping the pain would subside quickly. He knew better than that. He knew he wasn’t that person any more, that he never would be again. Stupid mistakes pissed him off, and there were so many to choose from. He wanted to hit something, hear something smash, but that would have meant giving up the support under either hand, and he wasn’t sure he could stay upright. “Fuck!”

He could feel the coffee soaking now through the mesh outer layer of his sneaker. Another flash of lightning, another shock of pain. The muscles beginning to tremble so hard he could feel his entire leg beginning to shake, the knee still quaking, ready to give in. He knew he couldn’t stay where he was.

House braced his left hand on the sill, moved the cane a few inches to the right as quickly as possible, careful to set it down on a dry spot. He pivoted his right leg on his heel, hissing at the renewed pain, then spun on the left foot, fearing what would happen if he took all of his weight off the left. He could feel sweat breaking out on his forehead, repeated the procedure again and again until he was finally facing the living room.

The chair was maybe five steps away. Five of his normal steps. House took a breath. The pain hadn’t eased, and it was about to get worse.

Hand on the cane, cane on the hardwood. He shifted his weight onto his right side, stepped forward with the left. Nerves and muscles screamed on the right. Not as bad as it could have been, House mused, but not as good as he’d hoped. He considered the distance. Maybe a quarter of his normal step. Nineteen more steps to go.

Maybe less, he thought. Maybe more, an inner voice responded.

Ten steps down. Right leg nearly in full revolt and House could feel sweat running down the side of his face. He was nearly close enough now to touch the arm of the chair. House tightened his grip on the cane, ready to move forward again. He jerked to a stop as the ring of the telephone cut through the room. The phone was in the charger on the far side of the room. Nothing to do for it now.

Hand tight around the cane. Cane on the hardwood. He heard the machine click on.

“House, it’s me.” Wilson. Of course.

“Just checking if you wanted a ride in this morning. Give me a call. I’ll try your cell if I don’t hear back.”

Two more steps. Two more and he could ease down into the chair. He bribed his leg with the promise of the footstool if it could get him there. One more step. House could hear the faint tones of his cell phone ringing from the side pocket of his bag, near the front door. He reached down. Left hand on leather. He dropped down to the cushion, finally allowing his right hand to ease its grip on the cane. He leaned back and allowed his head to drop back between his shoulders, onto the overstuffed surface.

He wanted to breathe, to just be. The pain wouldn’t let him go. Muscles newly released from service let him know just how pissed they were. Hamstring cramping. The remaining quad screaming for his attention. House used both hands to lift his leg onto the stool and tried to massage the muscles into surrender. He registered the sound of the phone again.

“You there House? Seriously, pick up.” A pause, maybe 20 seconds. “Come on, man, I’m serious. Pick up.”

House glared at the handset and the blinking red light. “Got my hands full,” he grumbled.

“Ten minutes,” Wilson’s voice continued. “You’ve got 10 minutes, then I come over there, got it?”

House wasn’t certain if he was more pissed that Wilson was on his way, relieved that he was, or pissed at himself for feeling relieved. Then the muscles spasmed again and he couldn’t concentrate on anything but the pain.

House heard the knock at the door, and heard Wilson call out as the key turned in the lock, but didn’t bother answering, he didn’t even bother to look up. He concentrated on his leg, working his hands along the length of it, feeling the muscle fibers tense and tremble. The door opened and light from the condo hallway spilled into the dim living room.

“House?” Wilson stood in the doorway for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He saw House’s shape, hunched over on the chair.

“You’re early,” House grunted out in greeting.

“So sue me.” Wilson crossed the room, turning on a lamp as he did, his attention on House. He could see House’s leg propped up awkwardly on a corner of the stool, cane haphazardly dropped on the floor. Sweat was visible on his pale skin, and it had soaked the collar of his t-shirt.

Wilson shed his coat on the couch and grabbed two pillows. He carefully lifted House’s leg and pushed the stool in closer, adding the pillows for extra support before gently lowering his leg back down. He kneeled down next to the chair and moved his hands up to where House’s had been, taking over the massage, and allowing House to lean back, and try to relax.

“This OK?” he asked.

House nodded. “It helps.”

Wilson didn’t say anything else, just concentrated on working the muscle groups, trying to break their grip. He glanced around the room, and tried to put together what happened. He saw the mug on the floor, the coffee, the pastry.

He kept at the massage until he felt the trembling begin to subside, and could see House begin to relax. He slowed, but let his hands rest on House’s leg for a moment. He could feel the deformation of the leg through the denim. He could feel where the muscle was missing and where the nearby muscle had been worked into steel bands to try and compensate.

“Better?”

“That’s all relative, isn’t it?” House said, but then nodded. “Thanks.”

Wilson stood up, walked over to the window and picked up the mug.

“It’s not broken, at least.”

“Well thank God. I was so worried.”

Wilson didn’t bother responding, just took it into the kitchen, returned with a handful of paper towels and mopped up the coffee, swept up the chunks of Pop-Tart.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I know.”

He went back into the kitchen and House could hear him puttering around. Cabinet doors opening. Drawers closing. He stared off at the window, his own reflection looking back at him. Older. Thinner. Pale. Gaunt. Unhealthy.

When he’d first let his beard begin to grow out, it was because he was too busy to shave. Then someone told him it made him look older. Stacy said she loved the feel of the rough texture against her own flawless skin. Now it hid the lines that seemed to appear from nowhere. That seemed to deepen with every step he took. With every wince.

He closed his eyes and listened to Wilson, hearing cabinet doors closing.

A moment later, and Wilson was next to him. House opened his eyes to see him with a steaming mug of coffee in one hand, a plate in the other. He held the plate out.

“Eat this.” Wheat toast. Strawberry jam.

House didn’t take it. “I’m not hungry.”

“I didn’t ask if you were.” Wilson still held the plate above House’s lap, waiting, expecting him to give in. “How many did you take this morning?”

“One.”

“Eat this and I’ll get you another one.”

House knew the pills were still in the bedroom. He took the plate. “Cheese at the end of the maze,” he said. “I’m just a lab rat.”

Wilson set the coffee mug down on the table next to House, then settled himself on the couch, picking up his own mug from the table. “Better a maze than a dissection.”

“That depends on your point of view,” House bit into the toast, crumbs falling onto his shirt. He brushed them off. “You gonna want to clean that up too?”

“Nah, I specialize in liquid spills only.” He took a sip of his coffee. “You want to tell me what happened?”

“Not particularly.” House set the plate with the half-eaten toast on his lap. Picked up his coffee. “You forgot sugar.”

“If you’d just settle on one way to take your coffee, this wouldn’t come up.” Wilson didn’t bother getting any sweetener. He knew House would drink it either way.

House stared at the toast for a moment before picking it up again, taking another bite. He listened to the rain against the window. His leg was still a mass of angry nerve endings and raw muscles, but the worst should be over. He still didn’t want to move though. He knew the pain was just in hiding. It would be back at the slightest opportunity. At any opportunity. His stomach clenched at the thought and he put the toast back down. He used the cuff of his shirt sleeve to wipe the sweat off his face.

“What are you doing here anyway?”

“Thought you might want a ride in, but now I’m guessing I can just tell O’Neal you’ll be taking the day off.”

“That’s not what I mean,” House grumbled.

“Y’know, I really haven’t had enough coffee to get into an existential discussion on the meaning of life.”

“You’ve got a beautiful wife back home, I’m sure you’d rather be getting in a quickie with her than be here.”

“Who says I didn’t? Besides, Julie knows why I came. She’s cool with it. And if I wasn’t here, I’d probably just be getting some work done at the hospital before rounds.”

“And doing better for yourself there than when you’re here.” House pulled the toast apart into smaller pieces. “They already hate me, you’re not doing yourself any good.”

“Now you sound like them.”

“You’ve got better things to do with your life than play nursemaid to a cripple.”

“You’re not a cri...”

“Yes. I am. I’m fucking useless. I don’t know why they haven’t given my office away to someone else. I’ve been on leave more than I’ve been in. O’Neal doesn’t even bother scheduling me on the rotation anymore.”

“They probably keep you around because you still have this habit of saving lives,” Wilson pointed out.

“If it weren’t for the tenure, they’d have kicked me out on my ass a year ago,” House said, ignoring him. “Hell, Stacy would have kicked me out if it weren’t just easier to move herself out instead.”

“Ah, there’s that mournful refrain I’ve missed so much.” Wilson snatched the coffee mug out of House’s hand. “You want more coffee, or should we go straight to the Scotch?”

House knew this look. It was the one that most people never saw, the one they assumed Wilson didn’t possess because all they saw was the smile, the affability, and the gentle manner and believed he was a pushover.

“Don’t give me any shit, Wilson. I’m not in the mood.”

“Neither am I,” Wilson stood over him. He didn’t bother to raise his voice. “You’re having a lousy day? Yeah, looks like you are. You’ve had a lousy year or so? You’ll get no argument from me.”

“This where you’re going to give some inspiring cancer patient story? Because I love those,” House said, trying to stare Wilson down despite the fact that he was still seated. “Can’t get enough of them.”

“I’m not here to give you a lecture House, and I’m not your whipping boy. I’m your friend. I hate seeing you like this -- and I don’t mean just your leg. You don’t deserve this, any of this. No one does. So you want to have a pity party? Fine. Go ahead. But here’s the deal. You’re allowed one every six months, so you better make it count.”

“What if I want to have more than one?”

“Then you’ll have to fetch your own damn coffee,” Wilson said. “And you’ll drink it the way I make it.” He headed back into the kitchen, leaving House in the suddenly quiet living room.

House looked back at the window. The rain was beginning to lessen, the skies growing a bit lighter. He heard another bus on the corner.

In the kitchen, he heard Wilson running water, moving something on the counter. He heard a cabinet door slam. Heard something hit the wall. Something heavy. Heard it break. Then quiet. Nothing but the sound of his own breathing and the coffee pot gurgling to life.

Ten minutes later and Wilson was back at his side, a cup of coffee in each hand. “Don’t bitch and say you didn’t want sugar this time,” he warned.

House took the cup, the heat radiating out to warm his hand. He rested it on his right knee, let the heat soak in there too.

“Seems I was wrong about that mug,” Wilson said as he settled into the couch again. “Guess it was broken after all.”

“And you’re always here to pick up the pieces.” House took a sip of the coffee. Strong. Sweet. Two sugars.

It was quiet now. The lightning had passed on. There was just an occasional rumble, and House wasn’t certain if that was the distant thunder or the delivery trucks in the alley.

“I was serious about that you know,” Wilson nodded at the remains of the toast. “If you don’t finish, you won’t get any dessert.”

“But it’s cold,” House whined. “And Mom said I only had to take three bites. I had at least four.”

“All of it,” Wilson said. “Or I’ll hide the remote.”

“Now that’s just cruel.”

“I’ll leave it on Lifetime and lock out the other channels.”

House shoved the last pieces into his mouth. “You’ve got a mean streak,” he said as he chewed.

“You’re the only one who can bring it out in me.” Wilson pushed himself to his feet and headed back into the kitchen, taking the empty plate with him.

House heard the dishes clink into the sink. Wilson passed back through the living room and into the hall. He saw the light go on in the bedroom, then Wilson was there with the familiar amber pill bottle, handing it over.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Wilson waited while House shook out one pill and downed it dry. “I should head in for rounds,” he said. “You good there, or would you prefer the couch?”

House considered the options, leaned forward and lifted his leg up off the pillows and the stool. He set it carefully on the floor, biting back a curse with the movement. “Couch.”

Wilson waited at House’s right side until he was ready, then reached his arm around and under House’s shoulder. House took the cane in his left hand, leaning onto Wilson on his right side. House’s foot barely touching the floor as he hobbled the few feet over to the couch. Only four steps with Wilson’s help. Then Wilson was back with the pillows, propping his leg up again.

House could feel the extra dose of Vicodin beginning to hit as he lay back, a narcotic buzz that had become all too familiar.

“I’ll stop back later,” Wilson was saying. “Call me if you need anything.”

House nodded. “Thanks.”

“You already said that.”

“Thought I’d say it again. Now I’ll be one up next time I need something,”

“I’ll try to remember that.” Wilson collected his jacket from the couch, his keys jangling as he took them out of his pocket. “See you later.”

House watched the door swing shut and heard the sound of the dead bolt clicking into place before Wilson’s steps faded down the hall. He turned on the TV. The weather report was up. Lines of thunderstorms and dropping temperatures.

“Coming up next, sports,” the blonde anchor was saying. House turned the volume down and listened to the rain.

 

-------------

2002

------------

Wilson could hear House’s voice seeping out into the hallway before he even opened the door to the outer office. He stepped in and closed it quickly behind him. Cuddy’s new admin assistant was on the phone, balancing the handset on one shoulder and rapidly taking notes. She nodded her head to indicate he should head in.

“The real problem,” House was saying as Wilson walked in, “is that HMO’s haven’t figured out how to bill for curiosity. Jerk a patient from one useless specialist to another, and great, fine, they’ve got all the paperwork in order. Another test? Why not? We’ll toss another claim in the file. But let a doctor take an interest in actually finding out what’s wrong, and they’re lost.”

Cuddy offered an occasional nod in response, but otherwise concentrated on unpacking her boxes. She had been acting dean for more than a year, but played the smart political card and stayed in her old office until the new position was official -- no use upsetting some committee or board member into thinking she was somehow taking the post as a given.

“How long does this rant usually last?” she asked Wilson in greeting.

“Tough to say. It’s one of his favorites and he’s got a number of points he tries to hit before allowing anyone to get a word in.”

“I told him I agreed with him five minutes ago, but that didn’t even slow him down.” She cleared out one box, dropped it neatly into a waiting bin, then opened another.

“Oooh, that’s a nice one,” Wilson commented as she hefted a tall trophy from the next box, and unwrapped the figure from beneath its protective bubble wrap. “Real metal, not painted plastic.”

“Thanks. Mixed doubles at last year’s charity tournament.”

“You were matched with Fred Newcombe, weren’t you? Julie says he has a lousy backhand.”

“Let’s just say I got my exercise that day and leave it at that.”

“Hello? Talking here,” House’s cane broke between Cuddy and Wilson to tap the desk surface.

“Now he notices,” Cuddy muttered to Wilson before turning to face House.

House had taken on the stance that he’d adopted in the years since the injury and surgery, the one meant to display pure nonchalance, but Wilson knew had taken practice to develop -- weight casually placed on his left leg, his right knee bent and right elbow locked into place, his hand on the cane and the cane firmly pushed into his right hip.

“As I was saying before you so rudely, well, wouldn’t shut up, I agree with you,” Cuddy leaned back against her desk. “But I’m not the one you have to convince. You need to get the board to sign on.”

“You can tell them to do it, though,” House countered. “put that power suit to use for something other than impressing rich new donors.”

“I can make recommendations, but I’m only one vote. Yes, a diagnostics department would be an important addition, but it’ll be expensive. We’ve got a limited budget and every specialty and subspecialty out there has their own claim on next year’s expenditures. Bring me some numbers, some statistics, some case histories. Get me some results from other diagnostics units.”

“This may seem like a somewhat stupid question, but don’t we have, oh, I don’t know, staff to do that?”

Cuddy crossed her arms across her chest, leaned back on the desk.

“Yes, and in this case, that would be you.”

“But I’m lousy with paperwork, you said so yourself.”

“Excuse me, but do I need to be here?” Wilson asked. “Because I can come back.”

Cuddy gave him a smile and walked around to her chair, removing another empty box in the process. “Dr. Wilson, please stay,” she said. “Dr. House, please leave, but remember I’ll need that paperwork in time for Tuesday’s meeting.”

“That’s only five days,” House complained. “including the weekend.”

“And since you’re looking at an interdisciplinary approach, it’ll look better if you can get multiple departments to sign on to the concept -- more than Wilson,” Cuddy continued. “Three departments would be better. Four would be ideal.”

“And that’s why the abuse of power is a bad thing,” House said to Wilson, ignoring Cuddy.

“Unless you’re the one taking advantage of the situation,” Wilson said.

“I’ve told you, then it’s not abuse. It’s a rightful display of the natural order of things.”

“Go. Now,” Cuddy said. “And close the door on your way out.”

House rolled his eyes, and limped out, but the door remained open. Cuddy’s assistant rose from her desk to close it on her way to the filing cabinets.

“Let me take a wild stab at what that was about,” Wilson said as he settled into one of the open chairs.

“House says we need to start a diagnostics department,” Cuddy said, pulling a notebook from beneath a pile of other papers.

“He’s right,” Wilson said. “But he’s been saying that for a long time. What’s different now?”

“Me.” Cuddy said, looking Wilson in the eye. It wasn’t ego, he knew, but a simple statement of fact. Cuddy may have moved into administration, but she was still a doctor, not an accountant. “And the letter we got from the family of one of his former patients promising a $10,000 grant to help finance one.”

“That’s a nice start.”

“But not enough,” Cuddy admitted. “We’ll need more backing than that. I know of a couple other sources, but we’ll still have a hard sell. This is why I needed to talk to you.”

“I hate fundraising,” Wilson protested.

“You’re good at it though,” she said. “But it’s not that.” Cuddy put down her pen, leaned back. “Do you think House is up this?”

“Well, obviously this isn’t about money. Then the proposal? Sure, he hates paperwork, but it’s important to him. It’ll be done.”

“Not the proposal.”

“You want him to run the department,” Wilson picked up the unspoken half of the statement. “God knows he can handle the medical side of things.”

House had picked up his board certification in diagnostics after the infarction, a way to keep his mind occupied while he trained his newly-rebellious body. Long before that was even official though, he was already the man to see for every mysterious ailment, with doctors from inside and outside PPTH calling on him for help. He’d contributed to a half-dozen medical journals in the past two years alone, cementing his reputation.

“But he’d have to do more than solve cases,” Cuddy pointed out. “There are budgets, personnel issues, supervising staff. I shudder at the thought of him filling out a performance review -- or, God forbid, doing hiring interviews.”

“That ... could be a problem,” Wilson conceded.

“And he’d have to put in a lot more hours. A lot more time at a desk, and a lot of time with patients and their families, on his feet,” Cuddy said. “And I’m going to get him back into clinic duty.”

“That should be entertaining.”

Cuddy nodded.

“Technically I can’t ask him if he’s physically capable,” she said. “But I’d hate to see him go through anything more than he can handle.”

Wilson suspected that Cuddy carried some residual guilt from the infarction. Although she’d had nothing to do with the original misdiagnosis, the department had been her responsibility. And although Stacy made the call on the surgery, Cuddy had given her the idea. Despite that, though, he thought she had handled House well so far -- both as his doctor as his boss.

“He can handle it,” Wilson said. “No problem. He’s ready. The question is, are you?”

“I have no idea,” she admitted. “Handling the board should be a breeze compared to handling House.”

Wilson was out when House came by his office that afternoon, but his assistant told him she’d given him copies of the budget request forms he’d been looking for. When Wilson swung by House’s office late that afternoon, it was empty, but his computer was still on, papers and books spread across the surface. It was a familiar enough sight, but usually it was medical journals. This time he recognized PPTH’s own annual report along with those from at least two other hospitals.

He jotted down a note telling House to call him by 7 if he needed a ride home. He passed by House’s office again anyway on his way out. It was still empty, but Wilson noticed his note was gone.

--------

 

The digital clock on the microwave read 6:30 as Wilson came in from a run the next morning. He grabbed a bottle of cold water, downing half of it at once. It wasn’t too hot yet, but the end-of-summer humidity was in high gear and everything stuck tight to his skin. He kicked off his shoes and tossed them in the mud room before heading upstairs. Julie had just finished her shower and they met between the closet and the bathroom door.

“Don’t get too close,” he warned her. “I stink.”

“I’ll take my chances,” she said, and he leaned down to kiss her, lingering there for a moment, his sweat-damp hair brushing against her wet hair, the smell of her shampoo and soap filling his senses.

“You really need a shower,” she said, finally stepping back.

Wilson nodded and pulled off his shirt. “Warned you.”

“You have time for breakfast at home today, or you going to grab something at the hospital?”

Wilson stepped into the walk-in closet, tossing more clothes into the hamper and pulling out clean underwear. “No early meetings today, so I should be good,” he called out to the room. “Let me just check if Greg needs a ride.”

“He called while you were out. He said he was going in early.” Julie was standing near the closet entrance, waiting for him. “So I guess he’ll drive himself today then, right?”

“I guess.”

“So he’s probably feeling pretty good today?”

“Probably,” Wilson paused, leaning against the door jamb, his wife leaning back against the other side of the frame. “Sometimes he’ll take the bus if he doesn’t feel up to driving, though.”

“Well I know he has more problems on rainy days, and when it’s cold...”

“And if he’s been on his feet too much, and sometimes for reasons he can’t even figure out.” Wilson tried to guess from her expression what was going through her mind, but she turned away. He followed her out into the bedroom. “Why do you want to know?”

“It’s nothing,” she said. “Just trying to figure out if there’s a pattern is all. Seems like it’d be easier to figure out a schedule if I knew when you were going to be tied up. So ... eggs OK?”

“Sure. Fine.” Wilson watched Julie walk out the door. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

House was at his desk when Wilson got to the hospital, a small desk lamp adding its light to the overhead fluorescents and even more papers strewn across its surface.

“Maybe I should take a picture for Cuddy. She’ll never believe me when I tell her you’re at,” Wilson checked his watch. “7:30.”

“Go ahead,” House said, barely glancing up. “Then I’ll have the evidence to go after her for some serious overtime.”

Wilson set his coffee down on the desk while he cleared off one of the chairs.

“Hey, gimme,” he protested, snatching the cup back out of House’s hand. “That’s mine.”

“You’d begrudge a crippled man one simple pleasure?”

“You’ve got your own already,” Wilson said, pointing out the half-filled mug already on the desk.

“It’s cold.”

“The coffeepot’s just across the hall,” Wilson pointed out. House let out a sigh, but stood and took his cup out to the department coffee maker. Wilson took the opportunity to see how House was moving. A longer protest would be a clue the pain level was up today. The fact he went at all was the first good sign, and the relative ease of House’s steps calmed his remaining worries.

After some tough days and a few slips and stumbles early in the winter, House had taken up PT again seriously. Ransom was ready, personally overseeing his treatment along with his latest employee -- a retired drill sergeant that Wilson suspected had been recruited specifically for House. .

Maybe others didn’t notice the changes, but Wilson could see that House was steadier on his feet, more comfortable. He was walking more surely and could raise and lower himself out of chairs more easily. There were still bad days, still times when a muscle spasm caught him hard, but there were either fewer of them or House was learning to disguise them even from Wilson.

“So what’s got you off to such an early start anyway?”

House eased himself back down into the chair. It was a high level executive one that Wilson knew House’s department head had openly lusted after, but House got it instead, citing the ergonomic adjustments that would help him cope.

“Lisbon,” House said, lifted one set of papers. “Latvia.” He motioned to another pile, then a third. “London.” The fax machine beeped to life and House rolled his chair over to inspect the first sheet. “And Amsterdam.” He looked up at Wilson. “Sorry, no alliteration grand slam today.”

“Studies for the proposal?”

“Yep,” House was looking over the papers as they emerged from the fax. “I was on the phone to half of Europe this morning asking for whatever they could send me on their diagnostics programs. I was able to track some of them down before the weekend. Thank God it’s not August, or I’d really be in trouble.”

“I could give you a hand later, if you want,” Wilson said.

“Don’t you have the personnel committee meeting this afternoon?”

Wilson should have known House would remember his schedule. “It won’t take that long.”

“Since when do personnel issues not take long?” House rolled back over to his desk and dug a metal binder out of a tray, then pushed himself back over to the still-busy fax machine. “Don’t worry about it. This is the easy part. I may ask you put me out of my misery, though, once I start crunching numbers.”

“You’ll do fine.” Wilson checked his watch again and grabbed his bag from the floor. “I’d better go. I’ve got my own paperwork waiting for me.”

“OK.” House had all the papers now and had rolled back to his desk once more. He grabbed a highlighter from beneath one of the piles.

He was slouched over the desk, scribbling notes as Wilson closed the door.

-----

Charts done, rounds over. Wilson checked his watch. It was closing in on 1 p.m., which would leave him a little more than an hour before the personnel meeting. He switched off his computer and headed out, giving some notes to the department assistant to type up. He headed down the stairs, stopping after two flights. Down the hall and then left. He knocked on House’s door before trying the handle. It opened to his touch.

Little had changed from the morning. House was still at his desk, though he had switched over to the computer. At some point he’d closed the blinds. He glanced up. “Hang on,” he said, then continued typing.

A few moments later and he turned away from the monitor. “What’s up?”

“I was just going to grab some lunch and was wondering if you wanted to join me.”

“Is it that time already?” House checked his watch.

“A little past that time, actually. Want to take a break?”

House seemed to consider it. Wilson knew he’d often skip meals whenever he was in the middle of something, even before the meds were there to disrupt his eating patterns . It wasn’t that he didn’t notice he was hungry, House would say, just that he had other things to do first.

“Maybe you can grab me something,” House said. “A sandwich or something.”

“Define ‘something.’”

“Just for that, you can pay.”

“When do I not?” Wilson was out the door and down the hall before House could respond.

Wilson was back 15 minutes later, sandwiches -- one roast beef, one turkey -- chips and a couple of glasses of iced tea balanced on a tray. House cleared a corner of the desk and grabbed the roast beef.

“You forgot the mustard,” he said with his mouth full.

Wilson pulled a handful of condiment packets from his pocket and tossed them on the tray. House rooted through the pile and grabbed a mustard and mayo.

Wilson turned his chair on an angle, then propped his feet up on the other chair stationed in front of the desk, avoiding a stack of journals stacked on it. House swung his left leg up onto a corner of the desk, then used his right hand to help bring his right leg onto it, a quick movement that was easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention.

“So how’s it going?”

“All right, I think,” House said. “I got some good comparative stats from Lisbon and some good case studies from some other places. You going to have time to write up some backing documents?”

Wilson nodded as he took a sip of his iced tea. “You know, I was thinking I might talk to Chen in cardiology, see if he could sign on too. We teamed up on the Flores treatment a couple of months back.”

House grunted and checked his watch. As Wilson opened one of the chip bags, he heard the pill bottle open. He glanced up to see House shake one out. “Cuddy was right, you know,” Wilson said. “Four departments would be even better. Any ideas?”

“Already done.” House popped a Vicodin in his mouth, washed it down with the iced tea. “Simpson said he’d help out.”

“Simpson?”

“Well, maybe not help out, but he’ll let us toss his name on it.”

“Simpson from orthopedics Simpson?”

“There are more?”

“Simpson hates you.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say hate.” House shoved three potato chips in his mouth. “Besides there’s something he hates more -- me as a patient.”

“Which is why you switched to Laszlo.”

“This is true, but even Simpson could see the logic at work: better diagnostics means fewer misdiagnoses. Fewer misdiagnoses means ...”

“Less chance he ever would have had you as a patient in the first place,” Wilson concluded. “Getting hate to work for you. That’s a real skill.”

“Thank you.” House picked up the last chunk of his sandwich. “You should always know how to play to your strengths.”

 

------

Wilson had intended to sit in on Tuesday’s board meeting, and give House’s plan whatever support he could. But Monday found him with a new referral -- a 24-year-old with testicular cancer that had spread throughout his body. He spent the morning with the patient and his family, getting them settled, setting up tests.

He had just a few minutes before the meeting to check in with House.

“I look ridiculous,” House said as Wilson entered. He was wearing a gray suit, an Armani that Stacy had insisted he buy years ago. A classic cut combined with a white shirt and maroon-patterned tie that Stacy had also selected.

Wilson had a flash of memory. House wearing the same outfit, one arm around Stacy’s shoulder during a dinner in the city soon after the start of his brief marriage to Tonya. He tried not to linger on the fact now that it hung loosely off House’s tall frame, the tie only emphasizing the fact that he’d lost weight in the past two years.

“You look fine.”

“No I don’t,” House said. “I didn’t think to grab anything else this morning.”

“Don’t worry about it. Cuddy will appreciate the effort, even if nobody else does.”

“Then I should definitely change back into jeans,” House threatened, moving toward the clothes piled on a chair. “Otherwise she might start picturing us in matching power suits, and pink is definitely not my color.”

Wilson nodded at the clock. “No time. I guess you’ll just have to take the risk.”

Two hours later, and Wilson had gone over the newest test results with his newest patient, laying out a treatment plan starting with surgery first thing in the morning. The kid had a chance, he knew, but a small one. He laid things out as clearly as he could. The parents sat on either side of their son, each holding a hand, his mother absently running her other hand up and down his arm. Wilson had witnessed the scene more times than he could count, but could call up each face, each name.

He signed off on the chart, then headed down to the board room, hoping to catch at least some of the session. He spotted House leaving the room and weaved his way through the elevator traffic.

“House!” Wilson raised his voice enough that House turned and looked back his way, but then kept going. “House! Wait up!”

The boardroom door opened as he passed by and Cuddy stepped out, signaling him over.

“I take it it didn’t go well.”

“It could have been worse,” she said softly. Wilson could see past her to other board members chatting between themselves, the meeting apparently still in session.

“They turned him down.”

“Not completely,” she clarified. “They approved a six-month pilot program -- but no funds for staffing. They’ll reevaluate by spring.”

“But how’s he supposed to accomplish anything in six months, without ...”

“Not my idea,” Cuddy said. “I’ve got to get back to this.”

Wilson nodded as she closed the door, then looked up ahead, caught a glimpse of House’s head making its way out the door. He rushed after him.

There was no sign of House straight ahead, toward the bus stop, and they were far enough away from the staff parking lot that Wilson didn’t think he would head that way. He considered his options, then went left. Past the corner of the building, he spotted House, still moving as fast as he’d seen him move since the infarction.

Wilson broke into a sprint and caught up with him just as the pathway split, one walkway heading up toward the main campus, another toward the river. He wasn’t surprised when House turned left. It had always been one of his preferred routes.

“What’s up?” House made no reply, just pushed on. Wilson could feel sweat beginning to collect on his own body, the humidity of last week still at play.

“House?” Wilson knew the other man would be feeling the heat as well, and House had always hated running in summer heat.

“Maybe we should head back,” he suggested, putting one hand lightly on House’s arm.

“Either come, or don’t come, but at least shut up.” Wilson had seen the look a few times when he’d seen House playing lacrosse, or when they occasionally joined in the hospital’s annual cutthroat softball game between residents and and attendings. The look that meant he was now officially pissed off. The look that meant trouble for anyone who crossed House. The look that meant he was ready to inflict some pain.

Wilson said nothing, but kept pace and switched to House’s right side, just in case.

They were down at the river now, the pathway rising and falling with the terrain along the riverbank. Wilson could hear House breathing deeply, an occasional gasp. He nearly lost his balance once, but caught himself before Wilson could touch him.

When his leg finally gave out, House couldn’t completely hold back a yell. Wilson grabbed for him, managing to pulled the bulk of House’s weight onto himself, the cane clattering down onto the broken concrete. It was good timing at least, with a bench just a few steps away.

Wilson moved them both slowly toward it. They were both drenched in sweat by the time he got House to it and managed to lower him down. He started to reach down to massage the muscles when House stopped him. “Don’t touch it,” he warned. “Not yet. Give me a minute.”

He nodded and went back for the cane, then sat beside House. Wilson could see him swallow hard, trembling all over. He waited him out and looked out at the river where a pair of sculls were gliding across the river.

“That was really stupid,” Wilson said once House’s breathing had settled down.

“Yeah.”

“I mean really stupid.” Now that they’d stopped, Wilson couldn’t fight his own anger from bubbling up. “What would you have done if I hadn’t been here?”

House opened his eyes and looked over at him. “Then I wouldn’t have tried it.”

“You ready now?” Wilson asked, and moved around to House’s side when he nodded.

 

It had been a struggle to get House to accept his help -- or any help for that matter, Wilson recalled. He’d tolerated the dressings and medical checks only because they were necessary. Once he’d recovered enough to exert his will, he did his best to keep Stacy or anyone else out of his room whenever his leg was exposed.

In rehab, he permitted required poking or prodding, but no more. When one of the therapists suggested Stacy learn some massage techniques that could help, House responded by throwing a water pitcher across the room.

He allowed Wilson and Stacy to get things for him, but balked if they tried to do anything else, even when it was clear he was having problems

Stacy said it was a sign he was improving. Wilson wasn’t so certain.

“I don’t need any help,” House would say, again and again.

“Yes,” Wilson said one night when they were alone in House’s rehab center room and he’d seen House make three failed attempts to raise himself from his chair. “You do.”

He took a firm and steady grip under House’s upper right arm, ready to support him up out of the chair, ignoring House’s attempt to push him away.

“Lemme go. I can do it myself.”

“Not tonight you can’t,” Wilson pointed out.

“Let. Me. Go.”

“No. I’m not going anywhere, so we can either stay here all night or you can let me help you. Your choice.”

House glared at him, but Wilson could see the anger begin to dim and something else, resignation or gratitude -- he wasn’t certain which at the time -- begin to take its place.

“Would you prefer we both pretend that you’re fine and wait until I leave and the nurse gets here?” Wilson didn’t move from his spot. “I’m here now. Let me help.”

“Don’t you have some baldheaded kid to torment?”

“Not at the moment, no.”

House shifted forward.

“What about some blonde to wine and dine?” He pushed down on the chair arm with his left hand taking hold of Wilson’s arm with his right. Wilson provided extra support as House put his weight on his left leg, maneuvering a crutch under his left arm.

“She’s waiting back at my office,” Wilson said. He kept one hand on House’s back, helping to keep him steady while he arranged the second crutch.

“She’s going to be hungry by the time you get there.” House made his way toward the bed, Wilson following just closely enough to step in and help if needed, but far enough back to allow House his own space.

“I gave her a roll of quarters and directions to the vending machine.”

“Classy. She’s going to expect you to put out, you know.” House settled back against the bed, allowing Wilson to lift his right leg onto the mattress before he’d even thought to protest.

“I’m counting on it.”

Wilson presented himself to House’s therapist first thing the next morning to learn everything he could. If he could force House to accept his help once, he reasoned, he could do it again.

It hadn’t been easy. He’d been at their place, a basic dinner -- pasta and a salad. Wilson had insisted on helping by putting the dishes in the dishwasher once House excused himself from the table. Stacy followed when he didn’t return when expected, and called to Wilson from the bedroom, her voice immediately followed by House’s ordering him to stay put.

House was sitting on the edge of the bed, his hands pressed down into his thigh. Stacy standing beside him, arms crossed in front of her chest. She gave Wilson a hopeful look when he entered.

“He won’t let me do anything,” she said.

“Because there’s nothing else you can do.” House’s voice was strained.

“Let me try.” Wilson gently moved Stacy to the side.

“No.”

“Maybe I can help.”

“No.”

“I want to try. Please.”

House looked up at him, glanced at Stacy and then back again. “No.”

Wilson placed an arm around Stacy’s shoulder, led her toward the door. “Let me have a minute with him, OK?”

“I can handle this.”

“Maybe he can’t,” Wilson murmured to her. She finally nodded and left the room.

Wilson walked back to House, lowered himself to his knees in front of his friend. “I can reach it from a different angle,” he said. “Please. I can help.”

He saw House clench his jaw and consider it. Wilson thought he was about to turn him down again, but the muscles spasmed once more and he gave a slight nod.

Wilson supplied a slight pressure at first, finding the trouble spots, working to release the tension as he tried not to think too much about the misshapen contours of the leg.

House eased himself back until he was lying across the bed, willing the rest of his body to relax while Wilson worked.

“I hate this,” he said quietly.

“I know.”

“Not just the pain.”

Wilson concentrated on the last of the knotted muscles. “Yeah,” he said. “I know.”

House never called Wilson when he needed help, and Wilson suspected he still suffered through most of the spasms on his own. But he let Wilson help if he was there -- if they were alone.

Back at the river, Wilson helped House out of the suit coat and helped him swing his legs over onto the bench. He wasn’t surprised to find House’s shirt soaked through. He’d ditched the tie sometime before Wilson had caught up with him. He folded the coat over and added his own lab coat for a makeshift pillow which he propped under House’s knee, his foot hanging off the end of the bench. He could see the muscles trembling beneath the layer of fine fabric even before he placed his hand on House’s leg.

“Six months, huh?” he said, softly applying pressure, adapting the massage according to how the muscle reacted.

“Couldn’t give a straightforward yes or no,” House said. “Back to the goddamned middle ground. Everyone’s so afraid of taking a chance, they miss an opportunity to do something good.”

“Not everyone is cut out to make tough choices.”

“Then they shouldn’t put themselves in a place where they have to make them.” House reached down for a moment, stopping Wilson’s hands. He swallowed hard a few times, then nodded, taking his hand away to rest it across his stomach. “But show them a shiny new piece of equipment, and they’re ready to play.”

“What?”

“Didn’t you hear? A whole body scanner. The latest in diagnostics equipment. We’ll have one by February.” There was no mistaking the anger and sarcasm in House’s voice. “Us and the New You Health Clinic at the Princeton Mall. Don’t want to let those private industry guys get the jump on us. Just think of all the insurance billings we’d miss out on.”

“Never mind that they’re useless.”

“Useless but profitable.”

The trembling seemed to be letting up and Wilson adjusted the pressure of the massage.

“You’ve got six months, though, right?”

“With no staff,” House said. “And it’s all contingent on O’Neal agreeing to give up my hours.”

“I’m sure you can work something out.”

“Probably.”

Wilson finally stopped, satisfied he’d done all he could for now and sat on the ground, leaning back against the bench. “A lot could happen in six months, you know.”

“Sure, why not,” House waved at the idea. He sounded tired, and no longer quite as angry as he had even 15 minutes earlier. “Maybe we should get you on the board, let you sweet talk them into it.”

“No way.”

“Why not? They like you. Everybody likes you.”

“And I like the way things are, thank you very much. As it is I practically have more committee paperwork than patient charts.”

“And whose fault is that? I told you to sign up for the Video Vixen screenings club. You’re the one who insisted you had better things to do with your Thursdays.”

“That was bowling,” Wilson clarified. “And you just wanted me to sign up so you could rag on me about the rented shoes.”

“You could buy your own.”

“And that’s better how?”

“You could get a little monogram on it where the sizes go on the rentals. Plus there’s the snazzy shirt. They’re the latest in fashion. I’m thinking lime green, with ‘Jimmy’ stitched on it in red.”

Wilson tilted his head up to look at House. “Either you need more drugs or I do, because I can actually picture that.”

“See, it’s a dream we both can share. We’ll ditch medicine and follow the PBA.”

“Like the Deadheads, but with more balls.”

“Ah, you got there before I did.”

“Well you did set it up. All I had to do was pick up the spare.”

Wilson settled back again and closed his eyes. A cool breeze blew in off the water, promising a break in the temperatures before long.

“So you give any thought as to how you’re going to get back?”

“A few. Not many solutions yet. I didn’t actually have a long-term plan in mind when I started.”

“So why did you?” Wilson turned toward House again. “Start in the first place?”

House shrugged. “Because I was stupid.” He returned Wilson’s gaze.

“Fine.”

Wilson went back to looking out at the river, feeling the sun on his face as it broke through the leaves. He turned his attention back to House when he felt a nudge on his back.

“OK, move it.” House was pushing himself upright and waited for Wilson to remove the jackets before swinging his leg onto the ground.

“You sure you’re ready?”

“If I wait any longer, it’ll just stiffen up on me.” House took the cane from where Wilson had leaned it against the bench and pushed himself up to his feet.

“I could go get a wheelchair,” Wilson volunteered.

“No. No chair,” House said. “Not yet anyway. I got myself into this mess, I might as well try to get myself out of it.”

He turned back toward the hospital, took one step, then another, leaning heavily onto the cane. He seemed satisfied enough with the way his leg responded, and he settled into a steady -- if slow -- pace. “Try to keep up, will you?” he called back to Wilson, who was busy trying to shake the wrinkles out of his lab coat.

“Don’t I always?”

-------------

2003

------------

“A little more to the left,” House ordered.

Wilson made the adjustment, then stepped back and dropped into the chair across the desk from House. “I don’t know why you’re bitching,” he said. “The reception’s not that bad.”

“I bitch,” House said, “because Cuddy won’t approve cable for my office.” He considered the TV screen. The actors were slightly blurred at the edges, static dancing across the screen.

“C’mon, it’s not like you really need to concentrate on the subtle nuances of the story here.”

“No, but it’s the principle of it. Every other department has its own lounge, complete with a cable package.”

“Granted, but so far your department consists of exactly one. I can see why she’s a little hesitant so far.”

“The key words there being: ‘so far,’” House pointed out. “I’ve got actual funding now. For actual staff.”

“Which you actually haven’t used yet,” Wilson said. “You’d better do it soon. Cuddy’s told the personnel committee she’ll free up funds for more hires in other departments if you don’t bring someone in soon.”

“That’s what she told me too.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“So what are you going to do?”

House looked in his mug and found it empty. “For now? Get some more coffee.” He pushed himself up with both hands, then reached down for the mug. The door separating his new office from the mostly-empty conference room was propped open.

“House, I’m serious.”

“So am I. Want a cup?” The move down to the newly-christened diagnostics department office meant he had to make his own coffee now, but at least he could make it to his own taste. “I stole some Kona blend from ortho,” he said.

Wilson followed him into the other room, grabbed another mug from the shelf and placed it next to the coffee pot. He waited until House filled it, then grabbed a seat at the the end of the nearby conference table.

“Seriously, man, Cuddy means it,” he said. “You’ve worked too hard to just let this slip away again.”

As House stepped away from the coffee maker the full strength of the sun came through the open blinds to land on Wilson. He still looked improbably young, but House could see the start of some wrinkles along with the dark circles under his eyes. There were a few strands of gray hair mixed in with the dark brown.

“You worry too much,” he said, pulling out a chair to sit near Wilson, lifting his leg up onto a second chair to stretch it out.

“One of us should.”

“Who says it has to be you?” House took a sip of the coffee. He’d skipped the sugar this time to enjoy the dark chocolate taste of the Hawaiian roast. “Besides, I’ve already taken care of it.”

Wilson eyed him warily. “Taken care of it how?”

“The usual way.” House said, “I hired someone.”

“What? How? When?”

“Hired. Offered him the job, and earlier this week. In that order.”

“But when did you do the interviewing? I don’t remember seeing the paperwork come through to bring anyone in.”

“I talked to him on the phone for a couple of minutes.”

“That’s not an interview.”

“I was satisfied.”

“But there’s a system,” Wilson protested. “A way you’re supposed to do things.”

House shrugged. “I’m fine with the way I did it, and I doubt he’ll complain.”

“He might once he meets you.” Wilson shook his head. “Did you at least check his references?”

“Didn’t have to. You did.”

Wilson managed to swallow his coffee. “OK, who else have you got writing scripts for you?”

“Oh don’t look that way. You were the one who gave me his file, after all. You said his dad recommended him.”

“Wait a minute, you hired Rowan Chase’s kid?”

“Why not? He’s got the credentials, he’s got the experience, and having Rowan Chase for a recommendation has got to mean something.” House took another drink and considered

his first fellow. “Of course that doesn’t explain why he’d want to move 6,000 miles away from his only family to work for a guy he’s never met in a country he’s never visited. And then there’s the possibility that Chase Senior just made the call to get the kid out of his sight. Now that’d be interesting.”

“House, you can’t hire someone just because you’re curious about his personal history.”

“Again, why not?

Wilson ignored the question. “And what if he gets here and you don’t like him?”

“Why would that make a difference?” House seemed honestly stumped by the question. “Does likeability make you a better doctor? And since everybody hates me, it’s not as if meeting me personally is going to make a difference to him.”

“Not everybody hates you,” Wilson said.

“Present company excluded.”

Wilson just shook his head. “So why haven’t you told Cuddy?”

“Oh please, where’s the entertainment in letting her know I’m doing what she wanted?”

Wilson dropped his head back onto chair and stared up at the ceiling tiles. “You could try to get along with her you know. She’s not that bad.”

“Compared to?”

“I give up,” Wilson said. “I”m going back to my office.” He didn’t get up, though. Instead he stretched out his legs onto the same chair House was using as a stool.

House finished his coffee and looked at the pot, wondering if it was worth the hassle of getting up to pour himself a little more. It was getting toward the bottom of the pot anyway. Maybe he could get Wilson to do it. He looked back over at his friend, stretched out in the sunlight, arms crossed over his abdomen. He looked comfortable, relaxed for the first time in days. If House didn’t know him better, he would have thought he was asleep.

He lifted his leg up off the chair and pushed himself up to his feet. He turned off the burner and limped back over to the table with the pot, splitting the remaining coffee between his mug and Wilson’s. Wilson was watching him as he settled himself back down, then turned his face back up at the ceiling.

Wilson had taken to spending more time in House’s new office recently. First he used the excuse that he was helping House settle in. Then he claimed it was because it was bigger than his own and more central to his patients. But House knew that the oncology department had turned into a pit of political infighting in the weeks since McMurtry’s surprise retirement -- and cancer was an emotional enough specialty on its own.

The hospital grapevine had it that either Ekkens or Begin had the inside track to take over the department. Half the department had picked sides, and the other half were waiting to see which side Wilson was taking, expecting he had some kind of inside information, but he’d refused to pick, saying either one would do a good job. House also knew that the latest rumor had Wilson up as a dark horse candidate, though it would never occur to Wilson that the board would seriously consider him.

“You should come by this weekend,” he suggested. “We could watch the game, drink some beer.”

Wilson turned toward him. “What game?”

“There’s always a game.”

“True.” Wilson rubbed at his face, then put his feet onto the floor and sat up. “But I can’t. Got stuff I have to do.” He stood up, gulped down the last of the coffee.

“What kind of stuff?”

“Just stuff. Nothing special.” He rinsed out the mug and put it back next to the coffee maker. “Just do me a favor, though. Tell Cuddy you made a hire sometime before Chase actually shows up, OK?”

“You have no sense of adventure.”

“That’s OK. You have enough for both of us.”

--------

There had to be a rhythm to this, Wilson thought. Some kind of mystical, zen-like attribute. A pattern.

Dig the shovel into the mulch. Lift the mulch. Place it in the wheelbarrow. Repeat until wheelbarrow is full.

Nope. Not feeling anything yet.

Push the wheelbarrow across the driveway, around the house, down the lawn and into the shade. Dump the mulch. Pick up rake. Spread mulch.

When Julie had told him he didn’t sound enthusiastic enough about her shade garden idea, he’d assured her he was. He’d asked her to leave him something to do, so he could add his own sweat equity into her project.

“I mean our project,” he’d corrected himself.

The wood chips, he’d said. He could handle that over the weekend. Even he couldn’t mess that up, and it’d save Ray’s crew the work.

Julie had looked at him skeptically, and he’d insisted. Manual labor, he’d said. It’ll take my mind off of everything at work. It wasn’t working, though. While his hands and legs and back suffered, his head spun through the possibilities .

Mulch in, wheelbarrow pushed, mulch dumped. Wilson was raking the wood chips into a more manageable pile along Ray’s path when he felt an errant chip bounce against his leg. A moment later, another ricocheted off the wheelbarrow.

Wilson turned to see House taking aim with a third, the rubber tip of his cane placed along the rough surface. A quick flick of the wrist and the wood zinged off the denim cuff of Wilson’s jeans.

“Hey!”

“You missed a spot,” House said, pointing to the bare circle at the center of the garden.

“No I didn’t.” Wilson dropped the rake next to the pile of chips and placed the wheelbarrow back on its wheel and legs. “There’s a plan and everything. I can show you if you don’t believe me.

A wood chip flew past Wilson’s knees. “Cut that out.”

“Why? Is Julie going to spank me if she catches me?” House seemed to consider it. “Actually ...

“Not another word,” Wilson warned. “And Julie’s not here anyway.”

Wilson pushed the barrow back to the driveway and filled it again. When he returned to the back yard, House was standing at the center of the garden, inspecting the shape of the central feature.

“It’s the wrong shape for a jacuzzi,” he said as Wilson pushed the barrow up to dump the mulch out onto the ground. “Way too small for a pool.”

“In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a ...”

‘It’s a koi pond,” Wilson interrupted him.

“A koi pond,” House repeated.

Wilson stood watching him, hands on his hips, waiting for the abuse he knew was about to follow.

“Huh. Must have been someone else who was mocking the pond at Cuddy’s reception. Someone who just happened to look like you,” House leaned into the cane, stared up at the tree tops as if he was searching his memory for the information. “I could have sworn I heard something about koi only being good for sushi.”

“That was you,” Wilson protested.

“Oh, that’s right. You said they were only good for bait.” House looked at Wilson, waiting for an explanation.

“OK, fine,” Wilson said. “They’re useless, pretentious, ornamental, trendy pieces of garden fluff.”

“And yet?”

“Julie wanted one.”

“What about what you want?”

“I want her to be happy,” Wilson said. He picked up the wheelbarrow and pushed it back to the driveway. House was still at the center of the garden when he returned, flicking pieces of wood chips from the edge, a familiar look on his face.

“And if she’s happy?” House ignored the lapse in the conversation.

“There’s no puzzle here, House,” Wilson said. “She’s happy. I’m happy. Everybody’s happy.” He pushed the barrow up to the edge of the marked circle. “Now move before I knock you over.”

House walked out, moving carefully on the uneven ground. Wilson waited until he was out of the way, then pushed the barrow forward. It tilted onto its side, the mulch spilling out from the preset path. He muttered a curse and grabbed the rake to move the chips back into place.

“So where is the lovely Mrs. Dr. Wilson anyway?” Wilson glanced back over his shoulder. House was carrying one of the cheap folding lawn chairs Julie had stashed in the garage when the new outdoor furniture arrived. He set it down in the shade and eased himself down into it.

“Tennis tournament.”

“And you’re not there to cheer her on?”

Wilson shrugged. “She says she gets nervous if I’m there.”

“Julie and Cuddy as a doubles team,” House said. “Is it just me or is that weird?”

Wilson shrugged again. “They’ve played at the same club for a long time. I guess it makes sense.”

Fact is, he’d wondered often enough if Julie had sought out Cuddy because of her skills or because she saw their teaming as a chance to upgrade her husband’s status at the hospital. He didn’t question Cuddy’s reasoning, though. Julie was a fierce competitor.

“What are you doing here anyway?” Wilson collected the wheelbarrow again and straightened himself up.

“Every good work crew needs a supervisor.” House stretched out his legs and leaned back in the chair.

“And you appointed yourself.”

“Who better?”

Wilson pushed the empty wheelbarrow back to the driveway. House didn’t bother looking at him when he passed by with it full.

“Decisions, decisions,” House said. “Too many decisions in this world. Such as: Wilma or Betty?”

“We talking cage match or otherwise?”

“Definitely otherwise, but if it came down to it, I’m pretty sure Betty could take them all on. She definitely wore the pants in that family.”

“Well if you’re going to put it that way, I should definitely go with Wilma.”

“All right then, new topic: More gay, Betty or Velma?”

------

Chase arrived on a Wednesday. Wilson had insisted they should drive out to the airport together to meet his plane, but House was called in on a consult. Wilson found him in the lab, gathering test tubes, blood samples and paperwork.

“Just get him in here, would you?” House said as he shooed him off. “I could use an extra pair of hands.”

Wilson had met Rowan Chase at an international conference two years earlier. They had both presented a paper and fell into an easy discussion about each others’ work at a reception that evening.

Robert Chase looked nothing like his father, though Wilson could see he had the same effortless charm and style. Those attributes along with his good looks would make him popular with the hospital staff, he thought.

Wilson apologized for House’s absence when they met outside baggage claim.

“That’s all right,” Chase said. He explained he’d booked a few weeks at a hotel, to give him time to find someplace permanent before having more things shipped to Princeton.

“You’re probably pretty jet lagged,” Wilson said. “I’ll take you straight there if you want. You can meet House tomorrow.”

“Nah, I’m fine. I stopped off with some friends for a holiday in L.A. before coming here. I’d rather see the hospital first.”

Wilson pulled out of the parking structure and onto the main road. “So what have you heard about Princeton-Plainsboro?”

“The hospital in general or Dr. House specifically?”

“House.”

“Some good things, some bad,” Chase said. “But you could say that about everybody, couldn’t you?”

“They’re probably true,” Wilson said. “Most of them, anyway.”

“This where you’re going to give me advice on how to handle him?”

Wilson took advantage of the red light to study the younger man. “I’ll wait and see if you need it.”

They left Chase’s bags in the car and found House still in the lab, running samples.

“There’s too many damned possibilities,” he complained before Wilson had even introduced them. “I need more information. Chase, go find the wife, see if she can tell you where precisely he was on that business trip last month.”

“Sure thing.” To his credit, Chase didn’t even blink. The hand he’d been extending for a handshake he instead shifted to pick up the file. “Who should I ask for and where will I find her?”

“The name’s on the file. Warren something or other. Second floor ICU. Think you can find your way there?”

“I’ll manage.”

Three weeks into Chase’s fellowship, and he still hadn’t quit. Wilson wasn’t sure whether to be amazed or grateful. Not that House hadn’t given him a reason.

“Did I ask you what the radiologist’s report said? No. I asked you for the films, right?”

“All right, I’ll get them.” Chase was up and out the door .

Wilson, taking a break between patients and away from the ongoing debate in oncology knew better than to get involved. He could tell House must be nearing the low spot in his fluctuating mood, when anything could set him on edge. Either he was due for another pill, or the one he’d taken hadn’t kicked in yet. He heard the rattle of the pill bottle and didn’t bother looking up from his paper.

Either House’s new staff would learn how to ride the Vicodin wave or House would learn to temper his temper.

Chase was back moments later, posting the films on the light board. He stood behind House, examining both the films and his new boss.

“They’re clear,” House announced, clicking off the light.

“That’s the same thing the radiologist said,” Chase noted, taking down the MRI studies. “I’m not trying to start an argument, I’m just wondering if there’s some reason I shouldn’t trust him. Like maybe something off-the-record-like?”

“More than 40 percent of radiologists in the United States are sued for malpractice at least once in their careers,” House said. “Nearly 40 percent of the pay outs for successful cases were for failure to properly diagnose. Now I’m not saying that means that there’s something wrong with Sandhu himself, but it is a statistical likelihood that at some point he’ll read a film wrong, I’m also saying I wouldn’t want it to happen to me.”

“So you think you can read a film better than some who trained for that specifically?”

“No.” House stood at the end of the conference table, the cane at the center of his body, both hands on the handle, leaning forward. “I’m saying that your typical radiologist is looking for something he’s been trained to spot, what he -- or she, let’s not be sexist when placing blame, shall we -- likely has had years of experience in finding. We, on the other hand, also know the patient’s medical history, the meds he’s been given, the symptoms we’ve witnessed, his blood pressure, his O2 stats, you name it. We are trying to diagnose based on a far wider field of information, only one part of which is that film you’re holding in your hand.”

“All right.”

“That’s it? No complaints? No bitching about the extra work.?”

“Nope.” Chase placed the films back into the folder. “I’ll take this back to radiology, if you’re done with it.”

House nodded and then he and Wilson were left alone in the room.

“Think if I hit him he’ll complain then?”

“From what I’ve seen so far? Probably not. Looks like you’re stuck with him.”

---------

House’s former department director handed him a case four months into Chase’s fellowship.

Two cases, both young boys, one nearly 3 years old, brought to PPTH after days of vomiting and diarrhea. The second, six months older, transferred from another hospital just 12 hours later.

Both boys tested positive for E. coli and were still worsening, developing renal failure and hemolytic-uremic syndrome. They were receiving transfusions of red blood cells and undergoing dialysis, while a state health team was chasing down the possibility of contaminated beef.

“But it’s not responding like it should,” House said, as he and Wilson watched from outside one of the boys’ rooms. “If it was something at home, someone else would have gotten sick there. If was a bad burger joint, we’d have more sick kids.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Something. I don’t know.”

Chase emerged from the room. “He’s stable for now, at least, and so’s the other one.”

The younger boy’s two parents held each other inside his room. A single mother stroked her son’s hair in the other.

“You’ve talked to the parents?”

Chase nodded.

“What about other members of the family? Grandparents? Aunts? Uncles? When little kids are sick there’s usually a family circus,” House said. “Track them down. Everyone. Everyone here and everyone you can reach at home. This thing started at least four days ago, so find out everywhere they’ve been, everyone they’ve seen.”

“That’s going to be a lot of people.”

“Then you’d better get started.”

Chase nodded and headed for the elevators at a trot, his lab coat flapping behind him.

“I could give you a hand,” Wilson said.

“Don’t bother. I don’t know what I’m looking for yet.” House looked back at the room, then turned to go back to his office, Wilson following him. “Besides, don’t you have a very private anniversary party to get to?”

“I could call Julie, tell her ...”

“What, that you had to sit there while I went through every medical journal in the place trying to think of something? Go home.” He hit the button for the elevator and the bell sounded a moment later, as the door opened.

“You’re sure.”

“I’m sure.” House paused for a bit before hitting the button. “I’ll call you if I need anything.”

----------

Wilson left home well before Julie woke the next morning, a mixture of happiness from the previous evening’s celebration with his wife and guilt over having left House on his own. His first stop was House’s office. Chase was sitting at House’s desk, dozing, his cell phone ready and telephone books open.

Next stop: the lab. There were stacks of journals and papers, read outs from previous tests and House perched on a stool, slumped over, peering through a microscope. He looked up long enough to take note of Wilson’s entrance.

“Morning.”

House looked up. “Guess it is. “ He took a sip from his mug, making a face at the taste. “I’ve been going back over the same tests the state ran. I’m probably wasting my time.” He turned back to the microscope.

“I suppose you’ve been here all night?”

“Not all night. Stopped to pee at 3 a.m.”

“Quality time, I’m sure,” Wilson said. “What can I do?”

“Find where they hid the good coffee in the pediatrics lounge.”

“Tell you what, why don’t I start by rerunning next couple of gels and you can take a break, go on the great coffee hunt yourself?”

“Nah, that's OK,” House said, looking back into the microscope. “I’ve got a system down now. Maybe you could glance over those though, see if I missed anything.” He gestured at the files stacked at the end of the bench.

Wilson set his briefcase next to House, then walked around him to get at the pile. “Sure you don’t want Chase to do it?”

“You’ll know what I’m looking for.”

“So should he,” Wilson said.

House ignored him and went on with his work. Wilson leafed through the papers, stopping just once in two hours to get them both some coffee.

He was surprised to see House’s stool empty when he returned, but then heard his uneven steps. House’s hands were full with more test tubes, more equipment, more paper, his cane still leaning up against the lab bench. He stumbled slightly as he came around the corner of the bench, a few of the pieces of paper sliding out of the files.

Wilson stepped in to pick them up before House could react. “I’m fine,” House said.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You were thinking it.”

“Sorry. I’ll tell the voices in my head to keep it down.” Wilson set the paper cup next to House’s equipment stash.

Before he’d even sat down, Chase rushed into the lab.

“They’re related,” he said.

“Well of course ...” Wilson began.

“The kids are related. Some weird backwoods cousin thing where different sides of the family don’t speak to each other for years. The parents don’t know each other, but something seemed off, so I did a little more digging. Apparently there’s contact through some older relatives.”

“How’d you figure that out?” House asked.

“Ernie’s mum -- the older one -- she seemed a little distracted and kept taking off to make calls from the pay phone. I loaned her my cell phone for a while, and she decided she could trust me. Seems social services has got a case open on her and she’s not supposed to let the kid stay with anyone else without the case worker’s approval, but her boyfriend was in town last weekend, so she sent him off to stay with an aunt.”

“Nice.” House passed his coffee over to Chase. “And let me guess, part of the reason mom fessed up is that the kid’s getting worse.”

Chase nodded.

“How much worse?” Wilson asked.

“O’Neal’s team had to intubate, and his blood pressure’s tanking. They’ve put him on pressors, but it’s barely holding him steady.

“And where’s the aunt now?” House interrupted.

“I’ve got calls out looking for her.”

“Let the state know. Cops may be able to find her faster.”

Chase nodded and headed back out.

House stared at the piles of paperwork, of tests and tubes and chemicals. “I’ve been wasting my time.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I should have been talking to the family. Maybe I could have gotten it faster.”

Wilson shook his head. “I doubt that,” he said. “Chase is good with peopl, and he can do things you don’t have time for.”

House sat on the stool, tapping his cane on the linoleum floor. “But yet Cuddy complains when I tell him to fill my clinic hours.” He bounced the cane a few more times, then stopped, holding it steady a few inches off the floor.

“What did Chase say about the family?”

“What, that they’re dysfunctional?”

“No, not that. Something about them being rural.”

“Backwoods.”

House walked out, headed for the elevators. He hit the call button, then stood staring at the floor, tapping his cane once again.

“What is it?” House shook his head in reply to Wilson’s question. The elevator door opened, and Chase emerged. House gestured him back inside.

“Find out if anyone in the family has a farm -- with animals, cows and sheep specifically, and if the kids have been there in the past week.”

“All right,” Chase hit the button for the second floor ICU, House for his offices on the fourth floor.

“What are you thinking?”

“Something I saw, a few years ago. I can’t remember the details, but don’t tell the parents too much,” House warned him. “The survival statistics weren’t too promising.”

Ten minutes later, Chase had found at least one of the boys had been on a farm, and House had located a six-year-old British study on the rare double occurrence of both e. coli and Clostridium septicum. He told Chase to have them start both kids on gas-gangrene antitoxin and get both into surgery.

“But there’s no gangrene,” Chase pointed out.

“Not that you can see. It’s attacking the intestinal tract, just like the e. coli did,” House said. “And hurry. The Brits found five cases -- four of those infected died, one of them a two-year-old just a few hours after he was put on a respirator.”

Chase rushed out the door and House slumped back in his chair.

“Think you caught it in time?” Wilson asked from across the desk.

“I have no idea.” House raised his left leg up onto the corner of the desk, then lifted his right leg up to join it.

Wilson checked his watch, then headed for the door. “Crap, I’m late.”

“Use me as an excuse,” House offered.

“I always do.”

House sent Chase home after the surgeries. Both kids were still hanging on, and there wasn’t much more to do except wait.

“I don’t mind waiting,” Chase said.

“It’s going to be a lot of waiting,” House said. “I’ll take the first shift.”

The kids were finally beginning to show some improvement by the time Wilson showed up early that afternoon. The TV was on, but House wasn’t paying attention to it. Instead he was shuffling papers on his desk. Wilson couldn’t quite make out what was up on the computer screen.

‘The voices in my head are telling me its time to take a break,” he said. “I’ve got a craving for a sub from Manny’s.”

House looked up at him. “Which happens to be a block from my place.”

“Hey, wouldn’t you know it, Manny’s is just a block from your place,” Wilson repeated. “How about I give you a ride home and we grab lunch at Manny’s on the way there?”

“I’m perfectly capable of getting home on my own.” House turned back to his paperwork.

“Of course you are. I’m just thinking of how pissed the other drivers are going to be when you fall asleep at a red light,” Wilson said. “You’ve been here more than 40 hours straight. No one’s going to care if you take off early today.”

House seemed to consider it. “If anyone asks, I’m telling them you forced me into it.” He began straightening the papers into separate piles. “Besides, reception here sucks.”

Wilson glanced over the work on House’s desk, expecting to find medical journals, and instead spotting personnel forms. He picked one up and waited for House to respond.

“Cuddy’s been threatening to cut my funding again if I don’t use it,” he said. “And I figured Chase could use a playmate.”

“You planning to actually do some interviews this time, or just hire whoever sounds most interesting from the hospital gossip?”

House grabbed a few papers from his desk and stuffed them into his bag. He pushed himself up and stood there for a moment before grabbing his cane and stepping away from the chair.

“I don’t know why you’re bitching, it’s not like my system worked that badly last time.”

“It’s a new requirement for board members: Bitch about House daily. It’s in the bylaws and everything.”

“Let me guess, Cuddy’s idea?”

“Mine, actually.” Wilson waited as house locked his office door. “I wanted my first proposal to be one that’d get unanimous support.”

“And people said I’d only hold you back.”

----------

2004

-----------

House lobbed the ball at the glass partition between his office and the conference room. It bounced off with a thud, the angle bringing it back to his hands.

Another throw.

Thud.

Another throw.

Thud.

Another throw.

Thud.

The door swung open, Cameron sticking her head through the opening. “Did you want something?”

“Told you it’d work,” House said, holding out his hand to Wilson across the desk. “Ten bucks.”

“Fine, but I still say it’d be easier just to speak up and ask one of them to come in.”

“Easier, yes. But this is more entertaining.”

Cameron just let the door close back behind her as she returned to the computer.

“Ten bucks.” House wiggled of the outstretched hand and Wilson shifted in his chair to pull out his wallet, looking inside.

“I’ve only got a twenty,” he said. “How about if I pay for lunch instead?”

House sighed, pulled his arm back across the desk and leaned back in his chair. “Including dessert.”

“Fine. Let’s go. I’m hungry.”

“You expect me to accept cafeteria food as payment?”

“Yes, ‘cause that’s all I have time for. Unlike you, I have patients who expect me to drop in every once in a while.” Wilson rose from his seat and waited for House to respond.

“That’s just because you haven’t trained them right.” House didn’t bother getting up. Instead he picked up the ball again. “Sit down, take it easy. I’ll have Cameron pick us up some lunch.” He cocked his arm back to toss the ball at the wall again.

“I’m not in that much of a hurry.” Wilson grabbed the ball out of House’s hand before he could let it fly. “And don’t try telling me you are either. Chase is working on his second crossword of the day.”

“In a hurry, no,” House conceded, “but the great unwashed humanity down in the caf at lunchtime leaves me feeling dirty by association.”

“C’mon, let’s go.” Wilson tried another tactic. “Aren’t you getting tired of staring at the walls in here?”

“You might not have noticed this, but the walls are made of glass. The scenery always changes.”

Wilson sighed and dropped back into his chair. House had never been sociable, barely tolerating patients and doctors alike, but he’d been curious enough to get out long enough to keep tuned in to the rumor mill, see if there was anyone -- or anything -- interesting out there.

But in August, House had been hanging out near the ER, checking out the new students. A first year, shirt neatly pressed, his short, white lab coat still gleaming, had seen him sitting there, bouncing his cane. He obviously hadn’t noticed that everyone else ignored House, and had mistaken him for a patient.

He’d stepped up, anxious to put his full three hours of experience in the ER to work, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Wilson would have given him credit for standing up to a belligerent House at that point, if the kid hadn’t grabbed House’s arm in an effort to assist him at the same moment House himself had decided he’d had enough and was pushing himself up to leave.

House managed to retain his balance, but the whole incident created enough of a scene that it was the focus of hospital gossip for three days. The kid had received a lecture on recognizing his limitations and House had taken to avoiding some of the more public areas of the hospital.

“Well, maybe, I want a change in scenery,” Wilson said, still not ready to give up on a cafeteria stop.

House leaned forward again, raised his eyebrows at Wilson. “I knew you were hot for the new cashier. What is it with you and blondes?”

“She’s got to be at least 60,” Wilson protested. “Her hair color comes out of a bottle.”

“As if a little peroxide ever stopped you before.”

Wilson considered his possibilities. If he went down to the cafeteria anyway, he’d be sure to find a colleague to sit with and share some pleasant conversation. But he doubted House would give in and follow him down there, and talking with House was always a good distraction.

His new work as department director -- on top of his committee and board positions -- ate up far too much of his time. He’d had to cut back on actually seeing many patients, taking only the most high profile or difficult cases and leaving the others to his staff.

Once Wilson cherished the clinic hours because they gave him a chance to meet with people who were easily treatable, no life or death issues at stake, no grueling uncertain and difficult treatments to consider. Now they were sometimes the only moments he had to remind himself of being an actual, hands-on doctor.

It wasn’t that he regretted his move up the administrative ladder. Since accepting the post, he’d found it actually gave him a greater ability to influence more lives. He could work with the other oncologists on treatment plans, and match incoming referrals to the right subspecialty. And he had the freedom to step in and help House with his cases, whether that meant serving as a sounding board for the team of diagnosticians -- or more frequently House himself -- or by assigning himself the oncology consult whenever it was requested.

Wilson found he was good at the balance of physician and administrator, but sometimes, he wasn’t quite certain if he should consider his friendship with House as just another administrative responsibility -- that of keeping the volatile specialist satisfied until his skills were needed again.

“Fine,” Wilson said, mentally considering the cafeteria’s offerings. He pulled a $20 bill out of his wallet. “We’ll let Cameron get our lunch.”

“Unless you think that’s sexist, having the woman cater to us,” House said. “I could send Chase instead.”

“I don’t have the time to wait until Chase flirts with every woman between the cafeteria and here.”

House raised his eyebrows. “Glass houses, Wilson,” he warned.

They ordered sandwiches -- House adding an order of fries and chocolate cake, Wilson settling for a bag of chips -- and Cameron headed out with Wilson’s cash in her hand. As the door to the conference room closed behind her, Wilson could hear Chase say: “as long as you’re heading down there,” but it closed before he could make out Chase’s order.

Wilson considered the room. House had set himself up comfortably there: lounge chair, reference books, TV, stereo equipment. With regular food deliveries, he could probably hibernate in his office, with only the occasional bathroom break. He was sure the same thought had occurred to House.

House had said often enough that he wanted everyone to leave him alone: He said it to Cuddy when she tried another tactic to get him to fulfill his clinic hours, to Cameron when she’d first started and kept asking what she should do, to Wilson himself if he nagged House to take better care of himself, and to Stacy, who actually did.

He had plenty of reasons to cut himself off, Wilson mused as House flicked on the TV, starting a running commentary on the latest plaintiffs on “The People’s Court.”

House rarely mentioned his family, and as far as Wilson knew he hadn’t kept in touch with anyone from high school or college. He wasn’t surprised by that. Even as an adult, the combination of his outsized intelligence and prickly personality put most people off before they ever got a chance to know him. The thought of a 16-year-old House with that brain and those verbal gymnastics skills might have scared him off too.

When Stacy left, their small circle of shared friends sided with her.

He was an outsider at the hospital, where his specialized department didn’t have students or residents going through a rotation. Most other department directors resented his freedom to pick and choose which cases he’d take.

The lacrosse players, the golfers and the other athletes House once socialized with at least on occasion disappeared after the infarction.

And then there was the leg itself. Beyond the fact that many people didn’t know how to react to his disability, beyond House’s own unwillingness to be treated differently, beyond the mood changes that ebbed and flowed with the Vicodin -- it quite simply did cut him off from the rest of the world.

Just as it limited how far he could walk , it also limited his other travel choices. House could drive well enough for short periods, but there wasn’t much room to move when he was behind the wheel, so at best, he could drive himself for maybe a half-hour.

If House was a passenger he could take it a little longer, say an hour or 90 minutes of steady shifting in his seat, before he’d ask Wilson to pull over so he could stretch and work out stiffening muscles. Not that he’d put it that way, of course. “Gotta pee,” he’d say, pointing to an upcoming rest area. Or he’d demand Wilson pull off so they could sample and complain about whatever the latest fast food sandwich trend was, House quoting the commercial highlights, adding his own tart commentary.

There was room to move on the train, but the constant motion threw him off balance, and the missing muscle didn’t allow him to adjust to the side-to-side swaying, forcing him to stick to his seat or risk a very public fall.

Wilson had been with him on the one flight he’d made since the infarction. It was during the short six months of the diagnostics department’s pilot program, when House was anxious to garner attention for it, and agreed to give a keynote on interdepartmental cooperation at an international oncology conference in Toronto. He’d also have a chance to meet with a possible donor , although it was clear from the outset that Wilson would do the talking at that meeting.

Wilson picked up House at his condo. He had already agreed to check his bag, which was a big concession on its own considering the way House used to travel, able to squeeze a week’s worth of clothing into one small carry-on.

The few steps he took to the car -- the bag bumping against his back, his briefcase hanging from the other shoulder and trying to manipulate the cane and the door -- made it clear that he had no choice.

With traffic, it was nearly an hour from Princeton to the airport in Newark where they would grab a direct flight. They checked in and checked their bags, House glaring at the clerk when she asked if he’d need any assistance and Wilson politely declining for him.

There was more security than the last time House had flown, and Wilson saw the worry flash across his face when he heard the announcement that everyone would have to remove their shoes before passing through the metal detector.

“Let me handle this,” he said, cutting across the lines at House’s approving nod. Wilson sidled up to a security officer waiting for passengers in the first class area, relying on a combination of charm and his hospital identification to allow them to bypass the standard lines. They still had the full security shakedown, but House didn’t have to struggle with his shoes in the middle of a crowd.

At least they were in the right terminal once they passed through security. Even on a midweek morning, the Newark airport was hectic. There were parents with babies in strollers, and children running across the waiting rooms. Men and women in business suits, working on laptops in the few quiet corners or rushing past with one hand clutching a cell phone, the other a rolling suitcase.

House stepped cautiously onto the moving walkway, then braced himself against the handrail, his cane held in his left hand creating a barrier between himself and other passengers walking past.

Their flight was scheduled to leave from the far end of the terminal, and they had more than an hour to spare. On another day, Wilson would have stopped in at a newsstand, and killed time by flipping through a few magazines. Now he figured they’d just concentrate on getting there first.

“New coffee joint,” House pointed out.

“It opened a couple of years ago,” Wilson confirmed. “It’s overpriced, but not too bad if you’re desperate.”

“How desperate?”

“More desperate than I am just now.” Wilson waited while House pushed himself away from the rail as they neared the end of the walkway. He carefully timed a step forward with his left foot onto the granite floor, quickly moving his right leg up to join it, then transferred the cane to his right hand. Wilson stood just behind him, providing a buffer between House and the other passengers squeezing past.

“For God’s sake, would you just move?” one woman in a gray suit muttered. “You’d think some people have never been at an airport.”

She stepped to the left, around Wilson and past them both. Wilson saw House clench his jaw. “There’s still that Starbuck’s cart down at the end of the concourse,” Wilson offered. “We can grab some caffeine there if you want.”

“Sure,” House said. “Fine.” He pushed on more quickly, avoiding the next walkway to skirt along the left side of the terminal.

At the gate, House sank into one of the seats and stretched both legs out while Wilson went for coffee. Wilson handed him two sugar packets with the coffee, then dropped down next to House.

“I hate airports,” he said.

“At least they’re good for business,” House said. “Nearly as good a petri dish as the planes themselves.”

“Good for your business maybe. Cancer still hasn’t mutated to an airborne disease.” Wilson lowered his voice to avoid being overheard, but the woman seated a row over still gave him a strange look. He shook out a section of the New York Times to avoid her gaze.

“Oh relax. She’ll never see you again.”

“You want a section of this or not?”

“I’ll save it for the flight, unless those flight magazine crossword puzzles have improved over the past few years.”

Wilson just folded the paper and kept reading.

House had tried to use his frequent flier miles to bump up to at least business class, but with no success. He’d agreed to the presentation at the last minute, and the only direct flights available offered him few choices. At least Wilson had been able to ensure House had an aisle seat.

The flight itself was relatively short, only 90 minutes out of Newark, but with the new security rules in place, they’d spend nearly another 30 minutes in their seats on the ground. Wilson could see House shifting uneasily in his chair before the plane had even pushed away from the gate. House took another Vicodin, and Wilson mentally added it to the one he’d seen him take in the car.

House sat through the safety checks and takeoff with his eyes closed. They were still moving up toward cruising altitude when House shifted again, using his hand to move his leg out into the aisle. He fished out the magazine and finished off the crossword puzzle, then pulled his Gameboy out of his pocket.

Wilson settled in with his notes, going over his own presentation, the beeps and chirps of House’s game blending with sounds of the engines into a familiar background noise. He jerked up, though, when he heard House breathe in quickly, a young man muttering an apology as he continued to make his way back to the bathroom.

House reached over and pulled his leg back in and under the chair in front of him when he spotted more passengers bound for the bathroom. He looked like he had almost found a comfortable spot when the woman seated in front of him eased her seat back, the tray table brushing at House’s knees.

“You doing OK?”

“Peachy.” House grunted. He reclined his own seat back before turning the game back on, “Remind me again why its so important I feel compassion to my fellow human beings?”

Wilson watched him for a moment longer, then went back to his work, knowing his attention would only irritate House more.

When the drinks cart came by Wilson just asked for some water. House said he’d pass.

“You sure?” The attendant was using the same sympathetic voice that some of the nurses on the oncology floor affected when dealing with a difficult patient,.“I could leave you something in case you change your mind.”

“I’m pretty certain I’ve already told you I don’t want anything,” House said in a low voice. “I’m not going to change my mind just because you keep asking. Go peddle your punch somewhere else.”

Wilson gave the woman a smile and raised his eyebrows in a friendly gesture as she handed him his glass.

“Don’t apologize for me, Wilson,” House said, stabbing at the game controls to turn it off. “I’m capable of doing that for myself if it’s needed.”

“God knows you’re capable of acting like an ass,” Wilson murmured back. “She was just trying to be nice.”

House ignored him, pushing himself back into the seat again, using his arms to alter the pressure on his lower body, bracing them against the arm rests.

Wilson went back to his papers, trying to give House some kind of space, even if he there was none actually available. He looked back up when he heard the seat belt unbuckle and saw that House was reaching down for his cane.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Wilson knew how painful it could be for House to sit for long in one position, especially a cramped one, but also knew moving in the cramped aisle wouldn’t be much better.

“No, it’s not,” House admitted. “Better than the alternative though.”

“Which would be?”

“Keep taking Vicodin until I pass out.”

House pushed himself up out of the seat, using the arm rests and the top edge of his neighbor’s seat, earning himself a glare of disapproval. Wilson watched him move slowly toward the back, keeping the cane close to his right side, staying close to the seats on the left side of the aisle, making steady, if slow, progress.

Wilson turned away again, but then tossed his papers aside as he felt the shudder of turbulence. He heard House’s cane drop to the floor as House grabbed the seats on either side of him for support. Then Wilson was there to add his own arm at House’s armpit for more support as the turbulence worsened and the plane shook.

“You hanging in there?” Wilson asked softly, satisfied with House’s nod. “We’ll just wait this out a minute.”

The turbulence faded, but they remained in place a moment longer to be sure.

“Back to the seat?” Wilson made sure House was steady before he stepped back and leaned down to pick up the cane.

House hesitated a moment before taking it. “The galley’s closer.” He stepped off cautiously with his right leg, a small step with the cane tucked in close to his leg, then finally moved his left leg forward, letting loose his white-knuckled grip on the seat.

Wilson tried to ignore the people waiting behind him to get to the bathrooms, while House seemed to pay no attention to the man in front of him waiting for him to pass.

When they finally made it to the end of the aisle, past the bathrooms and into the galley, one of the flight attendants who had watched their progress flipped down a jump seat built into the wall. House dropped himself down into it, his hands shaking slightly as he gripped his cane. Wilson nodded his thanks to the attendant, who made himself busy at the other end of the galley.

“Guess I should have gone with Plan B,” House said, dropping his forehead down onto the handle of his cane.

By the time they made it Toronto, House was feeling bad enough that he accepted a ride on a passing maintenance trolley.

Things weren’t any better on the flight back. House never talked about his travel issues, but he also refused every invitation to speak since then that involved travel.

Conference organizers would pull Wilson aside at events, ask his advice on how to convince House to come -- to just put in an appearance. He would politely take their information, but explain that House was busy, and doubted he’d have room on his calendar.

Wilson was brought back to the present as he heard the door open and saw Cameron enter with drinks and food on a tray.

“I didn’t know if you wanted regular or barbecue chips, so I brought both,” Cameron told Wilson.

“It doesn’t matter,” Wilson said. “Why don’t you take whichever one you want?”

“Oh no, that’s OK. I’ll take anything.”

“No, really, go ahead.”

“For God’s sake.” House grabbed the bag of barbecue chips and tossed them into a drawer.

Wilson rolled his eyes and took the remaining bag while Cameron just walked into the other room. He pulled apart the plastic wrap on his sandwich, tossing it in the garbage can, where it bounced off of several unopened envelopes. He recognized the logo on one of them.

“Nothing interesting in the mail?” he asked, pulling a few of the stained envelopes from the trash.

“Aren’t you busy enough without resorting to dumpster diving?” House reached for the stack but Wilson pulled them out of his reach and leafed through them.

“That looks like the same invitation I got about the AMA’s annual meeting in New York.” Wilson said, waving one at House. He recognized some of the names and facilities on the return addresses, some of them from interoffice mail.

“I’m busy.” House bit into his sandwich and turned the volume back up on the TV.

“They haven’t confirmed the final schedule yet.”

“Doesn’t matter. Very busy.”

“It’s only in New York.”

“Cuddy’s even worried about how busy I am that week.”

“Fine, but what’s with these?” Wilson spread the other envelopes out on the desk.

“The show’s starting.” House looked away from the stack of mail.

“House, you haven’t even opened these.”

“Didn’t have to.” House grabbed the remote.

“Seriously, man, you should go through these.”

“It’s a system,” House said and tossed them back in the trash. “If it’s a worthwhile case, then they’ll try again. If they don’t, then it must not have been that difficult to figure out to begin with.”

“And Chase and Cameron just kill time until you feel like taking a case?”

“They’re not complaining.”

“So after all the crap you’ve gone through to get this department up and running, you’d rather risk turning down legitimate cases rather than spend time actually seeing patients who don’t interest you?”

“Pretty much, yeah.” House turned the volume up. “I don’t want to miss this part.”

Wilson glanced at his watch and gathered up the remains of his lunch. He tossed the empty chip bag into the trash.

“Sometimes I think Cuddy’s right. You are insane.”

For the next few days, Wilson took to stopping by House’s office on his way out and before the cleaning crew came by. He’d pull envelopes out of the trash, and read over them at home. House was right. Most of the requests were made out of sheer laziness. He could have handled three-quarters of them himself without even checking a reference -- or at least told the doctor where he could find the information for himself.

But there were a few that seemed interesting. The problem was in getting House’s attention. When he was part of another department, House would have patients regularly assigned to him. Now he made his own decisions, and it was becoming clear that while the cases may have been of interest if he took them on, the actual process of finding them wasn’t of interest.

Wilson couldn’t say what he was looking for in House’s garbage. Maybe a hint as to what would catch House’s eye, some idea of what he could do to stop House from locking himself away and just waiting for cases to appear.

He was still debating the question nearly a month later when one of the second-year residents approached Wilson’s table out at the courtyard. Wilson recalled the resident, Neumeyer, from his rotation in oncology. A solid if not exceptional physician. He had a file in his hands.

He was working in general medicine now, he explained, and he’d come across an odd case -- a 3-year-old girl first brought into the clinic with fever, vomiting and headaches. She’d gone on to develop stiff, painful joints.

“I take it you’ve checked for meningitis?”

Neumeyer nodded. “Now she’s showing muscle weakness as well.”

Wilson opened the file, trying to remember what seemed familiar about it.

“I was hoping you could get Dr. House to take a look,” Neumeyer said. “I tried a couple of times so far, but didn’t get any response.”

That was it, Wilson remembered. One of the letters from House’s trash. He’d skimmed it, but nothing stood out in particular.

“I’ve called, I’ve tried paging him, I’ve e-mailed, I’ve written a memo,” Neumeyer continued. “Nothing.”

“You could take it to his office yourself.”

“I’m not that much of a masochist.”

It was the same failing Wilson had seen in Neumeyer when he came through on his oncology rotation -- clever enough, bright enough, but unwilling to push himself by just that extra step he needed to become great.

“I’ll see what I can do.” Wilson tucked the file under his arm as he rose from the table. He grabbed his tray and headed back inside as Neumeyer went to another table to join some other residents.

House was working on a journal paper when Wilson stopped by his office a few hours later.

“Got a minute?” Wilson

House nodded, then stared at the file Wilson held across his desk. “What’s up?”

“Someone asked me if I’d pass this on to you.”

“You adding errand boy to your list of duties?”

“Only when it involves getting another beer from your refrigerator,” Wilson said. “I ran into someone at lunch, a resident. He was busy and I told him I would be swinging by anyway.”

House didn’t look like he believed him, but took the file anyway.

“He said he’d already tried to talk to you a couple of other times, but couldn’t get through your foolproof system.” Wilson sat down as he watched House read through the first few pages. House’s eyes narrowed. He started flipping quickly through the other pages.

“Cameron!” She appeared at his doorway seconds later. “Something’s missing here.” House held out the file and she stepped forward to take it. “No immunization records.”

She opened the file and looked through the pages herself. “Nothing listed,” she said.

“I believe I just said that. Go find the parents, get what you can on immunizations.” House paused for a moment. “And ask if anyone’s been out of the country lately.”

“We got a case?” Chase asked from the doorway.

“Maybe,” House said. “Go check out the kid yourself.”

Chase nodded and was gone.

House turned his attention to Wilson. “Who gave you the file?”

“A resident, second year, Neumeyer,” Wilson said. “What are you thinking?”

“Something he never would have seen before -- or anyone else, I expect.” House limped over to his shelves and grabbed an old leather-bound book from the stack.

Wilson walked up to read over his shoulder. “Polio?”

“Last outbreak in the U.S. was in 1979,” House confirmed. “In Pennsylvania. The Amish don’t believe in immunizations.”

House read over the information. “Neumeyer really should have asked for help.”

“He did,” Wilson said. “You weren’t listening.”

House looked up at Wilson, but didn’t say anything.

Cameron was back within 15 minutes. No vaccinations, she said. The parents had been scared off by the stories about links between immunizations and autism.

“And what about travel?”

“The mother works for an NGO. She just got back from a fact-finding trip to Nigeria.”

“Damn.” House pushed himself up and grabbed his cane, stalking out of his office. “Where are the parents?”

“With their daughter.”

“House, take it easy on them,” Wilson warned. “They’re probably pretty upset already.”

“They should be.” House stabbed at the elevator button.

They found Chase just stepping out of the girl’s room. Wilson could see Neumeyer in the room with a young couple he supposed were the parents.

“She’s been steady for the last few hours,” Chase reported. “They’re still afraid they’ll have to put her on a ventilator.”

“They still might,” House said and entered the room, stepping up to the mother. “Where were you in Nigeria?”

She seemed surprised for a moment and looked at her husband and Neumeyer before answering. “All over,” she said. “I work on an educational training program.”

“You spent time in the classrooms? With kids?” She nodded.

“Who are ...” the husband started to ask, his arm around his wife. Neumeyer watched from his spot near the head of the bed.

“Your daughter has polio,” House said. “It’s endemic in Nigeria -- didn’t you cross paths with the WHO eradication program officials when you were there?”

Wilson wished again that House would find a better way to deal with patients.

“But I’m not sick,” the mother began. “I’ve been ...”

“Polio is highly infectious. You can be immune, but still be a carrier,” House said, interrupting her with a tone in his voice that did nothing to hide his anger. “That’s why we still have vaccinations for everyone.” He turned to Chase. “Find Cuddy. Tell her we’ve got a polio case and we’ll need to double check immunization records for everyone.”

Chase left the room, and House turned his attention back to the parents. “What about your friends, any of them anti-vaccination idiots too?” They said nothing, but the father nodded. “We’ll need to contact them as soon as possible, get their kids in for shots.”

The girl stirred slightly and House watched her sleep for a moment.

“But now that you know what it is, you can help her, right?” the father looked hopefully at House.

“There is no cure for polio.” House’s voice had turned quiet, his anger apparently quelled for the moment. “We can only treat the symptoms, try to keep them from getting worse.”

“Is she going to be paralyzed?” The mother was crying now, tears rolling down her face. Cameron handed her some tissues from a bedside box.

“Possibly.” House watched the girl for a moment longer, then slid the door open, leaving the room, the patient and the parents behind.

-----

House didn’t comment on the case he’d nearly missed, but Wilson noticed that when he checked House’s garbage can after that, the envelopes had at least been opened.

There hadn’t been any other polio cases, and House’s team working with the general medicine department was able to keep the girl from getting worse. It still wasn’t clear if she’d suffer permanent damage, though.

Wilson was surprised a few weeks later when House turned up his office one morning before rounds. He handed Wilson an envelope and settled into one of the guest chairs.

“What’s this?” Wilson reached into the unsealed packet, pulling out a CV and letters of recommendation.

“Thought I’d get your opinion on something,” House said.

“I didn’t know you were hiring.” Wilson looked over the papers.

“Neither did I.” House leaned back, bounced his cane a few times. “I got this in the mail the other day from California. Seems Dr. Eric Foreman read a couple of my papers, and wanted to know if I had any openings.”

“Impressive.” Wilson noted. It was a very solid package. Top marks from top schools, currently finishing up one of the top fellowships in the country and looking for more. “He must not have asked too much about your leadership skills, though.”

“It’s not as if Chase and Cameron ever complain.”

“They wouldn’t.” Wilson considered the information in his hands a moment longer, then considered House. “You’ve got funding for another fellowship?”

“As long as he’s willing to work at the same scale as Cameron and Chase.”

“Looks good,” Wilson admitted. “But ...”

“But what? You worried about his background? Got that covered. It’s quite interesting, actually.”

“I’m sure it is, but he’d be a top candidate anywhere.”

“So what, I should pass him up because he’s too good? That’s a different perspective.”

“No. It’s just that he doesn’t seem the type who’s going to be satisfied with your ... work schedule.”

House didn’t respond for a moment, bouncing his cane a few more times, then looked Wilson in the eye. “Maybe that’s what I want.”

“What, someone who’s going to be pissed off all the time?”

“Someone who’ll complain about it,” House said. “It’s not as if Chase and Cameron do.”

“Cuddy does,” Wilson noted. “You never listen to her.”

“Ah, but she’s an exceptional case. I think of our relationship as a finely-balanced one. If I were to start doing what she wanted, the whole of the universe could be thrown out of whack.”

“Somehow I doubt your actual compliance with your required duties would have that much of an impact.” Wilson handed the papers back to House.

“Ah, but you never know. I prefer to take the cautious approach.”

“You’ve never been cautious about anything in your life.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

 

--------------

2005

----------

Chase had just finished the crossword puzzle when he saw movement from House’s office. He looked up to see Wilson enter from the hallway and cross the room in a few steps.

“Dr. Wilson’s here,” he announced.

Cameron glanced up from the journal she was studying. Foreman continued with the charts he was updating. “So tomorrow are you going to announce sunrise?”

Wilson pushed open the connecting door and leaned into the conference room.

“Where’s House?”

“He went to pick up some films from radiology,” Cameron said.

“Someone talk him into a new case?”

“They’re trying, but he hasn’t committed to it yet,” she said.

“Which probably means no,” Foreman muttered.

“Should we tell him you’re looking for him?” Cameron ignored Foreman’s comment.

“I’ll wait here for a bit, see if he shows up,” Wilson said, nodding back toward House’s office. “Thanks.” The door closed behind him.

Foreman set aside the chart he was working on and looked into House’s office, staring at Wilson’s back while Wilson stood staring out the window.

“OK, so I’ve been here almost a year,” he said. “In that time, I’ve seen House bitch about work, bitch about people, bitch about lab tests, bitch about ethics.”

“And your point is?” Chase looked up from the paper where he’d switched from the crossword to the Sudoku.

“My point is, he bitches about everything and everyone, and Dr. Wilson never complains about anything.”

“So?” Chase asked.

“So how the hell did those two ever get to be friends?”

---------------

Wilson glanced over his shoulder when he heard the door open and saw House walk with a file.

“Get lost on the way to your office?” House crossed the room and set the papers on his desk.

“Just taking a break,” Wilson said. He leaned back against the bookshelf as House reached into a jar on the table and removed a pill bottle from inside it.

“Sure, and my office is far more entertaining than the oncology lounge.” He took a single Vicodin, then settled into his chair. “Why settle for TiVo and a flat-screen TV when you can get crappy reception on a set that predates ‘Melrose Place?’”

Wilson ignored him. He ran his fingers over the spines of the books lining the shelf. He’d seen them a thousand times before -- in this office, in House’s old office or cracked open on House’s desk.

“It must be something else you find entertaining then,” House said. He looked up and nodded toward a man passing by in the hall. “Coronary artery disease.”

Wilson studied the man without moving from his spot: Mid to late-60s, loose sweat pants, new tennis shoes, a t-shirt stretched over the swell of abdominal fat; standard stress test wear. “Too easy,” he said. “Find yourself another sucker for this round of ‘pick-a-diagnosis’ or another patient.”

Wilson stepped back to the window. He pushed aside two of the blinds and looked out into the afternoon light. “God, this is ...”

“Yeah, yeah, depressing,” House interrupted. “You always say that. Might I suggest you stop looking out the window if it’s that bad?”

“Fine.” Wilson let the blinds fall back into place, the light dancing across the floor as they bounced against each other. He walked around House’s desk to plop down in a chair and picked up the ball from the corner of the desk, turning it over in his hands. “Want to play hooky?”

“Isn’t that my line?”

Wilson just shrugged. “It’s a nice day,” he said. “We could, I don’t know, grab lunch at the deli down by the river. A long lunch.”

House put down his pen. “Is this just about those letters you’ve got to write, or is something else eating at you?”

Wilson slouched further down in the chair, allowing his head to fall back between his shoulders. “A very long lunch. Extraordinarily long. Like maybe five or six days.”

House picked up the pen again. “Every year you do this,” he said. “You’re not telling anyone they’re dying, just that you’re not offering them an oncology fellowship here.”

“I hate turning good people down.”

“Yes, it’s a burden we all must bear, being so good and nice and that people actually beg us to hire them. No, wait, that’s just you.” House wrote a few more notes before pulling out the MRI studies from radiology. “Don’t worry. They’ll still like you even after they get their rejection letters. They’ll probably even send you a thank you note just for considering them.”

House pushed himself up from the chair and limped over to the light board. He snapped it on and placed a film on it. “You going to tell me what’s really bugging you, or not?” He took a quick look before pulling it back off and snapping off the light.

“Everything’s fine,” Wilson said. “You know me, everything’s perfect, everyone’s happy.”

“God, and everyone tells me I should lighten up on the sarcasm.”

House sat back in his chair. He put the film back in its envelope, but this time didn’t grab for another file or his pen, and instead observed Wilson.

“I thought I might come by Saturday, watch the game,” Wilson said.

“Inviting yourself over? I’m pretty sure Miss Manners wouldn’t approve.” Wilson just shrugged in response. “Julie have some new project for you?”

“Not really.” Wilson finally pushed himself up a little in the chair. “She said we should go out to dinner, see a movie.”

“What chick flick she trying to drag you to?”

“Not a chick flick,” Wilson said.

“What then?”

Wilson didn’t say anything, just stared up at the ceiling.

“C’mon give,” House said. “You know I’ll find out sooner or later.”

Wilson murmured something.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“Oh, I’m not sure.”

Wilson looked at House. “’Murderball’,” he said, enunciating very clearly.

“’Murderball,’” House confirmed. “Ah yes, the life affirming story of cripples, learning to thrive despite their disabilities. I can see why she’d want you to see it.” He seemed to consider the possibility. “She should take Cameron.”

“I’m sure Cameron’s already seen it.”

House glanced over at the conference room to see the three younger doctors looking back at him. They looked away as he stood and walked over to the door, pushing it open. “Hey! Am I the only one working here?”

Wilson heard a mumble of responses and saw Foreman turn back to his charting, while Chase left claiming he needed to check on a patient and Cameron found something to do on the computer.

“You enjoyed that, didn’t you,” Wilson said, watching the action in the other room.

“Sometimes it’s good to be the king,” House said as the conference room door closed. He turned his attention back on Wilson. “So what you need is an excuse to get out of the house on Saturday.”

“I don’t need to make excuses,” Wilson said.

“But it’s easier if you have one,” House noted. “Go ahead. Feel free to use me. Hell, she’ll blame me anyway.”

“No she won’t. She’ll blame me.”

“’James you should learn to stand up for yourself,’” House said in what Wilson had to admit was a close facsimile of his wife’s words, if not her actual voice. “’Why do you always let him push you around?’ See? It all filters down sooner or later.”

“I think you give yourself too much credit for my crappy marriage decisions.”

“And you give yourself too much,” House said. “If you’re going to invite yourself over on Saturday, you’d better plan on paying for the pizza.”

“I will.”

“And bring beer. None of that domestic swill either.”

“God you’re picky.” Wilson turned in his chair when he realized House was headed out the door. “Where you going?”

“Lunch. The deli. You’re driving. “

Wilson followed House down the hallway, but hit the “up” button for the elevator. “I’ve got to stop at my office for my keys -- unless you want me to drive the ‘Vette?”

“Well I would, but she’s the jealous type,” House said. “She says she doesn’t like anybody but me behind the wheel.”

“You do realize it’s just a machine, right?”

“Shhh. She might hear you.” House said as the elevator door opened. He stepped inside. “I’ll meet you outside the garage. Don’t take too long.”

Wilson walked quickly toward his office, doing his best to look busy enough to fend off any unwanted conversations. He made it inside and shed his lab coat, grabbing the keys from his desk. His assistant stopped him before he could leave, though, passing on some messages and a reminder that he needed to get his letters out in the mail by the end of the week.

She offered to send the “standard reply,” but Wilson turned her down. Bad enough they were being told they weren’t getting their first choice. No reason to top off that disappointment with a form letter.

Wilson remembered the rejection he’d gotten in the mail from his first choice for residency. Two paragraphs and no real information as to why he’d been turned down. Only a terse “thank you” for his interest and a brief wish for the best in his career. He’d been devastated at the time that the school where he’d earned his M.D. didn’t want him as a doctor. Now he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else but where he was. PPTH and the connections he made here had made him the doctor he was -- the person he was.

If he’d stayed at Johns Hopkins, Wilson mused as he unlocked his car door, he might never have been drawn toward oncology. Without PPTH, he might never have met House. He might never have learned how much further he could push himself and his understanding of medicine. Wilson tried to imagine what that other life would have been, but could only come up with the barest outline: The ghost of a future that never was.

Wilson drove down the ramp and waved his key card at the reader to open the gate, blinking at the bright sunlight as he pulled away from the building. He rounded the corner of the old building to where House usually waited just off the delivery entrance.

There was no one there when he pulled up to the curb, but then Wilson glanced around and spotted House standing a few yards away on the rough grass. House was turned away from him. If he’d heard Wilson drive up, he didn’t acknowledge it.

Wilson turned on the hazard lights and walked over to House. From where he was standing, Wilson could look across the landscaping past the old fieldhouse, and to the empty track beyond. It was the same view he could see from his office window.

“Ever wonder what happened to Chilton?” House asked without turning toward Wilson.

“Um ... Chilton?”

“Resident who started the same time you did. Dumb as a brick with an ego five times too big for his talent to back up.”

“Can’t say as I’ve thought of him in years. I think he moved somewhere out west to work as a GP, but I couldn’t say for certain. Why?”

House shrugged. “No reason, I guess. Just thinking about chaos and all that crap, about how things happen sometimes that we really don’t seem to have much control over.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in fate.”

“I don’t believe things are preordained, no,” House said. “But every day, things happen to us that we have no control over: someone’s late for work and runs a stop sign, which causes an accident that backs up traffic, which makes you late for work. Or someone buys the last blueberry muffin which causes the next guy in line at Starbuck's to buy an almond croissant, and only after taking a bite discovers a latent allergy to nuts which results in a severe reaction which brings him to the clinic for treatment just as you thought you’d seen your last patient.”

“Or your friend gets all philosophical when all you want is a corned beef sandwich, thus forcing you to suffer hunger pangs,” Wilson said. “Let’s go.”

“My point is this,” House said, turning away from the track to look at Wilson. “Most of the time things happen to us that turn our lives into a giant pile of crap -- heck, some people deal with more crap than they deserve. But sometimes, there’s a one-in-a-million chance something good can happen.”

Wilson studied House for a moment as the older man turned away again. Across the field, a runner appeared on the far side of the track moving steadily along the surface: dark shorts, long legs, a white t-shirt. He watched House as House watched the runner round the end of the track.

“You’re weirding me out, House, you feeling all right?”

“Fine,” House said with an exaggerated eye roll. He began walking to the car. “I’m just savoring life’s rich banquet.” House’s voice twisted the upbeat words onto their opposite edge.

“Ah, now there’s the sarcasm master I’ve studied with for so long,” Wilson said. “You had me worried there for a moment.”

“I keep telling you that you worry too much, Wilson.” House stepped down off the curb to open the car door and settle himself in the passenger seat.

“I don’t worry about everything,” Wilson said. He turned the ignition and put the car in gear, turning out onto the driveway. “Just the important things.”

Feed the author!

Namaste's Author Page

The Java Jive

Balance

Declarations of Independence

Come True

The Masterpiece Collection

You must be a member to post in the House Fans forum. It's completely painless and we'd love to have you. But if you don't want to join, please stop by Namaste’s Author Page, using the link above, and post a comment in her Guestbook. Thank you and enjoy!

As always, if you have any suggestions, questions or concerns please feel free to email either pillpopdoc or rtlemurs