The Pacifica pulled up in front of House’s condo forty
five minutes later. Gregg was waiting out front, the collar of his heavy jacket
turned up and tucked in at his throat. He was bent over his cane and obviously
shivering his ass off. Wilson
didn’t know whether to sympathize or laugh. Ultimately, he decided on laughter. Gregg had it coming!
“Thought you said a half hour,”
House bitched as he folded himself into the heated passenger seat.
waited, watching as his friend hauled his uncooperative leg inside and shut the door.
“Yeah … well … I had to make a stop downtown first. The
stores are crowded.”
“Must’ve been pretty damned
important,” the other man groused.
had the car stereo tuned to an NPR station which, at the moment, was playing easy listening music with a mellow sound. “Moonlight in Vermont”. House made a face, but slouched down in the seat to take full advantage of the heat. “Next thing you know they’ll be playing ‘Moon Over Miami’,”
he muttered. Wilson
looked over at him but said nothing, just kept driving. When the orchestra segued
into “Mood Indigo”, House groaned. “What’s next, ‘The
grinned. “You should be so lucky!” he grunted. “Does your organ still work?”
House snorted. “Har de har har! Thought that went right over my head,
“It occurred to me … but I
know you’re a dirty old man …”
House changed the subject. “You got beer, right?”
“Uh huh. And I made some chili dogs in the crock pot, if you want one.”
“General Tso’s chicken …
egg roll … shrimp in lobster sauce over rice … all that nutritious stuff.
You know …”
“Sounds wonderful!” The sarcasm showed through.
“Yeah … I threw half of it
out … and the rest of it up!”
“Doesn’t surprise me.”
“Sorry I chewed your head off awhile
“Forget it. I’m used to your irresistible charm. Feel better?”
“That’s all that’s necessary
They settled down to “Easy Listening”
the rest of the way to Ridge Road.
thought he might have to help Gregg out of the car, but he sat and waited after pulling into the garage, and gradually, House
opened the passenger door and maneuvered himself out. He came around the front
of the car, right hand on the cane, left one levering himself on the hood. James
pretended not to notice. Instead, he opened the driver’s door and got out,
flipped open the rear door and retrieved a rectangular box in a plastic shopping bag.
House watched him, smoky eyes shifting between the package and Wilson’s
face, more than a little suspicious. “Got yourself a year’s supply
of condoms?” He asked in an offhand manner.
knew Gregg was demanding to know what was in the bag, but did not rise to the bait.
“Something like that,” he said. He shut the car door and stepped
up the two steps to the kitchen, unlocking the back door as he did so. House
followed, lurching up the two steps with difficulty and trying to mask exactly how much of an effort it was. Wilson held the door wide to allow his
friend entrance into the kitchen, pungent with smells of fragrant crock-pot cookery.
He made no comment about the strain he could plainly see in House’s face.
“Actually, it’s for you.” He walked across the kitchen
and placed the bag on the table.
“Oh yeah?” House eyed the bag and the box inside with disdain. “I
have a feeling it’s not really something I’d ask Santa Claus for …”
“Can’t always get what you
want …” Wilson muttered. “But sometimes you get
what you need.”
House frowned. “Ahh … the Philosopher Jagger …”
pulled the box out of the bag and opened the lid. Something fuzzy and yellow
peeked over the top of the box. “Yeah … wise old Brit, that Jagger.”
House wrinkled his nose and squinted. “What the hell is that?”
“You’re a doctor and
you don’t know?” Wilson
was unrolling the fuzzy yellow material across the table. It slightly resembled
a baby blanket with an electrical cord at one end.
House continued to watch and squint. The thing unrolled to about forty eight inches in length. It was soft vinyl plastic and the cord was attached to one end which was slightly wider than the other. The yellow material seemed to be the cover.
Another piece of material was made of something that looked and felt like thick terrycloth. “What the hell?”
sighed. “It’s a moist-heat pad.
Don’t try to tell me you never saw one before!”
House groaned. “Oh … aren’t I lucky!? Now I see what you’re
up to … and no thanks! I just never saw one that looked like a fuzzy yellow
rug before. You’re not gonna use that damn thing on me!”
shrugged nonchalantly. “Couldn’t hurt you, dumb-ass! Besides … if you’re as sore right now as I’m thinking you are, then something drastic
needs to be done about it. This can help … and probably let you settle
down and get some sleep tonight.”
“Oh yeah, I understand, Wilson. And you think I’m
going to let you mess with my leg? Well, guess what! No way Jose! My leg is fine, and you’re not going to fuck around and get it all stirred up. Aint gonna happen, Buckaroo!”
“Gregg! Shut. Up!” Wilson
rounded on him with both hands on his hips. “Take off your coat! Go in the bathroom and get out of your shoes and jeans. I’m
going to get this plugged in and ready, and dampen the pad. I want you in the
den on the couch in five minutes! And
I don’t want to hear any more crap from you. Understand?”
House frowned. It was seldom that Wilson came down on
him like thunder and lightning, and for a moment it stopped him in his tracks. “Who
died and left you boss?”
raised both eyebrows, but stood his ground. “Nobody yet, smartass, but
you’re about to find out … if you don’t do as I say!”
House backed off. His eyes grew wide, and Wilson thought
he gave in a little too easily. “Oooh … honey … I love it when
you talk dirty to me!”
There was a blanket spread out on the couch,
and two pillows stacked at one end. Another pillow sat on the top of the backrest
… waiting. When Gregg limped into the den, sans pants and shoes and coat,
Wilson was waiting for him with the fuzzy moist heat pad,
complete with not-quite-soggy wet insert. “Sit! Lean back! Bend your knee a little so I can get this under
it! Yeah … like that. You
look like a whipped puppy, House. I’m not going to hurt you! Here … take the pad and place it over your scar. I’ll
fold the wrap around it. Sit still! Okay
… now lift up a little so I can get the pillow under your knee. There. Now pull the blanket up to your waist. Give
it a little time to warm up. Let me know how it feels.” Wilson sat back, looking at once a little
concerned, a little nervous.
At first there was no reaction. House’s face was unreadable. He sat with head bent toward
his chest, eyes closed, both fists curled in his lap. But he was leaning into
the pillows propped against the arm of the sofa, and the bulk of the other pillow and the lump of the moist heat pad formed
a sizable mound around his bad leg.
Finally the clenched fists began to loosen. House’s head lolled to one side and an exhausted moan escaped his lips in a
long, drawn-out expulsion of breath. “Ahhhh … oh my God!” His eyes opened to find Wilson
on his knees on the floor beside him. He offered a brief smile and shook his
“How is it?” Wilson asked. His hands were on the heat-pad controls, turning the heating element down to its lowest setting; just enough
to maintain maximum comfort with the minimum of heat.
“Holy shit! Wonderful!”
“I thought it might work for you. Moist heat relaxes your muscles and helps keep them from cramping. After the last couple of days, you really need it. So how
about a chili-dog and a beer?”
House grinned. The strained look had gone out of his face and it made him appear years younger. “Thought you’d never ask. I smelled ‘em
the second I came in the back door. But if I’m sound asleep when you come
back, don’t wake me … just eat it yourself.” A hand reached
out and touched Wilson’s wrist. “Thanks. Sorry for being such an ass.”
“Oh, for crying out loud! If you don’t shut up, I’m going to think you’re
developing a conscience!” Wilson
grinned and rose to his feet.
On his way back to the kitchen, he could
hear the distinct grumble of his friend’s snarky reply. “Fuck off,
“That’s the House we all know
and love so much!” he whispered.
House was mellow for the rest of the evening. They stayed up late; talking, stuffing themselves with Wilson’s excellent chili dogs and finishing off a six-pack of Coors Light. They sat with a lined legal pad and marked off the dimensions of the den, figuring out the best arrangement
for the guest-room bed, and how to rearrange the desk, the computer center, the bookcase and the stereo system. If the big sofa bed where House now rested, were to be moved into the living room, replacing the furniture
Julie and taken with her, enough space could be freed up by shifting Wilson’s big leather recliner to a corner, or moving
it out to the living room along with the sofa bed. Eventually they decided on
the second option, since the television was out there, and it would offer plenty of room for Roger to maneuver his wheelchair,
and eventually crutches as his rehabilitation progressed.
told House of his plans to bring Jules out here to help move the furniture, and House told him he’d better bring someone
better suited for heavy hauling than that skinny youngster. The two of them would
both have hernias before the lugging was even begun. Wilson asked, in a huff, just who House had in mind. House
began counting off big guys on the fingers of one hand: Billy Travis, Mark Fetterolf,
Stan Ralls, Vince Crane, Norm Lyons …
“Kind of short notice, don’t
you think?” Wilson
House shrugged. “None of them work weekends. It’ll take a half
hour at the most. Hell, Billy could do it himself in a heartbeat … and
you know he would. Billy would move mountains for you and me …”
“Yeah,” Wilson agreed. “He would. Okay, I’ll ask him. And Vince … it’ll be
like old times.”
“Don’t forget Vince is a little
goofy around me. He’ll get all mushy and uncomfortable, and I don’t
want that to happen.”
“He can handle it,” Wilson said sternly. “He’ll
handle it or I’ll throttle him, damn it.”
They knocked off around 11:00 p.m.,
both of them bone weary and ready for sleep. Wilson
reached across to lay his hand on the blanket that covered his friend to the waist.
“How about if you shift over so I
can re-wet the moist pad for you? Dry heat might stiffen you up, but another
dousing should get you through the night … see how it feels in the morning.”
Gregg moved the blanket down and bent his
“No, it’s fine.”
“That’s not a statement from
you that I trust much …”
“Really. It’s okay.”
“Good.” Wilson pulled the pad away from the lining
and stood up with it. “Where are your jacket and pants?”
“Hanging on the back of the bathroom
“Need your meds?”
“That’s what I thought. I’ll bring them. Be right back.”
House shook his head in wonder as
the other man walked away. Couldn’t get away with anything with Wilson anymore! His leg
ached as usual, but it was not the overpowering “engine knock” that had nagged him a few hours before. He had to admit, this moist-heat idea of Wilson’s
seemed to be working. With a Vicodin or two, he should be able to get a decent
night’s sleep. He wondered where Wilson
was going to sleep. He didn’t relish the idea of languishing alone in Wilson’s den. If
he had to get up during the night to go to the bathroom, it could be a disaster. He also wished he’d not chickened out
about expressing some of his vague doubts about Jules and Roger coming out here to begin what would probably be a lengthy
stay in Wilson’s home.
returned momentarily. “Here … shift!” He handed over the Vicodin bottle and a small glass of water, and then adjusted the heat wrap to replace
the moist pad between the soft layers. Gregg marveled at the gentle motions of
Wilson’s warm hands, watching with interest and complete
trust as he downed two pills and swallowed the water. Wilson fluffed the pillow beneath House’s leg and replaced it carefully, reached downward
and touched his bare knee, meeting House’s gaze in question.
“I’m fine!” Gregg told his friend, and the quiet assurance in his voice gave Wilson
what he most wanted to hear: the truth.
House was not cussing, bitching or lying, and the depths of the blue eyes as they penetrated his own made Wilson’s stomach wrench and his breath hitch with emotion. Quickly, he lowered his gaze before House could see the tears welling up, and he got
accused once again of “taking care of the cripple …” He removed the pill bottle and the glass from Gregg’s hands and moved them over
to the desk. He hauled the big leather recliner closer to the couch and, before
he fell into it, dimmed the lights in the room to a hazy glow. House followed
his movements in silence, but looked across in question as Wilson
sighed heavily when he pulled the chair’s lever and pushed backward.
“What?” Wilson asked softly as he felt the scrutiny
on his face. He smiled. “You
didn’t think I would actually go upstairs to bed and leave you alone down here, did you?
The deep rumble of laughter was answer
The night was quiet. The neighborhood was quiet, the house was quiet, the room was quiet except for even breathing. And they slept.