Irony

Chapter 26: Business at Hand
1 - Weird Wet Wednesday
2 - Greggs Place
3 - Questions Without Answers
4 - Wilson Goes Down
5 - Roger
6 - In Wilson's Room
7 - Billy Arrives
8 - Brothers
9 - Mixed Bag
10 - Gregg Screws Up
11 - Don't Go!
12 - The Signal
13 - Finding Jules
14 - Houses is Where??
15 - Billy Rides Again
16 - Looking Out For The Cripple
17 - The Cripple Gets Even
18 - Wilson's Boys
19 - I Need You!
20 - Jules and Roger
21 - Me 'n' My Shadow
22 - Crutch Ballet
23 - Wilson Speaks
24 - Whispers
25 - Winners
26 - Business at Hand
27 - All These Men ...
28 - Get Ready... Get Set...
29: Caper
30 - Over The Rainbow
31 - All Over But The Shoutin'!
32 - Irony

by Betz88

Lisa Cuddy was shuffling papers again.  Eating lunch at her desk.  Again.  She picked up a pile of printouts, gathered them into her hands, tapped them straight on the surface of the desk.  Fifteen minutes until the April budget meeting.  She lifted her head and looked out the front door of the office to watch the goings on in the lobby.  Wilson had just disappeared into the elevator, and she knew where he was headed.  Other people flitted about like hummingbirds in stop-motion, some not sure where they were going, others stomping through on missions of dire intent, nearly colliding with the unsure ones.  A normal day!

 

There had been no sign of Gregory House anywhere near the clinic.   He’d called off sick the first three days this week.   She knew he was back today, but still among the missing.  His priorities were his own, his motives hidden behind that gruff exterior that gave no clue to what he was thinking, nor which mysterious pathways that devious mind might venture next.  Actually, she was a little worried about him.  He’d been deviating away from his normal pathways lately, and when he did that, there was cause for concern.  She rolled her shoulders to ward off the stiffness from sitting too long, gathered up the remains of her lunch in a plastic grocery bag and deposited it in the trash.  She didn’t have time to check up on him now.

 

Lisa pulled her white lab coat off the back of her desk chair and stood up, all in one smooth motion, then pulled the coat on and smoothed the front.  Her open brief case was propped against her “in” basket.  She took the sizable stack of papers and fitted them deftly inside.  Zipped it.  She turned on her heel and took a quick look around the office.  No use putting off the inevitable.  The budget committee would be waiting in the board room upstairs.

 

Wilson would be there ahead of her, and she needed to ask him about the rumors she’d heard circulating which hinted at increased leg problems for Gregg House.  She hated to even think about this, but could House be looking at a downturn in his nerve damage and pain issues?  He seemed to be having more than his fair share of setbacks lately, and thinking back to the night he’d had to leave in a wheelchair, she needed an expert opinion.  She hoped Wilson would talk to her candidly, rather than clam up and stonewall her about anything for which he did not have Gregg’s express permission.  He was often like a one-man posse when it came to protecting House.  The diagnostician’s health might be a tricky subject to breech, but she did intend to breech it.  House was, after all, her subordinate.

 

Cuddy took her brief case and left her office.  She crossed the lobby, side-stepping like a contortionist through the human stampede, and rang for the elevator.  She had always prided herself in being prompt, and she had seven minutes to get to the board room on time.

 

The elevator doors pinged open presently, and Cuddy blinked in surprise.  In front of her, big as life, stood “Speak of the Devil”.

 

“Hal-l-lo-o-o-oooo, Dr. Cuddy!”  His high, snarky, falsetto grated on her nerves, but she shrugged it off with a roll of her eyes.  “I certainly hope you are not about to abscond with hospital funds in that huge brief case!  That would be scandalous … and strictly against hospital policy.”  It wasn’t his best, by any means.

 

Hiding her quick assessment of his stance and body posture behind an angry frown, she pretended to dismiss his usual line of crap beneath a fašade of indignation.  He had missed work this week, allegedly due to the increased pain in his leg, and Wilson had confided to her that House’s leg had indeed given him sufficient trouble that he’d spent the first two of those days on crutches.  “House …!”

 

But he was fast!  Too fast! 

 

He curled his bottom lip over his teeth and squinted at her in mild speculation.  Damn him!  He was reading her mind again!  “The rumor mill can be a dangerous thing, Dr. Cuddy.  You can’t believe everything you hear … unless you’ve heard that Dr. Wilson and I have been ‘getting it on’ … in which case you would be absolutely right!”   His voice was louder than it needed to be, and the evil grin was off-putting.

 

Lisa gritted her teeth, but kept her dignity.  She scowled. 

 

He moved out around her, limping ahead into the main lobby, and she could tell he was  avoiding looking at people who stared after him, and who’d heard every word he said.  She could also tell he was attempting to distract attention from his movements.  The overloud remark had been calculated to deflect notice away from the difficult manner in which he favored his right knee.

 

Cuddy pressed the elevator’s “up” button and the doors closed, hiding him from view. 

 

*Damn him!*   Two could play at this game.  She would talk to not only Wilson, but a call to Norm Lyons in Ortho might be in order also.

 

 

                                                             ********

 

 

Gregg House turned back to watch where he was going as he made his way carefully around the information-admitting desk in the lobby of the hospital.  It was just past noon and the skies were threatening.  There was a wind picking up, judging from the sway of trees out there, and from the sound of the weather forecast he’d heard earlier, he reckoned it would be better to take the suicide machine home and break out the faithful Envoy.   He did not hurry.  He decided he had plenty of time to stash the bike away where it was out of the weather and return, if he returned at all, with the big SUV in order to keep from getting drowned on his way home tonight. 

 

The uproar he’d caused in the lobby had gone away abruptly with the quicksilver dispersal of so many people with so many diverging destinations.  It was almost like attempting to detain the flow of a river.  The waves might roll and trough and slap the shore, and splash and foam, but the water always eddied impatiently and resumed its rush downstream, always impossible to detain.  Hospitals were like that too.  They ebbed and flowed, rushed ahead, and lightning never struck twice in the same place.

 

House reached the Honda and pulled the keys out of his pocket.  He turned over the engine and the quiet machine rumbled, then purred like a well-fed leopard.  He set his cane into the clamp on the starboard side and got ready to mount.  His leg was touchy and he lifted it with a grunt to swing it across the saddle and let it slide down until his foot settled on the bar.  He pulled on the black helmet and fastened the strap, then the leather riding gloves.  He gunned the motor for a moment, and then lifted his left leg to the clutch.  Gregg let the powerful machine pull him with it by centrifugal force, angling to the right between rows of parked cars.  He headed for East Side Drive at a good clip, and was not surprised to feel the first fat raindrops splatter on his helmet visor and ricochet off the street.  Lightning was striking off to the east, and already he could smell the ozone.  His timing couldn’t have been better.  He pulled into the underground garage beside the Envoy, gunned the powerful little engine one more time, and shut it off.  Off came the helmet and gloves, down went the kickstand, and he pulled the cane away from its place on the frame.

 

Getting off was more difficult than getting on.  He almost had to spring his hip joint in order to ease the limb back across the saddle, because there was no strength to lift it as a normal person might have done.  He eased his foot onto the concrete floor and settled the cane firmly beside it. 

 

From the open end of the underground parking garage, he could hear the whistle of the wind, low and moaning like someone blowing across the mouth of an empty soda bottle.  He could feel the difference in temperature and atmospheric pressure tightening the area of destroyed muscles in his thigh. When he began the walk to the elevator, his weakened knee joint felt unstable, as though it was trying to bend in the wrong direction.  He pressed the “up” button with the cane tip and hop-stepped into the empty car, leaning gratefully into the wall while the door closed and the lift ascended.

 

Inside the condo, House shed his jacket and headed to the couch.  He had not brought his sports bag along with him, and therefore did not have access to either pager or cell phone.  He should call the hospital and tell somebody that he was not coming in to finish out the day.  He would cite personal errands as the reason, although anyone who knew him (and they all did), would realize it was one of his standard excuses which translated into his patented whine:  “my leg hurts …” 

 

He had not run the Envoy in weeks, and it stood in its stall downstairs gathering dust and saving gas.  No matter.  It could stand there a little longer.  Actually, it was just too damn much trouble to pry his ass off the couch and hobble over to the phone to call in.  The hell with it!  Cuddy had seen him exit the elevator when he’d left, and she was no dummy.  She would understand exactly where he was going … and why.  He’d been just too damned sore to try to hide the limp, and once in awhile all his stalling tactics garnered him nothing more than vacant looks and blank faces.  So screw it!

 

The wind picked up with howling gusts as he sat there. This old building was solid and sturdily built, but even so, the whistling and groaning gave the illusion of battling a shifting ocean in a creaky galleon.  Tree limbs swayed wildly and the skies overhead darkened and took on the look of purple twilight.  All the early spring colors had been leeched from the earth, and now a cascade of wind-driven raindrops hammered the windowpanes and rattled the hallway door that opened onto the street.  He could no longer see any definition between street and sidewalk, and he noticed with chagrin that streetlights were beginning to jitter on, forming hazy circles in the lowering gloom.

 

The angry weather made his leg angry also, and he could feel the constriction of the damaged muscles and nerve endings telling him that this was not a good development.  He needed a Vicodin, but to get one out of his jeans pocket, he would have to shift position and disturb the leg. 

 

Fucked!

 

                                                                ********

 

PPTH was buying a new “Open” MRI diagnostic machine.  There had been only two bids; one of them in Colorado, the other in Montreal.  It seemed they would purchase the domestic one, since that price had come in at $5,000 less than the Canadian one.  They could expect delivery within six to twelve weeks.

 

The sky was dark outside the wall of windows on the north side of the room.  By the time the meeting adjourned, a wall of cascading rain water had turned the wall of windows into a waterfall!  It looked as though the individual drops were attempting to force their way through the glass, frantically seeking a means of breaking through the tiniest aperture and bursting into the room.

 

Lisa Cuddy folded the signed contract for the expenditure and placed it carefully in the zippered pocket of her briefcase.  The board had voted unanimously for the purchase, and that alone was cause for celebration.  Across the table from her, James Wilson rose from his seat and their eyes met across the expanse of the big table.  “That was rather … unexpected …” he said softly.

 

Cuddy smiled at him, continuing to look into the deep brown eyes.  “Yes,” she agreed with a whoosh of relief escaping between her teeth.  “It certainly was.”  She slid her chair against the table and walked around it to meet him near the doorway.  In the background, thunder rumbled and lightning strobed the shadows in the corner.

 

The board room was vacant now, everything still a little disheveled with empty coffee cups and paper napkins discarded here and there.  Chairs were askew and the coffee urn was unplugged and lonely on the three-tiered cart in the corner.  Cuddy and Wilson entered the hallway together, leaving the lights on and the door open for Housekeeping to go in and straighten up.

 

“Do you have any educated guesses on a delivery date?”  Wilson asked.  “’Six-to-twelve-weeks’ isn’t much to work with.”

 

“I won’t know until I call I-Med and tell them their bid was successful.  Once they know that, then I should be able to pin them down to at least a ball-park date.  When the paper work goes through, then they’ll have no choice but to get back to me with something concrete.  It’s kind of like a ‘cat and mouse’ game until then.”  She grinned disarmingly as they neared the elevator and Wilson reached out to press the “down” button.  “The next move is to get Maintenance into the new room to work out the floor plan and the power sources.  The sooner they figure out the layout, the better.  They already have the machine configurations from both the Colorado facility and the one in Montreal.  Now I have to buzz LeRoy and have him alert his crew to the name of the successful bidder, and give him the go-ahead on preliminary work.”

 

“In other words, let Maintenance know to have it ready in six weeks rather than twelve …”   Wilson smiled.  He was well aware of Cuddy’s no-nonsense methods of wringing the most work from the fewest workers in the least amount of time.

 

She frowned up at him, then realized he was joking, and smiled back.  “Dr. Wilson,” she said, “you have been spending way too much time in the company of Gregory House!”

 

“No I haven’t.”  The statement was flat, and hung off the edge of his voice like a load of dirty laundry.  The elevator opened before them and they stepped inside.

 

“You haven’t?”

 

“No.  He came to my place for supper last night, but he wouldn’t stay.  He asked me to take him home soon after we ate … said it had nothing to do with his leg.” 

 

“That’s strange, isn’t it?”

 

Wilson shook his head.  “You tell me!  He’s avoiding me, and I have no idea why.”

 

Cuddy sighed.  “That seems to be two of us.  Of course, I’m used to it.  But you … ?”

 

“No clue.  I know he’s been hiding in the clinic, and I know he’s having problems with his leg … but he refuses to talk about it.  I decided I’d just wait him out.  I have enough to do right now with looking out for Roger and Jules.”

 

“How are the boys doing?”

 

“Roger is up on crutches a lot more now, and he’s working hard in rehab … mostly, I think, because of House going down to the gym and doing that …  ‘thing’ … he did on the crutches.  It lit some kind of fire under Roger’s butt and he’s really trying to get his mobility back.  It seems almost … ‘goal-oriented’ … to me!”

 

Cuddy listened to him talk, beginning to understand a few things.  When the elevator stopped, they walked out together and continued through the corridor.  Wilson?”

 

“What?”

 

“House is jealous of your brother and his friend, I think.”  It was not a declaration; merely a statement of realization.

 

“What?”  This time the word changed dramatically from the inquisitive to the incredulous.

 

“You’re not spending as much time with him … and it probably stings …”

 

Wilson’s right hand went to the nape of his neck, a nervous habit he inevitably used when a sudden revelation hit him over the head like a baseball bat.  “My God!  You could be right.  If he needs me … and feels I haven’t been there for him …”

 

“Did you know he left at noon today?”

 

“No.”

 

“He did.  And I don’t think he’s coming back, even though he wasn’t carrying his back-pack.  He probably had all he could do just to carry himself.  It was right about the same time the rain started.  His limp has increased, and his leg seemed stiff … at least more stiff than usual.”

 

“This weather may have a lot to do with it.  He experiences more pain when the weather turns bad.  He had to dig the crutches out of his spare room last weekend when the temperature was up and down every day.  I may have to stop by his place and check on him when I leave tonight.  I certainly don’t want him to think he’s been abandoned.  There really is a lot of ten-year-old mentality in him … you know?”

 

Cuddy grunted softly with a touch of good natured sarcasm.  “That’s like asking me if I know my Rabbi is Jewish … and that sounds like a very good idea you have there, Dr. Wilson.  Why don’t you do that?”  They were in front of her office.  She slowed down and stopped, turned to Wilson again.  

 

“So … where are you off to now?”

 

“The clinic calls …”   He smiled, wagged his eyebrows, a very Housian gesture.

 

Cuddy noticed, but didn’t comment.  On Wilson, it looked rather sweet.  “Later, then; it looks like I’m going to spend the rest of the afternoon with the telephone sticking out of my ear.”

 

Their paths diverged:  his straight ahead and hers to the right.

 

Outside the main entrance, a heavy bolt of lightning followed by an immense thunder clap made everyone in the lobby flinch …

 

                                                        ********

 

Gregory House took two Vicodin tablets, hauled his weary ass off the couch and retreated to his bedroom.  He untied his shoes and removed them, then climbed gingerly onto his bed, turned onto his healthy left side and lay still with the hope of falling asleep awhile.  Around him the sound of the rain battering at the windowpanes, and the thunder and lightning intruding even through the pulled draperies, lulled him, rather than tensed him.  Finally he succumbed to the fatigue he’d felt from weeks of foreboding and resentment at the loss of James Wilson’s companionship, and slept the sleep of the dead for almost two hours.

 

When he finally awoke, the wind had died down some, and the thunder and lightning had moved on.  But the rain against the windows had not diminished.  Gregg kept still and listened to the drumming while a parade of disjointed thoughts paraded through his mind and painted abstract mental pictures across the synapses of his brain.  Sometimes this multi-layered turmoil that rushed around inside his head like a marble in a frying pan was more bother than it was worth.  He’d always been well aware that his awesome, huge intelligence was a frightful and relentless being which lived inside him, and that his IQ went through the roof.   Just once in awhile though, he would have given a king’s ransom for all of it to quiet down and let him alone awhile.

 

*Dream on, little dreamer … dream on!*

 

His right hand moved off the surface of the bed and gravitated to his hip, as though with a mind of its own.  His fingertips trailed downward, exploring the tenseness that began high in the damaged musculature of his upper thigh.  Foul weather had never been a friend to the infarction site, and now he could feel the hardness as his hand moved to the scar and his palm bridged the dent where the quadriceps had been.  Even his own touch ignited sparks of pain from the damaged nerve endings, and the warmth from his palm did nothing to quell the misery it awoke there.  He jerked his hand away and winced. 

 

He knew he could not allow himself to lie here any longer.  Pain or no pain, he must move, for this was the nature of the beast.  To move not at all caused pain.  To move too much also caused pain.  Ergo:  you did what you must do, and you bit the bullet!

 

Gregg knew about all the crap that said you should never take a shower during a thunderstorm.  Bullshit!  At 7:00 p.m. it was still raining cats and dogs and he stood under the soothing hot water and hung onto the grab rails with both hands.  The swollen area around his knee had gone down, mostly, but the leg still ached.

 

He’d finally pushed himself off the bed, dug into a jeans pocket and ground a couple of his meds between his teeth.  He still tasted the bitter residue of the pills, even after having stood in the shower for more than fifteen minutes.  Thinking he should be sufficiently “prunified” by that time, he turned the water off and just stood there enjoying the tingle of sensation as it slowly left the surface of his skin.  He let his head fall back between his shoulder blades until the tension in his back and neck muscles told him it was time to stop.

 

Gregg pulled on an old pair of flimsy pajama bottoms and an old tee shirt.  He didn’t run the Remington, although his roughening beard could certainly have used a trim.  Not now.  Later!  He did brush his teeth, however, feeling the strong peppermint flavor rinse away the aftertaste of the Vicodin.  He scrubbed a hand through his thinning mop, peered into the mirror and called it good enough.  He was not preening for anybody and he was prepared for another night alone.

 

He landed back on the couch catty-wampus at nearly 9:00 p.m. with a bag of potato chips and a Silver Bullet.  Picking up the remote, he turned on the TV and began to channel surf.  God!  What a perfect spectrum of absolutely nothing!  He finally settled on Fox News Channel and muted the sound.  Bill O’Reilly was just going off the air.  Gregg laughed, reading the guy’s lips.  He was asking for emails with “pithy” comments.  Wonderful!  Pithy comments that agreed with Bill O’Reilly!  Next up, Hannity and Colmes; more blah-blah-blah! 

 

He drew his right knee up a tad, leaning it against the back of the couch, testing pain levels.  Sometimes this method worked, sometimes not.  He could feel the movement of his medial collateral ligament with the tips of his fingers, and it was still touchy, not yet ready to give up its anger.  He lowered his leg again and straightened the knee a tad, shoving the extra couch pillow beneath it.  That helped.  Some of the anger abated.  He snorted to himself, half exasperated that he would still accuse a body part of possessing such a thing as anger.

 

He lay cockeyed with his back partly pressed against the arm of the sofa, right arm thrown over the backrest.  His left hand lay angled across his stomach, elbow digging into the cushion below.   It was not the most comfortable position, but something totally skewed about it reduced the flair of raw ache in his knee.  Staring blankly at the TV screen, he began to feel himself floating, eyelids drooping again, as though he had not already had enough sleep!  It seemed that he had spent far too long in a state of fatigue and lethargy that dragged at his mind and body, and he was beginning to not care, one way or the other. 

 

He missed the hell out of Wilson, but when he’d been out on Ridge Road for supper the night before, Roger and Jules had dominated the conversation and the television, and James had let them.  By the time eight o’clock came around, his mind was as thick as split pea soup, and his leg felt like an iron bar.  He asked Wilson to drive him back home. 

 

He hadn’t wanted to return to work this morning at all, but somehow the obligation weighed heavy. He’d been lucky just to make it until noon.  Snarking at Cuddy on his way out through the lobby had not even provided a respite.  And he’d forgotten his sports bag.  It had his bottle of Vicodin in it.  All he had to last until morning were the two that still remained in his jeans pocket.

 

*Fuck!*

 

Outside, the wind had resumed with renewed vigor, and the incessant rain drummed a staccato beat on all the window panes.  Forks of lightning preceded heavy thunderclaps that made the building’s foundation quiver.  The storm was not over.  Not by a long shot. If this kept up, he could forget about getting any sleep tonight.  He finished the Coors and set the potato chip bag aside, wishing there was more to eat around the place than stale whole wheat bread and Peter Pan peanut better.  No way in hell was he going out in this mess to buy anything, and the thought of ordering pizza or Chinese and having it delivered soaking wet, nauseated him.

 

 

                                                           ********

 

 

He heard the outside door open to the howl of the wind at 9:15 p.m., and then blow shut again like a cannon going off.  Some idiot had been out in this freaky storm, for whatever asinine reason.  He hoped whoever-it-was ended up with pneumonia!  There were heavy footsteps in the vestibule, then a pause.  House listened for some clue to the apartment the idiot would enter.  The next thing he heard was a series of clunky knocks at his own front door, another pause, and then the scrape of a key in the lock.

 

Gregg smiled and rolled his eyes.  And suddenly his pain and the hollow feeling he’d been experiencing, and the foreboding that had pissed around with his mind, receded to manageable levels. 

 

Wilson!  It was Wilson!  Why the hell hadn’t he parked downstairs?

 

House turned himself to an upright position laboriously, picked up his cane and struggled up from the couch to turn on a light or two.

 

James came through the door, butt first.  He was soaked.  He was carrying House’s sports bag over his left shoulder, the dilapidated grocery bag with the moist heat pad box in his left hand, and a fragrant-smelling bag marked “KFC” in his right hand.  His key case was between his clenched teeth, and he was indeed the personification of “A Greek bearing gifts” … a half-drowned one.

 

House could not remember when he had been so glad to see someone.  “The last time you came through my front door looking like that, you ended up in the fucking hospital!”

 

Wilson tossed a withering look back over his shoulder, but turned himself around and stomped off toward the kitchen.  “Yeaff, Houhff … I ‘ove ’oou too!”  He was trying to talk around his car keys, but Gregg got the meaning and grinned.

 

He followed his friend slowly, bare feet slopping through the wetness left behind by Wilson’s wet shoes.  “You’re flooding the goddamned kitchen,” he said.  He could not believe how happy he felt that the man was actually there.  Bearing gifts!

 

“So go get the mop out if you don’t like it!” Wilson bitched back at him.  He’d spit his keys out onto the counter and followed them quickly with the two plastic bags and House’s blue sports bag.  “Some people just don’t appreciate anything!”  He slid out of his wet sports jacket and threw it down on the butcher-block table.  Quickly he turned back again and shook rain water out of his moppy hair, the droplets showering everything within a two-foot radius, including House and his old tee shirt and PJ bottoms.

 

House gasped.  “Christ!  I think you’re part water spaniel!  What’re you doing here anyway?  Do you know what time it is?”  House didn’t give a fuck what time it was; he was just trying to tell Wilson how glad he was to see him by not actually telling him so!

 

*This stupid, screwed-up friendship!*

 

Wilson was in the middle of toeing off his shoes, kicking them into a corner.  He turned to the left and pulled the KFC bag away from the others, set it on the butcher block table and began to remove containers.  “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” he announced unnecessarily.  “Extra crispy.  Biscuits.  Mashed potatoes and gravy.  Cole slaw.  I hope you’re hungry.  Cuddy said you left around lunchtime today … and if I know you, you don’t have a freaking thing to eat around here except peanut butter … and maybe mayonnaise … 

 

“Of course I know what time it is, you idiot.  I just left the hospital a half hour ago.  I was charting, catching up with my paperwork.  I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted because you weren’t there!  Rodge and Jules don’t expect me home, because I told them where I was going when I got finished.  In fact, they thought it was a good idea.  They both knew you weren’t feeling too solid last night.  So there!  You satisfied?  Oh yeah … and I’m staying over.  I know your leg is acting up.  I’m going to check the ligaments in your knee and I don’t want to hear any crap.

 

“So don’t just stand there … get some paper plates and napkins so we can eat this stuff before it gets ice around the edges.  And get us each a beer.”

 

House moved to comply, for once not commenting.  The deep furrows made by his dimples as he barely managed to contain a smile, was the only indication of his sudden transition from ennui to animation.

 

Wilson took their plates, loaded with food, into the living room and set them on the coffee table.  House followed, balancing two silver bullets in his left hand, curled over his cane on the right.  His tense movements were not lost on Wilson, who chose not to comment either.  At least not yet.

 

They sat close together on the couch, not saying much, just crunching the chicken and relishing their close proximity to each other.

 

When they were finished, nothing was left but a pile of bare chicken bones and half a teaspoon of cole slaw on the edge of Wilson’s plate.  They sat in silence except for sighs of satisfied pleasure.  The thunder and lightning and wind had tamed down again, but the rain continued.  On the TV, Greta Van Susteren’s face stared disinterestedly out of the screen.  Without benefit of sound, she just looked silly.

 

House leaned forward to place his empty beer can beside the train wreck of dinner plates.  He’d been sitting casually, slid down on the couch, legs propped one on top the other on the coffee table by their pile of discarded supper remains.  Unobtrusively, Wilson watched him.  House was pulling off “casual” very well, and if the oncologist hadn’t known him so intimately, he might have gotten away with the charade.  But the strain on his face gave away the fact that he was sore and uncomfortable and probably giving one of the performances of his life.

 

“Do you need your meds out of your back pack?”  Wilson ventured with a casualness of his own that rivaled that of his friend.

 

House rolled his eyes to the right and met the questioning stare of the other man whose eyes were rolled all the way to the left.  The jig was up.  “Yeah.”

 

Wilson was off the couch, into the kitchen and back again within a few seconds.  He had the blue back pack in his hands.  “Here.”

 

House took it from him.  “Thanks.”

 

“Sure.  I’m going to take a shower and borrow a pair of your sweat pants.”

 

“Okay.  Thanks for bringing this … and for supper … and for bringing the heat pad.”  His eyes were downcast, and Wilson knew how difficult it was for him to voice gratitude.

 

“You’re welcome.  I won’t be long.”

 

A nod of the dark head was the only acknowledgment.

 

Refreshed and warm and tired and content, Wilson rejoined House on the couch fifteen minutes later.  Amazingly, House had cleaned off the coffee table and put all empty containers in the trash.  “I could have done that,” Wilson told him.

 

“Yeah,” House agreed.  “I know.”

 

Finally Wilson suggested they call it a night.

 

House nodded ascent.  He downed the last of the Vicodin that remained from the handful he’d kept in his jeans pocket.  He palmed the fresh bottle from his sports bag and heaved himself clumsily to his feet.

 

Wilson shut off the television and went back into the kitchen to retrieve the moist heat pad from its box.  “Get into bed and take off your pants,” he called from the kitchen sink, wondering foolishly if the neighbors could hear his voice through the walls.  “I’ll be in as soon as I wet down the pad.”

 

House was in bed, naked, eyes closed.  His cock was flaccid.  He had removed not only his PJ bottoms, but also the tee shirt.  His arms lay curled on the pillow above his head.  His ribs stuck out like the keyboard of a xylophone, and the concave stomach, even full of Kentucky Fried Chicken, made him resemble a fugitive from a concentration camp.  He was all flat planes and sharp angles.  His long, bony feet stuck straight up in the air, and the difference in the musculature of his legs was at first offputting.  Wilson’s heart skipped a beat, and he could feel the sting at the corners of his eyes.  He swallowed hard.  He must not let Gregg see him giving in to even a moment of pity, or anything near it.  It had never had anything to do with defining their relationship, and he would not allow it to do so now.

 

Wilson pulled himself up with determination and looked at his friend boldly, wantonly.  He felt a stir below the waist, but restrained himself with effort.  House had done this on purpose, drawing attention away from his leg by the only means possible.  Damn him!  Wilson climbed onto the bed beside him and moved across to sit by House’s healthy left side.  Tenderly he cupped Gregg’s face between the palms of his hands and leaned down to place a kiss on the pliant lips.

 

The blue eyes opened below his gaze, and penetrated deeply into his with a mixture of humor and seduction.  “Is this what you wanted?”  

 

Wilson’s senses picked up on the residual aromas of chicken, beer and a trace of peppermint that floated on House’s breath.  His brow furrowed for a moment before he finally smiled. “Exactly what I want!” he whispered in return, “but not tonight.  You’re in pain and I have no intention of making it worse.  So stop trying to distract me.  I said I was going to check your knee, and I wasn’t kidding.  Okay?”

 

The eyes darted away quickly, dimming with resignation.  “Yeah … okay.  Can’t blame an old cripple for trying …”

 

Wilson smiled and shook his head slowly.  “I can think of a lot of things I could blame an old cripple for …”

 

“But you won’t.”

 

“No.”

 

Wilson’s educated fingers gently mapped the junctions of House’s painful knee.  Only when he strayed upward toward the infarction scar did Gregg’s breath catch and his body tense.  Most of the pain seemed to be emanating from the damaged nerves at the infarction site, but masquerading as knee pain.  His gentle probe of the injured ligament revealed the slow healing that was beginning to take place.  House would continue to experience elevated pain for awhile yet, but it should soon begin to subside as the ligament gradually went back to its normal configuration.  If he continued to use the moist heating pad when he went to bed at night, its effects could make quite a difference in the amount of healing time he would have to endure.

 

With careful movements, James Wilson settled the moist pad on House’s leg and drew up the sides of the heated wrap to enfold the painful limb within it.  He fastened it down, and, as in the first time he’d employed this method weeks before, settled one of the bed pillows beneath Gregg’s knee, allowing it to bend slightly so that a small part of the limb’s weight would rest on his heel.

 

Gregg did not move, but watched with interest, offering no resistance as Wilson finished up.  James looked up and met his intent gaze at last.  “How does it feel?”

 

“It’s fine.”  Standard answer, of course!  He would probably say it was “fine” even if there was smoke rising …

 

Wilson got off the bed, dimmed the lamp on the nightstand, flipped off the overhead light.  He climbed back beside his lover’s left side, and pulled the covers until they cocooned both of them.  He placed a protective arm across Gregg’s body.  “God, I’ve missed you …”

 

“Ummmnh …”

 

They slept.

 

Outside, the storm finally wore itself out.   Clouds lifted and the moon shown down again.

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