Irony

Chapter 9: Mixed Bag
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

In the “conference room/lunch room/differential-diagnosis room/screw-off room” between Dr. House’s and Dr. Wilson’s offices, the three young physicians on House’s service gathered from their morning’s work on the floor and in the clinic.  It was time for lunch break, and the three of them welcomed the respite from traipsing all over the place between departments, labs, treatment rooms and operating theaters. 

 

They were all aware that House and Wilson had taken on the responsibility of monitoring some mysterious new case, into which none of the three of them had been invited.  They were puzzled and curious, but knew better than to butt into any closed-door conference sessions that involved both of their mentors with their heads together.  When House told them point blank:  “None of your business” that morning, then it was none of their business!  The dismissal had stunned them.  All three had subsequently wasted time speculating and asking questions around the clinic and other departments, but nothing enlightening had come their way.  None of them gave a thought to the ward full of unfortunates on the second floor, or the chart they’d been discussing when Wilson had folded at their feet.  Eventually they had dropped it and gone about their duties, quietly wandering through their morning rituals with knit brows and random imaginings.

 

Robert Chase sat at the table near the whiteboard with a spread newspaper, a bag of potato chips and a cup of clam chowder.  He made slurping sounds with every spoonful.  Eric Foreman, likewise, sat in a chair across from Chase with a dog-eared magazine open in front of him and a ham and cheese sandwich and a Pepsi on a napkin at his elbow.

 

Allison Cameron stood in front of the tiny sink-cum-coffee prep area with an open bottle of Sunny D.  Her back was against the connecting wall of the room next door, and she had just felt the vibrations of Wilson’s office door opening and closing.

 

“Dr. Wilson’s back,” she announced to no one in particular.

 

Foreman paid no attention, but Chase looked up with a blank expression on his face.  “How do you know?  Do you have X-Ray vision?”  Then he smirked at his own wit.

 

Cameron glared at him and heaved a sigh of the martyred.  *Such a boy!*   “I have ESP,” she said in a bored tone.  “I’m just saying … he’s over there.”

 

Foreman finally looked up.  “So what?”  He said.  “The ‘mysterious case’ must have fizzled … or it wasn’t as mysterious as everybody thought.  House has been back for over an hour.  He’s sitting in his office with his back turned, playing with that damned ball … and you know what that means …”   He rolled his eyes and went back to his ratty magazine and ham sandwich.

 

“Could mean one of two things …or three …depends on your point of view,” Cameron continued.  “First, he could be in a lot of pain and trying to ride it out.  Second, he’s got a puzzle and he’s concentrating on it and doesn’t want to be disturbed.  Or …”

 

Foreman looked up again and snorted sarcastically.  Or … both of the above … or none of the above … or else he’s just in a piss-poor mood.  Anybody feel like making a bet?”

 

The other two were quiet.  No takers.  Foreman was probably right.

 

Still, Cameron wasn’t convinced.  She polished off the bottle of Sunny D and tossed the empty in the trash.  “Maybe … but Dr. Wilson is in his office.  Trust me!  He’s back and he hasn’t been in to check with House.  Isn’t that a little unusual?  They usually go to lunch together, and it’s past noon.”  She ran the water in the little sink and rinsed her hands.  “I’m going next door and check … maybe I can find out something by asking Dr. Wilson if there’s anything he needs … or something we can do …”

 

“Cameron, I’m not finished with my lunch!”  Chase whined.

 

“Me either,” groused Foreman.

 

Cameron rolled her eyes and walked over to the corridor door.  “Be back in a minute,” she said.

 

Neither of them even looked up again when she left.

 

Allison walked up to Wilson’s closed office door cautiously and listened.  There was no movement within, so she knocked softly.  No answer.  He might be deep into charting, or he might be listening to his fancy Bose sound system.  She knocked again, a little louder, and tried the door.  The handle turned and she stuck her head inside, looking cautiously around.

 

Wilson was at his desk, head down on the surface of it.  She knew he’d spent two days in bed hooked to IVs after being admitted for a urinary tract infection, but had been discharged earlier this morning.  He was probably tired and suffering a bit of residual cramping and weakness.  He must have been resting and fallen asleep.  He was such a sweet man; compassionate and caring, and rather a puzzle in and of himself.  No one around the hospital except House seemed to know that much about him, except for his reputation as a skirt chaser, which Cameron didn’t believe anyway.  It was only a rumor.

 

She approached his desk, a little hesitant at disturbing him.  His head was turned away from her, but the closer she approached, the more she could feel the hackles rising at the back of her neck.  Something was not right.  Wilson was slumped in an unnatural position, his right cheek hard on the surface of the desk, his neck twisted sharply in a decidedly uncomfortable manner.  His left arm was cocked near the edge, his right shoulder sagged drunkenly, and his right arm hung at his side with the fingers nearly dragging on the floor.   An empty water glass lay overturned on the carpet nearby.

 

Cameron felt her breath hitch in her throat as she hurried to Wilson’s side.  She placed one hand on his forehead and the other over his carotid artery.  His pulse was strong, but his temperature was slightly elevated.  He did not move beneath her touch. 

 

He was not asleep.  He was unconscious!

 

                                                          ********

 

House flung the ball back toward his desk when his pager went off.  He reached to his belt and pulled it out.  His leg hitched with the movement and he grunted painfully.  Where the hell was Wilson?  It was time for lunch and he was almost out of Vicodin.    He didn’t need to be called to wipe another damn snotty nose!

 

The message read:  “WILSON!  HURRY!”   He stared, wasting precious moments assimilating its meaning.

 

He scraped his legs off the bookcase in a flurry of movement and whirled the chair around.  Flame shot into his hip and up his spine, but he gasped a deep breath, held it, and ignored the pain.  Heads would roll if this didn’t mean what he thought it did!  He pushed himself to his feet quickly, biting down hard on his bottom lip.  He grabbed his cane and made for the balcony door.

 

“Son of a BITCH!”

 

They probably heard him in downtown Plainsboro.

 

House was across the balcony, over the wall and pushing Wilson’s glass door aside with a whip of his powerful arms.  By the time he got to Wilson’s side, accessed the situation and motioned Cameron out of his way, his knee had given out and he was forced to hop-step clumsily on his sound leg.  He dropped the cane and propped his right hip on the edge of the desk.  He grabbed Wilson roughly by the front of his shirt, pulling him upright in his chair, steadying his shoulders and smacking his cheek to wake him up.

 

Cameron stood helplessly nearby, knowing better than to interfere when House was like this.  Foreman and Chase burst through the front office door at that moment, freezing in position when they saw their boss at his magnificent best, doing what he was born to do.

 

“Wilson!  C’mon Wilson … get your lazy ass around here and pay attention to me!”  House’s long fingers were on Wilson’s wrist with his left hand, encircling his friend’s shoulders with his right arm, pulling him forward against his chest, switching positions quickly, pinching the man’s cheeks between thumb and fingers until Wilson’s mouth cranked open, shaking him back to consciousness.

 

Wilson groaned and started to come around.  House gave him another whack across the cheek.  Wilson seemed to jump start at the rough handling.  His hand came across and grabbed House’s other wrist.  “OW!  You fucker!  Stop it!”  Groggily he looked up and saw who it was.  The blue eyes were blazing above him.  Something … not anger … but something feral and tortured … radiating.

 

Wilson took a deep breath and leaned gratefully into House’s chest.  Not so much weakness or pain; more like reassurance.

 

*I’m okay!*

 

 “Dammit, man,” James grumbled weakly, “Could you please not do that?  I don’t feel good!”

 

Foreman and Cameron and Chase let themselves relax, wilting in their tracks as Wilson sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair.  All three of them were still wide-eyed from the adrenaline rush that was now receding and leaving them weak-kneed.  They stood staring helplessly as House backed off and gave Wilson some space.  Cameron took a step forward, retrieved House’s cane from the floor and extended it to him.  He took it and nodded a thank you, but did not speak for a moment.  His eyes never left Wilson’s face.  He was ashen from his own pain, but the pallor of his skin was the only indication of his difficulties.  Very casually he reached to his jacket pocket and pulled out his Vicodin bottle.  He pried off the lid and palmed two of them, threw back his head and swallowed.  There were only two left.

 

“Well now … wasn’t that exciting?”  House growled, voice dripping with sarcasm as he replaced the pill bottle, rubbery face twisted like a fright mask.  “You went and got yourself all light-headed, didn’t you?”  He asked.

 

Wilson looked away for a moment before nodding his head in the affirmative.  “I came back from downstairs and I thought I’d rest awhile before lunch.  So I sat down and put my head on the desk.  But when I went to get up again, the whole room started spinning and I figured I’d better sit down before I fell down.  But I was too late.  I passed out … went out like a light.  I still feel a little woozy and weak.  I don’t think I want any lunch, House, so you go ahead without me.  I’ll just stay put here and … zone out for awhile.”  He looked a little sheepish.  He shrugged.

 

“Just what you need, Wilson … to skip another meal!  Pretty soon you’ll look like a fugitive from an interment camp too.”  House still sat perched on the edge of Wilson’s desk.  He knew if he tried to move, his leg would throw his ass on the floor.  So he didn’t move.  Not until the kids left anyway.  No one but Wilson had the privilege of seeing him this vulnerable.  He nodded to the three young doctors standing awkwardly near the door.  They needed to leave, but were still worried about Wilson.  House knew the drill.

 

“Why don’t the three of you go back and finish your lunches.  I’m going to stay put and keep an eye on this Yay-hoo until he gets his act together.”

 

They knew when they were being dismissed.  They turned to leave.

 

 “Cameron!”

 

She turned hopefully when he called her name.  “Yes?”  She looked at him with brow furrowed.

 

“Good call!”  He said before turning his full attention back to Wilson.

 

“Thank you.”

 

He didn’t see her leave.  She was “dust on the wind” to him now.

 

When they were gone, he hobbled across to the couch, right sneaker barely touching down as a meager aid to balance.  “You scared the hell out of me,” he said through clenched teeth as he lowered himself gingerly onto the cushions of the old Kroehler convertible.

 

Wilson’s face was worried, half ready to be angry, but not.  No one in this much pain deserved any kind of recrimination.  His own light-headedness was beginning to ease, and he found that he felt better.  He should probably take another one of Cuddy’s Urimax.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to frighten you.  And you fucked up your damn leg again.”

 

House gritted his teeth and ran his hand along his thigh.  “Yeah, but that’s nothing new.    Stuff does get fucked up now and again.  And I hate it when you’re sick.”    His pain was toning down by increments.  The Vicodin was kicking in quickly.  He sighed and stretched out his leg as far as he could stand it.  “Tell me about your brother,” he said, “if you’re up to it.”  House was in need of distraction. 

 

                                                            ********

 

“He remembers me, Gregg …” 

 

Wilson did not elaborate further, but to House the simple statement contained the exact amount of information he needed to understand his friend’s state of being.  Wilson wanted to talk, but this was not the right time.  He still looked a little pale.  He needed to rest and regroup, eat a decent meal.  House himself was a little worried about his own physical status.  He suspected he was in no condition to attempt to walk alone yet, even with the cane.  “You jumped the gun getting Cuddy to discharge you so soon, didn’t you?  I noticed your temp is up.”

 

Wilson nodded.  “Yeah, probably, but it’s nothing serious.  I would know if it was.  I need to settle my electrolyte balance and find a way to relieve some of this tension.  My head hurts and I’m stiff and sore, but I wouldn’t actually call myself ‘sick’.  I call myself ‘hungry’.  I wasn’t going to eat anything, but I guess I’ve changed my mind.  Do you think you’re able to get to the elevator without hurting yourself?  We’ll go out to lunch somewhere downtown.  I can get the car and meet you in the parking garage right where the elevator opens.”

 

“Give me fifteen minutes for my meds to max up enough so I can walk without looking totally pathetic?  And by the way, I need my scrip refilled …”

 

“Whatever you need …”

 

House’s response was another snort of irony.  “We’re both pathetic!”

 

                                                        ********

 

They went to lunch at T. G. I. Friday’s.  Both of them ordered pasta dishes loaded with carbs and protein.  They each polished off two tall glasses of sugary iced tea and then had coffee and apple pie ala mode.

 

“How are your electrolytes now?”  House asked with a droll grin.

 

“Floating out my ears, I think,” Wilson replied with a smile.  “I also think I’ll bring Roger over here when they finally discharge him.  He certainly won’t go away hungry.”

 

House nodded agreement.  “No he won’t.  All I need now is a good cigar.”

 

“No you don’t.”

 

“Oh yes I do!”

 

                                                             ********

 

When they got back to the hospital, parked the Pacifica in the Handicapped spot again and worked their way across to the Hydrotherapy pool, Roger was already there.   His painfully thin body was clad in black swim trunks that might have fit a slender ten-year-old.  He was buoyed up by a white life preserver which looked as though it might once have graced a deck of the TITANIC.  The warm swirling waters of the big tank carried him around the perimeter in gentle rocking action, and his skinny legs moved in a weak doggy paddle motion.  The dark patches of antiseptic which covered his abraded skin made him look a little like a short-necked giraffe, and his dark, almost black hair was soaked and dripping and clung to his head like a skull cap.

 

Nancy Franklin sat in one of about a half dozen webbed-aluminum chairs scattered about the edge of the pool, and kept up a running banter of snarky comments with the smiling young man floating around below her.  His IV line had been removed and the bandages were gone from both feet.   “Try not to get too close to the jets, Roger.  And don’t bang into the edge.  The only thing we want touching you is the water.  And shake your head, for cryin’ out loud!  You look like a seal!”

 

He was laughing, skating water in her direction with the heel of his hand.  “Arf arf!” he called.  He shook his head furiously, which only made his thick mane of hair stand out in dark spikes and swirls that obscured a good half of his face.  Water droplets spattered Nancy, the deck, the chairs, and also a black wheelchair which stood nearby.  He raked the wet hair from his face with both hands.

 

Nancy yelped at him, exaggerating for his benefit, and threw up her arms in mock annoyance.  “You got me!”  She hollered at him, and then laughed.

 

He laughed back while his preserver rotated in the swirling water.  He spotted House and Wilson at the exact moment they came through the door.  “Hi Jimmy!  Hi Gregg!”   He  raised a thin arm and waggled his fingers in their direction as the inner tube turned his body around and around.  He did not appear to be in pain any longer, but it was plain to see that he hadn’t much physical strength, and the PPS had taken its toll. 

 

Nancy turned in her chair and waved also, even while experiencing a sudden spark of revelation at how closely Roger resembled Dr. Wilson.  She frowned, trying to hide her curiosity, while glancing from one to the other and coming closer and closer to the conclusion that the reason they looked so much alike couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. 

 

House walked gingerly across the splattered floor, picking his way cautiously.  Wilson hovered near his left side, watchful.  If House noticed, he ignored it.  They both lowered themselves onto the extra chairs and waved back.  “Hey, man!”  Wilson called.  “How’re you doing?”

 

Roger smiled.  “Pretty good.  My legs don’t hurt anymore.  They don’t work much either, but they don’t hurt.  Is your leg any better today, Greg?”

 

House rolled his eyes.  *Ahhh … crap!*   “Yeah.  Did you have an injection this morning?”  He was determined to get the focus off himself.

 

“Yeah.  How’d you know?  I had to take some pills too.”  He frowned that “Wilson” frown, and Nancy, sitting beside James, hitched a breath.

 

“Because it was my order.”

 

“Oh.  Well … thanks.  I had chicken and waffles and mashed potatoes and gravy and corn for lunch.  It was yummy.  Made a pig of myself.”

 

“Everybody’s allowed to do that once in awhile,” House conceded.

 

As they spoke, Nancy Franklin looked from James Wilson to Roger and back again.  James knew they were about to be “outed”; he could almost hear the little wheels in her head grinding away with rampant speculation.  She lowered her head and turned in James’ direction.  In an astounded voice not much louder than a whisper, she asked him the question he knew was inevitable.  He let a small smile soften his face, inviting the question.  “Are the two of you … related?”

 

James widened the smile, let it spread.  It mirrored the smile of the man in the water.  “He’s my brother.”

 

She squealed.  “Oh-my-God!  I knew it!  I knew it!  You’re brothers!  Oh-my-God, Dr. Wilson … that’s wonderful!  Roger has a brother!  He’s not all alone.  Oh … that is so … wonderful!”

 

Wilson rolled his eyes, shook his head and dipped his forehead into a cupped hand.  “I wasn’t keeping it a secret, really,” he explained.  “I just wanted him to myself for awhile after I found out he was here.”

 

“Oh I understand, Dr. Wilson!  I understand!  This is the best news I’ve heard in years!  Oh, I think I’m going to cry!”  When she looked up again, tears were indeed running down her cheeks.  “Who else knows?”

 

In the water, Roger was all smiles.  “I do!  I’m pretty good at keeping secrets!” he shouted.

 

Sitting next to them, even Gregg House shook his head and offered a brief smile, then withdrew it like Excaliber from the stone.  He hated to tarnish his reputation.

 

“Does Billy know?”  Nancy asked.

 

Wilson shook his head.  “No, not yet, but he probably would if he wasn’t on night shift.  You don’t pull the wool over that guy’s eyes for a minute.”

 

Nancy laughed.  “Oh … he will be so delighted.  May I tell him?  I get off in an hour, and he should be up by the time I get home.”

 

Wilson chuckled.  “Sure.  He’s one of the first people I’d want to know about it.”

 

“Thanks.”  Impulsively, Nancy leaned over and kissed Wilson on the cheek.  “Thanks!  Wow!  Oh, I’m so excited!”  She leaned over the edge of her chair and picked up the pager that lay there encased in a plastic bag.  She took it out and punched in a number.  “It’s time for your brother to get out of there now.  He’s been prunifying long enough.”

 

Two minutes later, a tall blonde orderly strode into the pool area and nodded a greeting.  He had a large white Turkish towel over one shoulder.  He turned off the motor to the pool’s swirling motion and the water stilled.  “Time to come out of there, man!”  He called in a friendly tone, and Roger grasped the side of the pool.  The blonde lifted him from the water with the same care he would have given a child.  The big man discarded the swim ring and placed Roger gently in the wheelchair, straightened his thin legs carefully also, and covered his shoulders with the towel.  “Let’s get you to your room, Bozo!”  He grinned and they started off.

 

“Jerry, don’t call me ‘Bozo’, dammit!”  Roger groused.  As the wheelchair turned the corner, they heard him call over his shoulder.  “See you later, BRO’  and Greg … and Nancy!”

 

On the deck chairs, the trio smiled happily at each other.  House asked the question uppermost in his and Wilson’s minds.  “Nance, you’re working with him … what do you think his chances are of walking again?”

 

Nancy Franklin thought for a moment before answering.  “It’s really a little too early to tell, Gregg.  He’s doing great in the areas of responding to the pain meds, and his injuries are also responding to treatment.  He has some contracture in both knees, but I think that was present before.  Whatever happened when he fainted in the street hasn’t been determined yet.  He still doesn’t remember anything about it other than the fact that it happened.  He’s still in some pain, but much less than when he was first admitted.  We need to build up his stamina a little more before starting physical therapy.  The pool seems to have helped him a lot, but he should come down here every day.”

 

“What about massage therapy?”  Wilson asked.

 

“Funny you should ask me that …”   Nancy said.  “It seems he has himself a ‘girlfriend’ who is going to take over his care and do just that.”  Her eyes were twinkling and she smiled at the look on his face.  “It’s okay … it’s just that with all that’s been happening with him, and all the other leg-injury cases on that ward lately, it slipped my mind about talking to you about it.”

 

House and Wilson both stared at her curiously.

 

“Maria Colby has been working with paraplegics and quadriplegics down there, and Roger sort of looks up to her as some kind of angel.   He formed an attachment to her right away, and she’s a little in love with him too.  PPS is so rare nowadays, and it makes him a special case.  We’re going to have to learn from his responses as we go along.  Maria’s going to take over his case and help him get onto his feet if she can.  Why don’t you talk to her?  She comes on at three, and she’s gonna love it when she finds out he’s your brother.  She told me he reminds her of someone … just wait ‘til she finds out who!”

 

Wilson sighed with relief and stole a glance across to House.  Their eyes met and Gregg gave his friend a small nod of support.

 

Nancy Franklin pushed out of her chair and made ready to leave them.  “I’m so happy for you, Jimmy … I can’t begin to tell ya … and Billy is going to love this!”  She kissed his cheek and then turned to Gregg House.  “Hey, ‘Sexy’ … hang in there, and keep the beer cold.  I’ll see you later … and be careful walking out of here … this floor is really slippery!”  Looking around the empty room to be certain they were not observed, she planted a kiss on House’s cheek also, laughing quietly at his look of almost-horror.  “Don’t be such a grump!”  She told him with a parting giggle.  “You know you love it!”

 

When she’d gone, Wilson turned to House with a sigh.  “That girl actually likes you!  I just don’t understand it   Guess I don’t have to worry about Rodge too much, do I?”

 

House shook his head and wrinkled his nose in a manner that said:   “No shit Sherlock!?” without words.

 

Wilson grinned and got out of his chair.  “C’mon … we’ll go up to my office and I’ll renew your scrip.  There’s something I want to run by you anyway, and for that, I’d like four walls and privacy.”

 

“Oh yeah?   Okay … give me a minute …”   House began to lever himself out of the flimsy chair and came gradually to his feet,  jabbing the handle of the cane at his side and pausing to get his bearings.  Seeing Wilson pause also in the usual protective mode, he motioned him forward with a flip of his left hand.  “Go ahead … I’m coming.”

 

Wilson said nothing for a moment, watching closely as House got his legs under him and struggled for balance.  “You go ahead … and I’m coming!”  He groused.  “Remember what Nance said about this floor!  I certainly don’t need to nurse you back from a broken hip!”  He knew exactly what House was muttering to himself when he saw the man’s bottom lip curl over his teeth, but he let it pass as House moved across the floor gingerly in front of him.

 

They caught the nearest “up” elevator and landed at the cross junction of corridors a short distance from House’s office.  They bypassed House’s suite and continued to the heavy oak door with Wilson’s name on it.  It was not locked.  When things had gotten a little dicey earlier, no one had bothered to check it.  House preceded Wilson inside, and Wilson flipped the catch as he closed the door behind him.

 

House went directly to the old couch and lowered himself onto it with a sigh.  “Ahhh … my leg sure likes this a lot better than those damned aluminum lawn chairs!”  He grumbled.

 

Wilson looked up, appraising.  “Sore?”

 

“Yeah, a little.  How about you?  Still feeling the leftovers from this morning?”

 

Wilson shook his head, digging in his middle desk drawer for a prescription pad.  He found one, pulled it out and flopped it on the blotter.  “Not really.  I feel pretty good now.  A bellyful of pasta helped a lot though.  Do you realize neither of us had anything to eat for over twenty-four hours?”  He stared across at Gregg with an astounded expression.

 

The blue eyes crossed in a comic expression of … “DUH!”

 

“Well, yeah, moron!  How would I not?  My stomach thought my throat got cut!”  House’s hand went to his thigh, rubbing at the annoying sparks from his frayed nerve endings.  There was one pill left in the bottle and it was time to take it.  He dug it out, palmed it, swallowed it dry.  He leaned his head back against the rise of the sofa and closed his eyes, suddenly exhausted and very aware of another pair of eyes evaluating him silently from across the room.

 

Wilson watched, wondering how much of the pain House was hiding from him this time.

He finished writing out the Vicodin prescription and laid the pen down.  He folded the slip of paper in half and got up from his desk.  He knew from the involuntary flick at the corner of House’s mouth that the other man knew he was standing close.

 

“I know you’re dying to say something,” House said.  “You’ve been worse than my shadow ever since we got back from lunch.  Either spit it out or stuff it!”

 

“I know you can probably quote word-for-word everything that’s in my head right now, and you’d be right, but I’m going to say it anyhow.”  Wilson sat down beside his friend on the couch and stuffed the prescription slip into Gregg’s top jacket pocket.  “You can get this filled as soon as you need it.  Anyway, I need to say ‘thanks’ for the way you handled the situation with Roger, and handled the situation with me when I was falling apart.  Thanks for being there last night when I needed you, and this morning when I needed you again.  I know you’re a rotten son of a bitch and you take great pride in that, but nobody will ever hear it from me. 

 

“So tell me about your leg.  What’s wrong?”

 

The abrupt change of subject caused not only House’s eyes, but his mouth also, to drop open in surprise.   “Wilson, so help me God, you are the damnedest Dork I ever met in my life.  You hover around me like a mother hen and you watch me like a hawk.  You are part chicken and part bird-of-prey.  And then you come off the wall with a question you know the answer to as well as I do.”

 

In a sing-song voice he began:  This is what’s the matter with my leg!  I had an infarction in my thigh.  It cut off the blood supply to the quadriceps muscle and …”

 

“House!”

 

“You asked.  And you’re welcome.  Now.  What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

 

Wilson sighed in defeat.  “Ah hell!”   There were times when there was just no winning with this stubborn creature, and Wilson had learned the hard way that his education in such matters was an ongoing thing.  He would let the subject drop for now, but it wasn’t finished yet.  Instead, he launched into something Roger had mentioned to him that morning which had been niggling at his mind all day.  He was a little unsure how to deal with it, because having a younger brother again after all these years was a bit unsettling.  Having a younger brother who was a gay man, a homeless man, and now a disabled man, called for more than he could fit his brain around all by himself.  Who better to run it by than House …

 

“I need to find a way to contact Julie.”  He did not stop to think how that would sound to House.  He soon found out.

 

“What??  Why in fucking hell would you want to contact her?   You out of your mind?”

 

“Unhhh …”   Wilson shook his head, suddenly realizing what House must be thinking, and at the same time a little smug at the tone of jealousy he detected in the angry tone.  “Not ‘Julie’ as in my soon-to-be ex-wife!  I’m talking about   ‘Julie’ … Jules … as in Roger’s boyfriend.”

 

House stared.  “’Boyfriend’?  You mean like ‘sweetheart’ … ‘lover’ … OH!  Oh.  Yeah … Oh shit!   Him.”

 

“Yeah.   ‘Him’.  Why are you making it sound like a bad idea?   You told Roger it was nobody’s business what his choice of lifestyle was.  And the other night …”

 

“The other night was different.  Besides, anything that’s not my idea is a bad idea!”

 

“House, you are so full of crap!”

 

“Not always …”   Gregg affected that phony, whiney nasal slur to his voice that always pissed Wilson off no end.

 

“You are today!”

 

“Yeah … well …”   He shrugged with a half lift of one shoulder and Wilson knew it was all he was going to get by way of accommodation.  “I know what I told Roger, and I meant it.  I was just … oh never mind.  So what were you thinking?”

 

“Well, after you left us … remember … you were going to go see Norm Lyons.  Did you?”

 

“Yeah.  Norm said he’d have to go see your brother and see if steroids are a good idea in his case.  He hasn’t gotten back to me yet.  So what about contacting Jules?  How do you plan to go about that?  Gonna go walk around in ‘Cardboard City’ and see what guy is dumb enough to answer to ‘Julie’?”

 

“No, House … better than that.”

 

“Well then, what?”

 

“Rodge told me they have a signal they use if they get separated.”

 

“What kind of signal?”  House’s interest was on the rise.  The thought of a mystery to solve always got his undivided attention.

 

Wilson chuckled.  He couldn’t help himself.  Sometimes his difficult friend was so easy to read.  “They fly a red flag.”

 

“A … red … flag … ?”   Skepticism sat atop his head like a ten-gallon hat.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Red flag?  You mean like … Turkey? … China? … Albania? … Switzerland? … Denmark … ?”

 

“House!”

 

“Wha-at??”

 

“Shall I go on, or do you want to keep on making ‘cute’?”

 

“Sorry.  I’m listening.  Go on.”

 

“Yeah, I can tell you are …   But here’s what they do, and it makes sense to me.  One of them goes to the city park near noon and hangs a red flag from a tree close to the center.  Then they each check the park at noon every day ‘til one of them finds the red flag … and that’s how they find each other again.  Rodge says it always works for them … especially since his legs have started to go bad.  He says it’s been Julie lately who’s had to do all the scouting and scrounging for them, because Rodge can’t keep up.  He says it works especially well after they get a ride to another town.  Julie hunts around for shelter and a food source, then finds the park and looks for the flag.  And they meet up.  Roger says Jules will be watching the hospitals because he knows Rodge has been in pain.  So we need to get to the park and hang a red flag somewhere.  Julie will be worried … and it’s been nearly three days since they’re seen each other.  I was thinking maybe Cameron could …”

 

House’s head was moving from side to side very slowly.  “No.  Not Cameron.”  He frowned. His lips were pursed, tongue peeking between them.  His eyes were down and to one side, and the deep horizontal ridge at the top of his nose was furrowed and pronounced.  He held one hand in mid-air, fingers splayed in a graceful ballet-type configuration that meant he was thinking and needed time.  Wilson quieted and gave his friend a few moments to work it out.  It was very quiet for twenty seconds.  Then House looked up.

 

*Ford Has A Better Idea*   Wilson thought with a niggle of amused affection.  “What?”

 

“Not Cameron,” House was saying.  “The Wombat.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Chase.”

 

“Chase?  Why?”

 

House grinned nastily.  His head came up and the grin narrowed to a smirk.  “Because he’s pretty.”

 

“’Pretty’?   Oh … I get it … I think …”

 

“Yeah.  Who would a gay guy be more likely to respond to?  Someone who looks like Cameron?  Or someone who looks like Chase?”

 

“Jesus, House … you are so rotten!  But I didn’t think of that.  You’re right.”  Wilson tried his best not to smile, but sometimes when Gregg got his fertile mind working on anything that had to do with a scheme, it was impossible not to follow his line of thinking and ultimately agree with everything he said. *Yield to the logic of the situation!  Right, Dr. McCoy!  Dammit!*

 

“Poor Chase.  Sometimes I wonder how he puts up with you.  Do you think he’d be willing to do it tomorrow?”

 

House snorted with sarcastic laughter.  “Ah hell, Chase loves me!  I say he’ll be happy to do it tomorrow … if you buy him lunch for another week!”

 

Wilson leaned forward.  The remark did not warrant a response. He got up from the couch to return to his desk, but hesitated when he saw House’s face darken and the crease between his eyes penetrate to new depths.  The slight movement of the couch when Wilson shifted his weight had been enough to make Gregg flinch.  He had not been expecting it.  Wilson settled back and frowned. 

 

House glared back, but said nothing.  The palm of his right hand lay positioned flat against the side of his leg near the infarction site.  Wilson sat very still and maintained eye contact with a fierce determination that House could neither tolerate nor justify.  When the blue eyes shifted to the side and dropped, searching for a point of fascination in the pattern of the carpet, Wilson relented.  “Do you think you can walk it out?”  He finally asked.

 

“Yeah, probably.  It’s just a nuisance. You spend way too much time worrying about the cripple, and not enough time taking care of the concerns of James Wilson.  You really need to mind your own business.” 

 

 

 

Wilson’s gaze shifted fractionally, and he touched House’s arm in a lingering caress with a single finger.

 

 “Dammit, I am taking care of the concerns of James Wilson!  You are my business.  I don’t know how to make it any plainer than that.”

 

James had finally gotten the last word.

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