Characters: House, Wilson
Summary: House's first day back at work after the infarction.
Disclaimer: So not mine.
Thank You: blackmare_9 & nightdog_barks . You rock my world.
"In that hospital bed, being buried quite alive now
I'm trying to dig you out but all you want is to be buried there together" -Epilogue by The Antlers
Wilson brings him lunch on his first day back. It’s not because either of them are hungry, but it feels normal and normal feels good for 45 minutes. They don’t talk; everything Wilson had needed to say was whispered at House’s bedside when he thought House was sleeping. And everything House had needed to say was thrown across the room in the form of bedpans, phones, and plastic forks.
It’s been four months and he’s nowhere near ready to come back, but he’s one St. Elsewhere rerun short of insanity, and if this is as good as it’s going to get, then he needs the distraction.
His nametag is screwed into a handicap parking sign. It hangs at an angle, bent from the unexpected move. Wilson’s getting pudgier from sleepless nights of stress eating and no jogging partner to compensate. These things are pebbles on one colossal mountain of an odd wrongness he can’t describe. But it’s why he feels homesick when he’s lying in his own bed. And it’s why Stacy’s hair smells like cigarettes.
Still, she had whispered, while patting down his bed head that morning, that sometimes the things you lose come back to you. And House didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about.
When lunchtime rolls around the next day, Wilson pulls up a chair in House’s office, drops a bag of chips on the desk and says, “Eat.”
House eyes the bag suspiciously. “What’s this?”
“It’s lunch,” says Wilson. “Eat up before I call the anorexic hotline on your skinny ass.”
“There’s an anorexic hotline?” House raises an eyebrow, but before a quip can accompany the expression Wilson is picking up the phone and pretending to dial.
“Hello? Yes, I’m worried that my friend might be anorexic. Well it’s a he actually. Age? About 45. His name’s House but everyone calls him Porker. You think that has anything to do with this?” Wilson can’t seem to get out the last few words without snorting, and House laughs too, although he’s not finding it quite as funny as Wilson does.
Bit by bit, everything’s falling back into place. The door to his office slides across the carpet more easily now, and he doesn’t know if that’s by design or by the hand muscles he discovered in rehab. But it had opened nonetheless, and he stepped into his office for the first time in four months without fuss or fireworks, just the way he’d wanted it.
But, looking around now, it doesn’t feels as strange as it should. There are no burnt out light bulbs, no echoing flashbacks to every sport he’s ever played, every jog he’s ever taken. In truth, everything feels pretty much the same. There’s only one thing that’s different, and that thing reminds him it’s there every time he walks, moves, or breathes, and that’s the one thing that’s not going away.
And he knows they know. Wilson can see it in his eyes like Stacy could taste it on his lips. Vomit of chicken broths past, choked up with screams and pleases and please kill mes. The acid on his gravity-defying esophagus. The teeth marks on every centimeter of his tongue and lips.
What they don’t know, and what he’ll never mention, is that he can see in their eyes, too. Stacy, crying the minute he falls asleep; silent, preemptive sobs of battles still to come, and Wilson, alone and pinching himself until he can’t take it, then multiplying that by millions because of a battle he wasn’t there to fight. They’re like three generals in the same war, with no plans of making it home alive.
He clears his throat, catching Wilson’s eye between chips. “I hear her, you know,” he says. “Stacy. I hear her talking to you on the phone at night.”
Wilson stops chewing, eyebrow furrowed in some assembly of fear and surprise. “House, if you want me to stop, I’ll—“
“No…It’s good,” says House, and he means it. He licks his lips with Stacy’s voice in his head, asking for guidance, praying for forgiveness, everything he couldn’t give to her that Wilson could. “She needs someone to talk to, and I—sometimes the only way I can really listen to her is when I’m pretending to be asleep.”
House frowns; that last part had sort of fallen out of him. It was Wilson, or the Wilson Effect. House swears hardened criminals would confess to anything in the presence of one James Wilson.
Wilson chuckles, but his smile doesn’t touch his eyes. “Well maybe if you spent less time pretending to sleep and more time actually sleeping, you’d look less like a raccoon and Stacy would want to look at you rather than talk to me.”
“Yes, because the last time I ‘got some sleep,’ it totally worked out in my favor.” House speaks lightly but Wilson winces nonetheless.
He doesn’t know when the yelling stopped and the joking began, but whenever it was, it made staying angry a little harder and living a little easier. Although, he imagines interpreting this new humor is less straightforward for everyone else.
“So,” he evades, watching Wilson’s guilt level return to normal. For Wilson, that is. “What’s new?”
“Yeah, who’s doing who, who’s gay, who got roofied at Dr. Shields’ retirement party…you know, what’s new?”
Wilson opens a Twinkie, obviously pretending he hasn’t prepared the gossip well in advance. “Okay,” he begins, “Nurse Hayes is pregnant…”
“…with Duffy’s baby,” he adds, demolishing the Twinkie in under three bites.
House slaps a hand down on the table as if to say, I knew it. “Very nice. His wife has no idea?”
“No idea whatsoever,” Wilson says triumphantly, tossing one of House’s chips into his mouth before focusing on the next topic. “Gay,” he mumbles, “who’s gay?” Suddenly he snaps, and he’s smiling again. “Dr. Ballard in Pediatrics is engaged to someone named Sarah. Although I can’t say I’m surprised.”
House frowns. “Is she the one who won the weight-lifting contest last year?”
“Yep, that would be her.”
“I didn’t even know that was a woman.”
Wilson shrugs. “As for the third one.”
House’s lips curl into an admittedly sadistic smile, and for a second he looks more like a cat waiting on prey than a man waiting on a roofie story.
Wilson sighs, shakes his head, and whispers, “I got roofied at Dr. Shield’s retirement party.”
House’s first instinct is to laugh, but the urge and the smile are soon replaced by an expression as deadly serious as Wilson’s own. He leans in, then asks, “Seriously?”
House stares as Wilson smiles genuinely for the first time in months, and it’s like he’s witnessing some sort of miracle, like beams of light will shoot down to reflect off of Wilson’s bared teeth and hang stars in the sky named Roofie Joke. The image is too much, and soon House is smiling, too.
He leans back with a stretch and a yawn, and out of the corner of his eye he sees something resembling a hockey puck sitting on the windowsill. He turns to get a better look, discovering it’s actually a measuring tape. Wilson must have left it when he was, inevitably, counting the feet and inches between every chair, table, and coffee maker in House’s office. House had suspected Wilson’s involvement ever since noticing the indents in the carpet from where his desk had been moved closer to the door. It was the new ottoman on his lazy chair, however, that put Wilson alone on that list of suspects.
House finishes his chips, deciding not to mention it. He checks his watch—a little over an hour until he can have another pill, but Wilson will be leaving soon; some creative numerical rounding could have him feeling better in a half hour. Then again, if Wilson stayed longer, he might not need to round. Which makes it even stranger that the voice inside his head isn't Wilson's, but Stacy's.Sometimes the things you lose come back to you.
He glances up at Wilson, who meanwhile appears to have been watching him. “You know what Stacy told me this morning?” says House.
Wilson shrugs. “James should cook us lasagna more often?”
“No. She said, ‘Don’t worry, Greg. Sometimes the things you lose come back to you.”
Wilson blinks, but otherwise says nothing.
“Any idea what it means?” asks House.
“How should I know?”
“Because you said it first.”
Wilson’s fingers drum out a few notes on the table, just like they used to whenever House played the piano for him, improvisational jazz about sexual exploits and dumbass patients, like the kind of music one would hear in a whorehouse if the whores played the piano. And whether Wilson does this out of habit, fear or admiration, it’s an admission of guilt nonetheless.
“Like I said,” says Wilson, “if you want me to stop talking to her, I will.”
House tilts his head. “I’m not mad,” he says; he feels like he’s scolding a dog. “I just want to know why you said it. Why it’s true.”
“I don’t know if it’s true.” Wilson looks from the cane leaning on the edge of the table to House’s eyes again. “I’m just sort of hoping that it is.”
House realizes, with a kind of subdued pity, that Wilson was never talking about him.
Wilson squints, scratching his head like he’s trying to remember his dream last night. Then he says, “House, when I was a kid—“
“You got fooled into gym class molestation by “Penis Inspection Day” too?”
“When I was a kid, I used to get the shit beat out of me regularly by a kid named Tommy Merrill. Actually, Tommy would punch whoever made eye contact with him. He’d say, ‘Hey Jim!’ I’d look, and he’d punch.”
House rolls his eyes. “Okay, I get it, poor little Jimmy. Can we skip to the part where good triumphs over evil in the form of a car or a baseball bat?”
But Wilson smiles. “No cars. No bats. One day, Tommy doesn’t come to school, and we find out that it’s because his parents died in a robbery downtown. After that, he never punched anyone again. Know why?”
“He had a change of heart.”
“He offed himself?”
“No. It was because nobody looked him in the eye anymore.”
Outside of House’s office, the post-lunch crowd nosily begins shuffling on to new patients and more paperwork. Inside, it is quiet. House’s eyes narrow, and he waits for Wilson to continue.
“After a while, it got sort of eerie, passing him in the hall and him not having anything awful to say. So one day, I tapped him on the shoulder, said, ‘Hey Tommy,’ and I looked him square in the eye.”
“Did he beat the shit out of you?”
“No, he hugged me. He just leaned over and hugged me.”
House scoffs, “That pussy, I would’ve beat the shit out of you.” He pauses, considering. “What happened next?”
Wilson shrugs. “We went to different high schools. We lost track of each other, but I didn’t forget about him, and I don’t think he forgot about me.”
“Wilson, that story reeks of bullshit,” says House, but Wilson wipes his mouth with a napkin and stands.
“Believe what you want,” he says.
In the light, House can see dark circles under Wilson’s eyes. He’d never noticed them before, probably too busy dealing with his own. And Stacy’s. But in that split second it’s like he’s watching the last four months not through his own eyes, but Wilson’s. Every leaking catheter bag, every pair of shit-smeared boxers, every crooning morphine alarm, and every moldy copy of Time. Four months in Hell, and Wilson is barely sweating. Four months in Hell, and Wilson’s the only thing that hasn’t atrophied.
House considers telling him to bring better chips tomorrow. But Wilson has his hand on the door and it doesn’t seem like enough. “Hey Wilson,” he says, and Wilson looks back from the door like he’s expecting a punch. Instead, House mumbles as casually as possible, “You never lost me.”
Wilson doesn’t smile. But he nods and he hangs back a few more seconds, like he’s considering telling House what House already knows: that House never lost him either.
He leaves, dissolving into a pack of doctors and nurses and patients. For now, House has dying people that need saving, and Wilson has dying people that need to be informed they’re dying. It’s not much, but that feels normal, and normal feels good.