Summary: From what Foreman has seen of House in the last few months, he's stopped swimming against the current.
Fandom: House MD
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Through 5.04, "Birthmarks".
Title, Author and URL of original story: Jump In The Stream by joe_pike_junior
Link to Part One.
All House wants, sometimes, is a good argument. It doesn't have to make sense. In fact, it's better if it doesn't. He wants the sort of conversation that can meander through a dozen subjects and never have to mean anything.
He's half-asleep in the passenger seat of a car. The streetlights ebb and flow over his closed eyelids. Christ, he wants it to be Wilson driving him home. Wilson just a little drunk, more than he should be to drive, but more sober than House. Tipsy enough that a stupid, silly grin shows at the corners of his mouth. Laughing when House tries to call him on having a woman hitting on him in the bar. She ignored his embarrassed, flustered replies. Ignored House altogether, despite his helpful interjections.
"She wasn't trying to hit on me, House."
House rolls his head against the window, feels a smile spill out of hiding. "You moron. You must not want to go home and get laid."
Wilson's mouth twitches with humour. His shakes his head and concentrates a little too obviously on the road. He'd better hope they're not pulled over. "I'm a gentleman, House."
Then why have you kissed and told so many times, House thinks. There's no reason why Wilson should be here with him instead of sliding between the sheets of some bar-girl's bed. There's no reason he shouldn't smooth his hand up her stomach to cup her breast as he lowers his mouth to tease her nipple. "You're an idiot," House mumbles.
"I think we should change the subject," Wilson says, with all his put-upon dignity.
"Jesus," House says, and he can feel the alcohol moving through his veins so easily it could almost be happiness he's feeling. "I don't know how many times I have to tell you, Spiderman could shit on Superman."
And Wilson laughs--that soft low chuckle that tells House that this is happening. Wilson's laugh will make this right. This argument and these words. House will go home, stumble to bed, imagine Wilson with that girl while he beats off into the sheets. Too drunk to come, frustrated at his own hard-on, he'll only be able to promise himself he'll finish in the morning.
But Wilson doesn't laugh, and House slumps further against the passenger window. Wilson's not here. He knows that. It's not some delusion, some dream. He's just drunk. He vaguely hears Foreman answer him--pointless answer, not even good enough to answer back.
You're an idiot, he thinks. He nods to himself. The words fit, and he repeats them. You're such a fucking moron. Wilson's not here. There's nothing else to say.
He starts paging Foreman for no reason at all.
He pages Foreman to the clinic for invented consults. To the cafeteria to buy his lunch. To the parking lot to take him away from the cafeteria and buy him lunch. To investigate the bug in his box of rasinettes--"It's a raisinette, House."
There must be a moment when Foreman stops showing up. Cuddy threw House into his company, and at work, he's always there, sitting back to cross his arms and shoot out his big-mouthed corrections about what House can and can't do. House doesn't let Foreman's pretensions to authority get in his way, Foreman gets pissed off. Foreman's not offering more and House isn't asking. The circle of life.
But Foreman keeps appearing, as if House's 911 means he's actually on the roof ready to jump, was the victim of a hit-and-run in the parking lot, stopped to tie his shoes during the running of the bulls. Foreman doesn't rush, but five or ten minutes later he's always there.
House can't bring himself to try outside of work. He doesn't know what he'd do if Foreman showed up at his apartment, sleepless and furious with no reason House can easily bring to mind beyond, "I left the remote on that side of the couch."
There are limits. House doesn't like them, but when he goes to break them, he thinks about the moment when Foreman won't come. Testing him at work is enough for now.
He's stretched out in his chair behind his desk when Foreman walks into the office. House tips his head back to stare incredulously at the ceiling, and barks, "Why the hell are you here?"
Foreman might be the soul of repressed violence, but he keeps his voice short and to the point. "You paged me."
"I paged you twenty times today!"
House rolls his eyes, wants to yell Don't you have anything better to do! Except maybe Foreman does, and he'll realize it. Worse, maybe he doesn't. Maybe humouring House has become Foreman's job, and he puts in his nine-to-five answering pointless pages because the pay doesn't suck. "Go away," House tells him.
Foreman quirks an eyebrow, lets out an amused breath that means he thinks he's won, and goes. The second he's out of sight, House aches to page him again, because Foreman's patience has to run out, sooner rather than later, and House needs to know.
He finds out a few days later. Not because Foreman stops showing up, but because Cuddy storms into his office and slaps down the consent form for a brain biopsy. "How did you ever get your patient to sign this?"
House glances at the form, fluttering to the surface of his desk, and then goes back to Ducati Moto on his DS. "She was dying. Strangely, it wasn't hard." House sent Taub in to be matter-of-fact, followed that up with Thirteen for the I know what it's like touch, wrapping up with Kutner for sympathy. Afterward, Foreman yelled at all of them and called House a manipulative bastard, but he was only angry because for once House hadn't paged him.
"You could have found this information with an MRI--"
"Machine was busy."
"Or a CSF culture, House!"
Running a culture would have taken twenty-four hours. Maybe there were other places to look for an infection mimicking a tumour than right in the middle of the girl's grey matter, but House was following the lure of a theory. Something about her parents running a petting zoo around the same time she'd had a nasty case of the flu seven years ago. House was actually excited about the chance to dig into her brain and prove he was right. Which, it should come as no surprise to anyone, he was. "Isn't this yesterday's harangue? It's neurobrucellosis. We're treating her."
"House, this isn't about last time. Any of the last times. This is about next time, when you might kill someone when there were other avenues to the same diagnosis!"
House turns off his DS and tosses it on his desk. Cuddy's outfit complements her eyes perfectly. He supposes now isn't the time to tell her, even though it interests him more than a recycled diagnostics safety lecture. "You're getting slow," he said. "Watchdog not reporting faithfully?"
"Foreman told me this morning." The corners of Cuddy's mouth crimp down, her eyes soften. One day soon she's going to bring up Wilson again. "I notice you conned Chase into performing brain surgery without Foreman's supervision or knowledge."
That must have been Foreman's real complaint. He lost out on a surgery. As long as he reports on House's activities, House won't invite him to the cool kid parties. House slighted Foreman's professional dignity and now Cuddy has to yell. "He had no right to tell you."
"No, he had a responsibility, House! That's his job."
Foreman ratted him out because that's all it is. His job.
House stops paging Foreman. And Foreman stops showing up.
House is tired of having nowhere to go. He takes Chase bowling and Chase throws perfect strikes and baits his interest with intriguing things he's cut out of body cavities. House grunts in reply until the game's over and he can walk away without a chance of Chase following him.
He tries to watch baseball with Cameron, bringing beer to prove he's welcome in her living room. She sits in prim silence, legs crossed, hands on her knees, so tense that her back doesn't touch the couch. She's tentative, like he's a wild animal in an unreliable cage. House can't focus on the game because he keeps hearing the short, in-drawn breaths she takes right before she reminds herself to shut up. House rolls his eyes, but doesn't tell her to let it go in one spewing avalanche--all her concern, all her fucking pity.
To escape, House invites Cuddy to dinner. She uses her baby as an excuse to let him down easy. Sleeping with her has to be easier. But Cuddy wouldn't know how not to be guilty the morning after, and House wouldn't know how to keep her. She has more important things to go home to.
House does his clinic hours because so far, at least, mocking idiots occupies his attention, even if their injuries and diseases don't. Monster trucks are boring. General Hospital is boring. Playing with his fellows' social lives is boring. House drives until the bike's engine falls silent between his knees and rolls to a stop, using the back brake as little as possible to save his leg. He has to kick it over to the reserve tank and pull in to the closest gas station in order to make it home.
He buys a six-pack and the most neon-orange chips he can find and shows up at Foreman's apartment. He tailgates his way in behind a woman carrying groceries and takes the elevator to the fourth floor. Foreman opens the door at his knock. House pushes Foreman's arm out of his way and passes within shoving distance as he worms his way through the door. He doesn't miss the slight tilt of Foreman's chin that says House has hit a nerve even before he worked his way in.
His lungs contract once he's inside. He feels cyanotic, as if he's reached the summit of a mountain he didn't know he was climbing and turned acrophobic at the top. "Turn your television on, Foreman. The game's on."
Foreman follows him. Turns on the game. Pops open a beer. And starts bashing on the Mets.
House has no idea what to do with him.
He comes back again, testing a theory the way he'd test a sore tooth--by poking at it, wriggling it, never once leaving it alone. He sees Foreman in the cafeteria and instead of disappearing back up to his office--it's too far to carry his tray anyway--he sits down across from him. He rides his bike through the city as if it can make him forget his leg, and finds himself outside of Foreman's apartment. The lock gives way under a few judicious whacks with a screwdriver. He leaves the door swinging open and looks for beer in Foreman's fridge. Condo living at its finest.
Foreman shows up a few hours later, framed in the doorway, his polished shoes crunching the splinters from the woodwork around the deadbolt. "House, what the hell did you do to my lock?"
"Complaint department's closed," House says, eyes trained on the TV. Foreman has no sense of timing. House can't argue and watch Paris Hilton milk a cow.
And Foreman accepts it. Sits down. Maybe that white matter biopsy took until now to manifest as brain damage. Maybe he's pitying House, but if he is, House can't tell--it doesn't show.
A few days later, in the cafeteria, House plants himself across from Foreman again and starts aggressively attacking his taste in music.
"House," Foreman says, picking up a fry, and House freezes. This is it: Foreman will ruin it. He'll ask if they're friends now, or tell House to fuck off, or say any of a million wrong things.
House will be free. He won't have to think about Foreman anymore. This is what he wants. To have Foreman figured out, categorized, stuffed back in his box where he belongs. House will be bored again, but who cares about that? Waiting for an axe to fall isn't boring.
"When I interned I had this chief resident who thought it was cool to take the whole group out for tacos post-call." Foreman fixes him with an ironic glance, as if House could miss who's who in this touching anecdote. "We were all just itching to stop pretending to laugh at his horrible jokes and go home to catch a few hours' sleep."
House blinks. His heart--stupidly--is beating faster than it should, and he can't stop staring at Foreman. "Is that some kind of a hint?"
"No," Foreman says. There's almost a smirk on his face, and no trace of condescension.
House stops listening after that, because it's all he needs to know.
Foreman, that bastard, has a girlfriend.
House can tell. There's a smirk on Foreman's face every morning that means he's getting some. He's letting House's insults slide off him as if his job isn't his first and only priority. He starts delegating the weekend pager to Kutner, who's single, and Taub, who might as well be--he's sleeping on his couch these days just for telling his wife that he couldn't keep it in his pants.
Foreman probably doesn't think of her--whoever she is--as his girlfriend. He probably thinks "casual affair" or, worse, "significant other". Or maybe it's simply fucking and Foreman has every reason to act smug.
It's the smirk that annoys House. Or interests him; he can't quite decide. Whichever, it's out of place, and House keeps running up against it and feeling his frustration rising each time. He'd have a better chance of mocking Foreman if he knew who the girlfriend was. House goes hunting for clues.
Foreman's worked for him long enough that the password protection on his laptop and his phone are both better than average, probably with a few random capitals and symbols thrown in. His hospital locker, though, has the same sucky combo locks as all the others. With a slam of his fist and then a jiggle, House has it open. He's rooting through Foreman's stuff when a woman walks into the locker room, glances over him, and says, "That's Eric's locker."
Bingo. House has to grin. Half of him was hoping for a long, drawn out investigation, but sometimes it's just too easy. "He asked me to get something for him," he says, pulling on his most friendly expression. "And you are?"
Olivia's been at the hospital a few months. She's a radiologist. She has two sisters and a brother, a dog named Muffin, and she thinks Eric is wonderful. House nods along, offering up a few tidbits about Eric's work, and one very civil conversation later, House has all but gleefully asked her up to Diagnostics for coffee, timing her entrance for some moment when Foreman's at his most pompous.
House brings a stethoscope from Foreman's locker up to the conference room and drops it on the table in front of him. "You're welcome," he says, in a manic good mood. It's not an emergency yet; Foreman hasn't been late for work once yet. It's not personal. Foreman's blowing off steam. Olivia loves nice restaurants and long walks and rainstorms and kittens. Foreman has her convinced he's the perfect gentleman. In bed, House would bet, Foreman always makes sure she comes first, and gets off on it when she calls his name or moans under his touch. The truth is, he has the same pattern with women that House always hated in Wilson. Caring for now. Available--up to a point. When Olivia finds that out, Foreman will dump her because they just don't want the same things.
They solve the case, and that means there's no one House can tell to stay at the hospital later than he does, just so that he can go home and watch the resignation on their faces while they start another pot of coffee. Instead he wakes up from a nap he didn't mean to take and the office is already dark. He scrubs his face and glances out the balcony door before he remembers there won't be a light on in the other office.
House pulls on his wool coat and shuffles out into the hall, groggy from too much sleep, hip sore from sitting upright too long in his Eames chair. He makes it to his car and realizes that the beer in his fridge at home is boring, there won't be anything on TV, and the idea of another night's take out makes him want to barf.
The bar House picks is loud and crowded. House hugs the bar and throws back a bourbon before sipping at a second. Foreman's probably on a date with his radiologist. The two of them and an ostentatious bottle of wine. She lifts a bite of her poached salmon for Foreman to taste. He covers her hand on the table and smiles warmly at her over the dessert he asked the restaurant to prepare specially. They make out beside Foreman's car before they go back to his place to have meaningful sex. House gestures for the bartender to keep the drinks coming. There are plenty of explosions in whatever's showing on the bar TV, so House isn't forced to meet his own eyes in the mirror behind the liquor bottles.
Later, he stumbles when he climbs down from the bar stool to go to the bathroom and piss. He's pissed. House snorts a laugh. Number one on his speed dial gives him a click and a robot operator telling him the number you have dialed is no longer in use. That's still better than the day when a stranger's voice will answer. House tries to unprogram the number from his phone but he doesn't remember how. Has another drink while he thinks about it.
Speed dial two. Won't Cuddy be touched to know she's that near and dear to his heart.
"I'm drunk," he says. He tries to picture her naked and stay upright at the same time. His dick doesn't even twitch at the thought. God, he's really, really drunk.
There's a sharp voice inside the phone, and when House tunes back in he realizes Cuddy's lecturing him. "I can't believe you're calling me. Didn't you learn anything from the last time you pulled this stunt? Did you even think about what happened to--"
House snaps his phone shut. A minute later it vibrates and launches into an electronic version of Maneater. She feels guilty. Wants to rescue him. She wishes she'd shut up long enough for House to tell her where he is. He's not going to now. There won't even be a chance to play on how pathetic he and cop a feel. She'd pick him up, and she'd spend the ride back to his place spitting words at him that he's already heard. He repeats them so often that their rhythm matches the pain flaring in his leg. Always worse when he forgets them and simply tries to live.
House opens his phone again. The buttons waver before he manages Foreman's number. Interrupting his hot date with a radiologist. There's a joke in there, something about full-body scans, but when House thinks about it he remembers he told the same joke to Wilson about Amber. Foreman wouldn't even have to pretend not to laugh.
"Don't bother coming here to pick me up!" he yells into the phone. Foreman's the one who ruined his night, with his happy so-called relationship, so he'll ruin Foreman's. "I've only forgotten where I live and how to get there!"
Prank call. That's what he'll tell Foreman it was tomorrow. House doesn't let his team see him like this. He'll order Kutner to bring him chips; he'll leer at Thirteen when she comes in with a headache as bad as his, probably from the sort of self-destruction that's actually fun; he'll insult Taub until he gets a real reaction. By now they expect his shit. Foreman doesn't care, anyway, so House will get a taxi after a few more drinks.
Except Foreman shows up. He feels House up for his wallet, tossing his cash on the bar. House tries to wrench away from him, sweat breaking out under his arms, his heart thudding too fast. Foreman can't get close like this, without permission, touch House like this when he might react.
"Is this some kind of come-on?" House asks, so quickly the words trip over themselves, wishing he could scramble away. "I'm not easy just because I'm drunk."
Foreman raises an eyebrow, and House can practically read in his face that, yeah, he thinks House is easy when he's drunk, but House isn't good enough for Foreman. He's not a radiologist, he doesn't have smooth skin or big tits or a flirty little laugh, and he'd never moan Foreman's name in bed, so Foreman's not interested.
House follows him out of the bar, questions swimming through his mind. Why the hell are you here? Why the fuck did you come? He doesn't ask. Foreman's not staying. This doesn't mean anything. Just that he'll pour House into his car and drive him home. House hates that he's grateful, hates Foreman for understanding what he's supposed to do. Drive, don't talk. Pretend this is normal. Foreman's not supposed to understand. He doesn't understand; he's pissed off at House and wants him out of his life as fast as possible.
He props House up by his apartment door, reaches into his pockets again, says something about keys. "There's one above the door," House tries to say--mumbles, maybe. Foreman's stupid enough to think House would keep anything in his right pants pocket and has to dive back into his left. House's dick doesn't react--again--and this time, he can only be glad he's not capable.
Five stumble-steps later, House is on the couch, the cool leather warming under his fever-hot skin. He's nearly asleep when Foreman tosses a blanket over him. His shivers fade, muscles relaxing. He half-listens to the sounds in the apartment. They're the sort of sounds that any other night would keep House frantically, furiously awake, but now only send him to sleep as if they're lullabies. Footsteps in the living room, the kitchen. Fridge opening. The hum of the microwave. Fucking comforting. Fucking Foreman.
In the morning, Foreman's gone and so is the Chinese food House was saving for breakfast. It doesn't matter. House is puking too much to eat anyway.
Five days later there's a knock at House's door, twenty minutes too early to be the pizza. House squints at it, trying to assess whether it's worth it to get up when he's going to have to get up for the delivery guy in less than half an hour anyway.
"House, let me in. I brought beer."
House blinks and for some idiotic reason he freezes on the couch as if Foreman might pass on by if he's still enough. He never expected Foreman to show up, but if he's here--if he's showing anything like the persistence he's been demonstrating recently--then he won't leave, and he's just as likely to break House's deadbolt in revenge for his own front door.
House goes to the door and opens it, frowning forbiddingly through the crack. Foreman holds up the beer, establishing his bona fides. "Didn't you have a date planned?" House asks. "Something absurdly romantic?"
"Olivia and I broke up." Foreman's stare is flat, daring House to say anything.
House sneers, refusing to acknowledge the wave of relief that slaps him in the chest like warm surf, knocking the power out of his legs so that he has to lean harder against the doorjamb. "Sounds very mature. Very mutual. She dumped your ass?"
"Sure, House." Foreman's eye-roll is perfunctory at best, without a hint of anger.
House blinks again. If Foreman's that agreeable, then it's not true. He would have been defensive if his girlfriend had really dumped him. "She told you things just weren't working out? The famous Eric Foreman seduction technique wasn't enough anymore? Sounds like you failed again, Foreman. Just can't let your career go for a woman's sake--"
"Yeah, I don't know anyone like that," Foreman says. House breathes easier when his anger starts to show. "Are you going to let me in or not?"
House studies him for a second longer, then nods decisively. He leaves the door and goes back to the couch. He'll make Foreman pay for the pizza when it gets here. Foreman follows him and sits down heavily. His expression is still forbidding, but he wouldn't be here if he didn't expect House to pick at the scab and drive him crazy. "I don't believe you," House says. Foreman doesn't answer, turning on the game instead, but House keeps his attention focused on Foreman's impassive face, waiting to see the crack. "You're coming over here instead of boo-hooing alone into your pillow? Not even trying to go out to a bar for a one-night stand to reinforce your masculinity?"
Foreman's playing at indifference. He directs his commentary at the television. "I don't actually need to have sex with a woman to prove my masculinity, House. I'm just fine with it as it is." He fixes House with a quelling stare. "At least I don't need to stop by an ATM before getting laid."
"Oh, hooker jokes. I've never heard those before. If I said it first, it's not going to hurt my feelings." House narrows his eyes, considering. "You're deflecting. Pretending that you're better than me doesn't work when you're not. Making jokes about my lack of commitment means that you can't stand that you're just as--"
Foreman shrugs. "Fine. I broke up with her."
"Aww, and I was just starting to root for you two crazy kids." The puzzle sharpens in front of House and he swallows down the nerves that tighten in his stomach. This isn't about Foreman's girlfriend. This is about the reason Foreman keeps showing up. House's heart thumps a bit harder. He's finally going to unravel all the damn threads and figure Foreman out. This will be done, finished, and he'll find someone else to bait and badger, someone else who'll tolerate him. There's got to be someone else. "What, did she say I love you and you didn't say it back fast enough? Realize you can't feel something and cover your ass at the same time?"
Foreman's bland in his anger, mellow in it. That's a clue, too, the way he's allowing House's inquisition. Testing his own patience? Testing how much he's able to stand being around House? Or still looking for someone he can patronize? "Don't think you're in any position to condescend emotionally to me, House."
House's chest burns, and he glares at Foreman, but he doesn't shift. Foreman has no clue about what House feels. He loved Stacy; lived with her for five years, and he doubts Foreman's had a relationship that lasted longer than five months. "I don't need to. The second anyone wants something real from you, you run away." House can practically hear Foreman's speech as he's unwrapping her adoring arms from around his neck, shaking his head and smiling his asshole smile. We're different people. We want different things. House is better than Foreman. He knows what he feels and even if he doesn't say it--there were plenty of times he never said it--it was always there. "At least I'm not fucking hiding."
Foreman looks at him, one eyebrow raised sardonically, and House shuts his mouth so fast there's nearly a snap. Foreman's not blind, and he's been around more than anyone else for the past few months. Just because he's never said a word doesn't mean he's a moron. House clenches his teeth and turns back to the TV, flipping through channels too fast to see what's on, but for once, Foreman doesn't leave it alone. "You're not hiding."
"Shut up, Foreman." House spits the words out. There should be something more he can say, insults at the very least that he can reach for. An avalanche of words that will put Foreman in his place or bury him. That would shut his fucking mouth.
"No. You're accusing me of playing it safe? Where have you been for the past year, House? Because it's been nearly that long." Foreman twists on the couch to face him. They're having this argument in House's apartment, where he can't get away from it, where Foreman is less than two feet away from him. Maybe contempt is worse than pity, when it comes from Foreman. "At least I'm trying."
House bites down on the words What do you think this is, you bastard? "You're here," he snaps, and Foreman's eyes widen. As if he's only just realized what this is. Foreman swallows and flicks his eyes back to the television where they should be. He shuts up, finally, his mouth pressed into a silent line.
House bangs the cap off a beer on the edge of the coffee table and stares at the game, drinking because it occupies his hands and his mouth. The announcers babble into the heavy quiet, and House forces himself to brood on the Mets' shaky bullpen instead of wondering whether Foreman's right.
House isn't hiding. The more Foreman comes over, the more the comparisons fade. When House wants to go somewhere, he calls Foreman. When there's a game, or he needs to pick up some beer, or he's just at a loss when a case is done, he badgers Foreman into feeding him. When he looks across a restaurant booth, he's almost not surprised when it's Foreman's face on the other side. From the passenger seat of Foreman's car, House watches Princeton pass outside his window and he's more likely to think of Stacy than Wilson. House doesn't mention all the hole-in-the-wall diners where he went for midnight breakfasts with Wilson, all the bars where House could still lead the way to their table. Foreman doesn't like that kind of place. House adjusts his habits to match, not to accommodate Foreman but because he needs to not go back. He never visits his old favourites and never misses them. With Foreman Princeton is a different city, one that overlays the one House shared with Wilson but that muffles the memories.
House is letting this happen. He's coming to rely on Foreman. When he bothers to think about it, it scares the hell out of him. Foreman already left once, and every move he makes proves that he'll leave again. They're different people. They want different things. So House doesn't think, doesn't think, and Foreman's the only one who makes that easy.
Once the balcony's free of snow and ice, and the weather turns hot and muggy, House expands his repertoire of napping spots. He's always tanned easily, and closing his eyes against the gold-bright sun seems to ease him to sleep faster than the hum of the hospital's air conditioning. He paces through the night at home, but out here, the Adirondack chair supports his leg and he's able to catch up, in twenty- or thirty-minute bouts, to the sleep he can't manage in his own bed.
He's mostly left alone. The minions are all happy to tromp into his office, all of them with downtrodden faces because House was right and they were wrong. But the balcony door offers some protection, as if outside the hospital means outside the hospital's structure and scheduling. Cuddy doesn't track him down out here, which generally adds to his boredom. No cat and mouse games, not even the thrill of saying no and watching her roll her eyes at him. They must all think he's out here mourning, or some crap like that. But House ignores the other half of the balcony and stares out over the campus and the parking lot instead. He brings out a pair of binoculars his father gave him when he was a kid. House had wanted a microscope or a telescope--he supposes he's lucky he got something with lenses.
The angle from the balcony is perfect for peeking down Cuddy's cleavage as she crosses the parking lot and dreaming that yeah, it's possible, he could hit that. He's lying to himself. But at least he doesn't have to hunt very far for the reasons or for the truth. It's not comforting at all; it's just another distraction.
He takes out his cell almost before he knows what he's going to do, dialing Foreman's phone. It's a sign of how far gone he is that he knows Foreman's number by muscle memory. "I'm on the balcony," he says. He rubs his fingers and thumb over his closed eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He can hear the exhaustion in his own voice, all the effort he's devoting to not giving a shit. "Get up here."
As usual, it doesn't take long before Foreman appears from doing House's shift in the clinic. The timing is perfect; House knows Cuddy's schedule and she'll be walking in from the parking lot any second. House waves Foreman over without looking at him. He wants to remember being twelve years old. He wants that snickering joy at sneaking a peek at any flash of skin at all. He doubts Foreman's felt that--let himself feel that--in the last twenty years. He's had the fun leached out of him and he's nothing now but a spoil-sport, but annoying him is all House really has.
"What do you want?"
House glances over his shoulder, takes in Foreman's frown, his frustration. It's nearly stopped registering by now. If Foreman didn't want to be here then he wouldn't be. He needs to learn to stop asking. House is throwing all the lessons his way that he can.
"Are you serious?" House holds up the binoculars, evidence of a foolproof plan. "Cuddy's cleavage looks like the Grand Canyon through these babies. You want a look?"
Foreman shakes his head. Christ, at least Wilson knew how to have fun. That thought sends a burn of anger to the pit of House's stomach. He fucking hates Foreman. Hates him for being here, for showing up again. For being so fucking unflappable. He pushes it down, but it flashes up again when Foreman looks at him like he's a mild irritation to be endured, like a mosquito Foreman's too magnanimous to swat. "House. What do you want?"
The view through the binoculars is as crisp as if House is standing a foot away from Cuddy. He spins the focus knob and dissolves the image. Who fucking needs it. "Duh, Foreman. I want to perv on Cuddy."
"No," Foreman says. He's oh so casual, stepping out onto House's balcony and leaning his hands on the railing, following House's glance down to the parking lot, but so above it all. So fucking full of himself. "What do you want from me?"
Cuddy's nearly reached the doors. House zooms in, zooms out, until she's abstract art, a distant blend of lights. It wasn't like he was ever going to get off on that. It's not even that he wanted to--he only wanted to want it. To feel desire surge up so strongly that he can't deny it. Not even this stupid adolescent lust, not to get a hard-on that, at this point, is a probability nearly as distant as want itself; just that feeling that there's something worth waking up for every morning, that there's a fucking reason to come out on this balcony or play another game of torture-the-fellow.
Fucking pointless. House limps inside and drops the binoculars to the top of his desk. The heat outside gives way to the hospital's dry, tight air. Everything constricts. House is the center of a dead star, the weight of too many worlds compressing him down to nothing. What he wants from Foreman is a reaction, a fucking sign that either of them is still alive, still able to get angry. "Sex," he says. If Foreman ever heard anything outside his own pathetic expectations, that might be a risk to say. As it is, if he freaks out, House will shoot him down for thinking he's ever serious. "I thought that much was obvious."
"No," Foreman says, sharp and short. "I think you think I can replace Wilson."
Fury freezes House to the spot, bursts through him with a sudden hot desperation. Without warning the words slam out. "No," he snaps, his voice grating in his throat. "Wilson was a selfish prick. And so are you."
Foreman's eyes widen, until for once in his life he looks uncertain. Maybe finally he gets that no matter how self-satisfied he acts he doesn't have anything close to the answer. "What about you, House? What about all the screwing you do with people?"
House bulls forward until he's in Foreman's face. "You think you're insightful, don't you?" Foreman kept his mouth shut for months and now he brings Wilson up? Throws him in House's face like he hasn't lived with this every second since the crash? "Ever considered how cliché it is to go into neurology just because your mom was getting a little soft in the head? Don't think for a minute that you've got anything to teach me, Foreman. Wilson condescended to me for fifteen years. You're small time compared to him."
"House!" Foreman stares at House like he's lost it. "I'm not Wilson!"
Every muscle in House's body knots. Anger tastes hot in the back of his throat. The handle of his cane bites into his palm, his other hand fists so tight that he can see the punch that will smash through Foreman's jaw. "No," House says. "At least Wilson knew he was a self-satisfied asshole." Foreman's not Wilson. He will never be Wilson. And the fact that he even assumes that House thinks that, or wants that, shows that Foreman has no fucking clue. House twists away from Foreman and stalks out the door.
Foreman follows him. House can hear his steps, his words following him down the hall. "So, what? Are we going to keep doing this? You're going to keep pissing me off? Keep testing my patience?"
His patience. Foreman's patience. House could have shown him a thousand times over what living with him is really about. Wilson was actually there, actually saw him. Wilson knew everything and he was House's best fucking friend and he left.
Halfway to the elevator House wheels around to face Foreman. Once, when he was ten, House swam out into the ocean past his depth, and got caught in the riptide. He fought it, swimming for the shore with thrashing, uncoordinated strength. A wave slapped him in the face and he panicked. He feels like that now. Exhausted, frantic, his throat and chest burning like he's just gulped a breath of salt water. "Wilson's dead, Foreman. Don't fucking push me. I'm going home."
When the case is over--when every case is over--House wakes up certain that he'll open his eyes to cracked ceiling tiles, shift his weight and chafe against over-starched sheets and an over-bleached hospital issue gown, turn his head and fall into a white vertigo arcing behind his eyes.
For months the migraines crept up on him like sly bottom-feeders. House didn't have the strength to fight them off, and they slipped past his defenses in long, queasy flares of pain. House sweated them out, puking up the electrolyte-enriched drinks he'd forced down, living more on narcotics than food. He kept his bedroom dark, his eyes covered, and let them come. The ache drilling into his temples surged when he moved to take the weight off his leg, so much that it stopped him from thinking, and that was all House asked for.
Waking up means remembering Cuddy leaning over his hospital bed. Nice view if House had gone to the effort of turning his head. Instead he counts the tiles in the ceiling. The total is always ninety-two, but House would rather start over and hope for a difference than listen to Cuddy's tear-roughened voice. She clasps his hand between hers. House's is cold and clammy; hers, too warm. House's arm feels heavy and distant. Not his to move, and so not his to pull away.
"House, I'm sorry. So sorry. I..."
House loses count at seventy-eight and drags his eyes back to the beginning.
"...know how much he meant to you. But it's been less than thirty-six hours since the surgery... With the skull fracture..."
House supposes there were times when he respected Cuddy as a doctor. When she's hollow-eyed, hair straggling out of a hasty clip at the back of her neck, her heels discarded at his bedside, she's not speaking as a doctor. She's trying to be his friend.
Good luck with that.
"I can't let you leave. I'm sorry."
Cuddy leaves him to the non-existent mercies of a watch-dog nurse. She should know better. The hospital is busy, the nurse has a dozen other patients. It's not long before she turns her back. It takes House longer than he'd hoped to push himself up and maneuver his legs over the side of the bed. But he learned the rules of moving in pain years ago. There's an itinerary for any route longer than two steps. Contingency plans for anything as monstrous as ten. Places to lean, benches he can use as rest stops. How to collapse without looking like a pathetic cripple. His cane is still hooked over the visitor chair, and that's as much of an invitation to leave as House needs.
It's not his pride that keeps him moving. But once he's in motion, stopping hurts nearly as much, and he can't think to form a different plan. Nausea churns in his stomach. He makes it to the locker room and pukes in one of the showers. Leaves it for someone else to clean up.
There's a wrinkled, musty suit in his locker. House sits on the bench, curling over his leg, grinding his teeth against the dull thud of distant artillery that pounds against the thin bone of his skull. It's already cracked, and it feels like something inside wants to burst out entirely. Sweat soaks House's shirt long before he manages to drag the pants and suit jacket on. He finds his wallet in the inner pocket, with enough cash to get him through the day. It's enough, but it's only because he can't imagine turning back that he forces his steps towards the hospital doors.
It's spring, the perfect day. Sunshine stabs his eyes. He wants to crawl into a hole and lie there panting, but instead he calls a taxi and falls into it when it arrives. The synagogue is twenty minutes away and House spends them in a half-dozing haze. The cabbie gets a twenty, which at least prompts him to get out and open House's door. He levers his way out of the car and up the synagogue steps, shoulder burning each time he forces it to take his full weight.
House stops on the threshold after crossing the vestibule, squinting at the back of too many heads, half of them wearing borrowed yarmulkes. He takes one himself from an usher and pushes himself forward another step. His minions are there, and half the Oncology Department. Probably everyone who could sneak out and ditch work the second they weren't being overseen. Wilson's parents are sitting in the front row, with his brother--the only one left to be "the good one"--and his wife. House squeezes the handle of his cane when he sees Amber with them. Each blonde hair flawlessly in place, blue eyes red-rimmed with the perfect touch of grief, skin pale as shock. The bitch could probably cry on cue. If she turned and saw him, that would end the weepy widow act. House could claim a seat next to Mike Wilson to watch the loathing flood Amber's face. House doesn't know if she'd hold her silence for the Wilsons' sake or give in to the urge to claw his eyes out.
Exhaustion wins over curiosity. House takes a seat halfway back, where the crowd is sparser. Behind the hospital mob, away from the family. The rabbi takes his place, and House knows the observances, but he can't hear them through the rush of blood in his ears. His restless hand finds a bottle of Vicodin in his pocket, and he swallows three without a thought. Time draws out in strange beats. A minute takes an hour, and then suddenly it's over, the prayers and the murmured amens.
House gets to his feet when the service is done, pulling the yarmulke off his head and twisting it in his fist. There was no viewing, no casket, but House doesn't need a waxen reminder. His heart constricts like he's in the middle of a cardiac tamponade. Through the wash of dark spots in his vision, he hobbles outside and follows the sidewalk around the side of the synagogue, where he's half-hidden by a bush covered in obnoxious white blossoms. House stops there. The brick is rough against his shoulder. House lifts a hand to his eyes and presses it there. Pain throbs through his skull, his pulse thumping like radar, outlining a screaming three-dimensional map of the crack in his temporal bone with each beat. His scalp burns along the line of thick black stitches, like a row of wasp stings.
Another taxi takes him home. It's seven steps from his front door to the liquor cabinet, three from there to his couch. The phone's sitting on the coffee table, and even the effort of bending to pick it up nearly cracks him open again.
Kung pao chicken and bourbon make his seudat havra'ah. The delivery kid hands the take-out containers over, sullen when House doesn't tip.
There's a button loose on his oxford shirt, the thread dangling. House rips it off, and flicks the button to the floor; it skitters under the coffee table. With one finger, House worries the old, frayed buttonhole until he tears that too.
Soon he's four glasses into the bourbon. The food he barely touches.
"Yitgaddal veyitqaddash shmeh rabba," he slurs to the empty apartment. "Ul'achaya metaya." Exalted and sanctified is God's great name. He will give life to the dead.
Such a fucking lie.
The drive home from his father's funeral was another numb, endless day in Foreman's car. The world drifts past outside House's window. The low murmur of NPR anesthetizes him. Foreman watches the road, grunts when he gets cut off by soccer moms, buys House whatever slurpees and junk he brings to the counter of the convenience stores they stop at.
There's another motel. Foreman falls asleep after reading his last issue of JAMA until one in the morning. House taps the switch and steals the journal. In the semi-darkness, he watches Foreman breathe. Foreman's wearing a t-shirt this time, as if House would ever repeat a prank or as if that thin defense would save Foreman if he did.
House has given fair warning. He asked if Foreman was hinting to be left alone. And Foreman gave him that look, that half-lidded, lazy, better-than-you smile that might have some sort of bizarre affection behind it, and said, "Your beer is better."
It's all the invitation House needs.
After Wilson died, House stole the toys from his office. All the shitty thank-you gifts, all the tschotkes Wilson called stress-relievers and never used, make their way to House's bookshelves and the back corners of his closets. He pushes them aside when he's looking for something else. Fiddles with them on his pacing rounds through the apartment. They're just more clutter, more mess. Wilson couldn't help hanging on to useless junk that no one else would want.
House will never get what he wants. Wanting exhausts him. He won't fall into that trap again. He'll settle for what he can get.
Foreman wants to believe that his life is together. That his ambitions are attainable, that his love life is perfect. Isn't it convenient for him that House is there every day to prove him right? Isn't that what Foreman really hangs around for, chances to lord it over House and his stupid, broken life?
The next morning, Foreman finally pulls up in front of House's apartment. Foreman starts to lean forward to turn off the car, but House is already angling his legs out the door and standing up. He slaps the lid of the trunk and Foreman opens it; House takes his bag and walks inside.
Foreman doesn't react to the dismissal. Yet House finds himself at his front window, twitching back a blind to watch Foreman drive away.