Summary: The first/last look before all that was to come.
Fandom: House, MD
Pairings: James Wilson/Julie Wilson, Gregory House/Julie Wilson
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Warnings for sexual situations, strong language, and pseudo-literary pretensions. Spoilers for Seasons 1-4.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Hollow Lies by little_missmimi
January 2008 (Frozen)
When the phone rang, Julie picked up without looking at the call display. That was her first mistake. Her second was not hanging up as soon as she recognized the voice on the other end.
"Julie, Julie, Julie, do you love me?"
She hated that she still found his voice attractive. "I never loved you, House."
"You say 'no' now, but I remember you shouting, 'Yes, yes, yes.'"
"You're delusional. And that was never about anything except sex." That wasn't entirely true. It would take a cartographer to map out all the emotions that were involved in that encounter, but love -- of House, at least -- wasn't one of them. "Why are you calling?"
"Are you sleeping with him?"
Julie didn't bother asking who he was talking about. There was only ever one "him" where House was concerned. "I'm in a relationship with someone else."
"You were in a relationship with someone else when you started seeing this someone else. And since that someone else was Wilson, sleeping him now makes perfect sense."
Only to House. Julie had never understood the way House's mind worked, and she was happier keeping it that way. "I'm not sleeping with James. I haven't seen him in nearly a year," she added, anticipating his next question. "Some of us are capable of moving on."
"Not Wilson," he replied. "Your phone number is still on his speed dial. He didn't take Bonnie off until just before you eloped. That should have tipped me off that he was going to do something stupid."
She didn't know what annoyed her more -- House's opinion of her marriage or the fact that James had kept his ex-wife on speed dial while they were dating. And yet it didn't surprise her. James was loyal, if not faithful. "Then you should be thrilled. He's not sleeping with me and he's not about to elope. You have him all to yourself." Julie hated the way her voice sounded when she talked to House.
"He's sleeping with somebody," House replied. "Who is it?"
When he grunted impatiently, Julie realized he actually expected her to answer. "What part of 'I haven't seen him in nearly a year' didn't you understand?"
"The part where your phone number is also in his outgoing calls log. He's usually better at covering his tracks, but sex makes him careless."
Only with his wedding vows. When it came to sex, James took a great deal of care. Sometimes she wished that it had only been about sex with him. That had been fantastic, until the end. It was the love that had healed and hurt her.
"I never said we hadn't talked. He called to tell me that his cousin had her baby. He knew I'd want to send a card." Another grunt told her that House hadn't known about that. He had always been a specialist, rather than a generalist, when it came to knowing James.
"If he's seeing someone," she continued, "he didn't tell me. But even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you. Whoever she is, she deserves not to have you in her life." Fat chance of that happening. James might be hiding a new relationship now, but he couldn't keep it from House indefinitely. "He sounded happy. That's why you're calling, isn't it?" She shook her head, even though she knew he couldn't see her. "He's happy, so you have to find some way to ruin it."
"Call it a pre-emptive strike," House said coolly. "After all, the last person who slipped past my guard seduced his best friend and broke his heart."
Julie had to stop herself from slamming the receiver down, which would only please House and subject her to a second call. "You act as if you were just an observer," she retorted. "You were a willing participant, and James was hardly an innocent victim." She wasn't proud of what she'd done, but she hadn't acted in a vacuum. "He told me about the accountant. God knows how many others there were that he didn't confess."
"He's just a guy who can't say no," House sang. She wondered how many pills he'd taken before he called. "But then he wouldn't have married you otherwise."
It shouldn't surprise her that James had told House she'd been the one to propose. She'd told the story often enough to her friends -- usually as a cautionary tale -- but it still felt like a betrayal. "What are you going to do when you find out who he's seeing?"
"So many excellent options," he said. "Usually meeting me is enough to scare the weak ones off. The stubborn or stupid ones take a little more effort. But what's life without challenge?"
"What about the ones who actually love James?" Her voice wavered, and she hoped House would think it was the connection. Otherwise, she'd just handed him an open invitation to mock her.
But House surprised her. "I leave them alone until they stop loving him," he said, and there was no hint of mocking in his voice.
"And then you sleep with them," she said, half-laughing, half-crying, "so that he'll stop loving them. Even if it means he might stop loving you as well?"
"Even if," House agreed, and she liked him a little more for not denying that James loved him. She liked him a lot more for being willing to lose James to save him.
"You don't have to worry," she said. "I told him, and he still went straight to your doorstep." The stunned silence on the other end of the line was only victory she was ever likely to earn over House. She smiled into the receiver. "I take it he never told you he knew."
"He just said you were having an affair. No wonder the passive-aggressive bastard was blow-drying his hair and clipping his nails at the crack of dawn." She could almost see him shake his head. "Why the hell did you tell him?"
"He was going to forgive me. So I had to tell him something unforgivable. Don't worry," she said. "I told him it was my fault, that you'd had no chance against my feminine wiles. People believe what they need to believe." She was counting on that.
House didn't say anything, and Julie was content just to listen to him breathe.
"Why didn't he say anything?" he asked finally.
"Because you were all he had left. Now don't you think you owe him another chance at happiness?" She'd waited two years to play that card, even if her opponents had long since folded. But it was worth the wait. She owed James another chance at happiness, too.
March 2006 (Sex Kills)
The first thing Julie saw when she walked into the kitchen was a single red rose in a vase on the counter. Her heart sank. Chocolates yesterday, a rose today. James was trying so damn hard. But it was too little, too late. She still loved James, but now she loved someone else more. It was time for them both to move on.
"I didn't know what time you'd be home, so I didn't start dinner." James was standing in the hall doorway, hands shoved deep in his pockets, a hopeful smile on his face, though he didn't move to greet her. "I thought I'd stir-fry the prawns. Unless you'd rather go out?"
She wanted to say yes, and pretend that nothing was wrong for just one more day, but she'd been pretending for too long already. "They'll go bad if we don't cook them soon," she said instead.
He nodded and crossed to the fridge. "Do you want to start the rice while I prep?"
"Do we still have the Shanghai noodles?" she asked. It was all so normal, one of a thousand conversations they'd had about dinner during their marriage. Though not in the past year.
James rooted about in the crisper. "Good idea. Do you want some wine?"
Wine was good -- it would make the words easier to say. But it was still too normal. "Maybe something stronger," she said and left before he could say anything. They kept the hard liquor in the cabinet in the living room, for easy access during the cocktail parties they never had any more. Her hand hovered over the bottle of Maker's Mark -- House's choice of poison, at least in liquid form -- but the last thing she needed was another reminder of House. She grabbed the Laphroaig that her father had left behind after his last visit instead.
When she returned to the kitchen, James was chopping garlic. He'd already put a pot of water on to boil and pulled out the wok. She paused in the doorway to watch him, admiring the quick, sure movements of his hands. He was a much better cook than she was. At first, it had been just one more thing she'd loved about him. She'd been in a place where she'd wanted someone to look after her, and James had been her protector and her rock. But the stronger she grew, the more suffocating his love became, until she was pushing him away as hard as she'd once clung to him.
He looked up when she walked over to the kitchen table, his smile dimming when he saw the Laphroaig. "Am I going to need some of that?" he asked, putting the knife down on the cutting board.
"Probably," she said. "Neat?" It occurred to her that she didn't know how he drank his whisky. She couldn't remember the last time they'd shared a quiet drink at the end of the day.
"A little water on the side," he said. He brushed the mushrooms and sliced them neatly in a pile, then chopped up the broccoli crowns, discarding the stems. "Thanks," he said when she put his drink beside the cutting board. "Could you put the noodles in when the water is ready?"
She nodded. It might be the last meal they ate together. At least they could cook it together. "How long?" she asked.
"Just until they're tender."
She sipped her drink while she waited for the noodles to cook. It only took a minute, but by the time she'd drained and cooled them, James had finished peeling the prawns and was slicing an onion. He reached up and swiped his left wrist across his eyes.
"I hate onions," he muttered.
"Let me," Julie said, taking the knife from him. "You start stir frying." But even though she bent low over the cutting board, her eyes remained dry.
They ate in silence, which wasn't unusual -- at least not recently. They'd lost the knack of easy conversation even before James had started sleeping in the den. "How was your day?" she asked finally, and let her mind wander as he told her about a patient who needed a heart transplant because he'd eaten unpasteurized cheese. It was House's patient, of course. She wondered if James realized how often he answered a question about himself with a story about House.
He paused while she topped up her glass. "House thinks I'm having an affair."
She started, nearly spilling her drink. "Are you?" It would make things easier, though she hated herself for even thinking it.
"No," he protested, but then shook his head. "Though I know I haven't given you any reason to believe me."
Except he had. He might betray her again, but he wouldn't lie, not when confronted. "Why does he think that?" And why now, she wondered. House always had a reason for saying things.
James shrugged. "My socks didn't match yesterday. Apparently he does a daily analysis of my clothing. Mismatched socks mean I got dressed in the dark to avoid talking to you."
"Or you were being considerate and not waking me up before my alarm went off." James had left early that morning, but he was often up before her. On weekdays, they were lucky if they saw each other during daylight.
"No, he was right. I didn't want to talk to you." He picked up his drink, but then put it back down again, untasted. "You haven't been happy. I don't know how to change that, so I've been pretending that nothing is wrong. Talking means I can't pretend anymore." He took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes for the first time that evening. "I know I haven't been here for you lately. Work's been crazy. House has been crazier. Especially since Stacy left." He glanced away again. "I know that's just another excuse. But he's gone off the rails and I don't know what to do. He's stalking former classmates, his pain levels are spiking for no obvious physical reason. Cuddy had to --" He scrubbed his face. "I'm sorry. I know you hate it when I talk about him."
"No," she said, wondering how many times he'd stopped himself from talking to her, because he didn't think she would listen. "His pain is worse?"
He looked at her so gratefully that she was ashamed. "He was really struggling a few weeks ago, but nothing has changed on his scans. I suggested it was a conversion disorder -- emotional pain manifesting as physical pain -- and he hit me." He smiled a little ruefully. "The pain seems to be under control again, but there still might be an underlying problem."
Julie didn't need to be a psychiatrist to make the connection between House's increased pain and his visit the last time James was out of town. The dates told the story. She'd never known House to express guilt for anything he'd done, but House never did things normally.
And now he was accusing James of cheating. It was his way of sending a message, and she knew which one she was expected to deliver. "I'm having an affair," she said, because it was well past the time of breaking it gently.
James sat back in his chair and stared at her. "I don't know what to say," he said finally.
"You don't need to say anything." She'd imagined this conversation a hundred times, but she hadn't anticipated how much it would hurt to actually say the words. "It didn't mean anything at first. I thought it would make things even between us. When I realized I was starting to care too much about him, I broke it off."
"So it's over now."
She shook her head. "It's not over. He still loves me." She had been helpless against that love. The encounter with House had been devastating, but it had opened her to feeling again, after she'd been numb for so long.
"I still love you," James said, his voice cracking. "We can still work things out. We can start fresh."
She wished that were possible. "It's too late. I'm hurting both of you by pretending otherwise." She drew back when James reached across the table to take her hand. "Don't. Please." If he touched her now, she didn't know if she would be able to stay resolved. She had always forgiven James everything while they touched.
She knew it was over when he nodded and dropped his hand. It was what she'd wanted, but part of her wished he'd fought just a little harder to keep her.
"What happens now?" he asked.
Life, she thought. Everything happens as before, just not with each other. "I think maybe you should stay with House tonight. You can call your lawyer tomorrow."
House would look after him, she knew. He would let James in, get him drunk, and start the healing process. He would free James to love again.
February 2006 (Distractions)
The last person Julie expected to see on her doorstep at nine o'clock at night was Greg House. She couldn't remember the last time he'd dropped by for a visit; even when he picked James up, he just honked the horn and waited in the car. It was an arrangement that worked for both of them.
"James isn't here," she said, not moving away from the door. All she wanted was to get back to her book and her glass of wine and enjoy a relaxing evening on her own.
But House had a history of ruining her plans. "I'm not here to see James. Are you going to leave the cripple out in the snow?" He pushed past her into the hallway. "I like what you've done with the place," he said, looking around. "It's very you. Are you sure Wilson actually lives here?"
Sometimes she wasn't sure at all, at least not recently. James spent more time at the hospital, or at House's apartment, than he did at home. She didn't think he was having another affair -- the nurse had turned out to be a false alarm -- but that didn't mean they still had a marriage. She should have left him months ago, when he told her about the accountant, but it was easier to stay. And she wasn't sure she wanted to leave. She still loved James, despite everything.
"Why are you here?" she asked, not even trying to be polite. Part of the "everything" was the number of times James had left her alone to be at House's beck and call.
"I was in the neighbourhood, so I thought I'd say 'hi.' Is that so strange?"
"For normal people, no. For you, yes. You don't even like me."
"Au contraire, Mrs. Wilson. I might resent you or disapprove of you, but I don't dislike you. At least no more than the rest of the normal people." He stepped into her personal space, forcing her away from the door. "You, on the other hand, hate me. I like a woman with good taste." He stepped towards her again, backing her against the wall.
She twisted away. He might be stronger, but she was faster. "What are you doing?" Oddly, she wasn't afraid. House was a bastard, but he wasn't a rapist. The way he was looking at her, he didn't have to be. She closed her eyes. He was just too damn attractive. A hand cupped her cheek, fingers rough with calluses, and her eyes snapped open again.
"Wilson told me to get a hooker, but the escort agency refused my credit card. Too many extra charges last time." He leered and Julie changed her mind about the attractiveness.
"I know you have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality, but I'm not a prostitute."
"Your text messages beg to differ." He cocked his head to the side. "James is out of town. Why don't we keep each other company?" he quoted. Is your bed as cold as mine? I'm saving that one for the next script I send to Prescription: Passion."
"That was weeks ago," she protested. He'd never once answered her messages or responded to her awkward flirting. She'd been hurt and embarrassed at first, but now she was grateful. It had been madness thinking she could seduce him, but then revenge was never entirely sane.
"I was busy trying to sleep with some other man's wife then," he replied. "But I have an opening now."
"This is about Stacy leaving," she said. According to James, House had sent her away. James had been upset, claiming that House was deliberately sabotaging his chance for happiness. It had never occurred to her that House was actually capable of happiness.
"This is about sex," he retorted, "or have you forgotten what that is?" He smirked when she pulled away. "How long has it been? At least three months, I'm guessing. Wilson is always more annoying when he's not getting any." He leaned in, his breath hot on her face. "Or do you have an extensive mailing list for your dirty texts?" He caught her wrist before she could slap him. "I'll take that as a no," he said. "I'm flattered."
"I think you should leave before James comes home." But she didn't pull away again.
"Wilson's at some boring dinner in New York tonight. He'll be spending the night at the Princeton Club. Why don't we keep each other company?" There was a flash of a smirk before he bent down to kiss the nape of her neck.
She leaned into his touch, unable to keep her body from reacting. It had been more than three months since she'd allowed herself to respond to a man's touch. She knew James still loved her; she could see the longing in his eyes when he looked at her, but his betrayal had broken more than their wedding vows. When they slept together -- which happened more and more infrequently -- there was a distance between them that had nothing to do with physical proximity.
But House's touch was nothing like her husband's. James was all about pleasing her, especially now that he couldn't. House was demanding; grasping and taking what he needed, as if he knew he wouldn't get it any other way. She gasped when his hand slipped under her shirt and pushed aside her bra.
"This is wrong," she said, closing her eyes when he tweaked her nipple.
"No kidding. But you're going to cheat on him eventually," House replied. "What does it matter who it's with?"
"Because you think it should be about love. You don't love me and I sure as hell don't love you, and that makes this cheap and dirty. Except that's what you wanted when you started with the flirting, and the texts, and the late-night calls to my apartment looking for Wilson when you knew he wasn't there. I'm just a little late accepting the invitation. Now shut up and start stripping. If I wanted to listen to a Wilson talk, you wouldn't be my first choice."
There was no use pointing out that he was doing most of the talking. "God, you're a prick," she said instead. But she unbuttoned her blouse and flicked open her bra to give him better access.
"Then it's a good thing that's what you were looking for." She leaned up to kiss him quiet, but he turned his head away. "Rule number one. No kissing. We're fucking, not making love."
"Fine," she said, trying not to let him see how his words were a slap in the face. "But unless you want to screw me against the wall, we should move this somewhere a little more horizontal."
"Not the bedroom," House said. "Too many stairs." They stumbled into the den and collapsed onto the daybed in a tangle of limbs. "So this is where he's sleeping now that you've kicked him out of the conjugal bed."
"I haven't kicked him out of anywhere," she snapped. "Is that what he says when he goes running to you for sympathy?" But she knew that the last place James would look for sympathy was with House, even if it was the first place he went for refuge.
"Please. You may not have physically given him the boot, but he knows where he's not welcome. Wilson's not a complete idiot. This is his third lap around the track."
"Why are you still talking?" Kissing might be forbidden, but covering his lips wasn't the only way to shut House up. He was only half-hard when Julie palmed him through the stiff denim of his jeans, but he groaned appreciatively when she unzipped his pants and pushed them down over his hips. "I like you much better when I don't have to listen to you," she said.
"And I lied before. I don't like you at all."
"Why? Because I'm cheating on my husband? What does that make you?"
"You're not cheating on him, you're punishing him. At least I'm honest about just being in this for the sex."
But Julie didn't believe that anything was ever just about sex. If it was, she could have forgiven James months ago. At least this way she would be as disappointed with herself as she was with him. "Rule number two. No judging the person you're fucking."
"That's half the fun," House protested, but that was the last coherent statement he made, as Julie's mouth closed over the head of his penis and sucked the breath and the words right out of him.
It was an accomplishment of a kind, she thought, but the full understanding of what she was doing only hit her when House came down her throat. The last traces of desire dissipated as she swallowed and spat, leaving only emptiness in its wake.
"I knew you could put your mouth to better use," House said, never one to stay silent for long.
"Shut up," she said, rolling away from him. The last thing she wanted was for House to see how close she was to tears. She buried her face in a pillow that smelled like James and squeezed her eyes shut, wishing that House would just leave. But House never did what anyone wanted or expected. A hand rested on her shoulder, and she hitched back a sob. "I don't know what I'm doing."
He stroked her arm, his touch feather-light. "You're ending your marriage." He sat quietly while she cried and got her a glass of water when she stopped.
"Why did you do this?" she asked, her voice rough with the last traces of tears.
"Because Wilson won't leave you. He'll just keep doing laps until he drops from exhaustion or someone tells him the race is over. I'm helping you hold up the tape."
She hated when House was right. "I think you should leave," she said.
"It's your choice," he replied, and she knew he was talking about more than his departure. He leaned down and kissed her once on the mouth. "Either fix it or end it. You both deserve more."
Julie wished she knew how. But even as she watched House walk away, his limp a little more pronounced than usual, she knew that she'd already started to leave James. The desire was gone, but so was the anger, and there was nothing left to take their place.
She heard the front door close and lay down in the bed that no longer smelled like her husband.
January 2006 (Failure to Communicate)
Julie hated hospitals. She hated the smells, the sounds, the atmosphere of quiet despair and fear. She hated the suffering, and the sorrow, and the knowledge that she could do nothing to change it. Most of all, she hated that it was a part of her husband's life that she would never truly share. When she walked through the lobby of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, she passed a dozen men and women who saw a side of James that she didn't know.
It had been nearly a year since she'd visited him at work, but she finished work early, so thought she'd surprise him and see if he could get away for dinner. They'd been fighting for two days, a spiralling series of petty squabbles over nothing important -- an unwashed plate, a careless remark. Everything and anything set them off these days.
James hadn't come home the night before, claiming he was on call. The more they fought, the longer he stayed away -- she'd learned that early in their marriage -- so she knew she'd have to take the first step if she wanted him to come home. And she did. He had hurt her, and she didn't think she would ever completely forgive him, but he was her husband and that still meant something to her.
She would have to walk past the Diagnostics department to get to James's office, which was another thing she hated about the hospital. But at least House was out of town. That was something else they'd fought about. James could remember every detail of House's schedule, but he couldn't remember a dinner party she'd been planning for weeks.
His office door was closed, so she knocked lightly. James almost always kept his door closed when he was working, even at home. She waited for an answer, and then knocked again, a little harder.
"He's not in his office, Mrs. Wilson. Was he expecting you?"
Julie started and turned around. A young woman, one of House's fellows, was watching her from the end of the corridor. "No. I thought I'd just drop by." When they were first married, they'd found ways to meet for lunch once or twice a week. Even when their schedules barely intersected, they'd made time for each other. Now they rarely ate any meal together -- a polite dinner once or twice a week, an overly civilized brunch on Sundays before James left to watch football at House's apartment.
"I think he's just gone down to the cafeteria to grab a coffee. I'm sure you can still catch him there." She smiled, and Julie tried to remember her name. James had introduced them at a fundraising dinner, but she'd met so many people so briefly that night.
"I'll do that." Something flickered at the edge of her memory and she grabbed hold of it. "Thank you, Dr. Cameron."
That earned her a brighter smile. "Why don't I take you down? I wouldn't mind grabbing a muffin while things are quiet." At that moment another of House's fellows called out her name. Dr. Cameron shook her head ruefully. "I spoke too soon."
"That's all right -- I can find my way. Good luck with your patient." She'd listened to James talk about House's cases enough to know that there was never an easy diagnosis or cure.
"Thanks. And good luck with..." Her voice trailed away and Julie knew that her marital problems were common knowledge, at least in this corner of the hospital. Of course someone trained by Greg House would have noticed that James hadn't gone home the night before.
She nodded curtly to try and disguise the heat rising in his cheeks. "I should go if I want to catch him," she said and hurried away before she could see the look of pity on the other woman's face. Fortunately, no one she recognised was in the elevator, and she was able to regain her composure on the ride down.
The cafeteria was full of hospital employees grabbing a quick moment of peace with a coffee or an early evening snack and it took a moment for Julie to locate her husband.
James was sitting at a table against the wall, facing away from her at an angle. He was listening intently to someone Julie couldn't quite see, so she stepped to the right for a clearer view. It was a woman dressed in scrubs, a nurse or a doctor, someone who was part of the hospital world. She was crying, and James leaned forward to say something comforting. He reached out and covered her hand with his, and Julie stumbled backwards, fighting back a sudden surge of nausea.
She was glad Dr. Cameron had been called away. House's fellows -- and by extension House -- had already witnessed too much of her shame. A single touch didn't translate to an affair, but Julie knew her husband. What was an innocent touch to him was an open invitation to a woman desperate for comfort. And James had never been able to turn his back on someone in need. It was something that she had admired about him until she realized the hard way just how much comfort he was willing to give.
And now it was starting again. She'd thought saving their marriage was more important to him, but obviously she was wrong. If he wasn't willing even to recognise his patterns, there was no hope that he could actually change them. She had a choice. She could accept him as he was -- crimes and misdemeanours included -- or she could find a way to change things herself.
She turned away and walked out of the cafeteria. That night, she sent a text message to House.
February 2005 (Histories)
Julie lay in bed alone, listening to the hallway clock tick. James wasn't home yet, and she had no idea where he was. It wasn't the first time he'd been late coming home -- he often spent the night at the hospital, with a patient or in the on-call room -- but he'd always called or left a message so she wouldn't worry, even when he was out drinking with House. But she hadn't heard a word from him since he'd left for the hospital that morning.
When dinnertime came and went without a word, she started to get concerned. She'd tried calling him at the office, and then on his cell phone, but it went straight to voicemail. At midnight, she'd gotten tired of waiting and went to bed, but she tossed and turned and couldn't get comfortable without James next to her.
Finally, she heard a car turn up the driveway just after two in the morning. She looked out the bedroom window, hoping to see James's silver Volvo, but instead a battered sedan was idling just outside the garage. As she watched, the passenger door opened and her husband stumbled out. She shook her head and grabbed her dressing gown. She was going to kill him. Both of them.
She opened the front door and watched as James weaved towards her, House a cautious step behind. James tripped over the first step, but House grabbed his jacket and kept him from falling on his face. "Easy, sailor," he said. "Time to get your land legs back."
James chuckled and planted a sloppy kiss on the side of Julie's face. "Hi, honey. I'm home." He chuckled again and headed towards the kitchen, one hand trailing along the wall for support.
"You got him drunk?" she accused, glaring at House. James rarely drank during the week; when he did, it was inevitably to keep House company. But House was as sober as he ever was. "Why is he drunk and you aren't?" Normally it was the other way around. She'd lost track of the number of times House had called James in the middle of the night to be picked up at some dive. She'd stopped answering the phone after midnight if James was on call.
"Better tolerance and significantly less consumption. Someone had to be the responsible one." He grimaced. "I can't believe I just said those words."
"So responsible that you couldn't be bothered to let me know that he was all right? I've been worried sick."
"I can see that," House replied, looking pointed at the gap in her dressing gown.
Julie flushed and drew it tighter around her body. "It's two o'clock in the morning," she pointed out. "I can't stay up all night just because neither of you cared enough to call."
House pulled out his cell phone and pretended to examine it closely. "I'm pretty sure this thing receives as well as transmits," he said. "You were so worried you went to bed. I found him. And then I prescribed enough beer to flush out his system." He pushed past her to follow James into the kitchen.
Julie had a feeling that she'd just lost the latest battle in the war for James's affections. Not that she'd started with a strategic advantage over House. She closed the door and went into the kitchen. James was sitting at the table, his head pillowed on his arms. A half-empty glass of water was positioned precariously by his left elbow.
House glanced back at her and snorted. "Give me a hand. It's going to take all five of our legs to get him to bed." He shook James's shoulder. "Let's go, chief. We need to find you some place more comfortable to pass out."
"Uh uh," James complained. "Like it here."
"You might like it now, but your back will hate it tomorrow morning." He pulled James upright by his collar and let him slump back in the chair. "Upsy daisy. You can rest all you want in a minute."
James blinked and looked up at House. "She kept calling for James, but he didn't come. Do you think he called for me?" There was something so lost in his voice that Julie wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him forever. She glanced at House and saw him close his eyes briefly.
"I think if he ever called," he said finally, "you would come. Anytime, anywhere." He handed James the glass of water. "Drink up and then get up. It's bedtime."
James pushed the glass away. "Drank too much already," he muttered.
"No kidding. But you'll want to drink this. Dehydration will make Jimmy a very unhappy boy in the morning." He tipped the glass towards James's mouth until he was forced to drink to avoid spilling. "Now get up, because I can't carry you and no one wants to watch a grown man crawl."
"I can walk," James said, pushing himself carefully to his feet. He squeezed his eyes tightly closed and leaned against the table, but then straightened up and walked with deliberate care and dignity through the kitchen door and down the hall to the stairs.
Julie followed just far enough to make sure that he made it safely to the top and then returned to the kitchen, where House was rooting through the refrigerator. "What are you doing?"
"I'm hungry," he said, inspecting a tin foil package and humming happily when he uncovered the leftover chicken from Sunday dinner. "Wilson made this, right?" he asked, sniffing it cautiously. "Of course he did. I've seen what you do to defenseless fowl." He picked out a drumstick and bit into it sloppily.
Julie ignored the jibe. "What happened tonight?" She knew whatever explanation James gave her in the morning would be only a comforting version of the truth. House, at least, could be counted on to be brutally honest.
"Bat Woman died."
"Batwoman?" For a moment she thought her husband had gotten drunk over a comic book character that had been killed off decades ago.
"Rabies patient Wilson adopted from the ER. We didn't know she had rabies, of course; at least not until she'd already bitten one of my fellows." House looked more amused than concerned by his employee's situation. "She died tonight. Nothing we could do, but at least she didn't die in an abandoned house or on a park bench. He didn't tell you about her?"
Julie had the feeling she was missing something important. "He mentioned something about a homeless woman you were treating. I didn't realize it meant that much to him." It didn't surprise her. James had a generous heart. He gave change to every panhandler they passed, sometimes even gave away the doggy bag from a restaurant. She'd often caught him staring sadly at a bum slumped in the alley, even as she tugged his arm to keep them walking. His compassion was part of what had drawn her to him.
But House was looking at her as if she'd failed an exam. "No, I guess you wouldn't." He handed her the remains of his foraging. "Give him a couple of aspirin and another glass of water when you go upstairs, or he'll wish he was dead tomorrow."
She caught his arm as he passed, holding him back. "Thank you for bringing him home." There were days when she hated Greg House. He was the most arrogant, self-centred man she'd ever met, and he treated her husband as if he'd been put on earth to pander to his every need. But she couldn't deny that he loved James as much as she did.
House stared at her, as if he were searching for a clue hidden in the depths of her eyes. Finally, he nodded, as if confirming something he'd already known. "I'll always bring him home, wherever that is."
It was a promise and a warning, but Julie held his gaze unwaveringly. It was only when the door closed behind him and she heard the car engine start that she closed her eyes.