Summary: Until it isn’t fun any more, House thinks. That was the first time.
Fandom: House, MD
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Vague spoilers for Season Three, Season Four and Five finales. Very vague.
Title, Author and URL of original story: There Were Five Times by deelaundry.
Until it isn’t fun any more, House thinks. That’s what he tells himself when Wilson offers the couch after his lease expires. He’ll just live with Wilson until it isn’t fun any more. House decides that it’ll be sort of like college, though he doesn’t plan to hotknife hash in Wilson’s kitchen or make touch powder on the kitchen table. Maybe.
That’s not the best way to start off, and of course it’s a completely unmitigated disaster. The couch is comfy, though. It’d just be a lot comfier if Wilson didn’t hover around it all the time, tsking when he leaves his socks on the floor.
Wilson knows how to cohabitate: it wasn’t bad cooking or socks on the floor that ended his marriage. House doesn’t, and that’s the problem.
Wilson can see the only child in him. There are the summer camp tricks – Vaseline on the doorknob, Styrofoam “snow” in Wilson's umbrella, and one that House refers to as “the old standby”; Saran wrap over the toilet seat (Wilson knows that something’s up when he hears House snickering in the hall, but by that time he’s started to pee, and it’s too late).
House does a lot of things as if he’s still living alone. He eats breakfast in his underwear. He plays the piano late at night. He plays loud music late at night. One time, he decides to vacuum late at night. Wilson doesn't really want to explore his motivations for doing that.
Then House gets a hard case at work and ignores Wilson for days, taking over the kitchen table with his notes, sitting there irritably with a cold bowl of Wilson’s nice dinner at his elbow. He oscillates to the other end of the scale, expecting Wilson to drop whatever he’s doing and drink with him, go out and play golf. Wilson never realises how much House drinks until they're living together. He thinks of his brother, of the way he seemed dead-set on destroying himself, and then he hurriedly files that thought away. House is fine, really, he's just annoying.
It goes on like that.
And while House is still amusing himself playing standoff with the washing-up, Wilson realises he can’t deal with it any more. He starts getting annoyed at trivial things, fights erupt, and that's that. They fight constantly, and everybody around them knows it.
House takes a swing at a guy and gets fired so fast he has rugburns. Wilson gets a bad performance review (House tries to reassure him by saying just because the performance review isn’t perfect for once it isn’t the end of the world, but Wilson isn’t exactly bolstered by the words of a guy who scraped through his residency on probation), and he goes a little bit crazy.
Wilson runs away to Boston because he wants to leave this mess behind him. House sits behind the scratched glass counter of a rathole record store, and bobs his feet to the music, and waits.
That’s the first time.
House cons his way back on to the job, and Wilson comes back from Boston with a fiancé. House says I bet your mom will say she’s a nice girl and other such things that barely conceal his dislike, but Wilson asks him to be the best man anyway. By the time House has thrown the bachelor’s party to end all bachelor’s parties (Wilson has to throw out the living room rug and furnish a pitifully transparent excuse to his wife-to-be, who reciprocates House’s dislike from the first millisecond she knows him), House has found a place.
Wilson introduces a lawyer friend of his to House, and it goes about as badly as Wilson was expecting it to, but a week later she’s moving in. House loses his job twice in four years, but she stays for five. Wilson and his wife are in relationship counseling after three, his marriage hanging by a thread. Sometimes it works like that.
It's just until he's back on his feet. That's what House overhears Wilson saying as he undresses for the shower. The water’s running, and Wilson thinks he can’t hear. He’s talking to his wife, or maybe his mother.
Wilson does a lot of things when he thinks House can't hear: he makes ridiculous sighing noises and talks to Cuddy on the phone in undertones. He chats to House’s mother and counts the pills in the Vicodin bottle on the nightstand. Wilson doesn't know about the other bottles, the morphine.
Wilson has drawn back into the part of him that finds comfort in precise numbers and dosages. He asks House what his pain number is, all the time, and House tells him. What he wants to say is that there isn’t a number to describe the cold, empty feeling in his chest. Whether it’s seven or eight or nine doesn’t seem to matter to him, because there’s no number for complete and utter soul-destroying agony. He understands somehow that this is like being hungover, only a thousand times worse: he just has to wait it out. So he takes the pills and waits.
He makes Wilson pay for the cable, because he insisted House add TCM to the package. Wilson comes around a lot, even when he doesn’t need to, ostensibly to watch TV (Might as well get my money’s worth, he says), but probably because an angry cripple is still better company than his wife. House doesn’t know what to make of that.
House lies awake and watches the moonlight playing on the ceiling of his bedroom. He dozes the day away on the couch, and Wilson buys him store-bought lasagne and Pop-Tarts. He doesn’t ever admit it to Wilson, but he appreciates that.
That’s the second time.
It’s just until I get another place. That’s what Wilson says after he shuffles into House’s kitchen with one pitiful suitcase and a hangdog look that rivals Pluto Pup. The third marriage lasted longer than the second. Maybe that’s all Wilson was looking for: a personal best.
House tries to think of something to say – I told you so doesn’t seem quite right. He figures he’ll try it out until it stops being fun, again. Turns out that hand-in-the-warm-water trick really does work. Who knew?
One night House comes home a little bit tipsy and falls asleep on his bed, shoes off but jeans on. When he wakes up sober in the early hours of the morning and heads into the kitchen to grab a glass of milk, he that remembers Wilson is asleep on his couch. He’d forgotten.
He sits himself down quietly at the piano stool. Wilson is sleeping like a rock, even snoring a little. About ten minutes after he starts playing (whatever he has muscle memory for) he realises that Wilson’s breathing isn’t as deep as it was before. He’s lying there awake, listening. House goes back to his bedroom. It ruined the moment, but he doesn’t precisely know why.
Then there are poker games and recriminations, and House is as God made him. Wilson moves into a hotel. Postcards from Venice come to his office. House doesn’t say anything to Wilson when they stop.
That’s the third time.
Then House’s life (and by extension Wilson’s, and everyone around them) is disrupted for a while. Just a few crazy stalker types. A gunman with a grudge, a teenage girl with a forbidden (or fungal?) love (Wilson plans to not let House forget about that one for a long time), and the cop. There’s drug withdrawal and threats, and things go back to normal, lunch in the cafeteria, coffee and a morning rant in Wilson’s office. Normal.
Then there’s a bus crash and a funeral and a broken skull, and this time it’s Wilson who weathers the tragedy. Wilson who remembers the blank-eyed look House had on his face when he was asked how much it hurt, like he was stupidly, selfishly surprised that the world hadn’t ended, like he was trying to verbalise soul-crushing agony. Wilson understands that now.
After Wilson persuades House put his apartment up for lease, the rest is easy. Moving in furniture (the stuff that House won’t let go of, which is most of it, and the stuff Wilson has left over from his marriages and the other thing), leaving House to set up his own study, sorting out books and clothing and pots and pans.
House sets up the entertainment centre while Wilson watches, and House watches while Wilson lays down drop-sheets and paints the kitchen and the living room.
There’s everything they want. A deep-freeze Wilson fills with House’s nuke-em and puke-em meals and his own gourmet ingredients. Enough bookcases for House to stop piling books everywhere. TV. Music. The piano. There’s a tiny gym in the basement that’s good enough for Wilson, with a treadmill and an old TV. House pretends not to notice when Wilson comes up the basement stairs sweaty. The laundry is down there, too, which gives House the perfect excuse not to do any of the laundry.
The place is big enough for them to ignore each other if they want to. It’s great.
Wilson’s problem is that he’s too on the look out for House, too vigilant. Wilson’s always watching to see if House is talking to someone who isn’t there. Maybe that’s the reason (but when he thinks about it there are plenty of others, a pill bottle full of others) he starts matching House beer for beer, why he starts mixing himself a gin and tonic afterward, why he realises he’s started turning up to work still drunk from the night before.
He’s sitting on the bathroom floor one evening, which is funny only because he doesn’t remember how he got there. He left work early, but after that he doesn’t remember anything. There are little pieces of broken glass ground into the palms of his hands, though, and a cut at the base of his thumb. It keeps bleeding, and the best he can do is clasp it against himself. The smell of the blood makes him feel sick, because it’s his own blood, and because it’s mixed with the too-sweet smell of the alcohol on his breath and his clothing. His phone vibrates in his pocket, but he can’t remember how to answer it. He can't remember anything.
House’s feet come into his field of view eventually, and Wilson looks past the broken bottle (that’s where the cut came from) and the little drops of blood on the clean white tile, then up House’s legs and to his face.
Jesus, Wilson, House says.
Wilson can’t think to explain how he got here, although explanation seems very important. The best that he can come up with is that he couldn’t get up, that he was too tired. House hooks his arms under Wilson’s and says stuff like try to use your legs just a little bit, buddy, and then Wilson is in the shower stall and there’s warm water coming down on him, but all he can do is screw his eyes up under it. He cries a little bit, and he remembers that perfectly later, crying in the shower stall under the warm water. He pretends that he doesn’t. Then the water stops and House puts something that stings on his hand, wraps it in something else.
Then House goes away for a little while and comes back into the bathroom and just stares at Wilson, until Cuddy is there, too, with a suture kit and a grim smile. Cuddy helps House lift him onto his bed, and when he wakes up the next morning there’s a sealed envelope on the nightstand.
Inside there’s a note and two hundred dollar bills. The bills are paperclipped to the address of a drying-out facility in Arizona. When he walks into the living room, his legs unsteady, Cuddy is sitting at the breakfast table with a packed overnight bag in front of her.
Cuddy will drive you, the note says. This isn’t my fault and it isn’t yours. The drunk thing just doesn’t suit you. Get yourself cleaned up. Next time something like this happens, I won’t clean it up. You won’t get a medical license in this state again. Or anywhere else, if I can help it.
The note is House’s, of course, but he’s nowhere to be found.
When he tries to talk to Cuddy about it, all she'll say is I don't want to lose both of you. It takes Wilson a long time (forty days of meetings, welcome to the rest of your life) to realise that Cuddy has already given up on House. So has he.
Wilson believes the note. Cuddy drives him home, too. When he gets there, House’s piano is gone, his clothes as well. There are holes in the shelves where his books were.
That’s the fourth time.
Three weeks later House slams a tray down on his cafeteria table. Wilson guesses things are back to the way they were before. House doesn’t say a word about rehab, or Wilson’s condo. Wilson thinks about House and the Vicodin and wonders if House is sparing Wilson the fate he knows is his. But thoughts like that are morbid, and it’s easier for Wilson to get back to work if he doesn’t think about things like that. Negative thoughts. He watches TV on House’s lumpy couch in his old dusty-smelling apartment, and instead of beer he sips at ginger ale.
After that? Life. Meetings and his nice empty condo and a clinical trial breakthrough. For House it's the same old apartment, the same old routine, until he wakes up one morning coughing up blood. Wilson isn't surprised. He feels scared, and angry, but he isn't surprised.
House is thin. His hand, when it hovers over Wilson's plate, is bony. Nobody can ignore the yellowish cast to his skin, what that means. Wilson brings things from House's place, books and CDs and pictures. He sleeps on a plastic chair for three nights until somebody quietly brings another bed in.
He sits on the foot of House's bed sometimes, but he's constantly fidgety (Jesus, he says. Liver failure itches like fuck.) And Wilson doesn't even purse his lips or nag, because what use would that do?
Cuddy and Wilson try to joke around. Cuddy says it's like they're married, the constant bickering, the way Wilson will barely leave his side.
One little box-like room with beige walls, and the food turns Wilson’s stomach, dry-edged sandwiches and watery soup. House switches the TV channel in the middle of an old movie. “So what,” he says. “You’ve seen it before.” There are a lot of tv channels to take up their time, which is good, because reading makes House queasy, and when Wilson reads to him he says it’s annoying. You use this stupid monotone, he says. Sounds like you’re narrating a nature documentary.
After a week, House asks Wilson to read again. There are two more weeks like that, House sliding through what his doctors call a gradual decline. There’s nothing fucking remotely gradual about it.
House leaves Wilson his apartment. There will be so much to do, cleaning out his stuff, selling the motorcycle he was riding less than a year ago. But Wilson doesn’t think about that for two weeks. He just reads and sits with House and doesn’t complain about the food.
When the monitor starts emitting a shrill, flat beep, Wilson turns it off. There’s no need for that, he thinks, and feels numb.
He holds House’s hand until it isn’t warm any more.