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 Two.
House is the cooler king.
Boom-thock. Boom-thock. Boom-thock.
Ten feet to one side, a four-storey drop to the pavement. Ten feet to the other, Nazi guards patrol the hall. Ten feet in front of him, the Limeys are plotting an escape that's bound to fail. House is in for seven days on strict rations of stale chips and bad coffee. He's wearing the same clothes as yesterday, and what the hell, the same as the day before. Sweat-stiff. Stubble itches. Leg hurts. So what else is new?
Boom-thock. Boom-thock. Boom-thock.
His throwing arm's numb, but House manages to hit the glass on every toss and catch the ball on the bounce. The Kommandant came in this morning and tried to distract him with the plunge of her cleavage. Every boom-thock made her twitch. She shouted about lawsuits or maybe the reversibility of tenure, but House drifted on the rise and fall of the lecture, playing Steve McQueen. Boom-thock, boom-thock, boom-thock: he'll never collaborate.
The other inmates are getting restless. They don't know it's hopeless yet. Tom's caved in, Dick and Harry will be discovered, and soon they'll all be thrown in front of a firing squad. If they do get out, it's three weeks to unoccupied France, longer to neutral Switzerland. In the meantime, there's a motorcycle out there somewhere with House's name on it. The moment he charges for the barbed wire and takes flight spreads out in his mind's eye.
He can almost feel the machine gun bullets after that.
Boom-thock, boom-thock, boom-thock.
The fantasy is pointless. Why bother with the great escape? He's the cooler king and at least on the inside he knows what to expect. Ball in hand, then released, then caught. Boom-thock, another tic in Foreman's jaw. Boom-thock, another flinch on Thirteen's face. Kutner blinks on the boom, widens his eyes on the thock. Taub stares flatly through the glass. Pity and must you? are written in the slump of his shoulders.
Boom-thock, and House isn't thinking, boom-thock, there's nothing but the cooler king, boom-thock, he'll only ever see the ball. Boom--
Foreman wrenched the door open as House threw. The ball hits Foreman's palm instead of ricocheting back to House. Foreman's face is thunderous. House notices it, in a distant sort of way.
"The patient's dying."
House nods. Sure. They're all dying. Some of them are already dead. He frowns, looks away.
"He attacked Thirteen."
That's mildly interesting. House dredges up a joke, something about mud-wrestling, or maybe Jell-O, or maybe Thirteen's karma, or maybe just the fact that she's dying too, so the patient might as well take her with him. He tells it to Foreman in a slow series of blinks and adds the punchline with a shrug. Foreman doesn't get it. If he does, he doesn't laugh.
"House, we need you out there."
Foreman must be desperate. House supposes he'll look bad if the patient dies. He lifts his eyebrows. "Give me my ball back," he says. His voice scratches from disuse.
Foreman's fury has always been interesting to see. House doesn't care about provoking it, but now that he has, it makes for a good spectator sport. Foreman's eyes widen, his lips tighten, a muscle moves in his jaw. He squeezes the ball so hard that House wonders if it'll pop. House half-expects a punch. Doesn't bother with evasive maneuvers yet.
Foreman takes three steps and yanks the balcony door open. Without missing a beat, he launches the ball like a center-fielder desperate to stop the run on third. House watches it sail out over the parking lot, loses it in the sun when it falls. When Foreman walks back into the office, smoothing his suit, his glare could chip ice. House approves of the way Foreman clearly doesn't care that he might have hit someone or knocked out a headlight.
"The patient's prepped for dialysis," Foreman says. It's practically a threat.
The fantasy couldn't last. The case is a distraction.
House is disappointed when the answer comes.
Fall arrives in a swirl of clear, windy days. The leaves turn brittle on the trees, fading to a disappointed green. House is watching the wind tug at the branches while he calls his mom at a time he's certain she's not home. "I can't come," he tells the answering machine. He pauses, lifts his glass to his lips, and doesn't make much effort to sound sincere when he adds, "I'm sorry."
He doesn't move from the couch when Cuddy barges into the apartment three hours later. The living room is stuffy and dim, and the autumn-smoky air that rushes in with her is as unwelcome as she is. It's hardly the first time, but if Cuddy wants to waste her life taking care of him, that's her business. House doesn't try to stop her. She nags about rehabilitation; House shakes his bottle of Vicodin at her. Some part of his brain catalogues her visits, calculates when annoyance will become ritual, irritation turn to comfort. That will take longer than Cuddy's persistence will last. House isn't worth her patience anyway, so it doesn't matter.
"Do you realize how many people your mother had to call before she got to me?"
Not many, House thinks. There aren't that many phone numbers for her to try. "I'm not going."
"House, he was your father--"
House presses his lips together and doesn't bother to correct her.
"Your mother wants you there." Cuddy's voice stays soft long enough for her caring to cloy like molasses, but, thank Christ, it disappears a second later. "For God's sake, House, you need to get out of your apartment for more than the work you don't do!"
"And a funeral's just the thing to put that skip back in my step." House levels a glare at her. It's his father--or not--and his business. His mother will be disappointed. It's nothing new and nothing she hasn't gotten over before. "So he's dead. It fucking happens, Cuddy."
Cuddy takes a breath, and House knows she's preparing to summon a ghost before the name even passes her lips. "Wilson--"
House snaps before she can truly get started. "You mean the nagging influence that I was sure I'd escaped?"
Cuddy's face hardens, her jaw sets, and her eyes are more blue than House can remember. She's never cried in front of him and that's the only reason House still tolerates her random, harassing visits. House is certain that he could stop her once with just a glare, make her stop short and back down. The fact that he can't, this time, makes what she says even harder to ignore. She doesn't sound angry. Resigned, maybe, and bitter. "Wilson would have wanted you to go."
House stares at her for a second longer, then deliberately turns away. Wilson would have wanted him to go, but he didn't have all the available facts. Stacy understood, but she'd still stuff him into a suit and drag him on a four-day trip to watch a body whose cells share none of his DNA get lowered into the ground.
Cuddy lets out a short breath, as if she somehow expected better of him, and he's disappointed her. "If you don't go, I'll drug you and have you dragged."
House snorts. She wouldn't; the legal ramifications alone would stop her cold. But what does he care? It's a few days out of his apartment, a few days when she won't be nagging him to take a case, to get to the clinic, to do anything, for God's sake, House. He could save himself hours of hassling for the price of an hour in the presence of people who think his father was worth the fuss. At least the threat is worth responding to. "As much as you might get off on seeing me hog-tied and tortured," he says, "you don't have the balls to go through with it." One glance at her face confirms that he's right. "You feel guilty just from suggesting it."
"You're going, House. For your mother's sake, at the very least."
Strange how 'her sake' involves him being 'comforted' by his father's underlings, who thought it was an honour to spit-shine the man's boots. "You're going to send me driving for four days? With my leg? Three months after a skull fracture?"
"Hardly," Cuddy says, and eyes him one last time before heading for the door. House would respect her threats if Cuddy had any intention of following through. She has nothing compared to Wilson's haranguing skills. This conversation is over.
House reaches for the remote and fights to slip back into nothing.
House ignores the pounding on his front door. It's too loud to be Cuddy and there's no one else who could possibly care enough to keep up that racket. House debates between struggling to the bathroom and finding an empty mug under the crap on the coffee table. The morphine syringe clinked to the floor and the rubber tubing unwound from his bicep sometime while he was sleeping. He supposes some day he'll aspirate on his own vomit, but there are worse ways to go.
"House! Get your ass out here before I wake up your super to give me a key."
Foreman. Impressive. He managed five minutes before the first threat. And this time, unlike Cuddy's kidnapping bluff, House nearly believes him. Not quite. Waking the super at ass-o'clock in the morning to get a key for House's apartment probably qualifies as too much humiliation. He'll give up and leave.
He doesn't. Fucking annoying. House gathers himself from the couch and goes to the door--slowly, even though Foreman's not likely to give up once he's put in this much effort--and opens it, leaning against the jamb. "What the hell do you want?"
"To be asleep, and nowhere near you," Foreman shoots back. "Let's go."
"What'd you do, kill another patient and get Cuddy to hush it up?" Foreman's a quitter, and he'll walk away if House pushes hard enough. House doesn't care if he hurts Foreman's iddle feelings in the process. He's simply speeding the inevitable. "You don't give a shit about me or family funerals."
Foreman takes a breath, an 'I am more patient than this' breath. House is an obstacle to him, a pest. He sneers at Foreman's long-suffering look. "The difference between us, House, is that I care about my family. You obviously don't, or Cuddy wouldn't ask me to haul you to Kentucky."
House straightens slightly at the hint of challenge. Four years isn't enough to immunize anyone against House when he's actually trying. "Oh, you care about your family? Like your crack-dealing brother? I can tell from all the visits and cards." House lets more of his weight fall against the door jamb. This might actually reach amusement levels if Foreman cooperates. "Don't be such a hypocrite, Foreman. You haven't been home in nine years. I doubt you'll even go to the service once your mother kicks it."
"Get in the car," Foreman says. His voice is already tighter. Jesus, it's just too easy. House opens his mouth, but Foreman gives one sharp shake of his head and yanks on House's arm. It pulls him away from the doorframe and House stumbles, once, stepping hard on his right foot. Pain digs in deep, tunneling from his knee to his hip. Foreman blows past him, into the apartment. Disappears down the hall. Into House's bedroom. House grips his thigh. He can't follow, but he shouts, "Hypocrite again, Foreman. Privacy's only important when it's yours?"
Five minutes later Foreman comes back out. There's a bag from House's closet over his shoulder, and he's clearly rummaged as much as he's going to on House's behalf. He pushes House again, this time until he's out of the apartment, and slams the door behind him. "You're going. You can insult me the entire time or you can shut up and deal with the fact that he's dead."
House wants to punch him in his smug, sanctimonious face, but Foreman could stop him if he tried. Chase might drop after one punch and not even try to retaliate, but Foreman's been building up to this anger longer. Foreman wouldn't hesitate to physically wrestle him into the car.
He's not going to win this standoff. A wave of inertia slams through him, suddenly enough that House feels helpless in front of it. It aches, in a deeper way than his leg, and House swallows it down, refusing to show it. Foreman only sees the mission, the ruler-straight there-and-back-again. House isn't going to explain himself, not as much as it would take for Foreman to leave him the fuck alone.
"Get my jacket," he says, his last stab at control. He limps out to Foreman's car without waiting to see if he obeys. There's a second pill bottle in it, in addition to the ones he's already got in his jeans pocket. They'll last him long enough. House can't imagine spending four days in Foreman's company without the pills' hazy comfort. Cuddy couldn't have done worse in picking someone to drag him across half the goddamn country. Foreman has to be laughing at him.
The leather seats in Foreman's mint-condition Lexus are already warm. House pulls the lever and reclines back. He wants to heap one insult after another on Foreman, tell him exactly what each of his problems are, but the heat under his leg works better than it should. House dry-swallows a pill, then another one. Foreman tosses House's bag into his trunk. When he starts the car, classical jazz comes over the speakers. If House lets himself think about it, he'll be following the piano part in his mind, improvising. He refuses to listen.
Foreman doesn't say a word. House has nothing to grab hold of. Nothing to attack. Thirty minutes later they're on the highway. House downs another pill, this time from the Percocet bottle in his jacket. And another one, when Foreman barely glances at him, makes no sign.
House clings to wakefulness, pushing against the dozy heat of too many pills. Part of him wants to bore into Foreman's mind with his stare and find out what the hell he's thinking. There's only Foreman's blank face, which is almost interesting. That he can be quiet for this long. That he agreed to do this at all. Foreman couldn't possibly see any benefit from driving House anywhere. It isn't his job. House hasn't, and never will, help his so-precious career. There's no reason for him to be here.
House rubs his thumb over the handle of his cane, chasing down any possible rationalization. Foreman's behaviour is actually worth mulling over, and the puzzle distracts him until the pills and the heat blur the world into a hazy dream.
House dreams in flickers of light and dark, like living in a heartbeat. The blinding constriction, then the bloodrush of memories.
A line of beer bottles in front of him. Empty glasses. The bartender's curled lip when he cuts House off.
Speed dial's a wonder for drunks everywhere. If House's voice comes out a whine, he's so far gone that he can't hear himself beg.
House swings out of the bar, too drunk to have a care for his leg, too drunk to care about where he's going, but not quite drunk enough to forget why he was getting drunk in the first place. The bus arrives in a swim of headlights, and House boosts himself aboard.
He collapses into a seat and rests his temple against the wet, cool glass of the window. The bus is about to pull away from the curb.
Then the doors wheeze open one last time.
Wilson swings into a seat next to him. A frown draws his eyebrows together. His mouth tightens with impatience. "House, what do you need before you'll tell me what your problem with Amber is?"
If House shakes his head, he'll probably puke, so he gives no sign at all. He watches the bus driver climbs the steps, helping a woman board. The world attenuates, dims.
House sees the garbage truck coming. The crash is a moment of time, malleable. If he could only reach it.
Chase tried to help him. Find the moment. Find that second. If he sees it, he can change it, but he falls out of the memory blind. He wishes, so fucking much, that he was deaf as well.
"House, I'm not letting you walk away from this. I'm not leaving."
House startles awake, a choked sound rising in his throat. His leg jerks as he tries to sit up, and at least the slicing pain that follows is familiar. House blinks, gulping air, and then sees Foreman.
Foreman's glance slides away from him and back to the road. He shoulder-checks as he merges off the interstate. "I'm stopping for gas."
He saw House sleeping. Probably heard it, if House let out any words. Bastard.
Foreman pulls into a rest stop, one of two dozen that line this stretch of the interstate. Dust greys the air, grits on the pitted asphalt. Mack trucks and tankers rumble past, or let out sick accordion wheezes of soot and exhaust as they brake. Brand names and billboards loom over the line of gas stations. Every fast food place that could be squeezed into the acres of parking lot is wafting out the sickening smell of hot grease.
Foreman stops at a gas pump and switches the car off. He stands up smoothly, and House hates him just a little more. He's stiff, his back aches, and he has to lift his leg sideways when he shifts to climb out of the car.
House feels shaky, yet despite the pain, still halfway stoned. He paces beside the car until he feels steadier. Apparently Foreman will lower himself enough to pump his own gas. Anyone else might have said You okay? after House woke up, but Foreman managed to keep his mouth shut. The last thing House will do is thank him for it. Foreman thinks he's House's babysitter. All he wants is to get this Cuddy-imposed duty over with. If he doesn't talk, it's because he'd rather be anywhere else, with anyone else. Well, fuck him. So would House.
He turns away from Foreman and stalks to the convenience store. Borrows their bathroom key, pisses, washes his hands, and comes back to find Foreman browsing the drink cooler. He picks some pansy all-organic juice that probably tastes like cow burps. House fills a Super Big Gulp with Orange Crush slurpee and thrusts it at the clerk when Foreman goes to pay, and Foreman barely rolls his eyes before paying for it.
House takes another Percocet before they leave, downing it with a brain-freezing rush of sugary orange ice. The world weighs down on him, oppressive as the atmosphere before a thunderstorm. The air's too heavy in his lungs. House blinks and the highway spins. "Stop the car," he says. "I'm going to puke."
Foreman glares at him but he pulls over.
House scrabbles the door open and heaves into the ditch, half-digested pills slipping out in the ropy strings of fluid. The vomit is orange and sweet for less than a second before narcotic bitterness surges overtop. House wants to puke forever, until the bile scrubs the taste of the pills from his throat.
House's stomach churns for the rest of the drive. He closes his eyes and leans against the window, but he's too sick to fall asleep, and he doesn't want Foreman watching him or listening if he dreams again. House fights down the nausea and the hopeless feeling of memory; the more he tries to push his thoughts away, the more he finds himself helplessly thinking.
When he called Wilson, it was with a sense of mean satisfaction. He smirks, mouth loose from alcohol, when he heard Amber's voice snapping in the background. Through the laughable muffle of Wilson's hand, House hears him making soothing sounds. Amber would never fall for it's just this once, and she's contemptuous of it's just House, so he doesn't know what Wilson finally says to yank his balls free of her grip. House takes a celebratory swallow of whatever's in his glass when he hears Wilson's sigh, and tells him the name of the bar.
House doesn't remember the interval as more than a warm blur. A feeling like laughter catches in his chest. It's not that he's happy. He's justified. Right. Always right about Wilson. House tips his glass at the bartender, showing that it's empty, and he barely cares that the bartender fixes him with a glare and shakes his head.
He sees Wilson in the mirror behind the alcohol bottles before Wilson catches sight of him slumped on his stool. Wilson's dressed down, in a green polo shirt and khakis. His hair sticks up in tufts, as if House's call rolled him out of bed--or as if Amber ran her fingers through it and grabbed when she pulled him into a kiss to remind him why he'd be an idiot if he didn't come straight home. "Why the hell am I here, House?"
House twists around on his stool to face Wilson, a sneer on his face. He'll let the anger drop as soon as Wilson stops acting like House is forcing him to have fun. "Wild guess: you found the keys to her cuffs."
Wilson rolls his eyes and won't meet House's. He stares around the bar for a moment as if he's never seen one. "No, you got lucky. Amber has a shift tonight."
He finally looks at House, and in an instant House regrets every drink. He wants to be completely sober when he demands What if she didn't have a shift? You'd have told me to get a cab? Left me here? Wilson wouldn't. House might have to be more persuasive but he'd have Wilson sprinting for his car if House said he needed him. But he doesn't. Wilson comes running of his own accord. 'No' is a word he barely has a passing acquaintance with. Amber hasn't changed that because Wilson doesn't want or need to change. House frowns down into his glass and snaps, "Luck would be a mute cabbie."
"Seriously, House. You couldn't do this at home?"
"All by my lonesome? That anxious to get out your label maker and stamp 'alcoholic' on my forehead?"
Wilson's mouth flattens. "Getting drunk on a Wednesday night for no apparent reason? Calling me at one in the morning to pick you up? You don't make it easy, House."
House's mouth tastes bitter, as if he's already through the drunk and well into tomorrow's hangover. "If I'm so difficult, then why are you here?"
"I wanted to be sure you were safe." Wilson's eyes turn soft, like a faithful collie's. House grunts, prepared to be mollified, but Wilson's mouth quirks and he lets out a small scoff of laughter. "Amber agreed, by the way. She offered to come herself and let me sleep, but I didn't want you to make her late for work."
With a sharp shove, House pushes his empty glass away. The alcohol has left his skin heated, his biting anger too close to the surface. He slides, one-legged, off his stool, straightening slowly. His fist closes on nothing in his pocket before he remembers that the bartender snatched his keys from him when he tried to leave an hour ago.
Wilson blinks, his mouth falling open. "That's it, isn't it? You wanted me to...what? Get away from Amber? For two hours, in the middle of the night, because I had to pick you up?"
House doesn't even attempt a shrug that might throw off his balance. Wilson's words make it sound even more pathetic than he already knew it was. House takes out his wallet and tries to remember how to count.
Wilson drops his question--probably assumes he's right, and he is; they both know it--and goes back to shaking his head. House almost wonders if he called Wilson's mother by accident. "How many drinks did you have?"
"Not nearly enough, since you're still that unattractive."
Another sigh. House hates those fucking sighs. "I'm asking the bartender."
"Great." House throws what cash he has on the bar, one twenty soaking up the wet circles of condensation left by his glass. "Have a wonderful chat. Tell him how great your life is going, I'm sure it'll make a change for him." House stumbles a step and catches himself against the bar before he remembers to grab his cane.
He focuses on the door across the room, forcing it to stay steady even through the rolling gait of his limp. Wilson's enough of a sucker to pay his bill. House pushes the door open and gets out, into the neon blue night. The bus stops in front of the bar, which is a damn good thing, because House isn't sure he could have made it farther. He sits on the bench and rests his forehead on the handle of his cane, his breath rasping in his throat. The air tastes like cigarettes and clots of garbage.
A minute later Wilson sits down next to House with a sigh. It feels like the two of them are alone in a deserted city, no matter that there are horns and sirens and yells from the bar behind them. "If you have a problem with Amber, then why don't you tell me?" Wilson sounds like he's trying to understand, with an edge underneath as if he's the long-suffering one. "You never had a problem telling me Bonnie and Julie's every flaw."
From the beginning, House spread out Amber's flaws out and thought them over. House doesn't have to warn Wilson that she'll try to renovate your house in pink in five years or you'll leave her once she isn't helpless. Amber's abrasive, she's pushy, and she wants Wilson to be happy. House isn't even certain that he can manage that last one. Why would Wilson want to escape? He's been running toward that kind of misery for the last twelve years. And Amber isn't crippled. She's young; she probably takes yoga; she's probably flexible. House can't name a flaw that doesn't exist.
Wilson is happy. Before, House's intervention was about helping along the inevitable. Now if he interferes, Wilson won't be wrong to call him the problem. Even if Wilson does break up with Amber, he won't want to crash on House's couch afterward. He'll be sick of being pushed. He'll want 'perfect' again. He'll want...Cuddy, want to give her all the babies she can have, want to tie himself down to a life that fits him like an expensive Hallowe'en mask.
"There's got to be a reason," Wilson says. House anchors himself to Wilson's voice. He still hasn't looked up. "House, as long as I've known you, even when the reason's stupid, you always have one."
What's House supposed to tell him? He's not better than Amber. He's certainly not easier to live with. Wilson walked out on living with House--doesn't matter that House pushed him to it--and Wilson jumped into living with Amber in under a month. Maybe it's the sex that makes it worth staying.
You're sleeping with me. Except he isn't. So why shouldn't House go out and get drunk? Take Wilson on the nights when he belongs to House and get him drunk.
House has already implied he wouldn't interfere. He tamps down the memory of Wilson's stupid smile. Are you being...self-sacrificing? Jesus Christ, that was the last thing he was saying, but why expect Wilson to hear that?
House sacrificed Wilson. The idea of Wilson. He can't have more, so he'll cut up that idea, burn it before he buries it. If he forgets, sometimes, or if he goes out drinking in order to forget, then it's not his fault that he dials Wilson's number when he needs a ride.
The bus pulls up in front of them in a wheeze of exhaust. House climbs to his feet and leans hard on his cane as he gets on. Maybe, one of these times, Wilson will see what House has really given up. Until he notices, House will keep walking away.
House wakes up again as they're pulling into a motel parking lot. Foreman climbs out of the car and heads for the office. House stays slumped in his seat. He assumes Cuddy is compensating Foreman for whatever he spends. Maybe there's even an expense account. He could find out by ordering pay-per-view porn on Foreman's credit card.
The room Foreman parks in front of is the usual shade of depressing, with bland carpeting and garish print bedspreads meant to hide telltale stains. House drops his jacket next to the door and claims the nearest bed, stretching out on his back and closing his eyes. He's not tired; he slept most of the day in the car. But his back feels tight as a vise from sitting so long, and his leg's bitching too. He doesn't care what Foreman does. And if Foreman keeps acting how he was all day, he'd be grateful if House decides to sleep for the next forty years.
He hears Foreman pick up his jacket. The neat-freak probably can't stand that House let it fall. But a second after the first rustle, House hears the rattle of his pill bottle. The Percocet. His eyes snap open and he watches Foreman stride to the bathroom. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I didn't think you were stupid enough to take enough of these to make you vomit," Foreman says. He twists the cap off and upends the vial over the toilet, an avalanche of little plops. House tenses, thinks about fighting, but there's no point. No fucking point. It's already too late to launch himself off the bed and grab them before Foreman flushes, and he still has his Vicodin in his pants pocket. Foreman's not going anywhere near there. "You thought wrong," he says. He picks up the remote and turns on the television, channel-surfs through five stations of nothing, nothing, nothing. Foreman sits at the foot of the other bed, staring with him. Like they're watching TV together at the end of the day. Like they're friends.
House stabs the power button and throws the remote down, glaring at the back of Foreman's head. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Foreman glances over his shoulder. After a day of driving, his shoulders are just a hint slouched, as if even he can't keep that steel rod up his ass every waking minute. "Somebody had to," he says.
"That's not an answer," House says. "Especially from you." Unless Cuddy really is blackmailing him. He tries to think with what, but Foreman's such a fucking bore, what could there possibly be?
"You think no one cares about you," Foreman says, with mind-fucking calmness.
It's a dirty tactic. House knows no one cares, even if Cuddy tries to prove him wrong occasionally. She's not here. She wouldn't leave her hospital for him. She hauled in his employee to cart him around using threats or bribes. House doesn't know which, but he'll find out eventually.
House wishes he had some snappy comeback, but if Foreman's going to talk about caring, then it's better if he tunes out. After he'd pulled every abdominal muscle he had, until he was dry-heaving out the open car door on the edge of the freeway, Foreman dragged him back into the car by his scruff. Foreman's hand was cool and firm against his sweaty back. It pressed there for a moment before Foreman grabbed his shirt to haul him in. House feels claustrophobic, caught in the same room with Foreman. He wants to be dizzy and nauseous in peace, without Foreman's interference. Foreman hasn't earned the right to see House this way, and worse, he doesn't even know that he doesn't deserve to be here. Foreman knows House resents him, but he'll never know how deeply he's not welcome and not wanted.
After a minute, Foreman picks up the phone and orders a pizza. He doesn't ask House what he wants, but House doesn't care. Pizza is pizza. Foreman pays for it when it comes and sets the box on House's bed. He turns the television back on and House stuffs his face and doesn't complain while Foreman watches the news and the sports highlights. Afterward, Foreman goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth and piss--the walls are so thin House can map every activity by sound--and when he comes out, he's stripped down to a pair of navy blue boxers.
House blinks and slides his eyes away. His tongue wants to trip over itself to insult Foreman and demand what the hell he thinks he's doing. He dams it up, because it's obvious; Foreman's acting like House isn't here, like House isn't even significant enough to change his routine. This is probably how Foreman always sleeps, unless he's wearing his shorts as his one concession to modesty. They're not cotton, of course. That would be too easy. They look like silk, sleek and glossy. Undoubtedly softer than the low-rent motel sheets against Foreman's skin.
House isn't going to let Foreman one-up him. He takes his turn in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet while he hauls off his jeans and his button-down. He brushes his teeth knowing that Foreman can hear every motion. He wants to ignore his bladder, because Foreman can probably diagnose rocky kidneys and an uncertain prostate through the fucking door, but it's not worth holding back when Foreman's pretending House isn't even there. When he opens the door, Foreman's under the sheets, lying on his side and facing away from House. House snaps the light off and eases into his own too-hard bed. Twenty minutes later he's still staring at the ceiling.
Foreman's asleep. House eyes him, tries sleeping to the rhythm of Foreman's breath--God, even Foreman's breathing is boring. He doesn't snore loudly enough to make it worthwhile to prod him awake; he doesn't have the uneven, halting respiration of sleep apnea. It's in, out, in, out, in two-four time. If House was even the slightest bit sleepy, he knows he could drop off to the sound. It's been years since he slept in the same room with someone, but the soft even draw of breath in the dark is familiar enough that he thinks of Stacy, and then hates Foreman even more for bringing her up.
He turns in bed until his leg aches, arranging and rearranging the squashed-flat pillow between his knees, then gives up and switches on the television. He keeps it low--if Foreman wakes up, he'll bitch and moan, and House is too tired to argue. There's nothing on but infomercials and the porn listings. House gets up and paces in front of them, his cane hitting the same dents in the ugly piss-brown carpet with each circuit of the room. There's no way in hell he's going to order porn when Foreman might wake up and catch him with his hand in his pants.
On one turn, his cane knocks against the television stand. Foreman rolls to his back, flinging one arm out, but he doesn't wake up. House thinks of filling the ice bucket with warm water and hanging Foreman's hand in it, but as soon as the idea comes he dismisses it. They're not buddies, this isn't a frat house prank war. Besides, House doesn't want to wake Foreman up, or for him to see House sleepless and bored in the middle of the night. And, House realizes, there's a line somewhere in there. If he made Foreman piss himself, Foreman would never forgive him. It's a stupid fucking line, one House would love to leap right over, to humiliate Foreman and then laugh in his face as spitefully as he knows how, but he doesn't. He shouldn't care about lines. He shouldn't care about Foreman's self-important feelings. He paces faster, his hand starting to sweat against the handle of his cane. Foreman's left before. When he can't stand to be around House anymore, he leaves. He quits and he leaves. Given a choice, Foreman would never have come back.
House doesn't need Foreman's forgiveness, but he's tired of his hate, too. For lack of anything to do, House plays with the thermostat, lowering the temperature and then cranking it up.
The day Foreman admitted he was happy being back felt like forgiveness, and it pissed House off. Foreman was deigning to be happy around him. Dismissing House from his consideration; being happy despite him. Foreman gave up--Foreman always gives up--taking risks, doing important work. Gave up and settled for being House's lackey and Cuddy's brownnosing spy. House's keeper.
Foreman being here means nothing. To prove it, House picks up the ice-bucket and his cane, limps a hundred feet along the row of motel-room doors in his t-shirt and shorts to the ice-machine alcove. He uses the little metal scoop to shovel the bucket full, and then brings it back to the room.
He opens the door. The heaters are going full blast, and it's hot enough to be stifling. Foreman has kicked at the sheets until they're coiled around his legs. He's lying on his stomach half-naked. His shoulders are heavy with muscle, his broad back tapering down to his waist. House watches his back rise and fall, follows the line of his spine with his eyes down to the curve of Foreman's ass under the damn silk boxers. And then, with a disgusted snort, House dumps the bucket of ice down Foreman's back.
Foreman rears up with a shout, but his legs are so tangled in the sheets that he trips himself and tumbles over the side of the bed, hitting the floor with a thump. House holds back the loud, braying laugh that rises in his throat, but he can't stop his lips from twitching into a smirk when Foreman scrambles off the floor. He's shivering, goosebumps standing out on his chest and arms, and he looks ready to murder House and then string up his corpse. "What the fuck are you doing?"
House thinks, I'm bored. I can't watch porn with you here. I can't stand watching you sleep.
What he says, voice rough and angry, is, "You flushed my pills."
That's all the excuse he needs.
House pauses before climbing out of the car in front of his parents' house. His mom's house. It's where John House chose to retire, close to his last posting, and House supposes it's nice enough for a suburb of an Army-proud small town. Every single one of those things makes House cringe. The grass is neat. Chrysanthemums bloom in the flowerbeds under the veranda. House waits on the sidewalk until his mom opens the door and comes to meet him. House keeps an eye on the door, almost expecting his father to follow her, nodding a greeting from the door instead of coming down the steps. Mom reaches him and takes his hand. "I'm so glad you came."
"Hi, Mom," he says, leaning down to hug her. He's been taller than her since he was fourteen, and the light pressure of her arms around his back is familiar.
"I'm so sorry about James," she whispers into his ear.
House bristles and jerks back from the hug. His mom refuses to drop her gaze. Her eyes are damp. House turns his shoulder to her. Foreman's still standing on the driver's side of the car, waiting for a hint, or maybe hoping he can disappear. House was thinking of treating him like a chauffeur at best, a piece of luggage at worst. Instead he gestures him over with a shrug. "Mom, this is Foreman."
Foreman comes forward awkwardly. He offers a hand to shake, and Mom takes it in both of hers, holding it for a moment. "Eric," Foreman offers uncomfortably. House supposes he's caught between acting like a guest and acting like House's minder, but Mom smiles and nods and invites them both in. Foreman leaves the bags. Wilson would have struggled under their weight and cheerfully denied that he couldn't handle them all in one load. Wilson would already be making small talk, about the weather or the flowers or the difficulty of keeping up a house like this, making House's mom glow and his dad grunt agreement. Foreman's useless here.
They're barely inside before House feels himself tensing. The house is full of men in uniform, all of them stiff and upright, all of them coming forward one at a time to give him tight, jerking handshakes and to meet his eyes when they tell him they're sorry for his loss.
Not his loss. His mom's, he supposes, although when House sees Conrad Ellis among them, he doubts even that. She's probably already been comforted enough.
House wrenches himself free of misdirected compassion after the fifth handshake. Foreman's out of sight. House ducks past the kitchen, filled with mourning casseroles and bereavement cheese plates. He finds Foreman in the back study, reading a back issue of JAMA.
"How many of those did you bring?" House asks.
Foreman lets the journal fall to his lap and gives House a suspicious look. "Three," he says.
"Then you won't need this one." House snatches it from his hands and sits his ass on the other end of the couch, flipping past the editorial, looking for an article that's not too mind-breakingly dull to read.
"Aren't you going to help your mother?"
Wilson would be sighing, standing over House with his fists on his hips. Wilson might actually say the right thing. House looks up long enough to quell Foreman with a glare. "Aren't you going to help yours? Oh, yeah, you can't."
Foreman stiffens, and House feels a wild, vicious thrill. Maybe this time he's done it, and Foreman will fucking react. Even in the middle of a wake. Yell, make a scene. Come on, Foreman, House thinks, staring him down, but Foreman just hauls out a second issue of JAMA and snaps it open.
House sneers, and opens his own, letting his chin drop to his chest as he prepares to ignore everything and everyone around him.
When his mom calls him, House realizes he's been reading next to Foreman--they even exchanged issues after House sighed loudly one too many times after finishing his--for at least an hour, and all the other guests have been too-politely told to scram.
Mom pulls Foreman close when they're about to leave for the church, and House can just imagine what she says to him. Take care of him. Foreman's smile is polite at best. He likes to cover his ass and walk away from his messes; House knows he'll forget any promise he makes.
During the service, House is trapped in the front pew, his tie strangling him, his shoulder pressed tight against his mom's on one side and some commanding officer of his father's on the other. Aunt Sarah, on Mom's other side, presses tissues into her hand, her warm soft palm covering Mom's knuckles and pats when the minister says something particularly sentimental. Sarah's handholding is a relief. She's teary enough for all of them. House won't be expected to hug and cry his way through this waste of time.
Mom smiles up at him when the minister mentions John's son. As if Conrad Ellis isn't sitting three rows back. House shakes his head when his mom leans close to ask if he has any words he'd like to say. He's long since calculated the schedule of his father's leaves, the frequency of his mother's smiles, and it wasn't hard to come up with answers. There's plenty he'd like to say but nothing his mom would like to hear.
House fixes his scowl on the middle distance where none of the words can touch him. He itches inside his suit. Foreman grabbed it, and a tie, in five minutes alone with House's closet. Wilson would have insisted on a garment bag and an iron, but Foreman simply threw everything into a sports bag. The other clothes he picked--jeans, t-shirts, a button-down--were the ones House had tossed on his bedroom floor and were at least approaching clean. He must have swept the contents of House's medicine cabinet into the bag, because while House found everything he needed, it was all scattered among the clothes. There was lint on his toothbrush and toothpaste on one of his shirts.
House wants to open Foreman up and rearrange whatever clockwork he's got inside. He can't tell if Foreman doesn't care, or if he acted in the only way he knew House would allow. The former is believable, but the latter fits the facts in a disturbingly playful way; House's brain insists on testing theories against the evidence. Why the blue shirt instead of white? Why the navy suit instead of the black? Why is Foreman here?
When the minister invites the family members to leave first, House stands up and walks blindly down the aisle. Foreman sits in the last pew, impassive as usual. House's gaze sweeps over him and then flinches away when their eyes meet for a flickering second.
House stays silent during the drive to the cemetery. Mom asks the driver quietly to bring them as close to the gravesite as he possibly can, and House clenches back the bitter knowledge that it still won't be close enough. Walking along the so-scenic path, his cane digs into the rain-soft turf and sends him stumbling, stepping faster than he'd like just to stay on his feet.
They bury a man who was no relation to House. Maybe blank anger looks the same as grief. His mom won't mention it if it doesn't.
Afterward, Ellis comes up to him. House remembers the man holding his sneakered foot and tying his shoelace over and over again. House was a sucker then, whispering the little rhyme Ellis used while he practiced, eagerly showing off his first sloppy knots to his mom. "Thank you, Conrad," his mom said, the next time she saw him, and House thought her smile was because of him. That there wouldn't be any need for Ellis to hang around once House could tie his own laces.
There isn't any need for Ellis to be here at all, but he slings a heavy arm around House's shoulders and leans close; they're the same height to an inch. "Listen, son--"
An incredulous scoff bursts out of House's throat. "You're actually calling me that?" he asks.
Ellis' expression sharpens. His eyes are a clear, reflective hazel, but House knows there's a recessive blue underlying the phenotype. "What are you talking about?"
House doesn't care that this man cuckolded his so-called father. It's no business of his. It's a lie, one more to add to the heap.
Ellis studies him for a moment, and then, more cautiously, he continues. "I want you to know that your father was a good man. He'll be missed."
"Don't patronize me," House says. He shrugs out from under Ellis' arm and steps away. "You're the last person who'll miss him."
"You made her happy," House says. "Don't pretend you ever did anything for me." An arm around his shoulders, a beefy grip--his dad should be the one serving up these idiotic platitudes. His dad shouldn't have died. He should be here. Stiff and uncomfortable in his expectations; unsatisfied with House and nudging him to do better, be better. Stop indulging your damn self-pity, Greg. You want to be miserable for the rest of your life? Nobody's willing to stick around for this crap forever. You ever ask Stacy if this wasn't too much? You ever ask James how much he's willing to put up with?
House twists away. Escapes. He stumbles over the uneven ground, out of balance, out of breath. His dad would have served up the same phony comfort at Wilson's funeral, as if he could understand. Look at me when I'm talking to you, Greg. That manly clap on his shoulder, that heavy gravity in his father's stare when House, sullen, finally meets his eyes. He was a good man. He'll be missed.
Foreman falls into step behind him when House heads for the car. He keeps House's snail pace as if neither of them can manage more. "Who was that?" he asks.
Wilson would know. House would tell him the story in half-lies, in all the hints and clues he's dropped into twelve years of conversations. Foreman is no one. No one at all. House spits, "Some guy who used to hang around when my father was deployed."
From the look on Foreman's face, he gets it. House wants more than anything for Foreman to disappear. He wasn't cryptic enough, and now Foreman knows. House supposes his father never stepped out on his mother. That his family had a happy fucking life. One more reason to laugh. One more reason to point at House and tell himself he's better. House waits for the smug chuckle, the self-satisfied eyebrow raise, Foreman's judgment.
But Foreman doesn't say a word.
House was the first one to recognize the heap of unclaimed clothes. The jacket, the khaki pants, the green polo shirt. Dark with blood and ripped clear up the center with trauma-room scissors. House stalked across the ER, his mind aching with a memory he couldn't reach--a symptom, a sign. He dragged his team into diagnosing the bus driver with an urgency so frantic that he couldn't place it.
He doesn't care about the fucking bus driver. But when he stops and presses the heel of his hand to his forehead, as if he can fuse his temporal bone together with that pressure alone, he squeezes his eyes shut and almost knows what he's missing, nearly catches the whirling images and forces them to stay still long enough for him to study them. But he can't. Everything's hidden behind red-and-blue strobes, the lights of the police cruisers and ambulances.
The hospital band cuffing his wrist insists that Foreman's his doctor, but House won't believe it until Foreman has the balls to sedate him and put in full restraints. Foreman's not even trying to stop him. He's reading off a chart, his footsteps echoing House's as House chases down the bus driver's symptoms. House stops short at the pile of clothes and Foreman, through practice or some instinct, stops as well. "Whose are those?" House asks, his hand rising without his bidding to rub at his forehead.
"There were too many traumas for us," Foreman says. "Twelve went to Princeton General. The triage team sent all the personal effects here."
Bile burns in House's throat. The shirt. The pants. His mind's an underground ocean, the surface dark as a mirror, and House is too scared shitless to drag the memory out into the light. "Take me there."
"What?" Foreman screws up his face in a confused frown and then sighs in exasperation, setting the chart down. "House, the major traumas went there, it was closer. No one's going to be conscious to answer your stupid questions about whether the bus driver limped."
House shakes his head. Vertigo slams through him. Foreman's suddenly next to him, one hand steady on his elbow, his face swimming in House's pulsing vision. "House, you have a skull fracture. You're not going anywhere. I'll call--"
House shoves away from him. "And what? Ask them if they have a John Doe in their morgue?"
"Those are Wilson's clothes." House stabs a finger towards them blindly, his other hand covering his eyes to block out the goddamn lights.
"He was with you? And you didn't--"
"I didn't remember!" House whirls on him, keeps his stomach contents down by an act of will. Foreman's not usually this dense. "There were half a dozen people in that crash who might pass for Wilson on a bad description. Let's go."
Foreman's eyes widen, shift over House's face as he studies him. A second later his expression firms. "I'll go. I'll see--"
"And if he's dead, what? Come back and console me? We need to fucking go there, Foreman."
Foreman stares at him evenly, long enough that House is about to push past him and drive himself--he's managed to stay awake and alert this long--but then Foreman seems to deflate, and he nods. "All right. Wait for me out front."
House isn't sure he could have walked farther. He's still upright when Foreman pulls up in front of the clinic. He nearly falls into the passenger seat, fumbles with his seatbelt for what feels like too long.
"Keep your eyes open for me," Foreman says.
"I know," House says, his voice rasping and barely raised. "Stop being a neurologist."
"Then stop being an asshole," Foreman snaps back. He faces straight ahead, eyes on the road, but House is reassured that he can't stop Foreman from being a doctor. Foreman's probably banking on the fact that after the skull fracture, House won't remember this conversation. He's not a moron. If House blacks out, he'll be there.
Foreman's driving is smooth but probably faster than House realizes. The lights of Princeton General's ER rise in front of them, and Foreman pulls into the emergency care lot. He's out of the car and at the passenger side door before House can stand up. He doesn't offer to help, but House grabs Foreman's arm and uses him as a second prop to pull himself up.
When Foreman tries to walk to the doors at House's pace, though, House snaps, "What the hell are you waiting for? Go."
Foreman casts one last glance at him, but then he's gone, striding ahead of House. He's learned not to wait in line, to cheat and steal and take first place. He'll have information by the time House makes it to the doors. And if he collapses out here, Foreman can send a trauma team for him.
When he gets inside, Foreman's shouting down a nurse, the way he should. He yanks the chart out of her hand--she's making some threat about security but House can tell she won't go through with it. Foreman checks the room number, and then he's leading the way again, opening the door before House reaches it.
House stops long enough to swallow, to breathe, to close his eyes and fucking hate Wilson for doing this to him, before he goes in the door. Foreman's already standing there, watching him, but he could be a lump, a piece of furniture, for all House notices him or cares.
The person lying on the bed isn't Wilson, not at first. He's an unconscious, intubated patient. A ventilator fills his chest and then lets it fall, breathing for him in robotic gasps. A unit of O-negative hangs next to a morphine drip and an IV for fluids. Wilson's type. There are fresh dressings on his abdomen. His head is bandaged over burr holes meant to relieve a subdural hematoma. A line of tentative, awkward, student's sutures bite shut a cut on his forearm. Someone more experienced closed the long slice over one cheekbone that stopped just short of his eye. Scrapes and bruises mottle his arms, his chest, swell around his eyes and behind his ears. His lip is cut and swollen. One purple lump puffs up over his left temple. He's brachycardic and hypotensive. House takes in his vitals with some detached part of himself that says, Dead.
Foreman has his chart. House flicks a glance over his face and reads the same message there. This isn't fixable.
Details start to show through the trauma, then. Wilson's skin is sallow. The tips of his hair are pasted damply against his forehead where they peek out from under the bandages. His hands are, strangely, the most recognizable part of him. They're whole, hardly bruised, fingers soft from pushing paper all his life. House steps closer, staring down at Wilson's face, as if he might open his eyes. "What does the chart say?"
"Upper left quadrant wound, passed through his hepatic artery, leading to internal hemorrhage. He was impaled on something. The bleeding in his brain is from blunt force trauma."
House nods. The life support equipment carries on, but the room is empty. No team of surgeons and nurses working frantically, calling for drugs and rushing Wilson to the OR. The EEG is isoelectric--that's all the answer either of them need.
"House, I'm sorry."
"No, you're not." There's nothing combative in the words. House grips the railing of the hospital bed. It's cool under his palm. "Turn off the machines."
Foreman stares at him. "What?"
The room is a world away, too distant for anything House does or says to make a difference. He lifts his cane and slams it against the side of the bed with a crack. "Turn off the fucking machines."
"House, you don't--"
"He's a vegetable. They're keeping him fresh for organ donation."
Foreman shakes his head slightly. "House," he says. "I could go." He's trying to be delicate, as if House is the dying patient, as if he needs a slow and careful explanation to know exactly what's going on here. "You could say something."
House wants to smash through Foreman's so-sorry sadness act. He doesn't have the right to tell House how he feels. "What, have a touching farewell scene? Hold his hand and cry over him because there's nothing I can do? Keep him on life support as if there's a chance he'll wake up? Who would that be for? Him or me?"
"For Amber," Foreman says. "Don't make this decision for her, House."
House isn't going to watch that. He doesn't even know where she is. Wilson said--Wilson told him. She's working. Night shift. Foreman might be able to track her down. She'd let out a cry, seeing Wilson. Rush to him. Curl up next to him, kiss his cut lip, brushing her mouth over his as softly as she can, wail and hold him and beg him not to die. What the fuck would that accomplish? Why the fuck would House want to watch that?
"Get out," he says.
"House, I brought you here, but I'm not going to stand by while you kill him."
House lifts his eyes to meet Foreman's, determined to burn away the first hint of pity he sees. Foreman thinks his precious ethics are more important than what's right. Thinks a four-month girlfriend is more important than House is. House doesn't care about who should watch Wilson die, but Foreman's lying to himself if he thinks turning off the vent now would be killing him. House jerks open a drawer on the cart an orderly has left in the room. Takes an amp of atropine out and fills a syringe. He pushes one milligram into Wilson's IV and they both turn to the heart monitor. There isn't even a flicker. Wilson stays brachycardic; the atropine had nothing to act on and the brain stem's dead. "Now," House says. "Get the fuck out of this room." He expects Foreman to ring the nurses' station, ask them to bring security in. Keep House out of Wilson's death the way he's out of Wilson's life.
"You're hurting her for spite," Foreman says. "That's all this is, House." His glare is contemptuous, but it's not pitying, and nothing else matters. Foreman turns on his heel and walks out of the room.
House limps around the hospital bed. If Wilson did wake up, there's nothing House could say. I killed you. You're dead because of me. And there's nothing Wilson would say to him that wouldn't be a lie. The last thing Wilson said to House was already a lie, and House can take that a lot better than he can take Wilson's deathbed platitudes.
He turns off the monitor first so that the beep won't bring someone running. He stops the meds and the fluids. Then the ventilator. Then he simply watches until the peaks on the monitor waver, hesitate, and finally wash away into flatline.