“It’s not working.”
House glances up from some paperwork on his current case; Wilson’s standing in the doorway, looking decidedly uncomfortable. “It’s not working,” Wilson repeats, and his voice is tense, almost nervous. He won’t quite meet House’s eyes.
As he stares at Wilson, comprehension slowly dawns on House’s face, and his expression of confusion is replaced by one of cruel amusement. “This is some sort of retaliation for that alfuzocin scrip you wrote for me, isn’t it? How dare House the junkie bother the dedicated Dr. Wilson with something as mundane as a plumbing problem? So now you're gonna teach me a lesson, impart some Wilson Wisdom, and get your own issue resolved all at once; pretty efficient!” he commentsas he locates his prescription pad and begins to scribble on it.
Now Wilson looks puzzled as he reaches hesitantly for the piece of paper House is waving at him. As he reads it, his puzzlement grows, and finally he asks, “What is this?”
House removes his reading glasses and tosses them to the desktop. Then he leans back in his chair with a smug smile. “C’mon! You wanted to blame my ‘pissy little problem’ on the Vicodin, and you were pissed,” House pauses to pull an amused face at his own wordplay, “when I asked for the scrip. So now you come in here asking for that. Losing your touch, Wilson. You really think it’d put me in my place to have to write it for you? Bzzzz… wrong! But as always, thanks for playing!”
Wilson’s thoroughly baffled. “I didn’t… I wasn’t… I don’t call you a junkie!” I did. I was. And no, not a junkie. An addict—much more pleasant euphemism.
“Backfired, didn’t it? ‘Cuz when they see I wrote that for you, it’ll start some really cool rumors. Debbie from Accounting. That Peds nurse Foreman dumped, what’s ‘er name? Wanda?”
“Wendy,” Wilson corrects automatically.
“Whatever; your potential conquests are endless. Maybe even the prescribing physician himself….” House’s grin grows even more mocking as he regards an ever more baffled Wilson.
“Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it?” House is practically crowing. “Here you find yourself in an… embarrassing situation. Ya go to your friend expecting compassion, or maybe just a little understanding. And it doesn’t happen quite like you thought it would. You and ‘little Jimmy’ get to be fodder for the gossip mill; people start lookin’ at you funny. You wonder why your friend couldn’t’ve just given you the scrip without the side order of nastiness.”
House spares Wilson a mock-sympathetic glance. “You’ll get through it; I did.” Wilson hears the suppressed bitterness hiding inside the sarcasm. “Hey, I’m curious,” House continues, “How’s it feel to be on the other side of the prescription pad? Not that I mind writing it, or anything. And if little Jimmy gets ‘worse’, lemme know. Won’t give you a problem with refills either. I know how hard it can be; doc doesn’t believe you, thinks you’re taking too many of ‘em, gives you hell before he’ll give you the scrip. Wouldn’t do that to you, though—not to my best bud!” There’s no longer sympathy in House’s tone, mock or otherwise. Now his voice is just plain bitter.
House has tired of toying with Wilson, though. Quietly, he continues, “Just take it and go. I put a couple refills on there—save you havin to go through this again. Save me having to be bothered with it; win/win, right?”
Wilson stares down at the prescription, then frowns at it. The frown turns into an intense squint as he wills the letters to rearrange themselves into something—anything—else. Finally, he looks up, and says slowly, “Why… are you… giving me… a prescription for… Viagra?”
House settles his face into an expression of doctorly concern. “Every scrip I’ve ever written for ‘the little blue pill’ has been preceded by an embarrassing conversation that starts with some variant of ‘it’s not working.’ Thought I’d save you that conversation. ‘Course, you being a doctor and all, I’d have expected a few fancy terms thrown in for good measure, add some credibility to your story, ya know—in case I think you’re making it up. Avoiding a larger issue, or something. But hey, at least I didn’t make you repeat it three times. Loudly.” House scowls now, remembering the humiliation of having to beg Wilson for pharmaceutical relief from three days’ worth of urinary retention. Remembering that Wilson had accused him of lying.
Wilson doesn’t know whether to laugh at the miscommunication, or just forget the whole thing, turn around, and walk out. He takes a deep breath and decides to try again. “That’s why I’m here, House. That’s what’s not working, not—” He frowns again at the paper in his hand and shakes his head as he crumples it, “this.”
“Huh?” Now it’s House’s turn to look baffled. “I told you the damned pills worked. Well… those and a couple rounds with the garden hose.”
“No. Not that. Not just that.” Wilson sighs, and sits heavily in the chair across from House. “Ever since the whole thing with Tritter….” His voice trails off, and he looks away from House.
“Is this gonna be a conversation about… friendship?” House asks with suspicion. “Because if it is, I think I might have an emergen—” House’s pager interrupts the rest of the sentence, and he makes a show of holding it up before he shuts it off and returns it to his pocket. “Sorry. Gotta go; sick people, you know.” He grabs his cane and stands.
“You did that on purpose,” Wilson accuses quietly.
House smiles. “Technology—it’s a wonderful thing. I’m leaving now. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.” With that, he exits the office.
Wilson stares after him for a long moment. Then he transfers his gaze to the crumpled prescription he’s still holding. Do I really make him feel like that when he asks for his scrips? He thinks back on some of the conversations they’ve had about the Vicodin. Yeah. That’s exactly how I make him feel. Every damned time. Don’t even show him the respect I’d give the junkie on the corner. Sure as hell don’t give him the same amount of compassion. When he told me his pain had returned after the Ketamine, I told him he was just like every other patient. But I don’t treat any other patient the way I treat him.
Wilson twists his mouth into an expression of self-disgust, and lowers his head into his hand. Add that to the list of things I owe him an apology for, and move it to the top of the pile. Been so busy trying to get House to examine his own behavior, his own motivations; never even took a second to realize that maybe mine are just as bad. Or… worse. Yeah. Worse.
Wilson thoughtfully smoothes the little piece of paper that’s just taught him so much, and places it carefully in his pocket before rising slowly and walking to the door. Then he, too, leaves, shutting the door gently behind him.
CHAPTER TWO: EVASION
Over the next several days, House grows even more adept at evading Wilson’s attempts at discussion. He refuses several lunch invitations; the one time he accepts, he drags a reluctant Chase along, effectively blocking any private conversation.
Wilson tries to convince himself that House is busy, distracted. His current case is difficult, and the patient isn’t doing well. House and Chase had spent lunch discussing the latest test results, debating the next set of diagnostics to run. It had bothered Wilson, though, when he’d attempted to offer an opinion on the case. House had let his eyes slide over Wilson as if he weren’t even there, and hadn’t even paused in his discussion with Chase. Chase had caught the slight, had shrugged his shoulders apologetically at Wilson as if to say, You know how he is when he’s got a mystery—dog with a bone.
So Wilson decides to hold off, for a while, trying to talk with House. A lot of things have changed, but not this; the puzzle still trumps everything else. And Wilson respects that, even as he ruefully acknowledges the truth; House would be dodging him anyway, patient or no.
Because he’s angry. And he’s got every right to be angry. What we—no, what I—did to him, it was wrong. Yeah, I did it for all the right reasons, but that excuse is wearing a little thin now, even to me. If he won’t talk, wish he’d yell, or tell me he hates me, blames me, whatever it is that’s still bothering him. Wish he’d just admit that something is bothering him. Can’t start to fix it until he acknowledges it’s broken….
Wilson’s thoughts wander back a few months, to a time—perhaps the only time—that House had indicated, in words, that their friendship meant anything at all to him. Wilson remembers his amazement when House had told him, “Maybe I don’t wanna push this ‘til it breaks.” There’d been something not quite readable in House’s eyes when he’d said it… fear, maybe? Fear of losing the one real relationship he had, the one good thing that hadn’t been a casualty of the infarction?
Should’ve told him then; he couldn’t—can’t—break it. Damn him; I don’t even know why, but there’s nothing he could do that’d make me give up on him. He needed to know that then, deserves to know it now. Maybe he’s acting like this because it feels safer for him, pretending not to care. He thinks he pushed me away, broke it. And he didn’t. Hell, he even apologized to me. But it broke anyway…. And if he wasn’t the one to do it, then maybe I was….
This last is a new thought for Wilson, and he turns it around in his mind, and feels the first stirrings of something that might be… guilt?
Head down, deep in thought, he walks toward the elevator, and barely notices that he almost trips as he enters the car.
“Excuse you,” a familiar voice intones, and Wilson realizes that what he’d almost tripped over is House’s cane. Before he can shield the sadness in his eyes, he’s looking into House’s oddly concerned face.
“Lose another baldie?” House asks, and for an irrational moment, Wilson wishes that he could say yes, and keep that concerned look in House’s eyes for just a few seconds more, before the strong new wall goes back up.
Wilson sighs. “No, I was just… thinking. About us, actually; you and me, this friendsh—”
“Oops; turns out this is my floor. See you!” House calls cheerfully as he exits the elevator.
Wilson sighs again as the doors close on House’s rapidly retreating back.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wilson sees House’s team high-fiving each other in the corridor outside their patient’s room. House has solved the riddle; now all they’ve gotta do is cure the guy. House’s fellows are happy because House is satisfied—and therefore easier to be around.
On Wednesday night, Wilson shows up at House’s apartment, pizza and six-pack in hand. He knows he’s taking a chance—but he’s running out of ideas. House is coming to the end of his case; the timing should be good. Wilson’s counting on it. He stands at the front door, wondering if he should knock and enter as he usually does—used to do, he corrects himself—or knock and wait. Or maybe just forget the whole thing.
He’s spared the decision when House, money in hand, opens the door himself, and they stare at each other for a few uncomfortable seconds.
House finds his voice first. “Thought you were the pizza delivery.”
Wilson holds up the pizza and the beer. “Better; I come bearing alcohol!” He hates the note of false, superficial cheer he hears in his own voice.
House blinks and swallows. He opens the door wider and inclines his head; Wilson feels the reluctance in the gesture, and resolutely ignores it as he walks in, striding past a bemused House. Wilson wishes he could tell him not to worry—nothing serious, no deep discussions tonight. It’s safe, House. Not gonna ambush you. Really. But he has a plan, and he sticks to it.
All evening, Wilson intentionally steers the conversation, and he keeps it light, almost shallow. Midway through dinner, he senses that House has started to relax a bit; he’s even smiled, once or twice. And every once in a while, the shutters lift a moment from the blue eyes, and Wilson catches a glimpse of something… warm, and almost open. Wilson’s briefly tempted to take advantage of that, and to try, gently, to introduce the topic that’s been consuming his thoughts all week.
No; don’t be an idiot, he chides himself. You’re damned lucky he even let you in. So what if it’s not exactly like old times. We’re in the same room, sharing the same meal. Sharing a laugh. Yeah, I’ve had deeper conversations with the grocery clerk, but… gotta start somewhere.
When they end the evening, Wilson feels he’s won some sort of victory when House says casually, “Still got your key, right? Lock the door on your way out, will ya?”
On Thursday afternoon, Wilson’s pager goes off. He reads the message and smiles. The words are simple, generic—house clinic exrm3—and they’re comfortable in their old familiarity.
Maybe last night paid off, he thinks. Gotta admit, it was hard not to try and get ‘im to open up. But this… breakdown… in communications was months in the making. Gonna take a while to repair it. Or it’s going to take something… big. Really big. Something that’ll prove to House that I’m in it for the long haul; that this is for life.
He shakes his head to clear it of the unbidden image of House on Christmas Eve, lying on the floor, perhaps dying. And Wilson had walked out; he’d let House down—maybe even endangered his life. All to prove a stupid point—a point that would’ve most certainly been pointless, if House had died. He’s replayed it a million times since that night, and it always ends differently from the reality. It ends the way it should’ve; hope he’ll give me the chance, someday, to prove it.
Wilson pulls himself out of the unpleasant memory, out of the bout of wishful thinking. He heads to the elevator, trying to remember when House had last called him down to the clinic for a sham consult. He realizes it’s been months.
Losing his touch; this is too obvious. He knows I know he’s got a case; no clinic duty. But maybe that’s a good sign, Wilson reflects; maybe this is House’s way of trying to normalize things, his way of saying, “Okay, I’m getting over it; let’s watch the soaps and laugh at Chase’s new haircut.”
More wishful thinking; House doesn’t let go of his grudges. He stews about ‘em; he worries them—for years! Wilson remembers a couple of years ago, House trying to take down a colleague who’d wronged him decades earlier, when House was a med student. So what makes me think I’m gonna get off any easier? Wilson snorts. It’d take some life or death crisis to get me off the hook without House exacting his long, slow revenge. Then, trying to be optimistic, Wilson reminds himself that House had paged him, after all. Longest journey… first step… all that garbage.
Wilson starts down the hall. A nurse and an intern are headed towards him, engrossed in an animated conversation.
“Figures,” the intern is saying. “Does something nice for once in his miserable life, and look what it gets him.”
Wilson hears the nurse giggle. “You know what they say; no good deed goes unpunished. And if he does get infected, there are a lot of people around here who’ll figure he deserves it.”
“No one deserves systemic MRSA, not even him,” the intern says. “Could kill ‘im, poor bastard.” The intern looks away from the nurse, spots Wilson, and stops speaking. The sudden silence causes the nurse to look up. She sees Wilson, and blushes as her hand flies to her mouth. Wilson smiles politely and nods as he passes, and their nervous, embarrassed laughter echoes in his ears as he continues down the hall.
Wilson winces at an unpleasant memory their conversation had sparked. Back in med school, a fellow student had become infected with methicillin-resistant staph aureus, known to the medical community simply as MRSA. Combative nursing-home patient, a moment of inattention during a blood draw, and bam. The infection had turned systemic, and the student had developed a severe bone abscess. The osteomyelitis hadn’t ever responded completely to any of the antibiotics they’d thrown at it, and after an unpleasant, painful battle, the young man had been reduced to begging for death.
Wilson thinks of the conversation he’s just heard, and silently wishes the anonymous victim good luck. He also makes a mental note to impress upon his next group of students and interns the importance of universal precautions. Some poor kid’s maybe had his career ruined today, before it even starts. And his career could be the least of his problems…. Wilson thinks back to his friend in med school; the infection had eventually killed him, and his death had been as drawn out and agonizing as the battle against it had been.
Wilson shakes his head to clear it of the memory. Something’s bothering him about the conversation he’s overheard, but for some reason his brain’s just not letting him process it. And as sad as the incident is, Wilson’s still determined to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity to get things straightened out with House.
As Wilson reaches the door of Exam Room Three, he takes a moment to school his expression into one of mild exasperation at the ‘interruption’ to his schedule, because that’s what House’ll expect—but first, he has to get rid of the amused, relieved smile he’s worn since he got the page.
He reaches for the door. Look annoyed, he reminds himself. But not too annoyed…. Which is why, four seconds later, he’s staring at a room full of people with a completely inappropriate expression on his face. But none of those people even look up; they’re crowded around the exam table, and there’s blood—a lot of it. The gathered staff appear unprofessionally flustered, even upset. The only times Wilson’s ever seen medical staff act like this is when the patient’s one of their own, and things aren’t looking good. His breath catches in his throat, and Wilson’s eyes fly to the head of the bed. House is lying on the exam table looking angry—and terribly, frighteningly pale.
And here's Chapter Three...