Title: Bittersweet Hour
Characters: House, Wilson
Word Count: 1400
Summary: Wilson reflects on what he and House have been through together.
The previous vignettes, in order, are: Visiting Hour, Happy Hour, Midnight Hour, Fifty-Minute Hour, Random Hour, Painful Hour, Dark Hour , Desperate Hour, Witching Hour , Lonely Hour, Dinner Hour, Legal Hour , Honorable Hour, House's Hour , Wilson's Hour , Uncomfortable Hour , Lunch Hour , Administrative Hour , and Evening Hour.
A/N: This is it, kids; end of the road on The Hour Series. My appreciation for sticking with me on this journey. And I'm at a loss as to the proper words to thank blackmare_9 and misanthropicobs for their apparently limitless patience, their brilliant suggestions, their perceptive analysis of the House-Wilson dynamic. They're awesome, and I'm incredibly lucky. ~mjf 07.17.07
After four days of pretending not to watch over Wilson, House is finally back at work today. Wilson’s relieved; he suspects House is too. Yesterday, Wilson had finally figured out what the problem is; they’re off-balance.
Of course, Wilson appreciates House’s concern. He’s even thankful for the awkward attempts House has made to take care of him, though most of those attempts have resulted in more work for Wilson. He smiles, remembering his second night home.
For the first time ever, House had offered to make the popcorn for their movie. He hadn’t just offered—he’d insisted. Wilson had sat miserably on the couch, trying to enjoy the feeling of being useless.
Then House had yelled from the kitchen, telling Wilson to “get in here now!” Wilson had run in to find a virtual blizzard of popped kernels everywhere, with House demanding, at the top of his lungs, to know why Wilson had chosen not to tell him about using a lid on the pot. The conversation had then proceeded downhill rapidly.
“Uh… House. Surely even genius diagnosticians have enough common sense to know that popcorn… umm… pops.”
“Of course I know that, you moron! I figured that if the stuff had enough common sense to stay in a one quart bag, it could handle staying inside a two gallon pot!”
Wilson had stolen a glance at House’s face to make sure he was serious; oh, yeah. So Wilson had swallowed his laughter, taken a deep breath, and tried again.
“House, the bag is enclosed; the stuff is trapped.” Wilson had patiently drawn a box in the air with his hands to demonstrate. “In an open pot, the stuff pops, and pow!” Wilson again gestured, this time illustrating something along the lines of a nuclear explosion.
At which time House, glowering angrily, had made a gesture with his hand, and Wilson had to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing, but the laughter had snuck up to his eyes, and he was really sorry, but c’mon, House, it’s funny! And after just a few seconds they’d both cracked up. Both the memory and the later blackmail potential had made it worth having to clean up the mess.
So Wilson had made another batch and put the kitchen back in order. And House had sat on a stool grumbling, and pointing out that at least he’d tried. Of course, it was all Wilson’s fault for insisting that stove-popped corn was so much better than the microwaved variety; House knew how to handle those non-aggressive sealed bags!
And later, at bedtime, House had actually asked Wilson if he was all right, if he needed anything. Okay, so he’d phrased it, “You don’t need anything, do you?” But at least he’d asked.
Wilson doesn’t want to discourage this apparent emotional growth. But it’s so different from the way things used to be that it’s… unsettling.
Wilson’s used to being the caretaker, the giver, the protector. And House is used to being, well, House. So the role-reversal of the last few days is taking its toll on both of them. Wilson realizes that things can’t go back to the way they were before he went to prison—and they shouldn’t. But until he and House find their footing, allow this new balance to seek its own, natural level, it’s going to be just a little… weird.
Yesterday, when Wilson had pinpointed the problem, he’d casually suggested, over dinner, that maybe it was time for House to go back to work. House had jumped on the idea with alacrity; he’s aware of the imbalance too. And he’s begun showing the first signs of boredom; Wilson knows that a bored House is something to be avoided at all costs.
Once the decision had been made, the situation had begun to improve immediately. Their evening had been relaxed and enjoyable; House had even been comfortable enough to throw a few insults at Wilson, make a few bad prison jokes. Wilson had forgotten that those jokes could be funny—and that laughter can help to heal.
Wilson’s enjoying his freedom today. He chuckles at the irony of having felt more confined under House’s watchful eye than he’d ever felt in prison. He has to laugh at himself, too. He finally has an entire day to do just as he likes, and he finds that the more routine, the more mundane an activity is, the more satisfaction it brings. So now, he’s doing laundry.
Wilson picks up a pair of jeans, half-hiding under House's bed. He's done a few loads of wash for House in the past—and he's learned, the hard way, to check the pockets. He's previously found receipts, yo-yo strings, lab results, an expensive pen. Once, a wad of bubble gum. And House still hasn't forgiven him for putting the GameBoy through the soak cycle.
So Wilson puts his hand into a back pocket with a bit of trepidation, and immediately feels paper, folded tightly into a neat square. The paper's been handled too often; it's soft now—soft as the many denim pockets it’s obviously been pushed into and pulled out of over the last few weeks. Wilson recognizes it—his own handwriting, visible through the thin prison stationery; it's the letter he'd written to Cuddy.
Wilson opens it carefully, slowly—the paper’s split at the creases— and reads his own words, remembering the loneliness, the desperation he'd felt as he'd tried to say something that would somehow make a difference for House, lighten House's burden of guilt, anger… shame.
He'd known the letter had made a difference; Cuddy had visited one Tuesday, and told him so. She'd said that House had changed, after she told him what Wilson had written. That from the moment he’d scooped the letter from the table and left the restaurant that night, he'd been more confident, less cranky. But more than that, he'd seemed... at peace. Oh, he was still their miserable House, but underlying all his usual sound and fury, there was a serenity Cuddy’d never seen in him before. Wilson was certain he’d misunderstood, and asked her to repeat it. That was the word she’d used—serenity.
And Wilson’s seen the change for himself, in the days since he’d been released. As long as he’s known House, he’s sensed that beneath his ego, his bravado, an old hurt festered—a hurt that kept House striving for something always out of his reach. House is more comfortable with himself now; somehow, he’s touched whatever’s eluded him all these years.
Until now, though, Wilson hasn't known just what it was he'd written that seemed to have made such a difference, had made things better for House. As he reads the last lines of the letter, his question is answered—with a certainty that takes his breath away.
While writing to Cuddy, Wilson had remembered that night in Atlantic City when their doomed patient asked House why he’d become a doctor. House told the story of a man everybody shunned, until they needed him. Wilson will always remember the intensity burning in House's eyes as he'd related how everyone had to listen to the man, because he was right. In that moment, Wilson had realized the incredible importance such acknowledgement held for House. So he had written, Tell House I said he did the right thing. Tell him just like that: 'Wilson says you were right; you did the right thing.'
House had highlighted the last sentence; it shines and jumps from the page in bright yellow. The words around it are smudged from handling, but this sentence is vivid and alive under its glowing blanket of ink.
Wilson carefully refolds the fragile paper and slides it gently back into the pocket. He takes his time replacing the jeans, just as he’d found them. Then he sits on the edge of the bed and closes his eyes. Against the burning blackness of his eyelids, that one sentence still glows. Such a simple truth, just something Wilson had wanted House to know, yet somehow—just as House had worked to free Wilson—Wilson’s words had freed House.
In all these months, throughout the entire horrible nightmare, there's one thing Wilson's never done, never given into. And now, it finally happens. Wilson bows his head, and he cries.
Another A/N: Many (myself included) wanted to see this series go to twenty-four hours. blackmare_9