Summary:House conducts an impromptu therapy session for Wilson—and ends up participating himself.
Wilson opens the door to his hotel room with a sigh of resignation.He’s lived here for close to two years now, and nothing ever changes.The room’s always clean, always quiet, the bed’s always made; the air even smells the same—institutionally sanitized, with a faint, sharp whiff of some chemical he’s never been able to place.Every time he enters, it makes his nostrils sting briefly.After a minute, though, he’s used to it; the scent and the sting recede.And most of the time, he can ignore it, though it never quite goes away.
This isn’t a home.It always feels… dead.Empty.When the door to a home opens, the air is warm and soft, and alive.Noisy.It smells like dinner, or your wife’s perfume, or the fresh cedar shavings in your best friend’s rat cage.It isn’t something that you have to adjust to; it’s something that welcomes, that gives comfort.You don’t even really notice it, because it’s just… part of living.It’s right, and you never notice right, until it isn’t there anymore.
Maybe I should get some candles—some of those scented ones.The ones that smell like food cooking.Pumpkin pie, maybe.Or baked apples; Bonnie always made ‘em with cinnamon.
Wilson smiles sadly at his own foolishness; he’s just homesick for… a home.That’s all it is.Tonight, though, Wilson’s grateful for the impersonality, the silence, even the flat, lifeless air.He feels safe here; this room asks nothing of him, requires nothing.He takes a breath and tries to ignore the way it doesn’t quite fill his lungs.He takes another, and closes his eyes, and tells himself he’s beginning to relax.He’s getting good at this; he almost believes it.He rolls his shoulders and rubs his neck.He even ignores the weird scraping noise out in the hall, so close it sounds like it’s at his door.Doesn’t concern him though; he’s alone, and happy about it.
And in an instant, his painstakingly constructed illusion is gone; shattered against the sharp planes of a loud voice.House, who somehow sucks all the air out of every space he ever inhabits, has arrived—with a bang, and without a key; he’s putting a metal nail file into his pocket as he enters.
“What the hell is up with you?" House demands as he stalks around the suddenly too-full room, turning on every lamp in the place. "The whole Greta Garbo impersonation is getting a little old.You develop an allergy to people?To light?”
When every corner is blazing with light, when the television’s been turned on and the volume turned up to “blare,” House, satisfied, collapses on the couch, turns to Wilson and smiles smugly.
Wilson explodes.Striding over to House, he yanks the remote away, stabs the ‘off’ button, then flings it across the room.“Oh, I get it!It’s just peachy when you go behind your nice, safe walls and you shut down.You get to treat everybody like crap, and you count on me to wait patiently like… like some loyal guard dog, keep the rest of the world at bay until you’re ready to come out and play again.”
Wilson doesn’t mention that that’s exactly what he’s always done, since shortly after House’s infarction, and maybe that’s why House has come to expect it.He glares at House, and continues.“But I try to get a little time to myself and you can’t stand it, you take it personally.You break into my room, invade my space?!”Wilson sighs, and catches his breath.“It’s not always all about you, House.Sometimes, astounding as it is, it’s just about the rest of us.You know, the other six point seven billion people who share the planet withyou?Deal with it.”
“You want me to leave?You wanna sit in your righteous little corner, lick your wounds until they bleed?Don’t let me stop you.”House stands with a slow, exaggerated effort, grunts loudly with pain as he makes his laborious way to the door.Wilson, arms folded, watches impassively.
When House gives a strained, hitched sigh, and the cane trembles beneath his hand, Wilson, unimpressed, shakes his head.“You’re really chewing the scenery; gotta say, though, not one of your better performances.”
House lifts his chin and opens the door with a flourish.He pulls the door closed behind him with a decisive click.
Wilson, arms still folded, glances at his watch, then stares at the doorknob.He nods to himself when, eleven seconds later, it begins to turn.
“You were seriously gonna let me leave!” House complains in an aggrieved tone.
“Actually,” Wilson says dryly, “I was just calculating if I could make it to the door in time to lock it before you returned.And turns out, that’d be a no.”
House attempts to look insulted, but he drops the pose quickly; he’s got more serious matters on his mind.“So.You never told me why you’ve been avoiding me.And everyone else.Well… I get the whole ditching-everybody-else concept; I even approve. But me?Thought I was your bestest bud!”
“Sure, House.Thoughtless of me, staying away from the friend who almost cost me a pain-and-suffering lawsuit with that patient I misdiagnosed.Next time, I’ll sing your praises from the roof of the hospital and nominate you for Friend of the Year; you’re a shoo-in.That work for you?”
House smiles and wags his fingers at Wilson.“Aww, you!I’m just a sucker for sarcasm.‘Specially when it’s so subtle.”He drops the smile.“You’re angry with me.”
“What’d I do?”
“How much time do you have?”
House tips his head back, informs the ceiling, “And the zingers just keep coming.”He looks at Wilson.“Save us both some time; cut to the chase.”
“House, it’s not that simple.Yeah, I’m pissed with you.But for what?Depends what day it is.Hell, it depends what time it is!”
House makes a show of looking at his watch.“Let’s start with .That’d be now.”
“Where do I start?” Wilson asks rhetorically.“Breaking and entering.Disturbing the peace.Improper use of your disability to garner undeser—”
“Wait a second!That’s not a reason; it’s a rap sheet.Gimme a reason, something I can sink my teeth into.”
Wilson smiles thinly.“You refuse to leave me alone.”
“That’s it?That’s it?I give you a free shot, and the best you can come up with is I’m invading your space?”
“I’m sure this won’t impress you, but it’s been… a difficult few weeks for me.See, it actually bothers me when I’m responsible for someone else’s misery.”
House sighs theatrically.“The cancer guy again.You do know, don’t you, that they don’t hand out bonus points to good little doctors for getting more depressed than their patients? ”
“They don’t hand out bonus points for invalidating your best friend’s feelings, either,” Wilson snaps.
House looks at him.“So you’re miserable, and you want me to acknowledge it.Well, bully for you.Being miserable doesn’t make you better than anybody else, you know; it just makes you miserable,” he says, and Wilson can practically hear the quotation marks around the words.Too bad he hadn’t realized when he’d first said them to House how cruel it sounded, how belittling. But he’ll be damned if he’d let House know that.
“The only reason I’m miserable is because there are two people in this room.And since I happen to live here….”Wilson doesn’t hold out much hope that House’ll take the hint and leave.In fact, he doesn’t hold out any hope—and House doesn’t disappoint; he plops down on the couch again as if he’s planning to stay there all evening.
“Lucky for you I’m wearing my Impervious Suit tonight; otherwise, that might’ve hurt my feelings,” House tells him.
“Perish the thought.”Wilson’s beginning to wonder if it’s even possible to hurt House’s feelings.
“That’s okay,” House says magnanimously.“I’ll let you make it up to me by telling me how brilliant my new grand plan is.”
“I’m on tenterhooks; do tell.”
“You might be interested to know I’ve decided to let the new kids adjust to life on campus without the usual hazing rituals.I’m going to—as they say—absent myself from their orbit.You’re always telling me my team’s the best in the state; gonna let ‘em prove it.Rumor is I… uh… inhibit people.And maybe intimidate them; go figure.So—if I want to know what they’re really capable of—I’m just gonna sit back, pretend I’m a department head, make like an administrator for a while.”
“You have some good points,” Wilson says thoughtfully.
When House responds, his tone is light—but Wilson can tell he’s surprised.“My points are always good; that’s a given.But… you’re not gonna try and talk me out of it?”
“Would it do any good?” Wilson asks.
“I don’t know,” House answers honestly—and now Wilson’s surprised.“Kinda counting on you to try, though.”
House rolls his eyes as if the answer’s the most obvious thing in the world.“Because that’s how I figure out if your cons are gonna outweigh my pros, of course!”
Wilson stares; House means it.So he backpedals.“Well… on second thought that might not be a good—”
“Hey!You had your chance!Doesn’t mean anything if I have to tell you what you should’ve done.Duh.”He rolls his eyes again, and adds a lifted eyebrow for emphasis.
Wilson doesn’t understand why this crazy reasoning irritates him; he knows only that it does.“Sorry I fell short of your expectations,” he snaps.“Next go-round, clue me in ahead of time and I’ll do you proud.”
“Pissy today,” House observes.“Not sure I should squander my evening hanging with you.”But he swings his legs up, stretches out on the couch.
“Do yourself a favor, then—don’t.Please.Don’t.Couldn’t live with myself, knowing I’d ruined your evening.Go; I’ll even hold the door for you.”
"It’s okay,” House assures him.“I’m here for you, bud.”
“No, you’re here for a solution to the puzzle—that all-consuming mystery of why I’d possibly choose to spend time alone, instead of basking in the warm glow of your company.”
“There’s that, too,” House says agreeably, apparently unfazed by Wilson’s peevish glare.“And normally I’d say have at it; I’m not one to stay where I’m clearly not wanted.But,” he continues loudly over the bark of Wilson’s harsh laugh, “But,” he repeats, “it’s been going on a month now, this whole pitiful ‘I’m my own best friend’ routine.People are beginning to talk.”
“They’re only talking because they’re amazed to discover that you can afford to pay for your own lunch.Most of ‘em had never seen that particular phenomenon before.And it might never occur to you, but some people actually enjoy their own company.”
“But not you.You want people to need you.And that, unfortunately, requires… uh… people.You thrive on solving their problems, knowing the answers.Becoming the object of their adoration. I told Cameron once that she was the Circle Queen.You go her one better; you’re the Gate Keeper.You get to decide how hard to beat ‘em, how bad to break ‘em.And then you get the satisfaction of resetting them and pulling them in to join the rest of the Perfect People.And you’re good at your job, damned good.But lately, your job satisfaction quotient’s been low.And it’s bugging you.”
Wilson, disgusted, shakes his head.“I can’t even begin to point out all the ways your analogy’s faulty.But how ‘bout we start with you.If I was as successful as you claim, you’d be Circle King by now—my shining achievement.”
“Nope, not me.I’m an exception; I refuse to be broken and reset for my own good.Not even to buff up your stats.The Circle?Been there, done that, found it not to my liking.”He sees Wilson’s surprised expression.
“All right, I’ll share.Goes against my nature, but what the hell.Even I, the Lone Ranger, was once not immune to the charms of The Circle.When I was inside it, I was as smug and superior and safe as the rest of its inhabitants.Then, this happened.”He indicates his damaged leg with a flip of his hand.His eyes narrow a little, and go distant.Wilson wonders what he’s remembering; it clearly isn’t pleasant, and House just as clearly isn’t going to share it.
When House speaks again, his voice has a faraway quality; he seems to be thinking aloud more than talking to Wilson.“And I got tossed out of The Circle on my ass.But I was too stupid, maybe even too egotistical to know it; thought they cared about who I was, not just what I could provide for ‘em.Turns out, they didn’t even know who I was.But it wasn’t me they wanted; it was my skill, my brains.As soon as I found that out, I left.And they never noticed.Because the parts I took weren’t the parts they ever saw.And it didn’t matter, because the things I left behind were the only ones they’d placed any importance on.”
House sighs then, a long, regretful sound.His eyes refocus and he seems to remember that he’s not alone; he looks at Wilson and begins to speak in a normal tone.
“And you’re no less hypocritical than the rest of them.Difference with you is, you're so good at it you call it 'truth'--and believe it.What was it you said during our last variation of this conversation?Oh, yeah….”Here, House deepens his voice dramatically, intones, “’The most painful truth does far less damage, in the long term, than the most innocuous lie.’Sad thing is, you believe that—but you don’t live it.And that’s why you’re so screwed up now.All those little lies to yourself have ganged up and become a wrecking ball—and that ball’s aimed right for your chest.And you don’t know enough to get out of the way.”
“Oh, I get it,” Wilson says bitterly.“So you’re here to mitigate the damage, push me to safety.For my own good, of course.”
House doesn’t look at Wilson when he states, without humor, “The Circle has its faults.But even I can’t dispute that it’s safer in there.And I’m all about the damage control.”
“What if that’s not what I want?What if it’s not what I need?Maybe I just wanna handle things your way for a while.Be the Lone Ranger, solve my own problems, decide on my own truths.Not have to answer to anybody.”
“Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto,” House points out quietly.“And… he counted on him to be the voice of reason.Works for me, but you?Nope.It’s like this; you belong in the circle; I don’t.Never will.Probably never did.”
This rare admission from House pulls Wilson out of his own thoughts, his own misery.House, in his twisted way, has just announced that he needsWilson in his life, counts on him to be the other half of House’s lonely, exclusive Circle.And Tonto’s been unreachable lately.
And that translates into--he’s worried I’m gone.Afraid I won’t be back.Don’t know why I didn’t notice before.
Wilson looks long at House, reads the vulnerability and the pain in his eyes.He feels powerless to help his friend; everything House has said is fact—immutable fact.Then, he remembers what House had said earlier, about counting on Wilson to provide the other side, to help House weigh his own arguments.He’d blown it a few minutes ago; now he’s determined to share whatever insight he can.
“You’re wrong, you know.You do belong in a Circle.It’s just… more exclusive, that’s all.You’re there, and I’m there,” Wilson says.“I mean… I’m not there now.But I will be.Just… give me some time.Let me get past the McKenna thing; then I’ll be back.”
“Oh, come off it!Been four weeks since Mr. ‘Financial Ruin Is A Fate Worse Than Death’ tipped over your happy little world.There’s more to it than that.”
Wilson sighs.He’s never gonna get rid of House at this rate.Should’ve saved himself some time up front and given up his delusion of a right to privacy without a struggle.House would’ve left satisfied, and he’d be enjoying his solitude now.Well… not enjoying, exactly, but….“Okay.If I tell you, will you go?”
House doesn’t respond, but Wilson continues anyway.“If it’s so damned important to you, I’ll tell you.That fiasco with Mr. McKenna got me thinking.What I do… it’s hard.People die.Lots of people.All the time.And it bothers me.It hurts, okay?I just… it’s easier to… I want to… just let me deal with things my own way, okay?Alone.”He gazes defiantly at House, and is amazed to see a triumphant grin on House’s face.“What are you smiling about?” he demands.
House reaches into his pocket and withdraws a folded sheet of paper.“That puzzle?Solved it before you spilled.Damn, I’m good.”
There’s a knock at the door, and before Wilson can move, House holds up his hand.“That’s for me,” he says, tossing the paper to Wilson.“Just a minute,” he calls, and begins to go to the door.
“What’s that?” Wilson, mystified, gestures toward the door.“And what’s this?” he continues, looking at the square of folded paper.
“Just read it, you moron.”
Wilson unfolds it; a standard list off a printer, his current patients.Twenty-three of them.But the neat, typed lines aren’t what grabs his attention.House, two different-colored highlighters, and a purple pen have turned the thing into a work of art.
The seven patients who’d come to him carrying death sentences have been highlighted in yellow.Of those seven, the three he’d cured are circled in purple.And on top of the four currently in remission, House’s distinctive scribble announces, “Status TBA—but they ain’t dead yet!”
By the names of the eight ‘routine’ patients, the purple pen had jotted—‘compassion/methotrexate/home—boring’
And across the five names of patients that Wilson had fought for, fought hard to get them into research protocols that could reverse their grim prognoses—day-glo orange proclaims, ‘Match of the Century:Boy Wonder vs. Death!!!Boy Wonder Undefeated!’
Wilson stares at the list, at the message.When he looks up, a smile’s just beginning to form on his face—until he sees House open the door and take out his wallet.
Stunned, Wilson watches as House gives the delivery man a twenty dollar bill, then reaches back into his wallet for a five and murmurs, “What the hell—here.Only live once, right?”House pushes the door closed and heads back towards Wilson, carrying the greasy, fragrant box.The heady aromas of pepperoni and spices warm the room, and Wilson notices immediately that the room’s not ‘sanitized’ anymore.It’s just… something it’s never been.For this moment, it’s right.It’s home.
“What the hell is… all this?” Wilson asks in a dazed voice, gesturing at the pizza, the paper—and House.
“A… somewhat… wise man once told me to start small,” House intones.“That list is a small reminder that it isn’t always about the end.And this?”House hefts the box he’s holding.“It’s pizza,” House says, and now his voice is quiet, oddly gentle.“With a friend.”