Chapter Eight: REALIZATION
Chapter Nine: TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH
And here are the concluding four chapters! The third (and final) book of the trilogy, The Devil's In the Details, will begin going up at the end of the week. Thanks, all!
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Thoughts
Wilson doesn’t leave the room; he can’t. He knows that House, having demonstrated trust, is now going to have to run the other way—at least figuratively. But he suddenly finds any number of things to do which will give House some emotional privacy. He doesn’t verbally answer House’s thanks; this is his way of acknowledging it. After a while, he settles in the chair with paperwork and a stack of journals.
House watches Wilson moving about the room, then sitting and feigning interest in the reading material, and is grateful for both his presence and his discretion. So many things have changed in the last few days—the pain control, the reversal of the downward spiral of his health, of course. Even that new thing with the left thigh. Those things are concrete, objective. He can think about those things in a scientific way, and he’s comfortable with that. But other things have changed, and they’re not as easy to examine, not as simple to analyze.
Why did I decide to trust again? Didn’t want to; maybe it’s because I needed to. They’ve both been… great. I didn’t deserve it; they did it anyway. But I can’t let go of the anger; are they still gonna be there when they realize that? It’s what keeps me going. Jimmy’d call it hurt, but he’s wrong—it’s anger. And I need it as much as I need them.
House actually starts, visibly, in surprise at this unexpected thought, and Wilson looks up from the chart, a question in his eyes, but silently returns to his work when House turns his head to the opposite wall.
Where’d that come from? Need them? House tries to reject the strange thought. I don’t need anybody; just easier that way. Appreciate what they’ve done, but it won’t happen again. Can’t. Then I’d start to expect them to be there; won’t depend on anybody but me. Been doing it for years. Yeah, Wilson tries, but he hur—made me angry—too, when he didn’t believe my pain was real.
House looks over at Wilson, now involved in making notes on a journal article; Wilson’s concentrating on what he’s doing, and doesn’t look up. He looks like hell; how long has it been since he’s slept? Don’t wanna be responsible for anyone else; can’t even be responsible for myself—that’s how I got here. Don’t want to have to worry about him, too. House sighs, and now Wilson looks up at the sound.
“Lights bothering you? It’ll be time to hang a new bag soon; I can shut the lights off now if you’re ready to sleep.” Wilson’s pretty sure he knows what House is thinking about, and that’s one of the reasons he refuses to leave the room—he needs to be here when the thought process concludes; House needs to know that it’s okay, that Wilson understands.
“No, not tired yet. But you are. Go ahead and hang the bag; I’ll switch ‘em over. Go on to bed.” Too easy to feel… safe, with you sitting there. Can’t get used to this. And I’m starting to; that’s a mistake.
Wilson smiles to himself. Nope, not getting rid of me, buddy. Worked way too hard to get things to this point; you try to back away all you want—I get that you have to do that; now you need to get that it’s not gonna work. But go for it. “Thanks, I’ll just stay here, if you don’t mind.” There’s your opening, House.
“I do mind. I’ll be fine; got some thinking to do. Can’t think with you sitting there.” Because I can hear you caring again, and it’s drowning out the stuff I need to hear, about how I gotta do this on my own.
Wilson actually laughs. “House, you could think in the middle of an atomic explosion!” He makes a show of going back to his work, blatantly ignoring House’s request.
Please, Jimmy. Hard enough; you’re making it harder. House tries again, and puts annoyance in his voice.“You’re buggin’ me. Need some privacy. Go.”
“Prefer to stay, thanks,” Wilson responds mildly, keeping his eyes on the abstract he’s pretending to read.
“I said I need some privacy! I’m entitled to that.” House tries to sound truly angry.
“Of course you are, and in a little while you’ll have all the privacy you want.” I’m sorry; I know you’re scared, I know you want to go hide behind the biggest wall you can find. I understand that. And that’s why I’m not moving. No more walls, House. Not with me. Not with Cuddy. You let us in; we’re staying.
House sighs in exasperation and resumes his intensive study of the wall. You’re not getting it. I’m trying to… trying to… protect you. No one asked you to do this; you don’t know what you’re getting into. Sure, you’ve got a better idea than Cuddy, had to let you in a few times already, but now I’m trying to let you know it’s not gonna work. Ask my parents. Ask Stacy. They thought they could take it. I wore ‘em out. Even my mother’s happy now—limited contact, she can pretend I’m fine. I’m just too much work, and I’m not worth it. Why can’t you get that? House is becoming frustrated; he frowns, makes an impatient gesture with his hand. He’s becoming agitated with his own internal dialogue.
Wilson watches covertly. Still here, House. Fought way too hard to get here. Not going anywhere. Wilson recalls Cuddy’s story of watching House cry silently, all alone, a few days after the debridement surgery. Couldn’t be there for you then, and that hurt, didn’t it? You’ll never tell her, you won’t tell me. But we know. And we’re sorry. Not gonna happen again. Ever. Believe it.
The IV pump beeps, and Wilson rises to change the TPN bag. House watches him finish the task and turn towards the bed for his assessment. He searches Wilson’s face. He’s not quite certain what he’s looking for—reluctance, maybe, or resentment at all the work House is causing him—but all he finds in his best friend’s face is the same open, caring expression that’s brought secret comfort to him so many times in the past.
As Wilson begins his exam, House is paying close attention. The gentle hand that rests warmly on his shoulder as Wilson listens to the breath sounds. The concerned concentration in the kind brown eyes during the cardiac assessment. Even the incredibly careful way he checks the PICC line dressing. And finally, the undisguised happiness in Wilson’s voice when he announces quietly, “We’re making some real progress,” and smiles at House.
And that smile, that utterly sincere relief, decides it. House’s internal arguments silence themselves as he reaches his decision. Okay Jimmy, tried to warn you off; you’re still here, you moron. And Cuddy, too—thought she was smarter than that. So we’ll try it your way. I’ll need some time to believe it, and, sadly, you’ll give me that time, won’t you? So you win. Or… maybe I do.
“I’m gonna turn the light out now, okay?” Wilson asks. “I’ll just stay a few more minutes, and then I’ll give you that privacy.”
“No. That’s okay, done thinking now. You can… stay awhile, if you want to. As company goes, you’re almost tolerable.”
Wilson turns to switch the light off, and both men smile to themselves in the darkness.
CHAPTER THIRTY: Reflections
When Cuddy arrives the next morning, she has a plan, and she wastes no time implementing it. House, sans monitors, is already comfortably settled on the couch for the day, and he and Wilson are enjoying a cup of coffee. Rather, Wilson is enjoying his; House is sipping at his cup with little enthusiasm, but at least he’s trying.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” she says, smiling widely.
House turns to Wilson. “Something’s up. She’s figured out a way I can put in my clinic hours from the couch.”
Cuddy smiles even more widely. “No, but not a bad idea; I’ll give it some thought and get back to you on that. Actually, I’ve taken the day off.” She looks at Wilson. “And you are going to take the day off. Get out of here. I don’t care what you do, where you go, as long as it’s not the hospital. In a couple of days, one of you is going to have to come down with the flu, and I don’t want anyone thinking you were there while you were contagious. Besides,” she says, glancing at House, “you already have a full patient load.”
“You always know just what to say to make me feel special,” House deadpans to Cuddy.
She ignores him and continues to speak to Wilson. “I’ll stay with House. Just let me know what’s going on with him, and get going.”
Wilson thinks about this briefly; there is something he’d like to do. “I’d appreciate it. And he’s doing much better; almost no sign of the anaphylactic reaction, and--”
“Hey!” House interrupts. “I’m right here, ya know. And my mouth works just fine, thank you.”
“We’re well aware of that,” Wilson tells House dryly. “But since when does the patient give report on the patient?”
“Since the patient happens to be head of the Diagnostics department,” House says, mildly indignant. “And since the patient,” he says, looking sidelong at Wilson, “diagnosed his own anaphylactic reaction, thereby saving his own--”
“Shut up, House!” Cuddy and Wilson say in unison.
“And you’re not being fair,” Wilson points out to House; he’s getting tired of hearing about this. “Over ninety percent of anaphylaxis cases present with visible skin lesions on the face, neck, and chest. Leave it to you to fall within the ten percent who hide them on their palms.”
“Yeah, I planned that part on purpose, just to make it harder for you,” House mumbles, still sulking at having been told to shut up.
“Wouldn’t surprise me if you did,” Cuddy observes. “And I want report from Wilson; I prefer my facts to be… well, factual.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” House isn’t sure whether or not to be hurt.
Cuddy smiles at House with exaggerated patience. “You have just the slightest tendency to… umm… either underplay or overplay, House. At least when the patient happens to be… you.”
“You really know how to hurt a guy.” Now the sulk has become a full-blown pout. It’s clear that House is having fun, and Wilson and Cuddy smile at each other.
“C’mon into the kitchen,” Wilson says to Cuddy. “I’ll get you some coffee, and maybe you can get report without the editorializing.”
House gives both of them a token glare, but immediately begins to amuse himself with the TV remote.
As Wilson pours the coffee, he tells Cuddy in a low voice about House’s panic attack, and its aftermath. “You were right,” he says. “Something has changed, elementally, for him. And he’s apparently decided to give it a go. It was… something. Seeing him trust, without condition. Thought I’d never live long enough to see that.”
“I still haven’t seen it,” Cuddy says. “And I may never have that privilege. I’m not even certain I deserve it.”
“You saved his life,” Wilson says quietly.
“Maybe that’s what he can’t forgive. Maybe he made the choice he did because, if he couldn’t live normally, he wanted to die. When I approved the surgery, I took that option away from him. And the odd thing is, I’m still not sorry I did it.” Cuddy looks at Wilson, and her eyes are conflicted.
“I’m not sorry you did it, either,” Wilson tells her. “And I don’t think he wants to die anymore. I’m just not sure he wants to live.”
“I know what you mean,” Cuddy says. “The fight’s gone out of him. But give it a little time. Maybe he didn’t want to live the way he was, when the breakthrough pain and the medication and… our denial… were what his life consisted of. That’s all over now, but he hasn’t even had a chance yet to enjoy it. When his overall health begins to improve, maybe the fight’ll come back.”
Wilson smiles, but the expression doesn’t hide the fatigue and the worry. “Hey, thanks for today. It’ll do me some good to get away for a while, and it’ll do him some good not to have me hovering over him.”
Cuddy laughs. “Is that your polite way of saying he’ll enjoy getting away with murder because daddy’s leaving him with the lenient babysitter today?”
Wilson gives her another tired smile. “No, it’s…. He’s got a different relationship with you. Since he’s been ill, I’ve had to be the bad guy so much that… well, something’s missing now. The equality, I guess. And I miss it. But with you, he can still be more like he used to be, before. It’s good for him. Something that hasn’t changed. Believe me, I’m grateful for that.”
Cuddy has a sudden flash of understanding; Wilson’s willing to sacrifice his friendship with House, if he must, in order to save him. “You’ve got to be one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met,” she tells him in admiration.
“Tell that to my ex-wives,” Wilson says ruefully, but in his mind he’s hearing House. ‘Bros before hoes.’ And he remembers all the fights he’d had with those wives when romantic dinners and concerts and even sex had been interrupted, because House had called, had needed him. Maybe House should be writing the alimony checks. And then there’s House’s voice, again, arrogant and pleading at the same time. ‘But we’re okay?’ Wilson hopes they’re okay after all this; he’s having the same realization as Cuddy had. Yeah, I’d give up the friendship to save the friend.
Cuddy sees how sad Wilson’s suddenly become. “Hey, you look like you just lost your best friend,” she says, and wants to take the words back as soon as they’re said.
There’s a stricken look on Wilson’s face as he turns to her. “Things have changed so much,” he says. “It’s good; pain’s under control, he’s gonna regain his health. And he trusts me, maybe for the first time. As a doctor, I’ll really be able to help him now. But am I gonna get House back? That selfish, egocentric, brilliant bastard, who somehow still manages to be the best friend I’ll ever have; is he gonna come back? Or is gaining his trust gonna lose me his friendship? Because the reason it’s always worked for us is we’re not as different as everyone thinks we are, you know.”
Cuddy’s trying to understand; she sees that Wilson is tortured, that he’s really thinking out his friendship with House for the first time, but she’s not certain she knows how to help him through this. All she knows is that she cares deeply about both of them, so she’s willing to try. “Tell me how you’re alike.”
“I’m as selfish as he is, Cuddy. You don’t go through three wives because you’re an expert at putting their needs before your own. And I’ve got my own ego problems. I was willing to quit my job, a job I’m passionate about, because Vogler threw me off the board. And I couldn’t stand how that would make me look to my colleagues, to the medical community.” He shakes his head, apparently upset with his own failings.
Cuddy reaches out, puts her hand on his arm. “I understand what you’re saying. But I still see more differences than similarities between the two of you.”
“And that’s part of it, too,” Wilson says. “One of the things that drives me crazy about him is also something I really admire. He speaks his mind, and damn the consequences. He doesn’t question himself. And, while his code of ethics doesn’t fit any normal definition,”—Wilson pauses and smiles when Cuddy rolls her eyes at the understatement—“he never wavers from it. Might not always agree with him, but you gotta admit, that’s an admirable way to live.”
“I’ve never looked at it quite that way, but you’re right,” Cuddy says.
“I don’t know, Cuddy.” Wilson sits down and rubs at his temples. “I can’t explain it any better than that, except to say that he’s always been there for me. No matter what happened, no matter whether he thought I was right or wrong, he’s always been there. Only one who has.”
Cuddy remembers telling House during the pain control treatment that he was the one constant in Wilson’s life; she hadn’t realized, at the time, just how much that meant to Wilson. “You’re not gonna lose House. He’s there for you even when he’s the cause of your problems. He was down in my office ranting within, probably, a minute of your telling him you were resigning. He was willing to do for you what he wouldn’t even do for himself. Hmm… maybe he isn’t as selfish as he seems.”
“I know all that. I even know that he cares. What I don’t know is….” Wilson pauses and takes a deep breath. “This last week has stirred up a lot of demons for him. Some of them he’s facing down himself. And others, I’m forcing him to face. He’s never gonna take care of himself; that’s just… who he is. So I’ll be there to do that for him. And right now, that’s okay. But I’m afraid that as he gets better, stronger, he’s gonna let me be his physician, but he’ll shut me out as his friend. I’m afraid that he’s going to realize everything I’m forcing him to deal with, and he’s gonna… resent me for it.”
“No, he isn’t. As a matter of fact, if he didn’t have an aversion to all things warm and fuzzy, he’d be thanking you for it. Right now.”
Cuddy and Wilson turn to stare at House as he finishes speaking, looks intently at Wilson for a long moment more, then slowly turns, leaning heavily on the IV pole, and leaves the kitchen entryway.
Wilson and Cuddy stare at each other in stunned silence, then move as one towards the living room. But Cuddy stops short and grabs Wilson’s arm. “No,” she says. “You stay here; give yourself a few minutes. I’ll go give him the standard lecture about getting up unattended.”
Wilson starts to speak, but Cuddy interrupts him. “Don’t worry; I know he’s… vulnerable right now. And you are, too. What just happened, though, it was… good. I’m glad it happened. Give me a little while with him, and then come join us.”
“I don’t know what to say to him.” Wilson still looks stunned.
“You will,” Cuddy assures him. “You’ll know.” She smiles reassuringly and leaves Wilson to process what just happened.
House is attempting to sit on the couch when Cuddy enters, but the IV pole doesn’t provide the support he needs to lower himself. Wordlessly, Cuddy grasps his arms at the elbows, giving him the counterbalance he needs to sit. Then she settles next to him.
“What do you think you were doing?” she asks him gently.
He looks down, a naughty, upset little boy who’s been busted. “It was boring out here. Just wanted to see what was going on. Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“I’m glad you did. But I’m not happy that you got up on your own. It’s gonna be a couple more days before you can do that safely. Just a couple of days, House. Please. Just play it safe, okay? Let us know when you want to get up.”
House still hasn’t looked up. “Not gonna yell about the eavesdropping?”
Cuddy shakes her head. “No. I think it’s the best thing that could have happened. How much did you hear?”
“Not much.” Enough. “I wasn’t gonna let him think anything was gonna change. I don’t resent him. Couldn’t.” Finally, House is able to look up and meet Cuddy’s gaze, and she knows he’s searching her eyes for the answer to a question he can’t ask.
“What you did, what you said, it was… right,” she answers that question. “Wilson knew you were allowing all this, and I’m sure he even thought you might have appreciated it. But for you to say it to him, even in your… umm… roundabout way, and to let him know that this isn’t going to cost him his friend, his family, well… it means something to him. It means a lot,” she finishes with a kind smile.
House still looks uncomfortable. “Why is he doing all this? Why are you helping him? Not like either one of you has a lot of free time on your hands.”
Cuddy suppresses a sigh; hadn’t she already covered this with him? “Let’s look at this from another angle. Would you do it for him?”
“Of course,” House says immediately. “Stupid question.”
“And would you expect me to do it for him?”
“Yes. Yeah, I would.”
“And you’d be okay with all of it? You wouldn’t need to analyze why you were doing it? You wouldn’t wonder why I’d agree to do it?”
“Wouldn’t need to be analyzed. It’s Jimmy; we’d do it.”
Cuddy isn’t going to force the issue; House isn’t ready, may never be ready, to admit that there’s at least one person whose needs he’d put before his own. “There’s your answer, then. ‘It’s House; we’re doing it.’ Answer enough,” she continues cautiously, “when people care about someone. Whatever it takes.”
House’s eyes are suspiciously bright in the second before he closes them and leans his head back against the couch. “Okay.”
Wilson walks quickly through the living room without looking at either of them. As he closes the front door, he says over his shoulder, “Be back.”
“Not sure he should be driving,” House says without opening his eyes. “He’s worn out. Say where he was going?” He opens his eyes, lifts his head, and looks at Cuddy.
“No, he didn’t. I’ll call him in a few minutes, make sure he’s all right. In the meantime, let’s get you more comfortable. Report got lost in the… uh… conversation, so I guess you get to tell me what’s going on after all.” As she speaks, she stands up and looks to House for permission to help him swing his legs up onto the couch. When he shakes his head, she watches as he attempts to do it himself.
House is able to get his right leg up, but as he moves the left leg, there’s a flash of pain in his eyes. He pauses for just a moment, tries again, and succeeds.
“Left leg still bothering you?”
“Nah. Just the injection site; it’s sore, maybe a little indurated. Not a problem.” House puts his hand protectively on his left thigh, and looks defiantly at Cuddy, daring her to push the issue.
We’ll follow that one up later. “How are your vitals?”
“Dunno. Sure Wilson wrote ‘em down somewhere; he didn’t tell me.”
And, amazingly, you didn’t ask. When you decide to trust, you don’t do it halfway, do you? Doesn’t surprise me, though. You don’t do anything halfway. “I’ll check and see; if not, I’ll need another set.” Cuddy heads to the bedroom and returns carrying the makeshift chart.
“You’re right; they’re here, and they look good,” she says as she gathers the supplies for the lab draw and shuts off the TPN pump.
Wilson is headed towards the interstate. It’s quiet in the car; he needs to think. He realizes that he should call Dickinson, let him know he’s coming, so he picks up his cellphone. Wait a second; what am I doing? The reason for this visit… talked it out with Cuddy. And House; he must’ve heard most of it and… well, it’s all right. All right. Hard to believe, but House understands. He said so. In words. Funny, I don’t see any flying pigs…. With a small smile on his face, Wilson puts his cellphone down and turns on the car’s blinker.
“You haven’t called Wilson yet,” House reminds Cuddy as she closes the door after handing the lab package to the courier.
“I’ll take care of that in just a few minutes,” she promises him. “First, I want to make you an egg, a piece of toast maybe. Just a bite of each, okay? Gotta start getting your body used to food again.”
House considers. “I might be a little bit hungry. An egg sounds good. Fried?”
“How ‘bout we start with scrambled, see how you do with that, before we get fancy?”
“Is that an actual question? As in, you’re giving me a choice? Or is it a statement, deceptively phrased as a question, to make me think I have a choice?” House’s grumble sounds good-natured, almost amused.
Cuddy laughs. “Busted. Yeah, okay, I was trying to make the statement sound like a question. You’re getting scrambled. Clear enough?”
“Now, see how easy that was? Statements are so much less ambiguous when not phrased as questions. ‘You’re getting a scrambled egg’ would’ve covered it nicely; no confusion.”
On her way to the kitchen, Cuddy stands before him, hands on her hips. “Enough, House. Or the next statement you’ll hear will be ‘you’re wearing a scrambled egg.’”
House smiles. “Threatening to assault me with food; now I know I must be getting better.”
Cuddy smiles back at him, and both smiles are warm and genuine, and when Wilson opens the front door and sees them, he feels like he’s just come home.
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Resolution
A/N: And another wonderful ride comes to an end; this one was more like a roller coaster, though. There are absolutely no words to express my appreciation to all of you, and most especially to those who have stuck with this—and me—since the inception of ‘The Devil, You Say.’ mjf
Both of Wilson’s friends turn to him as he enters, puzzled at his early return.
“Everything okay? Forget something?” Cuddy asks.
“Well, yeah, I forgot to give you report, and I’m kinda tired to be driving, and….” Wilson’s voice trails off; he looks down at the floor.
In her mind’s eye, Cuddy sees him, an eight-year-old boy, swaying back and forth and scuffing his feet as he prepares to make a request he’s certain will be turned down. An important request.
“I pretty much got report figured out from your notes,” she tells him. “And… uh… that’s what cellphones are for, I think. But if you’re too tired to drive, that’s another matter entirely. I’m gonna go fix some breakfast for House; I’ll let you two figure this out.”
Wilson still hasn’t looked up, and now he actually is scuffing his foot on the floor; Cuddy smiles and takes pity on him. “Do me a favor, and join House for breakfast. I’ve already eaten, and it wouldn’t be much fun for him to eat alone.”
Wilson finally looks up, and over at House, who leans towards him and whispers conspiratorially, “Hey, tell ‘er you want your eggs fried.”
Wilson relaxes just a little, and says to Cuddy, “You heard the man; fry ‘em.”
As Cuddy heads to the kitchen, House says to Wilson, “Gonna stand there all day? You’re missing yesterday’s General Hospital.”
Wilson appreciates that both Cuddy and House have recognized that he feels ill at ease, and are trying to make it easier for him. But since House had interrupted his conversation with Cuddy, Wilson’s discomfort at having been overheard by House hasn’t abated. He wonders how much House had heard. And, while he wants to be happy that House doesn’t resent his interference, he’s not certain he believes it yet. And there’s one more thing.
Wilson sits down in the chair, glances at House, and then away. He fidgets with his car keys, puts them in his pocket, removes them, fidgets some more.
“Something on your mind?” House asks, keeping his eyes trained on the TV screen.
“No,” Wilson says. House nods without comment. But when Wilson starts tossing the keys hand to hand, and then adds the rhythmic tapping of his left foot on the floor, House sighs and mutes the television.
“So why don’t you tell me what’s not on your mind,” he says to Wilson.
“Probably shouldn’t be driving today; I’m really tired.”
“Stating the obvious, glad we got that out of the way, always the hardest part,” House says, but his tone isn’t unkind.
“Well, I was thinking… my day off, right?” House nods patiently. “And I’m supposed to relax, do what I want to do.” He looks hopefully at House.
Again House only nods; he’s looking mildly amused—a benevolent cat with a mouse he has no intention of harming—but he has no intention of helping the mouse escape, either.
“See, it’s like this, uh, I’d kinda like to… uh… just stay here. At… umm… home. If that’s okay.”
Now House isn’t bothering to try to hide his amusement at Wilson’s discomfiture. “Let me get this straight. Cuddy’s given you a day off from me. And you want to spend it with… me. Not for medical reasons. Not ‘cause Cuddy might need you for backup like the other day. Just because I’m such wonderful company?” House smirks at him.
“Yeah, that would be it,” Wilson retorts sarcastically, as something inside him slips comfortably back into place. Yeah, that would be it. Can’t think of a better place—or a better person—to spend a little free time with.
Cuddy enters the living room with their breakfast, and Wilson moves over to sit next to House on the couch. As soon as Cuddy’s back is turned, House reaches over to spear some fried egg from Wilson’s plate. He turns the volume back up on the TV, and starts explaining the convoluted plot to Wilson. After the second glorious food heist—which Wilson is, of course, obligated not to notice—Wilson casually picks up his plate so that it’s out of House’s reach, and tries to hide his smile.
House is so involved in trying to explain the TV show that he doesn’t seem to be aware that he’s actually eating his breakfast. But Wilson is very much aware, and exaggerates his reactions to House’s comments, hoping to keep House engaged in the conversation, and not in the process of eating. It isn’t until House’s plate is empty, and House is shouting to Cuddy for a refill on his coffee, that Wilson allows his grin to widen. When House looks at him quizzically, Wilson indicates House’s empty plate, his empty cup.
House grins too, and when Cuddy enters with the coffee pot, he says to her, “Hey, look mom! Finally made it into the Clean Plate Club.”
Cuddy laughs. She picks up the empty plate, and the look of satisfaction on her face is unmistakable. “Keep this up, and we’ll be able to run the TPN only at night,” she tells House.
“Let’s not get carried away just yet,” Wilson says in his doctor voice. “It’s only one meal, and--” He cuts himself off quickly when he sees that both House and Cuddy are glaring at him. “Sorry?” he offers, abashed. “Didn’t mean to contradict the physician on duty, and I certainly didn’t mean to take away from the accomplishment of finishing a meal, and… and… okay, I’ll just shut up now,” he finishes, lamely, when he sees that they’re both still glaring at him.
“Shutting up; good plan. ‘Cuz I can always fire you,” House mutters darkly, but there’s affectionate amusement in his eyes, and they all realize that he really has begun to reach acceptance, finally, in his years-long grieving process.
“You can’t fire me,” Wilson chances. “Took you too long to break me in; who else would put up with you?”
“Any doctor would be honored to have such a complex case, such an informed patient!” House protests.
“Doctor? Go ahead and fire me from that; give it back to Cuddy. I was talking about the position of best friend,” Wilson says challengingly.
“Some best friend you are,” House gripes. “Complaining all the time about having to buy me lunch, and the way I talk to patients, and the way I don’t talk to patients, and the way I drive, and even accusing me of stealing your food, and--”
“House….” Cuddy warns.
Wilson’s laughing. “No, let ‘im go,” he tells her. “Every insult he throws at me is just more proof of my job security. Who else would be insane enough to want it?”
“Got a point,” Cuddy concedes, looking meaningfully at House, who’s busy trying to come up with more insults.
Cuddy, Wilson, and House look at each other, and the three of them begin to laugh. And if House’s laughter is a little louder, a little more forced than that of the other two, no one notices. And that’s a good thing, House reflects, as he continues to laugh his way through the sudden sharp spasm in his left thigh. Because there’s no damned way I’m gonna ruin their moment of triumph now. Something tells me they’re really here for the long haul. I might mention it tomorrow.
And the genuine laughter of his self-made family continues past his pain.
A/N: Umm… sorry. But see, they still have three weeks off, so I had to leave something unresolved if this is gonna become a trilogy… didn’t I? mjf
And the third book begins here: The Devil's In the Details