Fandom: House M.D.
Pairings: House/Cuddy, House/Wilson friendship
Summary: This started out as a ficlet written in response to deelaundry’s fic challenge House gave Wilson ten days to "get back into it." What happens when the ten days are up, if Wilson doesn't? and somehow became a full-blown angst fest.
Warning: Speculation and possible spoilers for upcoming episodes. Also, while I swear I wanted a happy ending, House and Wilson had other ideas.
Thanks: To soophelia and my f-list, especially jezziejay and cuddyclothes , for inspirational discussions, concrit, and encouragement.
Notes: This fic has been remixed! Check out clarity (the fight or flight remix) by thinkatory
Nine days after issuing his challenge, House sauntered into my office, and I held up a hand without looking up from the file I was charting. “One more pussy joke and you can buy your own damned lunch.”
“Who, me?” he asked, his tone all innocence. “Actually, I was just going to say that the new nurse in Pedes has that lost puppy-dog look. Blond, double-D, and a sitting duck, so. Load your weapon.”
At this, I put my pen down and rubbed my eyes. “House, I can find my own dates, just… butt out.”
“Jimmy,” House clucked. “Just trying to lend a hand, here. Clock’s a-ticking.”
I finally looked up, and we locked gazes, unblinking. There was something else going on here, something that had been bothering me for days. Now that House was right there sitting smugly in front of me, I suddenly knew what it was.
“Since when,” I ground out, “have you ever cared whether I got laid?”
House opened his mouth to answer, and I cut him off. “More to the point, since when have you actually wanted me to get laid? As opposed to framing my girlfriend for leaving milk in the fridge door or making our neighbors think I was gay?”
The corner of House’s mouth quirked up, touché, but there was anxiety, not self-congratulation, lurking in his eyes. “Because you’ve been moping around ever since Sam moved out. It’s depressing. In fact, it’s boring,” he enunciated deliberately, a pointed reminder of the quality that he always claimed formed the foundation for our friendship. But this was a tactical error; I knew from the unexpected harshness that he was attempting to distract me from the truth I’d stumbled upon.
“So ‘boring’ just happens to come with a ten day expiration date?”
“What the fuck, Wilson? Ten days. It could have been five; it could have been thirty. What does it matter?”
“It matters,” I replied, “because it wasn’t just an arbitrary deadline, was it?” He looked away, and I pressed the point home triumphantly. “You know that something is going to happen tomorrow, and for some reason it’s important that I have someone else in my life by then.” I leaned in, staring into his eyes, giving him no hope of evasion. “You’ve decided to propose to Cuddy, haven’t you?”
House slouched back in his chair and exhaled without breaking eye contact, then corrected me: “I already proposed. We’re getting married tomorrow at two.” He was watching me, waiting to see how I would react. And I was, too. I should have felt… victorious, or relieved, or indignant. Instead, I felt nothing at all.
“Congratulations,” I said simply, and if there was no joy in it, there was no irony either.
“It’s going to be small, a justice of the peace, just immediate family. No real wedding party, so I can’t ask you to return the favor you owe me, but…” I’d like you to be there, he didn’t quite say.
My mouth opened automatically to say something suitable for a supportive best friend… then shut again. It had suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have to say yes. That it might even be possible that I couldn’t say yes.
Of course, House noticed my hesitation immediately. “You don’t have to tell me right now,” he mumbled. “Think it over.” He got to his feet and made his escape, leaving me to stare down, unseeing, at my desk.
As soon as House left, I leaned forward and allowed my head to drop into my hands, my charts forgotten. I could feel a major tension headache digging its claws into my temples and spent a few minutes futilely massaging them.
I should have known. The change in House’s behavior had been so abrupt – not just his sudden interest in my social life, but his willingness to take time away from Cuddy to hang out with me at all. I don’t know exactly what I had expected when Sam left me, but some reenactment of previous patterns would have seemed reasonable. It just wasn’t in House to sit around letting people cry on his shoulder at the best of times; his previous attempts at consolation had included stealing my food, getting me to pee on his sofa, and sabotaging my desk chair. But I hadn’t been prepared for him to leave me so utterly to my own devices.
So in a way, my realization should have been a relief. This latest scheme was all the evidence I needed that he did actually care and had been trying to protect me in his own screwed-up way.
Then why the bitter taste of betrayal in my mouth?
He hadn’t asked for my advice. I clung gratefully to this hypothesis and its ability to explain the hurt and resentment of which I was only gradually becoming aware. However annoying it had been to have all of our recent conversations revolve around House’s relationship with Cuddy, at least I’d known that I was needed. The fact that he had gone ahead with such a momentous decision without informing, much less consulting, me proved beyond a reasonable doubt that this was no longer the case.
And what would I have told him if he had asked? I’d been Cuddy’s biggest cheerleader while I was with Sam, knowing that as long as House had her, it was all right that I’d asked him to move out of the condo, that we hardly made plans to spend time together anymore. But now that the shoe was on the other foot, I had to admit that the prospect of the two of them together permanently was suddenly much less rosy.
Then a memory from my dinner with Cuddy five years ago came unbidden to my mind. No stranger to middle-aged women’s fears about infertility, I’d sussed out almost immediately that she was auditioning me for a starring role in her IVF drama, although I hadn’t let on, either to her or to House. We had, however, come to a critical consensus.
“We’re not at work. Call me Lisa.” She slides another spoonful of chocolate mousse into her mouth with a smile.
“Fine. Lisa… I can’t date you.”
Lisa laughs, covering her mouth in embarrassment. “Who said anything about dating? It’s just dinner.”
“I know, but I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea. You’re smart, and funny, and a very attractive woman, but I can’t date you.”
“Is it because I’m your boss?” She doesn’t seem angry, just curious.
“No, although I’m thinking that’s also a pretty good reason. But… it’s because of House.”
“Because of… House?” she repeats. “You mean-“ Her hand suddenly shoots out and grabs my wrist. “Are the two of you-“
“What? No,” I say, pulling away. “Of course not. All I meant was, I couldn’t do that to him. You and I are the only two real friends he has. If we became a couple, he’d be alone. Left with no support at all.”
Now she puts down her spoon and looks at me. “Seriously? Even if you were interested, really interested, you would just discount that possibility? He’s a big boy, James. He can take care of himself.”
“When,” I ask quietly, “have you ever known him to be able to do that?”
I shook my head to clear it and pinched the bridge of my nose. What possible relevance could that recollection have? It had been an unspoken agreement between Cuddy and me. I’d certainly never have expected the same consideration to be shown to me if our positions had been reversed.
Then again, I’d never suspected that they would be. That I would be the one left out in the cold.
But any personal feelings I might have on the matter were beside the point. The point was that House and I had had many conversations about their relationship since they’d gotten together, each one more troubling than the last. As far as I could tell, his major concern was making sure he knew where his next screw was coming from, and he was willing to lie and cheat and distort himself in every imaginable direction, even to the detriment of his patients, in order to earn her approval. This was not the House I knew, the House whom I admired for all his flaws.
And Cuddy was at fault as well. Despite her promise to him to keep home and work separate, despite her declarations that she wouldn’t try to change him, I knew that she had demanded every alteration I’d witnessed in my friend. They’d always had great chemistry, no one with eyes could deny it, but they weren’t compatible. In the long run, either Cuddy would tame her bad boy and lose interest, or House would finally refuse to keep choking on the chain.
There was still time; I had to say something. But I wasn’t ready to confront House himself just yet. Instead, I decided to go downstairs and drop in on Cuddy as soon as my extra-strength Tylenol kicked in.
Cuddy was deep in conversation with the head nurse, but as soon as she noticed me, she dismissed Brenda with an apologetic smile and waved me into her office.
“You finally figured it out.” It was not a question.
I spread my hands. “I can’t say that I expected anything else from him.” The implied criticism hung in the air between us.
“We agreed that House should be the one to tell you,” she responded crisply.
“By challenging me to score in ten days.”
“You know him,” she sighed. “Besides, we both thought that you’d catch on a lot quicker.”
“Great. Not only do I feel like a tool, apparently I’m also not the sharpest one in the shed.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s implied in the… never mind,” she finished, catching the expression on my face.
I knew that I had to act. This was my last chance.
“Cuddy,” I said, “I realize that you and House have known each other for a long time, but… do you really think that you should be rushing into this? I mean, I understand that things have been moving along lately. He’s met your mother and Julia, he’s been taking an interest in Rachel, but…“
“James,” Cuddy said gently, “there’s something else that you should know.”
Irritated more with myself for hesitating than with her, it took me a second to respond. “What?”
“I’m pregnant,” she said, and as soon as the words were out, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t made the connection before between their hasty decision and the secretive happiness that seemed to shine from every softened feature of her face.
Just as it had happened an hour ago with House, I suddenly went numb. On some level, I realized that I was a terrible person - Cuddy had been waiting for this for so long, and any real friend would have been overjoyed on her behalf - but even that knowledge couldn’t provoke the all-too-familiar feeling of guilt. Still, I struggled to summon up even some slight semblance of pleasure at the news and finally managed what felt to my stiff lips like a ghastly grin. ”Congratulations,” I said, I hoped sincerely.
Cuddy had always been self-centered, but she wasn’t stupid. “I’m sorry. House should have been the one to-“
“No,” I interrupted, standing up so quickly that I almost lost my balance. “No, that’s… that’s great. You must be thrilled.”
“Yes,” she said. “I know it’s still early, but… I couldn’t be happier.”
“Well,” I said, still smiling, but feeling as though my face might be about to break, “that’s wonderful. Congratulations to both of you.” I started for the door, stumbling a little, unable to see completely clearly for some reason.
“Wilson?” Cuddy called after me. “You will join us tomorrow, won’t you? It would mean a lot to have you there.”
I could only give her a vague wave from the doorway. I didn’t look back.
I had my assistant cancel the remainder of my appointments for the day. I might not understand what my problem was, but the one thing I was sure of was that I was in no condition to continue seeing patients. I took my files with me, laboring under the self-delusion that I was going to do work at home, but once I got back to the condo, I simply toed off my shoes, loosened my tie, and curled up on the couch with Sarah, who purred and pressed her smooshed-up little face into my hand.
I was sorely tempted to get drunk – I still had the half-empty bottle of bourbon I’d broken into the night that House shooed me out of his apartment for a booty call – but I refused to resort to that. My earlier self-righteous anger had evaporated, leaving me hollow and dry, and with tomorrow’s deadline looming, I needed to figure out what I really felt, once and for all.
In the midst of my reverie, my cell phone rang, startling Sarah into a spring that left her claws snagged in the upholstery. By the time I’d unsnarled and soothed her, the call had gone to voicemail. I glanced idly at the number: House, of course. Well, he could cool his heels for a while. Maybe he’d assume that I’d taken advantage of this morning’s tip.
Then I heard the front door rattle, and ten seconds later, House was standing inside the living room, taking off his overcoat, unknotting his scarf, and throwing both unceremoniously over an easy chair. Sarah’s ears went back as I jerked upright. “What the hell, House?”
“You didn’t answer your phone,” he shrugged, looming over me.
“So that gave you an automatic invitation to break into my home?”
He dangled his key wordlessly in front of me, and I sighed and pressed my thumb and middle finger to my aching eyeballs. “How did you even know I was here? And did it occur to you that I might have had company?”
“All the better,” he said. “I would have had the evidence of my own eyes to settle the bet. No need for cross-examination or bagged specimens later.”
“There is no bet, House,” I reminded him. “There’s just a ridiculous dare designed to get me coupled up before the wedding you didn’t want to tell me about, plus a pregnant middle-aged girlfriend.”
House just looked at me, eyes unreadable. “It’s still early,” he said. “She has a history of complications. Maybe she’ll lose it.”
“Seriously? That’s your strategy?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. I stared at House, horrified.
“My- what?” Those blank blue eyes were alight with anger now. “What the fuck are you-“
I held up my hand, spooking Sarah, who promptly disappeared. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I have no idea why I just said that.”
“Don’t you?” House asked, blazing eyes boring into mine.
“No,” I shook my head. “I really don’t. I didn’t mean to imply- I know you wouldn’t hurt her, or wish anything that awful on her.” I swallowed. “I know that you care about her despite all protests to the contrary.”
“And you?” House’s voice was quiet and deceptively casual.
“And I, what?”
“What do you wish?”
I frowned. “For Cuddy? Well… her happiness, obviously, hers and yours…” I trailed off. House’s gaze was starkly skeptical, and I didn’t even believe myself.
“Wilson,” House said, still quietly, “if you think I’m making a mistake, you should say so. That’s what you’ve always done. Why stop now?”
And that’s when it happened. Confronted with that sad, suddenly gentle voice, abruptly I felt my emotions crystallize. Everything became clear, sharp-edged, and terribly hard, so much so that I had to look away. I cleared my throat. “I think you know why.”
Without warning, House reached out and grasped my shoulder. “Yeah,” he said. I found myself sliding my own hand up to grip his fingers. He waited for a long moment, eyelids lowered, breaths rasping in sync with mine, then moved to withdraw his hand. I let go, allowing my fingers to drop limply into my lap. “Gotta go.”
Sarah was back on the sofa before the front door clicked closed. She rubbed her cheek against my forearm as I reached for the bottle of bourbon and sloshed a generous measure into the sticky tumbler still sitting on the table.
I'd had just about all the clarity I could handle.