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HOUSE M.D. FIC: Light as a Feather

Title: Light as a Feather
Fandom: House M.D.
Rating: PG-13 for language
Warning: This isn’t one of those funny, fuzzy ones. Angst ahoy.
Summary: Jimmy Wilson was thrilled when his older brother offered to let him participate in his slumber party. If only he’d known…
Notes: Written for the Camp Sick!Wilson Child’s Play Challenge


Jimmy sighed and turned over yet again, trying to muffle the sounds floating up from the basement with his pillow. It was his brother Harry’s eleventh birthday, and their parents had agreed to let him host three of his friends for a sleepover. That had been before Dad discovered that he was going to be away on a business trip, but Harry had pleaded so hard that they finally decided that he could still have his party as long as Jimmy took charge of their youngest brother so he wouldn’t be underfoot.

Danny was almost four now and a huge handful, although at the moment, deeply asleep, he looked like a sticky-faced little angel. He had only recently graduated to his own “big boy” bed and still slept tucked up against the wall, as if he missed the security of crib bars. Jimmy was tempted now to get out of his own bed and join him, to cuddle Danny’s warm, sweet-smelling body and let the soft sounds of his breathing lull him to sleep. But there was always the risk of waking him, and if that happened, there could well be hell to pay.

He tried instead to keep his eyes closed and count sheep like Mom was always telling him to. Sheep were boring, though. He preferred ducks. Maybe if he thought about ducks, counting them as they paraded past, he would dream about them later.

Just as Jimmy was finally drifting off to sleep, the door to their bedroom cracked open and a wide wedge of light spilled in. “Jimmy,” Harry hissed, slipping inside. “Are you still awake?”

“Sort of,” Jimmy mumbled, raising an arm to shield his eyes and squinting up at his older brother.

“Come downstairs,” Harry whispered. “We’re playing a new game and we need five people.”

Predictably, Danny sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes, and whined, “I want to play, too!”

“Forget it,” Harry said dismissively. “You’re too little. You’ll get scared.”

“I don’t get scared!” Danny thrust out his lower lip, which was starting to tremble. But it wasn’t just bravado, Jimmy knew. Danny hardly ever got scared. But he did get angry. And he was angry now. “And I’m not too little!”

“Shh,” Jimmy said soothingly, knowing that he had about five seconds to distract Danny before his little brother started screaming. “We know you’re not scared. But we promised Mom that you’d stay upstairs, remember?” He got up and squeezed Danny’s shoulder, so small and fragile under the thin t-shirt. “Tell you what. You stay here and go to sleep, and tomorrow you and I will play a special game. And Harry’s not invited.”

“Hear that?” Danny crowed, looking triumphantly past Jimmy at their older brother. “You’re not invited!” He snuggled back down docilely, and Jimmy tucked him in under the faded green comforter. “What kind of game we gonna play?”

“It’s a surprise,” Jimmy told him, smoothing his soft hair away from his forehead. “Now go to sleep. I’ll be back soon.”

Danny started making exaggerated snoring noises, although he ruined the effect by opening one eye. Jimmy smiled at him fondly, then stood up and followed their older brother out of the room.


Harry’s three friends were waiting for them in the basement rec room, where they had set up their sleeping bags. The overhead lights were off; only a couple of candles and Mike Goldberg’s flashlight held off the darkness. In the dim, unsteady illumination, flickering shadows loomed and receded. Jimmy suppressed a shiver, suddenly regretting his decision to come down here.

“Hi guys,” he said, hoping that he sounded braver than he felt.

“Hi guys,” Mike mimicked in a squeaky voice, and all of them including Harry, laughed.

“What are we doing?”

“We,” Jerry Feldman said, looking around at the older boys with a smirk, “are playing ‘Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.’” Jerry was the oldest and biggest of Harry’s friends, and he had never been very nice to Jimmy. Harry adored him and tried to imitate everything he did, and Jimmy didn’t like that very much either.

“And we need a dead body,” Mike said in a hollow voice. “Mwuh ha ha,” and he stuck the flashlight right under his face so that his features looked horrifyingly shadowed and distorted. Even though he knew that it was just Mike standing next to him, Jimmy had to fight the urge to jump away.

“Lie down,” Jerry ordered impatiently, pointing to the floor in front of him.

Jimmy folded his arms, trying to hide the fear he was feeling. “Why do I have to be the dead body?”

“Because you’re the littlest,” Harry explained.

“What are you guys going to do?” Jimmy asked, stalling for time.

“First we’re going to tell the story of how you died,” Mike leered. “And then we’ll do a black magic spell to make you so light that we can lift you up with only two fingers.”

“A black magic spell?” Jimmy repeated doubtfully. He didn’t think that Mom would like this if she found out, although he could hardly say that to Harry and his friends. “I don’t know, I…” On a sudden inspiration, he faked a wide yawn. “I’m really tired all of a sudden.”

“Then go back upstairs, you little faggot,” Jerry said, sounding bored.

Harry looked at his friend, and Jimmy could see a shadow of uncertainty in his eyes before they hardened. “Yeah,” he said, giving his younger brother a shove, although Jimmy could tell that it was only for show. “Just forget it. Go back upstairs with the other baby.”

“No, wait,” Jimmy said desperately, mentally kicking himself. This was his chance to prove that he was old enough to hang out with the big kids, and like an idiot he was totally blowing it. “Please, I’m… I’m in.” He quickly lay down on the carpet and, remembering a PBS special about the ancient Egyptians, crossed his arms tightly over his chest.

He heard some snickers, but shortly the older boys settled down and positioned themselves around him. When he slitted his eyes open, he could just make out “Silent Sam” Solomon kneeling down to hook his fingers under his feet. The ones inserting themselves under his left side poked him hard; that would probably be Jerry. He tried to ignore him and held as still as he could.

“Here lies the body of James Evan Wilson,” Harry intoned in a low, grave voice. “He died last week of… um… “

“You’re fucking it up, you dumbass,” Mike muttered.

“He died of cancer,” Jerry said loudly, drowning both of them out. “He was only seven years old.”

“Eight,” Jimmy said, his eyes popping open indignantly in spite of himself.

Jerry pinched him so viciously that Jimmy had to bite his lip to keep from yelping. “Shut up, you’re dead.”

“He was only eight years old,” Harry said firmly, rising once more to the occasion. “Now he lies here before us, light as a feather, stiff as a board.”

“Light as a feather, stiff as a board,” Mike agreed.

“Light as a feather, stiff as a board,” mumbled a new voice. That must be Sam.

“Light as a feather, stiff as a board,” said Jerry, pinching him again, but not so hard. Jimmy understood this to be a warning to keep still and silent no matter what happened. He almost nodded but stopped himself just in time. He tried to keep his breaths shallow so that his chest would move as little as possible,

“Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Light as a feather, stiff as a board…” As the voices droned on, Jimmy started to feel a little dizzy. A thrill of fear and excitement passed through his body as he imagined himself getting lighter and lighter, as if any second now he might just float away. It was all he could do to keep his eyes closed and not spoil the game by being a bad corpse.

And then, without any warning, he really was floating upwards as the other boys, still chanting, rose smoothly to their feet. Jimmy fought down a feeling of panic and told himself to relax and stay still. It was working! He kept moving up, up, hearing voices get closer and closer as he drew level with their faces, and then starting to recede once more.

Suddenly a high-pitched voice shrilled beside them, “Can I play?” Startled, the boys jerked apart, losing hold of Jimmy. His eyes flew open as he felt himself falling, and he instinctively twisted and put out his right hand to try to catch himself. He heard a sharp snap a second before the pain shot through his wrist.

If his mother hadn’t heard the crash, she couldn’t have missed the shrieks that Danny let loose when he saw his beloved brother hit the floor. Harry tried to shush him, but he only wailed the louder. “Is he deaded? Did you kill my Jimmy?

For his part, Jimmy could only lie there, stunned, until the basement door slammed open and light flooded the stairwell. Their mother slapped down the steps in her dressing gown and slippers, her mouth pinched, her face white. “What on earth is going on down here?”

Jimmy scrambled to his feet while the other boys moved away from him, as if trying to dissociate themselves from the incident. Danny broke away from Harry and flung himself at their mother’s legs.

“James Evan Wilson!” Mom hissed. “I told you to stay upstairs and look after the baby!”

“I’m not a baby!” Danny roared, his face squinching up and turning bright red. Their mom knelt down and put her arms around him, looking stricken.

“Now look what you’ve done. All that we asked was for you to take care of your brother while your father was away, but no, you’re too selfish, you couldn’t even do that one little thing.” Before Jimmy could pull away, she reached out and roughly grabbed his injured wrist. He heard a high-pitched scream just before everything grayed out and then turned black.


When Jimmy woke up again, the air was bright and cool, and there was a weird kind of humming in the background. He felt sick to his stomach. Everything seemed kind of fuzzy and unreal, both inside his head and out. His right wrist was stiff and sore; when he twisted his neck and looked down, he saw that it was encased in a white cast, kind of like the one that his classmate Bobby Belden wore when he broke his arm last year. Jimmy fought to focus his eyes and found Harry and his mother sitting next to his bed, with Danny standing solemn-faced in front of them.

“Jimmy!” his mother said, jumping up to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank God you’re finally awake. Don’t be scared, sweetheart, we’re in the hospital.”

Now Jimmy looked past them, alarmed. Sure enough, they were in a room with pastel pink walls and harsh fluorescent lights that smelled sharply of disinfectant and something ugly and metallic. Every so often someone in a white coat appeared beyond the gap between the curtains surrounding both sides of his bed, always apparently in a terrible hurry.

Jimmy swallowed. The hospital was where his Grandpa Wilson had died. He looked up at his mother imploringly. “Am… am I going to die?” he whispered.

“What a dope,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.

Mom shot him a warning look before turning back to the bed with a reassuring smile. “No, sweetheart, of course you’re not going to die.”

He wanted desperately to believe her, but “Grandpa Wilson died,” he said.

“Grandpa Wilson was old,” Mom answered. “You’re still just a little boy.”

Jimmy heard Harry snickering, but he ignored him in favor of something much more important. “Little boys don’t die?”

Good little boys don’t die,” Mom said firmly. She seemed to think that this should make him feel better, but the truth was that Jimmy felt more sick and frightened than ever. He turned his head away from her, hoping that he wasn’t about to hurl. That would make a huge mess, and his mother hated messes.

But now someone patted his left hand tentatively, and he heard Danny’s voice pipe up, “I’m sorry, Jimmy.” The little boy sounded like he might be about to cry, so Jimmy turned back towards him real quick. Mom definitely wouldn’t like that either.

“It’s okay,” he reassured him, trying to smile.

“I didn’t mean to scare Harry and his friends and make them drop you.”

“We weren’t scared,” Harry blustered, “you just surprised us.”

“Uh huh.” Jimmy winked at his little brother, wishing that his head wasn’t spinning so much. “That’s what you say.”

“That’s what you say,” Danny parroted, all smiles now. Disaster once again averted.

Jimmy suddenly felt very tired. He fought for a few seconds to keep his eyelids from fluttering shut, then finally gave in and let his head sink back against the pillows. Everything started feeling lighter and lighter, and at last Jimmy just floated away.



( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2011 03:16 am (UTC)
Well done!

Poor Jimmy...just can't get a break. Unless it's his wrist, or back, or knee, or foot or...
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:10 am (UTC)
Thanks! And yes, he gets plenty of breaks at sick_wilson, just not the kind he'd probably prefer...
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:06 am (UTC)
Stands to reason that Wilson's parents wouldn't be the greatest either (: His mother makes it clear where her priority lies and it isn't with Jimmy. Nice echoes of the older Wilson here, wanting to please, to smoothe over troubled waters and being made to feel responsible for Danny even at a young age(and yay for bonus duck reference;)

Very natural dialogue between the kids too, sounds very much like the usual carry on between brothers and their friends.
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:23 am (UTC)
Adorable as he is, Wilson is really terribly screwed up. I realize that it's a bit cliche to blame it on his parents, but once I started writing this, his mom started speaking to me, and it wasn't pretty.

I'm really glad to hear that the kids' dialogue sounds natural - I don't spend much time around kids, so I was definitely stretching myself here.

And yes, couldn't resist the duck reference ;).

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:30 am (UTC)
Love the shout out to to the duck and broken wrist. The mood and details were wonderful. I wanted to snatch Jimmy away and hug him.
Jun. 16th, 2011 11:47 am (UTC)
I wanted to snatch Jimmy away and hug him.

I feel that way about grown-up Wilson a lot of the time, too.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:48 am (UTC)
Wow. Now I understand why in the US you aren't allowed to leave kids alone - that's what they do as soon as there are no parents with them LOL!
Snark apart, this was absolutely well written. Young Jimmy and young Danny are both adorable. And that's a very, very believable Wilson's mother that you give us.
Jun. 16th, 2011 11:50 am (UTC)
*snort* I'm pretty sure that preteen boys can be stupid and mean the world over.

Glad that you liked my portrayal of young (not little ;)) Jimmy and Danny and their rather frightening mother.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Jun. 16th, 2011 11:29 am (UTC)
Excellent. Just... excellent. *mems*
Jun. 16th, 2011 11:45 am (UTC)
Why, thanks so much, Dee! Maybe I'll go ahead and post this on housefic after all...
Jun. 16th, 2011 11:33 am (UTC)
User deelaundry referenced to your post from Rec saying: [...] If you love reading about Wilson, you'll want to read Light as a Feather [...]
Jun. 16th, 2011 01:45 pm (UTC)
Terrific! Wonderful, very realistic interaction between the kids. Loved how protective Jimmy is of Danny, what a terrific brother :) And yeah, that's a pretty nasty mom of theirs - our poor, screwed up Wilson!
Jun. 16th, 2011 02:43 pm (UTC)
Wonderful, very realistic interaction between the kids.

Thanks very much - I don't usually write original characters, and since we've never seen any of them, even young Wilson, I didn't have any voices to imitate.

And yes, our poor, screwed-up Wilson, trying so hard to seem perfect and always feeling responsible for everybody!
Jun. 16th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
This was great. What a great explanation of why Wilson is who he is. You nailed everything including his interest in cancer and him becoming an Oncologist. Very well done! :)
Jun. 16th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
I do think that Wilson's childhood experiences must have had a huge influence on the man he is. Glad that you enjoyed this imaginary glimpse of it :).
Jun. 16th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
this was just great. much is explained about Wilson. (hugs him)
has counting sheep ever actually worked for anybody?
and I really wanted to smack that Jerry kid. he seemed like the worst of the lot.
Jun. 16th, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
Wilson definitely could use some hugses.

has counting sheep ever actually worked for anybody?
Certainly not for me. It seemed like the sort of useless, unsympathetic thing his mother might say.

and I really wanted to smack that Jerry kid
LOL, you were meant to!

Thanks very much for reading and commenting!
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, poor Jimmy.

This is excellent, feels very real and very true to how Wilson's childhood might have been.

I find it interesting how many fans have arrived at the same conclusion I did about Wilson's mom being the source of a lot of his issues. It's something about the specific ways in which he's screwed up, isn't it? The hiding and people-pleasing and pretending; the reining in his anger until he blows up and throws a bottle through a window; it's the sort of things that women do in our culture because we're trained to be so Nice that we can't even see ourselves in the mirror. I guess I can't see Wilson having learned that behavior from his dad, and the fact that he has learned it so well suggests to me (as you have it here) that his dad was often, in one way or another, absent.

I wonder how much, if at all, House has ever thought about this.
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
it's the sort of things that women do in our culture because we're trained to be so Nice that we can't even see ourselves in the mirror.

YES. I can't believe I never thought of it this way before, but what Wilson does is *exactly* what women are socialized to do (but not men, which is why Wilson's behavior seems so screwed up, and at times womanish).

I'm not sure that I think that Wilson emulated his mom, though. I get the impression that House's mom is the one who effaced herself rather than confront her dictatorial husband. I see Wilson as more of a classic middle child, with the added complications of a needy younger brother and a mother (or at least parent) who is unpredictable verging on abusive - hypercritical one moment, apologetic and affectionate the next.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
(no subject) - blackmare - Jun. 16th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - flywoman - Jun. 16th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blackmare - Jun. 16th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blackmare - Jun. 16th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - flywoman - Jun. 16th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cellista_in_c - Jun. 16th, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blackmare - Jun. 16th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2011 05:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, poor Jimmy! I'm wincing on his behalf. <3 And he got blamed for it! :(
Jun. 16th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, poor Jimmy. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Jun. 17th, 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
You stuck a lot of backstory and subtle references in this. Loved the reference to oncology and good boys don't die (reminds me of what House told Wilson he was trying to do in Biirthmarks) and to the sense of responsibility for Danny.

I recall all those stupid levitation games and seance stuff from the 70s. At sleep away camp we kept trying to levitate people and really thought we were doing it. ESP was another thing we convinced ourselves we were successful a, along with the Ouija board. :P
Jun. 17th, 2011 01:29 am (UTC)
You stuck a lot of backstory and subtle references in this.

Yup - can't even write a sick!Wilson fic without going all meta, seems like :P.

I recall all those stupid levitation games and seance stuff from the 70s.

Yes, I played this game at my first slumber party. I don't think I was scared, but I didn't sleep at all that night and was super grouchy and tearful the next day.

Thank you for reading and commenting!
Jun. 18th, 2011 12:27 pm (UTC)
Beautifully done! Love how you explored the dynamics and politics of sibling relationships, and the expectations of parents. I absolutely adored your Jimmy here - the lovely little glimpses of the man he would become. And the final scene between him and Danny is perfect - and explains so much. Lovely. Lovely. Lovely!!
Jun. 18th, 2011 01:01 pm (UTC)
Ah, Jimmy... already the well-meaning manipulative bitch, suppressing his own feelings and skillfully managing the more difficult people around him in order to keep the peace.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Jul. 3rd, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)
I read this awhile ago but never commented.

I really enjoyed this fic. You've definitely captured the feel and tone of that age group. (I actually correctly guessed Wilson's age and even so young you've kept him completely in character.)

I love how even at that young of an age, Wilson feels responsible for Danny. You've really illustrated what their childhood relationship must have been like in a believable way for how Wilson acts about it later on.

There's a deep, affectionate care, a need to protect that is partially born out of what seems to be Wilson's caring, nurturing nature, and also out of an obligation to his parents. Even at that young of an age there is the foundation for multiple layers of guilt.

I also like that you mentioned Wilson's preference for ducks.

You've also really appropriately captured the fear of such a game for that age group, making it believable so that the reader can regress a little back to that age with the characters and empathize. (At least that was the case when I read it.)

I love the fact that it's Wilson's right wrist that was injured because it offers so much more significance to it in the finale. And I love the way you've described his mother's reaction, furious with him for being selfish, for not caring for his brother, then doting on him later, merely reassuring him with the words "Good little boys don't die."

Then afterward he feels sick, perhaps still guilty over not looking after Danny like his mother wanted...and then he feels too filled with guilt to even release that anxiety because his mother would be angry. You've definitely painted a very complicated family dynamic and somehow done so in a way that is both obvious (in terms of Wilson and Danny) and more subtle (in terms of Wilson's mother.) It makes sense though because as a child Wilson would likely only be partially aware, knowing that he needed to do whatever his mother wanted and knowing he felt sick when he didn't but not entirely understanding the significance of that.

(I apologize if this comment is a bit incoherent lol)

I do hope you'll write more child!Wilson fics in the future.
Jul. 6th, 2011 12:17 pm (UTC)
I know that you like fics about Wilson's family, so I thought that you would enjoy this one :).

I'm really glad that you think I portrayed the kids' behavior appropriately - I don't have children and don't spend much time around them, so this is basically drawn from the media and old memories (including one of playing the game itself).

I tend to think of Wilson as the product of an emotionally abusive childhood in a subtler sense than that of House's - it seems to be that his need to please and to look like the good guy could be rooted in an unpredictable, hard-to-placate parent. I tried to write this so that the audience would appreciate how damaging Wilson's mother's behavior is even if James is too young to do so.

As always, thanks very much for your long, lovely comment! :)
Dec. 6th, 2011 07:04 pm (UTC)
Pgrabia's Halloween-ish story reminded me of this one so I came back to read it again. There's a real subtlety to your writing, and I like that. As sad and scared as I was for little Wilson, I also loved the ducks and the moment when he opens his eyes to ensure the kids get his age right.

The really chilling scene was his mother's reaction.
Dec. 12th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
I also loved the ducks

Hee - this was a callback to his supposed naked encounter with one later in life...

The really chilling scene was his mother's reaction.

It was meant to be!

Thanks so much for commenting! I'm glad that this story repaid rereading!
(no subject) - yarroway - Dec. 12th, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
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