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Locked Up and Set Free (PG-13)

Posted to house_wilson and housefic

Title: Locked Up and Set Free
Author: Dee Laundry
Pairing: House-Wilson friendship
Rating: PG-13 for language
Summary: Action and inaction; proximity and distance; consequence and meaning. What Wilson says; what House does.
Spoilers: Up to episode 3-10, Merry Little Christmas. Deviates completely from canon after that.
Note: Written for the ever-excellent nightdog_barks, who prompted: “Wilson goes to prison for House.” Thanks to perspi and purridot for the encouragement and daisylily and bironic for the beta.

House wonders sometimes if the apology is to blame for all of this. He wonders when he calls for an oncology consult, which isn’t very often these days – the challenge in oncology’s not the diagnosis, it’s the treatment. He wonders when he eats particularly good pancakes, or particularly bad ones, and when he sees a specific type of silver Volvo.

If he hadn’t apologized when he did, Wilson would’ve still been pissed at him when the trial started. House might have been convicted or he might have got off scot free, but either way Wilson –

This is usually as far as he gets on this hobble down memory lane before someone interrupts. He’s always embarrassingly grateful for the interruption and he always takes it out on whomever’s closest. He won’t talk to Trish or Dean about it, but they’re each smart enough to avoid Auto Row on Highway One when House is in the passenger seat.




Preliminary hearings over, the trial itself was due to start tomorrow. Gregory House stood accused of fraud for forging James Wilson’s signature on prescriptions, and of theft for taking a dead patient’s pills.

He had a moment of weakness – narcotics out of his system, maudlin reflection, and the pain not quite as bad as it could be – and Wilson caught him just then. House took a look into soft brown eyes that couldn’t hide their concern even behind the fireball of anger, and his control slipped. He saw exactly what he’d done wrong and apologized for it.

Wilson’s anger didn’t completely die out, but it damped down considerably. ”You still owe me,” he said seriously, and House nodded, looking at his feet.

That was it, no hug, not even a quarter-hug bump of shoulder to shoulder, and certainly no professions of undying admiration and fealty. But it was enough, as was so clearly demonstrated when Wilson opened his mouth on the stand.

“The signatures on those prescriptions are mine.”

The prosecuting attorney’s eyes widened, and House imagined he could hear his respiration rate increase. “Dr. Wilson?”

“Those are my signatures. As I told the detective, sometimes I would get bored and sign my name a different way.”

The prosecutor was still struggling to absorb this change in his witness’s attitude. After House’s overdose, Wilson had promised the district attorney’s office he would testify. House found out later that the prosecutor had prepped Wilson to within an inch of his life and had been as confident of his testimony as he had ever been of any witness.

“If I were to pull up your prescriptions for other patients, would I find similarly ‘amusing’ changes to your typical signature?”

“I can’t recall every single one of the thousands of prescriptions I’ve signed, but probably not,” Wilson replied nonchalantly. ”Then again, none of my patients have had quite the same sense of humor as Greg House – I doubt they would’ve even noticed the variations, much less enjoyed them.”

From his seat next to his attorney, House smirked. He’d never bothered to learn much about how juries worked, but he knew a lot about lying. Adding a peculiar personal element to the lie increased its believability substantially.

“And the fact that these variations only occurred during a few-month span indicates what?”

Wilson paused and looked down. No, no, House thought, even as he kept his face impassive. You’re blowing it, Jimmy – looking down indicates you’ve got something to hide.

“We were… arguing,” Wilson continued, as he caught the eye of a young female juror and gave a small, embarrassed smile. You sly dog, how did I ever doubt you? House thought. ”We’re friends, but we’re men, you know, not much for talking about our feelings. This seemed an indirect enough way to communicate some good will.”

The prosecutor had finally recovered his mojo, and brought the line of questioning back to sturdier ground. He held up a piece of paper, waving it slightly. ”Dr. Wilson, what you’ve said today directly contradicts the sworn statement you gave to Detective Tritter.”

“I’m aware of that.” Wilson’s face was open; his eyes were serious but not grave. ”I lied in the statement.”

House heard his attorney subtly, discreetly shift in his seat. He could practically feel the excitement waving off the man, but a quick glance showed he was hiding it well. House held back a smirk, frowning instead, as if in disapproval of his lying friend.

“Your sworn testimony is that you lied in an official statement to the police?”

“Yes.”

“What would make you do that, Dr. Wilson?”

“Detective Tritter wanted House to go to jail. I knew him better; I knew he belonged in rehab instead. Telling the detective what he wanted to hear seemed the best way to accomplish that.” Wilson smiled at the jury again, and House counted three women and one man smiling back.

The steam went out of the prosecution’s case after that. The second charge of narcotics theft for Zebalusky’s prescription was similarly dispatched a few days later by another lie on the stand, but in truth Wilson’s boyish charm had sealed the acquittal already.

When the verdict was read, House raised his arms in triumph and turned to the gallery behind him. In his joy, he had decided to be generous and allow Wilson to hug him, but he’d somehow blocked out the fact that Wilson wasn’t there. He was in his own hearing, trying to fight federal obstruction and perjury charges.

His attorney’s arms around him were like a vise, and the pressure in House’s chest remained even after he let go.




They didn’t have much of a chance to talk over the next few weeks. House had four critical patients, one after the other, and Wilson had legal meetings and administrative details he had to clear up, and –

And House was grasping at anything at all to avoid having any discussions. The way he felt was a tangle of mess that pulsed and writhed. His thoughts on the issue were sly and wild, prone to dart off in any direction. He finally girded himself as a lion tamer, with chair and whip, and forced them all into a small, isolated cage. He didn’t need Wilson rattling the bars.

In off moments, Cameron would stare at him malevolently. He knew she’d given Wilson hell for his part in House’s forced detox; apparently, she’d now re-cast the role of villain. House made faces at her to pass the time and then piled on the lab work to get her out of his hair. Foreman and Chase wisely kept their mouths shut.

Cuddy probably had something to say about it, but House had memorized the pitch of her voice and become selectively deaf to it. She could have been offering him wild sex, repeatedly, in her office, with leather and spanking, and he wouldn’t know a damn thing about it.

Wilson’s voice – now, blocking that timbre out was a lot harder.

He loaded ton-weights on top of the cage, reinforced it with Plexiglas, and quit running. He let Wilson find him, let Wilson talk, and he listened. He listened to Wilson’s struggles to find a replacement for himself and settle his department. He listened to Wilson’s concerns about how this all looked for the hospital, even though Cuddy had reassured him they’d weather it just fine. He listened to Wilson’s copious research and analysis into what life would be like in a minimum-security prison, because of course Wilson prepared like it was the MCAT or the Boards. He listened to Wilson’s anxieties, his ideas, his worries, and his small victories, and never said a thing. Because what could House say? He’d never been through it.

He was in his office chair, hunched over, back to his door, ostensibly reaching for a book on a low shelf – but reaching wasn’t supposed to take a half-hour, now was it? – when the words hit him. High and hard, a fastball. But when he turned, Wilson, standing just on the other side of House’s desk, was relaxed. In Wilson’s mind, it must have been a light floater, but he wasn’t the batter, wasn’t the one having to shake away the sting.

“All right, I’m done here,” Wilson repeated. ”My replacement has been oriented, office cleared, patients re-assigned, administrivia totally completed. If I knock off an hour early, do you think Cuddy will fire me?”

“Not a chance,” House replied, and Wilson’s expression hit wistful. House wanted to take it all back, the thing he’d just said, and the things that he’d done, and, hell, he’d go back and lubricate the cop’s dry pubic area with his fucking saliva if it would mean this moment would never be here.

“Want to come over?” House asked, and it was woefully inadequate.

“No, thanks. I still have some things to take to my parents’ place, and I’ll probably just stay there tonight.”

“I can take them for you later.”

Wilson rolled his eyes and smiled his most satisfied, and therefore most charming, smile. “You just want me to buy you dinner. And I would, too, but then we’d probably get drunk and I’d be in terrible shape tomorrow. It’s almost six hours to Morgantown, and you know I can’t stand being hung-over during long car rides. Just the hour back from Newark that one time almost did me in.”

House remembered that trip and laughed. Their first “divorce celebration” party, and they’d shut down the strip club, caught a three a.m. showing of some god-awful movie, and spent two hours nursing coffee and toast at a disgusting diner. Wilson had left a fifty-dollar tip for the strippers and a hundred-dollar tip for the waitress.

“You could come over for a little while, and then go to your parents’.” That might not have sounded like pleading; House couldn’t trust his ears any more.

“Nope. I think we should just say goodbye here.”

The cage broke, bars snapping, ping, ping, ping. Everything raced out, colliding and scattering and coming back around again in a feverish whirling cloud. House reached out and blindly grabbed into the cloud for something to say.

“You’re angry at me.” God, he sounded like a toddler. His best friend was leaving tomorrow for a federal prison for twelve months, and all he could talk about was himself. Well, why not be typical at this late stage of the game? Give ‘em what they came for.

“Yes, House, I am angry at you,” Wilson replied calmly. House caught his eyes and couldn’t look away. ”I’m angry at you because you let your pain management get way out of hand and wouldn’t ask anyone for help and were a stubborn idiot bastard and…” Wilson trailed off, pursed his lips, and closed his eyes.

“So, not angry at all then?”

Wilson took a breath and opened his eyes again. ”You still owe me for all that. But I’m not angry at you because I’m going to jail. I did what I had to do. You’re better off for it, and the world’s better off for it. That’s good.”

House looked down, trailed a finger across his desk. ”If I said thank you…”

“And gave me a heart attack?” Wilson interrupted, amused. ”They’d send me to the hospital ward instead of general population, but I’d still be going to prison.”

House nodded. All the things in his mind were moving at just as furious a pace, but they’d all blended together now and were coating the inside of his head. The consistency of blood, smacking and spattering. He needed to look up, get up, make this moment count, give Wilson some kind of good memory to carry with him, but he couldn’t do it. The twisting dervish had grabbed his brain, shredded rational thought, and disabled his motor functions. Any moment now it’d suck in the autonomic nervous system, and his heart would blessedly stop.

“Use your time wisely, House.” The warmth in Wilson’s voice was painful to hear. ”Make me proud.”

He finally got his neck to move and looked up. Wilson was at the door, looking back over his shoulder. He smiled again and said, “I’ll be seeing you.”

House’s mouth opened slowly, but before any words could come out, Wilson was gone. “I’ll miss you” hung in the air, unheard, for a very, very long time.




It took him three months to get his act together and get out to visit Wilson.

First, because he wasn’t legally an immediate family member, Wilson had to send him frigging background forms to fill out on himself. He wouldn’t let Cameron touch them because, frankly, he didn’t want her knowing that much about him. So he had to do them himself, and of course when he was midway through he lost the forms. Wilson bitched and grumped and then sent a second set that House almost lost but then found again and hastily completed before any more mischief could happen. He deigned to let Cameron add the postage, and ten business days later, voila, he was officially approved as a visitor for Wilson, James E., at the Federal Correctional Institution in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Then he had a patient, then another one, and Wilson’s calls turned from steamed to resigned. It hurt to hear Wilson give up, again, and House resolved that the next weekend would definitely be the one.

Friday night he slipped in the bathroom and strained something, so Saturday he barely even made it out of bed to the couch.

After a day of rest (and action movies and Baywatch reruns and he was pretty sure he called Morgantown to ask them to tell Wilson he couldn’t make it until the next day, so the curses were totally uncalled for), Sunday morning he was up, dressed, and ready to go by ten. Proudly – because God, it was early – he gave the directions one last glance and then his eye skipped down the page. Fuck. Visiting hours were over at three; there was no way he’d make it in time. Fuck.

The next Friday he left Princeton at three in the afternoon and was checking in at the Morgantown Comfort Inn before ten. It being the closest hotel to the prison, he admonished the bushy-haired, acne-scarred desk clerk for the lack of “Welcome, Convict Loved Ones” banners. Apparently the clerk wasn’t new, though, for she just pointed out that Hard Time Harry Drops the Soap was available for rent through the TV for only $11.99.

“I’m visiting my son,” House haughtily replied.

“What’s he, about twenty-two? Got your eyes? Yeah, he’s in the movie – third scene. He gets raped, but he likes it.”

House snatched away the receipt and the key and retreated to his room.

On Saturday he made it to the prison by ten but got stopped for wearing khaki pants. Perusing the visitor regulation list in more detail, House discovered that khaki was reserved for prisoners only. He had to change into yesterday’s jeans in his car and ended up inadvertently mooning a young woman as she walked by. He would have been embarrassed if she’d stared at his ass, but he was mortified to find her staring at his scar. “Got it in prison,” he yelled at her. ”Your boyfriend bit me when he caught me dicking another prag!”

Getting frisked by a guard, House could feel irritation spreading throughout every one of his cells. Even his hair was irritated. He had left his Vicodin in the car, sure that wasn’t allowed, but they took his cell phone, sunglasses, and a packet of Slim Jims. ”I’m prone to low blood sugar,” he protested, untruthfully, but the guard just shrugged and told him to buy something from the vending machine.

House started to protest, but the guard pushed him along. Needless to say, he was not in the best of moods by the time he finally got to see Wilson.

Smiling, Wilson rose from an ugly plastic chair next to an uglier plastic table. His smile turned into a smirk when he got a closer look at House’s face.

“Did you bring Cuddy and she bitched you out the whole time about Clinic hours? Or did you bring Cameron and she wanted you to emote?”

“Funny. It’s just me.”

They’d spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours together outside the hospital. House had seen Wilson in t-shirts, sweatshirts, Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, turtlenecks, casual sweaters, pajama tops, scrubs, and occasionally no shirt at all (beach, pool, that sort of thing). Even with all that history, it still felt strangely wrong that Wilson wasn’t wearing a tie.

Wilson tilted his head and just looked for a moment. ”It is good to see you,” he said seriously.

“I’d kiss you hello, but we’re not allowed to offend the sensitivities of anyone in the room. Who knew you cons were such a delicate bunch?”

“Yeah, all us jailbirds are pretty lily-livered. How about a handshake instead?” Wilson hadn’t put out his hand, though; House knew he knew what the answer would be.

“Nah, moment’s over.” House dropped into a second plastic chair and started inspecting the room.

After a short pause, Wilson sat as well.

“You can’t even buy me lunch,” House continued, “because the stupid regulations say inmates can’t carry money in this room.”

“And I was so looking forward to that, too.” Wilson’s tone was off, somehow, and House looked up sharply. The expression on his face was expectant and perfectly pleasant, but it was… wrong. Different. Odd. House didn’t like it one bit.

He decided to soldier on anyway, starting with ignoring Wilson in favor of looking over the other khaki-wearers. They seemed too old – late thirties to mid-fifties, mostly – and too well-groomed to be cons. Zookeepers, that’s what they reminded him of. Zookeepers stuck in cages – must have been an animal revolution.

“House? Are you planning on talking to me? Because just sitting here smelling your musk is pretty boring.”

House had turned his torso away from Wilson; now he lolled his head back over his shoulder to glimpse the man sideways. ”Like you have anything better to do.” He twisted back around to face Wilson fully. ”I’m just trying to figure out who’s made you his bitch.”

The downturn of Wilson’s lips and brow was swift and sweetly familiar. ”This is minimum-security, House. It’s not like that. Besides, the health care here is for shit, so my medical skills have made me the guy to know.”

After raising his eyebrow, House tried out a Wilson-like expression of disapproval. “You’re not supposed to practice without a license.”

Probably not a successful imitation; the glare Wilson gave in return had too much anger and not enough fondness.

“I can certainly provide first aid,” he replied huffily, “and talk to people about health issues. Besides, did I mention the health care here was crap? The warden and the one full-time nurse they have are too grateful for my help to be picky.”

“Even in prison you find yourself a nurse to chase.” House smirked and went on. ”You get a lot of knife fights?”

“I repeat: minimum-security. A lot of hypertension, Type II diabetes, stress-related illnesses. Muscle strains are common too – most of the guys are somewhat out of shape when they get here, then they push themselves too hard on the court or in the weight room.”

“You give them the benefit of your personal experience?”

Wilson sat back and crossed his arms. ”Are you insulting my previous level of fitness, or are you complimenting how I look now?”

“You know I like to multi-task,” House said, and started twirling his cane. ”Why have a sentence mean just one thing when you can have it mean two?”

“I’m taking the compliment and rejecting the insult.”

Well, that was an unusually blunt piece of backbone. Interesting.

“I’m hungry,” House whined. ”What’s in the vending machines?”

Wilson waved to the side of the room. ”Go look for yourself. Bring me a Pepsi, if you can spare the dough.”

As House got up to check the machines out, a red-haired man in his early forties stole his seat. ”Sorry to bother you,” he said quickly to Wilson.

“It’s fine, Jeff. What can I do for you?”

“I just had a quick question. My wife says her OB is telling her that…”

Dullsville. House quit listening in favor of making his snack selections. There wasn’t that much to choose from, but at least it wasn’t generic crap. He grabbed two bags of chips, a candy bar, and a Sprite and turned back towards Wilson. He had taken one step when he noticed Wilson’s eyes boring into his. As he started to mouth “What?” he remembered: a Pepsi. Heaving a large and loud sigh, he bought the Pepsi and carried the whole bounty back to their table. Mr. Soon-to-have-spawn had fortunately scampered back to the missus.

Wilson snatched the Pepsi just as House had been about to drop it. ”Which of these chips is mine?”

“You asked for a drink; you got a drink,” House replied, dragging both bags of chips into his own lap. The candy was already in his back pocket for safe-keeping. ”This is my lunch, since I’m stuck in here babysitting you.”

It was Wilson’s turn to sigh, but he kept it quiet and brief. After enduring almost a full minute of silence, House shoved the less-favored bag of chips toward Wilson. He took two and left the package on the table.

The room was full of people chattering away, but the silence around him and Wilson seemed completely empty. House munched and slurped to fill it up, but the sounds hit an invisible wall and dropped like stones to the floor.

Into the dead zone came a loud and boisterous voice. ”Jimmy! Tell me you get prettier visitors than this!”

A palm slapped House’s back, and a piece of chip flew into his windpipe. As he was coughing, his assailant was pulling up a chair. Wilson had the nerve to smile at the man and tease him, saying, “I thought all the pretty girls in the state were yours.”

Wilson glanced back at House but ignored the dying remnants of coughs. ”House, meet a new friend of mine. This is Donovan. Donovan, this is House, an old friend of mine.”

“Quite old, it looks. Although I guess I’m not one to talk.” Donovan rubbed a hand through his full head of white hair and laughed.

“So you’re in for assault,” House said, his ire up and his throat still sore.

Wilson rolled his eyes and turned his chair a few degrees away from House. ”He’s here for nonpayment of alimony.”

“Divorcé club, how fun.”

With a twinkle in his eye, Donovan shook his head. ”The bitch got exactly what she deserved. I told her she’d get a check for every time she’d given me head during our marriage. She got her one check and that’s all she’s getting.”

From the way Wilson laughed indulgently, it seemed to be an oft-repeated joke. House was not impressed.

Donovan leaned forward, a little bit too close for House’s comfort. ”We all know about Jimmy’s 1-2-3. What about you? Got an ex-wife?”

House looked at Wilson quickly, then away toward the other side of the room. ”Kind of. Weren’t married.”

“Good for you. Let a woman into your bed for sure, into your heart if you must, but never let her into your accounts.” Donovan smirked and turned to Wilson. ”We’re on for cards later, right?”

“Yep.”

With another thwack, this one to Wilson’s back, thank God, the other prisoner was gone. Wilson’s smile faded a little, and he looked down toward the floor.

“Tell me what’s going on at the hospital,” he said to his shoes.

The last Diagnostics case had been particularly cool, and House’s insights leading to the diagnosis had been particularly clever, so that story took a while to tell. House then went on to recap the most annoying Clinic patients of the past few months, and the ingenious mechanism he had devised to pass off most of his administrative work on a new nurse who wanted to go to medical school and an intern who was hot for Chase. He was in the middle of recounting his latest battle with Brenda, who was now Head of Nursing, when Wilson interrupted.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s you. What else is happening?”

Taken aback, House stared at him. ”What do you mean?”

Wilson fixed him with the high-horse, down-the-nose look that was House’s least favorite Wilson expression. ”What is happening in general, not specific to you? How about Cuddy? What’s she up to?”

“She went on a shopping spree a few weeks back. She has this new blouse that –”

Wilson interrupted again. ”I didn’t ask for a fashion review. I can imagine her shirts just fine. What’s she been doing? Any new action on the Board? New donors? Did the Alzheimer’s study get funded?”

House blinked. He didn’t know; he didn’t care; it hadn’t occurred to him that Wilson would care.

“Fine,” Wilson sighed. ”Just get Cameron to start sending me the monthly newsletter and the department head roundups, OK?” Wilson was disappointed, resigned.

This visit hadn’t been what House expected at all. They hadn’t laughed once. Not one of House’s stories had amused Wilson; he hadn’t even put on his fondly exasperated face. House could feel the anger starting to build. What was this bullshit? Wilson always gave House what he needed. Always.

“I –” he began, but then a hand clamped down on Wilson’s shoulder. It was yet another inmate, this one in his early thirties, lean, with eyes that were almost as warm as Wilson’s.

“Basketball time, my man. You in?”

Wilson looked at House, and House tried with all his might to hold onto his gaze, but Wilson’s eyes slid away easily and aimed themselves up at the new man’s face. “Definitely. Just let me say goodbye; I’ll be there in a second.”

House ground his teeth so hard that the ache distracted him from the pain in his leg. There was no handshake in the farewell, either.

They gave him his cell and his sunglasses back when he left, but the Slim Jims were nowhere to be found. ”Food items are destroyed,” the guard droned, completely ignoring House’s glare.

As he got to the door, House glanced back. A different guard was chewing as he read a magazine, the long cylinder of dried beef in his hand bouncing through the air as if conducting an orchestra.




The drive back to New Jersey was boring and uneventful. The evening (turned to night turned to early morning) at home was boring and uneventful. By the middle of the next morning, as he paced around his office, House was going to shoot somebody if he had to endure one more minute of nothing.

So he called Chase and ordered him in to the hospital.

“But, but – it’s Cameron’s turn with the on-call pager today.”

“But, but,” House mocked, “Cameron’s not the one I want to do this work. Get your ass in here.”

“We don’t have a patient.” Not today, Chase, House thought. Today’s not the day you can grow a spine.

“We will soon. Hup, two, hup, two – get here in fifteen minutes or you’re fired.” House refrained from slamming the phone down, but it was a near thing.

Chase made it to the conference room in thirteen and a half minutes. ”Good,” House said, as Chase was hanging up his coat. ”Here it is: rare diseases. Anything affecting fewer than a thousand people in the U.S. Go.”

Chase was baffled. ”What am I looking for? What are the patient’s symptoms?”

“You’re here to learn,” House replied blithely, “so this is a learning exercise. Can’t diagnose what you haven’t heard of.” Waving off any other questions, he retreated to his office.

Chase spent the next two hours huddled over his laptop; House spent the time playing videogames and resolutely not thinking. When his souped-up racing bike clipped the wall around a city-center penitentiary, House snapped the monitor off and stomped back into the conference room.

“I’m hungry,” he declared to Chase. ”Get your coat; we’re going to lunch.”

Chase glanced up, but his shoulders remained hunched. ”I’d rather just stay and finish, and eat later.”

“Who needs a recommendation if he hopes to move up in his career? Is it me? Oh, no, it’s not. Put your coat on.” House shrugged into his jacket, and after a moment’s hesitation, Chase did the same.

Leading him out into the corridor, House noted, “There’s a new barbecue place I heard was good.”

“I hate barbecue.”

“What?” House jabbed the elevator button with his cane. ”Nobody hates barbecue.”

“I do.” Chase was tugging at the collar of his shirt. Even without a tie, the shirt seemed to clash.

“I’m sure they have something else, hamburgers or something. You’ll be fine.” As they stepped into the elevator, he continued, “You’re driving.”

Chase’s car was a piece of crap. House fiddled with the air vents, tried to avoid the rips in the upholstery, and gave vague, almost-too-late directions to the restaurant. He didn’t say anything else until they were waiting in line for their food.

“Do you know if the Alzheimer’s study got funded?” House dumped his pork and brisket platter on Chase’s tray and eyed the lemonade dispenser. Bottled soda was safer.

“Which one?” Chase asked, as he struggled to fit his own meal on the tray as well. “Gerontology’s study on social support structures was funded, and they’ve started enrolling patients. The one Neurology wants to do is still in review. You should ask Foreman about it; he helped to write the proposal.”

They sat and ate. The pork wasn’t bad, but the brisket was dry. House was still determinedly not thinking. He stole a French fry from Chase’s plate; Chase pretended not to see.

The question popped into his head and out of his mouth before he knew it. ”What do you do away from the hospital?”

Looking baffled by the question, Chase replied intelligently, “What?”

House sighed. ”Come on, Chase, you do have a couple of brain cells in there, I think. When you’re not doing my bidding, what do you do?”

“I’m just shocked. That’s the first time you’ve actually asked me about myself in a relatively friendly manner.”

Sneering, House replied, “And it’s going so well that I can’t wait to do it again.” He was not going to explain this. No way. ”Come on, spill.”

Chase took a long draw from his drink. ”Well, I don’t have that much free time, so no big hobbies. I go to the gym, play basketball. I read – non-fiction mostly, biographies and history. I have a lot of old mates from Australia that I keep up with through email. Weekends I like to go out – dinner with friends, clubs, that kind of thing.” He shrugged. “Normal stuff.”

“I see.” Normal stuff. Sounded like the kinds of things Donovan might like to do. Or Mr. Soon-to-have-spawn, or Warm-eyed Basketball Guy. Or Wilson, James E.

He shook out of his reverie when Chase leaned toward him a fraction. ”What about you?”

House scowled at Chase’s misconception that this was small talk. ”You don’t want to know. Eat your burger.”

They ate the rest of their meal in silence. When the check came, Chase handed over a twenty and House reluctantly covered the rest.

During the walk to the car, Chase began telling House about the rare diseases he’d learned about so far. That carried them all the way back to the Diagnostics office. House nodded in his equivalent of a pat on the back and spent the rest of the afternoon in his own office listening to music.

Monday he mistimed his Vicodin and his leg hurt like a bitch all day. Tuesday Cameron made him sign something, and House suddenly remembered.

“Wilson wants you to send him the hospital’s newsletter every month. He also said something about rodeos but I didn’t get that.” He handed her back the folder and pen.

Cameron frowned prettily in concerned concentration. ”Rodeo? What could he have meant by that?”

As he pushed past her, House shrugged. ”It was something cowboy-related. Departmental buckaroos or cattle drives or something.”

“Roundup!” she cried happily. ”Department head roundups. I guess you wouldn’t recognize that, never having looked at any of them.”

He turned and glared. She was wearing an especially ugly vest today that squashed down her chest even more than normal. ”Don’t get smart with me, missy. Just send him the damn things.”




Things got busy, and then not. The Clinic was slow for a while, until Cuddy discovered and put a stop to House’s anti-advertising campaign. He upgraded his TiVo. Calls from Morgantown came when they came. Steve McQueen died; House threw his cage out on the next trash day. Foreman periodically made noises about going into private practice but kept his arrogant ass where it belonged.

House forgot what stuffed peppers tasted like.

One late afternoon, he was building an elaborate domino structure on the floor of his office (patient presents with dry mouth, dry eyes, extreme fatigue, swollen cheeks and jaw: Sjorgen’s syndrome – order Schirmer tear test and rose Bengal stain –underlying conditions include rheumatoid arthritis and lupus) when he noticed several books missing from a bottom shelf. Old medical textbooks and the prior two editions of the Physicians’ Desk Reference, nothing critical, but why the hell were they gone?

He pulled himself up using the ottoman and his cane, and stomped into the conference room, noting idly that Foreman was still in the Clinic. ”Chase, your patient’s got Sjorgen’s syndrome. Get a Schirmer tear test and do a rose Bengal stain to confirm, and then test for underlying lupus.”

As Chase rose, Cameron turned and protested, “If it’s autoimmune, I should be involved.”

“Yeah, yeah, you can get your jollies in a minute. Go, Chase.” When he and Cameron were alone, he stepped closer so he was looking down at her. ”Where are the books from my office? I sense your save-the-world attitude in their disappearance.”

He expected a flush, from either his accusation or his nearness to her personal space, but she just stared at him. ”Wilson asked for them back. They were his originally, right? You took them when he, um, left. I figured it was okay to send them.”

He forced himself not to react. ”It’s fine; I just forgot Wilson asked,” he lied. ”When did you send them?”

“Three weeks ago. Can I catch up with Chase now?” She was already halfway out the door.

“Yeah, go.” House moved slowly back to his office and collected his things. How had he not known about the books? Wilson had called Cameron and not him.

As he walked to his bike, he thought it through. The last time he had talked to Wilson, they had had that patient with dengue fever. That was… two months ago. He hadn’t talked to Wilson in two months. He knew he’d thought about Wilson since then but couldn’t remember when the last time was.

When he got home, he sat underneath the spray in his shower staring at the tiles until the hot water ran out.




In December Wilson’s mother sent a holiday card to House at the hospital. Cameron claimed it as a department card and taped it up near the coffee maker with the cards from drug reps. A few days later the tape released, and the card fell with a clatter and got stuck behind the cabinet.




The tapping of sleet on his window had grown lighter and lighter throughout the evening, and House’s hopes of a day off due to the weather had faded with it.

He was rummaging through the top drawer of his desk at home, looking for a receipt to throw in his tax folder, when he came across the calendar stuck in the back. It was small, just three inches by four inches, with a red cover with “2007/2008” stamped on it: a two-year month-at-a-glance calendar he’d gotten as a freebie somewhere, early in ‘07. He’d written only a few notes in it before it disappeared.

He rubbed the cover once – some leather substitute – before opening it up. Now he remembered why he’d never cared about the loss: the space for each date was tiny. There was a heart on his mom’s birthday, and he had to laugh at the tiny skull and crossbones he’d drawn on his dad’s birthday.

After flipping back to the first page, he looked through it chronologically. Most months there was nothing at all, but a note in the current month caught his eye. On the space for the Saturday before last, eleven days ago, he had written in capital letters, “WOUT.”

“Wout”? What had he meant by “wout”? He wracked his brain but had no memory of it at all.

It was an odd puzzle, one that niggled at him while he looked for and found the receipt for the taxes. It distracted him from his TV watching and accompanied him as he played the piano. He finally had to wipe it away mentally so he could sleep.

The next morning it came back to him as he brushed his teeth. Wout.

He checked his dictionary – nothing. He Googled it in vain, and was sidetracked by the website for the WOUT home design store in Amsterdam. His Dutch was a little rusty – and never focused on building products and home appliances, anyway – so translating all the text was a challenge that took a while.

From the front door of the hospital to the elevator bank, Cuddy yelled at him for being late, and tacked the time onto his Clinic hours. He saluted her with one finger, his longest, just before the elevator door closed.

The word came back to him just before lunch time. Wout. Wout, wout, wout.

He was still puzzling over it when he spotted Dean, the new Cardiology attending, in the cafeteria line. House hadn’t had enough experience with Dean to make a definitive decision, but so far he didn’t seem like a total idiot. Dean had said more than a few clever things; he had Cuddy’s respect, which was always a good sign; and he was about House’s age, so they had similar reference points. Plus, the lack of hate seemed mutual, for whatever reason.

Smirking just a bit, House cut into line just behind Dean. ”Dr. Diversity, I need your help with something.”

Dean didn’t bat an eye when House slipped his sandwich onto Dean’s tray. ”What’s up?”

“I ran across the word ‘wout’ and need to know what it means. I’m thinking it’s some ghetto slang, so I came straight to you.” He waved Dean away from the “lasagna” and toward the safer choice of spaghetti.

“Didn’t I hear that your father was career military?” Dean replied. He picked up two apples, putting one by House’s sandwich and one on his own plate. ”Whereas my father was a surgeon. So I’m thinking you probably grew up closer to the ghetto than I did.”

House nudged his food closer to Dean’s. ”Touché.”

“I’ve never heard the word ‘wout’ before, House; can’t help you.”

The cafeteria worker looked down at the tray and then back up at the two of them. “Separate or together?”

“Do we look like Ebony and Ivory?” Dean replied. ”The man can pay for his own food; I’m just carrying it for him. And why am I even carrying it?” He thrust the sandwich and apple back at House.

“Because you like to step and fetch.” Wondering if that had maybe, just possibly, been one step too far, House eyed Dean carefully.

“Apparently, you like to eat alone,” Dean retorted, with exasperation and a moderate amount of scorn. ”Just for that,” he told the cafeteria worker, “Dr. House will be paying for my lunch.”

“Hey!”

Walking away, wallet still firmly in his back pocket, Dean called over his shoulder, “Reparations, ya honky.”

House smiled to himself as he fished out at a twenty.

After lunch, the Hounds of Hell, also known as the two newest members of the nursing staff, arrived to escort him to the fiery depths – Brenda’s solution to the Clinic’s missing House dilemma.

It was not until he was half-dead from boredom that the solution to the puzzle of “wout” presented itself.

The patient was dressed in an anonymous navy business suit, with a conference nametag clipped neatly to her lapel. It was the first amusing thing House had seen this Clinic shift, and he took full advantage.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “What can I do for you today, Lester?”

The woman scowled before the last syllable faded away. ”My name is not Lester. It’s Laura. You can feel free to call me Ms. Ester. The hives started breaking out today…”

As he stared at her nametag, the rest of the patient’s words faded into a light buzzing. He had been teasing. Of course it wasn’t LESTER; it was L. ESTER. And it wasn’t WOUT; it was W. OUT.

W. Out.

W.

“Will you excuse me?” he mumbled. Ignoring whatever protest she might be making, he slammed the Exam Room door behind him and stormed into Cuddy’s office.

“Why didn’t you hire him back?” he yelled.

Cuddy murmured an excuse and hung up the receiver; he hadn’t even noticed she was on the phone. She rose slowly from her chair and looked House straight in the eye.

“What are you talking about?”

“Wilson! Wilson is out of prison, and he’s not here, which means you didn’t re-hire him, which is completely ridiculous. You know he did what he did for the good of the hospital–”

Cuddy interrupted, “House.”

“It’s total bullshit not to give him his job back, and you know it, Cuddy!”

“House!” The woman had a pair of lungs on her, he could say that much. He closed his mouth but reserved the right to start ranting again.

“Better,” Cuddy said in a normal tone. ”I offered Wilson his previous position; he turned it down. Said he wanted a change of pace, which sounded reasonable to me.” She gave him a questioning look. ”When’s the last time you talked to him?”

House refused to answer and started bouncing his cane on the carpet. ”Where is he?”

“You don’t know?” Cuddy sounded surprised and concerned; House had never in his life wanted to punch her until that exact moment.

Where is he?” he repeated.

Shaking her head, Cuddy sat in her chair again. ”He moved down to Millville, in southern New Jersey, to be closer to his parents. When I talked to him yesterday –”

“You talked to him yesterday?”

Cuddy looked like she had slipped past concern, into thinking House was off his rocker. “Yes. We don’t talk that often, really, maybe once every three to four weeks. Anyway, when I talked to him yesterday, he said he started working at the hospice already. I told him he should take some time off, but he just laughed and said a year of nothing much to do was enough for him.” She smoothed out her desk blotter and sighed. “You’ve got to admire a spirit like that.”

“I suppose you do.” House had gone numb. He left without another word and returned to the exam room. He gave antihistamines to the hives lady, and then took his next patient. Twenty-three patients later, he was done for the day.

He was two steps into his apartment when the dam broke. Fuck Wilson. Fuck him. Fuck him for leaving, and fuck him for not coming back. Fuck him for not calling. Fuck him for not writing. Fuck him for not inserting himself into House’s life the way he was supposed to, the way he always did. Fuck Wilson for losing that little red calendar, and losing track, and not trying harder, and being a shitty, shitty, shitty best friend.

House broke something large, heavy, and expensive and took a bottle of Jack Daniels to bed with him.

(continued)

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Comments

( 73 comments — Leave a comment )
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delphinapterus
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC)
This is really well written but the subject is so very depressing, I'm getting all choked up. Poor House, he's just lost all sense of normalacy now that Wilson is gone and he can't figure out what to do. It's like Wilson was his anchor and without him House's ability to function is declining. The part about the dam breaking was especially powerful. I can really see House rationalizing and trying to make everything hurt less.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:12 am (UTC)
Thanks. Yes, Wilson being gone is not good for House at all.
axmxz
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC)
Can't help but feel satisfied that House got what he deserved. Can't help but feel sad that Wilson had to put up with him at all - this version of House ought to have been drowned at birth.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:14 am (UTC)
House definitely reaps what he sows here. Thanks.
timbershiver
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
Oh House!
I was having kittens until the last line!

(the tbc bit)
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:15 am (UTC)
Re: Oh House!
Part 2 tomorrow. "Oh House!" is the best way to put it. Thanks.
stephantom
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:29 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is depressing. I disagree with axmxz, though - House hasn't been particularly horrible in this fic; he's been forgetful, inconsiderate and self-centered. He needed the wake-up call. But ow. I'm anxious about how this will end.
axmxz
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC)
There's forgetful and there's forgetful.
(no subject) - deelaundry - Jan. 12th, 2007 04:18 am (UTC) - Expand
toolazytowork
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:37 pm (UTC)
This is certainly a downer. Thanks Dee. The lunch with Chase was a nice touch. A flailing and inept attempt at maintaining some of the Wilson-ness his life so desperately needs.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
A downer, it definitely is. Thanks.
jestana
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:48 pm (UTC)
After House has recovered from drowning his sorrows, he has to go see Wilson. That's all there is to it.

Good story so far. I'm reserving judgment until you get them back together. the second part.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:22 am (UTC)
You're quite the diagnostician there - Part 2 is tomorrow. Thanks.
(no subject) - jestana - Jan. 12th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
moondragon_kaga
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, Wow...I'm enjoying this, probably more than I should... Please post the next part soon! I'll be looking forward to reading it...
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:22 am (UTC)
Part 2 is tomorrow! Just a few tweaks to go.
fiorediloto
Jan. 11th, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)
LJ ate my comment. Too tired to remember what I'd written, but I think it was something like "wonderfully written but I can't imagine House forgetting Wilson in jail, his life should be too boring without him". Or something so. Sorry, it was better than this, but LJ found it very tasty.


ps. thanks for "dilemma". It went in my list of Italian words currently used in English. I'm trying to demonstrate that we're linguistically colonizing you and not vice versa. I'm up to 4 words so far, but I'm not giving up.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:26 am (UTC)
I imagine House's life is more boring without Wilson, but he's built up the idea in his mind that he doesn't need anyone, not even Wilson. So he just goes ahead with his own things and doesn't put the effort in that he should. Not even the effort to remember when Wilson will be free.

Thanks. And what about "gelato" - is that on your list?
(no subject) - fiorediloto - Jan. 12th, 2007 01:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deelaundry - Jan. 12th, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fiorediloto - Jan. 12th, 2007 07:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
roga
Jan. 12th, 2007 12:13 am (UTC)
Oh, wow, wow, wow. This is an amazing AU you've created - the slow, progressive drifting apart was very well paced and completely understandable, at least the way you wrote them both. So many great little scenes, and likable original characters, and I cannot wait until the next part :-)
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:27 am (UTC)
Thanks so much. Part two is tomorrow!
(no subject) - roga - Jan. 12th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deelaundry - Jan. 12th, 2007 05:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
savemoony
Jan. 12th, 2007 12:16 am (UTC)
Jesus. I really have no words. *Applauds*
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:27 am (UTC)
*Throws you roses*
(no subject) - savemoony - Jan. 12th, 2007 04:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Jan. 12th, 2007 01:00 am (UTC)
Oh, that's so sad. House totally loses interest in Wilson once he's gone, even though the guy is in prison BECAUSE OF HIM - how selfish can you get? How can he so completely forget Wilson that he wouldn't instantly realize what "wout" means, when stupid me saw it immediately? That's.. inhuman. Hooray for Wilson for seeing the light about House after meeting people who respect him (and I can totally see Wilson being the alpha dog in prison!), but still. This is sadder than a death fic. It IS a death fic, it's the death of their friendship.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:31 am (UTC)
I wouldn't say House loses interest. He is just so self-centered, that unless you're right there, he has a hard time focusing on you.

And, yes, he should have remembered "wout" but in his defense, he was thinking about his taxes and not about Wilson at all. His mind wasn't giving him any context at all to work with.
alex51324
Jan. 12th, 2007 01:19 am (UTC)
This is really good! I think it's the first "Wilson Goes to Prison" story I've seen. I do think it's a little hard to swallow that House would forget when Wilson was getting out, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief to see what happens next. I love the heart and skull on his parents' birthdays.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:36 am (UTC)
stephantom had the right word: self-centered. House thinks about himself the most, then the puzzles he needs to solve, and then I think everything else he takes as it comes. He had relied on Wilson to push himself into House's life, and had no coping mechanism when Wilson stopped doing that. Part Two is tomorrow - tell me what you think after that! Thanks!
purridot
Jan. 12th, 2007 01:26 am (UTC)
I really, really love this story; somehow it seems to fill a void. So often in fanfic we want House to learn not to take Wilson for granted. But this often means House has to work at being a better person. But here, House is his usual asshole self. He hasn't become a better person; but he learns his lesson nonetheless. I love the poetic justice: House has shut himself up in his own little world, and the only person who used to try picking the lock or conversing through the door to him has decided to move on. I pity House for his fear, denial, and inability to even try to understand his own feelings and those of his friend.

This is just a fascinating character study -- I feel I could write about it for hours.
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:40 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for this comment and your earlier ones. I feel sorry for House, too, and see him just the way you've described. He's so limited in his coping skills that it makes me shake my head.
fallen_arazil
Jan. 12th, 2007 01:37 am (UTC)
... evil.

Why is always Wilson that must suffer for House's sins crimes? And yet somehow he worked his Wilson mojo at the prison and everyone loves him there, and House is just sort of going through life on autopilot, and it's very weird to see/read.

And the rant at the end, where House blames al the failing i their relatioship on Wilson? So perfectly House.

Looking forward to part 2, darling.

~ydiw
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 04:43 am (UTC)
Wilson's mojo was definitely in full effect at the prison. How strange that he had to go to jail to start having some normal relationships. More on that in part 2 (tomorrow!). And House with such poor coping skills... Thanks, YDIW
asynca
Jan. 12th, 2007 01:41 am (UTC)
Oh, I hate you for writing this. Ouch, OUCH.

The premise is brilliant, and you do write selfish!House very, very well. This is very cleverly constructed and I LOVE that you show rather than tell.

My only issue is that I think if House got a handle on the fact he was losing Wilson (ie, on his visit to the jail) he'd act straight away to protect his interests. However, this is more likely to be a result of me having trouble tolerating the fact that I have to wait for the next installment, and also because along with Nightdog, Cryptictac and Sheep, I'm not entirely sure I trust that you'll reunite them! If I have to suffer a broken OTP, make it bandaid-rippingly quick.

Argh!

...and just incase you've been distracted during my ranting, one of my original points is that this is very good :>
deelaundry
Jan. 12th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Several people have questioned House's lack of action. I think if Wilson was there at PPTH, House would definitely move quickly to protect his interests, as you said (a la "Fools for Love"). It's the distance that confuzzles him and reinforces his natural laziness. Morgantown is six hours-plus away from Princeton, and House can't call Wilson directly. Plus, of course, House tends to blame things on other people, and he's miffed that Wilson is no longer making the effort he was (i.e., doing 95+% of the relationship work).

Let me know what you think of the rest (which is up now).
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