SUMMARY: The only thing worse than coming home alone is being alone when you get there.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, Cuddy (with appearances by the Fellows)
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: Details the aftermath of events in Bad Company, a rough, violent story. Aftermath isn't always pretty; may distress some readers. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: The pieces of this shattered story are numbered. The first number signifies the number of days that have elapsed since the original event in Bad Company; the second number signifies when the fic occurs during that day.
In the predawn hours the hospital is so quiet. There's no team to contend with, no Cuddy to accost him. There are no new patients wanting to be seen for ordinary, boring ailments.
There's only House, and House's mind, and this problem. This thing. He shifts on the sofa, which isn't quite long enough to accommodate the full stretch of his exhausted body. If that body had any sense, it would be sleeping, but no.
For what feels like the millionth time, House considers the option of going to his Rolodex and pulling out the card of one Mr. William Arnello, mobster.
The problem with that plan, House thinks as he stares at the stripes of light that come in through Wilson's balcony blinds, is that there are way too many unknowns. It would be like playing Wheel of Fortune, setting the wheel into motion and praying it won't stop at BANKRUPT.
He's using the spare pillow that Wilson -- because Wilson is a dork -- keeps in one of the bottom cabinets in his big fancy bookshelf. It smells like wood. House leans his head backward into it, shutting his eyes.
In his mind he plays out a scene in which he talks to Bill, explaining what happened to Wilson and what is happening now. Any number of things might then occur. He can see them all with equal clarity.
Bill might laugh at him. House can hear it.You fuckin' jackass, you did what? Who'd you think you were fuckin' with, Mary fuckin' Poppins? Your friend lived; you got lucky. No way in hell're we gonna touch that shit. We got enough trouble.
For all House knows, Reno and the Arnello clan might even do business with each other. If that's the case, their loyalty will always be to one another—and to the flow of cash.
And if it got back to Reno that House had been trying to interfere with Martin? Not good. Not good at all. Probably there'd be a tragic incident in which a drug-crazed robber shot House dead on the street. Oh, so sad. House imagines that Martin would even attend the damn funeral.
Then again, Bill might not laugh at him. Bill might reassure him, Don't you worry about that. Nobody's gonna hurt your family again. We got it. His people would track down Martin Grey and then ... and then what? This much House knows: Martin is much smarter than a dozen Arnellos. Chances are he'd see them coming a mile away, and then there'd be a couple dead mobsters and one very alive—and vengeful—psychopath.
Even if Bill's guys managed to kill Martin, that wouldn't be the end. As things stand now the Arnello gang figures that the score between themselves and House is even. House saved one of their own; they rewarded him handsomely in the form of gleaming red metal, horsepower, chrome.
Maybe, just maybe they'd do this huge favor for House, but then they'd own him. Eventually they would demand something in return, something big, and he'd have to do it or else. Not such a big deal if only it were possible to predict what the demand would be and what the or else would entail.
House had reflexively stood up to Georgie Reno, his defiant nature making him refuse to be bullied. That tactic had served well enough in the past, so House had failed to consider all the possible repercussions. It hadn't occurred to him that they'd hurt someone else. Or that Georgie Reno might employ Martin ... who is, after all, an independent contractor.
It's possible, House realizes with a sudden, sickening chill, that the Arnellos have also found Martin's talents useful.
He pulls his aching body up and off Wilson's sofa. Much as he needs coffee, he won't be drinking any; his stomach's already churning and he knows he'd puke. It's been that kind of night, that kind of stress, that many extra Vicodin.
Coffee will have to come later. Right now, he's going to find his Rolodex. He's going to pull out the card of one Mr. William Arnello, mobster. Then he's going to tear it up and throw the pieces into the bin marked Biohazard.
House always hated Wheel of Fortune anyway.
House makes sure to wander into the conference room at his normal time, despite the fact that he's been awake for hours. Wilson's office couch is more comfortable than it looks, but that doesn't mean it makes for a good night's sleep.
"Where's Chase?" Cameron asks idly from her spot behind her desk. House slams the coffeepot back into the machine. Foreman and Cameron exchange a significant look.
"The fuck do you care?" he shouts and stumps into his office.
He doesn't usually swear at his employees; he's usually much more eloquent in his verbal assaults. Apparently it's rare enough to convince them to leave him alone. Finally, finally, a lesson has been pounded through their thick skulls.
Just before noon, House notices a flash of light from the conference room door swinging shut. He glances up to see Cameron heading out. Foreman's got his nose buried in a pile of patient charts and paperwork. He doesn't so much as look up when House ventures out of his office for more coffee and a raid on Cameron's pathetic lunch.
At two o'clock, House is debating whether it's worth it to make his way to the locker rooms for a shower, or if he'd rather remain a smelly ball of misery in his desk chair. As he's weighing the pain of moving against the relief of hot water, Cuddy swishes into the office.
"Don't," he growls before she can say anything.
The distinctive click of a plastic pill bottle being set on a glass desk is enough to make him swivel around. Cuddy has her arms crossed protectively over her stomach, and she looks as sorrowful as he's ever seen her. A fresh bottle of Vicodin is sitting between them.
He keeps looking at that bottle as he says, quietly, roughly, "Thank you. Now get out."
Cuddy doesn't move. "You look terrible. Why don't you—"
"You need to go. Now."
"Or what?" Her voice is quiet to match his but no less steely. "You'll say something awful? I've already heard your worst."
House flinches and stares resolutely at the floor.
"Go home, House. Take the day, take a pill, take a shower. Come back tomorrow when you won't be mistaken for a zombie."
She's almost to the door when House manages to say, "Cuddy." He hears her stop, but he can't look up. "I am sorry, you know. For that ... moth—" his breath catches when he feels her caress the back of his bowed head, her fingers sliding easily through his hair.
He hadn't heard her come back. He suddenly can't seem to finish what he wanted to tell her. He doesn't want her to stop.
The weight of her hand says I know, the brush of her fingertips tells him it's okay. Miracle of miracles, he hasn't broken everything in his life and maybe it would have been easier if he had, but he can't bring himself to push her away.
She leaves all too soon.
Knowing there's a full Vicodin bottle on his desk gives him enough oomph to make it to the locker rooms and back. He collapses in his comfy chair and stays put until the conference room lights go off for the night. Neither Foreman nor Cameron bother to talk to him, although Cameron shoots him a look through the glass.
He calls for delivery because he needs at least one decent meal for the day. When the kid arrives, he doesn't move from the chair, just tosses the cash and points at his footstool, which will serve well enough as a table.
Eventually he makes his way over the balcony wall and into Wilson's office. He's stiff from the combination of a long night on Wilson's couch and an even longer afternoon in his chair.
House has barely settled himself on the couch when his cell phone rings. He fumbles it onto the cushions when he sees it's his own apartment calling.
"Yeah," he says as neutrally as he can manage. Who would he hear? Wilson? Chase? He shudders in a breath as he thinks, Oh, God, not Martin.
"Housh," Wilson answers, his voice slurred from trying to talk on the phone.
House turns the phone away so he can exhale loudly in relief, then quickly puts it back. "Wilson."
"Get over here."
"Oh, pleazh," Wilson interrupts. "You can't take another night 'n my office, an' Chase wants'ta go home."
House shifts guiltily before reminding himself that Wilson can't actually see him. He forces his voice to be brighter than he's feeling. "Okay, fine. On my way."
Perhaps Wilson wants to hand his key back in person.
When House opens his apartment door, Chase is standing just inside. He gives House a sharp nod, then ducks out the door and down the hall before House can say anything. House closes and locks the door behind him and turns to survey the apartment.
Nothing is different. Even Wilson's suitcases look untouched.
"The lumberyard called," Wilson says, and his voice is coming from the kitchen. The next thing House hears is a message on the answering machine. Apparently the window bars House wants can be installed tomorrow.
House can't move from his spot by the door. His chest feels like it's caught in a vise; he's having a hard time getting enough breath.
Wilson's not gone. And he doesn't look like he's leaving.
In fact, he's wandering into the living room with two steaming mugs of something gripped in his right fist. He sets them both on the end table, then lowers himself onto the couch. "Hot choc'late."
"Why?" House whispers.
"Y' look like you c'd use it," Wilson answers and drops a straw into his mug before picking it up.
The man is entirely too dense for his own good. House manages a step closer, and asks again, "Why are you still here?"
Wilson leans back, settles further into the sofa cushions. He looks up with eyes that are far too shrewd. "You owe me a story."
House swallows, hard, and steps closer in spite of himself.
"You said this is what he does," Wilson continues. "Like he's done it before."
"Every ten years, like a fucking clock," House says, unable to stop the response from slipping free. Wilson couldn't have hit him harder if he'd punched him again. House turns as if to head for his bedroom.
"House." Wilson waves his mug, indicating the other mug steaming on the end table. "Sit down. We need to talk."
House walks behind the couch, behind Wilson. "No conversation beginning with those words has ever in the history of the world gone well."
"You owe me." Wilson's quiet words catch him just before he's escaped the room. They stop him in his tracks, make him turn around and settle himself on the couch. He picks up the mug of hot chocolate with a scowl and sips it. Made from scratch, with a little kick of spice, a surprise not unlike the man sitting next to him.
"The last time," House starts slowly, "I was glad you hadn't met him." Long years of not discussing it doesn't make it any easier to start talking now. "He's got a thing for colors, likes to think of himself as an artist. He told Stacy his name was Adrian Black."
"He likes to ... insinuate himself. Tie me in knots trying to keep people in my life from finding out what he really is." From finding out what I could have been. House shifts uncomfortably, staring down into his mug.
After a short silence, Wilson asks, "And he ... just. Goes away?"
"Eventually," House answers with a little half-shrug. "In med school it was just a day. The last time it was ... weeks before I knew he was there. And then a couple weeks after that."
They sit in silence, sipping at their drinks. Wilson shifts forward like he's going to try to rise but he stops, perched on the edge of the couch. He looks so much like his old self that House's breath catches in his throat and he has to look away.
"How could I have missed it?" Wilson asks softly. "You were ... I thought you and Stacy had a fight or something."
"You missed it because I wanted you to miss it," House says just as softly. "I wanted him to miss you. He'd already gotten to her; I didn't want to give him any more ... leverage. Any more ... friends ... whose lives he could hold over me." He risks a glance at Wilson. "And I did fight with Stacy. She liked him."
Wilson gapes, or he would be gaping if he could open his jaw.
"Oh, you would have liked him, too, under other circumstances. My own mother adores him. Everyone does. That's why he's so damn dangerous."
House drains his mug and sets it down. He bounces his cane against the floor. "You didn't leave."
"Either that or yer hallucinating."
Wilson settles back into the couch again, shifting until he's comfortable enough to lean his head back on the cushions. "No."
"Good." That's all he can think of to say about that. Good. House gets up and, without another word, heads directly to the shower.
Wilson's silence follows him all the way down the hall. He'll take Wilson's silence over an empty living room any day.