SUMMARY: Sometimes, behaving yourself gets you nowhere.
CHARACTERS: Wilson, House, and Wilson's mother
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.
He watches her, tall and thin and tugging at the fabric of her dress as she tries to decide what to do with herself, where to stand or sit, what to say. The dress is a cheerful chameleon green, nicely cut, but she's squirming as if it doesn't quite fit. She always does that kind of thing when House is around. That, or when she's craving nicotine -- and Wilson has noticed that those two things coincide.
Emphysema killed her father. It took twelve years to crush the breath out of him, like laying on one stone after another. Cancer would've been merciful and quick by comparison. And here she is, fidgeting around House's living room because she can't cope with House and she wants a cigarette.
Her son is an oncologist and her father's lungs turned into tar paper, and she's guilty and knows better but she will never, ever quit.
Willful ignorance must run in my family, Wilson thinks. What he says is, "Go have y'smoke. I promise I won' run off."
His mother gives a sad, sheepish little smile, runs a hand through her greying curls, and slips quietly out the front door. She takes two extra-quick steps as she passes the entrance to the kitchen, where House is standing.
He's been watching them with an interest as sharp as a scalpel, the keys to the Honda jingling in his impatient hand. House wants to know. He wants to know everything, wants to observe and diagnose and catch both of them lying to each other, but he can't do it because his presence messes up the experiment. He'll try prying later, after she has left, and Wilson will deal with him then.
House is long gone by the time Bette Wilson steps back inside, perfuming the air with tobacco smoke. The scent doesn't bother Wilson as much as House thinks it does. It was the smell of his grandfather's living room, his mother's embrace, his brother sitting on the back porch when no one else was home.
"Big Bad Wolf wen' out for a while," Wilson tells her, and smiles. "You're safe now."
"Oh, James, I'm not afraid of him. You're ... you're sure this is the best place to recover, though, sweetie? It's not that I don't like Greg, but he has physical problems that ..." She sits on the couch, trying to smile back at him, lying a mile a minute. It doesn't last, and Wilson's almost relieved when her eyes start to glisten. At least her sorrow is the truth.
"How did this happen? I didn't even know what to do when they called. I didn't think it could really be as bad as this, that -- Oh, James, why would anyone do this?"
"I don' know," he replies. He's lying, and he's not, because he knows the reasons but he doesn't understand. He'll never, ever understand.
She rubs his arm, holds his right hand, asks him about the broken bones and surgeries and whether he's secure at work, and he tells her what she wants to hear. Another week or so with the wires and the sling. He's already doing physio exercises for his shoulder and his hand; there's an operation scheduled to straighten out his badly crooked nose. His job will be waiting. It'll be all right.
They'd hugged awkwardly when she first got in the door, but they haven't held onto one another in so long that they've forgotten how it works. Every movement is second-guessed, every word edited and censored. When Wilson gets up for a glass of water, his mom gets up too, but doesn't follow him. He sees her drifting around the apartment, looking at the rolling bed, the shelves full of so many wildly contradictory items. The cute-puppy calendar House bought and then defaced. The piano.
She's sitting on the piano bench as Wilson comes back into the room. He feels something twist inside him when she lifts the cover from the keys and settles a pointed shoe on the pedal. She shouldn't. It isn't that she's such a bad player, it's just --
"Honey, I was just --"
"I know. But don' touch it." He sighs, not knowing how to explain. "It's House's. It's -- nev'r mind, Mom. Tell me how you an' Dad are doing."
They're doing fine, of course. They're always doing fine. His dad's working nonstop on that Henderson project, so he couldn't come with her, but that's understandable. He's finally done something bright enough, bold enough to get noticed the way he deserves.
Wilson doesn't ask her if she honestly believes it'll happen; it's in her eyes that she does, just like she believed it all the times before. Just like she believes that David will come home this year and that James was attacked by a bunch of drugged-up kids. Just like she believes that Jonathan moved to California for the weather and the job market.
He watches her talking to him, and he knows that she loves him. He loves her too, he knows he does, but he wishes he knew who she was.
It always helps, going out on the bike. For an hour he rides, breathes, thinks of nothing, feels the velocity, the turns and the wind. Flight.
When he walks -- limps, grounded again -- back in the door, he's surprised to find Bette Wilson still there. Every time she sees him it's the same: a quick glance, a split-second widening of her dark eyes, a tightening of her posture.
"Nice ride?" says Wilson, and House knows he wouldn't ask such a dumb question, except that his mom's here and he needs to say something.
"It was a ride." House sees the growing tension in Bette's shoulders, the nervous fluttering of her fingers, and he makes himself look away before the target becomes irresistible. She's Wilson's mom, even if she's an idiot who wouldn't face reality if it ran her down with a steamroller.
But it's Wilson, not Bette, who looks flattened. He's pressed down into the cushions like he's hoping to get swallowed up and lost. House stands there a moment, pondering, and tilts his head at Wilson, asking a question. Wilson's reply, a slow blink and one slightly exaggerated breath, is unreadable to Bette. That's good. She'd get all hurt and weepy if she knew that Wilson just asked him to make her go away.
He does it deftly, nicely. He sits right next to her, smiles at her, and it's a genuine smile because he loves every moment of this. If this woman would face the truth about anything, she wouldn't be afraid of him, but she won't and so he scares her. She deserves this. He watches her draw up into herself.
"I'm sure Jimmy's whined at you long enough," he says, and he's the very soul of geniality. "Why don't you tell us all about your cruise?"
He glances at the clock on the wall, and times it. In exactly sixteen seconds, she remembers that she's expected back at home.
"We're going somewhere," says House, as soon as the door closes behind Wilson's mom.
"Now? Where?" Wilson wants to close his eyes, sleep. Forget this whole dingy, stifling day.
"Soon as you get your pathetic butt up off my sofa, and it doesn't matter where. Somewhere."
"I don't -- House. I don' feel 'ike it."
"You haven't felt like anything for two weeks now. You've got cabin fever, and you're too damn depressed to even know. Your mom just made it worse."
"Don' blame her if she ... doesn' know how t'handle it," he says, shutting his eyes against House's insistent stare. "I don' know either."
"We'll add amnesia to your list of symptoms. You were full of brilliant ideas when it was my life. C'mon." He prods Wilson's shin with the cane, but he's quick and careful about it. The advantage of physical threats has been lost; Wilson knows House won't inflict any more pain. He opens his eyes, but doesn't move.
"Wasn' your fault, th' clot. Legit'mate medical ... disaster. If you 'ere useless six weeks later, 's unnerstannable."
"Yeah. You should be back at work now, shouldn't you? The sight of your pulverized nose would make all the chemo kids so happy! Make 'em feel less self-conscious about being ugly and bald. You're being stupid; you do it every time you see your family."
"I was stupid t'get inna limo!" He says it before he can stop himself, this thing he's been thinking ever since that night in the barn. "Stupid, did wha' they said. I let 'em take me."
House stares at him with an expression of utter disbelief. "Were you lying about the guns? Or have you just forgotten what bullets do?"
"Was broad fuckn' daylight. People evvywhere. I coulda fought 'em, got away. Kicked, hit harder, somethin'." He stands up, inhales, feels the ache spreading outward from his spine. There are painfully inflamed bruises lingering throughout his body, the slow-healing knots of burst blood vessels and torn muscle fibers. "Went with'm like a scared lil' kid. Th' hell couldn' I fight back?
"Fight back," House says, his voice incredulous and flat. "Fight back, you say." Then he's almost shouting, "They'd have shot you, you moron! And that's if -- if they decided to have mercy!" House is all over the place, expending as much energy as possible through his feet, his cane, his hands. "You know what they'd have done to you?!"
"Couldna been much worse," Wilson says, and even as the words come out he knows they're not true.
"Oh, couldn't it? Reno said you'd be a fucking vegetable! You coulda been the next Terry Schiavo and you think you should've --"
"Reno." No. This can't be real. It can't. Wilson knows his feet are on the floor, but he can't feel them. He's been plunged into a freezing ocean.
"Told me he'd -- shit! Wilson --"
"You knew. You knew?" He staggers, his knees giving way, and catches himself on the arm of the sofa. He'd have believed a lot of things about House, but not this. "How could you've said --"
"Shut up, Wilson!" House is yelling in earnest now, and Wilson can't yell back half as well, but he tries.
"You let 'em! How -- House -- "
"He called me from the damn barn!" House has stopped moving and his voice is breaking apart like a shipwreck. Wilson's heard this once before: No warning. I didn't know, I'd have paid. He takes a breath, forcing back the dizzy sickness. There are many things House can fake, but not this.
"Martin. Called me. Held out the phone so I could ... hear it. I called Reno, tried to pay, make it stop." He's reliving it. It's all there in his eyes, in the brittle snap of the words as he forces them out. "He told me to go fuck myself. He said if I tried again they'd ..." he looks away, apparently unable to finish that sentence.
"Nice set a frien's you found. The hell'd you think would happen? Wha'd you think they'd do, you wouldn' pay? Break yer legs? Kill you? You even think of it?"
"I -- I thought that whatever they did would be my own problem." He looks like a child who's been banished to stand in the corner, downcast and still, staring at his sneakers. He's pressing his hands against his sides in that way he does when he's been caught.
"Ah. You get murdered, an' tha's not my problem." Wilson straightens himself, marches over to stand directly in front of his friend. Still his friend; an idiot, a jackass, but his friend all the same. His next question is soft, almost a plea. "Th' hell is wrong with you, House? Which fucking wire doesn' connect in there?"
There's no answer, but Wilson doesn't expect one. At such close range, he can easily see the fading greenish bruise and the small, healing cut on House's lip. Four days since that punch, and House hasn't come anywhere near him. It's hard for a cripple to walk on eggshells, but House has been trying, as if Wilson would hit him again. He must think -- what? That he deserves it?
Wilson rests a gentle hand on House's shoulder, stopping him before he can flee. "C'mon," he says, "Take y'meds, I'll take mine. An' then we'll go somewhere."