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Bad Company

Aftershocks 45.1: Lock and Key



Aftershocks 45.1: Lock and Key

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TITLE: Aftershocks: A Story in Shattered Pieces
SUMMARY: He wonders where he fits now.
CHARACTERS: Wilson, House
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.

Lock and Key

Now that he looks something like himself, it's actually worse in a way.

People are more prone to stare at him. Who knows why; maybe he looks well enough that they no longer turn away in shock. He insists upon going in through the front door of the hospital anyway, chin up, his eyes daring them to either ask their questions or stop looking. 

It's only some of the younger kids who're bold enough to ask what happened to him, and he smiles and tells them he was in an accident but that he's getting better. 

Today he doesn't see any kids on his way to his appointment with Tomlinson. He's here on his own for the first time, having driven himself. It felt strange, freeing, a little weird after so long. He'd had to readjust the seat of the car, which had been pushed backward to make room for House's absurdly long legs. The rear view mirror was shifted too, showing Wilson nothing but the car's back seat.

For a moment he had looked into that mirror at just the right angle, so that all he saw was his eyes, and he'd imagined that he was still the same man he'd been the last time he'd driven his car. But then he had to put both hands on the wheel, and the left hand was all metal and blue plastic with just a few fingers sticking out, and the illusion was gone.

The first stop is Radiology. 

Wilson imagines that his hand ought to glow in the dark, as many x-rays as they've done on it. He puts the lead apron on and thinks that by now, he should have his very own one of these, emblazoned with his name. What with the hand films and all the ones for his jaw and his clavicle -- he just hopes he won't wind up needing an oncologist, instead of being one.

Oh, shut up, says an irritated voice in his head, as he aligns his hand on the grid beneath the lens. You're not usually so damn morose about this. Of course you've usually got House around, being morose for you so that you can skip it and go straight to the sarcasm.

Are you always this mean? he asks that voice in return.

No. Just when I'm about to get dosed with yet more radiation for something that was never my fucking fault to begin with. You try it. Oh, wait, you already are.

Some people just talk to themselves. Wilson actually fights with himself, more often than he'd care to admit. It keeps him from saying cruel things to unsuspecting radiology techs, or pharmacists, or slow old women in the supermarket aisles.

The shot of his hand is done. Wilson sighs, knowing what comes next. He sheds the apron and then -- carefully -- the soft t-shirt he's wearing. He always dresses like this when he comes in, because the tee is easy to pull off and put back on again.

He's got a new tech today. She stops for a moment, blinking in astonishment as they all do the first time they see his bare torso. They call it a splenectomy scar but the truth is it's much more than that. The surgeons had needed access to every internal organ and they hadn't had time to be delicate about it. The scalpel track starts just below the solar plexus and goes all the way down the length of his groin, stopping just a couple inches above his penis. It's hideous. 

The tech can't see all of it (since Wilson can leave his pants on) but the big scar alone isn't what's so shocking.  There are two smaller incisions over his rib cage, where Tomlinson put the u-plates in so that he could breathe again. And then -- then there are the bruises.

People think of bruises as things that go away in a week, maybe two. That's how it works when you bang your leg on the coffee table. That's not how it works when a bunch of booted thugs drop you on the ground and kick you like they're trying to make a fucking field goal. The torn muscle fibers and ruptured blood vessels form inflamed knots, tender lumps that will linger for months. There are discolored goose-eggs all over his body, but he's done being embarrassed about it, at least here in the hospital. 

"It was no fun," he says to the tech, startling her out of her inventory of his injuries. "We'll leave it at that, shall we?" He smiles so that she knows he won't hurt her and won't discuss it.  She has to help him tie the apron in place again, this time around his waist.  Neither one says another word as they get on with taking the x-ray.

When they're finished, he slips back into his shirt, fastens the splint back in place on his hand, and heads for the cafeteria to get ... a lousy bowl of tomato soup. It's the only thing they've got that will serve as a snack -- and a way to pass the time until his next appointment -- for a guy with his jaw wired shut. 

He's just had that x-rayed as well. The wires are supposed to come out on Monday morning, if he's healed enough. They'll do it while Wilson's already knocked out for the surgery to rebuild his nose.

That was House's idea. He does have good ones, sometimes.

Wilson's collarbone is aching, and he rubs it while he stands in the cafeteria line. He'll be back in the sling for a few hours once he gets home, but for now he's glad to be free, able to balance his tray with his right hand and left forearm. 

The table he chooses is in the corner, and he sits with his back toward the wall. He must be projecting please don't talk to me, because no one does.

Maybe they don't know what to say to a guy who's got a straw stuck into a bowl of tomato soup.

You could page House. He's never at a loss for words.

Wilson snorts at himself, at his own stupid thoughts. What, you're lonely now? Grow up. Gonna be on your own again sooner or later.

He sighs, wishing he had thought to buy a newspaper so that he'd have something to look at other than all these people.

Finally, he glances at his watch and decides to see if Tomlinson will mind if he's a few minutes early. He's still hungry but he leaves the soup, half-eaten and stone cold.

Wilson walks into Tomlinson's office and settles into one of her large and wonderfully comfortable chairs. She sees him here instead of in an exam room, and he's thankful for that. 

Pulling out his cell phone and pager, he turns both of them off. House knows about this appointment and Wilson doesn't want him interrupting it. Tomlinson is patient about such things, but she shouldn't have to be. 

He'd have just left the phone and pager at home, had he not wondered what would happen if he were to see a tall blond man in the parking garage, or following him on the street. Martin's made no appearances since that incident with the mail slot, but they don't know where he is.

Tomlinson looks at the x-ray, nodding, noting another couple of fibrous adhesions that will have to be addressed.  Each surgery is less invasive than the last. Each week, old pains subside and new ones emerge.

He unfastens the velcro closures on the splint and it falls open like a clamshell, revealing the moist pink skin inside. For one surreal second his mind wonders, Where's my pearl? and then he shoves the bizarre thought aside and flexes one finger at a time, at Tomlinson's command. They're weak and they're stiff and the middle one hurts like hell today, but they're still a lot better than they were.

The external scarring, strangely enough, is not that bad. Hands heal differently than abdomens, it seems. 

He walks out of Tomlinson's office carrying a small sheaf of papers: exercise diagrams for his hand and his shoulder. 

His lower back is throbbing with a dull and growing ache, the immediate reaction to the cortisone injection she gave him. It'll reduce the inflammation and pain from those chipped vertebrae, but not right this instant. That relief will arrive sometime overnight. 

It's two in the afternoon and James Wilson stands in the hallway of his workplace with nothing to do. The thought of going home, walking into the empty apartment, makes his whole body tighten in resistance. 

What's the problem? he asks himself, and the answer he gets is not in words. It's the image of a pink paper on the floor, the feeling of not knowing who might have gotten there first. 

It's the idea of the future. Eventually he'll have to go home to yet another new apartment, living by himself with only the TV and stereo to break the silence. He can't stay where he is indefinitely, with no room of his own and no privacy, but what will happen when he leaves?

Maybe he won't talk to Dr. Simonds, but he's going to have to talk to someone because he's too messed up to cope. When House is the only safety net he's got, something has to be wrong. He'll talk to someone, but not today.

Wilson breaks out of his thoughts to find himself in the elevator, pushing the button for the fourth floor. He doesn't even remember having stepped inside.

He hasn't been up here since That Day, and the first thing he notices is that this floor has a distinct scent about it, dry and clean but somehow lacking the sharp edge of the air on the floors below. Perhaps it gets mellowed a bit by all the coffee they brew in Diagnostics.

House is not the reason Wilson's here, though. He just needs to know it still really exists, and that he can still exist here -- that he won't fall right through the floor, or become suddenly invisible, an ineffectual ghost wandering from room to room, touching nothing. 

He puts his hand on the wall and he knows why House is this way, how it feels to need proof of even the most absurdly mundane things. The wall is solid and cool against his warm skin, reassuring. When he steps away, he wishes he were in his old shoes, the ones that tapped quietly on the tile. The ones that he's not wearing now because it hurts too much to bend and tie the laces. He'll get back to those, too, eventually.

The door of his office is shut and locked, and the pretty gold letters are just as they were.

My name is still here. There's an astonishing amount of relief in that thought.

Did you think it wouldn't be? asks that other side of himself, in a tone that, for once, does not suggest that he's a moron.

I ... it had occurred to me. House might not have known how to tell me if the board had ... He can't finish that thought, not even when talking to himself. It's too painful.

If they'd gotten rid of you, they'd have had to admit that they're all lousy, heartless excuses for humanity. Besides, Cuddy would have told you, even if House didn't.

Wilson has to concede that point. He is probably, at least in this respect, safe. That is provided he can get back on that horse when they let him try. 

"I have your key," says a loud voice right beside him, causing Wilson to startle sideways like a crab. How the hell did House get right there!?

"You bast'rd! Don' do that t'me!" Wilson leans on the wall, takes a breath and waits for his heart to stop racing.

"I didn't do anything," House insists, rolling his eyes. "Where was your brain? Tahiti?"


"Send it back. You'll never miss it." House is reaching for the doorknob, sliding the key into place.


House looks at him like he's crazy, but stops and puts the key back in his pocket. Maybe Wilson is a little crazy, but he's not ready to step into that office yet. He's gone far enough today.

"I was jus' comin' to get coffee," he lies, and then thinks that it might actually be true. His own mind makes him dizzy at times; he's perfectly happy to abandon his thoughts, turn and fall into step beside House. 

It doesn't matter so much that his back is killing him, or that his shoulder is crying out for the stability of the sling. If it gets bad enough he'll try poking one of House's Vicodin through the gap in his teeth and washing it down with coffee. He'll be all right.

He'll stay here a while, he'll talk with House and Kids about their latest case, and at the end of the day he'll go see Cuddy. 

They need to start talking about work.

  • Oh Wilson. At least he's getting better. He can drive again, which for someone who's been hiding trapped in that apartment for so long, it's a huge accomplishment.
    And yay for things on the way to being normal. Wilson and House have gone through enough crazy shit.

    - Kinks
  • (Anonymous)
    Feels like I can breathe deeply again at last. At least at the hospital they feel safe. Are safe ? Knowing you, probably not. So I am going to relax and enjoy as long as it lasts.
    This is perfect and should never, ever end.
  • You would think an x-ray tech wouldn't stare, but, I know, they do. It's awful, and you never know what to say. Wilson handled it in his usual Wilson-type way. I hope that's an indicator that he's on the road to recovery, although the signpost for the turning to 'Recovering' is still a dot in the far distance. The very far distance.

    Loved the idea that, even with the noise the cane makes, Wilson was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he didn't hear House coming.
    • Thank you, Catrina.

      House's cane actually doesn't make much noise, since there's a rubber tip on it, but yeah -- Wilson's so lost in his thoughts that he doesn't notice House's approach, and that is pretty darn lost. :-)

      The poor tech, she didn't mean to be rude, she was just shocked. Never seen bruises like that before.
  • I have an urge to reach into this story and give Wilson a chaste hug.

    Each week, old pains subside and new ones emerge. This line about the healing of Wilson's hand is pretty much a metaphor for the gain and lose motion of all that's happened to him since Martin had him dumped in the alley.

    The similarity of Wilson's scars to an autopsy incision is really quite chilling, and it's another subtle reminder of how he's uneasy about trying to fit back into his old life.
    • You know, we had wondered whether anyone would notice the similarity of Wilson's incision to that of an autopsied body.

      Cookies for Corgigirl!

      Also, you're not the only one. We've been desperately wishing we could hug Wilson, throughout this whole story.
  • Just finished reading this whole thing. It's quite a feat, to start out so well and still being going strong!

    This chapter makes me slightly sad in that Wilson keeps thinking about moving out of House's place.

    Also, there has been a suspicious lack of Martin in the last few chapters. It's making me slightly nervous because I keep expecting him to show up.
    • If you read The Green Fuse a few days ago, then you know something about where Martin is now.

      • Oh dear, it seems that I skipped over that one. I've done it before, I've been trying to catch up so fast that I miss some chapters. Thank you!
  • Things I remember about this chapter:

    - Wilson staring at his eyes in the rearview mirror, able to pretend for a moment that he's whole and uninjured

    - The lab tech staring at his scars

    - The idea that Wilson fights fiercely with himself in his head, and that the antagonist's voice sounds awfully like House

    - Wilson's aching loneliness and fear -- his yearning to stay at the hospital instead of going home because at PPTH it's warm and light and House is there, and he wants to hold on to that as long as he can.

    I'm rereading these out of order, so I could be wrong, but I'd like to think that the fresh pink skin revealed when they take off the cast symbolizes how Wilson is cracking off the exoskeleton of his physical and mental trauma and letting the rawness beneath peek through; it's painful, but it's a necessary part of healing.
  • Aw Wilson <3 I know this was probably still Season 3 in 07, but I kind of really wanted Wilson to run into Amber in radiology :P The WAmber fan in me was bouncing up and down in hope haha ;)
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