SUMMARY: Once upon a time ...
CHARACTERS: Wilson, House
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.
Reconstruction, Part Two
"You want to see it, don't you?"
It's not really a question; it's more of a statement of resignation. It's been three days since the operation, and Wilson's face is swollen and bruised, all the way from the middle of his brows on down to his lip.
They're sitting on the sofa. House has got the cane standing upright on the floor, its tip between his feet. He's rolling the shaft between his two flattened hands, as if he were a Boy Scout trying to start a fire on the floorboards. Well, thinks Wilson, a Boy Scout wouldn't be trying to commit arson, but never mind that.
It's been like this ever since the surgery. House's hands begin moving every time he looks at Wilson. He toys with his cane, shoves his fists in his pockets, or absently rubs at his own face. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's on his mind.
Wilson's nose is totally hidden by the splint and bandages. House hasn't taken a look at it, and he wants to, because he's got that insatiable, sick curiosity that makes him who he is.
Or maybe it's because he still wants to punish himself. Or maybe both. It's hard to tell, with him. The thing that's clear is that House will fidget and stare and generally be annoying until he gets to see, because he's permanently five years old and this is how his brain works: Lemme see, lemme touch. Wilson tries not to think too hard about the silent refrain of Mine, mine, mine that goes along with that.
House scoots closer, leaning in. His gaze gets way more intent and he slowly raises a hand toward Wilson's face.
"Careful," says Wilson, shutting his eyes and bracing himself even as he leans back against the sofa cushions. House picks at the ends of the tape and then peels it away, gauze and splint and all, with careful, deliberate skill. When it's gone, Wilson opens his eyes.
He doesn't know what to expect; he's imagining that House will check out the incisions, note where the bones were shifted and re-set, gawk at the mosaic of bruises, and say something really juvenile. Such as, Cool.
That's not what happens. House stares and raises his hand again, as if to trace the distorted lines of Wilson's face, but he stops. At last he lowers both his hand and his head, turning away. There's a long, still silence between them. It's been a while since House showed the signs of this weight he's bearing; he's been behaving more or less like himself for a couple of weeks now. It's so easy to forget what else must be going on in there.
Because he has no idea what to say, Wilson simply waits. It's House who finally begins to speak, in a tone that wants so badly to be normal.
"Think you'll ever forgive me?"
The question makes Wilson blink, cocking his head as if he couldn't have heard that properly. "House ... what part of 'Let's be pathetic middle-aged roommates' didn't you understand?"
House shrugs, head bowed and hand picking at the corner of the sofa cushion. "You can live with someone without forgiving them. Because you're used to them, you know them. Because you need them." He stops talking for a moment, but he's still picking at the sofa, rubbing his nails along the edge, worrying it.
"Until you hit the tipping point," he says, "and the resentment outweighs everything else."
"I'm not asking you for anything. I just ... want to know if it's possible."
"You—you can't see that it's already happening?"
House stops his fidgeting and looks up, slowly. How, Wilson wonders, can House not know this by now?
"I made the choice," Wilson says, "while I was still in the hospital."
"There's no way you're over it."
"Don't." House has his head bowed, and is rubbing his hands over his face as if to erase his own identity. He takes a breath and tries again, quietly. "I'm not your fiancee or your wife. Don't lie because you're lonely. Don't try to spare me."
"I'm not," Wilson replies. "Lying or lonely." He's matching his own soft tone to House's in the same way he matches House's stride. "They ... took me. They took something I'll never get back, because you were reckless and stupid. I hate it, and yeah, sometimes I'm furious with you, but you couldn't have known." Wilson takes his time, considering his words carefully. "You didn't know, and I'm not willing to lose you."
House has gone quiet again and won't look at him. There's no telling if any of this is sinking in.
"Greg," Wilson says, and watches his friend flinch ever so slightly. Wilson knows that that name will strip away the last of House's armor, and that's what he wants. House raises his eyes to meet Wilson's and Wilson sees ruined battlefields, black-and-white photos of blood on the ground and smoke in the air.
"I will," Wilson tells him, "forgive all of it. Ask me."
House doesn't ask. He's not ready yet, but something else is moving close to the surface, like the shadowy shapes beneath thin ice.
"I wanted to either kill Martin, or myself." House picks up his cane again and runs his fingers over its handle. "You came in, and—the only thing I could recognize was your hair." His face twists up and he leans his forehead on the curve of the stick. "So I tried to kill an EMT. They tell me it was because he complained about you breaking his nose, and I have to take their word because I don't remember what he said. I remember deciding to kill him, knocking him down, and then I was— "
He pauses, seeming to weigh his words before he goes on. "I don't know where the hell I was. Out to lunch at the Sordid Past Cafe."
"What was on the menu there?" Wilson asks, softly enough so that it's clear he isn't joking.
"Nothing you need to know about," House says, but his voice is so low Wilson can barely hear him, and he can't meet Wilson's eyes.
"Yeah, I do." He needs it the way he needed morphine and pins in his hand and those nights in the ICU. As usual, though, it seems Wilson will have to be first, to offer something in trade. He can do that, if that's what House needs.
"I couldn't see him at all," Wilson says, and at once House is looking right at him, trying to see in. "Pitch dark. It ... makes for some ... pretty weird flashbacks." He takes a quick breath, fighting the sick surge of panic that spreads outward from his gut. "I didn't even know which one. Who he was."
"I knew who," says House, and it sounds like he's confessing to a murder, "but not what he was." He leans back, slouches into the cushions, squeezes his eyes shut. "It was sunny out and I saw every last fucking detail. Which was just peachy, you know, because now I can watch it over and over again. 3-D surround sound and everything."
"Where were you?"
"Near the creek. Off a little dirt road, about a mile north of my grandparents' house. There was a place, an old homestead that had burned down years before. The chimney was still there. A couple ruined walls. I used to pick up melted bottles and stuff, try and figure out what kind of people lived there." He pauses, and Wilson can't help the bit of warmth he feels at the thought of House, so young, working on a puzzle. "There were all these old broken bricks on the ground."
He glances over and sees that House is staring at the ceiling, waiting for the next words to come to him. They're taking their time. It's all right.
"I never thought of using one of those for a weapon. Martin was always so ... practical."
Wilson can almost feel the jagged texture and the grit against his skin. "He—he hit you with that?"
"No." The word is barely even audible, and it takes another few seconds before House looks directly at him and finishes the thought. "He hit my friend."
It's like being punched in the stomach; Wilson can't seem to breathe. There's been no mention of a friend before. So this, this recent horror, wasn't the first time that—
"Clocked him in the temple. So fast, I never saw it coming. Martin knew what he was doing, even then. Used an upward stroke." House gestures with his left hand, a swift glancing motion with his fingers wrapped around the phantom weapon. "Hit him at an angle so it broke the skin but not the bone." House slowly pulls himself upright and leans forward again, rubbing his fingers on the side of his head, as if he were the one who'd been wounded. "Took me a while just to understand what the hell was happening. Right up until then we'd all been hanging around just having fun. Me and Chris and my very best friend. The guy who said he was my brother, and I believed him."
The room spins around Wilson as his mind puts it together. Mycroft. Holmes' older brother. He reminds everyone of me, House had said. Suddenly, so many things make sense, snapping into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
"You want the rest of this fairy tale?" asks House. "Get the scotch and two glasses."
He nods and gets up to do what House asks. It's good exercise for his weak left hand, carrying the half empty bottle. The glasses in his right hand rattle against one another as he sets them on the coffee table. It doesn't really matter that he's shaking; House has seen a hell of a lot worse. House pours liquor in both glasses and commands, "Drink."
Wilson's not supposed to do this, but he doesn't argue. House is right: this kind of thing requires alcohol. It's almost soothing, anyway, to sit for a minute and quietly share whiskey with House. Almost.
The first sip takes Wilson's breath away—it's been a while, and there's no ice to cut the smoky fire of House's good scotch. The heat burns a long, slow trace down Wilson's throat and into his stomach, where it ignites a steady, glowing pilot light.
He notes with a faint alarm that House has already drained more than half his own glass.
"The blow ... knocked Chris to his knees. Which is where he—" House takes a harsh breath, gulps down what's left in his glass and puts it down, only to pour himself a little more. He takes another swallow before he goes on. "You know how head wounds bleed. I didn't know, then. Scary as hell—I didn't—I couldn't move. I told him to stop, and the psycho bastard laughed at me. It was the first time I really thought about how much bigger he was than me. I knew I couldn't make him stop."
House picks up the bottle and sloshes more whiskey into both their glasses. "I said drink. We're getting wasted. Just so you know."
"Right. I can do that." Getting wasted seems like a better idea with every passing moment. Wilson's recent abstinence will mean that it won't take much. He sips as quickly as he can, grateful for the warmth of the stuff, grateful for having been made to do what he needs to do right now. It's funny, he can't even remember the last time the two of them got really drunk together. It's been years. House is already well on his way, drinking more and then watching the shifting, sparkling liquid move inside the glass.
"You can guess," he says, very quietly, "what he made Chris do. And I stood there like a dumbass, because I wanted to stop him and I couldn't."
"You were ... just a kid," Wilson says, and raises his glass again, curving his fingers around the smooth crystal. The tendrils of whiskey wind gently through his veins, around his mind, offering a little protection. The scotch tastes of peat and woodsmoke, of rain-soaked earth under a leaden sky. He thinks he would have broken down if House had told him all this while they were dead sober. He's been fighting against it anyway, making himself focus on the room, on the glass, on House. All the things that are here, now, real.
There's a frightened, guarded, terrible expression in House's eyes, though, and all at once Wilson knows. "You—oh, God. There's more, isn't there. You don't have to tell me if—"
"Yeah. I do. Might as well get it over with. Drink."
No more encouragement is needed.
Wilson takes a minute to finish what he's got, and then holds out the glass. House refills it, aligning the bottle with a careful effort that gives away the beginnings of intoxication. They sit in silence for a while, waiting for the alcohol to warm them, to erode away the barriers they've built. Wilson's hands are awkward, slightly numb as he tapes the splint and bandages back in place across his nose. He figures he should do it now, before he's too far gone to do it at all.
"When he was ... done," House says, "he dragged Chris over to where I was. Just grabbed him around the waist, brick in the same hand, and dragged him like a toy. It felt like it does when you're in a car crash. Where you see it happening and you're paralyzed. You think it can't be real."
"And then the car flips over," murmurs Wilson.
"Yeah. He ... Martin ... pulled down my pants. That's—" he pauses to pour another shot, taking ever more care not to spill it. The bottle that was half-empty to start with is now less than a quarter full. "—I tried to run. Backward. God, I was an idiot. Tripped, fell flat on my back."
Wilson wants to say You must have been terrified or What the hell did he do to you? or even You don't have to tell me this, but none of those things would be helpful. One of them wouldn't even be true. So he sits there and waits and lets the soft leather sofa and the whiskey remind him that it's over with now.
"I tried to get up, but he put his foot on my chest. He said—said it was my turn."
"House," Wilson breathes, and his guts ache, his chest aches, with the realization of where this has to be going. "Oh God. He ... he made your friend ..."
"I could never even tell 'im I was sorry," House rasps. "Chris. He ran whenever he saw me, after that, an' if he didn' run, I would've. 'Cause I coulda said, what? 'Gee, Chris, didn' mean to help my buddy rape you.'" House looks like he might vomit or cry or both. "I don't ... I had no excuse. Martin took 'is foot off me, and I just laid there, an' you know why? 'Cause he looked at me. He had Chris, an' he had the fuckin' brick. He jus' ... looked at me and I ... let it happen."
"If you hadn't?"
"He'd've killed 'im," House replies, without any hesitation. "But he never said that an' I can't prove it. I don't know."
"Yeah, you do."
"I coulda tried."
"House." Wilson pauses, lets House get curious, turn and meet his gaze. "I've seen that look."
Somewhere outside, a siren is sounding, moving through the streets. It's an ambulance; Wilson knows it by its voice. Another life in the balance, another person's car crash or heart attack or brutal, unrelenting assault.
"C'mon," says House. "Gotta get into bed. 'Fore I can't." He stretches out his arm, wiggles his fingers in Wilson's general direction.
"Ohhh, this's gonna be ... inneresting," says Wilson, and in spite of all the horror of what he's just learned, he starts to chuckle as he hears himself lisp out the words. The whiskey's really hitting him now, suddenly and hard. God, but he's grateful for that. He rises from the sofa with great caution, not quite prepared for the speed at which the world seems to move.
"Pffft. This'll be easy," says House, with a lopsided smile. "One hand, cane. Oth'r hand, Jimmy."
Their interlaced lurching is funnier than Wilson expected, so funny that they keep having to stop and wait for the fits of laughter to ease up. The more they move, the more intoxicated Wilson gets. They're all the way to House's room before Wilson makes what he thinks is a very astute observation.
"Dropped yer cane," he says, looking back and seeing it lying forlorn, just a few feet away from the sofa. He'd somehow not noticed it before, that House had been using him as his sole source of support.
"Yup. Annoyed me." House keeps moving forward, toward the beckoning mattress.
"Oh. S'my job, isn'it?"
"An' yer ssssooo overqualified." He lets go of Wilson, who's almost tipped over by the sudden release of House's weight. They're snorting with laughter again as Wilson turns to leave.
Except he can't leave, because House has grabbed a handful of his shirt, and is pulling him backward.
"Sstory time," says House, still drunk and yet, suddenly, completely serious, "isn' over. Sit."
Slowly, carefully, Wilson stretches out his left leg—the one House doesn't have trapped under his own—to try and ease the stiffness in his body. He's on his back in House's bed, and House has him wrapped up in a death grip, worthy of some huge South American snake.
Wilson's not sure how this happened. He recalls being very tired and quite drunk, and drifting off to sleep here, with plenty of space between House and himself. Now House's head—which feels like a damn lead weight—is pillowed on Wilson's right shoulder, cutting off the circulation so that his whole right arm is numb. House's arm is wound tightly around Wilson's torso, making his ribs (and all those deep bruises) send out pangs of protest.
Wilson doesn't want to wake House, but he might have to.
Even as Wilson thinks about that, House stirs, shifting his weight and relieving a little of Wilson's discomfort. Pins and needles begin to spread through Wilson's arm as the blood flow is restored.
House seems oblivious to that.
"Jimmy," he mumbles.
"Right here," Wilson replies, but it's hard to tell if House is really hearing him. House's flimsy blinds don't block out the light from the street, so Wilson can see him quite clearly. His eyes are screwed shut, like a little kid who doesn't want to see whatever's lurking in the shadows.
"'m sorry," he says, tucking his head inward so that the quiet, low words almost vanish into the folds of Wilson's shirt.
Wilson turns his head carefully, unsure of what he's just heard. He can still smell whiskey on House's breath.
House tightens his grip, buries his head a little deeper in Wilson's shoulder.
"'m sorry," he says again, and then his chest is hitching as he tries to draw in enough air to keep breathing, to keep talking, and Wilson can feel the dampness spreading through his t-shirt—
"Wilson, I'm sorry. God I'm sorry." House makes a terrible, broken sound, deep in his chest, and his hand curls inward at Wilson's side, holding onto Wilson's shirt.
"I loved him," House says, and Wilson's not about to ask who. Martin, Chris, or Wilson himself, what does it matter? He won't make House say it. There are too many demons in the dark already.
Wilson's left arm is free, so he brings it up and around House's shoulders, pulling him in. "I know," Wilson says firmly, resting his chin across the top of House's head. "It's okay."
"I'm sorry," House says, the short brittle words seeming to scratch and scrape his throat. "I never meant to. For that to happen. Any of it."
"I know," Wilson says again, and then he can feel it, House breaking all apart. His head moves away from Wilson's shoulder and inward, pressing into Wilson's chest.
"I could never tell him. I'm so sorry."
He listens as House repeats the phrase, like a mantra, like a prayer, as his tears continue to soak into Wilson's shirt, and if sometimes House says Jimmy and sometimes he says Chris, well, that's okay. It's better than okay. It's about damn time.
He just holds House closer, and keeps saying that he knows, that it's all right. He'll say it as many times as House needs to hear it, because ...
That's what brothers, real brothers, are supposed to do.
He wonders whether House will remember any of this in the morning. Wilson doesn't figure he'll ever know for certain.
He's sure as hell not going to ask.
It's the scents that wake House. He's fully dressed, save for his shoes and his belt; his head hurts; his leg hurts; his mouth feels like it's lined with nasty, greasy felt. He ought to be hating life, the universe, and everything right now, but he isn't, because Wilson's making breakfast.
There are soft sounds from the kitchen, the shuffle and scrape of spatulas and pans. House shuts his eyes and breathes in, taking an instant inventory: Eggs. Bacon, because Wilson's parents aren't here and they'll never have to know. Some sort of fruit; something golden and warm and wheat-based, either pancakes or waffles. And above it all, the magnificent perfume of fresh coffee.
He needs his pills first and to get out of bed second. His mouth is so sticky and dry. This won't be fun, he thinks, and then he notices the cool glass of water on the nightstand. Two pills keep each other company near the base of the glass. His cane, which he recalls having ditched the night before, leans patiently just a few inches away.
For once, he really wants that water. He's so thirsty. He stays put, drinks it all, waits for the pain to start easing off. He'd been drunk enough to make himself tell Wilson pretty much everything, but not so drunk that he doesn't remember. He'd told about the end of it, when Martin took that brick and smashed Chris's wrist into the ground and he'd heard the scream and the snapping of bones. He'd told about Chris running away. About Martin's abrupt change, the coldness that came off him in waves. The way Martin had stalked off without a word, leaving him lying there on his back in the dirt.
House pulls himself slowly upright, and his head throbs. This routine should be blessedly mindless: Cane. Hobble. Pee; wash hands, splash water on face. Rinse off blood; no, that was the thing he'd told Wilson last night. The way there'd been blood all over him when it was through. How he'd finally gotten up and walked straight into the creek, clothes and all. He'd walked until he was in over his head, and then he'd tried to forget how to swim.
"Obvissly," he'd told Wilson, "din't work. Couldn' make m'self forget, din't drown."
He's still trying not to think of that as he stumps blearily into the kitchen, into the embrace of all those inviting aromas. Wilson's loading up their plates, but he pauses long enough to pour coffee into a big black mug and hand it over. His left hand is back in its bright blue splint, the thing Wilson's supposed to wear every night but which, last night, got forgotten.
House watches him over the rim of the cup, suddenly suspicious about the reasons for this feast. Wilson hasn't cooked like this in ages. The coffee is perfectly hot. The waffles—waffles!—are things of beauty, piled high with freshly sliced peaches and whipped cream.
If this is pity—if this is because House turned into a drunken pile of goo and used Wilson's t-shirt for a Kleenex—House will throw all this food in the garbage. He'll go to McDonald's rather than take something that's being offered because poor little Greg had a lousy childhood.
Wilson can only carry one plate at a time now; his left hand's still too unsteady. "I'll cook," says Wilson, calmly, "but I'm not waitressing. You don't tip well." He takes his own plate of food and brushes past House on his way to the sofa, leaving House to manage cup and plate on his own.
House therefore does not hesitate to sit beside him and begin wolfing down breakfast. He's not nearly hung over enough to not want to eat. Wilson seems amused by that, and no, there's no pity coming from him. But there is something else, the same something else that was in his expression the night before, after House said he'd wanted to drown. Wilson hadn't said that it was terrible, hadn't made any noises of horror or sadness or disbelief.
"How'd you cope with it," he'd asked, so softly. "Swimmin' when you din't wanta. Not bein' able to stoppit. 'Cause ... 'cause your body jus' ... did."
He'd known immediately what it was Wilson meant, what he was asking about. The one part he'd left entirely out of the tale, and Wilson was telling it for him.
"You think I coped? Hated myself. Still hate m'self. Can' help that either."
"Oh," said Wilson, and that had been the end of that conversation. He remembers that they sat there a while, saying nothing. Remembers stretching out on the bed and not even bothering to take off his jeans. Remembers waking up a while later and -- everything.
He sees the question still in Wilson's eyes this morning, while they're demolishing their breakfast and not talking about it. How'd you cope, House? He didn't; he never did, and if he had then maybe Wilson wouldn't be here with one good hand and a bandaged nose.
If you ever learn to cope with this, Jimmy, be sure to tell me how.