SUMMARY: You play the cards you're dealt.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson
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.
Win, Lose, or Draw
Wilson's office has the stale air of unused space. It feels abandoned (which is exactly what it was)—bits of paper lying where House had reshuffled them, a thin sheen of dust covering knicknacks and shelves. While Wilson was lying downstairs, during those first days, House had spent a lot of time here, snooping and rearranging and downloading porn on Wilson's computer, trying to irritate the ghost-of-Wilson that always seemed to inhabit the office.
It seems he succeeded; even the ghost is gone and the office feels ... empty. There's not even the constant, residual hospital smell of cleanser and antiseptic—after he'd yelled at the first few janitors who'd inadvertently disturbed him in his restless quest (for what?) they had simply stopped coming, quietly leaving Wilson's office off their cleaning schedule. He supposes they'll return before Wilson does, but he doesn't really care.
Dropping his backpack to the floor, House flicks on the computer and settles himself at the desk, then opens Wilson's email. Apparently news of Wilson's pending return to work has made the rounds; there are two dozen 'welcome back' messages waiting. Wilson has been checking his email from home, but these are all new today.
House checks the time and swears under his breath.
He arrives at the department chairs' meeting five minutes later (a half-hour late if he actually went to these things) and interrupts Kern's report on the search for a new head of Endocrinology. Cuddy says, "Dr. House, how good of you—"
"Let me just make clear," House announces without bothering to sit down, "if anyone, anywhere in this hospital even thinks of throwing a surprise party for Wilson, I will kill them. Inflict grave bodily injury on them and their little dogs, too."
"Dr. House, we've already discussed the conditions of Dr. Wilson's return," Cuddy says sternly.
"Not a good idea to surprise a guy with PTSD. But then, you're all medical professionals; you know that," House continues, raising his voice to talk over Cuddy. He glares at the department heads seated around the table. "Keep a leash on your people," he growls. "I'm inclined to take it out on you, too."
Birdsong splutters, "House, you can't just waltz—"
"Try me," House says, low and sharp and venomous. He turns on his good heel and stomps out.
House twirls his keys on his middle finger while waiting for the elevator. Wilson will have very little patience with it, but he's going to have a House-shaped shadow for a while. House won't be able to help himself, even though he knows it won't do much good.
Martin would probably walk through him like the shadow he is, but at least he wouldn't find out about it over the goddamned phone.
He's in his own office, halfway to his desk chair, when the six journals open on his desk remind him why he was in Wilson's office in the first place. He needs the journal he left somewhere in Wilson's office to complete the picture, so he turns and heads out again.
House digs through the piles of papers again—tiny puffs of dust fly up and he sneezes, once, twice. When he finally finds the journal he brushes the page edges free of fuzz and stuffs it into his backpack, which he had forgotten here earlier. He swivels the chair and stands up, scanning the desk top one last time.
Later, he'll never be sure what compelled him to slide open Wilson's top desk drawer.
There's a rattlesnake in there, a rattlesnake in the form of a long, plain white envelope. A business envelope, with no stamp or return address, and with House's name on it, in a clear, strong hand that he recognizes immediately.
"Oh, you fucking bastard," he mutters. "You goddamn fucking bastard."
He takes an instinctive step back—his heart is in his throat and he can't seem to get enough breath. It's the bump on his shoulder in the grocery store, the OR schedule in his jacket pocket, the newspaper through the mail slot.
It's that black cigarette on the road.
House looks around the office, scanning every inch, every corner. Nothing, he tells himself. He's gone, it's nothing, it's just his calling card, he always leaves a fucking calling card.
He realizes he's holding his cane across his body, his grip painfully tight, and lowers it slowly. He wills his heart to a calmer, more deliberate rate, and sits down again, easing himself into the chair as if it might sprout vicious thorns at any moment.
When he reaches at last for the envelope, his hand isn't shaking at all.
There's one piece of paper in it—a $2 betting slip for Indian Dancer to win, dated the day this all started. The day Wilson had a gun shoved in his back, and was taken for a long ride to a very dark place.
House stares at the slip for a long time as he absently sticks the envelope in his bag. Apart from the janitorial staff, Cuddy, and himself, nobody's been in Wilson's office since that day. Nobody would've opened the drawer, noticed the envelope, or anyone who might have put it there. He turns the paper over; there's writing on the back, small, precise strokes.
Greg—Many thanks to you and Dr. Wilson for your most gracious entertainment. I deeply regret not being able to meet face-to-face this time, but business calls. See you at our next reunion — M.
"Son of a bitch," House murmurs. He can see it now—Wilson coming back to work, opening the desk drawer. Discovering the envelope. The frown of curiosity forming on his face, puzzling at the unfamiliar handwriting. He would've opened it himself or brought it to House—either way the damage would have been done, and everything, all the tiny steps towards healing they'd both taken, would have flown out the window. House glances outside.
Or taken a flying leap off the balcony.
This is Martin's good-bye, his closing of this particular circle.
House startles as the door knob rattles and the door opens. His breath is stuck in his throat for a few very long seconds until he recognizes the person coming in the room.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he bellows as he hastily hides the paper in his pocket.
“It’s my office!” Wilson yells back, perturbed. He steps closer and makes a shooing motion. “Out of my chair. I’ve got a phone consult in five minutes, and I have to re-read the file.”
“You’re not supposed to be here until next week. Why aren’t you doing the consult from home?”
“Well, Mom,” Wilson says, rolling his eyes, “I had to come by to get the file from Patel—”
“You knew I was here; I would’ve gotten it for you.”
“—and decided to make the call from my office in case I need reference materials from my drawer or computer. Seriously, get out of my chair.”
Wilson’s hands have settled on his hips, and House feels a smirk coming on. This is so familiar, so much the way it was. Then he blinks and the lingering bruises on Wilson’s face from the rhinoplasty pop into sharp relief. Wilson’s nose is a fraction shorter; Wilson’s left hand doesn’t sit at the same angle on his hip that it did. He stands slightly canted, leaning just an ace off-center as the long muscles of his back compensate to miminize pain elsewhere.
Not that anyone would notice.
Not that anyone would notice.
“You need your rest,” House grumbles. “I’ll do the consult for you.”
“Oh.” Wilson’s head bows. “Now that you mention it, I am feeling a little peaked. Maybe you should,” he says quietly, and drops the file in front of House.
“The patient is a fifth-grader who’s returned to school after cancer treatment, including amputation of two of his fingers. The family and their doctors need help redesigning the boy’s IEP—” At House's raised eyebrow, Wilson stops and clarifies, “Individualized Education Program. With the way it's currently written, they've had trouble getting him the full range of services he needs to get re-integrated into his classroom. The key is to translate our recommendations into language compatible with the school district’s administrative directives, so that the services are approved and provided.”
House looks up at Wilson, whose gaze is strong and steady. “And be prepared,” Wilson continues, “because the boy's mother is very emotional about all of this.”
“Cries at the drop of a hat.”
House looks down at the file, at the phone, and then back up at Wilson. “Maybe you ought to handle this one.”
“You’re probably right.” Wilson nods. “Now, get out of my chair.”
After grabbing his bag and slinging it over his shoulder, House allows himself to be shooed out. Wilson, mind already focused on the call ahead, doesn’t bat an eye when House goes to the balcony instead of the hall.
There's a coolness to the air, the kind of cool that’ll stick around. The dry heat of summer has broken and it feels like it might rain.
After a glimpse back at Wilson—animated and warm—House pulls the slip of paper from his pocket and rubs it between his fingers.
See you at our next reunion.
"No," House says quietly. "Not if I see you first."
He fishes the lighter from his pocket and flicks the tiny sparking wheel with one callused thumb. The yellow flame leaps up; he touches it to one corner of the betting slip. It catches immediately, the paper curling and blackening as the char line creeps higher.
House knows it's not over. It will never truly be over; somewhere it's all still happening, in a sunlit meadow, in a darkened barn, it goes on. Dwelling on it won't do a damn thing, though. They've got a condo to look at tomorrow, some place close by that Wilson's been raving about. A pre-war building with high ceilings and huge arched doorways. Room for all the important stuff—Wilson's ridiculous kitchen gadgets, House's books, a new 60-inch flat-panel TV.
He sets the burning slip on the balcony wall; in just a moment it's reduced to feathery grey ashes that are swept away by the freshening wind.