Chapter Two - "Foundation"
House fiddled uneasily with the straps holding him in the wheelchair, and pulled his monster truck hat further down on his head. He could deal with any kind of transportation with wheels, except when it was being driven by Wilson.
“Good luck, Dr. House.”
“Feel better. See you at five for cocktails.”
“Did you have to put me in the room furthest away from the elevators? Greeting my legions of adoring fans is more than I can handle right now.” He turned and looked at Wilson over his shoulder. “The stress is no good for me. My doctor says so.”
“You've only had two people say anything to you. One was the winner of the floor's betting pool; the only person who said you would make it. The other is a ninety year old woman who thinks she's on a cruise.”
“I think the Titanic could get me out of here faster than you are.”
“Just relax and enjoy the ride.” They arrived at the elevators and Wilson pushed the down button. “Are you going to be OK with this?” he asked, motioning toward the elevator.
“I'm not paranoid. I had an entire building fall on me, not just one part that was out to get me. Besides, it's preferable to walking down the stairs at this point.” The doors opened and Wilson pushed the wheelchair inside. When they arrived at the lobby, House said, “Get me out of here as fast as you can. The last thing I need is… ”
“Hey, look who's making a break for it.”
“Them.” House looked to his right to see his team walking toward them. “Next time remind me how bad you are at cloak and dagger.” He turned to his team. “Well, I hate to avoid the sword of Damocles and run, but I have a date with my DVR. The Discovery channel is running a series on the sex lives of reptiles and I've already missed the one on the Komodo dragon. Don't want to fall any further behind.” Foreman rolled his eyes as Chase, Taub and Thirteen smiled.
“We don't want to hold up your escape,” said Thirteen. “But we wanted to give you this.” Chase pulled a long, white box from behind his back and placed it in House's lap. He squirmed uncomfortably. The box was adorned with a large red bow and resembled something one would see on Valentine's Day.
“Did I ever mention that I'm allergic to flowers? All flowers? Seriously, I'm not carrying a spare Epi-Pen, so this really isn't a good idea.” He tried to hand the box back.
“They're not flowers,” said Taub. “We think it's something you'll find a little more useful.”
“Aw, now you went and spoiled the surprise,” House said sarcastically. “If it's something useful, it's not anything I'll enjoy.” He once again offered the box back.
“House, just open it,” Foreman said impatiently. House grimaced as he pulled the bow off the box.
“Really, I hope you save the receipt,” he said. “Because I don't plan on liking... ” House took off the lid, pushed aside the tissue paper, and stared at the contents of the box. It was a cane. He lifted it out ang surveyed the design painted on the shaft.
“Piano keys,” said House quietly.
“It has 88 on there, just like the real thing and a little something extra on the handle,” Wilson pointed out. House looked and saw a G-clef.
“We knew you lost one of your canes at the collapse, but couldn't figure out which one, so we thought that something different would be the best,” Thirteen explained. House looked down at the floor.
“You deal with medical quandaries where people's lives are hanging in the balance and you couldn't figure out which one I lost?” He looked up at each one pf his team members in turn. They looked at each other in chagrin.
“House, for once could you be nice?” admonished Wilson. “Or is that still asking too much from you?” House looked at Wilson and gave him the death stare. But even he had to admit Wilson was right; it was a very thoughtful gift and certainly one he could use at the moment.
“Thank you. I'm sure this will come in very handy.” House reached down and undid the buckle on the seatbelt of the wheelchair. “As a matter of fact, I think I'll test it out right now.” He pushed himself upright; his legs were shaky and his stance a bit unsure. Everyone reached out to steady him, but he waved them all away.
“House, don't be an idiot. Let me use the wheelchair to take you out to the car,” Wilson said as his friend teetered in front of him.
“Nah, I'll make it home much faster this way than with that thing,” House said gesturing toward the wheelchair. He walked gingerly toward the door. “See, I'm literally a walking, talking ad for the curative powers of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.” He took a few more steps, waivered and promptly crashed into the large potted palm next to the door. Quickly regaining his composure, House looked out from under the brim of his cap at Wilson.
“Bring the chair.” Wilson wheeled over toward House and held the chair steady while he got in. Waving good-bye to the team, he took House out to the car.
As Wilson drove to House's apartment building, House took comfort in the fact that he was remembering certain things; the route from the hospital to his apartment, the stores and businesses in the area, and how much he despised Wilson's nagging him.
“I'm serious, House. I want you to promise me that you will not try to venture out anywhere on your own. The only reason I'm letting you stay here by yourself is that I am way too busy to try and babysit you.”
“Yeah, I guess being the co-interim dean of medicine is just so exhausting. Imagine how poor, pathetic Foreman must feel. He's probably pulling his hair out. Oh, wait… he doesn't have any.” Wilson sighed.
“Neither one of us wanted this; it gives us no pleasure. The board thought this was the best thing to do. They've just started the search for a new dean; so unfortunately, I'll be in this position for a while. Both Foreman and I would rather be dealing with patients full time than paperwork. You know that.”
“They could have asked me,” House said in a sing-song voice.
“You were in a coma. Besides, you lack certain skills, like diplomacy.”
“I can be diplomatic, under penalty of death.”
“House, you think diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while you find a rock. The fact is, I know you have a problem with this setup. All I'm saying is so do I.”
“I have no problem with it. In fact, I'm looking forward to going back to work. Steamrolling over the two of you when I need to ask ‘permission’ to do the right thing will just be part of my recuperation therapy.” Wilson shot him quick look. “The dynamics of the relationship are already there. Foreman's job is to make sure you don't say yes all the time and your job is to make sure he doesn't say no all the time. The roles are clearly set.” As much as Wilson hated to admit it, he knew House was right. In a short while, he pulled up to the curb at House's apartment. House surveyed the scene; smacking him in the face was the fact that his motorcycle was nowhere to be seen. He had not yet asked about the bike; he just assumed it went missing at the building collapse. He couldn't remember for sure.
“Well, thanks for the ride,” said House as he opened the car door. “I'd invite you in for tea and crumpets, but I'm afraid Mother Hubbard's cupboard is bare; toodles.” Wilson got out of the car, and opened the back driver’s side door. He retrieved a bag labeled “Patient's Belongings” and a duffle bag.
“Aren't you forgetting something, House?” Wilson held up a set of keys. “I possess the keys to the kingdom.” House let out a defeated sigh and moved aside to let Wilson open the door. He felt uncomfortable as soon as he stepped inside. Images flashed in his head; the green card wedding, the Vicodin hidden in the wall, the bloody bathroom, Cuddy in his arms after nookie. He wished at least one part of it was true; the Vicodin. It had been a long time since he felt the urge for it. Of all the strange and twisted visions that poured through his mind while sedated, that one held a certain appeal to him right now. Wilson had only allowed him small amounts of codeine since coming out of the coma and now he was even off that. Somehow he didn't think ibuprofen was going to be enough to wipe out his haunted feelings.
“Are you OK?” Wilson asked. House nodded in reply.
“I need something to drink.”
“Sure,” said Wilson putting down the bags, “How about a cup of coffee?” He walked to the kitchen and picked the kettle up off the stove.
“Single malt whiskey was more what I had in mind.” Wilson shook his head.
“Not yet. Just give it a rest for a bit. You are probably more detoxified right now than when you got out of Mayfield.”
“Yeah and I feel like crap.” Wilson continued preparing the coffee as House walked from room to room surveying each one to see what scenes would jump into his head. The sooner he confronted them, the better. Sitting on the bathroom floor holding Vicodin. Too many to count for the bedroom. Shattering the champagne bottle in the living room. Wilson getting stuck climbing in through the kitchen window. At that last thought, House managed a slight smile. Wilson glanced at him as he got the coffee mugs out.
“You're thinking about me in the window,” said Wilson. House nodded. “How long did you leave me there?”
“A minute or two. It was pulling you in lying on the rolling cart that was the most amusing. That and proving you wrong when you thought I started taking Vicodin again.”
“Yes, you would take a certain perverse pleasure in pointing out my mistake.” He picked up the two cups and carried them to the coffee table by the couch. “Want anything to eat?”
“I told you the cupboard is bare. I'm going to have to throw most of that stuff out.”
“No, you're not,” said Wilson. He walked back into the kitchen with House following him. Wilson opened the refrigerator to reveal that it was fully stocked with milk, juice, eggs and all sorts of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. He swung the freezer door open; it was filled with meals from the local caterer/deli. “You have bread, coffee, sugar, potato chips, soda… all the things you'll need to survive for a while. Foreman, Chase, Taub, Thirteen and I cleaned out everything in the kitchen. I had a maid service come in and do a complete cleaning. You don't have to worry about your laundry either.” House stood there dumbfounded, staring at Wilson blankly. He slowly walked back into the living room, and sat down on the couch, taking a minute to absorb what he had seen.
“Thanks.” Wilson sat down next to his friend.
“The apartment needed a fresh start.” He looked at House. “So do you.”
“No, what I need is to get back to my old routine. I want to go back to work Monday.” Wilson shook his head.
“You need more time. You'll wind up keeling over at work or worse, making a wrong decision about the treatment of a patient.”
“As much as I loathe saying this, that's what I have a team for. If I do anything stupid as far as a patient goes, they'll enjoy pointing it out to me. If I do anything stupid personally, I'll enjoy freaking them out.” Wilson looked at him skeptically. He placed his elbows on his knees, interlaced his fingers, and rested his chin on his hands. He knew arguing with House was pointless, and that he would be doing enough of that at work in the coming days.
“OK. I'll authorize you for 28 hours a week; that will give you time to get back into the swing of things.”
“Great, with 12 hours of overtime, I'll be all set.” Wilson looked at House through narrowed eyes.
“Thirty-five with five hours of overtime. That's my final offer before I issue a thumb war challenge.” House extended his forearm, his hand in the proper position for engaging in battle. Wilson rolled his eyes.
“Fine. Forty hours. But if you can't handle it, don't come crying to me.”
“When would I ever do that?” asked House innocently. “Besides, you know you missed me.” Wilson silently had to admit that he did.
“I'll submit the paperwork tomorrow when I get into work.” Wilson took a sip of his coffee and sat staring into the cup. He cleared his throat before speaking. “You haven't asked about your motorcycle yet.” House considered the statement for a moment.
“My guess is that some son-of-a-bitch is enjoying their new toy. My only consolation is that the gas tank was almost empty.” Wilson was silent. House regarded him carefully, waiting for a reply.
“I have your bike.” House straightened up in his seat. “After you were taken away in the ambulance, Cuddy noticed the bike was there. She asked one of the firemen to take care of it; he showed up at the hospital about a week after the collapse. Someone directed him to me and I have it. I rented a small storage facility to keep it in until things had calmed down.”
“See, I was right. You've been cruising around the town on it.” Wilson raised his eyebrows.
“Could you really see me on a motorcycle?”
“I saw you in a go-kart.” House slumped down into his seat and stared at the coffee table. ‘How screwed up am I that I came up with those stories? I'm an ass, but I do have some limits to the depth of my depravity, despite what most people think.”
“I think what happened is a lot of the things you’ve kept pent up inside for so long finally came out. Now at least you can confront some of these issues, just like Dr. Nolan was trying to get you to do at Mayfield.” House leaned forward, his hand clenched in a fist. He spoke at a normal volume, but his tone was angry.
“Nolan's not a shrink. He's a skull puncher.” House looked at Wilson to see if he agreed. He didn't look at House as he began to speak.
“Dr. Nolan was wrong about some things. I have been too,” said Wilson. “At various times, I've encouraged you to try and form a relationship, a romantic one, with Cuddy. I never should have done that. I've thought a lot about all the scenarios that came out of your head and I've come to the conclusion that Cuddy was incapable of having a real relationship with anyone.” House looked shocked.
“Yeah, well… she was about to marry Lucas.”
“And that would have ended badly, too,” Wilson continued. “In all the time I've worked with her, she has never had a lasting romantic relationship or even a lasting friendship.”
“You and I… ” began House.
“We worked with her,” said Wilson cutting him off. “We knew what she was; we didn't know who she was.” House was agitated.
“No, after 20 years or so, I knew how to push her buttons.”
“But that's just it. You knew how to rankle her; you didn't know her.” He stopped for a moment. “Diamonds or pearls?” House looked both confused and annoyed.
“Diamonds or pearls. Which does she prefer?” House shrugged his shoulders. “Mountains or the beach? Who was her best friend in fifth grade? Who did she vote for in the last election? Did she even vote? How does she feel about off shore oil drilling? What's her favorite color? If she could talk right now, would she want to pull the plug or would she want to fight her injuries, no matter how disabled they would leave her… all for her daughter's sake?”
“How the hell should I know?” said House, uncomfortable at the questions.
“Don't you think after twenty years, if you really knew her, you would?” Wilson leaned back against the sofa. “She is an enigma. And she is the one mystery you've never been able to solve and that bothers you down to your core.” House looked away from Wilson and closed his eyes. “House, I'm not saying either one of us don't care about Cuddy. If for no other reason than the amount of time we've worked with her. But you can't try and love someone you don't even know.” House didn't answer. He sat silently, absorbing Wilson's words. The last question asked was the most important of all and House had to admit he didn't know the answer. “You were enamored with the idea of Cuddy, not Cuddy herself. You made her into what you thought she would be like when you interacted with her in your visions. But even then she was loving and understanding in one scene and a shrew in others. You couldn't draw an accurate image of her there, because she was unknowable here in the real world.”
“So what you're saying is that for all these years, I've been a freaking idiot.” House opened his eyes and glared at Wilson. “Thanks.”
“No, that's not what I'm saying,” Wilson said as he rubbed his face with his hands. “Let's face it, Cuddy was a flirt. So are you. I've been meaning to ask you for some pointers for years.” House shook his head.
“You have no trouble getting a woman; you have trouble getting one to stick around.” House looked over at Wilson and saw the sad expression he had. “Sorry, I didn't mean that.”
“Yes you did. And you're right.” He continued. “You flirted, you joked, you busted chops, you talked. But that talk never led to any meaningful revelations.” Wilson took a sip of his coffee. “House I'm telling you this because I don't want to see you waste the rest of your life mourning something that never was. You're at times an ass, a jerk, cruel, unreasonable and other assorted negative personality traits.” He drew in his breath. “But I have also seen you do things that are sweet and thoughtful and kind… ” House interrupted him.
“Name one.” Wilson slowly nodded his head.
“OK, letting me move in here when I had nowhere else to go.”
“I had no choice. The neighbors were complaining about the whimpering in the hall.” House looked at Wilson out of the corner of his eye. “Logically, I know what you're saying is true, but it's going to take some time for me to work on this.” Wilson nodded as he rose from the couch, picked up his cup, and went to the kitchen.
“I can't expect miracles from a man who doesn't believe in them.”
“I'm getting hungry,” said House as he left the couch and headed toward the kitchen. “How about some Chinese?”
“With all the food you have here? Why should we do that?”
“Because I feel like Chinese. Besides… we won't have to keep an eye on the change this time.” Both he and Wilson smiled. House moved through the living room to the hallway, pausing by the couch. “Wilson?”
“I'd feel a lot better with some company tonight.” Wilson entered the living room, walked to the duffle bag he had placed on the floor, and picked it up.
“I already packed a change clothes.” House gave a quick nod and started down the hall.
“Oh, and I want my bike back. It's been the hands of a poser long enough.” Wilson shook his head and returned to the kitchen. House made it to his bedroom door, turned around, and reentered the living room. He walked to one of the bookshelves and began to peruse the titles. Wilson came out of the kitchen.
“What are you looking for?”
“A good bedtime story.” House reached up and took a book off the shelf. “Conan Doyle, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia.’ Something to glean some perspective from.” Wilson looked at him quizzically. “I'll explain it over an egg roll.”