That was all he knew, all he’d heard. He hadn’t been in the clinic – when was he ever in the clinic? – and so he couldn’t be there to see it, to see the madness, the madman, the gun and the shots. He hadn’t seen the bullets, fired in rapid succession, traveling through the air and hitting the target standing the closest, as he tried to protect the ones behind him, always protecting.

He only saw it now, as the picture seemed to have frozen before his eyes, a black and white photograph with red details – far too much red… He stared, unable to move, and he wasn’t really needed, because there were doctors, other doctors, already working on the fallen—

On Wilson.

There was a pain in his chest, and for a brief moment, he wondered if he was having a heart attack, but then no, that wasn’t it. This was just—this was the feeling of his own heart breaking at the sight of his best friend, lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood. One bullet had come far too close for comfort to his heart, the other one ripping through the right side of his stomach – House noted this as the doctor he was, though the thoughts were distant.

He couldn’t begin to think about what it could mean – though he worked at a hospital and saw death every day, he’d never thought much of it, not in terms of Wilson – Wilson didn’t die. He wasn’t supposed to. Wilson was supposed to be there, always, for House.

His heart stopped when Wilson’s did, although the doctors didn’t shock House as they did Wilson. They had him on a gurney now, working quickly and efficiently, but House thought they moved in slow-motion, because goddamn it Wilson couldn’t die.

They wheeled him away and House followed, leaning heavily on his crutch to stay upright at all, his legs barely supporting him.

A hand on his arm and—

“House, perhaps you should—”

House snarled, no words forming, because for once, he didn’t know what to say.

Cuddy didn’t look surprised; she’d had to say something, had to do something, and telling House he didn’t have to run after Wilson was one thing to do when she felt helpless. House knew this, but he still growled at her to get out of the way.

But then there wasn’t much more to do but wait. They – his colleagues, he supposed, though he had never and would never view them as such – had wheeled his best friend into surgery and now House could do nothing but watch from observation as they sliced into his skin and tried not to fuck up too much.

His heart stopped twice, and House couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t even pray, because he’d always said there was no God, and why should he start now, when God was obviously absent – he’d let Wilson get shot!

When the hours had passed, when they had sown him together again, when his heart beat showed steadily on a machine and ventilator helped him breathe, House could finally sit by Wilson’s side and stare, and wonder why he was sitting there at all, because it obviously didn’t help. He’d snap cruelly at anyone attempting to talk to him, anyone suggesting that maybe perhaps he should go home, because no, he shouldn’t, he should be here, by Wilson’s side, because that’s where he belonged. That’s where he’d always belonged.

The doctor in him kept careful track of Wilson’s vitals, studying the chart and the machines, knowing what drugs they were keeping him on, knowing how long he would sleep because of them.

He fell asleep and dreamed of Wilson waking up.

“You look like crap,” Wilson told him, although Wilson was on the bed with wires and freshly sewn shut gunshot wounds, so he really shouldn’t be the one to talk.

And he didn’t, not when House woke up. When House woke up again, Wilson laid still and quiet, the ventilator still breathing for him, making it impossible for him to speak even if he’d been awake.

Cameron came with coffee, because Cameron did such things. It wasn’t hospital coffee, but it still tasted like crap, perhaps because he wasn’t hungry at all.

“He won’t be waking up for a while yet,” Cameron said. “Perhaps you should get some sleep? It’s two a.m. – might be better to—”

“To be asleep when he dies, because I’m surrounded by incompetence?” House snarled.

“He’s not going to—”

“Right,” House said. “Because you say so, he won’t. I’ll just have to listen extra carefully to what you say from now on, because obviously, what you say goes.”

Cameron regarded him, that pinched look on her face that she had whenever she pitied someone. House hated her for that look, hated being pitied. She’d say that she didn’t, that she merely cared, but it didn’t matter. It was pity, in those brown eyes.

House only wanted one pair of brown eyes to look at him.

Cameron left quietly, because she rarely did anything any other way, and she shut the glass door behind her. House leaned back, glaring at Wilson for making him this way.

“You’d gloat, if you saw me now,” House grumbled. “Gloat and say I care. I don’t – but if you—go, then who’d buy me lunch every day?”

He wondered who ever came up with the idea of talking to people who were unconscious – it was stupid! Wilson couldn’t hear him, shouldn’t hear him, shouldn’t have any clue of the complete wreck House was. Him – a wreck!

He slumped back in his chair, glaring at the dark shape of Wilson. The moonlight fell on the tube in his mouth and the white skin of his cheek, which had darkened with stubble. There were dark shadows beneath Wilson’s closed eyes as well – though he’d gotten blood transfusions, he’d still lost a lot – and in the bluish moonlight, he looked rather like a ghost.

House reached out suddenly and grabbed hold of Wilson’s hand, just to make sure that he was still there, not a figment of his imagination. But no, he was there, solid and warm, and House told himself to let go. He was being silly, a grown man acting like a child – and he hadn’t even acted like a child when he was a child.

But he couldn’t let go, because holding onto Wilson made him real, made it impossible for him to leave House.

He had to get up and walk every now and then, because his leg would cramp up otherwise and hurt even worse than it already did, but he found his hand drawn back to Wilson’s like a magnet. He resented himself for it, but couldn’t stop it.

The hospital had only just begun to awaken, the skies becoming lighter, when Wilson began to stir. He moved his fingers first, the fingers clasped in House’s hand, and House saw the movement of his eyes beneath his eyelids, and he bit his tongue to keep from telling Wilson to wake up – as though it would matter.

Wilson woke up, and though the world around them was quiet, House felt an unfamiliar feeling of wanting to jump around and sing with glee, because Wilson was not dead. 

Wilson coughed and sputtered when House pulled out the ventilator tube, and House handed him a glass of water and tried to appear nonchalant, as though he hadn’t just sat by Wilson’s bedside for nine hours, through the night, as though he hadn’t been there during the surgery, as though he didn’t care at all.

“Thanks,” croaked Wilson after taking a few careful sips of water. “Wha’ happ’ned?”

House stood a foot away from the bed, careful not to touch Wilson – it hadn’t been okay when he was unconscious, and it was even less okay now that he was awake.

“You stepped in front of two bullets,” House said.

“I rememb’r tha’,” Wilson said. “Bad?”

House nodded, giving a quick run-through of the surgery that had been performed. It felt familiar and distancing, to discuss the medical parts of what had happened – far better than to talk about—other stuff.

“You’ve been ‘ere—all night?” Wilson asked, his voice cracking and dry still, a light cough in its midst that made his face scrunch up with pain.

House muttered something unintelligible.

Wilson smiled slightly, eyelids dropping with sleepiness. “No, not cold ol’ House. He doesn’t care.”

House didn’t know what to say – to tell Wilson that he didn’t care would be stupid, because he had sat by his bedside for a whole damn night, but then to tell Wilson that he did care would be equally stupid, because who knew where such discussions would lead?

“’m glad you’re ‘ere,” Wilson mumbled, closing his eyes once more.

And before House could stop himself, he took Wilson’s hand in his and squeezed it, gently, kindly like House never did. Wilson opened his eyes again and looked at House, surprise filling those lovely brown eyes, soon replaced by contentment. House couldn’t bring himself to smile, or say anything, but he knew that Wilson knew, because Wilson always knew. He was quite the good House-reader, and had been for some time. In fact, he was probably the best House-reader. And House liked it that way.

“Be ‘ere when I wake up?”

House sighed, sitting down in his chair again. His leg ached and his throat hurt from constricting with pent-up emotions, but he knew that he wouldn’t move, wouldn’t go anywhere – except possibly to pee, because he really needed that – until Wilson was safe and well and those wounds were mere faint scars on Wilson’s body, and even then, he wouldn’t go anywhere. Feeling oddly sentimental and wanting rather badly to slap himself, House thought that really, he’d like to be there every time Wilson woke up.

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