His serfs were having one of their more bogglingly stupid conversations when he walked in, and House paid attention just long enough to hear Chase say, â€œOf course you think kangaroos are cute. Youâ€™ve never had one take a suicide leap into the road at you while youâ€™re driving 60 miles per hour,â€ before he tuned them out, flipping through his mail.
There were letters from desperate families and rich people Cuddy wouldâ€”inevitablyâ€”ferret out of the Princeton-Plainsboro medical waste dumpster and implore him to cure. There were thank you notes from the particularly old and old fashioned patients, and his weekly love letter slash update from his syphilitic granny. And then there was a padded manila envelope, hand addressed from Emma Hawthorne with too many stamps and something heavy inside.
He was debating the relative likeliness of her either sending him (a) a dead animal to express her probably-strong feelings about his saying he would have killed her baby or (b) a shriveled, dried umbilical cord in gratitude for his saving the babyâ€”which would have, ironically enough, been more than enough reproach for his efforts when Cameron peeked round the conference room door.
â€œYou know itâ€™s glass.â€ And whispering, checking left and right for spies, House added, â€œItâ€™s see through and hear-throughâ€”you donâ€™t even need to open it! But donâ€™t tell the others.â€
She only pursed her perfect lips at him, glasses gleaming in the late morning light. â€œWe have a patient.â€
Setting down the envelope, House mourned another day wasted hemorrhaging valuable time seeing one rich patron or another instead of following up on the continuing saga of Jax and Carley. â€œOne day,â€ he told Cameron, shoving past her into the conference room, â€œyou three will become bright enough to pull a monkey-see, monkey-do.â€
Chase stared at him blankly, his expression a mask of Attractive Australian In Repose. Foreman ignored him in favor of the latest New England Journal of Medicineâ€”which explained why that hadnâ€™t been on his desk.
â€œBy which I mean, since I donâ€™t volunteer to take patientsâ€¦â€ he said with elaborate patience, waving his hand for them to continue the mantra.
â€œSince you donâ€™t volunteer to take patients,â€ Cameron retorted, pouting, â€œthen Cuddy gives them to us whether we want them or not.â€
â€œYou might not be afraid of losing your job but we are,â€ Chase announced.
Cameron handed him a file. â€œSheâ€™s 32 years-old, presenting with abdominal pain, impaired vision, and respiratory distress.â€
â€œYouâ€™re all fired,â€ House told them, and snatched the file out of her hands.
It was long after lunch by the time House got a chance to sit at his desk and catch up on Go Fug Yourself and search frantically for recaps of that dayâ€™s General Hospital. Their patient was dying in a disinteresting and unoriginal way, and for that he felt extra spiteful, so instead of recommending one of the nice oncologists (read: Wilson), he sent Carmichael, who probably raped children for breakfast. House was trying not to feel somewhat depressed that Brenda still hadnâ€™t returned from the dead (again) to slap Carley for stealing her man when he tore Emmaâ€™s package openâ€”braced for anything from a thank you note and a stack of $50s to a dead rat.
Instead, he got photographs, a glossy ocean of black and white prints that slid with a soughing sound across his desk. There were dozensâ€”monochrome freeze-frames of boring, everyday hospital life. There was House in repose playing Bejeweled on the computer, Wilson in Houseâ€™s armchair, legs propped up, reading a journal. In another, it was Cameron, Chase, and Foreman staring at an X-ray with intense eyes while House and Wilson smirked at one another in the background. Another was of Wilson heading out for the day, tugging on a coat as he fell into step with House, their shadows long on the hospital wall.
In between the photos was a note, torn from a legal pad.
Your secretâ€™s showing, Emma had written, and signed it, E.
â€œI hate liberal arts majors,â€ House told the note, and pushed it aside.
House flipped through the first ten or so and frowned. There were no secrets there, just reinterpretations of things House saw every day. He stuffed them back into the remains of the envelop and sets them aside, wishing Emma hadnâ€™t taken quite so many photographs of Chase and Cameron and Foreman, and more of Cuddyâ€™s spectacular bazongas while sheâ€™d been bending over Emmaâ€”conveying her womanly sympathy.
But Emma, for all that she was irritating and obfuscating, was a good photographer, too, and everything looked different, in an entirely different frame of reference than House has ever seen. The hospital looked modern and full of curves, like a cosmopolitan woman, and the black and white make all the shadows jumpâ€”made the gleam of Foremanâ€™s teeth against the deep color of his skin a smear of half-moon.
On Tuesday, Wilson was honor-bound to give the interns a lecture on the many challenges and exciting changes in modern cancer treatment. And since Wilson had that beleaguered, dashing I Petition For Cancer Kid Playrooms look going, there were always an abundance of stupid med students of either gender present to stare at him in open sexual longing. House made it a point to attend each time and sit in the front row; it was the best vantage point in the auditorium for smirking meanly.
â€œIâ€™d like to apologize preemptively,â€ Wilson said to the crowd, pulling off his white doctorâ€™s coat. â€œThe redoubtable Dr. Gregory House is in attendance.â€
A murmur went up through the crowd, and Wilson gave House a warning look. House wondered when Wilson had turned into his mother, and also if the entertainment value of getting to his feet to wave at the class and bow was worth the hassle of getting to his feet.
â€œSo youâ€™ll have to forgive any outbursts he might have, ignore the inappropriate comments, and prepare to be insulted,â€ Wilson finished as he took off his lab coat, rolled up his sleeves, voice unaccountably fond. â€œThat saidâ€”letâ€™s get started.â€
Wilson had three stand-by lectures he offered to the unwashed masses that passed through the hospital: Most Of You Wonâ€™t Become Oncologists, But Itâ€™s A Noble Calling; Medicine, Like My Marriages, Cannot Live On Romance Alone, Eventually, There Will Be Complications; and Houseâ€™s personal favorite, Let Me Talk Endlessly About Death, Because Mine Is An Essentially Inefficacious Field Of Medicine And Nothing Is As Fun As Trying To Dodge The Inevitable.
â€œMy name is James Wilson. Iâ€™m head of oncology at Princeton-Plainsboro,â€ Wilson said, leaning against the podium to survey the crowd. House had cased them on sight: collectively entering puberty, all over-eager, none of them with an ounce of common sense or rational fearâ€”but the worst was the row of straight-A students he was sitting near, and House had a vivid image of how bad a hit itâ€™d be the first time they fucked up.
â€œIn September, Iâ€™ll have been at the hospital for 15 yearsâ€”so if you see me around and have any questions, feel free to ask. Weâ€™re a resource to you,â€ Wilson added, and House gagged elaboratelyâ€”earning him a glare from the blond thing sitting next to him. Wilson ignored him and went on:
â€œNow, I know most of you wonâ€™t be going into oncologyâ€”butâ€¦â€ which was about the part that House tuned out and decided to start the psychological warfare.
In the past, Wilson had capitulated beautifully under Plan Stare Meaningfully At Wilsonâ€™s Crotch and Plan Blow Him Kisses From The Front Row, but House was an innovator, so he searched around his pockets until he found a receipt. He was nearly done creating an arsenal of tiny wads of paper to throw at Wilsonâ€™s crotch when there was a sudden break in Wilsonâ€™s droning. He looked up to see the blond thing glaring, and before House could confide, â€œI have a nervous disorder,â€ Wilson said:
â€œI have a friend. Another doctor at the hospital.â€ Laughing, Wilson admitted, â€œWe met at a Doctors Without Borders conference about the same time I got hired onto the Princeton-Plainsboro staff.â€
House shuddered at the sudden rush of estrogen in the room.
â€œNow before you guys all get too impressed,â€ Wilson warned, grinning, â€œI never ended up goingâ€”although Iâ€™m still open to the possibilityâ€”and he was there to steal food from the reception; his own conference on how weâ€™re all going to die in a global pandemic was downstairs.â€
House tried to figure out some way to be righteously angry about Wilson airing their dirty laundry given the fact that heâ€™d told the maggots about his and Wilsonâ€™s Gentlemanâ€™s Agreement the last time heâ€™d been bullied into a lecture.
â€œHe stole from the Doctors Without Borders meeting?â€ someone in the crowd asked, sounding horrified and just high-pitched enough to be self-righteous.
Nobody looked at Houseâ€”which was by turns comforting and a little insulting, since it cemented Cuddyâ€™s theory that nobody really thought Wilson and House were friends; to be fair, sometimes House didnâ€™t even think he and Wilson were friends.
â€œWell, if you call eating the club sandwiches and egg salad stealing, then yes,â€ Wilson agreed, wry. He crossed his arms over his chest. â€œBut the point of the storyâ€”beyond the fact that being a doctor doesnâ€™t preclude you from being morally corruptâ€”â€
There were titters throughout the crowd, because none of them had to steal oxycotin back from a morally corrupt friend yet. House imagined itâ€™d be less funny through the filter of 20-odd years.
â€œâ€”is that this friend of mine likes to tell me, as frequently as possible, that oncology is inefficient and strictly for people with bleeding hearts,â€ Wilson concluded, still smiling through his studentsâ€™ shock and giving House a sideways lookâ€”a private joke, and House slouched down further in his seat because there was always something unsettling about the implied intimacy in a shared glance. â€œIf you really think about this, he has a point.
â€œOncology is a medicine of management,â€ Wilson continued, voice firm, the same soothing lull that had people thanking him for their death sentences. â€œWeâ€™re doing better every day, and chemotherapy, radiation, and advancements in medication have brought us a long way from the old days where a diagnosis of cancer was an immediate death sentenceâ€”but the reality is that our ingrained fear of cancer is rational, itâ€™s reasonable.â€
Wilson gave them all a comforting smile, and House wondered if, with the correct technology, could he somehow see the physical form of Wilsonâ€™s ingenious emotional manipulation, floating through the air from his benevolent smile to his captive audience.
Wilson tugged at his tie, his smile going lopsided. â€œMy friend, for all that heâ€™s an ethical black holeâ€”â€ House threw one of his paper balls, just on principal, and missed by a mile â€œâ€”is an excellent doctor, in many ways, unparalleled in his field of specialty.â€
The interns looked betrayed, and House felt somewhat compelled to draw them a chart showing the coefficient of correlation between â€œnice doctorâ€ and â€œgood doctorâ€ as the zero sum it wasâ€”but he figured eventually theyâ€™d haul Birch in here to talk about pediatrics and the little monsters could figure that one out on their own.
â€œThe weird thing is,â€ Wilson was saying, â€œI hand people death sentences every dayâ€”Iâ€™ve told more people they were dying kindly than my friend has cured patients with his particular brand of tough loveâ€”but they thank me for it. They tell me thank you.
â€œMedicine is, ultimately, about healing the sickâ€”but itâ€™s also about bringing comfort to the dying.â€ Wilson gave all of them a look. â€œDonâ€™t forget that.â€
Later, House cut in front of Wilson in the lunch line, fixing him with a thoughtful stare. â€œYou said nice things about me,â€ he said, accusing.
â€œWell,â€ Wilson prevaricated, shoving House along toward the register, â€œyou didnâ€™t interrupt, mostly.â€
â€œSomethingâ€™s not adding up here,â€ House told him, reaching for a pudding cup.
Wilson rolled his eyes. â€œIâ€™m allowed to give you a compliment. Not everythingâ€™s a puzzle, House.â€
â€œNo, not everything,â€ House agreed. Most thing was boring, average, unremarkable.
But House thought about Wilson, and the Wilson in Emmaâ€™s photographs, with laugh lines and worry lines and House in his periphery; Wilson had always been a puzzle, and all the more fascinating because he was so well hidden beneath the illusion of a whole.
He taped the photographs up on the lightboard in his office: 29 in all, black and white and some of them blurry. The hospital was quiet, lonely, the night shift making their rounds and voices murmuring in the distance like ghosts at tea, and House sat in his chair and frowned. He had known Emma would be a formidable enemy when sheâ€™d fought him tooth and nail every step of the way, and when sheâ€™d failed to break down into hopeless sobs even once through the entire ordeal. Women, when they were dangerous, were extremely dangerous, House knew, and Emma had seen something House had missed, hadnâ€™t noticed, didnâ€™t pay attention to.