Characters: House, Wilson
Word count: 3954
Spoilers: Wilson's Heart, Dying Changes Everything, Not Cancer
Summary: During his bereavement leave, Wilson goes off on a quest and finds out more about House and himself than he really wanted to know. Why Wilson might have walked away.
Wilson unfolded himself out of the car, almost slipping on the muck under his feet. He was glad the rented Taurus had GPS, because he’d never have found this place without it. Technology was a godsend – it took him into the middle of nowhere without asking why. The same thing couldn’t be said for his cell phone, which Wilson had turned to vibrate as soon as he’d stepped off the plane. House had promised to leave him alone, but House’s definition of “alone” was a little ambiguous. Fortunately, there was no phone coverage in the mountains. It was both comforting and disconcerting to be so far out of House’s reach.
The redwoods were deep and vast, so different from New Jersey that he felt like he’d stepped into a different world. The website for a nearby state park referred to them as “majestic and awe inspiring,” but all Wilson could see was fecundity and decay. With so much nature feeding off itself, decomposition was a definite temptation. He could imagine himself sinking under the litter of pine needles and leaves, doing somebody some good for a change...
Wow. Suicide by decomposition. Where did that come from? He needed to stop wallowing and start looking for his damn long lost brother.
Although it was midday, the canopy of trees was too dense for shadows. It shivered and creaked, buzzed and hummed, smelling of moss and mushrooms. Wilson wondered how so many things could thrive without sun. He also wondered why his brother, who had always loved cities, had ended up in a place like this. Wilson had the distinct impression that Nick was leading him on. He couldn’t imagine finding his brother here.
But Wilson’s mother had been adamant that Nick needed help, and after she’d gone to the trouble of paying dearly for the information, the least her youngest son could do was to check it out. In exchange for ten grand that came straight from their retirement fund, Nick had offered up three places where he sometimes stayed. Nick had to know that Wilson would come looking for him once he had a place to start. It didn’t matter that he had to fly across the country. Didn’t matter if he was six weeks into his bereavement leave. Didn’t matter if he’d never gone six weeks without seeing House in the past twenty years and he’d certainly never gone out of state without telling him.
It really, really didn’t matter.
Wilson was a creature of habit. The fact that his life had completely fallen apart didn’t stop him from falling back into what he’d always done before. If Nick was in trouble, Wilson would find him and take care of it. He couldn’t even see another option. It was unthinkable that he’d ever be able to walk away from his brother who needed him.
The slant house had been built in a gap between the trees. It hardly seemed enough to warrant a legitimate address. Sunlight leaked through the trees, and Wilson felt absurdly grateful for a break in the gloom. Slipping a bit on the moss in front, he tried the door, not surprised to find it unlocked. He stepped inside. It was obviously deserted.
For a weak moment, Wilson really wished he wasn’t alone. House would hate it here and would use his leg as an excuse for not going in. But then he would make some dark joke about suicidal jaunts in the woods, and Wilson would laugh and wouldn’t feel unsettled any more…
Wilson stopped short, chastened by the thought that once again he’d been thinking of House and not Amber. He’d loved her so much. But House was still stuck in his head.
That wasn’t the only thing that was stuck. In the dim light he saw it -- a scrap of paper tacked on the rough-hewn wall beside the cot. His brother’s familiar handwriting scrawled across.
Jimmy. Made you look.
Games. Wilson was sick and tired of games, but everyone wanted to play with him.
The turquoise Victorian had seen better days. It was the last house on a dilapidated Santa Cruz street that dead-ended against a freeway overpass. Rotting from termites and exposure, its pretty, painted youth was long past gone.
But it was the second place on his list. Nick hadn’t bothered leaving an address for this one. He’d just told their mother it was called The Annex and to his credit, that had been enough. It hadn’t taken more than asking a couple gray-haired hippies at the natural food store, and they’d cheerfully given Wilson directions. The house was relatively typical for Nick. Wilson had tracked him down dozens of times in places like this, up and down the eastern seaboard.
Knocking again, Wilson heard thumping and voices inside, but he couldn’t bring himself to simply open the door and walk in. He hadn’t been raised to go into someone’s house without permission. For that reason, he’d rarely contributed to any of House’s breaking and entering sessions even before House had hired minions to do his dirty work.
He was about to knock again, when his phone rang. He’d turned it off and on at least a dozen times checking for messages, but he must have left it on once he’d gotten back into range. Wilson sighed. Might as well answer it. There was no way House was going to give up unless he heard something.
“What do you want?”
“You’re not in New Jersey.”
“You’re right. And what part of ‘not talking’ didn’t register the last time we talked? I’m busy, House. I’ll talk to you later.”
Wilson rolled his eyes at his own lame retort and snapped the phone shut. He did switch it back to vibrate but couldn’t bring himself to turn it off altogether. Emergencies happened. You never knew when somebody with a legitimate need might try to get a hold of you. Almost immediately, the phone started buzzing again. He put it back in his pocket and sighed.
Ignoring his upbringing and the vibrating in his pocket, Wilson opened the door and walked inside. Immediately, he smelled a mixture of curry, poor quality pot, and bodily fluids that he knew better than to try and identify. Yeah, he’d been through places like this before looking for Nick, but this wasn’t one of the better ones. As he suspected, there were plenty of people home; they just weren’t the door-opening types.
He stepped across the front room carefully navigating a maze of futons and mats. From past experience, Wilson knew that these mattresses were literally people’s living quarters, and it was considered bad form to walk right over them. A couple in the center of the room writhed underneath a ridiculously festive Mexican blanket. Condoms, bottles, and drug paraphernalia covered every imaginable surface. Nick was nearly fifty years old, but his choice of companions hadn’t changed over the years. Nobody ever changed. That’s what House would have said. Inside his pocket, the phone was vibrating.
“Looking for someone?” A relatively young and pretty girl walked down the stairs, her blond hair in braids. “You look a little lost.” She was smiling.
Instinctively, Wilson smiled back. From past experience, he knew that the denizens of Nick’s world were usually friendly albeit somewhat misguided. If he’d brought his own mat, he’d probably be welcome to stay. And he had stayed at many of these places when he was younger. How many days and nights of his life had he wasted looking for his brother?
The vibrating in his pocket made him want to fling the damn phone against the wall. Another wave of grief washed over him with its impeccably bad timing. He closed his eyes for a second, trying not to think of Amber or House. The crying could start in at the worst moments, and he dug his fingers into his palms trying to control it.
But the girl reached for his arm. “Hey, it’s all right.”
Wilson stepped back and rubbed furiously at his eyes. These places always made him more vulnerable than he really was. He never understood why.
“I’m looking for my brother. He told my mother he was staying here. Nicholas Wilson.”
She rolled her eyes, obviously not as strung out as Wilson had thought. “Nick’s gone. Ray kicked him out last night.”
Truly befuddled, Wilson wondered how his brother could possibly have gotten kicked out of a place like this. Now that his eyes had adjusted, he could make out other bodies across the room. An arm hung over a sofa, rubber tubing still tied tight. It took all Wilson’s self control not to check for a pulse. He could hear moaning coming from the other room, giggling from upstairs. A single light bulb flickered on and off overhead. And yet, Nick somehow wasn’t up to this house’s standards.
The phone vibrated and Wilson answered, forgetting to ignore it.
“Where the hell are you, Wilson?”
Wilson couldn’t help it. He snapped back, “I’m literally in hell. You should be very proud of yourself. You got it right and on the first time.” He shut the case and turned it off.
“Was that Nick?” The girl was considering him with a bemused expression.
“No, it was my other pain in the --” he started to say, but then his brain caught on her question. “Does Nick have a cell phone?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know the number.” She shrugged.
“How would he be able to afford an account?”
“He gets money from home. He just got a lot more yesterday. That’s where he got the money to buy the stuff for –”
“My parents gave him money? Before yesterday, you mean?”
“That’s what he told me. Don’t know why he’d lie about something like that.”
Wilson felt a strange ache in his chest. If his parents had been giving Nick handouts, it meant they’d been in contact with him all this time. As a family, they’d made a decision many years ago never, ever to give money to Nick.
“Everyone lies,” Wilson said. He reached for his wallet and handed her a fifty. “Do you have any idea where my brother might be headed?”
“He didn’t say. He was pretty wasted last night.” She folded the fifty into a tiny square and slipped it in her jean pocket.
So close to the door, Wilson could smell the salt in the air. He was desperate to breathe again.
“Let me know if you hear from him.” He handed her a business card. “You can call me any time.”
“Sure. The person who called you… not Nick?”
Wilson smiled darkly. “Not Nick,” he confirmed.
“Why are you so angry with him?”
“I’m not angry at him,” he said with a sigh. He decided to tell her the truth. “But I’m definitely angry at myself.”
The girl nodded slowly with the wisdom of the very stoned.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” she said.
Wilson stood on the sidewalk, a cup of very decent coffee in his hand, and considered the third and final address on his list. The GPS had taken him to downtown Santa Cruz. While he’d half expected to end up at a shelter, he found himself in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz instead. This was also Nick, the one who Wilson loved. He stepped inside.
Nick was smart to have brought him to a bookstore. The first two addresses were intended to shake him up. This last one was meant to draw him in. To make him remember why he missed Nick so damned much.
Books. Lots and lots of books. Wilson had no doubt that Nick probably lived here. Nicky adored books, and Wilson had always suspected they’d been the ruin of him. Nick read so much as a kid, he’d never gotten over the disappointment of finding out that his life didn’t plot its course according to rising action, climax and resolution.
Wilson found himself wandering toward the classics. Sipping his coffee, he surveyed the titles while dust rose in the slanted light. Like any good bookstore, this one was busy but empty around the edges. Gently, he touched his brother’s favorites. Chekhov, Joyce, Tolstoy, Nabokov… until he found what he was looking for. The Divine Comedy.
Family lore held that Nick had read Dante’s Inferno for his fourth grade book report. He’d spent hours on his report, turned it in proudly, but his teacher had graded him on spelling. From his mother’s scornful accounting of the incident, Wilson had always assumed that his brother wasn’t the best speller. Otherwise their mother wouldn’t have always included it in her litany of The Many Ways the World Never Understood Nicky.
The Wilsons were nice, well-meaning people who weren’t up for the challenge of a highly gifted son. Steven, their middle-son, was a happy kid and an average student. He’d graduated in the middle of his class and had opened up a car dealership a couple miles away from their parents. Wilson had always known it was up to him to take up the slack that Nick left behind. Unlike his oldest brother, Wilson was very good at spelling. He’d actually won the regionals in fifth grade and had gone on to the state spelling bee, but his parents were busy getting Nicky into rehab so his teacher had chaperoned instead. Wilson never held any lapses against them. He was the one his family counted on to take Nick’s mistakes, sort them out, smooth them over, and give Nick another chance to screw up his life again.
Wilson slumped to sit on the floor, setting his coffee down beside him. Absent-mindedly, he thumbed through the book while considering what he’d just learned from the pretty junkie. His parents had been helping support Nick. Wilson didn’t even bother denying it to himself because he knew it was true. Wilson had been prowling back alleys looking for Nick while his parents had been lying to him, probably for years.
He couldn’t even censure them for that. How many times had he lied to save House over the years? Hell, if Nick had called him, he’d probably have handed over his paycheck as well. He’d spent most of his life worrying about his big brother. So much had revolved around Nick and his problems. In high school, Wilson’s extracurricular activities had included talking his brother out of using meth in their parents’ bathroom and trying to keep him in the car when Nick hung out the window, convinced he could fly. Wilson couldn’t count the number of times he’d promised the cop at the door that Nick would never do it again.
Wilson didn’t apply to any local colleges. But even miles and miles away, the phone calls came: from parties, from dives, from bars, from jail, from back alleys where Nick was trying to hide from whoever or whatever was after him.
Can’t you help me, Jimmy? I don’t have anyone else. If you don’t help me: I’ll be kicked out, on the street, go to jail, I’ll get beat up. I’ll die.
The phone rang again. He’d forgotten to turn it off when he’d checked for messages earlier, and it sounded like cymbals clashing with the serenity of the bookstore. Instinctively, he fished it out of his pocket, trying to shut the damn thing up.
“Hello,” he hissed. “What is it?”
“Why are you in California?”
Wilson let out a tight breath. It never took House long. “Sightseeing.”
“When are you coming back to work?”
“You promised to leave me alone. Give me some space.”
“Our agreement never included you leaving the state.”
“House. We don’t have an agreement.”
“Of course, we do.” For once there was no edge to the words. Wilson could hear the truth behind them. Unlike his brother, House didn’t really lie.
He closed his eyes. “I’ll call you. When I’m ready. Give that to me. Please. You owe me that.”
Wilson never collected on what was due. He just gave and gave and gave and gave…
“You’re looking for your brother.”
He felt almost hysterical laughter building up in his chest. Of course, House would figure it out although there’d never been a hint that Nick had moved to California. Wilson could have been on vacation lying on the beach, but House would know that too. Nothing like being pursued by genius. Wilson envied the lucky multitude plagued by mediocrity instead.
“Yes House, you get to be right again, and I’m even making the sacrifice of admitting it. Now please hang up and let me handle my predictable, pathetic problems by myself.”
“I never said you were pathetic.”
Wilson snorted. “You didn’t have to. I did. Goodbye, House.”
He hung up, got up to his feet slowly, and picked up The Divine Comedy. Wilson had never read it even though he’d always meant to. Maybe he could read it on the plane. After all, Nick had loved it so much as a kid.
He ran his finger along the shelf, finding dust and missing Amber. He wondered what book she’d have chosen for herself. They’d talked about going on vacation during the summer. He could picture her, leaning against him at the airport, worrying a strand of hair around her finger, finally relaxed enough to read and let him take care of everything. He’d wanted to take care of her. He was so good at that. But Amber hadn’t needed that from him. So he pulled a copy of Madame Bovary off the shelf. She would have liked this one. She’d never really minded House’s name for her. One cutthroat bitch to another. Wilson smiled. He’d read this one for Amber.
On the way to the exit, another book caught his eye and he grabbed a copy of a new Batman graphic novel. House loved to quote from the damn things, but Wilson never read them, mostly to irk House who wanted him to catch the references. Might as well add it to the pile.
It didn’t escape his attention that he hadn’t chosen a book for himself. Didn’t matter. He’d lost Amber. He’d never find his brother. House was House. Wilson hadn’t done a bit of good for any of them. Behind the counter, a copy of a signed photography book about restored farmhouses caught his eye. Living on a farm had been a dream of his when he was a kid in the suburbs. Wilson couldn’t even remember what he wanted for himself any more.
The kid behind the register was staring. “Hey, you look a lot like old Nick. You guys related?”
“Nick Wilson?” Wilson wanted to laugh. Of course, this kid would know Nick; everyone but Wilson knew Nick. However, it was strange that the kid could see a resemblance. James had never looked like Nick before. “Has he been here?”
“Sure,” the kid said, “he’s always here. Just not today.”
Wilson thanked the teenager, left the books on the counter, and left the store. Crumpled his list and tossed it. He was done looking. He wasn’t going to find his brother until Nick wanted to be found. Wilson could smell the sea in the air, and this time, he followed it.
Grief came over him like it always did, violently and without warning. It was like waking up in their bed all over again.
Wilson sat on the sand, pulled his knees to his chest, and cried. Between seasons, the beach wasn’t crowded. Nobody was watching him. No one probed, taunted, tested, or cajoled. Nobody really cared. He cried for a while, and then he just rested his head on his knees and listened to the waves.
Wilson had left the phone on, but House hadn’t called back. It was a good faith offering. Even though he hadn’t seen House in more than five weeks, he’d heard from him almost every day. Calls, texts, emails, even pictures documenting his fractured head getting better. House was an only child jumping up and down on the sofa while his parents were talking about their day.
I’m still here. Love me first. Love me best.
And that was the problem. Wilson had always loved House best.
He wasn’t going to find his brother. Wasn’t even sure why his mother had called, acting like it was the first time she’d heard from Nicky. Something must have set her off, some new perceived danger or crisis. His mother had always coddled her oldest son, taking his side against the rest of the world. Nick never had a chance in the face of that kind of love.
Wilson knew himself to be the worst kind of enabler, but he’d come by it honestly. He’d learned from the best, practiced on his brother, experimented with his wives, and perfected it with House, but it had never done a bit of good for anyone but himself. As far as Wilson was concerned, Amber had never had a chance with his kind of love.
He scooped a handful of sand and tried to hold on to it, watching as it sieved through his fingers until he was holding nothing but air. House thought Wilson blamed him for Amber’s death, but Wilson blamed only himself.
He hadn’t objected when House started playing his games. Amber’d been willing to learn the rules, and that was how Wilson knew that he loved her. How could he resist a girl who knew how to play with House? Wilson had watched the two of them squaring off, staking their territory, claiming him, and he’d loved every minute of it. He’d squandered Amber. He hadn’t loved her enough to say no to House.
Wilson pressed his hands to his face, feeling the sting of sand. He could have put an end to it but he’d enjoyed it too much. The games, the binges, the calls in the night. That need was a drug and Wilson held out his arm for it, like a junkie lusts for a needle.
In his heart, Wilson knew that he should have been the one on that bus. Every time he’d rescued House, he’d killed Amber as surely as if he’d placed the phone call himself. He’d never said no before and meant it. Wilson couldn’t help it -- it was the only way he knew. Somehow, he would have to find a different way to protect the ones he loved.
It was time to go back. Wilson stood and was about to turn around, when his eyes settled on a middle-aged man who was walking down the beach. Even from a distance, Wilson noted the way the man was tracking the pull of water, tracing it with a stick, seemingly enthralled by the clash of foam and seaweed and muck. Wilson knew all too well the obsessions of a restless mind. Soon enough, all the refuse would be dragged out to sea, but the man was trying to make sense of it first, even if his efforts made no difference in the end.
The man was as familiar and dear to Wilson as anyone had ever been. Almost anyone. But Wilson could do for Nick what he wasn’t sure he could do for House and what he sure as hell hadn’t done for Amber.
So Wilson loved his brother the best way he knew how. He turned his back to the pull of that tide. Didn’t stop at the call of his name even though he heard the need there. It was almost unthinkable, and he wasn’t sure if he would survive this kind of love.
But Jimmy Wilson was walking away.