Written for: rosehiptea for purimgifts 2008
Disclaimer: Not my characters. Still broke.
Author's Note: Thank you to my own little band of first readers, especially deyaniera for pointing out important details I missed.
"Hey baby, that your boyfriend?
"Just a friend."
"You wanna dance?
"Thanks, but no thanks. My friend's feeling kinda down right now."
When you go out after work, he's still House. Greg, that four letter word that lurks around the corners of your conversation, feels thick and threatens to overflow your mouth with its meaning and hard consonants, so you avoid it.
You suspect you're still 'Thirteen' for the same reason. You both know he knows your real name, and that the number is just an affectation: but a man so easily cut by the blunt-edged actions of others needs all the distance he can get, especially when there are scars still bloody and part-healed, so easily visible.
It's a kind of emotional hemophilia. You get that. You suspect that you understand it like few, or no, others can right now: the memory of forced speech and ill-fitting "grieving" that was draped over you after your mother's death despite your own feelings is distant, but still sharp enough to sting.
So you go to a bar. You play darts and pool, you flash what you've got (because you know about the balm that is tits and ass, and yours aren't showgirl material but you can work what you have well enough to serve), and play a few rounds of verbal tennis. You drink the beer of the absent third, the ghost across town in a fancy French restaurant, and try not to see the uncertain look in the back of House's eyes.
He feels the same way about losing his balance as you do about dropping a cup. Is this it? Is this the end?
You get that.
The next night it's Szechuan and the latest horror movie instead of wings and darts, but it's the same dance. You know your part by now, the steps are familiar. And really, you don't mind, because you've been there before, just on the other side - after Stanford, when Betty took her toaster and her waffle iron, half the bedsheets and the cat and a big piece of your heart. After Columbia, when Tate did the same, except with a coffeemaker and a couple of mice. And even if the hospital rumor mill had absolutely no truth to it, House and Wilson were (at the very least) partners in a kind of communal empty misery. And being left to shoulder that weight alone is hard.
You have friends who extoll the virtue of blind dates when you come to visit, desperate to pair off animals in the ark. So you understand. You'd be happy where you were if everyone else would shut up and let you be.
The third night, it's sushi slipping from drunken chopsticks and the savory heat of rice wine. He teaches you to swear in Japanese, and you tell him sorority stories of girls caught up by kanji tattoos they can't decipher branding them as sluts. You both laugh. Your hands touch over the sake bottle, and the lake of his eyes is still.
But not drained, you notice; not like before. Not a lifeless pool as much as a murky one.
You smile, just a little, and change the subject.
Days go on like this; they turn into weeks.
Wilson fades in again. He'd never go, not entirely, but he's still a man divided between two masters, and House still finds comfort in your low-pressure presence, so you stay. You're a kind of belay rope. And you're okay with that, because he's the same for you on your own pile of stones. You spot each other and neither of you fall.
The gossip mill - chatty bitches - just loves the whole business. Protege and mentor, beautiful ingenue and scruffy broken man. Your names are twined together despite (or perhaps because of?) protestations. You learned long ago that people are suspicious of odd numbers and seek the peace of evens. Annoying, but hardly surprising.
"You know people are talking about us." you point out one afternoon as you choke down the cafeteria's excuse for roast beef.
"I'd heard something about it." he says. This means that he knows every word. He steals a drink of your Coke, and you steal one of his.
You shrug; that's the end of it as far as you're concerned. Your pager goes off, and you're already on your feet.
You turn, surprised. You've never heard your name cross his lips before.
"Yeah." He's never asked before, only chosen.
He nods, turns away quickly.
You busy yourself over someone else's body, someone else's problems, and both try not to panic over your slipping footholds.
You don't fall together so much as drift, like a handful of feathers on a warm summer's breeze. Fingers touch as always, but catch together. He picks up the check. You mark ridiculous articles for him in the newspaper; you mock horoscopes together.
And then one Thursday Wilson's free and Greg's still at your door with a six-pack, and later that night his fingers are catching on buttons and all your words melt into groans and the delicate friction of skin.
You still go out to the bar, show off your tits and ass, play a little pool. Nothing - and everything - has changed.
"Hey baby, that your boyfriend? You wanna dance?"
"Yeah, that is my boyfriend. So quit breathing in my face."