Pairings: Chase/Wilson, Foreman/OFC (kinda) and hints of House/Cuddy.
Summary: There is no point reading this unless you've read the other bits. Court Case.
Author's Notes: Dedicated to drag_queen90 for being the House to my Wilson.
Uno Dos Tres Cuatro Cinco Seis
I’m so, so sorry it took so long to get this bit up, but I’ve had exams and a couple of other complicated things happened, and this took a lot of editing and I’m still not quite happy with it, only I can’t get it any better. Anyway, thanks to Enkelien for helping me out again, and I hope this was worth the wait (not sure it was, but ah well).
And love can really tear you up, and it can break you down, everything you think you know baby is wrong- it’s all over but the crying
One week later
Laura taught him how to cook. Wife number one, bright pink hair falling in her eyes and over his shoulders as she leant around him, correcting him on how he handled knives and the size of the vegetable chunks he was cutting, teeth grazing his earlobe and making him tremble. James learned medicine and cookery at the same time, when he was in his early twenties and long days studying anatomy culminated in coming home to recipe books and Laura reciting the separate bones of the head (frontal, parietal, occipital, zygomatic, sphenoid, temporal, maxilla, mandible, vomer, nasal) while kissing icing sugar off his face.
At the time he thought she just taught him cookery because she liked smearing various ingredients all over him and then licking them off, but in later years James realised that she just didn’t want to have to do all the food preparation herself. He’s still grateful to her though, if only because being able to make incredibly gorgeous meals has helped him both win women over and then feed himself when they leave his life. Right now, it’s been nearly three weeks since he last took Vicodin, and most of the withdrawal symptoms have gone, but now he’s just weary and more in pain than ever. So he loses himself in spilling olive oil all over the kitchen and nearly slicing his fingers off while getting all the seeds out of red peppers. James is making far too much food for just himself, but that doesn’t really matter.
Vaguely, while slicing chillis and humming a tune that he forgot the words to somewhere during his first divorce proceedings, James thinks about the people he could call and invite to eat with him. House, of course, but he’s more manic than ever at the moment, the nearer the court hearing gets, and their relationship is more strained than ever. Cuddy, but she’s mostly in a bad mood, since she is probably getting fired tomorrow, and he can’t cope with her helplessness. Cameron has a husband of her own to eat with and he’s never really been all that close to Gilmar. He could ask Stacy, but they’ve drifted apart recently, and besides, he taught her how to make this dish, and he suspects she makes it better than he does.
Even if he knew where any of his ex-wives were, Rose, Julie and Elizabeth would rather eat their own arms than come to see him, and although he and Laura are *almost* amiable now, he could never call her and feed her her own curry recipe (she’d only pick holes in everything and then eat his serving too). There’s Robert, come to think of it, and James has dialled the first three numbers of the lawyer’s cellphone number before he remembers that he’s letting Robert go for his own good.
So he puts the phone back down and listens to his food sizzle and turns the heat on the rice down a little and resigns himself to eating more curry than the human system can handle.
Robert pushes pasta around his plate and looks at Petra through his fringe. She offered to buy him dinner and he was hardly going to refuse (she’s good company, and he often forgets to eat unless someone reminds him).
“You did good with Foreman,” he tells her. “We’re going to win this thing.”
“He didn’t do it for me,” Petra replies, and Robert wishes that he couldn’t see the devastation in her eyes. Instead, he takes a mouthful of pasta.
It’s really good and Petra’s paying, so he decides he should just appreciate it. At the moment he’s running himself ragged trying to make sure that House will win this case (the man himself isn’t helping, although that’s nothing new), as well as worrying about James, about Petra (who is, he can tell, rapidly falling for a guy who may or may not hurt her), about Stacy, and occasionally debating whether a one-way ticket to Australia would be just the thing to get rid of this constant migraine. But he hasn’t drunk a single drop of alcohol since his discussion with Stacy last week, and he won’t. It’s a slippery slope but if he stops now he won’t fall. And it’s vitally important to him that he *doesn’t* fall.
“You look tired,” Petra remarks thoughtfully, reaching over to tuck Robert’s hair behind his ear. Most of it spills back again (it’s not long enough to deal with yet) and she smiles slightly.
“I am tired,” he replies, “But it will all be over by next week. Thank God.”
“You’ve got to promise me you’ll still have time for me afterwards,” Petra says with a grin. They’ve got kind of attached to each other over the last couple of weeks, and she’s the best thing about this whole completely out-of-control situation.
“I’ll try,” he whispers, “But I’m thinking of going back to Australia after this is all over and done with.”
“You like running away, don’t you Robert?” Petra murmurs thoughtfully.
“I’m not running away, but it seems that everything I’ve done in America is just one big fucked-up mess,” Robert tells her. He deliberately leaves out the fact that everything he’s got-or had- in Oz is pretty fucked-up too. He doesn’t think about leaving, that last argument with his father, the last argument with his boyfriend at the time. A glass shattering on the wall next to his head and a scream of work out what you fucking *want* Robert, because I’m tired of trying to second-guess you. He’s still got a little scar on the heel of his right hand actually, because that wasn’t the only drinking glass that broke that day by a long shot.
There’s nothing in Australia for him either, but he can’t admit that to himself.
“You really need therapy,” Petra says thoughtfully, leaning over to steal a couple of pieces of penne from his plate. “And this is really good, so if you won’t eat it, I will.”
“Go ahead,” he murmurs, gesturing to the plate. Petra sighs, winding a strand of auburn hair around her fingers and looking at him critically.
“You want to get out of here?”
Robert gives her a grateful smile. “That’s the best thing anyone’s said to me all day.”
“So, the suicide thing’s going rather slowly,” House says thoughtfully, tapping his fingers against his knee while channel-surfing.
“I’m not trying to commit suicide,” Lisa replies, drinking her seventh mug of coffee.
“It takes ten grams of caffeine for the human body to fatally overdose,” House tells her, choosing a random channel and settling down to watch. “And it looks like you’re attempting to get there. But if you want to die slightly more quickly, I’ve got some sleeping pills in the bathroom cupboard.”
There’s a lot of things Lisa could say to that, all sorts of things she could snap and shout because she’s completely on edge, but instead all she says is: “Why?” House shifts uncomfortably in his chair, keeping his gaze on the TV.
“I went through a bad patch after Stacy left,” he admits quietly, awkwardly.
“You never said anything,” Lisa murmurs, turning to look at him. He resolutely avoids her gaze.
Lisa shifts so that she can curl up more on the sofa, hands trembling a little from her caffeine high. A year ago, it wasn’t like this. It wasn’t anything like this. House and Stacy were happily married (well, at least they were good at *pretending* to be happily married, which Lisa has learnt from Wilson is a little different, but it was a nice façade either way) and Wilson was much more stable and not a drug addict, and she was pretty contented too. And they all had jobs and there wasn’t any Foreman or any Vogler, and when she looked at House she didn’t *feel* the way she does now.
“You’re thinking too much.” House startles her out of her self-pitying reverie, having apparently walked up in front of her, and removing the mug from her hands. “No more coffee for you.” Lisa relinquishes the drink and sighs. Somehow, she’s sleeping on House’s couch again, and it isn’t any more comfortable than it used to be, and tomorrow she will officially become unemployed. Then there are another two days and it’s The Court Hearing. Life really isn’t looking up at the moment.
House makes his way to his kitchen and pours the coffee away, and then comes back and settles down beside her on the sofa, picking up the remote and choosing a new programme.
“Spongebob Squarepants?” Lisa asks incredulously. House rests his feet on the coffee table, comfortably slouching on the sofa beside her.
“If you don’t like it…” he murmurs, the rest of the sentence left to implication, and Lisa knows that she could go, except there isn’t really anywhere else she wants to be. Instead, she leans her head against House’s shoulder and wills herself to relax.
With all the caffeine in her system, Greg finds it almost unbelievable that Cuddy could actually fall asleep, but she’s peacefully passed-out on his shoulder, and although his arm is starting to kind of go to sleep, he doesn’t move and doesn’t push her off. She’s tired and she’s stressed, and he tries to remember what it was like being at home when he knew he was going to get fired. Mostly, he didn’t let it worry him. He just bit his lip and occasionally punched the shower wall (there’s a cracked tile there to testify), but other than that he was fine. He supposes it’s not like that for Cuddy. She actively *cares* about the job, about keeping it, and although she’s a good Oncologist, getting dumped doesn’t look good in Who’s Who. He’s an anarchist. He’ll get away with it. She won’t. She can’t.
Funny, at the time Greg was being kicked out of Hopkins for cheating off a dude called Weber-who was so *patently* going to screw-up that he really only had himself to blame for the whole, horrible mess- Lisa was in her first or second year, seemingly impossibly young without actually being young, curtains of dark curly hair and that smile that can still light up a room. He can’t remember how they became friends; surely it must have happened at some point before he got thrown out, but all he can remember is losing his temper at what had happened, and Lisa playing devil’s advocate and then taking him out to get drunk. It would have made sense, Greg reflects, to fall for her then, but he didn’t. Maybe he should have. Instead, he let their subtle flirtation become far too platonic.
Greg can’t work out why he’s thinking like this, except that it’s late, and he’s tired, and the smell of Cuddy’s shampoo seems to be taking over and shorting a few synapses in his brain. He can’t even remember meeting Wilson, except that he did, just before Jimmy got married to Wife Number One, a woman with painfully fluorescent hair and a tattoo of butterflies at the top of her inner right thigh. Greg only found this out when he slept with her two months before the divorce, but by then both she and Wilson had forgotten the fidelity part of the whole marriage thing anyway, so he doesn’t feel guilty. Yeah, it’s been him, Cuddy and Wilson for too many years now.
Sighing, Greg realises that he wants to go to bed because he’s tired, and if he lets Cuddy sleep on his shoulder all night, she’s going to wake up with one hell of a crick in her neck. For a minute or two, he debates what to do, and in the end shifts so that he can try and lie her down on the sofa. Cuddy wakes up, and looks at him with bleary eyes.
“I’m going to bed,” Greg says softly.
“All right,” she mumbles, eyes closing again, and Greg stops his hand before it reaches out to touch her hair because that’s a whole road he doesn’t want to- no, that’s not true, he *can’t*- go down right now.
James doesn’t sleep much. The pain in his thigh prevents it, and it’s been increasingly worse since he came off Vicodin. He knows, somewhere deep inside, that after a while, when he’s sure that his dependency won’t creep up on him again, he can start again on his three-a-day policy, stop working under the influence and so on. It doesn’t really matter any more. He’s unemployable and miserable and at some point he’s going to have to figure out a few more things and take responsibility for himself. He’s already hit rock bottom and House rescued him from that, but there’s only so high up he can climb if he’s going to keep hiding behind his drug addiction and injured thigh.
That thought’s been going around his head more and more often the last couple of days, because House shouted it at him the other night. It seems like at the moment he and House do nothing *but* argue. He lets his friend get away with this far too much, but it’s cheaper than therapy (at least in monetary terms. In emotional health he’s probably got a *huge* overdraft, but he’ll deal with that at another point).
It’s four a.m and James is wide, wide awake, lying on his sofa, sipping herbal tea because the packet said it’d be good for pain (it isn’t. It really fucking isn’t) and trying to work out if maybe he could blackmail someone into repainting his ceiling. The white colour is boring him. The fingers of one hand tap out a rhythm on his uninjured thigh, unconsciously playing his part of a piano duet House forced him into learning years ago. He’s never forgotten it, although they’ve never played it together, and he wonders what that says about their relationship.
“There’s only so high you can climb if you’re going to keep hiding behind your drug addiction and injured thigh!”
“I’m not hiding behind anything!”
“Yes, you are. You’re *more* than the infarction, James.”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong, Greg. I’m not.”
“If you would just stop feeling sorry for yourself for five minutes-”
“You’re not my priest, you’re not my father, you’re not my therapist, and you’re certainly not my wife, so tell me why I should listen to you.”
“Because, right now, I’m all you’ve fucking got. Maybe you should consider that from time to time.”
James bites his lips together and tries again to get some sleep through the pain of his aching body and the buzzing of too many thoughts in his head.
Lisa wakes up to House playing a very quiet piano version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, so slow it’s not really even vaguely like the original; it just has the same lyrics. She’s got a headache and she’s cranky for reasons she can’t even remember, but right now she doesn’t want to talk to House. She doesn’t want to talk to *anyone*.
“Morning,” House says casually, “There isn’t any coffee, but you can have a cup of hot water if you hurry.”
“There’s plenty of coffee,” she grinds out, sitting up and shaking slightly because she hates the feeling of having slept in her clothes. Her neck aches.
“I don’t think you should have any more,” House replies carefully. “Go and have a shower.”
“What time is it?” she croaks.
“It’s still early, you won’t be late,” House replies, avoiding her gaze, fingers still playing the piano although Lisa can’t hear the tune any more. “Don’t know why you want to be on time. You’re getting fired today.”
“I want to be on time for reasons you’ll never understand,” she murmurs, getting to her feet and heading for the bathroom. She hears House start playing louder behind her, and shakes her head, because she can’t even work out why she feels this frustrated.
Robert spends time looking through his closet looking for the most vile tie and shirt combination he can come up with. In his current frame of mind, House’s abuse will be more amusing than anything else, and he can take it. There’s a strongly masochistic side to him that he pretends isn’t there, but it rears its ugly head from time to time. And if trying to get House to beat his current record of seventeen offensive one-liners in a row is the best way to amuse himself today, then so be it.
Katrina’s in his office when he gets there, blonde hair pooling around her shoulders. The collar of her shirt is open slightly, revealing a couple of reddish, healing burns on her chest.
“What can I do for you?” he asks, watching her wince at his tie but being tactful enough not to mention it.
“Uh… I was looking for the file on the Summerson case we had last year,” she replies.
“Is it opening up again?”
“Looks like it.” Katrina winces, and Robert picks out the manila file for her and hands it over.
“So, what is it about burning?” he asks, before he can stop himself.
“It gets me off,” she replies frankly, smiling slightly. “You should give it a go some time.”
She pats him on the cheek before turning to go and greeting House as she walks by. Robert wasn’t even aware that he was there.
“Wouldn’t have tortured you if I knew you liked it,” he says.
“What, I don’t even get a ‘hello’ any more?” Robert asks, gesturing for House to come in and carefully shutting the door behind him.
“I’m running out of nicknames,” House confesses.
“Oh come on, I’m in your life for three more days,” Robert smirks, “I’m sure you can come up with a *wealth* of material.”
House gestures at his shirt and tie. “You’re trying too hard today, blondie. What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Robert replies shortly.
“You’re a terrible liar, you know,” House remarks, reaching into his jacket pocket and producing one of his ever-present lollipops, unwrapping it and popping it into his mouth. “Fine, don’t tell me. This deep and meaningful relationship we’ve been developing-”
“It’s not deep, it’s not meaningful, we haven’t been developing *anything* and we don’t actually have a relationship in anywhere but your sadly deluded fantasies,” Robert tells him shortly, turning his computer on and wishing he had coffee.
“Oh, I’m *wounded*,” House mutters. “What, you’re not even going to miss me in the slightest when I go?”
“No!” It comes out more harshly than Robert intended (and he also sounds a little like he’s surprised that House even asked) but he can’t figure out if he can take it back, so he shrugs and logs on his computer, ignoring the bad feeling in the room.
Lisa’s eyes are itching and her shoes are making her feet hurt and there’s still some caffeine trailing tiredly around in her system but it’s not making her feel any more awake and she’s feeling completely *murderous* right now, angry and on the edge of tears, and it must show on her face because everyone steps out of her way as she makes her way to her office. Vogler would like you to resign, with grace, by the end of next week, or he will be forced to fire you. Bile rises in her throat and Lisa forces herself to calm down, because she *will* go down gracefully with this ship, if only because she ran out of options a very long time ago.
James hasn’t slept and in spite of a long, long shower he’s still not feeling particularly good mood. Lack of sleep is making the withdrawal feel worse and he wonders if it would just be quicker to get in his car, drive to Princeton General, get himself some Vicodin and get rid of this goddamn pain for a while. But he made a promise to House. And that’s the thing. He may not keep the promises he makes to himself (which are numerous and he keeps snapping them) but he’ll keep the ones he makes to Greg. James makes so very few of them that it would be almost rude not to.
Everyone, as far as Greg can tell, is angry today. Chase is bad-tempered, Stacy is scowling as she delivers in morning coffee, Cuddy was on the verge of slamming doors as she went around his apartment getting dressed (although Greg suspects he knows why she’s fuming more than she does), and he reckons that Wilson and Gilmar are probably equally grumpy, if he could see them. Not Cameron though. Our Lady of Perpetual Cheerfulness is Allison. It always used to drive Greg mad. Funny, he kind of misses her now. But he doesn’t allow himself to think about that as Chase carefully guides him through the final bits of the court proceedings so that he’ll be completely prepared.
“Do I have witnesses and things?” Greg asks without much hope.
“Yes; two,” Chase replies, not looking away from his computer screen.
“Who?” Greg enquires curiously.
“Wait and see,” Chase mumbles. “I’m not going to tell you, so that you can’t possibly piss them off over the next two days and change their minds.” The boy really is starting to know him better than Greg wants to admit, so he feigns offence and gets started on another lollipop, avoiding winding Chase up too much because he gets the feeling it’s the kind of day on which one too many remarks could make the lawyer refuse to continue with his case, and the last thing Greg needs is to wind up without an attorney.
“Are you going to tell me what’s got up your ass yet?” he whines after about ten minutes of silence. Robert opens his mouth and Greg can already see his lips forming the first syllable of ‘fuck off’ when he bites them together.
“House,” he enunciates carefully, “You’re not my friend. You’re not a therapist or a lover or even a vague acquaintance, not really. I don’t like you, and you don’t like me. We only have to put up with each other for three more days. I am going to win this case for you, and then I am going home, and we will never have to meet ever, ever again.”
“And by home, I presume you don’t mean the probably crappy apartment where you lie around crying because daddy didn’t buy you a large enough Porsche for your birthday.” Chase winces, and Greg nearly apologises. His dad died a little while ago, after all. Probably recent enough to still hurt. “Running away to Australia won’t solve any of your problems. It’s just plain cowardice.”
Greg thinks that Chase would probably have hit him if Human-Torch-woman hadn’t chosen this exact moment to come in.
“Thanks Robert,” she smiles, laying a file down on the desk. “I suggest one or other of you take a coffee break before there’s a homicide.”
Chase doesn’t smile and Greg mentally sighs because things just keep getting more and more pointlessly complicated.
“I hate hospitals,” Lisa mutters, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes.
“You work in one.” She turns around at the sound of Foreman’s voice. She hasn’t heard him come in.
“I know.” A sigh escapes her before she can stop it. “I’m not resigning.”
“I’m not asking you to.”
Foreman echoes her sigh and sits down on the chair on the other side of her desk. He looks haggard and exhausted, running a hand over his face.
“You’re going to be on paid leave, starting immediately, over the next three days,” he tells her.
“And then?” Lisa asks, completely nonplussed by this new development.
“And then the entire thing will cease to matter,” Foreman finishes.
“*Why*?” Lisa is even more confused now. Foreman manages to look up and meet her eyes and she hasn’t seen despair and misery like that in anyone’s eyes except James’.
“Everything.” Foreman gets to his feet, tells her she really, really has to go, and Lisa almost pities him. Not quite, but *almost*.
“Hey Stacy,” James says softly. “Is House here?”
“When isn’t he?” she replies with a slight smile, bending to kiss his cheek in greeting. “You’re looking good James.” She brushes his fringe off his face with one hand. “Really good.” James feels himself blush.
“Thank you,” he mumbles.
“You want me to go and get Greg for you?” Stacy enquires.
“No, it’s ok, let him finish up his meeting,” James replies, perching on the edge of Stacy’s desk.
“Ok, let me rephrase that,” Stacy smirks, “*Please* let me go and get Greg for you. The shouting and then long periods of deadly silence are giving me a headache.”
“I can understand that,” James smirks. “It’s not really important. I just need to apologise to him.”
“That’s a new one,” Stacy replies.
James smiles, reluctant to tell her just how rocky his friendship with House is. The way it trembles and shakes and they argue constantly. The strain is killing them both but they’re more tied together than either one of them could ever really admit, and James owes House so damn much. More than he can ever confess, even to himself.
Robert makes House promise that he’ll have a tie on the date of the court hearing, that he’ll eat something and get some sleep and that Cuddy will keep an eye on him.
“Yes, mom,” House mutters, shrugging into his jacket. “You could follow your own advice you know.”
“Point taken,” Robert mumbles, following the other man out of his office, brushing blonde hair out of his sleepy eyes and wondering if he can get away with an early lunch break. Instead, he sees James sitting on Stacy’s desk and laughing over something with her, and it makes his blood run cold. When he’s expecting James to be there, it doesn’t hurt. He clears his mind and concentrates on anything, *anything* else. But when it’s unexpected, it always freezes him when he thinks about how completely *beautiful* James is. And he’s looking so much better than he was before, filling out a little, not nearly so pale, seeming much more vivid and cheerful with an almost-genuine smile on his face, no stubble, and a haircut.
“What’s up, Jimmy?” House asks tersely.
“I came to apologise,” James replies. “You were right and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”
“You dragged yourself all the way down here to tell me that?”
“Not like I had anything else to do. As you might have gathered, being unemployable gives you plenty of free time,” James says, but his eyes are firmly connected with House’s and there’s another conversation going on that no one else can hear. Robert is inescapably jealous for a moment and then clears his mind.
“I’m gonna take Cuddy out for a ‘woo, you got fired too’ pizza,” House tells James. “Wanna come along?”
“Yeah, I’ll meet you at the restaurant,” James replies. “I’ve got a couple of things to sort out.”
“Don’t let me interrupt your time with Marissa,” House replies with a smirk. “Oh, hey, looks like I haven’t quite run out of nicknames.” Alcoholic character from The O.C. You know House; you’re not making this easy, Robert thinks. Outwardly, he just says:
“You want to go in my office?”
“Yeah.” James gives him a tight little smile and follows him inside.
Robert’s fingers are twisting awkwardly and James can immediately tell that he feels about as cheerful as he does today.
“You will make sure House has a tie and turns up, won’t you?” Robert says eventually, fleetingly meeting his gaze through a curtain of hair and then looking away again. There’s a draining pause.
James feels dizzy and a little nauseous and before he knows it, his fingers are tangled in Robert’s hair and he’s kissing him, hearing his cane clattering to the ground, trying not to think about it. Trying not to think about anything but Robert and the way he tastes, his lips moving against James’, his eyes fluttering closed. Because for one minute, one perfect, endless minute, it almost feels like this could work. Maybe Robert feels him hesitate, but he pulls back gently, biting his lower lip.
“I wish you’d stop drawing the lines and then erasing them,” he murmurs bitterly, pushing James away from him with more care than James would expect.
“I’m sorry, Robert,” James tells him.
“Don’t.” Robert’s head snaps up and there are a dozen emotions in those blue eyes. “Don’t do this to me. Don’t give me the speech and don’t tell me that you like me as a friend but that you won’t-can’t- do anything else. I know. But you can’t mess me around, you can’t kiss me and think I’ll be ok with that. I’m not, and I know how you feel, because you’ve made that perfectly clear, so, please, just… don’t.”
“Robert, it’s not just that-”
“Seriously. Don’t.” Robert is angrier than James has ever seen him, and there isn’t any grief in his expression today. “I understand perfectly, and at some point I’ll come to terms with that. All right? Don’t make it worse.”
James is starting to feel physically sick because this is, really, the last thing that he wants to be doing. But he also can’t drag Robert into the fucked-up mess that is his life because it isn’t fair on either of them. He can’t subject Robert to the constant pain and his screwed-up body and his cranky days when all he wants to do is sit around in misery or shout at people. And he can’t face the prospect of making Robert leave. He’s done that to everyone in his life at one point or another (same way House has, he’s just a little more subtle about it), and although some people have managed to forgive him, a lot more haven’t.
“James…” Robert sounds completely helpless and he’s not looking at him.
“What, are you going to tell me that you can’t get me out of your mind?” James lashes out before he can stop himself. He doesn’t mean the words and they don’t sound right coming from him, but either Robert doesn’t notice or he doesn’t care.
“Maybe I can’t,” Robert replies, in a so what are you going to do about it kind of tone. “I’ll get over it. I’ll get over you. So stop acting like I’m going to jump on you every time we’re in the same room, don’t jump on me, and soon enough you’ll never have to see me again.”
James doesn’t mention, even to himself, how much that idea hurts, but if Robert is convinced he can get over him so quickly, then he’ll work out some way to get over Robert equally fast. Some part of him wants Robert to fight, to try one more time, to give him a reason to crack down these walls it’s taken five years to build, but the blonde man just shakes his head.
“I’m going to lunch,” he mutters. “Goodbye James.”
Two days later
Robert lets out a sigh of relief between his teeth. House looks passable (Robert reckons Cuddy dressed him for today). He’s clean-shaven, wearing a suit that seems to fit and features a shirt, and a tie in a very nice shade of blue that Robert presumes James must have leant him.
“It itches,” House whines, running a finger uncomfortably around the white collar of his shirt (probably another loan) and reaching up to ruffle his hair. Robert smacks his hand away.
“I don’t care if your skin is falling off in clumps, you are not touching that suit,” he says. House pouts at him. “Fine. Lose your medical license. See if I care. I’m sure you’ll find another career. There are hundreds available for convicted sex addicts. Whoops, did I say that out loud?”
Robert is almost relieved to be able to snipe at House. It lessens the anxiety wracking his body.
“Stop trying to be me,” House mumbles, obediently following Robert to their courtroom. They pause at the door. “Ready to bring Vogler down?” he asks.
“I’m still not starting a personal vendetta for you,” Robert tells him without much conviction.
“And you still don’t look like Natalie Portman,” House replies. They smirk, almost involuntarily, at each other, and then walk in.
Because it’s a sexual harassment case and it would be somewhat embarrassing and uncomfortable for the victim if it had actually *happened*, spectators aren’t allowed into the courtroom. But that doesn’t stop Petra, Wilson, Cuddy and Stacy from sitting around outside in the corridor, drinking cheap coffee and wondering if it’s going to turn out all right. They’ve all dressed up a little, clearly wanting to make a good impression, and Petra gnaws at her fingernails, red hair unfolding its way out of her bun.
“It’s going to be all right, isn’t it?” Wilson asks eventually.
“Robert’s a good lawyer,” Stacy says, “In spite of everything else, he’s a good lawyer.”
“And he’s got good witnesses,” Petra adds. “Allison’s testifying as a character witness and Foreman’s hopefully going to tell the truth…”
The other three look at her.
“You got Foreman to testify?” Cuddy asks in a hushed voice.
“No.” Petra feels slightly sick when she thinks about it. “He didn’t do it for me.”
“Who are you kidding,” mutters Wilson, but he smiles anyway. “Nice one.”
Eric Foreman straightens his tie for about the twentieth time in five minutes, clears his throat, and paces. He feels even more nervous when he looks at Allison Cameron, who is sipping a cup of coffee and looking as peaceful as it’s possible to look. Neat, tidy, pretty, completely calm. She’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Eric smirks mirthlessly. He’s got everything to lose. His job, his money, his family. Petra.
Eric is a lot of things but he isn’t stupid. He knows exactly how close Petra and House were before he fired the older doctor. When House gets his job back and Foreman is kicked out of the medical community in disgrace he knows exactly who Petra will choose. She’s pretty. She’s smart. She can stand up to almost any amount of abuse. The perfect companion for the misanthropic genius. Eric digs his fingernails into the palms of his hands. Blackmailing her into sleeping with him probably wasn’t the best foot to get a relationship off on, but he’s wanted Petra for longer than he cares to think about and by then he was willing to try anything.
From time to time he starts to think she might be starting to *not* hate him- there are little smiles she gives him, a light in her eyes- but then at other times she’ll be cold, distant, probably using him as much as she thinks he’s using her. Eric’s not stupid and he’s also not a gambler. He was never going to tell her how much she meant to him unless she gave him some kind of sign that she might actually be coming around to care for him. And she doesn’t. He sighs slowly, runs a hand over his face. This is the perfect selfless act; saving everyone but him. Besides, at least Petra will be happy.
With that knowledge in mind, Eric sits down in a chair and waits for his time to testify in dignified, confident silence, trying not to think of how much it will hurt to lose her.
Greg is a little bit anxious but he’s trying not to show it. He’s also rather impressed. Chase has suddenly come over completely competent. He’s not at all like the easily-wound-up little blonde guy that House spent hours mercilessly mocking and getting drunk and so on and so on. A calm has suddenly come over that unnaturally pretty face and when he speaks there’s some kind of inner gravitas that Greg *almost*, *almost* admires. He’s also, beneath the anxiety and the “hey, Robert Chase is a good lawyer? When did that happen? Did I bin the memo again?” kind of feelings, he’s also *bored*. He can’t help it. It’s exactly the same reason he didn’t really pay much attention to Ally McBeal and Judging Amy. There’s only so long legal battles can be entertaining.
Chase, with the air of a patient parent who knows their child will misbehave no matter how many times they beg them not to, had calmly turned out his pockets earlier on and taken away all the candy Greg had stowed away for this very eventuality. He pouts and worms one hand in and out of his pockets, but there’s absolutely nothing in there and Chase is still babbling away about “my client” and so on, while the nurse he supposedly did the dirty to looks suitably upset with blonde hair that isn’t natural everywhere. There’s a rather lovely and convincing throb of emotion in her voice when she talks, like she’s traumatised, and Greg might allow himself to worry that he was going to lose if it weren’t for the fact that Mr Super Lawyer seems to be rather confident. It’s a strange look on Chase’s normally rather sulky face, so Greg shrugs and behaves himself, just to complete the Bizarro World kind of image.
Greg shifts restlessly and becomes aware that they’re calling in his first witness. He isn’t at all surprised to see it’s Mrs All American Girl-stroke-Woman, Allison Cameron, brown hair tumbling around her shoulders, neat power suit that makes her look both vulnerable and yet oddly powerful. She offers him a brief smile, those baby blues twinkling in a way that only Cameron can manage, that endless optimism, and swears she’ll tell the truth to the judge and the lawyers they’ve got. And then, in the sugar-sweet wide-eyed innocent adorable way that she has, proceeds to lie through her pearly white teeth.
Wilson is eating candy canes and Lisa smirks at the irony. If she were House, she would make a comment on it. As she is not House, she merely gives him a look that says if I were House, I would be making a comment on this right now. Wilson simply smirks and hands one of the candy canes to her. It isn’t Christmas, and although he looks fairly stable and happy to Lisa, she also knows that James only binges on candy when he’s miserable. She feels she ought to mention this to him, but instead unwraps the plastic from the sweet and slide the end into her mouth. It’s blissfully minty and in a few moments she’s breathing practically mentholated breaths, which are doing a marvellous job of removing the agony of the morning.
And agony is exactly the right word. Getting Gregory House to get up, shower, shave, comb his hair and put on neatly ironed clothes that didn’t have some kind of slogan and/or band logo on them was not an easy task, and one she never wants to relive. It’s worse than having a child sometimes. As for the half-hour battle of The Tie… Lisa knows she’ll have nightmares, and the resigned look on Wilson’s face says that he knows he’ll never see that rather lovely blue tie again.
“It was a present from Rose,” James says thoughtfully, and it actually scares Lisa that they were thinking exactly the same thing. Stacy and Petra both look lost, but then they’ve been thrown out of House’s personal circle of destructiveness (yes, that is its official name) and wouldn’t have the telepathic link it’s sometimes necessary to generate.
“High time you got rid of it then,” Lisa replies, pulling the candy cane out of her mouth and feeling sticky. She had never liked Rose.
“Am I ever going to pick a wife you *like*?” James asks with a smirk, leaning close to her so that it’s an intimate whisper.
“I quite liked Laura,” Lisa replies evasively. Wilson just *looks* at her. “The thing is, James, you have a dreadful taste in women, and an even worse one when it comes to proposing to them, so really, what can I say? You *never learn*. And it’s very adorable and what we all love about you, but it does provide a small blight on your marriages.”
“You could have mentioned this before,” he mutters, but there’s a smile on his face.
“House and I thought you might learn your lesson after Julie.”
“Some friends you are,” James whispers, but his smile is widening as he unwraps another candy cane. Lisa smiles back and then concentrates on mentally willing House’s case to be successful.
Cameron lays it on just thick enough, batting those eyelashes in a deceptively manipulative way that Greg didn’t think she could. Her performance is perfect, as he knew it would be; Allison has to believe some of what she’s spouting or the whole act would be ruined. Still: they could put her on *Broadway*. She’s *that* good. Extolling his virtues as a doctor, an employer, a person, and a friend. And the lies are *breathtakingly* good. Greg is half-convinced that he’s an actual decent person, just from listening to her. From the way she’s going on about him, he fully expects himself to find a cure for cancer next week, or cure leprosy though a touch. He must try that sometime.
When she’s finished her little routine, Cameron leaves the courtroom in a click of heels, looking marvellously pleased with herself. When she wants to, as Greg damn well knows, Allison can have the world eating out of the palm of her hand. He resists the urge to applaud. Chase is leaning back in his seat, fiddling with a pen, but he doesn’t look too anxious. The people on the other side of the room, however, do. Greg isn’t actually sure how Chase, Cameron and Cuddy between them have managed to make him court-friendly. They deserve medals.
“When’s the commercial break?” he whispers in Chase’s ear.
“There isn’t one,” Chase replies softly, but he doesn’t sound quite as long-suffering as normal. Mr Super Competent Lawyer obviously has more patience.
“What, not even a word from our sponsor?”
“We don’t have a sponsor,” Chase mutters back. “We’re not a TV show.”
“Are you sure?”
Chase goes back to ignoring him, because it is apparently time for Greg’s second witness. He glances back, expecting Cuddy or Gilmar or something. He’s not expecting Eric Foreman, in a suit so sharp it’s making the *air* bleed, to stride in.
“You got Doctor Doom involved?” he asks incredulously.
“Yes, Mr Fantastic, I did,” Chase mutters back with a painfully sarcastic edge. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“Only if you won’t be the Invisible Woman. I like the idea of calling you Sue.”
Chase tuts and for one perfect moment he’s almost available for teasing, but Greg knows that that would be a *bad* idea, so instead he sits quietly and watches with mild interest for what will happen next. For a while, it’s simple questions, and then, of course, Foreman has to break the cosy atmosphere in the room.
“My uncle, Edward Vogler, and I paid this nurse, Ms Jenna Goldman, to testify that Gregory House had sexually harassed her.”
The judge is asking more questions, Ms Goldman is practically wetting herself, but all Greg can think is Holy shit. I think I just got my job back.
Petra knows that she’s lost him. Knows that without even really having to think about it. She feels sick. Eric will forever, forever associate her with him losing everything, and he won’t care any more. Besides, if he’s not blackmailing her, what reason is there for them to be together?
Wilson, Cuddy, Allison and Stacy have begun discreetly glancing at their watches and wondering exactly what’s going on in there, playing with their fingernails, their hair, and their cane respectively. Petra’s ears are ringing and there’s anxiety seventy leagues deep inside her. She twists a lock of red hair around her finger where it’s worked its way out of her bun, the loose tendril tickling her cheek. Her head is pounding. Migraine City can only be around the corner.
“I know life when I’m not around is cold and empty, but there really is no need to look quite so devastated,” a cheerful voice announces. They all turn. House has already disposed of his tie (out of the corner of her eye, Petra notices Wilson wincing), untucked his shirt, and unbuttoned the top few buttons of it. His hair has ruffled itself and Petra *swears* she can see stubble growing.
“Well?” asks Wilson bluntly.
“Turns out your pretty little boy’s quite a good lawyer,” House replies, throwing the remark at both Stacy and Wilson. “So it looks like I’ll have to start going back to work. And Vogler’s reign of terror is over and done with, so it looks like you all will too.”
“And Foreman?” asks Cuddy, on Petra’s behalf, with a quick glance at her.
“He needs a lawyer,” House shrugs. Stacy bites her lip.
“I’ll represent him. We can spin it all in Vogler’s direction, get him off,” she says.
“And why would you want to do that?” asks House, looking hard at his ex-wife.
“I’m a lawyer. And a good one,” she responds. “And you owe him one.”
“No I don’t! I don’t even know why he testified. It was all the fault of Batgirl back there,” House responds, jerking his head back in the direction of the courtroom.
“And where *is* my ‘pretty little boy’?” Stacy asks dryly. House actually frowns at that.
“I have no idea.”
Robert isn’t sure whether House would want to thank him or not, so he makes his way quickly out of the courthouse before he can find out, head down and shiny, shiny shoes clicking slightly on the floor. People are milling about downstairs, but he swiftly leaves and heads down the street, not even caring how much of a paycheque he’ll get for this. He aches all over and he’s got a headache, and as usual after a trial, the adrenaline rush has worn off and left him feeling weak and tired and pretty unstable, hot tears building up behind his eyes. He pulls his tie off one-handed, shoves it into his suit jacket pocket and opens the top button of his shirt.
It looks like everyone has got what they want (except him of course because he never does), which he knows he’ll be glad about eventually, but right now all he wants to do is go home and sleep for a hundred years. He’s got House out of his life and he knows he should be grateful for that, except that he knows he’ll miss the misanthropic older man, even though he isn’t sure why. James- well, he lost him a long time ago, and now he won’t have to keep reminding himself of that fact. Maybe that plane ticket to Australia isn’t such a bad idea.
“Robert!” The shout makes him turn and he sees Petra walking after him in her highly unsuitable shoes- they must be agony to wear, and he half-winces in sympathy. She’s undone her hair from the tight bun she wore it in and it’s blowing in the wind, and Robert makes the decision then and there that he has to grow his hair again, he misses the length. Although he knows he can walk away, he doesn’t.
“Petra,” he says quietly, as she catches up with him.
“Where are you going?” she asks. “Even House wants to thank you, and you know that’s completely weird, and Vogler is in big trouble, but we think we might be able to get Eric off, and I reckon we might be able to get Lisa in as the next dean of medicine, which will be great, and of course everyone’s re-hired, so I think there will be about three days worth of celebration, House was making noises about cutting open the fatted calf or whatever that quote is and stuff, and if you want to come everyone loves you so much you can drink vodka shots off *anyone’s* stomach you like, only you don’t drink, do you.” She pauses for breath, obviously noticing how exhausted he is. She bites her lip. “Forget everything I just said. Want to go and get some dinner somewhere?”
Robert looks at her, trying to process her excited speech, wishing his whole body wouldn’t feel like lead, and smiles slightly. Maybe tomorrow he can start packing.
I’m most of the way through part eight, I just need to get it edited and beta-ed and so on, and just as a heads-up, it’s not going to contain any form of smut because I can’t write it. If anyone wants to write it themselves