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The tow truck was gone by the time Tosh made it into the car park. Even worse, she found no signs indicating parking restrictions where they’d left the car. While this probably meant they wouldn’t need to pay any fines, it also meant she had no clue who had taken the car or why they’d done so.
Back in the lobby, the receptionist was less than helpful. “We didn’t report any parking violations,” he kept repeating, until Tosh finally found a phone book and went through the listings herself.
She was well into the book when a male voice said, “Hello” from beside her. She looked up to see a smiling young man in a business suit. For a moment, her mind blanked; if she’d been asked to describe a tall, dark and handsome stranger, she would’ve described him. He had close-cropped, jet black hair with prominent sideburns, but his eyes were clear light blue, pale enough to be grey. His face was rugged, but his smile was so earnest he appeared almost boyish, and his cheeks were a little flushed, as though he had just rushed in from another appointment. And, of course, he was tall--over six feet.
“Uh, hi,” she stammered, “I’m sorry, are you lost?” He didn’t look like a patient, and he wasn’t dressed as a doctor or nurse.
“I’m afraid I need the phone book; I wasn’t going to say anything, but you were taking a while.”
“I’m so sorry!” In her rush, Tosh ended up flinging the book at him. “I’m so sorry!” she said again.
He laughed. “Not a problem, I just need to return to work. I was visiting my aunt, see, she had a stroke last weekend. Oh, name’s Montgomery Pike, by the way, but people call me Monty.”
Tosh shook his hand. “Toshiko Sato.” The man looked familiar--and it wasn’t just her imagination--but he had an American accent, likely native to New Jersey, so she couldn’t have met him before. “Looking for a cab, then?”
He shook his head. “No, some idiot towed my car, and nobody here seems to know what’s going on.”
“My car got towed too!” Tosh exclaimed.
Monty’s grin grew wider. “What a coincidence.” He set the book aside and pulled out his cell. “Tell you what, probably same company that towed it, I’ll have my secretary call around and check for us.”
“You have a secretary?”
“Doesn’t everyone these days?”
Tosh wasn’t sure if he was being elitist or deflecting attention from a potentially uncomfortable topic. In either case, she moved to the doorway to give him some privacy as he made the call. Outside, the sun was down, but the sky was still lit cerulean by rays from beyond the horizon.
Monty appeared beside her and snapped his phone shut. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Makes me proud to serve this state.” He glanced over at Tosh. “I’m an aide to the governor of New Jersey; that’s why I have a secretary. I didn’t want to say because it’d sound like I was bragging, but you don’t seem the sort to jump to conclusions. They’ve called us a cab; we should know who took our cars soon enough.”
House’s announcement that he'd take Gwen's case had been met with varied--though predominately positive--reactions. Cameron had been brimming self-satisfaction, the froggish member of the patient's posse had displayed a mixture of relief and apprehension, and the man named Jack Harkness had grinned, invaded his personal space by clapping him heavily on the back, and led him rather forcefully from the room. He evidently wanted to speak privately with him.
"Hey, hey, if I wanted sexual favors in return for my services, I'd ask!” House protested. “No need to get intimate!"
Harkness barked out a laugh that House decided was a pretty good fake--good enough that anyone else may have thought him to be genuinely amused, but House, who was a naturally suspicious person, was not fooled. The man was up to something.
Harkness navigated them into a secluded area and turned suddenly serious.
"First," he began before House could produce another sarcastic remark, "I want to thank you for taking Gwen's case. I’ve heard you’re the best doctor around, and Gwen’s very important to all of us." House didn't bother feeling flattered.
"Quit beating around the bush and get to the point," he interrupted. Harkness gave him a put-out look.
"Right. Well, I’m going to need all of her medical files when you're done," he said.
House snorted disdainfully. "If you want copies of files, I’m definitely not the one to go to."
"You misunderstand; I don't want copies, I want the actual files. All of them."
"Yeah, right. Over Cuddy's dead body."
"I'd actually prefer not to involve your boss at all. Technically, the files are under your control right now. I just don't want them to ever return to the filing cabinets."
House rolled his eyes. "Look, mister--"
"That's Captain," Harkness interrupted.
"I don't care if you're the Prime Minister," House snapped. "There is absolutely no chance I'm going to steal files for you."
"I can pay you," Harkness tried.
"You can't pay me enough," House countered.
"I can pay more than you think."
"I'm a doctor! I don't need money, you pompous fool!"
"Well, what do you need, then?" Harkness shouted, frustrated.
"A new leg!" House shouted back. There was silence. Harkness appeared to be thinking. House raised an eyebrow at him.
"A prosthetic?" he ventured, cautiously.
"God no. No one’s cutting off my leg." There was another pause.
"No, no... I don't think we could do anything, really,” Jack said to himself. “I'll have to ask Ianto, though.” He refocused on House. “Is there anything else?" House stared at him.
"No," he said, then turned decisively and began to walk away. Harkness grabbed his arm in an abortive move.
"This is of the utmost importance! Do I have to resort to petty threats?"
House let out a humorless laugh. "What could you possibly do to me? How much worse could you make my existence? I’m in chronic and excruciating pain, I’m forced to deal with pushy idiots like you on a daily basis, and I haven't gotten laid in over a year."
"This is important," Harkness insisted.
"Oh yeah? If you really want to convince me to steal your friend's files, why don't you just tell me why it's so ‘important’?” House challenged. “I admit I’m a little curious.”
"I can't do that."
"Then too bad!" He shook off Jack's hand and left.
"Damn it," Jack said, with feeling.
It was early in the night for James Wilson, but all his work for the day was done, so he was locking up when House stalked by with the man named Jack Harkness. The two were arguing, or at least, their voices were raised and with House around, a quarrel was a safe bet.
He should have known better than to follow. He really should’ve known better, but he was always curious when he saw House with someone who wasn’t a doctor. Of course, deep down, he knew there was only one reason for House to consort with people he despised--Wilson preferred not to consider what it meant for him that House was taking this particular case--but then again, watching Harkness flirt with House could be an interesting experience too.
“Then too bad!” House roared and left.
Damn it was right. House could move fast for a cripple. And now…
Jack turned around and his expression brightened. “Oh, hey, it’s you again!”
“I don’t suppose you’re here to take me up on my offer?”
Wilson raised his voice. “Actually, I was kind of hoping to have a word with DOCTOR HOUSE BEFORE HE LEFT FOR THE EVENING!” House didn’t even slow down. Bastard. The elevator doors closed and it was just him and Harkness. In an empty hallway. At night.
“He must have selective deafness,” Harkness said. “Is that a medical or a psychological condition, Dr. Wilson?”
“Everything’s psychological with House,” Wilson muttered.
“Have you had dinner yet?”
“No, I--” Oh hell.
“Great!” Harkness grabbed his hand and started dragging him along. “You can show me some of the nearby restaurants; don’t worry, tab’s on me.” Suddenly, Harkness stopped and let go. He put his hand to his chin and looked thoughtful. Wilson flew past him, skidding to a stop, and as he passed Harkness, he was pretty sure his hand accidentally touched somewhere inappropriate, but the man didn’t react. “That’s rude of me. Ianto always says I’m too impulsive. I’m sorry, Dr. Wilson, do you have any prior engagements? I understand if you just want to go home after a long day at work.”
“Well, it’s been a stressful day,” he started. Harkness made some sympathetic noises that sounded genuine. Things were going well. Then habit kicked in. “It’s fine, I can show you around.”
“No one waiting for you back home?” Jack looked much too interested.
“Well, no. My wife and I got divorced last year.”
“I’m terribly sorry. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to divorce you.”
Wilson wasn’t sure what that implied, so he decided to stay silent. They arrived at the elevators and Wilson hit the down button.
“So your lunch companion is Dr. House?”
Wilson hit the button again. “What makes you think that?”
“I’ve seen the way you look at him.”
“In horrible, agonizing annoyance?” He jabbed the button once more for good measure. Damn elevator. Damn House.
“He’s got to be amazing in bed; only way anyone would put up with him.”
Damn Harkness. “I’m not sleeping with him. I’ve been married! Three times!”
Harkness chuckled. “You people and your quaint little categories.”
“You’re American too! The British don’t know everything.” Oh great, now he sounded like House. Maybe House was right; everyone was one bad day away from becoming him. What a terrifying thought.
“That’s not what I meant.”
The elevator finally arrived and they stepped in. Then the doors closed and Wilson realized this was even worse, because now Harkness was right beside him even though there was enough room for seven people to stand without touching. Harkness glanced over at him and smiled. “Are you going to choose a floor or should we just stay here all night?”
Wilson leapt forward, pressed the ground floor button, and retreated to the other end of the elevator. “Uh, so, what brings you to the States, Captain Harkness?”
“Call me Jack, I insist. And just work.”
“Strange line of work bringing you into a hospital... Jack. I’ve spoken to Cuddy, and she isn’t expecting you. What are you doing here?”
“That was after she arrived.”
“Who says our business is with Cuddy?” Harkness looked uncomfortable. Finally.
“Now you sound like you’re a hit man.”
Harkness burst out laughing. “No, our business is to save lives.”
“Give me a kiss.”
“It’s only fair: you give me a kiss, I give you the truth.”
“I’m not kissing you.”
“Why? You don’t find me attractive?”
Wilson moved in front of the emergency stop button in case Harkness had any designs on it. Pushing it to trap them together seemed the sort of action House might take--that is, if Wilson had ever contemplated him and House in such a scenario. Which he hadn’t. He definitely, most certainly hadn’t. Much. And only because you never knew what House might do next.
Harkness noticed his shift in position. “Now you’ve foiled my brilliant plan.” He didn’t move. He just grinned, as though he had Wilson right where he wanted him. Now Wilson knew there was more to this than simple flirting, but what could Harkness want of him?
“What were you arguing with House about?” Wilson asked. Harkness’ smile flickered for the briefest of instances, and Wilson saw an edge of caution enter his gaze.
“He was being stubborn,” Harkness said, looking hurt.
Wilson wasn’t about to let him go that easily. “House isn’t stubborn without good reason.” Oh no, I really hope he doesn’t tell House I said that.
“Something makes me think you’d kiss me before you let House know you said that. You’d never hear the end of it.”
Damn it. Harkness took a step closer. Wilson put up his hands. “You’re not serious.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be our little secret.”
And somehow, Harkness slid into his arms, turning them from a barrier into an embrace. Their lips met, and the captain blocked out the world. His scent, his touch, his weight, everything about him was overpowering. Wilson groaned. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, but he felt his arms tighten around the other man’s back, and he let himself be pushed back against the wall. He opened his mouth and began to kiss him back, and though Jack wasn’t House, something about this felt right in a way he’d never imagined possible. He could lose himself in the feel of skin against skin.
Ding. The doors rumbled open, but they sounded as though they were a million miles away. Should’ve hit the emergency stop, he thought, though, of course, nobody would be in the lobby at this late hour.
At the sound of the female voice, Wilson pushed Jack away. The man clearly realized Wilson was flustered, and he loosened his grip enough to fall back when shoved. Jack’s face was flushed, and his hair was a mess. Wilson’s gaze lingered on him a little longer; he’d never known a brief kiss could cause such a mess. He wondered what he himself looked like and doubted he could pass this off as an unwelcomed advance. He was surprised to realize he didn’t particularly want to.
Then he saw the nurse who was standing there, and his embarrassment arrived, late but in full force.
“Uh, hello Tracy,” Wilson said. Damn elevator. If he recalled correctly--and he really wasn’t as good with people as House and Cuddy made him out to be; after all the human brain could only store so many hundreds of faces and histories without forgetting something--Tracy had been tearfully confiding in Wilson for the past several weeks about her boyfriend of seven years, whom she’d caught cheating on her with…
Tracy slapped him and stormed off in tears. Yeah, she was definitely the one whose boyfriend was gay.
“Girlfriend?” Jack asked, sounding doubtful.
“Uh no.” Wilson rubbed his cheek.
“You’re just a delightful people person.”
Jack grinned. “Trust me, women love a little flexibility. And if word gets around, you might get your chance with House.”
Wilson groaned. Was it that obvious? Yes, a little voice in his mind replied, it really, really is.
Well, that was just great.
The attendant at the impound lot was not pleased at being called back after closing time. It’d taken multiple phone calls and a threat from the Governor’s office to reunite Tosh and Monty with their cars. At first, Tosh was outraged at how New Jersey politicians wielded their special privileges with such a lack of concern for ramifications. She’d even dodged Monty’s charms long enough to phone a shocked complaint back to Ianto who wryly responded that Torchwood did the same thing. After some thought, Tosh filed this observation under the category of “To be processed later” and returned to Monty.
The stadium-lights overhead cast the lot in a harsh light. The attendant kept giving them surreptitious, dark glares as they paced to the end of a row of vehicles. There, Tosh identified her Toyota Sienna rental and Monty his Honda Civic. Monty raised an eyebrow at her.
“A white minivan?”
“The contract lists it as ‘Arctic Frost Pearl.’”
“Does that make soccer moms feel sexier?”
Tosh shrugged as she unlocked the car. Monty slid open the side passenger door, whistled, and leapt in. He leaned over the driver’s seat. “Dear god, you’re not a mother, are you?”
“I wish.” Tosh turned to look at him. “Children would be so much easier to drive around.”
“Who are you with, then?”
“Oh, that can’t be good.”
“I know. My boss keeps asking ‘Are we there yet?’ If he was my kid, I’d have spanked him long ago, but company policy stipulates that all co-workers may give back as many spanks as are administered.”
Monty laughed. When Tosh didn’t, he asked, “You’re kidding, aren’t you?”
“Uh.” Tosh blinked. “Oh, yeah! Of course.”
Monty slid his hands along the seat. “Nice texture, good support; I’d buy this car if I had a family.” When Tosh didn’t respond, he added, “That’s my subtle way of declaring myself available.”
Tosh still didn’t respond. Monty at least had the grace to look embarrassed. “I guess that’s your subtle way of saying you’re not interested.”
“No, no, it’s just… I’ve had a bad run with relationships.”
“I dated a mob double-agent. The political fallout was hell.”
“I fell in love with a co-worker who has slept with everyone woman in the office except me.”
“My college sweetheart tried to kill me by burning down my house and blowing up my car.”
“I dated a serial killer who liked to eat people’s hearts.”
“The girl who burned down my house was dating me because I looked like her dad!”
“The serial killer was an alien, and I still cried when she got sent to the middle of the sun!”
“You dated a lesbian alien?” Monty goggled. “That’s amazing!”
That wasn’t the reaction Tosh was expecting. “You believe in aliens?”
“How do you not? They’re all over the news these days, but wow, to have actually slept with an alien. How was it? Was it sticky?”
“It’s always sticky.”
“Good point. Would you be up for a threesome?”
“Not as a first time.”
Monty leaned forward. “What did the alien look like?”
Tosh crossed her arms. “Are you interested in me or the aliens?”
“Do I really have to choose?”
“Out of the car.” Tosh started the ignition.
Monty chuckled and climbed out, but he leaned back in through the window. “You said you’re from Wales; do you have a place to stay?”
Monty showed her two room keys. “I didn’t feel like driving back to Newark tonight, so I booked a hotel. There’s two beds, so it doesn’t have to be awkward unless you want it to be.”
“I should be back at the hospital.”
“I have to get back to work early in the morning anyway. Your coworkers will be too busy getting over the backaches they have from sleeping on chairs all night to realize you’ve been gone. Why not get one up on them for once? It’s free lodgings, no strings attached.”
Tosh hesitated, but only for a moment. Then she snatched one of the keys and rolled up the window. “You lead, I’ll follow.”
Monty winked. “If that’s the way you like it.”
Gwen didn’t want to sleep; she’d been unconscious for too long, and she wished she could stretch her legs. Owen wouldn’t let her out of bed, though, and she knew he was right to insist. The room was dark now, and so silent she would never have guessed Owen was present if she hadn’t seen him enter the room. The others were gone; Tosh had gone to retrieve their car, Jack had left on what he claimed was official business, and Ianto had doubtless been sent to hack the hospital computers so they’d erase all record of their presence once she was discharged.
“Owen?” she whispered, her throat dry and her voice cracked.
She heard a chair slide against the ground as Owen leapt up. “Do you need a glass of water?”
“No.” She raised a hand, searching in the dark, until she felt Owen’s shirt and tightened her fingers around his arm. “I want… salvation.”
“You never struck me as especially religious,” Owen’s voice had an edge to it. Gwen let go, but Owen didn’t move away.
“If I was, I’d say this was divine punishment.”
“For what?” But he knew. They both knew, but she was the only one who cared.
“I, I tried to tell him, but I could only do it knowing he wouldn’t remember in the morning.”
Owen moved away. A few seconds later, she heard a swoosh and moonlight flooded into the room. His silhouette hesitated a moment before he partially re-closed the blinds. In the half-light, he pulled up his chair and sat at her side. She turned her head, and they were face-to-face. She pulled back, ever so slightly, and Owen’s cheek ticced. She laughed; it wasn’t funny, but she couldn’t help it.
“Why me?” he asked. “Of everyone available, why me?”
“You were the only one available. You always were. Not anymore, though. No one’s available now, except the one who’s in a committed relationship. Ironic, don’t you think?”
“What about Tosh?” Owen looked like he was joking, trying anything to lighten the mood and change the conversation.
“You think I didn’t consider it?”
Owen raised an eyebrow. She continued, “She wouldn’t say ‘yes.’ But I’d ask anyway, just to find something, anything. I can’t find release even in an orgasm, maybe there’s something in the lack of one.”
“There’s just emptiness.”
“It’s always empty. God, there’s nothing. That’s the first thing I learned from Torchwood: There’s nothing, just the darkness waiting for you, knowing you have to come eventually. Everyone has to, except Jack, but look in his eyes, and you can see it; it’s already there, it already has him. When Lisa electrocuted him, he died. He died, Owen, and do you know what he told me when he came back? He said, in that instant, when he thought he wouldn’t survive, he said he’d never felt so alive. How old do you think he is?”
“You envy him.”
An involuntary sob escaped her. “I’m empty already; what’s there to lose? But I don’t want to die, Owen, I don’t.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“Why can’t I tell Rhys? What would he do? Who would believe him if he told? I can’t do this; it’s like living a double-life. It was like I was unfaithful, even before I slept with you, because I’d become a different person, had a different life, and I couldn’t share it with him. I lied to him. It was so easy. I lied to him, and when I slept with you, it only confirmed what I already knew. It was like I had to do it, because if I didn’t, the job wasn’t real, but once I did, it was all too real, it became everything.”
“Gwen, it’ll be all right.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
Owen looked pale, though maybe that was just the moonlight. Finally, he nodded.
“What would you do if you could find Diane?”
“I’d bring her back. Or I’d go with her.”
“You’d leave everything behind to be with her?” she asked. He nodded. “And then what? What would you do? Find another adventure, one after another, jumping through rifts until the end of time? Or do you think, this time, you could make her settle down?”
She saw anger in his face, but he restrained himself and she saw it wasn’t just because she was ill. So there’d been something between them after all. She’d felt it, just a little, a sort of haunting pull even after she’d stopped having any feelings for him. She’d always wondered if he felt the same. Then it was true; you couldn’t just have casual sex and pretend everything was the same. At least, you couldn’t in the twenty-first century. She suspected you couldn’t in any other century either, Jack’s words be damned. It was a human thing, or maybe a living thing; you had to have a connection to be alive, and what embodied life more than the act of procreation?
“I don’t know,” Owen replied. “That’s not what she’d want. I think she was meant to be alone; we’d go our separate ways again, together one night for every thousand apart.”
“Do you suppose that’s love? To be with each other even when you don’t know when, or if, you’ll see each other again? Or is love the monotony of being with someone day after day, knowing each other inside out and letting the mystery and excitement fade?”
“What does it matter, Gwen?”
“It matters! It matters because that’s all I am! Jack hired me to be the human connection, but I don’t feel connected to anything anymore. This job, it changes you; how can it not? And on the outside, I go through the motions, and I seem different, but inside, I’m just like every one of you, yet I can’t even be that because if I admit I’m just like you, then I’ve become someone nobody wants me to be! And if I’m going to die, I want to know it was worth it. I need to think there’s something beautiful, something romantic out there. I need to believe in the bright light at the end of the tunnel, to think there are people waiting for me when I die and to know there are people mourning me back here.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“I need something to hold on to, but it’s all just darkness! How can anyone cope, knowing that, knowing there’s nothing and everything’s futile?”
“It isn’t futile,” he said weakly.
“Make me feel alive.”
“But Gwen, you just said--”
“I know what I said, but if I can’t have that, I have to take what I can get.”
“You’re not thinking properly.”
“Oh, Owen, you’d be surprised what the prospect of dying can do to the mind.”
“It confuses it. You don’t want me.”
“Then who do I want, Owen? Do you know me better than I know myself? My brain’s not addled.”
“You want Jack. You want the man who can’t die and his kiss of life.”
“I kissed him back after Abaddon.”
“And now you want me to do the same for you? I’m not your prince in goddamn shining armor.”
“Then leave. Go, and leave me to the darkness.” She stared him straight in the eyes and refused to look away. She could see the conflict in him. He burned with self-loathing as he leaned forward to kiss her, but she grabbed him and pulled him in anyway, because when she closed her eyes, she couldn’t tell the difference between a kiss of love and a kiss of pain.
They ended up going to a little coffeehouse just down the street from the hospital. It was almost closing time, and they were the only patrons present, but Wilson didn’t expect anyone to give them a second glance. Jack had stopped any semblance of flirting after Tracy, though Wilson wasn’t sure why. There was no logical explanation for Jack’s behavior, which kept Wilson suspicious, but for some reason, he found himself trusting the captain more and more.
He ordered a coffee, preferring to make his own meals even if it meant going hungry a little while longer. Besides, the food here wasn’t that great, but Jack seemed to have changed his mind about sightseeing and asked to go to the nearest restaurant instead. When the coffee arrived, Jack made some comment about how good his associate was at making coffee, “among other things.” Wilson didn’t follow up on that.
Jack got a Reuben, and now Wilson was sure he was just trying to mess with his mind. Nevertheless, their kiss burned in his memory, and it kept him from walking out.
“So you want to talk about it?” Jack asked.
“Oh, you’re kidding. First time Gwen kissed a girl, she spent the next week freaking out about it. Of course, I guess it didn’t help that she kept catching Owen replaying footage of it on his computer.”
“Where do you work?” Wilson exclaimed.
“Cardiff.” Jack took a bite of his sandwich. “Oh, god, this is awful.”
“Well, I did say--”
“No, it doesn’t taste particularly bad, I guess, but I mean, sauerkraut? What sort of sandwich has sauerkraut in it?”
“Then why’d you order it?” Wilson asked, thinking, Aha, his plan is backfiring.
“I dated someone named Reuben once, amazing sex, she could do things with her thighs that you wouldn’t believe.”
Oh dear god.
“I’ve always heard that great food can be as good as sex, so I thought, why not give it a try?”
“So why House? No offense, but from what I’ve seen of him, he’s an asshole.”
“Why’s it any of your business?”
Jack leaned closer. “Do you want to talk about it?” It was a challenge as much as a question, but he did seem to care, which was more than he could say about anyone else at the hospital.
Wilson shrugged. “There isn’t much to say. I met him years ago, before he ever started working here, before he had the cane. I was married at the time, first marriage. I loved her, don’t get me wrong, but the passion was never there. I married her shortly after my residency ended, and it was a life, you know. You get a job, a wife, a family, and you live happily ever after.” Jack smiled and looked wistful. “I don’t know what happened, but I was happy around him. When he listened, he could make me feel like I was the only person in the world, and even when I know he’s pretending, I don’t care. And when he laughs, god it feels so good, like I’ve done something really right.
“Christmas Eve, we hosted a party. House came with Stacy. Everyone thought I had too much to drink, but really, I only had enough to settle my nerves. The rest was water. Later that night, we were alone, I told him enough to let him guess I had feelings for him, said just little enough to have deniability the next day. It was silly, immature, but I didn’t want to let the feeling go. He rebuffed me--you can imagine how it turned out--and I, I did the stupidest thing imaginable. I went and had an affair with this other woman I met at the party, the friend of a friend, that sort of thing. I told myself I was just feeling trapped in my first marriage, but the feeling wouldn’t go away.
“After the divorce, I shut that part of myself away. It was like one of those dreams you have when you’re a kid, when you tell your parents you want to be an astronaut one day, an explorer the next, a scientist the third. It became something I stopped seriously believing would happen, so I made myself content to live with what I had. I loved all the women I married, all the women I slept with, but there’s so many types of love. I cared about them, and I was never unfaithful; it was just that one time, and I still regret it, because there was only one person I really wanted.
“I guess my discontent came through in the end. All my marriages ended in divorce. My wives cheated on me instead. I didn’t feel too bad, though, because at least they didn’t need me anymore. As long as they were happy with someone, I didn’t betray them, I didn’t lie to them, and it was all right to move on. I slept with one of my patients a while back, when she was in so much pain she could barely take care of herself. Night after night, I could barely sleep, because I was afraid I would wake up and find her dead, not from the cancer, but from my pain medications failing her. But she needed me, and I could keep her body and soul alive, just barely, but it was enough for me anyway. She recovered long enough to live her dream of traveling the world, and we parted ways because she could die happy without me.
“And through it all, House was never there for me. I’ve lost my job for him, had my practice shut down, had the police after me. I’ve broken the law so many times for him, and I’ve lent him so much money, and I want to believe he cares, but he makes it so hard. Most times, I just write it off as House being House, but sometimes, I just want to walk away, forget, start over, except I’m already doing that and it isn’t working and I can’t bring myself to leave him. I can’t stop watching over him, I can’t stop wanting to protect him. He’s destroying himself with his addiction and his loneliness, and he won’t let anyone else in, and there’s nothing I can do. If I stay around him, he’ll destroy both of us in the end. That’s not something I think, that’s something I know. But I think I can live with that.”
Wilson took a deep breath and downed the rest of his coffee. For a moment, a panic rose up in him as he wondered what he’d just revealed to an almost complete stranger. Force of habit helped him contain the fear. Finally, he brought his eyes up to look at Jack, and he was surprised. Jack looked sympathetic, but it wasn’t the sympathy of shared experience. It was more a sort of empathetic pity. Intellectually, Jack felt sorry for him, but emotionally, he didn’t understand. It was as though this sort of longing was alien to him, and in that moment, Wilson knew he’d rather have had Jack laugh at him. In that moment, he’d never felt so alone, and then, shame flooded through him. He tricked me. It was all a lie, and I fell for it. He pulled out his wallet and dug out a twenty. Jack stood.
“What are you doing? I--”
Wilson threw the bill onto the table. “It’s all right; I don’t want to owe you anything.” Before Jack could say another word, he turned and ran out of the restaurant, nearly bowling over a young man in a suit. Only after he’d passed him did he match the face with the panicked fellow who’d burst into coma guy’s room. Did he have something to do with Jack, too? No, he wasn’t going to think about that. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t care. He had no intention of having anything to do with Harkness again.
He ran all the way to the parking lot, and his breathing never slowed during the entire drive home. He barely made it back to his apartment before his gasps turned into wracking sobs, and he slammed his fist against the dashboard again and again, but nothing helped. Finally, he just gave up striving for self-control and with his forehead against the steering wheel, he let the tears flow.
He didn’t know how long he stayed there, but some time along the way, a heavy storm started pouring raindrops down on his car, their pitter-patter punctuating his own unsteady breathing. The rivulets down the windshield blurred into a flood of grey, and without lifting his head, he reached out and hit the lock on the door. He sat a while longer, lost in thought.
That kiss, it all went back to that kiss on the elevator. In the few moments they were together, Wilson could almost pretend Harkness was House. Jack smelled nothing like him, felt nothing like him, but the imagination was a powerful thing. One night, just one night and… And what? Wilson was pragmatic enough to realize one wouldn’t be enough. He wanted forever. One night, and I’ll make House a believer. A dry laugh escaped him at that thought. He sniffed. House doesn’t believe in anything, and I’m not going to change that.
Jack. He closed his eyes and tried to picture House, but the image blended with Jack’s face. He tried to force his memory, but that just made House’s face fade further. He shook his head and tried to recall the touch of Jack’s lips, and he whispered, “Greg.”
He turned off the engine and put the keys in his pocket. He squeezed between the front seats as he crawled to the back of the car, and there, he lay down and tried to pretend there would be no tomorrow. It was cold and wet and lonely, but it was better than his apartment right now. Maybe he shouldn’t have moved out of House’s apartment. The company was worth the abuse. He had no excuse to go back now, though. His stomach growled, but he ignored it. He curled up and closed his eyes. In time, darkness fell, and for a few hours, Wilson forgot his troubles.
The hotel room was surprisingly large. Monty was amused and laughed when he saw her looking around in appreciation.
“That bed’s yours,” he said, pointing toward the one closer to the door. “I hate smoke detectors.”
Tosh looked up and saw one blinking innocently above the indicated bed. “So as long as I stay there, my virtue will be safe.”
Monty made an elaborate bow. “Your virtue will always be safe with me, my lady.”
Tosh approached the bed and sat down gingerly. It was soft but firm, though she found the sheets too thin. Monty bounced across the room and picked up a square plastic container. He opened the lid and ran back out of the room.
“Where are you going?” she asked, but he was already gone. Shaking her head, she removed her shoes and started fiddling with the lights between the beds, watching them turn on and off in various combinations as she rotated the switch. It looked like her life.
Monty returned with a bucket full of ice, “Ice! My favorite part of hotels!”
“Okay…” she said uncertainly.
“Says the woman playing with the light switch.” He waved a plastic bag at her, which he didn’t have before. “Toothbrushes. The receptionist was kind enough to provide some.”
“Hotels have toothbrushes?”
“Only if you ask nicely.”
Monty sat down opposite her and pulled out one plastic-wrapped brush. “I asked nicely. Did you?”
Tosh furrowed her brows in confusion. He grinned, rocking back and forth, and she made a mental note that he became more hyperactive the more tired he got. “Oh, you’re kidding me.”
“Ask nicely or you don’t get a toothbrush,” he said, waving his around. She followed the movement of his hand with her eyes, and when she was ready, she reached out and made a quick grab. “Hey!”
“You might be a man of words, but my job requires me to be a woman of action.”
“Your job is catching aliens?”
Tosh froze. “What makes you think that?”
“Who else sleeps with aliens and talks about it as though it were normal? Sure, everyone denies it, but these organizations have to exist. Don’t worry, though, I won’t ask about it. I’ll pretend I don’t know a thing.”
Tosh relaxed a little, but Monty wouldn’t be a governor’s aide if he wasn’t competent, and he had no reason to lie. That’s what I thought about Mary too, she remembered, but she’d be careful this time. Still, no reason not to enjoy herself at the same time. She leaned forward. “So, about asking nicely…”
Monty’s eyebrows went up. “Yes?”
She kissed him. It was a brief contact, almost chaste, but from his sudden intake of breath, she could tell it meant much more. She could feel her own pulse racing. “So how’s that for asking nicely?”
“A woman of action indeed,” he replied, one corner of his mouth lifting in a self-satisfied grin. “I don’t suppose there’s more of that coming?”
“Nope.” Tosh went over to his bag, grabbed the toothpaste, and headed for the bath. “That was my thank you for helping me find the car.”
“Oh. Oh, that’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair, Monty,” she said, swaying her way out of sight. She counted to three and poked her head back out. “Maybe tomorrow night, if you ask nicely.”
The toothbrush slipped very nicely from his grip.
Foreman was just gathering his things to leave for the day when Chase walked into the conference room, looking a little lost.
"Have you seen Cameron?" he asked. "I wanted to give her the results on Gwen's bloodwork before I left."
"She left an hour ago," Foreman replied, looking around him in frustration. Chase, in a fit of unusual observational skill, noticed.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Have you seen my umbrella?" Foreman said, by way of answer.
"No. What's it look like?"
"It's black. And an umbrella. I don't know, I thought I left it right here, but I can't find it."
"Haven't seen it. Why did you bring an umbrella, anyway? It didn't rain all day," Chase pointed out. Foreman shrugged.
"It's supposed to rain tonight. I checked the weather this morning."
"You're kidding. It's been clear all day! Not a cloud in the sky!"
"I'm telling you, it's going to rain." Foreman looked ready to give up searching for the umbrella. House had probably stolen it for himself; it wouldn't be the first time.
Chase had put away his bloodwork results and was putting on his jacket, getting ready to leave as well. "It's not! No way! I'd bet on it," he said confidently.
"Fine, then. Let's bet on it," Foreman said, smirking as he walked toward the elevator.
"Are you kidding? I don’t have money to throw around!" Chase protested, following him. "You've been spending too much time around House."
"We won't bet money, then. If I'm right, then you'll, I don't know, have to hit on the first department head you see tomorrow morning. Blatantly." Chase gaped.
"But that'd probably be House! I don't want to hit on House!"
"You’re gonna back out, then?" Foreman challenged. The elevator doors opened on the first floor and they both exited.
"No," Chase grumbled. "But you have to do the same if I win!" Foreman agreed, and Chase suddenly pictured Foreman hitting on House and burst out laughing.
Foreman rolled his eyes. In unison, they opened the hospital's big glass doors and stepped out. On cue, there was a loud rumble of thunder and a sheet of rain fell to the earth, with no other warning, completely soaking them.
"Well, shit," Chase noted.
To Chapter 3: All in the Head
Back to Chapter 1: Hora Fugit
Summary: Tosh meets an attractive stranger who is fascinated by alien artifacts and has a name that begins with “M.” Magic 8 ball says: “All signs point to no.” Wilson has dinner with Jack and cries himself to sleep. Magic 8 ball says: “Ask again later.”