Warnings: A couple of swear words.
Summary: Foreman didn't ask for this.
Disclaimer: House belongs to Fox. I make no money.
Thank you to topaz_eyes, nightdog_barks and daasgrrl for reading, and thank you to pwcorgigirl, zulu nomad1328 for beta-ing and talking.
For what seems like a very long time, Foreman doesn’t speak. He doesn’t ask House what he wants on the radio. There’s no discussion of where they’re going or what route is preferred. House is quiet, his usual hyperkinetic energy withdrawn. He’s asleep minutes after they turn onto the interstate, his head nodding slightly towards the window, his face sallow in the sodium light.
Foreman just stares straight ahead through the windshield, stuck in an early-morning white-line fever bolstered by the rhythmic swish of the windshield wipers and the steady monotony of the highway.
House's neck looks too fragile: anyone looks fragile in that position. If Foreman didn’t know House better he’d assume that it's some sort of grief for his father causing this inertia, this strange and disquieting lack of fight. From what Foreman has seen of House in the last few months, he's stopped swimming against the current. He’s a man cast adrift in a sea of emotions he can barely comprehend.
House barely cared about the painter. His team fumbled their way through the differential while Foreman gritted his teeth and listened to House endlessly bounce a rubber ball off the wall in his office. For hours there was nothing but that countlessly repetitive boom-thock sound.
The patient was too scared to tell his girlfriend he volunteered as a human guinea-pig to make ends meet. House was in his Eames chair, staring vaguely in the direction of the lightbox. As Foreman poked his head around the door he wound up and threw the ball again. It was a reflexive, mindless action.
"Patient's prepped for dialysis."
It took a fistfight between the patient and Thirteen to make him more than vagely interested. Perhaps House might have paid more attention if Foreman had punched him. In the end it was more than satisfying to watch the damned rubber ball arc out over the balcony to be lost forever in the parking lot. House paid attention then.
Foreman tunes the radio to a classical/jazz station he likes, and leaves it down low so the sound just drifts above the hushing of tires on wet asphalt. He lets it all go. He pretends he isn't driving with House; he pretends he's driving nowhere.
Cuddy tried to cajole him at first (dangling as a carrot two weeks paid leave), then resorted to using guilt as leverage (she asked him if he’d taken a look at House lately, and although he didn’t tell Cuddy so, Foreman thought he’d seen a lot more than she had). He crossed his arms against his chest, settled back in her interview chair and stared flat across her desk. He thought of the rubber ball, of House still at work on Tuesday afternoon in Monday morning's clothes.
“House is an adult, Cuddy. Why is it your business if he goes to his father’s funeral, anyway?”
Foreman had thought it best not to mention that House’s relationship with his father was probably as screwed up as the rest of him was. This was Cuddy speaking as a friend – if House could have friends, and sometimes Foreman wasn’t so sure about that – not as a boss. This was coming from an older place than this job, this hospital.
Foreman could see the toll the past few months had taken on her: the shadows under her eyes, the way she worried at the seam of her blouse with a thin white hand, the nails trimmed square. And so even though he didn’t understand why someone could care about someone as damaging as House so damn much, he agreed. Someone had to do it, and Foreman couldn’t refuse without feeling a hypocrite.
"He’s not doing any work here, anyway,” she said, like this was an afterthought spoken from the businesslike part of her brain. "I know you didn’t ask for this, Foreman. God knows who would---".
She didn't need to fill the ugly, ragged space in her sentences to tell him that she was thinking about Wilson.
Fifty miles. Foreman glances at House, almost gaunt in profile. The scenery passes behind him, the greenbelt at the edge of the freeway blurred through the wet glass. Maybe Foreman has never noticed House like this because he never looked hard enough. Maybe this is the way House was after the infarction derailed his life.
House's diet makes Foreman think of the American Heart Association. He drinks a jumbo Slurpee, spurning Foreman’s orange and pineapple juice. He eats chips and picks at his burger. Foreman has salad. Before lunch is even thirty miles behind them, his first full sentence of the day is “Stop the car. I need to puke.”
Foreman sits with his hands clenched on the steering wheel as House slumps sideways out of his car to retch and vomit. He closes his eyes and thinks of something else as his stomach gives a little flip, then settles down. House leans out so far that he almost falls out onto the pavement, bracing himself against the floor, and Foreman has to lean forward to grab the back of his shirt, his skin clammy and hot through the thin fabric. No. He didn't ask for this.
In the first hotel room, Foreman flushes the illicit Percocet down the toilet. “I didn’t think you stupid enough to take enough of that to make you puke, House.”
House is stretched out on the bed, his shoes still on. Foreman can read his posture like a book. His back is hurting. Foreman’s is pretty stiff, too. He has no sympathy for a guy with a skinful of illegal and legal painkillers, especially one who slumped in the tilted-back passenger seat all day while Foreman rat-raced with suicidal soccer moms in monstrous SUVs.
House reaches for the remote and snaps on the television.
“You thought wrong.”
House’s mother is nothing like Foreman expected. She’s… normal. The house smells like warm food, casserole, and Foreman remembers family funerals at home, the piles of Tupperware in the kitchen.
Foreman keeps to himself, because he can’t share this with House like Wilson would have. He can’t do anything but wait, sitting awkwardly on House’s mother’s flowery-patterned couch. He reads back issues of JAMA as House prepares himself. He stands at the back of the service, at the side of the wake. He feels remote.
At the wake, House shrugs off his family duties like a bad suit. He limply takes the hand of men dressed in Marine uniforms and doesn’t laugh at their jokes. A tall Marine in a dress uniform with medals puts his arm around House’s shoulder for a few seconds. They exchange a few intense words, then House shakes his hand and walks outside.
House stoops slightly so his mother can hug him, and Foreman looks away. It seems too intimate a moment, somehow. Knowing House is knowing normal reversed. What seems out of place is this gesture, this tenderness. The way he squares his shoulders, trying to offer comfort.
"Who was that guy?" Foreman asks for the sake of asking; he figures this was probably an uncle or something, a distant relative.
House bangs his cane against the ground, staring at the crowd milling out of the reception centre. "Just some guy," he says. "Taught me how to tie my shoes. Used to hang around when my dad was deployed."
House often says the most when he says very little.
Foreman thinks now of the House he saw limping heavily away from another memorial service. House sitting with Wilson's family but somehow apart, upright and remote. House crumpling the synagogue yarmulke off his head, House leaning against the outside wall, alone.
Foreman hadn’t been able to articulate sympathetic words then, and he isn’t able to now. He remembers how House brought a hand and scrubbed it down over his face, an abstract gesture of shock and disbelief. He feels his own private grief. He never shares it.
House rebuilds around the hole where Wilson used to be. Chase reports to Foreman in a sort of breathless, half-serious tone that House took him bowling. “It was awkward,” he says between gulps of coffee, “not least because I kicked his arse.” House takes the bus to work on wet days and sends his employees to buy him chips.
There is no real mention of a garbage truck careening into a bus, no talk of the unidentified male in his early forties who lay in the Princeton General ER for four hours, bleeding slowly to death. Foreman remembers the empty look on House’s face when he searched through the unidentified patient’s personal effects, Wilson’s cotton shirt shredded by the trauma room scissors.
House turns up at Foreman’s door one day with a six pack of beer and a pack of Doritos. “Turn on your television, Foreman. The game’s on.”
Foreman stands in the doorway, blocking House from his apartment. “What?” All he wanted was a quiet night with his charts and his dinner.
“Chase knows nothing about baseball,” House says, and he neatly pushes Foreman’s arm out of the way with the handle of his cane. He parks the beer on Foreman's coffee table and plops down on the couch. "Kept talking about crap like 'silly mid off'".
Foreman drinks the beer. He figures it's the least he can do.
One Friday afternoon Foreman comes home to find his door ajar and House sitting on his couch watching The Simple Life. Just like that. When Foreman complains about the hack job House did on his lock House spreads his hands and says he's just giving Foreman a taste of his own medicine. A week later Foreman is sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch when House slams his tray down on the table and starts ranting about Cuddy’s claws. Crap, he thinks. I'm friends with House.
"You know," Foreman says, "When I interned I had this chief resident who thought it was cool to take the whole group out for tacos post-call. We were all just itching to stop pretending to laugh at his horrible jokes and go home to catch a few hours sleep."
House has a fry in his hand, and he gestures at Foreman with it. "Is that some kind of a hint?"
"No," Foreman says. "Just thought you should know. Besides, your beer is better."
House drunk-dials Foreman one Wednesday night when he’s too drunk to get home on his own. It's a weekday, and Foreman is just getting home from the gym. His cellphone vibrates in his pocket as he drops his bag to the floor.
"Don't bother coming here to pick me up," House yells, his voice steady but incredibly loud, with an annoying sarcastic lilt to it. "I've only forgotten where I live and how to get there."
Foreman has now been privy to one whole cycle of the self-destructive opera of House’s life – get drunk, drive fast, mope, buoy yourself up with false happiness, rinse and repeat. He's drifting, anchorless, and Foreman figures it was only a matter of time until something like this happened.
It’s like Foreman has made a late entry halfway through the first act. House is propping up the bar in some backstreet dive. He has enough money in his wallet to cover his bill, but he’s too far gone to even know how much he’s drunk. Foreman didn’t sign up to wrestle what amounts to a six-foot whisky vat into his car, but what can he do? He pays House’s bill. He ignores House’s gay jokes (“Is this a come-on?”). He pours House into his car and prays to all sorts of deities that he holds his whisky better than he does his oxycodone.
Halfway through the journey things start to get weird. Foreman stops at a set of lights, and House begins to argue with him as he's slipping into an old, well-worn conversation.
“Jesus,” he says, his voice thick. “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that Spiderman could shit on Superman. Fuckin’ Superman would only appeal to some Jersey square. I mean, his hair. For God's sake. He looks like a Young Republican.”
It’s so completely absurd that Foreman is about to bawl House out (Jersey? Square?!?) but then he realises that House is arguing with Wilson, and a cold feeling creeps along the back of his neck.
House is staring out the window now, slouched there like a sack of wet laundry. Foreman clears his throat.
“Shut up, House,” he says, reaching frantically for details from a movie he barely remembers and a comic he never read. “Spiderman got bitten by a radioactive spider. Only the lamest plot device ever.”
House nods, satisfied, the nod saying we will never agree on this, because you are clearly a moron.
When they get to House’s place Foreman realises with mounting discomfort that he doesn’t know if House has a spare key. House finds his way to his door but quickly loses motivation, falling down into a sort of ridiculous half-crouch in the entryway. He drops his cane, Foreman almost trips over it.
“Uh, House,” Foreman says. “Your key.” He’s rewarded with some unintelligible mumbling about the door. It’s only about nine-thirty, and one of House’s neighbours passes by. Foreman smiles and nods. He then takes a deep breath and gingerly reaches into House’s trouser pockets. The right yields some lint and a few crumpled up bits of paper, including a few beer labels. The left yields House’s keys.
As Foreman pours House onto the couch he reflects that he probably won’t find such a display embarrassing. Foreman assumes Wilson bailed him out regularly. Maybe they even got drunk together. It’s too late for Foreman to ponder exactly how screwed-up their relationship was. House relates to people by teasing then retreating: this is the way he relates to Cuddy and the way he related to Wilson.
House is dead to the world, so Foreman figures he can help himself to something from the refrigerator to make up for the dinner he missed. He finds some leftover Chinese that looks recent and washes it down with the last of House’s milk. House has begun to snore softly. It’s almost cute, cuter than it should be. House is on his side. He lets himself out.
Foreman breaks it off with the radiologist, and this time it’s he who calls House. What the hell, he figures. It’s just someone to drink with, someone who is in absolutely no position to condescend to Foreman emotionally. He sits on House’s lumpy couch and drinks House’s expensive beer. House channel-surfs, and Foreman realises that he’s enjoying himself, that their relationship has evolved. They’re not just colleagues, they’re friends. Cuddy comes to Foreman to get House to look before he leaps into dangerous tests. Foreman gives House advice. House ignores the advice. They trade insults and carefully skirt the subject areas both recognise to be off-limits: House’s friendship with Wilson, Foreman’s pick-up basketball. House's drug use. Foreman's brother.
House paints his inner life in throwaway lines. Foreman mentions in passing the restaurant where he took a date. “Stacy took me there once,” House says. That’s all. There’s a sort of empty regret to the words.
House has a number of habits that Foreman finds incredibly annoying. He considers no day wasted if he has used it to screw with someone, and Foreman is an easy target for all sorts of reasons, especially proximity.
One slow Monday, House 911 pages Foreman to their patient’s room. Foreman emerges from the stairwell puffing to find that the patient is still down in the MRI and that House is sitting beside the bed looking smug. “I’ve got a blood sugar emergency, Foreman. What’s the sandwich of the day?”
On Tuesday House accidentally-on-purpose knocks a cold cup of coffee onto Foreman’s case notes. The patient is cured, and House is still smarting because Foreman reported to Cuddy that he’d characteristically skipped straight to brain biopsy C without consulting boring tests A and B. Foreman figures that he’s supposed to be the partner in crime, not the tattletale, and that House considers this diagnosis deferred to Cuddy’s lack of haste to be a Phyrric victory.
On Wednesday Foreman is in the clinic when his phone buzzes in his pocket. “I’m on the balcony,” House says. “Get up here.”
Foreman dispatches the latest snotty-nosed kid with a doctor’s certificate and signs himself out. When he gets upstairs he finds House sitting on his balcony chair with a pair of binoculars in his lap. He makes a ‘hurry up’ gesture at Foreman and hisses “Here she comes!”.
“What do you want?” Foreman is flustered and annoyed. This isn’t fun.
“Are you serious? Cuddy’s cleavage looks like the Grand Canyon through these babies.”
Foreman sees Cuddy walking across the parking lot in the distance, and House raises the binoculars to his face. They're Zeiss, and they’ve got the Marine logo stamped on the side; Foreman guesses they were a gift from his Dad, who he understands to be the sort of guy who was given to clumsy gestures. The sort of clumsy gestures that anger a son like House.
House lowers the glasses. “You want a look?” Foreman can’t believe House has just asked him if he wants to spy on his boss’ breasts. He shakes his head, frustrated.
Foreman feels like he’s being used to replace Wilson. Worse, he feels like he’s being judged against that litmus test and found wanting. Of course he’d be found wanting. Wilson was nice. Wilson was amused by House’s crap. Foreman is filled with a sudden rush of sour anger, and it grants him a brief window into House’s world: why did Wilson have to go and die? Why can’t House come out with it and say he misses Wilson, instead of constantly pretending he wants to hang around with Foreman for some other reason than the fact that he’s lonely and in pain?
Foreman takes a deep breath. Then he says “House. What do you want?”
House is fiddling with the knobs on the binoculars. Cuddy is crossing the carpark with her bag over her shoulder and some files in her arms. “Duh, Foreman. I want to perve on Cuddy.”
“No,” Foreman says, leaning on the railing. “What do you want from me?” He watches as House tracks Cuddy across the parking lot, then slowly lowers the glasses.
House levers himself up and goes inside, swapping the Zeiss for a little rubber ball. Damn it. “Sex,” he says. “I would have thought that much would be obvious.”
“No,” Foreman says. “I think you think I can replace Wilson.” And with that all of his perceptions of House turn over like a five-card draw.
House goes from glib to angry in under a second, and while Foreman has always considered House’s rage to be impotent, brought on by stretching new limits and not getting his own way, he now realises that he’s just never had a chance to see House really angry.
“No,” House says. His voice is rough and cold. The viciousness of his face sends Foreman spiraling away from certainty. “Wilson was a selfish prick. And so are you.”
Foreman spreads his hands. “What about you, House? What about all the screwing you do with people?”
“You think you’re insightful, don’t you?” House is leaning forward, almost bent over Foreman. “Ever considered how cliché it is to go into neurology just because your mom was getting a little soft in the head? Don’t think for a minute that you’ve got anything to teach me, Foreman. Wilson condescended to me for fifteen years. You’re small time compared to him.”
“House!” Foreman’s yelling, now. Adrenaline sends pins and needles down his arms and into his hands. “I’m not Wilson!” He looks at House's hands, the left clenched into a fist, the right holding his cane so hard his fingers are white.
House shakes his head, his mouth set. Foreman is facing the conference room, and he sees Kutner creep in with an apprehensive look on his face. Mom and dad are fighting again.
“No,” House says. “At least Wilson knew he was a self-satisfied asshole.”
House limps out the door and into the corridor, and Foreman follows him despite the fact that his best instincts tell him to walk away.
“So, what?” Foreman says. “Are we going to keep doing this? You’re going to keep pissing me off? Keep testing my patience?”
They’re halfway to the elevator. House wheels around, his eyes cruising bloodshot above almost purple shadows. “Wilson’s dead, Foreman. Don’t fucking push me. I’m going home.”
House leaves Foreman standing in the corridor, confused and angry, just like the way he stood in the iso room, half-delirious with fever. House goes home to drink himself into a stupour – he stays away from work for two days. Maybe he’s finally letting himself be angry at Wilson. House’s view of personal relationships is very childish, and Foreman knows that instead of why did you die? He’ll only ever be able to think why did you leave me? We had some good times.
Foreman finally sees the only way this will work: he keeps his mouth shut. He doesn't ask House why he hung around with Wilson, because he isn't even sure if House can explain it satisfactorily. If House hung around with Wilson because he was screwed up, then Foreman doesn't know what this means for him.
Foreman is checking his email in the conference room when House leans back in his desk chair and yells through the doorway. "Foreman. Come take a look at this."
Foreman furrows his brow, staring at the screen. "Is this pornographic?"
House doesn't turn around. "You'll never know if you don't come and look."
"Seriously, House. I don't want to get fired."
House sighs. "Foreman. Come here so I can aggressively attack your taste in music in person."
Foreman gets up and walks into the other room. House is swimming against the current. And maybe, for House, that's what it's all about.
What Chase was talking about.