rubyjuly: (red motorcycle/house)
[personal profile] rubyjuly
Title: Orpheus on Bourbon Street
Author: rubyjuly
Fandom: House M.D.
Genre, rating & warning: Almost entirely het, although there are a couple of slashy references. Rated R for sexual reference and language. Setting is pre-series, and some plot developments in "Birthmarks" and in "The Social Contract" are expanded on.
Characters: James Wilson, Gregory House, unnamed original characters.
Summary: Wilson trusts a stranger to bail him out of jail.
Word count: 3,475
Disclaimer: Anybody you recognize here does not belong to me.

New Orleans, 1994

Wilson spends his night in jail staying as far as possible from his cellmate, an extremely drunk Cajun who had tried to counteract his alcohol overdose with a little speed.

The guy, who is filthy and stinks of cigarette smoke, old urine and even older sweat, loudly sings "Joli Blon" off-key for close to two hours. Wilson's French is still good enough to figure out that the lewd and ever-changing third verse isn't part of the original song.

The singing jailbird eventually burns off his amphetamine booster and abruptly slumps onto his side on the tiny cell's single bunk. His legs are hanging off the side, which leaves enough room for Wilson to sit on the opposite end.

The guy's snoring loudly within seconds and Wilson takes a closer look at him. He's a little yellow under the dirt ground into his skin. There probably won't be many more nights like this for him.

After the first few hours, Wilson stops looking up when the outer door to the cells clangs open. Nobody's coming for him. He knows no one in New Orleans and he'll be stuck in this cell until he's hustled before a judge in the morning to answer charges related to breaking an antique bar mirror and inciting the brawl that followed.

He pulls his feet up onto the bunk and rests his cheek on his knees, a sleep position that works only for Andean mummies, but it's the best he can do under the circumstances.

The outer door bangs open again. He's pretty sure by now that the cops slam it as hard as possible because all the prisoners have hangovers, but this time the noise isn't followed by the usual shuffling sound of two men doing the handcuff waltz down the concrete corridor.

"I'm scouting for a Triple A ball team. Got a lead on a wildcat southpaw who took out a mirror," a voice says, and he looks up.

The man on the other side of the bars is tall and lean. He's wearing sunglasses, faded jeans and a hideous yellow Hawaiian shirt printed with blurry silk screened parrots. It's an ensemble that screams "tourist," but he looks relaxed and completely at ease, as if standing in a jail is nothing new.

"I beg your pardon?" Wilson asks.

"God, how much time did you spend in Canada?" This guy's tone of voice is withering. He slides the sunglasses down his nose, and Wilson can see he has piercing eyes to go along with his acid tongue. "You're supposed to tell me to fuck off. Or at least ask who I am. The lessons in macho, by the way, are completely free. The rest, though, that's going to cost you."

"Cost me? Who are you?"

The man pulls a wad of folded papers from the breast pocket of his shirt. "I'm Greg House. I paid your bail."

"What? I, wait, why?"

"Because you're not boring. There are four hundred doctors at this conference, and you're the only one who's interesting," he says. "So quit looking down the throat of the gift horse and get up off your ass, unless you want Bayou Joe there grabbing it."

It only takes one look at his cellmate, who's woken up and is studying him with gummy slitted eyes and the hungry focus of a feral cat, to get Wilson off the bunk and over to the door.

A jail officer so overweight that he walks with a rolling gait like a hippo with sore feet steps up next to House and unlocks the door. "Chekow tah fron dess yan git yo b'longins," the officer says, and Wilson has to run the sentence through his head twice before it makes sense.

At the front desk, they give him back his belt, wallet, keys, watch, wedding band and the unopened envelope of divorce papers he'd been served with the previous morning. He scribbles his signature on some forms, one of which informs him that his $3,000 bail has been paid by Gregory House, M.D., of New York City.

"You really were there last night?" Wilson asks when they're outside in the brilliant sunlight.

House lifts his left hand into the air and mimes a throwing motion. "All music critics should use your technique."

"Let's not go there," Wilson says. "I appreciate your help, but I really don't want to talk about it."

House holds most of his belongings while he slots the wallet into his trouser pocket and threads his belt back on. "Why bother?" he asks as Wilson starts to slide the ring onto his finger.

"The divorce isn't final," he says. "I haven't signed the papers."

House holds out the creased brown envelope. "Looks pretty final to me," he says. "You need food and a shower." He sniffs. "Or maybe a shower and some food."

"Food," Wilson says. He's suddenly starving and he'd kill for some coffee.

"I know a place," House says, and he's away down the sidewalk so fast that Wilson has to scramble to keep up with his long strides.

New Orleans, Wilson thinks later, is enchanted with some kind of strange urban voodoo. He'd meant to order something to go and get House's business card so he could mail him a partial payment when he got back home, but he winds up sitting down with House in a hole-in-wall restaurant that serves them enormous sandwiches filled with fried oysters, chopped olives and unidentifiable spicy luncheon meats. The ingredients would make his kosher-keeping grandmother disown him on the spot, but it's delicious and he wolfs it down with two cups of milky coffee.

House hands him the bill. "Payback starts now," he says, and Wilson digs out a twenty and gives it to the waitress.

He looks back at House. "How'd you know about Canada?" he asks, and House grins.

"I always research my investments. McGill, Columbia. The ink's barely dry on your diploma and you're already a rising star in oncology, medicine's true growth specialty."

Wilson winces at the terrible joke. House is leaning back in the booth, and the late morning sun glints off the face of his wristwatch.

"We're missing the conference," Wilson says.

House glances at his watch. "Just the boring parts. The two o'clock lecture is the only one worth hearing."

Somehow he's not surprised to find that House is delivering that lecture, which includes the presentation of his research on new infections arising due to the influx of immigrants from Third World countries now living in crowded urban conditions.

Wilson almost didn't make it there on time, what with discovering that he was now temporarily homeless. His randomly assigned roommate had checked out early and dumped his suitcase at the front desk.

"We're fully booked for the conference," the clerk says as she peers at her computer screen. "I can recommend some hotels nearby."

"Give him a key to 421," House says. "My roommate never showed."

Wilson has time to hastily clean up and shake a few wrinkles out of his crushed clothes before hurrying down to the conference facility.

The chairperson for the afternoon program introduces House as having done his research at Mercy Hospital in New York City. Wilson knows it's not a teaching or research hospital, which means House squeezed in time to compile his findings while working on the infectious disease staff. He flips to the back of the extensive program for the conference and finds a thumbnail CV for House that lists him as being in Baltimore in 1992. From the looks of things, House moves around a lot.

House, who hasn't bothered to change clothes, is not a crowd-pleasing speaker. He doesn't warm up by presenting his credentials. He doesn't crack a joke or thank the person who introduced him.

House dives straight into the topic, his notes in his left hand and the chalk in his right flying across the blackboard as he draws vector diagrams. Sometimes he stalks right up to the edge of the tiny stage and looks out at the audience like he's seeking some particular target among the packed seats.

House spends the question and answer session volleying remarks with several other attendees, all of whom behave as if they've been personally insulted by House.

"What was that all about?" Wilson asks as he follows House to the elevators.

"My research trumped theirs. Actually, mine crushed theirs and made them all look like graduates of the Romper Room School of Medicine." House snorts as he stabs the call button. "They won't even start to think about the overall problem until they have critically ill patients in ICU with infections that'll make bubonic plague seem like a hangnail."

"And you clearly have," Wilson says.

"Clearly." House punches the button again. "But they won't use what they just heard and people will die. But not too many, not enough to keep them up at night."

"Why didn't you go into public health? Those are the kind of people who listen to policy-makers."

"Little drawback with my attitude: I hate the public." House isn't smiling now, and Wilson can see the beginning of crow’s feet around his eyes and long frown lines beside his mouth.

"Then I guess you're not going to the cocktail party tonight."

"Neither will you if you want to be remotely cool," House replies.

He winds up following House from a bar to a blues joint where House took over the piano at the break and ignored requests, and then back to another bar, one without any decade-old Billy Joel break-up songs on the jukebox.

It's near midnight and Wilson's drunk more beer than he should and he's talked about the ending of his brief marriage more than he thought he would. He's getting fuzzy-headed with drink and fatigue, but House shows no signs of stopping and has cadged an old Irishman into betting on a game of darts.

"Stop leaning, you bean pole," the old man yells, but he's good-humored about it, and Wilson looks over to see House whip the dart forward. His whole body follows through down to the still point of his feet. He's had enough Scotch that he weaves when his sneakers leave the floor, but the dart hits the first ring out from the bull’s eye.

House pulls himself up straight. "Two out of three?" he offers, and the old man laughs.

"You're staggering, son. I'll wipe the floor with you."

The old man doesn't catch the gleam of anticipation in House's eyes as he glances over at Wilson. "I need a few more minutes," House says.

He beats the old man soundly, but it takes more than a few minutes. It's two in the morning when Wilson finally falls into the spare bed in House's room.

His dreams are woven of neon, of the shadows cast by ornate iron balconies, and colored with snatches of jazz and the cries of street barkers outside the strip clubs. He hears the insistent boogie-woogie beat House pounds out on the blues club piano, and feels again the women who brushed up against him as he sat alone at the table.

He dreams that night of dancing, but the angular body in his arms is not his wife. To his astonishment, it's House. It should be odd; after all, he has to stand up on his toes to rest his chin on House's shoulder, but instead it feels right. He sways, holding one of those big hands in his, hip to hip with a man he's known less than a day, and sees the sliver of blue, bright as a macaw's feathers, of House's eye when he looks upward.

He wakes up with his heart pounding and an aching hard-on.

In the bathroom, he gets into the shower as soon as it’s warm enough to tolerate. The shower gel slicks up his hand, and it’s just a minute until release, a few quick pumps in time with his racing heart and his head is back against the tiles. It's been months since anyone touched him and even longer since he's done this. He comes so hard he sees stars behind his screwed-shut eyes.

He dries off by the candle’s worth of light put out by the tiny nightlight plugged into the wall outlet, pulls on his boxers and crawls back between the sheets.

House has not stirred during all this. In the pale blue predawn light filtering through the curtains, Wilson can see that he’s sleeping on his back, with one arm outflung like fencer, the other lying palm down across his body, his fingers half-curled in sleep.

If he reached out and leaned over, Wilson could touch House’s outstretched hand, but he doesn’t. He rolls onto his side, closes his eyes, and suddenly imagines those long fingers wrapped around his cock.

The thought almost sends him straight out of bed and back to the bathroom. He turns on his back and stares into the shadows above.

This is crazy, he thinks. House is not gay, not if the slightly predatory appreciation he saw in House's face whenever a woman approached him tonight is to be believed. He's also not gay, despite a little experimentation in college with his roommate's intriguingly androgynous Québécois cousin that he's never really counted.

The past two days seem like a blurry dream: the quick pop of rage that cut through his grief and made him throw a glass in the first place, being handcuffed and taken off to jail, House appearing out of nowhere to spring him and lead him like Orpheus through the hot New Orleans night.

He's been through a lot, not just today or yesterday but in all the months leading up to this conference, when his fledging marriage was dying before it could really take wings. He's not slept much and had far too much to drink.

And he's been lonely, lost and afraid. House, for all his abrasiveness, is the first person who's been spontaneously nice to him in weeks.

That's it, he thinks. He rolls over, buries his face in the pillow and wills his mind blank.

Wilson doesn't remember falling asleep, but he's apparently slept deeply enough that House got up and left without awakening him. He opens one eye and sees a note propped against the bedside lamp: "Downstairs. Breakfast."

He finds House with the remains of his breakfast spread around him. He has all the restaurant's complementary newspapers piled on his side of the table, and he shows no signs of the long night.

"Get your beauty sleep?" House asks, and Wilson puts his coffee cup down a little too quickly.

"I, I slept fine," he replies. "Thanks again for letting me share."

House's hand darts out and swipes a piece of bacon off his plate. "Stop that," Wilson says.

"Why?"

"It irritates me when someone steals my food."

"Wanna see a magic trick?" House asks.

"You're going to put the bacon back?"

"You have at least one younger sibling. A brother, I bet. Somebody you had to learn to be responsible for."

Wilson keeps his eyes fixed on his plate. There's no way House had time to find out about Danny. His brother's been gone so long he's not even an active missing person's case any more.

He's aware that House is studying him closely, and he doesn't look up until he thinks there's nothing on his face for House to see. "Did you read my palm in my sleep?" He keeps his voice light. "Maybe we should set you up a booth before the last presentation."

"Now you're deflecting," House says. "You're the responsible one, because the only people who marry as young as you did are either very responsible or very irresponsible, and since you're not sacking groceries at Safeway to support a kid born too close to your wedding anniversary, I'm leaning toward responsible."

"But not boring," Wilson counters.

"No," House says. "Responsible usually equals boring, but not this time. A boring person would have thanked me and high-tailed it out of there yesterday. You tagged along. It must be my personal charm."

Wilson can feel himself blushing. "I was disoriented. Try spending the night in an eight-foot cell with a drunken drug addict who sings until he passes out."

"I have," House says. "Except I was the one singing. Long story."

"Most of them are," Wilson says.

House swipes his last piece of bacon, and Wilson puts the fork down hard on the plate.

"Look on it as giving," House says.

"I look on it as taking. Is this all part of paying back my bail?"

House breaks the strip of bacon in two and puts half back on Wilson's plate. "Sign your divorce papers and get on with your life," he says. "One out of every two marriages fails. The odds for somebody who marries as young as you did are much worse."

Wilson's been apologizing and explaining to everyone for so long that it's become a habit, and House's sudden change of topic pushes the button that sets him off again. "It was my fault. I made a terrible mistake," Wilson begins to say, but House glares at him.

"Shut up," House says in exasperation. "Somebody somewhere is always making a mistake. Divorce sucks. Living in misery sucks worse. Your lesson's learned. Now do something that makes you happy."

The idea is almost startling, but that, Wilson suddenly realizes, is what House specializes in.

On the plane home the next day, he pulls the creased envelope from his briefcase and rips open the gummed seal. The document is shorter than he expected, considering how much it's cost him in heartache. He reads through it and comes to the line for his signature and the date.

He signs carefully and adds the date, then refolds the papers and puts them in the return envelope. The divorce attorney's secretary has already affixed proper postage, so nothing has been left to chance with the last small details.

He seals the envelope and tucks it back inside the briefcase. The sunlight through the plane window glints off his wedding band. He needs no more reminders of broken promises, so he slips it from his finger and drops it into the compartment next to the sealed envelope.

Over the next three months, he repays House for his bail. After he mails the last check, he gets a call.

"I'm moving to Princeton," House tells him. "Got a new job at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital."

Wilson's heard of it. It's small but prestigious. "That's great," he says.

"There's a position opening in oncology there in the spring." House pauses, and Wilson waits. "The department head's within two years of retirement. You're good. You could work that to your advantage."

Wilson leans back in the chair. He was in Princeton a month ago, running down a list of homeless shelters within reasonable distance from New York City. He'd looked up from his lunch in a cafe' to see Danny standing across the street at the bus stop.

He was gaunt and unshaven, wearing clothes too heavy for the weather with a knitted watch cap jammed over his shaggy hair, but there was no mistaking those big dark eyes and his thin mouth.

Wilson got up, threw some cash on the table, and headed for the door. "Danny!" he yelled from the restaurant doorway, but Danny didn't hear him. Wilson was running for the corner, his eyes fixed on the jittery shuffle of Danny's feet and the way his right hand seemed to tap out time to some rhythm only he could hear.

He thinks now he shouldn't have bothered with the seconds it took to pull out his wallet or the minute required to run to the crosswalk. He should have bolted and jaywalked. If he had, maybe he'd have beaten the bus.

The last sight of his brother had been a shadow inside the city bus as it pulled away.

If he were there, he might find him again.

"You interested? I can put in a good word for you," House says, and Wilson realizes he's been lost in his memories and hasn't responded. "Better act fast, though, before I give them reasons to stop trusting me."

House says it like it's a joke, but Wilson can hear an edge there. He's asked around. While House's work is respected, he has no friends. He suddenly remembers House, loquacious on Scotch, talking about the structure of call and response in the blues: "Two phrases, two musicians. A question and an answer."

He knows this is more than a simple question for House. There are all kinds of complications behind the right answer, but the words are the easy part for now.

"Yes," Wilson says. "I am."

-- Finis
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rubyjuly

July 2012

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