Word Count: 4621
Pairing: H/W, guest appearance by Julie.
Spoilers: Third season, although I haven’t seen “Lines In The Sand” and it may show.
A/N-Insta-bunny inspired by the date. I’ve deliberately stayed away from LJ while I was writing this so if someone else was bitten by the same bunny, it’s co-incidence, not plagiarism.
Sequelicious to my (very short) story Punishment but should work as a stand-alone.
(If you want to read the entire Confession of Sins from the Yom Kippur liturgy, be my guest: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template.asp?AID=6577)
Thanks to Beta-Goddess Carol for wielding the cliché buster with ruthless precision and being her all-around goddessy self.
Summary: What better use for the Day of Atonement than a Wilson guilt-fest?
The High Holidays had sneaked up on James Wilson again. He blamed baseball. When he was growing up, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur had always coincided with the pennant or the World Series. With the expanded seasons, the two dates occurred while half the teams were still in contention and the actual playoffs were still a month away.
“L’Shanah Tova” his mother had said during her weekly phone call. It took him a few seconds to understand what she was saying and to wish her a Happy New Year in return. It had also taken an act of will not to blurt out, “What’s so happy about it?”
There were things to celebrate, of course. The most important one was that House had survived his shooting. He was alive, after Wilson had spent the three days of his coma in a state of desperation, making deals with Ha Shem, Jesus, Buddha and anyone else he thought might be listening. He’d promised everything from celibacy to honesty if House would only wake up. As an added bonus to the deities, he’d offered to join Greenpeace, give up red meat and make a large contribution to Amnesty International if House would wake up free of pain from the ketamine treatments.
Somebody had been listening and he hoped the money got at least one prisoner of conscience a better meal before it became clear that the pain was coming back and he’d already blown the honesty promise to hell and gone.
That night in his apartment, he cut up apples and dipped them in honey and said what he could remember of the “Shehekianu” prayer. He caught himself missing Julie for the first time in a long time. Even if they hadn’t gone to synagogue together for years, she still lit candles on Friday nights and holidays. Their set of candlesticks had been a wedding present from his grandparents and even after the pretense of passion had left the marriage, they still seemed to symbolize the better parts of James and Julie as a couple. Just a shiny façade, he thought sadly, wondering if Julie was lighting candles in what had been their home with her new boyfriend.
He tried to end the pity party with a bite of apple, but it stuck in his throat the same way the memories did.
He turned on the TV and watched the Mets let him down one more time. Hank Wiggan’s pitching wasn’t enough to overcome some of the worst fielding Wilson had ever seen, but his pride in being part of getting Hank back on the field was enough to fend off his loneliness and guilt for a few hours. He also managed to forget that if tonight was Erev Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur was just around the corner.
Another Friday, another meeting with the divorce lawyers. James couldn’t understand why they were still doing this. As far as he was concerned there was nothing left to talk about. During the heat of summer, the monthly encounters had resembled a primitive blood-letting ritual of accusation and denial. In the relative cool of autumn, tempers had subsided and Julie hadn’t been nearly as mercenary as her predecessors. She’d even hired Lady back. There was no reason not to sign the papers now and be done with it, except that the State of New Jersey in its paternalistic wisdom wouldn’t let them off the hook for another six months.
The last thing he wanted to do on a drizzly cold night following another day of the usual frustrations, including aggravation from House, was drive to his lawyer’s office for a sit-down as if he and Julie were six-year-olds and one more time-out would make everything all right. Nothing would make it all right. He couldn’t take back infidelities and she couldn’t take back the words. If they could, they probably would, only to have new wounds inflicted in their place. When they made it five years, they’d thrown a hullabaloo of an anniversary bash, but the tensions had already been there and by that Christmas, he’d been hiding out at House’s place eating Chinese food, rather than facing Chanukah in his own home.
Donald Warren’s office was on Nassau Street in the busy part of Princeton. Parking was a nightmare and the rain had started unexpectedly. He walked into the room late, tired, and slightly damp. His lawyer greeted him with a firm handshake, Julie’s attorney acknowledged him with a nod and Julie looked at him as if she’d been introduced once at a party and couldn’t quite remember his name. She also looked like somebody he’d want to meet at a party and get the phone number of as quickly as possible, while making sure his wife didn’t notice, which was more or less what had happened six years ago.
A cold, calculating part of his brain wondered if she’d had Botox. The lines in her forehead and around her mouth as she forgave another excuse were gone. Of course they are. I’m gone.
She rose to greet him with something between an air kiss and a friendly hug, shying back as she realized how cold and wet he was. Then she smiled and pulled a kerchief out of her bag, dabbing at his hair and face. He’d forgotten how beautiful her smiles were because it had been so long since he’d seen one. The cocktail of promises had worked for getting House out of his coma. He wondered which one it would take to get them back to the James and Julie of the beginning instead of the bitch and bastard of the end. Or if he wanted to.
“These came to the house,” she said, taking a square white envelope out of her handbag. He assumed it was a wedding invitation from mutual friends who hadn’t heard that Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were no longer a going concern until he saw the return address: Jewish Center of Princeton, 435 Nassau Ave., only a few blocks away right now. They’d gotten married there, making promises they both meant at the time. Their joint membership in the synagogue, renewed every year of their marriage without much consideration, included Hebrew School for the children they’d never have together and tickets for High Holy days services.
“It’s too late for Rosh Hashanah, but I thought you might want to go for Yom Kippur.”
“You think I have something to atone for?” It came out before he could stop it and he saw her struggle not to say any number of things that would have put them right back to the day she told him about her affair. Nobody in their right mind would want to relive that fight or her ultimate rejoinder as he walked out the door.
She looked at her nails seeking an answer or maybe just her reflection in the shine. He followed her eyes. She had pale hands and the coral polish favored her light skin and blonde hair. The rabbi at their wedding had told him they were two of the most goyische looking Jews he’d ever seen.
Julie looked up, forcing him to look into her hazel eyes. “It’s been a rough year.”
Finally something they could agree on.
“How is he?” She asked. There was only one “He” in their lives, otherwise known as “Him again,” or “that son of a bitch” or “your so-called best friend” or at the very end “why don’t you just go and fuck him already, unless you already have.”
There were so many answers, ranging from “alive” to “back in pain” to “back where he was and getting worse” to “he won’t talk to me, so how the hell should I know?”
He settled on a mixed shrug/sigh and palms to heavens. Julie nodded understandingly and sat down, crossing her legs under a skirt that was just a little too short and tight for a librarian, but just right for a soon-to-be-ex-wife who wanted to rub his nose in it.
The meeting broke up with a few pleasantries about the dispersal of certain stocks and bonds. They’d do it again in a month. And again. Until one year had passed from the date of filing and the power of the state declared them free agents.
The envelope sat in his jacket pocket untouched but not quite forgotten. James wanted to do almost anything on a Sunday night but go to a big, impersonal synagogue where he’d never felt at home and watch overdressed, twice-a-year attendees beat their breasts and ask for forgiveness. Even as a child, he’d found the gesture off-putting and done everything possible to get out of going, a rarity for his growing-up years when he’d been the middle child who specialized in goody-goodness.
But something about the word “atonement” stuck in his mind. If the last year had been hard on him and Julie, it was nothing compared to the last three weeks since House had come back to work. He still believed with absolute conviction that he’d done the right thing, which made the pain it had caused House even more devastating.
It had almost been a relief to confess and let House see his concern, thinking that might earn him quicker forgiveness. House had swallowed his concern and spat it back as bile. “Gods don’t limp.”
House knew Wilson well enough to know exactly how to punish him for his act of betrayal. He was shutting Wilson out, not letting him share private jokes or confidences. He’d told Wilson about the recurring pain in his leg and asked for help in the form of Vicodin. Wilson had responded with platitudes and refused. Then he’d been exposed for the manipulative, if well-intentioned, liar he really was. Now he was spending less time with House than those over-priced gofers he called fellows. Cameron perched prettily on his desk was just the latest wound in the process of death by emotional paper cuts.
He hadn’t apologized to House because everybody lies and words had no value. He’d offered his body and been shut down while House nursed his jailbait fantasies. If House wouldn’t or couldn’t or didn’t care enough to forgive him, maybe he’d have to try someone else, the one who didn’t limp.
Wilson tried to remember the last time he’d been to the Jewish Center. Probably a few years back, when he’d come to say Kaddish for Grandpa Harry, who’d smoked cigars, drunk whiskey and passed away peacefully in his sleep at 85. Maybe one or two Rosh Hashanahs and a colleague’s son’s Bar Mitzvah after that. Keeping the membership was part of keeping up the pretense of his marriage and his all around nice-guyness.
At the door, he took the envelope out and handed it to the doorman. He remembered an old joke, one of Grandpa’s favorites, about a guy who tries to get into the shul on Yom Kippur without a ticket and he insists he has to give someone inside a very important message, matter of life of death, and the doorman says, “OK, but don’t let me catch you praying.” He reached into the open envelope and took out one ticket.
The congregation was already standing when he entered. The banked seats always reminded him of a high-school auditorium, except few of those had a Torah on the raised stage. The Cantor had started chanting Kol Nidre. James felt uncomfortable, afraid people were looking at him as he made his way to his assigned seat. He recognized a few acquaintances, some patients, and his own lack of belonging, but it was too late. Seat 23-C. He expected to see an empty space next to him, not a woman in a grey suit wearing a hat. He’d forgotten about hats on the High Holidays, thinking they were a memory of Northern New Jersey or even his grandparents’ shul in Queens, but here was a woman in a hat, and Wilson had always had a thing for women in hats, especially ones who slightly resembled Kim Novak. Only it wasn’t Kim Novak… it was….
“Julie?” he whispered. Maybe she was trying to save face among the congregation by creating the illusion that they were still together. He didn’t think she cared that much, but once the tedium had set in, appearances had become that much more important.
She ignored his surprise and handed him a prayer book already opened to the appropriate place in the service so he could follow along. There was no graceful way out. He’d have to sit through the whole service next to her. Maybe it was some kind of penance. Oops. Wrong religion.
The Cantor gave way to the Rabbi and they were allowed to sit down. Since Princeton Jewish Center was a conservative congregation, the prayers were recited in Hebrew with an English translation on the opposite page.
First came the prayer asking forgiveness for vows taken in the next year but not fulfilled. It was the vows of the past, spoken and unspoken, that weighed on Wilson tonight. He felt that he’d failed as a husband to Julie, as a doctor to Grace and the other patients he’d lost, and most of all as a friend to House.
He tried to look and feel prayerful, but the sense of trying made it almost impossible. Julie appeared to be absorbed in the text, which had come to the confession of sins. James read each line as a personal rebuke.
“For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.
For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.
And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.
For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.
And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.
For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.
And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.
For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellow man.”
Wilson felt sick inside. He looked at Julie.
“I’m sorry,” she mouthed, clearly stung by the words as well. It was the first apology she’d uttered since telling him about her affair. Until then she’d been defiant, self-justifying or just indifferent to the possibility that he might have been hurt by her actions.
Wilson’s guilt had little to do with Julie, but he realized he couldn’t ask forgiveness from House until he’d offered it to the person he felt most hurt by. Telling her she was right about House wouldn’t do any good, except to let her know she hadn’t been crazy or bitchy all those times she’d accused him of putting House ahead of her. She’d spoken the truth before he was willing to admit it to himself.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.
For the sin which we have committed before You by a gathering of lewdness.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by verbal confession.
Those three summed up his relationship with House succinctly, with improper thoughts giving way to a gathering of lewdness shortly after House had greeted him at the door with the offer of a beer. The verbal (as in insincere) confession had been his attempts at pretending that Grace hadn’t mattered, when she may not have mattered to Wilson as much as the fact of her mattered to House.
For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.
James recited the words aloud, while taking one of Julie’s hands away from its grip on her prayer book. He squeezed gently and she looked up at him hopefully. He didn’t want to commit yet another sin by giving her false hope, but he needed to relieve her of whatever burden he could.
He squeezed again and smiled. Her eyes went wide with gratitude. Then he shook his head to make sure she wasn’t getting the wrong idea. She tilted her head and shrugged. If nothing else, they’d certainly mastered the married people secret body-language code, he thought. Especially the part where he made a spectacle of himself leaving in the middle of the service and she cringed into her seat, pretending not to know him. Just as well that he wouldn’t be sending a renewal check in January.
Finding his car would have been easier were he not walking around in a light-headed daze, as if he’d been fasting. Dizziness was soon compounded by frustration. There was someplace he needed to be and it wasn’t in the parking lot of the Princeton Jewish Center looking for his Volvo in a field of its identical twins and all their Prius and Lexus buddies. Wilson finally remembered the nifty button on his key-ring that would make his lights come up and that annoying bird noise.
He peeled out of the parking lot like he was heading to Dead Man’s Curve, saying a brief “sorry” to God for leaving tire marks in his parking lot.
What’s the matter buddy, on your way to a fire? asked the sarcastic cop in his head who might stop him for speeding, as he drove to House’s in record time, not completely sure why it was so important to do this now. They still had adjoining offices, even if House had his beloved rug back. There was also the possibility that House might need the opinion of an oncologist. He couldn’t keep Wilson away forever. Fine. I’m afraid I’ll chicken out if the guilt rush wears off. He remembered the sight of Cameron sitting on his desk, next to House, and wondered if the slightly nauseated feeling he’d experienced was something House had lived with for years, along with all his other pain.
After parking, he stood on the front stoop, where House had once made him sit for hours by leaving a stethoscope on the door-knob. Wilson remembered having the nauseated feeling then, too. House had been trying to teach him something and he’d been too stupid to learn it.
He rang the doorbell and waited. He thought he could hear the drag of the cane along the hardwood floor, but that might have been wishful thinking. He’d bailed on synagogue to get to House and the door wasn’t even being opened for him. The thought of waiting outside all night like Kalvin the stalker appealed to his dramatic sense of the situation, but he didn’t relish risking the cold night air for the sake of a gesture. OK, let’s get really pathetic.
He banged on the door with the blunt end of a closed fist.
“Come on, House, open the damn door.”
Acting like a jerk was all it took.
The door opened and House stared at him, doing that cool-eyed analysis that always spelled trouble for any patient or colleague trying to keep a secret.
“Sunday night. Full suit and tie. Smells like you took a shower and threw some of that whorebait you like to call aftershave around.”
“Must be some kind of special occasion. I’ll have to check my calendar. I hope I haven’t missed Sukkot. I was planning to build a sukkah on the balcony and invite Cuddy over to share my lulav, if you know what I mean.”
Wilson slowly loosened then removed his tie and undid the top buttons of his shirt. He made a fist with his right hand and began making the gesture that had always repulsed him. He beat himself against the chest, feeling slightly ridiculous, but enjoying the fact that House was watching intently.
“For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellow man…”
“You’re not planning to recite the whole thing are you? I swear, I’m gonna get you and Chase in here and have guilt-off. Winner gets me.”
Wilson let his hand drop to his side, but didn’t stop looking in House’s eyes. He saw everything there. Pain, frustration, drugs, and anger at Wilson’s betrayal.
“I wouldn’t let Chase win that one.”
“It might be close. You invented guilt; they perfected it. He sold me out to Vogler, you only…”
“Chase was an employee with an axe to grind. I was supposed to be…more than that.” Wilson squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn’t look at House leaning on the cane.
“You are.” Wilson could barely hear the words, but they felt like a warm hand touching a cold place in his heart. That was enough for now. Not much chance of a warm embrace or killing of the fatted calf.
“I’ll go now. I just needed to know that…I hadn’t screwed up totally.”
House was peering into him again.
“You already know that you screwed up totally. What do you really want?”
“I want…” Why was it so hard to say? “I want before.”
“There’s a lot of befores. I’d like before this,” he started rubbing his thigh through the fabric of his jeans, “or before 9/11 or before they stopped putting Nestlé’s Quick in the small cartons. Which before do you want?”
Wilson breathed in quickly, not sure if he had the guts to say what he felt.
“Before you stopped wanting me.”
“I never stopped wanting you.” The quick response left them staring at each other, slightly stunned. Naturally, House recovered first. “Are you sure you want to have this conversation out here?”
“Will you let me inside so we don’t have to?”
House looked over his shoulder, squinting as he turned back to Wilson.
“It’s kind of a pigsty, now that I don’t have that nice maid around anymore. Not sure it’s good enough for guests.”
“Then I’ll go. I got what I came for.”
“Stop being an idiot. If you don’t want to play “who’s guiltier” with Chase, I can probably set up a Drama Queen pageant with Cameron. And let me tell you she’s good. Cries for hours without special effects. Stanislavsky would be proud.”
Wilson followed House in, unable to keep a smile off his face or expectations out of his heart.
House turned around, taking in Wilson as if seeing him for the first time in a long time. Wilson hoped, maybe even prayed, that one of House’s hands would grab him, press their mouths together and shut him up because it was words that had created so much trouble.
“Pizza’s in the kitchen. I understand you’re familiar with the microwave thing.”
“You’re not fasting, are you?”
“So why are you standing there like you’re about to unburden yourself of ‘To be or not to be’?” House made his way to the kitchen where the pizza box was still on the counter. Wilson watched him lean back against the refrigerator to take pressure off his leg.
“I did go to Yom Kippur services. It’s a long story and it’s a Julie story so you don’t really want to hear it, but before I could come here and ask you to forgive me, I forgave her.”
“You’re enough of a wuss to let her off the hook for being a slut, so now I have to forgive you for your delusions of helpfulness?” House’s voice had risen to attack pitch. “Are we all going to sit around singing Kumbaya?”
It occurred to Wilson that House really didn’t care or need or want to hear about his rapprochement with Julie as long as it didn’t mean he was patching up that wreck of a marriage. House didn’t need a friend who tried to make him play by the world’s rules. He didn’t want formal apologies, complete with arcane gestures. If Wilson wanted things the way they had been, he’d have to play by House’s rules. He remembered the pranks that House had subjected him to. Wilson had been reduced to something as callous as filing through a cripple’s cane, watching him fall, and walking away. House had practically applauded him for it. The sex that night had been beyond anything Wilson could have imagined, even when it was just the “impure thoughts.”
“You don’t have to do anything.” He managed to keep his voice even. “Did you mean what you said about wanting me?”
“Wanting is one thing. I try not to go to bed with people who stab me in the back.”
“Like women who have surgery done without your permission?” he shot back.
“I thought you were only bitchy when I wasn’t on drugs.”
Wilson caught the smile at the edges of House’s aggravation.
“I’m not bitchy,” he said as bitchily as he possibly could, getting a full-blown House smile in return. “Maybe I’m hungry.”
“Eat some pizza.”
“Maybe that’s not what I’m hungry for,” he replied meaningfully, giving House the benefit of his best longing gaze while moving closer.
“Please tell me that line doesn’t actually work.”
“You tell me.” Wilson took another step closer, and another. House had plenty of time to move away, but didn’t. He just waited while Wilson brought his arms to either side of the refrigerator door, trapping him. Wilson felt the warmth of House’s body less than an inch away from his own, although he realized House’s back must be getting cold. Screw it, he thought, remembering that rules of polite society were bullshit.
He grabbed House by the shoulders, pulling him slightly away from the door. He hadn’t kissed House since before the shooting and oh god, how he’d missed it. More than he’d let himself know. How could he have gone this long without the softness of House’s lips under his own, the slightly scratchy beard tickling his skin?
House offered no resistance but wasn’t fully co-operating either. He seemed content to let Wilson revel in the memory of all the kisses that had gone before, probably still teaching a lesson. Wilson showed he’d gotten the message by pushing his tongue past House’s lips, invading his mouth, trying to make House forget about nubile blondes or love-sick brunettes other than himself.
Within seconds, House had taken control, sucking on Wilson’s tongue hungrily, making him moan. Wilson’s hands moved down the length of House’s arms, feeling the muscles twitch under his touch. His left hand journeyed downwards finding House’s fingers gripping the head of the cane. He brushed his hand against the cane itself, letting his fingers find a place between House’s on the wood.
House had moved his hand down Wilson’s back, under the jacket, to get a firm grip on his butt. He moved his hips slightly so that their pelvises ground against each other, radiating heat. Wilson's felt his own legs go shaky, as much from relief as arousal.
Wilson broke the kiss, feeling House’s reluctance to let him go in the teeth scraping along his tongue. He took only the smallest step back, giving himself room to raise his right hand to House’s mouth, touching the indention above his lip, before moving his hand down the front of House’s tee-shirt to the bulge in his jeans.
“Still think you can do better?” he asked, softly but with a hint of the hurt House had caused with his rejection.
House moved his hand from the back of Wilson’s pants to the front, cupping him through the fabric. He gently removed Wilson’s hand from his cane, using it to step away from the refrigerator, and out of the kitchen, indicating that Wilson should follow him, no doubt to the bedroom.
“Not right now.”