Title: It Don’t Mean A Thing
Rating: PG13-for adult themes and some language.
Prompt/Summary: 59. House has dreams about Peter Müller (from Swing Kids)in the work camps. Why is he having these dreams and how does Wilson react when House tells him? What happens?
Notes: AU-ish, picks up sometime after Season 2. No spoilers for Season 3
Thanks to Beta Goddess Carol for helping me get this beautiful and shiny for the fest. I gotta tell you guys, I'm really proud of this one.
“This isn’t going to work.”
Wilson groaned into his pillow. House’s voice was matter-of-fact, as though he were delivering a terminal diagnosis with no hope of recovery or expectation of thanks. He opened his eyes and turned around to find House wearing gray sweats and fixing him with the laser beams of doom.
He remembered falling asleep with House’s arm around him. Both of them had been naked and relaxed. What had happened to push House back behind the barricades?
“It was working pretty well last night,” he said pointedly, hoping he could amuse House out of his current mood.
“I’m not critiquing your prowess, stud. Just don’t start picking out china patterns.”
“Fine,” he sighed. “But we both contributed to the wet spot.” Wilson got out of bed, registering that it was 6:30AM and he needed to take a shower anyway. If House didn’t get to the point soon, it would have to wait, and wouldn’t that be a fun day?
“I need my beauty sleep,” House announced grandly, “and I can’t get it if you’re carrying on conversations all night.”
“I wouldn’t mind if it happened to be my name you were calling out quite so passionately.”
Shit, shit, shit!
Wilson decided he needed to be anywhere but naked in House’s bedroom. He got out of bed with as much dignity as he could muster under the circumstances and headed for the door.
“So, is Lisa some stray bimbo, or were you conversing with a specific Lisa and her specifically titanic tits that you had an affair with the minute my back was turned?”
Attempting to defend himself against one of these attacks was useless. The only thing that could short-circuit House’s devotion to logic was his devotion to Wilson. Once the tirade had started, House was incapable of listening to reason.
Wilson had to try anyway.
“How many times do I have to say it? You were in a coma and we were scared and it just happened once. It wasn’t an affair. I’m not in love with her. I’m here with you now.”
“Only because she kicked you to the curb when it turned out your little swimmers were doing the back stroke.”
No one could get under your skin faster or more painfully than House.
“Greg!” he shouted, hoping to cut through the vitriol long enough to get House’s attention.
“Yes?” House replied, performing a convincing imitation of a rational human being.
“It was only a dream. She was leaving and I called her name. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Everything means something. You’d better take your shower or you’ll be late for work. Wouldn’t want Principal Cuddy to mark you tardy.”
Wilson made it to the door before turning around.
“Don’t you dream, House?”
“Me, Angelina, and Carmen in a hot tub. Brad can come too. I’m feeling generous.”
“Not fantasies; dreams. The stuff you can’t control. What do you see when the lights go down?”
Their eyes met. House was still angry, but Wilson thought he caught a moment of doubt. There was something House didn’t want to tell him.
“Go take your shower,” House muttered, the full explosion postponed for the time being.
House spent a satisfying day terrorizing his fellows, pissing off the clinic nurses and hitting a personal best when he made a 19-year-old girl cry by calling her a klutz before removing shards of glass from her foot.
The cherry and whipped cream on top came with a visit to Cuddy’s office. He listened to her lecture, hypnotized by the rise and fall of her breasts under the tight-fitting blouse. She stopped abruptly, as if she’d caught the beatific look on his face and realized he had won before she ever paged him. Even her tits sagged, despite the best efforts of her under-wire. House left his nemesis defeated and rode home to an empty apartment. None of his victories erased the memory of Wilson’s voice calling Lisa’s name or the question about his own dreams.
Barbed wire. Cold blue skies. Scarred stone gun towers. The tall brick chimney bellowing putrid smoke that he recognized as much by instinct as by the memory of a field trip when his dad was stationed in Germany.
He was in Auschwitz amid the emaciated, indistinct forms of the prisoners, surrounded by guards too real and vital in their uniforms with insignia and swastikas.
As soon as he’d recognized the setting he’d woken up, intrigued but not unduly disturbed.
The next night he’d found himself in the same place, noticing the same guards.
He’d managed to stay detached until he saw the young man, barely 19 or 20, coming toward him. He saw the shaved head and grayish remnant of prisoner’s garb, designed to render the inmates anonymous and deny their humanity. He wanted to look away, but was forced into eye contact – and recognition. Starving, desperate and looking to him for some kind of help. It was Wilson.
He’d woken up shaking and sweaty. The sight of Wilson sleeping next to him was both soothing and irritating. He doubted any such grim sights were troubling James. The soft mouth was smiling, a smile too familiar. He could have kissed Wilson awake and let himself be soothed back to sleep. Except he couldn’t. He went into the living room, trying to not to grunt too loudly as he realized that his last Vicodin was already wearing off.
The next two nights were dream-free and he declared victory over the Axis powers in his subconscious. Then they launched a sneak attack during one of his catnaps in exam room three and he nearly got busted by Brenda when he screamed because the young man was reaching out for him and there was nothing he could do. Extra Vicodin, a neat scotch and the warm body in his bed did nothing to stop the images that besieged him every night for a week.
Wilson wanted to know what he was dreaming of. He’d tell him, but Wilson wasn’t here. House was alone, knowing what was waiting for him when he closed his eyes.
“Nazis,” he announced, walking into Wilson’s office the next day and being met by stricken looks from the couple sitting on the couch, followed by Wilson’s patented wince and neck rub. “Sorry. They’re crossing the G.W. I just heard it on CNN. Thought you might want to know.”
House retreated to his own kingdom as fast as a moderately bad leg day would allow. Cameron had found a potentially interesting case when Dr. Lehrman ran out of the OR gagging over something that had turned up inside a patient. He rewarded her with temporary custody of his pens and conducted the differential on autopilot, sitting with his chin propped on the cane, calculating how long it would take Wilson to finish whatever news-breaking/hand-holding he’d been doing, factoring in extra time to soothe their nerves over the twisted apparition that had interrupted the proceedings.
It took longer than he thought. Chase had already mentioned lupus and vasculitis before Wilson walked in to return the favor.
“Nazis?” Wilson repeated, producing absolutely delicious looks of confusion from Chase, Foreman and Cameron.
“Begone,” he ordered Gladys and the Pips. Chase and Foreman rose to leave, obviously wanting to escape the mad genius and his henchman. Cameron took an extra moment to regard House and Wilson with a knowing look that made House wonder if he’d have to run her over with a John Deere thresher before her fellowship ran its course.
“Nazis?” Wilson tried again, assuming the hands-on-hips stance of moral outrage combined with a mixture of curiosity and concern on his face. A classic Jimmy Wilson combo-platter.
“Nazis. Barbed Wire. Crematoria.”
“You’re dreaming about a concentration camp?”
“I think it’s Auschwitz.”
Moral outrage receded, leaving curiosity to fight a losing battle with concern. House got up long enough to move into the inner office. Wilson followed, taking his accustomed seat on the opposite side of the desk.
“What do you think it means?”
“Who says it means anything?” House shot back, taking his yo-yo out of the top drawer. “Maybe I ate too much sauerbraten and fell asleep watching Sophie’s Choice. You know how much I love Meryl in peril. “
“You’ve practically evicted me over the content of my dream and you hate Meryl Streep.” House concentrated on “Hop the Fence” so Wilson wouldn’t see him smile. “How long have you been having these dreams?”
“Are you sure this whole oncology thing isn’t just a sublimation of your deep-seated desire to be a psychotherapist?”
“You’re the one who dragged me into your subconscious, so don’t get cranky if I decide to take a look around.”
“Just don’t touch anything. It’s been about a week and a half. First I’m just there, walking around, planning my contribution to the Jewish Defense League, and then I see somebody.”
“Who?” Wilson’s voice was cautious, as if he had some idea where this might be going.
“You.” He looked up, risking eye contact to make the point.
“Me. You saw me in Auschwitz?”
“Young. Skinny. Dirty. Definitely you.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Wilson looked away, shaken by either House’s words or the full-bore effect of his eyes. House went back to his yo-yo, but still noticed Wilson get up and start pacing.
“It’s not completely ludicrous. You’re Jewish. European background. Did you have relatives? Grandparents? Distant cousin who survived…or didn’t?”
“Not my family, House. I’m half Russian, half Lithuanian. My great-grandparents all came over before the Russian revolution. If you start dreaming of pogroms, look for me there.”
“So you think there’s no logical reason for you to be in a persecuted position in one of my dreams.” House intended his taunting to be light-hearted.
“None,” Wilson snapped. House grimaced. He’d expected Wilson to approach it like a puzzle, not get weird and go running. He studiously ignored Wilson making it halfway to the door before turning around. “It could be Peter.”
“I thought you didn’t have any relatives in the camps.”
“Not family. Not even Jewish.”
That was more interesting than a yo-yo trick. He put Mr. Duncan away until he was needed again.
“Communist? Gypsy? Homo--”
“Swing kid.” Wilson plunked himself back into the chair.
House had read about the swing kids phenomenon in a biography of Django Reinhardt. That had dealt with France, but there was no reason it wouldn’t have been equally prevalent in Germany. A German kid who liked American big band music and ended up in Auschwitz looking at him with those eyes.
Concern had taken the lead on Wilson’s face.
“So, this Peter guy…”
“He was in the camps, but he survived?”
“Forced labor, but not…you know…since he wasn’t Jewish. After the war, he came to America with his younger brother. They ended up in Glen Rock and started a dance school. He was my parents’ friend as long I can remember. Always around at parties or holidays, but he was also somebody I could talk to when the family stuff got too crazy. I didn’t even know he wasn’t Jewish until I graduated high school. He got awfully sentimental at my party and told me a little bit about joining Hitler Youth so that he could keep being a swing kid. I think he was trying to make a point, but I was too young and stupid to appreciate it.”
House shook his head. “Doesn’t make sense,” he muttered. “I don’t watch Discovery Channel when it’s all-Nazi Week, I haven’t read up on Dr. Mengele lately, and I’ve never heard of your friend until now.”
“Sure you have.”
“I think I’d remember.”
“No. You wouldn’t. It was Nathan’s wedding.” Wilson did a manful job of keeping the pained sigh out of his voice.
James had found himself needing a date for his brother’s wedding when his first marriage ended in a rather spectacular flame-out, leaving him crying in his Cheerios at Greg and Stacy’s place. House couldn’t take Wilson’s misery seriously, certainly not over Trish. That mess had been doomed from the start.
“Have her home by midnight, and no funny business, young man.”
Cheerios had been succeeded by Bloody Marys and Wilson had gotten a little too enthusiastic about the idea. Anything for a friend, House had thought. Hence his own appearance in a tuxedo when Wilson appeared to pick up Stacy.
“Sorry. She ditched you for a hot date with the Supreme Court. You know how sexy Stephen Breyer is in that robe. Shall we go? I promise not to grope you on the dance floor.”
House didn’t remember much about the wedding, mostly due to the excessive number of martinis it took to get through it without actively insulting anyone that Wilson would have to see at family dinners for the next fifty years. He tried to picture a Peter Muller, since Wilson insisted they’d been introduced. Wedding. Annoying children. Open bar. Buffet line. Too many flowers. Wilson having a good time once he remembered that it was about Nathan and Sarah, not his petty little ego. Wilson having too good a time dancing with Sarah’s college roommate. An old guy in a three-piece suit with some serious moves on the dance floor…
He’d snagged Wilson coming off the buffet line with a plate of chopped liver and pickled herring. “Who’s Mr. Bojangles?” he’d asked, pointing at the dapper-looking gent he had mentally dubbed “Uncle Murray.”
The details of any introduction had proved soluble in gin, abetted by the fact that a week later Greg, Stacy and James had been celebrating Stacy’s birthday with a game of miniature golf. While Stacy was breaking into giggles over James’s inability to putt into the windmill, Greg felt the beginnings of a dull ache in his thigh.
“You’re right. I don’t remember.”
“That’s too bad. He was a great guy.”
“Two weeks ago.” Wilson’s voice got that tragic sound that made House want to hit him with his cane. “Lung and throat. He’d done the surgery, the radiation, been through remission and then…” He trailed off with a subtle, but still dramatic head shake. House wondered if they had drama coaches for oncologists. No wonder he was always paying up. “I told you I was going to a funeral. You launched into one of your tirades about how I get too close to my patients. I told you it was a friend of the family and you…”
“Accused you of making it up because you were having a weekend fling.”
Wilson’s expression no longer held curiosity or concern, only regret. “If the dreams mean something, you’ll have to figure it out on your own.”
He got up and left, soon to be replaced by three semi-useful idiots who had test results and medical theories, but no ideas about communicating with a dead man. Chase won the lottery by coming up with the least ludicrous idea about the patient. Foreman earned the booby-prize when he asked House if something were bothering him, thus getting himself a glower and a one-way ticket to Clinicville. Cameron clearly knew something was up and suspected it had something to do with Wilson. For managing to keep it to herself, he graced her with a smile. House supposed he should feel guilty for lighting her up like that, but it was such a pretty sight.
After spending some time on a German language tutorial website, he felt prepared to go home and ask the necessary questions, if given the opportunity. To get in the mood, he loaded the CD player with Glen Miller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. House felt his body wanting to dance and tried not to curse Stacy, the entire medical profession and the fates. These were some of the first songs he had ever heard, thanks to Mom’s collection of 78s.
Why couldn’t he have nice obvious dreams out of a first year psych textbook? Sure, it couldn’t all be Carmen in the hot tub, but the whole Schindler’s List thing was past being an interesting puzzle and fast approaching something he wanted over as soon as possible. Come on, Peter, he thought, turning down the volume and even stooping to chamomile tea with his good-night Vicodin. Let’s get this over with, shall we?
Nothing is ever easy. He couldn’t fall asleep. Probably the music. Even at a nearly subliminal level, it was nearly impossible to drift off when Artie Shaw’s clarinet was telling him to Begin the Beguine. He’d never been a great dancer, but if he’d known that the chance would be taken away from him, he would have danced his ass off at that fucking wedding. Old ladies. Flower girls. Wilson. Anybody. Uncle Murray, eat your heart out.
“You mean me?” asked an old man’s voice with an unmistakable German accent.
House couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from.
“Sorry about the Uncle Murray thing.”
Was it possible to hear a shrug?
He’d planned on using German, thinking the young man in the concentration camp might not know English, but if he was conversing with the old man, there was no point.
“Sprechen Sie Englisch?” Just to be sure, and to show off a little.
“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah doo-ah.”
The new voice was warm, vibrant, and young. Its owner, whom House had last seen in Auschwitz, sang passionately, in spite of the bloody nose and bruises marking his face. The darkness had given way to a night scene. House was on some kind of transport with the boy, crushed among other young men and women sporting wounds of their own. The clothing – and, of course, the uniforms on the guards – told him they were in late thirties Germany.
House couldn’t stand to see Wilson’s face -- okay, Peter’s face -- looking like that. He was looking at what must have been a truly beautiful young man before the shaved head and privations of the camp. Now he could see it through the coagulating blood and blossoming black eye. He reached out, wanting to at least clear some of the blood away. Nothing happened. Some part of his brain acknowledged sleep paralysis, but all he could see and hear was the situation in front of him, including the Nazi guard glaring as the singing continued.
“It don't mean a thing all you got to do is sing
(doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah)
“Who did this to you?” he interrupted.
Muller/Wilson considered carefully before answering with regret, “My best friend.”
“Bastard.” House couldn’t understand any of this. He knew it wasn’t real, wasn’t Wilson, but it felt real.
“He lost his way. Died on the Eastern Front.”
Time is not a fixed construct.
“And you ended up teaching kids how to dance in New Jersey. What does that have to do with me? Why are we having this little pow-wow?”
Peter closed his eyes and House was afraid the boy was going to pass out from blood loss.
“Jimmy liebt Sie.”
What happened to the English? Jimmy liebt Sie? Jimmy…Jimmy loves you?
“Jimmy loves me? You think I don’t know that?” he exploded.
For a guy heading to Auschwitz, Muller looked awfully pleased with himself.
“Got your glasses on?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” House demanded.
“You don’t know who your friends are.”
More singing as the scene faded to black.
It makes no difference
If it's sweet or hot
Just give that rhythm
Everything you've got
It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah.
House decided he needed to have a talk with his subconscious. Using something as serious at the Holocaust to make a point about his relationship with Wilson was cheap and petty.
Got your attention, didn’t it?
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Wilson put his hands behind his head and made himself comfortable. He hadn’t been completely joking about House’s smugness being an attractive quality. Those eyes got particularly bright when he knew he was right and had the proof to rub it in the world’s face. Sometimes Wilson found excuses to be around diagnostics when he knew House was about to solve a vexing case in order to see the smile of the magician pulling off his best trick. He’d always wondered why Watson put up with the “elementary” crap and the long-winded explanations. Maybe Holmes just looked really good doing it.
He even relished the sight of House pacing his office, barely using the cane. Being right was probably as good as Vicodin.
“How could I be having dreams with specific details about a man I don’t remember meeting? You said he died of throat and lung cancer after treatment and years of remission. I’m guessing the initial diagnosis was about six years ago. It’s funny the things that happen when you’re in a morphine coma. Sometimes your girlfriend authorizes surgery.”
Wilson felt himself tense, but House quickly moved past Stacy’s betrayal and Wilson’s silent complicity to get to his real point.
“Stacy had to leave to get some sleep or sign papers or something, so you came to keep an eye on me. Make sure I didn’t bother the nurses. Only you still had patients to deal with, including an old family friend who’d already been diagnosed but wanted to talk to you anyway. You couldn’t tear yourself away from my bedside, but you couldn’t blow off your friend. So, there I am in morphine heaven and you’re having a nice chat with Herr Muller, trying to do your compassionate voice-of-reason thing, even though you’re actually losing it. You wind up spilling your guts and he does what old guys always do. He tells you stories. Maybe he thought some highlights of the Third Reich would be a toe-tapper by comparison.”
“He told me about his friend, Thomas, who…”
“Lost his way. Joined the Party and then the army. Died on the Eastern Front.” House abruptly stopped his pacing, bearing down on Wilson with a dangerous grin.
“You remember hearing?”
“Not a word. But maybe flowers do like being talked to, and maybe you shouldn’t talk shit about friends in comas.”
“I told him how worried I was and I apologized for you calling him Uncle Murray and I probably babbled about a lot of other things.”
“Like telling him you loved me?”
House lowered himself into the chair across from Wilson’s desk, Wilson didn’t know if he was being accused or applauded. He almost hated to have to stop House when he was on a roll.
“He told me. He saw me practically tearing my hair out because of what you’d been going through and what Stacy was doing. He just smiled and said ‘Sie lieben ihm.’ I thought I knew what he was saying, but I hadn’t studied German so I made him say it in English.”
“And it still took five years and two more wives to even get you to kiss me.”
“I tried to deny it, ignore it, tell him we were friends. That’s when he started telling me about being a swing kid and his friends and how he ended up in the camps.”
“Was there singing?”
“He told me he sang when they arrested him. He fought with his friend just before they took him away. You heard all that?”
“Just tell me you and Cameron didn’t debate the Rape of Nanking while I was doing the Ketamine Conga.”
“Only you could be cynical about this.”
“I’m not cynical,” House replied. “I’m fascinated. Why would this epic start playing at my mental multiplex more than six years after the premiere?”
Wilson couldn’t tell if the question was rhetorical, but he didn’t care. He had an answer whether House liked it or not.
“Because we’re trying to have a relationship and one of us can’t handle it.”
House raised his eyebrows at Wilson’s bluntness. “And which one of us would that be, Jimmy?”
“Peter saw it before I could admit anything to myself. He asked if I had my glasses on.”
“It was true then. It’s true now. But I can’t control what or who I dream about.”
Wilson heard a long exhalation as if House had been holding his breath. The breath turned into a sigh as House got up to leave, the lightness gone from his movements. Wilson’s hands gripped his desk blotter, willing himself not to try to stop him.
“They’re just dreams, Wilson. They don’t mean anything.” He still couldn’t tell if he was being comforted or mocked.
“House…” Wilson tried to keep the fear out of his voice. One large hand covered his own, conveying warmth and assurance for the few seconds House felt comfortable leaving it there.
Wilson stood up to face House, wondering if he had the nerve to try and kiss him right there in his office. The door was closed. No one could see them. Would House permit…the question was nullified by House’s hand moving to the back of his head and pulling him close, brushing his lips, and then quickly moving to his ear.
“Don’t worry. I know who my friends are.”
Wilson watched him leave, off to save the world, or at least one patient per week, before going back to his paperwork. Somewhere in the middle of a stack of insurance reimbursement forms, he found himself singing.
”It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing…” and then stopped, finally acknowledging just how relieved he really felt.
He was off the hook for dreaming of Cuddy and the indiscretion itself. Now he could start thinking about what to cook House for dinner tonight and maybe a lifetime of nights. Was it appropriate to say Kaddish for a Lutheran who’d actually told Wilson he would have been proud to be his Uncle Murray and that he should tell his friend the truth before it was too late?
I told him, Peter.
That meant something.