James Wilson set down his briefcase, dropped his keys into the small turtle-shaped bowl by the door and took off his coat. God, he was tired. Tired and hungry.
It was less than a week until Christmas and, for once, he might actually get to take the holidays off. He currently had no patients who looked likely to enter a crisis over the next few days. But then, the holidays always were a bad time, and he knew he was probably overly optimistic. But even if one of his patients did have to come in, he would be able to rely on his team who were scheduled over the holidays.
For the first time in years, it looked like he would be able to have a few quiet days off.
But then, there was House.
Judging by the sounds from the living-room, he was currently camped out in front of the TV. Apparently House and his team had solved the case that had kept them busy for three days flat. House would be high with success and completely tired out at the same time. Wilson mentally shelved his idea of putting up a few seasonal decorations. He just wasn't ready tonight for the argument that would cause.
For a moment or two he considered a sarcastic 'Honey, I'm home' greeting, but he wanted nothing more than to sit down to a hot dinner, and then watch some tv or, even better, crawl into bed and sleep for a couple of years. Better at this point to check out the fridge, make a quick meal, and go on from there.
He slowly trudged into the kitchen.
The moment he opened the fridge to check out its contents, House yelled, "bring me another beer while you're there!"
"Get it yourself," Wilson muttered under his breath, but he grabbed a bottle and stalked into the living room. House was stretched out in the recliner, and several empty bottles sat on the floor beside the chair. Wilson fought the temptation to drop the one he had, preferably in House's lap. "Your beer, sire," he said, and held it out.
"Well open it," House said without taking his gaze from the tv. Wilson gritted his teeth.
"Do it yourself," he growled, and went back to the kitchen. He took stock of the fridge's contents once more-or rather, the lack of same. Several bottles of beer, half a stick of butter, some ketchup and last week's Indian takeout sat in lonely splendor in the interior.
"What the hell happened to everything?" Wilson scratched his ear as he tried to remember where it had all gone. He'd shopped last week, but just for a few basics . . . Clearly both he and House had been too busy to pay attention to mundane details like getting food. And that meant if he wanted something besides delivery pizza, he'd have to go out to the supermarket.
"Fuck," he sighed, and shut the door on a mostly-empty cold space. "Shoot me now."
"What?" House bellowed from the living room. Wilson closed his eyes.
"I have to go shopping!" he said loudly.
"You just got home! Besides, I only went shopping the other day."
Wilson made a derisive noise. "House, a couple of six-packs and a bag of pretzels do not constitute a grocery shop."
"That's what you say. Anyway, we have enough for tonight. I'll even share my pretzels. Well, I'll give you a couple."
"House, I'm-I'm not eating pretzels for dinner!" Wilson grabbed his keys from the bowl and moved to get his coat. "I'll be back . . ." His voice trailed off. "No, you come with me."
"Huh? I'm not going anywhere." House sounded indignant. "It took me two hours to get comfortable-"
"Either you come with me, or I'll buy nothing but disgustingly healthy food. You know, all vegetables and fruit, and turkey bacon."
There was silence for a few moments. "You bastard."
"Yes," Wilson said simply. "Get a move on, I don't want to spend all evening groping produce and arguing with the cashier over doubling coupons."
"There's an incentive." But a moment later Wilson heard the recliner creak, and then the thump-step of House's compromised gait. Share the misery, he thought, and took down his coat.
"And bring that bag of pretzels," he called.
Telling House to bring the pretzels had been a mistake.
"Watch what you're doing, you're getting crumbs all over the seat, House!"
His passenger tipped the empty bag out on the floor. "And salt."
"Dammit!" Wilson looked up in time to see a red light at the intersection. He braked sharply, which earned him a long blare of horns from the drivers behind him. "Fuck. House, do you want to die on the way to the store? Imagine your obituary!"
"'Renowned doctor dies with obsessive-compulsive colleague,'" House said. "You can guess which is which."
Wilson snorted. "Talking about obsessive-compulsive, we don't have a shopping list. There's a notepad and pen in the glove box."
"Oh yes," nodded Wilson, "I'm not having you trail all over the store. This is going to be a quick trip. In, buy what we need, and out. We need a list. You write."
House opened the glove box and peered inside. "What else have you got in here?" He grabbed a handful of papers, gave them a quick scan. "Jesus, Wilson! Your vital stats? Your haplogroup? This is insane!"
"I also have a set of travel games. Occupational therapy for bored children on long car trips," Wilson grinned. "You can play with that on the way back if you behave. Now, write!"
House sighed. He dumped the papers on the floor and ignored Wilson's sharp "Hey!", dug around in the compartment and came up with both pad and pen. Slowly, he sat back as Wilson moved through the intersection on the green light. "I live to obey."
"Okay, let's see . . ." Wilson glanced at the papers and gave up. He'd take care of them later. He advanced the car down the street as he thought about the store and its layout. "Produce first. Onions, potatoes, lettuce, kale-"
"Slow down," House said. He scribbled furiously. "Po . . ta . . toes . . . let-tuce . . . what was that last one?"
"Kale. Even if you don't eat it, I do."
House grimaced. "How do you spell it?"
Wilson didn't take the bait and moved through the store in his mind's eye. "We could use some bananas. Oranges. Apples. Do you want pears? They usually have these really nice organic Boscs."
"I want to get this fucking trip over with." House shot him a glare. "Are we there yet?"
"We've got half a block to go. Think you can make it?" Wilson stopped at the four-way and motioned for the SUV on his right to go through.
But when the Acme came into view, Wilson saw that the parking lot was completely full. Of course. A week until Christmas. What did he expect?
"Shit," he muttered.
"I don't think they sell that," House said. He noted something on the pad. "But we can check the bathrooms."
"Nice. I meant 'Shit, the parking lot is crazy.' We should go somewhere else, I guess."
House groaned. "But we're here already! Let's just get this over with!"
"No, I know another place we can go." And with that, Wilson turned left toward the center of town.
"Where do you have in mind?" House sounded suspicious.
"Oh god. You're going to one of those little hole-in-the-wall frou-frou boutiques you like."
"It's not frou-frou. Keep writing. We need hamburger, chicken-"
"It's the damn definition of frou-frou." But House wrote on the pad.
By the time Wilson had worked his way to the dairy case, they'd arrived at their destination. House squinted through the windshield.
"The Garden of Eatin'? You canNOT be serious. This place reeks of patchouli and we're nowhere near the front door."
"It does not reek of patchouli, House. Just because you think anyone who cares about the planet is a hippy freak-" Wilson drew in a breath; there was no point in getting pissed off at this early stage. Plenty of time for that later. "This is a great little store."
"Uh huh. Bet they don't have any decent junk food." House sat back and folded his arms. "I'll wait for you in the car."
"No way. You're coming to help out." Wilson pulled into a space and put the car in park, checked to make sure none of the idiot lights came on, and shut down the engine. "You can bring some of the recyclable bags with you."
"Cripple here," House said loudly. "Can't carry anything."
"Oh, balls you can't. I've seen you haul two big boxes of booze into the apartment with no trouble at all."
"Booze - organic healthy crap… you see the difference?"
Wilson sighed. "Fine. Let's-let's just get this done." He opened his door and held out his hand. "Gimme the list."
House tore the note from the pad and tucked it into his pocket. Without a word he popped open his door, slid out and grabbed his cane. "See ya," he said, and limped off.
"HEY! The-the list!" Wilson watched the other man do his own peculiar version of hurrying away. "The store is the other way!" he yelled. No response. "Dammit!" Now he'd have to remember everything himself, and as tired as he was, he was bound to forget something important.
Slowly he got out, went around to the trunk and retrieved the grocery bags, then trudged toward the store. The lights were still on at the front; clearly they'd extended their hours for holiday shoppers, as he had a vague recollection of stopping by after work a few weeks before and finding them closed.
The extra hours apparently weren't the only recent change. New lighting had been installed, there were colorful hand-painted signs above the shelves, and the aisles had been widened to accommodate a scooter, still shiny and clean in its spot next to the charging unit. Wilson eyed it as he came in. It had tinsel wrapped around its handles, and some overly holiday-happy employee had added a string of tiny, blinking LED lights. Wilson grinned as he claimed a cart and imagined House's reaction to seeing the scooter.
It took him a little time to get started, but soon enough he moved down the main produce aisle and checked his phone for the list of standard items he kept there, just in case. As he went through the familiar ritual he realized that even as tired as he was, he enjoyed this chore to some extent. There was something satisfying about filling up a cart to stock a kitchen. House did keep some basics around, but he never bothered with extended shopping.
Soon enough the cart held fresh vegetables and fruit. Wilson turned to the meat counter. He saw the whole organic chicken on offer and immediately imagined roasting it with a lemon and some rosemary tucked inside. That should do nicely for the weekend. Well, it would if he weren't sharing his kitchen and fridge with House; most of it would probably disappear in one meal.
He ended up with the chicken, several pounds of hamburger, a pair of thick steaks just made to be braised with beer and run under the broiler, and some fresh andouille sausage. Pleased with his purchases, he moved on to the dairy case. He turned the corner and was nearly run over by some idiot taking that sparkling new scooter for a test- "House!"
"Don't say a word," House growled when Wilson didn't quite manage to hide his grin at the sight of the scooter. He had torn off the tinsel and the LED lights, stuffed them into the basket at the front and put a heavy-looking bag right on top of it. Some of the lights blinked feebly from underneath. "I nearly killed myself schlepping all this across the parking lot, only to find that some idiot had locked the car!"
"Well, did you think I'd leave the car unlocked? In a busy parking lot before Christmas? Contrary to what you think, I'm not made of money, and I don't fancy filing a report for a stolen car at the station tonight."
"People would have to know this place even exists in the first place."
"It's a popular store," Wilson said in protest. He saw one of the co-owners headed their way. She looked upset. Uh oh, he thought. "What have you been up to?"
Any answer House might have given was forestalled by the owner's arrival. She planted herself in front of the scooter-a dangerous action, in Wilson's estimation-and faced House. "I understand you need to use this mobility device, but we really don't appreciate it when customers are less than thoughtful with store property."
"'Less than thoughtful'," House repeated. He gave the owner a considering look. Wilson knew that expression. It did not bode well. "I'd be interested in your viewpoint on this matter."
The owner relaxed a bit and offered a tentative smile. "Thanks for understanding. We're a small store and every tool we buy is an investment. We hope our customers realize this and cooperate with us in keeping everything in optimum condition. It's for the good of everyone, after all."
"Why, that's very community-spirited of you," House said. Wilson swallowed. He knew what was coming and was helpless to stop it, unless he intervened directly. What the hell, he might as well give it a try. Anything to prevent the bloodbath about to happen.
"Uh-we'll-we'll make sure to take good care of things," he threw in, and shot House a warning glare. House raised his brows and gave Wilson an innocent look. "House and I are all about community spirit."
"That's excellent, Doctor Wilson!" The owner looked from him to House and back. "I didn't know you had a partner."
"Only in crime," Wilson said, and heard House snort. "Listen, I know you're about to close soon, so we'll just finish up and get to the checkout." He smiled back at the owner as she nodded and went on her way.
"'Community spirit,'" House said in a cracking falsetto. Wilson shook his head.
"Shut up and help me with the last part of the list. And give me back the one you wrote down for me, by the way. I want to make sure I didn't forget anything."
"How could you? You've got that damn master list on your phone and the one you had engraved on your brain cells at birth, I don't know why you even need a paper version." House reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled note, handed it over. Wilson took it and looked at it, then frowned.
"This is . . . this is just gibberish," He squinted at it. "You-you just scribbled. And drew doodles. And boobs. House!"
"I made a list," House said. He sounded mildly indignant. "It's at the bottom."
Wilson pulled his gaze to the end of the paper. "Two fifths of whiskey. And Cheetos."
"What else do we need?"
"Apparently nothing," Wilson sighed. "I'm sure I can conjure up a Sunday roast out of thin air. And Cheetos."
"Well, I'm good with my purchases," House said and patted the bag in front of him. "You get whatever else you need. I think I might add some cookies to my list."
Wilson stood and watched as House began to turn the scooter.
"Okay, get your cookies. The tea should be in the next aisle over. Get me a tin of the organic white tea. It's got a green lid."
This probably wasn't a great idea, but Wilson just wanted House out from under his feet so he could finish getting the things they really needed and then go home. So what if House had never used a scooter in his life. The man could drive a motorbike in his sleep. He'd be fine. Besides, they'd be out of here in ten minutes, tops.
"Oh, and get some coffee while you're there, you know the one I always buy," he called to the retreating figure. There was no response, but he knew House would find the organic Ethiopian grind he brewed for them every day-he liked it too. House generally drank whatever coffee was around, even instant, though he bitched vociferously about the inferior stuff, but he did appreciate a good cuppa.
Wilson was about to double-check that he had everything he needed from this aisle, when he looked up just to make sure House went in the right direction. It was then that he spotted the lone glittery ornament swinging from the rear bumper. He still had the phone in his hand, so raising it, aiming and taking a couple of photos was one single movement. He snapped a few more for insurance, then hastily lowered his phone as House turned the corner.
This would come in handy as future blackmail material.
He was just trying to decide whether to email those photos to House's team right now or wait and have his assistant Sandy enlarge them and put them up in the doctors' lounges around PPTH when he heard a muffled whining noise that grew louder, and then a crash. "Oh shit," he hissed under his breath, and charged forward.
As Wilson turned the corner, a scene of chaos and destruction greeted him. House had abandoned the scooter, which now lay listing to one side in a pile of boxes-all-natural organic panettone, Wilson noted. An Elf on the Shelf figure lay half-pinned under the right front tire, its cheerful little face flattened into an expression of dismay. House was busy removing his purchases from the crumpled basket. One last LED light flickered, tried to glow, and gave up.
"Jesus, House! What the hell happened?" With an effort Wilson kept his voice low. House glanced at him.
"What difference does that make? It's got hand controls!" Wilson moved his cart aside and stared at the pile of boxes. Some of them were broken open, and the mildly spicy fragrance of Italian fruitcake filled the air. "This is ridiculous even for you!"
He picked up the Elf and two undamaged boxes of panettone.
"Doctor Wilson." The co-owner stood a few feet away, arms folded. Her expression was nothing short of outraged. "Would you come with me please?"
"You'd better go with her," House said. He extracted his cane from the wreckage, grabbed his plastic bag and turned toward the exit. Wilson moved quickly to stand in front of him.
"No way am I getting raked over the coals for this on my own, I had nothing to do with it!"
"You brought him here," the owner snapped. "That's it. The two of you in my office. NOW."
Half an hour later, Wilson put the last bag in the trunk, slammed it shut, and joined House in the car. "Well, that's one really great little store I'll never shop at again," he muttered, and started the engine.
"You should have stood up to her, she's nothing but a bully under that organic whole-wheat persona she wears." House took another slug of whiskey and held it out. "Want some?"
"Because DUI is the next item on my agenda," Wilson said wearily. "No thanks. Just sit back and let me get us home in one piece, okay?"
"Suit yourself." House settled into his chair. "Let's stop at Wawa and grab some hoagies and chips."
Wilson paused in the act of putting the car in reverse. He stared at House for a few moments. "We could have just gone there instead and you'd be happy, wouldn't you?"
"You're the one who has to have the cupboards stocked with stuff," House said. He tore open a bag of Cheetos. "You're the one who has to be Becky Home-Ecky. I'm happy with whatever Mrs. Wawa makes for me. My life's a lot less complicated than yours."
"You're such a liar." Wilson held out a hand. "Gimme some. And not the crumbs from the bottom of the bag either."
One hour, one traffic jam and one hoagie pick-up later, and Wilson breathed a sigh of relief. He had stowed away the content of five shopping bags, while House had made himself comfortable again on the couch. He thought about cooking a proper dinner but grabbed his turkey hoagie instead and joined House.
Both sat in silence while they finished eating. The tv flickered in the background, some game or other-Wilson had lost track of who played who. He didn't really care anyway. He was full, relaxed and had a tumbler of whiskey within easy reach. A Christmas commercial reminded him of the photos of House he had on his phone. He'd have fun coming up with embarrassing ways to use them. Maybe a nice photo essay in the PPTH newsletter, extolling House's holiday spirit, with the scooter shot featured prominently in the center. Or even better, holiday cards handed out at the reception desk . . . glittery cards. Revenge for the last prank House had pulled on him was long overdue. Wilson was a patient man and could bide his time until the perfect moment came along. This was it. The corners of his mouth turned up just a bit.
The holidays were starting to look good.
"You destroyed that display on purpose, didn't you?" The words slipped out before he could stop them. House glanced over at him, then away. He lifted his shoulders in a shrug.
A moment later, he grinned. "Did you see the face of that stupid elf?"