Disclaimer I don't own anything associated with House, M.D. or any of its affiliates. Unfortunately. David Shore does.

--

Paper Moon

--

Wilson used to think that Julie's hands were the most perfect hands in the world. How smooth they felt on his skin, the way she would casually stroke his cheek as she passed him in the kitchen or the way she gestured with her hands as she spoke. She used to speak with such liveliness.

She doesn't speak that way anymore; her demeanour is of false happiness when they are in the company of others -- her laughs are usually too loud and forced -- and when they are alone, she usually offers only small talk that is as empty as their marriage has become.

Julie is talking at him now -- at him, not to him; she never talks to Wilson anymore -- over a dinner of fillet steak and roast vegetables that she made without any love or care, but rather as a chore. The dinner table, covered in an expensive table spread, is laid out with trite details such as a pristine fine china gravy boat that they received as a wedding present and glistening crystal wine glasses -- wedding presents, also -- which are half-filled with a dry red wine that Julie picked up from the liquor store earlier in the day. Wilson hates dry red -- Julie knows this, Wilson knows Julie knows this, and it's just proof to him that they have drifted so far apart they don't know each other anymore, or even care to know each other.

An ironic touch to the dinner table is the two lit candles positioned in the centre of the table, on either side of a vase of gladiolas; ironic because candlelit dinners are supposed to be romantic. The romance in their relationship flickered out long ago, and the fact that Julie lights these candles every night they have dinner together -- which has become few and far between -- demonstrates to Wilson how much of a farce their marriage is.

Wilson stares at the flame of the candle nearest to him. He vaguely hears her saying something about wanting to redecorate the bathroom, though he's not really listening. He's thinking about why she even bothered to light these damn candles.

"…and I thought about the curtains. Maybe a peachy colour, something warm, not dull like beige or off-white. They could-- James!"

At the sound of his name, Wilson snaps to attention and turns his eyes to Julie. She is looking at him with that terse, thin-lipped expression she only gives him when they are not in public. He notices that there are small wrinkles around her mouth. He wonders briefly when the last time he kissed her on the lips was.

"Are you even listening to me?"

He gives up trying to recall the last time he kissed her altogether.

Wilson looks down at his half-eaten meal and lightly prods the fillet steak with his fork. The meat is too tough for his liking, but Julie will get on his back if he doesn't eat it. "Of course, Julie," he replies expressionlessly.

A fleeting thought of his friend, Greg House flashes through his mind and he wonders what House is doing. Probably sat in front of the television in his apartment with Chinese takeout or a pizza and watching a re-run of 'Cheers'. Right now, rather than having an empty, tasteless meal with Julie, he'd give anything to be with House, sitting with him and sharing Chinese takeout, while they talk over the sound of the television. They'd talk about real things -- baseball, football, music, fast cars; stuff that Wilson couldn't in a million years ever talk about with Julie.

He hears her sigh irritably, followed the scrape of Julie's knife across her plate as she cuts into her meat. "You are going to finish your steak, aren't you, James?"

Gripping his knife and fork in his hands firmly, he stares down at the meat, remembering that film Poltergeist, the part where the raw steak slithered across the counter before maggots burst out of it. No, he doesn't want to finish it.

"Yes, of course," he answers automatically and he mirthlessly begins to cut another piece with his knife.

"You better finish it. That steak is not cheap steak, you know, James."

Wilson halts cutting the meat for a moment and he thinks about stabbing the steak while saying, This is what your nagging is like, Julie. Stab, stab, stab. Over, and over, and OVER! How would she react to something like that? She would probably stare at him in disbelief before composing herself and chastising him like he's nothing but a spoilt little child.

Forcing a smile to his lips, he resumes cutting the steak and lies through his teeth, "This is good steak. Too good to waste."

"It's a bit tough," she abruptly remarks and her knife screeches across the plate again as she forcefully cuts into the meat. The harsh, ear-splitting sound sends a ripple of unpleasant chills down Wilson's spine and it turns him off eating the damn steak even more.

By now, if he was at House's place, he'd be relaxing with a beer in his hand and House would probably be sat at his piano, playing some classic James Taylor. Wilson loves James Taylor.

He slowly finishes the steak begrudgingly, while Julie refills her glass with more wine -- she never offers him any (he doesn't want any more wine, anyway) -- and refills it again as she rambles at him some more about her big plans to renovate the house. Why she wants to renovate, Wilson doesn't know -- he almost cuts her off in mid-sentence a few times to heatedly remark that all of this would be done on his hard-earned money, but he refrains from doing so. He can't be bothered getting into an argument with her.

He looks anywhere but at Julie as she talks -- at the flickering candle flames, the red wine that is left undrunk in his glass, the spot of gravy Julie hasn't noticed that has dropped on the tablecloth and bled into the expensive white material -- until she is somewhat tipsy and waving her hands about listlessly as she speaks. The wine bottle is empty.

"You have some gravy on your tie," he hears Julie say in a slightly slurred and tired voice, and before he can tend to it himself, she leans over and starts aggressively dabbing at his blue silk tie with a napkin. "I gave this to you as a wedding anniversary present," she scolds, as though that is supposed to mean something to him, even though she says it like it means nothing to her.

Wilson looks down at her hands, watching the way her left hand grips his tie like she is trying to strangle it -- he almost expects her to tug on it until she is strangling him -- and how her right hand is furiously scrubbing at the gravy spot.

Her hands have none of the grace they used to possess. They're bonier than they used to be and though her skin is moisturised with only the very best of moisturising creams that his money can buy, they don't look soft. They look like they would feel twice as hard as a wooden bed slat across his cheek. It's another part of her Wilson has lost in the slow death of their marriage.

He's unsure if he feels sad about that or not. He's gone beyond caring, really. He doesn't have the energy. "It's okay, Julie. It'll wash out."

"You could have at least taken this off before you ate," she replies testily and he bristles. The way she always blames him for everything irritates him to no end. She scrubs harder. She is making the spot look worse, the gravy smearing wider into the fabric. "This was a very expensive tie, you know."

Which you bought with my money, he almost snaps. Instead, Wilson sighs and grips her wrist, trying to tug her hand away. "Leave it. I'll fix it."

Julie scrubs for a moment longer and then reluctantly pulls away, scrutinising his tie with her eyes narrowed. "That'll have to go to the dry cleaner." She slaps her napkin on the table next to her dinner plate and brusquely pushes her chair back, standing up. Gathering her plate up and then his, she announces, "I'm washing the dishes and then going to bed."

Wilson watches her stalk out to the kitchen -- the wine has made her slightly off-kilter -- and as he sits at the table, staring at the flickering candle flame, he hears the sound of food being scraped from the plates into the bin, water running as she rinses the dishes and then the sound of the dishes being stacked in the dishwasher.

If he was at House's apartment, they'd leave the empty Chinese takeout containers on the coffee table, along with several empty bottles of beer and he'd still be listening to House playing the piano. Perhaps, if he was drunk enough, he'd be singing along to whatever House was playing. Or, if House was playing James Taylor's 'Paper Moon', he'd be singing along to it whether he was drunk or not. He loves that song.

Wilson hears his wife leave the kitchen and head for the stairs, her footfalls thudding tiredly up to the second floor.

He takes his tie in his hand and lifts it, looking down at the ugly brown gravy stain. House hates this tie -- he told him so the first day Wilson wore it to work. House hates all of his ties. That thought makes Wilson smile slightly as he tugs the tie from around his neck and he bunches it in his hand like it is nothing but a bit of trash to be thrown out. Pushing himself up from his chair, he leans over and snuffs the candle flames out and then heads towards the stairs to go up to his and Julie's bedroom.

As he climbs the staircase, Wilson quietly hums 'Paper Moon' and thinks about how House's hands look when they play the piano. For someone so callous, he has the gentlest-looking hands Wilson has come across. Wilson has always been a firm believer that a person's hands reveals a lot about them.

He stops by the bathroom and brushes his teeth, goes to the toilet and then makes his way into the bedroom. Julie is already asleep, and after he drapes his tie over his bedside table, Wilson quietly undresses and just as quietly slips into the bed.

His side of the bed feels stark and cold against his bare skin and he pulls the covers up around his neck, curling up on his side as far from Julie as possible. He used to cuddle up close to her, back in the days when their marriage wasn't a huge iceberg, but he's lost all desire to touch her. She always greets his touch with a cold stare or a rude shrug of her shoulder, anyway. It used to make him feel sad, sometimes angry, but now he just feels emptiness.

It's a while before he falls asleep. When he finally drifts off, he is thinking of House's hands touching him.

--

"Wow. You look like something that's been run over."

Wilson ignores the seemingly rude greeting from House with a faint, tired smile and a roll of his eyes as he enters House's office, letting the door close behind him. After the fight he'd had with Julie before he left for work this morning about that stupid tie -- she was hung-over and her badgering felt as bad as a hang-over to him -- hearing the straight-talking remark from his friend feels like a breath of fresh air.

"Good morning to you, too," Wilson greets dryly, walking towards House's desk.

House snorts. "Good? Name one good thing about it."

Good question, Wilson thinks.

He lets out a deep sigh as he sits down on the seat opposite House and he stretches his legs out, crossing his ankles. "I'm here. That's good, isn't it?"

House waves his hand dismissively. "I suppose that'll do."

Wilson cocks his brow. "You suppose?"

"Hey, that's as big a compliment as you are going to get from me this morning, so you might as well lap it up." House drums his fingers on the desk. "At least you're not chasing me around the hospital with a clipboard," House adds with a bitter edge to his voice, and he jerks his thumb towards the door.

Wilson smiles in amusement as he rakes his hand through his hair. "Cuddy hot on your tail again?"

"Yeah. Like a bat out of hell," House replies as he lets his head fall back against the back of his chair.

Yeah, so was Julie this morning, Wilson almost says.

He looks down to his tie -- it's an expensive plain grey silk tie that Julie gave him for his birthday a few years back -- and he fidgets with it. He thinks briefly to himself that one of these days he is going to buy his own damn tie, one that has nothing connected with Julie to it.

"How many clinic hours do you owe?" Wilson asks.

"Too many. And I hate your tie."

Wilson glances up, his tie still in his hand. "How many is too many? And, what's new? You hate all of my ties."

House pulls a face. "Six. And I know I hate all of your ties." He points an accusing finger at Wilson's tie. "But I especially hate that one. Julie bought that one, too, didn't she?"

Wilson smooths his tie down against his shirt with his palm, but he'd rather rip the thing off. He thinks back to that wedding anniversary tie he'd spilt gravy on the night before and the fight that happened this morning over it, and Wilson fleetingly toys with the idea of finding a pair of scissors and cutting it up into shreds when he gets home. Maybe he'd cut and tear all of his ties into shreds, and go and out buy himself a bunch of brand-new ties. Daffy Duck ties, perhaps. Julie, always wanting to keep up appearances, would think a Daffy Duck tie to be in hideous taste. Wilson wouldn't care if she did.

"Six more this month? Or this week? And why this tie?" Wilson self-consciously fiddles with the silk tie, reluctantly adding, "And, yes, Julie bought this one."

"This month." House swivels on his chair from side to side, considering Wilson for a moment. "And I hate that tie in particular because it's dull. All of your ties are dull. Things like ties reflect how a person sees themselves, or -- if the tie was a present -- it reflects how the person who bought the tie sees the person they bought it for."

Dull. The word echoes in Wilson's head and he glances down at his tie. Julie sees him as dull? Is that why their marriage has crumbled? Is that how all of the women he married see him?

It's as though House reads his mind. "You're either a really good actor and you've fooled me into thinking you're not actually a dull person, or your charming wife doesn't know you one iota."

House's words sting. Not because House is trying to be hurtful; Wilson knows that's not what House is doing. It hurts because there rings so much truth in what his friend just said: Julie doesn't know him anymore.

House continues. "Considering I've known you longer than you've been married to Julie and considering I let you eat Chinese takeout with me in my home -- which is a privilege by anyone's standards… or perhaps it's a curse; whichever way you choose to look at it -- my guess is the latter: she doesn't know you."

Wilson peers at House with a frown on his face. He feels a stronger urge to rip the tie off. Rip it off and rip it to shreds. It would feel cathartic. Wilson knows it would snowball, however -- if he ever took a pair of scissors to a tie that she'd given him it would be like peeling away a plaster that is disguising a nasty infected, open wound.

"And," House concludes, his voice a little softer, "considering that's a silk tie, I'm going to assume it's an expensive one."

"She bought it for my birthday a few years back." Wilson pauses. "With my money."

House arches his brows, though he doesn't say anything. Instead, House is quick to change the tempo and direction of the conversation with, "So, I'm thinking of having Chinese takeout for dinner tonight."

It's House's off-handed way of inviting him around to his place and Wilson flashes House a grateful smile. "I'll be there around 7 p.m."

House drums his hands on the desk quickly and leans back in his chair with a grin. "Alright. Now, get out of here before Cuddy comes barging in and accuses me of not working. She'll lump me with more clinic hours as punishment."

"You know," Wilson says as he stands up and shoves his hands into his trouser pockets, "six hours more a month isn't that bad."

"Yes, it is," House defiantly replies.

"What amuses me," he says as he begins to walk towards the office door, "is how much of a fugitive you consider yourself to be when Cuddy is around."

"I am a fugitive when Cuddy's on the prowl," House declares, reaching into his pocket for his Vicodin. "But, you know, men running away from her isn't anything new to Cuddy." House unscrews the Vicodin bottle and tips a pill out onto his hand. "You know why she goes running every morning, don't you?"

Wilson watches House throw the pill into his mouth. "Why?"

Swallowing with a grimace, House sits forward and says with a mock-conspiring voice, "Practice."

Wilson laughs as he leaves House's office.

--

He knocks three times on House's front door, his other hand clutching a six-pack of Budweiser. Wilson can smell the Chinese wafting from within the apartment and his stomach rumbles.

House answers the door and he greets Wilson with, "Lose the tie," before he steps back to let him in.

"You could just say 'hello'," Wilson remarks as he walks over the threshold.

House closes the door. "But that's boring."

"We both know how much you don't like 'boring'."

"I loathe boring." He pauses. "And dull."

Casting him a sideways glance at House, Wilson knows House is having a cryptic dig at Julie. He grins and says airily, "Well, isn't it lucky I am neither of those, then?"

"I wouldn't let you into my home if you were either of those."

Wilson chuckles as he moves through House's apartment to his lounge room and he dumps the Budweiser on the coffee table before he slumps with a relaxed sigh onto the sofa. Reaching up to his tie, he begins to tug it undone as he says in a tired voice, "God, I'm glad today is over."

House limps over to the sofa and sits with a grunt next to Wilson. "So am I."

Tossing his tie carelessly on the coffee table -- it skitters across the surface to the other side of the table and teeters on the edge for a moment before sliding slowly to the floor, out of sight and out of mind -- Wilson sits forward and reaches for one of the cartons of Chinese and opens it. Sweet and sour pork. His mother would have shrieked in horror if she knew her good little Jewish boy was going against Jewish scruples and eating "dirty" meat like pork, he thinks. "This smells good."

"As Chinese takeout normally does."

"I wanted nothing more than this for dinner last night," Wilson says as he picks the chopsticks up from the coffee table and digs them into the carton.

House gathers up the other set of chopsticks and another carton of Chinese. "Why? What'd Julie serve you last night? Your spleen on a silver platter?"

"She might as well have." He takes a bite of pork. It's delicious. They eat in silence for a few minutes before Wilson speaks again. "She wants to renovate the house."

House snorts quietly as he feeds himself a mouthful of noodles. "I know, you told me. Many times."

"Have I?"

"Yes." He hears House slurp up a strand of noodles between his lips. "As you've told me on a few hundred different occasions, she wants a peach-coloured bathroom, much to your chagrin."

Wilson jabs his chopsticks into the bottom of the carton and laughs dryly. "Yeah. She was on about that again last night."

Over a candlelit dinner, he thinks bitterly. Pinching another piece of pork between his chopsticks, he adds, "She had a go at me for spilling gravy on my tie last night. The one she gave me as a wedding anniversary present a few years back."

"Oh, not the ties again," House murmurs before shovelling in another mouthful of noodles. Chewing noisily, House stretches his chopsticks across to Wilson and spears them into the carton Wilson is eating from. "Your ties suck. I don't want to talk about them."

Wilson doesn't want to talk about them, either.

Instead, he peers down at House's hand and looks at the way his skin stretches over his knuckles, the rise of veins that map across the back of his hand and how his thin, musician fingers manipulate the chopsticks to fish out a piece of pork. He briefly imagines touching House's hand and he wonders what it would feel like. Warm? Soft? He thinks about how Julie used to stroke his jaw whenever she passed him in the house and he tries to imagine House's hand doing that to him.

It's like a succinct moment of revelation, where time seems to stop and the world comes crashing down in realisation. It hits him square and heavy in the chest: Wilson can't remember the last time he was touched and he feels lonely. The night before, he couldn't remember the last time he kissed Julie -- he still can't -- and he can't remember the last time he felt soft, gentle, caring hands running down his back like Julie used to do. That seems more like a dream he vaguely remembers having that has become so hazy around the edges, he can no longer recognise it.

He must have been quiet for a fair few minutes, because House nudges his knee with his good leg and says, "You going to finish that?"

The carton of sweet and sour pork is pried from his hands before he can respond, and Wilson shakes his head to clear it of those deeply depressing thoughts. To House, it would look like he's shaking his head to say no.

He needs a drink. He needs to get drunk. As he hears House digging and scraping the chopsticks into the carton, Wilson leans forward and snatches a beer from the coffee table.

"I want a Daffy Duck tie," Wilson says out of the blue as he slumps back, pulling the tail of his shirt out from his trousers and he wraps it around the lid of the bottle before unscrewing it.

House halts in mid-chew, chopsticks poised half-way into the carton. "You'd look like an idiot."

The bottle lets out a quiet hiss of gas as the lid is twisted off. "I don't care." Wilson tosses the bottle lid over to the coffee table and it bounces across the surface before disappearing over the same edge his tie fell. "I want one."

"Your patients won't take you seriously."

"The kids I treat will like it."

"Julie would hate it," House points out, waving his chopsticks in the air.

Fuck Julie, Wilson thinks. "I know."

There is silence as House takes another mouthful and chews, then swallows. "You know, when she finally worms the money out of you to pay for her peach-coloured bathroom, you realise you'll probably receive a matching peach-coloured tie to go with it." House leans forward and drops the empty takeout carton on the coffee table, and he snatches up a beer. "Just to try and make you feel welcome amongst the new furniture."

It's a sad but true point that House makes, and the way House words it makes Wilson laugh around his swig of beer. It shouldn't be funny, but it is. In a morbidly depressing way. He can picture Julie, on the night the renovations are completed, handing him an overdecorated box during yet another romance-lacking candlelit dinner with a false smile on her lips that would be inked with the evidence of her having consumed too much red wine. He'd open the box and there would be a silk peach-coloured tie folded neatly inside, which would remind Wilson of a noose more than anything else. It matches the colour of the bathroom!, she'd probably exclaim in a slurred, overenthusiastic voice. How about that? he'd likely return dryly, and he'd think about this very conversation he and House are having and he'd either want to laugh bitterly until there were tears of hysteria in his eyes, or start crying.

"Well, the day you see me at work with a silk peach-coloured tie, you'll know she got her peach-coloured bathroom."

Wilson takes a deep draught of his beer and he hears his friend snort, though House says nothing in return. Instead, House switches on the television via the remote control and grunts quietly as he props his feet up on the coffee table.

It's a Seinfeld repeat. It's the episode where Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer can't find their car in the huge car park, while Elaine carries around a bag of goldfish that will die if she doesn't get them into a tank of water, and Kramer is lugging around a huge air conditioner. Wilson has seen this episode too many times to find it funny anymore. Halfway through the show, when Kramer clumsily hides the air conditioner behind a parked car, he feels House pat his thigh briefly, as if he's letting Wilson know that he's there for him.

For the rest of the episode, Wilson stares down at House's hand.

--

The night has worn on in a slow, relaxed pace and Wilson doesn't want the night to ever end.

His sleeves are rolled up to his elbows and he's lying down on House's sofa, ankles crossed, with the last beer clutched in his hand, propped on his stomach. He's listening to House play the piano, a gentle blues song that Wilson isn't familiar with.

The aroma of Chinese takeout lingers in the air, the empty cartons left strewn on the coffee table, and the television is on with the volume turned down low. Wilson stares blankly at the screen -- it's the late-night news bulletin. Something about a fire in Chicago, Wilson isn't sure of the details. He doesn't really care -- even though he's looking at the television, he's listening to the soothing sounds of music drifting from the piano. There's no Julie, no candlelit dinners, no listening to her talking at him about things he doesn't give a damn about, and he doesn't fancy going home. Ever again, if he had it his way.

Wilson briefly thinks about asking House if he can crash here for the night. Even if he did, he'd still have to face going home at some point. He dismisses the idea of asking.

He grunts as he pushes himself up off the sofa -- he's not drunk but he's feeling mellow -- and he strolls across to the piano. Leaning against it, he stares down at House's hands as they gracefully move across the white and black keys. The memory of House patting his thigh crosses his mind. It's sad that House patting his thigh is the first genuine touch he's received in as long as he can remember.

House finishes the lazy blues tune with a flourish of notes and chords before he moves straight on to playing 'Paper Moon', Wilson's favourite James Taylor song. To him, it's a song about what could be and what could have been. Hindsight is the story of his life.

"Say it's only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea, but it wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me," Wilson sings along in a murmur, slightly out of tune. He watches how House stretches his little finger to reach the higher notes as his other fingers trill across chords, building the slow rendition of the song into an equally slow crescendo. He keeps thinking back at that brief pat on his thigh.

House glances up at him with a small, thin-lipped smile. He looks like he wants to make a half-hearted joke about something out of sheer habit, perhaps crack a remark about how appalling Wilson's singing is, or how slurred he sounds.

He doesn't, however. "I'm going to assume Julie doesn't wait up for you," House says off-handedly as he moves into the second verse of the song.

Wilson wishes that House hadn't mentioned her name or the fact that the night is coming to an end. He sighs. "No."

House casts another glance up to him -- a rare, slightly more sympathetic expression flashes briefly across his face -- and when House looks back down, Wilson pushes away from the piano and takes a few slow, mirthless steps around House, and stops behind him. Reaching his hand up, he holds it over House's shoulder hesitantly for a moment before he gingerly lays his hand down upon it.

House instantly stops playing, his fingers poised in mid-play over the keys with the last resonating notes he sounded dying into the silence of the room. Wilson can almost see the cogs in House's head turning frantically, as though he is debating between cracking a joke to lighten the mood or gruffly saying something that would be of some assistance or comfort.

"You should buy that stupid tie," House says after a stretch of silence.

Wilson swallows around the lump forming in his throat and he reaches his other hand up to grasp House's other shoulder, squeezing both of them firmly. Yeah, House is right -- he should buy it. Maybe he could even buy a few of them -- a Homer Simpson one, a Bugs Bunny one, an Elmer Fudd one, a tie for every day of the week. And then maybe he would take every damn tie Julie has ever bought him and rip them to shreds.

He heaves a tired, shaky sigh and House must have heard it because he feels his friend tentatively lean back against him. "Yeah," Wilson murmurs. "Yeah, maybe I should."

House reaches up to Wilson's right hand and he pats it. It's the same reassuring pat he'd given Wilson on his thigh earlier in the evening, and Wilson lets go of his friend's shoulder to clutch House's hand. It feels warm and soft, nothing like how House seems and everything how Wilson imagined it to feel. He remembers, again, the way Julie used to stroke his cheek tenderly whenever she passed him in the house. Wilson almost wants to lift House's hand to his face just so he can stroke House's fingers across his cheek to see how it feels.

God, he feels lonely.

He expects House to pull his hand away, but he doesn't. "You'll look like an idiot, wearing it." Wilson feels House's thumb rub gently over his knuckles, and he grips House's hand tighter, gratefully.

"I don't care."

A pause. "Julie will hate it."

"Fuck what Julie thinks." There. He said it. It's instant catharsis.

It's House's turn to squeeze his hand.

"I think I'm drunk," Wilson says. "Or maybe I'm just tired. I can't tell."

House pulls his hand away and reaches for his cane. Turning on the piano stool, he stands up with a soft, pained grunt and then looks at Wilson solemnly. "You're not drunk. Go home. Get some sleep. Go tie shopping tomorrow."

Shoving his hands into his trouser pockets, Wilson looks down at his feet and nods. It's wrong of him to feel disappointed that House doesn't offer for him to crash the night on the sofa, but he can't help it. The thought of going home to Julie fills him with dread.

"Yeah. Tie shopping."

House steps towards him and pats him on the back. A little closer and House would be touching him, Wilson thinks. "I'll see you at work tomorrow," House says quietly.

Wilson has never felt as needy for a hug as he does right now. He's never hugged House before, either, but House is the only person in his life who cares about him. It's why Wilson takes a deep breath and then impulsively stretches his arms out, and he draws his friend into an embrace, clutching him close.

In his arms, House stands rigid, unsure what to do and what to make of Wilson holding him at first but after a moment, Wilson feels House hesitantly place a hand upon his lower back. Wilson presses his face into his friend's neck and inhales deeply, taking in the scent of House. He doesn't know how to define what House smells like -- herbal-scented shampoo, remnants of a musky aftershave and something clinical -- but it smells comforting. It's a smell he knows he'll never forget.

"I don't do hugs," House murmurs against his ear in a husky, uncertain voice.

He doesn't pull away, however. Instead, Wilson feels House slowly slide his arm tighter around him and he pulls Wilson in just that bit closer. They stay like that, standing by the piano and holding each other for a few minutes and when House finally begins to pull away, Wilson presses a chaste kiss against House's cheek. He likes the feel of House's unshaven bristles scratching against his skin.

The kiss catches House slightly off-guard, but it catches Wilson even more off-guard when House returns the kiss, placing it delicately on the corner of Wilson's mouth. Wilson feels his breath hitch in his throat and he stares at House's lips, suddenly aware of how close they are and how warm House feels against his body, and how fast his pulse is beating.

He's also aware that House is staring at his lips, too, and -- slowly bunching a tuft of House's shirt in his fist -- Wilson tentatively leans back in. He stops just as his lips brush against House's and he hears his friend swallow thickly.

Wilson feels House's hand upon his back grip at his shirt. "I don't do hugs," House says again, this time in a hoarse whisper. He says it like he's at a loss for words and doesn't know what else to say.

Their lips linger close to each other and Wilson draws in a deep, shaky breath. "I used to." He pauses. "I haven't for a long time, though."

They stare at each other for a moment and then House slowly lets Wilson's shirt go. He pats the small of his back gently. House takes a breath as though he is going to say something, and then changes his mind and he pulls back reluctantly from Wilson. "You know you're welcome here anytime."

Wilson nods, trying not to appear as disappointed and confused as he feels. Gathering from the way House is looking at him, he's not doing a very good job of masking it. "I know."

They step back from each other and Wilson lifts his hand to his face, rubbing his eyes. He's so damn tired. "I suppose I'd better…" Heaving a deep sigh, he drops his arm to his side and gives House a weary smile. "Thanks for, you know, tonight."

House silently nods and watches Wilson retreat to the lounge area, where he collects his tie from the floor by the coffee table. Thoughts of Julie flood back into his mind with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Studying the tie blankly, Wilson wraps it slowly around his hand and asks, "You want to come tie shopping with me tomorrow?"

"I don't do shopping, either."

Wilson glances up at House and he sees his friend grinning faintly, seeming more like his usual self again. Giving House a small smile, he pockets the dull grey tie and makes his way towards the front door, House limping behind him. Opening the door, Wilson glances over his shoulder at House and says tiredly, "I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."

House gives him one last reassuring pat on the back before Wilson steps out into the hall and closes the door behind him.

He drives home, singing 'Paper Moon' quietly to himself.

--

There is a note left for him from Julie at his spot on the dining table when he arrives home.

Your dinner is in the oven.

That's it. No "Dear James" or "Love, Julie" or any endearing kisses scribbled in messy little crosses. Wilson notices that the gravy spot that had been on the table cloth the night before is gone.

He scrunches the note up and walks out into the kitchen. Wilson pulls his dinner out of the oven -- lamb cutlets with roasted potatoes, peas and gravy -- and he silently scrapes the meal into the bin, tossing the note in afterwards. He has a drink of orange juice from the fridge and stacks his plate and glass into the dishwasher before he heads upstairs to the bedroom.

The room is dark and Julie is asleep when he enters, and all the weightlessness he felt of being so relaxed at House's place gets instantly swept away in a rush of depression and replaced with the familiar heavy burden of being home again. It doesn't feel like home anymore -- it hasn't done for a long time. It's just a place where he eats and sleeps. He thinks he might as well be paying room and board, he feels so detached from it.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulls his tie out and tosses it carelessly on his bedside table, atop of the other tie he had spilled gravy on and promised Julie he'd get dry cleaned. She will probably have a go at him in the morning for not getting that done. Undressing quietly, he then peels the bed covers back and climbs into bed.

Julie stirs, but she doesn't wake. He's glad.

Pulling the covers up around his neck and curling up onto his side, he stares across the dark room to where the pale moonlight that is streaming through the slight part in the otherwise closed curtains shines on the wall.

It takes him a long time to fall asleep. He thinks about House; about how House touched him and how they almost kissed. He thinks about holding House's hand and how House played the piano. He thinks about how House smelled and how comforting it was, and Wilson lifts his hands to his nose to see if he can still smell remnants of his friend on his palms.

He can. It is only very faint, but it's there.

When he finally drifts off to sleep, he is thinking about the song 'Paper Moon', what sort of Daffy Duck tie he would like and what could have happened if they had kissed.

--

When Wilson arrives at work the next morning, he enters his office and sees a small package on his desk. Dumping his briefcase on his chair, Wilson picks the package up. It's rectangular shaped and wrapped neatly in cheap crepe paper.

There is no note attached to it and for a moment, he thinks sourly that it's probably a bomb from Julie. She had a go at him when he came down for breakfast about the tie and the fact that he hadn't taken it to be dry cleaned like she had asked him to. He reminds himself, however, that if it was from Julie, there is no way she would use something as cheap as crepe paper to wrap it in, whether it was a bomb or not. A bitter laugh forms at the back of his throat at that thought.

Wilson peels the paper off, crumpling and tossing it on his desk and when he sees what the mystery package is, he feels his throat pinch up and his eyes feel hot with a brief prickle of tears.

It's a Daffy Duck tie.

Wilson is completely speechless, even though there is no one there to talk to. He gazes at the tie and absent-mindedly fidgets with the tie he has on with his other hand. It's another one that Julie bought for him, for last year's Hanukkah. A royal blue silk tie. It's yet another tie that House hates.

He turns the clear plastic box that the tie is encased in around in his hands and he sees, attached to the back of it, a small note.

James. I lied when I said I don't do shopping. Greg. xx

He stares at House's messy handwriting and the two equally messy kisses scrawled side-by-side next to where House scribbled his name and Wilson feels choked up. He slowly opens the box and pulls the tie out, and studies it. It's a silk tie. Daffy Duck is posed in his typical arrogant stance, with his hands on his hips and a scowl on his face, and the background behind Daffy is dark red. House has good taste, Wilson thinks.

He lowers the tie to his desk and lifts his hands to the one he has on. Tugging it roughly from around his neck, he tosses it aside carelessly and picks the Daffy Duck tie up. Walking over to the small mirror that is above the sink in his office, Wilson puts the tie on, knotting it neatly at his collar and then he stands back and looks at himself.

The Daffy Duck tie is such a stark contrast to what he normally wears. House is going to make a lot of fun of him.

Contrary, Julie is going to be beside herself in horror when he gets home from work. Wilson thinks to himself as he smooths the tie down against his shirt that it's a good thing House told him he's welcome to his place anytime. He has a feeling he'll be chasing House up on that offer frequently.

On the way out of his office, Wilson drops the tie Julie gave him last Hanukkah into the bin and then heads off to his first patient of the day, a young girl who has advanced leukaemia. She'll like his tie -- it will be nice to see her smile.

As he walks down the corridor, he quietly hums 'Paper Moon' to himself with a faint grin on his face.

--

FIN
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