Wilson never cooked for his first two wives.
The long hours he put into medical school, then into his internship, then his residency, didn't give him much time to do more than nuke a frozen dinner or heat up some soup on the nights they didn't cook. He knew the importance of a good diet -- and had preached it to patients often enough -- but had problems putting it into practice himself.
Instead he'd eat whatever was available, whether it was something turned out at home during either of his first two brief marriages, or what the cafeteria had on the menu.
When they first met, it was House who was better in the kitchen. Not that he'd cook often, but he had a few specialties he used to rely on when Stacy was out of town.
House could make a hot and spicy chili, and would start a pot simmering while he and Wilson watched a game or a crappy move.
He could make burgers, mixing some garlic in with the ground beef in a metal bowl as he stood in front of the oversized butcher block table in their kitchen.
He could doctor up a store-bought spaghetti sauce with onions and peppers on the nights before he and Wilson would run the local half-marathon.
Sometimes House would help out when Stacy was making something special. Wilson watched as Stacy hovered over her pots on the stove and House chopped vegetables and meat for her, making quick and sure cuts with the expensive knives House had picked up at a restaurant supply store.
"You're pretty good with that," Wilson told him one night. "Maybe you should have gone into surgery."
"If you're going to be insulting, you can just leave," House said.
There was something about the way House and Stacy moved around each other in the kitchen, each knowing exactly what the other needed, never bumping elbows even as they worked next to each other. It was like watching some kind of dance, and Wilson began to wish it was one he could master.
Now the knives are rarely used. Wilson could see them on one corner of a kitchen shelf when he followed House into the kitchen. He was certain the blades had gone dull.
The stainless steel pots and pans hanging from their rack above the counter have a faint layer of dust.
House opened the refrigerator and handed Wilson a beer.
"Help yourself if you're hungry," House said and motioned toward the open jar of peanut butter on the butcher block table. Wilson watched him walk back into the living room. He could see his suitcase still standing next to the door.
Wilson turned back toward the kitchen. He took the knife out of the peanut butter and closed the jar. He put the knife in the sink. He didn't need to open the cupboards to know what was inside -- cans of soup, boxes of cereal, some crackers, maybe a couple of boxes of cookies. He opened one and put the peanut butter on a shelf.
House lost interest in cooking after the infarction. After Stacy left.
"Not much point cooking for just me," was the only comment he'd ever made to Wilson.
For a while, House seemed to lose interest in eating altogether. He'd eat if someone put food in front of him, though, and Wilson fell into the habit of picking up something for House whenever he went to the cafeteria.
Then he got into the habit of paying whenever House showed up at lunchtime.
Then he began paying whenever House agreed to join him for an early breakfast or a quick dinner on the way home after a long day. Buying food was one of the few thing that House ever let Wilson do for him without complaining, so Wilson did.
Shortly after Wilson married Julie, he saw a sign advertising cooking classes at one of the kitchen shops in town. He pictured again the silent dance House and Stacy used to have in the kitchen. He wondered if he and Julie could ever learn the same rhythm, but only told Julie that he wanted to learn how to cook so he could make her a treat every once in a while.
"Hey, I'm a modern guy," he told her. "There's no reason you have to do all the cooking."
"As long as this doesn't mean I have to clean out the gutters," Julie teased him.
"Of course not," Wilson said. "You'll never have enough time after you mow the lawn and change the oil in the cars."
When he was cooking, Wilson found he could forget about work, about the patients he had already lost, and those he was losing. The office politics of his department, of his committees, of the board just slipped into the background as he sautéed vegetables and watched over simmering sauces.
And the stove was always there waiting for him. He didn't need a reservation, didn't need a tee time. Even on days when he was kept late at the office, the kitchen would sit there, quiet and spotless, waiting for him. The oven never pleaded for miracle cures.
Once Wilson learned the basics, he began to experiment, to set aside the recipes he'd learned in class and play with the tastes and styles that he liked -- and that he knew Julie liked.
And Wilson learned which dishes could make Julie smile. She'd see him reaching for familiar ingredients and wrap her arms around him.
"You spoil me," she used to say, and she'd kiss him.
Even during the last year, when it seemed like everything was going to hell, when Wilson found temptation everywhere he turned, cooking was still the one thing that seemed to make Julie happy.
Wilson never told House about the classes. He wondered if that was because he was afraid of what House would say, or because he wanted to surprise House some day.
When House decided to move, finally selling the place that he and Stacy had shared -- the rooms where her ghost still seemed to roam years after she left -- Wilson knew he was looking for someplace on a ground floor, with room for his piano and his books. He'd been surprised, though, when House had insisted in checking out every kitchen.
"Yes, because stainless steel appliances are important when you're warming up a frozen burrito," Wilson had commented when House dragged him out to open houses one weekend.
House just shrugged. "Resale value," he said.
When he finally moved into the one-bedroom place on Baker Street, House had the movers shift the piano three times until he was satisfied with it. He placed each book into each bookcase in an order that he claimed made sense, but Wilson never understood.
The kitchen supplies sat in boxes for nearly two weeks until Wilson finally unpacked them.
So after Julie confessed, after Wilson decided he couldn't spend another night in the house they had shared, after he turned up on House's doorstep, Wilson knew exactly where everything was in House's kitchen.
Wilson had only planned to pick up a few things at the grocery store the next afternoon, just enough to get him through the next few days. But in the produce department, he remembered the way he had revamped his mother's recipe for stuffed peppers. The feta cheese in the dairy case would go well with a spinach salad, he thought.
Wilson found himself in the baking aisle, picking up flour and sugar. He came to a stop at the far end and stared at the rows of spices. He knew that House didn't have much of a selection these days.
He saw cumin and thought about the enchiladas he'd made a few times.
He saw coriander and thought about lamb kabobs.
He saw saffron and thought about paella.
He began filling the cart.
That night, as he sliced vegetables, he let harsh truth of Julie's betrayal slip into the background. He slid into the comfort of feeling the sharp edge of the knife pass through the layers of an onion. He peeled a clove of garlic, and cut it into finer and finer pieces as the ground beef sizzled in one pan and the rice cooked in another.
Every motion was familiar, even using House's supplies. Wilson smiled to himself and wondered what House would think of the recipe. He wondered if he should try adding more spices -- maybe some green chili peppers to add the extra bite to the flavor that House always seemed to prefer. But he hadn't bought any chilies.
"Maybe next time," Wilson muttered to himself.
House never thanked him for cooking. Wilson only found out about the praise for his pancakes when Chase hinted that maybe he should send enough with House next time to share.
House didn't ask him to make anything special, but everything Wilson made seemed to disappear.
House may have liked the food, liked Wilson cooking for him, but he didn't reward Wilson's efforts with a smile. Instead, he either ignored Wilson to watch TV or would sit quietly and study him with a gaze that made Wilson feel as if every ingredient, every dish was being weighed up somewhere in House's mind.
Grace didn't judge. She told Wilson that first night that she was fine, that she'd order take-out if she got hungry -- not that she was hungry these days anyway. He had been the one to insist on going out to get her a few things, then insisted on cooking up something. He sliced carrots and broccoli and rinsed and trimmed pea pods while he steamed brown rice for a stir-fry.
"There'll be enough left over so you can warm it up tomorrow if you're too tired to cook," he told her.
"Is this going to be included in my next bill for outpatient services?" Grace sat at the table watching him. Wilson glanced over at her and she smiled at him.
"Oh, I doubt you could afford it," he said. "It's an experimental treatment. Maybe we should just keep this a secret between us and not let accounting know about it."
She laughed a little. Wilson reached over to put a hand on her shoulder, meaning to give her a comforting squeeze. Instead Grace took it and raised it to her lips. She kissed the back of his hand, and held tight to his fingers a moment longer before she looked up at him. There were tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she said.
Wilson knew it was wrong, even as he fell more deeply into familiar patterns. He took comfort in cooking for someone who took comfort from everything he did. Taking care of Grace let him concentrate on someone else, someone who needed something he could give and accepted every offering with open arms.
His own problems were nothing compared to hers, and he knew exactly what to do for every complication her life seemed to bring. Massages and medication for the pain, bland foods when her stomach was upset, soft foods when the radiation left her mouth filled with sores.
Grace never asked him for explanations, never asked why he was there, never told him he should leave.
Instead Wilson kept telling himself he should leave, move into the apartment that he'd told House he'd already rented. But then Grace would smile, and softly thank him again, and he'd tell himself he'd stay for just one more night.
Grace booked her flight to Florence the same day Wilson told her about how Boyd had "healed her," and Wilson found his own apartment.
It wasn't as nice as the one he'd looked at before, the one that House lost for him, but it was good enough -- close to the hospital and available immediately. He considered a two-bedroom place in the same complex, but that one was on the second floor. The one bedroom was small, but there were only three steps up to his door.
Wilson tried to make it comfortable. He paid far too much for a plasma-screen TV. He got his DVD player back from House. The John Ford DVD box set joined the Hitchcock box set on the shelf beneath the TV, then the director's cut of "Touch of Evil."
There wasn't much space in the kitchen, just the two rows of counters in the galley-style room, but there was a gas stove, microwave and refrigerator.
On the Saturday morning after he moved in, Wilson drove to one of the kitchen outlets near the mall. He splurged on a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and a top end set of Japanese knives. He invested in a new set of Calphalon pots and pans, then filled the cart with a colander, cutting boards, measuring cups and spoons.
He spent half of the afternoon setting up the tiny kitchen, finding spaces in empty cupboards and drawers. At the grocery store later that day he stocked up on spices, flour, sugar and everything he needed to fill the pantry.
Once he was home, though, he couldn't decide what to cook. There was no one else to cook for, no tastes to satisfy except his own, and he found he wasn't hungry.
Wilson was watching the left side of the TV screen, waiting for Hitchcock's cameo 20 minutes into "The Trouble With Harry" when he heard the knock at the door. He paused the DVD and sighed, but didn't bother getting up until he heard the knock a second time, the familiar sound of wood hitting wood.
He pulled open the door. House had his cane raised in his hand, ready to rap against the door again.
"You don't have a doorbell," House said.
"But I do have a phone." Wilson stood in the doorway. "You could have called, and asked if it was a good time to come by."
"It's harder to catch somebody in the act if they know you're coming." House brushed past Wilson and into the living room. He stood in the middle of the room, taking in the bare walls, the sofa, the TV, the boxes stacked in one corner. "Pathetic," he said. "This place reeks of the scent of the newly single."
"Thanks so much for that pithy, yet oh-so-sensitive summing up of my current status." Wilson closed the door, then walked over to sit back down on the couch.
"You're welcome." House bowed slightly in Wilson's direction, then walked to the hallway. Wilson could hear him opening doors, and the rattle of the bedroom closet sliding open. He heard the sound of a shower curtain being pushed aside in the bathroom.
"Let me guess," Wilson called out. "Looking for patients?"
House walked back into the living room. "You can never be too certain," he said. "They have a tendency of turning up where you least expect them -- at least when you're involved."
He slid his backpack onto the floor and sat next to Wilson. "It's not much of a place," he said.
Wilson shrugged. "It's not like I need that much just for me."
"But you are fully stocked with self-pity."
Wilson just rolled his eyes and reached for the remote.
"Hang on." House reached for his pack and zipped it open. "Got you a housewarming present." He pulled out a plastic bag and handed it to Wilson. "I even wrapped it myself."
The bag was heavier than Wilson expected, and he stared at House before he looked inside it.
"Go on," House said. "It won't bite."
"I can never be certain with you," Wilson said, but finally opened the bag, then reached inside and pulled out a box. "A panini maker?"
"It's got different temperatures," House said and pointed at the list of features on the side. "And adjustable height settings ... for ... something or other."
Wilson turned the box over and looked at the photos of the sandwiches and snacks. He thought about the smoked turkey he'd picked up at the store and the cheddar and muenster cheese in the fridge. There was pumpernickel bread and honey mustard in the cupboard. He looked up at House. "Thanks."
House nodded. "You're welcome," he said. "So what's for dinner?"