HOW STEVE BECAME AN ADDICT

It seemed odd to Wilson that House displayed more concern about the food he fed to his pet rat than the food he fed to himself, but then many things were odd about Greg House. Reaching into the fridge for a beer re-supply late one Friday evening, Wilson made a surprising discovery.

"What's this, House?" he asked, holding up a bag of organic mixed leaves he'd found tucked between the peanut butter and a festering hunk of cheese, and waving it around. "Cameron been doing your shopping again?" He smirked. "You need to watch that. Next thing you know there'll be wine, and flowers for the bedroom, and then she'll want to come over and water them for you."

House glanced across from the couch and shrugged. "The rat needs fiber in its diet," he said. "We don't all survive on a diet of pancakes and chips like you."

House pointedly allowed his gaze to rest a little longer than was strictly polite on Wilson's gently expanding middle region, and as he tipped his head back to chug the remainder of his beer he added, for good measure, "Anyway, you can keep your thieving hands off Steve's supplies. You already ate enough salad at lunch today to feed Cameron for a month." He paused. "Unless you're planning to sleep in the bathroom, tonight, that is!" and House snorted, and turned back to his video game.

Wilson grinned and replaced the bag, before grabbing a couple of beers and making his way to the couch. "Here," he said, handing one to House and placing his own on the table as he dropped back down into his seat.

What came next happened so quickly that afterwards Wilson wasn't entirely sure how he'd managed to do it. One moment he was opening a packet of Doritos and swinging his legs up onto the table, but the next his foot had somehow snagged against the side of Steve's cage, and all Wilson later remembered of the next few seconds was an anguished look of beady eyed amazement and four small paws scrabbling wildly, as Steve's feet parted company with the still revolving wheel and his body performed a double backwards somersault as his cage fell crashing to the ground.

"For fuck's sake, Wilson!" yelled House, dropping his beer as he jerked forwards to pull himself up. Wilson was already vaulting the table, though, and with a stricken expression he righted the cage as he lifted it, and placed it tenderly on House's lap.

For a moment all conversation ceased as two worried faces peered closely through the bars of the little cage, searching anxiously for signs of movement. The once tidy interior of the cage now resembled a scene of hurricane-like devastation, with Steve's bedding, wheel, food bowl, assorted toys and what looked like a couple of small pieces of organic broccoli heaped in an untidy mound in the far corner. Nothing was moving, and had it not been for part of Steve's tail poking out from the chaos of his bedding it might almost have looked as though the rat had disappeared.

"Is he ok, d'you think?" asked Wilson, tremulously. It wasn't that he was particularly fond of Steve, but for a man with a carefully cultivated reputation as a virtual child and puppy slayer House had developed a surprisingly strong attachment to the rat. House said nothing, but he frowned and began to reach forward to unlatch the door of the cage. Just at that moment, though, a small eruption began in the vicinity of the upended food bowl, and Steve's nose emerged cautiously from the rubble.

Wilson hadn't realised he'd been holding his breath, but now he heard himself sighing with relief as House reached into the cage and extracted Steve carefully, brushing small pieces of oats and bedding off his coat with a surprisingly gentle finger. He cradled the rat in both hands, murmuring softly to it, and lifted it up to take a closer look. The rat was trembling, and Wilson, almost paralysed with guilt, couldn't be absolutely sure he hadn't spotted tears in its eyes. Apart from the shock and shaking up, though, there was no obvious sign of serious damage to be seen.

His examination concluded, House leaned forwards and placed the rat carefully on the table. "Yeah, but no thanks to you, you idiot!" Remembering his discarded beer he looked down in disgust at his wet pants, and frowned again. "When I invited you over for beer, fun and frolics tonight this definitely wasn't the sort of action I had in mind!"

Wilson was about to snap back at House but a small movement accompanied by a plaintive squeak caught both men's attention, and instead he switched his gaze back to the table, where to his dismay he saw Steve moving in tight, three legged little circles, and trailing his right hind-leg behind him.

"Shit!" exclaimed House, and leaned forwards again to scoop up the rodent. Steve squeaked more urgently this time, and wriggled violently as House took hold of his leg and firmly but gently explored the bones for any sign of a break. House flexed the little limb carefully but found nothing, and having satisfied himself that there was no major injury he turned back to Wilson and pushed the rat towards him. "Here," he snarled. "See if you can manage not to kill him while I go and change my pants," and House got up and made his way towards the bedroom.

Wilson had never actually held the rat before, but it now lay a surprisingly warm and pliant bundle in his hands. Recovering from its shock and House's assault on its leg it had stopped struggling, and now it peered up earnestly into Wilson's face, nose and whiskers twitching inquisitively, and beady little eyes shining bright. Wilson was touched to the core. "Poor Stevie!" he said. "Did nasty uncle House hurt your leg? Don't you worry! Uncle Wilsie will make it better."

Wilson looked round for some means of making amends to the rat, and his eye fell upon the forgotten packet of Doritos now abandoned on the table. He reached for the packet. Spicy Chilli flavour. Hmmm! He stole a quick and guilty look towards the bedroom, but there was still no sign of House, and so he deftly removed a Dorito from the bag with his left hand while still cradling Steve with his right.

"Yum! Here you go, little fella!" he smiled, and offered Steve the treat. Steve sat up and took the corn chip eagerly, and began to nibble enthusiastically at the corner. By the time House stumped back to the couch a few minutes later, dressed in a fresh pair of jeans and a dry t-shirt, Steve was half way through his third Dorito, and Wilson was almost in love again.

"Jesus, Wilson!" yelled House, exasperated now beyond endurance. "Can't I leave him alone with you for even a minute? I already told you I don't want him eating that sort of crap. One pack of those and he'll be sprouting fun bags bigger than Cuddy's! I don't want him growing into some sort of freaky baldy headed cancer rat, if that's OK with you, of course?" he finished, glaring provocatively into Wilson's face.

He picked up the packet, then, and read the label. "Oh, great choice too! Spicy Chilli flavour! There'll be enough capsaicin and other crap in there to give him an endorphin hit that'll have him high for a week! And those things are as addictive as hell!"

House reached towards Steve to extract the Dorito from his paws, but Wilson just held Steve closer to his chest and turned away. "Oh, give him a break, House," he purred, fondly. "It's only a chip. The poor thing's obviously starving! And anyway," he spluttered next, a look of indignation briefly displacing the look of dewy eyed affection on his face, "I don't remember you whining on about the carcinogenic properties of snack food while you were stuffing my chips into your face in the canteen every weekday for the last 5 years!"

"Doh…. He's 6 inches long and I'm 6'2", Wilson! Does the concept of relative body mass not mean anything to you?" House rolled his eyes dramatically, exasperation practically dripping from every pore. "I really hope it does, or there are going to be some pretty dead little baldy-headed cancer kids next time you feel like scribbling on your prescription pad!"

Despite Wilson's slightly half-hearted protests, House remained adamant, and eventually the nub of the third Dorito was prised from Steve's unwilling paws and consigned by House to the floor. Wilson sighed again, and restored the cage to neatness, spending a little extra time fluffing up Steve's bed to make it specially snug and warm and shooting him a sympathetic look. Steve was returned to his cage, where he limped off towards the nest in the corner, appearing to Wilson to be darting sulky glares in House's direction as he stumbled along. House and Wilson returned to their respective positions on the couch, and half an hour later relative calm had been restored to the apartment.

-- ----- --

As House and Wilson settled back into their familiar Friday night routine, Steve lay licking his whiskers in his nest. His leg still throbbed a bit but by now he barely noticed as, with busy little movements of his front paws around his face, he took care to retrieve every last crumb of the salty, fiery snack from around his mouth.

Certainly it had been a shock to be catapulted from his wheel without warning and dumped unceremoniously on the floor, but Steve wasn't the sort of rat to hold a grudge, and this new and unexpected development in the feeding department had more than made up for it. He licked his lips again and polished his whiskers. Looking back, he didn't think he'd felt this good since the time he'd broken out and spent the night in House's bed.

Steve looked over at Wilson. He liked his owner's friend, with his soft, brown eyes and kind, warm hands, and his gentle, attractive voice. Steve gazed across to the pile of seeds and by now slightly battered looking broccoli resting in his food bowl, and he couldn't help but feel that House had been holding out on him. Wash completed, he left his bed and made his way over to the wheel, where he climbed up and began to run.

-- ----- --

Saturday morning dawned bright and early in House's apartment, and Wilson awoke on the couch to the sound of the shower running in the bathroom. A light whirring noise from the direction of the table attracted his attention, and a moment later he was sitting up, and smiling over at the rat already at work on its wheel.

"So, then, Stevie! What's new? How're you feeling today?" he asked, inspecting the rat for signs of any distress. "Leg holding up OK?" He yawned and reached lazily for the bag of Doritos still lying open on the table, and pushed a couple into his mouth as he shifted forwards on his seat to get a better look.

Seeing Wilson's face loom suddenly at the side of the cage, the rat jumped down from its wheel, delighted, and scampered across to greet him, squeaking loudly.

"What's that? Still a bit sore, eh? Poor little Stevie." Wilson's eyes gleamed guiltily, and he poked a finger through the bars of the cage, rubbing it gently over the rat's soft nose. The rat sniffed and licked at the finger appreciatively, squeaking again.

"Not hungry today, huh?" Wilson gazed with some concern at the food bowl in the corner of the cage. He knew that House normally fed the rat first thing in the morning, but today, he noticed, the rat's bowl stood apparently untouched and ignored, filled with a fresh batch of seeds, a couple of leaves, a sprinkling of Rat B Fit Plus and two chunks of rather pallid looking organic carrot.

"House still filling you up with all that healthy stuff, huh?" Wilson observed. "Well, it is actually good for you, you know." He picked a pumpkin seed out of the bowl and smiled, proffering it delicately on the end of a finger, but the rat just sniffed the seed dismissively, and turned away.

Steve was growing desperate. He sat back on his haunches now, and shifted his weight carefully over to the left, raising his right back leg slightly and dropping his shoulders in what looked to tender-hearted Wilson like an attitude of defeat. From the corner of his eye Steve stole a sly glance at Wilson, and was gratified to see a look of anxious consternation spread across his features. Steve squeaked once again, quietly but pitifully this time, and Wilson could have sworn he heard him sigh.

Moments later Wilson was pushing a couple of Doritos through the bars of the door, and he was relieved, if a perhaps a little shocked, to see just how quickly the rat could actually still move, as it dropped immediately to its front legs and made a dash to the door as the Doritos landed on the floor beside it.

The last thing Wilson saw as he glanced guiltily backwards, after slipping quickly off the couch and across the room in order to intercept House and direct him straight into the kitchen, was the rat sitting up happily on both back legs, a Dorito clutched firmly between its front paws, nose twitching and small teeth nibbling frantically away. Wilson was sure he saw a smile on its face.

The End