House headed straight for the reference books in his office. He grabbed the first one that covered poisons and tossed it onto his desk, barely missing the plastic container on the corner. He plucked the sticky note from the top, recognizing Wilson's slanted handwriting before he'd even read it.
"I grabbed you something before the cafeteria closed, just in case," it read. House stared at it, he turned the note over, but there was no further explanation there either.
House opened the container, finding a cold sandwich and greasy fries. He sat, popped a fry in his mouth and opened the book.
He was halfway through the sandwich and on his third book when Cameron walked in. She took one of the fries before dropping into a chair. "These are disgusting," she said, but reached for another one.
House pulled the container toward him and stuffed the final four fries into his mouth. "Get your own," he said.
She leaned back in the chair. "Foreman's on his way back," she said.
"Find anything yet?"
She shook her head. "No, but Kim's doing better. Her heart rate has stabilized and she's starting to take breaths on her own."
"But it still doesn't make sense," Cameron said. "Trish isn't affected."
Cameron sighed. "The matron of honor," she said, then added, "the hairdresser?"
"The prime suspect," House said. He looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then stood. He grabbed the last half of his sandwich. "Time for an interrogation."
House came to a stop in the hallway, before he got to the room. One of the women -- the same one who had been standing apart from the others before, the one who had been doing so much pacing -- was handing out coffee cups. He recognized the logo on the cups as coming from the same place Wilson had been to a few hours earlier.
"Is that her?"
They took a few more steps toward the group, then heard Chase's voice from inside the room calling for the nurse. Cameron ran into the room. House stopped just inside the open door.
"I was taking her off the pacemaker, but her heart rate started bottoming out again," Chase said. House looked up at the monitors, could see her blood pressure falling too as Chase worked to hook her back up to the pacemaker.
House looked down at the woman, her hair still damp. "Shave her head," he said.
"What?" Cameron turned toward him, even as she handed equipment to Chase.
"Whatever it is, it's in her hair," House said. "It's still there. Remove her hair, you remove the toxins."
"No," someone muttered from the hall. House turned to see the bride's mother standing behind him, shaking her head. "You can't shave her head."
"Because," she said, "because we haven't even taken the pictures yet."
House raised his eyebrows and nodded. "Oh, of course, now I understand," he said. "We'll leave her just as she is. That way she'll look perfect when you take a photo of her in her coffin."
He turned back to Cameron. "Shave her head."
House stepped out into the hallway, then found his way blocked at every turn as the patient's family crowded toward the room. He shuffled one step to the left, then a step to the right. Finally he lifted his cane.
"Cripple coming through," he said, and they finally parted. He broke clear and walked to the elevator, then came to a stop.
The bridesmaid was standing there, alone.
"It was me, wasn't it?" she said.
House studied her: the same crappy green dress as the other women, the same worried expression, the same tired look on her face. "The safe bet is on you," he said. "The question is ..." he paused, watched her as she rubbed her arms. He reached out and took her hand. "You have eczema."
She yanked her hand away. "Yes," she said.
"You wear gloves when you shampoo your clients?"
She nodded. "Yes. I do a lot of shampooing, a lot of dyes. It irritates my skin after a while."
"And in this case, it may have saved your life," he said. "What did you use?"
The bridesmaid looked at the family down the hall, then turned away. "It felt wrong," she said softly. "It didn't lather up right. It didn't smell right. I checked the bottle and it was the same shampoo I always use, but ..." She wiped her eyes. "We were running late, there wasn't time. I thought maybe I was imagining things, but ..."
"Do you know what it was?"
She shook her head. "My husband might," she said. "He's got a lawn care business."
"He always keep his chemicals in your shampoo bottles?"
"Never," she said. "Never. He's very careful."
"Not this time," House said. "Call him. Find out what the hell he put in there."
He hit the button and stepped into the elevator as it opened.
She put her hand out, held the door open. "Do you have to tell them it was my fault?"
House narrowed his eyes, leaned down toward her. "They're going to figure it out, what with the whole hair thing."
"But I didn't mean to hurt her," she said softly. "I wanted to help her." She looked back down the hall toward the family. "I don't want them to hate me."
House shrugged. "I don't care." He pushed her hand away and let the doors slide shut.
His cell phone rang before he'd even pushed the button.
"I'm just walking into the lobby," Foreman said.
House hit the first floor button. "I'll meet you there."
The nurses' station at the clinic was empty and Foreman spread the contents across the surface. House grabbed one of the shampoo bottles. "Start here," he said. Foreman nodded and sprinted toward the elevators.
House turned to follow him, then saw a light on in Cuddy's office. He stood outside the doors for a minute, watching Cuddy sign one piece of paper, put another in a folder, file a third. She jumped when he walked through the doors.
Cuddy put a hand up on the filing cabinet to steady herself. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I work here," House said.
"Not here, the hospital, here, my office." Cuddy walked back to her desk and flipped shut the folder on top of the stack.
"I could ask you the same thing," House said. "It's after 10 on a school night."
"Apparently I work here too." She walked around the desk and sat. House reached for the folder, and she took it out of his hand. "And your patient is upstairs, not in my office." House grabbed the one that was beneath it, but Cuddy slapped her palm down on the pile.
"Budget requests," she said. "Which I still need from you for the next fiscal year."
"Put me down for the same thing you gave me this year -- with a generous bonus, of course."
Cuddy shook her head. "Your staff should get the bonus," she said, "hazard pay for dealing with you."
"And what kind of compensation do I get for two bullet wounds?" He saw Cuddy flinch, just for a moment, then the mask was back in place.
House walked around her desk to stare out her windows, though there wasn't much to see: the blinds, his own reflection and the faint image of Cuddy, turned toward him. "Did you feel guilty?" he asked.
"Guilty," he said again. "About the shooting or the hospital's crappy security or about making me keep your secrets about the IVF. Is that why you lied?"
"I didn't shoot you," Cuddy said. "Security can't be everywhere at once, and I never asked you to keep any secrets." She stood and walked toward him, but stopped a few feet away, watching his reflection as he watched hers. "And I told you why I lied, because I thought you were getting clean." She crossed her arms across her chest.
House shook his head. "That's not it," he said, "not all of it anyway." He turned and faced her.
Cuddy looked down for a moment. "It was enough," she said.
House took a step forward, closing the distance between them. "But it wasn't the whole reason."
She looked him in the eye. "No," she said. "It wasn't."
House cocked his head, gestured to her to continue.
Cuddy stepped back and leaned against her desk. "You only stole the oxycodone because I cut off your Vicodin," she said. "If I hadn't done that ... if I hadn't done that, maybe things would have ended differently." She shook her head. "Or maybe they would have ended up the same way. Who knows?"
"So you lied because you felt guilty," House said.
"No," she said. "I lied to fix what I'd screwed up earlier."
House leaned toward her. "You realize you're saying that two wrongs actually do make a right?"
Cuddy sighed and sat in her chair again. "I'm saying I did what I had to to keep your ass out of jail and in the hospital where you manage to actually save lives every once in a while." She took the top folder from the pile and opened it. "And I'm saying that I need your budget by noon tomorrow."
House watched her work for a moment, then walked across the room. "I'll let Cameron know," he said, and closed the door behind him.
He stood outside Cuddy's office and stared at the dark exam rooms for the clinic, the vacant nurse's station, the empty wheelchairs waiting for patients. He looked back in the office, saw Cuddy writing something in the folder.
She was right. Cuddy had never asked him to keep her secret, but he did, and he still wasn't sure why. He had nothing to feel guilty about, nothing to apologize for.
"You made her cry, House." Wilson's voice echoed from his memory, from sometime in the last weeks of rehab, when House had been marking time and going through the motions.
"I did not," House had said, but Wilson told him he was wrong, that he'd seen her, that she'd told him her secret as well.
"Hormones," House had said, but Wilson shook his head and said he wasn't going to talk about it any more.
House turned away from Cuddy's office and walked across the lobby. Maybe, he thought, Wilson thought House owed an apology to Cuddy. Or maybe he thought Cuddy owed him an apology. Hell, maybe Wilson wanted an apology from Cuddy. He shook his head.
He stopped in front of the elevator and hit the call button. Or maybe, he thought as he waited, Wilson didn't want an apology, maybe he wanted to apologize.
House took the paper out of his pocket. He unfolded it, reading over the symptoms one more time, matching them up to his new diagnosis.
It fit. He folded the paper again -- once, twice, three times. It fit, but it still didn't make sense. He put the paper back in his pocket.
The elevator opened and he stepped inside, but his pager buzzed before he hit the button for the fourth floor. He recognized the extension for the lab and moved his finger up one row and tapped the button for the second floor.
House walked in and saw Foreman in front of the HPLC, preparing a sample. Cameron had taken a seat in front of the monitor, waiting to see the familiar spikes of the chemical analysis.
She held out a shampoo bottle that had been placed inside a plastic bag. "It's in here."
Cameron nodded. She pointed to the test tube Foreman was holding. House stepped closer and saw the thin liquid which appeared to be the watered down remnants of whatever had been in the bottle originally.
"So if it's not shampoo, what is it?"
"I'm not sure yet," Foreman said. "I'm trying to break it down, but so many of those insecticides use the same chemicals, it could take some time."
House took a seat on a stool at the empty table next to them. Cameron looked at him, then at Foreman. "We'll bring it to you at your office," she said.
House shook his head. "I'll wait."
He saw Cameron and Foreman share a quick look, then Foreman went back to his sample.
House bounced the end of his cane on the floor, then raised it up to let it drop onto the black lab bench next to Cameron. He let it drop again. And again. And again.
Cameron held the end of it down against the surface. "What?"
"Isn't Wilson being awfully ... nice lately?" House asked.
Cameron grunted at the question, but didn't say anything. Foreman didn't even look up. "Wilson's always nice," he said, "and this stalking thing of yours is getting a little creepy. Even for you."
"I'm not stalking him," House said. "I'm merely concerned."
He turned toward Cameron. She released his cane, and stared at the new image on the screen, looking for familiar peaks in the readout.
"What's your problem with Wilson?" he asked. "I thought you two were buddies."
Cameron kept kept her eyes focused on the monitor. "It's none of my business, apparently," she said.
"Since when has that stopped you?"
A knock at the door interrupted him and House looked up to see the bridesmaid standing just outside in the hall. A tall man was with her, wearing jeans and an old sweatshirt. House looked at Foreman, then at Cameron.
"I'm busy here," Foreman said. Cameron typed a few commands into the keyboard and studied the monitor.
House sighed and walked to the door.
"Dr. Chase said we could find you here," the bridesmaid said. "This is my husband, Mike."
"It's diazinon," the man said.
The man nodded. "I was thinking of using it for one of my clients, but I wanted to test it first," he said. "A friend of mine offered me some. I grabbed an empty bottle from the trash..."
"And didn't remember to throw it out afterwards," House said.
"I was going to," the man said. He shook his head. "I couldn't find it. Then I guess I forgot about it." He sighed, shoved his hands down into his pockets. "Stupid," he said quietly. "I was stupid."
The bridesmaid put her hand on his arm. "It was an accident," she said. "You didn't mean to hurt anyone."
"Neither did you," he said.
"Of course not," House said. "Just because you're both morons, that doesn't make you homicidal psychopaths."
He leaned into the lab. "It's diazinon," he said. "Tell Chase."
Cameron picked up her cell phone, and House heard her repeating the information a moment later.
He turned away from the lab and walked past the couple.
"Wait," the woman said. "Is she going to be all right?"
"She should be," House said. He took a few steps down the hall, when the woman called to him again.
"Are you going to tell her it was me?"
"I'm pretty sure she's going to figure it out, what with the shaved head and the toxic shampoo."
"She's going to hate me," the woman said, and wiped tears from her eyes. "She's my best friend, and she'll hate me."
She was still crying when House stepped into the elevator.
He rode the elevator up to the fourth floor. He didn't even slow down outside his office, or the door to the conference room. He turned right and came to a halt outside Wilson's door.
He saw light spilling out from beneath the wooden door and pushed it open. Wilson was sprawled on his couch. He lowered the AMA journal he'd been reading.
"You ever planning to go home?" House asked.
Wilson tossed the journal onto his desk. "I figured I'd wait and see how your case turned out."
"Poison," House said.
Wilson sat up. "Who'd want to poison a bride?"
House sat on the edge of the desk. "A bridesmaid, apparently," he said.
"How did you figure it out?"
"It was easy enough," House said. He looked down at the floor. "She was always keeping herself busy, always bringing them food, coffee, whatever they wanted. She was acting guilty and without the excuse of a B12 deficiency." He looked over at Wilson. "She kept acting like you."
Wilson smiled. He shook his head. "I don't feel ..."
"Yes you do," House said. "Only thing I can't figure out is why."
He stood up and walked across the office. "At first I thought maybe you wanted me to apologize again, but that wasn't it. Then I thought maybe you wanted someone else to apologize, but that wasn't it either." He sat on the other end of the couch. "All the bridesmaid did was nearly kill her friend. What did you do?"
Wilson glanced up at House, then at the journal in his hand. "I cut the deal with Tritter."
"To stop Chase from selling me out."
"I told Cuddy to cut off your Vicodin."
"To try and get me to take a deal that would keep me out of jail."
Wilson glanced over at him. He leaned forward, his arms on his knees. He rolled the journal into a tight spiral, his knuckles white as he gripped it. "I walked out on you, when you took the Oxy," he said. "I took one quick look, saw what you'd did, and just left."
House remembered the hazy images from that morning, of waking up feeling like crap, seeing Wilson there, then hearing him leave.
"You could have died, and I just left," Wilson said again. "I ran out."
"I wasn't going to die," House pointed out.
"I didn't know that," Wilson said. "Not really."
"Yes you did," House said. "Maybe you can't prove it, but you knew it."
Wilson shook his head. "You're wrong," he said. "I screwed up. You know it and I know it."
"It was pretty crappy on the friendship scale, but then I'm a pretty crappy friend most of the time anyway," House said. "You didn't force feed me the pills. That was my own stupid decision, so maybe I deserved whatever happened to me."
"No one deserves that," Wilson said.
House ignored him and stared straight ahead. "But I know you," he said. "And I know you never would have walked out if you thought I was in really trouble." He looked over at Wilson. "You've got nothing to feel guilty about."
Wilson rubbed his hands over his eyes. "I wish I could believe you."
House stood and walked over to the door leading to the balcony. "If it'll make you feel better, you can work off your guilt in pancakes," he said. "Twice a week for the next month -- at least."
Wilson smiled. "Once a week," he said.
"Twice," House said, and pushed open the door. "Or I'll never forgive you."
Nearly an hour later, House pushed aside the bare bones of his budget request to the side of his desk and stood to stretch. He took a few steps over to the balcony door, but didn't go outside. Too cold. He looked over at Wilson's door. His office was dark.
Good, he thought, and smiled.
He heard someone at the other end of his office and turned. Chase was there.
"She's awake," Chase said. He slouched down in the lounge chair and put his feet up on the footstool. "She began improving once we shaved her hair. The meds handled the rest."
"Good," House said.
Chase rubbed his hands across his eyes, mimicking Wilson's action earlier. House studied him for a moment, then went back to his desk. "I'm sorry," he said softly. He picked up the budget paperwork and pretended he didn't notice Chase sitting up, swinging his feet off the stool and onto the floor.
"Didn't you hear me?"
"It sounded like an apology," Chase said. "A small one."
"Don't expect another one," House said. "And for God's sake don't brag about it to everyone else, or they'll expect one too."
"I don't think they'd believe me if I told them."
House nodded and turned back to the numbers on the page in front of him. "You look like crap. You should go home and get some rest."
"Yeah." Chase pushed himself up out of the chair, but paused in the doorway for a moment. "Thanks."
Thirty minutes later, House turned off the lamp and grabbed his coat. He'd have enough to give Cuddy to keep her happy for a few days at least. He stuffed the papers in an envelope, and left the envelope on Cameron's desk.
In the elevator, House paused for just a moment, then hit the button for ICU.
The lights had been turned down in the hallway and the bench in front of the patient's room was empty. House stopped at the nurse's station. One of the nurses glanced up at him, then went back to her own paperwork. The blinds were open and he could see inside the bride's room. She was sitting up in bed, her husband snoozing in one of the chairs.
The bridesmaid sat on the edge of the bed. House could see her wiping away more tears. The bride reached out her hand and put it on the bridesmaid's shoulder, pulled her closer and wrapped her arms around her in a warm embrace.
House watched for a moment, seeing the intertwining of arms, the bridemaid's back, the bride's shaved head with its pale skin resting lightly on her friend's shoulder.
He turned and walked away. It was late, and he was tired. Then House smiled. Tomorrow, he'd have pancakes.