Notes: Set some time after "Daddy's Boy" - October 26,
2005 to be exact.
Disclaimer: Only the boneheaded moves belong to me.
It was a cloudy October morning in Princeton, and Gregory House was in an excellent mood. The White Sox were a game away from erasing decades of disappointment, and House was a game away from collecting $1000 on a pre-season bet with his best friend and chief mark, James Wilson. All was right with the world, and not even the looming spectre of weekly clinic duty could dim House's good mood.
Wilson had just finished rounds when House walked through the main hospital doors, and he fell into step with House as they both headed towards the elevators. Except he wasn't quite in step. Normally, Wilson adapted to House's halting gait instinctively, but this morning something was off-kilter. It took House a moment to figure it out. Wilson was limping, nearly imperceptibly, but to House's expert eye he was definitely favouring his left side. That's why it looked wrong. "What happened to you?"
Wilson looked confused. "What are you talking about?" He checked his reflection in the glass wall and straightened his tie.
"You're limping." He looked closer at Wilson. He couldn't see any other obvious signs of injury, but short of pulling Wilson's pants down for a brief, and preferably humiliating, public examination, he wasn't likely to find any physical evidence. "And your tie doesn't match, so straightening it isn't going to help."
"You're just projecting," Wilson replied, but he made an effort not to limp, which only made it more obvious. "And I'm not about to take fashion advice from someone who wore a t-shirt to work."
The t-shirt probably cost as much as the tie, but House wasn't about to admit that to Wilson and feed into the distraction. They stopped in front of the bank of elevators. "Is it some kind of sex injury?" House asked loudly and hopefully. "He's very energetic in bed," he confided to an elderly woman standing nearby. "Sometimes he forgets he's not twenty anymore." He winked at her, and nearly laughed aloud when she winked back and gave Wilson an appraising glance.
"House, shut up," Wilson hissed. "I twisted my knee. It's not a potentially fatal disease and it has nothing to do with sex, so there's nothing to interest you."
But House thought he could probably warm his hands off the tips of Wilson's ears, and that was always interesting. It took a lot to embarrass Wilson. House should know; he'd been trying for years. "I'm always concerned with your welfare, Wilson," he said sweetly, satisfied when Wilson recoiled slightly. "If I don't know the circumstances of the injury, how can I make a proper diagnosis?"
"You don't need to make a diagnosis," Wilson replied, slipping into the elevator and sandwiching himself in the corner farthest from House. "It's not even swollen. I'm fine." He stared up at the floor display, resolutely ignoring House. It only confirmed House's suspicions that Wilson was hiding something from him.
House let himself be ignored for the time being, knowing that Wilson would find that suspicious enough to be nervous. Wilson was an excellent liar until ambushed with an inconsistency that he couldn't easily explain away. Keeping Wilson off-guard was the only reliable path to the truth.
Wilson tried not to limp when they got off at the fourth floor, but his suddenly stiff-legged gait made him look ridiculous. It took all of House's self-discipline not to wonder aloud if Wilson needed to use the bathroom. Instead, all he asked was "Lunch?" when they parted ways at the Diagnostics department.
Wilson looked at him warily, but nodded. "I've got an appointment at 11:30. I'll swing by and pick you up after I'm done." He gave House one last sidelong glance and then headed for his office.
House didn't bother waiting to see if Wilson fell back into the limp. He'd already seen enough.
Wilson was limping again when he came by at lunchtime, but it faded after a few steps. The knee must have stiffened up while Wilson was stuck behind his desk. House wasn't ready to spring his next ambush, however, so he stayed silent, even when Wilson pivoted to avoid a nurse rushing past and couldn't suppress a grimace. House couldn't tell whether the expression that followed was relief, curiosity, or disappointment.
He waited until they were in the cafeteria line before he launched his next attack. "So if it's not a sex injury," he said loudly, "is it at least a post-sex injury? Did your foot slip while you were climbing down the trellis? Did you trip over a root while fleeing an angry husband?"
This time Wilson didn't even blink, and House realised he'd given him too long to shore up his defences. "Trellises and drainpipes pull away from the wall. That's why I always carry a rope. Like Hans Christian Andersen."
House allowed himself to be temporarily diverted. "I thought his sexual escapades were of a solitary nature."
"To thine own self be true," Wilson agreed. "The rope was in case he was caught in a fire. He travelled a lot," he explained to the cashier as he handed her enough money to cover both lunches. "And he was terrified of getting trapped in his hotel room."
They took their trays to their favourite table in the corner. "So did your rope break?" House asked, getting back to the point. If he couldn't embarrass Wilson, he could at least solve the mystery.
"Sorry," Wilson said, not sounding sorry at all. "I know it shatters your worldview, but it's not always about sex."
Sex was the beginning and end of everything, the "sudden shudder in the loins" that engendered all. "I don't believe you," House replied. "You don't have to hide your sordid little affairs from me."
"First of all, I'm not having an affair, though feel free to live vicariously through my imaginary sex life." Judging by the expression on Wilson's face, things were chilly in the marital bed. "Second of all," he continued quickly, in a vain attempt to throw House off the scent, "if I were having an affair, the last person I would tell is you." He sighed when House raised an eyebrow. "Okay, the first person I would tell is you, so since I haven't told you, I'm clearly not having an affair."
"No, that just means you haven't reached the critical level of guilt yet." House reconsidered his earlier position, while Wilson ate his sandwich. "So you're not having sex with your wife and you're not sailing someone else's love canal. You have to do something with all that pent-up energy. Were you playing with the big boys last night and things got rough?" He watched as Wilson sputtered and choked on a mouthful of coffee. "Wow. I was talking about hockey or basketball. Was Jimmy walking on the wild side with a rent boy last night?"
The kitchen could have reheated the daily specials off Wilson's face, but he rallied admirably. "There was neither sailing nor spelunking last night," he said. "I was representing the hospital at a high school career talk, which you know, because you used my email account to volunteer me."
House was unrepentant. "If you don't want me to use your email, you shouldn't make your password so easy to guess." He had changed the unimaginative and somewhat sickening "julie" to "x#32b" while he was in Wilson's account. Wilson hadn't held his cane hostage until he gave up the new password, so either he'd had IT reset it or he'd guessed it on his own.
Wilson finished his sandwich and reached for his bag of potato chips, but House snatched it away and pressed it between his hands. "Tell me what happened, or the chips are dust," he threatened. It was hard to look menacing when Wilson started to laugh.
"Fine, I surrender," Wilson said, throwing his hands up literally and metaphorically. "But I'm giving you enough ammunition to tease me for months, so you'd better appreciate it."
"You're a constant source of ammunition," House retorted. "Though if you think you can top your last bachelor's party, I'm waiting." He placed the bag of chips down on the table between them.
Wilson stared at it for a moment and then looked up, eyes dancing with suppressed mirth. "You know those concrete stops in parking spots?" he asked. "My bumper has a tendency to get caught on them if I park too close. The first time it happened, I didn't realise I was caught until I'd already torn the bumper partway off. The next time it happened, Julie was with me, so I was able to lift it up while she reversed out."
"Why do I think there's a third part to this story?"
"Because there's always a third part. Important things always happen in threes, which any religious leader or filmmaker could tell you. Not that you'd know that from watching movies on television."
House could tell Wilson was gearing up for one of his favourite rants. "We are not talking about the television edit of Excalibur. I bought you the damn DVD so I'd never have to hear about it again."
Wilson scowled and House thought he wouldn't continue, but apparently he couldn't resist the opportunity to actually finish a story. It wasn't often that House listened long enough for that to happen. "I was running late, because somebody decided it would be amusing to dress one of the teaching skeletons in my suit jacket..."
"You could have interrupted the lecture to get it back," House retorted, trying to head off a lecture of a different sort.
Wilson just shook his head. "By the time I got to the school, the visitors' lot was already full, so I had to park in the overflow lot. I misjudged the distance, so I caught the bumper, but I didn't have time to ask for help. I thought I could find somebody to give me a hand later." He smiled ruefully, warming up to the story. "But then I stayed to talk to a couple of students, and by the time I got back to my car, the lot was empty."
House didn't need a road map to see where this story was heading. "You didn't," he said, but even Wilson couldn't make up a story like that.
"Well, I wasn't going to tear off another bumper," Wilson said defensively. "I put the car into reverse and left the door open. I just didn't realise the car would move that fast when I lifted up the front," he admitted. "And instead of reversing straight back, it angled towards the street entrance. The street was pretty quiet, so I wasn't worried about oncoming traffic, but I could just imagine the car backing across the street, onto the lawn, and through the wall of somebody's house. So I ran around and tried to jump into the open door." His mouth twitched as he tried not to grin. "It's not as easy as it looks on TV. I ended up sort of throwing myself in headfirst, but my legs were dangling out and I couldn't shift enough to get my hand on the brake. I thought maybe I could slow the car down, so I tried to drag my feet on the ground." He lost the battle and sputtered out a little laugh. "Like the Flintstones. I think that's when I twisted my knee."
House stared at him. He didn't know whether he should be amused or appalled. He settled for incredulous. "Are you insane?"
Wilson shrugged. "Obviously it didn't work. But finally I managed to reach the gear shift and put it into neutral." He winced, more likely for his transmission than for his knee. "It didn't slow the car down very much, but it jolted me farther in, so I could finally slam my hand down on the brake pedal. Stopped the car just before the sidewalk." He laughed at himself, but stopped when House just stared stonily at him. "What? It's funny."
"You're an idiot," House growled. He closed his eyes and was ambushed by a vision of Wilson, crumpled and bleeding in an empty parking lot. "You could have killed yourself." He opened his eyes again and was treated to a patented Wilson eye roll.
"Now who's the idiot?" Wilson retorted, still smiling. "Worst-case scenario, I fall out and end up with bruises or road rash."
But House's imagination had already supplied him with a host of alternate scenarios, ranging from a multi-car collision to Wilson being dragged behind an out-of-control sedan. "It's a good thing you've never had children," he snapped, "because continuing your genes would surely mean the end of Western Civilization."
Even the smile disappeared. "And you wonder why I didn't want to tell you?" Wilson stood up, grabbed the chips, and stalked away. The limp was barely perceptible, but it was all House saw.
He didn't see Wilson for the rest of the afternoon, at least in person. Cuddy trapped him into clinic duty — literally cornering him in the maternity ward lounge and dragging him down to the lobby — and every sprained joint, every raw abrasion he treated belonged to Wilson. When he caught himself lecturing a four-year-old with a broken wrist on the need for one of them to act like a mature professional, he knew he'd either had too much Vicodin or too little Wilson. He finally sent away his last patient and emerged from the jaws of hell only to see Wilson and Cuddy chatting outside her office.
Wilson, he could tell, was entertaining her with a self-deprecating account of the previous evening's mishap. When she laughed, he felt something twist in his chest, and he stalked over to interrupt them. "Well, if it isn't Princeton's nominee for the Darwin Award," House sneered.
Wilson tensed and the boyish grin on his face slipped away. He mumbled something to Cuddy about being late for an appointment and headed for the elevators. He wasn't limping any more, but House didn't need to see a symptom to know it existed.
"Why did you cut him down like that?" Cuddy demanded. "Why do you always have to embarrass him?"
"A grown man who can't be trusted to drive a car? I'd say he doesn't need any help in the embarrassment department."
Cuddy tried to maintain her disapproving glare, but laughed anyway. "I wish I'd been there to see that. Wilson lying on his stomach, legs dangling out the door."
House didn't find the image amusing at all. "At least there would have been a doctor handy when he nearly killed himself," he snapped. "Even a pseudo-doctor like you."
Cuddy stopped laughing and studied House's expression. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, did he leave out the part about twisting his knee when he ignored basic laws of physics and literally tried to use a foot brake? Or are you ignoring the fact that he dove into a moving vehicle?" House wasn't sure how he'd become the responsible one in this situation. He hated it when Wilson acted recklessly and forced him to be sensible.
"You're overreacting," Cuddy replied, but she wasn't smiling any more. "And even if you're not, that's no excuse to insult and humiliate him."
"As if I needed an excuse." Insulting, humiliating, or otherwise tormenting Wilson was normally a highlight of his day. But it was hard to smile when he couldn't stop seeing Wilson's broken body beneath the wheels of his own car. His Volvo. That almost made him smile. House frowned instead. Cuddy was smiling again, the smile that meant she thought she'd caught him out at something.
"Payback's a bitch," she said unsympathetically. "Now you know how he felt when you bought your death machine," she said.
Now House did smile. It had been worth every subsequent lecture for the expression on Wilson's face when he saw the motorcycle. "That's a stupid analogy. I'm perfectly capable of riding a motorcycle without killing myself."
"And apparently Wilson is perfectly capable of diving into a moving vehicle without killing himself." She walked into her office and turned for the final word. "You're both idiots," she said and closed the door on House's face.
Cuddy was right. It was something House hated admitting, even to himself, but occasionally the woman knew what she was talking about. It went without saying that Wilson was an idiot — yesterday's stunt paled against three disastrous marriages — but House knew he'd overreacted, not just with Wilson, but with Cuddy, which was infinitely worse.
The only logical solution was to ensure the situation never occurred again. He went straight to Wilson's office and opened the door without knocking.
"You need to get a car with a standard transmission," he said, ignoring the couple that turned in their chairs to stare at him. "A standard would have stalled before you had any chance of turning yourself into roadkill." He turned his attention to the couple, trying to decide which one was carcinogenic. "Don't worry. He's a moron when it comes to personal decisions, but he's got the doctor thing down pat."
"House. Out." Wilson's expression of stern admonishment — one that House knew all too well — fluidly shifted to apologetic. "I'm sorry," he said, with just a flicker of a glare in House's direction. "Dr. House didn't realise I was busy."
"We don't mind being interrupted," the woman said, bestowing a motherly smile on Wilson. "All of the doctors here have been just wonderful."
Her husband stood up and shook Wilson's hand. "Thank you for everything you've done, Dr. Wilson. We'll schedule a follow-up with your assistant on the way out." When he walked by, House could see a surgical scar snaking out from under from his collar. His colour was good, however, and his wife even smiled at House, so he judged that it had been a good news appointment.
"Do I owe you ten dollars?" House asked once they were alone.
"Not yet." Wilson had learned the hard way never to be optimistic. "But you owe, if not me, then at least the Nelsons, an apology."
Apparently Wilson was still sulking. House went back on the offensive. "Why don"t you drive a standard?" he asked abruptly. "Being an expert on gears and all."
"Julie doesn't drive stick."
"I know that, but I thought you said this had nothing to do with sex." It didn't even earn him a reluctant smirk. "What crawled up your ass?" House complained. He wandered over to Wilson's couch and made himself comfortable. If he was going to be lectured, he might as well have a cushioned seat.
"You insult me, you embarrass me in front of our boss and my patients, not to mention random strangers, and you want to know what crawled up my ass?" Wilson exclaimed, in a way that suggested he was just warming up. "I'm not the one with the problem."
House reached for a magazine on the side table. This was going to be a long one. "The only problem I have is you constantly telling me I have a problem." That and the lack of interesting reading material in Wilson's office. He was surprised more of Wilson's patients didn't die of sheer boredom. He was halfway through skimming an article about Parry-Romberg syndrome in the July issue of Reader's Digest when he realised that the expected lecture hadn't come. When he looked up, Wilson was watching him thoughtfully. "What?"
"It was a funny story," Wilson said. "Cuddy laughed and she wasn't just being polite."
"Cuddy is an administrator. Her thought processes work in perverse ways."
"I expected you to mock me," Wilson continued, as if House hadn't spoken. "And embarrassing me is par for the course with you. But I don't understand your contempt."
"I don't know what you're talking about." But he looked away from Wilson.
"In the cafeteria and with Cuddy. You weren't just annoyed, you were contemptuous of me."
"Oh, did I hurt Jimmy's feelings?" House sneered, but Wilson no longer sounded hurt, just curious. That was far more dangerous. Wilson already had his number. He didn't need the street address and zip code as well.
"It was a stupid stunt. But it's not as though I had an affair, or misdiagnosed a patient. It's not as though I hurt anyone."
"Oh, so I just imagined you limping around the hospital all day." House threw the magazine on the side table and pulled himself upright. Wilson moved to block his path. House could practically see him making the connections. He broke for the balcony door, but Wilson was too fast for him and slammed the lock down.
"You only get really nasty when you're in pain. Or when someone is trying to take something away from you." Wilson cocked his head to the side. "I just filled your Vicodin prescription, so you should be pleasantly buzzed. And you're about to take a grand away from me, which would normally make you happy as a clam."
"Why does everybody assume clams are happy?" House wondered, trying to distract Wilson before he took the conversation to its logical conclusion. "Have you ever seen a clam display any emotion?"
"The full saying is 'Happy as a clam at high tide,'" Wilson replied. "If I were a clam, I'd be pretty happy to be covered in water and safe from clam diggers."
"If you were a clam, you'd still end up in someone's chowder, so that's a pretty fleeting happiness."
"All the more reason to hold onto it while you can." Wilson stepped away from the balcony door and sat on the edge of his desk, a bittersweet smile lighting his face. "When I was five or six, we went to the Oregon coast on vacation. Michael taught me how to stomp on the shoreline to find the tells, and then he'd dig with the shovel until it was deep enough for me to reach in and grab the clams."
House wondered how many times Wilson had cut his tiny hands on the razor edge of clamshells. How typical of him to forget that detail. He probably thought Michael had been doing him a favour. Still, the little trip down memory lane had distracted Wilson enough to let House flip up the latch and slide the balcony door open before Wilson could protest.
"The car was maybe going five miles an hour," Wilson called after him. "And I've twisted my knee just as badly playing golf. You don't always have to imagine the worst, House."
House paused, straddling the low wall between their balconies. "If I imagine the worst," he replied, "then anything else is a pleasant surprise." He looked back at Wilson, who was now standing in the doorway, leaning comfortably against the jamb. His face and posture were pain-free. Nothing was taking him away from House. "Like the pleasant surprise I'm going to have when you write me that cheque for $1000."
Wilson smiled. "I don't think it's going to be much of a surprise at this point. I'll bring the peanuts and Cracker Jack. You can supply the beer."
"If Chicago sweeps tonight, I'm using my winnings to go sky diving." He waited for Wilson to frown in disapproval or point out the problems of skydiving with only one sound leg, but Wilson's smile only broadened.
"If Chicago sweeps tonight, we'll go tandem." He turned back towards his desk, sketching a little wave behind his back.
"Make sure you're there by first pitch," House called after him. "I'm not answering the door once the game starts. And Wilson?" He waited until Wilson turned to listen. "If you have car troubles? Call a cab."