Snow was falling from the dark sky in thick clusters at the window and the wind was beginning to howl. House looked down at his watch. It was eight thirty. He sighed pointedly, even though he was alone, and looked back to the computer screen. He was sitting up in his office alone, replying to emails. His team had dispersed an hour and a half ago, and ever since then the replies House was composing had became more and more terse. At least he wasn't cold, he reasoned, smiling at the portable radiator that he had pilfered from the Paediatrics lounge earlier standing by his side.
House looked up at Wilson with a note of irritation. "I was in the middle of a crazy-awesome putdown, and you've interrupted my train of thought. 'Dear Doctor Munroe...'"
"Munroe?" Wilson repeated. "What's he done to piss you off?"
"Sent me a chain email asking me to contribute to PETA," House focussed on the screen once more and began tapping at the keyboard. "Dear Doctor Munroe; For every animal you save, I will kill two. Yours faithfully, Greg House."
"Well, if the putdown doesn't get him, I'm sure your overwhelming maturity will," Wilson replied, raising his eyebrows. "I'm going."
"Okay," House said, in a voice dripping with false-anxiety. "Just make sure you look both ways before you cross the street."
"Ha," Wilson said dryly. "Night."
Fifteen minutes later, wrapped up in bike jacket and scarf, House made his way across the parking lot. The air was bitter cold and he exhaled hard, watching the steam shapes form in front of his mouth. He walked slowly, feet hesitant on the snowy ground. He was just getting on to his bike when he spotted Wilson standing by his car on the other side of the lot. He was on his cell phone, his back to House. Dismounting, House wrapped his gloved fingers over the handle of his cane and stumped over.
"Sure, I'll hold – Argh! Ow!" Wilson cried as House jabbed the cane at the small of his back, spinning round to face him. House nodded towards the car.
"You know, you actually have to get in if you want to go places."
"Car won't start. I'm on the phone to a garage – they've put me on hold," Wilson replied, pacing back and forth and stamping his feet on the compact snow underfoot.
"Have you checked the oil? Open up the hood and see if-"
"House," Wilson interrupted crisply. "Just as I wouldn't let a mechanic near my kidneys, I'm not letting you touch my car."
"I bet you haven't ever looked at-"
"Car's not a patient, House. You can't cure it."
House rolled his eyes and took a step forward. "Fine, I'll take a look mys-"
He broke off with a startled grunt as he slipped forward, leg buckling under him. He managed to keep himself upright by slamming his hands onto the hood and tensing his arms. Wilson had jumped forward, but now retreated a step, still watching closely. House winced, the unexpected movement sending pain running up and down his leg. The snow on the hood was seeping through his gloves and burning his hands. He slowly stood upright. Wilson opened the back door of the vehicle.
House gave him an exasperated look, but slid onto the back seat. He narrowed his eyes, following Wilson's pacing back and forth. "Come on, come on," he was muttering under his breath.
"What's the big deal? Think the hotel room might get lonely?" House sniped moodily, rubbing his thigh with heel of his hand.
"Hi...No, thirty minutes isn't good enough...Well, I'm sure you are, but I have...Fine, thank you." Wilson snapped the cell phone shut irritably. "They said half an hour. I told them to forget it."
"Where are you going? You're wearing Cologne," House remarked, sniffing the air thoughtfully. "Just call her and tell her you'll be late."
"I would, but I don't have his number."
"Oh, Jimmy, you-"
"As much as I hate to kill a gay joke, it's not a date," Wilson cut him off. "I'm having dinner with Doctor Paterson. He's an oncologist at-"
"Saint Sebastian's," House finished. "Sleeping with the enemy. You should be grateful I don't run you in to Cuddy."
"Somehow I doubt she'd die of shock. She arranged the dinner," Wilson countered, flinching as House reached up onto the car roof and flicked a spot of snow at him. "We're trying to poach him. He's done some great work with terminal patients."
"He come top of the class in hand-holding?" House sneered. "Wouldn't you rather have a doctor who had actually cured people?"
"Okay, whatever," Wilson said, stoically refusing to bite, clapping his freezing hands together. "I better just call a cab."
House stretched his left leg out lazily in front of him and tucked his cold hands under his armpits. Wilson began punching a number into his cell, glancing at his watch.
"God, I'll be lucky if he's still there when I arrive."
House shrugged casually. "I could always run you down."
"On your motorbike? Thanks, but I'd rather die of old age," Wilson retorted with just a hint of a derisive snort.
"Suit yourself. I hope you can look you terminal cases in the eye as you tell them they're gonna die without one of Care Bear Paterson's love hugs because you were too much of a girl to ride a motorbike."
"Not a motorbike," Wilson corrected. House noticed, however, that he had stopped dialling. "Your motorbike."
House assumed a wounded expression. "There's a difference?"
"Yeah, of about two broken limbs and some minor brain damage."
"Minor brain damage. No biggie. You're probably bored of feeding yourself anyway. Where are you supposed to be meeting him?"
House nodded. "I know it. You coming?"
Wilson placed his hands on his hips awkwardly, hesitantly. House tipped his head from side to side gently, snapping his tongue in the manner of a ticking clock. Wilson looked at his watch again, then ran both hands through his hair roughly, ducking his head down.
"Fine," he finally said, jerking his head back up. "But I'm not wrapping my arms around you."
House pouted. "You sure? Fair enough."
He got out of the car and slammed the door. Wilson pressed the lock button on his key fob and House led the way in a rather distressingly sprightly manner.
"And I get to wear the helmet," Wilson added, following.
House made a dismissive sound. "Whatever. Real men don't need helmets. We just need washboard abs and a huge-"
"Ego?" Wilson offered with faux-naïveté. House grinned wickedly and stopped by the motorbike. He bent down and picked up the helmet he had left on the pillion and threw it at Wilson, who was staring nervously at the bike. It was bigger and less stable-looking than he remembered.
House had already gracelessly slung himself over the vehicle and was revving the engine with what Wilson recognised as deliberate enthusiasm. He rolled his eyes and jammed the helmet down over his head. It blocked his ears and made him feel slightly dizzy as he leaned a hand on the pillion and unsteadily threw his left leg over it. He shifted uncomfortably, wondering what to do with his hands. Luckily, House solved the dilemma by stamping onto the accelerator, forcing Wilson to grab instinctively onto his leather jacket.
House curved an alarmingly swift path out of the parking lot and onto the street, which was glistening with the reflections of streetlights in melted puddles of snow. Wilson's intended plea for a reduction in speed was somehow distorted by the churning in his guts, coming out as merely a terrified yelp. He looked to his side in an attempt to avoid seeing the road ahead racing up to meet them. Few people were out and about in this cold and bleak night-time, a fact that he was grateful for as House flung them around tight corners with a sharpness that made him tingle all over. House's foot barely seemed to rise from the accelerator for more than a few seconds at a time. The noise was tremendous, unlike anything Wilson had ever experienced before. It roared into his ears from all sides, hitting his face and making it oddly numb, the wind bringing tears to his eyes and chilling his teeth. The dark night-time colours whizzed by, punctured by the brightness of the cars House weaved between. Panicked as he was, Wilson still found time to admit to himself that House was a skilful driver, but insane. Utterly insane, he thought, gritting his teeth so hard his jaw hurt as House dodged an oncoming cab and almost went up on the sidewalk.
"House!" he was shouting the name without meaning to, wincing afresh at every turn or jolt. House was paying no attention whatsoever. "House, you maniac! Slow down!"
House ignored him. The headlights of cars grew fewer as they moved onto the back roads. House seemed to take this as a cue to speed up even more. Wilson's fingers clutched the leather jacket tighter and he howled at House to slow down.
"Oh, don't be a baby," House called back, his voice sucked away by the rushing wind. "Worried that your hair'll end up a mess for your date?"
"No, I'm worried that– Jesus!" Wilson cursed as they narrowly missed a teenager on a scooter. "I'm worried that my head will end up a mess."
"I'm the one that should be worried! You've got the helmet. I'll be the one who gets- Shit!"
Wilson felt the impact through his whole body, and he knew they had hit the kerb. He was flying through the air, the bike travelling up with him the first couple of feet. He had time for nothing more than a sharp cry before his chest hit the wet concrete of the pavement with a thud that sucked the breath from his chest and left his gasping. He had landed on his right hand, which now lay between his abdomen and the ground. The wrist hurt immediately, and he knew something was wrong with it. The palms of his hands burned where they had hit the concrete. He gasped for air before he could think. As soon as he could, he raised his head a little and stared anxiously.
It was very silent all around him. All he could hear were his own ragged breaths and the hissing of the bike, which was behind him, upside down. House was a few feet to his right and a little farther back, also sprawled on the sidewalk. His arms were bent in front of his face, but he was motionless. Wilson saw his back rise and fall and let out a sigh of relief. He let his face fall gently back down, cheek pressed against the cool, wet ground.
"House," he mumbled. "Are you okay?"
"I think I broke my nose," a thick voice answered.
There was a short pause, filled only by the whirring of the bike's front wheel.
There was another silence, during which Wilson managed to shift a little and free his hand from under him. He massaged it with the other hand tentatively. House propped himself off the ground with an elbow and clamped his free hand to his face. Wilson glanced over his shoulder and saw that blood was streaming over the hand and dripping onto the sidewalk. House was snorting softly, gently touching the afflicted area and flinching.
"You know, House," Wilson said. "This is the point where a normal person would say, 'What about you, Wilson?'"
"Oh please," House slurred. "If you'd so much as broken a nail, you'd be screaming like a little girl. Go on then, Wilson – lost an arm and just being stoic?"
"I'm fine, thanks for asking. I think I sprained my wrist," Wilson said slowly. He pushed himself up into a sitting position with more difficulty than he had anticipated, pulled off the helmet and began blowing on his scraped palms. The bike's wheels had now stopped spinning and the smoke from the engine was staring to thin. "How's your leg?"
"It's fine, I think- Dear Lord!" House exclaimed. "There's a chunk missing! What a terrible, crippling accident!"
Wilson laughed shakily, uncontrollably. House crawled across to the bike, unhooking his cane from its rack, and sat down meditatively by the vehicle.
"It'll be all right," he said confidently. He was still pinching his nose tightly. "It's not broken," he added.
"Pity," Wilson remarked bitterly, kneading his wrist. "You better call your insurance people. I'm assuming you have insurance."
Wilson looked down at his raw, skinned hands, spat on them and rubbed them gently together. He hurt all over, and he knew that he was going to wake up the next morning feeling like he had been beaten with a large stick. House was on his phone now, talking softly, voice still thick. Wilson drew his knees up to his chest and looked up and down the dark and silent street. There were a few lights further up, but no pedestrians wandering around. The snow was still falling, cold little clumps melting icily in his hair and on his face. He was starting to shiver, his teeth chattering and his hands and feet numb. House snapped the phone shut.
"They say give it twenty minutes," he said, pulling the keys out of the ignition and slipping them and the phone into his pocket. "Looks like you're going to miss your date."
"You think?" Wilson muttered sarcastically. House got up awkwardly, brushing the snow from his shoulders, and came to stand in front of Wilson. He looked him in the eye for a few moments, then held out a hand. Wilson reached up with his unwounded hand and clasped it, pulling himself to his feet. They stood still and quiet for a short moment, their breath pale against the night sky and snow picking out white dots in their hair.
"There's a diner across the street," House nodded towards the lights. "Might as well have a coffee and something to eat while we wait."
Wilson saw the steaming cups and the bright, warm lights of the diner swim before his eyes. "Sure, but you're paying."
They started across the street, snow falling all around them, shivering and aching, eyes fixed on the welcoming lights.
"So," Wilson said. "Have you learnt anything from all this?"
House looked at him with just a hint of amusement on his blood-smeared face. "Sure I have. You're bad luck."