Written for the prompts: "It is far harder to murder a phantom than a reality." Virginia Woolf (fraternizing)
#95 - Disappear (100situations)
Disclaimer: House and Wilson belong to others, but I lay dibs on Petey.

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but Greg House was more pit bull than pussy. Curiosity was his life's blood. It had sustained him through loneliness, pain, and frustration. If anything, he would have died after the infarction, after Stacy left, without it.

Wilson knew that. Wilson had used House's boundless curiosity to pull him out of the abyss, dropping by the apartment with journals, tapes, and books that House would pretend to ignore and then devour the second Wilson left. He used it to get House to take cases when he ran out of imaginary relatives.

Wilson should have known better than to pique his curiosity. Especially with real relatives.

The missing brother was too big a mystery to ignore. Wilson had said he didn't know where he was, but that didn't mean House couldn't find him.

He told himself it was for Wilson's sake. What if Wilson needed an organ transplant? Bone marrow? He was only trying to ensure that his friend had the widest possible range of donor options available. He told himself Wilson deserved the closure, deserved to know what had happened to his brother, however painful. He told himself he was only doing what any good friend would do.

When he was honest with himself — and he was, for the most part, eventually honest with himself — he admitted that he just wanted to know. Still, he let it lie for months, storing away the occasional detail that Wilson let slip, building up a mental picture of Michael Wilson, firstborn of Joseph and Helen Wilson.

He might even have left it lying if Wilson hadn't taken refuge on House's lumpy couch when his third marriage fell apart. For the most part Wilson was a deep sleeper — he had mastered the art of dropping off anywhere at any time during med school and had never lost it. House wasn't so lucky. Chronic pain had taken care of that for him.

On those nights when the Vicodin couldn't touch the ache of ruined muscles, he lay awake reading, or watching television, or playing the piano. He found that if he angled the television away from the couch and kept the volume low, it didn't wake Wilson. One night he was watching The Colbert Report, laughing silently so as not to disturb Wilson, when he heard a low groan from the couch.

He looked over and saw Wilson's head move from side to side, but his eyes were closed and he didn't respond when House called out his name. Wilson groaned again and kicked at the blanket covering him, crying out when his legs tangled even more. This time House got up and turned on the lamp next to the couch.

A thin sheen of sweat coated Wilson's face, and his eyes moved wildly beneath his closed lids. House perched on the edge of the coffee table and leaned forward, intending to shake Wilson awake.

"Michael!" Wilson shouted suddenly, pressing deep into the back of the couch. "Michael, don't!" He gasped, arching off the couch, then just as quickly collapsing.

House reached out and grabbed his shoulders. "Wilson. Wilson, wake up." When Wilson didn't respond, House shook him roughly, letting out a deep breath when Wilson's eyes fluttered open and focused on his face.


"Who else?" House sat back. "You okay?"

Wilson shifted upright, rubbing his face. "Yeah. Sure. What's wrong?"

House snorted back a disbelieving laugh. "You were dreaming. Bad one, from the looks and sounds of it." He reached out and grabbed Wilson's wrist. "Pulse is nearly normal. Not a night terror."

Wilson wiped his face, and then rubbed his fingers together, frowning at the sweat. "Sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you."

Leave it to Wilson to apologize for an unconscious action. "You didn't disturb me." He jerked his head at the television. "Commercial." He studied Wilson, watching the high colour fade from his cheeks as he settled down. "Do you remember what you were dreaming about?"

Wilson shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Not really. Just that I was in danger. Afraid." But he couldn't meet House's eyes.

"You shouted out a name. Michael. Your brother." It wasn't a question. "You were trying to stop him from doing something."

Wilson snorted. "I tried to stop my brother from doing a lot of things. Didn't work then. Not going to work in my dreams." He slid back down on the couch and turned his back to House. "Commercial's over."

House didn't care about the show. "Did you ever try to find him?"

Silence. House waited.

"The last time I saw him — on that corner — was...ugly," Wilson said finally. "When I was...when I went back to find him, he'd disappeared. He left Princeton, left New Jersey, as far as I could tell. I tried. I guess he didn't want me to find him." He pulled the covers up, almost over his head. "I'm tired. I just want to sleep."

House filed the new pieces of information away for later analysis. For now he would let Wilson sleep.

Over the next few nights he sat up, waiting for the nightmare to repeat. Night after night Wilson would shout for his brother in his sleep, sometimes thrashing wildly about in fear, sometimes crying softly. House didn't wake him on those nights, afraid that Wilson would keep crying, even awake, and he would be forced to either acknowledge Wilson's pain or ignore it.

And then the nightmares stopped, as abruptly as they'd begun, and House was distracted by newer, more immediate puzzles.

In October, Wilson's younger brother Peter stopped in Princeton on his way to visit their parents, and House shuffled the Michael file back to the top of his mind. Here was an untapped vein of information. Peter had always been a good source of background dirt on Wilson, from embarrassing childhood stories to new interpretations of Wilson's more annoying traits. House had to adjust for personal bias — Peter inexplicably adored his older brother — but it worked out in translation.

On the first day Peter was in town, House browbeat Chase into paging Wilson for a consult while House was having lunch with the two brothers. Wilson apologized for abandoning Peter to House's companionship and hurried off, promising to be back as soon as he could.

House waited until Wilson was out of earshot. "Tell me about your brother."

Peter raised an eyebrow, managing to look far more cynical than Wilson ever did. "I should be asking you that question. You spend more time with him than I do."

"I mean the other one. The black sheep. The scapegrace. The missing link. Michael."

House was used to seeing Wilson shutter himself off. It happened every time House alluded to his latest failed marriage or brazenly popped a Vicodin in Wilson's presence. It was unnerving to see it on a younger version of Wilson's face, though. It was like reliving past transgressions.

"What did James tell you?" Peter asked cautiously.

House was an expert poker player. He knew exactly how much of his hand to show. "There was a homeless woman last year. Wilson brought me the case, practically begged me to treat her." He shrugged. "He does that a lot, but this time it was personal." He looked away. "She died. Later, I followed him down to a street corner, outside a boarded-up house. He told me it was the last place he'd seen his brother, that he didn't even know if he was still alive."

"Fuck, Jimmy," Peter muttered, the shutters falling away to reveal an old, deep hurt. "Why can't you just let it go?"

"You really don't know your brother," House marvelled. "He's not built to let things go."

"This one it would be better if he did."

Peter looked too much like his older brother for House to be comfortable with the obvious pain in his eyes. "Why?"

Peter didn't answer immediately and House didn't have time to wait. Wilson would be back soon. He showed another card. "He stayed with me after Julie left him," he said casually. "He was having a hard time, under a lot of pressure at work. He started having dreams. Nightmares. Night after night he'd call out for Michael. Sometimes begging him to stay. Sometimes begging him to stop." He paused, watching Peter's reaction. "What did he do?"

Peter slammed his hand down on the table. "I don't know. James never told me what happened that night." He glanced around the room, but nobody seemed to have noticed his outburst. "But that summer, I noticed a scar on his upper arm that hadn't been there before."

House knew the scar he was talking about. "He told me he fell onto a jagged piece of wood, climbing in a construction site when he was a teenager."

"He lied to you."

"I know. Looked more like a knife or razor cut to me." House shrugged. "I didn't know about Michael then. I thought he was lying because he'd done something stupid or embarrassing."

"The only stupid thing he did was to try and help our brother."

House stared at the younger Wilson. "That's pretty harsh," he said approvingly. "I thought brothers were supposed to help each other."

"Michael stopped being my brother a long time ago," Peter said bluntly, angrier than House had ever seen a Wilson.

That was interesting. Wilson had said that his brother wasn't in his life any more. Peter, though, seemed to have excised him from his family tree. "What did he do?"

"He..." Peter broke off abruptly, and a smile transformed his face. "Everything okay, Jimmy?" he called out.

House twisted around and saw Wilson walking towards them, the same smile mirrored on his face. He turned back. "We're not finished," he said quietly. "I need to know what happened."

Peter nodded, seemingly convinced that House had his brother's best interests in mind. "House just offered to buy me dinner while you were at your meeting tonight," he said, smirking slightly.

"I'll believe that once he's actually paid the cheque," Wilson replied dryly. "Better bring your credit card."

"I'm not taking your baby brother anywhere that will take credit cards," House protested.

"Oh well, then. Twenty dollars should do you both for the evening." Wilson's eyes rested on Peter, and the smile grew so broad it threatened to split his face in two. "I'll take you around before the meeting. Show you off." His smile didn't dim when he turned to House. "You want to come?"

House barely kept himself from smiling back at Wilson. "No can do. I've got clinic duty. If Cuddy sees me, she'll make me do it." A glimmer of the smile slipped through when Wilson predictably rolled his eyes. He deliberately pulled out his bottle of Vicodin and shook free a pill. When he dry swallowed it, the smile faded from Wilson's face, and for a brief moment his eyes darkened with a distant look of despair. Not for the first time, House wondered what — or who — he was seeing.

"If you see Cameron, remind her that all Wilsons are off-limits," he joked, wanting to wipe that look away. "Better tell Chase as well."

"Not Foreman?"

"Are you kidding me? He'd never touch your skinny white ass."

Wilson glanced behind him automatically, but it was Peter who replied. "What's the matter, Greg? Don't like to share your toys?"

"You have no idea," Wilson replied. "Come on, Pete. I'll go introduce you to Cuddy, and House can make his getaway."

House maintained a slight smile on his face until the brothers were out of sight. Peter's brief comments didn't surprise him. He had already guessed as much based on the nightmares. Michael had been gone for ten years, but Wilson was wrong — he was still very much part of his life.

House wanted to find Michael, because Michael had hurt Wilson. And he wanted to hurt Michael, because he had made it possible for House to hurt Wilson. But most of all, he wanted Wilson to stop looking at him as if he were Michael.

He needed to think, so he retreated to Room 2134 where he knew he wouldn't be interrupted, at least by the patient. He wasn't scheduled for clinic hours until 2 pm, and Cuddy was smart enough to wait until the last minute to try to trap him. He flicked on the television, looking for inspiration in the soaps. Missing, dangerous brothers were a staple storyline, and House believed in the power of research.

Two hours later, unenlightened and somewhat numbed by a steady diet of improbable dialogue, he bowed to the inevitable and wandered the hallways where Cuddy could find him. It wouldn't do to voluntarily check in for clinic duty, and he wouldn't want to deprive Cuddy of her sport. She noticed, however, that he wasn't putting up his usual fierce resistance.

"That was too easy," she observed as she herded him through the clinic doors. "What are you up to?"

"Nothing. Just fulfilling the responsibilities of my contract."

Cuddy gazed suspiciously at him. "Does this have anything to do with Wilson's brother visiting?" It was freakish how perceptive she could be sometimes. "Are you upset that you don't have your little friend to play with?" Or maybe not.

"So you met young Peter," House observed, checking in with the clinic nurse. "Handsome bugger, isn't he? Smart, too. And without Wilson's pathetic track record at relationships. He'd make a good candidate." Cuddy sputtered and stalked away, as he'd known she would.

Three hours in the clinic didn't offer any sudden epiphanies, but the stupidity of his patients was almost as entertaining as his soaps, so he was in a relatively neutral mood when he returned to his office. Peter Wilson had made himself at home in the conference room, entertaining House's fellows with embarrassing stories about Wilson's childhood. House hoped he hadn't missed out on good blackmail material. He'd make Foreman repeat everything later. He had the best verbal recall.

"Did Wilson abandon you?" he asked, pouring a cup of aging coffee.

"Shockingly, he had patients to see," Peter replied. "Apparently you don't, so it was fortunate I was around to keep your team from slipping into boredom-induced catatonia." He tilted his chair back, balancing it with ease on two legs. House suddenly flashed on an image of Wilson lounging in his doorway and wondered if casual grace were genetic.

"Let's get out of here before they get used to it," he said, abandoning the coffee as a lost cause and detouring to his office to pick up his jacket and backpack. Beer would be a better lubricant for the conversation he intended to have.

He chose a bar where the draft was cheap and undrinkable, and the bartenders didn't ask questions. It was a Wednesday, so the place wasn't overrun by undergraduates with fake IDs, but the room was still full of patrons looking for bottled escape. Peter raised an eyebrow, but smirked when he saw the pool table in the far corner. House hoped he didn't play any better than his brother. He was prepared to pay for what passed as dinner, and even a round of drinks, but he wasn't about to leave with a lighter wallet.

"Nice," Peter said as they made their way to a booth in the back, flagging down a waitress on the way. "Good thing I brought cash." He slumped down in his seat, steadfastly avoiding making eye contact with the other clientele. Wilson would have scanned the room, searching for a familiar face. House wondered if Peter were afraid to look, or if he knew there was nothing to find.

Peter smiled at the waitress when she delivered their beers and ordered another round right away. There was an edge to the smile that House rarely saw with Wilson, but it had the same effect — the waitress blushed and backed away until she banged into the edge of a table. Wilson would have stammered an apology or asked if she was all right, but Peter just winked at her and turned his attention to House. "What do you know?" he asked without preamble.

Peter's eyes weren't quite as dark as Wilson's — closer to hazel than brown — but they had the same lively intelligence and perception. House would have to watch what he said. "Just what I told you. I know Michael disappeared ten years ago. I know that the last place Wilson saw him was in front of a boarded-up building. I know that he doesn't even know if Michael is dead or alive." He saw Peter wince. "I know that something happened that night that makes the most carefully controlled man on the eastern seaboard wake up screaming."

Peter's easy confidence melted away. "I don't know what happened that night, but I do know that it had been building for years." He turned his beer bottle around in his hands, his eyes downcast. "Michael was nearly seven years older than me, so I was never as close to him as James was. Maybe that made it easier for me to see what was happening." He took a deep gulp of beer. "Michael was bright and charming, but he was also reckless, selfish, and irresponsible."

House wondered how Wilson could have turned out so differently. Wilson was undeniably charming, but he was also selfless and responsible to a fault. "A lot of people are reckless and selfish and irresponsible," he observed. "But they don't end up on the street."

Peter glanced up, smirking. "Some of them end up as Head of Diagnostics at a major teaching hospital."

House tipped his drink at Peter, remembering why he had always tolerated Wilson's baby brother.

"Michael had everything going for him. He was intelligent, good looking, athletic, popular. He could have done anything. But he just seemed to stop caring in high school.

House waved his hand dismissively. "Who cares about high school? It's just something you endure."

"Not James," Peter grinned. "First day of high school, he took the school handbook and underlined every award he intended to win."

That alone was worth the price of dinner. House hoarded stories about Wilson's childhood. Especially embarrassing ones. "What was his success rate?"

Peter shrugged. "I don't know. He threw away the handbook when Michael found it and made fun of him. But I bet you he could still tell you."

"How did you wind up relatively normal compared to your fucked-up brothers?"

"Don't talk about Jimmy like that." Peter's voice was quiet, but sharp enough to slice through House's bike jacket. "He doesn't deserve that from you." He rubbed his forehead and looked away. "If I'm normal, it's only because I had an older brother who loved me enough to shield me from all the crap around us. And who took more than his fair share as a result."

House examined that statement carefully for new information. As much as he envied Wilson's two loving parents, suburban home, and stable school years, he had known long before the revelation of the missing brother that Wilson's childhood had been far from idyllic. He was too desperate to help, too eager to please, for his family to be truly functional. "What was it? Booze? Drugs? Mood swings?"

"Are you trying to classify him? That's what you do, isn't it? Pick a patient and find a name for the puzzle." Peter tore off the label from his beer bottle and rolled it into a tiny ball. "Addict, bipolar, schizophrenic, alcoholic. He was my brother, not a disease."

"Was," House mused. "Does that mean he's dead or is he just dead to you?"

"I have no idea if he's dead or alive."

But Peter wasn't quite as good a liar as his older brother. "Bzzzt. Wrong. Try again," he accused. "What have you been keeping from Wilson all these years?"

"I don't know," Peter protested. "At least not any more." He scrubbed his face. "About a year after James saw him, Michael called me. He wanted me to send him some money. I told him he was out of his mind. If he wanted help, I'd buy him a non-refundable ticket home and he could check himself into a program. I told him James had a list of facilities that he'd looked at personally. We'd both be there to support him. He started to cry. I'd never heard him cry before. I thought he must be drunk or high. He said he couldn't accept James's help after what he'd done, but he wouldn't say what he'd done. I asked him if he'd hurt James, and that's when he hung up." Peter signalled the waitress for another beer. "You know everything I do now. Happy?"

Happiness wasn't something that often featured in House's range of emotions. Satisfaction, perhaps. Even triumph. But he felt none of that now. "So you have no idea where he is."

"He called collect from Las Vegas. I told Dad and he hired an agency to try and find Michael, but there are a lot of people hiding in Vegas. By the time they found the crappy hotel he was living in, Michael was gone again. He's never tried to contact me again."

That was vague enough to make House wonder if Michael had tried to contact someone else. He'd have to find that detective agency. "You called your father, but you didn't tell Wilson. You don't think he deserved to know?"

"You saw the scar. You know Michael did that to him. You think that was the only time?" Peter's voice cracked and he took a swig of beer to dampen his emotions. "I was protecting James. The way he always protected me."

"Even from other brothers?" he asked. He flinched when Peter stared coldly at him.

"Especially from other brothers," he said flatly.

House shied away from examining that statement too carefully. Fortunately, Peter's cell phone rang and saved him from having to respond. He leaned back in the booth as Peter fished the phone out of his pocket, and wondered what Peter knew. He didn't think Wilson had told him about the Vogler fiasco. Wilson had been too determined to pretend nothing had happened afterward, and he wasn't exactly the confiding type at the best of times. Especially with younger brothers he wanted to protect.

Peter smiled when he saw the call display. "Hey, Jimmy. That was quick. Meeting over already?" He listened and smirked. "Cancelled," he said to House. "No quorum. He wants to know where we are."

"The Pembroke," he replied and waited for the reaction. He wasn't disappointed when Peter laughed and hung up.

"He says he'll be here in fifteen minutes and to open my own bottles." He took a defiant drink from his pre-opened bottle of beer and grinned. "I can't believe James knows this place."

House shrugged. "Your brother's not nearly as boring as he looks. Even if he will be the only guy in the place wearing a tie." He looked around the room. Both Wilsons would be the only clean-shaven men in the place. "Michael would fit right in, though," he mused. "Just another loser looking for a little warmth, shooting up in the bathroom, nursing a drink until closing time to keep the bartender happy."

"Drop it," Peter snapped. "I'm done talking about Michael."

"Too bad. You never answered my question. I'm guessing drugs. Wilson wouldn't have given up on him if it had been something organic. Something that wasn't Michael's fault." And yet Wilson had never given up on him, even after he'd admitted he was addicted to the Vicodin. Still, there was a dark corner of House's mind that waited for the day when Wilson would leave him too.

"James didn't give up on him," Peter retorted. His knuckles whitened around the beer bottle and for a moment House thought he would smash it on the table or throw it across the room. He wondered if anyone would notice or care. "Michael made his choices a long time ago. He pushed us away."

It was what Wilson always accused House of doing — pushing people away — and House wondered if that was the reason Wilson hung on so tenaciously. A little of his anger towards Michael Wilson faded away. It was hard to hate the person who helped mould the best friend he would ever have. "He called you, though."

"Because he needed money. And when he didn't get it, he disappeared again."

House thought about Wilson sitting on that cold wall, admitting that he didn't even know if his brother was alive. "Wilson deserves to know," he repeated softly.

"What good would it do?" Peter asked. "I don't know where Michael is now."

The only thing stopping House from reaching across the table and smacking Peter on the head was the knowledge that Wilson would make his life miserable if he touched his baby brother. "He dreams about Michael hurting him. You don't think it would help him to know that he regretted what he did? At least tell him Michael left New Jersey, so he can stop looking for him in every dive and back alley."

Peter passed a hand over his face. "Oh, Jimmy," he sighed. He drained the bottle and pushed it away. "I thought it would be better if he didn't know. I thought maybe he could forget."

"Have you forgotten?"

From the expression of loss on Peter's face, he hadn't. "I go weeks, even months without thinking about him," Peter said finally. "And then some asshole comes along and dredges it all up again." But he sounded tired, not angry. "Why can't you just let it go? I had to give up on my brother. It should be easier for you."

It should be, but it wasn't. Given the choice between the known and the unknown, House would always be drawn to the mystery. "He needs to know," he said. "He needs to stop believing that he failed his brother."

Peter ran a hand through his hair. "James never failed Michael. He protected him. He helped him even when he didn't deserve to be helped." He laughed, but without any humour. "Do you know how the agency finally found a lead on Michael? He'd used James's driver's license as ID at that crappy hotel. The way I figure it, Michael wanted money for drugs, James refused, maybe offered to buy him dinner or give him a place to stay, and Michael just took what he wanted. Maybe he cut him on purpose, or maybe it was an accident, but either way he left James alone and bleeding on that goddamn corner. And James still tried to cover for him. He must have cancelled his credit cards, but he never reported his license missing. It was close to his birthday, so he probably just renewed it, no questions asked."

Peter looked as though he were on the verge of tears, so House backed off. He had the answers he'd wanted. He just wasn't sure any more why he'd wanted them. There were too many ghosts in this bar. He shouldn't have summoned another.

The pool table was free, so he jerked his head towards it. "Loser buys the next round." It was as close as he would come to an apology.

Peter hesitated just a fraction too long before he agreed, and House suspected he was going to be very glad he'd only suggested playing for beer. After Peter handily won the first two rounds, House started watching the door for Wilson. He was going to need someone else to start buying soon.

"Michael taught me to play when I was just a kid," Peter explained after he ran the table in the first game. "James never quite mastered the game. I think it was because Michael taught him right-handed."

That explained why Wilson was so much better at darts than he was at pool, something House had discovered the hard way. He made a note not to challenge Peter to any more bar games.

He sensed, rather than saw, Wilson come in. Somehow he always knew when Wilson was in the room. It wasn't a particular sound or smell, just a shift in the atmosphere that was peculiarly James Wilson. Even when they were fighting, even when Wilson was being a self-righteous prick, House was always attuned to that shift.

He watched Wilson look around the room, a flash of pleasure and recognition brightening his face when he spied them in the back, and then saw him keep looking, searching. House glanced over at Peter and saw the younger Wilson follow his brother's gaze around the bar.

"Okay," he said and lined up his next shot.

Wilson went straight to the bar to buy a round, but on his way to the pool table, he detoured to talk to an old man sitting alone at a table. House watched as Wilson examined the man's arm and then smiled and said something that made the old man smile back. Wilson gave him one of the beers and waved, before continuing on to the pool table. He stopped next to House and took a deep drink from one of the bottles before handing it to House.

House wiped off the rim absently and took a smaller sip. "Drumming up customers?" he asked.

Wilson rolled his eyes. "I saw him in the clinic a couple of weeks ago. He had a bad case of impetigo, but it seems to have cleared up without complications." He tried to take the beer back from House, but House held it out of reach. "How many games have you lost?" he asked, as Peter called and sank the eight ball.

"Three. You can play him next. Let him humiliate someone else."

Wilson handed Peter the other beer. "I knew those wasted afternoons would come in handy some day," he said.

"That's not what you said at the time," Peter replied with a fond smile. "I seem to recall you insisting that I finish my homework instead of playing pool."

"That's not how I remember it," Wilson protested. "I was just making sure you had balance in your life."

Peter leaned the cue against the table and pulled Wilson into a rough hug. Wilson looked surprised for a moment, and then he patted his brother on the back, smiling broadly. House looked away, torn between jealousy and longing. He reminded himself that he didn't do hugs.

"What was that for, Petey?" Wilson asked, ruffling his brother's hair.

"Just because," Peter replied, ducking away. "You know I hate it when you do that," he complained affectionately. He tried to retaliate, but Wilson dodged out of reach, laughing. "Why don't you drive up to see Mom and Dad with me tomorrow?" Peter said suddenly. "We can leave in the afternoon, get there in time for dinner, and you'd only have to miss one day of work." He looked over Wilson's shoulder and nodded almost imperceptibly at House. "We could use the time to catch up."

Wilson hesitated, and House could tell he was gearing up to deliver a laundry list of excuses, one of which was going to feature their plans to watch the new re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy. "Sounds like a good idea," he said, before Wilson could speak. "You don't spend enough time with your family." It was worth postponing the marathon just to see the confusion and surprise on Wilson's expressive features.

"You could come with," Wilson said, taking advantage of House's own pleased surprise to grab the beer.

It was tempting. Wilson's mother was an even better cook than her son, but House suspected Peter would use the drive to talk about Michael. "And leave the children unsupervised? You know what rascals they can be, left to their own devices."

"Why don't you come up on Saturday, then?" Peter suggested. "You can spend the night and drive Jimmy back after Sunday dinner."

House could read between those lines as well. Peter wanted him to be there after he'd talked to Wilson. House knew the least he could do was bear some of the fallout. And it would give him a chance to look for the name of the detective agency in Vegas. "Only if your mother agrees to make roast lamb."

"It's not a restaurant, House," Wilson said disapprovingly. "You can't place orders."

"Was he always this much of a killjoy?" House asked Peter.

Peter shrugged. "Someone had to be the responsible one."

And Michael was there, in the sudden tension in Wilson's posture, the pain not completely hidden by a crooked smile. Michael was always there, House realized. Traces of him lingered in everything Wilson said or did, and as much as he hated Michael for what he'd done to Wilson, he was grateful as well.

Wilson lifted the beer to his mouth and drank, and then looked at the bottle, surprised to find it empty. "I'll get another round," he said. "And then we should go somewhere to eat that won't necessitate a trip to the emergency room later."

Peter looked alarmed. "You weren't really planning on eating here, were you?" he asked House.

House was slightly disappointed in him. He'd thought Wilson's younger brother was more adventurous than that. "The sandwiches are fine. As long as you check the date on the wrapper." But he was hungry for something more substantial now that Wilson's more substantial wallet had arrived. "Hey, as long as you're buying," he told Wilson, "we might as well leave now."

Instead of arguing, Wilson nodded and put the empty bottle on the closest table. "How does Charlie Brown's sound? I feel like prime rib." He glanced around the room one more time, his gaze ghosting over the other occupants, before coming to rest on Peter. House saw the last remnants of sadness fade from his eyes, replaced by affection so deep it was like looking into a bottomless well. Wilson turned his head to include House in that gaze and House realized he was wrong. It wasn't a bottomless well, but a blanket wide and warm enough to wrap around both of them.

As they walked out of the bar, House decided that he didn't mind when Wilson looked at him like his brother after all.