"Wilson!" For once, House's voice lacked any mockery or sarcasm. He sounded genuinely shocked. "What in God's name happened to your face?"
But Wilson wasn't interested in how House sounded. All he was interested in was the contents of House's medicine cabinet. "Wasp. Car," he said as he pushed past House and half-ran, half-stumbled to the bathroom. He pushed aside the prescription bottles, letting them clatter into the sink and onto the floor, but he couldn't find what he needed.
"Antihistamines!" he shouted. "Where do you keep your antihistamines?" He abandoned his fruitless search of the bathroom and remembered the table in the hallway that House used as a dumping ground for whatever was in his pockets at the end of day. He emerged from the bathroom and saw House staring at him in the hallway. "You have hay fever. It's allergy season. How can you not have any antihistamines?"
"You drove like that?" House asked helpfully. Wilson would have strangled him if he didn't have more pressing things to do.
"Antihistamines now. Lecture later." He pawed through the debris on the tabletop, looking desperately for a tablet that wasn't a narcotic or candy.
House disappeared into the bedroom and emerged a moment later with a package of Benadryl. "Here," he said, tossing it to Wilson. "Knock yourself out."
Wilson fumbled and tore at the foil packaging, finally popping two tablets free. He swallowed them dry and then sagged against the wall, panting slightly. He glanced up and saw House staring at him.
"You're not allergic to wasps," House said. He no longer sounded shocked, just curious. "Why the panic?"
Wilson could feel the adrenaline rushing out of his system, leaving him shaky and weak. "The son-of-a-bitch stung me three times before I could pull over and get away from it." He resisted the urge to rub at his face. "Below the eye, on the lip, and the last time on the neck. I didn't think it would be a good idea to just let my throat swell up," he snapped. It didn't help that his eye had swollen shut before he'd even reached House's apartment. His throat felt thick, and it hurt to move his lip. "Do you have an EpiPen?"
Some of the concern came back into House's expression. "Can you breathe?"
Wilson took a deep breath and nodded.
"You're fine, then," House said dismissively and limped over to the couch.
Wilson stared at him. He hadn't expected an outpouring of concern or sympathy, but bored indifference was a little hard to take, especially when his face felt like it was on fire. He sighed and went into the kitchen in search of a cold pack. The advantage of seeking refuge at House's apartment was that he always had various pain remedies on hand. He was significantly less likely to have baking soda, however, so ice would have to suffice.
There was a gel pack in the freezer, so Wilson wrapped it in a towel and pressed it against his face and neck. The cold calmed the burning sensation and slowly numbed the pain. He slumped into a kitchen chair and tilted his head back, closing his eyes. House had turned on a baseball game, and the soft murmur of the announcers' voices, punctuated occasionally by the crack of a bat, lulled him into a near doze.
"Are you still breathing?" House called out during a commercial break.
Wilson shifted the ice pack to cover his eye and ignored him.
"Wilson?" House called out again, a gratifying note of worry in his voice. Less than a minute passed before an angry tattoo on the linoleum heralded House's approach.
Wilson refused to turn his head and look at House. He could feel the weight of House's gaze on him, though, and it was hard to resist the pull. He sensed movement, and for a moment he thought House was going back to the living room, but then he heard a chair scrape to his side.
"Let me see your face." House's voice was surprisingly gentle, enough so that Wilson turned his head and lowered the ice pack.
"You're going to miss the game," he muttered, not caring how petulant he sounded. His face itched, and he reached up to scratch his cheek. When House batted his hand away, he opened his eyes, pleased that the swelling seemed to have gone down enough to see clearly out of both eyes. The sight of House frowning at him was less pleasing. "I don't suppose you have any Caladryl," he asked, though he hadn't seen any in his frantic search through the medicine cabinet.
"I've got something better," House replied, straightening up. "Go sit on the couch and stop sulking," he ordered. He didn't wait for an answer, just stalked off in the direction of the bathroom.
It wasn't particularly comfortable sitting in the kitchen, so Wilson sighed and pushed himself upright. He swayed, suddenly dizzy, and took a deep breath. He was still standing, one hand on the back of the chair, when House returned, took one look at him, and dragged him to the couch.
"You're having a mild systemic reaction," he said, once Wilson was settled. He uncapped a tube of toothpaste and squeezed some onto his fingers. "This will help with the itching," he said, spreading it over a distressingly large area of Wilson's face and down the side of his neck.
When he started unbuttoning Wilson's shirt, Wilson slapped his hands away. "What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Checking to see if the hives are localized," House replied, resuming his task. "What? You think I'd try to seduce somebody with toothpaste all over their face?" He hummed and nodded with approval as he uncovered more skin. "That's as far as I'm going," he announced. "Let me know if you're itchy anywhere else." He sat down at the other end of the couch and started changing channels.
"That's it? I'm having a systemic reaction to a wasp sting, and you're just going to sit there watching TV?" Wilson didn't know why he was surprised. House was the best person to have around if you were dying of an undiagnosed illness, but he had little patience or interest in mundane ailments.
"I've got an EpiPen handy in case you stop breathing. What more do you want?" But House reached over and wrapped his fingers around Wilson's wrist, taking his pulse. "You're fine. You'll probably feel shitty for a day or so, and you look grotesque, but you're not going into anaphylactic shock."
That was cold comfort, which was the only kind he was likely to get from House. Still, he tried to relax and focus on the images flickering past. The itching and pain had receded, and now that he was sitting down, the light-headedness seemed to have faded as well. He took several deep breaths, satisfied that he wasn't about to collapse into respiratory distress.
"When did you turn into such a hypochondriac?" House wondered.
"Hypochondriac? You think I just imagined a wasp stinging me in the face?" He touched his lip gingerly. "This is just a delusion?" He turned his head to glare at House.
House had an expression on his face that meant he was piecing together a particularly interesting puzzle. "No, but that was a pretty impressive over-reaction for a couple of stings and a little dizziness - which you probably caused yourself by freaking out. You've been afraid of bees and wasps for as long as I've known you. I'm just wondering why."
"I'm not afraid of bees," Wilson protested, even though lying to House when House already knew he was lying had never worked in the past.
"Right. It was somebody else who hid inside at Cuddy's last party after she mentioned she was getting a hornet's nest removed from the eaves."
"I didn't hide," Wilson objected. "Somebody had to man the bar."
"What about the time I got you to dive into the lake by telling you that there was a wasp on your head?"
"I don't like being stung. And I was hot."
"The lake was freezing and you were scared. Toddlers are made of sterner stuff than you when it comes to stinging insects." House raised an eyebrow. "Wow. You just turned whiter than the toothpaste."
Wilson grabbed the remote from House's hand and turned back to the baseball game. "Residual light-headedness," he lied. His face might be white, but it was as good as a red cape in front of a bull.
House tapped his front teeth with his index finger. "Who was allergic?" he asked. "A school friend? Your brother?"
"My mother," Wilson replied. "And my brother," he added, after a pause. There came a point in every conversation with House where it was better just to admit the truth.
"Younger or older?"
Wilson thought about his older brother living on the street without easy access to an EpiPen, and his breathing hitched. "Younger," he said, thankful for small mercies. It wasn't that he wished allergies on his baby brother, but the alternative made his chest tighten.
House's fingers circled his wrist again. "Slow, deep breaths," he murmured. "You're getting worked up again. What happened?"
Wilson shook his head. "Nothing," he insisted, because remembering only made his heart race faster. He took a deep breath and pulled his hand away from House. He missed the contact immediately.
"Is that your code word for some dark childhood memory you want to hide from me? Because you keep trying it and it doesn't work. I can call your mother for the dirt."
It was an empty threat. Wilson knew House would never do anything to potentially upset his mother - House didn't have many limits, but that was one of them. He wasn't as certain that House wouldn't call his father or brother, however. "Why do you have to know everything?" he demanded, opting for a futile, but satisfying, counterattack.
"Because life isn't worth living otherwise," House retorted. "Now dish."
Wilson sighed and bowed to the inevitable. "We didn't know Peter was allergic at first. Mom had made sure we were all tested, but Peter must have gotten a false negative. Or the test was faulty. Not that it mattered. I was only six. Peter was maybe three. Neither of us really knew what it meant to be allergic."
His parents had always told him to be careful around bees and wasps, but bees and wasps didn't cooperate. Wilson was convinced that wasps, especially, deliberately put themselves in a position to sting him. He'd done nothing to antagonize the wasp today, but that hadn't stopped it from turning on him.
"We were playing in the backyard, digging up holes in the garden, and a bee stung Peter. He started to scream, and I thought he was just being a baby. Then he stopped screaming. And he started gasping and wheezing. I didn't know what to do. Mom was inside. Dad had taken Michael to Little League, I think. Peter's face got all red and puffy, and then his lips started to turn blue. I screamed for Mom, but she didn't hear me, so I picked him up and carried him to the house." Wilson closed his eyes, and once again he was six years old and terrified.
"He was so heavy, but he wasn't even gasping any more, so I knew I couldn't put him down. As soon as Mom saw us, saw Peter's face, she ran to the bathroom and got her hypo of epinephrine. I remember thinking it was like magic. Peter started breathing again, started crying, which I didn't mind this time. Mom was crying too, but she got us both into the car and drove us to the hospital. They kept him overnight, and Dad bought me ice cream and told me I was a brave boy for helping my little brother, but he was wrong." Wilson didn't realise that his breathing had gotten ragged again until House grabbed his wrist and told him to calm down.
He took a series of deep breaths that did nothing to steady his composure, but seemed to satisfy House. "I didn't know anything about being allergic," he continued, "but I knew even then that if Mom hadn't given Peter the epi shot, he would have died. And there was nothing I could have done to prevent it."
"You were six," House said harshly, in a way that wasn't harsh at all.
"I didn't say it was rational," Wilson snapped. "I know none of it's rational. But when I see a bee, or when I get stung, that's what I remember." He waited for House to make some smart-ass comment or to tell him he was an idiot, but House just got up and went into the kitchen.
When he came back out, he was carrying a carton of chocolate fudge ice cream and two spoons. He handed the carton and one spoon to Wilson. "It'll be easy to swallow," he said, and settled down next to Wilson.
Later, Wilson couldn't remember the final score of the baseball game, but he remembered the cold ice cream sliding down his throat, and the warmth of House's body next to him. And for just a brief moment in time he forgot all about the danger lurking behind a tiny stinger.