Wilson sat in one of the cafeteria booths, ignoring his bottled water and picking absently at a salad. Across from him Cuddy chowed down on a BLT, hold the B, extra mayo. She laughed at something Wilson said and took a sip of her Vitamin Water - the orange kind, with the extra calcium. House peered around the corner of his battered, July 2001 copy of Woman's Day and narrowed his eyes at them, noting with vague nausea how their feet nearly touched beneath the table.
It was when Wilson reached easily across the table, took Cuddy's bottle out of her hand and drank from it that House began to seethe. In a normal world, Cuddy would have snatched it away from Wilson, insisted he pay for it, maybe poured the rest out over Wilson's meticulously-sculpted hair. Instead she just chuckled prettily and said something softly to Wilson that made him laugh and choke on his mouthful.
House felt as though he was watching soft-core porn, only without any hot Japanese schoolgirls.
Magazine and feeble attempt at subtlety forgotten, he sipped his Coke, munched from his plate of fries and glared in their general direction until he caught Wilson's eye. A lifted and incredibly bushy eyebrow, followed by a roll of the eyes and an expression of exasperation, and the "business lunch" was over. Wilson bused the table, smiled as Cuddy clicked away in her stiletto heels, then made his way over to House's table.
"You're about as subtle as the Stealth Bomber, you know."
"Actually, I'm totally ninja." House folded up his paper and looked at him. "To everyone else, it looks like you're chatting with a ficus plant."
Wilson sat down and helped himself to one of House's fries, snatching it quickly before House could slap his hand away. "I told you before, and I'll tell you again: there's nothing going on between me and Cuddy."
"And I told you before that I think there should be something between you. Such as a strategically-placed layer of latex and some Astroglide."
"That's... fairly graphic, and coming from you? Very disturbing."
House shrugged. "Don't blame me, blame Letters to Penthouse." He drank his soda. "For people with nothing between you, you seemed pretty cozy."
Wilson sighed. "House, seriously. Give it a rest." He nicked another fry. "She's a friend. She's going through something, I'm a good listener..." Even as he spoke Wilson seemed to know he'd just made an error in judgment, and he suddenly paused and cleared his throat. "What I mean is, she's busy and stressed out, and-"
"-and that's not what you were talking to her about." House leaned forward, waggled a fry at Wilson's face. "So, what's the great conspiracy?"
"There's no conspiracy, House!" Wilson said. "Listen, how about we pretend I never said anything."
"Nope!" House smirked. "As it said in my kindergarten report card, I am imaginative, stubborn, and prone to eating paste. You said something. I'm interested. What's Cuddy going through that she needs kindly Doctor Wilson's shoulder to cry on?"
Wilson tensed. "It's... personal."
"Oh, right. I forgot, everything's personal with you, now." House scowled. "It isn't so personal that you couldn't discuss it in a crowded cafeteria."
"That's right, you weren't." House chomped on his fry. "So either you're lying and you are sleeping with Cuddy, or there is something going on with her and it's not as dire as you make it sound. Which is it?" He looked at Wilson, chewing expectantly.
After a moment's hesitation, Wilson cleared his throat and leaned in a little, and lowered his voice to a murmur.
"Is there somewhere else we can go to talk?"
"You did what?"
Wilson ducked his head and glanced around. Fortunately for him, the only people nearby were the clinic nurses, and they were used to House's grating voice and outbursts. No one looked at them.
"Keep it down," said Wilson, firmly shutting the exam room door and pushing the lock into place. "Cuddy asked for a little discretion, which in hindsight probably meant not telling you..."
House continued to stare at him. "This is such a bad idea that it should be the sultan of bad ideas, and make all other bad ideas its harem." He narrowed his eyes at Wilson. "You never wanted kids before. Why now? Why Cuddy?"
Wilson sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "You didn't hear her," he said, looking up and fixing House with an accusing look. "After you went off on her? Told her she'd suck at being a mother? You didn't see her in her office afterward."
For a moment, House looked confused, then slightly guilty, then he frowned. "So, you felt sorry for her," he said. "That's a crappy reason to want to have a kid with someone. What, is this just another way you think your dick can heal all wounds?"
"This has nothing to do with me!" snapped Wilson. He ran a hand through his hair in obvious exasperation, and House took a perverse pleasure in the fact that the cowlick Wilson always worked so hard to tame was now sticking straight up.
"It has everything to do with you," he said, "and your complex of wanting to save everyone you come into contact with." House limped around the tiny room and drew the blinds against the curious stares of the clinic staff. "You couldn't just slip a roofie into her coffee and drop her off at a bar?"
Wilson glared at him. "House, just shut up. I don't even know why I told you. I don't know why I tell you anything, anymore."
"Well," said House, leaning against the examination table, "if you told me because you want my blessing, you're not getting it." He shook his head. "You live in a hotel. Your divorce isn't even final. You spend eighteen hours a day in this hospital and on weekends you spend eighteen hours on my couch watching Mythbusters reruns, because you've got nothing better to do. Except, apparently, knocking up the Dean of Medicine."
"It wasn't like that-"
"Oh, my bad." House rolled his eyes. "You provided her with her own do-it-yourself kit. Let me guess, a turkey baster and a jar with an ugly tie around the neck?"
"I wanted to help her, House!" Wilson gestured wildly, hair sticking out in all directions. He almost looked comical, if it weren't for his slightly constipated expression. "That's all!"
House snorted. "That's never all, with you." He pointed his cane at Wilson. "You dosed me with anti-depressants to 'help' me, but what did you get out of it? How does a happy House benefit you?"
Wilson laughed without mirth and shook his head. "Let me count the ways," he snapped. "If anything, the hospital should have given me a medal of honor for doing that. Or a raise."
"Sounds like Cuddy gave you a raise, all right-"
"House, stop it!" Wilson pointed a finger at House. "You don't get to tell me my motives for doing this! I know what they are, and that's all that matters. Cuddy got what she wanted, and I got-"
"What?" House interrupted. "What did you get?"
Wilson hesitated, then lifted his chin, a little defiantly and looked House in the eye. "I got something I was never going to have," he said, in a slightly uneven voice. "Val and I were too young for children, Bonnie miscarried twice before we gave up, and Julie wasn't interested. This..." He paused, as if choosing his words carefully, then sighed. "I thought this was my last chance."
The room was silent as House mulled that over. "You actually want a kid."
"Yeah." Wilson nodded. He rubbed the back of his neck and shuffled his feet, looking at them and then up at House, wearily. "Yeah."
"Another thing you've never mentioned."
House suddenly felt that at some point during the conversation an elephant had wandered into the room, sat down and made itself at home between them. He could feel its presence, he knew Wilson could feel it, but like hell if either of them was going to talk about it. A glance at Wilson revealed an expression of defiance, hands jammed into the pockets of his lab coat. House leaned hard on his cane and looked at the floor.
"How'd you do it?"
House looked up. "Either you donated or you did her. Which was it?"
Wilson bit his lower lip. "I... donated. She's working with CRMI in New York." He feigned fascination with his left shoe. "She said she'd keep me informed."
"So she doesn't know," said House. "If it took."
"Not yet." Wilson glanced at him. "It's only seven days past transfer."
The elephant was getting bigger. House realized he'd have to be the one to point it out.
"Why'd you think this was your last chance?" he asked.
"House, I'm not going to talk-"
"You're not telling me something important," House said. He narrowed his eyes as if he were trying to see right through Wilson, past the crunchy outer shell to the soft, chewy center. Wilson the Skittle. "You're forty years old, but you're not a woman. Your breeding years aren't completely behind you." He frowned, hefted his cane and spun it in one hand. "It's not hard for you to get women. It's never been hard for you to get women. Whenever we go out you end up with phone numbers coming out of your ears by last call. There's no reason for you to think-"
Wilson's voice cracked, and he went suddenly pale. He looked at House almost pleadingly, eyes wide and hands curled into fists at his sides. House hadn't seen Wilson so tense since Tritter's reign-of-annoyance. "Drop it," he croaked. "Please."
House stared at him.
"Seriously," said Wilson, swallowing hard. "Don't."
The elephant in the room had just taken an enormous dump on the floor. House wrinkled his nose and studied Wilson intently.
"Let me guess," he said. "It's personal."
When Wilson looked away without a reply, House wordlessly limped past him, opened the door and left the room.
He didn't knock before barging into Cuddy's office.
"If you're going to let a manipulative, narcissistic bastard father your spawn," he announced, "then you should've have picked the taller one."
Cuddy looked up and, for a split second, looked terrified. "He told you," she said. It wasn't a question. "I asked him to be discreet. Obviously he owns a different dictionary than I do."
House smacked his cane down onto her desk, upsetting an empty coffee cup. "What the hell are you thinking?"
"Dr. House, I don't see how this is any of your business."
"Oh, don't pull that professionalism crap with me. I've seen you upside down, naked and covered in chocolate sauce. I've seen him puking his guts out in the men's room of a sports bar. And you've both seen me use a bedpan. There's no dignity left between any of us." He glared at her. "You've made a really big mistake."
Cuddy glowered at him. "House, shut up and get out."
House placed both hands on the desk and leaned in until he was practically nose to nose with her. "He's the last person you want to be your baby-daddy."
"No, that would be you." She picked the cane up and held it out to him. "I have work to do, House. And so do you. So if you don't mind-"
House took the cane and used it to hook a chair and drag it closer, flinging himself into it. He leaned back and giving her a calculating look. "You were going to ask me," he said.
She sighed and rubbed at her temple with two fingers. "House, your solution to the overpopulated maternity ward was to offer to go to Costco and buy bug spray in bulk." She eyed him. "Why the hell would I ask you to father my child?"
"Because." House stopped, and frowned. "Because..."
"You can't tell me the reason, can you?" she said, leaning back in her chair, her pretty blue top open by one button too many. "You're not jealous because you want to do it, you just wanted to be picked to do it." She leaned forward and pointed at him. "This isn't recess, House. We're not playing kickball. But if you wanted to make the team, you should have come to tryouts."
"Can't play kickball," he snapped. "I've got a note."
With a roll of her eyes she scooped up some papers and shuffled them with purpose. "This conversation is over, House."
"Wilson shouldn't have made the cut at all," he went on. "He always runs from the ball, or sneaks off to play on the jungle gym instead-"
She fixed him with a look. "The analogy is over, too."
House sighed. "It ain't over 'till the fat lady sings," he quipped, rising from the chair. "But I'll be sure to listen at your door for any tell-tale warbling in about, oh, six months."
He pretended not to see her nearly smile.
Three days later on a Saturday night, Wilson turned up at his door, disheveled and unshaven, and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt touting a bar on Martha's Vineyard. House wondered how recently he'd slept.
"It took," he said, once House let him in. Wilson sank into the couch and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "Labs confirmed it yesterday. Cuddy's pregnant."
House went into the kitchen and returned with two beers in his hands. Without a word he limped awkwardly to the couch, pressed one of the beers into Wilson's outstretched hand, and sat next to him, cracking open his own bottle.
Wilson opened his beer and took a long swallow. "Cuddy's excited - of course, she's excited. Cautiously excited. She lost the last one."
"She did?" House looked at him, surprised. "She never said-"
Wilson shook his head. "It was back when you had your head up your ass. After shoving that thermometer up Tritter's."
They drank their beers and House turned on the television. He flipped around the channels until he landed on the Discovery Channel, which was showing a marathon of Dirty Jobs. They fell silent, but Wilson's silence was louder than usual. He cast a few surreptitious glances in Wilson's direction, between sips of beer. The only time Wilson moved was to put his feet up on the coffee table.
"You're freaking out."
Wilson glanced at him. "My mother will be happy," he said, at length.
"Is that why you did it?" House asked, swirling his beer around, watching the fizzy little whirlpool form. "Because you think it's something you should want to do? Have a kid, please your mother, be the world's greatest dad?"
"You can't ask me that." He looked at House. "You never do anything to please anyone, even yourself."
"We're not talking about me. We're talking about you."
"I don't want to talk about either of us." He looked away. "I want to sit here and watch TV."
House nodded. "Okay." He looked back at the television.
After a few minutes, Wilson sighed and scratched the back of his head. He looked at House. "I can hear you thinking from here," he said. "What? What're you thinking?"
"I'm not thinking anything." House nodded at the television. "Except that a grown man trying to herd ostriches is pretty damn funny."
"You didn't want to talk about it."
"Well, maybe now I do."
"I'm pretty sure I still don't."
Wilson threw up his hands. "This is impossible. I don't know why I came over here."
"I don't either," said House, rising from the couch and limping caneless into the kitchen, to trash his beer bottle and retrieve another. He leaned against the kitchen doorway and eyed Wilson warily. "If you're looking for absolution, my good vestments are in the laundry."
"That's not what I want." Wilson looked at him. "House, I just-" He hesitated, then sighed and hung his head. "I don't regret what I did," he said to the floor.
House frowned. "Then what's the problem?"
"The problem is that this..." He breathed out slowly and lifted his head, looked at the ceiling. "...isn't how I thought it would be."
"Okay, if there's going to be any baring of souls, here, then I need something other than beer." House turned and limped back into the kitchen. "I think I've got some Drano under the sink..."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "Just forget it." He picked up the remote, changing the channel to the Food Network, the Cartoon Network, CNN. "You can come back in, now. I'm done boring you with my trivial concerns for my psychological well-being."
House reappeared, giving Wilson the hairy eyeball. "You better not have gotten any of that emo on my couch. I've already had to have it cleaned once, because of you."
"You only have yourself to blame for that," said Wilson. He flicked through the channels quickly, finally settling on Telemundo. "Remind me to keep you away from it. "
Wilson looked at him. "My... kid."
"Ah. Yes." House eyed the remote in Wilson's hand. "Hate to say it, but Sabado Gigante just ain't doing it for me."
"There's nothing else on," said Wilson absently. House snatched the remote away. "Hey!"
"There's something else on in English," he snapped, changing the channel to ESPN and settling back. He let his head roll to one side, gazing at Wilson intently. "It's not your kid, you know."
"Uh, my DNA would disagree with you."
"Biologically, okay. It'll look like you, though hopefully it won't get your eyebrows, but how involved do you think you're actually going to be?" House put his feet up on the coffee table. "This is Cuddy's baby. It'll have her name and live in her house. You might get to see it on the High Holy Days, but you're not going to be reading bedtime stories or driving it to piano lessons. You'll be lucky if you get to come to the bris."
Wilson huffed. "You're really giving Cuddy a lot of credit. She said I could be involved."
"She's going to manage that kid the way she manages the hospital," said House. "And you might get to be a department head, but that won't guarantee you any kind of actual responsibility."
"I have plenty of responsibility to the hospital, and I'll have plenty of responsibility to my child!" Wilson sat up and looked at him. "House, why're you doing this? Why do you have to make me feel like crap about everything I do?"
"You do. You did this with all three of my marriages. You do this with my job. You did it when I bought my car, for Pete's sake! You do this with everything!"
House frowned. "Because your judgment is usually flawed when it comes to those things." Wilson rolled his eyes. "What? Did I miss the memo that sleeping with your patients was a good career move?"
Wilson groaned. "Here we go again," he said, rubbing two fingers against the bridge of his nose. He glared at House. "And you wonder why I don't tell you things."
"I don't wonder," said House with a sniff. "You don't tell me things because you don't want me to know how screwed up you really are. Because that would make you a great, big hypocrite whenever you lecture me on how screwed up my life is. You lie by omission." He looked Wilson over, appraisingly. "The reality is that you're probably more screwed up than me."
"Oh, right." Wilson snorted. "I don't know how could I possibly be more screwed up than you."
"It's no easy task," said House, narrowing his eyes and studied Wilson with a piercing look. "But you are, aren't you?"
Wilson didn't answer. He didn't even look at House. For several silent minutes he stared at his hands, looking anxious and unsettled. The television droned on, and House only glanced at it long enough to check the Flyers score before looking back at Wilson, waiting.
He wasn't prepared for what happened next.
"House, I'm gay."
A week passed following Wilson's little revelation, after which he got up from the couch and quietly let himself out of House's apartment. They'd avoided each other ever since, Wilson finding things to do outside the hospital, such as lunch meetings, seminars, courting donors with Cuddy. House kept himself busy with the case of a banana-colored baby brought to him by a nurse in NICU. The case was interesting – jaundice with no apparent anomalies in the liver , and the kid's parents were Amish, for God's sake – but not interesting enough to keep House from being distracted by the fact that his best friend had come out to him.
He couldn't figure out how he could have missed this kind of thing. He knew about stereotypes, he'd lived in San Francisco as a teenager in the late seventies, but he never saw this one coming. The hair, the shoes, the copy of The Joy of Cooking Wilson had stashed in the second drawer of his desk – they were things House consider simply Wilsonesque and not particularly gay. Wilson was the guy who could tell you the cup size of a woman at fifty yards. He liked monster trucks and geeks blowing shit up on the Discovery Channel. House had never seen him give another man a second look.
How the hell could Wilson be gay?
"You're lying," he said, ambushing Wilson in the men's room once he'd had enough of their self-imposed radio silence. "You're not gay."
Wilson didn't even start, as though he'd expected House to appear out of nowhere, at some point. He pointedly didn't look at House, instead keeping his eyes trained on the tiled wall in front of him. "Funny," he said with a sigh. "My father said the same thing when I told him."
"There's no way you're gay." House stepped up to a urinal and unzipped. "I don't believe it."
"I don't believe we're having this conversation in the men's room."
"Why would you tell me something like that?" asked House, glancing at him and quickly looking away. "Is this your new thing? Lecturing me isn't working so let's resort to shock tactics? Scare me straight by telling me you're not?"
"I told you because it's true," said Wilson, zipping up and flushing the urinal with his elbow. He went to the sinks. "Because I needed to tell you. I wanted to tell you, but..."
Wilson hesitated, then turned on the water to wash his hands. House finished up, flushed and limped awkwardly over to the sinks, looking at Wilson in the mirror. "You wanted to?" He frowned. "For how long?"
"...a while." Wilson scrubbed his hands a little too vigorously. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm not lying. I'm telling you the truth, which I would think you'd appreciate since you like to believe that everything anyone ever tells you is a lie. A little truth now and then should feel refreshing."
"Gee, thanks." House slapped at the faucet and stuck his hands in the water. "I really appreciate your method. You're the suicide bomber of revelations."
"Oh, sorry, did I inconvenience you by letting you in on something deeply personal?" Wilson said, snidely. He shut off the water and grabbed a handful of paper towels. "This actually doesn't have anything to do with you, you know. It's about me. I told you because I needed to tell you. My therapist-"
"Your therapist?" House jerked his head up and stared. "Oh, this just gets better and better – first you knock up Cuddy, then you think you're gay, and now you're in therapy. Excellent. I'm starting to love Tuesdays."
"House." Wilson shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't think I'm gay. I am gay." He looked up and met House's gaze unwaveringly. "Deal with it."
It was unsettling, the way Wilson looked at him, but House didn't look away. "How gay are you?" he asked, turning off the water and reaching for the paper towels. "I mean, everybody's a little bit gay. An entire generation went a little bit gay after Star Wars came out because if you didn't want to be Han Solo, you wanted to do him. Though I never understood that sentiment, myself. Luke was way cuter." House dried his hands and lobbed the balled-up towels toward the trash, and missed.
Wilson swallowed audibly. "If you can't take this seriously then this conversation is over." He tried to step around House, toward the exit. House quickly brought up his cane and poked Wilson in the chest with it to prevent his escape. "House-"
"Answer the question," said House, eyeing him intently. He prodded Wilson a little harder. "On the Kinsey scale."
"Why should I tell you?" Wilson knocked the cane aside, breathing hard. "What, if I'm just a two or a three, it'll make you feel better? Not too gay, just gay enough to give you more about me to mock?"
"That is so not-"
"It is true!" Wilson shouted. "You always do this! You always take something you can't handle and try to manipulate it into something that makes sense to you. I'm not a patient, House. You don't manipulate your friends."
House snorted. "You manipulate me all the time. Lying to me about curing a patient? And don't think I don't know it was your idea and not Cuddy's to get me to give up the pills for a week, that one time." He pointed a finger at him. "I know you-"
"Do you really?" Wilson exhaled slowly, sounding suddenly weary. He put his hands on his hips and stepped back, looking at the floor. His tie was crooked and at some point in the conversation his carefully-arranged hair had come apart. It made him look impossibly young, though when he lifted his head House could see the years between them etched in Wilson's features. "Sometimes, I don't think you know me at all. Or as well as you think you do."
Fidgeting uncomfortably, House cleared his throat. "I should have known this," he said evenly. "I don't know how I missed it."
"Because I didn't want you to see it," said Wilson. "You don't see anything I don't want you to see."
House looked at him. "Why?"
Wilson suddenly smiled, then laughed without mirth. He shook his head. "House, if I have to tell you..."
"No." Wilson looked him in the eye. "I've humored you enough. You need to figure this one out on your own." He turned and looked in the mirror and made a half-assed attempt at reordering his hair, then shot House's reflection a look. "You're the brilliant diagnostician, after all."
House rolled his eyes. "Cute. Is this you teaching me another lesson, Professor All-Knowing and Well-Meaning?"
Wilson just smiled and straightened his tie. "See you later, House," he said, stepping around him and walking out.
"Mister, it's my turn, now!"
House turned and gave the kid a look that sent it scurrying to the other side of the arcade. He smirked and went back to his game, stooping a little because the thing wasn't exactly intended for those over four feet tall.
It was a well-known fact that House did most of his thinking at the piano or while watching television. Slightly lesser-known was that he also did his thinking in the shower or on the can. What wasn't known was House's preferred method for stirring up the really, really deep thoughts was an hour and a half away, before rush hour traffic, in Asbury Park.
He gripped the little wooden ball tightly and lined up his shot, drawing his arm back and letting it go in a slow, graceful underhand. The ball rolled up the ramp and launched, landing neatly in the 40-point hole. House pumped his fist in the air and huffed an emphatic "Yes!" as the ticket machine spewed out his winnings, a little pile of tickets curled snake-like at his feet.
Nothing like a game of Skee-ball to inspire a man to think.
He thought about his patient (the banana-colored baby, at least until the blue neon light from a DDR machine reminded him of Crigler-Najjar syndrome, and he had to make a phone call to the NICU), about his leg (until the Vicodin kicked in) and then he thought about Wilson. He didn't claim to know everything about James Evan Wilson (who had the best initials ever) but the fact of the matter was that despite Wilson's claims to the contrary, House knew more about him than almost anyone else around. Even Wilson's wives didn't know him as well as House did, or else they wouldn't have been so surprised when their marriages fell apart. He had personnel files and a friendship spanning almost twenty years to thank for his Wilson knowledge, but by far the most helpful and revealing source of information was something no one, not even Wilson, would have ever expected House to have access to: Wilson's mother.
For reasons House couldn't begin to diagnose, Wilson's mom liked him. The first time he'd met her, at one of Wilson's weddings, they'd wound up knocking back snifters of brandy together and laughing at fantastic, terrible stories of Wilson's youth. She was a magisterial, imposing Westchester Jew who was intensely proud of her eldest son, which meant that on every occasion that she had a willing audience (House, who showed up for brunches whenever he could) she would impart her pride in detail. By the time marriage number three came and went, House knew about every scraped knee and every gold star little Jimmy had ever had. It was beautiful, mostly because it drove Wilson nuts.
Wilson was a Smart Kid, the kind of kid House liked to beat up back when he was in school even though he was just as smart as them, if not smarter. He'd finished high school at sixteen, sailed through college in two years, med school in three. He was popular and outgoing, having pledged Alpha Epsilon Pi, played baseball and wrestled, and in the end he graduated summa cum laude. As soon as he expressed interest in becoming a doctor, medical schools all over the country practically tripped over themselves offering up grants and scholarships. House eventually met him in Boston during his own fellowship at Harvard Med, while Wilson was doing his residency at Dana-Farber. The kid was fresh-faced, barely into his twenties and so sarcastic that House couldn't resist. He had to know him, and once he did, he'd decided to keep him.
House tossed another Skee-Ball and missed. He frowned. What the hell was Wilson talking about? You don't see anything I don't want you to see. What did that even mean? He readied another ball and took aim, and wondered just what else Wilson thought he was hiding, from House, from everybody. Besides the gay thing, which House hadn't even let himself think about, yet.
Wilson being gay wasn't actually that big of a deal. The fact that his best friend was homosexual wasn't what bothered House, but rather that his best friend hadn't told him. Even more irritating was that House had missed it. He should have known, he should have been able to tell. Wilson should have told him and House should have known already, and neither of those things had happened. Was that what Wilson meant?
Then a thought hit him, so suddenly and with such force he botched his next throw and the ball sailed into the game next to his. The kid playing it gave him a dirty look, but House barely noticed.
"House, if I have to tell you..."
"No. I've humored you enough. You need to figure this one out on your own."
Wilson was in love with him.
It fit. He could see all the symptoms as clearly as if they'd been written on a whiteboard. It made sense. Of course Wilson wouldn't come out to him, if he were the reason behind the new orientation. It was why he hadn't been able to figure it out for himself; he hadn't wanted to see Wilson's obvious gay crush on him, so he didn't. It was simple, it was perfect, and once the euphoria of solving the case wore off, it started to freak House the hell out.
He'd watched enough television - specifically that one show on cable - to know that when a gay guy falls for a straight guy, it gets very complicated and messy and uncomfortable. House wasn't too proud to admit (to himself, at least) that he had very few things going for him beyond his friendship with Wilson. He really didn't have many other friends beyond a few guys with whom he traded e-mails every so often. Dylan Crandall had called twice since the incident with the daughter-who-wasn't-actually-his-daughter in an attempt to keep their tentative acquaintance going; House indulged him with some snappy rapport and a half-assed promise to catch up the next time Crandall found himself in New York. It made him feel a little less pathetic that he managed to communicate with other people once in a while, but the sad fact was that he was pathetic, that none of it came close to the thing he had with Wilson. It defied explanation, it had no absolute definition, and if he were really honest with himself, it was his greatest accomplishment. Any moron could become a doctor, but it took a lot of effort to keep a functionally-dysfunctional friendship going for almost twenty years.
Wilson was his human credentials, and House wasn't stupid; he knew he couldn't afford to lose that.
He had to do something about it.
House decided to avoid Wilson for a while, until he'd worked out a game plan, but now that he didn't want to talk to him Wilson was everywhere, poking his head into the conference room for consults and dropping by his office to make lunch plans. It was when House actually considered volunteering more time to the clinic that he realized that avoidance just wasn't going to work.
He needed to get away for a while.
A quick Google search revealed a list of upcoming medical conferences, and House picked one by date - the day after tomorrow - and printed a registration form. He filled it out quickly and limped off to the elevators, ignoring Nurse Previn's usual glare from the nurse's station as he barged into Cuddy's office and dropped the form on her desk. "I have a conference," he said. "So I need time off."
"You don't go to conferences," said Cuddy blandly, without looking up.
"This one is very important," said House, standing over her. "It's essential to my department and - hell, my entire career."
With a long-suffering sigh and a dirty look Cuddy picked up the form and skimmed it. "The Thirty-First Annual Meeting of the Christian Ophthalmology Society?" she read. "Well, I'm sure that would be a scintillating event, if you were either a Christian or an ophthalmologist." She lowered the paper and fixed House with a curious and somewhat amused look. "This wouldn't have anything to do with what Wilson told you, last week, would it? He told me." Her voice softened to that annoyingly tone of concern that made House's teeth itch. "That he told you. What do you-"
"Nope!" House chirped quickly, as he cursed himself inwardly for not paying attention to conference titles. "I'm just trying to do my darnedest for this hospital, and what better way than to get in touch with Jesus and see what He has to say about eye health."
She looked at him for a moment in quiet contemplation, her eyes narrowed and a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. "Okay," she said.
House blinked. "Okay?"
"I think it's a good idea," said Cuddy. "I think you should get the hell out of Dodge for a few days and freak out properly, away from innocent bystanders. Then maybe we can all go back to normal - or whatever approaches normal, around here." She made a show of shuffling some papers.
"I'm not freaking out," said House. "And what about my department?"
"Huh." Cuddy tilted her head. "Your department. Now, why weren't you worried about your department before you came in? Oh, that's right! Because it wasn't convenient to you to worry about it until now. Well, don't worry." She smiled like a snake. "I have just the person in mind to run things in your stead."
With a sudden, twisting sensation in his gut House stared at her. "You wouldn't dare."
Cuddy sniffed. "Dr. Chase has a proven track record as an excellent diagnostician, and a stunning resume. Why, he even won a fellowship under a famous doctor! Can't recall his name... Something to do with buildings. Dr. Shack? Or was it Yurt?"
"Cute." House scowled at her. "You're not giving my department to the guy I fired."
Cuddy shot him a look. "House? Get a plane ticket, get packed, get over it." She flashed him a playful grin for just a brief moment before her face snapped back into the mask of disdain that she usually wore around him. "And get out."
With a little snarl, House went, making sure to slam the door behind him.
"You're going where?"
"Memphis, Tennessee." House chucked a t-shirt into the duffel bag, then another t-shirt, then a red t-shirt, in case he wanted to shake things up a bit. "The River City. Home of Sun Studios, Beale Street and about two hundred episodes of COPS."
Wilson stood in the doorway to House's bedroom, hands on his hips. "This is how you're going to handle it? By running off." He shook his head, turned and went into the living room. "Great, House. That's great."
House rummaged around in his closet for a pair of shoes. "It's not my fault I'm in such demand," he called out. "I'm world-famous, you know!" He cursed softly under his breath when he realized he couldn't find his current favourite sneakers. "My life is so hard," he sighed, mostly to himself.
"Unless they've got you coming in so that you can give a lecture on conjunctivitis, I highly doubt this is anyone else's doing but your own." Wilson was back in the doorway again, this time leaning against it.
"Pink eye's a bitch, man."
"House, this is ridiculous."
"What's ridiculous," said House, kneeling awkwardly to peer under his bed, "is that you're here, trying to talk me out of leaving town for a few days. If the rest of the hospital staff knew, they'd take you out to the parking lot and stone your ass - aha!" He reached under the bed and pulled out the errant Nikes, lobbing them up into the bag. He looked at Wilson. "Why are you here, anyway?"
Wilson sighed. "Cuddy," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "She said this had something to do with me." He looked at House. "Does it?"
House shook his head. "Nope."
It took some effort, but House got up off the floor and went to his bureau, pulling out a few pairs of shorts from the top drawer. He paused for a moment and wondered if it was wise to show off his underwear in front of a man who clearly wanted to bone him, then shoved them quickly into the bag, zipping it up.
"You didn't pack a suit," Wilson observed.
"Don't need one," House replied. "You know those ophthalmologists. It's just party, party, party with those guys."
"Right." Wilson studied him silently for a moment, expression unreadable. "You're freaking out."
"Why does everyone think I'm freaking out?" House asked with a note of exasperation. It didn't matter that he actually was freaking out, it was just really annoying that people kept trying to point it out. "I'm not freaking out. You're gay, big deal."
Wilson flinched, ever so slightly. "It's a big deal to me," he said, in a small voice. "It's okay if it's a big deal to you, so long as you admit it's a big deal."
"Why do you want me to think it's a big deal?" House asked.
"I didn't say I wanted you to think that it's a big deal, I said it was okay if you did!" Wilson ran a hand through his hair. "If it is, we can talk about it-"
"I don't want to talk about it," snapped House. "We've talked about it. Several times, in fact. You like dick, I get it." He shrugged in an effort at nonchalance. "If you want a parade, you have to wait until June."
"You're impossible," Wilson said, throwing up his hands in defeat. "Fine, go to Memphis, I don't give a crap. It might be nice not to have to have these pointless conversations every day."
House huffed, hefted the duffel bag and retrieved his cane from its resting place by the door. "Now you're seeing the light," he said, limping past Wilson to the living room. "The cab'll be here in five."
"I'm going." Wilson's stride was quick and determined as he fetched his jacket. "Enjoy your trip."
They looked at each other awkwardly for a moment, before Wilson let himself out without another word. House stared at the door for a long time after he'd gone, feeling unsettled, until the beep of a horn announced the arrival of the taxi.