His cell phone rang while he was in the Jungle Room.
"Where are you?" asked Wilson, sounding hollow and far away.
House stepped out of the way of a bottle-blonde with frosty pink lipstick. "Mecca," he said. "America's answer to the Wailing Wall."
He could hear the smile in Wilson's voice. "Graceland?"
"How is it?"
A gaggle of Japanese tourists suddenly filled the room, and for a moment House had a flashback to his childhood on Okinawa. "Educational," he said loudly into the phone. "Inspirational. One day, I too shall meet my maker bare-assed on the- hang on." House waited until they'd taken their barrage of photographs and moved on before he spoke again. "Okay, so. Who's dying?"
"No one's dying," said Wilson. "I just hadn't heard from you. I was wondering, you know. How you're doing?"
"I'm fine, Mom."
Wilson sighed. "I know you tried to tell me that this doesn't have anything to do with me," he said, "but I think it does."
"The sun does shine out of your ass, Jimmy." House smirked. "Al Gore's talking about harnessing it for energy."
"If you wanted time to process it, I would've understood." Wilson sounded hurt. "You didn't have to run away from home."
House rolled his eyes. "I didn't run away. This isn't like you told me I couldn't have any cookies 'till after dinner. You came out of the closet." A little old lady and her husband, standing next to him and wearing matching Elvis t-shirts, gave him a funny look. He gave them one in return. "And for the last time, this has nothing to do with you. This is a pilgrimage."
"Fine." Wilson made a funny noise, and House knew Wilson didn't believe him but wasn't interested in fighting about it anymore. "When are you coming back?"
"Tuesday night at nine."
"Need a ride?"
He almost said no. He could have said no. "Sure," he said. "Thanks."
"Great." Suddenly, Wilson's tone became more relaxed, even cheerful. "Call me later with your flight information. I'll meet you at baggage claim."
"Sounds good," House said. "I gotta go. This place closes in an hour and I haven't even made it to the gift shop yet. You know Cuddy; if I don't bring her a sparkly Elvis back-scratcher, she'll never forgive me."
Wilson chuckled. "See you later, House."
After hanging up he went outside to Elvis's grave, where he stood and stared at the tombstone until the letters ran together. His hypothesis had been wrong. Avoiding Wilson wasn't going to work, because even when he avoided Wilson he still wound up with Wilson, in some way or another. They'd been separated before, by conferences and new jobs and honeymoons, but they were never more than a phone call away from each other. Which, House mused, was probably a key factor in the annoyance all three wives had held for him; none of them were ever number 1 on Wilson's speed-dial.
The mere fact that only thirty-six hours after their stalemate in House's apartment they'd fallen back into their proprietary brand of easy conversation spoke volumes: clearly, distance was not the answer. House wasn't going to be able to figure out what to do about The Problem of Wilson (as he'd so neatly labeled it in his head, complete with fancy lettering and a little Princeton-Plainsboro logo) just by temporary relocation. It was much more complicated than he'd initially thought. They were more complicated. He'd have to do better than that.
His epiphany finally showed up, way overdue, that night during dinner. He was halfway through a big plate of okra and fried chicken when he realized that the only way to sort out the mess between himself and Wilson was to face the issue head-on. He wouldn't address it directly - he couldn't. Wilson was just as stubborn as House (if not sometimes more so); he would deny it and they'd end up bickering and House would have to pay for his own lunches for a week. Confrontation was obviously not the answer.
The answer was that he would have to make Wilson do most of the work. Wilson would have to be the one to bring it up. Wilson would have to admit that he was in love with him. That would give House the defensive edge, since Wilson wouldn't be able to deny it, or lie to him. House could then shoot him down (eagerly but gently; contrary to popular belief House didn't go around kicking puppies for fun) and Wilson could be apologetic the way House preferred him to be, and the whole business would be history given over to cable TV and bottles of Grolsch. All House had to do was get Wilson to do it. Seduce him, he supposed, though that word brought to mind the bodice-rippers Cuddy kept stashed in the bottom drawer of her desk, and House had a hard time applying that to anything involving Wilson.
House swallowed hard and took a long pull of his Coke. Seduce was the wrong word. Flirt was better - a little less terrifying, a lot less... gay.
It wasn't that House was homophobic; he wasn't, not by a long shot. His misspent youth in San Francisco had taught him a few things and those few things had been incredibly fun. He had fond memories of cutting classes at sixteen, sneaking off to Union Street and educating himself on the assorted mating habits of the human race. In the end however he'd decided that soft-and-squishy trumped hard-and-hairy as far as his preferences went, and from there on in he'd kept it strictly snatch. He never - well, hardly ever - spared another man a second glance, and he was not attracted to Wilson.
Sure, Wilson had nice eyes. They were kind of like a dog's - sad but friendly. House could admit to himself that back in the old days he'd noticed Wilson not because of his stellar educational background but because the kid had been extremely pretty, the kind of pretty that must have made hazing complete hell for him back in college. You'd have to be dead not to be shaken by that kind of beauty in a person. As time wore on the prettiness turned into handsome which eventually mellowed into something more average, more normal. House could recognize that Wilson was still pretty good-looking, but he wasn't attracted to it. Not anymore, anyway.
But Wilson didn't have to know that.
House smiled at his own cleverness, finished off his Coke and signaled the pretty, red-headed waitress for another.
Wilson met him at the baggage carousels at a quarter after nine.
"I brought you something," said House, by way of a greeting. He dug in his knapsack and pulled out a rubber duck made to look like Elvis and handed it to Wilson. "Saw that, thought of you."
"Excellent." Wilson studied the thing warily. "It's always... bracing to know you remind someone of tacky, plastic waterfowl." He pocketed the duck, and House noted that there was something approaching a smile lurking at the corners of Wilson's eyes.
"He's an Elvis Celebriduck, thank you." House limped over to the carousel and spotted his bag. "Help a cripple out, man," he said, pointing it out.
With a grunt Wilson hefted the bag over his shoulder. "You hungry?"
House made a face. "All they fed me on the plane were peanuts and little crackers shaped like airplanes."
"So that'd be a yes." Wilson matched his gait easily to House's lopsided one, and House wondered when exactly he'd learned how to do that. "Only place still open is the diner."
"Works for me," said House.
The diner was a dusty old Greek-owned establishment near the country club. The food wasn't great for the prices but both House and Wilson enjoyed it for the fact that they were too lazy to look for a different place. House sometimes expected Wilson to suggest they find somewhere else, because Wilson was a total food whore, but he never did. He ordered the same thing nearly every time they went: turkey salad and lentil soup, because he actually liked turkey and vegetables and because they were two things that were difficult for House to pillage. House knew this and almost always wound up with a burger and extra fries that Wilson would swipe when he thought House wasn't looking.
They left House's stuff in the car and sat down at their usual booth, the one by the window with the broken jukebox. The waitress brought them coffee without asking, and House felt himself start to relax a little. He was home.
"How was Mecca?" asked Wilson, adding sugar packet after sugar packet to his coffee. "Any spiritual awakenings to report?"
"I achieved nirvana," House announced. He added one packet of Splenda to his coffee, stirred and took a sip. "The angels descended before me in a riot of rhinestones and sang unto me, 'Nay, thou wilt not tread upon thy blue shoes of suede'."
Wilson smirked and sipped from his cup. He eyed House knowingly. "You didn't set foot in that convention, did you?"
House snorted. "Not even to check out the buffet," he said. "I just wanted a vacation."
"Didn't you just have a vacation? I thought Cuddy bought you that plane ticket-"
Wilson blinked. "Why not? What did you..." His voice trailed off and he sighed. "You sat on your couch for a week, didn't you?"
"Not just on my couch," said House, affronted. "I spent some quality time at the piano and in bed and on the can."
"Nice." Wilson shook his head. "You should have gone. She told me where she'd sent you, it's nice. Julie and I honeymooned in Vancouver."
House fixed him with a look. "And that worked out so well for you," he snapped, without thinking. He felt immediate regret, although years of practice prevented him from showing it. "You told me that trip was miserable," he added quickly.
"Well, it was," said Wilson. If he were hurt, he wasn't showing it either. "Julie got food poisoning from the room service. Blamed me." He shook his head. "Obviously, it was an error in judgement on my part to want to stay in the hotel room and spend time with my new wife."
"Enough to put you off women for good?" House asked. Wilson flinched.
"That wasn't it," he said, glancing around and lowering his voice. "It wasn't just one thing or even a whole bunch of things, House. It just is."
The waitress reappeared to take their orders. Wilson, as predictable as the weather, asked for a turkey salad and lentil soup, which left House to get his medium-well burger, hold everything but the tomato, extra fries. The waitress topped off their coffees and went away, and House looked at Wilson.
"How'd you know?" he asked.
Wilson busied himself adding more sugar to his coffee. "How'd I know what?" He looked up and met House's gaze. "Ah. Uh, well." He shrugged. "Ed McMahon didn't show up on my doorstep with an oversized telegram from Publisher's Queeringhouse or anything, if that's what you mean."
House made a rude noise. "That's not what I mean."
"I always knew," said Wilson. He leaned forward on his elbows, studied his hands. House looked at them as well and saw that Wilson had started biting his fingernails again. "I didn't- I ignored it for a long time. Obviously. I tried to marry it away."
"Expensive therapy," remarked House. "And pointless." Wilson rewarded him with a weak smile. "Why come out now? You're forty, man. A little late to be getting your gay on, isn't it?"
Wilson sighed. "That's what I thought," he said. "But apparently it's never too late. Or so my therapist claims." He looked uneasy for a moment, and House picked up on it immediately.
"You're not convinced," he said.
"No," said Wilson, shaking his head. "I'm not. How the hell do I do this, House?" He looked at him, shoulders sagging a little. "How do I even meet-" He stopped, hesitating as he glanced around the diner. It was next to empty, but nevertheless Wilson leaned forward a little and whispered. "How do I meet people?"
House flashed him a crooked smile. "You mean men," he said with sadistic glee as Wilson's ears turned red. "I wouldn't know."
"Well, exactly. I don't know anyone that would." Wilson rubbed at the back of his neck and stared into his coffee. "It's easy for my therapist to encourage me to... accept this, but it's another thing to actually put the theory into practice."
"Kind of like Communism." House leaned back as the waitress returned with their food and set his plate down in front of him.
Wilson thanked her and waited until she went away. "You just compared my sex life to Communism," he said, picking up his fork and poking at his salad. "I'm not sure how I feel about that."
The abrupt change in subject earned him a dubious look. "She's... fine." said Wilson hesitantly, spearing a tomato. "She's twenty days past transfer, her hCG levels are good, little over four thousand." He chewed thoughtfully. "Doubling time's about 35 hours. It's encouraging."
Wilson suddenly began to eat as though he were starving. House thought he was avoiding the subject, that bringing up the pregnancy had spooked him. He could tell Wilson was just reciting something he'd been told, facts and figures that he'd only recently learned rather than anything he might know as a medical professional.
"Precarious," continued Wilson, polishing off the rest of his salad and turning his attention to his soup, "but encouraging. She's got an ultrasound on Monday."
"You going to be there?"
Wilson shrugged. "She didn't ask."
House grimaced. He'd been right, after all. Cuddy was going to keep Wilson at arm's length throughout the pregnancy, whether it was ultimately successful or not, and Wilson - being such a doormat House wondered idly if he had WELCOME tattooed across his butt - wasn't planning on fighting for even a second-row seat, whether he had a right to one or not.
"You should be there," said House, wondering when he'd allowed himself to be replaced with a pod person. "You-"
"I don't know if I want to be there," interrupted Wilson. He looked at House, then back down at his soup. "For one thing, they're only going to make sure everything is where it should be. It's too early to really see anything interesting unless you're an obstetrician who knows what he's looking for."
House studied him. "What's the other thing?"
Wilson licked a small smear from the corner of his lips. "There is no other thing."
"Of course there is," said House. "Nobody says 'for one thing' unless there's another thing. So, what's the other thing?"
For a moment, Wilson didn't move. He didn't look at House or eat, and House wondered if he was even breathing. When Wilson eventually looked up, the look on his face was one that would have sent House running, or at the very least hopping gracelessly, for the hills. Then he remembered that he was supposed to be trying to be seductive - or at the very least likeable - to Wilson. He forced himself to stay still and to give Wilson what he hoped was an inquisitive look of concern, though he probably just looked constipated.
"I don't know," said Wilson finally. House's leg twitched, but thankfully Wilson didn't elaborate. He went back to eating his soup, filching several French fries from House's plate. House gave him a half-assed swat that didn't connect, but he didn't care. They ate in personable silence, sharing-time over for now, and House was relieved. It wasn't that he didn't want to hear what Wilson had to say. That wasn't why he usually discouraged him from opening up.
He just didn't like not always knowing the right answer.
On Monday Cuddy brought him the case of the teenage daughter of a very wealthy, very powerful and - according to her - very testy donor. "You will treat this girl," said Cuddy. "And you'll be nice and courteous to her parents, because they have a lot of money and we need as much of it as we can get."
"The usual methods not working so well anymore?" House eyed the case file in her hand as if it were snake about to strike. "It's probably because your ankles are swelling. Bloated, pregnant-woman ankles are just not sexy, I don't care what the porn sites say."
Cuddy gave him a look, and House read it perfectly: Don't joke about this. It's too early. "Sorry," he muttered quietly. He snatched the file folder from her fingers and flipped through it. "You had an ultrasound this morning."
"How did you-"
"Wilson," said House, giving her a look. A look of delight flickered across her face, so quickly House nearly didn't catch it. "Was he there?"
"He had a patient," she said. "Are you asking to know the results?"
House looked at her, keeping his expression neutral. "Morbid curiousity."
Cuddy hesitated. "...normal intrauterine pregnancy," she said quietly. "It looks good."
"Good." He looked back at the file, reading it without seeing the words. "Do I say congratulations, yet?"
"Not yet." He felt her eyes on him, but he didn't look up. "I'll let you know."
"You do that," he said.
He let himself out, heading for the elevators. The patient - Darla Hicks, a senior at Princeton Day School and daughter of Marshall Hicks, newspaper tycoon - had just arrived in the meat wagon having been found unconscious by her mother (the famous Mariel Hicks, interior designer to the rich and powerful). The ER hadn't been able to revive her, and the girl now languished in a coma in the ICU. House groaned. Girl-in-a-coma meant that he would have to deal with her parents, and the only thing he hated more than a patient was a patient's family. He punched the elevator call button with a little more force than necessary and caused an orderly standing nearby to reconsider and take the stairs.
Marshall Hicks was a short, round man with a face that reminded House strongly of a potato. House hovered outside the girl's room, angling his head until he could just catch a glimpse of Mariel Hicks through the blinds. She looked potentially tall, willowy, her eyes red as she hovered over the tubed and prone body of her daughter. House took a deep breath, mentally crossed himself and thought of England before sliding open the door and limping into the room.
"Hi there," he said. "I'm Doctor House. You must be the infamous Hicks."
"Yes," said Marshall Hicks, drawing himself up to his full and unimpressive height. "What is wrong with my daughter?"
House feigned interest in her charts, so that he wouldn't have to look at Mr. Potato Head. "That's why they pays me the big bucks," he said to the clipboard in his hand. "To answer questions like that. Tell me about your kid - what was she doing when you found her?"
The weeping willow clutching the girl's limp hand spoke in a whisper. "I'd just come in from my Pilates class," she said, sniffling delicately. "I'd called ahead, but Darla didn't answer the house phone, or her cell. I found her on the bathroom floor." Mariel Hicks hiccuped, a tiny sound that made House think of a wounded animal.
"Any history of seizures?"
"No." Marshall Hicks shook his head. House resisted the urge to look up. "She's a Hicks. We're healthy as horses."
House made a noncommittal sound. "Barbaro would disagree with that statement."
"Barbaro," said House, glancing at Mariel Hicks. "Won the Kentucky Derby last year. They had to put him down after he tanked at the Preakness."
Marshall Hicks puffed up. "Are you comparing my daughter to a-"
"Actually, you did." House put down the clipboard and limped over to Darla's bedside. "Hold this," he said, thrusting his cane into her mother's hands. The woman grasped it with both hands and looked as if she expected it to explode, as House leaned down and pried Darla's eyes open, one by one, shining his penlight into them.
Mariel Hicks began sniffling again, as if gearing up to bawl prettily once more. "Please," she said. "What's wrong with her?"
House opened his mouth to respond, then closed it. He frowned, then pulled back Darla's sheets. "Good lord," he said, eyes wide. "She's got legs like a linebacker."
"Darla plays field hockey," said Marshall Hicks. "Varsity."
"Any good?" House looked the girl over from head to toe, taking in bruises consistent with having the crap beat out of her by brawny girls carrying big, wooden sticks. He could feel the pride building in the room, radiating from Marshall and Mariel Hicks like the smell of a cow-pie on a warm day. "Let me guess, they were headed for state."
"It was in the bag," said Marshall Hicks. "Darla was determined to get them there. She loves to play."
House frowned as he mulled that over. "Had she been complaining of anything? Feeling sick? Say, lightheaded, nausea, that sort of thing?"
Her parents exchanged looks. House groaned inwardly. "She'd had a little bit of the flu all last week," said her mother. "Nothing too serious, just dizzy and a little short of breath. I think she might have thrown up her breakfast one morning, but I thought she might have just eaten too fast. She didn't even miss school."
"Right." House nodded, then he did something even he would agree might seem a bit odd to the average observer. He bent and sniffed Darla's left knee. Her parents gasped.
"What are you doing?" exclaimed Mariel Hicks. House ignored her and sniffed the other knee, then her thigh. He lifted one noodle-like arm and nosed at her bicep. "Excuse me-"
"Shut up," snapped House. He leaned in and sniffed the girl's right shoulder. "If you want me to diagnose your daughter, you'll shut up."
"You're diagnosing her by... smelling her?"
When he was satisfied, House straightened up and fixed her parents with a glare. "Do you keep track of what your kid's buying on a regular basis?" he asked. "Or are you too busy with Pilates and trying to intimidate old, crippled doctors?"
"I beg your-"
"Take a page from your average mammal's book of parenting and sniff your kid once in a while," he said. "You'll notice she doesn't smell like a teenage girl. Nothing fruity or flowery or sparkly, or whatever it is girls spend their money on. She smells medicinal. She smells like a tube of Ben Gay, which I suspect she's been buying in bulk for at least the last two or three months. Normally, a supply like that would last someone the entire season, but not if they're smearing it all over themselves all day, every day, enough for the smell to penetrate her skin - along with insane amounts of methyl salicylate."
"Methyl- Is that what's hurting her?" asked Mariel Hicks, aghast.
House nodded. "I'll get a nurse in here to take some blood and get it to the labs for a tox screen to confirm."
Marshall Hicks's spud-like face took on a grey pallor. "Will she be all right?"
He hated this part. "Don't know," he said evenly. "Treatment for salicylate poisoning is hemodialysis and blood transfusions. If she wakes up, she'll probably be fine. If not..." He shrugged.
At that point House decided to beat a hasty exit, as the mother began to wail and the father muttered something about Pfizer and lawsuits. He let himself out of the room and dropped by the nurses' station to deliver his instructions, then turned to head back to the elevators. Cuddy owed him a real case, now.
He never made it. Wilson met him halfway there. "Hey," he said. "Busy?" Wilson suddenly frowned and listened; the faint yet unmistakable sounds of bawling could be heard drifting down the hall from the ICU. "I'm thinking no."
"Don't worry, their kid's gonna live," said House with a snort. "I just made sure they're going to actually pay attention to her from now on."
"Very thoughtful of you," said Wilson.
"How do you not notice your kid smells like a retirement home?" House said, jabbing at the elevator call button. "Where are you going?"
Wilson shrugged. "Lunch time," he said. "You?"
"Lunch time quickie with Cuddy, but I suppose she's off-limits now that she's gestating." He stole a look at Wilson. "I'll buy."
"You- what?" The elevator arrived and the doors open, but Wilson made no move to get on. "Did you just say that you are going to buy lunch?"
House frowned and stepped into the elevator. "You coming or not?"
"Of course." Wilson followed him and pressed the button for the basement. "I'm just wondering why my feet are cold."
"Thin socks?" House offered.
"I'm thinking more along the lines of Hell having frozen over."
"Har dee har har," said House.
The repercussions from his treatment of Marshall Hicks's daughter were swift and mighty.
"You told them their daughter was going to die!" exclaimed Cuddy, storming around her office like a fashionable cyclone. "You made them feel horrible."
"They should feel horrible," said House. He sat on her couch, calmly drinking a cup of coffee. "Their kid was mainlining muscle cream and they didn't notice until she'd keeled over. Who does that?"
Cuddy rolled her eyes. "Not everyone is as paranoid about everyone else as you are," she said. "Who expects their child is going to abuse muscle cream?"
"People will abuse anything worth abusing. Especially if they're in pain." To emphasize his point he reached for his bottle of Vicodin, palming one and swallowing it with a mouthful of coffee. "All I said is that they should notice what their kid is up to before she ends up in an emergency room."
"Or comes out of the closet?" Cuddy gave him a knowing look. "Is that what this is about?"
House sighed. "No," he said carefully, as if he were addressing a particularly stupid child. "This is about a pair of idiots not noticing that their kid was swimming in vats of Ben Gay."
Cuddy nodded. "Of course it is," she said, with a sarcastic little pout. "And it's about how you're upset you weren't able to figure Wilson out before he told you." She smiled at him indulgently. "House, it's okay to be a little freaked out. You should be a little freaked out. It's normal."
"And I'm such a paragon of normalcy," said House. He narrowed his eyes at her. "Why're you shutting Wilson out of this pregnancy?"
"What?" Cuddy blinked, her mouth falling open a little. "I'm not-"
House pressed on. "You didn't ask him to the ultrasound," he said. "And he hasn't told me the results."
"I told you the results."
"But he didn't." House pointed at her. "You're pushing him away, keeping things from him. Why?"
Cuddy pressed her lips together in a thin line and leaned against her desk. She looked down at herself, resting a hand against her abdomen. "I had- I had some spotting," she said softly. "Not a lot, but even a little is scary enough." She looked up at him. "Threatened abortion. I had the same thing happen right before I lost the last one."
Uncomfortable in the face of something so personal, House cleared his throat and fidgeted with his cane. "You don't know that it'll happen again," he said, but even as he spoke he regretted every word. "He deserves to be involved. You're lucky he even wants to be involved-"
"I know that," snapped Cuddy. "I just- I just don't want to have to tell him I've failed. Again." She swiped at her eyes. "Because this time it's not just me I have to disappoint."
House stood and limped across the room, leaning around her to pluck a couple of sheets of Kleenex from the box on her desk. He handed them to her and watched as she blew her nose. "After eight weeks the threat of miscarriage decreases sharply," he said quietly. "When did you lose the other one?"
Cuddy sniffled. "Six weeks, three days," she said.
"Talk to him at eight weeks, one day." He reached up and thumbed a stray tear from her cheek. "Don't keep him in the dark, anymore."
"Okay." Cuddy nodded. "I will." She looked at him, expression suddenly curious. "House, why do you care so much if Wilson's involved?"
For a moment, he didn't have an answer to that. He started to protest when he remembered Wilson hunched over the table in the diner, looking small and unsettled.
"Because," said House with a shrug. "Wilson's got nothing else going for him. He's divorced, he lives in a hotel, and he just came out of the closet at the age of forty." He sighed. "This is the only thing he's got that he hasn't had a chance to screw up yet."
Cuddy smiled. "Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that you do, in fact, have a heart."
"Of course I have a heart." House limped away toward the door. "And I've got three more at home in my freezer."
"Will you apologize to the Hicks family?"
"Don't press your luck."
House was getting impatient. A week of being nice to Wilson - buying him lunch, holding doors open, not making any jokes about one-breasted women and bald kids - had delivered no results. Wilson hadn't done anything more than give him a few appreciative smiles, which were warm and sincere and driving House insane. Wilson was not cooperating. It was time to bring out the big guns.
The two of them were hardcore Discovery Channel nerds, and since Wilson's hotel only got the most basic cable they'd fallen into a comfortable habit of watching TV together on certain nights. House provided the beer and the TV, and Wilson's job was to bring the food - usually.
"Are you sure?" House could picture the look of confusion on Wilson's face. It was Wednesday night - Mythbusters night - and Wilson was working late; House was already home. "I can still stop somewhere."
"Forget about it," said House. "Just get over here." He snapped his phone shut and tossed it on his bed, and stared into his closet with abject terror. What the hell did you wear to a seduction? And why was he calling it that? Flirting. Heavy, determined flirting, that's all it was. Just enough to lower Wilson's defenses and inspire him to confess. Nothing more. Nobody's bodice was getting ripped or anything. House shuddered at the thought.
In the end he decided on jeans and a t-shirt, which wasn't very imaginative but House just didn't care. He didn't want it to be too obvious what he was up to, and dressing nicely would definitely be too obvious. If he wouldn't wear it to church, he wouldn't wear it to pretend trying to get into his best friend's pants, and since he never went to church that left him with few other options.
He contemplated lighting some candles, then lit one and immediately blew it out, feeling like an idiot. No candles. Instead he made a half-assed attempt at mood-lighting, turning on just one lamp in his living room and leaving the rest dark, but the attempt was thwarted when he whacked his shin on the coffee table. Cursing a litany and hopping around a bit awkwardly, he turned on his usual amount of lights and popped an extra Vicodin.
Wilson arrived before the food did, looking tired and harried. House knew he'd lost a couple of patients this morning but he didn't ask about them. He sat on the couch watching the tail end of Jeopardy! as Wilson hung up his jacket.
"Sorry I'm late," said Wilson. "I had a meeting, then Cuddy wanted me with her for her second ultrasound." He beamed suddenly. "We heard the heartbeat, it's looking good."
"Glad to hear it." House didn't look up as Wilson sat down, loosening his tie a little.
"What's the category?"
House made a face. "Poem Titles."
The commercial ended and Alex Trebek reappeared to read the final clue. Wilson read it aloud with him, as he usually did. "'This poem says, For all averred, I had killed the bird that made the breeze to blow.' Tennyson?"
House shook his head. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."
He was right, but a knock on the door kept them from seeing if any of the contestants were. "You got Thai?" said Wilson, once the delivery boy had gone. "I thought you didn't like Thai."
"It's all right," said House with a shrug. "You like it though, don't you?"
"Yeah." Wilson nodded, and half-smiled. "It's my favourite, actually."
"Lucky for you." House poked through the bag, taking a container of noodles for himself. He settled back, food and chopsticks in hand, and changed the channel to Discovery. "I think this one's about avalanches or something."
Wilson slurped at a pint of coconut soup. "Sounds like there's plenty of potential there for explosions in the name of science."
"Makes me miss chemistry class." House punched the volume. "Shut up, now."
Usually, Mythbusters addressed more than one myth per episode. In addition to testing whether or not a yodel could start an avalanche, they were also testing whether or not your tongue would stick to a metal pole if it were cold enough. "Like in A Christmas Story," said Wilson. "God, I love that movie. You'll put your eye out, kid!"
"Why are you watching Christmas movies?"
"Because there are no movies about the Hannukah fairy," said Wilson, without looking away from the TV. "I like the Grinch, too."
House grinned. "Because he reminds you of someone?" he asked.
"Only you would feel flattered if someone compared you to the Grinch," said Wilson disparagingly. "And no. I've always liked Dr. Seuss."
"Oh." House pouted. He decided then to try his first tactic: flattery. "I like that shirt," he said, apropros of nothing. Luckily, everyone who knew him was used to his non-sequiturs, especially Wilson.
Wilson looked over at him and frowned. "What's wrong with it?" he asked, looking down at himself.
"Nothing's wrong with it," said House. "I said I liked it."
"Oh," said Wilson. "I thought you were being sarcastic."
"By saying I liked your shirt?"
"You said you liked my haircut the other day, only it turned out you really didn't."
"I did not!"
"You said it made me look like Barney Fife."
"Well... That's different. I'm not talking about your hair anymore, I'm talking about your shirt, and all I was saying is that I like it."
"Blue's a good color on you." Exasperated, House looked away and frowned. This wasn't going as well as he'd hoped.
"O...kay," said Wilson. They fell into silence, and House felt a stab of annoyed disappointment. Flattery, obviously, did not get you everywhere. He stared at the TV without really seeing it and tried to think of something else.
At the commercial, Wilson got up and stretched a little. "I think I need another beer. You want one?"
"Hang on." Getting up as well, House reached out and carefully smudged away something nonexistent from Wilson's chin, letting his thumb linger for a second longer than necessary. "You had a little something, there," he said quietly.
"Thanks," said Wilson, giving House a strange look. "I think. Excuse me."
He moved away, and for House that was the last straw.
"What is the matter with you?" House blurted out. Wilson jumped, startled.
"Nothing!" he exclaimed. "What's the matter with you?"
House pointed a finger at him. "You are in love with me," he announced. "And you refuse to admit it."
Wilson gaped, his mouth opening and closing a few times like a fish. "What?" he sputtered.
"You heard me."
"Are you high?" said Wilson, staring at House as if he'd sprouted a second head. "I'm not in love with you!"
"See, this is what I was trying to avoid," said House, rolling his eyes. "Do we really need to go through this? You deny it, I ignore you, you admit that I'm right, we move on. Why can't we cut out all the boring stuff between now and that last part?"
"No!" Wilson yelped. "House, this is- This is ridiculous! I'm not in love with you! Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I want to sleep with you. I'm not gay by proximity, it doesn't work like that!"
House shook his head. "It fits," he insisted. "Of course you want to sleep with me. You want to sleep with everybody you get close to. Why should I be any different? Especially now that you're gay."
Wilson made a frustrated noise. "I don't want to sleep with you! I'm barely even attracted to you!" he said. "House, where is this coming from?"
"I needed to know why-"
"Oh, now I get it." Wilson shook his head. "You needed to make it a puzzle." He laughed without mirth. "You had to make this into one of your cases, so you could find - I don't know, some kind of safety or comfort in dissecting everything I do and say." He glared at House. "You had to treat it like a symptom because you couldn't handle it otherwise."
"That's crap," said House, feeling a little unsettled because he didn't immediately know whether or not Wilson was right - which usually meant that he was. "Is that the kind of psychobabble your therapist uses on you, to make you sit up and bark on command?"
"It's the truth, isn't it?" Wilson studied him intently. "That wasps' nest you call a brain cooked up the notion that I'm in love with you because it gave you something to take apart, so you didn't have to actually think about what I told you. So you don't have to think about what I did for Cuddy, either."
"I don't care about what you did for Cuddy."
"Yeah, you do," said Wilson with a sigh, sticking his hands into his pockets. "I can tell."
House scowled. This was not how this was supposed to go down. They should have been back on the couch and watching Futurama by now. He shouldn't have felt a weird, sinking sensation in his gut, though that might just have been the Thai food.
He glanced at Wilson. "You're really not in love with me."
"I'm pretty sure, yeah," said Wilson. "Just like I don't need or want to sleep with all of my female friends, I don't need or want to sleep with all of my male ones, either."
As Wilson turned to go into the kitchen House leaned hard on his cane, looking at the floor. "...why not?" he asked, before he could stop himself. He immediately hoped Wilson hadn't heard him.
"What?" Wilson reappeared, beer in his hand. "Why not what?"
Damn the man's bat-like hearing. "Nevermind."
"No." Wilson stood in the kitchen doorway and looked at House in confusion. "Why don't I want to sleep with my male friends? Because - and I know this is hard for you to accept - I am not, in fact, completely indiscriminate. And because most of my male friends are married, or straight, or over the age of sixty. Or all three." Wilson suddenly frowned. "Or is that not what you meant?"
"I said, nevermind." House moved suddenly, limping past Wilson to get a beer for himself.
"House." Wilson stared at him. "Are you asking me why I'm not in love with you?"
He said nothing. House didn't trust himself to respond, especially with Wilson. Either he'd say something truly mean-spirited and nasty that would result in a lot of yelling and the slamming of doors, or he'd say something innocuous, but Wilson would pick up on something in his tone that would result in a lot of yelling and the slamming of doors. He was screwed no matter what, so he stayed quiet.
Wilson swallowed audibly. "House?" He moved a little closer and House instinctively backed away until he felt the kitchen counter at his back. "Oh."
"It's an honest question," House offered feebly. "You know me. I'm a curious guy."
"I don't-" Wilson leaned against the fridge and looked at the floor. He seemed to be measuring his words carefully, which filled House with a bizarre sort of dread. "You can't just throw that word around like that." He looked at House. "Being in love with someone is different than just wanting to sleep with them."
House made a rude sound. "That's funny, the two have always been one and the same, with you. But fine, I'll play the semantics game. Replace 'in love with' with 'want to sleep with'. Is that better?"
"You're straight," said Wilson.
"So's Cuddy, but that didn't stop her during Rush Week."
"I'm not talking about this." Wilson held up his hands as if in surrender. "I don't know what you want me to tell you. Yes, I want to sleep with you? Like that's not going to make things even more bizarre around here?"
House blinked. "You do want to sleep with me?"
"No!" Wilson growled a little. "House, stop it! This isn't funny anymore! Not that it ever was!"
But House would not be deterred. He narrowed his eyes, brain buzzing now. The wasps were waking up. "You said before you were barely attracted to me. That indicates some level of pre-existing attraction." He tilted his head and regarded Wilson curiously. "So, which is it? Are you or aren't you?"
There was a moment when House thought Wilson wouldn't answer, that he'd just turn around and walk out of the kitchen, out the front door. He could tell Wilson wanted to, but something kept him rooted where he stood, by the fridge, staring at the label of the beer in his hand. In the living room, the TV commanded them to apply something directly to the forehead.
"I was, once," said Wilson finally. "A long time ago." He looked up and fixed House with a bitter and slightly guilty look. "I got over it."
"Did you?" House asked, as he processed this new information. "Just got over it, just like that. Just that easy."
Wilson frowned. "Nothing's ever just that easy," he said grimly. "It took a while, but I accepted it. Moved on."
So House had been half-right, and for a reason he didn't want to think too hard about just yet, it pleased him. "But a little part of you still wonders what it'd be like to ride the Gregmobile."
"Well, when you put it like that, no." Wilson rolled his eyes, but House was more interested in the twin spots of red on his cheeks than any glib dismissals.
"I'm right," he said. "Whether I'm straight or not, you still want to plow me."
"God." Wilson winced and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I never should have-"
Suddenly he paused and looked up with an unreadable expression. House began to get nervous.
"Whether you're straight or not?" Wilson asked. "As in, this is open to debate?"
Crap. "Let's not lose focus, here," he said quickly. "We're picking on you, right now."
"No, I think we're going to pick on you, now." Wilson regarded him suspiciously. "What did you mean by that?"
"The commercials are over, by the way. We're missing very important explosions."
He panicked quietly. "They're going to blow up mountains, you know."
"You're not as straight as everybody thinks you are, are you?" Wilson snapped. When House didn't answer, he pressed on. "That's why you're freaking out. It's not about me, it's about you."
"Everything's about me," said House weakly. He couldn't look at Wilson. He didn't want to see him with the smug, righteous grin of triumph that should have been his to wear. "I know you got that memo."
Wilson ignored him. "We've been friends longer than most marriages last," he said. "Certainly mine. But that's all it was, we were just friends, nothing else. How could we be anything else? We weren't wired for it."
"There are no more walls between us," said Wilson evenly. He pushed off the fridge and pointed his forgotten beer at House. "The safety net of at least one of us being straight is gone."
"Didn't you just say that proximity doesn't automatically indicate a desire to sex someone up?" House snapped. "I thought it didn't work that way."
"And I was right, it doesn't." Wilson smiled. "But this isn't just proximity. This is us."
House let that sink in. "I like us," he said quietly, risking a glance at Wilson. "We work. The way we are," he added hastily.
"Sometimes. Sometimes, we don't. Things - friendships - can change." Wilson shuffled his feet and looked back, a little shyly. "You're afraid of that. Of the possibility."
"I'm not gay enough to want to date you," said House simply. "And you know me too well to want to date me."
Wilson laughed a little. "House, possibilities aren't something you run away from."
"Or, in my case, gimp with haste? Because I'm faster than I look."
"Stop," said Wilson sharply. "Stop thinking you can always control everything and everyone around you. You can't. Sometimes you just have to... go with it. Let things happen the way they're supposed to happen."
House mulled that over. "And is this," he gestured between them with one hand, "supposed to happen?"
Wilson shrugged. "I don't know," he said, with a long sigh. He looked at House. "Maybe, maybe not. We have to take it one day at a time and just... see."
"You're serious," said House, staring at him. "You seriously want to just... I don't even know what you want to do!"
"Well..." Wilson looked thoughtful. "For now? I wouldn't mind sitting down and watching the rest of the show," said Wilson. He gave House a sly look. "I'll even let you have the remote back. Consider it a peace offering."
"Or a come-on," House grumbled, though good-naturedly.
With another laugh Wilson retreated into the living room. House remained behind, trying to figure out what had just happened. He'd been right in thinking that confronting Wilson would lead to denial, but what he hadn't factored in was the way it would affect him. Somewhere along the line and for whatever reason he'd begun to enjoy the idea of Wilson being in love with him, and finding out that Wilson wasn't had left a strange hollow in his chest, the absence of something he couldn't name. He hadn't even known it was there until he was told he couldn't have it anymore, when it was taken away.
There was something else there now, though. A weird, buzzy little sensation that had formed when Wilson suggested they wait and see, a feeling that gained momentum when House finally sat down next to him and Wilson handed him the remote. He thought it might be something like hope, something relatively unfamiliar to him though not entirely unpleasant. What exactly he was hoping for, he couldn't tell. Maybe he didn't know, yet, but where not knowing something for certain usually made him uncomfortable and crazy, he didn't mind it so much this time. He wondered why.
He glanced over at Wilson. Eventually, Wilson realized he was being stared at and turned toward him. "What?"
They looked at each other in awkward confusion for a moment, then turned back to the TV. House smiled inwardly, reassured now that whatever happened between them wouldn't just take him by surprise. It'd take the both of them. He wasn't alone in this.
And that was enough.
Six-and-a-half months later.
At 30 weeks Cuddy unsurprisingly developed pre-eclampsia. She was admitted under House's care, because in her panic and delirium she wouldn't stop asking for him, something he wasn't going to let her forget, ever. Several hours later, she gave birth via C-section to Harry, who weighed in at a little over four pounds. The kid was tiny and at first unstable, but after just a couple of nights on CPAP he began to improve. House found Wilson haunting the NICU looking pale, tired and completely overwhelmed.
They stood together in the hall, gazing at the small, red, wriggly thing through the window. Wilson could not keep still; House could not stop staring.
"He got your eyebrows and her nose," said House, with a disappointed sigh. "Your kid's got no choice but to become a comedian. Or a rabbi."
Wilson's proud smile didn't waver. "So long as he's happy," he said. House quelled the urge to vomit. "I don't care what he does. Besides," he added, glancing at House with a smirk. "I know a good plastic surgeon."
"What a healthy outlook," said House. A nurse came in and fussed over the baby, and House could feel Wilson tense beside him. "Relax. She's changing his diaper, not preparing him as a brisket."
"He's so small." Wilson leaned against the glass a little. "But you're sure he's doing fine."
"He could go off the CPAP as soon as tomorrow," said House.
"Good. Thanks, House."
"Don't mention it. And don't let him call me Uncle Greg or any of that crap."
"Wouldn't dream of it." Wilson smiled at him. "Breakfast?"
Wilson sighed. "Of course."
"Groovy. Let's go."
They left, walking down the hall together as they'd always done before, the only difference being the gentle presence of House's hand at the small of Wilson's back.
- fin -