Title: The Domestication of the New Jersey Housecat
Author: Slipstream (LJ: slipstreamchan)
Rating: PG (for language and a bit of Steve woe)
Summary: In which Wilson screws up, Cameron thinks pussy cures everything, and House, despite much scowling and protests to the contrary, kinda "does" pets.
Word Count: 7300
Genre: I'm not sure exactly how to classify this. Let's call it snarky fluff with a bit of angsty woe and minor character death. Gen or pre-slash depending upon your brand of goggles.
Disclaimer: Pay no attention to the fangirl appropriating a corporate text behind the curtain. That's some bad hat, Harry, and all that.
Notes: I started this fic just after I finished marathoning season one for the first time, and as much work as I did it at the time I guess you could say that it was technically my first House fic. Found it on my computer again and, inspired by the Hector episode and the sad lack of Steve in season three and four to date, decided to revamp it, as much of my original text turned out to be contradicted by the canon of season two, which I hadn't seen at the time. It's been pecked at on and off since, mostly during my breaks from school when I'm home and have my own personal feline muse. My apologies for any issues involving the medicine in any of my fics. I'm doing the best that I can with Google and the random textbooks lying around our house. Special thanks to brownpolyester for pointing out a continuity error and to annalully for suggesting an workable fix for it.
Dr. James Wilson was in the midst of a pediatric exam in the free clinic of the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital when the page came. It was from House, unsurprisingly. Most of the time these pages were House's way of crying wolf for his own entertainment, but there was enough of a possibility that a dire medical emergency was at hand and that Wilson's doctorial expertise were required that he couldn't ignore them completely. But since there was no 911 attached to it he went ahead and finished the exam, smiling as he offered the child her choice of cartoon bandages to cover the stick mark from her vaccination before sending the mother-daughter pair on their way.
Dr. Gregory House was waiting for him just outside of the clinic, idly tapping at the floor with his cane, the sporadic pattern either entirely random or some inconceivably complex bass line from one of the post-modern concertos he liked to torture his neighbors with on those occasions when their teenaged daughter blared her emo-pop at unacceptable volumes, never mind the innumerable noise complaints House had received himself over the years. Half-slumped against the blue-grey wall, watching the foot traffic of patients and family members ebb and flow against the barrier of the receptionist's desk, he looked entirely too bored for his own good. Wilson took this as a sign to proceed with caution. There was a game afoot, and though he and House had played often, House was just as bad at changing the rules mid-game as he was at breaking them.
"What's up?" he asked, hands in the pockets of his lab coat.
House straightened and tilted his head towards the opposite side of the lobby. "Need a snack. Come on."
Wilson had no choice but to follow his friend to the vending machines just off of the main waiting room. There were clusters of them scattered all throughout the hospital, but the variety off victuals to be found in this particular bank was truly impressive: soups, sandwiches, baked desserts, juice, gourmet coffee, plus the standard junk food. Of course House bypassed all of the healthy options and headed straight for the machine housing the most colorful assortment of candy wrappers. He paused, rocking back and forth on his sneakers, and looked pointedly at Wilson. With a slight sigh Wilson forked over the contents of his pockets. House counted the change, frowned, and shot Wilson a dirty look. Wilson only shrugged, indicating that he had tapped him dry. House reluctantly dug into his jeans for the rest.
"Here," he said, fishing something out of his pocket along with the change and extending it blindly to Wilson. "Hold this."
Wilson took it before he could properly think about whether it was wise to hold anything House was not willing to hold himself. "What is it?" he asked, finally examining the object in his hand: a small, sealed sample jar half-filled with clear liquid.
Dropping his change into the machine, House selected some sort of pre-packaged pastry that was a rather radioactive shade of pink. "Biopsy. I need you to push it through the lab for me."
Wilson held the container up to examine it better under the harsh fluorescent lights. Sure enough, a nearly invisible wedge of tissue was suspended within the formalin. "Biopsy? What of?"
"Suspected tumor." He tore into the plastic wrapper with his teeth. "Duh."
Wilson turned the jar over in his hand, but found no label. "Who's the patient?"
"Nobody," said House suspiciously before taking a bite of his pastry.
"So… you just found this tissue lying in the street?" he asked. "Or are you running tests on yourself again?"
"Not mine," he said, swallowing.
"It's not even human, actually, so don't get your ethical panties into a twist just yet." He bounced lightly on his feet, looking over Wilson's shoulder and into the huddles of pale, nervous people in the waiting room beyond. Pink sugar was dusted messily around his mouth, caught in his whiskers. He licked at it absently, eyes unfocused. "It's Steve's," he said.
Wilson could only look at him. House refused to look back.
This was quite literally the last conversation Wilson had expected to have with House today. "Just to make sure you didn't go to Mexico and dig up his grave, which I have no problem imagining you doing, we're talking about Steve McQueen, the rat, right?"
"Yes, goddamit!" House spat in frustration, finally breaking his thousand-yard stare down the hallway. His eyes met Wilson's, but the oncologist found he couldn't read the expression there. He'd expected House to point out the idiocy in his statement, remind him that the King of Cool had been cremated and his ashes dumped in the Pacific Ocean before questioning his standing as a so-called vintage film buff. The vehemence in House's gruff reply surprised him.
Before he had a chance to formulate a response, House's pager went off. Glancing at it, he shoved the remnants of his pastry into his mouth.
"Patient's dying," he said, intentionally spewing pink crumbs in Wilson's direction. He turned with a jerk. "Page me when you get the results."
Four hours later Wilson was still dusting stray grains of glittering pink sugar off of his lab coat. The stuff was proving more resistant to his attempts to clean it than the orange powder that the Cheetos company kept trying to pass off as cheese. He'd even left pink smudges on the lab processing form that he'd dropped off with House's biopsy. Hopefully the toothy, wink-dotted chat he'd had with the lab receptionist and the hastily scribbled note requesting that Ethans—the new tech who'd come to PPTH fresh off of a stint in rodent research—do the testing would be enough to ensure that the speed and quality of the test results met with House's expectations.
Scrap of rat flesh out of his hands (Wilson didn't want to ponder too deeply on how, exactly, House had harvested said tissue), he did rounds before returning to his office to work on some paperwork while he waited for the histopathology report. But even as his forebrain was focused on trial recommendations and next month's shift scheduling, he found himself musing on House's peculiar interactions with Steve.
House's relationship with his pet was as difficult to define as any in his life. Admittedly Wilson was at a distinct disadvantage in his attempts to psychoanalyze this particular aspect of his friend's personality. Wilson himself was actually not very good with animals. House would claim that this was because they didn't respond to flirting or passive-aggressive attempts at manipulation, but in truth Wilson had just never had much contact with them, having never really had a pet or even thought of getting one until Bonnie had suggested they get a dog.
House's attitude this morning puzzled him. Was House genuinely embarrassed to be caught checking up on the health of his pet? Had he been experimenting on him again during the course of diagnosing his latest patient? The latter was highly likely, and not without precedent. Or perhaps this was all some elaborate means of keeping tabs on Stacey, whose attic Steve McQueen had originally called home. He dimly recalled House mentioning her efforts to hide her smoking. Wilson wouldn't put it past House to try monitoring the health of his ex by proxy, using Steve's suspected tumors as a basis for an extrapolated diagnosis. He also wouldn't put it past House to have concocted this entire exercise in rodent oncology as some sort of elaborate test for Wilson.
Who exactly was being experimented upon? The more he thought about it the fewer answers he had. He would just have to wait and see how the whole thing played out.
It was near the end of the day before the lab courier came to drop off the results for all of Wilson's pending tests. Test results for some of his own patients were included in the stack, so as curious as Wilson was regarding the file of one "McQueen, Steve", he forced himself to read the others first. Actual human patients took precedence to whatever mindfuck House was pulling.
Unless you were a convenient escape to whatever perceived hell he was trapped in, even when you paged House he never came directly to you.
After House's office and their connecting balcony had turned up empty, Wilson had been forced to make a brief circuit of House's favorite hidey holes before finally finding him sitting at one of the small metal tables on the brick patio out behind the cafeteria. He had his leg propped up on the table's other chair, so Wilson grabbed a spare one from the next table over and dragged it over, the grating sound the metal legs made as they scraped along the brick drawing House's attention away from the comic book he'd been readomg.
"The prodigal son returns," quipped twin blue eyes peering over the top of a tattered copy of Wonder Woman.
Wilson flopped into his chair, tapping the folder with the results of Steve's biopsy against one leg. "How's your patient?"
"Still dying, but only in the boring, existential sense that we all are."
"So you have a diagnosis?"
"Nothing worth the hour's worth of condensed medical drama we went through to reach it, so I won't bore you with a summary." He closed the comic and gestured at the file in Wilson's hand. "Now gimme."
Wilson tossed it to him with as much careless neutrality as he could muster. House snatched it mid-air.
"Biopsy was positive. Your rat has bladder cancer. You didn't supply a urine sample we could test for blood, but there was no need. Biopsy showed malignant cancerous cells in the tissue. It's just the secondary tumor, however, which I guess you knew seeing as you biopsied a lymph node."
House slowly flipped through the pages of lab report—white, pink, yellow, white—eyes absently skimming the grim diagnosis printed there. "He has been peeing me out of house and pine shavings lately."
"Which lymph node did you biopsy?" Wilson asked.
Wilson nodded. "It's almost assuredly in his groinals, as well. In order for bladder cancer to have metastasized to such a distant lymphatic cluster, it would have to be in stage four, which means its likely proliferated to at least the pelvic or abdominal walls, if not other organ systems."
"Yeah." House mulled this over. "You know, given the patient's namesake, I was half expecting mesothelioma."
"That would have been ironic."
"No, that would have been a coincidence, Alanis Morissette."
Wilson gestured his concession to this fact. House ignored him.
It was fascinating to watch House as he processed the news. This was a speech Wilson had given hundreds of times over his years in oncology, and despite what the jar full of winnings he had stashed from his and House's little bet would lead you to believe, it never went well. Wilson had all the relevant follow up talks and speeches prepared and on file, but he was clueless as to which to access. House's face was a blank wall, unreadable, impenetrable. A fortress designed to keep outsiders from invading, yes, but that wall also kept his own secrets and schemes from escaping against his will.
Wilson waited, breath held in quiet suspense, for the magician to reveal his trick.
"I'm…" House paused, tapped his cane absently against the brick. "I'm gonna need you to coax some Pentobarbital out of the pharmacist. He doesn't really like me at the moment."
"He's never liked you," Wilson teased, but his brow was furrowed in thought. "Wait. Pentobarbital? As in… Nembutal? Don't tell me you're losing sleep and having seizures over this. I mean, Steve's a rat."
House shot him a dark look.
Something clicked in Wilson's head. "You're going to euthanize him?" he asked, genuinely surprised. He chuckled, shaking his head. "What, a cane-shaped object not good enough for him anymore?"
He expected House to smile with him, or at least flash his teeth sardonically, but House's scowl only deepened. With a grunt he lifted his leg from the chair and stood. "Never mind. I'll goad Chase into doing it for me."
Too late Wilson realized he'd said something amazingly, astoundingly, asshole-ishly stupid, but by then his friend was already halfway back across the patio. He could move quickly when he was angry, even if it hurt, especially if it hurt.
"House!" he called, meaning to apologize but knowing that it wouldn't do any good.
But House actually stopped, giving him a rare second chance. Wilson opened his mouth only to stick his foot right back in it again.
"If the cause is environmental, you'll need to get your whole place checked out."
House snorted. "Yeah, I'll get to that. Right after I'm finished killing my rat."
Wilson watched as he walked away, stomping heavily with his cane, and didn't call after him again.
That was Tuesday. House purposefully avoided Wilson all Wednesday and responded with biting comments and a variety of projectiles to any of his attempts to make amends on Thursday. Frustrated with House as well as himself, Wilson was packing up his files and getting ready to go home for the evening when Dr. Allison Cameron knocked on his office door.
"Are you and Dr. House fighting?" she asked, eyes big and demanding.
Wilson sighed, shrugging out of his lab coat and hanging it up on its hook. "Don't worry. This isn't your fault and Mommy and Daddy still love you and Chase and Foreman very, very much."
Cameron tight frown and furrowed, shapely brows said that this was serious and that she was there to help, like it or not. "What did he say to you?"
It bothered Wilson that people automatically assumed that House was at fault for all of their falling-outs, when history had repeatedly proven that he could be just as much of a bastard if not more so. House had always cited Wilson's boyishly good looks as being the only thing keeping the nursing staff from surrounding the oncology department with pitchforks and torches and roasting him like the lying, cheating man-whore that he was.
"It was my fault," he said, slipping back into the familiar territory of "Defending House." "I made a few off-color comments about his rat dying."
Cameron blinked in confusion. "He has a rat?"
"Had," Wilson sighed. "Steve McQueen."
Her eyes widened slightly in realization. "He brought a rat into the office, once. He kept it? I didn't think that House… 'did' pets."
Given her poorly-hidden schoolgirl crush on her boss, this was probably the sort of information that he shouldn't be feeding her, so he tried to place it within perspective. "Well, he did try to kill it in order to save Foreman, but I've seen the cage set-up he's got at home, so yeah, he does pets. Kinda."
She considered this. "And now he's upset about it dying."
"He's upset that I accused him of taking drugs and suggesting that he kill it with his cane. Despite the fact that he does take drugs and he was going to kill it with his cane at one point." Buttoning up his jacket, he caught the thoughtful look on Cameron's face out of the corner of his eye. "What?"
"Does House have any allergies?" she asked, her tone far too neutral to be safe.
"Other than springtime and clinic duty?" He shook his head. "None that I know of. Why do you ask?"
But Cameron only smiled secretly to herself and left without a word. Wilson had seen that look before, and the subsequent disasters that invariably ensued when Fate once again had to prove to Dr. Cameron that she wasn't nearly as smart as she thought she was.
Wilson was beginning to suspect that he had just inadvertently opened a very rotten can of worms, and that his happiness and sanity in the foreseeable future were going to suffer greatly for it.
Oh well, he thought, gathering his keys and briefcase. House was already pissed at him. And Wilson was scheduled for surgery most of the next morning, so hopefully by the time he met up with House the diagnostician would have had time to cool off about whatever it was Cameron was up to, or at least be sufficiently pissed at her to abandon his feud with Wilson.
Attempting to reassure himself that Cameron would never do anything intentionally evil to her boss—a thought that brought little comfort given how often her good intentions went terrifically, horribly wrong—Wilson locked his office and left for the night.
"You! You were behind this!"
Wilson was relatively used to being accused of something nefarious by House in lieu of a traditional greeting, but he was still somewhat startled when his knock on the diagnostics department's door was answered so promptly and violently. The pointed finger and the angry diagnostician attached to it were familiar enough territory, however, that he wasn't completely thrown off of his guard.
"Behind what?" he asked. Wilson had actually heard the gist of things from a rather amused nurse earlier in the cafeteria, but given House's mood it was safer to play at being completely oblivious.
House pointed towards the conference room where a small, plastic pet carrier was perched at the end of the table. Drs. Robert Chase and Eric Foreman had their noses buried in files at the opposite end, attempting to ignore both the carrier and their bosses' tirade. Cameron was—rather wisely, in Wilson's opinion—nowhere to be seen, though her smug satisfaction lingered in her absence.
Wilson crouched down so he could peer into the shadowy interior of the crate. Inside was one of the sorriest looking cats Wilson had ever seen. It was long and lanky with a pointed head and oversized ears: a definite mongrel, but with more oriental breeding in it than most. Alarmingly thin, its mangy coat was corn-colored with wisps of white-blond fur sticking out seemingly at random, and it had more whiskers than it seemed its bony facial structure should have been able to support. Most cats carried an almost unflappable feline grace that gave them an air of dignity and refinement no matter the situation, even being trapped in a small cage in the office of a drug-fueled madman, but this one appeared incurably awkward if anything. It huddled at the back of the carrier and stared at Wilson with impossibly wide, blue eyes.
"I think it's cute," he lied.
"Great!" said House. "Then you take it and tell Cameron that I threw it out a window."
"I can't," said Wilson truthfully. "My hotel doesn't allow pets."
House made a face. Whether it was directed towards Wilson's continued reluctance to find an apartment, hotels with no-pet policies, the cat, the situation as a whole, or just life in general these past several years, Wilson couldn't quite tell.
"Where did it come from, anyway?"
"Hell itself," House dead-panned. "Otherwise known as that soppy, thirteen-year-old-heart of hers that paints Dr. Cameron's world in the dazzling pallet of Lisa Frank."
"The cat snuck into one of the ambulances while it was out on call," offered Chase. "The patient was DOA, but the morgue held onto the cat thinking that a family member would claim it along with the body. Cat didn't belong to the decedent, though. Just some stray."
That certainly explained the smell, faint but unmistakable, emanating from its general vicinity. Death and unwashed cat.
Wilson stood and frowned thoughtfully. "Well, they do say that most people end up looking like their pets. Looks like you've got a head start with this one."
"I am not adopting Pussy-Substitute-in-Boots, no matter what Dr. Cameron told the morgue attendant she wooed with my tale of pet woe." He waved his cane at the two present ducklings. "One of these fine young tail-challenged gentlemen is."
Foreman didn't even bother to look up. "Not going to happen."
"My lease also doesn't allow pets," Chase shrugged, as if he wished it were otherwise, which he clearly did not. "Sorry."
"I hate you all," House declared. From the roll of Foreman's eyes, this was a sentiment he had voiced multiple times since the cat's arrival.
Wilson had to admit that Cameron's plan, while not the best, wasn't exactly the worst, either. Despite House's current state of pissiness, he decided to let the situation play out further. At least House seemed to have called a mini-truce with Wilson at some point during his ranting, as when he turned back towards him the accusatory glare from before had been replaced with something, while not entirely magnanimous, at least marginally less predatory.
"I can't be the only human being in this hospital not allergic to the damn thing. There's got to be some poor sucker with a need to nurture something furry and pathetic that we can pawn it off on."
Still not making eye contact, Foreman flipped a page in his file. "Well Cameron's made herself scarce, so it looks like you get to be the sucker."
House would not be deterred. "What do you think, Wilson? I vote we toss it into the cancer kids' lounge and watch the parents of the ones with compromised immune systems go ape-shit. Or cat-shit, to be more precise."
Wilson shook his head, fighting hard to hide his general amusement. "You just want a toxoplasmosis case. I'll give you a hint; it's not nearly as much fun to diagnose something if you're the one to infect them with it in the first place."
"As if you would know. Foreman! Like to tell the class what its like to tell someone they're sick with something that you caused?"
This earned a genuine glare from Foreman, who opened his mouth only to be interrupted by a chorus of beepers, Wilson's included. Surprised and a little suspicious, he checked the display to find a familiar number. "Did everyone else get paged by Cuddy?" he asked the room at large.
Chase and Foreman nodded, confused, while House checked his watch with comic exaggeration.
"2:30 already? Gosh, wherever did the time go?"
Wilson's mind flashed briefly over House's clinic duty schedule, which he sadly knew better than his own. "House—"
House ignored him, too busy stuffing his pockets with his PSP, a dog-eared lesbian pulp novel, and a fistful of cookies from the plate of them that Cameron had likely brought in that morning as a literal and symbolic spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
"Gotta run. My spider-sense is telling me that something small, furious, and wearing stiletto heals is heading this way.
"The cat had better be gone by the time I get back!" he shouted, the glass door of the conference room swinging wildly in his wake.
The carrier, cat and all, was still there when Wilson swung by after shift, though someone had "helpfully" moved it from the conference room table to House's desk. House's fellows were noticeably AWOL, having abandoned their boss to his fate. House himself was seated in his yellow recliner, as far, Wilson noted, from the thing as possible. He and the carrier appeared to be having a face-off, House glaring with Death Star power while he fingered his bottle of Vicodin.
Wilson couldn't see the cat, but from the growing storm cloud on House's face, he assumed that it was winning.
"Go ahead and take one. Maybe that'll soften your feelings toward it."
House turned his death-ray gaze from the cat to Wilson. "You're joking about my drug use. This proves just how insane this whole situation is."
"I think pretty much any situation involving you could be classified as 'insane.'"
"You're just jealous that the voices talk to me," he scoffed.
It was obvious that House still hadn't entirely forgiven him, but his banter was softer than it had been in days. Wilson took this as a good sign. Pulling at his pant legs, he crouched down to peer within the shadowy pet carrier. "If you really don't want the cat, you could always drop it off at the animal shelter."
"I already called. Would you believe that they close at noon on Friday for the weekend? As if animal cruelty takes a break for the Sabbath."
Intimidated by the loud voices and Wilson's looming presence, the cat began to growl softly. Wilson straightened and backed away. "What about a vet clinic? I bet they board animals over the weekend."
He turned and found that House had quit toying with his pill bottle and was shaking out two pills into his palm. He looked up, daring Wilson to call him on it.
"One—" He popped the first pill. "—do you know how much that costs?! And two—" He popped the second. "—would you pay for it?"
"No, and… no."
House swallowed with deliberate exaggeration and scowled. "Some best friend you are."
"It's a conspiracy, I tell you. Me, Cameron, the ambulance drivers, we're all in on it."
"Speaking of the corpse the fleabag rode in on, I was just thinking. We've both seen Men in Black—"
Hands on hips, Wilson rolled his eyes. "House, I sincerely doubt there's a dying Archelian prince inside of the cat."
House grinned, pleased and yet mocking of the fact that Wilson had both remembered and correctly pronounced 'Archelian.' "Still, we should turn it over to the government before it kills us all."
"So, does that make you Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones?"
"Linda Fiorentino. The hot coroner."
Wilson eyed his rumpled appearance. "I dunno. You're looking a little more Dogma than Men in Black today."
"You'd still do me," said House, waggling his eyebrows, but the effort was half-hearted at best.
"As you like to point out, I'll do just about anything."
"Slut," he accused affectionately.
Wilson smiled softly, but it was evident that House's mood hadn't entirely lifted. Rubbing at his leg, he turned away, attention re-focused on a dark, empty corner.
"If you're still upset about Steve, I understand. Many people grieve following the death of a pet. I'm sure Cameron thought she was doing the right thing, but if you aren't ready for another pet so soon—"
"I am not grieving," House interrupted. "This cat is not my pet, and I am firing Cameron as soon as I get in Monday morning."
Wilson sighed. There was no use attempting to argue the point. "Car or bike?"
"Bike," House mumbled.
"Come on. I'll give you a ride. No way you're getting that crate onto the back of that thing."
"I could try." He grunted as he stood, grip tightening on his cane. Wilson was careful to look as if he hadn't noticed. "That way if it fell off during the trip and got squashed by an eighteen wheeler it wouldn't be all my fault, right?"
Wilson just looked at him, not even bothering with a reply. House sighed and reluctantly gathered his things.
"Am I really bringing this thing home?" he asked, even as they were walking to Wilson's car, House carrying his backpack, Wilson juggling his briefcase and the cat, which mewed quietly every few steps and poked occasionally at Wilson's legs through the holes in the crate.
"You really are."
House nodded, as if that confirmed something. "Not just Cameron. The whole team. Gone Monday, along with the cat. You're my witness."
"Whatever you say."
Despite House's protests, Wilson drove them to the Petco on Marlin Avenue. "You're going to need supplies," he reasoned. "Food, definitely. You barely stock anything that's fit for human consumption, let alone cats. Litter, a litter box. That sort of thing."
"Why waste money on the commercial stuff? You can use ripped-up paper, right? I think I've still got Cameron's resume around somewhere." His scowl deepened. "God, it's probably going to spray everywhere."
"Only if it's an unneutered male, which I don't think it is."
"What, did you give it a gynecological exam, or do you save that for your extra-special female patients?"
Wilson parked the car. House advised him that if he had a LowJack, now was the time to use it. "That cat is a criminal, I can tell. Probably going to steal your precious Volvo and make a run for the border while you subject me to the tortures of Meow Mix and muzak. And by the way, I'm not paying."
Wilson just smiled and opened his door. "I know." He climbed out, forcing House to do the same if he wished to continue the conversation.
"You won't pay to board the damn thing for two days, but you'll dump a paycheck on all the shit I'll need to take care of it?"
"What can I say? I'm evil like that."
"I'm eviler," House snapped, but by this point they were already inside, which by Wilson's judgment meant that he had won the argument.
They didn't talk during the drive back to House's apartment. Even the cat was quiet, though when Wilson glanced into the rearview mirror the twin glow from the backseat told him that it was awake.
House was out of the car and up the stairs before Wilson had a chance to put it in park, leaving him to carry the cat and all of the shopping bags inside. By the time he'd managed to deposit the carrier on the coffee table and dump everything else on the kitchen island, House was showering in the bathroom with the door shut, a rarity for the man who had not problem with urinating in public. Wilson took the hint and left.
Back in his hotel room with its impersonally perfect turn-down service, tiny bars of soap, and 135 channels of absolutely nothing worth watching, Wilson found his thoughts turning back towards his friend. How was House faring with his unwanted houseguest? Wilson would have gone over to check, but he had the feeling he was unwanted as well, or at least until House got over whatever perceived fault of Wilson's he saw in the whole matter. He considered doing a slow drive-by of his apartment to make sure that at the very least nothing was on fire, but then thought twice about what good that would accomplish. Did he really want to subject himself to whatever yowl-filled drama was invariably tearing up and down House's cane-scuffed wood floors? Not particularly.
Besides, if enough blood was shed, surely the neighbors in 221A would call the police. As House's listed next of kin, the state would contact him to pick up the corpse if the cat got the better of him or bail him out should House be arrested for animal cruelty, right?
Wilson was not reassured.
But the weekend passed and no call came. Monday when Wilson drove to work he found House's bike parked in its usual spot, though tilted at a different angle from Friday. House wasn't dead, at least. Or rather, not too dead to call a taxi at some point over the weekend to come pick up his darling death-trap. When Wilson managed to catch up with him later that morning, he was relieved to note that there were no obvious scratch marks on his face or hands. Still Wilson was on edge, waiting for any sort of word on the state of the cat, whether he had brought it into the Humane Society or found some way to… "dispose" of it earlier. House, however, was completely mum on the subject, and went about his usual routine of work avoidance as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
Tuesday was much the same. House's fellows reported some oddness in House's behavior, though what it was exactly about it that was out of place they couldn't pinpoint. So much for any of House's insane talents at observation rubbing off after three years.
Wednesday curiosity and dread drove Wilson to broach the subject over lunch. House just glared at him silently until he switched topics and stole Wilson's chips in revenge, though he likely would have stolen them even without Wilson's verbal blunder.
By Thursday Wilson was convinced that the cat was dead, which was why he was surprised to spy it through the glass walls of House's office on Friday, lounging on House's yellow recliner as if it had been there forever. On the office door someone—Cameron, judging by the curl to the Ts—had helpfully stuck a Post-It note with the warning "Watch out! Cat on the loose!" written on it. Someone else whose handwriting Wilson didn't immediately recognize had scratched out "cat" and replaced it with "House."
Not daring to believe it—or rather, more willing to believe that House had had the cat stuffed and brought it into the office in some sort of macabre revenge scheme—he knocked before tentatively opening the glass door.
House glanced up to see who it was before turning back to his computer. "In the middle of a DDX, come annoy me later."
From what Wilson could see of his monitor House was actually in the middle of some bizarrely pornographic computer game, but Wilson let that slide given the more pressing matter at hand. "You kept it."
For a few moments Wilson could only gesture wordlessly in its direction. "The cat!"
House again looked up briefly and craned his neck to see what the fuss was all about. "Oh, yeah," he said tonelessly, as if Wilson had just told him the time and temperature.
Wilson waited for House to elaborate, but his attention was once again fully focused on his computer, which was emitting quiet, robotic beeps and moans.
The cat, whose blue eyes had been shut tight in sleep, blinked to wakefulness and raised its head up to sniff at Wilson. Ignored by its owner, Wilson turned his attentions to it, noting the changes in its appearance after even just a week in House's care. When it came to his own personal health and welfare House was notoriously neglectful, but obviously it was a different case for his pets. The cat was still rake-thin, but soft flesh had already begun to fill in some of its hollows and soften the sharp corners of its frame. It looked and smelled infinitely cleaner, and though its coat was still patchy in places the yellow fur looked sleek and gleaming in the light streaming in through the office windows.
The biggest change, however, was its demeanor. It was hard to believe that this was the same cat that had huddled tensely in its carrier a week before. It was splayed comfortably in such a way that Wilson could finally get a clear look at its genitals, confirming his earlier suspicions. Definitely female. She regarded Wilson with quiet, calm contemplation from her perch on the yellow stool. That House was perfectly fine with her getting cat-hair all over his prized Swiss recliner spoke wonders. House's staff wasn't even allowed to touch it, and Wilson only got to sit in it on special occasions.
Wilson stretched out his hand to scratch briefly at her ears before running his hand down her long, slinky body. The cat stretched under Wilson's stroking, obviously enjoying herself. Continuing his quiet petting, he worked the fingers of his other hand under her chin, examining the collar and tag he found there.
"'Debbie Harry'?" he read incredulously. "You named your cat after the lead singer of Blondie?"
"Needed a collar, paid some kid at the vet's office to fish me one off of a corpse heading for the incinerator. Luckily for Debbie the previous Debbie's owners had taste."
Wilson fingered the obviously new collar. It was dark blue with a silver tag, "Debbie Harry" engraved in clear, flowing script. He flipped it over and found House's initials and pager number stamped in a more businesslike font on the back. He smiled.
"I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to make everyone think that you're a heartless bastard and that you're one scratch away from sending the cat flying like a golf ball with your cane. But I know you. You like her."
"I do not like it," House insisted. "And I am a heartless bastard." He gestured at the remaining ducklings in the conference room and the small crowd of people scurrying by in the hallway. "Ask anyone in this hospital. Universal hatred towards me and mine."
"I don't hate you." Wilson paused, thinking. "Well, most of the time."
House smirked triumphantly. "See? Heartless bastard."
As if on cue, the cat leaned away from Wilson's petting, lurched to her feet, and dropped down to the floor. Wilson watched in amusement as she padded over to House, wound twice around his legs, and then jumped onto his desk, where she settled comfortably on some paperwork.
"Debbie here obviously doesn't think so."
House scowled. "Oh yes she does. Don't let her fool you. She's been contemplating my murder all week."
Debbie began to purr. House scowled harder. Wilson didn't think he could be any more adorable if he tried.
The door opened suddenly, admitting Dr. Lisa Cuddy. "House, what's this I hear about you having—" She froze, one hand still on the open door, and stared at the purring ball of yellow fur on House's desk.
"Close the door, will ya?" House gestured with annoyance. "Lest she escape."
Cuddy did so, but with the slow, deliberate manner of one who is mentally counting to ten. Repeatedly. "House," she said, voice controlled but threatening administrative wrath. "Why is there a cat in your office?"
"She's got an appointment at the vet's over lunch for her second round of shots, and this hospital is severely lacking in pet-sitting facilities. Should I have left her in the car? Cracked the window, prayed for a cloudy day? Or is that just for human babies?"
Cuddy covered her mouth and nose in horror. "Do you have any idea what sort of diseases that thing could be bringing into my nice, clean hospital?"
"Nothing that the snot-nosed public in your free clinic haven't already fed to the antibiotic resistant super-bugs hanging out near the surgical sinks. Well, maybe heartworms."
"House—" she began, voice a little nasal, before she was interrupted by a violent sneeze. "House!"
Wilson squinted, noting the sudden flush to her cheeks and red-tinged wetness of her eyes. No, not in horror, in defense!
House was apparently having similar thoughts. "Are you allergic to cats?" he asked.
"Yes, I— " She sneezed again. "Very. House, you can't just—" Again, but now she was backing up, puffy eyes pointed angrily at House, who continued to sit, looking perfectly innocent.
"Take it home after lunch and don't bring it back!" She groped for the door. "Ever, or— " One final sneeze. "—clinic forever!" And with that she was gone.
House watched her stalk down the hall through the glass, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Allergic to pussy." He shook his head. "There go all my lesbian fantasies."
But he was smiling. Only slightly, but smiling.
After making plans to come over that night for the Pats game—a sure sign that he was well and truly forgiven—and stealing a cup of coffee from the conference room pot, Wilson left with a wave and a glance over his shoulder. The last image he had of his friend before turning back towards his own office was of House staring contemplatively into space, one hand resting on his cane, the other idly stroking his new pet, looking every inch of him an evilly content Bond villain.
House never answered the door when Wilson knocked. Over the years he had developed some sort of sixth sense when it came to Wilson and doors and knocking, and as Wilson had had a copy of the key to his apartment on his key ring for longer than any of his own house keys combined, House saw no need to exert any extra effort on his own part to let him in. He usually shouted something to this effect from the couch or his bedroom or (on one memorable occasion) the toilet, but silence was often an equally valid invitation to enter the House abode. Other than fair warning in case nudity or hookers were involved, there was almost no reason for Wilson to even bother knocking anymore, but social habits were hard to break and so Wilson, over-burdened with beer and Indian take-out, knocked anyway.
"House!" he called. "I come bearing gifts!"
No answer. Shifting the caloric entertainment awkwardly to one arm, Wilson let himself in with his key. His mouth was half-open to call out to his friend again when he spotted House sprawled out on the couch, legs propped up on one of the armrests and Debbie Harry curled contentedly on his chest.
Wilson slipped quietly into the kitchen to deposit his peace offerings. Two small bowls were placed side-by-side on the floor, one half-full with water and the other a few leftover bits of fish-shaped kibble. After a moment he recognized the pattern on the rim as coming from the china set he had received as a wedding present during his first marriage, several years before he had even met House. How House had managed to get his hands on them was a mystery that Wilson didn't particularly care to solve at the moment.
He set down the takeout boxes and beer on the countertop next to the larger bag of kibble and half-dozen cans of wet food of mixed brands and flavors that House had evidently bought some time during the week. If confronted House would probably try to claim that the cat-food was for himself, smacking his lips enthusiastically, or essential to the diagnosis of his latest patient: a case of Fancy Feast poisoning or something equally outrageous but, considering the kind of patients House tended to get, not entirely implausible.
Back in the living room, Wilson looked on with quiet amusement at his friend. House was sleeping, the lines of his face smooth and his mouth slack. His left arm had fallen off the couch and now trailed limply on the floor next to a half-melted glass of scotch and a dropped copy of The New England Veterinary Journal. His right arm was curled loosely around Debbie as if he had fallen asleep petting her. Debbie, for her part, had her nose shoved familiarly into House's armpit, her claws and tail quivering as she chased dream mice.
There was just enough room between House's head and the unoccupied arm of the couch for Wilson to sit, so he bypassed the file-covered armchair and eased into it, cautious not to wake either of them. Relaxing into the leather, he reached over and carefully stroked the cat's skinny body. She made a sleepy, half-hearted noise low in her throat and burrowed deeper into the sweaty creases of her t-shirt clad cushion. After a moment's hesitation Wilson ran those same fingers through House's own mop of messed, thinning hair. House didn't stir.
Faint strains of violin music drifted through the ceiling from the upstairs apartment, winding in and around and through the soft sounds of the living room of 221B: the ticking of the mantel clock, House's slow breathing, and the low, steady rumble of Debbie Harry's purring. It had been a long two weeks and Wilson was tired. House would probably bitch about being allowed to sleep through the kickoff and the naan being cold later, but for now Wilson let himself drift off, fingers still tangled in House's hair.
He dreamt of a rough tongue against his fingertips, and smiled.