There were several hazards to being James Wilson's best friend. The constant lecturing and pretence of moral superiority caused more headaches than a bottle of tequila. No one ever believed Wilson was the bad guy, even though it was definitely Wilson's idea to reprogramme every TV channel in all the lounges to the local public access station. And every few years Wilson got married and forced House to attend his wedding. In a suit.
Wilson was now on marriage number three. House had refused to be Wilson's best man this time, as he had no desire to stand in front of a crowd of near strangers, too many of whom would be staring at his cane instead of the supposedly happy couple. "I'll take the even numbers," he'd told Wilson. "Peter can have the odds."
Wilson's younger brother had been the best man for Wilson's first marriage, which was already on its last legs by the time House met Wilson. What Wilson lacked in quality with his marriages, he made up for in quantity. At this rate, he'd be giving Henry VIII a run for his money in the numbers game.
The wedding itself had been tolerable, as weddings go. The bride was beautiful, the groom handsome, and the ceremony neither too long nor unbearably sappy. The worst was over and House could settle down to the serious business of recouping the cost of his wedding gift in free food and booze. Not that he had bothered to buy a gift. He figured his presence -- and his promise not to insult any of the bride's friends or family -- was gift enough.
Fortunately, the wedding dinner was a buffet without assigned seating, so House found an empty table in the corner near the bar and tipped a banquet waiter to keep a steady stream of bourbon flowing in his direction. His reputation ensured the table stayed empty. As the feeding frenzy wound down and the DJ started the crappy dance music, House looked around for Wilson. He spied him across the room, surrounded by a horde of well-wishers and looking relaxed and happy, if somewhat bemused by all the attention. Wilson had always been more comfortable giving than receiving.
Peter Wilson wandered over to the bar, smiling when he saw House. Very few people had that reaction, but Wilsons seemed to be attuned to House's particular brand of charm. He said something to the bartender, who produced a bottle from under the counter.
"James said to make sure you got this," Peter said, putting the bottle in front of House. Maker's Mark, his poison of choice. "Mind if I join you?"
"Shouldn't you be trying to seduce the maid of honour?" House asked, but gestured for Peter to sit down.
"The night's still young," Peter replied. "And she has my room number." He glanced around the room. "James does know how to throw a good wedding party." He grinned at House. "Practice makes perfect, I guess. What do you think? Third time lucky?"
"I think we should wait until after the honeymoon to start the pool," House said. "Though not too long or he'll be divorced again."
Peter laughed and surveyed the room. "Poor James. We've jinxed him before he's even begun. Uh, oh," he said, gesturing to where Wilson was in deep conversation with an older man. "I'd better go rescue him before Uncle Marty starts describing his gallbladder operation again. He's already told it once over dinner."
House watched as Peter detoured to where his mother was chatting politely with Julie's mother, leaned in to say something quietly, and then led her over to Wilson and Uncle Marty. The four of them talked for a few minutes, and then Wilson and Peter backed away slowly and broke for the bar. Wilson was laughing, not his usual restrained chuckle or snort of derision, but a helpless, sputtering laugh that made House smile, despite a slight stab of jealousy. Wilson only laughed like that around him.
Peter draped an arm over Wilson's shoulder as they waited for the bartender to serve them. House half-expected Wilson to shrug away, but Wilson leaned against his brother and then reached up and tousled his hair. House shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Wilson was the least demonstrative person he knew. He had seen Wilson comfort dozens of patients with a calculated touch, but he rarely initiated casual contact. Obviously Peter was an exception.
He poured another glass of bourbon and then fumbled in his jacket pocket for his bottle of Vicodin. It was an unwise union, but then so was the one they were supposed to be celebrating. At least Wilson was in no position to lecture him, as House watched the brothers slam back a shot of something that made Wilson gag. They laughed again, and then Wilson dragged Peter over to House's table and plopped down across from him.
"Hey, House," Wilson said, eyes slightly glazed.
"Hey, Wilson," House mimicked.
Wilson appropriated a glass of beer from a passing waiter and drained half of it in one long gulp. "I love you guys, you know," he said, looking so completely stupid and happy that House wanted to slap some sense into him. Wilson pulled Peter into a one-armed hug and threw back his head to laugh again. "Thanks for being my best man, Petey. You're the best brother a guy could have."
House drank a gulp of the bourbon, pretending it was just the alcohol that seared his insides. It was one thing to resent Julie's claims on Wilson's attention, but Peter had a prior, stronger claim. House had never been good at sharing, though, and he started to stand, prepared to make his excuses and leave. He was smart enough to save his scheming and sabotage for battles he could actually win.
But Wilson reached out and grabbed his jacket sleeve, and House was so startled he dropped back into his chair. "Thanks for coming," Wilson said with the brand of earnestness found at the bottom of a bottle. "I mean it. I'm glad you're here." He leaned across the table, his expression almost comically serious. "I know you hate these things, and I know you think I'm an idiot for getting married again, but it means everything to me to have you and my baby brother here." He grabbed Peter and planted a kiss on the top of his head and then smirked at House. "I'd kiss you, too, but you'd probably hit me."
House had hit people over less, but he was willing to give Wilson a little leeway. It was his wedding day after all. He reached across the table and tapped Wilson on the cheek twice, more gently than he'd intended. "You should probably sober up before you leave for the honeymoon. Wouldn't want to leave the little lady wanting tonight."
"I never leave a woman unsatisfied!" Wilson protested, a little too loudly. He buried his head in his arms when he realized half a dozen guests had turned to stare at him. "Oh my god," he said, his voice muffled. "Tell me that's not Julie's grandmother."
"Sorry," House replied unrepentantly, though he had no idea which one Julie's grandmother was. "She's looking a little envious. Maybe you can keep your affairs in the family this time." He kicked Wilson's foot under the table. "Sit up and take your humiliation like a man. That's what being married's all about."
"What would you know about it?" Wilson retorted, though he sat up straight and eyed the remainder of his beer suspiciously. "It's going to work out this time, isn't it?" he asked plaintively.
The uncertainty was hardly surprising, given his track record, but it didn't exactly inspire confidence. But for once House hesitated before telling the cold, hard truth. Peter rescued them all with the kinder lie.
"You bet," he said. "Third time lucky." He even sounded like he meant it.
Wilson smiled, and then he looked around the room and spied Julie and his smile grew broader. "Third time lucky," he repeated.
And for a moment they all believed it.