The first - and only - time House let Wilson drive the Corvette was out of necessity.
He'd woken up in a good mood: the weather was holding surprisingly well for April, he was done with clinic duty for the week, and the evil billionaire had been banished from the hospital. That called for more of a celebration than a bottle of bubbly. After he'd put in his hours for the day, he would take the 'Vette out to the back roads and open her up. Maybe he'd even bring Wilson along for the ride, let him live a little.
He could already imagine it: a rock anthem blaring on the radio as they raced down an empty road in the dusk; eyes stinging from the wind and Wilson's hair blown out of perfection; both of them laughing. It was better than thinking about trophies and knick-knacks returned to the wrong place on the shelves, and a smile that had nothing to do with happiness.
House remembered the year he'd lived in Egypt - holding onto the crash bar as his father tried to take the jeep to Mach 1 in the desert, howling with joy and excitement every time they hit a pothole and caught air. Speed had been the only common ground he'd ever shared with his father.
But there was to be no joy in Princeton that day. The moment he stepped on hospital property, he was beset by fellows expecting him to take a glaringly obvious case, a boss harping about unfinished reports and illegible charts, and a building full of colleagues who seemed to think he was personally responsible for costing the hospital 100 million. All those were easily overcome. The case was solved by afternoon rounds, the paperwork delegated to the fellows as penance for insulting his intelligence, and he didn't give a damn what people thought about him.
But he couldn't overcome - or avoid - the carelessly steered laundry cart that ran into him as he rounded a corner on the oncology ward in search of Wilson. The collision with the cart didn't do any damage, but it knocked him off-balance and his cane skidded to the side. He fell, twisting his bad leg and knocking the breath out him.
The first thing he saw when the stars stopped exploding in his head was a pair of expensive French loafers. "Are you going to help me up," he growled, "or are you going to stand there staring down at me?"
"I hadn't decided yet," Wilson replied. "I'm still considering charging for the floor show. Get some of that money back for clinical trials."
And that was the kicker. Wilson's department had the most to gain from Vogler's millions, but Wilson had been the first to recognize the danger, and the one to pay the highest price. Wilson's gentle jibe was a reminder that not everything had worked out in the end. House closed his eyes. Things were far from all right, no matter what he wanted to think. He was still down one fellow, and fixing that was going to require effort and aggravation, maybe even humiliation. He almost welcomed the cresting pain - or at least the distraction it provided - though not enough to refuse when Wilson knelt down and asked if he needed a shot of morphine.
A moment later, a needle prick sent blessed relief through his veins. He uncurled inch by inch until he could sit up and lean against the wall. He wiped his face with the damp cloth Wilson handed him.
"Rest here a minute and then I'll take you home."
It was hardly the triumphant departure House had imagined when he started the day, but lethargy was robbing him of any desire to object. He dropped his head forward, still trying to catch his breath, but was dimly aware that Wilson had settled down beside him. Strong fingers wrapped around his wrist, pressing against the pulse point. House knew it was important to monitor heart rate after a dose of morphine, so he didn't pull away.
Finally, the tide turned and he took a deep breath. "Get off your ass, Wilson, before Cuddy catches you sitting down on the job and fires you again." The fingers tightened almost imperceptibly, then released, and Wilson clambered to his feet.
"I'll get a wheelchair," he said evenly and stalked away.
Obviously, it was still too early to joke about that. Wilson could be humourless when it came to his job. House wasn't about to be pushed through the hallways in a wheelchair, however, so he dragged himself upright, balancing his weight between his left leg and the cane, and glared until the gawkers scuttled away.
When Wilson returned with the wheelchair, he took one look at House's face and sighed. "I'll just keep walking if you fall between here and the car," he warned. It was an empty threat and they both knew it. Wilson stayed by his elbow until they reached the elevator to the parking garage, and then pushed House into the closest non-wheeled chair while he collected House's coat and backpack.
"I need a ride, not a babysitter," House snapped, when he saw that Wilson had grabbed his own things as well.
"I'm done for the day," Wilson replied. "My assistant wasn't able to rebook all my cancelled appointments and I've finished afternoon rounds. I could stick around and do paperwork, but I'm not inclined to smooth administrative waters right now."
That was the Wilson he knew and loved, punishing those who wronged him so passively they probably never even noticed. Not that it mattered. House knew the names of every board member who had voted against Wilson, and his methods of revenge were manifold. "That'll teach them for dumping you," he said. "And while you're at it, you should refuse to do your clinic duty. I'll join you in solidarity."
Wilson frowned. "I'm not going to undermine patient care," he replied, as if losing his job on a point of principle had been in his patients' best interest.
"Of course not," House said. "Because enabling hypochondriacs is the best use of our time and talent."
"Maybe not, but helping genuinely sick people is."
House made a gagging noise. "I think I'm getting hyperglycemic. Quick, give me a shot of insulin."
"Oh, I'll give you a shot all right." But Wilson gave him a hand up instead when the elevator arrived, pretending not to notice how unsteady House was. "Do you have any food in your place or should we stop for takeout?"
"I have leftovers in the fridge," House said, wedging himself into the corner of the elevator for support on two sides. "Cold pizza, beef and broccoli, and green chicken curry."
Wilson leaned against the opposite wall. "How long have they been in the fridge? I'm throwing out anything that's more than a week old."
"They're left over from last night. I couldn't decide what to order, so I called all my favourite places. Saves me shopping for a few more days." After the buzz from the champagne had dissipated, thanks to killjoy Cuddy, he'd tried to bury himself in work, but he'd still been restless and dissatisfied. At least the takeout had filled his stomach.
When they reached the parking garage, House headed as purposefully as his leg would allow towards the handicap spots.
"I'm parked over there," Wilson called after him, pointing to the far wall. "Do you want me to bring it over and save you the walk?"
"We're not taking your car," House replied, turning cautiously back. His leg was blessedly free of active pain, but he didn't trust its stability. "I have a reputation to uphold. No one will believe I'm a bad-ass if they see me in a Volvo."
"You're not driving," Wilson said, his hands planted on his hips in a gesture of disapproval he'd trademarked shortly after meeting House. "Between the pain and the morphine you're barely conscious."
House was fully conscious, in a manner of speaking, but his self-destructive streak didn't extend to risking the Corvette. He tossed the keys to Wilson. "You can drive." He smirked when Wilson dropped his briefcase to make the catch. "It's just this once, and only because I'm not leaving it in the parking garage over the weekend. Somebody will steal it, or key it, or stuff a potato in the tailpipe." At least that's what he'd do in half the hospital's place.
"What about my car?" The protest was only half-hearted. Wilson was clutching the keys as if he had hold of the Holy Grail.
"Who's going to steal a boring sedan? And you're the golden boy. Nobody's going to vandalize your property."
"No, they'll just vote to fire me and remove me from the board." Wilson's shoulders slumped and he looked like a dejected puppy. House wanted to kick him.
"Stop whining. They didn't fire you; you chose to resign to save face."
That apparently wasn't the right thing to say either. Wilson bristled and then sagged. "My reputation is all I have," he said with the same edge of despair and defeat that had nearly broken House before. "You can get fired from a dozen hospitals and you'll still be the maverick genius that solves the cases no one else can. If word got out that I didn't have the support of my own hospital, I'd lose grants, I'd have no pull to get my patients into clinical trials. I'd be useless as a department head, as an oncologist. As it is, I don't know how I'm going to work with the board members who voted against me."
"You'll play them for everything you can get," House retorted. "Any time you need something from their department, you'll remind them how they screwed you over. They just gave you a big fat Valentine. Now stop sulking and get in the car. I can't stand around here all night waiting for you to rebuild your self-esteem. Emphasis on the word stand."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "So go sit down. It's a convertible. It's not like you have to wait for me to unlock the door."
House smirked and continued on to the Corvette, knowing Wilson would be right behind him. He slid into the passenger seat and waited impatiently while Wilson adjusted the seat and mirrors. "That's right. Be cautious. Because if you scratch or dent this baby, I'm setting the mob on you."
Wilson turned the ignition and sighed happily as the engine purred like a sated tiger. "You know you're not going to be able to keep it," he said, sounding genuinely regretful. "Vogler brought it up, so the board can't ignore it any more. And you don't want to give them anything to hang you with."
"Thanks for spoiling the moment. I already told Arnello to take it back, but I paid a full month for a secured parking spot by my apartment and I'm not losing that money. I've still got a few days left to enjoy some flash wheels, so shut up and drive." A bubble of pain floated through the morphine sea, and he closed his eyes, willing it to burst. He tipped his head back as they pulled out of the parking garage, content just to enjoy the ride. At least he wouldn't have to watch Wilson strip the gears.
But the car shifted so effortlessly that House barely noticed as they picked up speed. Only the wind blowing through his hair was any indication that they were moving fast. He cracked open one eye and saw to his surprise that Wilson was already in fourth gear and hovering just above the speed limit. Ahead, a car pulled blindly into their lane, but before House could snap a warning, Wilson shifted down, braked gently, and steered smoothly out of danger.
"When did you learn to drive standard like that, and if you can, why would you drive a Volvo?" House demanded.
Wilson shrugged. "I learned on a standard. And I inherited Dad's old car when I went to Montreal. He's a terrible driver, so the transmission was completely trashed and I couldn't afford to replace or fix it properly. Keeping it from slipping out of gear was a master class in driving stick. But my first wife couldn't drive standard, and neither could Bonnie, so I got in the habit of buying automatics. And you're hardly in a position to criticize the Volvo. The piece of crap you normally drive is an embarrassment."
"My car has character," House protested. "The Volvo is bland and boring."
"And comfortable and safe and reliable. Those aren't bad things in a car."
"So why have you been drooling over the 'Vette? It's disgusting. I had to clean the upholstery the last time I gave you a ride."
"I demand DNA testing on that drool," Wilson said, shifting back into fourth as they hit an empty stretch of road. "And I can admire the Corvette without needing to own it. A sports car is like fellatio. Too much of it and it stops being special."
"Only someone who doesn't own a sports car or get a lot of blow jobs would make that statement." Wilson, House suspected, was giving most of the head in his current marriage, though House tried not to mention that more than once or twice a day. Wilson didn't react, however, which either meant House was correct or Wilson had finally learned his lesson about sharing details of his sex life.
"I'll let you off here and park in the garage," Wilson said, as he pulled up in front of House's apartment.
But House wasn't ready to end the ride yet. The morphine was holding strong and his good mood had returned. Mocking Wilson always had that effect on him. "Keep driving," he said. "If I have to give this baby up, I want her put through her paces first. Take her out to the Turnpike and don't be a wuss. You don't have any points on your license, so you can afford a speeding ticket." He expected a litany of pathetic excuses, but Wilson could still surprise him now and then.
"Let's take 95 to Philadelphia instead. Maybe we could catch a few innings of the Phillies-Braves game." Wilson pulled away from the curb and pressed down on the accelerator. The Corvette growled and leapt at his command. "Julie's pissed at me for losing my job because of you, so I'm in no hurry to get home."
The only thing waiting for House was a stack of fellowship applications that he'd been trying to ignore in lieu of hatching a plan to lure Cameron back. "Game time isn't for a couple of hours and we've got a full tank of gas. Why don't you channel your inner Springsteen and head for the back streets."
"The night's busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere," Wilson sang loudly. His bangs were wild and loose across his forehead and this time the smile was real.
House leaned back and closed his eyes again. Wilson's voice was off-key, but they were back in tune, and that was good enough until they ran out of road.