House and Wilson had been living together for six weeks, and House thought that his life was very much improved by having more Wilson in it.
Because House was a night owl and Wilson was a lark, House didn't see much of Wilson most mornings. On weekdays, Wilson was dressed and on his way to work before House had even opened his eyes, and on Sundays, Wilson liked to do the weekly grocery shopping early in the day while the stores were still empty. Saturday was the only day of the week when House could be sure of waking up with Wilson in bed next to him. He would open his eyes, knowing that the first sight of the morning would be Wilson – unshaven, sleep-tousled, the pupils of his soft brown eyes already slightly dilated by desire and anticipation. House looked forward to Saturday mornings all week.
This particular Saturday morning, House groped for the bottle of Vicodin on his bedside table. There it was, next to the glass of water that Wilson had left for him. Ignoring the water, he swallowed a couple of Vicodins dry, and waited for the pain in his leg to subside. When he felt capable of facing the world, House opened his eyes and carefully rolled over to reach for Wilson. Who wasn't there. The spot where Wilson should be was only faintly warm, indicating that Wilson had left some time ago, not merely taken a quick trip to the bathroom.
"Wilson!" he called out. "Wilson, where are you?"
He groped for his cane and sat up, groaning involuntarily. The Vicodin hadn't fully kicked in yet, and he was stiff and sore. He felt about a thousand years old.
Wilson popped his head in the bedroom door. He was dressed and had his coat on.
"I'm just getting ready to leave, House. Did you need something before I go?"
"It is Saturday, isn't it?" said House.
"Yes, it's Saturday," Wilson confirmed.
"You spend Saturdays with me," House said.
"Usually. Today I'm going to my niece's birthday party. You know about this. I told you days ago."
House vaguely remembered Wilson mentioning something about a niece, but he hadn't been paying attention. The subject of Wilson's family wasn't exactly riveting.
"Your niece is having a birthday party at eight o'clock in the morning," House said sceptically, after a quick glance at the bedside clock.
"No, the party's this afternoon. My brother's family lives in Albany, and I have to drive there. I'm staying overnight at his house. I told you all this before."
Wilson walked into the room and gave House a quick goodbye kiss.
"Good bye," he said, as he hurried out the door. "I left you a Danish for breakfast."
"Wait for me. I'm coming with you," House said.
"No, you're not," Wilson said. "I'm going to a five-year-old's birthday party. No alcohol. No strippers. Nothing to interest you."
"There'll be cake," House said.
"Supermarket sheet cake, and not even chocolate, because my niece is allergic. Not worth the three hour drive. See you tomorrow."
Wilson turned and left the room. He was half way down the hall, when he heard House call after him.
You would have taken Amber," House said.
Wilson didn't say anything for a long moment, and then he turned around to face House, who was standing in the doorway to the bedroom, cane in hand.
"All right," Wilson said with elaborate patience, "I'll take you to my niece's birthday party, if you can answer one question. What's her name?"
House tried to replay Wilson's conversation in his mind, but his recollection was fuzzy. He remembered thinking at the time that it was just like Wilson's brother, a thoroughly assimilated, secular Jew, to give his daughter an Old Testament Hebrew name. He had cynically noted how fashionable he was, to make such a conventional and token gesture towards his heritage. Unfortunately he couldn't recall which Old Testament name.
"Rebecca," House said, trying to sound confident.
"No, it's not Rebecca."
"Rachel, Naomi, Sarah," he guessed.
"Bye, House," Wilson said. "I'll be back tomorrow."
"Leah," said House. Wilson was already halfway down the hall. He'd picked up his small overnight bag and was pulling his car keys out of his pocket. Reluctantly, he stopped and put his bag down.
"How quickly can you get ready? I don't want to be late."
Wilson kept to the speed limit despite the steady stream of cars and trucks passing him. The car radio was tuned to his usual station, which offered traffic, weather and news. House fiddled with the radio, looking for a good travelling tune. Wilson turned the radio off.
"This is going to be just the kind of occasion you hate: small talk, sugar-crazed pre-schoolers, having to pretend that you like other people. I can't imagine why you want to come."
"Maybe I want to meet your family," House said.
Wilson rolled his eyes in disbelief. He thought that House didn't give a damn about Wilson's relationship with his family, or about any other aspect of Wilson's life that didn't directly affect House. House was curious (Wilson might even have used the word nosy), but he didn't really care.
"You've already met them. More than once," said Wilson. "You didn't like them, and they aren't particularly fond of you. Probably because every time you see them, you're obnoxiously drunk and rude."
"That's because I only see them at your weddings. The best man always gets drunk at a wedding. It's tradition. "
"I think you only want to come to this party because I didn't invite you," said Wilson. "If I had actually asked you to go, you would have said no. You're angry because I decided to spend the weekend with my brother's family instead of with you."
"It's annoying when you tell me what you think I'm feeling. Or what you feel I'm thinking. Either way, it's incredibly annoying."
"Promise me you won't ruin Leah's party."
"Now you're being insulting and annoying."
"Promise me." Wilson repeated.
"I promise I won't ruin your niece's party," House said.
He turned on the radio again. He found a station playing Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love", perfect road music.
"So what did I get Leah?"
"What do you mean?" Wilson asked. "You didn't get her anything."
"I'm going to add my name to whatever you got her. Obviously. So what did I get her?"
"I got her a Wii," Wilson said. "If you want we can stop along the way somewhere and I'll pick up something for you to give to her."
"Nothing says "happy birthday" like something from a gas station along the interstate."
"We should have enough time to make a quick trip to a shopping mall or a Toys R Us," Wilson said.
"It would take about three seconds for me to add "and Greg House" to her birthday card."
"Are you afraid that if your brother sees my name and yours together on the card, he's going to get the wrong idea...except that in this case it's the right idea?"
Wilson didn't reply.
"Afraid your brother's going to disown you out when he finds out you're not as exclusively heterosexual as he thought?"
"We agreed not to let anyone know about our relationship. Not yet, anyway. Not until we're sure."
"I didn't exactly agree," House said, "It was under duress. Your brother the lawyer can tell you all about the validity of agreements made under duress."
"You said you wouldn't tell anyone until we both agreed!"
"I haven't told anybody. Yet. Except my mother of course. A boy can't keep secrets from his mother."
"You told your mom!"
Wilson took his eyes off the road long enough to glare at House.
"Oh come on, Wilson. It's not like my mom's going to phone up your brother and tell him all the hot gossip. If you can talk to your therapist, I can talk to my mother."
"I haven't talked about us to my therapist," Wilson said.
"Really," said House incredulously.
"She doesn't need to know. It isn't relevant."
"You don't think it was relevant. You're sleeping with your best friend, the man you blamed for your girlfriend's death, and you don't think that's relevant."
"I never blamed you for Amber's death. I know you weren't responsible," Wilson said.
Have you mentioned me to her at all?" House asked.
"We mostly talk about me," Wilson said, "about how I'm coping with Amber's death. Strangely enough, I don't spend every single second of my day thinking and talking about you. I can even hold brief conversations without saying your name once."
Wilson had taken into account the possibility of unexpected delays, such as road construction or traffic jams, and allowed plenty of time just in case, so they arrived in Albany well before the party. They stopped at a mall for lunch at the food court, and Wilson bought a present for House to give to Leah – a Rapunzel Barbie with ankle-length braidable hair.
"This is it?" House said. "You give her a state-of-the-art game console and I give her a plastic doll."
"She'll love it," Wilson said firmly.
"That's not the point. I assume you want me to make a good impression on your brother. You don't want him to think I'm cheap."
"You're crashing his daughter's birthday party. You could get her a pony and he still wouldn't be impressed."
Michael Wilson was a few years older than Wilson and a few pounds heavier. He had a neatly trimmed beard and a disapproving air. His wife Melissa was a shy, petite woman at least a dozen years younger than her husband. Mike was not happy with Wilson for bringing along an uninvited guest, especially since that guest was Gregory House. His greeting to his brother was chilly and formal, and as he shook House's hand, he leaned in and took a deep breath, expecting to smell alcohol on House's breath. He peered into House's vivid blue eyes, looking for glassiness or dilated pupils. To his secret disappointment, House seemed to be perfectly sober. Melissa hugged her brother-in-law and smiled tentatively at House as she shook his hand. Leah had spotted her uncle at the door and she wanted a hug from Wilson as well. Wilson put down her present so that he could pick up.
"You're getting so big!" he said. "How old are you today? Forty-two? One hundred and nine?"
"Come on in," Melissa said. "Let me take your coats. I'll introduce you around to the other parents. This is Margaret Hayes, and Richard and Roberta Kalmakov, Mindy Bliss, and Rowena Drexler. This is Leah's Uncle Jimmy and this is Gregory House, who is ..."
"My colleague," Wilson said, "and a friend of the family."
The cake had been cut and eaten; the presents had been opened, admired, played with, and in some cases broken. The children were becoming querulous and tired, and Melissa, Mike and Wilson were kept busy tried to keep the youngsters happy and the household furnishings intact. In the kitchen, the parents of the party guests were not quite ready to leave. They were enjoying a last cup of coffee or glass of wine, and discussing the real estate market, a subject of endless fascination to suburbanites everywhere. Within a few minutes of being introduced, House had deduced that Richard was having an affair with Mindy, although it was more difficult to figure out why he bothered, since his lover and his wife were virtually identical. Rowena was a secret drinker, and Mindy had once been a man. Unfortunately, none of these discoveries made their conversation any more interesting.
Wilson had been right. This wasn't House's kind of occasion. He didn't fit in here. House didn't even look right. There seemed to be some kind of unwritten dress code; every adult except House, male or female, wore the same weekend casual cotton pants in slightly different shades of beige.
House wandered away from the kitchen, and headed towards the living room. He watched as Wilson knelt down to tie one of the little girl's shoes. Leah jumped on to his back and demanded a piggy-back ride. Melissa saw House and crossed the room to join him.
"Jimmy really likes kids," she said. "It's too bad he never had any of his own."
House nodded. "He's good with his little bald cancer kids. He doesn't get much of a chance to be around healthy ones."
"He seems a lot happier lately. I was worried about Jimmy. He was so down after his last divorce, and then his girlfriend's accident... I'm glad you're looking after him. Don't tell Mike I said this, but I think you two are really good for each other."
House looked at her sharply. Melissa smiled.
"I called Jimmy on his cellphone really late one evening when Leah had a high fever. I wanted to ask him what to do. I could hear you in the background, playing the piano. You played the same song at Jimmy's wedding reception."
"WIlson could have been playing a cd."
"He wasn't," she said. "Besides I can hear it in his voice when he mentions you. He's careful not to say too much or show what he feels, but if you're married to one of the Wilsons, you get really good at picking up subtle clues."
Impulsively, she kissed House on the cheek. "Welcome to the family."
Much to her husband's displeasure, Melissa invited House to dinner. After the meal, Wilson drove House to a nearby motel to stay the night. The motel wasn't exactly seedy, but it was a long way from luxurious. The bedspread was a riot of colour designed to hide any stains, the tap in the bathroom dripped, and the air conditioner wheezed and stuttered. Wilson felt a bit guilty about stranding House in this dismal room, although his own accommodations, a fold-out couch in his brother's rec room, weren't any better.
"The bed's pretty comfortable at least," Wilson said, testing it out, "and they give you lots of pillows."
Wilson picked up a brochure from the nightstand.
"They've got pay-for-view movies - Beverley Hills Chihuahua or Cheerleader Camp 3. They both sound pretty horrible," he admitted.
House didn't answer. He lay down on the bed and grabbed one of the pillows from under Wilson's head, putting it under his leg. He took a Vicodin.
"I'm sick of this, Wilson," he said. "I want to be able to touch you in public and not have you flinch. I want everyone to know that you belong to me. I want Cameron and Chase to seethe with jealousy because they're not the hospital's cutest couple anymore. I'm not going to settle for less because you're scared of what your pompous asshole of a brother thinks."
"It's not that. I don't care what Mike thinks. Besides Mike disapproves of me already. I've been divorced three times. I cheated on my wives. I have 'the sexual morality of an alley cat.'"
"What's the problem then?"
Wilson didn't answer.
"Cuddy? Your patients? Your parents?"
Wilson shook his head. He wasn't enjoying the interrogation. House knew that if he pressed him any further Wilson was likely to jump up and head out the door.
Wilson turned on the television to create a distraction. He flipped through the channels aimlessly, until House grabbed the remote from his hand in annoyance. House chose a program about psychic crime investigators, and they watched in silence.
Wilson moved closer to House, until they were shoulder to shoulder. House didn't respond, but at least he didn't move away. When after several minutes, House finally put his arms around him, Wilson knew that their argument had been put aside, if not forgotten. Wilson laid his head on House's chest. He shut his eyes. He could feel the steady rise and fall of House's breath. He listened for the beating of his heart.
"I'd better be going," Wilson said, after a few moments. "Mike and Melissa will be wondering what's keeping me."
"You might as well stay the night with me." House said. "Melissa already knows we're living together. She told me she's happy for us. If she knows, then Mike knows."
Wilson shook his head. "If he knew, he wouldn't have invited me to Leah's party. He'd feel obliged to make a stand for monogamy and decency and family values."
Wilson sat up and stretched, getting ready to leave. He looked at himself in the mirror opposite the bed. His face was red, his hair was a mess, and his clothes were wrinkled. He smoothed down his hair, and tucked in his shirt.
House didn't want him to go just yet. He nuzzled Wilson, his breath warm against the nape of his neck. Then kisses. Gentle kisses at first. Skilled kisses from someone who had studied James Wilson and knew exactly what he liked.
"Don't. I've got to get back," Wilson said.
Now House's kisses were harder and more insistent. Wilson leaned back. He moaned softly, and House held him, touched him, stroked him, and Wilson couldn't resist anymore. It wasn't fair that House could make him feel this way. It gave him an unfair advantage. He'd do anything for House when he made him feel this good, and House knew it.
"Oh, what the hell," Wilson said, beginning to unbutton his shirt. "They won't miss me if I'm gone a couple hours."
Still fumbling with his buttons, he turned towards House.
When Wilson came back to the hotel the next day to pick up House, he was carrying a fast-food breakfast for House and two coffees. He moved like a rusty clockwork soldier. A night on his brother's fold-out couch had done his iffy back no favours. While House tucked into his greasy breakfast sandwich, Wilson lay stiffly on the hotel bed, as if a few minutes' rest on a good mattress could undo the damage of eight hours on a bad one.
"You're driving," he said to House. He fished the car keys out of pocket. "You didn't happen to bring any muscle relaxants with you?"
"Nope. Travelled light this trip."
"Give me a Vicodin then."
House gave him a Vicodin and handed him his coffee to wash it down. Wilson gave him the car keys.
Wilson gingerly manoeuvred himself into the passenger seat and buckled up. House revved the engine, and then peeled out. Wilson winced at the unnecessary wear and tear on his tires but didn't comment. He gave House directions back to the interstate, and then shut his eyes, prepared to doze away the rest of the trip.
"The building manager came to see me the other day," House said.
"I told you not to play your guitar after nine p.m."
"There's another unit opening up soon. He said if I wanted to take it, I could have it."
"I didn't know you were thinking of moving."
"This one's a bit bigger. Better for a couple."
"Oh," Wilson said. "Don't make any changes on my account."
"We need more space."
"I thought you liked your current place. Everything is exactly where you want it."
"We keep tripping over each other." House said. "This new place has a den. You can sulk in there when one of your cancer kids croaks. You could take some your old bowling trophies out of storage. We could get a foosball table."
"Moving is a lot of work. There's the packing. And you'd have to hire movers even though the new apratment's in the same building, because neither of us can carry heavy furniture."
"That's why nature created Kutner, Taub and Thirteen," House said. "I knew there had to be a reason."
"I just think," Wilson said "that you're being a bit premature. If things don't work out, you don't want to be stuck with a bigger apartment than you need."
Wilson's lack of confidence in their future disappointed House. It was particularly galling since Wilson was notorious for his impulsive romantic nature. The interval between Wilson's first date with a woman and his subsequent proposal of marriage could be measured in hours.
Still, House had absolutely no doubt that Wilson loved him. Only love could explain the many times that Wilson had put House's interests before his own. Something other than a lack of affection was making him skittish and wary of commitment. House's natural curiosity was piqued.
Wilson had not gotten much sleep the previous night and he was unused to the Vicodin. He fell asleep almost at once, and House, who had depended on him to provide stimulating conversation during the trip home, turned on the radio for entertainment. Wilson slept until House stopped for gas. His eyes opened briefly when the car stopped, but he closed them almost at once. House shook him awake, making Wilson gasp with pain.
"I need your credit card. Your car, your trip, you pay for the gas."
Wilson began to unbuckle his seatbelt, but House stopped him.
"No need to get up. Just give me the card. I know how to sign your name."
"Don't you mean forge my signature?" Wilson said. He gingerly got out of the car and made his way to the rest rooms. "I'll be right back"
When Wilson came back, House was waiting in line to pay in the gas station's office. He'd picked up some snacks – Doritos, a bag of jellybeans, and a can of pop. Wilson added a bag of Twizzlers. He picked up the Doritos.
"Couldn't you buy something else that won't cover my car with red fingermarks and crumbs?"
"I could, but it wouldn't be as delicious."
Wilson put the Doritos back.
"Where are we?" he asked, since one interstate gas station looked pretty much the same as another. "How much farther do we have to go?"
"We're just outside Syracuse. We've got about ten hours to go."
"Syracuse! You're going in the wrong direction!"
"No, we're going to Kentucky to visit my mother. She's just lost her husband. She needs her son by her side."
"I've got to be at work tomorrow."
"Phone Cuddy and tell her we're off sick. We can't be sick with the same thing or it will look suspicious. I'm going to have beriberi."
"You can visit her another weekend."
"Might as well be now while I have the company. I don't like driving alone."
"If you want me to come along, I'll come along. Next long weekend. Just turn around and head back to Princeton. I've already used up all my vacation time and there's no way Cuddy will believe beriberi."
They had reached the front of the line, and Wilson handed the clerk his credit card.
"This is my boyfriend," House told the clerk. "We're on our way to Kentucky to visit my mother. You know how we gays love our moms."
He put his arm around Wilson, who shook it off.
"Have a nice trip," the clerk said, handing Wilson the credit card slip to sign.
"Thanks," Wilson said. He scrawled his name and then headed out to the car, not waiting for House, who picked up the bag of snacks and followed after him.
Wilson stood by the car. House still had the keys, and the doors were locked. House pressed the button on the key chain to unlock them. Wilson got in the car, opened the glove compartment and unfolded a road map.
"We are hours out of our way! I'm not even sure how to get back to Princeton from here."
"I was thinking," House said, "how relaxing it would be to spend some time with someone who already knows we're together. So I could call you dear or honey or sweetie if I wanted..."
"You've never called me sweetie in your life!"
"And I could kiss you anytime I felt like it," House said, leaning over towards Wilson, who pushed him away.
"It looks like we should take I-81 south. Have you passed the turnoff?"
House pulled back on to the highway. When he came to the turnoff for I-81, he took it.
Wilson was eating a Twizzler and trying to ignore House. This was difficult to do because House was singing at the top of his lungs. Rihanna's Umbrella, a song Wilson hated more than he hated having a root canal, was playing on the radio.
"About time for a late lunch," House said, after the song had mercifully ended.
Wilson said nothing. He was giving House the silent treatment, but it wasn't having much effect on him. House's father had gone without speaking to him for months; House knew Wilson wouldn't be able to last more than an hour, tops. He pulled in at a roadside restaurant, and Wilson followed him in. They sat at a booth near the window. House popped a Vicodin. He put another on the table and slid it towards Wilson, who palmed it neatly.
The waitress came by. She gave them both menus and glasses of water. House order a b.l.t. and a side order of onion rings. Wilson ordered a cup of corn chowder and a chicken salad. Wilson swallowed his Vicodin with a sip of water.
"So," House said, "what makes you convinced that our relationship won't work out?"
"I didn't say that," Wilson said.
"You obviously think that. You don't want anybody to know because you don't want another failed relationship on your record. You don't want to be a – what's it up to now? – a five or six-time loser."
Wilson looked around, hoping for the waitress's return to deliver him from an uncomfortable conversation.
"You don't want me to make any changes in my life for you, so that when it doesn't work out, we can both go back to the way it used to be before. So you don't have to lose me as a friend. It doesn't work that way, Wilson. If our relationship doesn't work out, we won't be able to pretend it didn't happen. I'll be one of your exes, not your friend."
At last the waitress returned with the food, and Wilson attacked his soup, as if were famished.
"I know you love me," House said, "and I'm not going to let you fail this time. You don't have to worry that you might cheat on me, because I won't let you. You don't have to worry about us drifting apart, because I'm going to hang on to you."
Wilson nodded. He didn't know whether he felt comforted or threatened.
It was late in the afternoon before they returned to House's apartment. House wasn't used to driving for such long periods, and his bad leg sent spikes of pain through his whole body. Wilson's back, however, was beginning to ease up a little, and he got out of the car without any difficulty.
"If you want to let other people know about us, " Wilson said, "I guess that's okay. As long as it's not a big dramatic announcement."
"Because it's personal," House agreed.
Foreman, Taub, Kutner and Thirteen sat at the table, their charts and notes in front of them. They had just presented House with their findings, and looked up at him, hoping that the great man would solve their problem.
"Did I ever tell you what a great kisser Wilson is? " House said. "His kisses are about ninety percent lust and ten percent pure love and devotion, and they make the top of your head explode. And not only your head...."