Title: Game Theory and Strategy
Characters: House/Wilson; House/Cuddy; hints of House/Cuddy/Wilson
Rating: M
Length: 8,600
Warnings: sex, language, very slight crack, minor spoilers for season 4
Summary: House gets played.

Originally written for the get_house_laid fest on LiveJournal, Prompt #323: House/Cuddy/Wilson -- House is being uncharacteristically nice. Wilson and Cuddy are concerned. (but really, who wouldn't be?) I took a lot of liberties with the prompt

AN: Thanks to all the helpful alphas, betas, and suggestions. This is one of those 'pick the first line on each page' memes. The book is Game Theory and Strategy by Philip Straffin.

***

1.

These multiple saddle points are very nicely related: they all have the same value, and they appear at the corners of a rectangle.

It's a Friday night in July, at the end of an exceptionally hot and dry month, when Wilson takes Cuddy out to dinner at a fancy new Italian place downtown.

House knows this because he follows them from the hospital, through grimy, oil-stained streets, and to the parking lot of a Starbuck's across from the restaurant. He notes the way Wilson's hand lingers on the small of Cuddy's back as he holds the door open for her, the way she laughs at something Wilson says on the way in.

Now it's Monday morning, and he's got nothing to do but think about the date -- because he's absolutely sure now that it was, in fact, a date.

Unfortunately, there's no patient to distract him, and the newbies are actually managing to get along with each other for a change. House briefly considers a plan to stir things up, but the payoff doesn't seem worth the effort. So he sits in his office and thinks about Wilson and Cuddy and works on a Sudoku puzzle.

It's one of those symmetrical arrangements of empty boxes and numbers that look deceptively simple, but often prove to be the most challenging to solve: threes following nines on the diagonal, a two and a seven balanced across the four squares in the corners, Wilson's hand on Cuddy's back, the sound of her laughter, zeroes and ones. The center box is blank.

There's a trick to it, of course. House finds that once he's figured out what it is, everything else tends to fall into place. He puts a three in the corner box on the upper left.

Here's how he sees the situation:

Any possible Wilson-Cuddy alliance will most likely be bad news for him, if past experience has taught him anything. The last bout of meddling was pretty much a disaster.

His hand travels instinctively to the bottle of Vicodin in his coat pocket. He shakes it once, that old, familiar rattle reassuring him.

Still, there's something about this most recent association that's particularly disturbing. Worse, even, than the thought of them combining their super caring powers to fix him. House shifts in his chair, restlessly.

Wilson and Cuddy have a lot in common, even if the most prominent of those things is House. They're both dedicated to their jobs to a pathetic degree, and they both really, really suck at relationships. House is surprised they haven't hooked up already -- in his experience, two black holes of desperation in close proximity will tend to attract each other. Maybe this new... thing between them was inevitable, part of a natural progression.

And the thought of them fucking... Surprisingly, the image that conjures isn't too terrible -- it's downright alluring, actually -- but it also sends a nasty little shiver of jealousy racing through him.

All of which brings him to the next thought:

If he's being honest with himself, he has to admit that he enjoys having both of them around. Sure, Wilson's overzealous sense of caring is fucking annoying. And Cuddy can be a real bitch when she gets on a crazy administrative streak. Still, they provide entertainment in a boring world.

The idea of the two of them sharing something that doesn't include House is, frankly, disturbing. There's the whole jealousy issue, but House is also surprised -- and a little dismayed -- to discover that there's some real fear there, too. Of what exactly, he's not sure.

House squeezes his eyes shut, shakes his head once to dislodge that pathetic thought -- introspection has always been something he's preferred to avoid.

He focuses again on the puzzle in front of him and hesitates for only a moment before putting a seven in the center box on the lower right. A bold move, yes, but he trusts his instincts.

As for the Wilson and Cuddy situation, that isn't so easily solved.

***

Later he's sitting at his desk, pretending to read an article but actually listening to his new fellows play cards in the conference room.

They're bored -- it's been over a week since they've had a patient, and the last one turned out to be a simple case of salmonella that some idiot GP missed. The downtime is an expected part of the job, though. Life doesn't provide diagnostic puzzles on demand.

The game of hearts continues. From what House can tell, Thirteen is kicking all sorts of ass.

Taub groans as he's dealt what is obviously a bad card. Thirteen laughs, says, "Sorry. That's all I had. You should blame Kutner for leading with a spade."

"Oh, man." Kutner sounds disappointed too. He's losing badly after three rounds. "I was trying to shoot the moon."

"Well, you shot yourself in the foot." Foreman's not actually playing, but that hasn't stopped him from injecting his own commentary into the mix. "And you shouldn't tell everyone your strategy," he adds.

"Hardly matters now," Kutner says.

"Yeah, but now they're onto you. You blew your chance."

Inevitably, Thirteen wins again and they start a new hand.

Six or so trumps into it, Kutner groans, "Fuck."

"And hearts have been broken," Foreman announces. House can practically hear the self-satisfied smile on his face.

He loses interest after five more hands, lets his thoughts drift back to Wilson and Cuddy -- his latest obsession. He needs to think about this problem objectively, carefully. He figures there are two main options:

Plan A: Sabotage the relationship, create total destruction, the usual. The major drawback is that pissing off both Wilson and Cuddy tends to force them to team up against him. If that happens, House loses. Wilson and Cuddy win. Definitely not a good outcome.

Plan B: Act reasonable and be an 'adult' about the whole thing. He likes this one -- not the acting mature part -- but the idea that his non-reaction would be so out of character that Wilson and Cuddy would be forced to take notice.

And, hell, even if they don't notice, sometimes doing nothing is the best strategy. Chances are good that the entire relationship is doomed to fail. He might not have to act at all -- just sit back and let the bad dating mojo take over.

His thoughts are interrupted by the sight of Cuddy striding toward his office door. House watches her carefully, looking for any signs, any indication that Wilson's gotten into her life somehow. She's dressed in normal Cuddy attire. Her black blouse is a little disappointing -- modest and covered in tacky ribbons and beads -- but the skirt she's wearing more than makes up for it. The slit running up the side is practically scandalous. If dating Wilson has changed her in any way, House doesn't see it.

Cuddy slows down to take in the game going on in the next room, confusion on her face. She stops in front of his desk. "Don't tell me I'm paying four highly-qualified doctors to sit around all day and play cards?"

"It's a really good game," he argues.

She gives him her most serene smile. "I've got a patient for you -- a referral from a general practitioner in Trenton. Possible autoimmune..." Cuddy lets her words trail off and House can tell she's preparing for a fight, drawing her reasons around her like armor. "You haven't treated a patient in over a week and--"

"Fine."

"What?"

"I said it's fine. No problem. Just send me the file." He smiles up at her helpfully.

Cuddy looks shocked for only a second, then suspicious. House can tell she wants to say something, ask what the hell he's up to, but she also doesn't want to ruin the moment.

"Okay," she says carefully. "I'll have it on your desk by tomorrow morning." She throws one more puzzled glance over her shoulder on the way out, like she's expecting his head to start spinning around.

House smiles to himself. Plan B is in effect.

2.

If players don't know how to calculate mixed strategy solutions to matrix games, it is interesting to investigate how well they can play just intuitively.

It's Wednesday afternoon and hot as hell outside.

Just as Cuddy promised, they've got a new patient: female, white, forty-six years old, single, complaining of intermittent headaches, fever, joint pain, and rashes that have lasted for over six months. She'd been treated for Lyme disease and allergies by her idiot GP, without success. Unfortunately, she isn't interesting yet -- the DDX distills down to the usual, eternal debate: infection versus autoimmune.

House goes home early, heats up a can of soup, eats until he's not hungry any more, and settles in front of the TV with a beer.

The cool, wet glass feels good against his forehead. He flips through the channels until they become a blur of noise and color, become thoughts of Wilson and Cuddy. He decides he's had enough and drags himself to bed.

The room is so hot and still, he can't help tossing around on the mattress, kicking the sheets off onto the floor. He finally finds a comfortable spot on his back, and then--

--the three of them are in a white room playing a board game that House has never seen before -- a bizarre combination of Chutes and Ladders and... Hearts? He's not sure. For some reason, Wilson has Hector's head, but he's also the little dog from the Monopoly game. House thinks he looks ridiculous. Cuddy has her own head, but she's younger, she looks like she did on the day he first met her.

He watches as Wilson and Cuddy take turns moving their pieces around the board. House has no idea how to play this game -- he can detect no pattern in the way Cuddy and Wilson react with either glee or disappointment as the cards are handed out, can't make sense of the rules.

Wilson draws a card with a picture of a spleen on it. He jumps up, barking excitedly, and is just about to climb one of the many ladders in the room -- this one's an old battered aluminum contraption, covered in flecks of paint -- when Cuddy stops him with a hand on his arm.

"It's not fair," she says. House realizes she's wearing an old t-shirt he used to own, the one from his high school biology club. When did she go through my closet, he wonders.

"You know he can't get up there," Cuddy says.

"How is that my problem?" Wilson barks. "No one's forcing him to play."

"It's not a zero-sum game," she explains. "He doesn't know the rules."

Okay, now he's getting pissed off. He's tired of defending himself against the Wilson-Cuddy alliance. "What the fuck are you two talking about?" And why the hell would he want to climb that ladder anyway? And, yes, this game is unfair, damn it! What if he draws a spleen? How's he supposed to climb the ladder?

He's still angry when he thrashes himself awake at seven in the morning. "Fucking stupid dream," he mutters and throws the bedcovers aside.

And he's still angry after he's showered, dressed himself carelessly, and stepped outside.

There's a steady wind blowing in from the west. The air smells different today, sharply metallic, and heavy with moisture. The weather's finally changing. And that makes him feel a little better. He grins and puts on his helmet.

3.

Cautious play, which produced stability in zero-sum games, fails badly to produce it in non-zero-sum games.

He hears their voices from the conference room before he steps inside. They're arguing, but it sounds good-natured. Too bad, House thinks.

Sometimes he enjoys just listening, trying to figure out the new dynamic as the team comes together. So he stops and waits behind the blinds.

Kutner's voice drifts out into the hallway: "No, that's the thing, see. Your chances of winning are always better if you switch. Switching doors is always the better strategy."

"It still doesn't make sense to me." It's Thirteen this time.

"There's still a one-in-two chance that the car will be behind the door I picked," she continues, "and a one-in-two chance that it's behind the door Monty didn't open, right? Because he has to open a door with a goat behind it. So how does switching do any good? I still have a 50-50 chance of winning the car no matter what I do."

House smiles to himself. The old Monty Hall Problem -- it's been stumping smart people for years. Although, he's not sure he'd go so far as to call his minions smart.

Humans are such pathetic creatures -- they'll reject a thing just because they've rejected it before, even if the reasons were totally arbitrary and option B is now clearly the better choice. And change, well, that's just fucking terrifying. But change can sometimes be rewarding, assuming you like cars more than goats.

House peeks around the blinds. The whole team is at the conference table, obviously not working on the case. Foreman and Taub hide behind matching newspapers, feigning indifference.

Kutner flails on with his useless explanation. "But Monty didn't pick a door at random. Monty knows everything -- he's the host, he's all-powerful."

"Yeah, but how does that change the odds? The car is still behind one of the other two doors. It's a fifty percent chance I win, right?"

"Look--" Kutner begins.

House decides to save him from his flailing. "Lucky Thirteen knows all about even odds. You sure you want to argue with her?"

She shoots him an evil look, which House ignores. Kutner just looks confused.

House shakes his head. No one appreciates his sense of humor. "Imagine if you will, one-hundred doors." He gestures widely, whacking the edge of Foreman's newspaper with his cane, and earning another disapproving glare. "Behind one of these is a car. You pick one at random. Then Monty opens ninety-eight of them, showing you a shitload of goats. He leaves one door closed. Would you switch now?"

"Exactly," Kutner says and looks smug, like he's the one who thought of everything.

Thirteen has apparently forgotten her indignity. "Yes, I'd switch, but that's-- It's not the same!"

Kutner's not willing to give up. "It is the same. Look, okay, pretend there are four doors--"

Foreman sighs dramatically. "If you don't switch, then you'll win whenever your first choice was right. One out of three times." He folds his paper carefully and places it on the table. "If you do switch, you'll win whenever your first choice was wrong, which is two out of three times." He stares back at House, as if daring him to say something.

House just shrugs. It's a good explanation -- his has more flair, he thinks -- but Foreman's is simple. And simple usually wins. It seems to have shut Thirteen up.

He's bored now. "Don't we have a patient or something? Isn't somebody dying?" He looks around. Yep, there's the whiteboard, still covered with yesterday's useless scribbles. "What are you all just sitting around for?"

"We're waiting on an ANA," Taub says.

House shakes his head. "It's not lupus."

This proclamation is met by loud groaning from around the table. Foreman gives him his patented look of outraged disbelief. House is surprised his face isn't stuck permanently that way.

Taub sighs and sits forward. "We've been through this already. Headaches, joint pain, intermittent fevers, rash, elevated sed rate," he emphasizes each symptom with a decisive chop of his hand, "sounds like an autoimmune to me."

"Not to me. Sounds like an infection." House considers. "But just to be safe, do an arteriogram. Check for polyarteritis nodosa."

Foreman does a hilarious double-take. "You don't even think it's autoimmune!"

House smiles. "No, I don't. The elevated white count and IgG suggest a recent infection. But if you guys are so hung up on autoimmune, you might want to test for one that actually makes sense considering her symptoms."

"IgM was also elevated," Kutner points out. "You see that with lupus."

"The location of the rash is more consistent with polyarteritis nodosa."

"Lupus fits better." Foreman crosses his arms, a sure sign that he's not going to budge.

Normally, House would just call him an idiot, push him until that oh so cool exterior crumbled like the sham it is, but he's got that whole 'nice' thing going on today. He tries for reasonable, instead.

"Okay. But since you're all just sitting around here doing nothing, you might as well run the test. Rule it out. If it's positive, we can start high-dose steroids sooner, give her a better chance."

Even a professional contrarian like Foreman can't counter such a logical and reasonable argument. He stares at house suspiciously.

House pauses on the way into his office. "Oh, almost forgot. While you're at it, why don't you check for an infection?"

***

Later, Cuddy and Wilson eat lunch together in the cafeteria. House watches from a table in the corner behind a fake plant. He's never been particularly stealthy, but they clearly haven't noticed his arrival.

House bites into his sandwich and chews slowly, tasting nothing. The fact that they haven't noticed him is, in itself, disturbing. They're too wrapped up in their little discussion. Whatever it is, they seem remarkably happy about it. Another thing that House finds disturbing.

Cuddy reaches over and takes a fry off Wilson's plate. Wilson doesn't even blink.

House makes a disgusted sound low in his throat.

When Cuddy gets up to leave, Wilson, always the perfect gentleman, stands and helps her with her chair. He leans over and gives her a quick kiss on the cheek.

House's hands tighten on his sandwich until jelly oozes out and lands on the table.

***

The minions are out running tests and there's no one to yell at or fuck with, so House sits behind his desk and thinks.

Plan B is obviously a bust. Time to go with Plan A, aka his usual plan, aka total destruction.

The problem with Plan A is... he's not sure who to destroy.

He's still considering how and where to direct all of this negative energy, when the glass door opens and one of his potential targets walks in, completely oblivious.

"I heard you were acting strange again today, so I thought I'd come see for myself." Wilson settles himself into the chair in front of House's desk, stretches his legs out, and folds his hands primly across his chest, like he's just waiting for House to do something bizarre.

House smirks. "Who blabbed?"

"Foreman. He thinks you're up to something."

"When does he not think that?"

"When are you not up to something?" Wilson counters.

"Almost never. So nothing's changed. Therefore, I'm not acting strange. Therefore, there's no need to have this conversation. Problem solved." He shrugs.

Wilson holds up a hand. "But you are up to something," he says thoughtfully.

"No I'm not."

Wilson frowns. "We just established that--"

"That Foreman's an idiot," House finishes. "Hardly Earth-shattering news."

Wilson looks at him shrewdly, sensing weakness. House thinks it's a good time for a subject change.

"You coming over tonight?"

"Nope, can't. I promised Cuddy I'd take her to that lecture series on science in the arts." He pauses, scratches at his eyebrow. "Or arts in the sciences. Something like that."

"Sounds fun." House opens his patient's file and starts flipping through the pages, way too quickly to actually read anything. All he can think about is Wilson and Cuddy making out in a dark lecture hall as some moth-eaten academic drones on and on.

He looks up. Wilson's grinning at him like he's just figured something out.

"What?"

"This... thing," he gestures vaguely at himself, "between Cuddy and me. It bothers you."

"Why would it bother me?" House asks lightly. The open file in front of him is suddenly very interesting. "You're both--" needy, pathetic, desperate, incredibly attractive "--single and reasonably well-matched. I say go for it."

Wilson is silent for a long time -- considering, calculating -- which is a pretty reliable indicator of impending doom.

Sometimes a hasty retreat is the best strategy. House gets up, grabs his cane, heads toward the door, says, "This chat's been fun and all, but I've got a patient." He doubles back and swipes the file off his desk, waves it. "Got to go do doctor stuff. Run tests, mentor young promising minds -- the usual. Enjoy your date with Cuddy. You should probably wear a helmet."

He's almost made it the door when Wilson says, "House."

Shit. House sighs and shuts his eyes. If he doesn't stop, he'll just confirm all of Wilson's suspicions. And if he does stop, the wave of psychoanalysis at his back will have a chance to catch up with him, swallow him whole.

He turns around, tries to look casual. "What?"

Wilson walks slowly over to him, gets way too close. House is pretty sure that's a deliberate choice on Wilson's part -- some tactic to get him to show weakness. "I need to know that you're okay with this."

House eyes him suspiciously. "Why?"

"Because you're my friend."

House rolls his eyes. Nice try, Wilson. This he can deal with. "If you think I believe that you care--"

"And because I slept with Cuddy."

This, on the other hand, he's not ready to handle. He nods, mind buzzing, filled with white noise. He should have expected it, planned for exactly this sort of thing. But he hasn't. "Great," he says, and turns to go. He needs to get out of here.

Wilson grabs his arm, unbalancing him. "House, wait--"

He turns around, thinking he's going to hit Wilson -- anything to get the hand off his arm, get away. Instead, he grabs Wilson by the lapels of his lab coat, drags him forward, and kisses him hard on the mouth.

***

4.

First notice that Blue 14 is dominated by Blue 13, and Blue 24 and 34 are dominated by Blue 23.

House drives home way too fast, distracted by thoughts of Wilson's face, the feel of his lips, and his own stupid miscalculations. Even the most carefully applied strategy will fail at some point. That's just the nature of the game. And in this case, there are simply too many unknowns in the equation, not the least of which are his own traitorous impulses.

He needs time to think, recalculate. House checks his speed again before slowing. And he needs to get off the roads before he kills someone, most likely himself.

He parks the bike in front of his building. A sudden flash of blue light and a crack of thunder, as sharp and loud as a shotgun blast, make him jump. As his eyes re-adjust to the dark, he realizes that every light on the street is out.

"Shit," House mutters. The first heavy drops of rain begin to patter against the dry ground as he makes his way up the two steps and into the building.

Once inside his quiet apartment, he leans against the door briefly and closes his eyes, his heart still beating loudly in his ears. There's another, softer flash -- it paints the insides of his eyelids bright red -- and he counts instinctively as soon as the light fades: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three--

"What the hell's going on with you?"

House's hand spasms on his cane at the unexpected voice, and he drops his keys on the floor like an idiot. "Jesus, Wilson!"

He glares hard at the man before bending down to retrieve his keys with a shaking hand. The sound of thunder finally catches up. At five seconds? Six? He can't remember. House curses at himself for losing count.

Wilson continues to sit motionless on his couch, in the dark, just staring -- it's unnerving. He doesn't seem pissed off, though, just intense, in his annoying, Wilson way.

House isn't going to let it get to him. He stomps to the closet as loudly as possible. They both know he needs a chance to consider his options, fortify his position, before he says anything, before he even looks at Wilson. The other man is just too good at divining his every feeling, seeking out the cracks in his armor. That's obviously why he's here. "What happened to your date with Cuddy?" he asks casually.

"I canceled. Seriously, House, what's going on?"

"Nothing," he says to a row of dusty coats, an old box of chess pieces. He arranges his leather jacket carefully on a hanger, brushing some water onto the floor. "Nothing's going on with me."

Wilson laughs derisively from somewhere in the dark. "No, of course not. I tell you I slept with Cuddy, and you kiss me. Nothing strange about that."

Why did he do that, again? Oh yeah -- he has no idea.

"House."

Wilson's right behind him now, the sneaky bastard. House hates the way his heart sounds in his chest -- it's so fucking loud he can barely think. "What?"

"You can't stay in the closet forever," he says gently.

House snorts. "Nice one." He shuts the door and turns around. Wilson is standing right in front of him. Somehow, the dark makes everything more intimate, but House feels disconnected.

"Is it-- Are you jealous?" Wilson asks carefully.

"No." It can't be that simple, can it?

"Then... what?" Wilson takes a single step closer.

House wishes he wouldn't do that. He turns his head to the side and shuts his eyes tightly. He pictures Wilson with a dog's head, panting, tongue lolling. He just needs time to think about this...

A hand on his cheek makes him jump again. "House, look at me."

Damn it, he's trapped -- played himself into a corner, bet it all on a losing hand, tried and failed to shoot the moon...

He opens his eyes.

Wilson's familiar, terrifying face is right there. "What do you want?" he asks gently.

There's a difference between telling the harshest, darkest truth and being honest, and House has never been too fond of the latter. Still, he's got nothing left to lose.

"I don't know," he says, and suddenly Wilson is kissing him.

It's not like earlier, when House took him by surprise. This time, Wilson's in control of everything. He holds House's jaw with one hand, guiding his mouth, thumb stroking along the bottom of his lip, and pushes him back into the closet door with the other.

House has to put his hands somewhere, so he settles for grabbing Wilson's upper arms and holding on for dear life.

Eventually, his leg has had enough of the whole standing thing. House manages to pull his mouth away from Wilson and mumble, "Bed, maybe?" He thinks that might be a bad idea, but right now he really doesn't give a shit.

Wilson smiles, leads him backwards down the hallway, and they stumble along like participants in a three-legged race, tied together at the mouth and hip.

Somehow, they manage to make it to the bedroom and the two of them scoot up onto the bed, shuffling awkwardly. House reaches impatiently for the zipper on Wilson's pants just as Wilson goes for his, and their hands collide in a messy tangle of digits.

House gives up on the pants and tries to unbutton Wilson's shirt, but he's dismayed to find that Wilson's hands have beaten him there as well. And he only succeeds in delaying the removal of Wilson's clothes. A tragedy, really.

After the next sloppy attempt to remove Wilson's belt fails, Wilson lays his forehead against House's. They're both breathing heavily.

"House," he sighs. "Just--just let me do this part."

House thinks it's probably a good idea to abandon his useless fumbling, let Wilson drive this wreck off a cliff all by himself. Still, he has his dignity to think about.

"Didn't know the dominatrix thing got you off." That sounded okay -- a little played-out maybe -- but okay. So what if he's a little out of breath and so damn horny he can barely quip?

Wilson looks down House's body, then back up at his face. He raises one eyebrow. "Apparently, it gets you off, too."

Damn it -- he left himself wide open for that. "Whatever," he mutters in the world's most pathetic attempt at a comeback.

With all of his faculties impaired, House figures the best way to wipe that smug smile off Wilson's face is to kiss him again, so he does. Unfortunately, he also manages to smash his lips against Wilson's teeth in the process.

"Ow!"

Wilson laughs.

"Oh, shut up."

Just to show that he's not really pissed, he lets Wilson help him pull his jeans and boxers off.

And Wilson stays down there, running his hands up the outside of House's thighs, making him shiver. He closes his eyes and holds his breath as Wilson's fingers slide up his body. And when Wilson's hot mouth closes over him, House throws back his head and moans.

A few minutes pass, a few hours -- House isn't sure. All he knows is that Wilson is very, very good at this. He reaches down and touches Wilson's hair, the side of his ear. Lets his fingertips glide along Wilson's cheek as his head moves up and down.

Wilson stops and looks up at him. In the dark, his eyes are deep pools of hypnotic black. "I want to fuck you. Is that okay?"

At any other time, House would laugh at the absurdity of using those two statements together, but right now the most coherent thing he can manage is to swallow hard and nod.

He's never done this, though he has no particular objection to the act -- it's just never come up before in his well-traveled life. Wilson seems to know what he's doing, so House is perfectly willing to let him take the lead with this whole buggery thing.

Despite all of his rationalizations, he has a near moment of panic when Wilson gets up and leaves him for a moment. He feels suddenly ridiculous lying here, panting and sweating, half-naked. He's just noticed that he's still wearing his t-shirt and one sock -- how the hell that happened he has no idea -- and is about to reach down and get rid of it when Wilson returns, deftly concealing the lube and condom like a dentist hiding a syringe of Novocain from a nervous patient.

And he is very, very good at this -- this misdirection. Better even than House imagined he would be. Before he can even start to bitch about that sock or say something appropriately witty to make light of the ridiculous situation he's found himself in, Wilson goes right back to work, silencing any objections House might have.

"Just relax," Wilson murmurs, and he sounds so much like a doctor in a cheesy porn flick that House wants to snap back at him with something devastatingly sarcastic. However, Wilson attacks him again with his incredibly hot, high-end porn flick mouth and pretty much destroys the part of House's brain that's responsible for sarcastic comments.

So instead, what comes out is a sort of pathetic half-groan, half-gasp.

Wilson's mouth on him is making it very hard to care about the humiliating noises he's making. His body has entered that blissful state of way too sensitive and way too relaxed. He's pretty sure Wilson could get him to do just about anything right now -- all he'd have to do is ask. And -- Oh, God! How does this feel so good?

House grits his teeth and imagines he's losing a hand of poker -- the river card is about to turn, he needs a spade, but it's the ace of hearts -- in a desperate attempt to avoid coming too soon.

Wilson -- professional man-sexer that he is -- seems to sense what's up. He takes away his wonderful mouth. House actually lets out a pitiful moan of protest before he can stop himself.

He opens his eyes just in time to see Wilson smirking at him. Oh, he is so going to pay for that later, House thinks. But planning the perfect revenge is hard -- right now, he'd just like to get off.

"Roll over," Wilson says, and House obeys almost without thinking about it.

He can hear Wilson moving around behind him, some crinkling sound that is -- presumably -- a condom wrapper being opened. He shifts obediently when Wilson gently pushes a pillow under his hips.

He feels Wilson's fingers again -- cold and covered with lube, he's reminded of his last prostate exam. He doesn't get a chance to complain, however, because suddenly Wilson's heat is pressing up against him and he's slowly pushing inside. The burning, straining feeling is intense, but not unexpected. House lets out a long breath and tries to relax, to ignore the urge to push. Instead, he focuses on Wilson's harsh breathing, the feel of his hands gripping his hips.

Once Wilson's all the way inside, he starts rocking gently, slowly, and the pain melts into pleasure. Soon the pressure is back and, with it, the maddening, spreading heat. House keeps quiet for as long as he can, holding his breath and letting it out in short bursts, but when Wilson pushes in hard and rolls his hips, he can't help it -- he closes his eyes and groans.

"That's it," Wilson whispers. He speeds up until House is panting and pushing back against him. "God, House, just like that..."

Wilson's dirty talk is absolutely ridiculous, but right now House thinks it's the most erotic thing he's ever heard. He's suddenly dangerously close to coming.

House flinches as lightning paints everything white then black. The shock is almost enough to push him over the edge. He tries to count the seconds until the sound wave catches up, anything to delay the inevitable: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand...

Wilson doesn't lose his rhythm. He reaches around.

...three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand...

And grasps him, and strokes and strokes.

...five-one-thousand...

House tries to resist, but everything feels too good, way too good, and suddenly he's not counting seconds anymore, but the beat of Wilson's hips, each hard press inside, and Wilson's panting, "Come on, House, come on." So he does.

A startlingly loud crack of thunder rattles the glass in the windows and echoes off of buildings on the street outside. And then Wilson's grabbing at his hips and pushing, and he's gasping and moaning, nothing coherent at all but House's name.

***

When his pager goes off just after midnight, House slips out of bed, his clumsy steps masked by the white noise of rain. He takes a quick shower to wash off any evidence of what they've just done, dresses, and shuts the bedroom door quietly behind him.

Wilson doesn't wake up.

5.

This condition says that if Nature decides to give you a bonus, or exact a penalty, which depends on her choice but not on yours, that should not affect what you do.

He takes a cab to the hospital because he's sure he'll kill himself trying to ride through the storm that's grown monstrous overnight.

Their patient's kidneys have failed. LFTs are elevated -- her liver is next. Massive doses of prednisone and cyclophosphamide have had no effect. House sits in the dark space in front of the whiteboard trying to connect nothing (she has two cats, loves crossword puzzles, works in publishing, has never been anywhere more exciting than New York City) to nothing (rash, fever, joint pain, kidney failure, unexplained coma), while his team works downstairs to buy him more time.

It isn't enough, and House's patient dies just before two in the morning.

They'd gone from lupus, to a massive, unknown infection, back to lupus, and then to nothing in just under eight hours. All pointless, anyway. It's been over nine minutes since she went into VF -- one minute before his team sent him the page, two minutes to get to the second floor room, and five minutes more of useless resuscitation. Odds are good that brain function's already been severely compromised. The excitement of the code has turned to grim routine.

House knows the patient's alone -- there are no parents waiting anxiously outside the glass walls, no husband to deal with, no children. And there's no point in going on.

"Time of death: one-fifty-six," he says quietly.

Kutner looks like he wants to argue the point, but eventually he sets the paddles down.

Game over.

***

House sits behind his desk in the dark and shakes out a single Vicodin, decides to wash it down with a glass of the bourbon he's stashed in a bottom drawer. His leg hurts and his ass hurts. He pours himself another drink to wash down that last one.

His brain is still buzzing with the loss of the patient -- his patient and his failure -- and with Wilson. There's something missing. Something he didn't see. Obscure diseases and syndromes, and random facts from the patient history rise up and chase each other through his mind: IgG and IgM are elevated, she spikes a fever of 104F, her ANA comes back normal, Wilson's hot mouth...

That last thought sends a rush of heat through him. He shuts his eyes tightly and shakes his head to vanquish it, pours another shot down his throat. He can't concentrate like this.

Something doesn't make sense. There's something he's missing. About the patient. About... Wilson. What is he missing?

He brings the glass up to his mouth and closes his eyes, swallows, remembers the feeling of Wilson sliding in and out of him, the smells of sweat and sex. He opens his eyes.

And knows what's missing.

***

There's a supply closet down the hall that probably has what he needs -- he's hoping he doesn't have to go all the way down to the clinic.

Even in the dead of night, the hospital is still awake. Strung out, maybe, but awake. There are people being born, people dying, that whole circle of life thing. House gets a few suspicious looks as he struggles to find the right key and maneuver it into the lock.

After an eternity of semi-drunken fumbling, he gets the door open and hits the light switch. There are shelves of various supplies -- suture kits and cath kits, sterile dressings, boxes of gloves, swabs and syringes, surgical drapes. He paws through them until he finds what he's after.

The little single-serving-sized packets of lube are stocked in all of the exam rooms at PPTH in case someone needs to stick a finger into someone else's orifice. House rips open the foil top, holds it up to his nose, and inhales. And remembers.

While other less-scrupulous employees often 'borrow' these for their own personal use, House has never been tempted. It's the smell -- that faint, medicinal scent, the smell of the hospital and of work. So not a turn-on. The stuff he keeps at home smells nothing like this. Which means Wilson brought his own supplies.

That's interesting, House thinks. He's going to need some more bourbon.

6.

Since the players know each others' previous moves, each information set consists of just a single node.

He takes another cab, but he doesn't go home. Wilson is there, and it's just not a safe place for him right now.

The storm front has passed, and the rain left in its wake falls steadily -- large, heavy drops that blur the scenery, glitter like gems on the cab's back window, melt together, and run like rivers over the glass. House is soaked through by the time he's paid the driver and stumbled up to Cuddy's door.

After about twenty rings, she finally appears, scowling and blinking out at him above her security chain and carrying a lit candle. She looks better without make-up, House thinks, younger, softer.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

Still bitchy, though.

He steadies himself against the wall, head spinning from too much bourbon and too many plot twists for one night. "Did you sleep with Wilson?" He has to find out for sure, even if he thinks he already knows the answer.

"No." Cuddy's a good liar, most of the time. But she's never been able to lie to him. House knows she's telling the truth.

He nods his head, letting rain run into his eyes, blinding him. He blinks to clear them. "Okay," he says, and turns to go.

"House, wait--"

"What?"

"How did you get here?"

He looks around. There's nothing but flooded suburban streets and rain. He hadn't even realized he'd sent the cab away. Shit.

He really doesn't want to go home. At least he's good at looking pathetic. It's not much of a strategy, but he's far too wasted to think of a better alternative.

"I walked," he says. Yeah, that sounds good. He turns back around and slowly heads out into the rain. Any second now...

"House--" He can hear Cuddy's dramatic sigh from the bottom of the walkway. "Come on. I'll call you a cab or something."

Score one for House.

Once inside, Cuddy intercepts him before he can fall onto one of her nice, clean velvet sofas. She makes him stand in the center of the dark room, dripping, while she goes to grab a towel.

He shrugs out of his coat, letting it drop to the floor with a wet splat, and takes some time to look around the lair of the beast. The knickknacks, artfully scattered around on shelves and tables, look personal -- a gilded menorah, an antique box, an old paperweight with a single red rose suspended inside. House knows they're not. It's all a ruse, another mask. These things don't represent the real Cuddy. The person he knew in Michigan would never hold on to such sentimental bullshit. The only real things in this room are the degrees, the honors, the awards for achievement with the name 'Lisa Cuddy' on them. These are the things that matter to her, these she holds onto.

He's just about to drown in the sentimentality of it all when Cuddy returns with pile of folded towels. She lays one down on the couch, thinks about it for a second, then lays another on top of it, drapes one around his shoulders, and then reaches down to scoop his wet coat off the ground before stomping off again.

House carefully maneuvers himself over the towels and sits down, wincing at the pain in his ass. He lays his head back against the cushions and closes his eyes. The room spins wildly for a few seconds before settling disappointingly into place. That's a sure sign he's going to need more alcohol. A night like tonight calls for sustained spinning of at least 30 seconds to dislodge all pathetic and possibly dangerous thoughts.

Luckily, when he opens his eyes Cuddy is frowning down at him. Maybe he can get some service.

"Going to offer me a drink?"

"I think you've had enough for tonight."

"Buzzkill," he croaks.

"I'll call you a cab," she says wearily, and turns toward the kitchen.

"Wait--" His plan is falling apart. "I can't... go home right now. Can I stay here?"

"Why?"

Because Wilson's naked in my bed and I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing. "Power's out -- all the food in the fridge is rotting. The smell is unbelievable."

Cuddy seems skeptical. "The power's out here, too. And your food's gone bad after three hours?" She sits down next to him, too close. "House, what's going on?"

"Nothing. Forget it." He scrubs at his wet hair with the edge of a towel.

"Does this have something to do with you kissing Wilson today?"

Oh fuck. "Who told you that?"

She smiles gently. "Doesn't matter."

It was probably Kutner, House thinks, that guy can't keep his damned mouth shut. Probably ran straight to the nurses' station, got everyone all hot and bothered.

"It's nothing," he says. He rubs at his face because he doesn't want to look her in the eyes. "I'll call that cab now. Thanks for the towel and the--"

"You can stay here if you want."

That was too easy. He looks at her suspiciously. "I can?"

"As long as you promise to let me get some sleep," she warns.

He shrugs, decides he'll take what he can get.

He insists on sleeping in her bed, which just happens to be the only bed in Cuddy's large home, citing his leg and the fact that he's far too long to fit on her couch. He's sure Cuddy must think this is some sort of pathetic attempt to reassert his heterosexuality. And maybe she's right. Either way, she must feel sorry for him because it works.

They argue over who gets which side -- House takes the left and Cuddy gets the right -- and the rules -- no groping, no snoring, no kicking, no fun at all -- before finally settling down.

He's almost too exhausted to appreciate Cuddy's sleepwear. It's nice -- a little camisole thing with lace and matching shorts, blue with little white doves -- but he knows she could do better. And, anyway, she's always seemed like more of a hawk than a dove. Hawk beats dove every time because doves are idiots.

Cuddy leans over and blows out the candle, says, "Goodnight, House."

He can barely grunt in response -- the constant, endless rain is making him drowsy, the bourbon is rocking him to sleep. And then--

--he's back at home. He walks down the hall to his bedroom and stops in the doorway. Wilson is sitting on his bed, naked.

House frowns at him. "Your ass is touching my stuff."

Wilson shrugs. "That's the expected outcome. It's all part of the plan."

House nods. That makes sense. He sits down next to Wilson on the bed. "You tricked me," he says. It hurts a little, when he thinks about it like that.

Wilson's totally unashamed. "You're so afraid of change -- all you do is react. I just gave us something we both wanted." He leans back on the bed, and House can't help staring at the little trail of hair running down his soft, middle-aged belly.

If this is a dream, it's one of his better ones and he'd like to take advantage of it. He stretches out next to Wilson, presses up against him, licks at the soft skin just above his hip. "Tit for tat -- everyone wins," he murmurs.

"Something like that," Wilson says, reaching over.

"What about Cuddy?" House asks. He's suddenly naked, and Wilson's hands are all over him.

"Hearts haven't been broken yet," Wilson says.

House frowns. "That doesn't make any sense."

Wilson points to a pile of wet towels. "She's right here."

Cuddy sits up, scattering towels, and says, "House."

"What?" He can't think when Wilson's touching him, and Cuddy's crawling over, and he's going to need one of those towels soon--

"--House!" It's the real Cuddy this time.

"What?" He blinks stupidly in the darkness, trying to clear the last of the sleep from his mind, and realizes he's horny as hell, aching and hard. Even in his dreams, Wilson is dangerous.

"You were humping my leg."

"It's okay." Cuddy sounds amused. She turns toward him in the dark, and he thinks for a moment that she's going to kiss him, but instead she reaches out and rubs her palm along the underside of his erection.

House lets out a little puff of breath. It feels good, and he can't help pushing into her hand. "What happened to 'no groping'?" he gasps.

"My bed, my rules."

He kisses her gently, runs his hand along her arm and up to her face. They've done this before, a long time ago, but he can remember almost nothing now that isn't tainted with memories from the years in between.

He doesn't get lucky that often -- twice in one night is pushing the odds -- and he doesn't believe in extraordinary coincidences. "Is this--"

"Shhh," she breathes against his neck, reaches into his boxers and wraps her fingers around him.

"What about--" it's getting harder and harder to concentrate, "--you and Wilson..."

"House, just shut up and enjoy this."

It's a good strategy, he thinks.

7.

For n-person games there are a number of different useful and illuminating ideas of what a solution might be, but none of them is completely satisfactory in all situations.

The next morning is clear and bright and windy. Soft white clouds glide across a blue sky as if pulled on strings. Fallen branches litter the streets and rain gutters are clogged with leaves, sodden newspapers, old coffee cups and cigarette butts -- all of the city's trash.

He'd rather go straight to the hospital -- perform that autopsy, figure out exactly how badly he screwed up -- but Cuddy insists on giving him a ride back to his apartment. She mutters something about him needing to change his clothes because he smells like a wet dog with a drinking problem. He's sure he's been called worse.

As they're pulling up, he notices Wilson's Volvo is parked just two doors down. He's surprised he didn't see it last night -- too distracted, apparently -- and he hopes Cuddy doesn't notice it now. It's such an anonymous car, though, and she drives past it without even blinking.

They stop in front of his building. Cuddy leans over and gives him a quick kiss on the cheek. He rubs absently at the spot with his sleeve, staring at his front stoop. Wilson's still in there.

He gets out of the car awkwardly, nearly trips over the curb -- he's still sore from last night's antics, and slightly hung-over. It takes him forever to turn around, lean down into the open car door.

"Thanks," he says. "For the ride. And... other services."

"No problem." She gives him a little smile, like she knows everything. "And good luck." Maybe she does, House thinks. Maybe it's all part of the plan.

He waits until she drives off then climbs the two steps up to his front door. House hesitates for only a second before turning the key and going inside.

It's his move now.