Title: The Mardi Gras Story
Fandom: House MD
Pairing/Characters: House/Cameron (established); side-helping of Wilson/Cuddy
Rating: PG-13/R (Sexual situations, drug & alcohol references)
Spoilers: Not a one
Beta: The incomparable daisyb10
Author's Note: This is the next in my series of time-stamp fics. This particular story wasn't specifically requested by anyone, but greenescrubs and jesmel were both interested in something more from the Acceptance series, and crimson_rx was interested in a House/Cameron and Wilson/Cuddy combo. And while I was rereading this series trying to find something more I could write, it occurred to me I'd never written the often mentioned and totally infamous Mardi Gras story. Well, now I have, and here it is!
Wilson grinned. He didn't smile; a smile wouldn't have exhibited the proper cheekiness. He didn't smirk; a smirk might have suggested dry amusement and there was nothing dry or merely amusing about the story he was about to tell. No, Wilson grinned. A dimple-making, shit-eating, oh-man-am-I-about-to-embarrass-the-hell-out-of-you-and-love-every-second-of-it grin. He leaned back in the rented folding chair and surveyed his audience.
Lisa, her hands clasped over her beautiful and bountiful baby bump, eyes twinkling with mirth, had heard this story once before. And although she would doubtless enjoy a retelling, she was not his true target. House, glaring menacingly and bouncing his cane in nervous anticipation, didn't need to hear the story; he'd lived it.
No, his mark today, his captive audience, was Allison Cameron, blushing bride. This woman, hopeful nearly to the point of naiveté, had just married the most cynical, most critical, most caustic bastard ever to limp the earth. Wilson could think of no better wedding gift than to provide her with something to hold over his head while knocking him down a peg or two.
"First, it's important that you understand the story behind the Mardi Gras story," Wilson began, and House shifted, flinging himself back in his folding chair and letting his head roll back on his shoulders. "Nine years ago, Dr. Reginald Morris was giving a symposium on his recommended diagnostic criteria citing that the presence of granuloma, by MRI or by biopsy, should be exclusionary for Tolosa Hunt Syndrome. House, diagnostician extraordinaire, felt that the good Dr. Morris was an idiot. Dr. Malcasian, Lisa's predecessor, had just announced that he was retiring and in all the ensuing commotion House managed to swindle his way into the hospital paying for the two of us to attend. House, ostensibly, was to gather information on a new diagnostic testing procedure for an extremely rare syndrome, and I was to baby-sit and play lackey, chief cook and bottle washer."
Wilson turned to House and frowned. "How did you get Malcasian to pay for me to go? It's the only part of this sordid tale that I was never able to figure out."
House grimaced. He didn't want to answer that question, and not just because it was poor showmanship to reveal how the trick was done. He could have sidestepped Wilson, easily. But against Wilson, Cuddy and especially Cameron, with whom his wedding night fantasies still lingered unfulfilled, he didn't stand a chance. He sighed; there was no sense in putting it off any longer. "I…may have suggested that I was the reason you and wife number two were having so much difficulty…"
"That's true," Wilson said.
"And not corrected his assumption that her jealousy of our sexual relationship played a part in those difficulties." House squinted at Wilson, as though trying to measure how much this revelation was going to trouble him.
"You," Wilson chuffed. "You, you ass! You told Malcasian we were a couple!?"
"No, Malcasian assumed we were a couple. I just, didn't set him straight," House clarified.
"No pun intended," Cuddy said.
Cameron pursed her lips to stifle a giggle. The idea that it was House, all those years ago, who had started the rumors about he and Wilson … rumors that had followed Wilson around the hospital for nearly a decade, was already amusement enough. "Please, boys, we both know given another divorce or bad break-up, one of you would have made a move on the other eventually."
"Oh, so you've heard this story?" Wilson said and at that moment, Cameron's jaw dropped as she realized that what she was about to hear was truly on an epic scale.
"You know, at some point I'd like to take my bride home and get started on the wedding night," House said, drumming his fingers impatiently on the table.
"Oh, sure, point to the wife as proof of your manliness," Wilson scoffed. He turned back to Cameron, and he could see she was almost literally itching to hear the rest of the story. "Right, so treachery complete, House and I packed up our dandiest clothes and headed to New Orleans for the symposium. I was skeptical, of course, that House had any real interest in Dr. Morris' lecture. I'd met House, you see, and therefore was privy to the fact that he was far more likely to make an effort to avoid attending a lecture. But he assured me that he had every intention of going. Insisted, in fact, on having the hotel give us a wake-up call so he could get a seat right in front."
Wilson leaned forward in his seat, gesturing with one hand as he spoke, really warming to his story. House got comfortable; this part of the story, at least, he enjoyed.
"We arrived at the symposium, early. House bounded down the stairs, like a child on Christmas morning. I was already suspicious, but his enthusiasm was chilling. But, he was incredibly well behaved, which in retrospect should have been my first clue that he was really just waiting for the right moment. Dr. Morris came out, managed to make it through his entire speech unimpeded by House's insanity, and I had a transient moment of hope that we might make it out of the symposium with our reputations intact."
"Foolish of you, really," House muttered.
"Well, I realize that now," Wilson said. "But nine years ago, I was only beginning to scratch the surface of your depravity."
"Is that what you call it?" Cuddy asked, and Cameron snorted. House glared at her.
"Anyway, Dr. Morris made, at this point, what I now consider to be his fatal mistake. He opened the floor to questions."
"Oh god," Cameron breathed. She could immediately see where this was leading.
"Exactly. I'd never seen a grown man cry in a public forum before that infamous day. And I'd never seen a man cry until he threw up in any circumstance. But House has a particular talent for…how should I put this, forcefully pointing out a person's flaws. In public. In the most humiliating way possible."
"It's a gift," House asserted.
"Yes, well. Naturally, we were escorted out of the auditorium by security at the direction of Dr. Morris' sponsor, a now defunct pharmaceutical company that had developed a new isotope for MRI testing. It was New Orleans; we'd been thrown out of the lecture, where would we go?"
"Mardi Gras, obviously," Cameron drawled. "Who plans a conference in New Orleans during Mardi Gras?"
"There's more than one reason Clastolen Pharmaceuticals is now defunct," House offered. "If I'm not mistaken, in '88 I attended my first conference in San Diego during Super Bowl weekend."
Cameron snorted, while Cuddy just rolled her eyes. House smiled, remembering that trip with obvious pleasure.
"The Mardi Gras celebration itself was fairly tame. We ate, we drank, we threw beads," Wilson said.
"Many, many beads," House interjected. Cameron elbowed him.
"When it started to get late, the crowd started to get a little rowdier. Not the fun kind of rowdy, the drunken and mildly angry kind of rowdy. Which I will admit while amusing to watch, is not so amusing to be trapped in the middle of. House, of course, couldn't be convinced that we should just go back to the hotel. And so, he got us invited to a party. It wasn't exactly a college party, but clearly the fiendish plan of a few people trying to recapture that first-year-of-college-party-all-night feeling," Wilson continued.
"And you couldn't, just, not go," Cameron said, already knowing the answer. She glanced at House, giving him up immediately as a lost cause. He'd never turn down an invitation to a party like that. But Wilson, well, she supposed it only further proof that when it came to House, Wilson's judgment was somewhat…compromised.
"That would have been rude," House scoffed, shaking his head in disbelief.
"And the girl who invited you?" Cameron asked.
"Smokin' hot," House grinned. "And it was girls. Girls who invited me."
"Us," Wilson corrected. "They invited us. Boyish smile, dimples, great hair…"
"Edding-way ing-ray," House interrupted, rolling his eyes in Cuddy's direction. Wilson froze momentarily. Cameron feigned interest in the caterers' struggles to fold one of the serving tables while House gave Wilson a ten mile stare. Finally, achingly slowly, Wilson looked at Cuddy. For her part, Cuddy gave no outward sign that Wilson's bragging about his ability to entice girls barely out of college while he was still married bothered her at all.
"We went, we drank, we passed out, we woke up," House said. Cameron smirked, despite the awkward silence still hanging between Wilson and Cuddy. Whatever happened at that party must have been tragically embarrassing; Cameron had never seen House look so reluctant to have a story told about him. House, who had always claimed that shame was for the weak, actually looked uncomfortable.
"Greg," she said and he frowned at her. Greg was a name she normally saved for places where there wasn't an audience. "Nobody's going to make you talk about your feelings. It's not possible that you did something in your past you're actually ashamed of, is it?"
Cameron sat back and watched him squirm. Whatever he'd done, it was obvious he didn't want people to know. And now he was caught between a rock and a hard place, metaphorically speaking. Did he admit that his philosophy of brutal honesty and shamelessness in all actions was flawed? Or did he allow this potentially life-altering secret to be divulged and pretend he didn't care?
"Nope," he shook his head.
"This is as close to shame as House is likely to get," Wilson said, and something in his tone made Cameron give him a lopsided and comforting smile. Wilson, she knew, was extremely adept at feeling ashamed.
"The only thing shameful about it is that I was forced to admit there's a limit to how much alcohol even I can consume," House said, and when Cuddy gave a rueful smile Wilson continued.
"Moving on," he said cheerily. And if anyone noticed the false note, they were all at least good enough friends not to point it out, even House. "We'd already been at the Mardi Gras festivities for a few hours by the time we got the party, so it would be fair to say our judgment was impaired, at best. The house was enormous, probably an old farm house or plantation house I guess would be the correct term. It wasn't exactly the sort of party where the hosts gave a tour."
"Probably couldn't remember what most of the rooms were for anyway," House muttered.
"Besides the obvious," Cuddy drawled, rubbing a hand absently long the side of her abdomen. Wilson watched House as House watched Cameron's wistful glance at Cuddy.
"Well, all the rooms were for that," House answered, emphasis on the absurdity of having to even mention it.
"Except," Wilson said, "for the room where we ended up, which was where the vodka pong tournament was being held."
"Vodka pong?" Cameron asked.
"Like beer pong, only for people with a death wish," House smirked.
"So you entered the tournament," Cameron supplied.
"Not me," Wilson protested. "Vodka and I have a love-hate relationship. It loves to make me sick and I hate myself for days. Anyway, I stayed to watch for a while, but drinking games are surprisingly boring to watch, so I…took a walk and found an alternative entertainment source."
"Just tell us she was at least of legal age, and then move on," Cuddy smirked. She'd heard this story before, and she knew that Wilson's dalliances were not something he was ever proud of. He included it in the story because, as always, he wasn't capable of keeping such a secret.
"Of course she…I'm not some sort of…I, I, she was twenty six!"
"You're very cute when you splutter," Cuddy crooned indulgently.
"That's true," Cameron said.
"Hey!" House shouted. "He just told you about how he cheated on his wife. You're not supposed to call him cute. Where's your moral outrage, your outburst about his ethical lapse?"
"Oh save it, House," Cuddy snapped. "She married you, the King of Amoral Attitudes. Nothing Wilson's ever done could shock her."
"Wilson has probably tortured himself about it enough," Cameron said quietly, and House slumped back in his folding chair. Damn her and her sympathetic soul; he couldn't even count on a bit of righteous indignation when he was expecting it.
"Thank you, Allison," Wilson said softly. Cuddy reached her hand across the table as far as her pregnant belly would allow, and Wilson stretched the rest of the distance to brush his fingers over hers.
"Anyway, moving on, when I came back downstairs, the tournament was over. One of the judges, who was barely old enough to drink himself, told me House had been eliminated in one of the later rounds for cheating. I tried to follow the story, but either he was too drunk to tell it or I was too drunk to hear it, and it really didn't matter. What mattered was, it was only a few hours until dawn and we were separated. So I set out to look for him. I checked all the rooms on the first floor, interrupted three half-naked couples, stepped in a puddle of vomit and got assaulted by a young woman who apparently was really desperate to, well, find a partner who was willing to let her test out how her new tongue ring affected her ability to perform certain…acts. When I finally extricated myself from her by basically throwing her at one of the couples in another room, I found the kitchen. I knew it was the kitchen, because it smelled like a Grateful Dead concert."
"Wait," Cameron laughed, stopping Wilson's story to give her empty champagne flute to a passing waiter with a tray of empties. "Why does the Grateful Dead concert automatically mean you found the kitchen?"
"The munchies, naturally. When find the room that's nothing more than a cloud of mildly hallucinogenic smoke, you've also found the food. There were a dozen or so people in the kitchen, trying to see through the haze to bake a chocolate cake," Wilson smiled. He spread his hands across the table and looked down at his splayed fingers. "Luckily, there was one less than spectacularly stoned woman who remember seeing House and two girls go outside with a laundry bag, laughing a mile a minute."
"A laundry bag?" Cameron asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion.
"Yes, a laundry bag," Wilson grinned, drawing the story to toy with Cameron. "What could it contain? What part could it possibly play in this sordid saga?" He smiled at House, eyes twinkling as he got the climax, so to speak, of the tale.
"Oh just get on with it," House moaned. "Drama queen."
"Funny you should say queen," Wilson said and Cuddy snorted. House growled and Wilson schooled his face into one Cameron recognized as his 'I'm going to ignore you no matter how childish you are' look. "I went outside and found an outbuilding. It was a stable, obviously long out of use, but still recognizable. There were a few lights on, and that's where I found him."
He paused and Cameron leaned forward in her chair, tensing as the big finish of the story was about to be told. Wilson let the pause linger to heighten her enjoyment of the story, while House took the opportunity to sneak a look at her cleavage.
"Let me paint a picture for you. The stable was poorly lit, only a few overhead lights were strung up. There was a musty smell, earthy, the kind of smell you get when you visit an old farmhouse here in Jersey where they sell antiques in the barn. A building that used to house animals but hasn't for a long while. There was still a thin layer of hay or straw on the ground, and it crunched under your feet as you stepped."
"Jesus, Wilson, this isn't a romance novel. Get to the point already," House interrupted, now truly eager for the story to be over with.
"None of the stalls still had doors, but there were enough shadows that I couldn't really see into them. The stall at the end, though, was much brighter than the others. Being only ridiculously drunk by this point, I managed to walk the whole length of the building without falling down. Until, that is, I reached the final stall. At which point, I tripped and landed face first on what should have been a very old and dirty floor barely covered with hay."
"Oh no," Cameron laughed, thinking for all intents and purposes that she could see where this story was going.
"Oh no indeed," Wilson agreed, and shifted forward in his seat so he was leaning over the table. Reaching one hand down, he pulled the flimsy chair closer and tipped it forward, reducing the space between Cameron and himself as much as possible. At this point, he was so intent on the telling of the story, House and Cuddy were nearly forgotten.
"Instead, I landed on a set of legs. Much cushier for me, but far more embarrassing for House. Because, although I was quite certain that he'd been wearing jeans when we arrived at the party, the legs that my face was pressed up against were decidedly hairy in nature. I pushed myself up, and was met with the most glorious, the most ingenious, the most hilarious tableau I have ever laid my eyes upon, or ever will."
"Oh my god," House groaned, letting his head thud down on the table. Cameron stifled a giggle at his reaction.
"Hold onto that laugh, Allison," Wilson said. "Lying spread-eagled, and bound at the wrists, was Dr. Gregory House, diagnostician extraordinaire, dressed in a powder blue sailor suit."
Cameron and Cuddy choked with laughter. House began to quietly plot Wilson's slow and painful death by idiotic clinic patient. But even as he did so, he thought the sound of their joined laughter was something he didn't hear nearly often enough.
"And when I say sailor suit," Wilson continued, already resigned to his death at House's hands, "I don't mean a sailor's uniform. I mean a sailor suit, the kind that overzealous mothers dress their little boys in for trips to grandma's house. Pale blue pants, but not quite pants, more like knee shorts. The matching pale blue top, with the rounded collar and the simple black tie. And of course, no sailor suit would be complete without the little cap. And ribbon."
By this time, both Cuddy and Cameron had a sufficiently ridiculous picture painted in their minds and were giggling. They hadn't quite burst out laughing, at least not yet, but Wilson knew they'd get there. Their giggles overflowed in bubbling little streams, like water from a pot that's been left to boil over.
"He was barely conscious. Whether it was from the alcohol or because his, uh, mariner's duties had left him so exhausted he'd fallen asleep was more information than I needed to have. What I needed was to get him untied and get us back to our hotel. So, and here ladies is where we get to the truly embarrassing part of the story, I started to untie him."
"The sailor suit isn't the embarrassing part?" Cameron managed to ask. House growled. Literally, growled his disgust with these entire proceedings. He had been steadfastly refusing to look at anyone else at the table, instead focusing on watching the waiters and staff clean up after the benefit and ceremony. Now, he leveled a look at Cameron that she knew, a few years ago, she could have found highly intimidating. Its effectiveness, however, was somewhat compromised by her vision of him glaring at her while wearing a little boy's sailor suit.
"Oh it was embarrassing, yes. But would that alone be embarrassing enough to swear me to secrecy on threat of a painful death by castration?"
"I never threatened your manhood," House protested.
"I have the tape from my answering machine," Wilson said.
"You saved it?" House whirled in his chair and stared with open-mouthed disbelief.
"You don't know all my secrets, House. Besides, if I ever turn up somewhere as a eunuch, I wanted something to set the investigators in the right direction," Wilson explained, angling his head in House's direction. Cuddy covered her mouth and a very unladylike snort.
"Right, no chance an ex-wife or girlfriend or mistress might want a go at your…"
"Give up, you're not picking a fight to avoid me finishing this story," Wilson cut the disagreement off before it could take hold. "And don't think I don't know that's what you're doing." House grumbled obscenities. "Anyway, I started trying to untie him. Keeping in mind, please, that at this point I was still very, very, very drunk, I somehow managed to undo one of his hands. But I had to reach across his body to untie the other hand and in my inebriated state, I overbalanced and fell right into the blue clad lap of our illustrious anti-hero. Now, really, that shouldn't have been a problem, except that what I'd failed to notice in my cursory examination of the situation was…the state of undress he'd been left in."
"Oh no," Cameron breathed.
"Oh yes," Wilson agreed heartily. "Little Greg and I were about an inch away from becoming much more intimately acquainted than I had any interest in. If only, at this critical juncture, House had actually been passed out from an excess of alcohol, the incident that followed might have been avoided. But alas, he chose that moment to awaken from his slumber. I, naturally, bolted upright as quickly and manfully as possible, only to come face to face with Big Greg, who" Wilson paused and flicked a quick glance in House's direction before continuing, "grabbed me by the back of the head and planted a kiss on me that I'm sure would have melted a person of the proper gender."
And there it was, the eruption of giggles that had been building since Wilson said the words sailor suit. House leaned back in his chair and stared at the sky, allowing himself a little smile that no one else would see. He had to admit, if it had happened to someone else, he'd be the one telling the tale instead of cringing at it.
"I realize now, of course, that House assumed it was one of the girls who had tied him up, come back for a second round," Wilson said. "But in the moment, I was just not capable of that sort of clarity of thought."
"So he slapped me. Like a girl," House supplied, grinning at the only part of this story he ever though about with any sort of true enjoyment.
"You shoved your tongue down my throat!" Wilson protested over Cameron and Cuddy's increasingly loud laughter.
"Because I thought you were a woman! I told you that cologne and all that moisturizer would only lead to trouble," House said patronizingly. "That's what you get for trying to make yourself pretty."
Cuddy snorted. "That's a bit judgmental coming from the one person here who has now kissed everyone else at this table."
"That's right," Wilson said, a new light dawning in his eyes. Wilson turned and let his eyes flick over House once before curling his lip in mock disgust. "Slut."
"Jealous much?" House taunted.
"Never," Wilson scoffed. He turned back to Cameron to finish the last of the tale. "As his coup-de-grace, and I will never, ever believe it was a reaction to his realization that it was me he kissed and not one of the smokin' hot babes who left him tied up, drunk and dressed like an overgrown toddler with his manhood hanging out of his knee shorts, he leaned over," Wilson paused and gestured at his lap, "and threw up on me."
House settled in his chair and chuckled quietly, content to let his friends have a laugh at his expense. It had taken nearly a decade for the story to come out; and Cameron's laughter made the embarrassment worth it. He could live with that.