"I hate holidays," House said. He was sprawled on the couch in Wilson's office, which was too short for him, though it was still more comfortable than sitting up.

Wilson didn't look up from his paperwork. "I can tell you're completely traumatized. So much so that you're taking Christmas Day off, even though you're an atheist."

"Hey, if the Christians can co-opt a pagan celebration to get a day off, then so can I." He glanced at his watch. "It's nearly three o'clock. You're not really going to work until the end of the day? Nobody works a full day on Christmas Eve. Even Cuddy left an hour ago."

"Cuddy has a four-hour drive to her mother's place, whereas I don't have to be anywhere tonight." He glanced over at House and frowned. "And before you ask, Julie's gone to her sister's place. I'm joining them for Christmas dinner, but I'm on call until tomorrow afternoon."

"Because you're a martyr. Let someone else take the holiday shift for once."

"It's just another day," Wilson replied. "Unless you're spending it with Julie's family, and then it's an eternity. Trust me, everybody is happier this way."

House wasn't happy, though he was profoundly satisfied to learn that Julie was out of the picture for the evening. If Wilson would turn off his computer and put away the rest of his files, then he would be happy. "What could possibly be so important that it can't wait until Friday?"

"What could possibly be so important that it can't wait a couple of hours?" Wilson countered.

House saw a tiny self-satisfied smile on Wilson's face before he jotted down a note in the file he was reading. Wilson was always irritating, but he was nearly unbearable when he threw House's words back at him. House got up and prowled around the office, knowing it would annoy Wilson. He rearranged the knick-knacks on the top of Wilson's filing cabinet, slipping the scarved bear into his pocket when Wilson wasn't looking.

"Put it back, House," Wilson said without looking up.

"Do you have eyes on the top of your head?" House grumbled, but he dropped the bear on Wilson's desk, exchanging it for a stack of unopened mail.

A dozen Christmas cards were mixed in with the usual pharmaceutical propaganda, journals, and conference invitations. Another dozen or so cards were strung up along the back wall, above a pile of gifts. House had gotten a card from his insurance company, he thought -- he'd thrown it away after glancing at the address -- and a bottle of scotch from Chase that he'd kept after mocking him for being a slave to consumerism. Wilson wasn't a slave, he was a master.

House thumbed open one of the cards. "Merry Christmas, Doctor James," he read aloud. "Thank you for making me better." He pretended to gag. "I take it 'better' is a relative term." There was a picture enclosed of a young boy with close-cropped hair sitting on Santa's lap.

"He's in remission," Wilson retorted, taking the card away from House. He smiled when he saw the photo. "I'd say that's better."

House would, too, but he was pleased that Wilson agreed. He flipped through the other cards, matching Wilson's patients to most of the names above the return addresses. One of them caught his eye. "T-cell guy's family sent you a card. You must have made quite the impression." He thought Wilson had only met them the one time, under the worst possible circumstances. He handed the card to Wilson, who took it as if he were afraid it would explode in his face.

House rolled his eyes."People don't send hate mail in Hallmark envelopes," he said, though it was a line of greeting cards he'd be willing to buy. "It's the letters with four last names that you have to worry about." He had a few of those in his unopened mail.

For a second he thought Wilson wouldn't open the card, but while Wilson was a coward when it came to conflict, he always did what was expected of him, even if it was only opening a Christmas card. He read the card and nodded, handing it back when House snapped his fingers impatiently. It was just a standard holiday greeting signed by the Mann women, and probably sent out of etiquette rather than sentiment, but it was enough for Wilson.

There was a knock at the door, and the oncology department secretary, Teresa Pendleton, looked in. "Mrs. Sanborn is ready to go," she said, frowning when she saw House holding Wilson's mail. She was as territorial over Wilson as House was, especially when it came to paperwork. She'd staked her claim well before the news of Wilson's promotion was leaked. It would be made official in January, but House had seen the minutes of the board meeting. He'd been prepared to alter them if necessary.

Wilson was blithely oblivious. "I'll be right there. Why don't you head home and spend time with those beautiful children of yours. I've got everything under control here."

"Don't stay too long yourself," she chided. "And you have a Merry Christmas."

"He's Jewish," House snapped. "He doesn't give a damn about Christmas."

Wilson's eyebrows expressed his disapproval in a heavy brown wave. "House would be happier if he were living in Potterville," he said, grabbing his lab coat from the coat rack. "And my father was an agnostic who loved giving presents, so we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas. Speaking of which..." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a gift-wrapped box. "Merry Christmas, Teresa." He kissed her on the cheek, bringing a high flush to her cheeks. "Now get out of here before House manufactures an emergency to lock down the hospital."

"Hey, I'm the one trying to get out of here," House protested, but he put the mail down and backed away from Wilson's desk, his hands in the air. He winked at Pendleton, who shook her head and winked back. Maybe Christmas miracles happened after all. He glanced at Wilson, who had his armour on and looked like he was ready to ride out on parade. "So you're springing Sanborn?"

"For a few days at least. Her pain is under control, her appetite is back, and she's in good spirits. If she keeps building her strength, she'll be a good candidate for a new trial that's opening up in January."

"She's lucky," House said. "She has a doctor who wouldn't let her give up. That makes all the difference."

Wilson glanced sharply at him, checking to see if he was being mocked, but House kept a straight face. For once he needed Wilson to take him at face value. No word play, no mind games, just a simple truth that Wilson needed to hear. He didn't blame Wilson for being wary. Normally he reserved bluntness for criticism; his compliments were harder to discern.

Wilson studied him a moment longer, and then grinned. "Here," he said, pulling the bear out of his pocket and giving it to House. "Lisa Reed gave him to me, but I think he likes offices with glass walls better." The smile broadened until House could see dimples. "He can keep Chase company until you get around to hiring a new fellow."

That would be when hell froze over, or Cuddy put her foot down. Either way, House figured he could delay the inevitable at least as long as his taxes. Wilson would have Easter toys he could steal by then. "Go on," he said. "Send Evita back to her adoring people. I'll wait for you in my office. You can sleep on my couch tonight as long as you don't make me watch It's a Wonderful Life."

"Deal," Wilson said, with the air of a man who had safely set his Tivo. "Life of Brian instead?"

"I have a vewy gweat fwiend in Wome named Biggus Dickus," House intoned, and they both snickered.

House followed Wilson as far as the oncology ward and then turned back to his office. He didn't mind waiting when there was something to look forward to. And if, while he was waiting, he hummed a few bars from "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," there was no one around to hear but a tiny bear wearing a winter scarf.