"Those," House said, "are not fireworks."
He dropped the bag onto the table as if it held some contaminated sample, then shoved it onto the floor with the end of his cane.
"Of course they are." Wilson picked up the bag and rummaged through it. He held out one of the boxes. "Look, these blow up."
"They're firecrackers. I could produce a bigger fireball with a bean burrito and a match."
Wilson cocked his head to one side. He was pretty sure he didn't want to know if the image that immediately came to his mind was just from his imagination or from some lost weekend after Bonnie left. He shook off the memory and reached down into the bag again. It was a big bag, he thought. There must be something good hidden in it.
"What about these?"
"Cherry bombs? It might be kind of fun to pretend we're back in junior high and drop one in the toilet, but other than that, they're kind of useless."
House gritted his teeth and scowled. Wilson tried not to notice the way that House's right hand kept rubbing at his thigh. He tried not to think about what House's pain level must be now, after more than three days of missed diagnoses and tests, little sleep and too much coffee.
Foreman had found the case on Thursday - a 17-year-old kid who passed out during a driver's ed class, and woke up with ataxia and short term memory problems. By Friday, the kid started having seizures.
"Doesn't he know it's a holiday weekend?" House had asked over some pad thai that he'd made Wilson pay for.
"Guess he's not the patriotic type."
When Taub came in with a new scan that threw out House's latest diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury from an undiagnosed concussion, House had seemed more pissed off that he wasn't going to make it to his favorite fireworks stand than he was about starting from scratch with the patient's symptoms.
"Symptoms show up every day," he'd said. "A legal excuse to blow stuff up only comes once a year."
Somehow Wilson had ended up not only offering to pick up House's explosives, but agreeing to pay for them too.
Everything went downhill from there. Even getting the final diagnosis of Lafora Disease didn't help. The reality that the kid would be dead within a few years killed any latent buzz from a successful case. House had dragged himself over to Wilson's, mumbling something about Cuddy going to her sister's place, and crashed on the couch without saying another word. He didn't rouse himself until nearly two hours later when he asked for the fireworks.
"I knew I shouldn't have trusted you," House said now, slouching down on the couch. "I should have bought them myself."
"And when were you going to do that, during the 90 minutes of sleep you got since Friday morning?"
"Why not? I could have bought a better selection that that crap in my sleep." House shook his head. "I can't believe that Stan even sold you that crap."
"Well actually," Wilson lowered the bag and forced himself to look at House. "I didn't make it to Stan's."
House leaned forward. "I give you the name of the best guy in the area, and you don't take my advice?"
"I was going to, but -" Wilson paused for just a moment.
"I got a call."
House covered his face with his hands. "Why do all your patients die on the holidays?"
"They don't all die."
House peeked out at him from between his fingers.
"Mrs. Newman just had some unexpected side effects from the new chemo drugs."
"That's beside the point."
"The point being that you suck at buying fireworks."
"The point being," Wilson said, "that I was tied up all day Friday. And Saturday." He took a deep breath, then rushed through the next sentence. "So Sam offered to pick them before she left town."
"You let your girlfriend -"
"Pick out my fireworks."
House dropped his head back onto the couch. "Your girlfriend sucks," he said. "And you're a crappy best friend."
"I thought it was sweet of her. She wanted us to have a good time."
Wilson couldn't make out what House said, but was pretty sure he didn't agree. He picked up the bag again and tried one more time to find something worthwhile. He reached in and felt with his fingertips until he found something long and slender. Bottle rockets. That would be better than nothing.
"Wait," he said. "I think I found something." He pulled out the box and held it toward House. Sparklers.
House picked up his cane. "If you're going to insult me, I'll leave."
Wilson tossed the box into the bag and tossed the bag on the floor. "She really does suck at buying fireworks."
House pushed himself up and headed for the door.
"You're really going to leave just because I don't have fireworks?" Wilson asked.
"Yes," House said, "and so are you. We've got two hours until sunset. We can't make it to Stan's, but there's got to be someone out there selling some decent fireworks." He tossed Wilson the keys to the Volvo. "You're driving."
"What's wrong with this one?" Wilson had eased into the left turn lane when he saw the white tent and big signs advertising fireworks, but House told him to keep going - the same thing he'd said at the last two places that they'd passed.
"It's in a Wal-Mart parking lot," House said.
"So, they sell to the lowest common denominator, not the aficionado," House said.
"But at least they sell something," Wilson pointed out. "The sun goes down in less than an hour. I don't think we have time to be picky."
"I'll know the right place when I see it," House said. "Now keep going."
"Go where? We're running out of city, which - when you're talking about New Jersey - should be considered a real accomplishment."
"Good," House said. "The best guys don't like the city anyway. Too many local cops and rules."
"It's explosives," Wilson pointed out. "Rules might be a good thing."
House just directed Wilson out to the county roads, and eventually to a two-lane rutted blacktop where he'd claimed he once saw a place a few years ago.
"House, there's nothing here," Wilson pointed out. "We should go back."
House just pointed straight ahead into the setting sun, and when they crested a hill ten minutes later, House pointed him toward a low roofed shack on the edge of a gravel parking lot. The sodium light hanging overhead was just beginning to flicker on. House was out of the car before Wilson even put it in park.
A guy was coming out the door as House walked up.
"We're closed," he said.
House held up a fifty dollar bill and the guy opened the door again.
"They nearly wiped us out, but take a look and see if you can find something you like," the guy said.
Wilson followed House into the store. Most of the shelves were empty. The crates set up as tables in the middle of the building held a handful of simple bottle rockets. Wilson picked some up. House rolled his eyes.
"Your girlfriend," he said, "sucks."
"So you've said."
House scanned the shelves. "Any artilleries left?" he asked.
The guy shook his head. "Sold out."
He shook his head again.
There were a half-dozen boxes, each promising a shower of sparks. House handed them to Wilson, then turned to the guy.
"What's behind the counter?"
House pulled out another fifty and held it out. "There's always something special behind the counter."
Wilson wondered why House was carrying so much cash, but figured it probably had something to do with beating Taub or Foreman in some bet.
"There may have been a special order that someone didn't pick up," the guy said after a moment, "but I couldn't let it go for less than another fifty."
House pulled out a third fifty dollar bill from his wallet. Definitely a bet, Wilson thought. Chase must have gotten in on the losing side too.
The guy pulled out a box. "Square cakes," he said. "Maximum load."
House's grimace eased for the first time all day. "We'll take them."
The sky had dimmed to the purple of twilight by the time they left. The guy closed the door behind them, then climbed into an old pickup and sped off while House was still looking through the box, squinting to read the descriptions in the dim light.
"Titan's Fury," read one label. "Star Chamber." "The Menace."
"Now these," House said, "are fireworks." He pulled one from the box. "Got a match?"
House looked around the deserted parking lot and the empty fields surrounding them. "Why not? You in such a hurry to head back to an empty house?" He held out his hand. "Matches." He pointed toward the car. "They're in your emergency kit."
Wilson sighed and popped the trunk. He pulled out the waterproof matches from their zippered pouch on the side of the kit.
House opened the box and took it and the matches to the far side of the parking lot. Wilson watched him crouch down. It seemed to take him an extra moment to balance himself and he kept one hand on his cane as he lit the match.
Wilson saw the flare of the match, then the sizzle of sparks when it touched the fuse. House jumped back and took a half-dozen loping, hopping steps away before the fuse reached the black powder at the base of the square container.
The rocket inside burst straight up into the night sky, with a sizzling sound, then exploded into a blossoming shower of red sparks.
House grinned, the lines in his face finally seeming to ease in the fading glow of the flares.
"Your girlfriend still sucks, by the way," he said, "but these definitely do not."
He reached into the box for another one, then handed it to Wilson along with the matches.