Second Nature

Their first kiss happened somewhat routinely.

When people get involved in relationships, romantic or otherwise, they do fall into certain roles. It's not something that can be helped, but it happens. One always pays and the other always decides what to do; one takes out the garbage, the other does the dishes, to cite a few examples. It wasn't always that clear cut and obvious, but it was true.

House knew this as much as anyone else did as he'd experienced it several times before and he knew it often took time to get used to . . . Well, theoretically. When he was dating Stacy, it had happened naturally; progressed into their routines and habits without much of a second thought. Whether it was the chores they did, or the dates they chose, or what they watched together on television, everything just seemed to fit cohesively, besides the normal getting-used-to-living-with-someone-new part, which always took some effort. And as for his friendship with Wilson, it was the same way; it just happened, slowly, but naturally. In fact, were he to be honest, with Wilson, it was even more natural and steadily progressive than it had been with Stacy; even moving in together, although they'd had a few rough patches, had fit seamlessly. Then again, they'd known each other for years before moving in together . . . as short a time as that had been.

So why was it that being with Cuddy hadn't really worked that way? Was it simply because he was looking back on the relationships he had with Stacy and Wilson, unable to recall the awkwardness and unnaturalness of falling into their roles? Somehow, House didn't think so.

House had always been honest, so he couldn't lie to himself about why, as much as he wanted and tried to. It was because Cuddy was forcing the habits; forcing the roles. Expect him to show up at her convenience; not their natural convenience. Expect him to take out the trash, when he naturally wanted to . . .well, he'd never been a chore type of person, but he supposed making beds hadn't ever bothered him, or putting away clothes. She wanted him to give when his natural response was to take. In fact, it all seemed to be about fitting to her life; not working on their life. She didn't sacrifice anything on his behalf; didn't do anything for him.

Perhaps this was how Wilson had felt all those years.

There was one thing that had somehow become a routine for him and Cuddy, though. It wasn't anything important, he supposed, but in a way, it seemed to feel somehow . . . symbolic for them. He didn't want to interpret why, because he knew where it would lead him.

However it had started didn't matter, but now, all Cuddy had to do was rub the back of her neck, and she sometimes even went as far to just point at her shoulder and say his name, and he went over and began to massage her. It wasn't even about sexual gratification; it never had been. She wanted her shoulders and neck rubbed, and he did it. He never started it; she demanded it, whether passively or somewhat more obviously and aggressively, and he did it.

He could feel that her muscles weren't any more or less tense than what was expected; she didn't give hisses of almost-pain when he dug into her muscles, nor did she give out little sighs or relief or arousal. It wasn't about fixing anything; it wasn't about relaxation. It was about her, needing to know that when she told him to do something, he would. Proof of his respect; proof of that fact she controlled him.

Wilson had rubbed House's leg before, on more than one occasion. After the infarction, it was more common, but it wasn't ever House who asked. After awhile it had died down, but even when they'd lived in the loft together, it had happened a handful of times; but that was to achieve an actual end. House's leg hurt and Wilson knew. There wasn't ever a simple gesture House would do asking for it; Wilson would never inquire if he wanted it. It would just happen; elegantly, without thought. One second, House would be rubbing his thigh, and the next, he would be lying on the couch, leg propped on Wilson's lap, while he watched TV and rubbed the leg until the pain numbed and House pulled away. Wilson gave it willingly without House asking.

This massaging thing with Cuddy wasn't about need, or pain, or anything other than a test; everything with Cuddy was. One night he rubbed his leg, as it had been bothering him more than it usually did for a few days, and it hit him without even knowing why, that if Wilson were there, he would have inquired; perhaps even ended up rubbing it for a few minutes. He hadn't even realized he missed it until then.

And instead of Cuddy rubbing his leg, she sighed and, like she always did if House mentioned his leg, acted annoyed, as if it were an inconvenience for her to know he was in pain.

It wasn't his fault he'd been obsessing over it all day. She'd caught him rubbing his leg with a grimace and, although he tried not to take pills in front of her, she'd seen him swallow some Ibuprofen. Instead of sympathy, or even a forced nonchalance, she scowled and left the bathroom, only to point at her neck while she settled down in front of the couch, and a flare of irritation reared up in his chest while he sat behind her, one leg on either side of her, and worked at her neck. There had been no tense muscles beneath his palm; just skin.

All he'd been able to think about was every time she touched her neck, he ran to her. Any time she pointed at it, he was there. It wasn't about giving, or receiving. It wasn't about him deciding to show affection, or even her needing it; it was just about her knowing she had him under her grasp. Regardless of whether she did it on purpose, it didn't matter. She'd trained him, like some wild horse. There was a reason they called taming mares "breaking."

Although House wasn't idiotic enough to pretend his relationship with Wilson hadn't suffered, he was still able to tell when Wilson was bothered. He knew Wilson was stressed; probably on the brim of blowing up, from the looks of it. He was shutting himself in his office for longer periods of time; rubbing his face and neck and shoulders several times throughout each day; pinching the bridge of his nose and then staring skyward when he thought no one was looking. He looked like he needed a vacation, and it wasn't until he went into Cuddy's office to have lunch and found himself, yet again, rubbing her shoulders while she worked on paperwork that he needed one, too.

He sought solace on the balcony, trying to erase the victorious smile he'd seen on Cuddy's reflection off a framed photo of her, her sister, and her mother she kept on her desk; one that hadn't been there a few weeks prior. She still didn't have one of House. That smile plagued him; he stared at it, ghosting over her mother's smile, and felt his heart sink. He'd seen that smile on numerous occasions since they'd started going out. It had never happened after something boded well for him; just her.

He glanced over into Wilson's office before he slid over the partition. Wilson was holding his face in his palm, as if it were a blindfold. When he actually climbed over it, he noticed that Wilson was now rubbing his face with both palms.

When House stepped into his office, Wilson jumped and looked at him. He began to correct his posture and smiled, but then he just seemed to deflate; give up. "Hey," he greeted, unenthusiastically, and House frowned.

"Who pissed in your coffee?" House asked. He wanted to get his mind off of Cuddy's smile; off of how he had so easily become her personal, yet detached, masseur. However, judging by Wilson's disposition, he doubted it would happen.

Sighing, Wilson rubbed his temples. "I just haven't been getting a lot of sleep lately."

"I can tell," House stated, limping closer to the desk.

Wilson did a half-nod and a shrug. "Figures," he muttered, then picked up a pen. He clicked it a few times before scribbling his signature on something. "Don't know how, but I got behind on all my financial paperwork; Cuddy wanted these yesterday and I forgot. She wasn't . . . never mind."

House shifted on the cushion. Before he started dating her, the two of them would complain about her and have a good laugh; now, even when House was bitching about her, Wilson remained perfectly polite; refusing to say anything either way; refusing to complain, but not sticking up for her, either. It was really starting to piss him off.

Wilson cleared his throat, clicked his pen a few more times, then put it down on his desk. "Well, I ought to bring these down," he stated, although it didn't sound as if he were speaking to anyone, and stood up, pinching the bridge of his nose tiredly, and then rubbed the back of his neck with a somewhat pained expression on his face.

Like Pavlov's dog hearing a bell, House reacted. He limped over to Wilson's side of the desk and placed his hands on his shoulders without thinking. It wasn't until he'd dug his thumbs into Wilson and he heard the folders Wilson must have gathered in his hands hit the desktop that he realized what he had done.

They both froze and Wilson tensed beneath his hands; House held his breath, but when he noticed Wilson wasn't pulling away, he squeezed. They both exhaled at the same time, and when House pushed his fingers into the knotted, tight shoulder muscles, Wilson's head tipped back slightly with a sigh, and House's lower abdomen stirred.

He stepped closer and kneaded Wilson's neck and stared at his relaxed profile; eyes shuttered closed, mouth partially open and breath more audible than it really should have been. Feeling Wilson's back move with breath and watching his lined expression melt into relaxation was different than Cuddy's detachedness; made House's lungs tighten and heart pound; filled his stomach with a fluttering sensation he refused to compare to butterflies.

He pushed harder; dug deeper. Wilson's breaths became slower, but louder, and House couldn't deny that the stirring had moved lower. Wilson's cheeks turned pink; his tongue flicked out to moisten his bottom lip.

House cleared his throat and then pressed his thumbs inward; Wilson arched his back slightly, but enough for his back to pop quietly, although in the silence of his office it was amplified. The grunt Wilson made House recognized; the same noise he made when House would listen to him masturbate on the couch when he spent the night; the same noise he could hear when Sam and Wilson had sex, and thought House was asleep.

House mirrored the noise, then slid his hands down Wilson's back lightly, who just arched his spine again, and then House settled his palms on Wilson's waist. He stepped closer; chest-to-back, and House's name slipped past Wilson's lips breathily.

House's breath hitched.

For a long second, he focused on the sounds of them breathing; both louder and shakier than necessary and hitching occasionally. Wilson dropped his head on House's right shoulder, exposing his neck, but his eyes were still closed. House could see the pulse beating under his skin; feel his own thrumming through his body.

House pressed a tiny kiss to his jugular; felt it beat beneath his lips. His eyes slid closed when he kissed it again, heart slamming into his sternum when Wilson made that noise again.

Suddenly, Wilson was turning; House stepped back to allow him room, and then swallowed Wilson's insistent tongue. No hesitation; no reluctance, just wet, open-mouthed, and wheedling noises out of his chest that House hadn't uttered in years. Wilson's fingers slid behind House's neck; pulled him in, closer; kissed him deeper.

House clutched onto the bottom of Wilson's shirt and felt the groan Wilson made echo in his chest; tongues slipped past each other and when he pulled away for air, Wilson jerked him forward again, clashing their teeth and wet mouths together. Despite the initial crash, their kiss wasn't frenzied, despite being intense.

They moved naturally; smoothly. Although they'd never kissed before, it still felt as thought they had; it felt normal; natural. As if this could be the hundredth time they kissed, rather than just the first. The tiny moans and the moments they pulled just centimetres away to suck in a breath, although a new experience, filled House with familiarity.

When he finally did manage to pull away to breathe, Wilson still wouldn't let him go; kept his arms wrapped tightly around him, wrapping him in a tight hug; burying his face in House's shoulder. Wilson's breath hitched as he breathed, and the wetness House felt on his neck had nothing to do with kissing.

House's hands, still resting on Wilson's waist, slid around his back and brought Wilson into an embrace. He kissed Wilson's temple and pulled away to look him in the face; as he expected, there were tears glistening on his cheeks.

House swallowed; he knew Cuddy was somewhere in the hospital and he was going to have to deal with that; end their relationship. He knew it wouldn't be pretty. But right now, that wasn't his concern.

He swallowed the dry lump in his throat. "So you haven't been sleeping well lately?"

Wilson shook his head and sniffed. "I've had some bad nights."

House smiled for a moment. "I sleep on the right side."

Wilson pulled his hand away from around House, and wiped away the tears on his cheek. "I'll take the left."

Beauty Comes in Booms

Their first kiss lit up the sky.

With a boom that rocked the street and a crack that split the sky, red and green burst like flames streaking across the night, a high-pitched whistle screeching through the air, and then small bursts of colour followed the flowering fire that painted the black sky.

Without even giving his ears a chance, a second and third explosion rent through the air and blue and purple lights flashed across the sky, the normally unpleasant scent of sulphur and smoke somehow pleasing for the time being.

People wouldn't think it looking at him, but a small part of Wilson's family broke away from their stereotypical picturesque farce of a life. Considering how long House and Wilson had been friends, even House was surprised he'd never been invited to his cousins' annual celebration of Fourth of July. He'd heard Wilson talk of the spectacular celebration before hundreds of times, but even Wilson's verbose ways couldn't have prepared him for it. After all, House had seen the annual fireworks display over the Hudson river-once you celebrate one Fourth of July, you've celebrated them all, really.

Wilson hadn't always been able to go and before today, House hadn't ever understood why Wilson always seemed a little depressed whenever he couldn't. Wilson would always brush it off as life as an adult-not always being able to do whatever he wanted whenever he chose. Important meetings or not enough vacation time or badly timed bus crashes prevented him from hopping a plane to Wyoming and watching the spectacular fireworks show.

And yes. Wilson had cousins in Wyoming.

Every joke, every scoff, every insult had been thrown Wilson's way on the ride there, but for every interesting thing Wyoming lacked (and that list was endless) it made up for on one day out of the year.

New Jersey's firework laws were strict, boring, and uninteresting-the show over the Hudson was really the only way to see anything interesting. Wyoming, apparently, didn't have laws. If they did, clearly the state viewed it more as a suggestion. Or at least, the small town of Evanston, Wyoming did.

Every other time the Fourth of July had come up and Wilson could go, he'd been otherwise involved with some soulless, life-sucking harpy. Technically, he still was, but apparently this sect of the Wilson Tribe hated Sam more than House did, and that was really saying something. Apparently, Sam had been disapproving of their shenanigans or some other such crap; the stories had been vague because nobody wanted to destroy the good mood, but it appeared she felt the same and had decided she didn't want to go.

House had been reluctant at first. As a misanthrope, it was his duty to hate all holidays-especially ones that didn't involve him receiving a gift of some kind. Fourth of July with his parents had always been unsatisfactory; nothing more than sparklers and barbecues and as for the celebration over the Hudson, as fun as it was to watch the fireworks House had always felt some sort of detachment from it. Still, Wilson had insisted that getting away for a few days would be best, considering that House's decision to date Cuddy had exploded pretty spectacularly in everybody's face; one too-harsh insult thrown in the middle of an argument in the clinic and a difference of opinion on appropriate workplace behaviour later, and their failed experiment known as dating ended.

Nobody had been surprised, least of all House.

Sam and Wilson's relationship was starting to spiral quicker than House had expected, and he knew Wilson could sense the end approaching, too. They were simply two grown men facing the reality that they were too screwed up and lost for anybody but each other, handling failed relationships and middle-age as best as they could. So he'd agreed; a vacation away from the searing glares of Cuddy and snarls painted on every female in the hospital couldn't have come at a better time.

It had started as he'd expected-it was a trailer court in a small town, but the trailers were neither stereotypically trashy or rundown. It was quite a few steps down from what he'd expected from someone with the Wilson surname, but House had never really been too picky about that sort of thing-and Wilson, surprisingly, fit right in.

He'd replaced the suit and tie with jeans and a long-sleeved white button-up, sleeves rolled up halfway up his forearm. They held a barbecue with their extended family, close friends, and neighbours. They served hotdogs and hamburgers while handing beer and soda out freely. They enjoyed House's company, they didn't balk at his inappropriate sense of humour-all in all, it was the exact opposite of the day-to-day lifestyle of prim-and-proper James Wilson.

The sky hadn't even turned fully black yet and he could hear the distant pops of fireworks exploding, and within a few minutes the sky melted into ebony and everywhere he looked he could see greens and yellows and purples blooming across the sky; flashes of white and pops of yellows fizzled through the air and laughter bubbled from every corner. As far as the eye could see, fireworks zoomed into the air, non-stop explosions and colours lighting up the sky.

"Oi, James!" one of his female cousins called. Wilson, who had been sitting beside House with an idiotic grin plastered on his face while he stared up at the sky, turned to face her. "You and Greg gonna do a Roman Candle War or what?"

Wilson grabbed House's arm and hauled him to his feet. Sprawling out on the driveway and arching his head up to watch not only their fireworks but their neighbours' as well had been relaxing for a moment, but now House's ass was asleep and a bit cold from the pavement. "You think you can manage?" Wilson asked quietly so nobody would overhear.

House started limping over to Jo, the cousin holding the long, thin tubes with ROMAN CANDLE painted on the side elaborately. "Probably not," he answered, then jerked one free.

"Don't go too far-the neighbours are getting ready for their finale," she warned, gesturing over with her chin.

House glanced to see the neighbours setting every last firework on the asphalt, ushering the children into the yard and behind the fence while two or three adults sat on their lawn chairs in the driveway, smoking cigarettes and talking excitedly.

Wilson grabbed his roman candle and Jo lit them both with her lighter. "Hurry up," she said with a grin.

They both hurried into the street, at least ten paces away from each other. They both raised their long, cylindrical "guns" at each other, and a firework from somewhere nearby lit up the area so brightly he could see the huge grin on Wilson's face, who'd been acting a bit like a precocious child ever since the first firework went off.

It occurred to House he hadn't seen Wilson grin like that in a very long time.

He remembered each of Wilson's relatives telling him in turn about a previous Plus One (as vaguely as they could) Wilson had decided to bring along. Sam hadn't been too bad at first until they'd all gotten into a firecracker war-which meant sneaking up on someone and throwing firecrackers under their feet. House had participated in a few just in the last few hours; with the exception of tinnitus, it held no real threat. Sam had apparently disagreed.

Wilson's shot off a ball of blue flame first and it went straight for House's head. He ducked just in time and with a sound that was half a poof and half a whine, his shot off an orange ball, which arced spectacularly over Wilson's head and skittered along the black asphalt of the street.

They both started laughing, and House thought of Bonnie, who had apparently coldly sat by and sneered at every cousin enjoying himself a little too much; any kid who chased another with a sparkler or any grown man who hollered in excitement at a large boom got a scoff from her. By that time, their marriage had already spiralled into cold non-existence.

Somebody threw a pack of firecrackers under Wilson's feet. Wilson yelped and then jumped away, two balls of flame flying out at once; one green and one purple, missing House by a good few feet. House shot off a bright purple one and a yellow one followed immediately and then he started advancing on Wilson. He held his cane in his right so he held the roman candle in his left; his aim was suffering because of it.

Julie had shown once, but had apparently stayed in the house the whole time, getting steadily drunker on wine coolers.

House was practically chasing Wilson now, who was half-running backwards, their ammo shooting sporadically and without much aim. Fireworks from nearby houses shot up into the air, lighting their way, and Wilson was laughing so loud House could almost hear him over the ear-splitting squeal and sky-shaking boom from the trailer across the street. House's vision flashed with red and then white, and he felt something hot zoom past his cheek; Wilson had almost hit him.

Still, out of all the previous wives and girlfriends Wilson had brought along, Jo had specifically told him; "You know, he's only like this when he's alone. Whenever his wives came, he was so . . . subdued." He heard somebody holler but he couldn't tell if it was out of excitement or warning; his ears were ringing and another firework lit up the sky, making it difficult for him to see the colour of his last shot. "With you, he really enjoys himself."

The lights died down and the night was silent for a full second; long enough for House to see a green ball of flame heading right towards his face. He jumped back and batted at the firework at the same time, landing on his right foot awkwardly. Pain shot up into his thigh and he crumbled, landing on his back and letting out a humph of air, unable to breathe for a horribly long second.

He heard Wilson shout his name and then the neighbours, who were behind House, let out a whoop and the world exploded all around him. The black sky was replaced entirely with streaks of blue, green, red and white; sparks swirled like corkscrews and white lights popped and fizzled. The sounds overlapped; squeals and pops and explosions rocked the ground beneath him and split the air above him.

He rested on his elbows in the street, staring up at the black night breaking around him; tearing in half and bursting with colours. Being up close and personal with hundreds of families all around him shooting off their own fireworks-being right in the thick of it-was completely different than sitting calmly and watching a show back home.

Wilson knelt beside him, face looming with lights dancing across his cheeks; sparking in his eyes, his hair mussed and wild.

"Are you okay?" he saw more than heard Wilson ask, his square palm grabbing House's shoulder and ridiculous eyebrows halfway up his forehead.

He thought of how many clinic patients he'd had over the years with first to third burns from shooting off illegal fireworks and how, just seconds before, they'd been shooting each other in the face with them.

"We're complete morons!" House had answered, knowing he was grinning like either an idiot or a child, and Wilson's face broke out into a grin as well.

He grabbed Wilson by the scruff of his shirt and pulled him down into a kiss, and had no idea why he'd done it. Wilson made a noise that was impossible to decipher through the explosions, and then grasped onto House's arms like he was hanging on for dear life, and thrust his tongue in his mouth.

House knew Wilson had Sam waiting for him in their loft, and he knew all of his relatives were watching and possibly their neighbours, too. He also knew that even though his eyes were closed, when Wilson attacked his mouth wildly and swallowed his moans, he could still see fireworks.

A/N-Well, that's the final chapter! I hope you guys enjoyed.