Notes: Much thanks to theletterv for fixin' my horrendous typos. Also, this fic takes place whenever you want it to.

Missing the Punch Line

"Hey, Wilson!" I greeted as I waltzed right into his office without knocking 'cause, well. I never knocked. Obviously.

Sighing, Wilson gestured at the young man sitting across from him; he couldn't have been older than sixteen. His clothes hung on him loosely and his bald head shone. "I'm with a patient."

"If it were important, his parents would be here," I pointed out and strode in, grinning at him. "So there are these three construction workers, sitting around doing nothing 'cause, well, their boss isn't watching."

Wilson raised his hand. "You don't have any patients, do you?"

"What does it matter?"

"Well, because last I checked you didn't, and this sounds suspiciously like you're trying to force an epiphany with a metaphor and like I said, I'm really quite busy."

I scoffed. "You're not busy. He's sixteen."

"Seventeen," the boy corrected.

"Whatever." I waved my hand dismissively and stepped closer, placing my cane in front of me and smirking. "So they're sitting around, picking their noses and leering at big-tittied joggers who just so happen to jog repeatedly in front of them when one of them bets he has a better throwing arm than the other two."

"Is there a point to this?"

"So he picks up a red brick and tosses it over the Statue of Liberty," I continued, ignoring him.

Wilson frowned. "The Statue of Liberty, House? This is one of your metaphors isn't it?"

"No, I know this one," the kid stated, laughing a little. "It's funny because-"

"Hey, hey, don't ruin it," I warned him, then smiled at Wilson, who just stared at me, eyes wide and brown and fixated on me. "So the next one, he picks up a green brick and tosses it over the Empire State Building, just to show the other guy up."

Wilson raised his eyebrows. "You came in here to tell me an anecdote about pissing contests? This is dire."

"So the third guy, he tells the others he can kick their asses with throwing things. So he picks up a yellow brick-his favourite colour is yellow; I know, what a pansy-and he throws the brick as far and high as he can."

The cancer kid laughed and slouched in his chair before giggling into his palm. I stared at him and blinked, then looked back at Wilson, whose blank expression would've offended me except that he couldn't possibly get it; not until later, and then he'd laugh. Not as much as Chuckles was, but hey, what could I say? I was a comedian; it was just a fortunate talent of mine.

"Hilarious; I can see why you burst in here."

I shrugged one shoulder. "You'll laugh later," I promised.

"Hey wait," the patient said as I moved to turn towards the door. "Doctor Wilson, you gotta tell him the Pinocchio joke."

Wilson faced his patient and smiled, raising his eyebrows. He chuckled dryly. "The Pinocchio joke?"

The patient winced. "Sorry."

I furrowed my brows; I was missing something. Before I could really think on what was going on, Wilson smiled at me. "I'll see you at lunch House," he assured.

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously at him; he wasn't getting away with this. My curiosity was peaked, and that was all it took for me to become obsessed and then it was just a matter of time before I figured it out. I met Wilson's eyes and locked them in challenge.

"You'll tell me the joke then?"

"I'll think about it."

Despite the fact I called him a bitch, I smiled when I left.

Unsurprisingly, I was in the cafeteria first. Sometimes Wilson didn't show up until I miraculously managed to have already paid for my lunch. I wasn't stupid; he just wanted to make me pay for my own food for once. What a selfish bastard.

He sat down across from me with a sandwich that was clearly homemade and a bottled water. What a loser. If he wasn't such a woman, he wouldn't have made his own food and would've been forced to buy some, preferably with me beside him so he could pay for mine too.

Apparently, I couldn't be the only evil genius in the hospital.

"So, about this Pinocchio joke . . ." Hey, no use beating around the bush.

He raised his eyebrows at me. "Well, I can't tell it now. You've ruined it."

"How did I ruin it?"

"You'll get it later." His dark eyes met mine, glinting evilly, and his smirk was truly sadistic. And hot, but well, that was pretty much a given.

I narrowed my eyes, and pointed at him with a fry that I'd been forced to pay for with my own money. "You know, I almost starved waiting for you. I actually had to buy all this myself. That's cruel and unusual. I think there's something in the Bill of Rights about that."

"You'd have to prove it was me first," he countered, taking a bite of his-oh god, egg salad sandwich. What the hell was wrong with him? He wiped his mouth with a napkin before looking at me. "One day, a man was driving through an unfamiliar-"

"Whoa, wait." He stopped and took another bite of his sandwich, staring at me; we were sitting at one of the smaller circular tables, and our knees knocked accidentally. I cleared my throat, and knocked them again, but this time on purpose. Eh, it's not like he'll notice; he never does. "Is this the Pinocchio joke?"

He held up one finger while he finished chewing and I put my foot over his; he didn't react. He probably couldn't feel it because of his stupid French shoes. That just wasn't right; what if I scuffed the precious shine? He swallowed and cleared his throat. "A man was travelling-"

"You're not even going to tell me?"

He stared at me and lowered his chin, blinking slowly. "As I was saying," he began in a slightly elevated tone, staring pointedly at me, and I shook my head. What a drama queen. "A man was driving through an unfamiliar country, and it began to storm. Well, it wasn't very long until he crashed into a ditch. So, his car completely ruined, he begins walking around; looking for help."

"Is this going anywhere?" I asked, pulling my foot away from his; if he hadn't already reacted, he wasn't going to any time soon.

"Well, if you'd let me finish the story . . ." He glared good-naturedly at me and I smiled, chewing on my new fry. "So he stumbles across this monastery and they let him in; clothe him, shelter him, give him food . . ." The side of his shoe brushed mine, but only enough for me to vaguely feel the pressure. "They give him a bed to sleep in, and all night he hears this loud, horrible screeching noise; like a banging, whirring sound. It keeps him up all night."

He uncapped his bottle of water and took a sip; I pushed my foot a bit harder against his and narrowed my eyes, chewing another fry thoughtfully. Still, no reaction, but he was the one who started it. Well, technically, I started it, but he kept it up; it was on his shoulders now. "The next morning he asks one of the monks what the noise was, but the monk tells him that only monks are allowed to know."

He reached forward to take a fry, but I slapped the top of his hand; no way. I was the only person allowed to steal fries, thank you very much. When he leaned forward, though, his foot brushed past mine a little more, and somehow it curled behind my heel.


"So he decides, well, why not? They fed me and sheltered me; I could become a monk and leave after I find out; not a big deal."

"Seriously? He's going to become a monk all over a damn noise?"

Wilson's smile was downright devilish. "Well maybe he's obsessively curious," he explained with a sparkle of mischief in his eye-and yes, he could do that sparkle on purpose. I had my reasons to suspect that, anyway. "So he spends three years gardening, cleaning, remaining celibate-it wasn't easy. Finally, he takes his vows, and the first thing they do is take him to the tower where the noise had come from."

I swallowed a lump in my throat (actually I just swallowed a fry but, you know, semantics) and twisted my foot around Wilson's ankle. "And?" I urged, because he'd been silent and I could tell the joke didn't end there.

"So they take him up a winding staircase; it takes them at least twenty minutes to get to the top before he's standing in front of a large, iron door. The monk leading him turns to him and tells him that he must promise not to tell anyone what lies behind the door; he knows that he's been planning on leaving after he sees it. He swears he won't say anything, so the monk decides to go on."

"Wait, the monk trusts him not to say anything after he leaves? What a dumbass."

"Maybe the monk has every reason to trust him," Wilson replied and ducked his head slightly; contemplating his sandwich. There was a very ominous tone in his voice, and I wasn't a moron; I got the hint.

He took a bite, probably just to prolong the wait like the evil bitch he was, and then he wiped his mouth with a napkin; I stared at his lips.

"Well?" I urged as he continued to stare at his sandwich, the side of his shoe still pressing against mine; our knees knocked.

"So the monk opens the door and shows him; the man stares at it, in total awe and surprise, and it all made sense. The monk makes him swear not to tell anyone again. He promises he won't tell a single soul."

He lifted his chin and our eyes locked. "And to this day, he never has."

For a second, it didn't compute, and then I realized he was an asshole. "You suck," I whined.

"Well, at least my joke had a punch line." He took a large bite of his sandwich and I pouted as obnoxiously as I could.

Neither of us moved our feet, though.

Somehow (don't ask) Cuddy had roped me into clinic duty. To be honest, I was bored enough that I probably hadn't put up as much of a fight as I normally would have, but that didn't mean I loved getting sneezed on and bitched at by nerds with a WebMD account for not knowing anything about medicine despite having something called a degree. The wonders of humanity. How its stupidity never ceased to amaze me.

When I left the random exam room, I decided I was done dealing with their stupid mundane sexually transmitted diseases, and strolled away, only to see Wilson at the pharmacy. I stopped heading towards the elevator and watched him talk to the pharmacist for a minute.

Smirking, I limped towards him just as the pharmacist walked away. I stood right behind him and opened my mouth to say boo and scare him, but then he sighed loudly. "I know you're there, House," he stated, staring ahead of himself.

I deflated and scoffed, but stood even closer; so close my chest bumped his back for a second. And I smelled his hair. So what? It wasn't my fault his hair smelled good.

I was supposed to move to stand beside him, but then I just sorta stayed pressed slightly against his back, and he didn't move away, or flinch, or do anything to show he even cared; not tense up, not lean away; he didn't lean back into me, either, but considering how close I was, it wasn't really necessary.


"How'd you know it was me?" I said into his scalp. Or rather, not into so much as at because I wasn't that close. But, well, if my luck kept up, I could be.

"When I came of age, I grew an invisible eye in the back of my head; it's a genetic trait." He tapped the counter repeatedly with his index finger. I couldn't tell if it was out of nervousness or impatience; the pharmacist had gone into the back only a few seconds ago, so I doubted it was the latter.

I pressed against his back even more. He cleared his throat, but did nothing else.

Oh, he totally wanted me.

I smirked again, then tilted my mouth closer to his ear. "You know Doctor Greenwalt?"

"The proct-" He cut himself off, presumably because his voice squeaked, and then he cleared his throat. "The proctologist?" he answered coolly, as if I could feel the fact he was breathing shallowly because of how his back pressed into my chest.

"Yeah, the proctologist." He cleared his throat again. It seemed to be a recurring theme of some kind. I knew it. I knew it. I couldn't have been the only one interested. "I guess he had to hurry to the bank and cash his check over lunch."

Wilson, ever so slightly, leaned back against me. I shifted so I was more to the side, and also as an excuse to "accidentally" brush my hand across his ass. He shifted his weight onto his other foot. "Uh, that's . . . fascinating." His voice was deeper than normal, but it also had a crack in it that wasn't normally there.

"So fascinating," I agreed and he turned his face to look at me; our noses were probably five inches from each other which, well, sounded like more distance than it actually was. "So the bank teller told him that he needed to sign the back. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a thermometer."

Wilson frowned and tilted his head. "What?"

"Then he said; 'Dammit. Some asshole has my pen.'"

Wilson's eyebrows shot up his forehead, then he chuckled and turned slightly so his body half-faced me. "You think you're funny, don't you?"

"I know I'm funny."

Wilson smiled softly at me and I tilted my chin down. His eyes flicked to my mouth.

"Doctor Wilson?"

We both turned and stared at the pharmacist; he was walking towards the counter, mouth twisted into a weird shape and brows knitted together. I stepped away from Wilson at the same time Wilson pulled away from me. I didn't bother waiting to hear his explanation or excuse as to why we'd been so damn close; then again, maybe he didn't bother-it was pretty damn obvious what he'd been thinking about doing. He wouldn't have kissed me, not in front of people, but I would've. And he knew that.

So then why didn't I?

Shaking my head, I limped closer to the elevator. Just as I stopped in front of it, Wilson stood beside me and our arms brushed.

"Going down?" I asked, quirking my eyebrow at him.

He didn't look at me, but I could tell he was smiling thinly from his profile. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his pants, so that his lab-coat flared slightly. "There was once a princess who was cursed to melt everything she touched. She couldn't touch anything, or anyone." He turned his face to meet my eyes, and yeah, I got what he was really saying. We were damn good at reading between the lines; or, well, technically, talking between the lines. I nodded at him so he'd continue. Because honestly, I really was that impatient. "The only way to cure her was if she found something she could touch without melting it; and they'd tried everything. She'd already accidentally melted many of the people close to her, and swords, feathers, rocks, homes, horses-you name it, and it met the same fate."

I furrowed my eyebrows. It was starting to sound just a little too close to home. "This is a joke right?"

He pushed the call button; I'd forgotten where we were standing. "Either that, or I need an epiphany," he commented with a nonchalantly innocent expression.

I scoffed.

"So the king, on his death bed, knowing that if the princess doesn't marry that the kingdom will go to his cruel, evil brother, decrees that any man who can find something that won't melt when she touches it will have her hand in marriage. Men from all over the country show up, and object after object melts. Finally, only three men are left. The first, he brings a porcelain doll. He gives it to her, and it melts in her hand. The second, he pulls out a diamond and drops it into her palm, very confident it'll work."

"But it doesn't."

"Of course not. It melts in the palm of her hand, like everything else. So the third guy, he comes up to her and says; 'Reach into my pants and grab what's in there.'"

The elevator dinged and a small group pushed out. I snarled at them, but either they didn't see it or didn't give a shit that I was pissed off at their timing. I stepped into the elevator after they all left and turned around, expecting Wilson to get in with me, but he remained on the other side. "Aren't you-"

"I have clinic," he explained with a casual shrug and I blinked at him. He never intended to get on the elevator with me? So he came over here just to tell the joke? "So she reaches into his pants and grasps-"

The elevator doors started to close, so I pushed at them so it opened again; Wilson rocked on his heels and smiled. "Well?" I urged again.

"She reaches into his pants and wraps her hands around what's inside. She blushes, but it doesn't melt. The curse is lifted and the kingdom is saved. The two are married and live happily ever after. So . . . What was in his pants?"

I waited for him to tell me, because I was pretty sure that 'his cock' wasn't the answer.

"M&Ms, House. What were you thinking?" he answered and backed away, grinning at me as the doors slid shut.

Like usual, I didn't bother knocking on his office door. I figured he wouldn't mind because, considering the joke he told me outside the elevator, I was pretty sure he wanted to get into my pants. Either that, or get some M&Ms. I had a feeling it was the former, considering Wilson was more of a Skittles guy. Well, that, and he clearly wanted to bone me.

He was lying on his couch, head on one arm and ankles crossed on the other. Wilson didn't really lie down on his couch often, but it wasn't the first time I'd caught him taking a nap or resting. He opened eyes to look at me and smiled briefly before closing them again.

"M&Ms huh?" I greeted.

"They melt in your mouth, not in your hand."

"I can think of something else she can put in her mouth," I muttered as I approached the couch.

He snorted, but didn't open his eyes. "Funny," he commented dryly.

I walked over to his couch and leant my cane against the nearest wall. I stared at him until I felt my mouth start to curve upward, and then I wiped that smile off my face and kicked the couch hard enough to get his attention.

He opened his eyes sluggishly and I gestured at his legs. He moved them off the couch so that he was half on the couch, and he looked like an idiot sitting like that. As soon as I got settled, he plopped his legs onto mine; of course, they were closer to the knee than my thigh, but that was probably in an attempt to avoid my scar.

Oh yeah. He wanted me. He wanted me hardcore.

"Napping?" I asked, tracing around his knee. It was just a matter of time before we were making out on this couch; I gave it under five minutes.

"Paperwork headache."

I glanced over at him; his eyes were open now. Focused on me. Steamy, lustful, chocolate dripping in his irises. All right, so they were just darker than normal, and last I checked, chocolate dripping into eyes hurt like a bitch, but romantic analogies were never my forte.

"Ah. I have a clinic headache." I stared back at his knee, and trailed my fingers two inches higher; danced them along his inner thigh, but it wasn't like I was anywhere inappropriate. Give it time. "There was this one patient, though. She was pretty interesting. Thought about asking you for a consult."

"Tits or embarrassing orifice incident?"

My fingers slid higher and he shifted slightly. Opened his knees a bit wider. "It can't be both?"

"Consider me intrigued."

"She had something stuck in her hoo-hoo," I stated, mimicking a woman's voice. I looked over at him. "You'll never guess what it was."

He made a humming noise that sounded half in contentment and half in question, eyes closed and head leaning back against the arm of the couch.

"The yellow brick."

He opened his eyes and looked at me, his brows furrowed and mouth frowning in thought. And then I saw it; the moment it made sense to him. His mouth made a perfect O, eyebrows half up his forehead, and then he laughed. It was a good thing I was already in love with him otherwise I probably would've fallen in love with him now, and that would've been damned sappy. And, well, I refused to be sappy. That shit just didn't fly with me.

He kept laughing, and Wilson's laugh was damn addicting; also, normally contagious, but at the moment I was busy focusing on his mouth and the way his eyes lit up and the fact we'd been flirting all day (well, for years, actually, but moreso than usual today) and I kept massaging his inner thighs; nowhere dirty, but obviously getting a bit intimate.

His laugh died down but his smile didn't; our eyes met, my chest choked my heart (but oddly left me feeling all warm inside) and my hands stilled on his legs. I swallowed a lump in my throat, and this time it wasn't actually a fry. (A fry I'd had to pay for with my own money, but I digress).

I saw his adam's apple bob when his smile faded, and I nudged his legs off of me.

"Sorry," he muttered quickly and moved to sit up, eyes darting away from mine and cheeks turning bright pink. Oh, silly Wilson; he thought I was pushing him away.

"No, no, it's fine." I slinked over to him (all right, slinked as best I could with a big-ass hole in my leg-muscle death tends to hinder smoothness, but whatever) and leaned over his half-sitting form, our knees clashing again.

I swooped down and kissed him.

All right, so it wasn't the hottest kiss ever-just a brief press of lips-but considering I was leaning over him, my weight balanced on one hand I had leaning on the arm of the couch beside his left ear, and I was wobbling and he was half-sitting, it was the best I could do. I couldn't put much weight on my right leg, after all, and so I was resting it all on my left knee, which was digging a bit uncomfortably into the couch.

Still, my lips tingled and my chest tightened; his pupils dilated and he audibly swallowed. My arm was starting to wobble because it really didn't like having all that weight balanced on it, so I really had no choice but to lean down and kiss him again.

And again.

And the third time, I snuck a little tongue in as well, because I heard that improved balance.

The second time I pushed my tongue forward, his mouth opened and his tongue pushed right back; his hands were at my jaw, sliding around the back of my neck, and I laid him against he couch (mainly because I really couldn't keep holding myself up like that and I wanted to feel him underneath me) before our mouths slid open wider and the kiss deepened alarmingly fast.

See? Knew we'd be making out in five minutes, tops. Damn I'm good.

God, apparently so was he; the way he nipped at the tip of my tongue and grunted . . . Christ.

I settled in between his knees; thrust my tongue in his mouth again. Tried to recall the last time I felt my heart slam so hard against my rib cage; felt my stomach twist around in circles pleasantly. He ran his hands through my hair; held the back of my neck and pulled me in closer, which I had previously thought impossible. He clutched at my shoulders and moaned; I memorized the way he gasped, said my name into my mouth-

. . . and pushed me away roughly so that I plopped face-first into the warm cushions beneath me with my ass in the air.

What the hell?

"What the hell?" I snapped, turning my head and looking at Wilson, who was standing in the middle of his office, staring at the wall opposite the couch, with his hands clasped tightly around the back of his head; forearms squeezing his ears. I could hear him breathing heavily through his nose; same way he breathed when he was pissed off and trying his damned hardest not to scream at me.

I stood from the couch. "Wilson?"

"Have work to do," he blurted as his hands dropped from his head and he sped towards the door, whipping his lab coat off the coat rack.

"No. No, Wilson, you wanted-"

"Talk to you later," he muttered, although it sounded more like he said he was going to "talk to Leia" and under other circumstances that would've been funny, but a second later the door slammed in my face and I hadn't even realized I was limping after him, without my cane, until then.

So I did what any other rational adult would've done.

I trashed the shit out of his office.

Damn Wilson. Damn him and his stupid good-smelling hair and big, puppy dog eyes and hideous sweater vest/tie combinations. Maybe I'd been flirting heavily, but he'd been flirting right back; he was the one who practically said he wanted to stuff his hands down my pants. Or buy M&Ms but I wasn't a moron; I knew what he meant, and it wasn't hard-shelled covered chocolate he wanted to swirl his tongue around.

He'd been enjoying himself. I knew that much; he'd been moaning and grunting as much as I had been. And clutching at me, gasping my name; the memory of his writhing beneath me would've been a turn on if it had lasted longer than fifteen seconds before he threw a hissy fit and shoved me away.

And now, what? Were we supposed to pretend we hadn't just made out on his couch? Or was he just going to ignore me forever?

I'd probably just destroyed my friendship and lost Wilson forever. But you know what? It was his fault too!

Which didn't actually make me feel any better about the situation.

To be honest, I'd spent the last two hours moping in my office and telling anyone who came in to go fuck themselves. I didn't even ask to watch when it happened to be Cuddy. Eventually everybody realized I wasn't in the mood, and so I'd spent the last hour of it sitting in total silence, contemplating the door to the balcony and wondering if Wilson would quit, and what moron would be on the other end of that balcony in two weeks.

I shouldn't have done it. I should have just kept massaging his knee and that was it. Actually, it shouldn't have even gotten that far. It should have stopped when our knees accidentally touched under the table; I shouldn't have pushed them together purposely. I should have just ignored it, went on with my day like usual, and then right now we could have been having a perfectly normal day where Wilson didn't completely abandon me and in turn make me scare everyone off the floor so they wouldn't have to incur the wrath of my jackassery.

The door opened but there wasn't a greeting. I kept staring at the balcony door, and I knew who it was. Nobody else would've dropped by after all the yelling and insulting I'd done.

I sunk lower in my chair and glared at the wall so hard I wondered if it would ricochet and hit him in the face.


"Did you have fun working?" I sneered through my scowl.

"House," he repeated.

Scoffing, I wheeled my chair around so I could face him; the squeaking it ruined the dramatic silence, but it didn't lift my mood any. He stood in front of my door, hands in his pockets and chin tilted down; eyebrows pinched upwards and brown eyes huge. He looked like a kid who'd just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"What do you want?" I snapped.

"You trashed my office," he muttered, still looking like a kicked puppy. His lab coat was gone; I wondered if he'd bothered cleaning up his office, or if he'd just walked over here as soon as he'd seen it.

For a wild second, I thought about saying an incredibly lame you trashed my heart but that sounded like something an insipid Disney channel movie would use as the one-up comeback, so I decided against it. Instead, I shrugged.

He rubbed the back of his neck and looked around my office, then took a few steps forward. "One day, Jesus was walking around heaven, watching the angels do their various jobs," he started, meeting my eyes briefly before dropping his hand from the back of his neck and sticking it back in his pocket.

I furrowed my eyebrows.

He ambled closer. "When he sees Saint Peter, he can tell he's getting stressed and so he, obviously being kind as he's, well, Jesus, he tells Peter that he can have a vacation and that he'll take over the job for the next few days. So Peter leaves and Jesus takes over."

He looked at me and met my eyes; I waited for him to continue but he didn't say anything; just kept staring at me. "Go on," I told him.

He nodded. "So, after a few hours talking to the people waiting to get into heaven, an old man comes up to him. Jesus asks him; 'What is the one thing you're most proud of?' and the man looks at him, without any irony, and says; 'Well, that would be my son.' Jesus asks why and the man tells him that his son had travelled the world, always seeking to . . . learn and understand."

He stopped a few feet from my desk; he didn't move to sit down or anything; just stood there, and rubbed the back of his neck, meeting my eyes; pleading, almost.

He looked away briefly. "Jesus, who was, understandably, intrigued, asked him what the old man did for a living to support his son and the old man tells him he was a carpenter, but that, even though he didn't make much money, had never stopped his son from seeking out adventure and-and people; doing what he wanted; needed. The old man continued to tell him that his son was determined. That, uh . . . that even though his hands and feet had holes, he was still perfect in his eyes."

Wilson smiled at me then and I almost smiled return. Almost. I'm not that easy.

"So Jesus looks at the old man and asks; 'Father?' The old man, with tears in his eyes, looks at him and cries; 'Pinocchio?'"

I chuckled. Any other time, I probably would have full-on laughed. But the moment was a bit serious, and that sort of ruined the humour behind it, but it was still a pretty funny joke. It deserved a chuckle no matter the fact we weren't joking around anymore.

He shuffled on the spot and stared at the floor. "I shouldn't have run off," he admitted.

I wasn't going to go the sympathetic route. Bastard put me through the ringer, and I still wasn't sure what he wanted; to forget it, or continue. "Damn right you shouldn't have."

One hand went to his hip; the other to the back of his neck. It was starting to make me anxious, the way he kept fidgeting. He glanced at me, although his head was still lowered. "Before, when we-and we've always . . . flirted," he settled, looking around my office as if something would magically pop out and tell him what to say. Please, as if I installed prompters into the walls. "We were just . . . having fun. Joking."

"And now we're not."

His hands dropped listlessly to his side, but he finally looked at me full-on. "Yeah," he breathed. "I . . . I panicked."

I grabbed my cane from where I'd leant it against the desk, intending to stand up, but I didn't. I pressed it to my mouth, thinking it over. Of course we could still joke around; play pranks on each other, goof off or whatever . . . but I wasn't a moron. Things would get serious.

Then again, our friendship hadn't always been fun and games, either.

I pressed my mouth to my cane, because it helped me think.

"If I kissed you again, would you panic?" I had to know. I knew what I wanted, but it wasn't just me anymore, was it?

He shook his head. "No," he answered in a tiny voice; almost meek.

I pressed the cane against my mouth again and traced it. He'd come into my office and told me the Pinocchio joke. He might have run off, but . . . but he'd come back. I pushed out of my chair and limped around the desk, coming towards him slowly. He didn't get tense or shy away. Just watched me.

I stopped in front of him and raised my eyebrows. He smiled. I put my cane against my desk and stepped even closer; held the side of his face with my hand. If he pulled away, then fine. We'd end it.

I leaned in, but hesitated an inch from his mouth-what if he pulled away again? What if he ran off? I wanted him to be sure; give him time to change his mind. He'd had all day to change him mind last time, so how could I be sure?

He kissed me.

It was different than the kiss we had before; softer and gentler and I pushed into it and he kept caressing my mouth; a tiny bit of tongue flicked out, but nothing more, and then he pulled away, but only by a few inches.

I didn't open my eyes; didn't let go of the side of his face.

"I'm not panicking," he whispered.

I opened my eyes and my heart moved to my throat when I saw that he was smiling. And, even though I tried not to, I half-smiled too. He turned his head so he could press his lips to the palm of my hand, even though his eyes remained locked on mine, butterflies fluttering in my stomach and the room fading around me and god damn him. He'd turned me into a sappy moron.

Oh well. There were worse things.

"So . . . Did you hear the one about the diagnostician who fell in love with his best friend?" I traced his jaw with the back of my fingers.

He barely shook his head. "No. How does that one go?"

With a smirk, I leaned as close as I could without kissing him and felt him inhale; his eyes fluttered shut, and I could feel his eyelashes against my own.

"I'll show you," I promised against his lips.

And then I did just that.