BABY STEPS

It was Wednesday.

That particular factoid was not what interested Wilson as he fruitlessly recalculated the days.

It was also Day Ten of House's ultimatum.

Granted, House had been a bit preoccupied the past few days. The "Big Fight Over Little Details" with Cuddy had distracted the diagnostician nicely. So had the subsequent stealing and hacking of her computer, and the fender-bender, and the dust-up at the school, and the "I'm coughing up a lung . . . literally!" patient. But Wilson knew better to rely on these minor occurrences to derail House's determination. Any moment now House would barge into his office demanding to hear gritty details and, upon hearing nothing, would drag him out to find the nearest available hooker.

No thanks.

Contrary to what House said, his problem was not a lack of getting laid. Wilson was aware, with simultaneous pride and embarrassment, that he was still capable of finding a one-night stand. The blonde, well-endowed barista had proven that. It was more a matter of following through with the one-night stand. Or rather, what it represented.

He was almost forty-two. He ought to be celebrating a decade of marriage to a woman he had never cheated on, have a home with mortgage half paid off, have a child or two of his own. Instead, he was thrice-divorced and living in a loft he had purchased in a passive-aggressive gesture to punish his boss. One-night stands only solidified the sad, transient lifestyle he had adopted.

What Wilson wanted was a stable, caring relationship – someone to kiss good-bye in the morning, someone to snuggle with late at night. Someone he could have conversations with that didn't revolve around work or monster trucks or what's really at the root of the latest spat with Cuddy. If that made him a pussy, as House seemed to think, then too bad. It was what he wanted and he was man enough to own up.

The funny thing was, up until about a year and a half ago, it hadn't really bothered him. At least, that's what he thought. Maybe it had and he had misidentified it as grief over Amber's loss or worry over House's near breakdown. It hadn't really hit him until . . . well.

Until Tucker.

If he were to be honest with himself – really, truly, deep-down honest – it was Tucker that started this active quest for a soulmate. Wilson gave him a second chance at reuniting his family and the jerk threw it away. It had given him plenty of food for thought. Buying the loft out from under Cuddy was only the first baby step.

Maybe he was trying to compensate for Tucker's mistake. Maybe it only brought into light a longing he had ignored for too long. But he felt an urge to try again with his ex-wife. Bonnie and Julie he was still friendly with but they were out of the question so long as House was in his life. And House wasn't going anywhere.

But Sam had never met House. They were already separated, on their way to divorce, when he first met House. And they had been so young. Too young. People changed as they aged. Maybe they could rekindle what they had had and grow a stronger relationship. At least, that's what Wilson had been banking on. That's why he had friended her and started emailing her – not the other way around, like he had told Remy.

It wasn't really Sam he was moping over, though he would never tell House that. It was the realization that he was no different than Tucker. They had both been given a second chance at happiness and they had both blown it. Of course, Tucker still had a girlfriend but lost his integrity, and Wilson . . . had no girlfriend and as for his integrity, he really couldn't say. So who was better off?

On the other hand, here he was feeling sorry for himself when it was the women who were the victims of the idiot men. Wilson knew he had hurt Sam with the accusations he thought had been mere supports. And poor Melissa and Emily. They were the victims twice over, because of Tucker and because of him. He had been the one to drag them to Princeton-Plainsboro, practically guilt-tripped them into doing so. He had given them hope. And he hadn't even said good-bye when they left.

They deserved better than what they had received from both him and Tucker, and knowing how much the whole debacle had hurt them hurt Wilson. He genuinely liked Melissa and he flattered himself that the feeling was mutual. Even Emily seemed to like him, enough to trust him when he said she and Melissa ought to come down to see Tucker.

A phrase from House drifted through his mind – you can change a table; all you need is coat of pain and the guts to use it. And then he remembered how he had justified snatching the loft out from under Cuddy's nose – she hurt my friend. She deserves to be punished.

Tucker had hurt him, and Melissa and Emily too. He deserved to be punished.

As far as reasons went for starting a relationship, it ranked down there with "my best friend gave me 10 days to get laid and at least she's a woman I know and like."

Another phrase from November came back to him now – Baby steps.

Right.

Wilson grabbed the phone and dialed before he lost his nerve. "Hello, Mel? It's James Wilson."