Author's note: I need another writing fandom like a hole in the head. OTOH, House and Wilson are so *damn* much fun to play with.
House straddled the bench in the surgeons' locker room watching Wilson change into scrubs. Strictly speaking he didn't need to be here. Wilson might even prefer that he not be here. But after a morning in which he woke up on the wrong side of the bednamely the side containing only himselfhe needed a diversion that didn't involve puking infants or hung-over college students. Who, now that he thought about it, also had a tendency to puke.
"You know, it'll only take about fifteen minutes to do the biopsy," Wilson said, glancing over his shoulder.
"That's fifteen minutes I don't have to be in clinic," House said.
Actually, by including Wilson's changing time into the equation, House could drag that out to a full half hour. Cuddy would, of course, try to tack that half hour on to the end of his shift, but it was the principle of the thing.
Wilson shook his head in exasperation and shrugged the dress shirt from his shoulders.
House frowned. "What's that?"
"What?" Wilson looked over his shoulder again. When he saw House staring at his back he tried, unsuccessfully, to twist his head around far enough so that he could see his back, too.
"That contusion," House said. He jabbed his cane toward the bruise.
"It's a contusion."
"Brilliant diagnosis," House said. He waited for an explanation, but Wilson merely proceeded to hang his shirt carefully in his locker. "Seriously, how'd you get that?"
"You don't want to know." Wilson's scrub top slid down over the bruise like a curtain on the final act, but House didn't accept that anything was over until the fat lady sang. And she was down in the clinic.
"That doesn't sound like me."
"Fine," Wilson said.
House smiled. Life had become so much easier once Wilson had finally resigned himself to House's addiction to gossip. Of course, Wilson loved gossip, too, just not about himself. "Well, it started innocently enough. I was down on my knees ."
"You're right. I don't want to know," House said, scowling.
"I was doing some work around the house." Wilson's small smile said that he was pleased with himself. Silly, because everyone knew that Wilson was virtually the only one who could pull House up short.
"Didn't I tell you to stop that?" House had, two weeks earlier when Wilson showed up with a couple of shallow lacerations on his forearm. House still had no idea how Wilson had managed to cut himself on a mirror, or why he'd been messing with a mirror in the first place, but he thought it was probably a married/homeowner kind of thing and therefore beyond the scope of House's experience or, more importantly, interest.
"Since when have I ever taken your advice?"
"And you see what comes of ignoring me."
"So this biopsy ?" Wilson asked, shutting the door of his locker. House noted he didn't lock his locker and wondered what the limit was on Wilson's platinum card.
"It'll be negative," House said with confidence.
"You don't think she has cancer?" Wilson asked. He turned to House, hands on hips.
"Then why am I doing a biopsy?"
"Because Chase thinks she has cancer. He's wrong, of course, but you just can't tell kids anything these days."
"So I'm doing this procedure purely to give you one more excuse to gloat at Chase?"
"Mmmm ." House pretended to consider the statement. "Yep, pretty much."
"That's a patient out there," Wilson said. "A person, not a mannequin."
"Shame, isn't it? Mannequins aren't terribly prone to cancer," House said. "Come to think of it, they're also much less likely to sue over unnecessary procedures."
"Then you admit it's an unnecessary procedure?"
"You read the chart." House knew he had. Wilson didn't trust him that far, not usually. Wilson had limits, and they tended to stop far short of House's limits.
"The chart?" House rolled his eyes. It didn't happen often, but some days Wilson was just a half step off. He was so used to Wilson being right there with him, even anticipating him, that he found having to slow the pace even more annoying than he usually did. "The nearly illegible account of the patient's illness thus far? You read it."
"And there are certain clinical findings that may indicate the presence of cancer," Wilson said reluctantly.
"There you go." House swung his good leg over the bench and pushed up to his feet. "Not an unnecessary procedure."
"But you said ."
"There's always a chance I'll be wrong," House said. He shrugged. "Not likely, but you'd hate to miss it."
"I hate you," Wilson muttered.
"Yes, you do. And you were the first."
"Okay, not first, but you do it best and I'll always love you for that." House pressed his hand over his heart and gave Wilson his most earnest look.
Wilson gave a long suffering sigh and left the room.
"I've been waiting three days." House gave Dr. Yoder, the pathologist, his "I'm a leg, a pill, and a path report short so don't give me any crap" look. It was a look proven to send young children screaming for their mommies. Then again, very few of House's expressions were considered child friendly so that wasn't saying much.
"You aren't the only one," Yoder said, completely unfazed by House's attitude. "We've lost two pathologists and one transcriptionist in the last six weeks."
"My heart bleeds." House shifted his weight, impatient. "At least sign out the preliminary."
"Surgical path isn't my bailiwick."
"I know, but no one's answering next door in surgical path," House said.
"That's odd. Someone should be there."
"They're probably too busy experimenting on new and disgusting ways to reuse diseased tissue," House said.
"They're probably having lunch."
"Same thing," House said. "So how about helping me find this result?"
"What's your hurry?"
"Because I think this woman is actually a man and that inguinal lymph node was really an undescended testicle," House said. "I've got fifty bucks riding on the results."
"I've heard stories about you," Yoder said. He eyed House from top to bottom, then crossed to the other side of the room.
"Let me guessthey all end with 'and he lived happily ever after'."
"Not the ones I heard."
House tried to look disdainful, which also failed to cow Yoder. "So what, if I may be so bold as to ask, is your bailiwick?"
"I'm a deputy medical examiner."
"So you hack up corpses, right?"
"I perform autopsies, yes." Yoder's tone was as cold as Wilson's second wife.
"How are you at that cool forensic stuff? Like wounds and blood spatter and all those gory details?" House asked. He stumbled a bit, trying to follow Yoder around the dimly lit office. House wasn't sure if it was the result of administrative budget cuts or simply pathology mood lighting, but he wasn't impressed.
"I have the required training in forensics," Yoder said. House sensed the pathologist wasn't warming up to him at all.
"Could a person get cuts like this from a mirror?" House drew his finger across his forearm indicating the size and location of the lacerations he'd treated on Wilson's arm.
"Broken mirror? It's possible."
"But is it likely?" House persisted.
"Accidental or intentional?"
"Accidental." House assumed it was accidental. Wilson was a doctor. If he'd wanted to commit suicide he'd surely do a better job than a few superficial cuts on the wrong side of his arm.
"Odd placement for the wounds."
"So not likely?"
"People are idiots; anything's possible."
"God, I think I love you," House said. Yoder gave him a look of extreme distaste. Okay, maybe not love. Probably just a smidgen of lust. Although he shouldn't have been surprised that someone who spent his life studying the end result of human idiocy would have pessimistic view of the species. "If not a mirror, then what?"
"My first thoughtlacerations like thatdefensive wounds." Yoder turned away and pulled a file from a stack.
"Defensive?" House was momentarily stunned into silence. He didn't know what he'd expected to hear, but that wasn't it.
"Say someone comes at you with a knife."
"A not unlikely scenario, or so I'm told," House muttered.
"Your instinct is to protect yourself, especially your head and face. You hunch over and throw your arms up like this." Yoder held up his hands. "If your attacker is holding the knife in an overhand grip, he or she will bring the knife in a downward trajectory and ."
"Classic," Yoder confirmed. He dropped his hands and returned to perusing his files. House tucked the information away; he'd need to examine it further in private. Away from the corpse hacker.
"Now, about that biopsy ."
"Can you imagine?" House said in his most indignant tone of voice. "That nasty pathologist person denied me my happy fairy tale ending."
"No, he's right," Wilson said. He stood in front of the light box, his eyes fixed on the x-rays he had clipped there. "Most stories about you end up with 'he was strangled in his sleep by his underlings/best friend/patients/Cuddy'."
"Everyone thinks Cuddy will strangle me?" House said. He pretended to be shocked and appalled by the notion.
"No, Cuddy thinks she'll strangle you. The rest of us think that would be too easy."
"For you." Wilson finally turned to look at House. "Is there a reason you're whining at me instead of guiding your young padawans through the mysteries of modern diagnostic medicine?"
"I sent them to battle the dark side." House sat down rather emphatically in the chair next to Wilson's desk.
"Medical records," House said. "Did you know they're charging me per dictation now?"
"They're charging everyone," Wilson said, turning back to the x-rays. "It's the only way the department can generate income."
"By taking money from my department? How's that supposed to help?" The more House thought about it the more aggravated he got. "Don't we all work for the same entity?"
"It's a shell game," Wilson said with a shrug. "I don't pretend to understand it."
"It's just not right."
"I suppose you think they should be paying you for the privilege of listening to your words of wisdom." Wilson turned off the light box and sank into his chair, staring at House.
"It'd be a nice change, but that's not why I'm here."
"Yes, why are you here?"
"How'd you get those cuts on your arm?"
"I told you."
"Nice," Wilson said. He turned his chair away from House and busied himself straightening up an already neat desk.
"I'm trying to invite a confidence. Work with me here."
"Why do you want to know?"
"Because I'm not convinced it was an accident."
"Whether it was or wasn't, it's none of your damn business."
"Everything's my damn business. You should know that by now."
"Don't push this, House." Wilson got up from his chair. He shoved the x-rays into a folder and tossed it on his desk before he walked around House and headed for the door.
"You need to get out, Jimmy."
"It's not what you think."
"Domestic violence, spousal abuse: call it what you will it seems pretty straightforward to me."
"Do you think that it only happens to women? Or exceptionally wimpy guys?" House asked. "Well, you're right, but your ego is not a good reason to stay."
"I'm not a victim, and I'm not a three-time loser."
"No one's going to think you're a three time loser."
"You did, the day I proposed to Julie."
"How very prophetic of me." Then House shrugged. "Not really, everyone saw that coming."
"I didn't. Don't."
"It's over," House said. Hell, he wasn't entirely sure it had ever begun.
"As you're so fond of telling meit's not over 'til the fat lady sings," Wilson said.
"That may be a while, because I had to get a restraining order. Wasn't the singing so much as those armor plated breasts," House said. "You could put an eye out on those things."
"What?" Wilson stopped in the act of opening the door and stared back at House.
"On the other hand, I kind of like the horny helmut. Kinky in a weird, pseudo-Nordic kind of way." Wilson just shook his head at House and reached for the doorknob. House's grip tightened around the head of his cane. "Your patient's about to blow his aorta."
"What?" Wilson looked at the folder of x-rays he'd left sitting on top of his desk, then gave an exasperated shake of his head. "He's got lymphoma."
"Well, obviously," House said in his best 'duh' tone of voice. "But that's survivable. Ruptured aortas usually aren't."
"Take another look at that mediastinum," House advised. He got up from his chair and started to limp toward the door, crossing Wilson's path as he headed back to his desk. House paused at the door and watched Wilson start snapping the x-rays up on the light box again. "It's subtle, but it's there."
"Marfan's, damn it." Wilson's hand was reaching blindly for his phone, his eyes glued to the image in front of him. He didn't notice when House left the room.
"And what are we supposed to do with that I ask you?"
House slowly raised his head and pretended that he'd been listening intently throughout Mrs. Paulson's harangue. Sitting in one of the uncomfortable clinic chairs, his head bowed over her husband's file, there was no way she could know his thoughts had been on restraining orders and the correlation between the degree of exposure of Cuddy's breasts and the hospital's current level of funding.
"You haven't heard a word I said," Mrs. Paulson accused.
In House's not in the least humble opinion, the expensive hair dye and make-up and the at least two too many face lifts had done nothing to preserve whatever beauty she may have once had.
"On the contrary, I most definitely heard the word penis. It's not the kind of word I'm likely to miss." House paused. "Just so I'm clearthis is his penis we're talking about?"
"We don't have to take this." Mrs. Paulson stood up, her purse clutched tightly in her hands. When hubby failed to see his cue, she nudged him violently with her elbow.
"No, you don't. You can walk out of here right now. But you spent ninety minutes in the waiting room; you might as well get your money's worth," House suggested.
"Just write him the prescription."
"What do you meanuh uh?" Mrs. Paulson was working up a good head of steam now.
"Your husband has hypertension and diabetesboth conditions which can cause or contribute to impotence," House said. He noted the way Mr. Paulson flinched at the word and wondered if it was a conditioned response. And how many times could he elicit the response in the course of one appointment. "The medication he takes for his hypertension can also cause or contribute to impotence." Yep, there it wasanother flinch. "Or it could just be you."
"Me?" Mrs. Paulson wasn't merely steamed. She was indignation incarnate.
"Impotence can be either organic or psychological. Quite often it ends up being both. The more pressure you put on Mr. Penis Paulson, the more likely he is to fail at his marital responsibilities."
"Then give him the drug."
"Uh uh." House turned his gaze directly on Mr. Paulson, a non-descript mouse of a man who was little more than the shadow of his more colorful wife. "According to your chart you have angina."
"He already has medicine for that," Mrs. Paulson interjected.
"How frequently do you have chest pain?" House asked. "Is it regular or sporadic?"
"It's irregularly regular." Mr. Paulson made an apologetic shrug, an activity at which he seemed to have ample practice. "If that makes any sense."
"Oddly enough it does." House scrawled his own notations in the unfortunate Mr. Paulson's chart. "I'm making a referral to Dr. Emrich. He's a urologist and he's the guy who can help you. Assuming you want help that is."
"More waiting, more doctors," Mrs. Paulson complained. "Why won't you just give him the prescription?"
"Because giving a drug like Viagra to a man with cardiac disease is like shoving a grenade into his left ventricle," House said. He snapped the cap on his pen, closed the chart and pushed up to his feet. "Oh, sure, he'd be able to get it up and then his chest would explode. Very messy, very embarrassing, and very fatal for man in question."
"But everyone takes it," Mrs. Paulson said. She obviously wasn't willing to give up on her dream of hot sex. The very notion guaranteed that House wouldn't be able to think of hot sex without gagging for a few days. Hours, at the very least.
"If everyone ran naked through the streets singing Aidawould you do it, too?"
"Of course not."
"Good, 'cause I think I'd have to put my eyes out." House gave a theatrical shudder and turned toward the door.
"You call yourself a doctor?" Mrs. Paulson was shaking her finger at him.
"No, actually the state of New Jersey calls me a doctor. I'd prefer to call myself a cab."
"Mrs. Paulson is furious."
"Is she rich?"
"What difference does that make?" Cuddy's chest went out a little further as her hands balled up on her hips. If House's theory was correct, the deep décolletage indicated that the hospital needed an infusion to its cash flow. However, he suspected that Mr. Paulson was too traumatized by the missus to really respond to Cuddy's cleavage. And he didn't think the missus swung that way.
"Just wondering how much you want me to make nice."
"What are you staring at?"
"A financial barometer apparently," House said. He raised his eyes to her face, noting her puzzled expression with satisfaction. "And Mr. Paulson's the one who should be furious."
"Why? What did you do to him?"
"Why'd you become a doctor if you hate people?" Cuddy asked. She sank into her chair with a kind of resigned thump.
"Why'd you become an administrator if you hate people? Oh, wait. That kind of answers itself, doesn't it?"
"Telling patients the truth is one thing; deliberately antagonizing them is another," Cuddy said.
"Not always. I told Mrs. Paulson that she was a contributing factor in her husband's impotence. Which is both antagonizing and true. Probably."
"But was it necessary to tell her that?"
"Yes. If I hadn't, she'd probably be at the seniors' center right now scoring some black market Viagra."
"Black market Viagra?"
"Canadian," House said with a knowing nod.
"Black market Canadian Viagra?"
"You know what those Canadians are like."
"No, what are they like?" Cuddy asked.
"Why do I put up with you?"
"My rugged good looks? My searing intellect?" House paused to give Cuddy a chance to respond. "No? Maybe it's because you're afraid if you fire me I'll sue the pants off this place for carving off necessary bits of my body without my permission."
Cuddy stared at House, lower jaw hanging open. House thought maybe he should've saved that particular truth for a time when he really needed some heavy duty leverage. But sometimes you just had to live in the moment.
"Then again, you didn't cut off the most necessary bit which means I'll be able to enjoy the benefits of Canadian Viagra if and when the time comes."
Cuddy dropped her head onto her desk with strangled sound of frustration. House waited a moment, checking his watch, but Cuddy didn't surface.
"So, we done here?"
"You never asked me why I became a doctor." House leaned against the corner of Wilson's desk.
"Because it's obvious. It's the profession for which you are least suited, therefore the one you had to pursue if only to prove that you could do it."
"Along with kindergarten teacher and Dalai Lama," Wilson said. He glanced up from the record he was so diligently reviewing. "Nice catch on the aneurysm."
"Just doing my job."
"Complicates the crap out of his treatment, of course ."
"Just doing my job," House repeated. "Besides, it's a minor delay. The radiation oncologist will have him glowing in the dark before you know it."
"Probably." Wilson flipped the file closed. "I can't believe I missed it."
"Well, you do tend to tunnel vision about some things."
"Is it about the affairs?" House persisted.
"No," Wilson said sharply.
"Because you don't have affairs," House said. "You have flirtations."
"Maybe because that's all I'm allowed to have." There was a challenge in Wilson's gaze, one House chose to decline for the moment.
"Well, there must be a reason for all the husband beating."
"There's no ."
"The bruise on your back?"
Wilson refused to answer, which was all the answer House needed.
"And that's just the ones I know about."
"Look, occasionally Julie loses her temper. And once in a very great while, when she loses her temper, she loses it." Wilson's face took on a rueful expression. "Strangely enough, it's usually when your name comes up."
"I can't believe you don't talk about me more than that."
"She resents the time I don't spend with her," Wilson said.
"You're a doctor."
"And she's more or less resigned to that reality," Wilson said. "It's the extra-curricular activities she resents."
"But she doesn't even like monster trucks," House said. He waved a hand dismissively. "Tell her it's a guy thing."
"I think that's what she's afraid of."
"I wouldn't have thought she was that astute."
Seated on the outside of the semi-circular booth, House could keep one eye on the door to the bar. So he saw Wilson immediately when he burst through the heavy door, his shoulders hunched against the cold drizzle that had been falling all day.
"Wilson's here; fill'er up," House told Foreman.
Foreman grabbed the last empty glass from the center of the table and poured the dark gold beer, finishing with a flourish and a perfect head of foam.
"How do you get that just right every time?" Cameron asked. She leaned in toward Foreman, like she harbored some childhood ambition to be a bartender and Foreman knew the secret handshake.
"Just naturally gifted, I guess," Foreman said, preening slightly at the attention.
"At giving head? Somehow that doesn't surprise me," House said.
Cameron's eyes widened and she pulled back from Foreman. Chase choked down a mouthful of his own beer. Foreman glared at House, but managed to slide the full glass across the table top rather than throw it on him.
"Are you suicidal?"
"What?" House looked up, then looked down again because Wilson was dripping on him.
"Intent on self harm," Wilson explained. He shook his coat from his shoulders and hung it from a hook at the end of the booth. He nudged Chase over so that he could sit down opposite House.
"I know what the word means," House said.
"First you've got Mrs. Paulson so wound up she's filed a grievance with the patient rep office," Wilson said.
Cameron, Foreman, and Chase all looked at House expectantly. House merely sneered at his beer.
"Then you threatened to sue Cuddy and the hospital?"
"You're kidding?" Chase looked at Wilson, then House.
"I merely mentioned that the threat of a lawsuit was possible at some point in the future," House said. He stopped to scowl at Chase who was looking far too interested.
"Why would you sue Cuddy?" Foreman asked. "I mean, I can see the other way around but ."
"Let me put this in words you'll all understandnone of your damn business." House gave all three an appropriately grim and forbidding look. Unfortunately, they'd all become inured to a greater or lesser extent.
"It's the leg, right?" Chase asked. He was definitely at the 'greater' end of the spectrum.
"Why now?" Foreman asked. "If you had any grounds for a suit, why would you wait all this time?"
"Well, it's obvious isn't it?" Chase said. "He hasn't got a leg to stand on."
House had to hand it to him. Chase had a capacity for tactlessness exceeded only House's own. Wilson's eyebrows rose as he peered over the rim of his beer glass, waiting for House's reaction. Cameron swallowed hard, choked, then swallowed again. Foreman froze in place as if hoping everyone would forget about the presence of the sole black guy stuck in the middle of the booth with no means of escape other than going over the top of the table.
"I'll, um I'll just go fetch another round," Chase said. He shoved against Wilson to get out of the booth. Wilson stood up, shaking spilled beer from the back of his hand.
"Me, too," Foreman said quickly. "I'll help."
House and Wilson both turned toward Cameron. She stared back.
"Er ladies' room?" Then she slid across the vinyl seat and all the way to the back hall.
"Well, this is fun. We should do it more often," House said as Wilson sat down.
"You can't sue Cuddy."
"It would've happened anyway," Wilson insisted.
"Maybe," House said. Probably, which was why he hadn't sued. "But there's a big difference between informed consent and assault."
"No argument there," Wilson said. He licked a couple of lingering drops of spilled beer from his fingertips and House realized that Mrs. Paulson hadn't put him off thoughts of hot sex quite as strongly as he'd thought.
"Frankly I'm just surprised you haven't wielded this little bit of blackmail before now," Wilson continued.
"It just seemed so tacky somehow."
"And you're in a tacky mood today?" Wilson asked. House glanced down at the particularly obnoxious t-shirt he'd chosen that morning.
"You couldn't tell?"
"If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?"
"Yes, that is an ugly tie," House said. He looked up from a set of really fascinating LFTs to see Wilson sticking his head just around the door. Wilson's jaw tightened noticeably in response. "I always tell you the truth."
House did except on those occasions when he could see that Wilson's soul had taken enough blows and then he told the little white lies that guaranteed that he wouldn't be the one to finally break Wilson.
Wilson entered the room and closed the door behind him. "Why are you so set on my leaving Julie?"
House opened his mouth, then stopped before any one of a dozen flippant answers could emerge. He'd made a promise. Well, the promise was implied.
"She doesn't make you happy," House said. Wilson's eyebrows rose, surprised and questioning. "You have a right to be happy."
"Actually, the Constitution only guarantees the right to the pursuit of happiness," Wilson said. "Not happiness itself."
"Oh, please. The founding fathers were all stoners and drunks."
"You don't think a bunch of backwater colonies declaring independence from the British Empire wasn't just a little insane? Then again, old George III wasn't completely compos mentis himself." House pulled his bottle of pills from his pocket and tossed it in the air a couple of times.
"What about you?"
"I'm thinking maybe stoner is the way to go," House said.
"That's not what I was asking."
"I don't think I'd make you happy either," House said. Which was, after all, was the reason he hadn't tried harder to stop Wilson from his various and sundry attempts at Ward Cleaver-hood.
"I'm not like you," Wilson said. "I'm not happy in isolation."
"Isolation's a state of mind."
"Well, in my mind it's a cold, empty bed."
"So you'd rather live with someone you hate than sleep alone?"
"I don't hate her. And she doesn't hate me," Wilson added before House could comment.
"Why don't you have kids?" House asked. Wilson stared at him. "You've been married three times, for god's sake. Please don't tell me your little Wilsons aren't up to the challenge."
"To my knowledge I'm fully equipped." Wilson ran an exasperated hand through his hair. "Look, the first time I was still in med school and we weren't together all that long anyway. And then there was Rachel and she was getting her own career started and why the hell am I telling you this?"
"I want to make sure you understand the purpose of this meeting."
House glanced down at the woman walking next to him through the corridor. Sarah something or other, patient rep and defender against Houses. Her voice was soft and reassuring, her eyes warm and compassionate. She looked fresh and pretty and kind. Hell, she looked like Wilson's next wife.
"I understand completely," House said. "Cuddy wants me to make nice with Mrs. Paulson. Sort of a professional favor, one dragon lady to another."
"Dr. House ."
"Do you know Dr. Wilson?" House asked.
"Only by reputation," Sarah said, obviously thrown by the change in subject.
"Which reputation?" House shook his head. "Never mind." Given that Wilson's patients rarely complained, it was unlikely that Sarah had ever encountered Wilson on a professional basis.
"I want to state for the record that this is a waste of time. However, I will participate in this little farce so that you can all give yourselves an A for effort."
Sarah frowned, then simply waved her hand at the closed door of her office. Apparently she knew House by reputation, too. House pushed through the door. Mrs. Paulson was seated directly across the small room from the door. A satisfied half smile pulled at her lips when she saw House.
"Let's just cut to the chase, shall we?" House asked, returning her smile with a feral grin of his own.
"Let's," Mrs. Paulson agreed. She sat up a little straighter in the chair. "No one talks to me the way you did. No one."
"I'll let you in on a little secret," House said. "I tell people the truth, whether they like hearing it or not. I told you the truth. Obviously you didn't like it. Your problem, not mine."
"Don't flatter yourself. You're not some god, shining the light of truth on mere mortals. You're a bitter, hateful man who enjoys taking his anger out on innocent bystanders," Mrs. Paulson said.
"Well, we can't all be aging harpies with gaudy taste in jewelry," House retorted. He made a pointed of looking at the myriad rings encasing her short, plump fingers.
"Let me guessyour wife left you when you got crippled up."
"Girlfriend, and she's the one who crippled me."
"I don't blame her," Mrs. Paulson said.
"Touché," House said. They stared at each other for several heartbeats, neither speaking. House shifted his weight slightly to ease the strain on his leg. "We appear to be at something of an impasse."
"No, I'm satisfied." Mrs. Paulson rose from her seat and walked slowly toward the door. House shuffled to the side; he didn't trust her to not whack him with her purse as she passed, and he'd known some women's purses to be lethal.
"Didn't your mother teach you any manners?" Mrs. Paulson asked. She gave a very pointed nod at the door.
"My mother's just grateful I didn't become a serial killer," House said, still a little confused by the abrupt end to the meeting.
"There's still time." Mrs. Paulson showed herself out of the room, leaving House more off balance than he'd been in months.
"Met number four today."
House sat down at Wilson's table. Wilson had a half eaten sandwich on his plate and was in the process of tearing a brownie into little gooey, chocolaty bits. Which was a shame because brownies were one of the few things the hospital cafeteria managed to get right.
"Number four?" Wilson asked. He made a face at the brownie crumbs. He wiped his hands on his napkin and shoved the whole mess to the side.
"The next Mrs. Wilson," House said. "A Wilsonette in waiting if you will."
"I'm still married."
"Technically," House agreed.
"And you're going to pick my next wife?" Wilson asked, clearly wary of that possibility.
"Didn't have to. She kind of picked herself," House said. "She's just like the other Mrs. Wilsons. Except she's a red head."
"Why would I want another wife like the ones I've failed with?"
"Don't ask me, but I'm sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with your marital history." House gave Wilson a questioning look. Wilson merely scowled and hunched over, staring at the table. "If you ever get the urge to break out of this rut, I know a doctor type person who's got a queen size bed, a fridge full of beer, and a large collection of porn."
"Is that a proposal?" Wilson looked up, suspicious.
"Could be," House said with a shrug. "Of course you'd have to put up with the fact that he's an anti-social junkie. And a gentile to boot."
"Couldn't get much farther out of the rut than that."
"Might be refreshing."
"Might be a lot of hard work," Wilson said.
House shrugged again. He was as wary of the idea as Wilson, so he wasn't particularly offended by Wilson's reluctance. He wasn't sure why he'd even suggested it, but if asked, he'd blame it on Mrs. Paulson. She'd obviously put some kind of harpy hex on him.
"I'm still married," Wilson repeated. Even he didn't sound like he believed it.
"Anyone seen Wilson?" House asked as he stalked into the conference room.
"I heard he's taking some personal time," Foreman said.
"Really?" House thought about that, then resumed filling his coffee cup.
"I overheard Cuddy trying to get someone to cover his clinic hours," Foreman explained. House panicked momentarily. Foreman grinned, enjoying House's discomfort. "Don't worry, she guilted Cameron into it."
"She didn't 'guilt' me," Cameron protested. "Dr. Wilson's a nice guy. Anyone would be willing to cover for him."
"House wouldn't," Chase said. House glared at him. He was still thinking up ways to make Chase pay for the crack the other day at the bar.
"I don't suppose either of you heard why Wilson was taking time?" House said. He sat down and pulled the bakery box toward him. He looked inside but there was only one danish leftprune. He thought that was too subtle a dig to be Chase's idea, so Foreman, it was.
"Just that it was for personal reasons," Foreman said.
"Beth Logan died last night," Chase offered.
"She did?" Beth Logan had been one of Wilson's patients for years. Had become one of his pet projects. Anyone who knew Wilson at all had gotten to know about Beth.
"I was in the ICU last night checking on Mrs. Carlson and ."
"Was Wilson there?" House asked. Chase nodded. "Stupid question. Of course he was there."
"Ten year survival with metastatic disease," Foreman said. "That's pretty good."
"It's great, if you ignore the fact that she was still only forty-five years old," House said. Wilson's patients died on a regular basis, but this one would've been more personal. House hoped that Julie would be sympathetic, then dismissed that as decidedly unwarranted and uncharacteristic optimism. "And speaking of Mrs. Carlson ."
"The path was non-diagnostic," Cameron said.
"Imagine that," House said, staring at Chase.
"Doesn't mean she doesn't have cancer," Chase said, unfazed. "Just means Wilson didn't get any in the biopsy sample."
"Wilson never misses and I'm never wrong," House said. He decided the prune pastry sounded good after all. "Go back to the drawing board."
House had barely gotten the door unlocked before Wilson barged in. Puzzled, House shuffled a couple of steps back and allowed Wilson and a couple of suitcases to move past him and down the hall toward the bedroom. Still puzzling over the implications, House closed and locked the door.
"I got take out," Wilson said. He held up a grease-stained sack as he walked back into the living room.
"Even better," House said. He walked slowly back to the couch while Wilson raided the kitchen for clean plates and beer. Wilson came back into the living room, handed him a bottle and stepped past him, dropping onto the couch with a sigh. House leaned his cane against the arm of the couch and eased down next to Wilson.
"I was just getting ready to watch 'The Blob.' The original."
"Steve McQueen," Wilson said with a nod of approval. He drained half his beer in one gulp before loading his plate with the rapidly cooling Mexican food.
"What happened?" House watched Wilson from the corner of his eye.
"The fat lady sang." Wilson kept his eyes glued to the screen.
"Ah." House used the remote to raise the volume on the TV. He settled back and leaned against Wilson's shoulder, fully intending to steal all the extra cheesy nachos from his plate. "About time."
This story was added on 6 AUG 2005