The crash outside is followed by a grunt and some muffled cursing, so House feels justified in finishing his current piano piece before he gets up and goes out to investigate. There's a trained medical professional on the scene, after all.
Wilson is sitting on the top of his apartment steps with one sock off, grimly testing the range of motion of his left foot. "Strip act needs work," House informs him.
"Luckily I have my fallback career of oncology to pay my way through college." Deciding it's not broken, he sets his hands down on the step to push himself up, offering House some stern eyebrow semaphore. "I see you removed those Playboys you put in my office."
Really, it was Wilson's own fault he'd stayed late to make eyes at the new Radiology nurse instead of coming home to see them arranged on the step to greet him while it was daylight.
"I tried to make the trash, but..." House gives an explanatory wave of the cane.
Wilson eyes the trashcan barely out of that cane's reach. "Yes, I can see how the extra three feet was difficult for you." He tucks his sock neatly into his shoe and cuddles both it and his briefcase as he gets up, wincing. "A condition I'm now intimately familiar with."
As if he has the slightest idea. House is tempted to leave him to work the complex algebra of multiple objects to juggle plus trip hazards minus one leg for himself, but a pissy Wilson is a Wilson of limited entertainment value, so he turns his good shoulder toward the doorway.
It's Wilson's choice if he wants to grab it. He's not offering. And since Wilson's heavy, it only makes sense to wrap an arm around his shoulders in turn; falling down the steps himself is not worth it just for the fun of concocting wild sex accidents to explain it.
Wilson's warm through his shirt, and almost shockingly substantial. House has grown skilled enough at avoiding touching patients that he sometimes forgets bodies are so solid, all muscular warmth and fluffy hair and that faint whiff of nurse-chasing cologne. He has to toss his cane aside to get the door, so he keeps a grip on Wilson all the way to the couch, and braces a hand on his shoulder as he rounds it to sit down.
It's just convenient.
House paces circuits around his couch in the dark like a shark circling his prey. Asleep on said couch with his left foot propped up on the armrest, Wilson snoozes on with the trained obliviousness of a man whose main goal in his marriage bed was avoiding talking to his wife.
House blames him slipping on the steps last night for his own inability to sleep. Clearly his act of heroic selflessness in helping his friend hobble to the couch has strained his leg. There's no obvious pain yet, but he can still feel the phantom sensation of Wilson's weight against him, and this restless itch to move is his body's signal it's about to throw a tantrum if he keeps neglecting its needs.
So, he paces. It was that or jerking off, and that gets a little weird with the door open to hear whether Wilson falls off the couch.
(Not that he'd do anything to help, but he doesn't want Wilson to upgrade the sprain and end up walking with a limp for weeks. It's a copyright infringement thing. Besides, who would fetch his groceries?)
So after another lap fails to raise the dead, he sets his cane down quietly in the kitchen doorway and limps forward in stealth mode. He lifts the end of Wilson's blanket to assess the swelling. Hard to check for discolouration in the dimness, but flashing a penlight might-
There's a sudden flurry of rattling from the rat cage in the kitchen, and House turns to glare at Steve, who has apparently decided now is the perfect time to run noisily on his wheel. "Jealousy does not become you, little buddy, " he says. "Do you see me cleaning out his poop?"
He turns back toward the couch - and meets Wilson's sleepy dark eyes.
He's still standing incriminatingly close and holding the raised corner of the blanket. "You're dreaming," he says. "Close your eyes or you won't get to the part with the naked cheerleaders."
Instead Wilson props himself on his elbows. "Really? Because it seems suspiciously like I'm having a horrible nightmare." His eyes narrow as he registers House's current position. "Are you... caring?" he asks, eyebrows lifting in disbelief.
"Plotting," House corrects.
"Ah. My mistake."
They stare at each other in the dark a few moments longer. It's a little awkward. Then Wilson starts to smile at him. "You know, House, it really wouldn't kill you to admit that sometimes you actually-"
That's when House slaps the icepack down on his foot. As Wilson yelps in shock and grabs for it, House lets the blanket drop and turns to limp away.
"Stop analysing, Wilson," he advises. "People are trying to sleep."
House is a big believer in marking his territory, though generally he prefers not to resort to urinating on things unless absolutely necessary. (Besides, when it comes to the couch in question, Wilson's already got that angle covered. He really didn't think that prank through.)
All the same, despite having graciously allowed Wilson to occupy his couch, it's important to assert his ownership now and then.
"House, you have to let me sleep sometime," Wilson says, beer bottle to his lips as he stares at the muted infomercial with muzzy fascination. He's either drunk or looking for a better way to store his socks. Could go either way.
"Can't stand up. Bum leg," House says, also focused on the TV. The gods of late-night television have been kind, and sock guy yields to women demonstrating exercise equipment. He tilts his head to follow the action.
Wilson also tilts, and ends up on his shoulder. House takes a moment to assess the situation. Wilson, warm and sleep-heavy against his side. It's treacherously close to being pleasant.
He's also close to tipping his beer into House's lap. Relieving him of the bottle apparently triggers some latent grasping reflex, and he clutches the front of House's T-shirt. "Your attraction to my nipples rears its ugly head again," House says to him.
Trying to disentangle the fabric from Wilson's grip only causes him to cling on tighter with a sullen mumble. House could pull away more sharply and jar him awake, but that would jar his leg too, and also mean ceding the couch. Clearly Wilson's cunning plan. "Nice try, Jimmy."
He reaches across Wilson to set the bottle down. This tips Wilson closer, and now there's nowhere House can drape his arm except across his shoulders. Wilson immediately snuggles in with a sleepy sigh. "God, you're easy," House says. "I'd better not wake up engaged." Though Cuddy's face would be entertaining.
Trapped in place, he taps his fingers absently, playing ghost piano. After approximately ten minutes of this, it occurs to him that this translates to stroking Wilson's arm. He stops. It's possible that he's slightly drunk.
Too drunk, in fact, to be confident of surviving the walk from this couch to his bedroom. Probably safest to stay here.
"I'm only doing this for the blackmail potential," he informs Wilson.
He drifts off to sleep plotting responses to Wilson's imminent morning freakout.
4. Mechanical Failure
House wakes up alone on the couch, which on the plus side spares him the awkward intimacy of waking entangled with Wilson, but on the down side, also spares Wilson the same. He didn't even get to hear the girly shriek.
Wilson's shuffle of shame has only taken him as far as House's bedroom; House can hear the low murmur of his voice as he speaks on the phone in a professional doctorly tone that means it's nothing interesting enough to bother eavesdropping.
Just as well, since House isn't sure he can move. There's a brutal bone-deep ache making itself felt in every joint his lopsided gait abuses, and his thigh is screaming. He's managed to fall asleep with his legs still propped up on the coffee table, a position that probably felt more comfortable and less precarious with Wilson to lean on and a system full of beer and Vicodin.
At some point since they fell asleep a blanket has manifested (proof that Wilson is weak and will not prevail in their prank war, especially since he's under the impression that it's ended). House is fully dressed beneath it, but he's cold. Not 'where did my sleepover buddy go?' cold, but the entrenched raw cold that he associates with sleeping outdoors.
The rattle of his Vicodin brings Wilson out of the bedroom. "The heat's out," he says. "I spoke to Mrs Leibowitz. She says it's just us."
"Who?" House squints at him as he tries to massage the agony out of his thigh.
Wilson looks exasperated. "Your neighbour from down the hall?"
"Oh, Pomeranian lady. You know, if you're going to stay here, you should really make an effort to learn these people's names."
Wilson has some impressively disapproving eyebrow game going for a guy who spent last night drooling into House's T-shirt. "Apparently somebody refused to contribute to fix the insulation on the pipes last winter."
"Landlord was overcharging," House says, dragging the blanket off and bracing himself for the pain of standing. This sounds like a conversation that needs an exit strategy.
"Well, now he's charging you three hundred dollars." Wilson has his hands on his hips, but they fly out fast as House pushes up from the couch and finds no support from his leg. "Whoa!" There's a warm arm around his waist and a hand gripping his arm to brace him. "Bedroom or back down?" Wilson asks.
It's unpleasantly reminiscent of the early days after his surgery. House plays for time. "So the heat actually is out," he says, narrowing his eyes.
Wilson rolls his. "Sure, that was a test to see if I'd look racked with guilt." But he allows it instead of calling House's bluff by letting go.
"You should be looking guilty, Mr Hour-Long Shower. I'm pretty sure that three hundred dollars is on you." House pulls away to hobble for his cane. "The worst part is that I know you're not even jerking off in there, you're just exfoliating."
Wilson opens his mouth a little, but clearly rethinks any retort that might lead down the path of finding out whether House can really tell when he's been having a one-man party. (He can.) "Just pay your landlord, House," he says instead.
Wilson will crack and do it for him eventually.
Wilson is a miserable blanket huddle on the couch. "House, how long are you intending to let this war with your landlord go on?" he demands with muffled despair.
"No retreat, no surrender!" he declares. There are principles at stake. Like him not paying money.
"House, it's snowing!"
"I know. My mommy made me wrap up warm and leave my bike behind." His reproachful look is wasted on the blankets.
"If I'd known the heat still wasn't going to be fixed, I'd have gone to a hotel."
Specifically, Heartbreak Hotel with the redhead from Paediatrics.
"Just think of it as an extra-long cold shower to clear those dirty, dirty thoughts," House says, and yoinks the topmost blanket from Wilson's cocoon in passing.
Neither of them sleeps.
He can hear Wilson out there rustling like Steve McQueen digging in his bedding. Finally he breaks and appears in House's doorway with tousled hair and bundled blankets. All that's missing is the teddybear. "House?"
"If you've come to ask for that blanket back, I can show you some novel uses for a cane-shaped object."
"I can't sleep out there. It's freezing."
"Fine. You know where the floor is." Never let it be said that he's not generous.
But of course, with Wilson it's just take, take, take. He lifts the edge of House's bedcovers, and House widens his eyes. "I think I need an adult."
"I'm cold, I'm tired, and I have a meeting tomorrow," Wilson says, climbing in and folding his hands behind his head. "Suck it up."
"That's what all the boys who crawl into bed with me say."
The bed wobbles with Wilson's silent laughter.
At least he's brought more blankets.
Some might, House reflects, consider this a compromising position. Admittedly, waking up moulded this closely to Wilson's back looks bad, but he can't be blamed for pressing his thigh against the nearest heat source. It's practically a medical necessity.
How his arm came to be draped over Wilson's chest is harder to explain, but his money's on Wilson grabbing it to cuddle. He stirs at House's attempt to pull it away, and House decides this is an expedient time to still be asleep.
Plus he has to admit, it's highly entertaining to figure out just the right moment in Wilson's mental inventory of who he's woken up with to deliberately nuzzle a little with his stubble.
"House?" Wilson goes a little squeaky. "You- House?"
House is a completely innocent and blameless sleeper, who just happens to be innocently breathing on the back of his neck, and innocently- Okay, maybe the ear nuzzle is over-egging it. Wilson sits up with a scandalised yelp.
"House!" He clutches the blankets to him like a maiden aunt, and House is laughing enough that rolling away doesn't hurt as much as it should.
The best line of defence is a good attack. "Good morning, grabby." He bats his eyelashes. "Why, Jimmy. Was the shine of my neediness so much that you couldn't resist spending half the night trying to give me a lapdance?"
"I... didn't." The darting eyes make the denial intriguingly uncertain. Jimbo's not entirely confident of the depths of his own sluttiness. Excellent.
"It was like being caught in quicksand. I was powerless to get away."
Wilson's not entirely buying it, but he's not entirely not, either. He straightens up warily and looks around the room as if checking for hidden cameras. "We speak of this to no one," he says after a moment.
"Agreed," House says, and starts mentally compiling a list of people to speak of this to.
House has any number of reasons to hate the cold, but chief among them right now is the way the snow spoils his exits. This argument was boring before they left the apartment, but he can't escape across the parking lot at his usual speed without risking going down on his ass.
"I don't believe you," Wilson says, following close behind. "You told me you were going to call your landlord."
"I did. He says there's no problem adding your name to the mailbox." House is thinking tasteful glittery hearts. Then he claps his free hand to his mouth with a gasp of dismay. "Oh, wait, that was supposed to be our monthiversary surprise."
"House, just pay him the money. I am not spending another night in bed with you!"
A passing nurse turns her head their way, and House gives her the sad puppy eyes. "Denial," he says, shaking his head tragically. "We're having couples' therapy."
Wilson cringes a little, but keeps on like a terrier. "It's three hundred dollars! You are, amazingly enough, a highly-paid professional."
"This is a war of attrition," House says as they reach the lobby. "We are men of valour! We do not shrink from hardship and privation."
"Excellent," Cuddy says, appearing to ambush him with a clinic file. "I'm glad that you've come ready to tackle flu season."
"You're really ruining my afterglow," House informs her.
Wilson's early meeting gives House ample time to have a productive morning.
"You blacklisted me from every hotel in a thirty-mile radius!" Wilson says indignantly as he swings into step beside him en route to Diagnostics.
House is saving him from himself. "I won't let you run away from our love!"
"I'm not staying in your apartment when you don't have heat."
"He'll cave." And so will Wilson.
"Oh, because you've always been such a model tenant, he'll be desperate to keep your business," Wilson says. "Just pay him the three hundred dollars, House."
"I need it for poker money," he says.
"You can't just leave it unfixed indefinitely!"
"Let's agree to disagree," House says, and takes a right turn into his office.
Wilson is mysteriously absent during lunch, which is sad, since it means he misses House's grand announcement to the cafeteria about their special night together. Well, he'll find out when the hot redhead from Paediatrics throws him that coming-out party.
When Wilson does arrive, it's brandishing an envelope and a triumphant smile. "The heat will be fixed before we get home," he says.
"I'd call you Judas, but turning your back on Jesus is old hat for you," House says.
"Yes, I do hear a lot of people saying 'Jesus' whenever you appear." Wilson bounces on his toes, pleased with himself. "I know you never voluntarily touch your baking dishes, but did you think I wouldn't find your little stash of poker money?" He throws the envelope down smugly. "Paid in full."
House picks the envelope up and turns it over in his hands. "Well, I guess you won that one," he says. Wilson has the sense to look a little bit worried.
He's going to be more so when he checks his credit-card statements and finds that set of fifty-dollar cash withdrawals.
When they return, the apartment is indeed toasty warm. House makes a mental note to send the landlord a thank you from Greg and James for his help in making the start of their new life together a happy one. After all, though Wilson doesn't know it yet, he's just laid down some money to cover home repairs. It's officially their shared apartment now.
Wilson's safely reinstalled in his proper place on the couch, and there's no more mention of hotel rooms. Everything is right with House's world again.
Except that he's not convinced the heat's been fully fixed.
For some reason, his bed still feels too cold.
7. The Scent of a Wilson
The bathroom smells of coconut, and it's driving House nuts.
It's an anomaly amid the usual scents of Wilson's excess of toiletries, and anomalies spell trouble. Either Wilson's stepped up his grooming routine to attract a new mate, or he's already found one and brought the scent of borrowed bathroom supplies home with him. Whichever it is, he's getting better at the art of concealment. A search of his possessions and the trash finds no trace of foreign substances.
Time to head into work to expand the search. A well-timed page clears the Diagnostics department, but his plans to sneak in and search Wilson's office are slightly thwarted by the fact that Wilson's already in it. What kind of monster does paperwork before noon?
Never mind. He's just going to have to skip straight to more invasive testing procedures.
He has Wilson sufficiently well-trained that he doesn't even look up when House enters through the balcony door. House limps round behind him, plants his hands on Wilson's shoulders, and buries his nose in his hair. Wilson goes very still.
"Ginger and lime!" House announces. He moves down to scent the base of Wilson's neck, conscious of the careful way he swallows. A citrus blend with subtle hints of jasmine and spices... All right, he's cheating, he read the box for Wilson's cologne back at the apartment. But regardless, it's definitely not coconut. He spins Wilson's chair around for a face-to-face interrogation. "All right, who is she?" he demands. "You've defiled the sanctity of our shower with your coconut-scented hussy."
Wilson narrows his eyes. "How can you be sure it wasn't one of your coconut-scented hussies?"
House leers. "Like I let my hookers get as far as the shower."
"Hmm, yes, I suppose that's asking a bit much of your stamina." They engage in a staring contest until Wilson finally sighs. "Fine. You caught me." He reaches into his desk drawer to produce a paper bag. "I made macaroons and I didn't want to share."
House darts a hand into the bag and steals one, keeping his eyes locked on Wilson's as he chews it suspiciously. Distracting him with sugary deliciousness is a worthy ploy, but he's not convinced. "Then why does the bathroom smell and not the kitchen?"
"I... spilled shredded coconut everywhere. I cleaned up the kitchen, but I must have had some on my hands..."
Hands. It clicks, and Wilson looks worried, obviously recognising his expression. As House snakes an arm out he yanks the macaroons away, but it's his free hand that's House's target this time. He strokes his thumb over the palm, and Wilson splutters into uncertain silence. "Your hands are soft," House accuses.
"Well, you know, since I became a department head I seldom have to do my own manual labour." Wilson tries to pull away, but House clasps him more tightly, feeling his fingertips.
"Smooth as your cancer kids' little bald heads," he says. "Coconut hand cream!" Wilson's terminal case of metrosexuality has clearly metastasized.
Wilson cringes. "I- it's this cold weather, I have to-"
Whereupon Cameron barges in to the office, having finally learned that knocking only gives House a chance to escape. "Hannah's responding to the antibiotics," she says. "We-" She stutters to a halt as she registers the hand-holding, and Wilson does a fantastic deer-in-the-headlights impression.
Sometimes, House reflects, life is truly beautiful.
Cameron recovers faster than Wilson. "Anyway, you don't care about the patient, so I'll speak to you later," she says, and marches out again.
"This is why our romance was never meant to be!" House calls after her.
They both contemplate the closing door. Then Wilson looks down at their still-joined hands. He sighs. "Can I have my hand back now, or is this going to be an ongoing hostage situation?" he asks.
"Give me the rest of the macaroons and nobody has to get hurt," House says.
Sharing an apartment is about compromise, so when Wilson tries to drive him into work on time, House likes to counter by making him late. Hence the fact Wilson's following so close behind when House stops dead at the apartment steps. Wilson manages to avert the bump, but his hands fly out just in case, a warm, steadying grip at his shoulder and hip. "Hmm. Sudden onset agoraphobia in a late-forties male," he says. "Diagnosis: reluctance to go to work."
House leans back to look round at him. "But Mom, you said we could have a snow day."
"The last of the snow cleared up three days ago. "
"Now that's just picky."
Wilson's eyebrows are shifting from exasperation into something more curious, so House draws away from him and stumps around to the car. He fiddles with the radio non-stop on the drive until Wilson physically removes his hand from it at a stoplight.
"Why didn't you take your bike today?" he says.
"Oh, now you want me to take the rattling deathtrap?" he says.
"No, I'm just not used to you listening to me."
"You're just jealous I get to straddle a throbbing hunk of machinery and not you."
While Wilson's mentally diagramming that sentence, House makes another stealth play for the radio. Wilson grips his wrist and keeps hold until they drive away.
Evading clinic duty is almost as boring as actual clinic duty, so he drags Wilson to an early lunch. He experiments with how many times he can gently bump his knee against Wilson's before he breaks and pushes his chair away. "You are twelve," he says.
"Could a twelve year old do this?" House lets out an echoing belch that turns heads across the cafeteria.
Wilson doesn't want to smile, but House sees the edges sneaking through.
In the afternoon, he pages Wilson away from a suspiciously cosy patient for an urgent consult.
"Well, that's obviously not cancer," Wilson says, hands on his hands on his hips as he studies the scan.
"I know, but check out this chick's sexy pancreas." House leans across him to point it out.
Wilson huffs and moves away, but pauses in the doorway. House can feel him looking. "House..." he starts to say.
House swings toward the balcony exit. "Gotta go. Pancreas chick needs me."
Wilson's too well-behaved to run in the hallways, so he can be through and out of the office before he catches up.
Those wily patients like to play hide and seek, so House visits the roof to check she's not up there. No? Oops, his mistake. Eventually Wilson tracks him down, bundled in his coat and scarf. House looks up silently while he stands and frowns.
"I think I should move out," he says.
"Did I come on too strong with the hot pancreatic action? Next time I'll start with the spleen and work up."
Wilson sighs, looking constipated, which means he's about to dispense one of his pearls of wisdom: like real pearls, formed by irritation. "I'm... enabling you," he says, shaking his head a little. "Living with me is just an excuse not to look for a real relationship. I... cook your meals for you! I keep you company. You're obviously in need of human contact, and-"
Isn't their friendship a real relationship? House pushes himself up with the aid of the wall, building anger overcoming the ache of the cold. "You think you're the enabler here? You're the one living on my couch because you can't sleep alone."
"You sabotage every chance I get to move out!"
If he didn't want them sabotaged he'd conceal them better. House stalks toward him across the rooftop. "You don't want to move out. You like feeding me. You like being able to tell yourself you're doing things that wouldn't get done if you weren't there. It feeds the need-vampire in your brain: gives you a little afterglow and makes you want to cuddle. I need you, so you can't keep your hands off of me."
Wilson laughs incredulously. House is getting to him.
"Admit it! You crave my neediness. Admit it!"
"Every time I let you do something for me, you start yearning to hug me. Admit it!"
"Fine!" Wilson steps forward and sweeps his arms around him. House's shoulders go rigid, and he stares at the wall. He's somehow very aware of the clumsiness of his cane, of the softly rough warmth of Wilson's coat.
They stand for a few moments.
"Out of curiosity, what was the next phase of your plan here?" Wilson asks eventually.
"Still workshopping that part," House admits.
Somehow, against his will, his muscles start to melt. He finds himself leaning into Wilson. He has one hand braced on the wall and the other on his cane, so he's not technically hugging back. Just... leaning.
A door thumps dully below and they disengage. Wilson looks embarrassed, but he's smiling at the ground. He holds the door open. "Come on. How long have you been out here? It's freezing."
Funny. House feels oddly warm.
9. Space Invasion
Things have been weird since their manly embrace on the rooftop, and House hasn't even told Wilson that he's been calling it that.
Wilson seems to think it's a sign that House has had some kind of emotional breakthrough, which is annoying. He further thinks that House should be encouraged to talk about it, which is excruciating.
"Well, I for one think it's heartening that you've finally decided to join the human race," he says, knotting his tie in the kitchen doorway while House scavenges for breakfast. His fridge is frustratingly low on old takeout and full of strange, unwelcome things like vegetables.
House waves his cane. "Got a doctor's note that says I don't have to take part in races."
"And as your doctor I'm prescribing you instructions to reach out and touch somebody."
House closes the fridge door so he can look him in the face. "Jimmy, we talked about you doing that with your patients."
That brings a sour note to Wilson's frown that allows him to escape the kitchen unscathed. He grabs his leathers from the closet. He's been riding in with Wilson since the weather got bad, but today seems like a good time to go back to the bike.
His leg disagrees, as it so often does. With no patient, he's short on distractions, and the kids are hanging around the office enough to see the signs and be respectively annoyingly concerned, annoyingly nervous, and just annoyed. (This is why Foreman is secretly his favourite, but House firmly believes you should never tell your children that you have one. It's much funnier to watch them backstab each other and scuffle for position.)
Wilson's also being annoying and House is beginning to feel like he's becoming predictable in his choice of hiding spots, so he decamps to the ob/gyn lounge to take advantage of their comfy couches and huge TV. Donors just love to splash their cash on those baby-doctors, never mind that their job is ninety percent ordering drugs for women perfectly capable of squeezing that thing out all by themselves.
His leg's still killing him. Wilson will say it's a sign he needs to talk about his feelings (he is feeling pain, and also a sense of deep personal loss, such as one experiences when missing a sizeable chunk of thigh muscle, thanks for playing, Wilson). There's nothing to talk about. He didn't need a hug, he provoked Wilson into hugging him to prove a point.
And it's not some kind of grand event. He's hugged people. Well, women he's slept with. Well, Stacy. Well, occasionally. But anyway, the point is he's capable, he just doesn't need it the way Wilson does. Wilson gets restless when he doesn't have someone to care at, and House is experimenting with providing the optimal level of contact to stop him escaping from House's couch and into someone's pants.
It's convenient to have him around. He does the dishes, and provides regular feedings.
He eventually tracks House down to the lounge and drops the Reuben of truce into his lap. "A little bird told me you weren't up to stealing my wallet today, so I stole it for you."
House sits up to unwrap his sandwich. "I hope you copped a feel while you were down there. It's a vital part of my technique."
Wilson opens his chips, but stays in the doorway. "You know, I'm fairly sure there are other doctors' lounges in this hospital. Possibly even ones that you're authorised to be in."
"Yeah, but where else can I watch Roberta confess her affair with Enrico in such high definition?"
"I find it fascinating that you claim to disdain all human interaction, and yet you can't get enough of soap operas," Wilson says.
House gives him a look over the back of the couch. "You really think these people are human?"
Wilson smiles. House pats the couch beside him in invitation. Wilson looks pleased as he moves to join him, little realising that this is stage one of House's plan to lure him into corruption. He'll have him stealing from ob/gyn's fridge yet.
"This is much more comfortable than your couch," Wilson says as he settles on House's right. House always takes the middle seat on couches: he likes to maximise his inconvenience.
"Ancient Chinese proverb say you pee on a man's couch, you responsible for it for life," House informs him.
"Huh," Wilson says, crunching a chip reflectively. "I always heard that one attributed to Abraham Lincoln." They're both watching the screen, but they see each other's tiny smiles all the same.
House's leg is still restless. He presses the length of his thigh against Wilson's beside him, a convenient living heat pack. Wilson's gaze darts down to their legs and then to House's face, a quick almost nervous glance, before turning his attention fixedly to the screen.
He doesn't pull his leg away. House leans in, though he hasn't quite decided why, maybe to steal a chip...
But that's when Doctor Kubisak shows up and kicks them out of the ob/gyn lounge.
House has always had a restless need to keep moving, to escape that trapped feeling when his circling thoughts begin to tighten like a noose. The fizzing itch beneath his skin is an old companion, but this new tension is something different. It followed him and Wilson home from work tonight, but he has the feeling it's been growing longer, an underlying condition they've ignored until the behaviours that once masked the symptoms are no longer effective.
Yet like all chronic sufferers, they go through the rituals. Beer, Chinese, a jazz documentary, Wilson in his McGill sweatshirt with his sleeves pushed back, House with his leg propped up on the coffee table. Familiar, comfortable, yet somehow not as safe as it always used to be. He's hyper-conscious of Wilson's proximity, a jittery urge to squirm in his seat that he channels into a round of air piano. He can still sense Wilson there even with his eyes closed.
Especially when he prods House with his beer bottle. "Does this imaginary concert have an intermission at some point, or should I just give up on even trying to finish this beer?"
Serves Wilson right for being left-handed. House looks at him through slitted eyes. "It's music therapy to heal my wounded soul."
"Ah, and much like actual therapy, you're participating by pretending to go through the motions without risking failure by trying it for real." He takes the opportunity of House's dissatisfied frown to gulp the last of the beer, setting the bottle down smugly.
Just for that, House extends his keyboard further into Wilson's space. Wilson tolerates his knee being middle C, but gets twitchy when House moves up into the higher notes. After a particularly intricate riff he pointedly grasps House's hand and sets it back on his own knee. House starts to move it and Wilson flattens it again, this time keeping his on top. He's still watching the TV, determinedly acting like nothing is happening.
Well, fine. House slides his hand backward as if to rub his bad thigh, and Wilson lifts off slightly to allow it. He turns his hand to pull free, but Wilson's too fast, clamping down again.
Now they're palm to palm. Wilson's hand is very warm. House shifts his around by subtle increments until their hands are aligned, insinuating his fingers between Wilson's. Wilson does his best not to react, but House doesn't miss the faint intake of breath, the way he resettles in his seat.
And now they're just sitting there, holding hands. It's oddly, innocently intimate. Like kissing: a promise, not a transaction.
He considers what Wilson would be like to kiss. He's lord of the panty-peelers, but it's production-line seduction, insert tab A into slot B. That's not the real Wilson, it's the man he thinks he ought to want to be. The real Wilson has sharp edges and a dark sense of mischief; kissing that Wilson, he suspects, would be an experience. He wonders how many people have.
Wilson lets out a breath that's almost a shudder, and House realises that at some point he began stroking his thumb over the back of Wilson's hand. Wilson hasn't stopped him. Interesting. He tightens his grip, thinks about tipping Wilson's head towards him so he could try to read his face.
Instead, the shift of the couch seems to galvanise Wilson to break free and pop up from his seat. "I'm, uh, going to get another beer," he says, beating a flustered retreat to the kitchen.
House usually prefers to just shout orders from the couch, but today it seems right to follow and watch from the doorway; it seems like it would be right to step closer, wrap his arms around Wilson's waist and wait for his tense back to relax.
That's when it fully hits him, like that moment of epiphany when the diagnosis is so obvious he's not sure if he's a moron or a genius. The patient's been denying the symptoms, but what they add up to is clear. He knows exactly what's happening here.
And how it's going to progress, just as soon as the other patient admits that he has the same symptoms too.
Wilson is avoiding him quite impressively for a guy living on his couch, employing such advanced evasive tactics as being up and out of the apartment before eight. He's clearly aware that the gradual erosion of personal space between them is leading somewhere, but apparently thinks going there with House is such a bad idea that he's slammed the brakes on his usual instinct to hump the nearest source of neediness. House might be offended if he didn't agree.
Fortunately, he's also extremely selfish and entirely too willing to pour gasoline on the few stable things in his life for some momentary warmth, so, sucks to be Wilson.
He hits the cafeteria while he's still supposed to be in the clinic avoiding work, and sure enough, there's Wilson with his nurse of the moment. Who might not actually be a nurse, but she's hot and has the fragile look of a woman under strain, and that's all Wilson needs to start angling for a place to spend the night.
But House came prepared for this moment. "Jimmy!" He approaches the table with a broad smile, resting his hand on Wilson's shoulder. "You left your watch at home." Left it, had it pickpocketed, these distinctions are trifles. "He'd forget his own head if I didn't remind him," he tells the nurse fondly, arm casually migrating to drape round Wilson's shoulders and give him a squeeze. "I missed you at breakfast this morning. You should have woken me up before you left."
The nurse excuses herself, hopefully to complain to everyone that all of the good ones are gay. Wilson looks vaguely depressed as House takes her seat and his fries. "House, what are you doing?"
"Saving you from yourself," he says.
"Really? Because it looks a lot like sabotaging me."
"That's the you I'm saving you from talking." If House had let him go home with that woman tonight he'd probably have been married by Tuesday.
They eat in unusual silence for a few moments. Wilson doesn't even attempt to defend his fries. Eventually he sighs. "House... I can't stay on your couch forever," he says, almost gently.
"Okay," House says, looking down at the table.
Wilson gets that scrunchy concerned look he does when he's trying to decide if House is experiencing an emotion, and feels obliged to overexplain. "Fine, I admit it. It's my back, okay? It's killing me. I can't keep crashing on the couch every night like I'm in college." He's clearly hoping to tempt House into mocking him, but House still says nothing. Wilson sighs again and rubs the back of his neck. "Maybe I should get a hotel room," he says.
Now House looks up at him. "You could take the bed," he says.
They're in their own pool of silence amid the surrounding sounds of the cafeteria. He's not sure what Wilson might be reading in his face right now. He's not sure what he's reading in Wilson's.
"You'd give up your bed for me?" Wilson says sceptically, diverting the conversation back toward their usual lighter tone. It's an out, or a peace offering, or... he's not sure what it is.
But it's something, so House obliges, feigning a scandalised gasp. "I am shocked, shocked that you would accuse me of inveigling you into my bed under false pretences."
"Oh, of course," Wilson says, and shakes his head at himself. "How could I doubt?"
Everybody deflects. What truths they're talking around are harder to discern. Even if they're on the same page, this is still a bad idea.
But he knows Wilson's coming home.
Wilson stays late with a patient, but Rose is eighty-four and not much of a looker, so House is relatively sure there's no threat there. Whatever they say about women with no teeth. Just in case, he also alerts the nurses on shift to make sure Wilson has a cushioned chair for his little downstairs problem.
He takes advantage of the absence of his mother hen to go for a ride after dark: he's feeling restless, reckless, needing to chew some miles along with the hours he has to kill. Roadside tacos are sweet temptation, but this is a bad night to court gastric distress. Instead, there's some lukewarm pizza left in the kitchen to await Wilson's late return.
"You shouldn't have," Wilson says, peeling off the repurposed 'Property of James Wilson, you're a doctor House, I know you can read' sticker from the salad he made himself yesterday. (It was delicious, though House is starting to suspect the notes are a pretext to make him eat vegetables.)
"I slaved away in this kitchen all night choosing those toppings for you," House says.
"I see you got me your favourite."
Wilson stands at the kitchen counter to eat; House moves close behind him to grab a beer. "Patient croak?"
"No, she's fine," Wilson says placidly. "I'll convey your concern."
House stays standing right where he is to drink his beer. Bad leg. Tough to move around sometimes. Wilson doesn't sidestep their claustrophobic closeness, just eats his pizza and fastidiously wipes his mouth.
"Back still bad?" House asks him as he sets his empty beer bottle down.
"It's been better." He stretches, pushing back a little into House's space.
"Where?" House lays hands on the thin white shirt, tracing over warm muscles underneath. Lot of tension there.
"Hard to say," Wilson says, voice steady.
House steps back from him. "Bed's still available," he says, as he turns to leave the kitchen.
He lies awake, listening to the sounds of Wilson's bathroom routine. Even more extensive than usual tonight. Afterwards, there's a sense of presence in the doorway that seems to linger a long time. House keeps his eyes closed even when the covers rustle and the mattress dips.
Eventually he rolls sideways, and there's a warm body to fold around. Wilson breathes slow and even as House trails a hand over his sleep T-shirt. Lets his fingers slip down underneath. Wilson's in good shape for a guy with a desk job who eats almost as much takeout as House, but there's a bit of a soft belly all the same. House gives it a little pat. He slides his hand further up and feels more than hears the slight intake of breath. Then Wilson pulls away and sits up.
House sits with him, encircling arm falling to drape loose against Wilson's thigh. With his back still to him, Wilson tugs the T-shirt off and lets it drop somewhere down in the dark. House drags his own off and wraps back around. Now it's his turn to be breathless. So much bare skin, vast expanses of it.
Wilson has nice shoulders. He nuzzles his approval with his stubble, and Wilson makes a small sound that's almost a laugh. Then he twists and they're mouth to mouth. Closer than that. They fit together easily, always perfectly in sync in the simple things. House lies back, burying a hand in Wilson's hair as Wilson turns over to straddle him.
Thick, girly hair. Other parts, not as girly. Still, he has advanced medical training. He's fairly confident he'll work it out.
Here, in this moment, Wilson over him in the dark, it seems vital that he say something. House draws him down so that they're almost forehead to forehead. He looks into Wilson's night-dark eyes.
"Did you remember to TiVo SpongeBob?"
Wilson tilts his head reflectively. "I don't know," he says. "I'll check."
He moves to get up off the bed, and House hauls him back into his arms. "How about you just make it up to me in advance?" he says.
They're both laughing as House kisses his neck, and this, as it turns out, is probably going to work out pretty fine.
13. Cry Wolf
When House has enough Vicodin in his system to pull his pyjama pants back on and limp out to the kitchen, he finds Wilson making pancakes. And humming.
"If you're going to start playing Suzy Homemaker, I demand a French maid outfit," he says.
Wilson glances back at him. "Well, you can wear one if you want, but I can't promise I won't take blackmail pictures."
House tries to glower, but Wilson's smiling and it's difficult. Instead, he gives in to the suppressed temptation of the last several days and wraps his arms around Wilson's waist to pull him close. He's all too aware that his leg won't support dragging him even a few steps, but the old frustration doesn't cut too deep today.
Wilson bears up under his attentions with a pretence of stoic tolerance. "I hope you're not actually adolescent enough to be trying to give me a hickey," he says to the kitchen ceiling.
Of course not. Beard rash is far more incriminating. House mumbles indecipherable denials against his skin, but lifts his lips to make sure the more vital part of his communication gets through. "Feed me."
"I would, if you'd let me get back to these pancakes before they burn." Wilson tries for exasperation, but he's not very good at keeping the corners of his grin down either.
Macadamia nut pancakes are worth the temporary sacrifice, so House lets him go. "God, you are so the girl," he says.
"I see that sensitivity seminar didn't take," Wilson says, prodding the contents of the pan.
"Sent the minions in my place."
"It's too late, they're already desensitised. You're going to have to find some new people to scandalise."
It appears this is true.
"Any particular reason why two of my department heads are strolling in late together?" Cuddy says as she makes her traditional lobby ambush.
"Marathon sex session," House tells her. He speaks out of the side of his mouth. "Wilson's an animal. Barely made it out of the apartment with my pants on."
Wilson squeezes his eyes shut, winces, and swings towards the staircase. "I'll be in my office, if anyone wants me," he says, walking off.
"I always want you!" House shouts after him. He looks down at Cuddy and the file she's holding. "And you always want me."
She leans in, all big eyes and mighty cleavage. "You're right, House. I want you... in exam room one with a steady stream of patients passing through the door."
"Always knew you were kinky," he says, taking the file.
"Stop smiling. It's frightening the nurses," Brenda says as House goes back for his third file of the day. It's a frame-up. He's been doing no such thing.
"Well, golly gee, didn't you get the memo?" he simpers. "You're supposed to turn that mean old frown upside-down!"
"I could turn yours inside out," she offers.
"I always enjoy our little talks." He slides the patient file over warily.
"Enjoy yours with the parents of the teenage girl with missed periods and unexplained weight gain."
Well played, Moriarty.
"You're avoiding me after our night of passion," he accuses Wilson in the cafeteria line. None of the servers look up.
"I always avoid you. You're usually just too self-absorbed to notice." Wilson adds a bag of chips to his tray.
"He's paying. We're on a date," House explains when they reach the end of the line.
"Huh." Wilson considers. "In that case, you owe me an awful lot of anniversary gifts."
"I've gifted you my glorious presence."
"The gift that keeps giving." He reaches for his wallet.
By the afternoon he's still lacking a patient and clinic hath soothed the savage breasts, so House is free to entertain himself. Or find someone to do it for him. "If you need me I'll be next door, making out with Wilson," he tells his fellows.
"Okay," Chase says, tipping back in his chair with his hands laced behind his head.
"We won't," Foreman says without looking up from his medical journal.
"He's with a patient," Cameron informs him.
"Fine. She can watch," House says as he heads out to hop the balcony.
Worth a try.
14. Living Arrangements
Wilson has been taking their change in relationship status remarkably well, which of course obliges House to dial up the stress testing until something breaks.
"House," Wilson snaps, pulling away when House tries to take his hand as they cross the hospital parking lot. His mouth forms a similarly thin line when House pages him down to the clinic so Nancy the angina patient can meet his new boyfriend. (She agrees he's very handsome.)
They hit the limit a few days later when Wilson storms into his office after hours. "You submitted a change of address form in my name?"
House wrinkles his brow and cocks his head. "I fall behind on paperwork, nobody's happy. I go out of my way to do extra paperwork, nobody's happy. This is what they mean when they say the system screws the little guy."
Wilson points a finger at him. "You are the one trying to screw with me."
"If you hadn't noticed that before now, we really are going to have to send off for that gay sex guide." And then he'll have to find something else to leave on Wilson's desk for his birthday.
"HR sent me an email to confirm that I wanted to officially change my place of residence to your apartment," he says, as if this is the smoking gun and not just a reminder that House should change his email address too next time. Hopefully lovedoctor69 is free.
"You live at my apartment," he points out.
"It's a one-bedroom apartment!"
"Which you live in."
Wilson closes his eyes. "I just think it's a good idea to maintain a little discretion," he says tightly.
"Then you should be sleeping with somebody else." The words hang in the air, heavier and closer to cold truth than they might have been in conception. But it's not in House's nature to walk things back when he can double down on the assault. "You're still down in the system as living at Julie's address."
Wilson scrubs a hand over his hair and shrugs. "It was... convenient. She knows I'm staying with you. She forwards my mail."
'Staying with'. One of those sneaky little contronyms that can equally mean visiting or permanence. "And how long is she expecting you to stay?" House says sharply. Ex-wife mail-forwarding has built-in limitations that Wilson knows the divorce dance too well to transgress.
"Until I get a new apartment," Wilson says. "A bigger apartment that we can both share. I know it's driving you crazy sharing a bathroom with me, and I need some space of my own that's not completely covered with your books. We can find a place together that suits both of us, and you can keep your apartment for when you need space to... broodingly drink whisky and stare at your piano or whatever it is you do when you're home alone."
"Hookers," House says, because what else do you do with a setup like that?
"Ah. Well, yes, you definitely wouldn't want me cramping your style there."
Tempers cooled, they head out to the elevators together. House is sure Wilson genuinely believes those are his own motivations: that it's all about space and discretion and compromise, and not at all about preserving the delusion of the life he keeps trying to make himself want. Separate apartments and no paperwork trail make it all too easy for their relationship to slip into the land of never-was the second a fourth prospective Mrs Wilson appears on the horizon.
Luckily, House has a great talent for making things more difficult than they have to be.
In the temporary privacy of the elevator he reaches for Wilson's hand again. Wilson gives him a slightly wary sidelong look, but allows it, smiling quietly at the doors.
House figures he can talk him into to a few late-night makeout sessions before he finally remembers about the security cameras.
15. Incidents and Accidents
Cameron's bringing him his mail when she pauses, gaze flicking up and down his body with a quizzical frown. "You smell nice," she says suspiciously.
House gasps theatrically and draws his hands in to his chest. "Doctor Cameron! I've told you before about these inappropriate remarks."
She rolls her eyes at him, but curiosity once again takes over. "Is that... citrus body wash?" she asks, clearly doubting the evidence of her own senses.
"Tragic fruit salad accident. I don't want to talk about it." She still doesn't move. House flaps his hand at her. "Shoo."
She blinks a little incredulously, but wheels around and departs the office. Once she's gone, House lifts his collar to give himself a surreptitious sniff.
He's really gotta stop sharing showers with Wilson on work days.
Another day, and he and Wilson are standing a little too close when Chase comes in with the scan results. "MRI shows-" He pauses as Wilson steps away and heads out of the office. "What was that?" he asks, turning to watch him leave.
"I've been doing extensive testing, and I've determined that Wilson has even prettier hair than you," House says. "But don't worry, Daddy will still keep sexually harassing you too." He contemplates that and then pulls a face. "Okay, that came out even creepier than I intended." He holds an impatient hand out for the scans. "Gimme."
He's sure Chase doesn't think House notices the way he frowns and adjusts his hair a little in the reflection of the glass.
He's not snuggling with Wilson on the balcony. That would be lame, and that's a highly offensive word to use to describe a cripple. It's just that House is leaning on one side of the wall and Wilson is on the other, and his waist is a convenient place for House to rest his arm. He's working on lulling him into a false sense of security before he goes in for the butt grope.
Foreman's emergence from the office behind him puts paid to that plan. Wilson casually shifts sideways, though it's anyone's guess how much might have been visible through the glass door.
Of course, it's Foreman, so he doesn't give a crap. "You're wrong, House," he says, ignoring Wilson completely. "The tests were clean. There's no sign of infection."
"Do you mind?" House says. "You're interrupting cuddle time with Wilson."
"Yeah," he says flatly, and launches into a recitation of their patient's latest symptoms.
House genuinely wasn't even trying to get caught when he paged Wilson to join him in exam room one. He'd have thought sending his team to hijack Radiology would keep Cuddy occupied a bit longer. Though admittedly, they may have lost track of time.
Wilson coughs and adjusts his hair and lab coat, and generally tries very hard not to look like he was just caught making out with his male best friend in the clinic. House just turns his head and raises a stern eyebrow. "Busy, Doctor Cuddy." Really, it's a disgrace how people just barge through these doors with no regard for patients in potential states of undress. Not that he's managed to convince Wilson to go that far yet.
One reason Cuddy's lasted this long as his boss is her ability to recover her poise quickly. "I'm fairly sure we have rules about getting busy in exam rooms. As in this is not the type of it that you should be doing." She's doing her best to pretend her eyebrows aren't still up around her hairline.
"Tonsil inspection," House explains. He swings back toward Wilson. "Good news. They're still there."
"Actually I had them out when I was a kid," Wilson says.
House cocks his head, screwing his face up in mock consternation. "Well, we're going to have to repeat that test immediately."
Cuddy looks at Wilson. "This is an actual thing?" she asks.
He rubs the back of his neck and shrugs. "It's... something," he admits sheepishly.
House enjoys being unclassifiable, but really, this one's perfectly simple. He clasps his hands together as he explains to Cuddy. "You see, when a doctor and a doctor like each other very much and one of them is very fond of showtunes..."
"Ah, I'm glad you're finally admitting your addiction to My Fair Lady," Wilson says. "You've been living this lie for too long."
Cuddy's eyebrows are finally starting to come back from their migration. "Well, I suppose we should all be grateful that you're taking one for the team," she says to Wilson.
House leers. "Oh, he's taken more than one."
Wilson covers his face with his hand. "Many life choices have brought me here. I regret all of them."
"Even the thing with the whip cream and the handcuffs?"
Cuddy holds her hands up in surrender as she spins around. "I'm leaving. Get back to work."
"Right." Well, House has some important doctor business to be getting on with. He turns back as the door closes. "Doctor Wilson, I detected some noticeable swelling earlier, so I think it's urgent we continue with your physical..."
House has a love/hate relationship with his dress cane. On the one hand, it looks more like a style accessory than a mobility aid. On the other, that illusion dies hard when he has to move, plus it kind of sucks for actual support.
The tux he has no such mixed feelings about. Wilson looks long-suffering as he slaps House's hands away from the bowtie. "This is like trying to keep my nephew in his suit for a wedding."
"Shouldn't have so many. Kids get bored," House says.
"Damn, there go my plans for a big finale to the evening," Wilson says lightly. "Maybe I can still get the deposit back on the ring."
"They should give you credit for frequent recycling."
They kiss, and Wilson soon has to slap House's hands away from somewhere else. "Now I have to stop you from rumpling two people's clothes before the benefit even starts," he says. "I really didn't think this thing through."
"Not too late to show up naked," House says.
"I don't think that's the kind of lasting impression Cuddy wants you to leave on the donors."
"As opposed to me talking to them?"
"You may have a point."
Cuddy has hired a piano and laid on copious free booze, which means Wilson feels safe temporarily leaving his side to circulate. "Now, remember to stay at the daycare until a grown-up comes to collect you," he says.
"Yes, Daddy," he says, just to see Wilson shudder.
Their fearless leader has been prescient, and tucked the piano in an out-of-the-way nook where he can play without being under the eyes of the partygoers. House ambles through a range of jazz and blues numbers, letting his fingers wander as freely as his mind.
A while later he looks up to find his team standing there watching him in all their party finery. "Never seen a man play piano before?" he says.
"Didn't think you did it for an audience," Chase says.
Seguing into a performance of The Stripper feels like the logical response. He waggles his eyebrows hopefully at Cameron, but she just looks amused. In fact, they're all smiling, and some of it seems to be aimed in his general direction. It's weird. He drops his eyes back to the keys until they go away.
Cuddy comes to check on him after a while, probably to see why she hasn't received any complaints. "You're in a disturbingly good mood," she says.
"So are you. Oh, wait, was that not a euphemism for mind-bogglingly drunk?" he asks.
"There is nothing mind-boggling about you being drunk. You smiling, on the other hand, is unnerving the staff."
"The staff are hammered. Better hope nobody comes to this hospital looking for actual medical treatment in the next thirty-six hours." That might be generous.
She studies him over her drink. "You're happy," she accuses. House refuses to acknowledge her while he plays an absent-minded little riff on the piano. Her expression goes mushy. "I'm glad." The next thing he knows there's a waft of perfume and a warm press of lips on his cheek.
When he looks up, she's already walking away. "How do you feel about threesomes?" he shouts after her, loud enough to cut through the hubbub of the party.
"In your dreams, House," she calls to him without looking back.
He starts playing The Stripper again.
Wilson returns with drinks and pilfered canapés as House is flourishing his way through the finish of My Baby Just Cares For Me. "That's a little more upbeat than your usual repertoire," he says as he sits down on the piano bench. He eyes the open neck of House's shirt. "Dare I ask where your bowtie went?"
"You might want to lose yours if you don't want to become a suspect in the olive-catapulting incident." House goes to tweak it, but Wilson grabs his wrist, lowering it to rest where their thighs have shifted to press together. He doesn't let go.
"Suddenly I'm reconsidering the wisdom of furnishing you with more ammunition," he says, and slides the canapés over to his side of the piano to eat one for himself. House reaches around his shoulders to take one, but Wilson pushes the plate away. House just leaves his arm draped where it is.
They rest like that while House finishes his Scotch. It's peaceful, not a word that House readily associates with parties. Or life.
His head comes to rest on Wilson's shoulder, and Wilson smiles at him. He's not sure either of them's really thinking about it as they tilt in for the kiss.
Wilson's thinking about it an instant later, House can tell. His muscles subtly tense up. They're not precisely in public view tucked away in this corner here, but that doesn't mean there's no one watching them. House doesn't turn to check, just tightens his grip on Wilson's hand until it becomes a slight squeeze. Wilson holds his gaze, and after a moment lets out a huff of breath that turns into a tentative smile.
So House kisses him again.