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Bald, Bath and Beyond

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October 9, 2013

“You’re going bald,” Wilson observed, looking down at the top of House’s head.

“Am not,” House replied evenly, too relaxed to be defensive.  He slid a little further down into the warm, scented bathwater, lying back against Wilson's chest.  The bathroom was steamy and redolent of eucalyptus and spearmint, and quiet music drifted from the Alexa speaker

“Well, okay,” Wilson allowed.  “Maybe ‘going bald’ is a bit of an overstatement.”  He poked gently with a finger, moving wet gray curls this way and that.  “But you have a definite shiny spot going on back here.”

“Oh, stop it,” House groused mildly.  “You’re just saying that to draw attention away from your love handles.”

“Hey, I'm pretty proud of these love handles, I earned them.  Worked hard at it.”  Wilson smiled.  He wrapped an arm around House’s shoulder and laid back, head on the rim of the tub, eyes closed, relaxing in the hot, soothing bath.

It was true.  Wilson had lost his appetite for quite awhile after the surgery, during the brief course of adjuvant RT -- tired, nauseous and achy, radiation esophagitis leaving his throat raw and sore, making it difficult to swallow.  He had dropped quite a bit of weight -- too much, becoming worryingly thin for a while, cheekbones as sharp as hatchet blades. 

It had taken months, and actual sustained effort, to put the weight back on.  Greg adored the love handles, pinched and squeezed them every chance he got.  Adored, too, the sternotomy scar bisecting James’ chest.  Adored anything and everything, really, that reminded him that James had survived his bout with cancer, and was healthy again.

Both men were quiet for a moment, reflecting -- House holding onto Wilson's arm where it crossed his chest, Wilson's thumb making small circles against the skin of House's shoulder.

“Anyway, I’m serious,” Wilson continued, after a brief silence.  “You’ve got a decent-sized patch of scalp showing.  You really need to start wearing a hat when you’re out in the sun, at least during the late spring and summer.”  He rested his chin atop the bald spot.  “I don’t want to have to start cutting squamous cell carcinomas off you.”

“Mmm-hmm, one cancer in the family was plenty,” House concurred.  “But if you do, I hope I at least get a discount on the bill,” he mumbled, warm and drowsy.  “I should get some benefits out of sleeping with an oncologist, after all.”

Some benefits?” Wilson asked, mildly offended, eyebrow quirked.  “Aside from the obvious benefits, you mean?”

“What obv -- “ House stopped with a soft gasp as Wilson slid down a little, hands gliding down his torso and slipping below the surface, skilled fingers working their magic.  “Oh,” he breathed after a moment.  “ Those obvious benefits.”

“Mmmhmm,” Wilson murmured against his skin, mouth at his shoulder blade.  “Any other benefits will require getting out of the bathtub; there’s not much room to maneuver in here.”  He smiled.

“Oh ye of little faith,” House replied with a rakish grin, executing a deft move, rolling over and submerging.  He couldn’t hold his breath forever -- but he managed to do so long enough to cause Wilson to clutch the sides of the tub, and utter aloud the names of a few religious figures his people regarded as fictional.   And, incidentally, to give Wilson an excellent, if slightly refracted, view of the aforementioned bald spot.

A short time later, having exited the tub in an urgent flurry of motion, taking approximately a third of the bathwater with them, they lay tangled together in a pile of damp towels on the bathroom floor, languorous and sleepy, disinclined to get up.  Or move at all, for that matter.  “Oh my,” Wilson yawned lazily.  “That was -- uh -- intense.  I almost feel like I need another bath now.”

“I can see that easily leading to a kind of infinite loop,” House replied, stretching.  “A very satisfying infinite loop -- but we’d never get anything else done.  We’d never make it to work.”

Or out to buy you a hat,” Wilson added, twirling a lock of House’s hair around his finger.

House snorted.  It was nice to be cared for and looked after, even if the mother-henning got a little annoying sometimes.  “You,” he told Wilson, “are like a dog with a bone.”

“Woof,” Wilson mumbled in reply, closing his eyes.

********************************************

They did, in fact, go out and buy a hat.  Several hats actually, later that evening, at Wilson’s insistence.  Matching hats, at that -- something House found both charming and appalling in equal measure -- and wore a pair of them to work the next day.

Chase, reading a chart, glanced up briefly through the glass wall of the diagnostics office, then looked up again, blinking -- an almost-cartoonish double-take.  “What the -- “

Outside the glass wall, House and Wilson strolled down the hallway, in step, in matching flat tweed caps.  The other fellows looked up from their own charts, just in time to see Wilson peel off towards Oncology, while House continued on towards Diagnostics.

House shouldered his way through the glass door of the Diagnostics conference room and shrugged off his jacket.  Then he looked up, and was met by five pairs of eyes, with expressions ranging from curiosity to amusement to mild horror.  “What?” he said, propping his cane against the glass conference table, before limping away to pour himself a cup of coffee.

“What’s with the -- “ Chase began, with a vague gesture towards House’s head.

“The hat?” House asked, blue eyes cast upwards for a moment.  “Genuine Irish tweed. A gift.  James is concerned about my -- uh -- “ He searched for the proper word.

“Bald spot?” Park chimed in helpfully.

House shot her a brief sideways glare. “I was going to say my skin health -- thank you very much -- now that we’re moving towards summer.”

“But …. Wilson….” Adams said tentatively, looking back down the now-empty hallway.

“Wilson what?” House inquired innocently. 

“Wilson isn’t -- balding….?”

“Is that a question or a statement?” House inquired.  “No, he’s not.  But what does that have to do with anything?”  He sat and stirred sugar into his coffee.

“So why the -- “ Thirteen began.

Kutner, never afraid to ask the obvious question, broke in.  “Why’s Wilson wearing the same hat?  Is this some kind of weird old-gay-dude ritual?”

“Ridiculous,” House scoffed. “It’s physically impossible for two people to wear the same -- oh, you mean matching hats.  Of course.”

“YES.”  Chase rolled his eyes, annoyed.

House tore open one last sugar packet and stirred it in.  “Still ridiculous,” he said, finally.  “Wilson’s not wearing a hat.”  He sucked a few stray droplets off the stir stick.  “He doesn’t like hats.”

“But --” Park began, perplexed.  Kutner looked back and forth from House to the hallway and back, puzzled.

“He was very clearly wearing a hat,” Adams said sharply, tired of House’s nonsense, “and it was the same as yours.”

Chase said nothing.   Thirteen just smiled thinly and shook her head, used to the drill.

“You’re all clearly delusional,” House said pleasantly.  He looked down in consternation at his cup, brow wrinkled.  “Did someone spike the coffee?  Maybe I shouldn’t drink this.”

“You look like two creepy old pervs that hang out at the racetrack,” Taub observed, “and smoke soggy cigarette butts.  You’ve even got the requisite three days’ growth of beard.  All you need now are some racing forms and a couple of stained trenchcoats.”

“Says the only other guy in the room who actually needs a hat,” House responded conversationally.  “Preferably one with a veil, to cover that tragic mug.”  He sipped his coffee.  “We are , in fact, two old pervs, although the ‘creepy’ part is debatable.  And Wilson would never be caught dead in a stained trenchcoat.”

He pulled out his phone and dialed.  “The racetrack, however, is an excellent idea,” he told Taub.  “Wilson!!” he barked into the phone.  “Doing anything tonight?  How about we go play the ponies?....Buy you dinner afterwards…Awesome.  See you at lunch.  Mwah.”

Adams’ lip twitched, and she shuddered.  “You guys are disgusting.”

Kutner cocked an eyebrow.  “I don’t know; I think it’s actually kind of cute.  In a weird way.”

Thirteen grinned.  “It’s both.  Cute and weird.” She tilted her head, considering.  “I’ve certainly seen worse.”

“You just never know,” Chase philosophized, crossing his arms behind his head, “where people will find love and happiness.  Or who will end up together.”

Park eyed Chase thoughtfully, tapping her fingers on the conference table.

“Thank you all,” House said, raising his voice to be heard over the ongoing commentary, “for your interesting, albeit completely unsolicited, input.”  He turned to Taub and tipped his cap -- his Irish tweed cap.  “And thank you, Taublet, for the excellent date night idea.”

“You’re welcome,” Taub said dubiously.  “I think.”

“So when are you two going to tie the knot, anyway?” Chase inquired, grinning mischievously.  “I am a minister, you know; I could do the honors.  You really ought to make an honest man out of Wilson.”

“It would be physically impossible to make an honest man out of Wilson,”  House replied, sipping his coffee.  “I may, however, marry him.  Maybe I’ll propose tonight.  At the track.  In my pervy old stained raincoat, puffing on a soggy cigarette butt.”  He put his cup down and shuffled through the charts on the table.  “Has anybody even looked at the charts yet?”  He narrowed his eyes.  “Do any of you ever do any actual work around here?  Or do you just sit around speculating about old men and hats?”

“Uh -- well --” Park sputtered, and the team dove in, each grabbing a chart again.

“That’s more like it,” House said, leaning back in his chair.  He sipped his coffee, which was, frankly, terrible, and might actually have benefitted from being spiked.

********************************

House did, in fact, propose to Wilson at the track that night, just after their horse came in second in the fourth race (horse number seven, Sister’s Mister, a roan with a white blaze, at odds of eight to one).  Wilson laughed it off, certain that House was joking -- just as he had on the two previous occasions when House had proposed.

House let it pass, but made a mental note to actually bring a ring next time, or hire a marching band or a guy in a gorilla suit, or do something else to highlight the serious nature of his request.

They wore matching hats to work again the next day -- flawless pale straw panamas, with pleated black grosgrain hat bands, each accented with a small, subtle burgundy feather.

And again the following day -- two blue distressed-cotton ball caps.  And then two fishing hats, complete with hand-tied flies.  And then two immaculate, understated, dove-grey fedoras.  Eventually everybody stopped making a fuss about it, and just accepted it as the new normal.  Which was just fine with Wilson, who didn’t particularly like being the center of attention.

He did, however, like hats.  And House.  And he decided that the next time House proposed -- whether it be at the track, at the office, or even (as in one prior instance) during a particularly vigorous bout of delightfully filthy lovemaking -- he wouldn’t pretend to misunderstand.  And he might even say yes.