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The Oncologist Trap

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The Oncologist Trap

The really annoying thing about Wilson is how his voice won't shut up inside House's head, even hours after House has escaped the sermon. When House is annoyed, and he's got something to forget--either Wilson's ridiculous little theatre bow, or else the nagging ache of his leg--House walks. And walks.

And walks. The snow and the ice make it difficult, but the challenge is the whole point. If House is spending every ounce of concentration on placing his feet and his cane just so and not falling on his ass, then he's not thinking about how Wilson has basically asked him out. Pretty pathetically, too.

So he walks, expecting that between the Vicodin and the exercise, he'll be tired enough of thinking to actually sleep when he gets home. But both Wilson's words and the pain in his leg are still stubbornly refusing to be forgotten when House passes the restaurant. He glances up--it's entirely an accident--and when he sees his trusted lieutenants sitting there, acting as if they actually have lives outside the hospital, House knows exactly what he's going to do about Wilson's little speech.

What is easy--what, in fact, is something he's known for a long time. How, though, is another question altogether. House puts his hand on the restaurant's door handle, debates internally for as long as it takes to turn it and push the door open, and has already reached a conclusion by the time he's stalking through the maze of tables.

The chatter from the diners covers the noise of his uneven steps. House sneaks up behind Chase just as he takes a swig from his pint glass, and barks, "What the hell are you doing?"

Half of Chase's beer spews across the table at Cameron. She scrambles back, her nose wrinkling in distaste. The other half Chase swallows the wrong way, and he chokes and coughs like a dying man. Foreman grimaces at Chase, like he's watching a stranger at a bus stop collapse from a heart attack, and he's debating whether it's worth it to announce that he's a doctor. House fights a grin and hooks a chair from the next table with his cane, pulling it over and ignoring the yelp of "Hey!" from the people eating there.

"House, what do you want?" Foreman asks, finally deigning to pat Chase on the back once or twice.

House swings around their table and slides into his stolen chair. "Wilson told me that I faked cancer because I felt I didn't belong," he said.

"You wanted to spend time with us?" Cameron asks, half astonished and half hopeful. She nudges a napkin dispenser towards Chase. "You're welcome to join us."

"No," Foreman says, "he's not. He faked brain cancer to mess with us."

"That wasn't the reason," House says. "It's also no longer the issue. Keep up."

"Wait," Cameron says. "Wilson said you'd benefit from actual human contact, and now you're here..."

"Correlation, not causation," House says. "It's a wonder you've made diagnostics your specialty if that's an example of your logic."

Cameron subsides, hurt and bewildered. Chase glares at him and throws a balled-up napkin down on the table. "So why are you here?" he asks, his accent rasping stronger for a moment as he recovers his voice.

House tilts his head and studies them all evenly. "I think it's time I seduced Wilson," he announces.

It's possible--just--that the looks on their faces are even more priceless than when he told them he wasn't dying after all. Foreman's the first to recover. "What?" he says. "Why?"

House blinks at Foreman for utterly missing the obvious. "He's been getting very needy lately."

"That doesn't make any sense," Chase says. "And even if it did, it doesn't answer why you're here. You'd be out--" Words seem to fail him at that moment, but he makes an aborted gesture that finishes his sentence with either "stealing third base" or "shagging Wilson". House thinks it's pretty accurate either way.

"Obviously, I'm here because I thought I'd hired three doctors who are--sometimes--" House pauses to look meaningfully at Cameron, "creative thinkers."

"You want us," Foreman says, shaking his head like he wants the bad thoughts to go away, "to help you seduce Wilson?"

"It's a service for all of mankind," House says. "Or, all womankind, actually. If I don't do this, he's going to go get married again."

"If that would make him happy--" Cameron starts.

House shakes his head at her pityingly. "Marriage never makes Wilson happy."

"This time--"

"And frankly I'm kind of worried about Cameron," House says, shouldering her out of the conversation and turning to Chase and Foreman. He steamrolls over whatever nonsense she's spewing about people learning to grow and change. "You know she's pretty much exactly Wilson's type--willowy, dark haired, emotionally clueless, willing to put out if it means she can make a man bleed."

Foreman raises an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're not describing yourself, House?"

House stares at Foreman, profoundly saddened by the total lack of getting it that surrounds him on a daily basis. "Exactly Wilson's type," he repeats slowly, so that the remedial students in the class can catch up.

"If you want Wilson, why don't you just tell him so?" Out of the three of them, Chase seems to have best embraced the romance of the idea.

It's time to cut that sort of idiocy short. House says, "Well, obviously that's not going to work. Have you been paying attention at all? I want to trick him."

"You could try being nice to him," Foreman says in exasperation.

"No, no, he'd suspect something right away if I did that," House says. He gets nothing but blank looks in exchange, and he wonders how these three morons managed to sneak into his employment in place of the geniuses their letters of recommendation made them out to be. "Come on, people. You spend a day diagnosing me to get neurosyphilis out of brain cancer when I don't want your help, and now that I do, you can't manage to come up with a single unique idea?"

"It's two completely different things," Foreman explodes. "That was medicine. This is about your sick, sordid romance with a man who doesn't even know you want to jump him."

"They're exactly the same!" House says.

"Okay," Chase says slowly. "I think I'm beginning to see the problem."

Cameron leans on the hotel desk, smiling prettily at the clerk. "He said he'd leave me the key," she said. "At the desk." The clerk blinks at her, and Cameron holds back a sigh. She'd love to try the medical emergency card on him, but considering that enduring House's mockery hasn't been recognised as a life-threatening situation (yet), she's going with the clueless girlfriend routine. If half of what the radiology techs say about the oncology nurses is true (or vice versa), then it's not unlikely that Dr. Wilson has visitors--women, of course--coming to his hotel room at all odd hours of the day. Another bright smile, a flutter of her eyelashes, and a half-formed wish that she had Cuddy's persuasive abilities in a low-cut top later, the clerk finally crumbles. Cameron does her best not to snatch the key card out of his hand, and doesn't roll her eyes until she's turned her back.

Foreman pushes off the wall he was leaning on and follows her to the elevator. "Nice work," he says, grinning, his shoulders shaking with laughter.

Cameron tries her best death glare on him. "I got the card, didn't I?"

"We could have used a credit card." Foreman shakes his head. "Or, here's an idea: we could have blown this off, gotten a nice lunch, and then gone back and told House we didn't find anything."

Cameron stabs at the elevator button. "You think House would accept that?"

"He hasn't been accepting reality well since this started," Foreman says. "I don't think 'not finding anything in Wilson's room' is going to be the thing that tips him over the edge."

The elevator doors open, and Cameron gets on, leaning against the back wall. She crosses her arms and frowns a bit. "He's just--"

Foreman rolls his eyes. "I hope you're not going to finish that thought with a hopeless romantic."

"Obsessed," Cameron says wryly. "That's not new."

"You seriously think this is for real?" Foreman eyes her sideways, and Cameron fights not to shrug. Foreman raises his gaze to the ceiling and tsks silently at her. "House isn't the only one whose grip on reality I'm concerned about."

Cameron bristles, even though she promised herself that she wouldn't let Foreman get to her. "He clearly wants this to go somewhere," she says. She's not sure if she believes that, but Foreman's huffy sighs make her want to play devil's advocate. "He's got Chase researching all of Wilson's past relationships to see if he's ever dated men."

"Yeah, and 'circus freak' was also on the list," Foreman says.

"Bearded lady," Cameron corrects, and Foreman snorts in derision. "I think it's sweet," she insists. It really is. For House.

"Are you sure 'creepy' wasn't the word you were looking for?" Foreman asks.

Cameron grimaces. It was, actually, but she's not going to admit that. The elevator doors open, and she glances both ways down the hall to check the direction of Wilson's room number. There aren't any maids' carts in the hall, so they should be able to get in and out without being seen. She slots the key card into the door, the light shines green, and they're in.

The hotel room is cut from the same pattern as every other hotel room ever designed. The bedspread is an ugly floral pattern; the bathroom is small, utilitarian, and hopelessly beige; there's one window, one small desk with a chair, and one very lonely looking suitcase sitting at the foot of the bed.

Foreman walks into the room and lifts the lid on the ice-bucket, finds it empty, and turns to face her. "What the hell are we supposed to be looking for?" he asks. "Medical evidence that Wilson's into guys?"

"Maybe there are gay-making spores in the carpet," Cameron mutters, already tired of Foreman's pessimism. She opens the closet to find three shirts, two suit jackets, and one hangar with just a tie thrown over it. A pair of dress shoes are lined up neatly underneath.

Foreman rolls his eyes again, but he pulls out a pair of latex gloves and starts going through the drawers in the bedside table. "Bible," he says, holding it up.

Cameron shakes her head, pushing the hangars to one side, though there's nothing to see behind them, and nothing on the shelf above. "Are you trying to prove that Wilson knows he's going to hell if he agrees to go out with House?" she asks.

"Trust me, that would be hell," Foreman says. "Maybe Wilson's already paying for his people killing Christ." He tosses the Bible back and moves to the other side of the bed.

"Right." Cameron sighs and moves to the bathroom, peering under the sink automatically looking for mould, then rolls her eyes at herself. "It's not evidence of absence," she says, checking between the towels for no particular reason except that House will ask if she did when they get back. Wilson's toothbrush sits in the holder, a half-rolled tube of toothpaste sitting beneath it. There are little bottles of hotel shampoo and conditioner, and a tiny paper-wrapped bar of soap, lined up on the edge of the tub. There's really nothing else to see.

"You know," Foreman calls from the main room, "it looked like that clerk believed you. About being Wilson's girlfriend. If Wilson's bringing women back here, then that shoots House's theory all to hell."

"And you'd like that, wouldn't you?" Cameron says, amused. "You hope that Wilson's straight."

Foreman chuckles. "I don't believe that he's not," he says.

"He could be bisexual," Cameron says.

"Yeah, right. Just like House. Both of them. And all the time we've known them, they've only been attracted to women." Foreman comes to the door of the bathroom. "Doesn't this bother you?"

"Breaking in to Wilson's hotel room?" Cameron bends down to check the garbage can, but it's been emptied. "House would have done it if we hadn't."

"No," Foreman says. "That House is interested in Wilson."

Cameron stands up, hands on hips, and advances until Foreman backs out of the bathroom. "Yeah," she says, sarcasm dripping from her voice. "And this is Dr. Eric Foreman's prestigious fellowship: breaking into his boss's best friend's hotel room in an attempt to finally get those two crazy kids together. Like you're not crying on the inside?"

Foreman cocks an eyebrow at her. "I'm not the one who blackmailed House into a date," he says. "This might be your idea of romance, but it isn't mine."

"I'm over him," Cameron says, rolling her eyes. "And I don't think that this is House's idea of romance, either."

"Exactly," Foreman says. He strips off his gloves and tosses them into the empty trash can. Cameron sighs. There's nothing at all to find here. Foreman opens the door for her. "Trust me," he says as they head back to the elevators. "This is just one of House's jokes. And Wilson's going to take it and come back for more, just like always." Foreman shakes his head. "The only thing I don't understand is why."

Cameron shrugs and smiles to herself. "Maybe he's in love."

"This is stupid," Foreman says. He takes his seat at the conference table and starts drumming his fingers, staring at House in disgust. "Of course there wasn't anything to find. What did you expect?"

House rolls his eyes and slams his cane down on the table. "Other than Wilson's illicit den of iniquity? Only that my diagnostic staff would be a little more observant than the trained monkeys that Cuddy wouldn't let me have, damn her evil need to hoard them for herself."

"We got in," Cameron protests. She accepts a cup of coffee from Chase, who looks almost as curious as House about what they found. "The maids had already cleaned. Wilson's suitcase and clothes were there. That's it."

"Your break-in skills suck," House says. "I should have sent Chase."

Cameron holds back a snort when Chase stands up straighter and fails to look like that scrap of praise from House didn't just make his week.

"After all," House continues, twirling his cane thoughtfully, "if the desk clerk had mistaken him for Wilson's girlfriend, I'd have a better idea if I was on the right track."

Right on cue, Chase deflates, and Cameron has to swallow her laughter. Foreman crosses his arms. "Is this done yet?" he asks. "Because I'm actually here to practice medicine--"

"Where were his socks?" House stops twirling his cane and fixes his intense blue stare on her.

Cameron stares back at him, caught completely off guard. "What?"

"His socks. Where were they? In the suitcase, in the closet? Tying Foreman's wrists to the bed while you got your ya-yas out?"

"In the suitcase," Foreman says. "It doesn't mean anything. House--"

House ignores him and focuses on Cameron. All that burning curiosity, directed at her like a laser, and she's caught. House leans over the conference table towards her. "Hotel shampoo or some fancy frou frou stuff from a salon?" he barks.

"Hotel," she stutters. "The soap, too."

"Tie in the closet: green, or a really ugly puce colour?"

Cameron kind of wants to look away, but she can't. "Green," she says.

House nods, and seems to go into a trance, forgetting about her completely from one instant to the next. Cameron blinks at Foreman and Chase, while House stares off into the middle distance. He could be a statue, except for his thumb brushing repeatedly along the handle of his cane.

"So," Chase drawls, bringing his own coffee to the conference table and sitting down to watch House. "How about that weird case of impetigo that turned into nephrogenic fibrosing dermopathy?"

House doesn't even twitch. Cameron wonders if the three of them can sneak out without him noticing. Chase is already discreetly glancing his watch, and in about two minutes, he and Foreman are going to be laying bets on how long House can stand there, palpably thinking.

Cameron starts edging back from the table, still focused on House, so that when the conference room door opens and Wilson walks in, she jumps guiltily and lets out a startled squeak.

"Hi," Wilson says, smiling faintly at her, looking a little bewildered. Cameron blushes, mortified. Half an hour she was going through every inch of Wilson's private life, and she's helping House to make his best effort at seducing the poor man. She feels sorry for all of them that House has roped into this ridiculous scenario, and she wants to take Wilson aside and drop him a few helpful hints. She doesn't get the opportunity, because House comes out of his reverie and looks thoughtfully at Wilson.

"What's up?" Wilson asks, taking in Chase and Foreman, glancing at the whiteboard's lack of symptoms, and finishing on House.

"Patient," House says dismissively.

Wilson looks significantly at the whiteboard. "You don't have a patient."

"If I went to the clinic as often as Cuddy demands, then I'd have too many. It's a balancing act." House points his cane at Chase. "You. Keep digging." He swings around to face Foreman. "You. Observation." And finally, to Cameron: "You. If I get wind of any heart-to-heart chats with the patient, and I'm never letting you near one more single man with a terminal diagnosis."

Cameron glances quickly at Wilson, then jerks her gaze away. "I'm not..." she says, but House isn't paying attention to her any longer, and she trails off.

Wilson looks at her, then narrows his eyes, studying House sideways. "You're up to something."

"Yeah, lunch," House says. "You're buying."

"Oh," Wilson says, nodding. "Of course. You're right; everything's perfectly normal."

House grins. "Let's go," he says. "Front row seating in coma guy's room fills up fast."

"That's because there's only one chair," Wilson says. He opens the door for House and holds it for him as they leave. House's next reply is blocked by the glass, but they're heading down the hall in perfect time, and Wilson's already laughing.

"They really are in love," Cameron sighs, watching them go, and turns to Chase to ask him about the circus freaks.

Chase logs off his Facebook session (despite House's disbelieving snort, there really is no community for James Wilson's Exes--at least, not that he could find with a morning's work. Bearded ladies, on the other hand, are distressingly common). He stands up and grabs his jacket off the back of his chair. "Well, come on," he says. "Let's go."

Foreman frowns at him skeptically, and Cameron blinks at him wide-eyed. "Go where?" she asks.

Chase raises his eyebrows and looks pointedly after House and Wilson. "To the cafeteria."

Foreman shakes his head and takes a seat at the conference table. "No. No way." He picks up the latest issue of Neuropathology. "I am not following them," he says, pointing the journal at the door. "I spent the morning risking breaking and entering charges--again--not, mind you, so that I could save lives, but so House could learn nothing about Wilson that he doesn't already know better than we ever will. I am not that morbidly curious."

Chase shrugs. "House did put you on observation duty." Foreman gives him a look of complete disdain. Chase just grins at his pouting. "Hey, you signed up for this job," he reminds him.

"Yeah," Foreman says, with a snort, "to learn from House. Not to help him get a boyfriend."

Chase shrugs amiably. Foreman's never been one to put himself out if the benefit to Eric Foreman isn't immediately obvious. Once you learned that about him, he was easy to get along with. "Your loss. Cameron?"

Cameron exchanges a glance with Foreman, a tiny crease appearing just between her eyebrows. "Maybe we should give them some privacy," she says, sounding torn.

"House is not going to declare his love just because we're not there," Chase says, trying to hold back his laughter. The idea of House declaring his love to anyone--anywhere--seems ludicrous, but even crazier is the idea that he'd hold back just because his fellows happened to be within earshot. "Come on," he wheedles. Even if they don't learn anything, a lunch with Cameron is appealing enough that he lays on the charm. "I'm hungry. You must be, too. And they're going to the cafeteria. It's not exactly a hush-hush location."

Foreman makes a disgusted sound and buries himself in his neurology journal. "You two go ahead," he says. "I'm sure I'll get more information than I ever wanted from the gossip mill later on."

Cameron sighs. "House is going to know we're watching."

"Probably," Chase says, and this time he does laugh. He's pretty sure House expects them to follow him. What's the point in dangling this weirdly personal revelation in front of them if he didn't expect them to be curious? "I'm pretty sure he won't care," he adds. "Look. House doesn't want to be obvious. You think he wouldn't say something to Wilson directly if he thought it would work? He said he wanted to trick him--I think he just wants to be subtle."

"House wouldn't know subtle if it ran him over in a monster truck," Foreman says, but he puts down his journal and crosses his arms, and his disgusted scowl has an edge of thoughtfulness about it.

"Exactly," Chase says. He's caught their attention, and the puzzle House has offered them is tugging at him. Why, after three years as House's fellow, is this the first time that Chase has heard that House might even remotely have an interest in men? Why Wilson? Why now? Chase bends over the conference table, leaning closer to Cameron. "Don't you see? He doesn't know how to do it! He hasn't been with anyone seriously since Stacy, and she dumped him over a year ago, or he dumped her." The paralegal he'd been supplying coffee to for the last few months of Stacy's employment at the hospital wasn't clear on that, but Chase knows he has the gist of the story right. "And right now, after months of avoiding Wilson like the plague, suddenly they're best friends again, and now this? I think House wants to take a risk."

It's Cameron's turn to look skeptical, and she raises one disbelieving eyebrow. "We are talking about the same House, right? Deflects any emotional conversation by launching his tennis ball at it?"

"From you, maybe," Foreman says. He glances at her ironically. "No offense, Cameron."

Cameron throws her hands up and says imploringly to the ceiling, "I'm over him. Over--"

"But not with Wilson," Chase interrupts. "Wilson's the only one who makes him even think twice. Remember that CIPA nerve biopsy he talked House out of?"

"Maybe you're right," Foreman says. "But who cares? If he wants to 'take a risk'"--Chase can hear the quotation marks--"let him. We have better things to do."

Chase turns to stare at the empty whiteboard, then at the piles of House's discarded paperwork that surrounds them. Cameron giggles. "That eager to get to the clinic, Foreman?" she asks. "I'm sure Cuddy would love to send a chickenpox epidemic your way."

Foreman rolls his eyes. "Okay, fine. Let's go to the cafeteria." He stands up and goes to the door, before stopping and pointing at Chase. "But only because today is egg salad day."

Chase casually inspects the selection of the cafeteria's finest dessert products, carefully glancing over his shoulder at the seating area while he hesitates artfully between the green Jell-O with the grapes in the center, and the blue Jell-O without. Cameron sidles up beside him, a chef salad and a coffee on her tray, and leans in to whisper, "I don't think they've noticed you yet, but if you keep holding up the line, the orderlies behind us are going to revolt."

"I was just trying--"

"To be subtle. I know." Cameron smiles sweetly and picks a container of chocolate pudding for him, adding it to his bag of chips and the cafeteria's own styling of macaroni and cheese. "Aren't we here because House doesn't know the meaning of the word?"

Chase shrugs slightly and slides his tray towards the cashier. "Well, that's one reason," he starts, smiling sideways at her, and enjoying the way she brushes against his side as she follows him through the line.

"All right." Foreman slams his tray down behind theirs in front of the cashier. "Let's get this over with. The sooner House makes a move, the sooner we might actually start work again."

Cameron winks at Chase, on the side Foreman can't see. "Thank you," she says, taking her change from the cashier, and smiles teasingly at Chase before she heads for an empty table.

Chase holds himself back from waving after her, and Foreman laughs behind him. "Man, that is such a bad idea," he says. "I didn't think it could get worse than House and Wilson, but no, just don't."

"What?" Chase says, paying for his lunch loftily. "I'm not doing anything."

"Right," Foreman says. "You are going to get eaten."

"It's just lunch," Chase protests, but Foreman just shakes his head, still laughing, and they follow Cameron to the table she's staked out.

The location is a good one, near the edge of the cafeteria where they won't have to compete with the crowd's noise too much to hear what's being said. "The chicken is in the henhouse," Foreman mutters sarcastically, and nods towards House and Wilson, who are sitting perhaps fifteen feet away. It's probably about the best angle they're going to get: they can see Wilson in three-quarter profile over House's shoulder. When House turns to the left, Chase can see the scowl on his face that means either everything is business as usual, or else the jig is up and Chase will be running bloodwork for the rest of his fellowship.

Chase slides into their booth beside Cameron. She smiles into her coffee, and leans around him as well as she can to see House and Wilson. "I don't think they're doing anything different today," she says.

"House is eating off Wilson's tray," Foreman says blandly.

"That's not a change," Cameron hisses. She nudges Chase to sit back, giving her a better view.

"Wilson's not trying to stop him," Chase offers.

"Also not new." Foreman stretches out his legs and raises an eyebrow. "Even if House says something, no way is Wilson going to agree."

Cameron frowns. "He's smiling."

"He thinks he's talking to his friend," Foreman says, "not the guy hitting on him. That might just make a difference."

Chase snickers to himself, trying not to dislodge Cameron's slight weight against his forearm. Foreman glances over at Wilson again, one eyebrow quirked. "Please don't tell me you believe they're going to run off into the sunset together," he says. "Even you can't be that deluded."

"They're happy," Cameron says, as if she's complaining that Foreman completely lacks a soul.

"They're barely functional," Foreman says.

Cameron narrows her eyes, as if this is an old debate that she's continuing. "They're committed."

"They probably should be," Chase interjects lightly, but Foreman ignores him.

"That," he says, jutting his jaw towards them, "is not commitment."

Cameron leans back, satisfied. "They've lived together. They've known each other for a dozen years, they've gone through some horrendous things, and they're still together. Isn't that how you defined it?"

"Yeah, as friends," Foreman says. "Bring sex into it and it's going to be entirely different."

"You don't think they're going to make it."

"No, I don't." Foreman smirks and takes a bite of his sandwich.

Cameron turns to Chase. "What do you think?"

Chase blinks and leans back. "Me?"

"Do you think they'll get together?"

"And stay together," Foreman says.

"It's too soon to tell," Chase says. "Maybe when House actually says something."

"He's not going to back down," Cameron says. "Chase?"

Chase shrugs and purses his lips. "Don't look at me," he says. "I don't even know why he's doing this now."

"House is a coward," Foreman says, pointing at Cameron. "He won't say anything."

Cameron smiles sweetly, and Chase shivers for some reason he can't entirely put into words. "If you're so sure, let's see you put something on the line."

Foreman stares at her skeptically. "Let's see your money."

Cameron picks up her purse and serenely pulls out a hundred dollar bill. Foreman laughs incredulously. "Do you carry cash around like that every day?" he asks.

Cameron simply holds up the bill. "Are you in?"

Foreman chuckles. "Yeah, all right."

"How long is long term?" Chase asks. He looks over towards House and Wilson. Wilson's concentrating on his salad. House has taken his bag of chips and is watching them like a spectator at a tennis match. He grins at Chase and crunches down on a chip. Chase turns back to Cameron and Foreman before he can give away more than he already has, although it's probably far, far too late.

Cameron shrugs negligently. "A month?"

"Fine by me," Foreman says, sitting back smugly. "I'll take your money."

Cameron puts her hundred on the table and slides it across towards Foreman. Chase can't help sneaking another glance at House. He's bending towards Wilson, gesturing, and Wilson rolls his eyes and reluctantly hands over his wallet. House goes through it, pulls out some cash, then tosses the wallet on his tray and pushes it back towards Wilson. He stands up, grabbing his cane. He stalks out of the cafeteria, passing by their table, and as he goes, he covers Cameron's hundred with one of his own.

This is pretty much the worst day Foreman's had at work, ever, and he's including the day House deliberately infected him with Legionnaire's disease in his assessment.

"I wonder how it would work..." Cameron muses, and makes some vague hand gestures in the air, as though shaping a scene that she can't quite picture. Chase looks on, looking about equal parts appalled and fascinated. "You know. Considering his leg," Cameron finishes.

"Frankly, I don't want to know," Foreman says, but it doesn't seem to put a dent in Cameron's speculations. Short of covering his eyes, blocking his ears, and singing "la la la la" at the top of his voice, Foreman has no idea how he is supposed to be able to escape this. Maybe he will take Cuddy up on her offer of extra clinic hours for anyone who's had their flu shot and knows their way around a bottle of aspirin. Right now, vomiting, whiny, sick kids are coming in second in terms of torture he'd prefer to endure, but the race is getting tighter with every passing moment.

"Do you think Wilson overheard us betting?" Chase asks, finally jumping in to do his part in getting Cameron off her half sighing-schoolgirl and half detached-physical-therapist examination of the mechanics of House and Wilson getting it on.

Cameron shakes her head, still staring off into the middle distance. "He'd have been sputtering more if House had said anything. Wilson doesn't have a clue."

"Maybe we should do something about that," Foreman says. "Maybe we should tell Wilson, and get this over with."

"That eager to lose your money, Foreman?" Chase grins at him, and Foreman ramps up his glare. Two hundred bucks. Cameron, he might be able to stand losing to, but House is not going to let this go. If Chase was right that House expected them to follow Wilson and him to the cafeteria, then Foreman wouldn't put it past him to have predicted the bet, either. If he treats Wilson like his personal ATM, he's not above using his fellows for found money, either.

Speaking of the manipulative bastard, House pushes open the door and saunters in, carrying his portable TV and a file folder tucked under his right arm.

Cameron raises an eyebrow at the TV. "Does Cuddy know your lunch hours include watching General Hospital anywhere you can hide and still get a signal?" she asks ironically, stressing Cuddy's name slightly.

House leans back on his cane and eyes her. "I bill those hours as professional development."

Foreman snorts. Of course he does. House gives him an inscrutable look as he stashes his portable TV among the junk scattered on Cameron's desk.

"Here." House tosses a folder on the table. It spins across the glass and lands between Cameron and Chase. "Chase, start running bloodwork. Cameron, get the patient's history." Foreman knows what that means--he's stuck on break and enter duty. Twice in one day is asking a lot, even for House, but if it'll get him out of speculating on just how fabulous Wilson is in his spare time, he's all for it. Finally, they're getting back to their actual jobs, and he doesn't have to worry that House is going to send him out to buy flowers or candy with obscene versions of Hallmark cards tucked inside. He reaches to take the chart when Cameron offers it to him.

"Not you, Foreman," House says, and whatever Foreman hates about the man, he's got to admire his perfect timing. "You're coming on a little fieldtrip."

Foreman clamps his mouth shut. He is not going to ask, "Why me?", because House probably has a reason, and Foreman definitely isn't going to like it.

House shoulders his way out of the conference room, holding the door and waiting. Foreman forces out a sigh and stands up to follow him. House is watching him in that way where he's pretending he's not, but it's goddamn obvious and House has got to know that it is.

"What's the matter, Foreman? Don't you think Wilson's going to treat me right?"

"First off, House, I don't care. And secondly, I don't see you as the plaintiff in the spousal abuse suit."

House sighs, playing the wounded victim. "I'm just sorry you can't see it in yourself to accept our love. We're brothers in this fight! You've suffered, I've suffered--"

"House, this isn't love!" Foreman stops, and House turns to look at him. "And you did not just play the gay rights card to me."

"I was thinking of getting a rainbow banner for the office." House jerks his head for Foreman to follow, and he does. Wherever House is taking him will be bad enough, but all he has to do is grind his teeth and endure it. For a month, or less, because this is House, after all. Foreman lets his shoulders fall, and chuckles.

House eyes him askance, clearly wondering what caused his mood to lighten. "Are you mocking my taste in interior decorating?"

"No, I'm laughing because you are going to self-destruct within a month," Foreman says.

"You must be pretty familiar with the process," House says, then, with that irritating-as-hell false brightness of his. "How is Wendy, anyway?"

Foreman glares, the hope of a moment ago knocked right out of him. "None of your damn business," isn't going to go over well, so he shuts his mouth and follows House. Over the years, he's gotten used to shadowing House's slanted, bull-shouldered walk, keeping to his good side as much as possible, and always prepared to leap back, or to the side, in case House stops or spins around or knocks an unwary nurse into his path. Foreman stews for a bit, thinking about the extra car payment he was planning to make with two hundred bucks that will probably now go to Cameron head-hunting Chase and House treating Wilson to a trip to the local strip joint for chicken wings and beer. Two hundred bucks!

He follows House onto the elevator, his jaw set, hands stuffed in his pockets. House pushes the button for the fifth floor.

"Where are we going?" Foreman asks, although it's a futile hope that they're heading anywhere except the main oncology inpatient wards.

"Nowhere," House says, even as he grins at the duty nurse and moves past her towards pediatric oncology, ignoring her call of "Dr. House! You know Dr. Wilson asked me to page him if you came on the wards without him!"

House waves his cane behind him, and Foreman shoots the nurse an appealing glance, asking her to do exactly that. He's not exactly eager for the next round of House's molasses-in-January approach to telling Wilson whatever the hell's on his mind, but anything to save the poor kids from House that doesn't involve Foreman taking the blame would be just fine. He steps up his pace to catch up with House just as he's entering the pediatric oncology ward, where there are several small children listing about, not making much of the toys and games on the tables nearby. There are a few parents sitting at bedsides, and the whole place has an air of cheerful depression about it. Foreman's glad all over again that he chose neurology as his specialty.

House looks one way, then the other, taking in all the sick kids and their parents. He grins maniacally and claps his hands together. "All right, dying kids, listen up," he says. "It's time to dish."

Foreman resists hauling House out of the oncology wards by the scruff of his neck, but only by the slimmest margin. What stops him is the fury and kicked-puppy fear on the parents' faces when House grins at their probably-dying children. Foreman knows that look of "I'm about to sue your hospital down to the last bedpan" and it's not one he's going to get mixed up in. He does not plan to get in the way of House and the royal ass-kicking that Cuddy is going to righteously deliver. The kids don't mind at all--they probably know they're dying; kids are sensible like that--and besides, House has already magicked a quarter out of one boy's central line. From the look on his face, the kid's going to think he has a gold mine in his aorta for at least a week.

"You don't all have quarters in you," House is saying, exasperated, as a little girl points to her surgical scar and stares up at him with big green eyes. Foreman does his best not to chuckle. House rolls his eyes and waves his hand over the scar. "Oh, fine. Look, it's a nickel. Astonishing. Now--"

"House, what are you doing?"

Foreman turns around in relief. Wilson's standing at the front of the room, his hands on his hips, staring at House sternly. He's a bit rumpled, as if he ran his hands through his hair in exasperation when he got the nurse's page, and hurried to get here before House could start turning his cancer kids on to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. House spins around, already grinning, and takes Wilson in, leering at him from head to toe, and then back up again.

Foreman's never seen House smile quite that way before. He could almost believe that House really does find Wilson attractive. He's not even going to touch the idea that House might be in love.

"If I could have a word with you, Doctor House," Wilson says, before kneeling down to gently dislodge the girl with the surgical scar who's tugging on his pant leg and trying to show him her magical nickel.

"Sure," House says. "Bye, dying kids!"

"Do more tricks next time," the boy with the central line says.

"Don't think I can't tell you just want me for my money," House says. "Next time, no dirt, no quarters."

Wilson clears his throat.

"Gotta go," House says. "Dr. Wilson is mad at me."

The kids all nod seriously. House accepts their sympathy as his due, and then follows Wilson to the hallway, taking a seat on the visitor's chairs next to the nurses' station. He and the nurse who paged Wilson exchange a mutually suspicious glare.

"House, what the hell is going on with you today?" Wilson asks, putting one hand to his face and shaking his head. "Chase couldn't look me in the eye when I asked him what you were doing."

Foreman's not touching that with a ten-foot pole. He turns it over to House with a raised eyebrow. House looks up at Wilson, filled with wide-eyed innocence, fiddling with his cane. He's almost smiling, and he looks more open and honest than Foreman's ever seen him. He's probably about to lie right through his teeth.

Apparently, Wilson sees it too, because he holds out his hand and says, "Never mind."


"I don't want to know," Wilson says. "Whatever it is. Go ahead, keep plotting. Drop a bucket of water on my head, shake my hand with a buzzer, put a whoopie cushion on my chair--"

"Is it suddenly the fifties?" House asks. "Are you worried I might give you a hotfoot, too?"

Wilson spreads his hands out to stop House from speaking. "Just...don't involve my patients. Especially the ones under the legal drinking age."

House gives a wounded sniff. "But those ones are the most fun to corrupt."

Wilson glances at Foreman. Foreman tries to project an aura of "My boss is a maniac," and "I hate everything," in approximately equal measures.

It seems to work.

"I' going back to work now," Wilson says, narrowing his eyes at House. "And so will you." He tilts his head at Foreman, as if he's charging him with the responsibility of making sure House does exactly that. Foreman sighs and thinks about updating his CV. There have got to be better jobs than this.

"Fine," House calls after Wilson. "Let it be a surprise! I hope there isn't a history of heart attacks in your family!"

Wilson raises his arms in an 'I'm not listening' gesture, and House gets to his feet to better watch him go. "Dude," he says, nudging Foreman with his elbow, "I am so in."

"Shut up, House."

"It's probably destiny. Left over from a past life."

Foreman grits his teeth and starts back towards Diagnostics. "I don't want to know."

"Oh, and Foreman," House says, "one more thing."

Foreman turns around. "What?" he barks.

"Those parents are pretty pissed about the whole 'dying kids' thing. Deal with it, would you?" And House grins at him, and follows Wilson off the wards.

Foreman's left watching him go.

Worst. Day. Ever.

Cuddy looks up from her paperwork.

"House is insane," Foreman says, his eyes bugging out, looking about three insufficient-postage parcels away from taking a high-powered rifle up a bell tower.

Cuddy sighs and puts her pen down. "What is it this time?" she asks. For a moment she imagines herself on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, looking out into aquamarine waters. She never created the Department of Diagnostic Medicine. It's beautiful.

It doesn't last.

"The pediatric oncology ward is not my responsibility!" Foreman's saying, waving a pile of complaint forms. The most depressing part of all is how Cuddy can recognize a sheaf of complaint forms just from the way a member of House's staff waves them frantically in her face.

"What did he do now?" she repeats, really hoping this won't end with her taking the forms.

"He told a bunch of kids they were dying."

"Were they?"

"Yes, probably--that's not the point! Their parents are taking it out on me."

"Were you there?"

"Yes, but--"

"What," Cuddy says for the third time, massaging her temples, "was House doing?"

Foreman's mouth clamps shut. He folds his arms across his chest as if she's just asked him to divulge the location of the rebels' secret base.

Cuddy stares at him. He stares back.

"I'd rather not say," he grits out, finally.

"What do you mean?"

"Look," Foreman says, "I've done some questionable things for House in the last three years. I'm lucky I haven't lost my license. Hell, I'm lucky I'm not in jail. But this--" He shakes his head and laughs, but not like anything is funny. "It's ridiculous, all right? It's House being House. If you could just give him these patient complaints, then I'll consider not handing in my letter of resignation."

Cuddy raises one eyebrow skeptically. "If that's how you feel, Dr. Foreman," she says, which on most days translates almost exactly to "Tell me where the rebel base is, dammit."

But this time, Foreman stares back at her, growls, "It is," and dumps the complaints on her desk before leaving her office.

Cuddy looks up from her paperwork.

Chase stands by the office door, looking like he accidentally walked into the wrong room and is hoping vaguely that he can walk out again without being noticed.

"Dr. Chase," Cuddy says, very professionally, just to let him know that he is in so much trouble if he even dares to cross her. "There's a little something regarding Princeton-Plainsboro's employee internet usage policy that I'd like to bring to your attention."

Chase looks appropriately wide-eyed.

"Normally," Cuddy says, "I'd overlook any flags from the Diagnostics department just on a matter of principal. But the search string 'james wilson + bearded ladies' stood out as even more unusual than normal."

Chase blushes to the roots of his hair. It's very pretty. Cuddy imagines herself on a gorgeous white sugar-sand beach on a deserted island in the Caribbean, with warm wavelets lapping over her toes, sipping a Mai Tai. She never met House back at Michigan. It's wonderful.

It doesn't last.

"I, uh, can explain that," Chase says, "but I think it might cost me my job."

"I can cost you your job," Cuddy points out very deliberately.

"Right," Chase says, "but House would ruin my life."

Cuddy sighs, but at least she's getting closer to the truth. Not that she ever doubted what the truth was; it's just nice to have confirmation before she decapitates anyone. "So House is behind this?"

"It's nothing to do with a patient," Chase says, "or I'd tell you. But, uh, I think this one is something you have to hear for yourself."

"And why can't I hear it from you, Dr. Chase?" she asks. Because if Chase doesn't roll over and play dead, then something has gone seriously wrong somewhere.

"It's...too...nice," Chase says, and shrugs in embarrassment. "You'll have to ask him."

"Of course," Cuddy says, and allows Chase to flee.

Cuddy looks up from her paperwork.

Cameron stands in front of her desk, trying to look sweetly martyred and tough as nails both at once, and failing spectacularly.

"What the hell is House up to?" Cuddy asks, point blank, because Cameron isn't exactly subtlety's best friend.

Cameron raises her chin. "It's personal."

Cuddy imagines that she is on a white, sun-drenched, sugar-sand beach on her very own personal island in the Caribbean. She's sipping her third ice-cold Mai Tai after a languorous swim in the lagoon, and there is a husky surfer at her beck and call to massage suntan lotion into her skin. House has never been born. It is glorious.

It doesn't last.

Cuddy sighs and rests her chin on her linked fingers. "Please," she says, "explain to me how it is personal when you, Chase, and Foreman are all clearly aware of it."

Cameron's lips tighten. "It's personal to House," she says. "He's actually taken to heart how we all felt when we thought he was dying. I think he's really ready to change."

Cuddy blinks at Cameron and wonders if she has met Dr. Gregory House.

"I know what you're thinking," Cameron says, "but this is a real commitment he's making. It's--"

"It's what?" Cuddy asks.

"It's personal," Cameron says.

Cuddy rolls her eyes and sends Cameron away before she's forced to redecorate her office in an optimistic shade of pink.

Cuddy looks up from her paperwork.

Wilson's opened her office door halfway and sticks his head in, rather sheepishly. "I heard about the inquisition," he says. "Anything I can do to help?"

Cuddy sits back and waves him in. Wilson smiles a bit and closes the door behind himself, rubbing absently at the back of his neck. "Sorry about the patient complaints," he says. "I can probably deal with them, if you're busy. Most of them aren't serious...I know the Clarks, and their son is ecstatic about the magic show, so..."

"What is he doing?" Cuddy asks. If anyone knows--and it appears that everyone does--then Wilson is probably the most likely person to share it with her.

Wilson shakes his head, looking bewildered. "I don't know," he says. "I thought maybe he was bored, but he has a case--Cameron and Chase are running tests, and I think Foreman got sent out to investigate the woman's workplace."

Perfect. There goes her last chance to solve this without involving House. "When did it all start?" she asks.

" lunch, I guess. He asked me for a hundred bucks--"

"Did you give it to him?" Cuddy asks incredulously.

"To bet against Foreman? Yeah, I thought it was safe," Wilson says. "He'll pay me back just to annoy Foreman."

Cuddy imagines that she is Mistress and High Queen of the entire Caribbean. She has an elite army of buff palm-frond wavers who will act as her human footstools the moment she snaps her fingers. The idea of House has never been conceived by the universe. It's practically orgasmic.

It doesn't last.

"What was the bet?" she asks, desparingly.

"He wouldn't tell me," Wilson says, and laughs a bit. "I'm expecting commandos to leap out and kidnap me at any second, actually."

Cuddy decides paperwork is safer.

Cuddy doesn't bother looking up from her paperwork.

"I need some time off," House repeats, as if that will be enough to sway her.

Cuddy doesn't need to look up: if she does, it'll be to see House standing in the center of her office, thumping his cane against the carpet. In his own mind, he's probably a guerilla warrior or a freedom fighter come to throw off the shackles of her oppression. "You have clinic hours," she says, in her most bland 'the day I finish my taxidermy course I plan to shoot and stuff you for my own amusement' voice.

"I'll have you know clinic hours are the only thing that stand between me and personal life fulfillment," House says.

Cuddy continues to ignore him. He's quartering the room now, pacing, poking, trying to figure out some fun new tidbit about her life that he can hold over her head. "Watching General Hospital does not equal attaining nirvana," she says, signing off on a budget request and shuffling to the next item on her list.

"Ha," House says, and he takes a seat in the visitors' chair in front of her desk.

Cuddy raises her head and stares at him.

House stares back.

Well. This changes things. If House has decided to be even halfway civilized, then this is about more than his usual attempts to weasel out of clinic hours.

Cuddy puts her pen down and smiles at him. "Would this have anything to do with the 'House is insane' phone call I got this morning?" she asks, carefully leaving out the four 'House is insane' personalized visits from his fellows and his best friend.

House narrows his eyes. "Wilson phoned you?"

"No, he didn't," Cuddy says, smiling brightly. "But now I know that this is about Wilson."

House looks stricken for a moment, but he recovers quickly. "Stunning deduction," he scoffs. "Of course it's about Wilson. He's the only one around here who's any fun."

"You're right. Whenever you pull a stunt around here, it's either about a patient, me, or Wilson. Since you only just got a patient and you're already in here disrupting my day, figuring out that your little plan involves Wilson wasn't a huge leap."

"Great. Then you can give me some time off."

"Hmm. Did you know you've had nine complaints filed about you in the last half-hour, all by oncology patients and their parents?"

House considers that for a moment, stretching out further in her chair until he's slouched thoughtfully. "Should've used Cameron to soothe them instead of Foreman, you think?"

"I think," Cuddy says, smiling so hard she's gritting her teeth, "that you should be chained to a bed in an exam room and left to do clinic hours for the rest of the week."

House grins. "Kinky."

"If you have a fetish for tongue depressors."

House starts to tell her exactly what kind of firm wood he'd like to use to depress her tongue, but Cuddy eyes him repressively and he shuts up. "House," she says, "would you care to enlighten me as to why, exactly, you need time off?"

House blinks innocently. "I'm going to seduce Wilson."

Cuddy breathes in deeply. She considers yelling. She considers strangling him. She considers hopping a plane to the Caribbean.

She considers that House might be telling the truth.

"You're..." she says, and stops.

House looks up at her, not smiling, and his eyes are a little uncertain and a little sad.

Cuddy's chest tightens. He's really... He's in love, she thinks, astonished.

"You can have the time," she says, and buries herself in paperwork before she can regret the decision.

Something is rotten in the state of Diagnostics.

Wilson has the uncomfortable feeling that he's been cast in the role of Guildenstern and/or Rosencrantz, and that huge, life-altering events have been going on around the edges of his perception all day, and each time he's just missed them by a hair. First was the call from the concierge at his hotel, apologizing profusely for letting his girlfriend in without his express permission--and was that other gentleman of his acquaintance, also? When Wilson rubbed his forehead and asked, "...girlfriend?" (he wasn't even going to touch the "other gentleman" part of that statement), the only response was a strained silence and then an offer of a complimentary meal at the hotel restaurant.

Wilson glanced at his appointment calendar and then his watch, decided he'd rather know than not, and took a quick drive to the hotel to make sure everything was in order. Nothing was missing; the only evidence that anybody had been by since the maids had cleaned was a pair of hospital-issue latex gloves in the bathroom trashcan. Wilson blinked, looked around the room, rifled through his suitcase to double-check, and then shook his head at himself for being paranoid.

Still, being paranoid counts for bonus points around House, so when Wilson gets back from the hotel, he drops by the conference room to see what House is up to. The moment he walks in, Cameron blushes like he's just propositioned her in the lewdest possible terms, Chase looks like he's about to choke on the air he's breathing, and Foreman just stares at him with a faint, condescending pity in his eyes. House is the only one who's the same as ever: lying his head off about what he's up to, and hitting Wilson up for lunch money.

"Seriously," Wilson says, as they make their way through the cafeteria, "you don't expect me to buy the 'it's a patient' story, do you?"

"No," House says, "just my lunch." He nudges his tray closer to Wilson's: he's hidden a packet of triple-fudge cookies under his mound of fries. He blinks innocently at the cashier while Wilson sighs and gets out his wallet.

The second sign comes not twenty minutes later when Cameron sits down at a table fifteen feet away and stares at him like he's on fire and simply hasn't noticed yet. Wilson leans closer to House under the guise of stealing one of his fries and hisses, "What the hell did you tell them about me?"

"Not everything is about you," House huffs.

"How silly of me, yes. Clearly your fellows are all staring at me because of some deeply personal revelation about you."

House rolls his eyes and scrapes his chair around the table a bit until Wilson isn't facing Cameron directly. "Happy now?"

"She's still looking." Wilson can feel her gaze boring into the back of his head. A moment later, he spies Chase and Foreman crossing the cafeteria. They sit with Cameron, and there's a hushed conference that Wilson can't quite hear, but he has a feeling that his name comes into it a lot. He closes his eyes with a groan and remembers the gloves in his trash. "You've got them stalking me," he says. "I don't suppose you're going to let me in on why."

"Not about you," House repeats airily, taking a handful of chips from Wilson's bag. "I thought you wanted me to make connections with people. They're still trying to figure out why I joined them for dinner yesterday."

Wilson stares at him. "You--?"

"Had a wonderful time. Wished you were there. I'm thinking of sending my host a thank-you note. Or maybe a fern." House smirks at him and then swipes his bag of chips entirely before he turns to watch the other table, as if Cameron and Foreman's argument is a spectator sport. In House's department, it probably is; Wilson wouldn't put it past House to list fellow-baiting as the next demonstration game for Olympic consideration.

Wilson sighs and looks down at his salad. He was so sure he could get to House through the brain cancer. It's been months since things have really been...right, between them. And if House's faked brain cancer wasn't a cry for help, he doesn't know what the hell is. The invitation out to dinner was supposed to be for his friend, not his employees. That's not fair is the first thing Wilson thinks, quickly followed by But I asked you out first, dammit, but those are both good ways to get House actively interested in mocking him, rather than the half-hearted attention he's getting while House does his best not to snicker too loudly at Foreman and Cameron.

"House," he starts, and he has no idea what he's going to follow that up with, but House interrupts, "Gimme a hundred bucks."

"What?" Wilson demands.

"For a bet against Foreman. It's a sure thing." House crooks his fingers, demanding Wilson's wallet. Wilson rolls his eyes. He can tell from the brightness in House's eyes and the nervous tap of his fingers against the table that whatever the bet is, it's about as far from a sure thing as fair odds in an Atlantic City casino, but he reaches for his wallet anyway. At least demanding the hundred bucks back will give him a lever to get House's attention the next time he needs it.

House snatches the wallet and rifles through it, comes up with a hundred--and why the hell Wilson carries that kind of cash around, unless it's to feed House's mooching tendencies, he really doesn't know--and he doesn't want to think about it. "Are you--" he says, but House has already gotten to his feet and walked away. He slaps Wilson's money down on the table in front of Foreman. Wilson can't see House's grin, but Foreman's disgusted glare and the way he slumps back suggests that Wilson at least has some hope of House winning the bet and paying him back.

Wilson concentrates on eating his salad and ignoring the surreptitious looks Cameron's still sending his way. A few minutes later, the fellows all start up and look at their pagers, and then he's left in peace to finish his lunch.

It doesn't last.

He's barely back in his office, and just settled in to some serious memo-writing (in the last month, Brown's chart annotations have gone from cryptic to completely illegible), when there's a hesitant knock on his door. Wilson would sincerely love to pretend he's not in, but it might actually be important, so he calls "Come in," between his fingers as he rubs the tiredness out of his eyes.

"Ah, Dr. Wilson," Chase says, clearing his throat. "Can I ask you a, um, personal question?"

Wilson raises his eyebrows. Chase is...blushing. Wilson thinks of Cameron's meaningful looks, Foreman shaking his head, and House...going on like he always has. Wilson's almost afraid to ask, but he needs to know. "It's fine," he says. "What's on your mind?"

"Are you--do you like men?" Chase asks.

Wilson blinks, feeling more bewildered than ever. Where the hell is this coming from? "Chase, you're a..." Friend? he wonders. Acquaintance? "Colleague," he says. "I don't think that we should, uh--"

"Not me," Chase blurts out, going wide-eyed and blushing even more. "Not--I'm not hitting on you," he says. "Just. In general. You and...guys."

Now it's Wilson's turn to flush, and he has no idea how much it shows. He's--well, he's done things; he's had his share of college experimentation, and of course there's always--Wilson yanks his train of thought to a halt. "Chase," he says, "what the hell is House up to today?"

Chase's eyes widen and he looks around as if he expects House to have materialized behind him without warning. Not, Wilson has to admit, an unreasonable fear. "Nothing," he says, "Um. Nothing."

Wilson tips his head back and does his own version of House's interrogating stare. Chase fidgets and looks anywhere but at him.

"Okay, sorry," he says. "Bad idea. I've just been trying all day to figure it out. I'll--" He points a thumb at the door, and Wilson nods, relieved, totally willing to overlook the fact that Chase has apparently been researching his sexual preferences on House's time.

And if Chase mutters something about bearded ladies on his way out, Wilson decides quite calmly that he will pretend he didn't hear.

After that, though, he can't concentrate on anything; not his half-written memo, not reviewing patient files, not even his usual looks-like-work-from-a-distance round of solitaire that has fooled House more than once. But he can't stop thinking about it; and the weirder things get, the more he wants to confront House. Except he knows that won't work; he needs to look like the innocent party, here, or House will just turn around and run at top speed in the other direction. Metaphorically speaking.

When his pager goes off, and it's Ann-Marie from the peds floor warning him that House is on the wards, Wilson runs a hand through his hair and drops everything to run upstairs.

He walks into the ward, to see House arguing with Tyler Clark about magic tricks. Nicole Lam hurries across the room to him and grabs his knees in a bear hug, piping excitedly about the nickel that the magician found inside her, and was that what cancer was made out of? Because it was no fair for Dr. Wilson to keep it, it was really hers, and she was going to buy candy with it.

Wilson puts his hands on his hips, noticing for the first time the horrified looks on the Lams' and Clarks' faces. He's going to be doing damage control for a good portion of the afternoon, and he's working up a head of steam to yell, when House turns away from Tyler and smiles at him. Really smiles, at first, bright and brilliant and a little bit repentant, and then it changes until House is smirking at him, from Wilson's mussed hair to the hands on his hips to his old loafers that apparently don't talk the way his French shoes do; and that's when Wilson puts it together. He gets it. Why House has his fellows stalking him, why they're following him to lunch, why Chase wants to know if he likes men, why Cameron has been staring at him like a sad puppy and Foreman's looking at him right now like he's one of his own terminal patients.

What the bet with Foreman--that has his hundred bucks riding on it--is really all about.

Wilson throws up his arms and can't get the rhythm of his banter right when House tries to make excuses. He's too busy staring (and trying not to) and kicking himself for assuming that House would ever go out with his minions for dinner voluntarily, and letting piece after piece of this crazy day fall into place.

When he walks away from House, Wilson can still feel him watching. He's not going to let on that he knows, even though there's an anticipatory heat rushing through him, and he's feeling more smug than he can ever remember. House is...doing the crazy thing that House does. Everything has to be roundabout, nothing can be simple. But now Wilson knows.

He spends the rest of the afternoon in a kind of haze, wondering when the next puzzle-piece is going to click in. There will have to come a time when House actually faces him. When Wilson hears that Cuddy is on a rampage trying to track down House's activities, he happily goes in and throws her off the scent. He finishes his memos and his reviews without remembering a word, and when it's time to go home, he's already smiling to himself.

House isn't patient. And Wilson doesn't plan to let this opportunity pass him by. Instead of going to his hotel, he drives to House's place.

There's no point in being nervous. He's wanted this for...he doesn't even know. And there have been hints that House felt the same way, but never enough that Wilson wanted to risk asking. He still doesn't. He's not going to.

He uses his key to get in, hangs up his coat in House's closet, and goes to the kitchen for a beer before he even ventures into the living room. There's the usual haphazard mess that gets left behind whenever House bothers to cook--sandwiches and some reheated store-bought lasagna. Wilson moves the dishes to the sink but doesn't bother washing them. He takes his beer out to the living room and sits beside House on the couch. House turns the volume down a couple of clicks as about the only acknowledgment that Wilson has joined him.

Wilson eases back into the couch and sighs. This is what he should have done from the start. Instead of lecturing or begging, just follow House's example and show up where he wants to be. Maybe that's how he should have interpreted House bursting into his office every day for years.

"You didn't bring pizza," House points out, when the commercials come on during the Devils-Flames game.

"You didn't ask me to," Wilson says, because this isn't his responsibility any more. He's going to sit back and wait. He smiles into his beer, confident already.

House glances at him, apparently serious for a moment. "Your socks were in the suitcase," he says.

Wilson brings the beer down from his lips and considers that. "Cameron and Foreman?" he asks. He already knows House had his fellows breaking in to his hotel room. He doesn't know what House thinks he's learned from his stuff.

"Hotel shampoo and soap," House continues, not deterred in the least, "and the green tie in the closet."

"I'm going to assume this means something beyond the fact that you need to obsess over the lives of everyone around you," Wilson says mildly. He can wait for House to say it. He needs to know what made House choose this moment, now, to bring this all up. House has always hated the fact that he's living in the hotel. So what's changed?

"You haven't even unpacked your socks," House says, annoyed, as if Wilson is being deliberately obtuse--which he is. "You don't plan to stay. And you want to look pretty when you go."

Wilson can't help smiling again. So House is fishing for girlfriends, or boyfriends--Wilson wonders briefly how premeditated Chase's question was--because he already knows that Wilson doesn't want to live here, with him. That's not exactly true: Wilson just doesn't want to live on House's couch, as if that's all he can hope for. "I'm not going anywhere, House," he says. "And if I was, I'm sure you'd know my itinerary before I did." He lets himself sound slightly bitter.

House snorts and takes another drink from his beer. Wilson turns his head enough to see him out of his peripheral vision. House looks...nervous, which is enough to set Wilson's heart beating faster. House sets the beer down, hard enough to clink against the table, and he heaves an exasperated sigh. "Of course I know more about your life than you do," he says. "That's why I can do this."

And he grabs Wilson's shirt and pulls him into a kiss.

Wilson's been waiting for it, though, and he kisses back almost before House is ready. He grins when House pulls back to stare at him. "Stunned that I'm keeping up?" he asks.

"Hardly," House says. "You asked me out for pizza."

"As friends," Wilson protests, which was almost true at the time, except if he admits that he was lying to himself.

"Right," House says, "that was a very friendly kiss you just laid on me."

"You--" Wilson starts, but it's pointless, and House is smirking, so Wilson lets it go with an annoyed sigh and kisses him. It works, this time, the angle and the fact that House doesn't argue the point. When he opens his mouth, House follows his lead without argument, and then it's even better, and Wilson hums satisfaction into House's mouth. It lasts, long enough that Wilson has time to explore, to feel House's hands digging into the muscles of his shoulders, long enough that he's getting hard before they're done.

At last, Wilson breaks the kiss to ask, "How long before you win your bet with Foreman?"

House's eyes widen. "You--"

"Figured it out," Wilson says. He wonders if smugness looks half as good on him as it does on House. It seems to, because House kisses him again, hard at first and then slow and lingering, until Wilson's hand is curled in the soft cotton of House's t-shirt and he's not paying attention to anything except House's mouth, the insistent swirl of his tongue. They're making out like teenagers, in a messy sprawl on House's couch, awkward with elbows and bad angles but neither of them cares enough to stop long enough to arrange things any better. This can't be good for House's leg, but he's the one pinning Wilson down, so Wilson's not too worried about it. He sweeps his hands down House's back and tugs at his t-shirt, trying to get it off, and House grunts and pulls back long enough to let him.

"How long?" Wilson asks again, his eyes drawn to the line of House's waistband, where his hipbones disappear under the denim. His erection is already pretty obvious, and Wilson feels like he can't breathe.

"A month," House mutters, focusing on getting Wilson's shirt buttons open. "If you want to see that hundred again, you'd better keep putting out for at least that long."

"So you will pay me back," Wilson says, laughing, then letting his breath hiss out when House skims his shirt off his shoulders and yanks him close. House's stubble grazes over his cheek, and he catches Wilson's earlobe in his teeth and sucks along the line of his neck before he answers, "Depends if you can earn your keep."

"I'm not actually a hooker," Wilson points out, but it turns out he can roll his eyes and gasp at the same time: House's hand has found its way down to his belt and Wilson wiggles back enough that he can spread his legs, leaving room for House to lean across him, closer, and he can feel House's dick pressing into his hip. His chest tightens, and he thinks: a month. "God, fuck--"

"Haven't even touched you yet," House says, amused.

"That's...not quite what I was, ah, talking about," Wilson says, lifting his hips, struggling out of his pants with House's mostly misdirected help. "You bet on us. Lasting."

House looks up at him, cautious, cynical. "Thirty days," he says.

"More than just this," Wilson insists, hooking his fingers in House's jeans just above his fly.

House's eyes go dark and hooded. His erection is hot and pressing hard against the crotch of his jeans.

Wilson skims a finger down its length. "A hundred bucks," he says.

"Yeah," House says, husky-voiced. "I did."

Wilson kisses him, lazy and pleased, letting his hand test the shape of House's dick through his jeans. Wilson's down to his shorts and socks and wristwatch, and he must look ridiculous, he thinks. It doesn't matter, because of how House grabs his shoulder in a bruising grip, bare-chested, jeans straining, while Wilson tastes his tongue and his throat and burns his lips on House's stubble, and strokes him, long and easy, over his zipper.

"Gotta--" House is panting now, and Wilson leans closer, getting on his knees so that he's on top and can lick and suck his way down House's chest. His nipples are standing erect, and Wilson runs his tongue over one, then licks harder when House moans. He's still rubbing his hand slowly across House's dick, and enjoying every moment of it. "Fuck," House says, "gonna come in my fucking jeans, would you--"

Wilson laughs into House's chest, but backs off long enough to finally get House's fly open and to strip his jeans off, trying to be careful of House's leg without showing it. He gets House's boxer-briefs off while he's at it, and then his own shorts. He's thinking about doing something about his socks when House grabs him and pulls him back down. Wilson barely stops himself from falling on top of House, and the couch cushions give absolutely no support, but then House's hand wraps around his erection and he groans.

"House..." Wilson lets his mouth fall open, breathing hard and struggling to keep his weight off of House's lap, but House pulls him closer, until their dicks slide together, and it feels like he's falling apart, until there's nothing left of him but that sensation and House's low rumbling moan in his ear.

This would be better with some lube, or some room, or a bed, but Wilson can't bring himself to care. They jerk each other off, Wilson's left hand getting in the way of House's right, quick and hard and awkward. He leans his shoulder against House's chest and watches House's hand move over his dick, faster and God it's good. When he leans back he can watch House's face, the way his eyes flutter closed, the softening of his frown-lines, the almost-pained (but different, because Wilson knows the difference) look on his face when he comes. When House opens his eyes again, there's something a bit easier in his eyes, smug tinged with contentment, and he teases Wilson for a minute before he brings him off. Wilson bites his lip when he comes, and breathes, until all he can feel is the warmth of House's body and his hand slowing to a gentle stop.

Wilson sighs, and grimaces at the mess on their stomachs. He gets to his feet, feeling shaky and suddenly exhausted. House is leaning back on the couch, his eyes closed. Wilson goes to the bathroom, kicking his pants out of the way as he does, and cleans himself up before bringing a cloth back to House. When House opens his eyes, Wilson sees his own tiredness reflected there: like they've both been waiting for a stay of execution and now that it's arrived they're not quite sure what to do. Maybe they don't deserve it. Wilson holds his hand out, wondering if House will accept his help getting up. All he wants is to sleep, to savour the moment, to not worry about tomorrow.

House stares at him, at his hand, but he takes it after a moment and Wilson pulls him to his feet. "I have to go," Wilson says, even though he hates bringing it up. "Before work. My clothes are all at the hotel, and--"

"You've got tomorrow off," House says gruffly, limping to the bedroom. Naked, with his leg and his scar showing, he loses some of his strange grace, but all Wilson feels, watching him, is tenderness.

He lets out a laugh. "What does that mean?"

"I cleared it with Cuddy," House says. He glances over his shoulder, but he needs his momentum to get to the bedroom without his cane.

Wilson follows him. "She knows?"

"Everybody knows." House sits on the edge of the bed and smirks up at him. "I told them I was saving you from yourself."

Wilson opens his mouth to object to that, but it's easy enough to see what House really means. After the faked brain cancer, after all the shit House pulled with Tritter and after Wilson fucked things up during the ketamine treatment--after everything, they're really just saving each other.

"Pizza with a friend?" he offers, smiling.

House lies back on the bed. There's room enough for Wilson to join him, so he does. "It's something," House says, and he throws his arm across Wilson's chest before they fall asleep.