Categories > TV > House > Pathology

Chapter 3

by MelantheVida 0 reviews

A one-man drinking game commences during the differential diagnosis. House invites Wilson over for dinner afterwards, but they never quite get to finish their food when an observation from House sp...

Category: House - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Allison Cameron, Eric Foreman, Gregory House, James Wilson, Lisa Cuddy, Robert Chase - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2006-07-13 - Updated: 2006-07-13 - 6829 words

"Maybe he's got TB." Chase shifted a chance glance out of the corner of his eyes at House in anticipation of his diagnosis being accepted. Or shot down. Foreman, however, got there first.

"He's got zero of the risk factors."

"You mean, from what he's told us, he's got zero of the risk factors." Chase turned to the left to face his colleague, his elbow resting casually on the center table. The pencil in his hand hovered several inches from his lips. "Patient's probably hiding something like they all do." An almost violent slam of glass on wood caused him to jump slightly and immediately lift his arm before cautiously setting it back down again.

Three sets of eyes turned briefly in the direction of the noise. Foreman's registered irritation, but he opted to make no comment, turning back to the differential diagnosis instead.

"Or maybe it's not TB."

Chase gave the end of his pencil a defeated chomp. Silence settled in for roughly three seconds before Cameron chased it away.

"You know, it could just be food poisoning," she said. "They were playing around down there, maybe something was eaten during their..." She paused, searching for a sufficient word. "...ceremony."

A scoff from Chase. "Like what, leftover Halloween lollies?" He'd managed to catch sight of the Dracula capes the kids had come in with.

Cameron, on the way to getting a caffeinated refill for her mug, turned around. "Well, some people do poison the candy they give out," she said seriously, her free hand resting in her lab coat pocket. "It's like wrapping toilet paper around houses isn't enough for them."

Chase dismissed the comment, not watching as Cameron lifted the pot and poured out some coffee. "He's not complaining of any stomach problems, anyway, and besi-"

Another abrupt slam cut him off. The folder on the table hopped a quarter of an inch towards him.

Foreman made an exasperated noise. "House, what are you /doing/?"

House glanced up, eyes mockingly wide as if he had just been caught stealing or eavesdropping or having sex in public. Although in this case, he was actually...

"Drinking." He waved a hand flippantly. "Or imbibing liquid to replenish the body's supply of H2O. Whichever makes the most sense to your little mind."

Foreman raised an eyebrow skeptically, letting his gaze drop several notches to rest on the amber-and-black bottle currently sitting on his boss's desk. "Jack Daniel's whiskey?"

House poured out another shot, but didn't knock any back this time. "I hear it's great for cold prevention." Standing up, he made his way to the whiteboard. He hooked his cane onto the top edge, then uncapped a black marker and scrawled out the word FLU in big, bold letters across the top.

"Differential diagnosis, people." He rapped his knuckles against the board. "The flu. What causes it, but with the fun side effect of sudden onset blackouts?"

"Wait, blackout?" Cameron pushed off from where she was leaning on the counter, setting down her coffee mug. "The file never said anything about a-"

"Did I ask for a diagnosis or a critique of my history collection abilities?" House stared into the air quizzically, as though searching for an answer from some unknown god. "Hmm..." He turned back to the whiteboard. "Let me reread the words on here..."

"Flu can cause dehydration," Chase said. "Dehydration can lead to a blackout."

"Not to this extent." There was a muted rattle as House unscrewed the cap of his pill bottle. Or attempted to. "Patient was unconscious for upward of five minutes," he continued, still struggling with the stubborn object.

"It's still not entirely impossible," Cameron pointed out.

Foreman folded his arms across his chest. "How about we stick with what's actually plausible, then?"

"You might've noticed that the answer to our cases are not always considered plausible."

With a pop, the cap came off at last. House breathed a sigh of relief. "Why do the manufacturers keep insisting that I have children?" he demanded to no one in particular, tossing back a pill. His eyes shifted again to his team, which had fallen silent, Foreman and Cameron having ceased their sniping at his sudden pronouncement. "Not that I have any, you understand. Don't believe Cuddy's slanderous lies." He tossed the bottle onto his desk with a clatter. "Come on, guys, where's the diagnosis?"

"Hepatitis A," Foreman threw out. "It causes flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever..."

"As well as abdominal pain and diarrhea," House said, unhooking his cane from where it hung on the whiteboard and beginning to roll it back and forth between the palms of his hands. "Too bad Michael here hasn't made poopie since he's been admitted four hours ago."

"His history's clear for it, anyway," Chase added. "Doesn't work in any food production or anything."

Foreman glanced at Chase. "Thought you said the patient's history isn't accurate."

Chase bristled.

"Leukemia," Cameron suggested before her colleague could shoot an insult back, and thus start the cycle of argument all over again. "Early stage."

"No." Chase gave the file in front of him a slight poke with his pencil. "No significant bruises, nothing that amounts to more than walking into a table. Since he works in the gardens, his blood platelet levels have to be normal to avoid massive bleeding and bruising."

"Always could go back to the food poisoning," Foreman said. "Listeriosis results from bad food, and his immune system could be compromised enough from the flu virus going around for it to latch on."

House, having moved onto twirling his cane slowly in one hand as he studied the board, stopped his movements abruptly. He glanced off, eyebrows furrowing. "Gardens...are prime breeding grounds for ticks." He turned back to his team. "Which, in turn, carry a nasty little infection called Lyme disease. Flu-like symptoms, headache, fatigue, it's all there."

"Flu-like symptoms, but that doesn't necessarily include dehydration," Foreman said. "Lyme disease doesn't cause dehydration, which leaves the blackout unexplained."

"Dehydration could've come from anywhere," Chase replied. "Maybe he doesn't make a habit of drinking water. Coupled with the effects of Lyme disease, that could lead to unconsciousness."

"Wasn't there incense down there, too?" Cameron stirred her coffee thoughtfully without taking a drink. "Some people can't take that much incense. It could cause different effects in different people."

Foreman shook his head. "I still say listeriosis is far more likely."

"Stomach problems should be the first thing he complains about if he's got it," Chase replied.

"You know," Cameron interjected, "a blood test can be used to determine both."

"Ah, compromise at its finest." House, who had been watching the exchange with mild interest, gave an affirmative nod. "Draw some blood, run the serology, and check his skin again for an EM rash while you're at it, too."

Chairs scraped as all three of his staff filed quickly out the door. House didn't watch them go, instead lingering in front of the whiteboard for a few seconds longer, mind still running through his mental lexicon of infectious diseases as he studied the list of symptoms scrawled on its surface. The blackout was bothering him. Five minutes...dehydration...a basement shed...fungal allergy? No, the environmental factors didn't add up. Lyme disease and listeriosis could cause it, true, but not very often, and even then...

His hand reached for the remaining shot of whiskey, and he downed his final drink.

Ah, lunchtime.

Or rather, it would be lunchtime if Wilson had had a lunch, which wasn't stolen by the limping twerp that resided at this hospital.

Turning a corner, he stopped outside a pale green room with dimmed lighting and closely drawn curtains, set a ways back from the rest of the hallway. The silver tag on the door read Rm 1204. The coma patient's room. House's favorite hideout.

Wilson poked his head in without bothering to knock. "Did - " He stopped, gaze quickly shifting from the man reclining in a plastic hospital chair, eyes glued to the screen of Fox's latest soap opera, to the all-too-familiar Tupperware container sitting in said man's right hand.

It was empty.

"You stole my lunch?" Wilson tried for incredulity, he tried for anger, but in the end, all that came out was tired exasperation. He should've known House would find a way to get back at him for abandoning their confrontation with Cuddy.

"It was delicious." House licked the plastic spoon clean with a self-satisfied smirk on his face, much like a cat who'd just gotten into the cream. His eyes never left the television.

Wilson sighed. "Well, I'm glad you enjoyed it, at least."

"Not going to scold me for eating your chicken?" House raised an eyebrow questioningly. He had been expecting a snipped tongue-lashing, or at least some sort of verbal sparring, before the other resigned himself to the reality of the situation.

...Wilson definitely had something planned.

"Clearly, scolding is ineffective," the other replied with a wry glance at the now-empty container.

"So is hiding your food in the inner back pocket of the oncology lounge fridge, but you still do it."

"Well, I have to keep some optimism."

House finally chuckled and gestured to his side. "Coma patient left you some nice fruit and jello. Dig in."

"Right..." Wilson eyed the hospital-variety lunch with some distaste. He made no move to touch it. "Lovely. You know, it's really my secret plan to prevent you from maintaining a proper diet so that scurvy makes a comeback in America." Considering the amount of sugary snacks and peanut butter sandwiches House consumed on a daily basis, it was a wonder the man hadn't come down with it already.

"So that's what you and Cuddy were conspiring while you had me locked up in the closet."

"It was a prime opportunity to discuss your eating habits." Wilson paused. "Although I do believe you were the one who locked that door."

"You would believe wrong," House lied smoothly, never missing a beat. "Better get that memory checked, could be a symptom of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome."

It was Wilson's turn to look skeptical now. "Given our diets, I think you have a more appropriate background for WKS than I do."

"What, now you're a nutritionist? Gonna tell little Greggy he can't go outside to plaaayyy if he doesn't finish his broccoli?" the other mocked.

Wilson just rolled his eyes, not even bothering to dignify that with an answer. He pointedly changed the subject. "Actually, did you have anything planned for tonight?"

House stopped and slowly looked up. Blinked. James had that slightly shifty gleam in his eyes, the one that always gave him away in poker (hiding aces), the one that charmed him into the skirts of ladies (playing hooky), the one that practically screamed, "You know I'll have my way." His head tilted to one side, and he smiled.

Oh, this was going to get interesting.

"Other than falling asleep to the sweet, sweet melody of Russian porno?" House pretended to consider. "Nope."

The gleam got brighter. "Are you willing to do away with those sweet melodies for some real food? My treat."

House was about to make some comment about how smiling too innocently could cause permanent muscle damage to the face when he was rudely interrupted by a voice at the door.

"House. The lab results are back." Foreman stepped in from the hallway. "PCR test was inconclusive, but the ELISA and immunoblot showed definite signs of Lyme disease." He shrugged noncommittally. "Looks like you were right."

"Go forth, and commence the healing," House proclaimed with a grand wave of his cane, secure in the knowledge that once again, a patient was saved thanks to his genius. The end narrowly missed smacking Wilson in the arm.

"I'm...assuming that means you want us to start him on antibiotics." Foreman glanced dubiously at his boss. Insane. Definitely. The only question was for how long.

"By the power of Saint Jimmy, let his soul be - "

He was cut off by the slam of a door.

"Now, where were we again?" House turned back to his friend, who was looking decidedly less smug than before. Wilson wondered just how much of that bag of Vicodin the other had taken up till now. "Ah, right. You were just about to tell me your deepest, darkest secret." With a push of his cane, House hobbled up from his seat by the bed and toward the exit, stopping momentarily along the way to deposit his spoon into the trash can. He shoved the Tupperware container into Wilson's hand. And smirked.

"7 o'clock then, my place. Make sure to bring the chopsticks."

He was expecting Styrofoam. White, squeaky, planet-killing Styrofoam. Or cardboard. Paper bags. The delicious scent of Chinese. You know, all the usual ingredients that takeout food consisted of.

He was not, however, expecting-

"Groceries?" House blinked once, scanning Wilson up and down. "Have you forgotten the sacred gift that is delivery before nine?"

There was a crinkle as Wilson pushed one of the bags into his free hand. House took half a step back.

"I'm supporting the underdogs that are supermarkets," the other replied dryly, stepping through the doorway and heading directly for the kitchen.

"Yeah, those supermarkets," House remarked, eyeing his friend with some curiosity. Wilson had never been this enamored by cooking before. "Always getting oppressed by the massive Panda Buffet campaign." He paused to push the apartment door shut with his cane (though didn't bother to lock it - his carefully cultivated reputation of doom had protected him this far, after all), arm precariously balanced, then made his way into the dining room.

Above him, the light bulb flickered once. House glanced up briefly at it as he set his bag on the countertop. Hm. The Energizer Filament was burning out. Better get that replaced soon, or else late-night gaming sessions would be a problem.

"I trust you don't buy Fair Trade coffee, then." More crinkling by his side signaled the dumping of an armful of...assorted...solid...objects onto the counter. House glanced at Wilson, who was busily ignoring him in favor of the various unidentifiable products that had spilled out of the bag (Raw ingredients? Uncooked? What was this travesty?!), then started rifling through his own. Chicken, chicken wings, chicken tenders, chicken broth...bird flu was sure to make a comeback at this rate...and-what was this? Chocolate squares! Something intelligent, at last.

He broke off a piece and was about to drop it into his mouth when a hand swiped it out from between his fingers with lightning speed.

"That is my main ingredient for chocolate raspberry cake," Wilson said, his tone bordering on exasperation. He stuffed the chocolate piece back into its aluminum wrap. "Can't you hold something without digging into it? I'd hate to see someone hand you a bomb."

House paused, raising an eyebrow. "Well," he began grandly, "not all your base are belong to us."

Wilson's forehead wrinkled slightly in confusion as he squinted at his friend. Was it...true? Yes, yes, it seemed the rumors were right. House actually did turn into a lunatic at the advent of the full moon. After a few moments, he turned back to his groceries and began sorting through them again.

"Right..." he answered slowly, beginning to search the cupboards for whatever little edible ingredients might be stored within their depths. "And clearly, not all the English are used good by you." He turned to face House, one hand still resting on an open cupboard door. "Where's your sugar?"

"Why, you planning on spiking my Vicodin with it?"

Wilson only turned back to his rummaging. "Given the fact that I am actually doing you a favor by feeding you, maybe you could be a little more on the cooperative side?" He pulled open the refrigerator, one arm slung over the top of the door as he scanned the contents. Or...lack thereof. Bread, peanut butter, sandwich meat, more peanut butter, mustard, strawberry jam, an aging bottle of pickles, and...

House watched as Wilson's eyes traveled down to the center shelf.

"House, why is your sugar in the fridge?"

He gave two innocent blinks. "I...ran out of space in my pantry?"

The only response was a shake of the head, one that spoke volumes of what Wilson thought of his friend's kitchen etiquette.

"You know, if you're going to be so uptight about my frozen sugar, we could cook all this over at your place instead," House pointed out. "I take it everyone's out tonight at the opera?" Fischman's family did have a taste for the elite, a taste quite glaringly reflected by his derisive snort every time he happened to pass by during House's soap opera hour. The man's blood was so blue, he could be a Smurf. It was a wonder Wilson decided to shack up with them after the -

House froze internally, his mind catching onto the ploy. So, that was what the other had in mind....

"Well, and my stove broke down," Wilson replied after a split second of hesitation, too fast for someone not paying attention to catch. "The guy won't come fix it till after the weekend." He removed the bag of sugar and seemed about to shut the door when something caught his attention. His arm plunged into the depths of the fridge again and came out with a Tupperware container, which he gingerly set on the counter before turning to House with an incredulous look.

"You still have this? It's been weeks!" His gaze shifted back to the container with the kind of odd fascination one sees on the face of onlookers after a particularly gruesome car accident. "The contents are /fuzzy/."

House gave it a passing glance, his eyes lingering for a second or two on the note still stuck to its cover. He'd find a way to approach the subject later. It was too late now.

"I was researching the effects of arctic temperatures on mold," he proclaimed matter-of-factly. "Apparently, they do quite well given half the chance and a few week's growth." He paused, tilting his head. "Kind of like you."

Wilson lifted an eyebrow, privately chuckling at being compared to mold. "Will you be presenting your findings in a scientific journal?" he asked.

"Hopkins already offered me a book deal."

"Oh, good," Wilson said, his tone false-positive as he pulled open the cutlery drawer and removed a chopping knife. "Then you can pay me back the three hundred I loaned you two weeks ago."

"Three weeks ago," House corrected, pointing his cane in the other's direction. "And that debt was declared null and void after you lost the monthly poker tournament." He limped around the kitchen for a moment in an attempt to find something else to feed his sweet tooth, while Wilson hacked away at the naked chicken. Did chickens know how little dignity they had in death?

Then again, death was never dignified in the first place.

With boy wonder sufficiently distracted by his butchering, House decided now was the time to make his move. Sidling by the counter, he reached into the bag and snatched up the chocolate bar, biting into it quickly before Wilson could notice.

And grimaced.

"Bitter chocolate?" he demanded, reaching for the nearest glass of water to clear the taste out of his mouth. "What kind of an oxymoron is /that/?"

There was a clatter as Wilson dropped his knife onto the cutting board and seized the chocolate once more from House's hands. "Pure chocolate is bitter," he stated matter-of-factly, mild annoyance registering in his eyes. "The stuff in vending machines has sugar and milk and chemicals and more sugar all boiled into it. Now could you stop consuming my dessert ingredients like a black hole designed for food?"

"Only if you'll tell me what you're cooking."

A slight pause. "Brunswick stew."

House lifted a curious eyebrow, gaze flitting over the items both within the grocery bag and scattered across the kitchen counters. "That Southern?"

"It is," Wilson replied, turning back to his bird hacker and chopping board. "It was originally cooked with squirrel in the 1800's. I'm told the bushy tail made good garnish."

House gave a smirk. "I'll have to tell Cameron to forget about that PETA invite then."

"Well, I'm sure I won't be the only one left out," Wilson retorted, not turning to look back at him. Probably a good idea, given the sharp blade the other man was holding. Squirrels were bad enough; House didn't quite want his friend's left fingers added to the stew, as well. "I doubt she had an invite for you."

There were three loud knocks as House tapped his cane against the cupboard. "Hey, I'm a great animal lover," he announced with an edge of mock-insult. "I watch The Discovery Channel every day." He paused, glancing at the glowing green numbers on the microwave clock. "Speaking of which..." House began limping out towards where his state-of-the-art HD TV entertainment system made its home. "Hell's Kitchen comes on in five minutes. Can't miss it."

Grabbing the remote, he settled back onto the couch with a contented sigh, fingers drumming idly across the smooth, wooden surface of his familiar cane, balanced on his lap, as he flipped expertly through the channels.

Ah, kitchen military boot camp. Now this was a show Wilson could take some pointers from. House chuckled at the idea of little Jimmy replacing the British drill sergeant in cooking whites. Not likely in all this chaos. The delicious sizzling sound of pork mixed with a growing din of human confusion, as pots and pans and various other kitchen utensils clanged ever louder through the apartment. House couldn't even tell which were coming from the television speakers and which from his personal chef.

"Don't break the screen reaching for the food on there," Wilson called.

"I was just giving the participants some pointers!"

"On what?" the other asked. House didn't turn to look, but considering how much clearer Wilson's voice sounded, he suspected his friend had poked his head around the corner. "Using can openers?"

"And boiling water," House added, stabbing an index finger at the mute button. Commercials were on, and while they occasionally amused him, he wasn't quite prepared to listen to them yet. "It takes skills to heat it up just right." A moment's pause, during which a gorgeous young woman dramatically tossed her flowing, honey-brown locks into the camera. House ogled approvingly. "Which I'm sure you were doing when your stove broke," he went on.

"Actually, I find a water boiler works well," Wilson said.

"Only an obsessive-compulsive like you would spend forty dollars on a custom-made electronic device to boil /water/." If not for the trip awhile back in which he'd accompanied Wilson to look for a toaster, he wouldn't have even known that such a waste of steel, plastic, and energy existed.

A loud clatter was the immediate response to his remark, nearly cutting the end of his sentence off, and certainly interrupting the Master Chef who had just reappeared onscreen. House turned up the volume. "Is my hearing going, or are you SLAUGHTERING THINGS IN THERE?"

"Since when is wanting a more safe and efficient way to boil water a form of OCD?" Wilson shouted over the noise. "And in case you haven't ever witnessed a surgery, cutting into flesh does not in any way sound like metal on metal."

"Oh, but all my subjects happened to have bionic arms," House replied, lowering the volume. He didn't feel like yelling. "As for efficiency, you might want to look to your left. There, you will see what is known as the microwave. It is God's gift to the single male."

Though Wilson was only recently single, so perhaps he had yet to adjust to such gifts from above.

House glanced up as he heard approaching footsteps. Wilson was standing beside the desk lamp, arms crossed, watching him with a bemused look. No food in hand, though. Shame. It was probably almost done, seeing as how boy wonder had decided to stop obsessing over the kitchen for awhile.

"Maybe you should write them a letter about the microwave," Wilson suggested, joining House on the couch.

"Think they'd listen?" House asked, nodding at the television set. The remote control bounced from one hand to the other as he tossed it back and forth.

"Well, coming from such an esteemed connoisseur of Western cuisine, I'm positive Chef Ramsay would be just thrilled to garner your recommendations." The flying remote sufficiently distracted Wilson for about two seconds before he glanced back at the screen.

"Well, he'd have to like it," House said, nodding his head. "I mean, microwaves are made to cook. Don't the British like everything cooked until it falls apart?"

Wilson glanced dubiously at his friend. "Is that what you learned from Chase?"

House just snorted and turned his eyes back to the television. "From Chase, I learned that gender is not always so clear cut at times."

"Centrum Silver," announced an aged, but hearty voice. The screen panned across a happy, old couple biking down a forest path, as autumn leaves fluttered in the background. At the bottom, a multi-colored logo unfurled. "It's a great time to be silver."

House wrinkled his nose. "Jesus, who comes up with these lines? That's like saying the 1990's was a great time to have AIDS."

Wilson gave a half-amused snort and pushed himself off the couch-to get the food, House presumed. "People who get paid?" he tossed over his shoulder as he disappeared into the kitchen. After a few more rummaging noises and clanging, Wilson returned with a plate in each hand. "Bon appetit," he remarked dryly.

House dug in cautiously, as he did with all of Wilson's new recipes. He had to admit, it smelled good, but there was really no telling. Any number of outlandish ingredients could've accompanied the chicken into the pot. "I expect I won't find any squirrel tails in this."

"Well, I would've added some, but PETA can get pretty extreme with people they don't like."

"So animal lives are more sacred than human lives?" House was digging in thoroughly by this point, expertly balancing the plate on his lap as he occasionally flipped channels with his non-utensil using hand.

"To them?" Wilson gave an affirmative nod. "Most likely."

"Hmm..." House mused aloud to himself. "I wonder if Ramsay ever gets heat from the vegan nuts for his cooking..."

"If people are sending him letters with culinary advice regarding his microwave, I'm sure protests aren't too extreme."

"Just you wait till hippie season starts."

"I wasn't aware hippies came in seasons." Wilson made a quizzical face.

"Oh, they do." House raised an eyebrow back, voice taking on a solemn tone. "Late summer's the mating season. You don't want to be around when that occurs. I doubt even the Iron Chef could stop them."

"Since when were you an Iron Chef expert?"

"Since I learned they had paid professions for people to eat food."

Wilson's fork scraped sharply across his plate. "What, it's not enough to eat my food for free?"

"I'd hardly call once several months a palatable arrangement." House smirked inwardly at his friend's barely veiled annoyance, and continued on. "You could just get your own cooking show. Rare foods, great pay, an audience of hot, young women all dying to meet their favorite celebrity up close and in person." He waved one hand in a grandiose gesture. "They could call it, Purgatory's Cookhouse. The misadventures of Copper Chef and Devil Playboy."

"You want me to start my own cooking show?" Wilson's incredulity hung in the air for a few seconds, before he lapsed into the world of sardonic make-believe. "Yes...I could start one. A Mexican one. With various forms of stuffed peppers presented each week."

"Which will then be hastily swept aside in favor of the much more ratings-friendly macadamia pancake cookout."

"You have a worse sweet tooth than a five-year-old."

"And you prefer to eat steamed dung beetles." House poked a fork in the other's direction. "Who's insane now?"

Wilson shook his head exasperatedly. "What do you have against peppers, anyway? You hate them like you do clinic patients."

"They're lethal." House considered. "Both of them." Returning the dubious look from his companion with a knowing one of his own, Greg leaned back against the sofa and began to twirl his cane thoughtfully, the beginnings of an old residency encounter creeping at the edges of his mind. "I had a patient come in once...Middle-aged, Caucasian male, drug user from one of the downtown clubs. He was wheeled into the ER screaming bloody murder as he tried madly to claw his face off." Abruptly, he drummed his cane against the floor. "Turns out the guy took some bad cocaine! But not just any bad cocaine, oh no, this was cocaine laced with the latest in drug-deterrent spices." House paused dramatically. "Capsaicin. Habanero pepper seeds."

"...He spent the latter half of his hospital visit learning to eat mush through a tube."

Wilson pulled back, not sure whether to be amused or perturbed by the other's outlandish tale. "Well, I can assure you that those are not the same as bell peppers. Bell peppers aren't even remotely spicy."

"How can you be sure someone won't switch them one day?"

"Because unlike a certain friend I know, I'm not involved in any major drug conspiracies that might warrant such militant retribution."

House returned the sarcasm twofold. "Yes, bitter, spited boyfriends always purchase their revenge material from leading Columbian dealers." He stopped, tilting his head in mock confusion. "Did I mention he was gay?"

The last line finally elicited a chuckle from Wilson, who was caught off-guard by the glib remark. "Are you saying I should be afraid I'll have a spited boyfriend someday?"

Greg cracked a rare smile back. "Only if you keep making stuffed pepper stew."

Their conversation ebbed into a comfortable silence, as Wilson focused most of his attentions on enjoying his hard-earned meal, while House flipped distractedly through the channels. Over a hundred of them, and not a single show worth mocking at the moment. Where were trashy soap operas when you needed them? Sighing, he finally relegated the TV to that purgatory of nighttime infotainment - the evening news - and went back to eating his stew.

After a few moments, he turned up the volume. Then back down. Frowned. Glanced at Wilson out of the corner of his eye. Now was probably the best time he was going to get. Still out of place, but at least he wasn't inserting anything off-topic in the middle of a conversation.

He was fairly certain Wilson being here had nothing to do with a broken stove. In fact, he was fairly certain Wilson being here had nothing to do with a stove at all.

"You know, most people go to a bar when they're avoiding marriage problems," he began finally, not bothering as usual to mince his words. "You, on the other hand, break your stove. In fact, not only do you break it in time for our meeting tonight, conveniently timed to coincide with the date your divorce papers are due, but you also manage to completely miss the utility service just a few blocks down the road from your house when you went to pick up the groceries." He flipped the television on mute and turned to level his full gaze at Wilson.

"You're living in a hotel again, aren't you?"

Wilson slowly set his fork down on the table. "What's that saying about 'assume' again? Something about an ass..." He glared pointedly at House, who steadfastly ignored the hint.

"Because as I recall," the other went on bluntly, knowing he'd hit the nail on the head now, "the last time this subject was brought up, you said you'd found a place with Fischmann from oncology until the divorce settlement went through. But, since Fischmann's out of town at that lung cancer meeting in DC, and his wife would never allow a guest-let alone her husband's boss-to trouble himself with grocery shopping on a Friday night, that could only mean one thing. You don't have a stove." He paused, letting the point sink in. "You haven't had one for awhile. And judging by the way you've been avoiding your divorce lawyer all this time, it doesn't look like you'll be getting a new one until at least the end of November."

"Drop it, House," Wilson said sharply. "I came here for a nice evening away from it all, not for you to start lecturing me."

"No, if you had wanted a nice evening, you would've gone out to the A&B with Debby from accounting," House corrected. "You wouldn't be here cooking dinner for me. You don't come to me for distractions." No, Wilson came to him for favors. Personal favors. But then, he should've known from the moment James trotted out that charming little dinner invitation that there was more to the evening.

"I-" Wilson sighed and set his barely-touched food down on the table. "Fine. I was going to ask if I could move back in, alright?" He fiddled with his fork to avoid looking the other in the eye.

House raised an eyebrow. "And what changed your mind? Other than my fully functioning stove, that is."

There was a slight hesitation. "They don't know your address," Wilson finally admitted.

So. The truth was out.

Somehow, House wasn't surprised. The long hours, the late lunches, the sudden, urgent conferences that always seemed to crop up during the middle of the all added up to classic marital avoidance behavior on the part of James H. Wilson. You had to wonder whether the guy kept his own Kubler-Ross poster in his office. House decided to find out.

"And my phone? Did you have that tapped too?"

There was another hesitation before Wilson frowned and shook his head dismissively. "Can I move in or not?"

Oh, James. Still refusing to acknowledge stage 2 anger, are we?

House tilted his head in contemplation, as his cane tapped rhythmically against the floor. "You know, one month ago, I couldn't even beg you to say those words. Now, it's like poker night with the closeted girlfriend never happened." He ceased his tapping suddenly. "Make the call, and I'll even throw in a free hairdryer. Noisy as you like."

"I was looking more for a yes or no answer."

"Then you'd better start looking for another apartment."

Wilson gave an exasperated sigh. "You know - " He waved his fork almost violently in House's direction " - you say you hate it when people interfere in your personal business. So why are you turning around and blackmailing me into calling my lawyer?" He leaned forward. "Not everything is a case for you to fix, House. Let it go."

"Funny you should mention blackmail," House replied, pushing himself off the couch into a better lecturing position. "Because I hear a certain oncologist is really good at that when it serves his needs." He leaned on his cane with both hands, facing Wilson, who hadn't looked that pissed off since House had bashed his cancer patient from the autopsy several months ago. "You're not here because you want to lie low for a couple of days, you're here because you want to avoid dealing with it altogether. Sure, that'll work out the first few weeks; you'll screen your calls, take a cab, leave through the backdoor at odd hours of the morning..." He shrugged, indicating that the list was endless. "But then, one day, those guys down at the district court are going to get serious, and the next time you walk into work, it's not going to be an angry message on your voice mail anymore. It's going to be a magistrate at your door demanding the divorce papers right now, while the rest of the hospital watches."

Wilson scowled, dropping his fork onto his plate with a clatter that echoed through the apartment. "Do you think you're doing me a favor here? Because you're not." He threw up his hands. "You just can't let anything drop, can you? Though I suppose shouldn't be surprised, given how long you've clung to Stacy."

House blinked momentarily, not expecting the comment about Stacy (though he wasn't sure why; it was certainly something he would've said). "Oh, now we're getting somewhere," he remarked scathingly. "Shooting the messenger for delivering the death knell. Remind me again, but what does hypocrisy stand for?"

Wilson got to his feet at last, shutting off the television as he did. "You're incredible. Now you're calling me a hypocrite after being one yourself?"

"The trade does have its side benefits," House replied, beginning to pace around Wilson. He dug out his bottle of Vicodin and tossed a pill into his mouth. A good thing he'd stocked up earlier.

"It's not a /trade/," Wilson began, clearly beyond irritated by now. "A trade involves actually exchanging something for another. You, on the other hand, are still a hypocrite-

"Spoken like a true man of his word," the other broke in sarcastically.

"-and in being so, you have no right to fling that title back at me," Wilson went on, his voice rising significantly. "In fact, now that I think about it, this really makes you a double hypocrite, doesn't it? Congratulations, you may have invented a new term."

"I'll notify Webster immediately." He took a step forward, meeting Wilson's livid glare with one of his own. "You want to yell at me, /fine/. Go ahead. But don't expect me to play your defense in some cat-and-mouse game between the authorities and Jimmy's Guilty Conscience (TM). Because when it comes down to idiotic maneuvers in the name of love," House scoffed, "conscience always wins."

"I wasn't looking for defense. I was looking for support. Maybe next time, I'll find a friend who's a little more interested in that area."

"Maybe next time, you'll find a girlfriend who's not a walking body bag," House shot back instantly without thinking.

The other's expression darkened immediately. "You're an ass." Plates violently knocked together with a clang as Wilson snatched them up and stormed past House, nearly bowling the latter over. From the kitchen came the spray of tap water turned on full blast.

House stood there for a moment, contemplating.

Annnnd we have stage 2. Houston, I repeat, we have stage 2 anger.

Except what he had been hoping for was more along the lines of stage 3 - bargaining - so he could finally get Wilson to admit to the Julie problem and get her off his tail, seeing as how she'd phoned five times now in the last two weeks, all during his nightly OC marathon. House sighed inwardly. Time for some more patient probing. He couldn't very well let Wilson leave still immensely angry anyway, because then it would carry on the next day to the office, where Cameron would invariably notice and Cameron would push and then House would have to somehow get her to unlatch herself, which was about as appealing a chore as getting one's prostate checked. Without anesthetic.

He paused outside the kitchen entrance, cane tapping idly in one palm. "She called two days ago, you know," he said finally, just loud enough to be heard over the running water. "Julie did. Said she...wanted to finish this thing quickly. Let the both of you move on." He hesitated, eyeing Wilson to see if he could gauge a reaction from the other's back.

"...I told her you were gone at a conference till the end of this month."

Wilson stopped trying to scrub the whiteness off the plates at last, watched emptily as the water pounded down the kitchen sink. Swirling. Bubbling. Draining into oblivion. With a snap, he shut off the taps and turned around to face the entrance, tension still coiled in his arms. House...apologizing. It was obvious House was apologizing. In his own way, anyhow. Wilson could recall roughly five times House actually uttered the word "sorry" with genuine intent.

He fixed the other with a silent gaze, and tried to steel the bitterness in his voice.


Abruptly, a shrill ring cut through his reply. House blinked, but made no move to respond, letting the phone continue to protest as he held Wilson's gaze for a few seconds longer. His hand on the cane grip tightened.

If this is her call...surely we...

Another ring. House finally dug out his cell phone, answering it with a curt, "Yes?" By the way the other's expression darkened immediately, it only took a moment for Wilson to realize that this was hospital business. Bad hospital business.

"I'll be there." House closed the cell slowly, eyes still fixed on some point beyond the linoleum floor. Finally, he lifted his gaze.

"Patient just went into respiratory arrest."
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