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Prologue

Alicia's already gone when Rodney wakes up. He looks for her first, before climbing heavily to his feet. It's a foggy morning but the sun's starting to burn through. Alicia's opened the blinds, letting the orange light come stabbing in. That's what woke him, that or the fact that he's learned not to let himself sleep longer than she does. Rodney calls her name, hoarsely, and she doesn't answer.

He's quick to wake up the rest of the way. He finds his slippers and robe and makes his way to the kitchen. The lights are off and Alicia's not trying to cook, so he goes to the living room next. He finds her sitting on the sofa, bending over one of her old photo albums. She's tracing the edge of one of the pictures through the plastic sleeve that holds it on the page. It's black and white, showing their back yard the way it was when they first moved in. Rodney remembers the way those broken lines of sod hadn't taken hold of the earth yet. There's not much in the photo except a half-built fence without the flowerbeds that Alicia put in later, or the swing set he built for the boys.

Rodney sighs and sits next to her. He feels bone-tired, and older than he ought. Alicia smiles softly at him, her eyes shining. He's been in love with that smile of hers for forty years. Lord, she's still a beautiful woman, after all that time. Rodney smiles back, but he knows today's not going to be a day when she'll tell him the stories behind the photos. All the relatives and friends who were there and who they married and the kids they had--kids who are grown, now, and most of them moved on from Trenton.

"Good morning," she says. It's half a question and half a careful introduction, in case he's a stranger.

Rodney covers her nervous hand on the album's page with his. "Morning," he says. Her fingers are cool, and he squeezes her hand to warm them. "You want some breakfast?"

"Thank you," she says, looking back to the photos. "That would be lovely."

Rodney slips an arm around her shoulders and draws her closer. "How are you feeling?"

Alicia shakes her head and gives a laughing sigh. "You can stop fussing, Rodney," she says. "The kitchen isn't on the other side of the county. I am fine."

Rodney lets a breath out, into her hair. "All right, all right," he says, and kisses her temple before he gets to his feet. He leaves her to her pictures, and turns the lights on in the kitchen.

By the time he's made coffee and added milk to Alicia's cup, the worn-down feeling has passed. Seems like he's been waking up early for most of his life. The Army taught him that, and he never fell out of the habit, even long after he'd finished with school and gone on to better things. When the boys were young, he woke them up early every morning--Eric for paper routes, Marcus for practice. He worked most Saturdays, either in the office or out on building sites, checking how the wiring ran. Sundays, he liked taking his time at sunrise with coffee and the paper, before Alicia came in. She'd smile at him, like morning, and press her palm to his cheek, rubbing her thumb against the grain of his skin to see if he'd shaved yet. She kissed him gently before taking away his coffee for herself, and starting breakfast for the boys.

Rodney shakes away those thoughts. It's Alicia who lives in the past, and he spends too much time following after her. These days, he only consults with the office by conference call, staying on as a silent partner. He can't get away much to visit Marcus, and Eric's busy after moving back from California, or so he says. Rodney counts out Alicia's pills from her daily organizer and sets them beside her plate before calling her in. She frowns at the scatter of pills, but she doesn't complain before swallowing them with a drink of orange juice. It's not a good day, but not a bad one either. Rodney sits down to cereal and toast and hot coffee, and thanks the Lord for that before he eats. Alicia smiles and says, "Amen."

He's finishing up the dishes when the doorbell rings. He checks after Alicia, but she's dressed herself well enough and she's gone back to her albums. Rodney wipes his hands and leaves her to see who it is.

It's Eric standing on the step. He looks up, smiling, when Rodney opens the door. "Dad, hi."

"Eric." Rodney steps back to let him in, giving him a hard look to scold him for not calling first. But he looks good, happy, and Rodney nods to himself and relaxes, seeing that. "I thought you were working."

"Yeah. I managed to get away." Eric takes off his jacket and hangs it in the closet. "How's Mom doing?"

"Your mother's fine."

"How are the meds working?"

"Doctor Emmett says she's holding her own." Rodney shuts the door behind Eric, frowning when he's turned so that Eric won't see. The blood thinners are working. Alicia hasn't had a stroke for a few weeks. Dr. Emmett explained multi-infarct dementia like a series of steps, not a slide, as Alzheimer's would be. Alicia's not getting worse all the time. But Eric hasn't seen her for months, hasn't watched her fade one piece at a time. Rodney's the one who's lost so much of her. Each time, Eric's shock in seeing her reminds him of how much more is going to go, when another bad spell sets in.

He follows Eric into the living room, slowly, to give the boy time to see how she is. She's singing a hymn to herself, soft under her breath, and it catches in Rodney's heart like it always does. It was one of her favourites when she sang in the church choir. She remembers it better now than his name. Eric kneels in front of her and takes her hands in his. "Mom," he says.

"Hello," Alicia answers.

Eric learned to smile from his mother. It shines in his eyes, wide and open. Marcus took more after Rodney that way, always careful how much he showed.

"It's Eric, Mom," Eric says gently.

"Eric," Alicia says, like she's remembering a dream. Then she brightens, and she sees him for the first time. "Is the term over already, honey? How did your exams go?"

Eric grins. "I aced them all. But that was a long time ago, Mom. I've been working in California for the last few years. I just moved back. Did Dad tell you?"

"Oh," Alicia says, "you know how your father is about telling me anything. Next time you call, you are to speak to me. I want to hear your voice."

Rodney frowns and grips the back of a wing chair. Eric always asks to speak with his mother when he phones, but it doesn't happen often that Alicia understands who's calling. Eric glances over his shoulder at him, then turns back to his mother. "I'm here now."

Alicia cups his cheek. "I know. But don't go telling me that you're too busy to visit more often. I know better."

"Okay." Eric gets up and sits on the couch next to her, still holding her hand. "I promise."

Rodney sighs heavily and takes the wing chair. Eric wouldn't just show up without some reason. Rodney doesn't particularly want to know what it is. "Have you found an apartment yet?" he asks.

"Yeah. When I got back." Eric's not smiling now, getting tight-lipped the way he does when he figures his life isn't any of his father's business. Alicia's gone back to the pictures, and doesn't notice. Like so much of their lives, Rodney's left dealing with this, one more thing he still needs her for.

He shifts his weight in his chair. "Thought you were staying at a friend's place."

"I am. Sometimes." Eric's jaw tenses, and he is about to get bull-headed. "Look, Dad, that's not what I came to talk to you about. It's about Mom."

Rodney eyes him and grunts. He was right; he doesn't want to hear what Eric has to say. "I haven't even met him."

Eric does the closest thing to rolling his eyes that Rodney's seen since he was a moody teenager. He never liked it then and it's no better now. "Yeah, and you don't want to."

"I want to know my son is doing all right. I never met the last one either." Just an awkward voice trying too hard to sound smooth, exchanging a few words while they both waited for Eric to come and take the phone.

"Marty lives on the other side of the country, Dad."

"This one doesn't."

"He's not--" Eric stops to resettle himself, sighing like it's all too much to explain. "He wouldn't make a good impression."

Rodney glares. Eric should have learned better by now than to try to give him the runaround. "And why is that?"

"Because he's a manipulative bastard." Eric tips his head back, frowning at the ceiling. Rodney doesn't care if he's uncomfortable. This isn't easy for him, either. "He's also the best doctor I've ever worked with."

"Doesn't matter how good a doctor he is." Eric looks back at him, raising an eyebrow. Rodney snorts. "The last one was a good doctor. You're a good doctor. I want to know that he's good for you."

Eric's smile twists a bit. "It's fine. It works for me."

"Huh." Rodney doesn't think much of that, and stares at Eric until he's sure the boy doesn't have anything more to say for himself. Rodney's pretty damn sure he doesn't want details, but Eric hasn't even offered him a name.

Maybe he still thinks his father can't handle it. Eric had girlfriends all through high school, just like Marcus. Nice girls, sometimes even girls Marcus had broken up with for no good reason that Rodney could see. It was when Eric was in college that things changed. It wasn't until Eric was in medical school that Rodney accepted that his son wasn't ever going to be normal. Rodney's well past believing he's going to have grandkids, unless one of Marcus's girlfriends got more from him than she ever let on. It doesn't matter now. Alicia's the one who'd want to hold them and spoil them rotten, and as it is, she'll never understand there's something she's missing. Besides, she still remembers cradling the boys as babies, closer than Rodney can. It's probably for the best that he won't have to watch her forgetting Eric's children along with her own. Along with him.

Eric's staring at his linked fingers now, his shoulders hunched and his elbows resting on his knees. Alicia's hymn is just a hum, and she's tracing that same photo, over and over again. She doesn't get tired of the pictures, even forgetting who the people are. Eric turns to watch her, and says, "How much longer can you take care of her here?"

"Your mother's doing fine."

"That's not going to last, Dad, and you know it." Eric's getting earnest, now, that wide-eyed look that says he thinks he knows best. About some things, he does. He was the one who got their old family doctor to take a closer look when Alicia started getting forgetful. Eric found Dr. Emmett, and insisted that Alicia get tested for stroke activity. This isn't any of his business, though. Rodney's managing. Has been managing, whether Eric visits once in five months or once in three years.

Rodney says, "Does your brother know you're back in town?"

Eric shakes his head impatiently. "I don't think he wants to see me. Dad, eventually Mom's going to need more care than you can give her."

"And you think I haven't thought that through."

"I didn't say that."

"You made it clear." That tired feeling, that old feeling, is starting to come back. Lord, he needs more strength to deal with this. "I am not going to put your mother in one of those homes, not as long as I can take care of her."

Eric sighs, and nods a bit. Times like this he still looks so young. "I know," he says. "But Dad, I want to know who's taking care of you."

There's no real point in saying that Rodney's as fine as he's going to get, that taking care of himself isn't what's important when it's Alicia who needs everything he can give. Eric sees enough of that, though, because he looks down and shrugs. He hugs his mother before he gets to his feet, smiling when she looks up at him and holds his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Dad," he says. "I've got to get to work."

Rodney doesn't want to know if it's pity he sees in his son's eyes before Eric goes. When the door closes behind him, Rodney knows that they've been forgotten, for now. In favour of Eric's oh-so-important job, and the man that he won't let Rodney meet. That's what Eric calls his life. What Eric doesn't realize, and maybe just doesn't care to know, is that as long as Alicia is still with him, Rodney's not the one in trouble.

House is in trouble. He's in sniper-mode, checking his sights and waiting for the red blink of enemy dots approaching from the rear on his pixel-map. He's down to three grenades and a force-whip that's useless for long-distance killing, and his health meter is edging from green into orange.

Wilson's sitting in the chair on the other side of the desk, thumbing through the latest copy of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. There's the barest hint of a frown creasing the dip between his eyebrows, and his lips are thinned and tense.

"The numbers in that Efaproxiral article are shit," House says, using one of his grenades to clear a squad of armored chimps from the spaceship's control room.

Wilson nods, but doesn't look up. He's probably knee-deep in the qualitative analysis section, where there's some soft-science blather about placebo effects and living with dignity. House grimaces. Wilson's being pissy, and he's been pissy pretty much since Julie filed for divorce. Considering that was two months ago, it's getting fucking old. House doesn't even want to think about where Wilson's living right now. House didn't offer his couch, and Wilson didn't ask.

He's about to suggest sneaking into the oncology lounge for a mindless round of foosball, anything to get Wilson out of the slump he usually slides into whenever he starts thinking about brain metastases and palliative care options, but right then the space monkeys launch a redoubled offensive. House has to bend over the game and button-mash until he manages to wrench the arms locker open. As soon as he has the ray gun, he turns the tables on the alien primate menace. If Wilson's happy to ignore the threat they pose, then House just might not rescue him when the moon-gorillas make their inevitable landing.

Movement in the other room catches his eye, and House pauses the game inches from becoming monkey-chow. Foreman's pushing open the conference room door, stepping in to say hello to Chase and Cameron. House smirks and tosses the game into the clutter on his desk. He lifts his leg up on top of the files and leans back in his chair. After Cuddy-baiting, tracking Foreman down to the back corners of the hospital and messing with him is one of House's favourite passtimes. This is good, too, though, and it hits him twice, a stupid double-kick in his heart and an anticipatory twinge in his dick. It's a ridiculous feeling, but he enjoys it, watching Foreman come to him.

His last patient has just been sent home with the use of her legs and a stern talking-to about mixing environmental contaminants with obscure congenital conditions, so Foreman's timing is pretty much perfect. House doesn't miss a second of it when Foreman glances quickly into his office and catches him watching. House stares back evenly, and doesn't care if his eyes show what he's thinking. Foreman grins quickly at him before turning back to his conversation.

House's eager Igors should be working on their patient's write up and sorting House's mail, respectively, but they've probably been making eyes at each other and simpering like idiots instead. They scamper to look busy, and House watches Foreman hold back a laugh, raising a skeptical eyebrow. Life would be a lot easier if Chase would just jump Cameron in a supply closet. Nothing improves efficiency like a little under-the-radar office sex. The thrill of the hunt. The sweet taste of victory. The smug satisfaction of turning Dr. Eric Foreman into a sloppy, demanding mess.

House grins wider, and raises his eyebrows, one hand rubbing absently at his thigh. It figures that the day Foreman chooses to stage an ambush of his own is the day the whole world is actually present and pretending to work. Foreman's trying to pull off his regular brand of superiority, but it's not working. He's got his fists stuffed in his pants pockets, which makes his shoulders bunch up, until he looks like a sheepish kid trying to explain his way out of trouble. He's obviously lying his head off about why he's about to come bother House.

House could end that little charade in two seconds flat. He'd slam into the conference room and yank Foreman around by his shoulder, and pull him into a kiss, something messy and fun. He's pretty sure Foreman would kiss him back, soft-lipped and arrogant, while House pressed his palms to Foreman's stomach through his shirt. Foreman's not above kicking professionalism to the curb long enough for House to linger over the taste of his mouth, always somewhere between mint and mocha. And House would, but he wants the surveillance cameras set up first--there's no way he'd want to miss the look on Cameron's face, and he'd probably have his hands full of pissed off Foreman if he tried it. Maybe something subtler--just a pat on the ass and a loud "Coming over later?" as he heads for the coffee machine. But that misses out on the degree of chaos he's looking for.

There's got to be a middle road. House won't be happy until he finds it. He wants to be the topic of the hospital grapevine. It's not enough that Wilson knows, or Cuddy. He wants to disgust and be discussed. And he wants to laugh at them all when they eye him sidelong, wondering, because not one of them will understand it.

"Should I be worried about your plot to try and take over the world?" Wilson asks, watching House mildly. He's let the journal fall to his lap, using his forefinger as a bookmark. Like hell he hasn't noticed Foreman in the other room. The fact that he doesn't approve is the main reason House figures he hasn't settled on his fourth wife yet.

House glances over and grimaces thoughtfully. "That's the same thing we do every night," he whines.

"Do you ever wonder if we're in a rut?" Wilson asks the room generally, apparently unconcerned.

"We could try swinging with the other criminal masterminds," House replies. "I hear that's how all the arch-villains keep it fresh."

Wilson blinks, the way he does when he'd like House to think that he's innocently shocked. The liar; House could probably send him porpoise porn links all day and he'd only sigh and delete them--after he'd watched them. "That's...a little further down the spontaneity track than I was thinking of going. And I promise," he adds, wincing, "I'm not pondering what you're pondering."

House snorts a laugh and turns back to the conference room. "Narrow-minded, Wilson. Not very compassionate." Foreman's finished making his excuses, and he's doing a good job of pretending to be nonchalant as he opens House's office door. House can tell he's a little too full of himself, though. He's laughing at House--I know what you're like when you're not here; you don't fool me--but the reverse is also true, so House lets him. He raises his eyebrows expectantly as Foreman comes in. "I don't remember ordering a neurologist," he says. "The last one was retroperitoneal fibrosis. The one before that had cancer, if you can believe that."

Wilson rolls his eyes at that. "Multiple myeloma, so incredibly rare," he says. "And in case you care, he's doing fine on the protocol we--"

"Foreman doesn't care," House says, not taking his eyes off him. Foreman cocks his head a fraction of an inch to one side. He's trying to look irritated, but his eyes are warm.

"You mean that you don't--"

"Exactly." House picks up his Magic 8 ball and shakes it. "Is Foreman here because of a pressing consult request? Hm, very doubtful. Do you think that's what he told Cameron and Chase? Looks like--"

"House," Foreman says, like it's an announcement. He glances at Wilson briefly, and then just as obviously dismisses him.

Wilson looks up at the ceiling, and shifts as if he's thinking about storming out in a huff. House shakes his head. Pissy.

"Look," Foreman says, stepping forward and leaning both hands on House's desk, just past his feet, doing his best to tower over him. Of course, when he does that there's nothing easier than to imagine him dropping to his knees, which House promptly does. It's a very pretty picture. "Omar Sosa is playing at Princeton University tonight," Foreman says. He reaches into his lab coat pocket and pulls out an envelope. "These are two second-row center tickets."

House sneaks a glance at the envelope, and his fingers twitch on his thighs as if he's sitting down to the opening notes of Dias de Iyawo. Foreman is clearly plotting something. House glares up at him and deliberately sits back in his chair. "No wonder they love you so much in Neurology, if you state the obvious this well for them," he says.

Foreman raises an eyebrow and smiles infuriatingly. "I don't actually care if you're there, House."

House notches up the glare, but it might just be an exercise in futility by this point. Maybe Cuddy is right, and he should hire Foreman away from Neurology; at least then he could punish him with clinic duty and paperwork whenever he tried to presume he knows what House wants. He could probably pad the fellowship salary with sexual favours to sweeten the deal. "If you didn't care, you wouldn't be telling me about it," he says. "Which means that you do care, which means that it matters that I go."

Foreman doesn't bother replying to that. He opens the envelope, takes out one of the tickets, and drops it on House's desk. "The concert exists. The means of getting into the concert--these tickets--also exist, and you have yours and I have mine. They happen to be incredible seats," he says. "They happen to be next to each other. Beyond that, House--" He pauses, and his grin slides into a laugh. "I don't care. I've done what I can. I'm going to go and enjoy the music. Either you'll be there or you won't, but be aware that if you try to ruin my experience in any way--by talking, by kicking the seat ahead of us, by tripping anybody--especially me--with your cane, by critiquing the improvisation while it's happening, then I will grab your leg and squeeze." He raises an eyebrow, waiting for a response. House fights down a smile, but probably Foreman can tell, because he nods, satisfied. "If that's clear, then we should be okay."

Without another word, he turns and swaggers out of the office.

"Nice," House says, drawing the word out and watching Foreman go. This is why no one should be forced to wear a lab coat; it seriously obstructs his view.

"I sincerely hope you're referring to his ass, and not the way he just manipulated you," Wilson says with a certain amount of resignation.

"No reason it can't be both," House says comfortably. He picks up the ticket and twists around to shove it into his backpack. Omar Sosa from the second row is probably worth the hassle of actually going out, and it's not as though he has plans. On the other hand, he still doesn't know what Foreman's angling for. House frowns quickly and grabs his cane, running his thumb over the handle. He climbs to his feet, feeling suddenly restless. "Lunch?"

Wilson sighs and stands up, leaving his journal on House's chair, and pushes the office door open. "I'm not buying."

"Fine. Shoplifting candy bars at the news stand?"

Wilson smiles faintly and falls into step with House as they head for the elevators. "Not to risk sounding like that kid in junior high who always squeals, but you realize you're going to get caught."

"Don't worry, you don't sound like that kid," House says, bumping Wilson with his shoulder. "You sound like the middle-aged buzzkill he grew into."

"Flattery won't get your lunch paid for."

"No wonder I'm trying insults instead," House says. "Come on, I'll feed myself. I think Cuddy gives me some kind of salary for showing up around here."

"An astonishing discovery." They wait while the elevator opens and empties out. Wilson steps on and leans against the back wall, crossing his arms. He's watching House a little more closely than he likes, pulling his concerned-psychologist bullshit. House grits his teeth before it even starts, and Wilson steamrolls right over him with, "Are you going to the concert?"

House looks pointedly at the ceiling. "He didn't rule out heckling."

That earns him an eyeroll. "Or playing video games with the volume at maximum if you get bored."

"I'll tell him you thought up that one," House says, pressing the button for the main floor. Wilson's stare is an annoying weight against the back of his neck. He seems to remember that Wilson was exactly this much of a pest about Stacy, but that wasn't until things were falling apart. By the time House started paying attention, he'd already fucked up everything they had. It's aggravating as hell to be reminded of that. House shrugs his shoulders, thumping his cane against the floor, but it doesn't shake off Wilson's look. "I'll have to bring extra batteries," he says irritably.

Wilson sighs and lets his head loll back against the elevator wall, finally shifting his stare to the floor indicators. "He won't be too impressed if you do."

"Is this romantic advice from the great Jimmy Wilson?"

Wilson's glare is as good as a fuck you.

House sneers right back. He wants to pace, but there's no room, and he doesn't feel like giving Wilson the satisfaction of seeing him fidget. Wilson could really do with a good smack with the cane--accidental, of course--but House has better ways of making a point. "I can be impressive when I want to be," he says, and he leers at Wilson, pushing into his space for a moment, waiting for him to crack. Waiting to see if Wilson will let it show, what he wants. House grins and leans in closer, his lips parting just enough that he can almost taste Wilson's cologne, the warm scent of him.

Wilson keeps his face blank, but he steps away too carefully. House snorts. Serves him right, the bastard. He drops the act, shrugging back to his side of the elevator. "He's planning something," he says.

Wilson's glare turns sour. "Yes, a romantic evening out, how monstrous."

"He wants something," House says, musing out loud just to rile Wilson further. He shifts his weight, scowling at the rubber tip of his cane, tapping it against the toe of his runners. He flicks his glance up to meet Wilson's eyes in their reflection in the elevator doors. It's just too easy to keep needling him. "Bet if I'm good, I'll get laid," he says, and smirks.

"Ah, superstitious conditioning," Wilson says. "I'm sorry I didn't think of it first."

House stares at him sharply. Wilson doesn't cringe, but House can practically see him trying to pull the words back, and there's a burning flush across his cheekbones. House rolls his eyes and bulls out of the elevator when the doors roll open. Wilson stays behind him for a step or two, but then he catches up and matches House's pace, although he still looks stony.

When they reach the cafeteria, Wilson heads for the salad bar as if it's insurance against House following him. It's an ingenious plan, and House lets him have the victory. He grabs the first prepackaged sandwich in the fridge, adds a can of Coke and a bag of chips, and heads for the cashier, hoping to pay and get out before Wilson's finished his finicky examination of the dressing choices. A moment later, though, Wilson's in line behind him. When they reach the cashier, Wilson looks at their trays and then back to House. With a snort, House pulls out his wallet and pays for them both.

He leads the way into their usual table, far enough from the middle of things that they won't have to deal with nurses and underlings and patients stopping by to talk to Wilson, but surrounded by enough hardwood that there's a great echo. All the gossip trickles to this spot eventually. House sits down and shoves the chair opposite him out with his cane. Wilson takes it and start poking at his spinach salad. He's probably regretting the raspberry vinaigrette already.

The cafeteria's about three-quarters full. House glances around for new installments on his daily real-life soap opera. Jennifer is crying into her soup and Ann-Marie is patting her hand sympathetically--another boyfriend fled. Brown is holding forth to a table of bored, twitchy interns, probably spreading more misinformation over one lunch than they'd learn in a year of sloppy habits. House doesn't miss it when Foreman walks in with Dr. Singh, Lee's right-hand idiot in the Neurology Department.

Neurologists eating cafeteria food. Either the world as he knows it is ending, or Foreman really is up to something. He watches idly as Foreman goes by, cataloguing all the ways he turns into a smarmy good old boy when he's with Singh. House yearns for a pea-shooter every time he sees them; Singh, because his bald spot presents such a tempting target, and Foreman because a clean shot would annoy the hell out of him, at least long enough for him to hunt House down later and...express his displeasure.

House's generic meat and cheese-spread sandwich is soggy. There are little black bits in it that might be caramelized onion. He lifts the top piece of bread and then smushes it back with a grimace. He starts picking the onion bits off, flicking one at Wilson's pristine lab coat while he's absorbed in his salad. It's a perfect shot into the pocket protector. Wilson gives a long-suffering sigh and brushes it off, not even bothering to flick it back.

He's not as fun as Foreman.

House scowls and glances over at Foreman's table. It's not like he wants to go over and sit with him, eat with him--not when the boring oozing from Singh is a more powerful force than any chaos House could possibly create.

It's Wilson, instead; he's different. Their timing's off, has been for months. It's only gotten worse as Wilson got sucked into meetings with his joke of a divorce lawyer. He's probably going to end up paying another ridiculous alimony, as if Julie's job doesn't pay decently. He's usually still in his office when House leaves, whether House has a patient or not. Even when House gets caught up in research, and the rest of the hospital is dim and quiet, there's still a light under Wilson's door when House goes past.

House sped by Wilson's place a week ago, the bike engine buzzing loudly in the suburban street. There was a For Sale sign out front, and Julie's car wasn't there. If she's agreed sell, then things must moving along. House doesn't want to know. He doesn't, but for once it seems like Wilson might actually get through a divorce without at least one night trapping House at the piano while he drinks and babbles out all his troubles, as if House is listening. As if he cares.

If it was going to happen, it should've been when Julie first filed. House gave him the opening, let him come over with his hangdog guilty-innocent look and all the baggage that went with it. Plied him with beer and food and TV, waited for Wilson to start his maudlin poor-me line. House would pace and complain and finally sit down to an étude, something adagio that he could pretend took his full attention. Ellie and Bonnie and all the major girlfriends in between--that's how it was supposed to fucking work. House throws the crust of sandwich back on his tray. "What the fuck is your problem?" he says.

"Grease spots," Wilson says stiffly, dabbing with his napkin at the place where House's onion landed.

House grabs his chips and stuffs them in his blazer pocket, and starts to stand. He knows what the fucking problem is. Wilson doesn't end relationships; he launches himself headfirst into something even more disastrous instead. "A little groping between friends doesn't mean anything," House snaps. It's nothing that he wants an apology for. Wilson says I'm sorry like he says I love you, and House doesn't want to hear either from him.

The only stupid thing about the kiss was that there was nowhere it could possibly go. If Wilson would just quit acting like kissing House was the stupidest thing he's ever done then probably he could manage to drop the bullshit and get over himself. House has a list as long as his cane of stupider things that Wilson has done, and marriage usually takes up spots one, two, and three. It's not like House expected better.

"House," Wilson says, as he's about to stalk off. He looks at House with his serious face on, the one House wouldn't trust even if he was one of Wilson's patients. Especially if. It looks like nothing so much as Wilson about to tell him he's dying, as if he doesn't know that--as if he doesn't work hard at it every day. Wilson pauses and licks his lips, dropping his gaze for a moment before meeting House's eyes again. "Relationships change people--"

"Oh my God," House says, in his outside voice, because there is no way he is actually going to listen to this. "Who is she and what's she trying to make you do?"

Wilson stutters, choking on whatever he was about to say. He blushes furiously and twists around to see who might be sitting close enough to listen.

House gapes and drops back into his seat. "There is someone!"

"House, there's--"

He leans forward, and he can't help an appreciative grin. "You're living with her, aren't you?" He admires any talent that's used consistently and well. "Who is she?"

Wilson winces and closes his eyes, slumping down in his chair. "This is hardly the point--"

"You were interrogating me."

"I wasn't interrogating--"

Wilson lies to himself better than to anyone else. He might even be better at that than at picking up women. He frowns and shifts under House's stare.

"I was concerned," he says. "You're--" He follows House's gaze to Foreman's table and sighs. "Never mind. I'm not telling you--"

House raises his eyebrows at that and grins. Doesn't matter if Wilson tells or not. He wants House to know, or he wouldn't have said anything.

"--and you are not going to take that as a challenge. I'd like her to get used to the hospital before she has to get used to you..."

"She's new, then."

"House--"

"You're having an affair."

"It's not an affair. I'm not married anymore."

"Technically--"

"I'm not cheating!"

House snorts. "Not for lack of trying."

"Drop it," Wilson says sharply. "This isn't about you. That was a mistake."

"So was your marriage, but you keep bringing that up."

Wilson glares at him, dark-eyed and angry. "They're different--"

"Desperate acts?" House asks. "Just shows you can't keep it in your pants. Maybe you should drop a hint to the new girlfriend, that you like to feel up your friends to get over feeling down--"

"And what does Foreman think about that, exactly?"

House stops short. Wilson's furious, but it's low and intense, and House glances down quickly at their half-eaten lunches. He makes a fist, pressing it into his leg under the table. Fuck.

"It's not easy, is it, House?" Wilson shakes his head, a muscle tensing in his jaw. "You'd probably prefer it if I kept out of your business? So maybe it's time you started keeping out of mine."

Wilson shoves his tray across the table and stands up, marching out of the cafeteria faster than House could follow.

House doesn't even try.


House revs the bike's engine, loud and grumbling, to clear himself a path through the herd of sheep disguised as jazz fans. Feathering the clutch, he maneuvers across the sidewalk to an out-of-the-way corner near the auditorium. He turns off the ignition and lifts his leg over the side, hopping awkwardly until he can get the bike up on the center stand and unhook his cane. He takes off his helmet and tucks his gloves inside, then pushes his way through the little knots of people standing around the doors, scowling as he goes.

There's cold beer in his fridge, a week's worth of TiVoed Trauma: Life In The ER to mock, and better still, no people and no stairs. He'd meant to invite Wilson over, both of them scuffing their shoes on the coffee table, House yelling and Wilson sputtering at the Discover channel's life-or-death approach to appendectomies. Meant to, except now Wilson's recommitted to fucking his way through the hospital staff, and good luck finding an empty slot on that calendar.

That, and he still doesn't know what the hell Foreman's up to. The concert he couldn't care less about, amazing music or not. The fact that Foreman's playing him--or trying to--that's interesting. He didn't think Foreman had it in him. It's obvious as schoolyard taunting, I know something you don't know, without the least hint of Wilson's subtlety or Cuddy's blackmail. But it's new, and it's different, and House caught himself smirking at the thought of the ticket while he was enduring his hour of tedium in the clinic. It's probably the only reason he'd bother to show up. And he has no doubt that Foreman knows that, which, really, only made him grin wider.

After escaping the clinic, he spent most of the afternoon tossing his ball to himself, trying for increasingly difficult rebounds: off the walls, the bookshelves, the door, and Chase's head. He paged Foreman a couple of times, idly, leaving a few of his favourite phone sex lines as the call-back numbers. He watched the hallway like a hawk, but not one skinny, weepy brunette sneaked past for a quickie in Wilson's office. He made a list of Wilson's potential girlfriends and ruled out the newest doctors--Skorenki in Obstetrics is too young, Weston in Orthopedics is too ugly, and Peled in Cardiology is married. He left work early, taking the long way home and weaving through the traffic, splitting lanes when cautious SUVs and clunky sedans insisted on lumbering along at the speed limit. He tried to line up the last time he was certain Wilson had slept in his office with the last batch of nurses Cuddy had hired.

Anyone would think that the alimony and the hotel bills would pound the lesson into Wilson's head, but House knows better. Wilson can always run into a bigger fuck-up down the road, and think that he's finally found whatever the hell he's looking for. Probably even Wilson doesn't know what that is. House's list of potential girlfriends is shorter than it was, but he's not much closer to saving Wilson from another idiot decision than he was this morning.

House slides his ticket to the kid at the box office, turning around to take in the lobby. Everything is decorated in gold and crystal and ugly carpet. The fake plants add the perfect plastic touch to all the upper-middle-class professionals who are trying to soak in the culture. House has just decided to ditch when he's finally waved through the velvet rope. He heads for the nearest place that looks like a bar, but they're closed until the intermission. Foreman finds him while he's leaning on the counter, plotting his escape.

"You came," he says, looking too fucking smug by half.

"I'd better be, after this," House growls. "Compensation for time wasted."

Foreman quirks an eyebrow at him. "That...shouldn't be a problem."

House turns back to the lobby to hide his smile. He's grown to expect seeing Foreman at the end of the day. Instead of bridling at having his space invaded, he's started to anticipate it. He remembers how Stacy would greet him--not with a kiss and a cocktail, but calling out a casual hello when he walked in, the two of them working their way towards each other through the apartment gradually, with the eventual kiss that was partly distracted promise, her hand cupping his cheek, feeling her smile against his mouth.

It's not like that with Foreman. When they kiss it's less promise than intent. He leans into Foreman and reads enjoyment in his hands, his mouth. He wants it, and he never expected that. The nights when Foreman goes back to his own apartment, House comes home and has to think about what's different, what's missing, before he remembers. It's not a comfortable thought. He definitely doesn't want to think about whether that's why he bothered showing up at the concert at all.

Foreman's wearing a gray suit with a shirt and tie in New Age paint-chip-colour pastels. House takes a long look, shifting his weight onto his cane and tilting his head to get the best effect. Foreman dresses with such assurance that it mostly makes House want to eat mustard-drenched hot dogs in his general, downwind direction. That, or wrestle him out of them, wrinkling them as much as possible along the way. There's not much that will take that satisfied look off Foreman's face, although House has a few favourites stored up to make Foreman less proud and more concentrated on important matters. At least once Foreman's naked there's an obvious reason for all that ego.

Foreman raises an eyebrow and lets him look. House offers a fake smile in return and barges past him. "Let's get this over with." At the coat check he accepts two tickets, one for his helmet and one for his jacket. When he turns back to Foreman, he catches a fading look of impressed surprise. Foreman clearly didn't expect more than House's usual t-shirt and button-down. The blue dress shirt he's wearing now isn't tucked into his pants, but House picked it off a hanger instead of his floor and it's not wrinkled, either.

"What, you thought I wouldn't make myself pretty?" He gives Foreman an ironic glance.

Foreman chuckles and shakes his head. "House, this isn't a test."

"You don't want to know where I wrote my crib sheet."

Foreman shrugs and walks off. After a moment, House grimaces and follows him, more because there still isn't a reason for this little outing than because he wants to stay. Foreman seems surprised all over again when House slides into the seat next to him, but he thanks their usher with a dismissive smile. House settles back for a pre-show nap.

It's easy to ignore Foreman. He's not like Cameron, who'll flutter around House with concerned looks all day if he lets her. Sometimes it's so bad that House can feel her worrying about him from the next room. Chase, who's a good doctor, and getting better, stands at House's elbow sometimes, both of them watching the patient in recovery, and Chase is nearly vibrating with the silent need to be noticed. Chase won't ever say anything, but he wants to be given praise like pats. House isn't his father, so he won't say anything. The fact that the idiot they've been treating is alive because of Chase should be enough. But Foreman ignores House just as hard as House ignores him, and House likes that.

A week ago, the pain had blazed up, the ache starting in his back and flaring down the outside of his thigh, knotting in his hamstrings and calf. House circled through the apartment, kitchen to bathroom to living room to bedroom and back around, a different sequence every time, rebounding past the furniture, his shoulder burning from taking most of his weight on every off-step. His head felt ready to burst with the drugs, but the pain was still a solid exclamation point in his leg. He wrote out morphine prescriptions in his head, increasing the dosage on every circuit. This much per kilogram for unconsciousness, this much to slow down the heart of a healthy patient, this much, too much.

He was on his way through the living room, watching the step-ladder on each turn, when Foreman said, "Get over here."

He was sitting in House's reading chair, legs crossed, a journal at his elbow. He'd probably been there all day, while House swore and paced and downed Vicodin until even he knew he'd reached a limit. House glared at him and kept going. When he got back to the living room again, Foreman was standing up, in his way. "Stop," he said, and pushed House down on the couch.

"I'll never make it to the Triathalator if you don't let me train, coach." House struggled to get to his feet, the pain arcing from his heel to his hip like an electric shock, faster than light and just as unstoppable. He fell back, sinking into the cushions.

Foreman shook his head, staring at him in exasperation. "It's not getting any better."

House clenched his jaw shut, pushing himself up again, his chest aching. "Did you find that medical degree in your cereal box this morning?"

"There's no point in being stubborn. I'm going to help you, or I'm going to leave."

"Door's that way."

"Shut up, House." Foreman knelt in front of him, hands pressing into the cushions on either side of House's legs.

House licked his lips quickly. The sight was an excellent distraction, but it didn't lessen the spasm tightening from his knee up his sciatic nerve now that he was sitting down. There was no way this was going to work. "Are you so hard up you'll fuck anything that can't get away?"

Foreman didn't answer. He yanked open the fly of House's jeans, jolting his leg, sending another wave of pain rolling up from the base of his spine. House gripped Foreman's shoulder with one hand, trying to push him off, but he ended up fisting Foreman's shirt so hard that he wouldn't be able to move away. When Foreman had his pants open, bunched around his legs, he looked up. "Tell me to go, House," he says, as if he'd ever listen, the stiff-necked bastard.

House gave a small shake of his head. Foreman nodded and pulled House's dick out of his shorts, and took him in his mouth. The first instant felt like nothing at all, which was such an improvement over the pain that House gasped. Foreman's lips were full and smooth, but the bristle of his goatee brushed low on House's dick, still soft, and the contrast jolted him every time, so different from Stacy or any woman he hired to pretend to like him.

The first rush caught him low in the stomach and mingled with the pain as if his nerves had just derailed and were trying to sort out which message to send. House lay back, squeezing his eyes shut. The suction, the warmth, felt good. Foreman worked him in long, slow swallows, pulling and releasing, using his hand when he paused to breathe. The sensation sneaking along House's overworked nerves was almost pleasure, but he wasn't getting hard. There was too much in the way, the pills and the pain. It was better, though, enough that he was able to think about something else for a fucking change. Foreman lifted up for a moment and sucked his finger until it was wet, then pulled House's underwear down until he could reach behind House's balls, pressing slickly along the sensitive skin around his ass. House drew in a shaky breath, and grabbed Foreman's shoulder even harder, his thumb rubbing circles over the rock-hard muscles of Foreman's back and along the side of his neck.

"You're an idiot," House said. Foreman swirled his tongue in response. House breathed faster, frowning, concentrating. He could trace the tilt of Foreman's head by the tantalizing brush of his mustache, the shiver of his breath cooling House's saliva-slick skin. "Moron," he said, the word coming out short and clipped. And, finally, "Stop it."

Foreman sat back on his heels, still balancing with his knees on either side of House's legs. He was panting but trying not to show it. He raised an eyebrow, and started to get up and leave. House lifted an arm--he felt so exhausted that he didn't want to so much as lean forward, since any move might bring the pain back to center stage--and hooked a finger through Foreman's belt loop.

"Do yourself," he said.

Foreman half-grinned, like he hadn't expected the suggestion. House rolled his eyes and pulled him forward by his belt loop, knowing Foreman would follow rather than let it tear. "You wanted to distract me," he said. "So let's go."

Foreman shrugged and started opening his shirt one button at a time. House snorted and went for his pants, unbuckling his belt and opening his fly, shoving the material over his ass, letting his hands linger for a moment before sitting back. Yeah, that did for him, Foreman's muscled chest and stomach showing through the hanging-open shirt, the trail of hair thickening down from his navel to his cock, large and dark and already starting to harden. Foreman got his knees on the couch, straddling House, and smoothing one hand down to take hold of his cock. "Jesus," he said quietly, moving his grip slowly and steadily until he was fully erect, the head brushing his stomach, bobbing with each pull. "You want a distraction, I could fuck you right now. Give you something to think about."

"Yeah," House said. "Good, yeah, do it."

Foreman's breath hitched, but he was already jerking his cock faster, his right hand gripping hard at the base, his wrist twisting as he finished off each stroke with his left. House sat back and watched--fuck, he loved watching--Foreman's cock only inches in front of him, Foreman's hand squeezing harder, all of it a show, all of it for him. House spread his legs a bit, shifting, remembering the slick heavy feel of Foreman pushing into him, forgetting the pain.

"Come on, fuck me," he said, feeling his dick twitching, interested at last.

"Tight, you're--" Foreman said, his voice starting to get clipped and harsh, the muscles of his forearm standing out with every stroke. "House, Jesus, fuck--"

"Faster," House said, "gonna come, gonna make you--"

Foreman groaned, sounding half-strangled, breathless. He came in sticky spurts, dripping down House's shirt, warm against his face. House licked his lips, tasting bitter salt. Foreman leaned in and kissed him furiously, tongue desperate and insistent. House reached between them and touched his dick, pleasure building higher than the pain, now, focusing on the press of Foreman's chest against his, their half-stripped off pants getting in the way. Foreman's hand joined his, and this time House arched into the touch, breathing harshly, ready, good, and Foreman jerked him off. House's orgasm caught him off-guard and left him limp and sweaty, sinking back into the couch.

"Fuck yeah," he muttered, leaning his temple against Foreman's stomach. Foreman touched his head lightly, and House turned into the touch briefly, closing his eyes. "Go away."

Foreman laughed at him and stood up. "It's going to get worse again if you stay there," he said.

"Don't care," House said.

Foreman shook his head and walked away. A moment later, House heard the shower start. When House woke up from his nap on the couch, there was a blanket thrown over him, his leg was bitching at him for sleeping sitting up, and the apartment was empty.

Foreman's indifference is practically invisibility. They can be together in a room and there's no expectation that House should be paying attention, that Foreman cares at all about whether House is taking him into consideration. When he notices Foreman, it's the same way that an answer comes, out of the blue, as if House has finally figured out how to frame the question. All at once, Foreman's present, when a moment before House could have looked straight through him and not seen him at all.

House shifts, wondering who in the auditorium he could kill for a little extra leg room. When the house lights dim, he's down to three new nurses who might fall for Wilson's pitiable "recently separated" story. Sosa comes out from the wings to the grand piano center stage and begins without fanfare. House tips his head back and closes his eyes, drawing his eyebrows down slightly in concentration. He taps out the time with one finger on the armrest. Sosa is good, unpredictable and deft, and the music is enough to hold House's attention, although with part of his mind he's aware that Foreman's watching him out of the corner of his eye.

Maybe there's nothing more to this than Wilson thought--just a night out. Something that Foreman knew he'd enjoy, so he tricked him into showing up. House thinks of Stacy for an instant. He swallows, squeezing his eyes shut, focusing on the soft brush of the percussion and the chords that Sosa draws out with the sustain pedal. The memory's stubborn, but he pushes it down, away.

No, whatever Foreman wants, he's pretty damn sure it's not this, for House to play at being his boyfriend. They fuck, often enough that it's comfortable, often enough that House only rolls his eyes and pushes Foreman's stuff aside when he finds it taking up room in his apartment--and, actually, the same goes for Foreman himself. They don't date.

House dips his chin forward, and twists his grip on his cane between his knees. He reaches for his Vicodin, digging it out of his pants pocket. He cups the rattle of pills in his hand and throws his head back to swallow one, burning bitter on his tongue, ignoring the dark look from the woman on his left. The music's not good enough that it wouldn't be better if he was lying stretched out on his floor, with every outside sound muffled by his headphones. Foreman could've come over after the concert and fucked him, stutter-slow, the same rubato tempo as the music. House focuses on that, to banish the growing cramp in his leg. His head spins, and he presses his heel into the floor to keep it solid underneath him.

By the time Sosa takes his bow and retreats backstage, House is gripping his leg and he's long since stopped listening. He gets to his feet without a word, while the applause is still echoing, and uses the cane as an excuse to shove his way out of their row. Foreman follows behind him, not bothering to apologize for the toes House has stepped on. House gimps his way up the aisle, the slope throwing off his usual half-falling gait, forcing his steps to shorten, which gives the crowd time to get ahead of him and clog the doors. By the time they're finally free, the lobby is already crowded with cultured murmurs and people who politely avoid his eyes while they step out of his way and apologize. Foreman breaks away towards the bar without a word, and House circles around the more annoying groups of people towards the shadowed walkway near the windows. House swings into a longer stride, pacing to work the cramps out. Another hour will probably kill him. It's not worth staying. Foreman will figure that out if he just leaves.

Five minutes later, he's still there, thinking about getting to the bar himself before it closes. When he starts in that direction, though, he sees Foreman holding two plastic cups of sparkling wine, a look of complete boredom on his face. A moment later, the crowd shifts and House sees why: he's been cornered by Dr. Singh. House grins and pushes himself into motion again, crossing the lobby at his best speed. Whatever Foreman's reason for tonight's little show, House is pretty sure it has nothing to do with Singh--but it would be criminal not to follow up and make sure.

Singh's a tall, thick man, shoulders sloping into a dignified belly that his suit is supposed to hide. He probably played some competitive team sport to keep the weight down when he was younger, but now he takes a caddy and a cart when he golfs, and drinks too much lager afterwards. He's about five years older than Foreman but he looks House's age, mostly because of the pinched wireframe glasses he wears and the growing bald spot. He's been a Neurology attending at Princeton-Plainsboro for the last five years, a long time given the hospital's usual turnover, and he seems content to keep right on staying until Lee retires, like a vulture that's happy to drift and wait for its meal.

"I heard from Dr. Lee that congratulations are in order, Eric," he's saying as House comes up behind him.

Foreman sees him coming, and his eyes widen just a fraction. "Ah, yes," he says, distracted, glancing around like he's trying to find a plastic fern where he can dump one of the wine cups he's carrying, anything except admitting that it's for House.

"Congratulations?" House asks, circling around Singh and playing at the dutiful small-talker. He leans closer to Foreman, and Foreman steps deftly aside. House plucks a wine cup out of his hand and swallows it in one sour gulp. It's pretty awful stuff, of the worst screw-top variety, considering how self-important the bar staff seem to be.

"Dr. House," Singh says, taking a step back himself. House bares his teeth. Yeah, he's still got it. "Are you here--"

"With Dr. Foreman? No, I just worry about his drinking," House says. He takes the second cup and gulps it down, too, then gives both of the empties back for Foreman to hold. "Anything for the cause."

"Well, I should get going," Singh says, as he starts to edge away.

"Without toasting Eric's good news?" House says. Foreman hasn't been subtle at all about angling for Singh's job on his way to the top of the Neurology Department, and House has no doubt that whatever it is Singh is congratulating Foreman for is burning a hole right through his gall bladder.

Singh smiles stiffly. "Oh, you've heard?" he says. "I didn't think you'd been consulted."

Foreman's jaw clenches and he crumples the plastic cups into a ball in one fist before stuffing them into a nearby garbage can. Singh's usual arrogance swells up, and he smiles like an exceptionally stupid shark. House grits his teeth. This is it, the reason for the concert tickets. Foreman's been trying to soften him up.

House shoves his anger down, squeezes it into the handle of his cane, and forces his voice to acid sarcasm. "Somehow managed to miss that last department head meeting," he says. "And the Neurology Department's teddy bear picnic doesn't usually make my social calendar."

"Oh," Singh says, smirking, "but this is about your department. I'm surprised Eric hasn't told you, since you seem to be...close."

House blows right past the insinuation. He doesn't give a fuck at this point if the hospital grapevine thinks by this time tomorrow that he and Foreman are picking out china patterns and adopting a beagle. He's going to smack Singh right in his fucking smug face with his cane if he doesn't start getting some answers.

Foreman interrupts, "Dr. Cuddy asked that we keep it under wraps until she makes the official announcement--"

"I must've been keeping her too busy to give me the news the last time we talked," House says.

Singh's eyes widen, but House isn't trying to keep a lid on his fury and Foreman is glaring death at both of them. "Dr. Foreman will be consulting at Mercy General," Singh says. "They're interested in starting their own Diagnostics department." Singh raises his eyebrows, waiting to see how House is taking this. When he doesn't say anything, Singh continues, "Since Dr. Foreman has been getting so much, ah, extracurricular experience with you, Dr. Cuddy thought he might be the best candidate to consult on it."

House swings around to look at Foreman. Foreman stares back, tense and stony.

"Dr. Lee and Dr. Cuddy were concerned that you wouldn't want to disrupt your...routine," Singh says, giving one last good twist. "Eric, it was good running into you."

Foreman smiles tensely. "Of course," he says. "Thank you."

"Mercy General will be lucky to get you," Singh says, offering his hand. "Temporarily, I think Dr. Cuddy said?"

"Yes," Foreman says, and does the firm old-buddy shake as if he means it. "It's good to have Dr. Lee's trust in this. I've been lucky in the past few months to work so closely with him."

Singh's face finally falls at that, but the chime sounding the end of the intermission stops him from saying anything more. He gives them one last speculative look before he joins the crowd milling back into the auditorium.

House twists on his cane and heads for the doors.

"House," Foreman says behind him, but not like he expects him to stop. He doesn't follow immediately, but he catches up with House at the coat check, throwing his ticket at the attendant, clearly hoping House won't choose to make a scene while they're still in the lobby. House grabs his jacket and helmet, and by the time he's out the doors, he's left Foreman behind.


House pushes the bike, ignoring the spray of gravel in the turns and the light layer of moisture on the asphalt. He races through three yellow lights in a row, and finally slows down when the back end fishtails on him accelerating out of a curve.

He uses up most of his anger on the drive, but there's still plenty left to spend rapping his cane against Cuddy's door. If she doesn't answer, he's going to knock her door in.

The porch light comes on after only a minute. House doesn't stop hammering until he hears the impatient snap of the lock opening. Cuddy can't expect anyone but him, so before she gets the door open, he's pushing inside. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he yells as he storms past her into the living room, before he even bothers to turn around and see how she's taking his invasion.

Cuddy crosses her arms and leans back against the door. She's scrubbed clean of her usual Dean of Medicine mask, fresh-faced, her hair swept up into a messy bun with a few curls trailing down her neck and tucked impatiently behind her ears. She's wearing yoga pants and a Michigan sweatshirt that's too big for her--House wonders quickly if it was ever his--so that the neckline slides low enough on one shoulder to show a black bra strap underneath. House might be pissed off, but he doesn't mind in the least pausing to ogle her. She's somehow even hotter when she's not trying, and he grins to tell her so.

"You've heard about the Mercy General conference," she says, resigned, although from the roll of her eyes he knows she's flattered by his appreciation. She sighs and locks the door again, walking past him into the kitchen. "Come on, I'll make you some tea."

House gives a wounded sniff, since she's not respecting his pissed-off-as-hell shouting. "I hate tea."

"I'll make me some tea, then, since I'm sure you want to work up to your rant."

House follows her into the kitchen, stomp-thumping the whole way to tell her he's not happy and he's not going to put up with this. "Why the hell didn't you tell me you wanted a consult on setting up a diagnostics department at Mercy?"

"Because I knew you'd show up in my office yelling," Cuddy says. "At least this way, you're not disrupting the entire hospital."

"Why, Cuddy," House simpers. "Are you saying you like these little after-hours one-on-ones of ours?" He waggles his eyebrows at her. "I'll be sure to tell your secretary to pencil me in for midnight meetings more often."

"Assistant, and he knows to ignore everything you say," Cuddy says. She takes out the stainless steel kettle and fills it at the sink, then reaches for a mug and the sugar bowl.

House studies her, the graceful line of her wrists peeking out from the wide sleeves of the sweatshirt, the smooth skin of the back of her neck. She expected him. She's prepared for him to keep shouting, all night long if it'll get him what he wants. House scowls and changes his tone. "That's going to keep you awake," he says.

"And I was having such a restful night during the jackhammering on my front door." Cuddy waves the package. "It's herbal."

House smiles reluctantly, since her back is turned. He keeps right on being reasonable; he hates being predictable. "You thought I wouldn't notice."

"You didn't," Cuddy says. "Is it fun feeding my memos to your shredder? Foreman told you."

"Foreman slipped up."

"Still doesn't count as you noticing," Cuddy says, turning back to him and leaning on the counter. He tips his head to get a glimpse down her shirt, but there's only the shadow of rosy skin and the slightest curve of her breast. She shakes her head at him--not gonna happen--and he pouts. "House, what's this supposed to accomplish? Dr. Schaffer at Mercy wrote to you three months ago about this and you never replied."

"And here I thought she was after my secret family bean-dip recipe," House says. "I had Cameron tell her that it goes with me to my grave."

"I'll bring salsa to the funeral," Cuddy says, smiling brightly.

House lets out a snort of laughter. She's right that this is better done at her place instead of her office. At work she's the tyrant and she needs him to know it. Here, there might be room to negotiate. "What the hell are you doing?" he asks again.

Cuddy raises her chin, assessing him, and House studies her right back. "What, exactly, is the problem, House? Because if you can't convince me then there's no reason not to go through with this."

"You went over my head," House says, almost a shout, mostly for form's sake. "You embarrassed me."

Cuddy gives him a look that says she'd be very happy to throw her arms up at him, but it's too much effort. She doesn't believe him for a minute, and he's not quite sure what to do with that. "If you were ever concerned about what anyone thinks of you, you would have done something about it long before now. Like, oh, I don't know, actually attending the conferences that I set up for you."

House looks aside, irritation welling up again. "I publish."

"Yes, Cameron and Chase are getting quite the reputation as secondary authors," Cuddy mutters.

"No one else in the field can even touch those articles--"

Cuddy raises a graceful eyebrow at him and House subsides, since it's pointless to boast. They both know his publishing is mostly what keeps him afloat when he's sued for malpractice. Cuddy uses his CV as sweetly as a razor blade when his patients get well enough to start thinking they should have been treated better. "That's not what this is about, and you know it," she says. She unplugs the kettle as it starts to whistle and pours out, dipping the tea-bag twice by its string and cupping her hands around the mug.

House ignores that because it's true. He stalks off, back to the living room. He wants to see her curled into her large armchair with the afghan thrown over the back, feet tucked up under her, warmed by the glow of the lamp in the corner, breathing in the peppermint steam from her tea. She follows him and sits down just as he thought, and House gives himself points for knowing her so well. He fiddles with the framed pictures on her mantle: her mother and her sisters, the golden Lab she had once. He's tired of standing but he needs to move, and he doesn't know why. Finally he takes over her couch, sprawling to take up as much space as possible, lifting his leg onto her coffee table and ignoring the doilies under his runners. "You think this is a smart decision?" he asks. "Foreman doesn't have a board certification in diagnostics."

Cuddy watches him speculatively, blue eyes bright in the dim light. "He's worked cases with you seven times over the last five months."

So she kept count. Probably because Lee or Singh always complain when he pulls Foreman off his other cases. "You'd rather I paged a podiatrist when my patient's delusional?"

"Page Foreman all you want. I've learned better than to think you'll bother to check the on-call rotation. But don't expect me not to notice when one of my doctors has the experience necessary to perform in a situation like this."

"Mercy wanted me--"

Cuddy tilts her head, exasperated and incredulous. "No, they didn't, House! God, you think your reputation means anything when it comes to working with people?"

House frowns at his cane. None of this is what he came here to say. "Amazing how working with people isn't what matters when someone's dying and they don't know what's wrong," he says.

"And you would have hated it."

House pauses and looks up at her sharply. Of course he would--that's why he ignored Schaffer's letter in the first place. He just didn't expect Cuddy to pull an end run around him. At least, not this quickly.

"I know you," Cuddy says. "You don't even come to the department heads' meetings. If I sent you to New York you'd probably end up running up your room service tab for a week." She shrugs slightly and sips at her tea. "It means travelling, it means attending meetings, it means talking about personnel requirements and budget structuring."

"You can have Chase."

"You'd never let him go!"

"He's better than Foreman--at least he's learned something over the last two years."

"And he's got another year to go, and he'll learn even more. Foreman's not attached to your department. He's available; he's learned enough from Cameron about the day-to-day operations."

She's talking around the point. House glares. "And he's going to kill someone."

"He hasn't yet."

"That's the problem."

Cuddy sets her mug down on the end table, cupping her chin in one hand, staring at him frankly. "House, what do you want? This is going through. You don't have authority over Foreman, and Dr. Lee has agreed. It's good prestige for the hospital, without you ruining whatever hint of goodwill we might gain."

The problem is so obvious he can't believe she won't see it. "Foreman is going to think he's good enough."

"He is good enough."

"No, he's not! He's arrogant, he's overconfident, and he's wrong."

"That doesn't matter for the logistics of a department. He made the proposal, and we agreed."

The anger comes back in a wave. "He made the proposal?"

"You know as well as I do that he's after Lee's job! He wouldn't join Diagnostics even if I gave him your salary!"

"Offered it, did you?" House sneers.

"Very nearly! You need a third fellow. You're going to need one even more after Chase leaves. And Foreman hasn't strangled you in your sleep yet."

"I sleep with one eye open."

Cuddy tilts her head and meets his gaze evenly. "I'm sure you do."

"He's not doing any good in Neurology, and this is going to make him worse."

Cuddy stares at him in slowly dawning understanding. House squirms under that look. He hates being figured out. "Oh my God," Cuddy says. "You want him!"

House affects a leer. "If you'd seen his ass, you would too. You can bounce a quarter off it--"

"And I don't care that you're sleeping together." Cuddy shakes her head. "You want him in Diagnostics."

House looks away, bouncing his cane against her carpet. "He'd be shitty at it."

"And yet you call him for consults just as often as you pull Wilson when you think it's cancer."

House pushes to his feet and paces around the living room again. Too much sitting, the fucking concert and now this. His leg twinges and he thinks about how long it's been since his last pill. "Foreman is never going to be a good diagnostician," he says. "He's too rigid. Too complacent. First he'll kill someone and then he'll break."

"Then why?"

House glares at her. Because after Foreman fucks up, he might actually be teachable. Because House is the best one to knock him down and then show him what a moron he is. "Because he could be better," he says, and he hates that it's the truth, that he's telling it to Cuddy like it matters.

Cuddy raises her eyebrows. She's quiet for a long moment, and House stands at her picture window and watches her sidelong. She's still a gorgeous woman, always has been, but she's better now too. Maybe because of him, maybe because it was always there. She's strong enough to tell the whole damn hospital to go to hell and they'd all buy one-way tickets without a whimper. She would tell them, too, if he asked her to. If he had a reason.

After a minute, she stands up and looks pointedly to the door. "Not good enough, House," she says. "Foreman's doing the conference."

He shoulders past her without a word and opens the door. She stands in the threshold and watches him work his way down her front steps. "Have you thought about telling Foreman?" she asks.

"I'm not going to tell him he doesn't suck," House says, turning to look up at her, trying on his most depraved expression. "He might take it the wrong way."

Cuddy stares at him evenly, and instead of answering, she closes the door in his face.

"Nice," House mutters, and when he climbs on the bike he has no idea where he's going.


Part Two

Foreman dreams jazz, in long mellow notes. He's in California. The air settles gently against his skin, soft and humid when he breathes. He licks his lips and tastes warmth. He sinks into the dream, a slow tide of memories. Marty smiles at him, a co-conspirator's grin, full of secrets. "Dr. Foreman," he says--not Eric, and with the slightest emphasis on the title, so they aren't at home, they aren't alone. Foreman returns the smile. Yes, he remembers this: Marty's cool confidence, the way there is always a sly invitation behind his eyes. Foreman wants to laugh (but they are not alone), he wants to brush his hand down Marty's arm, raise an eyebrow in a silent question. He's relaxed, his whole body easing, comfortable, a curling heat spreading through his arms, his chest. He wants--

"I can't move my arm, Doc," John Henry Giles says, and Foreman turns around. John lies in the hospital bed, nasal canula fitted over his ears, wires from his chest running to monitors stuttering out brachycardia and low oxygen sats. He lifts his left arm, the right lying limp and helpless on the sheet. "I can't move. I can't breathe."

There's a whisper in his ear, rougher than Marty's voice, harsher, and Foreman inhales sharply. "The arm is a new symptom," House says. He's standing behind Foreman, leaning on him, a heavy, eager press. Foreman imagines his eyes: intent, interested, blue as jazz shadows. Puzzles make him greedy, make him look almost younger, gleeful fascination erasing the pain lines around his eyes. He's a warm weight pushing against Foreman's back. His chin digs into Foreman's shoulder, heavy and sharp. One arm circles him from behind. House's hand slides down his chest.

Foreman feels every inch of the touch. He sucks in air, waiting. He's eager for it, his cock straining to attention, but in the dream he can't touch himself; he can't do anything. House stops with his hand a heated palm-print against Foreman's stomach. Foreman feels it when House grins, the movement scraping his stubble along the side of Foreman's neck. He shivers, fighting not to tilt his head to the side in invitation.

"What did he miss?" House asks.

The paralysis, Foreman thinks. Could be the result of an embolus from the pneumonia.

Marty shakes his head, as if Foreman is a stupid kid, know-nothing, upstart, deluded. "Asymmetric progression of paralysis, Eric," he says. Foreman wonders at how certain he sounds. Marty was always certain in front of John, but in private he paced and muttered, he adjusted and readjusted the treatment protocol, he snapped at Foreman's questions when Foreman tried to think of a new answer, a different answer. In the dream Marty's so perfect that he's untouchable, walled off with glass.

"He's wrong," House says. He's laughing silently. Foreman feels the shake of House's chest, the way his fingers twitch as if they might move lower, they might brush just so, they might. House repeats, mocking, "You were wrong."

Foreman closes his eyes--and he will not push House's hand lower, he will not ask--and he thinks: No, it wasn't like that. It was ALS. There's nothing else it could have been.

"You have pneumonia, John," Marty says, his smile turning to professional reassurance. Foreman studies him, willing away the distraction of House's hands--both of them now, anything but gentle, pinching and stroking, so fucking good, and he knows it's a dream but it feels more real than anything else. Everything about Marty is fake, the reassurance most of all. Marty's treatments were always stopgaps, false hope. "Classic Lou Gehrig's disease," he says. "Everything predicts this." A pause, the comforting smile that's closer to a smirk. "If you're certain, you can sign the DNR."

John swallows, closes his eyes, and nods.

He's dying, Foreman thinks.

"Presenting symptoms?" House says. Foreman opens his mouth, but the chart is nothing but jumbled letters and House's fingertips scrape up and down his thigh, so close to his cock, quick massaging circles, not hard enough to scratch, not enough. Impatient, House answers his own question: "Muscle weakness with muscular degeneration. Painless and progressive. Normal sensory examination."

"ALS," Foreman says out loud. He blinks awake, struggling out from under the weight of the dream, and finds that he's still trapped.

"This isn't first year med school," House snaps. His arm's draped over Foreman's chest, his breath warm next to Foreman's ear. He seems to hesitate for an instant longer, and then he reaches down and presses Foreman's cock with his palm, rubbing the underside firmly, pressing it against his stomach.

Foreman clenches his teeth down on a gasp and pushes his hips forward. "House--"

"It's a bad diagnosis," House says. It should sound like an accusation, but House says it as if he's been handed an unexpected puzzle piece that turns the picture on its ear. And the whole time, he's stroking Foreman's cock. It builds from the warmth and wanting of his dream, and it feels like everything in the world.

The last thing Foreman would have expected after last night was for House to show up in his apartment--in his bed--naked, because he can feel House's dick stirring against his lower back. House wraps his fingers around him, squeezes and tugs, lets him slide back, pulls again, leaves Foreman aching with delight. Just his fingertips at first, then his whole hand, that large warm grip that's learned everything there is to know about where to touch in the last five months--and, fuck, has it been that long? There's no rhythm to it, so that Foreman's thrusting in counterpoint. He pants, arousal building hot and heavy in his balls but going nowhere because House won't let him fuck his hand, frustrating and amazing and goddamn him. He has a key, Foreman's sure, even though Foreman never gave him one and House usually considers his apartment off-limits if he's not invited. Foreman should have known better than to think limits mean anything when it comes to House.

"Differential," House says, low and rumbling next to Foreman's ear. He's not stopping, he hasn't stopped, and now he's kissing along the back of Foreman's neck, and he's making slow, hard pushes of his hips, grinding his erection along the crack of Foreman's ass.

"I am not--" Foreman clamps his hand down on House's wrist, digging his fingers in. "Playing a fucking game."

House's hand slows, and stops, and he rasps his chin across Foreman's shoulder, right over the wet sensitive skin he'd been sucking and licking. "I think that's exactly what you're doing," he says, warm and smug.

Foreman throws his head back, half hoping that he'll smash in House's nose. He misses, and House scrapes his teeth, hard, over the muscle at the nape of his neck, like lightning. Foreman shivers, his nipples tightening. "Bastard," he says, and lets go of House's hand to finish himself off. It's awkward with his right hand, but he's lying on his left side--they both are; it's become a habit, since House can't sleep through the night with any weight on his right--but that doesn't matter. Foreman's close enough that he's just finishing himself off, jerking to orgasm. It's not the same as letting House bring him off slowly, but good enough.

House grabs his arm and stops him. "Might be Guillain-Barré," he says.

"Fuck off."

"I will," House promises, thrusting forward again, not letting Foreman forget for a minute where this could go. "Guillain-Barré."

"What the hell do you think you're going to accomplish?" Foreman says. "John Henry Giles is an actual person. You don't have the patient, you don't have the test results--"

"I have you."

Foreman closes his eyes at the possessive, half-growling note in House's voice. If he didn't want to play mind-games in bed, then he never should have fucked House in the first place. He's known that since the moment House kissed him, assuming he'd be welcome, wanted, daring Foreman to react. "The paralysis would've proceeded symmetrically," he bites out. "It didn't."

"Hmm," House says, approving, and he lets go of Foreman's wrist, letting his fingertips brush along the inside of his arm, from his palm to his elbow. Every inch of that path tingles, hypersensitive, and House noses closer, sliding wet kisses to the point of Foreman's shoulder. "Keep going."

Foreman sighs and lets this happen. It's not the same as running a differential in House's conference room with Cameron and Chase, in more ways than just the obvious. There's no one to shoot down, to argue against, and it doesn't help that he's wondering if House plans to fuck him if he makes whatever diagnosis House is hoping for.

They haven't done that, mainly because House loves to get fucked and Foreman's more than happy to nail his ass. Watching House writhe as he fucks himself with his fingers, opening himself up, the way he can't help but thrust into the sheets or the pillow supporting his hips when Foreman pushes in--Jesus, it's hot. There's something about the way the muscles of his back bunch, and he pushes up with his left knee, half-canted and begging for it, come on, fuck me--yeah-- until Foreman drives in harder, until he doesn't care about anything except his own pleasure.

And, if they're facing each other--which they don't do as often, even though it's easier, in some ways, on House's leg--then, God, the way House's face opens up makes Foreman catch his breath, because it's so different, so completely outside the way he looks the rest of the time. All that fucking arrogance erased, all the sarcasm and biting words cut short, all that control completely destroyed. He's thinking about nothing except Foreman's cock. He's like that because of Foreman. His mouth slackens, and his lips part as if he's breathing in the entire world. His eyebrows lift, and his eyes turn dark and hazy before drifting closed. Every movement Foreman makes shows, then, in tiny flickers of his expression, and there's something like bliss on his face when Foreman's thrusts rub against his prostate. At the end, he falls apart and comes, hard, his dick trapped between them, Foreman's hand or his own helping him along.

Foreman reaches for his erection, now that House isn't tangling their hands together and getting in the way. House is breathing a little faster, holding Foreman by the hip so that he can rub his dick against him harder. Maybe he'll forget the goddamn game if he gets off. Foreman starts to roll over, but House's hand tightens and stops him. "Causes of asymmetrical paralysis," he says, and he's panting but the words are still calm.

"Transverse myelitis," Foreman says, "fuck, would you just--"

"What did the test show?"

"Negative. I thought that didn't--ah--matter to you. Don't trust your fucking tests--"

"What else?"

Foreman rolls his head back on the pillow and jerks himself faster. The slide of his precome isn't enough, and he pulls forward far enough to reach for the lube in the drawer in his bedside table. "I don't care."

"You'll hurt your patient's feelings," House mocks. He leans over Foreman's shoulder and snatches the bottle out of his hand. He flicks the lid open with his thumb as easily as he uncaps his Vicodin. It's cool and slick and so goddamn good against Foreman's cock, and House spreads it in hot, pumping swipes. "Could be multifocal motoneuropathy."

"So dose him with IVIG, House, go ahead, from here, it's not like you can do anything, Jesus--"

"Or a mass--" House's hand meets his and they're both working his erection now, House's hand sliding down to his balls, moving between his thighs, his skin slippery and sensitive. House is wrong, he's got to be wrong, and Foreman forces himself to focus. Marty ruled out tumours, malignant or benign, from the first month of John's treatment.

"MRI didn't show anything--" he says, the words coming out short and clipped.

House slows his caress, fucking torture, light and perfect. "Nothing?"

"No!"

"Would've shown inflammation if it was ALS--" House nudges his knee against the back of his legs, and Foreman spreads them open, lifting up. Yeah, he doesn't care, House can fuck him right now, anything to tip him over the edge. But House only slides his dick between Foreman's thighs, thrusting between them, the head of his erection slipping past Foreman's balls. House breathes slow and shuddering against his neck. "Would've clouded the image--"

"Yeah," Foreman says, pressing his legs together tightly, trapping House's dick, letting him shove into the hot slick space between. Anything to make him just as desperate. Show him how to play games. "There was inflammation, of course there was fucking--inflammation--"

"You...never saw the spine," House says, low, almost a growl, and he's moving his hips in jagged, jerking bucks. "Just--the artifact--on the MRI."

Foreman pictures the MRI, as if he's jerking off to the worst porn ever, but House is right. "Could be an AVM," he says, completely letting go of reality and saying whatever the hell comes into his head, anything to make House keep going, his dick and his hand, the sensation coming at him from both sides. "Could see it if the inflammation cleared up--steroids--"

"Yeah," House says, "fully treatable," and that seems to be what he was waiting for, the magic words, because he clasps down on Foreman's cock, slick-squeezing, and Foreman groans and fucks his fist, so hard that he aches, so fucking good. The pleasure shoots through his body and he feels like he's been pinned down by it, and it crashes over him in a rush. All his muscles contract, and again, until he's left panting raggedly.

House pushes him down, and Foreman lets him, rolling halfway onto his front. House thrusts between his thighs, breathless. He stiffens and comes, slick and messy, panting curses into Foreman's ear. A moment later, he rolls off, grunting roughly. He's probably in pain. Foreman breathes into his pillow, wrung-out and satisfied, happy to ignore him. He doesn't want to know what the hell brought this on. He wouldn't be surprised if House tracked down his entire life in California, his relationship with Marty. He hadn't been in Princeton two weeks before House knew every detail of his mother's condition and his brother's conviction. It was easy to be angry at first, easy to get even angrier that House laughed at him for blowing up about it.

Strange that he's learned it's the way House cares. He's quick to lash out, and he's as cagey as a cat, but he'll put himself in Foreman's way if he wants to be touched. Prodding and insulting. Anything to get attention. Foreman breathes out, warm and willing to slide back into sleep. If this is House's idea of payback for the Mercy conference, then Foreman can live with it.

And, yeah, it goes further than breaking into his apartment for morning sex. Most of Foreman's life is in his desk or in his locker at work, and by definition those are things that he doesn't care if House knows about, or at least, he's fine with House finding out. He has a safety deposit box for things he doesn't want House to know, and the fact that he's organized his life to that extent around House's curiosity both annoys him and makes him want to laugh. The sheer presumption of it is so much a part of House that Foreman can't imagine things working differently. He doesn't try for surprises, because it just gives House a puzzle, something to worry at like a puppy with a chewtoy. You can either swat the puppy with a rolled-up newspaper, or you can laugh at the mess he makes--either way, the puppy's going to keep chewing the minute your back is turned.

Foreman rolls to his back and throws his arm over his eyes. He knows House is watching him, propped up on his elbow beside him and studying him like a specimen in the lab. His eyes get lazy and somehow sharper after sex, and usually he watches Foreman like he's searching for something he can't quite find. Foreman knows the minute House catches hold of whatever he can't figure out about him, then this thing between them will probably be over. And Foreman's fine with being mysterious, since it seems like the only thing House can't figure out about him is why he stays.

Foreman sure as hell doesn't know. Maybe when he does, House will figure it out too--maybe that's why Foreman hasn't tried very hard to understand it. If he wants this to keep going, he just won't think about why. If that's what he wants. Five months.

The Mercy conference, though. He knows he wants that, and he doesn't much care what it costs him. It's a chance to do something fundamental, help to shape an entire organization--to learn from House, then apply the lessons somewhere else, to create something even better. Without House's abuse and browbeating, without his over the top treatment decisions. Something effective, sane, and Foreman's.

He heard about Dr. Schaffer's offer to House from Cameron, when he was working a case with Diagnostics and she was sighing over House and rooting through his trash to check the letters he was ignoring. Since Foreman moved back to Princeton, he's already been to the annual Cerebrovascular Disease conference, and his articles are starting to appear in the journals. Mostly secondary-author credits from his work with Marty, but he's been submitting; he even wrote up one of the cases he worked with House, and got him to sign off on it, a minor miracle. Chase seems not to care about publication, and Cameron waits on House's signature as if she expects him to wake up one day with a sudden craving for paperwork. Foreman's not going to sit around and wait. He took Schaffer's idea, sharpened it, and presented it to Cuddy and Lee.

He'll be getting the green light any day now. Whether House approves or not. He grins to himself and almost chuckles. God, he feels good. No wonder he lets House get away with his stupid games, as long as he has this, afterwards.

The bed dips and shifts as House pushes himself up, pulling on his underwear and pants. Foreman opens his eyes and watches him limp to the bedroom door, shirtless. He's left the pants unbuttoned and unzipped, and the cuffs droop over his bare feet. He manages nearly as well at Foreman's without his cane as in his own apartment. He catches hold of the door frame and looks back, studying Foreman carefully. "John Henry Giles died a month ago," he says.

Foreman surges upright, the covers bunching around his waist. He holds on hard to the mattress and leans forward, trying to break House's calm with a look. "What?"

"Pneumonia. No autopsy was done."

"But--"

"Guess your boyfriend wasn't that curious," House says. "Why would he be? He had the diagnosis he wanted." He looks clinical, as if he's waiting for test results, but he's angry, too, and there's something else underneath, almost uncertainty. After a second, he drops his gaze and pushes off the wall, moving down the hall.

Foreman follows him, catching him at the bathroom door and keeping it open. "Why the hell are you telling me this?"

"You could have done something," House says sharply.

For an instant, they're both caught, standing in the doorway, staring at each other. House might be pissed off, but he's happy enough to see that Foreman didn't have a clue about John. Foreman hasn't spoken to Marty since the move. Longer than that. At the end they weren't talking anyway. He grips the door frame hard, because otherwise his fingers would be shaking. He catches sight of himself in the mirror, wide-eyed and furious. John's dead. And this is how House chose to tell him.

Except Foreman knows that's not fair. This is how he found out, because he didn't bother keeping up.

"He was Marty's patient," he says. There's no way he can tell House how fucking helpless that always made him feel, how he couldn't do anything except try to reassure John when he checked his meds--so hearty that he felt like slime afterwards. "It was his protocol."

"He was wrong."

"And what did you want me to do?" Foreman yells, slamming a fist against the door. "Start pumping John full of steroids on the chance that there was a malformation?"

There's a curiously gentle look in House's eyes. "You take a chance, you do something great."

"Or you kill somebody."

"But it's still great," House says. His eyes gleam, like he's waiting for Foreman to offer up some kind of revelation. "It's the only way you'll learn anything."

Foreman shakes his head slowly, his jaw tightening. "What I've learned from you is that you're more likely to maim your patients before you save them."

"And if I didn't, they'd die, because no one would be willing to give them more than a Motrin."

"What if you're wrong?"

"What if being wrong tells me something?"

"There's more to patient care than your goddamn puzzle."

"There's nothing at all about patient care in the diagnosis." House leans forward, pinning him down with his stare. "You couldn't see the spine," he says. "You killed him as much as Hamilton did."

No. That's not true. Foreman lets go of the door and steps back. Marty was a good doctor; he is too. They would have caught an AVM, and House's fucking head-trips don't mean anything in the face of five years of careful medicine. "It was ALS," he says.

House tilts his head, open and thoughtful, and his eyes are such a clear blue. "You don't know that," he says. "Not anymore."


Chase balances two lattes from the fair-trade shop a block from the hospital and uses his shoulder to open the conference room door. His messenger bag threatens to slip down his arm, but he manages the doorway without spilling a drop. Cameron's sitting at her desk, concentrating on the computer. "Good morning," Chase says.

Cameron looks up from the screen and offers him a distracted smile. "Morning."

She's got her hair up in a bun, a few trailing wisps of hair framing her face, and she looks...appealing. Well, beautiful, really, and Chase smiles back, feeling like he's rescuing the damsel in distress. He offers her one of the cups. "Latte?" he says, and then, to explain, "I was, ah, thinking maybe..."

Cameron folds up her glasses and sets them aside, taking the latte from him. "Thank you...skim milk?"

"Yeah. Muffin, too." He digs into his bag and holds it out, only slightly squashed. "Blueberry."

Cameron laughs and takes it, popping a piece into her mouth. "That's sweet."

Chase grins and sloughs off his bag and his jacket onto the coat tree. He's about half an hour late, not that it usually matters unless it means he's later than House. He's already seen House this morning, in the clinic, but that doesn't mean he might not have beaten Chase upstairs. Chase leans back to send a quick glance through the blinds to the office. Empty. So far, so good. One of these mornings, when there aren't any distractions and House isn't breathing down their necks, Chase is going to go further than coffee and pastries and ask Cameron out. As soon as he figures out how. "So, did you hear?" he says. "Mercy General is going to be starting their own diagnostics department."

"They asked House to consult on it months ago," Cameron says, still distracted by her research. "He refused."

"Yes, but--" Chase takes a look around, as if they might be overheard, to draw out the suspense. "Cuddy's going through with it. And she's sending Foreman. I heard it from Rhonda."

Cameron swivels her chair around and really looks at him for the first time since he came in. "Did you bring her a latte to find that out?"

Chase laughs. He did, actually, but not because Rhonda's tempting--it's just that every patient winds up in Radiology eventually, and she always has the freshest news. "Are you jealous?"

"No--"

"You are." Chase sits at the table, grinning at her in a way that probably makes him look like an idiot. "I didn't bring her a muffin," he says, seriously, trying not to laugh.

Cameron gives him an annoyed look, but she's trying to hide her smile. "I'm not interested in gossip," she says primly.

Chase snorts quietly but lets that pass.

"Foreman's not even a diagnostics fellow," Cameron insists. "He doesn't have the qualifications. Cuddy would never ask him to go."

"But," Chase drawls, "you wouldn't gossip about it."

"No," Cameron says. She takes her glasses off and holds up a record of admission and a patient chart. "I have a patient for us."

"Ah," Chase says, grinning. "Trying to get your head bitten off?"

"What do you mean?"

"Didn't you see House this morning?"

Cameron checks House's office quickly. They both know better than to talk about him without checking to see if he's snuck up behind them--he's impressively quiet when he wants to be and he has a sixth sense for when he's the subject of conversation. "No, I haven't. Why?"

"He's on the warpath," Chase says. "Cuddy tried to push the conference through without telling him."

She sighs, letting him know that she's very disappointed in him. "He'll take this patient."

"He's furious," Chase says. His six extra months of his fellowship have at least given him the advantage of knowing when House is bored and needs distraction, and when it's better to duck and cover. On the other hand, Cameron's had a year to learn it and she just doesn't seem interested in gauging House's moods. No, that's not it. She does; she just thinks he should take on every sad-luck case she finds anyway, as if House cares about its merits. "He's not going to feel like accommodating you or Cuddy today."

"But he's been better the last few months," Cameron says. She seems almost wistful. "I don't think his leg's been bothering him as much."

Maybe. Chase hasn't really noticed. But he also didn't mean for their morning together to be sidetracked into talking about House. "What's the case?" he asks.

Cameron pushes the folder across the desk. "Police officer," she says, "shot chasing a drug dealer. He came into the ER this morning with a cough, cloudy lungs, elevated heart rate, and laughing his head off."

Chase raises his eyebrows, interested despite himself. He takes the chart and sits at the table, sipping his latte and reading. "Euphoria? Think we should page Foreman?"

"I don't think that's necessary," Cameron says, her mouth crimping disapprovingly. "We need to get House to take the patient first."

"Yeah, but--" Chase flips through a few pages of the chart. So far it's clearly an intensive care situation, and he should get down to the unit as quickly as possible to see what tests have been run. With the bullet fragments in the brain and the euphoria, though, he's going to need a neurology consult sooner or later. And House has made it clear that he considers Foreman the least waste of space in Lee's department. Chase is actually rather amazed that Cameron hasn't gotten up in arms about that. She's the one who obsesses over finding reasons for everything House does. She hasn't made much progress in understanding House lately. And Chase is the one who knows how she likes her coffee. That's not important for the case, though, and it's already caught his attention. "Could be carbon monoxide poisoning," he says.

"He was outdoors," Cameron says.

Chase shrugs. "Still," he says, standing up. "His car or apartment could have a leak. I'll get an arterial blood gas analysis."

He's on his way to the door when Foreman pushes it open and marches in, heading straight for the coffee pot. Chase holds the door and blinks at him. "Hey, Foreman," he says.

Foreman nods curtly and pours himself a cup of coffee. He looks like he's going to boil over any second. He stares through the glass walls into House's office, as if he's the only one in the room. Chase looks to Cameron. She widens her eyes at him, nearly rolling her eyes, and Chase shrugs. "Uh, what's up?" he asks. Looks like this time he'll be the one with the news to pass on to the grapevine. If he takes it to Rhonda first, he might be able to bump their patient ahead of the rest of nuclear medicine the next time he needs access to the MRI.

"Bastard," Foreman mutters.

House, then. Chase sits at the table again, watching Foreman grind his teeth and grip his coffee mug like he'd like to be strangling House. "We were just going to page you," he says. "Got a patient with a cough, giddiness--"

"Marijuana," Foreman says, not taking his eyes off House's empty desk chair.

"It might be Legionnaire's, with the rales," Cameron says, glancing back and forth between them anxiously. She tips her head at Chase again, trying to get him to--what? Use his manly bonding with Foreman to find out what's bothering him? It's not exactly clear. They're not friends, really, and Chase has always gotten the impression that Foreman rather pities him--both of them--for working for House. Chase heard from Brenda Previn, who got it from Cuddy's assistant-before-last, that she's tried to get House to take Foreman on as a fellow. Chase doesn't know whether to be impressed or to scoff that apparently Foreman's turned her down. More than once.

"Legionnaire's would take forty-eight hours to test for..." Chase starts, still watching Foreman warily.

"Doesn't explain the giddiness, either," Foreman spits. "Mind if I use the computer?" He's already moving towards Cameron's desk as he says it, expecting her to scramble out of his way, and she does. Foreman types for a minute or two, and then he sits staring at the screen. His coffee's on the desk beside him but he seems to have forgotten about it. His shoulders tense and he leans forward, pressing his fists into his thighs. "Shit," he says, and slumps back.

"What is it?" Cameron asks. "Foreman, are you all right?"

Foreman shakes his head. "Patient of mine from California died," he says.

"Oh," Cameron says. "Are you..." Chase can see the moment when her instincts to care kick in, because she nearly pats Foreman's shoulder. He shakes his head, trying to warn her, but Foreman stands up too fast to let her finish the gesture.

"Five weeks ago," he says, shrugging away from Cameron's concerned look. "Doesn't matter."

"I'll get a tox screen for drugs, and we'll see if he improves on the mask oxygen," Chase says. "He'll need a hyperbaric treatment if his carboxyhemoglobin levels are above fifteen percent."

"I'll run a sed rate," Cameron says. "Might be an infection."

Foreman shakes his head, but it's clearly not directed at them. He reaches for the mouse and closes the browser window he was looking at. "Where's House?" he demands.

"He's in a meeting with Cuddy," Chase says. He stares meaningfully at Cameron, but she still seems more worried about Foreman's patient than the fact that this is probably about the Mercy General conference.

"Thanks," Foreman mutters, obviously forcing himself to be polite. "Page me if the giddiness keeps up," he adds, as if he can give them orders, and marches out.

"That was weird," Chase says.

Cameron gives him a look.

"What?" he says. "It was." Foreman's angry with House, which is pretty much status quo, even though normally Foreman has an unusually high tolerance for House. How that fits in with the patient from his old practice, Chase can't guess. It's probably not good enough to bring to Rhonda yet. "Do you think--"

Cameron smiles stiffly. "Let's just focus on treating the patient."

Chase picks up his latte and holds the door open for her. "He's not even our patient."

"Yet," Cameron says, shaking her head. She brushes past him on her way out.

Chase grins. "Yeah," he says, "all right," and he follows her to the elevators, walking as close to her as he dares.


Cuddy stands behind her desk, leaning forward with her fists on her blotter, glaring down at House and Lee and holding on as hard as she can to the last shreds of her patience. Lee is smiling fatuously, his legs crossed at the knee, his fingers steepled in front of his chin. House slouches in the other chair, toying with his cane. He's scowling like a lanky teenager hauled into the principal's office for smoking behind the bleachers, even though he was the one who dragged the rest of them into this meeting. He's also trying to sneak peeks down her blouse. Cuddy stands up abruptly, and House pouts as if she's taken away his favourite toy. It's better than he deserves. Right now she could happily murder him. The Mercy conference was days away from being finalized, and now he's interested.

"As Dr. Singh told me yesterday," House says, flicking a glance at Lee, "this is a decision that involves my department."

Lee frowns and nods as if he's considering that. Cuddy wants badly to roll her eyes--Singh's position in Neurology just got that much more tenuous. Lee doesn't like House, though it's mostly a refined disdain, not Brown's active hatred. Lee won't be impressed that Singh was talking with the enemy, though.

"And Dr. Cuddy seemed to appreciate my concerns when I brought them to her privately," House continues, with a hint of emphasis on privately. He's serious on the surface, but Cuddy catches the flash of his dimple and the dancing light of mischief in his eyes. House is perfectly capable of being diplomatic, which only makes the times when he chooses not to--in fact, every single time he demands something--that much more infuriating.

"And I told you no." Cuddy tries to impale him with death rays. It doesn't work. House smirks and raises his eyebrows at her, past Lee's constipated look, reminding her of every private consultation they've ever had. Sometimes Cuddy really wishes she could go back in time and tell her younger self exactly what she was getting herself in for.

On the other hand, she thinks she probably wouldn't have listened. House always was persuasive.

"I'm afraid it's too late to change the scheduling for the conference," Lee says. "Dr. Foreman will be finishing up with his current cases, of course..."

Cuddy sits down and schools her face into polite attentiveness. Lee seems determined to rehash every single detail they've already agreed on. It might actually be a worthwhile way of bringing House up to speed, but he's gaping at Lee with an affected look of utter blankness. Lee, oblivious, starts outlining the exchange of ideas and personnel between Princeton-Plainsboro and Mercy General, gesturing grandly to illustrate what he's saying and making some atrocious puns--the same puns he made the first time they discussed this. When Lee gets caught up in his monologue, House glances over and shoots her a grin, tilting his head at Lee as if to say "Is this guy for real?" Cuddy would love to bury her face in her hands and ignore them both. This can't possibly get any worse.

She looks up when her office door opens and realizes how wrong she was. It's not her assistant, come to rescue her--that would be too easy. It's Foreman, and he looks like he's on the verge of an aneurysm. House twists around to watch him walk in. He seems more than ever like a teenage delinquent, sprawling half-turned in the chair. Cuddy sees his grin, and wonders when he started smiling at Foreman like that.

In the last few years, House hasn't smiled much at all, and certainly not this smile--like he's offering a share in whatever crazy stunt he's going to pull next. When House smiles like that at her, Cuddy can't help but laugh at him. With him. Wilson earns that look more often, and Cuddy's seen him answer House with a small, quirky grin of his own, shyly, as if he feels as warm as she does, as if his heart has skipped a beat. Cuddy has wondered...but then, she doesn't think Wilson is interested in men, much as House might have wanted him to be. And now, of course, there's Foreman.

"Excuse me, Dr. Cuddy," he says. He's returning House's grin with a baleful glare, his lips thinned and tense. "If this is about the Mercy conference, then I think I should be included."

Cuddy can't imagine what she's paying her assistant for, when he'll let just anyone blow right past him. The problem is House--the problem is always House. He terrifies them into thinking that just anyone can walk in. "Dr. Foreman, this isn't--" she starts, but she gets interrupted, and not from the source she expected.

"No, no, I certainly think Eric should have his say," Dr. Lee says.

"He can get pretty loud if you don't give him exactly what he wants," House agrees, nodding with eager innocence.

Cuddy closes her eyes briefly and looks for divine guidance. Foreman stares at House wide-eyed, an implicit warning to stop. Cuddy could tell him that it's not going to work.

"If Foreman's going to represent my department, I want full access to his services," House says.

Cuddy turns to him in surprise. The thread of innuendo in his voice is just as strong, but he means it. She was sure he was going to keep opposing the plan entirely.

"You've certainly been taking advantage of him for the past several months," Dr. Lee says, frowning.

House's eyes shine with repressed laughter. "Looks like it was mutual," he says. Then, in a pitiable poor-me voice, he adds, "Some mornings I wake up and I just feel so used." He twists again to look at Foreman, and Cuddy sees the flash of satisfied lechery on his face. Foreman seems like he's on the edge of stroking out. Cuddy's certain that he's turning red, even though it doesn't show.

"What exactly do you want, House?" Cuddy asks sharply.

House turns to face front, favouring her with his knowing grin. Cuddy refuses to blush. She clears her throat. "You'd like Dr. Foreman to be available for consults with Diagnostics?"

"You never know when a teaching moment is going to come up," he says, still trying to make her flush.

Cuddy glares at him repressively. If Lee weren't right there, she'd tell him directly to cut out the office sex. There's no use even insinuating it, though. It's probably far too late. "That would make it difficult for Dr. Foreman's caseload in Neurology," she says.

"Give his patients to Singh," House says. "Foreman can do paperwork. I think he likes that."

Foreman starts, "I can handle the caseload--"

"Administrative duties," House interrupts pointedly, this time with a snide look at Foreman. Cuddy's astonished again. He might actually be trying to help Foreman's ambitions. Cuddy wonders if Foreman sees it for what it is. Lee certainly doesn't know how many people are conspiring to get him to retire. Cuddy might get behind the ousting herself, if it means fewer butchered jokes.

"That is an excellent suggestion," Lee says. "As a matter of fact, Eric's become nearly indispensable in that area."

House gives Lee his fakest grimace-smile. "If you're sending him to New York, I might as well make sure he's not completely ignorant when he gets there."

Lee nods and stands up, and if he doesn't miss the implication that he's taught Foreman nothing, he doesn't let it show. "I'm glad we've settled this."

"Yes, thank you, Dr. Lee," Cuddy says, having learned her lesson all over again that this is why it's a good thing House doesn't attend the department heads' meetings.

Lee turns to House and offers his hand to shake. House blinks at his hand as though he's considering preemptive amputation, and Lee sniffs in disapproval. Cuddy sighs. So much for diplomacy. "Dr. Lee, if I could just have a word with you on your way out?" she says. There's nothing she really needs to say to him, but at least this way she'll guarantee the meeting ends with everyone's egos intact. She steers him out of her office, sighing at her assistant's empty desk. "About tomorrow's board meeting..."

She manages to shake loose of him at the elevators. She takes a moment to glance over the clinic on her way back. The board shows that Diagnostics has taken a patient from the ER, and she raises an eyebrow. That has Cameron's fingerprints all over it, and it's probably not a mystery how she conned Chase into going along. Cuddy heads for her office, hoping she can usher House and Foreman out as easily as Lee. The patient will help.

She's already at the inner door when she sees them. It's her office, and she should be able to walk right in. But there's no one nearby to see the Dean of Medicine dithering outside her own door, so she hesitates, her fingers resting on the handle.

Foreman's pushed House against the wall beside the door. He has one hand pressed against the center of House's chest, and while it's the only place they're touching--they're not even kissing--Cuddy knows House wouldn't forgive her for walking in. It's something about the way he's standing: House, who's always moving, pacing and fidgeting and playing with whatever's in reach--he's so still, now, that she thinks he must be vibrating just to contain all that motion. Foreman's leaning in, and he might be whispering, words Cuddy's sure she doesn't want to hear.

It's House's expression that stops her. It's by no means affectionate, or loving--she has her doubts that House can show either. He looks tired more than anything, and he's standing hipshot, so his leg must be bothering him. He's watching Foreman, eyes slightly narrowed, with the faintest hint of his amused grin from earlier. Cuddy's not sure what it is that makes her hesitate, except...it's a moment she never thought she'd see, and she doesn't know how to look away. House is letting it show: the tiredness and the pain. Cuddy swallows a breath, and his gaze shifts then, over Foreman's shoulder, and he catches her looking.

It's no more than a second, but she sees the tenderness in his eyes. She remembers that look. It's so strange to see it now, though, and not meant for her. Then House pushes off the wall and Foreman lets him go immediately. Cuddy walks in and says, "I hope you're satisfied, House," as if she didn't see anything at all.

Foreman glances at her. "You did agree not to tell him."

"Standing right here," House sing-songs.

"What are you complaining about, Dr. Foreman?" Cuddy asks, emphasis on his title to let him know that she's still his boss. "Nothing's changed, has it?"

Foreman shoots a look at House. House busies himself looking supremely innocent.

Cuddy rolls her eyes at both of them and sits back in her chair behind the desk. She's entirely comfortable with shooting down everything Foreman's worked for if it doesn't suit her. "Are you saying you have difficulty learning from Dr. House?" she asks.

She can see the mulish set of his shoulders, but Foreman's smart enough to know that he's not on firm ground yet. She wonders if he realizes what it must have taken for House to admit, in front of witnesses--especially Lee--that he wants Foreman in his department, that he thinks Foreman has potential. He barely interviewed Chase, and the result of his first (and only) hour-long employee evaluation of Cameron read "kind of hot" under What skills does this individual bring to the team? and "blah blah blah" in the Weaknesses section.

But if what Cuddy saw between them means anything, then maybe Foreman already knows.

"No," Foreman says shortly. "I don't have a problem working with Dr. House."

"Good," Cuddy says. "Because if that condition is difficult for you, then I can assure you that you are not the candidate I'm looking for to represent this hospital at Mercy General."

Foreman's expression hardens, but he nods, and she knows he understands. He needs to give the impression of having more qualifications than he does, and even more importantly, it needs to appear that House trusts him. If they give House any excuse to talk Foreman down, then no matter how much he's learned, Schaffer won't gain anything by having Foreman consult.

Cuddy sighs. She wonders if Foreman even recognizes that he doesn't know everything yet. House's offer is genuine, no matter what Foreman has to suffer through to get the benefit. This isn't simply her method of finally getting her way, with a third fellow in Diagnostics. Although that suits her very well, and she's sure they both know it.

"You'll still be attached to the Neurology department, for now," she says. "But we might look into making the change permanent if things go well." She doesn't intend to give him a choice. By the time Chase moves on, she wants the continuity in House's department assured, and she doesn't care that they're both staring at her in pig-headed stubbornness. This is what's best for the hospital. This is what will happen. "And House, don't think you have an excuse to ditch your clinic hours on Foreman."

House smirks at her. "Good thing I've still got Cameron and Chase for that."

"You've also got a patient," she says. House opens his mouth and she holds up her hand. "No arguments, House. Not today."

He snaps his mouth shut, turns halfway to Foreman as if he expects back up, then shakes his head when he sees it's not going to happen. "Let's go see what Dumb and Dumber have come up with this time," he says, and stalks out. Foreman looks at her sidelong, and heaves a resigned sigh as he follows House.

Cuddy wonders if either of them knows what they've gotten themselves into.


House stands at the whiteboard, marker in hand. He erases Chase's handwriting and replaces it with his own, scattering a few acid comments on the intelligence of his fellows around the edges of the board. Foreman crosses his arms and leans back against the coffee counter while Cameron and Chase go through the tests and procedures they've already started. Foreman's only half-listening. Cuddy has backed him into a corner. And he's a professional, so he'll deal with it, but that doesn't mean he's not still pissed off.

"You managed to blind the patient between the ER and the ICU?" House snaps.

"He still thinks he can see," Chase protests.

"Then discharge him and send out to play in traffic," House says. "Or get him on heparin before he has another stroke."

After hauling himself to work--late, and that's another thing he'd like to blame House for--Foreman found himself pulling out his phone and starting to dial Marty's office. John could have had an AVM. It fits the symptoms. It's perfect, plausible, and completely unverifiable. He stopped before pressing send and clasped the phone in his hand. It could have been, might have been, maybe. Maybe John died because they weren't willing to look any farther. Maybe. But Foreman's not going to call Marty up after five months of silence and ask him if.

"It could be occipital lobe damage," Cameron says. "He was shot..."

"In the chest," House says. "The bullet fragments are all anterior to the occipital chiasma."

"Could that explain the euphoria?" Chase says. "Personality changes are consistent with frontal lobe damage."

"He's not Phineas Gage on laughing gas," House says. "Get a contrast MRI."

Foreman doesn't know how John died. He hates having his certainty stripped away. It's not that House told him, or even how. It's that he's taken away something Foreman was sure of, and he had no answers to put in its place.

Foreman's seen House spend an entire evening with a patient chart from years ago spread out in front of him, someone who died before House could figure out what they had. Maybe the deaths were House's fault, maybe they weren't. It doesn't matter to him. House is never going to be satisfied with not knowing.

Foreman sighs and speaks up for the first time. "He's got bullet fragments in his brain."

House pauses halfway through writing clot at bilateral vertebral arteries and twists around, an exaggerated turn from his hips that involves both shoulders and finishes with an incredulous stare. "Foreman! Didn't see you there. Get a contrast MRI."

"The bullet fragments are ferromagnetic," Foreman says. "The MRI would tear them out of his skull."

"Cool," House says, with the sort of grin that must give Cuddy nightmares. "We should definitely try that."

"And they're inoperable," Chase says, sliding an X-ray into the light box. "The positioning--"

House snatches the X-ray away, tossing it on Cameron's desk. "Who're you going to believe, me or Foreman?"

"Foreman's right," Chase says, blinking in confusion. "I could get an angio of his head, but we aren't going to be able to do any magnetic imaging."

"You're not going to see anything on an angio."

"We might be able to narrow down--"

"No, you won't. Too much interference."

Foreman snorts. Chase and House get louder arguing about just how useless an angiogram is going to be.

He's seen House be wrong before, more often than House's guesses have proved right. But House doesn't stop with one guess. They build together for him, in a way Foreman's never felt, until he's created a picture out of a dozen parts that mean nothing on their own. The boyfriend's flower shop, the boss's overtime request, the mother's lie, on top of the symptoms, on top of the medicine, all of it clicking into place in House's mind, so Foreman can watch his face and see the answer coming to him. In the end, he does admire that. He's not sure, though, that it's something that can be learned.

"First start treating him for Legionnaire's," House says, "then worry about useless procedures."

That's close enough to permission, and Chase smiles, vindicated.

"The legionnella test hasn't come back yet," Cameron says. "We don't know that the treatment might not make him worse--"

"Oh, I forgot, we always wait on test results around here." House gives her his best I am surrounded by morons look. "Don't let anything like he's dying get in your way."

Foreman's never refused House when he pages for a consult. House couldn't care less about Foreman's career or ambitions, except to mock them--but he keeps on pulling Foreman off his cases to argue and insult him and break him down. It has to be Foreman's imagination that he does it because he cares. That House respects him enough to page him--he gets that. That it matters to House that Foreman doesn't end up just another doctor. And sometimes Foreman sees--sometimes he knows--that the puzzle does mean more than the patient.

"Foreman, check the home for carbon monoxide leaks and contaminants."

Foreman frowns, still working out the treatment course he'll follow when they're finished here. "It's a neurology issue," he says. "He's got muscle contractures from low O2 sats and he's probably as high as a kite."

"He's in intensive care. Right now he's Chase's problem."

It's stupid for House not to use him where he'll do the most good, especially five minutes after pulling strings with Cuddy to get him working in Diagnostics. Foreman starts, "You wanted me here--"

"I want you to do your job," House says.

"I'm here to learn," Foreman says. "I'm not going to break into a cop's place!"

"You're here to learn how to break into a cop's place, if that's what it takes."

"This has nothing to do with learning how to diagnose--"

House tilts his head and watches him, as if Foreman's reacting exactly the way he predicted. "Ever wonder what your friends in Neurology think whenever I pull you in here?" he asks loudly, as if it's rhetorical, turning to Chase and Cameron.

"Yeah," Foreman interrupts, before they can say anything. "They think I'm insane for working with you voluntarily!"

"Wrong," House says, pointing at him. "They think, who's he sucking up to? They're wondering what've you got that they don't have."

Foreman laughs bitterly. "A criminal record, I think you told me."

House ignores that. "Why's Foreman getting cool cases when we're stuck giving spongebaths to vegetables?" he whines, as if he's imitating an overheard conversation.

Foreman grits his teeth. Chase looks like he's watching a game of tennis. Cameron looks like she'd rather be anywhere else, but she's certainly not doing anything to interrupt. This isn't an argument Foreman wants to be having in front of people he has to work with. He'd drag House into his office for some privacy, except that would look even worse. This is his career, and if House thinks he can fuck with that, then Foreman's ready to teach him differently. "Because I'm a good doctor," he says flatly.

"They're 'good doctors' too--Lee isn't that much of an idiot. It could have been them, so why isn't it?"

If he even implies it's because they're fucking, then Foreman's walking out. He's not in this for his job. His career is proceeding just fine, with or without House's interference. God, if he thought House saw him as nothing more than a tame neurologist who'll put out, then he'd punch House in the face and then walk out.

House catches on to what he's thinking, because he smirks. "And I'm not that much of an idiot, either. It's because you'll do what it takes to get the answer. At least, that's what you want Cuddy to think."

"So this is supposed to prove I'm not getting ahead because I'm the only one you'll tolerate?" House has only had him break into the patient's home once before, and even then it wasn't a situation where Foreman needed to be at the kid's side. And House came along himself, even if it was more to mess with Foreman's head than it was to help.

"It's supposed to prove that this matters to you."

What the hell does he think, that this is some initiation ritual for a cult? Foreman's shown enough that he's interested, that he's willing. He doesn't need to be a black man breaking into a white cop's apartment to prove it. It's fucking insane, even if he can claim that he's there for medical reasons. Cops don't care about excuses except on their own time. "It does matter--"

"Then get out of here!" House shouts.

Cameron's looking on anxiously and Chase seems confused. They probably can't imagine why anyone would stand up to House. Foreman's never known either of them to have much of a spine when he insists. For that matter, they've probably got no clue why House is pushing this. They don't know it's part of Cuddy's ultimatum.

And there's a hell of a lot they can't see. They don't know how House looks when Foreman's the one in control. How easy it is to back House into a corner when they're kissing, to push him against a wall, Foreman's palms flat against the surface to either side of his head. Then, it's all weight and heat and half-laughed mutters, because he knows what House wants, until he has House pushed down on the bed, waiting for it. How House looks up at him, watching, evaluating, until suddenly he's not anymore, he's licking his lips, looking away, mouth open, while Foreman pushes into him, and it's almost pain on his face, a quick frown. And in that moment, it's nothing but movement, friction, fucking, until afterwards Foreman barely has to touch House to get him off.

House tilts his head, watching him curiously, tapping the whiteboard marker against his hand. "Can you learn?" he asks.

So it's nothing but a test. Nothing but payback for lying about the Mercy conference. And knowing Chase, this is going to be all over the hospital before tomorrow. The quick curve of House's smirk means all of that, and more.

Foreman knows by now how to play this game, so sighs and shakes his head. "Yeah, House. Not a problem."


Joe gets worse in the night.

Chase is on call, and he has the unenviable duty of making sure House's puzzle is still there for him to solve by the time he comes in the next morning. Joe's blood pressure crashes around three AM, internal bleeding sending him into hypovolemic shock. Chase hangs more saline and type-specific, and does his best to bring down Joe's heart rate. If they keep him on the heparin, he's going to need bore holes drilled to relieve the intracranial pressure, and if they don't, the next stroke might kill him.

Around five, Joe starts screaming. Chase orders a morphine drip, increasing the dosage when it shows no signs of relieving the pain.

Cameron finds him at six and takes over long enough for him to shower and change in the locker room. When he gets back to the conference room, she's got a fresh pot of coffee on and brings him a cup when he slumps down at the table. He smiles at her gratefully. "Did Foreman find anything in the apartment?"

"Apparently a grow-op," Cameron says, rolling her eyes. "He's been using pigeon excrement as fertilizer."

"Cryptococcus neoformus?" Chase suggests, rubbing tiredly at the back of his neck.

"Or listeriosis," Cameron says, "or SSPE, or spanyol sinus, or coxackie virus."

Chase stares at her. "What kind of pig sty was he living in?"

Cameron wrinkles her nose. "You don't want to know. We tested everything Foreman found, but so far, everything's negative."

House arrives at nine, drops his bag at the door, and heads straight for the whiteboard. "Increased T-2 attenuation in his singular cortex," he says. He looks over his shoulder at Chase, pointing the marker at him. "That's the reason you blubber every time you watch Gallipoli."

Chase sighs tiredly. "Damaged to his emotional control center? That's the reason for the euphoria?"

"No, it's because his Babel fish started translating the really good jokes," House says. "Duh. Something's making a mush of his brain."

"Encephalitis?" Cameron suggests. "West Nile?"

"Did I say absess?" House asks. "No. I said mush."

"It's reached his pain center, then," Chase says. "He's on 20 mg an hour of morphine and he's still screaming."

"Huh, guess I should cancel my brunch date, then." House looks over at them from the whiteboard, as if he's seeing them for the first time. "Where's Foreman?"

"He--went home last night after we finished testing the samples from Joe's apartment," Cameron says. "I thought he'd be in by now..."

"Page him," House says, waving the marker irritably. "And test the cop for staph."

"His white count is fine," Cameron says. "And there's no fever."

"Then get me a brain biopsy," House says. "I want to see what's causing this."

"Too much edema from the heparin," Chase says. "We're still pushing saline for the hypovolemia. Even a biopsy could make him stroke out."

House throws the marker down in the whiteboard tray and spins on his cane. Chase shrugs a bit--this isn't his fault--but before House starts yelling, the anger drains out of his face, and he looks suddenly uncertain. A second later, Foreman walks jauntily into the conference room.

"Hey," he says, hanging his jacket up and tossing his briefcase on one of the chairs and smiling at them. "How's it going?"

"Nice of you to join us," House says.

Foreman chuckles and shrugs. "Whatever you say."

"You're certainly chirpy this morning."

"Yeah, I actually managed to sleep last night," Foreman says. He turns to Cameron and Chase, grinning broadly, as if he's trying to share a joke. "Nobody messing with my head before I even got to work, imagine that."

Chase blinks at him, and then raises an eyebrow at Cameron, but she's still studying Joe's chart, as if all this is completely passing over her head. House scowls at Foreman and taps his cane on the floor. "If you've managed to get over your temper tantrum, then we need a way to get into the brain."

"House," Foreman laughs, "I'm not mad." He takes two steps towards, slowly, holding his hands out as if he's trying to show he's not carrying anything, getting right up close. House stares at him as if he's been frozen to the spot. Chase has never seen him so--terrified. He looks like he wants to run, but at the same time there's a weird expression on his face, almost like fascination, like he can't look away.

"Hey," Foreman says softly, and then he reaches up to cup House's face, and kisses him.

Chase's jaw drops. His ears burn, and he clears his throat loudly. What the hell is going on? Any second now House is going to be shoving Foreman back and yelling and probably smacking him with his cane.

But House doesn't push Foreman off. He--he actually kisses Foreman back, they are standing in the middle of the office--in front of Chase and Cameron--and they are kissing, not as if it's some crazy practical joke that Chase doesn't even want to begin to understand, but like it means something. House's eyes are closed, the hand that's not holding his cane drops to Foreman's waist and curls over his belt, so that House's thumb slips under Foreman's waistband and Chase doesn't want to see that. He has no idea where to look. Cameron's gaping just as much as he was, and she's gone milk-pale so that her eyes seem larger than ever.

"Ah--" Chase tries, and clears his throat again. "Um, this is--"

"Sick," House says, pulling back and narrowing his eyes at Foreman. He leaves his hand on Foreman's waist, though, and he's not backing away.

Foreman laughs in his face, grinning broadly. Chase didn't even know he could look that happy. "That's not what you said the other night--"

Cameron makes a sound somewhere between a gasp and a squeak. Chase swallows hard and keeps staring--maybe if he looks closely enough, he'll be able to see how the rubber masks work, because the two people in front of him really can't be House and Foreman. In a relationship. Having sex. There's really no erasing the mental images that come with thinking that. And House is old, and Foreman is...Foreman.

House pushes Foreman back, finally, but not like he's disgusted. He rolls his eyes, annoyed more than anything else. "You're infected," he says. "You idiot. What the hell did you touch at the cop's apartment?"

Foreman shakes his head, but he's still giggling. "House, I'm not--"

"Do you always come out to your co-workers like this, Laffo?" House says. "If it turns out to be saliva-borne, you aren't getting any for a week."

"Like you could hold out," Foreman says, the words half-lost as he wheezes. He leans forward, propping himself up with one hand on House's chest as if he can't stand on his own.

"Get off," House says. Foreman snorts and laughs louder. House smiles tightly, not amused in the least. "Yes, I'm hilarious. I also have only one leg." He glares at Chase and jerks him closer with a nod. "Get him into quarantine," he says, shoving Foreman off and staggering back a step.

Chase steps forward to grab Foreman by the shoulders. He does his best not to touch House at all. It's not that he cares about whether House and Foreman are together--he just has a sense of self-preservation. He heads for the door, Foreman trying to shrug him off, but not struggling seriously.

"So, you're--" Cameron starts, and falters. Chase stops and turns to look.

"Dealing with a potentially infectious situation?" House shouts, whirling on her and smacking his cane against her desk, inches away from her legs. "Or boning Foreman? Which one did you want to ask me again?"

Cameron clamps her mouth shut. "Calling the CDC?" she finishes evenly.

"Tell Cuddy," House snaps. He turns back to Chase. "Run everything. Blood, tox panel, any sign of environmental contaminants."

Chase nods, shaking himself back to attention. He's got to concentrate on the medicine. They're going to need to follow the isolation protocol. Foreman isn't trying to get away, but Chase can feel him trying to hold back his laughter.

House glares at Foreman and limps forward a few steps. "I'd say you'd exposed us," he says, "but I really don't need the puns. Or the irony."

If House reaches out and catches Foreman's wrist briefly before Chase hauls him out the door, then of course it's because he's taking Foreman's pulse. No matter what else has happened, Chase is certain that it wasn't anything like a caress.


Part Three

Wilson opens his eyes with a start and studies the unfamiliar ceiling above him. He's in bed, comfortable mattress and warm sheets, so it's not House's living room. And he's on the left side, so it's not the bed he shared with Julie. He rubs the sleep out of his eyes with his free hand, frowning and massaging the bridge of his nose. Wendy snuggles closer to him, her head on his shoulder, her red-blonde hair tickling his chest.

"Morning," she whispers, smiling, with her eyes still closed.

Wilson hmms and looks at her ceiling again. He's up before the alarm, which means there's time to doze and plan out the day in his mind. He looks down at Wendy and runs his fingers through her hair. It's long and with a hint of curl to it, so that it falls easily into ringlets around his fingers. His patient load isn't heavy today, but emergencies will come up, and there's always House, to dodge or indulge, depending on how generous he's feeling.

Wendy presses her nose into his collarbone and spreads her palm across his chest. Wilson covers her hand with his to warm it, weaving their fingers together. She moved to Princeton in the summer to work in pediatric oncology and to earn her surgical hours towards her nurse practitioner's license. Wilson liked the coolness of her skin from the moment they first shook hands.

Then, he didn't do anything more than smile at her. Notice that she was attractive, learn her name. It's been different the last few months. In September, he would have been happy to crash on House's couch, endure his jabs and whatever sneering comments he wanted to make about Wilson's divorce. But then...

Wendy invited him back to her place after dinner once. He couldn't imagine himself taking her to the hotel he was living in, and he agreed. He never meant to stay.

Wendy kisses his chest, slipping her hand out of his and softly down his stomach.

"Good morning," Wilson says, smiling faintly, although she won't be able to see.

"You're up early," she says, her voice warm with the double meaning. She rolls onto her elbow and pushes the mass of her hair back, out of her face, to watch him.

"Yeah," he answers, and kisses her.

Wendy is beautiful; rosy-skinned and slender, with a full warm mouth, and when he palms her breast and finds her nipple with his fingers, it's already peaked, and she sighs into his mouth. Wilson enjoys her, enjoys kissing her. He likes her eyes, blue and sparkling, although they can turn stormy and grey-green when she's upset. They've been together long enough that it's easy, like this, in the mornings. Wilson knows what she wants, how she wants. She bites her lip and whimpers when he slides his fingers inside, kissing him and shuddering into his touch.

"Oh," she says, and, "James..."

It could almost be Julie he's making love to. Wilson hesitates, and Wendy moves her hips, urging him on with a breathy moan. It could almost be anyone. He moves on top of her and sinks in. He keeps his finger on her clit, rubbing, being sure that she orgasms first. She could be anyone, anyone who calls him James, long hair and breasts and a warm bed with an unfamiliar ceiling. The tight, sweet clench of her muscles when she comes around him makes him close his eyes and thrust harder. He loves this. Her. She feels so good that he almost forgets that he didn't use a condom. But he can wait, and give this to her. He rocks his hips into her until she finishes again, holding back, holding off. When he's close, too close, he pulls out and squeezes his erection, hard and familiar in his hand and slippery from her. She reaches for him, but it's already over, and he's coming into the rough grip of his fist.

"Sorry," he whispers, when she passes him a tissue to wipe his hand on. He knows she's on the pill, but he shouldn't have forgotten.

She shakes her head, smiling. "It's all right. It was good."

He kisses her again, but quickly, because the alarm's about to go off. If he gets in to the office early then he can hand in his staff evaluation reports before Cuddy has to ask for them a second time.

In the shower, he frowns to himself and wonders if he should warn Wendy about House. He never would have kept her a secret from House this long if House weren't distracted--but then, he wouldn't have been able to. House could always see the women in his life just by looking at him. If he cared to look. More than once Wilson's backed off from a date or an offer of something more because he can imagine House peering over his shoulder and laughing at him. House, the Good Angel of moral responsibility and sexual fidelity.

The worst part is, it's true. House loved Stacy single-mindedly, without doubt or hesitation, and before her there wasn't anyone serious that Wilson ever met. House has never cheated. Wilson snorts and shuts the water off. Probably, he thinks bitterly, House has never even been tempted.

Wilson blow-dries his hair and gets dressed, picking from his clothes that have somehow taken up half of Wendy's closet. He let it slip yesterday that he was living with her, and House won't be distracted from gathering as much information as he can today. He should say something.

He checks his watch. He has time. He could make breakfast, and they could eat together, they could talk. Wilson leans on the counter in the kitchen, watching the coffee drip into the pot, gripping the tiles and feeling the tension in his shoulders. He glances at the bathroom door. The water's still running. He knocks before opening the door and leaning around the frame.

"I have to go in early," he calls to Wendy, a slim shape through the shower curtain, her breasts lifted as she shampoos her hair. It's enough to make his breath hitch. She is beautiful. She's intelligent, understanding, caring. "I made coffee--"

"It's fine," she calls over the water. "I know. I'm dating a doctor."

Dating. Wilson runs his hand over the back of his neck, squeezing once. He likes her. They're good together. That should be enough. "Sorry," he says again, and leaves, letting her think he was paged.


House has a patient. The office is empty, the whiteboard is covered in House's quick scrawl, and the tables and desks are covered in open textbooks and stacks of journals. Wilson sighs and walks by, heading for his office and those staff evaluations. He tells Christine he's not to be disturbed, rolls up his sleeves, and starts in, although he fully expects House to come limping over the balcony wall at any moment to ask his opinion or to rant about his patient's stupidity. Wilson checks the clock and budgets twenty minutes for the rant, an hour for the break he'll take afterwards to relax while House hangs around on his couch waiting for test results.

He looks up around noon, massaging his neck with one hand and stifling a yawn. He stands up and looks out the balcony doorway. It's grey and turning drizzly, and after a few breaths of fresh air, he shivers and lets the door close. Rain or not, he expected House before this. He stretches again. The reports are nearly finished, and his coffee cup is empty. He heads for House's conference room. It's still a mess, and still empty. He takes a cup of Cameron's coffee, although it's stale and lukewarm. He makes a face but swallows it anyway, and glances into House's office before heading down to the lab.

That guess turns out to be half right. A glance through the door shows Cameron and Chase bent over flasks and computer printouts. Wilson steps in quietly, still holding the coffee mug, and leans back against the wall, slightly behind a shelving unit. He's not sure he wants to be seen. He's tired, and...lonely, not an emotion that he wants House to discover and dissect. It's restful to watch someone else working furiously for once--Wilson wonders if that's why House enjoys bothering him so much when he has a deadline.

"It's weird," Chase says suddenly, as if it's part of a conversation they've been having off and on all morning.

Cameron's shoulders tighten. "Not really," she says, emphasizing each word, as if she hopes that will close the subject. "It's not toluene."

"Or arsenic, or lead," Chase agrees. He sits back from the microscope and frowns at her. "Are you upset?"

"No."

"You were interested--"

Cameron glares at him over the equipment on the middle of the table. "It was one date."

"One date you never talk about." Chase tilts his head, hesitating, then adds, "Is that how he blew you off?"

Cameron stares at him evenly. "By telling me he'd rather be blowing off guys? Strangely, no."

Wilson chokes on the sip of coffee in his mouth, coughing and nearly dropping his mug.

Chase leaps off his stool, wide-eyed. "Dr. Wilson!" he says. "I, we didn't see you there--"

Cameron rushes to his side, offering him a tissue to brush at the coffee on his wrist. "Are you okay...?"

"House--" Wilson coughs again, then gets out, "House told you--"

"Not exactly," Chase says. Wilson doesn't miss the 'how can we escape right now' look he exchanges with Cameron. He waves them both off, clearing his throat and putting down the empty cup. "It...came up."

Wilson snorts. He can imagine how it came up. House has been plotting on how best to shock his fellows for at least a month, and probably longer. Obviously the moment arrived. He hopes it made House very happy. House probably wanted to make up for the fact that Wilson--and, he suspects, Cuddy--weren't shocked at all. "Never mind," he says, cutting them off from explaining. It doesn't matter. How House conducts himself isn't Wilson's business until House wants it to be. He wonders if Foreman enjoyed the outing as much as House must have, but he shuts down that train of thought. He'd love to escape as much as Cameron and Chase, but he's not going to just skulk out. He turns to the racks of test tubes and piles of paper. Obviously House is working without a theory, testing blindly. "How's the patient?"

"You..." Chase starts, and glances at Cameron again. "You don't know?"

"That would be why I'm asking," Wilson says, more sharply than he'd meant.

"He...our patient...he died this morning," Cameron says.

"Then why--"

"It's Foreman," Cameron says. "House sent him to investigate the home. He's infected."

"It might be a toxin," Chase adds. "We don't know that it's infectious at all."

"We could find out," Cameron says, more viciously than Wilson has ever heard her speak.

"Cuddy won't let us do an autopsy," Chase explains. "The CDC is keeping the body under guard until they can send out a biohazard team."

Wilson sits down slowly on Chase's stool. "That will take days," he says, the words coming out before he can think them through. Foreman's sick. House... Something tightens in Wilson's chest and he doesn't know what it is, what it means. The patient is dead, he thinks, and he focuses on that. "How did he die?"

"Cardiac failure," Chase says. "He was in intractable pain, we put him in a coma but his heart rate kept going up. The morphine wasn't doing anything."

Cameron looks like she might dissolve into tears at any moment. No. She looks worried. And she's watching him. He must be a mess. Wilson forces himself to stand up again, taking a breath. "Where's House?" he asks. It comes out only slightly hoarse. "Why isn't he here?"

"He's..." Outrage darkens Cameron's expression. "He's watching the body."

"And you're not--"

Chase turns serious and spreads his hands, gesturing at the computer in front of him. "We're running as many tests as possible. We're doing everything we can."

"We could go back to the apartment," Cameron starts, furiously.

"We might be infected too," Chase says. "House said--"

"House isn't impartial any more! If they're...I mean, if Foreman is really..."

Chase shakes his head. "House doesn't change," he says. "He wouldn't let it stop him."

"He won't do anything," Cameron says. "He's watching the CDC guard and pouting. He's acting like a child."

That's not right. Wilson pushes off the bench and leaves without a word. He knows better. House isn't acting like a child.

He's acting like he cares.


House looks terrible.

Wilson catches sight of him pacing in Cuddy's office, and he starts in that direction automatically. He was coming up from the morgue, where House's last patient is very dead and very much under guard. Wilson brushes by Cuddy's assistant and walks in without knocking, closing the door softly behind him. Cuddy looks up and sees him standing by the door, and Wilson raises his eyebrows, silently asks what's going on. She shakes her head slightly, and he reads the relief in her face. So she's depending on him to wrangle House if it comes to that. Wilson licks his lips and stays, although as soon as he's come in, he wishes he hadn't.

"This is a waste of time!" House shouts, and pivots on his cane again. If he notices Wilson, he doesn't give a sign.

Dr. Lee is sitting in Cuddy's visitor's chair, watching House stomp back and forth as if he's never seen anything so undignified. "I'm concerned for one of my employees."

"Dr. House has taken charge of his case," Cuddy says, dangerously calm. "His fellows are pursuing the possible diagnoses." She's sitting down behind her desk, and on the surface she's as composed as Lee, leaning back and speaking directly to him. Wilson can see the signs of stress, though. Her knuckles are blanched where she's gripping the arms of her chair, and she's following House with her eyes, waiting for him to explode.

House doesn't look worse than usual, on the surface: like he hasn't shaved in a week, like he's missed at least a few hours of sleep, like he picked his wardrobe off his floor. It's all probably true. But there's a jerkiness in his movements where he usually manages to make even the limp seem graceful, and his gaze is piercing and unseeing, both at once. Wilson tries to meet his eyes, to ease the pained snarl on his face simply by being present. House looks right through him--no help, no comfort. Wilson presses back against the door until the handle digs into his kidneys.

Lee's somehow still talking, the pompous ass. "And I think it's clear that there is a conflict of interest."

"Is it the fact that he works under me or the fact that he works under me?" House says. He's doing his best to intimidate, standing over Lee, but Lee doesn't budge. Wilson steps closer, and Cuddy stands half out of her chair.

Lee gives House the faintest hint of a sneer, his lip lifting slightly. "I believe Dr. Foreman should be transferred to Princeton General..."

House throws his head back, and stares at Cuddy, a wild, frustrated glare. "Princeton General doesn't have the facilities--"

"One man is already dead," Lee says, "without any conclusive evidence that this disease is--"

"--or even one doctor who knows his ass from his elbow. This is my case--"

"Stop," Cuddy says, quietly, but forcefully enough that it cuts through House's shouting. Everyone turns to her, even House, although he twists away again almost immediately and limps across the room, his cane coming down hard enough that Wilson thinks he's probably imagining Lee's face underneath it every time.

When House comes back towards Cuddy's desk, his anger is less visible, but he's leaning forward, his shoulders bunched, his free hand clenched. "Don't you dare transfer him, Cuddy," he says, like an ultimatum, like a promise. Wilson catches his breath and tenses.

"You understand my worry, Dr. Cuddy." Lee sniffs and drags his eyes over House contemptuously. "Emotion gets in the way." He's looking at Cuddy, though, when he says, "As we've seen from this administration before."

House has already started his swing by the time Wilson crosses the space between them and gets an arm around him, hauling him back. House is trembling, and Wilson holds him tightly, one arm around his chest, one hand holding House's on his cane to keep him from raising it.

Cuddy's "House!" cracks through the room. Lee looks surprised more than anything, at his own words as much as at House's reaction. "If you touch him, then I'm going to have to agree that he has a point."

Wilson hugs House tighter, and for a moment, House allows it. Wilson can almost feel him falling back into his body, until it's his weight more than Wilson's grip pressing the two of them together. He's breathing quickly but lightly, and a second later he shrugs out of Wilson's hold, dismissively, as if it never happened.

"Dr. Lee, I will have you know that I am willing to listen to your doubts, but my feelings on the matter have nothing to do with my decision." Cuddy's stare could bore a hole through steel, and Lee shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "The CDC has ordered a biosafety level three isolation, and there is no way that we can physically move Dr. Foreman out of quarantine while maintaining those procedures. And while he is at Princeton-Plainsboro, Dr. House is the most qualified doctor to oversee his case."

Cuddy shifts her gaze to the two of them, watching them carefully. House looks aside. Wilson stays close to him, but it's clear that he doesn't want to be touched, now. Lee clears his throat and sounds the retreat. "I regret..." he starts, but Cuddy cuts him off with a shake of her head.

"Right now I think it's best if we're all thinking of Dr. Foreman," she says. "If you or your staff have any suggestions, bring them to me, and I will apprise Dr. House."

"Yes," Lee says, happy enough to have an out. "I will." He stands and heads for the door, keeping well away from House.

"I'm going to go and treat my patient," House throws at him as he passes, and Lee glares once more before he ducks out the door.


"That was...unsettling," Wilson says, when they're clear of Cuddy's office. House doesn't answer and Wilson doesn't really know if he expects him to. They walk in silence to the elevator. House's eyes are empty, the blue overwhelming his pupils, and Wilson resists the urge to reach out and place a guiding hand on his elbow or his back.

On the fourth floor, House limps to his office, leaning more heavily on his cane than usual, and Wilson's not surprised to see him hook his cane over his wrist and take out his Vicodin as soon as they're both within whatever sanctuary the glass walls offer. House swallows one with a quick toss of his head, and holds a second, turning the oval pill over between his thumb and forefinger. Wilson stops himself from asking if he really needs it, if it's necessary, since that will make House take it on principle. Instead, he waits, until House slides the pill back into the bottle and caps it one-handed. The bottle disappears into his blazer pocket at the same time, like a magician's trick.

Wilson lets out a breath. A glance into the conference room shows the morning's chaos hasn't improved. He can just make out the symptoms on the whiteboard: functional blindness, tachycardia, pain. Where is Foreman while the rest of them are all debating this, doing nothing, testing in circles?

House hitches forward a few more steps and stands at the window, looking out through the blinds into the rain. Wilson feels anchorless, adrift in the middle of House's office. He's not sure where he should stand, what he should say. It's like the space between lightning and thunder, knowing it will come, but not how quickly or how loud. He'd like to believe that being here is enough. That, if he offers to listen, House might let him in and tell him what's going on. But House hates comfort like that, the kind Wilson offers every day. The soft shared breathing in a room where the monitors have been turned off at the end, the damp pat of hands, the quiet murmur of sympathy. House wants the truth like a punch, brutal and painful.

Wilson takes a breath. House could be alone for all he acknowledges it, staring up into the sky as if the answer is written in the rain. For a second, Wilson hates him, hates being brushed off, and that gives him the anger he needs to say, "If you're feeling guilty about sending Foreman to break in to the home--"

"Stop trying to be my goddamn conscience," House snaps back immediately. He doesn't even turn around.

Wilson continues as if he hasn't spoken. "If it wasn't him, it would have been Chase or Cameron."

House glances back over his shoulder. Wilson's been watching him for so long that House's face is more familiar than his own in a mirror. When House lets him, he can read his pain levels in a glance. Right now House is trying hard to hide it, layer anger over top, but that doesn't stop it from showing through. "This isn't the Pick Six," he says, scoffing the way he does when Wilson asks him to trust anyone other than himself. "I sent Foreman."

Wilson blinks and shifts back on his heels. "Why?"

House slides his cane along the top of the bookshelf under the window, an inch away from shoving a scattering of toys to the floor. "He was wrong, and he was happy with being wrong."

Wilson nods. "And you were right," he says, thinking: of course. "And you rubbed it in his face."

"Well, it was my turn," House says, slanting a heated look at him. His smirk, though, is a half-hearted effort, and his fingers move restlessly along the handle of his cane.

"House, stop." Wilson lifts a hand, trying to push away the insinuations. House is testing, pushing, looking for the crack in his armour. Just like yesterday and the day before, every single day since it happened. He acts as if it's only a mistake if Wilson admits it, drags it out in the open where House can find all the reasons for it, without ever admitting that the reason is him. And it's the simplest thing to turn it around, to force him back, so Wilson asks, "How's Foreman doing?"

Just as he expected, House breaks eye contact, looking down to his desktop for a second before glaring at him. "Why so interested in Foreman? Wish you were tapping that?"

He's thought about it. House probably sees that in his face, because he snorts as if he's confirmed his own assumptions. But he's wrong. Wilson's thought about it, because... Because he's imagined House with a man, thought about what it was like--just once, when he was alone--let himself--one hand on his penis, edging towards orgasm, he cupped his balls and then stroked a finger lower, along his perineum to his ass, tested, remembered Bonnie, who would do this if he asked, and then imagined that it was House instead--God, he's got long fingers, deft, careful, determined; it was...it would be...different, perfect. Better.

"This isn't about me," Wilson says. The words ring false even in his ears, and his face heats.

"Of course," House says, sarcasm warming his voice, like a patronizing pat on the head. "Impartial advice from on high, telling everybody else what their problem is."

"I'm trying to be your friend!"

House sits down and stares out the window, tapping the handle of his cane against the glass. "Nice to know that's what you're calling it."

"You said it yourself," Wilson says. He takes a breath, getting control of himself. The rain is turning to sleet. He remembers two months ago, the rain that marked the beginning of winter, and House's voice next to his ear, the shiver working through him from the brush of his stubble. "Getting shot down doesn't change anything."

House swivels the chair to face him, the diagnostician, checking for test results. "You wish it did, though."

He'll never leave it the fuck alone. "Why aren't you doing a differential?" Wilson asks, putting his hands on his hips. This isn't about him. Foreman's life is on the line. He must have less than thirty-six hours left, if the disease follows the same course in him as it did in the first patient. They don't have time for House to play games, to hide in his office as if any decision is necessarily the wrong one.

"Cuddy won't let me near the body."

"So you can't do an autopsy," Wilson says. "You usually take that as a challenge."

"If I had an MRI--"

"You might not learn any more than you know right now." Wilson rubs at his eyes for a moment, trying to work through what he knows of the case. "What could it tell you? That there's an absess? You already know that, you can see it from symptoms. You know that, or you'd be dragging a portable MRI into the isolation room. So what are you doing?"

He wonders if there's anyone other than him who can see through that much fury to the worry underneath. House sits in his desk chair, pretending to be non-chalant, but he's gripping his thigh like the Vicodin hasn't done anything for him, and Wilson doesn't believe for a second that it's muscle and bone that's bothering him.

"I'm thinking," House says. The rain reflects in his eyes, turning them grey and remote. "I can do that anywhere."

Anywhere that keeps him away from Foreman. Anywhere that allows him to keep up the illusion that Foreman and the patient are different people. "Have you even gone to see him since you had him quarantined?" Wilson asks.

"I don't need to see him to diagnose him."

"Maybe this is about a little more than a diagnosis," Wilson says. He knows it is. Getting House to admit it, though, would probably take more strength than he has.

"It's only about a diagnosis! It's about the medicine--"

God, Wilson shouldn't have to do this, he shouldn't have to shove House in the right direction like this, not even knowing if it is the right direction. It's not his problem, but it has to be, because House doesn't have anyone else. He won't even let himself have Foreman. "You're allowed to care," he says softly.

"Really, Jimmy?" House says, and Wilson hates the way he uses his name to hurt. "If I do, will the magical fairies come down and cure him? If I clap my hands and believe?"

"You're allowed to be worried!" he shouts. So House feels something. That should be a relief, that he does care, that he can, but all Wilson can think is that it's not fair.

House gets up and comes towards him, leaning forward on his cane, pointing at him accusingly. "But not too worried, isn't that right? Buy them a nice dinner but keep your pants on afterwards? How's that working for you with the new peds nurse?"

Wilson tenses. House will use Wendy as a weapon if he can. He knows that, but he can't help giving him the opening anyway. "How do you know--"

"Have you slept with so many of them that you're pouncing on the ones who move here?" House says, bulldozing over his faltering question.

It's ridiculous. It's so far from what House should be angry at--Foreman's the one who walked into whatever germ-ridden dump the cop was living in, without a second thought, without prophylactic equipment, and got himself infected. House should be pissed off at Foreman, yelling all this at Foreman--

Wilson laughs, short and incredulous.

House frowns at him, hesitating. "What?"

"You think you're already too close to him," Wilson says, shaking his head. "That's the problem, isn't it?"

It hurts to see House backing off, trying to keep the damn walls up. "I've heard boys have cooties," he says, another jab, and Wilson doesn't even notice.

"What are Cameron and Chase even working on?" he asks. "Do you have a theory?"

"They're testing for--"

"They aren't finding anything," Wilson says. "I went to the lab. They've got no direction, because you won't give it to them. Why don't you biopsy Foreman's brain?"

House hesitates. "A white-matter biopsy--"

"Don't tell me it's too dangerous," Wilson interrupts. "The risk would never stop you."

"Maybe he doesn't want to end up drooling into a bib for the rest of his life!"

For a long, silent second, they stare at each other, and House's eyes are cold and blue and distant. Then he spins away, muttering, "Fuck," and slamming through the door into the conference room.

Wilson catches the door, only a step behind. "You never ask your patients what they want!" he says. "You tell them what's good for them. You put them under if you have to--" He stops and looks down, to House's hand on his cane, that's become so much a part of him that Wilson almost forgets what it was like when House didn't need it to get around, when he wasn't in pain. "Like Stacy did to you," he finishes quietly. House stands in front of the whiteboard, as if the pattern will jump out at him if he stares long enough, hefting the marker in one hand. "Is that what this is about?"

House doesn't answer. Wilson scrubs the back of his neck with one hand. "Do you think Foreman will care? If you save his life? He's not a stubborn ass like you--"

"He's not Stacy," House says.

Wilson lets out a breath, too frustrated to stop now. "No, that's obvious, since at least sometimes there was a hint that you cared about Stacy."

"You mean Stacy acted like there was a hint I cared about her."

"You're saying you treat Foreman the same?"

House throws the marker at the whiteboard, and it hits with a sharp smack and thuds to the carpet. "He's not the same!" he shouts, and he pushes past Wilson, heading for the door.

"Right," Wilson says, turning after him. "Because you loved Stacy!"

House stops dead. His hand is on the door handle, he's dropped his head forward, and he's so suddenly, perfectly still that Wilson's certain he's not breathing.

"Oh my God," Wilson says. "You--"

"Get out," House says. He makes a quick, sharp movement with his head, like he's trying to duck back from something only he can see. He licks his lips and steps back from the door.

Wilson wants to touch him. The way he did in Cuddy's office, not anything--nothing like that. But...how House trembled then, how his heart beat against his chest, how he breathed slower, and calmed, when Wilson held him. "House..."

"Cut his head open. Lobotomize him for all I fucking care."

That's not what Wilson meant. Not what he wanted. "You could go back to the cop's place," he says.

House snorts. "Now who's being cautious?"

"It must have been something," Wilson insists. "What did you miss?"

House lifts his head, looks right at him. It feels like the first time he's seen Wilson all day. "I don't know," he says, low and emphatic.

For him, it's probably the scariest thing to admit. Wilson spreads his hands, but he holds back--he stays on his side of the room, the glass table between them. "House. What did you expect, that Foreman would never get sick? That one of you--"

"Foreman wasn't sick," House says. "He was perfectly healthy."

"That's not what I--" Wilson starts, but he's lost House again. He's staring into the distance, a tiny, thoughtful crease appearing between his eyebrows.

He limps to the whiteboard and uses his fist to smear away cough, rales, cloudy lungs. "But the cop had Legionnaire's disease."

"So--?" Wilson stops. House won't hear him anyway. Wilson sighs and glances over his shoulder when the conference room door opens.

It's Chase, looking worried. "House, there's someone here to see you--"

"Not now," House says. The whiteboard marker's on the floor at his feet. He won't be able to get it, so Wilson stoops and grabs it, putting it in his hand. House gives a tiny nod, an acknowledgment, and starts crossing out symptoms and adding arrows.

"Um, I think you'll want to see him," Chase says. "It's Mr. Foreman."

House grunts and finishes his scrawl. He reaches up to rub his chin, feeling the growth of stubble. He rolls his eyes at Wilson, as if he's looking for sympathy, or reassurance. Wilson blinks, confused. "What?"

"Parents never like me," House mutters. He sighs as he grabs his cane and walks out the door.

Chase gives Wilson a wide-eyed stare. Wilson restrains himself from pinching away the migraine starting somewhere behind his eyes. "Try to make sure they don't kill each other?" he suggests, even though that's not fair to Chase. Chase looks doubtful, but he follows House.

Wilson stays in the empty conference room, studying the snaking lines between symptoms. He only wishes he knew a better way to see into House's mind than by his scrawl on the whiteboard.


Part Four

In the fading grey light of a winter snowstorm, the hospital where Eric works looks remote and brooding. The brick facade is a dull, sullen red, and the windows glare with too-bright fluorescents that remind Rodney of the ruthless efficiency of prisons. He drives carefully, following the signs to visitor's parking, overpaying for a space near the building. When he climbs out of his car, he's surrounded by the blare of ambulance sirens and the shatter of lights. Bright yellow light pours out the automatic doors of the Emergency Room, and Rodney makes his way past the hard plastic chairs and the people huddled there, wrapped up in layers against the snow.

At the desk, he asks after the woman, Dr. Cuddy, who called him. The nurse is on the phone and writing in a file, and she gives him garbled directions that send him through a maze of hallways until he finds another waiting room, less crowded and less noisy, and another nurse who looks at him sharply before reaching for her phone, nodding at him to take a seat.

Rodney doesn't care to sit. He finds a pay phone and calls the respite nurse. He curls his shoulders around the divider, blocking out the efficient tap of footsteps in the hallway behind him. He frowns as he listens to the chink of change, the bright burr of the ring. The respite nurse answers on the second ring. Rodney squeezes the cold plastic of the receiver. The nurse uses a practiced voice that tries too hard to be calming. Alicia is doing well, no change, no difficulties. There's no need to worry. Rodney nods and thanks her brusquely before placing the phone back on its hook.

He turns back to the waiting room, watching the bustle of nurses and the shuffle of patients, and he realizes that he's expecting Eric. He always looked so proud, wearing his suit and white coat, beaming when he had a chance to show them his work, his office. The chance didn't come often. Before he moved, there was barely time to see him at all. "Work," he said, sharp and apologetic. "You don't get it, Dad, I'm on call, it's a thirty-six hour shift..."

Rodney doesn't know what Eric found in California that kept him away from his family for so long. Especially from his mother, when she was starting to leave them all. He visited twice, at Christmas the first year, and the second summer for a week. He never seemed to mind taking his old room, kept the same right through from high school. He attended church with them both times, even though by then he'd lost the path. "I like to hear Mom sing," he said, and he listened to the services looking respectful as ever, as if it wasn't a lie. Maybe it wasn't something you could see, but Rodney felt the difference, knowing Eric would be flying back to California and living with that doctor he worked with. It rankled, even when he drove Eric to the airport, even when Eric hugged him hard and fierce before leaving.

"Take care of yourself," he said, and Rodney nodded, clapped his hand on Eric's shoulder, and didn't say anything about the choice his son was making every day.

Now that he's been back, these past months, Eric hasn't been any easier to know. There's another man, and more excuses. But Rodney's chest squeezed down on his heart when the woman called, when she said that Eric was sick. She hesitated when he asked if it was serious, and said, "I think it would be best if you came to see him, Mr. Foreman."

That's a voice he knows, from doctors. Dr. Emmett used the same tone when he took Rodney aside and said, "We've gotten your wife's tests back, Mr. Foreman. The stroke activity is consistent with a degenerative organic brain disorder. We can use medications to slow the progress, but I'm afraid there is no cure."

And there's Marcus, always in the back of his mind, rotting his life away because of what he'd done. Rodney closes his eyes and prays for him, as he does every day. He's learned that praying is a far cry from hope, more than he ever would have believed, years ago, before he had time for nothing but seeing the difference.

"Mr. Foreman?"

It's not a woman who meets him, but a young blond man with his hair in his eyes, wearing an awful shirt and a shell-shocked expression Rodney doesn't trust for one minute. "I'm Dr. Chase," he says.

"Yes?" Rodney says. He glowers, studying the boy, and wonders. He looks younger than Eric by a few years, and Rodney had the idea that Eric's...friend...was older.

Dr. Chase smiles quickly, reassuringly--another expression Rodney doesn't care for. He's seen it too often in hospitals. "I can...take you to see Dr. House?"

"Is he the one taking care of Eric?" Rodney asks.

The boy blushes to the roots of his hair, and stammers, "Yeah, uh..." He looks over his shoulder, as if he expects someone to come and rescue him, but he pulls himself together to say, "Eric was working with Dr. House when he, ah, came into contact with the, the infectious agent. Dr. House is our best diagnostician, he's working on your son's case."

Rodney nods, and follows the doctor to the elevators. He doesn't like the way the boy looks at him curiously out of the corner of his eye, as if he thinks Rodney won't notice. "How bad is he?" he asks.

Dr. Chase clears his throat. "We haven't been able to isolate the cause," he says. "He's not doing well, but we're still testing, and--"

"You don't know if he'll make it."

"No," Dr. Chase admits.

"Then say that," Rodney tells him. "Don't be telling me things you don't know."

"I'm sorry," Dr. Chase says quietly. He lets Rodney step off the elevator ahead of him. The hallway is dim, and Dr. Chase leads him through doors labelled Authorized Personnel Only, and Isolation Rooms - Follow Quarantine Procedures. Rodney can feel the weight of the building pressing down on him. All these sick people, with their families, their problems. He's just one more, and Eric's so far gone that Rodney can't even be in the same room as him.

Dr. Chase opens the last door, and nods Rodney through. There's a man standing in front of the glass wall, leaning on a cane and silently looking in. Rodney takes him for the doctor, and hurries to the room.

Eric is inside, sitting in a wheelchair, dressed in a hospital gown. He's leaning forward as if he can't hold up his head. "Eric," Rodney says.

"Dad?" Eric's head lifts, and then he drops it again, grimacing. He looks up more slowly. His eyes are red and swollen, with dark circles underneath.

Rodney moves closer to the glass. Eric had the chicken pox when he was six, a bad case that rushed in a week after Marcus had jaunted through a few days of itching and laughing that he was missing school. Alicia cradled Eric on her lap, holding him wrapped in a soft sheet that was the only thing he could stand against the sores. He shivered miserably in his mother's arms, restless and aching, and Rodney spent the night awake, looking in again and again to see Alicia rocking him and breathing lullabies into his hair. It was near dawn before the fever broke. Before he finally fell asleep, Eric looked like this--hurting and bewildered, watching Rodney with big wide eyes that asked him to do something.

Rodney can feel the doctor studying him as he stands in front of the glass. He doesn't reach out to touch it--it will be cold and smooth, like everything in a hospital, none of it human. Rodney's tired of the looks, the stares that mark him out as just family, waiting to hear what's wrong, how sick his boy is. He turns and glares at the doctor, who hasn't given them so much as the illusion of privacy. "Excuse me," he says, and he doesn't bother hiding his resentment.

Eric interrupts. "It's all right, Dad."

"You can tell me what's wrong," Rodney tells him. "I want to hear it from you."

"He doesn't know," the doctor says--viciously, Rodney thinks. For the first time he catches sight of the man's eyes. He looks like he's seen more years than he'd like to count, as hurt and tired as Eric, and as worried as Rodney feels. Whatever Rodney saw, though, is gone a second later, erased as if he never meant to let it show, and a wild grin takes its place. He steps forward, even closer to Rodney, hop-limping with the help of his cane.

"Dr. Greg House," he says, in a loud, hearty voice. He lets the cane fall with a clink against the glass and thrusts out his hand for Rodney to shake. "I play doctor with your son."

Rodney recoils. This--this unshaven, ill-kempt, tired old man, who talks as if he's got no shame at all about what he's saying--he--this is Eric's...

"We don't know what he's got," he says, waving a hand at Eric as if it's little or no concern of his. "We've sealed off the apartment where infection most likely took place, and I'd ask the guy who lived there what he thinks we missed, but my Ouija board is in the shop. A toxin makes sense but we haven't found any evidence of one. It's not blood-borne and physical contact doesn't seem likely, either, since Eric decided he had enough to share with the rest of the class, but I haven't come down with the giggles."

Eric lets his head fall forward and groans. "House..."

"You were lagging on the introductions," House says.

"This is my father."

"You missed your cue five minutes ago. I see the resemblance, though--something in the complexion."

Rodney draws up his shoulders, biting back the first words that come to mind. He knows this man's type--insolent and crude. Discipline would have done him some good when he was younger, but now he thinks he can say what he likes because he never learned to toe the line. Eric's never cared what his father thinks of his choices, and now isn't the time to say anything.

But, for God's sake, this man--this doctor Eric speaks so highly of--he must be a dozen years older than Eric. He's grizzled and his hair is more grey than brown, sticking out in disarray. He's dressed like a sloppy teenager, in jeans, a t-shirt, and wrinkled button-down, with a suit jacket thrown carelessly over top. Rodney didn't think much of him as a doctor, but this--he thought Eric might at least have found someone with a little respect. Rodney shakes his head, clenching his jaw.

House glances quickly at him. He's scowling, lines furrowing deeply between his eyebrows. "I'm starting your son on a new course of treatment," he says, more quietly. He holds up a small glass vial in front of the glass for Eric to see.

Eric glares up from his wheelchair, his fists clenching on the armrests. "What the hell is that?"

"You're getting worse too fast," House tells him. "The cop had Legionnaire's, and it took him over forty-eight hours to get to the unbearable pain part of the itinerary."

"He's already sick," Rodney says, feeling anger burning through his stomach and chest. What the hell does he think he's doing? The irresponsible bastard is going to make Eric worse.

"So this way he'll be twice as sick and alive for twice as long," House says, looking through the glass. There's something that softens in his expression, as if he's less guarded when he's talking to Eric.

Eric's jaw tightens. He stares at House, wide-eyed, angry and searching. After a moment, he drops back into the chair. Sweat rolls down his temples and beads on the back of his neck. "You think the legionella antibodies will fight whatever I've got?" he asks. "Does that narrow down the possibilities?"

"Not enough," House says. "The pain will get worse. We'll put him in a chemically-induced coma while we think about what to do next."

"Why are you telling him--?" Rodney asks. As if Eric is a child, he thinks.

"He knows. I'm telling you," House says, without looking away from Eric. "When he's under, you're going to have to make medical decisions for him."

Less than a year ago, Rodney signed the papers giving him power of attorney for Alicia. Before that it was Marcus's lawyer, telling him that Marcus had named him as his executor for the duration of his sentence. It's bad enough to be helpless, seeing Eric like this. It's worse to think that his whole family depends on him, and he can do nothing for any of them. Being the one they turn to, each of them, hasn't saved them. He has given them everything, all of himself, and it can't be enough.

House looks at him when he doesn't answer, as if he's watching some kind of exhibition. Rodney stares at him coldly.

"Dad," Eric says. "You don't have to."

"You're going to be under," House says, whirling back to the glass.

"Yeah," Eric says. He tips his head back, slowly, measuring each word. "House, I want you to have my medical proxy."

House lifts his cane and points it at Rodney. "He's your father."

"He doesn't know the medicine. You're already bullying him into doing what you want," Eric says. "This way I know it's you."

House snorts. "Looking for a scapegoat?"

"No." Eric pushes himself out of the chair, his arms bunching at the strain. Lord, the pain he must be in. But he struggles to his feet, and he spreads his palm against the glass. House flinches back as if Eric might reach right through and touch him. His eyes flick towards Rodney--suddenly clear as rain, cold and fearful--and then back to Eric's face. "House. I trust you."

"You shouldn't," House scoffs.

"I'm dying," Eric says. For a second he's angry, shaking with it, but it passes, leaving him gasping. "Whatever you do, it won't make it worse. Dad..."

Rodney approaches the glass. He looks at House over his shoulder, wondering if he imagined the terror in his eyes, and then he turns to Eric. He touches the glass and it's as hard and cold as he thought, and it doesn't feel quite real.

Eric bows his head and licks his lips. "I'm glad you came."

"You're going to be fine," Rodney says.

"I don't think so."

Rodney shakes his head. Lord, let his son be safe, let him be accepted. "I know you're going to a better place," he says.

"No, he's not," House snaps, behind him.

Rodney focuses on Eric--God, he's all Rodney has left, he's the only one. "I know you're not gonna forget what you believe," he says. He hates this wall between them, he wants to punch through it; but it won't do anyone any good, and he forces his hands down to his sides.

Eric leans into the glass from the other side. "Dad, that's not me anymore."

"Besides, deathbed confessions are so cliché," House says. "If he says he's very sorry for all the cocksucking, does that make it better?"

Rodney's heart burns. He despises this man, this so-called doctor, who can't be any good for Eric, no matter what he says. He'd rather punch him than the glass, lay him out for saying such filth about his son.

"House, shut up." Eric sits down heavily, nearly collapsing backwards. His back curls, until he rests his head nearly between his knees.

"Give me a number," House says.

Eric breathes hard. "Eight," he says, in a cracked whisper.

"We can put you under."

"Not yet."

"Yeah, not until I can find a camera and a tattoo artist with really loose morals," House says. "The legionella--"

"Do it," Eric says.

For the first time, House hesitates. "Are you sure?"

"It was your idea. Give me the damn vial."

House slides open the airlock on his side of the wall. The vial clicks in the tray, and Eric reaches for the window on his side.

Rodney bites out, "Eric, don't--"

Eric lets his head fall forward and says, "Dad, it makes sense. Trust me."

Rodney shakes his head. How can Eric think he can trust him, after the way he's acted? "I'm going to pray for you, son," Rodney says. He glares at House, who's doing nothing, who will only stand by and watch while Eric suffers. "I suggest you do the same."

He won't watch this. He goes back the way he was led here, through the doors and dim hallways. He wants to pray, but his breath feels crushed in his lungs, hot and hard in his throat. He's alone, and the words won't come.


The chapel is on the second floor of the hospital. From the moment Rodney opens the door, the peace that he thought he'd lost comes whispering back. The chapel is silent, a different quiet from the busy hush of the hospital hallways, where the hum of voices and rolling wheels is never far off. Rodney can breathe, here, and his heart slows so that he can feel each beat. He takes a seat in a pew near the altar, touching the careful joining of the wood of the hymnal in front of him. The wood is dark and smooth-grained, as if it has been well cared for, like something human has touched it and kept it beautiful. Rodney closes his eyes and bows his head. Lord, let Eric overcome this sickness. Help him not to be afraid. Help him to accept You...

He remembers Eric sitting next to Alicia on the couch, only a week ago when he visited. There was love in his eyes then, and tenderness for his mother. Rodney remembers how she smiled to see him, so proud, so fiercely proud of her son.

Who's taking care of you, Dad? Eric asked. He didn't know he was going to get sick. He was happy.

Rodney breathes in: the chapel smells of wood polish and the faintly spicy scent of old paper, old books. The hymnal blurs in front of him. Eric was happy. That has to be enough to hold on to. Rodney can let go of his anger here, his disapproval, but it leaves him feeling empty, and old, and brittle as fallen leaves. He wishes Alicia was here. He could put his arm around her, and let her lean her head against his shoulder, pressing her ear to his heart. He needs the warmth of her; he needs her to understand, he needs her to say, "Don't you worry one minute about Eric, honey. He's got his life to live, and we've just got to love him as best we can."

Lord, he needs her, so badly.

The chapel door opens behind him, letting in a drift of cool air. Rodney draws himself up, straightening his shoulders. He blinks and clears his throat. He's not ready to see anyone, not even the minister.

"If God's omniscient," a rough voice says behind him, "then there's no point in coming here to fill out a customer complaint."

Rodney squeezes his hands together on his lap. "Prayer doesn't mean anything to you, Dr. House?" he says.

"Prayer is inherently selfish," House says. "It's not for other people, it's to make yourself feel better. But then you get to tell people you did it for them--bonus."

Rodney lets out a breath. He could almost pity this man, who seems to take solace from nothing and no one. "Eric knows I'm doing this for him," he says.

"He knows you'd rather be here than stay with him." House limps up the aisle with hardly a sound, only the soft squeak of his sneakers and the rubber tip of his cane against the hardwood. He moves slowly and awkwardly, but the cane seems nearly a part of him. He eases himself down to sit in the pew across the aisle from Rodney. He holds the cane between his knees, bending forward and resting his forehead against the handle. "Of course, he knows that about me too," he says to the floor. He tries to keep his voice light, but Rodney can hear the bitterness underneath. "Don't like sick people."

Despite himself, Rodney glances over at him. "You're a doctor."

"Which is why I like making the diseases go away. Don't have to like sick people to do that." House looks up at the ceiling, raising his eyebrows as if he's offering a doubtful sacrifice. "You can go down there, I won't interrupt the father-son bonding moment." His voice is blunt and edged with sarcasm.

Rodney hasn't seen Eric's new apartment. He's barely seen his workplace. Maybe he can't know what Eric needs, or what he wants. Maybe he never could. But there has to be some reason why he chose this man. Eric called him a manipulative bastard, but when he did he shook his head and almost laughed, and...he is happy. House tips his head back, and Rodney sees the way the lines tighten around his eyes, the way his thumb rubs over the handle of his cane in a restless, unceasing motion. Worry, and pain.

Rodney looks down at his hands. For a moment he sees them as if they aren't his at all. Broad, blunt fingers, the pale nick of a scar on the back of one knuckle. He's exhausted. Tiredness builds behind his eyes and knots up his lower back. "I've done my best by my family all my life," he says.

House snorts contemptuously. "There's no such thing as a blameless life."

"And now," Rodney says, ignoring him, "I've got a wife who doesn't remember me from one day to the next. One boy in jail, and one boy--"

"Who fucks men?" House interrupts, with a flash of anger.

"Who's sick. Maybe dying." Rodney lets his head fall back. There's a stained glass window above the pulpit, a dim pattern of golds and purples, with the shadow of snow falling past it outside. "A man shouldn't have to watch his whole family fall apart," he says. He forces down the waver in his voice, the hoarseness that breaks on each word. "That's not fair, is it? But it's life. You don't complain. You bear up, you move on."

House lifts his cane and drops it, letting it bounce on the floor, then lifts it again. "No," he says.

Rodney stays quiet. He doesn't care to explain himself, simply in order to be cut down by someone who doesn't believe. He knows what's right in his heart.

House pushes to his feet and stands in front of him, his wrist locked and cane jammed against his hip to support his weight. "Foreman's fighting this," he says. "You're the one giving in. God isn't going to solve your problems, no matter how prettily you ask."

"And what about you, Dr. House?" Rodney asks. "Have you given up on my son?"

House's stare sharpens, but he's looking past Rodney, as if there's something in the distance only he can see. "He's not dead yet," he says, almost thoughtfully. "But something else might be."

He must be a lonely man, Rodney thinks. If this is all he has, the sterile hospital and all its artificial lives. Rodney can pity him. He's losing Alicia. And, for whatever bitterness there is in this man, he is losing Eric, too. It feels wrong to think of Eric like that, in relation to someone else, but Rodney knows it's true. "Maybe you can explain to me why a respite nurse showed up at my door this afternoon," he says, loud enough to break through the distant look on House's face. "Not even an hour after Dr. Cuddy called about Eric."

House pauses and ducks his head. In profile, Rodney catches the self-conscious hint of a smile that tugs at the corner of his mouth. "No idea," he says, and that smart-aleck grin shows in his voice. He starts for the doors, and this time he stomps loud enough on every step to disturb the dead. "Got to go," he calls over his shoulder. "Pigeons to brain, lives to save." The door rattles when he slams it behind him.

Rodney shakes his head, and waits for the chapel to grow quiet again, for the peace of the place to fill him, and prays for hope.


It's his body that finally forces Rodney to face the rest of the hospital again. He makes his way to the cafeteria and buys a bowl of soup, although he lets it cool in front of him after only a few bites. He calls the respite nurse again, because Alicia usually has the most difficulties in the evening. She's already taken her meds and has gone to sleep, and the nurse knows better than to tell him whether or not she was asking for him. As night falls, Rodney makes his way back to the chapel, and stays for the short service. Afterwards, the lights are dimmed and the other patients and their families trickle out, and he's alone again. The unpadded pews are hard on his back, but Rodney can't see himself going back to a waiting room, or to the empty hallway outside of Eric's room.

"Mr. Foreman?"

Rodney opens his eyes. He must have dozed off. A young woman crouches in front of him, looking up at him in concern. "I'm Dr. Cameron," she says.

Rodney feels the uncertain disconnect of jet lag, and not knowing what time it is. His back aches terribly, and when he sits up, a spike of pain surges along his spine to the back of his neck. "Is it Eric?" he asks. He's certain his heart has stopped.

Dr. Cameron gives him a gentle smile. "He's out of the woods," she says. "He had a parasite, primary amoebic meningioencephalitis. Dr. House found the cause..."

Rodney closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He feels a strange urge to laugh, but he swallows it down and thinks, thank You. "Will Eric be all right?"

"We're treating him with an anti-parasitical right now, and there won't be any lasting damage," Dr. Cameron says. "I can take you to see him. We're going to try weaning him out of the coma, and he'll be waking up."

No matter if Eric is better or not, Rodney does not want to return to the quarantine room in the basement. But Dr. Cameron leads him to an ordinary hospital room. Eric lies in the bed, covered with a light hospital blanket. He's attached to monitors and IV lines, and he's still far too motionless to be only asleep. House is standing beside the bed, looking down at him thoughtfully. One hand is on his cane, but the other rests lightly on the metal railing of Eric's bed, as if he started to reach out and touch him, but paused at the last second. He looks up, frowning, when Rodney and Dr. Cameron enter the room. Rodney walks to the other side of the bed and takes Eric's hand. His fingers are cool and clammy, but his fingers twitch slightly in Rodney's as if he really is waking up.

"He should be coming out of it soon," Dr. Cameron whispers. She glances uncertainly at House before she moves to check the monitors and the IV stand. When she's finished, she seems at a loss for where she should stand, but she stops at the foot of Eric's bed instead of leaving.

They wait in silence. Dr. Cameron keeps on sneaking glances at House, as if she expects anything from him except patience. A minute later, House's eyes narrow, and he lets go of the bed railing and limps across the room, stopping abruptly when there's no room left to pace. Rodney looks back and sees Eric's eyelids flutter. He moves his head on the pillow, squinting slightly before opening his eyes. Rodney lets out a breath and squeezes his hand.

"How do you feel?" Dr. Cameron asks. "Is there any pain?"

Eric swallows slowly and blinks. "No..." he says. "No pain."

House comes back to his bedside. "Name all the presidents in reverse alphabetical order by middle name," he snaps.

Eric raises an eyebrow. "No," he says, and starts to smile.

"Or follow my finger," House says. "Whichever." He passes his hand slowly in front of Eric's face, holding up his index finger. Eric tracks it with his eyes half-closed, still looking worn out and uncertain from the drugs. "Fine. What are our names?"

"What did I have?" Eric asks.

"Naegleria," Dr. Cameron says. "House found the parasite in the water the cop was using on his marijuana. The CDC autopsy confirmed it."

"You stink," House says. He limps to the foot of the bed, shouldering Dr. Cameron out of his way, and throws the blanket back, checking Eric's feet. "I'd volunteer to do the sponge bath, but my dance card's all full with Coma Guy's regular. Names?"

Eric moves his toes, and then his fingers on the bedspread. "Cameron," he says. "My dad. And the manipulative bastard."

"You remembered," House says, falsely sweet, giving Eric a saccharine smile.

Eric grins back for a second. He shifts his gaze to Rodney, and his smile fades, turning solemn. "How are you doing, Dad?"

"Good. Fine." Rodney shakes his head. "I should be asking you that."

"I'm fine," Eric says. "My reactions are fine," he adds, looking to House. "When am I getting out of here?"

"Two weeks," House says. "Sooner if you bribe a highly qualified doctor to personally supervise your recovery. Cash only."

Rodney lets Eric's hand drop to the bed covers and steps back. House glances at him from under his brows, a keen, impatient look. Rodney scowls back. He can't pretend that he doesn't know what's going on between the two of them, and he doesn't appreciate having it brought out in front of him, as if it's a joke, or a game. He won't stand in their way. He's got more sense than to think Eric would let him. But if they refuse to be discreet, then he can't do much more than ignore it. He's only just gotten his son back, and already he's being stolen again.

"Dad," Eric says, "are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine," Rodney says shortly. He breathes out slowly, closing his eyes for a moment. "I need to get home. Your mother will be wondering where I am."

"Yeah," Eric says softly. He seems to fade back to the sheets, as if he's run through all his energy since waking up. "I know."

Rodney presses a hand to his shoulder, quickly. "Get better," he says. "I want to see you well."

"I love you too, Dad," Eric says, letting his eyes slide closed, already falling asleep.

Dr. Cameron slides the door open. Rodney steps into the hall after her. The walls are glass here as well, though there are blinds that can be closed. They're open now, and he watches as House pulls the covers down over Eric's feet. This time, he leaves his hand on the bed, his fingers curling around Eric's ankle. He looks solemn, and almost sad, as if he's suddenly realized something important only to find out it's not what he hoped. He touches Eric through the blanket, and he stays with him, while Rodney turns away.


Part Five

Foreman leans a shoulder against his hospital room window, arms crossed, staring out across the athletic field. Winter has settled in, covering the Princeton-Plainsboro campus in a glaring white mask of snow. On the far side of the hospital, he'd be seeing grey streets and dirty slush, but in this direction everything still looks fresh and cold and untouchable. Foreman sighs and frowns at his shirt, trying to smooth out the wrinkles.

The clothes are clean, but they also appeared in a bag by his bed, crumpled together like they'd been picked out and thrown in without a thought. His checked dress shirt doesn't match his khakis, he doesn't have a tie, and he's wearing white athletic socks with black shoes. He'd think House picked out the worst possible combination of clothes on purpose, but he can't actually credit House with caring enough to have even given it a thought. He's actually more surprised that House did it at all--though, from the looks of things, he might have just sent Chase to break into Foreman's apartment and let his fashion sense run wild.

The two weeks that House promised have passed, and he didn't, after all, drag Foreman back to his place to nurse him back to health. It was a relief, at first. Foreman is pretty damn glad the nursing was left up to the actual nurses, and not a temperamental cripple who thinks pop tarts are the keystone in a balanced diet.

Lying around with nothing but bad cable to watch for two weeks is probably House's idea of heaven. Foreman was surprised again when the days ticked by and House never showed up, not even to steal Foreman's hospital-approved Jell-O or to move his remote out of reach after switching the channel over to SoapNet.

Dad managed to visit. Arranging the respite care is never easy, but he showed up with a newspaper folded under one arm and sat down on the sticky vinyl visitor's chair. His expression reminded Foreman of every time he brought his report cards home from school. Dad would always sit in the big armchair in the living room and frown over Bs as if they were Ds. When he visits, he's stern and silent the same way, but when he leaves, it's with a nod and a hand buffeting Foreman's shoulder. "Guess I'll leave this," he says, tucking the newspaper under Foreman's hand. "You probably don't get much to read." And the fact that he knows that Foreman desperate to pass the time--that he came at all, after meeting House--well, that's enough. When Foreman's discharged, he'll visit again, see how Mom is doing, and ask again if there's anything Dad needs. They're all right. They're doing fine.

Chase and Cameron have been by--Chase, Foreman thinks, on orders, because he brings medical journals with paperclips marking articles that House has already read and vilified in red pen, along with the occasional story from Rhonda about new hookups or the current odds in the hospital betting pools. He covers for it by checking Foreman's reflexes and conducting a standard neurological exam, which Foreman could assess for himself in his sleep.

Cameron comes on her own time, probably despite being mocked for caring, and brings soft looks and a warm hand, sympathy and flowers from the oncology nurses. She seems to expect his life story in return. Foreman doesn't offer it; they're colleagues, not friends, and he has a feeling she wouldn't care about him if it didn't promise to give her some insight into House.

Even Cuddy comes, smiling her personal smile. She waters the flowers and asks him how he's doing.

"I'm not going to sue the hospital," Foreman says. "I didn't die, and it was my own damn fault."

A hint of I am the Dean of Medicine relief shows at that, but she says, "I didn't mean that."

Foreman raises an eyebrow at her.

"Fine," she says, and puts her hand over his. "I didn't mean only that."

"No, House hasn't showed up," Foreman tells her.

Cuddy shakes her head, looking upwards in exasperation, though he sees her frown slightly in worry. "I don't have an ulterior motive."

Foreman wonders what the hell House has been up to, if not a strategic campaign to annoy the hell out of him while he's stuck in one place. "I'm doing fine," he says.

Cuddy doesn't stay to make small talk.

Two weeks, and House didn't show, not once. Foreman snorts. The glass pane in front of him fogs up, and he wipes it clear with a sleeve.

His hospital room door slides open, and Foreman turns around expectantly. It's Chase, holding a clipboard under one arm.

"Hey," Foreman says, and goes back to looking out the window.

"Hi," Chase says, coming over to the window. "I've officially discharged you."

Foreman nods. It's too icy out for House's bike, although that's been true since October and it hasn't stopped him from riding it. He wonders if House even has another vehicle.

"So...what are you waiting for?" Chase asks. "You're free to go."

"Nothing," Foreman says.

"You weren't expecting House, maybe?" Chase asks.

Foreman shakes his head and laughs. "No," he says. "Look, Chase, I might be sleeping with him, but I know better than to expect anything from him."

Chase raises his eyebrows skeptically. "I dunno," he says. "He was pretty worried when you were sick."

"Sure," Foreman says. "Worried that I might end up as one more file in his drawer of unsolved cases."

"I thought Esther was the only--"

"No," Foreman says. "He's got five or six. Inconclusive autopsies, cases where the samples were found to be contaminated after the fact." He takes his jacket from the bed and throws it over his arm. "Never mind."

"I think he likes you," Chase persists, as they head for the nurses station for Foreman to finish the paperwork.

Foreman grins. "I know he likes me. It...just doesn't mean much, with House."

"Are you kidding? He doesn't like anybody, except Wilson."

Foreman makes a face. "It's not like that," he says. "We're not friends."

"So it's only about all the amazing sex?" Chase asks. "That makes sense, what with his flexibility and the total pain- and drug-free life he leads--"

Foreman glares at him. They're in the middle of a busy hallway, and although Chase has been tactful enough not to tell him that he's currently Princeton-Plainsboro's hottest gossip topic, Foreman doesn't doubt that any tidbit he gives up is worth at least half a dozen unscheduled MRIs down in Radiology. Dr. Lee was another face conspicuous in his absence during his recovery.

"I'm curious," Chase says, with a broad grin, completely unrepentant. "Why do you put up with him?"

Foreman shakes his head and concentrates on the paperwork, signing sharply, his fist smearing over the ink before it's dry. "I don't know," he says, and Chase nods sympathetically, as if he understands.


Foreman goes to his thermostat first when he gets home. It hasn't been turned up in the two weeks he's been gone. The air in the apartment is cool and stale, and there's a light film of dust everywhere. Foreman takes a shower, letting the water churn scalding-hot over his body. He shaves, carefully and precisely, since he hasn't been able to while he was in the hospital and the stubble itches. He finds a heap of clothes on the floor of his bedroom that look like they've been stirred around by a cane. Foreman pauses, his skin still damp and pulsing from the heat of the shower, half-dressed and barefoot, his shirt unbuttoned and his pants loose around his hips, and stares at the pile.

So it was House who brought him the clothes. He probably came while Foreman was asleep and chucked the bag at the visitor's chair. Foreman would bet money that House thought leaving a mess behind would achieve maximum irritation with minimum contact. Foreman finishes dressing and then sits on the bed, his elbows on his knees.

He could get pissed off. He could get out the ironing board and clean up. He could forget about it.

He laughs shortly. This isn't exactly homemade chicken noodle soup or a mug of tea with honey. It'll probably be more trouble to deal with than it's worth--but what's he been doing for the last five months, if not exactly that? House went to trouble. On his behalf. While he was sick.

Foreman grins and shakes his head, finishes getting dressed, and grabs his keys on his way out the door.


He uses his key to let himself in to House's apartment. House thinks it's cute to hide his spare in different places on a random basis that he probably calculates precisely to match Foreman's annoyance on a given day. It took Foreman half an hour to take it to a key cutter one Saturday. He doesn't doubt that House knows--hell, House probably goes through his key chain on a regular basis to see if Foreman has anything new he can unlock. But he hasn't changed his locks and he didn't say anything. The first time Foreman used his copy and walked in, House gave a satisfied half-smile to the television, and Foreman realized he hadn't left the spare outside the apartment at all.

House doesn't congratulate anybody for solving one of his little games. He just bumps you up to the next level without saying a thing. Foreman hangs up his jacket in House's closet, above the mess of runners and canes and old sports equipment. He goes to the kitchen and gets himself a bottle of water from the fridge, and while he's at it, he pulls a frozen lasagna out of the freezer. He reads the directions, and sets the oven to preheat.

"Doesn't that one star bed-and-breakfast feed its inmates anymore?" House is standing in the hallway, leaning against the door frame. "You should complain to the proprietress." His sweats are loose around his hips, and the t-shirt he's wearing is thin with washings, so that the pattern of grey skulls fades into the background.

Foreman raises his eyebrows. It must be the weekend; he lost track in the hospital. "I don't have any food at my place."

"So you decided to raid my TV dinner supply. At least you haven't gone for the beer. I might have had to have you killed, if you hadn't nearly managed it yourself."

Foreman twists the lid off the bottle and takes a drink. "Good to see you, too," he replies, dry with irony.

House's lips twitch into a grimace. His shoulder shoves Foreman's chest as he heads for the living room, hard enough to show that he could knock Foreman's breath out if he wanted to. Foreman chokes on the water he was swallowing and coughs. With anyone else, it would be a ten-foot high neon-bright sign saying get the hell out. House tends to keep those signs out on principle. The touch, though, even if it raises a bruise on Foreman's sternum, means something completely different. As if House is reassuring himself that Foreman's really there. As if he wants to show Foreman that he's there, too. Don't ignore me. Deal with me.

Foreman runs his thumb over the crumpled tinfoil edge of the frozen lasagna, and then flicks the oven off. House has the television on, and he's steadily increasing the volume on an infomercial for the most astounding juicer to ever be conceived of by the mind of man. Foreman marches into the living room, grabs the remote out of House's hand, turns the television off, and throws the remote on the armchair. "Want to let me in on what the problem is?"

House leans his head back against the couch cushions with an obstinate look on his face. "Besides the obvious?" he asks, looking pointedly towards the remote.

"Yeah, House, I get it. Television's more important." Foreman crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow. "Somehow I don't think it's important enough for you to move your ass for it, though."

House glares. "There was the part where you gayed up my manly reputation--"

God, he's such an aggravating jackass, especially when he's lying through his teeth just to tick Foreman off. "House, you don't give a shit about what people think of your sex life," he says. "Everyone who doesn't think you're sleeping with Cuddy assumes you've been with Wilson for years. You enjoy it! You do everything you can to encourage it!"

House shifts on the couch, glancing aside, looking restless and unsettled and still as stubborn as hell. He reaches for his cane, and it might be to smack Foreman's shins or it might be to try and escape. He didn't visit for two weeks, and this is why.

Foreman lets out a breath. "You don't care what they think as long as they're getting it wrong," he says. "You care that they know." The realization twists something inside him, tightens in his chest and stomach. It shouldn't feel this good, to know that he matters to House. That he's part of a line that House doesn't want crossed at work. House would probably rather amputate his right arm than admit it, but it's been long enough that Foreman can read right past the insults to the cynical doubt underneath.

It's such a bullshit cover, though. House might care, but if he's bringing it up then it's not the real problem. Strangely, that feels even better--the fact that House's concern isn't even worth hiding, that he'll offer it as a sop while holding back whatever's really pissing him off. Not the fact that Foreman kissed him--that was practically pre-emptive, given the way House was eying him in the last few weeks, brushing by him every chance he got, paging Foreman even when he didn't have a case. In empty exam rooms or out on his balcony, the air frigid and House warm in front of him, grinning because Foreman gave in and showed up. It wasn't giving in. Foreman was the one pressing House up against the rough chill of the bricks, holding him still with his hips, their breath steaming when Foreman pulls back, and House watches him, his eyes moving from Foreman's to his mouth. He's working so hard, then, to see right through Foreman, that he leaves himself as open as clear water, and Foreman can study him right back.

It's not that Foreman kissed House. It's why he kissed him, it's when. As if the euphoria was the only reason.

"Don't blame me for getting infected," Foreman says. "You're the one who sent me."

House climbs to his feet, using Foreman as a convenient prop when he's halfway up. "You're the one who got sick," he accuses.

Foreman shrugs House off as soon as he's steady on his feet. "So this is my fault?"

"Obviously." House gestures with his cane, waving Foreman out of his way. "Move."

Foreman steps back, but he doesn't move entirely out of House's path. He's so...incessantly annoying, so deliberately provocative, so perversely affectionate. It should drive Foreman up the wall--it has, on more than one occasion--but there are times when he just...isn't bothered. Instead he wants to laugh, and curl a hand around the back of House's neck to pull him in and show him that he doesn't fool Foreman for a minute. And that, more than anything, seems to drive House crazy. Foreman's not above seeing that as a benefit. He grins, and tilts his head, and says, "What do you want me to say? That you were right to send me to break into the cop's apartment?"

House stares at him impassively. Foreman shrugs. So he's feeling guilty. That's not really Foreman's problem, and he doesn't really care.

"I was right to send you looking for environmental causes," House says. "What kind of moron doesn't sample the water from every source?"

Foreman laughs out loud. "So not only is it my fault for going, it's also my fault for getting sick, and it's my fault for not curing myself."

"Yes," House snaps. "Glad you've caught up. Now get out of the way."

"What were you really trying to accomplish?" Foreman says, letting him go by. The fact that Foreman got pulled in on Joe's case was an accident of timing. Chase and Cameron are more responsible for it than House was. "You wanted me working in your department. This was about the Mercy conference."

"And Schaffer will love you now," House says. He turns around abruptly and comes back, trying to use his height to be intimidating, looming over Foreman. "Getting infected during one of your cases," he says, sneering. "It's such a promising beginning to a tenure-track position."

"It's a conference," Foreman says. "It's five days! I'm not moving to New York."

House scowls. "You were a lot less trouble when you were dying."

Why are you pushing this, in other words. Foreman stops and shifts his weight back on his heels. He's had two weeks to think about it, about why House would want him in his department to start with. Consults on his cases when the patient has an obvious neurological complication is one thing, but to ask for Foreman to be transferred, even temporarily--House had to have a reason for it. He sent Foreman to the cop's place when he probably would have been more use in monitoring Joe's condition. "You thought I'd learn something," he says.

"And people call me a pessimist," House says, as if he's personally injured by the world's lack of faith.

"Listen, House, I get it," Foreman says. "You were right. It doesn't matter that I got infected. It matters that we found what was causing it."

"No," House says, loud enough that it's nearly a shout, finally abandoning his fucking pretense. "That's not the point."

"Then what the hell is?" Foreman demands. "It's my fault, I get it. That's your problem?"

"You were an idiot!" House shoves him with his shoulder again, a bit rougher this time. "You could have died. You think that doesn't matter?"

"Does it?" Foreman says.

"Yes," House says defiantly. For once he doesn't look away; he glares at Foreman as if he's daring him to react, and then he steps closer, grabs the collar of Foreman's shirt, and pulls him into a kiss.

Foreman expects it to be as angry as House is, but House leans back against the wall, the closest thing to a sprawl he can manage while still standing. House closes his eyes and kisses him softly, a small movement of his lips, and hmms in his throat, a satisfied, encouraging sound.

It surprises Foreman, every time, how gentle House can be, how playful he is. It's nothing like arguing with him, rough and persistent and full of jabs and cuts, although he can demand that too. Not when they're kissing for the sake of kissing. When House uses him as his favourite kind of procrastination, when he needs something to think about other than his leg. Every movement counts, slows, matters.

He matters. House cares.

Foreman relaxes into the kiss, opening his mouth. It's such a fucking turn-on that House allows this, that he turns pliant and tentative under Foreman's touch. He won't forgive House--it's pointless, since House wouldn't listen in the first place. And Foreman likes it, more than he thought he would, to know that. It runs through him, like a warm current of laughter, that he has this...power...to make House stop and think, that he can ask for more than House is usually willing to give.

He's healthy, after all. He survived. That's got to be worth something. Foreman moves forward, pushing House back as he goes, pushing him against the wall next to the kitchen doorway. He sucks House's lower lip into his mouth and licks across it, the contrast between the sharp prickle of House's stubble and the slick heat of his mouth excites him, it always does. House's tongue sliding against his only deepens the sensation. Foreman breathes shortly, and moves back in, and House's hand rests lightly on his shoulder, now, his thumb brushing the juncture of his shoulder and neck. Foreman steps forward again, until he can feel House's chest against his, the solid warmth of muscle through their shirts. The kiss is an unhurried, lazy thing, and Foreman surges into it and enjoys it. God, it's been a while.

When he pulls back to breathe, House smirks at him, his usual sarcasm softened. "Sure you didn't mean to do that in the middle of the clinic?" he asks. "They've already started asking me for comp tickets to the encore."

Foreman laughs. House's thumb moves under his collar to touch his larynx as he talks, the edge of his nail pinching slightly. "You didn't shock anybody, House."

"How unobservant," House says. "Cameron's still looking at me like I've grown a second head. Speaking of which..."

Foreman raises an eyebrow. "Impatient?"

"Focused," House says. He lets his cane fall and reaches to cup Foreman's cock through his pants.

"You're going to have to wait," Foreman says. He catches House's wrist and pushes it back, knocking his knuckles against the wall a little harder than he meant. House's eyes widen for a second at the pain, but almost immediately he moves his hips forward. He's already hard, pushing his erection into Foreman's hip.

For an instant, Foreman can't breathe. He grips House's wrist and House thrusts forward again, like the fact that Foreman's pinning him down feels so good he can't control himself, like Foreman's holding his dick instead of his arm. This time when Foreman kisses him it's anything but gentle. House lets out a sound, into his mouth, high-pitched and half strangled.

Foreman's stronger, bigger, and he's always loved pushing House back, making him give ground. He's always known that House likes that, but he put it down to House wanting something to lean against so that he can drop the cane and grope him--the way he's doing now, running his free hand down Foreman's back, slipping under the waistband of his pants, his fingers kneading Foreman's ass. He squeezes, in rhythm, and Foreman finds himself pushing his hips forward in shallow circles, so that the material of his pants teases over his cock. He gasps at the sweet not-enough feel of it, the tingle spreading hot and insistent through his body. House is still trying to rub against his hip, and Foreman forces himself to slow down, move back, so that they're not touching. He clasps House's wrist again, hard. "You like that," he says, rough and low.

House moves his head, baring his neck. His chest is heaving. Foreman stretches up, bites him lightly on the tendon just below his ear. "Just like you like getting fucked," he whispers.

"I like you not wasting my time," House says, as if he's not the one with his middle finger sliding against Foreman's ass. Sweat smoothes his way, but not enough to act as lube, and soon it's going to be rough enough to be irritating.

Foreman moves to the left, pushing House's arm out of his pants and against the wall. He uses his weight to pin House more firmly, by both arms this time. House's eyes widen, and Foreman laughs breathlessly. "Differential," he says, mockingly, not expecting House to answer.

House rolls his head back against the wall. "Patients are always idiots," he says.

"And they always lie," Foreman says. "So we test them. Autonomic nervous responses." He lets go of House's arms and sees him frown quickly before Foreman shoves his t-shirt up his body, running his hands up House's chest as he goes.

House cooperates, getting the shirt the rest of the way off. Foreman smiles, and bends close to House's chest, brushing his lips over his pecs and listening for the hitch in his breathing when he licks over House's nipple. House shifts and breathes out roughly, almost a moan. His dick tents the front of his sweatpants and there's a wet spot on the front. Foreman mouths across his nipple again, brushing it with his goatee, then using suction, his tongue. House moans again, struggling against Foreman's grip on his arms. Foreman kisses him again, straining to keep him in one place and canting his hips back. The kiss is fast and desperate this time, and Foreman's so aroused that the constriction of his pants hurts, oh, but it's good, and yeah, he wants to fuck House through the mattress, he wants to make him give up even more.

He lets go of House abruptly, and steps back. House doesn't try to follow. His cane is at his feet, and he's holding most of his weight on his left side. They'd better get on with this, or his leg will get in the way. House slides one hand down his stomach, thumbing the trail of hair under his bellybutton, moving the elastic of his sweats aside.

"Don't," Foreman says. "Don't touch yourself."

House rolls his eyes, but he doesn't try to go farther. "Delaying orgasm is not, no matter what the novels with the pretty pink covers tell you, actually erotic. At all."

"Testing," Foreman tells him. He picks up House's cane and hands it to him. House snorts but heads for the bedroom, slower than usual but not because he's in pain. Foreman watches--and when the hell did House's hipshot limp become a sight he couldn't tear his eyes away from?--the way his back narrows down to the waistband of the sweats, already low on his hips; and the bunch and play of his muscles as he leans on the cane every second step, even the light brush of grey-brown hair on his shoulders and arms. Foreman unbuttons his shirt and strips it off. He waits at the doorway while House pauses in next to the bed and glances around.

"Lie down," Foreman says. "On your front."

House slants an assessing look at him, but he doesn't argue, just sits on the edge of the bed and then maneuvers himself onto his stomach, his arms propping up his head on the pillow. He starts to look over his shoulder and then stops himself.

Foreman loves the sight of him like that, the dip of his spine, the curve of his ass under the loose sweats, the way he can't help shifting his hips against the mattress, looking for friction. Foreman undoes his pants, toes off his shoes, and strips down. The lube and condoms are in the end table next to the bed. He gets them out, rips the foil open, and rolls the condom on, then pours the lube out and warms it between his palms. With a few quick strokes, he slicks his cock, every motion twice as strong and twice as good with the lube, until he's panting with the amazing feeling, that spreads from his cock to his balls and heats the pit of his stomach. He kneels on the bed, straddling House's hips, and pulls down the sweats.

House surges up beneath him as the material drags over his dick. "Fuck--"

"Pretty conclusive evidence," Foreman says, sliding his finger along House's ass.

"Pet theory," House manages. "Never a good idea."

"Following a hunch," Foreman says, and lies down on top of him--his cock hard and slippery against House's lower back--his weight pressing him into the bed. "I know what you want," he says, right behind House's ear. Fuck, he hopes he doesn't sound as strained to House as he does to himself. House pushes back into him, as much as he can, and Foreman runs one hand down House's arm--on the way to his ribs, his stomach, his dick--but he pauses at House's wrist, grabs him there, holds, and House's forearm tightens like he's going to pull away. Foreman nearly crushes his wristbones, forcing House's hand down to the bed, the sheets. House bucks up, lifts his head, his neck straining, rocking against Foreman as much as he can.

"You want me to hold you down," Foreman says, leaving licking, sucking kisses just under the line of House's hair, squeezing his hands so he can't move. "You want me to fuck you, you want that--"

"You're treating the symptoms, not the cause," House says, and he sounds halfway between pissed off and so turned on he can't form words. Foreman nudges his leg--the left--sharply to the side with his knee, and House lets out an "--oh fuck," before he clamps his mouth shut.

"Yeah," Foreman says, "and it's working." He lets go of House's arm long enough to guide himself in, pushing so slowly that he might collapse from the pleasure. He sinks in the rest of the way and stops, grabbing back his control. Fuck, House is hot and tight and it feels incredible, the sensation spreading from Foreman's cock to his balls, heat growing in the pit of his stomach, and everything's perfect, as long as he doesn't move too fast, too soon.

For a long moment, he stays still, listening to House's breathing slow, as he relaxes under Foreman's weight. He huffs out a breath and lifts his head again, nudging backwards. Foreman grins at his impatience, and pulls out slowly, feeling House's shudder when he drives back in. He drops his head forward and tastes the soap-and-sweat scent of House's neck. He doesn't want to move and it's all he wants. His body is overheated and strained with pleasure, he gulps back a harsh groan and can't stop panting.

"You're--limiting your thinking," House says, clenching his shoulders and propping himself up on his elbows. "You have an interpretation that fits the facts--you automatically think it's the right one--"

"You do the same thing," Foreman says, and then House twists his hips and tightens around him, and that's it, he can't hold back. They're both panting hard, House lifting up on one knee and Foreman moving in small, sharp thrusts until House groans the way he does when Foreman finds the right angle. He fucks him quick and half-canted, managing to get an arm around House's stomach to his dick--it's hard and hot, slippery with sweat and precome in his hand, and House stutter-stops when Foreman touches him, groans into the pillow when Foreman jerks him off.

He feels it when House comes, pulsing over his hand, and then the pleasure turns to light and blood roaring in his ears and he slams into House as his orgasm washes over him. He thrusts a few more times, aftershocks fluttering through his muscles, and then he rolls off, breathing hard.

He's a mess, and he should get up and wash his hands. He doesn't move for a minute longer, but then the drying semen starts to itch and he goes to the bathroom, washing off quickly. He brings a washcloth back. House has already started creeping over to Foreman's side of the bed. Foreman shoves him back into the wet spot before lying down. House mops himself up half-heartedly and drops the cloth on the floor. At least it's on his side, where Foreman won't step on it in the morning.

He's still too hot to pull the covers up, and House is lying close enough that Foreman can feel his body heat. He grins and chuckles in his throat. Fuck, that was good.

"Stop gloating," House says. He sounds annoyed, although it's hard to tell, because he's nearly muffled by the pillow. "That doesn't mean that you're not wrong. You're always going to be wrong. Get that into your head and you might just be right some day."

Foreman grunts. House wants him to think there's a bigger underlying cause than the fact that he gets off on being held down. His mind drifts, edging into sleep, playing over what House has said, what he's done. He was worried, Chase told him, when you were sick. Didn't come to see him for two weeks...tried to brush him off when he showed up...but then...gave in, gave it up, wanted Foreman just as badly...

Foreman tenses when he gets it, when the last puzzle piece falls into place. House's bedroom is dim when he opens his eyes. Neither of them bothered with the lights and now there's only a reflection from the street coming in around the blinds. He realizes: he has a side of the bed. And House is watching him, eyes shadow-blue in the darkness, his arms crossed under his head, and he's watching Foreman, the way he always does, afterwards. Sharp and soft and lazy, all at once.

He sees it when Foreman freezes, and he frowns and turns away. "You scared the shit out of me," he says quietly, half accusation and half admission.

Foreman says, to the ceiling, "Patients lie."

"Usually," House agrees. "But they're always idiots," and he circles Foreman's wrist with his fingers before he falls asleep.


Epilogue

"...her blood pressure's crashing, and we haven't been able to explain the catatonic seizures..."

House twists the Rubix Cube another turn clockwise, hopelessly fouling the work of whoever managed to complete the orange side. In the last week he's managed to use up all his usual diversions, and he was forced to go trawling through the hospital's various waiting rooms for People magazines less than two years old and toys he hadn't stolen yet. "Boring," he says.

Cameron tries to wither him with an exasperated look from where she's standing at the white board. Chase pours a mug of coffee and hands it to her, and she thanks him with a smile.

House tosses the Rubix Cube on the table and narrows his eyes at them. Their fingers brush as Chase passes her the coffee, and instead of pulling back, they both linger over the touch. Cameron's eyes are brighter than usual, her smile more secretive, as if she's holding back laughter. Chase puffs up like a peacock and grins just a little too widely. Also, who in his right mind gives someone else the first cup of coffee?

"She has a history of alcoholism--" Cameron continues.

"Boring," House repeats. He stands up, unhooks his cane from the chair back, and joins her at the whiteboard, holding out his hand pointedly for the marker and shouldering her aside. She joins Chase at the table and takes the seat right next to him, when she'd have a better view from the head of the table. House twirls the marker through his fingers, studying the symptoms. "Excess calcium causes vasoconstriction."

He turns on them quickly, and just as he suspected, they're looking deeply into each other's eyes, like a couple of lovesick teenagers who have finally learned what all the fun parts are for. "You slept together," he accuses with a sly sense of appreciation, pointing the marker at them.

Chase wrenches his eyes away from Cameron and blinks at him like a particularly slow child.

"Yes," Cameron says blithely, as if they really all are mature, consenting adults here. "You thought you were the only one with a romantic bone in your body?"

"Sounds like Chase was the one with the romantic bone in your body," House says, and delights in Cameron's combination cringe and eye-roll. Finally, things are getting fun again. "Do a digital subtraction angiogram."

"We'll test for Whipple's and polyarteritis nodosa," Chase says. "And don't think Foreman won't give us details if we need them."

"Curious, Chase?" House says. "The voyeurism suits you."

"He means," Cameron says, "that if you start harassing us, then we'll assume we're free to reciprocate."

"I'm not harassing you," House says, smirking at Chase in what he hopes is his most wolfish fashion. "I'm harassing Chase."

Chase's eyes widen even more, and he flicks a glance as if he's hoping Cameron will save him.

Cameron raises an eyebrow. "That's hot," she says.

House blinks. Satisfied, Cameron grabs the patient chart and walks out. Chase blushes and sweeps his eyes over House thoughtfully, and then he follows her out the door.

House watches them go and grins to himself.

They grow up so fast.


The opening credits of General Hospital are rolling when Cuddy sweeps into his office like an avenging she-devil. House tilts his head and evaluates today's outfit, deciding that it probably makes up for the fact that she snaps off his television and glares at him. It's a narrow margin, but really, who is he to turn down the breasts of Lisa Cuddy when they're right there in front of him?

"You need a third fellow," she says.

"Interesting opening gambit," House says. "No."

"This isn't a game of chess. I'm transferring Foreman to your department."

House scowls. Foreman's annoying when he's wrong and even worse when he's right. He's been out of town for a week and there aren't enough televised wrestling shows on all of pay-per-view to make up for that. House wants him to hurry up and get back, but he doesn't want him around all the time, getting underfoot, being...tolerable. "He doesn't want to work here."

"It's sweet that you're thinking of Foreman's sanity," Cuddy says. "Maybe you can deal with that when he is a diagnostics fellow."

"It'll be way more ethically compromising for the hospital if you stick him in my department," House says. "Employer, employee. Boss, bossy. Hot student seduces innocent teacher..."

"You seduced him!"

"Where do you get your scurrilous gossip?" House asks. "Whoever it is, I want in."

"It was Wilson."

"Damn," House says, grinning, because trust Cuddy to go to the source. He hopes she enjoyed the story; he briefly imagines her enjoying the story, and that's better yet. "I've got to start hanging out with him more."

"No," Cuddy says, "you don't. You already cost the oncology department more man hours than really seems mathematically possible, given that there are only twenty-four in a day."

"Yeah, but Wilson always works thirty-six. You should tell him he looks tired. He won't listen to me."

"I bet." Cuddy waves a file at him. "Go forth. Do your clinic hours. And if I hear one patient complaint, you will be staying late."

"Your petty threats mean nothing to me."

Cuddy smiles. "Foreman's getting back from New York today."

"Oh, is he?" House says carelessly. It's not like the beer in his fridge is the good kind, or like he paid Wilson's cleaning lady to sweep anything growing into its own civilization out of his apartment. He tricked her, fair and square, and she'll get her money if she applies to Wilson for compensation.

Cuddy looks at him pointedly. House pouts. He could fight her and sneak out early, but even the fresh hell of clinic hours has got to be less boring than beating Tetris again. Foreman was the one who booked the afternoon flight because it was cheap. Fuck him, anyway.

That would be the plan, actually, except for all this interminable waiting.

"Fine," House mutters. "Tyrant."

Cuddy's smiles seem to get even more evil by the day. House spends the afternoon in the clinic, dispensing aspirin on autopilot and graphing the deadly asymptote of Cuddy's looks-to-power ratio on the back of a chart.


He's packing his backpack, throwing in his iPod and headphones, adding the latest JDMS and the April 2004 issue of People, when Wilson opens his office door and leans against the frame. He's wearing his coat and gloves and carrying his briefcase. "Scurvy, monosodium glutamate adverse reaction, or heart attack?" he asks.

House zips up his backpack and hitches it over his shoulder. "Did the peds nurse dump you already?"

"Her name is Wendy," Wilson says. "And no, she didn't dump me."

They fall into step, heading for the elevator, like every evening. If Foreman's flight got in on time, he would have had time to go by his place before coming to House's apartment. He's probably moving things around and touching everything else; House really can't afford to leave him unsupervised. "Better go home to your girlfriend," he says. "Wouldn't want her to think that you're 'working late'."

"She knows I work late."

"She's a nurse. I'm sure she hears the gossip. Just trying to help you save up the excuses for when you really need them."

"House, it's not like that."

"You're living with her," House says. "You're helping her to get her surgery hours for her nurse practitioner's license. You're probably calling all your contacts, trying to get her into a program."

"Ah, I thought I'd set my voicemail to 'You might think you're leaving a message for Dr. James Wilson, but Dr. Greg House will probably be listening in.'"

"Come off it," House says. Wilson's lies are the big ones, the kind he might build a whole life on if House doesn't save him. "You don't love her, you want to make her all better."

Wilson sighs as they head out the clinic doors and pause on the sidewalk out front. "This isn't what I meant to happen."

House snorts. It never is. "You think you can fix anyone by making a pass at them," he says.

Wilson is silent for long enough that House dares to look over at him. He's staring up at the sky, which is washed out by the lights around the clinic entry so that there's nothing to see. "That implies I thought I could fix you," he says finally.

"That implies I need fixing," House says.

Wilson shifts uncomfortably. "Maybe that's why it wouldn't work," he says softly.

House shrugs and looks away. Maybe it wouldn't work. Maybe it would. That's not really the fucking point, since Wilson's the one who dragged his sorry ass in the first place. They've reached House's motorcycle, in the handicapped parking spot out front. He wants to get away from this conversation, but not badly enough to leave Wilson floundering. Maybe he does owe him that much, at least.

Wilson looks past the bike, as if he might keep walking to his own car, but he stops, and frowns lightly. "House, I'm sorry," he says. "I shouldn't have..."

"Yeah," House interrupts. "So go home to Wendy. Tell her you love her. Make it all better."

"Of course," Wilson says dryly, bitterness tinging his voice. "That will fix everything."

"Except you."

"Yes, thank you, House."

"What are friends for?" House asks, staring up as if he can see the stars. Let that be enough. He tilts his head to the side so that he can see Wilson out of the corner of his eyes.

Wilson glances over at him, his lips curving into a hesitant, uncertain smile. "Good night, House."

"Good night, Wilson."

House pulls on his helmet, starts the bike, and revs the engine. The cold snap's over and the streets aren't icy. He'll take the long road, curving through the city for no better reason than he can, and by the time the streetlights come on and the air is fresh with nightfall, he'll be arriving home.

end