It was a soft, cool April afternoon when Wilson strolled onto the dock adjacent to the Princeton University Boathouse.
He paused to admire the boathouse's pale facade, its elegant pointed arches and low-pitched eaves before turning to gaze at the dark, serene waters of Lake Carnegie.
He felt good, fresh from a pleasant lunch with Cuddy. He was dressed in his favorite shirt and his favorite blue checked tie--the one that always won him compliments from the nurses--and his new Italian leather blouson jacket, a birthday present from his department.
None of his patients were currently dying. All of his bills had been paid. He'd picked up his dry cleaning and remembered to buy a bottle of Chateau Martinat for the other Dr. Wilson's engagement party. And his last therapy session had been held over banana-nut muffins while steering clear of any discussions of his relationship with his mother.
All in all, it had been a good day. And as Wilson inhaled the fresh afternoon air, he thought nothing could make it better. Which was exactly why he made a point of not looking to his immediate right, where a small craft was moored to the dock, sloshing in the gentle current, occupied by the one person in the world who could ruin anyone's day.
"You made it," said House cheerfully. "And on very few bread crumbs. I'm impressed."
Wilson felt his pleasant mood turn swiftly to dust.
"You know, they have these devices now," he said. "Called telephones. It's the latest thing."
House wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Bread crumbs are more fun."
"They were goldfish crackers, House. And they didn't need to be all over my desk. One or two would have gotten the point across."
"I'm surprised you didn't assume I was in Honduras," said House.
He was winding rope, creating several cobra-like coils of the stuff on the dock. Wilson frowned at the incongruity of House plus manual labor.
"Somehow, I don't think Lluvia de Peces includes wheat and cheddar cheese," said Wilson, gesturing with his fists jammed in his jacket pockets as if flapping them hard enough might carry him away.
"It does if you draw the Venn diagrams really big," said House.
"It took me over an hour to clean them up," said Wilson. "Where do you even buy that many crackers?"
As he continued to watch House unwind rope, it donned on Wilson just how bizarre it was to see him standing in a boat in the first place.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" he asked.
"What does it look like I'm doing?"
Wilson glanced around. "Well, it looks like you're about to go out on the lake, but that would be irresponsible for a crippled drug addict."
House nodded. "That would be."
"Also, you don't own a boat."
"You don't own a Millennium Falcon."
"So where did you get this one?" asked Wilson.
"Must have been that Nestle Crunch Bar I ate," said House. "Whole thing just came up out of the water. Weirdest thing ever."
Wilson narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Did you steal this from the boathouse?"
"Nope. I borrowed it from the maintenance shed."
"Are the maintenance people aware of this?," asked Wilson.
House hesitated. "Would you believe me if I said yes?"
Wilson sighed. "Great."
He began to take stock of some of the items in the boat. A large landing net was among them, along with a roll of duct tape, a brushed metal Thermos, and battery cables. And two fishing poles that looked decidedly familiar.
"Are those my fishing poles, House?"
"Yep." House picked up the poles and tucked them snugly into the vertical holders on the inside of the boat.
"Please tell me you're not fishing."
"Actually, we are."
Wilson chuckled in disbelief. "Uh, no. We're not."
"Why else would I decorate your office in cheddar-flavored smiles?"
"House, there's no way I'm getting in a boat with you. Especially not a stolen boat on a private race course."
"Relax," said House. "Nobody's around. It's trophy season. The heavyweights are at Cornell, and the lightweights are at Harvard. Besides, this isn't a boat. It's a Lund. Huge difference."
"I'm sure." Wilson cocked his head skeptically, then gestured down at the water. "We can't go, anyway. Neither of us has a fishing license."
"You don't need a fishing license to take a boat out on the water."
"You just said we were fishing!"
"Doesn't mean we need a license."
"Yes, because New Jersey Fish and Wildlife is so big on poaching."
"Don't be an idiot. The Millstone's so polluted with mercury you'd have to be in evolutionary denial to let your kids even near it let alone eat the three-headed rainbow trout that swim out of Stony Brook."
Wilson blinked. "Then why--?"
"We're after something else," said House.
He tossed the last coil of rope into the bottom of the boat with a thrumming, metallic slap, then stepped over the bench to sit near the motor.
Wilson gazed skyward as if God might offer some assistance. "House, I don't want to get in that boat with you, but since I know you like I know you, I feel compelled as a citizen of Planet Earth to save you from yourself."
"You're nothing if not predictable." House turned on the motor and gave the tiller a few experimental twists. He leaned forward and patted the bench in front of him invitingly. "Come on, it'll be fun. All Jews like fishing."
Three hours later, Wilson exhaled a sigh that echoed across the quiet lake. "Wow. You were right, House. This is a riot."
The stolen boat was sitting in the middle of the widest part of the aneurysm-shaped bulge in the river. The water itself was glassy and calm. The sky was clear and cool, and the sun was setting behind the trees and lighting up Cleveland Tower in the distance. Nearer, the Washington Road Bridge spanned the lake, its course stone arches reflecting on the water and forming dark ellipses. Wilson and House had watched plenty of crew races from that bridge over the years, and now, Wilson was keeping a careful eye on the cars that grumbled by, expecting the next one to be the telltale green Jeep of a New Jersey Fish and Wildlife officer.
So far, they hadn't caught a single thing.
Or seen a single fish. Or a crocodile. Or a supermodel. Or whatever it was they were supposed to be looking for.
They also hadn't moved from their current position for over an hour thanks to House's coffee can anchor--or, rather, the anchor that came with the boat that House had stolen. House himself had spent most of that time staring cryptically down at the water.
Wilson had given up asking him what they were supposed to be looking for. Every time he did, House would say either "Amelia Earhart" or "Your Mom" or some lesbian coupling of the two. Now, he was doing his best to simply maintain a cool head despite being trapped aboard a stolen boat while at the same time trying not to imagine too many violent scenarios involving flashing blue lights and helicopter air rescue.
At least they weren't canoeing in Georgia, he thought.
When the shadows of the trees began to stretch across the water, Wilson checked his watch.
"Sun's going down. We should probably think about heading back in."
He watched House for a reaction.
"This is the best time," said House.
Wilson glanced around, incredulous. "For what?"
"I'll know when we catch it. Which we will just as soon as you decide to shut up."
Wilson pressed his lips together sorely but refused to be put down. "House, if fishing without a license is illegal, then fishing without a license at night is even more illegal."
"I only stole your fishing poles to make it look good."
"So you're going to sit there and stare at the water until--what? Someone hands you Excalibur?"
"Would you stop with the kvetchitude?" House glanced over his shoulder into the bottom of the boat. "Hand me that net."
"Why? You see something?" Wilson leaned forward, curious.
House made an insistent gimme gesture with his hand, so Wilson passed him the net. Then he slid carefully to the side of the boat and joined House in peering down at the water.
"House, you do realize your net's not big enough for a mermaid."
"Ssshh." House lowered the net to the water and let it brush the surface.
Wilson rested his chin on his forearm, resigning himself to watching the cool, dark water and House's hypnotic drawing of the fishing net in silence. Despite House's tense body language, however, there didn't seem to be anything especially interesting over the side of the boat. No fish. No lake monsters. No Honey Ryder.
After a moment, Wilson gave up and refocused his gaze on his and House's reflections.
Not bad, he thought, combing his fingers through his hair as ripples from House's fishing net momentarily garbled the view. Any mermaid would be lucky to have them...
Wilson nearly jumped out of his skin at House's shout.
"Did you see that?" House had pulled the net back in the boat and was pointing at the water.
Wilson looked to where House was pointing, expecting to see a humpback whale or a coelacanth at the very least. But there was nothing there.
"I don't see--"
"It's going underneath!"
House dropped the net, whacking Wilson in the arm with it in the process, and launched himself to the opposite side of the boat, presumably to keep up with whatever he'd seen but moving far too quickly for a cripple and prompting a white-knuckle grip from Wilson.
"House, I didn't see anything," said Wilson. He dumped the net over the bench and out of his way.
But House wasn't listening. He reached for one of the fishing poles.
"You said we weren't going to use the poles," said Wilson.
"I said 'we' not 'me.'"
"House, if someone on the shore sees us--"
"They'll what? Call the nearest trust fund baby?"
House snapped open the small Thermos he'd brought along and pulled out what looked like a piece of raw hamburger. Wilson watched in mild horror as he strung it on his fishhook.
"Jesus. We're not chumming for Great Whites."
House loosed the bait into the water with a flick of his wrist, then flicked his fingers at Wilson and sent droplets of lake water onto his jacket.
"This is a Salvatore Ferragamo!" yelled Wilson, furiously brushing droplets of water from the leather. "I swear, House, this had better be the record catfish or something."
"Gosh, I hope not. You'll have to carry it."
They both stared down at House's line in the water, waiting for movement. Nothing seemed to be happening, however.
Wilson was about to take off his jacket to avoid further disaster when suddenly, the fishing line dangling in the water was jerked from the reel. The pole curved sharply in half, and House yelped in surprise and scrambled to get a tighter grip.
Wilson lunged forward to help, careless of his jacket, colliding bodily with House and holding onto him to keep him from toppling out of the boat.
House gasped and leaned back on the pole.
"Nggh. He's strong as hell."
"What is it?"
"I don't know." House jerked his hand away to keep the whipping, buzzing line from slicing bare skin. Wilson shifted his grip until he was holding the lower end of the pole while House worked the reel.
The mystery force on the other end took off again, tugging them both forward. Wilson planted his foot against the side of the boat as the entire craft rocked in the water.
"This is crazy," gasped Wilson, palms sweating where he gripped the pole.
"Next time he comes back, I'm going to try and reel him in," gritted House. "You ready?"
"You want me to get the net?"
"No, just--" House strained suddenly, and Wilson had to snatch his hand away to keep the line from cutting into his thumb. "Just hang onto me so I don't die."
Wilson burst out laughing at that, which sent House slipping forward.
Suddenly, the line went slack. House nudged Wilson off his back and immediately began reeling.
"Now, you can get the net," House nodded, brushing away a bead of sweat at his temple.
Wilson reached over the bench for the net, but he stopped when he saw a pair of gloves lying by the motor. He ignored the net and grabbed the gloves instead.
"What are you doing? I said get the net--"
"Net's not going to work," said Wilson. He quickly peeled out of his jacket and tossed it toward the front of the boat and out of harm's way. Then he loosened his tie and ripped it over his head and tossed it aside. "I don't wanna lose my pole to your stupidity."
Wilson pulled on the gloves and slid to the side of the boat, nudging House's legs out of the way. He rolled up his sleeves and reached over the side to grab the straining line.
House guessed what Wilson was planning and moved the pole to help him.
"Should be right underneath you," he said.
Wilson saw a flicker of what looked like a tail in the water. He grasped the pale blue line with his gloved hand.
"This is probably a catfish," he muttered, giving the line a slow, experimental tug.
The next thing he knew, he had a mouthful of lake water as a huge, wet something leapt into the boat and knocked him on his back. It sprayed glittering drops in the air and landed with a loud slap.
Wilson blinked up at the purple sky, momentarily stunned. He glanced over and saw House lying in much the same position. The fishing pole lay between them, its broken line curled into a delicate tangle.
Wilson looked down at their catch.
It was a salmon. Huge--almost a meter in length. The fishhook and a tiny bit of hamburger was still embedded in its lip.
Wilson sat up and grabbed the salmon by its lip. It was too heavy to lift so he propped its weight against his knee. He untangled his foot from the swirl of broken fishing line lying in the bottom of the boat, then retrieved the pliers from House's stash of tools under the middle bench.
House had regained his senses and was staring at him.
Wilson chuckled at House's wide-eyed look of dismay as he worked the pliers into the fishhook in an attempt to free it. "Are you okay?"
"Learn that trick from Jimmy Houston?"
"All Jews like fishing. You said so yourself." Wilson switched hands so he could use his left to work the pliers. "Looks like a chinook salmon. How do you think he got down here?"
The salmon jerked suddenly, and the remaining line snapped. The hook came loose and fell to the bottom of the boat with a plink.
Wilson set aside the pliers and wiped his sweaty brow with the clean back of his gloved hand. He held the salmon up for a better look, admiring its silver body, blushed sides, and black-stained mouth.
"Well, that was definitely exciting. It's not every day you catch a rare Alaskan salmon."
"You mean I caught him."
"With your fishing skills, House, I'm amazed we didn't pull in an oak tree."
Wilson scooted to the side of the boat to ease the salmon back into the water.
"Let's keep it," said House.
Wilson looked up, startled. "What? No."
"Because he's just been through hell."
"You won, okay, House? You proved your point. There are creatures living in Lake Carnegie."
"One salmon doesn't prove anything."
"How about let's quit while we're ahead, then?"
"But salmon taste good."
"I'm putting him back."
"Would you quit with the pronouns? Maybe him's a her."
"Look, this was one of the more idiotic ideas you've had in a while, but I'm willing to let it go because you actually did catch something."
"Put it in the bottom of the boat," said House. He clambered over the seat to turn on the motor. "You can cook us dinner."
"I'm not cooking anything. I'm putting him back."
"It's not up to you. I caught it. My boat. My charter."
"Not your boat. Stolen boat. Stolen God-knows-what-else."
"Come on, Wilson. It's gotta be the most delicious fish in three states."
"Even if he is, that doesn't mean I want to be the one to cook him and eat him."
House sighed. "You disappoint me."
"Well, that's a devastating blow to my self esteem. How will I ever recover?"
"No one will know we took him," said House. "He's not even supposed to be here."
"Neither are we. What's your point?"
"If we take him, no one's going to miss him."
Wilson narrowed his eyes. "Wait a second. How did you know he was in the lake in the first place?"
"But you knew something was in the water, or we wouldn't be out here."
"Maybe I dreamed it," said House. At Wilson's stare, he shrugged helplessly. "What do you want me to say? That it was a feeling I had? I didn't think we'd actually find anything."
"But you're not surprised we did, are you?"
"No," said House.
Wilson looked down at the salmon with renewed curiosity. Whether by cryptoamnesia or accidental observation or sheer, stupid luck, House had managed to lure a nonindigenous fish onto his hook. He'd even stolen a boat to do it.
"Okay," Wilson agreed. "But if we're doing this, we're doing this the right way."
He lay the fish in the bottom of the boat and picked up the pliers. Then he pressed his shoe against the salmon to keep it still. He angled the sharp tip of the pliers at a spot just behind the salmon's beady eye. With a determined thrust, he drove the pliers into the fish's brain.
The salmon flopped once in reflex, then lay lifeless.
Wilson heard the boat motor grumble to life and looked up.
House had a hand on the tiller was watching the mercy killing in rapt fascination.
"You enjoy that?" asked Wilson. He shifted out of the way so the blood from the salmon wouldn't get on his shoes.
"Tomorrow we can rescue a kitten from the pound if it makes you feel better," said House.
They used the photo House had snapped with his cellphone camera to make sure the boat, the rope, the motor, and all the tools and equipment went back exactly as he'd stolen it from the boat bay.
"See? I plan ahead."
"This isn't planning ahead," said Wilson, who stood back with his hands on his hips, resolutely refusing to help as House flipped the boat over and struggled to prop it against the concrete wall. "This is covering your ass."
"Relax. The maintenance guys only use this boat to string the buoys. They did that weeks ago."
"Oh, so they won't mind if other people take it out the rest of the time? That's reassuring." Wilson glanced over his shoulder toward the open bay.
"Stop looking over your shoulder for the cops."
"How did you break in here, anyway?"
"Captain of the lightweight team gave me a key for the gate," said House. He slung the coils of rope over a hook beside the oar rack where the long, sleek black oars stretched toward the ceiling.
"And... how do you know the captain of the lightweight team? I'm assuming this is the female lightweight team we're talking about."
"Girls Gone Wild. Endless Spring Break. Volume Three." House smiled. "I recognized her by her... well-toned personality."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "Is that what they're calling it these days?"
Wilson made sure House scrubbed every bit of lake crud and fish blood from the bottom of the boat. He also made sure House repaired the broken fishing line, which took a lot longer than either of them expected, but Wilson decided it was worth it in the end for the number of swear words House's lurid teenage mouth managed to produce.
When they finally finished, it was too dark for them to find their way safely back to Wilson's car. They stumbled over ruts and tree roots. House fell twice in the mud. Finally, they emerged on the back street, sniffling in the cold, itching with river muck and lugging a huge dead salmon wrapped in plastic bags between them.
"So much for my coat," sighed Wilson. "Cleaning bill's going to be huge."
"Wasn't that pretty anyway," said House.
"We're taking your car," said Wilson.
When they made it back to House's apartment, Wilson kicked off his muddy shoes and claimed the shower for himself. He used up as much hot water as possible, then emerged stomping barefoot with a towel around his waist, not caring if he dripped all over House's wood floors.
"I'm borrowing some clothes," he announced, trekking into the bedroom.
"Fine," said House, who'd slumped onto the sofa despite being covered in muck.
House showered afterward while Wilson attempted to clean his jacket before the muddy water from the fishing trip could set in. He also gave House's sofa a quick wipe-down; who knew if he'd ever have to sleep on the thing again?
When he was finished, he went into the kitchen and assessed their catch.
The salmon lay on the butcher's block where House had left it. Wilson peeled away the dirty plastic bags, pitched them in the trash, then searched House's kitchen for a fillet knife and paper towels. He slid House's garbage bin strategically in front of the block to catch the salmon entrails.
House emerged from his bath ten minutes later smelling like body wash and shivering as he arrived in the kitchen, dragging an extra shirt over his head and running his fingers through his hair until it stuck out in all directions. He found Wilson in the middle of gutting and cleaning the fish as if he were performing an autopsy. Wilson's fingers were slathered in blood and flecks of silvery scale.
"I should be terrified by how well you handle that knife," said House.
"And yet you're fascinated."
"And yet I'm fascinated." House went to the refrigerator and retrieved two beers.
"Because I actually know what I'm doing," said Wilson
"No need to get all son-of-Zebedee on me."
House yanked open a drawer and located a bottle opener. He popped the caps on both bottles, tossed the bent caps in the sink, then nudged the drawer shut with his hip as he picked up one of the bottles and took a long swallow.
"How did you know there was something in the lake?" asked Wilson.
"I'm actually a Psi Cop," said House. "The Core is Mother. The Core is Father."
"You know I don't believe it was just a dream."
"That's your problem," said House. "You believe too much."
"How is it 'believing too much' when I just said I didn't believe you?"
"You over-believe. It's called being suspicious."
Wilson snorted a laugh and was about to say something when his knife blade struck hard metal. He gasped.
"Okay?" House leaned closer.
"Yeah." Wilson pulled his hand back to see what he'd hit. "You gotta be kidding me," he muttered under his breath when he saw what it was: a silver ring.
House looked over Wilson's shoulder. "Wow. You are a good cook."
Wilson picked up the silver ring with bloodstained fingers and stared at it in amazement.
"It's like the Poetic Edda," said House.
"Song of the Nibelungs," said Wilson.
"No, I mean, you're thinking of the Song of the Nibelungs. That's the one with the ring, not the Eddas."
"Frodo's the one with the ring," said House. "And I'm thinking of a very smart fish."
"And you'd be wrong, because it was actually the Irish who came up with the story about the salmon. And neither of those has to do with a fish swallowing a ring."
House rolled his eyes. "Just cook the damn fish," he said.
Wilson grilled the fillets to a sizzling gold-pink, re-familiarizing himself with House's kitchen in the process--"How can a person have five spatulas and no tongs?"
There was plenty of leftover fish, so he wrapped up the remaining planks and stuffed them in House's freezer next to the banana popsicles.
They ate in the living room over reruns of Xena and both agreed it was a delicious salmon.
"I'll say this once--" Wilson raised his fork.
"Oh, here we go."
"You have a fantastic sense of timing."
"Seriously, do you mind? I'm in like bonertopia here with the babes and the swords."
"You should have been a fisherman, House."
House took a swig of beer between bites of salmon. "Noted."
"I personally wouldn't have stolen the boat in the first place, but--"
"But you're a coward. And borrowed, not stolen."
"--But you impressed me today. And I'll admit it, I had fun."
House looked over at him. "Finished, McMurphy?"
Wilson waved his fork in the air magnanimously. "Just thought it needed to be said."
After dinner, Wilson washed dishes while House leaned in the doorway and theorized about where the silver ring could have come from. Wilson was relieved when he finally stopped calling it "Precious."
"Sharks swallow strange crap all the time," said House. He flipped the ring in the air and caught it like a coin. "If we'd pulled in a bull shark instead of a chinook, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"Yeah, but salmon don't eat license plates. They eat other fish."
"Probably some local poacher planning to stock his own private pond," said House.
"There have been plenty of stories about people losing their rings while fishing," said Wilson. "Probably one in every local newspaper in the country at some point. This could be one of those."
"It's a huge coincidence that we actually caught it, but whatever."
"You mean it's not as interesting as involving Gandalf." Wilson finished washing and dried his hands. House flipped the ring into the air again, and Wilson reached out and caught it. "You dry," he said, handing House the towel.
House took the towel and moved to the sink. Wilson watched him, amused. House's brain was clearly on autopilot; Wilson could probably have asked him to paint the walls, and he wouldn't have put up a fight, so long as he had that puzzle.
"Think it's real silver?" wondered Wilson, turning the ring over in his fingers.
House stopped drying long enough to sling the dish towel over his shoulder and step over to the refrigerator.
Wilson raised an eyebrow, watching him. "Are you... still hungry?"
House pulled a squeeze bottle of yellow mustard from the door and handed it to Wilson. "Lighter's in the drawer under the toaster," he said.
"Sulfur test," nodded Wilson. "Okay, then."
Wilson found the Bic lighter easily enough, then dabbed a smidgen of mustard on the silver ring while House went back to drying dishes.
"You know, this might actually be worth some money," Wilson babbbled as he fought with the lighter under his thumb. "If it's real silver."
"Only way we'll find out is if you shut up and perform the test," said House as he put away a plate.
Wilson finally got the lighter lit and held the silver ring over the flame. The mustard reacted with the silver in the ring and turned it black.
"And we have a winner," said House. He grabbed the mustard and tossed it back in the refrigerator, then dug deep in the back and pulled out an ancient-looking bottle of apple cider vinegar. "Now you can clean it off."
Wilson flashed him an annoyed look as he took the bottle and went to the sink. He grudgingly set to cleaning off the black stain he'd made on the ring.
"Did you notice if it was in Mr. Limpet's stomach?" asked House.
Wilson sniffed as the pungent vinegar irritated his sinuses. "I didn't puncture any of the organs, if that's what you mean. Why?"
"What if he didn't swallow the ring?" asked House.
"What other possibility is there?"
"Someone could have put it there."
"Like... an implant?" Wilson gave House a confused look over his shoulder.
"Most fish heal pretty quickly. He'd have to have been young, though, otherwise he'd die of infection."
"It's a pretty big ring, House. A little too big for alien conspiracies."
"Some eccentric wacko looking for a good place to hide his treasure, maybe."
"Yeah, and maybe there are other fish with other hunks of metal in them swimming around the state of New Jersey." Wilson rinsed off his hands and twisted the cap back onto the bottle of vinegar. "The salmon didn't have to be in the lake. And the silver ring didn't have to be inside the salmon. And we didn't have to go fishing."
"Isn't entropy nifty?" House grinned.
Wilson dried his hands. Then, out of curiosity, he began trying to fit the ring over his damp fingers.
"No chance," said House. "You've got Swedish Chef hands. Let me try."
House took the ring from Wilson and slid it onto the middle finger of his left hand. It stuck at his knuckle for a moment, then slipped past for a snug fit.
"And now it's stuck there," said Wilson.
"It's not stuck." House tried to tug the ring back off, but sure enough, it wouldn't budge.
"Good job," said Wilson.
House went to the sink and ran cold water over his finger. When that didn't work, he tried Chapstick. Then he tried Vaseline. Then he tried the graphite lubricant normally reserved for his guitar.
"I think it likes me," said House.
"Let me try," said Wilson.
Wilson used everything he could think of: scotch tape, soap, cooking oil, and finally dental floss.
"You know way too many tricks for getting rid of rings," said House, wincing as Wilson unwound the pinching dental floss after it had proven ineffective. "No wonder you were divorced three times."
"I think you're stuck with it," said Wilson, flicking the dental floss into the trash. "Congratulations."
Wilson left House's place around midnight. He gathered up his dirty lake clothes and left House's dirty clothes behind in a smelly heap by the bathroom door. Then he called himself a cab.
"It's been annoying," he said with a wave.
"See you Monday," House waved from the sofa.
After Wilson was gone, House lingered awake for another hour. He flipped numbly between TV Land and HBO while nursing a third beer.
Finally, he swallowed two Vicodin and decided to call it quits.
As he switched off his bedside lamp, he took one last look at the silver ring on his finger and smiled, feeling the tiniest spark of childhood joy. It was like being Bilbo Baggins but without all the spiders and burglary, he thought, as he reached up and turned off the lamp.
A few hours later, House was roused from sleep by sharp pains in his stomach. He stumbled into the bathroom and dropped to his knees in front of the toilet just in time to eject the entire salmon meal--and then some--into the bowl.
Between spells of retching and diarrhea that lasted for the next two hours, House succumbed to sprawling on the bathroom floor, shivering and sweating and groaning in pain. He closed his eyes as the room spun and quickly diagnosed scombroid food poisoning.
"Fucking great," he mumbled.
He clawed his way back into the bedroom, located his discarded blue jeans, and pulled his cellphone from the pocket.
He returned to the bathroom as another wave of nausea rolled through him and eventually found himself slouched on the floor, resting his forehead against the cool vitreous china of the toilet bowl, cellphone held weakly to his ear as he let it ring and ring and ring.
"It's three in the morning, House," answered a sleepy-sounding Wilson. "You'd better be sick or dead."
"You were asleep," said House. "That means you aren't sick."
"What time is it?"
"I'm fine, thanks for asking."
"Oh. What's wrong?"
"If you're not sick, you're about to be."
"From the fish?"
"Guess they don't stock salmon for a reason," said House.
"Great." Wilson sighed. "Gastro?"
"Are you sure? Because I'm not sick."
"You need me to come over?"
"You'll never get here in time," said House. "And I'll ignore any desperate phone calls you try to make when your only-slightly-healthier histidine system decides to crash and burn."
"You know, it may sound to you like I'm compelled only by abject terror, but that still counts as legitimate concern."
House tapped his finger against the toilet bowl, letting his new silver ring clink.
"Can you get yourself some water?" asked Wilson.
"Implying I was capable of moving."
"And you're not, I take it."
"I can't really see very well. Because of the histamine. From the food poisoning. From the fish."
Another wave of burning nausea rolled through him, and House closed his eyes and groaned into the phone.
"I'm coming over," said Wilson.
"No, you're not."
"I'm getting dressed."
"It's not an emergency."
"Obviously it is if you felt the need to call me at three in the morning."
"I'd call you anyway just to annoy you. A real emergency would've been if I'd called you on a Sunday afternoon."
"I can be there in ten minutes," said Wilson.
"Bring your own toilet paper," warned House.
"Call me if you get worse--"
House hung up before Wilson could finish his sentence. He tossed his phone toward the bedroom and heard it land with a satisfying crack.
Wilson did not show up ten minutes later as promised.
In fact, he did not show up even two hours later, and House had finally given him up for dead as he crawled back to bed.
The next morning, House heard insistent knocking at his front door but knew it would be like moving mountains to do anything about it, so he didn't bother lifting his face from the pillow.
His body ached, his leg burned, his head throbbed, his stomach hurt. There was no way he was getting up without a fight.
I need zinc, he thought. Zinc and fluids.
"House? You okay in there?"
House heard the door unlock followed by footsteps as Wilson made his way to the bedroom.
House groaned into his pillow.
"It's Sunday," said Wilson. "Official day for emergencies, according to you."
House answered by rolling over and peering darkly at Wilson, who stood in the bedroom doorway looking bright and fresh and showered.
"You're not sick," said House. "But you didn't shave, either. Were you up all night worrying about me?"
Wilson went to the window and closed the curtains. House couldn't suppress his sigh of relief at the subsequent soothing darkness.
"You don't look as bad as I expected," said Wilson.
"You're only saying that so I won't drop out of the fashion show." House buried his face in his pillow again.
"I called Cuddy for you and got you the day off tomorrow. You can thank me when you lose the chess game."
Wilson wandered into the bathroom, and House heard water running a moment later.
"You hungry for something?" Wilson asked over the sound of running water. "I brought apple juice. I can make toast."
"Why aren't you sick?" asked House.
"I threw sand in the air."
House closed his eyes, then opened them again and stared at the ceiling. "Okay. We have to make a new rule about how obscure your obscure references are allowed to be."
Wilson returned to the bedroom armed with a damp washcloth and a glass of water. "Which part was obscure?"
"I was with you right up until the Bergman."
Wilson sat on the edge of the bed and began washing House's face and neck with the washcloth. House was startled by the untoward attention, but the cool cloth felt wonderful, so he didn't complain.
"It's an old wives' tale," shrugged Wilson. "You throw sand in the air to keep bees from swarming."
"And to keep from getting sick." Wilson sat the washcloth aside and picked up the glass of water. "Here, drink."
"Are you sure it works?" House eyed him suspiciously as he took the glass. "And that you're Wilson?"
Wilson smiled serenely, then took pity on House's weak grip and held the glass for him to help him drink.
"How can you not have scombroid?" asked House, pushing the glass away after he'd taken a few sips of water.
Wilson rose and headed for the kitchen. "You want peanut butter on your toast?"
"You didn't answer my question."
"It's not a real question," called Wilson from the hallway. "Stop abusing punctuation marks."
House listened as Wilson rummaged around in the kitchen. With a groan, he pulled himself upright and let his feet dangle over the side of the bed. He was a little sore that Wilson hadn't gotten sick, but more than that, he was confused by the weird circumstances the universe had thrown at him.
"If you don't have scombroid, then I don't have scombroid," he said aloud to no one in particular. "So what the hell do I have?"
"House?" Wilson called from the kitchen. "Peanut butter on the toast. Yea or nay?"
"Yea," said House loudly. He rubbed his face and let the silver ring massage his cheek.