It started with Wilson yawning.
Yawns were not, in and of themselves, interesting to look at, but watching Wilson look stupid never got old; House could do that every day, all day. The first yawn was funny, the second funnier, the third wasn't funny one bit -- his bitching about having to deal with the massive bloating on a post-facial surgery clinic patient wasn't that boring -- and the fifth was downright annoying.
Peering closer, House noticed more than the yawns: Wilson's eyelids were swollen like on the mornings after House bullied him into staying up into obscene hours to help with one case or another. "Late night?" House asked as they walked into the hospital's entrance; early daylight streamed lazily from behind them.
"It's those rave parties," Wilson said around a (sixth) yawn. "They're considered flops if they don't end after dawn. And then there are the hookers; they take their time, too -- but you know all about that, don't you?"
With rampant sarcasm like that, Wilson had to be in a good mood. Not a bad change of pace from his more recent bouts of interminable sulkiness. "Actually, I kick the hookers out as soon as I'm done. And don't change the subject."
"Well, you're the perfect gentleman," Wilson said. "You're not going to leave me hanging on the tale of the ghastly bloating, are you?" Happy to get back to his bitching, House launched into a favorite rant about the idiocy of facial surgeries, including the statistics of related casualties. It was after they'd parted ways, each to their own office, that House realized he hadn't gotten an answer for Wilson's repeated yawns.
More than a week later, House tapped his cane impatiently against the empty chair next to him; Wilson was dallying at the cafeteria line. Why Wilson didn't listen to his advice and start verbally mowing down anyone standing in his way instead of being all courteous and "no, you first," or, "pardon me," House didn't know. His stomach should come before everyone else's.
At way-too-long last, Wilson paid up and came with "their" food, and House sat up to get a better look at the tray's contents. French fries would be good right about now, or chips, or something equally fried and artery-clogging. House wasn't picky.
Green salad, a glass of juice, and nondescript potatoes-with-vegetables dish. Nothing else.
Wilson was mean. Or maybe in a crappy mood; House glanced quickly at Wilson's outfit, to check: a crisply-ironed pale blue shirt, a new and bright red tie, and black oxford shoes gleaming with recent polish. It screamed "good mood" -- not to mention "anal," "clean freak," and "needs a life," amongst other things.
"Are you trying to starve me?" House complained.
"Yes, exactly," Wilson deadpanned as he sprinkled stupid and prissy salad dressing over the revoltingly green salad. "Cuddy asked me to play the hit-man and discreetly 'take care of you' before you cost her another lawsuit."
House pouted, but it did not, sadly, make Wilson get up and run back to the line to get actual human food. Damn it. Why couldn't House always have things his way? He nabbed a piece of broccoli: green, yes, but at least it was crisp. Crisp could almost substitute for fried and crunchy. "You need to stop watching so many gangster movies. And take better care of me." He spoke the last bit in a mock, high-pitched voice. Wilson just rolled his eyes and ate more of his damned salad.
Over the following months, Wilson stuck to his bizarre and aggravating diet and House was reluctantly forced to give up stealing food from his tray. House did find some measure of comfort in the ending winter: the snow took its sweet time melting away this year, like a stubborn cramp that took forever to end, but it eventually did. The outside world was no longer one giant freebie trip into Skidville. He could roam about again, outside. Play.
He put on his flat cap, which had been rotting at the bottom of the third desk drawer since the trip to Atlantic City, and cavorted over the barrier between his balcony and Wilson's. Banging open the door to Wilson's office, he declared triumphantly. Banging open the door to Wilson's office, he declared triumphantly, "It's that time of year," like a general working up the soldiers' zest.
Wilson, colder than the stupid snow that had just melted, glanced up quickly before going back to typing. "For barging into my office? More like that time of hour."
"Don't be coy." House wagged a finger at him. He'd come prepared to do some prodding; Wilson was an trained expert at dragging his feet at the first sign of fun. All work and no play made Wilson a real stick in the mud, and it'd been nothing but work lately. "You know what I'm talking about. Spring is here, which means only one thing."
"Winter is over?" Wilson asked, his eyes stuck to the screen. His eyes looked kind of beady, like a chicken's, irises narrow in the unnatural glow of the monitor. House really had to get him out of here and into the fresh, greening world. "I'm swamped," Wilson continued. "Could we talk about this another time--"
"Oh, come on!" House tucgged on the front of his cap. Prodding was okay, fun even, but Wilson had to do his part, too. And it wasn't like he'd have forgotten, unless he had some degenerative disease that ate away at his memory. They'd done this almost every single year since House had realized that by being friends with Wilson, he could foist on him his patients' irritating families. "The mini-golf course awaits us! It's time to go drink ourselves silly and sneer at the pompous idiots there!" Wilson, pinching his nose, did not look at all enthused. "There's going to be plaid pants."
Wilson covered his mouth, avoiding House's gaze. Coward. "Maybe another time?"
Now not only was he refusing to follow tradition -- of the best kind -- but he was resisting plaid-pant mockery. House set his mouth in a firm line. "You can't be that busy with work; I know for a fact that Cuddy sacrificed livestock at the full moon and got in the Oncology budget a week early." And not even the mental image of a naked Cuddy, blood-spattered with dark curls waving wildly, dancing around a campfire improved House's mood any.
Even though he'd called his bluff, Wilson still pretended he couldn't spare even one moment to look at House. Double coward. "Look, tonight isn't good for me."
House threw his flat cap onto Wilson's desk and walked out through the hallway door.
The following day was warm and sunny, and House felt like crap. He threw a tennis ball at the wall, each bang like a whack against the world's injustices. There was something satisfying about that.
Between whacks, the balcony door behind him slid open with a metallic rustle. "What did that wall ever do to you?" Wilson asked, voice light. House grunted. "You know, it's easier to communicate if you actually use words. But what do I know, maybe you and Tarzan would get along just fine."
House spun around on his chair, verbal ammunition ready to shoot. But Wilson was smiling indulgently, like he was lit up from the inside, leaning against the door frame with both hands in his pants' pockets. The last time he'd been this satisfied was back before his marriage with Julie had merrily jumped into the dump, when the sex had still been amazing -- not that Wilson ever said as much, but House could tell. With a tell-tale sign like that smile, how couldn't he?
Maybe Wilson hadn't spent the evening drowning in paperwork and patients.
"We get along more than fine." House swung back and forth on his chair, discreetly studying Wilson from toe to hair (lots of little secrets were hidden in hair, if you knew what to look for). Wilson's shoelaces weren't tied as tightly as they'd been for the past months; a sign of less anger? And his hair was crisp, light, oil-free. He'd washed it this morning. All fascinating. But it didn't explain what he'd been up to the night before. "Really fine. You might be jealous if you knew just how fine."
"Why, House, you wound me. I thought I was the only man for you," Wilson said with wide eyes, on the verge of laughing. His disgustingly good mood was more infectious than the flu. House couldn't help smirking, despite himself.
"Listen, I'm really sorry about yesterday. Rain check?" Wilson stood up straight, pulling his hands out of his pockets and crossing his arms.
A chilly wind blew in through the door, bringing in a floral musk. After a winter of muted smells, it was kind of nice. Except that spring wasn't that far along; the trees outside were only starting to pepper with green buds. No flowers to be found outside overpriced gift stores.
House jumped to his feet, his chair crashing against the desk; Wilson jolted. Another sniff confirmed it: there was definitely a floral scent in the room where none had been before. As much as it sucked, it could be coming from only one place. Frowning, House stepped straight into Wilson's personal space and breathed in deep through his nose.
It was coming from Wilson. "Why do you smell like perfume?" House accused.
Wilson's eyes widened again, without the earlier humor. "What're you talking about?"
"You reek of perfume, and either you soaked in it or you were with someone who does." And there it was, that old sheepish motion of scratching the back of his head. Wilson might as well have been screaming, "I'm guilty!" when he did that. As if that weren't enough, there was also a blur of red. "Show me your hand," House demanded.
"What?" Wilson asked, confused.
"Your hand, gimme." Wilson was too slow on the uptake, so House grabbed his wrist and turned it upwards. It bore a tell-tale red smudge. "Why, Wilson," House drawled, his grip on Wilson's wrist tightening. "You did have an exciting night."
Wilson stared down at the smudge for a few seconds and then looked up at House with the special kind of terror normally only seen in nightmares about spending the rest of the eternity in the clinic. "Oh, that," Wilson said a beat too quickly. "Funny story, really, you'll like it. This morning, I was examining this woman, with all this make-up; you'd think she was a clown. Anyway, I was checking her head -- thought she had lice -- and she's even more of a klutz than I am! She banged her mouth against my wrist. Like I said. You'd have gotten a kick out of it."
"That," House said disgustedly, "is the dumbest excuse ever." He let go of Wilson's wrist. "And no, no rain check. I have better things to do."
'Better things' consisted of hitting the nearest cosmetics shop.
By the tenth bottle of perfume, he'd lost his sense of smell. No good trying to work with a broken instrument. He left the store for a few minutes, cleared his nose by breathing in the less intense wafts of the food court's cotton candy and burnt burgers. When his nose once more the best investigation tool he had on him, he went back in. The main attendant looked like she was looking at road-kill. "You still want to sample more perfumes, sir?"
"Bring 'em on," House challenged. "Anything a woman would wear on a date. One that ends in hot sex."
Another dozen bottle of perfumes later, House had had the start of a migraine but no idea what perfume had been all over Wilson. He kept on trying.
After his stunt at the perfume store, there was still time to hit the hotel room since Wilson would still be at work, being a goody-two shoes and seeing the last of his patients, instead of blowing it all off like a normal human being would.
Entering the room, House breathed in deeply through his nose. His sense of smell was still messed up from the fruitless perfume-hunting, but there it was, the unmistakable fragrance that'd been coating Wilson. What kind of a hag would wear it? Someone older, probably, someone around Wilson's age. Someone with a lot of confidence. Sure of their sexiness.
He'd find out who that someone was.
A superficial glance over the room revealed nothing not boring. In fact, aside from a scattered few personal objects, you could hardly tell Wilson had been living here almost a year. It was a typical personality-less hotel room, with a decent view of the city's night lights and tacky lilies-and-pansies paintings over the bed. At least the painting's theme was appropriate, given the occupant. House almost regretted Wilson wasn't there, so he could tell him that last thought and watch him get that pained expression.
Time to scratch the surface.
House opened the closet. In it were all suits, shirts, and pants he'd seen on Wilson, hanging picture-perfect. At the bottom were another pair of oxfords, together with a pristine-white pair of sneakers. Wilson arranged his clothes by type, then color: ties on one end, followed by pants and then shirts, and finally suits. "Get a life, Wilson," House muttered. "Or at least something worth spying on!" Not that he wasn't here precisely because Wilson had come up with something to spy on, but still.
He rustled through the clothes hangers, feeling up the pants -- okay, and that was a strange phrasing to use with Wilson's clothes -- for unexpected objects in pockets. There seemed to be nothing strange. One suit did seem too thick, though. He peeled the suit off the hanger, revealing beneath it a dark green skirt. "Oh, jackpot," House crooned. Beneath the suit next to that one, he found a grey silk blouse and a matching pleated skirt next to it. "Try talking yourself out of this one."
Weird, though, that the clothes were hidden. And who was she?
The room layout was personality-less, but that didn't mean the objects had to be. House fiddled with the fax-phone; it had a last-called list. Jackpot again. 'Mildred' came up first, but that was Wilson's over-sixty secretary. Wilson wouldn't hit that, and even if he would, she wouldn't fit in that pencil skirt in the closet. 'Cuddy' came up next, which summoned the breath-stopping image of her and Wilson rolling on the bed in front of him. They had gone out for dinner before-- but, no. She hadn't been wearing that perfume yesterday or today. It had to be someone else, someone he didn't see at the hospital.
'Miriam' was next on the list. "And we have a name," House said under his breath. He felt so tired, suddenly, like at the end of a case. Heavy, he sank on to the bed. Wilson had a new girl. Wilson would be too busy for anything anymore, and he'd be happy on his piece of cloud nine, without House, until the day he fucked it all up. And then it'd be House's privilege to sit with Wilson down in the muck until the day he found himself a ticket back to the clouds, with a new girl. "You gotta snap out of that cycle," House admonished the absent Wilson.
Being here was depressing him. He had to get going, anyway; Wilson would be coming around now. House could confront him when he felt less worse. But first, he might as well quickly check the corners, for extra details. The nightstand's first drawer boasted a block of paper and the Bible. Beneath those -- always look beneath -- were assorted receipts. House threw each one behind his shoulder as he read them. "Hotel, restaurant, car insurance, restaurant, divorce lawyer--"
Halfway through the pile was a receipt from a bar named Cinderella. Where had he heard that, before? A new place? No, he'd seen ads for it before, ads with--
House took in a sharp breath and then laughed, mostly out of disbelief.
Wilson closed the hotel room door behind him and leaned against it, closing his eyes.
A few days ago, House had come up to him and told him that the mini-golfing was no big deal. House was acting like it was, however; he was being distant and moody, though it was hard to tell exactly what was going on, seeing as how he wouldn't talk to Wilson. At first Wilson had thought things weren't too much out of order -- maybe House was just having a random mood swing, again -- but when not even the rumor that the transsexual nurse had dumped the eleven-fingered lawyer for a female anesthetist got more than a grunt out of House, he'd realized something was wrong.
House was being even more anti-social than usual, especially towards Wilson. It was almost impossible to talk to him, and it seemed that he avoided Wilson. At the same time, however, Wilson had caught House staring at him several times, from across the lobby or balcony, like he was on display. It felt like he was being spied on.
Wilson was yanked out of his musings about House's strange behavior by his iPhone vibrating in his pocket. He fished it out swiftly and checked the new text message.
U havent frgt10 about tonite have u? im lookin forward to c u ;) ttyl
Wilson smiled a little and put the phone on the desk. No, he hadn't forgotten. Loosening the knot on his tie, he glanced at the clock; he had a little over an hour to get ready. Good. He'd need it.
He took a shower, trying to rinse the smell of hospital off him as well as he could, rubbing his whole body over with soap. It took a while, and by the time he stepped out of the shower, every glass surface was misted over and the air was hot and steamy.
As he dried his hair, he looked at the slowly de-misting mirror. On impulse he grabbed a corner of his towel and wiped it clean. The same face as always greeted him; had he really expected to see anything else? He shook his head and left the bathroom.
Hesitating for a second, he made himself open the closet door and, from under one of his suits, coaxed out a brown skirt. He laid the brown skirt on the bed and stroked the material tenderly with his thumb; it was softer than the suit pants he wore. Within a minute, a green silk blouse, pantyhose, and undergarments had joined the skirt.
Wilson took a step backwards and looked at the clothes. There was an itchy feeling crawling along his back as he contemplated the clothing combination, a nagging sense of awkwardness that didn't quite consume him. There was a tightness in his stomach, too, caused by either apprehension and excitement. He'd done this dozens of times, but it still felt new, the same way that the first day of school felt like the unknown even after years of education.
But this was no time to feel self-conscious. Wilson refused to linger on his hesitations and put on his underwear. Yes, it was beige and granny-like, but relatively comfortable and did wonders for his figure, holding in what needed to be held in and shaping what needed to be shaped. It wasn't as if anyone was going to see the underwear, anyway.
Because he'd shaved yesterday, the pantyhose slid on with relative ease. Or maybe he was simply getting the knack of how to put them on; it used to be a real challenge to roll them up evenly. That was another disquieting thought he didn't let himself dwell on.
Next came the bra and the insertions and no matter how little he tried to think about it, Wilson felt silly. He always did, at this point, just in women's underwear and pantyhose. But there was a solution to this awkwardness, and that was putting on the rest of the outfit. No direction from here but forward. With his blouse buttoned and his skirt zipped up, he felt-- well, like a new person.
Wilson still had some steps left. Pulling out a box from beneath the bed, he took out a wig and placed it over his head, tucking his own hair inside. As the luxurious brown curls fell over his shoulders, he felt, if not confident, at least secure. Protected behind armor. The pearl necklace that he fastened around his neck, fumbling with the clasp for a second before it clicked, only added to that feeling.
As he walked into the bathroom, he noticed how the high heels made his stride different; smoother, with more of a sway in his steps and hips. He liked it.
Wilson refrained from looking into the mirror right away, and instead dug out his make-up kit from one of the drawers. When he finally looked in the mirror, he studied himself yet again. He looked the same, and at the same time not. Apart form the obvious changes in his outfit, his face seemed softer somehow. There was a slight quirk upwards at the corner of his mouth that hadn't been there before, and his eyes sparkled with something he couldn't name. The excitement in his stomach grew; there was no place left in him for embarrassment.
He applied a discreet layer of foundation in light brown tones, striving to keep it all natural. (He'd learned a thing or two from his wives.) Once he'd applied the foundation, blush, eye shadow, kohl, mascara and lipstick, Wilson flashed his reflection a smile. He looked good-- she looked good.
She felt the way she looked.
She hummed a bit as she applied her fake pale-pink nails.
That done, there was only thing one left: the perfume. Reaching for the bottle, she paused. She couldn't forget House's reaction, the way he'd grabbed her wrist and spoken in low, verging on threatening tones. But she shook her head, willing the memory out of her mind. She unscrewed the glass top of the bottle and dabbed it on each wrist and side of her neck. Just a little; no good smelling like an entire perfume factory.
Before leaving, she moved everything she needed (iPhone, wallet, keys, pager, mirror, traveling make-up kit) into a black leather purse. She surveyed the room to make sure nothing was out of place and, satisfied, picked up her grey cloak.
She snuck out the hotel's back entrance.
The smell of cigarettes, alcohol, and mixed perfumes greeted her when she opened the door to the bar. The lighting was subdued, and chattering voices drowned out the muffled music. It might not have been the brightest place, but a well-known sight cheered her up. She made her way through the bar, threading her way through the many small tables that crowded the floor. The bartender, Stephenson, smiled and nodded at her, and she did the same.
She was almost at the other end, in a secluded corner, when she heard two male voices talking. The first voice was a hoarse baritone. "Honestly; if I hadn't neglected the synagogue for the past five years, I'd turn to God for guidance."
A lighter, smoother voice with a thick London accent calmly replied, "Don't look at me; I don't believe in God."
She smiled and went to their table.
"Jamie! There you are," Miriam said enthusiastically, waving her cigarette in greeting. Jamie sat down on the unoccupied chair and Miriam pushed a glass of wine in her direction. "We ordered for you, hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. Thanks," Jamie said and sipped. "Oh, just so you know, your text messages are horrendous! They want to make me want to claw my eyes out, and I've seen some pretty bad things."
Miriam grinned widely. "I know! Aren't they hilarious? Can you get that people actually write like that?"
"If you can't get it, then how can you write it?" Andrea asked with a raised eyebrow and then sipped at her beer.
Miriam twirled her red hair with her free hand, looking down. "Well, you know my stepsons," she said, "I learned it from them. They're on that damn chat all the time; they won't lift a finger around the house."
"They're as bad as ever, then?" Jamie asked, and Miriam nodded vigorously.
Andrea huffed. "You really are an awful person for saying that, you know," she said calmly. Miriam just shrugged.
"Maybe I am. Doesn't change the fact that they're horrible," Miriam said and then glared at her drink as if everything was its fault. But when she looked up again, she smiled. "Tell me, dear Andrea, what have you been up to lately?"
Neither Andrea nor Jamie were perplexed by the sudden change of subject; they were used to it by now.
"Well," Andrea started, "Sarah is still thinking that we should shack up."
"Are you going to?" Jamie asked. Andrea brushed her blonde hair out of her face and sighed.
"I really don't know," she answered. "We're engaged, so technically we're supposed to move together someday, but..."
Jamie looked at her. Andrea and Sarah had been together for three years, ever since Andrea came to New Jersey. Jamie often wondered how they had managed to live in separate places for such a long time; from what she'd heard, Sarah was a lovely girl, if stubborn and temperamental. According to Andrea, Sarah had been talking about living together for over a year.
Jamie wondered how that felt, to be moving so slowly. With her, relationships tended to be a whirlwind leaving her shell-shocked afterwards, wondering what the hell had happened.
They were silent for a while, nursing their drinks and thinking.
Miriam spoke up. "Have you told her?"
Jamie snapped her head around; Andrea just looked up.
"Told her what?" Andrea asked.
"Well..." Miriam started awkwardly. "This, I mean," she said and made a sweeping gesture over her body.
Andrea took a drink of her beer before she answered. "In fact, I have."
There was a split second of silence when both Jamie and Miriam stared at her. "What?" Miriam cried, almost knocking her glass over as she gestured with her hand. "You've told her, and you didn't tell us?" Jamie merely sat there, staring.
Andrea shrugged. "I told her just last week. It's not like I've been holding back on you two," she said, though she didn't meet their eyes.
"How did she take it?" Jamie asked, recovering from the slight shock.
Andrea seemed a bit relieved. "Quite well, actually," she answered. "She was surprised, of course. She didn't believe me at first, but she's not angry."
"I still can't believe you didn't tell us," Miriam huffed, looking alarmingly like a pouting three-year-old. Andrea just waved her hand dismissively.
"Oh, get over it." Andrea smirked. "You would've liked it, though. The first thing she said was 'But you're not gay.'"
Miriam did snort with laughter. "She actually said that?" She laughed properly when Andrea nodded in confirmation.
Jamie smiled and shook her head. Miriam and Andrea were fantastic, but sometimes she just couldn't understand them. Like Andrea telling anyone, much less her fiancée, about this. Jamie herself could never do it; just the thought of what House would say -- or worse yet, do -- if he found out...
She forced herself to stop that train of thought. 'You're supposed to be here to escape all that, remember?' she reminded herself.
"Jamie," Andrea suddenly said. "Are you thinking about telling anyone? That mate of yours, what's-his-name?"
"House, right?" Miriam filled in before Jamie had a chance to open her mouth.
"I'm not planning on telling anyone," Jamie said, her body tense.
Andrea nodded, not sympathetic but accepting, bless her for that. "What about you, Miriam? Are you going to tell anyone?"
Miriam sighed heavily and sagged in her chair. "I don't know," she said, dejected. "I've been thinking about telling Henry, but I just haven't worked up the nerve. Our relationship is strange enough as it is, you know, without this to top it off."
"Henry?" Andrea asked skeptically. "You'd rather tell your lover than your wife?"
"Trust me when I say that Henry and I are closer than Jess and I ever will be," Miriam said, pointing her third cigarette of the evening at Andrea.
"Then why don't you elope with Henry?" Andrea still looked skeptical.
"Because I'd have to divorce for the second time! And I'm not even forty yet! Might as well stamp 'Failure' on my forehead!" Miriam exclaimed, burying her face in her hands. But she looked up quickly enough. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Jamie."
"No, it's alright. No offense taken," Jamie said and Miriam looked apologetically at her before burying her face again. Jamie had told them that she'd been married more than once, and that she'd divorced more than once. Miriam and Andrea didn't pry for more, kindly enough. "But what do you think Jessica would say if you told her?"
Miriam sighed again. "She'd throw a fit and probably dump me on the spot. And God knows what those two homophobic gorillas she calls sons would do."
Andrea gave a disapproving huff. "I sincerely hope that you don't talk like that at home."
Miriam stared at her. "Are you kidding me? I don't even dare to say no to them! They'd punch me in the face if I did," she said and sagged even more. She glared at her glass again and then downed its contents in one gulp. By the time she placed her glass on the table, she was grinning wickedly. "But enough about me. Jamie, tell us what you've been up to."
"Yes, tell us about that bloke of yours," Andrea joined in, and they both looked at Jamie expectantly.
"He's just a friend; haven't I told you that enough times?" Jamie asked, starting to tense up again.
"Actually, no. You almost never tell us anything," Miriam replied, earning her a whack on the arm. "Hey!"
"Serves you right," Andrea said calmly as she withdrew her hand. "Maybe Jamie hasn't told us because she doesn't want to talk about it?" Jamie smiled at her; like so many other times, Andrea was right.
"Well, I'm curious. I want to know! It's really not fair, is it? I'm giving you my life story, and I get nothing in return."
"That's because you're telling us whether we want to hear it or not," Andrea pointed out, to which Miriam huffed indignantly.
A small smile lingered on Jamie's face as she watched Miriam and Andrea bicker with each other. They reminded her of her own banter marathons with House. "We work together, but I've already told you that," Jamie said quietly. Miriam and Andrea instantly shut up and turned to her.
"Yes, I reckon you have. He's brilliant, isn't he?" Andrea said thoughtfully. Miriam didn't say anything at all; she was leaning forward and her face was practically alit with curiosity.
"Yeah, he is. At his job. And music. Otherwise he's an idiot -- especially when it comes to people," Jamie said, looking down at her glass of wine and still smiling, for some reason. "He acts like a kid most of the time. That or he's a cranky old bastard. He's crippled, so that might be a part of the reason why he's so cynical. Though he's always been grumpy, even before the infarction." She stopped, realizing that Miriam and Andrea were looking at her with similar, unreadable expressions. "What?"
Now they smirked, glancing at each other.
"Tell me," Miriam said, the wicked grin back on her face, "is he married? Engaged? Maybe he has a girlfriend? Or a boyfriend?"
Jamie gave a snort of disbelief. "No, he doesn't. He hasn't had a girlfriend since his relationship with his ex went down the drain."
Again, Miriam and Andrea exchanged looks. Then Andrea cleared her throat. "And to swiftly change the subject," she said, whacking Miriam on the arm again as rebuke for the smirk, "Jamie, have you not noticed the gentleman yonder sporting the dark locks?"
"Pfft, librarian tastes," Miriam muttered as she concentrated on her drink, but was ignored.
Jamie turned her head and looked to where Andrea was pointing.
A man in his early thirties was sitting at the bar counter, smartly dressed in jeans and an expensive-looking casual shirt. He was tall, probably fit too, although the distance made it hard to be sure. He had dark curls that framed his face and was quite good-looking. Jamie recognized him by sight, as he was one of bar regulars.
"Yeah, what about him?"
"Oh, he's back," Miriam muttered, glaring at her glass again.
"He's been checking you out for weeks. I think he fancies you," Andrea's smile had turned into something suspiciously like a smirk. "So, what do you reckon?"
Jamie looked at her and then smiled. "I don't know..." she said with feigned hesitation. "I guess he's alright." More than alright, that was.
"If you're into tall, dark and mysterious, that is," Miriam said, probably aiming for bored but just sounded grumpy instead.
Andrea turned to her with raised eyebrows. "Oh? And how do you prefer your men then, Miriam?"
"I prefer my men and women blonde and with glasses, thank you very much," Miriam said, jutting her chin up in the air as she took a drag on her cigarette. She cast a virulent look at the man. "I also prefer them not spying on me from across a bar."
Andrea rolled her eyes and turned back to Jamie. "Ignore her, Jamie. I'd shag him," she said with a wry smile. Miriam made a choking sound.
"I thought you liked women," Jamie pointed out calmly, and Miriam joined in with, "Yes, exactly." Jamie didn't bother to point out that Andrea was engaged to Sarah, since this wasn't a serious discussion. They were joking around in the same way they would've even if they weren't dressed in drag.
"I'd still shag him," Andrea insisted, giving the man an appreciative look.
"Ah," Jamie said, but didn't say anything more. Miriam was glaring at Andrea.
"I can't believe you," Miriam muttered, and Andrea turned her head towards her.
"Can't believe what, dear?" Andrea asked, once again smirking.
Miriam made a sweeping gesture with her arm. "This! I mean, I just--" she started but broke off. She was staring at the entrance and her eyes widened for a second before she burst out into snorts of laughter. "Who's that?" she asked, now waving in the doors' direction. "The dress is amazing."
Andrea looked at the entrance and then held back laughter. "I'm inclined to agree with you, Miriam. The dress is absolutely stunning." Jamie, who had her back facing the entrance, frowned and turned around to look at the person who'd entered and their supposedly fantastic dress.
He-- for, dress notwithstanding, it was very obviously a he, with those wide shoulders and thick, muscular legs and arms-- was facing the bar, away from Jamie. And indeed the dress was... something. Covered in glitter, the shimmering red cloth hugged his male form, the skirt slanting so that it covered one thigh and came up obscenely high on the other leg. The spaghetti straps were long and loose, revealing half his toned back.
If the dress weren't outrageous enough, he was wearing the worst wig Jamie ever had the misfortune to see. The shade, a dark brunette, was lovely, but the shape suggested it'd been bought off a website for Amy Winehouse wannabes.
It was the height of tackiness, but Jamie had to admire the guy's guts.
"So," Miriam drawled, trying to not burst out laughing again. "What do you think of this one? Shaggable?"
Andrea rolled her eyes but her shoulders were shaking suspiciously.
"I think the dress is hideous--" Jamie started with a smile.
"Like my text messages?" Miriam interrupted, grinning widely.
"Yeah, just like your text messages," Jamie agreed. "But the hair color suits him."
The man turned around and Jamie, who'd just been about to grab her glass, froze. If she'd been holding the glass, it would've fallen to the floor.
His face was long and clean-shaven under a thick matte of make-up. Crimson lipstick gave his mouth a kiss-shape and thick strokes of black eyeliner on either side emphasized his blue eyes. Jamie was pretty sure the upper part of his face sparkled as he looked around the bar.
"Oh, shit," she whispered and whipped around, turning her back to the counter. She tried to make herself as small as possible.
It was House.
Why was House here? Why was House dressed like that?
Jamie wondered if hiding under the table was too undignified, or if it could be excused given the circumstances. Crouching might also work.
"Mind telling us why you're getting acquainted with the floor?"
Jamie glanced up to see Andrea watching her with a mildly amused expression. Miriam's shoulders were shaking and she had her hand clamped over her mouth. Jamie gave them a pleading look, which only made Miriam's silent convulsions grow worse. Andrea merely raised an eyebrow.
"Is it someone you know?" Andrea asked. At that precise moment, Jamie hated Andrea's dry, cruel sense of humor. Andrea glanced at the bar counter, and the corner of her lips twitched, threatening to break out in a grin. "I think he's looking for you, actually."
Jamie's initial reaction was something she not much later would come to regret. She jumped in her seat and turned around, to make sure that Andrea wasn't just taunting her. But indeed, House was surveying the table area.
Before Jamie could turn away again, House spotted her. A malicious grin spread on his face, and Jamie saw him reach for something. The object soon came into sight: a pink, glittery cane. With terror, she watched House stride towards the table, his dress rustling with his wide steps.,
"Oh, shit," Jamie whispered again. She didn't try to hide this time; she didn't move at all. Dread made her stomach sink to her feet, panic lumping in her throat. Her heart was beating so fast and hard that her blood roared in her ears.
House reached the table. "Oh my god, girlfriend!" he squealed, shaking his hands in a fake, exaggerated wave. "Hiiiiii."
If Wilson-- Jamie-- had thought that she couldn't feel more terrified, she was proven wrong.
"So, like, imagine finding you here," House drawled and Wilson tried to shrink into himself. So caught red-handed. House curled in loathing to admit it, but Wilson didn't look anywhere near as bad as he'd imagined. Actually, Wilson might even look irritatingly good, if he didn't look like he was about to crawl out of his skin.
In comparison, House himself looked like-- well, not a nightmare, because if that had been the intention, he'd have done a lot worse, like let his beard grow out or match pastel polka-dots with punk-goth. But he was ridiculous, in this get-up, and that had been his goal when he'd scoured online sites to piece together this outfit. Because Wilson would be able to blink off "ugly" or "implausible," since that would only be reflecting House's inappropriateness.
But to show up as a drag queen with crass taste, that would highlight how stupid cross-dressing could be. And House had seen enough photos to know he wasn't the first one to go this overboard in his drag. It'd make Wilson feel like it was reflecting on his own cross-dressing, and if there was one thing that could make him writhe with embarrassment, it was looking ridiculous. And House wanted Wilson to feel bad about having this hobby without even telling him about it. Very, very bad.
Plus, it had been kind of fun, calculating how awful he could get away with dressing himself. The sparkling pink cane had been an unexpected treat found on eBay, and most of the rest he got from retro sites. The make-up and glitter he'd "borrowed" from a fifteen-year old clinic patient. She shouldn't even have been wearing the stuff, with the acne she had. House was doing her a favor. And if she went out to buy another set, he could help her only so much. (It was the excuse he'd armed himself with in case Cuddy had confronted him about it. She hadn't, and he'd kept the make-up and glitter with nary a fight.)
And House would never, ever, not even surrounded by a dozen curious paparazzi on his deathbed, tell anyone that devising the outfit was some of the only amusement he'd had in the week since he'd found out Wilson was regularly off having fun without him. Figuring out how to look as unflattering as possible in a whole new way was, in its own right, a puzzle. Maybe that was why Wilson was doing this... but House doubted that. Wilson didn't do 'amusing,' at least not without someone to shove him into that direction.
House's eyes flicked quickly to the two other men at the table. The wigged red-head was sniggering, and House couldn't blame him, although no one but House had any business laughing at Wilson's misfortune. Some friend Wilson had picked. The other one, a fake blond, was amused too, but he wasn't as obvious about it, holding a hand up to his mouth. House could still see smile-induced wrinkles f on the rest of his face, though.
Not only was Wilson's taste in friends crap, but he hadn't bothered to be original. The red-head was another House (flattering, that Wilson felt obliged to find another version of him even in this warped created reality) and the blond, a Wilson. He'd come so far from home only to recreate it.
More importantly, both of the weirdo-Wilson friends were in their own space, neither touching nor in danger of brushing against Wilson. They probably weren't sleeping with Wilson, then. Hopefully one of them would turn out to be the Miriam who had left the message on Wilson's fax machine in the hotel. "So who are your little friends, hmmm?"
"I'm Miriam," the red-head said. Good. One less thing to worry about-- although coming in here had added a thousand more problems. Like how well Wilson applied his mascara. When and how had he learned to do that? "Your general slutty office-worker," Miriam added, grinning around the cigarette in his mouth. Classy.
"And I'm Andrea, a prudish librarian," the one with the blond wig said. House didn't miss Miriam's wistful expression at the word 'prudish.' Yeah, Miriam definitely wasn't sleeping with Wilson.
"Charmed, charmed," House said, one to each. Wilson watched all this wordless, his eyes wide. He deserved the humiliation. He deserved a whole lot more punishment, and House would make sure he received every inch and pound of it.
"And who the hell are you?" Miriam asked, leaning toward him, traces of laughter in his voice. "I never thought Jamie would know anyone like you."
A ripple of revulsion shuddered through House at the use of that name. "Oh, Jamie and I go way back," House said, vicious. "I'm--"
"He," Wilson snapped, rising to his feet, "is someone I'm about to kill." That reaction was predictable; snappishness at being caught was a regular feature on the Wilson menu. But the fury with which Wilson glared at him, almost as furious as when House harassed one of his patients, wasn't.
Wilson grabbed House's wrist, hard, and yanked him away from the table. He didn't even have the time to take his cane before Wilson dragged him out of reach.
Maybe he was in over his head.
"Where we going?" House asked, but Wilson didn't answer, just staring ahead as he yanked House around the other tables. Given their direction, they were probably headed for the bathroom. Good thing too, since it was pretty close. Not only did House's arm feet like it was going to pop out of the shoulder socket, but his thigh definitely did not appreciate being forced to follow a quickened, jerky pace. And walking in public without his cane sucked; it made his limp all the more obvious. It was like lighting a centerpiece of fire; everyone was already watching, why exaggerate the point?
His still-functional thigh muscles were cramping like hell on a bad day by the time he and Wilson reached the bathroom. It was fairly small-- two stalls, a few more urinals-- but it was clean, ivory marble still its original color. Trust Wilson to frequent a drag-queen bar with bathrooms that were actually clean. What, did he smell them out or something? Was it a sixth-sense?
Wilson let go of House's wrist. He wanted to rub at it-- it was smarting from Wilson's grip; like he wasn't plagued with enough pain, both physical and otherwise-- but instead he crossed his arms, raising his chin defiantly. He wouldn't say anything. Watching Wilson's reaction play out was infinitely more interesting, like a thespian acting out a Shakespearian monologue. Lots of passion.
"What do you think you're doing here?" Wilson hissed. House was close enough to see Wilson's natural flush beneath the foundation which was, damn it, well applied, just like the rest of the make-up. How long had Wilson been at this cross-dressing farce? Months, at least. Maybe years. And never once telling his supposed best friend about it.
"Finding out more about your secret double life," House said, his voice cold. Wilson's flush reddened as he stared intently down at the floor. House crossed his arms even tighter, his anger twisting inside him. "What's up with that? Watched too many noir films, wanted to play the femme fatale?" Wilson covered his face with both hands. Coward. "You look the part."
"It's not about that," Wilson choked out, his head further tucking into his chest, hands still over his face.
"Oh, no?" House sneered. "It's got nothing to do with the pearls or the girly get-me-fucked perfume?"
Wilson finally came out of hiding, his hands clenching into fists and lowering down to around his chest. "It's not a get-me-fucked perfume," he snapped. He hadn't argued the 'girly' part. Then that much was undeniably true.
House leaned forward and breathed in deep through his nose; it smelled like a get-me-fucked scent. He studied the way Wilson's clothes fit him, how they curved and flared in all the right places. Wilson looked great, unfortunately. He could give fashion designers a run for their money, with that sense of style. "Does it get you all hot and bothered? Feed some long-repressed desire?"
Wilson's hands lowered, relaxing. "Long-repressed desire?" he asked, incredulous. "This isn't some kind of kinky role-playing fantasy, if that's what you're thinking."
House nodded slowly. Wilson wasn't above lying, but he was crap at making stuff up once he was caught. House could believe him, at least on that much. "Yeah, it can't be too long-repressed, if you've had enough time to find yourself girl-gossip partners."
Wilson flared up, standing up straighter and his hands flying to his hips. "You leave them out of this."
A wave of sickness hit House, and he had to look away. He missed his cane; he needed something to squeeze. "And it can't be much of a fantasy, either, if you're not sleeping with them," he spat out, despite Wilson's warning. Or maybe it was because of the warning. Wilson's glare merged into a scowl. "Or are you?"
"Of course not! Is that what you think of me?"
"What else am I supposed to think, Jamie?" House lashed out. "You create this whole other world where--" He closed his eyes, keeping the rest from bleeding out: where I don't even exist. A world the closest House could get to was by cross-dressing himself. He held a hand to his forehead, grasping at his wig's hair. He was suddenly exhausted. "You're not even Wilson, here."
They stared at each other for a long moment, House with remaining traces of anger, and Wilson with wariness. It ended when Wilson took a deep sigh. "Well, that's the whole point," he said sheepishly, rubbing his neck.
If he didn't focus on Wilson, looking at him with his peripheral vision, House could almost pretend it was someone else. Someone who knew Wilson only in passing might be fooled by the disguise. Might even think he was an actual woman, some aging housewife out and dressed up for a drink with his other busybody friends. "Yes," House said slowly, "too much responsibility as the good doctor Wilson, many-time husband and friend. You had to find an escape valve for the pressure."
Wilson clenched his jaw, looking more like himself than ever. Yes, even through the make-up and clothes and straighter posture, House couldn't not see him. He might cover himself with Jamie, but Wilson was still there, lurking just beneath the surface. House went on, speaking faster. "But with best friends Mary and Jane out there, seems like to me you just upped the stakes. Jamie's going to be bringing you more stress before you know it." Wilson leaned, palms down, onto the sink, eyes closed and head bent. "You can't help it. That's how you are. Always taking more people to carry on your back."
House stopped there, holding in a breath. It was hard to tell how far was too far, and this time he may have sped out into the country beyond 'too far.' Wilson was alarmingly quiet and still, the only sign of life in him his hands clenching tighter over the marble. It was quiet, and the muffled sounds from the bar made it seem like they were thousands of miles away from civilization.
In the mirror House saw Wilson's eyes open. "What about you?" Wilson's shoulders tightened before he stood up, turning around and making direct eye contact with House. "You're just upset because I'm not there all day long waiting, at your beck and call."
It was like a shot through his heart. Damn Wilson for being able to see straight through him. But House rolled his eyes and turned around, waving his hand once angrily through the air. "Yes, let's make this about me."
"Yeah, let's," Wilson said. His voice was as calm as the limpid New England sea, and no way was House going to face Wilson for the coming storm. House leaned against the partition between the stalls, bracing himself. "You want to own everything, slapping your name down wherever you go. Even on people. And when one of your 'possessions' doesn't act the way you want, it pisses you off."
House gritted his teeth, hand squeezing around the cold stall partition. "Maybe I just don't want my friends to lie to me."
"And that!" Wilson's voice lost its control. "You lie all the time, but as soon as someone keeps the tiniest secret from you, you can't stand it!" If Wilson was back to being upset, they were on equal ground again. "What should I have done?" Wilson asked plaintively. "Tell you I spend a few nights dressed up as a woman? It's not as if you would've believed me!"
House pulled his bottom lip over his top one, contemplating.
"You completely humiliated me out there," Wilson said, a hand over his face.
"Well," House pulled away from the stall. "I guess we're even, now."
"Even?" Wilson repeated, glancing at House. "You're insane!"
"And you aren't?" They stood there silently, staring at one another, the exhaustion House felt reflected in Wilson's expression. House had come here for a fight, but he didn't want it anymore. He wanted to go back to normal, easy conversation with his stupid crazy best friend.
Thankfully, Wilson asked with a lighter tone: "What's with the get-up? You know they don't stop non-cross dressers at the door, right?"
House wasn't about to spit out just how pathetically excluded he'd felt by Wilson cross-dressing on his own, or that doing so himself had been a way to make himself feel 'included' again. He'd been kicked out, and this had been his way of getting back in. But he'd had other reasons for it, one that he didn't mind presenting Wilson with. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. Wanted to show you the error of your ways."
"The error of what ways?" Wilson raised an eyebrow. "Of not dressing up like a tranny hooker?"
"Something like that," House muttered. "And I was going for big tacky drag-queen, not tranny hooker."
"Well, I guess I shouldn't have expected less from you. You really couldn't think of anything more subtle? 80s retro, perhaps?"
"I look fabulous," House said in his best drag-queen voice, accompanied by a limp-wrist flick. Wilson's Adam apple bobbed up and down a bit, like he was holding back laughter, but his face was still as pale as Coma Guy's. A good round of insulting would help him pass the hysteria; it always did. Nothing like exasperation to bring rosiness back to his cheeks. "I look better than you, at any rate."
"Do not," Wilson's Adam's apple had stopped jerking about, maybe his freaked-out giggling spell had passed.
"I look a thousand times better," House declared, jutting his elbow up high as he primly patted the bottom of his wig. He'd milk this ridiculous outfit for all it was worth, if he could get a genuine, happy laugh out of Wilson. And it was kind of fun. "You only wish you could ever look this good."
Wilson scoffed, his arms crossing, but he did so warmly. Another notch up the progress meter. "I make a far more convincing woman than you."
He did. Just a quick comparison in the mirror revealed that Wilson could pass for a woman, if you were to simply walk by him, not giving him a second glance. That didn't mean House couldn't argue; life's best delight was in fighting with your friends. "I said better, not more convincing."
"Oh no, not at all." House placed his hands over either side of his hip and angled his chin as if he were posing. "You could look identical to an old hag, but you wouldn't look any good. I, on the other hand, could make every single person in that bar look at me." House willed Wilson to laugh.
And he did, though it came out as more of a cough, since he tried to hold it back. "Yes, because they wouldn't know what to think. The trick is to get the right kind of attention."
"You think I couldn't?" House posed again.
"Frankly, my dear ... absolutely not." His smirk raised the flag of defiance, and no way House wouldn't rise to the bait.
"Wanna bet?" House mirrored his smirk, daring Wilson.
Wilson's expression undid itself, turning to bewilderment. He didn't speak for a moment, and maybe House had gone too far. Was Wilson too sensitive about his life as Jamie to make a dare out of it? But he bit his lip in consideration, then, with resolve asked, "What's at stake?"
House huffed out a deep breath; he needed his own pause to think this over. He hadn't thought this far, assuming that Wilson would've stopped earlier. "You realize this means you'll have to introduce me to Lois and Lane, right?"
Wilson narrowed his eyes, but said quite evenly, "I realize that."
"Okay," House said, and jabbed an index finger at Wilson. "If I get some guy to be more into me than you, there'll be no more secrets. You'll tell me when 'Jamie' is going out on the town, and I'll get free tickets to the show, if I feel like going."
Wilson swallowed. "Fine. But if the guy likes me better, you'll leave this alone, never talk about it again, and stop acting so jealous."
House bristled, his whole body shaking in indignation. "I'm not jealous!" Wilson tilted his head, that one slight movement speaking a volume's full worth of doubt. "I'm not!" House grumbled. "But, okay, keep your stupid terms. I'm gonna win anyway."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Wilson said, and held out his hand. "Deal?"
House eyed Wilson's hand, all girlified with pink plastic bits on his nails. Would he get adult-cooties if he touched it? But he couldn't very well back down, so House grasped firmly. Their hands slipped around each other easily, and House tried not to dwell on the strange combination of gentleness and strength in Wilson's shake. "Deal."
House involuntarily squeezed Wilson's hand before letting it go. He had no idea why, though he could've come up with a dozen explanations why ("to freak you out," "to feel just how far you went on the moisturizing-- I think you've got a problem") if Wilson asked why. He didn't. Instead, he said matter-of-factly as they headed towards the exit: "This must be one of the most fucked-up things we've ever done."
"What, seeing who can most turn on another guy? We've done worse." House opened the door. "C'mon, Cross-Dresser Man, let's get to it. I've got a bet to win."
Wilson rolled his eyes at that remark. The bet really was one of the most reckless things he'd ever done, no matter how House framed it. House was confident -- a bit too much for Wilson's taste -- and seemed to treat it like a game. Which it probably was and should be, but there was a small voice in the back of Wilson's head that wouldn't shut up about what a great opportunity this was to show House how wrong he was. It was that voice that had made him accept the bet in the first place.
House seemed to think that Wilson just put on a dress and changed his name. That was not the case at all. Jamie was a part of him, never mind how crazy that sounded. And now Wilson could show Jamie to House, show him just how good a woman he'd become and thus stun his friend into speechlessness for once in his life, prove that he wasn't a pathetic loser, and then never have to talk about it again. Yes, it was the perfect way to escape from this fucking surreal mess.
Because losing was not an option; the consequences were too horrible to even consider. Not that it was Wilson at risk: it was Jamie versus House. If he lost this, he could wave Jamie bye-bye. And he wasn't going to let that happen.
They'd almost reached the table. Wilson was painfully aware of all the looks in their direction, though he couldn't blame them. Two people going off to a private, secluded space, with one of them being dragged, and then coming back together after a good long while? That was more than a bit suspicious.
Wilson accidentally made eye contact with the dark-haired man that Andrea had pointed out earlier, but, embarrassed, quickly turned his face away. The fact that he'd just come from out of the bathroom with House, in his crazy get-up, had probably made the guy lose all interest in Jamie-- if he'd had any interest in the first place.
Miriam and Andrea were whispering with their heads close. Wilson caught the phrases "Do you think," "That man," and "Quickie," and saw Andrea whack Miriam's upper arm again, though she was grinning. The two of them looked up and saw Wilson and House approaching.
"Took you long enough," Miriam commented briskly. Wilson smiled and mentally slipped back to Jamie as she sat down.
"Sorry, we had a few things to clear up," Jamie said and glanced at House.
"Or mess up more, if you know what I mean," House said with a wink as he took a chair from a nearby table and sat down with the rest of them. Jamie didn't know if she should laugh or cry and restrained herself to merely rolling her eyes.
Miriam raised an eyebrow inquiringly and looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. Andrea calmly rested her chin on her interlaced fingers. "Really?" Andrea said evenly, though Jamie felt a bit of dread when she saw the twinkle in her eyes. "Can't have been all that great then, since you were away for less than ten minutes. And since I'm unswervingly loyal to Jamie, I'll leave all the implications to be about you."
Jamie sputtered and Miriam turned to Andrea, looking very pleasantly surprised. House also looked appreciative, though not as obvious about it, and he had a thoughtful look on his face. "Now that you mention it, Jamie seemed pretty displeased the whole time we were there," House said, holding his finger over his mouth in a mock gesture of consideration.
"Doesn't surprise me a bit. Bathrooms are highly overrated. It's just so uncomfortable; porcelain is quite hard, you know," Andrea said and then sipped at her drink. Miriam was looking at her with something akin to adoration. Jamie simply felt that she wouldn't mind being swallowed by the earth right that instant.
"Oh yeah, tell me about it," House said and patted his butt. "The bruises I've gotten--"
"Wait, you bottomed?" Andrea asked, looking honestly surprised. Then she turned to Jamie, "Way to go, love." Jamie choked on air and had to cough.
"I think it's time to change the subject," Miriam butted in, grinning. "Or else Jamie might have a nasty medical-thingy." Jamie felt torn between feeling grateful and insulted. "So, mysterious person who bottoms to Jamie. You still haven't told us your name yet."
"Lafayette," House said and winked.
"Lafayette?" Miriam repeated, somewhat incredulous, and absently gestured the hand holding the cigarette. It happened to wave in front of Andrea's face, and she frowned at it before snatching it from Miriam's hand. "Hey!"
"I accept your claims that you can't break this disgusting habit, but I won't let you set my hair on fire," Andrea said.
"It won't set your hair on fire," Miriam protested, and she and Andrea started to squabble over smokers' rights and duties.
Jamie turned to House. "Lafayette? What are you thinking?" she hissed. "That's the name of a store, for God's sake. Or are pretending to be the general?"
"Yeah; with the tights he wore, he was obviously our revolutionary drag-queen forefather," House said and placed his elbow on the table, resting his chin in his hand. Jamie actually found that amusing, both the comment and House's lack of femininity, but was much too nervous to laugh or even grin.
House looked over at the bar. "God, I need a drink."
With Andrea and Miriam bickering like a married couple to one side and 'Jamie' glaring at him from the other, House could tell that it was going to be a very, very long evening. Definitely longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy; maybe even longer than five-minute speech from a retiring neurologist at his farewell party.
He scanned the room for a waiter, but they must've known he wanted something since they all were conveniently turned away. Maybe they came equipped with radars letting them know when a customer, god forbid, wanted a drink.
He sat up straighter and looked over the bar again, more closely this time. Some two-thirds of the people were cross-dressers of some sort, drag queens and drag kings, though that was only a rough estimate. Most of them, like Wilson, were trying to be convincingly a woman, and in the lack of light, he couldn't be sure who was or wasn't dressed according to their original sex. One thing was for sure, though: no one else here was as garish as him. What, didn't they like following a perfectly acceptable stereotype?
There were several lone drinkers, some in drag and some not, some nursing their drinks and some eyeing the other people in the bar. One guy with dark hair-- House was pretty sure it was a guy; his face was too wide and his hands too big to be a woman's-- seemed especially focused on one spot. A spot very, very close to House.
The guy was staring at Wilson.
House frowned. There was vacuous staring, and then there was this: intense, curious, and one step too close to making the transition from just staring to actually coming over. And he wasn't that bad-looking. If Wilson was, lumped in with the rest of his mid-age crisis, feeling bi-curious, he could do worse. Though, actually, the way the guy smarmily leaned against the counter, and the cocky way he sat with his knees far apart, he was setting off all of House's "creep" alarms.
Plus, if the guy did get Wilson's attention, then House would lose the bet.
"What does a gal have to do to get a drink in this place?" House grumbled loudly, and was satisfied when Wilson kept on looking at him, instead of glancing at the bar and sighting Mr. Legs-Apart Creep.
Miriam broke away from his argument with Andrea, probably glad to get away from more scolding over his chimney habit. "Well, you could go to the counter to order, but if you were a regular, you'd be able to do this." Miriam raised his hand and beckoned and only then a waiter finally took notice. "Hi, Stephenson," Miriam greeted.
"What can I do for you?" the waiter Stephen or something asked.
"You can start by paying attention," House growled, letting his voice go towards baritone. "How are you going to sell anything if none of you idiots will actually look at your clients--" Wilson was glaring at him, oddly prudish, and House had the sudden feeling he knew what it was like to be married. He coughed, to get his voice back up. He was slipping out of character. "A bourbon," House concluded.
Stophson, or whatever his name was, nodded mutely and turned on his heels. House bet he'd get the order wrong. And spit in the drink. Damn service.
Andrea had been looking around while House ordered, and once drink-spitting waiter was gone, he spoke. "Remember that bloke we were talking about just before Lafayette arrived?" he asked quietly, as if he were worried about being heard outside the table. Not that there'd be any problem there, with the constant low murmur of conversation in the bar. Wilson and Miriam nodded. "He's staring at you again."
Bile rose up to House's throat. 'That bloke' had better not be Mr. Wants To Get Laid With My Cross-Dressing Friend, but Wilson blinked and turned straight toward him. The movement was too precise for him not to have known where to look; so much for keeping Wilson's attention away from the guy. It'd been too late even before House had entered the bar.
Miriam whistled and House could've sworn his eyes shone. It was probably just the bar's lights reflecting in his eyes. "You go, girl." Miriam patted Wilson on the arm. House had the strangest urge to growl. "Time for the second quickie of the evening?" To his credit, Wilson looked like he wanted to die. If he did, it'd spare House the trouble of killing him later.
"You certainly are popular tonight," Andrea said, smiling lightly, and was unfazed when House scowled at him.
"Oh, shut up," Wilson said, his blush only growing stronger, but he smirked at House. He could read between the lines: House was losing the bet.
The waiter whose name House had totally forgotten returned and, without interrupting their conversation, delivered a drink. House smelled at it suspiciously, but incredibly enough, it was bourbon, just as he'd ordered. The waiter must've spit in it extra, to make up for the vengeance he didn't get by giving the wrong drink.
Spit or no, House inhaled a mouthful, then a second. Drinking so quickly, he got a quick and comforting buzz. Maybe House was losing the bet at the moment, but that didn't mean he couldn't get back the upper hand. "Dunno," House declared loudly. "I think he's looking at me."
They all stared at him. "Are you blind?" Miriam practically squawked. "He's been making eyes at Jamie for weeks."
In his peripheral version, House could see Wilson tense up. So it was true. He'd been sickly irate before, at the guy that thought he'd have any chance with Wilson, but now he was coasting on a cool kind of anger, like his tumultuous feelings of the evening had been turned to ice. "Has he now, 'Jamie.'"
Wilson's expression hardened, like he'd discovered a new spring of confidence. "Yes, he has, Lafayette."
The ice spread inside of House. "Been baiting him for a while now? Smiling at him from afar, looking sweet and innocent?" House drawled, speaking straight from the base of his throat, voice cool. His index finger traced a slow circle around his glass. Wilson stared at him intently, tensing up further, a small rodent waiting to see where the feline's paw would strike. "But you're not that sweet; maybe you wanted to keep on baiting him forever. You like doing that, don't you?"
House spared a quick glance to the other 'girls.' They were sharing a quick look, slight smirks on their faces. They thought this was funny, did they? Miriam mouthed something, his lips opening up high but narrowly, then pursed into a smaller circle. It almost looked like he was saying House's name. Seeing that, House felt suddenly exposed, naked, before an audience. He drank more of his bourbon, closing his eyes and focusing on the burning on his tongue, his throat. It thawed him out as the drink traveled down to his stomach, turning his anger into something more easily hidden.
Wilson was still silent. "Maybe you're a big tease," House told him, light both in tone and head, "but I can show him a better time." He was going to win this bet, and Wilson wouldn't go home with the guy -- not this night, not any night.
Jamie watched House eye the man by the bar, though House looked more angry than anything else. He must be frustrated, Jamie figured, since he was about to lose the bet already. And yes, that fact did make her feel rather proud of herself.
"That sounds like a dare," Miriam pointed out, grinning, though there was a certain smugness to her expression. Jamie frowned at that; did Miriam know something about the bet? Had she overheard Jamie and House talking earlier? Wait, that was ridiculous. Now Jamie was just being paranoid -- a side effect of knowing House for too long, probably.
"Yes, go on, Lafayette, prove us wrong," Andrea said, smiling far too sweetly. What were she and Miriam planning?
"Glad to," House said cheerfully, but Jamie noted an undertone of irritation in his voice. She frowned again. House wouldn't be this angry just because of a bet, would he? Though that might be a stupid question, since House could get twisted in a knot over vending machines not dropping the food he'd paid for.
House turned towards the dark-haired man and waited until they made eye-contact. When they did, House tilted his head and made a startling good impression of a come-hither look. The only problem was that it looked horribly out of place on House's face; even a lecherous grin or smirk would've looked better.
The nameless man by the bar frowned and looked around in confusion. Miriam was trying hard to keep herself from laughing out loud and Andrea had pursed her lips, though her eyes were twinkling. Jamie had to admit that the sight was an amusing one, but also disturbing. Much like the rest of the evening so far. She wondered if she the housekeepers at the hotel had any bleach, so she could drown her brain in it and forget all of this.
Miriam swallowed hard and managed to keep her face straight. "Well, that went well, don't you think?" she asked House, the corner of her mouth twitching violently. Andrea coughed and covered her mouth with her hand. House scowled at them, but there was a well-hidden flicker of something in his eyes; Jamie probably wouldn't have recognized it if she hadn't known House for over a decade.
"Are you alright?" she asked in a low voice, leaning closer to House so that only he could hear. The flicker was there again: hurt, probably pride-related, anger, and something more. House scoffed.
"I'm fine," he said, as good as snapping, and then haughtily brushed bits of his wig from out of his face. House turned back to the man by the bar, and this time leaned back in his seat, legs slightly apart, the very picture of confidence. Jamie could see small faults that gave the illusion away: the angle of the shoulders, the inward bend of his feet -- but she didn't think anyone else noticed. House sipped from his glass and raised his eyebrows.
The man seemed to realize that it was indeed him that House was flirting with, and he grinned a little, both politely and a little nervously, but didn't leave his seat. Miriam and Andrea exchanged a look and a smirk but kept quiet this time.
"Really, you're like Casanova the Second," Jamie muttered and reached for her drink, though she didn't make a show of it. House was making a fool of himself, more so than usual, and Jamie was not all that amused by it. Failure never looked good on House. She'd say something comforting, if she didn't know that pity would only make things worse. Might as well rely on good old biting sarcasm, then.
"Well, if you think it's that easy, you bring him over," House snapped. Jamie shrugged, forcing herself to ignore the little voice in her head saying she was unnecessarily cruel. She turned to the man by the bar, tilted her head forward a little and, looking at him through her eyelashes, smiled coyly.
The man's smile became more natural and he leaned forward in interest, maybe unconsciously so. Jamie nodded towards the table and raised an eyebrow slightly. That did the trick; the man got up from the chair and made his way over.
Jamie turned to look at House, a small cocky smile ready, but it faltered when she saw the clenched jaw and vicious look in his eyes. She hadn't seen House this angry since... since the whole debacle with Tritter.
Cuddy had once said that it was as if Wils-- Jamie could read House's mind. At this moment, Jamie wished she could; she hadn't the faintest idea what was going on in there.
'Livid' didn't begin to describe House. Again he was feeling that cool, distant anger. He didn't let himself examine why he was so peacefully enraged; he just watched as the creep slinked to their table, confident, hiding back the grin of a man who'd caught his prey. Not once looking away, House drank what was left of his bourbon and almost slammed his glass back on the table. He stopped the slam at the last moment. He couldn't lose his cool.
The creepmeister reached them and, leaning one palm against the table, his body's angle oozing of smug satisfaction, locked eye contact with Wilson. "Hey," he said, voice assured and cocky. It might even have been considered sexy, if you were into the smooth jerk act.
House squeezed his glass, half-wishing it'd break. He needed more bourbon.
Wilson's eyes flickered up, examining the guy's face for a long moment, then traveled downwards over the rest of his body, and finally settled back onto his eyes. House couldn't stand to watch, but he couldn't look away either, rooted to the scene. He saw the smile slowly bloom on Wilson's face, sweet yet coy, and he suddenly imagined the two of them in an embrace, kissing passionately as they tumbled into bed, the guy's hand traveling up Wilson's blouse.
House turned away. He had to call one of the idiot waiters for that bourbon.
"I'm sorry," Jerk-o-creep said, though he didn't sound sorry at all. "But I don't know any of your names." He kept his eyes on Wilson, and Wilson didn't discourage it.
House hated him, but kept his smile coy and ran a hand over the back of his neck, trying both to look sexy and to wipe away the plastic hair sticking there with sweat. "Lafayette." He used his best French accent, which wasn't all that great. For all the languages he spoke, he could never shake his American accent.
"Andrea," Andrea said neutrally. But Andrea's guarded expression almost exploded into laughter when Miriam held up a hand in a victory-sign, only with the back of his hand to the Wilson-predator. House had to fight back any signs of recognizing the British equivalent of 'fuck you.' No one else seemed to notice the meaning of Miriam's sign, though.
"Miriam," he said, bringing his hand, and the two-finger salute, back down.
Only one introduction left. House looked at Wilson apprehensively. He'd tucked his hand under his chin elegantly, and damn it if he didn't look reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' Wilson really was disturbingly good at this. "Jamie," he said, smooth and honeyed, and House hurt to hear that voice directed that way at anyone, much less this guy who was probably pure evil incarnate.
The guy nodded at all of them. "Jamie. Miriam. Andrea. Lafayette. It's a pleasure." Even as he said all these names, he kept his eyes on Wilson, with the sickening flirtiness.
"So." Miriam started up a new cigarette, the flame momentarily lighting up his face. House could've patted him on the back for speaking and maybe tearing Wilson's attention away from the would-be seducer. "Finally worked up the courage to come over?" Or maybe not.
"Well," the guy said, still not looking away from 'Jamie.' "I was waiting for the right moment. I'm Damien, by the way." He held out his hand to Wilson, and he was going for physical contact this soon? They might as well start making out on the table and get it over with.
"The right moment happened right after I spent ten minutes with him in the bathroom?" House asked loudly.
Wilson's hand froze before it got any higher than chest-level, and he turned to gawk at House. House tried not to gloat... too much. Miriam grinned madly and winked at him-- maybe he wasn't so bad, after all-- and Andrea too seemed to approve, looking at House warmly.
As for the guy supposedly called Damien, he seemed shocked at first, his jaw dropping slightly. But he recovered fast enough, both his eyebrows arching as he studied House. There was a certain amount of curiosity in his expression, and that was when House knew he had him. If sarcastic comments drew him in, then House could lure him all the way to Siberia, if need be. And tie him up there forever.
"I don't question good fortune when I find it," Damien said, slowly, and this time he was trying his sexy act on House. House wanted to laugh, both at him and in relief. Off to Siberia they were, then. Hopefully a bear would eat him there. "I just chase after it." Damien nabbed a chair from the vacant table next to them and, without invitation, slid it between House and Wilson. House more grimaced than smiled. House wouldn't have minded punching Damien, but if he was winning the bet, he would let that slight pass.
Now further away and with an obnoxious man between them, Wilson was frowning, and House could tell he was biting the inside of his cheek as if gnawing at that would decrease his frustration. House felt no pity, however. He couldn't let Wilson end up with Damien, and he'd show no mercy keeping that from happening.
Andrea too had taken on a more calculating expression, eyeing the three of them. House would wonder what he was thinking, but he had more pressing matters to take care of.
"So you're a runner, huh?" House asked, daintily pressing a couple of fingertips to his chin in a mockery of feminine appeal. House wished he could scratch at his back; the sparkly dress fabric was really starting to itch up a storm. "Bet you gotta chase after a lot."
"I don't know," Wilson said, and House's mirth lessened at the way he tilted his head, gently and way too fucking gracefully. It only got worse when he saw the way Damien followed Wilson's hand as it slid towards his on the tabletop, stopping just before they touched. "I don't think he'd have to run that much."
"Say what you will about my taste," Miriam said, and Wilson, Damien, and House all snapped their heads towards him, like they'd all forgotten about their audience. Miriam stubbed out the remains of his cigarette in the glass ashtray. "But that's not the horse I'd bet on."
"Miriam!" Andrea whacked Miriam on the arm, and House was somewhat surprised; he didn't think he could react with such force. His tone was a cross between shock and amusement. At this rate, House was going to have to grudgingly like 'Jamie's' stupid friends.
Damien looked intrigued, much in the way he had when House had mocked his sense of timing; his fancy in partners seemed to switch around faster than whatever speed his legs could pump out. "That's okay," Damien said, his eyes flicking from Wilson to House to Miriam, like he was in a supermarket trying to choose which fruit to get. Or maybe he was calculating how many kinds of fruit he could chow down in one night. "There's a taste for everything."
While Damien looked around, Wilson closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He then opened his eyes and, softly, placed his hand over Damien's arm. House could swear his heart was about to beat out of his chest, and if he didn't yell bloody murder, it was because he could barely breathe. "Some tastes," Wilson said with the same subtlety he reserved for delivering delicate news to his patients, "are better than others."
If Damien's attention had been wandering before, it was firmly cemented to Wilson now, gazing at the hand on his arm, then at Wilson's face. House hated him more than ever.
This was not nearly as fun as Jamie had thought it would be.
Miriam seemed amused, but Andrea was observing Jamie and House with a strange look on her face. House was in an even worse mood, and Jamie was now convinced that there was something else, apart from the bet, that was bothering him. She just couldn't get her mind around what. House was snappish, rude -- more so than usual, that is -- and looking bent on murder.
Then there was Damien. Too smooth, too slick; he had to be faking. He was probably an asshole, if this act was anything to go by. And Jamie had very well noticed the looks he'd been giving her friends. Well, she thought, the upside was that she wouldn't feel guilty seducing him just because of a bet.
Luring Damien to her hadn't been at all challenging. Sure, he had the attention span of a gnat, but he was easy enough to please. Apparently there were men who really had no problem at all with jumping women (even if with male genitalia) as soon as they seemed the least bit willing. No wonder Wil-- Jamie wound up with plenty of women swooning over him -- as House took much pleasure in pointing out -- if all you had to do was to not be a complete ass.
Still, Damien was a good-looking ass; she could've done worse. He was looking at her hand on his arm and then turned his attention to her face. She smiled a little wider -- which, admittedly, wasn't much since, since she only had more or less quirked the corner of her lips upwards; it felt unnatural -- and then averted her gaze before looking back at him. The coy act obviously worked, so she might as well continue on the same track. From the corners of her eyes, she was aware that Miriam was watching them with a curious face, Andrea with a thoughtful one, and House... Well, House was fortunately out of view.
Damien started to slowly lean forward toward her and Jamie let herself mimic him. This was it, then; they were going to kiss, and if this didn't make her win the bet with House, she didn't want to think of what would. The upcoming kiss couldn't be that bad, right? She'd kissed her wives when they'd been on the brink of divorce; surely kissing a handsome stranger she felt nothing for wouldn't be as bad as that.
The kiss was slicker than Jamie had anticipated, because of the lipstick. She was used to kissing people wearing it, not to wearing it herself. Damien didn't seem to mind though, and they couldn't possibly have been kissing for more than a few seconds before she felt Damien's tongue. She parted her lips a little, and instantly it snaked inside.
Jamie heard a surprised noise from Miriam, a cough from Andrea, and suspicious, terrifying silence from House. But she didn't have time to dwell on that, not when she had Damien to focus on. It was hard to keep up; he was much too eager for her taste. House would call him-- her a hopeless romantic, but kisses should be slow and loving, not... hasty. And not tasting of alcohol and ashtray.
There was a moment or two of more hard-to-keep-up-with tongue and then Damien was slowly pulling back. A few seconds of good old-fashioned lip-kissing, and they were done; Jamie restrained herself from wiping her mouth after they parted. She forced herself to smile. Leaning back and tilting her head downwards in a shy motion, Jamie glanced at Miriam and Andrea. Miriam was frowning at her, apparently confused. Andrea had a reprimanding look on her face, though it was well-hidden and Jamie was sure Damien didn't notice.
Jamie very purposefully avoided looking at House.
House stared, transfixed, the whole time. It'd been exactly what he hadn't let himself imagine earlier, right before his very eyes. And he couldn't stop Wilson from leaning in, from opening his mouth, from any of it. All he could do was watch. He couldn't even think, thoughts frozen.
He was vaguely aware that Miriam and Andrea were saying things, but he couldn't make out what.
The two lovebirds parted and Wilson was smiling at Damien like there was no one else in the room. They could leave right now, the two of them, leaving him, House, here, with his wig, his dress, and 'Jamie's' tranny friends as consolation.
The bet, part of House's mind reminded him. Maybe he couldn't stop Wilson from fucking someone else, but he could keep it from being Damien, at least.
"Well," Damien started to say, "That--"
He didn't get anything else out because House grabbed his shoulder, forcefully turned him around, and, clutching him by the cheeks, planted his lips on Damien's. Damien's eyes bugged out in surprise, but House insisted, kissing harder, wedging his bottom lip between Damien's, and eventually Damien closed his eyes and gave in, grabbing House's waist. They toppled off their chairs and onto their feet, and House pressed his body against Damien's, though he felt like a magnet repelling a like force, wanting nothing more to push away. He couldn't, though. There was the bet to win. There was the bed he had to keep Wilson out of.
Damien's mouth was wet-- Wth Wilson's spit? Something twinged in House's gut-- and clammy. It was strange to press his own clean-shaven face against incipient stubble. No wonder all his girlfriends had complained; it scratched worse than his dress. And god, Damien's breath stank. There was a reason House had given up smoking; he couldn't stand the smell anymore. House encouraged Damien's lips open, anyway, and who started the battle of the tongues, he wasn't sure, but it was like World War III in there, their tongues having turned into tanks mowing down everything in the way.
As far as kisses went, it was actually pretty exciting-- in the schoolyard fight kind of way, and not the blood-rushing downwards one. House listened to their audience, hoping for a reaction from Wilson, but all he heard was Andrea saying "Well, bugger me," and Miriam shrieking, "For the love of--!"
Fun as it was, his tongue was getting tired. He bit Damien's lower lip, then licked it.
It was only as he pulled away that he picked up on Wilson's scent, that same perfume from before. House's gut reacted, strumming, and now he recognized it as an old friend: the beginning of arousal. Well. That was interesting. And not something he would analyze right now.
Damien's head was in the way, so he couldn't get an immediate glimpse of Wilson's reaction, but Miriam was making himself more than clear. "Are you done now?" Miriam demanded. Damien nodded, kind of dazed, and House ignored the question, straining to see Wilson. "Good, I thought that was never going to end!"
Damien was refusing to move, so House shoved him into his seat. With Damien down, he could finally see Wilson; he was pale and tight-lipped. He looked the way House had been feeling when he'd watched Wilson kiss Damien. Good; let him hurt, the way House had.
House was looking at her, his eyes cold but his expression smug. Jamie wanted to spring to her feet and yell, "What the fuck did you do that for?!" in a highly unfeminine way. She didn't, of course, and just concentrated on keeping her expression straight. It felt like there was a snake winding behind her ribcage. It was a vaguely familiar feeling, but she couldn't place it right then.
The bet. She was still winning, wasn't she? Just because House had kissed Damien didn't mean he made the 'better' woman. Damien had kissed Jamie of his own accord, he hadn't been forced into it, and why did House have to go and do that, why?
Jamie's thoughts on how to proceed from there were interrupted by Andrea asking: "Why the spontaneous snog-fest?"
Luckily enough -- or unluckily, depending on your point of view -- House did have something to say. "'Cause there's not enough kissing in the world, says I." He winked and Miriam burst out in laughter.
"Couldn't agree more." Damien touched his lips. Jamie wondered if House would try to claim victory in the bet just because Damien had kissed back; it didn't seem fair, but then again, 'fair' had never been a factor in House's games.
Miriam, who had started to regain control over her laughing, recovered completely and looked mildly indignant. "You of all people shouldn't agree, you're the one who got all the action." Yes, Jamie thought; he'd been receiving all too much action that evening.
"It wasn't my doing." Damien glanced at both Jamie and House; his voice rose a little at the end, making it sound like a question.
House sniffed at Miriam. "You're just jealous; you should be happy you got to even see any."
"Oh, should I?" Miriam said dryly. She seemed to actually reflect on it, chin in hand and finger on lips. She finally snapped out of her thoughts and grinned. "I suppose you're right-- after all, people do pay to see this sort of thing, you know?"
"It's called porn," House said. "You may have seen some in your lifetime. You know, with the naked people and maybe dressed animals." And how typically House, to only enjoy himself when he was (maybe) in the lead, yukking up the scene now like it was the year's hit comedy, when before he'd been furious beyond reason.
Damien looked away and pointedly said nothing.
"I know that! I do have cable, you know. Though I prefer the lesbian soft-core to the bestiality," Miriam said sweetly, the grin never leaving her face. Damien appeared to be distinctly interested in this line of thought.
Jamie wanted to bury her face in her hands, but didn't; the gesture would be too obvious. She'd never let Miriam and House close to each other again because that there was a force too frightening to contemplate, much less let exist.
This was all going too far, spinning out of Jamie's control. At this rate, Damien would either get up and leave altogether, or continue fumbling between two or more of them, or even settle on House. (Jamie couldn't imagine House going all the way and taking Damien back home, however. Unless it was to spite Jamie; she wouldn't put that past him).
Jamie couldn't lose this bet. She couldn't. Her freedom depended on it. House might be able to find other ways to butt in on her life as Jamie, but if she won this bet, it'd be one item less of ammunition he'd have to make her life hell. Losing was not an option. She had to hook Damien back. How?
While she was contemplating her options, the table continued the conversation about porn, and Damien remained just about, if not more, intrigued as when Jamie and House had been hitting on him. The obvious conclusion was that he had a voyeuristic streak; maybe Jamie could work with that.
An idea came to her. It was mad, outrageous and just plain idiotic; it was something House would have come up with, no doubt. But it could work. It was worth a shot anyway. Rising to her feet before common sense could catch up with her, she leaned past Damien and grabbed House by the shoulders, pulling him up to his feet too.
"I won't let you win," she whispered, low enough so only House could hear and, ignoring the startled look on his face, pressed her lips against his, closing her eyes.
It was... odd. In one way, kissing House was even slicker than kissing Damien-- double lipstick effect-- but in another way, it was a lot drier. House was quite motionless, and if Jamie had been in a different situation, she might have been unnerved. But she'd expected this reaction. Trying to block out her surroundings and the people in it, she let herself kiss in earnest.
Sliding her lips against House's, she tried to coax him to respond. House still refused to co-operate. She placed tiny kisses at the corner of his mouth, and hesitatingly slid her left hand up House's shoulder, letting it settle against his neck, her fingers brushing against his hair under the wig.
Finally House responded. He stiffened and then relaxed a bit, like he'd come to believe this really was happening, and he placed a hand on Jamie's hip. She briefly wondered if he had a fever; his touch was almost hot. House moved his lips, ever so slowly and slightly, and she felt a sudden jolt through her body. Her breathing sped up, her chest felt as if it had closed up, and her heart beat harder. Now she was confused; she recognized the feeling, but it couldn't be that, could it? It was House she was kissing, that didn't make sense...
Then House started to kiss properly and all mental activity was blown away as the misplaced feeling might as well have exploded inside her.
Wilson had said he wouldn't let him win, but House had no idea how this was going to give him the upper hand. He was pretty sure, though, that if anyone was going to end up on the losing team, it was his sanity.
When Wilson had launched himself at him, his eyes had been squeezed shut, looking like a man jumping off a cliff in sheer desperation, as if the fall would solve all his problems. House hadn't seen the kiss coming, not until the moment it was actually happening, and he suddenly realized he'd been pulled in to join in on the fall. If he hadn't made a sound, it was only because the shock was too great. But, petrified or not, the ground, or whatever it represented in this metaphor, was rushing towards them.
House closed his eyes, and gave himself in to the fall. What would be, would be.
Wilson, as a kisser, was everything House had already carefully predicted without realizing: determined, persistent, and, well, smooth. Not smooth in Damien's practiced and insincere way, but natural, like he knew just how much pressure to use to tempt House into kissing back, how to angle his face for the most intimate touch. Maybe it wasn't a talent Wilson was born with, but rather, had acquired from all his years of friendship with House; just as Wilson knew how to lie, how to manipulate House into doing the right thing, how to make him laugh, he knew just how to get tingles running up and down House's spine.
That damned nameless perfume wasn't helping, either. House breathed it in directly and what he'd once sought was now presented in overwhelming quantity. It dizzied him. Half to steady himself, half to confirm that this was for real, House held Wilson by the hip, the silk fabric cool to the touch, and let himself explore the texture of Wilson's lips with his own.
If this was a joke of Wilson's, House was so going to kill him.
But if it was a joke, it was a damn serious one; as if in response to House's opening, Wilson kissed harder, which in turn only spurred House on, and it became a vicious cycle, each one upping the ante. Before he knew it, Wilson's hands were on the back of his neck, on the small of his back, pulling him in as if they were lovers that had been parted for years.
House might've let out a strangled noise. He might've let out another one as Wilson's fingers curled around the nape of his neck, but he couldn't be too sure, because he was too focused on grabbing Wilson back, hugging him. If kissing Damien had been a battle, then this was a conversation – one that should've happened ages ago. Hello, it said, along with, Where have you been? I've been waiting all this time, and Finally, finally, finally.
They kissed passionately, hard, now, teeth on lips, no mercy given or wanted.
This wasn't enough. It was nowhere near enough. It could've been because of that stupid perfume, which seemed designed with the express objective of driving House to distraction, or it could've been the accumulation of so many ridiculous things in one evening. House couldn't be sure; he wasn't thinking straight right now. All he knew was that he wanted more than just hands over cloth, no matter how fine it may be, more than mouth to mouth.
House couldn't believe this was running through his mind, but he wanted it all. He wanted Wilson naked, to be naked with him, with none of these disguises acting as physical lies between them. He wanted the soft sighs and gasps Wilson made now to be louder, louder, so loud the neighbors would complain with bitter envy. He wanted to feel Wilson everywhere, with tongue and fingertips, from behind his ears to his nipple to even the inside of his elbow, so that House could know every inch of him.
Most of all, House wanted to undo Wilson the way Wilson was undoing him.
House hated Jamie and the club and the bet and Miriam and Andrea and Damien and the stupid waiter and his own sparkling red dress, because it all had brought him to this; but he couldn't hate it too much, if it meant he could kiss Wilson like this.
Wilson made a small noise-- involuntary, it sounded-- and yes, that was exactly the kind of thing House wanted to be hearing, only louder, less controlled. Wilson pressed into House, bodies aligning, and it was then that House broke the kiss, only so he could bury his face into the crook of Wilson's neck and begin to appreciate the rest of him.
The appreciation, however, was interrupted by a repetitive, loud, obnoxious sound.
House and Wilson, startled, looked to the source of the noise. It was Miriam, clapping furiously. "You two have lost all sense of decency," Miriam cheered.
"Finally!" Andrea agreed, like a fan who had waited all season long for the main couple to get together. Wilson's hands were slipping away, and House would complain, but his own had flown off the moment he'd realized he'd been slobbering all over Wilson in public and in front of a very, very interested audience. Anyway, he couldn't be offended by Wilson's retraction, not when Wilson was quietly radiant, tilting his head and gazing down shyly.
Speaking of "down," Damien was in that general direction, as lost as a bird that could not see the glass keeping it from its desired destination. House might have felt sorry for him, but then again, it was great to watch him smack repeatedly against the barrier, looking back and forth between them. Plus, House hated Damien's guts. And the rest of him.
"Is this--" Damien crossed his arms, confused but still interested. "I mean, I don't usually--"
House waited for Wilson's reaction. Wilson seemed to have a hard time looking him in the eye, as if it was too intimate a contact after their public make-out, but eventually he looked at House steadily. House understood what Wilson wanted, although he couldn't have explained how he knew; he just did. "It's not," House said. Minutes ago, House would've been crueler, but he was feeling generous; after all, he was winning something, if not the bet.
He just wondered what, exactly, he was winning.
Miriam was there to pick up House's slack. "Absolutely fucking not," he told an increasingly confused Damien. "You're the odd one out, now." Damien's eyes narrowed, his entire face tightening, like a hunter who had found all his traps empty of prey. He glanced quickly at Andrea, whose expression was no more welcoming than House's and Miriam's.
Finally, Damien looked to Wilson, the reason he'd come to the table in the first place. For a second, House was taken by a fear that he had misread Wilson; that the bet was still in place, that Wilson still meant to go off with Damien. Stupid persistent insecurities. But Wilson met Damien's gaze coldly.
Apparently Damien got the message, and stood up so quickly that House felt a breeze from Damien's chair clattering with his sudden rise. "Should've known better," Damien spat. "Fucking fags."
Anger flooded through House, hot and demanding. Damien turned around to leave, but House laid a hand on his shoulder. "The thing about slurs," he said, his voice controlled despite his fury. "They're not as effective when you actually fit the description."
Damien shot him a withering look. "In that case, let go of me, gimp."
He wrenched himself out of House's hold, and stormed off towards the exit. House didn't know what he'd have done, if he'd been able to keep up with Damien's pace, or if Wilson hadn't grabbed his arm, keeping him back. Fist-fighting wasn't the smartest thing for a "gimp" to do, but it was tempting, it really was. He almost did go despite Wilson's grasp, but then House looked at Wilson face: pale, severely pissed, his own anger barely contained.
Somehow, knowing that Wilson was just as shaken calmed him down. He wasn't alone in this.
And the asshole wasn't worth the effort.
"Fuck you, too!" Miriam yelled, complemented with the middle-finger, as Damien opened the door and left. Andrea's hands were on his shoulders, weighing him down, in the same way Wilson was doing with House. Knowing Miriam, he'd probably been reacting to the slurs all along, and only now House was noticing. The door closed behind Damien, and Miriam huffed, pulling out a new cigarette. "He should go fuck himself. Repeatedly. Without lubricant."
He lit the cigarette, between his lips, but before he could take the first drag, Andrea neatly took it and stubbed it out in the ash tray. Miriam stared at the lost cigarette, and sighed, but did nothing more. Andrea so had Miriam wrapped about his finger; House could sympathize.
Wilson seemed to have missed out on the mini-drama that had just taken place at their table, eyes still glaring at where Damien had left. "He should. He really fucking should." His grip on House's arm relaxed, but he did not let go, his hand slipping down to House's elbow in a natural hold. House thought of a girl holding onto her guy's arm, in those stupid chick flicks, as they promenaded about town. And maybe that wasn't too crazy a comparison; he might prefer ripping off his own finger nails to walking and shopping, even with Wilson, but the girl-and-guy thing might be possible. Might be too possible, with Jamie.
"He'll get what's coming to him," Andrea said coldly, but Miriam seemed to perk up at the words. "You can't be that stupid and last long."
"Actually," House said, and the pain in his thigh started to throb, the ache bleeding out to the rest of his leg and the beginning of his spine. He'd been able to ignore his leg for the past while, with all the kissing and tumult, but now the toll was catching up to him. He didn't want to lose Wilson's hand on his elbow -- would Wilson ever touch him like that, again? -- but he couldn't help himself from wincing back down into his chair. He pulled out the Vicodin bottle he'd stashed in his bra, and served himself the possibility of less pain later. "It's the idiots like that that last the longest of all."
Andrea gave House a look that was half reproachful, half sympathetic. House swallowed the Vicodin -- Jamie could swear she saw two pills instead of just one -- and ignored Andrea.
Jamie's legs were unsteady and she sat down in her chair, placing her hands in her lap. Her hands were stiff and the knuckles were still pale from being clenched so long. She'd had to use all of her self-control to restrain herself from punching Damien square in the face. It was odd, she mused, that she didn't think it was a strange course of action for Jamie, while it was outrageous for James Wilson. Maybe she really did suffer from dissociative identity disorder; she'd have to talk to her psychiatrist about that. It would be very inconvenient if Jamie suddenly appeared when she was Wilson.
Miriam was muttering again, but this time it was so low that no one could make out what she was saying. Jamie thought she caught the words "asshole" and "disembowel," but she couldn't swear on it. She couldn't say she was surprised, though. Andrea didn't say anything at all and seemed to be deep in thought. Still, her eyes moved between Jamie and House, occasionally flicking to Miriam.
Jamie looked back at House. He was silent, staring unseeingly at the table, rubbing his thigh. Jamie's hand twitched. For some reason, hearing Damien insult House had made her almost go berserk, while hearing Damien insult her had only made her angry. She tried not to think too much about why.
The bet was another headache-in-the-making she didn't want to think about; she'd kissed House to get back Damien's interest in her, to keep from losing the bet, but halfway through, she'd just-- The bet hadn't seemed all that important, suddenly. Not when compared to touching House, breathing in his breath, being with him. It was crazy. It was demented, foolish, and idiotic, just like the rest of this evening. If Damien hadn't proven to be such a lout, Jamie would've wished she'd have kept to the bet, winning Damien over and letting House flout. But that wasn't an option anymore.
In fact, it'd never been an option.
House rose stiffly to his feet, supporting himself against the table. Jamie felt a twinge when she saw that he was favoring his right leg. "I've had enough," he said and, picking up that horrid glittery pink cane, left without another word. Jamie was torn between feeling relieved and wanting to jump to her feet to follow him.
"That leg much be a real bitch for him," Andrea said as they watched House leave, his gait more awkward than usual. Jamie nodded slowly, absent-mindedly, not taking her eyes off House. If he wasn't such a proud idiot who preferred to tend to his hurts in private, Jamie would've followed. "Does it interfere with his work much? I'd hate to hear that people die of obscure diseases just because their savior has a bad leg-day."
It took a second for Andrea's words to sink in, but when they did, Jamie snapped her head around, gawking. Andrea was smirking at her. They knew that 'Lafayette' was House? But she'd been so careful not to call him by name! "What, you thought we wouldn't figure it out?" Andrea asked with a raised eyebrow.
Miriam had stopped cursing Damien, and her wicked grin was tugging at her lips again. "The way you two acted, it wasn't that hard to guess," she said. "But I must admit that he's taller than I'd pictured him. And I assume he's not all that bad-looking when he's not dressed up. At least I hope so."
Jamie forced herself to stop gaping, but when she tried to talk, no sound came out. Her mind was blank with shock. She had never planned for this to happen, for Andrea and Miriam to meet House. She hadn't even thought of the possibility. Stupid of her, really, not to, when House was the person he was. Why hadn't she thought of this before? "How did you--"
Andrea smiled warmly at her and leaned forward to place a hand on Jamie's shoulder. "Jamie, love, it really wasn't that hard to work out," she said, in an unusually kind manner. "I think you're forgetting that we know each other quite well. And there can only be so many abrasive, obnoxious, sarcastic, and obsessive friends of yours that are mental enough to stalk and ambush you here."
Well, that much was true, Jamie thought, but she was still feeling rather uneasy. She had no handle on the situation whatsoever. It all felt rather surreal, in fact, like a very odd sort of dream.
"If you want some advice," Miriam said, "I'd say that you should hurry after him and drag him into bed. If your show earlier is any indication, that is."
That was too much. Jamie stared at Miriam for a moment and then reached for Miriam's gin and tonic, downing the last of it. "Hey!" Miriam exclaimed indignantly, reaching for her glass. Jamie made sure it was out of her reach.
"Very tactful, dear Miriam. You seem to have made Jamie feel the need to drown herself in alcohol," Andrea said breezily. She turned to Jamie and said in a more serious voice, "I don't think you should drink too much. Too many witnesses; remembering the evening will actually be better than forgetting it." Then she added, muttering, "Not that I don't understand your situation."
Jamie put the glass back on the table and closed her eyes. She was feeling dizzy and her thoughts were swirling; she knew she hadn't been drinking that much, so she supposed she was high on something else. Like adrenaline, for example. She hadn't felt this stressed since Christmas. She ended that train of thought abruptly. She wasn't going to think about that, preferably not ever, especially not now.
Taking a deep breath, she composed herself and said, in a somewhat strained voice, "So, that's it?"
"That's what?" Miriam asked, and when Jamie opened her eyes, she saw that she and Andrea looked genuinely puzzled.
"This. You've met House, you've seen him in, uh, action, my life has rudely intruded -- which I'm very sorry for, by the way -- and you're not upset?" Jamie asked, incredulous. Miriam and Andrea were acting so calm; they almost seemed amused by it all.
"You're the only one who's upset, Jamie," Andrea pointed out. "Why would we be?"
"The only thing upsetting me is that you haven't run after House already," Miriam said, nodding toward the entrance.
Jamie blinked. "You mean you were serious when you said...?" she started, but couldn't bring herself to finish. It was too weird.
"Of course I was!" Miriam exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air.
Jamie's brain stopped functioning again for a moment. Okay, yes, it had been oddly nice to kiss House. But that could easily be because she hadn't slept with anyone since Grace. And the night had so far been very confusing, so of course her mind and emotions were all messed up. It didn't mean she wanted House, not really. House was a friend, however annoying and difficult, and it just didn't make sense...
"Stop that," Miriam ordered sternly.
Jamie blinked again and looked at her, a bit dazed from being rudely interrupted in her train of thought. "Stop what?"
"Thinking things over and over and being in denial like you always do," Miriam said. She looked rather severe. "I won't have any of it. Now, before your traitorous mind has had enough time to make you think this is a bad idea, stand up and leave this bar. Find House, tell him he's the love of your life, and drag him into the bedroom and do him until you can't keep your eyes open any longer."
Jamie felt her jaw fall open once again. It was starting to hurt, actually.
"Apart from the crude wording, I must say that I agree with Miriam," Andrea said evenly. Jamie turned to stare at her too. Andrea smiled at her. Absentmindedly, Jamie mused that it was odd seeing Andrea smile so much; most often she was smirking or not smiling at all. "Listen, just do as she says. And if things turn out horrible -- which I don't think will happen -- you can come back here and cry your heart out."
Jamie's eyes were starting to hurt too. Too much gawking obviously wasn't good for you. "And if I don't?" she asked, her voice coming out disturbingly meek.
"I'll personally drag you to him and lock you two in a bedroom," Miriam said. She didn't seem to be joking. Jamie desperately hoped she wouldn't have to do exactly as Miriam told her; if she as much as mentioned the phrase "love of her life," House would never let her live it down.
Sighing deeply and knowing she would regret this horribly when her common sense returned to her, Jamie stood up and grabbed her coat. "Well then, wish me luck," she said dejectedly; at least her voice wasn't quite as weak as before.
Miriam and Andrea beamed at her, and Jamie didn't know if she should be annoyed at them or feel grateful. "Go and sweep him off his feet!" Miriam said and raised her empty glass in a toast.
"We're right behind you," Andrea said warmly.
Miriam turned to her and asked, somewhat surprised, "Are we?" Jamie suddenly had a disturbing mental image of Andrea and Miriam dressed in cheerleader outfits and waving pompoms.
"Metaphorically speaking," Andrea shrugged.
Jamie nodded good-bye to both of them and then turned, walking towards the entrance. Silently telling herself to calm down, she mentally stripped herself of Jamie and started to become Wilson again. The feeling of the silk blouse against her skin became odd and the skirt swishing around her legs, foreign. She was struck just how incredibly insensible her shoes were. She straightened herself up and her stride swayed less. The wig suddenly felt just in the way, and he swept it away from his face.
As Wilson opened the doors, the night air was cool compared to the warmth inside the bar. The sun had set long ago, but streetlights illuminated the darkness. Taking in his surroundings, he first thought that he was the only person around. Then his eyes fell on the figure leaning against a familiar car, and his heart stopped beating for a split second.
House was leaning against the front of his old Dodge Dynasty, arms tucked around his body. Something gleamed in his right hand, and as he lifted it to his mouth, Wilson realized that it was a cigarette. Wilson knew he was completely back from being Jamie when the first thought that came to his mind was an alphabetical list of all the different kinds of cancers smoking could cause.
House was looking directly at Wilson. Wilson suddenly felt incredibly uncomfortable and had the urge to squirm and hide from that gaze. Having House stare at him wasn't bad normally, but being dressed up as a woman without feeling like Jamie, he felt, well, ridiculous. Steeling himself, he walked with as much dignity as he could muster toward House.
Wilson stopped about two meters away. They stared at each other for a moment, Wilson with held breath. It wasn't defiant, not like their usual staring contests, but Wilson couldn't put his finger on what it was exactly. Dressed in a skirt and with a damn handbag, Wilson thought bitterly that he was acting like a schoolgirl -- all shy and awkward. Though, admittedly, schoolgirls didn't dress up as the opposite gender and make out with their best friends at bars for drag queens. Or if they did, things had changed a whole lot since he had been a teenager.
"What the fuck just happened?" House asked, sounding weary and old, and suddenly Wilson felt the weight of what had happened that evening. The sound of House's voice somehow made it real. He had to quell a sudden wave of nausea.
"You tell me," Wilson replied in a somewhat thick voice, and he had to swallow again. Despite having left the bar just minutes ago, everything that had happened felt foreign and distant, like a strange dream.
House didn't reply and just took a drag on his cigarette. Wilson felt an increasing urge to snatch it and put it out. Several seconds passed with neither of them speaking, the wisps of House's smoke unfurling into the darkness. The concrete was uneven and there were small pools of water in the dips from the earlier rain. The streetlights created stark contrasts; the shadows were all black and indistinguishable from another. House's legs looked unnaturally pale, and his right one looked strained from thigh to ankle.
Wilson found the smell of cigarette smoke more and more annoying. "You shouldn't smoke," he eventually said. "You'd be surprised at how hard it is to solve your puzzles from inside a pine box."
House exhaled a puff of smoke. "You want us to imitate Betty and Veronica?" he asked sarcastically, nodding toward the bar.
"Their names are Miriam and Andrea," Wilson said immediately, and then almost felt like slapping himself. Getting House to have a serious discussion was hard enough, and Wilson getting hung up on what House chose to call Miriam and Andrea when they weren't even present wouldn't help things at all.
House didn't lift his hand to take another drag, just let the cigarette slowly burn down. He looked up, contemplatively. "You're going to keep on seeing them, aren't you?" he said, sounding drained. "Keep on being 'Jamie'." He spit out the name like it was a disease, the common and boring sort.
Was House acknowledging that he'd lost the bet? "Yeah, I am," Wilson said, simply yet resolutely.
House threw his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it with the tip of his red sandals, rubbing at it with more force than necessary. "Where does that leave me?" he asked, sounding as tired as he looked.
Wilson felt like House had hit him. What kind of question was that? "That leaves you with me, James Wilson."
House pushed himself off the car and stood straight, leaning on his left leg. "What if I don't want just a part of you?" he asked in a low voice, almost unsure.
Wilson blinked. That sounded positively... But was he just imagining things? Half-unconsciously, he took a step closer to House. He cursed himself for it a second later, but figured that he'd make a worse mess if he stepped backward again. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. "Then what do you want?" he asked, and was a bit surprised when it came out as a whisper.
House just looked at him; Wilson absentmindedly noted that House's eyes really were insanely blue and big. When House took a hesitant step forward, Wilson mirrored him, pulled in automatically, and then there was almost no distance between them.
Slowly-- and with fear, Wilson could hardly believe-- House tilted his head. It took so long that it wasn't until their foreheads were touching that Wilson realized what House had been aiming for. Wilson was tense at first, but then he reasoned that he couldn't very well screw up the night even more, and slowly let himself relax, closing his eyes and letting himself just feel the change in air now that House was touching him.
For the first time that evening, things slowed down to a manageable pace.
There was that perfume again, surrounding him. But it had weakened, giving way to Wilson's natural scent. House closed his eyes, confused. Memories of his many years with Wilson contrasted with the more recent ones featuring Jamie, and he fell into a moment's vertigo, unsure who it was he was touching foreheads with.
Both of us, he was sure Wilson would say. Damn him.
House wanted to lift his arms and pull Wilson in; he wanted to bring his chin forward, so that their lips could meet; he wanted to erase all of Jamie's marks, so that it was just the two of them, without pretense or adulteration. But even if he could remove the physical manifestation of facades, House wouldn't even know how to begin to be honest. He doubted Wilson knew any better; he might not even care to.
House curled his hands around his thighs, unable to will them into doing anything.
"I'm so tired," Wilson mumbled. Had House not been face to face with him, he might not have heard it.
"Come back with me," House blurted before he even knew what he was going to say, and regretted it at once. He was exhausted, and more than taking hold of Wilson-- as if that would be enough to make sure he never left him, never did anything House didn't want him to-- he wanted to collapse into bed, and magically awaken free of all his current cosmetics.
From the pause and Wilson's stillness, House was certain that he'd said the worst possible thing. This evening had been too confusing; House barely knew where he himself stood, much less what the hell Wilson was thinking. If House couldn't understand why he'd hung out in the parking lot until Wilson came out, or what he'd meant with the invitation, how could he expect Wilson to go along with him?
So when, after a long and terrifying pause, Wilson let out a hesitant "Okay," House was stunned. His eyes flew open and he saw the doubt in Wilson's expression. Wilson obviously wasn't jumping into this, whatever 'this' was, but at least he wasn't running in the opposite direction, either, and that was as good a start as any.
"Okay," House repeated, and then had no idea what to do with himself. Could he give in and run a hand along Wilson's back, move so that their cheeks lined up? No, he couldn't, not without knowing what it was Wilson wanted. House settled for straightening up so that they were no longer touching, regretting already the lost opportunity.
House shuffled, his problem thigh worse than usual, toward the driver's side of his car. He dipped his fingers into his faux cleavage, fishing for his keys, and when he looked back up again, he saw that Wilson hadn't moved one inch. Despite the fact that this evening had made House doubt everything he knew about his supposed best friend, he could still tell, from his posture, from the angle of his head, that Wilson was at a loss. Oh, geez, they had better not be starting from the beginning all over again.
House pulled out his keys, unlocked the door, and gave Wilson a significant look, raising his eyebrows once. Wilson replied in the same language, somehow contorting his eyes, lips, cheeks into asking one big question. But Wilson said nothing as he opened the passenger door and slipped into the car. House couldn't blame him for his silence. Words felt too dangerous right now: they'd say things that weren't meant; they'd say more than was intended. While House could normally wield words exactly as he wanted, as a weapon or as a toy, he was too tired for that right now. He wasn't surprised Wilson wasn't taking that risk, either.
It was good to slide onto the seat's old, worn leather. He'd sat here over a thousand times and knew its grooves and spent springs as well as he knew the wrinkles in his face. It was familiar terrain, and sitting in it was like returning to normalcy. Having Wilson in that exact spot in his peripheral vision was just as familiar. House felt better than he had since Damien had spat out those insults, even with his wig weighing down on him and his dress fabric scratching him. Maybe his improvement in mood came from the Vicodin finally kicking in.
House watched Wilson carefully buckle himself in, his hand running along the strap to smooth it out. It was so typical of him, that anal-retentiveness-- one more bit of familiarity to add to the pile. As if to keep up with their routine, Wilson shot him a glare. House knew what he meant, and obligingly grabbed the metal buckle and pulled it down. He'd have done it anyway-- he did stupid, reckless things, but driving without a seat belt wasn't one of them; he had enough disabilities, he didn't want any more-- but he always waited for Wilson's silent rebuke. Pushing at Wilson's buttons was more fun than prime-time TV.
Wilson nodded his approval, and maybe the return to their old ways had made him feel better as well, for his facial features weren't pulled together so tightly anymore. Without thinking about it, House exhaled with relief, even as Wilson looked away and out the window. Following his example, House looked ahead and started the ignition. Time to go home.
The keys jingled as House unlocked the door to his apartment. Wilson stood behind him, trying not to fidget. None of House's neighbors were out and about, which he was grateful for; he wasn't all that keen on running into someone who'd recognize them while they were in drag.
The door unlocked with a click and House pushed it open, hitting the light switch as he went inside. Wilson followed him and within seconds he was standing in House's living room. Everything looked exactly the same: the piano in the corner, the TV and the sofa, the ratty old doormat he couldn't for his life understand why House kept, the desk with the computer, the bookshelves, the random mess of files and journals. The events at the bar felt definitely distant, here in this familiar and known terrain. He felt like he had a little more control over the situation. Never mind that the situation was completely out of control, anyways.
To his right, House chucked off his shoes and yanked the wig off his head. "Thank god," he sighed and tossed the wig on the couch. Wilson followed suit, though he was more careful about slipping off his shoes and placing them by the entrance wall. They were expensive, after all; there'd be no aerial acrobatics with those. Wilson shrugged out of his coat and hung it on the rack before carefully taking off his wig. Unwinding, Wilson ran his finger through his real, damp hair.
House was already hobbling towards his room, using the walls for support. He had abandoned the obnoxious glittery cane on the floor. Wilson couldn't bring himself to blame him. The cane was horrid.
Even though Wilson could only see House's backside, the sight was still strange. The posture and head were undeniably House, but the dress belonged to an entirely different person. In the light of the apartment Wilson could tell that House wasn't wearing pantyhose. Wilson wasn't sure if he was relieved or annoyed by that.
House disappeared into his room and Wilson had no idea what would happen now. House certainly wasn't happy with the whole Jamie thing, but he wasn't as mad as he had been earlier, which was a relief.
Jamie aside, the more pressing matter at hand was what would happen now, in the apartment. They had kissed -- Wilson took a moment to berate himself for it one more time -- and Wilson had followed House home. What now? Had House invited him for his equivalent of tea and chatting: booze and arguing? Or was it to follow the logical conclusion of that kiss? But that would be sex, and sex with House was one of the most illogical things Wilson could imagine. It was as senseless as music without notes.
As if on cue, the mental image of House, naked and writhing with pleasure, popped up in Wilson's mind. He froze, taken over by the vision, unable to resist filling in details. No matter how much he lingered on the thoughts, Wilson couldn't bring himself to be disturbed by them.
House chose that moment to finally emerge from the bedroom, and Wilson was startled to be faced with the real deal when he'd been so deeply entrenched in his imaginary-- and frankly pornographic-- version. House leaned on his usual mahogany cane and carried a bundle in his left hand. As he came towards him, Wilson got a better look at House's face. The glaring make-up looked completely out of place, even more so now that the wig was gone.
House tossed the items in his hand at Wilson, and he just managed to catch them, the wig he he'd been holding dropping to the floor. The items turned out to be a pair of grey sweats, a T-shirt, and blue-and-white striped boxers. When Wilson raised his eyebrows at this last thing, House shrugged. "I'll burn the more intimate items after you're done with them. Anyway, go get that gunk off you," House muttered awkwardly and nodded towards the bathroom.
Wilson looked at him for a moment, then crouched down to pick up his wig. He placed it carefully on the nearest surface and went to the bathroom. Wilson didn't say anything; he hadn't yet let go of his mental image of House. As Wilson closed the bathroom door behind him, House said, "And don't hog all the hot water, I've got muck to wash off too." House wiped his face as he spoke, and frowned at the make-up that stuck to his fingers.
Wilson rolled his eyes at House's complaints -- If you hate it so much, why did you put it on in the first place? -- and closed the door. As an after-thought, he locked it too. He put down the toilet lid, placed the borrowed clothes on it, and began to strip, pointedly ignoring the mirror. He contemplated folding Jamie's clothes or kicking them into a dark corner before settling on a compromise: he laid them half-carelessly on the floor beside the toilet.
Undressed, he stepped into the tub and turned on the shower. Just as he had washed off James Wilson to become Jamie, he now washed off every trace of Jamie from himself. Scrubbing his body and washing his hair was easy enough, but House had no make-up-remover at hand, shockingly enough, so Wilson had to content himself with soap and water for that too.
After about ten minutes of de-Jamieing, Wilson turned off the shower and stepped out of the tub. He reached for the towels, and then stopped-- House hadn't lent him one. He stood shivering for only a few seconds before figuring the night had been weird enough to allow this, and yanked the bath towel off the rack. He dried himself as quickly and lightly as he could, and tried not to think too much about using a towel that probably was covered in House skin-particles. He then dressed in the outfit House had given him, once again trying not to think too hard about who had worn it previously and when the clothing had last been washed. It was either House's clothes or Jamie's, and he preferred to be House rather than Jamie, to avoid mixing her any more than necessary in his best friend's life.
Wilson put his hand on the door handle, but paused. He looked down for a moment and taking a deep breath, turned to the mirror and his reflection. James Wilson stared back at him, with only the slightest irremovable traces of black around his eyes from mascara.
He looked at himself for a few more seconds, and then let himself out of the bathroom.
House was sitting on the edge of the bed, lost in thought. He'd finally gotten out of his hideous get-up and now wore a T-shirt and worn jeans. His skin took on an orange tinge in the warm glow from the bedside lamp and his face was clearer, with the make-up scrubbed off. There was still a bit left, black smudges around his eyes and darker lips, but at least he looked like House again. Wilson sincerely hoped 'Lafayette' wouldn't make a repeat appearance any time soon, preferably ever.
What to do? Had it been a normal night, Wilson would've suggested dinner and a card game to pass the time. But this wasn't a normal night, and he wasn't sure if he should act like it was. Wilson glanced down at his bare feet, still not completely dry, and then looked up at House again. The light was flattering, rather like the ones in the movies, though House would look better if he smiled; he looked far too miserable. Automatically, Wilson's mind supplied him with a slideshow of memories of House's smiles, and he almost got lost in thought.
Part of Wilson wondered why House suddenly had such a strange effect on him. Another part of him knew perfectly well the reason why, along with the fact that it wasn't "suddenly" at all.
Wilson cleared his throat and let out a subdued "Hi."
It took a second for House to return from his thoughts, but when he did, he gave Wilson a long, scrutinizing look. Wilson felt more comfortable with it now than when he'd been dressed up as Jamie; the look then had been embarrassing; now it was familiar and almost... pleasant.
Wilson was now convinced there was something very, very wrong with his brain.
"Much better," House said, sounding somewhere between satisfied and relieved. Wilson gave a small smile. Things weren't as awkward as before, especially now that House didn't look like all the Vicodin in the world had suffered an untimely demise.
Wilson wouldn't mind kissing House again right about now – a symptom of his brain malady, no doubt.
House stood up, leaving the cane propped up against the bed. His eyes didn't leave Wilson and he stepped a little closer. Wilson didn't look away either, and took a small step forward so he was standing in the bedroom and not balancing on the threshold. Now that House was closer, Wilson could get an even better look at his face.
"You," Wilson started. A smile tugged at his lips and he tried to fight it down. It didn't work all that well. "You've still got glitter left." He grinned and made a motion to brush the sparkly flakes from House's face. He got as far as raising his hand and reaching out before he stopped himself.
Something flickered in House's eyes. Wilson retracted his hand, but House grasped it in a surprisingly gentle manner. Though confused, Wilson didn't move his hand. He waited for House to do something, but House seemed content to simply hold Wilson's hand lightly. As he waited, Wilson became very aware of the under-floor heating beneath his feet, the lukewarm damp air from the bathroom, the cotton against his skin. Come to think of it, House's clothes didn't fit him all that well; they were too long and tight. They worked, but it wasn't really...
Wilson's thoughts staggered when House pulled their hands so that they lay between them and slowly leaned forward. When House's lips brushed against his, all of Wilson's remaining thoughts were promptly blown away. It took him a moment to realize that he should probably kiss back, and as he did, House squeezed his hand ever so slightly.
It was a chaste kiss; there was no all-consuming passion behind it, but it was... affectionate. It made Wilson's lips tingle and his chest ache in a warm and pleasant way.
Well, fuck me, he thought and closed his eyes.
Wilson's lips were softer than before, perhaps because of the shower. The kiss felt cleaner, too; no slick lipstick to slide against, no recent spit from repulsive random men, and the soft scent of soap had replaced the perfume. House did miss the perfume-- without it, there was less punch to his feelings-- but this way, it was like he'd found Wilson again. House tightened his hold around Wilson's hand, as if that could keep anything from separating them again.
Wilson kissed him back, and it was all House could have hoped for at that moment. There was just one problem: even with the make-up gone, even in the safe space of his own bedroom, House couldn't forget what had happened. He pulled away, not far, just enough to no longer have his lips against Wilson's. He didn't let go of Wilson's hand, though. Somehow, he couldn't lose that link. "Oh, fuck," House breathed.
"Ditto," Wilson replied, voice small, and if House were more of a laugher, he'd have laughed at that.
How had they ended up here? House wasn't even sure why he'd kissed Wilson just now. He'd wanted to, but that wasn't normally enough of a reason to start up something this reckless. At least Wilson was as confused as he was. They could be confused together. Still, House had issues to clear up before they could go any further-- a harder task than he'd have imagined, with Wilson tantalizingly near and apparently willing. So tantalizing, in fact, that House couldn't resist coming closer, close enough for his lips to brush against Wilson's as he murmured, "I don't-- the bet."
It was strange to watch Wilson's expression shift from so close. House had seen it happen countless times before, but now he could feel muscles twitch as Wilson's face flinched into panic then quickly tried to cover it with fake calm. It was a good try, but House would've recognized the falseness of his cool even without the proximity or context. He knew (most of) Wilson too well. "What about the bet?" Wilson asked.
Wilson softened the question with kiss at the corner of House's mouth, and however much the motion made his insides curl up with desire, he held onto his stubbornness. "We agreed," House said, rougher than he intended. "I win, Jamie goes away." Not that he thought he had won the bet, but with so ambiguous an outcome, he could argue in his own favor.
To strengthen his case, House kissed Wilson again, insistently; ran his tongue along Wilson's lower lip once, teasingly. Smugness and pleasure filled him to hear a tiny noise come from the back of Wilson's throat, a whine begging for more. And it was House's turn to make a sound of his own, a strangled moan, as Wilson kissed back harder. He'd half-forgotten their argument and would've been happy to let it go, but Wilson brought it back up from the grave. "And if I won, you would stop stalking me," Wilson said in a breathless whisper. The tone went straight to House's groin, but when the meaning of words sunk in, his insides tightened up, squeezing out the ease he'd finally acquired.
House abruptly pulled away and they stared at each other. Couldn't they ever stop fighting, at least for more than five minutes? They'd get nowhere like this. House could already imagine Wilson leaving like this, with everything unresolved.
But Wilson didn't go anywhere. On the contrary, he slipped his hand so that he was holding on just as fiercely as House was, and before House could ride out the relief at that movement, he was reeling as Wilson kissed him once more, more intensely than their recent spate of lip-brushes. His world narrowed to just the two of them as he let himself revel in the feeling of their bodies against one another, the tightness of Wilson's grasp over his hand, the texture of the lips against his.
It was reckless, part of House knew, to let himself get caught up like this, when they still hadn't settled anything. But the more Wilson touched him, the less he could resist, taking what he'd held back from for so long. He became light-headed as Wilson bid him to open his mouth and they deepened the kiss, and lips met teeth met tongue and House lost track of what was happening. If it wasn't so damned good, he'd have felt like an idiot; was he a horny teenager, to get so swept up by just a bit of kissing?
Eventually Wilson lowered the intensity, closing his mouth and pecking around the corner of House's mouth, his cheek. "What if it was a draw?"
Maybe under other circumstances, House would've been pissed off. But with his head still spinning, with the very strong possibility of more kissing-- and maybe even more than that-- coming up, he couldn't find any anger. Instead, he felt tired with the whole subject. "Stupid Damien," House muttered. "If he wasn't such a slut, we'd have an actual result." Insulting Damien felt good, like a shower after a day in the mud.
Wilson gave a short chuckle, and, with a tired smile, whispered, "So what now?"
Yeah, what now? House didn't have a clue. They wanted opposite things, and House knew that Wilson would be about as willing to compromise as he was. Thinking about it threatened to bring back all the aches-- in his leg, in his head, elsewhere-- that had been with him for most of the evening. And between rushing back into hurt and taking advantage of this... thing he had going with Wilson, it didn't seem like there was much of a choice to be made.
He lifted his hand, brought up Wilson's in the process, and gently pressed his lips against the wrist.
"You want one so much, get one for yourself," House said.
Joseph snapped his attention away from the motorcycle parked a few yards beyond the glass pane dividing world and café. "When I can drool over yours? Don't think so."
House snorted. "Contrary to popular belief, the fun isn't in the drooling; it's the actual riding. Having is better than wanting." He picked up his cup of overpriced and over-hip coffee (the place didn't sell any other kind, and it was the closest place to the hospital, so he didn't have any other choice), raising his eyebrows suggestively. "And, yes, that's a thinly veiled metaphor."
Joseph laughed, the angles in his face becoming even more pronounced. "I wouldn't expect anything else from you, Lafayette."
"Yeah, Miriam." House wrinkled his face as he sipped the coffee. It was only fair to retaliate in equal coin. Joseph looked down for a split second, his shyness coming back at the mention of his alter ego. It wasn't as annoying as it could've been. When they'd first started up their coffee-chats, Joseph had barely been able to talk. It was hard to believe he could be the same 'person' as the guy-in-drag House had met a month back. While House was still far from sold on 'Jamie,' and wanted her as far from Wilson as possible, he was glad in this case that the feminine identity was starting to surface on Joseph. Miriam made for a great partner in banter -- and other projects. "At least I say what I mean, hidden or not."
"Should I take that as a thinly veiled order to grow a backbone?" Most people would've sounded cut to their weepy and over-sensitive quick saying something like that, but Joseph managed good humor in it.
"If it means you'll stop whining at me about your wife and sprog, yeah, you should." House ignored Joseph's expression of distaste. "Look, if I wasn't willing to put up with it when Wilson went on about his wife -- he'd better damn well not have sprog; that'd be one more secret life I'd have to discover-- what makes you think I'll listen to anyone else?"
"That's a rhetorical question, right?" Joseph smirked, and, with exaggerated flamboyance -- and that was a lot of flamboyance, for he'd trained at it -- batted his eyelashes. "I'm pretty and want to be treated special, otherwise I'll think you don't like me anymore." Joseph sipped at his Earl Grey (boring, boring choice) like it was the rim shot to his joke-flirting.
"But, Joseph, I treat all the pretty ones like crap," House offered in saccharine sweetness. "And don't you want to save that kind of comment for when Andrea is actually here? He can't get jealous over what he's not hearing." A ridiculously dreamy look flitted across Joseph's face at the mention of Andrea and potential jealousy. "You are so screwed up," House informed him.
"Talk about the kettle calling the pot black," Joseph cut himself a piece of his mostly uneaten danish, speaking with mock-indignation. He kept his eyes on his pastry, as if it was an extraordinarily difficult task to use a fork. "Did I tell you that I'm considering leaving Jessica?"
"But I already told you, I'm a taken man." This was, of course, said as a joke, but it was true, and it was a still new enough fact that House couldn't keep himself from grinning a bit before bringing back a more appropriately stern expression.
"As if I would elope with you. Too high maintenance, and Jamie-- James would be after my head." He put the intricately-cut danish piece into his mouth, not at all happily. "I'm just not sure if Henry is committed enough. After all, I'm just his office fuck. And isn't it stupid to end one relationship just to jump straight into another?"
Joseph sounded like such a woman sometimes. And House would tell him that, except that he'd probably take it as a compliment. "Yeah, probably. But enough about you, and more about Ja-Jamie," he said, purposefully inverting Joseph's earlier slip. "Gimme the goods. What happened last night?"
"We went to a restaurant," Joseph said casually, affecting a bored tone, like he was reading ingredients off a recipe. House had to resist the urge to roll his eyes; Joseph was doing his 'hard to get' warm-up routine. "And I'm not giving you the name, so don't even ask. Jamie wore this fabulous dress -- dark purple satin, perfectly tailored. It really brought out her, er, his eyes." The more Joseph detailed the clothes, the faster he spoke, like an avalanche picking up speed. "Her make-up was impeccable, and I have to ask her what she did with the eye-liner--"
"Oh, god, shut up." House held a hand to his head, like he was massaging away an oncoming head-ache. It was hard to tell if the incipient ache was because of Joseph's obsession with clothing and make-up, or because of the mental image he'd just gotten of Wilson. "More juicy gossip, less fashion catalogue."
Joseph poked his tongue out. "It was a pleasant evening with dinner and wine and lots of bullshitting our significant ones."
"Yeah?" House leaned in closer over the table. This was what he was here for.
But Joseph just lit up his second cigarette since they'd sat down. "You know, I really shouldn't be telling you any of this."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. You should've left your conscience at the door," House said, impatient.
"Andrea's looking for a new job, and, oh yeah, had a fight with her girlfriend." If House didn't bother to point out that Joseph's malicious smile over this was yet another sign of fucked up he was, it was because he was still waiting for the good part of the 'report.' "I asked them if they thought me getting a divorce was a good idea, and Jamie told us you're great in the sack -- best she ever had."
House didn't know if he should be elated -- he'd been right, he really had been knocking off Wilson's socks, if socks were orgasms -- or smug that word of his sexual prowess was getting around. He even briefly considered being annoyed that Wilson was sharing intimate details, but since it seemed to all be flattering, he had no reason to complain.
And then he realized Joseph was lying through his teeth. He certainly looked like a Loki-wannabe who'd just pulled off a new prank. "Seriously, Miriam."
"Who says I'm not?"
House would've pressed for more details, or at least tried to confirm whether Joseph was lying or not, but his cell rang. Wilson's name appeared on the screen. "Miss me, Teddy Bear?" House said, barely keeping his voice from cracking with laughter at the last two words.
"Of course, Sweetie-pie," Wilson replied. But he kept his voice natural. He was too damn good a liar for his own good. "Though I'm sure the cafeteria staff is happy for the peace, since you're not there terrorizing them like you usually do at lunch."
Hearing Wilson, House suddenly wanted to see him in person; he didn't want to wait until later. "What? The cafeteria staff is happy? I can't have that! Gimme a second; I'll be right there."
Wilson chuckled. "I'll be waiting on hands and knees. I doubt the staff will, though."
"I'll hold you to the hands and knees part," House said, only half-joking, and ended the call. "Gotta go, the 'mistress' calls," House told Joseph, who was still smirking over the half of the phone conversation he'd heard.
There was at least one more thing House wanted to ask, and while he'd hoped he could've brought it up more subtly, it was now or never. It was, really, the only thing he wanted to hear from Joseph. He tried so very hard to sound casual but came out more like he was constipated. "By the way, any actual 'men' buzzing around you three?"
"Oh, absolutely," and already House knew that the answer was worthless, from Joseph's sarcastic tone. "She was the Queen of the ball, and all the men fawned over. Some of them accompanied her to the bathroom for a very, very long while. I wonder what they were doing in there! They came back in time for desert."
"You're useless," House said, and Joseph grinned brilliantly at him. He really was useless. But House would call him for more information anyway, the next time 'Jamie' made an outing. Joseph was the closest thing he could get to a spy, and therefore the best way of keeping tabs. If House thought he could get away with it, he'd have tried putting on a disguise and hanging about in the background, but Wilson would've probably caught him. Joseph was a safer, more stable source of information.
Of course, House expected some day-- soon, given how he often 'guessed' correctly at Wilson what happened on Jamie's nights out-- to be caught in the act of very definitely intruding in Jamie's life, by talking to Joseph. House looked forward to that day. It'd be one more step to wearing Wilson down in his fight to keep House out of the other half of his life.
For now, House made his way back to the hospital, wondering if Wilson would be willing to do the hands-and-knees thing.