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The Fine and Subtle Art of Cardiology

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It's a thoroughly disappointing week, filled with people with ordinary if not easily-treatable diseases. It's never the follow-through that interested House, though--recovery is messy and boring: repetitive medications, antibiotics, violating physical therapy.

House' usual sources of entertainment fail him utterly. Chase is fussing over some terribly adorable child with a particularly tricky infection; Foreman is tied up with some representatives from AstraZeneca that, admittedly, House had foisted off on him; Cameron, lacking some terminal tear-jerker to twist herself up for, is studiously answering House' mail.

Most frustratingly, Wilson is nowhere to be found. He's harassed half the nurses and at least four terrified residents in oncology and all he's learned is that Wilson has warned everybody about him. And that his whiny subordinates aren't afraid to say feeble things like, "I'll tell Dr. Wilson!"

His usual haunts have been exhausted at this point, which is why House sighs and considers his remaining options: harass his ducklings, harass Cuddy, or God forbid, browbeat some patients in the clinic.

House is about to abandon his defensive position, holed up in his favorite coma patient's room when two of the hospital's worst gossips wander past the propped-open door.

"I think it's divorce-related," the blonde says.

"Lies," the brunette says, flipping through a patient chart. "You're just bitter because you didn't get to Dr. Wilson first."

"You're the worst hag ever," the blonde accuses, and runs a perfectly-manicured hand through his perfectly-coiffed hair. House has always suspected Ron Holloway harbored inappropriate feelings for Wilson; it's one of the primary reasons he makes certain Wilson is never left unsupervised to suffer Holloway's artful hair-tosses.

"There's no such thing as divorce-related gayness," the woman murmurs, frowning as she pauses in front of the doorway to flip through her folder. "Where's the history for Mrs. Bowing?"

House decides to start hating Andrea Rice, too, just on principle.

Holloway digs through his own stacks and passes over a thin manila folder, and Rice takes it with a frown. "Anyway, he's said yes, I'd rather not speculate on why," she says distantly, her heels already clicking across the floor.

"Worst hag ever," Holloway whines, trailing after Rice, and their voices fade.

House sits frozen for a few moments more, a potato chip halfway to his lips, before he rouses into action and swings his bum leg down with an undisguised grunt of pain, grabbing for his cane.

*

A few terribly indiscreet inquiries--"Calling all residents in oncology: this is Dr. House. I can and will happily make your life miserable unless you reveal the secret location of one Dr. James Wilson."--House finds Wilson in exam three, picking up clinic hours that are technically the responsibility of Dr. Carver in pediatrics.

House peers through the smudged glass of the exam room to find Wilson sitting on a stool, wearing his most solemn expression, handing a shamefaced pair of teenagers a tube of generic lubricant and a pamphlet about safe sex that House has defaced many times.

It's clearly embarrassing but obviously non-threatening so House invites himself into the exam room and ignores the deer-in-headlights expressions on the faces of the two teenaged boys, one of whom looks distinctly more uncomfortable than the other.

"House--" Wilson starts, exasperated.

"Oh, no need to be shy," House says, flashing his best smile--all teeth. He nods at Wilson's patients, who somehow flush an even deeper shade of red. "You two are lucky to have Dr. Wilson here, looking out for your various openings and orifices--"

"God," Wilson mutters, and covers his face with one hand.

"--there's nobody here with more hands-on experience," House finishes innocently, placing an affectionate palm on Wilson's shoulder.

"Oh!" one of the boys says, eyes rounding, looking between House and Wilson knowingly.

"Could you please wait outside while I finish up here?" Wilson hisses.

House pulls a contrite expression. "Oh, sorry, buttercup," and winks at Wilson's charges--who are looking slightly looser in the shoulders now--before he makes a kissy-face at his best friend. "I know how you get about your work. I'll just be waiting by the door."

"Go," Wilson says, glaring. "Now."

House smiles sweetly and does so, hobbling outside again while attempting to look as cool as possible and then leans against the wall, debating whether it's worth the hassle of grabbing the backdated copy of Good Housekeeping on a nearby table to further fuck with Wilson's mind. It's only fair comeuppance for the keeping of secrets.

When Wilson opens the door again it's to let the two boys out first, their faces bright with shining optimism for more successful anal sex in the near future.

"Remember what I said," Wilson warns them.

"Oh, we'll definitely keep it in mind, Dr. Wilson, thank you so much for the tips," the shorter one says.

House can see Wilson's expression visibly falter from professional to hopeless.

"They weren't tips," Wilson tries. "It's just sound medical advice."

"Sure," one says to him earnestly while the other grins and waves to House where he's leaning against the door.

"Oh, for," Wilson starts, and gives up, slapping a forced smile onto his face and passing them a few sheets of pink and white carbons, saying, "Hand those into the nurse at the desk and they'll get you checked out."

"How sweet, fostering another generation of flamers," House coos.

Wilson doesn't bother to respond, grabbing House by the wrist and jerking him into the newly-emptied exam three and shutting the door before whirling around to scowl at him. "You're funny. You should do stand-up," he snaps.

"This doctor thing is just a fallback until I'm discovered anyway," House confides, ignoring the way Wilson rolls his eyes so hugely he could be fifteen all over again. "I used to do stand-up comedy night but then--" he motions at his leg "--I was forced to sublimate all of it into bitterness. I'm still seriously considering becoming a mime--"

"Shut up," Wilson says smoothly, cutting him off and setting the exam room to order again, shuffling thing around into the proper places. It's the kind of thoughtful thing that House never bothers with and he finds so weirdly endearing in Wilson.

"Have you had a bad day, dear?" House asks, and hops up onto the exam table, wrinkling the nice, fresh paper Wilson has pulled out across the rubbery surface.

"I was having a fantastic day until you made me and you Bobby and Rory's sexual role models," Wilson sulks, and slumps down into a chair, slipping his hands into the pockets of his lab coat.

"One of those fairies was actually named Rory?" House boggles.

"House," Wilson warns.

"Fantastic day," House says with a relish, redirecting his focus. "Would that have anything to do with the newest news circulating the hospital grapevine about your future Boston marriage?"

Wilson's face closes over, but he says, "I'd claim I was insulted by the fact that apparently everybody at this hospital has forgotten that I'm already married but I have this strange feeling it might be pointless."

"Who's your latest squeeze, Jimmy? Is he one of your bathhouse friends?" House asks lecherously.

"Yes," Wilson deadpans. "One of a legion of blond, blue-eyed towel boys who are kept oiled and at the ready for my whims."

House stares. "You tramp," he finally says.

"I don't have time for this," Wilson tells him, and strides out of exam three, but slowly enough for House to know that Wilson has just enough patience left to let House catch up to him.

"You're a very busy and important oncologist, after all. Head of the department," House says, conciliatory. "They gave you the merit badge and everything."

"I'm really not in the mood for girl scout jokes," Wilson says sourly as he steps past some nurses into the elevator, jabbing a button like it's House' bad leg.

"I think in this case boy scouts would be far more appropriate," House quips.

Wilson looks at the wood paneling of the elevator for a few moments before he says, "How did you find out?"

"You're terrible at keeping secrets, James," House says.

"So you overheard somebody in a hallway," Wilson concludes.

"I overheard somebody in a hallway," House concedes. "By the way, don't drop the soap anywhere around Holloway."

The elevator dings and Wilson steps out onto the oncology floor, where he's swarmed immediately by two nurses who are immune to House at this point and require Wilson's signature. They're also flanked by several residents, hovering off to the side, who remember Wilson's smiling invitation to ask questions any time but are rightfully fearful of House.

"Go away," Wilson sighs as he reaches his office. "You're scaring the residents."

"Who was it?" House asks, slumping into one of the soft patients' chairs in front of Wilson's desk and leaning his cane against the wall. "I need to know so I can go beat him up for making a pass at my boyfriend."

Wilson glares over a stack of patient files he doesn't need to be straightening up so earnestly.

"It's none of your business," he says feebly.

"That's crap," House spits. "You let me pick and prod at your girlfriends. Your boyfriend should be no different."

"I don't have girlfriends. And he's not my boyfriend," Wilson argues. "He asked if I was free for coffee. He'd like to consult me for my professional opinion on a patient of his."

"Is that what they're calling it these days," House says, mystified. "No wonder that homeless man looked so disheartened when I told him he was probably malnourished when I offered him my professional opinion."

Wilson gives him a flat stare. "Teddy Stone--"

"Oh my God, there're actually fairies named Teddy?" House says with genuine horror.

"--and I have known one another since med school," Wilson soldiers on. "He's a friend and a colleague and very well-respected in his field. He also asked me to lunch to talk about a patient. Nothing more, nothing less. Your grapevine is flawed."

House narrows his eyes suspiciously. "Earlier you said coffee."

"I meant lunch," Wilson lies, flushing.

"By which you mean you already let him touch your bra behind the bleachers," House says with disgust. "James, you slut."

Wilson throws up his hands. "Fine. Fine. I'm going on a date with a man named Teddy. We'll eat phallic foods and discuss our favorite gay cinema. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, I'll look at biopsy results and tests and probably films from every kind of scan modern medicine has. It'll be the most homoerotic and romantic thing ever."

"More so than that weekend in Reno?" House pouts.

"More so than even that weekend in Reno," Wilson answers. "Of which I mostly don't recall."

"It's for the best," House informs him, and ignores the coil of irritation settling into his stomach.

A significant percentage of hospital innuendo and rumor is exactly that, though the sheer effort it's taken for Wilson to reveal as little as he has indicates Teddy Stone is both real and on the make. House has never been particularly concerned with Wilson's virtue, but he feels strangely protective. It's one thing when it's soft-hearted nurses and random strangers drawn by James' innate sadness and wanting to heal his broken heart; it's quite another if it's someone named Teddy--who shouldn't be allowed to date Wilson if only because his name is revolting.

"Oh God," Wilson says. "I can practically see the gears in your head working."

"The gears in my head are constantly working," House answers. "It's one of the reasons why I'm a famous doctor and Teddy just has a stupid name."

Wilson looks pained. "That made no sen--never mind. Just promise me you won't do anything that'll make me regret ever having met you."

House' eyes widen. "You mean I haven't already done that?"

"No," Wilson says with a genuine smile, and the realization that Wilson is telling the truth is flattering, a little humbling, even, because House is like every eight-year-old boy who ever lived and nobody has prettier pigtails or hair ribbons than James Wilson.

"In that case, I'm off to do terribly busy and important things of my own," House says.

Wilson sighs. "You're going to Google him, aren't you?"

"That would be disingenuous," House says, and thump-steps out the door.

*

The ducklings are hunched around this past Sunday's New York Times crossword. Chase is holding a pen and Foreman is wearing an expression of deep concentration. Cameron is somehow still answering House' mail.

"Children," he says, and they look up, eyes wary. "We're on a mission."

"We have missions now," Chase says flatly.

"Yes, and your duty, young Robert, is to get thee to a computer console and pull the records of one Teddy Stone," House informs him, leaning heavily on his cane and fussing over the coffee pot. Based on the lack of grounds scattered messily and how all the creamers are arranged in an orderly pattern, Cameron was the last person to brew, which leaves House sighing at the failed stereotypes since Cameron has to make the worst coffee on this side of the international date line.

"Isn't Teddy Stone the doctor who asked Dr. Wilson out on--" Cameron starts, wrinkling her pretty brow.

"Oh, you've heard of him," House interrupts. "Perfect. Your job is recon, then. Canvas the hospital. I want to know everything anybody knows about him. Just say I'm feeling threatened. I'm sure everybody will pour out their ill-gotten gossip."

"You are very wrong," Foreman tells House. "Very very wrong."

"This is probably true," House admits. "Nevertheless, while Chase is hacking his records and Cameron is digging up the juicy details, you should be finding the boring details. Professional background, how many malpractice suits, has he been charged with workplace harassment."

"This is all very unfair to Dr. Wilson," Cameron says, eyes huge.

"Oh God," House sighs. "I should have known. Throw a doomed homosexual love affair at your feet and suddenly Wilson's your favorite person."

Cameron makes a face at him that doesn't contradict his point.

"Well, he's been my favorite longer and I am your employer." He makes a shooing motion at his three charges, perched in their seats, indecisive. "Go forth. Do my bidding."

Foreman scowls before bolting and Cameron gives him a deeply disappointed stare before trundling off. Chase just rolls his eyes and gets up casually. House is a little perturbed by how unbothered Chase is by most things--with of course the exception of sex or kisses with prepubescent females.

He limps into his office and lays down, pulling on his headphones and elevating his leg. He puts his iPod on shuffle to wait.

The first song that cues up is ABBA, "Take a Chance On Me," which House suspects is one of those things that happened during that weekend in Reno, of which, like Wilson, he remembers very little.

*

Two hours later, the trio has returned, and House chooses to take it lying down. Cameron stares at him with a vague expression of dissatisfaction; Chase looks bemused; Foreman doesn't even seem to notice as he launches into his presentation.

"Theodore 'Teddy' Stone, pediatrician of some renown in Seattle. Works at Seattle Grace. Graduated from Johns Hopkins same year as Dr. Wilson; he's in town for a conference," Foreman rattles off, barely glancing at his hastily-written notes before he adds, "Oh, and he's a very engaging writer."

House glares from the floor.

"I've read some of his articles," Foreman explains. "He has a real flair."

"Did he write the one about how color and music can affect recovery in sick children?" Chase asks, squinting his eyes.

"Yeah, that's him," Foreman says.

"Oh, I liked that article," Cameron says, and guessing from the way her face is already beaming with affection and acceptance, she's all but planned Stone and Wilson's commitment ceremony.

"Moving on," House snaps from the floor. "Did you discover any dark skeletons? Does everybody at the hospital already loathe him? Have they said, 'my God, we were so wrong, that lovely Dr. House is practically an angel compared to that monstrous Stone!'?"

Cameron frowns. "Quite the opposite. Wilson had him sit in on one of the meetings with the oncology residents and they've only had glowing things to say about him." She smirks, and House must be rubbing off on her because the expression is kind of mean. "They also told me that they're all rooting for Dr. Stone to replace you as Wilson's best friend."

"Worms," House mutters. "Chase? Does the man have any savage and puss-filled venereal diseases I can talk about loudly around people?"

"He's perfectly healthy," Chase says with a sickening satisfaction. "and actually was a bone marrow donor last year for a little girl in Georgia. Plus, he runs marathons."

"Revolting," House pronounces.

"Honestly, Dr. House? I think you should just leave it alone," Cameron tells him. "Dr. Wilson's been through a lot with his divorce and his private life is none of your business, anyway."

There might be something vaguely pathetic about explaining to Cameron that Wilson's private life is House's private life, so he keeps it all inside and reaches for his cane instead. Unfortunately, all three of his underlings duck skillfully out of the way before he can smack them in the ankles.

"Fine," he says, stilling. "We'll do this the hard way."

*

"Maybe you should just tell Wilson you like him," Foreman whispers.

"Now why would I do something like that?" House says back, and peers over his shoulder where he's sitting in his car to see Foreman, cell phone pressed to his ear. "Also, hang up the phone. You'll give away your location."

"This is sick and wrong, even for you," Foreman condemns. "Besides which, Wilson's a doctor, not a spy; he's not going to notice me, anyway."

"What, did they teach you that in juvie?" House snaps back, and considers finding some sort of reflective surface so he can hold it up and monitor Wilson's progress through the parking lot. The down side of that would be watching Wilson walk more slowly than usual so he can smile and chuckle affectionately with Teddy "The Interloping Harlot" Stone; any minute now, the man is going to ask Wilson to go steady.

"Yes, House, they taught me how to stand behind a cement pillar in juvie. They also taught me helping the white man spy on his boyfriend is whack," Foreman hisses.

"Wilson is not my boyfriend and I hate to break it to you but you are the white man now," House tells him. "Now, less talking, more stalking."

Despite two separate attempts to woo the answer out of Wilson's secretary and paging Dr. Wilson for frivolous consults the entire day--the last 46 of which Wilson brazenly ignored--House hadn't managed to find the location of the already-scandalous meal. Frankly, this only deepened House' concerns that Stone is taking Wilson to some kind of two-bit motel for raunchy and terribly pornographic sex and not dinner at all.

"Do you think Wilson puts out on the first date?" House muses out loud.

"Yes," Foreman says automatically.

House considers this for a long time before he asks, "Are you saying that just to irritate me?"

"What makes it better is that I also think it's true," Foreman tells him triumphantly. "Okay, they're in Wilson's car. They're on the move."

"I'm docking your pay," House mutters into the phone.

"You can't do that," Foreman retorts.

"Watch me," House warns, and ends the call before dialing Chase's number, programmed into the telephone as PRISON FODDER. Cameron is just HOPELESS.

"Chase," PRISON FODDER says, and House can hear the radio in the background playing some sort of new age crap. He can also hear HOPELESS whining, "I don't feel comfortable doing this. Dr. Wilson's always been very good to us and…"

"What the hell are you listening to?" House demands.

"It's Massive Attack," Chase says, vaguely affronted. "It's--" there's a jerk and a thump, and Chase's girly, Aussie voice that'll make him the prettiest and most popular bitch in cellblock C, before Cameron comes onto the line, snapping, "Dr. House, I don't think this is a good idea."

"Cameron, if I ever express a desire to know how you feel about one of my ideas, I will let you know," House promises. "It will be a moment shortly after the end of knowable measurement of the fourth dimension."

There's a long pause before Cameron says, "What?"

"Give the phone back to Chase!" House snaps.

"Massive Attack is a very good band," Chase says as soon he gets the phone back.

"If I could care less, I would submit myself as presentation of imaginary numbers in solid matter," House assures him. "For the moment, I want you to follow Dr. Wilson's car."

"Like in the movies?" Chase balks. "With my lights off?"

"The more time you spend working with me, the more high-risk behaviors you'll find yourself indulging in," House tells him, his heart rate returning to ordinary as he hears the car begin to move in the background of the phone noise. "I'm planning a four-way between you, me, Cameron, and Foreman for St. Patrick's Day."

"When we catch up to Dr. Wilson, would you like us to extend the invitation to him as well?" Chase asks sweetly.

"And if you don't follow that car very closely," House says, "we'll never have a Wilson sandwich."

Chase sighs. "Why don't you just tell Dr. Wilson you like him?"

"I'm hanging up now," House tells him, and he does.

*

It turns out that Wilson is as predictable with his men as he is with his women, so when Chase reports that Wilson is puttering around Spring Street, looking for a parking space, House says, "He is so easy."

"I've always wanted to eat at Ferry House," Chase says.

"Me, too," Cameron agrees from the background.

"Your hopes, dreams, and aspirations mean nothing to me," House mutters, remembering Wilson sprawled out on his couch, ignoring House' losing battle with a tie.

"We already knew that," Chase says flatly. "Oh, wait--he's turning into a lot."

House rolls his eyes and starts his car. Wilson had insisted on giving House a pedantic and ultimately pointless lesson in driving stick after a while, and in retrospect, if Wilson's newfound giddiness is not just rampant hospital rumor then that afternoon took on an entirely different and far more interestingly lewd meaning.

"Well follow him in," House snaps, horrifying visions of Wilson offering Stone assistance with his manual transmission dancing through his mind as House pulls out of the hospital lot.

Chase makes a dismissive noise. "I've done your dirty work for the evening."

"Also, I think it's wrong! Very wrong!" Cameron chimes in, again reminding House why she's always going to be HOPELESS.

"They need to be chaperoned," House argues. "Who knows what evil Dr. Stone might do to our Jimmy's virtue!"

"According to the rumors, Dr. Wilson has no virtue," Chase answers, wryly amused.

"Whoever disseminates those rumors should be flogged."

"You disseminate those rumors," Chase reminds him.

"Get in that restaurant and hide behind some bushes," House says. "Wilson's been faint recently and I can't have a man in his condition running willy-nilly around town without proper medical supervision."

"Cameron and I have to go have sex now," Chase informs him. "Immediately," he adds, and hangs up.

House vows to send Chase to prisons for convicts possessed of increasing increments of violence and perversion and with greater frequency from now on before he picks up his phone and calls ERICA, one of his first experiments with his new cell phone, since ERIC A. FOREMAN was too long to input and ERICA seemed weirdly satisfying.

"Whatever it is," Foreman says as soon as he answers the phone, "I'm not doing it. Good night."

Less than ten seconds later, House is staring at his cell phone in betrayal. He was regretting naming them ducklings; otherwise, he could have led them to water and let them drown.

"Well," House says to himself at a red light, his purring red corvette egging him on in all the best ways possible. "It's not like I don't know how this works."

It's true; House has been watching General Hospital for years, after all.

*

Twenty minutes later, perched in one of the nosebleed seats next to the swinging kitchen door at Ferry House, House remembers that hot gay men on General Hospital tend to get tragically killed or get HIV or lose their memory. And true to form, if Stone continues to stare at Wilson as if he'd like to peel off Wilson's bland blue shirt and light khaki slacks and do completely immoral things to him right on the floor of the restaurant, House is going to have to tragically kill him and then beat Wilson about the head until he no longer remembers this evening.

The first time House had ever eaten at Ferry House was Wilson's second engagement announcement. Charlotte was sweet and sunny and warm, and House remembered almost approving of her soft-sciences influence on his friend. Wilson was head of heels stupid in love, almost glowing with it, and he'd ordered a Portobello salad and drank white wine and smiled so brightly that House and Stacy had been forced to make vomit faces at each other when Wilson and Charlotte weren't looking.

Now, Wilson is ordering the same damn Portobello salad and drinking something pale like liquid sunshine in a beautiful flute glass, laughing as Stone tells him one story or another, his face and hands animated and House is tempted to make vomit faces again. Tempted in fact to call Stacy so she can come and help him spy and make vomit faces with him. Stacy always grasped the essential nature of mockery and cheerfully tricked Wilson's girlfriends into conversations so she and House could dissect the progress of their relationships.

But Stacy isn't speaking to him at the moment and it's not exactly a girlfriend House is worried about this time around. It also doesn't help that House' waiter is clearly unhappy with the way House has been reading the menu for upwards of twenty minutes now, stretching his neck to peer over a fake plant at Wilson and Stone and then turtling down again for fear of recognition.

"Have you decided what you'll have yet, sir?" the waiter asks through gritted teeth.

"More water," House says stubbornly, and at the waiter's alternately murderous and agonized expression, he says, "Oh, fine, bring me the firecracker shrimp and go away for twenty minutes."

CARL, according to his tag, complies happily, and leaves House to his spying. Before the infarction, House had spent a disturbing amount of time breaking into and sometimes out of homes, although none of that means he has any real practical experience spying.

A fact which is driven into his head when a waitress, a fair-faced girl with her dark hair pulled back in a severe ponytail comes to his table and sets a colorful drink on his table.

"From the gentleman at that table--" she indicates Wilson, who's frowning at House fiercely "--with regards to you, um, personality disorders. Also, he says go home," she finishes awkwardly, and flits away, but not before Wilson gives her a gently approving smile and House flashes both Wilson and an amused-looking Stone a venomous expression.

"You're welcome to join us," Stone calls over the restaurant noise of clinking china and crystal. The look of sheer irritation Wilson flashes him is enough to make House paste an enormous smile to his face and hobble over as laboriously as possible.

Wilson's frown dissolves into an exasperated sigh as House bangs his cane on the edge of his chair trying to get into one of the two spares at Wilson's dinner table. Wilson asks, "Are your protégés stationed at strategic lookouts throughout the restaurant as well?"

"According to the poorly-reasoned laws of this land," House tells him, "their serfdom extends only during work hours."

Wilson laughs a little. "So they staged a mini-coup."

"I've heard all about you, Dr. House," Stone cuts in, and House barely resists the urge to jab him in the leg under the table with his cane. One of the few good things that have come out of the infarction is a constant alibi to carry a lethal weapon--it seems like an awful shame if he can't use it to pound this smiling monkey into the steamed, damask tablecloth.

"Everything anybody's said is true," House assures him.

"Including the thing about sheep and sometime chickens?" Stone asks with a raised brow, and it makes Wilson laugh which makes House hate Stone more.

"Especially that," House says through gritted teeth.

Stone just smiles at him charmingly. Teddy Stone is, like his name suggests, upper-crust and too attractive, the kind of man who gets whispered about at office parties and women call home to their mothers for after one date. He's dark-haired and blue-eyed, rakish and all grown up, with a square jaw and a chin ass that some people might find attractive. House takes satisfaction in that he learned the phrase "chin ass" from Wilson and so can assume Wilson does not.

"If you're trying to throw me for a loop, Dr. House," Stone laughs, "you'll probably fail. Cambodia wore it out of me."

House can literally see the moment Wilson blinks in interest.

"Ted," Wilson says to get Stone's attention. House has a flashback to the sixth grade, where he'd thrown a rock at Jorie Nelson when she'd helped Harry Ashe with his math homework. "When'd you go to Cambodia?"

"I was with Doctors Without Borders for a few years a while back," Stone explains with false deference. Everybody falls for the selflessly helping impoverished third-world babies crap--even Wilson, if the glazed-over look of saccharine interest on his face is any indication. Chin ass or no, House is about to take drastic measures and fake some sort of painful infarction-related complication--a surefire (if slightly or maybe very sleazy) way to distract Wilson and put that tenderly worried expression on his face.

"That's great, Ted," Wilson says with genuine admiration so House can't help but say:

"Yeah, Ted, awesome."

Wilson shoots him a dirty look and Stone appears to be regretting his decision to invite House over to the table, which House counts as a petty if very real victory. But before he can start crowing about it or asking Ted if he picked up any underaged hookers while overseas, Wilson clears his throat warningly and asks with supreme interest:

"Ted, the patient you wanted to talk about." Wilson flashes his most self-deprecating smile. "I don't know how much help I can be but I'd like to look at the file either way."

And when both House and Stone stare at Wilson, he flushes and asks, "What?"

"My God, Jimmy, are you really that dim?" House demands.

"What?" Wilson asks, baffled.

"Um, I don't have any films. Or a file," Stone admits, and it's his turn to blush. "I mean, the patient exists," he backtracks at Wilson's expression. "I had just hoped this wouldn't be a business dinner, James."

At Wilson's astonished expression, House rolls his eyes. "You are so oblivious," he mutters. "I can't wrap my mind around how you trick all those women into sleeping with you."

"You're still dating women?" Stone asks, sounding betrayed.

"Oh, um. I'm taking a break," Wilson explains hastily, and only the dead muscle in House' leg keeps him from kicking Wilson under the table.

"He thinks he's still married," House explains.

"I am still married," Wilson snaps.

"You're not wearing a ring," Stone interjects, sounding distressed. "I didn't know."

"Wilson's never really married," House says.

Stone cocks one eyebrow, and Wilson looks like he's about to argue the point when House rolls his eyes and Wilson deflates, admitting, "It's kind of true."

"So you see," House says magnanimously. "He's a bit of a terrible slut--" Wilson scowls and Stone bites his lip "--and you're really much better off barking up a different tree."

"But he has such nice leaves," Ted snaps meanly. "And what is your problem anyway, House?"

"Can we talk about the patient?" Wilson asks desperately.

It all goes downhill from there.

*

"I am never speaking to you again," Wilson says through gritted teeth.

"You're speaking to me right now," House argues.

"Never again, after tonight, am I speaking to you," Wilson says resolutely.

"Why are you speaking with me tonight, then?" House asks, watching Stone disappear into a cab in front of the Ferry House, his handsome face flashing one brief moment to give Wilson a rueful look. House thinks that Stone should have done better research if he was going to try and go where almost every single member of the female nursing staff had gone before--or at least asked a nurse.

"So I can call you names and express my hate," Wilson snaps, throwing up his hands.

The detritus of dinner is in front of them, Wilson's almost-untouched entrée and House' decimated skirt steak. And after the waitress wanders past and clears away the remnants of Stone's veal platter, it's almost as if he wasn't there at all--like just another evening spent with Wilson, with fewer references to hookers and less cheap beer.

"This is almost like a date," House says.

"This is not a date," Wilson mutters. "I'm furious with you."

"All right, this is exactly like all my dates."

Wilson rubs the bridge of his nose and sighs, shoulders slumping in a time-honored tradition of accepting what cannot be changed. The reason that Wilson is a wise and well-respected oncologist is the same reason he and House are still friends; sometimes it's not about solving a problem so much as managing it.

It's a few minutes later, after House has appropriated Wilson's cooling entrée for his own consumption that Wilson rests his chin in his hand and stares across the restaurant, saying, "He really thought it was a date."

"The entire hospital thought it was a date," House points out between bites. "I specifically came by and told you it was a date by mocking you ruthlessly."

"I always thought he thought I was kind of lame in school," Wilson admits.

"You were always cool enough for me," House tells him dishonestly.

"God, just shut up and finish my dinner," Wilson says, but there's a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"I live to serve," House says generously, and graciously allows Wilson to pay for the meal.

*

The next day however, House is in a worse mood than ever.

Stone is not only on everybody's lips he is in Wilson's ward, smiling and charming and being adorable with young children as Wilson melts under the glow of a six-year-old girl with some terribly complicated and delicate cancer.

House has all three of his peons running around the hospital to gather intel and he's been fielding pages all day only to find that everybody agrees Wilson and Stone should get married and have unbearably attractive children together immediately. Immunology thinks they should buy a dog. Radiology votes for cat. Oncology makes a feeble effort to remind everybody Wilson is still married but that's only because they have to work with him.

"Dr. Stone's really a very nice guy," Cameron reports, half past one.

"He's doing a puppet show for all the children in oncology right now," Chase says brightly.

"A puppet show?" House asks, revolted.

"I think he's doing Romeo and Juliet with a cow and a frog," Chase answers.

"That's so cute," Cameron says.

"Oh my God," House curses, and limps away as fast as his bum leg can take him.

*

Contrary to what Chase and Foreman and probably Cameron think, House doesn't a crush on Wilson; he just doesn't want anybody else to have a crush on him either, which House finds is perfectly fair if embarrassingly reminiscent of middle school. Anyway, he's already used the line about pigtails and hair ribbons and it's Wilson being feminized so what does he care. The point is, Dr. Teddy "t-t-t-t-touch me" Stone and his adorably terminal patient needs to hie thee out of Princeton-Plainsboro so House can have his weekday afternoon programming back in line.

House has a whole series of thoughtful arguments not even Wilson and his weak-willed inclination toward caring for his patients can argue with until he hobbles near enough to one of the private rooms in oncology to see that the adorably terminal patient in question is so cute, herds of kittens would expire in an effort to overcome it.

There is cute and then there is pale with rosy cheeks and perfect dark curls. There's a distinct possibility that Wilson, if left in prolonged exposure, will spontaneously develop a fatherly instinct and either (a) marry again to spawn, or, far more frightening, (b) stay married to Julie and propagate. House has nothing against Wilson's genes or Julie's genes independent of one another, but the idea of them sharing alleles is too frightening to think on for very long.

House sees the little girl in question reach out and take Wilson's hand, drawing something on Wilson's palm with a washable red marker and House realizes the situation is dire.

So House pulls out his pager and taps out an urgent message before staring hatefully into the exam room, watching Wilson roll his eyes at his pager and excuse himself, not even looking surprised when he steps out of the door, right into House.

"Timmy's in the well?" Wilson asks sarcastically, holding up his pager.

"What did that little trollop write on your hand?" House demands.

"Oh my God, you must be kidding me," Wilson complains.

House grabs Wilson's wrist and tries not to sneer at the SWATCH he still wears, a gift from his second and most favorite wife. His palm has a giant heart drawn on it.

"If you go to Africa to heal the hopeless ill because of her loving encouragement," House threatens, "I'll never respect you again."

"Is there a particular reason you hate this girl?" Wilson finally asks. "I mean, granted, you have a tendency to be bitingly hostile to all people flush with optimism and love but you haven't even met her this time."

"I can hate her just as well from afar," House promises. Wilson has unremarkable hands, calloused and dry from all the latex gloves, and his fingers smell like the hospital-issue lotion they keep next to the soap dispensers: plasticky and practical. "Why do you like her so much?"

"She's a patient," Wilson explains. "I like all my patients."

"What about Mrs. Lebowski," House says. It's not a question.

"I like almost all of my patients," Wilson corrects and sighs. "Is this about Teddy?"

House twitches. "I'm developing a psychosomatic aversion to that name," he snarled.

"I'll take that as a yes," Wilson says, eyes twinkling. "Oh," he murmurs after a beat. "You're jealous."

Glaring, House growls, "I am not jealous."

"All evidence to the contrary," Wilson says easily and tugs his hand away before taking a step back toward the exam room, promising as he goes, "He's leaving in two days, and after he's gone, I'll be your best friend again--cross my heart and hope to die."

House knows it's juvenile to stick his tongue out at Wilson, but he does it anyway.

*

On Friday, when House is earnestly reading all the emails promising him a larger penis and better sexual endurance, he stumbles across a note from Wilson. It reads:

To: g_house@ppth.org
From: jwilson@ppht.org
Subject: [none]

Flanigan's bar @ 9

House' knee-jerk reaction is to bitterly forward all his penis-enlargement advertisements to Wilson immediately and make Cameron go up to oncology and "help Dr. Wilson"--which only Wilson would be filthy enough to interpret as what it is, anyway.

But since House is a fully-grown adult with a pain problem and everything, he bravely resists the latter and only forwards six ads without even editorializing in the body of the email message.

If he's a in a better mood the rest of the day, he attributes it entirely to an exceptionally agreeable batch of Vicodin.

*

It's a cold night and the sidewalk outside of Flanigan's is slick with the beginnings of ice, glassy water that makes the bar look dirty and a little dodgy, with its bright orange windows filled with blurry brown shadows. House pulls his coat a little tighter around himself and tries to look as homeless and menacing as possible, which he kind of knows how to do now, given that he spent that night on the street corner with Wilson staring at bums who clearly thought Wilson was a high-class hooker who was terribly, terribly confused.

By the time he finally wobbles into Flanigan's and dumps his hat and coat on the rack by the door, he spies Teddy fucking Stone at his and Wilson's traditional corner booth. The only reason he doesn't immediately throw a temper tantrum a la wife number one is that Stone looks as if Wilson is crushing his overflowing, Doctors Without Borders heart and House cannot help but to take a delicious amount of glee in it.

There's a break in their seemingly-agonizing conversation and Stone shakes his head, gets up, and stalks away from the table--he never even took his coat off, House notes gleefully.

And when Stone sees him, he snaps, "You're a real asshole, you know?"

"Me?" House asks, faux-affronted.

"Yeah, you," Stone growls. "He should at least be allowed to have other friends."

"I'm all the friend he'll ever need," House says back, and it surprises him by not coming out as a joke at all. He glances left and right to make sure nobody who knows him heard that, and promises to be extra-nasty at the hospital Monday to make sure nobody thinks he's harboring inappropriate concern for Wilson or anything like that.

"Whatever," Teddy snarls, and House wags his fingers affectionately as the man storms out of the bar and the door whips shut behind him.

When he sits down opposite Wilson, he notes that the warm spot from Stone is already gone, and that Wilson is smiling, wry and amused and completely aware of House' particular brand of shit.

"You are an asshole, House," Wilson tells him, and takes a sip from his glass.

"But I'm your asshole," House insists, and orders a beer.

Wilson looks at him strangely for a very long time before the expression on his face softens and folds into itself, and House can't tell if it's a sad or happy or resigned look--but probably some of all three. There is too much in between them to be anything but.

And in the end, Wilson closes his eyes and leans back in his booth as he says, "Yeah, you are."

For once, it makes House uneasy to see Wilson giving in.

*

Instead of being extra-mean to Wilson on Monday, House instead avoids him like the plague, hiding in his office and watching soap after soap after soap--even Passions, which he thinks is probably as dangerous as his pain management problem, all things equal.

By two o'clock, their latest mysterious illness is in a coma and House is extra-pissed off, having failed both at managing what fragments of his personal life remain and bludgeoning the truth out of several million lab tests. By three, he's wordlessly irritated by everything around him--including the air molecules, and everybody in the hospital is giving him a wide berth, making it that much more difficult to trap Cameron in the labs and ask, "Do I have a crush on Wilson?"

After which there's a whole bunch of shouting and House having to say, "Oh my God, would you get over yourself? You did not make me gay!" and then reneging later in the conversation out of sheer annoyance and yelling, "Okay, you know what? You did, you totally did," while Cameron gives him soulful looks like she's finally decided what about him is more pathetically worthy of her fixation with lost causes than even his leg.

The whole thing is so frustrating and thoroughly pointless that he goes back to his patients room and starts rifling through her belongings with extreme prejudice.

At four, Cuddy tracks him down, brazenly bursting into the neurology lounge and hauling him off to clinic duty. And at four thirty, House sees a picture of a penguin on a small child's backpack and says, "Oh my God, of course," and limps down the hall, yelling over his shoulder to the hyper parents, "Get some calamine lotion and take advantage of the opportunity to give as many other kids the chicken pox as possible!"

Unfortunately, the patient is stabilized by ten and House has nothing to do but stew over Teddy Stone and Wilson and a heart drawn on the inside of his palm. There's probably something meaningful and metaphoric about it but House is a doctor and not an unemployed secretary with a B.A. in English.

House thinks about Chase and Foreman and Dr. Teddy fucking Stone, about Rory and generic hospital lubricant, sexual education brochures. He thinks about Vicodin and Stacy, about the difference between a pain problem and a pain management problem, and how when Wilson leaves, he plays his piano, low and thoughtful, too lingering.

The thoughts that go round and round in his head, and he finds himself pulling up to Wilson's driveway, where all the windows on the second floor of the house are dark and the living room is burned yellow through the curtains.

And when Wilson answers the door, House says:

"Apparently, I have a crush on you."

Wilson blinks, once, twice. "Apparently?"

House frowns. "Chase and Foreman think so."

"Oh, well then," Wilson says, and leans against the doorway.

He's dressed down, in old jeans House watched him buy and a t-shirt from a breast cancer marathon Wilson did back when he was pretending to be healthy. House can chart the history between them, map the patterns of their lives like the three separate china patterns Wilson has purchased and had taken away; they're all imprinted in House' memory and even he's not enough of a misanthrope not to see the meaning in that.

"Oh, God," House whines. "Are you really going to make me ask you?"

Wilson grins, and it's pure evil. "Yes."

House grinds the heel of his hand into his left eye, and mutters, "Do you have a crush on me?"

"You are the cutest boy in the seventh grade," Wilson says agreeably, and House can't help but feel an overwhelming relief at that--warmth radiating out from the general area of his chest.

"Is Julie here?" House asks. He knows she's not.

"You know she's not," Wilson says, and House can hear a slight change in his voice, like finding the stutter in a heartbeat. "I have to say, salmon are more romantically adept than you."

House scowls. "You could have let me know, you know," he mutters. "I feel like an idiot."

"I asked Cuddy to pass you a note in study hall but she said you had the cooties."

Wilson ducks aside in the doorway, letting House in where it is warm and the television is playing the midnight rerun of General Hospital. There's cooling pizza and a beer sweating on one of the coasters House bought Wilson for his anniversary one marriage ago and House realizes that he just might want to go steady with this guy.

House stares until Wilson flushes and asks, "What?"

Wilson's off-center again, and really, it's the only possible acceptable outcome for the evening, so House just grins his most evil smile and steps inside the threshold--and mostly because he can't resist, when they settle on the couch to catch the second half of GH, House threads his arm behind Wilson's shoulder and strokes his hands through the soft hair at the nape of Wilson's neck.

And when the commercials come on, House can absolutely, positively, no longer resist, and he leans over to ask, "What would I have to pay to get you in pigtails?"