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The Open Road

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Wilson glances at his watch without really seeing it. He knows it's after nine because the sun has set, and the sky is turning the deep, inky blue of an early-summer evening. The change leaves him blinking after the bright lights of the hospital, and he takes a moment to adjust, breathing in the warm, dusty air.

The parking lot is as empty as a hospital lot can be. All the staff that could escape for the weekend have already taken off, and the influx of alcohol-related Friday night injuries hasn't begun yet.

The Corvette, red and shiny and dangerous-looking enough that it almost seems to be thumbing its nose at the handicapped parking sign in front of it catches Wilson's eye, surprising him. It's unusual for House to stay so late when he doesn't have a case, but odder still, he can see House in the car. The top is down and the driver's seat is tipped all the way back. House is lying there with his eyes closed and his headphones on.

Wilson walks over and reaches out to tap House on the shoulder.

House's eyes snap open a split second before Wilson can make contact, and Wilson pulls back in surprise.

They freeze like that, Wilson awkward with his arm still extended and House looking at him not angrily, but intensely, like Wilson is an oddly shaped rash that House has never seen before. Then House shifts, turning to hit a button on his iPod and pull the headphones from his ears, and Wilson's hand drops, breaking the moment.

"Hey," House says.

"Hey. What are you doing?"

House yawns hugely, throwing out his right arm and tapping his mouth with his left hand like a kid playing Cowboys and Indians. "You're here late. Meeting?"

"No, I was trying to get caught up on paperwork," Wilson says, allowing House to maneuver the conversation.

House makes a disapproving noise and rubs his eyes with both hands before turning back to Wilson. "Wanna take a ride?" His eyebrows are raised, his head tilted to one side, and his eyes are sparkling with the devilish twinkle that Wilson would have learned to resist long ago if he really were the responsible adult everyone but House believes him to be.

"Where to?" Wilson asks, already taking a step back to walk around to the passenger side.

"Dunno," House says. "You're driving."

Wilson raises his hand just in time to save himself from being hit in the face with House's keys.

They pull off the turnpike somewhere near midnight at a gas station with a convenience store, its windows lit with harsh, fluorescent lights that sting Wilson's eyes.

Wilson fills the tank while House goes off to find a bathroom.

He thought maybe they were going to Atlantic City, but House told him to keep driving when he tried to take the AC Expressway, and now they're already past Philly. Other than that, House has given him no clue where they're headed.

Wilson goes inside to pay, and House meets him at the register with a box of Oreos, a package of Twinkies and two bags of potato chips cradled in his left arm, a Hershey bar and a bottle of Coke wedged in his right arm pit, and a giant Slim Jim between his teeth.

"I gah fuh-pies," he mumbles around the obstruction.

"House, you eat all that junk you'll have a coronary." Wilson sighs.

"Don wee a kill zhoy."

"Oh, give me that." Wilson grabs the jerky out of House's mouth. "And that." He takes the Twinkies, which looked like they were about to slide to the floor. "You know I don't think there are any ingredients in these things that weren't created in a lab," he says, surveying the back of the package.

"You have no appreciation for human ingenuity. The guy who invented cream filling was short-listed for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry."

Wilson smiles in spite of himself, but says, "You're putting those back."

"Oh come on, Mom, pleeease. I promise to eat all my broccoli!"

Wilson examines the few rather pathetic looking apples and bananas in a basket near the register. He picks out two each of the least bruised among them. "We're getting these," he says, laying the fruit and the confiscated jerky on the counter, "and the chocolate. Put everything else back. Go!" He points at the aisles and scowls, trying to look stern.

House makes a show of being outraged and grumbles to himself, but does head off with the forbidden junk food.

The South Asian man behind the counter is staring at him when Wilson turns around to pay. "Kids," Wilson says, handing the guy his credit card and shrugging. "What're you gonna do?"

"So where are we going?" Wilson asks. House shakes his head and points to his ear, miming that he can't hear over the radio blasting late-night requests of R&B love songs. It would seem that someone is sorry he was untrue. Wilson can relate.

Wilson turns the volume down and repeats the question.

"A more interesting question," House says, turning the song back up though not quite to its previous ear-splitting level, "is if you could have a guaranteed no-strings-attached one-night stand with Cuddy or Cameron, who would you choose?"

"I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might incriminate myself." Really, as if there were an answer to that question that wouldn't cause House to flip out.

House makes a nasal buzzer sound. "Wrong. This is not a court of law. The Fifth Amendment does not apply."

"The Fifth Amendment always applies."

"Not outside the United States."

"I didn't know we were making a run for the border. Have you killed someone?" As he makes the joke, the possibility occurs to Wilson that it might not be so funny. "Wait. House, seriously, you aren't in any trouble, are you?"

House doesn't answer right away, and Wilson takes his eyes from the road to find House watching him. "You gonna hide me from the coppers, Jimmy?" he taunts. Then, more slowly, "Or would you turn me in?"

Wilson flinches away from House's narrowed eyes, turning quickly back to focus on the red taillights of the car in front of them.

"Oh, that's right," House continues. "You've made that choice before."

Wilson's grip tightens on the steering wheel, and he clamps his teeth together to keep from yelling. He did make a choice. He's argued it in circles in his own head too many times to even know anymore if it was right or wrong, but he does know that House is going to make sure he keeps on paying for it.

"Relax," House says. "I haven't been the target of a drug bust or left any thermometers in any inconvenient orifices. And I haven't killed anyone...yet."

"Then what's going on?" Wilson hears how impatient and petulant he sounds, his irritation creeping through.

"You and I are taking a road trip. It's a concept you may have heard the cool kids in college talking about. The ones who weren't obsessed with graduating summa cum laude and occasionally left the library."

Wilson shakes his head, and tries to suppress the familiar frustration. It's his own fault that he keeps on wishing House would occasionally raise the level of their interactions above the maturity level of frat brothers.

As if to drive home the point House asks, "Hey, dare me to moon this trucker?" He jerks his thumb at the eighteen-wheeler pulling up on their right.

No one has ever changed House's mind once it's made up, but Wilson opens his mouth to hear himself snapping, "I did protect you. Every choice I made was about protecting you."

"Bo-ring. We've already had this conversation." Wilson hears the rustle of paper and glances over to see House cram half the chocolate bar into his mouth. "Chase or Foreman?" Bits of nut and chocolate come flying out of from between his lips as he talks around the food. "Death is not an option."

With dawn creeping up over the horizon, they pull off the highway, stopping at the first motel they see: cracked pavement and flickering neon sign that declares "acancy" to passersby.

"Are you sure about this place?" Wilson asks, looking askance at the stained orange carpet in their room. "We could try to find something better."

"Stop being such a prima donna. It'll do." House flops down on the bed and tosses what is either a handful of Tic Tacs or an alarming amount of Vicodin into his mouth.

Wilson would object more, but he needs to stretch out somewhere. His head feels like it weighs a ton, and there's a crick in his left shoulder that no amount of rotating and stretching has eased.

Wilson sighs and closes the door, turning the deadbolt and hooking the chain. He moves deeper into the room, breathing in the scent of mold, cheap cleaning products, and a hint of stale cigarette smoke.

He must be even more tired than he thought, because it's only now that he looks around for a second bed and realizes it isn't there. He didn't pay much attention to House's negotiations with the corpulent and monosyllabic motel clerk, but clearly this isn't the right room. Wilson should go back out and clear up the mistake. Maybe the guy will respond better to someone who doesn't keep calling him "Bubba Joe."

He's about to announce this plan when House turns to him and says, "Get me a glass of water, would you?"

Wilson goes into the bathroom and turns on the tap with fingers clumsy from fatigue. He holds his hand under the faucet, letting it run until it's cool, trying not to look too closely at the mildew spots on the shower curtain while he waits.

House is propped up on his elbows, watching him when he comes out. Wilson sits on the edge of the bed and holds out the glass to House who takes a long gulp before handing it back. Wilson takes a sip. The water has a hard, mineral taste, but it's wet, and he's thirsty, so he drinks a little more before he hands it back.

"Wilson," House says. Wilson jumps; his eyes had shut without his realizing. He turns to look at House, blinking to clear the fuzziness from his vision. House doesn't say anything. He just holds out the nearly empty glass. Wilson takes it. The glass is wet and slippery against his palm, and he can feel the difference in surface temperature where House was holding it. He drains the last swallow and puts it down on the nightstand already scarred with rings from other careless visitors.

When Wilson turns back to him House has curled onto his side, facing Wilson, eyes closed. Wilson knows he's not asleep because he can see his lips tightening and relaxing as they do when he's mulling over some problem, and Wilson wonders again what they're running away from. It can't be a case that he couldn't solve. House would never run from that.

He'd like to ask, but he's far too tired for the effort it will take to muscle through House's lies and misdirection.

"I could sleep on the floor," Wilson ventures. His entire body feels leaden, but he thinks he should at least make the offer.

"Don't be an idiot," House says, sounding more sleepy than grouchy.

Fair enough. Wilson swings his legs around to hang off the bed and toes off his shoes. He unbuckles his belt next, pulling it from the loops and dropping it onto the floor. His fingertips catch on the rough cotton of the bedspread as he scrabbles backwards and pushes it down to slide underneath.

Finally blissfully horizontal, he closes his eyes and drifts. He feels the dip of the bed when House stirs and gets up, hears House move into the bathroom, and then he's aware of nothing else until House touches his shoulder.

"Wilson," House says softly, like he's checking if he's awake.

Wilson struggles through the cobwebs of half-wakefulness to murmur a little in response, no distinct words, just a noise to indicate his awareness. He slits his eyes open. House's face is very close and a little blurry, then closer still, and then Wilson feels the bump of House's nose against his nose and the brush of House's lips against his own.

The touch is light, and it makes Wilson shiver and pull away, confused and a little alarmed in his sleep-muzziness. "What are you--" he begins to ask, but then he sees House pulling back and turning away. Faster than thought, Wilson leans in, clutching House's shirt in both fists, pulling him closer and kissing him hard, lips sliding against lips, tongue pushing, tasting, hoping with all of his might that if this is a dream he won't wake up too soon.

It doesn't feel like a dream. The sandpaper rasp of their chins bumping, the minty-mediciney taste of House's mouth feel real as does the incredible racing of his heart.

House holds Wilson's face in both his hands, pushes his tongue all the way inside Wilson's mouth like he's trying to see if he can crawl inside Wilson's skin if he kisses hard enough.

Wilson's lungs begin to ache, and he has to pause to take a breath. House uses the distance to bring his hands to Wilson's wrists, disengaging himself gently from Wilson's grip, and Wilson makes an embarrassing noise of disappointment deep in his throat.

"Shh," House says and runs his fingertips through Wilson's hair once, twice, again and again. Despite his arousal, the sensation like warm water running down his scalp makes Wilson's eyes close and refuse to open again.

His pulse calms and seems to time itself to the movement of House's hand. A few more heartbeats, and he's asleep.

Wilson comes slowly awake to the sight of the cracked motel ceiling. He rolls onto his side and realizes that he's all alone in the room.
House's shoes, the car keys, and House himself are all gone. The only indication of House's presence are the rumpled sheets beside him and the last hint of the
flavor of mint in his mouth.

Wilson goes to the window and pulls aside the dust-coated venetian blinds, confirming that the 'vette isn't there.
A quick search of the room reveals that his own wallet is also missing.

His heart begins to race, but Wilson tries to tell himself that it's far too soon to jump to conclusions.
His eyes are still gummy from sleep, and his thoughts feel thick and confused. He decides to take a shower, hoping that it will help him think more clearly.

By the time the water is beginning to run cold Wilson is in a full-on panic. He raises his arm to wash his left armpit and then his right for at least the third time because that way he won't have to go back out into the room to face the fact that he's possibly been the victim of House's most bizarre and cruel practical joke to date.

Of course, as stunts go, stranding him in a filthy motel with no money would be low even for House. It's possible that he just stepped out to get breakfast or take a quick drive and explore their surroundings. With Wilson's wallet.

Wilson's mind keeps bouncing back and forth between the two explanations, conveniently skipping over the one possibility that he doesn't want to contemplate: that leaving him was not part of some evil plan but rather the result of House freaking out over their kiss.

Wilson presses his fingers to his temples and shakes his head, trying to remember the details from the night before. He thought House kissed him first, but what if he hadn't? Was he so out of it, or maybe so desperately delusional, that he mistook a simple attempt to wake or move him as a kiss?

The specifics of what happened right beforehand are obscured in a pre-sleep haze, leaving only the sensual memory of the pressure of lips against lips and a slick, warm tongue in his mouth.

The water loses the last of its meager warmth, and Wilson turns it off, toweling off and stepping out into the room. He's glad he can blame his full-body shiver on the blast of cold air from the air conditioner and not on the sight of House sitting on the bed facing him.

House's eyes widen, and Wilson feels all too aware that he is wearing nothing but a towel that barely meets where he's clutching it at his hip and only extends down to his mid-thigh.

Wilson jerks the bathroom door closed behind him harder than he meant to and hopes that doesn't ruin the air of nonchalance he's going for.

"Uh, hi," Wilson says. Cold droplets of water drip from his hair on to his neck and shoulders and trickle down his back.

House keeps on staring at him, and Wilson really wishes that the towel were bigger.

"Where--" Wilson clears his throat. "Where did you go?" He looks nervously away from House's eyes, but then his gaze settles on House's lips, and he unconsciously starts to lick his own, stopping the second he realizes and biting down on his lower lip.

House tips his head to the left to draw Wilson's attention to Wilson's gym bag that House must have brought in from the car. The clothes in it are clean; he meant to go to the gym after work on Friday before he got stuck late doing paperwork.

"I'm just gonna--" Wilson gestures back behind him. He takes the bag from the bed and backs into the bathroom, keeping his eyes on House the entire time.

Inside, Wilson leans back against the closed door and takes a slow breath. He doesn't know what to make of House's silence. Not that he would expect House to address an emotional issue when he could avoid it, but still, Wilson wishes he had more of a clue about what House is thinking.

He slips into his worn McGill T-shirt and yesterday's slacks and thinks it's too bad House didn't bring in his briefcase. It has a fresh button-down and tie.

Wilson looks in the mirror. Of course there's no outward change. He hasn't sprouted any decorative plumage or got a scarlet "H" emblazoned anywhere on his body.

When he really considers the situation, he has to admit that after over a dozen years of friendship, they have worse buried between them than a little kiss. There's no reason for him to say anything about it if House isn't going to.

He takes another deep breath and resigns himself to the task of trying to get his hair in some semblance of order without a hairdryer.

After a minute, House raps on the door. "Quit fussing with your hair, you big sissy," he calls in to him.

Wilson throws up his hands and goes out into the bedroom.

"Let's go," House says.

"Go where?" Wilson asks.

House's right eyebrow arches and his lips part in a mysterious smile: an undeniably flirtatious expression that Wilson has seen many times before, but it's an entirely new experience now that he has the memory of House's mouth on his. Wilson's breath catches, and his cheeks grow warm.

"Away from here," House says. He grabs his cane from where it's leaning against the nightstand, picks up his backpack and walks out the door.

Wilson isn't going to get a better answer just standing there. He grabs his things and follows House out.

Wilson shifts around crossing and uncrossing his legs on the cracked vinyl seat of the country diner where they've stopped for a late breakfast. The single window unit they have cooling the room is no match for the strong sunlight streaming in through the windows. A trickle of sweat runs down Wilson's back, making him shift around more. He can't seem to find a comfortable position or to stop stealing glances at House from over the top of his menu.

House. His best friend who kissed him last night.

Wilson is trying to put that disquieting fact out of his mind, but every time he meets the deep-sea blue of House's eyes his breath stops, and every time he looks down at his menu, all he can think about is how much he wants to experience the feeling of House's lips against his again.

Nothing that passed between them in the fifty or so miles they've covered since leaving the motel has been out of the ordinary. House mainly dozed in between popping pills and fiddling with the radio, cementing Wilson's theory that they're just going to pretend nothing happened.

And that's for the best. Probably. Even if Wilson's whole heart doesn't quite seem to be convinced of that fact judging by its level of fluttery discomfort.

"I think," House begins, interrupting Wilson's fretting, but what he thinks Wilson will never know because the waitress picks that moment to come and take their order.

She's wearing one of those pink polyester dresses with a frilly apron that eateries use to humiliate their employees into submission, and she's got smudged lipstick and dyed blond hair with an inch of dark roots showing. House orders scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns, and then she turns to Wilson who's been entirely too busy ogling House and freaking out to really consider what he wants to eat.

"What would you recommend?" he asks, smiling up at her.

"Well," she taps her pencil against her lip, "the chicken-fried steak ain't bad."

Wilson's trapped. Fried steak sounds repulsive, but it will be awkward now if he just orders eggs. "You know, I'm sort of watching my waist line," he says with a self-deprecating shrug. "Any other suggestions?"

The waitress gives a sympathetic nod that says "don't I know it," and tells him, "I'll have them make you up a nice egg-white omelet with veggies." She scribbles it down and gives Wilson a little pat on the shoulder as she turns to walk away.

When Wilson looks back over at him, House is shaking his head. "Oh, you," he says.


"You know, just for that you're not getting any of my hash browns."

"Like hell!"

"They'll go straight to your hips!"

The waitress comes back with two cups of coffee even though Wilson forgot to order one.

"Look like you could use a little pick-me-up," she says to him with a smile and bustles off at an industrious pace.

"Oh, she likes you."

"Shut up," Wilson hisses because she's already heading back towards their table.

"Skim milk," she says, placing one of those little metal pitchers down next to Wilson. "Since you're counting calories," she explains and stands there expectantly.

"Thank you. That's very thoughtful." That earns Wilson a big smile and another parting pat on the shoulder.

Wilson turns back to House, who is smirking at him in between ripping open little plastic containers of half and half and pouring them into his coffee.

"Don't say it," Wilson warns.

"Just try not to get engaged before the bill comes," House says.

Wilson drops his face into his hands. "I don't like you."

"Hey, look, there's another one!" House shouts, and the car swerves frighteningly to the left when he points.

They've abandoned the highway in favor of the rural routes because House says it's more scenic. Among all the rolling green pastures, blossoming orchards and dark red barns with pristine white trim, they're driving past the Amish people who own them. House insists on remarking loudly and with multiple large gestures on their old-fashioned clothing and horse-drawn buggies.

Wilson clutches at his hair. "Would you cut that out?"

"Why? They like it." House gives a smile and a wave to the two black-clad, long-bearded men scowling at them as they pass. "Why else would they go to so much trouble to be so funny-looking?"

"I know this is a foreign concept to you, but they live by a strict moral code."

House grimaces as if even hearing the words "moral code" is painful to him.

"They could follow their religious beliefs and still make clothes that look like what normal people wear. But no, they choose to stick out as much as possible. They think rejecting the last two hundred years of scientific advancement makes them more virtuous than everybody else, and they want to make sure we all notice their virtue. I'm just giving them what they want."

Wilson hits the heel of his hand against his forehead. Leave it to House to diagnose asceticism and religious devotion as symptomatic of an ego trip.

"So are we almost there?" Wilson ventures.

"Almost where?"

Wilson huffs, "Wherever we're going that you won't tell me. Is there even a 'there,'" he asks, the thought suddenly occurring to him, "or is kidnapping me just your latest way of messing with my head?"

He can't ask if kissing him was some kind of new mind game as well. As methods for fucking with him go, that one was fairly spectacular, but to what end? House is a jerk, but his manipulations usually do serve some larger purpose. What could the kiss have been meant to prove?

"Aw, little Jimmy didn't listen to his mommy. He got in the car with the strange man, and now he's scared."

"Why all the secrecy? Why can't you just tell me?"

House ignores the question in favor of more gesticulating in the direction of the latest wagon full of unfortunate passengers coming towards them.

"Hey, you should totally moon the next one we pass," he tells Wilson in his goofy teenage boy voice.

"No. What with this mooning obsession? We are not mooning anyone on this trip, but especially," Wilson emphasizes his statement with a point of his finger, "especially not Amish people. Can we just set that as one of the ground rules right now?"

"God, you are such a schoolmarm."

"Yeah? Well, behave, or I'll rap your fingers with a ruler." Some sort of mild physical retaliation for House's antics actually doesn't sound like such a bad idea right now. "And pull over at the next farm stand we see. I want to buy some fruit."

"Fruit?" House says as if Wilson had suggested they buy a truckload of fresh manure. "You totally suck at road trips!"

"Maybe you should have invited one of your other friends. Oh, wait--"

"Cameron would have jumped at the chance to be my road trip buddy." House cups a hand to the side of his mouth and whispers, "She can't resist my animal magnetism."

"Yeah, but she wouldn't have been nearly so agreeable about letting you change the subject."

House gives him a dirty look and turns up the radio. When they see a sign for "Samuel Heiser's Fresh-Picked Produce," he slows and turns into the stand's lot.

Wilson takes his time browsing the cart, which is piled high with ripe fruit. He decides on a bag of sweet-smelling peaches and a quart of dark red cherries with skins so shiny he can practically see his reflection.

While he's paying, House comes over with a bag of the farmer's wife's homemade chocolate chip cookies and insists on adding them to his tab.

"Wait, stop," House says, grabbing Wilson by the wrist to keep him from handing over the bills he's holding.

"House, what're you--" Wilson looks questioningly at House, but he is focused on the man behind the counter, staring at him like a hawk closing in on its prey.

The man fidgets under House's gaze. "The cookies are four-fifty, sir," he repeats, still reaching for the money Wilson was about to hand him.

"Your palms are red," House answers.

The man looks down at his hand and back up at House in confusion.

"You suffer from frequent abdominal pain and swelling."

"How did you--"

"You have cirrhosis. Your liver is failing."

"That's impossible." The cashier closes his fist and pulls it back.

"On the bright side, when your skin turns yellow you won't have to worry about it clashing with your outfit. Black is so versatile."

By now they've attracted the attention of the other Amish man working at the stand, and he is watching them with a darkening expression.

"House," Wilson says in a tone of warning. He turns to the cashier. "I apologize for him, but you should see a doctor as soon as possible and get your symptoms checked out. They could be attributable to any number of different conditions." He breaks free of House's grip and lays the money down on the counter.

The dazed cashier is looking back and forth between House and his angry colleague, obviously uncertain how to respond.

"And here I thought your kind didn't believe in drinking," House continues unchastened. "Man, was I wrong about you. You Amish really know how to par-tay!"

"Amos, you swore you'd cast off your sins," the other Amish man says stonily, appearing to almost tremble with righteous fury.

"Really," Wilson says in his most reassuring tone, "even if it is cirrhosis, the underlying cause is not necessarily excessive drinking." He elbows House in the ribs and motions with his head toward the car.

"Yeah, but have you checked out the shnoz on this guy?" House jerks his thumb in the poor man's direction. "If he gets fired from this gig, he can always get a job guiding sleighs."

"I am so sorry," Wilson apologizes. "Please see a doctor," he adds to the latest hapless beneficiary of House's curiosity, who is looking miserably down at the palm of his hand. "House, we are leaving, now," he says through gritted teeth.

Wilson turns and all but runs towards the car.

"Bye now!" he hears House say brightly. "Have a nice day!"

Wilson isn't sure if they're in Ohio or Kentucky, or possibly some other state entirely. He stopped paying close attention hours earlier, and now he's too tired to care.

"Wake up," he says, nudging House on the shoulder. "I need you to take over. I'm about to fall asleep at the wheel."

"Wuss," House grumbles. "You only started your turn an hour ago."

"But I drove for over six hours before that. You only did two."

"Yes, but I can't drive for that long." House leans in conspiratorially and taps his knuckles on his thigh. "Got a bum leg. You shouldn't try to force me. I'd hate to have to sue you under the Americans with Disabilities Act."

"I'm pretty sure that you would only have a case if I were your employer."

"I thought all those lunches you buy me were compensation for my job keeping your life from descending into utter boredom."

"Hmm, some say compensation where others might say shameless freeloading." The comment doesn't have much impact as Wilson's final words get swallowed up by a yawn. "At least take over long enough to find us a hotel. We can't be too far from the next town." He pulls over and gets out of the car, standing with his hands on his hips and glaring until House grouchily concedes and shuffles around to the driver's side as slowly as possible and with an exaggerated limp.

As soon as he's buckled into the passenger seat, Wilson's head lists to one side, and the sight of the full moon grows blurry as his eyes drift closed.

The next thing he knows, there's a light tapping against his cheek, and he can hear the stopped engine ticking over, loud in the quiet night.

When he opens his eyes, House's face is very close, and his fingertips are resting lightly against the side of Wilson's face. Wilson sucks in a breath and holds it.

"Come on," House says softly. "We can stay here." He turns away to open the car door, and Wilson exhales.

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Wilson sees an imposing clapboard house with a hanging sign that reads "Rooms for Rent." Instead of finding the next town, House has brought them to a desolate roadside inn. Vacant fields are all that Wilson can see in any direction.

"Oh no," Wilson says, reacting to the prickling of his spine. "Uhn-uh. I've heard about places like this. We'll never be seen alive again. They'll find your torso in the batty old landlady's freezer. She'll have fed the rest of you to her cat!"

House snorts and shakes his head. "How many times do I have to tell you that all of those black-and-white movies are rotting your brain?"

"As opposed to the intellectual stimulation provided by 'Girls Gone Wild'?"

"Stimulating is the right word for it," House says, waggling his eyebrows. "You were the one who needed to go beddie-bye. Come on." House grabs his backpack from the back seat and begins thumping up the walk.

The woman who answers the door is not old or demonstrably batty. She's probably no older than Wilson is, though her fair hair and skin have the brittle, faded look that comes from a lifetime of outdoor work.

She introduces herself as Mrs. Marston and leads them down a dim corridor, the peeling olive green walls only adding to the general air of dinginess about the place. She stops in front of a cracked door with an old brass knob.

"This here's the only room I got on the ground floor." There's an unfriendly cast to her words, and she eyes House's cane as if she suspects him of faking it. "The other's upstairs," she says and begins to move away down the hall.

Wilson watches her go, confused until he realizes she means the other room. "Oh, we--" Wilson halts mid-objection, feeling his cheeks blaze. Of course she expects them to want separate rooms. He doesn't know whether to feel more embarrassed or disappointed by his assumption that House wouldn't.

Mrs. Marston is looking at him expectantly, so he stammers something about appreciating her taking them so late at night and without a reservation. He can't bring himself to look at House, so he mutters a good night to his sneakers and hastily moves away, following their hostess up a creaky flight of stairs.

Mrs. Marston leads him to a room reeking of decay and mothballs with only a concave twin bed and a single, dirty window.

The warped wood of the door creaks its objections as Wilson forces it shut. He moves in to the room and collapses on top of the bed without even bothering to take off his shoes.

"Hey." Wilson taps the grainy wooden door that he saw House disappear behind the night before. "House, you in there?"

He cracks open the door and sees House tying up his sneakers, sitting on a bed even more rickety than the one that Wilson slept on.

"Sleep well?" Wilson asks. His own sleep was fitful, interrupted by the bed creaking with every change in position and haunted by the plots of a dozen Hitchcock movies.

House shrugs, pulls his pills from his pocket, and rattles the bottle at Wilson before popping it open and flipping a pill into his mouth. "Daddy's little helper," he says as he levers himself up off the bed with his cane.

Wilson turns to leave, but a touch at the back of his neck makes him freeze.

"Tag," House says, and Wilson hears the crinkle of the material and feels House's fingertips slide across his skin as he tucks it in.

Wilson turns around slowly, uncertain what to expect. House is standing only a few inches away; his mouth is slightly open, and his eyes are focused somewhere below Wilson's face. House reaches out and curls his fingers under the edge of the front of Wilson's collar. The same way he had in back, but there's no tag to tuck in. House is just lightly stroking the hollow of Wilson's throat, out along his collarbone, and back in to the middle.

Wilson shivers, and his grip around his bag relaxes. It hits the floor with a soft thud. House raises his hand to Wilson's lips, and Wilson closes his eyes and mouths House's fingertips gently. His breath leaves him in a rush, relief that this is really happening, followed closely by a wave of uncertainty.

"House?" Wilson opens his eyes, trying to read some clue of what's happening on House's face.

"Let's go," House says, pulling away. "If we stay here much longer Farmer Betty is liable to make us bale some hay or muck out a cow."

Wilson nods, but he reaches out to hold House's arm. A look that feels more like an electric current passes between them. He stands there gripping the firm warm flesh of House's upper arm, hoping to find in House's expression an answer, a confirmation, even just a hint.

To Wilson, this is deadly serious. He's willing, has been for years, but he can't tell if House has any intention of following through on his advances.

House holds Wilson's eyes steadily. Wilson knows the look House gets when he's just shaking up the ant colony to watch the little creatures scurry, and he doesn't see it.

"Okay, let's go," Wilson says, dropping his hand.

He slings his bag over his shoulder and moves around House to the door. If there's a slight swagger to his step, it's because he can feel House's eyes following him.

At Wilson's insistence, they go looking for a town where they can buy some clean underwear and socks. He'd rifled through House's bag while House was in the bathroom at a gas station, thinking that he could discover what House was planning by how much he'd packed, but House has no more than the usual single change of clothes that any experienced doctor keeps with him.

They find a Main Street wide enough for two carriages to pass each other easily and an honest-to-goodness general store selling everything from animal feed to motor oil to men's suits. But not to them. It's Sunday morning, and the shop is closed up tight.

Wilson looks at the crowded church parking lot just across the way and then longingly back in through the window at a case full of antique cufflinks.

They decide to go find breakfast and wind up miles out of town before they can find a diner heathen enough to be open.

"I'd think you could tell me by now," Wilson says as they slide into the red vinyl booth.

"Oh, nice!" House says, spying the tableside jukebox, and begins resolutely flipping through it.

"It's obvious that I'm not going to bolt, if that's what you're afraid of."

The panels of the jukebox make a loud clacking noise as House turns the dial muttering, "Lame, lame, super lame, extremamundo lamo."

"There's nowhere for me to go, even if I wanted to. We're in the middle of nowhere. No airports, no bus stations."

"Clapton! Score!" House says gleefully. "Quarters." He holds out his hand to Wilson.

"So you're just going to ignore me? You're not going to even acknowledge that I'm talking?"

"Uh, yeah. Thought that was obvious. Quarters," House demands again, thrusting his hand across the table.

Wilson shakes his head as he fishes out change from his pocket and picks through the handful of coins. House is House, so he's not expecting him to make any romantic declarations or start opening doors for him and buying him flowers, but some kind of minute gesture to let Wilson know that he hasn't been hallucinating would be nice.

"Here you go." Wilson makes sure the tips of his fingers brush against the soft skin of House's inner wrist as he hands them over.

House tucks his chin down and to the right, and Wilson detects a hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth.

House happily feeds the quarters to the machine, and the opening strains of "I Shot the Sheriff" begin to play just as their waitress arrives to take their order.

House orders pancakes and bacon, and Wilson asks for the same, hoping to minimize House's food-stealing. "But Jimmy, you'll ruin your diet!" House says, all false horror.

Wilson shoots House a dirty look then turns to the waitress and smiles apologetically. "I'm not on a diet," he tells her.

"That's good. A man oughta have some meat on his bones," she drawls, licking her lips and giving Wilson a highly unsubtle once over. "I'll be right back with your coffee, hon. And don't you hesitate to call me if you need anything else."

Wilson's sure that House is going to light into him as soon as the woman's back is turned, but instead he opts to return to his inventory of the jukebox, popping in a few more of his purloined quarters.

"I'm assuming we'll get there today, at least," Wilson attempts, "So we can make it back to work by Tuesday."

"You know what they say about assuming. It makes an ass out of you and, well, really just you."

Their waitress comes back bearing the coffee pot, leaning over as she pours, in such a way that Wilson gets a direct sightline down her ample cleavage. Fortyish and pleasantly curvy, she's attractive enough, although she has the telltale wrinkles of a smoker around her heavily lipsticked mouth.

"So where y'all from?" she asks.

"We're from Princeton, New Jersey," Wilson answers.

"Princeton? Are y'all college professors?"

Wilson has always taken ‘y'all' to be a plural pronoun, but she has her back turned completely to House, addressing Wilson alone.

"No, we're circus acrobats on the run from an angry elephant," House says at the same time as Wilson tells her, "We're doctors."

"Oh my lord! Doctors!" she says excitedly. "You know, my mamma always wanted me to marry a doctor."

"Wow, what are the odds? And did she tell you life was like a box of chocolates?" House leans his elbows on the table and props his chin in his hands, fluttering his eyelashes up at her.

Irritation flickers across her face as she turns to look at House. "Not especially," she says, but then she is all smiles again when she turns back to Wilson. "I'm Lola, by the way," she tells him, "and you can ask me for anything you need, Doctor . . .?"

"Wilson. Uh--James. You should call me James," he says, smiling at her.

"You can call me Dr. Strangelove." House puts on a mock-German accent and clamps down on his right arm with his left hand.

She gives kind of a fake laugh and says, "Oh, aren't you a card," in a tone that suggests he is anything but. She looks back at Wilson like she thinks maybe he's traveling the country with an escaped mental patient.

"Food will be out in a jiff," she says and moves off to refill other patrons' coffee cups.

"Be nice," Wilson admonishes House while he watches her walk away.

"I can't believe you're checking out the ass of a woman who probably thinks evolution is a government conspiracy. Should I leave you alone so you can score?"

"Just because I'm being friendly doesn't mean I'm trying to 'score.'" Wilson makes air quotes around the word. "It's a type of human interaction where one person makes a pleasant, friendly inquiry and the other answers with a true statement lacking in sarcasm. It's a complex ritual, I know, but with enough observation, you might someday learn to mimic it convincingly."

"No, thanks. You're the one who's desperate to become a real boy," House sneers.

House only wishes that were true, but Wilson doesn't think this is the time or place to divest him of his precious armor of cynicism. He lets his head fall back against the booth and listens to House's jukebox selections.

"Paper Moon" seems like a pretty romantic choice, but Wilson knows better than to expect House to send him a message in such a pedestrian fashion. Wilson snorts lightly to himself as that song is followed by "Behind Blue Eyes," definitely way too obvious.

Lola arrives with their food, smiling as she puts Wilson's plate in front of him. "Here ya go, hon. There's an extra rasher there, and I'm going to run get you some real maple syrup."

"Thanks, that sounds delicious," Wilson says. Across the table House is silently mimicking him.

"Normally we charge extra, but I don't mind just giving it to you." She lays a hand over Wilson's as if she's imparting a deep, dark secret of the world of condiments.

"Ah, yeah, thanks," Wilson says, feeling the force of House's smirk without even looking.

"I'll be right back with it," she tells Wilson and hurries off in the direction of the kitchen.

"James Wilson, leaving a string of broken hearts across the heartland." House twangs his voice in a mocking imitation of their waitress' accent.

Wilson picks up his knife and slices into his stack of pancakes with far more force than necessary.

The billboard reads "Cold Beer" in ten-foot neon letters with an arrow pointing down a barely paved twisting side road. After a day of driving south with the sun beating down on them, Wilson feels like the dust from the road is coating the inside of his mouth. He only needs to exchange a quick look with House to confirm that he should take the turn off.

Wilson's teeth clatter as they bounce over the potholes. The road is luckily deserted since high, thick weeds growing on either side have narrowed it to one lane. Wilson winces thinking of the paint job, as they scrape along against the car with a sibilant rasp.

After a couple of miles, they come to a clearing serving as a parking lot for an old farmhouse that's been converted into a bar. One of the steps leading up to the sagging porch is missing, and a few of the windows are broken. It's only late afternoon, but the place is already busy. As soon as they get out of the car, they hear the din of multiple drunken conversations underlaid with the sincere vocals and guitar of country music.

"This looks like a Marlborough Man impersonators convention," Wilson says when they walk in, taking in all the Stetsons and denim.

"If I tell them that Dale Earnhardt couldn't drive his way out of a paper bag, do you think they'll run me out of town on a rail?" House asks. His lips brush against Wilson's ear, somewhere between a tickle and a turn-on.

Wilson's pulse leaps at the feeling, but he can't tell if it was on purpose or not. He takes a step away from House to get a better look at him, but House's face reveals nothing.

"No, I think they'll take out their guns and shoot you," Wilson answers. He points at House and says, "Behave," before he goes up to the bar to order their drinks.

Forty-five-year-old male with underlying depression, cynicism, and drug addiction shows sudden penchant for bringing his hands and lips into contact with various parts of his best friend's anatomy, Wilson thinks to himself while he waits for the barman to crack the tops off of two bottles of Bud. He can't come up with a convincing diagnosis in the time it takes to carry the drinks back to where House is sitting, so he abandons the differential in favor of challenging House to a game of Quarters.

They're already on their third round when House says, "That woman over there is at least a D-cup." He leads Wilson's gaze with a flick of his chin.

Wilson has a look. "Double D, I think." Ogling a random woman's chest isn't really any kind of clue to House's condition other than to confirm that he hasn't been body-snatched. Wilson fully expects House's corpse to size up the breasts on his mortician. He's going to have to find some other key to crack House's code.

"How about a different game?" Wilson asks, arching an eyebrow. "How about Truth or Dare?" When all else fails there's always the tried and true methods of the playground.

House draws his head back like he's about to say something derisive, but then his moue turns to a wry smile. "There's no way you can beat me at Truth or Dare," he says.

Winning is not the point. All Wilson wants to do is work up the nerve to either ask House how he feels about him or dare him to meet in the bathroom for some groping. Based on the amused light in his eyes, Wilson thinks House might know this, or it could just be the beer.

"Strong words," Wilson says. "Truth or dare?"


Wilson decides to start small. "I dare you to eat one of those pickled eggs." He points at the five-gallon jar sitting on the bar with luminous white eggs packed together like alien eyeballs.

"Amateur!" House scoffs. "I'll have you know I've eaten cat food covered in Tabasco on a dare. Pickled eggs, that's child's play. Retarded child's play."

House walks over to the bar and plucks out a faintly pink egg, polishing it off in two bites and giving a little bow in Wilson's direction.

"Ugh!" Wilson says when he comes back. "God only knows how long those have been sitting. Or how many hands have fished around in there." He grimaces in revulsion.

House shrugs. "My immune system is strong. I dare you--"

"What if I was going to pick truth?" Wilson objects.

"Truth is for sissies. I dare you," House says slowly like he's still trying to decide on the dare as he says it, "to go pick up the tart with the ta-tas."

Their D-cup from earlier has moved to the end of the bar. She's leaning against it with the air of someone who has had more than one too many, nearly spilling out of her red plaid halter-top. Wilson watches as she sways her head lethargically to the music. "Are you serious?" he asks House.

"Go on, work that Wilson magic."

"But, I mean--" Wilson gestures between them. "Then what?"

"That's your call," House says.

"I don't think she has all her teeth," Wilson says, looking over to where his prospective prey is braying at something happening on the television mounted in the corner.

"I've heard that can be an advantage."

Wilson waits for House to say he's just kidding, but his jaw is set, and he holds Wilson's eyes without blinking. "You forfeiting already?" House taunts, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

If that's the way House wants to play it, then Wilson can play too. "Oh, no," he says, slipping down off the stool and walking over to the end of the bar.

The place is crowded. Wilson has to turn sideways to work his way in to the bar area. He comes to stand next to her, leaning with his hip cocked against the bar. "Excuse me," he says, letting his voice slip into its lowest register. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but are you all right?" The woman tilts her head and looks at him warily. "You look like you've had a bad day," Wilson says.

Her features soften. Tendrils of dun-colored hair have escaped her braid to stick in the sweat on her neck and forehead. She swipes one away from her eyes and says, "It's just my boss, you know?"

Wilson nods at her sympathetically. Looking back across the bar, he sees House is focused on setting a whole group of cardboard coasters spinning on their edges.

Wilson signals to the bartender for two beers, asking her, "Do you mind? I hate to drink alone. I'm Jimmy." He holds out his hand for her to shake.

Up close he can see that she is indeed gap-toothed with several of the teeth she does have showing signs of decay, but her cleavage is more than dazzling enough to make up for it.

"Ella," she says, clasping his hand with hot, sweaty fingers. "It's like, he expects me to know the price codes on everything. And I've only been working there a month." She takes a swig of beer. "And my sister can't pay her half of the rent again this month."

Wilson sits and listens to the slurred litany of her troubles, making understanding noises and patting her hand when appropriate.

When she tears up over her grandfather's Alzheimer's, he offers her his handkerchief and gently rubs circles on her back, stealing glances over his shoulder at House who has moved from spinning the coasters to using them as the building blocks for some sort of elaborate structure.

"Ella, it's been really nice meeting you," he tells her, laying a hand on her arm. "If you're ever in New Jersey, look me up. I mean that."

"What about your hankie?" she asks, holding it out to him when he starts to move away.

"You keep it," he says.

He crosses the bar to where House has added a third story to his building project. "I won the dare. I'm going to go home with her."

House's hand jerks in the act of placing one of the coasters, and half the roof caves in. His head snaps up, and he studies Wilson through narrowed eyes.

"That was the dare, wasn't it?" Wilson asks, faking innocence.

"No, you aren't." There's an uncertain note to House's voice, as if he's saying it partly to convince himself. "There's no way you'd go home with the Snaggle Tooth County Rutabaga Queen."

"She's going through a rough time. Her grandfather's sick. She's broke." Wilson shakes his head sadly. "She's had a lot to drink. I'm just going to make sure she gets home okay."

House is still watching him closely with an air of analytical disbelief.

"I'll give you a call in the morning," Wilson says and takes a step backwards as if preparing to return to Ella.

House gets out of his seat and comes to face Wilson, standing close so that Wilson has to tilt his head back to look him in the eye.

"I should have figured that anyone drinking in a joint like this would be needy enough to get you going," House says. For a moment, Wilson is afraid that he's gone too far, that House is going to turn and walk right out of the bar, and the joke will be on him.

But then House swallows and says, "No." He's looking Wilson right in the eye. "You can't go home with her."

Wilson's heart leaps with the feeling of sweet victory. He decides to push his luck a little: "Why not?"

House makes a noise between a sigh and a growl and looks down at the floor. "Because," he says, meeting Wilson's eyes again, "I am taking you home with me."

The power of winning, and the possessive tone of House's voice, and the way he's looking at him give Wilson a thrill. His blood rushes warm in his veins, and the feeling of satisfaction expands in his chest.

"Sounds good." Wilson pulls the keys from his pocket and tosses them to House. "Let's go."

When they get to the door, Wilson pauses to turn and wave his arm above his head in farewell to Ella.

"I knew you were lying, you know," House says. "You were never going to go with her."

"Not for a second," Wilson agrees.

The motel where they wind up is no less reminiscent of slasher films than the previous two. It's set up as a row of bungalows: shabby and squat, with stained vinyl siding hanging off in places.

Wilson inhales the now familiar scent of mildew as they unlock room number four.

"Seriously, House, why all the crappy places?" he asks dropping his bag to the floor. "I have money. I know you have money because I buy all your basic necessities, and you can't possibly have spent everything you earn on hookers..." Wilson trails off as he turns to find House standing very close.

Wilson's heart beats harder when he meets House's eyes, and the knowledge of what's about to happen passes between them. Wilson has a watery feeling in his stomach like he's ten feet up in the air on the high dive, wondering if he's really going to jump, and then House's mouth closes over his, warm and hard with a clash of teeth and demanding tongue.

House buries both his hands in Wilson's hair, holding him in place, and Wilson pushes back eagerly into the kiss while his heart pounds a joyful, triumphant rhythm within his chest. He manages to work a hand down House's pants while the other snakes up the back of his shirt, causing House to make a surprised, pleased noise into his mouth and grind against his palm.

Wilson breaks away, feeling lightheaded. He stumbles blindly to the bed, collapsing on to it and moving over to make room for House beside him. House has barely touched the bed before he's on Wilson again, kissing him, his hands roving all over Wilson's chest and face.

They clinch like that, consuming each other with hands and mouths, until Wilson growls with years of frustrated desire, yanks open House's pants, and pushes his boxers out of the way, too frantic to bother with any more undressing. When Wilson's hand closes around his cock, House throws his head back and shouts. Wilson moans too, watching House's face, the way his eyes go unfocused with pleasure and his mouth hangs open.

Opening his own pants, Wilson shimmies closer so his hips are in tight enough that he can take hold of them both. He whimpers at the feeling of House's erection against his, hot and hard and slippery with sweat and pre-come. House closes his eyes and lets out a low, nasal moan. He keeps on moaning as Wilson jacks them together, gripping Wilson's shoulder hard enough to hurt.

A few more pulls, and House's eyes fly open wide and glassy. "Wilson," he says, breathy and shocked sounding. Then he can feel House's cock pulsing against his, spilling hot, slippery fluid all over his fingers. Wilson's hand speeds faster, and he squeezes harder. "Oh, my God," he says, and he's coming all over House's stomach, moaning and panting hard.

He's still out of breath, barely come down at all, when House starts kissing him again, sweet and messy, with lips and tongue rubbing wetly against his.

Wilson keeps up the contact until exhaustion overtakes him and his head sinks into the pillow. He falls asleep just like that: sticky and half-undressed and perfectly content.

Wilson jerks awake in the gray dawn hours, heart pounding because he's slept through his alarm and is going to be late to work. He sits up fast enough to make his head spin and starts feeling around for the bedside lamp. His hand hits warm flesh, and he looks down, amazed to see House asleep beside him, his face buried in the pillow, his shoulders bare where the sheet has slipped. Another moment of disorienting panic as Wilson thinks they're both in his hotel room in Princeton before the memories of the past few days on the road come rushing back.

He flops back down against the bed and breathes until he feels calmer. He lies on his side and watches the cheap clock radio on the nightstand click forward, thinking about Meredith Rollins, a patient he'd seen in the clinic on Friday. She'd come in for a chest cold, and Wilson had insisted on doing a biopsy of an oddly shaped mole just under her left ear. The results should be back today.

At 7:05 he sneaks out of bed, retrieves his cell phone from his pants, tiptoes to the bathroom and eases the door closed behind him.

Cuddy won't be in her office because of the 7:00 am board meeting. The meeting he's not at. "Hey," he tells her voicemail, "you know all that vacation time I have coming?"

Two more quick calls to his answering service and to Russell Brown, who was on call for him over the weekend. Brown will cover what he can, and Cameron will be able to cover the rest. Who would have thought that having his practice nearly destroyed would come in so handy?

Wilson turns his phone off and slips silently back into bed.

Wilson wakes up on his stomach with an arm around House's waist and his face in House's armpit, which is not nearly as revolting as it ought to be.

He has half a morning erection, and confirming that House is still asleep, he slips his hand beneath him to give it a few sleepy strokes. Just a friendly "Hello there," that turns into a "How are you? And would you like to go grab a cup of coffee?" He's squeezing harder and considering taking this party to the shower when he's startled by the sound of House's voice, low and scratchy with sleep.

"Why don't you let me take care of that for you?"

If Wilson didn't already know how far gone he was, the way that his balls tighten and his hips press forward into his hand at the sound of House's voice alone would have been enough to tell him.

Wilson turns his head to see House wriggle into a sitting position. House's left hand settles on Wilson's ass. "Turn over and take your shorts off," he says with a squeeze.

Wilson complies, flipping over and shimmying free of his boxers. House rolls over to lie on top of him, gives him a quick peck on the lips, and then slides down Wilson's body to come to rest on his belly between Wilson's thighs.

House places his forearms on either side of Wilson's waist, propping himself up, bringing his face exactly level with Wilson's extremely interested cock.

House doesn't waste any time teasing. He immediately sucks the head of Wilson's cock into his mouth. The hot shock of sensation forces a cry from Wilson, and his hips lift up off the bed in an involuntary compulsion to seek out more, get in as deep as possible.

He pushes too far and feels House gag around him. House moves one hand to Wilson's hip, anchoring him, and the other fists around the base of his cock. House's mouth slides back down as far as his hand--no finesse, just hot, wet suction.

One lock of hair is curling in the sweat on House's brow, his eyes are closed, and his stubbled cheeks are hollowed from sucking. House's lips are wet and red where Wilson's cock disappears into his mouth. It's an image straight from Wilson's most pornographic daydreams, and he groans and bucks against House's restraining hand, but then some sleeping part of his mind snaps awake, and he struggles to sit up.

"House, wait--no, you don't have to--" He manages to curl halfway forward and pushes at House's shoulders. "Let me," Wilson pleads. "I want to do you."

House pulls off and looks up. Wilson meets his eyes trying to communicate how much he wants to be the one giving.

"I don't have to let you." House's lips pull into a half smile. "You're right." House pushes him back down flat with a palm to his chest. Wilson should be able to just roll over and throw him off; although House is bigger and heavier, Wilson holds half a leg's advantage. But House's mouth closes back over him, and Wilson's traitorous hips strain straight up, seeking more even as Wilson protests, "But I want to make you feel good."

House pulls off again and glares at him. "Wilson, shut your mouth and take your blowjob like a man!"

House slides his fist up Wilson's cock, gliding quickly on spit-slick skin. He adds a wicked squeeze and a twist in at the end that feels so good Wilson sees stars. He falls back into the pillows and gives in to the sensation, letting himself thrust into House's hand.

"Oh," he cries, and then "oh" again. He seems to be stuck on that syllable, moaning it to the ceiling until House sucks on him hard and applies pressure right behind his balls, stimulating his prostate so that red hot sparks of ecstasy are shooting outwards through his body. Then he cries "please" and "more" and finally "oh, God, you should--I'm gonna come."

And he does. He comes so hard he forgets to breathe, and he can feel House still around him, swallowing and then pulling off and using his hand to coax the last few shuddering bursts of pleasure from Wilson's body.

Wilson gasps for air. He feels about as coordinated as a jellyfish, but he's trying to sit up, asking House to please let him now. House doesn't pay any attention, crouching over Wilson on his knees and one hand. The other hand is moving at lighting speed between his legs. He's panting and then his face contorts. He lets out only one pained-sounding grunt as he shoots all over Wilson's stomach.

Wilson watches House's face go slack with post-orgasmic bliss, his lips relaxing from their grimace, and his eyes slowly unclenching and opening. Wilson takes a moment to bask in the unaccustomed warmth he sees there. Then he says, "You always have to have the last word, don't you?"

House surprises him by kissing him, messy and open-mouthed. The taste of come, his come, in House's mouth sends an electric spark to his groin that makes him shudder and writhe away, too sensitive for the stimulation.

House gives him a slap on the thigh, hard enough to make a cracking sound but not hard enough to sting, and says, "Go take a shower. You're a mess." He flops to his side and steals Wilson's pillow, pulling it over his own head and going back to sleep.

"Fever and chills, vomiting and diarrhea, jaundice."

"Oh, come on. Malaria? Don't play, if you're not even going to try." House spits a pit over the side of the car and pops another cherry into his mouth.

"I was throwing you a changeup," Wilson lies. The truth is they've been playing Name That Parasite for over an hour, and Wilson has already run through all his good ones without stumping House once. His Parasitology is downright rusty. "You didn't say which kind."

"Plasmodium falciparum. Duh." Wilson looks over to see another pit go shooting out of House's mouth toward the grain silo they're driving past. The cherry juice has stained House's lips unnaturally red, and he's pursing them in the pout that tells Wilson he isn't being entertaining enough. Wilson has to fight the urge to pull the car over and prove just how entertaining he can be. Discussion of rare parasites would surely lose some of its appeal once he has House's dick in his mouth. Then again, in an open convertible in broad daylight medical guessing games are somewhat less likely to get them arrested. Wilson shakes off the fantasy and looks back at the road.

"We could try having a normal conversation, you know. Like you could tell me where we're going and what this is all about." A glance out of the corner of his eye shows House wrinkling his nose.

"You know, if I'd wanted so much whining I could have brought Chase."

Wilson is about to make a wisecrack reply, but he sees House's face transforming with a sudden unholy glee and follows his gaze to a billboard that's just come into view. Bright red letters announce "Jackson County Fair" above a large orange and yellow sun rising over a cartoonish green field.

Wilson can practically smell the manure already.

"Oh, no," he tells House. "Forget it. Put it right out of your mind. No way."

Wilson's shoes make a sucking noise with each step as he trudges through the muddy field serving as the fair's parking lot. He looks down at the mud-spattered leather of his favorite Oxfords and frowns.

"Hurry up," House shouts over his shoulder from several yards ahead. "You're being outpaced by a cripple."

When Wilson catches up with him, House is studying the guide to the fair intently. "Cool!" House grins at him. "We're just in time for the tractor pull. Come on." He hurries off without a look back.

Wilson sighs and follows.

House shouts himself hoarse cheering on the tractors when they succeed in moving the heavy sleds a few inches and booing when they fail.

"Come on, Bubba, my ninety-five-year-old grandma can drive a tractor better than that," he yells at one particularly poor attempt.

The guy next to them is like something straight out of a Beef Council commercial: massive chest swathed in red flannel and thighs like tree trunks clad in deep-blue denim. He looks fixedly at House. "That's my son behind the wheel," he says in slow, deep tones.

"Well, he's an idiot. He's going to kill himself if he doesn't learn how to use a clutch."

The man's brows draw down angrily, and Wilson is thinking he'll be completely justified in making a run for it and letting House face his fate alone. He didn't start this fight, after all. But then the man shakes his head and breaks out in a rueful smile. "I been telling that dang fool as much since he first set rubber to road."

The man slaps House hard enough on the back to make him bend at the waist, and they both start laughing and shouting more elaborate insults at the farmer's unfortunate offspring. There's not much for Wilson to do but laugh and join in.

By the eighth or ninth tractor Wilson is hungry, and his throat hurts from all the smoke inhalation. House and his new friend are hotly debating the merits of diesel versus alcohol-fueled engines in between shouting out their thoughts on which farm animal was most likely to have sired the current driver.

"Aww, but no one's even caught on fire yet," House moans when Wilson tries to pry him away.

"Come on," Wilson says. "I'll buy you a corndog."

That gets House's attention, and he's up and out of his seat, making his way toward the concession stand with the kind of boyish enthusiasm that's so at odds with his usual cynical persona. It's the side of House that always leaves Wilson utterly, helplessly charmed.

After a lunch of grease and more grease, House goes from one corner of the fair to another, yelling pointers to the suckers playing the shell games, trading barbs with the clown in the dunking tank, giving surprisingly expert opinions on the prize roosters on display in the livestock tent. He roams the grounds far more energetically than Wilson thinks he should be able. Even with two good legs, Wilson's energy is flagging.

House makes Wilson buy him a big, fluffy stick of cotton candy and finally stops moving long enough to wolf it down in wide, greedy bites. The sounds of children shrieking and couples fighting and the canned music of the carousel merge into a pleasant background cacophony around them. They've been at the fair so long that the sun is low in the sky, and Wilson has to shade his eyes to watch House lick up the last traces of spun sugar. A warm breeze smelling of hot lard and sugar and barn animals caresses Wilson's cheeks and ruffles House's hair.

House tosses the denuded cardboard cylinder away and turns back to Wilson. The pink floss has left a sticky sheen around his mouth that is too much for Wilson to resist. He takes a quick glance around to assess their surroundings and then pulls House forward by his shirt to lick some of the candy from his lips. He darts his tongue inside briefly to get a deeper taste and then pulls away.

House smiles at him, but then he also takes a look around to see if they've attracted any redneck wrath.

"Wanna ride the Ferris wheel?" Wilson asks, raising an eyebrow.

A triangle of pink tongue slips out from between House's lips and holds Wilson transfixed as it runs a moist trail along the top lip and then the bottom.

"Nah, the Ferris wheel is for losers. Let's go on that." House points over to a ride that looks like a wheel with a bank of chairs attached to each spoke, rotating, undulating, and flipping its passengers upside down. Before Wilson can voice his doubts, House is already moving off rapidly in the direction of the line.

Wilson staggers off the torture wheel and braces himself against the splintery wood of a game shed until the world stops spinning, taking careful, long breaths through his mouth.

"Here," House says, thrusting a water bottle in Wilson's face.

Wilson looks up and takes it gratefully, drinking the whole thing down in three long swallows. "Thank you," he says hoarsely. He sighs in relief and the tension drains from his shoulders now that he knows he isn't going to vomit. Small as the gesture is, Wilson feels pleased that House went and got him the water without being asked, and he can't suppress a smile.

"Ready to go?" Wilson asks.

House surveys their surroundings rather wistfully, but then he looks at Wilson and says, "Yeah, okay," taking out his pills and dry-swallowing two together.

It's quieter on the outskirts of the fairgrounds near the parking lot. There are fewer carnies calling out the ease and high success rate of their games. People are alone or only in small groups, walking quickly to get back to where the action is.

In the tricky dusk light, Wilson sees the bright red and orange of one of those big rubber bouncy castles. His eyes flicker towards it, long enough for him to take it in along with the memory of summer days at the shore bouncing and tussling with his brothers, before looking rapidly back at House.

"Go on," House says quietly.

Wilson flinches, caught, and his shoulders hunch in on themselves. "No, I didn't want to--" he lies. "It's for kids."

"Go on," House repeats, and his voice carries a smooth command. "I'll watch you." The words are slow and deliberate, sending a little shiver down Wilson's spine. Wilson swallows and nods.

Wilson endures the skeptical look from the carnie charged with guarding the entrance, shucks his shoes and socks, and clambers up the wall of tacky rubber into the castle.

It's been a long, hot day, and although Wilson is the sole occupant of the ride, the air is stuffy with the rank smell of unwashed bodies beneath the chemical scent of vulcanized rubber.

Wilson starts with a couple of tentative bounces, bending his knees and pushing off, making the floor undulate out from the depression around his feet in slow waves. He seeks out House who is standing still in front of the opening, leaning on his cane so that his body makes an acute angle with the ground.

Wilson squeezes his toes into the yielding surface beneath him, then bends low and launches himself upward with as much force as he can. He comes down on his knees and springs back to his feet on the rebound, flinging his arms up, trying to go higher with each jump. He feels as if the brief moment of weightlessness at the peak of each jump makes a bubble rise up from his stomach to his throat, and it begins to escape as laughter.

He stops for a second, bobbing and steadying himself on the rubber surface as if on the deck of a ship. House hasn't moved a muscle and is watching Wilson so intently that Wilson expects to start smoking at any moment.

Wilson gives House a single nod, and then he goes crazy: jumping all around, letting his arms swing free at his sides, thrashing his head like he's listening to rock music. He does crazy twists and turns and body slams against the wall, imagining all the while an able-bodied House beside him, and imitating that figment as best he can.

When they finally arrive back at the car, Wilson's sweaty and elated. His heart rate is still elevated, and there's a buzz of arousal humming under his skin from putting on a show for House. He's about to suggest they stop early for the night when House says, "Hey, do you ever see that guy--what's his name--Bjorn these days?"

Wilson stops halfway out of the parking space to turn and look at House.

"You know I don't. And his name is Johan, which you also know."

Johan had been part of a regular pickup game House and Wilson used to play on Saturday mornings. Most weeks after the game the three of them would go to the Dunkin Donuts across from the park for coffee and Boston creams. They had never really explicitly invited him, but Johan almost always tagged along. He didn't add much to the conversation, but he would laugh uproariously while House and Wilson trash-talked.

"Why do you ask?" Wilson can't see House's face as well as he'd like. The failing light casts shadows that hollow out his cheeks and brows, obscuring his eyes.

A horn blares; a pale blue classic Cadillac wide as a boat can't get by. Wilson goes back to pulling out and finding the exit.

"Why did you stop playing basketball?" House asks.

Wilson fidgets in his seat. All the fun of the day begins to leech out of him, leaving him tired and annoyed. "Asking questions you already know the answer to. Not your usual style."

"Obviously I'm trying to make a point. Socratic method and all that. You don't need to prove you're an empath. You've kind of got that covered with the whole cancer doctor thing." House looks out the window for a while without saying anything. Wilson thinks he's dropped it until he says, "You didn't have to give up all fun because of me."

Wilson doesn't know why, but he's suddenly really angry. He wishes he could think of a truly cutting remark that would shut House down, but nothing is coming to mind, and all he says is, "Yeah, well, somehow it stopped being all that fun." Wilson hits the butt of his hand against the steering wheel, and House doesn't say anything more.

The moment when the road starts to go fuzzy in front of him comes not long after dark. The soupy air isn't any less humid for the darkness, only thicker with bugs. Wilson decides to put the top up and look for a place to stay for the night. He doesn't bother trying to harangue House into taking a turn driving since he's already asleep beside Wilson, clearly exhausted from the day's activities.

House's head lolls gently to the left, and his breath is deep and steady. Wilson resists his desire to reach out and smooth the creases in his brow.

The motel he finds won't be earning any Michelin stars anytime soon, but it's marginally less shabby than their previous accommodations. The screen door to the manager's office, for example, has both of its hinges.

The man behind the counter is bald with tufts of grey chest hair poking out of his unbuttoned collar. He's large and unsmiling, and Wilson is glad that House stayed in the car when he asks for a room with a double bed.

"You see why it's good not to stay in total dives," Wilson says as they enter the room, gesturing at the large television across from the bed. "It comes with a remote and everything. Maybe even cable."

Wilson sits heavily down on the bed and pushes off his shoes.

"You should go back to playing pickup," House says.

Wilson tugs off his socks and throws them at the floor as if it had insulted his mother. It's been years, why is House obsessing about this now? "House, I stopped playing when you did. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but that's the way it is."

House gives him the you're-an-idiot glare. "If I died tomorrow would you give up breathing too?"

I might, Wilson thinks, I just might. Instead he says, "I need to take a shower. I smell like I slept with one of those prize goats," and goes into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

"House, you still awake?" Wilson whispers.

Without waiting for an answer, he rolls onto his side and slips his hand into House's shorts. He thrills at the feeling of House's cock in his hand, burning hot yet soft and vulnerable feeling.

"I am now," House says and spreads his legs a little wider to allow Wilson to slip his hand down to fondle House's balls before sliding back up along the length of his erection.

The dark and quiet allows Wilson to concentrate on what gets a reaction. A fraction more pressure just under the head makes House's breath hitch. He pulls back and applies it again, and House murmurs encouraging curse words.

Wilson moves his hand up and down House's shaft, varying his speed to find what will make House pant the fastest. When he bends forward and licks the head of House's cock, House's resultant moan-- muffled and needy like he's trying to hold it in--is all the positive feedback he could ever wish for.

He does it again to the same response, and again, but suddenly House's cry changes, a pitch higher and louder, and he pulls away violently, shoving Wilson off of him and sitting up.

"Are you all right?" Wilson asks, dismayed.

"Spasm." House is grabbing his right thigh with both hands, and his face is contorted in pain.

Wilson rolls off the bed, switches the light on, and grabs House's pants off the floor. He flips off the top of the Vicodin bottle and puts a pill into House's hand.

It disappears in one swift motion, and House holds out his hand for a second, which Wilson gives him. Then he holds it out again for a third.

"I'm not so sure--" Wilson says.

"Wilson. Give me another pill," House says from between clenched teeth.

"No. Give the first two a minute to work." He rests one hand gently against House's shoulder. "I could give you a massage while you wait, and some water might help, in case you're dehydrated."

"Great idea. And do you have any fairy dust on you? I hear that stuff works wonders," House growls at him, and Wilson recoils from the look of pure fury in House's eyes.

"You know what, House? Here." He grabs House's hand and slaps the vial into his palm. "Take the whole bottle, for all I care."

He stomps to the other side of the room and pulls on his own pants, zipping up carefully because his stupid dick doesn't seem to get that party time is over. There's a knot in his shoelaces, and he picks at it clumsily, cursing every additional second it's keeping him in this room.

Finally, buttoning his collar and running his fingers through his hair, he's halfway to the door when House says, "Wilson," hoarse but authoritative. "Wait."

He stops, tilting his head back and sighs. "Why?"

Wilson listens to House's gasping breath while he waits for a response. "Because I don't want you to leave like this."

"Ah. You don't want. Of course." He turns around. House is in the same position, naked from the waist down, with both hands around his thigh. The pill bottle is spilled open beside him, white tablets scattered on the sheets.

House is laboring for every breath, but he says, "I don't think you want it either."

House is right, the bastard. He doesn't want to leave like this, but his heart feels like it's being squeezed in a vise, and he's angry at House, at the world, and he needs to get out so he can breathe.

At the door he pauses to say, "I'm coming back."

House is lying on the bed in his shorts and a t-shirt when Wilson gets back. His face is unlined and his hands are lying open at his sides. Wilson would rather not think too hard about how many pills he's taken to reach that state.

"Hi," Wilson says. "I went for a walk." House looks at him but doesn't answer. Wilson considers sitting down in the armchair by the window but decides to sit on the bed instead. He sits facing House with their thighs touching. He looks down at the dark navy material of his pants next to the irregular red and white scar tissue of House's leg, and then he braces himself as if he's about to jump into a pool of very cold water. "So, that happens a lot when you try to have sex, right?"

Wilson can see the storm clouds gathering on House's face, can feel the gathering force of the lightning bolt he's just earned himself, but House hesitates, looking away from Wilson, down at his leg and then at his own hands.

House swallows and clears his throat. "Yes," he says quietly.

"Do you want to try again?" Wilson works to keep his tone neutral.

"Not right now."

"Okay." Wilson does his best to hide his disappointment. He gets up and walks around to the other side of the bed, toes his shoes off and flops down against the pillows. "I think CW is having a Jerry Springer marathon," he says, handing House the remote.

"Come on 'My Daughter Dresses Too Sexy,'" House says, brandishing the remote like it's a magic wand and clicking the TV on.

"I always like 'My Mother Stole My Boyfriend.'"

"Yeah, 'cause of all the happy memories."

The protest that that only happened once is on Wilson's lips, but he thinks better of it. Tentatively, he reaches out, making contact with just his fingertips. When House doesn't flinch away he slides his whole hand around House's forearm and holds on.

The sound of a gunshot rips Wilson from sleep the next morning, shocking him wholly awake out of a deep slumber. Wilson jumps out of bed, feeling like his heart is in his throat, asphyxiating him, his first, desperate thought that he has to find House.

"House!" he cries, leaning down and grabbing House's limp body by the shoulders. "House, are you all right?"

"Whuzza?" House slurs.

Another loud bang makes Wilson jump, but he also registers that there's no one else in the room and House isn't visibly bleeding. He looks around, blinking in confusion. With all of his senses straining to find the source of the disturbance, he hears the rumble of a rusty old motor and realizes it was just a car backfiring out in the parking lot.

"What's going on?" House sits up and looks around dazedly.

Wilson, still coming down from the adrenaline rush of his quasi-nightmare, can't answer. He reaches out and gently traces his fingers along House's jaw and down to the puckered scar on House's neck.

House goes still, and Wilson slides his hand up a few inches so that he can lay two fingers against the pulse of House's carotid artery.

Wilson relaxes as he feels a warm suffusion of gratitude that House is alive, if not completely whole, and here in this room with him. He's about to give voice to that thought when House pulls away from him, leaning over to the nightstand to grab his pill bottle.

He holds it up and says, "Warn me if you're about to get sappy so that I can take two."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Wilson sighs and moves away.

"Wilson," House says, making him look up from his task of digging through his bag for the least smelly items. "I think last night we passed one of those farm stands that you yuppy types like so much. We could probably backtrack and find it again."

Wilson nods, looking from House's hand clenched in the blanket up to the guarded look in his eyes. "Yeah," he says. "I'd like that."

"Go right," House says.

"Right?" They've been meandering but heading fairly steadily south and west. House has just directed him on to Route 51 North. More importantly, House has showed his first real interest in the direction they're taking since they left Jersey.

There are no other cars for miles around. Wilson stays paused at the intersection, looking quizzically at House.

"Aw, didn't anyone ever teach you to tell your right from your left?" House gives Wilson a sorrowful look. "The left is the hand that makes an L." House speaks slowly as if to a dull child and holds his left hand up to demonstrate.

Wilson shakes his head but presses on the gas and turns to the right. "So what's this way?" he asks.

"More corn fields, far as I can tell," House answers, but when they get to the junction with Route 3, House directs him north again.

This can't be a mere whim. House's directions are taking them back northeast.

Eventually they get into a good-sized town with a fast food joint in every strip mall and a multiplex playing all the latest blockbusters. House is staring out the windows so intently he's practically pressing his nose to the glass.

"Slow down," he barks, making Wilson jump and press on the brakes too hard so that they both jerk forward in their seats. "Go left here."

Two more turns and they come to a dead end in a residential neighborhood, mostly raised ranches with small patches of lawn already turning brown for the summer.

House gets out of the car and walks up the driveway of the last house at the end of the road.

Without offering any explanation, House goes to the backyard, following along the perimeter of scraggly trees and brush like a bloodhound tracking scent. Wilson follows a few paces behind and stops when House does, following his gaze downwards to a collapsed swing set, half-hidden by the weeds growing up around it. The wood is dark brown with rot. It crumbles away when House pokes at it with his cane.

Wilson looks around nervously, wondering if they're going to get screamed at or shot at for trespassing, but there's no sign that anyone is home.

"House, what's going on? Where are we?" He keeps his voice low, hesitant to break the stillness around them.

"My parents bought this house when my dad got stationed at the base here in '68. We lived here until he got reassigned in March of 1970. It was my first time living in a real house and not just some glorified barracks. Third grade was also the first school year I completed in one place."

Wilson waits, but House doesn't issue any further explanation.

"It must have been good to finally have some stability," Wilson says, prompting.

"My teacher was Mrs. Janavary. She was a sadist."

"My third grade teacher was a babe." Wilson sighs with happy nostalgia. "Miss Cooper. I was her favorite."

House rolls his eyes. "Why am I not surprised?"

House walks back around to the front yard and Wilson follows.

"That was Mrs. Cavanaugh's house." He points to a shabby house across the street with vinyl siding the color of a rusted engine. "She was an entomology professor. I spent hours there helping her mount the specimens for her South American beetle collection and eating Oreos."

"Cookies and bugs. Sounds like little boy heaven." No difficulty picturing a young House finding better companionship in his middle-aged, academic neighbor than in his peers or his family.

House falls silent, staring off into the middle distance.

"Do you want to knock on the door? See if she still lives there?"

They're standing underneath a large oak tree. The sunlight through the leaves casts a shadowy netting over House's face. "She went through two packs of Lucky Strikes a day. I'm sure she's puffing on that big unfiltered in the sky by now."

House turns back to his old home. It hasn't been kept up; the blue-gray paint is faded and cracked, and the peeling shingles hang from the roof like stray clumps of hair.

Each stirring of the breeze feels like the whisper of a ghost across his skin, and Wilson shivers in spite of the sweat trickling down his back. Something happened here. Something more than a finished school year and a kindly neighbor. He can feel it.

Wilson watches House, anticipating the moment of revelation that he's been waiting for.

House's face stays blank, but he clutches his cane tightly, corded muscles standing out along his forearm.

Coming to this place feels like a confession, like House is trying to tell him something, but in typical House fashion, it's all wrapped in riddles so that it functions more like an exam than an intimacy.

House stirs. "Smaller than I remember." He places his cane behind him and then adjusts his feet so that his back is to the house. "Let's go."

"What? Let's go?" Wilson stutters a bit. "You don't want to see if the people who live here now will let you look at your old bedroom or something?"

"Nobody's home."

"We could go hang out in town and come back later. Or you're fairly advanced at breaking and entering."

House shrugs. "What would be the point?"

"You're just going to leave? You're not even going to--" Wilson breaks off. He was about to say "explain this whole crazy trip" or "open up to me" or something equally likely to get him struck by a cane.

House is starting to turn away, so Wilson grabs him by the shoulder to hold him in place. "I've blown off all of my responsibilities to go on a four-day drive with you to some big secret destination that turns out to be a house you lived in for a couple of years as a kid, and all you want to do is look at it for five minutes and then leave?"

"Twenty months," House corrects as he shakes Wilson's hand off. "And this isn't where we're going. I just felt like stopping by since we were in the neighborhood." He moves away again.

Wilson has to fight the urge to pick a stone up off the ground and throw it at the back of House's head. He settles for launching his words as hard as he can. "You just don't get it, do you?"

House turns back around. "No, but I'm sure you're going to explain it to me."

"It doesn't matter. If you had asked I would have agreed to come with you to see your old childhood home in a second. But you can never just come out and ask, can you?"

"Save me, Lord," House mutters at the sky.

"Asking would leave you too open and vulnerable because when you ask for what you need there's a chance that someone might say 'no'. Instead, you misdirect, and manipulate, and everything happens on your terms or not at all." Wilson breaks off, his breath coming in short, audible bursts. The midday calm of a suburban neighborhood seems unnaturally quiet. When he speaks again he lowers his voice, and it breaks slightly as he says, "My only option is to come along for the ride."

He brings his hand up and covers his eyes, blotting out the bright June sunlight and the sight of House's non-reaction.

"Yeah. That's your only option," House says sarcastically and walks away without waiting for a reply.

"Goddamn it!" Wilson shouts and kicks the ground. "Fuck!" But the ground is no more satisfying to shout out at than House is.

He glares at House's retreating back but eventually has to give up and follow him back to the car. Wilson jams the key in the ignition as hard as he can, puts it in reverse and executes a jerky three-point turn.

Wilson has two patients starting their first round of chemo today. He ought to be by their sides: double-checking the dosages, discussing side effects, offering words of reassurance. Instead he's standing on the side of some rural route in Missouri or possibly Illinois watching House's back as he pisses in a cow pasture.

House turns back around and reaches over the open top of the car to fish the hand sanitizer out of the glove compartment.

Wilson zones out watching the ouroboros motion of House's long fingers folding over and under each other working in the gel.

"St. Louis is only about half an hour from here. You could catch a flight to Newark," House says suddenly, catching Wilson off guard. Neither of them has said more than two words together in the hour since they left House's old home.

Wilson frowns, rubs his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "Is that what you want?"

"I thought it was what you wanted."

"When has what I wanted ever mattered to you?" Wilson snaps.

He pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to think. He certainly should want to go to the airport. Back at the house, at the height of his anger, he would have said yes. He doesn't know why he didn't think to demand it, in fact.

Wilson sighs and shakes his head. "Aren't we almost there by now?"

"What makes you so sure that there is a 'there'?"

Wilson laughs, a raw, mirthless kind of laughter at his own expense. "I know you. You always have a point."

"Maybe my point is 'Wilson needs to lighten up.' Quit making everything so cerebral. Just lie back and enjoy yourself for once."

Wilson snorts. "Yes, because of the two of us, I'm the one who has trouble living in the moment."


"I am not," Wilson says indignantly.

"Are too."

"Am no--oh, this is ridiculous." Wilson throws up his hands and gets back into the car--into the passenger seat this time--and slams the door. "Here," he says, thrusting the keys at House, who is standing within reach.

House crosses around the front of the car and gets into the driver's seat. "So that's a yes?" House sounds almost contrite, but Wilson knows there's no such thing as an apologetic House. Any signs to the contrary are only indicative of some subterfuge or manipulation, like his rehab hoax.

"Why are you offering?"

"So that you can go home. Go back to all of your responsibilities." House's tone is flat. The derisive stress on 'responsibilities' that Wilson would expect isn't there.

Wilson thinks again of his patients. The older one, the Hodgkin's, will have already arrived at the hospital by now. The younger, a uterine carcinoma, is a teacher and will arrive after the end of the school day. Cameron will probably offer to hold her hand while the nurse inserts the IV.

"You are my responsibility."

House's eyes flash angrily. "Right. How could I forget?"

For a minute they're both quiet, and Wilson is suddenly too tired to keep guessing what House wants to hear. He looks down at his lap and picks at the material of his shorts.

House is the first to break the silence. "So am I taking you to the airport?"

"You'd probably just tell airport security that I'm an al-Qa'ida operative anyway," Wilson says as he fastens his seatbelt.

House inclines his head as if to say, "You know me," and starts the car. When he turns north at the next juncture, away from St. Louis, Wilson releases his breath, and his shoulders relax back against the padding of his seat.

By early evening the Slim Jims and Crunch 'n Munch they bought at the last gas station have run out, and they pull off at a truckstop in search of hot food.

The brick building has been dyed gray by exhaust and is sporting several amorphous brown stains that Wilson prefers not to contemplate. When they pull up, Wilson's eyes immediately set on the steep concrete steps leading up to the door.

"Maybe we should go on to the next one," he suggests.

This earns him a roll of the eyes, and House levers himself out over the side of the convertible rather than using the door in a clear rebuttal to Wilson's suggestion.

House makes it up the steps without incident only to have his cane slip in a puddle of spilled soda just inside the door.

Wilson hears the squeak of the rubber tip sliding on linoleum, and his hand flies out, grabbing House just under his elbow.

The second he regains his balance, House pulls his arm from Wilson's grasp and frowns at him.

"What? You want me to let you fall?" Wilson asks him.

House's lip curls, and Wilson is sure that he's about to make some sort of scathing reply when a young guy in an apron with bleached blond hair and four silver hoops in his right ear comes running over to them. "I am so sorry," he exclaims, gesturing with the mop in his left hand. "I was totally just about to clean that up!"

"It's all right," Wilson tells him.

"But your friend almost fell. I am so, so, so sorry!" The waiter reaches out to lay a hand against Wilson's arm and actually bats his eyelashes at him.

House clears his throat behind them. "I'll have my lawyer contact you about the attempted manslaughter first thing in the morning. In the meantime, I'll take a cup of coffee." House brushes past them and sits down hard in the nearest booth.

"Here you are," the waiter trills, laying down paper placemats and spotted, bent silverware with a flourish more fitting for a place setting at the Plaza. "I'm Trevor, your server, and I'll be right back with menus." He gives Wilson a winning smile and even a wink, and it's all Wilson can do not to slide down under the table. Just his luck to find the only out waiter in all of middle America.

House's cane shoots out, catching Trevor across the stomach, and preventing his retreat. "No menus. Coffee," House growls. "If the next thing you bring over here isn't coffee I will break your shins," He brandishes his cane. "Cof-fee."

"House!" Wilson warns, but the waiter appears undaunted.

"Sure thing, grouchy," he answers cheerfully and throws another wink back over his shoulder at Wilson before swishing away.

"House, leave it," Wilson warns him in the interval before Trevor comes back with the coffee pot and two menus tucked under his arm.

"Multitasking," he sasses House as he lays the menu in front of him. "So, are you two from around here?" he asks as he pours Wilson's coffee.

House glares, but the kid doesn't even spare him a glance, smiling inquisitively at Wilson.

"No, we're just passing through." House adjusts his glare so that it's boring straight into Wilson.

"Well, you just let me know if you need someone to show you around."

"Yes, we'll be sure to call on you when we want to tour the Potatoes That Look Like Celebrities Museum."

Moving his chin in an exaggerated arc, Trevor turns to look down his nose at House and then back to Wilson and makes a face that says he doesn't think much of Wilson's taste. "You call me when you're ready to order, gorgeous." He winks again and walks away.

Wilson bites the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling and shrugs at House, spreading his hands. "Maybe he's that friendly with all of the customers who don't threaten to physically assault him."

"You encourage them," House says.

"I do not encourage them, House. All I do is behave in a normal and friendly manner, and which you would realize if you weren't intent on treating every conversation like a panel of judges are handing out points based on wit and sarcasm."

"You're just mad cause I'm totally winning."

"Well, if that's winning..." Wilson clicks his tongue.

A minute later Trevor is back saying, "Oh my god! I totally forgot to tell you about our specials. The soup is beef barley, and we've got chicken cacciatore and a bratwurst sandwich with peppers and onions. I definitely recommend the bratwurst. It's delicious, and it really fills you up." He looks significantly at Wilson. Thankfully he refrains from winking, but he does give a coy smile.

"Uh, just a burger please, medium," Wilson says, trying not to laugh.

"And for you?" he asks House, his whole demeanor changing to impatient truculence.

"I'll have the bratwurst. That sounds very...filling."

Trevor barely grunts in response and walks away. House smirks at Wilson. "No, I definitely think it's you."

"I didn't offer to damage any of his limbs. Not every waiter between here and New Jersey can really have a crush on me, House." Wilson lowers his voice and leans in, saying, "Has it ever occurred to you that you're projecting?"

"Your psychobabble is powerless against me, AnnoyingMan!" House straightens his spine and tosses an imaginary cape over his shoulder.

"Oh, forget it." Wilson tears the top off a container of creamer, dumps it into his coffee and crushes it in his fist. He opens and closes his hand a few more times, enjoying the way the plastic partially regains its shape before making a satisfying crunching noise as he crushes it again.

Stupid, he thinks. Really stupid to attempt a serious conversation about feelings with House.

"I'm not projecting," House says. There's a disquieting low note in his voice. Wilson looks up and returns House's intent stare, frozen with his hand out, the crumpled piece of plastic like an offering on his open palm. "Maybe they're not all interested in you, but I think we both know that you could have anyone you want."

The way House says it so slowly and emphatically makes the statement feel like a threat. Wilson's heart speeds up, and he draws his hand in against his body. What is that supposed to mean? Is House suggesting that Wilson seduced him?

"And then there is your well-documented inability to keep Mr. Pokey confined to one playground."

"Oh, yes. Of course it all comes back to that," Wilson says bitterly and drops his hand into his lap. He stares out the dirty window at the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. A long line of eighteen-wheelers stretches back from the adjoining weigh station, most an anonymous mud-speckled white, but some painted with the Technicolor logos of fast food and cigarettes and other ways to die young.

He doesn't even know what he's doing, what they're doing, and he's still not entirely certain that this isn't all an elaborate setup for House to run out on him in some bumblefuck Bates-style motel with Wilson's clothes and wallet.

"I need some air," Wilson says. He rises quickly from the booth and steps out into the muggy evening.

Waves of heat and the smell of exhaust rise up from the pavement, and Wilson wipes at the prickle of instant sweat on his brow.

Two of his patients started chemo today, but he's of no use to them at a smog-choked truck stop nine hundred miles away. He scrubs his face with his hands and squeezes his eyes shut. He wonders if he's of any use to anyone.

They wind up at a grubby motel some time after midnight and set off again the next morning, early, buying paper cups of bitter coffee with chemical-tasting fake creamer at a gas station in lieu of breakfast.

House's hand had landed on his thigh, hot and sweaty in the night, and Wilson meant to say no, it was on his lips, but then House licked his ear and said his name, the two syllables heavy like a drumbeat. Wilson let his legs fall open and sighed as House's strong fingers wrapped around his cock and pumped and stroked him until everything pulsed white. He fell back asleep on a wave of sated contentment.

Wilson's pretty sure it's been over an hour since they last saw another human being. They're on their fifth day of meandering on the back roads of rural America, and the unrelenting sameness of the scenery is giving him a deep understanding of the vacant stares of all the cattle they're passing.

"Fatigue, itching, skeletal pain, jaundice, xanthomas, elevated alkaline phosphatase," House is saying beside him.

"So it's a liver disease," Wilson says.

"Give this man a medical degree!"

"And it's autoimmune?"

"Sclerodoma, xan-tho-mas. Ringing any bells?"

Wilson tries to picture his Hepatology textbook from med school. Diabetics could develop xanthomas, but since he'd chosen "autoimmune for 1,000," he knows that isn't right.

"Autoimmune, liver autoimmune, come on," he admonishes himself under his breath.

"UTIs, esophageal varices..." House continues listing symptoms of the mystery autoimmune disease. "And have I mentioned there are xanthomas, here?"

"So are we almost there?" Wilson asks, more to stall for time than because he expects an actual answer.

"Wilson." House's voice sounds rich with suppressed amusement that Wilson thinks must be at his expense, "if I promise to tell you when we get there, will you stop asking?"

The wind is ruffling House's hair, and he's air-drumming along to the Led Zeppelin playing on a local classic rock station, and Wilson realizes that House looks relaxed, cheerful, even...happy.

House is happy.

A light bulb goes on in Wilson's head, one memory sparking another until the answer is on the tip of his tongue, and then, "Sclerosing Cholangitis!" he shouts, moving his fist in an arc, one finger pointing up in the air.

House squints one eye closed and looks at him sideways. "Can you put that in the form of a question?"

"What is Sclerosing Cholangitis?" Wilson says, taking both hands off the wheel and spreading them wide above his head.

"Nice," House says, drawing out the vowel sound and giving a little nod of his head.

Wilson pumps his fist and does a little victory dance in his seat.

"Wrong, but nice," House smirks.

"What? Bullshit!" Wilson objects. "What else could it be?"

"Primary biliary cirrhosis."

"Damn!" Wilson brings his fist down against the steering wheel.

When he meets House's eyes, House begins to laugh, and a few seconds later Wilson is laughing, too, the sound escaping in a loud rush like a dam giving way. When he looks back at House he knows he's grinning at him like an infatuated teenager, but he doesn't bother fighting it. He's spent years trying to disguise how much he adores House, and he's worn out from the effort. Out here on the road, who is there to hide from?

"Give me Glam Rock for 500," House says when they've caught their breath.

Wilson wipes the tears of laughter from the corners of his eyes and feels the scratch of the grit from the road that's collected on his face. "I feel gross," he says. He pulls his t-shirt away from his body and wrinkles his nose as the odor wafts up at him. His skin feels tacky with dried sweat, and his supply of fresh underwear ran out yesterday.

He's sick of moldy-smelling ramshackle motels and creaky beds with springs that poke him in the back, and he's sick of driving the damn 'vette, a state he wouldn't have thought possible a week earlier.

"Where the hell are we, anyway?" Wilson asks. "What's the nearest city?"

House looks at him hard before asking, "Why?"

"Because I smell, and my clothes smell, and I haven't slept on a comfortable bed in five days. I cannot take another dive. We are going to a nice hotel with clean sheets made of natural fibers, and decent food, and laundry service!"

House's features relax. The left corner of his mouth curves upwards just slightly as he nods. "Okay."

Wilson breathes out a long sigh of satisfaction as the jets switch on in the deep bathtub in their suite at the most opulent hotel in Indianapolis. He cants his shoulders to the right to better position one of the nozzles against an extra stubborn knot, closes his eyes and lets the stream of hot water pummel the tension out of him.

A noise startles him, and Wilson's body makes a loud echo-y splash as he jerks upright.

"Don't mind me," House says, making his way across the tiled floor to the sink where he washes his hands, and then to the toilet where he proceeds to pee.

Wilson breathes in through his nose and exhales slowly as he sinks back down into the water.

House washes his hands again, uses his cane to tip the toilet seat and lid down with a bang and sits down. He rests his chin on his hand on top of his cane and looks at Wilson as if he were studying a sculpture in a museum.

Wilson resists the urge to place a protective hand over the relevant areas. He sinks down further and closes his eyes, glad that the steady rumble of the whirlpool makes conversation difficult.

"Don't fall asleep and drown," House tells him. "I'm not in the mood to perform CPR."

"I thought you enjoyed giving me mouth-to-mouth." Wilson smiles wide.

The pill bottle rattles, and Wilson opens his eyes to watch House swallow. He follows the bob of House's Adam's apple, and then continues downwards, looking over House's wrinkled, moth-eaten T-shirt, and his long legs to his bare feet. House's soles are highly arched, and his toes are long and thin with a large gap between the big and second toes, almost like a thumb and forefinger.

"Don't move," Wilson says. He rises out of the tub, dripping water everywhere and kneels in front of him, gently splaying House's thighs with a hand on each knee.

"Wilson?" House is looking at him sideways and licking his lips.

Wilson rubs one hand up along House's inseam, watching the dark trail of moisture that it leaves and enjoying the sound of House's quickening breath.

His own cock hardens between his legs as he walks his fingers up the crease of House's groin, and then wriggles them into his pocket, grabbing the Vicodin bottle.

"Hey!" House says, pulling his hips away from Wilson's hand.

"Take another." Wilson holds out the bottle.

House looks at him with his brows drawn down like he's waiting for the trap.

Wilson holds House's eyes and keeps his voice steady and matter-of-fact as he says, "I am going to suck your cock, and I don't want to stop until you've come so hard your balls ache. You seizing up halfway through the process would seriously ruin my plans."

House swallows and his eyes take on a glazed look. He still manages a bit of defiance in his expression as he takes the bottle from Wilson and shakes two pills into his palm, looking at Wilson as if he's daring him to object before he tosses them back.

Wilson unbuttons and unzips House's jeans. The pink head of House's cock is already poking out the fly of his boxer shorts to greet him. Wilson opens his mouth and breathes a stream of hot air across it, loving the sound of House sighing above him.

Pushing the cloth aside, Wilson flattens his tongue against House's shaft just beneath the head and drags it slowly up, swirling it around.

"Unh," House says, and then "ah," long and drawn out, when Wilson envelops the whole head in his mouth. He sucks and hears a clank as House leans backwards against the water tank.

Wilson pulls off and examines their surroundings. House is sprawled awkwardly on the toilet and though the bath mat Wilson is kneeling on is soft and plush, the hard tile underneath is already taking its toll on his knees.

"Hey," he taps House's good thigh, "let's move to the bed."

House actually lets Wilson give him a hand up and leans on his shoulder as they move into the bedroom, clearly unbalanced by the need to hold his pants up with his free hand.

Once House is seated on the edge of the bed, Wilson grabs the hem of House's T-shirt and lifts it off over his head. House lifts up his hips so that Wilson can pull off his pants and boxers as well. He doesn't say anything, but his breathing quickens slightly, and Wilson realizes that this is the first time he's gotten House fully undressed. He runs his palm down House's chest, his hand molding to the rise of his pectoral muscles, the curve of his belly, and curls his fingers into the wiry thatch of his pubic hair. Then he skims both hands lightly down along House's thighs.

House watches him, breathing through parted lips. His eyes dart from Wilson's face to his hands and then down over his own naked body.

Wilson kneels on the floor between House's knees. Beads of water drip from his hair onto House's stomach and upper thighs, which he quickly licks away.

House's cock has softened with all the delay, so Wilson coaxes it back to hardness, beginning by teasing the head with feather-light strokes of his tongue. Ever so slowly he applies more pressure, letting more of his tongue push and rub against House's cock, and then, finally sucking the tip between his lips, pulling off after only a second and then leaning back in, going down a little further and sucking a fraction of a second longer before pulling off and beginning the process again.

House starts out leaning back on his elbows, not asking, not revealing his desire aside from the occasional abortive thrust of his hips, which registers as only a slight upward movement. The first time Wilson looks up at him House is biting his lip; the second time, he's moved to his left index finger.

Without warning, Wilson takes a deep breath and plunges as far down as he can, working the shaft of House's cock with his lips and tongue, letting the head bump against the back of his throat.

House cries out and curls forward. His hands go to Wilson's hair, not pushing or tugging, just holding, almost petting his skull.

"Oh, God, Wilson!" He says it like it's being ripped from him, and Wilson thinks it won't be long until he's more addicted to hearing House say his name like that than House is to Vicodin. Then House's cock thickens and pulses, and House's semen is running down the back of his throat.

Wilson pulls off swallowing and sputtering. He draws the back of his hand across his mouth and reaches down for his own aching erection. He pumps his hand, already close when House's eyes fly open, the stark clear blue of a fissure in a glacier. Wilson freezes.

"Stand up."

Once Wilson's on his feet, House pulls him a step closer and bends forward to take Wilson's cock in his mouth.

Nothing fancy, just hard suction and a hand on Wilson's ass clamping him in place, and then the hand slips down between his legs, and House presses up against his prostate. A cascade of pleasure overwhelms him. He can't last long before he's carried away, and he comes shuddering and pumping into House's mouth.

Wilson sinks back down to the floor, resting his forehead on the edge of the bed, basking in the feeling of disembodied bliss.

House is lying on his side with his eyes closed, and Wilson gives himself time to enjoy the smug contentment on his face before giving him a poke on the shoulder. "Don't fall asleep," he says. "We're going shopping."

House opens his eyes and blinks at him. "I just had this horrible dream where you said we were going shopping."

"We have to buy you a suit for dinner."

House makes a pouting face. "I thought we were going to order room service."

"We can have room service for breakfast. Tonight we're going to eat in a real restaurant that has food on the menu that isn't fried, and salad forks, and a wine list. And you are going to wear a jacket and a tie." House opens his mouth to object, but Wilson cuts him off, adding, "And you're going to shave."

House closes his eyes again and produces a very fake snoring sound.

"Get dressed." Wilson picks up House's boxers off the floor and throws them at him. "The concierge says there's a Brooks Brothers in the mall downtown."

"Let a guy blow you one time, and he thinks he can start ordering you around," House grumbles, but he sits up and starts pulling on his shorts.

Wilson is surprised at how easily he gets House out the door and to the mall. He can only attribute it to his fellatio skills, and, considering that House is accustomed to getting head from professionals, he indulges in a little internal preening.

The salesgirl greets them with a cheery offer to show them the new line of summer-weight fabrics.

"Why would I take fashion advice from a fat chick?" House snaps in reply, clearly determined to take out whatever nastiness he's spared Wilson on their unfortunate salesgirl.

"House!" Wilson warns.

"Seriously, wouldn't the employee discount do you more good at J.C. Penny? I didn't think Versace came in plus sizes."

"Okay. You want to leave? We're leaving," Wilson says angrily. "You look great," he tells her in awkward apology. "You're beautiful." She really is, too. She has a sensuous bow of a mouth that Wilson can imagine kissing for hours, shiny dark hair, and the curves of a World War II pinup.

"I--thanks?" she says to Wilson, giving him the scrunched eyebrows of "why the hell are you hanging around this jerk?" that he's used to getting when he's out in public with House.

"He's been married three times, you know," House interjects.

"You can leave, if you'd like, sir," she says to Wilson, "but I was about to suggest this classic stripe three-button suit for your friend. It'll bring out his eyes and match his cane. Versace does do crippled asshole chic."

"Ah," Wilson says, pretending to cough to disguise his laugh. "In that case, we'd better stay."

House's eyes really are set off beautifully by the suit. They hold Wilson transfixed throughout dinner while House recounts the tale of a series of escalating practical jokes between him and one of his med school rivals that culminated in a gruesome trick with a cadaver and a squirrel.

Every time Wilson bends to stifle his laughter against his napkin, House takes the opportunity to steal bites of Wilson's duck confit before continuing the story, and all Wilson can think about is kissing House later and tasting the remnants of the citrus-y sauce in the warm depth of his mouth.

They're being too loud for the stuffy, formal setting, but Wilson can't bring himself to care. He feels light-headed, as if he's had too much wine, but he only drank one glass.

House polishes off the rest of their bottle and orders himself a double Scotch for dessert, which he sips while Wilson eats a piece of chocolate cake. House keeps on stealing chunks of it with his fingers because the waiter didn't bring an extra fork. He doesn't know we're on a date, Wilson thinks. The secrecy of it, his certainty that they are on a date, that later he will get to put his hands all over House's body and make him moan and hear House say his name as he comes, delights him.

House's eyes smolder when he looks at Wilson as if he knows exactly what Wilson is thinking, and he maintains eye contact as he drags his finger through the cake's frosting and cleans it off with broad strokes of his tongue.

All Wilson's blood is quickly rushing to his groin, and he is sure they are going to get kicked out of the restaurant at any moment.

"Stop it," Wilson mouths at him.

House's smile is as self-satisfied as if Cuddy had just told him he's been right all these years and his genius truly is wasted on clinic patients.

"No," he says and takes another lick.

Wilson averts his eyes, only to feel pressure sliding up his shin, and what must be House's toes reaching around to squeeze and massage his calf.

"Footsie? What are you, twelve?"

"I could recite an ode to your cock, if you want something more mature," House offers in a voice that is far too loud for the type of restaurant they are in, even if he'd been discussing a topic as banal as window treatments.

"House!" Wilson's voice comes out an octave too high, and he looks all around the room. At least one wrinkly matron wearing a few pounds of gold jewelry and bright red lipstick has put her fork down to stare at them.

His eyes gleaming with unholy mischief, House clears his throat and begins to sing. "I get no kick from champagne."

As he says the word "kick," Wilson feels a blow against his shin. "Ow! House, stop it!" Wilson objects and kicks him back.

House's eyes flash, and he continues to sing. "Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all, so tell me why should it be true that I get a kick"-- Another kick strikes Wilson's leg "--out of you?"

Everyone in the restaurant is looking at them by now and Wilson drops his face into his hands and tries to make himself small. "Oh my God, please stop," he begs while House pauses for a dramatic inhale.

"Some get a kick from cocaine," he belts out.

Wilson's cheeks are burning hard enough to make him break out in a sweat, and he finally rises out of his seat to reach across the table and places his hand firmly over House's mouth. He keeps it there when he feels the slick swipe of House's tongue along his fingers, but jerks it away when House bites down on the fleshy juncture of his fourth and middle fingers.

"Ouch!" Wilson shakes his hand and examines the red mark left by House's teeth. "I'm going to need a rabies shot."

"Want me to kiss it better?" House gives him a lascivious look.

"House, you've had too much wine."

"Ah, you're right. I have." House settles back against the booth and tips his head to look at the ceiling. "You should be the one serenading me. Or reciting poetry."

"Way too much wine," Wilson amends.

"I want the full James Wilson seduction treatment."

"I never recite poetry," Wilson objects. He knows House had pumped Bonnie for information. What kind of bull had she fed him?

"You will to me." House leers across the table at him. "Come on, don't you want to peel my panties? It's going to take some poetry."

"House!" Wilson darts his gaze around the room again, meeting the disapproving glare of the older woman at the next table and quickly looking away. "Lower your voice at least."

"Strolling with the one girl, sighing sigh after sigh," House sings.

Wilson looks around for the waiter and sees him walking briskly toward their table with the check.

Wilson has never seen House this type of giddy drunk before. He keeps on trying to feel Wilson up in the elevator and appears highly amused by his attempts to fight him off.

By the time they reach their floor, House is giving an amused snort each time he pinches Wilson's ass, and Wilson speeds up to get away from him.

He gets out the key card and opens the door, his sweaty hands slipping on the latch. House catches up and is full-out laughing as they stumble into the room. Wilson rounds on him, pushing him back against the wall and kissing him. House chortles into the kiss. The vibrations tickle Wilson's tongue. Wilson presses up against House and moves to suck under his jaw.

"Recite--oh wow," House gasps as Wilson licks a spot behind his ear. "Recite poetry to me," he demands breathlessly.

"No." Wilson works the buttons on House's shirt open so that he can run his hands along House's chest and kiss his collarbone.

"Recite poetry to me, and then you can fuck me."

Wilson pulls back. House is smiling at him drunkenly, as if he's just said something really clever. Wilson closes his eyes and feels his whole body pulse with want.

"House," he says hoarsely.

His mouth has gone dry, and his whole body feels wound tight with lust. He has never wanted anyone more in his life, but he's also afraid that this might be too heavy for the fragile new ground between them to bear.

Hand jobs, even the blowjobs might be filed away and dismissed as two guys getting crazy on the open road. Wilson is all too familiar with House's ability to keep their relationship going in circles. For years every emotionally-charged argument, every not-so-incidental touch that he thought might be steps on a path to something more, have led nowhere, but even House, the eternal, stubborn constant, will have to acknowledge the unsubtle and transformational reality of Wilson's cock up his ass.

Wilson swallows and takes a deep breath. "House, you're really drunk." He feels shaky, as if his limbs won't quite obey his commands.

"So you think that was the alcohol talking."

Opening his eyes, Wilson can see House's chest moving rapidly through his unbuttoned shirt, but his voice suddenly sounds as sober and analytical as it does during a differential.

"I have wanted you to fuck me for twelve years." House is looking at Wilson like he can look right through his skin to see how that revelation is making his blood rush. "If you want to, you can wait until morning when I'm sober. I'll be hung over and irritable, but I'll still want you to fuck me. I will take you anywhere, any time, any--"

Wilson rushes in to kiss House hard, twining a hand into his hair. "Now is good," he says, breaking the kiss, already so turned on he's near panting. "Now works." He pushes the shirt off of House's shoulders, wanting to put his hands everywhere, all over House's bare skin.

He tries to go back to kissing House's neck, but House stops him with a hand against the center of his chest. "Uh, uh, uh." He waggles his index finger. "Where's my poetry?"

House, is leaning against the wall. Shirtless, with his kiss-swollen mouth and the rapid pulse visible in his neck, he's clearly as desperate for it as Wilson feels. Wilson can't believe he really wants to delay with these silly games.

"House, I don't know any poetry," Wilson says low against House's ear, and then traces along the outer edge and thrusts inside with his tongue. He moves to House's mouth, giving it the same minute exploration while he moves his hand down House's body and grasps between House's legs where he's already hard and hot.

House groans and says, "Oh, yeah. That is--right--yeah."

Wilson smiles, pleased with his ability to make House speechless.

He moves his hands to House's shoulders and slides them down along House's biceps and forearms and takes hold of House's hands. He takes a step back, intending to lead House back to the bed. There is a fine sheen of perspiration already on House's brow and upper lip, and he's looking at Wilson with one eyebrow raised and a knowing heat in his eyes that sends a charge down Wilson's spine directly to his groin.

Wilson takes another step back and tugs gently when House doesn't budge from his lean against the wall. House grins and tugs back, pulling Wilson in so that they're chest to chest.

"You owe me poetry," House rumbles in Wilson's ear.

"You owe me over eight thousand dollars," Wilson counters. "What do you say we call it even?"

House shakes his head. "No poetry, no wild thing, no nookie, no shagging, no, as I believe your people call it, 'shtupping.'"

Wilson clenches his fists and makes a noise of pure exasperation. He can picture himself in front of the judge: "Your honor, it's not my fault that I killed that man; my penis made me do it."

Clearing his throat, Wilson declaims, "Roses are red. My balls are turning blue. Let's stop talking and get back to the sex."

"That didn't even rhyme!" House objects. He retrieves his cane from where it had been abandoned just inside the door and walks toward the bed.

"Fine." Wilson offers up the only bit of literature he can call to mind under the circumstances. "How about: 'The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.'"

House grins and gets onto the bed, lying back against the headboard.

Wilson climbs up on his knees after him, carefully straddling House's lap. Wilson leans down to kiss him, and House opens his mouth, meeting Wilson's tongue with his own.

House runs a hand up Wilson's inner thigh and begins to rub and squeeze his erection. House's hand feels so good; Wilson grinds against it and lets his head fall back as he sighs in pleasure.

He leans forward for another kiss, but House turns his head stubbornly out of reach. "Keep going," he says.

"Oh my God, you are impossible!" Wilson moans. He's panting against House's neck and licking the salt sweat from just under his jaw. His whole body is telling him not to do anything but get to more skin and friction now, now, now! But he attempts to dredge up a few more lines from his wholly addled brain.

"Um, matter of life and death, road to either safety or ruin, shit!" He tries to jog his failing memory.

"'Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected,'" House offers sounding far too calm considering that Wilson has unbuttoned his pants and is slowly pumping his cock.

"Okay, right! 'Using a set of five criteria to compare and contrast the relative strength of both sides, one can usually assess the real conditions obtaining in the field.'"

"Enh!" House makes a buzzer noise. "Wrong."

"That's not what comes next?" Wilson sits back on his heels and puts his hands on his hips.

"You just switched translations halfway through the sentence."

"My God, would you shut up!" Wilson lunges forward, wrapping his hand around the back of House's head and crushes their mouths together.

They both come out of the kiss panting. House's eyes are heavy-lidded with only a sliver of blue still visible around his wide pupils.

Wilson rubs his knuckles against House's cheek. "We'll need--"

"Outer section of my backpack. In the zippered mesh pocket," House answers.

Wilson quirks his eyebrows.

"What? I like to be prepared."

"And here you're always calling me the Boy Scout."

Wilson gets up to retrieve the condoms and lubricant, shedding his clothes as he goes.

House is on his stomach when he gets back to the bed. Wilson takes House's calf and gently coaxes House to bend his knee so that the leg is bent up away from his body. He grabs a pillow and props it under House's bad thigh to take some of the pressure off.

"Is this okay?" Wilson asks.

"I think it will feel like a pin prick compared to having your cock shoved up my ass, don't you?"

Wilson laughs nervously. "'Shoving' was not exactly what I had in mind." He squeezes some of the cool, slick lubricant on to his fingers and begins the work of preparing House, carefully opening him up with his fingers.

Wilson's own cock is hard and heavy in his hand as he rolls the condom on and slicks himself. He lies down on his side and pulls House to him so that House's back is against his chest, and he can position himself against House's hole.

"All right?" Wilson asks against House's ear. Wilson's breathing is shallow, and he feels coiled and tensed for action, like he's about to lift a heavy weight.

House makes a noise of assent. Wilson slides his hand down House's arm and finds House's fingers, giving them a hard squeeze before moving his hand to House's hip to get more leverage to push inside.

He pauses there: breathing, waiting.

"Come on," House urges. "Fill me up. I want you to."

Wilson's toes curl, and his hips push forward in a pure gut reaction to the rough sound of House's voice. The head of his cock breaches House's body, every bit as hot and tight as Wilson imagined it would be. Wilson groans, continuing to push in, seeking more sensation.

When he's about halfway in, House's breath hitches, and Wilson feels his body tense.

"Am I hurting you?" he asks.

"Stop and I'll hurt you," House growls. Which isn't at all an answer, but Wilson continues, using all of his self-restraint to go as slowly as he can.

Once he's most of the way in, Wilson withdraws a little and begins to rock his hips easing in and out bit by bit.

"Yes," House says, but it sounds more like a maybe until Wilson pushes in just that little bit farther, and House jumps and says, "Yes!" so emphatically that Wilson knows he's found his prostate.

He keeps working it. Calibrating his stroke and adjusting his angle until he's sure that he's hitting the right spot every time because House is pushing back into him and moaning with each thrust.

Wilson's hand tightens on House's hip to the point where it's shaking. Every movement sends pure fire radiating out from the center of his body in an unceasing buildup of pleasure.

He's babbling mindlessly now about need and want and House. "House. Oh, House," he chants, saying it over to make sure it's real, as his body moves in an increasingly swift and erratic rhythm.

"Wait," House is saying. "Wait."

But Wilson can't wait. He's spurting inside of House, pushing hard into his body and calling out his ecstasy.

When the last, shining gasp of his orgasm has ripped through him, Wilson holds on to the condom and pulls out.

"Your turn," he whispers to House, rolling him onto his back so that he can take hold of House's cock and work it with his still slick fingers.

"That's it. That's it," he says when House begins to whimper, an animal noise of pure need that pulls at the depths of Wilson's guts.

"Come on, I've got you," he pants in House's ear. House stills for a fraction of a second before his hips pump up and down in fast, staccato bursts, hot semen pulsing from his cock spilling down Wilson's fist.

Wilson holds on until House twists out of his grasp, rolling away and burying his face in the pillow.

Wilson tosses the condom away and wipes himself clean as best he can with the corner of the sheet and collapses against the bed, completely spent.

After a little while of contented silence House gets up and goes into the bathroom. Wilson hears the water running, and the rattle of House's pills.

House comes back into the room and switches off the light as he lies back down.

In the dark, Wilson gropes for House's hand and twines their fingers together.

"Oh, no," House says. "I hope you don't think we just got married." He doesn't pull his hand away, though. In fact, his fingers curl around Wilson's in a sure grip.

"You won't let me flirt with anyone else, but you won't marry me," Wilson says sleepily. His head feels like it's sinking through quicksand, and his breathing is slowing, making a clicking noise in his throat that is almost a light snore. "You need to make up your mind," he mumbles against his pillow.

House's reply is too soft for Wilson to hear, and in between his thought that he should ask House to repeat himself and his next exhalation, he falls asleep.

House shakes Wilson awake the next morning, sitting beside him on the bed.

"Come on," he says. "We have to go."

"But we just got here," Wilson whines sleepily. He rubs his eyes and is surprised to see that House is already showered and dressed. "How about spending the day in bed?" Wilson hooks his foot in the sheet and draws it down his body invitingly. He wants to get House back into bed, and then he wants to spend a really long time just making out like horny teenagers. And then, once they're both out of their minds with need, he wants to blow House and hopefully fuck him again.

House stands up, and Wilson tries increasing the intensity on his best come-hither smile. "I'll make it worth your while," he promises. Maybe after a nap and some room service he'll ask House to fuck him.

House braces both hands against the headboard so that he can lean down and kiss Wilson. His lips are just slightly parted, and it's not at all provocative. It's affectionate, shockingly so, and far too brief. Wilson strains to follow him as House pulls away.

"Not today," House says, disappointing him. "Get up."

Once he's had some coffee and a shower, Wilson begins to catch on that House's refusal is due to more than House's usual restlessness, and he feels a swell of excited anticipation in his chest.

Their breakfast is delivered to the room by a pimply kid who thankfully shows no special interest in Wilson. House bolts down his toast and methodically tears his napkin into uniform one-inch squares while he waits for Wilson to finish eating.

"We're getting there today?" Wilson asks, even though it's obvious, and he knows he won't get an answer. He wonders again where "there" is. A part of him suspects that maybe what happened last night was the destination all along.

The valet has the Corvette waiting for them outside by the time they finish checking out. House takes the wheel and immediately gets on the interstate heading north.

House is silent and brooding while they drive, and the tension affects Wilson, making him uneasy. In another fruitless attempt to draw him out Wilson asks, "Are we going to Chicago?" His first honeymoon was to Chicago. They'd discovered an amazing jazz bar around the corner from their hotel that he hopes is still there. House would love it.

House only shrugs. When they reach the southern tip of Lake Michigan he turns east, away from the city, and Wilson's left to speculate on other possibilities.

Like the last time House had a destination in mind, they eventually end up in a residential neighborhood. House pulls up to a trim white cape with dark green shutters, a paved driveway and a basketball hoop set between the doors of its two-car garage.

"This is it. We're here." House is out of the car before Wilson can say anything. He follows House around back to a spit of sand and a dock with gray wooden planks stretching out into the still water of a medium-sized lake. Across the lake there are acres of green trees and a smattering of other homes and other docks, but they're few and far between. There's a sense of tranquility; only the occasional birdcall breaks the stillness.

House walks out onto the sand. His cane sinks a little with each step, throwing off his stride, highlighting the evenness of his normal rhythm. "What do you think?" he asks.

"It's nice." This home is in a much more well-to-do neighborhood, more than Wilson would think the Houses could afford on a low-ranking officer's salary, and he knows House's parents currently live in Colorado Springs. House's nostalgia for his med school days and the fact that they are only about half an hour from Ann Arbor all start to click for Wilson.

"Who lives here?" Wilson asks.

"It's empty."

"All right. When did you live here?"

"I haven't. Yet."

Wilson's heart drops into his stomach; he has a sick, dizzy feeling. He looks around more closely and notices the ramp where there'd normally be stairs leading up to the back deck.

"The closing is at four o'clock today," House adds, as if he hadn't already been obvious enough. But House has never thought all that highly of anyone else's diagnostic skills.

"You're--" Wilson's voice breaks, and he has to swallow and take a breath before he can continue. "You're leaving Princeton."

"U of M offered me a position."

"So everything, this whole trip was just your way of--" He can't really claim to be surprised. "Your Honor, I had no idea that my best friend was a complete bastard." And yet he's as dazed as if he'd just been smacked by a two-by-four.

"No clinic hours, a major pay raise, of course. Three fellows."

"You already have three fellows."

"Who are ready to fly solo."

"No, they're not."

"Yes, they are," House says forcefully. "And so is Cuddy, and the janitor on the third floor, and Coma Guy, and anyone else you're going to try to use to manipulate me into staying."

"But Cuddy will never let you--"

"She already has. They're launching a CIPA study. I'll be analyzing the nerves of people who can't feel pain, and every consent form will be filled out in triplicate. "

Wilson doesn't know what to say to that. Of course House would never pass up this opportunity, and Wilson's not sure that he should. He feels a little guilty for even wanting him to.

He turns away from House to look at the reflections of the trees on the water. It's one of those windless days when the reflection is so clear it appears like an upside down mirror world, and Wilson wishes he could step into it. He wants to find a dimension where this conversation isn't happening, and House hasn't just driven him halfway across the country to give him a taste of what he's wanted for so long only to snatch it away.

Most of all, he wishes for a world where he'd have something to offer House that would make him stay.

House clears his throat, and Wilson drags his gaze back to House's face. House is about to say something, and Wilson doesn't want to hear it. He has that numb out-of-body feeling that comes in the split second after stubbing a toe or slipping with a chopping knife when there's no pain, only the knowledge that a great deal of pain is coming. He wants to postpone that moment of impact for as long as possible, hopefully until he's out of House's sight.

"House, don't--" he begins, but House cuts him off.

"Come with me."

"What?" The one word seems to take all of Wilson's air. He feels as if the world has just been flipped upside down after all.

"You heard me." House's eyes are very wide, the only indication that he might be as freaked out by what he's saying as Wilson is.

"And leave my job? All of my patients?" Wilson runs a hand through his hair. "I really do care about them, you know."

"So wait a year until they've all died off and come with me then."

"Some of them are going to take two years," Wilson says grimly. "And I think my latest pancreatic will live." But when has Wilson ever chosen his patients over House? He's never chosen anyone over House.

"Look," House says. "I know I'm not good at this, but I want to try. I'll eat stuffed peppers. I'll do the dishes. We can get a dog."

"You hate dogs. I don't even like dogs that much."

"Forget the dog. We'll get a ficus."

"And you have to do the dishes three times a week. Promise."

"Once a week."

Wilson crosses his arms. "Three."

House opens his mouth, but nothing comes out, and he closes it again. He shakes his head and mutters something under his breath. Wilson only catches "crazy."

"Okay," House says. "If you agree to come with me, I will do the dishes twice a week."

This is possibly the closest he'll ever get to a declaration of true love, and Wilson feels appropriately awed by it. And yet:

"I don't know."

"Will you think about it?"

"I doubt I'll think of much else."

House's lips are a narrow straight line. He nods slowly. "Okay."

"‘Okay?' You aren't going to keep pushing until you get your way? That's not very you."

"I could be turning over a new leaf."

Wilson snorts in disbelief.

House takes a step closer to him. Wilson looks at the sunlight on the stubble on his chin, the dark mixed with the gray, and then he tilts his head back to meet House's eyes, clear blue and serious. "Maybe I want to let you set the terms," House says quietly. "Maybe I want to know that being with me is what you really want, and you aren't just getting dragged along for the ride."

Wilson's heart beats hard in his chest. He wants so much for this to be real, but he's known House for years, and while he's never stopped believing in him, he's been taught a lesson or twenty about believing in him too much.

"I'll think about it," he says hoarsely. It'd be easier to speak if he didn't feel like he'd just swallowed a golf ball.

"You already said that. And I said 'okay.'"

"Well, okay then." Wilson gestures in a fluttery, nervous motion.

House dips his chin in a single, decisive nod. "So it's settled." He smiles very slightly and takes a step back. "Come on, let me show you the media room: surround sound, forty-seven inch flat screen. It's awesome."

A moment of paralyzing fear stiffens Wilson's entire body. He feels as if he's been welded to this spot, and a piece of himself will be torn out if he tries to move.

House has taken a few steps away, but he stays turned toward Wilson, waiting with his hand extended. He's smiling, and the sunlight dancing over the water is reflected in his eyes.

And then Wilson remembers that giving up a piece of yourself is how change happens.

House's fingers are firm and warm in his as they walk together up to the house.