"I need your tie." House planted himself in front of Wilson's desk, bouncing his cane to give additional emphasis to his demand.
Wilson, pen poised above a file, looked up without any visible sign of surprise or irritation. Then, as if this was the most normal request in the world, he put down his pen and tugged at the knot around his collar.
"Not that one," House said quickly. "That one's — bland. Insipid. Asexual."
Wilson peered down at the offending object, a blue-and-white striped nonentity. "I think it's nice. Neutral, confidence-inspiring, and flattering, without drawing undue attention to itself."
"Exactly! It's boring." House twisted one of the chairs in front of the desk around so he could straddle it.
"And you want, which tie exactly?"
"The Green Tie of Awesome Sex. The Emerald Knot of Successful Seduction. The Verdant Neck Cloth of Getting Laid."
Wilson finally looked surprised. "Wait," he said, raising both hands in a calming, delaying gesture. "You hate that tie."
"I don't hate it; your ex-wife did — and still does, for all I know. The color, not the tie." House rather liked the tie, or rather, Wilson wearing the tie, but he wasn't about to tell Wilson that.
"And you need the tie because?"
House expelled an exasperated breath. "Because I want to get laid, of course. I'm taking Cuddy to the theater."
To his credit Wilson didn't even blink. Instead, he picked up his pen again. "Does Cuddy know of her misfortune, or is this scheme in its infancy and yet to reach maturity?"
"Oh, Cuddy knows," House gloated. "Hey, she was practically all over me with delight when I asked her." That wasn't true in the strictest sense — she'd been more like, 'You're kidding, House!' — but by Cuddy's standards that was a benevolent reaction. And after a little haggling over clinic hours she'd given in with grace.
"Then why do you need the tie if she's as good as prostrate already?"
"First impression, like a bird of paradise. The male attracts potential mates with his display. Then, if the female likes what he has to offer . . ."
"What if she doesn't?" Wilson asked.
House leered. "Trust me, she will." He leaned forward, waggling his fingers demandingly. "Gimme!"
Sighing, Wilson opened the bottom drawer of his desk and extracted the tie, neatly rolled up. Grabbing it, House shook it out to its full length and dangled it in front of his chest like a trophy.
"This," he proclaimed, "will signal my willingness to mate and will trigger sexual hormones in her that will render me irresistible."
"Funny," Wilson said. "I'd always believed that this tie signaled comradeship and willingness to communicate."
"What is sex, if not intimate communication?" House intoned. "This tie, the Prelude to Panty Peeling, will usher in the best sex of my life."
"Actually," Wilson said, "it has never been the prelude to anything of the sort. It's the tie I wear to casual meetings: coffee with a new staff member, dinner with pharma reps, . . ."
This was so blatantly untrue that House didn't even have to pretend incredulity.
"And maybe to first dates," Wilson admitted. "But when casual meetings are followed by less casual ones, I wear other ties. This tie is . . . the Jade Tie of Innocent Intentions."
House snorted volubly.
"Okay," Wilson said, throwing up his hands. "Back the wrong horse; what do I care? But don't blame me when it all goes horribly wrong."
"What can go wrong?" House asked. "I have tickets to a play that Cuddy wants to see, I'll mellow her with good wine afterwards, and I have the Tie."
"Cameron," Wilson said quietly. "Remember that date?"
House preferred not to. He shifted, uncomfortably aware of the throb in his thigh. "We weren't on the same page. She wanted to fix me, but I didn't want to be fixed. Cuddy doesn't want to fix me. She wants sex and I want sex. It's a match made in heaven. Tonight, we're meant to be."
"Treat the tie well," Wilson called after him as he left. "I'm fond of it!"
The next day, House tried to avoid all communication with Wilson by taking his phone off the hook and switching off his cell phone. Predictably, Wilson turned up in person in the afternoon, brandishing a six-pack of beer.
"What if I'd still been in bed with Cuddy?" House groused as Wilson pushed past him into his living room.
"But you aren't," Wilson pointed out, even though he appeared a little surprised at this state of affairs. "Were you? In bed with Cuddy, I mean."
"I don't kiss and tell," House said, avoiding Wilson's eyes as he threw himself back onto the couch.
"I take it that's a no. What did you do to mess it up?"
"I can't be taking it slow, sticking to the three-dates rule?" House asked.
"Not after proclaiming to all and sundry that you intended to get laid," Wilson said as he sat down beside him and extracted a can from the pack. He handed it to House, who accepted it wordlessly. "So, what happened?"
He'd rather not talk about last evening. "Nothing happened."
"You went to the play, and then?" Wilson prodded.
"We didn't go to the play," House admitted.
Wilson twisted round to face him. "You managed to piss Cuddy off before you even got there?" he asked, visibly awed. "That's . . . fast work, even by your standards. What did you do?
"I didn't do anything!" House retorted, stung. "She opened her door, took one look at me, and sent me packing. I didn't even have the time to say anything crude or insensitive."
Wilson leaned back again, deep in thought. "She pulled out straightaway. Hmm. . . . What were you wearing?"
"Duh, the tie."
"Only the tie?"
"Yes," House said, enjoying the momentary look of horror on Wilson's face. "No, of course not, you moron."
"I wouldn't put it beyond you to wear it with one of your antediluvian band T-shirts," Wilson said.
"I wore it with a black shirt — silk, I'll have you know — and a cream linen suit. I exuded casual elegance."
Wilson didn't look convinced. "You probably looked like a villain from a James Bond movie, one of those unscrupulous weapons dealers. No wonder she baulked. Where is the tie, anyway?"
"Under the couch." Which was where he'd kicked it in a fit of temper.
Wilson got down on his knees and peered under the couch, his pants stretched tightly over his ass. (House made a mental note to shove things that Wilson might want to retrieve under the couch more often.) "Did you shower before you went to her place?"
"Yes, and I almost shaved," House said, remembering how he'd stood in front of the mirror debating whether the extra brownie points that being clean-shaven might gain him were worth the attention it would call to him at work. A lack of shaving cream had settled the matter.
Wilson sneezed. "You need to clean under your couch. Maybe you freaked her out by surpassing her wildest expectations. What exactly did she say?"
"Nothing that made any kind of sense," House mumbled, sinking down deep into the leather of the couch and schooling his features into neutral indifference.
Actually, she'd said that she wasn't going to waste her time by going out with guys who weren't into gals. She'd patted his arm kindly to soften the blow and had risen on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek, but then she'd turned him around and gently but firmly pushed him in the direction of his car. And he'd been too flabbergasted to protest.
Wilson gave him a sharp, searching look, but he said nothing while he busied himself with brushing dust bunnies off the tie, the Ghastly Green Tie of Doomed Dates.
"That new John Le Carré series is airing tonight. We could order takeout," he suggested, tossing House another can of beer.
The following morning Cuddy sought him out on the roof.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I really thought it might work."
He tugged on his lower lip, not deigning to give her a glance, let alone a reply.
She plodded on valiantly. "But when I saw you, I couldn't face another failed date, where you wonder how the hell you're gonna get out of the mess you've gotten yourself into, while I wonder how it is that no guy I date ever wants me."
"What changed?" he finally asked. "You were willing to give it a try when I asked you out, but in the evening you pulled out. What happened to make you change your mind?" That question had been nagging at him since the evening before.
She sighed. "It was you in that get-up. That tie. Everything just sort of . . . clicked into place." She tapped her forehead with her fingertips. "I must have been blind not to have seen it before."
"What's with the fucking tie?" he shouted.
"House, that isn't the sort of tie you wear if you're trying to get a girl interested in you."
"Bullshit! That's exactly what Wilson does: he wears that tie and the chicks practically swoon in his arms."
Cuddy smiled. "Not really. When he wears that tie, they lower their defenses and confide in him. It exudes a — a non-sexual vibe."
House laughed, a staccato laugh of disbelief. That tie exuded nothing of the sort. It emanated a sensuality that made him want to pull it till Wilson's face was close to his, and then . . . Oh, fuck! He hastily banished all visuals of Wilson wearing the tie from his mind and returned his attention to the conundrum at hand.
"Then how come it works for Wilson? He never has any trouble turning women to putty in his hands."
Cuddy shrugged. "No idea. It didn't work for me when he wore it to our date. The fact that he talked about you most of the time didn't exactly help either."
"Maybe the rumor that you're not a woman is true," House suggested.
"Trust me," Cuddy said snappishly, "women don't fall for Wilson because of that tie. If anything, it lulls them into a false sense of security."
"That could be it," House mused. "They let down the drawbridge and raise the portcullis, and hey presto, Wilson charges through the gates with a different tie. He doesn't even have to knock down their defenses anymore; they've taken care of it themselves. Diabolical! And totally like Wilson, that manipulative bastard!"
"I don't think he tries to manipulate them," Cuddy said. "Anyway, why are we talking about . . . Oh!" She was gazing into the distance with her mouth agape.
"What?" he asked. "Did you forget about an important meeting with a very important donor? No, you're not looking distressed. Have you just figured out how to balance your budget?"
"What . . . My budget?" She blinked and returned to the present. "No, that won't balance until and unless a certain member of my staff does his billings for a change. Actually, I was thinking —"
"Didn't know they paid you for that too," House said. The outcome of her thinking would undoubtedly start with 'clinic' and end with 'duty'. That was, if it didn't start with 'teaching' and end with 'responsibility'.
She swatted his arm. ". . . Thinking that I owe you. I should have given you a chance."
He stared at her suspiciously. Cuddy wasn't exactly known for backtracking after making decisions, no matter how bad they were, and she'd clearly decided against him two nights earlier.
"Tell you what," she said with a winning smile. "Dinner's on me. Eight o'clock at Chez Jacques?"
"Who are you and what did you do with Lisa Cuddy?" he asked.
"Can't I be nice? I hurt your feelings and you didn't deserve that. Plus, I inconvenienced you."
That had never bothered her before, but he wasn't about to turn down a free meal. "It's not a date then?" he asked, somewhat mystified by this turn of events.
"Depends," Cuddy said archly, walking backwards towards the door leading downstairs and twirling a strand of hair. "Wear something nice. But not green!"
With that she turned around and disappeared, leaving him wondering whether he'd just imagined what had happened.
House got a text message from Cuddy at seven telling him to wear blue and at ten past another one telling him not to be late (with three exclamation marks).
"Odder and odder," he muttered.
He called the restaurant. "I wanted to check whether my PA got my reservation right. Do you have a reservation for Cuddy at eight?" he asked.
"Let me see," the receptionist said. A few moments later she confirmed, "Cuddy, eight p.m., a secluded table for two, bottle of champagne, the 'Menu de l'amour' — that's our special for romantic evenings — and roses for the table."
If this was a date, it was one of the 'feed me and then fuck me' kind. He'd love to believe that Cuddy was out to jump him the moment they left the restaurant, but life wasn't a schmaltzy Nicholas Sparks flick. Life at PPTH was more like Dangerous Liaisons (without the decadent luxury, unfortunately) with Cuddy in Glenn Close's role.
He figured he knew what she was up to: she was going to stand him up, and he'd have to pay. What had he done to deserve this? He cast his mind back over the past few days, but he couldn't remember stepping on her corns harder or more often than usual. Still, she had to be pretty mad at him to risk getting into a pranks war with the Master himself.
"Would that be your reservation, sir?" the receptionist asked somewhat impatiently.
"Yeah, that's it," he said. "Could you tell me what that's gonna cost me?"
"One moment . . . Ah! It's all taken care of already, sir. Your wife left her credit card details."
"Lisa Cuddy. I'm sorry, I assumed she was your wife."
"Yeah, that's right, my wife," he said quickly.
Okay, so she wasn't going to stand him up. He couldn't believe his luck — especially since he'd gotten an ambiguous vibe off her when she'd suggested that dinner. She'd been lying about something or other; he could always tell when she was hiding something. Still, if dinner was paid for, he could afford to appear at the restaurant to find out what she was up to.
Chez Jacques was the 'in' place in Princeton if you hung out with the kind of crowd Cuddy liked to be seen with. In other words, House had never been there before. When the waiter led him to a secluded alcove at 8:15 p.m. — he didn't want Cuddy to think he was eager for this — someone was already sitting there, but it wasn't Cuddy.
"What the hell?" House said.
Wilson, looking up, seemed just as displeased as House. "I get that you're pissed about how your date went, House, but getting back at her by ruining her date with me is pretty low, even by your standards."
House pulled out the empty chair and sat down demonstratively. "Her date with you? You must have gotten the day mixed up — and the week. The year too. This is the Year of House."
Wilson leaned back with a smug smile and crossed his arms over his tie — the brilliant green one. "I don't think I'm mistaken at all. She came to my office this afternoon and asked whether I'd like to go out with her."
House pulled out his cell and scrolled to Cuddy's texts. "Here," he said, tossing the phone onto the table.
Wilson picked it up, a frown creasing his brow as he read the messages. "Blue?" he asked. "Why blue?"
"No idea, but trust me, even if she wanted to go out with you, that piece of lawn you've slung around your neck is a deal-breaker. She says it doesn't work for her."
Wilson squinted down at the controversial accessory. "No? She specifically asked me to wear it."
"Champagne?" the waiter said, pushing a trolley with a bucket of ice on it to their table.
"I'm still waiting for my date," Wilson said smoothly. "This gentleman will leave in a moment."
"No, he won't!" House said. "This guy's crashing —"
"Dr Cuddy said," the waiter began, looking to and fro between them, "to tell the gentleman in the green tie and the one in the blue tie to stop squabbling."
There was total silence until the cork popped.
"Dr . . . Cuddy?" Wilson said carefully.
"Yes," the waiter (his name tag identified him as Miguel) replied, pulling a piece of paper from his back pocket and scanning it. "She says the meal and drinks are on her and she hopes you'll have fun, but not so much that you'll be late for work tomorrow."
He tucked the paper back into his pocket, poured out the champagne, placed the bottle on the table between them, bowed slightly from the waist and disappeared.
"Diabolical!" House said.
Wilson, still staring after the waiter with knitted brows, asked, "What's diabolical?"
"Cuddy. She's just stood me up a second time. She's probably hiding behind a potted plant rolling with laughter and taking pictures of us looking like idiots to post on Facebook."
"Hmm, you might even get likes for a change! . . . House, why would Cuddy pay for a ridiculously expensive meal if she was out to get you?"
"Why would she pay for a ridiculously expensive meal if she wasn't out to get me?"
"Good point. Maybe she's trying to be nice?"
"Okay," Wilson said, signaling with his hands that he was conceding the point. "She wants to apologize for letting you down the other night?"
"Cuddy never feels she's in the wrong."
"True." Wilson thought for a moment. Then he pulled out his phone, but instead of calling Cuddy he took a selfie and then pointed the camera at House.
"If you post that, I'll take your Facebook account down. Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram too," House threatened.
"This is scientific research," Wilson said, stretching out his hand. "Gimme the tie."
House threw himself back in his chair. "Don't you start too!" he groaned. "This tie business has caused nothing but trouble."
"Exactly, and I want to know why. Cuddy spurned you when you wore the green tie, but she specifically asked me to wear it. To quote a friend of mine, 'There's got to be a reason'. What is it with this tie, or possibly the blue one, that makes her act weirdly?"
"A tie fetish?" House speculated, tugging at the knot around his neck to loosen it. "Think she'll turn up once we're wasted, drag us off to her lair, fetter us to her bed with the ties, and have her wicked way with us?"
Wilson, already divested of his green tie, practically ripped the blue one out of House's hand, his fingers brushing House's. "Who knows? We're going to compare what we look like wearing each of these ties. Maybe the colors clash with our eyes or . . ."
House, watching Wilson's nimble fingers pull, tug and twist the two ends of the azure silk into a neat knot, couldn't agree. Why would anyone be interested in the color of Wilson's tie when there was so much to observe: that stray lock of hair flopping down over his frowning forehead, those long, dark lashes almost hiding his expressive eyes, the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips, the long column of his neck as he lifted his chin while tying the knot?
"Okay," Wilson said. "Let's compare . . . Hey, you need to put on my tie."
"Uh," House said, not taking his eyes off Wilson's lips. "Yeah. Just a sex — I mean 'sec'. Just a sec." He slung the green accessory loosely around his collar and slung the ends around each other without really paying much attention to what he was doing.
"Seriously, House? It's no wonder Cuddy kicked your butt off her doorstep if you wore the tie like a hangman's noose. Here, I'll do it."
Rising, Wilson bent over House and pried the two ends of the tie out of House's enervated fingers.
"Chin up!" he ordered, straightening the tie and pulling the ends until they were the right length. His fingers brushed House's chin as he wrapped the wide end around the short end and pulled it through the neck loop.
House stopped breathing.
"It's . . . not so . . . easy tying it . . . on someone else," Wilson muttered, his eyebrows drawn together in concentration.
"Are you done?" House croaked.
"Almost," Wilson said absently, tugging the knot into place. He patted the tie down on House's chest. "There! A thing of beauty is a joy for-…. — are you okay?"
House closed his eyes and counted to ten. When he opened them again Wilson, far from having left his personal space, was bent over him, his nose inches from House's, his hand cool on House's forehead.
"Neither hot nor clammy," Wilson pronounced. "Are you feeling dizzy?"
It was too much!
"Yes," House answered, steadying himself by grasping Wilson's wrist with one hand while the other shot out to catch hold of the tie — his own blue tie — and pull the wearer even closer.
"You're taking another bottle of the Dom Perignon to Table 12?" Fred asked Miguel.
"The lady who's paying said I'm to keep it flowing until the two lovebirds (I quote) 'are ready to screw the hell out of each other'," Miguel answered with a shrug, placing the bottle he'd just gotten from the storeroom into a fresh bucket of ice. "Her bucks, her headache."
Fred leaned forward across the bar to get a glimpse of the guests at Table 12. After a moment he said, "I don't think they'll be needing that bottle tonight. Or the dessert. But a privacy screen in front of their table, now that might be a good idea."