A Differential Diagnosis for Green Silk
When he first notices the green tie, he treats it as a joke. It's been a while since he's seen Wilson do this, but he knows the signs and he always makes fun of them. The sheer pathetic transparency of his friend's little mating dances makes for better entertainment than a double episode of General Hospital, complete with a miraculous amnesia recovery and fake CPR, and the fact that Wilson is only vaguely conscious of his own behavior just adds to the fun. The rush of blood to his cheeks when House calls him on it makes the tie look even better around his neck.
He keeps the teasing going for the next few days, never missing an opportunity to bring the subject up, to score another point in this game that Wilson would very obviously rather not play. It's a distraction, he tells himself, like the soaps, something to keep one part of his brain occupied while the rest works in the background, trying to solve the problem of the woman who lies dying a few doors down the hall. And if Wilson should gain some self-knowledge from it, well, that's just icing on the cake. It isn't until the problem is solved and he's watching Mrs. African Sleeping Sickness cry her heart out over the husband incapable of forgiving her trespasses that it occurs to him that there's something off about the way he's been acting.
Wilson's women never used to bother him. He'd mock him for them, certainly, but it was done in passing, a few comments here and there, a running joke between friends. This time, he's been going straight for the jugular, over and over again. James would say that's what he does when he feels threatened, but that notion is just silly. None of the little beauties using his friend's shoulder as a Kleenex could pose a threat to what House shares with him. He knows that.
James needs to take care of people; that's a fact of life. If he sees a damsel in distress, he doesn't know how to do anything less than all he can to help her, and if the damsel in question should happen to be moderately attractive, "all he can" will turn out to include candle-lit dinners and tender love-making before he's even aware of coming on to her. It hardly takes a genius to see why that pattern of behavior would bother his wives, but House never had a problem with it himself. After all, it has nothing to do with him.
As far as he can tell, he's the single person James is intimate with who isn't relying on him as a crutch, and though he doesn't quite understand why, this seems to make all the difference. He gets to be there to mock wife after needy wife because he isn't like them.
Or at least, he never used to be like them.
He's standing by the clear board, listing possible diagnoses for their latest case, when that thought hits him, and the marker nearly slips from his fingers.
"M what?" Chase asks, but his voice is only static in the background.
He never used to be like them.
"Meningitis?" Foreman prompts. "Malaria? Marfan syndrome?"
That last is so deliberately impossible it snaps him back into the moment, and he completes his scribbling, the seeming outrageousness of his own suggestion sparking a debate that covers for his brief mental absence. But he's glad when the discussion is over and the team goes off to order a new set of tests. He needs time to process his new realization and smack himself upside the head for not coming to it sooner.
The truth of the matter is that he does need a crutch now, a literal one, and sometimes it takes all the strength he's got just to push through the pain and get out of bed in the morning. In a way, he's every bit as weak and helpless as the women James is so compulsively drawn to. What's there to say he won't one day become just as expendable? He used to be certain of James, of the bond between them as well as the physical attraction. He felt no need to push for more than they had, because he knew that sooner or later the last remaining pieces would fall into place on their own. It seemed inevitable. It isn't inevitable anymore, though, not when so much about him has changed. And of course he's seen that all along, has known it instinctively since the day he was discharged from the hospital with a pair of crutches under his arms and Wilson hovering by his side. He's no more than human, though, and, as it turns out, he can do denial with the best of them. Why admit to yourself that you've become a lesser man when you can cling to the way you'd like things to be? And so he takes the pills to keep him going, and he freaks out when his best friend gets a new tie.
He wishes that understanding this would show him a better way to hold on to what he still has, but of course it doesn't.
For the next couple of months, the green tie is conspicuous by its absence. Probably all this means is that Wilson feels too self-conscious to wear it after hearing House's speech on the matter, but there is no evidence to either confirm or reject that theory. He considers finding a way to ask about it, but then the monster truck incident reminds him of what a good liar James can be. He doesn't like the idea of being lied to about this. It occurs to him that Wilson might very well be wearing the tie to his dinner with Stacey. The thought makes his skin crawl.
The next time he sees the tie, he's looking up from his desk to find Wilson leaning in the doorway, watching him. It's taken a few weeks, but the disagreement over the Vicodin has slipped far enough into the background that his friend has begun to stop by again, and House hears no resentment in his own voice.
"You want something?"
Wilson shrugs. One of those quirky, graceful movements he's prone to, minute but eloquent, hands not leaving his pockets. The pants pockets of an expensive designer suit, as it happens, crisp and elegant, the charcoal fabric offset by an equally striking green silk tie. House feels something twist inside his stomach at the sight of it.
"Just wanted to see if you're planning on going home tonight at all," Wilson says. "I thought the Carter girl was responding well to the treatment."
"She is. I thought I'd stick around a while longer, just to be on the safe side. It's unlikely, but if she does have an adverse reaction to the serum, it will be within the first ten hours. If that happens, I'd rather be here than at home."
Wilson pulls his hand out and throws a glance at his wristwatch. The motion shifts his body upright, and the door his shoulder has kept propped open swings shut behind him with a soft rattle of trembling glass.
"Another hour or so, then," he says. "You want some company?"
It isn't really a question, though it's phrased as one. After all, this office might as well have Wilson's name on the door along with his own - there could never be any doubt in either of their minds that he belongs here. At least House hopes there never could, but the strain between them lately speaks its own language. And the appearance of that fucking tie doesn't make such thoughts any more cheerful.
"All dressed up with nowhere to go, hm? What happened? Your date cancel on you at the last minute?"
The ghost of a smile plays at the corners of Wilson's lips, a familiar mixture of exasperation and amusement. It's the expression he gets when House is exactly as annoying as he's expecting him to be, and normally Greg loves it. Hell, he angles for it, for that subtle feedback signal which says that James knows him better than any person alive, that he enjoys knowing him. Most of the time, there's nothing he wouldn't do to put that look on his friend's face. Right now, it just pisses him off.
"The only date I had tonight was with a backlog of paperwork," James says. "Hardly the kind of company that gets my blood pumping."
House cocks his head and lets his eyes trail over him, cataloguing what he sees.
"The suit...the tie...even the allegedly slanderous French shoes, if I'm not mistaken... I don't think you were expecting your pile of neglected patient files to appreciate the effort." He tries to keep his tone light and teasing, but he can hear the irrational anger seeping in at the edges. He should shut up before he goes too far, but he's been trying to rein himself in since the night of the Vicodin fight, has done his best to show that, despite what happened, he still feels the same. Censuring himself has never been his strong suite, though, and tonight it just isn't happening. The words come of their own accord. "So who is it? Not that nurse you were fussing over - I would have noticed if you'd kept that up. One of those pretty little med students Cuddy's got you saddled with, maybe? I'll put my money on the one with the cleavage. All big brown eyes and insecurity. First time up close to all those dying people. I bet she could use a few encouraging words, some kind support. A little hand-holding in your office after hours. No harm, no foul, just helping the girl out, right?"
He looks for the flash of hurt in Wilson's eyes, or the flutter of lashes that speaks of guilt, but he gets neither. Just that almost smile again, as if the whole speech is no more than he was counting on, easy to wave aside. Wilson with an agenda, and this is getting unnerving.
"Not a bad theory," James says. "The sexual harassment suit would certainly have been more interesting than my paperwork. But House... Hasn't it occurred to you that I might be wearing this tie for your benefit?"
Not the response he was expecting, and his sarcastic reply is automatic, not thought through in the least.
"That would have been my next suggestion, but you know me, too modest to put myself forward."
Wilson doesn't even dignify that with a roll of his eyes.
"I seem to remember you were the one who did a complete psychoanalysis of my dating habits just to have an excuse to tell me I looked good in it. I think it's safe to assume that wearing it will get your attention."
Sometimes he forgets that Wilson can see right through him. That, for all his doe-eyed sentimentality, his mind is sharper than a scalpel and every bit as precise. It's a dangerous thing to lose sight of.
"Congratulations," he says, snapping shut the book he was reading. "Your powers of assumption are awe-inspiring. You've got my full and undivided attention." He grabs his cane from beside the desk, levers himself out of his chair. Too edgy to sit still. There is resentment in his voice now, and a bitterness he can't quite contain. "So what is it you've come for? Another little chat about my problems? Want me to fling myself around your neck, cry my heart out against all that inviting Armani like one of your precious girlfriends? Want me to confess how lonely and miserable I am, how the drugs are ruining my life? Want me to tell you how much I need you to help make it all better?"
They're eye to eye now, no more than a few feet apart, and he can see Wilson's jaw set, the sharp, sharp bones of his face harden into tempered steel.
"You know what I want, House? I want you to stop feeling sorry for yourself long enough to notice what anyone else needs."
"Yeah? Let me hear it then. What do you need from me that you're not already getting? What can I possibly do for the man who wants to save everyone else?"
And then he knows. He sees it in Wilson's gaze the split second before he moves to speak or act, and the surprise is like a blow to the solar plexus, paralyzing and debilitating. It's been there, of course, it's always been there, but they don't do this, they don't talk about it, don't give it a name. Wilson doesn't...
"This," Wilson says, and reaches out. Grabs Greg's face and presses their lips together.
It's raw and fierce and utterly demanding, rough fingers twisting in his hair, holding him in place as Wilson's kisses ravage his mouth. When he yields and parts his lips beneath the assault, the heat of Wilson's tongue rushes in like a flood wave breaking a dam, submerging him. He hears the dull clatter of his cane hitting the floor before he realizes that his arms have come up to wrap around James's body, one hand clutching in the fabric of his jacket, the other cupping the back of his neck in instinctive encouragement. James whimpers into his mouth, a sound of pure hunger, and he pushes closer, the whole slender length of him pressing against House as if there could never be such a thing as close enough.
There is nothing gentle about any of it, nothing like the careful, considerate touches he's seen Wilson use with his women, and he feels himself responding to it, moving into it, falling blindly though his mind has yet to grasp what this is supposed to be. There is a rush of pounding blood in his ears, and he knows his chest is heaving, knows that he is panting, moaning around Wilson's tongue, already on the verge of a new addiction. Tilting his hips to meet the growing, unmistakable hardness rubbing against him, his whole body shuddering when Wilson shifts his leg just so and...
With his last shred of self-control, he moves his hand to Wilson's shoulder and pushes him away. His friend doesn't move more than a few inches, doesn't even let go of him, but where the air rushes in to fill the gap between them, a chill spreads over his skin. Then he meets Wilson's gaze.
In the back of his mind, he carries a vivid memory from his days as a med student- the first time he saw a living human being with their chest cracked open. The beating heart, vulnerable and exposed, naked without its armor of bone and flesh. The pulse strong under his gloved fingers even so, raw and vibrant with the battle for life, though with one twist of his hand he could cut it off. All of it so powerful, so easy to hurt.
Looking into James's face in this moment, that image flashes before his eyes.
If I sent him away now, he thinks, it would all be over. He always comes back to me, always, but only because he can tell himself this isn't why. There'll be no more pretending after this.
That point is moot, though, because how could he ever turn James down, even if he wanted to?
"These fucking walls," he says, nodding towards the corridor to make himself clear. The hour is late, and there's no one out there, but for all the attention they've been paying, half the hospital could have been standing there watching. "It's like getting it on in the turtle tank at Sea World."
Wilson's mouth twitches, with relief as much as humor. He's a bright boy - he knows verbal consent when he hears it.
"Wait here," he says, his thumb sliding across Greg's cheek before he moves to close the blinds. As his body slips away, House catches himself swaying. No cane. He can't remember the last time he simply dropped it; it's an added limb by now, a part of him. Bending down to pick it up is out of the question, though. The stab of pain that movement would cause would drown out the buzz of pleasure that's singing in his nerves, and he couldn't take that. Not here and now. Not with James.
"Sorry to disappoint you," he says to Wilson's back over the click of the door-latch sliding closed, hobbling the few steps to the armchair in the corner, "but I can't 'wait here'. I've only got one good leg, remember, and for some reason it isn't very steady at the moment."
He flops down in the chair and Wilson turns to him. The room is almost dark now, with the light from the corridor blocked out by the blinds, but the soft glow from the desk lamp catches on the unlikely curve of his cheekbone, an instant Rembrandt that dissolves as he steps closer.
"I always knew there was a reason why making out with a cripple was a bad idea," he says. The sarcasm is bone-dry, but there's so much warmth running beneath it that House's heart skips a beat. It's been weeks since he heard that tone of voice. He's missed it.
Then James is there, sitting down on the footstool opposite him, so close their knees are bumping, and there is no room left for missing anything. Just the firm caress of Wilson's hands sliding up his thighs, the silk of his hair tangling in his fingers, the slow moisture of his tongue playing along the line of his lips. Less desperate now, but every bit as strangely determined, the solid reality of him confusing after all these years of dreams and wishes.
"So why are you?" Greg asks, kissing his way along Wilson's jaw, licking at the smooth skin beneath his ear.
"Hm? God, do that again..."
House smiles to himself against Wilson's neck, allows himself the luxury of doing it again, of enjoying the way James's breath catches in response before he clarifies the question. Or perhaps he's just stalling for time - he isn't sure he's going to like the answer. He can't do this without knowing, though.
"Why are you making out with a cripple?"
Wilson stiffens then. Pulls back carefully to look him in the eye.
Truth or dare.
"I realized that you will never let me save you," he says. "In fact, you would rather push yourself into an early grave than let me see you weak for even a second. You made that abundantly clear that night, and I was furious with you for it. On some level, I still am. But you know what? - I've been here before. Nine years ago, before I even met you, I was right here, and being angry didn't get me anything. Trying to help didn't get me anything. One day, you're not going to be around anymore, and there's not a thing I can do about that unless you want me to. Except be honest with myself, and with you, and take what I need before it's too late. This making out stuff happens to be pretty high on my list."
For a moment, House has no idea what to say. He is never speechless, though, that wouldn't do, and a witty remark has to be found somewhere.
"For a man of science," he says, "you sound suspiciously like one of my soaps."
"Ah," Wilson replies, with a wry smile that is half anger, half flirty self-confidence, "but soaps make you happy."
Which is the absolute truth.
"Come here," House says, his hands gripping Wilson's arms, pulling him along as he leans back in the chair. And Wilson follows, crawls on top of him, clearly wary of putting his weight in the wrong place, but not overly so. House can feel himself smiling through the ache in his heart.
What about Julie? he thinks about asking, but the question is irrelevant. Julie has been on her way out from the moment she entered Wilson's life, just like all the others, a mere transient in the grand scheme of things. This is what matters.
With greedy hands, he shoves the jacket from Wilson's shoulders, thirsty for the reassuring contact of skin on skin. James seems to be of the same mind, barely letting the jacket fall to the floor before he is tugging at Greg's t-shirt, hands slipping beneath it to roam his chest and stomach. The touches are possessive, restless, spurring him on, and he reaches upward, his mouth finding Wilson's neck again while his hand goes to work on the knot of his tie. Silk smooth as water flowing through his fingers, neat perfection coming undone, and then, as he begins to pop the buttons on the shirt, his tongue meets the hollow at the base of James's throat - a different kind of silk, fluttering with the vibrations of a speeding heartbeat, warm with the salt of rising sweat. Wilson's head falls back, lips parting around a broken inhalation, back arching in a curve that is pure, wanton sexuality. House can't suppress the groan it wrenches out of him.
James is astride him now, his every movement rubbing, grinding against his groin, making him lose all semblance of sanity. He needs... God, there is so much he needs, but begging is among the things he doesn't do, though at present it's hard to remember why. He does do crude, though; it's expected of him. So he grabs Wilson's hand, pushes it down to cup the bulge in his pants. Waits a second for the hint to sink in. Steels his voice with all the cutting snideness he can muster.
"Or don't nice Jewish boys put out on the first date?"
Wilson laughs; a short, shaky, disbelieving sound, the mid-coital equivalent of throwing up his hands and rolling his eyes. But then he bends down - slowly, deliberately - and puts his lips to Greg's ear. Hot breath on sensitive skin.
"That depends on your definition of 'put out'," he whispers. And squeezes.
Perfect, unbearable pressure, shattering the visuals of innumerable definitions that flicker through his brain. Pleasure sharp as electrocution, and his whole body convulses, nails digging into James's wrist so hard he might be drawing blood. Judging by the smug grin on his friend's face, he doesn't seem to mind.
Skilful fingers make short work of the buttons on his jeans, and then he is in Wilson's hand. Held, stroked, explored, every touch balancing on the edge where torture meets bliss. He can't remember the last time he was anywhere near this hard, anywhere close to such desperate arousal. He isn't exactly young anymore, and with the pills... But then, it's been a long time since he had this kind of stimulation. Hell, this is Wilson - he's never had this kind of stimulation. It's almost frightening what it can reduce him to.
Though Wilson is hardly unmoved, himself. Lower lip caught between his teeth, eyes glued to the stiff cock that fills his hand, shirt hanging open to reveal a chest heaving with rapid, shallow breaths. House runs his hands over that sleek, lean torso, before moving lower to unbuckle Wilson's belt. He can feel the erection straining beneath the wool as he struggles with the zipper, and it almost surprises him that his fingers are still steady by the time he manages to get it down. James's cock, as he frees it from the cotton underneath, is long and slender, as graceful as every other part of him. When Greg slides his thumb over the head, it jerks in his grip, and Wilson shivers, a deep, beautiful shudder that makes them both moan. It's as though James's reactions passed along his own nerves. He supposes there's nothing new about that.
So close together, but they could be closer still, and he brings their cocks into alignment, changes his grip to encircle them both. Waits for Wilson to do the same. The intimacy of it is crushing, perfect, enough to bring out the inner romantic he would never admit was there. Their hands sliding together, odd counterpoint rhythm that shouldn't really work, that feels amazing. His own palm, rough and callused from the cane; Wilson's fingers, delicate and sensitive. Moisture spreading between them, easing the friction, and the pace is relentless now, their bodies hurrying towards release.
Wilson's free hand comes up to grab the back of the chair, giving him purchase, and his hips thrust forward, again and again and again, until his every muscle tenses and contracts, and he's tumbling over the edge, cock spasming against House's shaft, eyes widening with the incongruous shock of fulfillment. The moment appears suspended in time, burning itself onto Greg's retinas, but in reality it can last no more than a second. Then James collapses, slumping forward, letting the chair back take his weight but leaning his forehead against Greg's. House's eyes drift closed, allowing him savor the heavy, ragged breaths that caress his face, and his arm wraps around Wilson's back, shielding him. There is something like a lump lodged in his throat, but he has no time to consider it, because James's hand has never stopped moving. Quick, eager strokes, and the sound he makes as they push him over is a strangled sob, tearing at his lungs.
Afterwards, he can't stop shaking, but Wilson has the surprising sense not to try and soothe him. They just sit there, pressed together, while their heart rates slow and the minutes tick by on their wrists. The silent connection is effortless, the way it's never been with anyone but James.
By the time they pull apart, the pain is a restless presence in his thigh, and sitting still is no longer an option. He is stupidly grateful when Wilson retrieves the cane for him without a word before he begins to button his shirt. They're going to need words before they part, though, or this isn't going to work out. All the things that Wilson said, they're never going to speak of those again, and he doesn't even know yet how he feels about them. But something has to be said now to show that they're okay, that none of this will stand between them. He's known what it's like to have Wilson mad at him for the last few weeks; he couldn't stand going back to that.
He rearranges his clothes and gets to his feet, walks over to the desk. Opens the book again without sitting down. Lets Wilson have a moment to get himself together. When he looks up again, James has his jacket on and is tying is necktie. Once he's done, no one will be able to tell that anything inappropriate has been happening here tonight. It would be easy to resent that, and for a second House wonders if Julie will smell him on her husband's skin when he gets home, if she will be able to tell who has touched him and made him come. Not that it matters; she is no part of this. It's a fact, though, that Julie hates green.
It's easy, when it comes down to it, to find something to say. It's the tone that's difficult, the exact level of nonchalance that makes the words safe.
"That really is a nice tie," he says, flipping through the book for the page he was on, letting it hold his attention. "You should wear it tomorrow when I take you out to dinner."
"You're taking me out to dinner?"
Slightly exaggerated disbelief, and he isn't even going to have to work for this. Wilson is already right there with him.
"Yes," he says, glancing up, shifting his weight to ease the pain. Wishing the endorphins took longer to wear off. "Haven't you heard? It's the kind of thing graying cripples do for their younger lovers to make them stick around."
The tiny quirk at the corner of Wilson's mouth doesn't make it into his voice at all. Half the reason why House's favorite pastime is trading banter with this man is that he can do it with such a straight face. If you didn't know him well enough to hear the undertones, you'd have no clue he wasn't serious.
"I was prepared to settle for being fucked within an inch of my life on a more regular basis," he says. "At least until you've put me in your will. Then I'll shove you down the stairs when no one is looking."
"You're already in my will. I had to put someone down for my General Hospital tapes."
Only half a truth, and he suspects James understands that. But after being offered tonight on a regular basis he's feeling magnanimous, and he doesn't mind giving that scrap of information away. Wilson isn't going to use it against him.
"In that case I'd watch my back if I were you," James says, running a hand through his hair. He looks impeccable. "Dinner tomorrow, then?"
The color rises in Wilson's cheeks at that remark, and he shakes his head as if to clear it, then says his goodnight. House waits until the door has swung shut behind him before he reaches for the Vicodin.
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Legal Disclaimer: The authors published here make no claims on the ownership of Dr. Gregory House and the other fictional residents of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Like the television show House (and quite possibly Dr. Wilson's pocket protector), they are the property of Fox Television, David Shore and undoubtedly other individuals of whom I am only peripherally aware. The fan fiction authors published here receive no monetary benefit from their work and intend no copyright infringement nor slight to the actual owners. We love the characters and we love the show, otherwise we wouldn't be here.