14. The Return of the Father
"Nice neighbourhood," the cab driver comments as he heaves the suitcase onto the sidewalk.
Wilson smiles. "Thanks."
"Good place to raise kids."
"I hope so." Wilson still has to get used to everyone talking about children, the ups and downs of raising them, and so on, the moment they spot Joel. Time was when people asked him who he was and what he did, and then he'd hear stories about parents, siblings, neighbours, and pets in various stages of cancer, the stories as depressing as hell. That's finally over; nowadays people's eyes merely skim over him before they home in on Joel. He has lost his own identity; now he is primarily 'Joel's dad'. Better than 'cancer guy', he figures.
"Need any help?" the cab driver asks. (Wilson tipped generously.)
"No, I'm fine." Do young mothers get as much consideration from strangers? People are perpetually stopping to lend a helping hand with the stroller, hold doors open for him, and compliment him on how well he's managing. It's a mystery to Wilson why complete strangers would feel competent to judge whether he's doing well; as far as he can make out, he is managing no better or worse than any other parent. What is it with people that they equate 'male' with 'innately too stupid to change a diaper'?
After the cab drives off, Wilson gazes at the house with a sense of familiarity that's premature considering that he has only lived here for a few weeks. He hasn't even gotten his furniture sorted yet, let alone decorated the apartment or organised window treatments. Maybe it's because the other apartments that he inhabited during the past three years were only temporary solutions to acute problems of one kind or another. This place isn't a 'quick fix'; it's the result of a planned decision on his part to settle down in Philadelphia and raise his son here. If anything, the past week has served to cement his decision to remain here, rather than move closer to Amy or to his family.
Something has changed since last he saw the house, though Wilson can't quite put his finger on it. He scans the front of the house, noting Cuddy's car is in the drive and behind it a car that he doesn't know, a bright violet Chevrolet Sonic. Not the kind of car House would want to be caught dead in, let alone drive around town, so whose is it?
Wilson takes Joel, blissfully asleep in his car seat, and the bigger suitcase up to the front door before returning for the other things, and then lets himself into the house. In the entryway he pauses. There are sounds coming from Cuddy's apartment (music?), so she must be there. He may as well greet her and check on her before going upstairs.
When he talked to her on the phone she seemed okay, so he has come to the conclusion that House's whine to the tune of 'Cuddy is in a terrible state!' was just another of House's convoluted manipulations, though he hasn't figured out yet what House was trying to achieve. What worries him a little is Cuddy's silent acquiescence to House's presence; he'd have thought that even if she was under the weather she'd protest volubly at having him around, but she seemed resigned. Does she feel she has to be nice to House for Joel's sake? … That needn't be a bad thing. It would make life vastly easier for Wilson if Cuddy and House returned to some kind of truce.
He takes Joel, and after knocking on the door to Cuddy's apartment, he lets himself in. It is music that he heard from the entryway, something oriental and soothing. Wilson advances into the living area — and stops short. Cuddy and a woman he doesn't know, both clad in yoga gear, are doubled over with their palms flat on the ground and their butts stretched upwards. Guiltily averting his gaze, Wilson wonders how anyone can bear to stretch their biceps femoris or their semitendinosus to that extent. That's when he sees the newest addition to the living area: a long, low table covered in Lego. Rachel is sitting there, adding the final touches to a major edifice. When she sees him she waves in greeting. Not wanting to interrupt Cuddy's yoga session, he gestures to her to come into the entryway before backing out of the living area.
A moment later Rachel is with him. "You're back!" she says.
"Obviously," Wilson says, tousling her hair. "What's going on here?"
"Pete said that Mom had to exercise, but she refused to go for runs with Pete after the first time, because she nearly collapsed and he called her a 'wuss', so he phoned her yoga teacher and told her to come. So Gilda is coming here every day now."
"I see. I heard you were staying with Julia."
"Yeah, but then Nana got into a fight with Pete. … Oops, you're not supposed to know that!"
Wilson feels weak at the knees, but there's no chair in the entryway, so he leans against the wall instead. "Pete and your nana had a fight," he mouths hollowly, rubbing his forehead with his hand.
Rachel looks around furtively. "Don't tell anyone. Mom and Julia think it was one of my teachers who called, but it was Pete because I asked him to call me, but then Nana took the phone and she told Pete she wanted to kill him or something, and then she told Julia and Rob that Mom is crazy, and … . You know what I mean." Rachel ends her tale, looking guilty and harassed.
Wilson doesn't quite know what she means. He can't make sense of her ramblings, but he gathers that House had a face-off with Arlene Cuddy — no, a voice-off — and that Cuddy doesn't know about it, which is a felicitous state of affairs.
"That explains why Pete isn't here, but not why you are back," he says to Rachel.
"Pete is here," Rachel says. "He's in my room, playing the piano. Very quietly, because he doesn't want to disturb Mom's yoga session."
"You've gotten a piano?" Apparently he has missed a development or two. The last he'd heard, Rachel was rooting for a dog.
"It's Pete's. He had to pick it up from somewhere near Princeton because they were going to turn it into firewood. Leastways, that's what he said they'd do if he didn't bring it here, but I think they would have sold it and kept the money."
With a guilty pang Wilson remembers the storage unit whose lease he'd terminated in a fit of anger. Now, having cooled down again, he's glad that House managed to rescue the piano.
"Why is the piano in your room?" he asks Rachel.
"Pete says the living room isn't a good place."
"And your mom?"
Rachel scrunches up her face. "She doesn't think anywhere is a good place. She likes listening to Pete play, but she doesn't like having the piano here. Pete says you gotta make sacrifices for the sake of art, but Mom says she might just as well listen to a good CD that she can turn off when it gets on her nerves."
Oh, dear! He needs to take a look at this.
"Will you keep an eye on Joel, please?" he says to Rachel. Joel is still asleep in his car seat, but Wilson would rather not have Rachel witness a confrontation between House and himself.
As he gets closer to Rachel's room Wilson hears the piano tinkling — something bluesy. House is playing very quietly indeed. He looks up when Wilson enters the room and stops playing, his hands resting on the keys. Wilson looks around the room, the arrangement of the furniture putting a damper on his mood. What is House thinking, cluttering up Rachel's bedroom with a grand piano?
"Great, House," he mutters, his hands cutting through the air. "Just great!"
House remains seated at the piano, but he moves his hands to his lap. Wilson walks over to the window willing himself not to overreact, because he won't be doing anyone a favour if he drives House away at this stage. He looks outside, not really focusing on anything, when he realises something is different there too.
"What happened to the yard?" he asks. The lawn, which was somewhere between 'wild flower meadow' and 'untamed wilderness' when he left, is now a barren wasteland. Or (if one is a 'the-glass-is-half-full' sort of person) an earthworm paradise. Furthermore, someone has taken a chain saw and shortened each and every bush and shrub to a uniform height — knee level. Now Wilson can place the change he noticed on the front of the house when he arrived: there, too, everything has been subjected to a good trim, though not quite as radically as in the back yard.
House plays a dissonant chord. "I, uh, hired a gardener."
"Not a lumber jack?"
"Hernandez assures us that he has twenty years' experience and that his previous employers were fully satisfied with his abilities." House's face is straight.
"Who were his previous employers, soy farmers deforesting the Amazon basin? Get someone else before Cuddy throws a fit."
"Lisa sat down for a 'talk' with Hernandez, during which he told her about his five children and fifteen grandchildren, how his wife died of cancer, the mortgage on his house, etc." House rolls his hand. "After that, she said it might be easier to install a swing set and a sandbox and to put up a fence to keep the non-existent dog in, now that Hernandez has 'tamed' the yard."
Wilson sighs. "Then I'd better get used to him. Anything else I need to know?"
"I also hired someone to do the cleaning."
"Wonderful!" Come to think of it, that is rather wonderful. It's almost too good to be true, House sitting down and hiring people. There has to be a reason. "How's Cuddy?"
"She's okay, more or less. Even shaved her legs today."
Wilson prefers not to ask. And hopes that he can stop himself from staring at her legs when next he sees her, which would be little better than staring at her ass.
Coming to stand next to him, House stares at the remains of a rhododendron. "Lisa wouldn't let me hire a babysitter for Rachel, though, so you need to get that done sometime soon. Summer vacation's starting in a few days, and there's nothing in place for Rachel yet, as far as I know."
"Piano, babysitter," Wilson repeats to himself.
"Piano?" House queries.
"It can't stay in here," Wilson says brusquely. "The babysitter can wait. As far as I know, Rachel is going on vacation with Julia and her family right after school closes for the summer, so we just need to cover the next few days." He looks straight at House so there's no misunderstanding as to whom he means when he says, 'we'.
"Uh, no," House says. "Now you're back, I'm outta here."
"I'm going back to work on Monday. An excellent opportunity for you to bond with your son," Wilson says.
He waits for a moment for that to sink in, for House to realise that Wilson has acknowledged his paternity, then he goes in search of Cuddy. She's sitting on the couch in the living room with Joel in her arms. There's no sign of the yoga teacher, who must have left in the meantime.
"Hey, Wilson," Cuddy says. "Joel woke up, and Rachel insisted that he needed to be taken out of his car seat." Cuddy's complexion is paler than usual and a bit of concealer under her eyes wouldn't hurt, but other than that she seems no different from when he left.
"He does!" Rachel says. "Wilson always takes him out when he wakes up."
"I brought you something," Wilson says to Rachel. "It's in the big suitcase, right on top. Think you can open the suitcase all by yourself? It's out in the entryway."
"Sure," Rachel says, diverted, and she's off.
Wilson waits until she has disappeared, then he sits down next to Cuddy. "What happened?" he asks. "With you, I mean."
She hugs Joel. "Oh, you lovely little boy!" Then, to Wilson, "Nothing, really. It was stupid. If I'd recognised the signs quicker, no one would have noticed and there wouldn't have been such a commotion. Anyway, once Julia took Rachel, everything was okay. I should have gotten a housekeeper in place before moving here, that's all."
"So I subjected you to a week of House for nothing," Wilson says. Only now, upon returning and finding House ensconced in Cuddy's part of the house, has it struck him that making House stay to keep an eye on Cuddy may have been more of an imposition on Cuddy than on House. House and Cuddy hadn't been on speaking terms ever since House's last short visit, so Wilson had assumed that House would withdraw to the upstairs apartment, checking on Cuddy every now and then and maybe ensuring that she got medical aid as and when necessary. He hadn't reckoned with House intruding into Cuddy's life or encroaching on her living space, turning it into his playground.
"It was fine," Cuddy says. Catching his doubtful expression she gives him a wan smile and adds, "Really, it was. He's been doing his best."
"And the piano?"
Cuddy almost chuckles. "Yes, that threw me off for a moment, too. But I've gotten used to it, and he does play beautifully. Besides, that's partly your fault, isn't it?"
He relieves her of Joel, inwardly shaking his head at how quickly she has succumbed to House's charm again. She puts a hand on his arm.
"Wilson, he's trying to be who you want him to be. He really is. He stuck it out with me even though I spent the entire week whining and moping and ignoring his advice, and he even volunteered to pick Rachel up from Princeton on Wednesday. He re-arranged my entire book collection just so I wouldn't figure out that he has taken all my books on child raising to read secretly. He wants to be a good father."
"But you did figure out that the parenting books are missing," Wilson points out, "so it could have been one of his deliberate ploys, where you think you've caught him at something, but he intended to get discovered all along."
"I only figured it out because I was looking for them so I could lend them to you," Cuddy says. "Otherwise I'd never have noticed in a hundred years. I quit reading them years ago."
There's a thump and a crash from the entryway, presumably a suitcase tipping over. He goes out and finds Rachel leaning crazily out of her wheelchair, trying to reach the zipper.
"I managed to lay it down," she says excitedly, "but it was tough."
"Will you hold Joel while I open the suitcase?" he asks, not particularly wanting to explain to Cuddy how her daughter fell out of her wheelchair at his instigation.
When Rachel pauses, undecided, he puts Joel unceremoniously on her lap and turns his attention to the suitcase, extricating a wrapped package before Rachel can complain. Rachel nearly drops Joel in excitement, whereupon Wilson drops the package and lunges for Joel. In the end everything is as it should be. Joel, unflappable, is back in his arms and Rachel is ripping the wrapping to shreds.
"Mom, Mom!" she yells. "It's a helicopter, a real helicopter that can fly! Thanks, Wilson, you're the greatest!" And she's off to show her trophy to her mother.
"You shouldn't have," Cuddy says to Wilson when he rejoins her in the living area.
"It'll keep her and House happy," Wilson says, smiling.
An hour later Wilson leads three men into Rachel's room. They immediately start dismantling the baby grand's legs.
"Where do you want us to take it?" one of them asks.
"Nowhere," House, who is leaning against the doorframe with folded arms and an expressionless face, says.
Wilson's mouth tightens. "Upstairs," he says. "I'll go ahead."
Up on his floor the possibilities are even more limited than downstairs. Really, there's only the living room; all the other rooms are either too small or too close to Joel's room. Wilson has no illusions about House's playing habits. Minor considerations such as sleeping infants won't deter him when the muse kisses him. House won't be pleased, because the factors that prompted House to reject Cuddy's living area as a potential location for the piano doubtless apply to Wilson's living room as well. As Wilson shifts the coffee table to a corner, House comes in.
"I think they've gotten stuck on the stairs," he says with a show of indifference.
Wilson stops what he's doing to listen. There's grunting and muted shouts from the stairs, but the tone isn't desperate. This is the third time at the very least that he is witnessing House's piano being transported, and so far it always worked out somehow.
"You want to put it in here?" House asks.
Wilson prepares for battle. "Yes," he says tersely.
House wordlessly leaves the room. Wilson hears him opening and shutting doors and then senses him brooding in the doorway.
Turning his head, Wilson says, "Quit exuding disapproval. If you don't like the location, then put the piano back into storage. I'm not stopping you."
"It's a good piano," House says, "not a jukebox. It needs —"
Wilson straightens. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard all this before. I was there when you bought the piano, House, and I'm fully aware that it's special. Very special, indeed. Your piano buying spree isn't something I'm likely to forget in a hurry."
He'd spent a miserable night in a New Orleans jail, among thugs and drunks, mourning his marriage, berating himself for his stupidity, and generally not getting any sleep, only to be bailed out in the wee hours of the morning by a complete stranger. A creepy stranger who insisted that Wilson buy him breakfast. Fair enough, Wilson thought, wondering whether the guy was hitting on him. But House didn't hit on him during or after breakfast, not noticeably at least. Instead, he dragged Wilson from one piano seller's to the next, ignoring Wilson's initially polite and then increasingly irritated excuses that he was tired and needed a shower and sleep. House must have played over fifty pianos in the course of the day, some of them more than once, before homing in on the one now stuck somewhere on the stairs. It was only back in his hotel room that night, taking a shower and finally getting into clean clothes, that Wilson realised that he hadn't thought of Sam even once during the day.
House finally shuts up, hovering while the piano is set up, but calming down noticeably once the movers have departed. He sits down immediately and starts playing.
"Not too loudly," Wilson admonishes him. "Joel is sleeping already."
House shows no sign of having heard him, but Wilson notes that the volume slowly decreases while the tune morphs from something funky to a lullaby. He goes into the kitchen to sort a few odds and ends that he picked up from Cuddy's place into the fridge. Then he unpacks, and when that's done he decides that he has given House enough time to sulk. He returns to the living room with two cans of soda. House has stopped playing. He's sitting there, picking out notes with one hand, frowning at the keys. Even Wilson's unschooled ears can hear that the piano would benefit from a tuning. Wilson puts House's can and a coaster on the piano. His own soda and the baby monitor he places on a moving box. He hasn't gotten a couch or armchairs yet either, so he goes to the kitchen and drags two chairs back into the living room.
"When are you buying furniture?" House asks.
Wilson eyes him with distaste. He's been postponing the task for at least four weeks now, and it doesn't look any more attractive now than it did then.
"I've got a couch and a coffee table in storage," House volunteers. "Want them too?"
"Too?" Wilson echoes, not sure what to make of this offer.
"In addition to the piano," House elaborates, flicking his free hand.
Wilson stares at him. House is offering the use of his furniture? He doesn't know what to say; the only thing that comes to his mind is that he doesn't want the piano, but that wouldn't be helpful at this point.
"And a closet. Solid oak," House continues undeterred.
"You're suggesting I take your furniture?" Wilson says slowly.
"Yeah. Unless you don't like it. But you're not particular about furniture," House says.
"And you know that because?"
"Because you lived in that apartment in Germantown for over six months without changing a single damn thing. If you want the furniture, just say so."
"You don't want it?"
House huffs impatiently. "I'll see more of it if it's here than if it's in storage."
Wilson struggles to get his mind around the fact that House's furniture, most of which he's had for as long as Wilson can remember, isn't 'House's' furniture any longer. House can't remember buying it or living with it. He has furniture in Bristol that he considers his own now; the things in the storage unit are artefacts of a stranger's life.
"I'll take it," Wilson says. "That couch has a depression that fits my butt cheeks exactly. The closet can go in the guest room." Which is where House will stay from now on.
House nods and goes back to playing arpeggios with one hand.
"What about the piano?" Wilson asks. "Have you considered shipping it to England?"
House shakes his head without interrupting his activity. "Got an upright over there already, and no space for a grand." But he's not as definitive about it as with the furniture.
Wilson sits down on one of the chairs and picks up his soda. House makes no move to join him. Time to extend the olive branch, Wilson decides. It'll have to be done sooner or later, anyway. "You did well with Cuddy," he says. "So far, she hasn't asked me to help her murder you and dispose of the body."
House's expression grows broodier, if anything, and the arpeggio he's playing switches from major into minor.
"The yoga sessions were a good idea," Wilson plods on valiantly.
"Leaving me here to cope with her was a bad idea," House mutters.
Wilson feels a wave of guilt rise in him. He shouldn't have coerced House into staying in Philly; it was unnecessary, awkward for both House and Cuddy, and an imposition on House.
"House, it worked just fine. She was raving about how you volunteered to bring Rachel back the moment she mentioned it. She says you were a help and that you did a great job: you didn't lose your calm and you took care of her needs." That's not quite what Cuddy said — come to think of it, she didn't really say much — but Wilson is perfectly willing to embellish the facts to make his point.
House's hand slips and then falters. "I took care of her needs and she took care of mine. Fucking symbiotic we were!" He plays a jangling chord that doesn't sound symbiotic or harmonic at all.
"What's that?" Wilson says.
"She didn't tell you about the blow job?" House asks, not taking his eyes from the keys.
"Blow job? No," Wilson says with a sinking feeling. He guesses the outward calm here in Drexel was too good to be true.
"She gave me a blow job. Kinda nice of her, don't you think?"
But House is deadly earnest, there's no doubt about that. There isn't the slightest hint of mockery or amusement in his face.
Wilson tries again. "Why'd she give you a blow job?"
House pauses, pretending to think. Then he says, "No idea. You'll have to ask her."
"How did you react?" Wilson asks, hoping that House will say he refused it, stopped it, or aborted it in some manner, but knowing from the way that House is talking about it that it took place.
House lifts his eyebrows in an exaggerated manner. "I did what any gentleman would do in such a situation: I accepted the situation with grace."
"Nothing," House says. "I offered to return the favour, but she spurned my offer. I admit that I was pained; my skills at cunnilingus are generally admired." He waves a hand in a foppish manner, but his eyes still don't meet Wilson's.
"House, you … !" Words fail Wilson. He needs to find out what happened, what really happened. This could be a serious complication. Did House take advantage of Cuddy's vulnerability or proffer help in return for sexual favours? The mind boggles! Or is all this a figment of his imagination, brought on by a relapse and too much Vicodin? He can't see any signs of drug abuse, but then, House knows how to hide it. He rises and picks up the baby monitor.
"Don't disappear!" he instructs House. Then he goes downstairs.
Cuddy is in the living area, sitting on the couch with her knees drawn up under her chin and her arms clasped around her legs, watching television — Grey's Anatomy. That's so unusual that Wilson stops short. Normally, Cuddy has a pile of papers that she works through once Rachel is in bed. On the rare occasion that she grants herself an 'evening off', she either reads or she watches feature films and police procedurals. Cuddy has little patience with the trials and tribulations of fictional medical universes.
He sits down next to her, wondering how to broach the subject. "I didn't know you watched medical series," he says, stalling.
Cuddy frowns at the screen. "The patient is dying, and they're all standing around discussing their private problems. It's stupid! ... But it's relaxing."
That's his cue. "Talking of relaxing," he says, "House says you gave him a blow job."
He waits for her to deny it with a show of indignation or to make a barbed comment about House's vivid sexual fantasies, but instead she drops her forehead on her knees.
"Oh, God!" she says. "I was hoping that I'd dreamed that!"
Wilson doesn't quite know what to make of her reaction. "So it's true?" he asks, perplexed.
"I suppose so. Oh, frick! I'll never be able to look him in the face again." She raises her head and says querulously, "Why'd he have to tell you? You two are such gossips! If he hadn't told you —"
"A sexual act isn't Schrödinger's cat; not talking about it won't make it un-happen, Cuddy," he says with a touch of asperity.
"Don't you start talking in metaphors too!"
Wilson briefly considers explaining Schrödinger's cat to her, but his grasp of quantum physics is limited and it's beside the point anyway. "Tell me what happened."
Cuddy turns her head towards him, leaning her cheek on her knees now. "It was the day he picked Rachel up from Julia's place. I went to bed early because ... I was tired, so he must have helped Rachel get ready for bed. Anyway, I awoke around one a.m. and heard sounds from in here, so I went to check whether it was Rachel, but it was Pete — watching porn. I told him to cut it out in case Rachel woke and caught him at it."
He's with her so far. Honestly, does House have to watch porn in Cuddy's living room?
Cuddy continues, "He said he'd hear Rachel in time if she got up, but I doubt it. He didn't hear me coming."
"Or he chose to ignore you."
"Think I should have taken the chance?"
Wilson shakes his head. Rachel is notorious for roaming the apartment at night, and Cuddy has the right to demand that her living room be a porn-free zone.
"Anyway," Cuddy continues, "so I ripped the DVD out of the player, took it to the kitchen, and threw it in the trash."
Okay, that was — radical. Chances are that House didn't get a warning, let alone a second or third one, before being deprived of his property.
"He followed me, kvetching all the way, so I dragged him off to his room and … . You know what happened then." She buries her face in her knees again.
Wilson isn't sure that he does. "He asked you — coerced you into performing oral sex on him?"
Cuddy shakes her head without lifting it. Her answer is muffled by her knees. "No, I … pushed him down onto his bed and just … did it. Omigod, I can't believe I did that! He hasn't mentioned it since then — no knowing smirk, no indirect allusion, nothing — so I was convinced I'd dreamed it. I've had a lot of weird dreams lately, so it seemed the most likely explanation."
"You … you got excited and carried away by the porn, so you …" Wilson surmises, as much to find an explanation for what happened as to comfort her.
Cuddy's head snaps up again. "No! I didn't watch it. I switched it off the moment I saw what he was watching. I'm not a fan anyway." She sighs. "There's no excuse."
"Okay, and then?"
"What happened then?"
Cuddy looks at him blankly. "I went to bed."
"You didn't … he didn't …?" Wilson stammers.
Comprehension dawns on Cuddy's face. "Wilson, I didn't want sex. I didn't do it because I wanted to get off. An orgasm was the last thing I needed."
Wilson feels discombobulated. "Then why — why — did you get him off?"
"He was taking care of me, he'd just brought Rachel back to me, he couldn't play the piano to relax because it was in Rachel's bedroom, and I wasn't even letting him watch his porn. I had to make it up to him somehow."
"With a blow job," Wilson says, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Should I have slipped him a couple of Vicodin instead?" She blows a stray lock out of her face. "Since he was watching porn, it seemed a safe bet that he wanted sex. … Shoot, I can't believe I did that!"
Neither can Wilson. "You do know that there are alternatives to offering him sex or drugs."
"You could have sent him away to … ." He trails off uncertainly.
"To do what? Pick up a hooker? Get wasted at a bar? The last time I threw him out, I had to pick him up from a nightclub afterwards, and I didn't feel up to that. Besides, he was this close to a relapse." She holds thumb and forefinger half an inch apart. "Sending him out into the night didn't seem a good idea."
"What do you mean, 'he was this close to a relapse'?" Wilson asks, his heart thumping. House, don't! This is not a good time to have a melt-down.
Cuddy's eyes slide away and she picks at imaginary lint. "You know how he gets: all manic and obsessive and turned inward."
Yes, he does. He has noticed it too: House's mood, the signs of stress, old patterns resurfacing. "You could have sent him upstairs to my place where he could have watched his porn in peace. I don't get why he didn't sleep there in the first place."
"He didn't suggest it, and it didn't seem right to let him mess up your apartment, not when you weren't talking to him. … Do you even have a TV up there?"
"It's still packed, but yeah."
Cuddy leans back tiredly, her head against the back of the couch. "I guess I should have done that. I didn't think of it. … How am I ever going to face him again? What the hell was I thinking? … What did he say about it?"
"Was he gloating?" she asks bitterly. "I'm such an idiot!"
Wilson agrees silently. Aloud, he says, "No, he wasn't. He seemed confused."
"Oh. … That makes two of us." She rises. "What am I going to do?"
"You could apologise," Wilson suggests.
"I didn't rape him," Cuddy says. "He was surprised, but not unwilling."
"I didn't say you molested him or anything," Wilson hastens to say, "nor did he. I don't think he exactly minded."
"Well, he probably minds now," Cuddy points out.
"Only because he has no idea what's going on between you. He hates that."
"Everyone does," Cuddy says dispassionately. "Nothing is going on; you can tell him that."
"I'm not playing messenger boy for either of you," Wilson clarifies.
Cuddy raises her eyebrows. "No? Then why are you here?"
"Curiosity. Damage control. Making sure my friend doesn't get hurt. Take your pick."
Cuddy harrumphs. Then she says thoughtfully, "Maybe I don't have to say or do anything at all. When is he leaving?"
"Not in the near future," Wilson says, coming to a decision. Desirable as it would be to put a few thousand miles between Cuddy and House, he has axes of his own to grind. He can't put his plans on hold until they've gotten themselves sorted, because experience shows that neither of them is ever really 'sorted'. They'll have to muddle through, the three of them. Dropping a bomb on them now is bad timing, what with House craving opiates and Cuddy down in the dumps, but it can't be helped. This is one of the days when he wishes he'd married a sweet uncomplicated girl, settled down, and had a family. Then he'd be paying college fees now and waiting for the first grandchild to arrive, instead of helping his weird friends to get their lives untangled and making provisions for an infant who, even at an optimistic estimate, will barely make it to adulthood before he dies.
"Go to bed, Cuddy," he says. "It's done now. You'll survive. You'd be surprised at how many mortifying moments you can survive without showing any outward scars."