readingrat: (Kelpie)
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Chapter 15: Wilson's Plan C

After Wilson's departure he sits staring at his hands a while longer. He'd really love to hammer away on the piano — something noisy and sufficiently uplifting to keep him from thinking, like Van Halen's 'Jump' — but if he wakes Joel ...

Not an option, so he finally gets up and closes the lid of the piano. He needs a distraction though, so he roots through Wilson's moving boxes in search of the television. He's sure Wilson has one because he made Wilson get a decent one when Wilson moved from Cuddy's apartment in Germantown to the downstairs one he'd rented from the academic couple on sabbatical. Finding and setting up a flatscreen, however, doesn't prove to be challenging enough to keep his thoughts at bay.

Until recently his relationship with Lisa was clearly defined: Lisa was She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Dated. Paradoxically, this wasn't because he was worried about her dumping him (although that was Wilson's primary objection to the relationship, as far as Pete could make out), but because he feared that she mightn't dump him even if she wanted to.

He'd explained it to her when he had ended their relationship after finding out his true identity: if at any point she wanted to leave him, she would be incapable of doing so because there was a good chance that he was the kind of guy who would commit random acts of violence against her and her daughter. He didn't feel particularly inclined towards violence, she didn't seem to believe he was an abuser, but — they'd never know for sure. Dating a woman who flinched or had flashbacks whenever he yelled at her and who in the future might only stay with him because she'd be too scared to leave, simply wasn't an attractive proposition, so — he'd left her instead.

After ending their relationship he aimed for 'distanced politeness' towards her. Politeness wasn't exactly his forte, but he prided himself on his ability to keep people at arm's length (or more), and Lisa was too proud to throw herself at someone who showed no interest in her. Besides, they had little reason to deal with each other: they were on different continents, their paths crossing only when their mutual friendship with Wilson made a meeting inevitable.

Wilson's thymoma forced them to work together for some time (and maybe Pete abused her weakness for him in order to talk her into volunteering to be Wilson's live donor), but he didn't have any intention of hanging around her for longer than strictly necessary once Wilson's health issues were resolved. He wasn't blind: he could see that she still found him attractive (against all reason). Forcing his proximity on her when he had no intention of resuming their relationship wouldn't have been fair.

For a while it had seemed as though they would gradually lose sight of each other anyway: Wilson was to move to New York to be closer to the child, where Pete would visit them in order to keep an eye both on Wilson and on the sprog. Wilson would be increasingly involved with his family, the contact with Lisa would gradually taper off, and Pete would only see her again when a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah necessitated both their presence. And maybe one day they'd be comfortable in each other's company again, enjoying an easy camaraderie based on mutual liking and understanding.

Or so he thought.

And then his good intentions were taken apart at the seams and put together again in a completely different pattern. Wilson got saddled with the brat and put down roots in Philadelphia.

He wasn't blind to the changes that Wilson's altered family status would induce. Doubtless Lisa would play a major rule in Wilson's family life, which in turn meant that Pete would need to get along with her on more than a rudimentary I-need-your-liver level. But hey, he could handle that! He was capable of banishing all memories of 'Lisa the Girlfriend', seeing her only as 'Lisa the Housemate of his Best Buddy'. Lisa and he were both adults, capable of controlling those hormone-driven impulses that led lesser mortals to throw caution to the winds. Besides, he was well aware of the advantages of having a medically trained person in Wilson and the child's proximity, what with Wilson's multitudinous medical issues.

So, until that fateful day in Paris, he was convinced that all was well under control and that he could indulge in an occasional shower fantasy without endangering the fragile peace between Lisa and himself. (It wasn't like he was obsessing about her — his shower fantasies weren't monogamous by any standard!) But then Wilson dropped his bombshell: he wanted to marry Lisa and have her adopt the parasite!

To this day he isn't sure why his reaction to Wilson's revelation was so strong, but perhaps Nolan was right about personal contact with his son having a major impact on him. However that may be, it can't be helped now. His brain short-circuited and he kissed Lisa, not intending to ensnare her again, but solely from a desire to keep Wilson from putting his plan into action. He has noticed in the past that when he sets himself a target, he takes the shortest route to achieving it without heeding the collateral damage he causes along the way. That was pretty much what happened in Paris: when he kissed Lisa he was so focused on Wilson's reaction that he completely blanked out all thought of Lisa's interpretation of his actions.

Once the initial euphoria of wrecking Wilson's plan wore off, however, a critical examination of his actions told him that he'd screwed Lisa over royally, creating false expectations that he had no intentions of fulfilling, so he'd lain low, ignoring Lisa's messages and hoping that if he did nothing at all, everything would return to normal.

That was before Wilson found out that he wasn't Joel's father. Since then, Wilson has been devising plans that Pete can't afford to ignore.

Wilson has some maudlin notion about enabling Pete to stay in contact with his child, not only for the present, but also in case of his death. Wilson would deny anything of the sort, but his actions speak loud and clear: he hasn't tried to keep Pete away from Joel, no matter how indifferent Pete seems to the kid or how badly he messes with Wilson's head. Wilson wants Pete in Joel's life from a misplaced sense of guilt about raising the kid under the pretence of being his biological father. (Wilson probably lies awake at night imagining how Joel, on discovering that Wilson isn't his progenitor, will walk out of Wilson's life slamming the door behind him.) Therefore, he needs a future guardian for Joel whom he can trust with the secret of Joel's parentage, who doesn't have moral scruples about duping Joel's mother, and who is prepared to accept Pete's presence in Joel's life as part of the package deal.

There aren't many people who fit Wilson's bill. In fact, given Wilson's secretive nature there's only one person: Lisa. She already knows about Joel's parentage and she won't hesitate to sideline Amy. It's merely a question of time before Wilson suggests the arrangement to Lisa, and doubtless she'll agree.

Equally doubtless, however, is that the arrangement will be an imposition on her. She'll be forced to deal with her ex-boyfriend, the guy who ... . (Pete can replace the ellipsis in his thoughts with at least three examples of how he messed with Lisa's head — and that isn't even counting events that he's heard of, but can't remember!) If she ever dates in earnest, she'll have to explain to her boy-toy/man-child/status symbol why she's allowing her unstable ex to descend on her household and hijack one of her charges. Even if Pete were inclined towards optimism (which he isn't), he wouldn't be able to pretend to himself that there was any chance of such an arrangement working in the long run.

Besides, although in principle he has no major issue with Lisa dating other guys, in practice he'd rather not have his child raised by the likes of Lucas Douglas. Since Lisa's taste in men leaves a little something to be desired — first Douglas, then himself — there's really only one way to keep her from dragging some unsavoury character out of the gutter into her life.

He's going to have to date Lisa Cuddy again.

He came to that conclusion long before arriving in Philadelphia to keep an eye on Lisa. After pondering the pros and cons of such an arrangement, he is convinced that he wouldn't mind being in a relationship with Lisa. She's easy on the eyes, fun to be with (when she doesn't have the blues), unflappable, and absolutely unscrupulous. He likes that. True, she's bossy as hell (which is kinda hot) and not exactly what he'd call 'low maintenance', but he figures that if things get too hot for him, he can flee to England and wait for her to cool down again. That's the upside of long distance relationships: you don't have to stick it out on the couch. (Besides, he has an inkling that he doesn't do low maintenance relationships. He's apparently the type who likes complicated, hard-to-please women with a strong attitude.) He has always liked Lisa, right from the day he barged into her life in a Bristol hotel. From that moment on he tried to get into her panties until he finally got into them, and he would have stayed in them — and very nice ones they are! — if he hadn't found out that he'd done his goddam best to knock her out of them into an early grave a few years earlier.

So, setting aside the small matter of his pride and his natural reluctance to date a woman whose life he pretty much ruined, there is no reason why he shouldn't date Lisa Cuddy — and a lot of good reasons why he should.

Until Wednesday evening he'd believed that Lisa saw the matter in the same light. True, she didn't exactly fall around his neck in gratitude when he appeared at her doorstep, but — she didn't kick him out either. She didn't even make him stay at Wilson's place, but accepted his presence in her guest room. She let him run her life, she accepted his presence at her therapy session, she allowed him to chauffeur her around the place. He'd assumed that once Lisa was fully recovered, she'd ... signal acquiescence to the general idea of getting involved with him again. All he'd need to do was make an attempt to get things to work between them.

This past week he has been trying to make things work (on a very basic, non-romantic level), but the going has been rough. For one thing, staying on Lisa's sunny side when she is all Dark Side of the Moon is no trivial matter, not when it is also his task to ensure that Lisa does a heap of things she doesn't feel like doing, like exercising, eating, sleeping regularly, and generally getting her life back into sync. (Besides, cosseting people isn't precisely his primary area of competence.) Then there were a few unexpected setbacks: he hadn't meant to cause a ruckus with Grandma Cuddy, let alone grace Lisa's place with a baby grand, but there's no denying that both factors weighed in against him and his limited natural charm. It was as though some inner demon of his was trying to hinder Lisa's progress towards recovery.

As a result, on Wednesday evening he was stressed and demotivated, but he didn't dare to go out to score some more weed, because he wasn't sure that he'd stop at weed. Besides, he had a sneaky suspicion that even if he stayed off opiates, Lisa wouldn't approve if he smoked a reefer on her deck now that Rachel was back at home. Same with booze: if he drank now, he'd get shit-faced, and then there'd be hell to pay. So, he opted for porn to keep his mind off other distractions.

He wasn't really surprised when Lisa marched into the living area and put a stop to his voyeuristic pleasures, but he put up a token protest when she threw his DVD into the trash, partly because he felt it was expected of him, partly because picking a fight with Lisa was also a form of distraction. When she took his arm and dragged him to his bedroom, he assumed she was going to lock him in so as to stop him from going back to watching porn once she went back to bed. He made a few lewd comments as she hustled him through the door and a few more when she pushed him down onto his bed, but he didn't really mean them. In fact, if he'd had the slightest premonition that she might take him at his word, he'd never have mentioned wanting some head (or any other sex-related activity). He expected her to leave him then and there, but she briskly undid his jeans ('She's kidding', he thought), pulled down his boxers ('She's bluffing', he thought. 'Let's see how she'll get out of this!'), and took his cock in her mouth (he stopped thinking).

By the time his brain started working again, she was rising, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Ignoring the hand he was holding out to her to pull her closer, she turned around and left the room instead. Once he'd managed to pull up his boxers and jeans he followed her, catching up with her at the door of her bedroom.

"Goodnight, House," she said.

"Hey, don't you want —?"

"I'm tired, okay?"

Next thing, he was staring at the door of her bedroom and listening to the lock click into place.

He's been waiting for her to mention what happened, if only to vituperate him, ever since. (He doesn't quite see how it was his fault, but he's pretty sure that somehow he'll get the blame.) But Lisa hasn't referred to the 'incident' even once; it's as though it never happened. Has she had a complete blackout? If she has, then she's in a worse state than he estimated. Did he imagine it all? Nope; he was neither drunk nor high. It happened — he's sure of that, even though he has no clue as to why it happened.

Putting Wilson on the case is a last-ditch effort to figure out what's going on, but he isn't sanguine about the outcome. Chances are that Lisa, stretched too thin and insecure as hell about ten thousand different things — beginning with her parenting skills and ending with her ability to do her job — misinterpreted something he said or did and is now telling Wilson in long and gory detail what an ass Pete is and how she'd love to scoop out his balls with a grapefruit spoon. There's nothing for it but to wait and to hope that Wilson is too tired from the journey and the upheavals of the day to toss him out on his backside immediately.

Wilson returns half an hour later, by which time Pete has plugged in the television and found a brain-rotting medical show of the type that Wilson hates. In addition, he has helped himself to another can of soda and a packet of chips.

Wilson doesn't say anything. Glancing at Pete's feet up on a moving box, he drags over another moving box for his own feet. Then he sits down and holds out his hand for the chips. Pete hands them over wordlessly.

"Cuddy's also watching that," Wilson says, nodding at the television.

If he's trying to approach the topic obliquely, he's not doing a good job.

Wilson tips his head to the side. "Perhaps she'd profit from a stay in a psychiatric institution."

Pete considers possible replies to that, like, 'If you commit everyone who goes down on me, there'll be no beds for the real crazies' or, 'We'd profit from her staying in an institution', but discards them in favour of a non-committal grunt. He's uncommonly lucky that Wilson is choosing to focus on Lisa's part in this instead of picking on him, so he'd better not call negative attention to himself. Besides, they both know that regardless of whether in-patient treatment would profit Lisa or not — Pete for one isn't convinced of the efficacy of therapy in any form —, she will never agree to anything that'll condemn her to inactivity and group therapy.

"What did she say?" he asks. It comes out all garbled because of the chips, but Wilson gets his meaning.

"She said nothing happened," Wilson says flatly. "As in, Forget that it happened!"

"The Groundhog Day kind of forgetting?" Pete asks without much hope.

Wilson snorts. "You wish! The 'It won't happen again, ever!' kind. The 'Don't mention it, or your balls will be on display as gate ornaments!' kind of —"

Pete holds up his hand. "Yeah, yeah, got it. I'm good at obliterating memories. Two electrodes and a teensy bit of voltage is all I need."

"You could also stick a knife into an outlet," Wilson suggests with a poker face. "Or run a car into a house again. ... For starters, just stay away from her."

And that's it. Wilson eats chips, gets himself a fresh can of soda, comments on the lame medicine and the even lamer plot of the episode they're watching, and meditates on the ratio between his income and that of a B-rate actor — topics of conversation that Pete can join in without engaging more than twenty percent of his brain. The other eighty percent continue to brood on the epic fail of Wednesday evening. So much for making things work with Lisa!

Wilson rejects Pete's plan to avoid Lisa by returning to England without delay.

"I'm starting my new job in oncology on Monday," he says.

"You've got a nanny," Pete grouses. "You don't need me."

"This isn't about my needs," Wilson says pointedly. "This is your chance to get to know Joel without me peering over your shoulder and making tsk-ing noises all the time."

What's there to get to know? The kid is predictable and absolutely normal — boring, in short. He lies around drooling on everything. When he's in a truly adventurous mood he rolls over, but that's about it. Developmental highlights are not to be expected in the near future. Pete knows better, however, than to say anything of the sort to Wilson, because parents are damned touchy about their kids and interpret a lack of interest as a downright insult. Besides, he's aware that Wilson has another reason to desire his continued presence: Wilson is waiting for a suitable moment to get Lisa's consent to his custody plans; he has been making oblique references to custody arrangements ever since his return from Boston. Wilson knows that Lisa will make her consent to becoming Joel's guardian in the event of Wilson's death dependent on Pete's approval, so he needs Pete to be around when he approaches Lisa.

Wilson takes the better part of a week to gather sufficient courage to broach the topic, a week that fully confirms all Pete's prejudices about infants and family life. Operation Bonding is an exercise in futility: Joel doesn't care a fig who drags him around the place and provides him with food. When Wilson isn't around, Pete lets the nanny do her thing. Far be it from him to offer to lighten her load: she's getting paid to look after the brat, he isn't. Unfortunately Wilson returns home after lunch (he's only working half-days so far), proceeds to send the nanny home, and then expects Pete to share the hardships of childcare.

To add insult to injury Wilson decides that there's no sense in finding someone to do the school run with Rachel as long as Pete is around, seeing that the summer vacation will commence in three days. Pete only manages to ward that chore off by suggesting that Hernandez can do the job. Hernandez doesn't mind, and anything that slows down his policy of scorched earth in the yard has Lisa's approval. Thankfully, Rachel is to go on vacation with Julia and her family the moment school closes for the summer, eliminating one child trap from Pete's vicinity. She'll only be gone for a week, but Pete has no intention of sticking it out that long. If Wilson can't be brought to approach Lisa before the end of the week, then Pete will do it for him.

After another online lecture (Wilson's disease, with the data provided by Chase and his former patient's son) and corresponding Q&A session Pete has had enough. It seems that news of his posting strategy (three a.m. GMT) has gotten around, so this time many more students manage to download the lecture early enough to watch it and prepare questions. There's no way he'll survive a third round of online interrogation, so he needs to return to England to deliver live lectures. He has also received a request from the International Criminal Court to examine corpses in connection with war crimes allegedly committed by British forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. Not spectacularly exciting as such, but the time factor — the corpses are at least ten years old — turns it into a challenge. He doesn't care whether there is a trial or not — the Iraqis are dead; nothing will make them come alive again — but he does want to deliver conclusive evidence one way or another.

The day of Rachel's felicitous departure, Pete opts to make an effort to include Joel in his activities — a serious effort, not one of those ploys that he uses to make Wilson believe that he's bonding with the little tyke. (Not that Wilson is fooled, but it has become a ritual: Pete pretends to do something with the kid, like giving him a bath, but instead of putting the kid in the bathwater, he closes the bathroom door, puts the kid on the mat beside the bathtub, and gets out his iPad to watch a movie or read. Every now and then he splashes his hand in the water and makes cooing noises. After about twenty minutes he puts the kid into clean clothes and comes out again. Wilson greets them with an approving smile, but the next time he picks the boy up, he says something like, "Goodness, you're one sticky little boy! Wouldn't believe you'd had a bath already if I hadn't seen you coming out of the bathroom all fresh and pressed.") He decides to take Joel with him on his daily run. He is strongly motivated to go for a run at five in the afternoon, because even though that isn't his preferred hour for running, Julia and Co. are due to pick Rachel up. He is inclined to take the brat with him in the jogging stroller because running makes low demands on adult-child interaction. He will run while Joel chews on his toys, observes his surroundings, and drools over everything. That will get Wilson off his back without disrupting his own plans.

When he returns an hour later, the coast — as far as he can make out from the end of the road — is clear. Lisa's hatchback and Wilson's Prius are in the drive, and there's no sign of Julia's car. So far, so good. He's loping slowly down the sidewalk two hundred yards from Lisa's house getting his breath back, when a car draws up beside him and the window on his side opens. After a quick glance — not Julia, but a man in a suit is peering up at him — he ambles on, ignoring car and driver.

"Gregory House?" a sonorous voice calls.

He stops and turns around slowly. The car draws up at the curb and the driver gets out. "Good afternoon, Mr House," he says.

Pete considers denying his identity, but he has more or less confirmed it by reacting to his name. So he waits, one hand on the grip of the stroller to keep it from rolling down the road.

"Chris Clark," the man says, holding out a hand. "Attorney for the Department of State."

Department of State? Maybe something to do with his identity: he wouldn't be surprised if someone somewhere decided that his disappearance and sudden reappearance required a close scrutiny, more thorough than the one that Princeton Township accorded his papers two years ago. Pete ignores the hand, focusing on the rest of the guy. Tall, about six foot four, athletic, between forty and forty-five at a guess. A well-cut suit of light wool, a conservative blue tie, expensive shoes. The Department of State does well by its minions. The limo, spotless and sleek, has tinted windows.

While one part of his brain is observing, another is sifting through incongruities. Clark knows who he is. Not a big deal if his interest is identity related: he must have examined photographs, both old and new. He also knows where to find Pete, which means that he has access to international flight details and a good overview of his social connections. Thing is, he came up from behind and was sure of Pete's identity before he'd gotten a good look at his face. So either he has been observing Pete ever since he left the house (which would be creepy) or …

Pete stares down at his cell phone, fixed to the stroller grip in a halter, the GPS function active. When he looks up again at Clark, the man's expression is bland. Oh-kay.

Clark has withdrawn his hand. "Mr House," he says, his tone still courteous, "I'd appreciate it if you'd spare me a few minutes."

"And if I don't?" Pete says warily.

Clark shrugs with a show of nonchalance. "Then you'll be left wondering why the Department of State is taking a sudden interest in you."

Pete narrows his eyes. The bastard has assessed him too accurately for comfort. He's an American citizen, so unless someone doubts his identity, he isn't really a case for the Department of State. If, however, his identity is under scrutiny, then there's no chance that The Powers That Be will be shaken off by a simple refusal on his part to talk to their minion. So it has to be something connected to his professional abilities.

He turns away and starts pushing the stroller back towards the house, pretending indifference. "You need a consult?" he asks. "Some high-ranking diplomat dipped too deeply into the pleasures of oriental brothels?"

Clark catches up with him easily and matches his stride. "We're concerned about your consulting activities for other agencies."

Other agencies. The International Criminal Court, Pete realises with a sinking feeling. When he'd accepted the assignment to investigate the misdemeanours of British troops in Iraq, he'd been aware that it was a controversial mandate, but he'd expected opposition in Britain, not in the US. That was short-sighted, he decides. The only reason American armed forces haven't been indicted too is because the US government doesn't accept the jurisdiction of the ICC.

"I don't see what concern that is of yours," he says, although he knows exactly why the State Department is getting its thong all in a twist.

"The British government is our ally," Clark says.

"Even allies can err," Pete says with a casual shrug. "Would you deny victims of injustice the right to know the truth?"

Clark smiles thinly. "What is truth?" he queries. "There's their truth and there's our truth."

"And our 'truth' trumps theirs, because we're bigger and badder?" Pete asks sarcastically.

"Mr House, I researched your diagnostic process and your methods before coming here to talk to you. I think we speak the same language. Your aim is to save your patients' lives, and there's no law or moral code that'll keep you from pursuing that aim with all the resources at your disposal. Your patients' lives take priority over all other considerations. As I see it, our aims and methods are similar."

When Pete snorts, Clark stations himself in front of Pete so that he can't push the stroller past him along the sidewalk. Pete is uncomfortably aware of the two or so inches that Clark is taller and of the greater muscle matter that the younger man possesses.

Clark continues smoothly, "If our allies were to be convicted of war crimes, then that would imply an indictment of our troops too. That in turn would damage our reputation and it would be bad for troop morale — the troops that protect your interests and your life as well as mine, Mr House."

"I'm not asking them to."

"You certainly don't hesitate to profit from the freedom that American armed forces worldwide enable you to enjoy. Freedom of speech, the freedom to move around at will, the freedom to choose your religion or to be an atheist. Our service men and women will have their reputation besmirched because of the wrongdoings of a few knuckle-headed idiots. If we allow that to happen, then maybe they won't be quite so eager to put their lives on the line for people like us, people who use their services and yet don't hesitate to condemn them for what they do. … I've heard that you don't always stick to the right side of the law when you treat your patients. Beware of throwing the first stone, Mr House."

Pete considers telling him that he wouldn't have hesitated to take the rap for any transgressions he committed in his past, but as usual, he neither knows what crimes he stands accused of nor can he say for certain how he'd have reacted to criminal proceedings against himself. He believes that he wouldn't have shied away from personal consequences, but does he know for sure? Perhaps he'd have fled the country if he'd been in danger of getting sentenced to jail.

He glares at Clark, but the reply that is on his lips dies when Lisa appears behind their unbidden guest.

"Hey," she says. "You want to take this conversation inside?" She looks around pointedly at the neighbouring houses. There's no one leaning out of windows or standing overtly on their front lawns observing them, but Pete wouldn't be surprised if the old woman living two houses down on the opposite side of the road was peering out from behind her curtains.

Pete automatically shakes his head. This conversation should never have taken place and he has no desire to prolong it. Moving away as though he'd never intended to block Pete's way, Clark looks down at Lisa, breaks into a courteous smile, and once more stretches out his hand.

"Dr Cuddy? I'm Chris Clark from the State Department."

Lisa blinks at him, but routinely shakes his hand. "You know me?"

"By name only. We've been looking into Mr House's activities and environment, so it's natural that your name should crop up."

Lisa's eyebrows rise. "You've been investigating … Greg?" she says. "And us?" She does muted outrage very nicely.

"'Investigating' is the wrong term," Clark says smoothly. "We're merely doing a background check because of his activities for international organisations. That kind of work is not without its risks, and we'd hate to have him involved in a Middle East hostage crisis."

That has Pete wondering whether the US government would pay ISIS or Al Qaeda to kidnap and execute troublesome citizens.

"I'd feel sorry for anyone who took him hostage," Lisa says briskly. "As for his work, it has nothing to do with the rest of us. Who has he annoyed this time?"

Clark smiles reassuringly. "No one. He's doing honourable work for the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, there are always conflicts of interest in such matters. The State Department is responsible for the safety of American citizens living or working abroad, and Mr House's safety will become a matter of concern if the investigations uncover, shall we say, controversial material."

Lisa gives a little incredulous laugh. "And you asked him to stay out of it all? Good luck with that! You do realise that you're probably achieving exactly the opposite?"

Clark's head tips in assent. "I have been wondering," he admits. "I should have talked to you about the best way to get my point across before accosting him."

"Probably," Lisa says, kneeling down in front of Joel (whom Pete has forgotten entirely ever since Clark materialised). "I'll take Joey inside while you two thrash it out." She unfastens the harness and pulls him out of the stroller.

Joel rubs his face on her shoulder enthusiastically, smearing snot and saliva all over her blouse. "A-gah," he says.

"We're always wiser in hindsight," Clark says, eyeing her appreciatively. "You wouldn't mind filling me in on him?"

Lisa rises, Joel on her arm. "Sure," she says. "Any time. … It's been nice meeting you." She nods at Clark before turning back to the house.

"I'll call you," Clark calls after her. She glances back over her shoulder, smiling.

Pete frowns down at the empty stroller. Did Lisa just agree to collude with the enemy?

"I think we're done here," he says to Clark, pushing the empty stroller resolutely towards the house. When Clark doesn't move aside, Pete bumps the stroller hard against his shin. That does the job: Clark jumps aside cursing under his breath, but he doesn't try to stop him.

Wilson ambushes both of them that evening. Pete can't pretend to be surprised; he has been expecting this ever since Wilson's return. The timing makes sense: Rachel is safely out of the way in Delaware. There's no one except for the Screamer to interrupt their confabulations, but Wilson has had the foresight to ask the babysitter to come this evening. (In fact, it's her unaccustomed presence at 7 p.m. that alerts Pete to what lies ahead.) If he were Wilson, Pete would wait a few more days for Lisa to be a little less ... stretched. Maybe Wilson is worried that Pete will skedaddle back to England before Lisa can consent to the scheme.

Pete allows Wilson to drag him down to Lisa's place without any show of resistance; the sooner they get this over with, the better. He can't pretend to be pleased with Wilson's plan, but he's aware that it could be worse, a lot worse. If they're lucky, Wilson won't croak for a long, long time. He wouldn't be surprised if Wilson outlived him, obviating any need for worry or dismay.

"Hello?" Lisa says when she opens the door and finds both of them standing there.

"Can we come in?" Wilson asks. "I come bearing gifts." He bows, presenting her with a box of her favourite chocolates.

"That isn't going to buy her!" Pete stage-whispers from behind him.

"Oh, my demands are modest," Lisa says coolly. She stands aside to let them in. "Soda or iced tea?"

Wilson goes for iced tea, while Pete chooses a soda. He wants a beer, a cool one, but he has little hope of getting anything he desires tonight.

Lisa leads them out onto the deck, which is furnished with chairs and a table that Pete hasn't seen before. "Hernandez and I got these today," Lisa says to Wilson. "He says I need to 'enjoy' my back yard while the weather is good."

While Wilson murmurs something approving, Pete growls, "Then maybe he shouldn't have slaughtered the lawn."

"He is renewing it," Lisa says with barely contained impatience. "He said there was too much moss and weeds in it to save it; he has sown new grass and expects the first shoots next week."

"Garden fascist!" Pete declares. "Euthanatising the dandelions!"

"You hired him, so deal with it," Lisa decrees. She looks from one to the other. "You guys didn't come here to inspect the back yard."

"No," Wilson admits. "I'd … like to talk about Joel's future."

Lisa immediately looks worried. "Is anything wrong with your liver values?" she asks. Wilson shakes his head. "Your thymoma, then?"

"'No, everything's fine, Cuddy. Really! This is purely precautionary." When Lisa opens her mouth in protest, he holds up a hand. "You've been through making arrangements for your child in the middle of a health crisis. You know what that's like. In my case, it would be bordering on criminal neglect not to take the necessary precautions while I'm in good enough health to do so."

He twiddles with the straw in his iced tea. "Amy isn't in a position to guarantee a stable environment. In fact, I fear that if I don't set anything up for Joel, she'll opt to have him adopted."

Lisa looks from Wilson to Pete. "Can she do that without Pete's consent?" she asks. "Rachel's maternal grandparents had to get her bio dad's consent before placing her with me."

Wilson rubs a hand across his face. "I honestly don't know what will happen if House turns up at her doorstep claiming paternity and she goes to court with the tale of how he tricked her into the pregnancy. I figure we're talking fraud, coercion, bodily assault, or possibly sexual assault; it's a fair bet that he'll get a jail sentence instead of custody. But even if she sees reason with regard to an adoption, any arrangement that features her is going to be tough on everyone else." He squints at Pete as he says this. "My family isn't an option. My parents are ... too old and my brother told me in no uncertain terms that he wants nothing to do with the matter."

That's news to Pete. He had no idea that Wilson tried to drag his brother into the custody arrangement. He isn't exactly surprised that this hasn't worked out; when Wilson was losing his fight against liver failure, Michael Wilson's level of empathy had been limited.

Lisa leans forward and clasps Wilson's hand. "What did he say?"

Wilson swallows hard. "He says that he wants nothing more to do with the family. Apparently my mother antagonises his wife to the point where they can't meet anymore without a major showdown. Michael says he's had it and that he's sick of the hypocrisy and non-communication among us."

"But … that's not your fault!" Lisa says.

Pete desists from pointing out that life isn't always fair and that blame, like entropy, is eternally on the increase.

Wilson draws lines on the table. "His memories of our childhood and mine … differ. He feels that I left him to deal with our mother, while I took the easy way out, hiding behind Daniel and his oddities. He says he had to keep our mother functioning and the family going, and that I ignored what was going on, pretending that Danny was the only problem. I don't know. ... Maybe he's right. Maybe I deliberately closed my eyes to the issues in my family. Whatever. He doesn't want to see me or Joel."

"I'm sorry," Lisa says, which is superfluous because Wilson's family problems aren't her fault.

Wilson blinks; he's more upset than Pete considers warranted, given that his family didn't exactly keep a watch at his bedside when he nearly kicked the bucket. Perhaps he's playing Lisa, softening her so that she agrees to his plan to make her Joel's guardian. Not a bad strategy; Lisa is a lot less stretched than she was last week, but she's still far from mellow and chilled.

Wilson, after blinking away a few (pseudo-) tears, sits up straight and looks first Lisa, then him in the eye. "I've been doing a bit of thinking. My original plan, before I found out that House is Joel's biological father," he says ponderously, managing to give the term a slightly derogatory sound, "was to marry you, Cuddy, and have you adopt Joel as soon as possible."

Lisa snorts.

Wilson raises his eyebrows at her. "It's not particularly romantic, but people marry for worse reasons. Hell, I've married for worse reasons. I like you, I respect you, and I trust you."

"Um, thank you," Lisa says, blushing.

"Hear, hear!" Pete mocks.

Wilson gives him a quelling look before continuing, "Obviously, I've had to rethink the matter since discovering the truth about Joel, but after initial doubts, I've come to the conclusion that my original plan wasn't all bad."

Now Lisa cocks an eyebrow at Wilson. Can she be so dumb as not to have realised from the start where this was headed? Apparently she has been so busy with her own problems that Wilson's preoccupied state of mind has escaped her notice.

Pete leans back. This is where Wilson will suggest guardianship of Joel to Lisa. Lisa won't find it in her to refuse, not with Wilson playing the 'dying man' card, and before she knows it, he'll have manipulated her into promising to give Pete visitation rights. (It would be an amusing scene to watch if Lisa weren't so obviously at a disadvantage.) At the end of the conversation Wilson will ask him whether he is okay with the arrangement, indicating by voice and expression that he'd better be. He will agree to whatever Wilson suggests, because if Lisa is prepared to do all this for a kid who isn't even hers, he can hardly play up.

"It's hardly feasible now," Lisa says, tipping her head towards Pete.

"True," Wilson agrees. "Marrying you isn't really on the books anymore. But … ." He hesitates.

It's going to come now. Pete observes Lisa's face, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Three, two, one … .

Wilson says, "I can marry House."

Lisa's chin drops dramatically. Pete grins — until his brain catches up with what his ears just heard.

"Wait, what?" he says, turning hastily to Wilson.

"Don't tell me the thought hasn't occurred to you," Wilson says sharply. After eyeing him for a moment he sighs. "No, it hasn't. You still believe that this is my problem, not our problem. It's simple: we marry, you adopt Joel as soon as Amy gives her consent (like I planned for Cuddy to do), and if I die, you have no legal hassles."

For once, he's rendered completely speechless.

Lisa, however, isn't. "Sounds like a plan," she says crisply. "One for which you don't need me. I'll leave you to discuss the details." She rises.

"Wait," Wilson says, rising too. "This affects you."

Lisa glances at him dispassionately. "No," she says. "This is between the two of you. But you're asking a lot of him at short notice."

"I'm not asking anything of him. I'm simply making a suggestion," Wilson says. "He's free to take it or leave it."

"And if I refuse?" Pete asks. His voice is croaky.

"Then I expect you to suggest alternatives or to accept any other arrangement that I make for Joel without interfering. Either you're in on this or you're out, but you can't sabotage what I organise without taking responsibility in turn. Are we clear on that?" His eyes are narrow and hard.

Pete drops his eyes. Wilson means business.

Lisa sits down and taps the table impatiently. "What alternative do you have?" she asks no one in particular.

Wilson pinches the bridge of his nose. "We come clean to Amy and hope that she doesn't try to send House to jail. But I don't want to do that; I'd lose all legal rights without any guarantee that it'll benefit House … or Joel. Or I designate you as guardian in the event of my death, stipulating that you grant House visitation rights."

"Oh," Lisa says. She looks at Pete thoughtfully. "Not ideal."

"Under the circumstances — no," Wilson agrees.

"Can't you name House guardian?" she asks.

Wilson shrugs. "I can, but he's neither a relative nor closely connected in any other manner. If I die in the near future and Amy challenges the guardianship, then you have better cards than he does. A judge is more likely to accept you than House. You live in the same house as Joel, you have a child already, you're a woman. That carries a lot of clout. Obviously, that would change if I survived for long enough that House could become a fixture in Joel's life, but I don't think we should bet on that."

"I see," Lisa says. "It's me or him. … Then I guess you two had better get married."

"Hey, isn't anyone going to ask me what I want?" Pete asks by way of a token protest.

"Um, no?" Wilson says.

Lisa, rising again, pats Pete's arm. "Go buy a ring," she says.

A/N: Multitudinous thanks to [ profile] menolly_au, without whose input this chapter would have been unintelligible.

I repeat, this fic will end with the pairing House/Cuddy. It's just a question of time and patience. And no, I have no intention whatsoever of killing Wilson off :)

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