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Chapter 16: All's Well That Ends ...

It's not exactly a nightmare, but the preparations for the wedding aren't a walk in the park either. If a wedding planner could handle this, Wilson would immediately engage one, no matter what the expense. But the problems are strictly interpersonal, which (in theory) is his area of competence. He knows he can handle them — 'them' being House, Cuddy, and Rachel respectively — though he could have forgone one or the other conversation without feeling that he was missing out on anything.

First there's House who, after an atypical period of utter silence, deals with the situation in his accustomed manner of 'evasion by diversion'. Throughout the evening up in Wilson's apartment, he spices up the conversation with homoerotic innuendos and references to matrimony as the ultimate form of bondage. Since Wilson expected no less, he takes it in his stride. He does, however, put a definitive stop to it when House trails him to his bedroom.

"I sleep here, you sleep there," he says, pointing towards the guest room.

"Saving yourself for our nuptials?" House asks with a leer, but there's uncertainty in his voice, and Wilson recognises that House is in limbo, unsure of what to expect or what is expected of him.

"Saving our friendship, more likely," Wilson answers. "We're not having sex!"

"You're not putting out?" House asks in mock outrage.

"I'm prepared to make an honest man of you," Wilson says, echoing his mocking tone. "Isn't that enough of a sacrifice? Other couples have joint bank accounts, joint property, and a joint bed; we'll have a joint kid. That's all. If we do this, then it'll be a contract, a business arrangement."

House nods, but his expression is still perplexed. "Are you having second thoughts?" he enquires. "You said 'if', not 'when'."

"You haven't said that you'll do it," Wilson points out.

House nods again. "What do you expect from me in return?"

"Nothing that I don't expect of you anyway: that you'll be a father to Joel. Think you can handle that?" He can't keep the sarcasm out of his voice: so far, House has been making an art form of avoiding personal contact with his son. He's unconsciously mirroring Amy's behaviour in a way that is disquieting. It is only House's show of good will, manifested in his sticking out the week with Cuddy, that is fuelling Wilson's determination to pursue his present course of action, a determination that is slowly being eroded by House's seeming lack of interest.

"How long till I have to decide?"

Wilson is sorely tempted to set him a twenty-four hour deadline just for the heck of it (and because House's air of being imposed on is getting his goat), but in the end he settles for, "Once I marry someone else it'll be too late." He is about to close his door on House when he remembers something. "And just for the records, I didn't propose. I merely made a suggestion. If you want to take me up on it, then you have to propose — on bended knee!"

Dealing with Cuddy carries its own brand of awkwardness. Perhaps she truly believes that she is over House and sees a 'casual' blow job as the ultimate proof of her emotional disentanglement, but Wilson has been through too many episodes of 'sex with the ex' to share her sanguine outlook. At the next opportunity (lunch in the hospital cafeteria) he broaches the topic.

"I believe that House and me getting married is the easiest way to combat our legal difficulties," he says.

"I agree," Cuddy says, picking at her salad. (Wilson is too nervous to actually eat.)

"It's the sensible thing to do," Wilson continues, kicking himself mentally for trying to justify his actions to someone who has no right to judge him.

Instead of protesting, Cuddy assents immediately. "I'm sure that once he recovers from the shock of having to show his colours, Pete will appreciate the coherence of the plan."

Wilson notes that Cuddy has diverted the focus neatly onto House's reaction and the impact the plan has on him. That's not quite what he was aiming for.

"It's also awkward for you," he suggests, not prepared to give up until they've talked about the elephant in the room.

Cuddy puts down her fork. "I'm over him," she states flatly.

"As is evinced by you being all over him at the slightest opportunity," he says rather more sharply than he intended.

Cuddy leans her chin on her hand, smiling. "Are you jealous? You needn't be. Even if Pete didn't know better, I wouldn't dare mess with you."

Flustered, Wilson waves his unused fork in concentric circles.

"You misunderstand me," he insists. "I'm trying …" What exactly is he trying for? "This scheme puts House permanently in your vicinity, something you don't have to be okay with regardless of whether you are over him or not. I think it might be best if I looked for a different place to stay."

Cuddy plays with her watch. "Does he intend to move in with you and find a job here?"

Wilson shakes his head. "We change as little as possible. This isn't about shackling either of us. This is about creating conditions that will give Joel and House maximum legal security. He should visit us regularly, so that there's no doubt that he'll be a dedicated adoptive father. Other than that he can live where he pleases and do as he pleases — though it will be in his best interest to do nothing in this country that will cast doubts on the legitimacy of our marriage, at least until the adoption is through. He already has one sham marriage on his record."

"Was it a sham?" Cuddy asks, smiling bitterly.

It isn't Wilson's job to reassure Cuddy about the past or cater to her self-esteem, so he merely says, "Yes. You wouldn't know, but Immigration caused a huge stink during the divorce proceedings. If that comes up in court and Amy challenges the legitimacy of this marriage ... . We can't afford to have the slightest rumour about us, nothing that could cast the shadow of a doubt on our mutual devotion."

"No hookers?" Cuddy asks.

"No hookers, no strippers, no affairs," Wilson says tiredly. "He can have those in England for all I care."

"And you?"

"The same goes for me, of course," he says, surprised that she's asking.

Cuddy gazes thoughtfully into space. "That means you're putting your personal life on hold."

"What personal life? I've got a kid!" Wilson jokes. Then he's serious again. "Since Joel has come to stay with me, I'm happier than I've been in a long time. I'm prepared to make concessions if that's what it takes."

"It doesn't," Cuddy opines. "You already have Joel, and it doesn't look like Amy intends to backtrack and claim him again. Nor does Pete, as far as I can make out."

The feeling of impotence that has been besetting him regularly ever since he heard the truth about Joel bubbles up with a vengeance. "Cuddy, we both know how this will go if I try to sideline House. Maybe he won't mind initially, maybe he never will, but if at some point he decides he wants a say in Joel's upbringing, he'll barge in and flatten everything in his way. I believe that'll happen sooner rather than later. If he decides to take Joel away from me, he'll find a way. This way, we both get what we want."

Cuddy nods as though coming to a decision. "You don't need to move out because of me. I can deal with the situation. It's not as though having Pete hanging around is new or unexpected. I'm sure he'll avoid me all he can."

She picks up her tray and departs, and Wilson, who hasn't touched his food as yet, has no excuse to follow her and press his point. Besides, he's okay with the outcome of their little talk. He'd rather not disrupt his life again, and if Cuddy wants to fool herself into believing that the living arrangement as it stands won't cramp her style, then that's her headache. He has done his duty by offering to move out. Over the past months he has made more adaptions and concessions than ever before in his whole life, so he figures it's okay if he takes the easy route on this.

It's the talk with Rachel, the one that he expected to be a walkover, which turns out to be the most exhausting. He tackles it when Rachel returns from her vacation full of tales of the beach.

Cuddy refuses point blank to contribute to it in any manner. "You're getting married, so you can explain it to her," she says with an unholy smirk.

"Would you like to be a bridesmaid?" he asks Rachel the next afternoon, cornering her in the kitchen of Cuddy's place, where Cuddy is stacking the dishwasher. (She said she wouldn't help with this one, but there's no harm in having her around, just in case.)

Rachel looks puzzled. "Who's getting married?"

"I am," Wilson tells her.

Rachel's face lights up. "You 'n Mom are getting married? She didn't tell me!"

Wilson can feel his face flush. If nine-year-old Rachel is making assumptions about him and Cuddy, what must outsiders be thinking? Cuddy, instead of helping out, sort of disappears into the dishwasher.

"No, I'm marrying House. ... Pete," he elucidates when Rachel looks blank.

"I know House is Pete's last name," she says, "but why are you marrying him?"

"Umm," Wilson says. He guesses he should have anticipated the question, but it's not one that he has ever asked anyone or that anyone (except for House) asked him the previous times he'd gotten married. He expected Rachel to ask whether guys can marry other guys, not why he'd get married. "We thought it would be nice if Joel had a family …"

It strikes him a moment too late that this was a tactless statement: Rachel has to make do with a single parent. Cuddy surfaces for long enough to give him the stink eye, which he guesses he fully deserves.

"He still won't have a mom," Rachel says.

"No, he'll have two dads."

"If you and Mom got married," Rachel says, sneaking a look at her mother's back, "he'd have a dad and a mom and me."

"I'm kinda hoping you'll be his big sister anyway," Wilson says.

"Yeah, but …" She wrinkles her nose, probably sensing that she's being conned in some manner, but not quite able to put her finger on it. "Are you sure Pete is any good at this daddy thing?"

No, he isn't, but he isn't about to air his doubts in front of Rachel.

Cuddy finally has mercy on him. "Wilson would rather marry Pete than me," she says in her 'end of discussion' voice. "Pete will learn to be a good father. All of us have to learn."

Rachel pulls a face, but lets the matter rest. "Who'll be the bride?"

Haven't they just clarified the matter? Wilson casts a helpless look at Cuddy.

Rachel rolls her eyes at him in a manner reminiscent of Cuddy. "You said I was to be the bridesmaid, so one of you has to be the bride."

"Oh." Wilson scratches the back of his neck, grateful that House isn't around to witness the conversation. "I figure that you're a 'groomsmaid' then."

"So you're both grooms," Rachel says, mulling it over in her mind. "Then — who proposed?"

"House did: he got down on one knee, but he ruined the moment by losing his balance and tipping over. He should have practiced kneeling on his prosthetic before proposing," Wilson says drily.

"Then he's the groom," Rachel insists.

"Does it matter who's the groom?" Wilson, who is heartily sick of the whole matter, asks.

Rachel gives him a duh-look. "Well, yeah. My dress has to match the bride's dress, doesn't it, and if I don't know who the bride is and what she's wearing — I mean, what he's wearing —"

"I'll be wearing a suit, and I should think any dress of yours will match," Wilson says.

Rachel looks dissatisfied with the whole affair, but luckily Cuddy chips in once more. "I'll take you to buy a dress tomorrow, okay?"

"A real bridesmaid's dress?" Rachel asks suspiciously.

"Yes, of course," Cuddy assures her. "Just because Wilson is acting up about wearing a wedding dress, doesn't mean we don't do this properly."

He's acting up? He's acting up? Wilson knows someone who's Acting Up in capital letters.

"Why not today?" Rachel asks.

"Because I'm busy today. Remember I told you I'm going out this evening?"

Rachel grimaces. "Yeah. On a 'date'." She manages to make it sound like a questionable activity.

"A date?" Wilson asks. Cuddy asked him to keep an eye on Rachel, but he'd assumed her request was work-related, because … well, because Cuddy doesn't date much, and when she does, she tries to keep it from Rachel. (Something or other about 'avoiding unrest in Rachel's life', though Wilson suspects that Cuddy keeps Rachel in the dark so that no news of potential love interests leaks to her family.)

"Yes," Cuddy says nonchalantly.

"Who's the lucky guy?"

"His name is Chris. He's a lawyer who works for the State Department," Cuddy says, her look daring Wilson to state objections.

"Sounds good," Wilson says, wondering what the deal is with this 'Chris' guy, but comforting himself with the notion that it can't get worse than Lucas Douglas, PI and wrecker of condos. "First date?"


"O-kay!" Wilson says. Maybe, just maybe, their living arrangement will work in the long run after all.

The next hurdle to be taken is planning the ceremony. House allows Wilson to drag him to the Marriage License Bureau – Wilson takes care to organise all necessary paperwork beforehand, including both their decrees of divorce – but he puts up a stand when Wilson suggests that the rabbi of his synagogue officiate at the ceremony itself.

"Not happening," House says.

When Wilson protests that they have an agreement pertaining to religious ceremonies House elaborates, "Our agreement covers the critter's religious education; it doesn't by any stretch of imagination deal with anything that concerns me."

Wilson looks helplessly at Chase. He has taken to ensuring that someone is present whenever he has a 'summit meeting' with House; it doesn't improve House's attitude but it helps Wilson to stay calm and collected in the face of adversity. In general he prefers Cuddy, who possesses almost magical intervention and negotiating skills and can defuse a situation within seconds — when she so chooses. The big unknown in the equation is in whose favour she'll intervene; by and large it's in House's favour, which is why Wilson has opted to broach the matter of the ceremony with Chase around as mediator.

Chase, toying with his lunch, merely shrugs. "Is the food at the hospital always this bad?" he asks.

"I don't know," Wilson says irritably. "I haven't been around much longer than you have. Complain to Cuddy; she's your boss, not me."

"Jeez, touchy, isn't he!" Chase says in House's direction. "Prenuptial nerves are perfectly normal, Wilson. It'll all work out somehow or other."

"And if not, there are places that do wonderful divorce parties," House adds. "What's the deal with the bachelor party, anyway? If we're to be joined in the holy bond of matrimony this week, we need to get cracking."

"If we're to get hitched any time at all, we need someone to officiate," Wilson reiterates. The bachelor party, as House well knows, is a no-no. (He has gotten Cuddy to run interference to make sure that House gets that. His nerves are all twisted as it is; if there's even a whiff of alcohol in his proximity, he'll relapse faster than he can say, 'I will!')

"I could do it, I guess," Chase says. "I don't know what the legal requirements in Pennsylvania are, but they can't be that different from New Jersey."

"Thanks, but no," Wilson says decidedly.

"Why not?" House asks, suddenly all intense curiosity. "A moment ago you were desperate to find someone we could both agree on, and now you reject an honest offer?"

Wilson worries the back of his neck. "He officiated at your last wedding," he finally admits.

House filches a fry off Chase's plate. "So?" he says. "You can hardly blame the failure of the marriage on Chase."

"It was a sham from start to finish —"

"So is this one," House says, with no consideration for the fact that they have a very interested audience of one.

"… and I was the idiot who had to get the divorce sorted, —"

"For which you were ideally qualified after going through three divorces of your own," House points out smoothly, taking another fry.

"… because one party fried their brain and went MIA. So, I don't want to be reminded of your previous wedding."

Chase pushes the plate over to House's side of the table. "Is this a green card marriage too?" he asks. "I thought House got his US papers back ages ago!"

Wilson is wondering how to evade that one when House's satisfied grin registers. This isn't only his problem, he decides; it's just as much House's. "This is a 'Let's rescue House from the consequences of his Machiavellian machinations' marriage," he says, rising. "I need to get back to work, but I'm sure House would love to put you into the picture."

Cuddy stalks up to their table at that very moment. She nods to Wilson, ignores House (and the Philadelphia Central patient folder on which his hands are resting), and homes in on Chase. "Chase, you and I were supposed to be in the dean's office ten minutes ago."

"Oops, sorry," Chase says, not looking particularly repentant. His glance flickers from Cuddy to the folder in front of House. (Wilson guesses that Chase hasn't officially run the idea of having House consult on his cases past Cuddy ...) "We were discussing officiants for House and Wilson's wedding ceremony."

"You're looking for someone to officiate?" Cuddy asks Wilson. "What are the requirements? Are they similar to those in New Jersey?"

Wilson pulls the leaflet that he picked up at the Marriage License Bureau — House, needless to say, can't be bothered to take care of any of the details — out of his pocket and hands it wordlessly to Cuddy.

She skims through it and then says, "There's a judge on the hospital board. If you like, I'll ask him whether he'll do it."

After a quick glance at House, whose expression is neutral, Wilson nods. "Thanks," he says.

"Am I invited?" Chase asks.

"Sure," House says. "Wouldn't want you to miss any of my weddings, would we?"

Wilson had a stairlift installed along the stairway to his apartment during Rachel's vacation at the beach, so once she has figured out how to use it on her own, she spends hours riding it up and down. Every now and then Pete, who is making some sort of contraption that'll secure Joel's stroller in the stairlift, makes her quit so he can try it out, and she always bargains for chips or candy when he does that. (Mom is clamping down on those; there are none in the pantry or in the kitchen cupboards.) Wilson tells Pete not to bother about getting the stroller upstairs with the stairlift, saying it's easier to carry Joel than to fix the stroller securely and that Joel should soon be able to crawl or walk up by himself, but Pete ignores him. It also doesn't bother him that Joel prefers being carried to going in the stairlift.

When Pete is done with his stairlift project he spends his time watching television at their place or smoking out on the deck. When Rachel tells Mom what Pete is doing out there (he refused to share his soda with her, so she's mad at him), Mom, instead of going out to stop him or at least scold him, just looks worried.

"He's scattering cigarette ash on the steps," Rachel reports, hoping to rouse some indignation.

Mom roots around in a cupboard and returns with an empty tin.

"Here," she says, giving Rachel the tin. "We don't possess an ashtray, so give him that and tell him to use it."

Rachel does as she's told, but when this state of affairs continues for two days, with Mom making Hernandez supply Pete with food and soda out on the deck, she begins to wonder.

"Why do you let him smoke in our yard?" she asks.

"Well, he can't smoke upstairs because Joel is there," Mom says as though stating the obvious. "The deck is the best place."

"Can't he not smoke?"

"Give him a break; he's nervous about getting married."

"Shouldn't he be happy about getting married?"

Mom says, "He's both."

But if Pete and Wilson are happy about getting married, they're hiding it well.

Mom gets her a new dress like she promised, a real bridesmaid's dress made of shiny, silky yellow material with a bow around the waist and silk flowers and sequins, and a pair of shoes to go with it. Wilson approves fully and promises to wear a matching tie.

Pete raises his eyebrows in mock admiration, saying, "Wow, that really emphasises your elephant – sorry, elegant – curves." Mom is already shooting daggers at him when he adds, "Could have spared yourself the bother of getting shoes. Even if we had dancing, …" He shrugs expressively at Rachel's legs.

Rachel is too shocked to burst into tears (she cries herself to sleep later), but Mom reacts instantly.

"Out!" she says, pointing at the door. "Now!"

When Pete has left — he does so promptly after one look at Mom's face — Wilson collapses on the couch. "Cuddy, Rachel, I'm so sorry!"

"Don't apologise for him," Mom says through pressed lips. "You're not his keeper."

"I'm marrying him, though," Wilson says, his head in his hands. "Perhaps this isn't such a good idea."

"It is," Mom insists with a certainty that Rachel doesn't share. "Rachel and I aren't your responsibility; Joel is."

As though Pete is going to be any nicer to Joel than he is to her! But she knows that it won't go down well if she points this out, so she keeps her mouth shut and sulks.

"Is it too much to ask that he behaves like a normal human being?" Wilson asks Mom.

Mom laughs outright. "You know that it is. Give him time to adjust, don't make the same mistakes that I made, and you should be fine."

That evening Rachel decides to get a neutral opinion on the matter. She needs someone to talk it through with, someone who isn't Mom, because Mom is part of the weirdness that's going on.

"Mom, can I phone Julia?" she asks.

Mom gives her a quizzical look. For a moment it seems that she might refuse permission, but then she says, "Go ahead. lt's not like we can keep this a secret forever."

So Rachel grabs the phone and takes it into her room and, aware of Mom's eyes drilling holes into the back of her wheelchair, closes the door behind her.

"Hey, big girl, what's up?" Julia asks.

"l'm gonna be groomsmaid tomorrow, if I don't manage to get out of it," Rachel says.

"Groomsmaid? What's that?"

"Same as bridesmaid, only for the groom," Rachel explains.

Julia obliges with, "Wow, cool!" in reply. "Who's getting married?"



Julia's reaction is gratifying, because everyone is acting like this was a normal, commonplace thing to happen, so Rachel has been feeling really stupid for not seeing it coming. "Yep," she says, the way Pete does, aiming for a cool she doesn't feel.

"Wilson and your mom ...? No, of course not! How stupid of me!" Julia backtracks.

Again, Rachel feels gratified, because her first reaction, too, had been that Wilson should darn well marry Mom.

"Who's the lucky bride?" Julia asks cheerfully. "Anyone I know?"

"Pete," Rachel says gloomily.

There's silence at the other end, giving Rachel ample time to wonder whether mentioning He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to Julia was a bright idea. But it can't be helped now.

"You mean, House?"

"Yep," Rachel says.

"Okay," Julia says after a pause. "l guess that explains a lot."

"Like what?" Rachel asks.

"Well," Julia says slowly, "if Wilson loves Pete, he can't marry your mom or Joel's mom, can he?"

"I guess not," Rachel concedes.

Thing is, she isn't sure whether Wilson loves Pete, not with the way he and Pete are arguing all the time. It's kinda awkward when they're both around. Wilson says things like, "It's your turn to change Joel's diaper, I think," and Pete pretends that he hasn't heard him, so then Mom gets up and does it, which makes both Wilson and Pete look pissed. Rachel honestly doesn't get it; they should be happy Mom is doing it — without having to be asked, guys! — because seriously, Joel's diapers are real stinkers, and if they don't want Mom doing it, then maybe they should get themselves sorted beforehand, because everyone knows that Mom doesn't have the patience to wait for them to sort it out.

And Pete makes jokes that aren't really funny about guys marrying guys, and that's embarrassing. Maybe where he comes from they don't do that — Mom says same-sex marriages are a fairly new thing even here — but if he thinks that marrying a man is weird, then maybe he shouldn't be doing it. Not much use mentioning any of that to Julia, though. Adults just say that it's normal for couples to have disagreements and that it doesn't mean anything.

Julia says, "Hang on a sec, I have to tell Rob about this. Rob, James Wilson and House are getting married."

Rob's voice carries over the phone. "You weren't thinking of sending a card, were you? Because I'm not signing it."

Julia chuckles. "Goodness, no!"

Rob asks, "Where are they gonna stay? Not at Lisa's place, l hope."

Julia speaks into the phone again. "Rachel, how is this going to work? Does House move in with Wilson or are they looking for a new place?"

"Uh, I don't know. l think Wilson is staying."

"I guess he can afford to; he isn't the one living level with the street," Julia says. "Oh shoot, forget l said that! I'd better talk to your mother."

Rachel says cautiously, "I'm not sure she wants to talk with you."

"I'm pretty sure I don't care," Julia states.

Mom and Julia spend about half an hour arguing, with Mom repeatedly saying that she's fine with what's going on and that she and Wilson are still good friends, and no, she and House aren't friends and never will be — (then why does she let him camp out on the deck?) — and yes, she'll watch out for herself, and no, she doesn't know what Wilson is thinking to be marrying a guy who's a hazard to his son (Mom rolls her eyes when she says that), and could Julia please stop worrying.

The next day Rachel asks whether she really has to attend the wedding.

Mom gives her a considering look. "I have to go," she says. "If you don't want to go anymore, I'm sure Wilson will understand, though I think he'd be really happy to have you there. It's not like his family is coming."

Rachel thinks of Wilson getting married without anyone from his family attending. That's depressing, so she says, "I'll come — but only for Wilson!"

Later in the afternoon Wilson, Joel, and Pete come downstairs to pick them up for the wedding. Wilson is wearing a suit with a golden-yellow tie; the tie is nice, but Rachel is disappointed because she'd thought he'd wear a tux like she has seen at other weddings. Pete is even worse: he's wearing jeans, a blue shirt and a sand-coloured jacket sort of thing. He could just as well be going to work. This is going to be the worst wedding ever.

Pete is carrying a bouquet, though, that he drops in Rachel's lap. It's gorgeous, with yellow and white flowers that go with her dress. Rachel looks up at him. He has matching flowers in his buttonhole. He doesn't say anything; he just stands next to her wheelchair fidgeting and staring off into the distance.

He hasn't apologised, so she isn't going to say thank you. "That's really pretty," she says instead.

Mom comes in carrying her heels and her handbag. When she catches sight of Wilson and Pete she stops short.

"Is that the best you can do?" she asks Pete.

"I didn't bring a monkey suit, and anyway, Wilson loves me for the beauty of my immortal soul," Pete says, batting his eyelashes at Wilson in a creepy manner.

Mom circles him, inspecting his gear. "Gregory House, you are not getting married in a rumpled shirt!"

"You're not my mom," Pete says at the same time as Wilson says, "It's okay, Cuddy."

"No, it's not," Mom says. She stretches out her hand. "Give me that shirt."

When Pete makes as if he's about to pull off his shirt right there in the living room, Wilson drags him off to the guest room, reappearing a moment later with the blue shirt. It is really rumpled. Rachel is surprised that Pete didn't notice when he put it on. Meanwhile Mom has brought out the iron and the ironing board.

"Don't we have to go?" Rachel asks.

"We're well within our schedule," Mom says. "I told Pete the wedding was an hour earlier than the scheduled time so he'd be there in time, and it's a good thing I did."

Wilson smiles for the first time. "You're an evil woman, Lisa Cuddy."

"I don't get paid to be nice."

When Pete is dressed again, they finally head for the door.

"Who's driving with who?" Mom asks.

"We're all driving together," Pete says, jingling a set of car keys. "Voilà!"

Parked outside blocking the other cars in the drive is a red convertible. It's huge, with shark fins at the back.

"Wow!" Wilson says.

"What's that?" Mom asks.

"That, ma'am, is the one and only 1959 Cadillac Eldorado SeVille," Pete says, looking like a little boy with his favourite toy. "I am pained at your ignorance."

"Rachel and I could …" Mom says, waving her hand vaguely at her car.

"No!" Wilson and Pete say together.

There's a bit of a scramble and bustle until Joel's car seat is fixed to Wilson's satisfaction, followed by a short fight about who's driving (which Wilson wins), and then they're off. Mom holds onto her head throughout the drive so her hair doesn't get messed up, but it's no use.

The location is the next disappointment. Rachel assumed that they'd get married at a synagogue or a church (though she isn't sure whether Pete is a Christian), but they go to a normal office building. Inside, Mom leads them to one of the offices. Chase is waiting outside the door. It's an ordinary office with an ordinary old man inside. He shakes everyone's hands.

"Lisa didn't specify what kind of ceremony you'd like," he says, looking at Wilson and Pete. "Have you prepared vows or would you like me to say a few words?"

Wilson glances at Pete. "We'll go for something short."

"Ultra-short," Pete interjects. "Where do I sign?"

"Exchange of rings, maybe?" the old man suggests.

"We'll do that afterwards in private," Wilson says after another look at Pete. "Just the obligatory paperwork, I think."

There's a lot of checking of papers and passports, then Wilson and Pete sign, and Mom and Chase sign too. And — that's it. There's nothing for Rachel to do except hold her bouquet. No scattering flowers along the aisle, no accompanying anyone inside a synagogue or church while the wedding music plays, no posing for pictures in a pretty garden. Mom takes a few pictures while Wilson and Pete sign — Pete sticks his tongue out, of course — but that's about it.

"Doesn't the bride get a kiss?" Pete asks, closing his eyes and making a pouty mouth.

The old man looks at Wilson.

"I think not," says Wilson, turning away and leaving Pete standing there with his pouty mouth. With Joel on his arm he thanks the old man and shakes his hand. Then he leaves the room.

After that they have dinner in a fancy restaurant with tablecloths and real napkins and 'good' glasses, the kind that look as though they'll break if you touch them. Wilson and Pete sit on one side of the table with Joel perched precariously in a high chair between them, while Rachel sits between Mom and Chase on the other side, right opposite Joel. When the waiter hears that it's a wedding dinner, he brings a big bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice, which Mom and Wilson, exchanging a quick glance, wave away again with profuse thanks.

"Hey, what about me?" Pete whines. "I'm allowed to drink!"

"You're the designated driver," Wilson says. "Besides, it's not at all de rigueur to pass out on your wedding night."

The waiter brings Rachel a very uninspiring kids' menu. "Do you have sushi?" she asks.

"Yes, but are you sure you mean sushi? That's raw fish, you know," the waiter says condescendingly.

"Yes, I mean 'sushi'," Rachel says, scowling at the waiter.

She gets her sushi and Joel gets a bowl of pureed whatever. When Wilson starts feeding him, Joel refuses to cooperate, hitting the spoon away. While Wilson dabs ineffectually at the orange spots on his suit with a napkin, Pete picks up the spoon. Rachel isn't sure how Pete manages it, but the food ends in Joel's mouth (mostly), not on Pete's clothes or on the tablecloth.

"How come Joel eats when Pete feeds him? Whenever Wilson feeds him it's a huge mess," Rachel asks Chase.

"I could tell you something about kindred spirits, but … your 'Pete' has an eye for gaps in other people's defences."


"He waits for Joel to be ready before offering him the spoon. Joel probably has a tell that shows when he's ready for another spoon of mush. Wilson hasn't figured it out yet; House has."

That seems terribly unfair when Wilson spends so much time with Joel while Pete doesn't really bother. "Pete doesn't even like babies!" she points out to Chase.

Chase shrugs dismissively. "So? He doesn't like anyone. You could learn a thing or two about eating from Joel, though."

Rachel stares down at her plate. The plate and its surrounding area aren't particularly messy by her standards, because sushi is easy to eat as long as you stay away from the chopsticks. If you try using those though, then the sushi goes all over the place, which is why she uses her fingers to pick up the sushi and dip it in the soy sauce. It must be her mouth then. Rachel picks up her napkin and dabs at her lips.

"Better?" she asks Chase.

"I was thinking more along the lines of not eating with your hands," Chase says.

Now that is totally unfair! "Joel isn't using the spoon himself either; Pete is holding it for him. And I can eat with a spoon. I just can't eat with chopsticks."

"You could learn," Chase says.

Mom, who has been half listening in, says, "Not now and not here. If you want to teach her table manners at my place, then be my guest."

Chase raises his hands defensively. "Sorry, forget I said anything."

Mom smiles a tight smile, and Chase wisely turns his attention to the other side of the table.

"Nice bluff with the rings," he says to Wilson.

"It wasn't a bluff," Wilson says. Digging in the pocket of his jacket, he takes out a small box that he slides over to Pete.

Staring at it as if it could bite, Pete gingerly opens the box. "You're joking," he says to Wilson.

"Are these lips smiling?" Wilson asks.

"I'm not wearing this!"

Mom leans forward and turns the box around. The ring in it is a plain golden band, nothing special. "It's very discreet," she says to Pete the way she tries to sell veggies to Rachel.

Wilson slips a matching ring onto his own finger. "You can take it off the moment you board a plane to England, but you'll wear it whenever you're here." His voice is quiet with no marked emotion, but after a glance at him Pete picks the ring out of the box and slips it onto his finger. Then he snaps the box shut and slips it into one of his pockets, picks up his fork and continues eating as though nothing happened. Wilson does the same.

"I'm not hyphenating, though," Pete mutters to no one in particular.

"Don't they just know how to put the small 'r' into romance?" Chase whispers to Mom over Rachel's head.

Mom shakes her head, smiling.

When they get back to the car Chase whistles. "What a baby!"

"Let me take a few pictures," Mom says.

Wilson and Pete pose together in front of the car, they pose with Joel, then they pose with Rachel and Joel. They pose with Chase and Mom while Rachel takes a few pictures.

"Now the happy couple with the bridesmaid and the car," Chase says. "Will you put Rachel on the car, please?"

So Pete and Mom lift her out of the wheelchair and perch her on the hood of the car.

"Hold her tight!" Mom instructs Pete.

After handing Joel to Mom Wilson puts an arm around Rachel's shoulder that's meant to steady her. Pete is on the other side.

"Closer together!" Chase, who has hijacked Mom's camera, calls. "Say cheese! Heads together now!"

Wilson and Pete lower their heads to her level. Pete's arm snakes around the back too, not to steady her, but to make rabbit ears behind Wilson's head. Wilson tries to swat his hand away.

"House, grow up!" Chase calls. "Rachel, bang their heads together."

Rachel does as she's told: she pulls their heads together sharply. There's a resounding thunk, a grunt from Pete and a yelp of pain from Wilson, and then Rachel feels herself losing her balance as the arm around her midriff ceases to hold her in place. She slides forward in slow motion, vaguely registering that Wilson is bent almost double in front of her and Pete, though still upright, is holding the side of his head. Mom rushes forward, but she's holding Joel and she can't stop Rachel's downward slide with one arm. Nor can Pete, shooting out an arm and catching hold of her dress from behind: her progress is halted for a moment, but then there's a ripping sound. She falls on top of Wilson, dragging Pete, who loses his balance in turn, right after her. Wilson topples over and they all thud onto the ground, Pete's teeth cracking against her skull.

"Whoof," Wilson says.

Rachel doesn't say anything; she's got Wilson's tie in her mouth and a dead weight on her back. From far away she hears Mom asking, "Are you okay?"

Pete, on top of her, is quivering. For a dreadful second she thinks he's having some kind of seizure, but then she hears him chuckling.

From underneath her Wilson says, "House, stop laughing and get off of us!" but he's sort of giggling too.

The weight on her shifts and then eases up, and several hands pick her up. Finally Chase holds her securely in his arms. She looks around. Pete is sitting up against one of the tires, dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief. Mom, with Joel on her arm, is helping Wilson up with her free hand.

The wedding picture Rachel later chooses to put in a frame and hang on her bedroom wall features her in the wheelchair, her dress dusty and the bow torn off, Wilson on the left with Joel, a bruise on his forehead and his tie askew, and Pete on the right with a swollen lip and a cut just above his eyebrow, all of them grinning manically — Pete's grin is lopsided, but it always is anyway, so it makes no difference — and making victory signs.

A/N: As I promised at the outset, I now solemnly advise all House/Wilson shippers to quit reading the story and to make up their own ending where House and Wilson live happily ever after, have tons of steamy sex, and raise Joel to be a medical, musical, and linguistic genuis, while Cuddy dates a series of slightly creepy badass guys and Rachel, after a suitable mourning period for her dream of having Wilson for a dad, gets on with her life, going to Wilson when she needs comfort and to House when she needs someone's butt kicked.
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