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Chapter 17: Cuddy's Calamity

Nine months later

"Need you here," Wilson says on the phone. "You'd better book a flight."

He's atypically terse. Usually whenever he wants Pete to cover his back, say, during a particularly stressful phase at work, he lets him know early on, enquires about his work commitments, and books a flight for him. Something must be really off. The question is, what?

"Oh, dear!" Pete says in a high falsetto, examining his nails foppishly, even though Wilson can't see him. "Has 'Joey dear' cut his teeth? Or is our wee little laddie getting his measles jabs? Does Howsey need to hold his hand?"

"Cuddy has been suspended. She's as good as fired."

That's all? For a moment he'd believed there was a real crisis, like Amy demanding the kid back. "And that's my problem because?"

"Because I need to help her get job applications sorted and possibly accompany her to Oregon."

Seriously? "Wilson, she's practically fifty, not five. I'm sure she's in a position to travel by herself."

"We're a bit short on time, and Cuddy is out of practice. Turns out she has had exactly two job interviews in her whole life."

"She has also held exactly two jobs, which means she rocked both interviews. She has a hit quota of one hundred percent, so statistically she'll rock the third one too. You're wasting your time."

"Those times she applied for jobs for which there were no other viable contenders. I doubt she'll get that lucky again, so she needs someone to coach her, stat."

Pete sighs, putting his feet up on the coffee table. There's a beer in the fridge calling his name, but he won't be able to enjoy it until he has settled this little matter. Why does Wilson have to be such a do-gooder? Lisa may be a rookie at applying for jobs, but she has conducted enough job interviews from an employer's point of view to know the ropes.

"Do what you have to do," he says to Wilson, "but do it on your time, not mine."

"Funny, I thought you'd say that," Wilson says conversationally. "I'm doing something for Cuddy because Cuddy is there for our kid whenever it's necessary."

"She isn't doing it for me and I didn't ask her to," Pete points out. "She's doing it because she has a soft spot for kids and because she has a soft spot for you."

"I don't think it's possible to narrow her actions down to one or two motives," Wilson says. "Besides, her motives are no concern of yours. The net result of her actions is that you can afford to bang around the world, leaving your DNA carrier in my care for weeks on end without having to fear any sort of retaliatory action on my part, so it behoves you to make sure things stay that way."

"They won't if she moves to Oregon," Pete mumbles.

At the other end Wilson chuckles. "Oh, that's your problem, is it? Well then, get your ass over here and help me find an alternative, because at the moment Oregon is her best chance of landing a job in the near future."

"I don't want to move to Oregon," Rachel complains. "If we leave now, I'll never get my service dog. The dog people say she's almost trained. Can't Mom just stay at her hospital? Why does she need to get a new job?"

They're up in Wilson's living room, half watching a ball game, but mostly waiting for Lisa to return from a meeting with the hospital's HR and legal department.

"Your mother," says Pete, ignoring Wilson's hems, haws, and glares, "got herself fired because she was stupid. So, now she needs a new job."

"You of all people allege that breaking rules is stupid?" Wilson asks incredulously.

"No, getting caught while breaking them is stupid."

"Actually, Chase got caught, not Cuddy, so that makes Chase stupid."

"See, that's even stupider: getting herself fired for covering for other people's idiocies."

"Her 'stupidity', as you call it, was what enabled you to work practically unhindered for nearly fifteen years," Wilson says with frost in his voice.

"Two stupidities don't make a cleverness," Pete chants. "Covering for me doesn't make covering for Chase a good idea."

"What happened?" Rachel asks impatiently.

"Chase," Pete says, "pissed off a patient while drunk, and it turned out that your mom knew he was drunk, because," he flourishes his hand, "Chase is always drunk. So, bye-bye, job!"

"Oh." Rachel digests this piece of information. "Did Chase get fired too?"

"Chase was sent to rehab because he relapsed; that means he started drinking alcohol again," Lisa says from the doorway. It's anyone's guess for how long she's been standing there. "That can happen, and it isn't a crime. Once he's out of there he can go back to work. And Pete's version isn't quite correct. I've been suspended because Ryan wants to get rid of me, but until the board decides what to do, I still have my job. Ryan thinks I'm a threat to his authority." She plonks her briefcase down on the floor and slips out of her heels.

"You're a what?" Rachel asks.

Lisa frowns, either at the thought of Ryan Andrews or at the sight of cookies and M&Ms on the coffee table. "He thinks I want to take over his job."

"Now why would he think that?" Wilson murmurs.

Lisa homes in on him with a pissed look. "Wilson, I have not been encouraging all the malcontents at the hospital to come to me with their complaints and I certainly didn't advise them to greet every change Ryan made with, 'Dr Cuddy would never have done that!' Sometimes I wonder who they are trying to sabotage, Ryan or me."

"Then the patient didn't lose a kidney to Chase's incompetence?" Pete queries. That's what Wilson told him — and that the patient was suing the hospital for an astronomical sum. Fuck-ups of that sort tend to piss deans of medicine off.

"She lost a kidney," Lisa says calmly, "but — she would have lost her life if I hadn't let Chase work. By the time Chase came up with a diagnosis, the patient's kidneys had failed, but no other doctor at the hospital would have come up with babesiosis at all. There was no mention of a blood transfusion in her records. Ryan is using Chase's lapse as an excuse to try to fire me."

"So," Wilson says with a quizzical lift of his eyebrow, "your justification for letting an inebriated doctor work —"

"'Inebriated' is a fancy word for 'drunk'," Pete stage-whispers to Rachel, just in case she is losing track of the conversation.

"… is that there's no one else to do his job?"

"That has always been my justification," Lisa says with no remorse whatsoever, aiming a pointed look in Pete's direction.

"I'm unique," Pete says without any false modesty. "Chase, however, is not a special little snowflake, except perhaps in his mother's eyes."

"Trust me, he's miles ahead of everyone else around him," Lisa says. "Though he'd be even better if he kept off the booze. Anyway, the patient survived thanks to Chase, so it was ungrateful of her to sue the hospital."

Wilson smiles tightly. "You'll have to forgive her for believing that the time and money that's being invested in medical training in this country should pay off by enabling more than one physician to diagnose her ailment correctly. She shouldn't have to put up with an inebriated physician in order to be diagnosed."

Both Pete and Lisa snort in rare agreement.

"She can't have her cake and eat it too," Pete says. "If patients have the common cold, they can insist on someone who fits their profile of the ideal physician. If they're dying, they'll have to make do with what the hospital can come up with to save their lives."

"Can't you ask Ryan to let you keep your job?" Rachel asks around a mouthful of cookies. "You could … apologise or something."

"Not happening," Lisa says. "If Ryan won't support the way I run my department, our ways must part."

Pete leans back and grins while Wilson tiredly pinches the bridge of his nose. It's clear that he doesn't believe in ideals that cost you your job.

Lisa turns on Wilson. "Listen, I don't approve of Chase drinking and trying to sleep with every pretty face on my staff, but if I run an intervention every time he relapses or suspend him whenever he subverts the hospital's fraternisation policy, patients will die."

"Well, that's exactly what's going to happen from now on, isn't it?" Wilson counters. "Now that Ryan has set a precedent by suspending you (and probably getting you fired), no one, least of all your successor, will dare to let anyone under influence enter the hospital."

Lisa huffs once again. "Then Ryan will have to close the place down. Well," she amends, "surgery at the very least will have to shut down; we don't have enough surgeons or anaesthetists without addiction issues to cover all shifts. And you with your 'holier than thou' attitude," she pokes Wilson in the chest, "don't even pretend you aren't aware of that! You happily send your patients to the OR without checking who's on duty, because you aren't the one whose career is on the line if something goes wrong!"

"How often has Chase relapsed?" Pete asks, because Wilson and Lisa's argument isn't going anywhere. They both have a point, but regardless of which position you espouse, somewhere along the line you have to take a stand and face the consequences. The consequences of Lisa's stance are catching up with her, that's all there is to it, and there's no sense in moaning about it. She was an idiot to believe she could get away with it, and Wilson is a hypocrite if he thinks that his policy of placating all parties is any better.

"Twice," Wilson answers, "but the first time he got it under control again. A minor slip-up."

"Let's not discuss Chase's medical history," Lisa says somewhat belatedly with a concerned look at Rachel.

Pete sits up straight and folds his hands like a preacher. "Okay, what shall we talk about? The political situation in Darfur? Climate change?"

Lisa swats his arm. "Don't be silly! Has Rachel had her dinner? Thanks, Wilson. Can we look through a few applications once I've put her to bed?"

"Sure," Wilson says.

"Can't I —" Rachel begins when Lisa's phone rings, "stay here?"

Lisa fishes the cell out of her purse, frowning when she sees the caller ID. "Hey! … You're where?" She gets up and goes over to the front of the apartment where there's a window overlooking the street. "Yes, I can see you. … Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot! Hang on, I'm coming."

Picking up her heels and her briefcase she rushes to the door. "Will you send Rachel down?" she asks in parting.

Rachel pouts, making no attempt to follow her mother.

"What's that about?" Wilson asks her.

"She forgot that Chris is coming over for dinner," Rachel says, shrugging.

"But you didn't," Pete surmises, considering the ramification of Rachel remembering her mother's date, but not reminding her mother of it. "You don't like Chris."

"He's okay," Rachel says grudgingly. "But we don't have M&Ms or cookies at our place. Or chips."

"Half an hour," Wilson decrees. "That'll give your mom time to fix dinner for herself and Chris. Then you're going downstairs again."

"Chris doesn't have a key," Pete states, wondering what that implies about the relationship.

"I imagine that if he wanted to, he could get in without a key," Wilson says.

"True dat."

"He always knocks or rings the bell," Rachel says, looking at them somewhat confused. "And you're not supposed to say that people are criminals just because they're black." Sometimes she understands more than she is given credit for.

"What?" Wilson says, flustered. "I wasn't … I mean … it's his job, not his skin colour. He works for the State Department and he, uh, keeps an eye on a lot of people —"

"People like me," Pete augments morosely.

"... so he probably knows how to, uh, —"

"Break and enter," Pete helps him out. "Chances are the State Department employs him because of his talents in that field."

"Let's try for a modicum of unprejudiced conversation here," Wilson says, "like Rachel suggested."

Rachel, however, is off on a tangent. "You mean he's a spy? Like Lucas?"

"Not like Lucas," Wilson says with a little shiver of dislike. "That's like comparing ..."

"A roach to a butterfly. They're both insects, but that's where the similarity ends," Pete supplies helpfully.

"Who's the roach?"

"Chris," Pete says the same moment that Wilson says, "Lucas."

"Mom says Chris is a lawyer," Rachel says.

Pete chuckles. "That's like saying Lisa is a doctor."

Wilson gives him a quelling look. "He is a lawyer. House and I are just gossiping, because … because Chris rubbed House the wrong way, so now House doesn't like him."

"I wouldn't have minded a rub," Pete says with a leer, "but I don't dig being penetrated."

"House!" Wilson hisses with a warning look in Rachel's direction.

But Rachel has stopped listening. At an optimistic estimate, her attention span lies somewhere between two and four minutes.

"What's that about?" Wilson whispers.

Pete doesn't bother to lower his voice. "He's gotten me under surveillance."

Wilson, looking harassed, shakes his head. "You're paranoid!"

"I could tell my class that Mom is dating a spy," Rachel says dreamily.

Wilson facepalms. "I doubt they'd believe you."

"They will; they're stupid."

"I'm sure they aren't," Wilson says uncomfortably. "They're probably just –"

"They're stupid," Rachel says with absolute certainty. "They keep asking me what it's like to have a black step-dad."

"And what do you say?"

"I tell them that Chris isn't my step-dad, so I really couldn't say," Rachel says, flicking her hand like Hermione Granger waving her wand to Wingardium Leviosa. (She probably copied it from there: Pete has caught her practicing spells with her toothbrush in front of the bathroom mirror.)

"And if he was your step-dad, what would you say then?" Pete asks, hoping he can get Rachel to say something so politically incorrect that Wilson will tie himself into knots trying to make her un-say it without hurting her feelings.

"That it's no different from when he dated Mom and wasn't my step-dad yet," Rachel says smugly.

Nicely circular; Pete approves fully. He notes though that Rachel has considered the possibility of having to answer that question someday: her reply isn't a spontaneous stroke of genius, but a premeditated put-down. Are there wedding bells in the offing?

"Isn't there anyone in your class with African-American or — I don't know — different parents?" Wilson asks.

"There's Carl, but he's black himself, so I figure everyone thinks it's normal for his parents to be black."

"Yeah, it's called heredity," Pete says. "A not to be underestimated force, even in this era of equal opportunity, patchwork families, and trans-everything."

"Again, let's stay unprejudiced and let's keep anything with 'trans' in it out of the discussion," Wilson says. "You'd think though, that there'd be more mixed race families, wouldn't you?" he adds meditatively in Pete's direction.

"Nope," Pete says. "Partner choice is based on instinct, not on common sense or rampant libido, and our instinct tells us to trust the familiar and distrust the unfamiliar."

"You don't think there's an element of racism involved?"

"That's the definition of racism: distrusting people solely because they are different from you."

Wilson narrows his eyes at him. "You're justifying racism by saying it's ingrained?"

"I'm explaining it, not justifying it. No one is forcing you to act on your instincts."

Wilson's hands cut through the air in an elongation of his thinking process. "On the one hand you say that our instinct tells us to distrust strangers, on the other … . You're advocating that we ignore our instinct and make partner choices based on … what?"

"I'm not advocating anything. I don't care whom you nail."

"Do you mind?" Wilson says with a nod in Rachel's direction.

"S'okay," Rachel says. "I know better than to repeat any words Pete uses."

Downstairs the front door slams hard. Twenty seconds later, a car engine roars into life. Wilson gets up and goes to the same window that Lisa looked out of.

"Huh," he says.

"Trouble in paradise?" Pete surmises with unholy glee.

"I think I'd better go and check on Cuddy," Wilson says. "Rachel, can you stay here with Pete?"

"Can I have some more cookies?"

"I don't know whether your mom wants you to have —"

"You're not cutting off her drug supply if you want me to look after her," Pete cuts in. That's just so like Wilson, to make paedagogic decisions that he doesn't have to enforce. "I don't want her jonesing during the ball game."

Throwing up his hands, Wilson leaves. Pete gets up and goes stiffly to the sideboard; the leg room in the economy class seems to be decreasing from year to year. He extricates a packet of Oreos that he tosses to Rachel. She catches it awkwardly, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

"What's with Lisa and carbs?" Pete asks. "Does she intend to live off greens from now on?"

"It isn't Mom, it's me," Rachel says, ripping open the packet.

"She wants you to eat only fruit and fibre?"

"Uh-uh," Rachel mumbles, stuffing an Oreo into her mouth.

"That's cruel and unnatural," Pete opines, leaning over to help himself to an Oreo too.

"It isn't her fault. The paediatrician ripped right into her the last time we were there. Said she was being irresponsible, because I gained twelve pounds in three months. He didn't know that it was you and Wilson, not Mom."

"And your mom didn't tell him."

"She doesn't know how much junk food you've been feeding me," Rachel says indifferently. "It's not like she's up here much. And I don't think the paediatrician cares who's doing it. He just expects her to put a stop to it. She has talked to the school and everything, so now I get a 'special diet'. It's what the others get, but without the good bits. I hate school."

He takes a close look at her. Yes, she has definitely gained weight; he estimates that she weighs around eighty pounds, which puts her well above the 90th percentile. Overweight, going on obese. School lunches aside, her school life can't be a walk in the park.

"Oh, well," he says. "Fat's the new slim."

"No, it isn't," Rachel unexpectedly contradicts him. "But I'm never going to be pretty anyway. I'm a cripple."

He doesn't like where this is going. "And cripples can't be beautiful?"

"Don't be stupid!"

He sits back, watching her out of the corner of his eyes. She's scowling at the cookie she has just liberated from the packet, her eyes blinking.

He comes to a decision. Leaning forward again, he extricates the packet from her hands and puts it away high up on the shelf behind him. "Your paediatrician is right and so is your mother. You'll always be a cripple, but there's no need to complicate your life any further."

"Hey, it's none of your business!" Rachel protests. She stretches to reach the shelf, but she doesn't stand a chance. Pouting, she sinks back into her wheelchair. "I don't mind being fat."

Everybody lies, even ten-year-olds. "Yes, you do. … I'm told that there's a chance you'll be able to walk with braces and a frame. A few extra pounds won't hamper you, a few stones will. Once you're of age you can stuff whatever you like down your hatch, but until then you'll do as you're told."

"You're not the dad of me," Rachel says.

He most certainly isn't, nor does he have any intention of getting involved in Lisa's child raising problems. Medically, however, it's the right call. It's not as though Rachel can lose excess weight by getting on a treadmill or running a few miles. Any weight she gains, she'll have to lose via dieting. He picks up the remote and switches channels until he finds cartoons; Rachel isn't a baseball fan, and if she decides she needs her mom right now, he'll be in trouble. He'll have to make Wilson get Netflix.

Rachel settles down, sniffling and scowling, which he manages to ignore. More difficult to ignore are Joel's screams a few minutes later. He turns off the baby monitor, but the sound carries through the apartment.

"You're supposed to go to him when he screams," Rachel says tentatively.

"As long as he can yell, he's still alive."

Rachel looks distressed. "Wilson never leaves him alone when he screams. He says —"

"Wilson's a sentimental idiot."

When he doesn't move, Rachel unlocks the brakes of her wheelchair and wheels herself out.

"Hey, where do you think you're going?" he calls after her.

"To get Joel. I don't want him to feel lonely or scared."

He doubts that Rachel is capable of lifting Joel out of his crib even if the kid cooperates or of keeping him in check if she does manage to extricate him in one piece. He sighs as he rises; there's nothing for it but to get the boy.

All in all Wilson is doing a pretty good job as a parent; Pete will grant him that. Wilson's take on all things medical or nutritional is sensible. He's neither overly cautious nor recklessly negligent. The nanny he chose for Joel, Esther, is a reliable and warm-hearted woman with her head screwed on right. The apartment is child-proof, as is Lisa's — mostly. Joel's schedule is predictable without being monotonous, varied without being overwhelming. Wilson is neither bombarding him with premature educational activities nor depriving him of stimuli. But — he has this thing about not letting Joel cry, even after the kid has been put to bed. If Joel wakes and doesn't calm down within a minute or so, Wilson goes to him, and if that doesn't do the job, he takes the critter out of the crib and carries him around until he has calmed down. It's irritating as hell and has ruined many a good evening in front of the television.

"What the hell is your problem?" Pete asks him every now and then.

Wilson shrugs. "I don't want him to feel abandoned. Young children, as you well know, don't have much of a concept of time. At night, ten minutes spent crying can feel like hours to them. He can't know that I'm just around the corner." And off he goes and ruins whatever sleeping rhythm the kid is supposed to be getting accustomed to. Yeah, someone has abandonment issues here, and it isn't necessarily Joel.

Joel is standing in his bed, hanging onto the rails and howling. The volume subsides somewhat when he sees them, but he keeps up a good show until he has been lifted out of his bed. Safely up on Pete's arm, he immediately stretches his hands out towards Rachel. Pete passes him down to her, and Rachel gathers him to her in a practiced move, with one arm under his butt and the other tucked tightly around his body.

"Push me back into the living room!" Rachel orders, "and switch off the television; he isn't supposed to get up in order to watch cartoons."

"Not bossy at all," Pete mutters, but he grasps the handles of the wheelchair and does as he's told. "Anything else, your majesty?"

Rachel rolls her eyes. "You could put on some soothing music. Maybe he'll go back to sleep quicker then. Wilson says it doesn't really matter what kind of music it is as long as it doesn't have a strong beat. There, there," she murmurs to Joel, who has switched from screams to soulful sobs. "Daddy will be back soon."

Honestly, why does he even bother? Other than performing menial fetch & carry tasks that anyone could handle, he is of no earthly use.

Wilson listens outside the door to Cuddy's part of the house for a few seconds, but there's dead silence from inside, nothing that gives him any clue as to what is going on. He is, however, sure that Chris Clark has just departed, and he's fairly sure that Chris departed in a huff. Since Chris is pretty much unflappable — Wilson deeply admires the way he ducks under Cuddy's radar and deflects her ultimatums — this bodes ill. Wilson knocks on the door, first quietly, then a little louder. He has a key, but hesitates to use it. After a moment he hears footsteps, and then Cuddy opens the door. She's still in her 'board meeting' gear except for her feet, which are bare. She turns away leaving the door open, which Wilson interprets as an invitation to enter. He closes the door and follows her into the kitchen.

There's a bottle of wine and a half-full glass on the table. Cuddy sits down and waves her hand at the chair next to hers.

"I'd offer you some, but …" Cuddy says. "There's no soda in the house. How about … some juice?"

"I'm good," Wilson says.

Cuddy drains the glass and pours herself another one. "You don't mind, do you?"

"No, but are you sure that's a good idea?" Wilson asks.

"My liver can take it," Cuddy says. "I'm not supposed to 'overdo it', but two glasses of wine can hardly be called excessive."

Wilson watches in silence as she twists and turns the glass.

"He proposed," she finally says.

"That's … wonderful?" Wilson ventures.

Apparently it isn't. "I lose my fucking job, and he fucking proposes. Does he think I need his fucking charity?" she snarls.

"Perhaps he's trying to be supportive, to show you that there's more to life than your job."

"Crap! He's being patronising. Suppose he lost his job; do you think he'd feel better if I proposed?"

"You shot him down," Wilson says heavily.

"I refused, yes. I'm not so desperate that I need to marry in order to preserve my self-esteem."

Wilson scratches the back of his neck. "Okay, it's hardly surprising that he's upset, but once he has recovered from his disappointment, he'll realise that maybe this wasn't the best moment."

Cuddy sighs. "I guess so."

"Give him a week," Wilson says bracingly.

Cuddy's laugh is shaky, but confident. "A week? Three days at the most."

"You're very optimistic."

She empties the wine glass. "He better not take much longer than three days: the sex with him is the best I've ever had."

"Really?" Wilson says, because finding an appropriate rejoinder to a woman talking about sex is always a bit tricky. Now if Cuddy were a guy, they could compare notes.

"Yes," Cuddy says dreamily. (The wine must be kicking in; Cuddy doesn't normally do 'dreamy'.) "Other guys are always trying to get off themselves or show how great they are in bed. He doesn't feel the need to prove anything; he just focuses on what I want."

"Then why did you refuse his proposal?" Wilson asks.

"Wilson, if you married three times because the sex was great, I'm not surprised your marriages didn't last! I'm not prepared to take the relationship to the next level; I'm happy to keep it the way it is." Dipping her finger into the wine dregs, she draws circles on the table. "My therapist says I have commitment issues. That I chicken out whenever a relationship gets so serious that I have to decide whether I'm in or out."

"And do you? Have commitment issues, I mean," Wilson asks, because that's the essence of active listening: showing that you've understood what you've been told by reflecting it back and asking your opposite to clarify statements if you're unsure what they mean and how they apply to the situation.

Cuddy shrugs. "I guess so. I broke up with Lucas a day after he proposed, and I shot Chris down immediately."

House would point out that her sample is too small to be statistically relevant. On the other hand, House would be the first to spot a pattern here. Wilson remembers that Cuddy once said she thought House was on the verge of proposing when she had her cancer scare and dumped him. He has his doubts about that, but whether House was in fact intending to propose is hardly relevant for her therapist's case. The decisive factor is is whether Cuddy was convinced that he was going to propose.

"Not much data to go on," he says, mulling it over.

"Oh, there is also my marriage."

"Marriage?" He must have heard wrong.

"Yeah. House never told you? I was married once, when I was nineteen. It didn't last long. My parents had the marriage annulled on the grounds that I was inebriated."

He's so preoccupied with getting his mind around the idea of Cuddy having been married — didn't she just mock him for his divorces? — that all he manages is, "You were drunk and got married?"

"No, I was sober, more or less. But a few days sufficed to show me that marrying someone just to piss off my parents was really, really stupid, so I went along with their strategy for getting me out of the mess I'd gotten myself into. My ex-husband — funny, I never think of him in those terms; I hardly ever think about him at all. … Anyway, my ex was at college on a football scholarship. I knew my parents would hate him: a goy, a redneck who didn't care a hoot for academics, a slob. The last time he read a book that wasn't required reading was in grade school. Turns out," she says, staring into the distance, "that I hate the same things that my parents do. Not surprising, I guess, but I believed I was different: more open, less prejudiced, and all that."

She snaps out of her thoughtful attitude. "I guess we all have more of our parents in us than we care to admit," she says, sitting up straight and rolling her shoulders.

Wilson hopes not. He really hopes not. "And how does your marriage fit in with your therapist's theory?"

"She says that when I'm stuck with someone or fear that I'm getting stuck with someone, I start looking around to see who else is on the market. 'The grass is always greener on the other side,' and that sort of thing. But we haven't really thrashed it out; it's not like it's been a major issue recently."

"Except now it is."

Cuddy thinks about this for so long that he wonders whether he should change the topic. "No, it isn't," she says. "Chris will get his head out of his backside and things will go back to the way they were. Aren't guys supposed to be keen on relationships with no strings attached?"

"Uh, yes … maybe … although I think …" That's what the media suggest, but Wilson has never been keen on casual affairs. He goes through a mental list of guys he knows, but can't come up with a definitive answer either way.

There isn't much else to say, really, so he goes back upstairs.

The television is off, Glenn Gould is playing Bach or something, and Rachel is sulking, as far away from House as possible, with Joel in her arms. Joel is blissfully asleep, as a quick glance confirms.

"What's up?" Wilson asks, rescuing Joel from Rachel's sticky grasp.

"Did you know that she's on a D-I-E-T?" House says in a stage whisper, tipping his head at Rachel.

Rachel's scowl deepens.

"I … . Shoot, I guess I should have known. I'm sorry, Rachel. Next time, I'll make sure there's a healthy snack here."

Rachel pouts. "I don't like fruit or vegetables."

Wilson racks his brains for low-carb snacks that don't feature fruit or vegetables.

"Sushi," House says from his corner of the couch. Is that a smidgen of guilt emanating off him?

Rachel perks up. "Sushi?" she asks. "Really?"

"Sushi it is," Wilson confirms. "I'll run it by your mom, but I'm sure we can manage that." If it turns out that House ate up all the cookies in front of Rachel's nose, he'll ensure that House personally makes the sushi.

Wilson takes Joel back to his crib. Then he accompanies Rachel downstairs. She's quite capable of managing by herself, as she doesn't hesitate to point out, and she isn't old enough yet — or mobile enough, for that matter — to abscond along the way, but still. He supposes he should ask her what happened upstairs, but he doesn't feel up to it, not tonight.

When he gets back House has switched the television back on and is watching one of his dreadful medical dramas.

"Chris proposed and Cuddy shot him down," Wilson says.

"Moron," House opines.

"I guess so. It's not like guys are queueing up —"

"Clark, not Lisa," House clarifies. "What idiot proposes to a woman unless she shows clear signs that she wants a proposal?"

"Umm," Wilson says, reviewing the four or so times he proposed. He can't remember whether he received a clear signal each time from his current sweetheart.

House's eyes bombard him with a blast of contemptuous amusement. "You really believe you determined the whens and hows of your proposals! It's a major game-changer in a woman's life. You think she's not gonna want to control when it happens? Especially Lisa. She hates losing control over her life in any way."

Wilson shrugs helplessly. "I don't see how she benefits if she retains control, but loses him."

"She never had him under control, only the relationship. He was threatening to change that by dictating his own terms. If she'd accepted, she'd be stuck with his covert subversiveness on his terms. He'll be back with apologies for trying to force her hand, she'll accept the apologies graciously, and then it'll start all over again. There'll be never-ending power battles for supremacy masked as mutual concern."

This is too abstract and convoluted for Wilson, who in some small corner of his soul prefers to keep the hope alive that somewhere within the murky depths of sexual relationships there's a bubbling fountain of pure romance. He puts his feet up on the coffee table next to House's and changes the perspective.

"If Chris is observing you, then making up with Cuddy will be the top item on his agenda," Wilson says.

House's attitude towards Chris strikes Wilson as just a teensy bit paranoid. He doesn't doubt that Chris dropped a word in House's ear about the inadvisability of getting involved in controversial human rights investigations, but it doesn't seem likely that the State Department would deploy a lawyer to keep an eye on a small cog in the works of the International Criminal Court. House is the least political person Wilson has ever met. His sole aim in looking at war corpses is to figure out how they died; he isn't interested in whether anyone ultimately gets convicted for killing them.

House snorts. "He won't stop having me observed just because he isn't talking to Lisa."

"He'll find it difficult to explain his presence in this house if they aren't talking."

"Wilson, open your eyes! Haven't you noticed how often Douglas has been babysitting for Lisa lately?"

Wilson frowns. It's true; Lucas Douglas, who is easily in the Top Ten of his 'Least Favourite Persons' list, has been conspicuously present recently, taking Rachel for the day or babysitting her on evenings that Cuddy went out with Chris. "You think Chris Clark is paying Lucas Douglas to spy on you."

"I know Clark is paying Douglas. I asked Douglas, and he confirmed it. A guy with a young family, babysitting for a woman who is dating another guy: in what universe does that happen?"

Now that House spells it out it amazes Wilson that he didn't catch on himself. "Why don't you … do something about it? Like, tell Cuddy."

House shrugs. "Why should I? I know Douglas is observing me; he knows I know he's observing me. That's better than not knowing who it is. He knows my eyes are on him, and if I ever feel the need to keep something from Clark, I know whose thumbscrews I have to tighten so that the news doesn't reach him."

Wilson finds it hard to understand how House can be so blasé about the whole matter, but then, House has no memories of sprinklers going off and ruining expensive electronic equipment, of loosened grab rails and wild beasts in the bathtub, of being tripped and humiliated in public. A thought strikes him and he looks around the room, trying to spot minor changes, small shifts in the alignment of decorative objects, protuberances, anything that he didn't do. It's hopeless: with House in the apartment, everything is in flux. House has pulled books off the shelf and replaced them elsewhere, he has shifted the floor lamp so he can read while watching television, he has pushed everything on the mantelpiece to one side to make room for his iPad and his cell, and there's a pile of journals on the piano and on the floor. And that's just the living room … .

Finally he asks House, "Do you think he has bugged the place?"

"I debugged it after I arrived," House says nonchalantly. "He bugs it; I find the bugs. It's a game we play."

"He … you … House! What if he bugged it while you were gone? He may have been spying on me for months on end!"

"I take the apartment apart every time I'm here, so he can't eavesdrop on you for longer than eight weeks at a stretch."

"That's a comfort," Wilson says. "If he has been listening in on me …"

"Oh, he has. How do you think I know that you've been doing Melanie Robbins?"

Wilson goes hot and then cold. "You know about Melanie?"

House expels a puff of air and leans his head back against the headrest. "Wilson, you're an idiot. You went from frustrated and pissy to calm and balanced, and you think I won't get suspicious?"

"My spouse pays my enemy to eavesdrop on me," Wilson says heavily. He steals a sideways peek at House.

House looks calm and relaxed and amused in that dark, self-satisfied way of his, his expression saying, 'My prejudices about mankind have once more been confirmed.'

"I didn't pay him. I … made it attractive for him to pass on information that's of interest to me."

Wilson turns this over in his mind and decides that he'd rather not know. "You're okay with … me and Melanie?" he ventures.

House sits up and leans forward. "Wilson, this 'chastity till death us do part' thing wasn't my idea. You're the one who believes that the Family Court is interested in our sex life." He pauses, and then a mischievous smile twists his lips. "If you invite me for a threesome, it would count as marital sex."

A mental image of House and Melanie entwined, of the three of them in a heaving sweaty bunch rises unbidden in Wilson's mind. He resolutely banishes it. That's the last thing he needs; besides, Melanie would never agree. "Dream on," he says to House.

"Oh, I will," House says, waggling his eyebrows.

It's all very well for House to be impervious to being spied upon, but Wilson has little trust in Lucas's discretion. Maybe he's acting on the behalf of Chris Clark and the Department of State, but that won't stop him from earning a dollar or two on the side.

Therefore the next day Wilson takes an extended lunch break, which he uses to visit a coffee shop a few blocks down from the hospital. The place is fairly empty, so Wilson, after ordering a chai latte and a cookie, sits down at a secluded table far from the counter. Chris, arriving two minutes before the appointed time, nods in acknowledgment of his wave before going to the counter to place his order. He crosses over to the table with a laden tray, dressed impeccably as always. Wilson feels a pang of guilt: Chris and Cuddy would have made a handsome couple.

He rises politely and shakes the hand that Chris proffers after setting down the tray. "Thanks for coming at such short notice," he says. "I wouldn't have asked you to meet me if the matter weren't urgent."

"That's okay," Chris says.

They both sit down.

"This wouldn't be about yesterday?" Chris asks, his expression guarded.

"Oh no!" Wilson says. "I wouldn't dream of interfering. You're both quite capable of handling a little misunderstanding by yourselves. No, it's a matter that concerns House and me. I came to you for advice because it has some legal connotations."

He reaches under his chair, pulling out a shoe box that he places on the table between himself and Chris. "When House arrived yesterday, he found something odd in my apartment. We searched the whole place, and this is the yield." He opens the box to display a selection of the surveillance devices that House has discovered so far. "We're being observed."

Chris stares at the contents of the box. Then his eyes rise to meet Wilson's. "Any idea who planted these?"

"Oh, I have a fairly good idea," Wilson says. After a meaningful pause he continues, "It's a sleazy PI called Lucas Douglas — but I have no proof whatsoever. That's why I'm talking to you, not the police. As long as they have nothing to go on, they won't be able to stop him, and I need him to stop now." Wilson's hand slices the air.

"And what do you want me to do, get a background check, have him followed, …?" Chris manages to make all this sound like a major imposition.

"Just have a talk with him, like you did with House regarding his work for the World Court. Indicate that if he continues with his present course, a can of whoop ass will open on him."

Chris twists his cup around, smiling in a chilly manner. "Regardless of popular rumour, we don't go around threatening people with medieval torture and summary execution."

"Sorry, my bad," Wilson says unrepentantly. "House must have 'misunderstood' you."

"He most certainly has!"

"That's a pity. When I inform him that you didn't mean it that way, it'll considerably raise his incentive to accept further work for the International Criminal Court. I'd more or less gotten him to give it up, since his travelling was infringing on his family time with us."

"Family time is important," Chris says.

"Absolutely," Wilson agrees.

"Especially when you have a young kid."


Chris tips his head. "Maybe you don't need to tell him that I wasn't threatening to waterboard him."

Wilson pretends to consider this. "Maybe not. I have connections at my former hospital, Princeton-Plainsboro, who might be willing to give him some work if I talked to them. Then he wouldn't have the time to work for the World Court."

"In Princeton? That's really close; it would be great for your kid to have his dad — his other dad — at home more often."

"Yeah, exactly. Now back to your talk with Lucas Douglas …"

Chris smiles, almost in a friendly manner. "Consider it done."

"There's just one small thing to mention to him, and that's regarding passing on information that he has gleaned already to third parties."

"I'm sure I'll manage to be clear on that point."

Wilson leans forward. "Chris, you don't know the point. The point here is that Lucas doesn't like us, House and me. This isn't the first time that he's penetrating our private sphere. He has done it before; in 2010 I think it was, when House and I moved into a loft conversion together. He harassed us there, ruining the interior decoration and nearly doing House serious bodily injury. It culminated in him tripping House up and humiliating him in a public place. In case you don't know, House wasn't an amputee then; he was in chronic pain from his leg, and tripping him up wasn't exactly the act of a friend!"

"I'll be very clear. … What or who exactly are you worried about?"

Wilson takes a deep breath. "You know that we're trying to get Joel's mother to consent to House adopting Joel or at least getting custody in the event of my demise?"

Chris nods.

"If Lucas plays information about us to her, then we could be in for a sticky time in court."

"Wilson," Chris says, "what happens in your bedroom is no one's business, not even the family court's."

"It isn't what happens in our bedroom that's bothering me, but what happens in other bedrooms."

Chris's eyebrows rise.

So we're a teensy bit prudish, Wilson thinks.

"House and I, we go back a long way. … Cuddy too," he adds as an afterthought. "We've found that the clue to longevity and stability in a relationship is diversity within a well-defined framework, if you get what I mean. We both have our … little needs, needs that the other can't meet, so we find other outlets. We don't publicise it, we don't make a big deal of it, because homophobia is hard enough to deal with as it is. People wouldn't understand, and when we were all working at PPTH — Cuddy, House and me — being open about how we organised our private lives wasn't up for debate anyway. That's when the trouble started: at PPTH, when Lucas was dating Cuddy, and House and I had just moved into the loft conversion together. Lucas was insanely jealous of House. Heaven knows why, because House was prepared to let them get on with it." Wilson adds an expressive shrug and a hand roll.

Chris's face is a mask. "I thought you said you and House were already living together then."

Wilson purses his lips and taps his fingers on the table, the way House does when he means, 'Do I have to spell this out to you, you moron?'

"Well yes, but as I said, we're open to variation, and House has always had a thing for Cuddy. So far, House and I have been able to integrate his predilections into our relationship, but Cuddy has a harder time with the people she dates. (Which is fine: the woman I'm seeing at the moment isn't too keen to include House either — as yet. You have to give these things time.) Ultimately the situation got so bad that Cuddy had to drop Lucas; he simply couldn't adapt to … to the way things were. Then she and House dated, while I dated my ex-wife. … You see that it's complicated: sometimes we're closer to the one, sometimes to the other, while at other times we all need a bit of space. At that time, House and I hadn't figured out the need for a stable framework yet, a fixed point of return, so to say. Our kid, Joel, kinda forced our hand there, and I'd say it isn't a bad thing."

He pauses to allow Chris to catch up. "I hope you see why I don't want Lucas using anything he found out about us as ammunition. That man is a sociopath, and I can't have him passing on random titbits of gossip to people who are interested in harming us, just for the fun of watching House squirm! He's vindictive; he won't hesitate to relay anything he overheard to Amy, her lawyer, or the family court."

"I see," Chris says slowly. "I'll make sure he understands that if anything about House or you gets passed on to anyone else, he's in big trouble."

"Good!" Wilson leans back and drains his chai latte. "Well, I have to go back to work. Thanks, Chris, you're really helping us big time here."

"Don't mention it." Chris, however, isn't sounding as cheerily suave as when he'd arrived.

"Will we be seeing you around again soon?" Wilson asks as he rises.

Chris grunts something unintelligible.

That evening, when Wilson goes downstairs to help Cuddy with her job applications, he finds her on her couch, hugging her legs and looking bewildered.

"What's up?" he asks, sitting down next to her.

"Chris phoned," she says.

"Wow, not even three days!" Wilson says with an enthusiasm that he doesn't feel. "It's a good thing I didn't put any money on him."

"He said he'd like a time-out. Says he needs some space after my rejection."


"Wilson, it's not okay! When people say they need a time-out, they've either found someone else and want to test that relationship or they're too cowardly to say it's over. Either way, the relationship is a goner."

Or they've been told that their girlfriend has an exotic love life. "But you weren't too cowardly," Wilson says. Cuddy isn't the kind of woman who waits around for her man to come to his senses.

"Yeah, I told him we should break up."

And then she's sobbing into his shirt while he pats her back feebly. "I'm sorry, Cuddy," he says. "I'm so sorry."

And he is, but he really can't have her badass boyfriends threatening his happiness or his son's future.
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