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Many thanks to Basingstoke for beta!
Busted. House tried to keep the cover of Entertainment Weekly
"Why don't you have a patient in here? Never mind, stupid question," Cuddy said. "Come with me."
He sighed and put down the magazine and limped after her as slowly as he figured he could get away with. Except she continued straight on past the waiting room, into the lobby, and out through the front doors. That was where she noticed he wasn't right behind her, and stood arms-folded until he caught up.
"Have you considered a wheelchair?" she said, whirling around to keep going.
"Hey, you know, maybe I could get one of those motorized ones and have it souped up. I bet I could break fifteen miles per hour going around the Memorial Hall," he said. "Is it too much to ask where we're going? Because if you're trying to find someplace private to have your wicked way with me, I'm sure there's someplace nearer than the next town over."
"Don't worry, I'm not going to kill you and dump the body. I watch too much CSI to think I could get away with it," she said, stopping at a car in the parking lot. A Jaguar, which figured.
"Well, that just fills me with confidence."
House eyed her warily across the table while the waitress brought over the coffee. This had to be some kind of new tactic, but so far he hadn't figured it out. "You know, you don't actually have to go to these lengths to apologize for having wasted my time. You could just let me out of the rest of my clinic hours. I'm really a forgiving kind of guy."
"Nice try. We'll discuss your neglect of patients and lack of work ethic later. Right now there's something more important to deal with. I need some Equal, please," she said to the waitress, and put cream in her coffee.
He drank his black and put the cup down with a grimace. "Okay, what's the big secret?" She frowned. "Come on. If you wanted crummy coffee, we could've just gone to the cafeteria. So what's on the agenda you don't want anyone else overhearing, Brain? Plotting a coup? Are we going to be storming the governor's mansion?"
"Shut up," she said, without losing the plasticky smile, though it got a little tight. "Why is Dr. Wilson unhappy?"
He coughed coffee partway up his nose and stared at her, really surprised for once. "What?"
"You're his friend," she said, in a way that suggested she had doubts. "I thought you might know if there's something bothering him."
"And if there was, I'd be sharing it with you because...?"
Cuddy waited for the waitress to go away again. "Johns Hopkins is putting together an offer for him," she said.
House rolled his eyes and considered drinking more of the coffee. He thought he could feel the earlier dose eating away at his stomach lining already. Tasty. "He's head of oncology in Princeton at 39," he said, pushing the mug away. "He gets offers twice a year. Why would Hopkins want him, anyway? He's not a research guy."
"This one's different," she said.
She hesitated and fiddled with another of her fake sugar packets. House considered telling her some fun Internet rumors about aspartame causing mental disorders. "This doesn't go any farther than here," she said, eyeing him.
"Okay," he said.
"I have a friend at Hopkins. They floated the idea by him first at the ASTRO conference two weeks ago and he didn't say no."
He wasn't sure what his face looked like, but judging by her raised eyebrows, it matched the feeling in his gut, an oh shit
free-fall awareness that he had missed something critical. "Did he say yes
"You've already heard all I've got," Cuddy said. "I doubt he'd commit without seeing a real offer first, but it's going to be nice. They're not kidding around." She paused. "You didn't know anything about this. He didn't even mention they'd talked?"
"I'm sorry, I don't get blow-by-blow descriptions of his convention adventures," House bit out, which was a lie, but the stories he usually dragged out of Wilson weren't suitable for polite conversation. His brain was racing in six different ways at once, and he grabbed onto one of the tracks. "Hold on a second. Why does
Hopkins want him, and why do you care? Polchek would be in line for the job, and she's your pal."
"Dr. Wilson is an excellent physician, and he would be a significant loss -- "
"Cut the bullshit. There are plenty of 'excellent physicians' out there and Princeton can mostly have their pick."
Cuddy tilted her head. "Does it really matter?"
"Why don't you tell me and find out?"
"I don't think so." She leaned over the table at him, giving him a great angle straight down her cleavage, which sadly he wasn't at all in the mood to appreciate. "See, I'm pretty sure I don't have to. I think you're going to do everything you can to help me anyway."
"Really," he said grimly.
"Really. Unless you want the only person you like enough to treat like a human being to move to Maryland."
"New project, kids," he announced, coming in. "I want to know everything there is to know about the oncology department."
Foreman looked up from his charting. "Why are you asking us? Dr. Wilson --"
"Patients lie," House said. "Same principle. You don't ask a doctor about his own department." It was good enough bullshit to carry him on by the question.
"Is there something wrong?" Cameron asked. "Some kind of systematic misdiagnoses -- "
"How far back should we look up in the patient charts?" Chase put in.
"No, no, no," he said. "I don't want to know about the patients in the oncology unit. I want to know about the department. Business records, legal records. That kind of thing. Go five years back." That ought to be enough. Wilson had only taken over as head three years ago.
They stared at him baffled. "What does this have to do with medicine?" Foreman said.
He stared right back at them with a carefully crafted expression of withering scorn. "Are you serious? What does the business side of a hospital have to do with medicine? In the age of HMOs? Come on, don't ask me stupid questions." He limped away to his private office as quick as he could manage.
"But what are we looking for?" Cameron called after him.
"Anything unusual," he said over his shoulder. "Chop, chop!"
Safe at last, he dropped heavily into his office chair and stared at the telephone. But what the hell was he going to say? What's so great about Maryland
? You actually think Hopkins is going to have a lighter workload
? Is Julie being that big of a bitch about the divorce you have to flee across state lines
? Or for that really extra-special pathetic touch, Why are you leaving me
"So!" House said heartily.
James looked up from his desk, startled. "Hey," he said. Tie kind of loose, eyes baggy and bloodshot. But that wasn't anything unusual for him in the divorce phase, and considering he was on number three he had to be getting used to it. "Something wrong?"
"Yes," House said. "Cuddy's lying in wait somewhere in the lobby. If she gets me alone I'll have to sit there listening to her yell for fifteen minutes. Come walk me to safety and I'll buy you dinner."
Wilson grinned, even if it was tired. "I've got work -- "
"It's after eight o'clock," House said. "Sushi?"
Wilson looked down at his desk and then got himself up. "You know how to sweet-talk a guy."
"Let's get another round," House said, after the plates got cleared off, and caught the waiter by sticking his cane out waist-high. "More sake." He'd have to skip the Vicodin for tonight at this rate, but Wilson got warm and fuzzy and talkative if you got enough hard liquor into him. "So where are you staying?"
"The Regency," Wilson said, picking at the remains of the edamame. "Julie offered to go stay with her parents, but -- " He shrugged.
"That wasn't self-flagellating enough for you?"
"Something like that." Wilson sighed. "Do I really look that bad?"
"Taking me out to dinner, asking me about the divorce. It's like you're actually trying to cheer me up. It's kind of weird."
," House said, annoyed. Wilson just gave him a look. "Fine, I suck at this anyway," House muttered. "Cuddy has a pal at Hopkins, okay? You've been ratted out."
"Oh," James said.
"Yeah. Oh." House waited, but nothing else seemed to be forthcoming. "Hey," he said, and poked James in the leg. "Talk to me. Is this about Julie?"
James hunched up a little over his sake cup. "Yeah."
"Okay, so it's not about Julie. Is it the nurse? Because that's a little quick even for you."
"Oh, God." James let his head thump back against the backrest.
"Not the nurse either, huh?"
"Look, it is about Julie. And Michelle too, I guess. It's just not just
about them." He was quiet. "It's complicated," he said finally.
"Your love life, complicated? No kidding." House poured him another cup. "What, has the number of your exes in town reached critical mass? You've only been here eleven years, you can't have gone through more than thirty women."
"I have not gone through
"So how many, then? Twenty?"
"You're unbelievable. I don't count them!" James said, going for the sake again.
"Oh, yeah, right," House said. "Come on."
"I don't!" Wilson was starting to get red in the face, little streaks of color right along his cheekbones. Very cute. House grinned like a shark.
"Okay, let's see. There was Christine, but I guess maybe we don't count her since you were already married to her when you moved in. There was that lawyer the first year, Andrea? That's one. The accountant after her, whatever her name was, two. Then we had -- "
"Will you shut up? Twenty-eight, all right?" James shook his head. "Jesus."
"Impressive," House said, a little taken aback. He hadn't realized it really was that many. He suppressed the temptation to tell James he was a slut. Not that it wasn't true, but this didn't seem like the right time to bring it up. Plenty of time for serious taunting later. "So I guess you really do need fresh hunting grounds, huh?"
"Nice," Wilson said, but it came out bitter instead of sarcastic.
"Hey, I'm kidding," House said, startled.
"No, I know." James rubbed his face with both hands and let them drop back to the table. "It's not -- God. I need to stop doing this. I need to -- I can't live like this. I'm hurting them, I'm hurting myself. This isn't the kind of life I want."
"And you think going to Johns Hopkins is going to cure you of chasing women?"
Wilson picked up his cup and rolled it between his palms. "Did you know, I started dating Christine my first year of college? We didn't get married until I got out of med school, but we were together for ten years, and I didn't cheat on her once, not until we got here."
House rolled his eyes. "You mean it's easier to pick up women when you're an oncologist at one of the top hospitals in the country than when you're a medical student in residency? No, really?"
"I didn't start doing it because it was easier," James said.
"Well, I don't think there are aphrodisiacs in the city water supply or anything. Not that some of the fraternities wouldn't try it if they could, but -- "
"Okay, seriously. You can't really believe just moving to goddamned Maryland is going to change anything," House said. "For Christ's sake, get therapy or something. I bet you can get Cuddy to pay for it. She said she'd pay for mine, and besides, I think you've got leverage. Not sure what, yet, but she's definitely hot to keep you." He paused. "Hey, wait a second. Is this a boss thing? Please tell me you're not having an affair with Cuddy."
"I am not having an affair with Cuddy!" James said. "She's a human steamroller. She'd squash me like a bug. Anyway, she's not my type."
"Well, good," House said. "Because that would just be freaky."
"And I'm already in therapy."
"Okay -- wait, what?" House said.
"I'm in therapy." Wilson wasn't meeting his eyes. "I started a few months ago. Julie and I were doing some counseling together, and-- Anyway. It doesn't really matter." He drained the cup. "It's getting late."
"Hey." House reached out and put a hand on his arm, held it down against the table. "What's going on? Is this -- did something happen? Is it the patients?" Oncology could get pretty grim, but he'd never noticed any signs Wilson was cracking up before.
"No." Wilson said, getting out his cell phone with the other hand. "Yeah, can we get two cabs to Sempai? 184 Rosemont Drive. Yeah, staying in the neighborhood. Thanks."
House grabbed the phone away. "Make it one cab," he said, and hung up.
"I can't talk about this with you," James said.
"I am actually capable of not being a jerk for fifteen minutes at a time. Your window starts now. Come on." James just shook his head and kept fiddling with the empty cup. House downed his own share of dutch courage and asked, more harshly than he meant to, "Have you already promised them you'd take the job?"
"No," James said. "I just said I'd consider it."
"But you're going to," House said.
"Maybe. I don't know. Probably." Wilson got up from the table.
It was nasty late-winter weather, cold and wet, the kind that made his leg scream bloody murder. He followed Wilson outside to wait for the cab and tried to button his coat one-handed. After a second Wilson turned around and did it for him. "Greg," he said quietly, hands still resting on the lapels, "Have you ever wanted something you couldn't have?"
"No, I don't have daily fantasies of having my leg back, why do you ask?" he said bitterly.
Wilson's hands dropped. "Sorry, I guess that was stupid." He turned away.
"Yeah, but I'm the one who got you drunk, so I'll take part of the blame," House said, cursing himself. He poked Wilson in the back. "You think you're going to find it in Maryland?"
Wilson laughed shortly, without turning around. "No. I just figure if I'm not looking at it every day I'll stop wanting it that much."
They didn't talk in the cab.
Cuddy looked up from her desk when he rapped on the door. "Well?"
"Get someone to fill in my clinic hours," he said.
"Wow, you're really shameless," she said. "I guess I'm not surprised -- "
"Shut up," he said savagely. "He's going to take it, and I have no goddamn idea why. How long do I have before they send the offer?"
She closed her mouth on whatever she'd been going to say. "A week," she said finally. "Maybe a little more. They'll need to get the board to approve the package. You think you can talk him out of it?"
"You'll find out when I do," he said. "And I need a list of everybody in the hospital who's been here longer than he has."
"Cameron. New job for you." He beckoned her into the office and handed her the list. "Find out about these people."
She took the list. "Find out what, exactly?"
"Anything. Married, kids, if they like the Yankees or the Mets, who their best friends are, favorite food, whatever."
She studied the names. "Wait a second, I know some of these people. Are all of them staff here?"
"See, that's how I knew you'd be great at this. You're such a people person," he said. "Yes. Now get going."
"But this makes no sense. I know Lorraine is in HR, and Jess is a radiologist. They don't work in the same area at all -- I don't think they even know each other. I only know them both because Lorraine helped me with my hiring paperwork, and Jess did the x-rays on Charlie Forster last month. What's the connection?"
"You tell me. That's why they call it research." He shooed her towards the door with hand motions.
She started going but turned back. "And why are some of these names crossed out? Leah Goldstein, Mei Lin, Andrea Charlet."
"Just skip those," he said. "It's not important."
She left muttering something he chose benevolently not to hear, and then he popped a vicodin and turned on the TV. General Hospital might drown out the panicky voice in the back of his head long enough for him to think.
Two days later he hadn't gotten any ideas better than intercepting the offer package and substituting in something with a lowball salary, or some kind of crazy caseload requirement. Wilson had turned down invitations to lunch and dinner both and gotten really busy, which at first House had thought was just an avoidance technique. Then he realized Wilson was wrapping up his cases. The typical two-month backlog of paperwork was already down to six weeks, and every time he lost the struggle with self-restraint and went by to peer in at the window of Wilson's office, the desk was looking noticably emptier.
He started taking three vicodin at a time and pretended it was because he was doing more walking than usual. Mostly he wanted the vague muffling of all sensation.
It worked well enough he didn't even jump when Cameron slammed into his office with all but steam coming out of her ears. "Everyone on this list has worked here for at least eleven years," she said, slapping it down on his desk.
"That's it? Two days, and that's all you've got?"
"Oh no, I've got lots more," she said. "For instance, the only person who's been working here that long who isn't
on the list is Dr. Wilson, and those three women you crossed out all used to date him. Do you have us spying
on him? Is that what all of this is about?"
"Don't be ridiculous," he said. "If I wanted to spy on Dr. Wilson, I wouldn't recruit you guys, I'd just bribe his secretary. I already know all about him, I don't need you doing research on him. What else have you got?"
She narrowed her eyes. "So I suppose you're not actually interested in his relationships with the rest of the other people on the list, and I should just throw out that part of the research." She turned to go.
"No! --damn," he muttered, and glared at her triumphant little smirk. "Just get back to work."
"I don't think this is an appropriate use of our time or hospital resources."
"Well, Dr. Cuddy disagrees with you," he said and smirked right back at her surprise. "Feel free to ask her if you don't believe me, but for now? Get back to work."
She looked unconvinced, but at least she left. Once she was gone, he thought about it and picked up the phone to dial Wilson's number. "Teri? No, don't put me through to James, I want to talk to you."
Five days. He'd stopped watching TV and started bouncing his ball against the wall between his office and the space the trio were working in, on the principle that if he started driving them crazy they'd hurry up to make him stop. Finally, Chase came knocking on the door grinning and full of himself. "We got it."
Foreman was drawing a chart on the whiteboard. "This is the number of malpractice cases filed against the oncology department in 1999, 2000, 2001," he said, drawing lines. "Everything got settled, typical payouts, nothing really embarrassing. We were a little higher than the national average for a hospital our size, but this is a teaching hospital, and that's not unusual."
House sat down and leaned against his cane. "Okay. Now tell me something interesting."
"This is the number of cases filed in the last three years since Dr. Wilson became head of the department." Foreman drew more lines.
"Wow," Cameron said.
"What is that, an 80 percent drop?" House said, squinting at the numbers.
"83 percent," Chase said. "We can't really figure out what did it, either."
Foreman said, "Well, he did put in this new policy, where you have to get your diagnosis and treatment plans double-checked by another oncologist on staff. And they have to write him a memo on it, so they can't just rubber-stamp each other."
"But we went through all the reports. They only caught seventeen errors that way, and nine of those patients died anyway," Chase finished. "So like I said -- no clue what did it."
"He did it," Cameron said unexpectedly. "Dr. Wilson, I mean. He's only been sued three times himself, ever. Someone I talked to in the legal department mentioned that, when I asked about him," she added, when they looked at her. "It's like some kind of record. And since he became head, he meets every patient who gets admitted to the department at least once."
"Makes sense," House said. "Nice oncologists are as common as unicorns. He probably charms them with his lack of sadistic evil."
"And I guess he's found a way to make it contagious." Foreman tossed the dry erase markers back on the board and sitting down. "So, now what? Was that what you were looking for?"
"It's what there was to find," House said tiredly, pushing himself up. "You might as well find out how much we paid for malpractice insurance for each of these years."
"That's not exactly going to be public information," Foreman said.
"So?" House said, and stared down the other objections Foreman clearly wanted to raise. "And do it fast, will you?" He limped slowly back into his office. Cuddy hadn't been wrong. Knowing why she wanted to keep Wilson told him squat about why he wanted to leave. Strike one.
Cameron tapped on the door perfunctorily and followed him in without waiting, pulling the door shut after her. She sat down across from him.
"Well?" House said.
"I heard about the Johns Hopkins thing," she said, much too gently. "They said it was just a rumor, but it's true, isn't it?"
"Great," he muttered. "Yeah. And save it," he said, when it looked like she was about to say something stupid and pitying. "Do you have anything actually useful to share?"
She opened her mouth, shut it again, and gave him a small helpless shrug that answered the question. "Everyone on the list knows him at least a little," she said. "None of them had anything really bad to say about him. Except, there was this one guy in the oncology department -- "
"Renfield," he supplied. "He thought he should've gotten the department head because he's been here longer. He's an idiot. Sorry, I should have taken him off the list."
"Right. Well, apart from him, two of the other doctors said he was too nice, and, um. Some of the women said he, uh, needed to be put on a leash. But that was it. Everyone else just said some version of, 'he's a really nice guy.' " She put the list on his desk.
"So nobody who's been here that long is close to him." Two days left, and the only decent ideas he'd had were used up. He shook out another couple of vicodin and crunched them dry, acrid taste lingering on his tongue.
"No one besides you," she said, and got up.
"What?" The first dizzy rush was hitting his system, on top of the three he'd taken half an hour ago.
"You've been here that long, haven't you?" she said. "I thought you'd been here for sixteen years."
"Yeah," he said.
"So you're the only one." She shrugged.
He let her leave and sat watching his hands shake, trying to decide if he needed to throw up because of the vicodin or because of the fear.
Day six he called in sick, and stayed home watching soaps and daytime talk shows and cartoons and eating cereal dry out of the box. Day seven he snapped at the trio as he went by them into his office, and sat there surfing the web until his phone rang.
"It's here," Teri said. He didn't say anything, and finally she prodded. "You want that extra day or not?"
"Yeah." He cleared his throat and tried it again. "Yeah. I do."
"Uh huh," she said. "Well, I'm going to tell him I'm taking the rest of the day, and take his mail with me to do at home. But tomorrow it's landing on his desk. So whatever bright idea you got, you better use it up now."
Teri was gone by the time he got upstairs, so he let himself into Wilson's office. The desk was stripped bare: laptop, monitor, a blank pad of paper; Wilson's bag and coat. House closed the blinds on the glass walls and sat down to wait. He woke up again when Wilson came in: nine by the clock on the wall, and it had gotten dark outside a long time ago.
"What are you doing in here?" Wilson said, sitting down in the chair next to him.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck
," House said, gritting his teeth: he'd had his knee bent and now his leg was killing him. He fumbled for his pills. "Waiting for you, what does it look like?"
"Yeah, I noticed that part. Why?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe I thought I'd take the chance to say goodbye before you check out to Maryland and disappear," he said. Wilson dropped his head. "No -- oh, fuck. Give me five minutes, will you? I'm not going to be human until this kicks in." House closed his eyes and let his head fall back.
He had to open his eyes eventually, though, and reality hadn't conveniently rearranged itself in the meantime. Wilson was sitting quietly, leaned back with his legs propped up on the desk, just staring at their reflections in the window, the walkway lights in the empty courtyard shining in on their faces.
"Did it ever occur to you to just ask for what you wanted?" House said.
Wilson just quirked the corner of his mouth, never looking away from the window. "Sure."
"So why didn't you?"
He shrugged. "Cowardice. Being confused. I didn't think it was fair to put someone in that position. I was afraid of what would happen. Take your pick."
"So instead you're going to run away without even trying."
James turned to look at him at last. "Maybe I needed there to be an out," he said gently, "before I tried."
House swallowed. "Teri has the offer from Hopkins. It came today."
"Yeah, I know. I saw it on her desk before."
"So?" House said, and shut his eyes, because he couldn't bear to watch James leaning in.
He'd hired an escort six months back, met her at a decent but not great hotel forty miles out of town, paid her extra for dealing with the inconvenience of his leg. Before then it had been two years, and a drunk charity party someone had dragged him to, where a woman he didn't even know had pulled him into a closet and sucked him off in under four minutes flat. Right now he was regretting both of them, and the three women over the five years before, his right hand in the shower four days ago, and almost everything else ever. He wanted to be starved as much in body as in spirit; he wanted to be desperate enough to need, desperate enough not to flinch even for a moment.
And then James touched him, and oh Christ that wasn't going to be a problem after all. He put shaking hands up fumbling to grip James' head, fingers sliding blindly over his jaw, his cheekbones, the rasp of a day's faint stubble, his soft hair wilting and stiff with dried sweat at the brow and temples. House opened his mouth, leaned into James' hands working on his shirt, wondered hazily if it was too soon to ask for a blowjob.
"God, I want to fuck you," James said against his mouth, barely breaking for air, and House started laughing in short coughing spurts between kisses, because even that was an honest-to-god turn-on, hearing James say it in that shocking, hoarse voice, like he couldn't even breathe, and apparently all that panicking had been a complete waste of time.
He strolled into Cuddy's office Monday morning, as jaunty as he could manage. She looked up and sat back in her chair, smiling. "You talked him out of it."
"Yes. Well... sort of," he said, taking a chair.
"See, there's this interesting little fact I discovered," House said. "Seems that our malpractice insurance company gives us a discount of about $20 million a year, contingent on keeping the lawsuit rates in the oncology department at their current levels. Which, as I'm sure you're well aware, is pretty much contingent on keeping Dr. Wilson in his current position."
He paused to savor the moment. She'd stopped smiling.
"Anyway, it seems to me a raise is in order. I'm thinking, oh, ten percent would be reasonable, don't you?"
"Are you crazy? I can't pay a doctor two million a year! What does this look like to you, Wall Street?" she demanded. He sat back and just smirked at her. She took a deep breath and put the smile back on. "This is completely inappropriate, anyway. I'm not discussing Dr. Wilson's salary with you."
"Then I guess you'd better start working on a couple of want ads," he said cheerfully.
of want ads?"
"Part of the Hopkins offer is a domestic partner placement service," he said. "I had a little chat with them, and they'd give me a research lab and no clinic hours. I don't really care about being a department head anyway, so -- oh, I'm sorry, am I shocking you?"
Cuddy glared at him. "No, but thanks for trying! That's
how you talked him out of it?"
He shrugged modestly. "What can I say? I had to make him an offer he couldn't refuse."
"Okay, you know what, that makes me feel sorry enough for him I am
going to give him a raise," Cuddy said. "But he's not getting anything like two million. I'll bump him to $400,000 with a 1 percent annual bonus of the discount we get from the insurance company."
"Make the bonus 2 percent."
"Base of $500,000 plus the 1 percent, and that's my final offer."
"Done," he said. "And -- "
"You are not
getting out of clinic duty."
"Damn," he muttered.