Genre: Coffee-shop AU except it didn't really end up being about the coffee shop...
Summary: Of all the coffee houses in Princeton James Wilson wandered into the one where House was working. The mysterious brown eyed guy who sits in the window is a puzzle and House can never resist a puzzle.
Notes: This is a pre-infarction AU. Thanks to my flist for encouragement :)
"Hey, House! At least pretend like you're working!"
"You told me not to talk to the customers," House replied, his gaze never leaving his target. "Just doing what you said, boss."
"I said that you should restock the front display, not sit on your ass staring at that guy."
Foreman followed the line of House's sight. At the front of the coffee shop a man was sitting, nursing his Latte. He hadn't noticed House's scrutiny because he was busy staring out of the front window of the shop. There was a good view of the busy intersection, but nothing else that seemed to warrant such focus.
"This is the fourth time he's come in this week. He always sits there and stares out," House said.
"So he's a regular customer. We do have them."
"The coffee in this place is lousy, Foreman. He's not here for the coffee."
"The coffee pays your damned wages. Not that you earn them. Now get back to work."
"I'm taking my break," House said. It was time to make his move.
"Your break? I hadn't noticed that you've done any work today!" Foreman frowned at him. "I'm going to have to call Cuddy."
"Oh, not Cuddy! Please boss, anything but that!" House pulled a mock 'terrified' face.
Foreman, of course, was not amused. “Go ahead and call her. I saved her brat's life, remember? She's not going to fire me." House grinned at Foreman's exasperated expression and started towards the front of the shop.
"Don't harass that guy, House," Foreman called after him.
"Wouldn't dream of it," House muttered as he made his way towards his prey.
"Is everything to your liking, sir?" he asked, in his best Cameron imitation as he hovered over the man's table.
The man looked up, startled. He was older than House had first thought but still younger than him. Up close he could see lines of worry on his face. His eyes were a warm brown, and although he wore casual clothes they were clearly expensive, and immaculately pressed. His eyes flicked over House, assessing him. There was some puzzlement in his voice when he answered.
"Yes, everything is fine, thanks. Do you ask all your customers?"
House shrugged, pulling up a chair and making himself comfortable. "The boss doesn't like me talking to the customers."
"And yet here you are. Talking to me. I guess you don't like being employed." House noted with interest that he hadn't protested having a sudden dining companion.
" His boss owes me a big favour." House reached over and picked up the stranger's slightly dry looking slice of mud cake. It wasn't like the guy had been eating it. He took a big bite. Yeah, that was pretty shit. Like the coffee. He took another bite. Brown eyes was still watching him, more amused than indignant. Interesting.
"I hope it's a huge favour," brown eyes said, his gaze flicking across the shop. "Your boss is on the phone and he doesn't look happy."
"Yep. Saved her kid's life. Nobody on the East Coast could work out was wrong with her, except for me."
"You're a doctor?" The bushy eyebrows above the brown eyes lifted up.
"And you're working here?"
"This is a temporary gig. The Medical Board benched me for a year to punish me for saving the brat. Kid's Mom owns this dive. I need the money. I have expensive habits." He put out his hand. "Greg House."
Brown eyes stared at him for a moment and then slowly shook his hand. "James Wilson, I'm an oncologist at Princeton Plainsboro."
"Cool," House nodded. "Want to go fuck somewhere?"
James Wilson didn't miss a beat. "Maybe later, I'll pencil it into my diary." He went back to looking out the window.
Interesting. So this Wilson was available, and not totally unwilling, but thought he had something more important to do. Like stare out the damned window. Looking for something. House finished off the rest of the cake, and took a swig of the now cold coffee to wash it down. He watched Wilson's eyes. He was looking at the people passing by. Not looking for something. Looking for someone .
"Break's over, House. Get back to pretending to work." Foreman was standing next to the table. "Cuddy is on her way. She wants to talk to you."
"Probably wants to give me your job," House said, getting to his feet. Wilson didn't even look their way.
Foreman didn't look worried. "No, she probably wants to kick your ass out of here. She takes this shop seriously, House, even if you don't." He held up a hand as House started to say something. "And don't tell me again how you saved Rachel's life. I don't want to hear it. You were just doing your job . Cuddy doesn't owe you some sort of life-long debt of gratitude for that."
House was warming up to a comeback for that when a sudden burst of motion caught his attention. James Wilson was disappearing out the door, almost running. House caught a glimpse of him making his way across the busy road but then he disappeared into the crowd. Damn.
"See what you did, Foreman? You scared him off." He should have picked Wilson's pocket, at least that would have given him a head-start on finding him.
Foreman shook his head. "It was probably the lunatic who decided to share his meal with him. Now make yourself useful and clear the table while you still 'work' here. We're short staffed."
House reluctantly picked up Wilson's discarded cup and plate and dumped it in the general vicinity of the trash. He caught a glimpse of Chase sneaking out of the staff area, followed, at what was presumably supposed to be discreet interval, by Cameron. Chase was grinning like an idiot and Cameron wasn't much better. They probably thought no-one knew about them. Morons!
Taking this job had been an idiotic idea. Even with his medical license suspended there had to some other way he could make enough money to live on. Except Cuddy was matching his old salary - and there was no way he could make that amount anywhere else. He wasn't sure what she was getting out of the deal. Foreman was right; he had been just doing his job when he saved the woman's spawn. Even if it was by doing what no-one else had the guts to do. She didn't owe him anything.
"I need you to do your job, Doctor House," Cuddy said to him sharply. She'd arrived in a hurry, her steps purposeful as she entered the shop. After greeting Foreman, and nodding at Chase and Cameron who both seemed a little in awe of her, she'd gestured for House to follow her into the back room. He'd leered suggestively and Foreman had rolled his eyes. "I can't have you setting a bad example for my other employees."
The 'doctor' only stung a little. Ten more months, he told himself.
"I'm here," he said. "I'm sorry if all my years of medical training didn't prepare me for the rigors of making the perfect vanilla latte. I should have spent less time in the lab and more time in Starbucks. 'Course your kid would probably be dead..."
"I'm grateful that you saved Rachel's life, that's why I gave you this job. You were suspended because you broke the rules saving her life. I don't want you to suffer for that. On the other hand, if your bedside manner had been a little better maybe you wouldn't have had to go to those extremes."
"So... what? You don't want me to starve on the streets while I'm serving my suspension, but you won't just give me the money because you think I should learn some humility serving the bozos who have so little idea of what good coffee should be that they come here?"
"I think it could be good for you to interact with the public. Then the next time a worried mother of one of your patient's approaches you with her concerns maybe you won't call her a moron and accuse her of neglecting her own child!"
"I could sit with her at the funeral - think that would make her happier? Guess it would save her college fees anyway."
They were standing toe to toe in the small back room, and their voices must have been raised because Foreman poked his head around the corner of the door.
"Customers can hear you," he warned.
"She's a screamer," House said, watching Cuddy's face and enjoying the irritation he saw there. "
Cuddy threw her hands up and made an exasperated sound. "Just do your job, House. I'm grateful to you for saving Rachel's life - but I'm not going to let you disrupt this store. Consider this your last warning."
She nodded to Foreman and brushed past House on the way out. He watched her attractive derrière all the way out the front door and into her expensive sports car.
Foreman watched him watching and then reached into the closet, producing a mop.
"Floor needs cleaning."
House looked down at his watch. "Sorry, boss. Shift just ended. I bet Chase would do it for you, if you asked not so nicely. He likes being told what to do."
On the way out the door he snagged the order that Cameron had just announced was ready for 'Phoenix'. Anybody with a name like that would be used to having their food stolen.
James Wilson was nowhere to be seen outside, not that House had expected to see him there - wherever he was going he had gone in a hurry.
Well, House wasn't going to pound the streets of Princeton looking for him. Ol' Brown Eyes had been in four times this week. Unless he'd found whoever it was he was looking for he'd be in again soon.
"So are you FBI? CIA? MI5? NASA?" House asked, settling down in a chair at Wilson's table.
Wilson turned a startled look on him and House studied him carefully. Whatever had happened yesterday had him rattled. Where before his eyes had calmly scanned the street, now he was jerking his focus around, looking first this way, then that. Twice he'd started to rise out of his chair only to sink back down.
"NASA? Do I look like an astronaut?"
"You don't look like a spy either, but I notice you didn't dispute those."
Wilson spared him a brief, and polite, smile before turning his attention back to the street. He talked without taking his eyes off the passers-by.
"You caught me, I'm following Mr Big - we think he has plans to turn on his top secret freeze ray and turn Princeton into a giant skating rink."
House was beginning to like this Wilson fellow more and more.
"So, this person you're looking for - you saw them yesterday didn't you? You bolted out of here like Chase at end of shift."
Wilson was looking away from him but House saw his jaw tighten and his mouth twitch. “Don’t you ever have to do any work?"
"I'm the lobby decoration - I'm just here to bring in the chicks."
"I thought you went the other way. Or was that invite yesterday just you being an asshole?"
"I'm flexible, and when I say flexible..." House trailed off as he assessed his sparring partner. Wilson was only half paying attention to the conversation, although clearly House had hit a nerve with his observation about the day before. Wilson had seen who he was looking for. So why would he come back here?
It wasn't a medical mystery, but it was a mystery and that was close enough to feed House's addiction.
The second mystery of course was whether Wilson was seriously considering House's invitation. House hadn't put a lot of thought into it. The 'wanna fuck' question had been as much about screwing with Wilson as screwing him.
He shelved the second mystery for now and homed in on the first one.
"So, this mysterious person you're looking for. You saw them yesterday but they got away. Maybe you need to spend more time on the running track and less time in coffee shops."
"I play tennis," Wilson said absently.
"Good to hear, maybe we can share some balls one day." House took a sip of Wilson's coffee. "So, who is Waldo and why are we looking for him?"
" We are not looking for anyone. I am looking for my brother." As soon as he said it Wilson clamped his mouth shut, as if regretting letting it slip.
"Does he make a habit of walking past random coffee shops in Princeton? Or is it only Cuddy's Coffee Corner that gets that treatment?"
"No, he..." Wilson stood up abruptly. "Look, I don't know you. I don't know why you're so interested in what I'm doing it but how about you go stalk someone else?" He threw a couple of bills down on the table - for a tip presumably - and headed towards the door. House scooped up the money, and Wilson's abandoned half full coffee cup, and followed him.
"Seriously?" Wilson turned on him as soon as they were outside. He had his hands on his hips. "You're going to follow me? Just how big is this favour your boss owes you anyway?"
"Not working today."
"You're not working?"
"No," House said cheerfully.
"So you just came in to... "
"... To look for you, yes. You are seriously that interesting." House shrugged. "Also all my usual hookers were busy."
Now Wilson looked pissed. Oops. Possibly a step too far. But it wasn't like he'd dropped Mystery Number Two entirely, just parked it on the back bench for now. And Wilson looked pissed more in an 'I'm not a hooker' way than an 'I'm not gay way'. So there was still hope for his long term plan. The brother problem would have to be solved first though.
"So, I'm guessing this brother of yours isn't gainfully employed, or going to school, somewhere in Princeton."
Wilson still looked pissed but he took his hands down from his hips - much to House's disappointment, he'd been enjoying the image - and started walking along the street, still scanning the crowd.
"Because if he was you could just go knock on his metaphorical door and do all the brotherly bonding your heart desired," House explained. "So, you're persona non grata with baby brother Wilson."
"How do you know he's younger than me?"
House shrugged. "Fifty-fifty. So what's the deal with him? Did you covet your brother's wife?"
Wilson blinked. "Why would your mind go to that? No. Danny isn't married. At least he wasn't. He was in college here when he disappeared."
"He left his dorm and was never seen again. Hence my use of the term 'disappeared'."
House took a sip of Wilson's abandoned drink and pulled a face. He really should talk to Cuddy about the coffee. Maybe even do something about it. He threw the cup away. "So now you spend your days sitting in lousy coffee shops hoping he's going to reappear in front of you?"
"No, now I work at PPTH. I only spend my vacation time looking for him." Wilson looked away and House bet himself that Wilson spent a fair few nights and weekends looking for his brother as well. "I... I thought I saw him once a couple of years ago, on the streets. I looked for a long time but never saw him again."
"Until yesterday." No wonder Wilson had bolted out the door. "Are you sure it was him?"
"He's my brother! Of course I'm sure." Again there was a touch of defensiveness about his words. "I don't know why I'm telling you this. I haven't even told my best friend about Danny."
House briefly wondered what a Wilson BFF would look like. Probably the doctor who worked in the office next door. House pictured them sitting in the hospital's cafeteria, wearing labcoats and pocket protectors and discussing the latest advances in pediatric oncology. Boring. Wilson needed someone to show him how to have a good time.
"Complete strangers often tell me their secrets," he said. "It's my super power."
"My super power is being able to tell when someone is feeding me a line of crap."
House looked around. As they'd been talking they'd been walking down the street, oblivious to everything - and everyone - around them. Including the famed Danny if he was still hanging around. Privately House suspected that if it had been Danny - and not some other poor homeless bum - and he'd seen Wilson it was likely that he'd taken off quickly in the opposite direction. If Danny had wanted to make contact with Wilson he would have done so long before now.
Still, there was some value in encouraging Wilson's optimism.
"Look, I know a few people who know people. I can put the word out on the streets for you. See if anything turns up."
Wilson looked at him suspiciously, as if he thought House might have an ulterior motive. Of course House did have an ulterior motive but what did it matter if Wilson's ultimate goal of finding his brother was achieved? It was what House's old boss would call a 'win-win' situation. House wasn't very fond of those - he preferred 'win-lose' - but you can't always get what you want. House was pretty good at getting to what he needed.
"These people who know people who know people? There aren't any mob bosses amongst them are there? I don't want a hit put out on Danny; I just want to find him."
"Do I look like the sort of person who would have mob contacts?" Wilson was still looking doubtful so House plunged on. "Gotta photo of Danny I can flash around?" He figured that Wilson would have had them printed out by the gross. He wasn't disappointed. When Wilson produced it he glanced at it. Perfectly normal looking college aged kid. Close enough to Wilson in looks that you wouldn't be shocked to find out they were brothers.
"He... doesn't look quite the same now." Wilson said.
"No kidding." House tucked the photo away in a pocket. "Usual time tomorrow?"
Wilson looked a little confused but then nodded.
"And get an espresso, none of this girly latte crap. And a doughnut not a low-fat muffin."
"You know you work there - nominally at least - and can order whatever you want? You don't have to eat my food."
"What would the fun be in that?"
When House slid into the chair opposite Wilson the next day it was to find a tall black coffee and a chocolate brownie waiting for him. Wilson was eating his own food, still watching the street outside.
"Been fired yet?"
"Nope. It's a new record." House was as surprised as Wilson really.
"And you're 'working' today?" Wilson made little 'air quotes' gestures with his fingers much to House's delight.
"I'm pacing myself. Besides, Foreman's on a day off today. Cameron is in charge. She won't sell me up the river. I caught her and wombat-boy doing the dirty in the supply room. She owes me." Chase's expression had been priceless but Cameron had seemed to take it in her stride.
"Isn't blackmail wonderful?"
"It comes in useful."
Wilson dropped his show of indifference and leaned in closer, lowering his voice. "Did you find anything out?"
"I gave the photo to someone I know who works with the homeless. He didn't recognise him, but he’s going to show it to some other people." House took a bite out of his brownie. It was just about edible today. He reached over to grab the rest of Wilson's muffin just on general principle. Wilson rolled his eyes but didn't try and stop him.
"You know, you could go to those people in uniform who help us when we are in trouble." House said, spitting bits of muffin back onto the table as he ate. "What are they called again?"
"I went to the police when he first disappeared, and then several times afterwards. They just said there's nothing they can do. He's an adult, he's not causing trouble. They have better things to do than round up people who don't want to be found."
"And have you ever thought that if he doesn't want to be found there's a good reason?"
Wilson started shredding his napkin into tiny pieces, his focus intent on that. "Danny is schizophrenic. He doesn't need a good reason - he just needed to stop taking his meds. Which he did. If I can find him I can get him into a hospital and get him back on a treatment plan."
"And then what?"
Wilson looked startled. "Then I can help him."
"You like helping people?"
Startled changed to quizzical. "I am a doctor.”
"So am I. But you don't see me going around helping people."
"Well, I wouldn't want to accuse you of that, but on the other hand you did talk to a guy who knows people for me. In some cultures that would be considered helpful."
"That's because I want to get into your pants." House said, making a small pile of the debris on the table. He waved Chase over to clear it away.
"You're willing to help me find Danny because you want to sleep with me?"
"Sure, why not?"
Chase arrived at the table, an annoyed look on his face. "I'm not cleaning up after you, House. Bin's over there."
"Wilson here is a customer. I don't know how you do it in Kangaroo country but here in the land of the Tip we do everything we can to keep our customers happy. How else are you going to be able to afford to keep going to those clubs that Cameron doesn’t know about?"
Chase coloured in a way that House always appreciated watching and then his eyes darted between he and Wilson. House bet himself which way Chase would go. Sure enough Chase picked up the cups and plates and dumped them in the trash - although the expression on his face was more 'what an arsehole' than 'have a nice day'.
"I think your break is over, House." Wilson said, reaching into his wallet and producing a couple of bills. He dropped them on the table and then intercepted House's hand as he reached for them. "Leave them for the kid."
"After all I've done for you. I'm hurt, Wilson."'
"So far you've drunk my coffee, eaten my cake and propositioned me. Repeatedly."
"So I have to produce the prodigal son right here in the shop before you'll leave me a tip?"
"House, if you bring Danny to me I'll give you everything you've ever dreamed of." Wilson turned and left. The tease.
"He's cute." He turned at the sound of a voice behind him. Cameron was looking after the departed Wilson, a sappy expression on her face. "You should ask him out."
"Isn't that more your thing?"
"I have Chase."
"But wouldn't you like a man?"
"Café Spiletto is nice. Quiet, intimate. Very romantic."
"Don't you have any actual work to do?" House looked around. "There's a few of those... what do you call them? ... Customers. I'm sure they'd like you to serve them. And when I say serve I mean... "
"It would be good for you to get out. You're not seeing anyone are you?"
"Does Jesus count?"
"I can have a word with him next time he's here if you like. Smooth the way for you."
House turned on his heel and began walking away. Quickly.
"House! Where are you going? We need you here."
He didn't look back. "Going to see a man about a brother."
As soon as he saw Wilson entering the shop the next day House hustled over to him and grabbed his elbow, urging him back out onto the street.
"House, really, I know you like pushing the boundaries but you're going to get fired if you push all your customers out the door. Not to mention leaving yourself."
House let him go as soon as they were outside. "Relax. I have official permission from the lady herself. Got a delivery to make. You get to ride shotgun."
Wilson got in his car readily enough. "I've left the name of this place with friends. If I don't turn up to work tomorrow they'll send out a search party and alert the police."
House let out an evil laugh. "If I've already killed you that's not going to help you much."
Wilson shrugged. "My ghost will rest easy that you're doing hard time." Apparently satisfied with his personal security arrangements he looked out the window curiously. "So, not that I don't like unexpected field trips, but where are we going? And why?"
"We're delivering yesterday's stale cakes to the needy."
Wilson looked at him sharply. "Homeless shelters? I've visited them all within a fifty mile radius, no sign of Danny."
"This place is a little more... unorthodox. It's not on the official tour. Usually Cameron makes the run to the shelters with the leftover food but I volunteered to do it today. Cameron was so proud of me." He wiped away an imaginary tear.
"You're a regular hero."
House pulled the car up outside a derelict looking building.
"You sure this is the place? It looks a little... " Wilson was practically wrinkling his nose at the frontage. He was obviously used to be a better class of homeless shelter.
"Like I said, it's unofficial. Lucas - that's the guy who runs it - likes to use the clientele to do some work for him on the side. He's not exactly the poster boy for charity workers."
Wilson helped him get the food out of the trunk. Which meant that Wilson got it all out by himself while House watched. Which was only fair - he was doing this all for Wilson anyway.
Lucas opened the door at House's third knock and peered at them suspiciously.
"House, did you bring the stuff?"
"What do you think this is?" House indicated the containers Wilson was loaded down with.
"Hope you've got some decent muffins." Lucas opened the door a bit wider and stood aside as they shuffled in past him. "Or cherry tarts, those are good too."
"Where do you want them?" Wilson asked, looking around for a clean spot. House had to admit that the place wasn't the cleanest. Or the tidiest. Lucas wasn't winning Homeless Shelter of the Year anytime soon.
"Just dump them there." Lucas indicated a rough looking wooden table shoved into one corner.
Wilson did so and then straightened up, looking from House to Lucas.
"Lucas, Wilson. Wilson, Lucas." House did the introductions and then opened one of the containers and found a doughnut to munch on.
"You're the guy with the brother, right?" Lucas asked. He had his best 'genial host' face on but House wasn't fooled. Despite his appearance Lucas was about as harmless and friendly as a rattlesnake.
"Yes, do you know where he is?" Wilson asked, his expression intent. He looked past Lucas as if he was expecting Danny to be lurking in the back room.
"House said that you'd pay my expenses."
"For finding him."
"Oh." Wilson looked at House and House shrugged.
"Yeah. I said you wouldn't mind paying reasonable 'expenses'. You want to find him don't you?"
"Yes, you know I do. Of course I'll pay expenses. But do you know where he is, Lucas?"
"Yep. One thousand dollars." Lucas said, holding his hand out as if he expected Wilson to slap the cash into it there and then. Although House had to concede that he'd developed a habit of stiffing Lucas out of his payment so it wasn't entirely unreasonable of Lucas to try and get it up front.
"I... I don't have that much on me. I can get it. Where is he?" Of course Wilson wasn't the type to try and haggle the price down. House should have done that himself beforehand. Too late now.
"Come back at five with the money. He'll be here."
"He's definitely Danny?"
"Looks like him." Lucas was rooting through the food they'd bought, before finally settling on a cherry danish. "These are good. Bring a couple more with you when you come. Fresh ones this time."
Back in the car Wilson had questions of course. Lots of questions.
"Does your boss really know that you took that food there?"
"She knows what she needs to know."
"Leftover food goes to a homeless shelter every morning. It might not always be that one. Hungry people will eat it; you'll get a chance to reunite with Danny-boy. What do you care?"
Apparently Wilson didn't care all that much because he changed the subject. "Do you think he really knows where Danny is?"
"He's not quite the idiot he seems. If he says he knows him, he knows him."
Wilson fell silent and House studied him, keeping one eye on the traffic. Wilson looked more apprehensive than excited about the prospect of seeing his long lost brother.
"If you don't want to know you can just not go back. Lucas isn't going to come after you for his 'expenses'."
"Of course I want to find him - I've spent years looking for him."
"Then what's the problem?"
Wilson sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "It's just... it has been years. I'm not the same, he won't be the same. If he comes home, if he comes with me - things are going to be difficult. He'll need help. This could all go horribly wrong."
House nodded. Yeah, the odds were very good that it was all going to blow up spectacularly in James Wilson's face. Much higher than the odds that Wilson would be able to nurse Danny back to mental health, reunite him with the rest of the Wilson clan and integrate him happily back into society.
"Yeah, it could go horribly wrong. Probably will. But at least you'll know. Knowing is always better than not knowing." He hesitated. He really didn't want any more to do with this. He had his own family problems; he didn't need to take on any of Wilsons.
"When you go back this afternoon - do you want me to come with you?" The words came out before he could stop them.
Wilson stared at him in surprise and then smiled. "I'd like that. I'd like you to meet him. Thanks, House."
"Don't forget the cakes."
"House, this isn't working out."
He was in the back room of the shop with Cuddy - getting the 'you're fired' speech. He'd had that one enough times to recognise it when he heard it.
"You're late all the time, when you are here you refuse to do any work. I'm extremely grateful for what you did for Rachel, but you're beginning to affect the morale of the rest of the staff. I can't have that." She fished in her purse and brought out a checkbook. "I'm giving you severance pay - it should last you until you get your license back." She ripped the check off the book and gave it to him.
He blinked at the amount. Cuddy must really love her little brat.
"So you're giving up on teaching me humility and how to love my fellow man?"
"House, I don't think anyone could teach you that. I hope one day you'll find that on your own." She held out her hand to shake and he stared at it until she lowered it. "Goodbye, House. You can work out the rest of the day or leave now - your choice. I wish you all the best in the future. I'll always be grateful to you for Rachel's life but this squares us up. Don't come looking for favours down the line."
With that she stalked of out of the shop. Too bad really, he’d enjoyed sparring with her. Then his gaze sharpened. Wilson was standing in the doorway.
He hadn't seen him for two weeks - ever since the night Wilson was reunited with his brother at Lucas's 'shelter'. The initial meeting had gone about as well as he expected - Danny had bolted out of the place like a startled rabbit as soon as he saw Wilson. Wilson had gone after him and caught up with him in a park. He'd managed to keep Danny there long enough to talk with him. House had watched from a distance as Wilson had turned on the full quota of his charm to calm his skittish younger brother. Eventually Danny had gone with him to a diner for a coffee and a hamburger and House had gone home.
Wilson spotted him and smiled, coming into the shop.
"House, can I buy you a coffee? Save you the trouble of stealing mine." He looked around at the mostly empty store. "I'd ask if you can take a break but that never seems to be a problem for you."
"Even less of one now. I just quit." House said. "Hey, Chase!" He yelled over to where Chase was tending the counter. "I'll have a large black espresso with two extra shots and a caramel pump with extra nutmeg, a cheesecake brownie, two doughnuts and a cherry danish and whatever Wilson wants. He's paying." Chase made a gesture that would have had him on the unemployment line with House if Cuddy had seen it but House knew he’d get the drinks anyway.
When they had their drinks they sat down at their usual table by the door. This time Wilson’s attention was focused on him, rather than the street.
"You quit?" Wilson asked sceptically.
House shrugged. "Rough approximation."
"So what are you going to do now? You still have a few months to go on your suspension, don't you?"
"Got a payment from a grateful patient's mother." He put the check down on the table and Wilson whistled at the amount.
"Mostly I just get chocolates and stuffed toys from my patients," he said with a touch of envy in his voice.
"That's the ones that live?"
"Yes, House. Even oncologists do save the odd person. Probably a fluke I know."
House studied him. Wilson was keeping up his end of the banter with ease as usual, but he looked tired. Tired, but not distressed. Brother Wilson must still be hanging in there.
"Aren't you going to ask about Danny?" Wilson asked wearily, the burden of the elephant in the room apparently growing too heavy for him.
"I figured you wanted to prolong the suspense until the third act."
"Is the third act the one where we all live happily ever after?"
"No, the third act is the one where the villains come in shooting. There are no happy endings in the real world, Wilson. Just ones that suck less than other ones. And when I say suck... "
"I got Danny to agree to treatment," Wilson interrupted. "There's a place upstate - Mayfield psychiatric hospital. I used to go to school with the director and he did me a favour and got him in quickly. Danny's there now."
"Wow. Impressive." House had to admit that it was indeed pretty impressive that Wilson had managed that. Danny had looked pretty rough that night at the shelter. House would have put money on him bleeding Wilson dry of whatever cash he had on him and then disappearing again. He probably still would at some point but that wouldn't be House's problem. "And how is little brother? Raving at invisible clowns?"
"They've got him on some new medication. The doctors seem to think that they can get him stabilized. But he's been living on the streets for a long time. Whatever happens it's going to take him some time to adjust. My parents are going to see if he can go and live with them when he's finished there." Wilson's relief at the last was palpable. "Thanks for finding him for me."
"I seem to remember you offered me anything I could dream of." It wasn't like House was going to keep Wilson to that promise if it wasn't what Wilson wanted. But he wasn't averse to pushing it a little. Just to see what Wilson would do.
"The offer stands." Wilson had a small smile on his face. House couldn't work out what his game was. There was no way Wilson was going to do the horizontal mambo with him just because House had found his brother for him. They barely knew each other. Wilson had just wandered randomly into Cuddy's Coffee Corner because it had a good view of the street. It was only by chance that House had found out his story.
House quickly rifled his mind back through all their interactions. Wilson had accepted a complete stranger - moreover, one who was working in a coffee shop - muscling in on him. House had eaten his food, drunk his coffee, and propositioned him in the same breath as mocking him. And Wilson had just accepted it. Almost as if he was expecting it .
House felt the familiar rush of adrenalin that came with solving his cases. That feeling of all the pieces falling into place. The feeling of being right .
He'd missed it.
"You knew who I was before you came here," he said, fixing Wilson with a stare.
"Your fame as a barista has spread far and wide throughout the land. Mere mortals speak of the excellence of your coffee."
"Or maybe, mere doctors. Doctors are the biggest gossips in the country. Somebody knew I was working here and talked about it at Princeton Plainsboro." He'd spent some time there on consults while working at General. It was fair to say he wasn't popular at either place. "Why would you think I could help with your brother though? I'm a doctor not a lost and found office."
"Which is why this whole," Wilson waggled his hand, "conspiracy theory of yours is wrong. I came here to look for Danny. The shop has good views over one of the busiest intersections in Princeton. It was as good a place as any to spend a few hours seeing if I could spot him. I didn't know some crazy guy was going to hit on me."
"And after that first time?"
"I may have asked around at the hospital about you. You did give me your name after all and I was curious."
House regarded him narrowly. Wilson was looking back at him innocently but he wasn't fooled. The whole thing had been too neat.
"And what did you get told about me?"
"That you're a giant pain in the ass and a liability. And that I should stay as far away from you as possible."
"So naturally you came right back for more."
"Yes, because they also said that you were a medical genius, a borderline criminal and there was nothing you liked more than solving puzzles."
House ignored the 'criminal' part. It wasn't true and he had the acquittals to prove it. "And you had a puzzle."
"I had a puzzle," Wilson agreed. "It was a longshot that you'd be able to help. But you did. Thank you."
"I feel so used," House said, but it was only a token protest. He was more intrigued with Wilson than ever. "I thought you wanted me for my male beauty."
"Well, that too. I did pencil you into my diary after all." Wilson took a sip of his drink and eyed House over the rim of the cup. He sighed theatrically and shook his head. "So far you've been all talk and no cappuccino though."
House slowly smiled. His day was looking more promising every minute.
"What's say we blow this joint? And when I say blow I mean..."
"Sure. Where do you want to go?"
"Do you like monster trucks?" He held his breath for the answer.
Wilson leaned in close until he was mere inches from House's face. There was a world of possibilities in the look he gave House.
"I love them."