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The Better Man
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sy dedalus

by sy dedalus

House knew he shouldn’t be doing this. Ethically it was wrong. Morally it was wrong. Even by his standards it was wrong. There were other compelling reasons too. His leg still ached from the tussle he’d had with gravity earlier in the evening—er, yesterday. He’d been drinking. He’d been sulking. He’d taken an extra Vicodin on top of his usual extra Vicodin. But, he argued to himself, he’d slept those things off in a rare five hours of solid slumber. And anyway, he was already here and already paying for driving a stick shift after trying to walk unaided on his leg—all of this after the neglect and abuse it got every time he was really into a case—so why not do it?

He couldn’t think of a reason not to.

He got weird looks from some of the night nurses. Yeah, he was here late. Yeah, he hadn’t even bothered with a jacket this time—just jeans and a t-shirt. Yeah, he smelled like bourbon. But the day they said something about it was the day the muscle grew back in his thigh: he wasn’t going to hold his breath.

House tapped the up button for the elevator and waited.

Three a.m. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. Something like that—some day or another. Less than eighteen hours ago he’d saved that stupid asshole prick Mark’s life, been graciously dumped by a woman who confused him most of the time on the grounds that he was obviously in love with someone else, had that someone else not-so-graciously dump what should’ve been a life-affirming bombshell on him that turned out to be in effect another almost-but-not-quite-gracious Dumping to End All Dumpings, and been asked by his never-gracious boss to let that someone else work in close quarters with him but only if he said it was okay. His head had been spun around so many times in such a short time, it was no wonder he’d had a moment of sheer stupidity and tried to walk unassisted again.

Well. He still couldn’t walk without limping and other people still loved him about as much as he loved himself. Nothing had really changed. If it weren’t for the feeling of having been gutted, his guts stomped on by two women in heels—no, three women in heels—then stuffed back into him and sewn up so poorly that they kept trying to leak out, this might’ve been something approaching a normal week. Maybe even a good week. He’d done it again, solved the unsolvable and given someone another chance at life. If only time killed emotion…because Vicodin wasn’t working so well anymore.

But no need to dwell on the negative, he mused as he boarded the elevator and hit the button for the second floor. He was here to answer a question for himself. That answer would go a long way toward determining his happiness and sense of well-being in the immediate future. Mark seemed like a better person than he was in almost every way. He was certainly a better husband for Stacy than House ever could have been. But was he a better lover? That mattered more in the end to House and based on his own personal survey of womankind, the most observable variable in the lover equation was relatively fixed compared to the others. House was comfortable with how he fared against other men and Mark’s willingness to participate in the beer chug pissing contest last week said something about how comfortable he was in that arena. The seed of curiosity had been planted then and if House didn’t satisfy it soon, he’d have branches sprouting from his ears. He needed to have a look.

If the guy had actually showed up to one of the scheduled exams, he could’ve come up with some excuse to examine the region then. He could’ve gotten a look earlier during the dramatic trigger scene, too, but he’d been a little too busy making sure he pierced the guy’s bladder and not his small intestine, never mind fending off the distraction of five people yelling at him about how wrong he was, to sneak a peek then. Stacy probably would’ve noticed, anyway, and she wouldn’t hesitate to slap him or sue him for sexual assault or harassment or one of those other very unsexy legalistic uses of ‘sexual.’ It could only have ended badly.

Now, though, he had the cover of darkness. And he knew her coming and going habits in these circumstances—after all, he’d been Mark five years ago. The only difference was that he’d been himself too and he’d been right and still she’d overridden his wishes and it wasn’t a happy ending. But he did know when she liked to come and go and he was going to use that knowledge to his advantage. If she’d just trusted him and hadn’t…

Dammit. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t think about this. He’d spent the last five years obsessing over it; it had to stop, right here and right now. Just as soon as he completed this mission…

He’d hoped to slip past the nurse’s station undetected, but apparently no one needed extra blankets tonight: two nurses were lounging about doing some form of work that involved pens and paper (this manner of work was entirely foreign to House) and one of them had spotted him.

He was moving too slowly to outrun a question if she tossed one at him, so he put on a smile and limped closer to her.

“Dr. House,” she said cheerily. “You’re here late.”

“Dedication,” House said nonchalantly, “what can I say? It’s what I’m all about.” His smile turned into a smirk. “How’s Mark Warner?”

“Doing well,” she said, handing him Mark’s chart. “Asleep. He’s regained most of the feeling in his fingers and toes.”

House nodded. “He’ll probably be fine when he wakes up,” he said, impressed with how sincere that sentence sounded coming out of his mouth. He glanced at the chart. “No reaction to the hematin?”

“Mild electrolyte imbalance due to barbiturates present in his system,” the nurse said. “It’s been corrected.”

“My bad,” House said. He returned the chart to her. “Looks good. Wife gone home?”


“Finally, huh?” House said in a tone that approached boorish joviality. “She can be a tough one to pry away.”

The nurse smiled with slight confusion mixing into her expression.

“I’ll just pay him a quick visit,” House said and began limping toward Mark’s room.

“Doctor, he’s sleeping,” the nurse protested.

“It’s okay,” House replied over his shoulder. “We’re like this.” He crossed his fingers and held his hand up to show her.

The nurse considered trying to stop him as he reached the patient’s door. This was her first week at Princeton-Plainsboro, having just moved from Trenton with her new husband. She was on her way toward him when Helen, one of her new colleagues, spoke up from behind her.

“It’s not worth it,” Helen said.

She stopped and turned. “What?”

“Whatever he’s doing—let him do it,” Helen said, looking up from a chart. “It’s not worth getting involved. Not with him. Not if you value your dignity.”

“But he’s—”

“He’s nuts, is what he is,” Helen interrupted. “But administration is on his side and he usually has the patient’s best interest at heart, even if his methods are bizarre.” She returned to her charting. “And they are,” she added. “Trust me on this one.”

The nurse hesitated. He had already gone into the patient’s room and closed the door. Helen had been here for over twenty years…she was probably right.

“What would he be doing at this hour?” she asked, returning to her seat. She checked the clock. Mr. Barker was due for a vitals check in five minutes.

Helen snorted. “God only knows.”


House carefully rolled the door shut behind him, not quite closing it all the way. So few things gave him a rush of adrenaline any more—Vicodin mellowed every part of him out all the time—but this was a real thrill. Stacy gone, hubby asleep and totally vulnerable. The rush was a delightfully unexpected bonus.

The blinds weren’t shut and enough light was coming in from the floor that he could see. Good. No lamps, no overhead lighting. Stealth was key. Stacy would probably sue him for this if she found out. Or do something worse than that. House shuddered at the thought. She knew more about how to hurt him than any one else on earth and when she got angry… He shuddered again.

Hubby was snoring. The room smelled vaguely of sex. House made a face. He wouldn’t put it past her, but after the kind of day hubby had had there was no way that…although if…no. He shook himself. No. He wouldn’t think about that. Not any more. Though maybe…given what she had said earlier about him being the One…maybe when she was with this schmuck she liked the lights off because she was really thinking about—House stopped himself. It would be so easy to believe that, so soothing to his ego. And it could easily be true if…because she had said… He stopped himself again. If he’d just do what he’d come here to do, he’d have a much better idea about that.

He glanced at the EEG and saw the high peaks and valleys of delta waves. Deep sleep. Perfect timing.

“Wake up, jackass,” House said at normal volume.

Mark snorted in his sleep, mumbled something, and started snoring again. The EEG registered minimal change, the waveforms still long and widely spaced. Hubby wasn’t waking up any time soon. Yep, perfect timing.

Time to do this. House stepped forward, adrenaline keeping his leg from really registering.

Mark’s right arm was in his way and House picked it up, moving the blanket aside.

Mark snorted again. “Whazza?” he mumbled.

“Vitals check,” House said in a high-pitched voice, his fingers moving automatically to gauge Mark’s pulse. “Go back to sleep.”

Mark mumbled something unintelligible and started snoring again. House smirked to himself and put Mark’s arm down. Jackass.

House carefully moved the blanked again, thinking that it wasn’t possible for guidance counselors to be well-endowed. Only a vengeful God would allow that to happen. In fact, if guidance counselors in general (and this guidance counselor in particular) were well-endowed, it would be proof of the existence of a wrathful God and House would have to reassess his entire view of the cosmos.

And…House moved the gown out of the way, his heart pumping, hands starting to shake…this was so wrong…but he had to know…and…


No angry God was up there after all.

House sighed in relief and grinned to himself, letting the gown and blanket drop where they would. Oh yeah. He’d gotten a good look. He had a good three quarters of an inch on this guy. No, a full inch. Maybe more than that. Oh yeah. And it was relatively warm in the room. This guy had no excuses. He simply was an inferior specimen of man. And if Stacy had been lonely with House and had room with Mark like she claimed she did, that must all be emotional because House had solid proof now…but they’d never had problems in the bedroom…still, maybe she did like the lights off now and maybe she did close her eyes…

Oh yeah. He knew who the man was in this love triangle.

“I have missed you,” she’d said. Yeah, in more ways than one.

His grin turned to a smirk as he gripped his cane. It had been such a faithful phallic symbol for him over the years, but who needed a symbol when you had the real thing?

And he could chug beer faster than Mark. And he was taller.

“I have more hair,” Mark had claimed. Ha! Not where it counts!

And apparently he didn’t shave. House’s smirk broadened. Stacy liked a shaved man. And not just Stacy—all women liked a shaved man.

Yeah. Mick had nothing on him.

Except a wedding ring.

But House wasn’t made for marriage. He knew Stacy wasn’t either. They’d been as good as married. She said she didn’t want to get married. That fact that she had tied the knot and the timing of it…yeah, Mick was just the first guy she’d found who had all of his teeth and could speak in complete sentences. He wasn’t the One. He would never be the One. House had seen the two of them together. Mick was nice, sure, but he wasn’t in the same intellectual ballpark as Stacy. He couldn’t hold up his end of a conversation. In fact, Mick was boring. Probably spent all the time talking about his lame job. Stacy wasn’t meant for a guy like that.

Mick. What kind of a name was that, anyway?

Oh, right. Mark. Still. What kind of name was that? It lacked character and substance. It was a unit of currency—a former unit of currency no less. And House had three full letters on him in the first name department. And his car was way cooler. And his job was way sexier.

House sighed happily to himself. If this had turned out another way, it might have been the last straw. But no, it hadn’t. He’d be able to sleep tonight—or tomorrow night, whenever—knowing that he may not be nicer or kinder to puppies and kittens, but he was the better man in more ways than one. She missed him. Well…he could see why.

Grinning so hard his face was starting to hurt, House gloated all the way home. He gloated at fuzzy blue infomercials, he gloated at dawn when it started to spill through his windows, and he gloated all the way back to work the next day. He hadn’t needed his extra late-night Vicodin or his extra breakfast Vicodin. He was the better man.

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