"You're Adopted, Right?"
A pretty woman, but a thin one—that was Shiori-san. Her long black hair was soft, her brown eyes just as much so, and she was never hungry and responded to House's checkup with smiles, compliance, and weakness. Her room was the farthest from civilization, a corner room with only one window, and it looked lived in. There were flowers on every available surface, framed pictures on the walls, and seat covers with matching pillows.
House hated it. He hated it almost as much as he hated his cell of an apartment in the hospital's basement.
"Does this hurt?" he asked as Shiori lay back against her bed. He was pressing into her diaphragm with searching fingers, looking for sensitivity and soreness, when someone else walked into the supposedly private room.
"Okaa-san, watashi wa—eto, konnichiwa?"
Shiori's face lit up as she looked past House, staring brightly at the doorway, and House (counting on the Japanese intruder's supposed ignorance) said over his shoulder: "Get out, dammit—I'm working."
"Are you Mother's new doctor?" the voice said in perfect English, and House turned.
In the doorway stood a tall young person holding a riotous bundle of flowers. He wore a pink suit thing with a high collar that clashed horribly with his crayola-red hair and crayon-green eyes, and for a moment House was stunned into silence by the kid's sheer prettiness. That pale skin, the perfect flow of his features with those gigantic eyes and well shaped lips and high cheekbones, the silky hair that tumbled to the kid's waist in shining ripples... Only belatedly did House realize he was looking at an effeminate young man, not a pretty young woman with weird taste in clothing.
It was disgusting.
"Nice uniform," House snapped, and the kid stepped forward and put the flowers in a vase at Shiori's bedside.
"Thank you," the kid said, and he said something to Shiori in Japanese. House wasn't paying attention, though, so he didn't catch it.
He did, however, hear her response, which was: "Better, thank you."
"You need to eat something," the kid said, and he looked at House. His next words were in English: "May I—?"
"Get my patient food?" House said, finishing the Japanese sentence in English, and the kid's brow furrowed.
"You speak Japanese." It was not a question.
"Only under pain of death," House said, and he turned back to Shiori so he could continue his investigative probes. "If my patients figured it out they wouldn't stop asking questions, though I suppose it's too late to bash you over the head with a bedpan and hope for amnesia. Also, the answer is no. Would you tell her to raise her right hand if anything hurts?"
"Why not tell her yourself?" said the young man. He had dragged a chair over to Shiori's bedside and was rummaging around in his school bag, from which he took a green apple and a small knife.
"Pain of death, remember?" House said, and he dropped his hands from Shiori's midsection. "Just do it, dammit. And I said no food!"
"My name is Shuichi," said Shuichi, and he gave Shiori House's message as he began peeling the apple. "And my mother hasn't eaten all day. I don't think one measly apple is going to throw your whole diagnostic session into instant disarray."
House's hand shot out, aiming to grab the apple or the knife, but even with the element of surprise on his side he was unable to out-quick Shuichi, whose own hands flashed away faster
than House could follow.
The reaction bothered House. Reflexes weren't supposed to be that fast.
"Give it to me," House said instead, holding out his hand. "I'm her doctor and what I say goes."
Shuichi raised an elegant eyebrow. "And her next of kin gets... nothing?" he said, and he gave Shiori—who had been glancing between him and House in confusion—a reassuring smile.
House snorted. "You're adopted. She probably doesn't even love you."
House's words—words meant to goad and to antagonize, but not very seriously—had an unexpected result: they made Shuichi freeze. The redhead's hands and eyes went still mid-apple-peel, and the reaction lasted only a beat before he regained his mobility. Still, House saw it, and he wondered at it.
"I," said Shuichi, eyes fixed on the apple in his hands, "am not adopted."
House scowled. "Of course you are. You called her 'mother' and you're not related, so you're adopted." He raised his eyebrows. "Unless you're a surrogate, but still—not related. Creepy, yes, but not related."
"What are you talking about?" Shiori asked in Japanese. Shuichi patted her shoulder.
"Just your medicinal history, Mother," he said.
"Wait, I get it, she hasn't told you that you're adopted and you figured it out already, so you're keeping it a secret," House went on. "Great! Now that that's settled, put down the damn apple and be quiet."
"I am not adopted!" Shuichi said, but with much more force this time.
House rolled his eyes. "You can tell yourself that all you want, but it doesn't change the fact that you have red hair and green eyes and a full-blooded Japanese woman for a mother, and for you to be biologically born to her with your coloring is a genetic impossibility no matter how much of a leprechaun your father was." House threw up his hands in disgust. "God, has no one ever picked up on that before? Are there no doctors in this country?" He paused. "Probably not. Why else would they need me here?"
Shuichi—who had been looking more and more uncomfortable while House spoke—said: "I am her son and she is my mother, and in the end it should not matter whose—"
House pounced. "See! Even you admit that you're adopted!"
Green eyes flashed. "I am not adopted," Shuichi hissed, and House pulled his hands away from his investigation of Shiori's leg muscles. For a moment he had felt open, exposed, and—what was that?—afraid of the young man with improbable eyes and hair. "And you will not say such things to my mother; is that understood?"
House didn't move or speak. He just stood there, hands at his sides with his cane hooked onto the hospital bed's railing. The buzz and beep of monitors hummed around him.
"You won't admit that you're adopted," House said at last, "but you don't deny that you're not genetically linked, either. And you don't want her hearing all of this, which means she doesn't even suspect any of this, but because you don't want her knowing, that means that you know whatever it is she doesn't know about." His head tilted until he was looking at Shuichi out of one eye more than the other. "Convoluted logic, yes, but Occam's Razor says that if it looks adopted and denies that it's adopted, it probably is adopted."
He stared at Shuichi some more, but the boy did not crack under pressure. In fact, he remained remarkably cool as he cut a small slice of apple into a bite-sized piece and handed it to his mother.
"You're protecting her from becoming suspicious of you," House said when it became apparent Shuichi was not going to answer. "That's not normal mother-son behavior."
Shuichi swallowed as he made another cut. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, but his eyes shifted slightly to the left in the discomfort House fed on.
"Sure you do," House said in a thoroughly pleasant way. He even smiled a little. "The question is... how do you know more about your birth than your own mother?"
Wilson sounded groggy when he answered the phone. Only belatedly did House remember the time difference between Japan and America's east coast. I'm brilliant even unaware, he thought as Wilson muttered a grouchy 'hello,' and he smirked.
"Two people," House began as he settled down atop his meager bed. "A mother and a son. Mommy Dearest is Japanese and Sonny Boy is a total suck-up."
"House?" Wilson said in disbelief. "House? Is that you?"
"Sounds like a perfect setup," House went on. "Only, Sonny Boy is hiding something he doesn't want Mommy Dearest knowing about, and it isn't the pantyhose he's been trying on when no one's looking." He feigned absolute astonishment. "What could it be, I wonder?"
"You know, I was looking forward to some peace and quiet around here," Wilson said. "But no, somebody had to give you a phone. And who's paying for this?"
"I dialed collect," House said. Wilson cursed. "So what could Sonny Boy be hiding? Any guesses? Guess correctly and you win a prize!"
"Is the prize the end of this phone call?"
"Nope. Guess again."
Wilson sighed and rolled over. Sheets crinkled into the phone's receiver. His voice sounded dejected. "He's a crossdresser?" he asked, resigned.
"I was kidding about the pantyhose," House said, "but he's pretty enough to pull off being a girl and his hair is longer than Cameron's, so you're probably right for once, and in honor of this momentous occasion—"
Wilson muttered something about being under-appreciated—
—but House ignored him: "—henceforth his name shall be... 'Pretty Boy.'" House smirked. "I like that."
"House, I don't have time for—"
"He's a red-head," House interjected. "And I don't mean one of those soul-sucking ginger kids with freckles and hazel eyes, either. I mean he's a red head."
"What's the difference?"
"Ever seen a firetruck?"
Wilson paused. "His hair is that red?"
"And his eyes are like verdant forest pools," House soliloquized. "Seriously though, it's like someone dunked him in a Christmas card. I've never seen hair or eyes that vivid before in my life. It's impossible."
"And you think this weird pigmentation means he's hiding some nefarious world domination plot, or..."
"Nothing quite so dramatic, Wilson—calm down." House could imagine Wilson rolling his eyes. It was a nice picture. Casually, he remarked: "I called him out on being adopted."
Wilson was aghast. "You did what?"
"I told him he was adopted and that his parents didn't even love him," he said as Wilson sputtered in the background. "C'mon, his mom's as Japanese as they come and he's just not. Not even his features are Japanese! His eyes are the size of my fists. But get this, as soon as I said it he went all... weird."
"Oh really? Because if someone told me that I was adopted and that my parents don't even love me, I would be completely fine!"
House's joking mood vanished as he sat there, silent and serious for once. "He got weird, Wilson," he said slowly, and Wilson got serious, too.
"He froze. He went all still and quiet, and then he acted like nothing had happened. He kept saying that he wasn't adopted, but when I brought up his genetics and how it's pretty much impossible for him to be related to his 'mother'—" House made air quotes with his free hand "—he didn't try to talk me down or anything. He just kept saying 'I'm not adopted' until he was blue in the face."
"Seems he reacted pretty well to you," Wilson said. "Most people can't stay half that calm when you really set in on them."
"And then he told me that I wasn't allowed to say one more word about that in front of his mother—"
"You said all this in front of his mother?!"
"We were talking in English," House snapped. "She's monolingual. Her son's accent is flawless, much like the rest of him. Except for the adoption thing. That wasn't flawless."
House went quiet.
"Hair dye and contact lenses. I'm sure he's normal under them. You said it yourself—his coloring is impossible." A pause. "And aren't most Japanese kids into dressing up like cartoon characters?"
"Like anime characters, you uncultured hick. And it didn't look fake, Wilson," said House. "It doesn't seem real, but it doesn't seem fake, either. I can't explain it without sounding like an idiot, but you can tell hair dye when you see it and his hair isn't dyed." He shook his head from side to side. "Not the point. He told me that I wasn't allowed to mention it in front of his mother again, which means he knows something's up, and since he wants to protect his mother from it—"
"—it means she doesn't know something's up," Wilson finished. "House, look, I know you like a good puzzle—"
"I haven't even brought up his mom's disease yet," House said.
"—but family matters are just that: family matters. You don't have any place poking into this kid's business."
"No buts," Wilson said. "Leave the kid alone, House. Whether or not he's adopted, a surrogate, or some weird alien parasite is his business, not yours."
"But how does a kid know more about his own birth than his mother?" House said, desperate for Wilson's interest in the issue. "She was there for it; she saw everything and he was just a baby, and yet he knows something she doesn't!"
"Ignorance is bliss, House," Wilson said simply. "And that's especially true for parents."
House started to reply, but Wilson cut him off.
"Let it go, House," Wilson said. "Let it go. Just focus on your work and forget about it." They were both silent until Wilson said: "Bye, House."
House did not reply. He just hung up.