WARNING TIME IS THE TIME WE LOVE THE BEST
Dear gentle reader
As philosopher and general naughty person, Stephen Fry once said, gratuitous sex and violence is very important when attempting to ruthlessly subvert family values.
In this story there will be use of expletives. So basically if you have never put the letters K. U. C. and F. together in any meaningful way just imagine that if you see them grouped together it means something along the lines of 'oh dear, I forgot the let the cat out. Poor Pussykins.' So every time someone says a word involving those letters they are just deeply deeply concerned about their cat.
If you do know what those letters could possibly form and don't approve – when you come to that part of the story – shut your eyes. That works for me every time.
There are also some rather nasty insinuations and a bit of 'whacking' as that Amish chick from the Harrison Ford movie Witness called it.
Agony and wood were all he was aware of. He imagined the pain throbbing through his body was making the wooden floorboards vibrate. He laughed silently and hysterically: He was a human piano of pain. House the human piano of pain. It had a nice ring to it… which reminded him: pianos don't sound like bells.
Pianos sound woody, not bingy. Where were the bells coming from? The bells of St Clemens. Saint Wilson probably. Wondering why he wasn't there to make with the oranges and lemons. He gingerly opened an eye, found himself eyeballing a dusty floor board and make a random mental note to bark at the cleaning lady. He watched disinterestedly as his breath moved the dust back and forth. It was daylight. He realised he was probably late for work, the bell was Wilson ringing him on the phone, and that he had better cover himself before anybody found out what sort of tune this human piano was playing.
He had always hated the funeral march.
It was Wilson; predictably, who first noticed something was wrong. Everyone else was used to House being a cranky, irritable, eccentric bastard and just put it down to the phases of the moon or the time of year.
But Wilson had walked into his office, stopped dead in front of the desk, put his hands on his hips and frowned. He examined the back of House as he sat staring out of the window. Something was wrong. Well this was House. Wrong was practically the definition of right, but today something different was wrong.
"Are you ok? Cuddy said you called in sick yesterday."
House didn't turn around. "Yeah," he said. "I'm fine," but didn't elaborate. They stayed that way for a minute, until Wilson sighed softly in defeat and left the room. It was probably just the leg. It was winter. The leg always hurt more in winter. If he gave it some time he would get his friend back.
House didn't even hear him leave. He absentmindedly began to twirl his cane in his hands. He could see the hateful words when he shut his eyes – written in a dull red glow of pain against a black background: "You never know when we will come. It could be in a month. It could be the next day. But there will always be a next time."
"What happened to your face?" she asked.
"Bar fight last night. Made a hooker mad," he tried to smirk, but inwardly he just didn't feel up to it. Still he had to keep up appearances. Had to keep going.
Cuddy saw red. "You went to a bar last night? After you called in sick yesterday with a case of the flu?"
If she had looked closely she would have seen a flash of panic cross House's face. His mouth opened but no sound came out. He had totally forgotten his latest recovery 'excuse' but she was too incensed to notice and merely took his silence as an admission of guilt.
She rounded on him, finger waving wildly in his face.
"That sort of behaviour is unacceptable. You go to that clinic right now and you will do yesterday's clinic hours, today's clinic hours and an extra two more clinic hours for lying to me."
She fully expected him to start screaming the hospital down, arguing that hookers were an acceptable medical prescription for the flu or something ludicrous, but instead he just looked at her for a moment with almost an expression of relief before nodding quickly and limping off toward the clinic without a word.
Cuddy was dumbfounded. She watched the retreating figure. House not arguing with her? Perhaps he really was sick. She tapped her teeth thoughtfully with her pen. She would definitely have to talk to Wilson about this. His limp had been getting more pronounced lately. She wondered why.
It took minutes for the screaming to die down into a whimpering. Eventually his sobbing shuddering breaths subsided enough for him to open his eyes.
But there appeared to be no hurry. They had all night. He lay on the concrete, beyond pain. His eyes open, but staring at nothing, the occasional tremor twitching through his body.
Eventually, after an aching eternity, the question was asked and he flinched as the silence was broken.
"Are you ready to continue?" said the soft hateful voice.
He didn't look at his tormentor. There was no point. No mercy. Only the contract. That was all he lived for now. He merely nodded slowly, wrapped his arms around his head so tightly he felt his skull would crack and waited for the next blow to fall on his poor tortured leg.
The fellows were in the lounge, bored. House was late. Foreman was beside furious when House eventually limped in around lunchtime sporting a splint on one of his fingers.
"Jesus, not again," exclaimed Chase as he saw the cast. House ignored him and went straight for the coffee.
Cameron hit Chase angrily on the shoulder. "Another accident?" she asked tentatively.
House sighed into the coffee machine. "Yeah, I'm not as steady on my pins as I used to be," he said impatiently. "Fell over and landed on it wrong."
Foreman snorted. "Are you sure it isn't some pissed off bookie you owe money to?"
Rounding on Forman, House extravagantly waved his coffee stirrer in the air, but they could tell he was irritated and angry. "Actually, and I think you should know. Bookies traditionally break legs." He smirked nastily and made for his office. "Now if you will excuse me I will be in my office. Please give me at least ten minutes of peace before someone tells Wilson and he does his mother hen act."
He downed a couple of Vicodin, feeling them suggestively working their magic even before the drug burst into his system. The trick was to be numb. If you were numb you didn't remember what they did to you. You didn't relive them… again and again… You didn't have to think about… the feel of them… the touch… the blows… the hands pushing you down… the helplessness… your fists clenching in futility. If you were numb there was no pain. Vicodin took away his pain. If there was no pain you could continue on.
"House, are you okay?"
He looked up startled. Wilson had joined him on the balcony and was sliding over the dividing wall. "Just a little tired today, too many hookers last night... hey are those chips?" he said reaching out.
Wilson slapped his hand away. "Yes, and they are mine," he said as he slipped into the chair next to House.
House smirked. "You will have to let your guard down eventually. I can wait."
"Oh for lord's sake – have some," said Wilson, as he bashed the packet against House's chest, not noticing his wince. House took a handful and looked at them thoughtfully. "… takes away my pain, and he brings food – a win win situation," he said to the chips before stuffing them in his mouth.
"What did you say?" asked Wilson, looking over.
"Fuffinck," he said to Wilson with a chippie smile as he chewed the chips. For a while there was no pain and he continued on.
"Sick," said Cuddy.
Chase and Cameron exchanged meaningful looks. Foreman thumped his coffee cup down on the table.
The word everyone was thinking, but no one would say was: again.
House had always thought he was an expert on pain. He thought with the leg that he knew it all. But he realized the leg had only been the tip of the iceberg. There were so many variations of pain it was like a symphony. The short sharp searing pain that left you gasping. The long slow pain that gradually grew and grew until your whole body shook and you just desperately wanted it to end.
How much of one sort of pain you would suffer because it was better than the alternative. What had Cuddy said that day: 'the lesser of two evils.'
And he had never known there were so many ways to inflict pain. He marveled at how much human ingenuity and art had gone into the consideration of exactly how to inflict pain on another human being.
The lawyer was an expert. You could tell he loved his job: mixing the physical with the psychological. Sometimes it was brutal and harsh. Other times gentle but menacing, letting him do all the work, but all the time watching and drinking in his pain and fear.
Wilson stood in Cuddy's doorway with his hands on his hips. "There is something wrong," he said dramatically. "House isn't complaining about the pain."
Cuddy looked confused. "Isn't that a good thing?"
"Come on! This is Gregory – I define myself by my pain – House," he exclaimed. "And you can clearly see the limp is getting worse. He isn't yelling. He isn't moaning. He isn't even getting angry, which is just downright peculiar. He is just claming up."
"So," she mused. "Maybe he is just dealing with it better. Wilson just looked at her. "OK, that was a dumb thing to say."
"He's miserable," said Wilson.
Cuddy frowned. "He's always miserable."
Wilson ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "But this is not the normal good miserable. This is bad miserable."
"How can you tell?"
"I'm his friend."
She could hear the exhaustion in his voice.
"So, do you wanna get some food tonight?"
House didn't even look up from the computer. "No."
Wilson tried again. "Are you sure? I haven't been over to your place for ages." He pulled out the big guns. 'I am pining for some good porn and I'll bring the beer.'
"You are always busy nowadays. What are you doing anyway," tried Wilson?
House kept his eyes on his work. "Quite obviously being busy."
Eventually Wilson left, not seeing the nervous glance House threw at his back as he went out the door.
Later that night
That night House kept one eye on the computer screen and one eye on Wilson. Good old predictable Jimmy. Even though it was near midnight Wilson was still in his office. Probably rolling joints for dying mums and spiking the red cordial with morphine for the balding kiddies - when he should be home tending to wifie and his own putative kiddies. If that man could only stop believing in romance and become bitter and disillusioned like him he'd be happy, he thought.
Although Wilson wasn't currently speaking to him, it made him feel a little safer knowing he was around. Stupid sodding wanker you are House, he thought. Wanting to be protected by the big bad oncologist. Wilson was about as bad and as big as a fluffy bunny rabbit. He couldn't even hold his own in a bar fight – as House well knew. A bar fight took a diagnostician who fought dirty and knew how to use a cane to inflict the maximum amount of damage.
But still the light coming from Wilson's balcony door reassured him. And, he mused, there must be something to a man who wasn't afraid to wield a pocket protector and still got the chicks.
House looked nervously through the glass of his office out into the hallway. The hospital was quiet – and dark. He gave an involuntary shiver. The dark used to be a comforting place. Now it was something to be feared. Feared, but never avoided.
Even as he worked frantically for an 'out', he began to run through the clauses in his mind as he worked. It was late, dark, and you never knew. It was always better to be prepared than face the consequences if they decided to test him.
Don't wanna forget Clause Five, Subsection Two again. He swallowed and shook his head. Not again… never again. He pulled up his shirtsleeve and looked at the numbers branded onto his forearm. Never would now would he, he thought. Clauses and subsections automatically began to run through his mind and he unconsciously began to mutter them under his breath as he turned his attention back to the screen.
Sometime later House reached out an arm to grab something from the printer. Halfway there he stopped. Something was wrong. He looked around in alarm. Wilson's light was off. Had he gone while House was working or was he asleep on the couch? Damn it – what exactly was the state of the marriage at this moment again? He knew he should have listened more closely. A knot began to twist in House's stomach. He looked at the corridor, but there was no one there.
He automatically reached into his pocket and grabbed a couple of pills. He noticed he was sweating and ran a shaky hand over his rough beard. They won't come tonight, he thought to himself desperately. It will be ok tonight. They won't come tonight. But he didn't believe himself. I'll check if Wilson is asleep on the couch, he thought. He didn't move. I'll check now. He tried to reach for his cane, but found he couldn't move.
Breathe you wanker. He realized he had used the word 'wanker' twice in one night. Christ I am picking up swear words from the Antipodean moron. Just go check, he told himself. Trying not to hyperventilate he fumbled around, found his cane and shoved it underneath himself. Eventually he managed to hoist himself to his feet. Pushing blindly through his glass door, he crashed out on to the balcony, rolled clumsily over the dividing wall and staggered to Wilson's door.
He pressed his nose to the glass, his hands grasping at the slick surface, but he couldn't see Wilson on the couch. Wilson was gone. He knew he shouldn't, but he felt sick, betrayed. It was his fault for snapping at Wilson earlier. And now he was alone – at night – in the dark. He slid down the glass, the sweat from his fingers leaving streaky marks on the glass. He stared around. Perhaps if he made himself small and hid here they wouldn't come for him tonight. Perhaps tonight would be ok. For one night he just wanted to be a little boy again and hide under the covers, safe from the monsters.
He shifted into the corner. He stayed there. He took another couple of pills. He eventually closed his eyes.
House woke sometime later, cold, stiff and a little damp from dew. He had no idea how long he had been asleep. He rubbed his hand over his face and looked around. He nearly sobbed in relief. It was dawn. Daylight, people and safety. Cause for celebration indeed he thought as he took another two Vicodin, stretched out his leg and rubbing it contentedly, he leaned back to enjoy the rising sun.
He didn't realize he had fallen back to sleep until he felt a foot nudge him. He started, then noticed that the foot was dressed in a very shiny shoe at the bottom of some well-tailored trousers. He was getting to the lab coat when a hand reached out, grabbed his hair, yanked his head back and a light was shone in his eyes.
'Argh Wilson, get that thing out of my eyes,' he said as he tried to bat the light away. His eyesight cleared and he found an angry looking Wilson staring down at him.
Wilson stood up and put his hands on his hips. 'Well, I find you sleeping on my balcony like some homeless person and I'm wondering if you had overdosed or were just drunk.'
'No, it wasn't anything like that. I just…' he trailed off, feeling a little guilty. If Wilson had mentioned homeless people, considering his brother, it meant he was mad.
'Just what,' prompted Wilson sternly, like a disapproving parent?
House's mind grasped around for something to say. 'Just such a nice night,' he said lamely as he struggled to get up.
'Riight,' said Wilson dubiously. But House knew he was forgiven when Wilson grabbed the back of House's jacket collar and hoisted him to his feet, giving him a rough shake for good measure. You have to love Jewish mommas, thought House.
'Get into my office you limping twerp,' he ordered. 'Jesus you're freezing cold … and wet.' He kept his grip on the jacket and continued to scold House as he dragged him inside and dumped him on the couch, but House didn't hear. He just let Wilson's Jewish mother act wash over him. Bring on the chicken soup.
"Where did you find him again," asked Cuddy incredulously?
"On my balcony: asleep."
Cuddy sighed. "I swear that man is getting stranger by the day. Should I put psychiatrics on standby?"
Wilson snorted and looked at the ceiling. "House in a straight jacket. Now why does that have a certain allure?"
"What did you do," asked Cuddy, bringing him out of his fantasy?
"Gave him a cup of coffee and sent him home," said Wilson simply. He shrugged. "What else is there to do?"
House limped happily to the car, full of Vicodin, coffee and Wilson's chicken soup of the soul.
As he approached the car he saw there was a note taped to the windscreen. The constant knot in his stomach twisted and the coffee threatened to rise in his gorge. He didn't want to look at it. Every fiber of his being wanted to run away as fast as he could.
Run! What an amusing notion, he thought absentmindedly. Human instinct was a powerful thing. Even the man who could barely walk wanted to run. Run away and hide in the deepest darkest corner of the world where no one would ever find him.
With trembling hands he reached out for the note like a man condemned. He was in trouble. He wasn't allowed to hide, to run, but instinct had overtaken him last night. Had he upset his new masters?
He unfolded the paper and read it.
Park in your own damn spot House or I'll call Cuddy and make sure she gives you so many clinic hours you will die there.
House laughed silently in relief. He imagined McKinsky turning puce with rage. The most terrible thing in McKinsky's life was having to park three spots down and heave his fat ass another ten steps. All those people out there worrying about the little things. Giving themselves heart attacks over bills and taxes and wardrobe malfunctions. If only they knew, he thought as he hysterically wheezed. You try going through life never knowing if today will be the day you are going to be taken.
Eventually his fit ended. He leaned over the front of the car, taking in deep shuddering breaths, calming himself, when he noticed a PS on the bottom of the note. Puzzled he turned it over. There were only two words written, in different handwriting, on the back: 'Uh Oh'. He heard a noise behind him and froze. He starred glassily at his own distorted reflection in the cherry red bonnet as it was joined by another.
"Like I said Greg: anywhere, anytime."
House closed his eyes. He descended into the darkness. He felt his cane taken from him and strong hands grip his arms, pulling them behind him as they pushed him down onto the cool metal of the bonnet. He felt the handcuffs as they bit into his flesh. They didn't need too cuff him. He went with them when they asked.
Sometimes they took him violently, sometimes gently, but the first time had been the worst. After he had signed the lawyer had gestured to the door. He had walked with them to the car: numb. It was too surreal. It couldn't really be happening.
"In the back," said the lawyer.
House made for the back door of the sedan, but the man stopped him. "No Greg, like I said. You ride in the back."
He looked over and saw another man opening the trunk. He felt ill. It was then it had hit home that this was real. He nodded and moved to the back of the car.
He did everything they wanted. But sometimes they liked a physical reminder that he was helpless, powerless. He couldn't run. A man with a cane can't run.
He didn't resist as they took him away. Very rarely does the condemned man struggle on the way to the gallows.
Two months later
House was rifling through a stack of papers. Gotta find out who, he thought. It's been months, but if you keep looking there might be a way out. A loophole so to speak. Or simply he could find out who the bastard behind this and strangle him with his own intestines. That would stop him. He was the best diagnostician in the world, he thought with a snort. He could solve this miserable little puzzle.
He looked at his watch. 3AM. He was tired and his leg hurt. He popped another couple of Vicodin and a caffeine tablet.
It was dark in House's apartment. The only light came from the computer screen. He typed in another name to the search engine and began to read, when a notice popped up on his computer.
You've got mail.
Considering he didn't have a 'you've got mail' notification thingamie on his computer this was odd. His heart sunk. He checked his email and there was one new message. 'To Gregory' was all it said in the title.
All the bravado leaked out of him. He closed his eyes for a second then hit it.
You can search all you like, but unless I deign to tell, you will never know.
I think I may have to invoke Clause Twelve, Subsection Seven for this.
What do you think Greg?
House stared wide-eyed at the words on the screen. He read them again and again and again. For over an hour he sat there, his eyes wandering over the keyboard, his hands held crossed in front of him, his teeth chattering gently together even though it wasn't cold. He was in trouble. Not allowed to ask questions: clause 3. Not allowed to try to find out who: clause 4. But he thought he could get away with it. He hadn't. And now he was going to be punished. Special pain was a coming down the House line.
Eventually he picked up his right hand. It felt like it weighed a tonne. It was like pushing through sand. He slumped it over the mouse and hit the reply button.
What do you think Greg?
Only Stacy had ever called him Greg. Only Greg had loved Stacy. Now these bastards got to bandy it around whenever they fucking well liked.
But - Clause Two: he owned nothing now. His home had been his sanctuary, but even that was about to be violated. He had nothing left. He knew that. Clause One: they even owned him. He had sold his soul when he had signed. They could call him any damn thing they liked.
He knew he had no choice. He typed YES and hit the send button.
Seconds later the doorbell rang. He stood up slowly and limped over to answer it with his head down.
"Evening Greg," said the man cheerfully as he came in. "Nice night for it."
"Yes sir," he mumbled, shifting slightly. He had never quite worked out what the etiquette was in this sort of situation, but he knew the lawyer bastard had a quick temper – and he was quick to boot. One second you're on your feet. The next you are rolling on the floor in agony, never knowing what hit you, while he stood over you gently saying he didn't care much for your tone of voice and would you please not do it again.
"The cane?" the man prompted.
House looked around. There it was. His cane. His little wooden friend. Leaning up against the bookcase, ready to step in uncomplaining and be the leg he didn't have any more. He quickly twisted round and tentatively handed it to the other man then backed off a few steps.
The man tested the weight of the cane in his hands. "Are you going to be good or…" he said not taking his eyes off the cane, but the implications were clear?
House frantically shook his head. "No," he stammered. At the man's sharp look he amended his words. "No sir, I'll be good. I don't need to be… I won't…" He trailed off. He didn't want to say the word 'scream'.
The man pushed the handle of the cane under his chin. "That's the spirit Greg." He looked around, all suddenly full of bonhomie. "Dear me Greg. It is a lovely flat, but there isn't room to swing a cat…" he smiled evilly and House flinched at the menace in his eyes. "… let alone a cane."
He sighed. "Never mind. We can always push the couch over to the wall." He looked up at House's stricken face. "Don't look so glum Greg. All it takes is a bit of ingenuity."
Later that day
Brenda burst into Cuddy's office. Cuddy took one look at her expression and said "House."
Brenda nodded, but Cuddy noticed there was a look of panic in the nurse's normally unflappable demeanor.
When she got out there she realized why. The head of diagnostic medicine was having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the clinic.
House was slumped against a wall; his cane lying abandoned a few feet away. He had drawn up his knees and was shaking, his face pressed into the wall.
Everyone in the clinic was staring at him in shock. There was a fat young man standing over him, apologizing profusely. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to knock you over," he kept repeating stupidly.
Cuddy took charge. She turned to Brenda. "Get Wilson," she instructed urgently. "I don't care where he is or what he is doing – or even what he says. Find him and get him here," she hissed to the nurse.
"What the hell happened?" she asked the man.
He looked at her bewildered. "I didn't push him hard. I just bumped into him and he stumbled against the wall."
She dismissed the man and crouched down next to House. He looked terrible. He was sweaty and white as a sheet.
"House," she said loudly, putting her hand on his shoulder. "Is it the leg?"
He flinched, but didn't answer. He just groaned, squeezed his eyes shut tighter and tried to push himself further into the wall.
Cuddy looked at him in disbelief. What in God's name was going on? Everyone knew he had been steadily getting worse – crankier, viciously lashing out at people, driving everyone away, more pills, the balcony incident… He looked terrible - haggard and drawn, but what the hell was this.
At that moment Wilson arrived. He took one look at the scene and was at his friend's side in an instant.
"Oh House, what have you done to yourself this time?" he said sadly as he tried to gently to get House to uncurl so he could look at him.
At Wilson's touch House looked at him with red-rimmed eyes.
"Why do you always assume it is my fault?" he said softly. Then almost to himself he said: "It usually is isn't it? That must be why I am being punished." But he allowed Wilson to stretch out his leg.
Wilson began to run his big gentle hands over House's leg, but he didn't think the problem lay there.
"Jesus House. When was the last time you slept – or ate? You look like a corpse."
"We should get him to an exam room and take a look at him," said Cuddy.
At this House jumped. "No!" he spat out hurriedly. He took a deep breath and looked up at them. "I'll be fine," he continued. "Just help me get to my office."
Wilson reached out to hand him the cane.
"No," House rasped. "Not the cane. Not today – you."
"Well since you ask so nicely," replied Wilson, but he helped House up and together they slowly made their way to House's office. Wilson took the opportunity to surreptitiously examine his friend. He was in pain and it wasn't just the leg. He was breathing shallowly and erratically and he couldn't hide the wincing he made with every step.
After getting House settled with a cup of hot sweet tea and strict – upon pain of death instructions - to drink it Wilson looked up and saw Cuddy standing outside House's office, looking in thoughtfully. Wilson joined her.
"Take him home and look after him," she said softly. "See if you can actually get him to tell you what the hell is going on."
"For God's sake," Wilson exclaimed. "I know you are hurt. Did you get into another bar fight?" The emphasis was on the 'another'. "You could have internal injuries. You need to let me have a look at you," he said in exasperation.
"And what the hell is it with all this?" he said gesturing to the mounds of files and papers piled everywhere in the flat. House hadn't allowed Wilson in his flat for months and now he saw why. The place was drowning in paper work. Wilson was aghast. House, the man who hated paperwork only as much as he hated American Idol was wallowing in it – at home.
House just stood in the centre of his living room swaying slightly, but saying nothing. He had refused to even take off his jacket. He just buttoned it up and wrapped his arms around himself. Now the two men were at a stalemate. Standing six feet apart from each other, eying the other. It wasn't much of a Mexican standoff. A contest between a normal healthy six-foot American male and a pale sweaty shaking cripple who could barely stand should be inevitable.
But, as usual, it was Wilson who lost. "All right then, at least sit down before you fall down." For some reason the couch was shoved up against the fireplace, not caring he violently shoved it round until it faced the kitchen, pushed the papers off it and sent them to fluttering to join the others on the floor. Then he stepped back and looked expectantly at House.
House eyed him warily as if he suspected Wilson might try something, but holstered his metaphorical gun, crossed to the couch and sat down.
At this Wilson relented. "I'll make you something to eat." He looked at the mound of papers that used to be the coffee table. "Where's the TV remote?"
"Dunno," murmured House to the floor.
Wilson sighed inwardly. He didn't think it could be possible for House to get even more miserable, but if the man wasn't watching TV, dear God what did that say. He manually turned on the TV and went into the kitchen to see what he could find in House's kitchen.
Just judging by House's state, he couldn't weigh more than 130 pounds, so predictably there was nothing edible except some feral smelling milk. The kitchen was filthy. It was filed with plates that looked like they had been abandoned months ago, empty cereal boxes and more piles of papers. What had happened to House's cleaning lady? The bombshell that was House's living room said she had probably given up in despair.
He picked up a random piece of paper an examined it with puzzlement. On it was names. It was a list of people's names and next to some were diseases. He riffled through a couple of other stacks. There was a mix of strange documents – photocopied patient files, medical records, but some were just lists and lists of names.
He saw one name he recognized. Terry McCross: Wilson remembered this case because he had been brought in to consult. It was one of House's old cases from a few years ago. He rifled through the folder. Surprised to find it not only contained McCross' medical records, but follow up information and even a news story from last year about McCross winning a local marathon. Why was House making an archive of all his old patients? Why was he collecting personal information about them? It didn't make sense – House hated patients.
Wilson ended up calling out for some Chinese – soup for House and a couple of dishes for himself, although he didn't feel much like eating. They sat side by side on House's watching a Frasier marathon. House ate, but remained mute and tense, staring intently at the television as if his life depended on it. Wilson didn't push it. He knew how much Vicodin House had taken. Exhaustion would kick in eventually.
Wilson smiled softly to himself as the final credits rolled. As Frasier sung about tossed salads and scrambled eggs he looked down and watched House as he slept. Somewhere during Daphne and Nile's marriage House had toppled over sideways. His head was buried into Wilson's side and he was now growling softly into Wilson's liver, in what Wilson presumed was the Housian version of a snore. Sometime earlier in his sleep he had reached up and grabbed the front of Wilson's shirt and even now he still gripped it tightly as if it was a lifeline.
Apart from the hand you could almost believe House looked content. As Frasier left the building Wilson reflected this was something he hadn't seen in his friend for a long time.
Wilson turned of the TV, reached out to turn off the light, and leant back into the deep couch. With one hand on his friend's shoulders and the other behind his own head he let House's sleepy growling soothe him to sleep. For a while Wilson was content too.
Wilson woke with a start. He was pinned down by something large and heavy. And it was rumbling.
He eyed House, who was now half sprawled across him and currently drooling gently onto his leg. Checking to see if House was still out of it Wilson reached out and gently began to try to lift up the back of House's jacket.
Suddenly he felt a strong hand around his wrist.
He looked down and saw House staring back up at him intently.
"Don't Jimmy. Just don't," was all House said.
It was a lovely hot day. They were ambling along with their coffees searching for a table at the outdoor café. House sped up. 'Their' table was free. Buoyed by the drugs pumping through his system for a brief moment House felt free of the crushing burden he carried with him every day, focusing on nothing but the lure of the unguarded table.
Go cripple go, he thought as he made a beeline for their favourite table, ready to beat all challengers into submission with his cane. Then suddenly something stopped him.
House turned round to see Wilson had stopped a few steps back and was staring at him frozen.
"Greg," he said slowly.
"Oh, the use of my first name. It must be serious," he said semi-smiling.
But Wilson didn't smile back.
"There is blood on the back of your shirt," he said simply.
House changed in an instant and looked at him with a blank 'don't go there' stare that had become all too familiar of late. The only time Wilson thought he'd gotten a semi straight answer out of House was the other day. They had both been on the balcony.
"So what's really with all those pieces of paper and records at your house… House?" he said awkwardly.
House must have been feeling philosophical because he sighed quietly. He looked tired and defeated. "A failed attempt at hope."
But this time he wasn't budging.
"Yeah, cut myself," he said. His eyes telling Wilson in no uncertain terms to stop.
Wilson was silent for a minute. He contemplated taking up the challenge. Eventually he backed down, but he was still seething with anger. "You better go change your shirt then," he said through gritted teeth.
"Yeah," agreed House and started to go.
"Fuck off Jimmy," said House, not looking back as he dumped his coffee on the table and walked off. The holiday over. The weight of the burden returning as he remembered the sound of each crack of the whip.
Wilson stared at House's back. Something was finally beginning to give. "Fuck off yourself," replied Wilson softly to House's back.
Pain is my constant companion, he thought dreamily as he stood in the shower washing off the blood. Vicodin is my bestest bestest friend. Scotch is church on Sunday. Cocaine is a presidential visit.
"He is getting too close. You were careless. He is gonna find out. And then what will happen eh Greg? You will have broken the contract. Know what happens then eh Greg? Clause Ten."
House could only gasp in pain, as his arm was twisted higher and higher up his back. He shook his head desperately and tried to speak, but he could feel the tendons wrenching and ripping and all that emerged was a whimper.
The pain lessened a bit as the arm was lowered and the voice went on.
"I don't think we are up to Clause Ten just yet. How about a compromise? Would you agree for a compromise with Clause Five, Subsection Seven? I think my client would agree to that."
The arm was jolted up a fraction and House gasped. He nodded miserably. He knew every clause in the contract off by heart and knew what that one meant. But there was no alternative.
"Rightioh then – one, two three:" Then all House knew was his scream exploding in his ears as his arm was broken.
The bastards were good. They had made sure it was the left one.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" exclaimed Wilson angrily, pacing up and down the room as House sat, head down, behind his desk, his broken arm slumped in front of him. "Are you getting into masochism now? Isn't the leg enough? Are you getting off on being tied up and beaten up?"
"Go away," growled House dangerously to the tabletop. His eyes tight shut with pain at what he had to do.
"No, I am not going to let you do this to yourself."
"Yes you bloody well are," House yelled out. He continued in a quieter tone. "If you know what's good for you?"
"What's good for me," cried Wilson in disbelief. "You stupid son of a bitch. When did you ever give a flying damn for me? Every time things go wrong – I am the one picking up the pieces," he snarled.
House sucked in air viciously. "And did it ever occur to you that I didn't want you there 'picking up the pieces' as you call it. I never wanted or needed…" he sneered. "…you, at all."
At this Wilson opened his mouth to speak, but stopped, dead. Just standing there, his mouth hanging open, years of friendship leaking out of him like water from a punctured bag.
He looked so hurt that House nearly broke. A little bit of him died that day.
"What?" Wilson trailed off stupidly. Staring at his friend in disbelief.
House heaved himself to his feet. "Fuck you Saint Jimmy. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. I am sick of listening to your marital problems, sick of you making sure I am ok and that I eat my fucking greens."
His voice rose in volume. "I am sick and tired of you. No, I don't give a damn about you. I don't want to see you or have to listen to you whine about me to me. Leave me alone," he yelled, as he threw his cane his best and only friend.
It hit Wilson across his chest and fell to the floor with a dull thump.
The scene was a perfect painful tableau for a second:
Cameron, Chase and Foreman half out of their seats in the next room, frozen with shock at the sight before them: Wilson and House staring at each other over the abandoned cane. The first Mexican standoff House actually wanted to lose.
Wilson was the one to break the impasse. He shook his head to one side and took a deep breath. He reached down slowly, picked up the cane and looked down at it thoughtfully for a minute. He looked up at House and held the cane out in front of him, one hand at each end. Then, not taking his eyes off House, in an act of savagery, he brought his foot up, kicked it viciously in the middle and snapped it in two.
The cane made a sickening cracking sound as it splintered, the dry wood sending little sharp shards flying around the room.
House flinched at the sound, but didn't move as Wilson gently put the two halves of the cane on his desk and walked out of the office for the last time.
Cameron was blunt as she handed House the metal cane, borrowed from orthopedics.
"Dr Cuddy says she has a meeting for about the next fifteen minutes, but that if you are not standing in front of her desk when she gets back to her office you are fired."
When Cuddy came in he was standing where he was meant to be, stomping the borrowed cane against the floor gently. Watching it intently as it bounced against the springy floorboards.
She didn't say a word or even look at him until she sat down. He didn't look up at her. He just continued to study the cane as it bounced.
"Normally when you do something stupid I suspend you and you get a week off sitting around in your underwear watching daytime TV." She paused. "Not a big change from the usual I know."
House said nothing. The gentle stomping continued.
"But this House," Cuddy looked at the wall. "This has to be – and I am saying this as your boss and as your friend, has to be one of the worst things in a long line of terrible things, that you have ever done."
Thump thump thump.
Irritated at his lack of attention she thumped her hand down on the table. "House, Am I boring you?"
He looked at her blankly. He wasn't all there. It took a second for him to realize he was meant to respond. In that second she was sure she saw a flash of absolute agony on his face. But then he blinked and it was gone.
"No Dr Cuddy. Please continue." He lowered his head and went back to thumping the cane.
"On a personal level: if you want to fight with Doctor Wilson, I can't do anything. You two are supposedly grown ups. Technically I cannot do anything, but this hospital has standards and a code of conduct regarding violence and I can punish you under that."
If he wanted misery she would give him misery. "I am suspending you as the head of diagnostics for the next week. Foreman's in charge. You are confined to full time clinic duty."
Normally this would have provoked an outcry, but House only stopped his tapping, nodded and turned to go. Her voice stopped him.
He turned to look at her.
"And this is my personal punishment," she paused. "I will put a chair outside my office. Every time you are not with a patient you will be sitting in that chair. If I find one instance or report of you doing anything untoward you will get another week of clinic duty – and the chair - and so on and so on until you get the message. Do you understand me?"
House nodded, but said nothing.
"Do you understand me?" she repeated more forcefully.
"Yes Ma'am," he whispered. "May I go now?"
She didn't acknowledge him the first morning when she came in to find him sitting hunched over in the chair by her door.
All week she ignored him, as he just sat there, waiting for the next patient chart to be handed to him: silent, solitary and sent to Coventry. Word of the incident had got around the hospital. Not even Nurse Brenda would talk to him. She would just throw the charts into his lap. Every time he wasn't needed he returned quietly to the chair and sat down.
On odd occasions when a clinic patient had taken his seat she would see him standing next to it, slumped over his cane, still the borrowed one from orthopedics. This puzzled her. Guilt usually never even crossed House's radar. But this time it seemed that he almost wanted to be punished. Wasn't Chase the Catholic?
She only said two words to him that week: when she found him sitting in his chair at six thirty on Friday evening, still sitting there. They were 'go home.'
He said two words back: 'Yes Ma'am.'
The next Monday things returned to a certain normalcy. House was in charge of his department again. Wilson was the head of Oncology. Their offices were next door. House could still see Wilson's light when he worked late. The only difference was they didn't speak any more.
"House, go home."
He looked over to Wilson's office. "I don't want to," he said stubbornly.
"Cameron tells me you haven't been out of the hospital for days."
"Doesn't matter where I am. But I hate waiting alone," he said still looking at the balcony.
What a peculiar thing to say, thought Cuddy. "House, go home."
He looked up at her to see if he could push it, but she was standing firm. He dropped his head and sighed. Under her watchful eye he very slowly picked up his cane and began to make his way out of the office. He paused at the door for a second and drew a deep breath as if gathering courage, before flinging it open and striding slowly down the corridor.
That man, she thought dryly, was a fruitloop.
Three months later
He hated them, but they kept coming. Just hiccups, he thought. Big boys don't cry. He was on punishment detail again. Cuddy had found her ultimate weapon. Perpetual clinic or as he liked to call it – perpetual Hell. He was sitting in 'his chair', outside Cuddy's office. Trying desperately to not be there, to be blank, to be nothing – a big ball of six foot two nothing.
Fueled by Vicodin and a dash of cocaine he had managed to get into work on time this morning. To walk to his chair. To sit down without screaming about the fucking injustice of it all. He clenched his fists. He hugged himself tightly. Not my fault, he thought petulantly.
But Cuddy hadn't seen it that way. She had tipped a saucepan of water over him, shaken him to consciousness, sat him up on the couch, made him coffee, which she practically poured down his throat, and then, when she judged he had been cognizant enough, she had slapped him – hard. He still had the red mark on his cheek.
She told him that she was never going to do this again for him, as she emptied the bottles into the sink. Told him that he better be sitting in 'his chair' at eight thirty the next morning or not to bother ever coming in again, as she made him a piece of toast and slapped the plate down hard on the coffee table making him wince.
Then she took out the key she had let her self in with. He noticed it was Wilson's key – the one with the W scratched into it. Wilson had kept it. House's heart had leapt. He'd kept it. He watched mesmerized as Cuddy dropped it into his lap.
After she left time slowed. It must have been late. He sat dripping on the couch as night fell and he stared at the key. Eventually he reached down and picked it up, turning it round in his hand, looking at it, letting it fill his mind. Wilson had kept it – until now. On your own now bucko, he thought.
In the clinic House sat so still he looked like a statue: 'Thinking Man with Cane'. But every so often a memory would pop up and a hiccuppy sob would force its way to the surface. He would beat it back with all the strength and anger he could find.
But the memories wouldn't go away. The fingers digging into him in a grotesque parody of a caress; the hot breath whispering in his ear that the first time was always the worst. His soft whimper as he'd realized the implications of that statement. A whole new world of pain. The shudder he'd tried to suppress as he heard the soft clinking of the belt buckle. And he could still taste and feel the burning of the scotch he'd used to forget the shame.
He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and stared hard at the floor, but the hiccups still came. He suddenly panicked. His palms were sweaty and his mouth was dry. He felt nauseous. He realized he was going to lose it. He wanted to run, run away and never come back, but he knew if he did that he would be punished. He snorted: days in purgatory and nights in Hell.
He shakily got to his feet and put on his blandest face. He knocked softly on Cuddy's door. She looked up at him suspiciously.
"Do you mind if I take an early lunch" he asked? She frowned. "A short one," he offered, his hand closing on the door handle in a death grip, his knuckles turning white.
Although his heart was twisting and churning he attempted to smile or at least leer in a charming manner. "Please."
At this Cuddy relented. "You have fifteen minutes," she said looking at her watch. "11.49 exactly."
He gave a curt nod of thanks and made it to the men's room before he gave in. For ten minutes he silently screamed and raged and wept as he hugged a toilet bowl like a teddy bear, snot and tears dripping down his face as he gave in to the agony. All he could think of was the gaping hole in his chest.
He was a human being and he wanted his friend. His friend was a much better teddy bear than a toilet.
At 11.48 he walked back into the clinic, downed four Vicodin and blandly smiled at his next patient: an expectant mother.
A little bit more of him had just died.
There was blood. Blood everywhere. He could taste it, smell it, feel it sliming under him in some places and drying sticky and hard to his skin in others.
He couldn't open his eyes. He didn't want to know who it was. Whose blood he was drowning in. He scrunched his eyes tight.
"It's not fair," he whimpered pathetically. "I did what you wanted. I did everything you wanted. I kept my side of the bargain." He shook his head softly from side to side, a low keening wail escaping from his lips.
Cuddy was in her office when the phone rang. "It's House," he stated dully.
She pursed her lips. "And let me guess… you are sick today. You have had more supposed sick days in the last year than all the other eight years combined. This can't go on House."
"I know," he said interrupting her. "It's not going to. Cameron is dead and I will go to jail for her murder, so I guess I better resign now." With that he put the phone down leaving Cuddy staring in horror and disbelief at the dead receiver.
On the other end of the phone House punched in 911 with sticky red fingers that left smears on the telephone receiver. He ignored the operator on the other end and simply told her there had been a murder. He gave his name and address. He was about to hang up when he paused. "So I guess you are going to send some guys around. I'll leave the door open for you."
With that he put the phone down and wearily began to pull himself off the bed, looking for his cane. He found it a few feet away from the bed. Judging by the gore on the handle it had clearly been the murder weapon. Nice touch, he thought to himself as he limped slowly to the front door.
Wilson was sitting at their table. It was just habit, automatically following patterns long established. There was nothing sentimental about this table he thought to himself. It's just a damn table. It doesn't mean anything to you. Not anymore.
Two interns were sitting nearby. He picked up snatches of their conversation.
"…it was gruesome, blood everywhere."
"He got life. Only escaped the death penalty because he was a cripple."
Wilson realized who they were talking about. He looked down at his sandwich, suddenly feeling sick at the sight of it.
They hadn't spoken for six months before Cameron's death. Occasionally Wilson would see House hobbling around the hospital, but for the most part he stayed holed up in his office.
Feeling guilty, Wilson had tried to talk to House, make friends again, but House refused to even look at him. In that typical Housian way of his he would just pretend Wilson wasn't even in the room and then find the first excuse to bolt. Eventually he had just given up. The gossip filled the halls of the Princeton Plains-borough Teaching Hospital. The strangest and strongest friendship in its history had broken. Finally, Gregory House had finally driven James Wilson away. An era was over.
Cuddy had taken over his prescription, but Wilson was sure House was doing something else. He was jumpy and jittery. On the rare occasions he left his office Wilson could see House looked terrible. In the spate of only one year House had gone from moderately miserable to walking dead. Even his walk had changed into a grotesque lopsided mechanical gait. He looked like he ran on clockwork. His body still carrying out the motions on automatic as he shambled down the corridors.
He'd stopped bothering to even call in sick. He would just turn up the next day and slump down on the chair that was now permanently stationed outside Cuddy's office.
Cuddy watched him wind down sadly; knowing that sooner or later the rubber band would break and it would all come to a shuddering halt. She knew she couldn't protect him forever. People were starting to talk. House looked and acted like a zombie. He rarely talked and his once expressive blue eyes were dead and empty.
There was no one to talk to anyway. No one to tell. Even he couldn't believe it. That fucking lawyer had outdone himself one night. Not a blow had been struck, but it had taken every little last piece of feeling in control he had. Tied down, stretched out… Gone from a human being into something to be used and abused at will - just a party piece. Listening as they laughed and drank and snorted cocaine. Waiting for the next one to have his fun.
Normally he tried to wash away the pain with long hot showers that scalded his body or drown himself in scotch, but this time he had simply thought 'fuck it'. He was too exhausted to care. He had simply crawled from where they'd dumped him to the couch, curled up and shut down a part of him.
Cuddy had known something was really wrong when House stopped being passionate about his work. She kept telling him to do his job, but he didn't seem to care. He just wasn't really there. He had just watched dispassionately as all the toys he loved, even the big squishy ball, had been gathered up and taken away – not to be returned until he improved his performance. But even this had no effect on his behaviour.
For a time he continued working and his team covered well for him, but by the end, just before Cameron's death, all he did was sit in his office, his cases ignored, just staring at the door, as if waiting for something.
They all knew it would end, but no one expected it would end like it did.
"He was doing drugs they reckon. Drove him over the edge. He flipped out and killed her. Claimed he didn't remember anything, but he still pleaded guilty."
The casually brutal summation of the murder brought up fresh memories of that terrible time. All thoughts of their fight were wiped from Wilson's mind as he rushed to House's, not knowing from Cuddy's garbled message what to expect.
"Let me help you," he had pleaded on that horrible day in House's apartment. Police in big boots trampled through the living room in a frenzy of activity. In the middle of it all House sat stiffly on the couch with his hands cuffed behind his back and blood on his shirt. There was an officer on each side of him; not knowing they were guarding a man who could barely walk, let alone run.
Then House had done something strange. He had smiled bitterly and replied: "I'm sorry Jimmy, but I can't." Wilson didn't know it; didn't realize it then because he was in shock, but later he would remember House had called him 'Jimmy' again and would spend sleepless nights pondering why.
The detective in charge came over eyeing House with disgust. "Get him out of here," he said to the two officers. As they hoisted House to his feet he hissed with pain and tried to double over. Wilson wondered when was the last time House had taken a Vicodin.
"He has a bad leg. He needs his cane and his painkillers," pleaded Wilson.
The detective looked at Wilson in surprise. "A bad leg?" he said incredulously. "He has a bad leg does he? Listen mister, that lady in there has a bad everything, so quite frankly one bad leg isn't all that impressive. Who the hell is guy anyway?" he asked, rounding on one of the police officers.
"Said he was a doctor sir," said one nervously.
"Look," said Wilson. "He can't stand without his cane and he is chronic pain. Please take his cane."
The detective moved in on Wilson. "I'd love to oblige Doctor," he said. The scorn evident in his voice. "But that was what he bashed her head in with."
Wilson took a step back in shock and looked at House. But the other doctor kept his head down and his eyes firmly planted on the floor.
The detective smirked at House. "Got a bad leg do we." House glanced up at him fearfully and saw what was coming. The detective tapped the left one with his clipboard. "This one?" he asked. "Or this one," he said as he viciously hit the right, managing to hit the exact spot of the infarction. Eyes tight shut and his back hunched, House bit back a spasm of pain and tried to curl over his leg, but was dragged back up by his collar.
The detective smiled up at the officers. "Yep – that's the one boys. Make sure you are careful with it." The smile left his face and he looked at Wilson. "Drag him if you have to."
Wilson watched helplessly as the two officers ignored House's cries of pain and pulled him away.
"Scum," said the detective viciously under his breath, but loudly enough so Wilson would hear it. He turned back. "What is your exact relationship with him sir?"
Wilson thought for a moment. All the myriad possibilities going round his mind. Finally he picked one.
"I'm his friend."
The voices of the interns brought him back to the present.
"How long do you think it took before he ended up in solitary?"
"Knowing him… about a week."
The two interns laughed.
House looked up from where he was lying awkwardly on the cell cot. He was exhausted. He had spent hours, chained to an uncomfortable interview chair, unable to move or stretch, repeating his story for a succession of angry detectives and police officers, who thought nothing of giving him a good whack around the head if he was too slow in answering their questions.
Quietly, again and again, he had asked them to just lock him away. He was guilty. He was sorry. Lock him up and throw away the key. He didn't care. He would admit to anything they wanted to be able to lie down with a couple of Vicodin.
But when he had mentioned his drugs they had laughed. His heart sunk. He wasn't going to get any Vicodin. This was the start of a new level of suffering. How clever, he thought. How very very clever. And then of course: there was Cameron. An innocent victim in this horrible game.
He stared at the man on the other side of the bars for a few seconds. His leg throbbed and he was suffering through Vicodin withdrawal. It had been 15 hours without even an aspirin. He couldn't even see straight.
"Oh, it's you," he said dully. "I thought you would turn up at some point."
"Do you know what happens now?"
He laughed drunkenly. "I can take a guess. I go to jail and you find a nice bunch of homies who will fuck me up the ass once a week for the rest of my life."
The other man smiled indulgently. "Something like that."
"Well at least that makes a change from you," he said.
House rolled himself over until he fell off the cot onto the filthy floor of the cell. He pulled himself painfully to his knees.
"Can you tell me why? Why wasn't I enough? I did what you wanted."
He used the cell bars to pull himself to his feet and stood swaying in front of the other man. "Why did you take Cameron?" He looked around hopelessly. "I'm a mean nasty bastard, but she… she was so nauseatingly good and innocent."
All he got was an apologetic smile. "You were getting too complacent Greg – and doing too many drugs."
So that was it: a whole new world of pain.
The man continued. "As to Ms Cameron…Unfortunately at this time my client is not ready to divulge that information." He paused and tapped his chin thoughtfully. "But, if I had to give a hint… I would have to say I think you may have answered your own question. Why do innocent people die?" He raised his eyebrows: "The stupidity of others perhaps?"
Then he left: leaving House bewildered, but at least with a new piece of the puzzle to take his mind off his constant companion.
The next time House was angry:
"Give me one good reason for not telling," he said. "I did everything you wanted and you still killed Cameron. What is to stop you from killing someone else?"
The man smiled indulgently. "Gregers… Do you mind if I call you Gregers. We have shared so much together."
"Yes I do mind if you call me Gregers," he said recklessly.
The smile fell from the man's face. "Yes, but Gregers even though there are bars between us, as usual I am in control and you just have to 'take it', but you are good at that aren't you Greg? I could always arrange a lesson if you have forgotten."
The man paused. House said nothing, remembering standing before him in the factory, naked and shivering while the lawyer decided exactly how to hurt him this time.
"A lesson in taking it – that is," continued the lawyer menacingly. "Even here: so, want me to arrange something special?"
House saw the threat and knew his torturer could make good on his promises. "No sir, sorry sir," he mumbled begrudgingly. Lessons - all too painfully learnt. Any flash of anger or perceived disobedience, and he would be brutally punished - more. He didn't think things could get any worse than what he usually went through, but he hadn't counted on the lawyer's inventiveness.
The man smiled. "Good boy Greggers. Now, down to business. The contract still stands – the main clause stays the same, but now there is an added clause: Cuddy, Foreman, Chase – and what do you say we throw in mom and dad for good measure." It was not a question.
House ground his teeth so hard he could hear them squeak.
"What do I have to do?"
"Nothing. It's all arranged," he said. "Just take it like a man."
'Take it like a man'. House hated that phrase. It was what his father used to say to him before he thrashed him. "Now son, you have to take your licks like a man," he'd say as he unbuckled his belt.
House narrowed his eyes as he stared at the man. "It is going to get worse isn't it?" Now they could do what they liked to him twenty four hours a day. "It is only partially about Cameron isn't it?"
But the lawyer ignored the question. "Don't worry Greggers, I'll be keeping in touch," said the man as he passed the contract and a knife through the bars. "Just a thumb print will do."
Typical fucking lawyer.
Wilson watched Steve as he ran. Steve really loved that little wheel. He never grew tired of it.
And it was ironic that House had really loved Steve. Only House would have a rat for a pet, thought Wilson. There had to be some important message in that somewhere?
House hadn't let anyone help him. The trial had been brutal and swift. House didn't even ask for a lawyer. Wilson had offered to help, but the only thing House had asked him to do was look after Steve.
As House had let himself go more and more he'd lavished more and more on Steve. Steve now resided in the biggest cage he had ever seen. He had special food and so many toys it wasn't funny. There were toys to push, toys to chew and even a rat-sized burrow to sleep in. He laughed as he imagined House in the pet store buying them and terrorizing the poor sales assistant.
"No, they are not for a cat, they are for my rat… yes I have a disease ridden rodent I picked up in my ex's attic… and I had to cure him of the black plague before I could keep him – do you have a problem with that?"
Wilson waggled his finger in between the bars and Steve ran up and nibbled a bit on the end of it as a sort of hello before deciding to go back to his wheel.
The rat of a rat. But Steve was loved and cared for – in fact, it looked like he was getting a bit fat. Stick with the wheel Steven or you'll die young like your namesake.
Wilson sat back and watched Steve as he ran furiously, but went nowhere. How like life?
House's chains rattled in time with the rhythm of the bus. He was still wearing the suit he had been wearing on the last day of court – his sentencing. That was the same day he had been struck off the medical register:
"You've got mail," said the officer as he handed the letter through the bars. "Read it quick and give it back."
When he had put his suit on that morning he knew it would be the last time he would ever wear a suit again. When he had read the letter he knew that day would also be the last time anyone would call him 'Doctor'. He looked out the grimy windows at the fields. I hope I look good in stripes, he thought absently – otherwise I'm screwed.
He was luckier than most because he was used to being pushed around by morons. Shut the fuck up, he mentally whispered to the idiot beside him as they were led inside. Shut up before the guard sees you and beats the shit out of you. Haven't you seen The Shawshank redemption?
But the guy continued to blubber.
Yeah we know you don't deserve to be here. No one deserves to be here. He gave a small inward laugh. I don't deserve to be here. But here I am standing in a line with chains on my hands, bells on my feet and rings on my toes.
The guard came over and he closed his eyes. He didn't want to see.
Which was why he didn't see the fist that hit him in the face.
But when he woke up face down on the floor with a broken nose he heard them talking:
"He's the only white guy with a limp ain't he?"
He saw polished shoes come to a stop in front of him. He felt a knee on his back and his head was wrenched back by his hair. He could taste his blood as it flowed down the back of his throat.
"Don't know what is so special about you boy," said the owner of the shoes thoughtfully. "You gonna be good?"
He tried to swallow some of the blood flowing from his nose. "Yes sir," he rasped.
An arm circled his throat choking him. "We'll give you this one since you were asleep during the briefing, but in future you answer everyone here 'Sir Yes Sir Boss Sir' convict."
He tried to nod, but he couldn't breathe. He just gasped uselessly until he his head was pushed down hard into the floor.
He gulped in air. "Sir Yes Sir Boss Sir," he managed.
"Pity we can't kill him. He deserves it."
"Don't worry. We'll just make him wish he was dead."
I already wish I were, thought House. I wish I had never been born.
House looked up. What the? He had been so busy taking his frustration out on some poor little innocent rock that he had lost track of his surroundings. It was ironic. The guards thought it was hilarious. He couldn't work on the chain gang so they made him sit and break rocks between his legs, just like the convicts of old in Australia did. It was exhausting work, but secretly he loved it. Everyday he got to smash and destroy. A tiny bit of power in a powerless existence.
But where was every one else? The rest of the gang had gone. They must have moved on up the road and forgotten him. Well that was the easiest prison break in history, he thought. Although he had a suspicion it had been done deliberately. You just don't forget someone like Gregory House.
He grabbed his cane, almost automatically locking the handcuff around his wrist before he stopped himself. He didn't have to this time. No nasty prison guards to beat him if he didn't do what he was told.
He looked at the sorry excuse that was his mobility. It was nothing like the sleek wooden cane from before. He never would have thought he would miss that, but now he longed for the surety it had provided.
His tormentor was rich he had decided... really rich. The whole 'torment Greg House' set up must have cost a fortune as it was, but it also seemed he had bribed half the prison to make his life hell, well more hellish. There were the regular 'visits' from the boys that made his nights an endless waiting game of fear, the guards who found every excuse to punish him – and even more ingenious torments. The prison doctor had ignored his protests, diagnosed muscle strain and given him Tylenol. He had looked at the man in disbelief.
"How much did you get paid," he asked quietly. He was furious. Idiots hurting him he could understand and cope with, but doctors…
The doctor looked up from his chart.
"How much did you get paid to ignore all your medical training, your Hippocratic Oath and prostitute yourself?" he repeated.
There was a tense silence between the two men. House nearly had him. But eventually the money won out and the man looked away. It must have been a bucket load he thought.
But no matter how they tried to pretend, a man missing half his thigh muscle and in constant pain simply can't walk unassisted. But giving a prisoner a big stick was just unacceptable. So they had come up with the 'bit of pipe chained to the wrist' solution as House like to think of it.
It was a couple of bits of PVC piping stuck together with a handcuff on the end of a chain that was attached to the cross section. This, he assumed, was so the other inmates wouldn't steal it from him and try to stick it up his ass or beat someone to death with it.
It was flimsy and he had to live with the constant fear that it might not hold his weight. But then again constant fear was a constant in prison. That was why they called it constant. And at least the pipe allowed him some mobility.
He climbed painfully up his cane and looked around. He was in the middle of nowhere. A cripple, with leg irons, a PVC pipe doubling as a cane and wearing a black and white cartoon prison uniform complete with a little stripey hat.
So I'm sure to make it Mexico, he thought dryly.
But it was a lovely day. The sun was warm and comfortable in that delightful lazy way that made him think of fishing and Huckleberry Fin. That had to be on the plus side. No bars or screaming. And he was free – relatively – with the chains and all. But he decided he wasn't going to let that stop him. This was a window of opportunity. In the distance he could see a house. They would have water and hopefully a phone so he could call up his jail and get them to come pick him up.
"Hello, this is Gregory House. I am a prisoner at your institution and a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without parole. You left me behind today. I was just wondering - before you call out the sniffer dogs, start the manhunt and all, could you come and pick me up from number 76 Orange Road? I'll wait by the mail box."
He was gonna get it big time. Of all the prisons to be sent to, he had to get this one. This was the toughest prison in the country. Thanks to that idiot Baby Bush, new criminal law reforms were being trialed.
'America is being overrun. Bring back the cane, the lash, and the chain gang,' cried the right-wingers. The electric chair skeleton said 'hey what's cookin.' Thank you Allen Ginsberg. Gotta love those beatnik poets, he thought. There had been many who had called for his own death. What they didn't know was that he was not meant to die, but suffer. He was being punished. But for what - he didn't know yet. It was the ultimate tortuous puzzle for a man like House. So here he was – suffering in every which way but loose.
His prison was the flagship for the changes. The prison was run military style. You stood to attention, marched in time, made sure your uniform was perfect and called everyone sir or you got walloped. Although you generally got walloped anyway – him more than most.
You worked every day for twelve hours for nothing. In the olden days this used to be called slavery. Now it was called being tough on crime. And of course most of the prison population was black, there on drug charges because Bush Daddy's 'war on drugs' had failed. It was the modern version of American slavery. They hadn't changed the concept, just the name. Now that was clever.
And speaking of every which way, but loose…or in this case 'including loose': the escaping thing was not going to go down well.
He thought about the future. On the down side when he got back he probably wasn't going to see daylight for months, they would beat him and generally make him want to die. But on the plus side – it was a lovely day and he could smell jasmine: the perfect day for a walk. He threw his hat on the ground, stomped on it a few times and set off for the farmhouse. His chains made a merry tinkling sound as he limped along, marching in time to the buzzing of the bees.
"Nice to meet you Tim. Do you think you could put the shot gun down?"
"You are a criminal."
There was a pause. "No, I'm a convict."
"There is a difference?"
"A convict is someone who lives in prison, as you can see – that's me, and I even have the stripey shirt to prove it. A criminal is someone who does bad things."
"But don't you have to be a criminal to go to prison."
House sighed. "Not 100 percent of the time – no – and most of them hang out at the White House." He frowned, ever the analyst. "But it helps." He looked at the boy. "Look, you need to rest and I need to lower my arms." He tried his most charming smile, which he suspected looked more like a lopsided leer. "They hurt." Too many nights hanging from the rafters in the factory.
"What do you mean good? I could have murdered a guy who did 'naughty things' to my sister."
House screwed up his face and looked thoughtful. "No."
"Then keep them up."
"Oh come on," said House in annoyance, but he kept his hands up. He didn't want to get shot by a frightened boy. He had to live. There were people to live for.
And he had an idea.
"Do you have any money?"
"Of course I don't have any god damn money."
"But you were the one who called them!"
"I'm desperate prison escapee. Look at me! I'll do anything. This is Thelma and Louise territory."
Tim looked from side to side, ten to one he had no idea who Thelma and Louise were, thought House.
"What will I do?" asked the boy timidly.
House sighed. The youth of today, he thought. Far too moralistic. "Okay – here is the plan. I am the convict and I look all desperate and crazy right?" He made his best Jimmy Cagney face.
Apparently it wasn't very good because Tim just laughed. "Right," he said dubiously.
"So when the guy comes I make with the menace and bingo – we get the pizza."
"But what will they do to you?"
House rubbed his chin. He looked conspiratorial. "No one has ever got the death penalty for nicking pizza." He crossed his fingers. "So far... so I take the rap," said House
Tim smiled. "And then we eat the pizza."
House smiled too. He was practically salivating at the thought of real food. "Pizza."
"A decent conversation. Do you know how long it has been since I had a conversation that didn't consist of bend over and spread 'em?"
"What does that mean?"
"Never you mind."
"Did you really escape?"
"I didn't actually escape. Technically they left me behind." He sighed and tried not to let his mind wander to the future. "But they won't see it that way. And the whole pizza thing won't go down to well either."
"It was your idea."
House leaned back. "And so worth it. Did you see the look on that delivery guy's face?"
House hadn't laughed in a long time.
Some time later they were sitting on the front steps of the little house finishing off the last of the pizza.
"So why are you in prison if you aren't a criminal?"
"Ever had someone, someone who meant so much to you that you would do anything for them?"
Tim looked down at the dirt. "Yeah, my mum. She works so hard and she never gets mad – even when I do dumb stuff."
"Well there is this guy…"
"A guy," said Tim spluttering on his pizza.
House rolled his eyes. "No – it is not like that. For God's sake."
Tim sighed. "I like guys," he said quietly.
"Well, good for you. I like tits and ass, but I don't go on about it. Actually I do – so good for you," said House offhandedly. "But this is my story, not yours. So I get to do all the angsting."
House eyed his slice of pizza thoughtfully before continuing. "There is this guy, and some other people, and I do what I have to do to make sure they are safe."
"So you are in jail because you want these people to be safe?" confirmed Tim.
"It sounds weird."
House took a bite of his pizza. "Weird doesn't even begin to describe it, but that is life Tim my boy."
They looked up as they heard the distant wail of sirens in the background. Back to reality. House smiled grimly. "That's my ride."
Wilson watched sadly as House was practically carried into the courtroom by two troopers. He felt sick as he looked at the irons on his friend. How could we do this to people, he thought. There were heavy chains around his ankles and waist, and his hands were cuffed behind him.
House was left that way throughout the entire trial – chained and defeated. He looked pale and thin in his faded striped uniform. It hung on him like a coat on a hanger. He sat in the dock staring down at the table, dwarfed by the troopers on either side of him. Throughout the trial he never moved. Never even gave any signal he knew what was happening to him. He never looked around. Never knew Wilson was sitting there, watching him, his heart aching at seeing House like this.
What Wilson couldn't see were the bruises underneath the uniform that ran down the length of his body.
House had told the boy to go inside. He didn't want him to see what was going to happen, but Tim had watched from the window as the man who he had come to think of as okay was hurt.
When they had arrived House had been standing in the yard, arms out as if crucified. It did no good. The next few minutes had passed in a blur of screaming men and pain as he was violently forced to the ground and cuffed.
His head was wrenched back and someone sprayed pepper spray into his face. He tried to writhe, but the knee in the centre of his back held him down. A boot thudded into his side, knocking the breath from him.
He faintly heard laughter, then the voice of his section officer. "Leave him boys. We'll take care of him when we get him back to the prison." Then he was picked up like a sack of flour and thrown in the back of the van for the ride back to Hell. He lay on the floor of the van, feeling the guards' feet resting on his back, and wondered if it was worth praying to God at this point.
Nightsticks hurt he thought absently. He lay splayed out on the floor where they had dumped him, too exhausted to even move his head; gently drooling blood and mucus onto the concrete. He did a quick inventory. He was still blind from the pepper spray, but that didn't matter, as one of his eyes was closed shut and the punishment cell was pitch black anyway. So, in an absurd way, that was a plus. But the rest of him had been pummeled something but good. He'd be peeing blood for a month. He struggled to find something to count as a plus. Eventually he decided it was good because at least it took the pain away from the leg.
But he knew he didn't believe his lie.
A little bit more of him had died that day. He could tell. He could feel his tears of shame and pain dripping down his face.
But on the plus side, they would wash the pepper spray out of his eyes. See – there is always a bright side young Gregory. You just have to find it.
Eventually he drifted off into an exhausted sleep, waking up only once with a vague dream memory of being slapped by a woman with exceptional breasts. Strangely enough that had hurt more than anything they had done to him ever had.
"There are some people who should never be allowed to darken society's doorstep ever again. I am just glad there is never any chance you will ever be released," said the judge pompously. "Do you have anything to say before I pass sentence?"
House just continued to stare down at the table. His court appointed lawyer quickly stood up and mumbled a sentence or two about how his client was sorry.
"Ridiculous as it is, I have to sentence you. Five years for the escape attempt and two years for aggravated assault and robbery with violence; and a further five for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer and a prison guard."
House mentally snorted as he hung between the troopers for sentencing. Did the judge really believe he sounded credible? Oooo – the officers had done a good job of saying how scared they were of the cripple with the plastic pipe. So now he was not only a murderer, but also a vicious violent dangerous escapee robber. All he'd wanted to be was a doctor. Maybe I should look at it like a second career, he thought stupidly. I could get business cards made up: Gregory House, V.V.D.E.R. BA - Murd.
House was brought back to the present as the judge continued. The next words chilled him to the bone. "I can only hope your warden takes the appropriate steps to ensure you are securely confined and imposes suitable punitive measures."
It was so simple it was elegant. They took away his cane and made him walk. All day, every day: rain, hail or shine. It was delightfully ironic that something so basic could be such an effective form of torture.
The days became a never ending cycle of pain. He followed the lines… 27 painful hop steps, made all the more difficult by the heavy leg irons he now constantly wore – now there was no escape from the chains - turn left, another 27 steps, turn left, another 27 steps, turn left, another 27 steps: again and again and again until inevitably his leg would go and he would collapse face down in the dirt, gasping for the air he needed as he desperately tried to pick himself up again before they noticed and came for him.
But they always came. At first he would thrash pitifully: plead with them that if they gave him a little time he could still walk and not to put him in the box, but then, after they broke his jaw in two places, he decided he didn't care.
He would just lie on the ground and wait for them to carry him away and put him into the dog box: a tiny crate barely big enough to fit a man and the most feared punishment in the prison. If it was hot you cooked. If it was cold you froze and if it was raining you got wet.
They would stuff him in like a piece of meat then force the lid shut leaving him crammed in the dark claustrophobic box, folded up like a concertina, able to barely move a muscle. His thigh throbbing in time with his head as his tears of pain made tracks through the dust on his face.
If there was one thing he could do, only one thing. It would be to die. He wanted it; ached for it; dreamed about it during the hours he spent in agony in that little box. 'The rest is silence' kept ringing in his ears. Hamlet had it right. Not screaming, not pain… silence. But he never considered it. There was Horatio to think of.
That lawyer was clever. Every time he didn't think it couldn't get worse the little bastard would top himself. Now his only sanctuary was the too few blessed hours in his little miserable cell: his home. After all the shouting and screaming had died down it was as close to silent as it got. He would lie on his bunk and unbeknownst to him dream of happier times filled with Vicodin, scotch and Jewish mammas who wore lab coasts until the giant steaming angry beast of the prison would wake up again and it was time for the nightmare of pain to begin again.
"Sir Convict 501437, Life Without Parole Sir Boss Sir," he said as he impassively faced the so-called 'independent tribunal', all of whom had been bribed by his mystery nemesis. Another 'infringement' had put him on report and brought House in front of the discipline board again:
He'd been sitting quietly in the mess hall after a fun day's 'walking' out in the punishment yard; and trying his best eat the rancid concoction he'd dubbed rat stew (he hoped he wasn't eating Steve's relatives), when he'd felt a nightstick on his shoulder. He turned around. Just his luck. It was one of the particularly sadistic guards: Fat Boy as House called him. He was a heart attack waiting to happen.
"What did you say convict?" asked the guard.
Ah – this old game. He sighed tiredly to himself. He had played this one before. He wondered which strategy he should use this time. No that it really mattered. Either way he was going to lose. If he answered he'd be breaking the 'no talking in the mess hall' rule – and he lose his dinner and get half an hour of 'nose and toes' outside the guards station. 'Nose and toes' they called it: the CIA Kubark torture manual called it a 'stress position'. He didn't think his leg could take it. It was bad enough on two legs. Try doing it on one.
But if stayed silent he'd be breaking the 'all inmates must stand to attention and answer promptly and respectfully any direct questions asked by any correctional staff' rule and he'd go on report and probably get solitary for a month and once you were down in solitary they could do anything to you.
Stuff it. He would give it one last hurrah and go down fighting. He slowly lifted his bad leg over the bench, stood up and looked at Fat Boy. All eyes in the mess hall were on the two of them. Everyone in the prison knew about the crippled doctor. House slowly pointed to his eyes, the 'no talking' sign on the wall and then mimed zipping his mouth shut. Then gave the guard his most 'you are an idiot' stare.
It took a few seconds for Fat Boy to work it out. He began to turn puce with rage that House had dared to make fun of him. House sensed two more guards coming up behind him.
"You insolent bastard," spat Fat Boy. He put his nightstick under House's chin. "I am gonna ask you one more time. What did you say 'Convict 501437, Life Without Parole'," giving House his new official name as the property of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
He took a deep breath. "I me… Greg House… said, and let me put this in a way an overweight hick like yourself can understand… nothing." He practically shouted the last word. "Because there is a sign on the wall that says 'no talking' and unlike you… Fat Boy… I can read." He smiled nastily. He felt good. For the first time in along time he felt alive.
But he nearly tripped over his irons as he was immediately hauled backwards by the guards behind him and half frog marched, half carried to the guards' station. They smashed him face first into the wall. Pulling out a pair of handcuffs they lifted his right arm up and chained it to a bolt high up in the wall. He was left helpless: one arm above his head.
Fat Boy came waddling up behind him. He turned to the astonished mess hall and waved his nightstick. "Listen you scum," he said, spit flying. "If any one of you ever even thinks of trying something like that, I'll..." He viciously brought the nightstick across House's buttocks, again and again, as he took out his rage on the defenseless prisoner. House's knees buckled and he cried out as his right arm took his full weight. Eventually Fat Boy stopped leaving the two men both gasping. Fat Boy looked around the room then shouted in House's ear.
"'Nose and toes' convict – Now!"
House knew now was the time to retreat. Ignoring the pain he shakily got his feet under him, feeling sheer relief as the pressure on his wrist was released. He straightened up and lined himself up so only his feet and nose were touching the wall. Fat boy knocked House's feet together with his nightstick. He knew how hard it was for House to maintain this position. "And clever boy," he continued. "You are also on report."
Well, he thought. That wasn't the smartest idea you've ever had Greg. He already had been put on report so many times he had no privileges left, so he guessed a spell of solitary again.
At least it will be a break from all that walking, he thought. But he didn't realise what they had in store for him.
House had shown no reaction as he had been told by the tribunal he was the worst of the worst, incorrigible, unfit to even be allowed to live amongst his fellow criminals and was sentenced to indefinite isolation. His case to be reviewed after a 'suitable' period. Presumably this meant him dying of old age. The rest of his life in four foot by seven foot tomb.
He'd just accepted it. Taken his licks like a man. His dad had taught him how to do that.
He was docile and quiet as they lead him down to the high security punishment unit. He stood dejectedly between them as they unlocked the door and the barred gate. But as he looked into the dark miserable little pit that was to become his new home a little bit more of him died that day.
They came for him that night.
To teach him a lesson.
A lesson in taking it.
Taking it like a man.
Dad, please don't do this. I'm not a bad boy. I am doing the right thing. Just for once okay? Just this one time. My life is pretty shitty without you on top of it.
But his dad just stood over him and continued his tirade. The only visitor he has ever had and it had to be his father. He suspected the lawyer may have had something to do with it. He knew emotional pain can be inflicted as easily as physical pain. The lawyer loved reading newspaper clippings of his two trials out to him.
"You have brought nothing but shame and abuse to this family," said his father.
He stared ahead. Still the same old dad.
"I have no son."
Tell me something I don't know. I disowned you years ago.
"Your mother is dead."
Well to be fair He didn't know that. He didn't know much of anything. Contrary to what people think there wasn't cable in solitary. But there are lots of walls to stare at. Or if you get bored with them you could look at the sink - or for a thrill: the toilet.
John House sneered. "They said it was a heart attack, but she probably died of shame."
She would have been proud of me.
It was an open handed smack. The most shameful kind of way to hit a man. It showed exactly what you thought of him. It was a challenge.
Not that he could do anything about it anyway because as always he was shackled and cuffed six ways from Sunday, but his hands still curled into fists behind his back.
Good thing they didn't pick you dad, he thought. I'd have pissed off to Rio and left to your fate. I put up with too much from you. If I was free I'd take you down – old man or not.
House stared blankly ahead. Some pain lasts forever.
Somewhere, in the dark, a man dreams:
House liked Dream Jimmy. He had always been there for him when there was no one else. And even now he always came, though he could never work how he got down here without being caught.
Even though he would try to curl up in a solitary ball Dream Jimmy would uncurl him, draw him close and hold him just like the big nancy boy he was. Dream Jimmy would keep him warm when they had taken his blanket and he was cold. Dream Jimmy would tell him stories of the hospital when he was lonely. Dream Jimmy would tell him lousy jokes to take his mind off the constant gnawing ache of pain. Dream Jimmy didn't mind if he cried a bit and made Dream Jimmy's shirt wet. Dream Jimmy knew how much it hurt.
Dream Jimmy would hold him as he slept until all was well in the Dream Land of House.
"No visitors today thanks," mouthed House silently into the corner as the little observation port opened, casting a tiny shaft of dim light into the cell and signaling a new day. Just one day with no one hitting him, screaming at him or spitting on him would be nice. Today he was just plain tired. Too cold. Too tired. Too tired to even be afraid. Hadn't he been punished enough? What could they do to him that hadn't been done before? He couldn't think of much.
His life consisted of nothing but pain. His life would consist of nothing but pain. There was no hope. Pain was the first thing that hit him when he woke up and pain was the last thing he felt before he fell asleep or, more usually, was knocked unconscious.
The constant pain of his leg and the chains; the pain of the beatings; the pain of the loneliness and the boredom; the pain of the cold from the floor and walls of his cell as it seeped slowly and steadily into his body. But most of all there was the pain of the mystery. Of not knowing why someone hated him enough to want to reduce him to a hunk of meat, good for nothing except contempt and suffering.
He couldn't stop them. He couldn't fight back. The man with the limp couldn't run, couldn't escape. If he was going to get hurt he was going to get hurt. You just protected the important bits as much as you could - and took it up the ass: it was just a part of the wonderful life of Greg House.
But all his resolve left him as his cell door opened. He didn't like that door. When it opened it meant more pain. And it had been opened too many times. Adrenalin shot through him. He automatically cringed in anticipation and began to move – one arm covering his eyes and the other groping blindly for the chain to pull himself up to attention. Too long in the dark and his retinas couldn't take the change in light. Down here in the bowels of the prison, reserved for those special people who weren't even good enough to live amongst felons, murderers and crack addicts, all you got was the observation window in the door during the day. During the night you had to imagine flowing meadows and green fields because you couldn't see jack shit.
How long had he been here? Oh God, he suddenly realized he didn't remember. He didn't know which day or even which month it was. All he knew was he wasn't getting out of this cell. He was here for the rest of his life – that's what they'd said. Sitting rotting in a dark corner, chains on his legs, chains on his wrists, even chained to the fucking wall. Nothing but pain.
One cell was supposedly as good as another. Prison life was a never-ending cycle of chains, bars, hard eyed men with big boots and clanging doors. A very angular life he decided. But he really didn't like this cell. It was dark and it was cold. At least before there had been things to see. He never would have thought he would miss the sight of Fat Boy. He wondered if he'd had that heart attack yet.
He remembered a quote about something being long periods of monotony followed by sheer bursts of terror. Was that about war or his life?
Stand up House; stand up now, he thought desperately. Now is not the time to be philosophical you idiot. He tried to rise, but a feeling of light-headedness came over him – oh Christ. How long was it since they had fed him? He fell back down into the corner; despair threatening to choke him. He'd get a beating or the dog box for sure. He curled up instinctively, trying to protect the leg, waiting for the inevitable blows and the screaming to begin.
But nothing happened. After a moment he squinted into the light in confusion then stopped in amazement. It wasn't Boot Boy or any of the other guards. The man standing in his cell had a suit on – with a dog collar.
He laughed silently. A fucking priest. He slumped down into the corner in relief. Go away Padre, he thought to himself. He didn't need saving. He was already in Hell. And hoping God botherers weren't as ready with their fists as guards he turned his face back to the corner of the cell.
But the priest came over to his corner. Eventually House turned to look at the intruder into his space. He saw the man eyeing him warily.
Eventually the man spoke. "Hello, Gregory," he said.
It was something about the way he said it that made House start. He thought he was gutted inside, but fear began to pound through his veins and he shrank back into the corner. He knew who this man was. This was his nemesis. This was 'the client': the other party in the contract. The man responsible for the pitiful state of his life: for turning him into Sir Convict 501437, Life Without Parole Sir Boss Sir: a pathetic excuse for a man - huddled in a corner, cringing at the slightest sound.
Then suddenly all the fear and pain were wiped away as he clicked into diagnostic mode as his curiosity took over.
He wanted to know why.
He had to swallow a few times before he could speak. He was unused to speaking. Not allowed to talk down here. But he'd risk the dog box. He had to talk to this man.
"It's you," he said quietly. "You are not a priest. You are the one who did this to me."
He narrowed his eyes, even after so many months of vegetating his brain working at full speed. He pointed to the surveillance camera in the corner of the cell roof. "Even though you get it all on tape you had to come and see me, didn't you? You had to make a personal appearance. You wanted to see my pain first hand. The video recordings weren't enough."
He took a deep breath in as he remembered all those nights in the factory. The sick bastards had filmed everything. "What, am I - next to Lost season two in your video library? Do you sit there and ask yourself – mmm – do I feel like MASH today or shall I watch Greg House being tortured?"
Thompson smiled and nodded to the camera. "Actually I have you hooked up with a live feed. Sort of like House cable."
"But now you have come for the live show." House continued viciously, his voice harsh. He didn't realise tears had begun trickling down his face. He didn't realise that maybe he hadn't given up on himself after all. Anger was bubbling to the surface.
"Do you have favourite episodes? Remember the one where they strung me up and put the high-pressure hose on me all night in the middle of winter. That one must have been a highlight. Or what about the one where they flogged me? Or the first time they…" he trailed off… unable to say it. "Do you have House marathons? Back to back House episodes.? Do you eat popcorn while you watch?" he spat viciously.
The priest said nothing. He merely slid down the wall and sat next to House. Even though there was nothing threatening in this gesture House felt suddenly very afraid. Actually talking about all those times reminded him of how much power this man had over him. This man owned him.
And now, finally, he was meeting his tormenter face to face and, considering what he had endured before he wondered what would happen now. Was he about to die? Was that the final episode? No spin offs for House.
"So what do you want to know," he said desperately, suddenly gasping for breath as the fear caught up with him. "You took everything from me. You destroyed everything: my work, my support, my life. You hurt me, again and again and again – until I wanted to die. But you wouldn't let me do that. You blackmailed me with the one person you knew I would do anything for to keep safe. Then you made me drive him away - the only person who has ever truly cared a damn about me. Then you killed an innocent woman and sent me here to rot; and presumably die in pain, misery and loneliness," he said as he jangled his chains and gestured around the little cell. He paused for breath:
"Do you feel better now?"
The man thought for a moment.
"Well at least one of us is happy."
The priest closed his eyes as he rested his head against the cell wall. He seemed creepily content, a beatific smile on his face. He didn't say anything more. Eventually House had to break his reverie. He had to know why.
"Would you mind answering one question?" he asked conversationally, knowing this might be his only chance.
"And what's that?" said the priest with his eyes still closed.
"Any particular reason why or were you just bored. Are you sure you have the right guy?" He snorted with bitter laughter. "I really think I would have remembered pissing you off so badly you would do all this and I'd really hate for this all to have been some giant misunderstanding."
This provoked a reaction. The man turned his head to House and bored into him with his gaze. "My name is Robert Thompson and you killed my only daughter. I am exacting God's revenge. An eye for an eye."
He leaned in close to House. "That is why I make you suffer. That is why Ms Cameron had to die."
"Oh crap, not this again," said House almost to himself. "When will people realise death is a natural part of life." House was starting to get angry. "The Bible was wrong. An eye for an eye doesn't make things better." He pointed to his blind eye. "It just means you keep poking until both of you are blind. Then you stumble around a bit and fall into the nearest well."
But Thompson laughed softly. "You think you are a god. Do you feel like a god now Gregory. You are not God. Only God has the power to take life," he hissed. "Your job was to save it. Your job was to save my daughter."
House sighed. He tried to run his hands through his hair before realizing with his prison haircut this was impossible.
"Look you moron. Let me put it in a way you might understand. God created all life on Earth right. They say if you do what God does enough times you become God. Doctors are gods. We play with life and death every day. But we are fallible gods," he said.
"We haven't had as much practice as the big guy up there," he said pointing a thumb to the roof. "We can get it wrong and people die. And remember that God created death too." He looked at the priest, willing him to understand. House couldn't say sorry because he wasn't sorry. He did his best for patients in the only way he knew how. "Sometimes people just die," he said softly.
But Thompson didn't seem to hear him. He just leaned in closer. "You know something Greg; you are right. It should be up to God. He should make you should burn in hell for all eternity." The priest shook his head and House realized this guy was mad as a meat axe.
"But I just couldn't be sure," Thompson continued. "I am weak. There was a tiny part of me that wasn't sure of my faith. So I decided to create your own personal hell while you were still alive. Did I do a good job?"
House gave up and smiled sadly at him. "A very good job."
Thompson leaned back against the cell wall. "Maybe that makes me God."
Freedom. Not something for him. But he still thought about it sometimes. He stretched out his arms as far as they would go and waggled them around. A simple pleasure, but one long denied. He only got out of the cuffs one hour a week. It felt good. Not much felt good any more.
He ignored his wrists. Never good to dwell on the bad stuff. Just make sure you keep surviving Greg. Just stay alive. That's the most important thing.
He began to trot around the little exercise cage in a circle: hop stepping slowly. Even with the chains on his ankles he was enjoying the space around him after so long being confined in his claustrophobic little cell.
He was concentrating on not tripping over his own feet when Boot Boy (so named because of House's familiarity with Boot Boy's boots) yelled at him.
He looked up. That was his name now.
"Merry Christmas fuckwit."
The guard laughed at his look of bewilderment.
"It's Christmas Day you piece of shit."
He stopped walking. Now that was unfair. How was he supposed to know it was Christmas? Everywhere he looked it was grey. Grey walls, grey floors, grey bars, grey everything. Not a piece of tinsel in sight.
He stared at the floor as Boot Boy called him a fuckstick and a faggot and promised he'd be getting his Christmas present good and hard this year. Oh thanks there Boot Boy: something to look forward to.
He didn't say a word. He couldn't. He wasn't allowed and Boot Boy had a particular fondness for stomping on his hands and hands came in handy. He just waited until the guard got tired of tormenting him and resumed his walking: his stupid walking in a little circle in a fucking cage walking.
It was all he could do.
Merry Christmas Wilson. I hope you like your present.
Another year over: a new one just begun.
He wondered which one it was.
He hoped it was a good one.