A short one-shot inspired by a clip from the teaser advert for episode 2.13 - Skin Deep. Precursor to the episode.

Couldn't keep my angst-loving fingers off of this clip - sorry! Canon as far as the clip (and what we know about the ep) goes and extrapolated and exaggerated by little old me! No doubt the ep itself will be much more subtle (after all, Hugh excels at subtle) but this is just my little imagining of the scene.

Spoilers if you haven't seen the preview ad and if you have avoided all hints of what is to come in the next ep - don't say you weren't warned!

Please review - Feedback is my Vicodin... :)


House awoke to pain. Noting new there. This was his life; this was his existence. Every morning the return of consciousness brought with it his old, familiar companion: pain. The damaged nerves in his leg thrummed with it, his muscles burned with it; it danced through his nervous system and howled in his head, electrical impulses endlessly firing in his brain until his breath escaped him in a stifled groan and his fingers fumbled blindly for the comfort of the pill bottle on the bedside table.

He knew it was going to be a bad day when he had to reach for his pills before he'd even opened his eyes.

The Vicodin tasted gritty in his mouth. His throat was dry from sleep and for a moment the pill seemed to lodge in his oesophagus, an uncomfortable sensation that made him swallow convulsively in an effort to clear it. He breathed out a ragged sigh as he opened his eyes, his body already feeling stiff with tension, his muscles unconsciously tightening as he waited for the pain to pass, for the blessed touch of narcotics to numb the throb of pain enough for him to move.

This was definitely not a good day.

Pain was a subjective thing, an ephemeral concept that could not be defined, only experienced. No-one could ever understand someone else's pain; no amount of empathy could account for the subjective experience of how a brain perceived pain. The concept of giving it a number was facile – but how else to describe it to an external observer? Words were subjective. Burning, stabbing, grinding, shooting; words were irrelevant, open to interpretation, constrained by vocabulary. Medicine needed to be objective, defined, measurable. So they ask for a number. Pain wasn't a number. Pain was personal. Pain was... arbitrary.

House had good days and he had bad days. The pain was a constant in his life – always there, always in the background. Sometimes he thought of it as a predator, a snarling, sharp-toothed creature that stalked him through his day, waiting for a chance to strike; a careless stumble, a delay in taking his pills, a sudden change in the weather – any opportunity for the beast to wake from its restless slumber and roar its discontent.

On good days the pain was a background hum that he had taught himself to ignore. On good days he would banter with his team, walk for miles through the glass-walled corridors of the hospital, entertain himself with baiting Cuddy, skipping clinic hours just to torment her. On bad days the pain flared and burned, his muscles cramped, his nerves shrieked. On bad days he could feel his leg tremble under him, his fingers stung from gripping the cane so tightly, his shoulder ached from bearing so much of his weight. On bad days he would withdraw, sit brooding in his office, snap at his staff and argue with Cuddy when she tried to enforce his clinic obligations.

House lay immobile in his bed, the sheets twisted around him, his body held stiffly as he waited for the Vicodin to kick in. A fleeting spasm shivered through the remaining muscles in his right thigh and his breath hissed as he pulled in air sharply. Oh this was not going to be a good day.

After 10 long minutes he felt strong enough to risk moving. The burning ache in his thigh was slowly settling, the sweet numbness of the Vicodin stifling the pain receptors in his brain, blocking out the misfiring signals from damaged nerves. He pushed himself upwards slowly, tentatively, until he was sat upright. So far so good. He pushed back the sheets and used both hands to gingerly swing his right leg over the side of the mattress, breathing just a little easier when the motion didn't result in a flare of pain. He swung his left leg easily to join the right and sat for a moment, his hands resting on the edge of the bed, the varnished wood of the floor cool beneath his bare feet. A yawn caught him by surprise and he grimaced as he dragged a weary hand through his sleep-tousled hair; he felt tired already. The pain was exhausting, fighting it sapped his strength, both physically and mentally. No matter. There was no way he could get back to sleep now, even had he had the option. Once the pain woke him it was rare that he could stay in bed, Vicodin or not. His muscles, sore and tight from the unnatural strain on his posture that the cane necessitated, complained if he lay still for too long. The low-level hum of even background pain was a constant irritant, thrumming along his nerve strands, making him restless, preventing sleep. Once he was awake the only way to control the pain was to ignore it, to distract himself. Work, computer games, soap operas; whatever it took.

With a sigh he placed a hand firmly on a solid, wooden bedpost and pushed himself awkwardly to his feet. For a fraction of a second his right leg bore the minute amount of weight he put on it and then, without warning, it gave way under him, sharp, fiery pain shooting through him as he stumbled agonisingly. He grabbed frantically for support, to save himself from falling, his hand landing on the bed as he managed to twist his body, falling sideways to land gasping on the mattress. He gritted his teeth, hunched over helplessly at the end of the bed, as fierce agony rippled through his leg. He tried to breathe through the dizzying pain, nausea churning his stomach as fresh waves of pain washed through him. God, when would it let up? He felt panic setting in. This wasn't right. It wasn't normally like this.

His hands clutched helplessly at his leg as he curled over the source of his pain, a low moan escaping him. God. Please let it stop. He felt hot, light-headed, every muscle in his body tensing as he fought to breathe, to survive. The pain spiked suddenly, hot and angry, and he couldn't help but cry out, a sharp, helpless sound torn from his throat. With his eyes screwed shut in a grimace of pain he scrabbled desperately for his Vicodin. He ripped the cap from the bottle with a haste born of desperation, not caring that the force of the motion spilled smooth, white pills from the container, tumbling through his shaky grip, scattering across the rumpled bed sheets. He shoved two into his mouth, swallowing thickly, not caring that he'd already taken his morning dose, not caring about anything beyond making the pain stop.

The grinding push of pain forced tears from him, moisture leaking from the corners of his tightly-shut eyes as he slowly folded back onto the mattress, his hands drawing his burning, screaming, useless leg with him. He lay huddled on the bed, his loose pyjama pants twisted around him. He lost track of how long he there lay helpless and shaking, cradling his leg. He nearly cried out with relief when the pain finally began to ease, his breath shuddering in his chest as he fought for control. He was suddenly aware of his pulse pounding in his ears.

He lay limp and exhausted on the bed, tears drying on his cheeks as the pain finally settled back into a dull ache. He felt suddenly cold and weak, his body trembling in the aftermath of agony. He couldn't fight off the sensation of cold and a shiver ran up his spine that was pure, icy fear. This was wrong. This was all wrong. It had never been like this. Not since...

He swallowed. His heart was hammering in his chest. He rolled carefully onto his back, his breathing shaky as panic flooded through him. Shit. He opened his eyes slowly. The bland white ceiling above offered no answers, no comfort.

House lay sprawled limply across the bed surrounded by scattered pills, his clothes tangled and twisted, reddened eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling, a dreadful fear clutching at his heart.

Something was wrong.