He had his back to the wall. Nowhere to run. But he wouldn't run.
He balled his hands into fists, dropping the books on the pavement. "N-no way." He knew how pathetic he must sound, but Daniel was always telling him he had to stand up for himself. "And stop calling me… that…."He faltered. "That name." Andy was leering at him, flanked by three others. The coward in him wanted to run, but…
He hadn't thought that far ahead. "O-or I'll challenge you to a br… a fight. One-on-one. I've got just as much a right to m-my religion as anyone, I –"
Andy cut him off with a snigger. "Boy, he still thinks this is about his Jew-ness!"
"I do not," he countered, hoping it was the right thing to say. Andy Babino, whose favour he fell in and out of. Sometimes he only made fun of him. Sometimes…
"You still got those bruises?"
He nodded meekly, hating himself for going along with it.
"And they didn't teach you anything?"
His hand wandered to his side, pulling away as a twinge struck memory. It had been at school at lunch. A pretty girl buying her food, and he'd helped her carry it over to her table. What kind of boyfriend makes his girl buy lunch for more than just herself?
The one in front of him.
Sinking feeling as the tray hit the floor... he had that sort of feeling again. "Not to help any of you or your friends, under pain of death?"
"Stupid! I said to keep away from Melissa. She's mine."
"She was gonna drop the tray." He pushed himself away from the wall, but not quick enough to avoid being pushed back to his spot, this time with a fist to keep him there.
"Then I would have taken care of it. But that's just it. Keep outta our way, keep off our stuff, right?" There was only a second's pause, and then: "Not just you, though. Your brother."
He almost stammered out 'which one,' but he already knew.
"Yeah, Timmy says he saw him talking with Mike, and you guys answer to us, not his people." The other gang.
He didn't mean to, but he whimpered.
"You're gonna give your brother a message.
James stared at the ceiling, towel pressed to his face and the ice already melting. A trickle of water traced its way down the edge of his neck and soaked into the mattress. He rolled over, and groaned, as bruised muscles complained. How did he get himself into this? Was Melissa worth getting himself killed over?
No, of course not. But he didn't really like like her, did he? Okay, so she was pretty, and they got along pretty well. But her boyfriend was a jerk, and he didn't treat her right, so any time James could spend with her, make up for the bad stuff by making her smile... that was just what friends do, right?
Well, it was his loss that Andy didn't see it that way.
As for his brother... What was he doing hanging out with Mike Amrich? Cause that was a name you really didn't want to hear in the same sentence with someone you knew. If Andy had goons, Mike had thugs. He even got respect from some of the real gangs around here.
And his brother? Hardly the gang type either. Sometimes James suspected the only reason he got involved was cos of him. Little Jimmy, stay out of trouble.
He wasn't the trouble type. Really. But somehow... somehow, trouble seemed to find him.
Somewhere downstairs, the door slammed.
"It's me," he shouted, his voice cracking.
James sat up. At last, a welcome voice. Footsteps on the stairs. Maybe he could explain what was going on. Maybe his father would be that quiet, accepting ear he needed. God, if it was his mother, he'd never hear the end of it. But the voice was male. What luck.
But when the door opened, everything he planned to say evaporated. Instead of the worn smile of his father, there was a strange, scruffy man with a cane, and he looked angry.
When Mother came home, he'd hear bloody murder. Letting strangers in the house...
"Cut the crap, Wilson. This isn't where you're supposed to be."
For the second time, the world seemed to shift under his gaze, the bed too short for him now, the room reduced to the familiar greyscale of memory. And underneath it all, he had the oddest sensation that there was some distinction he should be making, some connection he might have missed.
Maybe his newest oldest only best friend would tell him what it was.
"House, you..." His gaze wandered the cramped quarters of a place he thought he'd never see again. "How'd I...?"
Something softened in those blue eyes, if only by a little. "Sure you don't want to go back to the kiddie pool?"
"I don't remember getting here."
"I threw you in."
"Metaphysically. You should have at least realized you knew what was coming next, you idiot. From there, you could have found your way back." A moment's pause. "Or at the very least, dodged that punch."
The mattress beneath him felt lumpy in all the wrong places. He pushed himself backwards, trying to find someplace marginally better, and motioned for House to join him. It didn't happen. Smart.
"So where next?"
"Do you really think I'd tell you?"
"Well, at least tell me what I'm supposed to be looking for! You obviously know, otherwise you wouldn't be pushing me around like this!"
House limped the perimeter of the room, at last coming to rest at the bookshelf in the corner. He pried a book free from between its cramped cousins, and tossed it across the room.
He caught it, his eyes flicking up the binding. "Cinderella?"
A lopsided grin spread itself across the man's face. "I'm not sure what's more alarming – that you haven't figured it out yet... or that you owned that book."
"I didn't!" he protested. "Wait... are you saying I'm Cinderella?"
"No, you're the fairy godmother." A moment's silence. "A very messed up fairy godmother. With no magic powers. There is a Cinderella, though. More than one."
Wilson snapped the book shut, tossing it to the floor with a flick of the wrist. "Yes, I go around curing curses and falling in love with my charges. And they lived miserably ever after. It's nothing you haven't told me already. What happened to the universally blunt House?"
"Think I don't want to shove it in your face? Even if I could, how would it help you for me to just give you the answer? You'd never accept it."
House frowned and began to speak, but it was if somebody had hit mute on a television. His mouth was moving, but nothing came out. After a moment's pause, he cleared his throat and changed tact. "See? Can't say anything you aren't willing to consider on your own –"
"Some 'House' you are –"
" –but I can point you in the right direction. Deal with it, and move on. And when it's over, I'll even give you a little push, so you can wake up all chipper and ready to own up."
Wilson pushed himself to his feet, feeling for all the world suddenly claustrophobic. A magical mystery tour hosted by House. It was either hell, or...
Nope, definitely hell. "Fine. Just get this over with."
And then there was nothing.
He sat on the stool in exam room three, running his hand along that silky-smooth, oh-so-shapely leg. His fingertips probed muscle and tendon, aware that next to that to that flawless bronze, his own skin seemed pale. He followed the gracialis dangerously close to her thighs, then swept down to her lower leg, trailing his index finger along the curve of her gastrocnemius, and then back up along the soleus.
She winced, and the moment was lost. Interesting.
"You've got a first-grade calf strain," House announced. "Stay off the tennis for a few weeks, wear a special insole, and you'll be good as new."
Her hand came down, brushed against his, lingered. "Is that all?"
"Well," he muttered, "you could always try sports therapy, massages."
He knew that look. Be serious, it said. He'd gotten it enough times from Wilson –
His mood sputtered and died. "What do you want?"
A look of injured innocence from her. God, she was good. Maybe this was worth his effort after all.
"I can write this stuff down, but you're the one that's going to have to do something about it. It's a physical injury. They don't make pills for those yet."
He let the words hang in the air, saw exactly the reaction he'd predicted.
"Oh, there is one thing, though."
House drew himself up to his full height, his knuckles white as they gripped the lonely curve of his cane. "Dinner. Seven o'clock. Doing anything?"
He watched her posture, saw the ever-so-subtle shifts. "Well, that's a little fast –"
"Oh, come on. I asked you to dinner, not sex. That can come later." He took a deep breath, weighed the words on his tongue. How to say this... "I, uh, need the company. Got a lot on my mind right now, and there's nobody else I could ask." Was that a nod he saw? "Well, except for my team. But that could get awkward."
"So you asked me?"
"Don't worry. All you have to do is sit there and act social. No biggie. I'm the one who has issues with that."
She looked him over, her stunning green eyes playing the part of an x-ray. For a moment he thought she would say no.
She held out her hand.
"Are you buying?"
The room felt separate to the rest of the hospital, as if a heavy curtain lay between the bustle out there, and the undisturbed calm within. Apart from the steady beep of the monitors, there was very little noise. The curtains were drawn, and a fine rain misted the windowpane, but none of that was important. Not with these glass walls between him and the rest of the world.
House leaned back in the wheelchair, his hand moving over his leg almost automatically.
"You going to come in, or just stand there all day?"
Cameron slid the door open and stepped inside. "Cuddy let us off duty without a fight. What did you say?"
House shrugged. "Didn't say boo. You bring the whiteboard?"
"Got it. I –" She broke off, staring pointedly at his new mode of transport. House remained resolutely silent, and she turned her attention to the sole occupant of the room. "It's Wilson," she said.
The two Vicodin leapt past his teeth and balanced on his tongue, a pit stop on their way to a better place. "Obviously." He gave her a sharp stare, hoping she'd get the message. Then again, knowing her, it might as well have been an invitation.
"If you need time with your friend..."
"He's asleep." A cursory glance at the folder told him everything he already knew. "Not gonna wake up any time soon. Maybe it'll do him some good to hear our voices." He glanced up at the SAT monitor, the heatbeat cadence fading in from the background. "Then again, maybe not. But I have to be someplace to get the news I want, and since this rib doesn't want me in my office right now..."
"You're in a wheelchair," she observed.
"Again – obviously."
"You could have asked an orderly to bring you back to your office. It's a more sensible place to continue the differential –"
"I like it better here. And so does my rib. Where's Chase?"
Cameron crossed the room, tapping a dissonant rhythm into the phone on the wall. "On his way." Dial tone, and then a hum. "Hi, Foreman? Are you busy?"
"And House!" House barked.
An audible sigh. "Hello, House."
"We're waiting on Godot. In the meantime, I'm going to help you use up your minutes. You use Verizon, right?"
"He uses AT&T." Chase had arrived.
"Actually," Foreman began... "I –"
"Doesn't matter what service Foreman has," Cameron interrupted. "We have two dying patients, remember?"
He stared out into the darkening sky and frowned. "Okay then. Cameron, you're in charge of the markers. Go."
"Antigens are negative for Epstein-Barr, but I got a positive result for CMV."
"And yet we're not celebrating."
"False positive. I accounted for the IgG factor, and the test came back negative." She crossed the two off and looked over at Chase.
He sighed, and shrugged away his answer. "You were right. No E. coli, and no C. perfringens either."
"What about the seizure," Foreman began.
"Already attributed to the fever." Chase gestured pointlessly to the board.
House grabbed onto the idea. "Right, but we were treating her for Leptospirosis. The treatment for which is..."
"Beefed up her immune system enough to resist whatever it is that's attacking her."
"And," House continued, "Gives us a clue as to what it is. If it reacts to antibiotics, there's a good chance it's... well... biotic."
The Aussie cleared his throat. "I just finished telling you –"
"I heard you the first time. Go draw blood. Check for the things you didn't check, recheck the things you did check, and get back to me when you have the answers. Meanwhile, let's get her on a broad-spectrum until we know what to fix."
"There's only one problem."
House looked up, hoping Chase wasn't gonna say what he thought he was.
"Her BP's high and she's having trouble clotting. Once we get her to bleed, we might not be able to make her stop."
"Then spin her urine. Lots of blood in there, right?"
Chase frowned. "Damaged blood. It had to go through a lot to end up in her urine."
"I thought you might say that. And I give you an alternative." House kicked the wheelchair into a spin. "You can't bleed her... but you can bleed him."
"The boyfriend? We're not even sure they have the same thing," Cameron protested.
"They've only just gotten him stable." Foreman's voice drifted in through the dizzy blur. "He lost almost two pints of blood on the way over, and you want them to take away more?"
"I'd want you to do it if you were here. But since you're not, you might as well go back and investigate a little bit more. Swab the walls, check the car..." He gripped the sides of the chair as the familiar whine of pain mingled with dizziness and nausea. Maybe it was time to stop. "Oh, and get some blood from her cat, too. Only member of the household we haven't met. Maybe Fluffy will tell us something new."
"You're thinking parasites?"
"Been thinking it for a while now. Just because you didn't find anything in the fecal doesn't mean they aren't there. The boyfriend's blood should give us an idea of what we're up against."
House waited a few seconds, and levered himself to his feet, leaning heavily on his cane. "Oh, by the way. Going out tonight – romantic dinner, very expensive restaurant. So don't call unless it's an emergency." He grinned wickedly, and limped off in the opposite direction. Let them puzzle over that one for a while...
A/N- Wow, it's been a long time. But I'm back. Back like I promised I would be. And yeah, it's been a terribly long time, and yes, I do feel quite guilty, but if you want to hear me rationalize and spit out excuses, go read chapter 13 of Security.
If you're a new reader, as I'm sure you probably are, welcome to my story! I hope you enjoy the ride! And on the off chance that you're a returning reader, you have my eternal gratitude, and you have no idea how happy I am to see you again. Thanks for not giving up on me.
I'm going to finish this story... I gave my word... but don't worry. It's not half over yet - and I plan to update regularly (or else suffer the wrath of a new, and quite irritable muse...)
Hope to see you all soon... and remember - the more reviews I get, the faster I'll update~!