The days that followed had the nightmarish feel of being swept under by a wave and dragged along the ocean floor. In one part of his brain, House knew he was being irrational; in the other, he heard only the voice of compulsion—Have you tried this? Looked into that? What does Charlie Evans think?—and was helpless to resist it. He called in favors and prevailed upon neurologists who specialized in Parkinson's to listen to minute details of Wilson's case. Most of them pronounced Foreman's reasoning sound, and those who were willing to entertain other possibilities had nothing to offer that the team hadn't already investigated. Yet he persisted, placing call after call, scouring the literature for clues.

His mood deteriorated so rapidly that his team began to talk seriously among themselves about the possibility of a breakdown. He had no patience with opposing viewpoints, no self-control when it came to the pills, no desire to eat or sleep any more than absolutely necessary. A bottle of Scotch appeared in his desk drawer; when that was gone, he got another one. He spent most nights in his office. When sleeplessness overtook him at the hospital he could prowl the corridors and feel connected to something; at home he was adrift, with nothing to steer by and no one to hear him if he went under.

-0-

One evening Wilson persuaded him to leave the hospital for a hamburger that hadn't been sitting in a cafeteria steam tray all day. Passing the research wing, they noticed a small crowd gathering. A group of picketers had posted themselves all along the sidewalk outside the entrance, holding signs that read "Stem Cell Research Murder" and "Don't Take a Life to Save a Life."

House stopped abruptly and took in the scene. "What's going on here?"

"The hospital won a grant to do basic stem cell research," said Wilson "It's been in the papers for two weeks now. The OpEd pages have been rocking with it. The Right to Life group in Princeton has been threatening to picket. I guess this is it." He made as if to move on.

House stood where he had stopped. The crowd around the protesters was almost evenly divided between hospital personnel whom he recognized as "pro-choice" and those he knew to be "right to lifers." Whatever their politics, he thought, they all believed they knew how other people should manage their lives. He thought of Wilson, contemplating a foreshortened career and steadily declining abilities. He thought bitterly of the thousands and thousands of abandoned embryos in deep freeze at fertility clinics around the country, each potentially carrying the secret to a cure. And he cursed the bloody-mindedness of those who would ignore the desperate needs of the life in front of them in favor of a life that hadn't even begun.

The picketers had propped their signs against a railing so they could still be read by passing motorists and gathered around a priest to pray. "Hail Mary, full of grace…"

House began to sing, softly at first, "Every sperm is sacred, Every sperm is great, If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate…"

"…blessed art thou among women…"

Wilson giggled. House raised his voice and projected: "Let the heathen spill theirs, On the dusty ground, God shall make them pay, For each sperm that can't be found."

"…the fruit of thy womb…"

"Every sperm is wanted, Every sperm is good, Every sperm is needed, In your neighborhood!"

The pro-choice section of the crowd began to laugh. The right-to-lifers glared. House took another breath.

"Hindu, Taoist, Mormon, Spill theirs just anywhere, But God loves those who treat their, Semen with more care…"

"Holy Mary, Mother of God…" But the song was penetrating the prayer circle, cutting into its fervor. One woman in particular was growing agitated; the priest said something to her sotto voce, but she continued to stare daggers at House.

House stared right back at her and belted out the next refrain: "Every sperm is useful, Every sperm is fine, God needs everybody's, Mine, and mine, and mine…"

The woman rose, still chanting along with the prayer group only with more volume, and headed straight for House.

"Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death…"

"Let the pagans spill theirs, O'er mountain, hill and plain, God shall strike them down for Each sperm that's spilt in vain."

House and the woman were now eyeball to eyeball, reciting at the tops of their voices. The crowd was cheering them on. Wilson grabbed House's arm and said "Okay, you've made your point, let's go." House shook him off.

"Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit—"

"Every sperm is sacred, Every sperm is great—"

"As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be—"

"IF A SPERM IS WASTED, GOD GETS QUITE IRATE—"

"WORLD WITHOUT END, AMEN!"

"Keeping talking to your invisible friend," House advised her. "You'll want to be on good terms with him when I can't figure out how to treat your half-witted kids because cretins like you won't let us do research!"

"Research that murders children!"

"Research that saves lives!"

The crowd was growing larger and more vocal on both sides: "House, shut up!" "Let him talk—he's right!" Wilson was pulling at his arm: "House, let it go, come on!"

But his mind had gone bright red with rage and resistent to reason; all he could hear was the voice that had gotten him into trouble so many times before, urging him on, protesting, "Wait, let me say this, just one more thing—"

He turned on Wilson savagely--"Leave me alone, dammit!"—and confronted his opponent. "You think this is about saving children? Lady, let me clue you in; when you and your buffoon of a president stop stem cell research, you condemn millions of people—people who are alive right now, walking, talking people—to pain and misery and death. That's on your head, dollface."

The woman closed her eyes and began the prayer cycle all over again. The priest stood in the background as if watching a prize fight.

A hospital security guard pushed his way through the crowd and confronted House. "Doctor, will you come with me, please?"

"We were just leaving," Wilson assured him.

"Maybe so, Doctor, but I've got a report of a disturbance, and—"

Wilson drew himself up and looked, lasarlike, into the guard's eyes. "I said we're leaving," he repeated. The guard backed down, muttering that they'd better get going, then, before things got ugly.

A cheer went up when House left the arena, but he was too numb to enjoy it. The numbness lasted until Wilson escorted him back to his office. House sat, feeling something hot and painful swell and rise in his chest. He tried to take deep breaths, and failed. He turned to Wilson, expecting tight-lipped anger, and saw something much worse than that: compassion. The swelling grew.

He turned to anger, always a reliable dodge. "Morons," he fumed. "Idiots. They do everything they can to get in our way, then they come in expecting miracles when their god won't cure their cancer, or their diabetes—"

"House."

"—they worry about zygotes and ignore the kids already here—"

"House. You're over the top. What's going on with you? Where's Carolyn these days?"

A stab of pain that House located in his thigh made him grimace and clutch at his leg. He needed a pill—maybe two. "We're taking a break," he said. "Her idea. She wants…to spend more time with Angie."

Wilson said nothing, but he didn't look convinced.

-0-

Later, having got rid of Wilson, House went to swallow a pill. It came right back up again. He frowned and tried again—same thing. It took a full glass of water to get it down, as if his body were rejecting the drug at some fundamental level. Worse, he was having trouble summoning the insouciance that used to let him pretend he was better off with his pills and booze than with people and the aggravation that accompanies them. It had never been true, but now he couldn't even fake it. He tried to absorb himself in a study on a promising new medication for Parkinson's, but work was beginning to lose its power to shut out thought. And loneliness, his constant companion since childhood, was becoming a burden and, frankly, a bore.

-0-

House made a mental note to avoid Oncology between one and four on Friday afternoon, when Carolyn brought Angie for her chemo. He usually avoided Oncology anyway, but he was resolute about staying away from that wing during that particular time. He barricaded himself in his office until almost three. Then he turned left instead of right coming out of the men's room and found himself on the way to the fifth floor.

He saw Carolyn almost as soon as he got off the elevator. She was leaning against the wall just outside one of the chemo rooms—presumably Angie's—talking to Wilson, her back to House, who positioned himself behind a column and watched.

She was wearing her "comfortable jeans," faded and a little baggy in the seat, and a denim jacket. From the color of the hem showing under the jacket's waistband he could tell she was also wearing her "PMS: Pissed-Off Mare Syndrome" t-shirt. Black ankle boots completed the outfit; he could picture the spot in her shoe rack where she stored them. He noted once again how well-proportioned she was for a short woman, how neatly her form fit its function. She looked slightly mussed, kicked-back, and relaxed, and the need to go to her became so overwhelming that he turned away for a moment, leaning against the column and closing his eyes against the ache in his chest.

He looked again. Carolyn and Wilson were deep in conversation, talking intimately, her fingertips on his forearm. Would they end up together? A dispassionate observer would think it a good match on both sides: Wilson was a much more stable companion than House could ever hope to be, and Carolyn would provide the companionship Wilson craved and the care he would need. And House could go on being House, with all the time in the world to brood and obsess, with no danger of splashing anyone else with the vitriol of his uglier moods. It would be best all around. Down the hall, Carolyn embraced Wilson, who returned the hug with all his might. The ache grew more intense. House slipped away

-0-

He was sitting at his desk waiting for a pill to blur the edges when Wilson entered the conference room and strode to the whiteboard. He grabbed the eraser and wiped it clean in a dozen quick strokes. Then he gathered the files spread over the table and began feeding the contents into the shredder.

House gimped over and stood in the doorway watching two weeks of painfully accumulated data turn into confetti. "What're you doing?" he sputtered.

"Something I should've done from the start," Wilson said grimly. "I'm taking you off the case. You're fired, House. Finished, finito, kaput." He fed the last batch of notes into the shredder and tossed the empty folder into the wastebasket.

"I saw you lurking upstairs," Wilson continued. "You looked positively lovesick. Carolyn says you broke it off. For god's sake, why? You were happy with her!"

House shrugged. "Obviously I'm not geared for relationships."

"Bullshit," said Wilson. "I'm not letting you get away with that lame excuse again. Cuddy says you've been researching parkinsonian disorders 24-seven. You've been holed up like a monk, and I think you have some monkish idea that if you make the right sacrifice, you'll find favor with the cosmos. Admit it: you dropped Carolyn so you could solve the goddamned puzzle, didn't you?"

House glared at him as he fished out a pill, but said nothing.

"House," Wilson said slowly. "Listen to me. I have Parkinson's. I have it. I've accepted it. You have to accept it, too. You're not going to change anything by turning yourself into a martyr for my sake. You won't be able to help me the way I need to be helped if you OD, either."

He walked around the table to where House had to look at him. "You know what helps me most? Seeing you with Carolyn. The two of you, arguing and joking and getting along. It gives me hope." He smiled. "If a miserable old son of a bitch like you can find love and happiness this late in the game, there's gotta be someone out there for me, right?"

House regarded him somberly, the pill still in his hand.

"So let me explain something to you, since you seem to have it backward: When you love someone, you try to be with them. You draw them to you, you don't push them away. And you don't give them up out of some half-baked notion of balancing someone else's karma. Now, before it's too late, make it right with Carolyn."

"I've already had my second chance with her." House said miserably.

"Third time's the charm." Wilson reached over, picked up the telephone receiver, and held it out to him. "Call her. Tell her Dr. Wilson needs an evening at a Chinese place with good friends."

"I can't do that over the phone," House mumbled. "She'd probably hang up as soon as she heard my voice."

"Then go see her," said Wilson. "But House—for chrissake, take a shower first."

-0-

Showered and clad in fresh jeans and t-shirt, House walked to the shed, rolled out his bike, and got on. For some reason, he thought of The Charge of the Light Brigade:

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward/All in the Valley of Death Rode the six hundred/Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns! he said...

In his mind's eye he could see Carolyn in her graduation gown, the coldness in her expression as she flipped him off after he broke off their affair in college. The gesture probably wouldn't be repeated today, but that was a less fearsome prospect than the coldness anyway.

The trip to the farmhouse was shorter than he remembered. Too soon, he was pulling up the driveway to the barn. Carolyn was in the ring lunging Jack, who cantered lightly in a circle, barely looking at him as he pulled up to the fence, killed the motor, and dismounted.

Carolyn called out to the horse, who dropped back to a walk and headed toward her. She patted his neck and led him to where House stood, trying to lower his blood pressure through sheer willpower.

"I was in the neighborhood," he told Jack, "and I thought I'd drop by. He's looking good."

Carolyn smiled faintly. "We're getting there."

"That's great. Really good. And Cherokee?"

"He's fine, too. Getting fat."

"How about Angie?"

"She's doing well. Treatment number four today; she's almost finished."

"Good for Angie."

Having determined that House was not carrying treats, Jack tried to wedge his head under the fence to reach the grass on the other side. Carolyn pulled his head back up.

"He'll wear off his mane if he does that… I talked to Dr. Wilson today." She turned candid blue eyes to his face. "He told me what's been going on with him."

"He has Parkinson's," said House, forcing the words past the tightness in his throat.

"He says you've been working day and night, driving yourself and everyone else crazy, trying to find a way to help him." She smiled. "You're a good friend."

"He's doing fine without me," said House. "Foreman's found the right combination of meds, and he's almost symptom free." He cleared his throat. "He wondered if we could get together. For dinner. Tomorrow night."

"We?"

Her look was gentle but unyielding; equivocation was not an option. He felt the old panic tightening his stomach, rising through his chest. He looked down again and took a deep breath.

"I love you," he said, to Jack's shoulder. With an effort, he looked up and held her gaze. "I love you. And I would be very, very happy if you could find a way to let me back into your life."

There was a thundering sound in his ears; his vision blurred. He dropped his eyes again, waiting for the blow:

Greg, that's sweet, but I've met someone else.

Greg, I appreciate your candor, but I think it's time we faced facts.

Greg, get out of here before I call the police.

Hearing nothing, he looked up. Carolyn was still gazing at him, her cheeks wet with tears. "I love you, too," she said, and reaching up, she drew his face toward hers. They kissed over the fence, as Jack finally got his head under the fence and began tearing at the grass at their feet. Oblivious to the human drama taking place over his head, he was just glad of the distraction that left him free, for the moment, to go after something he wanted very much.

THE END