This is an AU horror story that skips incorporates bits of Merry Little Christmas and picks up at the end of Words and Deeds. House does not go to jail for trafficking and fraud nor does he go into rehab before the trial. However in this story he is still done for contempt and then ordered into compulsory rehab.

Warning time teddies:

This is a horror story and is meant to be nasty and vicious and horrible and weird and creepy and all that jazz.

But then actually I have never written a horror story so it could be like being nuzzled by a cute bunny rabbit or vaguely scary. Who knows?

But on the off chance I do hit the right buttons:

Although there is no actual nastiness (a la teenagers skinny dipping down at the lake while a guy with a chainsaw and a hockey mask looks on) happening, the themes are meant to be scary. So if you are reading it late at night be sure to have a friendly hand to hold – or cuddle your pet or handy soft toy. I find snuggling up to my shitzu very effective (although not so much when she needs a bath and is all smelly – and especially after she has dunked her little beard in the milk).

But wet curdling milk smelling small dogs aside, basically this is not a friendly like story that tries to draw on all that spooky Twilight Zone deepest darkest fears, so don't get all upset and come crying to me if you get all over emotional because it's not really real…

Or is it?

And for a change there is no swearing, but you will have to read the story to find out why.

Actually I lied. There turned out to be quite a bit of naughty words.

And if anyone wants to know: the little bugger is currently snoring happily on her antique Chinese cushion – and presumably drooling on it. Drooling is one of her major talents.


"That one," said Luersson pointing to the picture. "That's the one I want. He'll be fun. There's no point to it if it isn't fun," he says.

Spittle flies from his mouth on the last word. It lands on the picture: a tired looking man posing for his mug shot – his arms stretched tightly behind his back and a set of numbers across his chest, held there by a piece of string. But for all this he looks angry, gazing defiantly into the camera as if to say yes this is shitty, but I'm not going down without a fight.

The other man picks up the file, examines it and then smiles to himself. "I'll arrange it." He looks up. " We can even pick him up tonight."

"The paper work seems to be in order."

The fat cop yawns and slowly gets off his fat ass. "He's this way," he says disinterestedly. "Serving a 24 for contempt, but you can have him early, they won't care. Apparently he had to go save a life… or so he said - loudly and repeatedly… until we whacked him few times to shut him up," drawls the fat cop sarcastically. "He don't look like no doctor to me. He looks like a bum."

The two orderlies follow him down the corridor, but say nothing. Men stir as they pass the little cells. The cop feels uncomfortable that the other two men don't respond to him. "Do you guys still use butterfly nets?" he says. He is the only one who laughs at the joke.

The big one holds up a cruel looking set of restraints. Thick stiff leather, buckles, straps and locks. The cop suddenly feels nervous. The orderly's smile doing nothing to reassure him.

"No, we are much more humane nowadays," he says.

"I thought he was just going into rehab?"

The other one turns to him and stares into his eyes. "You can never be too careful with an addict. Ever see Silence of the Lambs?"

"That one with the guy who ate people? Yeah."

"Exactly."

The fat cop stops and looks puzzled. "I don't think this guy ate anyone?" he says, but the two medical orderlies have already moved on. He hurries to catch up on his short fat legs.

The man is a little dazed, still half asleep as they lift him off the cot. "Where are you taking me?" he murmurs as they push him up against the wall and begin to put the heavy leather straps on him.

The big orderly smiles and tightens the straps on the man's upper arms until the prisoner cries out in pain. "Hey!" he says sharply, but the orderly just pushes him back into the wall.

The cop stands back and watches. He is glad it isn't him going with them.

In the half light the orderly's teeth looked like fangs.

The orderly moves his face in close to the prisoner's left ear. "It's rehab time," he says.

"Why are you taking me now? It's the middle of the night."

The orderly smiles. "I thought you liked mysteries and puzzles Doctor House?"

"To a point," House says to the wall.

It only occurs to him much later that they shouldn't have known that piece of information.

But by then it is too late.

He's shivering. The tiles are cold beneath his bare feet. This whole place is cold and the stiff pajamas they have given him are too big but no protection against the cold. They are a horrible green colour and they smell like they have been in storage since the First World War.

He's still mentally and physically exhausted from everything. Nearly drowning himself in booze and pills; having to go to Tritter with his cap in his hand – then being called a stupid addict and being brutally rejected; having no one to talk to except his lawyer because Wilson wouldn't even look at him after the overdose and he was too stubborn to apologise, even though that was what he secretly longed to do; the terror of sitting alone in his apartment at night, using alcohol instead of pills to dull the pain and fear while he stared down the barrel of ten years or more of looking at the world through bars; the hug of pity from Cameron when he announced he had to back to the courtroom because neither of them thought he would be coming back; getting hauled off for contempt of court for saving a man's life; and now this new fresh hell.

Life never gave Greg House an even break.

Even with Cuddy covering for him he knew he wouldn't get off scot-free. He knew it was coming. Like a great big train a coming – with him tied firmly to the tracks while Tritter chewed his gum and twirled his mustache. The DA still had all the other evidence and when he had offered the rehab deal he had jumped at it. Good thing too because he hadn't really enjoyed the powerlessness of being 'taken into custody' in front of Wilson, Cuddy and Tritter. Fortunately that was only one half-night in prison and it could have been worse. But it still hurts to be standing in a rehab centre: it aches - just like the leg.

This rehab centre sucks. It matches his pajamas. It looks as if it hasn't been renovated since the twenties.

The nurse hands him an old army jumper. He looks at it with distaste. Is there anything in this place that doesn't seem to date from a world war? But he quickly shrugs it on, as he is sick of being cold and naked.

"My feet are cold. Don't I get shoes?"

She looks at him with contempt. "Addicts get socks only," she says, holding out a pair of predictably green socks as if they were a particularly odorous dead rat. "And do up your top button." Her high pitched Scottish whine is perfect for her smug superior tone. It cuts through his aching head like a thin sharp knife.

Why don't you just put a big sticker on my chest saying 'addict', he thinks. Actually they already have. The heavy plastic tag they fastened around his wrist with strict instructions not to chew it off says 'addict' on it. He snatches the socks and sits on the bench to put them on. "Thanks Nurse Ratchett," he mumbles to himself, but that only makes him think of Steve. He consoles himself with the fact that at least Wilson agreed to look after the rat. He's relieved because he knows what it means: as usual the silly bastard has forgiven him.

He is struggling to shove a sock on his right foot when the two orderlies approach. "Come on fellas," he says as he sees the restraints. "Not those again. I'll come peaceful like." Even though he is tired, cold, and irritable because of the leg he smiles, trying to do his best to win them over. They must be just as annoyed as he is to be doing this.

"You're an addict," says one of the orderlies. "You can't be too careful with an addict."

Once again he is lifted up, twisted around and strapped up: arms, wrists, ankles - all pulled a little too tight. Leaving him standing to a sort of lop sided attention with his chest pushed out.

"Where are we going now?"

"To see the doctor."

"But it must be four in the morning."

"The Doctor likes to work nights," replies the orderly. "Quieter during the dreaming time."

"Okay," he says, baffled by the orderly's strange statement. He tries a different tack. He shrugs as best he can. "Do I have to wear these things all the time. I am going to be here for two months. It's just rehab for God's sake!"

One of the orderlies smirks. "Yeah," he says. But the big one slaps him across the shoulder. "Shut up."

He turns to House. "Listen bud: you're an addict and you're going to see the doctor and we don't take chances with people like you until he says it's okay."

"I'm a cripple with a bloody great limp who hasn't slept for God knows how long. You've just turned me inside out, made me into a fashion reject from the nineteen fifties and I'm cold. What do you think I am going to do to your precious doctor?"

"You still got teeth don't ya?"

"No, that's Spike from Buffy. Much better looking than me. I am not a bloody vampire. Contrary to the gossip around the hospital I don't bite."

"Very funny… and don't swear," says the big orderly as he grabs the straps at House's arm and yanks him back, giving him a little shake. House looks over at the nurse, hoping for a little support, but she is just staring intently at him with an expression of contempt on her face. "I told you to do up your top button," she spits as she comes over and does it up. "You can't be going seeing the doctor with your top button undone."

"Looks like I am not the only loony in this bin," says House to himself as the orderlies pull him away.

It's dark and the big orderly has his hand on his neck, pushing him down. All he sees are glimpses of black and white as the floor goes past. They make no allowance for his leg or the restraints he ends up practically being dragged between them.

Eventually he sees the bottom of a brown wooden door in front of him. The orderlies knock and a feminine voice answers to come in. From what he can see he gathers he is in the doctor's waiting room. But it looks like the ones from his childhood that his father would take him to. "Looks like the boy has picked something up," his father would say. "He's a stupid boy. Always doing stupid things."

He'd take off his shirt and the idiot doctor would ignore the stripes on his back and listen to his chest. "Looks like an infection," he'd say. Then there would be foul tasting medicine and, if he was lucky, a couple of days reading in bed.

Then everything would go back to normal.

This place even smells like the old doctor's office. Instead of pastel colours and the ubiquitous water cooler there are brown wooden chairs, a hat stand complete with hat in the corner and a nurse sitting behind a big brown desk.

He watches fascinated as the nurse behind the desk presses a button on a big old fashioned seventies style intercom system and leans over it. "He's here," she says.

"Send him in," replies a tinny voice through the speakers.

The chair is hard and too small. His legs ride up and because of the restraints he can't stretch out the bad one, but House is glad to be sitting down and away from the hands of the orderlies, although he knows they are standing behind his chair. Somehow he doesn't find that comforting.

He stretches the kinks out of his neck and looks up at the doctor. He looks like every single one of those doctors in the 1950's smoking ads, except he's got those silly little round wire rimmed glasses that make him look like Donald Rumsfeld or that Nazi villain in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc.

He sits there quietly as the doctor writes. He's tired and in pain, but also wound up and angry. The unease that has been gnawing at him since they came for him at the police station has been growing. For once in his life he holds his tongue and waits.

Eventually the doctor looks up at him and speaks.

"Hello Gregory. How are we today?" he asks with a trite smile. "My name is Doctor Luersson. You may call me Doctor Luersson."

He know he's not going to like this guy. "Tired, cold and pissed off. And my name is Doctor House – Doctor Luersson," he says angrily.

"Of course it was Gregory. Of course it was," Luersson says soothingly like he was a retard child.

"What do you mean – was?"

The doctor just looks at him with pity. "Oh so sad," he says to himself. "Now what are we going to do with you?"

"Hello, quite well qualified doctor right here. Why don't you tell me what you are going to do to me?"

But Luersson pays no attention to him. He just continues to tut over his file.

"What am I chopped liver? I asked you a question."

"I'm not sure of what course to take," mutters the doctor to himself.

"What are you going to do?" he repeats. "Tell me." His voice is thick. He can't help it. Although he is tired beyond belief this feels wrong and he feels afraid.

Finally the doctor looks up at him. On some level he breathes a sigh of relief. He still exists. He was beginning to wonder. "Why Gregory: we are going to make you all better."

"Better?"

"All better and all normal."

"What about these," he says shrugging to emphasise the restraints.

Luersson gives a small tight smile. "They are very humane."

"Not from my perspective they aren't. They hurt."

Luersson ignores this remark and taps his teeth thoughtfully with a pen. "But I think we can dispense with those for now. I don't think you are going to be violent."

He snorts. "Oh yeah – the cripple going on a killing spree," he says sarcastically.

But Luersson is now looking intently at him. He leans forward. His beady eyes lighting up with interest. "Do you often feel the urge to kill Gregory?" he asks seriously. "Would you like to kill someone Gregory?" he adds as if somehow this can be arranged. The words 'clock tower' run through his head.

"What? No!" he says disbelievingly. "Although I could rethink my policy when it comes to moron shrinks," he ads under his breath.

"You did hit your nice blonde Australian employee though didn't you?"

House looks away. "That was a one off. I was in pain," he says quietly. He didn't like being reminded of that incident. He'd lashed out because he was angry. He was angry that Cuddy was letting that stupid cop mess around with his life. He was angry because… actually he didn't quite know exactly why he was angry, but 'I don't know' was such a cop out and he wasn't going to tell this moron about it. Everyone wanted simple explanations and movie of the week definitions and for once he didn't have them.

Even Wilson had simplified it down to being 'strung out' and Cuddy was still totally pissed over the shower thing so she was no help – not that he blamed her – you were a bit of a bastard there House: considering. But it was so much more. It wasn't just the leg, but the head and the arms and the bits in between and the big black raging scary pit in his stomach.

The doctor thumps on the desk and he looks back at him. "So, do you suffer often from uncontrollable fits of violent rage," says Luersson questioningly.

He looks daggers at Indiana Jones Nazi Doctor Guy. "Not usually – no," he says darkly. "Generally I try and stay away from starting fights because the whole running away thing is a bitch."

His life was nice and tidy until people screwed around with it. House has to learn more humility; House has to learn more humanity; House needs to be cleaned up, he sing songs to himself; mentally using his inner Wilson/Cuddy rolled into one voice. If people just left House alone House would be fine and everyone (except his staff, and maybe Wilson… and Cuddy… and the odd clinic patient… and that janitor guy who kept threatening him) would be happy.

"I think I will still order a jacket for you though," muses the doctor.

House eyes him off. "A jacket," he says skeptically. What is this guy on? "I'm a size 44," he says. "Long or short: I don't care. And I look good in blue."

"Ha ha ha," says Luersson politely, emphasizing every 'ha' as if he were coughing. "They said you were a wit."

"Don't believe a word of what they say. It's all lies."

"You know about lies, don't you Gregory. Every addict knows about lying," says the doctor. "And stealing."

He doesn't want to deal with this now. "Look, I have had a big day for a little addict and I'm tired. How about showing me to my presidential suite and saving the platitudes and condescension for tomorrow?"

"Rudeness will get you nowhere Gregory."

He smiles sarcastically. "Please?"

"Much better. Perhaps there is hope for you yet?"

"Here's your room. Isn't it nice?"

House looks around. It is pathetic. White tiles on the floor and half way up the wall. All designed to be easily washable if the drain in the middle of the floor is any indication. And to top it all off someone had decided to make the room even more attractive by painting the walls the most nauseating shade of gerk green imaginable. In one corner there is a rickety looking iron bed, like something out of the nineteen thirties. There is even a freakin tin bucket under it.

"No it isn't," he drawls.

The hand comes out of nowhere. One second he is on his feet and the next, with no hands to break his fall, he is on an intimate basis with the floor, the blood from his split lip dripping onto the white tiles. That drain must come in handy he thinks. Then big hands grip him and he is pulled upright again.

The big orderly comes around and puts one of his big meaty hands on House's right thigh.

"Better than an addict deserves," he says looking into House's eyes. There's that word again. The word that changes everything.

"So – is it nice?" says the orderly as his hand squeezes ever so gently. This is not a good situation House, he thinks to himself.

"Very," gasps House, still trying to put a little contempt in his voice. He'll call this one Brutal he's thinking, but then feelings of cold and tiredness and nausea suddenly radiate up from his leg. They hit his brain and then his world goes white in a haze of pain.

He vaguely hears a voice cut in through the haze. "That's enough." He looks over and sees the doctor standing in the doorway. "Later," he says. House doesn't understand what that means. He's tired and he aches, he's been up all night and his mind is foggy. The orderly reluctantly backs off leaving him hanging in the other orderly's grip, disorientated and dizzy, but absurdly grateful to the man he had hated with a passion just fifteen minutes ago.

He is dragged over and pushed face down onto the bed. They undo his restraints and leave him alone in his 'room'. He wipes the blood from his face, but doesn't move. He hears them lock the door as they leave. He knows he should be angry at the way he has been treated, but right now he is just too tired to care. He just wants to be left alone to sleep.

He doesn't know what time it is. He presumes it is very early morning by the murky light coming through the little barred window set high up. His world is now just white tiles and gerk green, made all the more sallow by the low wattage bulb. White and green. Even the blanket is green. He knows he was taken from his cell sometime during the night and his in processing took many long and painful hours. He feels violated both inside and out.

He stares at the blanket under him. He looks closer. Jesus. It says: Property of the US Army. It's a crappy thin blanket, but he doesn't care. He wraps it around him. It's cold in his 'suite', but he sweats as the drugs in his system ooze out of the pores of his skin. His leg hurts like buggery. Eventually for once this is his salvation and the pain wears him out. He falls asleep wondering just what sort of rehab centre this is?

His dreams go back to the moment he lost control. One minute his world was just fine and dandy then the next Tritter was turning it on its axis, spinning him around, his big rough cop hands touching his body and fumbling through his pockets. That was the moment he had stopped being a sort of respected doctor and had become an addict.

Time is passing, marked only by the rhythmic sound of Tritter's gum as he chews repetitively at it like a cow. He is standing facing the side of the police car while Tritter calmly sits on the hood while they wait for the impound truck. All he is aware of is the smacking of Tritter's mouth and the squelch of the gum beneath Tritter's teeth.

His leg is aching and his Vicodin is all in a little baggie marked evidence. He can see it, sitting on the front passenger seat. He is getting cold and his wrists and shoulders hurt from the cuffs. Minutes stretch into hours stretch into days stretch into years.

He turns and looks at Tritter. He is still sitting calmly on the hood: watching him and chewing like a big fat cop Jersey cow. "Hey cop, are you going to put me in the back of the cruiser or just leave me here forever?"

The quiet calm "would you mind facing the car please," is the only response.

"Look, you wanted to humiliate me and you've done it," he counters, but he still turns back and faces the car. After last time he is taking no chances. "But my leg is hurting and I'm a cripple. Let me sit down."

Tritter says nothing. He just slowly gets off the car and comes around behind him. He knows he is there because, although he doesn't dare turn around, he can hear the smacking of Tritter's gum. Casually Tritter uses one hand to push him against the car. He hates how easy it is. He feels the painful thud in his chest as he hits. He knows how pathetic he is.

"You have been arrested on drug charges. You are an addict," Tritter says softly in his ear and he can smell the putrid peppermint flavour of the gum. "You are an addict and you are in my custody. You will do what I tell you to do." Tritter is pushing him harder and harder up against the car and it hurts so bad. He wants to tell him to stop, but he is too stubborn.

The pain in his ribs becomes unbearable where Tritter's fingers are pushing against him. Eventually he has to cry out. He hates himself because he knows Tritter is laughing behind his back.

He is spun around. He feels giddy. He wants to puke. He feels like he has been on the roller coaster ride at the fair after eating too much candyfloss. The carnival music rings in his ears. He swallows the nausea and eventually manages to look up at Tritter. Tritter smiles at him. "Wakey wakey Gregory," he says.

Tritter pulls back a fist:

….

House's eyes snap open and he grasps the rough green blanket underneath him. It wasn't real, he reassures himself. It was just a dream. Tritter hadn't hit him. But he still can't forget how that night made him feel. He'd been so God dam angry.

He hears a voice. "Rise and shine sleepy head," it sing songs. Jesus, what now? Although Tritter hadn't really hit him, he still feels exhausted and nauseous and his jaw aches. Memories of the trial and prison and Brutal come flooding back. He feels like he has just been asleep for two seconds. And… yes: good morning sunshine and hello to the leg from hell. Welcome to the wonderful world of Detox Land.

He pushes himself up and looks over to find the source of faux cheeriness: Nurse Ratchett.

"Pass me a bucket then go away and leave me alone. I'm detoxing and for once I want to do it without having to save anyone's life or inflict bodily harm on myself."

"Now now, none of that Gregory please. We all know addicts are slack and lazy, but you must get up and face the world."

Oh God. He groans and pulls himself up. His life really was one horror after another.

The big hall is lined with black and white linoleum squares. One patient, an old man, is hopping from black square to black square. "Black and white, white and black," he mutters as he hops.

He looks as a new arrival is pushed past. He can feel the pain. The man is lame. His leg drags behind him. The lions always go after the wounded animal in the pack "Black for you," he thinks sadly. He is surprised when the man turns and looks at him in puzzlement before he is moved on. Had he heard him?

The Black and White Man stops hoping and stands there on one leg thinking. A house? That's not right. That's a man. He checks again. It definitely is a house, but not a house… a House.

He strolls over and looks in through a window. He sees the rat in his cage placed amongst the books that litter the beautiful black piano. He sees the man playing. He listens for a moment and savours the music. The House is good. He has the talent. He is playing for the rat. The rat knows this and is listening intently. The rat, Steve, likes sitting on the big black piano surrounded by books listening to his human make music and the House likes pleasing the rat. The House has the talent of the hated and this only makes his music all the more sweeter.

He wanders in through the big green door. He sees rusty and dented armour piled up next to the entrance and topped by the stolen cane. He sees the strange delicate precious thing, encased in glass – hidden and protected. Not very well, considering it is just stuffed down the back of the couch as if its owner couldn't be bothered. Although he has to admit: it is quite a clever hiding spot. Not many people would think of looking there – unless they needed loose change. But you have to be careful: too many things have been lost down the back of the couch.

The room is warm, uncomfortably so. There is a huge roaring fire going in the grate. The flames lick and twist high and bright. Hot sparks sizzle and shoot out from the fire, landing on the rug and making it smolder dangerously. The leg must really hurt, he thinks.

He pokes at the giant jigsaw puzzle that takes up so much space and frowns at the little white pills that are dotted all around. He plucks one up. It tastes bitter, but makes him feel a bit giddy. That explains a lot. He giggles as he flicks one away, watching as it ricochets off a wall. He confirms his suspicions when he peers into the fridge. Nothing there. Always a troubling sign. He looks over at the man as he plays. You can't make beautiful music on no food Mr Building.

He wonders who exactly Game Boy is and why the cripple loves the boy so much. Maybe he is gay and the 'Game Boy' is his lover. Good name for a toy boy he thinks. Oscar Wilde would have approved. Oscar was a nice chap. It was a pity he was never the same after he went to prison.

Prison. That word looms large. He can see the tight band of iron wrongdoing that sits around the House's chest. He sees many years sitting alone in a small dark cell. The House knows he should have been there, would have been there, except for the strong woman. He can smell the lingering traces of her perfume as the molecules drift in the air.

He smiles. It is always the women who save us in the end.

The closet is tidy, meticulous. Totally at odds with the rest of the place, which, quite frankly is a mess. He senses a woman's hand. A woman long gone, he thinks. No, that was the one the House carries with him always. This is not the doing of a woman… but a Wilson?

He tries hard to see this Wilson, but all he sees is a hotel hallway and a sandwich, and for some reason he is wearing a silly hat, but as fashion tragics always do, he thinks he looks good in it. How many thousands of years has it been? Won't mankind ever learn? Everyone looks stupid in a hat.

A Wilson, he thinks. He gnaws on his check. There is something familiar and disturbing about that? He will have to think about it. He sees blood begin to seep from under a door and down the hotel hallway, flowing out like fast moving lava. A warning? He shakes his head and continues on his way. Hoping from one black square to another. He doesn't think the House will be going anywhere soon. There is plenty of time.

He takes the offensive this time. "I want to make a complaint," House bursts out angrily as soon as he is in the doctor's office. "He hit me," he says, pointing over his shoulder to Brutal.

House expects the doctor to look shocked. He does not expect him to just look a little sad; like House has disappointed him in some way. "Don't be silly Gregory. You must have tripped and fallen. Addicts are clumsy and they are liars."

House grits his teeth. "I'm not an addict. I have a pain problem."

"That's not what you told Doctor Wilson."

House frowns. But the doctor continues. "They let me do my job," he says in quite a passable imitation of House's voice. "You can lie to yourself all you want Gregory, but we both know the truth don't we? You are an addict. A filthy stinking addict."

That's it. This place is creeping him out. "I want out of here. You don't hit patients. I'm checking out."

The doctor raises an eyebrow. "I wouldn't advise that," he replies lightly.

He's worried. The doctor looks a bit too smug. "Why?" he asks warily.

"Even with the DA dropping the charge regarding the oxycodone you still pleaded guilty to all the other charges when you agreed to the rehab deal."

"If you don't complete your time here with us I will have no choice but to inform the police. You will be taken into custody, held without bail and remain there until you are sentenced for the crimes you pleaded guilty to."

The doctor looks down at a piece of paper. "Detective Tritter informed me that with the mandatory sentences that could be anything between twelve years to life imprisonment."

He pauses for dramatic effect. "Depending on his testimony."

And Tritter's testimony would have been damning:

There is a pathetic little metal chair in the centre of the room with about five feet of space around it on every side. That's where he sits.

He's bolted to it and it's bolted to the floor because a man can get angry when you tell him he hasn't paid his debt to society yet and has to go back to his state run shithole of a life. The older ones like him take it stoically. What's another year after so many without hope? But the young ones scream and rant and cry.

He looks behind him and sees Tritter sitting there, in the same spot he sits in every year, smiling away with his big dumb cop grin. Even after all these years his stomach still falls at the sight of him because he knows as long as Tritter is sitting in that seat he has no chance of parole.

He doesn't listen to the board. He's been through this degrading little ritual too many times. He just mumbles a few platitudes and waits for the inevitable rejection. He doesn't really care any more.

He just wishes the bastard would stop smiling at him with his big dumb cop grin.

House blinks. Where had that thought come from? But he notices the doctor is smiling the same big dumb cop grin as Tritter.

"So I suggest you cooperate fully with the programme," says the doctor. "At least here you have some hope of rehabilitation."

He doesn't move as the doctor comes round and stands in front of him. He suddenly feels very old and weary. Twenty years in prison will do that to a man, he thinks absurdly.

He feels uncomfortable under the doctor's gaze. What is so fascinating about him? The doctor reaches out his hands as if to touch his face. House jerks back as if he has been shocked. "What do you think you are doing? Get off me you pervert." He raises his hands to bat the man away, but they catch hold of his arms and hold them immobile. Brutal grabs a handful of his hair and holds his head still.

The doctor pays no attention to the outburst, but continues to examine his face like he is a work of art. "So blue," he mutters to himself. House can do nothing as the doctor gently strokes his cheek. The doctor's hand feels cold as it traces down his cheek, stopping briefly at the faint scar on his neck, before trailing across to just under his chin. He pushes his fingers painfully hard into House's neck and House feels the pulse of his blood as it pushes rhythmically and hypnotically against the doctor's fingers. He hates its steady throb because it is a reminder that he is not a machine, but mere flesh, liable to break down at any moment.

Abruptly the doctor breaks away. "Shave him," he barks at the orderlies. "And give him a decent haircut."

"There you go friend." He looks at the man reflected in the mirror. It looks nothing like him. The man in the glass looks tired and sad.

He reaches up and feels his bare chin. It has been a long time since he's seen himself like this. It is part of an identity he'd tried to forget ever existed. He'd liked his comfortable scruffy persona. He'd adopted it as soon as he could get away with it. The scruff went with the clothes and the music and the sex and the booze and the sheer enjoyment of the lifestyle. The antithesis of everything he hated about his father's world.

Then after the leg the look became his armour. It kept people away. The leg meant he was never going to fit in ever again, so why bother.

He'd forgotten how deep that little crevice was beneath his nose. How young he looks with no fuzz. He feels vulnerable without it. They have taken his armour.

He runs his hand through his new haircut.

"I look like I've joined the marines."

"Short back and sides," says the barber proudly. He grabs a brush and dusts House's neck with talcum powder. "Very fashionable."

"Yeah," he says dryly as he gets out of the chair. "In 1902. What if I want to have long hippy hair?"

The barber suddenly stops and narrows his eyes. Gone is the genial little man of a few seconds ago.

"Only faggots have long hair," says the barber. "You're not a faggot are you?"

The change in the man shocks him. He takes a few steps back. "I don't think it's politically correct to call them that anymore," he says.

He comes up close to House. He tries to back off, but he is already up against the wall. He can smell the barber. It is sickening. The barber smells like Brill cream and the haircuts from his youth.

He remembers being taken into some town by his father to the barbershop of the little town near the base on a Saturday. He remembers sitting on the big wooden box the barber had for kids and the whir of the electric razor as it chimed in with the lazy afternoon heat and the quiet murmuring of the men waiting as they read their magazines and waited their turn.

He remembers the barber roughly pushing and pulling his head as he cut his hair. He remembers the man dunking his combs into the water jar on the bench. He remembers the clean, ironed apron he wore – ironed by his wife that morning. He remembers the barber smelled like cheap aftershave and soap. He remembers the scraping of the cut throat razor on the back of his neck and the prickle of hairs down his T-shirt afterwards as he sits at the ice cream parlour, shoving the gooey mix into him as fast as he could so he could order another one before his father came back from the hardware store.

He remembers throwing up in the car on the way home and he remembers his father stopping the car. He remembers walking the rest of the way home through the baking afternoon and the stink of the pools of sweat underneath his armpits. He remembers standing in the corner, trembling, waiting to be called to his father's study.

Gluttony is a sin Gregory. A sin against God. He remembers admitting he ordered a second ice cream. He remembers the pain and the fear as his father emphasized his words with actions. He remembers the words his father used cut into him harder than the strokes on his bare backside. He remembers the shame. He doesn't eat ice cream again for years. Even the sight of it makes him feel ill.

He never wants to go to that barber again. He asks his mother to cut his hair until they are posted elsewhere.

The barber suddenly looks like the one from his memory. He must be dreaming. That was 40 years ago. But he still has the same Brill cream smell. He can smell the cheap aftershave and somewhere in his mind he can hear the murmuring of the men as they wait. His heart begins to pound and he can feel the shame of long ago clogging up his stomach.

"I'll call them any damn thing I like sonny," says the barber. He emphasizes the 'sonny' as if House really is the eight year old boy. He presses himself up against House and continues. He wants to shake him off, but he can't. He's as helpless as he was in front of his father on that Saturday afternoon. He just stares as the barber looks him in the eye. "And I'll string 'em up along side the Jews and the niggers."

"Are you a Jew and nigger lover too?"

An image of his best friend, with his floppy hair, long suffering frown and kind brown eyes, pops into his mind, but suddenly there is something wrong. Wilson is thin and starving. His clothes are ragged and his head is shaved. He is wearing a striped uniform with a star on his breast that says Jude. He is kneeling in the frozen mud.

A man in a black trench coat is standing over him with a gun in his hand. He realizes it is him. It looks like him, like he looks now. His face clean shaven and his hair short and plastered down with Brill cream. What has the barber done to him?

Wilson doesn't look up at him. He stares down into the ground. Blood drips down Wilson's face face. He knows Wilson has been beaten. Beaten by the clean shaven House in the black SS uniform. But still this Wilson will not give in. He will not beg or grovel. He is taunting House's weakness with his courage in the face of death. Hot shame courses through his body as he raises the gun.

He hears the shot and watches as the body, what used to be Jimmy, falls face first into the mud with a sickening thud that rattles his soul.

The barber smiles.

House turns and retches. Fortunately there is a little sink near him. He throws up what little he has in his stomach violently into it. The bile tastes like ice cream.

Eventually his spasm stops and he washes himself off with trembling hands, running the faucet and cupping the water in his hands to wash the taste out of his mouth. It is just the detoxing, he tells himself. The detoxing mixed with the memory and a crazy imagination.

Even though it is cold he is sweating: a classic symptom of detox, not hot shame. Wilson isn't lying rotting in the mud. Wilson isn't starving. Wilson is fat and happy and alive and back at the hospital chatting up nurses.

It's just because Wilson is pissed with him at the moment. That's where the Nazi thing came from. Wilson will come and forgive him and be there.

He can't smell the cordite from the gun or the perpetual stink from the ovens or the strange lethargy he feels as he walks away from the body: just another dead Jew. There isn't schnapps and roast beef for dinner and he isn't going to fuck Helen the maid so hard she will scream, but it doesn't matter because she is Judisch and expendable and he'll send her to the ovens and get a new one soon. He isn't going to drink until he passes out and Gunter his batman has to gently prize his boots off his feet so he can polish them for the next morning.

None of that is real. He rubs his hands over his wet face. That's not him. It's all in his imagination.

He turns to the man. The barber is just standing there, watching him.

"Gluttony is a sin Gregory," he says. House stares at him wide eyed. He can feel a drop of water as it runs down his face. He starts to speak but the barber says "Look, here's Tom, come to take you."

House whips round and sees Brutal standing there. Where the hell had he come from? His guts twist. 'Take me?' he thinks. Take me where? An image of box cars flashes before his eyes and he smells the stink of urine and sweat and feces and fear. He suddenly realizes the smell of fear is coming from him.

He's still stunned as Brutal grabs the back of his jumper in one of his huge fists and begins to pull him away.

"You be a good boy now," says the barber. "I'll see you next week."

Brutal casually swings him round, puts one hand on his neck and pushes his head down, so like the Wilson of his imagination he can do nothing but stare at the ground as he is taken away.

"And try not to eat too much ice cream," calls the barber man.

He feels like shit. He should be resting, but he is jittery and angry and wound up and he hates his new haircut. He is leaning up against the wall outside his room. He'd decided to explore his new world but that didn't take long His new world is small, which is a good thing considering they won't give him his cane:

"The only time you'll see a cane here is when I beat you with one."

He must have misheard. "What?" he says sharply.

The doctor looks at him like he is an idiot. "I said that I'm terribly sorry, but you can't have your cane. It's against policy. I know addicts are stupid, but please pay attention Gregory."

"But I need it to get around."

The doctor smiles primly. "Well for one, where are you planning to go and secondly: that is why God gave us walls."

Not enough sleep House, he thinks. No way that happened. No sleep, just tired, no drugs for the leg. Not even anything to take the edge off. Where did these jokers get their medical degrees: The Middle Ages Medical School of Bloodletting and Leeches?

He rubs his leg and his head and wonders if there is anyone he can bribe to slip him some Vicodin. But then again: what does he have to bribe them with? Socks aren't exactly an in demand commodity.

The day room/refectory is particularly unexciting. It smells of boiled cabbage and comes complete with all of three broken Lego blocks, a couple of crayons and some 1954 National Geographics.

So it is either sitting in there watching the guy with the weird ears drool or the big hallway, as he automatically begins to think of it. A few other patients are meandering around it too. This must be where the cool kids hang out.

The big black and white squares that cover the floor are also rather cool in a funky retro way. The black and white hopping man seems to like them. For an old guy he has stamina. He's been hopping all day. One way he hops from black to black square and the next he hops from white to white. But House notices there is one black square he avoids. Every so often as he passes he stops, points to this particular square and looks at House intently.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it." He says too loudly after another few pointed stares. "Don't step on that particular square or you'll break your mother's back."

Brutal's 'hey' echoes down the corridor. Everyone, including him, freezes. It is only then he realizes he cannot hear anything else. All he can sense is the silence ringing in his ears and Brutal's 'hey' as it passes through like an express train going through a station.

He watches as it passes: whoo whoo!

He sees the Black and White Man point to the square. It is whirling away like water going down a drain, but there is no noise.

Jesus, if this is life not on drugs, he will take up heroin just as soon as he gets out. This is totally fucked. Somewhere in his mind he thinks he should be able to hear the black gurgling down into wherever like a bathtub drain.

But all he can hear is the ringing, like a bell.

A church bell.

Calling him to church.

And he should go because he is the priest. He is the one they all come to and it just wouldn't do to disappoint his flock. They believe in him. He is their religion. They are stupid peasants.

He downs the last of the wine and smiles at Roberto before he leaves. Roberto knows that he is merely mortal like the rest of them. But Roberto is clever and Roberto is discrete, and Roberto secretly loves him too. They all do. Roberto would fuck him if he asked.

Sometimes he hates their blind love and devotion. Why can't they see the big gaping hole where his faith should be? It feels like it has been cut out of him. Now he feels like a puppet man at a cheap carnival show: pulled this way and that by his strings for the amusement of others. They don't know because he still goes through the motions, but he knows. He has fallen from the eyes of God.

He trudges up the hill to the church. It is hot today. The streets are empty and all he can hear are the cicadas in the dry crackling heat.

He stops by the village well and leans against it, pulling out his handkerchief and moping his brow. He stares down at the dark cool pit. It looks so enticing: dark and cool and quiet. His suit is hot and he can feel the sweat trickling down the back of his shirt. A swim: that's what he needs. He leans over the side of the well to get a better look…

He leans a little too far.

Suddenly he's kneeling on the black and white floor. He's aware that someone has a tight hold of the back of his jumper. Which in a strange way is reassuring. He feels like he has been dreaming which is silly because he is awake and he is in a hallway.

He looks up. It is the old man who likes to hop from square to square. He smells like soap and talcum powder and old man and father: like his own father, but without the bitter burnt smell of anger his father always carried.

"I must have fallen," he says slowly.

"Falls can be nasty," says the Black and White Man.

He helps House to his feet. "Don't do it again, okay?"

"Don't step on the crack," whispers House.

"That's right."

"'kay."

The old man straightens his jumper and pats him gently on the shoulders. House doesn't mind the touch. "Good boy," he mutters before he resumes his hopping.

He can see the doors that lead to the treatment rooms and the doctor's offices. But it is the big gate at the end of the hallway that attracts him.

He makes his way quietly past the orderlies' station and walks up to the bars. It seems to take a long long time. He doesn't remember coming in this way, but he instinctively knows this is the way out. When he gets there he presses himself to the bars that hold him in. To his dismay he can't see anything but yet another barred door with another man like himself standing at them.

Suddenly a hand grabs his jumper and yanks him back. He skitters and falls across the black and white floor; his leg screaming with pain.

He grabs his leg and stares up at the guard. Of course it has to be Brutal.

"Hey man. What do you think you are doing?" he says indignantly.

"See that line," says Brutal as he points to a yellow line on the floor between them. "You stay on that side of it. You don't cross that line."

He nods slowly. Why couldn't he piss off midgets instead of large angry black men, cops and giant crazy orderlies for a change? Oh yeah, he thinks: been there, done that. "Okay," he says carefully. "I'll stay this side then shall I?"

Brutal reaches down and pulls him up by the front of his jumper. "Come on, time for dinner."

Brutal pushes him up the line. "Hello Dierdre, this is Gregory. He's an addict," he says as he waggles him back and forth by his jumper. Christ he is beginning to hate that jumper.

"Oh an addict you say." The woman, Dierdre, smiles at him as she grabs a plastic cafeteria tray and spoons some unappetizing white and brown mush onto it. She has large prominent crooked yellowing teeth and her smile is more of a grimace. He imagines them crunching their way through food, smashing through flesh and bone alike, while juice and spit dribbles down her hairy chin. They are teeth that would sink into you and never let go. He can't stop staring at them. He can practically see the bits of meat stuck in the cracks between them.

A small shove from Brutal brings him back to reality. A wave of heat rushes over his skin. Just the detoxing, he tells himself.

"Say hello to the nice lady." Brutal turns to Dierdre and smiles sadly. "He isn't too bright."

Dierdre clucks in sympathy. "Oh, poor lad," she croons as she cocks her head and looks at him, one hand on her hip with her tea towel dangling from it. She gives Brutal an understanding look. "Those poor addicts," she whispers mock conspiratorially as if he wasn't standing right in front of her.

He wants to shout out. He's not stupid. But Brutal's cold hand on the back of his neck seems to be sucking the voice from him. He feels like a puppet. All he can do is whisper the word 'hi', complete with a stupid little wave.

"There's a good boy." She leans forward and speaks slowly and loudly to him like American tourists do. "How's about I give you an extra helping of apple puree for desert? Would you like that?"

That's the last thing he wants, but he smiles weakly and she takes this as a yes and slops two spoonfuls of some disgusting looking brown slush onto his tray.

Brutal pushes him over to a table and returns a minute later with a plastic spoon and a plastic cup. He stands there looking down at him.

House pokes gingerly at one of the piles of slush on the tray. "What is this anyway?"

"It is Dierdre's very special shepherd's pie."

"Could have fooled me and the shepherd."

"Eat it."

"I'm not feeling hungry. I'm detoxing remember."

"So you want to be treated special because you are an addict? I don't think so." Brutal is furious. He grabs House head and forces it so he is staring at the food from an inch away. "Eat it… all," he spits in House's ear. His tone says it is not a suggestion. It is an order. "And drink your cordial," he ads as he leaves House staring at the slush before him.

He picks up the plastic cup and looks into it. It's orange cordial. His unfavouritist flavour: none of the hyper goodness of red food colouring or the weird creepy artificial taste of lime green cordial. Orange cordial – the most insipid drink on the face of the Earth: it figures.

Most of the patients here are like ghosts. They wander around the big hall or sit in the common room like pale zombies.

He tries to talk to them, but they just get upset and he gets hauled away, made to sit by himself in the corner and shaken a few times by Brutal as a reminder that addicts like him are not to bother the other proper patients.

He's not a particularly social person, but after so many days of no communication and heavy handed orderlies, any sign of a friendly face is welcome.

He's cranky and shaky and his leg hurts and there's nothing to do and he wants to talk to someone.

Some of the patients seem a bit more with it. There is a young skinny kid with track marks up his arm who smiles at him briefly.

They are both in the bathroom. He makes his move.

"Hey kid," he says softly.

"I'm not supposed to talk to you. You ain't normal."

"Oh come on. I'm all sweet and fuzzy. It can't hurt."

The kid looks dubious.

"You in for drugs?" he asks.

The kid shrugs.

He leans forward, "My name's House. What's yours?"

"Jerry Davis." The kid looks at him closer. "House is a funny name."

"Well, it's mine and it is the only one that I have," he says as he washes up. So I am stuck with it." He looks down. "It isn't that bad is it?"

"It's a little odd."

"Some people call me Greg."

"Like who?"

"Like my mother."

They laugh for a second.

"My mom used to call me Jezzie."

"Bet you hated that," says House.

"In fifth grade – yeah!"

They hear a noise. They both start.

The kid dries his hands.

"I gotta go," says the kid. "I really shouldn't be talking to you. Sorry."

House stares intently into the sink. "It's okay." His voice is quiet.

He must have sounded as depressed as he felt because the kid stops. "You in for drugs too?" he asks.

"Sort of."

"Track marks."

"What?"

The kid motions. "You got 'em too," he says. "Track marks man – mark you out as an addict."

House looks bewildered.

"You be a marked man Mr Building." The kid comes up him and takes hold of him by the shoulders.

The kid looks him in the eyes. "You don't care the kid is crying," he says. "All you are looking at is the pure pure flame as it cooks the stuff. The stuff that is going to be running like a sprinter through your veins until you feel like you will explode like when you come with a high class hooker."

House begins to sweat.

"You roll around on the floor in happiness until the bitch comes home. You don't care the floor is filthy and the dog shat on the rug. Youse been floating on a cloud. The sweetest fleetinist cloud in the world. Then the bitch comes in and starts screaming and all you want to do is shut her up. So she dead, the kid dead, hell – you even popped grandma cos it seemed like fun at the time. So everybody dead, except you. You the one who get 300 years. You the one they fucking up the ass till one day you worn out and useless and they put the plastic bag over your head and you can't breathe no more."

The kid slaps him playfully on the arm. "That's what those track marks mean man."

After the kid has gone he just breathes deeply. Although he knows it is he doesn't want to call it hyperventilating. Eventually he calms down and rolls up his sleeve. He looks down at his arm. He can see needle marks, but he hasn't shot up morphine for ages and he doesn't remember being injected with anything.

How the hell did they get there?

"Where's the boy? He was here yesterday. I was talking to him."

The nurse looks at the orderly. "Delusional," she says sadly.

"I'm not delusional!" he yells.

"Now now now Gregory. Raising our voice isn't polite is it?" She motions to Brutal. He nods and calls out to Barney.

He realizes what this means. "No… wait. Don't get excited," he says with his hands out as he slides along the corridor away from her using the wall against his back for support.

He doesn't get far. They grab him and he is pinned face first to the wall. He tries to suck air into his lungs, but nothing comes. He feels as if his ribs will break. His body belongs to them. He has no control. He hates the fact they can do what they want to it. Their fingers feel like ice, each touch cruelly digging in and leaving an icy bruise.

The straps are pulled so tight he can't stop his groan. Brutal grabs his sweaty hair and yanks his head up, looking into his eyes. "You can't complain now addict. You asked for it," he sneers with a laugh.

He looks down in disgrace because on some level he agrees with him. She dead, the kid dead, hell – he popped grandma for the fun of it.

They make him sit on the floor in the big hall near the orderlies' station so they can keep an eye on him. People pass him by, but no one says a word to him all day. It is like he doesn't exist. People just step over or around him. He just sits there sweating and hurting and shaky - and by the end of it desperately wanting to pee. Tears of remorse leak from his eyes. He didn't mean it. It was going to have been his last hit. He is sorry. Why don't they understand that? He doesn't want to die with a plastic bag over his head.

His leg aches and throbs, but he can't reach it or move it. He can only feel it. He feels adrift in a bubble of his own misery.

Only the Black and White Man stops on one of his passes and looks at him.

"It's better if you don't ask questions."

House slowly raises his head and tries to focus on the man through the pain. His eyes are so hollow they look like two black voids. "Yeah," he agrees. "I think I have worked that one out now."

They make him scrub the big hall with a toothbrush. Keeping an addict occupied is always good says Doctor Luersson. It's part of the therapy. He had always thought it was more group therapy and art classes and talking about your feelings not mindlessly staring at linoleum from a distance of two inches while you scrubbed it with a toothbrush.

He is scrubbing away when he sees white sneakers hit his field of view. Oh brilliant, he thinks.

"You missed a bit," says Brutal.

"Which bit?"

"That bit." He points randomly.

"That's half the hall. I've been at this for two days. No way I could have fucking missed that."

He should have expected it. But the fist still catches him out of the blue. The little induction talk he had received had emphasized it. Addicts like him don't swear – along with no talking unless spoken to, singing, masturbating and yelling. What was worse – masturbation or singing he wondered.

He thought they were joking until he discovered that whole thing about 'washing your mouth out with soap' was actually possible and tasted terrible. But Brutal prefers the more direct approach.

Brutal picks both him and his bucket up and carries them to the end of the hall.

"Do it again," he says as House lands with a thud. "And do it properly this time or when I walk down this hall in ten years time I will pass by your desiccated skeleton holding a toothbrush."

"Yes sir," he mumbles sarcastically. He fishes the toothbrush out of the water and begins to scrub. How come his life is so full of sunshine and puppy dogs?

He trudges slowly down the big hall using the wall for support. Every bit of him aches – and that's not even counting the leg. Even though it is only time for breakfast he's exhausted. He's been rised and shined at some ungodly hour. Then washed and scrubbed and inspected from his fingernails to behind his ears to make sure he is clean: because cleanliness is next to godliness. He wonders what God has against hot water for the shower.

He stops for a rest and leans against the wall. He nods slightly to the Black and White man as he hops past. He knows better than to try to talk to people any more.

"No one wants to talk to you anyway," says a voice that sounds suspiciously like his fathers.

No, no one wants to talk to an addict like me sir, he agrees. He puts his head down and stares at the floor, for once thinking of nothing.

Eventually he rouses and pulls himself upright. He'll get in trouble if he is late for breakfast and he doesn't want that. He lifts his head. He starts. Fuck! It's the Black and White Man. He is standing perfectly still a few inches away from House's face. House didn't even know he was there. House stares at him. The Black and White Man stares back. He blinks a few times.

"Get out now. Just go to the phone in the day room. It will be okay."

He blinks again, presses something into House's hand and hops off.

House looks down at the shiny quarter in his hand.

He nods.

He looks into the dayroom. He swallows nervously. But no one seems to notice him. There isn't the usual barking order to get into line. So it is now or never. Because of his socks he makes no sound as he begins to walk towards the phone. But he can't believe no one has spotted him. He expects that at any moment Brutal will be yanking him back by his jumper and he'll be in big big trouble and there will be restraints and lectures and shots in the ass and the whole humiliating shebang.

But Brutal is just standing there. House laughs. He can't see him, he realizes. Just for once he has it over Brutal. He has the power. He almost wants to poke Brutal in his massive stomach to see what will happen, but the memory of the Black and White Man's haunted look reminds him he is on borrowed time.

He's shaking right down to his socks when he puts the money into the phone. He can't help looking around every few seconds. No way is this real.

He's picked Wilson's work number and he prays that he's in his office.

The 'yelloJamesWilson' is so normal he wants to cry with relief. He doesn't realize how much he has missed it. Generally 'yelloJamesWilson' always came to him.

He can't speak. Oh brilliant. Of all the times to be struck dumb.

"Is there anyone there," says Wilson. "If not, I'm hanging up."

"No, it's me," he says quickly. He takes a breath. "House," he ads. Just in case Wilson didn't get it. Wilson's not stupid, but sometimes he can be a bit dumb.

"House – what the hell are you doing heavy breathing down my phone. You haven't broken out of rehab have you?"

"Wilson. Take me away from here," he blurts out. He can hear the pathetic whining in his voice. When did he become so pathetic?

"House, you have only been there a few days. I know this will be tough, but you have to do it."

He looks around again. "No, you don't understand. There's something wrong. This place is really really wrong. Ask Cuddy to see if she can get me transferred into another rehab centre. We've got one at PPTH."

"You know I can't do that. This scheme is run through the courts."

"But…"

"I'm sorry House. I can't do anything."

He jumps as someone taps him on the shoulder. It is the Black and White Man. His time is up.

"Okay," he says tonelessly. 'Bye." He puts the phone down. There is no cavalry coming to save him. Wilson doesn't understand and he won't do anything. He's screwed.

The Black and White Man helps him over to a table. There is good healthy breakfast slush and orange cordial waiting ready for him. He picks up the spoon and stares at the soggy mess.

The Black and White Man gently rubs his back and at this he gives in and makes one dry heaving sob.

Some fucking friend you are James Wilson, he thinks. Fuck you.

He begins eating his slush.

"How's he doing? He seemed very upset."

Even though Wilson can't see it Doctor Luersson smiles sympathetically into the phone. "Addicts can be like that. They get paranoid." He shakes his head sadly.

"He said the place is evil."

Luersson laughs. "Did he really?" He tuts thoughtfully and inspects his fingernails. "Well that is a new one."

"Don't worry Doctor Wilson: we'll take very special care of him."

"Are you sure. I could come out and see him…"

"No, don't you worry Doctor Wilson. It is better for the programme that he doesn't have any distractions. We know how to deal with these kinds of situations. It's for the best really."

He is standing in front of Doctor Luersson's desk.

"I'll ask you again Gregory. Who gave you the money for the phone?"

He doesn't look at the doctor. "No one. I found it."

"How did you get near the phone? You don't have phone privileges."

"I just walked."

"Walked?"

"All right I limped. That's what I do. I'm a limper. Remember – that's what walls are for you said."

Luersson looks down at his fingers. "Oh very funny," he says. But there is no humour in his tone. "Very well Gregory. I can wait."

House looks on in confusion as the doctor picks up a pen and begins to fill out forms.

He has been standing in front of the desk for two hours now, staring at the carpet. His leg is throbbing and he wants to pee. Detox is a bitch. This is detox from hell. It's nice carpet, but not that nice. There are only so many life affirming messages you can take from carpet. And this is the Hallmark card of carpet. It is bland. It also reminds him of a yogurt ad he saw recently because it is creamy: bland, fat free and creamy. Just the thought of that makes him feel ill.

He should just walk out of this office, but for one he is not too sure what would happen if he did and secondly he feels as if he has weights on his legs, holding him down. Big heavy iron manacles, rooting him to the ground and sapping his strength. His arms and legs are so heavy he feels as if he is dripping into the ground like candle wax, cold and dead and stuck fast. Only his brain is still a hot little bubble – held up, high and dry above the quicksand.

Luersson's voice startles him out of his thoughts. "So, will you tell me the name of the person now?"

House looks up at him. It takes all his strength to lift his head. "No," he spits bitterly. "I don't do that sort of thing," he says focusing on the wall behind Luersson.

"You're an addict. You stole drugs, you nearly let your best friend go to jail, and you were found unconscious on the floor on the floor in a pile of your own vomit," he spits. "Of course you'll tell me. An addict has no morals. No friends. No conscience. All they think about is their next fix. You think you are any better than a street junkie?"

The doctor rises up and places his hands on the desk as he leans over it. "You stole drugs from the dead. How did you do it? Did you prize them out of his cold dead hand? Did you have to break his fingers to get them?"

The doctor's words cut him. He remembers the hollow feeling in his gut when Wilson had called him back into Mr Zebalusky's room. He remembers the look of disappointment on Wilson's face.

He'd been hurting dammit. And his proxy do-gooding parents had just cut him off and let him suffer alone and the pain was all his brain could comprehend and he'd been angry and the guy was dead anyway. It wasn't like he needed them.

But the look on Wilson's face when he had fished the pills out of his pocket was nothing compared to the look when Wilson had found him on the floor.

Maybe that was why he'd tried to take the deal. Because he didn't want Wilson looking at him that way.

An addict has no friends: bullshit.

He doesn't reply. He's not going to tell this bastard anything. He just keeps staring at the wall.

Eventually the doctor sits down again. "All right then. If you won't cooperate, we will just have to segregate you for a while... to make sure it doesn't happen again."

He narrows his eyes. "Segregate?"

"For your own good."

Crap, he thinks as the door shuts behind him. This isn't segregation. This is the hole. The only colour, the only thing, in the white tiled room is the red bucket in the corner. He spends a few minutes examining it.

It's a nice bucket.

Even though the light in the room is bright and he is cold he begins to doze off. That's when he hears it. He jerks awake. It's dark now. Pitch black. He swears he can hear someone crying.

Whimpering softly.

He listens closely. It sounds like a girl.

"Hey, it's okay," he says into the void. "It's not that bad."

The whimpering continues. He doesn't know what to do.

"Come on. Talk to me."

All he hears is sniffling.

"Are you frightened?" I would be. This place scares the bejesus out of me. He has a thought. "Is it dark where you are?"

"Yes."

"Where are you?"

"I'm in a cupboard."

"Why are you in a cupboard?" he asks slowly.

"The Stasi came."

The Stasi came. What the hell does that mean?

"Okay," he says. He runs his hands over his eyes. Stasi: Nasty bastards from East Germany. The Cold War: right. It figures.

"They took papa and mama."

"But they didn't hurt you right," he continues.

"They called me a whore. They said I would like it."

"Oh." Oh fucking shit 'oh'.

"I didn't like it."

I bet you didn't. "What's your name?"

"Sasha."

"Now you listen to me Sasha. What I have to say is really important." He suddenly has a thought. "What year is it?"

"1963 of course"

"Well Sasha from 1963 – what those fuckwits, sorry – bad men - did was wrong and bad and it is just really wrong that they can get away with it." He was getting loud now. "Wrong – do you understand me?" He calms down and shakes his head. "Totally wrong."

Even though it is dark he put his hands over his eyes. "It has nothing to do with you. You have to understand that. I wish I could see you because I bet you are pretty and clever and will one day become president of the UN."

"I want to study medicine."

"Well good for you. I know a nice hospital you might want to work at: in America. Look me up sometime."

"What is your name?"

"House, Greg House, but I am not important."

"But I like you Cupboard Man."

"That is nice of you to say. Who doesn't like strange men you meet in cupboards?" Jesus this place was weird. I really believe I am talking to a girl in a cupboard, he thinks. Maybe I really am insane? "But right now I want you to get out of this cupboard. Do you have a relative you can stay with?"

"I have an aunt."

"Is she nice?"

"She smells funny."

"They all do – get over it. You go to that aunt and you tell her what happened and she will look after you."

There was silence.

"I want you to do this for me okay. You can do this."

"Okay."

"Do it for me okay."

"Okay Mr Building."

"House! My name is House. I'm not a freaking apartment block. Why does everyone call me that?"

"Okay Doctor House."

"That's better. You go now Sasha. You go now and you never look back. One day you look me up. I'll see you then. I'll find out how pretty you are."

"Okay."

At this he pulls his legs up, puts his arms around them and closes his eyes. He rests his head on his knees. He's tired. He just wants to sleep. Talking to people in cupboards takes it out of you.

The next time he opens his eyes the light is on again and Brutal is standing in front of him.

"What the fuck were you doing?"

"Nothing."

Brutal cocks his head. "Don't lie. They heard you."

"I thought I heard someone crying," he admits.

"You didn't hear anything."

He eyes Brutal's closed fist. "Yeah, right. I didn't hear anything," he says sarcastically.

"Too fucking darn right you didn't."

"Okay," he says with a wry smile. How come Brutal gets to swear?

She will be okay now.

It will all be okay.

Just not for him, he thinks; as yet again Brutal's fist emphasizes his point.

….

"I've noticed you fidget a lot Gregory. Fidgeting is a classic sign of addiction. We must cure you of this impulse."

"What does that mean?"

Everyone else can enjoy themselves and watch television in the evenings. He has to sit on a small wooden chair outside the orderlies' room and stare at a wall until his bum goes numb. But move or wiggle and he and his bum won't be so numb anymore so he does as he is told.

He doesn't mind as they don't know he can hear their television.

Eventually they realise when he snickers at I love Lucy. They thrash him and he and the chair are moved to the other end of the big hall. He is amazed at the uniqueness of walls. They are all so different and wonderful in their own way. But he admits to himself he does feel a little out of it after having his head repeatedly rammed into a wall so that might be clouding his judgment.

….

He groans. For the first time in a long time with pleasure. There is at least one benefit to being off drugs: no impotence. Pity there were no hookers around to make it even more enjoyable.

But he stops when he hears the door crash open and the doctor barges into his room.

"We do not indulge in carnal pleasures of the flesh here Gregory."

"How the f-" he starts, but the two orderlies are throwing the blanket off the bed and are pulling him up?

"Masturbation is a common sign of addiction. Most addicts are filthy little masturbators."

"There's nothing wrong with jerking off!"

The doctor looks disgusted. "Filthy." He sighs. "But we can fix it with ice baths."

No, screw that. That was what his father used to do. They weren't doing it to him here. "That went out in the Goddamn 1950s," he yells.

"Yes, we are up to date here. We like to keep up with the times."

He feels like he is ten. Little stick legs and arms. Can't fight back. He begins to cry. All he feels is fear. Pissing his pants type fear.

"Your father did a good job, but we will do a better one," says the doctor. "And if not we have drugs that can fix those sort of problems."

"Not feeling so horny now," says Brutal as he pushes House's head under the water again.

He's used to the routine. They have been doing this for what seems like hours. If Brutal's bored it is just shivering and struggling to keep his head above the icy water. If Brutal is feeling enthusiastic it is two seconds up and ten seconds down.

True, not feeling very horny now there Brutal, he thinks as he counts off the seconds. He has long ago lost all memory that he even had genitals; let alone how to use them. His whole body feels alternately numb and burning. The only thought on his mind is the need to breathe.

Brutal hits the ten second mark. Please… time for air. Fifteen comes and then twenty. He begins to shake his head and squirm, but Brutal continues to hold him by the neck and push him down. Ridiculously, instead of seeing spots, he just thinks 'I don't want to die face down in a tin bathtub at the mercy of a bunch of mad men', but then he is lifted out and instinct takes over: coughing and gasping and spluttering for air. The human will to survive is strong. He survived his father: he can survive this.

……………………………………………………………………………………...

Just a dream Greg.

Just a dream.

He's in the white room. The lights flicker. They die. He is in the dark. He can't see his hand in front of his face? He must be dreaming. He feels the cold tiles beneath his naked body. He smells the disinfectant and cold. Everything here smells that way.

He gropes around and finds a wall. He leans up against it and waits, unease and dread growing inside him. He tries to wake up. He doesn't like this dream.

Then he hears it. The click of the tumbler in the lock. He thinks he hears the faint jangle of keys. He tenses, but there is nothing more. Time passes with nothing but his ragged terrified breathing.

Eventually he relaxes. Maybe he had been imagining it? He reasons to himself. Maybe he really is going insane. That would be ironic: only he could go insane in an insane asylum. They are just being mean. Punishing him. A few hours in the dark and then they will let him go and he will eat slush and, if he is good, get to watch I Love Lucy on the black and white set. It is amazing how the parameters of his world have shrunk.

He hears the soft chuckle from behind him, then the skitter of feet. Oh God.

He knows there is standing over him, but he can't move. There is a soft caress over his now beautifully clean shaven jaw. It's like a lover's touch.

He feels a trace over the scar on his leg. It is like a red hot poker delicately tracing down the crater where his leg muscle used to be. He wants to beg. He tries to speak, but his mouth is dry and his voice empty. All that comes out is a small pathetic sound.

Something tightly grabs his leg and he is violently pulled into the centre of the room. He lies there on his stomach panting shallowly into the cold tiles, waiting.

The silence now is terrifying. What is it doing? He listens, but the silence is total. He starts to slowly crawl away, but he only manages to crawl a few feet before it pounces with a giggle and drags him back.

Then come the hands over his body: touching, probing, feeling pushing, pinching his flesh.

He feels its mouth at his left nipple sucking gently, then slowly moving down his stomach. He can feel the trail of slime it leaves.

A hand pulls his head back and his neck is smothered in slimy kisses. He smells its putrid breath and shudders. A tongue licks the sweat from off the top of his lip. He feels a hand reach down and grab his genitals, squeezing them in a tight grip that makes him cry out. This provokes a stinging blow across his buttocks. He feels the breath of a soft slow 'shush' in his ear and he clamps his teeth together and his eyes tight shut.

Then it is all over him. Sucking and licking every bit and crevice of his body. There is nowhere it doesn't go. The only sounds are his harsh shallow breath and the horrible wet sucking of its mouth.

He wants to scream, but all he can do is cry silently. He feels its rasping tongue as it laps up his tears.

After it has its fill it leaves him there on the tiled floor. The slime coating him dries hard and thick.

He lies there panting. Just a dream Greg. This is just a dream. Please let this be just a dream.

They carry him down the big hall and lay him gently on his bed. He looks peaceful in his sleep. They carefully strap his arms and legs to the frame of the bed.

"Did you bring it?" asks one.

The other nods and hands over the gag. After it is buckled in place he checks that the patient can breathe normally. They know the gag is essential because when the patient wakes up he will remember and he will scream and scream and scream. When he does this it makes it difficult for them to watch television and they are all excited about the Moon landing. Satisfied all is in order they leave the room.

Brutal takes away his meal.

He stares down at the place where the tray used to be for a few seconds in shock. He still has the spoon in his hand.

It's useless now. He drops the spoon on the table. He's losing it. It's the little things that wear him down. Being sent to bed early for an eye roll; having to hand over his jumper and socks for a smart remark; being made to keep his hands on his head all day; staring at bloody floors and walls all the time; and now they have taken his slush away again.

The tears come. He really wanted that slush. He was actually looking forward to it. How pathetic was that? He'd spent the entire afternoon thinking about it. He'd been planning how to get to the front of the line so for once he might get hot slush. And although he hadn't tasted it he was sure it had been warmish. This was going to be the highlight of his fucking day. And now it was gone.

"Gregory, stop sniveling."

"I'm not sniveling you moron. I'm fucking crying." He begins to laugh softly. No food – so cold, crazy thoughts running through his head and too afraid to sleep because of the dreams that he knows aren't really dreams. Suddenly it all becomes really funny. It's a good joke – on him.

The inevitable 'don't swear' sends him into another fit of laughter.

He stands up. "Come on Brutal. Bring it on. You know I can't win, so why don't you show me how manly you are and beat up the cripple."

He spits on his palms and turns his hands into fists. "Come on big boy. This will look brilliant when I get out of here and sue your ass off and go on Sixty Minutes."

But his heart goes cold when Brutal just smiles.

Everyone wants to punish him. He was a nice guy. He paid his taxes and loved his rat. Why did everyone feel this insane need to make him suffer? People shot him, took away his Vicodin, tried to send him to jail, did send him to jail, gave him extra clinic duty all the time and he'd been declared public enemy number one from the moment he'd walked into this place.

'Your not as special as you think you are' the judge had whined. Of course I am special. I am the star of my own personal House show – Sexy Doctor MD, he had thought at the time. But he was like everyone else. Now he was cold, tired, bored, lonely, afraid and in pain. What a shitty set of adjectives. Sexy Doctor MD never is cold, tired, bored, lonely, afraid and in pain. Sexy Doctor MD gets hot babes and drives a Ferrari. Hang on - that might be that guy from Miami Vice.

He sniffs quietly to himself and rubs his sore nose on his sleeve. Sexy Doctor MD isn't getting any hot babes now. Sexy Doctor MD has a cold and a runny nose and no handkerchief and no Wilson to make him chicken soup and make rude remarks about what a git he is for getting a cold in the first place – considering he is a doctor and all, and it sucks.

He draws his legs up and rests his head on his knees. It's just him and the red bucket again. He can't even remember what he did to get the bucket again. It's all lost in the fog of misery that marks time in this place. He wonders what everyone else is doing. If they'll notice he's gone. Is it really possible to get lost in the system? In ten years from now, while he is still stuck in the white room with the red bucket, will Cameron say to Chase: didn't there used to be this funny guy with a limp who worked here? And Chase will scoff: you mean Berman in radiology? He pulled a hamstring playing squash last month, but he's fine now. And then they'll laugh and forget about the conversation. But he'll be still be sitting here next to his bucket.

He eyes the bucket off. He doesn't like it so much anymore. In fact he decides he downright hates it. But maybe he is being too harsh. Maybe it's just like in any relationship: too much closeness makes the partners feel suffocated, he thinks. And it is not as if he or the bucket can go anywhere, so it isn't really fair to blame the bucket. After all, the bucket is very faithful.

Maybe it wanted something more from life, but it has never run off with a young guitar player called Paulo for a life of decadence and cheap gin in Spain. It is here waiting for him every time they shove him in here. Big, bold and bright red. A comforting constant in his life.

Now he has two constants: his lovely leg and the bucket.

Gregory House is truly blessed.

He giggles to himself. Oh God, he must be going nuts.

When he wakes later he opens his eyes but it is dark. He has fallen over in his sleep. The tiles are cold, but he is warm. He is never warm in this place.

Oh shit.

He props himself up and listens.

Scrabbling. Pathetic futile scrabbling.

That's all he hears at first. The screaming comes later. That's what they are all doing – scrabbling. It's pathetic because it is all they can do. It's futile because all the doors are locked.

Then he hears them calling out. Begging for help. Pleading because they know what is happening.

He stops at one door. He can see her frantic eyes as she begs through the little window. He looks down at the keys on his belt and continues on his way. He whistles.

Then he hears the screaming. He smiles. They are really panicking now, but now it is too late.

The fire is intense. It warms him.

He wishes he had some marshmallows.

The lights come on.

He draws his legs up, holds his knees, puts his head down and begins to sob.

He can still see the fire in his mind.

"I knew he would be good."

"He's feisty. I'll give him that."

"Too good to let get away."

"And who'll miss him anyway? No one could possibly love him."

He knows something bad is going to happen today when the orderlies come into his room with the straps. He is not usually strapped down. Any resistance and he is just slapped down immediately. It's like being a kid again. He hasn't has his head stuck in a toilet for years.

But this time he can't run. He used to be one hell of a sprinter in high school. Now they can catch him easy. He always tries to run. But with no cane he is slow; his bad leg dragging behind him like an anchor and soon his panic makes him fall, sobbing with frustration and clawing his hands against the tiled linoleum. He doesn't lift his head from the floor. There is no point. The fire is everywhere and the doors are locked.

"Why am I being tied," he asks the mattress?

"For your own good," they say as they yank the straps tighter and tighter. He grunts. His shoulders feel like they are going to be dislocated.

They always take their time. He knows they enjoy his fear.

He watches as three sets of white sneakers enter his field of vision, stopping with that peculiar squeak they always make. He feels the snot as it dribbles from his nose. He watches as the restraints are dropped on the floor and bounce on the linoleum next to his face. He hears his pathetic whimpers. He didn't mean to see. He won't tell anyone.

He's almost grateful when they beat him. He's just being punished because he's been bad. He can't help it. He's just a stupid addict right? His screams sound like laughter in his ears. He knows there are worse punishments.

But as he lies shivering under his too thin army blanket it worries him that they don't care that he knows. That frightens him the most. Not the fact that they might kill him to keep their secret safe, but that they might keep him here forever. He doesn't want to be their perpetual whipping boy.

He's pulled up and dragged down the big hallway.

He doesn't resist because he can't.

"I think we need to extend your stay."

"No, you can't do that," he mutters in disbelief.

"Where do you think you are going?"

He doesn't look at the doctor. He just continues to stare down at the yellow line at his feet. He got here, but he's too fucking afraid to cross it. "Nowhere," he says eventually. "Not until I'm better."

"That's what I thought."

Wilson. The one word he's heard uttered in this horrible place that brings him hope.

He wants Wilson.

They never quite really made up after Wilson found him on his floor. He vaguely thinks there was a very important reason he wanted to see Wilson, something he has to tell him, but he can't quite remember what it is. The doctor tells him he has made some small progress and he wants desperately for Wilson to see him now – clean and sober and such a good boy.

He can barely walk because they do not give him anything for his leg and some nights he cries out so much they strap him down and gag him. The doctor tells him the pain is all in his mind. He nods slowly and rubs his leg.

So he crawls, he grovels; he shovels cold slush into his mouth and tries to smile although inside he wants to die, because there is the promise of Wilson.

Every day the doctor says Wilson phoned and might be coming tomorrow – if he can spare the time. Every day he limps to the notice board and pushes through the crowd of hopeful people, checking to see if their loved ones are coming to visit. Every day he scans the list to see if his name is on there. Every day his name isn't on it.

Every day he sits in the common area with the other rejects, mindlessly pushing the three broken Lego blocks around while the lucky ones get to glimpse the world outside. Every day the doctor reminds him that Wilson is an important doctor and he is just an addict so Wilson can't be expected to make time for him. But every day the doctor claps him on the shoulder and tells him to keep his chin up and that he is sure Wilson will come tomorrow. And every day he believes him and carries the hope in his top pocket because there is nothing else he can do.

He should have known better.

Then one day they take him into a room and he hears everything:

"I am sorry Doctor Wilson, but he isn't feeling very well today."

"Oh, that's unfortunate." He can't see it but he knows Wilson is rubbing his neck.

"There's no way…"

"No, I'm sorry."

"Okay then. I'll go. Tell him I'm sorry I missed him."

He hears the doctor's fake sincerity as he assures Wilson that he will.

He rubs the wall nearest where he thinks Wilson is. Willing him to know that he was thinking about him, willing him to know he was here, just a few feet away, waiting for Wilson to come.

He hears Wilson murmur polite goodbyes. No, please, don't go, he thinks as he bangs his head on the wall. He can see them laughing at him. He knows he is feeding them, but he can't stop. He turns and stares at them. The nurse and the orderly look like jackals. It was a trick, he realizes. It was all a trick.

He knows what he must look like. A pathetic excuse for a man in 1950's striped pajamas with Property of the US Army stamped on them and an ill fitting snot green jumper.

He bangs his head on the wall harder. It feels good. For the first time in this horrible place he feels in control. He'll kill himself and then he'll be safe from them. He bangs his head again and laughs as he feels hot blood run down his face. He's winning! But his victory turns to despair as he is pulled from the wall and held fast.

Suddenly the doctor is standing in front of him.

"Oh no my boy, you can't escape from us that easily," he says.

They put a straight jacket on him and arms are strapped around him. A helmet is forced over his head and locked into place.

"I think Gregory needs some special treatment," he says to the nurse.

His breath hitches in a half sob. So that was this was all about? It's just feeding time for you is it? The addict is nothing but main course.

He doesn't resist as they carry him down the big black and white hall, his feet dragging on the linoleum. The Black and White Man looks on sadly. "Black for you," he murmurs to himself as they pass.

He just lies where they have left him and waits.

When it comes it looks like Wilson.

That makes it all the worse.

"What is so special about this Wilson person," muses Luersson.

"I don't know."

"Well we better find out hadn't we?"

He wouldn't be Jimmy like the Jew faggot in his class with the glasses and the brogues, he'd be James like the movie star.

And he's got the car to prove it.

But he has to pass math or he'll flunk and he'll go to juvie. So he goes to Jimmy. Jimmy can help him. Jimmy is a nerd.

They are studying, or trying to study out in the park by the lake. Jimmy is sitting on the bench with the books spread in front of him. He is sitting on the table smoking a cigarette.

"Look, you were the one who wanted to do this. Please pay attention."

He smiles at Jimmy.

"You are such a nerd," he says happily.

Jimmy pulls off his glasses and rubs his eyes. "Yes I am a nerd. Now pay attention."

"Yes Mr Jimmy."

"Why am I doing this again?"

He blows a very bad smoke ring. He thinks he looks cool. "I don't know."

He didn't know why he did it. He doesn't know why he does anything.

He is 'riding around in his automobile' as Mr Brown would say and all is cool with the world on this hot Louisiana evening when he saw them.

They were picking on the faggot and it got him riled.

He was whip thin, lean and dangerous. He didn't give a shit and everyone knew it. He'd fight them all to hell and back and they knew that too. He was a crazy man. They were afraid of him.

It didn't take long.

After he hands Jimmy his glasses. "Fucked big time man."

Jimmy examines the twisted mass of metal and crushed glass. "Guess so," he agrees with a smile as he tries to stick them back on his face. "Third pair this year," he says sadly.

"Rock and roll Jiminy Cricket – rock and roll – that's what you need."

He goes over to his car and turns on the radio. He turns it up loud. Elvis is playing. He's seen him once when he sneaked into the movie house one night. His step dad caught him coming home and thrashed him six ways to Sunday with his belt. He couldn't sit down for a week, but he didn't care. He knew there was something new coming down the track and that he'd be part of it.

Jimmy's just standing there like the lemming he is, but the music is getting to him.

He pulls out a flask. "This be the nectar of the gods Jiminy." He hands it over. "Don't spill it," he adds conspiratorially.

Jimmy takes a sip and begins to cough.

He laughs and laughs.

"It's not funny," Jimmy eventually splutters.

"Oh it so is man."

But Jimmy looks so lost. His eyes are watering and he is coughing. He goes over to him and puts his arms around him. He holds him close. Jimmy holds him back.

They don't understand.

"Hey," he says eventually, pointing up into the branches of the tree. "That your tie?"

Jimmy follows his gaze. "How'd they get it up so high?"

"You'd be amazed at what the stupid people can do Jiminy."

And in the next second he has bounded up into the lower branches and is pulling himself up higher and higher. He feels exhilarated, like he is on drugs.

"Come on down. If you fall I'm not going to catch you."

"If I fall on you I'll be fine pudge boy," he yells down. And with a whoop he launches himself at another branch, barely catching hold of it, his legs cart wheeling in mid air as he struggles to pull himself up.

Jimmy squints up at him. "I'm not fat. I'm just big boned. That's what my mom says."

"Believe what you want," he says dismissively. He has spied the object of his quest. Jimmy's tie is dangling down enticingly in front of him.

"Here you go Jiminy Cricket."

He looks down from where he is sitting on the picnic table. He's bored with math.

"Why do you still call yourself Jimmy?"

"I don't know."

"It's a baby name."

"It's my name." Jimmy fumbles for his books. "It's special," he eventually spurts out.

"It's pathetic and soft and weak – just like you," he taunts as he pokes Jimmy in the tummy.

"My dad calls me Jimmy."

"My dad calls me Jimmy," he mimics. "Do you call him daddy too?"

"You don't have a dad. How do you know? Your dad left you because he didn't want you."

"You take that back faggot."

But Jimmy has the advantage now. "Your dad left because he hated you – just like everyone else hates you," he shouts. "I hate you too."

He stares at Jimmy for a second. He tries to smile. "Well fuck you too Jew boy."

He walks away.

He feels a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Don't cry."

He doesn't look up. "I'm not crying faggot. Go away."

And Jimmy does.

But Jimmy does not go far. He goes to the edge of the clearing. He finds a tree and slouches down on his haunches and wraps his arms around his knees. It gets dark and it gets cold, but Jimmy stays and watches Shiva over him.

He doesn't know Jimmy is there.

That night he challenges Duke to a race.

The irony of it was he was winning.

But no one told the tree that.

After his funeral, when all the cool kids have left, Jimmy goes to his grave and says a Jewish prayer.

"Where were you today," asks his father as he looks up from his paper.

"Nowhere." He feels bad for lying. "I was at a funeral."

"The one for the boy who was killed in the accident?" Asks his mother as she comes in from the kitchen.

He nods in annoyance. "Yes mom. That one."

Oh great. Now they are both looking at him with concern.

His father leans forward. "I heard about him. He was no good."

His mother just has to chime in. "You weren't hanging with him," she says in alarm.

He groans at the way she says 'hanging' like it was the seventh deadly sin or something. "No mom." He thinks of dancing to rock and roll, tasting the whiskey as it burned down his throat, the laughter when he coughed on the cigarette, the way he smelt when he had lain down with his head in his lap and announced he was as uncomfortable as he had imagined.

"I helped him with math a few times," he says.

Jimmy grows up, obeys his parents' wishes like a good Jewish boy, becomes a plastic surgeon and marries a good Jewish girl. He moves to Los Angeles. He doesn't like the climate. He would have like to have lived in a place where it snowed in winter. But it is very lucrative for plastic surgeons in Los Angeles and more importantly it is very far away from his parents

He has two beautiful children whom he loves deeply and a swimming pool that he hates because he is always the one who has to clean it. His wife nags him to get a pool cleaner. She tells him he looks stupid trying to clean the pool himself and that this is the third time he has dropped his glasses in the pool. She tells him he should get contacts or eye surgery like everyone else in Los Angeles. She tells him he makes her life, the kids' life, and everyone's life a total misery because he is such a total loser.

One day he is driving home and he hears the song on the radio. He remembers back to that day. He laughs at the memory of his tie in that tree and the James Dean wannabe nearly breaking his neck to get it out just because he could.

He is still fiddling with the radio, trying to get a better signal, when he misses the turn and hits the tree.

It isn't like anything he had ever imagined. He's wandering alone through the wood. He hears laughter. He follows the sound. He squints up. There is a figure sitting in the lower branches of a big old tree like the ones from his childhood.

He drops down next to him. It is his James Dean wannabe. He is still seventeen: a cigarette tucked behind one ear, dressed like something out of American Graffiti.

Jimmy feels old and hot and ugly in his double breasted 1700 dollar suit, but Wannabe puts his arms around his neck and whispers in his ear:

"What kept you?"

He smiles.

The nurse looks at him and shrieks.

He sits up. "No… I wasn't. It just happens. I'm sorry. The bloody thing has a mind of its own."

"Oh shit! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to swear. It just happened." He smiles and shrugs apologetically. "Like the dick," he says attempting to make it into a joke, but inside he is trembling. He knows he's in for it.

Now there are more and more people crowding into the little room. Big angry fit healthy people with large fists - just itching to use them. He backs away, but there is nowhere to run. He feels the wall of the alleyway behind his back. He knew he never should have gone to this bar. But a man deserves a drink now and then doesn't he? All he had wanted was a few quite drinks. Poofs drank beer too. All he had wanted was a quiet drink. Why couldn't he have that? What was so wrong with him?

They move in and he feels their fists as they thud into him. Pounding him to the ground. Then it is their feet. He is amazed at how much blood pours out of him. He sees his teeth on the ground. He feels the crack of his ribs as they are smashed.

All I wanted was a beer, he thinks.

He dies shortly after.

Don't think House. It is better if you don't think. He stands there, trying to ignore the doctor as he examines his genitals. First squeezing them, then pushing and pulling them around as if he can tell something just by looking at them. He can't. He's just doing to remind him that they are useless now.

"Very satisfactory," says Luersson as he pulls off his latex gloves. "This should last for a good two to three years."

He doesn't speak, but he can't hold back his tears. They leak silently down the sides of his face. He can't wipe them away. The straps holding him back dig painfully into his flesh and the hands of the orderlies feel heavy on his shoulders. He can't understand. He didn't sign up for this. How can they do this to him?

All he wanted was a beer.

"You look a little upset Gregory. You do know it is for the best?"

He can't really even begin to work out how to speak because of the horror at what Luersson has done to him, but he knows better than to anger the man. He nods weakly.

"Maybe you just need a little time out?"

He doesn't say a word. It doesn't matter. Nothing he says anymore is worth anything anyway. He's just a filthy addict, now complete with a limp dick.

"Yes," says the doctor thoughtfully. "I think this will be a perfect time."

He tries not to think as they pull his pants up for him and turn him around, but fear grabs hold of him as he slowly walks the hall down to the white room with the red bucket. He knows this won't be a meal: this will be a banquet.

Don't think about it Greg. Just don't think.

There's something different about Mr Building this morning. He can see the little spider cracks appearing in the glass, but they still go through the usual routine as they pass in the big hall.

"Morning Mr House Man."

"Morning Mr Black and White."

"How's Steve?"

"Still a disease ridden rodent thank you. Wilson says he is getting fat because he likes Wilson's cooking so much and you know what a pansy Wilson is. I tell him not to overfeed Steve, but hey… When I get back I am sure going to put Steve on a strict diet. No fattening Jewish food for Steve anymore."

"How is Wilson?"

"He came to see me yesterday. We talked for ages. He brought me lots of junk food. I'm stuffed. I'm not hungry at all."

"Good to know. I'll let you get on with things. You make sure you scrub those black squares extra clean for me."

"Will do Mr Black and White. Enjoy your hopping."

They both know it is all lies, but they still do it. Somehow it makes it all better.

It is late when the Black and White Man passes the orderlies' station. It is dark in the hall, but the lights shine bright through their window.

He stops and listens. He has no fear. They are simple carnal creatures. If he doesn't want it they can't see him. To him they always smell of rotting flesh, but tonight they doubly putrid, thick and heavy with the smell of the pleasures of the flesh that date back thousands of years: past Sodom and Gomorrah, to the first juicy bite of the apple. He can almost taste it.

97 … 98 … 99 …100. A universal YAY! Goes up. He hears the cries of the staff as they cheer. He hears the clink of bottles and smells the pot as it is passed around. He also hears the other softer cries underneath them.

He can see the pain leaking out like a fog, whisping its way down the corridor as it is drawn to its master. But some of it gets left behind. Like all the rest it coats the walls and floors and settles on the people. He can see it as it eats through them ever so slowly, but like acid, until the person is gutted inside and out, burned away.

For some it is quick and merciful. They light up and are burned away in seconds, but for others, like the House, there is something that holds the flames at bay. Like a man with a pathetic garden hose stupidly defending his property against a roaring Australian bushfire: and sometimes, against all odds the bushfire blackens the edges of the lawn, but although it tries and tries it can never burn down the house.

Unfortunately this makes the House Man all the more attractive.

Sometimes we have impulses. We decide to do things on a whim. What determines that whim comes from our background, our beliefs, friends, relatives and experiences: but ultimately those split second decisions come from who we are and we cannot help ourselves when we throw ourselves, wittingly or unwittingly, into the fray.

She watches as he crosses the rec room and sits at the table he always sits at. He makes the sign of the cross and bows his head in prayer. A religious nutter in a helmet. She does not know he only does this because this is what they have taught him: addicts have to be thankful for what they are allowed and if he doesn't show how grateful he is they will take away his food and he has to sit there going hungry. But in that split second she goes with her impulse. She has watched him for the last few days. Alone and isolated. Somewhere, some time, some one told her no man is an island... or maybe she read it in a book. She throws herself into the fray and ultimately condemns herself.

He looks up as she comes and sits opposite him.

"I'm sorry, but you're not supposed to be here." He's not supposed to speak, but he doesn't want her to get in trouble.

She snorts. "This table is for you only?"

"Yes, I mean no… I mean it's me. I'm not allowed to sit with anyone. I'm bad. I'm being punished. I'm an addict. You don't want to sit with me."

"So? I'm an alcoholic. Smashed the SUV into a stop sign and got done for DUI and they gave me 28 days. That not good enough for you? Do I need to take up heroin to sit at this table?"

He looks shocked. "Drugs are bad," he whispers urgently.

"M'kay," she jokes, but he doesn't seem to get it. She takes a bite of her bread. "So, you don't need friends?" she continues.

He can't help his smile. "No," he says indignantly. "I have friends, well – a friend." He frowns. "I don't see him, but he is still my friend."

"Why can't you see him?"

"Because he hates me because I am an addict," he says as he pokes at his meal. He frowns in concentration. "That's what the doctor told me… I think."

Then he looks furtive. "Have you ever thought about how you would give anything to have one wish? Just one little wish?"

She thinks for a second. "An unlimited account at Neiman Markus and not a drinking problem."

The crazy man waves his plastic spoon at her. "Swapping booze for shoes. I like it." He's witty if nothing else. He laughs quietly, but then he gets all sad again as he thinks. "I'd like to get a message to my friend. I still like him I think. He's a doctor."

"A doctor – really? Very classy. What do you do?"

He looks puzzled. "I'm an addict."

"I mean besides that."

"I clean the big hall – with a toothbrush."

Oh brilliant she thinks. I really did pick the crazy one. "That's nice," she says placatingly and he smiles.

His eyes light up as he eyes her tray. "Hey, you have hash browns?"

"Didn't you get any?"

"Addicts like me don't get the same food as other people because they don't deserve it," he says softly, parroting the words they told him. He's so tired that it's just easier to rattle off the stock answers they made him memorise. He doesn't care anymore. "I'm an addict," he ads softly.

Right: just in case I didn't get it the first few times she thinks. She sees him deflate as he uses the word addict. She notices how it affects him every time he says it. She smiles. "It's okay. You can have my hash brown."

"Can I – really?" It breaks her heart that something so simple can bring him such joy. "You'd give it to me – even though I'm an-?"

She cuts him off. "Yes, here you go," she says as she hands it over and he munches it happily.

"So, you like football?" she inquires.

"It's a stupid pathetic game that always interrupted my favourite TV shows. I always hated the word hiatus"

"Hence the helmet?" she says sarcastically.

He looks bashful. "That's for my own good. They look after me because I can't be trusted."

"Why?"

He looks at her like she's stupid. "Because I'm an addict."

She has only been here a few days, but she really has met some crazy people. A thought crosses her mind. "How long have you been here?"

"A little bit more than sixty days. On hiatus so to speak."

She realizes the implication of those words. How long has it been for him?

"That's a long time."

"The doctor felt it would take a while to make me all better," he says quietly.

"Do you have Doctor Johnson? He's very nice."

"No I have Doctor Luersson. I'm in Ward C" He proudly shows her the big C sewn into his jumper.

Okay – totally crazy. She doesn't like the way he said that. She wants to change the subject. "So you did a Robert Downey Jnr?"

He smiles sadly. "Something like that. Except it involved a rectal thermometer and a cop."

"Get away?" She pushes his arm in jest, but he flinches. "But look at Robert the younger now? That new black and white movie he did was fantastic. Better than Goodnight and Goodluck with George Cluney – if that's possible."

"Yeah," he says quickly.

She looks over at him. "You don't know what I am talking about do you?"

"Sure I do. That black and white movie with George Cluney… and the other guy."

"How long have you really been in here?"

"I don't know," he finally admits. "Sixty days - but the stay can be extended if it is deemed necessary." His face betrays no emotion. "I'm deemed necessary."

He takes another bite of the hash brown then smiles ruefully as he chews. "But I am pretty sure they last time I went to the motion pictures they had colour films, so not that long."

Total fruitloop, she thinks. Poor guy's probably been here for years. But he's got cute eyes. She reaches out and puts her hand in the table. "I'll take a message for you for your friend. You give it to me and I'll pass it on."

"That is nice, but I am not-"

"Never mind about that. You get it to me and I'll pass it on."

He nods and gives a small careful smile. But that falls away, replaced by a look of panic.

"Gregory, what he Hell are you doing?"

"Oh shit."

"What?"

"Brutal, I mean Mr Tom. Mustn't call him Brutal or I'll get a walloping. "

"Who's Brutal and what's a walloping?"

"I told you - you can't sit here," he hisses.

He gets up and he shovels the rest of the hash brown into his mouth. "Uffink," he gasps eventually as Tom the big orderly comes over. The helmet guy tries to stand to attention, but he is still choking on bits of potato.

"I'm sorry ma'am, but some of our patients are a little unstable," says Tom as he grabs the helmet guy by the back of his neck and pushes his head down. "He didn't hurt you did he did?" He sounds concerned, but the helmet guy is cringing under his ministrations.

"No he didn't, but I think you are hurting him," she says pointedly.

Tom releases his grip on the helmet guy. "Oh yeah, sorry Greg." But he doesn't look apologetic at all and the helmet man, Greg, keeps his eyes down.

"Come on man. Let's get you settled down," Tom says as he takes him gently by the arm and leads him off. Greg throws her one last look before he goes. He does not look happy. He looks terrified.

Brutal is gentle until they are in the big hall. Then House's head is pushed down again and he is half marched/half dragged down it until they reach the bathroom.

Brutal throws him so hard into the bathroom he hits the back wall. He tries to slide down and curl up, but Brutal holds him up.

The punches hit again and again. His stomach feels like it is on fire. He can't breathe. He retches violently and Brutal kindly holds his head over the toilet bowl as he vomits up slush and hash brown and cordial.

After he has finished Brutal pushes him over to the sinks. "Wash yourself up and wait here," he commands as House tries to breathe. "I'll get your jacket."

He cleans himself up and stands nervously in the bathroom, one had holding his stomach and the other rubbing his thigh while he waits for Brutal to come back.

He's fucked up big time. At the very least it's going to be 'hello bucket' time, but it could be worse. He doesn't want to think about what could be worse.

He just needs a break every so often. They can't suck him dry can they?

His straight jacket, a 44 long, fits perfectly.

Even with his arms free he hates wearing it.

"You know this means a visit to the doctor's office?"

He is standing in front of his father. As always his head is down.

"Yes Mr Tom."

"Follow me."

He hates his father.

"Yes Mr Tom."

He slowly follows his father out of the bathroom, his leg dragging behind him.

"You caused an incident… and broke the rules."

"Rules are very important, aren't they Gregory."

"But she came to me."

"Don't make excuses," Luersson shouts. He winces. It's not good to make the doctor mad.

"And you encouraged her. What does that lead to when you fraternize? "

"Bad things?" He's looking nervously at the snow globe.

"Exactly."

He nods. It was his fault. He understands that now.

"Are you rubbing your leg?"

"No sir."

"Then put your hands behind your back and pay attention or I'll give you the whipping of your life and strap you up tight," Luersson snaps.

"Yes sir."

But his leg still hurts.

He walks up and down the segregation room. He's been pacing for hours. Ten days he thinks as he hits the wall. He can do ten days he reasons as he bounces off it and turns around. He's done more before. He knows he deserves it. The doctor explained it. As long as they leave him alone and the lights stay on it will be alright he tells the red bucket.

He stops.

"It will be okay won't it?" he asks the bucket.

The bucket doesn't answer him.

Stupid bucket. He doesn't know what he ever saw in it.

He continues to pace.

He reaches the other wall, arm out, ready to turn, but this time he just stops and slides down the wall. He thumps his helmet against the wall behind him. It makes a nice satisfying thwacking sound.

His stomach hurts, he's thirsty and he his head is pounding. He puts an arm over his eyes to try to shield out the harsh fluorescent light that stays on 24 hours a day. He is starting to shiver because they have taken his socks and jumper and even though he thinks it might be summer now it is always cold here.

Bad addicts don't get luxuries.

Was he bad? He tries to think, but it's all a little foggy. He must have been. He's in the white room again isn't he?

It's so unfair the little boy inside of him thinks. It was just breakfast.

"Time for breakfast Greg," says his mother brightly as she opens the curtains.

"Aw mom. Is it time to get up already?"

"Yes dear. You have to make sure you get up bright and early to have breakfast because…"

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day," he says. They both laugh.

There is something wrong with this picture. He doesn't remember laughter.

"And besides. I got your favourite: Frosty Coco Vicodin Nut Loops."

"Oh boy mom. Frosty Coco Vicodin Nut Loops. You are the greatest mom."

"Only the best for my little addict," she says ruffling his hair.

"It wasn't just breakfast now, was it Gregory?"

A cold feeling trickles down his spine. He starts. Luersson is standing over him. Where did he come from? He hides his head in his arms. He's sorry. He's been sent to the corner. He's doing his time. He'll be better next time. He doesn't want a whipping.

"You broke a rule and you must learn not to break society's rules." Luersson sighs. "I know it is hard for you to learn because you're an addict, but we have plenty of time to teach you," he says as he knocks on House's helmet. He always hates it when the doctor does that.

Every morning he is taken out, taken to a treatment room and seated in front of a big plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns and sausage.

He sits there for an hour staring at it. At first the smell practically makes him drool and his hands twitch. He's so hungry. He's always hungry and the slush they give him never seems to satisfy his hunger. But they tell him gluttony is a sin and that he needs to learn restraint and that they are only doing this for his own good because he is stupid because he is an addict and he nods as if he understands. They make him put his hands on the table and hit his knuckles with a heavy metal spoon until he cries. It's so stupid, but he can't help himself. He cries a lot now.

He hates the fact he is now what his father would call a crybaby. He hates what is left of him.

They do that every day until even the sight of the plate makes him ill.

The old man catches her in the day room. "He's not allowed out at the moment." He pushes the piece of paper into her hand. "Please," he says. "I hear you are leaving tomorrow."

She nods.

"James Wilson, Princeton Plainsborough Teaching Hospital. He's the head of Oncology there."

"Okay."

"Should we let her go?"

"It is a pity. She was…" Luersson thinks for a moment. "Nice. She had potential"

"But she is an actress and she will be missed."

"I love the celebrities. Very troubled souls."

"I think she may know too much."

"Yes, Tom found her talking with the addict. He wouldn't tell me what he said to her. Quite remarkable really. His tolerance for pain is impressive."

"I know."

Luersson sighs. "Alright, I'll arrange it."

She looks up at the beautiful building before her as she holds the piece of paper in her hand. She hasn't read it. She just knows it is private: between the two of them.

What the hell is she doing here she thinks. That man was insane. This Doctor Wilson guy probably doesn't even exist and she will make a fool of herself.

But she promised the crazy man and the old man with the strange smile. She may just be a television actress, but she sticks to her promises. She steps off the curb. She is rubbing her eyes as she walks. They hurt. Too long without contact lenses probably, she thinks. But she stops when she pulls her hands away and she stares horrified at the blood on her hands. She never sees the car. She lands on the road with a fast heavy thud, while the note flutters down gently beside her.

Even though she is at a hospital it makes no difference. The pathologist notes that her eyes are full of blood. For a second he wonders why. Then he shrugs his shoulders and continues to list her injuries. Probably just a result of the trauma he thinks as his pupils turn from black to blue.

The letter lies in the road until it is swept up later that day and taken to the city dump. Then it is buried in a mountain of other garbage and lies forgotten along side one legged Barbies and rotting food: its simple message, written in a crayon stolen from the day room and paid for with ten days in segregation, is lost forever:

Wilson

I'm sorry.

I miss you.

They hurt me.

Please come and get me.

Gregory

It must be movie night. He presumes he is not allowed to watch because he is an addict, but he knows it is happening because if he presses his ear up to the door of his room he can just about hear the movie. It must be going on in the big black and white hall. He doesn't know what movie it is, but it sounds like a B grade 1950's thriller.

There is the husband, the woman and her lover. The husband is found murdered. The detective thinks it was the lover. He imagines the detective to look something like Humphrey Bogart. Bogart is wrong. The lover is a gentle poet. It was the woman. He knows because she admits it to him while she drinks her gin and soda. She knows he won't tell anyone. He's just a stupid addict after all, she says. No one will listen to him. He can hear the ice in her drink clinking as she talks. She is beautiful and clever, but also cold and calculating.

The lover finds out the truth. He confronts her. She has a gun in her purse. He hears the shot. He sees the black and white blood. The lover tries to hold it in, but it bubbles out from under his hand and stains his white shirt black and drips down onto the floor. The floor he is going to have to clean the next day.

"The usual," says Bogart at the end of the movie. "Love and murder. But maybe the broad won't hang: she was pretty out of it by the end."

Afterwards he creeps back to his bed before they come to check on him and he gets in trouble for being out of bed and gets a walloping. He wonders what happened to the woman.

He sits up on his knees and watches in admiration her as she saunters in. She is stunning – from her immaculate hair down to her silk stockings. She is the best piece of tail he has seen in a long time. A real honey, he thinks.

If he were the type he would whistle in appreciation. She turns to him and winks. He melts inside.

He is brought back to reality when Brutal clocks him around the head. He immediately bends back to his work. He hates this bit of the big hall. No matter how hard he tries he can never quite get the bloodstain on the floor off. He thinks of the woman as he works. But he knows better than to get involved with her. He knows she has a gun in her purse and she is not afraid to use it.

He instinctively draws back when he sees the needle. This earns him a slap. "Now now Gregory. You know we are all here to help you. You don't have to be afraid of me. This medication will make you all better. You know that, don't you?" The tone is calm and soothing, but he can hear the hiss behind it. He feels a whimper building up in his throat and tries to choke it down by nodding frantically because whimpering makes them mad and he doesn't want them to be mad.

"Say it," orders Luersson. His voice like steel.

"The medication will make me all better," he manages to whisper. This seems to satisfy Luersson and House breathes a shaky sigh of relief when Luersson reaches out and knocks on his helmet.

"That's a good boy."

He doesn't move as Luersson rolls up his sleeve. He's been trained not to. But he still flinches as the needle is jabbed carelessly into his arm. It's not the pain. He's used to pain. Some part of him knows it's sucking out his soul.

"Oh my leg hurts. Oh I'm in pain." He presses his hands over his ears, but it does no good. He can still hear it. It loves to taunt him.

"Last time I looked you had two legs?"

Not my fault, he thinks. It's not my fault. I did have two good legs.

"Beautiful legs Greg. Now spread them wide for me. I got some sucking to do."

"Did Nurse Williams tell you to do up your top button?"

"Yes sir."

"And did you?"

"I…"

"Did you?"

"No sir."

"Why not?"

"I don't know sir."

"You don't know?"

"Yes sir."

"I thought you knew everything?"

"I'm good with puzzles."

"Oh, you are good with puzzles are you?"

"Yes sir."

"Did I ask you about puzzles."

"No sir."

"Then why did you feel you needed to add that into the conversation?"

"I don't know sir."

"Back to that are we?"

"But I am good with puzzles."

"Don't make excuses. Did you or did you not do up your top button."

"No I didn't sir."

"Do you think Nurse Williams cared that you are good with puzzles when she asked you to do up your top button?"

"No sir."

"Do you think your top button cared that you are good with puzzles?"

"No sir."

"Do you think I care that you are good with puzzles?"

"No sir."

"Rules."

"Yes sir."

"Rules are there for your own good Gregory."

"Yes sir."

"We must all follow rules."

"Yes sir."

"And when we break them we must be punished."

"Yes sir."

"You are not special."

"No sir. I am not special."

"Are you sorry?"

"Yes sir."

"Are you lying Gregory?"

"No sir."

"You are lying aren't you? Addicts always lie."

"No sir. I'm not lying sir. I am sorry sir."

"You are only sorry because you got caught out. If you hadn't got caught you would still be wasted 24/7 while practicing medicine wouldn't you? And your top button would still be undone even though Nurse Williams told you to do it up."

"No sir, I really am sorry. I am learning sir. I'm sorry sir."

There was that word again: sorry. The one word he would never have uttered in a million years. Now it comes rolling off his tongue every day.

He was always sorry for something.

He was sorry for being too slow. He was sorry for not making his bed properly. He was sorry for eating too fast or eating too slowly. He was sorry for not obeying fast enough. He was sorry for being clumsy. He was sorry for not giving the right answer.

He was always sorry because he did everything wrong. Every single thing he did was wrong because addicts did everything wrong.

Sorry was the only defence he had. There was no bargaining or reasoning here. Everything he did was wrong. Sorry was a pitiful defence. They would just look at him in disgust; tell him addicts always lie but that soon he would really be sorry: sorry and sore.

Give him something to be sorry about.

Gee thanks dad for the beautiful childhood memories.

"Are you really sorry?" Asks the doctor.

The peculiar thing is the music. It mixes with the gunfire as the Americans kick down the doors and begin to wreck the house and kill her family.

One rips open the curtain. She sees a dirty black gun.

"Hey Sarge. Another one." She winces as the gun goes off and she tries to stay silent as she feels the blood splatter across her face. Through the crack in the curtain she can only see the soldier's weapon. It seems to dart around. It is all she can see no matter where she looks.

The screaming and yelling dies down as the soldiers start to leave the house. She can hear them in the other rooms, crashing and breaking things. Then the noise dies down and she is hears the soldiers' big ugly cars drive away. She crawls out slowly from her hiding place. Her nanna sits in the corner next to the body of her mother. Even in death her arms are still curled protectively around the daughter she failed to save. It is a hot day. The flies have begun to settle.

On one level she is relieved. Warm urine flows down her legs. She is not going to die. But on another level she is angry. Who are these men to come here and pass judgment on her family? Nanna did nothing but sit in the sun and make food for the men. She did not deserve a death with no honour. She is afraid and angry.

Then she locks eyes with the man in the doorway. He is not like the other soldiers. His gun hangs impotently from its strap and his helmet dangles from his hand. There is sweat on his face and there is blood on his uniform.

Another soldier appears behind him, jostling him. "Hey look - we missed one. Come on man – just fucking shoot the bitch," he screams, still pumped by all the killing. "I'll check the other rooms. Rendezvous at the Humvee."

He doesn't move. He just stares at her. He is afraid. He is even afraid of her and that gives her power.

She tells him to come to her and he does. She tells him to kneel on the floor and he does. She stands in front of him and slaps him hard across his cheek. He doesn't say anything. She gets angrier and angrier. She hits him over and over again until she is spent.

When he finally looks up at her there are tears in his eyes, but no anger: only shame and horror at what has happened in this little house here today. He gently picks up her arm and takes her pulse.

"Don't forget to take your insulin," he says at last.

She pulls away and buries her head in her arms and weeps for her family. She is not surprised to find the next time she looks up the soldier is gone.

The little girl will lose her fear, but keep her anger. She will one day become a leader. She will unite her people. She will drive these soldiers with their guns and their rock and roll music away. She will bring peace to her land and it will not get the feast it was expecting. All because of the not death of one little girl. And it's pissed.

"Are you really sorry you didn't do what you were told Gregory? You disobeyed Nurse Williams' orders."

"Yes sir," he agrees dully. ""I broke the rules. I didn't do what Nurse Williams told me to do," he mumbles miserably. "I'm sorry about the button."

But she lived. So fuck you.

The doctor looks at him for a second. "Yes, that's what I thought."

"I don't think you really are sorry, but you will be very sorry, very soon," says the doctor.

He bows his head.

"I think we will have to change your treatment plan," says the doctor.

He sits on the edge of his bed: waiting. They keep him in his room all the time during 'intensive therapy' as the doctor calls it.

He doesn't exactly remember what they do during the therapy, but he knows he doesn't like it.

He knows he doesn't like it because they always have to restrain him when they come for him. It is for his own good they tell him.

He waits for them to come for him. He hopes they might forget him today, but they always come for him.

He looks up when they open the door.

"I'm sorry, but there has been no word from the governor," says the warden.

The guards put their hands on his shoulders. They feel heavy.

"Can I see my momma," he whines.

"Sorry, but it's time," says the warden, motioning to the guards.

"But I wanna see my momma. She'll be worried," he mutters worriedly as they put the chains on him.

The priest puts his hand on his chest. "Now now. Don't be fretting yourself." The priest reaches out and does up his top button. "Just trust in the Lord and all will be well."

Then he is out in the big hallway as he walks the last mile.

"I'm scared," he whispers to Officer Martin. He likes Officer Martin. They play chess together on Officer Martin's big black and white board that his daddy gave him. Officer Martin always lets him be white and go first. Officer Martin always takes black.

Officer Martin puts his hand on his shoulder and he feels strangely calm. "It will be okay. I'm sure the governor will call."

"What if he doesn't?"

"Best not think of that."

He takes in all the witnesses: done up in their Sunday best like they were going to church, he thinks. But the looks on their faces make him frightened. They don't look like they are praising and joyous with the spirit of the lord. To him their eyes look cold and dead with hatred. He doesn't think they like him.

"There's a lot of people here, aren't there," he says in awe. He turns to look at Officer Martin. "Have they all come to see me?"

"You don't think about them. You just make your momma proud."

"Yes sir," he replies. But suddenly his legs have stopped working. "Officer Martin, I think I need a little help. I'm not feeling too good."

They pick him up and carry him over to the chair. The heavy leather straps go around his wrists, ankles and torso, binding him to the heavy wooden chair. The sponge is placed on his head under the 'frying cap', as some call it.

Officer Martin is just about to put the strap around his face when he speaks. "Will you tell my momma I done her good," he asks.

"I will," says Officer Martin. And Officer Martin will. After the execution Officer Martin will go outside and talk to his mother and watch as the she sobs in grief over the death of her only son.

Then Officer Martin will go and find Tommy Ruteger and Daniel Delaney. They will be drunk as skunks up on Briar's Hill near the old mine. Officer Martin will hear them as they laugh at their own cleverness. 'Good riddance to poor white trash' Tommy will say. Daniel will raise the whisky bottle he stole from his pappy's liquor cabinet in salute and say: 'and my momma fired his stupid bitch mother. She done lost her job. I never liked her or her retard son anyhows'.

Officer Martin will step out and they will see him and Tommy will piss his fancy pants in fear. They will try to run, but it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. The mineshaft is deep. It is pitch black down there. It will be black for Tommy and Daniel.

Their bodies will never be found. Mrs Ruteger will take to her bed and she will be dead before the New Year. Mr Delaney will wonder where his best whisky is and blame the new maid. The mothers will never stop grieving for their sons.

There is so much pain in the world.

The warden stands by the phone. The clock hits midnight.

He's panting now. His eyes are wild with fear. The vinegar from the sponge is running down his face. It tastes salty and it stings.

The warden nods and he watches as Officer Martin pulls the lever down.

His body arches as the electricity runs through his body. He screams into the gag. After an eternity it stops and he goes limp: a broken doll.

"Good boy Gregory." The doctor brushes his hand through House's sweaty hair. House whimpers softly. His eyes are open, but seeing nothing. "It's all over now. You made your momma proud."

Luersson looks over at the nurse. "Schedule him for another ECT this time tomorrow."

The Black and White man sees him curled up in the corner of his room, listlessly thumping his head against the wall every so often. Good thing they put him in that helmet. He wonders how much of him is left. He has lasted much longer than the others.

The Black and White Man sighs as he watches the House. His eyes are dull. They have been pumping him full of that man made fire they love so much. He examines the House. He clicks his fingers in front of the man's face, but the House only shrinks back and mumbles something softly to himself, crying out for something.

He tries to see what the House so desperately wants, but he finds himself in a Japanese Zen garden, standing by a little stream. But the garden is wrong. It makes him dizzy. It is like an Escher come to life. Bridges twist and turn. The trees are grotesque and misshapen.

The garden is not made of sand. It is made up of the dried ground bones of those who were taken too young. Every now and then he sees a hand rise up out of the earth. The sun is burning and it makes the sand glisten like glass. The only coolness comes from the little stream and the dry makes his mouth ache for its water. But he knows its water is not for him.

He can see men raking in the distance, but they are not gardeners. They are long dead Japanese soldiers making patterns in the sand with the same swords they used to cut men's heads off with. Zen, he thinks. Everything must balance in the end.

He sets off down a twisted path. He passes the twisted stone idols of long forgotten gods. The King of Kings lies half buried in the sand: not even the inscription visible now; Anubis leers at him; Mictlantecuhtli drips with the blood of his sacrifices; Kali waits patiently, knowing he will win in the end. He stares at Kali and watches as the blood begins to turn the sand around her red.

It slowly spreads out. He knows it is seeking him. He hurries on through the maze of twists and turns, but, as he suspected he would, he ends up where he started – by the little stream. This time there is a bridge over it. He understands what this means: go. He crosses the bridge.

The Black and White Man stares at the House for a minute thoughtfully. He puts his hand on the man's forehead and he falls into a much needed dreamless sleep. The Black and White Man is intrigued.

"I told him everything and he says he doesn't want to visit you or see you ever again."

House scrubs at his eyes. He doesn't want to cry in front of the doctor. The straps of his jacket jerk around. They always make him wear the jacket now, but if he is good they leave his arms free. It makes it hard to grab things through the thick material, but the doctor says it is for his own good. Just in case they need to strap him up in a hurry says the doctor and the doctor knows best. They have told him again and again: the doctor knows best so it must be true.

"But I remember he came and you didn't let me see him." he says uncertainly. He thinks that happened. He wants that to have happened.

The doctor smiles at him sadly. "No, that's just what you thought because you are delusional."

"No, you lied to him. I remember it. You said I was sick but I wasn't." He's getting angry and confused now. White hot fire burns in his brain and heart and penetrates the fog. Wilson came because Wilson always comes. No matter what, Wilson always comes. That's like the sun and the moon – no matter what the doctor tells him. No matter how many lies they tell him, he knows.

He doesn't realise he hasn't seen the sun or the moon in months.

But the white hot fire drives him on. He starts to rise, but the doctor's sharply calls out his new name. "Gregory," he says coming around the desk and putting his hand on House's chest. "Do we need a little time out?"

His breath hitches and the anger seems to flow out of him, his body now filling up with a vague fear. He can't quite pinpoint what he is afraid of, but he knows it is cold and cruel.

"Just delusional," murmurs the doctor softly, but he pushes his fingers hard into House's chest. Five little prongs worming their way to his heart. They hurt.

"Am I?" he whispers, desperate to catch on to something and try and make sense of this crazy situation. The fire is dying. The memory of Wilson is growing fainter with each passing second.

"I'm afraid so. Addicts often become delusional when they detox."

He feels like a little boy with too short pants, a snotty nose and scabby knees.

"Is anyone else coming?" he asks pathetically.

He's being dragged along by his ear. It's easy to do because they stick out so much and all the other kids tease him and call him jug ears. His big clunky boots drag on the wooden floor. He knows it's coming near Christmas and that means oranges and maybe chocolate and that all the old men from the local pub are saying it will all be over by then and their boys will come home.

He knows they won't. They'll all die in those places with the funny names – Somewhere and Yippy and the beach where the Australians gallop around on horses all the time. Some will come home, but they will be blind and missing bits and some will just sit forever and ever in the front parlour with a blanket over their legs while the bombs fall endlessly in their memories, over and over again.

He knows this and he tells Ruth Parkinson from number seven as she cuddles her rag doll and he makes her cry until Mrs Parkinson hears and gets mad because her eldest Billy is over there. She grabs his arm and takes him back to his aunt's.

Mrs Parkinson doesn't know Billy is already dead. Shot on the first day there and still lying where he fell, buried in a crater. He won't be found until 1986 when he gets caught in a French farmer's tractor plough and is finally released from the battlefield and laid to rest high on the hill in the soldier's cemetery in Monsieur Le Blanc's top field. They will identify Billy through his watch. Ruth will go over for the funeral and the farmers and the old women from the village will touch her gently because even now the pain that comes from the fields makes their bones ache. Ruth is 76 years old when she will say goodbye to her brother. Her mother is long dead and gone and she dies never knowing the fate of her son.

Every so often his aunt stops and smacks his bare legs hard as she mutters about the injustice of having to take in her poor dead sister's brat. How she never wanted him. How no one ever wanted him. How Wilson certainly wouldn't want him.

"I'm sorry, but I even contacted your mother and she said she wanted nothing to do with you," says the doctor.

It's cold and dark and lonely in the cupboard under the stairs. He sits huddled next to the mop and broom. His jumper is far too thin and far too small. The only warmth comes from the stinging on the back of his legs. His aunt's words are ringing him his ears. 'Died to get away from you, your parents did. No wonder Doctor Wilson doesn't want to see you'.

"Oh," he says to the doctor. "I'll just g, go back to my room then," he says quietly.

The white hot fire is nothing but dead embers.

The backs of his legs are stinging.

The doctor smiles. "You do that."

He doesn't bother to look at the lists anymore. No one wants to see the addict. No one wants to see him. He just shuffles past the crowd. He waits patiently for ten minutes outside the nurses' station until one of the orderlies deigns to break away from the television and unlock the supply cupboard. He's never in a hurry now. It will always be another month, then another month, until there won't be any more months left in the whole wide world.

He clumsily grabs his bucket of cold slimy water and heads off. He nods to the Black and White Man on his way to the end of the big hall.

"How's it going Mr Building?"

The cracks are spreading.

"Fine and dandy Mr Black and White. I've been a good boy."

"How's Wilson?"

"Who's Wilson?"

"Ah, well – no one important. I'll let you get on with things. You make sure you scrub those black squares extra clean for me."

"Will do Mr Black and White. Enjoy your hopping."

"I will do Mr Building."

"I think someone needs a bit of time in the time out room." He stares at her, hypnotized, as her eyes seem to glow red with pleasure.

"No… I'll be good," he stammers.

"Tom, Barney. I need some help here."

The door is slammed shut and the light goes out. He puts his mouth in his hand to stop his whimpering. He backs into a corner, sliding awkwardly down the wall, draws his knees up and wraps his arms around them. Maybe if he stays really really quiet it won't know he's here he thinks with a child's logic. Even though it is pitch black he shuts his eyes tight and tries to steady his breathing.

He silently repeats the mantra they taught him again and again as he rocks gently. "I am a bad Gregory. I am a filthy addict. I am pathetic. I will do everything I am told. I'm sorry."

He feels a gentle touch on his neck and he shivers. He squeezes his eyes shut tighter, but he can still hear the snap of the gum.

"I'll be good. I promise. I promise," he whispers desperately. "I don't need a whipping dad."

But the pressure increases, pushing his head down. He feels it run a finger down his spine. He'll never be good enough.

He doesn't even try to fight back. That takes the fun out of it a bit, he thinks as he throws another punch into House's stomach.

He's got a big mouth, but he is just a pussy like the rest of them. It doesn't take much before he is on the floor.

He stands over him "I did say I wanted to beat the crap out of you. You should have listened."

He gives another well aimed kick. House groans.

"Oh, sorry about the balls. It was a lucky shot."

He kicks him in the same spot again.

He has to wait twenty minutes for House to wake up again, but he doesn't mind. He is a patient man. He just chews another stick of gum.

He pulls House up by his jacket and looks thoughtfully at him by the light of the fire before launching another blow. That's the good thing about being a cop. You know where to hit them.

During the whole time House only says one word through his blood stained teeth:

"Please," House begs. "I'm sorry."

He isn't impressed. First rule: addicts lie. He looks down at his trousers. "You got blood on my trousers you fuck." He pulls back a fist.

House desperately shakes his head, but it does no good.

Later it laps up his sweat and his blood and his tears. It licks him dry. So very very tasty.

In his office Doctor Luersson smiles.

The Black and White Man watches as the House picks up the bucket and begins to limp up the hall. He is slower this morning. He keeps his head down, but the Black and White Man can see he is black and blue. He got walloped hard.

The Black and White Man smiles to himself. He enjoys their morning conversations. He enjoys hearing about the House's rat and the House's boss with very large breasts.

But as Mr Building comes closer he realizes something is different this morning and it is not just the bruises. There is nothing. He puts out a hand and the man stops.

The House looks around as if he can't work out why he has been stopped. Eventually his swollen eyes settle on the Black and White Man, but there is no recognition. Not a trace of his once blue eyes remain. His pupils are completely black. He can see the fire raging in them.

"I'm sorry," says the Black and White Man.

The glass has shattered.

"I have good news Gregory."

He looks nervously at the doctor. Good news? It is hard to hear the doctor over the fire. Sometimes it fills his head completely.

"It is time for you to go home."

"Home," he whispers. "But I live here?"

"It's time for you to become a productive member of society again."

Not here. No more being cold and orange cordial. Like it was before? He tries to remember but he can't remember. All he can see are the flames.

"That's right Gregory. No more orange cordial. But there will be rules."

"Rules?"

"That's right. And if you are bad you will have to come back here until I determine you are better. Do you know what that means Gregory?"

His insides clench with fear. That's all they have left him with: fear. His helmet with his name written in permanent marker on the side and his special jacket with the buckles and the white room and the… other thing. He stares at the wall behind the doctor. "Yes sir."

"Do you want that Gregory?"

"No sir."

"Good boy Gregory. I really do think you are all better now." Luersson paused. "But we will see won't we?"

"Yes sir. I'll do you proud. Even though I'm a filthy addict I can be all better now, just like a normal person if I try hard."

"That's right. Never forget what you are."

"Yes sir."

"We will be watching you."

"Yes sir."

"And if the worse comes to the worse we will just have to keep you here forever won't we?"

"Forever can be a very long time," says the Black and White Man.

He's a good boy now. He's paid attention to his training and he hasn't lost his jumper and socks for weeks. He's been polite and he smiles all the time. But he still begins to tremble at the doctor's words. He knows he is a filthy addict and that his leg doesn't hurt, but he hopes and prays he is better enough.

"You don't want that do you Gregory?"

"No sir," he stammers as he eyes off the snow globe.

"Stop stammering."

"Sorry sir." House flinches as he says the words because he has stammered again.

Luersson stands up. "D, d, d, don't apologise," he shouts. "D, d, d, do what I tell you."

Panic flares up and down him as he stops breathing. The words 'doctor' and 'mad' run through his brain. He hears its voice in his head: 'they are never going to let you go if you s, s, s, stammer like the pathetic cry baby you are now are they Gregory?' Oh God. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't want the snow globe. He doesn't want the white room.

He nods silently and the doctor seems appeased. He sits back down. House starts breathing again.

"Very good Gregory. You are learning. No one wants to hear what you have to say anyway. An addict's opinions are worthless. Just do as you are told and hopefully you'll be fine."

"Hey Mr Building: how's it going today?"

"I'm going to be a productive member of society."

"That's good," he says slowly. "You're getting out then?"

"Yes sir."

The Black and White Man frowns.

This isn't good.

It is only a matter of time now. The universe is very particular about its balance. And when you tip that out of whack things go wrong. It took a few turns around the garden, but he finally understands now.

They may have just made a terrible mistake.

The Black and White Man stops hopping and goes to the doctor's office. He doesn't bother to knock.

Luersson looks up.

"There are limits," says the Black and White Man. "If you cross them bad things will happen."

But Luersson just smiles at him. "You know that bad things always happen. I make them happen."

You sir, are an amateur, he thinks.

But he doesn't say this. He smiles sadly.

He peers into the tomorrow. He looks around at the park. It is a beautiful day. There are people jogging, sitting on the grass, dogs and those new fangled things called Frisbees. He is surrounded by innocence and happiness.

From darkness comes life.

He can smell freshly mown grass.

A small plaque is the only reminder that there once was a hospital on this site and the tragedy that happened here so many years ago.

"Hello Doctor Cuddy, this is Doctor Gregory House. How are you today?"

"House, is that you?"

"I'm fine thank you," he says because that is what you say. "I just wanted to let you know I'll be in tomorrow morning bright and early."

There is dead silence from the other end of the phone.

"That's if you don't want to fire me of course. I understand if you do." He almost adds 'because I'm an addict', but he stops himself in time.

"No – House. Of course I don't want to fire you. I'll see you tomorrow."

He puts the phone down and he looks around his apartment. He'll have to get rid of a lot of this stuff in the morning. He pulls out his manual and studies it for a moment.

Maybe I'll listen to the wireless, he thinks as he rubs his right leg: the leg that doesn't hurt.

Cuddy and Wilson are waiting in the foyer for House the next morning.

"Do we give him a welcoming back from rehab party or…" Cuddy trails off as she spies House coming through the front door. Wilson follows her gaze. Their mouths drop and they both stand there in shock as they watch him cross to the elevators.

No cane. He hitches his right leg along with his right hand. His laborious lurching progress makes them cringe.

But that is nothing to the new look House.

"Jesus Christ on a Popsicle stick," whispers Brenda as she comes up next to Cuddy. "What did they do to him in there?"

Wilson looks alarmed. "You don't think he really embraced a higher power and become a Mormon or something?" He shakes his head.

House is wearing a suit: a bad matching suit. And a tie and proper shoes. It is quite a terrifying sight.

"Okay," says Wilson after House has gotten into the elevator. "I thought he went to that clinic to get saner, not crazier?"

Cuddy looks at him.

He smiles resignedly. "I'm on it," he says as he makes for the stairs.

"Holy crap," says Brenda.

"Have you seen House," he asks Chase as he hits the top of the stairs. Chase obviously has because he just points.

"He looks like something out of Leave it to Beaver!" exclaims Chase. "And yes, we did get that on Australian television. It isn't a third world country you know."

"I'm on it," he says as he bolts down the corridor.

"House!"

He stops and thinks. House? That's his name. Someone wants him. He turns.

"Hey House, you're out. How'd it go," says the man as he jogs down the corridor.

"It went fine."

"Did you enjoy it?"

Shangri-La. What a stupid name for a holiday resort. There was nothing Shangri or La-lie about it. It was cold and wet and he didn't like it. This wasn't utopia. This was a mud puddle in the middle of Wales. Their idea of fun was a good old rousing sing along consisting of songs from the war. He's twelve; he hates his fuddy duddy button down parents with a passion. He doesn't want to be in the middle of a mud puddle in Wales singing 'Knees up Mother Brown'. He wants to be in London hanging out with his mates.

"Of course I enjoyed it. They were very helpful."

"Nothing you want to tell me?" The man makes strange motioning movements with his hands.

"No, but thanks for asking."

"So lunch sometime soon?"

"That sounds very pleasant."

"Okay."

The man stands in front of him staring at him intently. "Okay," he says again. "I'll see you later."

"Will do buddy."

The man gives him another odd look.

He smiles as best he can. He doesn't enjoy it but he's been trained to smile. Normal better people smile and talk about the weather. This guy looks nice and friendly so he probably won't hit him, but he might tell on him and then the doctor will be mad and that leads to bad things. So don't screw it up on your first day back Gregory.

"Okay then," says the man.

He smiles again. Always better to be safe than sorry. Lessons are necessary but they hurt and they get mad when you cry. "Bye – you take care now. Don't forget your umbrella. It looks like rain."

He watches as the man walks away. Who was that guy, he wonders.

Wilson wonders the same thing.

He looks at the shelf for a second, wondering which brand to buy. He never knew there could be so many.

"Difficult choice huh?"

He looks around. There is a woman standing next to him. "The kids like this brand," she says as she holds a bottle out to him. "It's cheap and relatively healthy."

He smiles and takes it. "I'm sure your kids will like it too."

"Uh, yeah. I'm sure they will. Thank you ma'am."

He puts the bottle of orange cordial into his trolley, smiles at the lady again and continues on his way.

He watches as they take the piano away. He shuts the door as they leave. It doesn't matter. The piano is a frivolous distraction and he doesn't think he would be able to play now anyway. Music takes soul.

He slumps against the front door. He's tired. He is always tired nowadays. When did life become so tiring? He sighs quietly. He's been trying to find excuses to put this off, but he can't think of any more.

He walks over and looks at the cage in the kitchen thoughtfully. He rummages through the kitchen drawers and pulls out a knife.

Cuddy walks into her office as she sorts through her mail. She sits down at her desk and does a double take as she jumps back.

Jesus – there is a rat on her desk. She looks at it in bewilderment for a few moments, then crosses to the door. "Brenda," she hollers. "Why is there a rat on my desk?"

Brenda comes in and peers at the rat. "There's a rat on your desk," she says.

Cuddy frowns in annoyance. Why couldn't she just have a decent secretary like everyone else in stead of an insane head nurse?

"I know there is a rat on my desk," Cuddy says slowly. "What I want to know is why there is a rat on my desk and in my hospital."

Brenda, being her usual helpful self, just shrugs. "Ask the big weird rat. That's my best suggestion."

The big weird rat in question is missing in action. So she asks the next best thing:

"Do you have any idea?"

The rat, Steve McQueen apparently, is sitting on Wilson's shoulder happily nibbling on one of the expensive water crackers she keeps for donors.

"I don't know. I just fed him while House was away."

"He seems to like you," she says hopefully.

"What?" Wilson looks alarmed. "No way."

"I cannot have a rat, albeit a charmingly named one, hanging around my office. It is not a good look for the hospital to have rats running around the place."

"He's not running. He has a little cage and a wheel and everything."

"Wilson," she says darkly. "That is not the point. It's a rat!"

"He's a very healthy rat. You should have seen all the antibiotics House pumped into him."

"Wilson." She sighs. "Where's House?"

"Gone into hiding. You know what he is like now."

She sighs. "I could murder him you know. I'd claim justifiable homicide and no one would contest it. Heck half the staff would give me cast iron alibis. But yes I do know what he is like now. Pod person House. At first I thought it was all some weird game, but now it worries me. Apart from the fact that he lurches around the place like Quasimodo in a lab coat because he refuses to use his cane, he's a model employee – and it is terrifying."

She looks up at him hopefully.

"Okay, I'll take in the rat," he says.

"And I'll go rat hunting," she adds.

She eventually finds him in the last place she expected: sitting slap bang in the middle of the cafeteria: staring hypnotically at a hot dog.

He stares at his food. The chart says that on Fridays he buys a hot dog and a Coca Cola from the cafeteria, but he can't bring himself to eat. He is worried. Fear is gnawing on his heart. He hopes Steven is okay. He's scared. He knows he is going to get in trouble, but he couldn't do it.

He hears her approach and he closes his eyes.

"House, what is going on?" she yells. "If this is all some elaborate scheme to punish us – good job."

He immediately stands up because that is what you do in the presence of a lady. "Doctor Cuddy?" he asks, trying to sound innocent. But he doesn't think she is fooled by his act. He should have known better than to try to lie. It never works – especially when they can see everything. She looks angry.

Here it comes. Just be brave. Don't make excuses because that will only make it worse and don't snivel because that will just make her mad like the doctor. But he knows he is going to get in trouble with his boss and she will tell the doctor and the doctor won't be happy and then he won't be happy. But maybe Steven will live. He doesn't mind a whipping if Steven will be okay.

"Don't play coy with me. You left a rat on my desk this morning. And don't try to deny it. The rat has been positively identified as belonging to one G. House." She stares at him.

"I couldn't do it," he blurts out suddenly.

"Do what?"

He sinks back down to the table and examines the hot dog again. "I'm not meant to have him, but I couldn't do it and I didn't have anyone else to take him to," he says quietly, almost to himself.

"Do what House?"

"I'm sorry," he says tiredly. Yeah Gregory, like that is going to work, he thinks. You know it won't do any good. But it is the only thing he can think of to say.

Cuddy frowns. "Maybe I need to talk to your doctor. You haven't been the same since you came back from rehab."

He looks up at her alarmed. He knew it. She's going to tell and he'll be in for it big time. "But I'm b, b, b, better now."

Cuddy pauses. Did House just stammer? "House," she says slowly. "Did anything bad happen to you while you were at rehab?"

House's head goes down again and he stares at the table.

"House," she says again.

"I was in Ward C, under Doctor Luersson. He helped me and the staff were very nice. Doctor Luersson has a snow globe. It's pretty. I look at it sometimes," he says dully.

Cuddy frowns. "House, there is no Doctor Luresson. You were under Doctor McCarthy. He sent me updates every week."

"I was in Ward C, under Doctor Luersson. He has a snow globe. It's pretty. I look at it sometimes," he repeats more forcefully.

"House."

"I'm all better now so just get off my back," he snarls viciously. All he can hear is the fire in his ears: the banging; the screaming. They want to get out. "I'm w, w, w, what you wanted."

Cuddy starts back, surprised by his anger. "Jesus House… she begins." But he has already changed back into the automaton mode she has grown to hate so much.

"I'm sorry," he says. He rubs his hand over his eyes. "I'm just tired." For a second he looks as if he might cry. "Please… I'm sorry. Don't tell. I'm sorry about S, S, S, Steven. I'll kill him if you want me to. I didn't mean to yell. I'm wearing the tie. I'll be good."

He is making no sense. "No, I don't want you to kill Steve and tell who?"

He frantically shakes his head. "I don't know – anyone. I'm s, s, s, sorry. I must have been thinking about someone else. McCarthy, of course – nice guy."

He attempts a sad little smirk and twiddles his fingers. "Brain addled, you know – all the psych drugs and the electro shock therapy… made me a bit screwy."

"They didn't do that did they and why are you stammering?"

He looks startled for a second. "No of course they didn't. That went out in the 1920s along with ice baths. Don't be silly. That was a joke. It was funny," he says very slowly and carefully. "And I'm not s, s, s, stammering."

She doesn't think it's funny. McCarthy said they kept him there for the added time because he asked for it. That doesn't sound like House. She looks at him. He should be looking at her with his trademark goofy expression on his face, but he's not. Even apart from the fact he has no fuzz he's different. He's looking at her like he's afraid she will hurt him. His eyes are wide with fear.

"Okay," she says slowly. "But four extra clinic hours this week for yelling on top of your doubled hours. I have told you about the yelling and by God after everything we went through with Tritter you better not try my patience." She doesn't want to punish him, if anything, seeing him so lost and afraid she wants to hug him. But she knows she has to keep to tradition.

She is even more worried when he just nods solemnly. He seems relieved he's being punished. But she keeps to tradition. "And hand over the PSP and the TV. They are confiscated until Friday."

"I don't have them anymore. I threw them away."

"Why? I thought the autistic kid gave you that PSP as a present. You were the first person he made eye contact with ever?"

His answer chills her. He says it like she is an idiot. "Normal people don't play stupid kid's games," he says quietly. "I'm better now. I don't need them."

It is so absurd she can't answer. She just stares at him until he speaks. "May I go now ma'am?" he asks politely. "I have to get back to work."

She nods. Too shocked to even answer. She watches as he dumps his untouched hotdog and walks away. Who the hell is this person?

His heart clenches. It's been tight since the moment he woke up this morning. His hand shakes as he shaves. He wakes up an hour early to iron his shirt to perfection. His tie feels like it is a noose. He wants to loosen it, but he's too afraid. It's Thursday. He must look perfect and normal and better on a Thursday. He has to go there.

He hopes and prays with everything he has he looks like a normal better person.

He tries to tell himself he has been a good boy and not to think about Steven or not eating the hot dog or getting angry with his boss or when he dropped and broke Cameron's mug, but they will be suspicious. Never trust an addict. Never turn your back on an addict or they'll be pawning your grandmother's wedding ring for their next hit. You can't believe anything they say or do. And he was just a filthy addict. A filthy stinking addict. That's what they had told him. You can't trust an addict. You can't trust him.

They'll look at him with their hard suspicious eyes and tell him what to do. And he'll drop his pants, pee in the cup and do exactly what they want because addicts don't get any say in the matter. They just do as they are told. They do exactly as they are told. He's learned that.

He's escorted into the doctor's office. Even now they still take hold and yank his arms behind his back and if, Brutal's there, push him along with his head down. Just a little reminder that while he is out now it could all change in an instant. He sits straight and still like he's been taught in the hard backed chair in font of the desk and nervously waits while the doctor examines his chart.

He tries desperately not to fidget as Luersson reads over his chart. Has he given the right answers?

Luersson looks up. "You are doing well Gregory." He breathes a sigh of relief, but it hitches at the doctor's next words. "But I think you might need some extra encouragement."

"I've been good."

Luersson eyes narrow. "I'll be the judge of that," he says sharply.

"Yes sir, sorry sir," he tries. But he knows it is too late.

"Stand up." The words cut through him and in an instant he is on his feet.

"Were you rude to your superior last week?"

"No sir."

"That nice Doctor Cuddy who Doctor McCarthy writes to every week?" Luersson prompts. "Did you shout at her?"

"I… maybe…"

"Did you?"

"Yes s, s, s, sir," he admits.

"Stammering again. Thinking about Steven? Don't think I don't know about that little stunt." The doctor holds his thumb and forefinger in front of House's face. "I am this close."

House stares at the fingers. He's terrified. He gropes around in his mind for a way out. "I bought Cameron a new mug," he offers.

But the doctor is not impressed. "And why did she need a new one Gregory?"

He's dug his own grave. There's no getting around this one. He has to confess. The doctor probably knows anyway. "Because I broke the old one," he eventually whispers.

"I am very disappointed in you Gregory."

He looks down at his feet. "Yes sir," he stammers miserably. "I'm sorry sir."

"You will be."

The words 'assume the position' ring in his ears. He has heard them many times, but they still make him feel sick. He does as he is told because addicts always do as they are told. Taking off his jacket, folding it slowly and putting it on the chair. He bends over and places his hands carefully on the desk, making sure he doesn't disturb any of the items so carefully laid out before him. That will make Doctor Luersson angry and there are worse punishments. He knows. He can see the form on the desk. All it would take is for the doctor to sign his name and he would be back here forever and he knows that forever can be a long time.

This close: the distance between a finger and a thumb.

He stares at the paperweight to his right. It is crass, but beautiful. He always looks at it. It is an antique snow globe of some sort. He has always wanted to reach out and shake it, but he has never dared. Amsterdam in winter maybe? It looks European. He thinks of the snow. It is beautiful and white.

A stroke brands him with hot iron. He doesn't make a sound. Addicts aren't allowed to cry because their feelings aren't important. They don't count. The pain is a burning reminder he will carry with him for the next few days. Not like snow he thinks. Snow is white and cool, not fire and pain. But pain is what it wants and needs and he is full of it. It oozes out of his pores along with his sweat.

Afterwards he stands there, in front of the desk, hoping against all hope that he is now to be set free, but knowing deep deep down in his own little garden that he will never be. He's just too perfect.

"I'll see you the same time next week."

There is a lump in his throat that will not go away.

"I expect you to be on your best behaviour because that is what normal better people do," says Luersson.

"Yes sir," he stammers as he nods in agreement.

"You may go now Gregory, but remember – best behaviour."

"Yes sir," he says before he turns away. It is the only thing he can say.

The Black and White Man sees him as he comes out of the office. He watches as the House Man stops and puts his hand out; he leans wearily against the wall. "All better now," mumbles the House, but he knows Mr Building doesn't believe his own words.

"Hey, House Man – how'd it go?"

"I got the snow globe."

He winces in sympathy. " Ouch. Sorry about that".

"Tell me Mr Black and White. They are never going to let me go are they?"

Mr Building is too clever for his own good. He looks at the man's right leg and through the pain that ricochets around the man's body. He sees the ache deep in his soul. "Of course they will. You are all better now," he lies.

The man looks up and says. "Yeah - all better now."

Barney comes and takes his arm and twists it up high behind his back. Mr Building gasps slightly, but just puts his head down and lets Barney push him slowly down the big hall. Mr House Man keeps his eyes on the black and white squares, but in between his harsh breaths he nods slightly to the hopping man on his way. "I'll be seeing you," he says.

The hopping man nods in return. "Take care," he replies sadly.

Afterwards the Black and White Man sighs. Oh to the heavens: there is going to be hell to pay for this little debacle.

Chase is standing in the conference room when House walks in.

"How did it go," Chase says innocently.

"Fine," says House automatically as he passes by. He doesn't look at Chase. He doesn't want to look at anyone. His chest feels like it is encased by ice. He is so rigid it hurts. More than it already hurts.

He is afraid. The distance between a thumb and a forefinger. That is the only thing he can think about. It runs through his brain endlessly – this close.

House stands at the coffee station for a minute, staring down at it, rubbing away as usual. Chase watches as he starts and seems to remember something. He sees the flash of panic that crosses House's face.

"Would you like a coffee? I could make you a coffee if you like." House says slowly, mechanically, as if those words had been beaten into him and hurt to say.

Chase shakes his head, unwilling to add to the pain. "No, it's okay," he says softly.

House nods relieved. He's been good, said the right things and no one is mad at him and there was no chance he might drop another coffee cup. "All right. I'm going to do my clinic duty." Chase watches as he just stares at the coffee station for another minute before turning to go.

Chase shakes his head. There is something terribly wrong here.

He can't put his foot down. It hurts so much. He stares at it like he's never laid eyes on it before. Silent tears leak from his eyes. He can't understand why it is betraying him. He leans over the piano and grips the sides in pain and frustration. They said he's better. Why doesn't his leg understand?

He moves through the foyer like a ghost. Blink and you'll miss him.

She misses him.

She tries to goad him, but he doesn't look up at her. He keeps his eyes firmly on the desk. He tells her his team are all capable doctors. He tells her they all know their jobs. His hand incessantly rubs his right thigh.

He agrees with her. He agrees with everyone. She could tell him the sky was red and he would agree. A patient dies. He agrees with her when she calls him into her office and tells him it's a bad thing. He hangs his head and says he's sorry. He agrees with her when she tells him to do better next time, but she can see him, rubbing his thigh under the table, a worried look on his face. She is even more worried when he volunteers to do more clinic hours as penance.

"Stop staring at the floor and make a crude comment about my breasts."

He looks everywhere but there. He hasn't looked at her once since he got back. Most of the time the floor seems to be the most interesting thing in his life.

"They are very nice," he eventually mumbles to a potted plant. There is no victory. The question mark and the fear are just too palpable.

"House," she sighs with frustration. "Talk to me. Normally I can't get you to shut up and now you barely say a word."

He looks confused for a second. Why does she want to hear what he has to say? He's an addict.

"It's nice weather we are having for this time of year isn't it Doctor Cuddy."

She eyes him sadly.

He goes back to his office. He is sweaty and shaking with fear. Did he do the right thing?

He isn't supposed to talk about things like a lady's breasts, but Doctor Cuddy asked him to and he has to do what his boss says. He's confused. Either way he loses. Either way he is bad and he'll be punished. At least that makes sense to him because he is addict and addicts are stupid. He will always be an addict and he will always be stupid. But he is worried: does that make him not better? Does that mean he has to go back? He's been trying to be good.

He doesn't know what to do. It is two days until Thursday. This close, he thinks. He is overwhelmed by panic. He feels claustrophobic.

He stumbles out onto the balcony and lights a cigarette with fumbling hands. He draws the smoke into him and squeezes his eyes tight shut against the pain. He rubs it hard and fast. It's nothing. It will go away. It's all in his mind. He's better now. He did what he was told to do. He won't be punished.

The cold fresh air helps a bit.

Wilson watches House out on his balcony. House is bent over rubbing frantically at his thigh.

"Doctor Gregory House checks in. Please write that down."

Nurse Brenda looks at him. His eyes are glassy and she could have sworn they were blue. "Are you okay Doctor House."

"Just a bit of a cold," he says in a monotone. "I'll be fine."

"I've been feeling a bit under the weather. I think I have the flu. Do a test."

He doesn't even blink. "No problem sir," he says. "I'll take a swab. Come back next Thursday."

Tritter smiles as he leaves the exam room. He didn't even recognize him. He must remember to write a thank you note to Doctor Luersson. He did a good job.

Tritter watches, sucking on his pain like a cigarette as House slowly makes his way around the clinic. He likes to come down here on his off days. House looks at him strangely, but he doesn't remember.

House is slower now, cautious… afraid. If he went over there and tapped him on the shoulder he'd probably jump three feet. He smiles to himself. He knew he'd win in the end. It was just a matter of knowing how. So much fun to watch. Better than the movies.

He goes home and sits on the couch. He doesn't bother to turn on the lights. He just gazes at the blank television set as he rubs his thigh. He doesn't see anything wrong with it. He's all better now. That's what they told him. This is what better people do. They watch the television. He's watching the television. Just like a normal better person.

"Doctor House?"

He stops and sighs. Even now his backside still aches, his 'leg that doesn't hurt' aches and he is totally exhausted. But someone has called his name and although he is tired he lifts his 'leg that doesn't hurt' and turns. He looks at the woman staring at him. He doesn't want anyone thinking he hasn't been polite. He must be on best behaviour or it's the white room and whipping time for Gregory.

"Yes Ma'am."

It is strange. The man before her is nothing like the man she imagined. He looks tired and his ill fitting suit does nothing for him. She can see the sweat on his top lip. She always thought he would be bigger. More imposing. He looks like an insurance salesman.

"My name is Doctor Sasha Cohen. I am here for a conference. I too specialize in nephrology. I went into it because I read your early work."

"That's nice." What does this woman want? He doesn't understand. They stand facing each other until she breaks the impasse.

Then she realizes that he is hurting.

Now it is him who needs her.

She reaches out and gently takes puts her hands on his chest. He sags slightly, but doesn't pull away. "Am I pretty Doctor House?" she asks.

He smiles politely. "I bet you would have been a stunner in your youth, not that you aren't nice now too," he ads quickly.

"Thank you. Your opinion means a lot? It has meant a lot over the years when times were dark for me."

"I'm not important." I'm pathetic and stupid and an addict.

But she doesn't seem to understand this. "I think you are very important Mr Cupboard Man."

Then she kisses him gently on his check and she is gone.

He stands in the corridor for a moment, trying to remember. He knows she is somehow important, but he doesn't know why.

He feels better. It gives him courage.

And Sasha is a good name. And he really does think she would have been pretty as a young girl.

"How's Steven?"

"Ask Wilson."

"Wilson?" he stammers uncertainly.

"Yes Wilson. Your best friend," she prompts. "About six foot with brown hair and brown eyes?"

"Oh him. Yes. He is a very competent doctor."

"Why don't you ask Wilson how Steve is?"

"Doctor Wilson?" Wilson looks up. House is standing uncertainly in his doorway.

"Doctor Cuddy sent me up here," he says nervously. "How's Steven?"

"What do you care? You abandoned him," he says as he goes back to his paperwork.

When he looks up next House has fled.

He's useless now. Good for nothing except clinic duty she tells him when they next meet for their 'House planning session'.

"He'll agree with anyone. He hasn't had an original thought since he came back. Even Cameron is worried and that's saying something. All they let him do is make the coffee and fill out the paperwork. He loves paperwork now apparently."

Wilson frowns. "Paperwork," he says disbelievingly.

Cuddy nods. "Have you noticed he stammers now?" she asks.

"No, he won't talk to me. I presumed it was because he was still pissed at me, but it is more like he doesn't know who I am," replies Wilson.

"I thought they were meant to fix him, not break him?"

Wilson thinks for a minute. "And there is something different about him," he muses.

Cuddy rolls her eyes. "Tell me about it. I can't get him to talk. Give it a go will you?"

"I'm on it."

House is sitting underneath the bottom flight of stairs of the hospital stairwell eating the corn beef sandwich he made this morning. He's not hungry and he doesn't like corn beef, but it was on the chart for today and it is lunchtime and normal people have corn beef sandwiches for lunch. He knows he should be eating in the doctors' lounge, but all the laughter, noise and the chatter makes his head hurt. It feels so strange after the long empty silences. Down here reminds him a bit of the white room. He wonders if they would mind if he brought a bucket in and kept it down here.

He is confused. It all made sense back in the clinic. They told him what to do and when he was bad they would punish him until he never wanted to be bad again.

But here it is different, harder. He's doing what they told him to be a normal better person, but no one here seems happy about it. The doctor is right: addicts really are dumb.

He tries to push at the fog that seems to be circling his brain, but he can't penetrate it. The fire is too loud.

He is startled when he hears footsteps coming down the stairs. He freezes in mid bite. He's very good at being totally still now. He doesn't fidget anymore. But the footsteps don't pass. They get louder until he can see a pair of legs. He tenses. He's in trouble.

A face pops into view. "Hey," says Wilson.

It's Doctor Wilson. The nice man who is taking care of Steven. He feels shame for thinking of Steven. Last visit the doctor had been very forgiving and had not punished him too much for complimenting Doctor Cuddy's breasts because he said he knew he was trying and how hard it was for a stupid addict. The doctor had explained how he had to forget about Steven. Normal better people don't have rats. Normal better people don't miss their rats and think about them when they are meant to be working.

"Hello Doctor Wilson. "What can I do for you?"

"I told you I wanted to catch up for lunch sometime," he says as he joins House under the stairwell.

House thinks for a moment. "How did you know I was here?"

"I had you microchipped years ago."

"Oh." House is silent for a second. Not getting the joke at all. Suddenly he jerks back to life like a clockwork toy. "Would you like some of my sandwich?"

"Is that a corn beef sandwich?" asks Wilson in disbelief.

House is worried. "Yes it is. I can make you another kind if you like."

Wilson shakes his head. "No, it's fine. Just a bit unexpected considering you hate corn beef." He pulls out a packet of chips. "I brought chips," he says opening them and offering them to House.

He thinks frantically. Chips are not on the chart, but Doctor Wilson is offering and it would be rude to refuse and his mouth is watering at the sight and smell of them.

But he hears the doctor's voice in his head: 'gluttony is a sin Gregory' and a stab of fear goes through him. Not like last time: please no, not like last time. He feels ill. He's not falling for that trick again. He looks away.

"Thank you very much for your generosity, but I am full."

"I hate you like this."

"I'm sorry. I'll change."

"No, I want you back the way you were."

"But I was bad."

"You were in pain, cranky and it was a stressful time for everyone."

"That's no excuse. There is no excuse."

"Yes House you do have an excuse and you are currently rubbing it. Rules have exceptions and I exempt you."

"I don't understand."

"It hurts doesn't it?"

"No."

"You are lying to me aren't you?"

He knows he shouldn't because it will only lead to a really big walloping or worse, but for some reason he has to tell the truth to this man. "Yes," he admits miserably. "It hurts a lot and I don't like corn beef sandwiches."

There: he has said it. Now he's totally fucked. The doctor will be so mad he will send him back there and he will never ever leave the white room with the red bucket and with good reason. After all their hard work, training and patience with him he still couldn't be normal. The fire roars in his ears. He hears its voice in his head: he deserves the white room. "I'm sorry," he adds. "I tried."

He smiles up at Wilson – a completely hopeless pathetic smile. "But you know what addicts are like? We are dumb." Maybe it is all for the best anyway. He suspected this was just a temporary reprieve and that he would be going back some time. He was only putting off the inevitable.

Wilson looks thoughtful. "You liked my sandwiches though," he says after a while.

House's voice is small. "Did I?"

"You have redecorated," says Wilson from the couch.

House's flat is practically empty. The piano is gone and all the shelves are bare except for what looks like a set of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

"Hello Doctor Wilson. How nice to find you in my home," says House as he puts down his keys and hangs up that awful rain coat he wears now.

Wilson gets up. "Do you like it?"

House looks away. "Of course," he says unconvincingly.

"House, look at me," he orders sharply.

House immediately meets his eyes. He says nothing, but waits expectantly. Wilson can see him shaking slightly. There is uncertainty and fear in his eyes.

His eyes…

Wilson takes a sudden step towards House. House flinches, but doesn't move. He just stands stock still as Wilson comes in close and looks into his face.

Now they are practically nose to nose, like lovers about to kiss, locked in place by the tension. Wilson looks curiously into the big black pools. He can see the fire.

He tests the water with his big toe.

He dives in.

The alarm goes off at 5.30 AM on Thursday morning. He gets up and makes himself a cup of decaf coffee because caffeine is addictive. He listens to the wireless while he irons his shirt to perfection. He brushes his teeth. He flosses. He brushes his hair and shines his shoes. He puts on the inexpensive cologne they told him to buy. He does everything perfectly. But it makes no difference. Today he has to go there. He knows he won't be coming back.

Maybe if he is good enough this time they won't take everything.

He jumps. Doctor Wilson is standing on his doorstep. "Take me with you," he says.

House looks at him. "You'll get in trouble," he states flatly.

But Wilson just laughs. "No I won't."

He stares down at his shoes. "I'll get in trouble. Worse trouble." He feels bad about putting himself first. He is an addict. He knows he deserves it. He just doesn't want to make them madder than they will already be because he is afraid. The fire is roaring.

"Follow me," orders Wilson. "I'll drive."

He trudges slowly after Doctor Wilson.

"Nice to see you."

"How's the man, or rather should I say… boy?"

He smoothes the particularly hideous tie Julie had given him for Christmas one time. "Not good. You know what it is like with amateurs? No finesse. I can't believe it took me so long to work out."

The Black and White man nods in agreement as Wilson continues. "He's a strange one. I'll give you that. It isn't often that ones like him come along."

"What are you going to do," asks The Black and White Man.

"Take care of it. I hate it when people go freelance."

"Glad to hear it. Mr Building… House: he's… interesting. It would be a shame." He continues hopping down the big hall.

"That's right: as long as he's interesting."

"He's mine."

Doctor Luersson does that prim little smile thing doctors do to intimidate patients. But is has no effect on him. He is far too old. "Oh Doctor Wilson. That is so noble of you. But tragically I don't think you know what you are dealing with here…"

But then Luersson sees the other man's eyes flash. Wilson is getting bored with this charade. "Or maybe you do," Luersson says. Now there was uncertainty.

"Maybe I do," says Wilson. "Maybe I do."

He hands over the clipping from the paper. Luersson sees the headline: Fire Rages Through Princeton Sanatorium. Shocking Loss of Life.

"You killed them all didn't you," says Wilson sweetly. "Even though they were screaming and banging on the doors and begging you? You enjoyed hearing them beg didn't you?

You even swallowed the key to make sure they couldn't get out." He points to Luersson's abdomen. "It's still there you know. I can see it. Lodged in your lower tract, just below your fourth rib. What a stupid way to die. You should have died in the fire – along with the rest of them," Wilson pushes. "But no – you were too cowardly."

He shakes his head. "You should have listened to Mr Black and White. The universe is very particular about its karma. We both know you can't push it too far. The key caused a bleed and poof! Karma is restored.

I'm not the kind of guy who is really into karma. I'm more your chaos type man. But even I know enough to respect it."

Wilson sighs. "And you also died because you are a fool. But you didn't mind because now you have all this. As long as you keep your master fed there are always some scraps left over for you."

Wilson takes a step towards the doctor. "But you are being foolish now. Hanging out with the wrong crowd. It's sad really." Luersson watches as Wilson smiles. "And we all know what happens to fools."

"We had no idea he was your friend." Luersson stammers apologetically.

"One: so you think I care? And two: it annoys me because that is just sloppy. Always do your research."

"Please."

"Isn't that what he said? Did you pay any attention to him when he said that?"

Luersson spreads his arms. "But it's what we do."

Wilson grins. "Not any more. What's that line from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Death's too good for you."

The body hits the floor with a thud. "Tut tut tut. You should have known better." He kicks the immobile form, listening as a rib cracks and Luersson silently shrieks in pain. "Don't play with my toys."

He rubs the back of his neck in frustration. I really do hate amateurs, he thinks. I must get someone round to pick up the good doctor. As Mr Black and White says 'forever can be a long time'.

"Excuse me nurse, but Doctor Luersson said I could have a look around. Do you mind showing me your time out room?"

"I'm not too sure," she says uncertainly.

He looks at her. "Go on," he says with his most charming smile that always makes the nurses melt. He reaches out and touches her, watching as she melts slowly from the outside in. He's not in the mood for pussyfooting around. He looks at the puddle of goo on the floor. "I'm sure I can take it."

He stands in the darkness, listening.

"Not laughing now are we?"

There is no response.

"Come out, come out – wherever you are," he sing songs. Such a cliché, but still fun to do after all these years.

He laughs as he hears the whimper.

Payback time.

He nods to the Black and White Man on the way out.

"Sorry. I think you will need a new place to stay."

"Wherever there is linoleum I'll be there."

Wilson laughs.

The Black and White Man breathes a sigh of relief. Order has been restored. For every white square there must be a black one. And for every black one there must be a white one. It is a delicate balance. Like a see saw in a children's' playground. And he has a foot in both camps.

But the problem is you can't interfere too much. You have to let the children work it out for themselves. That's what he's learnt. But the other guy is a bit more hands on. He gets angry a lot. He's still pissed over that one particular incident.

He looks at the flames that will be coming in a few minutes. Better get back he thinks. Things to do; so much paperwork to be filled out. It's not all sunshine and puppy dogs you know. But that's what people think.

Damn he hates Touched by an Angel.

Bloody sappy American prime time dramas. He went to the Emmy's last year. He liked the Emmy's better than the Oscars because he didn't have to run into Jack. And that always led to a confrontation in the men's room. People always thought Jack wore those sunglasses just to be quirky…

The best bit was they fed you – not rubber chicken and they laid on the bubbly. But the only decent acceptance speech was from a British guy. The British guy was a troubled one. Even while he was on stage the Black and White Man could see. Like most of the troubled ones he was eating himself from the inside out.

But it was a really funny speech and he had liked his witty fat friend Stephen.

House is standing where he left him. Nervously smoking a cigarette.

"All taken care of."

"I don't have to see the doctor?"

"Nope."

"I don't have to come back next week?"

"Nope."

Wilson walks to the car. "And take that bloody tie off."

House smiles.

"Oh and do you mind if I borrow your matches."

House is asleep. Snoring unattractively on the couch. He reaches out his hand and runs it through the sleeping man's hair. Fire and drums ring through his head. All angles, angels and stubble. How could anyone love this? But then even the Devil needs distractions. House had been closer than he knew when he had said that he 'eats neediness'. But the trick is not to gorge yourself in one go, but to take it nice and slow with love and care.

House's eyes pop open, his breath hitches with fear. The pupils are black: the fire is still raging in them. But then they slowly fade back to blue. It will take time, but he will get better. He will get his old 'nothing's changed' House back. He strokes House's hair softly and House begins to snore again.

Wilson smiles sadly. House's eyes were pure blue, so blue. They remind him of nature documentaries about Antarctica. So easy to read. That's the way he likes them.

House's pain is all his.

THE END


DVD extras – tacked on for no apparent reason, but that it is fun and everyone needs a break after reading a horror story.

House and Wilson:

"You have no idea how lucky you are House. No idea," he said as he chuckled to himself.

House opened an eye. "Does that mean I get another beer Satan?"

He pulled himself up. "How did you know?"

He watched as House smiled. Strangely he liked the sight. "It takes a certain type of man to be friends with the Devil… and you're an oncologist. That was pretty much a dead giveaway. It makes sense. And sometimes your eyes glow red when you are mad and I make you mad a lot. You should watch that. Now pass the chips and make with the remote."

"You don't mind?"

"Well – you bring beer…"

"So that's all I am to you – your evil enabler?"

"Oh – Satan has issues!"

"Shut it or it is the fires of Hell for you."

"Nah – you know you love me."

"Bah!"

"And thanks."

"Thanks for what?"

"For what you did in that story."

"You liked that story?"

"Not so much for what I had to go through, but it was interesting."

"I killed people!"

"Yeah, but you did it with love, so it was the thought that counted."

"I'm the God Dammed Prince of Darkness!"

"So?"

"Don't you find that even slightly disturbing?"

"Have you ever met Nurse Brenda? She so leaves you in the dust."

There is a pause.

"Yes… I will admit Nurse Brenda has certain attributes – and yes she terrifies even me."

"But what I do find disturbing is the fact that you are still hogging the chips."

"And I thought I was evil? Oh go ahead and take them. See if I care."

"He he he. Don't EVAH try and outclass the master."

"I'm only letting you think that you won."

"So you say, but I'm the one with the chips!"

"Damn you."

"Exactly."

"Oh just shut it."

"Give me a kiss."

"I'm not kissing your ugly mug."

"Stop being huffy."

"I am not huffy."

"Soo huffy."

"Do you want me to introduce you to Dante? He can fill you in on those circle of Hell things personally."

"Huffy."

"Just give me a bloody chip."

"That's my Wilson."

"So who do you think the Black and White guy was?"

"I dunno. Maybe somewhere between Heaven and Hell?"

"And I'm stuck in the middle with you."

"Don't just go quoting song lyrics."

"Clowns to the left of me: jokers to the right."

"And I'm stuck here with you."

"Till forever."

"I'd be careful. Forever can be a long time you know."

"It's okay. I have another bag of chips."


A big thanks to Alex for letting me nick the doctor's name. Luersson has to be one of the creepiest names I have ever seen.

If you want to read a couple of parallel/different/companion stories based on this and Weird Creepy Story go to diysheep on LJ and look on the left hand side in The Contract and other angsty stories.

And thank you very much to all who left comments. All thought about and gratefully received.

So the big question is: was it scary or does it need more implied tentacle sex? As a wise man once said: you can never have too much Zombie love or implied tentacle sex.