Disclaimer: Not my property. I don't like lawsuits. I mean no harm in borrowing these characters.
A/N: Thanks to my LJ beta, user "starlingthefool." I welcome concrit and feedback.
Uphill ClimbBefore seven o'clock, the southeastern corner of campus was calm. A group of tall, lean boys emerged from Weaver Stadium, each carrying a pair of track spikes and a black bag emblazoned with a tiger striped, capital "P." Their conversation, and the sporadic, excited twitters and whistles of finches and chickadees, filled the silence between songs on House's play list as he cut between the gymnasium and field house, heading south, towards the lake.
Sixty days. He'd kept count, since the surgery. He'd spent nearly two thirds of those days recovering, undergoing hours of rehab, but he had been on his feet—both feet, unaided—for sixty days. He had stashed his cane in his closet, amidst a set of golf clubs. His eyes had passed over it each morning, when he bent to pluck his sneakers from the floor for his morning run. He had never dared to throw it out.
House squinted as he emerged from the shade of a thick, tall cluster of Red Maple trees. The lake stretched to his left and right, framed by its tree-laden banks and brilliantly reflecting hot, white sunlight. Several canoes and kayaks floated idly on the surface. Passengers basked in the warmth of uninhibited sunbeams, like a family of cats stretching on a great expanse of kitchen flooring.
Pausing on the edge of the shore, House dragged the back of his hand along the top of his forehead, pushing aside stray, saturated pieces of hair. After wiping his hand on the fabric of his shorts, he started down a narrow, grassy path alongside the rows of trees. Broken branches, full of lush, wide, green leaves, and tufts of wild brush blanketed the path. His feet cracked twigs and flattened the tall, green blades, kicking up cool dew onto his own straining calves. He focused on the mechanics of his strides, on how his feet fell upon the ground, heel first, and on the combined effort of his muscles as they propelled him forward. Within his chest, his heart thumped wildly from exertion and excitement.
Overhead, the full, pliant branches of the trees rustled, leaves rising and falling to fan him with delicate, rejuvenating bursts of air. He pumped his arms quickly, urging his feet to match their pace, and he moved faster. His shorts formed the outlines of his thighs, and his shirt pressed tightly against his chest and abdomen, absorbing streams of sweat as they trickled down his body. His eyes closed briefly and a faint trace of a smile played on his lips as he inhaled deeply. The air swept into his expanding lungs and, coupled with the force of his own forward motion, cooled the sweat that glazed his skin and coated the tips of his hair. The cool rush of air pleasantly clashed with the sunlight that bathed his right side, raising goose bumps. He shivered as his feet carried him toward a gentle hill that snaked around the curve of the lake.
He lowered his head, beginning his ascent up the gradual incline. His feet landed harder on the springy earth and his arms pumped vigorously. Feeling the muscles of his legs start to burn, he eyed the crest of the hill. Forty, maybe thirty, feet to the top. His breath came in short puffs, matching the pace of his footfalls. He turned his head to glance over his shoulder and, as he measured his progress, he nearly stumbled, feeling a sudden, aching cramp in his thigh.
Instinctively, his hand dipped to his leg. He tilted his face upward, eyes tightly shut, as he slowed to an abrupt stop. Sounds faded to an incoherent buzz and the heat of the sunlight, suddenly scorching, burned on his skin. He bent forward, his left hand gripping the muscle just above his kneecap, while his right eased his aching thigh, the heel of his hand gliding along the ridge underneath his shorts.
He had approached Wilson, last week, about the ache. Wilson had chalked it up to muscle strain, the "pangs of middle age," and a poor attempt to score a bottle of Vicodin. Wilson had dismissively advised him to do what most people did: "Put on an ice pack. Take some Ibuprofen." And he had, begrudgingly, after he had run that evening and had felt an unwelcome tightness in his thigh. The pain had eased, slowly. With each return, it intensified and lingered longer, forcing him to run shorter distances and to look for alternate methods of relieving the pain.
Wilson had flaunted his prescription pad and tossed it inside his desk drawer. He had known where to find it, when he'd slipped into Wilson's empty, dark office after Wilson and his fellows had left for the night. He had folded and buried the paper, bearing his own hurried scrawl, inside of his pants pocket. Before returning to his office, he had carefully replaced the pad in Wilson's desk drawer, leaving nothing out of place.
That night, he had uncovered a small handful of Vicodin in his dresser drawer, wrapped in foil and stuffed into a folded pair of socks. He hadn't remembered saving them, but he'd deposited them into a used prescription bottle, reserving them for times when the ache in his leg became impossible to relieve with massages or over-the-counter medication. In five days, he'd only taken one. He had been disgusted with himself, as he had tilted his head back, the pill bouncing off the back of his throat. The forged prescription, which he had hidden in his jacket pocket, remained unfilled.
As House rubbed his thigh, he struggled to push the image of the square, folded piece of paper from his thoughts. He bowed his head, trying to convince himself that this ache was a simple muscle cramp. Soreness from overuse. Wilson, from time to time, was right.
He raised himself up, exhaling slowly, and stepped forward. He resumed his climb, his eyes focused on the grassy hilltop. His concentration centered on his movement, fighting to keep his arms pumping, his knees bending, feet pushing. His aching thigh mumbled its protest and he hoped, against his better judgment, that Wilson was right.