(A Storm Is Coming)
House felt as if his feet plodding up the steps to the guillotine that would sever his head, like he was on a death march to the gates of hell. He kept his eyes on the ground, hating everything that was running through his mind. He hated this whole situation with such a sickening fury that he couldn't see straight. There were certain standards, certain parallels that the world had to follow, because when they failed shit like this happened. Everything in his life depended on those lone principals. You didn't fucking mess with them.
"It's been a week," Cuddy said in a controlled voice as he stepped through the door. Her words were so carefully pronounced that House could tell she hated this as much as he did—Cuddy just didn't have the balls to stand up and do something about it. He was alone in this fight.
"Actually, it's been over a week," he responded, his first instinct to say something witty. "Where have you guys been?" House looked up from the ground to face the two people standing behind his desk. His eyes avoided the hulking mass that was the driving force behind all this, the one playing puppeteer from behind the scenes and uprooting the very foundations of his life. Instead, he locked eyes with Cuddy and silently pleaded for a reprieve. Just for this one time, let her find it in herself to stand out against the world and do what was right instead of what would bring in the money.
Cuddy looked away. "Who is it?" she asked, staring at the spot just to the right of him determinedly.
House looked back down at the ground. He'd been deserted. "Cameron," he muttered.
Cuddy opened her mouth to say something, but a deeper voice cut her off before a sound could leave her throat.
"No—Cameron stays. Pick someone else," Vogler said, speaking for the first time.
House stared at him, incredulous. He'd just had the rug pulled out from under his feet again. Desperate to regain his ground, he disputed, scowling. "The deal was—"
"Deal's changed," Vogler said coolly. "Pick someone else."
"No," House said stubbornly, refusing to lose this battle. Dammit, it was his turn to get his way.
"Pick someone else," Vogler said slowly, deliberately, "or it'll be the whole department." Then he walked out of the room, casting a dark shadow over House's face as he passed. In the background, Cuddy looked baffled, but House's mind was already turning and twisting this puzzle over. The pieces were adding up to something he didn't want to consider.
"Slightly enlarged lymph node in his left armpit," Wilson observed, staring at the films with a resignedly studious gaze. He hated analyzing full body scans almost as much as House did.
"How slightly?" House asked, not bothering to join in examining the scan results. If his team didn't catch anything then he would check it out, but most of the time, someone picked up on it before House actually had to get down and do the nitty-gritty dirty work.
Wilson squinted slightly. "Quarter mil."
"Lymphoma?" Cuddy's voice suddenly suggested, and House looked up.
"Sure," he said sardonically, "Or he's had a cold in the last six months." Why the hell was Cuddy here? He looked over to Cameron, and it dawned. "What, you've got her on speed dial?" he asked.
Cameron just stared at him in confusion.
"I just follow the scent of arrogance," Cuddy told him dryly, taking a few steps closer to the results of the full body scan so that she could see it better and completely missing the face House was pulling.
Chase spoke up suddenly, as if to divert an argument. "Another slightly enlarged node over here," he said, pointing with his finger. "Two more in his neck and one in his groin."
"And there's a cyst in his liver," Wilson added with a frown.
"Looks complex," Cameron said, peering at it through her glasses. "Central necrosis?"
House rolled his eyes. "Spontaneous bleeding; it's benign. I was rooting for a really cool tumor—instead, we're stuck with this crap."
"Doesn't matter," Cuddy said. "Once you find them, you have to check them."
"Well, knock yourselves out," House said, shrugging. He certainly wasn't going to be bothered with biopsying miniscule, benign tumors that would tell him nothing. Seeing that his team was making no fast moves to exit the room, he opened his mouth and was about to tell them to shoo when his eyes caught sight of Vogler standing in the doorway. He scowled. What did he want now?
"I just saw Senator Wright," Vogler began, leaning against the doorframe casually.
Well, shit, House thought.
"He looks like hell. That sushi must have been a lot worse than you thought," Vogler said with a trace of smugness, folding his arms over his chest.
"Mr. Vogler, would you like a free whole body scan?" House asked pleasantly, his eyes narrowing. "A man of your stature should get himself checked out at least three times a year."
Vogler ignored his comment and ventured into the room, brushing past the others as if they didn't exist. "Here's a few key points I want you to cover during your speech." He thrust a file into House's hands.
House opened the file, flipped through it for a second, and then looked up at Vogler in disbelief. "Fourteen pages," he said incredulously. "The audience will be comatose by paragraph two."
Vogler shrugged and said, "Throw in a joke." And then he was gone, letting the door swing shut by itself and leaving House feeling as if he'd just been strung from a tree by his ankles.
Scrambling to gain some semblance of control over the situation, he quickly looked over to his team and centered in on Cameron. "Dr. Cameron. We need to talk."
"What?" Cameron said, staring at him in confusion. She drew in her bottom lip so that she could bite it, and House wondered if she was purposely trying to look pathetic.
"You. Me. Talking. Now," House said shortly, standing up and limping over to the door. "The rest of you get on those fascinating lymph nodes."
Cameron followed him, her heels clicking rapidly and she hurried to catch up with him. House waited until she was walking next to him and then sneezed loudly. Someone passing him muttered a "bless you," but Cameron wasn't fooled by his fake sneeze.
"What was that for?" she asked. Maybe Cameron was catching on to the fact that he wasn't a godly being who really cared, deep down, about the human race.
"Sorry," he said. "I'm allergic to bullshit."
"What are you talking about?" Cameron asked. "Are you making insinuations that I'm—"
"These aren't insinuations," House interrupted. "They're facts."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Cameron said.
House was unimpressed at how poorly she was attempting to lie her way out of this. "How do you see this ending?" he said, barging on and hoping to catch Cameron off guard.
"How do I see what ending?" Cameron asked furiously.
"You and Vogler," House said, raising his eyebrows. "Getting the groove on."
"I'm not having sex with Vogler," Cameron said, revolted. "House—"
"Well, of course you're not," House retorted. "Why would you do that? I mean, it's not like you're feeding him information about what we're doing, keeping tabs on all us for him."
Cameron stared at him. "Why would I do that?" she asked. 'Of all people, House, I'd think that I would be last on your list to suspect!"
"Right. And you haven't been feeding him information? About bulimic-woman? About the Senator?" House snorted. "I've heard better lies from Chase."
"I haven't!" Cameron protested. "That's ridiculous. I would never do that!"
"Then why wasn't I allowed to fire you?" House asked, watching as Cameron's jaw dropped and her mouth worked soundlessly.
"You—I was the one you picked?" she finally said, sounding utterly stunned. "You were going to fire me? Why?"
House shrugged. "Who did you think I was going to pick? I don't see why you care. Obviously, you're safe no matter who I want to give the sack to."
"I haven't been trading information to Vogler!" Cameron protested. "Honest—why would I lie?"
"Because you're afraid of what I'll do when you admit it," House said bluntly. "And I don't see why. I can't fire you, so you have no reason to fear me, and therefore no reason to lie to me. You told Cuddy where I was. You told Vogler what I was doing."
"No I didn't!" Cameron cried. "House—"
"Save it," House cut her off, abruptly deciding that he was finished with her. "Go give Vogler a blowjob and get out of my sight."
"She could be telling the truth."
House snorted and set another pile of old JAMA journals on his desk to be stuffed into his locker. They had been rooming with his collection of DVDs and video games for too long, and one of the two was going to have to go. The idea of the long walk to the locker rooms would be enough to convince him that he had better things to do than read medical journals.
"Okay," Wilson said slowly, correctly interpreting House's silence. "Well, it's still a possibility. And Vogler could be trying to mess with your head."
House frowned, entertaining the possibility for a brief second. "Nah. Doesn't make any sense—what's Vogler got to gain? All it means is that I have to pick someone else."
"And he gets the pleasure of watching you interrogate your staff and look over your shoulder every other minute," Wilson added, picking up the journal that House had set down and frowning at the cover in confusion. "Which you wouldn't have to do if you did everything the legal way for a change. Why do have journals here from three years ago?"
"It's not about legal and illegal," House said, snatching the journal from Wilson's hands before he could open it and putting back on the steadily growing pile on his desk. "It's about what's going to get me answers."
"Or what's going to keep you employed," Wilson reminded him with a careful reproach. He eyed House's red ball, wondering whether he would be allowed to pick it up and play with it. Judging by House's mood and the way that he'd just had the journal so rudely taken away from him, he probably wouldn't. So instead he picked up a paperclip from underneath a haphazard stack of papers and began untwisting it.
"I'm giving that stupid speech, aren't I?" House whined, reaching over the desk and stealing the paperclip from Wilson's fingers and throwing it in the trash. "I'm selling my soul."
Wilson sat back in his chair and sighed in exasperation, casting his eyes towards the ceiling. "Just a little piece. And you're getting something in return."
"I said I was selling it; I didn't say I was giving it away," House told him with the roll of his eyes. "That would be immoral. And stupid. All they've done is added an antacid." He glanced at the file folder that Vogler had handed him earlier, containing all fourteen pages of 'points' he was supposed to be covering and picked it up. Then he dropped it back down on the desk.
"Does it work?" Wilson asked, knowing by now that if he reached for the file he would be swatted away.
"That's not the point," House said, irritated that Wilson had somewhat valid reasoning.
"Of course it's the point!" Wilson said, his voice steadily patient, as if he'd known all along that he'd be having this conversation. "He's not asking you to lie, he's not asking you to do something illegal—"
"He's not asking me to do anything," House pointed out with a scowl.
"He's not ordering you," Wilson refuted, still keeping his voice calm. This was a volatile discussion and could escalate into an argument at any second. "He gave you a choice. You chose your staff. I know this isn't easy for you—you'll suffer, Vicodin sales in New Jersey will triple... But you're doing a good thing."
House made a face at him, and Wilson rolled his eyes.
"Only you could feel like crap for doing something good," Wilson sighed.
House opened his mouth, probably to make a witty comment that threw everything Wilson had just said back in his face, but at that moment Chase and Foreman entered, the latter carrying the test results in his hand. They were closely trailed by Cuddy, who came in not ten steps behind them.
"Kidney and liver cysts are both benign, and lymph nodes all came back clean," Foreman said, coming up to House's desk.
He seized one of the images out of Foreman's hands. "His left armpit node has antibodies for CB 11," House said.
Wilson quickly jumped into the diagnosis session. "Not enough to indicate lymphoma."
"We never tested for hairy-cell leukemia," House mused as he stared at the films, his eyes traveling the digestive system and landing on the spleen. His eyes narrowed as he studied it even more intensely.
"No, but we would have picked it up somewhere besides one lymph node," Wilson said pointlessly, because House was stuck on his theory and wouldn't be budging until he had solid proof that he was wrong.
"And his spleen isn't enlarged," Chase reasoned. "If—"
"Size isn't everything," House said. Wilson could have sworn he saw Chase suppress a snort. "The spleen is the mother lode for hairy-cells. Let's cut it open."
"You can't biopsy his spleen," Chase protested immediately. "It'll bleed like—"
"In the Senator's condition, a spleen biopsy could easily cause sepsis and kill him!" Cuddy interrupted, scandalized.
House moaned dramatically. "Why do you do this to me?" he asked in a long-suffering tone. "Now, if I kill him, I can't tell the judge I had no idea of the risks involved!" He shoved the films back to Foreman and began walking back to his desk.
"His brain's turning into mush and he's at risk for more infections," Foreman spoke up, making House pause mid-stride and turn around, his curiosity piqued. "So we have to do it."
House grinned widely and Wilson sighed.
"See—that'll sound better in court," House said, plopping back down in his chair and reaching over to turn on his iPod. "Okay, go tell our human pincushion we'll be sticking him one more time."
Sitting before this audience, House felt eyes boring into him. His ears buzzed with the whispers of people who were completely dumbfounded that the cantankerous Dr. House was doing something for the new Chairman of the Board. His palms felt sweaty. This wasn't on his terms. He didn't want to be here; he didn't want to be Vogler's lapdog and give a damned speech about some overpriced and under-efficient drug, and most of all, he didn't want to see his team's faces as he gave his speech. Despite everything, there was something to leading them and showing them what it was like to be unafraid of doing it your way. This was destroying everything that he'd built up.
The crowd suddenly rippled with laughter, and the next thing House knew, Vogler was turning around with a sweeping gesture and presenting him to the audience. House stood up and slowly made his way to the podium, flipping Vogler off as he hung his cane on the side of the podium.
The applause that had first came at his introduction quickly died, and House stalled for time by adjusting the microphone. His eyes swept the room and sought out his team, for some reason, and he found Chase and Cameron sitting together with Wilson and Cuddy. A distance away, Foreman was leaning against a doorway, trying to appear casual. But on every one of their faces were tense with barely-contained anticipation.
Behind him, Vogler quietly cleared his throat so that only House could hear it.
House drew in a breath, and in that split second his decision was made. "Eastbrook Pharmaceuticals' extraordinary commitment to research excellence is exemplified by their new ACE inhibitor, a breakthrough medical approach that will protect millions from heart disease." And then he turned around, grabbed his cane, and went to leave the stage.
"That's not a speech," Vogler said in a soft, deadly voice.
"I thought it was pithy," House responded, making no move to turn back around. "You got enough for a press release, anyhow."
"Foreman or Chase?" Vogler reminded him with a cocked eyebrow.
Inwardly seething, House gave him a tight smile and returned to the podium. Practically shaking with contained fury, he looked out at the audience and suddenly, his mouth opened and words started pouring out. "A few things I forgot to mention—Ed Vogler is a brilliant businessman. A brilliant judge of people, and a man who has never lost a fight. You know how I know the new ACE inhibitor is good? Because the old one was good. The new one is really the same, it's just more expensive. A lot more expensive. See, that's another example of Ed's brilliance. Whenever one of his drugs is about to lose its patent, he has his boys and girls alter it just a tiny bit and patent it all over again, making not just a pointless new pill, but millions and millions of dollars. Which is good for everybody, right? The patients? Psht. Who cares, they're just so damn sick! God obviously never liked them anyway. All the healthy people in the room, let's have a big round of applause for Ed Vogler!"
The room was silent as House gave a sarcastic round of applause. He caught sight of Cuddy's furious face, Wilson sitting with his face in his hands, Chase tipping back a glass of champagne and Cameron staring determinedly at the tablecloth before her. Before he could find Foreman, he had spun around and was handing Vogler his fourteen pages of 'points to cover'.
"I threw in a joke," he said, throwing on a smirk despite the fact that his brain with swirling with the ramifications of what he'd just done. And then he walked off the stage, knowing that tomorrow he would awaken to a very different world.
The men's restrooms smelled of urine and could have used a good cleaning, but it was probably the safest place that they could be. Chase wished that Vogler wasn't quite so clever as he went to lean against a stall door, only to jerk back quickly as he realized that it was wet with something.
"That wasn't the original deal," he countered, taking a slight step backwards and eyeing Vogler warily. "You can't change it."
"You came to me because you wanted to keep your job," Vogler said calmly, his eyes as cold as a tiger who knows that he's tricked his prey into a corner. "Has that changed?"
"House chose Cameron," Chase said. His eyes darted to the door as he neurotically wished that House would come through the door. "Not me. He doesn't want to fire me. My job is safe."
"I can just as easily fire you," Vogler said in an even voice.
"You can't—Cuddy won't allow you to have free reign over firing doctors," Chase argued, the thought of doing... that making his stomach turn unpleasantly. "If she had, House would have been packing his bags last Tuesday."
Vogler's nostrils flared and a muscle in his jaw twitched, and Chase unconsciously took another step backwards. "You," Vogler said in a thinly controlled voice, "are not head of a department. Firing you would be like flicking an ant off of a table."
Chase swallowed. "But I have no idea what—"
"Trust me," Vogler said, shoving a file into his hands. "You'll find way. You don't have a choice anymore." He left Chase standing in the bathroom, alone.