A/N- Call this a prequel of sorts. This story was written for the excellent series of character studies for Zeppomarx's A Gentle Knock at the Door Series. In the original Lifeline story I do give the first names of either agents. Joseph is Zeppo's contribution to this verse. I am deeply grateful to Zeppo for being allowed to play in in her universe and encourage everyone to go to Livejournal and check out the story. This story like Lifeline deals with very dark images and adult language and content. If any of this bothers you I suggest stopping now and going to find other more fluffy-kitten safe stories for you to read. Thanks for reading.

Joe's Story

Special Agent Fred Yeu glanced up at the man sitting across from him. Looking back down at the file on his desk, he made a small hmm sound as he appraised the man's records.

"You were in the Army for ten years." Fred looked up. "Where were you stationed?"

"Fort Campbell, Korea and Fort Lewis."

"Then you got out, went to school—law school—made good grades—nothing spectacular. Graduated near the top at Quantico and spent ten years around the Richmond, Virginia, area—and now you asked to be transferred to New Jersey. Beltway get to be too much for you?"

"Not really, other than the traffic. Mostly, I wanted a change. After 9/11 everything was about terrorists. I wanted to get back to some more traditional crime solving and less…" the thought trailed off.

"Less CIA spy stuff." A small nod confirmed Fred's suspicions, "Well, we're glad to have you here. If you head on down the hall, you'll find your desk and your partner. Welcome to New Jersey, Agent Roberts." Fred rose and extended his hand across the desk where the other man took it in a firm handshake.

Roberts made his way down the hall to the main FBI office. He quickly found his desk and placed his briefcase on top. Across from his desk, Agent Matthews sat engrossed in a file. He hadn't even heard the other man approach. Roberts softly cleared his throat, hoping to get Matthews' attention. It worked.

"You must be my new partner. Sorry about that. I just got an update on a case I have been working on for the past four months." Matthews rose and extended his hand for a shake. "I'm George Matthews. You ever hear of Robert Thompson?"

"Joe Roberts. Robert Thompson—the president and CEO of Thompson Consolidated?"

"The one and the same. Sit down and I'll fill you in."

An hour later, Matthews had filled in his new partner on all the dealings of one Robert Thompson, CEO and president of one of the largest import export companies in the United States. Thompson was known for both his astute business mind and his philanthropy. Just that month he had donated two million dollars to the children's wings of both Princeton General and Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.

"So basically, this guy is working with the mob to get all these sweet business deals and manages to keep his name in the news for his good works to the community… all the while keeping attention off his less-than-stellar business dealings." Joe gave a small whistle. "Got to hand it to him; that's pretty ballsy."

"We have been tracking his dealings for a few months. Got a tip from an insider that he was set to deal with the Marconi brothers. They work in Southeast Asia, mostly furniture and appliances with a nice side business of drugs and human trafficking."

"So we put pressure on Thompson. Thompson leads us to the Marconis."

"That's the idea."

An agent approached, "Excuse me, sirs, this just came in from Trenton. Captain says I needed to get it to you right away."

"Thank you, Agent." Matthews quickly perused the file, "Fuck Fuck Fuck! Son of a bitch!" Joe hadn't known his partner for even a day but he suspected that an outburst like this was very much out of character for the man.

"Thompson's dead. Agents were getting ready to move on a warrant—they found him in a carport in Princeton. One bullet to the back of his head. We got to go; HQ wants us to secure the scene before the locals move all over it. Grab your jacket. I'll meet you in the garage. Space 32A."

The drive to Thompson's estate was tense. Matthews' jaw was set firm as his hands clutched the wheel, his knuckles white. When the two agents got to the palatial estate, they were met by a swarm of reporters and local police. The two men flashed their badges and were allowed inside. The Thompson family was on vacation in the Grecian islands, and for this Joe was glad. He hated going to a crime scene, but even more, he hated having to deal with the family. Victim or criminal, the fallout of a crime always affected those it didn't need to, and even knowing what he did about Thompson's dirty dealings, Joe couldn't help but feel a little bad for the Thompson widow and children.

The house was huge; easily more than 10 thousand square feet. Joe found himself in the command center, directing agents and officers to different parts of the house. All through the day, boxes of evidence were removed from the office. He was so engrossed in his work that Joe didn't realize that an agent he had sent to check Thompson's entertainment center had not returned with her findings.

He set out to find her himself. When he did, he found the agent sitting on one of the deep leather chairs in the theater. Her makeup was streaked and tears were freely falling from her eyes. She raised a shaky hand and pointed at the screen, Joe looked. There in hi-definition video was a man being beaten with a rubber truncheon. Suddenly the video changed and showed the same man being sprayed with fire hoses, his screams drowned out as the water hit him in the face and chest.

It was almost like a sick music video as the images would change every few minutes to show the same man being beaten in every way imaginable and a few Joe had never thought possible. He felt the bile come to his throat and choked it back down before finding his voice. "Turn it off." The agent rose on rubber legs and made her way to the DVD player, shutting the images off.

"That was just the latest video." The agent pointed to a shelf near the door, "There are hours of videos like this. Some of them go back three years. He was letting them do this for over three years." The agent strangled a cry as her emotions got the better of her.

"What do you mean let them? Who would let someone do this to them?"

"It's all here." The agent lifted her hand. It was then that Joe realized she had been holding a pile of papers in her fist. "He signed a contract saying they could do it. Thompson has been doing this to him for years, and he let him do it. The man's name is House—Gregory House. He was a doctor who got sent up for murdering a fellow doctor. He's at the state penitentiary in Trenton. He let them do that to him."

Joe's mind spun. If Thompson was controlling what was happening to House in prison, then the man was in danger with Thompson dead. Joe grabbed his cell phone from his hip and quickly punched in his partner's number. "Matthews, it's Roberts. We need every available agent in Trenton and an ambulance to get to the state penitentiary in Trenton. We need to secure and remove a prisoner by the name of Gregory House. He is in grave danger." Joe quickly filled in his partner as George barked orders to the other agents.

The ride to Trenton was quiet, both men wrapped up in their own thoughts. It was typical, Joe thought, typical that he would get a big case like this on his first day. Most people at least get to know their new partners for a while before being thrust on a case like this. Joe and George hadn't even made it to lunch. The thought was enough to make Joe laugh but he stifled the urge. As they approached the prison Joe gave out a small prayer to the god he called on only in dire emergencies. He prayed that he would find this Gregory House not only alive but in good shape.

"What do you have, Agent?" George had barely pulled the car into a stop before Joe was out the door grilling the agents on the scene.

"We secured the wards, infirmary, all the work areas and placed all of the staff including the warden under arrest. None of them are talking. Agents are doing a full sweep starting with the cell areas through Death Row and down to solitary. If he is here, we will find him."

"He's here and we need to find him." Joe's cell phone began chirping. "Agent Roberts."

"Sir, we think we found him. One of the inmates told us about a guy he knew of in solitary. Sounds like it could be our man."

"We will be right there. Do not move until we get there. If it is House, we will need to be very careful. Have medical units standing by."

"Yes, sir."

Joe and George ran to the solitary confinement wing in the prison's basement—a dark damp place. Joe couldn't imagine anyone being made to stay here. He found the other agents standing outside a cell. A three-man medical team was down the hall with a gurney and medical equipment. Joe nodded to the agent nearest the cell. She took a set of keys and opened the heavy steel door.

The first thing that hit Roberts was the smell. Joe had grown up in Iowa on a pig farm but that was nothing compared to the smell that assaulted his nostrils. Feces, urine, sweat, vomit, dirt and blood all mingled together. Joe's eyes watered as he fought to keep from vomiting, his eyes adjusting to the dark interior. Next to him Matthews was having less luck controlling his stomach and had to duck out of the cell.

Roberts sensed rather than saw the man in the corner. Joe crouched down, trying to make himself as unassuming and non-threatening as a man six-four could get. With every step, he realized the man in the corner was trying desperately to make himself become more and more a part of the wall. Joe stopped and sat back on his heels.

"Dr. House, I'm FBI Agent Joseph Roberts. We're here to get you out of here."

Roberts noticed the way the man flinched when his name was spoken. House was visibly trembling, terrified of what was going to happen next. He uncurled enough for Joe to get a good look at him. Immediately he thought of photos his grandfather had shown him of Auschwitz prisoners liberated after the war.

House was beyond gaunt; he was skeletal, bruises around each of his eyes and along his jaw line. His hands were clutched under his armpits but Joe could see where the chain from his handcuff attached to the wall. He was barefoot, his toes misshapen and dirty. Actually, Joe quickly realized, there wasn't a part of House that wasn't dirty. The man was panicking, scrambling, trying to stand, but falling down repeatedly. Joe knew he had to get the situation under control or the man could seriously hurt himself.

"Dr. House, Dr. House… It's okay. Don't move. I'm here to help you. Try to relax and stay where you are." Joe made a small move closer, speaking softly to House the way a person would to a trapped dog. "That's it… just relax… I'm not going to hurt you. Dr. House, I need to take these chains off and put these handcuffs on you. Can you put your arms out for me?" Joe couldn't help but notice the way House reacted every time he called him doctor. Still, he did it, figuring that if he kept referring to the man as his former title, then somehow House would know he meant him no harm. So far it seemed to work, as House extended two shaky arms forward. Joe uncuffed him from the wall and then handcuffed and wrapped the chains around what was left of his waist. My God, there really isn't anything left, Joe thought. The chains hung loose, almost falling off, supported only by the handcuffs around House's wrists.

"Can you stand?"

"I think so." The voice was a ragged whisper. With Joe's help, House got to his feet. He began swaying, and Joe felt him go slack against his arms.

"I need help in here!" Joe yelled for the gurney. The next few minutes passed in a blur as medical personnel fought to stabilize House, administering IV fluids and checking his vital signs. Finally, they loaded him up for the ride to the hospital. The whole time, Joe was an arm's length away, keeping watch.