Prologue

"You know Alice, I get the impression you're not taking this seriously."

"No, really?" Alice flexed every inch of her not-inconsiderable sarcasm muscle into the two words.

"Well, I think it's time you started. Do you want to be here?"

"No, of course I don't want to be here." Alice rolled her eyes and slumped lower in the chair, her arms crossed.

"Well, I got the impression that your boss felt it was important for you to talk about your anger—"

"Old Mad-Eye hasn't got a clue," she interrupted. Yes, it was her boss's fault that she was sitting in the therapist's office, instead of outside doing her job. Outside in the bright sunny day which was no doubt filled with bad guys doing all kinds of evil and corrupt things that she should be investigating and reporting on.

"Mad-Eye?" the therapist questioned.

Alice pursed her lips, trying hard not to smile. Yeah, they called the chief-of-staff Mad-Eye Moody, not because of an uncanny ability to sniff out evil – hell, the man probably had a Dark Mark tattooed on his forearm for the fun of it – but because of his lazy eye, hunched back and tendency to swig from an always-in-reach hip flask filled with one of Jack Daniels' magic potions. So it was a bit mean, she shrugged mentally, but that's how journalists are. Shit, she knew that most of the newsroom called her Hermione behind her back, but then she was an easy target if only because of her curly red hair, temper, and a teeny-weeny tendency to know-it-all-ness.

"Don't you think it's a little childish to be calling your employer names?"

Childish? Hmm, Alice wondered. Shouldn't she be more concerned that she worked with a group of adults who seemed obsessed with a children's book about a boy wizard?

"He started it," she said petulantly, on purpose. She saw the petite, blonde therapist shift in her chair and knew she was getting to her. They'd been locked in the room together for almost forty minutes and the therapist had been growing steadily redder in the face as the session progressed. Alice was quietly aiming for her to have to call her own therapist after this.

Alice was good at driving people mad.

Even therapists.

It was what made her a killer at her job.

"It seems to me Alice, that as a journalist you're used to being the one in control and the one asking the questions. I can see that it makes you uncomfortable to have that situation reversed."

Alice sighed. Blah, blah, blah, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit… maybe it wasn't worth the effort to resist. But then she pictured sleazy crime reporter Andrew Coupland and his wandering hands; he was the real reason she was here. Stupid git deserved that knee in the groin. He was nastier than ten Lucius Malfoys rolled together.

And on that note Alice made two decisions. One, it was well time to stop referencing everything in her life back to Harry Potter characters. Two, the session was over.

She stood up. She guessed she'd done it kind of suddenly, when she thought back on it. She looked down at the therapist and put her hands on her hips. Yeah, it was an intimidating pose, but it was second nature to her.

"Look, I don't know what you want from me, but I've had enough."

"I want an emotion, Alice, an emotion!" The therapist looked like she might cry in her desperation for Alice to feel.

"You want emotion?" Alice asked, her handy sarcasm shield in place.

The therapist stood too, face to face, although several inches shorter than Alice. "Yes Alice, you're so disconnected from your feelings. I want you to close your eyes and reach inside. Tell me something you've felt recently, something strong."

If nothing else, Alice was getting really sick of this woman's tendency to emphasise the last word of every sentence. That and her seemingly perfect blonde hair. But she thought about what would happen when she went back to work. She needed the therapist to tell Mad-Eye, umm, her boss, that Alice was perfectly fine and could go straight back to work. So it wouldn't hurt to cooperate just for the last few minutes.

She closed her eyes as the therapist had instructed, and once again Andrew Coupland swum into mind. His pasty, wet-lipped face; his pudgy fingers pawing at her ass. Then the sleaze's face was replaced by another man's: the face of her defeat, the face with that stupid, goofy grin that hid a manipulative, two-faced, scheming, life-destroying asshole named Stuart McKenzie. Suddenly Alice felt. Oh yeah, she had emotion coming out her Gryffindors. Interestingly it was rage. White. Hot. Rage.

She hadn't meant to punch the therapist. She guessed the therapist was only defending herself when she punched Alice back. Or maybe Alice just really had been that annoying.

Whatever, her face hurt. A lot. And she wasn't going back to work that afternoon.

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Chapter 1

House opened the door to exam room four as he scanned the chart in his hand. He looked briefly at the patient then back to the chart, before quickly looking up again as his brain processed the information that she was attractive. If you ignored the icepack she was holding over one eye, she was quite a looker. Her killer asset was the lush auburn curls that fell to her shoulder blades, and it definitely wasn't a dye job because she had the skin to go with it – almost translucently pale with lots of freckles. Bluey-green eyes, great breasts, long legs encased in a dark-coloured pants suit. Tall, big-boned, almost Amazonian. No petite little girl here.

But. Black eye.

God, he hated domestic violence. Almost as much as STDs.

"I'm Dr House," he said briefly, grabbing a pair of gloves. "What seems to be the matter?"

"My therapist hit me."

House did a double-take. "I'm sorry, but I thought you just said your therapist hit you."

The patient nodded and gave him a slightly bashful look which he found highly amusing. "Well, I did hit her first. But I think she used a little more force than was absolutely necessary in self-defence."

"Geez, you must be one hell of a patient." He looked down at the chart. "Alice McKenzie. Alice? As in 'off with their heads?'"

"Strictly speaking, that was the Queen of Hearts, but go ahead, I've heard them all."

House pulled her hand and the icepack away from her face and began prodding at the bruise along her cheekbone.

"Can I ask why?"

"She kept asking me questions."

"What sort of questions?"

"Questions about me."

"Isn't that what therapists do?"

"I guess, but she was particularly annoying."

"Isn't that a technique? To get you to talk?"

"Do you want to see if I'll hit you too?" she asked him, her eyes staring frankly into his. House took a tiny step backwards, not intimidated, but definitely intrigued.

"Curiouser and curiouser," House quoted. "Why would you hit me?"

"Oh," she sagged a bit and waved a hand in the air randomly. "It was a whole asking questions thing. You know, you were asking me questions too. Based on my past performance, that's kinda risky."

House raised his eyebrows. "Well, I've never been one to play it safe . . . But I do need to ask a few more. Am I in immediate danger?"

"I'll try to contain myself. As long as your questions don't involve emotions you should be fine. Or whether cats eat bats, I hate that quote."

House decided to ignore the cats-eating-bats thing but made an immediate mental note to go home and re-read Alice in Wonderland. "Emotions? No. Can't say I need to cover any of that. Unless it was some kind of murderous rage impulse that suddenly overtook you? Cuz that'd be interesting."

Alice appeared to consider that possibility for a moment. "No, I don't think so. She was just really annoying me."

"Fair enough. So, does it hurt here?" He pressed along her cheekbone and around her eye socket, watching her face closely for reactions to pain.

"Ouch." Alice flinched, but House couldn't feel any bone damage, it was just bruising.

"No permanent damage," he declared. "Keep up the ice pack for a couple of hours and take some Tylenol for the pain."

"And my arm?" Alice asked.

"Your therapist hit your arm too?" House asked.

"No, the security guard scraped it against the door when he threw me out and it got cut," Alice said blandly, as if she was commenting on the weather.

"Therapists have security guards?"

"Who knew?" Alice tried to roll up her sleeve, but the suit jacket she was wearing was too tight to roll up high enough. Instead she had to shrug it off, revealing a silky, low-cut tank top and what had to be a push-up bra underneath. At first House tried really hard not to appear like he was looking, but then gave up the pretence and stared blatantly.

"Was your therapist attractive?" he asked, images forming in his mind.

"Uh, yeah, I guess so," Alice answered, frowning at the question as she gingerly pulled the dressing she'd applied to her arm back for House to inspect. "She was blonde."

"Hmm. Was there any mud or jello involved in your therapy session?"

She rolled her eyes. "I have a feeling you're not asking that out of concern for contamination or infection."

House dragged his eyes away from her considerable cleavage and up to her face. "No. That's not why I'm asking. I was just wondering if you had plans for another session and if so, whether I could watch?" He gave her a hopeful smile. "I'd bring the jello."

"I actually wasn't planning on getting beaten up again anytime soon, but if you bring jello I'm sure I can find ways to be creative with it. Like, for example, shoving it up your ass if you don't look at my arm instead of my boobs." She gave him a sweet smile at odds with her venomous words.

House laughed. "Fair enough."

He looked at her arm and realised it was quite a nasty cut. "You're gonna need stitches in this," he said, prodding the wound gingerly. He walked over to the counter to gather the supplies he'd need. "At the risk of incurring bodily harm, can I ask you why you hit your therapist?" he asked over his shoulder as he prepared the local anaesthetic.

"Ever been to a therapist?" Alice asked.

"Yeah."

"Ever wanted to hit one?"

"Oh, yeah." House gave her a grin as he bent over her arm with the syringe. "Slight pinch." He noticed that she watched the needle go in, wincing only slightly.

"She told me not to be afraid of emotion," Alice answered after taking a sharp breath in. "And my emotions told me to smack her one. I was living out my fantasies."

"Sounds like the kind of stupid thing a therapist would say," House said, rolling the stool across the floor and sitting down next to the bed, getting himself organised to begin stitching her.

"That's what I thought." She bit her bottom lip, watching as he put the implements into place. She didn't seem nervous, just . . . thoughtful.

"Living out your fantasies sounds like a very healthy mental activity though," House said. "Care to share?" He looked up at her, wearing his most innocent expression. She narrowed her eyes and he knew he should be more careful. Because of a slight indiscretion with regards to insulting the pharmacist on duty in the ICU, Cuddy already had a week's worth of clinic duty over him and he didn't want to add to it with a patient complaint. But Alice was the most interesting clinic patient he'd had all day. All week, actually, if you didn't count the zucchini guy, and that had only been interesting because of the gross-out factor.

"Well, I do have this one fantasy…" she said, giving him a sexy wink and leaning closer to him. "In my fantasy I go to the hospital and I meet this gorgeous doctor. And we're in a room alone together and I slowly take off my clothes. And we're looking at each other, our eyes locked," she lowered her voice and sounded all breathy, "and we lean towards each other and I can smell that he wants me, can practically see it in his jeans, and then he reaches out, and then…" She fell back against the bed, away from him. "And then he stitches up my arm and gives me some painkillers and sends me home."

House shook his head, silently scolding himself because he'd actually been falling for her teasing. He covered it with a quip. "I think I'm getting the picture, Alice in Wonderland, as to just why your therapist might have hit you."

"She did deserve it. She told me I was being childish because I called my boss by a nickname. It wasn't even that rude."

House scoffed, and felt offended on her behalf. God knew he would have been in a mental institution if he wasn't able to release his baser nature through insulting Cuddy. "Well that's just sapping the fun out life. Everyone calls their boss something insulting. It's only natural."

"Precisely." As she had with the anaesthetic, House noted that she once again watched as he stitched her arm, the needle with its black thread moving neatly through her skin. Three quick stitches and it was done.

"There you go," he said, tying off the thread and cutting it. "All finished. You need to come back in a week or so to get them out."

It was his turn to tease. He leant in closer – and he'd already been pretty close. Now he could feel her body heat, smell her perfume and see the pattern of her freckles across her nose. He spoke, low and gravelly. "And now I'm going to make all your fantasies come true…"

"Really?" She raised one eyebrow, but didn't move away, as if daring him.

"Oh yeah. That little fantasy of yours? Well, I'm gonna . . . " He rested one hand lightly over hers on the bed, a little startled by the tingle it sent through his arm. He used it as leverage to lean over her, stopping mere inches from her face and then he paused, closing his eyes for a moment and inhaling the fresh herbal scent of her hair. He dropped his voice even further as he gazed steadily into her eyes. "You know what I'm gonna do to you? I'm gonna . . . " Then he straightened up abruptly. "I'm going to get a nurse to come in with some pain killers and then you can go home."

He got up from the stool, as quickly and as elegantly as his leg allowed him to and headed for the door.

"Farewell Alice. My advice is to avoid therapists and rabbit holes for at least, oh, a week." He gave her a cheeky wink and a smile and closed the door behind him, pausing for a moment with his hand on the door. Could he ask her out? He thought for a moment, but then shrugged. Women like that didn't go out with guys like him. Nah. But she had called him gorgeous, even if she had been bullshitting him. He smiled to himself. That was enough to keep him going for a while.

Alice watched the door close behind the cute, blue-eyed Dr House. Funny, although he'd been inappropriate as hell – and as Andrew Coupland and his bruised balls now knew, Alice was known to react badly to that, violently even – she felt better. A million times better after a fifteen minute exam in a free clinic than she had after a fifty-minute appointment with the therapist that had probably cost her employer upwards of a couple of hundred bucks.

She'd also swapped JK Rowling for Lewis Carroll. Despite being heartily sick of a lifetime of Wonderland jokes, that was definitely a trade up.