Disclaimer: House belongs to David Shore and Fox.

-1-

"Pre-flight"

House is not in the mood for Kutner. All he wants from this early afternoon is to vegetate in the doctor's lounge, sip his cola and stare at the 42" plasma TV screen. "Prescription Passions" has been on for the last ten minutes. It has become 'his show', surpassing "General Hospital" as his favorite daytime drama. The stories are bolder, sordid, more daring. The women show more cleavage.

Yeah...

In today's episode, Nurse Hilliard receives an anonymous letter stating that her father's mistress is the biological mother of Baby Fay, the newborn left in a basket outside the town orphanage. Will Nurse Hilliard adopt the child? Will Baby Fay grow up never knowing that her mother is really her half-sister?

House sips the dregs of his soda, fascinated.

"House?"

Kutner hasn't gotten the hint to make like a tree and leave. His wide-eyed, puppy dog look makes House remember the headache that's been plaguing him since the dawn's early light. That pain is a living thing, jabbing him in the temples each time Kutner blinks. Shit. Why can't life be easy like Sunday morning, or never dull like the world of "Prescription Passions"? Ah, well. What he needs are his pills and his pills he shall have. The vial is warm and safe, shoved down deep inside his front jeans pocket. He groans, reaching for it, then brings it out and spills three of the lovelies into his hand. Eyes closed, he makes a wish before pushing them into his mouth, rolling them on his tongue before sending them on their way.

When he looks again, Kutner is still here, his expression more intensely loopy than before.

Wish not granted. Thanks for playing.

"I sent you and the other two musketeers to do a barium swallow and a barium meal test on the patient seven minutes ago. " House pushes the vial back into his pocket, then grabs the remote that waits like a good dog by his side. He switches the channel with his thumb but rests his forefinger on the 'back' button. The announcer assured him "Prescription Passions" will return after these few words, and who is he to doubt the guy?

Slowly he turns his gaze toward his minion. "Why aren't you watching the patient make all gone with her drink?"

"We're having a problem with Mrs. Abramowitz."

"Is she clinically dead?"

"No."

"Bleeding out of multiple orifices?"

"No...but-"

"Pregnant?"

"She's seventy-three years old, House."

"It's nothing you can't handle," House pinches the bridge of his nose and exhales sharply. The ache has eased to a dull throb. It won't be long before that nice floaty feeling hits. Then all will be as it should. "Tell her to drink up."

"She won't."

"Tell her to drink her barium like a good old girl or she'll get an ice cold thermometer up her tuchas"

Kutner rubs his hands together before shoving them in the pockets of his lab coat. "She won't drink it. Took a sip, says it tastes like chuk."

"Chalk?"

"She says chuk."

"Send her to radiology. Let them deal with her."

Kutner shifts from one foot to the other, restless as a teenager waiting for the Fall Out Boy show to start. "She's Cuddy's pet, House."

"Don't care how much green the old lady's spread around. She doesn't run you and she sure as hell doesn't run me."

"Radiology won't take her until she's been prepped." Kutner shrugs and throws House a lopsided grin. "Sorry."

House presses the 'back' button on the remote and tilts his head. On the TV, Nurse Hilliard is consulting with Dr. Brock Sterling in a most unprofessional manner. How is it that the nurses in Princeton-Plainsboro are nowhere near as obliging? The scene ends and the commercial with the singing cat begins.

"House." Kutner is still here, still waiting, still intruding on his day.

"You're useless," House pushes himself from his chair. He grabs his cane and barrels by his fellow, nearly knocking him down. "just like everyone else."


As years went, this one sucked. Royally. With a gold-plated straw. House isn't used to having things easy but thinks it would be nice if the Karma gods saw fit to back off for awhile. He quickens his uneven pace down the corridor, bites his lower lip. Abruptly he squelches the thought of those gods, just in case they're bored and are in the market for new reasons to screw with him.

Never used to be so easily intimidated. Always used to let the stupid stuff roll right off those hunched shoulders.

Kutner appears at his side.

"Go away," House growls.

"You'll need me in there, House," Kutner says.

With a snort, House turns the corner and decides to ignore the queasiness riding round his gut like a nauseous kid on a Tilt-a-Whirl.

This climb back to semi-normalcy has not been interesting, cool or fun. If anything, it's been as daunting as rowing a dinghy against a tidal wave. Those ghosts from the night of the bus accident are pleased he's still cowed by them; they pick the worst times to assault him. Reading a chart, he feels the upsy-daisy lift of the wheels as the bus tilts onto its side like a wounded beast. The screech of tires join the screams of passengers, tossed and whipped around like tissues in a whirlwind. Those people, he thinks, as the memory engulfs him, making him catch his breath, they just wanted to get to where they were going.

(wherever they were fucking going...what were you thinking...drunk...morose...if it wasn't for you...Amber would still be around...tormenting you...probably married to Wilson...by now...)

Old news. He has been over this again and again. But still, those thoughts refuse to leave him, like some leech of a woman, clinging to his side despite the fact that whatever they had was gone and done.

It's all over now, Baby Blue.

He is finally getting to the point where a conversation with Wilson isn't rife with sullen silences and accusatory glares. They can finally swig down beers and ride each other without the banter feeling forced.

Now if only the remnants of that night would leave him...

Deep brain stimulation brought it back in all its hi-def gory glory, thank you very much.

He heaves a ragged sigh and slows his step. Somehow he has made it to his patient's room.

Through the window he spies the old lady, her arms crossed over her ample bosom as she lays under that blue hospital blanket. She wears a petulant pout; her eyes are slits of suspicion. Thirteen and Taub flank her on either side. Taub wears a look of ticked off semi-tolerance that House likes. It is a sign that with the right amount of goading the guy's temper could be set off like a Roman candle. One day House hopes to make this happen.

Thirteen is trying her best to be civil, smoothing the woman's pillows, talking to her in that earnest voice young doctors use when speaking to the elderly. But it doesn't soothe Mrs. A, and it doesn't fool House. That impish smile tells him Thirteen is getting some perverse joy out of aggravating her charge. There is a reason for her elation, he thinks. One day he will discover it and place it in his arsenal of secret weapons...to hold until needed. Until then he will not let on how much she gives away about herself just by doing her job.

He slides the door open with his cane, meanders noisily into the room, nearly upsetting a metal cart in the process. The old lady flinches and gives him a glare.

"I'm Doctor House," he announces.

"Oy, mein gott. You make such a tumul."

"Speak English, Sadie," House says, while checking the chart Taub hands him. "You're in America now."

Sadie hisses. Her pink cheeks turn purple. "You've got some nerve."

"You need to drink up. Give these kids a break."

"I don't drink that terrible chuk," she says, raising one pudgy finger. "You make it taste better, then I drink."

"According your chart you've been having trouble swallowing, which, in your case, isn't necessarily a bad thing."

"Shmendrik," she croaks.

"She called you a fool." Kutner laments with a mournful shake of his head.

Sadie continues, "You could not be a real doctor, dressed in those shmates, speaking to your patient with such disrespect."

"Shmates are rags," Kutner translates, leaning in closer to House.

"Enough with the mishigas, Sadie," House shakes a finger in her face. "You have difficulty swallowing and you have chest pains. Keep giving these guys trouble and you will have serious tsures."

"Hmmph, for a goyem you speak Yiddish with the devil's tongue."

"There's something to be said for having friends in low places," House says. "Gets me into all the best restaurants."

"House." Taub puts one calming hand up. "I think we can handle this-"

"Let me put this simply." Leaning over Sadie, House words are stiletto sharp. "If you don't do as you're told, you...will...die."

Silence.

"Give." House motions at Thirteen, then grabs the barium cocktail from her outstretched hand. The old lady stares, eyes wide with disbelief, her two chins trembling like a mountain before the avalanche.

"Drink up, meshugine. " House hands her the drink and stares her down. "Some of us have better things to do than listen to you whine."

"House--" Thirteen's cheeks are like two pink roses on a Sunday afternoon. The edges of her lips lift into a cagey little grin. "I think we're good."

House stays long enough to watch Sadie raise the drink to her lips and drain every drop. He turns on his heel without acknowledging his moment of conquest...

...or the fact that the victory hasn't eased his pain in the slightest.