Head of the House

The correct description for House is plastered, head slunk over the back of the sofa, empty bottle and glass at the coffee table. His mind is so far gone he doesn't pay attention to the loud knocking, and the subsequent ring earns only a disgruntled grunt. The noise of working key and latch are a permission to go back to idle, as it is only Jimmy.

"Come on." Wilson slips an arm under House's shoulders, slinging the older man's over his own. "Up we go." He hauls House against a protesting moan.

"Don't wanna." House slurs, the room spinning, feet failing to hold him up.

"Have to puke." Wilson caries him into the hall. "Or would you rather faint and drown in vomit?"

"Can't."

They pause at the bathroom door. "Contrary to popular belief, you are not god."

"Dry swallow." House reminds. "No gag reflex."

Wilson sighs. "I'll fix you some coffee." He turns them around.

House watches streaks of brown glide under his wandering feet. "Scotch on rocks."

"And hold the rocks?" Wilson drops him on the armchair.

"Double, please." House returns to studying the ceiling, a pose remarkably safe from suffocation.

"Maybe for me." Wilson vanishes into the kitchen. "Oh wait, you drank it all."

House doesn't notice the minutes fly by, but picks up on the promising aroma.

"Here." Wilson hands him a mug and takes a seat on one of the smaller chairs scattered about the place. After House has emptied half of his drink, the oncologist gets to the reason of his visit. "Where were you all day? And where is Cuddy?"

"Home." House answers, a lewd grin blooming. "I got her in bed and stripped her naked."

"House, I'm serious. Half the board is worried about her."

"Then I scrubed her."

"You hallucinated all this, didn't you?"

House deflates. "I wish."

Wilson waits, knowing that a drunk House is a sharing person, unlike his sober self. True enough...

"I just trashed the only good thing we made." He stares at the mug.

Somewhere in Wilson's mind a memory bubbles up, of Cuddy confiding about her blessed condition, its cause, and fears regarding it. "I'm sorry."

House shrugs. "Not like I wanted it or something. Hell I didn't even know until…" He sighs. "And to top it off, Junior 's an addict."

Wilson is stunned into silence.

"Social worker says he's screwed. No one would adopt a premature addict."

Wilson studies House intently.

"What?"

"Do you think Cuddy would?"

"She's desperate." He concurs. "It's too soon."

"Plenty of time to accept her… circumstance, before he's released."

House rubs his face and both temples. "Guess I'll have to pull out of her life."

"Because the social service won't look kindly on a candidate with an addicted lover." Wilson follows.

House smirks sadly at the word choice. "More like shagger."

"I hope the social worker was right about no one wanting it."

House looks up squinting, cogs laboring under alcohol. It clicks. "No competition, low standards, big tolerance of addicts."

"Does that mean you're sober?" Asks Wilson. "Want to go bowling?"

"Rather not have you rob me blind. Bar?"

"Rather not have you ruin my reputation with the ladies. Movie Channel?"

House shrugs. "Something violent?"

"Again?" Wilson protests. "Inane plot also?"

"What else?"

Wilson shrugs. "Sure."

The next day House walks to work nursing a headache, his limp more pronounce than before. Grabbing the morning shot of caffeine, he goes to the clinic without blackmail. A teen stares at him in disbelief as he grabs a couple of files from Brenda. He frowns at the boy, taking in his appearance and analyzing its every detail.

"You don't belong here." He accuses, moving his shoulder strap to a more comfortable position. "No glazed eyes, no red nose. Skin not pale or greasy or sweaty… You're healthy."

The kid gulps as if caught trespassing.

"You're thin, but you're muscular." House points out. "Means consistent, wholesome diet. No measles scars. Means vaccination. No acne either. Expensive food or pharmacy grade cosmetics. Expensive lifestyle." He explains, real patients now his captive audience. "Your height would indicate it's been so for several generations. Curly dark hair means Mediterranean origin. And that trunk is no mystery."

The kid rubs his nose to hide it.

"So what is a healthy, rich kid doing in a free hospital?" House leans in uncomfortably close. "Unless he's the dean's nephew…" House whispers, suddenly straightening. "Up."

"I'm sorry?"

"Get up. You're coming with me." House goes to leave, notices the kid is standing glued to the spot. "Now." His voice is intense without gaining a decibel.

Kid finally flows, all the way to the elevator.

House punches in their destination and produces a fifty out of his wallet. "For saving me from all the sniffling idiots." He hands it to a baffled youth. "Name's House."

"Umm, David. Thanks."

"You're welcome, Dave." House disembarks.

"So now what?"

House looks him up and down in evaluation. "My office." He gives the sign of approval and leads the way. "More interesting."

From the exposed conference room, Cameron and Foreman eye House's unusual entourage.

"People, this is Dave. A.K.A. - The cause of Cuddy's jealousy." House introduces "Dave these are my slaves." He shakes a pill to his palm, devours it and stuffs the bottle in his desk drawer. "Briefing time, people."

"Amy developed tremors. First suspect is neurotoxin, except no one else was exposed. No symptoms among family, friends, coworkers-"

"Coworkers?" House frowns.

"She works at a fast food. No allowance."

He nods. "You?"

"The reverend is producing milk." Cameron supplies. "Rancid milk."

House stares. "Cool! Athos, Portos…" He waves a follow gesture on the way out.

Unexpectedly, House stops by Amy's room first. "Dave, get in." He thumbs inside.

"What do I do?"

"Oh, I don't know, introduce yourself, flirt, get her to share…" He stares pointedly.

Dave braces himself and sneaks in.

"What was that for?" Alison is miffed.

"You'll see." House enters Jonas' room on a direct trajectory with his nipples. Dismissing the protest, he pulls the gown out of way and produces a drop of smelly yellow fluid. "This inst milk, it's dairy. Disgusting dairy if I say so."

"Yes, we already knew that." Alison is tired with the show.

"Know why it happened?"

"Rancid means spoiled, which means bacteria, which is nothing new considering his tests came back positive for E Coli."

"And the milk part?"

She isn't nearly as verbal.

"Note the hair and beard."

"Hormone based hair products?" She hazards a guess.

"No." Jonas insists. "Absolutely not. How shallow do you think I am?"

"Ok. Back to basics." He turns to the patient. "Tell me about usual your diet, sleep patterns, stress level and exercise amount. Or any recent change."

"I've been traveling a lot between conferences lately. Running around, catching planes. It's a tight schedule. But I made sure to eat right. Lots of fiber."

House glances at Cameron. "Well?" No response. "Forman?"

"More workout, more stress, mild infection... None of it would cause- " It hits him. "POW."

House hides a pleased smile. "Go on."

"None of his conditions would cause it alone, but combined, the rise in activity and stress combined with a lack of nutrients, lead to milk production in some wartime prisoners. The tour makes him move around more, its stressful, and when he gets infected the diarrhea is the final ingredient."

"Impressive."

Forman grins at Cameron. "One down."

"Nope." House pops.

Forman stares. "Why not?"

"Not your case."

"You gave us incompatible patients to make things more difficult." Alison realizes.

"Unprompted conclusion." House is pleased. "You get a point for that."

Foreman fumes at Cameron, she only smirks back.

"Get the man some grease." House orders on his way out, two fellows trailing.

He knocks on the glass wall of Amy's room and wave David over. "Report."

The kid looks between Foreman and Alison with an apology written all over his face. "She ate a raw potato to avoid a math test."

Foreman is stumped. "She'd have to eat a sack of potatoes to get this sick!"

"Regular ones, yes." House concurs. "But some small fast food have trouble with the competition. So they buy the failed varieties FDA wouldn't approve of because deep frying destroys the toxins so who would notice."

Foreman nods.

"Cameron, I have four hours of clinic to finish." He waves at the stairs. "Foreman… do whatever you like." He heads for the elevator.

Alison gasps stumped, Foreman grins.

David jogs up to House. "What about me?"

House calls the car. "There's a tone of music in my office. Knock yourself out." He boards.

A bulky, muscular man sporting an army crew-cut looks up from his schedule at the sound of a person limping into his office. "What brings you here so soon?"

House takes the patient's seat. "The pain's getting worse, Bennett."

"How much?" Other doctor leans on the desk.

"Double."

"When did it start?"

"Yesterday."

Bennett offers a reassuring smile. "Considering the grapevine, I'd say it's just stress. Nothing that can't be deal with."

"Would you people stop saying this is all in my head?" House stomps cane on rug.

"Calm down." The man waves at House. "No one said it is. Real stress aggravates real pain." He assures.

"You're awfully quick to pin it on stress."

"Well what are the alternatives? Weather, trauma and adaptation." Benet counts on his fingers. "If it were weather it would have struck you before. If it were adaptation it wouldn't have sudden onset and if it were trauma you wouldn't be here talking to me."

House leans back in the chair. "So how do I handle it?"

"In your case, music."

House sniggers sadly. "I can't play." Silence prompts him on. "Herpes ruined another nerve." He holds up the left underarm and lets gravity unroll the sleeve from a crater-ravaged swath of skin.

Bennett taps his pen, grabs the prescription pad. "I'll double your shots. One for the leg, one for the arm. Vicodin stays the same." He warns.

House nods.

"Listen till it kicks in. Or play something simple. One hand only."

House takes the offered paper. "Thanks."

House creeps into NICU. "Take Alison for lunch." He tells Chase, who waves indicatively over the babies. "I'll watch the shop."

Ausie starts removing the gloves. "Half hour." He points out.

"Half hour." House dresses in a gown.

The blond nurse from a few shifts back arrives with some tiny diapers. "Why are you here?"

"Filling in for doctor Chase. He said you should check the supplies." House tells the nurse. "I'll page you if anything happens."

The blonde gives him a long look before following her superior's lead.

Alone, House takes a slim player from his jeans and places it on Junior's oscillator. "I was told music helps with stress." He unwraps a pair of ear buds and presses play, maxed out volume barely trickling out.

A quiet, merry melody fills the space.

"This is Mozart." He pulls a stool over with his cane and sits by the tiny detoxing premie. "It's supposed to be good for brains."

Piece after piece, the music lulls both adult and infant into a calm stupor.

Untold time later, a gentle hand on his shoulder sends House jumping an inch from the seat.

"It's me." Chase calms him. "You better get something to eat before cafeteria runs out of burgers."

House slips to his feet wordlessly. "Keep the player. They seem to like it."

"I promise not to mention your donation." Robert is grateful.

As the last minutes of another workday trickle off to history, House tosses the medical texts from his desk in a frantic search for pills. Each minute past the schedule feeds his growing agony. He looks around bewildered, knowing for certain he left them here to stay out of temptation. But the pain is now too much and with every second he is closer to fighting fire with fire. After turning the whole room upside down, he storms out in a gait that can barely support him, dragging along the wall when no one is in his sights.

Lock-picking his way into the clinic storage, House steals a syringe, tourniquet and vial of nitro. He hides in the toilet stall and prepares for injection of the whole dose when a drunken moan from behind the plywood barrier grabs his attention. The youthful male voice is familiar but unlike anyone he knows in any detail. He rolls the sleeve over the tourniquet, replaces the cap on the syringe and pockets it before silently sneaking out.

The door is ajar, slight cane thrust pushing it open and, serendipitously revealing the thug. Dave is splayed on closed toilet, unfocused eyes wandering the empty ceiling, tracing some imagined patters. An amber vial rests in his flaccid hand, its top quarter empty, double the amount of this morning. At a glance House calculates six pills missing in the same number of hours. A day's worth of medication. A whole day of pain.

Anger overcoming pain, House grabs the syringe from his blazer pocket, flings the cap in a thumb flick and swiftly delivers the drug into David's exposed vein.

"Ow…" The youth protests faintly at first, quickly crashing from cloud nine to the depths of a killer headache. Hissed inhalation and a brows knit over tightly shut eyes tell of growing pain.

"You moronic thug." House snarls a threatening, condescending whisper. "I gave you a fifty. You could have bought some weed if you wanted to look at all 'em pretty lights." He mocks. "This is a campus town, the stuff is everywhere. The cops are growing it for crying out loud. "He passes a hand through messy hair. "Oh, no. Easier to take one from a old limpy. Like he would notice. Except if you take one when you don't need it your brain flies out the window. OR what you have of it anyway. Then you end up taking ten. And unlike you, I really need these." He snags the bottle from David.

"Sorry." The teen mumbles.

"No, you're only sorry I gave you a migraine." House points accusingly. "Well guess what." He's in Dave's face. "That's what you've put me through. Off all the days to do this…" He huffs, leant on the stall door. "I can imagine that talk. 'Tony, I need a refill, the dean's nephew snagged my meds. Sure, he'll buy that one no problemo. He'll give me benefit of the doubt on the day I gave him a hint I might go over the limit. "

"I'm sorry." David repeats, meaning it more and more by the minute.

"You'll be sorry when I tell Cuddy. You know how hard it is to get into a drug trial? I have to take the same amount of pills every day, because you can't trust the feedback of someone who takes opium as he feels like it. I only get a script a week and if I miscalculate I'm bone dry. No maneuvering room. Which means I have a useless leg half the time and a useless brain the other." He sighs exasperated.

David just stares at the floor in shame.

House disappears in the common toilet space. "Come on." He calls after David.

Predictably, House finds Cuddy at the nurse's station, no doubt inquiring Brenda on David's location.

"Looking for this?" He shouts over the white noise of passing staff. "Ran into him in the toilet." He explains on seeing her perplexed face. "I think he might have a bit of a hangover." He leans in to whisper "No stomach for booze."

"Yes…" She looks quizzically between the two guys. "Heard you solved both cases."

"Actually he solved one." House tips hi head at the teen who is trying very hard to be invisible.

"Really?" Cuddy doubts it but lets it slide. "Jenny will be proud, I'm sure." She leads David from House.

Cane taps cold concrete of the underground garage. A buzz of electric powered wheels echoes off numerous flat surfaces.

House looks up at the approaching researcher. "Need a guinea pig?"

"I thought your rat's dead?" A wheelchair bound mature blonde replies in a challenging tone.

He glares at her.

"Maybe it's just me, but your spine looks okay."

"I'd prefer you tinker with something less important for starts, say my thigh."

"You could lose all use and sensation."

"Like I have it now."

"And sensation."

"So worst case scenario is I'll be pain free? That's your counterargument?"

"Detox and we'll talk." She drives off.

"Do you listen to yourself?" House tries to follow. "I need to get rid of my pain meds to apply for a nerve auto-transplant that's supposed to solve the pain problem?" He watches her board a SUV. "Have you taken any logic classes recently?"

"Take it or leave it House." She slams the door.

House watches her drive away, staring at the empty garage gate for some time after. His hand reaches for the coat pocket and pulls the day short pill bottle, shaking it slowly as he loses himself in thought.