The standard disclaimer: I still don't own these characters, still make no money on them, and as always will put them back nicely when I'm done playing.

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Cuckoo

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The branches beneath him are swaying, the whole trunk of the bare tree giving in the wind that ruffles his pin-feathers and makes his eyes water. It's so blue up here, so high he can almost stretch up his beak and hook one of the thin tattered clouds. His flightless wings are chilly, the emerging gray pinions no defense against the cold.

He looks over the edge of the nest and can barely even see the ground. Stretching, stretching his neck out in a precarious balance until he notices a shrill cheeping behind him and realizes there's another living creature in the nest.

It blinks at him. It has brown eyes, brown fluff on its body. The tree sways again and House tumbles backward into the other bird's side. Warm. It's warm there, and the soft cheeps are comforting, and then he sees the egg. It is lying at his feet, shining white in the sun.

Bending, he taps his beak against the surface, listening to the solid click, feeling the heft and the promise of life within.

He shoves it out of the nest without bothering to watch it fall, and shuffles back to tuck his head beneath the other hatchling's wing.

Not until he wakes up does he wonder where the mother bird went.

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Thursday night
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He hasn't spoken to anyone all day, not even to Amber -- who has been flickering, her signal breaking up in the storm.

Unless of course you count sweating and puking as forms of sign language, in which case he's been quite vociferous today. The Detox Cocktail has him strung out like a strand of Christmas lights.

He lies in the dark and can't think. Or sleep. He shivers, because it's fucking freezing in here, inside this body with its haywire thermostat. When he curls into a fetal position the leg pain gets worse than the cold and he's back where he started.

There's a new sound edging around the pounding pulse in his ears. A rustling beside him, light and dry. He feels the settling weight on his bed. There's something soft and unreal against his shoulders, his back.

Feathers.

A wing moves across his body, folding over him. A huge wing, broad and warm, big enough to hide him. Too desperate now to care that it's really just blankets, he turns over and curls into the unseen bird. Hawk. It's a giant hawk, lying on its side like a man, its smooth talons curved inward where they'll do him no harm. House's fingers are cold; he plunges them into the thick down and pulls himself closer. Safe, so safe that he presses his face into the hawk's breast and weeps, in the blackness where no one will know. Breathing out the pain and breathing in a scent he knows but can't name.

Safe, just for now, he sleeps.

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the following Wednesday

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When he wakes he is thinking of Wilson, whose letters rest unopened on the single dresser in this room. Contents unknown.

It's been enough to know that Wilson has been thinking of him, and now he thinks of Wilson too. Wilson and his damn Hitchcock fetish, watching The Birds and getting annoyed when House wanted to diagnose the pathology behind mass avian homicide. Then Wilson had helped him figure it out, because ... because that's what Wilson does sometimes. Used to do. Maybe will again, if if if, but those are too many fucking ifs and he won't think of it now.

In the dream, the birds were attacking him but he wasn't running. He can't remember if it was the leg or just resignation, lack of fear, a sick curiosity. He couldn't feel the beaks piercing his skin; he could only see the blood seeping from the wounds, and then instead of blood coming out it was feathers, long and black.

Transformed, he rose up with the murder of crows, flying overhead while Wilson walked home to a home Wilson never had. Who knows where; the scene was some generic Elm Street where Wilson stopped and stared up, and House lit in an elm and told him everything about Mayfield, and shouted for Wilson to come take me home, come get me, I'll die -- because this being a dream he was both the bird and the man in the box, locked up far away.

He told Wilson everything, but no matter what he said, all that came out of his throat was caw, caw, caw.

Wilson walked on, troubled but unknowing, and when he went into his front door, House flew down and could not turn the handle.

The clicking of the lock woke him up.

Now he lies here and thinks of cracking open the first of Wilson's notes.

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Storm (a Friday night)

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"They fly or they die," says his dad, grabbing him by the arm, pulling him away from the broken-winged osprey on the ground. "You try to save that thing, it'll claw your damn eyes out. Get in the car like I told you."

Looking down at himself, he realizes he's full grown, cane and all, and yet he obeys. He has to obey.

He barely fits in the old Nova's back seat. The car is stuffed full of clothes and supplies, the hurricane coming and the shoreline empty, except for the dying bird. They watch each other through the window glass while the car pulls away and then ... then the dream ends.

In the morning his shoulder hurts and he knows he was the bird and himself and his father. He rubs beach sand out of his eyes, and when he licks his lips he tastes saltwater.

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a Sunday, long past lights-out

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He brakes, pulls over, cuts the engine and fumbles the kickstand down -- muzzy and confused, unsure what has just happened. Something bad, something wrong, but it was too quick to see.

In a moment he's standing on faded asphalt in the middle of nowhere, in that glowing kind of dusk where the light seems to come from everywhere at once, bouncing off sky and grass and road and flaming orange bike. The dizziness clears as he limps back along the shoulder to find it, whatever it was. A pale thing ruffles in the breeze, splayed across the white line that marks the highway's edge.

A gust of wind lifts one wing for a moment and that's when he knows what he hit.

He reaches it and softly, carefully cups his hands beneath the body. A white-and-golden barn owl, it looks perfectly intact: it could fly away at any moment. But it won't, because he was traveling at the wrong speed, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it met first his windshield and then his helmet.

He snaps off the helmet's cracked visor and tries to use it as a makeshift garden spade. He'll bury the body right here, right now, beside the road.

The ground is too hard and the plastic scrapes and scrapes and then breaks apart in his hand. "No," he says, and he's choking on the dry dust he's raised. "She flew in front of me. She flew in front of --"

He wakes up gasping for air.

Fifteen minutes later he is in his tiny bathroom, staring first into the polished chrome mirror and then at the piece of paper in his shaking hand. He can't quite seem to reconcile the two.

It wasn't your fault, House. It wasn't ever your fault.

As far as he knows, the delusions are over. Still, he's not sure he isn't making this up. I'll be here no matter what happens. I miss you. With all the love in the world, Wilson.

He leaves the bathroom light on, and crawls back into his nest.