'The Irrelevant Bug', Chapter 1

The sun sneaking cautiously over the top of the mathematics building, casts its tentative rays across the rest of the university's mish-mashed skyline and Princeton's streets are quiet with only the unfortunate few scurrying about with bowed heads and ashen faces. Windows dotted randomly, scatter yellow warmth out onto the dusky sidewalks as steam rises from the sides of buildings, fighting against the bitter cold.

Wandering around his apartment switching on lights as he goes, House drips a trail of water marking his path from shower, to bedroom, through the hallway and finally to the living room. Using the furniture and walls to hobble about, he cradles the phone between his neck and chin nodding sporadically. Wet footprints circle the sofa, fading as he moves.

His face is serious, mouth set in a tight, grim line. His body too, is alert, on edge, ready for action. He mumbles affirmatives and asks the what, where and when questions. As he speaks he fights against the cracks in his voice, against the weakness he can feel creeping into his words.

Once he has signed off the call, he puts the phone back in its cradle and pulls the towel tighter around his waist. He stands still in the middle of the living room and sucks air in, blows air out; rests and repeats.

A well-timed drip of water on to the tip of his nose shakes him from his thoughts and forces him to get ready for the day with all that it will bring. He shuffles through to his bedroom and opens the dresser, trying to find some clean boxers, cursing laundry day and its appalling timing. Once he has pulled on some pants and hooked a t-shirt over his head, he sits back on his bed feeling as though he's been punched in the gut.

He reaches automatically for the Vicodin on his beside table and shakes two into his palm. There are some types of pain you can numb and others that gnaw at your soul, ripping it, shredding it, destroying it. He swallows the pills down and sits, waits.

The cane leans against his bed and before he grabs it, he shoves the bottle of pills in his pocket, glad of the reassuring completeness of last night's prescription. This is all taking too long. He normally gets in at just under 'by the skin of you teeth' when it comes to making it any place on time. This is like trying to manoeuvre through syrup. Time drips and splotches with House caught helplessly in its sticky trap.

He pulls a suitcase out of his closet and lays it open on his dresser. Haphazardly, he throws in a few shirts, some pants and underwear. Hobbling into the bathroom looking for his toothbrush, he catches his reflection in the mirror. Pausing for a moment, the reflection staring back at him looks lost, cast adrift like a kite without its tail.

With a final tug on the obstinate zipper, House manages to close the suitcase and grabbing it firmly in his left hand, braces himself against the additional weight. Lurching wildly at first, he stumbles off to his left as though gravity is pulling him down. Righting himself, he takes one last look at his bedroom before he switches off the light, throwing the room back into the dusky glow of early morning. When he gets back here, everything will be settled, final, banished to memory alone.

Passing his desk, he grabs his cell phone and taps at the keypad. He thinks briefly about calling Wilson but makes do with leaving a message on Cuddy's voicemail. He isn't coming in, something has come up, he has to leave town for a week or so. None of it she will believe, she'll think he is scamming her, trying to get out of clinic duty. He doesn't really care, he is used to the lack of faith, lack of trust; those loaded nouns mistaken as the common markers of friendship. What do you call the thing between them then?

He locks his apartment door then checks for any mail he might have missed hoping for some sort of warning, a sign, something that would make this hurt less. Finding only the sort of junk mail that promises the perfect pizza and thousands of dollars for your unwanted junk, he slams the little metal door of his mailbox a bit too hard and heads out into the icy morning.

A pause is required before he can summon the nerve to navigate the two steps down to the sidewalk. He glances up the street, trying to make it look like he has something to check out, to make it look like steps in this weather don't have the potential to tip him flat on his ass. The cane and leg hit the second step perfectly. If it weren't for the ice this would be a textbook 'stairs for the cripple' moment- if it weren't for the ice. The cane flicks out from under him and sends waves of shock singing through his bones, his muscles and his nerves. He grabs onto the handrail and closes his eyes, for a second. Suck it up, get over it, everyone slips on ice, this is no big deal. Deep breath in, deep breath out.

Reaching the sidewalk feels like much more of an achievement than he is used to, but he is glad for the momentary distraction. The irony of this moment doesn't fail to register. Getting down steps is a tiny thing, but his leg makes it much bigger - what is it they say about molehills and mountains?

The very thought of this whole trip makes him want to hurl, makes him want to elope to Hawaii with some faceless woman and drink Mojito's till he doesn't - can't - feel this.

The sun shining from the east end of the street makes the surface of the sidewalks seem like glass, reflective and refractive all at once. The night hours have frozen yesterday's slush solid, smooth, like marble slabs in a slaughterhouse. It suits him. He feels like ice, cold and solid, danger lurking hidden just under the surface.

All this he doesn't give a second thought to.

The weight of his trip presses down on him, squashes and crushes all potential feeling, sensation. All except the terrible, terrible ache in the pit of his belly. If he doesn't keep moving, doesn't keep the minutia of this trip at the very front of his mind, he knows he will be overwhelmed with all that lies ahead of him, stretching off into his future, desolate, alone, without.

It takes him more time than he wants to get the car door open. A combination of rubbing the key in his hands and blowing into the lock eventually succeeds in thawing the mechanism. He dumps his case on the passenger seat and scrambles in the foot well amongst the detritus of the past week for the scraper and the can of de-icer he remembers using once last winter.

The watch on his wrist sounds an alarm, one set by Wilson in a futile attempt to get him up in the mornings. The morning has officially begun; it is no longer an unreasonable time in the night, the day, whatever. Now it is Tuesday. He doesn't want it to be Tuesday. He deeply, deeply wants it to be Monday again. The crappy Monday of a few short hours ago, the day that had seen the first of the winter hit hard. The day that had seen him fight with Wilson, with Cuddy, with the moron patient who almost didn't lie, until it was almost too late.

The repetitive scraping against the thick ice etched onto the windows of his car bears the build up of tension, breaking of his numbness. He works over the windows again and again until only the very edges are frosted, glistening. His hands are red, numb and this, too, is a welcome thing. He knows that as soon as he starts the car and the heaters blast out their warm air, his hands will tingle, burn; feel.

He turns the key in the ignition and his heap of a car splutters into something like life. The engine wheezes and blasts swathes of unhealthy smoke up into the cool, morning air. House stares aimlessly out of the windshield waiting for the steam to clear, hoping that his mind will too. The engine continues to complain until it gradually starts to sound like all the hundreds of separate components of the car's very being are starting to collaborate. Like it will move forward and take him wherever he wants; a triumph of man over the laws of nature.

Just when he is beginning to fire out the nerve impulses required to make the car move forward, a tap on his window startles him.

"Got space for me?"

House nods, not trusting himself to say anything useful or in any way appropriate. He feels the car shudder when the trunk slams shut, and dip when his passenger climbs in, throwing House's case onto the back seat. He shoves the stick into 'drive' and releases the hand-break. Without checking his mirrors, House presses down heavily on the gas peddle and the Chrysler jolts off, a little too fast, up the street.

So this is really happening then.

Okay, here goes… Big, huge thanks to Iyimgrace for tending my fragile ego and being an ace beta-rer.