Chapter Fourteen

House had really fallen through when it came to giving Cuddy a ride back to PPTH, but it was hard to get annoyed when he still had that impossible patient to deal with. The taxis were back up and running, so she cabbed over to Wilson's building to pick up Rachel, then back home.

The next day, she was grabbed and pulled into an empty supply room as soon as she got back to the hospital.

It felt like business as usual. She smiled.

Naturally, no news was good news. She found herself ducking Sick Sad World Handicams with Helen Morgendorffer, Stacy's replacement, who seemed to have experience with them.

"My daughter watches the show," she explained gloomily, adding, "He'd probably like it," as if it was an insult.

There was no need to ask who he was. Legal had a... unique way of talking about House.

Cuddy had a mad desire to go up to the Sick Sad World crew and tell all about the archangel Michael, the chosen blockhead, the complete Apocalyptic deal. What would they make of it? Having the truth pent up inside her, not being able to see if anyone else knew a better reason for everything going to dust, it was starting to get to her.

It would do no use to try to discover what they'd found. The lawyer would probably tackle her first.

She looked around the cafeteria. No way would food service be back yet - thank goodness for vending machines - and it was easy to find, making it the perfect place to set up temporary office. Cuddy wondered if her med school desk had made it through. She hadn't noticed when she'd been in her office with House.

The bright blue tarp covering the windows flapped with the wind. They gave the room a darkened, eerie glow, like it was set deep underwater. She shifted in her hard wooden seat, trying to get comfortable, but nothing she did helped.

Brenda was the first person to come in, although Cuddy was sure there'd been a line. Knowing her head nurse, the other people waiting to see Cuddy were probably lost in a sea of exam rooms by now.

"Someone attacked House yesterday," she said without preamble. "Again. Knife, this time."

"What?" said Cuddy, rising out of her chair. "Why didn't I hear about this until now? Is he all right?" She avoided eye contact with either woman, knowing the answer they'd prefer. It wasn't up to them, at least, but when she thought of who was ultimately in charge, she felt no better.

"If he was at another hospital, maybe he can sue their security," Helen suggested right away.

The woman was an absolute shark. It had been what got her hired, but now Cuddy was reconsidering. No, still better to have her on their side than against.

"He seemed to be," said Brenda, but something in her voice told Cuddy there was more.

"But?" she demanded.

"No one can find him, and they think he has a concussion."

"You stay here," she ordered. "I'm going back to Mercy to check it out."

"Oh, your patient, he was there too," said Brenda. "Stabbed. They said he made it through."

Cuddy's fists clenched.

Why should she be surprised? The last time the patient's life had been in danger, the resulting 'fix' had destroyed her hospital. Of course this attack would lead to one of the other things she held dear being damaged. She knew nothing would've kept House, with his determination to save everyone, from jumping to his patient's defence.

Once again, this was Dean's doing.

The walk to her car went by in a haze. She'd been approached by a number of staff, but their voices always seemed to come from far away and she kept moving. She shook her hands and hissed in pain when she laid them upon the steering wheel. Her nails had broken through the skin.

At Mercy, she stormed through the layers of red tape keeping her from talking to the patient. There was enough duty left in her to tell the police he had amnesia and talking to him would distress him far too much to proceed just yet.

Pfft, amnesia. It was like something House would watch. When had her life turned into a soap opera?

"You need to keep a better leash on your doctors," Dean said when she shook him awake after forcing his brother out of the room, a little harder than necessary on both counts. He knew how to add insult to injury, she'd give him that.

"Oh, because you were handling the situation just fine," Cuddy snapped.

Dean raised his eyebrows. "Because there wouldn't have been a damn situation in the first place if Doc House hadn't told someone to shoot their damn foot off!"

Cuddy couldn't speak for one stunned moment after that.

"How can you blame him for this?" she finally asked.

He looked down. "Yeah, you're right. People are crazy, and that dude was just crazier than most." His eyes kept flicking towards the door, and she moved to block his view of it. "Have you seen him? Is he okay?"

"Oh, like you care."

"Why does everyone keep saying that? Yeah, I care, I put a lot of blood into keeping a Glasgow smile off his face."

She laughed. "You kept him from getting stabbed?"

"Don't say it like it's such a surprise," he mumbled, a petulant scowl on his face. She could swear he sounded hurt.

Sighing, she pulled up a chair. "All right. Tell me what happened."

"Since you asked so nicely," he said, and filled her in.

She was pacing by the end of it, following elaborate routes over the floor to give herself the time to prepare herself for what she had to say. In the end, the best she could do was, "I'm sorry."

He shrugged.

She took a deep breath and engaged in round two.

"I'm sorry I doubted you," she said. "House is..." Finishing that sentence would take all day. "I know you two had your differences, and that he was going to report you, but you saved him anyway. It's a lot easier to feel... justified in what happened knowing that's who you are."

"Yeah, well," he mumbled. She decided he'd gotten the message and breathed a sigh of relief over not having to press on. "So you didn't believe when an angel told you about me. Good for you."

"I believe!" she defended herself. She didn't like this topic of conversation – it was like applying salt to a wound, after everything she'd had torn from her in the name of faith. Unfair.

"Still had to prove myself to you, right? No one believes as much as they'd like to think."

She flushed.

"I guess not," she said shortly.

"Hey, listen to me, it's a good thing. Guess I'm just giving you a hard time 'cause of my cabin fever. We ready to go?"

To be honest, she didn't quite think he was. She got the feeling, though, that he had snuck out of hospitals in a lot worse condition before.

Angels were watching over him; she shouldn't have to, as well. She'd done her part and given, and given, was still giving even now.

He had been the one to offer to leave.

"You're ready," Cuddy said.

"No, wait," said Sam when Dean told him the good news. Dr. Cuddy was off finding a way to manoeuvre him around the police, or at least that's what Dean hoped. With the way she felt about him, he kind of expected her to turn him in instead. Good thing she seemed to have faith after all. "We haven't said thanks to Dr. House yet."

"Not interested." Dean paused. "Actually, the last thing I remember is us talking about him, then some boring Jesus business, before Doc Cuddy woke me. What happened?" He jogged his leg, itching with impatience to get doing something again. There were things to be hunted, people to be saved! He couldn't afford to keep losing time, certainly not by blacking out.

God, Dean wanted to wipe that smug little brother smirk off Sammy's face.

"You fainted again," said Sam.

"Really?" Dean'd felt fine, considering. He bet the problem was House's stupid sedatives again, but still, twice in one day? Sam would never let him live it down.

Sam gave him a condescending pat to the shoulder. "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me."

"It being with you is part of the problem," Dean muttered, and Sam's stupid grin only grew wider.

"Thanking the doctors on your case is something that Dad would do," insisted Sam.

Dean snorted. "Maybe if we were planning on hanging around long enough for your tone-deaf ass to finish a musical. This is the man who always went for first-floor rooms so we could sneak out if we had to."

"Well, it's something I would do, then. And I will."

"Suit yourself, I guess," said Dean, still watching the door. Surely Dr. House would show up before he left. It bothered him, not knowing if he'd gotten stabbed for nothing.

Speak of the devil - the next person through the door was the doctor himself. They straightened.

Dr. House was pale, and all his chatty bravado had drained away, revealing a deeper stillness that he hadn't expected the doctor to have.

"So you're leaving," said Dr. House. He shook his head. "You need another day at least. It's too soon."

"You don't look so hot yourself," said Dean.

The doctor smiled wryly. "I knew I should've done my hair this morning."

From one private person to another, he understood. He nodded.

Plus, he had Sam, who was asking, "Are you sure you're all right, Dr. House?" with his eyes all big in the way that was hard to say no to.

"Happens all the time," said the doc, and Dean chuckled. He could see that being the case.

Sam poked him in his uninjured side to rebuke him, though he didn't think the doc had cared.

"We want to thank you," Sam began, the bitch, "for taking the case."

"I didn't really have a choice," said House, but Sam was undeterred. A sincere Sam was an overpowering thing.

"I know you did everything you could to help keep Dean alive, so I think you saved his life. And the fact that you did..." Sam welled up, of course. "It means a lot to me, and I-"

"Gah!" Dean interrupted, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. "Go find some ponies to frolic with or something."

The doctor gave a silent little laugh and turned towards Dean as Sam pouted. He better not be expecting the same kind of touchy-feely crap Sam'd fed him.

Dean stared him down. "I figure we're even."

Sam let out a mortified groan.

"I forgive you for stealing my cane this time," said House. "PPTH, though..." Dean twisted his mouth to the side in displeasure; a little knowledge was a dangerous thing. Maybe they should tell the doctor everything?

But Sam had already leapt to his feet to escort Dr. House out, chattering in heated defence of Dean, and what difference was it going to make anyway? He thought Dean was crazy, and it wasn't like Dean cared if he did.

Just bothered him, was all; he would've dragged his ass far, far away, no matter how long it took, to keep the hospital from being hit, and he'd like if someone could see that for once, instead of just hating him on sight. Doctors here were so freaking judgey.

Well, there was only one war he needed to win, and this hadn't been an important battle, not in the parts he'd played. He could let it slide.

Just a few more battles left to go. Then, they could rest.

He didn't know what that would feel like, but he thought he might like it.

House looked at his team. It felt like it had been a long time since they'd met up to do a regular diagnostic session. Not that there was much call for it now. His team kept sneaking glances at him as if they shouldn't be here, but he was ignoring it. He tossed a teddy bear in the air, watching it spin, and caught it. There was something to be said about setting up camp in the pediatrics clinic.

Cameron was laying all the newest findings before them. Most of the tests had resulted in average statistics, which were spectacularly uninteresting. He tossed those ones into the comet-emblazoned garbage can, despite protests.

There were a few good finds from Chase, though. House examined the upper body x-rays. The first ones were bare, with clear signs of having recovered normal bone mass; the second set, with markings like the ones he'd stuck on the fridge; and the third, showing Dean's broken rib, was different from either of them.

He had a flash of the man from his hallucination pressing a hand to Dean's chest as they waited in Radiology. Would that have even been real?

"Did anyone come by while you were performing the x-rays?" he asked Chase.

"Just his friend," Chase responded perfunctorily, and House tensed. But Chase was much more interested in the findings from his chemist contact. "She had to pass it on to a biochemist in the end. So the hemoglobin in the strange cells just completely mutated, or got replaced by another enzyme - they're not sure they can sequence it - so that it holds sulphur instead of iron."

"There's definitely something wrong with the brother, then," said Cameron. "The covalent bond it would take to pick up oxygen would change everything about how the oxygen exchange works - or doesn't. You don't even see archaea using sulphur for anything like that."

"That's because they use sulphur instead of oxygen in their metabolism. Maybe it's not there to pick the oxygen up, but is the fuel itself. It's how life on Earth began. Perhaps we're dealing with some sort of primitive prokaryotic parasite that evolved to mimic red blood cells, living in his vascular system?" Chase guarded the printout like a baby, beaming over it.

"To mimic a eukaryote, its cell structure would have to be drastically advanced," Foreman said, seizing the page. He skimmed it. "Look, it would make a great paper, but we aren't dealing with it, or we shouldn't be. They're leaving soon, right? The patient's better. Why are we continuing this case?"

Oh, Foreman. No natural curiosity whatsoever. What a boring child he must have been!

"Some of us like to work for our salary," said House.

"Us?" repeated Foreman with scorn. "I'll admit this case was strange, yeah, but there's nothing we can do about it anymore."

"No," House agreed, "there isn't, really."

He gave the teddy another toss. It hit the ceiling this time and came plummeting down. The others observed its crash and burn, waiting for House to say more. He supposed the only thing left to talk about was the competition he'd instated. Hopefully, they'd forgotten.

"Case closed," said House, slamming the chart shut. "Another one doesn't bite the dust."

"Back with his family," said Foreman.

"The poor brother," Cameron added softly.

He made his way out of the office quickly, trying to avoid the gossip session of his overbearing staff. The tension of not asking him about the attack - at least they'd learnt, over their time with him - had been so heavy he could feel it lifting off him the further away he got. He noticed he still had the stuffed animal in his hands.

"Here," he said, stuffing it on the lap of a teenager in a wheelchair. Her jaw dropped and she glared at it, affronted at the slight to her oh-so-considerable years.

Unfortunately, that had been enough time standing still for Chase to catch a glimpse of him.

"You didn't mention the contest," he said.

"Calling it off," said House. "That patient is old news, anyway."

"If the Internet was back, I'd have a lot to share. Though I don't know how much information there'd be on the Winchesters."

House froze. "Where did you hear that?" he asked, as casually as he could manage.

"Oh, Sam mentioned it at one point. Do I win yet?" Chase rifled through the papers he'd brought with him, likely looking for more damning information.

"I wouldn't look them up," said House. "Nothing to see, really."

"Figured you'd beat us there." Chase stared at one of the pages, a smile growing on his face.

This could not be good.

"You know," he said with dawning excitement, and House dreaded what he'd hear next, "the patient was with us for three days."

"Sometimes it's good to remember I hired you for your counting skills and not your pretty green eyes," said House. Green? Blue? Brown? Whatever. Right now, though, they might as well have been telegraphing, 'Eureka!'

"He came to us practically guaranteed to die, and after three days, he–"

"Rose from the dead?" House cut in unenthusiastically.

Because it was Chase, House's scoffing didn't stop him. "Yes. He bore the marks and everything. I was the one doing the x-rays, and there was only one way it could've–"

He really didn't want any reminders of what he thought had happened the night before, he was discovering.

"If you stop talking," said House, "I'll hand the competition over to you." He was glad for the chance to avoid having it happen. It had been an ill-considered move, not taking into account how his feelings about the case might change.

That stopped Chase in his tracks. "Really? Does this mean you think I'm right?"

House snorted. "Of course not. It just means I don't want to hear you being born again. It sounds just as ugly the second time as it does the first."

Chase gave him a hard stare. "But don't you see–"

"Keep talking and I'll give it to Foreman," House warned him.

Chase's grin threatened to break his face. He nodded and left, probably to get on his knees in that uncomfortable chapel. House could even hear the bounce in his step as he walked away. It got on his nerves.

A little part of him mused that it must be nice for Chase to be proven right, to be able to stand by his faith once more.

Of course, House knew if he were some entity from elsewhere, the first thing he'd do somewhere else was pretend to be one of the worshipped figures, too.

Aliens 1, God 0?

He kept forgetting that hadn't actually happened, making the hallucinations the real winner.

As he moved, he leaned against the railing of the hallway. Mercy was much more convenient in that regard. Something in him felt nauseated, oily, and it was throwing him off-balance.

Determined to follow his regular pattern, he waited on the floor above the entrance to see the patient leave. Usually, it was with the assurance that at least the patient would live, lives in shambles or not from letting the truth out. There'd be fresh starts ahead of them, second chances.

Then there was this case. He'd never wanted a patient to live less, never felt as cheated when the patient got better. He would've brought the patient round in time, despite his feelings against him, he could have. But no, that was snatched away by forces he preferred not to think about because any explanation only came down to believing in the power of the crazy. He wouldn't be able to watch the Space Channel for weeks now.

From his vantage point, he saw Cuddy wheeling the patient out, leaning low over the chair, flanked by the friend and family. Strange how many more visitors a serial killer had gotten, over time, compared to House - who never counted his employees as visitors.

He moved along, trying to get closer, see the expressions on their faces. He really should've stolen Wilson's opera glasses for this one. His eagle eye still caught the smiles, though the patient had his mouth curved up solely for appearances and Weird Trenchcoat Alien stayed true to his hallucinatory self. Did he ever change out of that outfit?

He scrambled for the elevator right before they left, making it out in time to see them go through the doors. He followed at a distance, wary on Cuddy's behalf.

They turned a corner. When he did the same, he saw an abandoned wheelchair folded next to the hospital wall, nothing else.


Three women. Murdered, beaten, kidnapped. Mutilated flesh. Burnt corpses. Evil twins, each more evil than the last.

House's heart stopped for a moment, resuming with a heavy thumping that rushed through his head, drowning out any other sounds.

The patient really had been too healthy. House should have done something, he should've...

It had to be done, oh why had he ever put it off? He could've handed the patient over drugged and unconscious, but he hadn't, and now - and now-

He still didn't think he believed in God, but if this patient was so special after all, maybe God would prove His existence for him as he had for the rest of the hospital because that was the only way Dean Winchester could be saved now.

He walked over to one of the police officers still hanging around the area, probably to investigate the stabbing.

"Hi," he said. "There's a patient I had whom I thought I should fix you up with. Tall, blond, serial killer... sound like your type?"

Talking to the police was easy; everybody lies. His psychiatrist was the one who turned out to be hard to speak to.

"We were wrong," said House. "He was just screwed up, not insane." Unlike himself.

"I came up with a list of findings," said Nolan, sounding disappointed, as if he still wanted to share. He probably did. House was reasonably sure his only friend was a wooden boat.

"I've been hallucinating again." He'd need to tell Wilson, too, have his friend watch him to make sure he stayed on the straight and narrow path of sanity.

"Were there drugs involved?"

He hesitated. "There was a sedative, mild dose, took it right before. I diluted it."

"I see," said Nolan after an uncomfortable silence. "Was this the first time you'd taken anything?"

"Yes," House insisted, hating how conversations with his shrink made him feel like a recalcitrant teenager.

"Something must have happened. How is your patient?"

House became conscious that there were worse conversations to have.

He thought over the case once more but could barely stand to do so through his cringe-worthy embarrassment, not just over his hallucination but his ultimate failure in solving it. One day, he'd decipher what the delusion had been trying to tell him.

"He committed suicide," said House. "Slit himself, wrists, feet, side – religious idiocy claims another one."

Nolan expressed surprise and condolence, and House permitted himself a small triumphant smile on the other end of the line.

At least that was over with.

When he got home to Wilson's, he threw out the Supernatural books.

"Seriously," Dean shouted from the washroom, "we are not doing this again! I don't care who's after us, if they can be killed, we can just stay and kill 'em instead."

Sam found the first-aid kit and threw it in to him.

He hadn't seen how Dean could've tripped and landed just so to scrape the top of his head on the exposed nails of Bobby's latest Curse Box project (good thing for tetanus shots). Collecting another of the wounds of the Passion, as Castiel had called them, had done nothing to improve Dean's outlook on life.

"I'll go get you some Metamucil or something," Sam suggested, before he caught sight of Castiel passed out on the bed with a nosebleed. "No, maybe I should stay here." Castiel'd had lost his power-up by the time they'd all reached Bobby's, but he'd seemed fine until having to send Dr. Cuddy to her house. Why he'd jumped the gun in zapping them (and the car) away anyway, Sam didn't know.

He stood up and paced the room, twitching as something uncomfortable made its way down its back. After lots of wriggling, he isolated the culprit: an M&M that must've been there for a while. "Dean!" he shouted. A grunt was his only response.

Sam sat on the bed; he'd harboured momentary indecision over whether pushing an angel to the other side was sacrilegious before recollecting that Castiel had done far worse to him. He opened his laptop and programmed his iPod with Led Zeppelin disguised as Lady Gaga and Metallica disguised as Miley Cyrus. It had taken a while to implement this prank due to the difficulty in finding pop stars whom Dean didn't find hot, but he was confident that a casual offer to use his iPod when Dean's gadgets 'inexplicably' ran out of battery would lead to maximum indignation, for sweet payback.

To throw Dean off guard, and since they had no set plan anyway, he called out, "We're going to the Grand Canyon once you get out of there. Every time you fake me out, I start wanting to."

"'Bout time you start making some sense, Sammy," said Dean just before releasing a series of sounds and smells too horrific to describe. Sam opened the window and got out his air freshener spray – a necessity when travelling with Dean – dousing the room.

He smiled. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad after all. Dean was back and healed, they had just taken out Pestilence, he had a prank up his sleeve, the room smelled like fresh-baked cookies (or ones that were baked in a chemical plant, anyway) and they had made it out of New Jersey. Only Death and Lucifer left to go.

Well, it could be worse.

They were out on the road again, doing what they did, their bond stronger than before they'd gone to the hospital, and Sam for one was looking forward to kicking some demon ass. Judging by the swearing coming from the bathroom, Dean was too.

He headed towards the kitchen, the smell improving as he got further from the room, to see about the Metamucil, but Bobby had placed his chair to block the way and was fidgeting with the wheels, back and forth. He'd laid a gun across the arm rests.

"What's up, Bobby?" Sam asked. When he inhaled, he realised that maybe it hadn't been so much cookies he smelled, but pie. Pie, like the ten that were currently laid out on Bobby's kitchen table. "You bake now? Dean's never going to leave."

"Not exactly," Bobby said nervously as an ashy-complexioned blonde woman came up behind him, a cheery smile on her face. He angled his gun towards Sam, not lifting it off the chair so that the woman didn't notice the threat. "I ever tell you 'bout my wife?"


Author's Note

Whew. Pat yourself on the back if you read all that: it's novel-length (62k words), and I know it takes a while to get through. I had to reread it every chapter or two to make sure there was continuity, so good thing I find my humour delightful. Since the story's set after SPN's 'My Bloody Valentine', I set it to pick back up for the next episode - zombies! - in my conclusion.

There is an epilogue/coda-type piece set way in the future, AU after SPN 5.20 or so, "Death Comes at the End of the Road", that is now up. Here's an excerpt:

"Does this place really look the afterlife?" House retorts. "You did have a bad case of rheumatic fever, and I have no idea how they missed your typhoid. You're infectious, not dead."

"Actually, you are," says someone coming down the stairs, and House's head jerks up. The warm gruffness he hears sounds familiar.

The woman wails.

"What, are you here to tell me I see dead people?" House asks.

"At least I'm not bald," says the man – a shot at House, who is. He winks at the woman as he turns to face them. "C'mon, sweetheart, it'll be okay." He nods in House's direction. "What's up, doc?" His eyes crinkle at the corners as he flashes House a smile.

"Dean Winchester." House's memories unfold. Oh, great. Moonlighting as a mortician is one thing, but having your worst case come back to haunt you as you do it is irony on a scale that blows screechy pop songs out of the water.

"You don't look a day older than the last time I saw you," he accuses him. It's been years; how many, he doesn't know.

Dean brushes him off. "I get my beauty rest." He takes the woman by the hand, arm around her, and leads her up the stairs, murmuring. "I'll deal with you later," he tells House in much friendlier a way than he expected to hear from his former patient. They hadn't exactly parted on good terms.

The title One Word, and that was 'Dead', which I never did manage to incorporate into the fic itself, comes from a line in the song of House, MD: "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones. The story expanded beyond my wildest dreams; once I got to Chapter 8 I kept thinking there was only 2 chapters left at like every single chapter. The first two scenes I had down (came to me in a dream and all) were the opening with House watching Cuddy and the scene with Dean & Michaeldam.

I loved doing varying POVs between characters. I had the characters say conflicting things or be flat-out wrong fairly often because none of them had all the information, so IMO it was bound to happen. I think what made me saddest to have to do in the fic was have them not get along - I so meant for Cuddy and Dean to fall in lust at first sight and hook up, I did! But the more I got into plotting (srsly, it feels like it takes a general to plan things out), the more concerned I was about how characters would take things or what made sense, and that didn't seem to IMO. Oh well, House & Dean get a drink and listen to music together in the separately-posted epilogue.

Castiel would threaten me over talking too much at this point, so I'll wrap it up. Thanks for everyone's support and feedback through this - alerters, favers, reviewers. Knowing that people were waiting to find out what was happening is what kept me going. If you've shown an interest by adding me to a list, I hope to hear what you thought about the story now that it's finished :)

*deep breath* I guess that's all. End #2.