He hears them coming for him in the middle of the night, their footsteps echoing along the silent tier. House holds his breath, hoping they don't stop in front of his cell door, don't open it and drag him out. Don't take him for one of their 'play' sessions. Hoping that they take someone else tonight. He lies in his bunk, still and silent.
The heavy door is thrown open and a flashlight is shone in his eyes.
"Prisoner House! Up against the wall!"
He obeys quickly; he learned long ago to keep his mouth shut and his movements swift when the guards came for him. He faces the bare concrete wall of his cell, his hands flat above his head, his legs spread slightly. He tenses, once when he was in this position they'd smashed his head into the wall. This time though they don't seem to be in the mood to hang around.
They yank his hands down behind him and cuff them tightly behind his back. Hands pat down his threadbare sleep pants and worn t-shirt, searching for contraband. When they don't find any he's spun around and pushed towards the door. He stumbles; it's hard to keep his balance with his hands behind him and his bad leg screaming at him. His last pain med was twelve hours ago, and that only half of what he is supposed to have. Heavy hands hold him upright and he's dragged away, half walking, half being carried along by the two guards on either side of him.
He expects them to take him to the room they use for these night time excursions, a dusty, barely used storeroom, with an old table in the middle. He knows that table, has felt the scratch of the rough wood on his face as one pushes him down over the surface and the other uses his ass. He used to scream when they took him, he used to yell and curse; now he just silently endures. They always make it worse if you complain.
He's pushed past that door and into a brightly lit room, an office where he's never been before. There's carpet under his bare feet instead of cold concrete, and the Warden of the prison is sitting behind a large desk, immaculately dressed, despite it being the middle of the night.
He's thrust to his knees, one guard keeping a tight grip on his shoulder, squeezing it in a promise of more pain if he doesn't behave himself.
The warden rises and comes over to him.
"Prisoner House. You are being released on conditional parole."
He jerks his head up and stares at the man. He has another ten months to serve, and the Warden had made it clear when he was given the additional sentence that there would be very little chance of parole being granted again. He's paid dearly for his act of defiance to save the life of his fellow prisoner, and he'd been expecting to keep paying.
"Do you agree to the conditions of your parole?" The warden continues and House wonders if he's missed a step in the conversation.
"What conditions?" he asks, and the hand on his shoulder tightens again; that was the wrong question apparently. House knows that any question would be wrong. Keeping your mouth shut was the first lesson they taught you here.
"If you don't agree you will be immediately returned to your cell, this offer won't be made again."
There's nothing than can be worse than this place, he thinks. He nods his head cautiously.
"Yes, I agree."
A guard comes forward with something in his hands and reaches for House's throat. House tries to shy away but he's held tightly and feels a collar being fitted around his throat, it's made of some sort of plastic, and there's a little box on the back which sits snugly over the vertebrae of his neck. It's fluorescent orange, with the word 'prisoner' printed on it. It's designed to mark him as scum, a degenerate, not fit to associate with normal people. He'll have no rights when he's wearing it, and be a target for all those around him.
"You're being released into the custody of the Dean of your old hospital. You will be permitted to be in the hospital and nowhere else. If you try to leave the hospital grounds the collar will send a signal to the police and you will be immediately returned to this prison."
"You are still a prisoner. You will remain a prisoner for another ten months. You will simply be serving the remainder of your sentence in another location. If at any time the Dean is not satisfied with your performance, or you attempt to leave the hospital, or if he simply no longer needs you there, you will be returned here. Do you understand?"
"Yes," House says, "I understand." The collar sits heavily around his neck, restricting him already.
"Good." House twists his head to look for the new voice, a familiar voice. Foreman comes forward from where he's been standing in a dark corner of the room. House is still on his knees and Foreman looks down at him, contempt on his face. "I own you, House, for the next ten months. Don't forget it."
He's taken to the reception room of the prison; it's as cold as the rest of the old building. Here he's uncuffed and told to strip out of his sleep clothes and he does so, watched by the guards and Foreman. He has no underwear and as he stands naked before them he can see them looking at the bruises that cover his body. The other prisoners have found the places the guards missed.
Foreman runs a hand over his back and probes at a spot on his ribs where a guard had put a boot in the day before, House gasps at the pain and Foreman chuckles.
"Maybe they taught you some manners while you were here, House. At least you've learned to keep your mouth shut."
When they've all had a good look he's handed a cheap pair of jeans, a worn pair of shoes and a prison shirt with 'Department of Corrections - Prisoner'' stenciled in large letters on the back. The same uniform he's worn for the last ten months. He puts them on and watches as the guard on the desk hands over his own clothes and belongings to Foreman. His fingers twitch at the sight of the pill bottle and Foreman tucks it away in his pocket with a smirk. Foreman slips his wallet and watch into another pocket and leaves House's clothes behind on the desk.
"He won't be needing those."
He opens his mouth to protest but then looks around and closes it again, he's nearly out of here, and he's not going to screw it up now and be stuck in this hell hole for another ten months, he seriously doubts he'd be alive at the end of it.
The cane Foreman examines but then throws to House with a sneer.
"Here, you can have this, don't want your crippled ass crawling all over the hospital."
Foreman signs some release papers and then nods his head to House.
"Come on, you have a patient and I've wasted enough time on you tonight."
Foreman has him sit in the back of his car and drives him back to the hospital. House rubs his wrists, which are ringed by the marks of too many handcuffings and listens as Foreman briefs him on the patient. His patient, a pair of lungs, for Wilson's patient, yet another pathetic dying cancer victim. He doesn't care, and he doubts Foreman does either. Foreman wanted him out of here for his own reasons, and the patient was just convenient for him.
"What happened to Cuddy?" he asks when Foreman finishes.
"Board dumped her," Foreman answers shortly and House shuts up.
He enters the hospital at Foreman's heels, his prison garb and the collar marking him as a degenerate for all who care to look. The security guards at the entrance eye him with smiles on their faces, he's insulted them plenty of times before and he knows they'll be happy to take their revenge. Nobody is going to care what sort of use a guard makes of a convict, he's learned that.
Foreman leads him past the glass fronted office suite that used to be his domain, one side is occupied by what looks like orthopedics, the other is empty.
"Where's my stuff," he asks, "what about my team?" They've probably moved on, he only held onto them through a mixture of blackmail and offering them protection from worse bosses, the weasels probably took the first opportunity they had and ran, taking his stuff with them.
Foreman looks back at him. "Your stuff was given away of course, unless Wilson took any - you'd have to ask him, if he's talking to you. I'd suggest asking very nicely," he adds with a smug smile. "He's not happy with you, as you can imagine. Your ass is going to be sore for a long time if he even bothers with you again." Foreman reaches out to pat him on the ass, as if to make his point and House hits his hand away.
"Keep your fucking hands to yourself, Foreman." He might have to put up with being seen as a prisoner by the whole staff here, but he isn't going to let them treat him like some slutty intern.
Foreman scowls at him but then shrugs. "Keep that attitude up House and you'll be back in that prison before the day is out. I've heard that you're quite the popular little fucktoy there. I can't see why they bother myself."
"Yeah, yeah, and who's going to cure these lungs then? You need me here Foreman, surprised it's taken you this long to figure that out. Now, if you've given my office away where am I supposed to work, and where's my team?"
Foreman leads him to an unmarked wooden door halfway down the corridor and throws it open. House stares at the interior; the room is a box, with no windows and one dim light. There's a cot shoved up against one wall, a desk and a chair and that's about it. Sitting on the chair is a terrified looking girl in a labcoat. Foreman ignores her and turns to House.
"Here's your new 'office'. And that's your new team."
"No, I need..."
"Get this straight House. You''ll work here, you'll sleep here, you'll wear those clothes. You'll get three meals a day at the canteen, whatever they have left over after everyone else has eaten. You'll keep yourself groomed and tidy or I'll get the guards to do it for you. I will not let you make my hospital look bad. Cuddy was soft and weak. She let you get away with doing whatever you wanted. Well now you're nothing, you have no position here, no tenure, no department, no salary. You're one step up from a fucking slave. You'll do what you're told, when I tell you. Otherwise you go back to prison. Your ass is mine. I own you."
"Yes, Massa," House says. He knows he'll pay for it but he can't let this go without protest.
Foreman grins ferally and presses something in his pocket. It must be a control to House's collar because House is thrown to the ground by a jolting shock which takes his breath away and leaves his whole body jerking with pain.
The girl in the coat stares at him, her mouth open wide, her hand pressed against it.
As House writhes on the floor Foreman kicks him in the side, right where the worst bruise is. Then he kneels next to him, pulls his head up by the hair and talks in a low voice.
"Seven years I had to take your shit, House, your insults, your stupid games, all your insanity. Well, I don't have to anymore. Now it's pay back time. Get your sorry ass off the floor, take your 'team' and go cure the fucking lungs."
House lies down on the narrow cot in his 'office', wrapped in a blanket he liberated from a patient who no longer had a need for it. He stares at the closed door. He doesn't like the solid walls; in his old office with the glass walls he could see who was coming, keep an eye on things. Here he's trapped, the door doesn't lock and there's nowhere to hide if anyone comes for him.
He's sent Park home, she turned out not to be completely useless and she didn't seem to mind the fact that he was prison scum. She'll need some sort of protection from the ass she used to work for in neurology, the one she punched out when he groped her in his office, House is surprised he hasn't come looking for her already. Normally Wilson would sort out protection for House's team, but he's been giving House the cold shoulder all day. House had been prepared for anything from Wilson; after what he did he would deserve it, but being ignored hurts worse than the thrashing he'd figured he'd be getting. He'd thought he'd caused a break in the man's demeanour when he'd saved his damned patient so she could go back to her loser boyfriend but he hasn't seen him since then.
He's desperately tired, he's been up since three this morning, not allowed to take a break until he'd come up with a diagnosis that worked. He's done it too, fresh out of Hell, beaten and bruised, a damn collar around his neck and he is better than any of them. Foreman won't send him back; he's too valuable to the hospital. He'll treat him like crap, like something he's scraped off the sidewalk but he'll keep him. Now he just has to get Wilson to take him on again and he'll be set.
His eyes are just closing when he hears the door open and two men slip inside the small room, shutting the door behind them. He rolls out of bed, grabbing his cane as they slap on the lights.
Two security staff, grins on their stupid faces. He knows them; they were two of Cuddy's favourites.
"Well convict, get on your knees and open your mouth, you should be good at that now," one of them says, as the other advances on him. House grips his cane tighter. If he opens wide for these two there'll be no end to it, he needs to show them he can still take care of himself.
The struggle is brief, there are two of them and only one of him, but he gets in a couple of good blows with the cane that they'll be feeling. Still, they pin him down on the cot, forcing his face into the sheets, while they fumble with his pants.
He's bracing himself for what comes next when the door opens again and another man enters.
"Get off him," a quiet voice of authority says. "He's mine."
The hands on him retreat and the guards stand up. House pulls his pants back up and turns around to watch the show.
"Sorry, Doctor Wilson, thought you were through with him, you know, after what happened."
"Cuddy got what she deserved, and House got what he deserved. I'm through with my people when I say I'm through. Now get the fuck out of here before I remember your names and get someone to pay you a visit in the middle of the night."
They pale. Wilson has a long history of making good on his threats, and the manpower to back them up, and leave quickly. House smirks at Wilson. "About time you got here, I knew you couldn't keep away."
"Stand up," Wilson says in that same quiet, dangerous voice and House finds himself on his feet. He tries his best to look submissive and obedient but he's never been good at that, not even when he wants to be. Wilson is dressed in his best evening clothes, on his way to some event or other. House would at one time have gone with him, but tonight he's standing here, barefoot and in his prison garb, waiting to hear what Wilson is going to do to him.
Wilson looks him and up and down and then House is knocked down with a wicked punch to his jaw that rattles his teeth. He stays down, staring up at Wilson. He doesn't try and protect his body from further blows, if Wilson wants to use him as a punching bag that's his privilege, especially after what House has done.
"You made me look bad, House. Made me look like weak, like I couldn't manage my own people. I had to support that idiot Foreman just to keep control." Wilson kneels next to him and fingers the collar around his neck, tugging on it. "And now you have this, and you're stuck in this hospital so I can't take you out with me. You'll be making this up to me for a long time, you know that don't you?"
House nods. He needs Wilson, without him he's nothing, just shark bait. He'll pay his debt to Wilson because he has no choice.
"I was wrong," House says quietly, hoping to at least earn some forgiveness. "I went to prison, I paid the price."
"You paid their price, now you'll pay mine." Wilson rests one hand on the collar around his neck and with the other plays with House's hair, tugging at it gently - it's longer since he went to prison. "I'll cut this in the morning and shave you as well. If you can't behave well at least you can look good for me."
"Yes, sir." House murmurs quietly as Wilson continues to pet him.
"Such an idiot, House. If you wanted Cuddy taken care of you only needed to come to me, you know that."
House leans into Wilson's touch, seeking forgiveness but Wilson steps away.
"I have to go. I have a fundraising dinner tonight. Too bad it isn't a costume party or you could come with me," he laughs, seemingly amused at the thought of having House in tow, dressed in his prison uniform. "Go back to sleep, nobody else will bother you tonight, and tomorrow..." he pauses. "Tomorrow you can start making it up to me. I'll see if I can get your office back. I do like to be able to see you at all times."
House watches as Wilson rises, brushing lint off his pants until he is the very image of the consummate medical professional.
"Goodnight, House, I'll bring you a steak back."
He waits until Wilson has left and then gets up off the floor and back onto his cot. He fishes underneath the mattress and takes out the cigar he stole from the oncology lounge earlier, lighting it with a stolen match. He sits back and takes a deep, satisfied puff.
It's good to be home.