Tag, You're It
By Scarlett Burns

Disclaimer: I don't own House MD... just playing!

Summary: It takes a good, ol' fashion game of Tag to get House back into the game after his infarction.

Author's Note: I haven't seen to many fics dealing with how House got back to work post-infarction so... I decided to take a stab at it! This is longer than a one-shot so more is to come. I hope you enjoy, and reviews are welcome and cherished!


It's a damn mystery.

Rubbing my forehead tiredly, I lean back in my chair, sighing. I've been up for twenty hours straight and gotten nowhere. My latest patient – a ten year old boy – is dying. After three days in the hospital suffering from unexplained pain, nosebleeds and numbness, a new symptom had cropped up – internal bleeding. No trauma, no chronic illness, no poison… the list of things it wasn't was growing a lot faster than the list of things it could be.

The pen between my teeth tasted like plastic. I kept chewing on it anxiously, anyway.

The kid didn't have a lot of time.

When I realize I'm staring at the wall as if the answer is written on it I toss the pen onto my desk. Glancing at the journal of New England Science & Medicine to my left I slide it closer. One of the articles inside had caught my attention four days earlier and I wondered if it was possible...

The article was the diagnosis, study and treatment of a rare kidney disease. I'd read the article twice, something I hadn't done for any article in any journal in quite some time. Nephrology – although vital to know in the broad strokes – was not my specialty. But it wasn't the subject that hooked me, it was the author.

Dr. Gregory House.

I remember House well from my med-school days. Who could forget a man like that? House had a brain capable of holding more random information than should be possible and a quick, outside the box brilliance that did little to compensate for his strange personality.

Oh yeah, the man was also a pain in the ass.

House could, however, play the hell out of a piano. I doubted many people knew "G-man" and I wouldn't have either if I hadn't been a two-bit sax player back in my college days.

How House had figured out the mysterious kidney disease blew me away. So much so I had to read the article twice. Elephants? Seriously?

I shouldn't be surprised. House was renowned in the medical world for a number of reasons; one of them could even be considered good.

Thumbing through the journal I find House's article again, eyes skimming over it for contact information. There was an email, which I doubted was ever read, and the name of the hospital he was currently tenured at.

Within a couple minutes I'd pulled the number for Princeton General off the web. Unable to locate House's direct number, I settle for dialing Princeton General's Hospital Administrator, Peter Anderson.

"Mr. Anderson, I'm Dr. Carey. I'm calling because I'd like to get a consult from one of your employees."

"Which one?" Anderson asked, and I could tell from those two words this was a man who had no time for pleasantries.

"Dr. House."

Immediately after I said the name Anderson sighed. "That won't be possible."

Frowning, I adjust my glasses and glance at the article on the desk in front of me. Despite being printed in a recent journal, the article itself was dated a year earlier. "Mind if I ask why? Does he still work there?"

"I do. And no, he doesn't."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I say, but continue to waste his time. "Which hospital did he go to?"

"He didn't. Look, I can't discuss it."

"You mean he's not working?"

"I… don't think so."

Shaking my head in disbelief, I let some of that slip through. "Gregory House not working? Is that even possible?"

"He resigned a little over a year ago. That's all I can say."

Knowing House and his reputation I wonder if it was a forced resignation to avoid embarrassment, but quickly dismiss the thought. Anderson genuinely sounded unhappy about it, not angry.

"That's too bad. I hate to ask but do you have any way to contact him? I have a patient here that could really use his consult."

"Nothing short of a miracle is going to get Gregory House to look at your patient's file. Best of luck to your patient."

The sound of the dial tone startles me and I hang up the receiver, surprised by the abrupt end to a unusually vague conversation. Odd.

Turning towards my computer, I run a Google search on House; nothing comes up as far as current employment. Tons of research papers and articles turn up, but as I start to look at the dates I realize the most recent thing he seems to have written was featured in the journal sitting on my desk.

After researching for an hour I sit back, confused. As far as I could tell, it had been over a year since House had been employed, written an article, appeared at a conference or published any medical findings. He'd basically disappeared from the medical community.

A little more digging and I was fairly sure that House hadn't died, lost his medical license or been imprisoned or institutionalized. So what could stop him from working? Illness?

Tapping my pen against the desk, I begin to have a growing suspicion that he must not be a well man. I couldn't come up with any other explanation that made sense.

Surely he could still consult, though?

Unable to get any sort of new contact information online I open up the journal and try the email address under his name in the article. It's not a Princeton General address, so there's a slim possibility it was valid. Still, I knew the chances of him actually reading and responding were practically zero.

Opening up my email, I know what to say; only one thing gets his attention.

G-Man –

Nosebleeds
Numbness
Pain everywhere
Internal Bleeding

Go.

My name is in the email address so I don't bother to sign it, opting instead to just add my cell phone to the bottom of my note. I hit send before I'm tempted to add any more to it. It doesn't bounce back, so I'm satisfied the email has found its way somewhere.

Shutting down my computer I give the odds of him actually receiving the email .1%, and the odds of him actually responding a staggeringly tiny .0001%. Still, I couldn't help but hope he'd respond – for my patient's sake – as I packed up my stuff and headed home for some much needed sleep.


12 hours later
Princeton, New Jersey

I'd finished off an entire bottle of whiskey in a day. That's when I knew I needed to get control before I hit the point of no return…

Like you're not there already.

To be precise, I knew the day after, spent camped next to the toilet with the worst hangover I'd ever had… and there was some stiff competition in that category. The only thing good to be said was that the unrelenting pain in my leg had been numbed by the obscene amount of alcohol coursing through my veins, and the pounding of my head once the alcohol had worn off served as a first rate distraction.

Two distractions for the price of one bottle of whiskey; I couldn't ask for more.

The binge had started when a vicious cramp took hold of my thigh. I'd already taken twice the recommended dose of my newly prescribed Demerol with no relief in the pain. Once the worst of it was gone and I didn't feel like I was going to pass out or puke I'd started in on the whiskey.

In retrospect, it wasn't my wisest decision.

Stacey left two months ago. No surprise; I couldn't look at her anymore. Her life would continue while I was stuck in the seventh circle of hell, aka never-ending pain, embarrassment and mind-numbing boredom.

Worst part about it; I couldn't blame her for leaving.

I couldn't work. I couldn't walk. I needed help with everything. In pain all the time. I feel like I went from 38 years old to eighty in one year.

Who'd want to stay?

Don't forget: You couldn't listen to her say I'm sorry one more Goddamn time.

I hate her. I miss her. I'm royally screwed.

Snatching the pill bottle off the living room table I take my dose and grab the light-colored wood cane leaning on the couch beside me. The thought that I was capable of hating an inanimate object so much would have seemed ludicrous before the infarction.

Things change.

I lift myself up, hissing as a familiar pain shoots up and down my leg. Standing for a moment, I wait; eyes squeezed shut, until I feel up to taking a step.

My hand clutches the handle, slick with perspiration. My leg is trembling slightly, but it holds as I take another step.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Someone please shoot me now.

Eyes open once again I spot the laptop sitting on top of the desk, on the other side of my living room. Not far. Six steps. Something most people – myself included until a year ago – wouldn't even give a second thought about.

I grip the smooth, cool handle of the cane tighter. Six steps. Now it was not only a thought but a major effort.

Pathetic.

The first steps were always the worst. As I slowly make my way across the room I feel my leg loosen up a bit.

Reaching the desk, I lean against the wood for support, sweat making my skin clammy and cool. I swallow and look down at my right leg as it shakes from the strain of my weight and the pain of the movement. It's been a year since the surgery; it shouldn't still be this hard, this painful.

Closing my eyes my heart jumps as the thought that my leg may never be better than this lodges into my brain, not for the first time. The possibility scares the shit out of me.

Planting both hands on the desk I shift the weight off my bad leg. In the back of my mind I know I'm being impatient. The cane is still relatively new, and a major step forward from the crutches that came before but the transition was not going as well as I thought it would and it worried me.

This is supposed to get easier. Will it ever be easier?

Wiping clammy hands against my sweats I grab the laptop and tuck it under my arm, grateful for its lightweight design. Heavily supported by the cane I limp back to the couch, relieved to find that the trek back wasn't as bad as the trek there.

I know I can't take being alone with my thoughts or myself much longer. The longer I'm left alone to think, the worse the pain gets, and the worse my abuse of drugs and alcohol to stop the thinking and the pain.

I need to get back to practicing medicine and solving puzzles. I was going insane from the boredom.

My mind was ready... too bad I couldn't say the same for my body.

Hell, I know my leg isn't ready for standing up and walking around a hospital all day. Making rounds. Seeing patients. Driving to work and back. I don't know how this is going to work, but I know I can't risk waiting for my leg to feel better. It's never going to be better. Sure the pain might lessen and it might get a little stronger as the remaining muscles compensate for the missing ones, but I'd never walk normally again, and I'd never be pain free.

Powering on my laptop I rubbed my aching thigh as I watched it boot up.

Bringing up my email I'm surprised by a name I haven't seen since med school. Ignoring my other emails – they all looked like junk anyway – I click on it first.

No signature, no friendly note, no explanation, no pity, no nostalgic reference to the past. It's just a list of symptoms.

My lips twitch into a ghost of a smile as I analyze the symptoms for a minute and hit reply.

Toxin. Boring.

I hit send without signing it, or offering my cell number. He'd have to do better than that if he wanted my help… but his email was certainly interesting. I remember him well enough to know that he probably wouldn't be emailing me if this were easy, and I hope to God it isn't, if only to distract me from my own sorry state.