A/N-I was reading part of one of my other stories, 'Dearest Apollo,' and looking back I wish I would have stuck with the original story that I had planned. This story is what 'Apollo' was supposed to be before I softened it up and made it prettier. I regret that decision. You will notice a few of the starting elements are similar, I want to address the two of them after the show, but this is not about delving into their problems and dealing with the past. This fic will be short (promise) definitely less than eight chapters.
This isn't a song fic, but the title was inspired by two lines in a song, so I feel I should give credit. 'I Remember a Rooftop' by Alkaline Trio: "This is the waiting room I spend my whole life in; They gave me a thousand hands so I could count my sins."
In some eastern philosophy, the concept of one thousand arms is associated with compassion, forgiveness, and the desire to end misery and suffering.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of House, md. Please be aware, this is an M-Rated story and will include adult themes, language and content.
Prison, fourteen months after House faked his death.
As House stared at the clock on the wall, he nervously hoped Raider didn't screw him. Calmly convincing himself that he was going to get fucked no matter what he did in life, House tried to prepare for the inevitable disappointment. There was nothing in the room he could use to occupy himself: no tennis balls, no paper clips, no pencils or even a packet of sugar. There was a room, a cot, a toilet and a sink. Earlier that day, he had played with the liquid that trickled from the faucet until they threatened to turn off the water to his cell. The clock ticked past three, and then it clicked three more minutes past three without any sign of Raider or anyone else. Then the clunk and buzz of the outer door to the holding cell block echoed down the hall and through the bars that kept the occupants prisoner.
House waited, his finger rapidly tapping the back of his other hand while he listened for clues about who was approaching. One set of footfalls was from the dull thud of the thick, black, non-skid soles worn by the correctional officers. Closing his eyes, he could hear the second set of footfalls, the slightly sharper sound of dress shoes landing on the sleek linoleum. He knew every sound that building made and what it meant. There was little else to do while there. Had he been forced to serve his entire sentence, he would have gone completely crazy from the lack of stimulation.
Raider stood in front of the cell, "You are a lucky son of a bitch, you know it?"
"Geez, do I feel lucky," House answered dryly.
"Let me make this clear, the terms of your parole state-"
"That wasn't our agreement. The agreement was no parole."
Raider sent the guard away, watching while the hulking man disappeared. Raider turned back, "You don't get to question me. Ever. The parole is a technicality. I am your parole officer, and I hope I never see your pathetic ass again. The parole is on paper but if you blink noticeably, I'll lock you up for the rest of your miserable life. No questions, no chances."
"Your tone has changed significantly since last month, when I was a 'fucking miracle worker.'"
"The terms of our agreement are between us. Mention them to anyone, I'll book you on a parole violation. If I hear your name and I don't like what I hear: parole violation. If I see a picture of you I don't like: parole violation. If your path crosses mine in public: parole violation."
"So I won't get invited to Sunday dinner? Your wife seemed pretty fond of me."
"Shut up, House. Stay away from my family. When you leave here, you disappear."
"You don't want to come back here, do you?" Raider asked snidely.
"I'd rather not."
"I understand some of the nice men I've locked up before were concerned about our little meetings," Raider mentioned, nodding at the bandage that stuck out from the sleeve of the slate grey prison shirt House wore.
"You did a great job of setting me up as a rat."
"Compliance insurance. You can't complain too much, I put you in protective custody."
"After your wife was home. Three weeks after you took out your…compliance insurance. You sent me to hang out with the general population while I was saving your wife's life. Gratitude is a tricky concept for you, isn't it?"
"Well, you're going free now, aren't you?" Raider smiled as he put his hands in the pockets of his pressed and tailored pants. "Seems like I understand gratitude well enough."
"I'll feel a little more confident when I can no longer see any part of this building."
"Do I need a CO to walk you out? You aren't stupid enough to try anything when you're this close to getting out of here, are you?"
Raider signaled for the guard to open the automated door. House stood and watched it glide open in front of his eyes. They walked to the front, Raider monitoring his prisoner from two steps away. Standing impatiently while House collected his personal belongings, Raider looked around, checking his watch and his phone to waste time.
The somber attendant gave House his things. Standing in the cold, open room, House put the institutional cane he was given to use in prison in the window for the attendant. There was no privacy in prison, even on the way out. With two CO's, the attendant and Raider standing in the room, House removed his prison clothes and tossed them in the bin provided there. His own clothes felt unimaginably good, the denim in his jeans was perfectly rough and thick, and his tee shirt still smelled like the sun. When he pulled his riding boots onto his feet, he thought he would actually die if something prevented his freedom.
And there it was, the outer door opened, the attendant forced a smile and said, sarcastically, "Best wishes," while handing House's personal cane to him.
The newly freed man was almost disoriented as the afternoon sun greeted him on the outside; he literally squinted at the brightness. Raider reminded, "You disappear."
"Get out of here," Raider ordered, "Thank you for saving her life. But you're free, and my debt is paid."
House turned away, facing the outer gates and beginning the slow stroll to freedom. He wondered if he would have run, if he was able, or if he would have enjoyed each step that took him farther away from that pit he felt he barely survived.
After walking a good distance away, he found a convenience store, bought one of the best cups of coffee he'd ever tasted and limped into the public restroom. Carefully removing his riding boots, he pulled out the box cutter he'd stolen from one of the clerks who was stocking shelves and cut along the inside bottom of his shoe. Carefully lifting up the insole, he looked into the wells carved in the sole and found his meticulously stashed supply of pills. He felt the weight of a Vicodin in his hand, bounced it up and down for a moment and considered tossing it into his mouth, but tightened his fist around it.
He had dreams over the last few months, as he imagined his first night out of jail, filled with drugs, drink and a hooker or two, followed by a night of sleep when he wasn't forced to get up at 7:20 am to begin another day he wished he didn't have to live. Unfortunately he didn't have the resources. He couldn't afford a motel room and a hooker and a drink. It wasn't that he didn't have money, but he had to get to one of the places where the money was.
The police confiscated his fake ID and credit cards when they arrested him, so all that remained was forty-seven dollars and a condom. One of the attendants at the prison put staples through the condom. House hated that place and every fucking person in it.
He sold the pills at a bar in town, the money was quick and the buyer paid for the convenience as well as the high. With just enough money left over to buy some dinner and a double shot of cheap whiskey, he purchased a ticket and boarded the train.
He finally arrived at his mother's home early the following morning. Of course it seemed a better idea to avoid her, he wasn't looking forward to the discussions they were about to have, but there were things he needed at her home. The place looked sort of inviting, and suddenly the thought of a day or two with decent meals and comfortable lodgings while he reestablished himself seemed like a good idea.
No one answered the door, so he looked for an outdoor light and found the spot where his mother had always hidden spare keys. People didn't change. He opened the door and the place smelled exactly like her. She still had a few pictures of him on the wall, next to newer pictures of herself and her new husband and his family. It was too neat, too tidy and too fake, but it reminded him of the proper and neat homes she had kept no matter where they lived throughout his childhood. He went immediately to the fridge for food, and he wondered if she was away for a few days, since there were few things there to eat.
Settling on a tall glass of scotch and a microwave dinner, he began to look for his things. He found the photo album where there were bills tucked in the plastic sleeves where the pictures were supposed to be kept. While he ate and drank, he removed the bills and stacked them. He found his duffle bag, one given to him by John House, and found his mother had kept that too. He had sent his mother these things after he got out of prison the first time, escape provisions. There were only two full sets of clothes and one pair of sneakers, but the ill-soled riding boots certainly weren't helping his leg.
Once his things were gathered, he ran the hottest bath that he could and sunk into the water to soak. He heard the front door open and close and he heard someone walking around. He shouted from the tub with mock cheer, "Mom, I'm home."
Only a moment later, the steps progressed down the hall and the door flung open. Thomas Bell shook his head as he walked in, leaning against the counter and facing the closet door. "It's you," he said in his thickly accented way. "You're late."
"I didn't realize I was expected."
"Where's your darling little wife?"
"Even she didn't want you?"
House stared ahead without an answer.
"I'm sure your mother wasn't all that surprised that you didn't show. When could she ever expect anything from you, you ungrateful sociopath?"
House continued to soak and answered, his tone sarcastically child-like, "You know how Mom hates when you say stuff like that."
"Well, what's she gonna do now?" Bell looked the same, perhaps a bit more tired, it hadn't been that long since Blythe and Bell paid him a visit. "You couldn't even show up to say goodbye to her. It's like y'existed to break her heart."
Staring ahead, the realization hit House, "What happened?"
"You didn't hear? Or you chose to ignore?"
"Didn't hear. What happened?"
"Stroke. We took her to the hospital…she was stabilized and then another hit. Worse. That was it."
"Almost a month now. You're lucky you came when you did, I'm selling this place. Can't stand being here without her."
"I just got out."
"In prison again or rehabilitation for all of those pills you swallow?"
"It's probably merciful. She deserved so much better than you. Seeing you probably would have hurt her again."
House drained the water and stood, grabbing a towel. "You don't know anything about my family."
"I knew your mother."
"Parts of her."
"She made excuses for you for as long as she could still speak coherently. When I asked her about getting in touch with you before her second stroke hit, even then she excused your pathetic behavior. She has this world renowned diagnostician for a son, and what good did it do her when she was sick?"
"I'm not sure how I could have helped. Apparently she didn't need a diagnostician."
"I think it's best you go. I'm not gonna let you bad mouth and disregard your mother in her own home. You have tonight here. I'm only giving you that because it's what she would have wanted. I want you gone in the morning," Bell said as he walked out of the room.
Later, Bell slapped several letters on the dining room table, all addressed to House. Some were collection attempts for bills that were long forgotten, but four were pleas for help with cases from people who tracked down House's next of kin. When people were really desperate for a cure they always seemed able to overlook his social skills and criminal history.
Skimming over most of the letters and tossing them to the side, there was one that caught his eye. Most requests over the years pleaded for assistance because the sick person was young or had children or was a sainted person who needed to be saved for the benefit of the world, and the letters were no different, but the interesting request contained five hundred dollars in cash and a small sheet of instructions that could have fit on a note card.
There were no symptoms, no heartfelt plea for help or argument of the patient's worthiness. There was the mention of an unsolved case, an address and money. The five hundred dollars was offered as an incentive to come and to help with travel expenses, but a much greater sum of money was promised if he showed up and even more was offered if he found a cure. A lot of the money he had once had neatly stashed away was gone after fleeing the country, faking his death and running off with Wilson. The last few years were full of big expenses, and, upon his death, his documented money was passed on to his survivors. He never bothered to attempt to reclaim any of it. There was little point, initially he thought he'd be spending years in prison because he was charged with every single crime they could pin on him.
Apart from the money stashed with his mother, there was another significant sum hidden in an office in Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, money hidden when he left proof of his existence for his former team. He hoped it was still there. Both stashes of money wouldn't sustain him forever, so the thought of earning a year's salary in a few weeks was tempting.
Walking through the place his mother had called home, reality began to settle over him. The painful loss of his mother was something he couldn't deal with until he had certain practical matters arranged. He wasn't sure how much longer he could stay in that building. Bell offered him a drink, rambling on as he poured about the ways that House had failed his mother. House took the glass from Bell's hand, quickly swallowed it down and stated calmly, "Gotta go. I have a case."
Minutes later, with his dad's duffle bag and very few belongings, House left and headed north. The case was in New York State, close enough to PPTH to make a side trip there at some point. He bought a motorcycle, something cheap and used but in good shape. After strapping his bag firmly to the seat, he was on his way.
After far too many months spent sleeping on a prison cot, his leg was burning before he even began the long ride, and NSAIDS barely touched the pain. Frequent breaks seemed a small price to pay for the chance to ride a bike again. Of course he wanted to be anywhere but in prison. Life seemed to be increasingly relative, and in the light of his last year, his expectations were low.
As he rode, the realization that his mother was dead made frequent and stubborn attempts to enter his thoughts, but each time he felt the stab of hurt, he shoved the thoughts roughly from his mind. He needed something to fill the space in his head that allowed for those feelings. He needed the case. He wasn't even sure why he was still clean after the last few months, so he just stubbornly continued, but he had proven he didn't need anyone to stay clean.
Then he felt on the edge of a place where his stubbornness began to waver. He started to obsess on the case. He wondered why the requestor did not try to argue for the life of the sick person and considered the possibility that it was someone hated. Perhaps it was a greedy CEO, a disgraced politician or a known criminal. He thought about the typed note and the address, and he fantasized about the condition of the patient. He started to imagine tests and outcomes, rare conditions and treatments, his medical mind was suddenly very aroused as diagnostic synapses that seemed dormant woke up and began to fire. The postmark was from New York State, just like the address. The possibility crossed his mind, for a moment, that perhaps the case was something boring, a case already solved in a way the family did not like. Like thoughts of his mother, he pushed those aside, he needed this to be a real case.
He rode until the pain in his leg and the tiredness of his mind overwhelmed his desire to continue moving forward. Collapsing onto the bed of a roadside motel with his body fully dressed and the bed completely made, he felt fortunate to make it to a bed at all. There were almost ten hours of nearly comatose sleep from the moment he closed his eyes until the maid rapped loudly on the door to clean the room.
A few more hours of riding brought him to the address in the envelope. The home, set back a respectable distance from the road, was nice enough for him to believe that the owner could probably come up with the money they'd promised to pay him, but it was hardly a mansion. He climbed off his bike, hanging the helmet on the handlebar. With a cautious but excited approach to the front door, he caught a glimpse of eyes peering curiously out of the open second floor window. A polite and courteous woman answered the door and listened while he introduced himself, a realization dawning on her after a moment when she said, "This way, sir."
The anticipation was more noticeable than he ever thought it had been without knowing any specifics. This case, the prospect of a challenge, was a very real drug, a stimulant, and he forgot for a moment that his shoulder was stiff, his leg was throbbing, he was thirsty and he really had to pee. He was too busy following this young woman down the hall to a room near the back of the house.
The room was quiet, but he could hear the slight tap of an IV infusion pump and the sounds of pages turning while someone read a book. A woman, likely his patient, was asleep on a recliner near the window.
House glanced at the patient, but he didn't really want or need to look at the patient, not yet, he needed to look at the file so he could tell if this case was worth his building enthusiasm. From behind him he heard, "Greg, thank you for coming," in a voice that was condescending, subtly derisive, and familiar.
He turned slowly and just seconds before his eyes met the face of his greeter, he placed the voice with its owner. "Arlene," House nodded, "great to see you. Now I'm leaving."
The woman moved closer to the door almost immediately, offering, "You don't want the money?"
"I don't want to see her. No money is worth that."
"Hear me out."
"Is she here?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your daughter. Is she in the building?" he asked, shouting condescendingly and speaking slowly as if Arlene was intolerably dull and lacked basic comprehension skills.
She looked confused for a moment, like he should have known the answer, and nodded with only the slightest movement of her head while her eyes darted past him.
When reality dawned on him, he turned back to the recliner. He took two very unsteady steps closer to the sleeping figure who was beginning to stir. He could have spent all day in that room and never recognized her.