'Same as it Ever Was' by Eos

Author's Note: Well, since the home improvement projects aren't going so well (and it's too late to drive back to Lowe's), I decided to finish off this House fic.

It picks up about a month after 'Lost Causes.' It's essentially House at his most obnoxious, Wilson at his most exasperated, and everyone else is tap dancing as fast as they can just to keep up :-) As always, Alph did her best. The screw ups are totally mine.

Part 1

House stood in front of the dresser and pulled on his jeans. Getting them on the bad leg was easy. It was standing on the bad leg while leaning on the dresser in order to get his good leg in that posed a challenge. Sometimes he sat on the foot of the bed to do it. And sometimes he didn't like giving into the demands of muscles that didn't exist anymore.

"We need to talk about the shaving thing," Wilson said. He walked into the bedroom wearing a towel around his waist and combing through his damp hair with his fingers.

"We need to talk about the moving in thing," House countered. He got a good eyeful of Wilson before yanking his jeans the rest of the way over his hips. He made sure he was steady back on both feet, then reached for his belt and began threading it through the loops.

"We already decided the moving in thing," Wilson said.

"You did. I didn't." House waved his hand around the room. "Half your crap is here already."

"Yeah, calling my stuff crap, that makes me feel so wanted," Wilson muttered under his breath.

"Crap, stuff, junk—whatever," House said. "Half of it's here. You might as well bring the rest."

"No," Wilson said. And damned if House had been able to get anywhere on that issue. Wilson could be persuaded to do just about anything House suggested, but he refused to move in as consistently as House asked. House didn't understand it. Not Wilson's reluctance—that was entirely understandable. Wilson was still awaiting the final decree for his third divorce and he was embarking on a relationship with a man not known for his warm, fuzzy side. Either was enough to make even the bravest man leery.

What House couldn't understand was his own eagerness. He'd never pursued anyone so aggressively, even back in the days before his distrust had been honed and tempered by the flame-out of his relationship with Stacy. Hell, he'd taken his own sweet time deciding whether to pursue Wilson at all. But once he had made the leap he'd found himself growing increasingly frustrated by the ease with which Wilson denied him.

"Now about the shaving thing...."

"There is no shaving," House said. "Therefore there is no shaving thing."

"There's intermittent shaving," Wilson said. "Which is the problem."

"You don't like my manly stubble?" House asked. He looked at himself in the mirror over the dresser. He made a face at himself and scratched his chin. When he was being honest with himself he had to admit the stubble was more likely to say hangover than manly, but he liked it. He liked the fact that he didn't have to shave every damn day.

"If it were just a matter of your appearance, I wouldn't care," Wilson said. He tossed his towel on the bed and bent over to pull some clothes out of a small duffle. House watched Wilson in the mirror, because Wilson's ass beat House's stubble any day.

"That stuff is abrasive," Wilson continued as he stood up.

"Ah." House grabbed a t-shirt from the dresser drawer and pulled it over his head. He gave Wilson a sly look, focusing on the reddened area along his jawline. "You're worried people will know what you've been up to."

Wilson finished buttoning his shirt and draped his tie around his neck before answering. "My face is not the only place your stubble has gotten to."

House grinned and headed for the kitchen.

"It's not funny," Wilson protested as he followed House out of the bedroom. "I could barely walk the other day."

House grinned even more broadly and put a little swagger in his limp.

"And that's not the reason," Wilson said. "We haven't actually managed that yet...."

"What's this 'we' stuff, Kemosabe?" House asked. Wilson was the one who'd failed to manage that. Sure, it could've happened to anyone…anyone who had the self control of a sixteen-year-old. Still, Wilson's quick release had been mildly flattering at the very least. House had never had anyone else come at little more than the sight of his naked body.

"You're missing the point," Wilson said, refusing to respond to the accusation.

"Then what is it the point?"

"That after a few minutes of 'manly stubble' my testicles felt like they'd been molested by a porcupine."

"You're late." Foreman didn't bother to look up. He continued to leaf through the Sharper Image catalog he'd stolen from House's desk while Chase stopped to stare at his watch.

"I'm not late. I'm fifteen minutes early," Chase finally said, confused.

"No, you're late."

"House is already here," Cameron explained. Chase accepted the mug of coffee she offered, his expression going from perplexed to annoyed. Cameron continued on around the table and took a seat with her back to the hall.

"I start at 7:30 regardless of what crazy hours House decides to keep," Chase said.

"In your dreams," Foreman said.

"What's up with that anyway?" Chase said. He pulled out a chair across the table from Cameron and sat down. "Used to be we could count on House to be here no earlier than five of eight."

"Ever since he and Wilson have been driving in together, he's been early," Cameron said. She frowned in the direction of the balcony. Chase glanced over his shoulder, but there was no sign of either House or Wilson outside.

"Better get used to it," Foreman advised as he finally set the catalog aside.

"How long can it take Wilson to find a new car?" Chase asked.

"You're assuming that's even the point," Foreman said.

"Oh, yes, please enlighten us, O knowledgeable one," Chase said.

"I think Wilson likes living with House," Foreman said.

"That's insane," Chase said.

"They're not living together," Cameron said.

"Not technically, but I'd be willing to bet Wilson spends more nights at House's than he does at his own place," Foreman said.

Cameron rolled her eyes at both of them and very pointedly started working on House's mail. She probably thought her industrious behavior served as a chastisement for gossiping. Chase thought she just looked like a child who was pouting because someone had made fun of her favorite doll.

"I'll take that bet," Chase told Foreman.

"Bring it on, baby," Foreman taunted. He leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head. "Vacation's coming up and I could use a little extra spending money."

"You're going down," Chase said. He went to the coffee pot and refilled his cup.

"You think," Foreman said.

"There's no way Wilson would voluntarily move in with House. Living with that sociopathic bastard would send anyone, even Wilson, right round the bend," Chase said as he reached for the sugar packets. "It'd be torture."

"But what if Wilson's a masochist and he really, really likes being tortured?"

"Damn it," Chase muttered, dropping his head at the gleeful sound of House's voice. House stood behind him, waiting his turn at the coffee pot, and smiled at Chase's distress. The day was getting off to a good start.

"Excellent idea," House said as swung into his office. Wilson was sitting the corner chair, looking at car ads. House used his cane to shove Wilson's legs from the footstool and sat down facing him.

"What idea is that?" Wilson arranged his legs on either side of House's without raising his eyes from the paper.

"Car shopping. When are we going?"

"I'm going. You're not."

"You'll need my help to find a cool car." House rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Not as cool as mine, of course."

"I don't want a cool car."

"You're not getting another boring car," House said. He snatched the ads from Wilson's hands. Wilson gave him a look of resigned exasperation and settled back in the chair, his hands resting on his stomach. House muttered to himself when he saw which ads Wilson had circled.

"What can I say? I'm a boring person."

"No. The ties, the shoes, the car: those are boring," House said. He started marking his own selections on the page. "It's just a disguise."

"You're right. I've cleverly made myself seem like the dullest man in the world, knowing that no one will believe anyone could be that dull and therefore will think I am, secretly, hugely exciting." Wilson leaned forward and snatched the paper back from House. "Which cleverly hides the fact that I am, in fact, truly that dull."

"The question is—what are you hiding?" House chose to ignore Wilson's mocking explanation.

"I'm not hiding anything."

"Everybody's hiding something."

"My clothes, my car—they're boring. They're dependable. I don't have to think about them," Wilson explained.

"I don't think about my clothes."

"Okay, I don't have to think about them and I don't look like an unmade bed," Wilson said.

"Ah, but you like the unmade bed look."

"Not on me," Wilson said. He folded the paper and smiled. "You already know my deepest secret. I have nothing left to hide."

"Then why won't you move in with me?"

"Frankly, I'm afraid I'll clash with the curtains."

House favored Wilson with a hard stare, but he was baffled by the statement. He'd never particularly noticed Wilson clashing with his décor. In fact, he thought it damn near impossible for Wilson, he of the boring and nondescript wardrobe, to clash with anything. Although that yellow and brown tie he'd worn last week had come close. House had no regrets about 'accidentally' using it to polish his cane.

"Er...House?" Chase was leaning halfway through the door from the conference room. His gaze bounced back and forth between Wilson and House, looking for a sign that it was safe to enter.

"What?" House asked. He turned slightly, looking over his shoulder.

"I just thought I'd let you know I've admitted an old patient of yours."

"An elderly patient, or a patient from a long time ago?" House asked. Imprecise use of the language, any language, annoyed him. Imprecise language implied imprecise thought, and that really annoyed him.

"You followed him regularly until about six years ago, when he had his renal transplant." Chase held up a thick chart.

"Hargrove, William A." House tilted his head to read the name. Then he shrugged. "Sorry, doesn't ring a bell."

"I recognized your handwriting."

"What did I say?"

"How would I know?" Chase said with an incredulous look. "I said I recognized the writing; I didn't say I could read it."

"Of what possible interest is this to me?" House asked even as he gestured impatiently for the chart. Chase handed it over and he opened it across his knees.

"He's got Legionnaires'."

"Transplant would make him high risk," Wilson said. He leaned forward, trying to read the chart upside down.

"Do we know the source?" House asked as he flipped through the pages.

"Not yet," Chase said. "His wife says he's not been anywhere for several weeks."

"He could've gotten it at home," Wilson said, a doubtful look on his face.

"But extremely unlikely," Chase agreed. "Someone from Public Health is going to check out the home. In the meantime we're going to try and jog the wife's memory. They must've been somewhere."

"All this talking and still I'm not hearing anything of interest," House said.

"Fine. Forget I mentioned it." Chase threw up his hands in defeat and went searching for more receptive pastures. House silently wished him luck on that venture.

"This is sad," House said. He closed the chart and tossed it on Wilson's lap. "I can't even read my writing."

"There's something fundamentally wrong when your handwriting is better when you're on drugs than when you were sober," Wilson agreed.

"You have a meeting with Stacy at one."

House groaned. He should've known he couldn't go an entire day without catching some kind of grief. Given that Cuddy and Stacy were tag-teaming him these days, he was lucky to go an entire hour without some kind of grief.

"Don't roll your eyes at me," Cuddy said as she signed off on a requisition. House was beginning to wonder if she had eyes in her breasts because the ones in her head had been nowhere near his face. She pulled a new file from the corner of her desk, apparently laboring under the delusion that she was finished dealing with House related issues.

"You can't just spring this stuff on me," House said.

"You knew Mr. Ingle was proceeding with the lawsuit. You knew you'd have to prepare."

"There's something inherently dishonest with the notion that I have to rehearse my testimony," House said with all the righteous indignation he could muster. "Shouldn't it be enough that I tell the truth?"

"In your case? No."

"Couldn't I have another lawyer?"

"In your case? No."

"Why not?"

"Because Stacy knows you." Cuddy set her pen down and fixed her eyes on House. The eyes in her head, not the ones in her breasts. House was having trouble remembering which set to focus on. "She has the best chance of getting you through this without you, and the hospital, losing large amounts of cash."

"That's what we have malpractice insurance for," House said.

"You have homeowner's insurance. Does that mean you want your house to burn down?"

"It would solve the curtain problem," House said.


"Nothing." House kicked at the bottom of the desk until Cuddy's shoulders were up near her ears, her tension growing geometrically with the number of kicks. He quit just before she dislocated something and started playing with his cane instead.

"I didn't do anything wrong," House said. He was aware of his petulant tone, but nothing frustrated him more than constant demands that he justify his medical decisions. Especially when those demands came from people who had no medical background and therefore had no right to judge him.

"Then this should be easy."

"I don't like working with her."

"I don't imagine it's a thrill for her either," Cuddy said.

"Then why is she here?"

"You know why she's here," Cuddy said. She slumped back in her chair, utterly exasperated.

"I know why Mark's here," House corrected. "I don't know why she's here."

"Today, at one o'clock, she'll be here to keep your ass out of trouble."

"One of these days I'm going to wait until you've actually bought your own lunch so I can steal it." Wilson set his empty cafeteria tray on the balcony ledge while House finished off Wilson's cherry pie.

"You'll be waiting a long time," House said. He had a chart open on the ledge, the plate of Wilson's pie next to it. He paused, his fork halfway to his mouth, as he double checked Mr. Hargrove's admitting labs. He slapped the file shut. "That idiot."

"Which idiot?" Wilson asked. House shoveled the last bite of pie into his mouth and walked briskly toward his office door. Intrigued, Wilson hopped over the dividing wall and followed him into the conference room. Cameron, Chase and Foreman were all seated around the table eating their own lunches. House tossed the file on the table and watched it slide directly at Chase.

"You told me Mr...." House stopped, stymied.

"Hargrove," Wilson supplied. He grabbed House's red mug and filled it from a pot of coffee that smelled like it'd been sitting an hour too long. He took a sip and grimaced; make that two hours too long.

"That guy," House agreed. "You told me he was admitted with Legionnaires'."

"He was," Chase said.

"He was admitted with a urinary tract infection," House said. "Although your confusion is understandable. All those internal organs look the same. Cameron probably mixed up the lungs and bladder on her final anatomy exam, too."

"He came into the E.R. complaining of fever, malaise, and pain on urination," Chase said, refusing to be baited.

"The E.R. doc saw the obvious UTI and missed the pneumonia."

"He missed it because it wasn't there," House said. He snatched the mug of coffee from Wilson's hand and took a sip. He mentally dared Wilson to call him on it, but Wilson merely started looking for another mug.

"You don't think the E.R. doc could've missed pneumonia?" Foreman asked.

"I'm sure he misses a lot, but not this time," House said. He set his mug on the table and crossed to the empty whiteboard. "What symptoms are diagnostic of Legionnaires'?"

"Fever," Cameron began.

"Which Mr. Hargrove had," Chase said.

"High fever," Wilson interrupted. He'd found another mug and was wondering why he'd bothered. The coffee still sucked. "Around forty Celsius. Also diarrhea. Hyponatremia."

"Yes, thank you," House said as he scrawled the symptoms on the board.

"It can also be associated with mental status changes, confusion," Foreman said. House added that to the list and turned to look at Chase.

"He had a fever," Chase repeated. "Barely over one hundred," House said. "This patient did not have any of the classic signs of Legionnaires' on admission, therefore he did not have Legionnaires' on admission."

"Not all Legionnaires' patients present with all of those symptoms," Cameron said.

"Hyponatremia is found only about thirty per cent of the time," Wilson agreed.

"If I want your help I'll ask for it," House said, looking over his shoulder at Wilson. Wilson shrugged and went back to his scorched coffee.

"He hadn't had time to develop symptoms of the pneumonia," Chase said. "He came in because the UTI was making him miserable. The Legionnaires' was subclinical on presentation."

"It wasn't there," House insisted.

"Assuming you're right, where did he get it?" Foreman asked.

"Here in this hospital. And if we don't do something about it, more patients are going to get sick," House said.

Foreman chuckled as he began to gather up the litter from his lunch. "I've seen you make an epidemic out of two patients, but out of one? That's really pushing it."

House stared at him for a moment, then stomp-limped silently into his office. Cameron, Chase and Foreman watched, waiting to see if House's departure was only temporary or if he was going to sulk for a while. They all turned back to their meals when House sat at his desk and plugged in his earphones. Wilson sighed and set his mug in the sink.

"You think I'm overreacting too," House said as soon as Wilson pushed through the door. He shoved his iPod in his pocket and glared at Wilson.

"I think you don't have enough evidence to support your theory," Wilson said. Which was so annoyingly rational that House wanted to slap him.

"If he didn't have it at admission, then he had to have gotten it here," House insisted. "It's the only logical conclusion."

"But you can't prove it," Wilson said.

"Well, I'm not going to wait around for the next victim to show up." House got up and walked past Wilson.

"What are you going to do?"

"Talk to Cuddy, of course."

"Good idea." Wilson shook his head and walked in the opposite direction, toward the balcony door. "Let me know how that turns out."

"We got trouble," House announced as he shoved Cuddy's office door open.

"Tell me something I don't know," Cuddy muttered. She glanced at her watch and looked up from her desk. "Speaking of trouble, aren't you supposed to be meeting with Stacy now?"

"The hospital is contaminated with Legionnaires'." House leaned over the desk and slapped the file down in front of Cuddy. She picked it up, turned it over, opened it, then closed it.

"You have one patient who was admitted with Legionnaires'," Cuddy said.

"He wasn't admitted with it," House said. "He got it here."

"That's not what the chart says."

"Please," House said. "The chart says whatever you want it to say. In fact, give me the chart and I'll make it say anything I want it to say."

"You can't do that. This is Dr. Montgomery's patient."

"I'm pulling rank."

"You're both department heads and he has seniority," Cuddy said. "You can't pull rank."

"But you can."

"Can," Cuddy said with a pseudo-sweet smile. "Won't."

"Dr. House." The sound of Stacy's voice brought House and Cuddy's discussion to an abrupt end. House made a face at Cuddy, then looked back. Stacy stood just inside the door, her feet squared with her shoulders and her arms wrapped tightly just under her breasts. It was Stacy's most aggressive stance and House had been seeing it more and more frequently of late.

"You were supposed to be in my office fifteen minutes ago," Stacy told House.

"Sorry, you'll have to 'do it yourself' today," House said. He held out his hand toward Cuddy in a show of solidarity. "We have an epidemic."

"One patient," Cuddy said.

"Okay—an incipient epidemic," House said. So much for solidarity. "Why are we arguing semantics? I'm trying to save lives here."

"That's not what I heard," Stacy said. She walked slowly toward House. His posture stiffened slightly, but he stood his ground and met Stacy's gaze. He'd watched enough Wild Kingdom as a kid to know that you should never let a predator sense fear.

"I heard you'd pulled out the casting couch for your latest little melodrama."

"Don't worry—there's a part for you," House said with mock earnestness. "Audition's at ten: wear something slinky."

"Enough," Cuddy said sharply. House and Stacy glowered at each other before turning to face Cuddy. She sighed and handed the chart back to House.

"You have until the end of the day to show me conclusive proof," Cuddy told House. He nodded. On his way out he stopped just short of sticking his tongue out at Stacy, but only because he decided that would be immature. And might make Cuddy rethink her decision.

Stacy turned on Cuddy as House sauntered out the door, smugly victorious.

"Why do you let him get away with that?" Stacy asked.

"He's not getting away with anything," Cuddy said. She waved her hand as if to dispel House's lingering aura from her vicinity. "He's actually doing what we pay him to do. Besides, if I give him a little slack now, he'll…hang himself with it later."

"Giving in only encourages him," Stacy said. "I know. I have plenty of experience handling Greg."

"Experience that is five years out of date," Cuddy said. She came out from behind her desk as Stacy frowned. "And it was totally different kind of relationship. I'm his boss, not his lover. The rules are different."

"There are no rules when it comes to Greg," Stacy insisted.

"All's fair in love and war?" Cuddy asked. "Unfortunately the courts aren't so open-minded when it comes to professional relationships."

"I'm just trying to help."

"I know," Cuddy said. "But you have to remember that I have plenty of my own experience at handling House. And Wilson has even more. Between us we make it work."

"That's all James needs," Stacy said. "Greg's probably given him more headaches than all three divorces combined. I wouldn't blame him if he refused to be involved in any more of Greg's insane machinations."

"I wouldn't blame him either, but if Wilson hasn't abandoned him yet he never will." Cuddy patted Stacy's arm in commiseration. "Look, Foreman's going to be deposed, too, right? So prep him instead."

"Greg won't be happy if I tie up one of his slaves for the afternoon," Stacy said.

Cuddy smiled. "Exactly."

House pulled another chart from the pile and watched Wilson from the corner of his eye. Wilson had stopped at the far end of the nurse's station to speak to Suzy/Sally/somebody before ambling down to stand in front of House. House was pretty sure Suzy/Sally had snitched on him, calling Wilson to complain about House's presence on the unit. Such underhanded behavior left him less than inclined to be kind.

"Does Debbie know you're already cheating on her?" House asked. He gave a pointed look in Suzy/Sally's direction while Wilson slowly counted to ten.

"Sandy's my head nurse."

"Does that make her boss of the whole harem?"

"You know," Wilson said in an attempt to avert open hostilities. "If you're looking for a little light reading...."

"Chemo patients tend to be immunocompromised," House said. He flipped the file closed and looked up. "Did you know you have two weeks of discharge charts waiting for dictation?"

"They're not all mine," Wilson said. He rubbed a weary hand over his face. "House, if any of my patients had Legionnaires', I would've picked up on it."

"The inpatients, yes," House agreed. He had faith in Wilson's abilities. He just had a lot more faith in his own abilities than he did in anyone else's, Wilson's included.

House patted the stack of charts. "That's precisely why I'm more interested in the recently discharged patients. If they picked something up here they could be sitting at home with a high fever, hyponatremia, diarrhea. They could be dying as we speak."

"So...you want to follow up on my discharged patients?"

"You have a problem with that?" House tugged another chart out of the pile and began skimming labs.

"No." Wilson threw his hands up in surrender. "Just...try to use a little tact."


Wilson stopped just outside his office. He turned to find Cameron, Chase and Foreman approaching him from the direction of the Diagnostic Medicine office.

"What's up?" Wilson asked.

"Have you seen House?" Cameron asked.

"Yes, actually I just left him." Wilson opened his office door and entered. House's three juniors jostled for pole position as they followed him into the office. "He's on the oncology unit, reviewing charts."

"Looking for Legionnaires' patients?" Foreman asked. Wilson nodded as he checked the small stack of scribbled messages from his secretary. "Did you know Aylesworth kicked him off the transplant unit not an hour ago?"

"I'm not surprised." Wilson sat at his desk and looked up. "House and Aylesworth don't get along."

"House doesn't get along with anyone," Chase muttered.

"Dr. Aylesworth thinks House is wasting everyone's time," Foreman said. "And rightly so."

"He's obsessing over this Legionnaires' thing," Cameron said.

"Obsessing is what House does." Wilson shrugged. "He's actually quite good at it."

"It's an exercise in futility," Cameron said.

"That's his favorite kind." Wilson studied all three faces before him and let out an amused snort. "You've all been here long enough to know that, more often than not, his obsession pays off."

"Not this time," Chase said firmly.

"So what's the problem? As long as House is sitting on the oncology unit reading charts he can't bother anyone else."

"That is true," Foreman said. He seemed almost surprised that there could be an upside to House's obsessive personality. He looked to Cameron and Chase for agreement.

"So we should just leave him to it?" Cameron asked, doubtful.

"That's what I'm going to do." Wilson paused. "You three, on the other hand, might want to offer to help."

"He's not going to find anything," Chase insisted.

"Probably not, but you can stay a little late this evening and help him find nothing and he'll be mildly irritated in the morning," Wilson said. "Or you can leave him to do it alone which means he'll be up all night and exceedingly cranky in the morning."

Foreman, Chase and Cameron stared at each other for a moment, then turned as one and plodded out the door, resigned to a late evening. Wilson waited until the door closed behind Cameron and turned to his computer. He entered an administrative password, pulled up the master list of current transplant patients, and began checking labs.


"Who made you my mother?" House asked irritably. It was late, in fact it was tomorrow already, and he'd reached the limit of his patience. He sank into his easy chair and tossed his cane on the floor. With any luck, Wilson would trip on it and break his conscience.

"You don't need those," Wilson said as House pulled his pills from his pocket.

"Not according to my prescribing doctor, who is...." House made a show of reading the label. "Hey, what do you know? It's Dr. James Wilson."

"I prescribe them for pain," Wilson said. He removed his suit coat with sharp, jerky movements and tossed it over the back of the couch. "You're not in pain now. You're just pissed off."

"If I took drugs every time I was pissed off...."

"You'd be an addict?" Wilson asked pointedly.

"Ha," House said flatly. He gave the bottle an irritated shake. "Physical pain, emotional pain: it's all the same."

"Why do I bother?" Wilson sank onto the couch and leaned his head against the back cushion.

"Beats me." Most of the time he'd be a whole happier if Wilson didn't bother. No, not happier, just less annoyed.

"Dorsal rhyzotomy," Wilson said after a moment of silence.

"Prefrontal lobotomy," House said. Wilson tilted his head and stared. "Okay, maybe you should tell me what game we're playing 'cause obviously I just gave the wrong answer."

"No, actually, a lobotomy might do you a world of good," Wilson said dryly.

"Stress makes the pain worse," House admitted. Pretty much everything but drugs made the pain worse. Stress made him less willing to cope with the pain. "The pills help."

"There are other ways to reduce stress."

"Sure, but I can hardly expect you to be on your knees every time Cuddy annoys me." House thought it was a nice idea, but chances were someone would object. Chances were Cuddy would be the first.

"Not every time, no, but what about now?"

"That would be wrong." House was puzzled by Wilson's annoyed look. "Wouldn't it?"

"Why am I here?" Wilson asked.

"Well, why are any of us here?" House was in pain and Wilson was waxing philosophical?

"Why am I here when I could've been sound asleep in my own bed hours ago?" Wilson elaborated.

"You knew I'd be in a bad mood and thought you'd distract me with sex?" House asked. He had no objection to the plan—in fact he thought it was brilliant—but he certainly hadn't been expecting it. Generally speaking, sex on demand was something he got only when he paid for it.

"More or less," Wilson agreed. "If I'm not in the mood I'll say so. But if sex helps you relax and not take the damn pills—why not?"

"Nothing's that simple."

"Sometimes it is," Wilson said. "Sometimes you can ask for what you need and actually get it."

House pushed through the hospital's front door just as Stacy stepped out of the elevator at the opposite end of the foyer. House pivoted around his cane and made a hard right toward the clinic. For once he was happy to see a crowd of grumpy sick people littering the chairs and gathered around the reception desk. Now he just had to find an exam room void of one of those grumpy sick people in which to hide. House picked a door at random.

"What are you doing here?" Chase asked as House quickly closed the door behind him.

House bustled around, looking busy and professional while peering through the blinds every few seconds. The moment Stacy entered the clinic House closed the blinds with a flick of his wrist and leaned into the corner. Then he turned to face Chase, a middle-aged man—presumably the patient—and…Cameron?

"You called for a consult," House said.

"No, I didn't."

"I'm Dr. Gregory House. I'm his boss," House told the bewildered patient. "What seems to be the problem?"

"I have this excruciating pain shooting down my leg."

"It takes two of you to diagnose sciatica?" House asked, turning to glare at Chase and Cameron.

"No. I mean...I just came by to give Chase these labs," Cameron protested.

"And I've just started Mr. Hollister's examination," Chase said.

"Well, what have you found?" Chase sighed, but he handed the file to House. "He has intact pulses but altered sensation in the S1 dermatome. The patient was asleep when the pain started—no inciting event—and OTC meds haven't had any effect."

"Oh my, that is a puzzler." House glanced over at Cameron. She'd moved into the other corner and was now peeking through the blinds. "Hey! Ix nay on the eeking-pay."

Cameron startled and stepped away. House scowled at her to emphasize his displeasure before he turned back to Chase.

"What's the plan, Dr. Chase?"

"Could be a herniated disc. I was going to order an MRI, EMG...." Chase trailed off when House rolled his eyes. "What?"

"Stand up," House told the patient. He leaned his head back to look through the crack between the wall and the blinds while Hollister slid from the exam table. House gestured impatiently. "Now turn around."

"Why? You checking me out?" Hollister asked, He pressed back against the table, a frown growing between his eyebrows.

"Yes," House said shortly. "Now make like a top and give me a thrill."

Hollister looked to Cameron for reassurance. She glanced at House, then nodded at the patient. Mr. Hollister turned slowly but kept a wary eye on House.

"Your wallet."

"It's in the pocket of my pants," Hollister said. His frown increased as he reached back to pat the offending lump.

"So it is. Hand it over."


"I want to make sure you have enough for your co-pay." House snapped his fingers and Hollister reluctantly handed over his wallet. House glanced at it then tossed it to Chase. "Diagnosis?"

"Sciatica," Chase agreed. He handed the wallet back to the patient.

"What does that mean?" Hollister said.

"Lose the wallet," House said. He peered through the blinds again and smiled. The sneezing, wheezing masses were still there, but Stacy had moved on to new hunting grounds. He turned back to the patient, ready to give him his full attention for the first time. "You've been sitting on that fat lump of cowhide for years and irritating the sciatic nerve. When you keep irritating the sciatic nerve, eventually it starts irritating you back."

"That's it?" Hollister asked, staring at House in disbelief. "I'm in agony because of my wallet?"

"Human beings weren't designed to carry wallets on their butt cheeks," House said. "Of course, they weren't designed to wear high heels or sing karaoke either, but that's never stopped anyone."

"So if I just stop using a wallet, the pain will stop?" Hollister asked, obviously still unconvinced.

"We'll give you a regimen, including anti-inflammatories," Chase said. "It'll take a little while for the nerve to settle down but you'll be fine."

"What am I supposed to do with all my stuff—my credit cards, cash, pictures…?"

"You could try a purse, but all the other accountants will probably laugh at you," House said as he handed the file back to Chase and headed for the door.

"I'm a realtor."

House paused in the doorway. "In that case a purse is definitely the way to go."

"House is wrong." Chase tossed his notebook on the table. Cameron pulled it closer and read while Foreman leaned in to look over her shoulder.

"Great," Foreman said. He looked up from Chase's notes and slumped back in his chair. "Now he's really going to be bitchy."

"No, he won't," Cameron said. "House believes in facts. If the facts don't support his theory then...."

"God," Chase exclaimed as he stared at Cameron in disbelief. "You'll find a way to excuse anything he does, won't you?"

"And why shouldn't she?" House asked. Chase spat out a soundless oath when he realized House was, once again, standing right behind him. House smirked when Chase turned to face him.

"Cameron is a good little slave," House continued. He waved Cameron toward the coffee maker as he took a seat at the head of the table. To his delight, and horror, she actually started to rise from her seat before she realized what she was doing. Then she dropped back into her chair with an audible plop, jaws clenched and cheeks blazing.

"You, on the other hand...." House shook his head sadly at Chase. "This whole master-slave thing just isn't working out. Which is weird, 'cause I thought you were kind of into that."

"Looks like Mr. Hargrove had plenty of exposure to other possible sources of Legionnaires'," Foreman said, diverting House's attention from Chase. Which was also weird, because Foreman usually liked to watch Chase squirm.

"I thought the missus said he hadn't been anywhere."

"She didn't know."

"You mean he lied to her?" House asked with exaggerated disbelief.

"The wife works part-time," Chase said. "Evidently when she leaves, he does too."

"The V.F.W, bowling alley, casino," Cameron said, reading from Chase's notes.

"Gets around a lot for a sick guy," Foreman observed.

"He's not sick," House said. He snatched the notebook from Cameron's hand. "The whole point of a kidney transplant is to be able to live a somewhat normal life, but this guy's being smothered by an overprotective wife. It's hardly surprising he'd grab a little fun when he can."

"The point is—he's had plenty of opportunity to contract Legionnaires' outside this hospital," Chase said.

"Have you tested any of these fine establishments?" House asked. "Have any other patrons been diagnosed with pneumonia?"

"We haven't had time to follow up yet," Chase said.

"Better get started, because this isn't proof," House said. He sent the notebook sliding down the length of the table. Chase snatched it up and gave House a stubborn look.

"You don't have any proof either," Chase said.

"Fifty bucks says I'm right," House said. "Hundred says I'll have proof within the week."

House watched as Foreman and Cameron thought, calculated, considered all the angles. Chase, of course, didn't think he could refuse the bet without appearing to doubt his own abilities. The internal struggle House could see reflected on Chase's face was entertaining, but not the point. House was waiting for Chase to realize there was a third choice; he could simply tell House to fuck off.

"You're on," Chase said. He raised his chin and stiffened his posture in an effort to appear confident. "Between you and Foreman, I'll be eating well the rest of the month."

House and Foreman both smiled.

"Damn it," Chase snapped. He pulled the results from the printer and tossed the page into the trash.

"Problem?" Cameron asked. She adjusted her glasses slightly as she looked across to the other side of the lab table.

"Where do I start?"

"You could start with the reason you just threw away that lab."

Chase grimaced and reached for another tube. "I got the damn concentration wrong."

"But you've been touchy all afternoon," Cameron said.

"Doesn't the constant mocking bother you?" Chase asked.

"I'm not crazy about it," Cameron began.

"And Foreman, I swear he's trying to sabotage me," Chase said. He threw his hand out in the general direction of House's office where, presumably, Foreman was busy plotting Chase's downfall.

"Foreman never struck me as being that insecure," Cameron said with just a hint of amusement in her voice. "Of course, you never struck me as being that paranoid either."

"He deliberately draws me into conversations knowing I'll say something less than flattering about House," Chase said. He mixed his reagent with an almost stubborn disregard. Cameron considered saying something, then thought better of it. "And he does it knowing that House is lurking nearby where he can hear it."

"That's not sabotage," Cameron said. "That's Foreman entertaining himself. And, fortunately for you, House."

"Right, because being the butt of the joke is such a good career move," Chase said. He planted his hands on his hips and gave Cameron a disgusted look.

"House already knows you're a good doctor. He doesn't need anyone to tell him that," Cameron said with confidence. "Sycophants bore him."

"Is that why it didn't work out between you two?"

"I'm not a sycophant," Cameron said, glaring at Chase.

"Neither am I. And I deserve to be treated with a little respect."

"We all do. We're not going to get it from House," Cameron said dryly.

"You realize you're no help at all?" Chase asked.

Wilson turned away from the door to the lab and left Chase and Cameron completely unaware he and House had ever been there to begin with. Wilson hurried to catch up; House was moving quickly, already digesting the overheard conversation.

"Chase so is a sycophant," House. He glanced over his shoulder as Wilson fell in step with him. "If he'd puckered up any harder for Vogler, he would've been performing liposuction."

"That's...an image I could've lived without," Wilson said, looking slightly dazed. He shuddered and glared at House. "And you know it really isn't necessary to torment them all the time."

"Chase needs to grow up and learn to stand on his own two feet. Cameron, too, for that matter."

"And constant harassment is going to help them mature?" Wilson asked. "Chase does his damnedest to separate himself from his father, but he's still chasing after Daddy's approval."

"Daddy's dead."

"Which is something of a complication. And Cameron wants everyone to love her." House gave a disdainful snort. "They both need to learn that not only will you not be loved by all, you don't need to be loved by all."

"Some people don't need to be loved by any," Wilson said with a raised eyebrow.

"Exactly," House agreed. Need implied that love was a necessity, like air or food. House didn't see it as necessary. Desirable, possibly, but not necessary.

"So why do you continue to torture Foreman?" Wilson asked. "He doesn't seem to need your approval. He certainly doesn't have any problem standing up to you."

"Foreman is disgustingly well adjusted most of the time," House agreed.

"So...it's purely for fun?"

"No. Well, yes, but not only for fun. I have to work a little harder to find and challenge Foreman's flaws," House said.

"Oh, please," Wilson scoffed. "You just like rubbing their faces in their failures."

"I'm not going to pat them on the head when they get it wrong," House said.

"What will you do if they start getting it right?" Wilson asked.

"Then it'll be time to push them from the nest, let them spread their wings and fly off out into the big, bad world," House said. Part of him hoped that moment wouldn't come any time soon. He wasn't in the mood to train new staff.

"You'll get rid of them when they actually start to get it right?" Wilson asked, puzzled.

"If they're getting it right, they don't need me anymore," House explained. He was puzzled by Wilson's faintly horrified expression. "What?"

"I'm suddenly deeply disturbed by the image of armies of House-drones marching out the doors of Princeton-Plainsboro wielding canes and sarcasm and prepared to take over the world of medicine."

"Why stop at medicine?" House stopped as he reached his office. "Why not the world?"

"Because there's not enough Vicodin in the world for that."

On to Part 2

This story was added on 1 FEB 2006

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