Safe From Harm
by Maya Tawi

part two

They took Chase's car. Knowles made Chase drive, while he himself sat in the passenger seat and relegated House to the back-- but only after engaging the child locks in the back doors. House felt insulted by the implication. Did Knowles really think he was going to jump and roll out the door in the middle of 95?

Chase had visibly relaxed once they'd exited the building without incident, going so far as to shoot occasional annoyed looks in Knowles's direction, though House could have told him that the danger would only increase the farther they got from other people. It was possible that Knowles was psychotic enough to fire a gun in the middle of a large hospital with hundreds of people around, but not very likely. Now that it was just the three of them, it was a very different story.

House could have told Chase that, but he didn't. He needed Chase thinking clearly and not panicking.

He stared out the window as Chase drove, idly committing the route to memory. After about fifteen minutes of silence, apart from Knowles's muttered directions, he couldn't take it anymore.

"I can't believe you've never heard of the band Anthrax," he said.

Chase didn't seem surprised when he spoke; he was probably wondering why House had waited so long. He just rolled his eyes in the rearview mirror and said, "Why, have you heard of Dead Baby Meat?"

House opened his mouth.

"Never mind," Chase said quickly. "You're not normal."

"Normality is overrated," House said.

In the passenger seat, Knowles raised the gun and said, "Shut up and drive."

Chase glanced at him. House was pretty sure he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes again.

"I could've driven, you know," House said about twenty minutes later.

"No," Chase and Knowles said in unison.

House scowled at the mirror. "I do have a car. I'm not incapable."

"You're a menace," Chase said, sliding the car smoothly into the next lane. "I've seen you drive."

"At least I don't drive on the wrong side of the road."

"Neither do I," Chase pointed out.

"Yeah," House said. "Well. You should."

"I'll take that under advisement."

"Your eyes are gonna stick if you keep rolling 'em like that. Fair warning."

"Shut up--" Knowles began.

"And drive," Chase finished with a sigh. "Yeah, I know."

Robert Chase, House decided, was unflappable. He'd been startled at first, granted, but as time went on and House didn't get him killed, his natural imperturbability had begun to reassert itself. It made it annoying to try and get a rise out of him, as House had been doing with a general lack of success for over a year now, but he supposed it made Chase the ideal person to get kidnapped with.

Still, at least Wilson would have played I Spy with him.

"I spy," he called cheerfully, "a brand-new paint job in your immediate future."

Chase jerked the wheel to the side to avoid the yawning ditch immediately ahead, and swore loudly when yet another branch scraped a long, vicious-sounding gouge along the side of his car. "You're a bloody psychic," he said through clenched teeth.

"I bet you wish we'd taken my car now, don't you?"

Limbs continued to batter the small, sporty car as they bounced slowly along the winding path. Beneath them, the suspension groaned in protest. Finally Chase hit the brakes in frustration, and the car jerked to a stop.

"That's it," he said. "There's no road here. I can't drive any farther."

"Fine," Knowles said, swinging the gun back and forth between the two of them. "Get out. We're walking."

"I'm not," House said.

Chase was affronted. "What, just leave it here?"

"Oh, sure," House said. "I'm sure there are roving bands of forest-dwelling auto thieves out there just waiting to make off with your precious wheels."

Knowles drew back the hammer of the gun with a loud click. "We," he pronounced slowly. "Are all. Walking."

House eyed the gun and kept his mouth shut. If they'd been vulnerable earlier in the parking lot, they were ten times more so out here in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods in every direction.

Chase looked around for the first time, possibly having similar thoughts. "Where the hell are we?"

"Bumfuck, New York," House said, before Knowles could respond. "Or thereabouts. Let me guess-- lake house?" He glanced at Knowles. "Of course you have a lake house. So where's the lake?"

"Get out," Knowles said.

"You have to let me out," House explained, with exaggerated patience. "Remember?"

Once outside, he slammed the door shut and leaned against the car, fishing in his pocket for his Vicodin. He looked around, wrinkling his nose. Too much nature. Too much fresh air. His lungs already hurt.

"So," he began, poising to swallow, and Knowles looked at him in horror and demanded, "What are you doing?"

House froze with his hand cupped in front of his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Chase on the other side of the car, slowly straightening from where he had been bent over, examining the damage to his paint job and muttering to himself.

"Going for my afternoon jog," House bit out finally, when Knowles's eyes narrowed. "What does it look like?"

"It looks like my wife's life is in danger and you're popping pills!"

Chase coughed and said in a low voice, "Listen, you really don't want to--"

"That first part isn't exactly my fault, is it?" House interrupted loudly. "Actually, come to think about it, neither is the second. You got a problem, take it up with my leg muscles. Oh wait, you can't-- they're dead." He swallowed the pill with a savage flourish, glaring a challenge at Knowles the whole time.

"--go there," Chase finished with a sigh.

Knowles threw his hands up. House watched Chase eye the gun, poising to tackle him, and then realize that he was still on the wrong side of the car. It was kind of funny. "Great. I manage to get my hands on the one doctor with a pill habit."

"I highly doubt he's the only one," Chase muttered. The sarcasm in his voice would have perked up House considerably, if they hadn't been talking about him.

"So," he said again, and closed his eyes and willed the Vicodin to start working. "Where's the patient?"

The long walk through the woods was long, arduous, and best forgotten. Chase walked beside him, tactfully keeping his mouth shut when House stumbled or slowed to a snail's pace, and Knowles followed behind with the gun. The second time House had to grab at Chase's arm for balance, he felt compelled to mutter, "Sorry 'bout this," and then cleared his throat loudly.

Chase heard, damn him. Ears like a bat. "Why, Dr. House, was that an apology?"

"Treasure the moment," House growled. "It won't happen again."

"Don't worry. I'll write all about it in my diary."

"Even if it is all your fault for being a cultural illiterate."

Chase smiled a little. "Now that's the House we all know and tolerate."

House studied him for a moment, then said, "You're really not mad."

It was an observation, not a question, but Chase answered anyway. "At you? No. The man with the gun, now...."

"You're way too forgiving. It's not healthy."

Chase smiled again, an odd little smile that he couldn't quite read. "Dr. House, has it ever occurred to you that I genuinely don't mind your temperament?"

House stared at him. "No."

"Right, well, I hate to break it to you, but you'll have to try harder."

"Don't think I won't," House muttered, still staring.

"Oh, believe me, I don't."

"You bizarre freak of nature."

"Coming from you, that's saying a lot."

"Hurry up!" Knowles yelled behind them.

"Bite me!" House yelled back.

It felt good.

As it turned out, there was no need for anybody to crawl through an air duct. This rather disappointed House, who found that he had been looking forward to seeing Chase get mussed and dusty.

That, he decided after a moment, was probably not a sentiment worthy of deeper investigation.

Instead, Knowles left them just beyond the treeline as he hiked across the clearing to a large cabin, perched as advertised on the edge of a sparkling blue lake. They could watch his progress as he approached the armed man at the door, but no one at the cabin would see them unless they knew to look.

Chase could have run then, House knew, back through the woods to the car, and from thence back to Jersey and what could charitably be called civilization. He didn't, and though House hadn't really expected him to, he discovered that he was unreasonably grateful for the fact nonetheless.

There was only one way to express such gratitude. "Run, you idiot," he hissed.

"You're welcome," Chase answered absently, his gaze fixed on the cabin.

With a sigh, House turned to observe as well. The gunman wasn't his old friend not-Knowles, but rather someone new, and House wondered just how large this operation was, and how many pockets these people had their hands in. As he watched, Knowles reached the cabin and said something to the gunman, gesturing widely.

"Oh, sure, wave your hands some more," House muttered. "That's not suspicious."

But apparently the gunman was dumber than he looked-- no mean feat-- and after a few seconds of discussion, he started off down the driveway, away from the cabin, and Knowles hurried back to where House and Chase were waiting.

"Come on," he said. "We've got ten minutes."

House rolled his eyes. "Oh, great. I'll just go ahead and set up the express IV drip."

"You know," Chase murmured, "your eyes are gonna stick."

Knowles set his jaw. "We'll take her out of here if we have to."

"Right," House said, pointedly ignoring Chase. "Well. I'm not carrying anyone."

The cabin was one sprawling story, thank Christ; House had already struggled up one stairway during this case, and that was one too many for a lifetime. Knowles led them through the foyer to a small, darkened bedroom, and House only had time for a vague impression of exposed beams, high arched ceilings, and tasteful, stylish furniture before his attention was riveted by the patient on the bed.

"We meet again," House observed, as he limped across the room. "You're like a bad penny. Or a nagging cough."

"Doctor... House," Shirley Knowles said weakly, and closed her eyes, seemingly exhausted by the effort.

"Got it in one." House gave her a critical, head-to-toe look. She looked better than the last time he'd seen her; at least she wasn't vomiting blood. Yet. Studying her, House felt a rare burst of sympathy with a patient. Knowles-- Shirley-- had been dosed with antibiotics twice, enough to kill off some of the bacteria, but not to knock out the spores. Essentially, she was embarking on her third foray into the Wonderful World of Anthrax, and despite her husband's best intentions, House rather doubted there was an end in sight.

For one thing, there were bad signs-- the stiff way she held her neck on the pillow, the near-imperceptible shivers.... House pressed a hand to her forehead. It was cold.

"Shit," he said simply, and turned to Chase. "What do you think?"

Chase felt her face and nodded. "Definitely meningeal. Even if it's not, the anthrax is too far advanced. This woman needs to be in an ICU."

House gave him a quick, sharp look. Either he was a better diagnostician than House had previously given him credit for, or-- far more likely-- he, too, was thinking two steps ahead. The important thing was to get Shirley Knowles to a hospital where they could properly treat her. It was far less important to be truthful with her husband about the prognosis of her disease.

Especially when he was the one who'd made her sick in the first place.

House glanced at Knowles. "Well? It's your show. What's the script say now?"

Knowles chewed on his lower lip, looking torn.

"Tick-tock," House added nastily.

Knowles started to pace back and forth. House caught Chase's eye and nodded, and Chase reached into his bag for the Levaquin injections they had procured from the pharmacy.

After Chase had dosed Shirley and wiped the injection site with a sterilizing pad, he glanced up. "Seriously, man, she's dying. If you want to save her, we have to get her out of here."

Knowles spun and stared at him, searching for signs of deception. Chase just stared back, guileless and wide-eyed and unruffled.

House was, despite himself, impressed.

"Fine," Knowles said finally, and worked his jaw as though trying to swallow something inedible. "Do it."

"Don't do us any favors," House muttered.

Chase looked at Knowles's gun, then at House's cane, and met House's bland shrug with a sigh and an eye-roll. He pulled back the comforter from the bed and started to gather the top sheet around Shirley, speaking to her in a low voice as he did.

"Hurry up," Knowles said.

Chase shot him a pointed look. "Do you want to carry her?"

Knowles bared his teeth. In Chase's arms, Shirley gagged, leaned over, and vomited on his leather jacket.

House winced.

Chase, however, barely reacted. "Come on, up you get," he murmured, and hoisted her somewhat awkwardly against his shoulder. "We're going for a walk, now, and it won't be fun, but you'll feel better at the end. Okay?"

"I like... you... better," Shirley managed to say.

Chase hid a laugh with a cough, and House remarked, "He is quite the ladykiller, isn't he? Oh, I'm sorry-- that word would be better used to describe your husband, wouldn't it?"

"Shut up!" Knowles yelled. He swiveled the gun back towards House. "You, out the back door. You--" He gestured to Chase. "--follow him. You--" House again-- "any more smart remarks, and I will shoot you."

Somehow House managed to keep his mouth shut through sheer force of will, and he simply raised his hands in mock-surrender. Chase gave him a dubious look. House narrowed his eyes in return. They'd better not start planning his funeral just yet.

The back door opened on five steps that descended to a path around the lake. House navigated them slowly and carefully, hating the helplessness and vulnerability he felt.

He hated it even more when a figure rounded the corner of the cabin and pointed yet another gun at him. And this time, it was not-Knowles, with the second gunman, not-not-Knowles, close behind.

If these people were going to keep pointing guns at him, he'd have to come up with more creative nicknames for them. Not-Knowles, he decided, looked a little like General Patton, while not-not-Knowles reminded him of Sid Vicious, for reasons he couldn't quite put his finger on. It would do for now.

"Back up the stairs," Patton said, and House gritted his teeth and began the slow, laborious process of ascending the five steps he'd just taken such great pains to descend.

"It was the hand-waving, wasn't it?" he asked Sid as he climbed, to distract himself more than anything else. "I knew it was too much."

Sid inexplicably failed to indulge him. Clearly Matlock hadn't got everything right.

"Drop the cane," Patton said, once he reached the top of the steps.

House just looked at him. "You know, I could swear I've heard that one before--"

A loud click. "Do it."

House narrowed his eyes into his best glare, with no discernible effect. There was no graceful way to lower his cane gently to the ground, so finally he just dropped it on the path and-- well, "prayed" was inaccurate-- hoped it wouldn't get scuffed.

Patton, it seemed, had other ideas. "Kick it over here."

House looked at the cane, his leg, and finally fixed Patton with a long, withering look.

Patton was undeterred. "John," he said, and Knowles edged forward and kicked the cane down the steps.

House watched in helpless, impotent fury as Patton lowered his gun, took aim, and fired.

The report was deafening, and he couldn't help but flinch. Beside him, Chase jumped, nearly dropping his cargo, and fumbled with Shirley Knowles for a few long seconds, which would have been amusing had House not still been blinded by rage.

That had been his favorite cane, the heavy one with the solid wood handle. Now, it was two splintered pieces on the ground, blown apart by a bullet.

"The next one," Patton said, "goes into the kneecap of the first person to piss me off."

House finally found his voice. It never took very long. "In which case that cane might have come in handy. I see you have issues with long-range planning. Did you really think I was likely to whack you with my stick and handily disarm you?"

Patton smiled coldly and raised the gun again. "Thank you for volunteering."

"House," Chase hissed in alarm. His knuckles were white.

"Oh, relax," House said. "He's not going to shoot me."

"Really," Patton said, drawing back the hammer. "Any particular reason, or was that just wishful thinking?"

House smiled thinly, aware that it wasn't reaching his eyes. "Right leg, please. Unless you intend to carry me, I still need at least one leg to function."

"That's your plan?" Chase demanded under his breath. "A bullet in your bad leg?"

"You got a better one?" House retorted, not looking at him.

Patton didn't lower the gun. But he didn't fire, either.

House raised his voice. "He's not going to shoot me," he repeated, "because I'm already incapacitated. Obviously I'm not going to climb out the window and run away."

"You're assuming that would be the point of the exercise," Patton said.

"Oh my. Well, we know what happens when you assume, although you're doing a perfectly good job of making an ass out of yourself." House smiled again, wider this time. "But more to the point, he's not going to shoot me because he doesn't want to fire that gun if he doesn't have to."

"Stop talking," Patton said. Any traces of amusement were long gone from his face.

It wasn't a suggestion House ever had much success in heeding. This time he didn't even try.

"In fact, if anyone's going to shoot us, it'll be John Boy here." House raised his eyebrows. "That is the plan, isn't it? I bet that gun's registered in his name. He's the one who took us from the hospital, the security tapes will show as much. Right now, Patty here is keeping his options open. He hasn't decided yet whether or not to kill the witnesses-- which would be us, for the slower among you-- but if he does, it'll be our good friend John who's implicated, while Itchy and Scratchy ride off into the sunset together. Very romantic. That's not a suggestion," he added, for Patton's benefit as much as Chase's. "I'm sure he'd shoot us if he had to. He just doesn't want to."

John Knowles looked shell-shocked. "Phil? You're not-- is he--"

"Don't feel bad," House said. "You're an amateur. You're obviously not very experienced with crime. If you watched more TV, now--"

Patton fired.

For a moment, House genuinely feared that he'd miscalculated for once, that his arrogance had gotten Chase killed-- or, worse, himself. But the bullet didn't hit him, and the body that fell to the ground with a meaty thud wasn't Chase's.

He made himself wait a beat before he looked down. John Knowles's wide, sightless eyes stared up at him, the bullet hole in his forehead like the legendary third eye come to life.

Beside him, Chase made a strangled noise, and Shirley Knowles started to slip from his grip.

"Davey," Patton-- Phil-- murmured, and Sid Vicious skirted around the three of them to Knowles's body, where he crouched and pried the gun from his fingers. Phil kept his gun pointed at House and Chase.

Acidly Phil said, "Should I tell you the rest of my cunning plan, or would you like to finish doing it for me?"

House found his voice. "There's no need to be flippant."

Patton smiled. House just couldn't think of him as Phil; it was too innocuous, too buttoned-down a name. Probably wasn't his real name anyway. "I don't want to kill you two. You got that much right. But make no mistake, I will do it if I have to." He nodded at Sid, who actually did look like a Davey, pizza-face and all. "And now I have John's gun, and he can conveniently disappear. So I suggest you make a serious attempt to refrain from pissing me off."

"You know," House said, "I never did like you."

"Mutual," Patton said. He gestured with the gun. "Back inside, please."

House followed Chase and his bundle back into the house. His leg was starting to throb again, and without the cane, his progress was even slower than before. The skin between his shoulder blades itched, expecting a bullet that didn't come.


Patton and Sid directed them first to the bedroom, where Chase gently lowered Shirley back to the rumpled bedclothes. She had mercifully passed out, and was as yet unaware of her husband's murder. House couldn't help thinking it wasn't much of a loss. If nothing else, it saved her the time and expense of a messy divorce. He supposed My husband fed me anthrax was something the judges didn't hear every day.

The real trouble came after Sid confiscated Chase's bag, including the Levaquin injections, and took their cell phones. Then he went through House's pockets under Patton's watchful eye, while House alternately seethed and made smart remarks.

"What's this?" Sid asked, as his fingers finally, inevitably, closed over the bottle of Vicodin.

"Well," House said, "I wasn't gonna say anything, but I am happy to see you."

They ignored him, Patton waving Sid to his side and then examining the bottle-- unlabeled, as usual-- as House watched with growing dismay. He was getting very, very close to needing another dose.

"Medicine," Patton said finally.

House pointed at him. "Good eye."

Patton dropped the bottle in his pocket. House gritted his teeth, feeling Chase's worried eyes on him.

As calmly and reasonably as he could, he explained, "Those are for me, not her. They're painkillers. I need them."

"We'll get you some Tylenol," Patton said, unconcerned.

House laughed. It sounded hysterical to his own ears. No wonder Chase looked frightened at the sound. Or maybe that was just the shock of actually hearing House laugh for once.

It happened.

"Tylenol," he choked out finally between giggles, taking a perverse enjoyment in the bewildered looks on Sid's and Patton's faces. "That's-- oh, that's just great. Tylenol. Why didn't I think of that? Hell, forget the meds, all I need's a hot pack, don't you think?"

"You're the doctor," Patton said after a moment, watching him carefully.

House's amusement vanished. Calm and reasonable hadn't worked.

"Yeah," he growled. "I am the doctor. And if you don't give me back my Vicodin, I will snap my own leg off and beat you over the head with it, because believe me, that could not hurt any more than it will if I go another half hour without my pills."

Patton stared at him. House glowered back, deathly serious.

"Trust me," Chase said. "I'm pretty sure he means it."

Patton shot Chase a look of death. House was pleased, and a little worried, to see that Chase didn't flinch. The kid had balls, which was a good thing. He also had an exaggerated sense of his own invulnerability, which tended to be less good. House knew as much from bitter experience.

"Fine," Patton said finally, and lobbed the bottle back to its rightful owner.

House caught it with reverent hands. "Oh yeah," he breathed.

Patton gestured to the door with a sarcastic bow. "After you, Doctors."

This time they were shepherded into the bathroom, a gleaming ode to modern convenience. House let out a low whistle as he looked around, still riding high on his victory (though not on the Vicodin-- that would come later), and almost missed the sound of the door locking behind them.

Chase didn't. He examined the door, bemused. "Who the hell has a bathroom that locks from the outside?"

"People who plan ahead," House said grimly. The window didn't open either; it was a mosaic of inlaid frosted glass, decorative and extremely useless for their purposes. Even if House had any intention of climbing out a window, which he wasn't quite desperate enough to do yet, the sound of breaking glass would bring their captors running.

He looked back at Chase, and saw that he had extracted one of his many credit cards from his wallet.

"Leave it," House said, as Chase started to work the card in between the door and the jamb.

Chase glanced over his shoulder and stopped, but he didn't withdraw the card. "Why? I can pop this--"

House rolled his eyes. "Oh, just think for a minute, would you? As long as we're in here, we're safe for now. You go out there now and they might as well just shoot you." He paused. "Though don't get me wrong, I'm a little impressed how good you're getting with the whole lock-picking thing."

"A little," Chase echoed, sliding the card back into his wallet with visible reluctance.

"Only a little." House lowered himself carefully onto the toilet, after checking to make sure the cover was down, and propped his leg up on the edge of the tub with a long sigh. "Oh Christ, that feels good."

He closed his eyes, which unfortunately didn't keep him from being aware of Chase's guilty glance at his leg and the absence of his cane. Chase began, "About that--"

House didn't open his eyes. "Did you do it?"

"No," Chase said after a moment. "I was a bit occupied at the time."

"Like France," House said, "during World War II. So forget it. If anything, this whole thing is my fault." He paused. "Though I prefer to blame it on General Trigger Happy out there."

"Patton, right?" Chase didn't wait for an answer; House could hear the smile in his voice. "Was that a second apology?"

"Dream on," House said. He fished one of the hard-won Vicodin out of the bottle and popped it in his mouth.

"I've never seen someone get shot before," Chase said after a long silence. "Usually I just see what happens after."

Same for House, although he didn't say so. He had the image of the Wise Older Mentor to play up, after all. "I thought you seemed fairly sanguine about it," he said, and paused. "No pun intended."

"I expect I'm still in shock," Chase said dryly.

House opened his eyes finally. Chase's smile was wan and brittle, but it was there.

"Sit down," House said, waving a gracious hand, as though they were in his sitting room and not the bathroom of a dead man. "You're giving me vertigo."

Chase scoffed, but perched on the edge of the tub, careful not to bump House's outstretched leg. After a moment, he wrinkled his nose and shrugged off his vomit-encrusted jacket into the tub behind him.

"Yeah," House said, "that was gonna be my next suggestion."

Chase heaved a mournful sigh. "That was my favorite jacket. It'll never be the same."

"Oh please," House said, unsympathetic. "You'll just go right out and buy a new one."

Chase didn't argue the point, saying only, "It's the principle of the thing."

House thought about taking a second Vicodin, but decided against it. He had to stay sharp, stay on his toes (Ha, good luck with that, a sarcastic internal voice piped up, not too different from his external voice). Dulled to manageable levels, the pain helped, gave him an edge.

Then Chase asked the same question that was preying on his own mind. "Why didn't they just kill us?"

House sighed. Chase didn't press him, just waited for the answer he knew would come.

"They probably will," House said finally. "Eventually. When they've got all their ducks in a row, then they'll shoot 'em down."

Chase nodded, like he'd been expecting as much. "So we're dead either way."

"Not yet," House said.

Chase looked amused. "You'll, what, come up with some brilliant plan at the last minute?"

House arched an eyebrow. "You doubt me?"

"No," Chase admitted after a moment. "I kind of hate to say it, but I don't."

He narrowed his eyes. "Why?" he asked bluntly.

"Excuse me?"

House ticked them off on his fingers as he spoke. "Foreman's the one most likely to criticize me, Cameron's most likely to try and understand me, and you're most likely to trust me. Why is that?"

"Foreman suggested Stockholm Syndrome," Chase said after a moment.

"Think there's something to it?"

"What answer are you fishing for here?"

"Are you asking so you can give me that answer, or the opposite one?"

He watched Chase digest the question.

"I think," Chase said, "that if you've got a Plan B, now would be a good time to share."

"Haven't you learned yet?" House asked, a little disappointed that he wasn't playing along. "I'm not very good at sharing."

Chase leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and lowering his head.

"We're dead," he said.

House studied him. Then he held out the bottle of Vicodin and asked, "Want one?"

"You mean you never asked her out?" House asked, in frank disbelief.

Chase seemed to be looking anywhere but at him. "Well, it's obviously a bad idea, I mean, we work together--"

"Do you have some kind of degenerative eye disease?" House paused. "Or is Foreman more your type?"

"No!" Chase exclaimed, looking flustered. "I mean, yeah, she's hot, but professionally speaking--"

"She turned you down, didn't she?"

"Flat," Chase admitted.

House nodded, feeling smug.

"Know any good guessing games?" he asked after a moment.

Chase leaned forward very slowly and rested his forehead on his knees.

"I spy--"

"House," Chase said, "shut up."

House regarded him with mild surprise. Chase pressed his lips together, obviously wondering if he'd crossed some kind of line.

"You know," House said, "I could fire you for that. Insubordination."

"But you won't," Chase said. Brazening it out.

"No," House agreed, gazing serenely over Chase's head at the shower curtain. "Not until you screw up."

He ignored Chase's wide-eyed look. They worked better when they were scared.

House hauled himself up from the toilet and limped to the door, pressing his ear against it.

"What are they doing?" Chase asked, watching him.

He rolled his eyes. "Playing charades. How would I know?"

"I assume you're not doing that for your health."

"Shows what you know," House said, straightening again and returning to his seat. "Everything I do is for my health."

Chase snorted but didn't press him. House wondered, not for the first time, why people always thought he was being sarcastic.

"Okay," House said, his ear once again pressed against the door. "Go."

Chase gave him a blank look. "Where?"

He sighed loudly. "Open the door, Boy Wonder."

"But you said--"

"I know what I said, I was there. That was two hours ago. Now it's not."

"A compelling argument," Chase said, and stood. "You think the situation's changed?"

"I know the situation's changed," House said. "And if you young people nowadays didn't destroy your eardrums with your Dead Baby Meat, you would too. One of our friends just left." He paused. "Probably the General. He seems like the micromanagement type."

"Why would he leave?"

"Again," House said, "with the you thinking I'm psychic. Not that I don't enjoy the imputation of omnipotence--"

"So you don't have any idea."

House rolled his eyes. "Of course I do. He's probably disposing of the body."

"That's all I asked," Chase said mildly, though a bit of an edge was starting to creep into his voice.

"Come on, open the door," House said, ignoring it. "Chop chop."

Chase folded his arms across his chest. "And then what?"

House stared at him. "And then you make a run for it. What, do I need to write out detailed instructions? Should I draw you a map? Hold your hand?"

"I have a better idea," Chase said, eyeing the door.

House scoffed. "Better than mine?"

"Strange but true." Chase climbed into the shower and drew the curtain in front of him. House blinked. When Chase spoke again, his voice echoed weirdly in the stall. "Break the window."

"Sure," House said. "I'll just throw a rock."

Chase's sigh bounced around the tiled room. He yanked the curtain back and held out his stained leather jacket.

"Oh, much better," House said, but he took it and wrapped a relatively clean sleeve around his fist. He was starting to understand what Chase intended, and he had to admit, it was a better idea. For one thing, it didn't involve leaving him alone at the tender mercies of Sid Vicious.

He had to ask, first. "You played football, right?"

"Real football," Chase said. "Not that American crap with the shoulder pads."

"So you probably weren't a linebacker, then," House said.

Chase did not dignify that with a response. House sighed, staring thoughtfully at his fist, then at the window, and then swung.

"Ow," he said, when his fist bounced off the glass.

Chase sighed again. "Use your elbow."

"And here I thought Foreman was the juvenile delinquent." But he did, and a hairline crack appeared in the glass.

The window held out for another few blows, then shattered loudly.

House sat down on the toilet again. "Ten," he muttered. "Nine. Eight...."

He didn't have to wait long; at "four", the door banged open and Sid Vicious stood there, staring at him and breathing heavily. "What-- what did you--"

"He went out the window," House said, gesturing. "I, unfortunately, am not what you'd call spry, so--"

Sid stormed up to the broken window and peered out, and Chase threw the curtain aside and tackled him.

House tucked his good leg out of the way and watched the fight with interest. Chase took a few blows to the face and the abdomen, but he seemed to be holding his own. At one point, they fell together into the tub, pulling the shower rod and the curtain down on top of them; Sid disentangled himself first and advanced on House, panting, his hand on his gun.

"Oh no you don't," House said, raising his hands. "I'm just a spectator."

And then Chase dragged him down again, and the gun went flying. It clattered against the base of the toilet, and House looked down.

"Oh," he said, and picked it up.

He hefted it, judging its weight. Then he gripped it by the barrel, like they did in the movies, and stood and carefully picked his way around the scattered debris to the tub.

He aimed for the dark-haired head. At the last second, he closed his eyes.

"You hit me!"

"Oh, quit your whining," House said. "I hit him too, didn't I?" He paused. "Still trying to work out the physics of that one...."

Chase pressed his fingers to his temple. They came away bloody. "I'm bleeding!" He sounded outraged.

House studied him. "You also have a black eye, a split lip, and possible internal injuries. And a little bump on the head and that tiny trickle of blood are the biggest things you can think to complain about?"

"Yes, well," Chase said acidly, "he's not going to listen to me, is he?"

"And you think I am?"

Chase sighed, then gestured at the body sprawled on the floor. "What should we do with him?"

"Well, lock him in, of course," House said. "I suppose he might try to escape through the window, but that's a chance we'll have to take. Plus he'd probably bleed to death before he got halfway through." The window hadn't shattered cleanly, and if Sid had an ounce of common sense, he would've known there was no way Chase could have gotten through it unscathed.

Outside the bathroom, Chase locked the door as House slid slowly down the wall to the floor. He stretched his leg out in front of him and dry-swallowed a Vicodin.

"Go check on the patient," he ordered, once he'd forced it down and could talk again. "And get me a broom or something." He could walk without his cane, but not through the woods, and not as far as Chase's car.

Chase nodded and left.

House closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. After a moment, he opened them again and looked down at his hands.

He'd knocked out the bad guy with the butt of a gun.

It wasn't nearly as much fun as it looked on TV. His wrist still stung from the impact.

Chase emerged from the bedroom down the hall, looking pale. "She's in bad shape," he reported. "This isn't just the anthrax."

House nodded and began the laborious process of standing up. "So it is meningitis after all. Come on, get me something to walk with, unless you want to carry the both of us. And call 911," he added, as an afterthought.

Chase nodded again and went into the kitchen. About ten seconds later, he backed out of it again, a gun to his forehead.

Patton was on the other end of the gun. He didn't look happy.

"Well, crap," House said.

Patton kept the gun to Chase's forehead as he turned to glare at House. House could see Chase's face now. His eyes were very wide.

Patton spoke with deliberate calm. "If my associate is dead, then so are you."

"He's not," House said. "Just... sleepy." He paused. "Where'd you dump the body, the corner 7-11? That took all of like ten minutes."

"Ah," Patton said, smiling thinly. "Your mistake. I went for supplies. We haven't yet disposed of Mr. Knowles.

Chase's eyes rolled towards House, glaring. House made an apologetic face, and even kind of meant it.

If Patton noticed the byplay, he didn't comment. "Doctor," he said to Chase with exaggerated politeness, "if you would please have a seat?" His free hand gestured toward the living room.

Chase backed up again, still followed by the gun, until his legs hit the front of a high-backed wooden chair. He sat slowly, eyes crossing as he stared at the barrel.

"Dr. House," Patton said, without taking his eyes off Chase. "There's a grocery bag by the kitchen door. Please fetch the roll of duct tape."

"Do I get a cookie?" House snapped.

"You get to keep your coworker. Sans ventilation."

"He's more of an employee, really," House began, and then, as Patton pulled back the hammer, he raised his hands and said quickly, "Okay, okay. Duct tape."

He limped into the kitchen, heart pounding, and found the bag by the door as advertised. He eyed the telephone across the room. Could he get to it without Patton noticing?

"I disconnected the phone lines," Patton called from the hallway. "Get on with it."

House swore under his breath and picked up the bag.

Along with the duct tape, he found paper towel rolls, a box of black garbage bags, and a wrapped bloody steak. He felt his mouth twist. "I suppose the chainsaw is in the trunk?" he called back.

"Hurry, Dr. House," was Patton's only reply. "My trigger finger is getting tired."

House rolled his eyes, but grabbed the duct tape and hobbled back to the hallway as quickly as he could. "This duct tape?" he asked, holding up the roll. "Not, you know, a different kind--"

"Bring it to me," Patton said.

He made House sit across the room on the sofa as he taped Chase to the chair. As soon as the gun was away from Chase's head, Chase's wide-eyed terror subsided into glowering resentment, and he glared wordlessly up at Patton through his eyelashes.

"Now you," Patton said finally, and House held up his hands again.

"Hey," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."

Patton gestured with the gun, and after a moment he sighed and stood.

House was taped to one of the dining room chairs, and he managed not to comment until he saw Patton hovering uncertainly over his right leg.

"Oh, go on," he said. "It won't bite."

Patton scowled at him, then yanked the tape hard over his leg, jostling it. He managed to bite back his yelp.

"There," Patton said finally, standing and dusting off his pants with a vague air of accomplishment. "Don't go anywhere."

Only then did he retreat down the hallway to the bathroom, to check on Sid Vicious.

"Well," House said, after a long silence. "That went well."

"Any more bright ideas?" Chase's voice was bitter.

House gave him a long, level stare. "Actually, that one was your idea."

"Shut up," Chase said, and this time he didn't look sorry for saying it.

It was several hours later when Chase broke the silence. He had been watching the sunset out the bay window; House was watching the VCR clock and counting the passage of time by the gradually increasing pain in his leg.

Chase's voice was soft and almost accentless. "What are they waiting for?"

House tilted his head and listened to the distant retching sounds from the bedroom down the hall.

"They're waiting for her to die," he said.

"Does it bother you," Chase asked, after another, briefer, silence, "that if you'd recognized it when she first came in, she'd be on her way to being cured now?"

House considered it.

"No," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because I highly doubt it would've been that easy."

Chase narrowed his eyes.

"But you were wrong," he said; despite his inflection, it sounded more like a question than an accusation. "And usually that pisses you off royally."

House opened his mouth, fully intending to say something pithy and wise and inspirational-- maybe something about medicine being an art, not a science, and they were only as good as their palettes, and if he thought about it for a few minutes he might even come up with something that could plausibly mean-- and then he frowned and cocked his head, listening again.

Chase was still waiting for an answer, so House said absently, "I've been meditating," and closed his eyes. "Do you hear that?"

"What, the vomiting? It's been going on for a while now--"

"Yeah, I know. I meant--"

"Davey!" Patton bellowed from the kitchen.

House smiled, his eyes still closed.

"I do believe," he said, "that things are starting to go pear-shaped."


House opened his eyes and started to answer, but Patton stomped into the room, breathless and red-faced. He was holding his gun.

"Which one of you called the cops?" he demanded.

"Didn't I tell you?" House said. "I got a tiny phone implanted in my ear. It's the newest thing."

Patton hesitated, considering this, and House's estimation of his IQ plummeted about fifty points.

"What are you on about?" Chase demanded, still looking lost, the poor boy. He was also starting to look a tad pissy. "We've been right here, you put us right here, so unless Dr. House has some psychic abilities he hasn't shared with the rest of us--"

"Which would probably explain a lot," House said.

He cocked his head again; the sirens were coming closer. And now Chase heard them too, and his eyes went wide.

Davey appeared in the doorway, sporting an impressive collection of facial bruises and smears of blood across the front of his shirt. "I brought the car around. We gotta move, now."

"Don't mind us," House said. "We'll just wait here."

"Nice try," Patton said grimly, pulling a knife from somewhere around his waist. "You're coming with us."

He cut House free first, then held the gun on him and handed him the knife. House gritted his teeth as he bent awkwardly over Chase's chair and cut his tape.

"Kick the knife back to me," Patton said, and House handed it to Chase. Chase scowled, dropped the knife, and kicked it across the room.

Patton gestured with the gun. "Out the door," he said. "Single file. You first, Dr. House."

As House brushed past Chase, he hissed, "Don't get in the car."

"I have another choice?" The irritation in his voice was underlain with real fear.

"You'll think of something," House said.

"Now," Patton said.

House limped slowly into the hallway. As he passed the bedroom, he saw Sid Vicious struggling with the prone Mrs. Knowles.

Outside, it was almost completely dark. House stopped in the doorway and blinked, allowing his eyes to adjust.

"Move it," Patton snapped behind him.

"Excuse me, but you shot my fucking cane," House retorted. "Please keep all speed-related bitching to your own damn self."

"Move, or I shoot your friend in the kneecap and you can both take your sweet time."

"House," Chase hissed.

House moved.

He could see the lights now, strobing through the trees as the police cars sped down the road beyond the woods. They passed the driveway and the sirens started to fade, and House felt himself quietly and discreetly begin to panic.

And then he glanced in the direction of the retreating cops, which also happened to be the direction from which they'd come tromping through the woods, and suddenly things started making a lot more sense.

"They're passing us," Sid Vicious said behind them, sounding surprised.

"Bugger me," Chase muttered.

"Here?" House asked, putting a hand to his chest. "Now?"

Somewhere in the distance, the sirens cut off.

"What now, Chief?" House asked.

"Keep going," Patton said grimly, prodding him in the back with the gun. "They might come back."

House rolled his eyes and began to slowly descend the front steps. His mind was racing.

Chase clomped down the steps and started to brush past him, and House grabbed his sleeve. "When I go down," he said under his breath, "run."

Chase stared at him. "You-- what?"

"Run, you twit!"

"Yes, and run where, exactly?"

"It doesn't matter! Five minutes, that's all we need--"

"Dr. House," Patton said, "you're trying my patience."

"And, apparently, failing," House said. He waited until Chase was a good distance away, then descended to the last step with rather more force than he'd intended. It had the desired effect, but unfortunately it also hurt like a bitch.

He collapsed with a grunt of pain, and at the last minute managed to fall backwards against the steps, instead of forward into the grass. Which didn't do his back any favors, but he did knock Patton off-balance with his wildly flailing arms, and Patton stepped back into Sid and his ailing bundle, and House was starting to remember why he used to like bowling so much.

He raised his head with a groan and squinted into the distance; he'd cracked his skull on the steps, another unintended consequence, and things were starting to look a little fuzzy. He did see a vaguely Chase-shaped object, with a vaguely Chase-like shock of blond hair on top, standing and gaping at him like a deer in the headlights. But it couldn't be Chase, because Chase wasn't retarded.

Go, you idiot, he mouthed, closing his eyes and pressing a hand to the back of his skull.

Either Chase was unusually proficient in lip-reading, or his expression conveyed the same message, because when he opened his eyes Chase was fleet-footing it across the yard toward the woods.

"Jesus, Mary, and the carpenter," Patton growled. He leapt over House's prone body and charged after Chase.

House tipped his head back to meet the gaze of a bewildered Sid Vicious.

"That boy," he said with a sigh. "They're so high-spirited at that age, don't you think?"

Sid bit his lip. "Get up," he ordered, fumbling with the still-unconscious Shirley Knowles. He was, House realized, trying to reach for his gun without dropping her.

"Relax," House said, sitting up. He touched the sore spot on the back of his head again, and his fingers came away daubed with red. He figured as long as he wasn't gushing anything, he was fine. "I'm the well-behaved one, remember?"

"Get in the car," Sid said, giving up on the gun.

"Certainly, sir. Shall I hold the door for you?" He levered himself slowly and painfully to his feet. His right leg was throbbing angrily, unhappy with his little trick. He gave it a couple Vicodin to shut it up.

He'd just reached the car door when they heard the shouts.

Chase's was first, a distant, unintelligible yelp of pain that made House's stomach twist-- but there hadn't been a shot, so he couldn't be hurt too badly. Then Patton, with an answering yell.

And then, the blessedly unmistakable cry of: "Police! Freeze!"

House grinned savagely at Sid. The young man looked unwell.

He leaned forward and said, "You might want to run now."

House didn't know how Wilson had convinced the police to let him ride along, but somehow he did. He'd checked Chase's injuries and pronounced them non-life-threatening, and was now probing at the wound on the back of House's head, as House sat in the backseat of a police car, his legs stretched out the open door and resting in the dirt in front of him.

"If I recall correctly," Detective Schaeffer said, swaggering up to them with a glower, "I believe I told you to stay out of this."

House returned her glare with interest. "Yes, well, next time I'm kidnapped at gunpoint, I'll be sure to tell the bad guys that the police have kindly requested they refrain. I'm sure that'll shut 'em right up. Ow," he added, twisting around to scowl at Wilson. "Did you forget how opposable thumbs work?"

"Big baby," Wilson said, unruffled. He sponged away the last of the blood, as House grumbled to himself, and then decreed, "You'll be fine. It's just a cut."

"Well, thank God you mauled my scalp in order to tell me that."

Schaeffer sighed. "Nothing I say is gonna sink in, is it?"

"Nothing has so far," Wilson said.

House pointed at the road beyond the trees. "Go save a puppy, James."

"I told you, I already took care of Chase," Wilson said with a grin.

"Speak of the linebacker himself," House added, as Chase started to drift towards them, away from Officer Lowell and some other uniforms. Sid and the General were handcuffed in the backs of two squad cars, glaring out the windows. House was impressed despite himself; given Schaeffer's bulk, he hadn't expected her to move fast enough to tackle the fleeing Sid.

Chase made a pissy face at the comment. "Real football, I said," he reminded House.

"I was speaking metaphorically," House said.

Chase just rolled his eyes. He was pressing a towel full of ice to the bruise under his left eye, and his hair straggled limply into his face. He was also limping a little. The shout House had heard had apparently been Chase tripping over something in the woods. It was somehow refreshing to know that, despite his general medical competence, Chase could still behave like a dumb blonde in a horror movie. Even the hair fit.

"How'd you find us, anyway?" Chase asked Schaeffer, leaning back against the side of the car.

Schaeffer opened her mouth, but House beat her to the punch. "You, actually."

Chase blinked. "Me?"

"You," House agreed, "and your exorbitant spending habits. You swank bastard, your car has anti-theft satellite tracking, doesn't it?"

Chase blinked again. He swiveled his head to stare into the woods, where his car was presumably still parked, and then turned back to House.

"It does?" he asked finally.

House grabbed the open car door and hauled himself to his feet. "Check your warranty, boy genius."

"He's right," Schaeffer said, sounding reluctant to admit it. "As soon as we saw the security tapes, we checked the garage. Dr. Chase's car was gone, so." She shrugged.

"Saved by conspicuous consumption," House said.

"There's a lesson in there somewhere," Wilson mused.

House raised an index finger and pretended to listen to something. "That would be the sound of a million socialists crying out in terror, then suddenly silenced."

"The Force," Wilson agreed, "is greatly disturbed."

Schaeffer shook her head. "The Force ain't the only one that's disturbed."

"As fun as this is," House said, "I really should be going. That patient's not gonna heal herself." One of the squad cars had taken Shirley Knowles away to the hospital, sirens blaring, and he shuddered to think what the monkeys in the ER were doing without his supervision.

"Siddown and shut up," Schaeffer said, and he blinked. "You're not going anywhere till we get a full statement from you. Both of you," she added, fixing Chase with a stern look.

Chase raised his hands in surrender. "Take your time. I'll just stay here and continue to bruise."

"Now who's the baby?" House turned to Schaeffer without waiting for an answer, though he did take a moment to appreciate Chase's open-mouthed indignation. "Look, I appreciate your situation, I do, but--"

"But nothing," Schaeffer said. "This case is fucked up enough already. We're doing this one by the book. Get in the goddamn car."

House opened his mouth, then shut it again.

"My God," Wilson said, staring at him. "She's rendered you speechless. My world is askew."

House scowled at him. "A little backup would be appreciated here."

"Sorry," Wilson said, not sounding sorry at all. "There are other competent doctors in the world besides you. It's hard to accept, I know--"

"Oh, just gag yourself with your tie, already," House said. "And call Cameron and Foreman, make sure they're there to supervise."

"Before or after I gag myself?"

"I'll leave that to your discretion."

Schaeffer folded her arms across her chest. "Any day now, gentlemen."

House sighed, recognizing defeat when he saw it-- he faced it often enough from Cuddy, after all-- and got back into the car. Chase limped around to the other side of the car and slid in beside him.

They sat in silence for a few moments, as Schaeffer ambled over to Lowell and the other cops. Then, staring fixedly at the back of the driver's seat, House muttered, "You did good, you know," and cleared his throat.

"Yeah, fabulous." Chase sounded depressed. "Very heroic, tripping over a fucking root."

"Boy," House said, "are you in the wrong place for an ego stroke."

Chase didn't respond. House sighed.

"Fine," he said, "your car saved the day. Happy?"

"Sort of," Chase admitted, after a pause.

House rolled his eyes.

"So!" he chirped, after another silence. "Should we get our stories straight?"

He felt Chase turn slowly and stare at him.

House tried to look innocent. "What? I'm just saying, if we're going to be interrogated--"

"Tell the truth," Chase said firmly.

"Where's the fun in that?"

"There's the fun of not lying to the police and getting arrested, for one."

House looked at him narrowly. "Something tells me you're speaking from experience, Mr. Use-Your-Elbow."

Chase looked away-- guiltily, House thought, and was pleased. "What, exactly, were you planning to lie about?" was all Chase said.

"So not the point," House said.

"You're a menace," Chase muttered, but a faint smile was playing around the corners of his lips.

"You said that already," House pointed out.

"It hasn't stopped being true."

House's snappy retort was cut off as Schaeffer and Lowell returned to the car. "Ready?" Schaeffer asked brightly, glancing in the rearview mirror.

House smiled back, as sweetly as he could. "Can we stop for an ice cream?"

"So, um," Chase said, leaning forward. "What about my car?"

"What about it?" Lowell asked, without turning around.

"For one," Chase said snippily, "it's sitting in the middle of the woods of Bumfuck, New York, quickly gathering rust."

"Now that's just vulgar," House chided.

"We'll have it towed," Schaeffer said, turning the key in the ignition and pulling off the lawn onto the dirt driveway.

"Towed?" Chase sputtered. "Out of here? God, the bodywork alone--"

"Oh, quit whining," House said. "At least you still have a car. I have to buy a brand-new cane."

"You have several!"

"And that was my favorite."

Lowell twisted around and stared at them. "Are you two always like this?"

"We might have to gag them," Schaeffer said.

"Ah," Chase said. "That's really not necessary."

"I don't know," House said. "This one has real trouble keeping his mouth shut. Really, he's like a little yappy dog--"

"I'm armed," Schaeffer remarked.

House sat back and mimed zipping his lips shut.

"Now look," he said to Chase out of the corner of his mouth. "You got us in trouble with the teacher."

Chase sighed. "I told you I like you, didn't I?"

"I do recall something to that effect."

"I take it all back."

"Sorry. No takebacks. You like me, you really like me--"

"Seriously," Schaeffer said. "Shut up."

The Princeton police station was grimy and dank, and smelled like stale coffee and old cigarettes. The interrogation room was painted a pale puke green, a noxious color probably calculated to inflict the maximum torture with a minimum of effort.

House drummed his fingers impatiently on the table and watched as Schaeffer closed the door. They'd found him a cane, a plastic disposable affair, and it rested across his lap, reassuring even in its negligible weight.

"Where's Chase?" he asked, as she sat down.

"Lowell's taking his statement." Schaeffer placed a tape recorder on the table. "I got the short straw."

House eyed the recorder. "Shouldn't you read me my rights or something?"

"You're not under arrest, Doctor," Schaeffer said, with a discreet eye-roll.

"Please. I've seen Law & Order. You people say that right before you arrest the poor bastard."

"Dr. House," Schaeffer said, "believe me, if I could charge you with something, I would. We're just trying to figure out what exactly happened here."

"More reassuring words, there never were."

She bared her teeth. "Would you like me to get creative?"

"Heaven forfend," House said.

Schaeffer pressed the record button and said, "Start talking. From the beginning."

"Well, in the beginning," House began, and paused. "Stop me if you've heard this one before."

She hit pause. "You realize it's well within my authority to order a cavity search."

"Why, Detective Schaeffer," House said. "I had no idea you felt that way."

"Behave," she said, and released the pause button.

House sighed loudly. "John Knowles," he began, "wanted money. He may have thought he needed money, but having seen his charming little cabin by the lake, I find it hard to muster much sympathy. So--"

Schaeffer hit pause again. "How do you know all this?"

"Wild, flailing conjecture," House said. "Obviously."

She pressed her lips together, a textbook-perfect expression of disapproval. "Let's just stick with what you know firsthand, shall we?"

"Oh, right," House said. "I'm sure Sid and the General will give you the whole story, anyway. No worries there."

Schaeffer consulted the file folder in her hand. "You mean David Chisholm and Philip Vare?"

So Phil was his real name after all. House felt vaguely disappointed. "If you insist."

"We're perfectly capable of putting the pieces together on our own, thank you."

"Well sure," House said. "But why bother?"

"Firsthand," Schaeffer repeated, and released the pause button once more.

House sighed again. "Fine. On February sixth, Shirley Knowles came into the clinic...."

He rattled off the whole story, beginning to end, in the most pompous lecture voice he could muster. When he was done, Schaeffer stopped the tape, then propped her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her hand, staring at him.

"What?" House snapped, finally.

She shook her head. A rueful smile twitched at her lips.

"I know I'm gonna regret asking this," she said. "But-- what do you think happened?"

House cocked a sardonic eyebrow. "I thought you'd never ask."

By the time the police cut them loose, it was after one in the morning. Chase's face was purpling nicely, and he looked, quite simply, wiped out.

"Cavity search?" House asked with faux-sympathy, as he trudged across the bullpen to the front door.

Chase paused in mid-step, and he seemed to take a minute to think about the question. "No," he said finally.

"Well," House said. "As long as you're sure."

He'd called a taxi, and it was waiting by the curb outside. He held the door for Chase, who slid inside and closed his eyes with a long sigh. When House sat next to him and told the driver their destination, however, his eyes flew open and he fixed House with an outraged stare.

"Are you shitting me?" he demanded.

"We have a patient," House reminded him. "Doctor."

"Yeah, but--" Chase broke off and snapped his mouth shut, resting his head against the seat back with a resigned expression.

"Good boy," House said.

They made the trip to PPTH in silence. House swallowed the last two Vicodin in his bottle and closed his eyes as they began to take effect. He hoped the annoying pharmacist with the tits wouldn't be on duty; he didn't want to have to call Wilson and drag him out of bed. It might be amusing, but then Wilson would be cranky the next day, and a cranky Wilson was generally a Wilson unwilling to indulge in mischief.

Foreman was sipping coffee in the conference room when they arrived, poring over medical charts. His eyes widened when he saw Chase. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Kidnapped," Chase said tersely. He collapsed into a chair with a groan and buried his face in his arms.

Without a word, House poured him a cup of coffee and pushed it across the table toward him. Chase reached out and grabbed it without looking up, then turned his head and stared at it with undisguised longing.

"It helps if you sit up," House offered.

"I'm working on it."

"Uh-huh," Foreman said, glancing back and forth between them. "What are you doing back here, anyway?"

"I don't fuckin' know," Chase mumbled.

House peered over Foreman's shoulder at the charts. "How's the patient doing?"

"Hard to say," Foreman said, spreading out the charts to give him a better view. "But I think she'll pull through. Cameron's sitting with her now."

"Of course she is," House muttered.

Foreman twisted around and gave him a skeptical look. "Seriously. You came all the way here just to check on a patient?

"And what's wrong with that?"

"Nothing," Foreman said, "for a normal person."

"We shared an ordeal. I'm very concerned."

"We shared an ordeal," Chase grumbled, still staring at the cup of coffee. "You're not concerned about me."

"And if you had anthrax, I'd feel guilty about that. Drink your goddamn coffee."

"I see you two have bonded," Foreman said.

"It's what I do best," House said. Chase snorted.

Foreman sighed and stood, grabbing his coat from the rack. "Well, I'm going home. There's nothing we can do now except wait for the antibiotics to take effect."

At that, Chase finally sat up. He shot House a brief but defiant look. "Could you drop me home?"

"Where's your car?"

"Currently taking root about a hundred kilometers from here."

"We call 'em miles," House pointed out. "But that's okay. You've had a long day."

"Sure," Foreman said, ignoring him. "Where do you live?"

They walked out together. Chase left the cup of coffee on the table, untouched and steaming.

House looked at it.

"Kids these days," he said.

He stopped by the pharmacy on his way out, braced for battle, and discovered, to his surprise, a brand-new labeled bottle waiting for him on the counter.

"Dr. Wilson left the prescription for you," the pharmacist explained. "Said you'd be needing it."

House picked up the bottle and rolled it slowly across his palm, staring at the white pills inside and wondering whether to feel grateful or annoyed for the gesture. Annoyed was winning the day so far, mainly by virtue of experience.

Wilson was waiting for him at home, too, sprawled in the armchair with an open beer in one hand. Yes, definitely annoyed.

"I need better locks," he muttered, slamming the door shut behind him and clomping toward his bedroom.

"I have a key, remember?" Wilson called after him.

"Hence the need for new locks!" House yelled back.

He found his second-favorite cane in the back of the closet, and tossed the plastic one at the wastebasket; missed, but it was close enough for horseshoes. In the morning, he knew, he'd rescue it from the floor and put it in the closet with the others, just in case-- of what, he didn't know, but such was the nature of the packrat.

For now, however, he left it lying there and returned to the living room, scowl only marginally relaxed.

"Much better," Wilson said, eyeing him approvingly. "Very slimming. Why, that cane takes ten years off your figure."

"I damn well earned those years. I want them back." House slumped down on the sofa and snagged the bottle from Wilson's hand, taking a long swallow. Wilson frowned but didn't comment, which seemed only reasonable, as it was after all House's beer.

"Nice trick," House said after a moment, "at the dispensary. Are you gonna start cutting my meat for me too?"

Wilson rolled his eyes. "Oh, here we go. You've had a long day and I didn't think you'd be up to arguing with the pharmacist. I was just trying to be thoughtful."

"Of course you were. That's your fatal flaw."

"So," Wilson said slowly, "you think I shouldn't do favors for my friends. And you don't think that's shooting yourself in the foot?"

"I've had quite enough of that today, thanks."

"Considering me doing you favors is the entire basis of our friendship--"

"Really?" House affected a surprised look. "I thought it was my NASCAR season pass."

"It helps," Wilson admitted. "It softens the blow."

"God, you're such a fucking romantic."

Wilson blinked at that, but gave no other visible reaction. "Do you really think this is what we should be talking about?"

"Depends," House said. He swung his legs up on the sofa with some effort and stretched out lengthwise, deliberately giving Wilson the back of his head. "Is one of the options 'none of the above, because our hero could really use some beauty sleep'?"

"You think you're the hero in this?"

House rolled his eyes. "It was a figure of speech, genius."

"So you don't think we should discuss the fact that you suddenly think you're James Bond."

"Of course I'm not James Bond," House said. "I don't get nearly enough tail. And that damn well better be the royal 'we', or I will beat you to death with this cane."

"Yeah, but bloodstains are so hard to get out of wood."

"I'll try the plastic one first," House said, pleased at finding a use for it. "You're kind of a wuss. I bet you'd snap before it would."

Wilson leaned over and grabbed the beer bottle again; House thought briefly about resisting but decided that, for once, dignity was the better part of valor. He closed his eyes and listened to James drink and thought about the day's events. It looked like a lot more fun onscreen.

"I think," he said at last, with great weight to his words, "I watch too much TV."

There was a pause.

"I'm speechless," Wilson said finally.

"Ha ha, I win."

"Well, they do say admitting it is the first step."

"Unfortunately, the second step is interaction with other human beings," House said. "You see my dilemma."

"So shall we chalk it up to a bizarre midlife crisis, and move on from there?"

"Let's," House said tartly.

He reached out blindly, and felt Wilson press the bottle into his hand. He took a few more grateful sips, then commented, "I don't think Chase likes me anymore."

"You didn't dip his pigtails in your inkwell, did you?"

"We spent several hours in forced close proximity with one another."

"Ah," Wilson said, and House imagined him nodding thoughtfully. "That would do it."

"I imagine the whole gun thing was just icing on the cake."

"Ah well," Wilson said. "Another man down."

Oddly, House felt miffed by his agreement. "I think I could bring him around. It's not a lost cause yet."

"Say it with flowers," Wilson murmured.

"He is awfully pretty," House mused. "A little too pretty."

After a moment, Wilson said, "If that's your plan, you should probably start interviewing for his replacement first thing tomorrow."

"Your faith in my discretion is touching."

"It's not your discretion I'm worried about, it's the fragile bones of your face."

"Whose bones you callin' fragile?" Lazily, House swallowed another mouthful of beer.

Wilson was quiet for a while, long enough that House felt himself starting to doze off. The abrupt question jerked him back awake, and he nearly spilled the last of the beer down his shirt. "Do you think she'll make it?"

House blinked at the ceiling. "Shirley?"

"There's a joke to be made there," Wilson said, "but I'm not man enough to endure the ridicule."

"Thank Christ for small favors." House set the bottle carefully on the floor. "Foreman seemed optimistic. I trust his judgment."

"Careful you don't say that in his hearing. He might keel over from the shock."

"Like I'd do that," House scoffed.

Wilson shifted in the armchair; House heard the squeak of leather. "Do you want me to leave?"

He thought about it. He knew he'd regret sleeping on the sofa, probably regret it for the rest of the week, but just then he didn't care enough to move. Wilson could take the bed. And even if he did manage to haul himself up sometime soon and stumble to the bedroom, Wilson wouldn't mind the couch anyway.

"Stay," he said finally. "If you want."

"It's late," Wilson offered, by way of belated, half-assed explanation.

House closed his eyes again. "Don't you need a note from Julie?"

"You know, that was almost a beautiful moment we shared."

"So close, yet so far."

"I'll stay," Wilson said. "Someone has to stick around to keep you out of trouble."

"Someone," House said, "needs a less stressful hobby."

"Someone tried that. It didn't take."

House cracked one eye open and turned his head a little, just enough to see Wilson in his peripheral vision. Wilson looked tired and defeated and rumpled, if somewhat blurry. But he was smiling.

House felt a reluctant answering smile tugging at his own lips.

"Now that," he said, "is what I call a beautiful moment."


Part One | Part Two


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