Categories > TV > House > Pathology

Chapter 5

by MelantheVida 1 review

In the middle of recovering from a hangover, House getes an unusual consult letter from an old acquaintance of his. Its contents draw him enough to allow the envelope to miss the trash.

Category: House - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Humor - Characters: Allison Cameron, Eric Foreman, Gregory House, James Wilson, Lisa Cuddy, Robert Chase - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2006-08-15 - Updated: 2006-08-16 - 7951 words

The unfamiliarity of it all was what first hit him. The lack of his usual bed, the presence of a rougher fabric, the differences in weight between his normal blanket and the sheet that had been thrown carelessly over him. There was no pillow. Instead, a couch cushion had been shoved under his head. His head, which was currently throbbing like hell.


Wilson sat up gingerly, testing the waters. A wave of nausea hit him. Bile rose up his throat.

He immediately lay back down, one hand pressed to his pounding temple.

Okay, so perhaps attempting to sit up a bit later would be a good idea. He'd forgotten what it was like to suffer a massive hangover. Not since college and the few years just after graduation (the completion of med school pretty much requiring a huge, celebratory bash to compensate for the three years of hell ahead of them) had he consumed this much alcohol.

...Although no, that wasn't quite true. There was that time after his first marriage fell apart. And then of course, it had happened again after his second marriage fell apart.

Now it was his third. Apparently, he was going for a pattern here. House, ever the one to put the pieces together, had undoubtedly noticed and taken full advantage of it. Wilson wondered briefly how long it would be before his friend actually published this discovery in a journal. The Wilson Drinks-Divorce Correlation.

Nope, not gonna think about your crappy marriage luck, Jimmy. You need something that'll make your hangover better, not worse.

Of course, making his hangover better required getting up and grabbing something to relieve his headache, and he wasn't quite positive he was ready for that yet.

Something else then. Figuring out what exactly occurred last night, perhaps. Clearly, there was drinking involved. And considering he was on the lumpy couch again, House was definitely a part of this. Which was...good, in a way - Wilson didn't think he wanted to be inebriated around anyone else.

So, drinking and...a game? A drinking game. And something about the time or directions...He could also remember a bad thing happening. Getting kicked out. Because House broke something, or insulted someone. Or both. Yes, it was most likely both.

Wilson made another attempt to sit up. It was a little better this time, but not by much. Still, he managed to keep everything in his stomach, and that was all that mattered.

He ran one hand through his hair, peeling the blanket off of his body with the other. His shirt was untucked, and without looking, he could definitely tell that his collar was unbuttoned.

His eyes shifted to the floor, where his tie was sprawled haphazardly on the floor. Wilson leaned over slowly and picked it up, tossing it onto the coffee table next to box of sandwich crackers. His joints were stiff and his body ached, but not in any place that would induce concern, which was more than he could say for the last time this sort of thing happened.

He needed a shower. He needed a change of clothes. He needed to brush his teeth. He needed...he needed...

He needed to throw up.

Wilson stumbled off the couch, cursing under his breath as he tripped over one of his own discarded shoes. House's apartment was small, but it never seemed so large until right now, when the contents of his stomach was doing a tapdance against the back of his throat. He swallowed hard, trying to keep last night's dinner (mostly liquid) all down as he navigated his way to the bathroom...only to find it locked tight. A yellow light from within peeked out through the crack beneath the door.

Wilson jiggled the doorknob a little desperately.

"Occupied!" The voice that called back was more than a little unsteady and hoarse, and muffled by the door.

Oh...please no.

Wilson pounded on the door, his words coming out in a rush. "House, come on, I'm not feeling so great either."

"Shouldn't've tossed that last martini," House muttered, more to himself than anyone else. Very obvious heaving sounds filtered through the bathroom door. "S' an awful homebrew."

Not trusting himself to speak at this point, Wilson only stumbled away from the bathroom and hurried towards the next available sink - the kitchen. It was stacked full of dirty dishes, which he managed to clear about half of before emptying last night's tequila and vodka down the drain. A few solid pieces swirled among the mess, probably the remains of those crackers left on the coffee table. Little else was evident. Wilson recalled contemplating dinner sometime between midnight and one, and then immediately discarding it in favor of a much more pleasant buzz. No doubt at House's urging.

He twisted the taps, the noise from the spray of water only amplifying his massive headache, and closed his eyes briefly.

Water. Right, water was the next step. Water and a painkiller. Tylenol or something. He knew House had some around here.

Wilson began rummaging through the cupboards, careful not to mess the contents up anymore than they already were. Half a bottle of cough syrup, Claratin, Polysporin, several empty prescription bottles...but no painkillers. Irony struck him in the face. Where were those little white tablets when you needed them? Of course, the fact that he hadn't turned on the kitchen lights probably wasn't aiding his search, but he knew any sort of illumination at this juncture would only make matters a hundred times worse.

He'd just about given up on the painkiller search and had moved onto opening another cupboard for a glass when someone grabbed his hand and shoved a cylindrical object inside. He jumped, startled, and spun to face his friend, who was gripping the edge of the kitchen sink unsteadily.

"Just drink from the tap," House said, waving at the still-running water.

Wilson opened his palm. It took him a couple of seconds to register the white tablet in his hand, with the words Tylenol engraved on one side. He tossed the pill in his mouth and scooped a handful of water, then swallowed it all.

He shut off the water with a groan and buried his face in his arm. "I'll never make it through work."

"That's why you're calling in sick," House stated matter-of-factly, walking slowly out of the kitchen. "For the both of us." Wilson followed, catching up just in time to witness his friend pushing aside the living room curtains.

"Ow." Wilson winced, turning his back on the light and shielding his eyes. Jesus, it was bright out there.

Really bright. In fact, too bright to just be morning.

"Oh my God," he said, his heart starting to race. He automatically flipped up his wrist, but there was no watch. "Oh my God. What time is it?"

House had already snapped the curtains shut again and was blinking rapidly in obvious pain. "That...definitely hit a seven on the Richter scale. I'm guessing 11:02 A.M," he answered, speaking with hardly a pause.

"Eleven?" Wilson echoed incredulously. "/Eleven/? Oh no." He began hurrying towards House's closet, where he knew he still had a few items of clothing from the last time he stayed over. "Oh God, I'm screwed," he muttered, yanking out a pair of pants and a shirt.

"You'll be even more screwed when Cuddy finds out where you've been picking up babes all night," House called over his shoulder. Wilson heard a creak as his friend flopped down on the couch.

"I'm not worried about Cuddy," Wilson said, snatching his tie up from the coffee table. "I had a patient meeting an hour ago, I promised her. You should be worried about Cuddy."

"Yeah, lunch and a date go real well with a hangover," House sniped back, curled up in the corner of the couch. "You can tell her all about the five strippers you were slipping it to in the alleyway."

For a split second, Wilson was actually worried there might've been some truth to that statement, but then he shook his head. "I was drunk, House, I wasn't on crystal meth." With his pants, shirt, and tie all draped over one arm, he headed for the bathroom and shut the door. "And it's not a date!" he yelled, not certain if House could hear him from where he was. "It's a meeting!"

"That's what you said right before you moved in with your cancer patient." House's voice echoed just outside the door.

"Actually, I said I found another place, but I take it that's not the point." Wilson pulled open the door and poked his head out, still buttoning his shirt quickly with one hand. "If you're calling in sick, you'd better call now before Cuddy comes hunting for you."

House waved a hand dismissively. "I'll call when I have the time." He rolled his pill bottle back and forth over the back of his fingers a few times, then tossed it in the air and caught it. "You need to pick up my Vicodin at the pharmacy today."

Wilson turned around, a comb in his hand. "Yes, of course, Master. I fall all over my feet to get the opportunity to run errands for you." He looked back into the mirror, struggling to neaten his hair as fast as possible without tearing the strands out by the roots. His whole head was a mess, the tangled locks sticking every which way like he'd walked through an electrostatic generator with a sweater on. "Get one of your team to do it. Chase. Cameron. Foreman, if you feel like getting hung up on."

"Chase can't even get the bottle cap off right," House replied, ignoring the fact that he sometimes couldn't, either. He tossed the empty bottle up and down in his hand. "Besides, you were the one who pill-tossed them all into cocktail oblivion." Catching the translucent orange bottle one last time, he tossed it again - aiming for Wilson's head this time. It hit its mark neatly.

"Ow. Hey!" Wilson spun around, one hand flying to the back of his head, then immediately felt dizzy as the room twirled about him. He glanced at the bottle, now lying on the bathroom tiles, and considered picking it up, but that would require leaning down, which he was definitely not doing in this nauseous state.

"I clearly remember you had ten," he said, adjusting his tie. "Which you dumped out and left behind on the bar counter." He flipped off the bathroom lights and stepped out, reaching down for the overcoat that had been tossed on the floor. "What's more important?" he asked, throwing the coat over his shoulders. "Skipping work and missing your meds, or going there and hiding in your office while still skipping work with all thirty-six Vicodin in hand?"

House tilted his head, pretending to actually weigh the two choices. "How about... skipping work, hiding at home, and still getting all my meds thanks to the courageous travails of Dr. James Wilson, Boy Wonder Oncologist? Your car's at the bar, you know," he added as Wilson made his way to the front door.

That was true. But...

"Luckily, your isn't." There was a jingle as Wilson snatched House's car keys from their usual spot on top of the piano. He paused at the door and turned around. "And no, I'm not going to get your pills."

"You know, our friendship used to mean more than this!" House called as the door slammed shut. "Back when Vogler fired you," he added with a mutter. He sighed, leaning against the wall. His leg really was starting to hurt again, in addition to the crescendoed throbbing of his head and back. Wilson had a point: with the patient in recovery (presumably, given the lack of urgent messages on his pager), he could easily hide in his office and other various corners of the hospital in an attempt to shirk clinic duty as well as get his meds. And it wasn't as if his car was gone by now. He had no doubt that Wilson would wait at least ten minutes for him before actually driving off.

Besides, he was already dressed, technically, having slept in his clothes last night. Or this morning. Whatever time it was when they got back.

Grabbing his cane, he slowly hobbled out the door, not bothering to lock it behind him.


Some people in the world were walking dictionaries. Others were walking calculators. Dr. Lisa Cuddy was a walking atomic clock. Two, actually, since she needed an entirely separate one to keep track of all the hours of work her diagnostics head missed so she could balance it against all the lives he saved, and thus justify his continued employment to the board every time pay period came around. Currently, the scale was tipping in favor of House's demise.

Rounding a corner, she spotted the culprit in question making a bee-line for the elevators, his rather...photophobic companion (by the looks of the arm that was shielding Wilson's face) in tow. James seemed nothing like his normally impeccable self, although House certainly was none the worse for wear - this wasn't his first time, after all - which could mean only one of two things. Since the duo practically had a Just Got Smashed sign strapped to their backs, Cuddy opted for the less graphic of the two.

She took little time in intercepting the situation.

"Two department heads late. Interesting." Cuddy came to a halt right in front of the elevators, heels clicking as she blocked off her negligent employees' escape route. Her gaze shifted from House's sunglasses to Wilson's raccoon eyes and rumpled, slept-in clothing, all but unheard of in the usually meticulous oncology head. He was trying his best to screen the light with his hand, while not looking entirely too obvious. "You should've gotten him a pair, too," Cuddy observed with cynical guile. "Then you two could match."

"I did." House pulled out a set of brightly colored two-tone plastic sunglasses, complete with garish flower petal rims. It was a prize from the bottom of his cereal box. "He wouldn't wear them."

Wilson looked embarrassed. "We just - " He grasped for a plausible excuse that would explain away headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light, but decided both he and House contracting rabies on the same day was perhaps not the most believable justification. Besides, Lisa knew them all too well for any last minute lies to work. "We came in as fast as we could. House, unsurprisingly, has no alarm clock." Rubbing at his neck, he cast a nervous glance at his companion before turning to smile weakly back at his boss.

Cuddy did not look impressed. "I don't want to hear about it." She swiveled her glare over to House. "I suppose when I hired you, I should've taken out some late days in addition to setting aside a budget for your legal expenses."

"It's not late if I don't have any work to do," House pointed out.

"No, you don't have any /cases/," Cuddy corrected. "You do, however, have clinic duty." She glanced vaguely in the direction of his derelict companion. "And you have...your cancer patients."

House pointed at Wilson. "He's got a date."

"It's not a date, it's a /meeting/." Wilson sighed, exasperated.

"Yeah, right." House gave him a knowing look, then leaned in to whisper confidentially, one thumb cocked in the direction of his boss, "That's what she called it too, right before she hired me."

"Strange," Cuddy broke in loudly. "I remember an entirely different word that day coming out of you." There was an awkward moment as the two old nemeses squared off in the middle of the lobby, as passing nurses and wandering patients glanced curiously in their direction, then turned to whisper among themselves. Wilson caught a 'head' and a 'sleeping' and a 'but they say his friend is...' before getting cut off by his boss's marching orders.

"Get back to work."

As if on cue, the elevator arrived.

Inside, safely inside, ensconced in a web of comfortable emptiness, Wilson stared silently at the dim floor lights. Several minutes passed before he decided to spring the innocent question.

"...So what word did you use?"

House answered just as the elevator doors slid open.

"Ask your cancer patient."

They parted ways at the nurse's station, House steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the whole affair while Wilson smirked, amused, then hurried off to his own corner office. There would be other times to bring up this specific matter.

With a sigh and a limp, House pushed open the door to the conference room where his three staffers were currently busying themselves with...looking not particularly busy, given the lack of substantive greeting. Foreman was seated at the center table, legs propped up as he perused this morning's /Washington Post/, a mug of coffee by his left hand. He turned a page, but didn't glance up at House's approach. Cameron had gone back to saving...three-legged puppies or blind orca whales on the Internet, and Chase, as always, was entertaining himself with a crossword puzzle and an oral fixation for number two pencils in the back corner.

Lovely. The treatment had worked.

Cameron looked up from her computer. "The patient's doing better. His lungs are - "

"Don't need to hear it if it's good." House cut her off with a wave of his hand, and cane walked his way slowly toward the coffee maker. He started pouring himself a large mug.

"It's not important for you to hear the patient status?" Cameron asked reproachfully.

House took a long, deep draft from his coffee mug, nearly downing the entire cup. His eyes fluttered shut for a few moments.

"Ahhh." Shaking his head, he drifted back down to reality, much improved. "Better than Prozac." A bright smile spread across his lips, as he removed his sunglasses and set his empty mug down on the countertop. "Reader's digest version." He nodded at his subordinates. "Did he live, or did he die?"

Chase was the first to respond. "He's alive."

"And...improving, by the lack of whiteboard symptoms." House turned in the direction of his beloved office accessory, where the series of symptoms he'd had listed the day before were now neatly crossed out one by one, an indicator of the patient's marked improvement. Only the CBC levels and cough remained.

"Well, his white count's still up, but he's going through the recovery stages," Foreman reported at the silent prompting of his boss. "His cough's better, too, is somewhat persistent." He shrugged and turned back to his newspaper. "But it should be clearing up in another couple of weeks."

"So says the neurologist, who thought it was meningitis all along. I'm going to catch up on some sleep." House paused on his way to his office long enough to tap Chase's crossword with his cane. "Yersinia pestis, thirteen down." The look of irritation it earned him was summarily ignored.

Pushing open the glass door, he was immediately greeted by a hefty stack of consult letters in the middle of his desk, right between his juggling balls and the latest edition of /Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition/. They sat there neatly, waiting, held down by his monster truck paperweight. There was no indication that anyone had bothered to sort or otherwise discard of them.

"What happened to my trash collector?" he asked as he picked his way toward his seat.

Cameron called back from in front of her computer, "You always toss everything away anyway. Look through it yourself if you think it's worth salvaging."

"That's what my secretaries are for," House replied, glancing pointedly at his staff.

"Yes, I'm sure secretaries save lives and answer the mail on a daily basis."

"Weekly," Chase corrected, and set down his crossword puzzle. This argument of theirs was ruining his concentration. He got up from his seat by the table, where a rather bored Foreman was deliberately ignoring the conversation by burying his nose further in his newspaper, and walked to the coffee maker to pour himself another mug of the caffeine brew - only to find it entirely empty.

Chase peered inside the coffee pot. "You drank it all?"

"I was supposed to leave some in the cup?" House asked in mock surprise.

The other man just rolled his eyes. "Faster if I get some from the cafeteria downstairs." He started toward the conference room doorway, knowing that House - especially post-hangover House - wasn't going to stop him. There were advantages to working for a guy who avoided work as much as possible, and Chase estimated this last case's paycheck should last them till the end of the week, which meant a good five days of early breaks and dinner parties to look forward to.

Seeing that House was very much hung over and not in the mood for company, Foreman decided that this was his cue to leave as well. "I could use some, too."

House turned to his remaining staff member. "Which leaves the mail sorting to..."

"You," Cameron replied brightly and followed the others out the door.

...Damn. This is why he needed higher turnover rates.

With a sigh of resignation, House settled back once more into his chair and placed his cane on the desk, gazing thoughtfully at the tall pile of envelopes in front of him. He could sweep it all into the trash. Could, and almost always did, except in this case, he was actually expecting something of importance in the mail for once. The fourth annual monster truck jam sweepstakes. A chance to ride Gravedigger in person. Considering that he'd rigged the drawing's outcome through several surefire methods (not the least of which involved posing as a competitor's wife), the tickets should be arriving just about this time this a plain envelope completely indistinguishable from the usual dreck that clogged his inbox.

Hm. A real pain. He should've opted for the electronic alert instead, since his e-mail was set to auto-block all incoming messages except those containing the words 'porn' and 'Swedish babes.'

House picked up the stack of letters and started sifting them rapidly into the trash can by sight. Advertisements. Hate mail. Catwoman doc wanted help on another rash case. If anyone were really desperate enough to seek his medical opinion, they would've come in personally to be turned down and mocked in his presence, rather than relying on flimsy pieces of typewritten paper. He had little time to waste on cases that weren't urgent.

Dropping off the last of the letters, he sighed and leaned back against the table, one hand tugging at the blinds to his window so he could get some much needed rest. His arm brushed against a stray envelope on its way back. House frowned. Must've missed one. He flicked a quick glance at it before tossing it in the trash.

And then it hit him.

The envelope had no return address.

House opened his eyes partway and stared at the ceiling. That couldn't be right. All consult letters had to have a return address. They were impossible to process otherwise. The doctors he'd worked with could be stupid, true, hurried and clumsy and obtuse, but their secretaries never forgot to affix a neat little address label on every one of their outgoing mail. To do otherwise was to invite a visit from the red tape brigade, and that was an administrative nightmare not even Cuddy would touch.

Cursing internally at his overactive mind - brains were great for medical puzzles, not so much for falling asleep - House bent over and fished the envelope out of the trash, tearing raggedly through the paper with one fingernail. This was going to be a consult, some dull fluff job or perhaps a med student seeking his advice on diagnosing the common flu. Damn Cuddy for posting his address in that lecture intro...

He held the letter up to the light so he could read. Blinked. Squinted at the sender's name. Scanned it several times again before turning in his seat to face the desk once more, finger tapping his cane thoughtfully.

Well. This was certainly the first time a patient had written without using a permutation of the words 'doctor,' 'House,' and 'asshole' in the first sentence.

He picked up the phone and began to dial.


It wasn't a long lineup, of course - not many wanted to drop their pants, even to save their lives - but it was still a lineup.

The head of oncology, regulated to testicular cancer exams. While nursing a hangover, no less. Though technically, he had no right to complain, having agreed to do his fellow coworker a favour.

Wilson took the patient's chart - a Mr. John Kinner - and was about to lead the forty-something, partially balding man into the exam room when an all too familiar voice cut clearly through the air.

"Hey, Wilson! I need you to check my balls!"

The murmur of voices from the waiting patients immediately died down.

Wilson froze for a split second, his hand on the doorknob. He offered Mr. Kinner, who was staring in slight bewilderment, a reassuring smile. "Sorry, the patients in the psych ward are prone to wandering."

Mr. Kinner nodded his sympathetic understanding. Wilson motioned towards the back of the line. "Excuse me while him back to his room."

He slipped past the patients, chart still in hand, and made his way to where House was waiting at the back. There was a neat little space around him where people had edged away.

"They got you doing testicular exams?" House asked as Wilson grabbed him by the elbow and led him away from the public eye. "Wow, Cuddy must've been really pissed off."

Wilson exhaled loudly. "Dr. McKay had a family emergency. I'm filling in for him. Some people actually do favours for others," he added.

"Really?" House asked, his voice dripping with his usual sarcasm. "Sounds like a complicated system. Do they give out little notepads to keep score?"

"Gold stars and all," Wilson replied, deadpan. He automatically followed as House limped off, apparently searching for an empty exam room to hide in by the way he was peering at each closed door. Finally finding one, they stepped inside. House hopped onto the examination table and planted the cane between his legs, chin resting on the wooden curve.

Wilson rubbed his temple. He'd been swallowing Advil since morning, feeling very much like his pill-popping friend each time. His headache should've at least edged off by now, but it was still going strong. Apparently, his hangover was worse than he'd thought, considering the wave of dizziness that had hit him just a bit earlier, too.

"So what did you drag me away from work for this time?" he asked, shutting the door behind him.

House gave a casual shrug. "My motorcycle broke, I need a replacement."

Wilson blinked. "You want me to fix your motorcycle?" he asked doubtfully.

"Well, it's either that, or my third leg."


Wilson shifted his gaze to the perfectly intact wooden cane, not entirely sure what House was referring to. Well, unless - no. Never mind. Best not to go there at all.

House only smirked. "Speaking of which, got any advice on blackmailing Cuddy?"

"You hauled me all the way down here to ask me about blackmailing Cuddy?" Wilson asked. Why am I not surprised? "What crazy thing are you looking to bail out of this time?"

"Nothing." House put on his best innocent look. "Why, do I need a reason to blackmail my boss?"

"Because then it wouldn't be blackmail," Wilson replied. "It would be snooping. Or you being you."

"I am always me being me...except when me is actually you trying to convince me that I am not me while maintaining your facade as you." There was a moment of complete silence. "That wasn't me speaking, by the way," he added as an afterthought.

"Of course it wasn't." Wilson cleared his throat, arms folded across his chest. "Well, depending on what this is all even about, your blackmail source may vary greatly. What are you planning?"

House gestured vaguely at the air. "A business maneuver." He tried to come up with a detail that would give his answer more credibility. "...Of sorts."

"Right," Wilson said skeptically. "And how disagreeable will Cuddy be once she hears of this business maneuver?"

House pondered. "That would depend on her tolerance for horizontal maneuvering."

"Horizontal," Wilson repeated blankly. "You...want her to let you go forward somewhere?"

"Technically - " House gave his cane a twirl and pointed it towards the floor. " - downward."

Wilson grew even more confused. "Down is a vertical direction."

"Not if you do it butterfly style."


Oh. Sex. Sex, favour from Cuddy, and going somewhere. Clearly not an ethical issue, which could only mean -

"You're going on vacation?" he hazarded a guess.

House's self-satisfied smile confirmed it. "Orlando, here we come."

Wilson raised his eyebrows. "You want me to dig out Cuddy's dirty secrets so you can officially take a vacation for once instead of just going AWOL? I don't even know any!" he protested. And that aside, I'm most certainly not getting involved in this.

"Come on, she invited you out a date. No one goes out on a date without first sifting through their partner's dirty laundry," House pointed out.

"That could hardly be called a date." Julie admitting she'd had an affair had been less awkward. Maybe because the whole situation had been so familiar to him by that point. Dinner with his boss, however, was very not familiar.

"It was still dinner. I know you have something I can use." House cocked his head. "Or are you just mad that I didn't invite you to come along?" he asked in a false-injured tone, fake puppy dog eyes turned on his friend.

Wilson raised his eyes to the ceiling in exasperation. "Again, why are you bothering to let Cuddy know? You usually just disappear whenever you feel like it."

"Not out of state."

Wilson frowned. "What's the difference? You're still not doing your job either way."

"It's different."

"It is." The words were filled with doubt. House obviously had something other than a vacation in mind, though Wilson couldn't possibly imagine what.

"Just because you don't see it doesn't mean others don't. Pretty sure a person being eaten by a crocodile can't tell that it's really an alligator, but crickey," House said, pronouncing the word in a horribly exaggerated Australian accent, "I bet Chase's long lost cousin Steve could."

There was a resigned sigh. House could dance around the subject for an absurdly long time if he didn't feel like confessing, which was a bit strange for someone who was normally so brutally blunt, and even Wilson didn't have the patience for it. Especially not with a lineup of patients still waiting just down the hallway.

"Well, if you must, may I suggest you use blackmail's less destructive relative, bargaining? Convince her you'll be, I don't know, helping the hospital. Somehow."

"That's your job. I'm just the administration's poster boy."

"Yes, you certainly represent all that this hospital stands for," Wilson remarked. "Ethics, bedside manner, a desire to help the community - "

"Saving lives..."

/Touché/. That did happen to be House's unlimited Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Actually, it was his only card.

Wilson scratched the back of his head. "If you're really going to Florida," he said finally, "I suppose it might help you to know that the Orlando Regional Medical Center is in the run with us for a very large donation."

House gave a quick side glance. "Cash?"

"I imagine there are both bills and cheques involved."


"It's for pharmaceutical research," Wilson replied. "Not a business investment."

House tapped an index finger against his cane thoughtfully. "Cuddy's friend?"

"I suppose. Though now that I think about it," Wilson added almost to himself, "she hasn't been fighting for the money as hard as she could be..."

House's eyebrow arched in interest. The cane twirled expertly in his hands as a sly expression slowly crossed his face. "Hmm..." He stood abruptly.

Wilson blinked, arms dropping to his side. "What, that helped?" he asked, startled, trying to find some deeper significance in what he just said. All he'd revealed was that Cuddy didn't seem to want to the donation as much. That was odd, sure, but not useful. Right?

"What did I say?"

House was already halfway out the entrance. "The key to all of Cuddy's dating woes." The door swung shut, leaving Wilson not very informed and a little worried.

Then again, he'd probably find out soon enough. The nurses gossiped, and so did House's staff. Especially Chase.

The exam room door clicked shut for a second time. Wilson flashed an automatic smile to a passing nurse and contemplated another Advil, but decided to just ride out his headache with what was already in his system. If it wasn't gone in another hour or so...

Well. He'd worry about it then.


The waiting area in the clinic was getting even fuller than usual - every seat was filled, and then some - with most people exhibiting what Cameron immediately pegged as flu symptoms. Symptoms because there was, of course, that chance that they didn't really have the flu. Two wailing babies in the corner (the first one had set off the second) topped off all of the patient chatter, making it nearly impossible to think.

She picked up her chart from where she'd been writing upon the front desk counter and turned to go find a more peaceful place, only to plow straight into what she assumed was an oncoming patient. She gave a small yelp of surprise as her heart jumped.

"Sorry! I didn't see - Oh, hey." She smiled in greeting. "Foreman." She glanced to his left. "Chase."

It was rare for all three of them to end up in the clinic at the same time. At the moment, though, not only did they have zero cases on their hands, but the size of the waiting room meant Cuddy had asked them to pick up some extra hours as well. Well, maybe not all - there had likely been no asking involved when it came to House.

Foreman lifted his folder in a partial wave to Cameron, still snickering over something. It probably involved Chase, given the other's utterly annoyed expression, his blue eyes rolled to the ceiling as though searching for some saviour within the fluorescent lights.

Cameron glanced from one to the other quizzically, smiling a little in confusion. "What's so funny?"

The answer came immediately from Chase. "/Nothing/." He dropped his file into the outbox and started for the door. "Can we go now?"

Foreman's snickering ceased, but his look of amusement remained. "Yeah." He tapped Cameron on the arm with the back of his hand. "Lunch. You want to come?"

"Sure. Just give me a second." She finished scribbling on her chart and tucked it away. "So is one of you going to tell me what's going on?" she asked as the clinic doors slid open, letting them out, and a mother of two young, sniffling children in.

"Someone of questionable gender found Chase pretty," Foreman replied.

Cameron laughed. "What, was this the Alice in Wonderland guy again?" That particular patient had had an eye on Chase even while a neurological condition caused the doctor to appear to be as small as a mouse. Hence, Alice in Wonderland syndrome.

"No, but something tells me that this one probably likes to dress up as Alice," Foreman said.

Chase rolled his eyes, hands in his pockets as he walked. "You know, next time, I'm locking the damn door so you don't keep bursting in on a whim."

Foreman chuckled. "You do that. And next time, I'll try not to interrupt your flirting session."

Chase shot his colleague a withering glare.

Cameron stepped inside the cafeteria. "Hope they're not serving the chicken from last time," she said, trying to prevent the sniping between the two doctors from escalating further.

It seemed to work, as Foreman shook his head. "And they say we're supposed to be worried about avian flu."

"Maybe not avian flu, but there are a lot of your good, old, regular influenza cases lately," Cameron said. It was a bit odd because she remembered hearing a couple of months prior that the flu this season was strong, though nothing particularly nasty. The story had all but changed now, with news headlines sending out continuous warnings, and there was definite proof of this by the amount of people dropping into the clinic. "I think I sent off a total of six cases today."

Foreman snorted. "Yeah, and one of mine asked if drinking alkaline water could make you immune to the flu."

"Well, we'll be encountering lots more of those cases," Chase said, peering at his watch. "And I was hoping for a short work day."

Cameron glanced at him. "Trying to sneak out early before House recovers from his hangover?"

"Only you wouldn't be. It's a perfect opportunity. Probably lots of people in the oncology department doing the same thing, what with both House and Wilson wasted."

Foreman slid his tray along the line. "He went with Wilson?"

"Who else? House only ever goes anywhere with Dr. Wilson."

Cameron shrugged. "Most likely invited him out for a drink to make up." She paused to pick up a fruit salad. "I think it's kind of nice."

Chase let out a short, mocking laugh. "Are you getting visuals of them holding hands over a bottle of wine in your mind or something?"

"What? No!" Cameron insisted. "I just think it's nice that House was able to swallow his pride for once and genuinely apologize to someone for something he did."

She watched as Foreman and Chase exchanged a she's hopeless look. Cameron shook her head, annoyed.

"I'll bet you anything he made Wilson pick up the tab," Foreman said.

"Or they could have split it," Cameron pointed out.

Chase gave her another look. "Put some money on it, and next time they go out drinking, we'll send you along with a camera."

"I'm not spying on two department heads just to win a bet."

Chase arched an eyebrow challengingly. "That's because you know you'll lose."

Cameron only rolled her eyes and picked a handful of fries off of Chase's tray.


It was a well-known fact that Cuddy was one of the few people in this hospital - indeed, in all New Jersey hospitals - who was capable of extracting information from the CDC without completely losing their mind. There was no special talent to it (though seven years of battling House certainly helped) and no medical school course that dealt with the matter (The Art of Business Negotiations was the closest she'd come), though some had tried to synthesize the knowledge of past generations into helpful how-to books for the first time administrator. Invariably, these syntheses failed.

It was always the paperwork that did them in.

Cuddy sifted rapidly through a stack of manila folders, phone balanced on one shoulder, as she searched for the one containing this month's updated admittance projection charts. "Yes, according to our records, there has been a steady increase in influenza cases in the past several weeks." A pause. "Yes, we have been taking prophylactic measures." Another pause. "Vaccinations, too. But the present supply is dwindling, and I'm sure the CDC is well aware that if current trends continue, we won't be able to cover the costs alone."

"Uh huh, right. Right." She nodded slowly. "Well, we're doing the best that we can. There are ten doctors at all times in the - " She had to bite her lip to stifle a retort to the obviously patronizing question that came next. "I know, and it's very possible."

There was a long string of bureaucratic jargon, followed by some shuffling on the other line and the inevitable orders from the CDC. Cuddy sighed. "I'll send out the advisory immediately. Alright. Good-bye."

She hadn't put the phone down for more than one second before House came bursting through the door.

"Need you to sign some paperwork."

Cuddy barely paused in her desktop rifling. "What'd you do, hit another patient?" She picked up the paper that House offered her automatically, skimming its contents with a disinterested eye.

"I have kindly filled out the name, date, and purpose of the visit," House pointed out helpfully, as he handed a pen to his boss.

Cuddy gave the paper back to him with a false-friendly smile, not bothering to take the pen. "You don't do consults."

House shoved it back into one of her hands and the pen into the other. "I do now."

Cuddy placed both items down on the desk. "Either someone slipped something into your drink last night, or you stand to gain something personally from this. And I'm thinking it's a very big gain for you to come all the way down here."

"An all-expenses paid vacation, in fact."

Cuddy arched an eyebrow. "House, if anything, you owe the hospital vacation days." She pushed the form back towards him. "I'm not signing this until you convince me that what you will gain from this is at least equal to what I or this hospital will gain from you flying off to Florida."

House pretended to ponder for a moment. "...Less patient complaints from the clinic?"

Cuddy rolled her eyes. "You'll have to do better than that."

"Hm. Alright. How about...twenty million dollars?" With a flourish, he pulled out the hospital consult letter from his coat pocket, laying it out on the desk like some final trump card. It was slightly creased, a little stained from the pizza box that sat next to it in the trash can, but still held the official tri-cross logo verifying its authenticity in the top left-hand corner. House paced as he summarized the letter's contents. "Mr. Raymond Charles, leading entrepreneur, business mogul, and maker of those wonderful little pill poppers we call Tic Tacs is currently visiting the Orlando Regional Medical Center. For a fundraising event, presumably, though his large, ample pocketbook and travel guide to the Top 10 U.S. Hospitals in the region make me question his real financial intentions," House said, eyebrows drawn together in pretend-thought as he stopped in front of the desk. "I'll let you figure out the rest."

His boss gave the contents of the letter a more careful second reading. " get a vacation away from the clinic to inflate your ego by showing off your diagnostic skills with a consult while impressing Raymond, and our pharmaceutical research gets a leg up on the potential twenty million." She looked up at House. "Very nice."

House beamed. "I aim to please."

"Of course, how could I forget," Cuddy muttered sardonically. She paused, pen poised over the paper, and narrowed her eyes. Something wasn't right here. "Who's the consult for?"

"A friend of the hospital's."

"Right. And this friend...why does he need the brilliant Dr. House again?" The ease of this whole affair sparked her suspicions; House's self-satisfied air ignited them. "Or more to the point, why are you so interested in this consult? There has to be something about the case that caught your eye other than the prospect of a free vacation."

House shrugged and answered elusively, "Five doctors and three specialists couldn't figure out what was wrong with him, obviously they require my genius as their guiding light. Why, do I need another reason besides sunny Floridian mojitos?"

Cuddy shook her pen slowly in his direction. "You offered a bargain five minutes after arriving in my office. You planned it out beforehand, which means you are way more interested in this than you would be in a simple clinic-weather escape route." She leaned forward. "Give me one good reason why I should sign this with no suspicions whatsoever about your true motives."

"Twenty million dollars sounds good enough for me."

"Unless you going down there actually loses me the twenty million," Cuddy responded. "Which is not all that absurd of a notion."

"True." House paused, eyes squinting at the ceiling in sarcastic deliberation. "I could just completely botch the diagnosis, kill a guy, and surrender my medical license all to stop you from getting back together with Mr. Sugar Daddy Ray."

Cuddy looked at him in disbelief. "Getting back together with whom/? Are you insinuating I don't want you to go to Florida because you think I had some kind of a.../fling with the man?"

"Hey, I'm not the one who logs all her calls through" The slightly startled look that earned him confirmed House's point. "The History button is a beautiful thing."

"I can't believe you went through my computer logs," Cuddy said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Actually, I can. You already track my period, after all." She dropped the paper onto her desk. The pen clattered. "In which case, you know that it is not a result of PMS when I tell you I am not signing this."

"Baby must be coming early this year."

Cuddy gave him a hard look, refusing even to acknowledge that quip.

"House," she stated firmly, "there is no way you are getting on that plane."


House settled comfortably back into his cushy airplane seat, a pillow tucked behind his head.

"Your champagne, sir," the flight attendant said, smiling brightly, her ample bosom nearly spilling into House's lap as she leaned over.

House accepted the flute of champagne. "Thank you." He settled back comfortably in his seat.

Ah, the wonders of flying...well, okay, it wasn't first class, but business was still a far cry from the cattle class with its hysterical first-time flyers stroking left and right, wailing babies, and leg room that only Bashful or Sneezy would be comfortable in. Here, however, there was none of that. Just handheld DVD players, actual menus, and comfy leather seats that reclined nicely, although they unfortunately didn't lie flat. Considering this flight was completely free, though, even House couldn't find reason to nitpick at that detail.

God bless the man for sending him these tickets.

And God bless Wilson for unwittingly giving me that fateful tidbit on Cuddy and Mr. Raymond, Billionaire ex-Boyfriend.

Yes, the whole scene in Cuddy's office had indeed been complete, unadulterated genius. The switched letters, the bargaining, pissing her off to make her more defensive, and then casually mentioning that she was refusing to let him go because gaining the money meant getting back in touch with Raymond, which would invoke all those terrible memories of a bad break-up - obviously, she was still harbouring a grudge.

And because Cuddy liked to prove herself right almost as much as House did, she'd signed the dotted line not long after.

Plus, the notion of twenty million dollars had seemed appetizing from the very beginning.

Smiling to himself, House dug out the letter to reread it, wondering if there was any detail he might've missed that would give him a clue as to what exactly this was all about. Maybe a phrase or a word...but there was nothing. It was worded in that formal false-personal tone of all consult letters. There was no highly secret message, certainly nothing worthy of The Da Vinci Code. The only thing of any significance, aside from the missing return address, was the hastily scribbled signature at the bottom. It was messy, but House had no trouble deciphering it:

Fletcher Stone.
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