Categories > TV > House > Pathology

Chapter 6

by MelantheVida 0 reviews

At the CDC, something is dismissed that shouldn't have been. Meanwhile, House is taken by Fletcher to a patient whose fallen ill to an unknown disease.

Category: House - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure, Crossover, Drama - Characters: Eric Foreman, Gregory House, Other - Warnings: [!] [?] - Published: 2007-02-05 - Updated: 2007-02-06 - 7937 words

Note: Apologies for taking so long. .__. But you guys get three chapters total as a makeup gift?

It was days like these that made him wish he were still working for the military.

Bureaucrats, civilian contractors, a desk job - even a highly influential one - approving papers rather than actual, in-depth field work. He didn't regret taking the position as head of the National Center for Infectious Diseases under CDC (it did offer a wider range of study, after all), but mundane things like grant proposals sure made him wish he were still working bioterror at the Department of Defense. North Korea, Syria. Tracking the Soviet weapons program. Twenty years of anthrax research and overseas military operations, much of which involved chasing pathogens that should have by all rights been eliminated with the BWC, had that impression on a person.

Of course, he'd still be doing it if the government hadn't decided to waste all his grueling research by selling out to the Iraqis.

"Get these reports faxed over to immunology immediately." Sam deposited the folder into the outbox on the corner of his desk and glanced up again, amid rapid paper-shuffling. "What's next?"

"You have a board meeting at eleven, an AIDS summit at two, and the EIS officers from Chicago will be arriving at exactly four-thirty this afternoon." His secretary ticked off the items precisely from the list on her clipboard. "Also, your ten o'clock is here."

There was a long silence as Sam tried to maintain his composure. "Martha, when I ask what's next, I don't mean what tasks of great importance do I have to accomplish within the scope of a twenty-four hour day. I mean, what's next!" he snapped.

Martha was unperturbed. "Shall I cancel your Morgellons conference then?"

"No. Just get me a cup of coffee."

"Of course, sir," his secretary responded with an ironic smile and exited through the door.

Sam sighed as his eyes returned once more to the slew of papers on his desktop. Too many things to deal with. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he tried to steel himself for his ten o'clock appointment.

The Morgellons conference.

Of course. A conference about an imaginary disease that no one could define and nearly every single qualified doctor had dismissed promptly. Sufferers claimed it caused painful rashes, chronic skin lesions, and multicolored fibers that sprouted seemingly overnight from the surface of their skin, like alien roots intertwining of their own volition. Or, as Maria put it oh so eloquently, delusional parasitosis and lint. Sam was tempted to hand each of them a bottle of Johnson & Johnson and refer them to the farthest psychologist.

Ironically, he recalled Rutz's public statement to the press that they would go into this investigation - dedicate twelve of their best and brightest people - with an open mind. Rutz was speaking on behalf of the CDC, of course, and at that time there had been mounting pressure from several political sources to pick this thing up. Leitao's backers had quite a few K Street connections they were willing to exploit. Add to that the administration's decision to selectively ignore its failed AIDS initiative in Africa, and you got a wild goose hunt that sucked away merrily at the NCID's research funding, while the government's purse strings drew ever tighter with the languishing Iraq war.

Sam's patience had died a long time ago.

A light knock at the door drew him up from his brooding thoughts. A thin, sandy-haired man in khakis and a button-down shirt, slightly rumpled around the collar, stood at the entrance to his office, a manila folder under one arm. He blinked myopically at the mess that was Sam's desk, and gave a nervous cough.

Tom Roskin, head of the Division of Viral Diseases.

"Sam, do you have a minute?"

"I have West Nile up north, avian flu to the east, and I just sent my secretary out to get me coffee at ten fucking AM in the morning." Sam sighed and sat back down in his chair. "Yeah, I'll give you five. What is it?"

"Some data we collected on the current U.S. H3N2 epidemiological pattern doesn't match up with conventional models." Walking forward, Tom opened up the folder in his hands and took out several papers. "The force of infection is shifted upwards, and mortality distribution's been unusually deviant even given heightened population variance." His eyebrows drew together as he handed over the graph, pen pointing at the circled areas. "There's focal peaks here and here where the targeted cohorts have risen in normally low-risk groups."

"So it's a more virulent strain." Sam glanced over the data quickly, searching for any signs of an abrupt protein mutation. He found none. "The figures are still within the established margin of error for a general drift." Shrugging, he handed the papers back. "Why are you on this, anyway? I thought you were working in Special Pathogens with Victor."

Although Tom was technically the division head, he still spent most of his time in his old offices near the Biosafety Level 4 labs, conducting delicate experiments on emerging infectious diseases. His most recent studies were in H5N1 characterization, the most deadly form of avian flu, following a two-year stint with the Department of Agriculture during which he worked heavily on the sequencing of the 1918 influenza virus. Just recently, however, he'd announced that he was returning to his original field of study - viral hemorrhagic fever - to pursue an outbreak of Dengue in southern Africa. Tom would probably have been content to live the rest of his life in the laboratory (and the administration would've let him) if not for the unfortunate circumstances that saw the resignation of the former head of virology. A falling out with the CDC director, strained relations in DC, strapped funding - all of these combined to elevate the most non-political figure in their arsenal to the vacated position...and you really didn't get much more non-political than Tom.

"Too much field work, not enough analysis. Data collection's terrible." Tom shook his head irritably, one hand waving in the air as if to bat aside all manner of frivolous logistics. "Have you ever tried to discern stable control groups from a segment of sub-Saharan Africa?" he asked with frustration. "Victor couldn't tell a needle from a haystack if it hit him in the face!"

Sam snorted at the mix of aphorisms, a brief smile crossing his lips. Mutilated proverbs were yet another eccentric habit of Tom's. Probably why they never let him do press conferences.

"The point is," Tom continued, eyes squinting gravely as he pushed at his nonexistent glasses (he had yet to get used to his new contacts), "this raises the probability of a re-assortment this season."

"We've already sent out a health warning, what else do you want me to do?" He regretted asking almost immediately.

"Get the EIS down in Florida." Tom was already pulling out another chart. "Orlando, at least. Collect some samples, track some data, and then have the WHO run a full antigenic characterization - "


"Characterization of the virus." Stopping, the other man frowned seriously. "It could be an epidemic, Sam. It could be 1918 all over again!"

"Or it could be just a seasonal drift." Sam rolled his eyes mentally at the other's borderline hysteria. It was an ill-kept secret that Tom Roskin - the Tom Roskin, who did his Nobel Prize-winning work on lethal, contagious, highly virulent VHF pathogens - was actually a secret hypochondriac. "Look, I'll forward it on to epidemiology and have them take a look, but until there's something definitive, I'm not getting the WHO involved." With a flick of his wrist, Sam tossed the folder of flu data onto his desk, somewhere between the inbox and his empty coffee mug. "Right now, I've got a roomful of Morgellons experts who think that psychosis is communicable."

And prove it by their existence, he thought sardonically to himself.

"Sam," Tom spoke in earnest as his boss made quickly for the door. His eyes belied a flicker of apprehension. "This could be serious."

Sam paused a split second before continuing, his response a barely audible mutter.

"Everything is."


"So you're saying this contact-" House automatically took his cane from where it leaned against the glove compartment as Fletcher's little Honda Civic slid into an underground parking space. "-has information you can't obtain anywhere else?"

"Essentially. Sources rarely have twins." Fletcher killed the engine, the keys jingling in the ignition.

House slid out of the car, cane-first. The problem with sitting on the passenger side was that he had to get out using his right leg. "You never know with these Russian agents." He slammed the door shut and moved to fall into pace beside Fletcher. A pair of headlights shone as a silver sedan drove past them.

"What's so important that you brought me down to Florida to conspire about? Couldn't be the malaria," he mused as he limped by a letter-number-and-colour-coded cement pole. Utterly useless, those things, when it came to locating your vehicle. "Foreman was in charge when he screwed up your case."

"I lost touch with my source awhile back. I thought he got cold feet, but it turns out he really can't say anything." Fletcher cast a slightly ironic glance at House. "You cured me when I had trouble talking. I thought maybe you could do it again."

"Trouble talking isn't the same as not talking at all. Either this guy can't tell the difference between reality and hallucination...or you dialled the wrong number for Jack Bauer."

There was a dry chuckle. "No, this is medical." The hospital doors slid open, revealing an unusual amount of bustling and patients, even for a hospital. PPTH wasn't the only one getting hit hard with the flu season.

"I finally found him here after he disappeared," Fletcher went on, heading for the elevator. A nurse brushed past them on her way out as they stepped inside. "Plenty of docs, no results. They've stopped trying to diagnose him and gave him anywhere from hours to a couple of days to live. That's where you come in."

"You want me to diagnose your whistleblower so you can finish writing your next espionage book. Hmm." House cocked his head. This was starting to feel like a bad film noir rip-off. Then again, Fletcher was a journalist, and writers always upped the drama in everything. "Alright, where's his chart?"

"Therein lies a minor obstacle." Fletcher glanced at House. "You're technically not here on an official consult, so we'll need to swipe the medical records. Fortunately, being passed off as terminal and hopeless means he doesn't have that many people attending to him, especially when they're busy with the flu season kicking in."

"Unethical and illegal," House remarked, following Fletcher into a room at the end of the hallway. "I like it. The good news is though..." He plucked the chart from the foot of the patient's bed and waved it with a flourish, not looking at the patient himself yet. "Most professional doctors keep their patient charts at the foot of the hospital bed when they've got other cases to attend to. Hence, less trouble for us."

He cast an eye at the patient. Mid- to late-forties, dirty blond hair, turning purple under the skin. Bleeding? Interesting...maybe he had the bubonic plague. He, who went by the name of...

"John Doe?" House flipped the chart over as though it would reveal a more legitimate name. "You don't know this guy's name?" Not that this was particularly important; House rarely ever used it. But it was just nice to know that one was there should he ever happen to somehow need it. A bit like having cash in his wallet even though he was out with Wilson.

Fletcher shook his head. "Triple I gave no name. Though I imagine it's Russian." He peered briefly at the John Doe.

House followed in suit, eyebrows drawn together. "Am I missing a third eye?"

"Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich. Russian equivalent of John Doe, just not as concise."

House tuned out the explanation, instead going through the chart. Admitted with a fever, heavy cough, nausea, extreme fatigue.

Sounds familiar, he thought wryly. Not that he was all that surprised-a wide number of diseases began with all of those indications.

The usual repertoire of flu-like symptoms was followed by internal bleeding, despite a treatment of antibiotics and Interferon. House looked at the patient again. Not the bubonic plague, despite what it looked like. Streptomycin and tetracyclines were both used, to no effect.

A resistant strain, perhaps? There was one such case in Madagascar about ten years ago, but-nope. Not the plague. These doctors had actually had time to both bother with and complete a sputum and blood culture.

Damn. He needed something to write on. Where was a whiteboard when you needed it?

He really should consider buying a portable one. Then again, he didn't differential on the go all that much.

"I think I'll go do what I'm good at and leave you to your specialty." Fletcher's voice broke suddenly into House's thoughts. He glanced up from where he was staring at the chart in time to catch a flying lab coat.

"You'll need it undercover," Fletcher said, starting for the door. "And keep a low profile."

House watched the door click shut before draping the white coat over the bedrail.

Writing on the walls with a pencil instead of a marker would be considered low profile, right?


Navigating the little Honda civic with one hand, Fletcher juggled the laptop in the passenger seat beside him with the other. The cell phone was put on speaker. He had his address book balanced on the dashboard. On a scale of 1 to 10, this probably rated a negative in the marks of safe driving, but his limited amount of time made any other way infeasible. Besides, he was driving exceptionally slow along a tiny strip of road with literally no other cars in sight. Unfortunately, there was also a disturbing lack of streetlights, but he'd take what he could get.

"Come on, Dale, tell me you can glean something from all that stuff I gave you," he said, eyes flicking back and forth from the road to the softly glowing laptop screen.

"All that stuff?" the man on the other line echoed. "You gave me exactly one miniscule photo and a driver's license."

"You realize what I had to go through to get them, right?"

"Yeah, yeah, it was torturous, I know," Dale replied glibly. The click-clacking of a keyboard could be heard through the phone. "I can't say yet. It's not like I can run this through a database using face recognition. Maybe you should call CIA or something. That new super secret thing, CTU?"

"Sure. Investigative journalists and the government. Like peanut butter and garlic."

There was a moment of silence as the ex-college student slash expert hacker slash wannabe neo-Marxist returned to his work. Fletcher attempted to keep on driving while trying to decipher an old news article on his laptop using his rusty knowledge of Russian. He'd managed to pick up the language during his three-month journalistic stint in Leningrad (he still had trouble remembering it was St. Petersburg now) following leads on one of his earlier major stories. A real government coup, lots of juicy politics. Almost made up for his translator's hasty exit following the fourth death threat. Of course, most of that language centered on the Communist Manifesto, so he was having a little difficulty reading up on current events...

A narrow swerve around a bend let him know that this excessive multi-tasking wasn't working out. He finally pulled over and shut off the engine, still waiting for Dale to come back on the line.

Dale Lamden was one of his strongest assets at the moment. Though he could squirrel out the faintest leads in government corridors, Fletcher didn't quite have enough technical expertise to open up those backdoors into certain electronic files. That's where Dale came in. He'd met the kid early on in his career while hunting for a reference in the Library of Congress, some final link in his investigation of Oren, Inc, a big oil company with a distinct lack of corporate ethics. Or human ethics, for that matter. Dale hadn't needed any provocation to go into a rant about the capitalist regime, but he was skeptical when Fletcher replied offhandedly that things would change within the next few days. At least, until a week later when the indictments came down and half of Oren's top brass bailed out to the Cayman Islands. From that day on, Dale had become a loyal follower, and despite a couple of minor twists and snarls (he wasn't particularly keen on giving up his comrades in the IWW), Fletcher came to trust him for anything that involved computers.

"Don't you have a name for me, at least?" Dale asked. " 'Cause I'm pretty sure the one on his ID isn't the real deal."

"No name. He's a John Doe right now. Although, wait." Fletcher's eye had just caught a corner of a yellowed envelope sticking out from underneath the laptop. He reached over quickly and pulled out the letter within, searching through the mass of Russian characters for something he could use. This was the one letter that happened to not address its recipient by name, but halfway down the letter, there was something there: "our mother."

His eyes immediately skipped down to the signature at the bottom. This one was a little harder to decode, but he managed after a minute or so. "Tamara Dmitriyevna Sokolova."

"He's a she now?" Dale asked, sounding half-serious.

"Good guess, but no. She's his sister, I think. Since she's probably not using a pseudonym, I think we can assume that his name's got 'Dmitriyevich Sokolov' somewhere in there."

God bless the Russian naming system.

"You know, you could've mentioned that earlier," said Dale. "Now how the hell do you spell that?"

Fletcher gave it to him first in English, and with a little more difficulty, managed to convey the Russian spelling, as well. "Look, if you get anything, email me," he said, starting up the car's engine again. "I'll be calling the bureaucrats."

"Sure thing. Have fun, man." There was an audible click.

Abandoning his Internet search, Fletcher flipped his laptop shut and turned onto one of the main Orlando streets, dialling a series of numbers with his thumb. It was late in the evening, but he was pretty sure the man he was looking for was still in his office at the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center, and would be until late into the night.

A sleepy-sounding secretary put him on hold for a full five minutes before transferring him through.

"Evans," came the clipped greeting.

"Evening, Jeff. It's Fletcher."

"Oh?" Jeff Evans said. "It's been awhile since I've heard from you. What're you delving into this time?"

"Nothing that'll get you fired," Fletcher said, before getting down to business. "Listen, I wanted to ask you a few things."

"Go ahead. As long as we're on the same old terms."

"Cite you only as 'an employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bracket, DIA, close bracket,'" Fletcher recited.

"That's the one."

Fletcher flipped through several pages of scribbled notes, searching for material to start off with. He wanted to begin slowly and work his way up. Cover-ups weren't something the government was willing to expose. What made this a bit more difficult was that he didn't even know what the cover-up was of at the moment.

"How long did you work for CIA before you transferred, again? Eight years?"

"Nine, but close enough."

"And you started in '77?"

"Yeah. I was Chief of Station, Moscow, blew my cover in '86, and hopped directly over to the DIA. You already know all this." Jeff didn't sound suspicious, exactly, but his tone was slightly wary.

"Just confirming," Fletcher said, barely stopping at a red light in time. The car lurched. "My memory's never that good. That's why I'm in a profession of writing everything down."

Jeff laughed.

"Who took your place after the Soviets shipped you back to Uncle Sam?" Fletcher asked.

"Sorry, can't say. They're still hopping around as Station Chief in various locales. One of the lucky ones," Jeff added, referring to the cuts made to the CIA following the end of the world game of nuclear chicken. Although things were starting to look up significantly again.

"You sure you can't give me a clue?" nudged Fletcher. He actually wasn't interested in an answer. He'd already known Jeff wouldn't divulge the information, and it wasn't even something he needed. He'd just learned from experience that people tended to tell him things he did want to know if they'd already turned him down once or twice prior.

"Wish I could," Jeff said. "But knowing him, he wouldn't go near a journalist even if you did track him down."

"Guess that leaves you as my sole source, then." Fletcher paused a moment, hunting for the right question to ask. He didn't have time to dance around until he found the correct trigger.

"Did you have any Russians who actually came to America when they defected while still undercover?"

"Sure. A few Russian diplomats who were supposed to be gathering American intelligence for the KGB ended up handing over information to the CIA instead."

"Did they ever hand anything else over?"

"If you're talking about actual weapons or something, no. Diplomats - hell, not even some of the higher ranking officials - wouldn't have gotten their hands on that in their own country, much less taken it across the Atlantic."

A mechanic beep sounded. Fletcher glanced over at his laptop and, taking advantage of the current red light, quickly opened up his email.

That was fast.

Dale hadn't pulled up very much, but he did manage to get a full name and a few haphazard bits of history, including...

Interesting. Nikolai Dmitriyevich Sokolov, a.k.a. Triple I, had apparently been living in the U.S. for roughly twenty years now.

Fletcher glanced back at the road. "Aside from the KGB, who else attempted to infiltrate the U.S.?"

"Well, for the most part, everyone was KGB, but there were a few guys who were pulled from the military for whatever reason to work for the KGB. My bet is that those they pulled from the military were a bit on the expendable side."

"You mean, they went in without diplomatic immunity?"

"That would be correct," Jeff said. "You can't throw everyone into the embassy, and all diplomats are closely watched. So to get freer access, you'd send in a few very deep sleepers. These guys are good. At worst, they passed as second-generation Russians. At best, they slid seamlessly in as other East Europeans or even real Americans. Little to no accent."

"And the defection rate...?"

"A little higher than average. When your cover's close to blowing and you've got no immunity, your best bet is to hand over information instead. Also - I mean, you've definitely got the loyal guys, but let's be honest here - American life was way more appealing than Russian life back in the day. A lot of them had kids they wanted to build a better future for. Defection's just another way of emigrating, really."

Fletcher frowned, thinking. He was getting a little closer. Still not good enough, though.

Wonder how much info House is getting.

He considered trying a different angle, but decided to push forward once more. "So these sleepers, what kind of access did they get?" Translation: What screw-ups did we do that a Russian could've gotten an eyeful of?

"Some didn't get in very deep. Others went as far as to work for private weapons developers - nuclear, yes, but also other areas. Bio, missiles, various artillery. A couple became civilian technicians for government computers, too."

Fletcher tuned him out after the mention of weapons. Yes, it was technically a nuclear arms race, but at its core, it was just an arms race.

Nikolai had told Fletcher that he had access to files detailing something - a "development" he had called it - but had never mentioned what that something was. What Fletcher did know was that the government didn't want civilian eyes laying on it. It was unlikely that it would be anything along the lines of the U.S. supporting a policy that the public wouldn't have approved of - Nikolai's exact word had been /development/. A situation would've already developed. That left an actual object.

And objects translated into weapons.



Four hours, a quarter of a pad of sticky notes, and five cups of coffee later, there was nothing.

Lab work had ruled out everything bacterial and fungal, as the patient had been here long enough for them to actually run those tests. And while House had never been one to trust results obtained by other doctors, he had no choice in this case. He technically was here illegally, so to speak, which meant he couldn't exactly go up to the lab and ask them to run another batch just for him.

Assuming the lab boys were correct, then, the dismissal of a bacterial infection-and the presence of a heavy cough-meant pharyngitis was scratched off the board. The viral version of it was too mild to even take into consideration-it only came along with any number of other viruses, influenza or herpes for example, and disappeared in a matter of three or four days. Pneumonic and bubonic plague were also out-no y pestis on the gram stain; none for the blood culture.

And no viral infections fit perfectly into all of the symptoms. Not even two, for that matter-either the patient didn't have all the right puzzle pieces, or he had one extra. In fact, the only virus capable of causing symptoms as varied as this was influenza. Influenza A, specifically, the more destructive of its B and C counterparts.

But not this destructive. For influenza to be this deadly, there would have to be more than just your standard annual mutation. And there was no way the flu could've experienced what the virology boys called an antigenic shift-a merging of one flu virus with another-without officials noticing. It may have managed to occur in 1918, but slow as the CDC was in most areas, they did work fast when it came to pandemics. Otherwise, both the public and the politicians would clamber all over them.

Besides, if it was an influenza virus, then why was no one else sick? Sure, there was a minor epidemic this year, with more people getting sick than usual, but nothing causing symptoms as extreme as this John Doe had.

Unless this is just the beginning.

Now there was a pleasant thought. Maybe Wilson had been on to something after all with his attempts at Jewish-mothering House into getting vaccinated. That was a good several years back, though. Wilson had given up after House had suspiciously agreed to let Wilson give him the shot, and then attempted to swap the syringe with the vaccine for one loaded with morphine.

...That had been quite a night of diversions.

House shifted in the uncomfortable plastic, hospital-chic chair. He'd decided two hours ago to stuff the patient with as much interferon as possible in conjunction with oseltamivir, an antiviral with a decent success rate. Despite the tests coming up negative for bacterial, he threw in some levofloxacin just in case-a broad spectrum antibiotic wouldn't hurt things. Better than nothing, but he doubted it would work.

So far, his doubts were proving quite accurate.

The cane in his hand bounced steadily against the floor between his feet, creating a soft thump each time it hit the ground, as he stared at the white wall before him. On it were about ten extra-large Post-It notes, each bright neon pink sheet containing a single symptom.

High fever (hundred and three). Productive cough. Delirium. Swelling (neck). Dizziness. Nausea. Respiratory symptoms. Respiratory arrest (once). Sudden loss of consciousness.

He'd started out rearranging them, first going from initial symptoms to the last, and then vice versa. When that yielded no results, he went from symptoms most likely to kill the patient to ones least likely to. Then alphabetically. Then from the least number of letters to the most.

Now they were arranged in a loose swirl design on the wall. He considered making another pattern - something more Picasso - but decided to give the patient a check instead. If he was lucky, maybe he would find something new to take into consideration, something that would open up the differential options a little more. Normally, he wanted it narrowed down, but this was a special case, where instead of having too many differentials, he had none.

"Oh, Happy Medium, why do you hide from me so?" he muttered semi-dramatically into the air, waving his cane expansively like a knight prepared to dive into battle with his sword.

The previously unresponsive patient grunted.

House immediately turned around a split second before the door cracked open.

Fletcher stepped into the room, glanced from the patient to House, and immediately lit up in an almost comical fashion. "You cured him?" he asked, shutting the door behind him.

"You have impeccable timing," House said. "And I suppose I did." He approached the bed, plucking a thermometer along the way and stuck it into the patient's mouth. John Doe was looking appropriately bewildered.

"At least, for now," House added, checking the temperature. Drop of two degrees.

"What did he have?"

House shrugged. "No idea."

Fletcher frowned. "But you cured him."

"If you insist on an answer, then he had either a fungus, bacteria, or virus, though I'm going with virus. In which case, he recovered on his own, with assistance of the cocktail of meds I jammed into his system, which technically had extremely low odds of working, making him one lucky man." House tossed the thermometer onto the side table. "One less thing to be depressed over, which the Russian will no doubt see as even more reason to be depressed."

"Who is this?" For the first time, the patient spoke up. Despite the slurred and mumbling words, House could hear a very distinct lack of any sort of accent, Russian or otherwise.


The patient was squinting suspiciously at House. Either that, or he was still adjusting to the light after days of drifting in and out of consciousness.

"I'm your savior," House said before Fletcher could make any formal introductions. "And since my saving's done, I'll be outside gloating to the other doctors who couldn't do it." He began limping out the door, knowing full well that if the patient wouldn't even offer a first name to Fletcher, he wouldn't be saying anything while a strange doctor with a cane hung around. Besides which, there were other ways to satisfy his curiosity without alerting anyone. House was trained in the department of stealth and eavesdropping, after all, having done so numerous times with Cuddy and Wilson in search for ammunition against both.

There was a moment of debate as he eyed the closed door, weighing his options of either standing by the hinges or on the other side. It was easier to remain hidden with the former, but that choice also came with the risk of getting his face smashed in should Fletcher happen to overzealously throw the door open in an eureka moment.

But he'd risk it.

House stood close to the crack, leaning against the wall and silently thanking the architect for not making them glass like the ones at Princeton-Plainsboro. His cane twirled smoothly in a wide arc as he strained to hear the quiet-not hushed, just quiet-conversation. Mostly one-sided, from Fletcher's end. The patient was too much on the mumbling side for him to make anything out, especially muffled as it was by the wooden door.

"...never managed to get them?" There was a long pause from Fletcher as he absorbed what House assumed was some variation of the answer, "No." Followed by heavy coughing.

The cough didn't sound like it was getting better. Temporary cure only? House still wasn't sure what it had been in that cocktail that had been effective.

"Maybe I can get them," Fletcher was saying. "Where are they? ...Uncle Sam's got a lot of bunkers, which one?"

The coughing became harsher, resembling that of a drowning man if someone underwater were actually capable of coughing. Fluid in the lungs wasn't getting any better. The next step down the Dying ladder was completed when the hacking abruptly stopped. And the beeping began.

House swung the door open again, nearly running into Fletcher, who had apparently been on his way out. "House! I thought you left."

"No, I said I'd be going outside," House replied, pushing past Fletcher and to the patient, whose lips were showing definite cyanotic discolouration. He didn't have to look at the nail beds to know that the same thing was occurring there as well.

Yup, definitely only a temporary cure.

He made his way as quickly as possible to the intercom, cursing that his leg chose this moment to act up more than usual.

"Code Blue, room 452, Code Blue-ow!" Fletcher had grabbed his right elbow, causing him to put more weight than he should have on his leg, and sending his yelp of pain through the entire hospital via intercom.

"We gotta go now," Fletcher said, still tugging on House's arm, less forcefully this time, but enough so that House ended up limping after him out the door. "I don't want anyone tracing me back to a source."

As Fletcher practically manhandled him out the door, House caught sight of the pink Post-Its still stuck on the wall, as though Barbie had invaded and tried to do a paint job.

He didn't mention them, though, instead following closely beside Fletcher. One upside to calling the code was that everyone was too busy rushing through with the crash cart to notice a cripple and a journalist sneaking as discreetly as possible around a corner and into an elevator.

"Did you get what you needed?" House asked as the door slid shut.

Fletcher seemed to consider. "No. But I got something." He flipped thoughtfully through his notepad. "So are all those doctors going to be able to do something for him or is he gone?"

"Gone," House replied with no uncertainty. "Even if he were to survive, he wouldn't be alert anytime soon if at all."

Fletcher looked disappointed, but not surprised, as though he knew the answer, but had just been holding out hope. It was only then that something seemed to occur to him.

"What he had...was it contagious? Highly contagious, I mean?"

That was a good question. Worst case scenario said yes; some of the facts said no. This was the only death. No other similar case even came close. At least, not that he'd heard of.

Fletcher was still waiting for an answer.

House finally gave a shrug. "If it is, then it's too late to do much about it."


It wasn't a high-end, four-star hotel, but it wasn't a tiny, cramped motel crawling with cockroaches and peeled linoleum, either. Comfortable enough for a few days' stay. The carpet was a nice, light shade of cream, with a matching sofa around a maple wood table. The chambermaids had neatened the entire place, creating a room more spotless and tidy than the time Wilson's maid cleaned out House's apartment.

House had settled into one of the sofas for no more than fifteen minutes, twirling his cane lazily. In that time, Fletcher managed to completely destroy any semblance of order in the room.

Stacks of files now littered the bed, and scraps of crumpled paper with their half-written notes pooled the floor. Old newspaper clippings, several memory sticks and CDs, and a glowing laptop connected to a tangled cord from the charger in the wall completed the chaos. Fletcher was sitting bent over the computer.

Even House couldn't figure out exactly what the journalist was doing. Though any coma patient could estimate that he was hunting through sources to build some sort of story. Conspiracy story, no doubt.

House raised an eyebrow as a cigar was offered to him. "Thought you were more of a Marlboro kind of man."

"They were a gift."

"Well," House replied sardonically, "I always stick things people offer me for free into my mouth."

Fletcher chuckled wryly. "You're not gonna give me a doctorly lecture on the perils of smoking, are you?" He kept flipping through the papers in front of him, one hand poised over the keyboard. The laptop screen showed a dense window of shorthand notes, numbers, and key quotes interspersed with various references to an O.H. Wendell - pseudonym for an informant of his. Every once in awhile, Fletcher would enter another line of text. "My last source would take a puff on his inhaler every time I exhaled some smoke, and then proceed to rattle off lung cancer statistics like they were the next gospel. I had to remind him each meeting that that wasn't quite the controversial information I was looking for."

"Statistics are easy to twist, even more fun to make up." House reached into his coat pocket for a lighter to light his cigar with. "Best of all when they trot out the Darth Vader types with the tubes in their throats to scare the little children."

Fletcher paused, considering. "Would they be scared or would they think they've met a movie star?"

"Well, if you stick a bag over their heads, I'd say they could be both."

The other man gave a short laugh and shook his head. "Invite me the next time you have such a session. I want to see how it works."

"I'll talk to my buddy in oncology," House replied dryly. He gestured at the papers in front of him. "So these documents, they've got any of the guy's old medical records?"

Fletcher shook his head without looking up. "He's had injuries. Bullet wounds, the like. Some shrapnel that was removed fifteen years ago. No illnesses from what I've seen." Stopping, his eyes narrowed as he took a deep puff on his cigar and flipped the document he was looking at onto its back. The page was empty of any more information. Damn. "What did you manage to figure out after I left? Any theories as to what he has?"

House watched all this with detached interest, his eyes roving briefly over the manila folder on Fletcher's knee. He took a thoughtful drag off his cigar before lowering it and glancing out the thin-paned window, bright Orlando night lights sketching a gaudy pattern on the glass. He mused aloud half to himself. "All symptoms point toward the flu - high fever, inflamed lymph nodes, bouts of extreme cold. No evidence of bacterial or fungal infection. Pneumonia might fit a few signs, except end stage showed some internal bleeding." He stopped, and frowned. "Hemorrhaging." With a deft dart of the hand, House snagged the patient chart from its precarious place at the edge of the coffee table, eyes scanning quickly down until he found the section he was looking for. "Rapid onset hypovolemia."

...This put an entirely new spin on the differential. House frowned, trying to recall the last moments of the patient before he was summarily dragged out of the room. The respiratory failure, the swollen buboes. But it might also be a sign of hemorrhagic fever...something like Dengue or Crimean, the dreaded bio-sci nightmare, Ebola. Extensive blood loss (though not as much as in the movies) and multi-system crashes were common in the final stages of the disease. Add in the high fever, delirium, and tendency of military officers to travel to exotic, godforsaken places, and you had a good case for VHF.

If only the antigen tests matched up.

Fletcher frowned, looking up from his own files thoughtfully. "If you have pneumonia and the flu, does that work together to cause hemorrhaging or is that just far too easy to be true?"

"Not likely. The only way you're going to get hemorrhaging at that far advanced is if you've got a scalpel shoved down your throat."

The other man cocked a shrewd eyebrow. "That'd make for an interesting story." Turning back, he entered a few things from another document into his computer. "So aside from not being able to breath, you don't know what really killed him? Not that it matters, I suppose, given that it's too late to cure him." He chewed on the end of his cigar in frustration. "You know how close I am to getting a huge break? Just a few more questions would do it." Sighing, he leaned back and shoved the folder of papers aside. "You don't happen to be able to contact the dead, too, do you?"

"No, that would require a 40-yr-old hippie woman and a séance." House paused, glancing over at Fletcher's intense expression. "I do, however, know a few things about extracting useful information from dead paper. What's this story about?"

Fletcher opened his mouth as if to deliver the standard reporter's line about a developing story, before thinking better of it given the scattered pile of documents his consultant was currently paging through. "Several months back, I caught wind of a cover-up. I figured it sounded like a good one, so I dug deeper." He rubbed pensively at his chin. "It seems the government is better at destroying papers than it is at what it actually creates. Triple I here said he had some files detailing something - a weapon, most likely - from the U.S. that fell into Russian hands. Kicker is, this transaction may not have been the most legal." House raised an eyebrow. "Or the most...Geneva-friendly. If this is true, then people might have better things to protest than the war in Iraq pretty soon."

"A conflict with Russia. World War III."

"And not a cold war, either. Bets are, the nukes come out and the world's gonna end." He paused, considering that for a byline. Shrugged. "But I'm only working on assumptions here. It might not be that dire."

"If it's anything as powerful as the virus that killed him, then I think we can all safely err on the side of worst scenario."

Fletcher stopped, worried. "Well, if it is, then nukes might not even be necessary." He turned to look at House. "On the other hand, if I find anything out for certain, I'll be sure to let you know so you can get in on all the girls and booze before you die."

"Thought you swore off the hard stuff except for rock 'n roll," House quipped wryly.

"I lied. It looks like you caught me." Fletcher shook his head and laughed. "Good thing you're a doctor and not a journalist though, or I'd actually have to talk to my lawyer."

Reporters and lawyers got along about as well as mongoose and cobras, which was to say, not very well. It didn't particularly help that just five years ago, he'd written an expose of a money-laundering operation at one of the larger law firms this side of K Street, leading to no less than fifteen arrests and two indictments in the subsequent investigation. Ever since, those suits at the bar association had hexed him with their version of the evil eye - interminable bureaucratic oversight.

Suddenly, he caught a keen word of interest in the sentence before him. "Think I have something..."

House snatched up the paper, immediately curious, and scanned its contents for relevant medical data. Instead, he came across a list of addresses. Vague addresses, to innocuous P.O. boxes in the middle of nowhere. Or perhaps somewhere...masquerading as nowhere...

Fletcher looked up at House as realization dawned upon the both of them. "Location is key to more than just business and real estate."

"Because the military has an investment in keeping its own secrets safe..."

"...Or hidden away where nobody can find it." Fletcher got up, already packing away his laptop and reporter's notepad, as he gave the table one last sweep. "You know, I don't know what would be better, if I'm right or if I'm wrong."

House's hand went immediately to his cane. "Where are you going?"

"I can't tell if the location's any good without taking a look around. You enjoy Orlando for a bit. Check out the bars, knock back some beer, meet some women." He paused briefly at the door, one hand on the knob, as the old investigator's glint returned to his eyes.

"If World War III starts up before I get back, you have my number."


The bright, glowing digits on the clock showed 2:41 A.M. when House was jolted rudely out of his half-awake doze on one of the comfortable sofas by a shrill ringing that no doubt penetrated the thin hotel walls. This was proven when House chose to let the thing keep ringing (in hopes that whoever it was would hang up) and was subjected to a loud pounding on the door not thirty seconds later.

"Turn that fucking thing off!" a deep voice snarled. "You know what time it is?"

"Give a cripple some time to get in motion!" House snapped back, as the ringing finally died away.

He heard footsteps as the man shuffled back to his room, an unintelligible curse floating back.

House leaned back against the cushion, his sleep schedule ruined. Now he'd have to wait thirty minutes or so before there was any chance of catching some shuteye again. Who'd call him in the middle of the night? Certainly not his team. They didn't have any cases, and their just-released patient was fine. Not Cuddy - she knew where he was. Wilson? Probably. Having moved back in meant he'd know if House was actually not home instead of going with the assumption that he just wasn't picking up the phone. Besides, Wilson had always had the tendency to worry (for the rest of society) when House vanished without a word.

The phone began ringing again. House groaned and finally hauled himself off the sofa, stumbling over to the bed where he'd tossed his overcoat. He sat down and dug through his pockets, first the right, and then the left, before coming up with the phone. He peered at the caller ID, expecting to see Wilson's number and instead getting one he didn't fully recognize.

Fletcher? He hadn't given the journalist his number, but Fletcher had his ways of obtaining information.

House flipped open the cell at last, cutting off the shrill ringing midway. "You just interrupted a really nice dream I was having about Pamela Anderson."

The voice on the other line didn't even hesitate at the odd greeting. "It's Foreman. Our patient was just readmitted about five hours ago, said he got dizzy, and that his cough was coming back real strong. His fever spiked up to - "

"So give him some antibiotics," House snapped, his lack of attention causing him to miss Foreman's distinctive use of the past tense. "Make sure he's not lighting up any more of those incense sticks so soon after, either - "

"House - "

" - and tell him to drink more water, it's probably what's causing everything to spin around him like - "


House rolled his eyes impatiently and shifted the phone to his other ear. "What?"

"Michael died thirty minutes ago."
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