Title: Patient

Author: zeppomarx

Characters: House, Wilson, Cuddy, plus the characters created for Priority's Exigencies and zeppomarx's A Gentle Knock at the Door.

Summary: House's minions find a new patient, one who is reluctant to allow House to treat him. Begins three months after the opening scene of A Gentle Knock at the Door. Part of the Contract universe, which includes DIY Sheep's intense and angsty The Contract, and Priority's sequel Exigencies.

Thanks: To priority and houserocket7 for encouraging me to writing this side story to A Gentle Knock on the Door, and for their faithful diligence in copy editing my sloppy prose.

Warnings, etc.: Generally safe, but references to torture, rape and major character death that has happened in the past. Some chapters are pretty angsty.

Disclaimers: You know the drill. Don't own `em, never did, never will. Wish I did.

This Chapter: Across the room, it was hard for Wilson and Rainie not to hear the triumph in House's voice. When he snapped the phone shut, he found himself the object of their attention.

Chapter 23: Diagnosis

"Chase. It's House. I've got it. Yes, really. It's Whipple. Uh-huh. Idiot was so sure I was going to want retribution, he put off coming here until it had progressed to the point of no return." He listened for a moment. "Exactly. He waited too long. No, don't tell him yet. No, Chase!" A pause. "I said no! I want all the i's dotted and the t's crossed before we give him the news. He's not going to take this well, and I don't want any repercussions. What? No. The tests can wait till morning. Any way you look at it, he's cooked. Another few hours aren't going to matter to a man who has killed himself through his own hubris."

Across the room, it was hard for Wilson and Rainie not to hear the triumph in House's voice. When he snapped the phone shut, he found himself the object of their attention.

"What?" he said, the sly smile still plastered on his fractured face. "I told you irony's a bitch, didn't I? If Tritter had just stuck around when Devi tried to treat him months ago, we probably would have caught it in time. But he was so sure I'd want revenge, he put it off. Paranoia. That was the symptom we missed—just figured it was Tritter's natural state of being. Who knows? Maybe it was. But because we had a history with him—because our emotions were involved—we ignored it as a symptom. Now… well… now, it's just too late." As he spoke, the smile slid off his face, replaced by a much more grim expression.

"Seriously? This Whipple's—it's definitely fatal?" asked Rainie, slightly more curious than concerned.

"Whipple. But Whipple's is okay. Not definitely fatal. It's treatable if caught early. Universally fatal only when ignored," said House, grimly. "No matter how much his paranoia might try to convince him of it, I didn't actually allow this to happen. He did that all by his lonesome."

The only tricky part now was how to tell Tritter that he'd committed negligent suicide. Given his paranoia and rage—the symptoms that ultimately tipped House off—this was not going to be easy. First step: Biopsy the intestine, just to confirm. Then PCR for the presence of T whippelii DNA. When the results confirmed Whipple, as House knew they would, he would figure out how best to tell the patient the news.

David Amberson listened alertly as Rainie Adler told him of Det. Tritter's arrest, a growing sense of both relief and alarm sweeping over him in waves. She didn't feel the need to tell him what Tritter's paranoia had done to her personally in the last few days, and she hesitated to tell him of Tritter's diagnosis, not sure if that knowledge would affect Amberson's decision one way or the other. He should make his decision on his own, unaffected by recent developments. Amberson needed to decide if Tritter should stand trial and be punished for what he'd done to Amberson, not for what he'd been responsible for in the last week.

"So, Mr. Amberson," Rainie said over the phone, after explaining what she wanted of him, "do you think you could bring yourself to do it?" After a long pause fraught with emotion on both ends of the conversation, Amberson gave his assent.

Once he'd made up his mind, Rainie told him that House had diagnosed the police officer, and what that diagnosis meant. And because she was now part of the lawsuit herself, and therefore he would see her in court, she informed him of what had happened to her. Amberson was appalled and, as a result, even more determined to see the man suffer the legal consequences of his actions.

"Are you okay?" he asked, his voice full of concern.

"I've been better," she said succinctly. "I've been worse."

By the end of the day, all but four of Tritter's victims had agreed to testify in court, swayed by the persuasive arguments and the bravery of Rainie Adler.

Voices reached Michael Tritter: Outside his room, standing near the FBI guard at the open doorway, stood Drs. Chase and Foreman. He craned his neck, as if that would enable him to hear them better.

"How can he do it?" he heard Chase ask, who then repeated himself. "How can he do it?"

Foreman shook his head. "Damned if I know, Chase. I don't know why he took the case in the first place, and I couldn't figure out how he could insist on objectivity even before the last few days. Now, well…"

Tritter perked up, watching closely as Chase nodded, clearly unaware that he was being observed. "And all that crap about 'once an addict…' I'm in charge of House's drugs now, and I can tell you, the guy is far from an addict. Don't know how he manages to function at all—the pain… Oh, God!… the pain must be horrific. But he won't take more. You know him—says the drugs keep him from thinking clearly."

Foreman nodded, as Tritter eavesdropped, his heart stuttering in his chest. He couldn't get his mind around it. House wasn't abusing drugs. No, that didn't make sense. Once an addict, always an addict. He believed that. He knew it was true. It had to be true. His mind skittered back to the clippings, the quotes from other doctors talking about House's pain level… and that was before… Shaking his head to clear his mind, he honed in on the two doctors still talking outside his room.

"The man tried to ruin his career eight years ago," Chase was saying, "and now this unbelievable crap. All Tritter has done is put up roadblocks that slowed us down in trying to diagnose him. And still House kept trying to save the bastard. I just don't get it. After all these years, and I still don't think I'll ever understand the man."

Foreman turned his head, muttering something Tritter couldn't quite hear. Then, quite clearly, he said: "I never would have taken the fucker on in the first place. I'd have gladly dumped him on another hospital. And if he'd pulled that shit on me, I'd have dropped him so fast…"

The voices grew fainter as the two doctors walked off down the hallway, and Tritter couldn't hear any more.

Tritter felt his heart rate speed up, and he couldn't catch his breath. Tightly grasping the blanket on his bed, his mind raced over what he'd just heard. Was it possible… could it conceivably be possible… that he'd gotten it all wrong… that House hadn't held a grudge against him… that he'd actually tried his best to find the answer to Tritter's illness despite, not because of, everything Tritter had done to try to force his hand?

In the cafeteria, Wilson shared a quiet meal with Evan Schuster. Shared a meal was actually an untruth; the two of them merely picked at their food as it grew cold on their plates.

"So that's it then?" asked Evan, his eyes meeting Wilson's. "He's fine?"

Wilson shrugged, giving Evan a wry smile. "Seems to be," he replied. "I've never really understood how his mind works, and even less so now. But once he had a… I guess… a focus… for his anger, he doesn't seem suicidal at all. He pushed his team until they got the answer, and as far as I can tell, he's himself again. Of course, I don't know what kinds of conversations he's having with Jacey Liu, but from what I can see, yes, he's fine."

Evan shook his head. "I feel kind of the same way about Rainie. I… I thought sure this would destroy her. You should have seen her after House left. She wouldn't talk, wouldn't respond… nothing. And now, oh, my God, you should have heard her on the phone with those people, convincing them to testify against Tritter. I'm… well, I'm frankly in awe."

Wilson bowed his head, nodding slightly to show he understood. "How they could go through what they've had to endure and even be able to get out of bed in the morning is beyond me. And then to pull themselves together like this…"

Evan grabbed a French fry off of Wilson's plate, pulling it apart in little bits and almost reluctantly putting the pieces one by one in his mouth, chewing slowly.

"I guess you never know what you're capable of until you're put to the test."

Their eyes met, and Wilson's face broke into a lopsided smile. "I'm just glad…" he started. Then, shrugging again, he finished lamely: "…I'm just glad."

Two hours later, the door to Tritter's room slid open and a wheelchair rolled in. Shocked, Tritter sat up in his bed and gaped. It was one thing to see the damage done to House's face and body on television and in newspaper photographs; it was quite a different thing to see it in person.

The man wheeling toward him was frail—there was no doubt about that. A fine tremor shook his body, probably from injuries to his nerves… or perhaps out of anxiety over having to confront his old nemesis. Tritter forced his mouth to close, his eyes raking across the form in front of him. House's neck was tilted slightly to one side and drooped down, as if it was too difficult for him to hold his head up. One shoulder was higher than the other, and Tritter could see bones protruding from places where bones shouldn't show.

The man's face was the worst: It was scarred in layers, cutting through almost every inch of visible skin, shooting up into his hairline and down onto his neck. What was most striking was how much his eyes had changed in eight years. No longer angry and defiant, they were troubled and empty, with a sadness that couldn't be masked.

This was the House Tritter had fantasized about, and yet, now faced with the changes in person, he felt nothing but overwhelming sorrow.

"We meet again," said House in a voice so soft and raspy Tritter could barely hear it.

"We do," said Tritter, suddenly fearful, aware, perhaps for the first time, that the man in front of him had nothing left to lose, but had chosen to continue in his quest for an answer to Tritter's symptoms… whether he needed to or not.

House scanned his patient's face, looking for something that he apparently didn't find.

"We've discovered what's making you sick," he said.

Tritter could scarcely believe it, but House sounded… compassionate. Taking a deep breath and holding it a moment, he tried to stretch out the pause until he was ready to hear what House had to say. Finally, he nodded. Tell me, said his eyes.

"You have something called Whipple Disease," said House, not quite looking Tritter in the eye.

"So what's the treatment?" Tritter asked. Ninety-five percent, he thought. He's done it. He's put me into that 95 percent success rate. He felt both relieved and grateful."How long till I get well?"

House shook his head, almost sadly, it seemed to Tritter. He paused before continuing. "Whipple… if caught early… can be treated and cured," he said at last, measuring his words carefully. Tritter felt a faint hope rising irrationally, but then House continued, swiftly dashing his expectation that this might turn out well. "But… for whatever reason… you've waited so long to get diagnosed that it's now incurable. You're not going to get well,"

Incurable. Tritter felt his eyes sting and his breath stop. He must be wrong, he thought. And then, he realized that the arrogant drug addict—who was not, apparently, a drug addict, and certainly didn't seem arrogant—was actually trying to break this to him gently. Once the devastating news actually got through, he replayed House's words in his head. …if caught early… if caught early… if caught early… if caught early… In other words, if he'd gotten tested sooner, this… this Whipple thing… might have been treatable. If he hadn't been so sure that House was out to get him. If he had put aside his certainty that he wouldn't be treated fairly in this place and by this doctor. If he hadn't gone running months ago when he found out House's department would be in charge of his case. Between the emotions raging through him and the realization that he'd completely misjudged House, he was suddenly besieged by competing thoughts and feelings.

"Y-You're sure?" he asked, hating the quiver in his voice, hating the fact that House now held the upper hand, after everything he'd done to try to stay in control of the situation.

"I'm sure," said House, looking down at the floor as he rolled back and forth gently in his wheelchair.

Suddenly, Tritter lost any semblance of control, furious that, despite everything he'd done to guarantee that House would treat him fairly, he had been told he had something incurable. Lashing out, his handcuffed wrist rattling against the bedrail, he pulled and struggled and yanked in his effort to get at House, who had scooted rapidly back across the room, and was now gripping the arms of his chair, clearly terrified. "Goddammit, House! I did everything to make you fix me! Fuck it all! This isn't what's supposed to happen! You're supposed to save people!"

His body tense and his eyes averted, House drew a few deep breaths, seeming to will himself to calm down. "I can't save everyone," he said at last, a fearful tremor in his soft voice. "If you hadn't been so paranoid, you'd have gotten treated sooner… and this wouldn't have become a death sentence."

The phrase "death sentence" enraged Tritter even more, and he wrenched his captive arm away from the bedrail with a fearful clatter, reaching out with his other, even though he wasn't anywhere near close enough to House to reach him. Although he never felt it, his exertions broke the skin on his wrist, and drops of blood were now dripping down onto the blanket.

House froze, unable to look away from the red splotches. Involuntarily, he glanced down at his own scarred wrist, gritting his teeth and shutting his eyes tight in an attempt to avoid the inevitable flashback of the hours and days he'd spent tugging on his own chains in a futile attempt to get free, to do anything to get away from the torture. He'd pulled and jerked against the chains until his wrists were bloody and raw, more than once actually breaking bones as he struggled against the chains holding him prisoner.

He was so focused on Tritter's wrist and his own that he never heard Brenda Previn slip into the room behind him—she'd overheard the noise and the yelling, and urgently paged for Dr. Cuddy to come to Tritter's room. And he never heard Cuddy slide through the doorway after Brenda, or noticed the two standing close behind him, just in case he needed any assistance, watching as he attempted to retrieve himself from the past and back into the present.

Eventually, both he and Tritter settled down, and then he spoke again. Behind him, Cuddy and Brenda Previn exchanged glances, startled by the compassion they heard, almost unable to believe that the man who had been subjected to so much this week could sound so impartial and professional, given the circumstances. Cuddy, in particular, was struck by the almost sympathetic tone of House's voice. Had he always been able to speak to patients this way? And if so, why hadn't anyone ever been aware of it before?

"Look, I know this isn't easy to hear, but we're quite sure about the diagnosis. We completed all of the tests this morning. Whipple is not only causing all of your obvious symptoms, but it's affected your brain, making you angry and paranoid… which might explain…" He nodded his head toward Tritter's bleeding wrist.

Angry and paranoid? Tritter thought. Angry and paranoid? Never good at analyzing his own behavior, Tritter couldn't quite grasp the idea that some of his actions over the past week might have been caused by the same thing that was now killing him. Once again, he struggled against the handcuff that was keeping him at bay. To Cuddy and Previn, he seemed like an enraged and imprisoned animal, almost willing to gnaw off his own limb in order to escape… in this case, to escape the diagnosis and to attack the bearer of the bad news.

As he waited for Tritter to digest the news, House seemed to brace himself, as if expecting Tritter to be able to break free and attack him. Slowly, Tritter stopped fighting. He found himself mesmerized by House's behavior. Was that how he prepared himself for the torture? Tritter wondered. Just tensing a few muscles and taking that deep breath? When Tritter didn't lash out, House's frame relaxed slightly, and he continued.

"I assume, because of the way you feel about me, you'll want a second opinion. You should get one anyway. Take the diagnosis to any neurologist of your choice, and I'll have the test results sent over. Or you may prefer to have all the tests redone. Either way, it's up to you."

Now that Tritter had used up much of his anger, he seemed drained of energy. His mind drifted back to what he'd overheard when Chase and Foreman chatted outside his door, and the couple of hours he'd spent since, going over the files and thinking about everything he'd done to try to ensure a fair diagnosis… only to discover House had been fair to him all along. Now, he sat passive and numb, slowly acknowledging what he'd heard.

"I realize," House said after a pause, "that I'm not your favorite person, that you probably distrust what I'm telling you. So go get that second opinion."

Tritter nodded stupidly, as if House's words were gibberish.

"I also realize," House continued, "that you're in serious legal trouble, which, frankly, you deserve. However, I want you to know that I won't be pressing charges against you for false arrest or having my home destroyed. Rainie Adler will almost definitely feel differently about what has been done to her, but for me, I consider those actions to be a result of your illness. Your behavior of eight years ago is a different matter, but that's for you and your attorney to discuss."

He wasn't going to press charges? Dumbfounded, Tritter couldn't get his head around it. Not only had House continued to try to diagnose him despite the incident eight years ago, but he had just forgiven him for trying to destroy his current life.

Standing near the doorway, Cuddy and Previn were, quite simply, flabbergasted. Cuddy's mouth had dropped open, and she looked bewildered.

"How long?" Tritter asked shakily. "How long do I have?"

House shrugged his oddly shaped shoulders. "Probably not long. Given the swift progression, you may not make it out of the hospital. You might, however, still have months, or at most, a couple of years. You need to be aware that this will not to be painless. A bacterium has infiltrated your central nervous system and is slowly destroying it. If you want more information, someone on my staff can provide you with literature explaining the disease in greater detail."

Tritter swallowed, and without warning, rage surged through him again. Pulling again at the handcuff, he rattled it against the bedrail, bellowing that he would find a way to force House to change the diagnosis. But this time, House didn't cower, obviously aware that it was over, that Tritter couldn't get free and harm him, so he sat calmly in his wheelchair until Tritter flopped back against the pillows, sweating, panting and defeated.

"Frankly, it doesn't matter much," House said at last, looking away and sounding detached, almost clinical, "because the odds are good you'll be spending what's left of your life in jail. Given my own experiences…" House bit back an emotion of some sort. "…I suspect your prison life is not going to be pleasant, even without the disease… They don't like cops in prison…" He clamped his mouth shut, breathing deeply through his nose until he was ready to speak again. "We'll provide you with psychotherapy if you need it, in order to work through your reactions to this diagnosis."

Then, abruptly, House turned to wheel himself out of the room, starting as he crashed into Cuddy, the wheel of his chair bumping into her shin, and then almost running over the pointy toe of her high heel before he could bring the chair to a halt. The two women quickly stepped aside, allowing him to pass, watching stunned as he rolled forcefully toward the elevator, and then they slipped quietly out of the room themselves, leaving Tritter with only himself, his thoughts and his feelings for company.

Tossing the blue folder on the conference table as he wheeled himself up to its head, House casually announced, "This one's done. Got anything else promising?"

On his left, Devi lifted her head from the journal she was reading and, quite simply, gaped. Foreman, on his right, blinked uncertainly, and Chase, at the foot of the table, stared at him, finally bringing himself to say, "Done? I thought we were still discussing the best way to break the news to Tritter?"

House shrugged, his eyes tight with exhaustion and stress. "I got tired of discussing and decided to get it over with."

"You mean you went in there alone and broke the news to him?" asked Foreman, dumbfounded.

"Yup. All by myself, Mommy. Although apparently, Cuddy and Nurse Previn decided to provide backup. We've got a few loose ends to tie up, but first let's see if we have anything else that needs our attention. Frankly, this one has been a little more taxing than I would like, and I want to go ho… go s-someplace to rest."

Chase and Foreman exchanged glances.

"Should you have done that?" Chase ventured. "I mean, should you have seen him all alone? You know how paranoid he is—couldn't he find a way to twist this around?"

"Nope," said House, pursing his lips into the semblance of a smile. "I…"

Suddenly, Wilson strode fiercely into the room, interrupting House and his three courtiers. "What the hell were you thinking?" he yelled.

At the unexpectedly loud tone, and seeing the angry figure advancing rapidly toward him, House shrank back, losing the slight control he'd managed to maintain in Tritter's room. Shivering, a whimper escaping his lips, he pulled away from the table and backed his chair toward the wall, just as he'd done when confronted by the three policemen just a couple of days before.

Undeterred, Wilson continued to yell. "The man is a psychopathic menace, and you went in there alone? I repeat, what the hell were you thinking?"

House couldn't catch his breath, his hands shaking uncontrollably, he began to slide out of the chair. "W-Wilson…" he whimpered.

Quickly sizing up the situation, Foreman jumped up and placed himself between the furious Wilson and the trembling House.

"No—what the hell are you thinking?" he roared. "The man has had enough. Back off!"

Shocked, both at his own behavior and at Foreman's response, Wilson did just that. He froze in place, his eyes shifting back and forth between Foreman, who was looming over him, and House, who was shrinking into the wall.

"I-I…" he stuttered.

"Don't you dare come near him until you've calmed down," warned Foreman, as the half-standing Devi and Chase, who had started to rush to House before Foreman beat them to it, observed the scene in fascination. "I don't know what's got your knickers in a twist, but you're not going to get anywhere by yelling at him, and you know it."

Puffing with anger, Wilson started to argue with Foreman, when he was riveted by the sight of House, terrified by his best friend's behavior. Abruptly, Wilson dropped his head, ashamed of himself. He started to speak, gesturing uselessly with his hands until they, too, dropped down.

Behind Foreman, House was taking deep, gulping breaths of air, his whole body quivering in fear. Quietly, Chase and Devi placed themselves around him, gently touching his shoulders and back reassuringly. After a long couple of minutes, he seemed to return to what passed for normal these days.

"Now, if you can bring yourself to be calm, what's this all about?" asked Foreman, still acting as a shield between House and his best friend.

Wilson looked embarrassed. The second Cuddy had reported to him what she'd seen in Tritter's room, he'd completely lost control. Years' worth of fear and anger poured out, and he'd responded without thinking about the consequences. The stress of the last four days had been intense, but the last thing he ever meant to do was take it out on House. Embarrassed, he thought back a few days, and realized that perhaps he had more in common with Foreman than he'd been willing to admit.

"I… he… he went to talk to Tritter alone!" he said, with considerably less vehemence. "Anything could have happened!"

A soft, shaky voice rose up from behind Foreman. "But it didn't, did it, Wilson? It didn't."

Looking around Foreman to the quaking figure in the wheelchair, Wilson's eyes pleaded for forgiveness. "No, House, it didn't… but it could have…"

Foreman moved slightly to one side, allowing Wilson to see House more clearly, but when he took a step forward, Foreman planted his arm in Wilson's chest to stop him. Shaking his head, Foreman said, "No," he said more softly, his voice tinged with empathy now that their roles were reversed. "You don't go near him until I'm sure you won't frighten him anymore. He's had enough…. and he deserves better."

Behind him, unseen by anyone in the room, House smiled. He might turn out okay after all, he thought. Then he glanced at Wilson, and another smile graced his lips. Finally, he thought, Finally, Wilson has stopped tiptoeing around me. "It's okay," he said to Foreman. "Wilson would never hurt me."

A little unwillingly, Foreman stepped out of the way to allow Wilson to pass. Instead of walking forward, Wilson dropped suddenly to his knees and skidding forward until he was face to face with House in the chair. Slowly, carefully, he reached out his hand, gently brushing the side of House's face soothingly.

"I'm so sorry," he said, his eyes searching House's face for a forgiveness he didn't feel he deserved. "I didn't mean…"

Much to his surprise, the eyes that met his own weren't frightened—they were sympathetic. "It's okay," said House. "I get it. And it's about time you felt comfortable enough to be yourself around me. Now get up off the floor, dust off your knees, roll me to the table and let me finish what I was about to say."

Once ensconced back at the table, House picked up where he left off, this time with Wilson joining the others in paying close attention. After taking a sip of coffee, House reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPod.

"This is why I wasn't concerned about going in there alone," he said, mischievously, clearly enjoying the confused looks around the table.

"I don't get it," said Wilson. "Why would an iPod protect you from a deranged patient?"

"Well, it sure as hell couldn't protect me from having a meltdown, but it did protect me in other ways." He unplugged the microphone from the iPod, stuck the gizmo into the speaker base and, after fiddling with it a moment, pressed play.

We meet again, came House's soft voice through the speakers.

We do.

We've discovered what's making you sick.

"Are you serious?" asked Cuddy, her voice beginning to rise. "The man tried… almost successfully… to kill himself less then a week ago? What on earth makes you think he can leave this hospital?" Then, more softly, "What makes you think he won't try again?"

Wilson shrugged. "I just do, Lisa. He's in even more intensive therapy with Jacey Liu, and more than that, the reason he tried to kill himself is being dealt with."

"I… I don't get it."

"Look at this way: He found within himself the rage—the truly ugly feelings he'd been jamming away deep inside. Once that lid popped off, he scared himself… felt he was no better than Thompson… that he was capable of doing terrible things. It terrified him. You know House. Even before all this, he wasn't exactly Mr. Touchy-Feely. When he saw how Tritter's paranoia had damaged Rainie, he mistakenly decided that his very presence was hurting the people he was close to. And somehow, at that moment, his fragile mind slipped a gear. In some way that we'll never fathom, he thought it would easier to take himself out of the equation than to actually deal with those feelings and what they brought up for him."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Cuddy, twitching her fingers impatiently. "I get all that. What I don't get is how you can think he's no longer a danger to himself, just because he solved Tritter's case."

Wilson struggled to find a way to explain it. "It's what we told him when he woke up: He'll hurt us more by killing himself than by staying alive. He went through all of that to keep us safe. As much as we have trouble believing it, even now, House will do whatever it takes to keep us safe. And if he believes it hurts us less for him to stay alive, even with all his physical and emotional pain, he'll do it. He's made up his mind now. He won't try again."

Cuddy sighed, then nodded her head in agreement. "Fine. I'll let him go… but only into your care. You are responsible for him."

Wilson smiled. "Yes," he said. "I am."

"Let's go home," said Rainie, reaching out her hand to rest it on House's arm. Her bruises were beginning to heal, and she was ready.

House stared at her as if he thought her mind had just snapped. "What home?" he said in a monotone, his voice reflecting the exhaustion he felt now that the case was over.

"Our home," she said, as if it were obvious.

Bewildered, House tilted his head slightly and looked at her, his brows furrowed.

"We don't have one," he said, sounding as if he was explaining this to a small child. She's lost touch with reality, he thought, wondering if he should call Jacey Liu.

Her rich contralto laugh caught him by surprise.

"Says you," she said. "Let's try this again. If it's safe now, are you willing to go back there?"

He looked at her, perplexed. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that if our home is miraculously fixed up and has new safety features, are you willing to live there again, given everything that's happened?" This time, she was the one talking as if to a small child.

He absorbed her words. Could he? Could he return to their former safe haven, knowing that it—that she—had been violated there?

"Are you? Are you willing to go back?" His answer depended on hers. He searched her face intensely, trying to figure out what was going on in her head.

She inhaled a very deep breath, pursing her lips a moment before blowing the air out forcefully. "Yes," she said, and she sounded surprisingly sure of herself. "Yes, I am."

"But… they destroyed it. There's no home to go back to."

His brow furrowed in confusion as he tried to interpret her expression.

After a moment of trying find the right words, she said, "It's just… well, things that were destroyed. It's just stuff. And you seem to forget—we're rich as Croesus. Evan and I have been working on it for several days now. Still a little rough—so they tell me—and it won't ever look quite the same—but if you pay people enough money, a lot can be done in a few days. We've even got a double security door, plus an alarm system on all the doors and windows, so no one can get in. I took the extra precaution of having them installed on Wilson's unit as well."

A little overwhelmed, he sat quietly for a very long moment, taking it in, thinking about what their place looked like the last time he saw it, and whether or not he wanted to be there if it wasn't quite the same, and if it had these new miserable memories connected to it. He certainly never wanted to go back to his old place on Baker Street, not after Thompson's men had turned it into a horror show of pain and suffering. Which led him to Rainie. He genuinely couldn't understand what was motivating her? How could she consider returning there, even for a moment, much less to move in again?

"Why?" he asked, puzzled. "We could live anywhere. We could buy a house. Hell, we could buy an estate with a security gate and beefy guards to watch it. Why go back there, after everything that's happened? Why?"

He saw the glint in her eye as a determined, tight little smile crossed her face. "Because I'm stubborn," she said, by way of explanation. "I wouldn't let Thompson win, and I sure as hell won't let a lightweight like Tritter win." She paused. "Besides… it's our home."

House thought of the place they had created right next door to Wilson's, of the piano… oh, God, what had they done to the piano?... of Rainie's art glass, his books and music… How could a few days and a pot full of money recreate that?

Okay. So she felt she could return. But could he? Could he re-enter the place that had seemed so secure and yet was not? Could he ever be there without imagining what Rainie had gone through, without wondering if someone else could get in and hurt them? Would a double security door and alarm system soothe him enough?

Rainie watched the emotions flit across his face. Finally, she reached out and laid her good hand on his forearm.

"Hey," she said. "What's the worst that could happen? If we find we can't stand it, we can always go buy that estate and hire those security guards. In the meantime, I want to go home. I want to sleep in my big, fluffy bed, and hear the birds singing outside the window. I'm tired of the hospital and I don't want to live in a hotel, where you and I both know that every staff person and guest will stare at us and whisper. Come on, Greg. Let's go home."

"Well, since you put it that way," said House, breathing deeply, making up his mind. "Okay."

Lisa Cuddy heard a weird squeaking noise coming toward her, and when she looked up from the paperwork on her desk, found herself face to face with the (once again) head of her Diagnostic Department.

"I need to circumvent hospital rules," he said bluntly, with no preface.

Confused, she paused a moment before responding. "I—uh—thought you'd already diagnosed Det. Tritter?" she said, turning the sentence into a question by the time she got to the end of it.

"Did," said House. "Not those rules. Rainie and I want to leave through the back way. We don't want to go through the lobby when we're discharged. Which should be any minute now."

"Okaaaaay," said Cuddy. "But why?" Without realizing she was doing it, she twirled her pen in the air nervously.

"Don't need everybody gawking, and especially don't need people applauding Rainie for managing to survive being beaten and raped. Just draws attention to it, and she doesn't need that right now."

For the third (or was it fourth) time this week, Cuddy found herself marveling at how good House was at understanding what makes people tick, at how very sensitive he was. How could I not notice this? she wondered.

"Sure," she said. "Do whatever makes you the most comfortable. You're going to do what you want anyway."

A hint of grin graced his lips, then he swiveled abruptly and wheeled himself back out of her office.

Wilson, Evan and Rainie met him at the service elevator. He looked at each in turn: Rainie in her wheelchair, bandaged and bruised, and Wilson and Evan standing close to each other behind her chair.

"Done," he said. "Let's go home."


"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."—Mahatma Gandhi