Disclaimer: Don't own, don't profit. Also – am ignoring Season 8. Just because much of this planning comes from ages and ages ago, and it's been annoying enough to adapt to season 7 events, and I'm not going to do it for season 8 as well.

Finally – don't take medical advice from this. I'm just a lowly frosh.

AN: Am a busy student at a certain lovely Institvte. Expect me to update rarely. Maybe months and months between updates. As much as I enjoy writing stuff, I also enjoy sleeping at least six hours of day, getting two good meals per day, and not failing my classes. Because that would be bad.

Writing as I go, as usual, but I had the idea for this for a pretty long time already. This chapter's pretty choppy, but that's mostly because I didn't want to dwell for long on the setup. I'm not usually this choppy.

Music: (This section's generally completely irrelevant to the story, so feel free to skip. I'm mostly going to use it to promote awesome songs.)

While writing this, I mostly listened to: "Call Day", by ZdoggMD. It's hilarious. And awesome. And actually legally free.

Violent Delusions

by starsteller

Prologue: Coming Down (Coming Down)

He's halfway to there, on his motorcycle, before he even realizes where he's heading, which meant that somewhere in his mind he knows that what he had just done was illegal.

Well, no duh, you idiot. He'd just run his car into his ex-girlfriend's house. Of course that was illegal. But he had been so angry, so fucking pissed off that he hadn't been thinking straight, hadn't been considering the consequences, hadn't thought about the possibility of jail or dismemberment or the fact that he's almost certainly going to lose his medical license over this. It hadn't been premeditated.

Yet he's making a beeline for the one person who could keep him out of jail.

He's standing over Nalo's fancy-smancy printer-like device, waiting for it to spit out his new (fake) ID. Nalo is surrounded by computers, muttering and cursing under her breath, the way she always does when she's working with computers. "Where do you want to go?" she asks.

"Somewhere with a bar. And a lot of hot women." He waves his hand dismissively. "Somewhere that's not here. Preferably not in this country"

Nalo looks up hesitantly – she's scared of him, he knows. (And she should be. He knows stuff that could easily get her killed. Not that he would tell, ever, but she didn't know that and he doesn't plan on letting her know.) "I…know people in Seattle. Research team. Therapeutic cloning. Something like that. They could fix…" She vaguely gestured toward his thigh. "I can get you a new identity..."

He doesn't even need time to think. "Seattle it is, then." He wonders if the police are after him yet, but he doesn't consider the option of not running, of turning himself in. He just wants to be as far away as possible before dawn breaks.

And he knows that Nalo can let him disappear.

The woman who meets him at the airport is so thin that she appears to be nothing more than skin and bone. "I'm Dr. Mary Hawthorne. Call me Thorne," she says. "I'm assuming you're Dr. House."

House nods, curtly. The Vicodin that Nalo gave him paled in comparison to the cramping caused by the uncomfortable airline seats, and now he's forced to lean awkwardly on the single crutch that's supposed to replace his cane. (It's too distinctive, Nalo had said.)

Thorne takes his luggage from him. "Nalo told me about you. I'm the surgeon."

He does a double-take – she doesn't look like a surgeon. She looks...for the lack of better words, too sick to be a surgeon. Not with her sallow skin, emaciated appearance, and the two large, L-shaped scars that surround her eyes. Doctor, heal thyself, he thinks, and then he has to suppress an ironic laugh. He's a cripple. Doctor, heal thyself was just a load of bull. There were some things that no one could heal. Like his leg.

Or perhaps, not like his leg.

Thorne's going on about something or another – bone marrow for stem cells, three months to grow the muscle, then the transplant, perhaps a (another) ketamine coma to reset his pain levels, if necessary. He doesn't care enough to pay attention, never mind interrupt, until she mentions something about Prialt. Non-narcotic. He doesn't want that.

"No. No intrathecal pumps."

"Okay. What about ketorolac?"

"You're a fucking idiot if you're going to prescribe that for long-term pain management."

She glances at him. "What do you want, then?"

He pauses before replying. "Vicodin."

"Okay." Not even a pause, but cool and business-like. She has to know about his history with Vicodin – Nalo knows and she would have told Thorne – but Thorne doesn't even blink an eye at his request. "Vicodin it is, then."

It's a while before either of them speak again.

It's during this time when House realizes how much his life's going to change. Nalo had given him a different name, a different identity, a different past, but the hacker couldn't give him a college degree, never mind a medical license. Thorne has promised to repair his leg, but she couldn't even repair herself.

And he, himself, with that stupid, idiotic, impulsive move, had made it impossible for him to ever return to Princeton-Plainsboro, maybe made it impossible for him to ever practice medicine again.

And the promise of a pain-free future isn't going to even come close to being able to practice.

Turns out that when Nalo said "Seattle," she was indulging in some rounding. Thorne worked at a small research hospital in a location that could only roughly be approximated as "Seattle."

"Did you book a motel?" Thorne asks.

"No." Nalo had given his new identity some money, but it wasn't all that much.

"You can stay at my place." Before he could protest, she continues, "I don't live there anymore."

"If you're kicking yourself to the street to give me a place to live, you're a ridiculous bleeding-heart."

She looks at him. "I've been living in my office for the last decade," she says, simply. "I just maintain that apartment so the government doesn't think I'm homeless."

Thorne pulls up to a cheap-looking group of buildings, hands House a key, and then mumbles something about no groceries and drives off as soon as House gets himself and his stuff out of the car. There's a gate but no guard manning it. Even the few plants look wilted and uncared for, despite the infamous dampness of northwest Washington.

House passes some scantily dressed college students on his way across the "courtyard" of this pathetic apartment complex, lounging around a dried-up pool, and heads into building 3. Thorne's place is at the top, a "penthouse" that's smaller than his previous apartment.

At least there was an elevator.

The key sticks in the lock a bit, and when House pushes the door open, it protests with a loud creak. The apartment really only has four rooms, a bedroom, a tiny bathroom, a kitchen, and an everything-else room. There are a number of boxes strewn around the place, and some furniture – a queen-sized bed, a breakfast table, mismatched chairs, a rather sorry-looking couch, an ancient TV – and everything's covered by a thick layer of dust.

It's pretty obvious that no one had lived here for a while.

House sets down his (new) suitcase and (new) backpack and sinks down into the couch, staring at Thorne's TV. Now what? He picks up the remote and jabs the "on" button several times. Nothing happens, so he chucks the remote across the room. It collides with the breakfast table, the battery compartment popping off and sending corroded batteries flying everywhere.

He doesn't feel like picking them up, so he just sits there in silence until the doorbell rings.

"It's unlocked!"

The man who enters is tall, athletically-built, and is neatly dressed in a suit, complete with briefcase, obviously the type of guy who spends hours of each day trying to look aristocratic and important. At least this guy has a modicum of success, on that front. He introduces himself as Dr. Paul Winfred Richmond, Dean in that brisk, no-nonsense way life gurus always pushed. "Nalo told me who you are."

"Thought I was supposed to be getting a new identity or something." House wishes for some scotch or something like that, to take the edge off. "Looks like that's not happening."

Dr. Richmond laughs. "I've known Nalo for a very long time, Dr. House. I helped her set up her little gig out there." He laughs again. It's not a pleasant sound. "She's a great girl. A bit of a bitch, yeah, but a great girl nevertheless. She's had an eye on you for quite a while, and she's told me what you do. How good you are at what you do."

House doesn't reply. It's a bit disconcerting, actually, to find out that apparently people are watching him, but it's not much of a surprise. He doesn't know much about these people, but he does know that they don't play by the laws.

In their shoes, he'd probably be doing the same, but he definitely doesn't like it happening to him.

"I want to offer you a position here, Dr. House."

Now he really wants that scotch. "I don't have a medical license." He wonders if he's dreaming or hallucinating or something like that, but the lack of Wilson or Cuddy makes him think that it's real.

"Doesn't matter. We can get you one." Richmond inspects his nails, while continuing, "In fact, it's already been done." He reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a leather folder, handing it over to House, who opens it to find a college diploma.

"Charles Walker, Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Don't you think that this is a bit too…high profile?"

"Oh, Charles was real." Richmond smiles and pulls out a photograph. "Or as real as my hackers can make him. And, if necessary, my surgeon."

The photograph is of a young man with eyes that are roughly the same color as House's. It could have been Photoshopped – he couldn't tell – but it certainly looked like a plausible picture of a younger version of himself. Whoever these people are, they're good, he thinks. Scarily good. They seem to flaunt the laws with a singular lack of concern for the possible consequences, almost as if they believe that they will never be held accountable by a court.

Richmond pulls out a few more papers – a birth certificate, a passport, a driver's license, a social security card, a medical degree from Hopkins. "We've covered all of the traces, everything. A perfect cover. I can give you a new life," he says, "If you're willing to take it."

It's strange, yes, and definitely suspiciously altruistic, but since it works in his favor, he'll accept it. For now, at least.

They're in the middle of negotiations when Thorne returns with the groceries. She busies herself with making sandwiches while the men talk.

What's his responsibilities? Similar to what he had at PPTH – a single patient at a time, Richmond'll set up a system to refer the difficult-to-diagnose patients straight to him.

Clinic? "We have one, but we'd rather you concentrate on the patients only you can save."

Team? "A resident, two fellows. A post-doc, if you want one." House doesn't.

When does he start? After the surgery. Not before, because Richmond doesn't want people recognizing House and his limp is arguably the most recognizable bit of him.

"I put something in about a torn ACL into your medical records," Thorne says, "so you don't have to be cooped up in here 24/7." It takes House a while before he realizes that she's talking about Charles Walker's medical records. They're his now, though.

Richmond continues, "No one will be looking for you here, anyways. I had Nalo mess with your bank account – it has some withdraws from a bank in the Caribbean, now, so they'll first look for you there. In a couple of days, we're going to get some vandals to go through your old place, grab some your old stuff, if you still want it. We can't let you keep much, though – that'll be too suspicious."

On one hand, he's glad that they're thorough – he doesn't want the police to find him, especially since he knows at least one policeman (Tritter) almost certainly still hates him. On the other, he knows fully well that this new identity means that his old life, the life he's used to, is gone forever, and that hurts. He covers that with snark. "So, how did I get to the Caribbeans? Can't exactly sprout wings and fly, and it's a tad bit to far to swim."

"Got people to fly a small, two-person craft from New Jersey to Miami, and then from Miami to the Caribbeans." Richmond shrugs. "The pilots will deny that you were on them, but that's what they'll be expected to do."

Thorne interrupts to hand out the sandwiches, apologizing for her lack of cooking skills. She doesn't take one for herself – rather, she picks up a giant canister of Lysol wipes and begins wiping down the furniture, and her movements cause her shoulderbones to rise and fall, their outlines appearing and disappearing through the back of her T-shirt.

House raises his eyebrows and glances at her. Thorne's too thin, but not in the anorexic way. There's some muscle tone in her arms, and absolutely no fat whatsoever. Something was off…something was different. "Lawrence-Seip?" he asks.

Richmond sighs. "Yeah. Autoimmune lipoatrophy. Severe, especially for a late-onset. How did you know?"

He mimes the L-shaped scars. "Must be a really bad case, for her to lose the extraocular fat."

"You're the first person to diagnose her correctly on the first try. This is why we're going to hire you. At all costs." Richmond smiles. "You are the best."

"Of course." No false modesty. He doesn't do that.

Too good to be true.

House feels like he's hallucinating, or something like that.

Yesterday, he was a fugitive on the run. Today, he has a new identity, with a new job he'll be able to take in three months. Everything's different, yet the important bits – his job description, for example – are staying eerily the same.

He didn't want to leave Princeton-Plainsboro, his home, but since he couldn't stay there anymore, this is a decent place. The job's better, kind of. More freedom, less clinic. Richmond had basically told him that he'll have free reign, also long as he kept Thorne in the loop because "it's likely that she'll be the one trying to fix up your patients if you mess up. She's the best surgeon I've got." The apartment downright sucks, especially compared to his previous one, but at least there's some hot girls to ogle, downstairs. He's got a new motorcycle – Thorne had handed him the keys to one before she left, muttering something about it being in the handicapped space downstairs. And speaking about Thorne – she's rapidly becoming a credit card with his name on it.

There's no Cuddy, but he's through with her.

Wilson's not here, either, but he's got another source of free lunch now, with the bonus of not having the mother-hen nagging.

Life's good. Life should be good. Or better, at least. Or…who's he trying to convince, anyways? Himself?

Thorne left him a six-pack of beer. He already knows it's not going to be enough. There should be a liquor store, somewhere. It's a college town. There has to be one.


He's grabbing a girl's brunette curls, staring into her slate-gray eyes and intensely trying to convince himself that she's Lisa Cuddy and not Krystal, the call girl. It helps that Krystal has similar eyes and similar hair, and a well-proportioned figure with plenty up-top to play with. She knows now to react to that name, to uphold the illusion herself.

Then again, he's paying her.

She runs her hands down his sides – that tease – stopping her right hand at his hip and sliding her left inwards to just graze the inside of his thigh with her fingernails. He drags her face down to his for a kiss – he's paying extra for this "privilege" – and closes his eyes and thinks of Cuddy.

When it's over, he sinks back onto the bed, a bed that feels more and more like it's his own, while she collects the check and lets herself out, locking the door shut behind her. There's some vodka on the ground to his left. Next to it, there's a fresh bottle of Vicodin, prescribed by Mary Jillian Hawthrone.

The script was filled four days ago. Of the sixty pills he got, there's only two left.

He's at a bar. He doesn't know how he managed to get there. At least the alcohol's numbing the pain from his leg. He shifts a bit on the barstool and the world tilts and whirls around him.

The bartender takes his keys from him, makes a phone call, and the next thing he knows Thorne's here, still dressed in her scrubs.

She pays, grabs his motorcycle keys, and drags him to her car, somehow supporting his six-foot frame. She's cool and businesslike, the way she always is. With a small grunt, she dumps him into the passenger seat and starts the car.

House expects a lecture, but it never comes.

He feels cold fingers on his wrist – Thorne's feeling his pulse. "120 and weak. Not good." He should be worried, but he's too drunk for that. She reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out the Vicodin. "Only five left? I just wrote you a script three days ago," Thorne mutters as she replaces the pills. "Surprised you're not dead yet."

To be honest, he's surprised too.

There's a red light. It's just a stoplight, he thinks, but the red light catches Thorne's bony features in an especially creepy way. He knows that she's not an evil woman, but that's due to chance alone. His instinct would be screaming at him, but it's currently muffled by a tad bit too much alcohol and Vicodin.

And then the light turns green and the moment passes, and she's just Thorne-the-workaholic-surgeon again.

They pull up in front of that apartment complex. She drags him back to the apartment and then dumps him onto the bed, on his side with a wastebasket near his head. He feels a small prick in the crook of his elbow, and then the cold fingers at his wrist again. The entire bed tilted, slightly, carrying his feet upwards and his head downwards, and then Thorne roughly drags his arms and legs, probably into the safety position. And then the front door opens and slams shut.

The next morning, he wakes up with a massive headache. There's an ibuprofen and some water next to the bed. He takes a Vicodin with the water.

It's not as effective as it usually is.

Thorne must have given him an opioid blocker, or something.

"Stay out of the public eye as much as possible while you still need that crutch," Richmond had said. "Don't worry about money or anything. We'll take care of that. If you need anything, call Thorne."

At House's request, Thorne had brought him a Nintendo-DS, a Gameboy, a GameCube, a flat-screen TV, and a couple of other toys as well. It's boring, staying at home all the time, subsiding off of sandwiches and canned spaghetti, and even all the games, 300 + channels, and pay-per-view couldn't keep him occupied.

He's spent some time trying to learn more about his soon-to-be employer and colleagues, and unsurprisingly there's not much information. Richmond's resume is online, but there's nothing interesting in it, and he finds Thorne's publication record, but it's rather sparse. Half the shit she does is funded illegally, he knows, of course she wouldn't be publishing that.

A search for PPTH isn't all that interesting, either.

He knows that Chase has taken a leave of absence and Foreman's the new head of Diagnostics. Taub quit, in late July, to restart his own practice, and Foreman hired a replacement, some Dr. Park who isn't all that interesting to join Thirteen.

Several times, he almost searches for Wilson or Cuddy, but he always stops himself before he does. He's better off not knowing. He also doesn't Google his own name – there won't be anything new, there. People hate him. They've always have.

He doesn't think to google "Charles Walker." Not that it would have mattered if he had – it's a common name.

House lives for the times when the phone rings. Thorne calls, a couple of times a day, with consults. He's pretty sure that they're pity consults, since she never calls twice to ask about the same patient:

"Fever. Joint pain. Vomiting."

"Check for a rash."


And then, a few hours later:

"You're right, she had a rash. Chicken pox triggered rheumatoid arthritis. There's another patient, though, and his kidneys are kind of failing. I'm looking through the database" – and by "the database" she means the sizable collection nearly-expired cloned organs she always has on hand – "for a match, but I dunno if I can find one. Oh, his serum calcium is through the roof."

"It's his parathyroid, idiot."

"Thanks, Walker," she replies (she never calls him "House"), hanging up on him before he could reply in turn. He replaces the phone in its cradle with a sigh, knowing that she's probably making up these cases on the fly. They're not that good. She's a surgeon. Diagnostics is not what she does.

It does, however, get rid of the ennui, for a while, at least.

The Vicodin helps too.

The day of the surgery dawns cloudy and rainy, just like every other day had dawned. Thorne drives him to hospital.

"I can't continue to prescribe you Vicodin after this, you know," she says as she drives. "I'm not willing to risk losing my license over this."

He wants to point out that she's obviously been over-prescribing for him, for the last three months, and she didn't seem to care about it then. But Wilson she is not and he really doesn't care that much about her livelihood. "Couldn't Nalo just get you a new one?" he asks, flippantly.

Thorne shrugs. "Yeah, she could, but in the big scheme of things, I'm just a small fry, so she's just as likely to hang me out to dry. Especially if it was a drug-dealing-related charge – I wouldn't be able to brush that off as a complication or anything. Even if she didn't just let them toss me into jail, I'd have to get a complete new identity, at the very least, and I rather like the one I have now." She shrugged again. "Doesn't matter. I know people. If you still want the Vicodin, you'll have to get it from them instead. Don't worry. They're good. They've never been caught."

She pulls into a parking space at the hospital, one that's hidden in the back, and takes him through an insane maze of repair tunnels before finally taking him to the OR. His thigh is aching, now, the way it always does, even through the Vicodin, but worse now, due to the walking. He can't bring himself to request a wheelchair, though.

Thorne hands him a hospital gown and leaves to scrub in. He changes in the bathroom, apprehension building in his heart. House knows that Thorne's a competent surgeon – he doesn't doubt her skills. But still, it's a bit nerve-wracking to be finally losing the thing that he's hated more than anything else, these last ten years. The thing that had come to define him, and his life, the thing that caused his downward spiral into addiction and psychosis, made him the miserable bastard he was, caused him to push nearly – no, not nearly. The qualifier isn't needed. He's pushed everyone away.

He'll be glad to say goodbye to the pain, he tries to convince himself. It's going to happen, anyways, no matter what he wants.

For a moment, he foolishly hopes that the surgery will reverse everything, bring Cuddy back into his arms, make Wilson his friend again, make himself less of a misanthrope. But then that moment passes, and he knows that it's not going to happen. As far as Wilson and Cuddy know, he fled to the Caribbeans after nearly running Wilson over and driving his car into Cuddy's house. If they every see him again, they'll want him dragged in front of a court and sent to jail. And jail's no place for a cripple.

There's no going back. There's no going home.

A nurse and an anesthesiologist come in, armed with the tools of their trade. "Are you ready?" the nurse asks.

He nods. Not really, but he's as ready as he'll ever be.

"Count backwards from ten…"

He doesn't even get to six before he's out.

When he wakes up, he's out of pain entirely. House tries to sit up, but a harried nurse quickly pushes him down again. "Don't sit up," she orders, while running off to attend to the next patient.

"Why not?" he asks no one, but a look to the left answers his question. On the nightstand, there's a sickly-looking liver on a dissection tray, a scalpel stuck in it. He doesn't have to ask. He knows it's his.

Thorne had cloned him a new liver as well. That bitch, he thinks, while smiling. There's a streak in her that would make her a slightly-less-than-crappy diagnostician, if she ever wanted to switch fields.

He looks at the liver again and doesn't like what he sees. It's a tad green and a tad splotchy, instead of the rich red-brown a healthy liver looked like. Intellectually, he knows that he'd been trashing it for the last decade. It's still something different to see the damage, however. He reaches a hand up and grabs the scalpel. It refuses to move.

Oh. Cirrhosis.

That's not good.

At least he has a new one, though.

He looks for the morphine stand, and then curses. There isn't one. Thorne had evidently given him an intrathecal pump as well.

God damn fucking Prialt, he thinks. The non-narcotic painkiller's powerful, sure, but it's definitely not what he wants.

Thorne only visits once when he's in the ICU. "Surgery went well. Surprisingly few complications, really." She sits down on the only chair in the room. "I took the liberty of detoxing you while you were still under and replacing your liver while I was at it, so that took longer than expected, and you've been out for about three days. Don't worry – we've been using e-stim to prevent your muscles from atrophying too much. How are you feeling?"

"Like someone rigged me up with a medication I didn't want," House snipes. "I said I didn't want a intrathecal pump."

Thorne waves her hand dismissively. "I gave you a miRNA-gene mounted on a plasmid to block your Substance P production for a while. It should silence itself and stop working soon. You're welcome."

House does a double-take. "Looks like you found the right hospital, then, if you're going to be treating patients with crackpot theories. That's barely past being a hypothesis." He knows that microRNAs (miRNAs) are small segments of RNAs that helped regulate the process of creating new proteins like the neurotransmitter Substance P. A certain miRNA could completely block a certain protein from being created, a fact regularly exploited in research but not yet applied to medicine.

"It's not just a theory." Thorne signs, shaking her head slightly. "You can thank every tweaker from here to New York, for that particular bit of research." A sarcastic smile. "It's their hard-earned cash that paid for it."

"Well, thanks, that certainly increases my trust in your experimental medicine," he replies. "Guess I shouldn't have expected more from a bunch of drug-dealing hicks with fake medical licenses."

She ignores the barb – she's good at that – and hands him a resume. "I know you're going to be looking for hirelings soon," she says. "Can you at least look at this one?"

Glaring at her, House takes the resume. Thorne's deflecting, he knows. He'll get to the bottom of that latter. The resume's more interesting for now. "Boy-toy?" he asks, flipping through it. It's not bad. Wouldn't have caught his eye in a pile, though.

"No. My husband," Thorne replies.

"You're married?" House raises an eyebrow.

"Yeah, yeah, a workaholic idiot who sleeps on the couch in her office every night is married, and so was Britney Spears for like forty-eight hours or something. It's not that difficult." She shrugs, throwing her hands up. "Look, we got married a fucking long time ago, and the only reason we're not divorced right now is because we get tax breaks for stuff like that. But since he's married to me, everybody thinks that the hospital only hired him because I insisted on it, and thus no one's willing to give him a fair chance. That's all I want. For you to give him a fair chance."

She pauses in her diatribe, apologizes, and in less than a second, the cool, business-like façade's back on her face, and then she's said her goodbyes and she's out the door, letting it close quietly behind her, and only then does he register that she's left.

He decides to hire Thorne's husband, not because of his resume or anything, but because House's intrigued by this man who would sacrifice his career to remain married to a woman who clearly did not love him.

They move him from the ICU two days later.

The next Monday also dawns cloudy.

House wakes up without pain, and he automatically reaches over for the Vicodin that no longer exists. Damn, he thinks. Fucking miRNA. You're a fucking bitch, Thorne. Fucking bitch.

He really should yell at her or something.

Carefully, he stands up, waiting for the twinges to come from his thigh, but they don't come. He knows he has to take stuff easy for a while, especially since he's just had two major operations done concurrently and also because the miRNA will block all pain, so he won't be able to tell if he's accidentally injured himself by stressing his leg or his torso until the damage's major enough to be seen through his skin.

His legs buckle a bit, but with the support of the IV pole he makes it to the bathroom to pee. He still has to favor his right leg (his nervous system needs time to fully map out the new muscle), but for once, it didn't hurt.

Then again, without Substance P, the neurotransmitter of pain, nothing hurts.

He returns to the bed and lays down again. There's a GameBoy on the nightstand. It has a few games on it, but none of them are of interest. He should get Thorne to buy him more.

There's no Vicodin. The only ethyl alcohol around is in the hand sanitizer, and that's laced with methanol, so he can't drink that. (Plus, it would be such an addict thing to do.)

You fucking bitch.

On Tuesday, Richmond comes by to check up on him. "Heard you threw a dumbbell at the PT."

"They're all sadists." The miRNA thing must be wearing off now, or self-silencing, or something, because House's muscles are beginning to ache. Not much yet, but it's enough to remind him of the humiliation he endured earlier.

"Well, that's kind of what they're hired for." Richmond shrugs.

"To bring agony, pain, and suffering to the hospital? I thought we were supposed to heal people and make them happy. Although, I suppose, if you really want to balance your karma, it's something you could do. Minimal harm to yourself and all that." He shrugs. "Hey, you know what, you could hire a bunch of dominatrices, and save a bunch of money. And increase patient happiness."

Richmond ignores the barbs. "They're supposed to push you beyond your limits," he says, simply. "It's the only way you'll get stronger. But, anyways, that's not why I'm here." He pulls out an employee card and places it on the table next to House. "You start Monday after next. You have until next Friday to find yourself a team."

House's discharged early Wednesday morning, and Thorne drives him back to his apartment. It's technically hers still, since she's the one paying the rent, but he thinks of it as his. He lives there, now, and it's his DVDs and his bourbon on the coffee table, his peanut butter in the kitchen, his Vicodin sitting on the nightstand.

His Vicodin.

She leaves him at the gates to the complex and he makes his way up, via elevator, with a stack of resumes in his backpack to look over before Monday.

His Vicodin. Sitting on the nightstand.

He unlocks the door, and he can picture the little orange vial with the white label and the white cap, six pills inside. Six little white pills, each with 325 mg of acetaminophen and 10 mg of hydrocodone bitartrate. Less acetaminophen than his previous Vicodins. Those had contained 600 mg of acetaminophen. Same amount of hydrocodone.

A stack of resumes in his backpack. Focus on that instead. He needs to set up interviews and track down references and a lot of other stuff reasonably soon.

With a deep breath, he opens the door and walks inside, proceeding to nearly trip over a pair of Nikes. They're dark gray and red, and he recognizes them as running shoes. And not cheap ones.

Smiling, he laces them on, remembering what it's like to feel the wind rushing through his hair.

When he returns, he marches straight to the Vicodin, and flushes them down the toilet. He then pours himself a nice glass of bourbon.

On Friday, he's gone stir-crazy enough to set up interviews for Monday.

It's something he regrets Sunday night, when he's sitting on the couch and he realizes he has to be at work in six hours and he'll have quite the nice hangover by then. But he conducts the interviews anyways, with pithy-but-grating statements.

Thorne's husband, Michaels, turns out to be a fairly decent neurologist. Despite his small stature and the fact that he's bedecked with nerdy glasses, Michaels nevertheless manages to stand up to House's grilling and expertly deflects any inquiries towards his marriage. Definitely hired.

House goes through nearly all of the interviews before he finds another potential underling – a single father by the name of Dr. Young who specialized in oncology. He's older than the typical fellow, probably because he had to take time off in order to take care of his child. He's hired, and House leaves the residents to Tuesday.

The next day, he hires the third interviewee on the spot.