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and all our little agonies

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As it had each morning of his clinic-induced misery, the sun rose, casting pale fingers over House. The sun's appearance presented a slight inconvenience to House, who rolled away from his window. He let out a startled grunt as a burst of pain exploded in his thigh.

Fully awake, House struggled to keep his breathing deep and measured, hoping to ride the pain out as he had done for the last week. What started as a mere twinge now kept House motionless for over an hour.

When the pain dissipated, House couldn't bring himself to move. He reached for the bottle of vicodin stashed underneath his pillow and dry-swallowed two of the white pills. At first, House had taken a perverse sort of pleasure in the "pill fairy's" visits, but now they seemed more like errands of mercy from a kind angel.

When the medicine calmed him down, House was able to appreciate the fact that his sentence had been served—Cuddy could no longer keep him from his department. He wondered how badly Foreman had screwed everything up and what it would take to make things right again. House was certain that, no matter what happened, an extreme amount of gloating was well overdue.

But that was the real horror of this whole scenario: Cuddy had made sure House was completely cut off from any information outside of his clinic duties. And, after revealing his best hiding place by calling a code for Eudora, Cuddy instructed the nurses to keep him away from her. Nurse Barbie, in her insufferably cheery manner, had told him Eudora was stable, but he would have to wait a week before he could treat her again. Her case had been turfed to Foreman in the meantime, based on her new presentation of symptoms. The blonde bimbo hadn't even told him what the new symptoms were.

House would have gone to see her despite his restrictions, but the clinic had sapped his strength much more easily than he had anticipated. The Vicodin and coffee were all that kept him going—he had spent his last two lunch breaks sleeping in an empty exam room.

After this hellish week, House was more than ready for things to return to normal in his little corner of the hospital.

House took two more vicodin while he walked into the hospital. He saw Cuddy and Wilson talking next to the reception desk. Leaning against it, Wilson laughed while pointing at his tie, a shocking blue color. Cuddy smiled back, a sheen of lip gloss catching the morning light.

House felt like gagging, but he continued his observation, drawing closer to the two doctors while keeping his presence unnoticed. Nurses passed by, content to ignore House and his eccentricities if he, in turn, stayed out of their ordered, boring world. It wasn't difficult to oblige them.

Cuddy leaned into Wilson, touching his shoulder, then fingering his tie for a second. Wilson, however, chose that moment to interrupt House's observations by looking in his direction.

House shifted his messenger bag on his shoulder, staring down at his cane.

"House," Wilson said. He seemed to have noticed being under House's watchful eye, having taken a full step away from Cuddy.

"If you say it's nice to see me, I'll beat you with my cane."

"That's original," Cuddy said. Her demeanor had shifted—arms at her sides, straight posture—projecting the competent chief of medicine for House's benefit, he guessed. Like it had ever done any good.

"You seem to have braved clinic duty and come out unscathed," Wilson said.

"No thanks to you. And you better hope I can say the same for my department or there will be hell to pay."

"Don't worry. Cuddy and I have been checking in with Foreman. Everything's fine."

"Better than fine," Cuddy said. "The team cured a new patient this week."

"Wonderful. Now his head will be twice as big. It will take another week just to demoralize him."

Cuddy's eyes narrowed. "I didn't hear that. And if he's getting a fat head, it's only because he's trying to catch up with you."

"I told him it was a lost cause—no one can compete with House when it comes to being arrogant and self-centered," Wilson said.

Cuddy and Wilson laughed. House caught a pungent whiff of Wilson's expensive cologne and tried not to gag.

"Since you're both having so much fun at my expense, I'll follow your example and take my hurt feelings out on my team," House said, walking to the elevator.

"Come on, I know you can take a joke, especially when it's true," Wilson said.

House entered the elevator. "Just remember: Whatever happens to them is your fault."

House couldn't help but revel in Cuddy and Wilson's shocked expressions as the doors slid closed.

"Nice of you to show up," House said as Foreman led Cameron and Chase into the conference room.

"Why are you here so early?" Foreman asked, sitting at the table. He checked his watch. "It's before eight."

"Oh, don't be upset because your reign is over. All things have to come to an end sooner or later.

"Is that so?"

"Isn't that what I just said?" House hooked his cane over the top of the white board. "Why would I say something if it wasn't true?"

"Because the lunch lady didn't serve you your sandwich fast enough. Because Wilson said something remotely resembling a censure of your behavior." Chase ticked reasons off on his outstretched fingers. "Because it's Tuesday. Because it's before one in the afternoon."

"You forgot to say that I have flames on my cane, so I need to maintain my badass street cred." House pointed at the bottom of his cane. "Foreman would know all about that."

Foreman rolled his eyes. "I don't know about street cred, but I do know this team cured a patient with sarcoidosis without your help last week. Looks like we can survive just fine without you."

"Oh, one patient. I should bow down to your greatness at handling such an extensive caseload while I was gone. I commend you."

Cameron sat down next to Chase at the table. "As if your caseload is so much larger."

"Two patients is still one patient more. And what sort of progress have you made with Creepy Girl?"

Foreman's face darkened, his forehead furrowing with wrinkles. "We were busy with this last patient. Since she was stable, we decided to handle the other case first—"

"So you took the easier case while waiting for me to come and clean up the mess. How thoughtful of you, Foreman. But you know you could have just come and liberated me from clinic duty and I would have been more than happy to help you then."

Foreman got to his feet. "We didn't liberate you because we were better off without your insanity."

"Then why is Creepy Girl still here?"

"Her name is Jane Doe," Cameron said. Both Foreman and House ignored her interjection.

"You can't do any better. You don't know what's wrong with her, either."

"And this petty arguing isn't going to get us any closer to a diagnosis," Chase said. "Can we actually do what we all came here for today, or do I really have to sit here and watch you two act like children?"

House snorted, but Foreman still looked angry. They stared at each other across the room before Foreman sat in his chair, shaking his head.

"Have you discovered anything new about Creepy Girl in the past week?" House said, picking up a marker and staring at the board.

"Her name is Jane Doe," Cameron said again.

"You act like I don't know that."

"There hasn't been any change and the police still haven't found out anything concerning her identity," Foreman said.

"That was ridiculously informative. I know I can solve the case now," House said.

"Social services spoke with Dr. Cuddy yesterday," Chase said. "Apparently Jane's been here too long—they want to put her in foster care before the end of the week if we can't figure out what's wrong with her."

"Has social services actually spent any time with the girl? She is creepy."

"Creepy, but not sick. They think she's emotionally disturbed and a family environment would help her more than a hospital."

"Yeah, foster care is known for its good time family fun. Eighteen kids in a run-down trailer sounds like just the treatment." House tapped the marker against his pursed lips.

Cameron examined Jane Doe's file. "An agent should be coming by today to review Jane's case."

"We can't let her go until we figure out what's wrong with her. Her schizophrenic symptoms are unique enough for her to remain in our care," Foreman said.

"Social services won't care about that," House said. He grabbed his cane and headed for the door. "It's not like I haven't stopped case workers before."

Deciding that neither Chase nor Cameron were ready to tangle with social services, he sent them back to his office to open the mail he'd missed during his week of clinic duty. Cameron was incensed, which was no surprise to House, who knew she couldn't miss an opportunity to make another broken person need her. But Chase shrugged his shoulders, walking away without a second glance, saying something about going to lunch and leaving House to his own devices. His clingy, brown-nosing wombat had turned to indifference, it seemed.

But House, as it usually turned out these past few days, had no time to spare pondering the vagaries of his most predictable duckling, as a woman in creased, black slacks and practical shoes marched with authority toward where he and Foreman stood outside Creepy Girl's door. In a strange accord, neither were eager to spend time with their young patient.

"Are you Doctor House?" the woman asked, pulling a tape recorder from her pocket and pressing the record button with a sharp click.

"I am. And you're Jane Doe's case worker, I assume."

"Cynthia Woolerton." She extended her hand and grasped House's with an over-firm grip. "And this is Doctor Foreman, a member of your diagnostics team."

"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Woolerton." Foreman received the same hard, swift handshake.

"You know a lot about my department," House said.

Ms. Woolerton looked down her nose at the doctors. "And about this hospital. It's my job to come prepared. Now, if you'll please show me Miss Jane Doe, we can avoid wasting any more time than we already have."

House pulled the sliding glass door open and gestured Ms. Woolerton through with his cane. She eyed the flames on its base but didn't comment.

"She's a real charmer," Foreman muttered as he passed House, following the case worker into the room. House, for once, kept his similar feelings to himself.

"Hello, Jane. My name is Cynthia and I'm your case worker," she said, moving to stand beside Jane's bed.

Jane didn't respond, didn't move from her sitting position, hands clasped in her lap, eyes unblinking. Ms. Woolerton waited for a response, then turned to House.

"Why doesn't she respond? What's wrong with her?" The somewhat softer voice she'd used earlier was obviously reserved for the children, as her harsh attitude returned upon speaking to House.

"We're not sure yet," Foreman said, standing on the other side of the bed. "She's exhibiting some unique symptoms."

"Unique? I've dealt with catatonic patients before."

Jane grunted low in her throat, but didn't move. Ms. Woolerton stared at the girl.

"Jane appears much more cognizant of her surroundings than a typical catatonic patient," House said, as Foreman seemed as unnerved as the case worker.

Ms. Woolerton appeared to think for a moment, staring at Jane's face. "She's been under your supervision for over a month. Are you any closer to a diagnosis?"

"These circumstances are as unique as her symptoms, Ms. Woolerton. We need more time to fully understand the nature of her illness," Foreman said.

"From what I've heard, Doctor House, you work better under pressure. You have forty-eight hours to present something more conclusive than ‘unique symptoms' or we're taking Jane out of the hospital." Ms. Woolerton walked to the door and left, clicking the tape recorder off and putting it in her coat pocket. House and Foreman quickly followed suit.

After the charming case worker, Ms. Woolerton, had given House a one day reprieve, he did the same thing he always did in times of stress: he delegated. Finding Cameron in his office, opening and filing his mail into dutiful, neat piles, he sent her with Foreman to complete more tests as they saw fit. There was nothing linking Creepy Girl's disparate symptoms to any single disease; he needed more information, and who better to collect it than his faithful ducklings? Foreman grumbled a bit at his orders, but acquiesced nonetheless. It was the main reason why he would never be as good as House.

After a few hours of catching up on Prescription: Passion hadn't calmed his nerves, House put on a Miles Davis CD and reached for his red and grey oversized baseball.

"Did the case worker finally take Jane away?" Chase asked, standing in the office doorway.

"What do you take me for? She gave me two days to come up with a diagnosis, or Creepy Girl's out of here."

"And here you are, hard at work, as usual. Just how long have you been in here, tossing that ball up and down?"

House leaned forward to catch the ball in midair. "About a half hour. And I am hard at work. I supposed you aren't much used to just thinking about things, seeing as you're all weighted down by that unruly hair."

Chase moved into the office."My hair is not unruly. And I do think, occasionally."

As Chase reached the desk and leaned up against it, déjà vu washed over House. Cameron had been in that same position a week earlier, using her rather overt flirtation tactics to get his attention. Where she had been tense, focused, Chase was relaxed, calm.

"I guess Foreman and Cameron are hard at work getting you a diagnosis for tomorrow, yeah?" Chase looked at House, the light flickering against his green eyes.

"Information gathering. I'm the one who makes the diagnosis around here."

"Bet they'll be here all night gathering information."

"Seems like it."

Chase was quiet, tapping his fingertips against the desk edge. House decided to wait him out.

"They can handle it. I just pulled six hours in the OR. I'm getting dinner and going home. Night, House." Chase walked out of the office, unable to see House's strange smile, head cocked as he watched him go.

House reached for his baseball again, but let it drop. Maybe Chase had the right idea. Whatever Cameron and Foreman found would keep until morning. He reached for his cell phone, flipped it open, and dialed Wilson's number. It rang several times, then went to voice mail. Unperturbed, House gathered his things and closed his office, heading through the hospital halls with care, avoiding other nurses and doctors.

When he reached the lobby, House could see snow falling through the dark glass. He glanced at Cuddy's office, relieved that her lights were off.

Snow was thick on the parking lot as House made slow progress to his car. The cold stiffened his joints, preying on his weakened leg. He was out of breath by the time he reached his car.

Turning his key in the ignition, House sighed when the engine refused to start. A few more intense turns and some colorful language later, he again pulled his cell phone out of his coat pocket, redialing Wilson's number.

Although he would have never admitted it, House's heart sunk when his call went to voice mail. But he resisted this emotion, jaw tightening as he called a cab company for a ride home.