Mike and Alex arrived early that evening, stopping off at the hotel just long enough to deposit their bags before going on to the hospital. A couple of succinct questions at the Reception counter, and they were quickly directed up to ICU, to the room where Bobby was being monitored. They walked in to find Carolyn sitting by his bedside while he slept, holding his hand gently. She looked around as they came in, and the relief in her eyes was visible to them both.

“Oh god, he really is sick,” Alex whispered softly as she walked over to stand on the other side of the bed. Carolyn nodded wordlessly, rubbing self-consciously at her eyes.

“Do they know what’s wrong with him yet?” Mike asked in an equally soft voice.

“No, they’re still running tests,” Carolyn answered. “They’ve run so many tests since they brought him in, I’ve lost track of them all. Last I heard, they were testing him for different kinds of meningitis. Bobby didn’t think that’s what it is, though. He said he remembers feeling like this once before, but he couldn’t remember when that might have been.”

Before either Mike or Alex had a chance to respond, Bobby stirred, and his eyes flickered open.

“Hey, you,” Alex murmured, leaning over him and cupping his cheek gently. Affectionately, she pressed her lips to his forehead, only to cringe at how feverish he was. He tried to smile, couldn’t quite manage it, but the relief in his eyes at seeing Alex was all too clear.

“You big dope,” she murmured, sitting down carefully on the edge of the bed. “Look at you… Why didn’t you say you were really sick?”

“He tried,” Carolyn said, her voice riddled with guilt. “I didn’t believe him, not at first. I told him if he was so sick, to go see a doctor… and he did, and the doctor said he was sick, but he still went ahead with that lecture this morning.”

“Bobby,” Alex murmured, “don’t try to talk, just listen to me. Mike’s here, too. Deakins wants you to sign medical proxy over to him. Would you be willing to do that?”

Bobby drew in a shuddering breath. It was steadily getting harder to breathe. His chest was hurting, and he could feel his heart rate getting faster by the minute.

“Why… not you?” he asked hoarsely. Alex smiled wryly.

“You really think that would be a good idea? I’m too close to you, Bobby. If it gets much worse… I might not be able to make the decisions that are right for you.”

Mike snorted.

“Yeah, like I could?”

Alex flashed him a threatening look before returning her attention to Bobby.

“Will you trust Mike for that, Bobby?”

Bobby managed a weak nod.

“’kay. He… wants to… to know about… Mathers.”

Alex stiffened visibly.

“Who does?”

“Bobby’s doctor,” Carolyn explained grimly. “Dr House. He seems to think that something that happened during that… time… might be behind Bobby’s illness now.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Alex growled. “How could something that happened that long ago be making him sick now?”

“It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds,” a new voice said, and they looked around to see Foreman standing there. He offered Alex and Mike a reassuring smile.

“I’m Dr Foreman. I work with Dr House.”

Mike shook hands with him, but Alex didn’t leave Bobby’s side.

“You were saying it’s not that far-fetched?” she asked, and Foreman nodded.

“We’ve treated people with illnesses that were caused by things that happened to them as children. If something serious did happen to Bobby a couple of years ago, it’s entirely possible that it’s causing his illness now. That’s why it’s important that we find out exactly what went on.”

Alex turned away, scowling.

“I’ll email you the case file.”

Foreman smiled sympathetically. He knew that attitude all too well. It was the same attitude he and his colleagues got every time House insisted they delve into the private lives of their patients.

“It really would be better coming from you directly.”

Alex ignored him, her attention on her partner.

“Bobby?” she asked softly. He sighed tiredly, and managed to squeeze her hand just once.

“Tell them… if you can. S’okay, ’lex…”

He trailed off, his eyes sliding shut, and for the first time Alex noticed how grey his face had gone.

“Bobby?” she asked again, and this time there was a hint of fear in her voice. He didn’t answer and, even as she stood there, his hand went limp in hers and slipped from her grasp, dropping back onto the bed with a soft thud. Foreman walked over to the bedside, gently urging Alex out of the way, and leaning in for a closer look at the detective.

“Okay,” he said abruptly, with an urgency in his voice that none of them missed. “I need the three of you to leave, right now.”

“Why?” Mike demanded to know. “What’s going on?”

Foreman never had the opportunity to answer. Abruptly, the line on the machine that monitored Bobby’s heart rate suddenly dipped and went flat-line. Foreman reached over to hit a button that sounded an alarm out in the administrative area of ICU, yelling over his shoulder at them.

“Out! Now!”

Mike finally reacted, grabbing both Alex and Carolyn by the hand and pulling them out of the room just as a swarm of doctors and nurses dashed in to respond to the emergency. They heard someone shouting for defibrillator paddles, and then the door slammed shut, the shades were pulled and there was nothing more they could do except wait and pray.

After what seemed an age, the door finally opened and Foreman emerged with Chase.

“You can breathe again,” the second doctor told them gently. “We revived him.”

Alex shuddered and slumped against Mike, who hugged her tightly as much for his reassurance as hers.

“What went wrong?” Carolyn asked, trying valiantly to keep her voice steady. It was a fright none of them had needed.

At that, the two doctors exchanged glances. The truth was that, as with the detective’s mysterious illness, they had no idea what had suddenly sent him into cardiac arrest.

“We’re going to be investigating that,” Foreman assured them. “We’ll figure it out.”

“But will you figure it out in time?” Mike asked coolly.

“We’re doing our best,” Chase answered. Alex glowered at him.

“Are you Dr House?”

Chase glanced at Foreman. They both knew that tone, too, and not for the first time, Chase was immensely relieved to be able to answer in the negative.

“No, I’m Dr Chase.”

“Dr House is still in there?” Alex asked, nodding towards Bobby’s room. At that, Chase shifted uneasily.

“Uh… Actually… No.”

Alex’s expression turned dangerous.

“No? You’re telling me that my partner is supposed to be in the care of this Dr House, but he doesn’t bother coming when this happens? Where is he?”

“Dr House operates differently to other doctors,” Chase started to say, but Alex cut him off.

“Where is he, Dr Chase? And trust me, you don’t want to make me ask that again.”

When Chase looked to Mike questioningly, the other man only smirked and shrugged.

“I’d answer her if I were you. She’s not lead detective in Major Case for nothing.”

Chase grimaced. House was going to kill him.

“Come with me. I’ll take you to him.”

House spotted them as soon as they exited the lift, and his first instinct was to run. Unfortunately, they were already halfway along the corridor, and he couldn’t move quickly enough to get away from them. His second instinct was to hide, but there was nowhere in the office to hide, and Wilson had taken to locking his outer office door to prevent him from walking in at any time.

By the time he’d come to the conclusion that there was no escaping, they were at the door. Two of his protégés and three police detectives, one of whom looked seriously pissed off. House sighed. Someone was going to pay. Someone, he deduced, whose name was Chase.

“House,” Chase said, with enough apology in his tone to confirm House’s suspicions about who was responsible for bringing the cops to his door before he was ready to deal with them. “This is…”

“No, let me guess,” House cut in sharply. His gaze focused on the smallest of the group, a diminutive-looking blonde, whom House guessed would be the most easily intimidated. “You must be…”

“The simpering partner,” Alex interrupted, her tone positively acidic. “Tell me something, Dr House. Are you, or are you not Bobby Goren’s attending doctor?”

“Well, technically…”

“Technically,” Alex hissed. “Well, technically, shouldn’t you have been one of the first to respond when he went into cardiac arrest?”

House feigned a look on innocent shock.

“You mean there weren’t any doctors in ICU to help him?”

“Of course there were,” Alex snapped. “That’s not the point.”

“No, see, that is the point,” House snapped back. “That is the exact point. As long as there’s a doctor there at the time, it doesn’t matter one bit who it is.”

“You’re supposed to be his doctor!” Alex exploded. “What if he’d died?”

House shrugged.

“Then I wouldn’t be his doctor anymore, would I?”

An instant later, House stumbled backwards as Alex dove forward, enraged by his callousness. It was only Mike anticipating the explosion and catching her around the waist that stopped her forward momentum and kept her from making actual physical contact with the crass doctor.

“Wow,” House retorted, watching as Mike had to struggle to hold her back. “Quite the spitfire, isn’t she?”

“You have no idea,” Mike growled. “And unless you want me to let go of her, you’d better do something pretty damn quick to convince us that you’re actively trying to help her partner.”

House answered that with silence. He stared at Mike, and then at Alex. She’d stopped straining against him, but the look on her face was pure hellfire.

“Not here,” he said finally. “Let’s at least go somewhere that we can all sit down.” He ushered them out of the office, throwing a threatening look in Chase’s direction. “I’ll deal with you later.”

House took them to a small, private lounge not too far away, and bade them sit.

“All right,” he said shortly. “These are the facts. Detective Goren is a very sick man. No, we don’t know what’s wrong with him – yet. We are working on that, but we aren’t going to be very successful if you won’t step back and let us do our job.” He paused, his gaze going to Mike. “Can I assume you’re Logan?”

Mike nodded.

“Yeah, I’m Mike Logan.”

“You’re the one that’s supposed to take over medical proxy for Detective Goren?”

Again, Mike nodded. He was starting to feel sick.

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“Okay,” House muttered. He looked across at Alex. He’d been looking forward to grilling these cops, but his enthusiasm had been dampened somewhat by the attitude displayed by his patient’s partner. There was something about her – and he would never admit this to anyone – that left him feeling intimidated. “You need to get him to sign that over to you as soon as possible, because it’s entirely likely that he’s going to hit a point soon where he’ll be incapable of making decisions for himself.”

“Jesus,” Mike muttered. “Don’t you have any idea at all what’s wrong with him?”

“Well, that depends on all of you,” House answered. He looked over at Alex, his gaze piercing. “I need to ask you questions about him, and I need completely truthful answers. Now, I know that might be a stretch for three New York detectives…”

“Watch it, pal,” Mike growled. House didn’t so much as bat an eye as he went on.

“We already have his medical history. What I want is a detailed account of his personal life.”

“That’s invasive, and unnecessary!” Alex snapped.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you had a medical degree,” House snapped right back. “Maybe you’d like to diagnose him for us?”

Carolyn laid a hand gently on Alex’s shoulder, trying to calm her down.

“Think about Bobby, Alex. It might help them work out what’s wrong with him.”

Alex sat stiffly for several long seconds before sighing and slumping down in the sofa seat.

“All right. Fine. What do you want to know?”

House leaned forward, focusing his most thoughtful look on her.

“How long have you been sleeping with your partner?”

The silence that met his question was profound, and it didn’t escape House’s attention that both Mike and Carolyn shifted away from Alex ever so slightly – not unlike someone backing away from a bomb that was about to detonate.

“What did you just say?” Alex asked softly, focusing a lethal stare at the doctor.

“What, you’re going deaf now?” House retorted.

Alex’s expression had turned distinctly dangerous by then, and though her colleagues, Foreman and Chase seemed to be aware of it, House wasn’t showing any sign of intimidation at all. More fool him, thought Mike ruefully.

“I’m not sleeping with him. We’re professional partners. Not romantic ones.”

House snorted derisively.

“Right. Sure you’re not.”

“I am not…”

“Oh, come on!” House snapped. “It’s not like you’d be the first person who ever broke the rules and bedded your partner! But if you care about him at all, you’ll come clean and be honest about it!”

Alex sat frozen, her face a mask of fury.

“Is that what you think this is about?” she asked softly. “That he’s picked up something… from sleeping with me? That that’s what’s making him sick? Some vague STD that you haven’t identified yet? You think I made my partner so sick that he might die?”

Carolyn and Mike had moved right out of arm’s length by then, watching Alex worriedly. House, however, wasn’t so much as breaking eye contact with her.

“Honestly? Yes. That’s exactly what I’m thinking, and believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.”

Alex leaned forward, glaring furiously at House.

“I. Am. Not. Sleeping. With. My. Partner. Get it through your head right now, before you provoke me into doing something I won’t regret.”

“Oo,” House taunted her. “Scary.”

Mike grimaced. “Uh, Doc, you might like to know that you're taunting the one cop out of us who has actually fatally shot someone.”

House glanced at him, and then looked back to Alex, in time to see her adjust her jacket to reveal a glimpse of her gun.

“So, you’re just going to shoot me, then?” he asked flatly. “That would really do wonders for your partner, wouldn’t it?”

Alex didn’t flinch at the blatant attempt at emotional blackmail.

“Maybe if you’d accept that not all cop partnerships lead to bed-hopping, then I wouldn’t feel so much like I need to use it.

Silence descended as Alex and House stared at each other. House was used to most people backing down from a staring contest with him after just a few seconds, but this fiery female wasn’t backing off. She returned his stare easily and, for the first time in a long while, House found himself unsettled. It had nothing to do with her gun, but rather her attitude. An attitude, he realised with mild alarm, was a mirror image of his own.

“Okay,” he conceded finally, ignoring the startled looks from Foreman and Chase as he executed a strategic retreat by sitting back slowly in his own seat. “So, maybe you are telling the truth.”

“Is there anything else you wanted to know?” Alex asked coldly.

“As a matter of fact, yes. Who is Erik Mathers?”

Alex sat stiffly for a long moment before speaking tersely.

“Why do you have to know about that? Why can’t the past just be allowed to rest?”

“Hey, you want to keep it to yourself?” House retorted. “Be my guest. You can go back to ICU, sit by your partner, hold his hand, do whatever sweet little things you want to do, and watch him die. Or, you can answer my questions so that we might have a chance at finding out what’s wrong with him, before you have to bury him!”

Alex sat silent and ashen-faced as House’s words sank in.

“Is it really possible that something that happened two years ago could be making him sick now?”

“Not only is it possible,” House answered in a gentler, but no less urgent tone, “it’s very probable.”

Alex pressed one hand over her face, feeling sick to her gut at the thought of having to relive that awful experience. Finally, though, she spoke in a soft voice.

“Erik Mathers was the serial killer who abducted me and Bobby. We were investigating a string of murders when he ambushed us at his brother’s warehouse. He knocked Bobby out first… then me… and then he bundled us into his van and took us upstate, to Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks. He left us tied up in a cabin for two days before he set us loose.”

“And that’s it?” House asked. “What was the big deal about that?”

Alex pushed her hair roughly out of her eyes, the movement laced with suppressed aggression.

“I said he set us loose. I never said he let us go.” She paused, drawing in a long breath as she recalled her first waking moments on the mountain. “Mathers left a note for us. We had three hours to run, and then he was coming after us. If we could avoid capture for three days, then he’d let us go. If he caught us before then, he was going to kill us.”

“So his plan was to hunt you down?” Foreman asked incredulously. “Like animals?”

“Yes. He was a hunter, and humans were his preferred choice of prey. We were the latest in a long line of victims. He stripped us both down to our pants and shirts… He took our coats, jackets, shoes, socks… He did everything to give himself the advantage.”

“Not everything,” Mike corrected her gently. “Otherwise he would never have left you together. The stupid, psychotic son of a bitch totally underestimated the two of you.”

“All right,” House interrupted impatiently. “You can get sentimental and wax lyrical later on. What happened once this clown let you go? Oops, sorry. I mean, ‘set you loose’.”

Alex scowled, but went on softly. On either side of her, Mike and Carolyn listened in grim fascination. Even though Mike had been directly involved in the investigation, search and subsequent rescue, and had read both Bobby and Alex’s individual victim’s statements, he had never actually heard the story directly from either of them. It was almost like hearing it for the first time.

Carolyn, for her part, knew only what had been in the media. She’d never read the case file and, on coming to Major Case, had been strongly advised by both Mike and captain against raising the subject with either Alex or Bobby.

“We walked for nearly three hours,” Alex said softly, reluctantly letting her mind slip back to the terrifying ordeal. “We’d stopped to rest when Mathers caught up to us.”

“He was right behind you the whole time,” Chase guessed, and Alex nodded in confirmation.

“Yes. As near as we could figure, we must have been unconscious most of the three hours that he’d given us to run.”

House snorted.

“That’s a very generous assumption, Detective. I suppose it didn’t occur to you that he might have… I don’t know… cheated?”

“Well, gee,” Alex snarled, “how stupid of us not to think of that ourselves! I don’t know why that would have occurred to us, Doctor. I mean, it’s not like we were dodging arrows, and running for our lives… Oh, wait… That’s exactly what we were doing!”

House blinked, taken aback. He was used to Cuddy hitting back at him with sarcasm in response to his sarcasm, and Wilson, too, on occasion. But normally the family and friends of his patients were too distressed to have the presence of mind to retaliate like that. This woman not only seemed capable of matching it with him, she seemed eager for the challenge. And that unsettled him far more than anything else.

“Take it easy, Alex,” Mike murmured. “Think about Bobby…”

“I am thinking about Bobby!” Alex snapped, launching herself to her feet. “He says I need to tell him about what happened with Erik Mathers, and when I try to do that, he just ridicules me! I don’t have to put up with this! And neither should Bobby!” She looked around at House, furious. “I want to organise for Bobby to be transferred back to New York, where he’ll have a doctor who’ll actually give a damn!”

“You do that now,” House said bluntly, “and he’ll die.”

“Why?” Alex demanded. “Because you’re the smartest there is?”

“Well, there is that,” House conceded.

“Detective,” Foreman jumped in, throwing House an exasperated look, “the bottom line is that we don’t believe Bobby would survive a transfer. A trip in an ambulance would take too long, and the altitude pressure of flying would be too much for his body to take. Either way, the trip would probably kill him.”

Alex turned away, shutting her eyes tightly, albeit uselessly, against the tears in her eyes.

“We are the best… and the only chance your partner has,” House said quietly, with sincerity in his voice that even Alex couldn’t ignore. She looked back at him, almost blinded by her tears.

“You had better be right about that, Dr House.”

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