Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

Change is the Only Constant

Change is the Only Constant

by Mara

Summary: When Bruce Wayne becomes Dr. Gregory House’s latest patient, House’s hidden past might just be disclosed.

CONTINUITY: No spoilers for House. Some spoilers for DC big events Identity
Crisis and War Games, although this isn’t set in the same continuity. Clear as
mud? Righto. Just roll with me on this one, ‘kay?

NOTES: This is…an AU? A crossover? Elseworlds? Something like that. The idea
was originally Marcelo’s, but once I saw the show, I *had* to do this. Huge
thanks to Smitty, Marcelo, Euphiechan, and Smurf for the helpful betas and
telling me I wasn’t utterly insane to try this. I’m told that you can read this
without knowing DC comics, but I’m not certain if you have to know House, MD or
not.

* * * * *

House cursed under his breath as his leg twinged. Leaning on his cane, he walked
faster toward the hospital entrance, half his mind listening to Wilson’s
concerned lecture about something or other, the other half trying to remember
how many Vicodin he had left.

When his cell rang, he didn’t bother to look at the number. “What?”

He should have looked.

The voice sounded much older than the last time he’d heard it, but he would
always know the deep tones. “Tim, we need your help.”

“Right, like I’ve never heard *that* one before. And I told you not to call me
that.”

“There isn’t time for your attitude. I need your medical expertise.”

“Oh.” He stopped in front of the doors, not seeing his surroundings. “I’ll
pencil you in then.”

“Really?”

“For the tenth of never. Goodbye, Bruce. Don’t call me, I won’t call you.” He
snapped the phone shut and briefly considered throwing it, but Cuddy might take
exception to him breaking a window. She was so picky about those kinds of
things. Damn Bruce for trying to rope him in again with a stupid outbreak of the
bird flu in Vietnam or something. Whatever it was, other doctors could handle
it.

“House?”

Wilson’s agitated voice finally penetrated the red haze of his mind. “Yes?”

“What’s wrong?”

House glared at his forgotten companion, ignoring the stares from hospital
visitors and patients streaming by. “Just an old acquaintance presuming on a
nonexistent friendship. Don’t you have nurses you should be screwing now?”

He stomped through the sliding doors, leaving a stunned Wilson behind. You’d
think he’d never been rude to the man before.

* * * * *

Twenty years of practice and a pill enabled him to forget about the call as he
shuffled papers on his desk, wishing for an office that wasn’t quite so open and
well-lit during daylight hours. Even after all these years, he still craved the
dark.

He booted up the computer, burying himself in a case study JAMA had been
pestering him to write up for months, the jargon flowing automatically.

When his office door opened and shut, he didn’t bother to turn. “I gave at the
office.”

“I could name a dozen ways you’ve changed,” an amused voice said, “but letting
just anyone walk in on you is the most amazing.”

House’s head shot up and he found himself speechless as he spun in his chair.

“Hi, Tim.” Dick slid into a chair across from him, a small wince showing that
he, too, had aged. His hair was only lightly streaked with silver and his face
had somehow remained almost as boyish.

“I’m not Tim anymore.”

Dick crossed his arms. “Well, if you act like a sullen teenager, I’m going to
treat you like one.”

House slammed the book he’d been consulting onto the desk, wishing he could
break something. Dick’s head, maybe. Unfortunately, even if Dick was showing his
age, he’d continued to work out for all those years.

Which left House with the one weapon he’d continued to train: his mind. “I take
it Bruce sent you, thinking I’d be a softer touch for my ‘big brother.’ Well, it
won’t work.”

Dick’s eyebrows shot up. “I doubt very much he thought anything of the kind. No,
he sent me because he thought you needed to accept him as a patient before he
showed up.”

It hit like a jab to the diaphragm, stealing his breath and leaving him
speechless for the second time in five minutes. Irrelevantly, he almost wished
Cameron, Foreman, and Chase were there, because it was a sight they’d never
witnessed.

He was stalling, House noted. “He’s sick?” Damn it, all those years and he
sounded like that young boy again, the one who wanted to know why Dick wouldn’t
come back and be Robin, the one who took the job instead.

“Of course he’s sick.” Shaking his head, Dick frowned at him. “He told you so.”

“No, he didn’t.” Back on the solid ground of argument, House thumped his desk.
“In typical Bruce fashion, he said he needed my medical expertise, but he
carefully left out the minor fact that *he* was sick! I assumed it was some
problem for the Justice League, a pretext to talk since you’d found me.”

“Mmm, we found you several years ago, but it was a good thought hiding so close
to Gotham,” Dick said, watching him with that familiarly disturbing intensity.
“Fooled us for quite a while. What’d you do to Kon and Bart, by the way? They
actually turned white when I tried to convince them to tell me where you were.
And they’ve both gotten much better at eluding pursuit.”

“Kon had no right to tell you where I was last time.”

“Forget it.” Dick waved a hand. “The issue is still that Bruce is sick and the
only doctor he trusts is you, now that Leslie is gone.”

“Fine. I can tell you what’s wrong.”

“Without seeing him?”

“He’s old. Lesson over, next patient, goodbye, don’t let the door hit your ass
on the way out.”

Dick frowned, and House resisted the instinct to give in. He wasn’t that kid any
longer. “Ti–Greg, it’s not that. It’s more serious.”

House leaned back, grabbing the pill bottle from behind the monitor without even
looking, popping another pill just to watch Dick try not to flinch. “He’s Bruce
Wayne. He can pay for any medical care out there.”

“He wants you because he knows you’re the best.”

“I don’t care.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Too bad. Now get out before I call security and have you thrown out.”

“You wouldn’t do that.” Dick stared at him, eyebrows narrowed.

“Just try me.”

Dick opened his mouth then closed it. Standing, he marched out of the office,
shoulders slumped, unable as always to hide his emotions.

House didn’t watch him through the glass door all the way down the hall.

* * * * *

Wandering into Cuddy’s office, House tried to look as if it was his idea to
visit. “Just couldn’t go a day without seeing me? Be careful, people might guess
about our torrid affair.”

She glared, but it was a half-hearted attempt. “Sit down, Dr. House.”

“Ooooh, if the principal makes me sit, it means I’m in *real* trouble. What is
it this time? Did some little old lady from the clinic complain that I told her
she was ugly? Because if that’s it, I can explain–”

“Shut up.”

“Ooookay.” He should have seen what was coming. In fact, only willful ignorance
could have kept him from seeing it coming a mile away. After all, his patients
played the same game with him practically weekly, and they were less-skilled
than Cuddy.

Cuddy looked at him with her usual long-suffering expression. “What’s this about
you refusing to treat Bruce Wayne? He’s offering the hospital a lot of money and
this time nobody’s asking you to endorse a drug.”

“Ah, but money is the root of all evil. I’m simply leading you away from
temptation.”

Folding her hands on her desk, she rolled her eyes. “The biblical quote, as you
know, is that the love of money is the root of all evil. I’m fairly certain that
curing the sick is considered a good use of money in most religions. Except
perhaps yours. What *is* your religion, anyway?”

“Religion? Don’t be ridiculous. Next thing you’ll be suggesting I try praying
for my patients.”

“Some people like that kind of thing.”

“And some people sacrifice chickens and goats, but that doesn’t mean you want me
to practice Santeria in the hospital cafeteria.”

Her expression turned pained and a twitch started above her left eye. “At this
point, chickens and goats are the least of my worries. Bruce Wayne is being
admitted this evening. I want your team on it.”

“So because he’s rich, we should drop everything and go cure his heart disease?”

“How do you know he’s got heart disease?”

“I don’t! That’s not the point! The point is that this hospital clearly only
cares about patients if they’re millionaires.”

“Just once, could you possibly look at a patient without giving me a hard time?”

“Oh, but that’s my special treat.” He made a face at her.

“Dr. House, what in the world do you have against Bruce Wayne?”

He’s an arrogant jerk. He fired me. He wouldn’t let me do the only thing that
ever mattered to me. “He’s rich.”

“I don’t care if he’s Donald Trump. He’s a patient. You will treat him.”

House opened his mouth to continue the argument, but suddenly imagined the
stream of superheroes that would haunt him until he did this. Not only would Kon
and Bart beg him to help, they’d probably send *Superman*. Clark would be
earnest. And noble. And caring. He’d probably say how much everyone missed him.
And he’d mean it, damn it. Better to give in before he had to deal with that.

“Fine.” On principle, he glared at her and pounded his cane extra hard as he
went out the door. As a bonus, she looked worried that he’d given in so easily.

* * * * *

House was thankful everybody was accustomed to him not bothering to visit
patients and nobody would think twice when he sent Cameron to do all the icky
work of actually talking to Bruce.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t make himself *completely* unavailable or people would
start to wonder. He stuck to his usual hiding places, where Wilson or his team
could find him if things got really dire.

He sent Cameron to get a complete history (good luck on that), Foreman to get
started on all the bloodwork, and Chase to do something or other useful, and was
preparing to hide out in the OB waiting room when he realized he was supposed to
be in the clinic.

Frowning, he ran through a couple of excuses, but couldn’t think of one that he
hadn’t already tried. Besides, anybody who thought he was hiding would assume
he’d run away from the clinic.

Strolling in, he waved grandly at the nurse. “Your finest waste of time, my good
woman.” She rolled her eyes and handed him a folder.

It was a perfect hiding place, he thought with a grin as he entered Exam 2.

He got the door halfway closed before looking at who awaited him in the room.
“Damn it,” he said, thumping his cane against the floor as he glared at Babs.

She rolled her wheelchair forward. “You know, most people say ‘hello’ when they
see me. Maybe they’re just more polite than you.”

“*Everyone* is more polite than me. What do you want? I agreed to take the
case.” He sat down in a chair with a thump.

“And you haven’t set foot in his room,” Babs said. “You haven’t even *looked* at
him.”

Babs had allowed her hair to gray rather than dyeing it, which didn’t surprise
him. And her argumentative expression was exactly the same as when she’d refused
to take him on as Oracle’s assistant 20 years before.

“I never look at patients if I can avoid it,” House said in his most bored tone.
“Patients only lie to me and make my job harder.”

Her eyes widened. “Jesus, Tim, what’s happened to you?”

“I’m not Tim!” He jumped to his feet, intent on escaping, forgetting for the
first time in years about his leg. It gave out under him and he staggered and
nearly fell, hissing in pain. “I’m not Tim,” he said again, clutching the edge
of the exam table to stay upright. “How many times do I need to tell you people?
I know you’re not stupid, so what part of ‘My name is Gregory House’ do you not
understand?” Knives shot up his leg all the way to the hip and he blinked back
tears. With one hand he held the table and with the other he fumbled open the
bottle and popped another pill.

Babs frowned at the bottle, but he ignored her.

“I’ve got my team working on Bruce’s case. They’re the best. I know, because I
trained them myself. If he can be cured or stabilized, we’ll do it. Don’t ask
for anything else because you’re decades too late.” He leaned over and grabbed
his cane, staggering toward the door.

“You know that the others give you some slack because of your leg,” she said,
almost shouting. “But I don’t. I think you hide behind your injury. I think you
hate the fact you weren’t injured on the job. And you might recall some of us
have it worse than you.”

“I don’t want to hear this,” he said, his hand on the door handle.

“Tough shit.” She rolled her wheelchair up behind him, bumping the back of his
ankles. “I wanted you to come work for me, but you weren’t ready, you were still
too angry. You needed to get away from the mess for a while and you did. I tried
to get in touch with you, but by that point you were running away too fast.”

House stared at the white door.

Her tone got sharper. “I’m sorry. We’re all sorry. We’ve told you that before.
Will you ever forgive us?”

“No.”

House expected her to come after him, but he made it safely to the elevator.

* * * * *

“Something about this case is bothering you,” Wilson said over the rim of his
coffee cup an hour later.

“Excuse me?” House lowered the issue of Teen People he’d stolen from the clinic
waiting room.

“Bruce Wayne. His case bothers you.”

Snorting, House went back to his examination of Britney Spears’ breasts. “All
patients bother me. Especially rich ones.”

“No, it’s something more than that.”

“Do I look like I’m especially bothered?” House looked pointedly at his feet,
propped up on a low cement wall, and his coffee and danish, which he’d been
enjoying in solitude before Wilson showed up.

“Yes.”

“I won’t bother to ask what tortured logic allowed you to reach that conclusion,
but I can assure you I’m no more disturbed than normal for a day in which I have
to spend two hours wiping the noses of obnoxious children and reassuring their
moronic parents it isn’t bubonic plague.” He snapped the magazine back up.

“Look, I wasn’t planning on eavesdropping, but I overheard a conversation.”

“Really. Imagine that. People in a hospital talking. What will they think of
next?”

“A conversation between Bruce Wayne and someone named Dick.”

House did not move a single muscle, but his mind raced.

“They were talking about how you’d refused to see him. How much they missed
you.”

Damn them. “Missed me?”

“I got the impression that you knew them. That you had known them for a long
time.”

“They said that?” House lowered the magazine again. “In front of you?”

Wilson recoiled from his expression. “Well, they didn’t know I was there, but–”

“Oh, they knew you were there, I’ll guarantee it. The day those two don’t know
who’s listening in, is the day I dig their graves. Strike that. I’m going to
kill them right now.”

Even at House’s top walking speed, it only took the shocked Wilson a few moments
to catch up to him and House cursed his leg for the millionth time. “I don’t
understand,” Wilson said. “How do you know Bruce Wayne? Why are you so mad that
I know it?”

“I worked for him. A long time ago.” He gritted the words out, knowing if he
didn’t answer, Wilson would keep asking.

“Then why hide the fact?”

“Because I hate his guts. Somehow I think that foolish idealistic doctors like,
say, Cuddy, might think this compromises his care.”

“Cuddy figures you hate everybody. I don’t think she’s worried about that.”

House scowled harder, a group of student nurses scattering out of his path like
bowling pins as he stomped toward the elevator. He wanted to go up the stairs,
but knew if he tried that, he wouldn’t be able to walk for a week. As he stared
at the elevator door, trying to develop Superman’s heat vision, he tried to
ignore Wilson, who’d begun to smirk. “What?” he finally snarled, unable to stand
it.

“It’s an actual emotion. I’m excited. We don’t get to see anything but annoyance
from you very often.” He cocked his head to one side, still smirking. “You
really hate this guy but you agreed to let your team treat him. What in the
world happened?”

“None of your business.”

The elevator dinged and House got on. Wilson followed, still studying him. “I’ve
never seen you like this.”

House ignored him, concentrating on twenty different ways to kill a man lying on
a bed. If Dick was there, he’d have to get through him first, but that was just
fine. Babs would have escrima sticks somewhere on her chair, but he was ready
for that. Cass might be a problem, though.

It took everything he had not to break the glass door opening it, but he
managed. Through the haze, he made sure no nurses were present and turned to
look at Wilson, who’d followed him. “Out.”

“House, I–”

“Out. I told you it’s none of your business, so get out, damn it.”

Wilson turned away without speaking; distantly, House realized he might have
gone too far, but it was too late to take it back. The other man paused, but
sighed and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Smacking his cane on the floor, House turned to look at Bruce and Dick. “Just
what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I–” Dick started.

“And don’t even try to play innocent! You knew damn well he was listening. You
knew he’d talk to me. By now you probably know everything there is to know about
this place, so don’t even try to pretend.” He was shouting, which was probably a
bad thing, but he couldn’t seem to stop.

“It–” Bruce tried.

“You come into my hospital and interrupt my work and what the hell happened to
secrecy anyway? Did that fall by the wayside along with me? Maybe I should just
open the door and yell that I used to be–”

“Tim!” Bruce’s voice wasn’t loud, but it cut through his shouting in a way he
remembered he’d always hated.

“Don’t call me that.” His voice was quieter but Dick’s eyes widened at the tone.

Bruce looked as impassive as always, although House automatically catalogued
wrinkles, new visible scars, and a faint tremor in his left hand. “Fine. Dr.
House, you need to calm yourself so we can discuss this rationally.”

“You want to discuss this rationally? Let’s start with a rational discussion of
how the hell I’m supposed to treat you when I know you’re lying.”

A flash in Bruce’s eyes. “I’m not lying.”

“Uh-huh. I’m sure when the lovely Dr. Cameron came in to take a medical history
you told her all about where you got that scar down your left side. Or did you
give her the usual crap about car accidents and skiing in Switzerland?”

“How I got that scar is not relevant.”

“Oh, so you’re a doctor now? I’m the doctor around here and *I* decide what’s
relevant, not you. If you know what’s wrong with you, you don’t belong here.”

Bruce right hand clenched in his blanket. “If you’d come to take the history, it
wouldn’t have mattered.”

Staring at the ceiling, House wished he could pray for patience. “That may be
the stupidest thing you’ve ever said, although it’s got some pretty stiff
competition.” He stepped closer, staring down at Bruce. “Do you think I’m some
lone vigilante doctor? I may be a maverick but I’ve got paperwork, a boss, three
sidekicks, and colleagues who read over my cases to try and catch me screwing
up. There’s no way I could hide that kind of information here.”

Bruce seemed startled, brow furrowing. “I didn’t–”

“Think of that? Obviously. Having Leslie around spoiled you. Welcome to the real
world.”

“But I did get you to come see me, even if it was only to yell.”

As House slammed the sliding door shut behind him, he thought he heard the clink
of glass breaking. He didn’t pause long enough to check. Let Maintenance worry
about it.

* * * * *

When the kids came back to report to him, they all looked like they were
marching to their doom–obviously reports of his tantrum had made it through the
gossip mill in record time. It was probably in the staff newsletter already, he
thought, tossing his GameBoy onto the table; the clatter made Cameron jump and
nearly drop the folders in her hand.

But–fortunately for them–they’d waited long enough for his temper to cool back
to its normal simmer. “What’ve you got?”

Nobody wanted to be first and a silent battle raged in twitching lips and
sidelong glances.

Sighing, House gave up, waving his cane at them. “I’m not going to bite your
heads off. At least today. Foreman, what’ve you got?”

Standing, he limped to the whiteboard to take them through the case. For the
moment it was The Case and not Bruce Wayne, because he couldn’t afford to think
about the patient right now.

“What’ve we got for symptoms?” he asked.

“Fever spiking at 104 and fatigue.” Foreman ticked them off on his fingers as
House scribbled down the list.

“Numbness and weakness in the fingers and toes, as well as some diffuse pains,”
Cameron added.

“Transient ischemia and severe headache,” Chase said. “Oh, and three separate
occasions of partial visual loss.”

“Memory problems not accounted for by age,” Cameron said, flipping through her
notes.

Fortunately, all three of them were looking elsewhere, so they missed House
starting when he heard that. He closed his eyes, imagining for a moment how
frightened Bruce must be by that particular symptom. “Give me possible
diagnoses,” he said, forcing himself to concentrate.

“Brain tumor,” Foreman said.

Cameron shook her head. “Maybe, but they scanned his brain twice.”

“Do it again.” House tapped his toes. “Chase?”

“Vasculitis,” Chase said with a sigh. Everyone just stared at him. “Never mind.”

“Some kind of nerve problem?” Cameron asked.

“Doesn’t explain the fever, does it?” House tapped the board.

“It could be anything,” Foreman said, slamming shut the book he’d been
consulting.

House rolled his eyes. “Oh good, maybe you’d like to tell the patient that.
‘Sorry, it could be anything, so I decided to play a round of golf instead.’”

“I didn’t say that.” Foreman scowled at him.

“What, did you think this fellowship was going to be easy? ‘I’ll work for Dr.
House. I’ve heard he takes all the *easy* patients.’”

“Dr. House…” Cameron looked like she was on the verge of a pout.

“Chase,” House snapped, “I want a CNS angiogram and a spinal tap.”

He blinked. “Right.”

“Foreman, besides the brain scan, I want you on the bloodwork. Gimme everything,
I don’t care how obscure.”

He nodded, scribbling notes to himself.

“Cameron, get on with the research. Focus on the nervous system. Tell me this
isn’t something obvious and boring everybody has missed so far.”

She scowled but nodded, picking up a notepad and a thick stack of books.

All three looked like they’d been through a major disaster: Chase drained his
coffee cup like it was the elixir of life, Foreman’s frown was permanently
etched, and Cameron had dark circles under her eyes.

“Go. Cause trouble,” he said, waving them out of the room. Chase and Foreman
couldn’t escape fast enough but Cameron hung back.

Damn, he thought. Not now.

“Dr. House?” she said.

“Don’t bother.”

“Excuse me?”

He sighed heavily. “You’ve heard that I yelled at our patient today, so there
are only a couple of possibilities: First, you want to be sympathetic about
whatever got me so upset; second, you want to give me a friendly lecture on
being nice to patients; or third, you’re fishing for information about what I
was yelling about.

“So, to get it out of the way: I don’t want sympathy, I hate patients, and I’m
not telling. Get to work.”

“Do I even need to be here for this conversation? You seem to have both parts
down.”

“Then go.” If there was one topic in this world he didn’t want to talk about,
Bruce Wayne was most certainly it, beating out his leg, his feelings, and his
nonexistent sex life.

“Dr. Wilson told me you know the patient.” Cameron crossed her arms.

Tapping his cane on the floor, House stared at her, but she held his gaze
steadily. On one hand, it was nice to see her toughening up, but he rather
wished she wouldn’t use her newfound toughness on him.

“What do you know about Bruce Wayne?”

He pretended to think. “He’s been number one on People’s Sexiest Rich Men list
seven times. He likes romantic walks on the beach and pretty girls, which you
most definitely are. Okay, he’s a bit old for you, but the money should
certainly make up for that. I won’t introduce you, though. You’re on your own
there.”

She even ignored that. “You always tell us we need to know everything about a
patient to treat them, but you’re not giving us all the information.”

“I know it. You don’t need to.”

She studied him for a moment. “You make it very difficult to be nice to you.”

He stood, leaning on his cane. “I do, don’t I?”

“I wonder why?” Her eyes widened and her mouth narrowed and he groaned–it was
her diagnostic expression, the one she got before she proposed a theory.

“I didn’t hire you for your psychiatric expertise.”

He didn’t wait for her to respond, stomping out of the room at his top speed.
For a moment, he remembered the burn in his thighs after running across the
rooftops, the muted thunk of a line launcher catching its target, the smell of
cordite on his clothing.

The squeaking of his shoes sounded louder than usual, an awkward counterpoint to
the tapping of the cane, noises he couldn’t disguise as he went down the hall.

* * * * *

The Gotham crowd seemed to have finally grasped his point and they avoided him
over the next few days. The hospital staff didn’t know what was wrong, but they
knew an extra-bad Dr. House mood when they saw it, so they avoided him too.
Cameron, Chase, and Foreman were all stuck with him, but they walked on
eggshells and he didn’t snap at them *too* much more than he would normally.

Wilson gave him a reproachful look later that day, but seemed resigned to his
rudeness and didn’t bother to try and get him to apologize.

House almost apologized just to see the look of confusion on his face, but
decided against it at the last minute, lest Wilson come to expect it.

They were narrowing in on Bru–the patient’s diagnosis and they’d even managed
to avoid any exciting infarctions and such. It was boring. Booooring.

House leaned back in his chair, shifting his foot on the footstool and wincing
as his leg protested. What should he do while his assistants were off
administering treatments and searching PubMed?

Well, there was an hour until General Hospital, but he could always make fun of
CNN, so he decided to turn on the television. He slid his leg carefully down and
reached for his cane.

“Hello,” Cass said from the doorway.

House cursed under his breath as he dropped his cane. Damn it, he hated being
out of practice, he thought. Cass had always been able to sneak up on him,
whether she was in costume as Batgirl or not, though.

Cass picked up the cane and handed it back to him before dropping back into a
relaxed stance. An untrained person would never notice, but to House’s eyes, it
was obvious that she was perfectly balanced and able to kick serious ass without
moving from her position.

“Unhappy,” she said with a frown.

House snorted. “Like *that* takes any expertise with body language. All you had
to do was ask anybody around here.”

A smile flitted across her face, which had a few lines he didn’t remember around
the eyes. “True. Love what you do, though.”

House turned his head, although he knew it wouldn’t stop her from reading
everything there was to know. “It’s important.”

“Yes.”

He kept staring out the window, watching the pitiful trees outside swaying in
the breeze even as he felt her step closer.

“It *is* important, Tim.” She put a hand on his cheek and he looked at her,
confused. Her face was intent, trying to communicate something to him, but he’d
never been as good at reading body language.

“Thanks for the inspiration. You can go back to being a faithful sidekick now.
Until Bruce decides *you’re* no longer useful.” Not that he was bitter or
anything.

Cass shook her head. “You don’t understand. Bruce is proud of you. Sorry for
what happened.”

House bowed his head, the memories visceral as ever: meaningless hymns echoing
off church walls, black clothing scratching his skin, food crumbling in his
mouth like ashes.

Knowing his dad’s murderer was alive in Arkham and Steph’s was still at-large.

* * * * *

The rain fell unheeded across his back as Tim slammed an informant against the
wall. “Where’s Black Mask?”

“I can’t–” The goon’s head made a hollow sound as it thudded against the brick,
and a few brick chips fell to the ground.

“Tell me or I’ll rip your arm out of its socket,” Tim hissed.

“No way!” The man spluttered as rain cascaded over his nose and mouth, but he
shook his head. “You don’t do that kind of stuff, kid. Everybody knows that.”

“Your boss killed a lot of people these past few days.” Tim was nose to nose
with the goon. “One was my girlfriend. Don’t tell me what I do.”

The man’s eyes rolled up in fear, then focused behind him.

Tim didn’t bother to turn. “Leave, Batman. This is my collar.”

“Robin, stop.”

“Stay out of this.”

“Stand down, Robin.”

The voice came closer, but Tim ignored it. “I’ve got to do this for her.”

“We’ll get Black Mask, I promise you, but not like this.” Batman was two feet
behind and to the right.

“I don’t believe you. You didn’t even tell me that she was dying. I didn’t get
to say goodbye.”

“This isn’t the way–”

Batman grabbed for his arm, but Tim was already moving, throwing his goon to the
opposite wall, hoping it would knock him out. Tim ducked under Batman’s hand,
rolling out of reach.

They faced each other in the dark of the alley, the rain dampening the garbage
that littered the ground.

“Don’t try and stop me, Batman.”

“I have to.”

“*We* have to,” Nightwing said, limping into view as Batgirl leaped down from a
fire escape overhead.

“To hell with all of you.”

“If you do this,” Batman said, “I’ll expect to find your uniform back in the
Cave by morning.”

Nightwing murmured a quiet protest, but Tim and Batman both ignored him as they
stared at each other.

Tim gritted his teeth. “So be it. You’ll have the uniform after I have justice.”
He threw down a handful of smoke pellets and was gone.

* * * * *

House put his head in his hands. He hated those memories. “Damn it, go away. I
don’t want to think about what I almost did.”

“No. Can’t run this time.” She knelt in front of him.

“Cass, I can’t forgive him.”

“For taking Robin. And for Steph.”

He nodded slowly. “She wasn’t ready to be Robin. He knew that.”

“Not your fault for leaving.”

He sat up quickly. “Of course not.”

“Not his either.”

“Bullshit. You’re making excuses for him the way everyone always has. I got
tired of it.”

Cass waited until he looked at her. “We miss you. Everyone is sorry. Time to
stop hating. She would want that.”

He didn’t know what she saw in his face, but she nodded. Leaning over, she
kissed his cheek and left.

* * * * *

When Wilson wandered in an hour later, House still sat with his forehead leaning
on his cane.

“Is something wrong?”

“Definitely,” House said without lifting his head. “Have you noticed that the
Republicans control the executive, legislative, *and* judicial branches of the
government? That’s wrong.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then you’ll need to be more specific.”

House could hear Wilson sigh and sit down. “You’re not exactly a ray of sunshine
at the best of times, but since Bruce Wayne showed up, you’ve been impossible.”

“So?” House stared at the vinyl floor, wondering why hospitals always had the
ugliest patterns. Did they get a discount on the stuff?

“I’m curious. For instance, why you never told me that you worked for him.”

“It was a long time ago.” House snorted. “But that was in another country and
besides, the wench is dead.” He’d never noticed how apropos that quote was.

“Speaking of wenches, who was the woman you were talking to when I passed by
before? I saw her with Bruce Wayne yesterday.”

“Cass. Her name is Cassandra.” She’s poetry in motion, House didn’t say. She
could kill you a hundred different ways with just the objects in this room. She
loved Steph as much as I did, but she stayed with Bruce.

“That’s it? No details?”

House looked up. “No.”

“Look, I know you don’t want advice from me–”

“Goodness, Doctor, how’d you get to be so smart?”

Wilson ignored him with the ease of long practice. “But it seems to me that
you’ve got some unfinished business with Bruce Wayne if he can get you angry
after so many years. I know you hate emotional stuff, but you need to deal with
this.”

House shook his head. “That’s what Cass came to say. Well, she used fewer
words.”

“And?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“I know you hold a grudge until it dies and then visit its grave, but what did
he do to you?”

The answer was automatic. “Took away the only thing that ever mattered to me.”

Wilson shook his head in confusion. “Medicine?”

House stared at him.

* * * * *

Bruce’s face looked almost as stern in repose as it did awake, House thought.
But he looked old. And tired. Nothing like the monster of his memories.

Although if he was going to be honest, Bruce had *never* been the monster of his
memories.

Bruce’s eyes opened. “Tim?”

“Hi, Bruce. Got a minute?”

“For you?” The smile spread across Bruce’s face. “Always.”

House limped over to the visitor’s chair, hiding the wince as he sat down. “I’ve
had a few visitors recently.”

Bruce frowned. “You know I didn’t tell them–”

“I know.” He shook his head. “I didn’t come to complain about that.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I…” House took a deep breath. “It’s been pointed out to me that perhaps I
need to get over myself.”

Bruce coughed. “I don’t know that I would have put it precisely that way. We
both made mistakes.”

Staring at the floor, House took another breath. “Medicine is important to me.”

“I’m glad.”

House looked up into Bruce’s concerned expression and shrugged. “Life goes on.”

“That it does.” Bruce nodded slowly.

The silence was uncomfortable and House filled it. “So, how’s Gotham?”

“The usual. Poison Ivy’s mad at the Joker and we had to clean up half of
Robinson Park. The Penguin continues to make money illegally. Now that Two-Face
is–”

House sat upright so fast he nearly fell off the chair.

“What?” Bruce looked around for whatever had House so alarmed.

He grabbed the phone and paged his sidekicks. “If it was a snake,” he muttered,
“we’d all be dead from venom by now.”

“I wasn’t bitten by a snake,” Bruce said, obviously concerned for his sanity.

House gave him a withering glance. “Metaphor, Bruce.”

Cameron ran into the room and skidded to a stop, looking around for the
emergency.

House held up a finger. “Wait for it…”

Chase and Foreman piled into the room behind her, and all three stared at him.

“Vasculitis,” House said with satisfaction.

Foreman and Cameron stared at him, then stared at Chase, whose jaw had dropped.
“I always say vasculitis–”

“And I always tell you you’re wrong. Because you’re always wrong. But this time
you were right.”

“But we–”

House interrupted him again. “It’s hypersensitivity vasculitis caused by
exposure to a specific substance. Removal of the allergen plus a good round of
steroids should clear up all his symptoms.”

“What substance?” Cameron asked, eyes going unfocused as she mentally paged
through her notes.

House looked at Bruce, whose eyes were wide as he looked back. “Pamela?” Bruce
asked.

“Mmm-hmm.”

“What are you talking about?” Foreman asked.

“He knows. How many times have I told you that everybody lies?”

Cameron blinked. “Over five hundred, I think.”

“That was rhetorical.”

“I know.” She grinned at him.

“Smartass.”

“Better than a dumbass.”

House shook his head. “What are you standing around for? Order this man a course
of corticosteroids and then go home and get some sleep. I’ll monitor to make
sure I’m right.”

“You’ll–” Chase closed his mouth with a snap.

The three of them looked at each other and were out of the room in seconds.

“They’re good kids,” Bruce said into the silence.

“Yeah. They’ll get over that eventually.”

The room was silent again, but it wasn’t uncomfortable now. The dim lighting
felt familiar and for a moment House fell back in time to the dark of the Cave.

“What now?” Bruce said.

“Now you get better,” House said with a shrug. “You go home, back to kicking
supervillain ass and making the new Wonder Girl nervous.”

“What about you?”

“I don’t belong in your world anymore.” It twisted his guts to say it…but it
was true. “I belong here. I’m damn good at what I do.”

“I know you are. That’s why I’m here.”

Even after all these years, House still wanted to grin at the rare praise and
Bruce’s expression, the one that said ‘You got all the hostages out alive. Good
work.’

Bruce’s eyes narrowed. “I know that look.”

“What look?”

“It’s the same one you had when you wished you could tell your father. Who do
you want to tell?”

House looked away.

“Do you trust this person?”

“Does it matter?” The anger was back.

Bruce didn’t rise to the bait of his tone. “Yes. This time you might convince
me.”

The floor tried to drop away and House gripped his cane for support. Another
shock like this, he thought distantly, and he’d be a patient in his own
hospital.

“Do you trust this person?”

“Yes.” He didn’t have to think about it. “With all of our lives.”

Bruce nodded once. “Okay.”

* * * * *

Wilson strode in, brow furrowed with concern. He stopped dead in his tracks when
he saw House sitting comfortably next to Bruce. “House? You paged me. Is there a
problem?”

“You’ll want to sit down for this.” House gestured at a chair. “I have…we have
something to tell you.”

Giving House an odd look, Wilson sat down. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“That depends, I suppose.”

“On what?”

“On how you feel about spandex. And capes.”

Wilson stared. “What?”

–end–

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