Minamino Shiori-san—or, as House's insistently do-not-connect-with-patients side liked to call her, 'Mommy Dearest'—had all the signs of a wasting illness: fatigue, the inability to process food, hair loss, weight loss, deterioration of the senses, labored breathing, low t-cell count, an erratic pulse, decreased kidney and liver function—you name it, Mommy Dearest had it, and she had it in spades. Her immunity to disease was so minimal that everyone who came into contact with her had to wash up for ten minutes before entering her room. She could only stomach plain rice and clear water, making feeding her via intravenous drip necessary, and she had become so sensitive to light that the blinds in her room remained permanently shut. Her genetic oddity of a son had to speak in whispers to keep her from crying of headache.
Some days were better than others, of course. A few days after House got there she felt well enough to open the blinds and sit up; Shuichi peeled her another green apple, chatting with her about school and his club activities, but by the end of his visit Mommy Dearest was so tired that she slept for almost eighteen hours straight. Some of the nurses feared she had fallen into a coma, and when at last Shiori woke she was too tired to even see her beloved not-quite-related-somehow-but-still-her-own-son-somehow, Shuichi.
In House's not-so-humble opinion and despite his not-so-humble disdain for God, the fact that Mommy Dearest was still well enough to even speak at this point was nothing short of a miracle.
House suspected cancer at first, possibly of the brain variety given the overall shittiness of the rest of her, and he ordered the tests necessary to find out if he was right. Doctor Momokura, however, just shook his head when House asked for permission to use the hospital's facilities, and the Japanese man told the American: "She does not have cancer."
"Maybe you missed it," House said. "You Japanese aren't known for your eyesight. Remember all those ships your fighter pilots ran into during World War II?"
Momokura was not amused. "We have made multiple attempts to find tumors," he said, composure cracking just a bit when his mouth twitched in agitation. "We have not found any."
"Yes, but you don't see my people running into things with planes, now do you?" House mocked. "My eagle eyes might surprise you."
The head of medicine paused, breathing deeply through his nose before saying: "You may run the tests."
House started to pay him a sarcastic thanks.
"But you will not find anything."
House decided that leaving was the most prudent option at that point. He did not like the darkening look in Momokura's eye.
He waited to tell Mommy Dearest about the upcoming tests until her son was in attendance since Pretty Boy could translate House's English and therefore alleviate the doctor of the responsibility of dealing with his patient directly. Predictably, it was Pretty Boy who asked: "My mother has already undergone those tests, House-sensei."
"What did you say, Shuichi-kun?" Mommy Dearest asked. Anxious eyes watched her son for clues.
Shuichi took her hand and held it in his lap, cradling her fingers within his like she was made of fine china. House noticed—though not for the first time—the network of upraised scars on the undersides of Mommy Dearest's forearms, peeking out as they were from the bell-sleeves of her hospital robe. The marks were years old, glaringly white against her copper flesh, and at first he had suspected they were self-inflicted, but the patterns were randomly sized and all the marks were of the same age, perhaps suggesting an accident of some kind…?
"Would you mind repeating everything for her to hear, House-sensei?" Pretty Boy asked. "Your Japanese is flawless when you choose to use it."
House stared at him, totally unreceptive of Shuichi's smooth flattery. Shuichi stared back, eyes guileless and serene, suggesting that he hadn't meant to flatter the crotchety doctor at all. Eventually, however, the redhead sighed, turned to his mother, and began to formulate an arduous translation of House's complicated medical jargon.
"He is suggesting you undergo some tests you have already taken," the kid explained. He then went over each test by name, with his mother frowning at the mention of each one.
"But none of them bore results the first time," she said when Pretty Boy finished. To House she posed the question: "I apologize for my impudence, but what would retaking the tests accomplish?"
House looked to Pretty Boy. "I don't trust your doctors," he said bluntly, a phrase which earned him an incredulous expression from Shuichi. "I want them done again."
"You mean, you want to do them yourself?" Shuichi asked.
House snorted. "No. I don't deal with patients."
"You're dealing with one right now."
"Only because no one here speaks English well enough for a reliable translation, besides you." He rolled his eyes. "The education system in this country must really blow."
Shuichi's lips pursed, but then something in his eyes sparked with… amusement, was it? House didn't like the emotion no matter its true identity, and as he started to ask what the hell was up—
"House-sensei said he wants to do the tests himself," the kid unflinchingly lied, smiling at Shiori in a perfect mockery of genuine happiness. House only knew the expression wasn't sincere because those green eyes were laughing at him, practically dancing in their sockets like leprechauns on crack. Then Pretty Boy promptly dug the hole even deeper. "He believes that doing each test himself would help him connect with your case on a personal level," the kid said, patting his mother's arm in forced excitement. "He wants to be sure that he handles every aspect of your illness as more than a doctor, but also as a fellow human being!"
This, of course, was the opposite of House in almost every sense, and the words made House's eyes snap open to their widest. His fist clenched around his cane, knuckles going as white as Mommy Dearest's pinched face as blood fled from the outraged joints.
Shuichi shot a sidelong glance at the American, seeing his discomfort and growing fury with a smirk.
"Isn't that right, doctor?" he innocently asked, and then he smiled.
It was, by House's estimation, the smile of a shark: just enough teeth to be frightening, just enough lack of teeth to not be overly aggressive, and the smile was, therefore, more terrifying than any overdone display of ferocity could ever hope to be. The smile held a quiet menace, a calculated edge, a hidden intensity that made House wonder just what the hell kind of child he had assumed Shuichi to be, because that smile was not a smile any normal child should have been capable of.
Speak to my mother in Japanese, Shuichi's smile seemed to say, or else face the consequences of ignoring her as I dictate them to be. You have trusted me to translate for you, after all—
The smile seemed to widen, as if Pretty Boy could sense House's unease… and feed off it.
—but whoever said I was trustworthy?
House's jaw could only drop. Shuichi's eyes continued to glimmer.
Shiori broke the spell, snapping House back to reality. "Oh, how kind of you!" she gasped, and Mommy Dearest sat up despite her weakness, grabbed House's hand, and squeezed it with all the force of a weary butterfly. "Thank you, House-sensei," she said, liquid eyes full of indebted tears. "To be so kind, it surely is a gift from God!"
"A gift indeed," said Pretty Boy, and his lips curled into another smile.
House could hardly remember what was said after that—he only wanted to get away from Shuichi, who watched his every move the way a predator might watch its prey. It wasn't until House made it back to his cramped quarters in the hospital's basement, pride stinging as he recalled what he'd gotten himself into by underestimating what he had assumed to be a normal child, that he remembered and replayed Shiori's words.
"To be so kind, it surely is a gift from god," Shiori had said.
"No," House muttered to himself, thinking all the while of Shuichi's killer's smile. "No, not from God. From the devil."
The tests, after House administered and interpreted them himself, came back clean, true to Momokura's word. House promptly shrugged the failure off and asked for a battery of auto-immune tests. It seemed, after all, like the next-most-likely-cause for a wasting illness, but once again the head doctor warned House that his attempts were futile.
"Autoimmune was our first guess," he explained, "but if you wish to test and see for yourself…"
"I do," said House.
"So be it."
Mommy Dearest, however, managed to defy House's logic yet again. She did not have an autoimmune disorder.
"It's gotta be neurological," House told Wilson over the phone after the tests came back. "No cancer, no autoimmune—I want to do a cranial biopsy, get some of her brain tissue under a microscope—"
"At least rule out viral and bacterial infections before you go cutting into her skull, House!" Wilson protested.
"She's not running a fever. It's not viral."
"Maybe her body doesn't know it has a virus; no fever would present if it's bound in with her white blood cells or bone marrow." House could imagine Wilson waving his arms around, face screwed up in concentration mixed with his typical outrage. "Or maybe her temperature runs lower than most people's and her having a normal one now means she's actually feverish. You've had cases like that before!"
And so House had.
"And try to remember that this is a woman with a child," Wilson said, sighing. "I doubt she'd agree to a complicated procedure like that biopsy, anyway."
The words—words about a child, a child that had defied House's logic at every turn and who wasn't really a child at all—gave House an idea.
A wonderful, horrible, awful idea.
"What do you mean, I'm not allowed to biopsy her brain?" House snapped.
Momokura carefully slid the paperwork—paperwork that would have been fully in order had he just signed on the damned dotted lines—back to House over the smooth surface of his desk.
"We want you to cure her, not cripple her," Momokura deadpanned.
"But a biopsy is the only way I'll figure out if the problem is neurological!"
"Not while there are still other avenues of possibility, it won't. You have only ruled out cancer and autoimmune disorders," Momokura said. He pushed his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose, sniffing in the process. "We did as much ourselves."
"Yeah, and you also ruled out viral, which means a neurological disor—"
Momokura's eyebrows shot up. "You trust our antibody panels?" he asked.
House went silent.
"How strange," the doctor mused. "You did not trust our cancer diagnosi, or our autoimmune battery to the point of redoing all of the tests yourself… " (at this point Momokura gave House a faux-puzzled smile) "… and yet here you are, ready to trust our antibody panels and skip over all possibility of a viral infection."
He steepled his fingers, leaning back in his chair to regard House with masked amusement.
"My, my," he said. "Have we really earned your trust so quickly?"
House didn't like being played. He liked doing it to other people, sure, but to have the same trick pulled on himself was—
He took a deep breath to steady his thoughts. In truth, he just wanted to skip right to the biopsy so he could put his wonderful, horrible, awful idea into action, but Momokura did not need to know that, so…
"I'll look for viruses," House snapped (but he thought: Let him think I'm cooperating). The American stood up and started to storm out of the office, but at the last second he doubled back and snatched the rejected biopsy permission form off the desk.
"But I'll be back with this," he said, shaking the papers in Momokura's face, "when the panel comes back clean."
Momokura's rejection of the potentially-life-threatening biopsy threw a monkey wrench into House's Wilson-inspired plan, of course, because without the potentially-life-threatening biopsy there was no Wilson-inspired plan. The entire thing hinged on the biopsy looming above Mommy Dearest and Pretty Boy's heads, because when people went under pressure, House knew that they revealed more about themselves than they could ever dream. The kid's infuriatingly unflappable demeanor would surely crack if things became too… stressing, as it were.
Too bad, then, that everything had gone to shit the moment Momokura refused to pick up a pen.
It was a pity, really. Even though Mommy Dearest's illness was fast becoming a puzzle worthy of keeping House's interests piqued, it wasn't enough (quite yet) to make up for being stuck in a foreign country against his will. Now if he could crack the case of the mother-son relationship, well, that would be something worth remembering on a trip otherwise filled with the mundane. If only he could get permission for the biopsy, House was sure he could get the young redhead to lose his cool…
However, as House rode the elevator to the long-term patient floor to collect blood for the antibody panel, he realized something.
It wasn't like little details such as hospital permission forms had ever stopped House's plans before…
As the elevator doors opened, House began to smile.