Yikes! Got so involved in my wee one's birthday yesterday, I forgot to post--so sorry!
Title: The Devil's In the Details
Characters: House, Wilson, Cuddy
Summary: The Devil's In the Details again centers around the House-Wilson-Cuddy bond. The story has a lot of introspection, especially for House and Wilson. The plot (such as it is....) centers around House's undiagnosed left leg pain. This is the third and final book of the Devil trilogy, which began with The Devil, You Say, and continued with Battling the Demons.
The first two chapters of this one (Evasion and Trust) are here. The other previous chapters :
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Awakening
Wilson is dimly aware, as he awakens, that he’s been hearing the murmur of voices for the last few minutes. He sits up with a start, momentarily disoriented. As he becomes more alert, he realizes that it’s almost completely dark in the living room now, and that the voices belong to Cuddy and House. House!
Wilson is up off the couch and on his way to the bedroom quickly, taking the time only to turn on a lamp and glance at his watch; it’s 8:45pm.
As he approaches the bedroom door, he hears Cuddy say reassuringly, “Of course I’ll stay; I was pretty much planning on it anyway.”
“What’s this about staying?” Wilson says to her as he enters. He’s relieved to see that—while House is clearly still quite tired—he’s alert and comfortable, sitting upright against the pillows.
House turns towards him. “I asked Cuddy to stay the night. We’ll have a sleepover; you sleep while Cuddy takes over!”
Wilson shakes his head. “Nuh-uh; you wore her out today. She needs to go home and get some rest. I’ve had a nap; I feel much better.”
House is eyeing the bandage around Wilson’s left wrist. “What happened?”
Wilson holds up his arm, glances dismissively at it. “This? Nothing at all. Cuddy’s trying for her Girl Scout badge in first aid; I agreed to participate in the project.” Wilson pointedly ignores the open-mouthed expression Cuddy’s aimed in his direction.
“That’s not true!” Cuddy says to House. “His car skidded off the road in the rain, and now his wrist is not only bruised, it’s probably sprained too. But not to worry; I examined it and determined he’ll live.”
After shooting a dirty look at Cuddy, Wilson watches House to see if the news of his little accident is going to upset him. House holds his own hand out, indicates that Wilson should show him his wrist.
Wilson goes to the bedside and reluctantly presents his wrist. House grasps his arm gently, well above the bandage, turning it and carefully palpating the bandaged area.
“Cuddy’s right,” House says after a thorough inspection’s been completed to his satisfaction. “Probably not a fatal injury.” He’s looking appraisingly at Wilson now. “And it’s your own fault for not being right-handed like 92 percent of the rest of the world. If you were, this’d qualify as just a minor inconvenience. Any other damage?” he asks.
Wilson is glad that House is able to comment sarcastically about the incident. And he sees the relief in House’s eyes when he shakes his head. “No other damage to me, anyway. Car’s gonna need a little work, I’m afraid.”
House looks away, says in a low voice, “Cars can be replaced. And this clinches it; Cuddy stays.”
Wilson looks at Cuddy; in his opinion, she doesn’t look much better than he does. But both she and House are wearing expressions that tell him the decision doesn’t require his input; it’s already been made.
“Tell ya what,” Wilson says; as worn out as he is, he still isn’t willing to relinquish control of the situation completely. “I’ll agree to this unnecessary arrangement on the condition that we trade off care during the night, so that both of us can get some rest.”
“Cuddy’s just gonna take care of the night stuff. No one has to stay up,” House says. “Thought we were past that.”
“We were; we are,” Wilson says. “But you’ve had a rough afternoon; just wanna make sure help’s available tonight if you need it. And, since I’ve just had a nap, I take the first shift, okay?”
House looks as if he’d like to argue, so Cuddy answers quickly.
“Sounds fair,” Cuddy says to Wilson. “Hey, no one’s eaten yet; how ‘bout I call for the pizza I promised House at lunch. Go get yourself a shower, and then I’ll rewrap that wrist for you. By then, dinner’ll be here. We’ll eat—all of us will eat,” she says, looking pointedly at House. “And then, I’ll help you get the kid settled for the night, and go catch a rest myself. Sound okay?”
“All except the ‘kid’ part,” House interjects before Wilson can speak. “It’s Saturday night; the kid wants to stay up and watch wrestling!”
Wilson knows how to circumvent that request without bringing anything medical into it. “But then Cuddy won’t be able to rest,” he points out.
House screws up his mouth with displeasure, and the expression does, indeed make him look like a kid. But he says, “All right. Tivo it for me then, will ya? John Cena’s gonna try to be kickin’ my boy Edge into next year—can’t miss that.”
Cuddy rolls her eyes. “Yeah, we’ll certainly Tivo that ‘can’t miss moment’ for you. And when you get back to work, remind me to raise your salary above minimum wage so you can afford a set for the bedroom.”
“Don’t want a TV in here; rumor has it that cuts down on other bedroom-type activities.” He leers playfully at Cuddy.
“And you’d know this, how?” Cuddy asks dryly.
“Who, me? I don’t; I said it was just a rumor,” House says. “But I would know, if you’d just quit turning me down.” He waggles his eyebrows at her; she smirks back and shakes her head.
“That’s my cue to get the pizza ordered,” she says. She turns to Wilson. “Go on and get cleaned up; that wrist has been wrapped pretty tightly for over four hours. It needs a break.”
House is still feeling the effects of the morphine. “I’m just gonna close my eyes until dinner gets here,” he says. “If no one minds.”
“Great idea,” Wilson says. “But this time, try to skip the bad dreams, will ya?”
House frowns. “What are you talking about?” He looks worried.
Wilson’s sorry he brought it up; now is not the time to discuss House’s strange behavior and odd statements when Wilson had arrived home. “Nothing, forget I said anything,” he tells House. “Guess while I was napping, I had a dream that you had a nightmare. Very complex. And boring. Tell ya later; it can be your bedtime story.”
House nods, closes his eyes, and Wilson and Cuddy leave the room. But Wilson’s mention of the word ‘nightmare’ has triggered something for House; he has a dim recollection of having said something to Wilson about it. So now, instead of resting, he tries to remember what had occurred, what he’d said. All he knows for certain is that he hopes the pizza arrives quickly; he really doesn’t want to be alone with these thoughts for too long. His anxious eyes are open now; he’ll stay awake.
As Cuddy finishes rewrapping Wilson’s wrist, the pizza arrives, and Cuddy and Wilson return to the bedroom. They’re surprised to find that House is awake, but before they can say anything to him, he says, “Hey, where are my wheels? I’m starving!”
The other two exchange a look; Cuddy’s brought the pizza into the room—neither of them thinks it’s a good idea for House to get up.
Cuddy thinks quickly. “This is a sleepover, right? Well, as a former ten year old girl, I can tell you that no sleepover is complete without a pizza party in the bedroom!” She begins transferring slices of pizza to plates, and hands the first one to House.
House does seem to have a good appetite; he finishes the first slice quickly, and starts in on a second one. But after just a couple of bites, he puts it down with an odd expression on his face. “Anyone else feeling a little funny?” he asks. “Think there might be something wrong with the pizza—making me sick.”
Wilson realizes immediately what’s wrong. “It’s not the pizza; it’s almost 10:30, and you haven’t taken your meds, have you?”
“I guess I forgot,” House says. He looks almost ashamed; this is the first dose no one’s reminded him to take, and he blew it.
“Don’t worry about it,” Wilson tells him. “I didn’t draw the labs, either; just lucky that the rain must’ve held up the courier. Been a confusing night.” He sets down his plate to collect the supplies for the blood draw. “Since you’re nauseated, we’ll do the Zofran IV this time, try and prevent any vomiting. Give it ten minutes or so; then you can take your super-Vic.”
House looks doubtful, but says nothing. As Wilson hands the tubes to Cuddy for bagging and begins to administer the Zofran, the courier arrives, and Cuddy goes to the door. Once she’s left the room, House mumbles, “Sorry.”
Wilson looks up from flushing the port. “For what? We all forgot.”
“It was my responsibility; should’ve done it.” House reaches over to the bedside table and picks up the pill bottles. “Maybe you’d better stay in charge of these a while longer,” he says, and tries to hand them to Wilson.
“House, c’mon! You had 10mg of morphine a few hours ago; so it messed with your memory a little. Dinner was late, the courier just showed up; the whole schedule was off tonight.”
“No excuse. Should’ve remembered. Just take ‘em.”
Wilson can tell that House won’t argue about this; his face is set. Maybe it was too soon; thought he’d feel more in control if he had some responsibility in his own care. Maybe he’s too concerned with this left leg thing to want to worry about anything else….
Wilson reluctantly takes the proffered bottles, makes a mental note to let Cuddy know later. “Just lemme know when you want ‘em back,” he tells House, who simply nods and looks away; he appears to have lost all interest in the pills already.
House turns back to him. “How’s the wrist?”
That was a fast change of subject. “Better, thanks. Swelling’s already way down. Should be able to ditch the bandage by morning.”
“What about the bruise?”
“Colorful, but already fading. It’ll be okay.” Why all this solicitousness?
Wilson is puzzled by this uncharacteristic concern. “Of course I’m sure. It’s just a bruise. Spraining it didn’t help matters, but two days from now it’ll be back to normal. You know that; quit worrying.”
“I’m not worrying, just don’t want it to interfere with my--” House hears Cuddy’s voice, telling him to show Wilson he cares, he’s grateful, and he bites off the automatic selfish retort. “Okay. I’m… uh… worried. A little. Not every day a guy’s best friend gets in an accident, right after he’s had his wrist strangled by the guy. Just asking, is all.”
Wilson stares at him. “As I said, it’s okay. Not a big deal. Thanks for asking.” Who are you, and what have you done with House?
Wilson is still shaking his head in bafflement as he hands House a dose of super-Vic. He’s glad he’s got the first shift tonight, while House is still awake; something’s up. And I need to find out what it is, he thinks as he heads out to the kitchen.
CHAPTER TWELVE: Voices
As Wilson is heading back to House’s room, Cuddy’s just finished setting up the Tivo to record the all-important wrestling match. She motions him back into the kitchen.
“I listened to the voice file of your session with Dickinson yesterday,” she says. “And you’re right; there are some things we need to talk about. I was hoping that after House gets to sleep, we might have a chance to go over some of it? What do you think?”
“I think that the whole point of my taking the first shift is so you can get some rest,” Wilson says. “If you wait for that insomniac to go down, the only one who’ll get any real rest tonight will be him. And… I think there’s something going on with him, anyway. I’m gonna try to talk to him about it. Don’t know how far I’ll get; I do know it’ll take a while. He lists ‘dissembling and deflecting’ as hobbies on his curriculum vitae.”
“Tell ya what,” Cuddy says. “I’ll rest until you’re finished with him. If I fall asleep, wake me. We really need to discuss this, and soon. I’m confused about a few things.”
Wilson concedes defeat; he’d known this was going to have to come up, sooner or later. “All right,” he sighs. “I’ll see what I can do.”
When Wilson returns to the bedroom, House is waiting expectantly for him. “Meant to tell you, breakfast was really good this morning,” House tells him.
Wilson raises his eyebrows. “Uh… House? I didn’t make breakfast this morning. And you didn’t eat breakfast this morning. Other than those things, though, thanks for the… umm… compliment?”
“Meant yesterday morning, anyway. The… uh… eggs? They were really good. And you did a great job cleaning up the kitchen.”
Okay; that’s it. Off the wall, even for House. Wilson looks closely at his friend; he’s wondering if he needs to locate the thermometer. Or a straitjacket. “Are you dying?” he asks House. “Am I dying? What’s with all the professions of appreciation all of a sudden?”
House scowls. “Just tryin’ to tell you that it’s… uh… rad. Really rad. What you’ve been doing. Everything. For… umm. Me.”
Wilson tries very hard not to laugh. He almost succeeds in swallowing the laughter, but an amused smile must have found its way to his face.
“Are you laughing at me?” asks House, indignant. “Just trying to thank you, but if you don’t want me to--”
Now the laughter escapes; Wilson can’t help it. “Sorry, I’m just… punchy, I guess. You wanna thank me? Easy. Quit saying rad, okay? No one over the age of forty—hell, no one over thirty, should use that word. Stop, and we’ll call it even.” House is staring at him; Wilson just can’t contain his laughter. “Really. Don’t say it again, and we’re even.”
“I like that word,” House grumbles. “Makes me sound hip.” This statement, of course, only feeds Wilson’s amusement. It’s contagious; soon, House is laughing too, and relaxing. He’s let Wilson know how he feels, and he hasn’t had to suffer through any Hallmark Card moments to do it. And that’s just… rad!
They talk, and laugh, a few minutes more, and when House closes his eyes he’s genuinely content and comfortable. Wilson’s decided he won’t bring up House’s enigmatic statements earlier; why ruin the mood? Looks as if House’s sleep will be restful and dreamless tonight. Now all Wilson has to do is deal with Cuddy—and the voice file. He gently closes House’s door behind him as he goes out to face her. No sense disturbing House.
Cuddy’s still awake, of course, and waiting for him. She’s set her laptop up on the coffee table. Wilson eyes it, and groans inwardly. Should’ve known I’d have to listen to it again. He arranges his face into a neutral, pleasant expression and sits beside her on the couch.
“Did you talk to him?” Cuddy asks.
“Well, sort of. Solved the mystery of his… sudden concern for my well-being. Seems he’s been trying to thank me, tell me he appreciates what I’m doing.” Wilson shakes his head in wonder; he’s smiling again.
Cuddy’s smiling too. “Oops. Should’ve warned you that was gonna happen, I guess. We had a little talk this morning. He was worried about you. Yelled at me because you were so worn out! And in typical House fashion, he’d come up with the perfect solution. He wanted to have himself admitted to the hospital.” Cuddy watches Wilson’s eyes widen in a mixture of dismay and amusement. “I figured that was a bit drastic, so I suggested that he try showing you a little gratitude instead. So, how’d it go?”
“It was… amusing. And touching, in a Twilight Zone sort of way. And we both lived through it,” Wilson concludes, making a wry face.
“Glad to hear that; had my doubts.” Cuddy watches Wilson lean his head back on the couch and rub his temples. “Listen, we don’t have to do this tonight if you’re too tired,” she says, indicating the laptop.
“No, let’s just get it done. You’re right; it’s important.”
Cuddy starts the voice file, and for several minutes neither of them comments as they listen to Dickinson’s questions, and Wilson’s sometimes halting responses:
Dickinson: And how do you feel about what occurred?
Wilson: Why does that matter?
Dickinson: It matters because I don’t think you’d be here if it hadn’t affected you in some significant way.
Wilson: The way if affected me isn’t important. What I did to House… that’s what’s important; that’s why I’m here.
Dickinson: All right… then tell me what you did to Dr. House.
Wilson: I didn’t… I allowed… I… I betrayed his trust. I let my own fear of his pain control how I reacted to it, to him. It was easier to fall back on prevailing medical beliefs, wrong beliefs, than it was to watch him hurt. So I convinced myself that he didn’t hurt, that he was just… an addict. If the pain wasn’t real, then I didn’t need to worry about him, to… hurt for him. If I… if I’d allowed myself to believe that his pain was real, it would’ve… so I pulled back. I did what I had to do to protect myself. And he… he suffered for it….
Dickinson: And not wanting to watch someone we care about suffer is a natural reaction.
Wilson: But I’m not just his friend, I’m a doctor; I should’ve helped him. I didn’t.
Dickinson: Yes, you did.
Wilson: You don’t get it! I watched him suffer for months before I did anything! I watched him, and I was angry with him, and I pitied him. I thought he was weak, and I convinced myself that I was helping him by denying him pain relief. All I did was… I’m the… I’m responsible for his turning to morphine, for the breakthrough pain getting so out of hand that we had to….
Cuddy watches Wilson with eyes full of compassion as they both listen to his voice break on the recording, and wait through the silence that follows.
Dickinson: Let me get you some water. This is hard; take your time.
Wilson: Thanks. That’s… better. I’m okay. Sorry, I didn’t mean… this isn’t supposed to be about me. I’m here for House; we need to focus on him.
Dickinson: Why did you decide to help him? When did you begin to believe that the pain was real?
Wilson: It was Friday. House is… well, he likes to complain, and he even makes a show of taking the Vicodin, and he’s been known to… umm… well, actually, to terrorize people with that cane. (laughter) But one thing he never allows himself to do is to show his discomfort to others. Even with me; he’ll gripe, he’ll get… dramatic. But I’ve rarely seen evidence that the pain is real. Twice, maybe three times in the last six months. And he didn’t have a choice. But Friday, he collapsed in front of his team. Dick, no exaggeration, House’d rather die than show physical weakness in front of those kids! So, when they paged me, and I found him on the floor of his office, with the three of them there… I knew. I… just knew, then. Couldn’t deny it anymore; didn’t even try. I gave him that first dose of morphine without even questioning the necessity. His need was just so clear… can I have some more water?
Dickinson: Of course. So… Friday was the first time that the validity of his pain wasn’t in question? The severity of it, I mean.
Wilson: Yes… uh, no. There were… two other incidents. I was at his apartment one evening a couple of months ago. He’d been at the piano for quite a while. I was getting ready to leave, and he stood up, and his leg began to spasm. I thought at first that… it wasn’t real; I’d refused to refill his Vicodin prescription earlier. The refill would’ve been only three days early, but… I thought… well, I was trying, I guess, to establish some… boundaries… on the whole narcotics thing, and….
Dickinson: Go on.
Wilson: And then, I saw his eyes, and I knew his pain was real. I went to him, and tried to get him to sit. He was angry, and he was scared, I think…. Finally, I had to force him to sit down. I checked his pulse, and it was over 100, and his respirations were rapid… shallow; he was suffering. He would’ve told me to leave at that point, if he’d been able to. I know that. But I knew he was in far too much pain to make any sort of protest, so I took advantage of that to help him. I massaged the leg until the spasm relaxed. He’d never have allowed that if he’d been in any shape to stop me. It… hurt, to know that he was suffering that much, and that I’d initially thought that he was trying to… trick me.
Dickinson: You felt guilty.
Wilson: Yeah… and sorry, too. But I couldn’t make myself say that to him. So after the spasm ended, I sat there that night, watched him while he slept. I wanted him to know I cared. But I couldn’t say those words, either. And every time he moaned during the night, it got a little harder for me to deny that he’d been truly suffering. But instead of trying to discuss it with him, figure out how I could really help, I… took the coward’s way out. Before I left the next morning, I just wrote out the scrip. And we never spoke of what had happened….
Dickinson: And the second incident?
Wilson: It was… even worse….
There’s a very long pause at this point in the recording, and Wilson feels Cuddy’s eyes on him as they sit through the silence. But he won’t look at her. He’s relieved when he hears Dick speak again.
Dickinson: James, I’m sorry, but I could really use a break here, and some coffee. Would it be okay with you if we took a few minutes, just maybe catch up with each other, relax a little, before you go into the second incident?
Cuddy reaches over and shuts off the recording. “I think a break is a good idea,” she tells Wilson. “I’m going to make us some tea.”
Wilson nods, and stands to go check on House and hang the next TPN bag. When he returns, Cuddy’s back on the couch, and two mugs of tea are on the table. He sits and takes an appreciative sip from his mug. Then he meets Cuddy’s eyes. “I’m sure you have questions.”
“No, no questions at this point,” Cuddy tells him. “But I do have something to say, and I want you to really listen.”
Wilson almost smiles; she’s using her no-nonsense ‘I’m the administrator; pay attention to what I’m saying’ voice, and underlying that voice, he also hears the compassionate mother hen.
“I let House down too,” she says. “You don’t have a corner on that market. I gave the man a saline injection when he came to me asking, begging, for relief from his pain. I believed as you did, that he was an addict. And worse, I never insisted that he be fully evaluated. There’s more than enough guilt to go around, so quit trying to hog all of it, okay?” She gives Wilson a small smile.
“I’m getting past that; I really am,” he tells her. “But I appreciate your willingness to share it with me.” He smiles back, and Cuddy resumes the recording while they sip their tea.
Dickinson: Okay, when we paused, you were going to tell me about the second time that you questioned your own belief that Dr. House was… uh… exaggerating his pain.
Wilson: I… this is hard. Do we have to discuss this one?
Dickinson: No; of course we don’t. But you brought it up, and it’s bothering you. It might help to—
Wilson: You’re right. It’s… yeah, it’s important. I… it’s just… I’m, uh… ashamed that this happened, I guess. It was just last month, and I’d stayed late at the hospital. Didn’t know that House was still there, too. I was leaving, walking past his office, and a movement caught my eye. He’d drawn the blinds, but they weren’t completely closed, and he had his back to me, so he didn’t know I was there, and… he’d put his cane down, was trying to walk without it, and… he fell… twice. The second time, he just… stayed down. And he leaned his head against the edge of a chair, and he was… his eyes were closed, and there were… tears. He could’ve seen me then, if he’d looked, but he was so consumed by his pain, I don’t think he was aware of his surroundings. And I… walked away. Just pretended it never happened. Called him later; he sounded okay. I was able to forget what I’d seen, until Friday. When I got the page about his collapse, as I was running to his office, that scene just kept… replaying itself, in my mind. And now I see it as another missed opportunity to prevent what happened Friday.
Dickinson: And you can’t let it go.
Wilson: I don’t want to let it go. I want to remember what my denial did to my best friend, to the man I think of as my brother. And now, he’s just getting to the point of being able to trust me again, and maybe even to trust a friend of ours, our boss. But this morning, he just missed hypovolemic shock. And I mean by minutes. Know why? He didn’t want me to know he’s been nauseated; he was afraid I’d cut the dose on his pain meds, was afraid I’d insist on an anti-emetic. He’s trying, I really think he is, but he’s not there yet. We need to figure out a way to get ‘im there, fast, before his distrust kills him!
Cuddy pauses the recording again. “Remember,” she says gently to Wilson. “I did the same thing to him, after his surgery. I walked away from his suffering, from his emotions. I understand why you did what you did that night. It doesn’t make either of us right, but it does confirm that we’re human. And we’re trying our hardest to make it up to him now; I believe that counts for something. Apparently, he does, too.”
Wilson smiles; Cuddy’s right. Hard, insensitive, unfeeling House has forgiven, has trusted, has shown gratitude—in his own unique way, of course. Wilson nods at Cuddy, and she resumes play on the file.
Cuddy and Wilson both listen intently as Dickinson explains how—and why—House can’t just accept help, has to actually fight it. While he listens, Wilson relives sitting in Dick’s office, hearing this for the first time. He remembers the relief he’d felt, finding out that House’s behavior wasn’t really something House could control, and the overwhelming compassion he’d experienced for his friend when Dick confirmed, “He’s literally programmed to fight you.”
As they listen to Dick ask about House’s support system, and Wilson’s, Wilson sends Cuddy a look of grateful acknowledgement as his voice on the recording mentions only her name. Cuddy smiles back at him, says warmly, “We really are House’s self-created family, aren’t we?” And the voice file continues playing.
Wilson: I can handle this, Dick. It’s... a relief to know that he’s not just the selfish bastard the rest of the world sees. I know that the man I’ve described to you sounds... sad, and sick, not someone anyone would want to know, but there’s so much more to him. He’s brilliant, and funny, and... I dunno, it’s just an honor to be allowed into his world. Can’t explain it; you’d have to meet him, and look past the walls he puts up. Maybe then you’d understand why he’s really worth it. When he allowed me to put him through the pain control procedure, even after what’s gone on, it was... it made me feel good, like I was somehow worthy of his friendship. After what my inaction had done to him, now I’ve been able to do something for him, to make things better, to actually ease a lot of his pain.
Dickinson: That’s another thing we need to talk about, James—the loss of that extra pain. It’s going to be part of the problem, believe it or not. You’ve said that he’s integrated this pain into his personality, his behavior. That means that a big part of his perception of himself disappeared when the pain left. And whenever your self-view changes, there’s a period of grieving attached, even if the event itself is a positive one. He’s going to find it disconcerting, at the least, and deeply disturbing at the worst, to have such a large part of his identity gone. And that’ll result in more anger, more lashing out, while he tries to come to terms with this shift in self-perception. It shouldn’t last more than a month or so—but it has the potential to be a very nasty time.
Cuddy stops the recording at this point; when she looks at Wilson, her confusion is evident. “What happened when you had this conversation with him? You haven’t mentioned it, and Dr. Dickinson makes it sound pretty important. Vital to his recovery. I’d really like to know how House reacted.”
Wilson looks away. “You haven’t heard about it because it hasn’t happened. Initially, there didn’t seem to be a need to discuss changes in self-perception with him because it didn’t appear that his self-view had changed. And now…. Well, Dick brought it up again today, but with the new pain problems, House can’t really be grieving for the loss of the old ones, can he?”
Cuddy frowns. “It sounds like something that has to be talked about. And you’re avoiding it, aren’t you?”
“Just don’t wanna go borrowing trouble. When he’s stronger, when we know what’s going on with the left thigh, I’ll talk with him. Promise.”
Cuddy looks doubtful, but restarts the voice file.
Wilson: How can I help him through these changes?
Dickinson: I think you’re already doing that for him, by instinct. Just be there for him. Let him lash out at you; that’ll be his way of working through his own confusion. The ‘attacks’ on you aren’t really attacks; I think what he’s doing is analyzing the changes in his life in a way that has, historically, made him feel safest. He sees you as a secure sounding board, and that’s what he needs most right now. It’ll only become a problem if he denies, to himself, that things have changed.
Cuddy pauses the file. “But he hasn’t really lashed out,” she says.
“That’s why it hasn’t been necessary to talk to him about the changes; that’s what I was trying to explain.”
The voice file resumes, and they listen as Wilson tells Dick his fears that House may be suicidal. Cuddy is as relieved as Wilson had been to hear that House’s risk of suicide isn’t high, and that although they suspect he may have a plan, that plan may, in fact, be keeping him safer than he might otherwise be.
The session is ending. Cuddy smiles when Dickinson and Wilson mention a poker game with House, and says to Wilson, “I want in on that one!”
Both Wilson and Cuddy grow somber when they listen to Dickinson ask, at the end of the session, what Wilson is getting out of this, and Wilson answers him quietly, “This time, I don’t lose my brother.”
The phrase echoes in both their minds as Cuddy shuts off the recording. She reaches out and gently squeezes Wilson’s hand; she sees that he’s lost in thought.
Wilson is remembering what he hadn’t said to Dick at the close of their session; ‘and this time, the demons don’t win’. He closes his eyes at the memory, and makes a silent promise to House. We’ve come this far; doesn’t matter what this new demon is, doesn’t matter how strong, or how frightening, it turns out to be. We’ll face it together. And we’ll win.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Dreams
Wilson and Cuddy sit in silence for a few minutes after the voice file ends, each lost in their own thoughts. But when Wilson absentmindedly reaches for his mug of tea with his left hand, Cuddy sees him wince at lifting the cup.
She stands up, places her hands on her hips, and announces, “Change of plans. I’m taking the first watch. You’re taking a couple of Motrin and an ice pack. And a nice, long nap.”
Wilson considers arguing, but it seems that everything that’s happened today is conspiring to make movement impossible; his leaden body is aching to lie down, for just a few minutes. He allows Cuddy to shoot down his token protest, and thanks her, moments later, when she magically appears in front of him with the pills and the ice. I didn’t even see her leave the room; must really be out of it. Just a few minutes; rest my eyes, and I’ll be fine.
But as soon as he lies down, Wilson’s brain switches on. The phrases from the end of the voice file play in a continuous loop as Dick tells him, again and again and again, how important it is to have that conversation about self-perception with House. And Cuddy’s voice choruses in, “Vital to his recovery… vital.” A third insistent voice chimes in; it’s House, repeating that strange, worrisome monologue from earlier this evening, about his leg. Wilson is dimly aware that this isn’t really happening, tries to tell himself it’s only his worry about House’s nonsensical accusations.
As Wilson starts, against his will, to drift off, borne towards sleep on pure exhaustion, an odd scene opens in his mind.
I want a healthy leg, House continues to insist. You’re wrong about me, wrong about the pain, and the pills.
You wouldn’t know how to view yourself if you couldn’t blame everything on the leg, Wilson shoots back. Your entire identity is wrapped up in it. Your perception of everything would have to change if your leg were healthy!
That’s one change I’d be happy to make! House tells him.
No, you wouldn’t. Told ya once that being miserable doesn’t make you different—just makes you miserable. But I was wrong about one thing. You’re sure as hell different. And you can blame that on your misery. But take away the pain, you lose the built-in excuse to be miserable, to ignore the rules the rest of us live by.
But you took away my pain! House laughs, without mirth. And I’m still hurting. Same song, he sneers; different leg.
Because you have to hurt, Wilson hisses. You need to hurt; it’s who you are….
Wilson twists on the couch, trying to escape his nightmare.
And in House’s bedroom, the night demons are claiming a second victim, as House’s recurring dream pulls him in from oblivion to argue with Wilson again.
I don’t define myself by my leg! he tells Wilson. And, in the objective part of his brain, the part that’s aware that this is a dream, he thinks to himself, Here we go again. He wonders if the nightmare will play out to its unthinkable conclusion this time.
You think my pain makes me who I am? House asks, as Wilson’s dream moves firmly into nightmare territory. All the details are coming sharply into focus. Wilson sees now that they’re in House’s office. He doesn’t know how he’s aware that the rest of the wing is deserted, he just knows that it is.
My pain is me? That’s it? House’s voice has a taunting quality. Wilson is suddenly frightened, and he doesn’t know why.
In the bedroom, Cuddy watches House with growing concern. His sleep’s become restless, and now he’s starting to mumble. She can’t make out the words, but the tone is at once angry, and pleading. Cuddy’s wondering if she should awaken him, then thinks better of it; as long as he’s not in physical discomfort, a troubled sleep is better than none at all, she reasons. And with the level of anxiety he’d exhibited today, she can’t really be surprised that some of it might spill over into his dreams.
Wilson’s lost the fight to escape his nightmare; his body is still now, as his subconscious mind pulls him further in the scene unfolding in House’s office. His fear, which he’s already pegged as irrational, continues to grow as House continues to taunt him. And then his fear finds focus.
So, the leg is who I am; I am my pain. Wilson shivers at the eerie sing-song quality of House’s voice. House picks up the heavy marble pestle lying in the mortar on his desk, and begins to toy thoughtfully with it.
Then it would follow that more pain would make a better me, don’tcha think? House asks Wilson. And, never removing his eyes from Wilson’s, House lifts the pestle and brings it down, hard, on his left thigh. And again.
Wilson watches in horrified fascination, unable to process what he’s seeing. When he’s finally able to move, he begins to run to House’s side, but the eight feet between them is an interminable distance, and although he runs until he’s out of breath, he never gets any closer.
It isn’t until the pestle drops to the floor, and House is looking at him with a mocking, satisfied smile, that Wilson’s steps actually close the distance between them. He sees at once that he’s too late; House’s left quadriceps is gone, beaten to an oozing pulp, the thigh a gaping, bloody crater.
Wilson’s cries for help go unanswered, and he remembers that they’re here alone. There’s no one who can help House. No one but Wilson. It’s up to Wilson, all of it. He reaches a tentative hand towards the wound, watches as the ruined muscle turns black and shrivels away at his touch; House begins to laugh.
No! Noooo! Wilson screams, and hears his own voice echo in his ears.
Cuddy is still watching House. His restlessness is increasing, and the indistinct mumbling’s becoming clearer, the tone more threatening.
I was wrong not to wake him, she thinks. She stands to go to the bedside, but a low sound from the living room catches her attention. She turns her head, listens more closely as the quiet sound becomes louder, and then she hears Wilson shout “No!” The second time he shouts the word, the syllable is drawn out, in terror.
She starts to head to the living room as his voice rises again. But this time, it’s joined by a second voice, echoing the same word. Cuddy watches in horror as House, eyes wide, bolts upright in his bed. Cuddy stands frozen in the doorway as the voices of the two men mingle and roar in her ears.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Touched
Before Cuddy is forced to make the impossible decision of which man to go to, Wilson appears in front of her. He’s breathing rapidly, as if he’d run a long distance, and there’s fear in his eyes. He pushes her out of his way, not roughly, but urgently, and goes straight to House’s bedside.
House, still sitting upright, is also struggling to catch his breath, but turns his head immediately toward Wilson as his friend approaches the bed. He’s the first to speak. “Are you all right?”
Wilson swallows, takes in a breath before answering. “Yeah. Bad dream. Did I wake you?”
“How’d you know I had a nightmare?” House asks him.
Wilson’s confused. “No, I meant I had a nightmare, and I… well, I shouted, and you’re awake, so I thought….”
House frowns. “I shouted. Thought I woke you.”
Cuddy’s had enough of this macabre ping-pong match. She crosses the room and, as her adrenaline ebbs, collapses into the bedside chair. “You both yelled. Loudly.” She lowers her own voice when she says, “The same word. At the same time.” She rests her forehead in her hand as both men stare at each other, then turn to stare at her.
Cuddy raises her head to look at them. “You both said ‘no.’ She focuses on House. “Didn’t see what was happening with Wilson, but before you shouted, you’d become restless. You were mumbling, and just before you woke up, you said something about… stopping yourself from hitting Wilson.”
“Yeah, I… know,” House says. He looks at Wilson. “I guess… we need to talk,” he says reluctantly.
“Yeah. We do,” Wilson says, with even less enthusiasm. They both look at Cuddy.
“I’ll just go… uh… do whatever one does at 1:00 in the morning, when one happens to be awake. You’re both okay?”
They nod at her. After she leaves, Wilson takes her place in the chair. He watches House shift uncomfortably in bed, stands again and gets a couple of pillows. He goes to the bedside. “Let me help you get settled.” Ridiculous as it is, need to see for myself that the leg’s all right.
Wilson moves the blankets back. “Mind if I just do a quick check on that left thigh?” he asks.
House looks at him oddly, but shakes his head, and undoes the tie on his scrub pants and lowers the left side so that Wilson can see the thigh.
“Punctures still bothering you?” Wilson asks him; he’s noted that while the many tiny bruises are already beginning to fade, the muscle’s currently so tight it almost feels knotted. But it’s there; the muscle’s there, and it’s whole. Just a stupid dream.
“A little. Nothing I can’t live with.” House sees Wilson frown as he gently palpates the muscle. “It’s getting ready to spasm; that’s why it’s tight. Nothing to worry about; gettin’ used to it.”
Wilson raises the pant leg and begins to arrange the pillows to support the leg while House tries to find the most comfortable position to ride out the spasm.
“You shouldn’t have to get used to it,” Wilson says. “We need to talk about that, too. You’re in pain, we treat the pain. You know as well as I do that we’re monitoring your doses, and that allowing the pain to go untreated could cause problems with the right thigh again. Tell ya what. The muscle needs another twenty-four hours to recover from the trauma of the EMG, right?”
House nods, cautiously, and wonders how he can know he’s going to lose an argument before the argument even starts.
“So here’s the deal. You allow the morphine for another day, and then we’ll reassess the situation. I’ll use the lowest possible doses, and I’ll give you a fair chance to ride out the spasm first. But I won’t watch you suffer; not an option. Got it?”
I was right; Wilson had it won before he started it. Worst part is, he knows it. “Guess that’s… almost fair. But I want it on record that I--” House can’t help it; he gasps, and his body curls itself around the left leg. Even through the haze of pain, he’s able to appreciate the irony of the lousy timing.
Wilson watches silently. He doesn’t like the cruelty of having to wait for House to cry ‘uncle’ against the vicious pain, and he wonders if he’s given House too much control over the situation.
Just as Wilson’s decided to give the morphine now, and deal with the consequences later, House nods his head at him and says, biting off each word, “Can’t. Take. The pain.”
Wilson quickly prepares the syringe. “It’s okay,” he says calmly as he pushes the medication. “We’ll know soon what’s causing this, and we’ll treat it. Things’ll get straightened out, you’ll see. You made the right decision.” He finishes pushing the med, disposes of the syringe, and sits down. As he circles House’s wrist with his fingers and silently counts the rise and fall of House’s chest, he watches first the leg, and then the patient, begin to relax.
After a couple of minutes, House says quietly, “Ready to have that talk now. You?”
Wilson notes that House now appears willing, even anxious, to share whatever his frightening adventure was. Wilson, however, would prefer not to tell House about his own nightmare, at least not while he himself is still suffering its aftereffects. And, now that the crisis is over, Wilson notices a throbbing in his injured wrist; he senses that it’s been going on for quite a while. “Can you hold on a minute while I go get some ice?” he asks House, holding up the wrist in explanation.
“Sure. Uh… take some more ibuprofen too. Bandage too tight, maybe?”
Wilson, remembering House’s awkward attempts at gratitude and concern, smiles to himself as he offers his wrist for examination. House unwraps the elastic brace carefully. He checks out the wrist thoughtfully, and pronounces it healing. Then he slowly, clumsily, gently rewraps it and releases it back to its stunned owner.
“Never was too good at those things,” House says, indicating the bandage. “But I think that’s okay.”
“It’s… better than okay. You were right; must’ve been too tight. Feels much better; thanks.” The sudden lump in Wilson’s throat makes further speech impossible, so he just smiles at House and leaves to get the ice.
When he enters the kitchen, he’s surprised to find Cuddy there, industriously cleaning out a cabinet.
“Old family tradition,” Cuddy explains. “When I was little, my mother was a terrible insomniac. She told me once that if you have to be up in the middle of the night, might as well have something to show for it in the morning. Swore she did her best cleaning at 2:00am.”
Wilson rolls his eyes, shakes his head, and opens the freezer door. And Cuddy gets a good look at his sloppily wrapped wrist. “What’d you do, rewrap that with your teeth?” she asks.
Wilson looks down at the bandage and smiles. “House thought it might be too tight, rewrapped it for me,” he tells her quietly.
Cuddy’s already holding the wrist, prepared to wrap it properly. At this astounding piece of news, however, she instead looks it over carefully, and says, “Well, won’t win any awards for neatness, but it’s providing adequate support. So let’s just leave the artist’s work undisturbed, shall we?”
“Yeah… thanks.” Wilson looks at the bandage, and then at her. “Pretty amazing, huh?”
“You’re both pretty amazing,” Cuddy says. “Heard just a bit of you talking him into the morphine; impressive. Now, you wanna tell me about those nightmares?”
“We’re just getting ready to get to those. Need to get back in there, but first I’d better take some ibuprofen. Dr. House’s orders.”
Cuddy smiles and hands him the bottle.