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 previous chapters can be found by clicking Chapter One: EVASION
Chapter Two: TRUST
Chapter Three: TESTING
Chapter Eleven: AWAKENING
Chapter Fifteen: PERCEPTIONS
And tonight's chapters:
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: Opinions
When House awakens at 6:20am, the fever’s gone. He takes a few experimental breaths, and finds that his lungs are actually expanding again. He removes the nasal cannula, sits up and swings his legs cautiously over the edge of the bed. He puts the right leg through its usual morning paces; just the normal amount of discomfort. Nothing wrong at all with the left leg—for now.
House looks disdainfully at the left thigh. Think you could behave yourself today? If Wilson and his shrink are right, I’m demoting you. You’re not the boss anymore; just need to get my act together, get back in control. You’re only a muscle; I’m the brains of this outfit, so just do your job and don’t expect any special treatment.
He stands slowly, tentatively, putting most of his weight on the left leg and using the IV pole as a stand-in for his cane. Wilson must’ve hidden the damned thing again; what’d I do last night? Oh, yeah….
House locates the cane; it’s leaning against the back of the bedside chair. Once he’s got it firmly gripped in his right hand, and his left is curled securely around the handle of the IV pole, he heads quietly out of the bedroom. He’s pleased that his steps are sure, but he moves slowly anyway; he doesn’t want to disturb Wilson.
As he makes his way through the living room, House pauses for a moment. Wilson is sleeping soundly. His hair is mussed; some of it’s sticking up, some is falling over his forehead. His arms are flung out at angles, and even his hands are open and relaxed, palms up. Vulnerable and so trusting, even in sleep.
House observes his friend silently. You accuse me of being a kid; you don’t look a minute over eight years old right now. Been dumping a lot on your shoulders lately; gotta say you’re handling it pretty well—for a kid. He allows himself a small, fond smile as he continues on to the kitchen.
Once he’s got the coffee brewing, House wonders if he could pull off making breakfast. He digs through the freezer, locates a coffee cake and nods with satisfaction. He turns the oven on to preheat, pours his coffee, and sits down to wait for the oven to warm.
Wilson’s left his chart on the table, and after a moment, House reaches over and pulls the file closer. He pages through it, just skimming over most of the words, until he reaches the transcript of the first voice file. He reads it through quickly, shaking his head. Then he gets up, pours another cup of coffee, puts the cake in the oven, and returns to the table.
He turns the transcript back to the first page. This time he peruses it slowly, thoughtfully, paragraph by paragraph. Occasionally, he lifts his head to look towards where Wilson sleeps in the living room, and in his mind, he hears Wilson’s words to him, the morning after he’d come home from this session:
“They’re sending the voice file. If you want to hear it, you can. House, no tricks to this. I’m not trying to psych you out. I went because I want to be the best friend I can be, and the best doctor, because you deserve that. I didn’t say anything to him that you can’t hear, no secrets I don’t want you to know. I’m not ashamed that I did it, not ashamed of anything I said.”
“Gotta admire your honesty, Jimmy,” House murmurs aloud. He isn’t angry at the revelations he’s just read, and he isn’t sure why. Then, he realizes that he’s proud of Wilson, proud of his willingness to risk so much, to be so open, and all of it just to try to help House. Made some mistakes in my life, big ones. But no one can accuse me of not knowing how to pick a best friend.
House is rereading the last lines of the voice file for the third time, ‘This time, I don’t lose my brother,’ and he’s nodding his head slowly, lost in thought, when, simultaneously, the oven timer rings and there’s a quiet knock at the door. He shuts off the oven and limps as quickly as he can through the living room.
Cuddy’s surprised to see House open the door. “Everything all right?” she asks.
House puts a finger to his lips, and indicates Wilson, sleeping undisturbed by the knocking and the timer. “We had… kind’ve a rough night. Made ‘im take an extra Ativan.” House smiles ruefully. “I was a bad boy; upset him pretty good. Let’s let him sleep it off,” he says as he starts back towards the kitchen.
Cuddy sighs and shakes her head as she follows him. What now?
As soon as they enter the kitchen, Cuddy sees the file, open to the last page of the transcript. She looks quickly at House; he nods at her, but she can’t decipher the expression on his face.
“Get yourself some coffee,” he tells her, keeping his voice low. “There’s cake in the oven if you’re hungry.” He sits, and as Cuddy moves around the kitchen, she sees him run his hand gently over that last page, those final words.
After she’s filled a mug for herself, she cuts two slices of the coffee cake and puts them on the table, then takes a seat. “Want to talk about it?” She keeps her voice carefully neutral; the last time House had looked this discomfited was the evening he’d come to her office and pleaded for morphine. Yeah, he’s the world’s biggest egoist; sometimes he’s the world’s biggest ass, too—but it hurts, somehow, to see him looking this… humbled.
“I yelled at him. Basically told him I wasn’t buying into his diagnosis, and… uh… I pushed him, told him to leave….” House’s voice, already low, trails off, and Cuddy has to lean forward to catch the last words.
“Pushed him? Literally? Physically?” When House nods, Cuddy presses her fingers to her temples and sucks in a deep breath. “And then?”
“Guess he… I dunno. He was upset; he kinda… snapped.” House looks directly at Cuddy. “My fault,” he adds defiantly, as if he expects her to argue the point. “But I fixed it,” he says quietly, and there’s no pride in the statement; Cuddy feels as if it’s more of a question, a plea for understanding.
Cuddy nods at him, and smiles kindly. “If you managed to get him to take an extra pill, and get him to sleep in, you fixed it,” she affirms for him, and she sees the relief on his face. “And what about this?” she asks, indicating the folder open in front of him.
“It was on the table!” House is defensive.
Cuddy’s quick to reassure him. “House, that’s not what I meant. They’re your records; you’ve every right to look at them. I just wanted to know if you’re… okay with everything.”
House nods, firmly. “Jimmy’s… something, isn’t he?” Cuddy can hear the awe in his voice, and the pride, and she smiles as he continues. “Haven’t made it easy on him, and he stuck around anyway. Points for loyalty, if not intelligence—I would’ve run the other way by now.”
Cuddy, a sparkle in her eye, indicates the cane. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“Niice.” House rolls his eyes, but immediately becomes serious again. “The thing I can’t figure out is, if he really believes this thing with the leg is all in my head, why’s he still willing to do the muscle biopsy?”
“Because you asked him to,” Cuddy says simply. When House looks at her quizzically, she shakes her head at him. “Haven’t you figured it out yet? He can’t deny you anything. Even if he believes he’s right, he’s got so much respect, so much admiration for you, that your opinion means as much to him as his own, or Dickinson’s—maybe more. So he’ll do as you ask. You said it yourself; the man’s loyalty is unshakable.”
“Yeah, well, maybe he should question my opinion, once in a while; I don’t know everything.” House looks down and frowns.
Cuddy can’t believe what she’s just heard. “Are you saying you’re willing to accept the new diagnosis?” she asks cautiously.
“No,” House answers quickly. “Just saying I might be willing to… consider it.” House closes the folder and pushes it away from him, across the table. “But like I told Wilson, no more DDX until after the biopsy,” he says decisively.
Cuddy smiles to herself; Wilson’s right—House’s ‘rules’ about this diagnosis certainly change quickly. So she isn’t surprised when his next statement indicates that he’s closed the subject, at least for now.
“So, you heard about tomorrow night’s poker game? Gonna give me a chance to send you home broke?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Cuddy tells him. “But it’s only fair to warn you, I’m gonna beat the pants off you!”
Wilson wanders into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes and yawning. “What’d I miss?” he asks.
House grins. “Just the usual. Cuddy was trying to get into my pants again.”
Wilson groans and sits down. “And I haven’t even had my first cup of coffee yet,” he moans as he puts his head in his hands.
House and Cuddy share a smile as Cuddy stands to get the poor man his coffee.
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Spilled
House and Cuddy continue to banter as Wilson sips at his coffee, attempting to shake off the Ativan fog. As soon as he feels capable of forming a coherent sentence, he says, “I’m really enjoying the perverted ‘George and Gracie’ routine, but, uh… anybody get the morning labs yet? A sat reading? A temp?”
House scowls at him. “Don’t you ever go off duty? I’m doing great; even cooked breakfast!”
Wilson eyes the coffee cake dubiously. “Yeah, you and Sara Lee slaved away all morning.”
“I’m hurt!” House pouts, and reaches over to grab the piece of cake Cuddy’s just put in front of Wilson. “You don’t deserve this tasty slice of heaven,” he says, taking a large bite out of it, and making exaggerated sounds of enjoyment as he chews.
“Appetite’s back,” Wilson observes dryly to Cuddy as she gently cuffs the back of House’s head, and puts more coffee cake in front of Wilson. Both Cuddy and Wilson are more appreciative of House’s antics this morning than he’ll ever know—neither can remember the last time House had stolen Wilson’s food; this is a milestone.
Cuddy sets down her mug. “I’ll draw the blood and drop it off on my way in. I’ll get a little extra; now that you’re afebrile, we should get a repeat CBC.”
“Vampire,” House mumbles around another huge bite of cake. “Always after me for my bodily fluids. No, wait… that’d be an embalmer.”
Wilson and Cuddy exchange ‘the look;’ House seems more like his old self this morning than at any other time in the past two weeks. Cuddy’s even more pleased than Wilson is, because she knows he’s read the transcript of the voice file. Just wish I could let Wilson know what happened; I’ll try and call him from the car.
After Cuddy leaves, House and Wilson move into the living room with their coffee. Wilson does the morning meds, and gets a quick assessment; he’s satisfied with the results. “No fever, and you’re maintaining a normal O2 sat on room air. Your lungs are even beginning to sound functional again.”
“That mean we can dispense with those nasty little aerosols?”
“I said beginning to sound good; you’re still pretty junky.”
“That’s a no, then?”
“Yes. Uh, no. I mean yes, that’s a no. A couple more days of aerosols won’t kill you,” Wilson says, successfully ignoring the fact that House is sticking out his tongue and crossing his eyes. He leaves to chart the vital signs and straighten up the kitchen.
When Wilson returns, he’s carrying House’s chart, and there’s an odd, indecipherable expression on his face. He sits down on the couch and looks at House, but he doesn’t say anything.
Finally, House can’t take the strained silence anymore. “What’s up? You look like you just ate something nasty. Wasn’t my colossal coffee cake, I know that!” House grins, but Wilson doesn’t smile back.
“Spill, Jimmy. What’s buggin’ you?”
Wilson takes a deep breath. “Speaking of spills. Seems to be a coffee stain on one of these files.”
“So you’re a little clumsy; not like it’s an official chart or anything, anyway.”
“I didn’t spill any coffee. Not this morning. This is fresh.”
“So Cuddy’s a little clumsy.”
“Cuddy takes cream in her coffee. This,” he sniffs at the stain, “is black. And she cleans up after herself. Also, she has her own copy of this particular file.”
“A doctor, a chef, and a detective. Jimmy, you’re a man of many talents.”
Wilson is silent, and House still can’t read his face. Then, he looks directly into House’s eyes. “I’m sorry; I’m really sorry. Can… will you forgive me?”
House knows this isn’t the time to joke around. “There’s nothing to forgive,” he says firmly.
“But I saw you that night, on the floor in your office. And I… walked away.” He pauses, biting at his lower lip. “I shouldn’t ask you to excuse what I did, though, when I can’t condone it myself.” Wilson looks shame-faced, and now he’s having trouble meeting House’s eyes. “I know I told you that you could listen to the session, that I wasn’t ashamed of anything I’d said. And it’s true. But I thought we’d listen to it together, that I’d… maybe get a chance to… talk to you about it first. I am ashamed of what I did, that night.”
“You did the right thing.” House’s voice is unexpectedly gentle. “What would’ve happened if you’d come in?”
Wilson thinks about this, and says with a faint smile, “You would have yelled at me to get out, and insulted me. And I would’ve ignored you.”
House smiles too. “Preferable to passing a tear-soaked tissue back and forth. Which would have been our only other option.” He looks at Wilson, and waits for him to meet his gaze. “You did the right thing,” he repeats emphatically, and watches as some long-held guilt evaporates from Wilson’s eyes.
“And anyway,” House continues cheerfully, “this transcript is great! Now I have an actual doctor’s note giving me permission to give you a hard time. Your shrink approved it; how cool is that?”
“What are you talking about?”
House leans over and takes the chart from Wilson’s lap. He rifles through the transcript of the voice file until he finds what he’s looking for. Then, doing a bad imitation of Sigmund Freud, he reads in a booming voice, “He’s literally programmed to fight you.”
Wilson stares at him, mouth open, while House continues happily, “That’s like a blank check to star in my own episode of Boys Behaving Badly. Ya know, The Incredible Shrinking Dick may be an okay fella after all!” House grins maniacally at Wilson.
Wilson takes a deep breath while he tries not to smile. “Two things. First, call him ‘The Incredible Shrinking Dick’ tomorrow night, and I’ll put the Parental Control lock on your porn channels—all of ‘em. Got me?”
“You’re no fun,” House sulks. Wilson crosses his arms and continues to wait. “Oh, fine,” House says, “Got it; no nicknames. And the second thing?”
“Just think it’s only fair to tell you that you may be ‘programmed to fight me,’ but I’ve recently programmed myself to fight back,” Wilson says smugly.
“And a damned fine job you’re doing, too,” House’s voice is low—and serious. “Lucky for me,” he adds even more quietly.
“One more thing about this,” House says, and Wilson braces himself as House turns the transcript to the last page. “Your last line here? You know, the poetic, mushy one?”
House pauses as Wilson waits silently. “History doesn’t always repeat itself, Jimmy. You remember what you said—and you believe it. Take it to the bank, bro.”
House closes the chart slowly, then hands it back to Wilson. “Hey, I ate all my breakfast, and yours too—that means I can have a Twinkie for dessert!” House grins, and Wilson grins right back.
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: Contemplation
The rest of the day passes quietly; both men have a lot of thinking to do, and each senses that the other needs room, and time, to assimilate all that’s happened. So they supply that to each other, as best they can.
House’s condition is stable, and he’s relatively pain-free, so when he says he’d like to do some reading in the bedroom, Wilson disturbs him only when medically necessary—and never comments that House has no reading material around him.
And Wilson closets himself in the kitchen with House’s chart, which he’s studying intently—he’s so absorbed in what he’s doing that he scarcely notices that House isn’t trying to find ways to interrupt him at regular intervals.
Wilson rereads the voice file of his first session with Dickinson—but this time it’s different; this time he reads it with House’s eye, trying to view it the way House would.
He doesn’t understand why House is so quick to forgive; Wilson, himself, feels that some of the things he’d shared with Dickinson are events and feelings that would hurt or upset House—and rightly so, Wilson concludes. He puts himself as fully as he can in House’s place.
How would it feel to read that my best—my only—friend has told a virtual stranger that he thought my pain was fake, all just a big game? To know that I’d suffered, needlessly, for months while that same best friend walked around smugly, thinking he was helping me? It’s gotta hurt; wouldn’t blame him for slamming that wall back up. And as if that weren’t enough….
Wilson’s mind wanders back to House’s office, and the night he’d walked away from his friend’s suffering. He says I did the right thing; I know I didn’t. He knows about it now, and I guess he forgives me. Pity I can’t forgive myself. And the newly lifted weight of guilt settles again on his shoulders. Still can’t believe I did that to him; unforgivable. He’s gotta be hurt.
Wilson would be surprised to learn that House’s thoughts are mirroring his own; he’d be distressed to learn that some of House’s earlier opinions are changing.
House leans back into the pillows and closes his eyes, allowing the scene to play in his mind. That was the day Wilson and Cuddy both told me that I was allowing the pills to run my life. Yeah, they knew how to phrase it, didn’t they? Knew I’d have to prove ‘em wrong; nothing—no one—runs my life but me. So I proved it, didn’t I? House’s hand slams down on the bed in frustration, but he’s unaware he’s even made the motion.
Wilson saw me fail. And he saw me cry. Bet that fed his ‘need’ fixation; he’s probably still glowing over that one. And this whole thing with the new pain being fake—sure does validate him! Yeah, he’s hiding it well, but he always has managed that. Saves the big secrets ‘til he needs to pull me down a peg….
And so House continues down this road until he’s reached the old, comfortable conclusion—the inevitable destination of such thoughts. Don’t need him; don’t need anybody. Got enough pain; all this messy ‘caring’ stuff just adds to it. May not be able to do anything about the physical garbage, but I sure as hell can put a stop to the rest of it.
House imagines he can literally hear the sounds of his strong, safe wall being rebuilt, and the image makes him smile, while the sounds help to drown out the heavy, resigned, lonely feeling that’s being reborn in his chest, clamoring loudly for his attention.
The apartment’s too quiet this afternoon, as the men struggle separately with their demons, each, in his own dark solitude, never guessing what the other is going through.
And neither would be able to guess how it’ll end.
Wilson glances at his watch: 4:20pm. He’s let himself get lost in House’s chart, lost track of the time; he needs to go check on House, do an assessment. But he knows that first, he has to find a way to hide what he’s feeling, these negative emotions he’d thought were finally fading. So for now, he just pushes them away. I’ll pull a ‘House,’ just hide ‘em, deal with ‘em later—or not.
House has been struggling with the left thigh for almost five minutes when Wilson enters the room. House glances up, defiantly, and by sheer force of will manages to remove his hands from the leg, and compose his face. But Wilson isn’t fooled.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“Nothing I can’t handle. Almost over, anyway,” House lies.
Wilson reaches for a pulse. “No it isn’t, not unless you’ve recently had a cardiac transplant, and they used a hummingbird’s heart.”
“I said I’ll handle it.” House is starting to sweat. He reminds himself of his resolve to be safe, to not need, and it gives him the energy to push Wilson’s hand away from the edge of the blanket.
What’s going on, House? Thought we were long past all these games. “Just wanna check it. That a problem?”
“If I need a doctor, I’ll let you know.” And if I need a friend, I’ll remind myself of that transcript until the need passes.
Wilson thinks fast. “Okay, then. I need you in the living room. I’d like to change the dressing on the PICC line; light’s better in there, and I want a good look at the site.”
House thinks briefly of trying to fake it, then reluctantly concedes that he can’t. He tips his head back and closes his eyes. “All right. Yeah, it’s building. Spasm started about five minutes ago.” They both know that any chance of aborting the spasm is gone now; it’s gone on too long, and now it’s going to have to play out.
“No meds,” House says as he allows his hands to return to the cramped muscle.
“No meds,” Wilson agrees, pulling the blankets back.
So Wilson sits on the edge of the bed, gently pushes House’s hands out of the way, and begins to work the muscle. He tries to think of something, anything to say, that might distract House from his pain.
“Something you need to know, about that night I saw you in your office,” he begins. He doesn’t have to look at House; he’s concentrating on the leg. “I admire what you tried to do, what you did. You kept trying; you didn’t let it beat you down. You were in agony, but you kept going. Don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as strong as you, don’t think I ever will again.” And as he says the words, Wilson realizes that they’re all true.
Wilson continues. “And that’s why I know that, whatever turns out to be wrong, you’re not gonna let it get you. Gotta thank you, House. It’s a real privilege to be allowed to be a part of that kind of… courage.”
Wilson’s focused completely on the knotted thigh; his own hands are cramping and uncomfortable from the work, but he won’t acknowledge that. He believes what he’s just said to House—to offer assistance to this man is an honor.
Damn you, Jimmy. Doesn’t matter how strong I build the wall, you find a chink in it, and barrel on through. Hasn’t even seemed to matter to you that I don’t deserve it. And so, without even being aware of it, Wilson’s taken House’s afternoon of careful thought and dismantled both it, and the brand new wall it had created.
House notices the tight squint to Wilson’s eyes, the occasional wince as he moves his fingers over the muscle, and the way Wilson’s ignoring his own discomfort in an almost desperate attempt to bring relief to House.
“Yeah, well, as long as we’re playing True Confessions here, got one of my own. I’m grateful that you left that night. Doesn’t matter why you left; you gave me my privacy. That’s one thing about you I can always count on; you understand the importance of a man’s dignity. And you’re willing to risk a lot to protect it. You risked everything this time around, in the name of my… dignity. No small thing, that.” And as he speaks these words, House is acknowledging to himself the truth of them, and fully realizing the sacrifice that Wilson’s made.
“Whatever you thought your reasons were doesn’t matter, ‘cuz we both know why you really left. I’ll deny I ever said this, but don’t know what I’d do without you—always lookin’ out for me even when you think you’re not.”
Damn you, House! Even making my guilt sound altruistic…. But…. You do get it, don’t you? And House will never know that Wilson’s guilt has finally dissipated into a formless, thinning cloud that promises to disappear for good, once House is healthy again.
Wilson feels the muscle relax under his hands, and hears House’s relieved sigh. He smiles up at House, and begins to lift his fingers, but they’re stayed by House’s hands.
“The heat.” House says, by way of explanation. “Feels good,” But he doesn’t move his own hands from atop Wilson’s; instead, he gently rubs the cramps from the tired, aching fingers.
“Yes,” Wilson confirms, and smiles. “It does.” There’s something he’s been denying himself all afternoon; now he grants himself permission. He takes his first full breath in what feels like forever; he allows himself to relax.
Chapter Thirty-Four: NERVES