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-FOUR: Nerves
On Friday morning, Wilson awakens already on edge. It doesn’t take him long to figure out the cause of his uneasiness; tonight’s the poker game, and there’s no way he can prepare for what House might do or say.
He’s worried about House’s condition, too; he’s anticipating that, sometime today, there’s gonna be a terrible spasm in the left thigh. House is only now showing strong signs of recovery from the pneumonia, and his general recovery is going well. Wilson’s afraid, though, that a few more severe attacks might steal the strength House has fought so hard to gain.
Wilson has seen his theory about the psychosomatic pain confirmed; things that cause House to feel insecure or unsettled do, indeed, bring on the spasms—and what could make House any more disquieted than knowing he’ll be going toe-to-toe with a very perceptive psychologist tonight?
Wilson heads into the kitchen to get the coffee on. As he works, his worry about Dick’s visit grows. Finally, he decides to postpone the game for a week, give House more time to get over the pneumonia, more time to adjust to the idea of the new diagnosis. He pours his coffee and decides to call Dickinson’s office now, leave a message on his voice mail.
Before he can place the call, House comes into the kitchen. He’s walking confidently; he’s gotten quite adept with the cane-and-IV pole combination, and he’s got a big smile on his face. “Lookin’ forward to tonight; not often I get to psych out a psychologist!”
As Wilson grabs another mug and pours a cup of coffee for House, he wonders if House is referring to the poker game—or to the diagnosis of psychosomatic illness. “Yeah, well, about the game. I was thinking of putting it off for a few days, give you a chance to really get over the pneumonia.”
“Uh-uh! I’m ready. Don’t need healthy lungs to play poker; just luck and brain cells. What I’m lacking in the luck department, I more than make up for in brains. Matter of fact, got so many brains, I might be able to loan you a few extra cells tonight; wouldn’t want you to say I don’t share the wealth!” House smirks at Wilson.
Abandoning his plans to put off the game, Wilson eyes House appraisingly. His high spirits seem to be genuine, and maybe it’ll do him some good to have a little distraction, to do something where not everything’s focused on his ‘patient’ status. And to that end….
“Hey, I’ll make a deal with you. Eat well at breakfast and lunch, I’ll let you ditch the pump for the evening. And if you’ll throw in a nap this afternoon, might even let you stay up past your bedtime. Of course, that’ll depend on how badly you’re beating me.” Wilson grins at House as he speaks, but he’s still feeling uneasy.
“Deal,” House says. “But only if you’ll agree to keep the doctoring stuff down to a minimum. Hard to maintain my ‘poker face’ with a thermometer hangin’ outta my mouth; kinda ruins the look I’m going for.”
Wilson smiles and takes the bait. “And what look would that be?” he asks.
“Tough guy. Intimidating. Kinda crazy. Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“Ahh, type-casting, got it.”
“Hmmph.” House settles himself at the table. “What’s for breakfast? And if I have to eat all of it, it’d better not involve past pigs, future chickens, and the secretions of contented bovines.”
“House, if you don’t want bacon and eggs, just say so. If you don’t want milk, just pour it down the sink when you think I’m not looking, like you usually do.”
“It’s just that that’s so yesterday. And the day before. And--”
“Hold up there,” Wilson interrupts the whining litany. “As I recall, you made what passed for breakfast yesterday, no nutrition involved. No actual work involved, either.
“Okay then, it’s so the day before yesterday. And the day--”
Wilson sighs loudly. “Macadamia nut pancakes it is.”
An hour later, Wilson hears the two words that never fail to make his blood run cold.
“I’m bored.” House shuts off the TV and tosses the remote onto the coffee table.
Insert appropriate danger music here, Wilson thinks. “Why don’t you play your new video game? Or brush up on your poker skills?”
“Beat level fifty eight—seen the naked girls; the thrill is gone. And I already have an unfair advantage over the rest of you unfortunates in tonight’s game, just by virtue of being me. ‘Cuz I’m just that good.” House grins and waggles his eyebrows at Wilson. Then he leans his head back and addresses the ceiling. “I’m bored!” he repeats loudly.
“Some day, I’m going to figure out just exactly how you manage to make those two small words sound like such a big threat. In the meantime, in the interests of world peace and domestic safety, I guess it’s time to bring out the big guns.” Wilson goes to the coat closet and returns with a flat package, which he hands to House. “Here. This should keep you busy for, oh, about a hundred and seventy four minutes. Not that I know exactly.”
“SpongeBob SquarePants’ Absorbing Favorites!” House’s grin threatens to take over his face. “Wilson, you’ve been holding out on me! How long have you had this?”
“Got it just after the last time you uttered those two dreaded words, and I came home to find you’d dismantled the microwave to find out why the food gets hot but the plates stay cool.”
“Hey, check out this bonus feature! Ripped Pants Karaoke! This is just too awesome! Can ya bring me that old scrub brush—gotta have my microphone!”
Wilson conducts the rest of his day to the soundtrack of SpongeBob, Patrick, and Gary the meowing snail. Every once in a while, he has to quell the overpowering urge to strangle Gary—or maybe House, but that might involve jail time. Then he reminds himself that this is better than having to rescue his blow dryer from the freezer, where House claimed to have left it (plugged in, turned on, go figure) “to defrost a TV dinner in a real big hurry.”
So, as House begins his seventeenth rendition of “I Ripped My Pants,” (but who’s counting?), Wilson swallows his fourth ibuprofen of the day (but who’s counting?), gazes longingly at the bottle of Ativan, fixes a cheery smile on his face, and goes into the living room to toss the DVD player—or House—out the window.
CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: Bluff
When Cuddy comes in after work, she’s astonished to find House lying quietly on the couch, intently perusing a medical journal. Wilson had called her no less than twice today, to fill her in on the antics of hyped-up House, and she’d expected that by now he’d be perched atop a bookcase, painting the living room. When House simply glances up at her entrance, nods seriously, politely, and returns to his article, alarms start going off in her head.
“What’d you do?” she asks suspiciously.
House looks up from his journal and sighs in resignation. “How was I supposed to know that when Wilson said ‘take a nap,’ he meant ‘go to sleep’? He should have been more exact.”
Cuddy lowers herself into a chair, and breathes deeply a few times. Smiling sweetly at House, she asks, “And how did you translate it?”
“The only logical way, of course. Figured what he meant was entertain myself quietly for a while. So I did. If I’d known that my post on the “Life with Your Chihuahua” board could be traced back to his laptop, I sure wouldn’t have… umm… proposed the idea that death with my Chihuahua, dear little Toto, could be an exciting alternative. Guess I kinda gave ‘em the impression that I was gettin’ ready to take myself out, and my little doggie, too.”
“Let me make absolutely certain I’m following you, here,” Cuddy says slowly. “You… threatened suicide. And… uh… Chihuahuacide. In a public forum. On the Internet. Posing as James Wilson, MD, formerly respected oncologist.” Cuddy’s fixed smile threatens to crack.
House tries unsuccessfully to suppress a grin. “Think those weirdos were more upset about the dog biting the big one. But Wilson was really good with the cops who showed up, somehow managed to convince ‘em some total idiot had unauthorized access to his laptop.”
“Yeah.” Cuddy, still smiling, observes dryly, “Sometimes the truth can be a hard sell. And how did Wilson make the nice officers go away?”
“Not real sure about that. Took an awful long time to get rid of ‘em, though. Do know it involved a hell of a lot of pointing at me. And whispering. And laughing. Kinda hurt my feelings—good thing I’m not paranoid.”
“And then?” Cuddy asks with admirable patience.
“Then they tore up their little Baker Act forms with his name all over ‘em, and they told Wilson he needed to do a better job of supervising his kid, and they all laughed some more. Except Wilson; if I didn’t know better, I’d say he was crying. And then they left.”
“And Wilson? After they tore up the involuntary commitment papers, and you made Daddy cry, and the big, bad men went away, what did Wilson do next?” Cuddy has a sudden mental image of Wilson, curled up at this very moment under the bed, muttering gibberish and playing with sharp, shiny objects. And whimpering.
“Got a little pissy with me, can you believe it? Said, ‘Couch. Now. Don’t move.’ He’s been in the kitchen ever since. Figured I’d better do as he says; wouldn’t want him to get upset and off the stinkin’ pup, or anything.”
Cuddy represses the urge to smack the grin off House’s face. As she stands, she says, “Allow me to reiterate Dr. Wilson’s orders. Don’t. Move.”
Wilson has his back to her, chopping vegetables, as she enters the kitchen. He doesn’t pause in his chopping, but the sound of the knife as it strikes the cutting board becomes louder, more emphatic. “House, I’ve got a weapon. Lucky for you, I’m a doctor, so I know right where the jugular is; you won’t suffer. Much.” He sighs wistfully. “But enough of my fantasies; on a much more realistic note, if you don’t get back on that couch right now, I’ll arrange it so you never see a computer again,” he says in a clipped voice.
“Relax, it’s me,” Cuddy says as he turns around. “Hard day?” she asks sympathetically.
“You don’t know the half of it. Should’ve let ‘em take me away to a nice, padded room, make that--” He points emphatically in House’s direction, “a ward of the state. But even New Jersey doesn’t deserve that, they’ve got enough toxic waste problems as it is….” he mumbles. Wilson gives her a tired smile. “Only bright spot in all this is, I would’ve bet big bucks that the left leg was gonna give him hell all day. Not even a twinge, though. Appetite’s been good, no fever. Looks like he might actually be improving—if I don’t kill him first.”
“Yeah, death might mess with the improvement curve—not that I’d blame you. Not that anyone would blame you.” Cuddy shakes her head in wonder that Wilson still appears sane, and that House is still in one piece. “Need any help getting ready for the game? What time is Dr. Dickinson supposed to be here?”
Wilson hands her a couple of bags of chips, and two large bowls from the cabinet. “Just dump these in the bowls, will you? Dick should be here any time now.”
Cuddy readies the snacks while Wilson braves the living room to ascertain that the table’s set up and everything’s ready. He studiously ignores House’s imploring, apologetic looks, addressing him only to say, “You’d do well to remember a few things. You’re still trapped in this apartment with me for at least a couple of weeks. And GameBoys and DVDs and laptops can all be disappeared very easily.”
He fixes House with a steely gaze. “And remote controls fit quite nicely into garbage disposals. They make a really cool sound when they die, too. You taught me that one. At my house. With my remote.”
“Did you know that the AMA is currently recommending federal regulation of the salt in processed foods?” House asks indignantly, eyes fixed on the journal in his lap. “Man, how’s that for Big Brother? They can’t get away with that; we should start an email campaign.”
“House--” Wilson’s next threat is cut off by a knock at the door. With one last warning look, Wilson goes to the door.
“Hi, Dick. Glad you could make it!” He turns to Cuddy, who’s just come out of the kitchen. “This is Lisa Cuddy,” he says, and smiles when his two friends seem to take an immediate liking to each other as they introduce themselves.
Wilson glances reluctantly toward the couch, from which exaggerated throat-clearing noises are emanating, at steadily increasing volume. “And that,” he says dryly, “would be House.”
House smiles widely, while Wilson holds his breath. “Well, if it isn’t The Incred--”
“Now where did I write down that top secret cable code?” Wilson wonders loudly.
“Good evening, Dr. Dickinson, or may I call you….” There’s an ominous pause, during which Wilson takes the opportunity to graphically pantomime a knife, slicing violently across a neck. “…Dick? ‘Cuz there seems to be a list of things I can’t call you…. So nice to meet you. Forgive me for not getting up, but Daddy has me grounded to the couch until further notice. No sense of humor, I’m afraid,” House says formally to Dick, while grinning, challengingly, at Wilson.
Wilson ignores the challenge. “Okay, House, restriction’s lifted—for now. You may move to the table.”
They all watch as House grabs his cane, and stands with energy and enthusiasm. “C’mon everyone, need to get started! Wilson’s been buggin’ me for months to take his money off his hands, and I plan to oblige ‘im tonight.”
“At least when I lose it to you, I know it’s gone. That would be different than when I loan it to you, and I’m forced to suffer under the delusion that I might someday see it again,” Wilson observes.
“Delusion? That would be your area of expertise, wouldn’t it, Dick?” House asks heartily. “Might wanna have a little chat with Jimmy about those delusions of his; they can get really tiresome.”
Cuddy and Wilson exchange an eye roll as they all seat themselves at the table, while House and Dickinson smile pleasantly at one another.
For the first hour, things go smoothly. House is charming, funny, and manipulative—just as Wilson had expected him to be. Dick seems taken with House’s wit, amused by his jokes.
And House himself is, incredibly, coming off as the very picture of mental health; he is, by turns, self-deprecating and confident, serious and light-hearted, pensive and outspoken—and all at the appropriate times. Worse, Dick appears to be buying into it.
When all the talking and laughter take a toll on House’s lungs, and his breathing becomes noticeably shallow and rapid, Cuddy suggests a break for an aerosol treatment—and House immediately agrees, throwing in a compliment about her medical perception skills. Wilson and Cuddy widen their eyes at each other. Cuddy goes to the bedroom to retrieve the nebulizer, then meets Wilson in the kitchen, where he’s preparing the aerosol.
“There’s too much bluffing going on in this game—and none of it has to do with cards,” Wilson tells her grimly. “Time for Plan B.”
Shortly after the game resumes, Wilson mentions that he’s hungry, and he’s going to check on the deli order he’d placed earlier for dinner. When he returns from making a call in the kitchen, he appears upset. “Deli’s backed up; Friday night rush, they said. Delivery’ll be at least an hour, probably more.” He turns to Cuddy. “Wanna run down there with me? We’ll pick it up ourselves; it’s the only way I can guarantee dinner before midnight.”
“Sure; just let me grab my purse,” Cuddy says.
“That okay with you two?” Wilson asks House and Dickinson.
“Absolutely,” House answers. “It’ll give Dick and me a chance to swap stories about the phenomenal Boy Wonder!” House grins like a kid let loose in an amusement park, while Wilson groans inwardly and wishes he’d also come up with a Plan C.
As soon as they’re out the door, House turns to Dick. “Gee, Mommy and Daddy leaving me alone with the sitter—nothing obvious there. Gotta apologize for Jimmy; he’s usually more clever than that.”
Dickinson smiles. “He’s gone to great lengths to help you,” he says mildly.
“Yeah, and I’m cool with most of it. But this isn’t necessary—we both know that, don’t we?” House shifts uncomfortably in the chair; he appears unsteady, suddenly weary.
“Would you like to move over to the couch?” Dickinson suggests. “You’ve been pretty much confined to bed for a while; sitting up for so long can be tiring, can’t it?”
“What is it with shrinks and couches, anyway?” House asks rhetorically. “No, thanks. I’m just fine here.” He picks up a deck of cards and begins to shuffle them repeatedly.
“I imagine, after all the trouble he went to, to leave us alone, that James will be pretty disappointed if we don’t discuss your diagnosis,” Dick says casually, leaning back in his chair as he watches House play with the cards.
House looks up, and there’s a brief flash of resentment in his eyes. “Yeah, well, James will just have to get over it. It’s not my diagnosis anyway. As I recall, it’s yours.”
“Nope, not mine,” Dick responds pleasantly. “The doctors who analyzed your test results were the ones who reached that conclusion. I simply concurred.”
“I read the transcript of the voice file. You were the one who planted the idea in Wilson’s head,” House accuses, with barely suppressed anger.
“If you read the transcript, then you’re aware of the importance of acknowledging changes in self-perception. We’re concerned, at this point, that perhaps you had to cope with severe pain for so long that your brain’s just gone into overdrive, trying to control something that’s not there anymore. Understandable, given the circumstances.”
“Problem’s not in my brain; it’s in my leg. But thanks for sharing,” House says coldly.
House isn’t even aware that he’s been rubbing at his left thigh for a couple of minutes, that he’s now gripping the muscle—but Dickinson is.
“Leg bothering you now?”
House removes his hand from his thigh as if it’s been burned. “No!”
“It’s okay; nothing to be ashamed of. Can I do anything to help?”
Screw him! House goes back to rubbing the clenched muscle. “You can leave me the hell alone,” he says quietly, dangerously. As the cramping builds, he digs his fingers into the leg and concentrates on ignoring Dickinson’s presence.
Several minutes later, when they hear Wilson and Cuddy at the door, House says through clenched teeth, “Wanna help? Keep your mouth shut.” He wraps both hands as tightly as he can around the thigh, looks up and smiles at his friends. “Hope you two had time for that steamy make-out session!” he says brightly.
Wilson lifts his eyes skyward, but makes no comment as they head to the kitchen with several bags of food. “I’ll be right out with the salads,” Cuddy says.
When they’re alone again, Dick leans towards House. “At least let me tell them that you’re in pain. Please.”
In just the few seconds of pretense, House’s pain has increased; he can’t spare the energy to look up. “No,” he hisses, and as Dick watches, the color drains from House’s face, sweat breaks out on his forehead, and there’s a drop of blood on his lower lip, where he’s bitten through the skin. He looks as if he might topple from the chair.
Dick shakes his head and stands to go to him as Cuddy returns to the living room. She takes in immediately what’s happening, and as she moves to House’s side she calls urgently into the kitchen, “Wilson, we’re gonna need at least 5mg of morphine in here, stat!”
As she speaks, Cuddy kneels by House, curling her fingers around his wrist, and Dick places a hand on his shoulder; House’s eyes are shut tightly, and he’s holding his breath—he isn’t even aware that they’re there.
When Cuddy notes the thigh muscle jerking involuntarily, violently, and sees that House has actually bitten through his lip a second time, she shouts, “Make it 10 milligrams—now, Wilson!”
Instantly, there’s the startling clatter of metal, followed by a loud crash, in the other room, and even House opens his eyes and raises his head towards the sound. It’s immediately followed by groaning. Cuddy and Dick rush to the kitchen.
Wilson’s lying on the floor looking dazed, and the stepstool’s lying on top of him. But before Cuddy can reach him, House bursts through the entrance and shoulders the other two aside. He drops his cane and kneels by Wilson, who’s trying to sit up while he kicks his legs free of the stool. A large stainless steel platter is on the floor next to him.
House places his hands firmly on Wilson’s shoulders and restrains him. “Don’t move,” he orders, before looking up at Cuddy. “Penlight,” he barks at her. She grabs it from the back of the counter and hands it to him.
House sets the penlight aside, and attempts to force Wilson to lie flat. As House pushes him down, Wilson’s head strikes the floor with a soft thud, and he looks up at House, surprised and confused.
“What’d you do that for?” he asks, attempting to sit up again.
“Jimmy, I said stay still,” House says softly to Wilson, pinning his shoulders to the floor. “Don’t move your head.”
Wilson stops struggling, and sighs in resignation. Obviously, House isn’t going to give up until he’s conducted his exam, so there’s no sense in pointing out that this whole thing is a waste of time. He lies quietly, answering the silly questions while House does a neuro check, but he draws the line when House mentions stabilizing his neck; he’s feeling a little less dazed now, and a lot more embarrassed. “House, I’m fine. I didn’t hit my head, at least not until you hit it for me, and I didn’t lose consciousness. Will ya please let me up?”
House frowns at him, but he removes his hands from Wilson’s shoulders. He rechecks his pupils with the penlight, and carefully manipulates his neck, before nodding at him. “You were lucky,” he says, still frowning in disapproval as Wilson sits up.
House uses the edge of the counter to pull himself upright, and grabs his cane. Then he reaches a hand down to help Wilson stand.
“Any dizziness? Pain? You didn’t re-injure your wrist, did you?” House is still assessing Wilson intently; he isn’t aware that Dick and Cuddy have shifted their attention from Wilson to him. “You need to sit down.” He puts his left hand under Wilson’s elbow and guides him steadily to a chair.
“Will you stop fussing, please?” Wilson asks House. “I’m fine; just feeling foolish, and you’re making that symptom worse! Guess this is what happens when you fall in an apartment full of doctors.” Wilson smiles sheepishly, then he turns to Cuddy. “I was trying to reach that big platter. And I thought when you said you needed morphine immediately, that House was….” Wilson realizes that both Cuddy and Dickinson are staring at House, and now, puzzled, he turns to look at him as well. “Weren’t you spasming?” He sees the bloodied lower lip. “A bad one?”
House looks down at his leg as the others make note of his posture; he’s standing straight, scarcely any weight on the cane. He raises his head; all three of them are observing him with varying degrees of compassion and professional fascination—he feels suddenly like a lab rat, trying to navigate a particularly tricky maze.
“I’ve never seen him in so much pain,” Cuddy says quietly, almost to herself. She looks over at Wilson. “And then, when you fell, it just….”
“Medical instinct,” House says firmly, as they continue to watch him. “Or… adrenaline.” House’s voice is less assured now; are they looking at him with pity? “Spasm was just… a false alarm….” This last has the air of a desperate question, and House answers it for himself when he reaches up to wipe his lips, and his hand comes back smeared with his own blood.
Wilson stands slowly, gently places a hand on House’s shoulder. He feels his friend lean heavily into the comfort, for just a moment, before House straightens abruptly, shaking off the hand.
“False alarm; that’s all,” House says again, but his voice is confident again as he strides out of the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, “Come on, people; you’ve still got money in your pockets. Until it’s all in mine, this game isn’t over!”
Cuddy and Wilson look to Dick, confusion and dismay clear in their eyes. He regards them thoughtfully, then says quietly to Wilson, “Get that dose of morphine ready, and keep it handy.” Before either of them can speak, Dickinson turns quickly, and follows House back to the game.
CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: Stakes
When Wilson and Cuddy return to the living room, neither is surprised to find only Dick seated at the table. House is up and pacing; he’s doing a really good job of pretending he’s alone in the room.
Once they’ve taken their seats and Cuddy begins to shuffle the cards, House returns to the table with a smile. “What took you two so long? Didn’t get to finish making out on the way back from the deli?”
“Yeah, that was it; had to finish what we started,” Wilson says, fingering the syringes tucked into the pocket of his jeans.
As Cuddy deals the cards, Dick glances across the table at House. “How’s the leg now?” he asks him.
House looks away from Dick, turns deliberately in Wilson’s direction. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t psychologists have PhDs after their names? Isn’t the ‘MD’ designation reserved for people who’ve actually attended medical school?” He ignores Wilson’s scowl, and continues, “’Cuz it makes me really nervous when people who don’t rate the ‘MD’ start asking medical-type questions.”
Wilson looks hard at House. “How’s the leg, House?”
“Now see, that’s different,” House smiles at Dickinson. “A real doctor, asking a doctor-type question, about a physical problem. That’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.”
“So answer the question.” Wilson’s tone is low and warning.
“Just fine, Jimmy-me-boy, A-1, peachy keen!” House says expansively. “Hey, look at these cards! I’m in.” He slides his ante to the center of the table, then starts watching the others as they study their cards.
Cuddy folds early in the hand. Wilson is watching House. Dick’s already raised once, and Wilson calls. House has a pair of nines showing; Dick’s got the jack and queen of diamonds. House raises, and looks curiously at Dick, who’s just been dealt the eight of hearts. Dick smiles, looking at no one, and raises again.
Wilson’s realizing that this isn’t about cards anymore. He folds, and sits back in his chair, watching the two men who are watching each other. When the seventh card is dealt, House’s up cards are the nines, a two, and a jack. Dick’s got the eight, jack, queen, and a five—and he raises. So does House. Dick looks thoughtfully at his hole cards for a full thirty seconds, his face a blank. Then he looks up. “Fold.”
House grins and scoops up the pot. “A pair of nines, a lousy pair of nines! I psyched out the shrink; too cool!” he crows.
Cuddy decides that a win for House is the perfect time for a break. “Let’s eat, guys,” she tells them, rising to go to the kitchen.
As Wilson is clearing the table for dinner, he takes the opportunity to surreptitiously check Dick's hand—he’d had a straight.
House is in a good mood after his win, so while Cuddy and Wilson lay out the platters of food, he’s turning on the charm again with Dick. He tells a couple of his most amusing clinic stories, and then asks Dick about his “line of work.”
“Anything interesting ever happen on that couch of yours?”
“Nothing like what you see, I’m sure. But occasionally I get the satisfaction of helping to guide a patient through a rough spot, and see them come out of it stronger, more able to help themselves.”
“Sounds as exciting as full-time clinic duty,” House yawns.
“I suppose the degree of excitement is relative,” Dick responds. “For example, I found it quite exciting when you were able to break that painful spasm so quickly.”
House is momentarily nonplussed by the comment, but he’s saved from having to respond by Cuddy and Wilson joining them at the table.
However, Dick’s not ready to let it go, and House glares at him as he continues. “It was fascinating that your concern for James could override such severe pain.”
“Thought I explained that,” House says tightly.
“Well, you did mention a few possible theories,” Dick agrees thoughtfully. "Let’s examine them, shall we?”
“Go for it.” House is staring at Dickinson with a challenge in his eyes.
“I believe the first thing you suggested was that you were acting on medical instinct. If a shop clerk had fallen off a low stepstool, without loss of consciousness, you wouldn’t have spared the clerk a second glance. We knew that James hadn’t been knocked out; we heard him groaning immediately after the crash, and he spoke lucidly, and was able to move. So even you discarded that quickly.”
House nods shortly; he’s still staring intently at Dick.
“Then, you put your actions off to adrenaline. That’s a sound theory—except for one thing. Had that been the cause, your pain would have returned the moment the perceived crisis had passed, once the adrenaline had dissipated. Yet you were fine, weren’t you?”
House doesn’t bother to answer the question; he’s very still, just waiting for Dick to continue. His only movement, Dick notes, is that his left hand has begun to gently rub the left thigh. The motion is rhythmic and light, and House is unaware that he’s doing it.
“And your final rationale, the one you decided to go with. False alarm.” Dick stops speaking, and watches House for a few seconds. House’s massage of the thigh muscle has become slightly more rapid. Dick allows his silence to stretch out until he sees House’s hand slow, and watches his fingers begin to press into the quadriceps. Then Dickinson turns to Wilson.
“During our daily call a couple of days ago,” he begins conversationally, “didn’t you tell me that Dr. House had had another ‘false alarm’ with his left leg?”
By now, Wilson has noted House’s actions as well. He’s watching with concern as he notes the tight lines around House’s eyes, the set of his mouth. Wilson starts to shake his head; he wants to change the subject. He doesn’t want to watch this, certainly doesn’t want to be a party to it. But Dick is waiting for an answer. “Yes. He said it was a false alarm; it could’ve been.” Under the table, Cuddy squeezes his arm. He looks at her; her eyes are telling him that he must be honest, and that she feels for him—and that his honesty will help House.
Wilson takes a deep breath. “It could’ve been. But I don’t think it was.” He looks over at House, who refuses to meet his eyes.
“And how did that spasm end?” Dick asks.
“I’d… gotten very upset. Wasn’t doing too well. I’d left the room. The spasm was beginning to peak when I left, but… I had to. I had to get out of there, calm down. House followed me into the kitchen. I guess I was… in pretty bad shape at that point. He… umm… took care of me. And then, he took care of himself. When I… recovered, and went to find him, I expected that he’d be in a lot of pain. But when I got to his room, and questioned him, he told me it was a… false alarm.” Wilson stops speaking and looks down. Then he looks at House and tries to send an apology with his gaze; House turns his head away.
Now House is aware of what he’s doing with the thigh. He tries to still his hand, and shifts uncomfortably in his chair. He lets out an involuntary gasp, then looks defiantly at the other three as he clamps his hand over the muscle. “Still don’t get your point,” he says roughly to Dick. “Spasm ended; that’s a good thing. Doesn’t matter why it stopped.”
“Oh, but I disagree. It matters very much.” The tone of Dick’s voice has become gently teasing, taunting. “Because now we know how to fix the problem. How to cure you, so to speak.”
The pain in House’s thigh has reached the point where he can no longer be bothered attempting to hide his discomfort. He’s using both hands now to try to relieve it, to soothe the clenching knot of pain. “A cure; do tell,” he rasps, but the undercurrent of sarcasm is clearly forced.
“Sure, but it doesn’t bode well for your friends, I’m afraid. Seems this problem doesn’t occur until your mind has some free time. None of the attacks have happened when you’ve been wrapped up in a video game. Nor did tonight’s incidents happen while you were actually playing cards. James tells me you’re all about the puzzle. But games end, medical cases get solved. And then, where are you? It’s just you and your pain again. So you focus on that, get angry at that—keeps your brain busy so you don’t have to deal with anything else, until the next puzzle comes along. And the pain recedes—for a little while.”
Wilson wonders how much of what Dick is saying is actually getting through to House. He’s doubled over the leg now; his breathing is becoming ragged, and he’s pale, starting to get sweaty. Wilson removes the med from his pocket, starts to stand. But Cuddy grabs his arm, shakes her head. She won’t let go of his arm, and her look is stern. He sighs, and sits back down.
“So this is what we have to do,” Dick continues. The gently taunting tone of his voice is gone now; when he speaks, his voice is mocking, almost cruel. “We just have to keep James in some sort of danger. Or Lisa; you care about her enough now that danger to her should be just as effective.” He turns to Wilson and Cuddy. “James, you’re gonna need to come down with some long term illness, preferably life-threatening. Lisa, maybe a serious traffic accident would do the trick with you. Then you,” he turns back to House, “won’t ever have to acknowledge that the pain is an integral part of who you are. Hell, you won’t even have to acknowledge that you care about these people as much as—or more than—your pain and your puzzles. You can tell everybody—you can tell yourself—that you’re simply doing your job.”
Dickinson turns back to the other two. “So you see, guys, it’s really very simple. Dr. House will never have to admit to the psychosomatic nature of his illness as long as one of you is in a constant state of peril.” He smiles coldly. “And you’re both so overprotective of him that I’m certain you’ll gladly make that sacrifice.”
A growling sound emanates from House as he half-rises from the chair. “Leave them out of it,” he gasps. He attempts to take a step towards Dick, and collapses to the floor.
Both Cuddy and Wilson are at his side immediately. Wilson prepares to inject the morphine into the port of the PICC line, but forces himself to look to Dick first. Dickinson nods sadly, apologetically, and Wilson injects the medication while Cuddy monitors House’s pulse and respirations. House neither speaks nor opens his eyes.
Ten long, silent minutes later, Cuddy rises from House’s side, leaves the room, and returns with the wheelchair. House is comfortable now, and calm. Although he hasn’t yet spoken, his eyes are open; he’s looking thoughtfully at Dick, gravely at Cuddy and Wilson.
“Let’s get you to bed now,” Wilson tells House gently. House allows Wilson and Dickinson to lift him from the floor and settle him in the chair. Dick accompanies them to the bedroom. “Thanks,” Wilson tells him. “Got him from here.”
“No,” House says quietly. “Wilson, outta here, please. Even a fake doctor can help me get to bed.” He looks at Dickinson, and the quiet, measured tone of his voice doesn’t change. “The Incredible Shrinking Dick needs to do some more shrinking. Scram, Jimmy.”
Chapter Thirty-Seven: VERACITY