Chapter Thirty-Six: STAKES
And tonight's chapters conclude The Devil's In the Details, thus concluding the trilogy. Thanks to all who read; a special thanks to those who commented. Anyway, here are the concluding chapters; it's been fun, kids!
CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN: Veracity
Cuddy and Wilson sit next to one another on the couch; Wilson has his head in his hands. Cuddy puts an arm on his shoulders, gently draws him closer. “You know,” she says, “I feel like we’re parents, waiting for our child to come out of potentially life-saving surgery.”
Wilson chokes on a laugh. “You’re not far wrong. What’s going on in there could be life-altering for him.” He raises his head, and notices for the first time that this woman, who’s so concerned with comforting him, has tears in her own eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says. “This is just as hard on you, isn’t it?”
Cuddy nods, and squeezes Wilson’s hand. “It was difficult to watch that happen. House is… House. It’s a shock, I guess, to be reminded that he’s just as human, just as susceptible, as the rest of us.”
“I know. While that was going on, I kept trying to remind myself that Dick was only doing what House himself does to his own patients on a regular basis. No matter how cruel it appears, he believes that the end justifies the means.” Wilson sighs, and looks at Cuddy with pained eyes. “All Dick did was pull a ‘House’ on House. So why does it hurt so much?”
Cuddy smiles at him. “That’s easy. We care about our patients, of course, but it’s abstract, a removed kind of caring. But House is… family. With him, the caring is tangible; it’s real, and yes, it hurts. We’re… invested in his recovery, in his well-being. That’s why we must let Dr. Dickinson handle this. As much as we wish we could, neither one of us is in any position to help House right now.”
“Do you think he’s okay?” Wilson asks, looking towards the bedroom.
“Who?” Cuddy asks wryly. “House, or Dick?”
Wilson smiles. “Point taken. It’s just that sometimes, I worry about him. House, I mean. For all his bluster, for all his professed hatred of emotion, sometimes he seems so damned... vulnerable, so….” Wilson searches for the word that’ll describe that indefinable quality of House’s that makes both Wilson and Cuddy want to safeguard him, even from himself.
“Innocent,” Cuddy finishes for him. “I know what you mean. He spends so much time fitting everything neatly into intellectual boxes, and when something doesn’t fit in the box, he doesn’t know how to handle it, and he’s surprised. It’s almost like….” She thinks a minute. “It’s like he doesn’t know how to protect himself. So he gets hurt.”
“Yeah. But then he hides that hurt behind sarcasm or anger, tries to divert your attention from it. And of course, once he’s got you distracted, he doesn’t have to acknowledge his feelings. So we all wind up thinking of him as just a cold-hearted, unfeeling bastard. And what’s sad is, he chalks that up as a win.” Wilson shakes his head.
Cuddy’s quick to reassure Wilson. “But now he’s busted, you know. At least with us. And maybe someday, some of the trust he’s given us may spill over to the rest of the human race.”
Wilson laughs, stands and goes to the window. He glances out with interest.
“What are you doing?” Cuddy’s puzzled.
“Looking for flying pigs, what else?”
Cuddy laughs too. “Okay, you’re probably right. Not likely. So let’s just be grateful that we’ve gotten as far as we have with him. And let’s trust that Dickinson will be able to take him the rest of the way.”
Wilson turns away from the window. “Want some coffee?”
For more than an hour, they sit and try to talk about anything but what’s going on down the hall. They’re only partially successful, though, and when they hear the door open, followed by footsteps in the hallway, they stand, in tandem, anxiously—Cuddy’s reminded again of overwrought parents in a surgical waiting room, as Wilson reaches for her hand.
Dick enters the living room and flashes them a tired smile. “Is that coffee? Smells good.”
Wilson quickly pours him a cup as they both regard him apprehensively. Dick takes a long swallow of his coffee before speaking. “He’s… okay. Fascinating man.” He turns to Wilson. “He says to tell you that I’m better than Dr. Phil, but that I’d give Oprah a run for her money. He also requests that you… umm… find him a Nerf ball before our next session.” Dick gives Wilson a puzzled smile. “Care to translate?”
Wilson chuckles. “Well, the good news—the great news—is there’s gonna be a next session. The bad news is that you’d better get yourself a thesaurus and learn a few new words for ‘feelings,’ or you’re gonna be spending a lot of time dodging a flying ball!”
Dickinson still looks a little confused, but he smiles gamely. “All right, will do. Thanks for the warning. I… think.” His dubious expression makes them laugh.
Wilson stands. “I’m gonna go check on him.”
“No,” Dickinson says quickly. “He… uh… specifically requested Lisa.”
A hurt look flashes briefly across Wilson’s face, but it’s replaced with a wide smile as Dickinson, turning to Cuddy, continues, “He said to tell you that he’s willing to be a guinea pig tonight for what he termed your ‘new-age relaxation garbage,’ but that it would cost you six clinic hours. Does that make any sense to you?”
Cuddy grins and shakes her head. “I’m afraid it makes perfect sense.” She starts toward the bedroom.
“Wait,” Dick says. “I may be a ‘fake’ doctor, but I think the morphine’s wearing off; he seems kind’ve restless. And I’m sure that in Dr. House’s book, this is practicing medicine without a license, but I’d bet my own license—even if I did fish it out of a Cracker Jack box, according to him—that he could use a breathing treatment.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Cuddy responds. “As far as the restlessness, it’s way past time for his hydrocodone, so I’m sure he’s experiencing some discomfort. And I won’t tell him you suggested the aerosol.” Cuddy smiles at Dick and leaves to gather the supplies.
Wilson and Dickinson sit, sipping their coffee. “I understand that you can’t tell me what went on, Dick, but I have to ask—is he gonna be okay?”
“Actually, he ordered me to tell you exactly what went on; said you two have a deal—no secrets. But I think that, right now, the most important thing for you to know is that he’s embarrassed, worried about seeing you. He’s afraid you’ll think he’s weak.”
“He told you that?” Wilson is incredulous.
“Well, no, not precisely. What he said was ‘Jimmy’s gonna have a field day with this. He’ll hold it over my head until I start washing dishes, which means I’ll be hearing about it for years.’ And he didn’t exactly say it to me; he appeared to be… conversing with the ceiling… at the time.”
“Yeah, he shares some of his deepest feelings and insights with that ceiling,” Wilson says wryly. “I’m well acquainted with their conversations.”
The two men smile at each other as Cuddy enters the room. “He’s sleeping like a baby,” she says, smiling. “And I do mean like a baby; he’s completely relaxed, looks like the weight of the world’s been lifted from his shoulders this evening.”
Wilson looks at Dick. “Thank you. And don’t worry about House’s little talk with the plaster. When I get finished telling him how much I admire him—all said in code, of course, and probably to his confidant, the ceiling—his ego’ll be so big he’ll need to add on another room to accommodate it.”
Dick laughs, and gives Cuddy and Wilson a sidelong glance as he says slyly, “And then, you’ll have to call in The Incredible Shrinking Dick to bring it back down to size.”
Both Wilson and Cuddy groan, and hide their heads in their hands. But after a moment, they smile helplessly at each other, and join Dick in his unrestrained laughter.
CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT: Recovery
In the next week, following House’s first session with Dick, things don’t seem to be a whole lot different. House’s left thigh still bothers him at intervals, and a couple of times it’s necessary to use morphine to control the pain. Dick comes by every other day, and he and House closet themselves in House’s room for a couple of hours each time. Then Dick comes out, and—on House’s orders—tells Wilson, and Cuddy, when she’s there, what went on in their session. But by the end of the week, Wilson’s realizing that he’s hearing a bit more laughter coming from behind the closed door, and by the weekend, he’s able to point out to House that they haven’t needed to utilize the morphine for four days.
So what transpires the following Tuesday night comes as a surprise to both of them, and a real disappointment to House.
“Hey,” Wilson says. “Gotta put in a call to your team, let ‘em know that I lived through the ‘flu, despite your best efforts otherwise. And, of course, I’m gonna have to tell them that now you have it. This should be… fun. Hope Foreman answers the phone. Hope Chase answers the phone. Hell, I hope the janitor answers the phone!”
House smirks. “And I hope Cameron answers. You’ve been tellin’ me for years that I’m too tough on our starry-eyed little idealist; this’ll serve you right, having to deal with her in full ‘nurture poor, wounded House’ mode. Just stand back when you tell her how miserable I’m feeling, wouldn’t wanna get spattered!”
“Cameron’s bleeding heart—makes quite a mess when it really gets pumping.” House leans back on the couch with an anticipatory, smug smile, as Wilson reluctantly dials the number.
“Oh… uh… Hi, Dr. Cameron, how are you?” Wilson scowls at House, and deliberately turns his back on House’s laughing eyes and evil grin. “I’m feeling much better, thanks. Almost like a human being again…. Yes, we miss you too. Can hardly wait to get back there. But I’m afraid that’s not gonna be happening for a while. Seems that cold-hearted meanness isn’t quite as protective against the influenza virus as House claimed it was….”
Wilson ignores House, who’s sticking his tongue out at him. “Yeah, he’s got it, all right. Just started, so he’s still blaming it on food poisoning—my cooking, of course.”
Wilson listens for quite some time, and by the time Cameron’s through speaking, he can’t help it—he’s rolling his eyes. “No, Cameron, I really don’t think that Cuddy’ll make an exception because it’s House. No, not even if you agreed to wear isolation gear.”
House laughs aloud, and Wilson glares, picks up a pillow, and stuffs it in his face. “That sound? House retching, of course. But you know him, doesn’t trust anybody to help ‘im. ‘Course, he’ll trust me just fine to do the clean-up, I’m afraid.” Wilson tosses a second pillow as House’s snickering continues unabated.
“Why should I check on him? He’ll just throw me out. Swears he’s got it all under control, little bit of Wilson-induced food poisoning, gone by tomorrow. You know the drill. And when he wakes up in the morning with a high fever, that’ll be my fault too, for thoughtlessly allowing my germs to replicate in his apartment. You know him; not a sympathetic, concerned bone in his body.” Wilson’s enjoying himself now, and easily ducks the pillow House has aimed at his head.
“You know me better than that! Would I treat him the way he’s treated me these past two weeks?” With compassion, empathy, patience—forgiveness? You bet!
Wilson listens again, patiently, and finally sighs—even he has his limits. “Look, I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. The man won’t even trust me to get a temp. He’s probably gonna want to start his own IV, if it comes to that. House trusts House. Period. All I, or anyone else, is gonna be good for, for the next week or so, is vomit patrol. So just thank your lucky stars that Cuddy’s got us quarantined. And don’t worry; I won’t let him die. Why would I want to deprive the world of its fair share of House-created misery?”
This time the pillow makes a direct hit to Wilson’s head. “Gotta go, Cameron. The ‘flu must really be settling in; his sense of humor seems to have died.” This time, it’s Wilson who sticks his tongue out, as he hangs up the phone.
“Now that was unnecessary,” Wilson says, indicating the last pillow-shaped missile. “I was just trying to keep you in character; wouldn’t want her showing up here with Child Protective Services in tow, claiming I was neglecting you! Could happen; they’ve just finished up a case. Too much time on their hands. I think she was hoping to make you their next project.”
Wilson grins, but House’s expression has suddenly grown very serious. “Keeping busy is good,” he mumbles. “They should find something to do.”
“Like your clinic hours, maybe?” Wilson asks. House doesn’t smile, just shakes his head almost impatiently. He appears pensive, even introspective. This is uncharted territory, even for Wilson. “You, uh… wanna talk?” he asks. House had had a session with Dick earlier, and he’s been a little moodier than usual today. Wilson knows that House and Dickinson had discussed coping mechanisms, and that House hadn’t been too receptive to Dick’s suggestions.
“The shrink says I gotta find ways to keep myself occupied when I don’t have a case. Says I think the pain’s safer than anything else.”
“I know,” Wilson says quietly. “He told me. Given any thought to… uh… actually interacting with other people? Finding out what they think, how they feel? May not be as—pardon the expression—painful as you think.”
“I’m no good at that.” House begins to run his hand lightly over the left thigh. Wilson, hoping that it’s just some sort of habit by now, decides not to call attention to it.
“But you could practice; start with your team. Get to know ‘em, as people, actual human beings, instead of some sort of diagnostic equipment that happens to breathe. They’re really pretty interesting, ya know.”
“I start doing that, they’re liable to think something’s wrong with me.” House changes position on the couch, so that his weight isn’t on the left leg. The mindless rubbing of the thigh continues.
Wilson smiles. “They already think something’s wrong with you; this’ll just be something new for them to add to the list; shouldn’t be a problem.” Maybe I should say something about the leg, at least point out to him what he’s doing.
“By the time we go back, we’ll have been gone over a month. What’s everyone gonna think?” House has started pressing firmly into the quad with his fingers. He looks down at his hand, shakes his head, and with determination, lifts his hand up, and away from his leg.
Wilson frowns; this isn’t like House. “Since when have you cared what anyone else thought, much less everyone else?”
“You’re right.” The fingers have gone back to the muscle. “I don’t care. Doesn’t matter. So what, right?” Both hands are now working the quadriceps; House still hasn’t acknowledged it to Wilson, and Wilson isn’t sure how best to handle this.
“No, it does matter, of course. Most of us care what other people think of us. If nothing else, it helps to… temper our behavior, make it fit into societal norms. Whatever those are.” Wilson smiles faintly.
House bends his upper body over his legs, and Wilson hears the sharp intake of breath that lets him know this has already gone on too long. But instinct tells him that this one needs to be House’s call, all the way. So he says nothing.
House looks up. “Gonna get a shower.”
Wilson closes his eyes briefly. It takes all of his self-control, but he simply nods, and removes the tubing from the PICC port. He doesn’t follow House out of the room, just watches his pained, halting progress. He’s just gotta trust that the sessions with Dick are helping. He’s gotta trust that all that he and Cuddy have done has made a difference. He’s gotta trust House.
Wilson remains seated on the couch, hands fisted in his lap, eyes fixed towards the hall, where he can hear the heavy, unsteady progress of the cane. When the sound stops, Wilson realizes he’s been holding his breath. And when the call comes, quiet and accepting, “Jimmy, need some help here,” Wilson breathes again, and knows that things will be all right, soon.
House gives him a grateful, sarcasm-free smile when he appears with the wheelchair. Wilson marvels at how far they’ve come in just a few weeks. It’s been difficult and painful for all of them. But it’s paid off, better than he could’ve hoped. He feels sad, though, that only he and Cuddy will probably ever be privileged to know this gentler side of House—but he takes that for what it is; the spoils of a hard-fought, hard-won battle—an honor. Sure hope I can remember that the next time he pisses me off; hate to have to kill ‘im after all the work we’ve put in!
After House has been settled into bed, and Wilson’s administered the morphine, both men wait in silence for the medication to take effect. Finally, House speaks. “Should’ve been able to talk myself outta that one. Shouldn’t have needed the med.”
Wilson knows that whatever he chooses to say now will matter—a lot. He rises from the chair and sits on the side of the bed, next to House. He goes through the motions of taking a pulse—but he doesn’t move his hand from its gentle circle around House’s wrist when he’s finished counting. “All in good time, House,” he tells him quietly. “Changes take time; the results of those changes take even more time. You want everything five minutes ago—lab numbers, medication responses, all of it. But, clichéd as it is, if something’s worth having, it really is worth waiting for. And believe me, this is worth it. And just maybe, you’re worth it, too. So give it the time it needs. You won’t be waiting alone.” He looks earnestly at House, hopes he’s found the right words.
House smiles faintly. “Hey, thought I was the big brother in this outfit! I’m supposed to be the one giving you all this sound, philosophical advice. You’re way too young to be makin’ this much sense.”
Wilson smiles too; he’s deeply touched that House has so clearly acknowledged their bond. “Yeah, well,” he teases, “Out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom. Or so I’m told.”
House turns to him, the old sardonic grin firmly in place. “Hate to be the bearer of bad news, Jimmy, but you so do not qualify as a babe!”
Wilson laughs as he rises to turn out the light. “Maybe not,” he says. “But if you’d let me have my blow-dryer, I could be!” He winks, and turns away from the door. There’ll be time enough in the next two weeks for Dickinson to work on coping mechanisms with House, time enough for House’s family to reinforce those coping mechanisms, and their love—and the trust, too.
Wilson walks down the hallway still smiling, and listening to the sound of House’s warm, appreciative chuckle.
A/N: Well, kids, this is it—the end of the line. This story, and therefore the trilogy, is officially finished. All of you have been simply awesome! Your reviews have made me laugh, given me inspiration and encouragement, and made me realize that you care as much about this story, and these characters, as I do. Some of you have been faithfully reading and reviewing since the first chapter of ‘The Devil, You Say,’ and to you, a special thanks for your loyalty. I’ve made some great friends through this experience. I started ‘Devil’ in hopes that I could educate at least one other person in the difference between dependence and addiction, and discovered that I’d educated many—goal accomplished. ‘Demons’ was written to see if I could credibly alter House’s character to make it possible for him to trust—goal accomplished. And ‘Details’ was created to show the reality and potential devastation of psychosomatic illness; I hope I’ve done that. My heartfelt thanks to all, for making this journey with me. mjf 27 November 2006
CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE: Return
“House! Breakfast!” It’s their first day back at work, and Wilson knows that House is nervous. He knows, as well, that House will never admit it, even to himself. While the problems with his left leg have diminished greatly, they haven’t disappeared—Dick’s told them that that could take several months. They’re all hopeful that House’s return to work will aid in his recovery—but that can’t be guaranteed. And Wilson can see the uncertainty hidden in House’s eyes. So Wilson’s gone out of his way to make certain that this morning runs smoothly. And that, of course, includes macadamia nut pancakes.
When House enters the kitchen, Wilson has to smile. They’ve succeeded; House looks like he’s just spent a couple of rough weeks with the ‘flu—but that’s all. He’s still down about twelve pounds, not an unreasonable amount after a really nasty bout of influenza. But House’s favored style of dress, all those undoctorly layers of clothing, camouflage not only the residual weight loss but also the ports of the PICC line. They’ve decided that another two weeks of nightly TPN will help keep House’s energy level up, keep his weight moving in the right direction.
House pours himself a cup of coffee, and sniffs the air appreciatively. “Are those little slices of heaven that I smell?”
“Certainly are,” Wilson says, putting the plate down in front of him. “I’m reviving an old family tradition; mom always made our favorite breakfast on the first day of school.”
House digs into the pancakes while Wilson goes to answer the front door. He ushers Cuddy into the kitchen.
Cuddy looks at House and shakes her head. “Couldn’t you have picked something a little… nicer… for the first day of school? All the other kids will have on their best starched lab coats, and you… you look like a bum!” she says, in her best critical-mother voice.
House doesn’t look up from his breakfast. “The two of you are just determined to run this whole school analogy thing into the ground, aren’t you? So, in the spirit of the game, lemme just inform the principal that I’ve got a doctor’s note, excusing me from clinic duty for another two weeks. That’s on top of what you promised me before, you know,” he adds helpfully.
Cuddy looks at Wilson in surprise. “He’s already snowed Dick? That didn’t take long.” Wilson shakes his head and shrugs; this is the first he’s heard of it.
House pulls a piece of paper from his pocket, and hands it to Cuddy.
“House, this is your signature!”
“Aren’t I a doctor? ‘Cuz if I’m not, then you and Daddy have a nice day at work; bring me a present when you come home.” He smirks at Cuddy while she glowers at the note.
“Fine. So you’ve got, what, a month of no clinic duty now? But I’m adding these two weeks onto the end of what you already owe me. Which takes us well into the twenty-second century.”
“Works for me,” House mumbles around his last mouthful of pancakes. He turns to Wilson. “Let’s get outta here before she realizes that that means she’s stuck with me for eternity.”
“No quick escapes from me today, House. We’re all going in my car. Wilson finally got the time to put his in the shop a few days ago, remember? And—unless you want to scribble yourself another official doctor’s note—you’re restricted from the bike until the PICC line comes out. So you’re stuck with me.”
“Fine, but in that case, I’m instituting another first-day-of-school tradition. The only people who get to lay a finger on the music controls in that car are the people with canes.”
Wilson and Cuddy exchange the traditional, weary, House-based eye roll, and then triumphant, indulgent smiles—they’d let House get away with just about anything this morning—and follow him out the door.
There’s no conversation on the drive to Princeton Plainsboro—House has made that impossible, with both his choice in music and in volume. Wilson and Cuddy understand; they voice no complaint.
Cuddy and Wilson have already decided that they’re gonna walk House to his office. They all ride up in the elevator together, and House steps out without a backward glance. When he figures out that they’re following him, and turns around to glare, Wilson has his retort prepared. “Now son, please allow Mommy and Daddy to see you off to your first day of preschool; we’ve earned the pleasure.”
Cuddy jumps right into the game. “And sweetie, remember what you and Mommy talked about. Try not to insult the other kids. Don’t steal their food at lunch. Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your cane to yourself. Remember to use your inside voice. And don’t pull those nice red fire alarms, okay?” Then she adds, in an undertone, “And call us if you need us.”
Wilson’s whisper is so quiet that it’s inaudible to Cuddy. House almost has to read his lips to get it—but he does. “Whatever it takes. Always….” For just a moment, the two brothers lock eyes, and in that brief instant, strength, and gratitude, and trust, are exchanged—fully and reciprocally.
They’ve reached the office door. The team is seated at the table, their backs to them. They have a new case, but somehow the conversation has veered into House’s anticipated return. House, Wilson, and Cuddy stand quietly, listening as Cameron says, “If House would just learn to trust someone besides himself, we could’ve helped him out; we could’ve made all this a lot easier on him, and on Wilson too. Would it really have killed him to trust someone?”
Foreman, grinning, nods with exaggerated emphasis while Chase, with a smirk, intones, “Uh-huh!”
“Good morning, people! What’ve we got?” House booms, as he stalks confidently into the room. Then he turns and winks at Cuddy and Wilson—just before he shuts the door unceremoniously in their faces.