CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, Cuddy
SUMMARY: A study of the psychology behind the HouseWilsonCuddy bond. Introspection, angst, hurtcomfort. Wilson and Cuddy realize that there's a difference between dependence and addiction when House's worsening chronic pain causes a collapse in front of his team.
PRELUDE: House at Home
Chapter One: Can't Sell What You Don't Have
Chapter Two: House Is Down
Chapter Three: House in Hell
Chapter Four: Cuddy Lies
Chapter Five: Wilson Cracks
And tonight's Chapters:
CHAPTER SIX: Distance
Cuddy pauses, key in hand, at the door to House’s office when she hears Wilson’s voice, and its tone startles her. He’s really angry; she can’t believe he’d speak to House like that right now. “You are a fool,” he says. “You saw this coming; we all saw this coming, but you were the only one who could have done something to prevent it! You ass.” This last is hissed bitterly. Cuddy quickly works the lock.
When she enters, she’s surprised. Wilson apparently hasn’t heard her come in, and is continuing his castigations, his back to the door. But House is clearly not the subject of the stream of cruel words, as he’s breathing evenly, asleep. She makes note that he’s wearing a nasal cannula, and frowns, and then she returns her attention to Wilson. The rant is directed at himself. “Dr. Wilson?” she says, and when he turns to her raw anger is alive in his eyes.
“I shouldn’t be doing this anymore,” he says. “I’ve lost my objectivity and it cost him. I was so busy being his friend that I forgot to be his physician.” He relates the incident with the fruit juice, leaving out House’s meltdown, ending his story with the second 10mg dose of morphine he’s just had to administer, “the dose that he wouldn’t have needed if I hadn’t agreed to the juice in the first place and then compounded the whole damned thing by hesitating on the anti-emetic! And he was so damned agitated by the time it was over that he’d compromised his breathing. He wasn’t happy about the O2, but I pulled rank, which of course overjoyed him….” He slams his hand down, hard, on House’s desk.
Cuddy and Wilson turn in tandem towards House. The sharp noise hadn’t disturbed him; the meds are doing their job and he sleeps peacefully. So Cuddy returns her gaze to Wilson. “Look, James. You’re tired, you’re stressed, you’re…concerned. Get out of here for a few hours. Go home. Take a shower. Relax.”
Wilson opens his mouth to protest, but she cuts him off. “Doctor’s orders,” she says sternly, then softens the words with a smile. “Look, all you need is a little distance. A few hours away from here, away from seeing him like this, and it’ll be much easier to remember how annoying, how exasperating, how all-around miserable he is.”
Wilson is actually able to laugh at the vehemence of Cuddy’s words. And he should check on House’s damnable rat, Steve. He runs a tired hand through his hair, updates Cuddy on their patient’s condition, and leaves the office quietly. He doesn’t want to actually leave the hospital, but as he walks through the night-silenced halls he reminds himself that his cases have been transferred to others for now, and that he really is free to concentrate on the one patient who needs him most. And to that end, there’s something he very much needs to do before he can head home.
As he drives to the address he’s scribbled down, he considers Cuddy’s words. “Go home,” she’d said to him. Home. Most people hear that word and feel comfort. All he feels is a confusion that isn’t rooted in the geography of a building. An old quotation floats through his head: 'Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.' Robert Frost, he thinks. And he knows that there’s been only one place in his adult life that fully fits that description. House, you’re more of a friend to me than you realize—more of a friend than I’ve ever given you credit for.
As he arrives at his destination, he says aloud, “Okay, let’s just get through this. Then, I can go home.” He savors the word.
CHAPTER SEVEN: And Then There’s the Truth
Foreman sits at the kitchen table, laptop open, medical journals scattered around him. He’s so intent on the abstract he’s studying on the screen that the first time the doorbell rings it doesn’t register. It is, after all, past 3:00am—not the usual time to expect a visitor.
Wilson sees the light on in the kitchen, and can make out Foreman’s silhouette at the table, so this time he leans on the bell. He’s not certain that this visit is a good idea, but every time he remembers Foreman’s joke and House’s hurt, he becomes angry all over again. So he isn’t leaving. Finally, the silhouette stands and comes to the door.
“Dr. Wilson?” Foreman says quizzically as he opens the door. “Is House all right?” The question surprises Wilson; when did Foreman give a damn about House?
“House is… fine.” He remembers the cover story and says, “I stopped by his office just now when I left my patient, and I think we’re up to, oh, seven brand new cuss words. Let’s just say that those charts are posing a serious threat to his ‘happy little camper’ status.”
Foreman directs Wilson to a seat at the table and, at his nod, pours him a cup of sludgy coffee. “So why are you here?” A damned reasonable question, Foreman thinks.
“Were you aware that he heard you today… yesterday… I’m sorry, I’m tired. And I’m angry. Lemme try this again. House heard your observation about the state of his soul. Or lack thereof.” Wilson raises his eyes from his cup and looks at Foreman.
“Good. I intended him to.” Wilson is amazed, and even angrier, at the easy admission, but before he can say anything Foreman continues. “It’s like this. House has Cuddy for his… umm… let’s just call ‘em control issues. She keeps him in line. He’s like an eight year old boy, taking on the world and knowing it’s safe because mama’s gonna swoop right in and save him from himself. He’s got Cameron ‘cuz everyone, even the world’s biggest bastard, needs to have someone in their lives who thinks they’re perfect. If all his problems were healed tomorrow, she wouldn’t find him perfect anymore, but that’s not gonna happen, so he’s safe. Chase is his dog to kick. House’s mind just never shuts down, and sometimes he’s gotta blow off all that accumulated steam. Chase is the perfect target because he’s smart enough not to get wounded and intimidated enough to sit there and take it.”
Both men laugh, and Foreman continues. “And then there’s you. You were the toughest to figure out. You incorporate all of that, sure, but you give him something he can’t get from anyone else. He can’t scare you away, because deep down you’re what all of us will never be—you’re his family. The only source of unconditional love he has. So he can be himself with you, whoever that self happens to be at any given moment. Hell, man, you’re the one who goes marching bravely out into the storm and looks him in the eye and holds a hand out to pull him back every time, even when the rest of us—including Cuddy-- are hunkered down praying for Hurricane House to blow over.”
Wilson is listening, fascinated, as Foreman goes on, “And he knows that you’ll forgive him, and respect him, and you’ll be there even when you’re pissed at him. He’s tested it a million times, and I think even he’s beginning to realize he can’t push you away. Because family never loses faith when the rest of the world does.”
Wilson feels uncomfortable. All this praise after what his lack of faith has put House through these last months. “Oh, I dunno,” he says wearily, “sometimes even family has to be clunked over the head with the facts before they’ll start believing.”
Foreman laughs. “Sometimes especially family has to be clunked over the head. But once you finally get ‘em on board with you, they’re there for you all the way. If House didn’t have you in his life, the rest of us would suffer big time,” he smiles and rolls his eyes, “But House, he’d be lost. You’re his anchor, ya know?”
‘Gotta have an anchor,’ House had said.
Wilson remembers House’s one-sided fight with him earlier, and looks at Foreman, awed. This brilliant young man he barely knows has managed to put into words something that Wilson’s been trying to understand for years. “Where do you fit in?” he asks Foreman curiously, sincerely interested in these unexpected insights.
“Right here,” Foreman says, swiveling the laptop so Wilson can see the screen. The abstract covers a new study on chronic pain and the role of neurotransmitters. “I keep up with all this stuff, and when I see something that could help House, I research it until I find the flaw. So far, they all have flaws….” He sighs.
“But nothing is gonna help him if he’s not here,” Foreman continues. “So I try to keep him angry, fighting. As long as he feels he has to keep proving that the pain is real, it gives his pain a purpose. And everything with House has to have a purpose. If there’s conflict involved, so much the better for the old bastard. So I challenge him on the pain at every opportunity. When he’s starting to wallow in it, I create the opportunity so he can give the friggin’ pain back its purpose. Otherwise he’d drown in it. He’d let it pull him under.” Foreman meets and holds Wilson’s eyes. “He’d kill himself,” he states.
Wilson exhales. He’s never allowed himself to voice that thought, but instinctively he knows it’s true. He’s always known it’s true, he realizes, and a part of him has always expected it to happen. He shakes his head, clearing away the thought—but not the feeling.
Foreman continues, “Do you remember that repeat MRI he had you do on his leg a few months back?” Wilson nods. “He wanted so badly for you to be right, that the nerves were regenerating. But he wanted even more for you to believe in the existence of his pain. He was a real bastard for a week after that MRI.”
Wilson smiles. “I remember. He just stalked past me every time we’d run into each other. He wouldn’t even speak. It was so peaceful….”
Foreman laughs. “And now, if it’s ok with you, I’ve got one more study I’ve gotta go over. And you look like you could use some sleep. I take it you wanna keep this little meeting private.” At Wilson’s grateful nod, he says, “Not a problem. Better for both of us. Wouldn’t want House thinking I give a damn.”
Wilson stands up and offers Foreman his hand. “Thanks, Foreman,” he says as he heads to the door. “It’s been an illuminating conversation.”
CHAPTER EIGHT: Please Push Back
House struggles up through layers of drugged sleep. It’s so peaceful down here, like lying on the bottom of the ocean. Everything is muffled; nothing hurts. But hands are relentlessly pulling him up, making him rise and kick and fight his way to consciousness. And as he rises, so does the pain. He groans and tries to turn his head away from it; a hand moves soothingly across his forehead. Not quite strong enough yet to open his eyes, but aware that something’s different; he needs to figure it out. Ahh, that’s it! He smiles.
“Jimmy, you’ve got girly hands, didja know that?” He can finally open his eyes, and when he does he finds himself looking into the oddly concerned face of Lisa Cuddy, arch nemesis. “Whoa! Where’s Wilson, and why aren’t you yelling at me, or hitting me with your broom, or—or--something?”
Cuddy removes the blood pressure cuff from his arm and readjusts the IV line. So that’s the way he wants to play it, she thinks. Okay, I can do this. “Just a real pleasure to see you too, House,” she responds. “I’m just fine; thanks for asking.”
“Where’s Wilson?” he repeats, and she knows him well enough to see the faint panic he’s trying to hide.
“It’s okay, House. He’ll be back soon. He had to go back to your place; said something about taking care of your rat, and please, spare me the details. I’m just here because no one else can stand you when you’re like this, and, well, that’s why they pay me the big bucks,” she says, her tone appropriately martyred. “And by the way, since you so politely inquired after my well-being, allow me to return the courtesy. How are you?”
House frowns thoughtfully, taking mental inventory. “My mouth is dry,” he finally says. “And?” Cuddy prompts, rolling her eyes because he’ll expect it. “My mouth. Is dry.” She reaches for the cup of ice chips, and this time her eye roll is real.
“So you finally got me where you want me, huh?” House leers at her, but the effect is ruined when, mid-leer, his eyes close of their own accord and the siren song of that cool, dark, muffled place is too strong. He allows himself to be pulled back down.
Cuddy smiles fondly down at the world’s oldest pediatric patient and finishes getting the vital signs. She allows herself to smooth his pillow, stroke his forehead. She wants so badly to give him comfort, and knows he’ll accept it only while he’s sleeping. He seems to be stable, although he’s winced and cried out sharply several times in his sleep in the last hour.
She’d hoped that the breakthrough pain was over, that it was safe to start returning him to reality. But she knows that was just wishful thinking; a pain cycle like this one could take another twenty four hours to break. Or more, she thinks grimly. A lot more.
“Damn you, House,” she whispers. “Just get better. I know it hurts like hell, and I know you’re tired of it. But see, this isn’t how we’re supposed to be playing the game. I’m supposed to push you to be your best, and you’re supposed to push back and make me wish I were a waitress at some rundown truck stop. But you aren’t pushing. And damned if I’d ever admit this when you’re listening, but it’s just not any fun when you’re not playing too. And Wilson, well he’s just lost, that’s all. You should see him; this is tearing him up. He’s doubting himself now, and I don’t want that for him; you live with self-loathing every day, and look what it’s done for you. You’re not selfish, House, I’m not fooled. You don’t want that for him either. So come back soon and fix everything so that a month from now I’ll be wondering why the hell I ever wanted you back to… your own twisted version of normal.”
Her eyes are suspiciously bright as she turns to jot down the vitals, but she won’t cry, damn it, because that would be acknowledging that they’re losing him. Slowly, yes, and not this time, but someday soon, she’s afraid that his pain will finally be stronger than he is.Chapter Nine: Mood Music