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
Chapter Six: Distance
Chapter Seven: And Then There's the Truth
And Tonight's Chapters:
CHAPTER NINE: Mood Music
Wilson is so tired as he unlocks the door to the apartment. Had he not felt a ridiculous obligation to House’s ridiculous rat, he’d just collapse on the couch for a couple of hours and forget everything. But the rat needs to eat. And drink. Do rats need socialization as well? Wilson can’t remember, considers singing a chorus of “Three Blind Mice” to Steve, just in case. “If House were here, he could play you ‘Ben’ on the piano,” he tells Steve as he settles into the couch.
He closes his eyes, but he’s overtired, and sleep eludes his desperate, weary grasp. So he imagines that House is here, at the piano. Wilson hasn’t heard him play much since the infarct, but he remembers the beauty of the music, the real joy House used to take in running his fingers effortlessly over the keys. He thinks he knows why House so jealously guards his talent now—his music is the sole thing he has in his life that’s not stained; it’s completely untouched by the consequences of the infarction. It’s the only thing left that’s effortless. So it’s pure and clean and real; it doesn't cause pain--it releases it.
Wilson muses that it’s as if House saves up all the true emotions he has, and pours them all into the piano where they’ll be protected. Wilson listens to the phantom sound of House’s fingers on the keys, listens to his friend pour his humanity into the piano. And he allows the music to lull him to sleep.
House is having a lovely dream. He’s swimming in a bright, peaceful ocean. The water is warm, and it cradles his body as he glides effortlessly along in its depths. His legs are strong and healthy; they carry him swiftly. He knows this is a dream, but he’s reveling in all the sensations. His body belongs to him again, and not to Pain. Hmm…. he thinks, there’s even musical accompaniment. Für Elise. Wait—that’s not a piano playing; it’s… it’s… c’mon brain, function; you know that sound. It’s electronic, annoying. Just listen, House, it’ll come to you.
The music stops as soon as Cuddy starts talking. Ah… that’s it! A cellphone. Who the hell would have a synthesized version of Für Elise as their ringtone? Cuddy. Figures. Well, I’m awake now, thankyouverymuch, so I may as well eavesdrop.
“No, you didn’t wake me. As a matter of fact, I’m in the building.” pause “Standing guard over the esteemed Dr. Gregory House. He owes me five more charts before I’ll let him have a ten minute nap.” pause martyred sigh “Yeah, I drew the short straw.” pause pause pause “No one else can sign it? It has to be signed now?” pause pause “I’ll be there. I can’t be gone long, this slug is falling asleep as it is. Coming.” click
Very funny, Cuddy. Now get outta here so I can open my eyes. And what was that about me doing charts? I’m the one who’s supposed to be dreaming here.
Cuddy doesn’t want to leave, not even for the five minutes it’ll take. This is House, after all, and she knows the man could upset a High Mass, given a free 30 seconds. But she really doesn’t have a choice, so, like a mother anxiously child-proofing a house (which is exactly what I’m doing, she smiles, I’m child-proofing a House) she tries to anticipate the things a stoned House could do, given an entire 300 unsupervised seconds.
The possibilities are mind-boggling, and she finally sighs in anticipatory exasperation, disconnects the IV from the heplock, makes sure he can reach the ice chips, the urinal—but not his cane. She gently removes the O2 cannula and shuts off the flow. One more look at the patient—eyes closed, breathing regular—“Please, House, be a good boy while I’m gone. I’ve got a very grumpy judge down there waiting to sign off on an involuntary commitment order, and if you don’t behave, I’ll ask him for a group rate. It’s just five minutes, stay asleep,” and she’s gone.
House opens his eyes and waits. He’d heard Cuddy lock the door as she left, and wonders briefly if he needs to get up, unlock it. Nah, shouldn’t be necessary. And before he can even finish the thought, the door opens and his visitor enters. “What took you so long?” asks House.
A/N: For you wee ones out there too young to remember, “Ben” is a truly lovely song about a rat, from a movie of the same name, which told the story of a boy named Willard, who was—ahh, nevermind….Gawd, I feel old…
A/N: Please, bear with me on this chapter, and the next. They fit, they have a purpose, I haven’t crossed over into the realm of the paranormal. Hey, if you can get through detaching eyeballs and exploding privates, this’ll be a piece of cake! And then, we’ll be back on track, and it’ll all fit, ok?
CHAPTER TEN: A Deal
“What the hell took you so long?” House demands again. Poor choice of words, House, he chides himself, not without amusement.
“Human beings are such tiresome, impatient creatures,” House’s visitor says as he enters the room and perches on the edge of House’s desk. He’s well dressed, House notes, and his face is surprisingly pleasant.
“Yeah, I don’t like ‘em either. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t earn a paycheck without ‘em. It’s a quandary,” says House, his eyes fixed on the visitor’s cane. What the hell—I’m asking for help from some idiot who can’t even solve his own mobility issues!
The visitor laughs and twirls the cane absently in his fingers. “So you choose not to recognize your status as a member of the human race? Quite… forward thinking of you, I must say.” He notices that House is still staring, and waves his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about this,” he says, continuing to spin the thing like a baton. “Just for looks, in my case. So elegant, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Look, I probably don’t have long ‘til the Evil Witch returns to make my life a living hell—oops, sorry, slip of the tongue. So could we just get down to business? Here’s the deal: I give you my soul, you give me a day without pain. Win/win situation all around.” Except that Foreman’s right; I'm soulless, so I’m not losing anything except a day of hellacious pain. Wow, there’s that 'h' word again; I’m just having a devil of a time with this!
House’s guest laughs again, a bit less pleasantly than the first time. “Dr. House, I will tell you what the deal will be. You are certainly free to decline it, if it is not to your liking; however, I do not bargain. I believe the expression is ‘take it or leave it’.”
Okay, back off, House. This is not some intern you can send flying to the restroom in tears just by lifting a critical eyebrow. Although that is fun. House smiles and apologizes, realizing that the visitor holds a potential day of heaven in his hands. Stop with the bad wordplay, already! he chastises himself. “I’m listening,” he says.
“You, Dr. House, are an enigma; therefore, you intrigue me. Surely you can relate to that? You are the lover of puzzles, the hater of people, and yet you are the biggest puzzle of all. You would willingly part with your soul for a mere 24 hours of physical comfort. You are then willing to spend the remainder of your mortal life without all the elements which make up a soul? Emotions? Empathy? Love?"
House listens, his face expressionless. When the visitor realizes that House doesn't intend to answer, he continues more emphatically. "Do you realize that you will no longer be able to feel the satisfaction which your work brings you? You’ll have no need for friends. Joy will be a feeling denied to you. You shall be a mere shell of a man, going through the motions of mortal life. Your physical pain will have returned, but you will have no ability to seek or receive comfort from others. Most humans in such a state would prefer, would even seek out, death.”
You insufferable fool, House thinks. You’ve just described my life. You did a damned good job of it ,too. How can I lose what I don’t have?
“Sign me up,” House states flatly.
His guest looks at him appraisingly, almost admiringly. “All right, doctor. You have your 24 hours. However, I too am bound by a few rules. They are very simple, but I must obey them. Therefore, I am celestially obligated to inform you that should anything transpire during that period which would cause me to believe that you have not made this decision freely, or that you had no right to make this decision, then I must consider our contract breached. Should that occur, all will immediately revert to as it was before. If all goes well, at the end of the 24 hours you will transfer your soul to me, and I shall return your pain to you. Is that clear?”
“Yeah. Now where’s my prize?”
“You will be able to walk, without pain, as of now.” The visitor laughs. “I am curious, though, why did you not ask for your leg to be healed for the 24 hours; the price is the same. You have only one soul, and you traded it for the removal of pain only; you allowed the disability to remain. Odd, no?” He reaches across the desk, hands House his cane. Then, with a final twirl of his own cane, he’s gone.
House feels good. Really good. For the first time in six years nothing hurts at all. It’s unnerving, and he continues to lie there, trying to adjust to the feeling. What are you doing, you fool, you’re on the clock here! He decides to stand, glad that Cuddy had the foresight to disconnect him from the drip. Cuddy! I gotta get outta here. I’m not ready to explain this to anyone, and if I were my first choice would not be Cuddy. Damn the woman, somehow she always knows to ask precisely the questions that make me wanna beg for my Miranda Rights. How does she do that, anyway? For the briefest of moments, a smile that could almost be called ‘affectionate’ flashes across his features.
House reaches for a piece of paper and a pen. Wilson, he scribbles, I did something you’d call stupid, but it’s working for me, so you’ll just have to deal with it. I’m fine—I’m better than fine. What’s that sound? Ahh… I can hear you worrying, Jimmy. So just stop that, and be happy for me. He signs it with a scrawled H and he’s ready to go exploring.
He takes a few tentative steps and feels like the proud parent of a newly ambulatory toddler when his right leg behaves itself, the nerve endings remaining wonderfully quiescent. He doesn’t really mind the cane, he realizes. It’s been part of him for so long that it’s nothing more than an extension of his leg. He bravely wanders out into the hall; it’s 4:30 in the morning and the offices are deserted. He walks the length of the hall, doing his shiny new version of a stride, and he’s having difficulty finding words to describe the unreal feeling of a pain-free leg, a body that finally belongs to him again.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: No Pain
House strides the hospital halls. He’s trying to hide the childish grin that keeps popping up; he’s House, after all, and doesn’t want to startle anyone by actually looking happy. But he’s beginning to think it won’t be much of a problem; the place seems oddly deserted, even for this hour. Not that he minds much, but it might be nice if someone who cares (Jimmy, he thinks. Maybe even Cuddy.) could share this with him. Won't be able to share after this, might as well get used to it. He's surprised that a sad regret pulls at him, makes himself dismiss it quickly.
He’s had enough time to try to figure out how all this feels, and he knows he’d never be able to describe it to anyone who has the luxury of walking without pain every day. Why would those people care, anyway? But it’s euphoria, plain and simple. Better than any drug-induced high he’s ever known, better by far than the fastest, most reckless motorcycle ride he’s ever taken. He knows both feet (and their brother, Cane) are touching the ground as he strides—strides!—toward an exit in the hospital, but it doesn’t feel the way he dimly remembers it feeling, more than six years ago, when he was last able to file ‘ambulation’ on his list of Effortless Activities.
His feet feel weightless; his legs are simply a mechanism to move those feet from point A to point B. They simply have a job to do, and like good employees, they are doing it well, and without complaint. The right leg has gone from being Vogler in the boardroom to Kevin (or was it Carl) in the mailroom—from the deliverer of all things wrong and miserable to the deliverer of the ordinary and mundane. Yeah, House was aware that, soon enough, it wouldn’t seem wondrously “abnormal” to feel “normal”. Kinda like Foreman’s near-death experience; the wonder of being alive would quickly be replaced with accepting that things are supposed to be this way. Even for only 24 hours.
He’s planning out his day as he walks the fog-shrouded predawn grounds of PPTH. Nothing spectacular; just a long list of things he hasn’t been able to do pain-free since the infarction. Ordinary things, made all the more extraordinary because he could have them now, albeit for just one day. Standing at the sink brushing his teeth; not having to grip the edge of the counter in the middle of the process. Moving about the kitchen preparing a meal; not having to sit down in a chair every few minutes as he works. Filling the car on his own at the gas station; not having to wait for the attendant because his leg protests at all that twisting and pivoting. Walking thoughtlessly across the room to retrieve the TV remote from the piano, instead of having to decide to just deal with the boring show, simply to avoid the discomfort the simple walk will cause. He’s even planning on going to the grocery store and stocking up; with the cart standing in for his cane, and not having to deal with the leg, he figures that it’ll be the first time in close to seven years that he can shop as quickly as everyone else, as he won’t be stuck in the soup aisle, gripping the cart handle with white hands, pretending to debate the merits of minestrone versus lentil while he waits for the spasm to pass.
And the best one of all—that shower in the morning, standing there allowing the hot water to run out only because a hot shower feels good, not because he’s gripping the grab bar for dear life as the heat from the water is sucked out greedily by his right thigh, trying in vain for just one moment’s comfort.Only the million and one dumb things like that, things that are always on his mind as he struggles through his day, angry with the rest of the world, because these things are thoughtless for them, as natural as breathing. But for now, he’s content to simply walk in the air and the mist, watching as the sun rises.
What’s a soul, anyway? he thinks. If I ever had one, they must've removed it when they stole my thigh muscle….
CHAPTER TWELVE: A Talk, A Prayer, A Promise
Dr. James Wilson, MD is anxious to return to his patient's bedside; Jimmy Wilson just needs to see his friend. You two'd better get your act together, he muses ruefully. House needs both of us in full, functioning order. You, Doctor, are not his friend; James, you're not his physician. Could you guys kindly pull your acts together? "Great, just ducky," he says as he exits his car. "Now I'm not just talking to myself, I'm talking to two selves, and I'm expecting them both to answer." He hears House in his mind: 'Two Wilsons? Wow, Jimmy, how cool is that?' He visualizes the sly grin. "Shut up, House," he says aloud, and enters the hospital.
There's no one in the chapel when he arrives, which is a good thing. He couldn't explain even to himself just exactly why he'd felt pulled here. He sits down and starts talking. "I'm not sure what I'm doing here. But since You seem to be calling me, I figured I'd be on the safe side and come on in. Don't tell House, though; he says it's fine for us to talk to You, but when You talk to us, well, that's something else entirely. He's a good guy, God. I know it doesn't seem like it sometimes... well, okay, most of the time. But he's hurting. I don't mean just the leg. His heart... it hurts, I think, sometimes worse than his leg.” He recalls the day Vogler had forced Wilson to resign. He’d been packing up his office, and House had entered. Their talk had been painful, almost adversarial. He’d told House that all he had was the job he’d just lost, “and this stupid, screwed-up friendship,” and the look on House’s face had broken Wilson’s own heart.
“Remember him before? Yeah, I know, he was never a warm, cuddly, in-touch-with-his-emotions kinda guy. But... he cared, back then. He was able to see outside of himself. People weren't just diagnoses to solve; they were human beings who needed the help he was willing to give. He still offers the help, but only because once you hand him a puzzle, he has to solve it. The sad part is, he doesn't want to be this way. Watch his eyes; they give it all away, what he's really feeling. That worn out cliché about the eyes being windows to the soul? House personifies that. The only place he feels safe exposing his soul is through his eyes. So I'm asking, for him, please--save him from himself. Give him back to us; we'll try not to let him down. Again. You have my promise." He looks around uncomfortably, clears his throat, whispers "amen."
---The sun’s just come up. It’s Saturday morning, and House has already enjoyed a couple of pain-free hours. He figures that Wilson’s already returned to the office, gotten the note, and is seething. House wants to go home, though, and he needs his keys. He figures he can chance a quick visit back to the office to retrieve them and be on his way.
He’s at his office door when he feels it. Just a twinge of pain in his right thigh. He frowns down at his leg, shrugs, and enters. There it is again, but a stronger twinge this time. And something else is wrong—his note’s right where he left it. He picks it up; still just his handwriting on the paper, no answering rant from Wilson. He can’t believe that neither Cuddy nor Wilson has been back yet. It takes him only a moment to sense that, although neither Wilson nor Cuddy are here, he’s not alone. And in that same moment, his thigh grips in a spasm that has him on the floor clawing desperately at his leg.
“Such a shame.” The newly familiar voice makes him look up quickly. His visitor is standing over him, shaking his head. “Yours would have been a prized soul in my collection, Dr. House. I, however, am a man of my word, and a rule has been broken; the contract has been breached and is now—as I am sure your leg is telling you—null.” He turns to leave.
“Wait!” House manages to croak out. “What rule? How… who…?”
The visitor keeps walking. “Someone prayed for your soul,” he says with revulsion, and is gone.
---Cuddy stands outside House’s office door and looks proudly at her watch. Four minutes and 43 seconds. She hears footsteps, and smiles as Wilson approaches. He looks a bit better this morning, she thinks. There’s a sense of peace about him which was definitely missing when she’d sent him out of here. “Did you get any rest?” she asks.
“Cuddy? What are you doing out here? Where’s House?”
“Sleeping soundly, as of five minutes ago. I was even able to discontinue the oxygen when I left.” She explains to him what had happened, and—just as Wilson is laughing at her “childproofing a House” line—they hear the sounds of a man in exquisite agony.Chapter Thirteen: What the Hell?