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by sasmom

She watched him sleep.  It was a peaceful sleep. She was certain of that.  More or less so.  She hoped with all her being that it would not be a permanent sleep. 

It was the fifth day.  He had gone to her with the idea a two weeks earlier.  As usual, she dismissed it as insane.  And it was.  And untested in the US.  And fraught with danger.  But then he played his trump card.  "It's not working anymore, Cuddy.  I'm on as much Vicodin as I can be without compromising my medical judgment.  I didn't know what else to do."  Morphine.  Just once, he said anyway.  The pain, he said had hit a ten on the scale.  And he was suddenly, unexpectedly, at a loss.

She hadn't bothered to ask when it was that he had assembled his special first aid kit, as he described it:  fully equipped, syringes included.  He had been about to inject himself for the first time when she had phoned about that Katrina victim.  It had been his day off. And, yes, he said with some indignation, it had gotten that bad. 

 

The morphine would have allowed him to sleep it off, he had said, with the fervent hope that the pain level would have, by the next day, subsided to a five or six.  Manageable with enough Vicodin.  But the case intervened.  For the moment.  So he dealt with it.  Pacing, massage, even more vicodin.  But nothing worked.  Nothing.  And so, case finally solved, he took the injection.  And blessed sleep momentarily reset the pain level.

House had not wanted to take that step.  He had resisted it.  Tried to ignore the decreasing time between Vicodin doses; tried to ignore the terrible and ever-present knife edge of pain.  Tried to convince himself that it was "all in his screwed up head."  "You told me that, Cuddy.  But you were wrong.  Sort of."

"It's in my head, but not how you think," he had declared flipping the journal onto her desk that day two weeks earlier.

"I'm supposed to read this?  How?"

"Doesn't everyone read German?  Tsk, tsk, Cuddy.  Want me to translate?"

"How many languages do you speak, anyway?"

"Including English?  Hmm...  Never could count.  I have no idea.  Ketamine, Cuddy. Stay on topic."

"Veterinary tranquilzer.  With ya so far."

"It's undergoing  clinical trials in Germany on alleviating localized chronic pain.  Good success.  Great success, actually for the patients."

"What about here?"

"Not yet.  Trials are being set for next year, but not currently."

"Recommend yourself for one of the upcoming trials.  Or do you want a leave of absence to travel to the Continent?

House's eyes lost all mirth, all mischief, all sense of the game.  When Cuddy looked at his face, she saw eyes full of suffering,  pleading for understanding.  Begging for it. It unnerved her to see the level of raw vulnerability in his expression.  "I need you to do this."  It was a whispered plea.  She barely heard it.  He found his voice again.  "I'll walk you through the entire procedure.  Translate the paper and all of the supporting documents for you.  You'll know everything you need to know to do the procedure safely.  My life depends on it."  A wan smile appeared.

"I can't live like this anymore, Cuddy.  The Vicodin barely works.  I'm taking too much.  My liver will need to be on the replacement plan within a year.  Morphine works, but I can't think at the levels required. But the pain makes it impossible for me to do my job.  To do anything."  The admission had cost House.  His dignity.  His pride.  His expression brought tears to Cuddy's eyes. 

"How long?  How long has the pain been this bad.  Since Stacy left?  It's.."

"No.  Before that.  Stacy was a nice distraction from it, but, no.  It's been several months.  That little placebo thing you did?  It was a cute move.  But it was simple placebo effect.  Mitigated the pain, but not for long.  It's not a conversion disorder, despite what you and Jimmy think.

"I even bought it for a while.  The idea that it could be psych pain.  It's not."

By morning, House had translated the article and three months' correspondence between House and the primary researcher in Germany, as well as 100 pages of notes.  By late afternoon, House presented Cuddy with a monograph, including a step-by-step procedure; potential side effects and fixes for them during the procedure.

"I'm impressed.  So when do you want to do it?  As I understand it, you'll be out of it for five days, then we bring you back, and voila! No pain."

"I realize it won't bring back muscle that isn't there.  There will still be a limp, and I'll probably still need a cane. Which is a good thing.  That cane is used for all sorts of things.  I'd sort of miss it.  But even if I don't I might just carry it around with me.  It's a real chick magnet."

"Yeah, right."  Cuddy was delighted to see House's eyes light again. 

"How about one week from today.  Read the notes, the correspondence.  Hot reading.  Spicy, even."

"Your team?  Wilson?"

"Wilson knows.  He doesn't approve, but he knows.  Don't say anything to the Scooby-gang.  It might not work.  I might not survive it."

"Don't be such a drama queen."

"Ketamine has some interesting side-effects.  Some of them are permanent."  Now his eyes grew serious.  "I need to ask you this, Cuddy.  Say no or say yes.  It's up to you."  Cuddy tilted her head, ready.

"If my brain function is significantly impaired....If...Cuddy...don't let me live like that.  Inject the line with enough morphine to make the sleep...permanent.  I won't be able to..."

"You know I can't agree to that.  You'll have to live with the outcome, whatever it is.  I'm sorry."  He was standing close to her.  Cuddy reached up and touched his cheek to keep his eyes focused on what she was about to say.  "This procedure isn't even legal here.  What I am doing, I'm doing out of respect for you and the hope that this might make a little of what happened to you right again. Don't ask me to further violate my license..."

House's expression hardened.  "I won't live mentally impaired.  Just so you understand that."  Cuddy looked away, understanding that he spoke the truth to her.  "Have dinner with me. On me."  Another mercurial mood swing.  It was exhausting her.

Cuddy had never been to House's apartment.  She was in awe of his library.  She guessed that he had at least 2000 volumes lining the walls of the living room.  She wandered the room as he got wine glasses and plates for the Thai feast they had carried from a local eatery.  She picked up a leather-bound volume. Cuddy's eye was drawn to it because of the florid Hebrew script on the spine.  She had no idea what it said and had no desire to be quizzed on her lacking Hebrew skills should House emerge suddenly from the kitchen.  She quickly replaced it on the shelf and moved on.

Cuddy continued her exploration and found herself sitting at a beautiful baby grand piano.  She smiled at seeing an electric guitar sitting haphazardly on it, amplifier cord trailing from the guitar to an ancient Fender amplifier sitting against the wall.  "Hey, House!" she called into the kitchen.  "You got a band?"

"Had.  Just me now."  He emerged from the kitchen fulled loaded with everything they needed for dinner.  "I assume you know how to use chopsticks?"

Dinner transpired with no discussion of the procedure.  "So, Cuddy.  No more injections? Given up on finding that perfect sperm donor?"

"No.  No more injections," she responded sadly. 

"Change your mind?  The pitter-patter of tiny feet no longer appealing?"

"You were right, House. I was going about it in the wrong way.  Right reasons; wrong way.  Play something."  A deflection, to be sure.  But she had never heard him play.

"Cold Pad Thai is an abomination.  Eat first, concert after."

Cuddy wondered why House kept this charming alter-ego boxed up and shelved.  He was solicitous and gracious. Cuddy kept the conversation alive and lighthearted as he asked about his book collection and the eclectic array of knick-knacks scattered about the apartment.  Her pleasure at his company was occasionally broken as she caught a slight gasp or wince with each change of his position. These became more frequent as dinner progressed.  House's conversation grew more and more sparse. Cuddy realized that he hadn't taken a pill in the entire time they had been together, hours ago.  Back at the office.

"House?  Are you OK?"

"I think it's about time for that concert.  What's your pleasure?  Bach?  Handel?  No Rachmaninov today.  How about Scott Joplin, that more your style?  I don't do Barry Manilow or Elton John.  Now Dr. John...that's another story.  Thelonious Monk?"

House walked with difficulty to the piano bench.  He left his cane near the coffee table, where they had been eating.  As he sat, he was unconsciously rubbing his right thigh.  Without waiting for her response, he began a Joplin rag, it's intricacy mesmerizing her. 

Cuddy made her way over to the piano, leaning against it.  House occasionally looked up at her, a gleam in his eye.  Suddenly, House hit a wrong note.  He slammed his closed fist on the keys, causing Cuddy to jump backwards, startled.

House was clutching his right thigh with his right hand, furiously massaging the area just above the knee.  "House what is it?  What can I do?"  His respiration rate was rapid and a sheen of perspiration appeared on his forehead, glinting in the dim light of the living room.  His eyes were shut tight at the pain.  "Give me a number."

"Ten.  Box...top shelf of...there..." He motioned with his head towards the bookshelf Cuddy had been eyeing earlier.  Cuddy asked no questions, seeing the small step ladder.  She was back in a few seconds, opening it as she ran towards him.

"How long has it been since you've taken it?"

"12...no...15 hours.  10cc.  IV."

"House are you sure....?"

"Give me the goddamned box.  His speech was difficult, spat out between gasps.  Cuddy was sure he was going to hyperventilate."  He reached out towards her hand to grab the box. Cuddy noted that his hand was trembling. 

"I'll do it House.  I just wanted to make certain that.."  She wasn't exactly sure of what.  Cuddy applied the tourniquet and administered the dose.  Placing the box and spent syringe on the piano, she extended her hand to him, not expecting him to accept her help.  He looked at her finally as the drug began to slowly erase the severity of the pain.

"Thank you.  For this."  He looked away from her.  He rose with difficulty and returned to the sofa. Cuddy followed closely behind, sitting near him as he lowered his body slowly into the leather.  House's breathing slowed as the memory of the pain receded. 

"Number?"

"Six.  Tolerable."  To whom, she wondered?  He looked spent.  Exhausted.

"Do you want me to go?  Tuck you in and say goodbye?"

"That's not how it works.  You tuck me in, you gotta stay."  He smiled halfheartedly.  "Don't go...you didn't finish your wine.  Hand me my glass."

"No way.  Morphine and red wine are not a pretty cocktail."

"Everyone's a bartender."  Cuddy breathed a little easier at the smile in House's eyes.

"I'm sorry, House.  I didn't understand. I didn't believe...You never let anyone see..."  Explanations fell flat.  "Does Wilson know how bad it's gotten?"

"He thinks it's in my head."

"Wilson should stick to oncology.  He's better at it."

"Make me better, Cuddy."  A lump formed unexpectedly in Cuddy’s throat.

"We don't know that it will work.  You need to understand that."

"Hey you're talking to the biggest skeptic in the AMA, remember?  And don't forget, I don't believe in hope."

"Oh yeah.  Forgot that one.  Number?"

"Still six.  Looks like that's where it will stay."

"Should I have given you more? You're a pretty big guy."

House leered. "You have no idea.  Wanna find out?"  She punched him in the arm.

"Shut up."

"Any more morphine and my I will be out."

"I know.  Here.  Prop your leg up on my lap."

"Why...Dr. Cuddy!"  Another leer.  House pulled his right leg up to rest on Cuddy's lap as she moved closer to him.  He rested his back against the arm of the sofa as the narcotic lowered his guard.

"Close your eyes."  He obeyed.  As Cuddy rubbed the area she had seen House clutching earlier, she felt the muscles relax.  House remained still.  For a moment she thought he was asleep.  She watched him in repose.  His handsome face, so often creased with pain and hard living, seemed devoid of lines as he relaxed into her touch.  She stopped after awhile, thinking him asleep.  His eyes popped open.

"You stopped."

"My hands and shoulders needed a break."  House sat up, maneuvering his leg back onto the ground.

"Sorry.  I always repay my debts.  Face away from me."  Gregory House had enormous hands.  As they worked the muscles in Cuddy's back and shoulders, she thought that she had died and gone to heaven.  He massaged her shoulders for a long time.  She pulled away, deeply relaxed.

"Thank you."

"Pleasure's all mine," he leered noting the flush about her face and chest.  Cuddy glanced at her wrist.  God.  It's 2 a.m.  I've got to get home."

"To what?  Got a hot chat room date?"

"Gotta feed the fish sometime."

------

And now it was the fifth and final day of the ketamine-induced dissociative state.  Tomorrow they would bring him out of it, and, if all went well, he would lie to his team about a great vacation in the Catskills.  If not...

His hand had slipped off the mattress.  She took it, and pulling her chair closer, entwined her fingers in his and prayed for the first time since she was a teenager.

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