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by Armchair Elvis

I wrote this to a prompt on the house_month community on LiveJournal. Some slight changes have since been made.The prompt was:

Take any number of the main cast or recurring characters, put them in a room. No leaves the room for the course of the story. You can have an outside influence cause that, or can simply be what happens.

 caught you knockin’ at my cellar door

“I love you baby, can I have some more?”

Oh, the damage done


- Neil Young

This will not leave this room.


She closes the door behind her, and crosses into the island of light in the inner office.
She doesn’t look at him. He sniffs.
She moves to her desk, systematically piles some papers on top of each other, moves them to her chair for the time being, criss-crossed so the piles are easy to sort out later. She puts the clinic stuff in the space she’s made and looks at him.
He sit on the couch, head bowed, forehead resting upon the handle of his cane, which he grasps around the shaft with two hands. His only concession to movement is the thumb he taps on his other fingers, no rhythm apparent to her.
He has retrieved the cane. She wonders if he marked the wall.
He doesn’t look up. He sniffs again.


She wishes that it never happened, but that isn’t new.
What is both new and disturbing is that she has just had the awful thought that it would have been fine and dandy if she was anywhere but, doing anything else, when it happened. She wishes that she had nothing to do with it.
That she could have been sick or off-duty or working at another department, on a conference half a country away like Wilson. She realises then this is a perfectly terrible thought to think, wishing to exculpate herself from any involvement, from any complication, instead of somehow preventing, making up for, what happened. A new, stronger brand of guilt burns inside her.
What happened to House was a really rotten, pisspoor bit of luck. In her guilt, she cannot help but think that thinking these things will make it worse.


Guilt. When she first knew House it was just college, just that he was the legend of the med students, just annotated textbooks and crumpled essays and beer, lots of beer. Just House the brain, House the lightweight, House the sportsman, House the maverick. They were younger. She had nothing to be guilty for. Later, she would know him in hospitals, hear of his sackings and repeated hirings. See him be hired by administration after administration, for his mind, for the doctor that he was, and is. She would hire him. He is still a doctor.
House in himself is a complication, a contradiction, a puzzle. But she didn’t know him as that. Until it happened, until she received the closest brush she has ever had with ‘them’, not with ‘us’. With the other side.


Cuddy has always been healthy, has never been hospitalised (apart from when she had her tonsils removed at age eight. Her family are all healthy).
She never knew the complication until it really sunk in, until she saw House code in the ICU, until she admitted him and saw the fear and the way he clutched at straws. Doctors do that too, she realised.
The injury, the awful bungling of his case, the misdiagnosis, were complications. Now, the guilt is a complication.


She wishes that it never happened, that she had nothing to do with it, simply because she wants the old Greg House back, the asshole who spilled a Bourbon and Dry over her one night, the complete and utter prick who nevertheless never had to show her his leg in her office to demand pain relief. That’s Cuddy – she understands when things are laid out, contrasted, black-and-white.


The leg is a complication. The pain is a complication. This whole thing is a complication. She could be out of the parking garage now, driving home.


Cuddy doesn’t like complications.


Cuddy feels like a bitch, and it isn’t all about the leg.



He moves one of the chairs, straddles it, curves his back, puts his elbows on the backrest. He looks juvenile, simple, and the way that he runs one hand over his face before bowing his head, the way he blinks, doesn’t make him look any older. Maybe it’s the leg.


He looks like an overgrown child in a nursery chair, dressed in grown-up clothes. His belt buckle clicks against the back of the chair, reminding her that he had to pull his pants down. He pulled his pants down in her office. The irony of all this astounds her.


She tells him to take off his shirt. He undoes the buttons slowly, shrugs off his jacket, tugs his t-shirt over. He leaves his clothes on the floor.


“Curve your back.”
“It’s curved.”
“More.”
He complies.


His shoulders are wide, but they quickly taper down to a more narrow chest, hips. His shoulder blades, vertebrae, are visible on his back, stretched under the skin. A very faint array of freckles on the back of his neck, down to the Vertebra Prominens, the seventh of the cervical vertebrae. The pallor of his skin suggesting that he spent a great deal of his childhood summers with a permanent case of sunburn. But who knows? She thinks. Maybe he lived in Iceland.
She can see how tense the muscles in his upper back, his shoulders are. His biceps. She decides to stop staring and get on with it, chews at her lip, thinking about how to go about it, now just considering the patient, plain and simple.


He is in a strange mood. She is, too. It’s late. She glances up at the clock on her desk. She wonders how long he waited in his office for everyone to leave, how long he loitered outside her office. What he was doing.


She makes conversation. She can feel him listening to her rustle, snap things, peel them open. She has never known, first-hand, what it is like to hear doctor’s preparation noises, waiting passively. She imagines it’s a lot scarier than it is at the dentist, similar perhaps. They always say I’m going to inject you, now, you’re going to feel some pressure. They never say anything like now I’m unwrapping an 18 – gauge needle. I’m filling it up with saline, which will be completely useless in terms of any analgesic quality. I’m looking to see where I’m going to punch a needle through to the Ligamentum Flagum. It’s probably going to hurt, you know, like a Spinal Tap.


“You don’t like LPs, do you?”
“Not particularly.”


She says “Are you sure about this?”
“Uh huh.”
Of course he is.
“Do you want to know what the Journal of Pain Management says about this?”
“Do you want to bite me, Cuddy? I subscribe.”
He has the hospital pay for a number of expensive subscriptions.
He isn’t out of his mind. House has thought this through in his own warped way. She can feel that House thinks this will work, thinks that he is buying himself time, buying himself relief. Cuddy thinks that he is clutching at straws.
Would it work? It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want a doctor walking around high as a kite on morphine. She doesn’t want that enough to treat him like a fool, flying on the assumption that his limited understanding of human interactions will prevent him from knowing anything.
Considering that this is House, she’s playing with fire. But he came to her. He pulled his pants down in her office.


He isn’t completely concentrating, with that slipping-away-but-trying-to-hold-on tone that the only tipsy person in a group gets, a distractible kid tearing his eyes away from the window.
It’s hard for him to think, to hold up the conversation. The pain.
She loiters around behind him for a bit longer. She doesn’t want to botch this.


He asks her what she’s looking at. She doesn’t answer.


She realises that she is nervous. Should she say something?
“I haven’t done this for a while…”
Three months, maybe. Four.


“Oh no. I think I may cry. Hurry up and stick me, Cuddy.”
So maybe she shouldn’t have said that.


She touches him in between the shoulder blades. He has his hands laced around the back of his head, and he sees them tighten. Such long hands.
He is shaking.
“You’re shivering.”
“It’s cold.”
She leaves it at that.


She spreads out the little kit she grabbed from the clinic, already made up. The syringe contains only saline, so there is no insert, no note to make on a file. Less complication, she thinks. She must do this before she changes her mind.


She puts on gloves. Swipes the area with Betadine. Wipes the Betadine off carefully. Injects the area with Lidocaine. Waits for it to kick in.
Then she grabs the syringe she filled in the clinic, asks him if he’s ready. He asks her to wait a second. She waits for ten, fifteen seconds. He says now is a good a time as any, so she starts.


“Arch your back. Don’t hold your breath.”
He settles into the chair.
“Do you want me to talk you through it?”
“If you like.”
She can hear the anticipation in his voice.



She eases in, feeling the pop, the plunger give. She pushes down, quite pleased with her own efficiency.


“Pushing the syringe in, House. Constant pressure method. T7 – T8. Passing through the interspinous ligament… Breached the Ligamentum Flavum.”
Her voice stops.
She was concentrating, but she realises now it’s quiet, that she’s in, and that he has just moaned, the sound strange. It seems like the first thing he’s said. She tells him that it’s almost over, and she hears him grunt in return, strangely high-pitched, almost a whimper. Painful. He doesn’t say any more.


She injects ten mLs of saline. She draws out the needle, watches as he breathes. Shaky. She wipes down the injection site with more Betadine, puts a band-aid over it.


She waits for five minutes, more, busying herself with gathering the stuff together for disposal. She sees that he looks better already. His breathing has slowed down. Placebo affect. Or maybe because it’s over.


“Are you going to put your shirt back on?”
“Give it a minute.” His voice doesn’t catch.


He straightens up, slowly. He turns around on the chair, swings his legs around and stands up, but as he does he staggers once and almost falls over. She grabs his arm from where she stands slightly behind and to one side. He finds his footing.


“You Ok?”


He nods. Stares at her breasts. Unbelievable. He is absolutely incorrigible.
She sits him down on the couch. His breath hitches as he sits down. She grabs his two shirts from the floor. They smell like washing detergent, no-nonsense stuff (does he go to a Laundromat?) and the smell clothes get when you put them through the clothes dryer.
His jacket goes on the back of the chair. She hears the Vicodin shake, and she does not check it.


He puts his shirts back on, does up buttons, shakes cuffs. Then he puts his hands against his face and sits there. She shifts.


“Better?”
“Yes.”


She realises that he is waiting for the morphine that she didn’t inject him with to kick in some more, which it won’t. Of course, she can’t kick him out of her office, because he will know that something is up. They sit.


Christ. She should tell him. Cuddy realises that she has not made things simpler by giving him a placebo, not in any way. She should talk to him. But she can’t.


“House.”
“Mm hm?” Through his hands.
“It’s in your head. The increased pain is psychosomatic. Your leg hurts because Stacy left and you-“
“I what? Slept with her?”
“It was… complicated.”
“Now there’s a word for you. Complicated.”
The laugh. Hmm-mm.
“This isn’t a fracture, Cuddy. That doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
She just looks at him.


There is a pause. He makes a wet scoffing noise, like he’s disgusted. He looks up at her, and his eyes are red, glistening. Something clenches at the bottom of her stomach.
“It still hurts, Cuddy. Jesus Christ.”
Yeah. It still hurts.


She feels twice as guilty as she ever did when she wrecked his leg. She hates that she killed part of the old Greg House when she misdiagnosed him, and she is killing part of him now.
Because all she can see is the black and white. She thinks that House is smart when it comes to medicine, to logic and science, and stupid when it comes to everything else. Playing with fire.


He stretches out his leg tentatively, puts his arms up against the back of the couch. Long, lanky.


He makes the wet noise again, like halfway between a sob and that cynical laugh that he has. Surprisingly, that sound takes her back. Was he more open then? She doesn’t know.
He doesn’t say anything.


He doesn’t have to. He said it all in one sentence. Do you think I wanted to do that, Cuddy? Do you think I like the choice you give me? I shocked you. You needed to be shocked. I had to show you.

You had a part in it originally. You knew me when. Don’t make it worse now.



Would he say that? Does he think that?


She looks up from the papers at her desk. He is staring at her, settled down. His blue eyes just sit on her, his face blank.


She stares. She goes back to her work.
She doesn’t know why, he could go back home now. She tells herself it’s because she wants to finish this work tonight, now that she’s here. It’s very quiet.


She means to ask him if he can read Spanish as well as he can speak it, but when she looks up she sees that he is dozing, his eyes closed, his body limp. She leaves him for a little while, finishes her paperwork while House sleeps on the couch in her office.


When she’s finished she slaps some piles of paper down on top of each other. He starts awake, and then tries to make like he wasn’t asleep at all.


“Well, we should do this again.” He says, his eyes hard, saying that if she wants to argue, he’s fine with now.


“Don’t start, House.”


He is silent for a second, while she grabs her coat from where it lies hastily draped over a chair.


“Will you drive me home?” His head inclined up, looking at her. His face still blank.


She nods. She had expected that. This late, the night bus only leaves on the hour.


“Have you got all your stuff?”
“I left my bag in the office.”


He doesn’t get up. She sees, now, that his eyelids are slightly purple. He’s very tired. She sighs.


“Is everything in your bag?”
“My iPod is on the desk.”
“Backpack?”
“Uh huh.”
“Just like in college, huh?”
“Yep. Way back when.”


“Wait here. Do you want me to bring the car around the front?”
He shakes his head.


She gathers up everything, the needle she has to dispose of, the waste. As she turns around she hears him say her name.


“Cuddy?”
There is a pause.
“Thank you.”


He knows. On some level. He came to her because she would do it, because he had hope, because this was the end of the road. He trusts her, as much as he can trust anyone. To end the pain.


Facing the door, her face reddens. Regret.

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