Characters: House, Wilson, Cuddy, Chase, with a dash of Foreman and a pinch of Cameron
Rating/Pairing: Gen; a mild R for language. H/W strong friendship (slash only if you wear goggles)
Summary: The fallout from House's recent misadventure. Follows Sleeping Man: Outside
Timeline: Set in the early fall of Season 3, around Cane and Able, Lines in the Sand
Chapter One is here: Part 1 For the next chapter, click on "next entry" arrow above.
What the Critics Are Saying About SM:I:
“Everyone in the USA—and Canadia—should read this story. Why? Because it’s in English. In other words, it’s in American. Just like the only other two books I have read, The Stranger, by Camus, and the Bible, by...whoever. Like Jesse Helms said, 'If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.'” ---George W. Bush
At last it was just him and Cuddy, and of course Sleeping Beauty over there.
Cuddy perched on the edge of his bed for a moment and looked at him with an expression that could only be described as fond. Dangerous, dangerous ground.
“I never thought I’d say this out loud—and to you—but it’s good to see you, House. It’s good to have you back. I actually”—oh, God, she was tearing up—“missed you, you complete jackass.” Any minute now she would pat his hand.
“Oh, sure,” said House, pissed that the effect he was going for would doubtless be ruined by the way he had to pause for each breath, and by the pathetic coughing jags that continued to interrupt his speech. “You didn’t miss me one bit… until the day you thought I might never… come back. Admit it.”
“And then when you thought I wasn’t coming back, you couldn’t wait to bury me…. What kind of person …buries someone alive like that?”
“House, you don’t know, I tried—“
“As for all that…all that stuff you said about me at the memorial service? Complete crap. …Everyone knows you have to say nice things about dead people, even if it’s all rubbish.”
Cuddy snorted and said nothing for a moment. Then she wiped her nose with a tissue from the bedside table. “Yes,” she rejoined, at last. “In fact, in Sweden, it’s actually illegal to speak ill of the dead. Did you know that? So I was just following my lawyer’s advice.”
That was more like it.
“Besides,” House added, “it’s a little early to celebrate my return from the dead. I’m still short a few functioning kidneys. I’m still at death’s doorstep. Don’t deny it. Yes, I read my chart. Wilson left it on the bedside table before passing out. So I think that rates a few more days off work, at least.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not scheduling you for clinic duty anytime soon. You’re too scary looking, for one thing. The patients would all run away screaming.”
“Which is just what I aim for in the clinic,” said House with a smirk. He looked at her more closely. “You’re joking, right?”
Cuddy gave him a look that he couldn’t begin to interpret. Part evil, part amused, part something else. “You mean you haven’t looked at yourself in a mirror?” she asked.
“No. I somehow neglected to pack my vanity mirror when I checked in here,” House retorted, but Cuddy was already on her way out the door. Somewhere she managed to scrounge up a hand mirror, which she presented to House with a small flourish.
He held it up curiously and froze, the smirk vanishing from his face. The last time he’d looked in a mirror—in the coffeehouse bathroom in Cambridge—the face looking back at him had been that of a complete stranger. Now, once again, he was looking at features he didn’t recognize—skin stretched tight over prominent cheekbones, eyes sunken deep under the brow, but most jarring of all, the freshly shaven chin and naked skull. The visage staring back at him looked like a death mask and felt, once again, like a complete stranger’s.
It was as if the puzzle that had so recently assembled itself into something recognizable had suddenly shattered, leaving a meaningless jumble of shapes once again. The mirror slipped unnoticed from his fingers and he shut his eyes against the image he had seen there.
Cuddy experienced a stab of panic, looking at House. He had dropped the hand mirror onto the bed and turned his face away from her, eyes squeezed shut. His chest was heaving, and a check of the monitors showed that his pulse was racing.
“House,” Cuddy said. “You okay?”
“Mmmm,” he answered. “Yeah. Fine. You were right, though. It is a little scary. ” But the monitors belied his attempts to pass it off as a joke. Cuddy could see him trying to slow down his breathing. Was he having a flashback of some sort?
“Not that scary, House. What just happened?”
“I’m fine,” said House, but there was a tremor in his voice and in his hand as he ran it along his chin and then his head. He didn’t’ speak again until his breathing had slowed to normal. “There are no sutures,” he said at last, “so no brain surgery. So no need to shave my head. While I was out of my mind, did I join the Hare Krishnas or something?”
“Nothing so uplifting,” Cuddy replied. “You had head lice. Wilson shaved your head. Easier than doing the whole Rid thing.”
A very small smile greeted this revelation.
“Head lice…. Thank you, Fergus. And thank you, Wilson.”
“You should thank Wilson,” Cuddy agreed, pleased to see some color returning to House’s face. She glanced at the sleeping oncologist and added, “If he ever wakes up. That’s how we discovered your concussion.” She picked up the discarded mirror and held it so he could see the contusion on the back of his head. This time House was able to look in the mirror without flinching.
“What did the MRI show? I assume you did an MRI?”
“Grade three concussion. No skull fracture. And who is Fergus?”
House touched the fading bruise thoughtfully. “Grade three. Well, that does explain it.”
“Maybe,” said Cuddy, and vulnerable though House seemed at this moment—or more accurately just because he was so vulnerable-- she determined to press her advantage “And maybe not.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? A severe concussion could cause retrograde amnesia, all sorts of memory problems. It’s—“
“It’s highly unusual, and you know it. According to both Foreman and Chase, it is far more likely that there’s some other explanation. A delayed reaction to the ketamine treatment, maybe. It can cause memory loss. Or PTSD. That can cause a temporary fugue state, which is a much more common cause of the kind of amnesia that you—“
“To have post traumatic stress, you have to first have trauma. Wait. Unless PTSD means Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Cuddy, are you about to traumatize me? Unbutton your blouse? Take off-- ”
“House! You were shot a few months ago—nearly bled to death in front of your staff.”
“Traumatic for them, not for me. I was unconscious at the time.”
“You’ve never talked to anyone about that, or about losing the use of your leg again.”
“Cuddy.” He reached for the nurse call button with one hand and made an exaggerated pointing motion to the back of his head with the other. When he spoke it was slow and loud, as if explaining basic math to a first grader. “Head injury equals amnesia. Hoofbeats equals horses. Stop looking for zebras.”
Before Cuddy could answer, Nurse Rachel appeared in the doorway. “Did you need something?” she asked, the light of eternal hope in her eyes.
“An electric razor,” said House, dismissing her and her hopefulness with a curt nod.
“You, you’re going to shave again…voluntarily?” gasped Cuddy.
“Why not?” asked House, picking up the hand mirror again and examining his head from all angles. “I think I’m kind of rocking this Dr. Evil look.”
“More like Dr. Death,” she muttered. And because he did, in fact, look like he was fast reaching a point of exhaustion, she rose to leave once the nurse returned with the razor. It wasn’t till she was in the elevator that she realized how thoroughly, once again, House had managed to deflect the entire conversation she had been so determined to have with him.
And it wasn’t until she was out the door that House hefted the razor in his hand, put the mirror back on the bedside table and turned over onto his other side to look at Wilson. The man had not stirred once in the hours since he’d been deposited in the bed.
“Hey!” House shouted. “Sleeping Beauty! Wake up!”
Wilson snored on, oblivious. Clearly nothing was going to disturb his sleep. Not even a kiss from Cameron. Not even an earthquake. And certainly, thought House with what he thought of as his new, Dr. Evil smile, not the sound of an electric razor.