Fic: Good For You
Characters: House and Foreman
Word Count: 3,150
Summary: Missing scene from Painless, Season Five, in which a reluctant Foreman helps House out
“Where are you going?”
“If Cuddy can come in late, I can go home early.” House slung his jacket over his shoulder and with an air of devil-may-care that was far too studied, slanted out the conference room door.
“Whoa,” said Thirteen, making a moue and looking around the room at her comrades. “What’s with him?”
Foreman slipped from his chair and stood in the doorway, watching House work his way down the hall.
“And what are you doing?” asked Taub.
It was all Foreman could do to keep from curling his lip in disdain. They had worked and lived with this man for how long now, and they still couldn’t read him, couldn’t pick up the most blatant signals. How could they call themselves diagnosticians? House made sure no one ever saw him grimace in pain, but it was hard to miss the serial Vicodin doses and the halting walk.
“What does it look like?” said Foreman. “ Making sure he made it to the elevators.” He must have failed to mask his contempt—all right, he never really tried--because he saw the three of them exchange well excuse me looks behind his back.
“And did he?” asked Taub in a flippant voice.
Foreman watched as House simply tripped over his own foot, did a slow stutter-step and caught himself against the wall in time to avoid falling. He leaned there pensively a moment looking at the distant elevator, then righted himself, altered course, and headed into Wilson’s office.
“No,” said Foreman, and left it at that. He closed the door with a wash of relief. Wilson would see that House got home. He was someone else’s problem now.
Wilson was on the phone to the oncology ward charge nurse when House barged in and lurched the three steps across the office.
“Need a favor,” he said with the usual lack of preamble as he heaved himself onto the couch.
Wilson covered the mouthpiece of the phone. “Be with you in a minute.” And then he let House fidget on the sofa while he finished the call. “Let me know if her condition changes,” he concluded and hung up the receiver.
Wilson hesitated only a moment before addressing his friend. He knew exactly what the favor was House that was seeking. He’d noticed the too-early Vicodin refill that morning, the slow-motion gait, the hunched shoulders, the deeply etched pain lines in his face, and the fatigue that informed all his movements.
“Sorry,” said Wilson. “Too busy to take you to eat. And too broke to lend you the money.” Wilson also knew the lengths House went to in order to conceal his pain from others, and one of the many small, invisible favors he did for House was, whenever possible, to let him go on thinking his charade had everyone fooled.
“I need a ride home.”
“What? Bike not working?”
“Cops are really picky these days, and I think I just might be over the legal blood-Vicodin limit.”
That much was evident. Wilson deduced, from the slightly slurred speech, that House had probably just downed a triple dose of Vicodin, trying to get the pain under control enough to get himself home, but that it hadn’t done the trick. Also, he said to the House of his imagination—the House who actually answered his questions—you don’t trust your leg to hold up the bike, do you? Not to mention, you might just fall asleep at the wheel. When, he asked imaginary House, was the last time you slept?
To the actual House he said, “Sorry,” keeping his tone brusque. “I have a case I have to close eye on here at the hospital. You’ll have to call a taxi.”
“Don’t have the cash for a taxi. C’mon. It’ll take you forty-five minutes. Stop playing paper saint. Dying kid can wait that long.”
So, it’s that bad, thought Wilson, having gotten the information he was fishing for. You don’t even trust yourself to make it to the lobby safely so you can catch a cab. Wilson nodded to House and reached for his overcoat.
“Okay. Give me ten minutes,” he said. “I have to take care of some stuff.”
Foreman had been on his way to the cafeteria when he passed Wilson at the pharmacy, wearing his overcoat.
“Going out to eat?” he asked, pretty sure that wasn’t the case.
Wilson shook his head as Marco passed him a paper bag. “Not really, I’m just running an errand. I—“ He was interrupted by his pager going off. “Damn!” he said as he read the message. And again, more quietly, “Damn.” When he saw Foreman watching him, he explained. “My patient just coded.” He leaned back against the pharmacy counter and covered his eyes with a hand, obviously trying to make a decision.
“Foreman,” he said a moment later. “You busy right now?”
Foreman watched Wilson trot off, pissed for letting himself be roped into this and wondering how the hell he would possibly pull it off. He had tried his best to refuse: Why not Chase? Why not Cameron? Wilson claimed they were both tied up with these things called “patients.” Since House had a five-to-one staff-to-patient ratio, Wilson basically informed Foreman that he was going to be the one to drive House home.
Foreman told himself that his irritation and exasperation had nothing to do with the fact that Wilson had clearly come to him last, after exhausting all other possibilities. As if Foreman had never done anything for House before, or was incapable. Who had taken care of him when the idiot gave himself a major migraine?
“He’s in no condition to drive himself home,” Wilson informed him, again as if Foreman wasn’t capable of making the same observation.
“So? He can take a taxi.”
Wilson simply nixed that idea. As if by way of explanation he thrust the pharmacy bag he was holding into Foreman’s hands and added, “He’s going to need you to give him this.”
Foreman looked at the label, and then at Wilson. “Aren’t you overreacting a little? Or a lot?”
But Wilson was already backing away, heading to the elevators. “And you’ll have to move your car,” he called over his shoulder.
“Took you long enough,” said House the moment Foreman pushed open the door to Wilson’s office. “Wait a minute. You’re not Wilson.”
“Wilson got a 911. I’m taking you home.”
“Forget it,” said House. “I’ll take a taxi.” He shoved his way past Foreman.
House recoiled. “Well, look who’s making the rules all of a sudden. And why can’t I take a taxi?”
“You mean, aside from the fact that half the taxi drivers in Princeton have you on their blacklist for being a lousy tipper and total pain?”
“Calumny. I’m a great tipper. So remind me again why I can’t take a taxi?”
“Because you probably don’t have any cash on you, and I’m damned if I’m going to give you my last forty bucks.”
“Sure you will. What’s the real reason?”
“Because taxis don’t have heated leather seats? And it’s 10 degrees out?”
House snorted. “Who cares? Unless it comes with a massage as well?” He leered at Foreman, who ignored him.
During this entire exchange, they had been making their way down the corridor to the private elevators in the back of the hospital as if it had been a foregone conclusion. Foreman had kept to the outside so that House could use the wall if he needed. And House had kept up the inane dialogue as a smokescreen for the fact that he had, in fact, needed to stop several times to lean against the wall, where he made a pretense of adjusting his backpack. It had taken a long time to reach the rear entrance.
“So cut the bullshit, Foreman. What’s the real reason you’re driving me home instead of letting me take a cab?”
Foreman sighed and gripped the leather-covered steering wheel as he backed out of the handicapped space that he had nabbed by the back entrance. “Because Wilson told me to.”
“And you always do what Wilson tells you to?”
House’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline, and then he smirked. “Me, too.”
“Did he also tell you to walk me to the door?” House sounded really exasperated now—never mind the fact, or maybe because of the fact that—he had had to lean hard on Foreman to get up the front steps.
“No. My mother always told me to walk my date to the front door.”
“Very funny. Well, my mother taught me never to put out on the first date.” House opened his door, limped inside, and turned to shut the door in Foreman’s face. “Sorry to disappoint you,” he said giving him a half-hearted smirk.
But Foreman was too quick. He stuck a foot in the doorway just in time to prevent its closing. House opened the door again, looking truly peeved.
“What the hell, Foreman?” Before he could react, Foreman shouldered his way inside.
“You see, my mother taught me it was polite to ask someone in for a drink on a first date—especially if that person has just done you a favor like, say, saving you forty bucks on a taxi.”
“Cut the crap. What’s going on?”
The two stood glaring at each other, eyeball to eyeball, while Foreman’s brain raced. At last he relaxed. He’d done the hard work—getting through the door. He reached over and casually closed it behind him. The sound reverberated through the apartment. “Maybe I just wanted to see the inside of your place,” he said. “Known you five years and never been past the threshold.”
House held his glare for another moment, then backed away, tossing his backpack onto the couch. Wordlessly he put some music on the CD player—some blues Foreman didn’t recognize—and poured himself a finger of Makers Mark from a bottle on the mantelpiece.
Foreman took the opportunity to get a good look at the apartment. Like House’s office, it reflected the man perfectly: full of curios—mostly antique medical tools. Books and journals lining the many book shelves, lying horizontally on top of other books or open on the coffee table. An impressive sound system and a baby grand. Some blank sheet music and a pencil lying on the bench behind it. A bust of Darwin. Guitars leaning against the leather sofa or hanging on the wall. The same kind of organized chaos he was used to from House’s office, music and medicine being the dominant themes. Nothing personal, no photos, no childhood mementos. No one lived here but House.
The apartment owner took a sip of bourbon and gave him an appraising glance. “Satisfied?” he asked
Foreman nodded. He looked pointedly at House’s glass. “You going to offer me some of that?”
“No,” said House. “It’s too early in the day to start drinking. You going to tell me what’s really going on? You didn’t follow me in here to look at my CD collection.”
Foreman was out of excuses and stall tactics. Despite his misgivings that what he was about to do was both unmerited and wrong, he pulled the syringe and vial from his pocket and said simply, “Wilson thought you might need this.”
House’s reaction was electric. There was a flash of something in his eyes, something unvarnished and hungry that he tried, and failed, to conceal. It was followed by something even subtler: fear. He turned his back to Foreman and pretended to study the fireplace. When he spoke his voice was almost inaudible.
“I don’t need that,” he said.
“Fine. You want it, then.”
House whipped around to face Foreman, his face contorted. “Of course I want it, you idiot! But I don’t need it.” He took a few steadying breaths. “If that’s why you’re hanging around, you can leave.”
Foreman nodded. “Fine by me,” he said and was about to back out the door, when he took a closer look at the man. Sometime in the last minute all the color had drained from House’s face, and the dark stubble now stood out in stark relief. He watched as House swallowed twice, his Adams apple bobbing, then set his glass abruptly down on the mantel and reached for the cane he had hung there. Leaning hard, he pivoted and headed out of the room, balancing himself on the wall of the hallway with his free arm.
Foreman went after him, but the bathroom door slammed in his face before he could get there. He heard House start the bath. And then he heard the unmistakeable sound of retching, audible even over the sound of running water that House had doubtless hoped would cover up what was actually going on.
“House?” No answer. Foreman turned the door knob. House hadn’t had time to lock the door and it opened easily.
He also hadn’t had time to make it to the toilet, and was half-kneeling beside the tub, his right leg at an awkward angle. He glanced up as Foreman entered the room.
“Your timing sucks,” he gasped, speaking into the bathtub. “Two more minutes and I would have been naked.” Then he thrust a hand into the running water and splashed it over his face several times. When he was done he pivoted until he was sitting with his back against the tub.“Why are you still here?”
Foreman reached into his pocket and withdrew the syringe and vial of morphine. “You do need this. Stop the act.”
“No. What I need is a hot bath and some Vicodin.”
“A hot bath? Are you fucking kidding me? With a pain rating of what? Eight? Nine? That’s like trying to stop a freight train with a pea shooter.” He pointed at the contents of the bathtub. “And you can’t even keep the Vicodin down. What you need is to stop being an idiot and get some real pain relief. And some sleep.”
House struggled slowly to his feet, with Foreman resisting every impulse to help him. “You’re right,” said House, panting from the effort. The look he gave Foreman was full of defeat. “I need the morphine. But morphine’s the only thing left that still works for me, every time. If I start using it now, when the pain’s an eight, what happens when it doesn’t work any more, and I’m at a ten? So get out and let me get on with…this.” He pointed to the hallway, as if Foreman might not know the way out.
“No.” Foreman reached out and grabbed House’s arm. “This time, at least, you don’t have a choice.” He physically propelled House into the hallway and opened the door to the bedroom. “Get in there. Take your shirt off and lie down on the bed.”
House glared at him, saying nothing, his jaw working. The standoff lasted all of thirty seconds, until House simply closed his eyes and folded. He allowed the younger man to help him to his bed. Foreman propped the cane on the bedside table and pulled down the thick grey comforter. House sat down on the edge of the mattress and toed off his shoes. Then he pulled off his T-shirt and button-down in one simple long motion, and lay down on his back.
“It’s an intrathecal dose,” said Foreman as he inserted the syringe into the rubber seal and began drawing down the medication. When he was done he looked at House, who was gripping the bed sheets in both fists, and breathing shallowly. “All right, assume the position.”
House managed a small smirk and turned on his left side, pulling his knees up toward his chest. Both hands were wrapped around his right thigh as if he were thrying to strangle it. Foreman sat beside him and surveyed House’s torso. His back and shoulders were heavily muscled—he must do some sort of workout, an idle part of Foreman’s brain speculated—and every muscle stood out, clenched hard as if for a body-building competition.
“House, I know it’s difficult, but I need you to relax. This won’t hurt—it won’t even register compared to what you’re feeling now.”
House grunted softly and made some sort of effort to relax his back muscles. Foreman sighed. He would never be able to insert the needle like this. Suddenly he remembered something his mother used to do when he had trouble sleeping. He took the pad of his thumb and slowly drew it down House’s spine, from C1 to L5. House twisted once in surprise, or because he was ticklish, and then his back muscles visibly relaxed.
“What’re you doing?” he mumbled.
“Just counting. Looking for L2,” said Foreman. “Hold still now.” House did as he was told and Foreman steadied him with one hand on his right hip while with his other hand he found the right spot. Slowly and deliberately he thrust the syringe in, all the way to the hilt. He pushed the plunger, emptying the contents into House’s spinal cord.
House gave a soft gasp and then released a shuddering breath. Foreman felt his body gradually go limp under his hands. He put a palm on House’s shoulder and rolled him over onto his back. House gazed at the ceiling with eyes that had gone almost completely blue, the dark pupils constricted to pinpoints. His breathing had slowed and his eyelids were starting to droop. The pain lines were gone. He wasn’t smiling—his expression was dead serious—but his features managed to convey a sort of bliss nonetheless. Release from pain was not so different from surrender to pleasure, Foreman thought, looking at him. Two sides of the same coin.
He reached down and lifted House’s feet enough to pull the comforter over them and up to his chest. “Lift your arms,” he ordered. House complied silently, watching him now through half-lidded eyes, as Foreman tucked the duvet around his chest. Foreman stood up, startled to realize he’d had a fleeting impulse to touch House—pat him on the wrist or shoulder, some purely instinctive attempt to reassure the patient, he told himself—squashed in the knick of time. Turning hastily aside, he tossed the capped syringe into a wastebasket. He really needed to get back to the hospital.
“You good now?” he asked, looking at his watch.
“Mmm,” said House. He was already nodding into sleep, but he stopped Foreman before he reached the door. “Foreman?”
“Was it good for you, too?”
Foreman laughed. “Yeah. It was good for me, too.”