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HOUSE M.D. FIC: A Valiant Woman (6/6)

For notes, please see Chapter 1.

Chapter 6: Laughing at the Days to Come
“You think I can fix myself?”

House walked into her office, already in his motorcycle jacket, as she was pulling her scrubs over her head. She started telling him about the disaster in downtown Trenton, but he simply interrupted, “Don’t care,” and handed her a bulky manila envelope. The copy of the book by her great-grandfather was in excellent condition, the gilt letters bright, the leather hardly worn. He had written carefully on the creamy blankness of the first page, “To Lisa and Lucas. Here’s to a new chapter. Best, Greg.” She blanched, wondering how he could possibly have learned about the engagement so soon.

“I’ve known for a while. The fact that you’ve decided to co-habitate is not exactly a spoiler.” Co-habitate? Oh, thank God. He didn’t know. Yet. “Unless my intel’s wrong.” She turned her back to hide the relief on her face as much as so that he could help her with her haz mat suit, then pulled her hair up and tied it back out of the way. “Trouble in paradise?” he queried, clearly trying not to sound too hopeful.

She fled to Trenton.

***

What with the sirens, shouts, and helicopters hovering overhead, she didn’t notice House’s arrival at the scene until he was close enough to touch her. Trying to disguise her involuntary attempt to jump out of her own skin, she turned away and quickly wove her way through the crowd, hoping that he’d get the hint and put himself to good use someplace – someplace very far away from her.

He caught up to her eventually, of course, but he seemed content to triage nearby, effortlessly integrating a dozen subtle signs into decisions of life or death in a matter of seconds. He was especially interested in the operator of the crane, who apparently had been far too hopped up on caffeine to fall asleep at the wheel. House wanted to take him back to PPTH for neurological evaluation. Lisa overheard and yelled indignantly that she needed him here, wishing like hell that it weren’t the case.

***

Later on, House called her over to a largely demolished building, am empty soda can crushed in his hand. He insisted that he’d heard something – that someone had been trapped underneath the rubble. But the EMTs dismissed his suspicions and dispersed, and she went with them, seeking safety in numbers.

***

She didn’t see House for a while after that, but when he reappeared, causing her to jump guiltily again, he opened with, “So I hope I didn’t weird you out, giving you that gift.” She tried to put him off, to forestall upsetting explanations for just a little longer, but he was exhibiting his usual obstinacy of a bloodhound on the scent. When she finally bit the bullet and informed him that she had thought the book was, not a housewarming gift, but an engagement present, he was stunned, speechless. Eventually he recovered enough to start speculating on why she had been hiding this from him, and she tried hard to assure him that there had been a perfectly reasonable explanation.

There was no telling what he would have said next if an EMT hadn’t interrupted to take them down to visit the victim that House had stumbled upon under the rubble. She followed the two men through the bowels of the building on her hands and knees, acutely grateful that she had never been claustrophobic. The EMT explained that they couldn’t free the leg; it was time to discuss amputation. Hannah protested, sounding terrified, and House, predictably, backed her up.

Lisa made the call. “Captain. He’s a jerk. That’s what the patient wants. Can we please just give it a couple more hours?”

***

One of the EMTs came to fetch her from the middle of a procedure, saying that the trapped patient was having a panic attack and “the old grouch” was nowhere to be found. She caught House mounting his motorcycle and told him that he had to stay for Hannah’s sake. That, for whatever reason, he was the one she wanted.

“I’m flattered,” he said sarcastically.

“You have to go back. She needs you, House.”

***

House dragged himself back out after a secondary collapse cut his nose, bruised his cheekbone, and nicked a subclavicular vein. She was waiting for him to emerge, first aid kit at the ready, and gave him a thorough once-over before allowing him to sit and have his wounds attended to. While she was putting the finishing touches on his bandage, his phone rang and he talked to his team for a minute, Lisa only half-listening.

As he hung up, the EMT arrived bearing bad news. Lisa told House that it was time to get Hannah out of there, even if it meant losing the leg. House would have none of it and began babbling about potassium levels and unregulated administration of glucose and insulin.

“That is insane!” she found herself shouting. “It’s not worth it.”

“Really?” House barked. “’Cause I think I’m the only one here who knows what a leg is worth. Fortunately, you’re not the one who’s in charge, he is. He knows that I’d testify against him if Hannah sues for cutting off her leg without exhausting every option.”

He was impossible. She walked around him and leaned in to tell the EMT, “Give us a minute,” then turned back to House. ”I know you’re angry,” she said, “but please, don’t put her life at risk just to get back at me.”

House grinned ferociously. “Really? Wow.” He rose to loom over her, as if he thought he could use his height and bulk to intimidate her after all the years they’d know each other. “So this is all about you, now.”

“You took her side against me right after you heard about my engagement,” she reminded him.

“Yeah. That must be it. It’s not that you’re a pathetic narcissist.” He spoke savagely, but his face was an open wound. Lisa abruptly realized that she couldn’t keep putting bandaids on him forever when a clean break was the only reasonable remedy.

“I don’t“ -she steeled herself for the lie- “love you.” House looked away, shutting down, shutting her out. “So just accept it, and move on with your life instead of making everyone miserable.”

“That’s great,” he gibed. “A life lesson from a middle-aged single mom who’s dating a man child.”

The helicopters couldn’t compare to the rush of her blood in her ears. “Screw you,” she growled, wishing that she had a more original retort ready. “I’m sick of making excuses for you. I’m sick of other people having to tiptoe around you and make their own lives worse while they try to keep you from collapsing.” She took a deep breath. “I’m done.” She turned, trembling, and began walking away.

“Fantastic,” he called after her. “Just stay away from my patient.” There he went again, waving a red cape before the bull. Unable to resist, she spun around and marched back.

“What are you clinging to, House? You’re going to risk her life just to save her leg? It really worked out well for you, didn’t it?” The betrayed expression on his face only spurred her on to uglier depths. “What do you have in your life, honestly, tell me? I’m moving on. Wilson is moving on. And you?” He just stood there silently and took it as she finished brutally, “You’ve got nothing, House. Nothing.”

She closed her eyes briefly, already hating herself as the rage cooled, but far too stubborn to cop to it. “I’m going down there, and I’m going to convince her to let us cut her leg off. If you have any decency left, you’ll stay out if it.” 

***

Hannah was still dead set against the amputation, insisting that Doctor House had promised that she could keep her leg. Lisa turned her head as the sounds of shifting rubble announced the arrival of someone else in the narrow passage, and when she realized who it must be, she groaned.

“Doctor House. Tell her,” the patient pleaded.

House crawled along the dusty ground until he reached Lisa’s side, breathing heavily. He must have been in pain, but he was completely focused on the matter at hand. “Hannah,” he said gently, “we have to amputate your leg.” Lisa was so surprised that her head came up involuntarily.

“No. You said… that there was time!”

“There was,” he said, still incredibly gentle, “and it’s run out.”

“No!”

“You asked me… how I hurt my leg.” Lisa sucked in air and closed her eyes in distress as he continued, “I had a blood clot, and the muscle was dying. I had all these doctors telling me I should amputate, and I said no. They did this very risky operation. I almost died.”

Hannah squeezed her eyes shut in denial, shaking her head. “B-b-but,” she stuttered, “you saved your leg.”

House paused, then said solemnly, “I wish I hadn’t.” Lisa swallowed hard, feeling the first tear trickle down her cheek. She’d heard this tale before, once to teach, a number of times to torment. She had never before heard House lay himself bare to save a stranger, but she realized that, knowing him as she did, she should not have been so surprised.

“They cut out this chunk of muscle about the size of my fist, left me with a mutilated, useless thing… I’m in pain… every day. And it changed me. It made me a harder person. A worse person. And now… now I’m alone,” he concluded with a wistful simplicity.

“You don’t want to be like me.” He paused, intent on persuading Hannah no matter how hard it was for him to find the words. “You’ve got a husband who loves you, friends, you’ll start a family. You have a life.” Beside him, Lisa struggled not to sob as her cruel phrase was echoed back to her, his evident sincerity a stab to her heart.

“And this… it’s just a leg.”

In that moment, Lisa saw him as he truly was, and as he would have been, and as he yet could be. And she knew that she would be willing to do whatever it took, to grapple with all her native tenacity, in order to get him there.

And Hannah gasped, “Okay.”

House finally looked over at Lisa, without a trace of embarrassment or resentment, just as if she were a long-standing colleague and a friend - not a traitor, or a source of unceasing pain, or a target of unrequited love. “We’ve got it,” he confided.

***

Lisa wondered whether Jane Austen had felt anything like this as she headed home to break the news to her soon-to-be-former fiancé. Unexpectedly, Lucas didn’t resist at all, just retreated from the field. He said he’d always known this might happen – that he’d moved so quickly, pressed his advantage, hoping that her decades of defenses could be conquered by a surprise attack. He even said, wistfully, that he wished them well.

Once she would have felt enormously guilty in the face of such graciousness, maybe even tempted to change her mind: look, what a good guy she was giving up! But House and Wilson between them had managed to teach her to recognize manipulation when she saw it, and it took all of her strength not to scream at Lucas that she wasn’t a moron, that she actually would have felt worse if he’d acted mad enough to fight for her. And if her earlier epiphany about House had hit her with the force of a Mac truck, she was doubly shaken to see Lucas clearly of a sudden, his guileless features the perfect disguise for his Machiavellian machinations.

***

House hadn’t locked the front door. She found him sitting on the bathroom floor, lame leg splayed out hopelessly in front of him, staring at the tablets cupped in his shaking hand. As she stepped slowly into the room, his head jerked up, with a hungry, haunted expression that she knew all too well. Then he looked down, licked his lips, and taunted her, “You gonna leap across the room and grab them out of my hand?”

“No,” she said softly, not making any sudden moves. She felt like she finally understood the secret. He could do this; he could do anything. But it would be his decision, on his terms. All she could do was step back and give him the space in which to make it. “It’s your choice if you want to go back on drugs.”

He nodded, swallowed. “Okay,” he said. “But just so you know, I’m finding it hard to see the downside.”

She took a cautious step into the room. “We need to re-bandage your shoulder.”

House glanced away, then down. “Is that why you’re here? Foreman send you?”

“No,” she sighed, thinking that she was going to kill Foreman in the morning for not notifying her that his boss was at the end of his tether.

“You’re here to yell at me again?” he guessed.

“No,” she repeated.

“Well, I’m running out of ideas.”

She struggled to get the words out. “Lucas-“

“Oh, great,” he interrupted. “You’re feeling uncomfortable again. Probably means that you just got back from some quickie wedding in Vegas, or you’re already pregnant-“

“I ended it,” she said simply.

His head jerked up again, his eyes wide with shock. “What?”

“I’m stuck, House,” she said, torn between laughter and tears. “I keep wanting to move forward, I keep wanting to move on, and I can’t. I’m in my new house with my new fiancé, and all I can think about is you.” She took a deep breath, feeling as if she were standing naked before him. “I just need to know if you and I can work.”

House’s gaze drifted away, then back. “You think I can fix myself?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted, because apparently she was absolutely committed to telling the truth today, no matter whom it hurt.

He swallowed, stared at her abjectly. “Because I’m the most screwed-up person in the world.”

“I know.” And then, “I love you.” She gave him a rueful half-smile, thinking that she couldn’t have made this moment less romantic if she tried. “I wish I didn’t. I can’t help it.” So much for that theory; yes, she could.

House continued to gaze up at her. She couldn’t recognize the expression, not on his face anyway, because she hadn’t seen it when she perjured herself to keep his ass out of jail, or when his hand jerked in hers and woke her at his bedside after his DBS-induced seizure, or when she’d escorted him to Wilson’s office a year ago after watching him crack up right in front of her. But then she realized that it might simply mean that he wasn’t grateful before, merely resentful; that he hadn’t wanted to be saved, at least not by her.

And that the fact that she was seeing it now meant that there was suddenly space for hope.

House seemed to have come to a decision. He moved his hands to the floor, tried to brace himself to stand, but grimaced and fell back. Then, almost without hesitation, he held out his hand for her help. She felt the smile spread spontaneously across her face as she stepped forward smoothly to give it.

Upright, he pulled her closer, bent down, then paused, his breath brushing her lips, as if waiting to see whether this was really happening, or giving her a last chance to change her mind. Then he moved a centimeter closer, and their mouths met.

House kissed her gently, gingerly, at first, but tugged lightly at her lower lip as he pulled away. “How do I know I’m not hallucinating?” he asked, only half-joking.

She smiled up at him. “Did you take the Vicodin?”

He reluctantly released her upper arm, turned his palm upwards to reveal the pills. “No.”

“Then I think we’re okay,” she said, meaning so much more than that.

He smiled back, a shy, glad grin that she couldn’t recall ever having seen before. “Yeah,” he agreed, and the tablets clattered to the tile floor. His empty fingers entwined with hers, sending a shiver of arousal up her spine.

House’s bathroom was a minefield of silvered glass shards, and to take him home with her before Lucas had even finished moving his stuff out seemed too much to ask. But she couldn’t care that his mouth tasted like grit, or that they were both filthy, streaked with dust and sweat from the evening’s exertions. She kept his fingers tangled in hers, tugged him gently into the bedroom and down beside her, sliding against him as the edge of the mattress buckled under his weight.

He took a deep, shamed breath, carefully not looking at her. “Uh… don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure I’m up for this right this minute.”

She swallowed a brief swell of disappointment and tightened her grip, leaned her head lightly against his shoulder. “We’ve waited this long,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 
***

Author's Note: Okay, so maybe I am still in denial. Just a teeny little bit.

 

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
jezziejay
Sep. 22nd, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
As you know, I’m not really a Cuddy fan – I’m pretty indifferent to her – but in light of recent discussions and postings, I have to admit that my interest has been piqued! I really like what you did with this, and I always enjoy the somewhat different slant you take when writing your fiction.

When I first came to the House fandom, I read a few Huddy fics, some of them from Cuddy’s POV – and most of them cast her as a rather pathetic creature, whose entire existence revolves around House. And, although I’m sure that this is not a true representation of all Cuddy centred fics – this is the first time I’ve read a story in which Cuddy’s character is portrayed as being complex and every bit as emotionally screwed as both House and Wilson.

I felt quite sad for her all the way through your story – her predisposition to being attracted to men such as House, the disappointment of her personal life, and knowing that Wilson has a part of House that she’ll never have. Even though she eventually rejects settling for Lucas, she is still very much settling when she ends up with House – and is introspective enough to understand that that she is losing a part of herself in doing so. (At least, this is how I read it.) So, yeah, I was sad for her.

I enjoyed this alternative view of Cuddy, and as always, I really enjoyed your writing. It was almost detached, and so she never appeared to be completely broken, and the little subtleties allowed me to draw my own conclusions about her. I never felt that you were pushing a pro/anti Cuddy agenda. And you have some really beautiful writing here. Well done!

flywoman
Sep. 22nd, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
I do indeed know of your indifference ;). Thanks so much again for nonetheless reading and commenting on this before posting (and for suggesting that I include a key scene), as well as for your kind words this time around!

I often use my fic to explore issues that have been on my mind, and I certainly have the most in common with Cuddy's character, or at least her circumstances, so I thought it would be interesting to write her. And then with all of the hoopla surrounding the season premiere, I decided that a realist's recap of, and perspective on, the House/Cuddy relationship might be - um, not exactly welcome, but definitely in order!

BTW, there is one Cuddy-centric fic I highly recommend if you haven't read it: "A Voice in Ramah" by Ignaz Wisdom. Everything she writes is awesome - "A Modest Proposal" and "Involuntary Commitment" hooked me on H/W - and this story is an AU in which Cuddy succeeds in getting pregnant and has some difficult decisions to make, and House is pretty, well, peripheral, although not unimportant.
jezziejay
Sep. 22nd, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome ;) I think I've read the whole story about four times, and I see something new every time.
Thanks for the rec - I enjoyed 'A Modest Proposal', and as I've said, I'm more interested in Cuddy's character now, so I'll give it a go!
yarroway
Sep. 23rd, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
I, too, am not a Cuddy fan.

There is H/C fic out there in which Cuddy acts like a woman and not a girl--however they err on the side of presenting her as not screwed up at all, or barely, and that's just not the character I see on my tv screen, no matter how much I wish it was.

It seems right to me that Cuddy is in denial of a lot of things about herself, and I got that from this fic. It's refreshing to read a story where Cuddy is neither an angel in pink nor an evil monster.
flywoman
Sep. 23rd, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting, especially given that you are not a Cuddy fan! I have to admit that I hadn't given her all that much thought before I started brainstorming this story, and now I'm a bit frustrated that we don't get a lot of insight into her character onscreen - except occasionally out of House's mouth, but his motivations are often suspect. I do think that Cuddy, like many of the characters, is mostly well-meaning but also clearly kind of screwed up. I meant for this portrayal to be mostly sympathetic, but also pretty pessimistic about the long-term prospects of Huddy, given what we've seen so far.
fleurione
Sep. 26th, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC)
I agree with the two comments above; it's a refreshingly honest portrayal of Cuddy, showing her to be screwed up too. I would have liked to have seen your take on the '5 to 9' episode, but overall I think you did a good job - even if I have become rather jaded of Cuddy of late (past few seasons). I loved the beginning/S3-era interplay, and you captured that well in this fic and did a good job explaining how we could have got to where we are now...
flywoman
Sep. 30th, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
Gah, did I not reply to this? Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I do think that House and Cuddy were fun to watch in the first few seasons, and I'm glad that you think this worked as a (somewhat snarky?) explanation of how we got here. I probably SHOULD have included at least some references to "5 to 9," but um, honestly, there were limits to what I was willing to rewatch...
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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