I'm back with a nice little two-shot - although I wrote it a long time ago, while the seventh season of the show was broadcast on TV (gosh, was that really three years ago?!) - that I translated into English last summer. It was originally divided into eight chapters, but they were WAY too short, some of them barely 1,000 words long actually (yeah, that short). Anyway, I'll publish the second and final part in a week.
Huuuge thanks to IHeartHouseCuddy for taking a look at the story beforehand :) I hope you guys will enjoy it!
I own neither House MD (I wish though. I wish.) nor the dialogues from the episode that I've included into this story.
Too Bad It Isn't True
If House said there was someone, then there was someone.
House was always right, and Cuddy knew so.
She tried to focus in spite of the loud racket surrounding her, but she could not perceive the clang he had described.
The team of firemen walked away. When House turned to her, she realised she had been staring at him for a while. She opened her mouth to say the first thing that would cross her mind, but he turned on his heels and followed the paramedics. She noticed with a slight heartache that he had stopped paying attention to her. Because she had been pushing him away and keeping him at bay ceaselessly.
She did hear it this time.
He did not turn to her, did not even slow down.
She had to go. There had to be someone.
Screw it, she'd go alone.
She moved a few pieces of debris and found a tunnel leading down below the enormous pile of concrete. She switched on her torch and slithered in. Even though she was petite and flexible, moving forward remained difficult and tedious. The gravels scratched her palms, each tiny debris tumbling down made her tremble, and this annoying lock of hair dangling in front of her eyes had her puffing with exasperation. But she was making progress rather quickly.
The tunnel widened, opening up to a void spacious enough for her to sit up. She took a deep breath, tired already, and heard the clang once more, which motivated her. She braced herself to smash with a kick what used to be a door.
The ceiling collapsed when her foot broke into the window.
A few minutes later, when Cuddy regained consciousness, she did not know where she was. She was lying onto her back, her hands beside her head, palms facing the ceiling. The floor was uncomfortable and her ribs ached, the smell surrounding her was acrid. She remembered gradually what had happened and was thrown into a panic when she recalled the collapse. She wanted to scream and call out for help, but no sound emerged from her dry throat. She breathed deeply, attempted to calm down. She raised her arms and touched the ceiling, which she estimated being a foot and a half above her. Knowing she had some space above her reassured her. Her flashlight did not function anymore, but a thin ray of light made its way through a hole in the rubble. It was enough for her eyes to get progressively accustomed to the bleak darkness surrounding her. The cavity in which she was stuck had not completely collapsed, protected by a beam. In fact, she could even reach the tunnel. It was not as serious as she had thought.
Her relief ended brutally when she tried to move, her leg trapped under a heap of concrete. Pain radiated throughout her body, tearing a silent scream from her, suffering and terror coalescing.
No one knew she was there.
The loud sound of the secondary collapse had echoed across the whole site. House had barely noticed it, too busy examining a survivor to care.
"You know what day it is?"
"Sunday?" the man hesitated.
"Nope. That's the ER for you. Take him to a hospital!" he yelled to whoever would listen to him.
"Hey, did you hear that?" screamed a fireman. "Where was that from?"
"From the parking lot," said another voice. "No survivors there, must be a gas leak."
Several more victims passed by his eyes. Do you remember your name, what day of the week is it. House did not want to take a look at bleeding people and ask the same questions over and over again to gauge their mental state. Too common. Boring. He missed diagnosing already. He called Foreman to check on the crane operator.
"He's still in the ER, House," the neurologist replied. "We haven't had time to start a differential."
"Perfect! Let's start right now. Put me on speaker. What causes syncope?"
"Your guy's stable," Taub intervened. "The two dozen other patients –"
"Don't need to be diagnosed. They just need to be bandaged. What causes syncope?" House repeated.
"Vasovagal reaction," suggested Chase.
"Meningioma," Foreman added. "Sick sinus syndrome."
"Or you're wrong, and he just fell asleep," Taub contradicted him.
"How's he gonna sleep with fifty cups of coffee going through his veins?"
"Were you never a medical resident?"
House changed the topic, "I hear ten, eleven, and twelve. Where's Thirteen?"
"She's not here," Foreman answered. "And the answer to your next question is no. I don't know where she is."
"Do you have the answer to my question after that? Space-occupying lesion in his brain is most likely. MRI will prove I'm right."
"Or it'll just prove he suffered head trauma from the crash."
"Which we'd wanna find anyway. Two birds with one scan. Do it," the diagnostician ordered before he hung up.
He stuffed his phone inside of his pocket and his thoughts wandered towards Cuddy. Towards the look on her face when he had given her the book. Something was off, he was certain of it. A housewarming gift was not supposed to make her uncomfortable. It could only mean one thing. If she were breaking up with Lucas, then he had hope. He could win her back.
"Cuddy," he blurted out all of a sudden.
She had stayed behind him. She had called his name and he had ignored her. Where was she now?
If there were no men deployed at the parking lot, what could have caused the collapse?
His gaze swept across the place. No sign of Cuddy.
She had stayed alone.
Adrenaline pulsing through his veins, he limped to the parking lot as fast as he could and round the enormous heap of debris, shouting her name and hoping she'd answer.
Cuddy's hands travelled down her body, searching for wounds. Except for coagulated blood on the right side of her face and soreness everywhere from her toes to her scalp, she did not detect anything abnormal. With her fingertips, she explored the cell that held her prisoner. Her hand met a kind of pipe located above her head. She feared another collapse, but she had to try. Unfortunately, it was her only solution to reach out to the exterior world.
In case someone walked by.
In case House had noticed she was missing.
In case he still cared about her.
She had very little hope.
She banged her torch against the tube.
No collapse. Nothing moved.
She repeated her gesture, worrying that she could not hear another noise, apart from her heavy and hoarse breathing. Either there was nobody outside, or she simply couldn't hear them, and therefore they could not hear her back. Between these options, she could not decide which she preferred. She kept going, and eventually lost track of the time. Whether it had only been a few minutes or an hour – either way, an eternity – she had had time to think.
And the last thing she wanted to do when she was out of here, was getting married. She could not see herself getting old by Lucas' side. The mere thought of it made her feel nauseous. He was a decent guy, alright. He cooked for her and he played with her daughter. That was what she had been looking for; someone who was comfortable with her toddler. After all, she was getting old, and Rachel needed someone in her life other than a working mom and a nanny, a sort of father figure. But she had to stop lying to herself; she was bored out of her mind. She did not love that man.
The only one she wanted to show up at that moment, was House. He would be capable of releasing her. Lucas would not. He would hold her hand, cry by her side and consider her dead already. House would do anything in his power, and even more than that, to save her. She trusted him blindly. He knew her better than anyone, better than Lucas did, he knew things about her that everybody else was ignorant of. Oddly enough, although she was a rather reserved person, the fact that she had no secrets for him was far from disturbing. In fact, it was quite reassuring.
Getting married was inconceivable. She could not abandon herself to another man.
She tried to convince herself that what she was feeling was only guilt, and not something else.
She believed she had hallucinated. House called her name once more. She wanted to scream, but her throat closed up, silencing her. She must have had inhaled too much dust.
Her torch hit the cylinder harder. He had to hear her, he could not give up on her!
Her heart was pounding in her ears. She strove to calm down, fearing she would bleed again. If the gash on her forehead opened, if her leg were bleeding under that pile of rubble, and no one came down to save her, she might never leave her cell.
Cuddy heard groans emanating from the tunnel. If she had had trouble to crawl down there, a man his size should be experiencing severe difficulties.
He fell a few inches away from her. She grasped his cane, tearing a surprised yelp from him.
"House," she rasped.
He directed the beam of his flashlight towards her face. It was her. The aggressive light blinded her and she clenched her eyes shut. He tried not to let his immense relief show and drew closer to her.
"You remember your name?"
His question confused her. She wanted to throw herself in his arms and he was treating her like any other victim? She coughed. Her throat was dry. House watched dust whirl before his lamp. She eventually answered.
She shivered at the faint sensation of his fingers on her face.
"Good. What day of the week is it?"
"Better still." His hands felt around her head, searching for signs of trauma, before he examined her body, down and back up her arms and eventually moving across her torso. His touch felt distant to her. He had not reached her right leg yet when he told her she was fine. "I don't feel any broken bones. You got lucky. I'm gonna try and get you out of here."
"We can't, House."
"Why? You wanna stay down here? It sure looks cosy, but it could be dangerous."
She smirked in spite of the seriousness of the situation. "My leg is trapped."
"The right one?"
She nodded. He laid a hand on her thigh. Cuddy could not feel a thing through his hands. To him, she was just another victim amongst many others. She had thought he had come all the way down there because he had been worried about her, but it did not make any sense. Maybe he had been sent to the parking lot and he had followed her noises without knowing she was stuck there, or he had sneaked off because the clangs he had heard were bugging him. She did not feel special to him anymore. Did not feel like she meant anything at all. Although she had spent the last few months keeping him at arm's length, it saddened her to observe that she had succeeded.
His hand slid along her limb and hit concrete before he reached her calf.
"Is there a lot of rubble above us?" she asked then.
"Don't know. I didn't pay attention."
"Well, they must have started to remove everything."
"No, there's no one here."
Maybe he did care about her. It curiously reassured her more than knowing there were people above her doing their best to free her.
"I'm gonna go get some help. I'll be right back," he promised.
She acquiesced silently. He crawled back into the tunnel. Cuddy was left alone in the dark.
She realised with horror that she had not heard the clangs since the collapse she had caused. There was someone, and she had killed that person.
She hoped House would be back soon.
But he had not come back at all. Other firemen had waltzed in, briefly informed her about her situation – there were a few tons of rubble above her and they would do their best to remove it as soon as possible, in the meantime an EMT was going to proceed to an examination but apart from her leg, she looked alright.
Indeed, House had chosen to focus on other victims who needed him more than she did. Cuddy was in good hands.
But that was only what he was trying to convince himself of. While he had been trying to become a better man and a responsible adult for her, even to accept her relationship with Lucas and the fact that she did not want him, being so close to her and touching her to evaluate her state had been torturous; there was tension between them. They had incessantly been hiding behind words left unsaid and avoiding each other for the past year. She had ignored this tension and he had tolerated it, which eventually led to this complicated aspect of their relationship which they did not know how to handle. Besides, lately, their awkwardness had reached a peak. And in barely a minute, all his efforts to remain detached had been shattered. He was incredibly relieved to have found her, and yet terribly scared of watching her die. She was in a dangerous position. He was aware that it would take hours to clear enough debris to free her leg, if her wound did not turn out to be fatal in the meantime.
He was terrified. And he could not expose the both of them to emotions that he could not control.
He was examining yet another victim when a paramedic came to find him.
"We've got a problem with Doctor Cuddy."
"I've got a problem with this guy," House dismissed him. She was in good hands. "A building collapsed on his head, can you imagine?"
What's-his-name ignored him and carried on, "We're having trouble finding a vein for her IV."
Maybe she was not in such good hands after all. "'She getting weaker? Paler?" he asked.
"No, no. She's stable."
"That means her blood loss is minimal," he concluded. There was not much of a problem. They could handle it. "Buys us some time. Get the IV into her tibia. It's almost hollow, feeds into the venous system," he explained. What's-his-name replied with a confused silence. "Which they don't teach you in EMT school," House continued in an appalled tone. He could not leave her with these idiots just because he was scared. Time to man up, he thought. He gave his stethoscope to some guy walking past and headed towards the parking lot, a first aid kit tucked under his arm.
The rumble of the numerous saws created a deafening and unpleasant background noise, its only silver lining being that it was going to help Cuddy, and the other victims trapped under the pile of concrete. House threaded his way into the tunnel, which was lit up by lamps plugged to a generator. Cuddy was surrounded by three men who were striving to remove the debris. They communicated by yelling words which where more or less understandable. Cuddy seemed calm. Whether she was exhausted or lost in her thoughts, House did not know.
"Told you I'd be back." She turned to him hearing his voice so close to her. Judging by her smile, she was glad to see him. He sat down beside her. "Nowadays, no one knows how to find a vein or how to insert a catheter into a bone anymore. Unbelievable, right?" he said while extracting her elegant leg from her dark blue overalls, before ripping a hole in her pale pink scrubs. "Anyway, how 'you doing?"
He opened the kit, grabbed a needle and cleaned a spot on her calf before he warned her, "Little pinch." The needle pierced through the bone. Cuddy barely muffled her yelp of pain. "Okay, big pinch," he admitted, a little sheepishly. He hanged the IV bag on a metal rod protruding from a block of concrete. Turning to the dean, he saw the trail of blood drying on the side of her face, which he had felt in the darkness earlier. She was staring into his eyes. He took a piece of gauze from the kit, soaked it with water and rubbed her face delicately, his thumb accidentally dropping to her lips. His gestures felt sweeter this time, almost comforting and affectionate. Cuddy closed her eyes, lulled by his caress. She let out a little disappointed sigh when his fingers left her now clean skin, lifted her eyelids and met his blue gaze once again. They stared into each other's eyes, into each other's souls. Cuddy could read anguish in his eyes, as well as pain, fear, barely repressed tenderness... and love? No, she had to be wrong. But the way he'd look at her was peculiar.
He looked down first.
"House." She rested her hand on his arm. "Would you be my doctor, for once?"
He could not say yes. If he were emotionally involved, he would never be able to make the right decisions. Too dangerous. It could cost her her life. "Don't know. Depends on the ducklings."
Once again, he was running away from her, she realised. "Don't tell me you really had the operator brought to Plainsboro."
"I really had the operator brought to Plainsboro."
She exhaled. "You have four doctors who would be more useful in the ER –"
"And I would be more useful at the hospital!" he snapped, involuntarily.
House saw her scowl. He immediately regretted his words.
"Fine. I'm not holding you back, you know."
She turned away, sulking. He touched her arm. "That's not what I meant..." he tried. His phone rang, unconveniently. When he saw it was his team calling, he had no choice but to pick up. "Talk."
Foreman answered, "The MRI was clean, but afterwards, he started bleeding out of his eyes and nose."
"So there was something wrong before the collapse."
"Unless it's just conjunctive coagulopathy from the trauma," Taub said.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, you don't think he was sick before. We get it! You're wrong."
"Brain infection?" Chase suggested.
"Sorry I'm late," Thirteen interrupted, having just walked in.
"Where were you?"
"Physical therapy. I left my phone in my locker."
"The infection causes neurological symptoms, goes systemic," Chase continued. "and D.I.C. causes the bleed."
"Good theory. Except for the part that there's no fever. Get an X-ray venogram. See if you can find a reason for your existence. Also look for venous sinus thrombosis."
"Would have seen it on the MRI."
"Not if you were too busy not looking for it."
"We should X-ray for a facial fracture first," Thirteen advised. "This could all be simple trauma."
"Just do what I tell you. Be back in ten minutes."
He hung up, having finally made his decision. He could not remain by Cuddy's side, especially now that she had asked him to be her doctor and look after her. One of them was going to get hurt, if not both.
"You're leaving?" she asked in a hoarse voice.
"There's a dozen people here who can save you. I'm apparently the only one who can save this other guy. I'll see you in the ER."
He turned away without even glancing back. "House!"
She watched him disappear and felt her heart pound as soon as he was gone. She did her best to calm down, taking deep breaths. He had to come back. He could not abandon her. Even though she was scared to admit it, she needed him. The night before, when Lucas had knelt in front of her, the first thing to cross her mind had been, What is House going to say? How am I going to tell him? Would he have proposed?
She had stupidly said yes, as if he had only asked her how she was, without even thinking about it. She had regretted her words as soon as they had left her lips. A little part of her had been hoping that House would fight for her. That he would not let Lucas take her away from him. She had feigned happiness. She had smiled to Lucas, had let him embrace her in his tiny, feeble arms, but it had only made her more uneasy. She did not belong with him.
House had to come back. She had to tell him everything. That she did not want to get married, that she wanted him, she loved him. Yes, she loved him. After all this time, she finally accepted the feelings she could not suppress anymore.
And he was gone.
He had left her and she was terrified that she'd never be able to tell him.
House had just reached his bike when a fireman – Captain McCreaney – caught up with him.
Oh, he knew him. It was the lazy asshole who had refused to look further into the clangs he had heard. "What the hell do you want?" he asked, barely hiding his weariness.
"It's Doctor Cuddy. She's having a panic attack, she can't breathe," the fire chief explained.
"So calm her down," he shrugged as offhandedly as he could. It did not take a doctor to ease a patient down from a panic attack.
"She wants to see you."
"I'm flattered," House deadpanned. "Give her oxygen." Maybe it did take a doctor.
"We're not letting O2 down there. It could explode. You have to go back," he insisted. "She needs you!"
House hesitated. He could not leave her alone, panic attack or not. He was not able to control the sentiments that flooded his little heart of stone anymore, and he had to admit he was scared to death. If it reassured her to have him by her side, it would reassure him too, after all. He would be near her. Near enough to not let anything happen to her.
He killed the engine and limped back to Cuddy. He threaded his way back below the rubble and saw her chest lift up and down heavily, her hands covering part of her face. When she turned to see who the visitor was and she recognized him, tears rushed up to her eyes. He sat beside her. "Hey. Deep breaths." She tried to pronounce his name, but her own sobs choked her. "Don't try to talk. Just breathe." She did as he was told. He nodded encouragingly as she calmed down gradually.
"You came back because I freaked out?" she asked once she had regained a sufficient grip on herself.
He shook his head. "Oh, no. I just realised how big and scary the world is, and how cozy and safe this little place is." The rumbles of the saw were now above them. They were alone in the void. "Keep breathing," he whispered, taking her hand. She exhaled slowly. "Nice," he smiled slightly.
"Thanks, House." She tightened her grip on his hand and offered him a weak smile, which he returned, glad to see her lips stretch the tiniest bit. While she was considering how to break the news to him, he let go of her and half-heartedly dug in his pocket, retrieving his cell phone.
"I assume you want to call Lucas."
Now or never.
She acquiesced with a timid nod. She dialled the number which she had trouble remembering and pressed the green button. Lucas answered shortly.
"Lucas, I... I..."
The detective was freaking out. He was telling her that her voice sounded weird and she seemed exhausted. He was always worried about her. Cuddy had thought it was the proof that he wanted to take good care of her but, in the end, she could not stand him treating her like a child.
"Shut up and let me speak." She turned to House, as though to find courage. His glance was focused everywhere, except on her. "I don't want to marry you."
The diagnostician turned to her, doubly surprised; not only had Lucas proposed, she was also turning him down. That was why she had seemed so uncomfortable. Their eyes met and did not let go.
"No, I am not having an affair with him! And, no, he did not manipulate me, I am capable of thinking on my own dammit!" she snapped. "I am calling from his cell because I'm trapped under a few tons of concrete, so you'll excuse me for being such a coward!" House thought she looked beautiful when she was angry. "You take your ring from my office drawer, your stuff from my house, and you stop behaving like a child! It's over, Lucas!"
Furiously, she slid his phone shut, gave it back to House who was intently staring at her, and let out a sigh of relief.
"Why did you do that?" he asked, dumbfounded. She was finally obtaining the life she had always wanted; a dream job, an adorable daughter, a nice husband, and she was throwing it away.
The phone rang again. Lucas.
"Don't pick up," she advised him.
He ignored the call and sent it to voicemail. She gulped. Even though the way he'd look at her was more than encouraging, she was scared to take the plunge. If he rejected her, she would not be able to bear it.
"Cuddy, why did you do that?"
Why would he reject her? She exhaled slowly and shook her head.
"I'm stuck, House. I keep wanting to move forward, I keep wanting to move on, and I can't. I'm... All I can think about is you... And..."
She felt hot tears dwell up in her eyes. House laid a hand on her shoulder, his doctor reflexes taking over.
"You need to calm down, Cuddy." She shot him a confused look. She was admitting her feelings to him and he told her to calm down? "Your BP is spiking, so you're bleeding faster from your leg wound."
"God, House! I couldn't give a crap about bleeding!" she yelled at last. "I love you!"
Wordlessly and in a daze, he stared at her for a moment. He could not quite believe what he had just heard. She knew she should have handled it with kid gloves. It was House, after all. And now she was crying harder, because she was convinced that he did not want her, until she felt a thumb rub her skin delicately to wipe away one of her tears. House leant towards her, her heart pounding so hard she believed she was going to faint. They shared a shy smile, before he laid his lips on her own. He let out a tiny sigh as their swollen flesh caressed one another tenderly. Cuddy felt his breath die warmly against her lips and moaned back. Kissing him at last felt truly heady – and she sensed that it was mutual. Her tongue peeked out between her lips and met his own as they shared an almost indecently slow kiss.
Reluctantly, they pulled away when they heard someone coming down.
He did not tell her he loved her. She did not ask because she already knew. The way he gazed at her, touched her, everything screamed it to her.
"Having fun?" House asked McCreaney, who looked rather discouraged. The diagnostician grabbed Cuddy's hand, unconsciously; he did feel her warmth though.
"Three dead in an hour, it's one hell of a party," the fire chief hissed before recovering his professionalism. "The way things fell, this support beam," he explained, pointing at the beam that had probably saved Cuddy's life. "is now holding up a giant pile of rubble. We can't lift it without jeopardizing everyone down here. So it's time to discuss amputation."
Terrified by this prospect, Cuddy gripped House's hand convulsively. The diagnostician remained silent for a few seconds, before he stepped up and asserted, more determined than ever, "We are not cutting off her leg."
McCreaney sighed. This was going to be tricky. "Look, she's been down here almost two hours. By the time we clear away the rubble –"
"We don't have to rush through this to make your job easier," he snapped.
"'You kidding me? We leave the leg pinned, we're risking crush syndrome. Her leg isn't getting enough circulation, the muscles die and release poisons. If we free her leg, we –"
"I know, I'm a fucking doctor," House interrupted him harshly. "If we free her leg, the potassium, myoglobin and so on, rush back into her system and it could stop her heart. I know. You're going to get your lazy friends to start moving that pile. She's got two more hours before crush syndrome could possibly set in."
"It's not just crush syndrome we gotta worry about, okay? There's gas leaks. There's fire. We can never rule out secondary collapses, no matter how much we shore this thing up."
"You think chopping off someone's limb inside a pile of dirty rocks is safe? Sepsis, fat embolism, a hemorrhage."
"Those risks are nothing compared to the risk of this thing coming down again."
Cuddy finally intervened, "Captain, he's a jerk, but he knows what he's doing and I trust him. Give it a couple more hours. Please."
"Fine," McCreaney yielded after a short hesitation. "But I can't guarantee I can get ten tons of debris pulled off in two hours." He crawled into the tunnel and left the couple alone.
"Thanks," House said. "Can't even imagine where he learned to do his job. Idiot."
She should be scared. Terrified, even. She had ceased to feel anything below her knee for a while now. If they did manage to pull her out, she would be facing broken bones, hours of surgery, nerve injuries that might take years to heal, probably an amputation anyway, months of physical therapy. Her life would never be the same without her right leg. It would be crippling, there are things she would never do again – such as wearing skirts, as silly as it sounded – and it would take her time to get over the absence of tissue below her knee. She knew she was going to lose her limb, and yet she felt at peace. House was with her and he loved her back. It was enough for now. They were invincible.
He lay down on his flank beside her, never letting go of her hand, and rested his own on her stomach.
"You think they'll manage to clear everything in two hours?" she asked.
"They'll have to. I'm not letting them chop off your leg."
"I don't care about my leg, House. I want to get out!"
"You'll get out," he reassured her.
He briefly thought that he had rarely been supporting her. It was usually the other way around. Although he was not used to it, it felt natural. He did not have to think about what he could possibly tell her.
"Yeah... " She sighed. "And to say that I have to face death to... admit my feelings to you... And I've hurt you so much..."
She began to cry again.
"What did I tell you about your blood pressure?"
"Forgive me..." she whispered.
He could not give a damn about what she had done to him. About all the harsh things she had said and things she had done to keep him at bay. About the many sleepless nights he had spent just thinking about her. He had her now, it was all that mattered.
He kissed her forehead. Cuddy blinked back her tears.
"What are we going to do when I'm out of here?"
She feared that her question would suggest they were a couple and scare House away. She was afraid as well, but she wanted to take a chance. At present she was sure of it, she wanted a real relationship with him, no matter how complicated and painful it was shaping up to be.
He frowned. "We're gonna go to the hospital, obviously."
"Yeah, but what about afterwards?"
"I'd like to give us a chance."
"We will," he promised.
She smiled. They kissed once more, sealing their fragile agreement.
Half an hour passed by. McCreaney had come back with his equipment, hoping to be able to lift the rubble trapping Cuddy's leg.
"Put the cribbing in there," he told the diagnostician, who had, of course, volunteered to help. House did so and placed the piece of wood below the pile of debris, squeezing her thigh briefly.
"When the beam starts lifting, you're gonna feel pain," he told her, stroking her forehead.
"I know. But keep talking, it reassures me a little." She strove to dissimulate the fact that she was going to fall apart. She was seconds away from getting out of this hellhole – although she knew it would not work for sure, she could not help getting excited – and yet she was terrified of the pain, which she knew was going to be the most intense she had ever felt in her life. She just wanted to get this over with.
"Well... It's gonna be like your foot's gone to sleep, times a billion. You'll notice that it's nowhere near reassuring."
He managed to tear a smile from her lips in spite of the gravity of the situation.
"All right, we're ready," McCreaney informed them. House glanced down at Cuddy for her approval and nodded.
The fire chief started the engine and the airbag began to swell slowly. Cuddy growled when she felt her leg, her limb jolting with pain. This inert thing at the end of her thigh reminded her harshly of its presence. Pain like she had never felt before surged through her entire leg and she thought she might pass out. But she was going to get out.
"I'm feeling the pain already," she groaned.
"That's good," she heard House say. "That means the pressure's coming off."
He seized her leg and attempted to pull it out cautiously, with the fire chief's help. Cuddy had to bite her lips in order to muffle her screams.
The walls began to shake. Pieces of rubble that were more or less big rained around them, along with a loud noise that made even him tremble. Anticipating another collapse, House lay above Cuddy and covered her, protecting her as best as he could. She wrapped her arm around his waist, bringing him closer to her.
And then, nothing.
House was awoken by a rapid and warm breath tickling his skin. He painfully lifted his eyelids. The lights had given out. They were surrounded by darkness.
He sat up, not in the least worried about his own state, and felt a large piece of concrete slide from his shoulder and to the ground. McCreaney regained consciousness as well.
"I think the adjacent beam snapped during the lift," he muttered groggily. He switched his walkie-talkie on. "Mayday, mayday, mayday! We had a secondary collapse. We're all right. How are you guys?"
As she heard through the radio that the main tunnel hadn't collapsed, Cuddy felt House's head rest briefly on her irregularly lifting chest. She was recovering her senses painfully, especially her pinned leg. But that wasn't going to be a problem anymore, as lack of oxygen dragged her into unconsciousness. Panic surged through her. She felt herself drift away, though she struggled with all her might. She wanted to stay!
"No breath sounds on the left side. Tension pneumothorax," House announced. "Kit. Gimme the kit."
He was not going to let her go.
An empty syringe was jabbed between two of her ribs. Her collapsed lung was reinflated instantly as she was shaken by a spasm of relief. Her gasping breath slowed down. She could breathe.
"You better get back up top and make sure you didn't nick an artery," the fire chief advised to House.
The diagnostician palpated his own shoulder. His fingers were soaked with blood but he did not feel the pain. Yet.
"I'll be right back," he told Cuddy, and made sure she nodded before leaving the concrete cell.
While a nurse was bandaging his open wound, he pondered about Cuddy. They could not have remained unconscious for more than a few minutes, but McCreaney was going to remind him soon that the two extra hours had passed by. The secondary collapse did not augur well. She might be trapped under even more rubble. They would not have time to pull Cuddy out before she risked crush syndrome. Amputation was the only solution, although he was resolutely opposed to it. To chop off a limb was a definitive and crippling outcome. He did not want her to become like him. He refused the idea itself of her suffering. And if she did not survive it whereas he could have tried something else, he would never forgive himself.
"Shoulder's not dislocated, no fracture. It's only a cut but I'll have to stitch it up. You're lucky this isn't worse."
"You know who's even luckier?" he snapped. He did not have time or patience for small talk. "You and just about every other human being who wasn't down there." He heard his phone ring in his pocket and hurried to pick it up. "What did the venogram say?"
"Clean. Now the guy's starting to spike a fever."
"Subarachnoid bleed," Taub suggested.
"He didn't say his neck was sore," Chase contradicted Foreman.
"That's 'cause everything's sore. He just took a fifteen-story swan dive into concrete. Do an LP."
"We also have to consider other infections."
"So you're suggesting we do an LP."
"I guess I am."
He hung up. The nurse had barely applied the piece of gauze to his skin when he readjusted his leather jacket and limped straight to the parking lot, ignoring the pain in his leg that was verging on unbearable. The lamps had been installed again when he threaded his way to Cuddy, who was talking with McCreaney. He did not hear what the fire chief was saying, but he had already guessed.
"House," she called out in a weak voice as soon as she saw him.
He felt his throat tighten. He could hear her fear in her voice. He rushed to her side and grabbed her hand, stroking her forehead darkened with dust.
"Because of the collapse, we can't try the airbag again until we get everything off the top," McCreaney explained. "Be five, six hours at least. Gotta amputate now."
"No," he refused firmly, not even glancing up at him.
"It's been four hours already. It used to be a long shot, now it's just plain crazy."
His thoughts were crossing his mind at a thousand miles an hour. "Crush syndrome is basically a buildup of potassium. If we remove potassium–"
"We're already treating with sodium bicarbonate," the fire chief reminded him, pointing at her IV.
"But not with glucose and insulin. We have glucose in the kit. There's gotta be a diabetic somewhere."
"You wanna dose the insulin here, in a non-hospital setting? It's not worth–"
Once again, Cuddy had listened to them without a word. Once again, she had to interrupt them, "Captain, could you give us a minute?"
She had given him her agreement for the amputation. He trusted she'd be able to convince this mad scientist. He crawled up the tunnel. Cuddy let a few seconds go by before she spoke up.
"I don't want you to risk my life, House. I need to get out of here."
"Let me think."
He could see the anguish in her eyes, the scrapes on her face and her leg trapped under the concrete. He did not want her to become him, and that's what would happen should crush syndrome set in. If she survived, if they managed to pull her out, the dead muscles in her leg would lead to a thick, ugly scar and intolerable pain for the rest of her life. She would end up exactly like him and it would break her. He thought of how he could not handle the pain on the first days, all the things he could not do anymore, all the loved ones he had pushed away, drugs, the countless nights he had spent wide awake because it hurt too much to sleep. He imagined what raising a child in his state would be like. He did not want that for her.
He caressed her cheek. Cuddy leaned into his touch and let him cradle her face into his palm, kissing his thumb softly.
He needed to ratiociate as though she were any other patient. Cutting her leg off was the only sound solution he could come up with. It seemed much safer. At least, it would be over for good, and she would get out knowing she would watch her daughter grow up. She had been trapped there, scared and alone, for way too much time already. Leaving her there a few more hours, hoping that crush syndrome would magically not set in and that the firemen would not come across any more difficulties, was indeed plain crazy. No matter how much he tried, she was going to get out of her cell damaged. His role was now to make sure that she would get out alive.
He did not want to make that choice, but it was going to save her.
He tried to smile to her, but his lips refused to obey. He was even more scared than she was. Even though cutting off her leg was the best solution they had, it was still risky. She had not pulled through this yet.
She took his hand that had remained on her face and pressed his knuckles to her lips. He was not used to such tenderness. It should have made him uncomfortable, and yet he was surprised to realise that he needed it.
A moment later, McCreaney was back into the cavity.
House gave him a nod before he added, "Go get us a doctor."
"I'm 'fraid you're the only one here," McCreaney admitted sheepishly.
House thought that the ceiling was crushing him. Or that he was freefalling. Probably both.
"What do you mean, the only one? Where are all the others?"
"Most of them are still busy around the crane. We've pulled a lot of victims out, some of them've all taken them to Plainsboro and Princeton General. When they're back, it could be too late."
"You mean there is no one currently able to amputate a limb here? What the fuck?" he yelled. "How the fuck does this happen?"
Cuddy grabbed his arm, tears pooling in her eyes.
"House! Please... I don't want to die..."
He did not want her to die either.
And he did not have a choice anymore.
Although he was practically dying with dread, he gave his reluctant agreement to McCreaney.