She sat on the arm of the sofa, the velvet skirt of her gown rustling near his ear. He groaned, sitting up, as his right thigh protested the movement. He bit his lower lip to prevent himself from crying out as sudden and intense pain gripped his leg. "I'm not OK," he said finally. "Far, far from it."
He had never allowed himself the luxury of emotion during a case. It did no one any good. It clouded his judgment and removed any semblance of objectivity. It made the truth of the diagnosis harder to see and often impossible to live with. So he hadn't allowed it. At least not in public view, and certainly not in front of his staff.
"You saved his life, House. You saved the life of a little boy-- and the life of his family. You should feel good."
"I feel…empty." Cuddy felt tears prick her eyes at the hollowness and defeat she sensed in House's voice. It was too big a reveal for House, and it concerned her.
It had been a long night. A difficult night, especially for House. She nudged his shoulder, as she slid down from the sofa's arm and into the cushion. He moved slightly, allowing her to slip into the space, propping his head in the soft velvet folds of her dress as she settled in. He closed his eyes as they rested in silence.
It was hard sometimes, moreso these days, to rein in his emotions. To tie them up and cast them adrift in the far recesses of his heart, far from the reach of his mind. His body and brain already spent too much of his reserves on simply dealing with the pain that seemed to be ever increasing. Curing Ian, and thereby laying Esther to rest, had cost too much. House had watched helplessly as, one by one, Cameron, Chase and Foreman cast concerned glances in his direction. Watched as he spun out of control.
But the emotions were still far too close to the surface for him, even after 12 years. He hadn't even wanted to contemplate the impact of losing Ian. Wilson saw him as Ahab. And maybe Wilson was right. Cuddy saw it too. He could live with that if it meant that lives wouldn't be needlessly lost. He didn't care what anyone thought of him anyway, as long as he could get the job done, what did it matter?
"You told me I almost killed him, that boy."
"I was angry. And you could have."
"He would have died anyway." It came out more callously than he felt about it. He almost went on, correcting the notion that he didn't care, but he let it lie. Better that way, he concluded.
"Right. And then you could have done an autopsy. But you would have been proven right." He sense the anger rising in her voice.
"Yeah. Fine." She had thought… Seen it in his eyes. His body language. This mattered. Saving the boy mattered. But now she wasn't so sure. Was it only the puzzle? Was it only Esther he was trying to…?
House was too weary for an argument. "Why are you here?" He sat up too quickly. But the brief repose was enough to compose himself, reinforce his defenses, even after having had no sleep. Cuddy's eyes were hard now, no longer able to slice through his guard. Good.
"Cameron was concerned."
"She's always concerned."
"What about Chase? Foreman? Quite a display you must've put on for them, if all three were worried about you." House looked away. He had been edgy all night, but what worried them most was his near collapse at the end. After learning that he was right.
"I was relieved. That's all. We saved the kid's life. It's what I do. That ALL it was."
Cuddy gazed at House. She knew that it wasn't "all." But she wasn't Wilson and wouldn't press him. She understood that he needed to believe in the distance he kept. "I like the tux. Makes you look 'almost' handsome, you know."
He breathed out, relieved that the subject had been changed. He was grateful. "I've seen that dress before on you."
"Not the exact same dress. But you have a good memory."
"It's my curse. You should always wear sapphire."
"They do match, by the way."
"This going to be a scientific study? Measurements and all?"
"It's not night." He gestured to the beams of sunlight beginning to streak the air of his apartment.
"You'll just have to take my word. I'm sorry I tied your hands…" House arched an eyebrow, glancing at his wrists.
"Sorry? Would've remembered that one…" He smiled wickedly.
"With Ian. I was pissed off. You should have trusted me."
"And you would have told me I was resurrecting an old case, putting a boy's life in danger and losing my judgment. And you would have been wrong." Now it was her turn to arch an eyebrow. "About my medical judgment."
She knew he was right. But she couldn't give him that. Bad idea. Cuddy knew how much House agonized about every case. Saw him late at night after everyone had gone home, still sitting at his desk surrounded by medical journals and legal pads, taking notes, reading the latest research online. He made it seem effortless, like he was pulling rabbits from tophats, like he was some oracle of medical knowledge. And he was. But she knew it came at a great cost to him and his well being. He insisted that it was about the puzzle. That he didn't give a crap about the patient. She knew him too well and for too long to buy it…entirely. He suffered no fools. But a patient who was really ill could ask for no better guardian angel. But that was her secret.
Cuddy stood, and House rose from the sofa with her. She had lied to him. There was no "almost" about it. She looked up into his eyes seeing him. Cuddy thought perceived a slight shudder in him as he returned her gaze before casting his eyes downward and away. It was time to leave, she knew. But she had to know.
"Empty?" She was picking up the abandoned thread of their earlier conversation. He was momentarily confused by her non-sequitor.
"The parents thanked me. I almost killed their kid. He could have been brain damaged…" Now Cuddy was confused. This was not House. Whatever emotions he kept at bay during a case, he never second-guessed himself once he'd succeeded. But the she realized that this was still about Esther, the one he couldn't save. It would always hurt.
Cuddy reached up and rested her hand along his cheek, drawing his eyes towards hers. "You saved his life. Whatever else, Esther made that possible. You never would have figured it out had she not…" Cuddy stopped. She'd said enough, she hoped. She removed her hand, and he immediately felt the loss of her warmth. Cuddy swept by him, her full velvet gown rustling irresistibly behind her. "Get some rest, House. You've earned it."
She left him standing, half regretting it, feeling better as she heard the muffled tones of his piano as she made her way out onto the street. He would be OK.