French Suite No. 5
Set after Skin Deep. House/Cuddy friendship
The intensity of Bach's French Suite No.5 was just what he needed. The level of concentration it required was all-consuming. It would shift his focus from the leg to his fingers. To the music. Playing by memory, all the moreso.
House's long fingers caressed the keys, gently traversing the complicated series' of triplets, trills and delicate phrasing that marked the piece. His eyes closed coming to a cadence point, feeling it in his hands, surrounding himself with it as it began to soar. Then the searing sensation in his damaged right quadriceps muscle tore him from his concentration and broke the moment into a chaos of utter agony. He stared at the Vicodin bottle, which stared back, taunting him from its place on the piano.
House inhaled deeply, riding out the throbbing, telling himself that it's in his mind and can, therefore, be controlled—by his mind. Not real. Not valid. Not legitimate. This agony was the bastard child of his own misery. He resumed the piece, his fingers shakier now as reluctantly removed his hand from the leg. He swallowed air in an attempt to breathe through it, relax, and concentrate on Bach. It was the fifth time he had restarted the Suite. He would play it complete. No stops, No interruptions, No vicodin. He prayed to whomever would listen, that he was strong enough.
He succumbed on the fifth battle. The pain was finally too much, and, defeated, House spilled the bottle's contents on the piano, instinctively counting the number of pills remaining. Hoping there were enough to check the pain before it overwhelmed him entirely. House noted the quiver in his right hand as he picked a pill from the pile, and the desperate gasps for oxygen. He berated himself for his weakness as tears pricked the corners of his eyes. He was humbled in defeat. And he was ashamed. Humiliated by his own mind.
He swallowed one pill, closing his eyes as he tried to control his breathing. And he waited.
They were wrong, Cuddy and Wilson. He knew this pain. Once you've had it, it's not easy to file away under "surgical souvenirs. Or "scars of yesteryear."
"You're distracted by pain." So decrees Doctor Wilson, amateur psychologist. "Yeah, Jimmy. Just love the ripping feeling in my leg every single time I move it. The searing agony of simply putting weight on it. It's what I live for." It's what he'd wanted to say. And normally would have, with much venom spat. But this particular topic… He was beginning to think they were right: the darling duo of Drs Wilson and Cuddy. Would that they were. Right, that is. It would make it oh, so much simpler than this Hell in which he dwelled, trapped with no exit. Huis Clos.
The Vicodin was beginning to have an effect. The pain receded, edging away from intolerable to just plain normal. Which wasn't so great, but better than it had been. At least he could think. And function.
He tried to resume the Bach piece. His hands shook too much to manage the delicate trills, so he moved to the more earthy cadences of a 12-bar blues. The blues number wasn't enough of a distraction to keep House from thinking about Cuddy. The sting of her words…hell, her actions. It more had the aroma of tactics ala Wilson. Either she had learned his trade well, or Wilson was somehow pulling her strings. Either way, the betrayal hurt almost as much as his leg.
A soft knock at the door went unnoticed, but House was suddenly not alone. Cuddy stood just inside his living room, listening. Waiting for him to finish. She regarded him from across the room. His eyes were closed and he swayed slightly with the rhythm of the piece. He looked at peace and Cuddy almost thought of leaving before he noticed her presence. Her eyes drifted to the baby grand, taking note of the pills spilled across its cover.
"What brings you to 221B, Cuddy? The cheery company?" His eyes tore into hers, a confused mixture of despair, anger, humiliation and disappointment. She noted the tears in his eyes and looked away, knowing that she had taken no small part in bringing him to this state. That he did nothing to conceal his eyes from her spoke to the depths to which his spirits had fallen.
"I wanted to make sure you were OK. I shouldn't have…"
"What? Told me that it was a placebo? Would've figured that out soon enough. You know the thing about placebo effect? It's pretty powerful in the short term, but I wouldn't recommend it for long-term pain relief." His voice trailing off, not sure how to put an even sharper edge on his words, House looked away sighing in frustration.
"It was wrong of me to make that kind of disclosure and walk away." She paused waiting for the retort that didn't come. When it didn't, she approached him, warily, almost as if he were a caged lion. He was wound too tightly and she didn't want to spook him. Or provoke him.
"How many did you take?" He felt her sitting beside him on the piano bench and instinctively slid over, giving her room. No response. Now it was her turn to sigh, frustrated. "You need to watch your back, House. Cameron left me no choice but to report the father. If it hadn't been Cameron, Foreman would have come to me. You should have been the one to do it. Or told me. I could've…"
"What? Agreed with me? I needed to keep that slime around. He could've been the key to saving the kid. She did what she had to do. We all do what we have to do. One pill." There was no anger in his voice. Only the flat affect of disappointment.
"I needed to know."
"And you think that you've proved that my leg pain is imagined. You haven't proven anything, Cuddy. All you proved is that I trusted you enough and in your care to be affected by the placebo. It doesn't mean that my pain is some sort of conversion disorder. You above all people, Cuddy, should know that. One-third of patients given a placebo respond to it."
"I was desperate, House. Morphine?"
"Intrathecal morphine. I wasn't asking you to write a scrip for it; I wasn't asking for permission to mainline it. I was asking for a legitimate treatment. I needed to see if it would… The Vicodin isn't working anymore. If we up the dosage any higher, I'll need a liver transplant for Christmas. I can't live without a liver; I can't live with this level of pain and still function. It's not a conversion disorder."
"I know that."
"Then why?" She looked away and he knew. If it was a conversion disorder, then she wouldn't need to still feel guilty. She would not still be causing him so much pain, increasing pain. If it was a conversion disorder, that meant it was still treatable; that the pain wasn't necessarily something he would have to live with for the rest of his life.
"How bad is it?" The question she should have asked back in her office the day before.
"The Vicodin I took kicked in a few minutes ago. With one pill, I'm at an eight."
"And without it? When you came back to my office this morning? I'd taken two. Pain was at a seven. Not much difference, so I cut back. Pain's been increasing for two weeks. The meds are making less and less difference. The pain's so intense when I wake up in the morning… This has nothing to do with Stacy. Despite what Wilson thinks, I don't enjoy being in pain. He thinks it distracts me from my woes. Problem is, it distracts me from my work. He's wrong."
"I know." She sighed. "So, what are we going to do? If you're on morphine all the time, it will erode your judgment. It's…extreme, you'll build up a tolerance to it too quickly. You'll…"
"I know. I just don't know…" He rose from the piano bench, embarrassed that he was so unsure of his footing. He nearly collided with the piano as he tried to reach for the cane. Cuddy gasped, reaching out for him, but not touching him. Just being there. In case… Cuddy noted his difficulty in walking even the short distance to the coffee table, even with the vicodin and the support of the cane. She followed and sat beside him as he reached for a journal and sank heavily into the leather sofa.
Cuddy glanced at the stack of journals on the table: French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew, even Russian. She guessed from the few journal names she could translate, that they were all pain management journals. Of course.
House showed her a German journal, turning to a flagged page. There were scribbles of notes all around the margins and running over the advertisements. Cuddy shook her head, unable to decipher the text.
"Ketamine." That, at least, she understood, as he pointed to the word in the paper's title.
"It's a veterinary anesthetic. You reading veterinary journals these days? Thinking of switching fields?"
"Yeah, well at least the patients don't talk."
"Yeah, there is that…" She couldn't help rolling her eyes.
"There's some new clinical research going on in Europe on chronic neuropathic pain management. I'm thinking of maybe trying to hook up with one of the studies…" She put his hand on his, closing the journal. He didn't see himself as a patient. But there her was. Like any patient with an incurable disease, only, in his case, with the curse of too much knowledge. She'd seen it so often. Patients coming to her with articles clipped or Googled. New cures, new treatments. Desperate and willing to try almost anything, risk everything on a dangled bit of hope. It broke her heart to think… But, on the other hand, this was Gregory House. If anyone could discover…
He closed the journal, suddenly self-conscious about appearing so desperate in front of her. So vulnerable. Too vulnerable for his own comfort.
"Satisfied your guilt, Cuddy?" He stood. Too quickly and again nearly lost his footing. He returned to the piano, trying the Bach again. His hands no longer trembled, as the Vicodin had long ago kicked in, the pain slightly notched down to "not quite tolerable, but not quite searing." Cuddy listened for awhile, entranced by the beauty of the piece and by the grace with which House's hands scaled the intricate and intense peaks and valleys of it. And she left, much as she had come in, quietly and unnoticed.