Pictures at an Exhibition
Chapter 1

"He doesn't want to become me. Who can argue with that?" House had meant the words to come off glib; instead they were tinged with resignation and bitterness. And admiration. Foreman was going to leave. Good for him; good riddance to him. House needed no additional reminders of his failings as a human being; his failure at life. Let him get out now; before it's too late.

"He's not you. And, believe me, he's at no risk for becoming you, much to his disadvantage." Houses eyebrow quirked.

"There was an extra syllable in there, Cuddy. That dangling 'dis.'"

Cuddy sat opposite House, across his desk, picking up a random object, examining it. She wanted him to understand; to not internalize this; take it on as yet another accumulated burden. Making his shoulders sag ever so slightly more; his eyes, ever so slightly, more sad. "Foreman's an idiot," she said finally. "Something that you will never be." House laughed at that: a hollow sound.

"Right. You know, Wilson suggested that I bargain with him. Offer him more money to stay. I asked him how much money did he think it would take for someone to want to be like me. He simply stared blankly back at me. Couldn't think of an answer. Neither could I." House rose with the aid of his flaming cane, moving to peer out the window into the rain. The cane, he had admitted to Wilson, gave him the illusion of speed. Yet a new illusion with which to make his smoke and mirrors life more bearable. If only slightly: at least the incongruity of flames on a cane made him smile.

Cuddy sighed. "Talk to him." It was all she could think to say.

"And say what?" he replied over his shoulder. "'Hey, Foreman, being like me's not so bad.' duck. I don't want to be me. Wilson nailed that one."

"Screw Wilson."

Her voice was near. She had joined him, and looking up into it, he watched her reflection in the glass. "Not my type. Your's, maybe." He was deflecting; changing the subject, and she allowed it. House turned, wanting to see her take the bait directly: live.

"Not mine." Cuddy met his eyes. "And I'm not his. I'm not needy enough. And he's too slick for me, anyway: too polished in that shiny silver armor of his. White knights seldom are, I've found." House arched an eyebrow before moving past her, alighting in his Eames chair. He sat heavily, lifting his leg gingerly to the footrest. He was overdue for his Vicodin.

"And us knaves?" There was more question than comeback in his tone. More earnestness than he meant. The question caught Cuddy off guard by its tone, which forbade the emerging retort from escaping her lips.

"Seldom as dark or as evil as they would like us to believe they are."

"Sometime knaves are knaves, and simply evil." House's flat response could not hide the self-loathing in his eyes.

"True. But occasionally they are simply knights wearing dark armor. Toughened and tarnished; battered and impenetrable, yet noble in their own uniqueness."
"But redeemable?"

"Only if there's something to redeem."

"If Foreman wants to leave, there's nothing I can do to stop him. He's not ready, though."

"For what? He's a good doctor. He's studied under you for three years. And survived. Means he's tough, at least. If not insane."

"If he wants to build a reputation in diagnostics he has to build it on his own, not use mine."

"Isn't that what he's trying to do? By leaving?"

"That's not why he's leaving. And he's not ready."

"You've said that twice." House shrugged. He knew that Foreman had the potential, but still lacked creativity.

"He still thinks 'horses' more than 'zebras.' It makes him common."

"Oh. Right. A mere mortal, like the rest of us. Present company excepted, of course."

"Common isn't good enough. Not enough of the time. If he's changed his mind and wants to pursue neurology or teach. Fine. He's just not a diagnostician. At least not the kind I'm trying to grow. The kind that you go to when no one else has the answer. Every doctor is a diagnostician of one kind or the other. What I'm trying…." House stopped, frustrated. He pinched the bridge of his nose in a moment of thought. "… Not yet." House didn't want to be having this conversation. House rose, restless. "It's late; I'm going home."

"What if I offered him his own group?" House looked puzzled. He shook his head slightly, not understanding.

"I just said he's not ready, and you…"

"No. Shut up and listen. A group. Not a department. It would be under you, but parallel; independent. You'd get CC'd on everything, but wouldn't directly report to you. All those cases that end up in your trash can. The ones that Cameron writes those polite 'thanks but no thanks' responses to with referrals to other docs. Why not give them to Foreman."

"He'd never go for it. He's even more cynical than I am. He'd see through it in less than two seconds."

"Maybe he can swallow his pride for a doubling of his salary." Now she had House's attention.

"You'd have to have board approval for both of those elements. They'll never give it. Not expand my department. It's a black hole as it is."

"He'd triple the diagnostics case load. The cases would be easier; they'd be able to handle more. If you think he's going on a wrong direction—one that will harm the patient, you can intervene."

"O just said.. He'll never…"

"Where else will he get money like that at his age? And autonomy."

"He won't see it that way. Anyway, he's already setting up interviews. You'll never get the board to sign off in time." House watched Cuddy's eyes sparkle with determination. She had seated herself on the ottoman, her ass nudged against his left ankle. Her thigh moved subtly against his calf as she animatedly sketched out the two separate, but connected departments—big ideas. Foreman would never consent.

House yawned sleepily. "Sorry to keep you up," Cuddy snarked. "I know you're not interested in facts and figures, but if I'm going to save your fellow from making a terrible mistake…"

"No…just sleepy. Killing a patient will tire you out a bit." The words were bitter, but his eyes were devastated. Losing a patient was always difficult. For House, under these circumstances… Cuddy knew, he would dismiss it with sarcasm, but would let it eat away at him for a long time to come.

"I'm sorry about your patient, House. It could have happened to anyone." It was a platitude, she knew. But there was nothing else left to say.

"No. It couldn't. That's what I told Foreman. It couldn't happen to anyone. Only to good old zebra hunters like us. Sometimes a hoofbeats belong to plain , old ordinary horses. We save the ones that conventional thinking can't, but run the risk of losing patients that really only needed conventional medicine in the first place." He shrugged as nonchalantly as he could muster; Cuddy wasn't buying any of it. "It happens."

Cuddy let it be. He did look tired. But she wondered whether he really should be alone. "I have tickets for tonight. The David Hockney exhibit." House eyed her suspiciously.

"I thought Wilson took you."

"The exhibit had closed. Moved to a different gallery. He felt so bad that he bought me tickets to the real Hockney exhibit; left them for me in my office." House glanced at his watch.

"Best not be keeping you two lovebirds."

"I told you. Not my type. So. I have two tickets. Hottest tickets in the art world of New York. And no one to go with me. Care to escort me?"

"House's escort service. Gee, I don't know Cuddy… My reputation."

"Yes or no. Because I have to leave in the next five minutes if I'm going to catch it at all."

"Can we take my bike? It's faster."

"You haven't driven with me in a long time. No bike. Ruin my hair."

"Fine." He was still sleepy as Hell, and feeling more than a little distracted. Killing a patient will do that to you, he surmised. "I might even pop for dinner afterwards."

"Deal." She rose from the ottoman, offering House a hand. Surprising her, he took it. Now, if he could only forestall Foreman's departure, Cuddy's plan just might work. It was worth a try.