Pictures at an Exhibition

Chapter 14

Time changes nothing. Doing something changes things; not doing something leaves things exactly the way they are. Action versus inertia. House believed this. Everyone thought he was change averse: Cameron, Cuddy, even Wilson. Especially Wilson. Maybe not Cuddy…not anymore. But House wasn't opposed to change, it was just that he'd had too much of it; and too much of that had been out of his control.

"One of the tragedies of life: something always changes." He had said that to Stacy; and it was true. When he had been a kid, House learned to not rely on anything or anyone; not to get to close to anything or anybody. It couldn't hurt if you never got close enough; no regrets if you moved away unexpectedly, leaving schools, comrades and girlfriends behind. If your father… So it goes, said Kurt Vonnegut once.

CNN had called four times since House arrived in the office, a discreet hour after Cuddy left his apartment. As if he hadn't enough stress; now he had to deal with the media as well. Fox News wanted to know how a Cuban couple would have any knowledge of an American doctor; had he been to Cuba? What sort of work had he done there if he had? Yeah. Right. "Yeah, well, I'm actually Castro's personal consulting physician. How else do you think he's still alive?" He realized that the remark would undoubtedly get him on some sort of watch list. Cool.

The local news was blaring from the cafeteria television when House heard his name coming through the speakers. A crowd had gathered around the screen, trying to catch glimpses of themselves as reporter described in voice over how the patient was brought into PPTH, half drowned, to see the renowned diagnostician, Dr. Gregory House.

"Dr. House, a specialist in infectious diseases and diseases of the kidney, has a reputation as one of the best diagnosticians in the world. The reclusive doctor received his medical education at Johns Hopkins, having also served fellowships at the University of Chicago and Harvard. House's renown in the nascent specialty of diagnostic medicine came after doctors misdiagnosed his own condition, leaving him crippled and in chronic pain. He is known as a fierce patient advocate, who uses unorthodox approaches that win him both accolades and criticism. The controversial doctor has refused to speak to reporters, saying simply to one reporter. (cut to clip) 'I could spend time standing here chatting with you or find out what's killing my patient. Totally your choice….' Prior to his work in diagnostics, Dr. House made a name for himself in Infectious Diseases, discovering two new antibiotic-resistant strains of a mutated bacteria. Effective drugs to combat these the two bacterial infections, originating in the Caribbean were developed based on the discoveries. According to the CDC, the lives of thousands of American Tourists have been saved over the years as a result of Dr. House's work. The couple who were rescued by the Coast Guard, apparently had the permission of both the Cuban and US Governments to seek Dr. House's expertise…"

House had had enough. "Hey! Can't anyone get any peace and quiet with their coffee. Jeez. Will you turn that damn thing off?" House yelled across the room before picking up his coffee and stalking from the café, patient file under his arm.

House had enough to think about without the entire media descending upon him. He couldn't wait until the inevitable question: "So what did happen to your leg?" arose. He had instructed his three fellows to say absolutely nothing to the press. About anything. He demanded that Cuddy refuse any requests for personal information on House. Leave him the hell alone to do his job; that's all he wanted. Period. If the press got hold of the fact that the patient had continued to talk when her heart stopped beating, every religious whacko from Princeton to Lourdes would show up. Right now, she was stable on bypass.

Technically he should let her go. Let the husband kiss her goodbye and let her go. But what if…. What if she was another Lupe? Someone with a simple horse of an illness. It was possible; even probable given where she had come from. After Lupe's death, he had told Foreman that you have a few drinks, get some sleep and move on; come back the next day with your zebra hunting gear and go back to work without another thought. If only it was that easy. That was the way it supposed to work; the way House told himself it worked.

It hadn't been the first time patients had sought House's medical advice from distant lands. It happened less often now, much to Cuddy's chagrin. She loved when it happened: it always made the news and brought in the donations. She was practically orgasmic when the State Department called to make arrangements to transport the couple to PPTH.

All House could think at the time was that Antonio Vargas had a very big mouth, getting him involved. House had consulted with Dr. Antonio Vargas on several cases, but always quietly. Cuba was big on docs and low on modern diagnostic imaging equipment and House had worked under the table with Vargas on several difficult cases, helping him develop experimental, but low-tech methods, that didn't require CAT scanners or MRI machines. House helped him save a life or two and Vargas sent him Cuban cigars concealed in cookie tins via Vargas' cousin in Miami. It was a dangerous game. And now Vargas sent him these two. Thanks a lot Antonio. He had to figure out what was wrong, what was killing this young, brave woman.

House sat in the dark of his office; it was late and either the press got the message and went away or Cuddy was doing an exceptionally good job of warding them off. What was left of the team had gone home, giving House time to simply think without Chase's firing or Foreman's resignation infiltrating his thoughts about the case. He saw his office door open out the corner of his eye in the dim light of the security system. Cuddy. House regarded her, squinting slightly, his tired eyes moving from her shoes up her body. He'd had only a few hours' sleep in the past three days, if that, and the vision of Cuddy standing just inside his office, the light casting shadows across her body was surreal. "The way the security lights play on your legs," he sighed. "It looks good." His voice was quiet, contemplative. There was no sarcasm, no teasing behind his words, but a sensuality that only she understood.

"Thanks. You have to tell the husband." Back to business, but her voice lacked the harshness it usually did in these situations. She looked into his eyes and saw his fear; saw the sense of failure that radiated from them. These people had traveled roughly and at great risk to see him, and knew that deep inside, he was having a very hard time condemning them to tragedy. She knew that he was haunted by Lupe's ghost, which affected every medical decision he had made since her death, weeks ago. She called him on it; told him that he done everything he could do to save her and that would have to be enough. It was time to let it go, her words gentle, serene.

"My motives are pure," he argued, trying to explain dispassionately. House peered into the future through his exhausted eyes and saw another yet another mistake causing yet another death. He didn't want Esteban's eyes to join Lupe's ghost forever boring into his nightmares, accusing, disgusted.

But ultimately House understood that Cuddy was right; had granted him absolution with her soft words, grounding him. With anguished eyes, House went to look for Esteban. And Esteban wept in House's awkward embrace. And then the impossible happened. And suddenly House did not anymore have to look in to Esteban's sad eyes and see his own failure; or into Cuddy's and see her pity and understanding.

A rare genetic condition; House knew had to be something tangible, concrete. Nothing happens without a cause, even if we can't even know the cause, or even should know the cause. House had said that more than once. And it was true. And this time they isolated the cause before it killed a patient. And, whether it was divine intervention, or science, or the simple nature that caused that anomaly of the heart, and let him understand it, it really didn't matter. House had his answer, and two more lives could return to "normal."

House's focus returned to the less heady issue of Foreman's departure. Wilson was sure that House could reel Foreman back by simply by asking him to stay. Fine. House tested that theory and was right again. And Foreman wasn't ready, no matter how many offers he got. For Foreman, it was still all about Foreman. He hadn't yet learned that it can't be about you; it can't be about ego, or occupational self-preservation, or conventional wisdom or anything else other than fixing the patient, and Foreman still had on those med school blinders—the one's that Chase had finally shed. So it goes.

Wilson was wrong too, about change. House didn't hate change—just change that was outside of his control. So what if he had his old guitar sitting on the wall. Who didn't keep their first beloved guitar? For House, it was only one of his several, but who didn't need a new guitar? Especially when you've just succeeded in destroying your entire department. So they were all gone: Chase, Cameron and Foreman. So it goes.

House sat on the piano bench in his living room, lost to the music of his new Gibson. The strings felt easy and giving under his fingers; the tone resonant and crisp as he played an old blues. It was an old instrument; vintage. New guitars never sounded quite right to his ear. Not for blues…or much else. He hadn't heard the knock at the door as he concentrated on the instrument's feel and resonance.

"New?" House looked up, startled at the interruption. He looked up to see Cuddy standing next to him looking at the shipping box. House nodded, putting the guitar back carefully into the hard-shell case. He stood, leaning against the piano for support. "That's what I always do when I'm down…buy something new." She smiled slightly. "Usually it's a box of chocolates…or a new blouse…"

"I'm not depressed."

"Your whole department is gone! I might be a little down myself. What are you going to do?"

"I was thinking of ravishing you right here on the piano. Might be a little too soap opera, though. Bed might be more comfortable."

"I'm serious, House."

"And I'm not?" Cuddy stared at him, refusing to have her question deflected, needing to hear him say something, anything, about the loss of his staff. "Fine," he replied simply, his shoulders sagging slightly, defeated. She was too good at this, he considered briefly—too good, almost. He sighed. "Look. I don't know. It's not like no one's ever resigned from my staff before…Not all at once, but…hey. I'm a big boy."

"Yeah, right," she countered.

"You see me sulking? You see me crying my eyes out? Getting drunk? Getting high over this? I'm fine…if that's what your asking. I really am fine with this." Cuddy wasn't convinced, even as House tried to convince himself. She dropped the subject.

"Word has it that you were smoking cigars with the patient's husband. In her room."

"See? I'm fine." Cuddy nodded, letting him have this one.

"Did it ever occur to you, that one of the reasons I amfine; I can get through this is—is because of…this?" He gestured towards himself and Cuddy. "Unless you're here to resign too. Gonna tell me your going to take up with Chase…I hear Cameron's broken up with him, so…"

"Actually, I heard they were back together…but it's a thought…" House moved closer to her hesitantly, waiting; he had only been half-kidding. The thought suddenly occurred to him that she was here to "resign." That she was having second thoughts in the harsh light of a new day; that she had come to her senses. Cuddy approached him, her eyes soft in the warm colors of House's living room. She extended her hand, taking his and entwining their fingers, urging him towards the sofa. He moved slowly without the support of his cane, his bad leg nearly useless as he dragged it along. Cuddy said nothing, stopping short of the sofa and tuning into his embrace.

House kissed her lightly on the forehead before meeting her lips, lowering his head to meet her lips with his own. He knew then that he would be alright. Some changes were good: a new guitar; a new lover—maybe even a new staff. But right now he had the first two. And it was enough for the moment.

A/N—So this is the end of Pictures at an Exhibition. I thought this was really nice note to end it on; however, I will pick the thread of this up with a sequel. I do promise, as the summer goes on.