House glared at Cuddy as only he could glare. Most folks would have withered under that look, yet she managed to keep her composure while returning his gaze evenly, knowing his weren't the only eyes trained on her. His were the only ones that mattered at this moment.
Years of working as a hospital administrator had taught her to be granite. To finely hone the ability to turn friendship off and allow the more sensible and less emotional side of her persona to emerge and become the boss. The ruler with an iron hand and with the man seated at the other end of the table, she'd learned to perfect that trait, or at least the mask she dropped in place.
It was on these particular types of days she wished she could rant, rave and scream at him, maybe beat on him with her fists and pray for once she would be able to convince him to not be so damned stubborn. But she of all people knew the chances of that ever happening were about the same as asking Niagara Falls to flow backwards. If there was one thing she could count on in life, it was House being House.
"Three weeks House," she stated trying to remain coolly professional, almost clinical as she dropped her gaze, unable to deal with the look of betrayal in his eyes.
"So you want me gone. You want me to leave, to just run away," he accused her in a low menacing tone. Cuddy could only shake her head, how could she make him realize this was his only option left without having to outright suspend him?
"No, House," she began to explain it slowly and patiently again as if talking to a child, yet wanting every person in the room to understand at the same time. "You'll be attending the Inter-Continental Medical Seminar as a guest lecturer. One seminar and three panels, along with a few lectures I'd like you to attend and send back a report."
House's facial features lengthened as his eyes went wide at her announcement. Cuddy took advantage of his momentary lack of speech and continued.
"As it stands on your record you have accumulated too much vacation and rather than losing time, the board is recommending that you take at least two weeks of personal leave after the seminar."
House scoffed. "Recommending? Why don't you just say suspended?"
Cuddy sighed. "You are not being suspended; you will be taking a vacation and still getting paid."
"Lame excuse," he shot back angrily and Cuddy flinched. It was a lame excuse, but it was the only excuse she had without actually going along with the board's previous counsel of outright suspending him and succumbing to the prosecuting lawyers demands, which meant without pay and another write up in his file. The latter of which he could ill afford right now.
Cuddy quickly began gathering the loose papers in front of her trying to keep the trembling of her hands from being noticed as she fought to straighten the unruly pile, and finally just started pushing them roughly into her folio.
"So what happens when the next big donor is dying and you realize you need me?" his voice was now softer, almost pleading with her to reconsider.
Cuddy knew he was reaching for straws, any excuse to remain and work where he could immerse himself in something other than boredom. Left to his own devices House would probably go stark raving mad, he needed the puzzle, the inquisitive part of him wouldn't allow him to rest, which is why she was sending him to California for the seminar. Maybe there he could find something to occupy himself. "I'm sure we will manage just fine for the few weeks you're not with us. Foreman, Chase and Cameron will be assigned clinic duty and asked to report to other departments for the length of your absence. Should anything arise we can always reach you by phone," she added.
"That's the final offer?" he interjected. Cuddy shoved the papers forcibly into the folder, not caring anymore if they were straightened or wrinkled; she wanted to be gone from here.
"That's the only offer," her voice carried a note of finality.
"Thanks for nothing," he mumbled this time directing his pointed look at Wilson who was studiously twirling a pen between his fingers and straightening his tie with the other hand, being careful not to meet his friends gaze. House faced down every board member, most of whom were unable to meet the Head of Diagnostics icy stare and those that did found themselves quickly averting their eyes, knowing he was right. Cuddy continued her assault on the paperwork and refused to look in his direction.
House was the first to leave the room, followed by lengthy exhales and a hurried departure of others, most lost in their own thoughts and eager to escape the confines of the room. He immediately headed towards his office striding purposefully, as well as a man with a cane could and giving the impression he was a man on a mission and not the chastised individual that had just had his next months itinerary dropped on him like a verdict of a guilty sentence from a jury.
The knuckles grasping his cane were white and his limp was more pronounced and Cuddy couldn't help feeling a twinge of remorse as she watched him storm away. The gentle squeeze on her arm from Wilson, offering quiet support as he passed gave her a small wave of relief and comfort in the idea she still had one ally, which was all it took to get her moving towards her own office where she would finish making the final plans to get House on a plane to California.