Gliding soundlessly on stockinged feet to the door, she quietly turned the handle and put her head inside. The softly muted glow from the curtained window was dull and cheerless; despite the warmth and humidity of a winter day in Singapore, the clouds were heavy and ominous. House was as she had seen him last; still curled in a ball around his leg with his hands protectively cradling it. But his grip had relaxed, as had his posture. The pain lines had softened and his color had improved. Sinking down to kneel beside the bed, she took his wrist to check his pulse; relieved when she found it still holding steady. A glance at her watch showed it had been nearly seven hours since they'd come back to their suite—House would need to wake up to take another dose of Kadian soon. There was also the matter of their flight home—they were scheduled to depart that very afternoon, but if House wasn't ready, well—they'd have to bump to another flight. Nineteen hours was a long time to spend in the air, particularly for someone in unbearable pain. She let her fingers trail down to his and squeezed gently.
House stirred, his eyelashes fluttering as he opened his eyes slowly. He lay otherwise unmoving, his body completely disengaged even as he stared around the room in an attempt to orient himself. Cuddy watched closely, noting that House didn't tighten his fingers around his leg and that the hungry pain that had been in his eyes the past few days was absent. If he wasn't pain free, he was comfortable. For the moment, that was enough.
"I knew we'd end up in bed together on this trip." House said hoarsely, and she rolled her eyes but smiled inwardly, relieved at this familiar interaction.
"How are you feeling?" she asked quietly, and he shrugged.
"'Bout a six." he mumbled, and she nodded.
"You're due for another dose. How's it feel otherwise?"
House eyed her for a long moment before he let his hands explore his leg. Cuddy reached for his leg, letting her hand rest on his and met his gaze earnestly. He withdrew his hands and let hers rove tenderly over the abused flesh of his leg. The Kadian had done its' job, it had broken the muscle spasm and muted the signals passed along his overstressed nerves. She could feel only the crevasse of missing muscle through his dress pants, but touch alone would not tell her what she needed to know.
"I need to see it." she said.
"In your dreams." he snorted.
"House." Cuddy met his gaze levelly. "I need to see it; the way you fell—"
"Why not?" she demanded, and House looked away. "Look, I know how hard this must be for you."
"No, you don't." he said sharply, and Cuddy sighed.
"One time. I just need to make sure there's no swelling."
House watched her carefully from beneath his eyelashes before nodding once in assent. She waited patiently while he unbuttoned his pants and fumbled with the zipper awkwardly, never once moving from his hunched position. She rose to her feet and carefully surveyed House's position before she grasped the fabric of his waistband.
"Lift your hips." she instructed, and when House put his elbow into the mattress and shifted his weight she carefully slid the pants down to his knees. From there, House collapsed back into the pillows and she snagged the cuffs to pull them off entirely. House looked away again, as Cuddy cautiously probed the morass of broken and puckered flesh with gentle fingers. The debridement had begun with a lateral incision beginning just distal to the intertrochanteric line and extending to the lateral epicondyle, and it was this line she traced, the path Simpson's scalpel had taken so many years ago. She examined the leg clinically, pleased to see no signs of bruising or swelling in his right leg. With the extent of the muscle removed, there was little left to cushion the bone. Had House fallen directly onto it, he might have fractured his femur. He'd obviously shifted to his left side before he'd fallen both times—in the hotel lobby and again on the platform. There was a mottled purplish bruise on his left thigh, and lighter blue one on his knee. She probed these, noting that House winced slightly when her finger pressed down.
"How bad?" she asked, and he shook his head.
"It's not too bad."
"Care to show me range of motion?" she asked as she sat back and let House attempt to straighten himself out. He managed to ease onto his side and sighed.
"Will you do it anyway?" Cuddy asked in exasperation.
"It's fine. It's just sore." he amended at her look of disbelief.
"You hit the stage pretty hard." she told him finally, and he gave her a dirty look. "I don't see any sign of bruising or swelling, and it looks like you hit your left side far more than your right.
"I know. I was there."
"If it wasn't the impact, then what set the spasm off?" she asked as House began to slowly sit up; using his hands to push himself up and then back into the pillows.
"I hadn't taken anything since the night before. Between that and jarring it on the step, it didn't take much." House conceded, and Cuddy blinked in surprise. She hadn't anticipated an answer—much less an honest one—to her question.
"I think we're going to need to push our flight back a day." Cuddy said cautiously, and House grinned unexpectedly.
"You just want to spend the day in bed with me." House said lasciviously, and she slapped his arm; pleased that he could joke about it. She stood then, watching anxiously as House squirmed around in the bed and cautiously slid his feet to the floor. She looked away as he bit his lip at pain awakened by the movement, and she could see him begin to massage the leg in her periphery.
"What time is it?" he asked, and she made a show of checking her watch.
"Just after nine."
"Time for another dose." he murmured, and she picked up the bottle from the nightstand and offered it to him wordlessly. House stared up at her in surprise, his blue eyes wide and wondering. After a long moment, he plucked it from her hand and popped the top in one smooth motion.
"No lecture about how it's all in my head?"
Cuddy swallowed then; remembering with distaste how she'd accused House of being an addict. Of having a conversion disorder. He really was in pain; she knew that now. Having spent five days in close proximity with House and seen him struggle with every day tasks brought back a barrage of memories she'd done her best to forget in the years since the infarction.
"No." she said quietly. "Not this time."
House had surprised her when he'd accepted her help in getting out of bed without saying a word. She'd wrapped her left arm around his waist and House let his left hand trail along the wall as they'd staggered into the restroom together. Once inside, she slapped the light on as House stumbled forward to grab the sink with both hands.
"I got it from here." he grunted, and she nodded as she slipped from the room.
"Don't shower." she cautioned, and House grunted in assent as he closed the door behind her. She moved to the bed and began untangling the sheets. She smoothed the covers and folded them back; anticipating that House would emerge from the bathroom and fall back into bed. She was just finishing when she heard the door open and House stared out into the room silently.
"Ready?" she asked, and he nodded.
"Where's my cane?" he asked finally, and Cuddy paused. They'd left it on the stage when they'd whisked House away, but no one had ever brought it back.
"Probably on eBay. The famous Dr. House's cane." she cooed, and grinned when he rolled his eyes as she slid her arm around his waist again. "You'll have to use your new one."
"I liked my old one." he groused.
"Then you'll probably have to outbid one of your fans to get it back." Cuddy helped him traverse the distance from door to bed and eased him down. House couldn't quite muffle a yelp as she eased them both down to sit. Untangling herself from his lanky frame, she stood again and waited patiently as House eased his hands around his right leg and swung both feet up onto the bed.
"How's it feel?" she asked clinically as she settled beside him on the bed and wrapped her fingers around his wrist. House gave her a calculating look as he settled into the pillows.
"Better when I'm not moving." he admitted grudgingly. Cuddy nodded in reply; his pulse was hovering in the mid-nineties. Not abnormal, given that House had exerted himself by walking—hobbling—across the room. She helped him draw the blankets up over himself, and slapped his hand away when it drifted to her ass playfully.
"Are you hungry at all?" she asked.
"No." House looked away and stifled a yawn.
"I'm going to delay our flight. Let me know if you need anything." she offered as she got to her feet. House nodded, and let his head fall back into the pillows wearily as she stepped outside the room and half-closed the door behind her. In the gray light from the window beyond the edge of the door, she could just make out House's recumbent form lost in a blur of cool white bed linens made warmer by the solid oak headboard above him. The Kadian bottle she'd returned to him stood like a sentinel on the bedside table; small but reassuringly present. It would never mock him or his pain, and it would always be there when he needed it. Unless someone took it away.
It was the silence that must have lulled her to sleep for most of the afternoon; an all-encompassing stillness below the muted hum of the air conditioning. The same silence lingered when she woke with the disoriented feeling she had long associated with napping in the afternoon. She grunted slightly when she lifted her chin and felt the hot flush of pain in her neck from the uncomfortable position she'd slept in; rolling her neck about seemed to help, though. A quick glance at her watch showed she'd slept for nearly four hours. It was surprisingly dark given that it was only six p.m., although the awakening light from the city tinged the gray dusk with neon and warmed the skyline beyond. Rising on sleep-numbed feet, she padded barefoot across the carpet to peer out the window in contemplation. Given the hour, it seemed that her desire to tour more of the city was out. She'd considered visiting some of the city's tourist spots—the Tan Swie Hian art museum, the Esplanade, the Raffles hotel—but she found the thought of visiting those sites alone and in the dark utterly depressing. That left only one choice to make: room service with House or dining alone in the magnificent hall downstairs? Sighing, she rubbed her temples and decided that before she could make a plan for the evening she would need to check in with House.
She made a brief detour to the bathroom in her room and used the facility before she elected to touch up her makeup. A close inspection of her clothes revealed only minimal wrinkling, so she decided to forego changing. It wasn't likely that she would run into anyone who wanted to talk to her now that the conference was over. Satisfied with her appearance, she trekked back into the common room and snatched a bottle of water from the mini-bar before she crossed the threshold into House's room. It took a moment, but after her eyes adjusted to the darkness she could see that he was awake; his eyes were clear and his breathing slow and regular. He wasn't in pain, at least.
"You're awake." she murmured, and House nodded. "How do you feel?"
"I was thinking about going down to dinner. Care to join me?"
House seemed to consider her offer, but shook his head. "Nah, think I'll stay here. Comfortable."
"I'll order something. You need to eat. Toast?"
"Fine." House agreed hoarsely, and Cuddy nodded as she twisted the cap off and held the water out for him to take. Which he did, reluctantly.
"Call me if you need anything. I should be back in an hour or so."
As expected, the hotel's dining hall was exquisite with warm woods, cool linens and exotic plants. Now that the conference was over, many of the attendees had already departed, and the empty tables reflected their absence. She was seated quickly at a small café table where a server greeted her and brought her a mimosa within seconds. She sipped it thoughtfully and toyed with her phone. Another slew of emails had shown up in her inbox since she'd checked earlier; a few more from Oncology's associate department head bemoaning Wilson's involvement in a Diagnostics case, the usual updates from the weekly M&M, surgical schedules and vacation requests. She scrolled absently through, flagging messages she'd need to reply to, saving those that required closer reading and checked the remaining to move them into her trash folder before setting her phone aside and taking up the menu. Unlike the small restaurant House had guided her to days before, this one was written in English. She was debating between ordering Nasi Berlak and banana leaf rice when a shadow loomed over her small table.
"Dr. Cuddy." Sir Richard Scott greeted, even as he stepped close to her table and sat down in the other chair without hesitation. "How is Dr. House?"
"He's doing as well as could be expected." Cuddy hedged. Years of working with House—seeing his reticence to discuss anything to do with his leg—much less the legality of it—made her reluctant to share any personal information. Besides, he'd already seen enough.
"I believe your flight had been scheduled to depart this afternoon." Scott said sagely, and Cuddy eyed him sharply.
"Yes. But we decided to wait another day."
Scott nodded as he leaned forward to speak more intimately. "Dr. Cuddy, I wish to thank you once more for bringing Dr. House to our symposium. It was a privilege to have him here, and to hear him share the findings of the pandemic taskforce."
"It was my pleasure." she agreed.
"Should the opportunity ever arise again, we would love to have you join us." Scott kissed her hand again, as he had when they'd met; and strode away. Cuddy longed to attend another symposium with her world-famous diagnostician. House had an open invitation to attend nearly any medical conference world-wide. He only needed to show up and they would welcome him at the door. But given the disastrous turn of events at this conference, she doubted he'd ever agree to attend another one. He did have good reason to avoid public appearances, and this past week had only served to bring that message home.
Despite the gray drizzle of the day before, the morning dawned bright and sunny. Warm, bright light greeted her when she finally woke. Blinking slowly, she let her gaze drift about the room from the popcorn ceiling to the darkened TV to the blue eyes staring intently at her breasts; to the hand reaching over to-
"What do you want?" she barked, though she was pleased to see House so much more like himself.
"I'm hungry, mommy."
"Then I'll call room service." she promised, even as she sat up in the bed and watched House do the same. "How are you feeling?"
"How am I feeling?" House repeated aloud musingly. "Ever see any of Mai Nou's early work? Because all we need are a couple more girls and a wide-lens camera and—"
"Do you ever stop thinking about sex?" she asked in exasperation.
"Umm, hello?" he mocked in a falsetto. She rolled her eyes as she sat up and swung her feet to the floor. Snatching one of the fluffy robes off the chair she'd settled them on, she drew it about herself as House sat himself up in bed. There was a small grin playing on his lips, and she took a deep breath in frustration.
"I knew you wanted to sleep with me." he smiled wickedly, and she tied the robe's belt snugly while glaring at him menacingly.
"Next to you." she corrected. "Because when I came in last night to check on you, your respiration was depressed. Forgive me for not wanting to explain your corpse to the authorities. Now get up. We have a flight to catch."
The cab the concierge sent wasn't the vintage yellow with checkerboard she'd known since childhood, but yet another unimaginative black sedan that cruised to a stop beside the curb. The driver emerged from the vehicle and opened the door for them before beginning to assist the concierge with loading their luggage. Cuddy longed to watch and account for each suitcase, but was also aware of House standing beside her. Waiting patiently for her to precede him into the cab. Reluctantly, she slid across the seat to make room and half-turned to face the rear window so as to keep one eye on their luggage, and the other on House.
"Was Singapore everything you thought it would be?" House asked as he started to climb into the vehicle, and Cuddy stared at him.
"I suppose." she said thoughtfully. She realized that House's question was meant to distract her from the painfully slow way he stooped and then fell into his seat heavily. He settled the cane between them and lifted his right leg with his hands before shifting both legs into the car. She could see a faint sheen of sweat around his hairline, and a slightly pained look in his eyes from the long walk out; but nowhere near the level he had experienced within the past few days. Now that he was settled in the cab, she let her memory of the little open market surface; the little picturesque booths, the dusty-spicy smells of exotic foods and spices, the texture of foreign fabrics beneath her fingertips. In truth, Singapore hadn't been a terribly unfamiliar landscape—metropolitan cities worldwide were strikingly similar any more—but House had shown her a glimpse of the city within. Singapore's still-beating heart of antiquity was hidden beneath the new ultra-modern exterior.
"What was it for you?" she asked, and House gave her a thoughtful look.
"Freedom." he said at last, and Cuddy rolled her eyes as the driver finally climbed back into his seat and they drove away. House settled back and pulled out his sunglasses, effectively ending the conversation. Cuddy let her gaze drift from House's shuttered expression to the landscape beyond. Dirty streets, tree-lined boulevards and endless traffic were all she could see. She contemplated House's cryptic response to her question—freedom. Freedom from what, exactly? From his life as he knew it? His career? His reputation? Most likely, she snorted to herself, all of the above. House was the most intelligent man she'd ever known; yet he was frequently bored with his existence in Princeton. Given that his career was the only outlet that remained for his restless intellect, she supposed it was reasonable to assume he could occasionally be bored by that as well.
Or maybe he'd simply meant that being among his peers from the WHO allowed him to escape the limitations of his existence at home. She shook her head then, bit her cheek to keep from laughing out loud. With one single comment, House had somehow awakened her curiosity. She snuck a glance at him, noting the way his head rested against the back of the seat comfortably. He had no idea what his little comment had done to her.
But then again—if the tiny smile playing on his lips was any indication—he very likely did.
The cab had been swift; delivering them to the airport's main terminal within ten minutes of leaving the hotel. Which was helpful, because between House's leg, the fact that her alarm hadn't gone off when she'd set it to and the overly long check-out process they would be lucky to board the flight before they closed the gate. She waited impatiently for House to thrust some Malaysian bills through the window for the fare before he opened the door and climbed out stiffly. She joined him on the sidewalk, her entire being vibrating with the desire to get through the check-in process and through the security lines as quickly as possible. She settled for watching the cab driver unload their suitcases onto a skycap's cart. House was leaning heavily upon his cane as they slowly moved toward the airline's desk, and Cuddy found herself trying not to watch his lop-sided gait. He kept his backpack and she kept her purse and a carry-on bag that contained the book she still hadn't finished. The attendant offered their tickets and she took both, watching as House fished out his passport before handing his ticket over.
"Ready?" she asked quietly, and he nodded before beginning the trek to the security lines. Surprisingly, the line was short and they made it to the xray machines with almost thirty minutes to spare before their departure time. She obediently slipped out of her shoes and threw them in a bin with her purse and noted the way House had neglected to remove his. She bit her lip, but said nothing. House would do it his own way anyway. Surprisingly, they said nothing about his shoes as he slid his cane onto the machine's belt and limped forward. They studied his ticket and waved him through; she followed him a minute later. He grabbed the edge of the xray machine to hold himself up while their trays came through one at a time. Cuddy slipped back into her shoes and slid her purse strap onto her shoulder, then gathered her carry-on bag while House waited for his cane. After an interminable length of time, the closest security attendant stepped over and slowly grabbed the cane before House could reach for it.
"Sir, I'm sorry—but corkscrews are banned as carry-on items. I'll have to confiscate your cane. You'll be able to pick it up with your checked luggage." To his credit, the security agent looked truly apologetic.
"If you didn't notice, I'm a cripple. And cripples use canes to walk with." House said shortly, and Cuddy winced. The agent waved a hand at a nearby gate attendant, who moved in with a wheelchair. House glared mightily at the agent, who held his gaze until House let his eyes drift away. Cuddy scribbled House's name on a paper tag and tied the string to the handle before she handed it off. The attendant parked the chair and locked the brakes as House hop-stepped awkwardly closer and sank down into it. He glowered at Cuddy and the agent as he lifted his right leg into the foot rest followed by the left one. He settled his backpack into his lap and glared at the security agent one last time before the attendant began wheeling him toward the gate. House was quiet, and Cuddy let him stew in silence. It was just as well they'd taken his cane, really. They'd been pressed for time as it was, and House likely would have suffered needlessly from a mad dash given the distance across the terminal to their gate. Now he could be spared that last indignity and the risk of a third public fall. Still, she hadn't expected him to be very happy about it.
Upon reaching their gate, Cuddy was relieved to find they were still boarding.
"Well, at least we won't have to wait." she muttered. House gave her an odd look, but said nothing as they handed their passes to the waiting airline employee.
"Kids and cripples can pre-board." House said finally, and Cuddy winced at his use of 'cripple' again.
"First class boards early, too." she pointed out. House shot her a smug look that she couldn't decipher, even as he half-turned to look at a woman with a screaming child who joined the line just behind them. He shot the mother an annoyed look before rubbing a thumb across his forehead in frustration. Cuddy rolled her eyes, recognizing the look on his face before he opened his mouth. She wasn't surprised that he was going to complain, only that it had taken so long.
"That was an antique vintner's cane. Cost me nine hundred dollars."
Nine hundred? House had been bartering. She'd seen the vendor nearly refuse the offer as it was. "It had a corkscrew in it." she pointed out tiredly.
"Ah. That would explain the vintner's reference."
"It could be used as a weapon against the pilot." she ground out through gritted teeth.
"Only if he snuck in a bottle of zinfindel."
"You'll get it back when we land." Hopeful that her annoyance had finally penetrated House's consciousness, she stared sightlessly into the cheerless gray walls of the plane's retractable boarding ramp. Behind them, the girl continued to scream. She smiled grimly despite herself; House's grousing for his cane mirrored the little girl's demand for her blanket. He really was a child. House had continued to shoot dirty looks over his shoulder back at the mother, still trying unsuccessfully to soothe the girl since they'd joined the line. However, since none of them had suitably conveyed his annoyance or ended the girl's wailing, House made a medical suggestion.
"Give her twenty milligrams of antihistamine. Could save her life. Because if she doesn't shut up, I'll kill her."
"Bringing good will to yet another continent." she had to admit it wasn't a bad suggestion, really. Certainly everyone else on the plane would thank him for it.
"You forced me to deliver a speech, not good will." House shot back.
"You gave a three minute speech. You know how much WHO accreditation means to the hospital." she shot back irritably. Although it hadn't been House's fault, technically; he'd still managed to jeopardize their professional relationship with the WHO. It would take some fancy footwork (and a lot of phone calls) to smooth their ruffled feathers when she got home.
"It may have been short, but it had girth." House went on.
"And the room service thing was just spiteful." she continued.
"I was hungry."
"Three hundred dollars for a bottle of wine."
"I was thirsty."
"One hundred and twenty dollars in video services."
"I was lonely."
"That's five hundred in expenses I can't justify." she glared at House as he lifted his leg free of the footrest and stood up gracefully at the plane's threshold.
"Don't worry about it, I'll take care of it." he promised.
"Right." she sighed. She watched House closely as he swung his backpack over his shoulder and limped heavily onto the plane. His gait was better than it had been since they'd arrived; the extra day he'd spent in bed had been well worth it. One long, cramped flight home and House could be back to miserable on his own terms.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. House," the flight attendant greeted him warmly. "you're right here in 2A." House led the way down the aisle, lurching unsteadily from seat to seat until he sank into the window seat she'd specially purchased for him. She offered her ticket to the attendant next.
"Ms. Cuddy, you're in the next cabin to the left, 9C."
"No, I booked two first class tickets." she peered down at her ticket incredulously. Why hadn't she noticed the seat was wrong? " There must be a mistake."
"No mistake." House was settling into his seat and looked unaccountably smug. "I just arranged for a five hundred dollar fare reduction. Expense problem solved."