Chapter seven

She awoke with a start; diffuse light warming the room and dulling her sense of time. Sitting up slowly, she felt stiff muscles protest and the three hundred count sheets slide smoothly over her skin and pool at her knees as she pushed them back. Stretching, she reached for her cell phone and grasped it with one hand; a finger already poised to key in her password. The screen flickered to life and she noted it was already ten thirty. Over half the morning gone, she mused absently. Scrolling through the phone, she smiled as she read message after message from her hospital email account. Among the typical invites to conferences, highlighted publications, appointment reminders and leave requests she found a sprinkling of her favorite messages.

Inevitably, the emails documented the slow progression whenever House's team took on a patient. The trail of complaints usually began in the ER; where the patient was often seized before the admitting had a chance to begin any tests. Then the staff on the fourth floor; from Infectious Disease to Oncology to Radiology—routinely began a series of complaints which varied depending on which area of hospital reseources the department was using the most.

And finally, complaints would arise from surgery—as, almost inevitably—House's patients would end up in surgery at some point. Thus far, the patient had only made it to radiology and oncology—respectively. And the complaint was only from oncology—though, surprisingly, it didn't appear to involve the diagnostics team at all. The complaint was from the associate department head—regarding Wilson's involvement in the case. She rolled her eyes; Wilson occasionally had a tendency to take cases to appease his conscience; atone for a mistake—or to intrigue House and con him into taking the case instead. This particular patient—an elderly woman found to have asthenia, cognitive impairment and optical atrophy—smacked of Wilson atoning for a mistake. The man was utterly predictable. Shaking her head, she hastily texted an email to Brown ordering him to take the matter up with Wilson himself.

With one last languid stretch against the cool sheets, she slid gracefully from the bed and drew the fluffy bathrobe robe about her bare shoulders. Cinching the belt, she contemplated beginning her yoga routine—or her ablutions, and decided on the latter. Besides, House wouldn't thank her for being rousted out of bed even at this hour. But he at least deserved to be awakened by someone who didn't have morning breath.

Teeth brushed, face scrubbed, hair frizzy—she stepped out of the bathroom and into the main suite to find an absence of life. House's door was still firmly closed, the T.V. was off. Sighing, she moved to his door; gave two sharp raps in warning before she turned the handle. The drapes were closed, the room was lost in the darkness save for what light spilled in from behind her. Letting her eyes adjust, she stared into the room severely until the bed and its occupant slowly came into sight.

House looked deeply asleep, lying just as she had left him the night before. But as she drew close to his bedside she noted the way he pressed the heating pad into the crevasse of his thigh with his right hand. She sighed sadly when she found House's eyes open, staring sightlessly into the distance and were crinkled with pain; his face dotted with perspiration.

"House?" she asked tenderly. She longed to sit down beside him but feared jarring the bed. She knelt beside him and touched his left hand gently. "Talk to me." She commanded. "What do you need?"

His blue eyes blinked slowly, and she felt her heart stutter at the pain within their depths. Tears filled his red rimmed eyes, and he choked back a sob when she touched his cheek. He released a long, shuddering breath and pressed the heating pad down harder into the ruined valley of his leg.

"Talk to me." she ordered again, rising to her feet and darting into the bathroom to wet a washcloth and return to his side. Ever mindful of his leg, she finally sank down on the mattress beside him and ran the warm cloth over his face. He stared at her feebly, and she touched his cheek again; desperate to anchor him to her somehow.

"What do you need?" she asked again.

"Hurts." he mumbled.

"Did you take another dose of Kadian?" she asked patiently. He seemed to consider the question, and shook his head. Desperate to ascertain the truth, she scanned the bedside table and realized with a sinking heart she had left the bottle in the bathroom the night before. Horrified, she rose to her feet and darted in there once more; retrieving the bottle with far more force than was necessary. She hurried back to him; popped the top off and offered the pill wordlessly. He took it meekly, gesturing for the water glass she'd left for him. A couple of swallows later, and she set the half-empty glass back on the table silently. She stood the Kadian bottle next to it.

"Thanks." he whispered hoarsely.

"You're welcome." She stroked his hair back gently, watching the way the pain lines around his eyes slowly began to relax as the medication kicked in. After nearly twenty minutes, she could see awareness return to his gaze, and she dropped her hand away.

"Feel better?" she asked dryly, pleased to see a ghost of his feral grin.

"Lots." His eyes gleamed with amusement. "In fact, now I have a problem that only seems to arise when you're around, Dr. Cuddy."

"Do you ever actually pick women up with those lines?" she asked finally; fighting a smile.

"All the time." he lied, and she longed to slug him. She settled for slapping his shoulder. She studied him closely, taking his wrist to count his pulse, lay the back of her hand on his forehead to roughly gauge his temp. He lay as he had since falling into bed the night before; slightly curled on his left side with his right leg propped on a couple of pillows and stretched out before him.

"How's the pain?" she asked, having decided he was likely to live.

He shrugged. "A five or so." He waved one hand dismissively.

"Did you sleep?" she asked as she rose to her feet and returned to her room. She rummaged through her suitcase and came up with the stethoscope she'd brought along. House stared at her through half-lidded eyes when she rejoined him; obviously the Kadian was doing its' job.

"A little." he admitted around a yawn. "Kept waking up when I moved."

She longed to inspect the leg directly, but knew better than to expect House would let her strip him down to his shorts. Especially if she wanted to examine his leg.
"Are you likely to kill yourself if I go to the conference?" she asked bluntly. House blinked at her tone, and his eyes opened wide. The blue of his eyes had overtaken his constricted pupils.

"I'm fine." he muttered, and she bit her lip. House wasn't going to be getting up any time soon. Given the amount of pain he appeared to be in when off the Kadian, he'd be lucky to be awake for his own presentation the next day. She hated to admit it—but House was better off spending the day in bed. She would have to do all the schmoozing on her own. Determined to get something for the hospital out of the trip, she slid cautiously from the edge of the bed and studied House as he lay prone atop identical three hundred count sheets.

"House?" she asked finally. He blinked at her in confusion. "I think you should stay in bed today. Rest up. Were there any conferences you wanted notes from?"

"Mathis." he murmured, licking his lips.

"I'll attend his presentation and take notes." she offered. Hesitating, she paused a moment to decide how best to mention her central preoccupation. "If you get a chance, I think you should review your presentation today." She squeezed her eyes closed and pinched the bridge of her nose in sudden fear. "You did finish it, right?"

He glared at her. Or tried.
"Yeah. 'M not gonna look bad." he mumbled edgily. She smiled at his goofy attempt to look angry. He merely looked stoned.

"Call room service if you need anything. I'll have my cell on me, too." She promised, and smiled at the over-exaggerated nod he gave against the pillows. With one last baleful look, his blue eyes fluttered closed and he sighed faintly as he slid into a place with no pain.