By Barbara Barnett
Setting: late season five
No one could find him. He wasn't in the office, the clinic, the cafeteria. The rooftop exit was locked; House had vanished. His blue backpack sat on his office chair, the iPod spilling half-strewn from the font pocket. He was simply…gone.
It had been an awful day and House had looked like hell on a bad day. The patient with "Locked-In" syndrome had distracted him—for awhile. And then Kutner…died. And then Charlotte.
House had already been hanging on by a thread: Cuddy knew it; and Wilson. He couldn't rest; his mind was on overdrive all day, wracking his brain to understand the un-understandable. The suicide of a bright, successful young doctor. And then it gotten worse. No longer just a bit unkempt, rumpled dress shirt beneath a perfectly pressed sport coat, now he looked like a vagrant. His jacket looking slept in; his stubble now a beard; his hair untrimmed and as wild-looking as his red-rimmed eyes.
Everyone seemed to be keeping a watchful eye on House, as he seemed to descend deeper and deeper within himself. And then Charlotte Kingston, his latest patient, crashed and died 10 minutes after seizing in the MRI. No one's fault. The patient had not disclosed allergy to the medication and had gone into acute anaphylaxis. There was nothing anyone could have done for him. But instead of ranting at the patient's wife for failing to tell them about his allergy to the powerful anti-convulsant, he glared at everyone assembled and walked silently from his office.
The weeping widow was left standing apologizing over and over for having forgotten to tell them that her husband had at one time been treated for anxiety by the drug, but was found allergic to it. It had been long ago, and he no longer suffered from anxiety and how was she to know that it even mattered anymore…
"Did you know he had been seeing a psychiatrist? I mean…before Kutner. I…That's why he'd gone to New York…" Wilson had stopped by Cuddy's office to talk, weary of looking. Weary of worrying. "I would have thought…I wonder if he's talked to her about… Fuck this. He's a big boy, and I can't…"
"Yeah. Help worrying about him. I know the feeling," Cuddy sighed, resigned. Wilson left, shouldering his briefcase, shrugging. Minutes passed as Cuddy waited for the phone to ring; her pager to go off that someone had found House. She simply needed to know that he was OK. There had been enough tragedy at PPTH. More than enough.
"Dr. …?" Cuddy startled at the unexpected knock on her door. "He's been standing there for hours." The day shift pathologist entered quietly, explaining where she could find House. "In the morgue. Just standing there."
Cuddy had briefly considering asking him why it had taken "hours" to come tell her this important bit of news. "Why?"
"Who the hell knows with House? He's crazier than any three pathologists I know, and believe me that's saying something. I asked him what he was doing in MY morgue, but he ignored me. Just fuckin' glared. Bastard."
She found him there, in the morgue, standing over the patient's body, frozen. The clear autopsy apron hung around his neck untied; his gloved hands poised above the gurney; a scalpel gripped in his right hand. The remaining instruments lay neatly in their tray, unused. The night shift pathologist worked at the bench silently watching before Cuddy dismissed him with a silent glare. He fled from the scene, curious about the fireworks that would surely follow. But not curious enough to pass on the unexpected break.
Cuddy turned her attention on House. "Hey." Her voice was non-threatening. Her normal first instinct would be to challenge. "You gonna cut into that?" She approached cautiously when he didn't respond; it was as if he were frozen to the spot. He seemed to slowly come back to himself. He didn't startle or speak; Cuddy watched as his muscles seemed to untense, although waves of anxiety seemed to pour from his very skin.
"I need to…" House's voice was a low growl, defeated and weary. He looked around the room, looking slightly confused; seeming almost not to know why he was even there. And then he simply collapsed, folding in on himself; his leg giving out finally after who knew how long, standing alongside the gurney—unsupported.
Cuddy spotted House's cane leaning up on a nearby lab bench. She grabbed it as she ran to House, hitting the emergency button for some help. She crouched beside him on the floor, checking his vitals, which all seemed more or less normal.
Cuddy had assumed that Kutner's suicide hit House harder than anyone might have imagined. While everyone else, sad though they were, moved on, drawing solace from each other; trying to go back to some state of normal within the chaos; Cuddy knew that House would not.
"I should have seen something; noticed…" he had told her days later, a non-sequitor as he flopped himself onto her office sofa. He had looked like hell even then. Now he more resembled a phantom: eyes hollow and devastated; red-rimmed within the deep, dark circles beneath. He had always been thin; now he was a wraith. She knew he hadn't slept or eaten. And, now weeks later as he sat on the cold cement floor of the hospital morgue she wondered if had more than a couple of hours' sleep in all that time.
Emergency responded and strapping him to a gurney, the attendant looked at Cuddy. Fifth floor. "vitals are good…considering. But recheck them once his settled. Private room. I'll fill out the admit papers later. Start him on IV fluids. Tell them I'll be up in 10. Page me if he wakes up before then."