Chapter One - Bickers
Cameron was hoping for a quiet night in the ER at Princeton Plainsboro. It was a Saturday in early February but the winter storms had cleared out earlier in the week and New Jersey was enjoying a brief mild spell before the next cold front threatened sometime mid next week. The lull in the snow and ice storms had already brought down the number of injuries from winter driving, compared to the previous weekend, which had brought big business for her crowded department from motorists sliding and plowing into one another in the slick conditions. Every year it snowed and every year people forgot how to drive in the stuff.
She kept her eye on the clock and the board. At just after midnight she had a weak and dizzy all over, a slip and fall with a sprained ankle, a newborn with a fever, an elderly woman needing stitches following a late night cooking accident, and a rule out heart attack. Not too bad. The resident was stitching, an intern was bandaging the ankle, labs were cooking on the newborn and the probable case of flu, and Cardiology was on their way down to retrieve her possible MI.
Charting was almost caught up and she was sorting through scheduling requests for next month when the EMS radio crackled in the background. Cameron looked up and finding herself closest, she shoved off from the desk and wheeled her chair towards the shriek of static.
"Princeton Plainsboro ER. Over," she answered the call.
"Unit eleven preparing to transport," a young man's voice came through loud and clear. "Patient is a nineteen year-old male, probable alcohol poisoning. LOC when we pulled up. We've got a line but can't get a tube placed. Over."
Cameron stood from her chair and motioned to several of the nurses to grab whoever was available. "That's okay, eleven," Cameron was calm. "We'll take of it. What's your ETA? Over."
"About two minutes, Princeton," answered the same voice. "We're around the corner. Big party on Prospect. Probably see a couple more of these tonight. Over."
"We'll be ready. Over." Cameron ended the transmission and moved to mobilize her troops.
She slipped into gloves and donned the yellow trauma gown and safety glasses that a nurse had handed her. "Listen up," she barely had to raise her voice as her team of residents, interns, and nurses gathered round, each putting on their own protective gear. "We've got a probable alcohol poisoning on our doorstep. Make sure we've got plenty of IV fluids with electrolytes and get dialyses down here. Grab some warming blankets," she called out as the ambulance pulled up to the door.
Two nurses scrambled away to set up the room and carry out Cameron's orders while two more accompanied her and one of the residents to the bay. The intern hung back, waiting for instructions.
The gurney entered feet first through the automatic doors and into the warmth of the hospital. One EMT steered the patient towards the trauma bay while the other bagged, hyperventilating in preparation for intubation.
"Doctor Cameron," she announced herself. "How's he doing?"
The EMT wheeling the gurney responded and Cameron recognized his voice as the one she'd heard on the radio. "Qaiser Zaheer, nineteen year-old male, found unconscious and unresponsive at the scene. Girl who called 911 said he'd been drinking pretty heavily. Pupils are still equal and reactive so he may have some brain cells left. Blood pressure is 83 over 60. Pulse ox at 80. Temperature is down to 96."
Cameron grabbed the chart from the EMT. "Must be that time of year. Was he a pledge?"
The EMT bagging answered. "No one would admit to it but Prospect Avenue looked like Mardi gras. We showed up, this guy was in the grass covered in his own vomit."
Cameron turned them into the open trauma room. "Did he aspirate?" she asked, masking distress in her voice.
"Good chance," the first EMT answered. "Couldn't get the tube in. Didn't want to risk the O2 mask so he's on a nasal canula."
"On my count. One, two, three." The team slid the young man from the gurney to the ER bed in one swift motion at Cameron's direction. "Weber!" she shouted for the intern who appeared immediately beside her. "Take over bagging."
One of the nurses had finished removing the teenager's clothes and was draping the patient with warmed blankets.
"No signs of trauma," the EMT who had been bagging said as she moved out of the way. "It doesn't look like he hurt his head on the way down; no bumps, bruises, or broken bones."
The nurse who had discarded the clothing nodded in agreement with the EMT's trauma assessment.
Nurses and technicians moved around Cameron, connecting oxygen, pulseometers, and EKG leads.
"Any one there who knew if he was on any medications or other drugs?" Cameron asked.
The EMTs shook their heads, retrieving their equipment.
"Okay, thanks. We'll take it from here," she dismissed them. "I need a number seven ET tube. Rawlins," she called out to the resident. "Get prepped for a gastric lavage." She turned to one of the nurses. "Warm IVs and lets get a dextrose drip started. Get a blood alcohol and a complete tox screen on this guy. Stick a glucose and get a CBC and CHEM 20."
Cameron took the scope and the plastic tube that would secure her patient's airway from a nurse. She carefully tilted the head into position and swept the blade of her scope into the mouth and over the tongue. The stench of cheap alcohol and vomit made her take a step back. "Ugh," she muttered, her nose pinching up. She leaned forward again, holding her breath. "What else Weber?" she quizzed her intern as she focused on the patient's airway.
"Uh," the twenty-something newly minted doctor turned green. "Chest x-ray?" she said timidly. "And –"
Before Weber had a chance to finish, the room erupted into chaos.
"He's seizing!" Rawlins exclaimed.
Cameron retreated with her blade and tube. "Get him on his side!" The team rolled the patient onto his left side to keep him from breathing in any more of his own vomit. "Did we start the Dextrose drip yet?" she called out to the nurses.
"Not yet," Kelly, the same nurse who had given her the ET tube spoke. "You want to push?"
Cameron nodded affirmatively. "Yep. Push Dextrose, fifty milliliters IV." She looked up at the EKG. Her patient's heart rhythm still appeared okay. "Weber, why the Dextrose instead of an anticonvulsant?" Even with her patient seizing, Allison Cameron didn't miss an opportunity to teach.
"No known history of seizures," Weber answered. "It's most likely a side effect of the alcohol poisoning."
"Dextrose is in," Kelly announced.
Another nurse stepped in and began suctioning the patient's mouth.
"Good," Cameron said.
Rawlins added, "Hypoglycemia is a side effect of alcohol poisoning. The glucose is safer than an anticonvulsant which would depress his nervous system further. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant."
"Gold star for Rawlins," Cameron grinned, eyes still on the heart monitor.
A few moments later the seizure began to subside as the Dextrose took affect. When the final convulsions had abated and the suctioning was complete, Cameron had them roll the patient onto his back again.
"Let's get this airway in now," Cameron declared, taking back her scope and tube. Sweeping the tongue to the side, she followed the light down the throat and past the vocal cords, inserting the ET tube into the larynx and inflating the balloon that would help keep it in place. "I'm in. Bag and check for breath sounds," she instructed her team.
Weber hooked up the blue ambu bag and gave it a few good squeezes while Rawlins placed his stethoscope over the patient's chest, looking and listening for the rise and fall of normal breath sounds that would tell them the tube was getting air in to the lungs and not the stomach.
"Placement is good," Rawlins confirmed.
Kelly moved to secure the tube around the patient's mouth. "Pulse ox is coming up."
"Blood pressure and temperature are still low," another nurse informed them.
"Get him on the Dextrose drip and let's get set for the gastric lavage," Cameron said to Rawlins who grabbed a near by tray.
Taking out a slightly curved piece of tubing, the resident threaded one end inside the left nostril, through the esophagus, and into the stomach. Flushing it with a small amount of warm saline, he waited for the contents of the stomach to fill the collection bag.
"Think he's still got anything in there?" Rawlins asked Cameron.
She shook her head. "Doesn't really matter. It's what's in his blood stream that'll kill him."
From overhead the cardiac monitor began to call for attention. Everyone looked up in unison. The normal spikes and hills of the EKG began to disappear, the T waves at the end of each beat dipping lower and lower.
"Damn it," Cameron gritted her teeth. "He's getting tachy. Get me three hundred milligrams of Amiodarone IV push," Cameron said to Kelly.
"His core temp is still low. It's probably the hypothermia," Rawlins said.
"Not to mention all the electrolytes that make his heart work are drowning in alcohol," Kelly added while inserting a needle into the IV and flushing the line with saline to move the cardiac meds into the circulatory system more quickly.
Seconds later, the alarm went off again. This time the patient was in full arrest and Cameron moved quickly.
"Rawlins, CPR," she directed and the tall man began compressions while Weber continued to bag. Cameron and Kelly pulled over the near by crash cart. "Where the hell are my labs?" Cameron called out. "I need his tox screen!"
"On it!" the other nurse ran in the direction of the lab.
"Epi, one milligram IV push!" Cameron called out for the epinephrine that she hoped would jump start the heart.
"It's in!" Kelly exclaimed a second later, anticipating Cameron's orders.
"Someone get in here and take over the lavage!" Rawlins called out in between compressions to another resident who had joined the code team.
"Call radiology, cardiology, and dialysis and get them down here now!" Cameron instructed one of the nurses.
"You want lidocane?" Kelly asked, charging the defibrillator.
"Not yet," Cameron said. "Charged to two hundred. Clear!"
Everyone lifted their hands off the patient for the second it took to shock him. Then it was back to business.
"He's still tachy," Rawlins said after looking at the monitor.
"Pulse and blood pressure dropping," Webster called out.
Her patient's heart continued to struggle to beat.
"No pulse," she called out as the monitor dropped. "Charge to 300."
Kelly hit the charge button.
Cameron yelled out, "Clear!" and all hands came off as the patient jerked up off the bed.
"What about magnesium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate?" Webster asked intently as cardiac compressions resumed. "If it's the electrolyte imbalance-"
"I have no idea what else this kid took!" Cameron exclaimed. She hated giving medications without a history, something leftover from her days as House's fellow. "Magnesium can depress the respiratory and central nervous systems and give him more kidney problems than he's already got. And I'm not giving him sodium bicarbonate until I know what, if anything else, he took besides alcohol," Cameron explained, turning to set the charge to 360 joules.
Rawlins gestured for the man beside him to take over CPR. Wiping the sweat off his brow, he took a look at the contents from the lavage. "There's hardly anything here," he told Cameron. "If he took anything, he's thrown it up by now."
"Or it's in his bloodstream or intestines," Cameron answered.
"Heart rate and blood pressure still falling," Kelly interrupted. "Temperature is holding steady at 96.3."
"Clear!" Cameron ordered and shocked her patient. "And reset it. Get the Lidocane ready."
"Hold on!" Rawlins said, staring intently at the monitor.
They all stared at the monitors, waiting. Cameron held her breath.
"Still tachy but his pulse is stronger," Kelly declared. "BP is climbing."
"How long since the push?" Cameron asked her.
"Almost five minutes."
"Push it again. 150 milligrams Amiodarone and hold compressions."
The room went silent as Kelly pushed another dose. Slowly the blood pressure and pulse increased as the EKG showed a more stable rhythm. An audible sigh of relief could be heard throughout the department.
"Okay," Cameron said, returning the paddles to their cart. "Heart rate, BP, and temperature are improving but we need to get them stabilized. Where's dialysis?"
"They're on their way," the nurse who had headed for the telephone reappeared. "And cardiology is sending someone down as soon as they can. X-ray is here now."
"Great, let's get a chest film," she said, inviting the X-ray techs and their large, portable machine into the room. "Rawlins, let's flush the gastric lavage one more time to be sure. Webster, you're in charge of getting his temperature up."
The intern looked frightened and excited. "Yes, Doctor."
"Did we get a catheter placed?" Cameron asked the room.
"Yes," one of the nurses reported. "But he hasn't given us much."
"He's dehydrated from the alcohol," Cameron thought out loud.
The technicians handed her a lead apron and she slipped it on. Rawlins, Webster and Kelly all put on a lead apron and the technicians went to work.
Chart in hand, Cameron began her follow up orders. "The chest X-ray will tell us if everything is still in place and if he aspirated enough to cause lung trouble. Let's get an MRI of the head and neck to make certain he didn't hit himself too hard when he passed out. Stick another glucose but keep him on the Dextrose drip. Let dialysis make the call on that one. Keep the warming blankets and heated IVs."
"We're done," one of the technicians announced, holding out an arm to collect their aprons.
"Thanks," Cameron smiled. "Send it down as soon as you can, please."
They nodded and rolled the large cart out of the room.
The nurse who had been sent to retrieve the tox screen report reappeared, breathless. "Preliminary tox screen is clean. Blood alcohol level is at .26, though."
A chorus of "ouches" and "yikes" and gagging noises erupted.
"Dialysis better get here fast," Rawlins said. "This kid's kidneys have got to be trashed."
"Mine hurt just thinking about it," Kelly added.
Cameron winced. "Hope he has some brain cells left when he wakes up." She turned to Webster. "Go ahead with magnesium sulfate and sodium bicarb, "she amended. "His kidneys can't get much worse and he didn't take anything the bicarbonate would interact with." She then turned to Kelly. "Keep him on the Amiodarone, 540 milligrams over the next 18 hours or until cardiology clears him. And just to be safe, put him on Clindomycin. I don't want to save this guy from alcohol poisoning only to have him die from aspiration pneumonia."
"Want me to contact the family?" Rawlins offered.
"No, I'll do it," Cameron said, taking in a deep breath and managing a small grin. "You get back to your feverish baby and grandma with stitches. And thanks." Cameron gave him a sincere smile.
"You're welcome," Rawlins returned the smile.
Cameron finished jotting orders on the chart. Kelly handed her a wallet that the EMTs had found.
"That's a phone call no parent ever wants to get," the nurse sympathized.
Cameron nodded, turning the wallet over in her hands. Opening it she found a student ID, a driver's license, three dollars, a Visa card and a wad of yellow receipts.
"I'm going to go track down the dialyses team," Cameron said with a sad smile, discarding her glasses, gown and gloves in the hazardous waste bin. "Let me know if anything changes."
Backing out of the trauma bay, Cameron sighed deeply and tightened her ponytail, hoping that this would be the only serious madness in an otherwise quiet night.
"Trade me muffins," House said to Wilson, switching them before Wilson could protest.
Wilson stared at House over coffee from a table in the hospital's cafeteria. "If you wanted blueberry why didn't you just get blueberry?" he inquired with a cocked brow.
House swallowed and said, "We can't order the same thing," as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Two dudes with the same purchase and only one of those dudes is paying?" he referred to Wilson of course. "Can you imagine the gossip?"
Wilson smiled sarcastically. "Yes. Heaven forbid there be any more gossip about you making the rounds."
Along with the usual speculations, Princeton Plainsboro had had almost five months to whisper and wonder about where and what House had been up to. Cuddy and Wilson had done an excellent job convincing the board and anyone else who asked that he'd finally come to terms with his Vicodin addiction and had checked himself in to rehab, something they all had been begging him to do for years. The rehab part was true and continuing on the assumption that a lie based in truth is harder to dispute, they'd done an even better job at concealing the hallucinations that had been the trigger for House's four month stay at Mayfair. After another month of outpatient physical and psychotherapy, House had been encouraged to return to work and Cuddy had been slowly persuaded to allow him, with conditions.
House glanced at the cafeteria which was almost empty before the noon lunch rush. Then, turning back to Wilson, proudly declared, "Hey, if the gossip didn't revolve around me, I'd be offended."
"You know, I think you would be," Wilson replied, feeding House's narcissism with words and himself with the banana nut muffin that had been best friend's until a few minutes ago.
"Uh oh!" House suddenly dodged to the side. "Caring, overly involved doctor approaching at twelve o clock."
Wilson turned and spotted Cameron crossing the cafeteria.
"Technically, it's your six o clock," House strained to whisper from his contorted position behind the table.
Wilson rolled his eyes. "Don't worry. She'll never find you with that clever hiding place." He had to stifle a chuckle at House's twisted body as he tried to stay flat and still peak around the corner, his long back arched into a lump just above the tabletop.
"House," Cameron stood beside Wilson and waited for him to come up for air. "House?"
"Sorry," Wilson stared up at her. "He was here a minute ago. Let me see if I can – " He stopped and gave House a swift kick to the foot.
"Ouch!" House protested as he banged his head against the edge of the table. Rubbing his head, House glared at Wilson and teased, "Some friend you are. Kick a cripple when he's down."
"That's what you get for stealing my muffin," Wilson said with a satisfied grin.
Cameron saw an opening and jumped in. "House, I have a case for you." She slid the patient chart she'd been holding towards him.
House frowned back at her. "You mean you have a case for Foreman," he corrected, sliding the file back. House was three months in to an uncapped probationary period.
"No," Cameron said, more firmly this time. "Foreman left last night. Don't you read your email?"
"Why should I? You still read it for me."
She pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. "I got one of my own, House. He's staying with his mother for a few days while his dad gets checked out for a mild heart attack."
Wilson's brown eyes looked at her sympathetically. "Did they keep him for observation?"
Cameron nodded. "He was shoveling the snow off the sidewalk and a neighbor called an ambulance when he collapsed."
"You know a true neighbor would have shoveled the walk for him, thereby avoiding the heart attack," House pointed out.
"Yes," Cameron simply agreed. "But in the mean time, you have a case." She shoved the file back towards him.
"I don't know if you've noticed," House said with more than a hint of resentment, "but my privileges around here are pretty much limited to whatever I can do from a room in the clinic. I may have all the cool ideas, but Foreman still has to sign off on pretty much my every move."
Ignoring him, Cameron sat herself down next to Wilson and opened the chart facing House.
"A nineteen year-old came into the ER Saturday night with a blood alcohol level of .26," she began.
Wilson let out a whistle.
"You're already working weekend nights in the ER?" House looked suspiciously at Cameron. "Honeymoon over for you and Chase?"
"No," Cameron placated him. "I traded a couple weekend shifts for Valentine's off. As I was saying," she cleared her throat, "kid with alcohol poisoning. He had a seizure and his heart stopped for about a minute but we got him stable enough for dialysis. He was unconscious and had vomited so I started him on Clindomycin for aspiration pneumonia."
"If only antibiotics could resurrect brain cells," House said, bored.
"The dialysis cleared his system of the alcohol and he regained consciousness. Aside from some short term memory loss, neurological function seems intact," Cameron continued.
"Lucky kid," Wilson said.
"Maybe not," Cameron answered. "His kidneys are failing."
"That tends to happen with excessive drinking," House said through a bite of blueberry muffin.
Cameron shook her head. "He swears this was the first time he'd ever had alcohol."
House let a smirk linger on his stubbled face. "This kid's blood alcohol was .26 and he's not a vegetable? Trust me. This kid has been binging since junior high."
"I don't think so," Cameron said sincerely. "He's Muslim, House."
House gave her his best 'that's sweet but so naïve' grin. "I don't know what kind of kids you went to school with but I know for a fact that Muslim co-eds can kick ass at beer pong. Especially during pledge week."
"Bickers," Wilson corrected him. House stared. "What? They call it Bickers at Princeton."
"Yes," House said. "And they call fraternities Eating Clubs and hold initiations in February. I know I'm fooled," he mocked.
Cameron continued. "He admitted to drinking as part of some initiation dare but said it was the first time he'd ever had alcohol and I believe him."
"You always do," House told her.
"The family confirms that until he came to Princeton he was studying almost every free hour. They even hired a tutor that came to the house three times a week. He needed a scholarship to pay for school," Cameron explained.
"And since he's been away from Mommy and Daddy?" House looked at her.
"I don't know," Cameron admitted. "But it doesn't matter. If he'd had enough alcohol in his nineteen years to trash his kidneys, his liver would be failing too."
"She's right, House," Wilson backed her up.
House looked down at the patient's chart for the first time. He held up a chest x-ray, looking for fluid in the lungs. "It's possible that the Clindomycin you gave him to head off vomit-induced pneumonia damaged the kidneys." He squinted at the film. "Doesn't look to me like he has pneumonia. Next time, wait for the bacteria to grow before prescribing organ-damaging drugs."
Cameron reached over and pulled another x-ray from the chart. "That's yesterday's," she said, taking it from his hands. "This is this morning's." The one House now held showed fluid in the lungs. "And that's only 24 hours after he was taken off the antibiotics that weren't necessary for the non-existent pneumonia that may have been causing the kidney failure."
"Huh," House stared at the new film, his interest rising.
"He's also started running a fever and they've put him back on IV electrolytes. Seems his body forgot how to produce those while he was on dialysis," Cameron drove her point home.
House looked over the most recent labs. BUN and creatinine levels up, GFR down.
"Are they putting him back on dialysis?" Wilson asked Cameron.
"I persuaded them to hold off until I could get House to take the case," she told them both.
The corner of House's lip curled into a coy grin. "Are you pandering to my ego?"
"Is it working?"
Wilson laughed. House looked pleased but pensive.
"I'm assuming you cleared this with Cuddy?" House asked her. It was a reasonable question considering he'd need full privileges to take the case.
Cameron, despite looking like a deer in headlights, quickly responded. "Of course I did."
House flashed a playful smile at Wilson. "Look at our little girl," he gestured to Cameron. "She's all grown up, married, running her own department, and she still can't lie worth a damn." He finished with an amused chuckle.
"Why do you assume I'm lying?" she asked, though innocence wasn't exactly written on her face.
"If you had already talked to Cuddy," House explained, "you would have waited until I was alone, free from Wilson's nagging need to keep me in line and keep Cuddy informed. If you were concerned about pleading your case to Cuddy, you'd wait until I was with Wilson, peak my interest with your patient's kidneys while playing to his need to support you caring for a patient you should have been finished with days ago and my need to treat patients without a hall monitor."
Wilson looked taken aback. "Wow. Somehow I feel used."
House looked at Cameron expectantly.
"Fine," she relented. "I haven't cleared it with Cuddy yet. I'll go and do it now if it matters so much to you."
"Don't be ridiculous!" House exclaimed, reaching for his cane and coffee cup. "I wouldn't send you in there alone."
"You wouldn't?" Cameron and Wilson said in unison, both suspicious.
House stood. "Cameron is decades away from playing on Cuddy's level."
"Okay." Cameron wasn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted.
"We'll all go!" House announced in a way that made everyone within the sound of his voice nervous. Babies in the nursery may have begun to cry.
"Why am I going?" Wilson asked, pushing in his chair.
"Support," Cameron reminded him.
Wilson thought about it a moment then nodded and followed House and Cameron out of the cafeteria. Support or no, this should at least make for an interesting afternoon's entertainment.
Cuddy sat behind her desk staring at the trio of doctors before her with a lump in her throat. One of them alone would be routine. Two of them together in her office usually meant trouble. All three conjured up images of catastrophes.
"Let me guess," she said, her nails digging into the arms of her chair. "House managed to drag Wilson into some elaborate scheme to make your day hell," Cuddy pointed at Cameron, "which resulted in the explosive destruction of the ER." If her voice was calm, the panic behind her eyes betrayed her.
"Sounds plausible," House admitted.
"The ER is fine," Cameron reassured.
Cuddy looked at Wilson who shrugged.
"I'm just here for support, apparently," he told her.
Cuddy slid her chair back, crossing her legs and narrowing her eyes. House shifted his focus, finding her pose seductive. Neither of them was ready to fully confront his vivid delusion of her in a mind-blowing sexual encounter.
"Well?" Cuddy waited for one of them to speak up.
Cameron obliged. "I need House to take a case," she said quickly, as if she were ripping off a band aid.
"Hmm," Cuddy frowned. "As long as all the patient needs is a swab, rectal, or x-ray, that should be fine. Oh and antibiotics. He's allowed to prescribe those."
"Really?" House feigned surprise. "I guess I should have done something about those positive swabs then."
Cuddy returned his smirk. "I'm sorry, Doctor Cameron," Cuddy said. "But your patient will have to wait until Foreman gets back."
"If my patient could wait I wouldn't be asking for House's help," Cameron raised her voice, handing Cuddy the file.
House stood, rocking back and forth on his cane as Cuddy reviewed the chart.
"Is this the undergrad that came in with alcohol poisoning?" she asked after a first glance.
House leaned over to Wilson and mumbled, "Here's where it get's political."
Wilson's brow furrowed. "Political?" he whispered back.
"Yes," Cameron answered Cuddy. "He came in on my shift and his condition is deteriorating again."
"This time without the alcohol," House added.
"His kidneys and lungs are failing and ICU can't treat one without making the other worse," Cameron argued.
Cuddy saw Cameron's pleading eyes as she held the chest films up to the light. She held her own breath, reviewing the lab reports from this morning. Her heart skipped a beat, searching for anything in the chart that would let her off the hook and House off the case.
After a long sigh, Cuddy looked up, but her gaze was not focused on anyone in the room. She had closed the file and was leaning with her elbows over it, protectively.
"Do you know what I spent all day Monday doing?" She still wasn't looking at any of the three doctors in front of her and they thought it best to stay quiet until she did. "I spent Monday doing damage control with president of the university," Cuddy announced. Now her eyes focused on Cameron. "Some sophomore lands in the ER from a stupid hazing stunt and suddenly every newspaper and internet blog wants to know if the kid is going to make it. The president," Cuddy focused on House now, "keeps reminding me that while the incident was unfortunate, Princeton doesn't have fraternities and therefore I should play down any references to 'rush week' or 'pledging' or whatever they call it these days."
"Bickers," House threw out, just to annoy her. He was rewarded with a sharp stare that spoke volumes. She aimed it at House, then Wilson, who was giving House a glare of his own. Feeling the heat from her gaze, they both looked down apologetically, like two boys caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Cuddy continued. "I can't tell the president of the university that this kid is going to die," she said, knowing that the shame she felt at giving in to House shouldn't get in the way of patient care but unable to keep it out of her voice.
"Politics?" Wilson nudged House, who looked to Cuddy for permission to confirm before he nodded.
"Wait a minute," Cameron spoke up. "Is this the reason you had me pulling every alcohol poisoning the ER has treated in the last twenty-five years?"
Cuddy flashed Cameron a small admission of guilt. "The university is on a whole new anti-binge drinking campaign. I just wish it was designed to actually stop binge drinking rather than cover their asses." She rolled her eyes at the last statement.
House hid his amused smile from Cameron. She looked sincerely hurt, something that still managed to surprise and intrigue him. How had she managed to work for him for three years and still maintain her need to have faith in everyone around her?
Cameron stood now with her hands on her hips. "So House can take the case?"
Cuddy's face contorted as she came to terms with her answer. "Yes, House can take the case."
House smiled with a certain sense of self returning to him after the long months. It was quickly pushed down.
"But not without supervision," Cuddy warned, glaring at Wilson.
Wilson followed her eyes from Cameron to House and finally to him where they lingered, waiting. "Me?" he practically choked. "You want me to supervise House on a case?"
"She can't let Cameron supervise," House said blatantly. "Last time she did that the entire hospital practically fell apart." He exaggerated Cameron's brief term as Cuddy's protégé the previous year.
She turned. "The hospital was just fine," Cameron's attempt at hostile sarcasm almost impressed him. "It was you who fell apart."
Wilson winced and Cuddy buried her face in her hands. Cameron was a little too close for comfort. But House simply reacted by being House.
"Touché," he acknowledged Cameron's dig. "Oh relax," he told both Wilson and Cuddy. "Cameron's right. No one could ever replace you, Doctor Cuddy," and he flashed a witty yet sincere grin that tempted to make her smile. He missed seeing that look on her face.
"You can go, Doctor Cameron," Cuddy dismissed her with thanks. "I'm sure the ER needs you."
Cameron nodded. "Thank you," she said to all three of them.
"Keep in touch!" House called after her as she slipped out of the office. "So," he turned to Wilson, excited. "What do you say we round up the troops, boss?"
Wilson shook his head. "No," he answered firmly, looking at Cuddy. "I'm not supervising him."
House saw Cuddy slip into her game face. He had missed seeing that, too; the way her blue eyes would get a sudden twinkle, one corner of her perfect mouth curling ever so slightly, her body angling itself to take full advantage of its curves.
"You don't think he's ready?" Cuddy prodded Wilson.
"It's not that," Wilson insisted, House watching as he played right into Cuddy's hands. "He's ready."
"That is so sweet," House beamed at Wilson who stared back suspiciously. "Sorry. My therapist said I should try being more vocal in my appreciation of others." He paused and looked at Cuddy. "The color of your blouse does amazing things for your breasts," he deadpanned.
Cuddy rolled her eyes, a resigned smile on her face.
"Eyes!" he quickly corrected. "I'm pretty sure I meant to say eyes, not breasts."
"Sorry to interrupt your therapy homework, House," Wilson interjected, "but I'm still not supervising you on a case." He appealed to Cuddy. "I'm his friend. You're his boss."
"And I'm your boss," Cuddy stated plainly. "Don't think of it as supervising," compromise laced her voice. "Think of it as spending time watching your friend work."
"Oh, this is going to be so much fun," House looked at Wilson as if it were Christmas morning. "You and me, a white board full of possibilities, Taub and Thirteen to do all the dirty work. Then of course, you get to go and tattle to Mommy." He looked directly at Cuddy.
"You want me to observe and report back to you?" Wilson asked Cuddy.
"Of course she does," House said, taking no offense.
"If you could keep him from going over the edge or putting the patient through any insanely dangerous procedures, I'd appreciate that, too," Cuddy said with all business smile.
"You do realize that almost everything House does is in some way or another insane?" Wilson reminded her.
House answered for her. "Yeah, but you know my levels of insanity."
Wilson took a deep breath. "Do I?" He watched House's face fall just a little. He hated to drag the actual psychotic break into the mix, but it was a fair question.
It was Cuddy who reassured them. "Wilson, you know better than anyone," she said with genuine compassion for both Wilson and House.
She watched as the two friends gave each other a long, hard look.
"She's right," House broke the uneasy silence. "You should do this." He waited while Wilson forgave himself for his doubts. "Please."
Wilson scratched his head. House didn't say please. He rarely asked for help. He never admitted that anyone other than himself was right. Either House really was making progress or he desperately wanted the case. Or both.
"Do I get a panic button or something?" The question was Wilson's way of saying yes.
House pumped an arm in victory and Wilson rolled his eyes to the back of his head. The exchange made Cuddy feel a twinge of longing, remembering when almost every day had been like this; working, compromising, sparing with House and colluding with Wilson. She beat it back.
"I'm fresh out of panic buttons," Cuddy answered. "If you can't get a hold of me," she thought for a moment, "just trip him and tie him up in the janitor's closet until I get there." Twinge gone.
"Mature," House snarled playfully, waving his cane in her face.
"Trip him," Wilson repeated, looking as if he enjoyed the idea. "In that case, I guess I better go clear my schedule."
House wasn't sure he approved of Wilson's sudden enthusiasm. "Yes," he said over his shoulder as Wilson retreated. "It would be so hard to find you if you were needed, seeing as you'll be one door down!"
"See you upstairs, House," was Wilson's only reply.
And just like that, House and Cuddy had been left alone, something each had tried to avoid since House came back to the hospital. Both would have to admit to feeling like an idiot for avoiding the other person over a delusion, but it didn't make moments like this one any easier.
Cuddy noticed House still standing in front of her desk and stood up herself, hoping it would make her feel less like a girl in high school and more like the dean of medicine.
"You do realize that this in no way excuses you from clinic duty, physical therapy, or psychotherapy," she reminded him, skirting around the edge of her desk to rest in front of him.
"Wouldn't dream of it," he said in the flat tone she'd heard so many times before.
Cuddy wondered if House had become harder for her to read since he'd come back or if it was just the space they'd put between them. House wondered if Cuddy knew how difficult he found hiding anything from her, or how amazing he found her for it.
"Wilson mentioned you had a good session last week," she pushed him gently.
"Blabbermouth," House mumbled, though the way she was looking at him, he didn't care. He tried to shake her humanizing gaze. "My therapist thought it would be a good idea if we had a session together. Something about helping to work through unresolved issues, whatever that means."
House was trying to downplay his participation in what Cuddy thought an excellent step forward, and she told him so. "Well I think it's great. You're really working at this."
"I'm glad you think so," he said, now bashful, "because I'm supposed to ask if you might be willing to go up there with me sometime." He was stumbling over his words, obviously uncomfortable.
"Oh," Cuddy tried to hide her own discomfort.
"It doesn't have to be next week or anything," House backpedaled. "Just – I don't know. Unresolved issues or some psychobabble. Probably just an excuse to double bill."
"I'll think about it," Cuddy told him.
"Thanks." He was finally able to stop fidgeting.
"House," Cuddy placed a hand gingerly on his elbow, surprising both of them. He waited for her to withdraw the gesture and she considered it, but left it where it was. The touch was a relief to both of them.
Cuddy found the words she wanted to share. "I'm in your corner, House. And not just because I want this kid to live or would like to avoid another wasted day playing at university politics." She paused, trying to find a way to show support that House wouldn't find hypocritical.
House must have seen the struggle on her face because he actually managed a sincere, if small, smile.
"I know," he said softly.
She hadn't let him this close to her in months. He still found her intoxicating but he couldn't lose himself in it. He had to keep control. If he could show her he could keep control, solve a case without Foreman standing guard, get some semblance of his life before the hallucinations back, then maybe everything that did or didn't happen between them could mean something.
He drew away from her slowly.
"One more thing," Cuddy caught him before he could get very far. She quickly retrieved a specimen cup from her desk drawer and placed it in his hand.
House felt the intoxication slowly lifting. "Right."
Cuddy had started this random ritual as a condition of his probation. At least once a week, she would surprise him with the yellow capped cup and wait while he filled it in her office bathroom. That way she could be sure House wasn't augmenting his pain control regimen.
He limped towards the toilet. "I guess it's a good thing I got the blueberry muffin and not the poppy seed," he muffled a protest.
Cuddy stifled a chuckle. "You know the rules, House. You got to pee to play."
"Charming," House shouted through the door.
"And leave the seat down this time!" she called out in vain. "That would be charming!"
House did his duty and placed the cup on the side of the sink before washing his hands. With a twinkle in his eye and a sly grin on his lips, he exited, with the toilet seat up.