Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, and I'm not a professional.
Summary: Yet another one-shot tidbit off of Moving the Chains. It is definitely just a one-shot. I, too, wished it could have gone on, but not my decision. My muse draws a firm line, in fact a canyon, at the end. There is no way I'm writing a medical differential at the moment to be wrong and just screw everything up in spite of research and my best efforts. Hopefully I'll get past that point, but that's where I am now. Enjoy this one anyway.
Her hospital hummed around her like a beehive, ceaseless activity going on but organization underneath it. Cuddy paused for just a second as she left her office, absorbing the atmosphere. PPTH was her baby in a way, although she couldn't bring herself to totally compare it to Rachel. Still, she loved this place, the challenges, the activity, the accomplishments. She had been only an average doctor, but she was a damned good administrator, and she was proud of that. She headed across toward the pharmacy to check on a paperwork issue.
It wasn't that she was actually eavesdropping, at least not at first. She refused to admit how much her ears were still attuned to his name. It was purely reflex from years on the job that made her react instantly and pause unobtrusively to listen to the two nurses in the clinic nurses' station, backs turned to her, heads conspiratorially together.
"No, I didn't hear. What about House?"
"He went totally down. Flat on the floor in the cafeteria, dropped his tray and everything."
"Was he hurt?"
The nurse shrugged slightly, dismissing that non juicy detail as irrelevant. "Didn't say, but the good part is what happened next. Dr. Cuddy's boyfriend put down his paper; turns out he had tripped House."
Shock lept into the other nurse's voice. "Deliberately tripped him?"
"Yes! He was proud of it. He was talking about how he had proven his superiority and had won over House and Wilson in some contest. I didn't quite follow all that, but they did. House and Wilson both looked like they wanted to hit him. And then he said he was ceasing hostilities and he knew they wouldn't retaliate because if they did, he'd tell Dr. Cuddy that they had gyped her out of her condo."
"Wow. Wish I'd been there to see it."
"It was as good as a soap opera. Everybody was just watching."
Cuddy opened her mouth to draw attention to herself, then shut it. No, she needed further details from a more objective source than a gleefully tale-bearing nurse. She commanded her frozen legs to work again and turned back to her office, pharmacy paperwork forgotten. Once there, she called security and requested the tapes from the last day from the cafeteria. She wasn't entirely sure of timing, but it had to be after House's meeting in the office, his stupid Poirot impersonation that she had walked out on before she could get amused by it. Getting amused by him was in the old days. She couldn't give him any reason to possibly think they were anything other than coworkers now. Show House one leaf, and he'd see an entire forest of trees.
She was stunned when the security chief asked if she specifically wanted the cafeteria incident. Of course, they probably had been rewatching it in security, just as the nurse grapevine had been humming. "You didn't think of telling me there was a cafeteria incident?" she asked frostily.
"I. . .um . . ." The man's mumble dropped below the phone's ability to hear.
"You what?" Silence. "Answer me."
"We didn't think you'd care these days. He got right back up. It's just House."
These days? "As administrator of this hospital, I most definitely care when there is any incident anywhere in this facility, no matter whom it involves." He stammered out an apology and agreed to bring up the relevant tape pronto, and Cuddy hung up and stared at the wall of her office. These days. She was also annoyed at the casual it's just House, but what pricked her conscience was the qualifier of these days. That implied that once, they thought she would have cared, and that they thought she didn't any longer. The implication that her personal feelings toward House - that she even had personal feelings toward House - impacted her care for him as an employee and that the entire hospital knew them brought an instant surge of denial. Why couldn't anybody see the professional aspects of their relationship? There were no personal feelings involved, and it annoyed her that even the security staff thought that there were, positively in the past and negatively at the moment.
The head of security got a lowerling to run the disk up to her, obviously not wanting to face her himself. She took it with a brief word of thanks as well as a glare that she hoped would leave a message for the future, and the man turned quickly away. Yes, he had obviously been watching it, too. How many people ahead of her had realized something that happened in her hospital?
Cuddy watched it. Then she watched it again. Then she watched it again. Even without sound, the body language was eloquent. Lucas looked absolutely smug, arrogant, not even concealing his feelings, not a trace of remorse or even concern on his face, although House had gone down hard enough that Cuddy herself gasped watching it. Wilson looked livid. And then Lucas had obviously made his threat about telling her, and they looked at each other not just with guilt but an overlay that she couldn't quite interpret. Concern? Diagnosis? She couldn't stop watching the sequence, looking at Lucas, seeing an expression written plainly that she had not believed him capable of. Looking at House. Wilson was simply mad, as well as guilty at the end, but House almost had a trace of his diagnosing look, a touch of "what is wrong with this man?", and not just as a rhetorical question.
And not one person had intervened. Nobody even stepped forward to see if House was all right. And nobody had told her about it, although the hospital was obviously buzzing with it. She cringed, hearing all of them in her mind saying, "We didn't think you'd care these days. . . It's just House."
When did they all assume she had stopped caring about him, even as an employee?
She picked up the phone, debating between two numbers. Confront Lucas or talk to House first? She nibbled on her lower lip, hesitating, then called Lucas. She would give him a chance to explain, although watching his face on that screen was a shock. He almost looked . . . sadistic. That wasn't her Lucas. Not her lovable, reliable, easygoing Lucas. She knew how annoying House could be, but she was still startled at the expression on Lucas' face. He didn't look angry, not even frustrated. He just was clearly enjoying House's discomfort.
Lucas' phone went to voice mail, and she left him a message asking him to come by as soon as he had a chance. She then watched the tape several more times, then sighed and picked up the phone again. House answered, and she asked him to come to her office right away. Even so, she was a bit surprised when he did appear very soon after, not even with a mild delay for show. "Are you all right?" he asked as he entered.
Cuddy started, losing track of her purpose momentarily. "Am I all right?"
"You didn't sound like yourself these days on the phone."
These days again. Was House so used to hearing the "we are PURELY colleagues" tone in her voice, the flashing neon sign across her face in any encounter with him, that a request without it struck him as unusual? "I'm fine. Are you okay?"
He limped to the chair - limping more than usual, she noted - and sat down. "I'm good," he said. "What did you want to see me about?"
"I overheard a few nurses talking about what happened in the cafeteria." His eyes immediately dropped to his lap. "And then I pulled the security tape." She leaned forward slightly. "House, why didn't you say something?"
"It wasn't worth making a report over."
"He assaulted you. In public." And Lucas had even done it before he'd specifically denied to Cuddy doing anything. Lucas had stood right in this office and lied to her without a twinge of her woman's intuition going off. Cuddy felt slightly sick. House still wasn't looking at her, and she went on, remembering Lucas' reported price of silence. "House, I know about the loft."
He did look up at that. "You know? But then . . . " He hesitated, working the differential out. "Does he know you know?"
A flare of anger shot through House's eyes. "That lying little . . ." He shut down on the end of that thought, but his eyes were glittering like blue ice. She studied the cut on his cheek, shivering slightly to think that if the blow had been just an inch or two higher, it might have put out one of those eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I had no idea. I would have confronted him. I will confront him."
He immediately tensed up. "Cuddy, be careful with him. In the cafeteria, he was . . . he was acting psychopathic. Especially now that I know he was lying, too. There wasn't concealing of the truth; he really had no emotional response to the lie. There wasn't any emotion at all, other than superiority and arrogance. I think . . . I think he might be seriously ill." He had actually been up in his own office prior to her call wondering how it would be possible to warn her, realizing she would dismiss anything from him.
She sat up a little straighter in automatic denial. "House, this is Lucas we're talking about. You know him . Remember him from last year?"
"Yes. And the Lucas I saw in the cafeteria is not the same one from last year." His eyes bored into hers. "Please, Cuddy, be careful. If you won't listen to me as a friend anymore, listen to me as a doctor - hopefully you still have a little respect for that part. I think there's something wrong with him."
She sighed. "House, I do still have respect for you. I just don't have a relationship with you." She saw the flicker of remorse in his eyes, quickly hidden. "I mean, I don't have a relationship beyond friends," she amended.
He shook his head. "I wish we could be friends. But you don't think we can anymore." He stood up abruptly, and she heard the quick hiss of his breath as his leg objected to the sudden movement. "Please be careful with Lucas." He turned to leave, and he nearly ran into Lucas himself in the doorway, the PI entering just as House reached the office door.
"You wanted to see me?" Lucas asked. House tightened up slightly along the muscles in his back, then went on out. He stopped outside, though, looking back, standing in the outer entry, and Cuddy felt a stab of annoyance. House was overreacting. House had to be overreacting. She couldn't have been this wrong about somebody. But there was still the tape . . .
"Yes, I did," she said. "Sit down." Lucas sat down, and she turned the screen slightly and hit replay. The cafeteria confrontation played again across her computer screen. "What was that about?"
He gave his boyish, disarming smile. "I was absorbed in the newspaper and didn't realize my leg was sticking out. He fell, I apologized, end of story. He wasn't hurt."
"And that's all that happened?" She was watching him, looking for any self-awareness or regret of his lie. She got absolutely nothing.
"Lucas, I know you're lying."
He shook his head. "House, of course. Why should you believe his version over mine?"
"Actually, not House. I overheard a nurse talking who had been in the cafeteria. She had a front-row seat for the whole thing, including conversation."
His expression changed there, regrouping, readjusting. But there was still not a flicker of remorse. "I just didn't want you to worry about things. They needed to be punished for the condo."
"Lucas, it's not like they stole it from us. I could have offered higher, but I chose not to. They offered asking price."
"It should have been yours. It should have been ours." His voice was still even, his face - his trusting face - still pleasant.
"And deliberately tripping a disabled person is not appropriate payback. Not to mention booby-trapping his bathtub. You hurt him, Lucas."
He smiled at her, tone still pleasant and casual. "Oh, don't pretend to be shocked. Where do you think I learned it from? I've heard about some of your so-called stunts on House last year."
She felt a flush of shame and was still amazed that he did not. "That was wrong of me. And I apologized to him. But in the cafeteria, you were enjoying that."
"Sure. Why shouldn't I?" His guileless eyes still were fixed on her, almost with slight confusion in them. "He hurt us, Lisa. He deserves to be punished. I gave him what he'd been asking for."
She sighed. "Lucas, when was the last time you had a complete physical and psychiatric examination?"
For the first time in this conversation, she saw an emotional reaction in him, not just a front of one. "I'm fine. I'm not the one who went nutso and had to be locked up for months." Cuddy looked past him, realizing abruptly that House was gone now. She took a deep breath.
"I'd feel a lot better if you would have a full workup."
Anger starting now under the surface. "I said I'm fine." He stood up, declaring this conversation over by body language. "I'll see you at home tonight. You and Rachel."
Rachel. Oh, God, what about Rachel? She felt torn and confused emotionally, but her intuition was finally going off at full volume in this conversation, albeit late. House was right. Something was wrong with Lucas. "Lucas, I'd . . . I think it would be better if you stayed away from Rachel for the moment until you've been checked out." She tried to sound reasonable and calm.
True anger flared up fully then. "I'm fine. I won't let your lunatic friend's paranoia ruin a good thing. This is me, Lisa." He leaned over the desk, getting into her space, although his hands remained down. "I won't let you throw what we've got away because of his imagination. Can't you see how he's probably leading you on just to get back at me?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Lucas. I'm going to have to insist that you get worked up." He reached out then, iron hands around her wrists.
"I won't let you do this, Lisa." The office door opened behind him silently, and she saw House limping forward, saw him study her eyes, looking for any hint of an order to stop. She gave him none. He was right, and she was wrong. Lucas was, when pushed, potentially dangerous. His hands even now were tightening on her wrists. "Did you hear me? I won't let him destroy us."
"He hasn't, Lucas. You need help." At that moment, he felt the syringe at his neck, and he started to turn toward House but collapsed before he finished the pivot.
Cuddy sank back into her desk chair, shuddering. House was around the desk immediately, reaching for her, just holding her as she that day almost a year ago had held him at his lowest point. "Are you okay?" he asked urgently.
She leaned into him. "He didn't hurt me." Not physically, anyway. The blow to her assessment of her judgment was a deep wound. Rachel. She had endangered Rachel. The tears abruptly started, and he held her silently. There was nothing sexual about it, just a reassuring presence. Finally, she straightened up. "Thank you, House. For watching and being ready."
He moved away himself, releasing her, and then he gave her back a bit of the self-respect she had lost today. "I didn't see it myself until earlier in the cafeteria, Cuddy. He fooled me completely, too. And Wilson."
She looked down at Lucas' form. "You really think there's a medical condition? Not just . . ."
He nodded. "Something has changed from last year. I really think there's an acute explanation. Maybe eventually . . ."
She heard the thought. Maybe she could have him back as Lucas. But did she want Lucas? "I don't know . . ."
He looked down. "Hard to forgive and go back to before after somebody has totally lost it, isn't it?"
She flinched. "House, I . . . I'm sorry for how I've been acting. I'm not sure what we are, but I do miss what we used to be. And I am proud of you, the way you're working on things."
He looked at her for a minute, judging her sincerity, then nodded. "Thank you."
"Meanwhile, we have a small problem." She indicated Lucas unconscious on the floor.
"If he refuses to consent to evaluation, we'll threaten to file charges on the water damage on the condo. It's well into felony range. We can give him a choice of full workup here or in preparation for his defense at his trial." He studied him. "Although I hope it doesn't come to that. Hope he'll realize he needs help." He shuddered suddenly, realizing just how far he himself had had to degenerate before he realized that. Cuddy reached out to put a hand on his arm, the warm touch soaking into him, and he snapped back into the present and gave her a quick nod of appreciation before pulling out his phone, obviously calling the team. She reached for her desk phone, for the first time in a long time feeling not awkwardness or resentment between them, only regret for how long they had been present. She smiled at him, House the doctor in full diagnostic mode now, eyes alight, pursuing the puzzle. She did love watching him work. He felt her gaze and gave her a look of reassurance as the team picked up.
"New patient. Psychopathy, onset believed to be acute within the last year, possibly just within the last months. Previously healthy. Go."