Time: Three to four years after Season 7
Pairings: None, reference to earlier House/Cuddy
Warning: Major character death!
Rating: PG 13
Author's Note: I am much indebted to Flywoman Return's fic 'Three Months' as a source of inspiration. I'd never have dared to write a character death fic if that one hadn't moved me so much. My special thanks to my beta brighid45, whose input was crucial for the final form of the story.
[A few years in the future]
"What's up with Cuddy?"
Wilson kept his eyes trained on the case file in front of him. "Is something up with Cuddy?" he asked. There was no answer. Instead, a rhythmic thumping told him that House had seated himself unbidden on the couch and was now bouncing his cane. Turning to the next page of his case file Wilson groaned inwardly.
"What?" Wilson asked despite himself.
"You're ignoring me. That means …,"
" … that I am busy. I'm working. A concept that's foreign to you, but that keeps the majority of the population fed, clothed and sheltered."
"... that you know what's the matter with Cuddy, but you're trying to hide it from me."
Wilson finally looked up. He regretted it instantly – it was difficult to lie convincingly when faced with House's intense scrutiny. "Why should I be hiding anything from you?"
"Because you believe my fragile psyche can't handle it? Which in turn means that whatever Cuddy wants concealed has the potential to hurt me. Such as: dating someone." The stare became more piercing, if that were possible.
"House, you two went splitsville three years ago! I'm sure Cuddy's been dating since then."
"Not with anyone I'd consider a serious threat."
Wilson shook his head, frowning "I don't think you're supposed to be possessive about a woman you broke up with aeons ago and have ignored ever since."
House, rather uncharacteristically, ignored both the blame assigned for the break-up (usually a bone of contention between them) and the slur cast on his behaviour since. Clearly he was not to be easily distracted today. Wilson weighed his options and decided in favour of taking House's bait.
"Fine, whom would you consider a threat?"
Wilson dropped his pen and placed both palms flat on his desk. "I'm not dating Cuddy."
House continued as though he hadn't spoken. "Because if you were dating Cuddy, you'd be doing it to mess around with me, to make me jealous in the hope that I'll step in the breach again."
"Which gains me ...what exactly?"
"I become Cuddy's responsibility again, and she'll be the one who'll have to deal with my next relapse, leaving you free to …," House waved an elegant hand to include every possible fun activity in the universe.
"I'm not dating Cuddy," Wilson repeated, hoping that nipping speculations about his love life in the bud would also serve to put to rest House's worries about being abandoned, relapsing and whatever other issues were dogging him at the moment.
It worked – too well. "That doesn't leave many possibilities, ..." House mused.
"Even if I did know something about Cuddy – and I'm not saying that I do – has it occurred to you that I might wish to protect her privacy?"
"... because Cuddy would never trust you with anything personal …,"
" … knowing that you'd cave in and spill it to me eventually. Not unless …." His eyes fixed on something slightly to the left of Wilson's head.
Wilson sighed, resisting the temptation to peer over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of the celestial or infernal being that imbued House with his moments of enlightenment, and shook his head as House grabbed his cane and exited wordlessly.
[A day later]
Thud, bo-ing, pause. Thud, bo-ing, pause.
It had been going on for ten minutes now. Wilson knew what it was: House throwing his ball against the wall, letting it bounce off the floor and then catching it. He wasn't doing it against the wall of his own office, though. He was in the conference room bouncing the ball off the dividing wall between that room and Wilson's office.
Fine! Wilson threw his pen down and marched over to House's rooms. The team wasn't there, only House, precariously balancing his chair on two legs as he tipped back to toss the ball against the wall.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" House countered, righting the chair. "Taking Cuddy on as a patient!"
"You … you hacked into her medical records?"
"No, I went and asked her."
A wave of relief washed over Wilson. "Really? You went and talked to Cuddy?"
"No, you twat! I made an educated guess based on your predilection for latching onto neediness and you just confirmed it. What is it, the kind where you get to feel good because you manage to avert a potential death sentence or the kind where you get to feel even better because you'll be there in the end to be supportive?"
Wilson hesitated. There was the slight matter of patient confidentiality, but it wasn't as though Cuddy seriously expected him to be able to keep anything from House.
"I haven't run all the tests yet, but I'd say breast cancer," he finally said.
House was silent for a moment. "Has it metastasised?"
"Look, I don't know much yet. She felt a lump and came straight to me. That was three days ago." It had been a rather large lump. How Cuddy had discovered it so late was a mystery to him.
"Maybe because she trusts me?"
"She'd be able to preserve her privacy better if she went to another hospital – Trenton or Princeton General."
"Trenton sucks and if she's at Princeton General everyone at Princeton-Plainsboro will know about it just as quickly. Much as I'd like to flatter myself into believing that she thinks I'm the best, it's probably a matter of convenience. Knowing Cuddy, I'd say she intends to interrupt her work schedule as little as possible. She'll probably want her chemos in her office!"
"It doesn't explain why you're setting yourself up to be ripped apart when you could easily have diverted her to some other oncologist."
"Cuddy may not be the most reasonable patient …,"
"That's an understatement!"
"... but she's not going to 'rip me apart'."
"I'm not talking about what Cuddy may or may not do to you, although believe me, she can get very unpleasant when confronted with her own limitations, physical or otherwise. I'm talking about what you'll do to yourself."
"Cuddy specifically asked me to treat her. If it makes her feel better, I'm glad to do it for her."
"She asked you because she knew it would make you feel better: 'needed.'" House drew quotation marks in the air. "But you'll both end up feeling worse: she, because she won't be able to rail at you the way she could at some stranger, and you, because you're you. You'll invest yourself and allow yourself to be sucked empty."
"Is this about Cuddy getting something that you feel is your due?"
"I know you consider this impossible, but there are times when I don't think only about myself."
Wilson laughed drily. "Well, then you'll understand why I want to do this for Cuddy. I care for her."
"Does the name 'Don Tucker' ring a bell?"
"That was different."
"He was a friend whom you took on as a patient. Sounds the same to me."
"You ended up minus a pound of flesh."
Wilson's voice rose slightly. "Don Tucker is alive and kicking thanks to my pound of flesh, and so am I."
"Yeah, and that worked out so well, didn't it?" Wilson was silent. "Was it worth it?"
Suddenly Wilson was shouting. "Who are you, House, to talk about whether a human life is worth the cost of preserving it? You're the one who bends all the rules, breaks laws, endangers others and yourself, and that for people you don't even know."
Now House was yelling too. "I know what I'm doing. You don't! Cuddy has run-of-the-mill cancer that'll respond to treatment or maybe it won't. Nothing you can do will make a difference! Caring doesn't make you a good doctor. It makes you a crappy doctor."
"Not caring makes you a good doctor, huh?"
"Yes, damn it!"
"It also makes you a crappy friend!" House stared at him, all emotion wiped off his face, his mouth vulnerable. Wilson registered too late how his words must have sounded. There was no going back now, though, so he continued his line of thought. "You're not going to be there for her, are you? You have no intention of offering any sort of support, but you'll lecture and hector me ..."
He was ranting at an empty room.
[Some weeks later]
For someone so conspicuous, House was remarkably good at avoiding others when he so chose. Not that Wilson sought him out actively in the weeks after their conversation, but after six weeks of little more than greetings in the hallway and commonplaces in the elevator Wilson decided that although this stand-off was none of his doing, he'd take the first step towards resuming a normal relationship, if only for Cuddy's sake. If House let him. He tracked him down in the cafeteria and sat down at his table, an extra packet of chips and a second ice-cream on his tray. As House eyed the peace offerings, Wilson mentally cursed him for his stubbornness.
"Just … take them!" he said.
House reached out to angle the chips. "I'm not doing it," he said.
"You just did," Wilson pointed out.
"Talking to Cuddy," House clarified. "That's your agenda, isn't it?"
"Fine," Wilson said, leaning back. "I want you to talk with Cuddy. What's wrong with that?"
"Got nothing to say."
"You've known her for over twenty-five years, she's in a difficult situation, and there's nothing you can think of to say?"
House leaned back in turn. "My favourite openers seem inappropriate at the moment. 'I like your new hairstyle, Cuddy. Oh, it's a wig?' Or, 'The twin, the one that's left, is looking perky today.'"
Wilson, used to dealing with the outbursts of grieving family, barely raised an eyebrow. "You needn't mention her appearance."
"Right. How about, 'You're smelling cuddilicious today – eau de puke?'"
"Just stay clear of …,"
"Everything to do with cancer?"
"Well, normally I tell people not to skirt the topic, but in your case – yes!"
"You want me to talk to Cuddy because she's got cancer, but I'm not to mention anything to do with cancer. How about I stay away from Cuddy altogether?"
"House, you can't avoid this forever. You've got to talk to her sometime. Why not now?"
House shrugged. "I've avoided her – successfully – these past three years. No reason not to continue to do so for the next three."
"None indeed," Wilson concurred, "except that she won't be around for another three years." He got up hastily and picked up his tray. "Three months should see you in the clear."
It gave him a brief twinge of satisfaction to see through the mist that clouded his eyes that House's mien was frozen, his face slack, his gaze vacant.
[Two months later]
"House, I'm busy! I have a patient in fifteen minutes and a department meeting to prepare for."
"I hear Cuddy's sister has arrived."
"Yes, Julia and Tom came down at the weekend."
"Who's taking the kid when Cuddy dies? Her mom or Julia?"
Wilson fought the urge to tell him to ask Cuddy. "Julia. Her mom's too old. Why?"
"Just wondering." House fingered through the papers littering Wilson's desk. "Why are you doing this quarter's billing?"
"Because I don't abuse my position to bully my fellows into doing it."
"I meant: why are you doing it now? You usually do it on the twenty-fifth of the last month of the quarter, and that isn't for another seven days."
"I'm pretty busy next week, so I thought I'd get it out of the way."
House snagged his calender and flipped the page. "No, you're not. You've cancelled most of your appointments." He leaned forward over Wilson's desk, his stare pinning Wilson. "You're expecting to sit shiva."
Wilson busied himself sorting the papers on his desk into their respective files.
House reached out to extract a sheet from the pile Wilson was holding. "You know that you've just sorted your billing into a patient's file?"
Wilson instinctively pushed his hand away, and then froze, envisioning another office three floors below whose incumbent had regularly slapped House's exploring fingers when they meandered over the items on her desk. Something of the sort must have passed through House's mind too, for he sat back, twirling his cane.
"How much longer?" he asked.
Long enough for you to say goodbye, Wilson thought, but he only said, "One day, two days, five days, who knows? Her heart's failing, there's pulmonary edema, but … she's tough."
"She can't want that: slow suffocation as she drowns in her own … "
"House, I really haven't got the time for this!"
"Why don't you end it?" Wilson was silent. "You do it for your other patients – we both know you do. Why not for Cuddy?"
A tentative knock, then the door opened and a face peered around it, only to withdraw with a muffled, "Sorry."
Wilson grasped at the reprieve. "My patient is here. I've got to ….,"
"You won't do it because she's your friend."
"It's … it's not like that. Cuddy asked me a long time ago. I wanted to do it, was going to do it when the time came; I got everything ready," his eyes slid involuntarily to the desk drawer in which the releasing syringe of morphine lay, "but her mother got wind of it. Her mom won't let go, can't let go, whatever; Julia and Tom disapprove as a matter of principle; now they're taking turns sitting by her, basically guarding her. That's why Julia and Tom have come." He leaned his forehead on his hands, mostly to get away from House's accusing stare.
"Where there's a will, there's a pill," House intoned.
Something snapped. "House, just ... . You know, House, you're a damn coward. She's dying and she wants to see you, to hear you say you forgive her so she can die in peace … "
"'Forgive her'? I thought she and you were agreed that it was all my fault."
"No, you and I were agreed that it was all your fault." Privately, Wilson thought that there was enough blame to go round and then some to spare, but he wasn't about to tell House that. "Cuddy, however, with her infinite capacity for guilt ... don't bloody deflect, House! You're too much of a coward to face her, too great an egotist to overcome your cowardice and enough of a hypocrite to focus on my supposed shortcomings instead of examining your own. If you don't want to mourn for her – fine!" He rose, stemming his weight on his desk. "My friend is dying. Since you can't respect my feelings, get out of here, just …. get out of here and leave me alone!"
House stared at him for a moment. Then he leaned forward and with a significant glance at the glass of the balcony door extricated the paperweight around which Wilson's fingers had instinctively curled themselves. Dropping it into Wilson's bin, he gave a short nod and hobbled out, leaving a shaking Wilson behind.
That evening – Wilson was sitting in the dark with only the desk lamp on, pretending to himself that he was completing some paperwork and that his vision blurring repeatedly was due to tiredness and had nothing to do with the woman dying two floors below his office – House came in with a look of sheepish apology and two styrofoam cups of frothy sweet caffeine seduction.
The last thing Wilson registered as his head tipped forward onto his desk were keen searching eyes while a detached voice said, "Beware Greeks bearing gifts."
[Some hours later]
He woke up in the ER, a nurse hovering over him.
"Ah, you've come round, Dr Wilson. No, don't try to get up – we don't know yet what's wrong with you."
"I do," Wilson said through the fuzz coating his mouth. "House."
"Yes, Dr House called the ER when you collapsed in your office. I'm sure it's nothing serious, but you should lie down again. Dr Wilson, please lie down!"
His head was still spinning, but other than that he seemed fine. He was about to take the matter up with the nurse when the curtains about his bed were drawn aside.
"Where's House?" Wilson snapped at Chase and Taub. "I'm going to murder him!"
The two fellows exchanged glances, and then Taub nodded to the nurse. "You can go. We'll see to Dr Wilson." She huffed disapprovingly, but she left. Taub turned to Wilson. "House has just been taken to the police station for questioning."
"What? Because he drugged me?"
"Because he killed Cuddy."
Chase held out his jacket while Taub handed him his shoes. Wilson's brain refused to leave standby mode.
"Would either of you care to explain?" he finally said.
"Actually," Chase said, "we were hoping you could explain. But if he drugged you …," he trailed off.
"Cuddy's family is holding a vigil. How the hell is House supposed to … Cuddy's dead?"
There was an awkward silence. Wilson sat down again rather suddenly. As he sat, head cradled in his hands, Chase gave his shoulder an awkward squeeze.
Then Taub said, "Cuddy's brother-in-law,"
"Tom," Chase inserted.
"Yes. He had to step out. When he came back about ten minutes later, Cuddy was in acute respiratory distress. She died a few minutes later."
Chase proffered a handkerchief. Wilson blew his nose, and then he got up again. The two fellows followed him out of the ER.
When he could trust his voice again he said, "Look, House hasn't been near her in months."
"He was in the room by her bed. So was an empty syringe of morphine. The nurse on duty had the sense to call us before Cuddy's brother-in-law could kill House, but we couldn't stop her sister from calling the police."
They reached the lobby. Foreman, coming in from the clinic, caught up with them. He glanced at Wilson, then he averted his eyes politely, addressing the other fellows.
"I've spoken with Bellamy," he said.
"He isn't exactly happy about House, but he sees that it isn't in his own interest to have the Head of Diagnostic Medicine charged with practising euthanasia on his predecessor, so he'll do his best to get the Cuddy clan to drop all charges. What about the nurse?"
Chase gave a half-grin. "She's prepared to testify that Cuddy showed first signs of respiratory distress just after Tom left the room and that she was about to call Wilson when House turned up saying that he was standing in for Wilson. If asked about why this isn't in the charts she'll say that things got hectic after that and she didn't have the time to note anything down any more. I guess that at least is true."
"She'll do that for House?" Foreman asked incredulously.
"Not for House. For Cuddy. Said she was glad someone ended her suffering."
None of the fellows looked at him, but he could feel the accusation in their non-stares. He stuffed his shaking hands into his pockets.
"So what about the morphine?" Taub enquired.
"Wilson gave Cuddy an extra dose and forgot to chart it," Chase said glibly.
"What, a lethal dose that miraculously didn't kill her, yet hours later she inexplicably succumbs to pulmonary edema?" Wilson said. Discussing how to get House off the hook was soothing.
Foreman said, "This isn't about concocting a foolproof story. This is about creating enough of a doubt about House's culpability that the DA drops the charges. Are you in?"
"Yes. Yes, of course." Wilson tried to order his thoughts. "He needs a lawyer." House, you bloody idiot.
"That's taken care of," Taub said.
"Then there's nothing for me to do?" I didn't say goodbye. I wanted to say goodbye.
"You could go to Cuddy's family, do your spiel, tell them it's all for the best, yada yada," Foreman suggested. "Mellow them – you're good at that."
"I tried," Taub said, "but they weren't receptive towards members of House's team."
"Okay," Wilson said. He wasn't feeling particularly charitable towards Cuddy's family, hadn't been for days, but for House's sake he'd do his best. I should have been there. I should have been the one ...
"What wine did Cuddy like?" Taub asked out of the blue.
Wilson swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat. "Riesling," he answered automatically, "and Shiraz, I think." He resolutely blinked away a vision of Cuddy sitting opposite him in a restaurant, nipping from a glass of red wine and laughing at something he'd said.
"Okay. I'll get some supplies and meet you at House's place," Taub said to the other fellows.
"Frozen yoghurt," Chase suggested, "with sprinkles. And cream bagels."
"What are you guys doing?" Wilson asked, mystified.
The fellows looked at each other. Chase said, "I guess we'll pick House up from the police station – he'll need a ride - and then … hold a wake at his place." Wilson stared. "We did it when Thirteen died. Kinda unplanned, wasn't it?" He looked to the others for confirmation. "House wasn't at the funeral service, so we dropped in on him afterwards."
"Just to check on him," Taub added.
"He was getting quietly wasted," Chase continued, "so we joined him, ordered some Thai takeaway, got some more beer. House played the piano – Thirteen's sort of music. It was," he shrugged, "good. Better than the funeral service. More fitting."
"What about you?" Foreman asked Wilson. "Will you stay with the family or will you join us?"
"I … ." Wilson was torn, as so many times before, between his duty towards Cuddy and his obligation towards his friend.
"Cuddy would expect you to be with House," Foreman said with certainty.
Wilson nodded, relieved. "I'll come as soon as I can get away from her family."
They stood awkwardly in the lobby, unsure how to part.
"So, why did he drug you?" Taub asked. "Even if he hadn't got caught, you'd have known that he'd done it."
"To give me an alibi. If he hadn't got caught the family would automatically have suspected me. They knew that I was prepared to … help Cuddy." He was relieved to find he could say her name without a quaver. "I'm guessing that he slipped a laxative into something that was taken up to Tom – coffee, food – to get him out of the room."
Chase said, "He should have drugged him too, then he wouldn't have been discovered."
"Too risky," Wilson said. "One does notice on waking up that something is very wrong. Like this there was a good chance that Tom wouldn't get suspicious, neither at having to go to the bathroom nor at Cuddy dying while he was there."
"Riskier than hanging around next to Cuddy holding her hand?" Foreman said. "He should have pushed in the morphine and got out."
And that, thought Wilson, was why Foreman would never be House's heir.
Chase put his thoughts into kinder and apter words."No one should have to die alone."