Walk the Plank
For a minute, Cuddy stood and stared at the gaping wound on House's thigh. Despite his whispered confession over the phone, despite all her training, and despite knowing never to underestimate Greg House, she was at a loss as to what to do first.
She had no choice but to trust the assumption that Rachel was bright enough not to touch anything too dangerous in House's living room and banked on her daughter's uncanny ability to work any T.V. sent her way.
"Sweety? Go wait for Mommy by the couch okay? Go on!"
House broke the stalemate first, "I tried calling everyone else, you were the last one on the list." He seemed to be ready to face whatever verbal barb she was about to throw his way.
"Any reason why 911 wasn't on the list?"
"It's not an emergency."
"Right… are you suicidal?"
"I'm not attempting bypass surgery, the tumours are s-small and they're close to the surface," he smiled then, like some kind of personal joke he added, "I thought it would be like removing a wart."
"You couldn't wait till morning? Bring your CT scans to an actual surgeon?"
"Surgeons are idiots, they'd just hack away at the muscle…" whatever he said then was lost to undisguised pain and to Cuddy's indignation.
"You're just ashamed you've been injecting a drug that hasn't even gone through safety trials, it's never even been in the human body!"
"I got one of the tumours, the second one is close, you can use the CT to help you find the third."
"I'm taking you to the hospital."
"…Just just excise the tumour, " he begged, desperate now.
Then it kicked in. Right then was the instant she saw House objectively for what he was. Pale shaking, weak and as helpless as any patient she had seen before. She stepped quickly across the bathroom and crouched down beside the tub. She saw the blood pooling beneath him and tried to estimate the loss; she could call ahead for transfusion supplies.
House dropped his head, closing his eyes and seemed to check himself out of the situation safe in the knowledge that he wasn't alone anymore.
She was glad for that, glad for the chance to treat him as she would a patient, forget all the hurt and horror of his behaviour – and forget too, the horrible sinking feeling of loss their break-up had left.
She pulled on a pair of gloves and carefully released the retractors holding the surgical site open. She closed the flaps of skin loosely over the wound and dabbed at the blood still dripping freely down his leg. She stood then and began searching for House's first aid supplies – he was too good at this kind of thing not to have been prepared.
It was then that she realized he had it all ready, everything she would need was right there on the stool beside the tub. She noticed too, the rolled-up towel taped to the wall, the CT scan and his notes alongside. She would remember all of this later on of course, would run it through her mind, horrific images illustrating the more gruesome points, but that could all wait.
Ripping open a sterile dressing, she placed it gently over the wound then went back for another, and another. She couldn't close him up, that was too risky, the only thing she could do was to try to prevent any further infection from getting in and eating away at what was left of his leg. She grabbed the towel stowed underneath the stool and wrapped it over his leg fixing the ends in place with surgical tape. Thankfully, he had stayed quiet through all this, stiffening when she had touched his leg clammy, shivering, and shocky.
"We have to get you out of there. House?" she stood over him, arms resting on her hips trying to work out the best way of hauling him out.
She watched as he pitifully tried to brace his shaking arms on the side of the tub and lift himself out. There needed to be another way, she needed to think this through.
"Rachel? Rachel? Are you okay in there?" she called through into the living room torn between who needed her most.
"Aye aye Captain," was her daughter's reply.
Cuddy was glad that Rachel's overactive imagination was keeping her company, that she probably wouldn't remember any of this ridiculous night time jaunt in the company of House's lunacy, her head filled as it was with pirates and an ancient lost vernacular.
"Okay, here's what we're going to do. Wrap your arms around my neck and when I count to three, you push down with your left leg – okay? House?"
He was drifting in and out and she really didn't think this would work. He was too tall and too heavy for her. Stupid, this was all so stupid.
"House? I need you to stay with me okay? House?" he had to do this, she couldn't do it on her own and really, she had no idea how he could be of any help. She thought briefly of calling 911 but in the heat of the moment, she knew she could do this.
After what seemed like an age, he nodded, gritting his teeth as a wave of blood oozed out from underneath the towel.
"Shoes… I need… shoes."
Right, of course, he would need shoes if she stood any chance of getting him to her car.
"Stay there, don't move. Give me a second okay?" she saw his cell resting on the stool and took it with her.
He nodded his assent and she went out into the hall cupboard and picked out his latest pair continuing on into the living room, scooping up House's keys from the side table.
Rachel was indeed glued to the T.V. screen, and snuggled deep into House's sofa. She had pulled a blanket over herself and looked like she was about to drift off completely oblivious to the horrors of the bathroom; she was glad for that too.
She crouched down next to her daughter, smoothed her hair away from her face and pressed House's phone and keys into the girl's chubby little hand.
"Honey, we need to take House to the hospital now."
"He hurt his leg, pretty bad and we need to get another doctor to fix it."
The bad one. Okay? Honey? I need you to stand by the door with this phone and the keys – keep them safe - get ready to follow me out okay? I need to help House walk, he can't do it by himself."
"Okay." She clutched the phone and the keys like they were some kind of contraband prize.
"His leg is very sick. He cut it pretty bad so there's a lot of blood but the hospital will fix him right up. You don't need to worry okay?
"Now you stick to me like glue right? Don't leave my side. I can't hold your hand so you need to stay right next to me okay? Rachel?" She hated that she was having to drag her daughter through the streets in the middle of the night with a sick man covered in blood. This was the stuff nightmares were made of; another reason why she couldn't be with House. Rachel deserved more than this. She had started off in such horrible conditions; Cuddy owed it to her never to have to live through that kind of darkness again.
"Okay, I'll wait by the door. Mommy?"
"Be strong Mommy."
Cuddy smiled as she stood and helped Rachel to her feet. She watched her little girl go to stand where she had been told to and then went back to the bathroom.
House, still shaking, still deathly pale lay still like he would melt into the tub at any second.
"Crutches… wardrobe", he whispered, swallowing down the bile gathering in his throat.
She ran through to the bedroom, inhaling the familiar musky smell she had loved and glanced quickly at the unmade bed, the clothes draped across the end and wondered at just what he had thought would happen after he decided to cut open his leg. Had he expected to come in here, sleep it off and then turn up to work the next day like nothing had happened? Still, she knew that about him, knew that he often didn't think further than the end of his own nose. Long-term consequences were lost in the twisted machinations of his mind.
She pulled open the wardrobe and reached into the back for the crutches he must have kept since the infarction. With one in each hand, she went back through to the bathroom and laid them against the wall ready for when she'd got him out.
"Ready?" she asked as she took his arms and passed them around her neck. His skin was cool, covered in goose bumps and she knew she had to work fast.
He nodded once more and clasped his hands together, knotting his fingers tightly.
She waited for him to straighten out his good leg, and brace it against the tub, and watched as his muscles flexed in preparation, face tight and resigned to the pain ahead.
"One, two-" she put her hands under his arms and tensed every muscle she had, "three!"
She pulled, he pushed against the end of the tub and together, somehow, they got him standing unsteadily upright.
He had cried out, unable to fight down the pain and now stood panting, shivering more than before, "Wait… wait."
She held him tight, not wanting to let go, they had to get him out before she couldn't do it anymore, before he couldn't do it anymore.
"Okay, it's okay, I've got you."
She heard Rachel call from the doorway, scared and tired.
"It's okay honey, we're coming. Just stand there, Mommy's coming." She turned back to find him staring with an intensity she hadn't seen before, "House?"
"Just… just… wait…"
Cuddy felt her arms starting to tremble, House was a dead weight.
"House, you need to do this now. I can't keep holding you up. House? Okay?"
"Okay… ready, I'm ready… my leg."
"Hold tight okay? I'm going to let go, I'm going to move your leg, Let me take the weight. You just lean on me and turn to face the back wall there– House?"
He shuffled his good leg and managed to turn away from Cuddy still clinging desperately to her neck with his right arm.
"Good, that's good." She ducked down so he could lean against the wall. "Just… we're going to sit you down now, on the edge of the tub. You just hold tight and let me take your weight – okay?"
He grunted in reply as another dribble of fresh blood oozed down his leg. His shorts, the back of his legs and t-shirt were all covered in thick blood. He was sweating freely and his shaking was getting worse the longer this whole thing went on. She took the weight of his leg and steadied his back as he sat gingerly on the ledge of the tub, grunting and fighting back tears as he did so.
"Right, last little bit now. We're going to turn you around – let me move your leg, you just push with your good leg – House?" She felt like she was battling to keep him alert, to keep him from going under and losing consciousness.
She supported his bad leg and watched as he pushed against the tub to swivel himself around. The towel covering the wound was soaked through with blood so she carefully unwrapped it while House flopped against her shoulder, shaking, teeth chattering and trying his very best not to howl. She reached out for another towel, re-wrapped his leg then motioned for him to hold onto her neck once more.
"On three, we're going to stand up, alright? House? Come on, we're almost there, just stay with me okay?"
"Mommy?" Rachel's voice small and fragile broke through the bathroom drama.
"I'm coming Rachel, just wait right there, I'm coming!" she turned back to House, taking his face in her hands, "we have to do this now. We have to get you to the hospital."
"Okay. One… two… three!"
House shouted out, voice gravelly and thick. They got him upright, trembling against Cuddy, and she reached behind her for one of the crutches.
"Here, take this-" she put House's hand into the cuff and squeezed it closed around the grip. "lean on me with your bad side and we're going to walk right out of here."
"C… c… cold."
"Okay, okay I know. Rachel? Rachel honey?"
"I need you to see if you can find a sweater for House. Can you see one honey? Stay there, we're coming to you."
"I've got one Mommy."
"Okay, good girl, now are you waiting for us by the door?"
"Good, alright, we're coming now, get ready to open the door okay?"
Cuddy and House inched their way out of the bathroom and along the corridor, leaving a trail of blood dripping behind them.
Rachel standing sentry next to the door to House's apartment, seemed to be enjoying the game, and smiled at the sight of her mother holding up a man twice her size.
"That's right baby, now can you grab Mommy's purse? Have you got House's phone and the keys still? Good girl. Let's open the door and you stay right next to me – like glue – remember?"
The three of them limped out toward her car, step by painful step in the chill of the night.
Cuddy helped House untangle his arm from the crutch and wedged him against her car while she fished in her purse for her keys.
She realized then that she would have to put Rachel's seat in the front so that House could stretch his ridiculously long legs out along the back.
"Stay right there next to the door Rachel okay? Mommy has to move your seat."
She ran around to the other side of the car and tried to take out the infant seat whilst maintaining a good view of both Rachel and House through the car's windows. She cursed under her breath and couldn't free the straps fast enough for her liking.
"I'm gonna-" House vomited all over the rear bumper of her car and down into the gutter.
Cuddy ran back around and lifted Rachel into the driver's seat and helped House at least sit on the edge of the back seat while she finished with Rachel's straps.
"I can do this… I can do this…" she repeated almost silently over and over again. This was rapidly turning into one of those moments that could spiral out of control. Then again, if she thought about it, she only had House to thanks for upping the stakes. Any rational person would see the insanity of this whole thing, any rational person would have ignored a late night phone call and put their daughter back to sleep in her own bed. She supposed House had got to her over all these years. Sure, I'll come and help you operate on your leg in your bathroom at midnight and yeah, why the hell not? I'll bring my three year old with me for kicks.
Finally, she had Rachel secured in her child seat, and House laid out across the back. He'd gone dangerously quiet and his skin was almost glowing in the moonlight, pale as he was. She turned the key in the ignition and almost swore out loud when House stopped her.
"Vi-vi-vicodin… need…" he couldn't quite get the sentence out through the pain this leg of the journey had caused.
"Dammit House," she pushed her hair back from her face and took a deep breath, "okay, where is it? I'll go get it." She unstrapped Rachel who was giggling in bemusement at her mother's flustered appearance, there was no way she was leaving her in the car this late at night with House for company.
"Sink, bathroom…" his eyes were closed tightly and his breath was coming fast and furious. Cuddy was sure the Vicodin wouldn't do any good against pain like this but she supposed it was the chemical comfort he was really after.
With Rachel perched on her hip, she locked the car door behind her and ran back into his apartment to get the damned pills. She retraced the path left by the blood hoping that Rachel wouldn't notice if she sang loudly enough and bounced her as they went. Actually, the apartment was horrifying, it looked like the scene of some horrific murder. Cuddy almost let herself think she would come by and help House clean up then remembered regretfully, that he was someone else's problem now.
She turned Rachel's head into her shoulder as they entered the bathroom and scanned the edge of the sink quickly for his pills. She grabbed the bottle before her daughter had a chance to complain and span on her heel to speed out back to the car.
Muttering a silent prayer that House was still alive, she unlocked the car to put Rachel in her seat once more and leaned back to feel his pulse. It was thready and way too fast but still, defiantly there. She opened his hand and pressed the bottle of Vicodin into his hand. Without opening his eyes, he thumbed off the lid and threw three into the back of his throat.
"Can we go now? Anything else you're going to suddenly need?"
"Cute Cuddy, let's just go – fast."
She didn't need any encouragement. She revved the car a little and started to pull of down House's street. Every few meters she checked him out in the rear view mirror and couldn't help but feel for him. He seemed frozen in space, stuck in the one position he had found that wouldn't rip the wound open further and that allowed the pain to beat steady through his leg.
Rachel sang some ridiculously inappropriate pirate related song to House as they drove quietly through the roads and streets to the hospital, ferrying their fragile cargo. Cuddy pushed the in-car phone button on the dash and called ahead to the E.R.
More than aware that her daughter and House wouldn't thank her if they got into an accident, she drove carefully, almost glad for the distraction, the auto-pilot sensation of driving back to work. She could forget, just for a few minutes, just how insane this was. She didn't need to think about the consequences for House and just how cranky Rachel would be in the morning after her midnight adventure.
Almost without realizing, she pulled into the disabled bay right by the ER doors and waved at the nurses waiting for them to hurry over. Somehow, they managed gracefully and carefully, to drag House out of the car and lift him onto the gurney without too much shouting while Cuddy went to find someone to check him out.
Despite her position, the ER was busy and House was wheeled into the hallway after being hooked up to a heart rate monitor with the tubing for a cath in place on the back of his hand. He remained entirely still, and flopped like someone had dropped him from a great height onto the gurney. He looked so vulnerable in his shorts and sneakers, and Cuddy had to work hard not to let her empathy get the better of her.
She watched, holding Rachel on her knee, as House's monitor crept up and up. She knew this was touch and go, knew that if he had to wait too long, things could get very serious, very fast.
"Your heart rate's over 120, you're clammy I think you're going into shock. Are you light-headed?"
"I'm fine…" Cuddy could almost see the distraction mode in his brain kicking in as he turned to Rachel, "did you see the new 'Brown Beard' episode?"
"It was really funny!" Rachel replied gleefully.
"Oh, it was so lame. A boat full of guy pirates and they make the girl pirate walk the plank?"
"That's because she had big boobies that's why the-"
"We gotta get you into surgery, where is that nurse?" Cuddy interrupted out of concern for House and for her daughter's sense of morality.
"Rachel? Let's go find the nurse." They left him clutching the Vicodin like it was the source of all his will power and Cuddy marched toward the Nurse's station to pull some weight.
Rachel toddled happily behind her poking an imaginary sword out at random passers-by. After a few phone calls and a few more stern words, Cuddy, Rachel and a nurse from the OR, went back to House. Cuddy wondered briefly who he could have been talking too on his cell then gave up trying to second guess his actions – that hadn't worked out too well for her in all the years she had known him.
The nurse swept her hand across House's brow in an effort to comfort her obviously sick patient. Cuddy was a little relieved that in his weakened state, he didn't have the energy to strike her hand away, then realized that potentially he was much sicker than he was letting on.
"I'm going to find someone to watch Rachel, I'll see you in the prep room. Be good okay?"
As he nodded his agreement, the nurse pushed the gurney toward the elevators and Cuddy watched, Rachel's hand clutched tightly in her own.
"Okay, let's go find Joella, she's going to take care of you while I go make sure House is alright."
"Avast me hearties, aargh!" Rachel shouted as she plunged her imaginary sword into her mother's belly.
"Rachel, hey! That hurt Mommy!"
"Arrgh you filthy sea dog!"
This time Cuddy couldn't help but smile at her daughter. Trust a three year old to bring you back down to earth.
"Oh, yo ho ho to you too! Come on sweety, let's get you to Joella."
"No, I wanna stay! I wanna see House! Is he really going to have a wooden leg?"
"I hope not honey, I hope not. I promise, you can see him later when his leg is fixed, promise."
Rachel seemed satisfied with that and so they strolled, hand in hand along the corridor toward Rachel's babysitter.
Once Rachel was all settled, Cuddy made her way up to the OR hoping to catch House before he went in. She was tired, her arms were sore and she had the faint smell of puke and the metallic tang of blood stuck in her nose; still that was nothing to how House must be feeling, she knew that much.
Pushing open the double doors, she sat herself on a stool and waited for House to say something. She didn't know what to say, and from the looks of it, he didn't either. The double doors to the O.R. opened and the theatre nurse broke the heavy silence.
"We're ready for you."
"Wait… I want you in there."
The nurse hovered expectantly as House looked desperately at Cuddy.
"I'm not a surgeon, there's nothing I can do." She replied flatly.
"Well you can make sure that… idiot butcher doesn't cut more than he needs to."
And in that one statement, all his fears kept alive through the years since the infarction bubbled to the surface, exposed and raw under the bright surgical lights.
"You already signed a release, he's gonna do what he needs to do." She was almost out of patience.
"Yeah, if that involves chopping off my leg- I wanna be sure that that's damn well necessary."
"House…" she paused, realizing that this was probably a sign of how much he had fundamentally changed since the crane disaster in Trenton.
"I don't trust him, I trust you."
She looked away, unwilling to face the fear in his eyes. She had only seen him like this once before in horribly familiar circumstances. She figured she owed this much to him. He was here at his most vulnerable, at his most honest and she couldn't let him down, couldn't hurt him now; not after the way she had ended it all.
She nodded and the surgical team went to work. Cuddy followed House to the door, patted his hand as he went through and promised she would keep vigil on the observation deck above.
He could only nod, frightened and uncertain, helpless under the surgeon's scalpel.
Cuddy stayed through the surgery, waited while he was settled in his room and watched as he breathed steadily in and out accompanied by the regular and comforting bleep of the pulse ox monitor.
Rachel snuggled on her lap, trying valiantly to pretend to try to sleep and Cuddy had to give it to her; she had behaved wiser than her years this night. So, she helped her write her letter, left it with Wilson when he arrived later in the morning and didn't look back as she left House's room hand in hand with her daughter.
House would be fine, she knew that.
This was her future, this perfect little thing next to her all pjs and wellingtons. Rachel and her mom, a lilly-livered land-lubber tied forever to her brave little scallywag.