I recently was re-watching some old episodes from Season 2, and realised how little attention has been paid to House's pain after they established that some of it was psychosomatic. Which I disagree with, seeing how chronic pain is quite simply, chronic, and he will always suffer from it. We hardly saw anything about his pain in his relationship with Cuddy.
So here it is, a one-shot inspired by what is missing. Reviews are appreciated.
House sat astride his motorcycle, reluctant to move. A cold front was moving in, and he could feel his thigh begin to protest at the change in pressure and temperature. He saw the lights flicker on in the house, and knew that Cuddy had heard his motorcycle roaring up the driveway. Reaching down, he supported his right leg with both hands, and swung it over the bike as he got off. He unclipped his cane from its holder, and suppressing a grimace, stood up. He swayed on the spot for a moment, and gripped the handles of his bike tightly as he waited for his leg to cooperate with him.
He hastily glanced at the house. He didn't have much time; he couldn't spend too long out here. Cuddy was waiting.
Cuddy opened the door as House began moving away from his bike, shivering at the chill of the wind. She frowned. He had been in the hospital for over 48 hours straight trying to solve a particularly difficult case. His shoulders were stooped with fatigue; his limp was significantly heavier.
"Hi." She smiled at her genius boyfriend.
Once again, she was struck by how far they had come since their university days and how domestic this was. Who would have thought they would one day be right here, together?
"I thought I told you not to wait up for me."
He was too tired to even make any snark or witty comments. Instead, his eyes swept over her, and that slight smile she had come to appreciate so much appeared on his lips.
She tugged gently on his elbow, leading him into the house. "Come on, you look like you're about to fall asleep standing."
"Tuck me in?"
He stepped out of the shower, hair wet and tousled, dressed in a white shirt and his pajama pants. He lowered his aching body onto the bed, setting the cane by the bedside table. He was getting old. The hot water had been good for his thigh, alleviating the pain somewhat. He lay down on the bed, willing sleep to come fast and soon. Perhaps he could sleep through the worst of it.
Cuddy entered the room after checking on Rachel, and found him asleep, sprawled on his side of the bed and snoring gently with his mouth slightly open. She smiled at the peaceful look on his face. So much for him asking her to tuck him in. She crawled into bed beside him and settled into the crook of his arm. She breathed in the smell of his soap, relished the warmth of his body. Sleep came easily, as it always did when she was with him.
The ominous rumble of thunder woke Cuddy. A flash of lighting momentarily lit up the room. As she reached over to his side of the bed, she felt the cool surface of the sheets. No House. She dragged open her eyes, and there he was, sitting at the edge of the bed, back towards her. She checked the clock.
He turned his head back and looked at her, "Toilet. Go back to sleep."
He sat there on the bed, rubbing his hands over his right thigh slowly and rhythmically. With each downward rub, he felt the dips and grooves along which his hands travelled; the movement on rough scar tissue providing friction and heat with which to soothe his leg somewhat. As the cold front approached quickly and rapidly, he could feel his leg begin to ache in earnest, damaged muscle tightening around bone. A small spasm began, a hint of what was to come. Even overused muscle and joints of his favoured left leg began aching as they swelled in light of the lower pressure and marked chill that had arrived with the storm. I don't need Vicodin. He gripped the edge of the bed tightly.
Huge gusts of wind and the pitter-patter of rain signaled the arrival of the storm. Cuddy was awoken by the huge drops of rain hammering down and the tapping of tree branches against her window.
As was her usual habit, she checked the clock.
She rolled over in bed, seeking the warmth of House's body. But there was only an empty space. She frowned, and ran her hand over her face as she tried to orientate herself and recall where he was. She sat up. Was he at the hospital? No, he came home in earlier in the evening.
The sound of heavy footsteps and the thump of a cane suddenly registered in her mind. He must have gone to the toilet again. The footsteps and signature thump of the cane grew slightly louder as he walked back towards their room. She saw the shadows of his feet under the door, cast by the light in the hallway. She relaxed and fell back into bed, waiting for him to open the door and come back into bed.
Instead, the footsteps grew softer again as he walked away from their room, and back towards the living room. The footsteps ceased momentarily, but began again a while later. She lay in bed, listening as they traced a path around her house. Was he thinking about a case?
House paced through the house, swallowing the moan that involuntarily came with each step forward with his right leg. He had a fixed path – through the hallway, into the living room, around the couch, into the dining room, around the dining table, back into the living room, through the hallway, turn around, repeat over.
I don't need Vicodin.
He stopped at the dining table, and leaned over it, transferring most of his weight onto his arms. He clenched his fists, but resisted the urge to bang them on the table. He bent his right leg slightly to keep it off the ground. He stood there for a minute, resting. He could feel his sweat dripping on his forehead and behind his neck, soaking through his shirt despite the cool air. He took deep breaths and tried to push away the rising panic that came with the unrelenting pain. I don't need Vicodin. I don't need morphine. He tried to push out of his mind the memories he had of his amber vial of pills, the stepladder that he used to climb to reach the green box on the top of his bookshelf. He reminded himself of Amber, Kutner, Mayfield.
He spotted his jacket hung on the coat stand. He took a deep breath, and hobbled over to it. He fumbled around the pockets, trying to steady the tremble in his hands, and retrieved the bottle of ibuprofen. This is good enough. I don't need Vicodin.
He popped open the cap and downed two pills. He threw the bottle onto the couch, and began his pacing again. I can deal with it. I don't need Vicodin.
Cuddy startled awake. She had dozed off. She lay in bed and listened. The pacing would start, and then stop again. Start, and then stop again. The footsteps were getting heavier, and if she listened really carefully, she could hear sharp and heavy breathing, and the occasional grunt. She was getting worried.
She glanced at the clock. 3.58 am.
She threw the blankets off herself, and slipped her feet into her slippers. She wrapped her robe around herself, warding off the cold. She stepped into the hallway, and squinted at the bright light.
She spotted him as he rounded the corner from the dining room. He was hunched over, and had his left hand on the wall for additional support. Each step forward by his right leg, he would transfer almost all his weight onto the cane and onto his left hand, pushing on the cane and the wall simultaneously to relieve the weight borne by damaged right leg. It was a grotesque hop-limp-skip. She looked at him, the deeply etched lines of pain apparent in his handsome face, rivulets of sweat trickling down his body.
Her heart clenched. She never knew it was this bad.
He raised his head as her feet came into his view, and immediately he put up that convincing stoic mask of his. He subtly drew up his right leg, and let it hang off the ground.
His tone was light; a slight smirk graced his lips. She felt her chest tighten at how convincing his act was. But the slight tremble of his body, the sweat, the white knuckles with which he gripped his cane with told a different story. She stepped closer to him, and placed her hands on his chest. She could feel his heart thudding loud and fast in his chest, as demanded by the pain and adrenaline.
"How bad is it?"
His smirk faltered slightly, and he averted his gaze from her eyes.
"I'm fine. Go back to sleep."
He saw the worry in her eyes, and cursed himself for waking her up. He had tried his best to keep it quiet, to keep these sorts of moments away from her. Moments like these through the years, he knew, invoked that decade-old guilt her in for having had a part to play in where he was right now. After Mayfield, there was now greater reason to not reveal this to her – every moment of pain she witnessed would bring about a worry that he would relapse and turn back to Vicodin in a moment of desperation. And now they were in a relationship together – he didn't want to wreck it with a relapse. It was too precious. He knew that she was with him now after so many years because he had managed to quit the Vicodin. She was a perfectionist, and needed someone who wasn't a drug addict. She deserved someone more than that. And he was striving to be that man she deserved.
I don't need the Vicodin. I can handle it.
But she was one persistent woman.
"Don't lie to me, House. You don't have to hide it. Not from me. How bad?"
That steely look of determination to get what she wants, that soft gaze of concern and love in her blue-grey eyes. Only her eyes could hold that much emotion, pierce through his defenses. House found himself slowly withdrawing that mask he had built and fortified with so many years of training, and inch-by-inch, let the pain and emotion show.
"On days like this… I would be reaching for the morphine," he whispered. His voice was strained, his breathing harsh. Then he seemed to gather himself, and abruptly, almost defiantly, said, "But I can deal with this. I don't need anything now."
At the word 'morphine', she drew her breath sharply. His drug use was always a sensitive topic for her. She still recalled the time where he had come to her in her office, and practically begged for a shot of morphine in his spine. And she had given him a placebo, dismissing it as psychosomatic pain.
She had betrayed his trust.
Looking at him right now, struggling to stay ahead of the pain, she could hardly believe how she had ignored his pain all these years. He was good at hiding it with his acerbic remarks and self-destructive behaviour, but she mentally kicked herself for forgetting that chronic pain would never get better. He would always be in pain.
Suddenly, she understood crystal-clear why he would come in late to work, why he would be dozing in his ottoman during work, why he would push everyone away from him. How many nights had he been kept up and awake because of his leg tormenting him? He was a proud man, unwilling to show weakness to anybody. Not even from pain. He used his wit and insults to push everyone away, protect his vulnerable self from any further pain.
She leaned her head onto his chest, feeling his flushed and hot skin on her forehead. She wrapped her arms around him gently. Quietly, she murmured, "I'm sorry."
House understood everything behind those two words. He closed his eyes, and felt the relief at not having to hide the pain anymore, not having to go through it alone anymore, at finally being understood.
Cuddy sat on the couch and watched as he paced the room. She glanced at the clock.
"Anything I can do to help?"
He faltered in his steps, his right leg buckled. He caught himself just in time on the back of the chair. She leapt up from her seat, and helped lower him down onto the armchair.
She watched as he desperately rubbed his right thigh. She knelt down next to him, and moved his hands away gently. She began to knead at the ruined muscle, going deep and slow, feeling the muscle ripple and twitch beneath her hands. He groaned in pain as she hit the sore spots, but didn't ask her to stop.
"A… A hot bath."
She nodded, and headed to the bathroom to start filling the tub with hot water. Her chest felt tight as she witnessed the man she loved suffering and in pain. She imagined all the dark nights he'd had to go through all alone in his apartment, with no one to share the burden with, no one to find comfort in, only to walk into work to face her and Wilson's wrath. She went back into the living room, and stretched her hand out towards him. He looked at her hand and hesitated before grabbing it to pull himself up, biting his lip.
Seeing how he had to support his weight on his two arms with his hands gripping the toilet and sink tightly, she began to lift his shirt up. She untied the strings of his pajamas pants, and slowly drew them down.
"Wow, you're frisky, aren't you?"
Even in his pain he could crack a joke. She smiled back at him, but didn't say anything. As she bent down and lowered his pants, she lingered on his scar. That scar had caused him so much pain, which had damaged their relationship so many years ago. It was a physical manifestation of their regrets, their hurt. She brushed her fingers lightly over it, feeling the rough skin and the ruined landscape. He tensed.
But she knew that wasn't because of the pain. It was the most private, most vulnerable part of him, the one part he would never show to anyone else except those he trusted implicitly. Even now, with the woman he loved, he still felt insecure and incomplete.
She felt the urge to let him know that it was okay. She placed the most feather-light of kisses on it.
He tensed, and then relaxed as he felt her hot breath, her soft lips on his most vulnerable part of himself. The part which he had sought to hide and bury away for so many years now exposed.
She really was his savior.
She helped him over to the bath, and took his body weight as he maneuvered himself into the bath carefully. She watched him sink down into the hot water, and a relief washed over her as she saw the lines of pain smooth out slightly, and a sigh of relief escape from his lips. He closed his eyes, finally able to relax.
He never used a hot bath as a remedy. His leg wouldn't support his weight if he tried to get in or out alone, and he would probably slip and fall.
But she was here now, and she could help him now, and for the many times that, regretfully, would come.
Cuddy watched as House finally sank down into the bed he had vacated hours earlier, the pain finally easing to a tolerable level. The storm was ending now, the rain no longer drumming against the window, the wind no longer howling. The sky was brightening. She glanced at the clock.
His eyes closed immediately, his breathing leveling out. Exhausted to begin with, the pain and trying to deal with it had zapped what was left of his energy. She climbed into her side of the bed. Before she lay down, she grabbed a pillow and carefully lifting his right leg, placed them under it. She closed her eyes, feeling burdened with his pain. Yet, a strange sense of freedom and relief washed over her as she now knew he would no longer have to suffer alone. She interlaced her fingers with his, and brought it to her chest as she settled into bed.
He squeezed her hand, and mumbled a thank you before falling into a deep peaceful sleep.
The alarm clock rang, and Cuddy awoke with a start.
She had allowed herself an hour more of sleep than usual, forgoing her morning yoga. She looked over at House, who hadn't even stirred. As she clambered out of bed to begin her day, she reset the alarm clock for him as she always did. Instead of the 7am she usually set, she wound it to 9am.
She kissed him on the forehead, and set out to begin her day.