"Puppet Master"

Chapter One-"Pulling the Strings"

By: Purpleu

Wilson walked through the front doors of the hospital and over to the desk to sign in. He was always told it was a security procedure, but he secretly thought it was Cuddy's way of keeping track of House's comings and goings. Then again, given the state of the world today, it was a good idea to keep track of both employees and visitors. He let out a sigh; this was one of the many things he never gave a second thought to in his daily workings at the hospital. Wilson didn't want to be an administrator; even being head of oncology was more than he desired. People like Cuddy were able to handle paperwork and negotiating and be happy; not him.

Wilson felt a sudden pang of guilt; he hadn't been able to bring himself to visit Cuddy since she was sent to rehab. He knew he should, but he wasn't sure if he could handle it. Even as a doctor, seeing someone you know in that state, with those sorts of injuries, was a tough thing to do. Besides, deep down he knew this wasn't a rehab stop for Cuddy; it was the final destination.

He looked down at the log as he signed in, and saw House's scrawl from when he signed out last night. Wilson smiled; he couldn't help but be happy and amazed at what had happened to House; he opened up and fell in love, dealt with losing her without relapsing and now had her back in his life. And she is beautiful, funny, smart, and seems to know how to deal with House. Lydia doesn't appear to be trying to change him, Wilson thought; she's just trying to make him see that there are other ways of looking at the world. Yesterday was a good start.

"Morning, Wilson." Wilson's thoughts were intruded on by Foreman's arrival at the desk.

"Morning," Wilson said. Foreman picked up the pen to sign in, but was very quickly interrupted.

"Dr. Wilson, Dr. Foreman," a voice called out. Both of them turned to their left to see Jeffery Davidson, a member of the hospital's board walking toward them.

"This can't be good," Foreman said under his breath. Wilson nodded in agreement.

"Gentlemen, good morning," Davidson said as he shook their hands. "I need to speak to you about a bit of a delicate matter. May we step into your office?"

"Of course," said Wilson. Foreman led the way to the dean's office and held the door open for Davidson. Foreman and Wilson exchanged looks as Wilson entered the room.

"Coffee?" offered Foreman.

"No, nothing, thank you." He sat down in the nearest chair; Foreman and Wilson sat down nearby. "As you know, Mrs. Jeanne Hunter is a member of the hospital's Board of Directors as am I. She and her husband have a son, Tyler who is six and sadly, was born with some sort of genetic disorder. They feel that all the other doctors have missed the mark in reference to the diagnosis of their son." Wilson and Foreman looked at each other with a measure of relief; this wasn't going to be a monetary discussion. "The Hunters have been taking Tyler to a hospital in New York. They are upset enough about the situation and didn't want to mix their private matters with Mrs. Hunter's business here."

"Well, Mr. Davidson. We'd be happy to arrange to have our staff conduct an examination and all necessary tests to see what can be done to help," said Wilson.

"No offense, Dr. Wilson, but the Hunters don't want a regular member of the staff to diagnose their son; they want Dr. House and his team to handle this. They want Tyler admitted today and the case to be started immediately." Wilson and Foreman looked at each other.

"Why the sense of urgency?" asked Foreman. "Is he in pain at the moment?" Davidson stood up.

"No; but his parents are. His medical problems are causing them severe stress and frankly, they can't take it anymore. They want answers now."

"Unfortunately, Dr. House is still out on medical leave from the injuries he sustained in the crane collapse a few months ago," Wilson said. Davidson began to walk to the door.

"Then I suggest he speed up his recovery. It would put both him and his department in a very favorable light, in the opinion of Mrs. Hunter and myself; and possibly even enough board members to total a majority." He reached for the handle and opened the door. "The Hunters will be bringing Tyler in at two o'clock. They will have with them all his prior medical records so that there will be no delay in starting the case. Good day, gentlemen." He nodded to both of them and stepped out of the room. Foreman and Wilson sat in stunned silence.

"That..." began Wilson as he stood up, "that snarky little son-of-a bitch just made a veiled threat to the funding of the diagnostics department."

"It was anything but veiled. And if the kid had cancer, he would have threatened oncology. He has no qualms about throwing his weight around. To make matters worse, you know who Mr. Hunter is, don't you?" Foreman asked. Wilson nodded.

"Malcolm L. Hunter, esquire. One of the best malpractice attorneys going."

"Yep," said Foreman as he stood. "How the hell did his wife get a seat on the board? Given his profession, isn't it a conflict of interest?"

"She bought the seat several years back before they were married and no one's ever thought to challenge her." Wilson began to pace back and forth. "House is not going to be happy about needing to come back in. He was looking forward to spending time with Lydia." Foreman looked over at Wilson.

"You really think this is serious? I mean, she's not crazy or anything?" Wilson shook his head.

"She is the real thing. She's managed to get to a part of him that no one has before. And the really incredible thing is, he's listening." Foreman gave a little laugh.

"If House can find love, maybe there's hope for the rest of us." He started to walk to the door. "I'm going to head upstairs and let the team know what's happening. I'll let you handle House." Foreman left the room and headed to the elevators.

"Gee, thanks," said Wilson. He knew Foreman was right; he was the better one of the two to deal with House. At least House knew about the meeting he and Foreman had with a few of the board members yesterday, so any monetary issues won't be a total shock. Wilson took out his cell phone to call House, but quickly put it away. What am I doing? It's just past eight-thity; he's probably still in bed.

How very, very true…..

House rolled slowly onto his back, breathing heavily. He looked to his left and saw that Lydia, too was trying to catch her breath; he couldn't help but smile. Lydia turned her head and returned his look. She turned on to her right side and snuggled up against him; he raised his arm to let her get in closer.

"Comfortable?" House asked.

"I'm comfortable, I'm happy, I feel safe and loved. I couldn't ask for anything else." House kissed her head.

"Well, you could ask, but if it required me to leave this bed right now, it's not happening." Lydia laughed.

"If it required you leaving this bed, then I wouldn't ask," she said moving her arm across his chest and tucking it between the bed and his upper body. "You are staying right here." House ran his hand down the side of Lydia's face and under her chin; he gently lifted her head until their eyes met.

"I love you," he said.

"And I'm very fond of you, too," she said. House gave her a look as she burst into laughter.

"I was hoping for a more expressive declaration of affection than fond; especially after the night we had." Lydia closed her eyes and sighed.

"It was the best night of my life."

"So far." House kissed her on the forehead, worked his way down to the tip of her nose and finally her lips. "I would have bet that you'd say the night your children were born was the best. That seems to be the sentiment of most women. Women who are mothers, that is." Lydia gave him a look.

"My children were born in the morning. I was in labor at night."

"Ouch!" exclaimed House. "I notice they were both C-sections." Lydia sat up and folded her arms in front of her chest.

"We were in the middle of making love and you not only notice my C-section scar, but…you notice that the surgeon didn't cut exactly on the same line the second time?" she asked.

"I'm a doctor; I'm sort of trained to notice these things," House said sarcastically. Lydia slowly nodded her head.

"I see," she said very deliberately. "And I noticed that someone is ticklish." With that she reached over and poked House on each side of his body, right below his rib cage. He immediately brought his elbows into his sides to protect himself.

"Oh….do not start with me, you will not win," said House rolling on his side and reaching for Lydia. As she scooted toward the edge of the bed to get away from him, she noticed he winced and grabbed at his right leg.

"Greg, are you OK?" She moved back closer to him as he sat up.

"Yeah, just a quick shot of pain." House began to massage the leg. He reached behind himself to rearrange his pillows so he could sit up. Lydia did the same with her pillows.

"I'm not surprised it's hurting; you were very physically active in the past few hours," Lydia said with a shy smile. House nodded in agreement as he changed position on to his left hip.

"Yeah, I guess the equivalent of participating in five or so decathlons counts as physical activity."

"Especially when you win a gold medal each time." House smiled.

"You know, I think it may have been four rather than five. I demand a recount," he said as leaned over and started kissing her shoulder. Lydia pulled away.

"First of all, I wasn't keeping count; I was too busy enjoying the moment. And secondly," she said as she reached over House to his nightstand and picked up her cell phone, "the moving company said they were going to be the area between six and eight tonight."

"It's a good thing you saw you had a message when you went to the kitchen or you'd be in for a rather unpleasant surprise. What time is the appointment with the realtor?"

"Eleven-thirty. I'm going to have to rent a storage unit and put the things in there. If this place we're looking at turns out to be good, I won't need it for very long." Lydia looked over at House. He appeared to be lost in thought. "Greg?"

"I just had an idea. How much stuff do you have?" Lydia shrugged her shoulders.

"Well, not a full house worth of things; I have the children's beds, dressers, nightstands and toy chests. I have boxes with their clothing and toys and books. There's a small dinette set, boxes with dishes, pots and pans, other kitchen things. For the living room, I have a love seat, two end tables and my grandmother's rocker. Then a few boxes with my clothes, books and music. I'm going to need to go shopping and get a new bed. I certainly didn't want to keep my old one. I guess I do need something pretty large." She shook her head. "At least I don't have to fit my piano in somewhere." House turned quickly and looked at her.

"What do you mean?" he said sharply.

"I sold it."

"Why?" Lydia let out a little laugh.

"Well, my ex certainly didn't want it since he doesn't play. And when I looked into the cost of moving it, I just couldn't do it. So, I sold it to a local music school near where we lived. What I got for it, paid for our moving costs." She sighed. "I had that piano for a long time. The kids are going to miss it terribly." House looked surprised.

"Your kids play? Are you hindering the development of the next Mozart?" Lydia smiled.

"No, they just enjoyed it. Elise was so proud that she had learned to play chopsticks." House saw her brush a tear off her cheek. He reached over and pulled her close to him; he began gently rubbing her arm. "What was the idea you had?" she asked.

"Wilson rented a storage unit to put my motorcycle in while I was in the hospital. It was brought to him from the crash site by one of the rescue workers. I think he was overwhelmed and rather than bring it back here or his place, he just went the storage locker route. Rentals are usually for several months at a time, so unless I'm mistaken, he should have a little over a month left on the lease."

"And it's empty right now?" House could hear the hope in her voice.

"Unless he's moved his collection of ABBA records in there; in which case it would be pretty full."

"But, do you think everything will fit?" House thought for a moment.

"If these moving guys are any good, they should be able to put all the furniture in there. The unit is far bigger than Wilson needed for the bike, but it was the only one available at this place. The boxes you can store here." Lydia shook her head.

"I take back what I said before; I'm not fond of you. I love you." House smiled.

"I really, really, really, really like you." Lydia gave him a look. "And I love you, too."

He was just about to kiss her when his cell phone rang. He made a face as he picked it up; it was Wilson. "Hmm…maybe there is something to this ESP stuff. It's Wilson." He picked up the call.

"Hi, I'd like to place an order for delivery. I need twenty-five pies, all half pepperoni; then I need another twenty-five pies, all with the other half pepperoni. Those should go to Dr. James Wilson in oncology at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. He'll pay for them when they arrive." There was a prolonged silence on the other end of the phone.

"Good morning, sunshine; my, you're in a good mood for being awake at this hour."

"Well, when you had the kind of night I had, you can't help but be in a good mood. Of course, I'm waiting for complaints from the neighbors over all the loud moans and screams that were coming from here. I'll just tell them I left Animal Planet on all night." Lydia had a horrified expression on her face.

"Greg!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, my God; Lydia's still there?" House rolled his eyes.

"What did you think I was going to do? Kick her out into the street at three o'clock in the morning? I wouldn't do that. I need my wake-up nummies, too." Lydia threw her hands up in the air.

"Give me the phone. Give me that phone this instant," she said as she held her hand out for it.

"Will not. I'll put you on speaker." House pushed a button on his phone and immediately they heard the background noise of the hospital. Lydia was still giving House the evil eye as she cleared her throat.

"Good morning, James."

"Lydia, I'm sorry; I didn't even think about the fact that you would still be there. Not that House would have you leave or that you would have any reason to, leave, but…"

"James, it's OK," Lydia said. She was trying to keep from laughing at his awkwardness. "Actually, we were just going to call you."

"Oh?" said Wilson a little taken back, "what about?"

"Well Greg tells me that you had rented a storage facility to put his motorcycle in while he was recovering from the crane collapse. I was wondering if you still had use of it."

"Yes, I do. The shortest term deal I could get was for three months, so I have another five or six weeks left on the lease." Lydia smiled.

"Would I be able to borrow it for a short time? My friend Annie and I are still trying to find a place to live that would accommodate the four of us and that we can afford."

"The…four of you?" Wilson questioned.

"Yes, Annie, myself and my two children. It would only be for a very short while. My children arrive next Friday and I have to at least be started on settling in somewhere. Plus, the moving truck is coming today to deliver my things and I didn't know what to do, until Greg came up with this idea."

"Yeah, aren't I a peach?" interjected House.

"Yes, cold and fuzzy," retorted Wilson. House made a face.

"I'll deal with you later," he said threateningly. Wilson took a deep breath.

"Unfortunately, sooner than you think," said Wilson. "We have a problem." House looked concerned.

"With what? My patient from yesterday?"

"No; as far as I know, Mrs. James is doing just fine. This involves the son of Jeanne Hunter from the board of directors." House made a face of disgust.

"Which means he is also the spawn of Malcolm Hunter, amoral cockroach par excellent." House could see that Lydia was confused.

"Medical malpractice lawyer," he explained. She opened her eyes wide. "What's wrong with the little vermin?"

"Davidson really didn't say. The kid is six years old and, as he put it, was born with a genetic disorder, whatever that may mean," Wilson said. "I almost get the impression that they're not looking for a cure, just a correct diagnosis."

"Why do they think that the one they have isn't correct?"

"Basically Davidson said that the Hunters are under a lot of stress caring for the kid and they want answers yesterday." House rolled his eyes.

"So let them hire Fran Dresher. I don't think she's doing much of anything since "The Nanny" went off the air." House could hear Wilson laugh.

"If only it was that easy. They want you and your team to handle the case." House shook his head.

"No can do. I am out on medical leave on the advice of my doctor and the permission of my boss. They talked it over before coming to that decision. I am still recuperating and getting lots of TLC from my own private caregiver. I am off the clock for the next week." House said looking at Lydia and smiling.

"House, he basically threatened the department's funding if you don't take the case. He said that it would put you and the department in a favorable light with the majority of the board. If you refuse…" House had been annoyed by the request; now, he was pissed off.

"Foreman said something yesterday about questioning the funding of the department. The department is over eighty-five percent funded by donations, donations that are made because my team and I saved a bunch of lives. I think it would be bad PR for the hospital if my department disappeared."

"House, the department isn't eighty-five percent funded by donations, it's more like fifty percent," said Wilson. House shook his head.

"No, Cuddy told me…"

"Cuddy lied to you. She lied to me about oncology, too; I don't know why. The donation amounts she told each of us are probably correct; it's the cost of running the department that she downplayed. The hospital has been losing money for years and it's time to really tighten the belts. House, if you want to have any chance of keeping your team," Wilson took a deep breath, "or even your job, you have to take this case." House dropped his head down.

"If I get it right and help the kid, I win the lottery. If I can't figure it out, that bastard will make sure he ruins any chance I'll ever have of practicing medicine again." Lydia reached over and placed her hand on House's shoulder.

"I'm afraid that correctly sums it up," Wilson said ruefully. "Let's face it: it's not likely that you won't solve it."

"What are you going to do for oncology?" There was silence on the phone. "Wilson?"

"I was going to ask if I could tag along and be a fifth wheel on the case. I don't pretend to understand how you think and how you make the connections you do, but if they see me as part of the group that helped this kid, maybe they'll look a little more kindly on the pitch I'll make for my department when the time comes." House nodded.

"You do realize you may be joining a dinghy with a slow leak."

"If you're the captain I'll take my chances." Managing a smile, House lay down on the bed and drummed his fingers on his chest.

"OK, get a hold of the dirtbag, which would be Davidson. Tell him to get a hold of Mr. and Mrs. Scumbag, that would be the parents and tell them to send over the kid's medical files in advance of them bringing the little tyke in. That way the team can look it over so we know what we're dealing with. He wasn't any more specific than a genetic disorder? That could mean anything up to and including that the dear child is simply butt-ugly." Wilson laughed.

"I think it's a little more than that." House sat back up.

"What real estate agency are you using?" House said to Lydia.

"Gateway, and I have to meet Annie there at 11:30." Rapping his knuckles silently on the bed, House pondered how to approach things.

"Meet us at Gateway at 11:30 and bring the key to the storage unit." he said addressing Wilson. "If the realtor is running on time, I might be able to go with you to see the apartment," House said reaching over for Lydia's hand. "Wilson, you come with us and when everything is done, you and I can go back to the hospital to prepare for battle."

"Sounds good. I'll see you in a little while."

"James?" said Lydia. "Thank you so much for your help."

"My pleasure. Being able to do something nice for you puts a slightly positive spin on what's been a lousy morning. See you both later." House reached over and hung up the phone. He looked around the room, trying to focus on something so he could calm down. He didn't want to look at Lydia at the moment; he knew he would see the pity in her eyes and pity was the last thing he needed right now. He felt her pull her hand away from his and move in closer to him. She wrapped her arm around his shoulder and ran the fingers of her other hand down his cheek.

"You know you'll figure the case out. Like Wilson said, you think in ways that no one else does. That's why you're sought out for help." House glanced over at Lydia.

"I'm used to going into a case blind; you never know what the problem is until they're wheeled through the door. But this time, I almost feel like I'm being set up to fail." He took a deep breath. "At least I was right about Wilson still having the storage unit." Lydia nodded.

"Yes at least that's one less thing and one less expense I have to worry about." Staring off into space, House moved backward on the bed until he was resting against his pillows.

"Come here," he said. Lydia moved back to join him.

"I've been thinking. Donald Trump and Bill Gates aren't exactly looking over their shoulders, worried I'm going to pass them by. But I'm more than comfortable financially." House said. "I've lived in the same place, with the same furniture, driven the same car; my motorcycle, my flat screen TV and my i-Pod are probably the biggest purchases I've made in the past ten years." He paused. "I know that being supportive is about more than buying material things and spreading money around, but…I don't want to see you worrying and struggling over money. Not when I can do something about it." Lydia sat up straight and started shaking her head.

"No, Greg, no…"

"I want you to find a decent place to live, have a decent car to drive the kids around in so that you have peace of mind and if money is the way that I can help you..."

"Greg, I love you so much and I am so touched that you would want to do this for me, but I have to do this myself. I'm the one who decided to leave and come back here. It's my responsibility." House sat up.

"And you decided to leave and come back here largely because of me. I know I didn't do anything to directly influence your decision, but I was still a part of it." He reached over and took her hand. "Besides, you've done nothing but take care of things by yourself. Your parents, Annie, even your kids. From what you've told me you were married and a single mom all at the same time." House saw that Lydia began to tear up. House wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. She began crying very softly.

"I don't know how soon I could pay you back. I mean I don't even have a job yet."

"I already thought about that." He sat back and looked into her eyes. "Generosity of spirit is not something that's really prominent on my GPS of life. You'll have to be patient, but I would really appreciate it if you'd show me the way. I think we'd be able to call things even." Lydia managed to smile through her tears.

"I'm not good with modern technology, but I could teach you to read a map." House laughed.

"You've got a deal." They both leaned forward until their lips met in a kiss. Every time Lydia went to move back, House moved in until she fell over on her side giggling. "You know, you're very wise to take me up on my offer. If you ask around, most people would say I'm a tightwad."

"Yes, I got that impression back at Otto's. When you were talking to Wilson on the phone as we were leaving, he seemed shocked that you were paying the bill."

"Yeah, well, I wanted to make a good first impression."

"You made your first impression on me back at Mayfield." House nodded.

"And yet, here we are." He nuzzled his face into her neck and began kissing her.

"Greg, we have to get going. It's already almost 9:30." House turned and glanced at the clock.

"Didn't I tell you? That clock's an hour fast." He started kissing her again.

"It…mmm…is…mmm…not," Lydia said in between kisses. She reached up and placed her hands on House's shoulders and stiffened her arms.

"Doctor Gregory House, you are an ELF" House looked puzzled.

"Why are you talking about the guy in the red suit again?" Lydia shook her head.

"I'm not. ELF stands for Evil Little Fiend."

"Well, you, Lydia Strohman Harris are a B.B.B.," he retorted. She looked at him quizzically. "A Beautiful Bavarian Bombshell. And I love you."

"I love you, too. Now please hand me the t-shirt you were wearing yesterday." House moved over to the edge of the bed, reached down and retrieved the shirt.

"Why do you want this?" he asked as he handed it to her.

"Because," she said as she put the shirt on, "I'm not going to stand in the kitchen and cook breakfast naked." Lydia gave House a kiss as she got up and headed to the door.

"Aw, the food would taste so much better if you did." She stopped, turned and put her hand on her hip.

"How do you like you eggs?"

"Over easy. I'll take two with some toast and coffee."

"OK, I'll get things started while you take a shower." She walked out into the hallway.

"Actually I'm a practitioner of water conservation," House called after her. She poked her head around the corner of the doorway looking confused. "I'll explain it after breakfast." Lydia shook her head as she left for kitchen.

House smiled; he was quite sure that Lydia had no idea that his version of water conservation was taking a shower together.