Disclaimer: House and company belong to Fox, not me. If they belonged to me, a whole lot would have been different.
A/N: Okay, this one is a weird premise, but hey, the muse is in charge, not me. There are other WIPs which I like better, but this one simply will not leave me alone.. Thought came to me recently while I was typing a medical report on a control freak (of which club I'm a card-carrying member, and when the time comes, I will probably make the same decision that that control freak and others I've typed on did). This situation does come up, I'd guesstimate, in about 2% of patients I type on, so while not common, it's hardly unheard of, either. That specific patient who gave me the idea had none of House's various other baggage, but my muse abruptly seized the thought and ran with it. This story is set in season 3, shortly after the Tritter arc and One Day, One Room. It is a one-shot. It has no relationship to any other story I've written.
She spotted him ahead of her, her radar immediately zeroing in. Just the missing doctor she'd been looking for half the morning. He was limping toward the cafeteria. "House!" Cuddy called. He ignored her other than an impatient twitch of a shoulder which proved that he had heard, and his limping steps didn't swerve one inch out of their way. Cuddy lengthened stride, the business-like administrative click of her heels easily catching him before he reached the cafeteria door. "House!" She got in front of him, pointedly blocking his way. "Where have you been this morning? You had clinic duty. Your team hadn't even seen you, and you weren't answering your phone or pages."
He shrugged. "Had more important things to do."
She rolled her eyes, but her voice was discreetly low, though firm, as she continued, aware of the people around them. Cuddy was always on some level aware of the people around them. "I own you, remember? I saved your ass in that courtroom, and since you are still an employee of this hospital rather than being in prison, you are required to fulfill your job duties. You haven't got a patient at the moment, so you had clinic duty this morning. Which you missed."
"You can't send me to prison at this point without incriminating yourself," he reminded her. "Hey, there's an idea. Maybe we could share a cell." The leer definitely wasn't up to his usual standards, though. She suddenly looked at him more closely, noting his paleness and the greater-than-usual lean on his cane.
"Are you all right?" she asked, and the quick rush of concern wasn't just on behalf of the hospital.
He hesitated a second, proof enough for her that he in fact wasn't okay. "Fine," he dodged belatedly. She didn't move from her blocking position in front of him, and he studied her disbelieving eyes, then gave her a small admission just to resume forward progress. He had had a definite reason he was heading to the cafeteria, and his leg didn't like standing here one bit. "I need to get lunch, Cuddy. You might have noticed I was heading that way before someone stopped me."
She studied him, taking inventory physically. He did look a little bit shaky at the moment as well as pale and in fact did look to an endocrinologist's quick visual scan like he might be a little hypoglycemic. But House didn't have diabetes; the only reason for a meal to be urgent for him was if he hadn't eaten in quite a while before that. Unless he had developed diabetes recently; did she actually know that he hadn't? But surely Wilson would have said something if House had added other prescriptions. Unless Wilson wasn't the prescribing doctor. Technically House did have doctor-patient confidentiality; if he had seen somebody else recently, she might well not know about it. But why would he see another doctor besides Wilson, his friend? Or maybe he wasn't on meds at all and trying to control it other ways. If so, he didn't appear to be having a rousing success at that.
House sighed and pulled out to pass her. "Can you continue your lecture-obsessing over lunch? Unless you insist on me going straight to the clinic now, but I can't guarantee I wouldn't pass out on you."
Cuddy followed him, truly getting concerned now. His limp was much worse than baseline as he walked on into the cafeteria. Was something really wrong with him? Why hadn't he told her before now if it was? House pulled up slightly at the sight of the lunchtime line, and his shoulders drooped as the lean on his cane increased. "Go get a booth," Cuddy suggested. "I'll go through the line for both of us." Actually, she cut in line, ducking in front of a doctor almost at the head with a quick apology about being on a tight schedule. She quickly ordered a Reuben and fries for House and debated over a slice of chocolate cake. If he did have diabetes, should he be eating that? On the other hand, it would be an immediate hit if his blood sugar was low. She took the cake and also a salad for herself, as well as drinks, and pulled out her billfold.
The cashier rolled his eyes as he looked from the Reuben toward House, sitting out in the room waiting. "You're paying for both of you, I presume. Figures. Dr. Wilson's out of town."
"Don't make personal comments about staff while you're checking out," Cuddy reprimanded. For once, she stuffed her change back in without taking time to obsessively organize it appropriately first, and grabbing the tray, she turned and hurried over to the booths. House had found an empty one and was massaging his leg underneath the table, which he stopped as soon as he realized she had noticed it. He still looked definitely pale and shaky, even sitting down. Cuddy planted the slice of cake in front of him the moment she arrived at the table. "Have a quick bite of that," she recommended.
He quirked an eyebrow at her but, she noted, did immediately go for the cake, stuffing down a large mouthful. Cuddy dropped into the other side of the booth and distributed his Reuben and fries, firmly pulling the cake saucer back to the middle of the table. "Indian giver," he muttered, but he immediately switched to the sandwich. She started nibbling on her salad, still watching him closely.
He wolfed the sandwich down as if he hadn't eaten in a week, pausing only to pull out the ever-present orange bottle and take some Vicodin. Cuddy couldn't help the thought that flashed across her face. She was still disappointed that his "rehab" front had been a scam.
He read her mind and pointedly let the bottle rattle as he put it away. "I'm in pain," he stated. "These are pain killers. Well, actually, that's not accurate. Wish it were."
"I just wish that in rehab, you had . . ."
He cut her off. "Ever occur to you that I actually have tried other pain measures and that they simply don't work? Maybe I even continue looking for an alternative all the time. Ketamine ring a bell? Whose idea was that, remember? And I wasn't taking Vicodin at all during those two months, because I wasn't in pain then." He trailed off, lost in his own bitter disappointment, and his hand crept underneath the table again, massaging his leg.
Cuddy flinched. "I am sorry about your leg, House." He was right; staying off Vicodin hadn't been any sort of challenge while the ketamine was working. She knew he really was in pain, but it was so hard to judge the levels sometimes, to assess what exactly his snark was hiding, whether it be it emotional or physical. He was quite capable of snark multitasking, and it really was distracting at times. As no doubt he intended it to be.
Speaking of getting distracted, she gave him another silent exam across the table. He was a little less pale and looked less shaky. The food was definitely helping him, though he still didn't seem back to baseline. He was certainly better, at least. Even as she thought it, his expression suddenly tightened up, and his hand crept toward his leg again. She busied herself in her salad, watching only from peripheral vision, as he worked out the presumed cramp. Once his features had relaxed a little, he polished off his last fries and reached for the cake again. She caught the other side of the saucer, and their eyes locked in a chocolate tug-of-war of wills.
"You don't need to eat the whole thing," she pointed out.
He grinned, the playful light coming on behind those incomparable eyes. Talk about distracting; she sometimes wished he had lesser eyes while she was lecturing him. "I don't know," House continued. "Putting myself into ketoacidosis definitely sounds like a good clinic duty excuse to me." He firmly pulled the saucer from her grasp and started inhaling the cake. "In fact, I think I'll hit the vending machine after this, too. M&Ms. Mmmm."
Cuddy sighed in exasperation. "This is serious, House. You have to take care of yourself."
"I know, I know. The hospital owns me, so you're worried about maintenance on your asset."
"It's not just the hospital," she stated. Damn it, he was a doctor. Didn't he realize what casually ignored diabetes could cause?
He looked at her, the amusement suddenly dissipating. She really did look concerned. This mattered to her, not just the hospital. "I don't have diabetes," he said softly. He speared the final large bite of cake in emphasis and gulped it down.
Cuddy was confused. "But you were hypoglycemic a while ago."
"Yes, that was part of it. But not because I'm diabetic."
"You just hadn't bothered to eat yet today? House!" The exasperation was creeping back into her voice, but there was still significant concern behind it, and for once, he saw it, helped by the fact that for once, she let it be seen. "Wait a minute, that was part of it? What's the other part?"
He looked quickly around the cafeteria, but nobody was paying them any attention, and their voices were low. "I had a colonoscopy this morning," he stated.
She stared. "A what?"
"It's a medical procedure. They take an endoscope and insert it up the patient's . . ."
"I know what it is." She cut him off. "And you never mentioned this to us and just walked out of the procedure room afterward? You were on the verge of passing out, House. And there's still effect from the Versed, even with reversal. You can't drive yourself home; I'll give you a ride."
"I didn't have Versed," he corrected, scraping his fork around the saucer to capture the final bit of frosting and then licking it off. "Or fentanyl, either. No sedation, no analgesia. Nothing."
"Why on earth not?" she demanded. Of course, there were occasional patients who had a full colonoscopy without any kind of premedication, usually for one of two basic reasons. Either they were control freaks who didn't want their minds hazed out, or the premedication was medically contraindicated for whatever reason. The difficulty of the procedure did vary widely with individuals, based not only on their personal pain tolerance but on their personal anatomy. Some colons are far more tortuous and difficult to navigate than others; some people cramp and spasm during the examination more than others. Trouble was, even the easiest colonoscopy was not a picnic, and there was normally no way to tell in advance whether someone would be a very easy case or a difficult one.
For House specifically, though, she knew that the experience couldn't have been an easy case, and any doctor, including himself, would have been able to predict that up front. Not only did long-term narcotic use cause constipation, which probably had put him through a 2-day prep instead of just the standard prep the night before, but his leg was a horrible complication. The flex of the beginning position would be bad enough, but the patient sometimes needs to be repositioned during the procedure to assist the scope in navigation around the corners of the intestinal tract. That kind of being shifted around, possibly even onto his bad side, was bound to ramp up his pain level and cause spasms of the leg, and muscular tension from pain would just make the colonoscopy that much more extended and difficult. And he'd had nothing for premedication? No wonder he had looked pale and shaky afterward.
She was still staring at him, though he was looking down at his empty plate now, not meeting her eyes. He hadn't yet answered her question. "Why didn't you take the premed? It would have helped a lot, especially in your case."
He finally looked back up, and there wasn't a trace of play in his blue eyes now. "You know good and well why, Cuddy. The last time I let people take my brain off line . . ." She looked down herself now, guilt flooding in. "Oh, come off the guilt fest. That was Stacy's decision, and she had the legal right to make it. You couldn't have stopped her. But since then, even though she's not in the picture anymore, I'd really rather stay mentally in the house at all times possible, so to speak. Which is actually why I use the Vicodin right now, while still looking for other things. I can still think on it."
"That's why you did this while Wilson was out of town," she realized.
He nodded. "Can you imagine how he'd react? Me not wanting sedation would be a direct assault on his need to be needed. He couldn't stand it, and he'd hover anyway and just look at me, like my choice was a deliberate personal insult to him." His voice, already low, dropped even lower. "I wasn't planning to tell him afterward, either, so don't share the gossip. Never really meant anybody to know unless we found something."
"Did you find something?" she asked. No doubt House, even while in severe pain, would have been watching the screen himself. "Why did you have one, anyway? Have you been having symptoms?" She knew he wasn't quite 50 yet, the usual starting age for screening.
"No, we didn't find something. Perfectly clear. As for why, not only did my maternal grandmother die of colon cancer, but an aunt and a cousin on that side both were recently diagnosed. They did wait until they had symptoms. Made sense for me to get screened early." Colon cancer, if found early, is among the easiest types to eliminate.
She shook her head. "I understand about Wilson. But you could have told me, House."
"So you could argue about the sedation?" he asked.
"No. That's your choice. But I would have at least let you off clinic duty for today, probably yesterday too." He gave a weak grin. She considered leaving it at the hospital level she knew he'd accept, but then she couldn't help pushing on. "I know it's your right what to share, but I do care about you, House."
He digested that statement for a few moments, then deflected. "So you were hunting me down all morning and couldn't find me, were you?"
She nodded, accepting his retreat. Push him, and she'd only get his back up. Hopefully the point had gone home. "It never occurred to me to look in the endoscopy procedure rooms."
"I'll make a note of that for future hiding. Whoops, guess I shouldn't say that in front of you." He pushed the plate away and stood up, flinching again with that quick grimace as his leg muscles tightened up once more.
Cuddy stood up quickly herself, just in case she was needed, but he caught his balance and waited the cramp out, his fingers white-knuckled on his cane. After a minute, he relaxed a little. "Seriously, House, if you'd like a ride home, I'll give you one. And you are off clinic duty today."
He considered the offer. "Will you stay with me for 24 hours afterward? That could be fun."
"Nice try, but you didn't have the sedation," she reminded him, slipping easily back into their banter, comforting to both of them after that more open conversation. "And I have to work this afternoon. But I will give you a ride home if you want. And maybe a prescription for Flexeril?" she suggested.
He grinned. "Without a lecture?"
"No lecture," she promised.
He started toward the cafeteria door, less shaky than before but the limp still much worse than usual. "Offers accepted. Both of them." As she caught up with him after obsessively bussing the table, he added softly, "I don't have any other procedures planned any time in the immediate future."
"Good. Thank you."
Together, they left the cafeteria, and in spite of still feeling run through the mill, House was whistling softly. A full day off clinic duty, maybe even tomorrow, too, if he played it right. He ought to try using the medical testing excuse more often, even without a procedure. She hadn't actually asked for documentation, after all. But remembering the genuine concern in her eyes, unexpected but undeniable, he changed his mind. There were many other ways to escape clinic duty, after all. No point in repeating himself.