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Pyrrhic Victory

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Invasion n. 1 : an act of invading; especially : incursion of an army for conquest or plunder 2 : the incoming or spread of something usually hurtful.


He’s pleasantly surprised when he’s asked by the Dean of Medicine to investigate irregularities in PPTH’s accounting department; surprised that she should hire him despite the fact that he invaded her privacy rather rudely the year before, pleasantly so because Lisa Cuddy is an attractive woman whom he wouldn’t mind knowing better in the biblical as well as in the non- biblical sense. She seems pleased to see him, but he notes that she has lost weight, that her skilfully applied make-up aims at hiding dark rings under her eyes and that her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes anymore. All this points to more than just a simple financial scam that doesn’t really require a PI to investigate it, he thinks. It must be a lot more complicated than she’s letting on. Has the fraud taken on a dimension that threatens her career? He decides to drop in on House and scrounge some background information, for what House doesn’t know about the hospital isn’t worth knowing.

He’s probably one of very few people who know the extent of House’s addiction, but even so he’s shocked to hear that House has been committed. A charm offensive in the lobby gets him a first-hand account of the infamous balcony scene and suddenly all the pieces fall into place. Lisa Cuddy, Dean of Medicine at PPTH, formerly keeper, babysitter, fire fighter, nanny and whatever-you-name-it to Gregory House MD, is quite simply lonely.

He meets up with Lisa Cuddy after office hours, ostensibly to report to her, but neither bothers to keep up the pretence for long.

He asks once, very casually, how House is doing. She tenses slightly as she gives him her administrator smile, cool and distancing. “I have no idea.”

“Shouldn’t he have detoxed by now?” he digs.

“Yes,” she answers tersely, twisting and twirling a rubber band around her fingers, “but Mayfield doesn’t permit any contact to him nor do they keep us updated on his status.”

So she hasn’t heard from House in over two months. Good, he thinks. House must be in a really sorry state if he hasn’t been able to cajole, lie or manipulate his way out as yet. So too is Lisa Cuddy, considering that she’s had over two months to put him out of her mind.

He doesn’t fool himself: he knows that in her eyes his primary attraction lies in those traits of character that he shares with House – perspicacity, obsessive preoccupation with minutiae, powers of combination and a healthy disregard for mundane concepts such as privacy or personal property. He has, however, three distinct advantages over House. One, he isn’t an addict. Two, he can do ‘romantic’ and ‘caring’ whereas House can only do ‘lecherous’ and ‘jerky’. Three, he’s around and House isn’t.


 

Occupation n. 3 a : the act or process of taking possession of a place or area b : the holding and control of an area by a foreign military force c : the military force occupying a country or the policies carried out by it


Within days he’s found out everything about her that he doesn’t know already. She’s adopted a child, Rachel, nine months old, the daughter of a deceased patient. That’s good. Had the kid been House’s, her allegiance to him would have been hard to break, no matter how much he sucked as a father. The girl is really cute, thus obviating any need to feign interest. He generally likes children anyway, and given the added incentive of a really hot mother it’s no hardship at all to profess interest in her.

“Hey, she’ really sweet! If you ever need a babysitter, y’know, just call me. Really, I mean it. Look, I’ve got three younger brothers so I know the works: diapers, bottles, burping – I can do it all. Mary Poppins is my middle name. I bought my first car off babysitting earnings.”

He gets his first real smile from her when he takes Rachel on his arm, tickling her expertly to make her giggle and coo at him. Okay, he often gets Lisa to laugh at his ceaseless babble and his impudence, but this smile conveys warmth that was missing before.

“How did House react to Rachel?” he asks.

She rolls her eyes. “Sibling rivalry,” she mutters, “is putting it mildly.”

He’s filled with inward glee. So House not only neglected to cash in on her neediness, but he was also foolish enough to vaunt his jealousy. Was there a more efficacious method of sabotaging a fragile relationship than exhibiting antagonism towards the significant other’s offspring?

A remote corner of his mind registers that Lisa’s eye-roll at the mention of House is reminiscent of his mother when confronted with teen tantrums.


 

retreat n. 1 a (1) : an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable (2) : the process of receding from a position or state attained  b (1) : the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or from an advanced position


She’s wound up tighter than usual on a Monday evening in September, not responding to his casual chatter at all. He seats her on the ground between his legs and starts kneading her knotted shoulder muscles, gradually working his way to the base of her neck and supplementing his manual efforts by embarking on one of his funnier anecdotes. She requites his efforts with only the faintest of smiles.

“Hey, lady, you’re preoccupied. What’s up?” he finally asks, slightly disgruntled.

She sighs. “House is back.”

“Well, that’s nice. Or isn’t it?” He’s testing, though he doesn’t know yet for what.

“It’s an awkward situation.”

“For him, not for you,” he posits. “He’s the one who hallucinated having sex with you.”

She turns round and gives him a puzzled look. “You don’t think it’s awkward working with someone who wanted to sleep with you not so long ago?”

“Don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to sleep with you the moment I met you. Any warm-blooded man would. I mean, you’re gorgeous. I also admire your wonderful mind and your immortal soul, of course,” he adds hastily at her slight frown.

The frown isn’t aimed at him. She’s still pondering her own situation, ignoring the latter part of his rant. “You can lust for me all you like, since I don’t work with you. ... What do I do if he shows interest again?”

“Tell him that you’ve got a boy-friend?” Lucas suggests.

“I don’t believe he’ll accept that.” She’s nervous, rolling one of Rachel’s soft toys between the palms of her hands.

“What’s to accept? Whatever he fantasized about never existed. He has to acknowledge reality or back into the loony bin he goes.”

She’s chewing her lower lip. “He’s ... destructive. He’ll try to sabotage our relationship. He always has to push things until they break. I need to take precautions.”

She’s clearly not going to let things go, so he changes tack. “Then don’t tell him about us.”

She assents rather too quickly. It’s unlike her: she’s not a person to avoid confrontations. Is it their relationship she’s protecting or something (someone) else?


 

attrition n. 3 : the act of weakening or exhausting by constant harassment, abuse, or attack  <a war of attrition>


From what he’s drawn out of her about House’s hallucinations, further augmented by the sparse comments she’s made since his return, he pictures House as a mere shadow of his former self, his body ravaged by the excesses of the past year, his mind broken by his prolonged stay at a mental institution. Lucas interprets Lisa’s over-protectiveness as maternal worry spiced strongly with pity for the formerly addicted cripple, an emotion so far removed from love or passion that he ultimately banishes his lightly slumbering jealousy into hibernation.

House’s appearance in Lisa’s conference suite rudely jerks him out of his winter dreams into the harsh spring sunlight of House’s convalescence. He’d imagined that House must be practically immobilized by pain now that he can’t fall back on opiates, but House is moving around smoothly, almost gracefully, and that without a cane! His skin, formerly papery and criss-crossed by creases and wrinkles, is of a healthy hue and smooth texture. Judging by the breadth of his shoulders and his well-defined biceps, he’s attending physiotherapy regularly and to some effect. Sure, he’s older than Lucas and nowhere near in as good shape, but he’s no decrepit wreck. Physically, he is serious competition, especially when the prize is a mature, self-confident woman. Character-wise he’s poaching heavily on Lucas’s preserves, doing ‘supportive and caring’ by offering to babysit.

However, no matter how well House mimes the pacifist, he’s unlikely to have beaten his sword into a plowshare or his cane into a pruning hook. His basic Machiavellian jerkiness must still be hidden somewhere beneath the rusty surface, so it’s just a question of polishing off the top layer and demonstrating to Lisa that there’s hard steel underneath; nothing to pity or to protect from the slings and arrows of missed opportunities.

At the next best opportunity, a coffee break between two sessions, he sets about the task of removing House’s coating of civilized behaviour with acidic precision: here a mention of mental institutions, there an innuendo regarding his hallucinations. He isn’t fazed by his initial lack of success, for perseverance is the key and there’s no denying that the rust is flaking slightly, showing glints of steel underneath. 

He’s spurned on by the look on Lisa’s face. How could he ever have mistaken her feelings for pity? She’s absolutely wallowing in guilt.


 

guerrilla n. a person who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage


When he phones Lisa at work the day before Thanksgiving, she sounds distracted. House is trying to wheedle an invitation to their Thanksgiving dinner out of her and she doesn’t know how to react. After what happened at the conference House would have to be out of his mind to want to spend a whole day in Lucas’s company ... or intent on messing around with them. This is a tactical manoeuvre that Lucas knows and feels comfortable with, lulling one’s opponent into a false sense of security whilst planning an attack from the rear. It is also a strategy that he can employ.

Luckily Lisa is as convinced as he is that House is not coming because he hungers for banal conversation, family gossip or children’s paw marks all over his best pants, so she agrees, albeit reluctantly, to send him on a wild goose chase to her sister’s place. For good measure he phones the house sitter and preps her. The turkey sandwich is a gesture that House, kindred soul that he is, must surely appreciate.

The day is a walkover. He is formally introduced to Lisa’s family, whose members he has eating out of his hand by the end of the dinner. If it’s possible to feel someone’s absence, he does so now with a surge of deepest satisfaction. Had House not fallen for their scam he’d be here, disrupting their family festivities. To crown his success, House is sufficiently desperate to try the sloshed, heart-broken I’m-not-good-enough-for-her spiel on him, which is kind of sweet in its hopelessness, though the assumption that he’d fall for it is somewhat insulting. Nonetheless, he feels quite charitable towards the man for providing him with such priceless entertainment, to the extent that he spends a short moment wondering whether they can be on friendly terms again.

But as he falls asleep late that night an unbidden image intrudes on his drifting mind: Lisa glancing repeatedly at the clock during dinner, her thoughts far away in a car that’s speeding down the highway, her conscience worrying about burning thighs and aching hearts.


 

ambush n. 1 : a trap in which concealed persons lie in wait to attack by surprise


She announces that they should move in together and get a condo that’s closer to PPTH. Having set her mind on the loft conversion she’s upset at being outbid – until he does a little private stake-out unearthing Wilson and House as the culprits. Then suddenly she is of the opinion that it’s just a condo, they can easily find another one, and anyway, they’re practically living together already, aren’t they? And no, she doesn’t want him to pay the two bastards back – it’s not a pissing contest.

“Tell House, not me,” he mutters, but she chooses not to hear him.

When he comes to pick her up from work a few days later she’s flicking through holiday photos on her computer.

“House massacred my pictures, so I need to print out some more.” She waves a casual hand at the framed pictures on her coffee table.

He takes a closer look, frowning. “Did you tell him off?”

“Lord, I over-reacted. He couldn’t know that the Ecuador photo had sentimental value to me. It was stupid – Dad wasn’t even on it. I’ll find one of Dad and put it there instead.”

She’s only put out about the Daddy-behind-the-lens photo. That House made a monkey of him doesn’t bother her at all. Okay, he doesn’t mind himself – it’s the kind of cracked humour he appreciates – but shouldn’t his girl-friend care?

She chuckles. “Poor House. He’s probably wondering what hit him. He looked almost ... sorry.”

Poor House?
Poor House?

Lisa’s perspective is badly warped – she’s been mopey ever since Thanksgiving, bemoaning the loss of her two ‘friends’. He’s going to have to set that aright before she gets the idea that he’s a big bad bully who stole little Gweg’s favourite toy. He needs to stage a scenario in which House is the perpetrator and he is the victim. House has to be conned into doing something that’s mean and stupid (in Lisa’s eyes) such as beating Lucas to a pulp. It’s feasible, for although House is considerably older than Lucas, he’s also a good deal taller and heavier, not to mention all the muscle he’s acquired recently in physiotherapy. If he’s lured into a brawl that Lucas will make sure to lose, it’ll twist Lisa’s heartstrings the right way, for nothing gets under her skin more than a boo-hoo. (His moles at the hospital tell him that Lisa spent whole nights at House’s bedside after his various self-mutilating escapades.)

Unfortunately there is a slight hitch to his plan. The kind of provocative action that Lucas prefers because it amuses him has much the same effect on House. As the bug that he planted in the condo prior to his first prank reveals, House’s reactions to opossums, detached bathtub rails and midnight deluges range from mystification to outright merriment. Anger, wild rants, or aggressive gestures are conspicuously absent.

He’ll have to deploy heavy artillery: public humiliation. The problem is that he’s not very good at playing an aggressive macho, given that he’s more the harmony-seeking type who’s always trying to conciliate the people he has offended. He does a nice job of tripping House up, but his little speech about supremacy (oh god, is he really saying that?) is nowhere near provocative enough. He should advance on House, encroach on his personal space, go through all the rituals of mating males ... but he doesn’t. Can it be so difficult to get one’s nose bloodied? House, for one, gets socked by patients and colleagues all the time without even trying. Now there’s probably a security video of him tripping up House, and all for nothing!

But he’s nothing if not tenacious. He calls House (“We’re okay now, right?”), asks him to come on a stake-out (“Need your medical opinion”) and observes with satisfaction that House, unable to let an opportunity pass to get first-hand information on the Lisa-Lucas angle, walks straight into his trap.

They spend the night in Lucas’s pimped-up ice-cream van, killing time by chasing each other up and down virtual worlds on his console. They’re pretty evenly matched, but he can slip under House’s cover from time to time by feeding him choice morsels about Lisa. Annoyingly, the only visible reaction is a slight slowing down of House’s virtual persona – the real House remains unflappable, indicating only by a slight narrowing of his eyes that he is registering Lucas’s barbs. There is no way Lucas will earn as much as a bruise by this method, much less the black eye, split lip and broken nose that he is banking on. He has no choice but to launch a full frontal attack.

“The thing is, she hasn’t just got a zesty bod, she’s really hot with a capital H, and I’m telling you, she enjoys sex.”

House’s screen alter ego fumbles in the act of switching weapons, which gives Lucas the opportunity to hit him dead centre, costing him half his life. House’s lips twitch.

“Can’t be getting much action, with her working all day and you on stake-outs all night,” he remarks with his eyes on the screen, but Lucas detects a slight tightening of his jaw.

Gotcha, he crows. Your right flank is crumbling – watch out for the Charge of the Light Brigade!

“We do it in the morning - every morning. She’s so hot for it she practically jumps me when I come in through the door. Sometimes she’s so aroused, just a touch will set her off. She’ll be wanting it when I get back today. Not even Rachel’s screams can distract her from our morning sex-ercise.”

House’s avatar freezes in mid-strike, allowing Lucas to annihilate him. “You’re dead!”

“Oh, damn,” House mutters, slamming his fist on his game controller, but to Lucas’s dismay that’s the sum of his physical response. He’s silent for a moment. “Betcha fifty dollars that I can get her to interrupt your morning ... yoga session with an emergency page.”

“Done!” Lucas knows he won’t lose this one. Besides, after his boast he can’t back down without losing face – a bet is a matter of honour. If he wins – correction: when he wins - he’ll have shown House that he can satisfy Lisa’s desires in every respect. House will be haunted the rest of the day by images of him intertwined with Lisa and he’ll have to cough up fifty dollars to boot.

He drops House off at the condo saying, “Page her in about twenty-five minutes.”

As House clambers out of the van he remarks, “I’ll need proof that she doesn’t take my page because of sex, not for other reasons.”

“How am I supposed to prove that?” Lucas laughs. He doesn’t really care whether House pays up or not so long as he gets the general picture: Lucas has fabulous gut-sizzling sex with Lisa Cuddy that not even an earthquake can interrupt.

“Easy.” House’s face looks bland, harmless. Then again, so does the firing mechanism of a land mine. “I’ll ask Cuddy when I see her at work.” He slams the van door and limps into the house.

It’s clear to Lucas that Lisa is going to kill somebody. He remembers now that the Light Brigade of the poem was annihilated completely during its charge.


 

Pyrrhic adj.  achieved at excessive cost <a Pyrrhic victory>; also : costly to the point of negating or outweighing expected benefits <a great but Pyrrhic act of ingenuity>


House’ll rat on him anyway, so he might as well get laid and win the bet. But he’s distracted by the inevitability of her fury when she finds out about the wager as well as by House’s emergency page coming dot on the minute, thus leaving her frustrated.

She’s also tensed up about some major deal, and suddenly he has an epiphany. He’ll spend the day caring for her, keeping an ailing Rachel off her back, showing his affection by dropping in at work. That should make up for his indiscretion. House, on the other hand, will irritate her with insensitive queries about her sex life, not to mention the havoc he’ll probably wreak as a matter of course during the day, all of which will serve nicely to emphasize the contrast between his own caring supportive attitude and House’s destructive nihilism.

Marina, being an utter goose, does her best to sabotage him by calling Lisa and stressing her while he’s under the shower. (“Marina, it’s just a bit of baby puke. If you can’t handle it, then let me do it. And quit harassing Lisa, for Christ’s sake – she has enough problems as it is!”) Fever, a rash and tummy bugs come hand-in-hand and go just as quickly. He knows it’s harmless unless the fever really spikes or the vomiting threatens to dehydrate the toddler. There’s nothing Lisa can do for the little tyke, hence he brings the situation and all the telephones under his control.
(Supportive: check.)

Once Rachel’s fever has ebbed, he prepares a bowl of salad and a low-fat yogurt drink, adds some fruit to the bag for good measure and heads off to the hospital.
(Caring: check.)

He offers to blackmail anyone and everyone at Atlantic Net Insurance. She has scruples, so he has to content himself with finding out the whereabouts of the CEO for her.
(Helpful: check.)

He apologizes (sort of) for his man talk about sex and vows to reform his ways.
(Concessive: check.)

She’s elated when she gets home. Not only did she bag the contract she wanted, but she also handed over a thieving pharmacy technician to the DA - thanks to a little surveillance gadget he gave her.
(Helpful: another check.)

Now’s the time to rub in the difference between House’s behaviour and his. “Look, I’m really sorry about, y’know, my big mouth and House. It must have been a real nuisance to have him go on at you about our sex life when you had all this other stuff to deal with. I hope he lay low the rest of the time.”

She’s silent. Oh goody! House must have run rampant through the hospital. “God, don’t tell me he was a pain because of what I said about us. That would be just so ...”

“Oh no, he was much the same as usual.” She ticks off his misdeeds on her fingers. “Let’s see: he skipped clinic duty, so I had to fill in; he prescribed breast milk to a cancer patient; he tried to con me into letting him use malaria as a diagnostic tool; he bribed our technicians so they’d lower the temperature in the main operating theatre to 50 degrees; he instigated a fist fight between two of my surgeons. I think that’s it.” She smiles fondly, as though recounting the pranks of a precocious pre-schooler.

He tries again. “Omigod. You had to deal with all that on a day when you absolutely needed a clear head for those negotiations! That couldn’t have been helpful.”

“Actually he was supportive about the negotiations,” she contradicts, slightly puzzled herself, “in his own way.”

“House being supportive?” He injects a liberal dose of incredulity into his voice. “How?”

She’s got a dreamy faraway look. “He said I was gambling, that in real life Goliath beats David and that I was an idiot.”

For the first time in many, many years words fail him.

What kind of crappy alternate universe has he landed himself in? What weird rules apply in this world?

Spending half the morning wiping up baby puke and trying to alleviate Lisa’s worries over Rachel is thoughtless and inconsiderate, yet the kind of disruptive behaviour that would get an eight-year-old expelled from school quicker than you can say ‘Philip Marlowe’ gets House a pat on the head.

Being supportive apparently does not mean getting your ass off your chair to do real work such as finding out useful information on Transatlantic Net. No, you’re ‘supportive’ when you call your boss an idiot and tell her she’s gambling away the hospital’s future.

Only creeps kiss-and-tell or make sleazy bets about their sex lives. Honourable men don’t do that. But they may keep information about potential criminals (read: sociopathic pharmacy technicians) to themselves for future reference. What future reference? Come along, Lisa, he was ensuring that he’d have someone to put the thumb-screws on if he ever needed a fix badly.

This, he thinks bitterly, is why the war against terrorism is lost before it even begins. Terrorists make their own rules, they don’t stick to the Geneva Convention and they get the local populace to hide them by brainwashing them with screwed-up propaganda.

That night he dreams, a rare occurrence.

He’s running through corridors with a weapon, looking for someone or something. He registers that he’s in one of his video games; everything is vaguely familiar - glass doors, elevators, lots of white - but nothing is quite as he remembers it. There’s a movement to his left so he blasts at it with his weapon, fumigating it completely. He runs on, opening the doors he passes to make sure that all the rooms on this floor are empty. Sensing a presence he swings around, lifting his weapon. It’s Lisa in a lab coat, leaning against the lobby counter – of course they are in PPTH – and smiling at him. She shakes her head at him.

“You know I don’t play your childish games,” she says.

He understands that ‘you’ is used in plural, encompassing him and ... House. Where is House? He suddenly knows that he has to find House and eliminate him to get to the next level of the game. He jogs on, only to find himself on another floor in front of a conference room. House is there, standing with his back to him, oblivious to his presence. He fires quickly, fiercely, sure of victory. House crumbles.

He turns to Lisa, who has somehow reappeared beside him, saying, “I’ve completed the level.”

But as he says the words he registers out of the corner of his eye that House is rising again. He whirls around in disbelief, but it’s true. House has picked himself up and is looking at him with a knowing smirk plastered across his face.

“Hang on, that’s the third time I’ve killed him. Why does he keep getting new lives?” he complains, hating himself for the whining tone of his voice.

“If he gets killed he can restart the level and try again. When he’s overcome all obstacles he continues to level seven of the game,” Lisa explains softly.

“What about me? What do I have to do to get to the next level?” He’s removed every opponent ten times over, yet he’s still stuck here.

“You?” Lisa looks puzzled, then she smiles in comprehension, a smile tinged with sadness. “Lucas, this is a single-player game. You’re not a player! You’re a part of this level - its main obstacle, to be exact. When House beats you he moves to the next level.” She says ‘when’, not ‘if’.

House grins at him mockingly. “You’re a nice guy, Lucas, probably nicer than me. It’s too bad that this show is called ‘House’, not ‘Douglas’.” He lifts his cane-cum-flamethrower-cum-laser-gun and aims it at Lucas.