Author: Ijemanja PM
Happiness is a state of mind. Duh. HouseCuddyRated: Fiction M - English - Drama - L. Cuddy & G. House - Words: 4,123 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 35 - Follows: 4 - Published: 09-13-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3151921
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Notes: A companion piece of sorts to 'The Essential Meaning of Something', though they don't have to be read that way. Set post-ketamine treatment, but veering off widely from canon.
She sleeps like she owns the place, limbs splayed out over the mattress haphazardly. Her face is buried in a pillow, another is tucked possessively under one of her out-flung arms. Somehow she manages to take up more than half the bed with her slight frame.
He switches on a lamp to find her hair, dried into natural curls, fat and glossy and dark against the pale sheets. The sudden light doesn't rouse her, so he sits and places a palm on her shoulder, and then gives her a shake.
"Hey." Her eyes flutter open, focus on him for a second, then close again as she grimaces. "Time to get up."
"Why?" she demands, keeping her eyes resolutely shut.
"It's six o'clock. You have to get up at six."
"Oh," she says, her features relaxing a little. She sighs, and opens her eyes for real this time. "Right." She rubs at her face briefly before pushing herself into a sitting position. She looks at him blearily for a few seconds. "Didn't you sleep?" she asks then, gripping his shoulder for leverage as she climbs past him out of bed.
"I slept," he replies.
There could be more sleep in his future, too. He considers it, crawling into the space her body just occupied, where the mattress and sheets are warm and the pillow smells like her hair, and staying there another three or four hours before even thinking of going to work.
Instead he makes his way to the bathroom while she goes to fetch her overnight bag from where she left it by the front door. She'll be in here soon and he makes use of the facilities while he still can. Before she usurps the bathroom in the name of 'not showing up at work looking like I spent the night in a hovel' - her exact words which he takes as a commentary on her recurring bedhead rather than a not-so-subtle dig at his housekeeping skills
He pauses in the act of reaching for his toothbrush and paste when he feels the distinctive pull of a set of claw marks across his back. They shouldn't be there, he thinks, not for the first time. She's got short neat nails because she likes to pretend she's still a doctor who might have occasion to snap on a pair of latex gloves and put her fingers someplace delicate. (Only when he's been extra good.)
She'd have to dig in extra hard then to leave scratches like this, he thinks as he looks over his shoulder at his back in the bathroom mirror. He turns to show her when she steps through the doorway, meeting her eyes in the mirror as he accuses her of marking her territory. She just laughs and reaches to turn on the shower.
"You're not the only one with war wounds," she says. "There's only so many high collars I can wear before people start wondering who my new boyfriend is."
"No one would ever think it's me. I'm so out of your league."
It comes out garbled because he's brushing while he talks, but she seems to get the drift.
"Yes, you're a real catch," she drawls as she steps under the spray. "What are you doing wasting your time with me?"
"Slumming," he replies as he heads out of the bathroom and back down the corridor to the bedroom.
He hears her laugh and then the shower curtain being pulled across. He sticks the toothbrush back in his mouth and starts looking for clean socks and running shorts.
When the lights change he pulls out from behind the small green hatchback and leaves it far behind.
Out front of the hospital he manoeuvres easily into his usual spot, thankful again that Cuddy hasn't wrested his disabled parking permit from him yet. She won't, either, because if she did it would mean she was actually happy for him. And she's far too responsible for this to be happy for him. But that doesn't bother him, and using the permit certainly doesn't bother him, because now he can finally enjoy what was never about privilege.
Heading inside he passes a young mother taking her baby home for the first time, beaming as she introduces her bundle of joy to the world outside the hospital. Ten fingers, ten toes - it doesn't take much to make people happy.
He only reflects on the implications of that for a second, and by that time new mom is arguing with new dad about how the car seat works and people too stupid to propagate (who always seem to figure it out anyway) don't deserve a place in his musings, philosophical or otherwise.
The problem is he always has too much time on his hands. When he's not working on a case the hours run into each other, he has to find ways to distract himself until he can once again translate time through the progression of disease. So he tempts his attention with some combination of soaps and video games and Wilson, caffeine hits and snack foods in random permutations. His options are endless but sometimes his boredom seems to be, too.
It's been an ironic sort of morning which is why he isn't surprised to find ladders and maintenance staff blocking the stairs so he has to take the elevator instead, and a fresh pot of coffee waiting for him in the conference room accompanied by Cameron, who smiles and says good morning and then tells him he has clinic duty.
"Cuddy already called wanting to know where you are. She said I should tell you to get your butt back downstairs the moment you showed up."
He grabs his mug from beside the sink and says: "Have you changed your hair?"
She blinks, self-conscious as she reaches up to touch it lightly, her smile softening into something more real. "Yeah."
He noticed days ago, of course, but has been saving it up until mentioning it might actually benefit him.
"It looks good," he tells her, watching close enough even as he pours the coffee to see when her eyes light up momentarily.
"Thank you," she replies, pleased and sincere as she looks away. "But I'm not covering your clinic duty."
He takes his coffee with him as he makes his way back down the corridor to the elevators, and thinks about minutes stacking up like symptoms on a whiteboard.
"I thought -" she starts and stops uncertainly when he walks in, file in hand.
He takes one look at her and moves over to the rolling stool in the corner and sits. Her eyes take him in for a slow second before finishing the sentence.
"I thought there might be a female doctor...?"
"Nausea?" he questions, not looking up at her, keeping his nose buried in her file. "Headache, disorientation. Sounds like every hangover I've ever had."
She shrugs, her movements tense and stilted. "I guess. I don't know if -"
"Went out last night, things got fuzzy, woke up someplace strange and new?"
"I don't know what happened." It's the first thing she's said with even a hint of confidence.
He shrugs back. "Yeah, denial's great. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan, myself."
"I don't think this is -" she starts to get off the exam bed.
"Here's what I'm going to do," he says loudly, and has to ignore the way she flinches back at the sound of his voice. "I'm going to go find you a doctor with way less facial hair than me. You are free to make a run for it once I'm gone, or else wait here for the nice lady to come and take care of you. It won't be fun, but right now information is your friend - even more than that case of denial you're working on. You watch TV, you're not an idiot, so maybe they won't get the guy, but you're going to want an STD test, and you're going to want emergency contraception if you aren't on the pill."
There's a long pause, then: "I'm not."
"Okay then." He gets to his feet as she stands there staring at the floor.
"I don't know what happened," she says again, almost in a whisper but still somehow insistent.
"You've got a pretty good idea, though. And you came straight here, you didn't shower or change your clothes. Good for you."
He pauses at the window looking out into the clinic and draws the blinds open. At the desk he checks the sign-out sheet, before getting the attention of the nurse on duty.
"Watch her," he says, and nods towards the room where the girl is right where he left her, arms wrapped around herself, hands tucked into the sleeves of her jacket.
Cuddy's office is his next stop. He could have paged Cameron, but it would take longer, and the kid might still make a run for it if she has enough time on her own to think.
"I'm busy," she announces with barely a glance up as he enters.
"Your clinic is understaffed," he informs her.
"It wouldn't be if you were there doing your job."
"I'm not qualified for this one. Neither is whatshisname from Pulmonology. Wrong equipment. Come on, you're the closest thing to a female doctor around here."
She rolls her eyes. "Isn't Chen on duty?"
"Signed out twenty minutes ago." Right on time. Suck-up, he thinks.
She sighs and relents, getting to her feet. "All right," she says, taking the chart from his hands as she moves past him out the door. "What is it? There's nothing written here." She looks back at him, exasperated.
"Three Rs," he tells her as they cross the clinic. "Rufied, raped, and... yep, we have retching," he confirms.
Through the window he can see the girl bent over the sink, the nurse in there too, dutifully holding back her hair and rubbing her back.
Cuddy sighs, expression sobering. "All right," she says again, and heads in. Stops. Turns back, grabs another chart from the tray and pushes it at him. "You're still on for another forty minutes," she tells him with a warning look.
The door closes carefully behind her, and then she's in the window, closing the blinds. He heads for exam room four, where a thirty-something guy needs his ear drained, if the finger he's got stuck in there is anything to go by.
After dumping everything in the fridge he pulls on a pair of running shorts and heads back out the door into the evening air.
"I'm going to take a shower," she says through a mouthful of vegetables and rice as she straightens up.
She's always showering. Well, twice a day, which is one up on him - two up sometimes on the weekends when he's feeling particularly lazy. It's something he didn't know about her, had discovered only recently. He likes it - not the obsessive showering thing, because he couldn't care less, but because he was starting to wonder if there was anything left to learn about her.
The first time he slept with her (not the first time, but the first time since... many things happened) they ended up in the shower and he'd pinned her between his body and the wall and screwed her up against her purple bathroom tile. By the time he came he was shaking but it wasn't from pain or from supporting her weight for too long, or even at all. She was light. It was easy. He'd buried his face in her neck and she put her hand to the back of his head. She was laughing - he thought, he couldn't see. Her skin on his tongue tasted like nothing but water.
He thinks about that, thinks about joining her now. But he thinks it too late, and by the time he's got the television off and the leftovers back in the fridge, the lights off one by one as he makes his way through the apartment into the bathroom, she's already done.
"Guess we got a little energetic last night." Wrapped in a towel, one foot propped on the edge of the toilet seat, she looks up at him, smiling wryly as she says this, but he's too busy staring at the small group of mottled bruises under her thumb, passing delicately back and forth over her inner thigh.
She doesn't mean it as a come-on, or she didn't anyway, but it's working for him, and he's thinking about war wounds and the scars they leave behind as he steps through the doorway.
It occurs to him that before, he would have slid a hand around her back, right hand clenched tight on the handle of his cane, trying not to overbalance as she pressed her hips into his. Before, he would have only thought about doing this: crossing the distance to her in one step and dropping to his knees, placing his mouth there, pressing his lips to that pale marked skin and hearing her intake of breath. Her hands on his shoulders, then, using him for support as he turns his face into the juncture of her thighs. Fresh from the shower the scent of her is muted, he has to seek it out, draw it out with his nose in her damp pubic hair and his tongue deep in her cunt.
There's been a schism splitting his life in two, dividing up his days between the things he wants and the things he can have, and right down the middle was a line of pain and dysfunction almost impossible to cross. On the one side, happiness, on the other, not so much.
And it's not as if the things he wants are so outlandish - taking the stairs on a leg that supports him. Time spent neither high nor half out of his mind with misery. Uncomplicated, able-bodied sex, and not taking a woman sedately to bed if he doesn't particularly want to. In other words just this: Lisa Cuddy, swaying over him, and a gasp that turns into laughter when her knee almost gives way.
With his hands on her hips he moves her around so she's propped against the edge of the sink. He pulls one of her thighs over his shoulder and pushes two fingers inside her, finds her clitoris with his tongue.
She's quiet when she's the one in control - with her head thrown back against the mirror and fingers threatening to tear a clump of his hair out by the roots she's anything but. The sound of her voice bouncing off the bathroom walls is still ringing in his ears as he climbs to his feet. His fingers slide out of her and up to rest damp and sticky on her belly as she pants, face pressed against his chest, her breath hot through the material of his shirt.
"Remind me to break out the ear plugs next time," he says. He can feel her smiling. Rubbing a hand over the back of his head, several abused hair follicles still tender he adds: "Maybe some kind of protective head gear."
"Poor baby," she mocks, turning up her face to his.
"The least you could do is offer to kiss it better," he replies.
"Uh huh." She pats his chest as she slides out from between him and the sink. "What 'it' would that be, exactly?"
He thinks she should be able to figure that one out for herself, and tells her so as he runs water in the sink. All he gets in reply is a brief snort as she leaves the room.
He washes his hands and face before following her into the bedroom where he finds the curtains drawn, her towel slung over the footboard, and her, artfully arranged in his bed. Or so it seems from where he's standing. She'd probably refute it but she's naked and waiting for him and there's nothing about that he doesn't appreciate.
He turns off one final light and approaches the bed, leaning down, and she sits up to meet him and help him pull his t-shirt off over his head. In bed then, undressed, he holds her hips as she moves above him. This time she presses her lips together and makes very little noise when she comes. He watches her for as long as he can.
Afterwards she stretches out beside him. Her eyes are already closed and they stay closed as she shifts about, getting comfortable. Once settled, she reaches out and rubs his chest, leaving her hand resting over his sternum.
He thinks she's already asleep, but then her forehead wrinkles as she remembers something. She doesn't open her eyes as she speaks.
"I need to be up at six. Can you set the alarm?"
"Thanks," she mumbles.
"Sorry about the bruises," he says, staring up into the dark.
He imagines the smile curling on her lips as she says: "I'm not."
No, he thinks, she only worries about the marks people might see.
He's in pain.
A thousand times waking up reaching for a bottle of pills and it's so familiar he forgets for a moment this isn't supposed to happen anymore. He only remembers, hand stretched out towards the nightstand, once he realises they aren't there.
The clock glows four fifty-one and his leg muscles (both of them, what's left of them, he'll never have the complete set again) are complaining from overuse and it's nothing. It's nothing. He wants to laugh. He wants to jump up and go right out the front door and run another couple of miles.
But instead he gets up, finds some clothes, and heads out to the kitchen in bare feet and without support and it's enough for now.
They've had this rhythm for years and it hasn't been difficult to adapt it to include sleepovers. In fact nothing much has changed at all, except that now he can show up at her door and she'll let him in. She'll still complain and he still won't be contrite, and they won't ever resolve anything, but the makeup sex will be fantastic.
There are things they don't talk about.
She makes noises about the ketamine treatment wearing off but avoids the scars the bullets left behind. There are condoms in the nightstand and she doesn't say anything about wanting a baby.
What he knows is this: that the fertility meds did their thing, that she harvested a bumper crop of eggs and had them put them on ice until she decides what to do with them. She hasn't said anything about choosing a sperm donor, anonymous or otherwise.
He thinks maybe she's waiting for him to say something - a move he's countering by waiting for her to say something. It leaves them in a stalemate, which is good, it's something he can work with. Whatever happens, he can be sure he won't crack first.
There's another option, less likely, but far more interesting - that she's not doing the baby thing right now, that she's doing this instead. It fits with his idea of her, and it doesn't bother him, the thought that she might be putting off something she wants so much for his sake. Guilt is her game, not his.
What he knows is he likes things that don't hurt - cane-free movement, and being able to go down on a woman without first considering the logistics of the act. His muscles ache from exercise but it's real exercise, not endless pacing, not the constant jarring of his joints, the pull across his shoulders and a useless right hand.
The living room is lit by the flickering of an infomercial, and he lies still, itching to be doing something. It's collection day, he could (should) take out the trash. From there he could go to the bakery down the street and get breakfast for two. Or he could get on his bike and wake up the whole street just for the hell of it. He could find the remote and change the channel, find something good to watch. He could stick his hand in his boxers and jerk off. He could turn the TV off and go to sleep.
All these options pale beside the thought that he can put on his running shoes and actually use them to run. And that he will.
But later, he thinks, as he glances again at the time.
He gets to his feet in one smooth motion, almost as if he's been doing it his whole life, and makes his way into the bedroom. It's almost six o'clock.