Author note: It's been almost three years since I wrote any new House fic, but I started revisiting some old fics and the idea for this story came to mind. It's an aspect of House that's always fascinated me. Thanks to BabalooBlue for betaing.
James Wilson frowned at the sweaty figure sprawled spread-eagle on the picnic table, eyes screwed shut against the midday sun, chest still heaving from the exertion of running, his muscled legs so long the heels of his running shoes hung over the edge.
"Do you mind? We'd…" Wilson's companion plonked a wicker picnic basket down beside the man's head. "We'd like to eat here. You could go lie on the grass or something," she said.
The man unscrewed one eye and took her in, from her well coifed head to the diamond ring on the hand, resting on the basket. He screwed the eye shut again. "And yet, I'm lying here," he replied.
"These tables are reserved for the staff of Princeton Plainsboro," the woman informed him.
"Never mind, Patty. We can go sit under a tree or…"
The man abruptly rolled himself to a sitting position and from there to his feet in one smooth motion. He stepped nimbly onto the bench and then bent double until his ear was next to Wilson's.
"Break it off," he stage whispered into Wilson's ear, "before it's too late." Then he took off toward the running path that circled the pond behind them.
"Eww," said Patty, looking at the table top. "It's all sweaty. I don't even want to eat here anymore."
But Wilson didn't hear her. He was busy watching the man, loping easily around the pond again, on those long muscled legs.
Cuddy's companion nudged her again. "Hey, come on, Dr. Cuddy. We're going to be late for the meeting. The President of Princeton doesn't like to be kept waiting."
It was Alumni Weekend and the campus was thronging with people having tailgate picnics, lunching under tents, and generally trying to relive their college days. But what had caught her attention was a lacrosse match being played on the field directly in front of them.
Two teams of men of varying ages were playing a furious game, crashing into each other and heaving the ball up and down the field. She was swept with a wave of nostalgia. Memories washed over her, memories of watching the Michigan team, watching a game she had no interest in except for one reason. She was eighteen years old again, and the President of Princeton could go fuck himself for a few more minutes while she watched.
One figure in particular had drawn her eye. He was taller than anyone else on the field, with long, well-muscled legs, and he had an unmistakable, unique way of playing. He ran with utter, reckless abandon, fielding balls, slamming into other players. But what was unusual about him—she swore she'd only known one other person play that way- is that when he ran with the ball, instead of cradling the stick to his chest the normal way, he held his stick arm raised high over his head with the ball balanced precariously in the net, but maddeningly out of reach of anyone trying to tackle him.
Suddenly the ball, thrown out of bounds, raced toward her and trickled to a stop at her feet. The player she'd been watching darted after it. And then there he was, bending down to scoop it up, and taking the opportunity to drink her in, from her high heeled shoes punching holes in the grass, to her tight skirt and tighter jacket, to her, well, the rest of her. She tucked her briefcase across her chest instinctively.
He was close enough now for her to see his blue eyes under the lacrosse helmet.
"Hey," she said. "You're, you're—"
"Lisa Cuddy," he replied, readying himself for the throw in, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to be there and her to be next to him.
"But, but, this is an alumni game. You never went to Princeton."
"I know," he said as he pulled the stick behind him and searched for someone to pass it to. He stood there beside her longer than he needed to as his teammates yelled to him to throw it in. She could actually feel the heat rising off him, smell his fresh sweat. "But they don't need to know that, do they?"
Then he flicked the ball expertly onto the field and dallied, giving her and her impatient companion a mischievous look. "Nice seeing you again. Now hurry up or you'll be late for that meeting with Mr. Big."
Then he trotted away to join the game.
"Hey," she called after him. "Hey…"
Dr. Simpson looked impatiently at his watch. "Hey, come on. You going to let us play through?"
"Nah," said the other golfer, taking a few long slow practice swings and then taking them again. "Gonna hole it this time. For absolute sure."
"You're a terrible golfer," said Simpson's equally impatient partner, Dr. Hourani. "You should let better golfers play through. Otherwise this tournament will take all fucking day. And I don't care if it is for charity, I got better things to do today than wait for you to find the hole."
The other golfer gave Hourani a slow look that took him in from $300 golf shoes to $1500 driver. "Patients to over-bill? Nurses to screw? The bimbo can wait, for you to find her hole. Now…watch and learn." He squatted to take a good look at the ball, sitting half buried in the sand of the trap. Simpson noted, not for the first time, the man's ridiculously long thighs, and consoled himself with the thought that in golf, as in no other sport, being eight inches taller than another player—like himself-was not an advantage.
The man straightened up, gripped his club hard, and swung fiercely at the ball. When the spray of sand subsided, the ball had moved only half an inch. "Next one for sure," said the golfer, and hacked at it again. The ball moved four inches. "This time I've got it," he said and swung again. "Fourth time lucky," he said and swung once more.
"Hey," said Simpson feebly. "Hey, c'mon."
House's eyelids fluttered. She put down the chart, filled with Hourani's grisly notes, and leaned into the bed.
"How are you feeling?"
His eyes were open now, staring vacantly into hers. He turned his head.
"Hey," said Wilson, meeting his gaze and trying to smile.
House's eyes raked the room. "Where's Stacy?" His voice was barely audible, a dry husk.
"Stacy's…she's…She'll be here. Soon. How are you feeling?"
"How long was I in the coma?" He brought his hands up to his face, felt the stubble there, rubbed his eyes.
"House—" Cuddy began. "We…Stacy had to make a decision about—"
House was more awake now, and took in the morphine pump he was hooked up to. He peered at it, trying to focus. "Why am I on a post-op dose?" He shook his head, trying to clear it. "What's going on?"
Cuddy had her hand over his now, trying to exude calm. Wilson put a hand on the rail of the bed and looked at her. House saw the exchange of glances. He tried to pull himself up in bed and let out a yelp of pain. Yanking his hand from Cuddy's he ran it over his right thigh. Even under the blankets he could clearly feel the bulky bandage. He ripped the bed clothes off and stared unblinking at his leg.
"What the fuck? What the hell did you do to me?" His voice was rising in a kind of panic. He began tearing at the bandage. Wilson grabbed one arm, Cuddy the other, trying to restrain him. "Take it off. Take the bandage off, God damn it!"
"House, calm down. You'll injure yourself," said Wilson desperately.
But House wouldn't. He found a pair of scissors a nurse had left on the bedside table and began stabbing at the wound dressing, trying to cut it off. Wilson nodded at Cuddy and she pressed the button to summon a nurse. By the time she arrived with a sedative, it was too late. House had ripped the dressing off and was staring in horror at the sight of his right thigh, the hideous hole where thigh muscle had been removed, the ugly roadmap of endless stitches, the surgical drain slowly siphoning off the seepage.
He sank back into the pillows—the sedative finally doing its job—but his eyes were wide open, those blue eyes staring at the ceiling, unbelieving. He wouldn't look at Cuddy or Wilson. He wouldn't speak. The two sat beside the bed, looking at his body, one long perfectly muscled thigh and one unrecognizably maimed, as the nurse replaced the dressing. She pulled the sheets back up when she finished, hiding the shameful sight.
House finally spoke. "Get out," he said, his voice dull but the words clear despite the heavy sedative. He was not addressing the nurse.
Wilson rose. Cuddy was looking devastated. He ushered her out of the room, hand on her back. Safely outside the room, she turned and buried her head against his shoulder. He put his arms around her, patting her on the back.
"Cuddy," he said. "He'll be all right. He will. You and Stacy, you did what you had to. You saved his life." When she didn't answer he pushed her gently away. "Hey. Hey! Look at me. Cuddy. He'll be all right. Trust me."
Trust, thought Cuddy bitterly. Trust was the real casualty here. House would never trust her again, or Stacy or possibly anyone else. But, hey, what was trust compared with saving a life. Right?