Remember when I said that "Who'd He Rather?" was the first fic I'd written in a while? Okay, I lied. This one was. I kind of sent it out as a test balloon last week to a few close friends. My feeling was (and is) it's not quite up to snuff, and feels a bit like somebody doing a decent ATD impression. But my friends encouraged me to post it. Ultimately, much as I prefer "Who'd He Rather?" I think this one has its moments. Plus, it's more emo than the other fic and features way more Cuddy. Huzzah! So here it is. Hope you enjoy. Keep favoriting and reviewing because, as you know, that's MY drug. xo

"Where's House?"

The three fellows, who had been arguing about who was in charge, looked up at Cuddy in unison.

"He's sick," Foreman said.

Cuddy gave a little snort.

"No, he's not," she replied knowingly.

"Actually," Cameron said. "He is."

Cuddy shook her head.

"He's not sick. He has a double shift of clinic duty today and he's trying to duck it."

"He told me he has the stomach flu," Foreman said. "I didn't request a fecal sample."

"He's lying," Cuddy said. "The whole reason he has a double shift today is because he lied to get out of it the last time he had clinic duty. And the time before that…"

"House lies to get what he wants," Chase said with a shrug. "That's not exactly revelatory."

"Or he might actually be sick…" Cameron countered testily. They all looked at her.

"Get him on the phone," Cuddy said.

Rolling his eyes a bit, Foreman picked up the phone and dialed House's number. After a few minutes, he hung up.

"No answer. And he apparently turned his machine off."

"Great," Cuddy said. "He's probably sitting in his underwear eating pork rinds and watching a Real Housewives marathon. He thinks he can get away with this, but he can't. He forgets, I know where he lives."

And with that, she stormed out of the DDx room.

"Oh, to be a fly on the wall at House's apartment…" Chase said, smiling to himself.

####

She knocked on House's door politely at first, then banged, then yelled his name. When he didn't reply, she tried the door handle and, much to her surprise, it opened.

"House," she said, tentatively. She was 90-percent sure he was taking a paid vacation day—sacked out on the couch watching TV—but her heart-rate quickened anyway. It was funny that she was so nervous about breaking into his apartment—after all, breaking and entering was his specialty.

She called his name again, a little louder this time, and there was no reply. For a moment she thought he was gone—maybe bellied up at a seedy bar or betting on the horses at the track—when she heard a tiny groan.

She followed the voice. House was sitting on the floor of his living room, wearing pajama bottoms, a faded black tee shirt, no shoes, his back up against his book shelf, preparing to inject himself with something—morphine most likely. His face was coated with sweat. She ran to him.

"What are you doing?" she shrieked.

He dropped the needle with a start and looked up at her, accusingly, "Not a great idea to scare a guy when he's got a needle pointed at his vein," he said, hastily unraveling the tourniquet from his arm.

"I shouted your name three times. Didn't you hear me?"

"A little…preoccupied here," he said. Then closed his eyes and grimaced, his head lolling back against the book shelf.

She took a step toward him.

"Is that morphine?"

His eyes opened.

"Yes, the real stuff," he said. "Not a sugar solution"—a reference to the placebo she had injected in him just a few months earlier. He held the needle toward her. "And since you're here, you may as well help me inject it."

"Are you out of your mind?" she said. "I will do no such thing. How much of this stuff have you taken?"

"None, yet. Your timing, as always, is impeccably sadistic."

Then he moaned again and went a bit pale. He looked like he was about to throw up.

"What's wrong with you? You look horrible."

"Your keen powers of observation are unparalleled Cuddy."

"I mean, I know it's your leg—but why is it hurting so much today?" she said, skeptically. "Have you gotten some bad news?. . . Usually there's some sort of psychological component to your pain."

"Says you," he replied. It was the best he could muster as a comeback at this point. He was off his game.

"Only because it's true."

"There's no bad news," he sighed, his voice unsteady. "The bad news is that I have a hole in my leg. Some days its agonizing. Other days it's unbearable. And then there are those special days I want to put a bullet in my head to make the pain stop. Today is one of those days."

She paled a bit when House raised the specter of killing himself.

"And your vicodin?" she said, concerned.

He held up an empty pill bottle.

"Didn't make a dent." Then he weakly raised his arm. A small, surgical line of cuts down his forearm. "This neither."

"House, my God."

She didn't know what to do with him. He really did look awful—sweaty, pasty, weak. She couldn't just leave him like this. She was a doctor, after all—and even more than that, he was her friend (or whatever they were to each other) and he was in pain.

"Why don't you come back to work with me?" she said, trying to make her voice sound bright. "You'll feel better if you have a distraction. How bout a double shift of clinic duty?" she chuckled, nervously, but he didn't respond.

"I'm kidding about clinic duty. I'll give you a case. I'll give you two cases. I'll let you watch soaps in the nurses' lounge. I'll let you watch nurses in the nurses' lounge. Whatever it takes."

"I can't, Cuddy" he said. Any pretense of verbally sparring with her had ended. The pain was so severe, his eyes were moist with tears. He grabbed his leg and made a choked sort of sound that was barely human.

Something protective stirred in her. So she hiked up her skirt and sat next to him on the floor. She took his hand.

"House, breathe," she said. "Just close your eyes and listen to my voice and breathe."

She expected him to yank his hand away, or make fun of her New Age medicine. ("Yes, breathing, that'll do the trick . . .") Instead, he actually gripped her hand tightly and tried to regulate his breathing.

"Just focus on my voice," she said, soothingly. "Shhhh, you're okay. You're going to be okay."

He breathed in and out as she spoke, his face an absolute mask of pain.

She let go of his hand and began rubbing his back, then his neck, and it was amazing how this level of intimacy felt so comfortable— there had been nothing physical between them for 20 years. She continued rubbing his back for a few minutes, then, on instinct, her hand went under his tee-shirt, massaging his bare skin—from his shoulders to his lower torso and back again. She had suddenly lost the narrative: Was what she was doing therapeutic, a gesture of friendship—or something more? He pivoted toward her and the yearning in his eyes answered her question. He bent toward her, slowly, and kissed her and she kissed back, melting into the feel of his hot breath against her face and his soft tongue in her mouth, still murmuring that he was going to be okay.

"Shhh," she said, as he kissed her. "Shhh."

The kiss felt both surreal and somehow, inevitable. As did what happened next: He fumbled for her skirt, unzipped it, then pulled himself out, and entered her—still softly kissing her mouth, making her face wet with his tears, slowly rising and falling on top of her. When he came, his orgasm was a relief, for both of them. He let out something of a stuttered gasp and rolled off her.

"My God," he said, his breathing suddenly even. "Thank you." It was like all the tension had been lifted from his body.

"I…didn't expect to do that," she said.

"No," he said. "Neither did I…it just felt…"

"Natural," they said in unison.

It had been, Cuddy decided, the most intimate experience of her life. She had never comforted a man with sex, and it had been an enormous turn-on to her. She felt like fucking mother earth, like a sex goddess, like she had healed him with her pussy.

"Can you stand up?" she asked.

"I think so," he replied. And she found his cane, which was leaning against the coffee table, and helped him to his feet. He took a few tentative steps and heaved a sigh of relief.

Then she looked at her watch. "Shit," she said. "I have a meeting at 4. Are you going to be okay?"

He rubbed his eyes.

"Yeah, I'm…feeling remarkably…revived."

"So no morphine?"

"No morphine," he promised.

"No more cutting?"

"No more cutting."

"And you'll be back at work tomorrow?"

"Definitely," he said.

"Okay," she said.

"Okay," he replied. Because there was nothing left to say.

######

The next day, Cuddy stood outside the DDx room where House, looking like his old self, was holding court with his team, writing the symptoms of his latest case—a 45 year old man with tremors and mood swings, who had tested negative for Parkinson's and MS—on the white board.

Cuddy felt a little unexpected jolt of girlish nervousness and butterflies as she watched him. Then she chastened herself for her reaction, smoothed her skirt and strode in.

"Feeling better, Dr. House?" she said.

He side-eyed her—and the look on his face was unexpected: annoyance.

"In the middle of something here," he said.

"I …I see that," she stammered.

He turned back to his team.

"What else?" he said, impatiently.

His fellows looked at him, then back at Cuddy, not sure what to do.

"He told me the room smelled like something was burning," Cameron said.

"Phantosmia," House wrote on the board. "What else?"

Cuddy watched him, dumbfounded.

"Incontinence," Chase said, glancing at Cuddy nervously.

"Pees like a racehorse," House wrote on the board.

"Good to see you're back to your old self," she said, muttering under breath as she left, "In every way."

#####

She expected House to come find her later, talk to her, but he didn't. Toward the end of the day, she saw him in the elevator—she was sure he saw her, too—and quickened her pace only to watch the door close in her face.

The next day, however, he showed up unexpectedly in her office. Finally.

"Hi you," she said, smiling, the tiniest hint of girlish flirtation creeping into in her voice.

"Need to do a brain biopsy on my patient," he said, all business, handing her the file.

She felt her face get hot, then recovered. She glanced quickly at the file. He had ordered the bare minimum number of tests.

"It's too soon," she said.

"I'm sorry if my patient is dying at too accelerated a rate. I think it might be SLD."

Cuddy stared at him, blankly.

"Solberg-Langer disease," he said, derisively. "Let me guess, you've never heard of it."

"I remember something about it in med school," she admitted. "A rare brain disorder, right? Presents a bit like MS."

"Excellent, you have the diagnostic grasp of a first year med student."

She ignored him.

"Aren't there blood tests that can confirm the diagnosis?"

"They came back negative."

"Well, in that case…"

"If you knew anything about SLD you'd know that false negatives are very common," he said.

"House, do more tests. Encephalitis is still more likely. Or any number of seizure disorders. A brain biopsy is way too risky at this point."

"Too risky for what? The patient? Or the hospital?"

"Both," she admitted.

"So you want me to what? Treat a rapidly metastasizing brain disorder with…anti-convulsives? Antibiotics?"

"I'm just saying the biopsy is premature."

"You're a coward," he spat. "You've always been a coward. After all, why bother to save the life of the patient when there are potential law suits to consider? Who cares if he's got a wife and kids. We must always consider the hospital's bottom line. You're pathetic." And he turned to leave.

"House!"

He turned. "What," he growled, in a voice that suggested: I dare you to bring up what I know you're about to bring up.

She put her hands on her hips.

"Why are you acting this way?"

"What way?"

"Like…a jerk."

"I'm always a jerk."

"A bigger jerk than usual."

"What can I say, I'm in a bad mood. You of all people should understand why I'm in a bad mood."

Like a fool, she actually allowed herself to feel concerned.

"Your leg?" she said softly.

"Yes, Cuddy. My leg. The effects of your magical pity fuck wore off. Or did you think they'd be permanent?"

She looked around her office. The door was shut.

"House, keep your voice down."

"Why? Isn't this a service you provide for all your doctors? Give them whatever they need—a bigger office, an executive parking space, a quickie on the living room floor—so long as you keep the hospital performing at peak efficiency?"

She felt her eyes begin to well, tried to fight back the tears. I'm not going to cry. I'm not going to cry.

"It wasn't like that…" she said.

"Wasn't it?" he snarled. "You attempted to fix poor, sad, pathetic, broken House. Your martyr complex must've helped get past the revulsion over my weakness…"

She stared at him, stunned.

"No…it wasn't… It was beautiful. And now you've ruined it."

House glanced at the closed door.

"Hey," he said, crudely pretending to unbuckle his belt. "I've got 10 free minutes. I'm happy to try to recreate the magic."

"Screw you!" she said. Now the tears came, despite herself.

He stared at her.

"Aaaand…she cries," he said. He let go of his belt buckle. Instead of being softened by the sight of her crying, it seemed to embolden him. "That didn't take much."

She wiped her eyes hastily, and glared at him.

"Get out of my office, House."

"With pleasure," he said.

"I should fire you for treating me this way," she hissed.

"What do you want to do—fire me or fuck me? Make up your mind, woman."

And he left.

######

"Another one," House said to the bartender.

"You sure?

"Did I say, another one maybe? Or I'm considering another one, but it might be too bold a move? No, I'm a paying customer and I asked for another scotch."

The bartender raised his eyebrows.

"Okay dude, chillax."

House scowled at him.

"And while you're at it, don't speak."

He felt like utter and complete shit. Somehow, it had been very important to make Cuddy cry today, to regain some of the leverage he had lost, to get the upper hand. But he didn't precisely know why. He had been acting on impulse—toxic impulse, in this case—determined to make her as miserable as he was. No, not just to make her miserable, but to be the instrument of her misery.

And yet, literally moments after leaving her office, after the initial high of success wore off, he began to feel like shit, replaying the scene over and over in his head—not as the victory he expected it to be, but as something to be ashamed of.

"It was beautiful," she had said. "But you ruined it."

He gulped his fourth scotch and slapped some money on the bar.

Then he stumbled out into the cool October evening. He glanced at his motorcycle and briefly considered it, but he wasn't suicidal. Not that suicidal at least.

Then a thought passed through his head: Cuddy likes to save me.

He dialed her number. (The beauty of his being a doctor and her the hospital's dean; she had no choice but to answer.)

"What," she said, in a voice thick with both sleep and irritation.

"I am inebri…inebrie…I'm drunk and I need a ride," he slurred.

"Call a taxi," she said, coldly.

She started to hang up.

"No!" he said. "I have no money."

"Find an ATM."

"Wait!" He didn't have anything else to say, but the "wait" at least bought him more time.

"What," she said, impatiently.

"Cuddy…"

"Just spit it out, House."

"I'm sorry. About the things I said. Those were very, very shitty things to say. I wasn't myself."

"Seems to me that you were exactly yourself." And she hung up. He tried to call her back, but this time it went straight to her voicemail.

######

"Rough night?" Wilson said, sliding into the seat opposite House in the cafeteria.

House looked up groggily.

"Huh?"

Wilson inspected him: Overgrown beard, unwashed hair, bloodshot eyes.

"Wow. You did have a rough night. And why did you order food if you weren't going to eat it?"

"Here," House said, shoving his tray toward Wilson. "Go to town."

Wilson looked down at the tray—an untouched meatball sub and chips—incredulously.

"Okay, now you're actually worrying me," he said. "What's wrong?"

House ran his hands through his already messy hair.

"Wilson, why am I such an asshole?" he said.

Wilson, who had chosen to eat House's sub instead of the Cobb salad he had ordered, nearly did a spit-take.

"Now that's a loaded question," he said.

"I'm serious," House said. "Psychoanalyze me."

"Well, presumably that hole in your leg makes you grumpy."

"Duh. Why else?"

Wilson scratched his chin.

"Because it's probably annoying that everyone is always several steps behind you…present company excepted of course."

"No, you're always several steps behind me, too," House said matter-of-factly. "Why else?"

"Umm…" Wilson hesitated.

"Your hesitation suggests that we're getting to the good part."

"You use your anger and sarcasm as a shield," Wilson said, eyeing House nervously. "To avoid getting hurt."

"That's dumb," House said, half-heartedly.

"Yeah, that's probably why you just immediately deflected."

House shrugged, but said nothing.

"House, what's your biggest fear?"

"Foreman farting in the OR?"

"I'm serious."

"You're going to tell me it's a fear of getting hurt. You're forgetting something, I already hurt. I hurt all the time."

"That's different. That's physical pain."

"Pain is pain."

"Your deepest fear is being pitied. Or being perceived as weak or vulnerable."

"You suck at brain shrinkage," House said, but the look on his face suggested that Wilson had gotten to him.

At that moment, Cuddy strolled by, carrying some sort of power sandwich wrapped in plastic foil.

"Cuddy, join us!" Wilson said brightly (and cluelessly).

Cuddy gave the table a sneer and kept walking.

Wilson watched her walk away, then turned accusingly to House.

"Okay House, what did you do?"

House put his head in his hands.

"I don't want to talk about it."

######

That night, at about 10 pm, there was a knock on Cuddy's door. She looked through the peephole. Of course, it was House. She was still hurt—and, frankly, furious with him—and would've considered just letting him stand there on her doorstep until he went away, but he was clutching a rather sad looking bouquet of daisies.

Well, shit.

So she opened the door.

"What?" she said.

He handed her the crumpled flowers, which he had apparently tucked inside his jacket for the bike ride to her house.

"I've come to throw myself on your mercy," he said. "Can I come in?"

"No," she said.

He sighed.

"I deserve that," he said.

"You deserve worse."

"No arguments here. I'm an asshole."

"A big one."

"I can explain…well, not really. Because even I don't fully understand the depths of my asshole-dom. But Wilson helped me figure something out."

"You told Wilson?" she said, sharply.

"No, speaking in strict hypotheticals!" House said, hastily. "I asked him why I was such an asshole and he said it was because I'm afraid of getting hurt."

She folded her arms.

"That's ridiculous, House. I wasn't going to hurt you. My instinct was obviously the exact opposite of hurting you."

"I know." He gulped. "But it's more than that. He said I have a fear of being pitied—of seeming vulnerable, which obviously applies to our little…encounter."

He looked at her, searchingly.

She sighed.

"You are dropping a whole lot of honesty on my doorstep for 10 pm on a Thursday," she said.

"I know. I can go…" he said. "I just wanted to explain."

"No," she said, grabbing his arm. "You better come in."

He followed her inside, gratefully.

She poured him a glass of scotch and herself a glass of red wine and sat down next to him on the couch.

"What happened between us had nothing to do with pity."

"It had a little to do with pity."

"Look, I've given this some thought too," she said. "And I think…" she looked down. "I think, because you were hurting, because you were vulnerable, it emboldened me to do something I've wanted to do for a long time."

His eyes widened.

"Have sex with me?"

"Yeah. I mean, partly yeah And partly just, you know…feel close to you. You don't make it that easy, House."

"I think we've established that pretty definitively," House said drily, taking a swig of his drink.

"It was tender. It was intimate. It was. . . incredibly fucking sexy, House. And then you had to go fuck it up."

"It's what I do."

"Yes," she said. "It is."

For a moment, they were both silent, contemplating all the different ways House had fucked things up.

"I'd like a second chance," he said. "I feel like all I did was take, take, take that day…which is not really my M.O.," he said. Then he raised his eyebrows. "I'm usually much more of a giver, if you know what I mean."

"I think I catch your not-so-subtle point," she said. She was teasing him but—dammit—the idea of House being a "giver" was turning her on.

"Then let me please you."

"I want you to," she admitted. "But I'm afraid. Fool me once, as the saying goes."

"It won't be like that," he said.

"How can I be sure?" she said. "You really hurt me."

"I know," he said. "And I haven't been able to stop beating myself up over it since. It's why I'm here. To make it up to you."

"Through sex? How convenient for you."

He smiled. "Through…intimacy."

She looked at him.

"You're hot when you're sharing your emotions with me," she said.

"You're hot…always," he replied.

She felt like a fool. Why couldn't she resist him? A bouquet of crumpled flowers. An emotional confession. And she was hooked—again.

"Come here."

He went to her, eagerly, and they kissed. It was still more tender than carnal, but there were already differences in his …technique. He cupped her face in his hands, his tongue swirled expertly in her mouth. Slowly, his mouth moved to her neck, then her cleavage. His hands were beginning to roam her body—still over the clothing. Everything he was doing felt so…good. She felt herself going limp under his touch.

"Is this…okay?" he asked, already out of breath, as though it wasn't already a point of no return, as though the inevitability of their desire hadn't already taken over.

"It would appear so," she giggled. "But you're also doing a double shift of clinic duty tomorrow."

"I'll do a triple shift," he breathed, reaching under her shirt. "A quadruple shift."

"Oh man, I've got you right where I want you," she said.

"You always did."

THE END